Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Yoghurt Pot Insects






This was the last activity from the Wild Animals theme, that drifted over into the next week, so I thought I'd give it its own entry.  The idea was inspired by a blog post of Ellie's, who made bugs with pine cone bodies and pipe cleaner legs.  We didn't have any pine cones handy, but we had plenty of yoghurt pots.


I covered them with paper, keeping the designs pretty simple as I knew Toby wouldn't have the patience to make many.  I punched holes in the sides to poke the pipe cleaner legs into.  And look!  I was even organised enough to put everything into little bowls!



Toby picked out the legs for each bug.  He needed a bit of help threading them through the holes, but had the right idea.  Then he put glue on the goggly eyes (PVA would have been better than PrittStick) and we made a face on the base of the pot.

Selecting a leg
Intense concentration
And then it was off to show Dad!

Look what I made!
Making another one with Dad
The bumble bee needed wings, really, but I didn't get round to it.

Next week (or rather this week): Sun, stars and planets

Monday, 17 June 2013

Theme: Wild Animals

Well, this week didn't work out quite so well.  We were a bit busier and didn't do any of our themed activities until Thursday.  As I sit here blogging on Sunday afternoon there is still one craft we haven't got to, although if Toby's feeling creative when he wakes up I may give it a go.  Also, I ordered one of those bug viewing boxes for Toby, with the magnifying glass in the top.  It was returned to the sorting office on Monday because I wasn't in to take delivery.  Graham finally picked it up for me on Friday, we excitedly unpacked it, and... the viewer was hopelessly blurry.  So much for that bright idea.

Anyway, enough of the stuff we didn't do.  On Thursday we made birdfeed cakes.  This was one of the reasons I needed those 16 yoghurt pots!  I punched a small hole in the bottom, poked a piece of string through and tied a nice chunky knot.



Then Toby helped me measure out 2 pots of breadcrumbs and 4 pots of birdseed.  I melted a 250g block of lard (although I believe suet is recommended), poured it in and we stirred it all up.  I guess the breadcrumbs compressed, because it actually only filled 5 yoghurt pots in the end.



They've been in the fridge for the past few days and I just got one out to check that it would actually come out of the pot!  A few snips in the base and a shove, and it came out quite easily - and almost all in one piece.



The RSPB do a nice children's bird book with a "guess who?" format.  Toby has enjoyed reading it even though it's a little advanced for him, so hopefully once we get some visitors to our birdseed we can use it to find out who they are.


Our outing was a trip to Attenborough Nature Centre, over towards Nottingham.  It's a network of lakes formed from old gravel workings, bordered by the River Trent.  Graham wasn't working that day so was able to join us, and we had a pleasant walk round.  We investigated a variety of insects, even without the bug box.

Damselfly?

Looking at a snail

Scarlet lily beetle

One of those flies that wants to be a wasp

There were lots of water birds with their babies, from the ubiquitous mallards to swans, Canada geese, coots, and something I've tentatively identified as an Egyptian Goose.

Coot with babies

Egyptian goose

Look! Ducklings!


Teenage mallards
Finally, there was a kids' section inside with beautiful pokerwork wooden blocks and puzzles, lift-the-flap questions, and colouring sheets.





The last craft is set up and ready to go, so I'll update you with how that goes!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Theme: Farm Animals

It was starting to feel like the routine was getting a bit stale.  Toby and I would go to a couple playgroups, get the shopping and housework done, and walk to the playground down the road.  Time to shake things up, I thought.  So for the next six or eight weeks I've planned a theme for each week - just something simple to hang a few activities on, and give me a reason to think of some crafts in advance.  It's very frustrating when you keep thinking, "well, we could do that... if I'd saved 16 yogurt pots... or this... if I had any idea where the chalks were".  So: planned and prepared and ready to go!  Week one was farm animals.

Well, hi there.

The big event was a visit to an actual farm, Highfields Happy Hens.  This is a great setup for kids, with a ton of play equipment as well as the animals, and they do wonderful work helping young offenders too.  Good all round.  It was a perfect time to visit, as they had lots of baby animals around.  Chicks piled in a fluffy heap under a heat lamp, with one crowdsurfing its way into the warm centre every now and again.  Teenage piglets in a row, looking just like sausages in a packet (but don't tell them that!).  And the cutest ever baby pygmy goats bouncing around and even jumping on their mum's backs.  Plus of course lots of hens (Toby was a little spooked by the free range ones coming up very close) and, um, emus.  Your archetypal farm animal.

Inspecting the chicks

Pork sausages
Baby pygmy goats
 
Blurry emu (I was using my old camera)
Toby "milking" a "cow" (water comes out!)
 

In their shop we bought a reusable farm sticker set.  Toby carefully put the sheep in the pond and made the pigs fly - but hey, why not?  We also got sticky making cotton wool sheep.  Cutting and glueing has to mean numbers are involved, apparently.  Fortunately I didn't have to go up to ninety-and-nine.


Enthusiastic glue usage
The finished article (apologies for the dummy)
 I have a set of farm animal cookie cutters, so we had to do some baking!  This gingerbread cookie dough is the absolute best for small kids.  It's easy to make, is practically bombproof * and doesn't stick to anything.  Except the wooden spoon when you're making it, so use a plastic spatula to mix.

* Seriously.  They can hammer the raw dough all they want, and I dropped one of the baked cookies on the floor and it didn't even chip.  And yes, it does still taste good!

Gingerbread Cookies

4 fl oz / 1/2 cup golden syrup (or 6 oz by weight if you can weigh straight into the mixing bowl)
3 oz / 6 tbsp hard margarine
4 oz / 1/2 cup soft brown sugar
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda / baking soda
2 tbsp warm water
1 egg
1 lb / 3 2/3 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves

Melt syrup, margarine and sugar together - preferably by microwaving in the mixing bowl.  Mix soda and water together in a mug.

Add soda and water to syrup mixture along with the egg, flour and spices.  Mix well to form a dough (this is where you need the spatula).

Scrape out of the bowl onto a piece of cling film (plastic wrap) , wrap tightly and refrigerate until cold.  Or for several days if it takes you that long to get round to using it.  Roll out to 1/4 inch thick and cut out shapes.

Place on greased or non-stick baking sheets and bake at 180 C / 350 F for 10 minutes or slightly longer if you like them crunchy (I prefer slightly soft).  Makes 30-40.




And finally... decorated giant rubber ducks are a slight stretch to the theme, I know.  But Sight Support Derbyshire was floating them down the Derwent River in the middle of Derby, and it sounded kind of fun.  We didn't actually see the race because it clashed with Toby's naptime, but we got to admire all the great duck costumes, and fish for little ducks, too.







Next week: Wild animals

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Ely and the Fens

The first thing that strikes you is the length.  Step through the ancient wooden door and two hundred and fifty feet of building unrolls in front of you, arches upon arches marching down to a tantalising glimpse of glittering glass.  As your feet take you further in, your head tips back and the muted greens and reds of the painted ceiling resolve themselves into panels of prophets.  Micah, Isaiah and Hosea, grey-bearded and gaudily robed, hover over you as you walk the central aisle.  Suddenly they are swept aside as the stonework swoops into the form of an eight-pointed star, hurtling upwards to a single stunning point: the face of Christ.







Ely Cathedral is awesome.  There is no other word for it.  There's just so much of it.  Swathes of shimmering stained glass glowing ruby and sapphire.   Masses of marble carved in ridiculously over-the-top detail.  A tangle of twisting tendrils formed in wrought metal.  Arches. And columns.  And niches.  And carvings.  And more and more and more.  It's hard to even imagine the sheer amount of work that went into creating it all.  The detail is immense.





Step back.  Take in the scale.  Ship of the Fens, they call it.  Its outbuildings form part of Ely high street on one side; on the other stocky ponies munch on the green fields that slope down towards the river.  Two craggy towers (plus a small one) point towards the sky, and a lady chapel, big enough to be a church in its own right, is tacked onto one corner.


 


 
 
The Lady Chapel altar

This used to be an island, you know.  The Isle of Eels.  Ely.  A thousand years ago, when the monks of St Etheldreda's monastery decided to raise a great cathedral to glorify God, all these flat fields were fenland.  The cabbages and corn were reeds and swamps, and the mist hung above the stagnant water, and above it all soared the Ship of the Fens, its strong stone towers forming an oasis of solidity in an ever-shifting world.





There's not much fenland left now.  Early attempts to drain the land were foiled by the fact that when you took the water out, the peat shrank, and the water flooded right back in again.  But then the steam pump was invented, succeeded by diesel and electric pumps, all toiling ceaselessly away to make water flow uphill and make men the masters of one more piece of earth.


The National Trust has preserved a section of marsh at Wicken Fen, although even this, of course, is carefully reclaimed and managed and monitored.  When we arrived the black stagnant pools and stodgy grass sat sullen under an overcast sky, but suddenly the sun came out and it transformed into a shimmer of silvery stems punctuated with reflections of puffy white clouds.





Looking closer, we spotted caddis fly larvae with their strange accumulations of tiny bits of stick, damselfly nymphs floating in the water, and garish orange fungus attached to an old willow tree.  Even Toby got excited about looking for all the birds and insects - after he'd finished jumping on the floating dock, that is!

The fungus; the others were underwater so didn't photograph very well.


A bird!  Or is it a plane?
Sunbathing

Look! Look!
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth (Psalm 57:5)