families

Psycholinguistic evolution. Or: why pre-schoolers are wonderful.

memory jar

image via here

We were driving around in circles the other day, Harry and I; lost on the way to the house of a new friend from school.  ’Oh Mummy’ sighed Harry, ‘We should have asked the CatNap how to get there’.

Such linguistic slip-ups are one of the great delights of  these wonder years as Harry masters the art of language, and each time I struggle with the urge to leave them uncorrected in the hope that they  somehow get preserved forever in all of their magic.  Many are logical and smile-inducing; a plate of buzz-ghetti is a favourite food (apparently this switching of sounds is very common, along with the usual mixing up of plurals and tenses).  Others are more mysterious in origin; add parmesan to your spaghetti and you now have a plate of ‘Pasta with Damage’ – another keen favourite, though none of us can understand where the damage bit comes from.

The first voyages into empathy are also touching and occasionally comedic; when one of his classmates was tearful at the prospect of school last week, Harry leaned over to her and stage-whispered ‘It’s ok; they won’t make you have hair-washes here’ – hair washing, for him, being the most scary and distasteful thing he could imagine and therefore the obvious cause of her anxiety.

It’s hard not to laugh when these things pop out, but fortunately Harry is remarkably affable and good-humoured about causing mild hilarity. ‘I’m a funny guy’, he beams, chuckling, before testing out the correction and making a mental note for next time.  And I usually do correct, because the social perils of ignoring minor speech errors loom large in my mind; I still remember vividly the heated prickle of embarrassment of breakfast after a friend’s sleepover in my teenage years when I asked for a bowl of muesli – pronounced ‘mursley’ in our household, where such things had only been read on the packet and never heard spoken aloud.  The stunned silence around the table, and the sniggering of her younger brother before someone ventured ‘do you mean moo-sley, dear?’ almost ruined my 14th year (I was a very melodramatic teenager).  I blame my parents.  Still.

Ages ago my mum urged me to scribble some of Harry’s sayings down before they got lost in the hurly-burly of time passing and the white noise of growing up.  I harboured vague intentions for way too long, never quite settling on the right way of doing it – the right notebook to scribble them into; the right way of recording them – and thus losing countless gems in the process.  Then a couple of weeks ago I  read Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she recounts how her late husband used to keep a jar on his desk filled with bits of paper capturing the sayings of their young daughter, which he then occasionally recycled into the mouths of characters in his books.

So simple, yet so obvious.  Write them down, stick them in a jar.  Fill up the jar.

Pause at odd sentimental moments and go find the jar; sift through, smiling and remembering.  Allow yourself to become a bit misty-eyed.  Sign a poignant sigh and then get a grip.

That’s my plan anyway.  And my jar is in fact an old teapot, which sits majestically on a shelf above the kitchen sink, and is now rustling with very important scraps of paper.

I added the most recent one this morning, after we stepped through the door into a classically autumnal world of swirling mist and fog.  ’Look, Mummy!’ exclaimed Harry; ‘there’s Sky Dust everywhere!’.

A perfect world of buzzghetti, CatNaps and sky dust; long may it remain so…

Buzzghetti

 

Weekending: Home Harvest

Planted Wellies

Are you having a lovely weekend?  I hope so.  It’s been 48hrs of sunshine and woodsmoke here; the epitome of seasons on the turn and the kind of weather that has you itching to be outside, sleeves rolled up, doing nature-y things.  We planted up an out-grown pair of wellies with vibrant autumnal chrysanthemums, and they now stand proudly outside the door to The Little House.  I lined them with plastic beforehand so that they can be worn again by the feet of smaller cousins in due course, but for now they will be perky sentries at the playhouse door until first frosts arrive.

We bought a new gadget and immediately tore off the packaging and set to work; a telescopic apple picker which makes light work of plucking the biggest and juiciest apples from the top of our ancient apple tree.  A family production-line ensued, with Harry-the-fearless given the task of checking for bug holes and nasties, whilst I cagily packed the safe ones into plastic plant-pot trays salvaged from our local garden centre.  Wrapped in newspaper beds and stored deep in the cellar, I’m dreaming of endless apple crumbles and pies through the winter.

The Apple Harvest

Walking to our local coffee shop for sustenance, we stumbled across this beautiful tree; the only one on a footpath of green which was beginning to turn.  It turned our thoughts to New England and our eagerly-awaited trip (not long now..).  After admiring it, we stuffed our pockets with fallen leaves, and inspired by this picture, had a go at making leaf table confetti with craft punches from my art cupboard.  (The leaves still look lovely at home, but it’s funny how nothing quite compares to seeing them outdoors – I can’t wait for Vermont).

Fall Leaf Table Confetti

Our hedges are full of rosehips, and I filled a trug with them, mostly just so that we could put them in a bowl and admire them.  My brother mentioned that you can cook with them (“I think they taste like cranberries”), so I searched briefly online for recipes, most of which cautioned gravely about the need to remove all seeds from them to avoid ‘significant gastric disturbance’ and ‘problems of the bowel’.  Hmmm.  As a fairly slap-dash cook this was warning enough, so instead I trimmed them and tumbled them into a vase for a welcome splash of colour.

Hedgerow Foraging

Rosehips

If you thought rosehips in vases were a little surreal, then may I introduce you to my tomato hat;

Tomato Hat

Around this time every year my friend Lou holds an Annual Tomato Festival, which is essentially an excuse for an evening of alcohol-fuelled, competitive merry-making under the guise of a genteel event.  Categories this year included Most Oddly Shaped Tomato, Best Wine to Drink with Tomatoes, and The Crafty Tomato, as well as the more conventional Best Tomato Dish.  Last year’s category of Most Adventurous Tomato was won by a cherry tomato which found itself tied to a sky lantern and set on fire, and was last seen floating over the Thames.  On safety grounds, the category was rested for 2013.

My hat was made with ping-pong balls, red spray paint and the tops of real tomatoes, and that is probably detail enough; I don’t think it could be classed as a mainstream crafting project, after all.  I won a Highly Commended certificate, and as a consolation prize was invited to judge the food, which of course meant tasting every dish.  Delicious, but not without consequence; 24 tomato-based dishes represent a culinary marathon rather than a sprint.  I write this evening cresting on a wave of mild acidic discontent, with  - whisper it – a distinct hangover.

Tomato festival

Good times…

Have a great week!

Kate

 

 

 

Detecting The Flamboyance Gene

Harry discovered the art of disguise at an early age.  It was clear even at two that a man can never have too many pirate eye-patches, cloaks, swords, racing driver goggles or superhero capes; you never know when they might be called upon in the ups and downs of everyday adventure.

I look at my husband and the genetic sequencing becomes clear.  Here is a man who has variously dressed-up as Madonna – complete with conical bra – a hippy, a zombie and Father Christmas, and has his own trunk filled with accessories and war-torn party outfits.  (nb I will set aside the question of the Madonna outfit for now, and dwell on it in private later).

It became clear last week that storing all of Harry’s dressing-up clothes in a chest wasn’t working; everything gets flung on the floor in the frantic search for THE crucial piece of kit (usually pirate-related). I looked online for a fun clothing rail but it seems that only girls are allowed to have these, if the number of heart-bedecked, pink shimmery rails are anything to go by.  So we made our own…

DIY Witches Broom Dress Up Rail

I recycled an old clothing rail from the loft and replaced the top rail with a long-handled, bushy natural broom from the local garden centre (a bargain at £5).  Although the broom was in their display of general tools, it struck me as deliciously Witchy, and Harry agreed.  We are obsessed with the lovely Room on the Broom book at the moment, so this felt like a brush with fate (unforgiveable pun, sorry..).

Bracing the side rails is important, so if you make one of these be sure to lash your broom securely at each end, to avoid them leaning inwards.  I wound string around tightly for, ooh, about 5 minutes at each until it felt like they weren’t going to move AT ALL.  And that’s it; the quickest DIY ever.  I also recycled a bathroom waste-bin for sword storage, and slotted Harry’s superhero cuffs onto the rails for easy access – hallelujah; a walk-up wardrobe of delights is born.

Dress Up Rail Montage

I added another outfit to the rail last week when Harry came home from school with a request that he come dressed as a cowboy to the back-to-school BBQ.  In my general ineptitude, I discovered this note about 24hrs beforehand, so we constructed an outfit mostly out of things we already had, spending a grand total of £5.  Breakdown below…

homemade cowboy outfit

The shirt and jeans are Harry’s own; I roughly hand-stitched  lengths of animal print fabric onto the legs, loosely enough to flap a little but stay in place.

cowboy chaps

The waistcoat first featured in this post, soon after I bought it in a charity shop – a surprisingly rich hunting ground for mini-waistcoats and jackets for dressing-up outfits, presumably because they are purchased for one-off weddings or events and then rapidly grown-out of.

Our bandana was fashioned from a tablecloth stolen from Harry’s play tea-set, knotted loosely around the neck.  The cowboy hat was our only investment, bought as part of a set (together with the toy guns in holsters) from the 99p shop – honestly, so much tat for under a pound; it’s more addictive than Class A drugs…

Cowboy Hat

I glued a polkadot ribbon around it (in suitably manly colours), and designed & printed a paper sheriff’s badge to stick over the top.  I then stitched the plastic gun holsters to the belt loops of the jeans, and used a length of washing line for a lassoo.  Job done..Dancing cowboy

That’s Harry doing the Cowboy Dance by the way; a spontaneous jig which he feels compelled to launch into when fully-clad in his outfit, usually in front of a mirror and with much self-admiration.  Just like his father again…

Not an outfit with impressive durability by any means, but a very easy flung-together costume for when life demands something a little more flamboyant than the everyday.

*****

 

Superhero Cuffs

By day, I am a mum, wife and career girl.  I leave at 7.30 each morning, waving goodbye to my family as I speed off in my ordinary car to my ordinary office building.  Beyond a certain bounce to my step, there is little to giveaway the fact that my alter-ego is – wait for it – ELASTIGIRL (da-da-daaaaa!).  This alter-ego was news to me too, but Harry has lately become obsessed with The Incredibles (or ‘In The Credibles!’ as he is inclined to call it), and my new identity has been resolutely confirmed.  In fact, there are times when he won’t call me anything else, which can be head-turning when we’re out in public.  Harry is Dash, and I am Elastigirl, and together we will save the world.  For those who are not familiar with The Incredibles, Elastigirl is a suburban superhero/mom with hips you could rest a bar-tray on and a questionable haircut, and she is very, very bendy.  My husband finds this comparison hilarious.

elastigirl-incredibles

I’ve realised that as a family we are somewhat lacking in superhero accessories.  Sure, we have plenty of spandex, and after three years of parenthood we all have a good repertoire of rocket noises and the kind of finely-honed reflexes that would rise to anything Marvel comics could throw at us… but what we really, really need are some superhero cuffs we can slip on to change our identities in a heartbeat.  So I made some:

Superhero Cuffs DIY

Toilet-roll Superhero Cuffs


These are the quintessential ’5 minute makes’, involving nothing more complex than cardboard toilet rolls, glue and paper.  I’ve added a downloadable PDF of my graphics below if you want to simply print these and use as a wrapper… or design your own and have a paint & glitter-fest at the kitchen table.

Because we’re very taken with gadgets and buttons, our cuffs have rocket booster features and a special button on the Batman cuff which alerts Robin to arrive at lightening speed in the Batmobile.   When I am wearing the Batcuff, it has been reprogrammed to summons a cup of tea, but I’m afraid neither of the men in my life is reliably responding.  *Sigh* …you just can’t get the side-kicks these days.

Superhero Cuff with Tea Button

Even the usually sensible Mr B has been seduced by our new superhero wardrobe…

superman cuffs with suit

To make your own cuffs you’ll need:

  • Toilet rolls or kitchen-paper rolls (these are usually a bit bigger; great for older kids – or grown-ups…
  • glue
  • paper printables (PDF at end of post) or paints, glitter and embellishments to decorate yourself
  • odd buttons to glue on for additional gadgets / accessories

Making the Superhero Cuffs:

  • Cut once along the length of the toilet roll to create a cuff shape and a flexible opening.  If you’re making a pair of cuffs like the Superman ones above, cut the toilet roll into two equal halves.
  • Print out the PDF wrappers and glue around the cardboard rolls, folding the ends over and glueing in place.  You might need to resize slightly depending on the size of your rolls.  The cuffs should look like this:

superhero cardboard cuffs DIY

  • You can activate your super-powers immediately, or you can glue on buttons and embellishments for additional gadgetry like we did below:

buttons for superhero cuffs

Behold; our work here is done.  One last word of caution; use your new super-powers wisely.  With great power comes great responsibility…

Have a great weekend!

Incredibles DIY cuff

Red and Grey Superhero Cuff Printables

Superman Cuff Printables

How do you spell….

One rainy day in early Summer, I spent an evening decorating plain wooden clothes pegs, intending to use them for a multitude of crafts, and wrote about it here.  With a box of brightly coloured, perky pegs leftover, I was looking for ideas for how to use them and stumbled across this brilliant idea for creating a spelling game.  As Harry is starting to recognise numbers, letters and enticing words (usually those relating to food or toys…), it seemed the perfect time to make him his own set of letters and words ready to practice his budding skills.

I decorated wooden pegs with scraps of gift wrap and washi tape, using double-sided tape to secure the gift wrap in place.  I had a box of these wooden letters tucked away in my craft cupboard, but you could write the letters directly onto the pegs, or use rub on transfers instead.  All you need to end up with is a set of pegs with different letters on.  You can make an alphabet, but I found it was easier to start with the words themselves and work back to see what letters I’d need and how many of them – ‘m’s and ‘d’s come up a lot, whereas some other letters are hardly used at all.

I designed and printed out a couple of sheets with words I knew would be instantly recognisable to Harry and fun to spell.  Because my wooden letters are all in capitals and I want Harry to recognise lower case too, I wrote the words out underneath so he can see how letters change in different settings.

I cut these up and laminated them by slipping several in a laminating sheet with space around them to cut between the words

Put them together with the pegs and hey-presto, you have a spelling game!  I found a storage box to keep these in, and my intention is to keep adding longer and more interesting words as Harry’s skills improve.  This is a great game to make because it can be as simple as using a pen to write letters on pegs, through to this more elaborate and decorative set – a lovely thing to make for a grandchild, perhaps, or for an older sibling to help you make for a younger one – not least because everyone can use a spelling refresher once in a while!

First Harvest

I wrote here about the moment in April when Harry and I caught Spring Fever and had an exuberant flurry of planting fruit and vegetables, before collapsing exhausted on the lawn with a stiff drink (of milk, naturally).  We are complete amateurs, seduced by the adverts in the garden centre which promise abundant produce from phoenix-like plants which thrive on neglect and rise from the dead every time.  Harry’s selection process involved choosing the brightest coloured packets which were reachable at knee-height, and that seemed as good a plan as any to me. It’s fair to say we put our feisty seedlings and their hardiness to the test, as did the British weather – the amount of floods and hailstorms we’ve had in recent weeks would suggest to the Biblically-minded that eternal damnation is quite possibly just around the corner.

Still, today we harvested our first crops and have held a small judging ceremony to score our efforts.  We have been generally tough on ourselves but start with the stand-out winners, our beautiful, abundant sugar snap peas.  Or perhaps I should just say peas; they grew way beyond sugar-snapping size and are now cheery fat pods bursting with perky peas. We’re very proud.

Our second crop was courgettes.  Everyone warned me that courgettes grow in the blink of an eye and that gardeners the world over will roll their eyes and tell you of the glut they always experience, and their weariness of having to cook courgette 50 different ways to try to run down their stocks.  It is thus with some embarassment that I confess we have managed to grow just one courgette.  One, Uno, Solo.  And that one is approximately the length of Harry’s finger, and only slightly wider.  It is perfectly formed, but insufficient for a meal, unless perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow was coming for dinner. We give ourselves 6 out of 10.

Chantenay carrots were my secret favourite crop; I pictured rustling up a bowl of them for Sunday lunch en famille, where they would glint under a knob of melting butter and look radiant and perfectly formed, yet just earthy and organic enough for it to be clear they were not from a supermarket.  Well, of all these goals we seem to have achieved only the latter; there aint no doubt that our carrots are not shop-bought….

Still, who needs to eat carrots when you can give them false eyes and name them individually? (this one above is The Lobster, by the way…).  We may not be close to winning any beauty prizes for our efforts, but we’re having a lot of fun growing them…