Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Pine Cone Garland

I recently posted some photographs of our pine cone garlands on social media and was inundated with questions on how to make these and many people commented on how beautiful the finished garlands looked. So I have decided to post a little guide on our very thrifty and natural Autumn, Yule or Christmas garland decorations.

My husband and I decided over 12 years ago that we would embrace thrifty living... no more shop bought decorations for us!!... Everything we wanted we would make as thriftily as possible. Not only has this saved us so much money, unpacking our lovingly, handmade Christmas decorations every year holds so many memories.

I absolutely love the simplicity and natural beauty of these pine cone garlands, the one above was made for Autumn but I also have one that was made for Christmas a few years ago which has a few more sparkles.

First you will need to collect some pine cones, we usually grab a few throughout the year as we find them. The amount of pine cones you need will depend on the length of garland required, I'm using seven for my mantle piece. I usually leave them outside for a little while to ensure that any critters safely leave the pine cones.

To make the fixings we are using screw eyelets, they are really cheap only a few pence for a bag. I have managed to screw these directly into the end of the pine cone by hand but it is a little fiddly, so if you need help starting your hole, a very thin drill bit may give you a start.

 Next just thread your pine cones onto your chosen string or ribbon, we are using natural jute string here but ribbons work just as well and there is less movement of the pine cones. You may notice if using string that all the pine cones slip to the middle when you try to create a swag in your garland, you could tie them on to keep them still... but I have another remedy for this...

A little trick which allows you to easily fix them in place but still allows them to be movable if you need to change the position of a pine cone. Thread the string through your eyelet and then thread it through again, as seen in the above photo... so you create a loop.

This simple act gives your pine cone a little more resistance so that you can move it but it doesn't slip down the string.

These garlands can be kept natural or decorated for Christmas with a little glitter, paint or fake snow... the best part is it has literally taken a few minutes and cost a few pennies to make, and this beautiful garland can be reused every year.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Grape Cordial

This year we have been blessed with a bumper harvest of grapes from our vines, and as our house operates as close to zero food waste as possible, it has meant a lot and I mean LOT of preserving.

My husband has started a huge batch of wine, I had already made grape jelly for the winter and we were still being inundated with grapes and the prospect of more ripening by the day. So we opted to make some grape cordial for the children to enjoy in the autumn sunshine and any extra could be frozen for over winter treats.

First we washed our grapes and put them into a large pan, now I didn't use a recipe or weigh my grapes as I had so many but as a general rule with cordials if you use 2 kilograms of grapes add 1 litre of water, approximately half fill the pan in proportion to the grapes. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 10 minutes using a masher to release all the juice from the grapes.

Leave this to infuse in the juices and cool for a little while then strain the mixture through a jelly bag, cheesecloth or muslin to ensure all pips and grape skins are removed. This will leave you with a dark purple liquid.

At this point it is best for you to taste your mixture to see how much sugar you will need to add. Our grapes are not dessert grapes so they are really quite sharp, usually with cordials I add half the amount of sugar to finished liquid product. This means if your strained liquid is 2 litres you may need to add 1 kilogram of sugar.

Return your grape juice to the pan and heat to dissolve the sugar, it is wise to add the sugar a little at a time so that you can stop when you find it sweet enough for your taste buds, this will also depend on how sweet your grapes are too. Bear in mind this is a cordial so it will appear a little syrupy and the mixture will need to be diluted with water to drink.

Once the sugar has dissolved you can bottle up in your sterilised bottles or decant into freezable bottles to store.

We have actually made three large batches of this cordial now, and stored many litres in the freezer for Christmas and the winter season. It can also be diluted with sparkling water or lemonade if you fancy a change from still juice. The children are looking forward to a glass with their dinner over the festive season.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Education update April 2017

The children have been very busy and involved in so many projects that it would be a very long post if I included it all, so we have picked a few of our favourite things to share with you here.

After seeing pictures online of the many sock toys made by other people they made a plan to recycle some old socks into these cat plushies. I'm very proud to say that all the little sewing projects I had given them over the years must have paid off as they pretty much completed this project by themselves.

My eldest daughter's cat brought her a surprise one morning... a pile of frogspawn!!  We have no idea how the cat carried these in but in an attempt to try and save the eggs she brought them round to us. We are pleased to announce that many of the eggs are now wriggly tadpoles, this has made an excellent nature project for my youngest children and given them the chance to study the life cycle of a frog at very close hand.

We have joined the Woodland trust's project to plant more trees, with great success as we already have many little trees coming up from our packet of seeds. This project has coincided with all the seed planting we do every year to grow our vegetables on our allotment, so it has been very busy.

The latest science project the children have been studying is sound, vibration and wavelengths. We have completed many experiments including a tin can telephone, balloon noise and the above experiment to see the sugar move on the cling film by the sound vibration alone.

We have also tried to recreate how the wavelengths looked on an oscilloscope by using a really long piece of cord and moving our hands either fast or slow as seen above, until it looked the same as a given noise.

 My daughter wanted to try some new recipes in the kitchen, sticky toffee squares were one of her new experiments... and very tasty they were too. We have also been eating some of the early harvests from the allotment, so far this has been asparagus and rhubarb.

Another science project has been about light, this led to an art project involving stained glass windows to really brighten up the house. The children's sports club started up again this week for the summer now that the weather is improving which has been keeping us extra busy, along with the building of a new poly tunnel at the allotment with the hope of allowing us to grow extra vegetables.

 Will update very soon with some new projects and updates on the ongoing ones like the tadpoles and baby trees.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Happy New Year 2017

Just a quick post to wish you all a belated happy new year, I hope you have got the year off to a good start. We have all been quite poorly with the flu over the Christmas season so were out of action a little bit and everyone has been resting up well to recover, however we are definitely much improved now. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas season.

The children have spent their recovering time enjoying all their presents including the many games, lego sets, education sets and craft kits to learn and complete to name a few things. They have also been catching up on some very interesting documentaries and are currently enjoying the royal institute Christmas science lectures.

I was able to make good use of the elderberry syrup made earlier in the year as we all had the flu and it has been lovely to enjoy all the homemade and home grown produce over the Christmas season. This year we made our own pickled onions grown by my husband at the allotment, these tasted absolutely amazing and we will definitely be making them again. Our redcurrant jelly also went down well.

The new year is bringing exciting projects and new challenges, we are expanding our plant collections and planting many more interesting things from seed. For me this means extending my cactus and succulent collection and starting off these new seeds when the weather warms up.

So as you can see we are still here and I hope to be resurrecting this blog more as time goes on, adding more crafts, science and other learning projects with an added taste of our lifestyle too... Happy New Year from our whole family at Lightly Enchanted.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Home education update October 2016

The last few weeks have been quite busy, Autumn always is with all the food preservation from the allotment and finishing off the summer projects. The children have been busy with days out, drawing, making Halloween crafts and writing books as well as going swimming and a new home ed sports club. They have also been enjoying the experiments in some science kits with Dad.

Some of the experiments were exploring densities, this first one is to recreate a kind of Lava lamp. They started by pouring water and oil into a jar, waiting for the liquids to separate then they added food colouring and salt. The salt dropped through the oil layer talking some oil with it, after the salt dissolved the oil returned to the top in what looked like bubbles. We have added a short video to show this in action.

The next experiment was to create the look of fireworks in a bowl of water. They first mixed oil and food colouring together and poured the mixture into a large bowl of water.

The oil and food colouring mixture rose to the surface but after a few minutes the food colouring began to sink down and look a little like fireworks, or streaks of colour. We have added a short video to show this in action too.

There was also a fizz bomb experiment but that really didn't work at all well. They then tried out the volcano experiment with vinegar, food colouring and bicarbonate of soda. The first time they tried not much happened at all, just a bit of a trickle, it was a bit of an anticlimax so Dad added more ingredients, this time it worked much better... a little too well.

So well in fact that it left a big red stain on the ceiling! I have spared you the video on this experiment as there was a lot of screaming.

We have enjoyed some lovely nature walks looking at all the leaves changing colour and the jewel like berries and visits to the beach for Autumn beach combing.

Also a trip to the local sea life centre, where the children watched the rays for what seemed like hours and got the chance to see the turtle having his lunch.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Halloween Dementor Head

Last year for Halloween the children had a Harry Potter themed party, we decorated the house accordingly and added many homemade props, one of which was a dementor hidden in the stairs. If you read my wonderful husband's blog you will have seen the post he wrote recently on the amazing Dementor hands  he made, I had the job of making the head.

We have made papier mache figures and crafts before but nothing quite this large! As you can see from the photograph I have filled a paper cat food bag with newspaper and used egg boxes and a card tube to make the hollows for the eyes and mouth cavity. Sticky tape has been used to obtain the head shape and to keep the details we have added in the correct position. It doesn't matter how much sticky tape you use to get the shape as this will be covered by the next stage.

Completely cover your model with several layers of newspaper and PVA glue, I tend to use my hands here to finish as you can further mould and smooth it to shape better than with a brush. Leave to dry for a while and it could be painted if you prefer.

However, we chose to cover the head with another layer of papier mache, only this time we used black paper. Is it starting to look quite scary yet?

We wanted to give our head a little more texture so that it had the appearance of being older and more decayed and ripped up gauze seemed to be the way to go.

First we mixed a little black poster paint with PVA glue and dipped our gauze into it. Then simply applied small pieces to the head until we achieved the desired effect.

As you can see it looks quite creepy! The children are still wondering whether to add some more spooky effects.... After it has dried you can assemble your dementor, we fixed the head and hands to long sticks and covered these with long black fabric. It really looked very scary hiding in the stairwell.

Hope you have a Spooky Halloween from everyone here.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Heritage open days 2016

Last week the Heritage free open days took up a lot of our time, we love this time of year and to get the chance to visit some of our local Heritage sites is always very exciting. Day one started with two garden tours, the Bishop's beautiful garden is a favourite of ours and has many different plants from all over the world.

This year there was an added attraction for the children, the Bishop's cat! Well we assume it was the Bishop's cat as it came running from the house to greet us and insisted on giving us a tour of the woodland gardens.

The children love the wildflower maze and the large swing that hangs from a very old tree near the ruins. As these visits coincided with the anniversary of when we first met, my husband and I took some photos of us sitting on this swing as a memento of the many wonderful years we have spent together.

The garden has some quite quirky plants like a tree that oozes the smell of curry, and a vine with flowers that resemble snails and smells incredible. Did I mention the little cat?... best buddies, they spent ages together.

After lunch we went on to look around a gallery housed in an old Victorian skating rink with a unique and extremely vast collection of South Asian art and objects. Followed by a medieval church in which our children got the chance to try their hand at some brass rubbing.

Day two we visited two small museums, another church and an old shawl and clothing exhibition. The first Museum is in a centuries old merchants house with a 14th century under croft and very old herb garden. We got to try on costumes, play old games, learn to write in Tudor letters, complete a shakespeare quiz and make old puppets on sticks.

We finished the week on day three with a visit to the castle museum, the children got to watch and chat to some stone masons at work which was very interesting. My daughter made a crown and they both made a shield using the heraldry pictures to describe themselves.

We had a wonderful time visiting all these places and were extremely exhausted by the end of the week.