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Lest We Forget (simple DIY poppies)

poppies made with coffee filters With Remembrance Day on Sunday, I decided to have a go this week at making poppies, using coffee filters to create simple yet beautiful oversized blooms in commemoration. Here they are…coffee filter poppiesIMG_2355

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To make these, I took a pack of coffee filters and separated them into little clumps of 3 or 4, then filled a shallow bowl with around 1cm of water, adding bright red food dye.  Make the concentration quite high for a really vibrant colour.  Place the stack of filters upside down into the bowl and within seconds they will soak up the colour and turn red. Lift them out, tip the water away and turn them upside down to dry, squishing them together to help them hold their shape (when they get very wet, they want to collapse and lie flat; keep them standing tall!).  I placed mine in a very low-heat oven to dry out for ten minutes, but leaving on a counter-top overnight would work equally well.

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When they’re completely dry, dip a wet brush into a pot of black food colouring and then touch it in the centre of each flower bundle; this will give you a spreading, fibrous black circle to mimic the heart of a poppy.  Leave to dry, at which time you can add further finishing touches and definition with your paintbrush. (Perhaps needless to say; by this point I was covered in red and black food dye and wielding wet coffee filters and loaded paintbrushes, so this stage goes visually unrecorded..)

As these were commemorative poppies rather than just pretty flowers, I decided to stitch a military button at the centre of each of mine (leftover from this project)

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When you’ve made your poppies, a few ideas..

  • Attach a pin to the back and wear as a brooch, with a simple dark top; vibrant and head-turning
  • Wire them to faux stems (or even real bushes and plants) and place them outdoors this weekend
  • Thread them into a wreath, either using a wreath form or stiff wire
  • Gather them into a simple bowl and set them in the middle of the table
  • Thread onto string to make a garland for a window-frame or mantel

p.s. Remember the utterly mesmerising sea of poppies at the Tower of London in 2014?

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The Circle of Life

IMG_1997When we got married almost ten years ago, I slipped a champagne cork from the wedding breakfast into my husband’s pocket as a memento of the day. A year later, I did the same on our first anniversary, and then again when we raised a (very small) glass to toast Harry’s arrival into the world.  Slowly, unthinkingly, I began to assemble a collection of corks from the most memorable events in our lives.  Be it great dinners with old friends, Christmas and birthday parties, new jobs, reunions and celebrations big and small; whenever I remembered I’d scribble the date and event on the cork and stash it in the kitchen drawer.

But joy has no place in a drawer, so last weekend in a sentimental mood I tipped it out and began to create a huge circle – a wreath of corks – to hang on the wall in the kitchen and remind us of all of the magic that’s happened, and all that’s yet to come.  Tucked in the drawer now instead is a small tube of glue so that we can easily add the next cork, and the next one; layer upon layer…

IMG_2023To make this cork wreath….

I drew and cut a big (about 70cm) circle out of grey board, and then sprayed it with a copper-colour paint in case the card showed through between the corks. I deliberately cut a narrow ring so that the corks would appear to ‘float’ and the background would be invisible; the inner ring of corks are glued to the cardboard, but the outer ring(s) are simply glued to the corks themselves; their weightlessness makes this easy.

IMG_1902I used wood glue because that’s what I had to hand, but gorilla glue or any strong adhesive will work; I built this on the kitchen counter over the course of an afternoon and used glasses and cups to hold the corks in place whilst the glue set.  Position each ring as offset to the one before, so that the corks nestle between each other; this gives it strength.

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IMG_1917To hang on the wall, simply add a loop of thin wire around the ring and hang on a hook.  Consider it an ongoing life project which should never be considered finished, and whose gaps are to be filled as soon as a new occasion for celebration presents itself…

IMG_1951p.s.  from the archives: another use for those champagne cork-cases (scroll down), and two fun ways to wrap a bottle.

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DIY Constellation Pumpkin

DIY Constellation pumpkin

It’s almost Halloween!

I have to confess, the spooky side of Halloween is not really for us; Harry has long been a-feared of witches, ghosts and all things spooky, and after brief experimentations with ghoulish decor we’ve decided to instead embrace the bits we love; the baking, the trick or treating and the pumpkins. Oh, the pumpkins.  Every year I buy several monster ones and every year I find myself shoulder deep in seeds and pumpkin flesh, scooping out a seemingly unending sea of mush.  Every year I remind myself to remember next time to wear gloves.  Every year my nose starts to itch during the messiest bit.

This year, I made a constellation pumpkin, inspired by the wondrous Martha.  I love the night sky and it seemed somehow fitting to have a pumpkin in our porch that mirrors the stars above… so armed with a drill and a craft knife and a somewhat loose recollection of the major constellations, I began.

I sketched the rough position of the stars with a pencil, googling the different shapes and then  - very quickly – resorted to making up my own to fill up the space.  Press lightly so your hand doesn’t slip into the curves and furrows of the pumpkin, and reassure yourself that everything looks better by candlelight – by definition therefore, your pumpkin will look awesome.  I used a drill to bore through the holes (keep it whirring as you pull it back out, to clear the pumpkin from the hole), and a craft knife to carve out the joining bars, angled at 45 degrees to create a triangular channel and reduce the risk of cutting through the whole pumpkin shell.  I will not lie to you; this takes a little while, as you can intuit from the changing light in my pics below…

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Martha Stewart used a heirloom pumpkin which was already a fetching and atmospheric shade of blue-grey.  My pumpkin was a £2 supermarket pumpkin and hence vibrantly, inorganically orange, so I lightly daubed it with paint to tone it down a little…

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…and here it is!

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I used a string of fairy lights inside the pumpkin, with a few pushed into the actual drilled holes (you can see them burning super-brightly above).  This really looks beautiful and helps to highlight the different constellations as dusk is falling, or if you are keeping the pumpkin indoors in a dimly lit room.  Don’t worry though if that seems either too messy or too fiddly – by the time it is truly dark, the pumpkin will glow all over and all of the stars stand out.  Pour yourself a glass of wine, wrap up warm on the porch, and admire your handiwork…

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p.s. I carved this a few days ago and now appear to have turned the entire kitchen into a fruit fly sanctuary and haven, due to my rather haphazard clearing up of fermented pumpkin innards.  All eradication tips welcome…

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Every Child is an Artist

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Picasso famously asserted that ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up’.  It’s a great question to ponder; why do so many children change from being magnetically drawn to any available paper and crayons to declaring, somewhere in the double-digit years, that ‘I can’t draw’, and never feeling inclined to do so again?

Harry is still at an age and stage where he loves all things arty and crafty, and I’m keen to gently foster this as far as possible.  Here are a few of the things we’ve discovered and loved together…

This book is a favourite, packed with brilliant ideas for drawing projects, like drawing by torchlight, making monoprints and staging an art party.  I can’t tell you how much I love it.  Our first project was a simple fruit bowl still-life, arranged by Harry, that we drew together at the kitchen table.  The challenge was that we had to use oil pastels (neither of us had tried this before), and use a coloured paper background.  Harry won Best in Show for his picture (I was robbed!).  I liked it so much that we scanned it and made it into a set of cards;

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The internet is a fantastic resource both for blogs and for tutorials.  We loved watching Quentin Blake showing us how to draw Willy Wonka, and sat together with our pens and paper, following his pen-strokes and creating some astonishingly passable imitations.  Try typing ‘how to draw a ….’ into your search engine, filling in the blank with whatever you are passionate about (unicorns, pterodactyls, tractors, volcanoes… you name it, someone somewhere will have a tutorial showing you how).

This blog is great for a steady stream of ideas and projects; the Facebook feed is one of my favourites.

Museums and art galleries are also a favourite and a source of continual inspiration.  But here’s the thing; we whistle through them at a rate of knots, going where Harry’s interest takes us and staying for as little or as long a time as we feel like.  We take a sketchbook and pencils and settle down on quiet spots of floor or benches to draw the things that capture our attention.  Favourites include the V&A in London, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Tate Modern.  On my list for a long time has been the House of Illustration (and how I wish we could have teleported to California to visit this!)

Workshops are also fun; during school holidays I often sign Harry up for classes for a couple of hours to try new things, like Lego animation (a HUGE hit), clay-making (hit and miss) and this most recent triumph; a short class at a local art shop teaching kids how to draw wolves using charcoal.  An unusually specific topic, but for this seven year old it was just about the coolest thing to know how to do.  And the result was awesome.  We framed it and it now hangs, three-foot-wide and howling at the moon, in the snug.

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ps Three ways from the archives to make kids feel ever prouder of what they make; an art desk calendar,  a matching pairs game and these cereal box pegs from yesteryear.

Cereal box pegs

mantel pegs tutorial from www

Happy Tuesday!

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Bears, bears, everywhere…

Plaster brown bear head from katescreativespace

This week, I made a giant brown bear head to hang on the wall….

Papier mache bear head on wall

It is one of the messiest things I’ve ever made, so brace yourself.  It’s also really, really good fun.  Having mastered the bear, Harry and I are currently attempting a triceratops (because our ambition knows no bounds).  But first, let’s scroll back to the beginnings of the bear..

Start by blowing up a large balloon (actually, start with at least two; one will pop or deflate at some point in an explosive, soul-destroying splatter, so have a back-up).  Soak pieces of this magical plaster and carefully cover most of the balloon, leaving a plate-sized gap at the bottom; I used three layers, waiting 24hours for each to dry.  You can also use traditional papier-mache, it will just take a few more layers to become rock-solid.

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When dry, gently pop the balloon with a pin to release the air; this will cause it to shrink gradually away from the sides of the shell and minimise the risk of it collapsing, like so;

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Stand and admire your beautiful spheres.  Consider fleetingly how anatomical they look.  Get a grip, begin again.

balloon mache base for animal heads

I fashioned a nose and some ears out of more of the plaster, squeezing it into lumps and moving it around for an appropriately snout-like muzzle.  I trimmed the rough edges around the sides to give a flat base for hanging.

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Then the fun (and slightly less messy) bit;  paint!  I began with a base coat of caramel-brown acrylic paint, then added a darker shade to give definition around the muzzle and back of the head;

making a mache bear head

..and then added hot pink inner-ears, a sponged smudge of colour for the cheeks, and a black nose, using white shading to create the impression of nostrils (and that’s not a line I ever thought I’d write).  Two buttons from our button box made perfect eyes, glued into place, and my husband’s stylish and expensive winter scarf the perfect stolen borrowed accessory.

papier mache bear head

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..and then I borrowed my actual husband because Harry was finding it quite heavy to hold.  Doesn’t he look dashing?

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Nate (for that’s the bear’s name, we’ve decided) is currently residing in the spare bedroom, but will shortly transfer to Harry’s room where he can keep a careful and affable eye on things.  At least until the triceratops comes along, and then who knows?

brown bear head craft for kids room katescreativespace animal head making

Have a good week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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p.s.  I’m quite obsessed with this plaster; The Odd Egg and the moon

Mache brown bear head!

A tonal change of season

Painted tonal pumpkins

Have you ever painted a pumpkin?  Until now I would have put it in the category of ‘life is too short to even contemplate this’, but then I decided that I would give it a go.  As the seasons turn from summer to autumn, it feels a little too early to deck the halls with vibrant orange pumpkins and foliage, so I bought a handful (ok, barrowful) of misshapen pumpkins and gourds and decided to use up some of my many paint tester pots to create a subtle centrepiece instead…

Painted pumpkins and foiliage for fall

I used just two base colours, both sage-green wall paints leftover from painting our kitchen.  I slowly added white to one, and petrol blue (from here!) to another, creating five tonal shades.  Each pumpkin needed a couple of layers, and I did no prep whatsoever.  I am sure there is an art to this, but slapping paint on happily seemed to work just fine.

A fall tableau

I’m thinking about where to arrange them in the house; along the kitchen table, certainly, and perhaps a couple on mantels and at the door.  For now though, they look very lovely just sitting here in the art room…

Painted pumpkins

p.s.

tonal spoons

last year’s cityscape pumpkin and

in praise of autumn

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On being messy (what’s on your desk?)

What’s on your desk right now?  Or your kitchen or bedside table…whatever space you consider most yours?

Mine is messy.  Always.

Occasionally artfully messy, but more often cluttered with cups of half-drunk tea, pots of paintbrushes in water (or sometimes, I confess; paintbrushes in half-drunk tea), papers and scribbles and lost toys and lists and plans.

Every so often I clear the surface completely, wiping the desk and admiring the bright white sheen and zen-like calm and order.  It is peaceful and gives the impression that I could be an architect or Marie Kondo-esque disciple of minimalism.  But then, like a tide, clutter rises and I embrace once again the inevitability of finding nothing I’m looking for but also everything I had not realised was lost.

Here’s what’s on my desk tonight:

What's on your desk

1. Fresh flowers; I love lilies just before they open.  Once they do their scent is a bit over-powering and they shower pollen over all of my chaotically arranged projects, so this is the very transient stage when they are at their best

2. Folded pleats, from my map dress – this was my prototype practice-run and somehow has never been thrown away

3. Blank wooden matroyshka, newly arrived via eBay (£4!).  I am thinking of making Harry a set of nesting wooden animals for his Christmas stocking, and in the meantime just enjoying playing with them, getting a feel for the shapes and thinking about the animals I will choose.

4. Another potential project, awaiting time and inspiration

5. Harry’s desk calendar, still set to August (as it probably will be until November, in this house).

6. My trusty notebook which I carry everywhere, plus recipes clipped from magazines for my ‘things I really must attempt to cook in another lifetime’ file.

7. A Fitbit charger. I have succumbed at last to the tyranny of a sensor and am now experiencing the gentle chafing and constant vibration of my conscience, masquerading as a Fitbit Alta, urging me to move whenever I so much as think about eating a biscuit.

8. My new toy; a lightpad.  Have you ever used one?  I am in love, though I recognise it may be a passing infatuation.  I can now sketch something out on scrap paper until I get it right and then place thick watercolour paper over the top and trace it through.  I once watched the illustrator Quentin Blake explain how he does his incredible drawings in this way, and have coveted one ever since.

Also…

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More notebooks, an anglepoise lamp, a pot of velvety black sumi ink from a brief flirtation with calligraphy, and an indulgence; a box of my favourite Blackwing pencils, whose iconic shape and feel I love.

Also..

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1. A pinboard I have lugged with me since college, with the gradually changing landscape of my life filling every square inch year-on-year

2. Overdue library books.  Note to self.

3. Cretan olive oil in such beautiful packaging (Icarus!) that I keep it on desk just to look at rather than in the kitchen where I could actually put it to sensible use.

4. A clay elephant from Harry circa 2014 whose trunk needs to be carefully reattached every six months, and who hence has the lumpen look of someone who has had one too many rhinoplasty procedures

5. A card from my best friend, who sends wonderful things in the mail to make the (Atlantic) ocean between us seem smaller.

6. These jars from Ikea.  I’m not sure why yet, but I thought they were lovely and inexpensive (how many times have I filled a trolley at Ikea on this basis?  Too many…).  I will think of something to do with them.

7. One of my favourite candles.  Note the cavalier juxtaposition of the click lighter above, jauntily abutting the card.  It’s a wonder I haven’t set fire to my desk a long time ago.

 

So tell me; what’s on yours right now?

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Altered Envelopes

Altered Envelopes cover page

This week’s post involves some of our absolute favourite things; cutting and sticking and mail and books.  Specifically, cutting up and sticking books to make mail.

It all began with a book sale by our local library, selling off old, dog-eared copies of children’s books for 10p each.  10p!! We bought everything we could find with gorgeous pictures, and then – cover your eyes – we cut them all up.

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We cut carefully around all the best pictures and then stuck them onto blank envelopes to make a personalised set of mail for Harry to use…

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In each case, our only rule was that there had to be enough space to write the recipient’s name and maybe attach a postage stamp, which in practice meant we could fit on some REALLY LARGE BIRDS;

IMG_6505 Altered Envelopes- peacock!

And a very friendly-looking elephant!

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A cheeky, cupcake-eating fox!

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A dog who looks like he’d really like to become your pet…

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Really, really like to. Huh, huh? C’mon, let me follow you home!

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Or if you like your pets a bit feistier, what about this fellow?

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He might want to eat you or he might just want to play.  It’s a gamble.

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I used these big round labels to create a focal point for addresses;

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Sometimes a whole picture makes for fun address-writing…

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So now Harry has a stack of altered envelopes and notecards to encourage the forgotten art of letter-writing…and the former library books get a second life.

use old books to make altered envelopes!

p.s.

The cheat’s guide to calligraphy

Marbled paper

Introducing children to the magical art of snail mail

Have a great week!

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Walls of Colour!

DIY Wallhung PaintboxYears ago, swinging through southern France with a bunch of girlfriends after university, I bought this beautiful old picture frame from a junk store.  I bought two of them in fact, and they cost only a handful of francs (francs! that ages me immediately..).  It has lived with me for many years and had many different roles, but recently has just been propped up in the art room, looking lovely but rather aimless.

Old French picture frame

So I reinvented it as a hanging pinboard to store our acrylic paints, in an accessible place so that Harry can take them down and use them without having to ask for help with cupboards or high shelves.  Now he can trash his clothes ALL BY HIMSELF without any grown-up help at all!

Paint palette board

To make the pinboard, I measured the back of the frame and asked my local DIY store to cut a piece of plywood to the right size (usually the first few cuts are free when you buy the wood).  I glued a sheet of cork over the top, and then used tiny panel pins to tap the wood into place on the frame.  I did this in a slapdash, haphazard way, with little symmetry and a number of mishits (hello, blackened fingernail).  Still, it is a very forgiving project given that all your work is visible only from behind.  I then measured the spacing for the paints I wanted to hang (these!  I love them..), and pushed upholstery pins in to the cork, sealing each one with a dab of glue.  As a final precaution, I glued cardboard squares where the very tips of the pins broke through.

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We practised together taking the paints on and off and it works a treat (if your paints don’t have easy loops like these, just attach a bulldog clip to the end of each tube and hang the clip on the nail instead).

When I get around to it, I’ll mount our new paint rack on the wall by Harry’s desk.  Until then, it leans at a jaunty angle against my plan chest, emitting a powerful siren song that draws us over every time.  Definitely better than a store cupboard.

The Art Room

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Paint palette pinboard

DIY Printed Paper Sacks (to hold practically anything…)

Print-at-home paper potato sacks!

Harry, during a mere 7yrs on this planet, has accumulated approximately 9,847 soft animals.

Well, maybe somewhat less than that, though it certainly feels like a lot when you are saying goodnight to them each in turn.  I feel a little like Maria must have done in the Sound of Music when trying to recall all the names of the von Trapp children, though at least hers only ran to single digits.

Still, I am in part to blame; most of the animals came from me, either directly or via my alter ego of Father Christmas.  Now though, they need a home.  Harry’s favourites still warrant a VIP place under the duvet each night, but what the others need is storage.

DIY Paper Sacks

 

I discovered that for a mere £5 you can buy online a handful of giant paper sacks designed to hold 25kg of potatoes.  I am not likely to ever successfully grow 25kg of any vegetable, so instead ordered some to use for stuffed animals, laundry and the myriad of art materials filling every surface of the art room.  And then I decided to see if you can use t-shirt transfers to print on them – and you can!  Instructions below…

Materials:

  • Large paper sacks like these or these; iron them on a low heat if necessary to ensure a flat surface
  • T-shirt transfer paper; I use Epson Cool Peel for most projects, including this one (not the cheapest, but really good results)

Step-by-Step

  1. Design your label and then print it onto the transfer paper, being careful to select ‘mirror image’ on your printer for any text.  Print it out and leave to cool…

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2.  Position the transfer on your paper sack, being sure to leave enough space at the top if you want to roll it over as I’ve done here (I like the contrast between the white of the outer sack and the brown lining).

3. Iron on a medium heat to transfer the image or text; you might need a lower setting than with fabric to avoid scorching

4.  Leave to cool, peel off the transfer paper and admire your handiwork.

5.  Fill with animals, laundry, craft materials, family members *delete as applicable

Printed Paper Sacks

Job done!

These would also look gorgeous at Christmas as personalised gift sacks (and require a little less effort than these!).

Have a wonderful weekend…

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DIY Bear Bag (made from a paper sack)

A Cretan Escape

Cretan stairs

Kalimera! We’re just back from a sun-drenched, chilled-out week on the Greek island of Crete; a spontaneous, late-minute booking that was exactly what we needed.

One of the things that struck me the most about Crete was the effortless beauty in everything, and the radiant, kaleidoscopic colour to be found everywhere across the island;  every shade of blue, from the cerulean and turquoise of the sea, which changed constantly as the sun rose, radiated and then began to set…

Agios Nicolaos

sea tide

Ocean tide at night

To the cobalt-blue of doors, shutters and windows, and the paintbox of shades found in every village street

Cretan doorway

Cretan shutters

Cretan doorways

In Agios Nicolaos and Elounda every corner and side street revealed new surprises,  from a beautiful mosaic which covered the entire wall of a kids store, to endless inviting spots to sip a coffee (or a chilled glass of rosé)  …so we did.

Many times.

Mosaic in Agioa Nicolaos, CreteCafe in Agios Nicolaos Crete

Restaurant in Elounda in Crete

We ate freshly-caught sardines, octopus (strung on washing lines in the harbours to dry!),  salty, crumbling local cheeses, olives and roasted peppers.  Small plates that slipped down a treat so that all moderation was lost.  No matter.  We visited a local co-operative that produces olive oil for all the local villages; most families own small groves of trees and bring their harvest each year to be processed for oil.  Alex the owner told Harry that the rite of passage for each boy in becoming a man is the moment he plants his own olive tree; he was enchanted. We tasted the oils as you might do wine, learning to distinguish between the buttery, peppery, citrussy and smooth tastes of each.  Harry was the expert in no time, developing an impressive palate.

A sombre, arresting highlight of the week was a visit to Spinalonga, an island made famous a few years ago by this novel, which was home to a leper colony for around fifty years at the start of the last century.  Within days of a leprosy diagnosis, you would be sent to Spinalonga – children and adults alike, usually travelling alone – for the rest of your life.  Spinalonga was haunting and beautiful; the streets seemed to still echo with life and memories.

Spinalonga Island, Crete

New arrivals would enter through a tunnel known as Dante’s gate (below), not knowing what they would find on the other side of this one-way trip into a new world, having left everything behind.

Dante's Gate, Spinalonga Island

We visited at the end of the day and had the island almost to ourselves, bathed in the fading light.

spinalonga1 spinalonga chapel

Days in Crete were exceptionally hot, and surprisingly windy; in July and August the Etesian winds are at their peak, blowing across the island with such a force that it feels like facing into a hairdryer for hours on end. We heard a lovely local saying;  ’the wind sleeps with his wife at night’, retreating and fading at sunset.  In the late afternoons we’d settle in the shade, out of the sun and wind, and Harry and I had a go at painting the sea…

I’d brought a travel set of paints with us and a palette and pack of blank watercolour postcards, thinking we might make use of them.  We mixed up the paints and used a piece of sea sponge to create waves and foam;

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I poured some hotel-room shower gel into a cup and squeezed in some paint, blowing with a straw to create bubbles so we could experiment with foamy effects.  Messy but brilliant fun.  Then for a final touch, we cut out sardine shapes from tissue paper and glued them over the top, for a collage of all-things Crete to send home in the mail…

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Efharisto, Crete!  Thank you for a wonderful week of sunshine and new adventures.  We will be back.

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