A friend’s baby turns one this weekend, so I thought I’d make a gift for him rather than buying one. I then spent many (!) minutes scrounging around on craft sites, knitting sites and pinterest, hunting for a simple project. As always, I found the sheer volume of ideas for make-and-do overwhelming and stalled out more several times. But in the end I came across some adorable little crocheted animals. It turns out that they’re called amuragmi – and they’re really cute.

This is about when I reminded myself that the last time I made soft toys I vowed to never do so again… but 2012 is a whilxmasknits_dec2012e ago now… and amuragami are quite small… and there are heaps of free patterns available on the internet…. and I managed to talk myself into giving it a go.

The only tricky part, really, is that I’m not really much of a crocheter. I have crochet hooks, but only because I inherited them. To date I’ve made a few granny squares (in the dim and distant past) and a pair of glovens (last week), so making a crocheted toy was an interesting decision. Nevertheless, I boldly chose a simple pattern for a roly poly cat, then set about a YouTube video to teach me how to make a magic loop – which is the first stage of the process.

A few binned attempts later I now have all the elements crocheted and final assembly has commenced. So far the critter doesn’t look a whole lot like a the pattern, but it is kinda cute and I think 1-year-olds tend not to be too judgey, so I’m hopeful it’ll do the trick. Next time a smaller hook size, perhaps, and finer yarn.

Roly Poly Cat - construction phase

This weekend it was time to harvest all our grapefruit and limes so that the trees can be pruned back. To this end, we bribed Daughter Dearest, Boychilde and their respective partners with lunch… and delicious lime cake.

Harvesting grapefruit and limes_May 2016

The result was a yield of 220 delicious pink grapefruit and 244 limes… and that’s excluding the dozens that went home with the helpers.

Some of our 2016 citrus harvest

I also juiced three dozen limes on Friday (frozen in ice trays for use at a later date) and used three (yes, only three!) limes in the delicious-cake-of-bribing. And most delicious it is too.

I found many variations on this recipe on the Internet and most of them appear to be based on a recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly recipe. This is my version, as made to bribe the troops. I’ve simplified it, clarified the instructions (by making the cake!) and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you get round to making it.

Lime syrup cake with almond meal
For the Cake
200g softened butter
200g caster sugar (1 cup)
4 large eggs
100g self-raising flour (just less than a cup > 1 cup = 125g) – sifted
2 tsp baking powder
100g almond meal (~1 cup)
zest and juice of one lime

For the Lime syrup
50g caster sugar (~ ¼ cup)
zest and juice of two limes (about ¼ cup / 50ml)
¼ cup water

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Line a spring-form cake tin and grease the bottom and sides.

Make the cake
Add all the cake ingredients in a large bowl and beat until they’re thoroughly combined. You can do this by hand but, really, why would you if you have an electric mixer?
Spoon the mixture into a spring-form cake tin lined with baking paper.
Pop the pan in the oven – I found it useful to put a baking tray under the cake tin to catch any seepage.
Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 40 minutes.

Meantime, make the lime syrup:
Add the lime juice, water and sugar to a pan and bring to a simmer, stirring regularly. Add the zest and then simmer the syrup for about 10 minutes – you don’t need to stir it for this period, but keep an eye on it.

The final touches
When a lovely golden colour and firm to the touch, remove it from the oven. Take the cake out of the oven, but leave it in the cake tin.
Using a skewer, stab little holes all over the top of the cake.
Now spoon the hot lime syrup over the top of the hot cake, allowing it to seep in between each spoonful.
Leave the cake to cool, remove from the cake tin (making sure that the syrup hasn’t stuck the cake to the sides…!) and serve.
The cake keeps quite well because of the almond meal, but it seldom has a chance to do so!

I started this chicken piñata on a whim a couple of weeks ago, mostly to fill time whilst puppy-sitting. But, as it progressed,  the process started to become quite compulsive. The simple balloon body soon grew a neck, another (smaller) balloon for a head, a tail (constructed in two stages), a beak, plumage and, finally, a pair of very handsome feet.  Wet weather is not ideal for this sort of project, but it can be done. Each stage involved many strips of very sticky papier mâché, followed by some time in front of my hair dryer and/or the heater to dry and harden the layers.

It took us 16 days to shape the body, apply 6-7 layers of papier mâché (some areas needed extra, for strengthening), cover it with two layers of paint, add some fine details, insert strings to hang it up, cut a hatch in the top and then finally fill it with lollies. All in all it took about 40 hours from start to finish.  A long haul, but we both had lots of fun and found it both creative and surprisingly relaxing.

 

pinata early stages

pinata final stages

pinata completed_7may2016

 

 

 

Over the years I’ve made a total of four of piñatas, all for special events of one sort or another. They were darned hard work, particularly the bigger and/or more complex ones, and involved a LOT of sticky mess and patience.

niks pinatas

The very first one was planned it as a surprise for a 21st birthday party. A rather ambitious project, that dragon was the biggest piñata I’ve made. It required a wire armature to create the basic shape, over which I carefully added many (many!) layers of paper and glue – allowing each layer to dry before adding the next so that it would keep its shape. I had to make the wings and feet separately and attach those – with more paper and glue – before leaving the completed shape to dry and harden. It was a fairly cold and damp time of year, so we had to have the gas heater on to help with the drying process.

I finally got around to painting it and applying the tissue paper scales the night before the 21st birthday party. I then had to wait for that lot to dry before filling the belly with lollies and taping it closed – and finally completed it all about about an hour before the event was due to start. The birthday boy was very happy – and very surprised – and he and his mates set to work on Mr Dragon with a hockey stick… Destruction was swift and decisive. Poor thing.

A few years later, I came up with the idea of creating a themed piñata for GenghisCon – and so Cthulu-piñata was born, with many tricky-to-make dangling tentacles. He bit the dust just as quickly as Mr Dragon. This was followed a year later by a dragon head – also a Genghis-piñata – and my final effort to date, a large fish to commemorate my eldest brother’s 60th birthday. After each one was completed – and then demolished in record time – I promised myself (and Himself, who helped out with all of them) that I wouldn’t make another, no matter what…

However, as is the way of these things – and once a goodly amount of time had passed, plans for an all-new piñata have tended to hatch. At present all I need is to decide on the shape. Perhaps something garden themed? I’m thinking a chicken-of-destruction might be fun to make. With that in mind, I’ve resurrected the notes I put together when making Mr Dragon and they’re actually pretty sensible. I hope you find them useful too.

dragon pinata collage

How to Piñata: You’ll need a couple of balloons, vaseline, papier maché glue  (made  with 1 cup all purpose flour to 5 cups cold water), lots of newspaper, some butchers paper, acrylic paints, paintbrush, crepe paper, lollies/treats & confetti (to fill the piñata).

Preparation: To make the papier-mâché glue, mix the flour and cold water in a bowl until it’s runny. For best results, simmer it for 5 minutes – this is rather like making a white sauce. Allow the glue to cool. While you wait, tear the newspaper into lots of strips, about 2.5cm wide and as long as you like. (Note: don’t cut the strips; tearing ends up with a better, smoother finish to your final piece.) Put down lots of paper or plastic to work on – this is messy! You might want to wear gloves for the next part – same reason.

Assembly: It’s a good idea to know what sort of shape you’re trying for, as this will dictate the sizes of the balloons you use, and how many. Assuming you’ve chosen a shape that requires more than one balloon, inflate a large one for the body and a smaller one for the head. Tie them together and, using a bit of making tape, secure the head to the body. Balance the balloons on an empty ice-cream container while you’re working as this makes things easier. To create a beak/tail/wings – or whatever – cut out cardboard to make the shapes and stick them to the balloons with tape. Drag a strip of newspaper through the papier-mâché paste, making sure it’s well covered, but not soggy; wipe off any excess with your fingers, and place the strip at an angle on the balloon. Place the second strip so that it overlaps the first one slightly. Continue until the balloons have been covered with one layer of paper strips. Allow this layer to dry completely – preferably overnight. Then repeat, applying layers of papier-mache (and letting them dry) until you think your piñata is strong enough. Knock on it with your knuckles – if it’s firm and sounds hollow it should be fine. This generally takes 3-6 layers. Important: make a couple of small holes in the papier-mache so the piñata can be hung up when it’s complete. Make sure the papier-mache is extra thick around the string holes for reinforcement. Note: it’s a good idea to make at least the last layer  of strips from butcher’s paper so that the newsprint doesn’t bleed through your paint.

Before painting: set your piñata aside to dry for a couple of days. When it’s dry, pencil in some rough shapes as a painting guide – then get stuck in and make it pretty.

Painting & completing: use whatever you like, but a pro-tip is that spray paint is a lot quicker to apply than poster paint, makes the structure a little tougher and provides a nice glossy finish. When the paint’s dry, cut a 6cm flap in the top using a craft knife. This will burst the balloon and leave a cavity for you to fill with lollies, etc. Remember to tape the flap closed, then do the final decoration with tissue/crepe paper, draw eyes on, etc.

It’s not hard to make one of these. It’s just time consuming and fiddly… and very, very messy: perfect for your inner-child 🙂

Life was unsettled when we first arrived in Perth and it took us a while to finally get around to choosing a dog. We talked about it endlessly, debating what size and kind of dog would be most appropriate when we finally got one, how much walking and grooming would be involved and who would take the dog to training. We had previously had Labrador Retrievers, a small mixed-breed (possibly Miniature Pinscher/Terrier mix), a German Shepherd, and a large mixed-breed (possibly Mastiff/Rottweiler).

rsadogs

This time around we wanted a medium-sized dog, about the size of a Beagle. After heaps of research, a friend suggested that we go with her to a dog show. There we’d see a whole range of different dogs in action and be able to compare them. This was a great idea, since that’s where we found and fell in love with Honey – a Welsh Springer Spaniel. It turns out that these are fabulous dogs: not too big, cheerful, good-natured, reasonably smart and very playful. She fitted right in from the start.

A year or two later we happened to watch the pilot episode of a TV series called Dharma & Greg. In this, Dharma explains  to Greg that her second dog (Nunzio) been her ‘bar mitzvah’ gift to her first dog (Stinky). For some reason, this amused me no end. From then on we bandied about the idea of getting a second dog, a ‘bar mitzvah’ gift for Honey. Sadly we dithered for too long and she never did get her Nunzio. She died after twelve years of being an integral part of our family, leaving an enormous gap in our lives.

When we finally decided to get another dog, we turned to the list of what are widely considered to be the 10 smartest dog breeds for some guidance. The list was rapidly whittled down, as follows: Border Collie – too crazy active, Poodle – too woolly and poncey for me, German Shepherd – love them, Golden Retriever – too hairy, Dobermann – well, the neighbour had one and it was kinda nice…, Sheltie – too small and barky, Labrador Retrieve – love them, but… health issues, Papillon – too small and floofy, Rottweiler – too big, Australian Cattle Dog – tend to become barrel-shaped. The choice seemed pretty straightforward.

Several years and two German Shepherds later, we know better. Both our Australian GSD’s were beautiful dogs, bright and responsive – but they also both died from inherited autoimmune related conditions. This effectively removed them from our rather short short-list for future additions to the family. We now share our lives with a young Dobermann – and the whole issue of whether to get her her very own Nunzio is pretty much a daily conversation. As it happens, this Saturday is National Pet Adoption Day  – and the temptation to just get out there and pick out a companion dog for her is huge…

htnm dogs

But this is a forever-decision – or at least one for about the next 10 years – so it’s important to get it right. We – and anyone else thinking about getting a pet – need to consider a number of factors, such as what size pet is appropriate, cost (purchase price, food, equipment, inoculations, kennelling if you go on holiday, etc.), whether to get a male or a female, how much space is available and whether said pet will live inside or outside. Then there’s the issue of how much time can be made available to devote to the pet, who will take responsibility for cleaning up behind it and who’ll do the training.

Having worked through all that, we know we don’t want another big dog… that it does need to be energetic, friendly and happy… and there we’ve stalled out. So this weekend we’ll be visiting some likely candidates… and perhaps one of them will turn out to our Nunzio. Or perhaps it will be like Honey – a surprise choice on the day that turns out to be perfect.

dog options 2016