Thursday, 20 December 2012

Make a Twig Reindeer

bunch of twigs for stick reindeer

Find a few twigs on your next woodland walk and you will have the main ingredients you need to make a twig reindeer.  The simplicity and naturalness of the branches used makes a really wonderful Christmas decoration. 

We collected twigs from several walks.  We found that those from horse chestnut trees were ideal as they had thin branches that divided nicely like reindeer antlers.  We also cut some stems from the green and red dogwood in the garden.  So you don’t have to go too far for your supplies.  This meant we started with a lovely bunch of twigs which actually look quite good on their own in the vase.
Any young children helping with this project will need to be assisted with cutting the twig.  You could use scissors or just snap any very thin twigs.  For the thicker stems I used secateurs.

For the body you will need a piece of twig about 8/9 inches long.  Then you will need 2 “Y” shaped stems about 7 inches in length (though you could go shorter to about 4 inches).  You then need to attach the legs to the body.  Set them back about 1 to 1/2inch along the body.  We firstly tried to glue together.  However as this seemed not be too easy we opted for tying with red twine.  I think this also adds to the overall image of the reindeer.  We tied as tight as possible and kept the reindeer on its side until both sets of legs were on.  The front set of legs was very slightly inclined backwards.   You need to cut the stem on the back “Y”.

Twig Reindeer

Twig Reindeer

Choosing the piece de resistance was the best bit of the whole project.  We opted for some twigs that my son had found still with a few leaves on.  They were perfect.  Again we tied the two antlers to the neck in 2 different places, rather than sticking them with glue.

We will be making more of these in the coming days as it is a great way of bringing the outdoors inside – though not sure we make enough for them to pull Santa’s sleigh.  Merry Christmas.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Missing the Mistletoe

It was a rather drab, grey and damp day when we started a December walk before a late lunch.  To add a bit of interest I proposed that we went on a search for mistletoe.  ‘What’s mistletoe?’ queried my seven year old.  ‘Well it grows high up in the trees, has white funny shaped berries and forms in a large ball rather like an overgrown bird’s nest.’ was my rather inadequate reply. ‘Look upwards and keep your eyes peeled we are bound to see some.’

winter walk

Apples, old mans beard and birds nest in winter

As we pottered along a slight nagging started in my mind.  I could only remember actually seeing mistletoe growing a couple of times in my life (I’m sure there must have been more).  Once was in an old orchard where every apple tree seemed to be host to a large bundle.  I’d also seen some earlier in the year in a snowdrop garden, again in an apple tree.  Perhaps they only grew on fruit trees.  We had seen an apple tree devoid of mistletoe at the beginning of our walk, but we were unlikely to see any more fruit trees.  So holly and Ivy were added to our find and seek festive list.  I was pretty certain that we would be able to tick these off.
We saw a lovely cascade of old man’s beard, high in one tree – a seed head usually found scrambling amongst the hedgerows. We also spotted several large birds’ nests, easily seen in the bare branches this time of year. Our hopes were raised that mistletoe might be close by when we saw what could have been a Mistle thrush at the top of tree.  Its favourite food is mistletoe. Alas its lunch was not in sight. We wondered what was named first the plant or the bird. Can anyone help?
ivy and holly berrries
Tipping your head back and looking towards the sky does bring a different perspective to a ramble. Sure enough we saw many trees covered in ivy and a large bush of holly still holding some of it berries. We were surprised what a lovely shade of plum the berries on the ivy were. They were almost more stunning than those on the holly.

Linear walks always work well because you always see vistas on the return journey you missed on the way out.  And yes, yes in the distance on our way back a large ball of vegetation was spotted in a faraway tree.  At last we could cross mistletoe off our list, but by then my son was busy using the dried stem of a cow parsley as a blow gun. His interest in our Christmas hunt was over.

Mistletoe on Apple Tree

On our return home my research confirmed that the main host plants for mistletoe are apple, hawthorn, lime and poplar trees. Mistletoe is apparently much more common in gardens, orchards and parks than in the general countryside.  At least I was able to show everyone my photos of mistletoe from the snowdrop garden.

We may have another go at this game with some of our walks over Christmas, when the location will be more carefully planned. By adding some more types of berries, such as rosehips, perhaps pine cones and, of course a Xmas tree, and we will have a full blown Xmas hunt to have fun with.

I am linking up this post with Learning for Life and Countrykids where you can find out what other families have been up to outdoors.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Salt Dough Christmas Decorations: A Tale of Competition between Friends

Salt dough xmas decorations

I recently spotted a great idea for using a handprint made from salt dough to make a Santa Xmas decoration.   It looked so cute that I shared it with friends and followers on Facebook.  My son had had a go at something similar a pre-school, but we had never tried salt dough at home. That rather misshaped ornament he made is now treasured and brought out every Christmas.

My garden craft is fine, but this kind of craft was more like cooking.  A day off school for my son provided some time and an opportunity to make and bake.

Here is the recipe we used:-
½ cup of salt

½ cup of plain flour
¼ cup of water, but only use as much as you need to make dough
Yes I did have plain flour in the cupboard.  What about the salt?  I only had a small amount of relatively expensive sea salt so I plumped for dishwasher salt thinking, it would probably melt in the oven.  Ist mistake.  It didn’t.

salt dough xmas tree
Apron donned – it really was just like making pastry.  We measured, stirred, kneaded and rolled out with a rolling pin.  Then we made the hand impression into the salt dough.  By then I began to realise that a 7 yr. olds hand is quite large.  Any imprint would make quite a chunky decoration, maybe not so easily hung from the tree.  So we decided to just make one and cut out shapes with our Xmas cooker cutters with the remainder of the dough.  We remembered to punch a hole in the top to enable hanging.  They were then baked in the oven 100c for about 2 ½ hours.

salt dough xmas decorations
We were really quite pleased with our results, despite the rough texture caused by the dishwasher salt.  I should say, I was pleased until two of my friends posted some photos displaying their decorations.  I am sure you can guess which ones are ours.
Oh well, baking was never my forte.  Not sure we will ever get around to decorating our ornaments.  It’s been great fun sharing ideas and experiences with friends.  It has helped us all get into the festive spirit.  Next time though, I may just check things out first.  So please don’t be put off, but do use table salt. My excuse for coming last in the class is that one friend’s profession involves dressing windows, hence the lovely photo at the beginning of the post.  My other friend, well her surname is Jones, so it really was a case of keeping up with the Jones’s!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Enchanted Woodland: A Garden At Night

Enchanted Woodland

What a treat.  A night time walk in an enchanted garden, full of light, shadow, glimpses of majestic trees and other delights.  I couldn’t think of anything that could be more charming.

After dressing for the Arctic, we were stuck in London Friday night traffic for 50 minutes on our way there and my 7 year old decided that it really was a waste of time. He much rather be watching his favourite TV programmes.  Great start to our night trip to Syon Park in Isleworth to visit their ‘Enchanted Woodland’.  But please don’t worry, from the time he saw the search lights from the garden in the sky and even the  lights from the under belly of the planes en route to Heathrow, to meeting his friends, his excitement could hardly be contained.

There is no doubt that there is something very magical about a garden, particularly a large garden, at night.  This time of year we all tend to hibernate come dusk.  Night time trips are quite rare for my son.  Although I am all for wrapping up and getting outside there aren’t many winter evenings when we actually manage it.

I have visited the garden at Syon Park quite a few times, but never in the dark.  The Enchanted Woodland had come highly recommended and it did live up to all expectations.

winter wonderland

The garden was full of coloured lights of all shapes, sizes and types.  The reflections from the lit up trees in the water of the lake were simply quite stunning.  The route around the garden was about a mile.  It took us over an hour and a half, such was the level of interest from everyone.

kids looking in dragons den
There were constant delights for the children.  One of their favourites was the Dragons Den with its very own sound effects.
shadow acreen

A large shadow screen held all our attention for quite some time.  What a good idea. I have never done this outdoors before.  We could also view other families shadows from the other side of the lake, very spooky and surreal.

happy children in a nightimegarden

The tree and their structures were not the only ones lit up.  The children enjoyed being seen in different colours as well.

lit up tree

This children named this little display jurassic cove.  It really did look prehistoric and gunnera leaves next door helped to set the scene.

tree at night with birdcages and butterflies
The crowning glory of Syon Park Gardens in most definitely the Great Conservatory.  Our winter walk ended there with a tasteful light show and music.  The children had a dance, while the adults sat around mesmerised by the effect of the light and sound on this magnificent structure.  Our evening was then topped off by that winter essential -  mugs of hot chocolate. Perfection.
If anyone else has visited I would love to hear their views?  Are there any other similar events taking place in other areas of the country, because it really was a rather magical evening.
I am linking up this post with Learning for Life where you can find out what other families have been up to outdoors. 

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