I made sloe gin for the first time last year, and I can honestly say, hand on heart, that it was the best thing I have ever drunk. I was heartbroken when the bottle I’d made ran out and berated myself for not picking more sloes so that I could have made more . Since then, I’ve been impatiently waiting for the sloes to reappear so that I can get on with the 2014 vintage. Last year I didn’t pick the sloes until October, but I spotted them out very early in September this year, and I couldn’t risk all the bushes being stripped bare before I got round to picking them so I went for it. I then froze the sloes – this causes the skins to split so that you don’t have to pierce each one with a pin, and mimics the effect of the first frost, after which the berries are supposed to be more mature and flavoursome.
450g sloe berries
200g caster sugar
(Once the sloes were in my 1L kilner jar, I couldn’t also fit in a whole litre of gin so I’ve played around with these quantities as you can see below. I won’t know which is most successful until the gin is ready for sampling – I’ll update this post afterwards)
1. Pierce each sloe with a pin if the skins haven’t split after freezing.
2. Put the sloes into a kilner jar (to sterilise the jar first either run it through the dishwasher on a hot wash, or put in an oven at 130 degrees Celcius for 20 mins).
3. Pour in the sugar and the gin, close the lid and shake well.
4. Store in a cool, dark cupboard. Shake well every other day for the first week, then once a week for at least two months.
5. Strain the gin through a muslin into a bottle.
6. Sample it. Frequently!
The twins turned five this month, and for the first time we hired a village hall to hold a proper party for them. Keen to save our pennies, we decided against outsourcing the entertainment, cavalierly deciding to go DIY all the way. We hadn’t planned to theme the party (my theme preference was ‘birthday party’), but the kids picked up on the fact that the other parties they get invited to have themes, so we couldn’t get away with it after all. After our trip to the Just So Festival, the twins decided a circus theme would be fun, and we ran with that.
We opted for a fairground-style approach with a few activity ‘stalls’ set up: tin can crash, hole in one, skittles, facepainting (they could choose from a clown, elephant or lion) and temporary tattoos. We also had a corner of the hall for circus skills with a couple of diablos, plate spinning sets, juggling balls and a ‘tightrope’ to balance on (a simple length of 2×4 timber, made to look stripy with the addition of some red electrical tape).
When I saw the tutorial for the DIY circus party hats (pictured above) on Oh Happy Day, I knew I had to give them a go. I’d originally planned to make one for every guest, but I ran out of time, so I decided to make them for the birthday boy and girl instead. The tutorial was easy-to-follow, and I just added a number 5 (cut from my Cricut mini) to the front of each hat. I brought them out when the kids sat down to eat and they were a huge hit with the twins.
After the mini activities we played all the old favourites – musical bumps, musical statues, and pass the parcel was a must. Rather than fill each layer of parcel with a sweet, I bought a pack of foam clown noses on eBay, and each child got one as they unwrapped the next layer. Then they could wear the noses so I could tell who’d had a turn! We finished up with a game of popcorn relay – the kids were divided into teams and then they took turns to transport popcorn from one bucket to another at the other end of the room using a cup. The winners were the team to empty their bucket first.
I wanted to avoid filling party bags with all the usual plastic crap that clutters up your house after a party and actually costs a lot when you have to fill 20+ party bags. I’ve wanted to make these storage jars with animal lids for years (I saw them in a mag pre-Pinterest), so I thought I could do those, and fill them with popcorn with sprinkles. I glued the animals onto the lids (tip: use superglue, not a hot glue gun) and sprayed them with silver or orange paint. Unfortunately for some reason the paint on the animals didn’t dry, and stayed really tacky. I was stumped until a friend suggested covering them with glitter and actually we all thought they looked even better with their added bling.
I’d been saving a huge box that our new garden table came in for months, thinking it would come in useful, and decided to make a strongman photo prop. The kids had fun popping their heads through the hole and posing for pictures!
You’re not getting any pictures from the party itself because it was two hours of wonderfully chaotic carnage (both in how it looked and the general organisation)! My camera didn’t make it out of the bag, and this shot of the twins was all I managed to snap on my phone after all the guests had left and when their facepaint was all wonderfully smudged. But I’m pretty sure everyone had fun, and I know the twins had a total ball, which is all that really matters. I had planned to finish up the party by letting the children throw wet sponges at my head, but I chickened out at the last minute. I’ll save that for another year.
When Katy (Apartment Apothecary) and Charlotte (Lotts and Lots) asked me to take part in their new blog series ‘Styling The Seasons‘ way back in the summer, I couldn’t wait to get started. With the challenge to reflect the change of and show those changes in your own home, by styling any surface (shelf, dining table, mantelpiece) with something you like to reflect the new month and what it means to you.
I think it’s a brilliant idea and way to get me thinking creatively to give a corner of our home a quick seasonal update. I love changing things round at home, but with limited time on my hands, the surfaces in our busy family home are often neglected for way too long, with the result I think that I stop noticing them altogether and the enjoyment they offer disappears. We also have that common problem that any available surface becomes a dumping ground for clutter and mess – the kitchen table is buried under post and old newspapers, higher surfaces are home to things I’ve hidden away that I don’t want the kids to have (sweets, that annoying little plastic toy, something they’ve been squabbling over), so it was a good way to get me to clear an area, and have fun with putting a new display together.
September bridges my two favourite seasons – summer and autumn. This September for us has been all about the twins starting school for the first time. The colour of their uniform is purple, so the house is full of purple now – the twins have even planted purple pansies in the front garden. The clock signifies the return to routine, and getting used to school hours. Dried Honesty is something I’ll always associate with autumn, as my mum dries some for display every year. This year she brought me some over to pop in a vase, and I just love that translucent mother-of-pearl colour of the seed pods. The glass jar is full of sea glass and white pebbles that we collected on our travels around Europe this summer (I want to finish these off with gorgeous labels like Alexis has on her bottled holiday keepsakes), which remind me of the amazing time we had together , and will serve as inspiration when we’re planning our adventures for next year. September is also the twins’ birthday, so I had to mark that with some balloons and my favourite of their birthday cards.
September really does have a special place in my heart.
The summer break is over, and as the twins head off to start school I’m ready to put my creative hat back on and get back to blogging. But there’s been something I’ve been mulling over for a while, and I’ve finally come to a decision. I’ve been writing over at Young & Younger about our family life since 2009, and about interiors here since 2011, and it’s time to admit that I can’t do both. I don’t have enough time to keep up with two blogs, and I think both suffer as a result.
And so I’ve chosen to close up shop at Young & Younger, and focus on blogging here. I’ll still be blogging about family-friendly interiors and home-related craft and makeover projects, but there’ll also be posts about family life and kids’ crafts and activities. I’ve also enjoyed dipping into some travel and food posts, and I plan to write about whatever piques my interest, though the focus will always be interiors, because that’s what I’m thinking about most of the time. I’m aiming to unite the two halves of my life (family and work) in a single lifestyle blog, and the start of a new academic year seems like a pretty good time to take the leap.
So welcome to new readers joining me from Young & Younger, and thanks to Growing Spaces readers for sticking with me when posts here have been few and far between. I’m really excited about getting my teeth back into blogging and can’t wait to get started afresh.
This is my second stab at Michelle and Emma‘s #1day12pics collaboration – a picture each hour, all day. We didn’t have anything special planned for this weekend, but I thought that trying to look at a normal Sunday at home with a more creative eye would be a good challenge. I shared my iPhone pics throughout the day on Instagram. Michelle cleverly themes her pics for the day, but the best I could manage was a colour theme running through mine.
8am: Peppermint tea in bed | 9am: Sending OH (who’s been on night shifts) off to bed | 10am: Had some help making the crumble topping | 11am: Heading out to the shops with the twins
12: Getting lunch ready | 1pm: Prepping snacks for the park | 2pm: Playing at the park | 3pm: Early sloe picking 4pm: Water stop back at home | 5pm: Fajitas for dinner | 6pm: Bathtime for les enfants | 7pm: Kids in bed, rewarding myself for surviving the day
As well as the amazing general atmosphere at Just So, the festival programme is pretty rocking, too. We went through the programme together as a family before we arrived, starring our must-see shows, and we actually managed to do all of those and more. Here were our favourites of the weekend:
Little Wonder: This show combined acrobalance and physical theatre and really caught the imagination of the twins. We watched it first thing on the Saturday, and it was a great start to our day.
Lantern making: Ez got really into making a lantern. although I’m not sure we timed this activity brilliantly. We headed into the Spellbound Forest as soon as we arrived at the festival on the Friday, and the lantern-making tent was absolutely rammed. We made the frame outside in the woods, which was lovely, but had to brave the crowds to cover the frame with the paper. Next year I think we’ll make our frame and come back at a quieter time to cover it, or even take some materials back to our tent so we can do it in our own time.
Lantern parade: The sight of all the finished lanterns hanging in the trees ready for everyone to collect was really fabulous. We didn’t make one last year, so we loved having one to take part in the parade this year. Seeing all the lanterns lit up and the parade winding around the forest is really magical, and a real highlight of our festival.
Clay faces: This is an extremely popular activity in the programme. To get a place, you need to get there early and it’s well worth it. After a brief introduction, the kids are given a lump of clay and head into the forest to create their faces out of things that they can find on the forest floor. Ez and Fonz took great care with theirs and wanted photographs taken of their finished creations.
Imaginary Menagerie: This was the last show we caught of the weekend (a riotous spectacle of circus performers, puppets and music with tales loosely based on Aesop’s fables) and we LOVED it. It was fun, energetic, imaginative and creative. All four of us enjoyed every single minute and I think we’d all have liked to be able to watch it all over again.
Circus skills: After facing the twins’ immense disappointment when we discovered I needed to have booked them into the weekend’s circus workshops, we went along to one of the open circus skills sessions where the twins got to try diablo, plate spinning and juggling sticks which more than made up for it.
Pirate Training Camp: There was no tearing the twins away from this. The pirates organised lots of pirate-themed games for the kids, which kept them completely engaged despite the wind and drizzle on Sunday morning.
Something To Hold: Last year’s show by Pif Paf Theatre was stunning, but the twins were too young to be able to engage with it, and got bored quickly. This year was different, and they were completely entranced by the acrobatic display and the drama onstage in front of them. The story of an Astronomer who tries capture two stars was told through movement and aerial acrobatics, and was stunning to watch.
Mermaids: The first thing that Fonz said to me after he woke up the morning after we met the mermaids at the festival was “Mummy, we saw actual real mermaids, didn’t we?” The look of wonder when they saw them was amazing, and as well as looking incredible the mermaids were brilliantly entertaining – the mermaid high five, which involved getting the children to lie down with their feet in the air and then slapping their feet with their tales, was a huge hit.
Last year, the Just So Festival completely seduced me with its magic and originality. We all loved every second (eternal thanks to Kat for introducing me to this special festival), and it was an absolute given that we would want to experience it all again this year. Having been left with such a sense of wonder and happiness last year, there was a small part of me that was terrified that it wouldn’t live up to those memories, but as soon as we walked through the gates last Friday, the festival began to work its magic, and I was just as captivated as before. In fact, I think it felt even more wonderful this year because the twins, now a year older (nearly 5), were so completely engaged and enthralled and seeing it through their eyes was amazing.
Just So is spellbinding on so many levels – every aspect of the festival looks absolutely beautiful, the performances are always full of creativity, and the sense of community and togetherness is just so strong. It sets your imagination alight and leaves you tingling with excitement and inspiration.
I’m going to follow up with another post with a rundown of our favourite things we did at Just So Festival 2014, but for now I wanted to set the mood of the festival with a few of my favourite shots from the weekend…
Panicking about your tribal costumes for the Tribal Tournament at this year’s Just So Festival? Here are some super-easy costume ideas for all the tribes – fish, foxes, frogs, lions, owls and stags. Pick your tribe (Go Foxes! Go Owls!), and get creative. If you haven’t got time for a full costume, a set of face paints should sort you out…
It’s just four weeks until the twins turn five, and on that very day they’ll also head off for their first day at school. These are the sort of weeks that have wings. Wings that mean they soar past you with a whoosh that’s fun and exhilarating, but that leaves you dazed and short of breath.
Our days are packed and we seem to be ticking off milestones before I have time to take them in and savour them. This week alone has seen Fonz swim his first width (thanks to a week’s crash swimming course) and shoot off on his bike without stabilisers, while Ez sounds out words and can’t get enough of writing. All this is sandwiched into a hectic routine of meeting up with friends and playing out.
I’m sure I say it every year, but this has been our best year yet. This age quite simply rocks. They are just the best company, both for us as parents but also for each other. Sure they bicker, but they also offer each other the most fantastic companionship; seeing their bond deepen is an absolute privilege. They offer each other reassurance when they’re scared or anxious without even realising it. You can watch them edge physically closer to each other, and then maybe join hands or put an arm round each other. It’s completely unconscious. I can’t imagine that feeling of someone always having been there, and the total belief that they will always be there. I can’t help it, it brings a lump to my throat, and tears to my eyes every time I’m lucky enough to witness it.
These last weeks before I hand them over to school, before I have to share them, to relinquish so much of the time we spend together, seem so precious, and yet the pace of life means they’re slipping past in a blur. I have no doubt that this is a good thing. Our days are full of fun, and so I don’t have time to dwell on the sadness about our pre-school time coming to an end. When the emotion does take over, I scoop one or both of them up and make them promise to let me call them my babies forever (obviously they are hugely indignant at the suggestion they are babies), but they know me well enough to indulge me, and roll their eyes at each other at the daftness of their mum.
What can I say? My babies are growing up, and it’s exciting and heart-breaking in equal measure.
Just So is a very easy festival to navigate. It was our first ever festival when we attended last year, and we got into the swing of things very quickly. The site isn’t too large so it’s easy enough to get around, and the camping field is right next to the site so again, you can get to all the events nice and easily.
Just So has a brilliant list of what to bring on their website, but here are a few of my own pointers for newcomers:
FANCY DRESS: This is entirely optional so don’t stress about it! You choose your tribe, and then dress up to try to earn points in the Tribal Tournament. Last year there were kids dressed as pirates for the High Seas, cowboys and cowgirls for the Wild West (this area has been replaced with the Imaginarium this year where I reckon circus-themed fancy dress is the order of the day), and as fairies to meet the Fairy Queen. You can join in as little or as much as you like – for kids and adults anything goes. I definitely recommend packing some facepaints for easy dress-up when the kids demand it (and I used them too last year).
FOOD: There are good catering options onsite (burritos and pizza stick in my memory as being really great), but if you have fussy eaters, then make sure you bring your own food supplies. We combined buying food out with cooking back at the tent, and will be doing the same this year.
TOILETS AND SHOWERS: There are plenty of portaloos located close to the camping field, and at other places on the festival site. The queues for the showers varied according to the time of day. Obviously they were longest in the mornings, but I managed to shower in the afternoon without any wait at all. Bring a hat and then you don’t have to worry about what your hair looks like anyway!
PHONE CHARGING: You can leave your phones to charge in the Information tent – I believe that last year it was £1 per charge if my memory serves me correctly. Otherwise I’d definitely recommend bringing a universal portable power bank/emergency charger (we use a Kit model) which will mean you can still charge up.
GETTING AROUND: Last year we brought a trolley with us, and we’ll be doing that again, although we’re hoping we won’t need to use it so much now the twins are older. The site isn’t huge, but all the walking is tiring for little legs – you’d be fine with a pushchair, or you can hire wagons for the weekend. The lantern parade through the Spellbound Forest is one of my festival highlights, but it’s in the evening so a pushchair is a good idea for smaller kids.
OUT AND ABOUT: Carry a picnic blanket about with you so you can settle on the grass to watch any shows or enjoy a drink and snack. Appoint a meeting place nearby whenever you stop that you and the kids can go to if you get separated. We found it helpful to have a bit of a plan of what we were going to do when, so have a good look through the festival programme before heading out. You do also have to book places for some of the activities, so be aware of this and plan around your slot.
I’M SO EXCITED! If you spot us about at the festival do come and say hi. I’ll be the one with the stupid grin plastered to my face for the whole weekend.