Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Home, sick

Fancy a siesta beneath a palm tree, while little monkeys frolic nearby? Then consider spending your vacation at the House of Virus, where germs flourish and boxes of tissues are toted about like this season's must-have fashion accessory. Also in vogue are cracked lips, sore throats and the odd bout of vomiting. Here our days are leisurely, with short activities punctuated by naps (children only!) and temper tantrums from an exhausted and grizzly 4-year-old (and occasionally from an exhausted and grizzly mother, too). 

Here's the exciting story* of how this recent episode of illness (as opposed to last week's one, because according to our doctor this is a different virus) began. I wrote this last night but was unable to post it due to R waking up crying and taking up the rest of my evening and a good part of my night, too. So it's all about yesterday, rather than today. Which was much the same anyway, only grumpier, snottier and with an even more exhausted and impatient mother. So here it is:
*Disclaimer: story may not actually be exciting.

Because K has, of late, been less than enthusiastic about school, and because he's been inventing all sorts of ailments in order to avoid going, we were skeptical when he staggered out of bed groaning on Monday morning. Sure, he had a cold, but there was so much exaggeration and bad acting going on (clutching his head, collapsing on the couch saying he couldn't walk) that it was hard to be very sympathetic. So I marched him off to school despite his protestations. 

Two hours later they called me to fetch him. He looked so obviously unwell huddled up in the sick bay that I felt like the world's cruellest mother. Fortunately (or perhaps not so fortunately) I already had a doctor's appointment lined up for R later in the day. Both children were examined and officially declared unwell with high temperatures. Vindicated, K phoned his dad and said I TOLD YOU SO (or something to that effect) and received in exchange a recap of the story of the boy who cried wolf. 

K asleep in the play-house, where he spent much of the day...

So today was an at-home day, with K sleeping most of the time (in some rather odd places, too) and R feeling well enough to play Tumblin' Monkeys a thousand times but still not eating much and looking skinnier than ever. I made some blueberry pancakes just to try and get some food into her, and we sat outside with my mother-in-law L (who risked infection to come help me out) and had a little picnic while K slept inside.

More sunshine forecast for tomorrow! I hope the kids will be well enough to enjoy it.

Post script: They weren't. I dragged R out into the sun to make a little garden for her Peppa Pig toys to play in; she cried and demanded sunglasses and a jumper. After she had reluctantly assisted with construction and landscaping of the little garden she declined to play with it unless it came inside (it didn't). Well, I still think it looks sweet...

...and she'd bloody well better play with it tomorrow!

Friday, 17 August 2012

A present for B

A home-made present for a dear friend in Cape Town, who just let me know that it (finally!) arrived. Oilcloth coin purse made using this tutorial and some rubber stamps I made a while back but delayed sending because I couldn't find the right sized tin to put them in (I ended up just wrapping them). B, I'm glad the parcel made it, and that it cheered you up.

When I looked for my photos of the stamps and purse, I found a photo of this drawing by R taken on the same day. Apparently the girls are sad because they are caught in the flood (that's the one God sent to wipe out all the bad people - she's read about it in K's pop-up Noah's Ark book) and the boys are happy because they have a boat - or something like that. I remember she said they are all holding their cases (how do you pack for a flood, I wonder?). 

She must have been quite taken by the flood story as it's unusual for her to do a drawing without any princesses or evil queens. Speaking of which, it's interesting that the evil queens don't scare her like so many other things in her picture-books do. Lately she has insisted that several books be exiled to a cupboard in another room: We're Going on a Bear Hunt (scary bear), Ginger (allegedly scary kitten, although in truth it is not remotely scary), The Bear and the Trolls (scary bear, scary trolls) and Roland the Minstrel Pig (scary fox). Hopefully she won't notice the pair of grizzly bears in the Noah's Ark book...

Monday, 13 August 2012

Playgroup art and craft: Chalk drawing and water painting

Our first mild and sunny playgroup day in a long time called for outdoor activities. I put out some buckets of water and paintbrushes so children could 'paint' with water and do chalk drawings on the concreted section outside. 

A little later I put out a couple of easels - one with a blackboard on each side; one with paper and paints. 'Painting' the blackboard proved very popular, and in the sunshine the water dried up quickly. 

For many people these kinds of activities are too messy to do at home, or they lack the space in which to do them, so I like to offer them regularly at playgroup. Painting with a big flat brush is such a good feeling - the smoothness of the water as it coats the blackboard; the gloopiness of the paint gliding across the paper. It's a lovely example of the importance of process over product, especially the water painting which is done purely for the pleasure of the experience, the pictures or marks made soon disappearing completely. 

I watched one boy painting water lines on the concrete, totally absorbed by what he was doing. It reminded me of how my own son, at age 2 or so, loved to 'paint' with an old broom-head and water from my mum's bird-bath. It is such a privilege to spend time with little children as they explore their world.

K preparing to paint with water from mum's bird-bath - many years ago!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Bubble dresses

Recently Oliver + S's Bubble Dress became available as a digital pattern. It looked such a  summery and fun design and, since it could be bought with the click of a mouse, I could no longer resist!

So why am I sewing summer clothes in mid-winter? I don't know... I guess I am in winter denial, just waiting (impatiently) for warmer weather and more sunshine, and, of course, an end to all those times I stand shivering in the street or at the park while my children (who, of course, don't feel the cold) spend hours playing throwing things, building things and riding things.

The bubble dress is easy to sew, and it's satisfying to see the skirt bubble out at the bottom once the elastic is in. First I made the green dress in size 3, then realised I'd made it in the exact same fabric as this one that I'd admired in the Oliver + S Flickr group. When I saw that dress, and read that it was made from Spotlight's tana lawn, I was disappointed that the fabric was no longer available, as the tana lawn I'd bought was pretty but not quite as nice a shade of green. Then after I'd made the dress I looked through my Flickr favourites again and lo and behold - it was, in fact, the identical fabric, it was just that the colour looked deeper in Jennifer's photos (I hope she takes my imitation as the sincerest form of flattery). Anyway - this dress isn't the greatest fit on R. It's too wide around the chest, making the cap sleeves stick out more than they should. Hopefully it won't be too short in 16 months' time, because I don't think there's much hope of her chest expanding that much by this summer! 

Then I saw a stunning range of seersucker prints (also in Spotlight) and knew I had to make something out of the red flowery one (if not all of them, because I have a thing for seersucker and these are irresistible). This time I made the bodice in size 2 (as ridiculous as it felt to be sewing size 2 for a 4-year-old) and the skirt in size 3. A far better fit, and the seersucker is beautifully springy and bouncy, just right for the bubble effect.

With both dresses I used Five and Counting's fantastic and very detailed tutorial to make sure I was following the pattern correctly, as I'm prone to getting completely mixed up without photos to follow. I had the most trouble right at the beginning, when I had to put a strip of fusible interfacing on a bodice piece - it took several goes due to stupidly ironing it the wrong way up (twice), positioning it incorrectly (once) and fusing it to the wrong side of the fabric (once). After this inauspicious start I forged ahead, making a couple of changes as per Nicole's suggestions: I shortened the elastic by 2", and made the second dress using her top-stitching method to join the bodice to the skirt (I'm hopeless at hand-sewing and this adaptation makes a lot of sense). Sewing self-esteem restored!

Today's cold weather made me feel bad about having R put the smaller dress on so I could photograph it, but we caught a little morning sunshine before the day degenerated into the usual chilly, damp greyness of winter, so it wasn't too traumatic - plus I bribed her.

Now can I have my chocolate biscuit?

Saturday, 11 August 2012

What the heck is a matzo ball?

The other day I was chatting to one of our neighbours while our children played footy in the street. As mothers often do, we discussed our fussy eaters and what we were planning to cook for them that evening. I told her I was making kneidlach - otherwise known as matzo (or matzah) balls - and she asked me what matzo balls are made of. 'They're made of matzo meal,' I answered, but not being Jewish, she had no idea what that was. 'It's crushed up matzo,' I said, 'kind of like breadcrumbs.' But what is matzo, she asked, puzzled. I ended up explaining that if you got a pack of table water crackers and smashed them you'd probably have something closely resembling matzo meal. And that these balls are quite easy to make, and, served in a bowl of soup, are one of the few things that we all love to have for dinner.

Our Friday night dinners are special, because that's when we celebrate Shabbat with blessings and a delicious (hopefully) family meal. Kneidlach/matzo balls (usually served with chicken soup) are a very traditional Jewish food. Being vegetarian we have them in a somewhat untraditional way, with minestrone. And this unusual combination is really, really good.

Every Jewish woman who cooks kneidlach has her own way of preparing them, but the ingredients don't vary much: eggs, oil, water, matzo meal, seasoning. My grandmother's recipe included two tablespoons of boiling water ('it MUST be boiling!'); the recipe I use specifies cold (I suspect it makes no difference). So, adapted from The Spice and Spirit of Kosher Jewish Cooking (which has three recipes - 'easy', 'fancy' and 'special'), here is how I make kneidlach:

Beat two eggs lightly, then add two tablespoons of oil (I use extra virgin olive oil), two tablespoons cold water, a pinch of salt and a few shakes of pepper. 

Stir in about 3/4 cup coarse matzo meal (I have no idea what anyone uses the fine matzo meal for, but don't buy it). The mixture should be a bit runny, so you freak out and think 'I will never be able to make these into balls!' Add a bit more matzo meal if it's dripping-off-the-spoon runny. 
Cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes (longer is OK too. Sometimes I leave them in the fridge all day before cooking them at night and they turn out fine). 

The mixture will now be much thicker. With wet hands, roll little balls the size of walnuts. I get about 17 or 18 from this recipe, but you can make a smaller quantity of larger ones if you prefer. They do expand a fair bit when boiled.

Cook in a large pot of boiling water for 40 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. You can then put them straight into a soup, or let them cool before refrigerating or freezing them (they freeze very well). 
Here is K's bowl of strained soup with kneidlach. If you have a fussy eater, statements such as I DON'T WANT VEGIES IN MY SOUP may be all too familiar. We're hoping he'll grow out of it, because what sort of vegetarian doesn't like vegetables? R, pleasingly, has hers with plenty of vegies. And extra cannellini beans. 

Shabbat shalom!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Playgroup art and craft: Jellyfish

Our playgroup space, sadly, is rather drab and institutional-looking. Because we rent it from the council and it's used by several other community groups there's not much we can do to pretty it up besides putting up the children's artworks and a few posters. But at our last session, on a chilly, grey morning, balloons and streamers brightened up the place for a while. Playing with balloons kept the children happily occupied inside when it was too cold to go out; streamers were cut into lengths to become dangling jellyfish tentacles attached to paper plate bodies. 

The finished jellyfish, hanging on their elastic threads, move their tentacles beautifully when bounced a little, almost as though they are swimming through water. Next week I suspect they'll all be swimming back to their makers' homes - but for now they add much-needed movement and colour to our playgroup space.