Archive for the ‘creative’ category

Get my free ebook before 22 Sep

September 13, 2011

As a thank you to anyone who has read this Homemade Kids blog I’d like to offer you a FREE book. It’s the enovel, Coconut Wireless which I published back in November 2010. This post is by Nicola Baird.

Very happy with this big spread in the Island Sun, and on page 2 of Solomon Star

I’ve just been lucky enough to spend two months back in Solomon Islands. While I was there plenty of fuss was made about my book – and all in a good way. Here’s the publicity I did:

* I read a chunk from it at the Solomon Islands Creative Writers Association.
* A Honiara book group did a meet-the-author (thanks ML)
* The two main newspapers, Solomon Star, and Island Sun, both ran news stories about Coconut Wireless, calling it a “love story set in Honiara” (the country’s main capital)
* Using Pijin I talked to Form 3 students (equivalent to Year 9) at a rural school, Mguvia Community High School on Guadlacanal, and also Form 3 students at King George VI High School, in Honiara (see clip above).
* I was on OneTV, the country’s only TV station
* Thanks to a radio interview I was on two SIBC radio shows at prime time (breakfast & tea).

So far 25 people have bought Coconut Wireless: love, life and gossip in the South Pacific via http://www.smashwords.com, and in total 137 have downloaded it.

US$110 is about £70. About half of this is from my ebook dowloads (the rest are blog earnings, quite amazing). So half of £35 (£17.50) will be the first cash I can send to support Solomon Islands Development Trust's great work.

I can’t tell you how many have downloaded it off Kindle, but I’ve got a cheque for around US$111 (approx £70). About half of this sum is earnings from my blogs – thank you – and the rest is people buying Coconut Wireless.

I’ve promised to give half of all earnings (so in this case it will be £35 divided by 2, so £17.50) to SIDT, Solomon Islands Development Trust.  Hopefully it’ll earn quite a bit more over time – and I always want people in the Solomons to be able to read it for free.

But I also need people who don’t live in the Solomons to read the book and give me some feedback…. so, I’d like you to have a FREE copy before I change the code on 22 September 2011.

That's me, back in 1990, covered in tumeric - now a photo on a kindle.

For you to get your FREE copy of Coconut Wireless (which you can download to a PC as a PDF (so it’s easy to read) or stick on to an e-reader like Kindle, your phone or iPad) please go to this Smashwords page; select the format you want, and then click on “add to cart”. Once you get to that page (and I’m afraid you may need to become a smashwords member at this stage, although it is free too) then just insert this coupon ZV47Q to get your FREE download. Phew, after all that hard work I hope you enjoy reading it!

If you can’t stand the faff, just go to my Amazon page, here, and download it for £2.14 on to your Kindle. Or maybe just put it in your wish list, just in case you are given a Kindle for Christmas.

Whatever you decide. Thank you! And please do consider passing this on. Nicola x

Know any ways to say goodbye?

May 26, 2011

Lola, 12 and Nell, 10 have set me a challenge. They want me to cook biscuits so they can say goodbye to their classmates (28 each child, ie, 56 mouths!) as they are going to be homeschooled for the next half of term. By home I mean on the road, but mostly in Solomon Islands, south pacific.

The quickest response is to make biscuits, and the best I’ve tasted are usually made by a dad at Nell’s school, Simon. After a mammoth 6 dozen cookie bake off at 6am this morning I know how to make these biscuits and so here’s Simon’s recipe. An easy way to remember this recipe is to think 180 and 8 (180C is the temperature, and 8 are the number of ingredients). Simon says have the egg at room temperature, the baking tray ungreased and the mixture pre-divided into tea-spoonful size balls otherwise the 10+min in oven then out on to the wire rack for cooling while the next lot goes back into the oven is rather frenetic. Recipe below pix.

180 choc chip cookies (makes 2-3 doz)

  1. 100g white sugar
  2. 80g brown sugar (but not v dark sugar, more like a whitey colour brown)
  3. 180g butter
  4. 180g plain flour
  5. 1 and a half teaspoon of bicarb of soda
  6. 1 egg
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  8. half cup choc chips (approx 50g)

Mix butter and sugar first, put choc chips in at the end. Cook 180C approx 12 mins, put on to wire rack (or plates) to cool so you can put the next batch in the oven without washing up…  It’s simple. And it would have been so easy for the girls to do this cooking, but this time they were let off, as they were fast asleep.

Have you got a recipe that’s really quick to make? If so, please share, thanks.

Ever had a fairy tale moment?

May 25, 2011

Nell wants a black rose. Lola (here) wanted an apple from gravity-guru Isaac Newton's orchard. Simple gifts can be tough to find!

I’m just about to go to the Chelsea Flower show, lucky me as the tickets are a gift. Although I garden with both my daughters I am with Nell,10, more often, so we spend quite a lot of time discussing plants growing in the front gardens we pass. Recently roses have become a big favourite – especially the heavily scented ones. So when Nell heard what Chelsea was – a vast London flower fete from 24-28 May – she put in a request for me to bring back a black rose.

“This sounds like the start of Beauty and The Beast,” I told her rather worried, “and you know what happens in that story – you’ll end up married to a great big monster!” Nell shrugged and reassured me, ” but I want to breed black roses.”

Science learning here we come
I think tonight’s Chelsea debrief at the kitchen table may include seeing if we can get cappillary action to soak up black paint  and magically turn a white rose black. That way Nell will get her request, and I reckon I save face and finances…

The incident reminded me of a Facebook message from a spin-off of Love Outdoor Play, Playing Out which listed all the bad examples we teach our children if they – and you – are a fan of fairy tales. It’s quite funny (you could even say subvervise) to think of Sleeping Beauty as a lazy stay-in-bed teenager, Cinderella impolite (she rushed home at midnight without saying thank you!), Little Red Riding Hood forgot/disobeyed instructions, Snow White lived with seven men, etc… I guess I should have realised it wouldn’t be long before my kids were demanding the impossible too.

For more writing by Nicola Baird see her latest book, Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children.

Do you love making art?

May 24, 2011

Homemade art: one way to use up a torn A-Z and an old glove while entertaining kids!

A friend in York with two young girls suggested passing some arty ideas around. She says the blog (see link below) is for three years and under, but lots of the ideas work fine with much older children (and for adults!). Have a look here for real creative inspiration – bowls, seasonal changes, materials etc – and all so simple to do and fun to complete.

If you happen to live in York, lucky you. Especially as you can also go to these arty sessions for pre-schoolers once a week. More at http://artytime.wordpress.com/

But wherever you live make sure you keep a stash of materials that can be used to nourish those creative moments. Or simply to make an authentic, utterly loved birthday card.

This post is by Nicola Baird, see more thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children in her book Homemade Kids.

Where are you in the TV debate?

May 18, 2011

Let the kids watch more TV and eat more pizza – that’s the new parenting tip from Dr Bryan Caplan. He’s not an American childhood guru, he’s a marketing genius with strong libertarian tendencies – just have a look at The Myth of the Rational Voter: why democracies choose bad policies .

I can imagine generations of dads like him trying to read the paper (or watch the TV) finding ways to ensure a quiet life so they can get on with the important tasks of… well, I’m not quite sure what Caplan thinks Dad tasks are, although calming mums down sounds like a good one. His idea of cutting children a bit of slack (a lot actually) so parents don’t turn into the chauffer-cross slave driver forcing little ones to attend extra lessons like ballet, football, piano etc is a great one.

It’s my life
The exception is swimming – that’s a life saver skill – but the rest of what children do should be much more steered by them. Most kids have to go to school, and really don’t need to be pressure-educated with a host of other after-school activities. Far better to wait until they are a bit older, let’s say seven or eight years and can then choose one fun thing to do, that they love, which brings them confidence and is fun, affordable and they can get to it themselves, which will help them make and meet local friends.

Turn the TV on and find out
Caplan’s book is going to help a lot of mums who feel obliged to keep the kids busy learning. Many kids would enjoy life even more with the option of greater downtime during which they can do much more of what they like.

I’m not a fan of the TV being forever on, but sometimes I love watching it. And if I ever over-kill switching the remote to this, that and the next it soon becomes boring, even reruns of Friends.

In my book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children there’s a strong suggestion to get you and the kids children skilled up.

Perhaps the most basic of these is for a child has the skills to entertain themselves – to play, or read, or find something more active to do. When Nell was in hospital last month the nurse said she could tell she didn’t watch TV often, and that you could always tell, as the TV-deprived (sorry rather an emotive word) were the ones glued to the channels. I noticed when she left Addenbrookes it didn’t turn her into a TV junkie, she’d simply enjoyed a glut of TV when she needed it, lying a bit breathless on a hospital bed.

Kids need me time
When they are little me time is going to mean sitting on your lap, being with you, being cared hugely by you. But as they get bigger it should segue into time alone, or in their own imaginary world of clashing Titans, shopping Sylvanians or whatever rocks their Baby Gap socks. If you ignore Caplan’s ideas and do the pushy parenting where Monday’s fencing, Tuesday Kumon maths then swimming, Wednesday is soccer school, Friday is French and the weekend an exhaustive round of child-centred activities your child loses the me time. No wonder they end up un-cooperative, over-tired and possibly unhappy.

If you want to look at Caplan’s book explaining why being a great parent is less work and more fun than you think and nothing like pushy Tiger Mum, then see here or see this version, here, from The Sun.

Good luck whatever you are trying to do!

Can you clean up Daleks?

May 15, 2011

Utter junk becomes an arty dalek cage.

Lola’s out walking 10 of London’s bridges for charity – to help Ugandan students make it to secondary school, seeBridges for Africa. Pete’s up in Wigan where he will see West Ham be defeated, and relegated. So it’s just me and Nell at home with a long to do list. We’ve got to sort out the broken junk and toys in an attempt to tidy up the house for it’s new occupant next month. This post is by Nicola using ideas adapted from her book,Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children.

Art attack
We could go to the dump, but two years ago I figured out what I wanted to do with dead toys and tools if I ever had time. So today became a chance to create a chicken wire armitage then pack it with unwanted toys and turn it into an artwork of recycled toys. It’s not so easy to do this in practice with my 0.5m high, 25cm wide bit of wire from the veg garden, especially with Nell going “but that’s my tamagotchi, you can’t use that.” But it didn’t stop us creating a magnificient sculpture by knitting the house’s difficult to recycle items into chicken wire slots.

Like the Weee Man?
The Weee Man is a famous sculpture created with all the electrical items a person uses and discards in a lifetime that helped seed this idea. Look closely at my photo and you may see the stuff a 10 year old might discard, including three pairs of injured sunglasses, a broken screwdriver, a defunct bike horn, and three jewelled pens that never worked. actually this is my junk, provided by my now dead Great Aunt which meant that i just couldn’t part with them. There’s a drinking straw, broken necklaces, bracelets, textile scraps and “I am 5” badges.

Beauty in the eye of the beholder
Of course it may clutter up shelf space in its new incarnation but Nell and I are delighted with our installation. Nell says, “it was fun. We could sell it! Maybe for £20,000 and then buy Dr Who and Mooshi Monster cards, toy snakes and everything in the world…” In other words there’s not a chance of our home becoming decluttered!

With our Art Attack over we crossed the road to drink mugs of tea and try out the cakes at our neighbour Naomi’s regular Cake Sundays for the street where food and gardening are talked about until it’s time to go home and cook dinner… I had a lovely time (and Nell played with some new friends), but I’m sorry to say that I came back with yet more things to squeeze into the house – one raspberry cane, a packet of spinach seeds and a bit of compost.

What have you learnt this week?

May 10, 2011

It’s early in the week but Nell, 10, and all those other children around the world are expected to be learning. Pix above show the girls in an historic oak; Vulcan listening to the brass band; admiring sculpture from horseshoes; watching Morris Dancing plus a taste of the indoors – felting.

With SATs this week (a test the state primary children do in Year 2 and Year 6) it got me thinking about just what I’ll learn this week. Or even when I last learnt something purposely – something it’s all too easy for grown ups to forget (a) to do and (b) how difficult it can be… (post by nicola baird from ideas adapted from her book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children).

Shopping, now that’s a different thing! Not only is it the nation’s number one past time (shudder), it’s also hard not to get caught up in, or at least that’s what the stats show – an average child costs £200,000 plus by the time they are 21 and that’s not including any school fees. Even at a craft exhibition with plenty of free events there was considerable pressure to part with cash.

The show was held in an ancient parkland – filled with the most fabulous old oaks, (one of which Elizabeth I is supposed to have been sitting under when told she’d got the top job) – at a craft fair. A “living” craft fair of art, design and innovation which saw me and the kids goggling at chairs made from oars, a wheelwright at work, a display by a man who makes coracles (hide-covered boats often with the cow tail still attached) who plans to coracle 2,000 miles along the Yukon River in 2012.

The annual event at Hatfield House, Herts, attracted loads of families – plenty of free activities for kids including pot making, stone carving, jewelery, painting and weaving. For once we totally chilled (having a dog in one hand and two kids exhausted by sleepovers in the other helps this process) and spent most of the afternoon sipping half a pint of cider very slowly while watching St Albans’ brass band and a group of Morris dancers. I guess it’s a festival – lots of things going on, music and a happy vibe – just dressed up in a different way, as a craft experience. (See here in the Guardian for other child-friendly festivals where you can camp).

Too girly?
Pete felt it could have been a lot more fun for a bloke  if Living Crafts exhibitors also had some boy/bloke puchase opportunities such as hats, walking gear and real ale – then went back to study footie form determined not to believe that his team West Ham is going down.

Bit of learning
Tired though the children were it was a fascinating day – which taught us that traditional oak baskets from the Lake District are known as “swill”, people still make leather cups (as seen used by Pirates of the Caribbean) and that anything on sale for £1 is a pocket money magnet, even a pebble with stuck-on eyes. Perhaps one day we’ll be exhibiting with our homemade tent – a taught tarp kept up with hazel stakes and handcut tent pegs – in which will be baskets hand woven from yellow-flag iris leaves cut from our pond. So long as I find a way to learn just how to do this…

What do you and your family want to learn – or could do with learning this year? It’s a great way to kick start the big re-skilling most of us need.

Do you film the holidays?

April 18, 2011

Elsa, 9, and Nell,10, try out deck chairs in the park.

“Fun! Holidays! Get some peace!” That’s how a bloke giving out flyers advertised making a trip to see the Just so stories at the Pleasance theatre. I was shocked by his approach – presumably winning over some of the families he was giving flyers to – as I love being around kids in the holidays.

In fact my pet hate is that during the term children’s lives are so busy it’s hard for them to make their own fun, feel like they can do nothing at all (there’s always homework, music practice, pets to be cleaned out or something to rush to).

“They have no time to stand and stare”…
It’s rare they ever have more than an hour or so when they can ignore the clock or just relax in a deck chair.  And holidays can be the same, which is why maybe you should take a few more snaps, or bits of film so you’ll be able to remember what you did when the children were young… This piece is a follow on from ideas in Nicola Baird’s book, Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children.

Watch this film
Most of last term I rather neglected my family (and paid work) to try and make a film about why people come to the UK and what they expect education-wise for their children. It’s a huge question, with immigration often in the news as a Cameron and Clegg thought-war. Of course there are loads of reasons why people come to London.  At the secondary school my 12 year old goes to there are at least 30 different first languages and a fabulously mixed community so using a grant from Newlon Fusion/Arsenal the Highbury Fields School PTA asked people about their memories of school, and of course this brings up all sorts of ideas and aspirations.

In this 23 minute film – magnificently created by Swedish film director Jonas Grimas whose daughter used to attend the school (she’s at uni now) – you find out far more about London mums and dads’ life story and aspirations. The music is by Year 10 students, and a passing blackbird! Let me know in the comment box below what you think of it, thanks. Hopefully here’s the link,

.

Who behaves best in the art gallery?

March 23, 2011

Forgetting Damien Hurst’s mini beast obsession (flies) for a moment, who behaves best in an art gallery, the kids or you? This post is by Nicola Baird. Mostly I find I’m embarrassed trawling around galleries with my kids – I love art, even did history of art A level, but I find it hard knowing that I’ve raised such anarchistic companions.

A is for art, B is for baby, C is for come to the show
Like many mums, when my girls were sling-wearable babies, I spent a lot of the winter looking at pictures, installations and other arty things. It was warm, interesting and a reasonable place to breastfeed. Once I had two children it was trickier, but not impossible with one still in a sling.

Now they are 10 and 12 it’s different. And it’s the little one who makes it hard. She likes to say loudly that Picasso is rubbish, and Gaugin, and Cy Twombly and Salvador Dali.

“I could do better than that”! is her favoured phrase. “This is rubbish,” is the other one.  Strangely she’s the child who prefers to draw at home but she’s a hard artist to please, her own work is often not good enough and famous artists are rarely up to scratch.

The exception is Frida Kahlo, the amazing Mexican painter – I always think of her as a paint-covered Sylvia Plath. Nell admires Frida’s work, possibly for the amount of blood and dead things she can spot in each canvas.

Which is why the next show I’m taking Nell to see isDamien Hurst’s horrific “Shall we eat outside today?” installation at the Royal Academy’s Modern British Sculpture exhibition. Because of the last room. By then I just know she’ll be bored and loudly commenting on how much better she is than Moore, Hepworth etc and then she’ll see the flies, the electrocutor zapping the flies and that cow head still bleeding (a real Hurst trade mark) and will be entranced by the yuck factors.

Art is so elastic these days – anything goes – even so I’m doubtful if it is ever OK to spend the whole show criticising what you are seeing, especially if you haven’t yet made a squillion from a squiggle.

There are lots of other ideas about how to entertain little kids in my book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children – from art galleries to home expos. Hope they help!

Is your child free range?

March 7, 2011

Warning: this is not a food fad! Post by Nicola Baird, with some ideas loosely adapted from Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children.

My favourite cartoon currently pinned to the fridge has two women indoors looking out at a garden where 2 kids play. “I see that even your children are free range!” says one quite shocked to the other, coffee cup dropping (I kind of imagine my sister in this exchange for some reason).

I like the idea of “playing out” although appreciate it is hard to do so in areas beset by traffic. So it was a shock to read Orange prizewinner Andrea Levy’s amazing recall of growing up on a north London council estate, Every Light in the House Burnin’, and find that kids not that long ago (1950s and 60s) would use the whole of Highbury as their area for hide and seek.

Imagine how fun that would be – my children often use just one room for hide and seek, which really can’t be that good. But for most families living in Highbury now, I suspect such a vast game is simply not going to be allowed to happen.

Tackling the way we increasingly cage our children is Daniel over at Love Outdoor Play. He’s made a cunningly short film (less than 2 mins) to help us think about whether the caged life is the one we want for our kids – and whether this is good for the kids. I recommend you watch it,  see here.

Now, if you’ve got any tips for getting your children’s friends playing out share them here. Thank you.


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