opera on wheels

As you’ll see if you scroll down my first attempt was an Easter craft WFMW. Now I know I should have done cars, so to help out, the girls have reminded me of this hilarious way to lighten the mood when it’s all getting a bit tedious for them in the back seat and life’s a bit frazzled in the front.

I usually start this off by singing what I see in my best ( or worst, says Rhianna) operatic diva singing style – like this…..

we are passing a vandalised bus stop… but look.. there are some buds on that tree –ee –ee

… the car in front is turning right without in-di- cat-ing.. and can you be qui-et in the back there…...

the shops on this street look in-ter-es-ting…do you like that dress in the wind-ow……

black and white zebra crossing coming up….yes, yes, yes we’re very nearly there…

The more mundane the things you sing about, the funnier it is. You have to do trills plus low and high notes. Sometimes the girls join in with the singing. Sometimes they just laugh. Very definitely at, not with, me.

I got this idea from Michael Rosen's poem The Car Trip - specifically the lines.

Mum tries to be exciting again:

'Look out the window

there's a tree.'

and please..can anyone help out with the twinkies? or scroll down.

I shouldn't be allowed out

As Rhianna approaches teenager-dom (tomorrow), family conversation is rather dominated by discussions on her need and desire for more freedom of movement. These discussions have taken on new meaning, since it has become clear that while I exhort them to ‘take care’ just as my mother did, they have good reason to doubt that I am capable in that regard myself.

I am writing with one arm in a sling, - fortunately the left -, complemented by the most terrific array of bruises all down my left side, in all the usual stomach-churning shades .

Although it’s an incomplete fracture, the injury to my arm is causing pretty complete chaos round here as well as a (temporary, believe me) role reversal the girls are thoroughly enjoying. They nag me to put on my sling to rest the joint and time me at my computer keyboard. They cook meals, bless them! and they are now loathe to let me out on my own. Me, a forty something woman who manages to fall up stairs in the middle of the afternoon, of course in a public place, while no more intoxicated than in the enjoyment of an absorbing conversation with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while? Well, maybe they have a point.

While my girls, your girls, your boys help around the home and take on chores at school and in the community, have a look at today’s entry for Absolutely Speechless Wednesday on child slavery. Sobering. Outrageous. I for one am going to join an anti-slavery or
ganisation today and start speaking up and out.

Here's my it works for me Wednesday - a very easy, quick Easter egg craft.

Hard boil as many eggs as you feel you need. Cool them in a bowl of cold water to stop the yolks turning grey, (discoloured yolks always puts my children off eating them. )

Raid your sewing or junk box for items small enough to stick onto the eggs. Try out tiny flowers, poppers (press studs), even bits of sewing or embroidery thread. For a 'robots' approach look in the tool box for tiny tin tacks, screws, whatever. You can paint or not. Try offering prizes for 'alien' eggs pretty eggs, ugly eggs, geek eggs - friendliest egg, most appetising, most colourful, so that everyone is a winner. This project puts the fun into fiddly plus gets away from the pretty pretty approach, so may appeal to boys too.

The girls haven't made their eggs for this year yet, but when they do and I have a photo, I'll post it. In the meantime, Spring has sprung.

Absolutely Speechless Wednesday

Not quite wordless Wednesday – more speechless.

Today in in the year 2007, 8.4 million children are believed to live in slavery.

For more details on Dalyn, (right) who was sold as a slave for $150 - and other children like her -go to the BBC website pages This World.

Works for me Wednesday - Not this week!

We’ve been listening to the radio a lot this week, (see yesterday's post) and Beka was inspired to do some sewing by a discussion she heard on BBC Radio 4's Woman’s Hour bemoaning the fact that sewing isn’t taught in British schools any more.

Beka likes her craft projects short and sweet, so we came up with the idea of making a little drawstring bag in paper, with minimal sewing and a bit of gluing for maximum impact.

We found some gift wrap, stronger than tissue. You could use felt, or other fabric to suit, bearing in mind that flimsy fabrics are harder for children to cut, glue and sew.

This is where I have to tell you that I’m in Works for me Wednesday this week under false pretences. From now on It Doesn’t Really Work Very Well.

It took Beka several days to draw round a dinner plate and cut out a circle. During that time the plate was in and out of the cupboard several times. However, once one circle drawn and cut, Beka was pleased to see that there was enough paper to fold over and cut out two circles. She can make herself and her sister a bag each without too much extra effort. Except that’s enough effort for today thanks Mum. She decides to do something else.

Two days go by. Today, as she knows I want to post about this project today, she thoughtfully finds the paper hole punch and make holes around the edge – as far in as the punch will let her go.

Still with the paper/fabric flat, Beka’s going to decorate her bag. She hasn’t decided yet whether she will sew or will glue shapes/buttons/sequins. I don’t want to put her off, but might offer to show her how to sew on a small button or two for a ‘funky’ bag. Simple random crosses or stitches in bright embroidery thread will work well too. Or she might choose a star pattern that radiates out from the centre of the circle.

But no, all things considered, she decides she likes plain best. No decorating. Not even gluing. She finds some yellow ribbon. It’s too wide really, but she likes it. It’s to hand.

This is what you do with whatever you have to hand. Cut two lengths of (thin) ribbon or contrasting embroidery thread or cord to weave through the holes round the edge of the circle. Start each length at opposite sides of the circle. Work round the circle and when your thread meets, knot it, leaving a short length to pull on. Keep the circle of paper or fabric flat. You end up with short pull handles at opposite sides of the circle. Pull apart and the threads neatly gather and close the neck of your bag.

I did take photos of each step, but as I was downloading them from the camera got distracted and have filed them to such an obscure place on my computer that my search facility can’t find them. So roll on Thursday.

I’m going to read Beka a bedtime story now. It feels the best thing to do all round.

I think, given the right creative mood of course, this activity would be good for as a party activity – the children can make their own pretty bags for their party favours. (Good excuse to keep them small!) Depending on the age of the children, you may want to do the cutting and hole-making before the party, leaving the children to decorate the circles before you gather them up. Older girls – from 9 – should be able to cope with all the steps themselves if you show them step by step first and stay on hand for the knot tying.

Beatrix Potter, author, illustrator and scientist.

During a favourite radio programme this week, the presenter made an aside about the children’s writer and illustrator Beatrix Potter having discovered the biological process of symbiosis. As a seasoned reader of The Tales of Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggywinkle and Jeremy Fisher, and someone who collects stories of artists with second strings to their bows, my ears pricked up (like the proverbial rabbit!) and, soon as I could, I hit the Google search button.

Beatrix Potter didn’t, in the event, discover the process of symbiosis.

Symbiosis is relationship where two organisms or creatures offer essential or life-enhancing services to each other. Think of the tiny fish that pick clean the teeth of sharks. One eats, the other gets free dentistry.

What Beatrix Potter did do, even though an amateur, was to design and conduct a series of experiments whose publication in 1897 put her at what scientists now recognise as cutting edge of the biological sciences at the time.

Beatrix’s work as a scientific illustrator of fungi and lichen for Scottish naturalist Charles McIntosh prompted her to do her own research into the subjects she drew in such painstaking and accurate detail. Setting up her own experiments and reading widely on in the field of mycology, she became fascinated by a theory advanced by mycologists in Europe that a lichen was not a single living organism, but was in fact composed of two organisms – an alga and a fungus.

She did much to explore the exact nature of their mutually dependent – symbiotic – relationship, and although scoffed at by the predominantly male British scientific establishment at the turn of the 19th century, to the extent that she withdrew her paper, scientists today give her credit for advancing knowledge of the process considerably.

The rejection of her discoveries came just before her success as an author. Her time and attention moved on from the study of lichen in such detail, but the fortune she made from her smash hit books for children did allow her to become a significant benefactor to science and the preservation of the natural environment in Britain.

Merchandising tends to stress the ‘cutesy’ factor in Beatrix Potter’s drawings, but the Potter tourist attractions in the Lake District and in Perthshire in Scotland (home of Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggywinkle and Jeremy Fisher) pay tribute not only to her art, but to her scientific and observational acuity.

I haven’t seen it, but Renee Zellwegger plays Beatrix in the film Miss Potter, released at the very end of last year and pictured above.
There’s a new biography by Linda Lear recently published too.

To read more on Beatrix Potter’s achievements as a scientist, which should fascinate our daughters in their science class –try The Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Other Potter sites are:




Twinkies anyone?

I love being a mum. Full of unmissable opportunities to improve my general knowledge. Here’s a random selection of just a few of the brain benders the girls have tossed me today:

Why must you get a fever down?

Why does Beth March (in Little Women) have to die?

What sort of animal is a wolverine?

Tell me some rivers beginning with the letter E.

And the letter G?



What’s the past tense of this French verb?

How did people in the Stone Age paint pictures?

What is an ultrasound?

Why can’t I watch T.V?

I've managed all those: the one that has me stumped and is really the point of this post, so all American readers can help out is:

Please don’t hold this against me.... but I need the definitive answer:

What exactly is a Twinkie?

Wordless Wednesday: Suffolk Walks

Beka's taking her turn to choose the picture.
She's revisited last year's summer holiday remembering those walks on heath land and seashore along the Suffolk coast with our friend Chrissie and her black Lab, Bunty.

If you visited yesterday to find it was Picture-less Wednesday, here at Zing Things thanks for alerting me to a Blogger glitch. The photo was here when I posted it orginally- and I hope it's here to stay now.

Works for me Wednesday: Texture & Pattern

Equipment for this week’s art activity idea is simple:

sheets of paper, pencils, wax crayons

The idea in a nutshell:

Find objects with a rough feel to them – walls, tiles, baskets, tree bark, leaves, coins

lay the paper down on top

firmly, but gently, rub with your pencil ( blunted is best) or side of your crayon

watch the pattern made by the texture appear on your piece of paper.

Indoors - track down the most ordinary of household objects and discover the secret patterns they hide.

You could suggest each child rubs in one particular room with everyone joining in at the end to guess which object made what pattern. (Once they've got the hang of this, use stubby white candles instead of a pencil, and then paint over the top revealing the inverse of the pattern.)

Outdoors – tree bark and the backs of leaves are obvious candidates here. Paths, pavements, tiles, grids, drains are fascinating too.

We’ve used this activity with Rhianna and Beka to make shopping more interesting for them, and it works well once the thrill has worn off when sightseeing or ‘doing’ a castle or museum too. Just keep an eye on where they scribble. Use a pencil!! + a small spiral bound notebook you can bend backwards. Tell the curious this is a ‘project’ and wait for them to join in finding textures. It is contagious!

The patterns here are from - top to bottom - a child's step and the metal frame of a mirror; my plastic kitchen step; the side of a cabinet. Even the very ordinary can produce interesting patterns.

Bulleted List
What do you do with all those rubbings?

  • Make a touchy-feely record of a day out in a scrapbook or for display on the wall. Add real leaves, stick in coins, bits of grass, dried flowers, other found objects.
  • Tear the pattern into shapes to make a collage picture. Basket weave patterns look like flowing water, for example.
  • Try to copy some of the marks you rubbed in another technique: straightforward drawing, or with a paintbrush or other types of markers. Make your marks much bigger than life size or make them teeny-tiny.
  • If you’re really ambitious you could use the images to prompt some writing. Divorced from the objects themselves, what do the patterns remind you of, make you think of? Is there a poem in there somewhere?

Older children might be interested to learn of ‘real’ artists who used this technique, which is called frottage. The index entry for it in just one of my art books led me to Leonardo da Vinci via Max Ernst and C18th painter Alexander Cozens.

Warning: Googling frottage on the other hand, is not something I would recommend you let your kids do!

Instead try this link to Surrealist Max Ernst at London’s Tate Gallery.

Behaving Badly in my Bookshop

A couple of days ago I was caught out by the store detective in my local bookshop. He didn’t march me off in handcuffs for purloining books, but did ask me to put away my little notebook and stop writing down details of a book I had been browsing. I have to say I had no intention of buying the book, right there and then, though if I’d been able to get the title down, who knows in the future? But a bookshop is hardly a library is it? Chastened, and blushing to my roots, I put my notebook away and left immediately. (Who's the loser though?)

The handicraft book I had been looking through attracted my attention with unusual photography and an intriguing title – which I now can’t remember. All I can share with you is the one word I got half scribbled down – temari.

Not the Japanese manga character Temari, who apparently can summon an instant beheading charm with the swish of a fan, but the ancient and aristocratic art of making and decorating small hand-held balls. When this craft was introduced to Japan from China five or six hundred years ago, the royal ladies used wadded up strips of old kimonos to start the ball shape, which they then wrapped round with silk threads. Over the years they added elaborate needlecraft stitches and wrapped patterns to the surface of the ball, while putting little bells inside. These exquisite decorations and playthings have always been highly prized objets, and while making temari is an increasingly popular handicraft in the West, in Japan modern day temari artists must study for years and pass grueling tests before deemed worthy of the name.

Traditionally, if you are given a temari, you cherish it for the affection and loyalty woven into it by your friend. If a child, your mother gives you a temari at New Year, made very special by the carefully written wish for your future happiness she encloses in the ball as she wraps and sews the complex design in brightly coloured threads which also express her hopes for your vibrant future.

The temari in the picture here were made by Diana Vandervoort at www.diynetwork.com.

As kimonos are in short supply, crafters tend to use styrofoam balls to get a perfect shape. I think that's far too prosaic, much prefering the suggestion that you recycle old papers or even old socks - at least then I could tell my husband I do know where the odd ones end up!

A slipping Glimpser

Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning was a better painter than he was a poet, I think you’ll agree, but if, like him, you find yourself off balance what seems like most of the time, then take heart - as I do when I read his description of what it takes to find your way to inspiration in everyday life. To slip, to fall, to be unsteady & uncertain might just grant the odd insight or two.
Or at least I find it helps to look at life that way!

Each new glimpse is determined by many,

Many glimpses before.

It’s this glimpse which inspires you – like an occurrence

And I notice those are always my moments of having an idea

That maybe I could start a painting…….

….the real world, this so-called real world,

is just something you put with, like everybody else.

I’m in my element when I am a little bit out of this world:

then I’m in the real world – I’m on the beam.

Because when I’m falling, I’m doing all right;

when I’m slipping, I say, hey, this is interesting!

It’s when I’m standing upright that bothers me:

I’m not doing so good; I’m stiff.

As a matter of fact, I’m really slipping, most of the time,

into that glimpse. I’m like a slipping glimpser…..

(Wllem de Kooning, Sketchbook1: Three Americans, 1960)

Wordless Wednesday: Beka and the Bunny

Craft is not top of Beka's list of favourite things to do with her time. But she wants to make herself a bunny like this. All it takes is a simple square of knitting.

For the instructions on how to create your bunny, visit Jackie at Heartstringsfibrearts.

More on arts and crafts with children in today's Works for Me Wednesday posted earlier.

Dough Far, Dough Good

Last week I posted a simple sculpture dough recipe. This week, in what I plan as a regular slot of arts activity ideas, here's a more demanding dough recipe – this time aimed at older children. It may also appeal to the infirm and elderly; I know several older people and their carers on the look out for absorbing, meaningful and motivating activities you can do in a chair and which help stretch fine motor skills during recovery from surgery or stroke or similar.

This dough produces colourful biscuits that are lovely to look at, so satisfy that creative urge and, added bonus, they taste great too.

(I’m just sorry that this week there’s no time to organise a baking/photo session here at home so you can see. Will do better next time!)

Here are the ingredients:

1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

¼ teaspoon salt

½ baking powder (baking soda)

½ cup margarine/butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ cup diary sour cream (you could substitute silky tofu here)

3 ounces yellow or red or green boiled sweets (hard candy) – crushed

  • start off by combining the flours. baking powder (baking soda) and the salt
  • in another bowl – use a fairly big one - beat the margarine/butter until soft. (medium on the hand mixer)
  • add sugar and beat until fluffy
  • add vanilla and egg and beat again
  • add the combined flours and the sour cream/tofu – alternately, a little at a time – keep beating
  • halve the dough – cover and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours
  • on a floured board, roll half the roll out to a thickness of about 1/8 inch.
  • cut out shapes using card templates if you’re feeling arty – cookie cutters if you’re flagging!
  • cut out holes and fill with the crushed boiled sweets
  • Get creative:
  • add features, decorations etc from smaller pieces of dough
  • you can make stained glass style designs – look at Tiffany for examples!
  • cut large ovals , remove the centre, fill with the crushed sweets for ‘Faberge’ egg cookies this Easter!
  • When you're done - place on an oiled parchment sheet on a flat baking tray and bake for 6-8 minutes at 350 until the biscuit dough browns.

This recipe makes about 10 large biscuits.

Hint: don’t make the dough areas too narrow or you won’t be able to lift the biscuit in one piece.

Shame to eat them really!

I learnt this recipe from Mudworks: creative clay, dough and modelling experiences by MaryAnn F. Kohl.

For a similar, simpler version of this you can use shop bought puff pastry.

Rhianna and I had a great time doing this when she was in nursery school and mothers were asked to send in themed ‘Insect’ lunchboxes. (I ask you!!) We did some very colourful butterflies with iridescent jammy holes in their wings, which still managed to be appetising and edible! No pictures of those available either.

What you do is: roll into 1/8 thickness and cut two of each shape you want. Lay down the first shape and in the second layer cut out holes. Place the holey layers on top and fill the holes with jam. Follow the instructions for baking the pastry, being careful the jam doesn’t catch.

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Eyes in art eyes up mothers

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stared into and at these eyes: they belong to Barbara Durer, mother of Albrecht and I’ve drawn them over and over again.

Copying the drawings of others is a fabulous way to learn to draw or improve your drawing skills. It’s very practical too – you never have the excuse that you don’t know what to draw or don’t have time or space or, let’s face it, the energy to set up a subject.

I have drawn the whole head from time to time, but usually I concentrate on those marvellous eyes. Durer walks me through the process as I study each meticulous pencil stroke and mark. I work very slowly and really look.

The girls have watched me do this all their lives, and copy what I do. Now, if Beka wants to draw an apple, she goes to the fruit bowl and studies one carefully, looking from fruit to paper and back constantly as she works. If I’ve done nothing else for their art education, that willingness to look afresh, to look and what’s actually there, will help their art along enormously.

Betty Edwards is one of my drawing gurus. Author of Drawing on the Right Hand Side of the Brain, her approach to teaching and learning drawing is straightforward and brings instant results, improvement and satisfaction.

“People feel that they shouldn’t take a drawing course because they don’t know already how to draw. This is like deciding that you shouldn’t take a French class because you don’t already speak French…”

If you’ve always wanted to, but never thought you could, make today the day you surprise yourself! Betty Edwards makes use of a technique I always find surprises, encourages and delights.

Find a drawing you want to copy.

Don’t study it closely.

Turn it upside down. You stay the right way up.

Now start drawing.

Just pay attention to the lines.

Where do they start from? Where do they go? How do they get there? And what lines to they meet on the way?

That’s it. You’re drawing.

You’ve tricked your mind out of its negative “I can’t copy this drawing my a world-renowned artist. What sort of fool do I think I am?” You’re assessing, measuring, evaluating. You’re absorbed, you’re meditating on the line. You’re drawing.

Michelle at Scribbit is collecting our ‘guilty pleasures’ – be great if you could list drawing as from today!

And I feel it’s only fair to mothers in general and Durer’s in particular, to include this earlier portrait by her son, some 24 years earlier than the 1514 drawing.

Tomorrow in Works for me Wednesday I plan another post on arts activities for children - this time suggesting a kitchen art idea for older children and teenagers. And prompted by Mrs Durer here, maybe this suggestion would appeal to older people in recovery from illness, stroke etc., looking for a meaningful and absorbing activity to encourage motor skills and concentration.

Join me here. I'll bring the biscuits!

scribbit: What's Your Favorite Guilty Pleasure? | A Blog About Motherhood in Alaska

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As if I needed an excuse..celebrate World Book Day!

in honour of World Book Day today, thousands of British readers were polled to find their Most Precious Reads - an imaginative choice of question to pose in a headline grabbing survey like this. It certainly gets people talking: as I try to write Rhianna and her dad are sitting in the family room behind me arguing over the top 100 list of Precious Reads I've just printed out.
My husband is spluttering over the inclusion of The Da Vinci Code. Rhianna at 12, is pleased that she has already got a handful of titles under her belt, although she doesn't share my enthusiasm for Anne of Green Gables which hits the list at #.46

[I adored Anne Shirley (with thanks due not just to the books, but to Kim Braden in the '70's TV adaptation who was the perfect, quintessential Anne.) My mother loved Anne's admonitory phrase 'There's scope for the imagination, Marilla', so much, she named her home Marilla Cottage; she did the imagining to my father's scoping!]

Here's the list - prefaced - because who could resist? - with a handful of my most precious reads. As soon as I log off, more will come to mind, but these will do for starters. Add yours in comments. And pay a visit to the World Book Day site, who, as part of the celebrations want your list of Top Ten Books You Just Can't Live Without.

These are My Most Precious:

Xinran Sky Burial

Barbara Kingsolver Small Wonders

Rose Tremain The Colour

Anne Tyler The Ladder of the Years

And the Top 100 -

world book day – 1.3.2007

voted most precious reads

1 Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte

=8 Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell

=8 His Dark Materials Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations Charles Dickens

11 Little Women Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the d'Urbervilles Thomas Hardy

13 Catch-22 Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare William Shakespeare

15 Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong Sebastian Faulks

18 Catcher in the Rye JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler's Wife Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams

26 Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia CS Lewis

34 Emma Jane Austen

35 Persuasion Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin Louis de Bernières

39 Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh AA Milne

41 Animal Farm George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney John Irving

45 The Woman in White Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies William Golding

50 Atonement Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi Yann Martel

52 Dune Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck

62 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones's Diary Helen Fielding

69 Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist Charles Dickens

72 Dracula Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses James Joyce

76 The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath

77 Swallows and Amazons Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte's Web EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven Mitch Alborn

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory Iain Banks

94 Watership Down Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl

100 Les Misérables Victor Hugo

The choices I don't get are few - but include The Da Vinci Code and Bridget Jones's Diary.

I'm so pleased to see To Kill a Mockingbird riding high; it was a set text at school and I don't suppose I've reread it since I was teenager, but its characters & images have certainly been a part of me for many years. Jane Austen I came late to; but now treasure. (Although I still really don't like Emma.)

Do add yours most precious, and your comments on favourites and surprises in this list.

Doughing Places: the artist in your child

Even without taking the Blog-o-sphere into account, when you add up the number of children you and your friends have between you, it does point to a fair degree of expertise in all things knee-high.

When mine were small (– how I love that phrase now they’re approaching me-high-) friends and I expertly agreed that there were really only three essential toys for our children, whether playing alone, with brothers & sisters or in mum-get-together size groups. (Books don’t count here – but should everywhere else. )

All three in our list bring out the artist in your young ones.

Performance Arts

1. A sit-upon car. Best and easiest car purchase you’ll ever make!

A worrying number of people queried our buying a toy car for our girls, but I relished the moment when Rhianna, in full flight as Snow White, refused the prince’s offer of a horseback ride to his castle with a ‘No thanks’ (brandishing plastic car keys) ‘I’ve got my own car. See you around!’

Design, Engineering, Architecture

2. Cardboard boxes/tubes – big, small, any shape.

A 7ft high rocket lived in the recess under our stairs for weeks and when Rhianna finally came down to earth and wanted a bike, the very first thing she did was fix round cheese triangle boxes to a plastic chair to make a tricycle.


3. Play Dough. Kids just adore this. Great for motor skills and superb imaginative play.

Use your judgement about when to let little ones loose on dough; but it can’t do much harm if they do put some in their mouths, and they should be supervised anyway.

Provide spoon, forks, lollypop sticks etc for moulding and cutting; a garlic press makes great hair.

This dough dries out if left in nooks and crannies – there’s enough salt so it doesn’t go mouldy. But it isn’t so good smeared on your soft furnishings. Don’t let that put you off - lay down some rules!

Expensive to buy in decent quantities, but you don’t need to. Breaking my own no recipe rule – here’s a tried and true, worked for me:

Zing’s Play Dough

2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar

1 cup plain flour

½ cup salt

1 tablespoon oil

1 cup water

drops of food colouring

Mix all the ingredients in a non-stick pan, over a steady medium heat. Stir.

As soon as the mixture comes together, remove from the heat, tip the dough onto a board or plate.

Fill the pan with water immediately, as the dough hardens very quickly on the hot metal.

When the dough is cooler to the touch, knead it for a while – you may need a little extra flour if it feels a little greasy.

Cool and it’s ready to go. Keep in a plastic bag or snap-top container when not in use and it will last a while.

There’ll be many more ideas for art activities with children of all ages in Zing’s Works for Me Wednesdays from now on.

Join us next week or sign up for the e-mail so you don’t miss a thing.

Meanwhile, add your top toys to the list in comments.

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Wordless Wednesday: Seeing Teapots

This is what I've been working on this week - a wallpaper style print from popular Art Deco ceramics designer Clarice Clift.

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Great Golden Pancake Awards

When the girls were little, friends and I used to take it in turns to hostess a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Party for our children, featuring pancake related activities. You know the sort of thing – toss the pancake, draw a pancake, three-legged race with a pancake, dress up as a pancake, eat a pancake or ten, and as you might expect of me by now, once the kids and I were exhausted with all that pancake tossing, I liked to sit the hordes down and read them a story.

Now the girls have reached the age where, thanks to excellent and far-sighted parenting, we get to the sitting down bit much sooner. Last night they made the pancakes while I lorded it at the dinner table actually chit-chatting with my husband.

Over (just a few) pancakes we recalled past parties and the best read aloud stories. And so we give you -

  • Winner of the Golden Pancake Award for Best Story featuring pancakes:

The Elephant and the Bad Baby

Reginald Briggs and Elfrida Vipont.

The beautifully illustrated story of a kleptomaniac elephant and a baby who never says ‘please’. They rampage through the town collecting a conga line of irate shop-keepers, returning home in time for tea and pancakes.

The repeated refrain of ‘….and they went rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta, all down the road.’ is etched in our family memory and comes in handy surprisingly often.

  • Winner of Best Story with a fun and memorable refrain:

Tikki Tikki Tembo

Arlene Mosel & Blair Lent

“A long time ago in China, first-born sons had very long names. One day Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo fell down the well…..”

This is a fabulous book. If you don’t know it already and have children under 7 – rush out and find a copy. Great fun to read aloud and you’ll soon have that name off by heart!

You can read a short version of Tikki Tikki Tembo with a slightly different refrain at this a treasure-trove of a site for all story tellers and their listeners where retired Pittsburg professor. D.L. Ashliman generously shares a lifetime’s collection of stories from all over the world. There are different versions of favourites loved by Europeans, Americans and Disney, as well as a host of stories dear to cultures other than our own.

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Lions & Tigers & Bears. Oh my!

Last week the girls were away on trips with their school and while I didn’t have the trouble filling my time in their absence Rhianna would have found gratifying, I did organise some spring-cleaning. So (some of) our book cases are now neat, clean, orderly, dusted. Sorting bookcases is a job I enjoy, but it has its downside, taking three times as long as it should because you always find some long-lost gem you just have to curl up with right there and then on the carpet, and one chapter leads to another, which leads to a quick cup of coffee to enjoy it all the more and so it goes on until the children ring the doorbell and hand you their dirty washing.

As I’ve already done a top ten reading list this week, I’ll save my spring-clean procrastination list for another day and share a behind-the-bookcase art find instead.

I found a stash of art postcards, and one particularly intrigued me. The description on the back reads:

“A huntsman stealing a tiger cub by throwing a glass ball at the tigress, which sees her reflection and mistakes it for her cub, from a Bestiary. England, probably Lincolnshire c. 1200.”

I wanted to know why a huntsman would think this apparently fanciful method a worthwhile strategy for outwitting such a ferocious prey, and we all know exactly how fierce a mother is in defence of her young. I didn’t exactly find out the answer, but here is where I got to.

A Mediaeval Bestiary is a beautifully illustrated – illuminated – catalogue of animals.

It’s through the writings of St. Ambrose that the story of the tigress and the glass ball found its way into the bestiaries of the time. Provoked by the theft of all her cubs, the tigress chases the huntsman at lightning speed. The wily hunter throws down a glass ball, and seeing herself reflected in miniature, the tigress is fooled for a crucial few seconds into thinking the ball is her cub. Disappointed, she resumes the chase, only to be fooled repeatedly by more glass balls, until the hunter reaches safety or the poor mother is exhausted. In some versions of the story, the hunter might also distract the mother by throwing down the runt of the litter, while holding fast to at least one other prize cub.

Bestiaries were not put together by the C12th equivalent of David Attenborough or Steve Irwin; the point about bestiaries was that while they collected what was known about animals at the time, the information was a mix of the fanciful and hearsay taken on trust with no reference to the actual observed behaviour of the creatures themselves. As the authors and illustrators were monks and churchmen, their main purpose was to use the apparent behaviour to exemplify a Christian trait or literally, illuminate a point of doctrine. Lions and pelicans for example, were just two of the animals whose behaviour was seen to symbolise aspects of the teachings or incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The real creatures described ranged from the everyday, such as dogs, to the more exotic like elephants, crocodiles & tigers. As their descriptions were not based on close observation, so the line between the actual creatures and the purely imaginary was blurred. Dogs and lions are described alongside stories and pictures of fabulous fish representing the Devil; the pure and innocent unicorn was identified with Christ.

Bestiaries were extremely popular reading matter in their day, with their compelling and highly coloured illustrations of dragons, griffins and hippogriffs. So it turns out, that while the scholars of the Middle Ages themselves eventually rejected the bestiaries as inadequate and misleading descriptions of the natural world they were increasingly eager to understand, the bestiary itself has actually survived and is thriving in the 21st Century. Down the ages artists have drawn and painted their own menageries of the real and imagined eccentricities of the animal kingdom. Now, modern gamers create and inhabit their own fantasy worlds populated with beasts straight from C12th illustrated manuscripts; and J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter books has brought the basilisk, the hippogriff and the enchanting song of the phoenix alive for a whole new generation of children.

(The illustrations here are from the British Museum and from the Aberdeen Bestiary.)

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Poetry Party 2: Wearing Purple

Take a poem with the lines

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

(Jenny Joseph. Warning)

add one thrift shop impulse-buy red hat and what do you get? Just to show you the power of the pen, you get the Red Hat Society.

Founder Red Hat Queen Bee Sue Ellen Cooper bought the hat, read the poem and now The Red Hat Society boasts thousands of members, its own credit card, online shop and travel perks. There are few rules but you have to be over 50 and you must wear red and purple at Society functions.

Not being over-50 I can’t describe it as well as they can:

"The Red Hat Society began as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor and elan. We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and since we are all in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together. Underneath the frivolity, we share a bond of affection, forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes us next."

- Sue Ellen Cooper, Queen Mother

Their website continues:

While visiting a friend in Tucson several years ago, Sue Ellen impulsively bought a bright red fedora at a thrift shop, for no other reason than that it was cheap and, she thought, quite dashing. A year or two later she read the poem "Warning" by Jenny Joseph, which depicts an older woman in purple clothing with a red hat. Sue Ellen felt an immediate kinship with Ms. Joseph. She decided that her birthday gift to her dear friend, Linda Murphy, would be a vintage red hat and a copy of the poem. She has always enjoyed whimsical decorating ideas, so she thought the hat would look nice hanging on a hook next to the framed poem. Linda got so much enjoyment out of the hat and the poem that Sue Ellen gave the same gift to another friend, then another, then another.

One day it occurred to these friends that they were becoming a sort of "Red Hat Society" and that perhaps they should go out to tea... in full regalia. They decided they would find purple dresses which didn't go with their red hats to complete the poem's image.

The tea was a smashing success……

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Read Aloud: the Hit List

As promised, here is my family’s list of Read Aloud favourites.

To qualify these titles were:

  • sung out instantly when I asked for nominations
  • leapt out of the shelves as we craned our necks on a book spine survey to check we hadn’t left anything out
  • are battered and dog-eared from repeated re-readings
  • & have contributed to family catch-phrases and coded communications -

having passed those stringent requirements, we honour the following!

Harry Potter J.K. Rowling any/all volumes

Reading aloud let our younger daughter join in the Potter related games and discussions our elder daughter enjoyed as she read them, and allowed us to monitor/soften the impact of some of the darker and scarier episodes.

The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark - Jill Tomlinson

We’ve read this one aloud so many times we know it by heart. We love it so much we have the audio tape too, and still it has us smiling.
This story of Plop the young owl with an empty stomach and fear of the dark is written for younger readers, but we all pause to listen. Soothing, funny and wise. A delight all round.

White Boots (or Skating Shoes) Noel Streatfeild
Streatfield is a bit dated now, but this story of a young girl who takes up skating and finds she has the stuff of champions is a perennial and down-the-generations favourite. My own mother loved it and bought a copy for me on a market stall when I was only months old. I loved it too, but have to say the world has moved on so much that although it’s a well-crafted story, I was very surprised when my daughters clamoured for more after the first chapter. I’ve read it out loud cover to cover 3 times now, which I think is my limit.

I ice skate like Mary Poppins, say Beka and Rhianna, but thanks to White Boots they have poise, balance and fun on the ice.

J.K Rowling is a fan, and so is Kathleen in You’ve Got Mail!

Ramona - Beverley Cleary any or all, in any combination

Beka says Ramona the Pest is her favourite, but we love them all. Again, from a ‘simpler’ time; the lack of tv, mobiles and toys ‘r us clutter lets the inventive ingenuity and endearing personalities of Ramona , big sister Beezus and cast of supporting parents, friends and neighbours shine through. Like The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark, this story enchants young and old alike. My husband is a particular fan.

The Mennyms – Sylvia Waugh a series of 5 books

Inventive, fun and a little bit different for that 6-9 age group it can be hard to suit.

The Borrowers - Mary Norton

These booked have been turned into a film and BBCTV has made a lovely classic serial of the stories, but they are best of all read aloud.
We never make pancakes without saving the tiny ones made by a splash of batter on the pan for the Borrowers who live in our house.

The Perfect Hamburger - Alexander McCall Smith

Although he hit the headlines with the No1. Ladies Detective Agency, polymath Prof. Smith has been writing for years. This story of a boy, a man and a mixing bowl against big business is heart-warming and funny. (And short!)

His Dark Materials - Phillip Pullman

This is definitely for older children ( thoughtful 10 year olds up) and a harder read aloud experience, but not to be missed. The writing is superb, the storyline inventive and memorable, but always plausible. The heroine Lyra is intelligent, tough and feisty, while for the boys, there’s Will –sharp, resourceful, determined.

Be prepared for, but not put off by, some challenging questions on family, life, loyalty, science and religion.

Pullman’s stories of Victorian era woman detective Sally Lockhart are marvellous reads too.

Sabriel/Lirael/Abhorsen - Garth Nix (a trilogy)

While I have read the whole of the His Dark Materials through back to back, starting the next book hard on the heels of the one we’d just finished, I found I couldn’t do that with Nix’s trilogy. Good, absorbing reads,though, but not for the faint-hearted.

Stravaganza Mary Hoffman http://www.stravaganza.co.uk/

Another parallel world, and like His Dark Materials, very well done. Touching, memorable, atmospheric with strong and good-hearted female and male ‘leads’. There's a website too.

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