Saturday, 23 February 2013

DIY Portal 2 Cake

Sprout's wish for his 7th birthday - a Portal 2 cake! So, inspired by this epic piece of cakery, I set to work :)

I started by digging out a corkboard I've had for ages just waiting for a good use, and cutting two pieces of cardboard the same size as it. I also ordered two 1 metre neon lights, one in orange and one in sky blue.

I then cut two portal ovals in both pieces of cardboard, and then an oval slightly smaller for each hole so that it left a slight channel when put in place. I put the lights in to the channels, and ran the two ends under the cardboard  so that the battery packs/switches were at the side, then I glued all the cardboard onto the corkboard.

I then covered the two ovals with baking parchment to diffuse the light a bit, and taped the battery packs down onto the side of the board.

I sprayed the edges of the corkboard, the (tape-covered) battery packs, and the second piece of cardboard with silver paint, and glued the cardboard in place. After covering the second two ovals with scenes printed from the game, I covered them in cling film and glued them down too. Then I covered the battery packs with a small piece of card with a companion cube print out on it, and also printed a 'the cake is a lie' graphic and glued that on one corner.

I made a double batch of this chocolate Victoria sponge, divided between four cake tins. After stacking them together with chocolate buttercream I cut the cake top to bottom on a slant, secured each of the two pieces with a couple of plastic cake dowels (I used the 8 inch ones from here snapped in half) to stop the layers sliding off each other when it was all tipped up, then covered both in chocolate buttercream. (I used ready made buttercream as I was running short of time, for an idea of quantities needed I used almost two of these tubs in total).

I sprinkled both pieces with chocolate sprinkles (two of these tubs in total) and patted them into the icing so they didn't fall off. 

I popped eight squirts of extra thick cream round the edge, although if I made this again I'd pipe it with vanilla buttercream instead and the cream lost it's puffiness really quickly and by party time was looking very sorry for itself. I pushed a cocktail stick into the centre of each swirl of cream, leaving the point just sticking out, and then pushed a glacĂ© cherry onto each one. Using a spatula I then really carefully lifted the two pieces onto the portals, ensuring the second one was the correct way round as if it was coming through the portal. 

Then candles in place, lights switched on, and voila!

Summary of ingredients/materials needed

One large board
Two pieces of cardboard as big as the board
Craft knife
Silver spray paint
Two 1m neon rope lights (one orange, one blue)
Baking parchment or similar
Cling film
Adhesive tape
Print offs - Two background scenes from Portal 2, one companion cube, one 'cake is a lie' graphic
300g butter
300g caster sugar
220g self raising flour
80g cocoa powder
6 eggs
2 x 450g tubs chocolate buttercream
2 x 65g tubs chocolate sprinkles
Vanilla buttercream for piping (Or extra thick aerosol cream at a push)
Cocktail sticks
8 glacĂ© cherries
Candles and holders

Friday, 22 February 2013


There are windows that look out into the world.

Some are big windows, through which you can easily see huge chunks of the world. Some small, giving mere glimpses. Some appear for only a short time, and you've got to be quick to peek through at what you can see. Some you need to stand on tip toes to see over the windowsill, some you even need to climb a ladder to have a chance at looking through. Some are way low down and you can see all sorts of things by laying down and just quietly watching. Some have distorted glass, and you can't be sure whether what you're seeing is real, so you're best off checking another window nearby as well.

Some people have favourite windows, often the ones that they've been looking through since they were kids; they feel comfortable looking through them, and are so attached to the happiness they've felt and the things about the world that they've learnt while looking through them that they often feel that these must surely be the best windows for everyone to use.

There are some newer windows, many of them just at child-height; the glass is mostly crystal clear, and the views of the world are panoramic and stunning. People enjoy looking through them so much at all the amazing things they can see, that they're often the really sought after windows to look through at the world; Other times people just prefer what they can see elsewhere.

I love these new windows! I can see so much that's fun and fascinating, and there are just so many of them that pretty much whatever I want to look at right that second there's a perfect one to look through. I kinda like some of the other windows too, but I can't even think about that right now. Since I discovered the new windows my mum and dad have gone all weird. They want me to only look through the windows that have always been *their* favourites. They say pretty much all the other windows are better for me to look through than these new ones that I can see so much through. They say if they let me I'll just spend all my time looking through them. So what? Just cos they're not the same as the stupid windows they like. They've started covering up the windows I like, and making me look through the ones *they* like. There's sometimes some good stuff through there too I suppose, but all I can really think about while I'm looking is how to get back to my windows with the stuff I enjoy on the other side. I asked them why I can't look through them whenever I want, and they said that looking at the world through these new windows is *so* amazing and *so* enjoyable that it releases like pleasure neuro stuff in people's brains so they want to go back and look again. Well, duh! They've said I can look through the new windows for an hour in total every night, unless I do something they don't like, then I'm not allowed to look at all. It makes me really angry, how can I decide which one to look through for only an hour? There's so much interesting stuff to look at through all of them! I hate their stupid windows.

Once I'm looking through one of the new windows though... well I just want to inhale the whole thing... I feel like I want to grab it all with my arms and pull it into my stomach. There's so much to see! So much amazing stuff to learn about! That hour goes so so fast, it makes me so angry when my mum says my time's up and tapes that black card over it again. I feel like I've lost something. No, not lost. Taken. There's so much more I want to see through that window! If only she could see. If only she'd look through all of the new windows with me, or even just one of them... then she'd see. She'd have to. All the amazing things I can see... I just wish she could see them too.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Scribblenauts, Zombie Sports and Canine Consorts

This week has seen Squidge move from cutting *lots* of shapes out of paper and card, to biting all his food into shapes. I bring you the bread-based Crown :)

He's also... drumrolllllllll... SNUGGLED WITH THE DOG. I kid you not. I have photographic evidence right here!!! The little boy who less than a year ago was so terrified of dogs that he wouldn't go in the same park as one, is now snuggling with a dog for crying out loud. Snuggling!!! (Plus the person in the snuggle with them, taking the photo, is indeed me, the mummy who was so scared of dogs that she couldn't even help her terrified son.) So thank you Fly!!!

He's also been flexing his burgeoning gaming muscles, tackling Skylanders Giants, Super Mario Bros Wii, Super Mario 3D Land, and getting much more confident on Minecraft, building things on his server, trying out the Mario mod, and testing out Tekkit for the first time.

He's also been a brick building maniac, constructing Lego space rockets/people/aliens, wooden block castles, and this ingenious two-headed mega blok camel.

He's also loving this little Mr Men trivia card game we picked up while we were shopping, it's got different levels of questions from very young child to adult and he loved that there were questions he knew the answer to already as well as things he was interested to find out.
Also while we were shopping there were a few things he wanted which we didn't have quite enough money for; I looked at what was in the shopping with him, and he chose to swap his cereal for a cheaper one so that he could buy both the other things he wanted. Awesome!
In other news, his dancing this week has mostly been to Jessie J and PSY :)

Moppet has, by turns, been morphing into Tintin (lol)...

...crawling for the very first time...

...and cruising round at such speed I'm struggling to keep up!

Sprout has been enjoying creating art on the Kaleido Free app (which I also love, it's kind of mesmerising!), and making music on the beautiful Falling Stars app. He's also been thrashing me at Doodlejump and discovering Tekkit with Squidge. His big thing this week that he'd been counting down to for months was the (eventual) release of Scribblenauts Unlimited, so he's done lots of the missions that he'd already seen on YouTube videos, typed in lots of gobbledygook to see what the dictionary suggests, made *lots* of the characters into zombies, and we both discovered what a Moa was, and in turn the evolution of the lancewood tree. Conversations moved to whether squirrels can pollinate flowers, what sort of meat comes from different animals and fills him up the best, and whether pterosaurs lived at the same time as people. He's also been even more tuneful than usual this week, an has been singing while gaming, and making up lullabies for Moppet :)

As well as another high energy, fun-filled day at Come into Play, we took a trip to see the long-awaited Wreck It Ralph (and bought up the entire refreshments shop it seemed, long story!), which they loved (both the story and the appearances by characters they know from the games they play, especially Bowser and the Pacman ghost). I loved the Sergeant Calhoun character, even more so once I realised who it was!

We participated in our usual apres-film sport of zombie-killing, with Sprout coming out on top!

After having friends over for a Lego day today, we made our bodyweight (well, almost) in koolaid-coloured, glittery playdough (using the cooked playdough recipe here as the basis for it), played with some instant snow, and watched some more Indiana Jones.
Three out of our five birthdays coming up in the next week or so, so party preparation starts tomorrow!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Cautionary Tale of the Clever Girl

"Clever boy!" Eurgh. One of my pet hates.

I'd forgotten quite how *much* I hated it until the other day, when someone "Clever boy!"-ed Squidge (Who, at four and a half, has been using the toilet like any other nappy-free human being for over two years) for doing, and I quote (with apologies), "A great big poo!".

Really? Reeeeally???

I'm sure it doesn't need spelling out just how laughable that is. Should I start congratulating him on breathing, perhaps? Or on growing his own spectacularly wonderful hair?

Anyway, it reminded me of a girl, a long time ago, when The Smurfs were first on the scene and Cabbage Patch dolls were the must have toy.

She was "Clever girl!"-ed. A lot. A lot a lot a lot.

At five, her parents complained to the school that she wasn't being 'stretched'. She wondered why she needed stretching, but dutifully took the school's reading test anyway. She didn't understand any of the words, but it was easy enough to say what she read on the page. "Past age twelve!" they said. "Clever girl!" they said. "What a clever girl!" her parents said.

At six, she was put in for an entrance exam to a prep school a year early. She passed. "Clever girl!" said her parents. "Aren't you clever!" said her grandparents. "Gosh you must be clever!" said the checkout lady in KwikSave.

At eight, on a trip to Chester Zoo, she mentioned that she might like to be a zookeeper when she grew up. "Well if you want to do that, you should be a vet instead. You're a clever girl, after all!" said her parents.

At ten, she took the entrance exam for an independent girls' school. She got the highest mark out of everyone, and hence a scholarship. "Clever girl!" cried family, friends, checkout people and teachers. "But I'm still being bullied here," she said to her parents, "can't I go somewhere else?" "No," they said, "you need to go here, you're a clever girl and you'll get the best grades here so you can be a vet." "What if I don't want to be a vet?" she asked. "You can be anything you want," they replied, "but you're so clever and you've always wanted to be a vet!"

At thirteen she was put in for the Mensa IQ Test. "Wow you're so clever!" trilled her parents when she joined (blind, as they were, to the fact that IQ tests simply measure someone's ability to pass IQ tests). "And why do you want to be a member of that?" asked her form teacher. She had no answer for that. 

She continued to bring home straight A report cards (on all the things that 'mattered') and get achievement prizes at school. "What a clever clever girl!" doted her parent's friends. "Clever girl!" beamed her family.

She flew through GCSEs, not understanding half of it but able to memorise word for word vast tracts of information, which was all that was required. "You got what?! Clever girl!" they all squealed.

"I'm not sure I want to be a vet," she said to her parents, "I found this book on psychology which was really interesting, I thought maybe I could do that, or something else?"

"But you're so clever!" they said. "And you've worked so hard to get this far! You can always read psychology books in your spare time."

At sixteen she went for university interviews to study veterinary medicine. "Why do you want to be a vet?" they all asked. "It's a vocation, all I've ever wanted to do," seemed to go down well.

"You're going to be a vet?" people asked. "Gosh you've got to be so clever to do that! Cleverer than to be a doctor!"

She flew through A-levels too, taking memorisation to new heights. "Clever girl!" was still the consensus.

So off she went to university, this 'clever girl', with no idea why she was on the course she was, except that everyone expected her to do it, everyone thought a lot of her for doing it, and she'd be letting people down if she didn't.

After four years of finding any possible reason not to go to lectures (but having a most excellent social life), in debt to student loans, and crying in her room because she couldn't see a way out, she walked into her tutor's office, and told him she wasn't coming back.

Her parents were angry and disappointed. Still are, fifteen years later, that such a 'clever girl' could throw away her opportunities. Still confused as to why she won't just go back and get a degree.

Here's the thing though. They weren't her opportunities for her life. When a child is brought up with her self esteem entirely dependent upon the judgement of "Good girl!", grades, and taking a path approved by others, she's completely missing out on the opportunity to find what pleases her, what really interests her, and what could be a happy and fulfilling career/life path for her and her alone. When the people you love have their own idea of who they want you to be, based on the label they've given you, you risk losing their approval if you try to step out of that box, and that's a scary thing for a child. The negative power of this sort of label/"praise", however well-intentioned, should never be underestimated.

The day I got up the courage and walked into that tutor's office is the proudest of my life from before I had children. Not the day I got my A level results, or started uni, or got my first job, or got "Clever girl!"-ed more than any other. But the day I decided my life was just that. Mine. And that I didn't need approval from anyone else to do the things I want to do.

It's still taken me a good few years since then to be completely secure and unwavering in that. Now I'm a parent, I want to make sure that my children never have to have that day in their twenties, or thirties, or some other time halfway through their life. I want them to live their lives *now*, for themselves.

So no "Clever boy!"s, "Good girl!"s or "Good job!"s here (well, one slips out occasionally but I try really hard to have a different focus). Just kids who are supported doing what they find interesting and enjoyable.

Note: I'm not ungrateful for what my parents tried to do for me, they did what they thought was best. But everyone's childhood will give them a unique perspective on certain things, and this is one of mine.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

It's not about you. It's about my children.

Picture a world for a moment, where unschooling is the norm...

Kids have always lived in the world, living and learning as they go, supported by their parents. There was no school, so it wasn't even called unschooling, just 'life'. Over the last few decades, a small number of parents invented a concept called 'school'. Each of these parents thought, for their own reasons, that school was a better for for their families. Some needed it as free childcare as they wanted to go out and earn more money. Some didn't have the desire to be finding lots of interesting things for their children to choose from, so thought it would be better to send them somewhere where a set selection of things were taught. Whatever their reasons, they were thought through and considered. Schooling parents often found there weren't very many like-minded parents local to them, so often chatted online to people who also used a school service. Sometimes they might write a Facebook status like, "My kid found a lesson he enjoyed today! Schooling FTW!". Often they'd click 'Like' on a photo of a child with a 'Best in Class' certificate, or a 'Curriculum works because it covers so much so broadly' meme. Pretty much nothing gets posted on Facebook about unschooling because almost everyone accepts that it's just the way things are.

Often, a conversation would arise such as this...

Mainstream (full term breastfeeding babywearing peaceful parenting unschooling) parent: I'm sorry but I'm going to have to block you from my feed, I'm finding your posts and likes really judgemental.

Minority (schooling) parent: Er, okay. How come?

Mainstream parent: Well you post stuff about how school is good, you clearly can't accept that other people have their own views.

Minority parent: Well, that wasn't what I was trying to do. I think school is brilliant but I get that most people don't. I'm just chatting and sharing with other people I can find who are on the same path as I am.

Mainstream parent: You're totally judging me for not sending my kids to school.

Minority parent: How did you come to that conclusion? School isn't for every family. Just cos I post about the things I've thought about concerning how school can be beneficial under the right circumstances, doesn't mean I think all the millions of kids living and learning in the real world should go to school. 

Mainstream parent: You should be more careful what you post then, cos it feels like the only thing you're concerned about is convincing people your way is right.

Minority parent: What, because I write things that are about a different thing from what you do with your kids?

Mainstream parent: Yeah. You don't see me posting stuff about how good *not* going to this new 'school' thing is do you?

Minority parent: Look, two years ago I was a mess, my kid was miserable, I needed to go to work but couldn't work out a way while he was at home. Then I happened to see someone post about something called school, where their kids went while they went out to work. The more I read the more it seemed to make sense for us, and it was exciting finding like-minded people and chatting about the ideas and principles behind it. In all that time, in all the conversations I had and memes that spoke to me, not once did I think about how *you* parent or consider how to 'convert' you. Believe it or not, my parenting is about my kids, not about you. And I'll continue to share stuff online about school so that if there's someone out there like me two years ago, they'll know they're not alone. So yeah, block me.

Now, back in the real world. Breastfeeding, baby wearing, peaceful parenting, radical unschooling... they are all minority approaches to parenting. I do not post about them in some attempt to make the millions of mainstream parents suddenly parent the same as I do. I post online about them because I think about them, I'm excited by them, and I'm happy when I can get closer to the principles that are important to me and give my children the childhood I envision. I post online about them to connect, discuss and investigate them with people who are working with similar principles to which I am. I post online about them in case there's someone reading like I was seven years ago, feeling like the norms didn't fit me but not knowing where to look for an alternative.

Just because I have judged an idea, or an approach, and found that it doesn't fit with my principles for raising my children, doesn't mean that I have judged *you* and found you lacking in some way.

It's not about you. It's about my children.

Edit to add:

It's just been pointed out to me that this blog post could be taken two ways, one, as a turn-the-tables situation to highlight how odd it is that a minority choice and it's surrounding discussions can be felt as judgement by someone making a mainstream choice despite the mainstream parent having almost everyone else in the world making and approving of the same mainstream choice. This is was what was intended.

Two, as a slightly mixed up account of how home educators can feel judged by schooling parents. Although there is an awful lot of overt judgement and incredulity towards HEors from many people, this wasn't what I was trying to address, so my apologies if this was confusing. My attitude in those situations is usually share info if appropriate, provide facts where there's fallacy, and don't feel judged cos it's bugger all to do with me what these people think (unless they're interfering political types, in which case all bets are off!) It would have been rather hypocritical of me to be saying "Don't judge me with all your talk of school!" while also saying "I'm not judging you with my talk of not school!", so sorry it wasn't a clearer blog post.

What I'm actually saying is, there are positive and negative aspects of lots of parenting choices, and often which is positive and which is negative is entirely dependent on your current situation, your individual kids, and your principles. I value discussion of all aspects of pretty much everything to clarify what I think are positive actions for me to take, and I don't feel judged by people stating opposing opinions or facts about the choices I make (see previous caveat re political types), so people shouldn't feel judged when I talk about the different things I consider when making choices, even if *they* feel that some of those things are a negative about a choice that *they* make.

The blur that was January...

2013 has started in a blur of trips out, activities at home, weeks of illness, and, erm, not having time to blog about it all :D
So, to catch up, there's been...

Discovering Burger King...

...Sprout fitting an air filter, checking the oil, and fitting some trim to our friends' car...

...and Squidge making lots of cubes and telling us about numbers...

...and Sprout showing his Grandpa how to play Super Mario 3D Land...

...and Moppet opening her very first Christmas presents (OK that was still 2012 but it's been that long!)...

...and Sprout getting his long awaited Swifter T-shirt...

...and Squidge experimenting with Gears Gears Gears...

...and making candyfloss on glowsticks...

...and watching TV together...

...and Squidge drilling new flooring in...

...and snuggling up helping each other on games...

...and being wee bikers...

...and sledging in the crater from the largest non-atomic explosion of World War Two...

...and playing co-operatively on New Super Mario Bros Wii...

...and making play doh monsters...

...and making stories out of magnets...

...and making fish out of paper plates...

...and having lots of friends round for Lego day...

...and making monster-eyes hats from paper plates...

...and butterflies too...

...and bags (can you tell Squidge's current favourite thing is cutting paper and card with scissors?)...

...and playing in the park...

...and seeing how fast they can whizz down the slide...

...and making masks...

...and seeing if biscuits on the eyes are as relaxing as cucumber...

...and kicking my butt at air hockey...

...and measuring to see if a cola metre sweet really measures a metre (clue: it doesn't)...

...and playing with sticker books...

...and playing froggy winks... or is it tiddly frogs?...

...and sleeping...

...and sponsoring Toto the rescued capuchin monkey at Gentleshaw Wildlife Centre (who really really need help at the moment to keep looking after all their rescued raptors, monkeys, bats, reptiles, wildcats and other animals, so if you can buy them anything their Amazon list is here)...

...and playing mini golf...

...and bouncing...

...and squealing with laughter while bumping down the stairs with Grandma...

...and Moppet climbing the stairs for the very first time...

...and Fly growing into a biiiig pup...

...and swinging as high as they can at Come Into Play...

...and doing pop rocks taste tests (note: Fizz Wiz Cola won, gaining full marks for both 'Popping Awesomeness' and 'Taste Excellence')...

...and riding round and round and round and round and round and round (repeat for an hour) on the dalmations ride at the Fun Factory...

...and losing baby teeth (the Tooth Fairy has been declined in favour of a little wooden treasure chest to keep them all in as they fall out).

Squidge's been most interested this month in cutting things up (not just paper plates, but lots and lots of pieces of paper into different geometric shapes, fish, and what can only be called confetti :D ), playing with balloons, speeding round on Mario Kart, and finding ways he's comfortable getting close to Fly. He's been enjoying watching Monkey World and Animals do the Funniest Things, as well as Ben 10 and walkthroughs for his favourite games (Monkey Go Happy and lots of the Kizi games). He's been playing a bit on Reading Eggs, and making lots of pictures on Squiglet's Magic Paintbox.

Sprout has been discovering lots of new games, including Ace of Spades, Garry's Mod, McPixel, and Super Crate Box, and also making a lot of custom Test Chambers on Portal 2. He's been enjoying watching the Fast and Furious films with Gruff, and thinks it's cool that the last remaining Hulk car out of Tokyo Drift is at the training centre that Gruff goes to for work (although sadly it seems there's no way to get him in to see it).

Conversations have ranged from whether it's true that hummingbirds are the only bird that can fly backwards, to how you can magnetise metal/demagnetise magnets, to why cats eat mice, whether cats actually eat all of a mouse, and whether there are any birds that eat cats :)

Phew! So that's me caught up, now I'm off to make pancakes!