Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Christmas Countdown - Random Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar

Shamelessly inspired by Coffee Cups and Crayons and The Imagination Tree, I have devised our own Random Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar for 2014. More satisfying than chocolate (and better for the waistline) - 100% guaranteed!

Here it is. Day 2 and we're going strong.

Be especially nice to your brother all day
Find nice things to say to your friends about themselves

Give neighbours some homemade Christmas ornaments
Make a thank you card for your French teacher
Make a Christmas “treats and toys box” for a child who needs it
Feed the birds (ducks and/or garden birds)
Donate supplies to an animal rescue centre
Tell silly jokes to make someone laugh
Make a thank you card for your neighbours

Smile at everyone you see today
Help mama with making dinner
Leave treats out for the postman
Give someone a “hug coupon”
Make a thank you card for your swimming teacher
Leave a kindness stone for someone to find

Make a thank you card for your librarian

Say thank you to everyone today
Take cookies to the GP surgery
Take supplies to the local food bank
Donate books to the local charity shop
Call a faraway relative to say hello
Leave sweeties on all the benches in the street

Visit the local old people’s homes with flowers and songs

Give gingerbread to all your cousins

Friday, 3 May 2013

Lilo's Very Hungry Caterpillar 2nd Birthday Party

Two years ago yesterday, at around 5 in the morning, my little caterpillar Lilo was born at home, upstairs in our bedroom. He has been a hungry caterpillar since that day and has grown into a big caterpillar indeed. He is also already spreading his wings as a butterfly and we love him so much for all he is.

For his second birthday, some really lovely friends of his (and their amazing mummies/daddies) came to our house to celebrate yesterday. I had planned a Very Hungry Caterpillar themed party after the well-loved book by Eric Carle, and researched the many Pinterest boards and blogs on the subject extensively before starting on the different aspects of the party a few weeks ago.
Lilo wears his antennae and butterfly wings for the party
I am glad to say that fun was had by all, especially the birthday boy. Here is what we did.

The house was decorated to reflect the very hungry caterpillar themes, with a hanging lantern caterpillar on the wall, a balloon caterpillar on the banister outside and a butterfly I made out of recycled milk bottle plastic and Sharpie markers (see here for instructions). I ordered plates, bowls, cups (and themed stickers and badges for the party bags) online from The Pod Company, and bought the Very Hungry Caterpillar fabric from Hobbycraft. Our upright piano was a good out-of-reach display "table" for the sweet food.

 For the food, I basically followed the instructions laid out in the book by Eric Carle and we had all the food featured in the story (apart from ice cream, which I swapped for jellies, as we were having the party inside the house). Here is a list of the food that I prepared that was on offer:

  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Plums
  • Strawberries
  • Orange segments
  • Watermelon
  • Slices of Emmental cheese
  • Slices of salami
  • Gherkins
  • Chocolate cake (with red glace cherries on top)
  • Cocktail sausages
  • Lollipops
  • Cherry pie
  • Cupcakes 
  • Jellies

I also added French bread slices and homemade sausage rolls to bulk it up a bit.

I printed out food pictures from the book from this website and stuck them on matching coloured card and lollipop sticks to go on the different bowls and plates of food.

I designed the birthday cake, completely inspired by this one and this one, using Annabel Karmel's birthday cake recipe. It was a really yummy sponge that didn't really need filling with jam and was moist just eaten by itself. I baked one for the caterpillar in a Bundt tin and the other in two round tins. I prepared the fondant decorations for the cake 1 week ago, which gave them time to harden.
I prepared the fondant decorations a week ahead
The round cakes were covered with marzipan and then iced white and decorated with the fondant icing shapes and little polka dot decorations I got from the supermarket.
Decorating the round cake
I cut the ring-shaped cake and made it into a caterpillar by covering with different colours of green fondant icing for the body and red for the head. There is also a layer of marzipan under the icing.
The finished hungry caterpillar cake
The cake seen from above

We played a game called "Feed the hungry caterpillar" - I painted a caterpillar face on a canvas and cut out a hole for the mouth. Then we had the children throw caterpillar felt food into the mouth hole.
Caterpillar felt food I made 2 weeks ago

Feeding the caterpillar

We also played musical statues and pass the parcel. I had wrapped a little wooden caterpillar (worm) in brown and gold tissue paper to pretend it was a cocoon.

I had set up a little craft table in the kitchen with a sticky contact paper covered tray. Exploration boxes containing recycled milk bottle lids colored green and red and green and red pompoms were there for the children to create their own caterpillars.
There were also plenty of pens, crayons and copies of the Very Hungry Caterpillar colouring sheet I found on the Eric Carle website.

The party bags for the children to take home contained:
- A very hungry caterpillar sticker sheet
- A very hungry caterpillar badge
- A bag of sweeties
- A bag of homemade red and green make-your-own caterpillar play dough with googly eyes and pipe cleaner antennae inspired by The Imagination Tree
- A very hungry caterpillar activity sheet (for older children)
Party bag for all children to take home
We all had a fabulous day and even though all the preparation was a lot of effort, it was really worth it.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Ice Cream Cafe Play

So up here in Scotland, it looks like spring, but only from the cozy interior of your house: beautiful blue skies and bright sunshine give the impression of warmth, but once outside, the bitter gale-force wind and occasional hail stone shower quickly convinces you that it's not quite the right time to shed a few layers. Still, when you stay in, you could just about convince yourself that it's nearly summer. So I decided to set up a little summery cafe play for the boys this afternoon, having spotted this post by Play Create Explore a few weeks ago.

I've been really excited about trying the ice cream play dough, especially as the boys have a slight obsession with ice cream (eaten for dessert every time we go out for a meal with them). Plus, I have an unused, rejected bottle of hair conditioner in my bathroom cupboard and LOTS of cornflour in my kitchen. So I mixed up two batches of the recipe for ice cream play dough:
- 1 1/2 cup corn flour
- 3/4 cup hair conditioner
I left one batch as it was to make vanilla ice cream, and added 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder to the other one to make chocolate ice cream.
Our fake chocolate ice cream

Our fake vanilla ice cream
I gave the boys some of our blue and red coloured play rice, which we have been using up slowly since last summer, to use as sprinkles.
For the rest of the cafe supplies, we used our little wooden play cakes and some play plates and plastic spoons and cups. Ju also decided we would have a healthy option and brought some play apples to the cafe.

The boys loved creating ice cream sundaes using both vanilla and chocolate, sprinkling lots of coloured rice on top and around their creations, and also especially on the floor.
Ju scoops some vanilla "ice cream", sprinkles at the ready
Lilo enjoys a selection of goodies from our cafe
Three portions of vanilla and chocolate sundaes and one cake order ready for the hungry cafe customers
Cakes with a side of ice cream were also on the menu
I also enjoyed creating some special little vanilla and chocolate fudge goodies. Yum!
Seriously, who needs to queue at Krispy Kreme when you can do this at home? Best not eat them though. Right, Ju?
Ju cannot believe it's not real ice cream and keeps trying to have a sneaky lick at it

Friday, 1 March 2013

A Morning at the Farm

The days are getting longer and brighter and we have had gloriously sunny weather in Edinburgh this week. This morning we went with our friends on a scavenger hunt to the local city farm, Gorgie City Farm. This is a mere 10 minutes walk from where we stay, so is an ideal destination when the weather is dry and sunny like today. I prepared the scavenger hunt last night and laminated the sheets to make them crinkle and  mud-proof.

On one side there were pictures of thing and animals to find and tick off:

  • tractor
  • wheelbarrow
  • lamb
  • pigeon
  • guinea pig
  • chicken
  • pig
  • duck

On the other side, there were pictures of things to collect in a transparent plastic bag:

  • stone
  • feather
  • sheep wool
  • leaf
  • straw
  • moss

You can have a look and print our scavenger hunt form here.
Ju was mostly interested in running around and getting to the play park but enjoyed collecting things for the bag. There were lambs and newborn kids (as in baby goats, less than a day old), and the usual pig, cow, horse, goat, rabbits, chicken, turkey, dog and cats.
Scavenged treasure from our farm trip
This afternoon we painted a big farm picture. I drew in black pen the animals Ju remembered seeing at the farm and he painted them using roll-on Pritt paint.
Farm picture
Then we made some daffodils to celebrate St David's day. We coloured in yellow and orange some paper cupcake cases and little chocolate paper cases. We then put yellow and orange pipe cleaners inside green straws letting about 1.5 cm stick out. We inserted the paper cases onto the straw/stem and made some felt leaves.
Paper cupcake cases daffodils

Sunday, 3 February 2013

January?... Where is January???

So we haven't posted for a while. It has been a challenging month, getting over the festive period and re-acquainted with the routine of nursery runs, music and sports activities, play dates and weekends with family. Phew! Just writing about it exhausts me. I will share here some of what we did, but I'll keep it short. Promise.

For Three King's Day, we made three wise men puppets out of empty toilet paper rolls and felt. The boys had fun fitting the pre-cut pieces of felt together to make the three wise men, who bring the gifts to baby Jesus. We talked about this story at length while making this craft.
Our three wise men, blinged right up

We also made a gluten-free and sugar-free Galette des Rois to share with our friends on Sunday 6th January; although I was quite pleased with the rough puff pastry (which you make with Philadelphia cheese, or if you live in France: Petit Suisse), I was a bit let down by the filling - it was a tad too dry... I'm sure I could improve on it though, so I won't give you a recipe until I have. The other let down was the fact that none of our friends or children found the "feve", the little ceramic ornament hidden inside the cake, which makes a king (or queen) of whoever finds it in their piece of cake. The tradition which is very popular in France, involves a crown, which Ju was really pleased to make and model.
Gluten and sugar-free galette des rois with our homemade crown
Then we finally had some decent snow and made a real - albeit small - snowman in the garden! This prompted more repetitive reading of The Snowman story. Lilo now says his special word for snowman every time we go outside, in a very sad and forlorn way, as if he is mourning the melting of our snowy friend. The special word: "mao-mao".
We received our Makedo kits and got making with cardboard boxes. Although Ju can't use the safe saw provided to cut cardboard, he is quite good at making holes with it and can therefore put the "nails" provided through the holes. We made a doll's house last week, and today we made a robot outfit, which both boys tried on eagerly.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

New Year Calendar

Happy New Year everybody! New Year sometimes involves serious changes, like new resolutions or perhaps a new way of life, but firstly and most practically, it means you need a new calendar (unless you're working with an academic one or have gone fully digital). Ju has been very disappointed that there are no more advent calendar windows to be opened. With the new year just starting , I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to make him a felt calendar. We have already ordered our photo calendars for all the grandparents, which feature both boys (and us parents occasionally) through the seasons. And we received a home made calendar from Oma (my mother) just last week. Calendars ARE on our mind.

Ju knows about seasons, the days of the week and counts up to twenty (after 20, he counts: "a lot"). Building on this, the calendar will gradually introduce additional numbers up to 31, as well as months and dates, to help him understand how the year is divided up into months, weeks and days. He is often interested in describing the weather and understands that sunny doesn't necessarily mean warm.

I cut out rectangles of different colours for the months and blanket-stitched the edges using a sewing machine. I then painted some of the months' names with glittery white fabric paint and wrote down others with a Sharpie marker (this wasn't as easy as I thought it would be). I wrote the days of the week on rectangles of felt (one colour for each day) with a black Sharpie marker.

I cut out numbers in black felt which I hot glued onto the squares. Ju helped me organise the numbers in order.

 I made felt shapes of a cloud, a sun, an umbrella and a snowflake, and machine stitched detail onto them.

I made the actual calendar using a large felt square sightly bigger than a piece of strong card recycled from some packaging. I machine stitched a rectangle of grey felt into the middle and machine stitched some separators to make a table.
I cut out some felt letters to write DAY, DATE and MONTH and hot glued these on in the first column. I then hot glued the whole thing onto the cardboard, tucking the edges around the back.
We have now hung the calendar in the kitchen and the first thing Ju does when he comes in the morning is to put the right date and weather on the calendar.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Activities around The Snowman

Ahhh! Christmas is over, we have finished all the activities on our garland, and there is no need to count down any more. We are already missing opening the advent calendars' windows, making tree ornaments, the smell of spices in the kitchen and the general anticipatory mood. Hopefully, you have all had an amazing Christmas and have got to the other side all cheered and happy. As for us, we are back in our home and the tree is still standing with all its decorations, although the branches are starting to look a little floppy.

On Christmas day, we watched The Snowman and the Snowdog, the sequel to the wordless 1982 film adaptation of Raymond Briggs' classic on television. This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Snowman, which has been shown every year on Channel 4 at Christmas since 1982. Ju's grandfather kindly gave him The Snowman book and CD set for Christmas. What more could we need to busy ourselves around The Snowman today? Just because Christmas has been and gone, it surely doesn't mean Christmas crafting stops here.

After watching the episode of The Snowman and the Snowdog again on Channel 4OD, the boys had a snowman lunch, consisting of a toasted bagel spread with cream cheese and decorated with blueberries for the mouth and eyes and a slice of carrot for the nose.

Then we made some snowmen rice crispies cakes, using up the last of our marshmallows and some leftover sweeties to decorate. The boys enjoyed eating those for dessert.
We used:
- 160 g rice crispies
- 65 g butter
- 260 g marshmallows
We melted the butter in a saucepan, then added the marshmallows, stirring for about 10 minutes on a low heat until everything was melted and smooth. Then we mixed in the rice crispies.

We waited for the mix to cool slightly and then made balls for the head and body.

Then we got decorating with small sweets and chocolate stars for buttons, eyes and noses, liquorice all sorts for hats, and jelly snakes for the scarves.

After lunch, we re-read the story of The Snowman and then got onto The Snowman's website, where we found instructions and a printable template to make a mobile. The mobile was simple enough to make, using glue, ribbon, sellotape and scissors. Ju stuck the sellotape and cut the ribbon.

We hung the finished mobile in his room. Ju particularly enjoyed prodding the characters with his new pirate foam sword to make them move.

If you are looking for more snowmen-related activities, check out the sock snowmen we made on Day 12 and the mozzarella snowmen which were part of our Christmas feast on Day 9. Time for us to go and listen to Walking in the Air our Snowman CD now...

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