Thursday, 29 January 2015

A caterpillar by any other name

Monday brought a bit of a surprise for M. She pulled a sock onto her foot, only to have her big toe go through the end. A new experience for M, because it is only recently that her growth rate has slowed enough that she is giving clothing a chance to wear out before it needs to be retired because it is too small.

M stared at her toe for a moment before asking me what we should do. I hesitated for only a moment before telling her to throw the holey sock away and we would make the other sock into a toy.

I received a booklet about making sock creatures for Christmas and this seemed the perfect opportunity to have a go.

Today, after a discussion with M, we settled on making a caterpillar, which while rated as a medium difficulty project in the book, seemed straight forward enough. We read the instructions together and M studied the photographs, then we gathered our materials and began.

A lonesome sock.
M is an experienced stuffer of home made toys, so took charge of that side of things, only needing the occasional reminder to pull the fluff apart and not to roll it into a tight ball unless she wanted a lumpy caterpillar. M stuffed the sock's toe and when it was full to our satisfaction, I tied it off with some yarn, forming a ball.

We repeated the process along the length of the sock, until we had a 'lumpy sock' as M called it. I cut the cuff, braiding in antennae whilst M held the caterpillar still to stop it from wriggling away. M then spent a happy hour delving in my button tin before emerging with the perfect eyes.

And here is Leaf Poppy, the caterpillar.
Introducing Leaf Poppy the caterpillar.
I have offered to sew pompoms on as feet, but M said she couldn't wait to claim Leaf as her own, which she has done, involving the caterpillar in all activities this afternoon. A successful project for both of us I think.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A wassailing we did go

On Sunday we headed back to Brandon Marsh to take part in a traditional wassailing of their orchard. Although I'm vaguely familiar with the ceremony, I've never been to an orchard wassailing before, so wasn't quite sure what to expect.

The answer was lots of dancing!

Walking down the driveway (the carpark was full) to the visitor's centre we could hear the booming of a big drum being hit but we were still surprised to step through into the courtyard to find it playing host to what appeared to be a Morris Dance off! Several different troupes took their turns in an endless dance to bring back the sun, while accordionists, pipers, fiddlers and drummers kept time to the ever present jingle of bells.

The Pretty Men - as M dubbed them.

The Pretty Men - look at their fantastic hats!
I think there were six different troupes, some of which had both male and female members. One group was comprised wholly of ladies and there was also a group of Appalachian dancers on a set of wooden boards they'd brought with them. Careful observation also showed dancers moving between troupes, as they shared members.

More Morris Dancers than I've seen in one place before.
M watched with a huge grin on her face as dance after dance played out in front of us. Oblivious to the cold, M twirled and moved to the music herself, getting into the spirit of things. Her favourites were a group M dubbed 'The Pretty Men', who wore fantastic hats covered with feathers, tinsel, holly and fairy lights.

Some of the musicians.
M was also impressed with the footwork of the Appalachian dancers, observing they were tap dancing, but dancing a lot quicker than she did. The all ladies group (The Black Alice Ladies Morris Dancers) also caught M's eye, with their glittery clothes. She was concerned at how some of the dancers had blacked their faces, asking if they would be able to get them clean again. I assured M that in my experience, vigorous application of a wet wipe will remove facepaint, unless it is green facepaint of course, in which case you are doomed to look jaundiced for a week after it's removal. For those who are curious, apparently Morris Dancers used to traditionally black their faces to disguise their faces so their employers wouldn't recognise them.

Appalachian Dancers take to the boards, which they'd brought with them.
Dave was trying out his new hat (Ravelry link), a smaller version of the one I made for Richard.
Dave's new hat, which has the useful property of not falling off while Morris Dancing.
We had a fantastic foot-tapping time watching and Dave was unable to resist the lure of an open invitation to join in the last dance. He grabbed a stick and he was off, much to M's delight.

Here is a clip of Dave trying out Morris Dancing.

Dave informed me his new hat had the excellent property of not falling off during an impromptu spot of Morris Dancing.

Once the last dance was done, we all moved off in procession towards the fruit orchard to wassail the trees. There we watched as the morris men and ladies formed up in a circle and we were told what needed to be done.

One of the Morris men started the refrain:-

"Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee."

They sang. They danced. We made noise (to wake the trees up). After this we all made the traditional offering of toast dipped in cider, which everyone took turns to press onto branches of all the trees. M had a go at this, but couldn't quite manage the fiddly task with soggy toast.

Toast dipped in cider was pressed onto the branches of the apple trees.
Here is a link to Warwickshire Wildlife Trusts video clip of the event, so you can see for yourselves how much fun we had :-

Wassailing done, we went home to warm up. After a late lunch, M decided our garden's fruit trees and bushes shouldn't be left out, so Dave and M headed outside to sing to them. M danced around the garden, emulating The Pretty Men as best she could, before singing a song about an apple seed that was planted by a little girl and grew into a full sized tree at midnight. Singing and dancing done, bits of pancake were pressed onto branches of trees and bushes, before my wassailers returned to the warmth of the house. 

I am hopeful that the gooseberry bushes in particular have taken note of the ceremony and will bear fruit for the first time ever this year.

A good day.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Going on an ice hunt

Today we awoke to a cold, cold morning and the street cloaked in a thick blanket of freezing fog. It seemed like an ideal day to have a brisk walk around the local nature reserve at Brandon Marsh. M was a little reluctant, preferring the idea of staying indoors but I tempted her with the idea that she could wear her pyjamas under her clothes and how fun that would be!

To clarify, the pyjamas in question were thermals which M often wears as PJs during the coldest nights. Looking out through the haze at the frozen world this morning, thermals seemed like a good idea to me. Indeed all three of us wore thermal layers under our clothes for today's walk.

I had one other ace up my sleeve today - fairy ballerina wellie socks. How could M resist?

We pulled on our many layers and I defrosted the car so we could get into it. M watched carefully as I took luke warm water and poured it onto the bumper to release the tailgate which was welded under an inch of ice. It took two jugs of warm water to free it, then a little trickled down the door gap before the seal would break. M cheered as the door released and the tailgate swung reluctantly into the air.

Into the car we bundled, piling blankets on top of M as she never wears heavy coats in the car and it takes a while for the heating to get going. After extensive window clearing, we were on our way, albeit slowly to account for the ice on the side roads and lack of visibility. Once we were out of Coventry and heading for Brandon, the road cuts through countryside and it was beautiful. Fog hung low over fields behind the hedgerows while the white trees glistened in the weak sunlight that occasionally managed to break through the cloud cover.

The driveway to the reserve was a little scary, no salt or grit presumably because the run off into the marsh would be detrimental to the wildlife. Sheet ice was plainly visible on the road surface and around the speed bumps as I cautiously made my way down the hill towards the reserve carpark, where we parked without incident.

M donned her snowsuit, boots, scarf, hat and gloves. We grown-ups did up our coats and pulled on our boots.

We were no sooner making our way through the visitor centre courtyard when we spotted our first icy things, Frozen spiders webs.
Frozen spider's web in the courtyard of the Visitor's Centre at Brandon Marsh.
The pond in the education team's garden was frozen over and Dave had to step in with stern words as M tried to step out onto the ice. So started our walk around the reserve spotting ice and showing M how very thin it was, how fragile, slippery and so very pretty.
A willow tree in the middle of a frozen lake.
The view across a frozen lake.
A stick rests on the surface of a frozen lake.
M and Dave look out over a frozen lake.
The wildlife seemed to have hidden away warm in their lairs, burrows or nests, but that was OK as we were enjoying the spectacle of ice, ice everywhere. In total M was inspected by four robins, who examined her carefully trying to judge if she should be challenged or not. I think they decided in the end that if she was a robin, she was a big, noisy robin so should be avoided. Otherwise we saw two thrushes, a blackbird, a moorhen, one tiny black beetle, one great tit, one blue tit, one sparrow, a squirrel and two rabbits. Some ducks flew overhead and three tufted ducks were making their way carefully through a tributary in a gully that fed into one of the lakes.
M holds up a stick complete with an attached piece of sheet ice.
Ice crystals formed in wood chip and leaf litter ground cover in the Mouse Maze.
Odd ice formations across a bootprint in the mud.
Wrapped up warm as she was, M had a blast. She stomped on frozen puddles. Crunched through mud. Poked at frozen drips. Removed her gloves to touch wafer thin, glass like sheets of ice. Squelched through any liquid mud she could find and sank half way up her calf in one patch of surprisingly still soft mud. All the while, M kept returning to the refrain of We're going on an ice hunt as based on Michael Rosen's We're Going On a Bear Hunt.
Frozen leaves.
Ice crystals growing out from the stems of plants.
Very dramatic looking frozen teasels.
After our walk we shared bowl of chips and a hot chocolate in the cafe. I found some colouring sheets for M which sealed the day as a good one in M's estimation. We drove home as M sang Christmas songs to herself in the car before falling into exhausted sleep within ten minutes of arriving home.