even though st george probably never set foot in this country, he represents the admirable qualities of bravery and chivalry, and was made patron saint of england in the middle ages. the legend that he heroically slayed a dragon to rescue a princess, suggesting good overcoming evil, has made him a much loved popular icon.
st george is also patron saint of catalonia, and celebrated by the portuguese, romanians, maltese, georgians and the people of moscow. his emblem is a red cross on a white background, which is the england flag and part of the union jack. in england it is customary on st george’s day is to wear a single red rose in the lapel.
barcelona celebrates sant jordi on 23rd april with a festival of roses, books and lovers. it’s a combination of culture and romanticism, when sweethearts exchange gifts, and book and flower stalls spring up all around the city. 'a rose is for love and a book is forever'. street artists and musicians perform in public squares and ‘sardana’, the national dance of catalonia, is performed throughout the day.
it’s a perfect excuse for children to dress up in knight’s tunics, don a helmet and role play with swords and shields. as a symbol of my catalan heritage, wherever we are on st george’s day we love to visit to book shop and remember to give each other a red rose.
this week is national gardening week which was launched by the royal horticultural society six years ago and has grown into a nationwide celebration involving thousands of people, gardens, charities and cultural and heritage organisations.
all round the country there are events and activities to encourage new gardeners to get growing, and lots of ideas to get children involved and appreciate the natural world. even reluctant gardeners can be persuaded to help on a spring day when the sun is shining. it’s perfect timing over the Easter holidays to inspire children to create a haven for birds, bugs, butterflies, worms, toads and hedgehogs - and to get planting!
in london we only have a very small garden, but we always make sure there’s a space for the children to tend a patch. radishes are rewarding as they are very fast to grow, and nasturtium are brilliant as they produce an abundance of brightly coloured edible flowers. cress can be grown inside on a bed of cotton wool – all you need is a sunny windowsill, a packet of inexpensive seeds and a little pot or bowl, or even an old egg box will do. growing cress is fun as it only takes about seven days to germinate, it’s good to eat and you don’t even need a garden.
it’s fun to experiment with different types of decoration. in the past we have painted, drawn, sprayed, attached stickers, marbled them with old nail polish, dyed them with natural food dyes and even decoupaged them! There are plenty of techniques for all ages, and even the simplest colours or patterns by the youngest children look gorgeous. ours get more sophisticated each year as the children get older.
then we decorate our house with colourful eggs. we’ve got quite a collection now - some that we’ve decorated in previous years, some bought from markets and some from trips abroad. we dream of covering the branches of our ash tree in the garden with all our eggs…
in central germany, not far from leipzig, there is an easter tree which became world famous for 10,000 eggs. it all started in 1945 when volker kraft was a little boy and dreamed of having his very own easter tree. when he was married and had a family he began an annual tradition to decorate the garden tree with eggs every easter. he started in 1965 by decorating a sapling in his garden with eighteen coloured eggs, and with the help of children and then grandchildren the project grew and grew until 2012 when the tree had grown very big and the egg count reached 10,000. the tree attracted press and visitors from all round the world. volker’s dream had come true. 2015 was the final year for the easter egg tree…now it’s an inspirational story of how dreams can come true if you try hard enough.
spring is a time for birth and new life. whether you live in a city or the country, there’s nothing more delightful than to visit a farm with baby animals in the spring. watching a newborn lamb stand on its wobbly legs and gambol in the fields, or a tiny fluffy freshly hatched chick finding its feet are some of life’s irresistible pleasures, whether you’re two years old or eighty! it’s a lovely day out for all the family.
some of our happiest days out have been at daylesford. It’s a real, organic working farm where our children have enjoyed learning about farming and animals. most children love nature, and we like to encourage ours to learn about farming to help them to understand and appreciate where the food on our plates arrives from, and quite how much work has gone into it getting there. a visit to a farm with a guided tour can be an important lesson for children to understand the decisions and consequences we make about our diets. at daylesford we have seen lambs being born, emerging from their mothers and hitting the straw ready to start life. i believe it’s good for children to witness nature, from birth to death to understand that these events are entirely normal and nothing to be afraid of.
many farms across the country offer visits with a close-up experience of lambing. some allow visitors to bottle feed lambs and some offer tractor tours, which are especially loved by young children. farm visits are especially rewarding in the spring, but there’s lots to enjoy and learn all the way through spring and summer.
for visits and tours on lambing check:
although little known in the uk, carnival is an important festival celebrated in western christian countries, especially in areas with a large catholic population. it is thought to have evolved from a pagan festival - a time to drive out the winter spirits to make way for spring’s arrival. originally it was the last opportunity to feast on the remaining stores of winter food such as lard, butter and meat, ahead of the long wait for spring produce.
carnival is a time of fun and excess before lent. people dress up in costumes and masks, party and parade on the streets. it is a time to eat, dance, party, and go wild, before the observation of lent when fasting and sobriety takes over.
brazil celebrates carnival with its world famous ‘rio carnival’ - a massive colourful street parade with music and dancing, and venice is famous for its lavish parties and elaborate masks. in spain, schools allow children to dress up and families come out onto the streets, for parades and street parties. it is a very convivial time.
shrove tuesday, or ‘pancake day’, is the last day before lent and coincides with the end of carnival. traditionally pancakes are eaten to use up rich, indulgent foods such as milk and eggs before the forty days of lent.
this year shrove tuesday is february 28th and lent begins on march 1st. we like to make masks at home with the children and we eat a lot of pancakes for tea as we discuss what each of us is going to give up until easter. pancakes are so simple to make (best to prepare the mixture in advance) and everyone takes turns flipping their own. we try chocolate spread, jam and honey but in the end the favourite is usually the classic - lemon with a liberal sprinkling of sugar.
every year, when valentine's day comes, we try to do something loving for each other. it’s the perfect opportunity to craft special cards and bake something spoiling and delicious for the family to enjoy together. often we cook a meal and sometimes we go out to a favourite restaurant. one year my daughter made a thyme-scented, heart-shaped shortbread. she was only 10 years at the time - and it was easy to make, delicious and the best valentine’s present we could imagine! hedgehogshop sells non-stick heart shape moulds which are perfect for baking family treats on valentine’s day.
this is china’s most important traditional festival, and in recognition of my husband’s heritage and our mixed-race family, we love to celebrate it at home.
traditionally, a few days before chinese new year, the whole house is cleaned from top to toe to get rid of the old and welcome in the new year. then the house is decorated in red and gold with lanterns and paper cuts. when our children were small they used to wear their best chinese outfits and we would spend an afternoon cutting our own decorations and colouring chinese letters to hang in the house. my husband goes to the flower market to buy mimosa, which is in season now and smells sublime. we hang red decorations from the branches and its fluffy yellow heads are a gorgeous natural substitute for gold.
2017 is the year of the rooster. roosters are healthy active people who enjoy sport. they are observant, hardworking, brave and talented. our boy is a rooster and will enjoy being centre of attention for the weekend. we’ll be celebrating with a chinese meal at home, fortune cookies, loud fireworks to scare away the evil spirits, and ‘lucky money’. these are little packets of money in pairs of red envelopes usually given by married adults to children to wish them good health and a good year ahead.
there are lots of chinese events in london and other cities, including lion parades, which are fun for all the family. these are some activities for children which have caught our eye:
dance performances, mask making and calligraphy workshops at the v&a museum of childhood, bethnal green, london:
make paper cut decorations, a zodiac mobile, listen to chinese fairytales and join in a dragon dance at the museum in docklands, london:
happy year of the rooster!
welcome to our journal.
here we would like to share a few things about family life. we hope to inspire you to encourage your children to open their eyes to the world around them and find their inner creativity.
it happens to all new parents…we had our first child in the early ‘noughties’, our priorities changed and we became totally involved in the world of babies and children and began acquiring all the paraphernalia needed for playthings, story telling, birthday parties, outings and days at home. we searched for good quality toys which were well made, long-lasting, often made from wood, aesthetically pleasing and educational. i realised that we were very particular in our tastes and minded what our children played with.
then, about six years ago, i felt the need to change my lifestyle. i had run my own design and creative consultancy for many years – it was time for something new. we had developed a knack for finding traditional toys that took us back to an earlier era when children’s play times did not revolve around computer screens and mobiles were just telephones. ‘less is more’ became our mantra and we became very discerning about what we bought. this search took us to unusual places, and we found things in car boot sales, on our trips away, in markets and even at the hardware shop.
some of our earliest ‘finds’ were tiny size espadrilles and abarca sandals, and little traditional spanish woven baskets just like my own. also a pair of bright red enamel espresso cups, the perfect size for toddlers’ hands, a small racing green enamel bucket and a child-size wheelbarrow. our children played with these little versions of adult things for many years and now their younger cousins are playing with them. this search for well-made, practical, attractive and often educational playthings became quite a mission. it inspired me to put all the things we found under one roof to share with other like-minded people. hedgehog was born.
hedgehog has evolved to offer a broad range of classic products for everyday life, play, travel, baking, arts and crafts, party time and more. our children are now teenagers but we still love to search for beautiful, practical and well-made things for family life, and hope you enjoy following us.