Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Caterpillar update and childish wordsmithing

The caterpillars are caterpillars no longer.
They are now all safely* encased in their chrysalides and undergoing the long, disturbing process of transformation.
We took them out of the pot they came in yesterday and hung them up in the butterfly house in Ellie's bedroom where she can see them every morning as soon as she gets up.
One particularly big one unfortunately came adrift just as he was starting his chrysalis and wound up tangled in silk on the floor.
He finished the chrysalis at ground level, though, so we've put him on a piece of tissue on the floor of the butterfly house and will just have to hope he survives.
 We'll keep our eyes on them, and I'll keep you updated (I bet you can't wait) but even in this sudden heatwave they should be in there for a couple of weeks.
Fortunately we seem to have defeated the pox and our quarantine is officially up, so we can get out there and find something else to occupy ourselves in the interim.

 Meanwhile, Ellie's creativity seems to be finding more substantial form lately: her pictures tend to look like actual things, rather than the arcane works of earlier days, and she has started composing stories and songs.

The following, predictably caterpillar themed, is fairly typical:

How are you little caterpillars?
Turning into butterflies.
Clap your hands three times
And wriggle in your cocoons
And turn into butterflies.

She also told me a long story about Thor, who hit a bad horse** with his hammer (but it was alright, the horse wasn't killed) then some bad people came and he hit them with his hammer, then he went off into the woods (and, presumably, hit things with his hammer).
Eleanor likes Thor.
And hammers.

* Where safe means: "within reach of two cats, at least one of them an evil genius"
** If this doesn't instantly put the Bad Horse song into your head then I recommend   http://drhorrible.com/ . But not when there are kids around.

Friday, 25 May 2012

It's Pieday!

Ages ago, when I first thought about writing a blog, I also resolved to spend at least one day a week cooking with Eleanor.
 After a while it sank in that this really wasn't going to happen: she was too little for me to impose a hard and fast rule like that, some weeks she just wouldn't want to be in the kitchen.
 Now that she's a bigger girl however, she's more interested in doing regular activities, so I'm going to give it another shot: I hereby dub this day Pieday!
 Every Friday we will be making a pie, I will post the recipe and photos so that anyone who wants to can try cooking along with us, it will probably be an unholy mess but at least it'll be a good learning experience.
 I should probably give you fair warning that my definition of Pie is going to be a bit on the wobbly side: tarts, quiche, pasties, that tomatoey galette thing I make when I think Richard deserves a treat, they're all likely to be included, in short if it has some kind of pastry element and contains some sort of filling, I'm going to call it pie.

 We're kicking off this first Pieday with the pie we -and by we I mean Ellie- made way back when I first had the idea.
 Because I'm lazy.
And I already had the photographs.
And it's ridiculous how easy this recipe is: seriously, all I did was prepare the ingredients and stick it in the oven, tiny Ellie did everything else.

So behold: Spanokopitta


Filo pastry: in a box, I love proper home made pastry but please, don't torment yourself.
Spinach: a big bunch or a bag of baby leaf, washed and shaken so it isn't too damp
Feta Cheese: a packet. Or two. Cheese is nice.
Ground nutmeg.
Olive oil
Spring onions: a bunch
Ground pepper (and salt if you must)

First turn on the oven to 200 or whatever setting you usually use for pies, pizza or pretty much anything that comes in a box

Take about half the sheets of pastry and brush them with olive oil.
Or one person can hold up a sheet while the other sprays them with oil from one of those squirty low fat oil spray things, like a culinary shooting gallery, squirt squirt squirt!*

Then layer the sheets in the bottom of an oven dish so that the edges come up over the sides.
"Like a little bed" according to Ellie.

Now put the spinach leaves into the dish and season with nutmeg and pepper.

Crumble in the feta cheese.

Snip up the spring onions (scissors are easier than knives and safer for children), and sprinkle them on top

Now oil the other half of the pastry and cover the cheese and vegetables tucking them in nicely round the sides and brush the top with more oil.

Pierce the top with a fork and stick it in the oven for twenty minutes.

Finally remove, bask in your crispy, golden-topped success and devour.

If there's any left it's equally good cold.

*We didn't do this.
Well, not more than once.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Pink Stinks

Growing up as an only child, I didn't really know what to expect with a little girl, but on my first outing to Mothercare I dicovered the entirety of girls fashion could be summed up as

pink flower princess kitty unicorn hearts

But it didn't stop there, in this modern enlightened time, boys and girls can have kitchens, dust pan and brush sets, learning clocks, building blocks & remote control cars. All come in boys & girls versions, pink & other.

It's driven me nuts, the thing is I'm not even against pink, but everything in society is telling my daughters they have to like pink and thats the "girl" colour, We've tried our hardest to limit the pink, by telling grandparents not to buy it but when they want to buy something it's almost impossible for them not to.

She also has to wear pink for her ballet uniform but one of the best things about that is she aspires to be like the big girls who get to wear the blue uniform!

I'm glad to say I'm not the only person this drives nuts and there's a few organisations out there that standing up for a girls right not to HAVE to wear pink or have pink, well everything, so have a look and lend some support if you can.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


So far we've managed not to resort to congaing round the house chanting "We've got cabin fever", but we do have a rather fed-up little girl.
 Fortunately we've managed to come up with a few quarantine and chickenpox themed activities to take the sting, if not the itch, out of her imprisonment.
 The most important thing, in a quarantine, is to make sure that nobody gets in or out, so to assist with that we made ourselves some quarantine flags and stuck them up all around the house (with accompanying notes just in case our visitors, for some reason, can't read flag-code).

Fun With Flags

The next thing, of course, is to treat the afflicted.
  Home-made penicillin might be all too easy to produce in our kitchen* but, alas, penicillin is of no use against the chickenpox virus, so we settled for treating the most noticeable symptoms with some home-made bath bombs.
 The recipe for these is surprisingly easy and doesn't require anything you aren't likely to have lying around the house anyway.
As long as you bake, drink chamomile tea** and use essential oils that is.

First, assemble your ingredients: bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar (about a quarter as much as the bicarb), a cup of cold chamomile tea (or plain water), a chamomile tea bag or other dried flowers or herbs, some essential oil (we used lavender for its soothing properties) and any carrier oil, olive is fine.

Mix the bicarb and cream of tartar thoroughly, if you want to add any chamomile -or other flowers- then tear open the bag and mix them into the combined powders.

Then add the essential oil, using anything from ten to twenty drops depending on strength, more if you're making a huge amount of bath bombs, and mix quickly before it starts to foam.

Add the olive, or other carrier, oil and mix again, quickly.

Now add just enough of the cooled chamomile tea or water to make the mixture stick together when squeezed.
A plant mister can help with this stage: you want to add as little as possible (we used less than an egg-cup full) so spritz or sprinkle gently and again mix quickly to avoid setting off a reaction.

Finally squidge the mixture into moulds using whatever you have at hand, we used an egg carton but you could also use teacups, those capsules from the inside of kinder eggs, or pretty much anything.
Leave it to dry for about four hours, then tap the bombs gently out ready to use.

The lavender and chamomile mixture is wonderfully soothing and smells lovely.

*Joke! Joke! Do not alert social services! My kitchen is really pretty clean.
Comparatively clean anyway.

**Confession: I do not drink chamomile tea, this is because it tastes like cat-pee smells, it is very useful for soaking home-made baby wipes though.

Yes, I am a tremendous hippy.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Caterpillar Post

I promised you caterpillars, so caterpillars you shall have.
 Last month we started Ellie’s first proper project –she has an exercise book and everything- on worms and butterflies, taking in a few other arthropods on the way.
 So far it’s been a lot of fun.
We started off with an old favourite: the worm hotel.
This noble edifice, named The Pancake Breakfast Bed Hotel by Ellie, was constructed in a big plastic jar with layers of soil, sand, and kaolin clay, then we introduced the worms, kept the whole thing dark, moist, and supplied with occasional greenery and waited.
 At the end of three weeks we removed the hotel from the darkness to reveal, not much of anything.
 We eventually found one worm track heading from the top of the jar towards the bottom (Ellie’s theory: “perhaps the worm was going for a little rest at the bottom where it’s quiet”) and learned an important lesson: when making a worm hotel use a smaller jar, our worms had spent their time digging merrily around in the middle of the hotel where there was plenty of room to spread out with bumping into a wall.
So, no worm trails for us, but we still had a lot of fun building the hotel, maintaining it, and talking about worms, what they do, why they’re good for the garden, what eats them, and just about anything else a hermatologist* could dream of.
 Worms down, we took a brief trip into the realm of bees, then on to the caterpillars!
Our caterpillars are Painted Ladies and they arrived, not in eggs as you might expect but by Royal Mail (leading our postman to remark that it’s a little early in the season for them, turns out he’s a lepidopterist**).
They are currently living in a jar on the mantelpiece, eating the caterpillar-food provided and growing at a ridiculous rate.
Ellie checks them every morning and evening, and any other time she thinks they might have grown, and so far they have always proven to be bigger than the last time she checked.

 Today, however, was particularly exciting: they haven’t started making chrysalides (though there’s quite a lot of silk in the jar now) but they have reached an important caterpillar milestone.
Their heads have fallen off!
Fortunately I was expecting this (thanks to Kate for the warning) and was able to look it up in advance.
It seems that caterpillars routinely lose their heads as part of their moulting process: as they grow bigger the old head becomes too small for the new body, so it drops off.
Fortunately by this time there is a new head waiting behind the old one ready to take over, I bet male praying mantises wish they could learn that trick!
 So the jar looks a little gruesome this morning but we’re not worried, we’ll keep on checking every day and soon we should see the first chrysalis.

* Someone who studies worms.
** Someone who studies butterflies, but you already knew that one.
A rather sinister caterpillar, as made by Ellie.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Pox Stops Play

Or not, actually.
This was going to be a post about caterpillars, or reading, or learning Italian, or maybe just a book review, however, Ellie’s gone down with chickenpox and it’s got me thinking.
 This is probably not going to be a great week: she’ll have to miss her playgroup, two ballet classes and a conservation group she’s been looking forward to ever since she missed the last one.
 So this week she’ll probably be doing what any schooled child would be: sulking around the house, trying not to scratch, and missing her friends.
On the upside: she won’t be missing any of the school-type things we do everyday, if she doesn’t feel up to doing her workbooks they can wait till she’s feeling better, her caterpillars (I promise, I’ll tell you about them next time) are right here on the mantelpiece where she can see them any time she wants, because we don’t have a timetable nothing important need pass her by.
Hopefully by next week we’ll all be back to normal, in the meantime if anyone has any bright ideas for poorly-girl activities to keep her cheerful then please post them, educational or not, in the comments below.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Learning Italian

The last few months we've been looking for an Italian learning aid for Ellie, the only problem is that any language CD or DVD is hideously priced!

Rossetta Stone is about £500. 
We found a BBC children's aid called Muzzy. Its a cartoon character from the 70's, and through 1 audio CD, 6 short cartoon episodes and a vocab DVD you get an intro to Italian for pre-schoolers. Unfortunately this was still £160 but we managed to pick one up cheap on Ebay. £25 pounds later and we have a not quite complete Muzzy Lv 1
Ellie likes the cartoon but I'm not sure how much italian she's picking up the DVD's seem very short


Sunday, 13 May 2012


We're going to use this blog, in the main to keep track of our efforts in the world of home-education and free-range child-wrangling*
 To start with we're going to transfer a few posts from our old home ed blog, then we should get on to all new and exciting posts.
I promise these will be filled with, fun, adventure,new discoveries and worms.
 Well, worms anyway.

*Which is technically an oxymoron but it sounds good and you now what I mean anyway.