Friday, 25 January 2013

Frying Pan Pieday

We made broad bean and feta quesadillas*.

This recipe looked like an excellent one for cooking with kids, until we actually started, whereupon I realised just how much slicing with sharp, pointy knives, and frying over frizzling flames was involved.
 I'm happy to say that Eleanor survived the experience with all her fingers intact and unburned, but if the though of endangering your darlings digits calls forth a frantic frisson of fear, then you might want to make something else.
 Or just cook it yourself.
The recipe, by the way, comes from Cook Vegetarian magazine, but we've simplified it somewhat.

Broad Bean and Feta Quesadillas


A packet of tortillas
About half a packet of feta
Some grated cheddar
Some frozen broad beans (a big handful should do, we used last spring's: the very last of our home-grown** frozen vegetables)
Some frozen peas (a smaller handful)
Half an onion
A clove or two of garlic
A chilli, red or green, (or just half if you don't like heat)
Olive oil***
Some fresh mint, chopped.

First chop the onion finely, mince, squish, or otherwise obliterate the physical integrity of the garlic, and chop the chilli.
Put them all into a frying pan with a splosh of olive oil and cook until everything is golden brown except the chilli.

Put the broad beans into a saucepan of boiling water, cook for a couple of minutes, then throw in the peas and cook till they are done.

Drain the beans, put them back into the pan, crumble in the feta, and add the mint.
 If everyone in your family is fine with chilli, then add the contents of the frying pan, if not then remove a portion of the bean and cheese mixture to make an  unspicy quesadilla or so first.
Then bung in the fried onion, garlic and chilli, add a little more olive oil, and stir it all together.
 Don't worry about keeping all the broad beans intact, but don't go out of your way to squash them all either.

Now add a little more oil to the frying pan and put it back on the heat.
 Be very careful at this point if cooking with children, if you're nervous, do the hot part yourself.

Take a tortilla and spread some of the bean mixture on one half, sprinkle cheddar over the top of this, then fold the other half over.

Put it in the frying pan for a minute**** then flip it over and cook on the other side.
Repeat until you run out of tortillas, beans, cheese or all three.

Cut the quesadillas in half and serve, making sure that any un-chillied ones go to the heat-averse.


*I realise that I'm pushing the boundaries of pie somewhat, given that this is really more of a tortilla-toasted-sandwich, but it has a crust, it has a filling, and if I was utterly strict about the definition of pie we'd have far less fun making them

**Actually I think these were from Richard's parents' home, but it's still a home.

***Do I have to have another rant about using non-virgin?

****Poking occasionally with a spatula so you feel that you're doing something.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

January Home Ed update

I want to start doing a weekly update, but i'm not sure of the format, so for now the format is a ramble.

Mostly this is about Ellie still as Phoebe is still very iccle.

For Maths or English in the morning, we're mostly using the Letts books. She's working her way through the "Magical" series, we talk her through each exercise and then let her get on with it. 

January's Project is Vikings, and so this one we are all excited about.

The new word wall is up but with a new improved format, Ellie writes the entire word and then she decorates around it so far shes' put up "Vikings" with various pictures cut out, and "Thing" with a drawing of people having a "Thing"  and then various things :)

Books this week have a Viking theme, we've covered Viking Maths, and how they dressed (with accompanying craft activity to dress the family) .

Amelia's printed out some colouring sheets as well, and thanks to Nicky created a colour by sums game (i.e.. Blue = 9, the sea is 6 + 3) which is great.

In February we're going visit Dig & Jorvik centre, and then going to spend a whole day at the Jorvik Festival 

The plan is to finish the project with a Viking feast in full costume (Amelia, Phoebe and I already have the right kit) so Ellie is going to help Amelia design and make a tunic for her.

Phys Ed wise Ellie has started 2 new Ballet classes (well moved up to older group). 
Also I think I've reached the limit I can of teaching Ellie to swim myself  so signed her up to the new classes starting at Sun Lane in Wakefield, and she starts in a few weeks.

Phoebe, is doing really well, she's started say a few words, demanding books, and is on the way to mastering the art of building towers, however hasn't grasped the fact that once it gets to a certain height she can carry on by standing up! 
I think she's also decided that strangers aren't evil by default, I even caught her smiling at an old man this week rather than her usual expression of suspicion and disdain.

Fish Pieday

Right today was my turn again to cook with Ellie, she's retained all her fingers and only burnt one of them so WIN FOR ME!

This was a pretty basic pie, but turned out really nice, I don't think Ellie was sure but Phoebe absolutely loved it.

So ingredients:

  • Cheese
  • 8oz Salmon Fillet
  • 8oz Cod Fillet
  • Onion
  • Some butter
  • Some milk
  • Parsley
  • 2 tomatoe,
  • Potatoes

Ellie started by grating the cheese, while I did the mandatory "Sharp knife" work, you know, dicing the onion, parsley,  potatoes and such and stuck the potatoes in..


We then  weighed out the fish* and  cut that into pretty sizeable chunks.

Once the potatoes were done we mashed them (I think Ellies favourite part as she got to use her new masher)

Now onto the hot stuff. we put the onions, tomatoes and some flour into the pan, added the fish and seasoning then cooked for 5 or so extra miniutes, so it started to look like fish pie!

The ingredients could make dishes, we topped with the mash, glazed with egg, put one of them in the freezer and cooked the other. 

* The fish had some extra value, the salmon had it's skin on still so I was able to talk to her about fish scales and she could feel them.

Reading Eggs: a review with ridiculous emotive bits.

Eleanor loves books.
 She is not so good with computers.

 Naturally enough we want to encourage her affection while preventing a descent into complete luddism, so we thought we'd try Reading Eggs.
Reading Eggs is an online learning tool*, using games and computer based activities to develop reading ability.
It is colourful and friendly and, best of all, it offered us** a free trial, so we could see if it was any good before we handed over our money.

So, we made an account, bought a shiny new tablet***, and off she went.

To begin with I was not terribly impressed.
Before a child can start using Reading Eggs they have to complete a test: there are an awful lot of levels, or "maps", to choose from and the system needs to know where to start you off.
So they run a little test, with some easy questions and some harder ones, to get an idea of each child's ability.
 Unfortunately, some uncreative genius decided to greet every right answer with a happy "Ping!" noise and a big green tick, and each wrong answer with an obnoxious "Uhuhhhh!"***** and a big red cross.
 Which would be fine for adults playing a game, but is not so great for children.
At least, not for Eleanor, who really cares about getting things wrong.
To make matters worse, while the ticks disappear from the screen, the crosses remain at the top, dropping into a row of boxes that make it clear, to any bright child who can count at least a little, that there is some kind of three-strikes-and-you're-out  system working here.
 I don't know how well this has been received by other children: perhaps they greeted the ticks with squeals of triumph, while the crosses merely spurred them to try harder next time.
For Eleanor, however, this was not the case.
 She did not care at all about the ticks, she considers ticks, if anything, to be her due.
The crosses were another matter.
The first time a cross appeared with its blaring klaxon she looked up in shock.
I explained that this meant that she had got something wrong, and encouraged her to try again.
 She returned to the test, but was now visibly wary and nervous, eyeing it as one might a pet cobra that probably won't bite.
One right answer, another right answer, then a trickier question appeared: she paused, went to enter her answer, then stopped.
What if she got a cross?
What if the computer shouted at her again?
She pulled back from the screen and screwed up her eyes.
 Carefully I explained that if she wanted to use Reading Eggs she had to finish the test first.
So she poked a finger quickly at the screen.
Big red cross.
 Little girl hiding behind her legs refusing to look at the screen.
After some more coaxing she looked out enough to finish the test, but she was no longer paying attention to the instructions.
Her whole purpose, now, was to make the test go away as quickly as possible.
 Several random jabs and a klaxon or so later, the test was finished.

Finally she could play.
 Unfortunately, having panicked her way through most of the test, she had given no real indication of her actual abilities and was now expected to complete a number of activities designed to teach her that O says "O".
 Her expression much akin to Sara Crewe on being informed that "La Mere" means "The Mother"****** she pushed the tablet away again.

At this point I wondered if we should just abandon the whole thing but, after a little discussion, Eleanor agreed to try the test again.

This time we went through very slowly, taking care to listen to the questions properly before selecting an answer.
She was still very twitchy and nervous, but she made it through, and this time the activities presented were much closer to her actual ability.

Hurrah! On to the games.

The first game was a whack-a-mole style affair in which she had to explode space-invaders with a particular word written on their ships, while letting others through.
 All of which sounds like fun, and would have been, were it not for two problems.
The first was that, as it transpires, Reading Eggs is not really designed for tablet use and at times a perfectly valid poke at the screen would go unregistered, allowing a space invader to get through.
 The second reason is that whatever berk******* added a klaxon to the test had clearly been at work here too.
 Every time a Space Invader got through, a dolorous voice, sounding much like the unholy offspring of a Cyberman and a Dalek, intoned "Oh No: One Got Away".
 This, not surprisingly, further unnerved the still unsettled Ellie, till she again refused to touch the screen, resulting in whole fleets of escaped space invaders, along with a litany of cross-species metallic woe.
 Alas, Reading Eggs demands that you complete each activity before moving on to the next, so, if she wanted to play at all, she had to defeat the space invaders.
  No longer entirely sure that she did want to play Eleanor nevertheless consented to try one more time.
We turned off the sound, I read out the word to be sought, located and destroyed, she hunted down words and, when the enemy refused to explode, called in the mothership to jab the things to digital death.
 We defeated the evil invaders and finally moved on.

Fortunately, once this strangely terrifying experience was behind her, Ellie did have fun.
 The system is still occasionally unresponsive, so that she sometimes needs me to help out, or even to complete a game for her, using the mouse-equipped laptop, but the games are fun and, if unchecked, she would happily play for an hour or more.
 There are still weak points: the voices and sound effects are horribly grating, and from a purely adult point of view the characters********* and stories are thoroughly irritating, but the games are engaging, the progression, though prescriptive, is steady and comfortable, and Eleanor seems to build ability and, most of all, confidence, every time she plays.

She finished the trial about a week ago and has been pestering us to pay up ever since.
In fact, with her new found computer-awareness, she has located the pay-button on the screen and told me what to do next.
 This is a good thing, right?

So, if you're wondering whether to try Reading Eggs, I'd say go ahead.
But, if your child is as lily-livered as Eleanor the erstwhile Terror of the High Seas, I'd suggest that before taking the test, you tape a piece of paper over the top of your screen to cover up the Xs, stick on a set of headphones so they can't hear the klaxon, and ask the questions yourself.

 There is another system, called Mathletics, made by the same company and dealing, unsurprisingly enough, with maths.
We've been wondering whether to try this, too, but alas, they haven't offered us a free trial.
 And if they read this, I fear, they never will.

*Am I the only one who envisions some kind of complicated, sprockety device for adjusting brains here?

**Not us specifically: they just happened to advertise where I could see them.
One day this blog may be the kind of internet phenomenon that can influence the decisions of multitudes, so that all manner of corporations queue up to offer us their goods and services, in the hope of a kind word, or a hint to our adoring fans, but that day has not yet come.
 Thank goodness.

***This is a slight exaggeration.
Ok a huge exaggeration.
 We**** wanted a tablet computer so that Eleanor could use various computery things that are more awkward with a mouse.
We did not, however, think it was worth buying one for a four year old.
Then I changed to a mobile phone tariff that offered a free tablet, or, to put it another way, a tablet  installment plan that came with a free phone and internet service.
 The whole Reading Eggs thing kind of followed on from there really.

****Ok, ok, I wanted it for educational purposes: Richard was just hypnotised by the lure of new tech.
Too bad for him that it's mine, really.

*****This sound doesn't really transcribe well: imagine a wrong-answer sound-effect from an eighties games show, but played right up by your face, and you should have some idea of the grating, distracting, unsettling quality of the noise in question.

******Look! Literary references!
If children's classics count as literature.

*******"Feed Me!"

*********Seriously: I may be a vegetarian, hippy peacenik, but if Sid the Kid ever turns up on our doorstep he's going to be curried.
No, not like a horse.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Snail Pieday

We made Schnecken*.

Anyone wishing to do the same should be warned that these are very sweet and very rich.
We made them as a breakfast treat for Eleanor's birthday***, and may feel up to eating them again by the time it rolls around again.


Half a batch of danish pastry dough (see the danish pastry recipe or, if you made some before, fish it out of the freezer and defrost it overnight)

A lot of butter, softened
Ditto syrup, maple and golden both (actually, our golden turned out to be maple-flavoured by mistake)
Ditto sugar, soft brown, and caster
Nuts, (walnuts or pecans are good)
Ground cinnamon.

I haven't given exact amounts here, as it will depend on the amount of danish pastry you have, or whether you just make or buy puff pastry (which also works) instead.
Besides, tastes vary, go with your instincts.

You will also need baking parchment, or, failing that, paper muffin cases.
Do not attempt to use cases designed for fairy cakes, it will not work.

I must confess that Eleanor was busy signing cards when we made these, so her assistance was largely limited to supervising, and giggling when things went wrong.
The recipe is very child friendly however****.

If you're using frozen pastry, take it out of the freezer two nights before you intend to eat it, and place it in a covered bowl to defrost.

Next morning either make your pastry, or heave the now defrosted mass out of the bowl and get it into a roughly rectangular shape.
 Roll it out, and, if you haven't already done this, go through the whole folding and rolling and turning and folding routine*****.

Now cover it and leave it to rise till early evening.
Take the butter out of the fridge and leave it to soften.
Got out to the park or something.

Come home and uncover the dough.
Roll it out again into a decent rectangle.
Now combine soft brown sugar and caster sugar in equal quantities until you think you have enough to cover the dough with a reasonably thick layer.
Stir in a tablespoon or so of cinnamon, till you have a golden, sandy mess.
Sprinkle said mess evenly over the dough and press down gently in a futile attempt to prevent it all escaping later on.
Roll the rectangle of dough up lengthwise, so you have a long fat sausage.

Next, mix the syrups in equal quantities******, and stir in enough of the softened butter to make a deeply unappealing, gooey, blobby mess.
 Line a deep baking tray with baking parchment.
Now line it again.
Now pour the syrupy gunk all over the bottom of the tray.
If you don't have baking parchment then just share the oozy, splodgy stuff between muffin cases instead.
 Crush the nuts and sprinkle them over the syrup.

Now cut the sausagey thing into thick slices and watch in dismay as all the filling drops out.
Do your best to scoop it back in, then place the slices on top of the nuts and syrup so they look like snails lying on their sides.
Snuggle them up to each other and sprinkle any remaining escaped cinnamon-mixture over the top.
 Leave them to rise overnight.
We just left them in the cold oven, and by morning they were thoroughly puffy and squidgy.

Take them out of the oven (if that's where you left them), turn it onto a lowish heat (we used 180) and let it warm up a little before putting them back in for twenty minutes or so.
 Remove when they're thoroughly glorious and golden brown, leave for five minutes, then flip the whole tray over onto a big plate and peel off the paper.
Leave for another five to ten minutes before serving.

Eat if you dare.

If in need of entertainment: feed one inch of unsyruped snail to toddler.
Watch as toddler careens off the furniture for two hours, giggling madly, then falls over and goes to sleep.
Repeat as needed.

*Which means snails**, but who would want to say snails, when they could say schnecken?

**Not real snails, they're just called that because they look like snails.
Really they're curly, sticky, cinnamony, nutty, oh just read the recipe.

***The festival previously known as Christmas.

****Also messy.
 Supposedly children like that sort of thing.

*****You know, the one you have to do for puff pastry, and for danish pastry, as if it's a letter you need to roll into submission.

******Or, if you have weird, artificially maple flavoured, golden syrup, just use the actual maple syrup.
Which turns out to be amazing with salted butter.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Not Actually a Pieday

We haven't made many pies lately.

Blame Eleanor's birthday, or Christmas, or the umpteen evil lurgies with which we have been beset, but, one way and another, we haven't been able to keep up Pieday every week.
This will be amended, I promise, and we actually did make a pie-ish thing one week, which I will probably write about soon, but this week I fear you must go without pie*.

In the meantime, however, lest you starve for want of internet-based, child friendly recipes**, I thought I'd share the method behind the potato-skin boats I forgot to serve at the Pirate Party.

Potato Boats


Baking potatoes, (one for every two boats, unless they're particularly big or small, in which case you may manage as many as three, or just one).
Cheese (I used a mixture of gruyere and cheddar, the amount depends on the number of potatoes)
Spring onions
Olive oil (the less virgin the better)
Plain tortilla chips
Creme fraiche
Absolutely No Bacon****

Bake the potatoes.
This is best done the night before (and if you trust your oven you could even turn it right down and leave them there till morning), I just pick out their eyes, rub them with salt*****, and wrap them in foil, then put them in a hot oven for half an hour, then turn it down and leave them there for another hour or two.
 I left mine in the oven (turned off) overnight, and they were still warm the next morning.
Forget hand-warmers: next time we go for a long walk in winter I'm going to put baked potatoes in my pockets!

Next morning unwrap the potatoes, cut them into halves (or thirds if they're enormous) and scoop out their innards with a spoon, taking care not to break the skin.
 You should end up with a lot of little, boat-like, shells.

Rub the skin with a little oil and place them, skin side up, on a baking tray.
Pop this into a high oven for two or three minutes to crisp the skins up a little.

Now grate the cheese, chop the spring onions, and mix them all together.
 Pile this lot into the skins and, about twenty minutes before you're ready to serve, put them into a highish (200 for us) oven for, well, twenty minutes.

To serve, place a small dollop of creme fraiche in the middle of each boat, then insert a tortilla chip, standing up, so that it looks like a sail.

And that's it, really.
To be honest, you don't have to go to all the trouble of making the boats yourself: you could probably just add creme fraiche and tortilla chips to ready-made potato skins and still get something that looks cute and tastes pretty good.
The home-made version is definitely superior however.
 And, of course, you don't have to stick to the cheese and spring onion filling, either.
Pretty much anything which works on a baked potato****** will work here: you could use chilli, you could use mushroom stroganoff, you could even -horrors- use bacon.
Likewise you can swap the creme fraiche for proper sour cream, or salsa, or anything else that appeals.
Smoked cheese with jalapeƱo, and chilli jam sounds rather good right now.

Ok, I'm off to the kitchen

*You did last week too, sorry.

**Also because they were my own idea*** and I'm rather pleased with them.

*** If I look them up on google, they'll be everywhere, won't they?

****Sorry, I get annoyed when an otherwise vegetarian delight is ruined by the addition of pig parts.
You may bacon if you wish.

*****(This helps to prevent them getting soggy, you can rub it off when you unwrap them, if you're worried about salt in food.

******Although I hae me doots about baked beans.


Wow, suddenly people are reading my blog!

Hello people, I hope you like it here.
 Just so you know what to expect: this isn't an all-politics all the time sort of blog.
Mostly I just piffle on about Home Educating, or whatever banal thing the kids have been up to, using far too many asterisks in the process.
Occasionally Richard (my husband) will get in on the act.
 Now and then I get all serious about something, but the fit soon passes.
Also, we make an awful lot of pie*.

Which reminds me...

*But, it must be said, not a lot of awful pie.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Pink* Will Eat Your Brain.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the colour pink.
As hues go, it is no more offensive than turquoise, oxblood, or chartreuse.
The politics of pink, however, are another matter.

These days if you have a young*** girl in your family, you will find that your house quickly becomes covered in pink.
This is not because the colour pink is somehow magnetically attracted to the female gender****, nor indeed are girls irresistibly drawn to the colour pink.
It is, quite simply, because just about every ruddy thing that is marketed to girls is, quite emphatically, pink.
 Now I'm sure there are girls out there who really do love pink, who would love pink even if they were told that pink was really not a girls' colour, who would fight for pink even though everything marketed at girls was green*****.
 However most girls don't really have the opportunity to decide whether they like pink or not: they are inundated with pink from the moment they are born.
 Very quickly, they learn to associate pink with for me and, conversely not pink, that's any colour that isn't pink, or perhaps a pinkish shade of purple, with not for me.
Most early learning toys come in two versions: one in bright colours, normally all the primary colours, but occasionally blue with decoration, buttons etc in various contrasting colours, and one in pink.
The message is clear: the pink one is for girls, all the other colours are for boys.
 Somehow, despite encompassing just over half of all children, "girl" is considered a special interest group: we have toys for children, and then we have toys for girls.

As girls grow older pink continues to overwhelm them, but now it also begins to direct their choices: having been trained to recognise pink as for me, girls are now directed towards certain types of toys, and away from others, by their relative pinknesses.
 Baby dolls, fashion dolls, dolls houses and princess or nurturer role-play and dressing up?
Pretty craft and design packs******.
Horse-riding, ballet dancing or ice-skating?
Absolutely anything domestic or containing the word princess?
My gods it's pink.
Yes, Cinderella, you shall go to the ball, however the garage, fire-station, race track and outer space seem to be off limits.
Sorry about that.
 Anything that isn't pink, such as construction kits, race cars, train sets, superheroes, dinosaurs, serious art supplies, spaceships, board games that aren't about fashion or dating, bats, balls, yo-yos, stunt kites, chemistry sets and magic tricks, is, somehow, not for girls.
 Now of course there are girls who will fight this stereotyping, and there are certainly parents******* who will make a point of buying the non-pink items, and who will steer their offspring towards the dinosaurs, or spaceships, or maybe dinosaurs in spaceships, but the social conditioning of pink is hard to overcome.
With the knowledge that pink is for girls, and the correlating information that non-pink is not for girls, comes the understanding that to step outside of these boundaries, to choose the wrong item, is to put yourself beyond the pale: to defy the laws of the tribe is to exile yourself from the tribe.
The result is that, eventually, even if pink were entirely removed from the world of toys, girls already trained by past exposure to all that pink, would still gravitate toward the stereotypically girly toys, because those are all they expect to play with.
 Likewise boys will avoid anything that falls within that girly stereotype, on the grounds that it is not for them.

As girls grow older pink becomes less predominant, not because their options are opening up -if anything they become even more constrained- but because, their training complete, they can now recognise toys and other items that are for them without the assistance of the colour pink.
 So pink becomes less dominant, a fashion doll's packaging, for example, will be blue and pink or, often, a lingeriesque black and pink, instead of the solid pink of their earlier toys.
 Eventually there is no need for pink at all: the girls', or rather the young women's interests having been firmly directed down the road of shoes, handbags, and hair products.

This may seem ridiculous, and it is true that few young women will end up completely conforming to stereotype, however I find it interesting that Woman's Hour , (on a programme about pink) interviewed a young woman who was colour blind.
 Her interests, even her taste in clothes, were very different to those of her friends, something she attributed to the fact that she could not see the colour pink, and therefore had grown up without the dubious benefit of a signpost to tell her which route she was supposed to choose through life.********

The world of pink, and the world of non-pink are very different places.

 All of which is pretty awful, all by itself

However, long before a girl has learned to like pink, before she has any say in the toys and clothes she receives, whatsoever, pink may already be making its mark upon her brain.

As I mentioned earlier, most early learning toys these days come in two versions: normal (for boys), and pink (for girls).
 The boys' versions are brightly coloured, with plenty of contrast between the various shapes, buttons, numbers and so on.
The girls' versions are, by and large, pink.
 This means that while a boy playing with the toy intended for him will start to develop an understanding of those shapes, numbers, and colours without really trying, a girl playing with that same toy in the "girls' " version will not.
 Indeed, as the mass of pink or lilac buttons blurs together, a girl who tries to take an interest in shapes and numbers (colours being notably absent from her toy) will find it quite difficult.
 The lesson to girls, right from infancy, is: maths is hard.

Deterred from an interest in basic maths by its difficulty, and by the relative ease of other, less complex, activities, girls are moved away from mathematics, science and engineering, before they even know what those words mean.

Pink will eat your brain.

 Of course girls can fight against the tide of pink, they can develop their own interests, and even those who truly, naturally incline towards pink, are not condemned to a life of brainless fashion-following.
Girls who like pink are every bit as capable of becoming renowned historians, architects, or cognitive scientists, as any other girls.
Nature can defeat nurture.
 The pink doesn't make it any easier though.

*Not Pink the singer, pink the colour, Pink is actually pretty cool.
Yes, I just put an asterisk into the title.
I'm not proud of this**.

**Maybe a teeny bit.

***Where young means somewhere between a foetus and old-enough-to-draw-a-pension

****Technically, only words have gender.
People have sex.
There is nothing wrong with sex.
The word gender, however, is used to denote, not merely the sex with which a person is born, but also that to which the subscribe whether it is that assigned by birth or not.
So it's a nice, egalitarian word, even if it is horribly inaccurate.

*****I'm sure of this because I know more than one boy who likes pink.
Pink is not marketed to boys.
Quite the reverse in fact.

******Often low in creativity and high in spangles and words like princess.

******* Hi there!

******** This is clearly anecdata, but I do find it rather telling.

Yo Ho Ho

I haven't written about Christmas this year, in fact I haven't written much at all in the last month.*
The latter will be remedied, but Christmas, frankly, can go hang.
I have much more important things to write about, chief among which is the fact that we now, inexplicably**, have a four year old.
 Obviously this demands my full attention, and as Eleanor's birthday happens to be the same day*** that many people spend finding presents in their underwear, devouring unreasonable amounts of food, and generally rejoicing that a saviour has come to earth and his name is Santa Claus, it seems reasonable that Eleanor should take priority.

 This year Eleanor wanted a Pirate Party and we were happy to oblige.
  We were slightly less happy by the time that we'd printed (and promptly mislaid) the invitations, created a passable girl pirate poster for stick**** the eyepatch on the pirate, wrapped up a suitably booty-filled parcel to pass, baked and iced (with much piratical swearing) a ship-shape***** cake, planned all the other games, made all the other food, and tracked down various nautical napkins, party bags and general celebratory tat.
But finally we relaxed in the knowledge that the difficult bit was behind us.

More fools we.
We forgot, of course, that while all the other things may be fiddly******, tedious, time consuming, and tiring, they at least do not contain the most fiendishly unpredictable and troublesome factor of all.

 The party, in fact went pretty well, assuming ones criterion for a good party is "Does not descend into complete chaos", but there were a few hiccups along the way.
 The first came when one of the guests came down with the flu, presumably from a spare germ that had decided to break away from the pack and infect someone outside of our family for a change*******.
 This reduced our pool of guests to three, with Ellie's friend Dan, as he had been last year, the only boy.
 Fortunately he did not, as he had last year, feel left out and awkward.
Maybe he thinks pirates are more macho than fairies, or something.

At any rate Dan soon avenged this slight when he bounded in, looked happily around the room and announced "I think we should pop all the balloons!"
I would not, of course, have let him burst them all: they were Eleanor's birthday balloons and she didn't want them popped.
 It would have been nice however, to let him pop one of them, unfortunately the party included three infants******** and, torn between potentially upsetting three little ones, or definitely disappointing one big one, I went with option two.
 I then spent the rest of the day feeling like a bad hostess.
Later on Dan also wanted to pop all the bubbles people were blowing (is this a stage they go through or  something?) and while I couldn't let him do that, he was able to pop some bubbles at least.

Then there were the games.
 Things got off to a less than stellar start when my happy suggestion of "Shall we play some games?" was met with a chorus of Nos.
 On further enquiry I was furnished with such reasons as "They might be boring", and "I might not win" (thank you Eleanor) so, safe in the knowledge that they weren't boring, and facing the possibility of my daughter's not winning everything with total heartlessness, I went ahead and inflicted games on them anyway.
  Pass the Treasure went pretty well, Stick the Eyepatch on the Pirate was fairly successful, though fraught with blatant cheating, Musical Islands gave us no problems beyond the fact that the same two children kept winning, and Captain Says was utterly ridiculous.
 Dan won every round.
Even when he stopped playing and started being the captain instead, he still, to all intents and purposes, won.
  It seems that, somewhere between the ages of five and six, children go through a developmental burst which allows them to understand the rules of Simon Says: among the assembled pirates only Dan had reached that heady age.
No matter how often we explained the rules, no matter how wildly we telegraphed oops, I didn't say "Captain Says", as soon as any instruction was given, all the other children leapt********** to obey.
 Eventually we had to stop and serve lunch just to escape the insanity.

Lunch was vaguely successful : nobody liked everything, I had cunningly made a vat of plain pasta-with-pesto as a fallback for fussy eaters, none of whom would touch it, and I forgot to serve the potato-skin-boats that had taken me half an hour to assemble that morning, but everyone found some things they liked, nobody suffered an horrendous allergic reaction to anything, and the ship shaped cake went down like the Titanic.

Following this the kids all charged off to play upstairs and, apart from a few games of I Spy Through My Telescope, and the revelation of the totally chosen in advance, not at all just made up to give a prize to anyone who hadn't won one, location of the hidden treasure (everyone stuck a sticker on a map when they arrived,  yes, normally this would be in a footnote but I think my asterisk key is getting tired), the party was over.

In the end, despite, or perhaps a little bit because of, the hilarity and riot, everyone had a good time, Eleanor didn't care that she hadn't won a single game, and everyone went home happy.
 They also went home with an enormous balloon each.
Dan can burst that one if he likes.

*Due partly to the amount of other things we had to do, but mostly to our having had every cold or flu bug in the western hemisphere, one after another.

**Well, not inexplicably, I mean, I know how it happened: I was there for much of it after all.
It still seems pretty weird though.

*** This was not the plan.
She was supposed to be born on the second of January, so we could buy her presents in the sales.

****Because, as Eleanor pointed out, a pin would hurt too much.

***** Literally.

******For which read aggravating beyond belief: have you ever tried to ice a cake shaped like a pirate ship?
It should be quite simple.
It isn't.

******* It has been suggested that perhaps there are simply an awful lot of bugs going around at the moment.
I dismiss this theory out of hand, in favour of the obvious truth: They Are Out To Get Us.

**********(*********) One of them male, so Dan wasn't the Only Boy after all.

*********Maybe I should start using numbers or something, before this all gets out of hand.

********** Which was odd because we hadn't told them to leap.
 Sorry, there doesn't seem to be an option to add numbered footnotes.