A springtime rainbow

This part of the world seems to be very colourful at the moment, from the geraniums and nasturtiums by my front door…


To the bright yellow and acid greens of the wild flowers growing alongside my regular walking routes to school and up the Med Steps.


The blues and purples of the native Scilla Peruviana (impressed? I have the Alameda Gardens to thanks for the name) and decoractive Osteospermum. 

Even some of the trees are putting on a show!


Just look at the calming pastel hues of the Gibraltar Candytuft and more Osteospermum (also known as Cape Daisies). 

Even the sunlight is joining in…. I spotted this plethora of rainbows 🌈 while I was waiting for a lift in the Mid Town car park.

I must have arrived at just the right moment for the sun to be in the best rainbow producing position. The louvred glass window was the perfect vehicle to produce these technicolour stripes.

Even my Lent granny squares for my Sixty Million Trebles project blanket are joining in on the act… 


And please tell me I’m not the only one who finds the arrangement of these recycling bins pleasing to the eye?

What ever you’re up to today, I hope you have a bright and colourful one!

Trick or treat? Hallowe’en – bah humbug!

This post was first published in the e-magazine Mum on the Rock, and I’m afraid it reveals my true inner grumpiness, read on at your own risk!

I’m afraid I’m a bit of a misery when it comes to Trick or Treating and all that Hallowe’en has to offer. As a child I was never encouraged to embrace the whole spooky prospect, maybe that’s because it wasn’t quite such a big deal back then. As a child, I remember us hiding in the back of the house and not answering the door when Trick or Treaters came round knocking for sweets and money. I used to be scared of the witch masks and thought the threats of having eggs and flour thrown at the house were horrendous. Eventually the persistent door knockers would give up and move onto one of our neighbours who may have been more accommodating.

My Mum often spoke of growing up in Scotland where Trick or Treating was a completely different set up. A gang of kids would knock on neighbour’s doors and be invited in. There, they would have to perform a song or play a musical instrument, or even try to trick the inhabitants into giving them an apple, a toffee or a coin. Therefore the cheek of turning up in fancy dress costume and demanding sweets didn’t go down too well to someone who’d had to earn their reward in childhood!

I guess this sentiment has been passed on down to me over the years and even now I find the whole prospect of knocking on somebody’s door and asking for sweets a bit out of my comfort zone and therefore I have never encouraged my own children to take part in the practice. I can remember just once going on a Hallowe’en Trick or Treating expedition as a child. I had been press-ganged into joining a friend from the next road along and in the company of several other witches and ghouls I rather awkwardly headed off into the night, shrouded in the obligatory white sheet with eye holes cut out. I remember that on the whole, our presence on peoples’ doorsteps was not welcomed. I guess our neighbourhood back in the 1980s hadn’t fully embraced the wonder of Trick or Treating kids.

The act of ignoring door knockers on Hallowe’en night continued into my own adult life. When we were still living in England, I was once told off by a friend for leaving her and her children out in the cold who, unbeknownst to me, had walked the length of the estate to knock on our front door. They knew that we would be in and wrongly assumed that we would have some booty for them as a reward for the their long trek in spooky get-up. I didn’t make the same mistake the following year, they had an allotted time slot when I would answer the door and dish out the specially bought Hallowe’en themed sweets.

As far as my family’s concerned now, maybe it’s because I have only sons, but we don’t really do a lot of dressing up in our house. In fact, I would go so far as to say that certain members of my family positively detest it. I am the Mum who looks like she’s made the least amount of effort when the kids turn up to school on a special themed dressing up day. I am the parent you see dragging a sobbing child to school because they didn’t want to wear a costume or the one who’s kid looks like his parent either didn’t get the email about the required costume or just couldn’t be bothered. It’s just not something we embrace in our house, and as Hallowe’en is optional, we tend to opt out. I completely get the whole idea of Hallowe’en parties though, in fact, last year we went to one as I thought it would be a bit of mid-term holiday fun. It was great, there was face-painting, hallowe’en crafts, spooky food and themed games, it was great fun and most of our family really enjoyed it. However, I was the only parent who arrived with children not in the appropriate vampire/skeleton/wizard/ghost/werewolf fancy dress costume (their choice, it wasn’t because we didn’t have the costumes at home). Being the only children at the party wearing ‘normal’ clothes they won awards ironically for the most imaginative Hallowe’en costumes!

Now that I have a child in middle school, I’ve been reminded of the slightly more sinister and mischievous side to Hallowe’en night. Each year, shortly before the end of October the pupils get a visit from the Police advising them to be careful and not engage in illegal activity, namely vandalising people’s property, playing with Agua Fuerte and letting off fireworks. I find it quite shocking that middle school aged children have to be spoken to about these issues, might they even consider getting involved in such things?  As a child, I remember being warned at school about the dangers of fireworks, so I guess it’s on a similar level, but it just reinforces the idea that the whole mischievousness of the Hallowe’en tradition isn’t to be encouraged as it can easily get out of hand, or so it would seem.

So you have probably guessed that this October 31st, our household will not be running around the neighbourhood in witch hats and ghostly costumes, we won’t come knocking on your door expecting to be given handfuls of sweets, nor will we threaten to egg or flour your door for failing to answer when we know you are at home. We’ll be sitting tight indoors ourselves with the lights off, the tv turned down and the doorbell disconnected. Happy Hallowe’en everyone!

Reading; the gift that keeps on giving! An appreciation of teachers.

  


I have been very fortunate and spent a wonderful morning immersed in books. It began with listening to children read at school, then continued with some time tidying the school library. It culminated with me finishing my current book, just in time for my book club meeting tonight. As the minutes ticked by I came to realise just how lucky I am…

When teachers begin the long road to reading, with letter sounds and phonics, then blending the sounds to make words, they give such power to those whom they teach. Without the ability to read, not only would life be so much more dull (as it offers a means to escape your current situation), but it’s also instrumental in laying the foundations of our modern society. Where would we be if our doctors, politicians, engineers, scientists and lawyers (to name just a few crucial professions), had never been taught to read? 

Perhaps I’m stating the blindingly obvious here but how much do we take the ability to read for granted? How powerful a tool it is to our social and mental wellbeing. So, thank you Mrs Foreman, Mr Dixon and all my other teachers who not only taught me to read and write, but also ignited my passion for reading. Without their help I wouldn’t have gone to university, had the career I did or been able to share books with my own children. In appreciation for teachers everywhere, thank you for your persistence, patience and for helping to set our imaginations free!

Creepers, grass blocks & diamond swords : a Minecraft themed party

  
In our house we have some Minecraft addicts. For the uninitiated, Minecraft is a computer game which involves creating virtual ‘worlds’ and constructing buildings using various materials to create villages, towns and even cities. I’ve heard it compared to virtual Lego (I prefer real Lego personally, but perhaps I’m just old fashioned). Anyway, a certain young man in our house had a birthday recently and there was only one party theme it could possibly be – you guessed it; Minecraft.

In the weeks running up to the party, I trawled the Internet looking for ideas to make this work. To be completely honest, I don’t enjoy hosting kids’ parties. I find them really stressful and worry that the birthday boy and guests won’t enjoy themselves. My only way to cope with them is to keep the numbers involved relatively small and try to be super organised in the run up to the main event.

Normally I make up shop bought plastic party bags with sweeties and plastic ‘tat’ bought from supermarkets and discount stores. This time I decided to be different; gone were the over-priced, flimsy plastic bags, replaced with small brown paper bags left over from my last craft fair stall. Inside them were the obligatory lollipops and jelly sweets but I made themed key rings for each child using little plastic beads.

  

I used a combination of Hama beads and Ikea’s own range to create symbols and characters associated with Minecraft; Steve, Creepers, diamond swords and the You Tubers ‘Stampy’ and ‘iBallistic Squid’ (don’t ask – they take up residence in our lounge most weekends). I got my inspiration for these from Pinterest. If you search for Minecraft party ideas, dozens of fab pictures come up with everything from invitations to piñatas. I cannot take any artistic credit for these creations! With some mail order key ring loops and jump rings I turned the plastic characters pictured at the start of this post into school bag charms. 

  
I have no idea how long they will last as they are fused together with an iron and may not stand up to too much rough handling, but they did go down rather well with the party goers.

I also wanted to make something handmade for the birthday boy on the Minecraft theme as a gift from me. Fortunately as pretty much everything in the game is designed in squares, it made crochet an ideal medium to make something for his bedroom. I also, rather fortunately, had a perfectly square cushion pad sitting unloved at the back of my crafty hidey hole. And so a cushion idea was born.

I decided on a creeper for one side, but didn’t have the time or patience to exactly recreate the multi faceted face with multiple shades of green, so I opted to crochet using two yarns at the same time:

 
 I decided to have a TNT block as the reverse side of the cushion:

 
Despite choosing two very obvious Minecraft images as the front and back of the cushion and crocheting openly in front of the recipient of the gift, he never twigged about what I was making. When he asked, I just said I was ‘experimenting’ which is exactly what I was doing as I made it up as I went along! And so the double-sided cushion was made and completed in good time for the big day – I’m very pleased to say he was thrilled with it and it has pride of place on his bed now.

  
Then came the cake. I was starting at a disadvantage here as a very good friend of mine hosted a Minecraft party last year and she’d asked an extremely talented mutual friend to make the birthday cake for her. It was stunning – covered in different colored Minecraft squares of homemade (yes homemade) fondant icing. Sitting on top of this marvel were Minecraft characters, also made of homemade icing. It was a work of art, and tasted out of this world. So, as I said, I was starting at a disadvantage… The cake that I made was never going to match up to the one we all enjoyed last year, so I tried to manage my son’s expectations early on!

  
Fortunately for me our local supermarket had just had a new addition to it’s bakery aisle- ready coloured fondant icing. Trying to colour fondant icing in a warm apartment with no air conditioning is no joke – there have been some traumatic cake decorating moments in my kitchen since we moved to Gibraltar- believe me! I bought a few packs of emerald green icing so we were off to a flying start (one less thing to panic about). I decided on a simple ‘grass block’ design, but in order to make a cube shaped cake, I needed to sandwich together 4 layers of sponge, little did I know that would be my downfall…

   
I edged the cake in chocolate buttercream (soil) and set about making the template for my grass.

 
I rolled out the icing on a clean work top dusted with icing sugar. This was to be my second mistake; after cutting out my grass shape, I discovered the icing was stuck to the work top – nooooo!!!! Cue heightened blood pressure and mild panic. So I had to start again, this time rolling out onto baking parchment. 

  
The parchment worked a treat – thank goodness! When I transferred the icing onto the cake it wasn’t too neat on the corners so I decided to jazz it up a bit on the top to draw the eye away from the wonky corners – time to make some little squares.

  
At this point I had no idea how to adequately glue the little squares onto the cake so I improvised with some thickly mixed paste using icing sugar and water – it worked!

  
That was pretty much all I could do at home ahead of the party. I bought a couple of plastic Minecraft toys to sit on top (no icing sculptures for me!) covering the cake was tricky enough. The cake was made, the party bags filled, all we had to do now was turn up at the venue and let the guests arrive. We had opted for a sports bar set up with booths to play video games – perfect for a boy who’s obsessed with them.

Unfortunately things didn’t quite go according to plan on the journey to the party. Between our front door and the party venue, the top of the cake slid off the bottom layers TWICE!!! Can you imagine that I didn’t handle that very well after spending hours creating it the day before?! On arrival at the venue and with the aid of a couple of fish slices from the bar’s chef the cake was rebuilt. I was fine after a few deep breaths and a very strong coffee! It didn’t quite end up as I’d envisioned it and I can’t show you a photo of the side view as I didn’t take one out of shame for its appearance but here’s the final cake photo, in situ, bedecked in toys and candles.

 
What a day! Thank goodness they only come around once a year! 

As I tucked the birthday boy into bed, I asked him what the best bit about his birthday was. He made my day with his reply; ‘My cake Mummy, I loved it!’ The stress was worth it just to hear that.

NOTE TO SELF: Next year keep the cake to just 2 layers!

Counting my blessings 

  
This morning I had a little accident. On getting out of the car, my feet went out from underneath me and I fell like a proverbial sack of spuds. A combination of very smooth Tarmac, no grip on the soles of my sandals and rushing to avoid being late were the contributing factors. 

As I went down onto the Tarmac, I twisted my left ankle but it was my right elbow which bore the brunt of the fall – it hurt. It hurt a lot in fact. The shock of the fall rendered me unable to move and despite being in the middle of a (thankfully quiet) road I just sat there. After banging on the side of the car, my husband rushed out to help me up – he and our boys were oblivious to my plight – they just thought I was taking a while to open the child-locked rear doors!

I’m very pleased to say that I’m ok. After a lie-down, a cup of tea and some painkillers I’m aching but fine and counting my blessings. As I was being driven home, and for the first hour or so afterwards all I could think of was ‘how can I function if I end up in plaster?’ – I was convinced I’d properly hurt my arm, you see – the pain was unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

How would I be able to do the school run tomorrow if I can’t drive the car? How would I take the boys to after school activities? How would I make their packed lunches or iron their uniforms? And more selfishly; how would I paint? Crochet? Sew? Or write?

It’s a cliché I know, but I really do take so much for granted. How scary that a simple act of slipping on the floor can potentially take so much away from you – your ability to be independent and to be able to help others. So, today and tomorrow, when undoubtedly I wake up aching all over, I am and will be so thankful that I had a lucky escape – for so many, a fall doesn’t turn out so well.