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Tales from a vintage kitchen

Tales from a vintage kitchen

Last month, I was browsing in a local antiquarian bookstore and chose a couple of old paperback novels.  When I got home, I flipped one open and this carefully folded letter fell out…

vintage letter with recipes

‘Dear Miss Cole..’ it began, and then carefully detailed several recipes for sweets that the two correspondents had obviously discussed.  It’s a charming, curious letter so redolent of a bygone era when new friends would still address each other as ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ rather than use first names; I’m guessing it must be at least several decades old.

The other thing that struck me is how simple the recipes were.  Where today you might find an elaborate list of ingredients (‘scrape a vanilla pod’ …’add a pinch of sea salt’), the caramel toffee described by the author Nancy Evans contains just butter, golden syrup, sugar; a gloriously simple trio. Nancy goes on to describe ‘American Sweets’ such as nougat, marzipan, cream almond and peppermint creams, warning with admirable self-control that ‘all of these sweets are better if not eaten for 24 hours’.  Nancy strikes me as a woman of discipline who would find the impulsiveness of our household a challenge…

vintage american candy recipes

So of course, I had a go at making the caramels, to see what happened.

The instructions are sparse (rather like the technical challenge in TV’s Bake Off programme, they leave much to the wits and imagination of the cook), offering only that you melt the butter, combine with the other two ingredients, boil and stir.  I duly did this – whilst uncorking a bottle of wine with my other hand and pouring a glass – and then poured the boiling caramel toffee mixture into lined loaf tins to set.  Once cooled, I placed them in the fridge for 30mins, at which point they looked like this (below); a shot that will not win any mouth-watering food styling awards..

making caramels

…and then I sliced the caramel into inch-long pieces with an oiled knife and rolled each one in a small piece of greaseproof paper.

Apart from 3 small pieces which I ate, because it was the only responsible thing to do.  They were…. delicious, if a little bland.  I’d add a pinch of sea-salt, if you try this yourself, and so I duly sprinkled a little on the top of the second batch.

Then I decided to scan and print the letter to make up a couple of gift bags so that friends could glue their teeth together too, at the earliest opportunity;

A paper bag of caramels from a vintage recipe

Tales from a vintage kitchen

In truth though, the caramel toffee-making was secondary; it was finding a very old letter tucked away in an dog-eared novel belonging to the mysterious Miss Cole that was the real magic…

Have a wonderful weekend!

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and p.s. thanks for all the lovely comments on this post, which had me smiling all week  x

 

DIY Driftwood Boats

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I love the sea.  Specifically, I love wild, empty beaches and the magic of a newly-washed shoreline and all the treasures that the tide leaves behind. Whether it’s Christchurch, New England or Monterey, my family has become wearily attuned to coming home with a large, suspiciously-smelling bag full of beach finds.  I keep a big bucket in the art room, labelled ‘Driftwood and the Sea’, and last weekend I finally had a rummage through and began to craft a small fishing fleet…

How to make a driftwood boat

DIY Driftwood fishing boats

And because every fisherman needs a warm and and inviting home to navigate back to as dawn breaks; a couple of cottages too, complete with chimneys and freshly laundered sheets drying on the line…

Fishing cottage made from driftwood

I started by sorting out some of the most interesting looking bits of wood I’ve collected over the months (ok, years..)

Driftwood

…and then rummaged through the art room to gather together all kinds of bits and bobs I might need.  I used…

  • Old nails and screws to make masts, chimney pots and washing line posts.  If you don’t have any old or rusty ones to hand (we have an ancient shed full of them), you can paint them or even rust them yourself with tutorials like this (but really, you could so something much more exciting instead I’m sure)
  • Eyelets, to make windows and portholes
  • Wire, for sails and bunting and washing lines
  • Paint – any paint – and sanding paper, so that when it’s dry you can gently buff it and make it look more weathered and aged
  • Beads, shells, bells and any other things you have lying around
  • Scraps of linen (from a favourite, ancient pair of trousers that finally became too holey and revealing to wear)

Materials for making driftwood boats

Painting the wood is simple; I used a couple of layers of colour, blended unevenly, in complementary sea-like tones…

painting wood for driftwood boats

And as for the rest?  It’s entirely upto your imagination and whatever you have to hand.  After all, each boat should be unique, and none of them need to be remotely sea-worthy.  In case you’re interested in giving this project a go, and have a similar haul of driftwood (or an opportunity to go collecting), here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how I made each of these.

Driftwood Fishing Boat deconstructed

Driftwood Fishing Boat 2

Driftwood Fishing Village 3

p.s. three other nautical projects; paper boats, beachcomber table settings and cork boats… and one of my favourites ever; Harry’s Ark.

Have a wonderful week!

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How to print a fish (and other useful skills you didn’t know you’d been missing)

Have you ever heard of Gyotaku?

Gyotaku fish printing DIY

It’s the ancient Japanese art of printing beautiful pictures from fish, and artists devote years – lifetimes, even – to refining the skill.  I stumbled across this by accident, and came across a myriad of sites which explain how to catch and then carefully cleanse and fillet your fish, before stuffing its every nook and cranny with absorbent tissue  and gently pinning its fins into a delicate, aesthetically pleasing fan shape before beginning your print.

Or. Or. You could do what I did and choose two sardines from the supermarket for the princely sum of 75p, and use those instead.  Yes; with apologies to the Gyotaku community of practice, here is the simpleton’s guide to achieving an acceptably pleasing print within a morning, and then being able to cook and eat your fish for lunch afterwards.  Just rinse it first, would be my insider tip.

gyotaku (Japanese fish printing) materials from Katescreativespace.com

You’ll need;

  • A fish.  Two if you can afford a spare.
  • Rubber gloves.  Because it is a dead fish after all, and remember that you have a fresh manicure that it is not worth sacrificing for this project.
  • A piece of foam board or polystyrene that you can carve out for your fish
  • Pins, if you are keen to arrange your fish.  Skip this bit if your constitution is even remotely delicate.
  • Paint; I used silver, black and grey for my prints
  • A piece of silk or thin cotton, or super-light silk paper like this or this (try art and craft shops; it’s often sold with giftwrap or in small, single sheets).

First, rinse and pat dry your fish.  Oh, put the gloves on first.  Sorry.  Start with those.

Let’s try again.  Put the gloves on and then rinse and pat dry the fish.  Do not look it in the eye; it will only make it harder.

Then, draw around the shape of your fish on your foam board/polystyrene and cut out a shallow hollow for your fish to fit into.  This will stop it rolling around when you paint it and make prints.  Then, place your fish in the hollow you’ve made and daub colour all over your fish.  I used silver paint, and then added grey and black in the areas of the fish that looked the darkest.  I peeled off my gloves and took this single picture to help.  Then it just got too messy to take pictures of anything.  Too many fish scales; too much paint.

Gyotaku fish on board

Once you’ve painted your fish, you need to act quickly before it dries.  Pick up your piece of silk or silk paper and place it over the fish, and then pat it all over, making sure you press the shape of the fish and its fins into the paper.  Peel the paper off and place it aside to dry; you might get a second print, but usually you’ll need to reapply the paint to get a good second print.  Practice makes perfect; my first print looked like this….

Gyotaku fish printing DIY project

Recognisably a fish, but only just.  So next time I added more paint, including a good splash of black over the eyeball, and got a much better set of prints…

Gyozo fish print 3

Once you’ve made a print that you’re happy with, wait for it to dry and use your brush and paints to add any further detail or highlights that you want to.  I then cut out my fish print and glued it to a piece of white card so that the print stood out more clearly..

Gyotaku fish printing simple DIP project

 

Gyotaku printing project - make beautiful prints of fish!

 

Gyotaku printing onto silk paper

Once you’ve made your prints, you could scan them and print them onto different surfaces or make patterns.  Or use the originals for cards, as I did.  It’s a great project to try with kids, because it’s messy, involves dead things and paint (cool combination!), and the results are instant and gratifying. Just allow a bit of time for clearing up….

Have a great week!

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Olympic Fever!

Are you following the Olympics?  It is the highlight of the year as far as my husband is concerned, and so we’ve been glued to the TV and radio, following the inevitable highs and lows and moments of glory and dashed hopes that characterise every single day in Rio.  Lord knows what we’ll do next weekend when it’s all over.  Olympic fever peaked four years ago when London actually hosted the Olympics and we got to experience it all at first hand; to celebrate we held an outdoor Alternative Olympiad party at home, and a new tradition was borne… so this weekend, we did it all again!

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A wide range of friends were invited (grown-up friends; this was one party that was not aimed at kids..) and asked to come ready for a night of fun in Olympic costumes, national colours or simply clothes they could move freely in – and we began to prepare.  Harry was allowed to stay up to light the olympic torch and officially open the evening’s event; he and I wore simple t-shirt and short combos, but used this easy cool-peel transfer paper to add an Olympic image to our outfits….

Olympics kids outfit Olympics t shirt

We scanned eBay for some olympic accessories and found wristbands and medals; each guest was given a different colour band on arrival to create mixed-up teams; a great way of getting everyone mingling and finding the other members of their team.

Olympic party accessories

Dorothy, who lives in the bathroom downstairs, modelled some of the gear very fetchingly.

Dorothy

We strung bunting across the patio and lights in the trees, and set up pergolas in case of rain (this is England; there is always rain..).  We positioned the Olympic cauldron (usually a stainless steel firepit; briefly repurposed) securely on a table ready to be lit in the evening, and posters around the garden signed the different events .  Finally an olympic flag marked the entrance to the games.

olympiad 99

olympic torch party IMG_0223

Olympic party flag

We set out a long table of drinks for both the serious athletes and those more intent on having fun!

Olympic party drinks

drinks olympic drinks

And then the guests began to arrive, looking wonderful in a series of steadily more impressive and outrageous costumes…

Olympics party guest

(including a WADA official, who looked highly corruptible)

WADA official olympic costume

Olympic party guests

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Olympic Guests

The podium we made in 2012 for our first party  has miraculously survived in the garden shed; far from stable, it nonetheless provided a fitting platform for posing.

Events included trampolining, where 2 members from each team were asked to work through a few simple moves remembered from childhood (the tuck jump, the star jump, and the seat drop), before busting out any personal sequences or flamboyant poses to attract additional points from the judges… and lawn volleyball, which roughly – very roughly – followed the rules of beach volleyball, though with the added hazards of the ball getting stuck in low hanging trees, or players attacked by the midges who felt all their Christmasses had come at once to find so many  people available in the same place.

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And then team relay races, including the Aquatic event, which required participants to don a large rubber ring, mask and snorkel and be wheel-barrowed by their partner along the race track to victory.  It was as ridiculous and glorious as the picture below suggests..

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Dinner was a BBQ between events, and then as darkness fell like a blanket we lit a fire pit and toasted marshmallows, and opened more wine.

You’ll notice the distinct absence of photos after 8pm; partly to protect the dignity and innocence of all involved, but mainly because life dictates that sometimes you just need to put the camera down and hurl yourself into the fray; far too much fun to be experienced from behind the lens :-)

An audit of the garden on Sunday (with a rather sore head, I confess) generated an eclectic collection of lost parts of costumes, spectacles, shoes, flags and pom-poms;

a night to remember, and one we might just find the energy for again in 202o!

Have a great week, wherever you are and whatever you’re upto

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Fat-Free Ice-cream Cupcakes! (*Okay, they’re not fat-free at all. Not even slightly).

Ice-cream or cake?  Cake or ice-cream?  Which to choose?  Debate no further; have it all.  Have both!  Well, almost…

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Last week I was inspired by this divine-looking recipe from Waitrose for cupcakes baked in an ice-cream cone and laced with marshmallow-style icing, with a hidden chocolate treat at the bottom – so we gave it a go.  Surprisingly, flat-based wafer cones (we used these ones) don’t burn in the oven, so as long as you wedge them firmly into muffin trays with some tinfoil, they’re pretty foolproof…

How to bake cupcakes in an ice cream cone

Cupcakes baked in ice cream cones

Once the cupcakes are cooled in their trays, gently slice off any tops which have risen above the cone; you want a nice flat surface for your icing.

Make the icing according to the recipe and then carefully spoon it into a large icing bag.  Unlike buttercream icing, it’s firm and pillowy and almost bouncy.  Voila..!

ice6You can test whether you have the right consistency via a number of different means.

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When you’re ready, pipe a swirl of icing onto the centre of each cupcake and then pipe around it, twisting off to give a soft-scoop flourish to the peak of each cake.

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For a true British seaside traditional effect we added a chocolate flake to half of ours…

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Marshmallow-frosted cupcakes with chocolate flake

And then scattered colourful sprinkles liberally over the rest..

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Once they’re set, the only dilemma is which one to try first..

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But be quick.

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For those in the US, the ever-ready Martha Stewart has a similar recipe here that won’t require you to juggle conversion tables for the ingredients.

Enjoy! And excuse us whilst we have a little lie down to recover from all the taste-testing…

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The Making of the Moon

Space fever has gripped our household and refuses to let go.  Ever since British astronaut Tim Peake went into space recently and begun sending back reports of the challenges of zero gravity, the peculiarities of space food and the challenges of showering, fascination with the planetary system has been all-consuming.

So we made our own moon…

papier mache moon

The beauty of this one is that it doesn’t take  years of preparation and three days of space travel to get there.  In fact, a mid-sized ladder would do it.

moon8

We started with a round balloon (ours was about 24 inches, from eBay, Amazon or party shops), and placed it on a waste-basket before covering it liberally with plaster of paris bandages.  We cut them into strips of about 6 inches and kept on going until the balloon was covered.  I wore rubber gloves.  Harry didn’t.  We still have a trail of small white handprints on every surface.

moon-2

Then to make craters for the moon’s surface, I cut the bottoms off a few paper cups and we glued them in place, before covering with more small strips of plaster of paris…

moon0

moon1

Moon2

Moon3

We waited until it was completely dry.  The advantage of plaster of paris is that this took about 4hrs instead of a week.  And we only needed two layers.  For the terminally impatient and easily distractible (us, I confess), it’s perfect.  Then we took turns in daubing it with grey, black white paint, before adding a finally coat of shimmery ivory pearlescent paint to catch the light when hung from a bedroom ceiling..  moon4

And now we’re just bickering about whose bedroom it gets to hang in.

moon5A few tips if you’re keen to have a go…

  • At risk of stating the obvious, make sure you’ve got a round balloon to start with; most multipack balloons are oval, so look carefully.
  • The plaster of paris is great fun but takes a bit of getting used to (we got ours from Hobbycraft in the UK, in a pack of 10 rolls for £8).  We dipped our strips in a shallow tray of water and draped them quickly to avoid them getting tangled up.  You can smooth out the creases in situ.  And the moon is a very bumpy place, don’t forget.
  • To hang the moon, use a bradawl to make a tiny hole in the top and then push or screw in a small cup hook; use a dab of strong glue around it afterwards to ensure it stays in place, and wait till dry before hanging.
  • Invite all your friends over to gaze in awe and explain how it only took you about an hour and was effortless and not at all messy.  Keep them away from the scene of devastation that your crafting has caused.

Good luck!

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p.s. it’s good to be back…

A Pause.

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For those who check in regularly; I’ll be taking a pause from the blog until later in July, as life and work continue at a hectic pace.

There are bicycles to be ridden, beaches to explore, deadlines to meet, and a million small moments to observe as Harry grows steadily upwards at an ever-increasing rate of knots.  Time to lean in to the moment and enjoy it. The crafting continues of course, as does a new phase of house renovation – I’ll be back with all of this and more before the end of the month.

Wishing you a wonderful beginning to the summer, and a great long weekend for those celebrating 4th July!

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Crafty projects using holiday photos

DIY Holiday Card Making

Recently, we had a beautiful long weekend in Christchurch, on the Dorset coast. It was a miraculously hot weekend in an otherwise gloomy spell of weather, so we had 3 glorious days of crabbing, rockpool exploring, sand-castle building and a myriad of other retro beach pursuits.  Here’s a few photos, if you’d like to see;

Christchurch harbour

Make a wishMake a wish and blow

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mermaids

(it took about five showers to wash out all the sand after that one, by the way…)

Kite fliying on the beach

And then when we returned home, I got creative with the photographs…

DIY Photo Notepaper

I’d taken a lot of pics with sea and sky, so decided to make this photo into notepaper for Harry; I cropped it slightly (and superimposed a different kite that was a bit more recognisable!), and then simply printed out several copies onto matt white letter paper.  Harry wrote to his godmother to tell her about our weekend…

Photo letter paper

I also printed some fun envelopes with a photograph I took of the texture of a beach hut wall, with an address bar of weathered wood.  There’s a downloadable PDF of both of these images below if you want to print your own;

DIY Writing Paper from family photos

Beach Notepaper

Weathered Wood Envelope

You could also add text to make a poster…

 

The cure for anything

But my favourite project was this;

DIY Beach Hut Cards

I used one of my photos of the old beach huts at Mudeford, and then used the ‘remove background’ tool in Powerpoint to isolate the hut itself.  I printed it onto thin white card (step 1), then cut out the beach hut.  I printed photos of Harry to fit the size of the drop-front of the hut (step 3), and cut around them.  Then..

  • Using a craft knife, cut around the sides and top of the white hatch section, and folded it down to create a flap
  • Pasted a photo behind the flap
  • Mounted the beach hut onto a pre-folded piece of white card, and trimmed the top to fit the shape of the beach hut roof…

Beach hut card DIY

…to create this fun card!

Beach hut photo card

holiday cards from photos

We folded Harry’s letter into the card, tucked it into our homemade envelope, and posted it off.

Here’s a free graphic of the beach hut which you can download to make your own if you like (instead of a photo, you could turn it into an invitation to a party or event, with the details hidden behind the fold-down flap..).

Old Beach Hut image

Have a wonderful weekend when it comes!

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DIY… Edible Greeting Cards!

Edible cookie cards from katescreativespace

I was browsing in White Stuff this weekend, wondering idly whether I am too old to wear short shorts and Really Ought To Know Better (advice please), and instead my eye caught the much safer option of this gorgeous cookie cutter (below); because who can’t resist a sausage dog?

sausage dog cutter

 

I made a batch of cookies today using gingerbread dough, and accessorised with cut-out chocolate fondant ears, candy eyes (from here and good cake decorating shops / craft stores) and pearl necklaces made from tiny ivory balls…

A tray of sausage dog cookies

They look very cute, and are quite flat and light so I then decided to turn a couple into edible greeting cards, and used blobs of thick fondant icing to attach a cookie to folded card blanks.  I had some candy bones leftover from Halloween, so stuck one of those on too…

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I have a supply of flat cards that you can run through the printer, so I added text to a couple (you can just hand-write on the front, of course instead).

Sausage dog card

These would work with any shape of cookie, and are great for something fun and a little bit different.  A few tips and words of caution from this amateur…

  • Inevitably, these are best hand-delivered to your recipient rather than entrusted to the vagaries of the postal service.  Just saying.
  • Use reasonably thick cards to stick your cookies to, so that they don’t buckle with the weight.  The bigger the cookie, the thicker the card…
  • And you might need to use a slightly bigger envelope if your cookie is thick; these dogs slipped in fine, but only just.
  • It sounds obvious, but…. make sure the cookie is completely cool and dry before you stick it to the card, and then wait long enough for the fondant to dry so that the cookie doesn’t slip.  It’s very very very tempting to rush ahead to see the finished result.
  • Gingerbread and sugar cookie dough will be fine for a couple of days, but don’t make these too far in advance or they’ll get very soft and chewy.
  • When slipping your card into an envelope, place a piece of kitchen roll over the front of the cookie first, so that no grease stains come through.
  • Happy baking!

p.s. If there are any cookies leftover when you’ve made your cards, you are entitled to eat all of them.  Cook’s privilege.

Hope you’ve had a wonderful long weekend!

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DIY Projects: The Book Vase

DIY Vintage Book Vase

Our village has an extraordinary supply of second-hand bookshops, including one that gives away books for free that have been rescued from landfill.  Every weekend we have a browse, and usually come back with new treasures.  As a result, my shelves are creaking and my supply grows faster than I can read or repurpose them. I used a vintage graphic atlas bought last year to make this gift for a friend’s new baby..

Matilda's Map Dress

I also use illustrations from childrens books to make colourful envelope liners, and make secret boxes from the covers of interesting-looking books, by removing the text block (tutorial here).

Kates secret book box

This time I used an old book full of tips for gardeners to make a simple vase for fresh flowers (I love the title; these days it would be the ‘Dummies Guide’ or similar; not quite the same..).  Here’s what you need;

Making a book vase

  • And old hardback book with a sturdy, undamaged spine
  • A cardboard box that fits inside the book, and is the same depth as the spine
  • A water bottle, with the top sawn off
  • Glue, craft knife, ruler and pencil.  Coffee, chocolate, good music all optional but recommended.

Firstly carefully remove the book text from the spine by slicing down either side of the pages that hold the book pasted to the cover. Remove the book and set aside, leaving your hardback cover which should lie flat.  Place the box (without lid) inside it to check for fit.

Carefully slice out one side of the box, leaving an inch around the edges for stability and to help it maintain its shape.  Press the long side edge of the box against the spine and then glue the box into the book cover, as shown below.  It’s best to leave several hours for the glue to set; lie it flat and place something heavy on top of it to encourage the adhesion.

making a book vase step 1

Once the glue is dry and secure, slide your water bottle into the open ‘book box’ so that it is resting on the bottom.  Use a jug to carefully fill it with water…

Making a book vase step 2

And then just add your flowers!

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Add twigs for artistic effect.  Regret never having had any training in the art of floral arrangement.  Decide life is too short.

Book Vase

And then when your flowers are past their best glory, simply remove them and the bottle, and either clean out the bottle or replace it. Job done!

DIY Book Vasr

Have a wonderful weekend, when it comes!

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Simple Pleasures: A Boy and a Box

DIY Play Castle

Harry and I have a new weekend tradition.  Each Saturday we have breakfast and then head for our local garden centre, where I browse the plants and choose a bunch of flowers for my studio desk.  Then after we’re through the checkout, we head for the huge supply of discarded cardboard boxes that the centre offers free to customers.  Harry studies them carefully; sometimes there are rich pickings; boxes big enough to climb into, with lids!  Other times the choice is scarce and more imagination is called for.  He gets to choose two boxes each Saturday.

We stop at Starbucks for coffee and then return home for some serious construction work…

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Harry does all of the architecture and design work, with me as his able assistant for the occasional bits that require the wielding of a sharp craft knife or the tearing of tape.  This week he built a castle, with a drawbridge-like wooden door….

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But then a castle without a dungeon is really no castle at all, so we built an extension with a prison grille to keep baddies at bay…

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And then – of course – a flagpole and even shutters for the dungeon, so that it could be hidden away. And another storey, for legitimate overnight guests to the castle..

Castle

Castle and dungeon

I love the simple pleasure of Harry’s box-building, and I hope it goes on for a very long time indeed.

Long-time followers of this blog will know that when harry was tiny, some of his first toys were made from cardboard boxes, like this rocket

cardboard-rocket-from-www

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And pirate ship…

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…And it’s an absolute joy to see him now so captivated by the potential of a simple cardboard box himself.

It makes the lightening-fast process of growing up seem to slow down just the tiniest bit, allowing me to revel in every moment.

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

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