Thursday, 5 March 2015

Beloved, Beautiful Balloons of Ice (and more)

While those of you in the UK and Ireland and such places begin to notice the arrival of spring in February, I keep reminding myself that it was -11C for the St Patrick's Day parade here in Toronto last year and that our garden was still under a blanket of snow on March the 23rd, days - days I tell you - after the official start of spring. With all this in mind, on the 1st of March, I still decided that we had better do our ice sculptures before the temperatures started creeping above 0C as they were forecast to do.
It should be noted that we had quite severe splooshing of water this year. I hadn't forgotten but it's kind of tricky to avoid, I find.
We added some hanging decorations this year with ice gems made by freezing coloured ice cubes in advance before putting them in water to freeze. So now, feast your eyes!

The temperature in Toronto did not go above freezing in February of this year - first time in 75 years, apparently, so there is a little meteorological fact for you.

Careful placing - fleeces on but no gloves. We didn't stay outside for long.
I had hoped for a shot with blue sky and morning sunshine streaming through but it was not to be.

Checking on the balloons

Aren't they lovely, though (the Zeds, I mean)? Even if you can't see their faces in this one?!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Tears and Tragedy and Gingerbread Disasters

Before the collapse(s)
 In past years, I have had notable and satisfying success with the manufacture of gingerbread houses. I blame last year's success for this year's failure. Last year was the first year I baked my own gingerbread to make a house. I researched meticulously, looking up different types of icing for glue and the best templates. I measured and crafted and sent the Zeds out of the room for the delicate building of the house but it all went without a hitch. It was wonderful.

Also before the collapse(s).
I used the same recipe as for our gingerbread menagerie and previous houses but only baked for 10 minutes instead of 12. I think this was my first error, apart from the lack of meticulous planning. I also broke one of the roof pieces when it came out of the oven. That should have been my first warning that all was not going to be sweet as roses in our construction project but, alas, I ignored this warning as we still had spare dough at this point to cut out another roof piece. I may even have been a little proud at the rescue of this disaster.  However, despite sending the small people from the room for the construction, things were not going to plan. Perhaps the icing, also used last year, was too stiff or my patience was too thin but the house collapsed. A bit broke. I assured Z1 that this one could be Z2's as he was mainly interested in all the candy for sticking anyway. I valiantly struggled on in the face of this adversity and succeeded in making 2 passable small houses (oh yes, I decided to do miniature ones this year so the Zeds could have one each) which were standing pre-decoration. However, not long into the decorating, they both collapsed. Z1 was distraught. She took herself upstairs in floods of tears with a soliloquy regarding the tragedy that could be heard downstairs. I fixed it as best I could and it still looked ok...until the next collapse.

We had to admit defeat. Z1 was quite brave at this point, perhaps all her tears were spent, but she did have the consolation of some cookies we had cut out from spare dough which she decorated. My plans were dashed but I did manage not to cry. It was close. We had even made extra trees and gingerbread men to stand around the magnificent dwellings we had envisaged. There are no further photos due to the trauma involved. My frustration and anger from the day turned, the next day, into a gentle melancholy for the houses that were not to be.

We will be ok. We will attempt these again some day but with more planning and care and templates.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Advent calendar 2014: toilet rolls and Junior Mints

Blueprint for Advent calendar 2013
Last year, I had such plans for an Advent calendar but the Zeds were not on board. This year, in keeping with my transformation into one of those people, I began collecting toilet rolls the moment Z1 showed any inkling of interest in making our own countdown to Christmas calendar.

We had a busy weekend, that last weekend of November which had been designated as our Christmas decorating weekend what with December beginning on Monday. Saturday involved a birthday party and a car breakdown and fireworks in Nathan Phillips Square. Sunday was to be the day of the decorations.

Toilet rolls attached, tin foil
and tape used abundantly
 Z1 was on cutting-up-toilet-rolls duty. I was rather more severe than necessary with her when she cut a couple of toilet roll segments too narrow to be able to hold sweets. I then pulled myself together and we headed off to our beloved Dollarama to buy the sweets for fillings. It was a glorious no-coat-in-November day. We used Hershey's kisses before but neither of the Zeds really seemed to like them. I don't blame them, it is not good chocolate.  This year, Z1 chose Junior Mints and Z2 got some fruit jellies.
Compartments filled with jellies

The finished product - ta da!
Z2 was not an active participant in this project. Z1 drew some little pictures in each compartment and the star on top and presents under the tree. She lovingly filled each hole with a mint and a jelly each...until disaster struck. She tried a mint and discovered she didn't like them. Thankfully, we had plenty of jellies so I ate all the mints and replaced them with jellies in the compartments.

After the Zeds were asleep in bed and the mints were eaten, I settled down with a Sharpie and the roll of tin foil to be used to cover each compartment. It was a bit tedious and I was a bit sloppy with it, truth be known but know this too: I was careful in mixing up the numbers so each day will be a hunt. This is in contrast to the fate of some of the poor, unfortunate people with Cadbury's calendars who have been using #adventcalendarproblems on Twitter over the last few days*.

*If you can't find it or don't bother clicking, people were complaining that all the numbers on their Cadbury's calendars are in order ruining the fun of having to track the day's number down each day.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Gingerbread Menagerie

This weekend marked the official start of Toronto's Christmas - lights were switched on at Yonge-Dundas, the Santa parade was on and it even snowed. There is more to come, of course as my email inbox will get fuller of increasingly frenzied messages from various companies telling me about amazing bargains and I begin to unsubscribe from the ones that make me swear the most when I see them. That's how I handle my marketing subscriptions, when I begin to swear at more emails than I open, it's time to get unsubscribing.

I had considered bringing the Zeds along to the switching on of the lights but really, an outing into the dark and cold at their bedtime is not the wisest move. This will not stop me wondering if we should go along to the impressively named Cavalcade of Lights in two weeks time although I believe Z2 has a birthday party to attend that day.

So, none of that was particularly crafty but, as you see in the photo, we were fierce productive this weekend. I took a notion, after successful baking for the school cake sale using this fragrant recipe, which I also used last year, that I should make gingerbread with the Zeds. The recipe is very satisfying, because you stir things up in a bubbly, fragrant pot and then add baking soda which makes it go all foamy. Maybe all gingerbread recipes do this, but I had not encountered the wonder of this before and felt that the Zeds would enjoy it. With plenty of being careful and lots of not touching the hot stove, the Zeds stirred and added ingredients and it was suitably delightful and cosy. We have many, many cookie cutters and using them for something edible was so much less upsetting than the crumby mess of Play-Doh that you can't even eat.

The true triumph of the day, though, was coming home after the Santa parade and whipping up a bit of icing and some leftover sweets from Hallowe'en and letting them decorate their animals before bedtime. The owl on the bottom left is Z2's, the rest are Z1's. I particularly like her use of the sweets as suckers on the octopus's tentacles. Overall, though, she was a little too delicate in her use of icing and Z2's generous application worked a bit better. I definitely want to make more to decorate myself.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

I am coming back, I think

As the nights draw in and the temperatures drop and the Christmas decorations begin to appear, I find myself drawn back here.  Also, Z1 asked about making an Advent calendar this year so last year's sad story may have a happy ending this year. In the meantime, things have been made in the Conquering Crafts household since my  last post in April. The highlights are below.

Like many a household across the world, there were many of these to be found in our house. And like many a parent across the world, some of them were made by me after the Zeds were in bed. And there may have been swearing at spillages and mistakes. Overall, a success, though.

Then, there was a cupcake decorating party and Z2 got in on the action too. He is more of a fan of icing than he is of cake.
Z2's icing efforts. This
photo refuses to be posted
horizontally. Grr.

Z1 got a lovely sewing kit for her birthday which we cracked open during the summer. She is keen to make mittens now, I am considering some simpler project that she might be able to wear. Possibly a very simple skirt that she could sew decorations onto if I do the skirt. Hmmm.

As Z2 is now a very big boy (as he will indignantly tell anyone who dares to say that he is a small boy), he left daycare in July. I was rather proud of the gift basket I made for the lovely staff there. I like dots. Oh yes I do.

For Z2's birthday party, making fruit kebabs was a nice way to pass the morning without constant "what time will the party be?" questions. I have seen amazing efforts on Pinterest that look like rainbows but I think ours look pretty good too. I also successfully persuaded him to ask for a cake that would fit with my "Make an ordinary chocolate cake" plans. I rather like him. (The cake, that is, not Z2. He's a spider. Clearly. Again, the cake. Z2 is human.)

 And before you know it, Hallowe'en was upon us again and we took to the pumpkins. Last year, Z2 made valiant efforts with the Dollarama tools while Z1 took the role of artistic director for her pumpkin. This year, I did buy better tools and amidst warnings about being very, very careful and frustration that it was still a tricky job,  we carved the beauties in the picture. Z1 was disappointed that hers didn't look better but it was all her own work (middle step). Z2 was artistic director for his (top step) and I was disappointed with the botched eyes on mine (bottom step).

Disappointingly, from the point of view of photos and family records, Z1 decided that she wanted to be a bat again this year and Z2 followed her lead. I did make fresh costumes but used the same tops as last year so that saved some hassle. I followed the instructions here and used a measuring tape and everything to tailor-make them. On the great day itself, it rained. Again (3rd year in a row). Z1 didn't care and declined to cover her costume. Z2 put on his fleece and didn't really get to show off the costume at all but still got a great haul of crap to enjoy for weeks to come.

Monday, 14 April 2014

T-shirt doodles and disappointing snails

For Z1's birthday party, we decided on an art party since she pretty much draws all day long. This also helped to cut the invitation list as she invited only those who she felt would be interested in art. However, as it turns out, when you put 14 children in a room with t-shirts and markers, only about 6 of them want to draw on t-shirts. Those who did were delighted with it but the others mostly ran around noisily. Which was fine. Really.
hedgehog, snail, child's drawings, t-shirts, crafts, fabric markers
Lovely hedgehog, not-so-great snail
This left us with some plain white t-shirts and lots of fabric markers and I got it into my head I would draw a hedgehog on one for Z1. So I did. In my jim jams before getting up one Saturday morning. Sometimes inspiration just strikes. Z1 then added some detail. I am quite happy with the hedgehog t-shirt.
However, Z2 then requested a slug. I can draw quite amiable slugs, though I say so myself and so I started but, for some reason, persuaded Z2 that it should be a snail instead and changed it into a snail. I am not so pleased with him. I can do better. Sigh. We still do have a few spare t-shirts, though so perhaps another day.

See, I can draw nice, amiable snails

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Ladybird, ladybug, coccinelle

In all its glory with apologies for not fully wiping the plate for this picture
Well, I must say that I was quite pleased with the loveliness of this ladybird cake and it was pretty delicious too. I felt the licorice legs I had planned might contaminate too much cake for those who do not like it so I left them out. Six spots for my six-year-old Z1. Hurrah. I have also included a gratuitous shot of how happy Z2 was to bash the piñata. Enjoy!
The party spread (before arrival of pizza)
A VERY happy piñata bashing boy -he had been waiting DAYS for this moment