Thursday, March 21, 2013

Into Action

This is a back issue of A.P., but just in time for the coming holiday.

Two more days to go til the kids' spring holidays from school starts. In spite of my best intentions, I never did get it together to plan a family trip somewhere, even though we're all getting pretty desperate to see the sun. So, mommy camp it is.

Fortunately for me, and you too if you're like me and need some help planning your April holiday, there is Action Pack Magazine. If you don't know about super cool Aussie mom and blogger Kathreen Ricketson and her equally awesome e-zine, you're in for a treat. Filled with very cool, theme based projects for kids and their grownups (with ideas and even entire issues spanning a range of ages, like the special pre-school edition, see photo below), these downloadable PDF magazines are affordable, free of advertising and support the belief that kids are fundamentally self-directed, innovative problems solvers, and should be given opportunities to explore and demonstrate those traits in fun and creative ways. Read the Action Pack philosophy here

Can't wait to try out some of the pre-school projects with my two younger boys.

This is the most recent issue of A.P., which is water themed.

Michael is a little obsessed with my lip balm, so we're definitely going to be making some of those.
There are many other issues available too, so be sure to check them all out.

For the record, C.A.B.L. remains ad-free, and my endorsement of Action Pack is unsolicited and unpaid for by anyone. All photos used by permission of Kathreen Ricketson.

Happy making, and happy spring!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Garden Party

 My baby boy just turned four on Saturday. In the weeks leading up to the day, I had it in my mind to throw him a small party at home. Since he has lots of cousins, I invited them (and just a couple of school friends) over for an afternoon tea party, but didn't have much planned to fill the two hours I'd allocated for the festivities. I started panicking a couple of days prior to the party, and in the end came up with a garden scavenger hunt for silver dragons eggs (plus one golden egg), followed by tea and cake, and finished off with a homemade pinata. It was lots of fun-some outside playtime and inside eating time, a bit of mayhem (which no party should be without) but not too overstimulating. If you want to see how it all got thrown together, and care to steal any of these ideas for throwing a last minute kids birthday party, scroll down past the photos for a checklist and instructions.

While we were waiting for the guests to all arrive (we had twelve kids in all, including my three), I gave any kids who wanted it a chance to feed and hold our lambs. Here is my niece Willow holding Violet (named after another niece in America).
Rather than wait til everyone left, Michael got right down to the business of opening his presents as they came. His cousins helped out with the right amount of oohing and ahhing.

When everyone had finally arrived, I got the kids outside for the scavenger hunt. Earlier in the day,  I had hidden 35 dragons' eggs (rocks that I spray painted silver, and one painted gold) around the garden. There was a prize for the child who found the most eggs, and also for whoever found the golden egg.

 The silver stones looked so beautiful hidden amongst the trees and bushes!

 The hunt is on!
They found all of the eggs/stones in about fifteen minutes. If I had this to do over, I would've hidden something like fifty or sixty eggs, to make it last a little longer. 
To the victor goes the spoils. Little notebooks wrapped in butcher block paper and tied in red cotton ribbon made up the scavenger hunt prizes. Charlie won both prizes. Typical.

After tea (supper to my American amigos) and cake, it was pinata time. While I was getting ready for the party, I asked Molly, our friendly neighborhood babysitter, to decorate brown paper bags for the kids so they could collect their pinata candy. I suppose I could've had the kids decorate their own bags, but we didn't really have time, so I'm glad Molly helped out.  

Next we went back outside, and each child got a turn to whack the pinata. Henry held it up by the string, and nearly got hit a few times. Hanging it up is probably a safer option.

After the mad scrabble for candy, of which there was not too much, we were just about out of time. I passed around a grab bag with individually wrapped little toys inside, one for each child, and sent them all on their way. Was Michael a happy birthday boy? 
Yes. Yes, he was.

Here is how I prepared for the party:

1) I bought some pretty spring colored paper plates and napkins, and dug out the plastic cutlery that I had saved from Charlie's party in September.
2) I picked up the party favor toys, like a bag of jacks, a deck of Old Maid cards, a wooden pop gun, etc., I got almost everything from a shop near me that carries a lot of toys from House of Marbles; most were £5 or less, none were plastic.
(The classics never die. Michael and Charlie have been playing pick up sticks non-stop for two days, and Jake is becoming a jacks expert.)

3) I started making the pinata. I blew up a balloon, put it in a vase and covered it with a layer of newspaper strips dipped in flour and water paste (roughly two parts water to one part flour). I let it dry overnight.
Future pinata, above.

1) Added a second, then third layer of newspaper strips to the dry layer of the pinata. Let it dry again (sped up the process with a hairdryer).

2) Also for the pinata, bought a couple of bags of chocolate mini eggs and gummy candies (here you can easily find the kind with no artificial colors, which is such a relief to me). I would've preferred to add those fruit sweetened lollipops instead of gummies, but I couldn't find any at the last minute.

3) Made a simple chocolate cake, using the last box of Barefoot Contessa Ultimate Chocolate Cake mix I had left from America. Baking is not my strong suit, so I didn't bother with making it from scratch. I decorated the edge of the cake plate with little flowers, to hide my bad frosting skills.

4) Bought some sausages and pasta for childrens' tea. Also some carrots, cut up into sticks, and cucumbers peeled and cut into wheels. Pasta was offered plain with cheese, or with pesto. If you don't already have them on hand, pick up a bag of brown paper lunch bags, for the pinata candy collecting.

Finished the pinata, which I filled with candy, and decorated with strips of yellow and blue tissue paper, stuck on in alternating layers from top to bottom using a glue stick. I poked two very small holes through the neck to thread a string through for hanging. There must be a better way to do the string, but I didn't think of adding it until after I had finished making the whole thing.

1) The party didn't start til four in the afternoon. It was Jake's idea to use rocks for the scavenger hunt. I needed something that we already had a bunch of lying around, and it took my nine year old to point out the rocks. I remembered my leftover can of silver spray paint that I used for the wooden sceptres for Charlie's birthday. I ran around the garden, collected about thirty five rocks, rinsed them off, dried them in the oven, and spray painted them all silver. Then I decided to make one big, golden egg. I coated it with glue and glitter. It was barely dry in time.

2) Write the name of each partygoer on the brown paper bags. To help quell the ants in the pants of your kids while they wait for the party to get started, ask them to decorate the bags. Or you can put one bag at each place setting, and have the kids decorate their own upon arrival. Also while waiting for things to get going, blow up a bunch of balloons and threw them around the house for everyone to play with. There are still a bunch of them floating around here. 

And that is that. Do you have any easy, last minute birthday party ideas you'd like to share? Please do. I've only got three months til the next one comes along!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Adoption

This is me first thing this morning. As Henry piled the boys into the car to bring them to school, I did something I haven't done in a very long time. I made up a couple of nice warm bottles of milk, and fed our two new babies.
Yesterday I went shopping with Michael for all the things we'd need for our new lambs, which was not much. We got a hefty bag of ewe formula, a few bottles, and a heat lamp. (While we were at it we replenished our stores of sow feed, wild bird feed and, for tomorrow's arrivals, a big bag of chicken feed. Lordy.)

 Once we'd decided to bring the babies here to live, I had Henry drop everything else he was doing and build a lamb pen in the garage. He cobbled together some wooden pallets, a wire gate, and a bale of straw from the farm.
We went to pick them up, a boy and a girl, last night after supper. Jake held the little girl in his lap in the front seat, and the boy rode in the middle, slightly confused, as Michael and Charlie held him steady between them in the back.
This morning the kids ran straight out to the pen to visit with the lambs before they left for school. This picture of Michael kills me, because he's my first little spring lamb; he's turning four this Saturday. We haven't named the lambs yet, but we will. Though Henry and I are looking to move towards self sufficiency as much as possible here, and to raise our own food, I can't even contemplate the thought of eating these lambs. They are part of our family now.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Lambing Season

My last post included a photo of a newborn lamb in the field. For the past couple of days, the boys and I have been walking down the road to Kitty's farmyard to visit the new babies who are being born there every day. Most of them are nestled into the hay with their mamas, but several tiny ones have been turned out by their mothers, and are now orphans.
Mother nature isn't always a kind lady. This little love was mostly skin and bones, and she was bottle fed and put under a heat lamp in an effort to keep her going. Michael stood hovering over her box two days ago, unable to tear himself away from her sad bleating, and asking me over and over again where her mama was. It was heartbreaking, and this morning when we went back to check up on her, she was gone. Although I think there are important teaching moments that can happen when we live this close to nature's way of doing things, it seems unkind to let my three year old know that she has died. He'll have plenty of chances later on to find our about survival of the fittest, and in a way, as the youngest of three boys, he's learning enough about that within his own family already.
These orphans are faring much better; they're about four weeks old. Here you can see them fighting over the nipples attached to an artificial feeder by their pen. They're also under a heat lamp, and when they rest they huddle together and keep each other warm and happy.
Soon these three will be weaned off of the bottle, and will switch to feed. For now they are still too young and delicate to live out in the field, so they still need a warm box and food. Kitty is calling the black and white one Big Ears, and I'm pretty sure we've decided to adopt him. He walked right up to us this morning and let us pet him as if he were a puppy. The boys begged me to take him home, and Kitty and I are talking about it. Henry has just finished building the chicken run out in the garden. I think next week he'll have to build a lamb pen, too. Obviously, I'll keep you posted.