A bizarre sort of homesick

victoria park roadWhen I was in my late teens I couldn’t wait to get away from my home city, Stoke-on-Trent. Admittedly the city was in a poor old state at the end of the 1990s. The decline of coal and steel in the 1970s and 1980s, coupled with the later out-sourcing of the pottery industry to the far east left the city struggling. Our sturdy chaps with the strength and skill to tame the earth, to shape iron, coal and clay from the land, were abandoned by the government and the industries they had served for generations. I know it wasn’t that simple. I know about recession, free market economics, globalisation and finite resources. But I also saw the impacts and it devastated a generation. More than a generation. Parts of the city still haven’t recovered. Some parts of the city still had 50% unemployment in 2010. It’s hard for people who conquered the land with the might of their hands and strength of their will to make a dignified living in a call centre or a warehouse. Again, I know it’s not that simple either. Honest work is still honest work. But our identity as people and as a city had always been tied to the raw processes of the land and they were gone.

The word I used there in that last sentence – “our” – is the reason for my writing today. As a young woman I never felt a connection with my city. I just wanted to leave. I worked hard in school, kept my head down and did what I had to do to get away to university. And beyond that I lived abroad and then moved to rural Suffolk. But as I approach 40, I look back to my home city with a nostalgia that I never thought would be possible. The openness of the people towards strangers is the thing I miss the most. As much as I love Suffolk (and I do. I really do!) I feel like a real weirdo when I try to chat to people in a queue or make small talk with a shop assistant. And when I’m back and someone calls me duck, it brings tears to my eyes.

I miss the industrial environment – I never thought I’d be saying that either. Bury St Edmunds is not short on history; its bucolic tale wends back to the early days of our nation. Many of the events of the town have been formative for our nation-state – the preparations in the lead up to the signing of the Magna Carta are probably the most famous. Stoke-on-Trent is a city of the industrial revolution – in years its still a babe in comparison with Bury St Edmunds – but it has contributed so much to the formation of modern Britain. It makes me smile to think that some of the earliest canals – mass transit methods of the early industrialising age – were built there; and now Stoke is renowned for its distributions centres – mass transit in the age of just-in-time production and global logistics.

Maybe it’s inevitable that encroaching middle-age makes one nostalgic for one’s roots. I know I’m looking back through rose-tinted glasses. The Stoke-on-Trent that I grew up in is not really there any more and I didn’t like it much when it was! I’m pleased to see inward investment making improvements to the economy and really happy that some of that is trickling down to the people who live there – and about jolly time too. It’s lovely to see improved housing, new businesses and better roads going up all over the place. I just hope that I’m not too late in coming to love Stoke to appreciate the city it once was before it’s renewed, refreshed and ready for the post-industrial age.





Negotiations [Suspicious Asparagus]

20150911_152703605_iOSMiniMunkie is growing up so quickly. She knows her own mind. We all know her own mind. I caught her asking (well … ordering, really) MisterMunkie to go to the shops to buy grapes this morning. The fruit bowl was full with other stuff: apples, clementines, bananas, kiwi fruit, but no grapes. They’d all been eaten. I’m not naming the culprit, but she’s shorter than 3ft tall and thinks that we can’t see her if her eyes are closed.

She’s worked out that we go to the shops when things run out. So now it’s “Grapes? Shop? Yes?” and “Chocolate? Shop? Yes?” The child doesn’t eat enough to keep a fly alive, but grapes and chocolate she has no problem at all with. I’ve decided not to have fights with her about food*. She’s still breastfeeding on demand** and so I’m pretty confident she’s getting everything she needs. Then there are her energy levels which tend to run on one of two settings: maximum or overload. And there are no flies on her. She could out negotiate John Adams, as the little “incident” below shows.

MamaMunkie: Please don’t bite MoonMunkie. It’s not kind.
MiniMunkie: Hungry!
MamaMunkie: Not when you’re hungry.
MiniMunkie: Tiger?
MamaMunkie: No biting. Not even if you’re a tiger.

You see? Only 2 and already she knows that there are grey areas in life if you just search hard enough for them. I love that she’s developing empathy as well. She now signs and lisps “sorry” if she thinks she’s hurt you and comes over to give a kiss to “make better”. She says “please” and ” ‘ank oo” and if you sneeze she proudly exclaims “Bess oo!” It’s so much fun watching her grow up.

* insert sharp inhalation of disapproval

** insert frown and disappointed shaking of the head



Frozen-themed play dough [Sensory play]

Elsa and ElsaLike every other Mama, Elsa and Anna are honorary members of my brood. It’s tailed off a bit in recent weeks. I believe I’ve actually gone a whole 7 days straight without watching the movie or listening to the sound track. But the power of the icy pair remains strong. MoonMunkie loves it all and totally wants to be Elsa. She sings the songs and dances beautifully, dramatically throwing an imaginary crown at the appropriate point in the song.  MamaMunkie and MisterMunkie both prefer Anna – she more sensible, girl-next-door and much less neurotic-snow-strumpet than Elsa.

MiniMunkie wants to be MoonMunkie. That’s it. She just wants to be her big sister. She trails around after her, wearing a tiny blue costume and singing “…’et it gooooooo…” It’s so adorable I could eat her with a spoon. She thinks the movie is called ” ‘nowman” and that Elsa is called Anna. We don’t correct her. She’s so happy with it all and it’s of no real consequence. Watching her twirl and sing is one of the pleasures of my life.

Of course, this fandom spills over into our other activities and this week we wanted to make play dough. So Frozen play dough was the order of the day. I took our basic play dough recipe and added silver glitter, blue and green food colouring to get that perfect “Frozen blue” and a dose of American peppermint flavouring to give it a scented element too. It looked and smelled heavenly and my Munkies played with it for about 3 hours. Next door’s little Munkie also popped in to play and was so overjoyed with it that we just had to give her some to take home.

There are a bazillion-trillion recipes out there for play dough. Cook, don’t cook, edible, scented, you name it, there’s a recipe. And this is ours. The basic dough is based on a 500g bag of flour and makes enough for 4 children to have a great big lump each. This recipe doubles and triples very easily. I don’t have  bowl big enough to test beyond that!

Ingredients for basic play dough

500g plain flour

1 tbs cream of tartar

1 tbs of oil

4 drops of glycerine

200g salt

hot water to bind.


  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  2. If you have dry additions to add, this is the place to do it. We’ve tried all sorts of things in the past: tiny silver stars, sequins, glitter, seeds, dried lavender and sand all give different textures and characteristics.
  3. Add the oil, glycerine and a little hot water,  and mix.
  4. If you want to add colours or flavours now is the time. We’ve used natural oils like peppermint and lavender; food flavourings such as lemon, American peppermint, liquorice; and we’ve also added cocoa and coffee to the hot water in order to flavour the dough
  5. Continue to add hot water until the dough comes together.
  6. Knead on a floured counter top for 10 minutes until the dough comes together and is elastic and shiny.

20150926_110146240_iOSThe dough keeps in the fridge for a long time. It’s not edible, but a taste will not do anyone any harm. Leaving it out in the sun will dry it out – it becomes hard like
salt-dough if you leave it to dry for long enough.

MoonMunkie made herself a shrew. She’s been very interested in shrews since we found a dead one on our patio. MiniMunkie’s cat brought it to us as a gift, we think. The cat isn’t really MiniMunkie’s. But she desperately wants a cat and then big big tortoiseshell started to visit and it was as if her wish had been  granted. Ours too – a cat that visits daily, but we don’t have to feed it, clean up after it or worry about it when we’re not here. Perfect cat!


20150909_152341308_iOSNear where I work, there are some massive beds of roses. I’m not great with botany, but I believe that they could be a strain of Japanese rose that is now completely naturalised in the UK. The used to grow behind my house as a child. During the summer they smell heavenly and I linger daily on my walk from the car park to the school entrance, just breathing in that scent. It fills me with happy from my head to my toes. I wish I could bottle it somehow as a natural perfume, but I haven’t found a way yet. If you know how – leave a comment, PLEASE!

After the summer holidays I returned to work to find the roses gone, but the rose hips in their place are so beautiful. They look so rosy and cheerful. Shining in the autumn sunshine and tempting me to pick them. But until I know how I can use them, I don’t want to collect any.

I hear that rose-hip syrup is a great way to get Vitamin C. There’s also recipes out there for rose-hip vinegar and rose-hip tea. I wonder if they will taste as heavenly as their flowers smell? If all else fails,  I could crack the open and use the little hairs inside as itching powder – that might wake my students up a bit!

Mermaid Bay [Sensory Play]

Mermaid Bay This summer was all about the mermaids here at Munkie Towers. My dear friend and her husband returned to live in town after being away for several years. In the meantime we had both managed to produce 2 small girls each, of surprisingly similar ages and temperaments. Her little ones were crackers for mermaids and so, Munkie-See-Munkie-Do (as the saying doesn’t quite go…) my little ones were crackers for mermaids too.

But we didn’t have any. And MamaMunkie was reluctant to spring for new dollies until we were sure this was a phase that was here to stay. Also, we have dollies. Our dollies have dollies. We are not short on dollies.

Instead, we converted some of our pocket-money dollies (£1 from Tesco) into mermaids with the cunning use of silver foil.

It actually worked quite well. By wrapping the foil around the dollies’ legs tinfoil tailsand then scrunching it tightly to the ankle, a pretty convincing tail was made. I then trimmed the fin shape with scissors below the feet, and voila – tinfoil tails.

The addition of some play sand, seashells collected at the beach, some slates that our turtles are no longer needing in their tank and some water that we dyed with blue food gel an a very nice sensory bin was complete. I also tossed in some Jelly Sea Life Creatures that I’d been dying to try out. They’re made from the same compound as water beads and grown to 8x their original size in water.

It was brilliant. MiniMunkie was entranced. The mermaids dived and swam and rode the turtles. The sand mixed into their hair and muddied up the water. The sensory bin looked like a scene from CSI Atlantis. In the future I’m going to exchange the sand and water for blue Water Crystals . I think it will be less of a disturbing clean up!

Warm and Spicy Autumn Soup [Recipe]

treelightAutumn colours overwhelm me. The vibrancy and depth coupled with the clarity of the light at this time of year regularly makes me stop in my tracks to breathe in the scene and admire the show. It’s so fleeting here in the UK. It will only be a few weeks before it’s dark from 3.30pm to 8.00am and the skies bleak and grey in between times. So this last burst of spectacular life holds such significance, the colours blazing as the summer dies.

One of the best things about autumn is the return to soup. Over the summer months it’s too hot to make or eat the hearty soups that I love. But as September turns to October and the leaves start to turn, I find myself reaching for the soup pan once more.

This recipe is as simple or complex as you’d care to make it. Beyond carrots and stock, the ingredients can be collected from whatever you have lurking in your spice cupboard: any of those warming Asian spices that you have to hand. Or keep it simple with just a little salt, garlic and chilli.

soup spice

MiniMunkie was helping with this particular batch. She’s also learning to count to ten. It’s totally adorable. So we got out ten spice jars so that the cooking became cross-curricular. Actually, I only had  nine, so we also counted the salt, but it worked out fine.

We also played a little bit of English folk music – I always feel folky as Autumn comes round. There are 2 albums we’re loving at the moment here in the Munkie house hold.

Seth Lakeman’s Word Of Mouth is not as trad as I usually go for, but the kids love to dance to it. Grandpa Munkie is less than impressed too, saying that he thinks “Seth Lakeman” is a made up name to appeal to folk-music lovers. I have no idea. But I’m enjoying it, even though it’s more of an electric sound that I usually choose in folk music. Seth is coming to play locally at the end of October. I’m considering going, but you know how it is with going out. It sounds nice until you actually have to wash your face and put on clothes without snot stains or play doh marks. It all just becomes too much trouble when there is the whole of Pinterest to explore. I digress…

The other album is Fifty Verses from Melrose Quartet. I had never heard of them until this week, when this album appeared in my recommended music space on Amazon Prime Music. It’s much more traditional and Nancy Kerr is both a talented lyricist and amazing singer. She’ll have the hair standing up on your arms. If you’re popping in from Handmade Monday, I can recommend this as make-along music too!

soup veg and spice

So, we’re listening to music and chopping up the carrots and counting the jars to our hearts content. If you want to join in, the recipe is below.


1kg carrots.

Chicken stock to cover (use vegetable for a veggie-friendly soup)

Your own selection of spices

Salt to taste


  1. Chop up the carrots, add oil, and gently fry in a large stock pan until they begin to soften. Don’t let them brown or the soup will be bitter
  2. Shake your spices over and continue to fry for a minute, to get the aromas going. For the record, we used: 2tsps each of ginger, coriander and garlic; 1tsp each of chilli flakes, cumin and garam masala; and then a really generous shake each of yellow mustard seeds, black onion seeds and turmeric. But experiment with what you have around – you’ll find something that works for sure.
  3. Cover with stock and simmer gently until the carrots are soft.
  4. Blend with a stick blender – or alternatively put it through a food processor.
  5. Check the seasoning and adjust to taste
  6. Serve with chunky bread and a swirl or yoghurt or cream
  7. Or alternatively pour it all over the car park, your car, legs and shoes outside your church.

soup legs Soup everywhere




Why won’t my child go to sleep? [Suspicious Asparagus]

IMG_2680.JPGMiniMunkie is not the world’s best sleeper. She’s far too curious and busy to waste time with her eyes closed. She’s also very clever and comes up with a lot of cunning reasons why she should be allowed to stay up.

  • She needs a drink. But not from THAT cup. Or that one!
  • Her foot is sad.
  • There’s a bee. Somewhere.
  • Her pink fluffy turtle is thirsty.
  • She needs her blanket. Not touching her. But closer than THAT.
  • There are blackberries in the fridge.
  • MoonMunkie is there.
  • MoonMunkie isn’t there.
  • She needs her baby doll. The other one. With the dress that got lost a month ago.
  • Mummy is naughty.
  • The chair isn’t in quite the right place. Now it’s in the right place but at the wrong angle. Bit more to the left. Back again. Left a bit more. There. Just right.
  • There’s an unidentifiable noise which can only be heard by bats and MiniMunkie but it’s very annoying.
  • She needs someone to hold her hand.
  • She doesn’t want anyone to hold her hand.
  • MamaMunkie is not wearing her glasses.
  • She she’s not tired. Munkies don’t get tired. She’s never been tired. We can’t prove she’s tired so … Zzzzzz Zzzzzzz Zzzzzzz Zzzzzzzz

Time for Tea [Sensory Play Idea]

At the beginning of the summer I tidied out all of the kitchen cupboards and disposed of all the extraneous items that I’d gathered over the 5 years we’ve been here. I’ve been trying to destash the entire house, but it’s taking years. Literally. I’m a hoarder and so it’s hard and emotional work. But I digress.

The kitchen is now as near to perfect as a working, home kitchen is ever going to be. Which is to say that I’m going to have to find another way to bump off MrMunkie, because things no longer fall out of cupboards as we open them.  However, my enthusiasm for the clear-out waned when it came to the tea and coffee  cupboard. I opened it, quailed in  fear and then closed it again. But tonight I found the courage and attacked it with vigour. The outcome was as I expected: 3 click-its of out of date sweetner; 2 half used jars of decaff coffee; 3 boxes of flavoured tea with 2 teabags left in each; a packet of loose tea that went past its BBE in 2013.

20150830_150957624_iOSAfter sorting and re-stacking the shelves, I was left with about a dozen tea bags that were unsuitable for human consumption, along with a packet of breakfast tea leaves and about 2 tablespoons of my favourite  Jasmine Pearl Tea that was stale and sad. The smell in the kitchen was heavenly though and it gave me an idea for a sensory activity for MiniMunkie.  She’s all about the “hot tea” at the moment. This is the way she distinguishes between teatime and a cuppa. “Hot tea” has been inspired by her Godmother and her children who sit together and drink tea a couple of times each day. MiniMunkie is very taken with the whole activity20150831_174236766_iOS. When she’s not drinking tea for real she’s making pretend cups – in the gorgeous Cath Kidston tea set, given to her by the same friends.
So waiting for her when she wakes up is an invitation for tea. The sensory bin contains the loose leaf tea and also the few left over jasmin pearls. There are some boxes with a couple of tea bags in each. Her tea set is ready and there’s a little “cafe” waiting too, so that MoonMunkie can join in if she likes. I don’t advocate going out to buy these things for play  – good tea is expensive and not to be wasted! But this lot was going in the bin anyway.20150831_174250416_iOS

I’m pretty sure she’s going to love it, because she’s so keen on tea right now. But watch this space and I’ll let you know.

More sensory activities coming soon!


Woodland Art for Kids [Photo Tutorial]


A late summer morning spend at Brandon Country Park led to some surprising results for the Munkie household. MoonMunkie had taken a trip there with her Reception class teachers before the holidays began. She’d been talking about mud splat tree art ever since.


We had no plans today, so we packed a seaside bucket and a full water bottle and headed for the forest. It was a glorious morning, warm and dry with a gentle breeze through the sun-dappled trees. Absolutely the type of day where the best memories are made. And then … then MoonMunkie showed us how to do mud splat tree art and we were hooked. I thought it was funny to make a sunflower out of last year’s beechnut pods and golden brown leaves. The photo tutorial below shows you how to make your own mud splat tree art!



Clear the detritus from the surface of the forest floor and dig up some soil. Put it into a bucket. fill up the bucket until its about 2/3 full. Be sure to pick out any large pieces of bark, sticks or pebbles that get in there or it will be too lumpy.




11870934_10153445550375491_1270252316865435729_nAdd water to the soil. We took our own because we knew we wouldn’t find any there. But if there’s a river or stream nearby then you could get some fresh. Insert requisite warnings about water safety and Weil’s disease here. Mix the soil and water together with a handy stick until the mud comes together. It should be the consistency of a wet cookie dough, or a heavy porridge. “Claggy” is the word I’d use to describe it, but I suspect that’s a rather localised term, specific to the north Midlands of the UK. But my Granny would know what I mean.

11892208_10153445550935491_223441749195443816_nNext comes the really cool bit. Take a large handful of the mud and sling it at a nearby tree trunk. Make sure it’s a wide enough tree to catch the splat. And that there are no unprepared by-standers. It gets messy. The mud should stick to the tree in a clump which you can then flatten down to a thick pancake with hands and fingers. It it was too runny or too dry to stick, alter your bucket mix accordingly and try again.


11855801_10153445660225491_8875838516305530365_nThen it’s time to decorate. Use a stick to draw a face or push little bits of forest treasure into the mud to make a pattern. This was the point where MamaMunkie got really interested. It’s amazing what colours are available on the forest floor when you’re looking for them. Moon and Mini really wanted to splat more mud at the trees, so MisterMunkie was kept busy mixing. But Mama tracked down pretty coloured leaves and stones to brighten up her splat.


11902498_10153445551280491_5628156239489920261_nThis one reminded me of a dreamcatcher or a mandala pattern. A simple one, but those reds of the Mahonia leaves (and man are they PRICKLY!) just light up my autumnal heart.

If you’ve enjoyed this, why not follow me on fb, like or share it with others who might enjoy. It will help me to get a bit more “out there” and share my work with more people. You can also find more tutorials from MoonMunkie on the tutorials page.

If you’re here from Handmade Monday – HELLO! How are you? If you’re not, why not pop over there and bathe yourself in all the lovely pretties?




Happy Mail – Snail Mail

Green LadyI received this beauty through the post recently.  Happy Snail Mail. There is no better sort, and even more lovely because it was completely unexpected and had a really lovely message about my creativity on the back. I’m too embarrassed to show you here, but it was lovely to have someone say kind and complimentary things about me, completely unprompted.

Happy Mail –  Snail Mail

The postcard was a complete surprise from my friend Ruth Hinman, in Montana, USA. I’ve written about her and her work before. I admire her totally. She is completely open to any new form of media or technique and gives everything 100% of her time and effort. Ruth is the most prolific artist I’ve ever come across. Just take a look!

She is totally unafraid. (Except. I think she might sometimes actually be a little bit afraid and then just does stuff anyway! Boom!) As well as having a pretty high-flying job and a family. And then a bazillion friends to whom she sends random supportive postcards. Where she finds the time, I have no idea at all. I suspect she might be a witch. If I ever have the pleasure of meeting her face to face then I’ll be sure to use the infallible Monty Python Witch Test to check . If it’s not witchery, then she probably has one of those golden time-turners that Professor McGonagall gave to Hermione. Now I’m a big Hermione fan, having been something of a boffin at school myself. But if I’d been given one of those, I’d have  a whole list of stuff I’d be wanting as well as extra Muggle Studies.

  1. An hour between 6am and 7am – a lie in without being late!
  2. A hour-long bubble bath that didn’t involve small children with ducks and/or toilet needs.
  3. An hour or two added for marking school work without it eating in to my evening plans.
  4. Laundry Hour
  5. An hour between 10pm and 11pm to read, guilt free.

With all of this sorted in my “extra hours” only then might I have enough free time to keep up with Ruth’s work rate.

Did we ever find out if the time turner worked the other way in the book? Because I can think of a few times when moving forward an hour would be useful too. PD Day springs to mind this close to the new term. Dental appointments. Rainy February afternoons.

It all sounds so good. In the spirit of must-get-out-more-often I did a quick search for a golden time turner… and would you believe they’re available on Amazon here for the bargain price of £6.49 with free P&P?! I imagine that, with the end of the Harry Potter series and movies, Professor McGonagall found herself at a loose end and short of Galleons, so she set up her own little mail order company. I’d’ve thought she was more of an Etsy lady myself, but there we are.