Messy Play for Matilda Mae: Paper-maché Planets

We did this activity back in January but I never got round to blogging it and this week being such an important one where I attended the Matilda Mae Remembers Service, and we marked the one year anniversary of her funeral it seems like a nice time to do it.

This whole thing was Gabs’ idea. Producing tens of thousands of 2D pictures of planets was no longer satisfying him and he really, really wanted to make a 3D version somehow. Now I am incredibly lazy and tend not to plan ahead so we didn’t really do this quite as perfectly as we might have, with little balloons inside to make them perfectly rounded, but it was still a major undertaking (it took us two days!) and Gabs was really able to do everything himself so it was a good option for us. I’m sure we will improve on it and make another Solar System as we hone our technique!

Day 1: Inner Solar System

So basically, we picked up a mountain of Metro newspapers from the tube station and ripped them into roughly two-inch wide strips (Gabs wasn’t interested in this bit, or coordinated enough, so I did it and piled them in a bowl for him to take) and then mixed flour and water in a bowl to make a sticky paste. I followed some online recipe, I can’t remember the quantities and anyway I found it too runny and added a lot more flour so it’s irrelevant… 🙂

We started with the Sun, and scrunched up a load of newspaper in a ball (which is why our spheres didn’t come out too round! But it was easier for Gabs and he loved it) and then started laying the paste-soaked strips across it in layers.

Once we’d added some smaller inner planets, we put them in the oven on a low heat to speed up the drying process (we don’t have an airing cupboard and were impatient to start painting!) I should point out at this point that even though we used non-toxic paints it still makes the oven stink so you need to allow time to clean and burn off the smell before cooking in it after.

Then once the Sun was fully dried Gabs mixed the right paint colour (a mix of gold, yellow, orange and red paints) – something he took fastidious pride in! It took several coats of thick paint and we had to partially dry each one and then paint the bottom and put it back in the oven upside down to cover the whole of the sphere. It worked better with some of them to roll the whole planet around inside the bowl of paint to get it really well covered.

Gabs painted green land-masses onto the already dry blue oceans of Earth and once they were all dried we called it a night as we were exhausted! This worked out pretty well because Gabs was delighted by the results of his Sun and Inner Planets and it gave him something to look forward to the next day.

Day 2: Outer Solar System

The next day was more challenging because we had the planets with rings to deal with and more complex colours. We started the same way as before with the newspaper balls and paste. Our scale wasn’t very accurate, that’s something we’d like to improve on next time but it would have meant having an absolutely enormous Sun or teeny tiny inner planets to leave ourselves room for the right comparitive sizes of the bigger planets so we just approximated as best we could this time.

We had a lot more paint mixing to do for the more unusual shades of the gas giants and lots of layering to do for the cloud formations on Jupiter. First we painted it brown, then dried it and painted the rings of circling orange clouds, dried that.. then a splodge of red for the Great Red Spot and silver (we didn’t have white) on the top and bottom for the polar clouds.

We made the rings by cutting them out of purple cardboard and colouring with felt-tip pens. Saturn’s are much wider than Uranus’ and go round the middle rather than top to bottom which was much easier to fix on but somehow we made them just the right size to stick around the middle.

Did you know there is a storm on the North Pole of Saturn which is naturally shaped like a perfect hexagon?! Gabi told me this and I didn’t believe him at first until I checked it out myself but it’s true. One of the great wonders of the Universe!

Gabs tried very hard to paint it on but it went a bit splodgy. Another thing to aim for in our next one. So here they are, our finished planets, the whole Solar System including a little moon to go around Earth. The big gap Gabs left between Mars and Jupiter is for the asteroid belt… I have no idea how we’re going to make that!

As you can see our round paper-maché dried a lot less round and then the paint coagulated in clumps making some of them reeeally bumpy. Let’s be honest they are the funniest looking planets you’ve ever seen, right?! But Gabs LOVED them… he felt so proud because he considers that he made them almost all by himself, and they have been played and played with for weeks… They are great for playing at making the planets orbit around the Sun and the moon orbiting the Earth and they’re so hard and durable they are hard to break, although we keep losing the little ones around the house.

This was a great project for us, we had great fun and Gabs was in absolute heaven. He really felt special that Mummy had gone to all the trouble of this two day project to make him happy, making me feel like the best Mummy in the World. 🙂 It’s messy and time consuming but also pretty easy… I highly recommend it! If you have any tips on making an even more accurate one, maybe with balloons and any ideas for the asteroid belt, please write below! And look out for our next 3D Universe project…

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2013 Review

I remember the 1st January 2013 very well because I spent a lovely, happy day with my boys watching DVDs at home and out in the park in the mild sunshine and I thought at the time it bode well for a good year ahead… which for the most part it was, despite tiredness, some sadness and plenty of challenges. Here’s a quick look back at the highlights of life at Casa Azoitei through my eyes…

January

Gabs had been given planets and planet decals and a globe for Christmas and from the moment they went up in his room, his Space/Astronomy obsession ramped up a notch and hasn’t come down since. The boys played a lot of violin and we had a lot of snow:

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February

On 2nd February, my heart stopped when I read that a fellow blogger’s baby had died of SIDS. The blogging community rallied around her and somehow Matilda Mae’s brave mummy Jennie and I became friends and supporting The Lullaby Trust in Matilda’s memory became a new passion. My obsession with work, and indeed anything else fell away and all I cared for the whole month was spending quality time with my two beautiful boys and counting my very many blessings every day. We spent most of the month in the park, on the swings and painting…

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March

My March started super-well with two nights in Paris with Remus where we got snowed in and did zero sightseeing but had a wonderful time. I worked as a violinist a bit mostly with BBCCO, did a concert in memory of Matilda Mae for Mother’s Day and raised £200 for her Bliss Charity Precious Star Fund and Classical Babies turned 3 years old. Remus found out he was to be decorated Officer of the Order of the Royal Crown (a kind of Romanian MBE) by King Mihai of Romania! But mostly my theme of amazing time with my boys continued, the firsts signs of Spring appeared and Lucian’s terrible twos kicked in.

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April

I spent a week in Cornwall at my parents’ with the boys having fresh air, R&R and some amazing Reiki sessions which put paid to my cluster migraines. April continued trickily for us, with a major errm, I shall call it ‘misunderstanding’ (!) with a family member in Romania whose privacy I’ll respect because it’s not necessary to name them and anyway, said relationship looks to be going forward positively in 2014. But it happened to occur just before we left for a family trip to Bucharest and caused stress and sadness for all of us, not just at the time but subtley in the background for the rest of the year. However, we did have incredible weather over there, the boys had a brilliant time bonding with their cousins and Remus played some great concerts. In the end a trip I had to literally force myself to take ended up being pretty great! This was also the month Remus played an amazing Lalo ‘Symphonie Espagnole’ with the George Enescu Philharmonic and was decorated by the King.

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May

On 2nd May I drove down to Kent to meet Jennie, Matilda Mae’s mummy for the first time at the Matilda Mae Mile in Memory Walk and I played and took little violins. Lucian and I reached an emotional end to our breastfeeding journey when he had his last ever feed the day he turned two years old, 18th May. He also had a wonderful Winnie the Pooh party and got a scooter. Generally the combination of his terrible twos and Gabs’ above average naughtiness just about gave me a nervous breakdown for most of the month, yet somehow we still had a wonderful month.

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June

Nothing much happened in June. We took a lot of sunny walks around my favourite streets in our lovely neighbourhood and enjoyed what we didn’t yet know would be our last month there. We all stayed up late to watch the Super Moon. Gabs enjoyed his last month at the nursery he loved. June was sun, playgrounds, ice creams, lollies and Regent’s Park. The boys ran, and ran. It was just perfect.

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July

July was just NUTSO. The 1st was my birthday. Remus was away but hid my new violin case in the wardrobe, I had my last acting class before  a 6 month break and did this scene from ‘The Graduate’. The 3rd was Gabi’s last ever day at nursery and the day we found out we had to move. The 4th was our Gabi’s 4th birthday, his first morning at primary school and the day we found our new house! We threw Gabi a kick-ass Space Party, went for a holiday in Cornwall with my parents – got detoured to N. Ireland when my Grannie died, then back to Cornwall. Remus and I spent our 5th wedding anniversary apart while he packed up our entire flat in London and I holidayed with the boys on a Cornish beach. I was attuned to Reiki Level I, by an old family friend in the village before travelling home. I took the boys and the violins down to Jennie’s for the twins’ Gruffalo Party and also played at the BBC Proms in the Concert Orchestra. Crazy, crazy month.

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August

August. Moving month. Emotional upheaval. Endings. Gabi’s nursery ‘graduation’ on the day we moved. We explored our new home and garden, Childs Hill and Golders Hill Parks and Gabs and I had a series of “Mummy & Gabi Days” before him starting Holy Trinity Primary in September. I pretty much “love-bombed” him (as I later found out it’s called!) and loved every minute of it. I also played a second Prom with the BBCCO.

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September

There’s only one event that stands out for me in September and that’s Gabriel starting school. He was so, SO excited and really loved it. Because of his Aspergers traits we started to have more and more trouble with him as more and more children joined the class until it was full (they stagger the start dates with the youngest first) and he got overwhelmed. It took him a long time to settle but the school were fantastic and proactive about getting him assessed and on the special needs register. The month was full of meetings, form-filling and ‘incidents’ but somehow his enthusiasm hasn’t waned. We threw Remus a 42nd birthday party with the biggest violin-cake you’ve ever seen! and I played solo in the Vivaldi A minor double concerto at St. Martin-in-the-Fields with Remus in the audience watching me for a change!

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October

With Gabs at school I started enjoying some time alone with Lucian which I hadn’t really had… ever! He’s a cheeky little monkey when he’s out of Gabi’s shadow. I was out a lot playing with the BBCCO and working incredibly hard for Classical Babies. The excitement of the month was two days in Reykjavik with Remus seeing his recital and one of my bestest old friends Silla, who I miss so much. I love Iceland, we will go back soon. We celebrated Halloween.. some of us enjoying it more than others. 😉

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November

The 1st was the end of half-term and I took Gabs to Tower Bridge. It was a wet but wonderful day. We got soaked but he absolutely loved it. 2nd November was a special day. I went with the boys and some wonderful friends who agreed to play in a quartet with me at the Matilda Mae Welly Walk at Beale Park in Reading, to honour 9 months since Tilda died and to raise money for The Lullaby Trust. It was a truly fantastic day. We filled most other weekends with trips to our local park and messy play like Leaf Rubbing, painting and playing in the garden. On 28th Nadine and I went, as Classical Babies to the Theo Paphitis #SBS Winners’ Event in Birmingham and met the man himself!

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December

My first school nativity! Gabriel was an angel – “double irony” as Mrs Pillay and I both said … Oh how we laughed!! Despite his struggles to blend in to the class this term, he sat nicely, did all the actions and sang all the songs. I was most proud. I bravely took both boys to the school Christmas Disco and started to really feel part of the school community and felt truly at home and settled in our house for the first time all year. We got a kick-ass Christmas tree and posted a stupid number of photos of it on facebook and ate a hell of a lot of sweets. The Classical Babies Christmas Concert and Party 2013 was a great success with 56 people turning up with kids attached (that’s over a hundred bodies in the room!) … coincidentally the same number of times we watched ‘The Snowman and Snowdog’ on repeat. We had an amazingly quiet and happy Christmas at home just the four of us and I nailed Christmas Dinner. Yeaaahhh! What a fabulous end to the year.

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Happy New Year 2014!

Gabriel’s Planet Faux-Pas

Those of you who follow my blog will already know about my – probably Aspergers – four year old, Gabriel and his gigantic obsession with astronomy, planets, stars, anything vaguely space related. But specifically our Solar System and the order of the planets and the sizes of the stars, from ours right up to the biggest known stars in our Universe. In fact, the only way they are managing him at school currently is to allow him to draw and label the solar system over and over for half the day while we’re waiting for him to be “statemented” and they can get an extra person in the classroom for him. He then comes home and does exactly the same thing for around two hours after school. Oh, and did I mention every second of every day that he’s awake he’s is talking at us, constantly telling us facts like “Mummmeeee? Pluto’s orbit crosses Neptune’s… Dadddeeeee? VY Canis Majoris is a red hypergiant… Riegel is a blue supergiant, Titan is yellow, did you know our Sun has hydrogen and helium?” He barely stops to draw breath from one end of the day to another and it is exhausting to listen to but we kind of love it. He is so completely passionate and his little face lights up with glee reminding us of those crazy super-animated physicists talking on the History channel’s ‘The Universe‘ programmes who we find really sweet! “Obsessed” doesn’t quite cover it.

So, I was delighted and amused when Gabs came home from school with something he had written which wasn’t planets-related and which I’m pretty sure – judging by the spelling – he had done all by himself:

I had to get him to translate it for me. It says,

“To my Gabriel..”

(he wrote it to himself in the manner of little love letters I write to him sometimes!)

“… and I love my Lucian (his little brother) and I love my mummy and my daddy and my cousins. Actually the most I love my mummy but daddy does silly things. Why does Daddy do silly things because he does..”

Sounds spot on to me! 🙂

So, back to planets. Gabs spends a lot of time watching his favourite learning videos on youtube and he often gets me to type things like “Space videos for kids” and “Sizes of the Planets” into the search bar as those are his favourites. He particularly likes one where they start with a closeup of Earth and then each frame zoom out showing the relative sizes of bigger and bigger planets, the whole solar system and then the bigger stars like Pollux, Aldebaran and VY Canis Majoris. This pen comes down and circles Earth to draw attention to how tiny it is in comparison! I’ve never watched it all the way through but I know he finds it hilarious because eventually Earth becomes invisible in the scale and I hear him snorting away to himself…

Anyway, I should have paid more attention to this particular video because here’s what I found when I came downstairs from bathing Lucian last night… Gabs had drawn the “Earth is Invisible” video frame by frame, sounding out the names himself and missing out most of the vowels in the process, but I knew what he meant and he showed me Oh, so proudly which order they went in…

Earth, Venus, Mars, Mercury, Pluto

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Earth, Venus, Mars, Mercury, Pluto

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Earth, Venus, Mars, Mercury, Pluto

Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus...etc.etc..

Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus…etc.etc..

Arcturus, Pollux, Sirius, Sun, (Earth)

Arcturus, Pollux, Sirius, Sun, (Earth)

“Ahh, how sweet!” I thought.. “He’s remembered the video exactly  and tried to ‘sound them out'”! And then I saw the last one:

Antares, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse, Riegel, Arcturus, Pollux, Sirius, Sun, and WTF.

Antares, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse, Riegel, Arcturus, Pollux, Sirius, Sun, and WTF!

Antares, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse, Riegel, Arcturus, Pollux, Sirius, Sun, and WTF!

Errr, wait a minute…. “WTF”?!!! Wtf?! 

A quick look at the end of the video revealed all (skip to 1:05):

OOPS!

He was very excitedly telling me,

“Look Mummy, that’s Rigel, and that’s Sirius, and that’s the Sun, and that’s Whatoof! Hahaha, Whatuff! Where’s the Earth gone!

He was so delighted by his discovery of this new word – which from the context he understood perfectly to mean something along the lines of “OMG!” – that he kept holding his hands out to the side and pronouncing it dramatically,

“Whatuff, whatuff, whatuff Mummy!”

And then he went back to his drawing:

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*Sigh!* I had to take his little collection of artworks into school and explain what had happened in case he decided to write it while he was there, but he hasn’t… yet! If your kids have done anything similar which has got, or nearly got you in trouble I’d love to hear about it!

Plans, plans, exciting plans…

I have so many creative things going round and round in my brain at the moment, I thought I’d write them all down, lest I forget to do one of them and in case it helps with planning…

First up, a Classical Babies ‘Winnie the Pooh’ Quartet Picnic!

I had such a good time planning Lucian’s 2nd Birthday Pooh-themed party and have so many props and things left over, it occurred to me on the day that I should transfer it all over to a Classical Babies concert! I want to have all the songs from the Winnie-the-Pooh DVD arranged for string quartet (I know someone who could do this amazingly, but it will be expensive so I may try to do some of them myself) and book my usual musician friends to play in the quartet with me. Then everyone can bring picnic blankets and I have some honey pots filled with treats and a picnic basket with bees buzzing out of it! I just can’t decide when to do it. Maybe the last concert of the Summer Season, in July. My themed special party concerts always have a great turn out but we’re a bit short on festivals, birthdays and special occasions this term so I need an excuse to roll out the prosecco again…

 

Next up, some more fundraising for The Lullaby Trust in memory of little Matilda Mae. Someone is running the Brighton marathon in her memory for her lovely mum Jennie (she of the Edspire blog) and Jennie asked if anyone would like to run too? I thought,

“Errrrm, noooooo!! I would not!”

But it got me thinking about a different kind of marathon that I could do, since my fingers are a darn sight fitter than my legs:

A Violin Marathon for Matilda Mae

Basically, I would get people to sponsor me to see how long I can play/practise the violin for continuously! I think, feasibly something like eight or nine hours might be the max without damaging my neck or wrist or muscles in my arms but I really I’m aiming for more than that if I can find a way to protect myself by having massage breaks, my physio mum on hand to deal with any aches and pains and regular loo breaks of five or ten minutes built into the rules! If, in my wildest dreams I managed to keep going for twelve hours or more I’m wondering what to do about noise through the night, whether it would be allowed to stop to sleep, or if I should lose a night and keep on going! But physically I’m not likely to last that long. Violin-playing pretty much does to your arms what running does to your legs and so you can imagine the effects after several hours. I’m also not working as much as a freelance violinist as I was pre-kids so I’m not in the same kind of shape as before where I could play six hours a day no problem. I will have to practise myself-in for a couple of weeks before, an hour, two hours adding more time every day – but this is great! It’s about time I got myself back into proper shape as a violinist and maybe did some auditions for other London orchestras (I work regularly with BBC Concert Orchestra – with whom I used to have a full time job – and the City of London Sinfonia who offered me my first regular paid work out of college several years ago, but never approached the others and I really should!) So, as well as raising money for a great cause I stand to gain from this too… It’s a win, win idea!!

The other question is, where should I do it? I need someone to look after my boys for the day or more it will take, so ideally my parents’ place in Cornwall where I will be this summer, since I need my mum on hand for physio anyway. But you need a LOT of sheet music to fill several hours and the big, full music cupboard I need access to is in our flat in London, which my husband also needs for his teaching, so I can’t even transport the lot of it down with me. I could play through the night in Cornwall without upsetting people, but in London possibly not, unless I persuade the neighbours and then I would keep the boys up… Though I could play with a practise mute to dampen the sound.

Then the question of who will verify that I keep playing… Will it be done on trust? Should I operate an open house system where people can come and listen whenever they like to see how I’m doing and grab a glass of wine and watch for a while, or maybe live-stream it on the internet (I have no idea how to do that by the way, but maybe someone can help me?) so people can log on to see if I’m still playing and time my breaks and anyone who’s curious as to what I’m playing for all those hours can have a listen! Questions, questions…. I’m really excited by the idea anyway, and any offers of help with setting up a sponsorship page, or a live-stream would be much appreciated!

Practising in front of the tennis at Wimbledon-time last year!

Practising in front of the tennis at Wimbledon-time last year!

 

I’m also planning Gabriel’s fourth birthday on the 4th July and a Planets Party for my astronomy-obsessed boy! I won’t waffle on about it here, but let my pinterest board do the talking. We promised to get him his first real bicycle with stabilisers, but now I’m wondering how smart that was as we just got Lucian a micro scooter so he can scoot with his brother and there’s really nowhere much he can safely ride around here. However, a promise is a promise, I just hope the scooter doesn’t get forgotten about. Too many vehicles in this house!

Then there’s my Reiki-attunement plans in the Summer, down in Cornwall and my plan to do a Classical Babies concert there in Gorran Haven, and new venues to find in Harpenden and elsewhere and my acting class I haven’t told you all about yet (I’m working on a Blanche Dubois monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire at the moment and have to do it in costume at Monday night’s class… I’ll keep you all posted another time!) So many plans and ideas in my brain and I didn’t tell you the half of them, but how useful this blog suddenly seems, to pin them all down and firm up my ideas. Feedback on all is welcome! Thank you… Coco xx