family

The Great Blackberry Caper

Homemade Blackberry Jam (and other recipes)

We’ve been mercifully distracted from preparations for the start of school, and have spent all our free time over the last few days foraging in hedgerows.  The unusual combination (for England, anyway) of endless sunshine interrupted by intense downpours of rain has ensured that nature is putting on a glorious show as the seasons turn; blackberries are everywhere you look; acorns are likely to fall from the sky and render a nasty ding to your forehead should you be foolish enough to stand still, and the air is perfumed with cider as a million windfall apples quietly ferment in the grass. (Do I sound a little tipsy and effusive?  Blame it on the apples..).

blackberry picking

Harry has proven to be a stoic and unflappable blackberry-picker; whilst I bumble along, shrieking and tossing my pail in the air with fright every time a bug walks over my hand, Harry tuts gently and gathers our fallen harvest before starting over again.  We returned home a little sweaty and scratched up, but with enough blackberries to fill several baskets and make for a weekend of berry-tastic cooking.  We started with our favourite… JAM!!

blackberry jam recipe from katescreativespace


I’ve found through trial and error that presentation is everything when it comes to homemade jam, and minimises the chance of recipients gingerly clutching their gift whilst stealthily examining the jar for mould, unconventional ingredients or smeary fingerprints. I made berry coloured labels for ours and then cut disks to cover the lids from a print-out of the photo above (at least there’s no doubt about the contents..).  Sparkly thread covered the rubber band and completed the look.

decorating jam pots

with approximately a bathtub’s worth of berries leftover we decided to invent a new recipe; blackberry crumble bars, which combine sponge cake, blackberries, jam and crumble, and thus contain all the main food groups.  All the ones we’re interested in anyway..

blackberry crumble bars

blackberry bars recipe

Exhausted – and deliciously full – we decided to abandon all further attempts in the kitchen and instead to package up our leftover berries and take round to friends and neighbours.  I found these pretty trays on sale and added labels with recipe suggestions, and then Harry practised his balance and co-ordination skills with moderate success…

blackberry gifts

And now, in a further fit of procrastination as I avoid all school-related thoughts; what to do with our first apple harvest?  We taste-tested these, and once we’d managed to un-shrivel our taste-buds, roll back our eyes and breathe without gasping, decided that they are probably a little too tart to be eating apples.  If you have any to-die-for recipes for cooking apples I’d love to know; at the moment I’m just enjoying their beauty and scent as they adorn our kitchen table (but I know I need to act soon….).

apples on kitchen table apple harvest

Have a great weekend, when it arrives!

Kate

How to Stay Cool in a Heatwave

homemade fruit juice ice lollies

We’ve had an unprecedented, glorious 3 weeks of unbroken sunshine here, with soaring temperatures and cloudless skies.  It seems to have sent Britain into a state of national shock, with people shedding clothes at an alarming rate and lying, spread-eagled, on every available patch of grass and scrub to soak up the precious rays.  Relatedly, hospitals report new levels of burns admissions and ‘injuries caused by misuse of poolside inflatables’ (there’s a Bill Bryson-esque post in itself there, I can’t help feeling).

Here, we’ve been rather more careful, and instead have been experimenting with ice-cream and lolly making.  In fact, we’ve frozen pretty much everything we can find in the cupboards these last few days, working out what tastes good and what was better left un-meddled with.  The kitchen has become a sea of brightly-coloured dribbles and splashes, and Harry has been diligently working his way through a variety of lollies, giving each one the lick-test for success or failure.  Here are our biggest successes;

Homemade Fruit Ice Lollies

Homemade Ice lollies

We made these by simply pouring our favourite natural fruit juices into ice-lolly moulds and freezing; simple as that.  No e-numbers, no scary preservatives, and a super-quick ice-lolly that you can even justify eating for breakfast (well, it replaces a glass of juice, right?).  You can, as we did, add a drop of food colouring gel to make them more beautiful – most natural juices are pale amber in colour, so feel free to jazz them up with a dash of the brights.

fruit juice lollies

You can find plastic ice-lolly / popsicle moulds like these in many stores, but if like me you prefer to use wooden sticks instead of the plastic handles and can’t find a mould which fits wooden lolly sticks, you can customise the plastic ones very easily (and it’s a great way of making large numbers in batches for a party).  Two foolproof ways; either cover the top of the filled mould with tin foil and pierce the wooden stick through, or (for the very precise-minded); place a piece of tape across the opening, and another at right angles so that you have a taped cross, and make a small incision at the centre before threading the stick through and down into the juice. If you don’t have special lolly moulds, you can make fill & freeze paper cups or even muffin cases using the foil & stick method – silicon works particularly well.

Our other favourite recipe was frozen yoghurt*…

organic frozen yoghurt pops

I made these in exactly the same way, by simply pouring into moulds, adding sticks and freezing.  As you’d expect, frozen yoghurt pops are much creamier and smoother than juice-based lollies, but seem wonderful immune from drips  - ours were mess-free, albeit they were consumed very quickly..

raspberry frozen yoghurt pops

*Yoghurt or yogurt?  Anything goes apparently, as far as the spelling is concerned; the only thing which is universally agreed is that it tastes divine..

yoghurt lolly

If you’re making batches of these, take the moulds out of the freezer when frozen solid (2-3hrs, we found), and after a couple of minutes ease the lollies out of the moulds.  Wrap each one in freezer paper to avoid them sticking together and place back in the freezer; then simply refill your moulds and start over again.

Are you an ice-cream or ice-pop connoisseur?  Any recipes we should be trying just as soon as we work our way through our current stockpile?

Have a great week.

Kate

How to make the news headlines without leaving the couch

I’ve just discovered a wonderful time-waster which I had to share; a write-your-own-news headline generator, where you can type in whatever news story you like and then download for free. You get a jpeg of your newspaper which you can email to a friend, or print out and turn into a card, as I did the story below which I wrote for my brother Tom as he picked up the keys to his first ever apartment;

newspaper-2

Thoroughly distracted by now with the fun opportunities the headline-generator offers, I’ve been busy documenting everything over the last couple of days, tacking bulletins to the fridge and, like a true newshound, letting nothing go unreported.  Including, of course, the Fathers’ Day scooter race between Harry (3) and Daddy (considerably more than 3);

newspaper-3

Do give it a go – but not when you have anything sensible you’re required to be concentrating on instead – just click on this link and fritter away hours practicing your cub reporter skills!

Before I sign off (and I’ll be back later in the week with a super-quick decor DIY), thank you to all those who reached out to check that I survived my wilderness experience; more details below …

More

The Absent Mother

Are you the main photographer in your family?  it gradually dawned on me this year that whilst we have armfuls of lovely pictures capturing the last few years, I am missing from the vast majority of them, hidden behind the lens.  In truth, it is entirely my own fault; I love taking photos, and I am far less comfortable at the front end of the lens.  When caught on camera, I tend to look like I am struggling with trapped wind, as I simultaneously try to remember my (alleged) best side, toss hair out of my eyes and give helpful instructions to the person unlucky enough to be trying to work my camera, all without breaking from my frozen smile.  Hopeless.

Last month I decided to sort this out, temporarily at least, and found a friendly photographer who would come along on a day that Harry & I had together, and just snap away in the background.  Sophie was brilliant, charged very little for a couple of hours of shooting, and then sent me all of the shots a couple of days later.  No costly post-production, no framing, no retouching – just a myriad of gorgeous, spontaneous shots capturing a typical Harry/Mummy play-day at the age of 3.

Like pirate sword-fights in the kitchen, followed by a teddy-bear picnic on the lawn..

teddy bear picnic

A short camping holiday;

camping

Stories…

stories

Three-way cuddles with Wilberforce the polar bear…

garden cuddle with bear

And plenty of snacks, shared of course..

snacks

It was a small extravagance, for sure, but worth it without a doubt for an eternally captured ‘day in the life’; particularly one where the sun was shining throughout.

The sun has since vanished, and we have been assailed by relentless rain and wind.  I would usually be unfazed by this (we are in England; such things are usual…), were it not for the fact that tomorrow I am to be abandoned in the heart of a forest for a so-called Wilderness Day, where I will be expected to rely on my survival instincts and a few hurriedly-learnt bushcraft skills until I am allowed back home sometime at the end of the day.  OH GOD.

I cheerily suggested the course a couple of months ago to a girlfriend who has a similar taste for bizarre and life-enriching experiences.  We’d been discussing doing something completely unlike our day-to-day lives (office workers and mothers), and over a glass of wine this seemed just the ticket.  What fun!,we thought, from the comfort of the couch.

Looking at the small print today, I have discovered a kit list as long as my arm, mostly – and worryingly – involving anti-chafing lotions and medical kits, waterproof trousers and flick-knives.  Needless to say, I have none of these.  The organiser, an ex-military guy called Wilderness Bob, sent me a cheery email explaining that the day will culminate in a ‘surprise survival experience’ to test how much attention we have been paying.  Indeed, it may be a surprise if I survive.

And now I must go; we have been informed we will be foraging for and cooking our own lunch – something to do with edible woodland weeds and the grinding of flints – so I must spend the evening sewing illicit chocolate bars & rashers of bacon into the lining of my jacket.

Wish me luck…

In Praise of Fathers, new and old…

fathers day hat

When your husband also becomes the father of your child, there’s no question that the relationship changes immeasurably.  You go through things together that you could never imagine as a footloose, fancy-free couple (childbirth, for one…); through a whole roller-coaster of adrenalin, hormones, thrills, spills and life-shortening panics… and most fundamental of all, joy.

Now, on this fourth occasion of Fathers’ Day, we are celebrating the general awesomeness of Daddy in a variety of ways, big and small.  We have a special honorary party hat ready for A to wear at breakfast time on Sunday (above), which I designed on my PC and then taped into a cone before decorating with braid … and then to complete the ensemble, some home-made LEGO cufflinks – a very satisfying quick craft;

LEGO cufflinks for fathers day

I ordered some blank cufflink backs on Ebay and asked Harry to select some Lego squares from his toy box. Harry is obsessional about Lego so it also commemorates this year’s passion and a favourite Harry/Daddy past-time.  Attaching the Lego bricks with Superglue makes for a very strong bond, and we were delighted with the end result.  Some men may hesitate at the thought of making such a flamboyant style statement, but we know our man well; he has been known to wear Superhero Cuffs to work and has his own dressing-up box after all (I know, I know; some things you just have to accept as unique in a marriage…)

lego cufflinks close up

lego cufflink on cuff

Tucked into his card will be a hand-made book of vouchers, giving him various treats such as time off to do Man Things (usually involving bikes, the watching of sport, rummaging in the garage and other such male pursuits), dinner and also a few activities which Harry can get involved in, like telling Daddy a great story on request.

dad vouchers 1

dad vouchers 2

dad vouchers 3

I’ve included a download of my printable below if you want to make one of these; I simply cut around the vouchers and clipped them into a book made from leather-look card stock.

fathers day voucher book

And on the subject of fathers..

One of the lovely things about writing this blog is the connections that it creates.  Usually with strangers who reach out and share stories, comments and feedback which lead to virtual friendships, but perhaps even more surprisingly with the people whom I already know and love.  When I wrote about typewriters here in February, I had a letter from my father who shared how it had brought back vividly the memory of receiving his own first typewriter, as a reward for passing a school entry exam;

‘..my parents promised me that if I passed the exam I could have a typewriter.  My recollection is that the life-changing letter came on a Saturday morning in June.  That very same morning we went off to a small shop in centre of Coventry, and I became the hugely proud possessor of an Olivetti Lettera 22.  It was one of the most beautiful objects I have ever owned.  The smoothly stylish Brancusi curves, the elegant typeface, the fluid touch of the discreetly rounded keys, the leather carrying case fusing design perfection and total practicality.  It was love at first sight…

..It was a brilliant object in its own right (and something my parents must have struggled to afford –I believe it cost £26 which in the mid-1950s, in our household, was a small fortune), but it has also become a symbol of that transition to a school that opened the doors to a future that would have been beyond my parents wildest imaginings – the opportunity of a grammar school education, university and … the world’.    
I was incredibly touched by my Dad’s letter, which went on to say that though the typewriter is long gone, it has always been for him  the talisman of the life-changing opportunity that a great education gave him.  This year for Fathers’ day my Dad will unwrap a vintage Olivetti Lettera 22, sourced on Ebay from the loft of one careful owner, who was delighted to know it was going to someone who would cherish it.  He is banned from checking my blog before the weekend, so hopefully the secret will be kept…

lettera 22

To Dads everywhere, here’s to you; may you have a glorious weekend…

fathers day voucher book

Fathers Day Voucher Book COVER

Fragile Worlds

le paper globe

I thought hard about how to prepare Harry for my recent extended trip. He’s very used to me being absent for a night here or there when work takes me away, but an absence of Eight Big Sleeps was unprecedented.  We talked about it in the few days beforehand so that it didn’t come as a surprise, and that seemed to work pretty well.  A couple of days before I left for India, I stumbled across this free downloadable paper globe kit, so we made one together and worked out where Harry would be, where I would be, and how long a plane takes to fly between them.

the globe

We painted India in bright pink so it was easy to find, and then carefully placed the globe on the fireplace where it could be taken down and examined whenever Harry wanted.

paper globe on mantel

These paper globes are beautifully tactile and surprisingly sturdy; I used 170gsm heavyweight recycled paper for ours.  If you download the PDF, you’ll see it is constructed by building a paper skeleton and folding the spherical globe segments into place around it.  I tried this, then cheated and simply abandoned the inner skeleton, instead just cutting, folding and glueing the outer pieces together to form our hollow-but-robust version.  (nb If you choose our method, you’ll only need to print the first 4 pages of the PDF).

paper globe diy

I had a few emails and comments asking about my trip, so I’m sharing a little more below; I work in healthcare ( so not creative, but very fulfilling), and I went to India to see how NGOs and government try to tackle some of the challenges of providing basic healthcare and access to education to those who live in urban slums and remote rural communities.  I expected to see – and did – some sobering and shocking things.  What struck me equally though were the things that I didn’t expect;

That there is beauty and entrepreneurialism to be found everywhere….

onion seller of ravi nagar

..That the children I met who live and work in the most extreme poverty have an irrepressible energy and joie de vivre, and bonds that run deep;

the children of ravi nagar slum

boys on roof

boys with flowers

These children (above & below) are all ‘rag pickers’ living  illegally in Deonar,  Mumbai’s largest dumping ground for waste.  They and their families pick through the dump looking for items they can sell.

Mumbai boys

…And that the next generation of women can together change their world.

women together can change the world copy

These girls live at the dumping ground but are now attending school and spoke impressive English.  Shy and proud in equal measure, their ambition is to be able to move their families out of the slum, ‘and also to become a doctor’.

India was a land of extremes; complex, beautiful, impressive and startling.  The only place I have been where you will see a man leading a goat along the highway on a length of frayed string, scrolling through his smartphone with a free hand.  And where (below) you find market stalls with the most vibrant and lush fruit and vegetables… alongside a stall selling puppies, packed into bamboo cages.  Abhorrent? Or perhaps just a different kind of normal.  Certainly food for thought.

crawford market mumbai

Back to the home-front now though, and what promises to be a weekend of sunshine.  I’ll be putting the finishing touches to the interior of Harry’s house which I’ve been busy kitting out for a Summer of outdoor living.  More next week…

Feast Days and Homecomings

Feast Days

Hello again!  It’s been a rollercoaster couple of weeks here, with my day-job taking me away on extended travels to India followed by heady reunions back home (things to remember always; the ‘welcome back mummy!’ signs tied to trees and gates all along our lane…).  I’ve spent the last few days playing catch-up, so this weekend was a chance to kick-back and relax with friends, hosting at home.  My best friend just scored a fantastic new job, so we took the opportunity to celebrate.  It was my favourite kind of meal; a small group of the loveliest of people, with a touch of style but no airs and graces, and the kind of menu that doesn’t suffer unduly if (umm, when) the wine flows too freely…

Preparation is everything, so Harry and I made a batch of parmesan and cracked black pepper oatcakes to go with cheese at the end of the evening.  I used this recipe which early readers of my blog will remember, and added a cupful of grated parmesan and a liberal dash of black pepper to the dough; they taste delicious and yet are extraordinarily simple…

Parmesan and Black Pepper Oatcakes

My other make-ahead element was individual heart-shaped Tartes au Citron, using ready-made pastry for speed.  Blind-bake your pastry and then beat together 5 eggs, 150ml double (heavy) cream, 150g caster sugar and the juice of 3 lemons, plus the zest of one lemon.  Pour into the case and bake for around 30mins if you’re making a single large tart or 15 mins for individual ones; this quantity will make you one large tart or 6 smaller ones.  I dusted with icing sugar and added fresh raspberries, serving with the leftover cream.

tarte au citron with raspberries

Asparagus is everywhere right now, enjoying its short but intense season.. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to use it, so served up a generous handful, steamed until just tender and topped with a poached egg and crumbled, grilled pancetta.  It’s a divine combination but definitely a make-in-the-moment dish; choose friends who will happily perch at chairs whilst you cook, topping up your glass and ignoring any eggshells you drop. Friends who can also be trusted not to eat all your crispy pancetta when your back is turned as you plate up the rest…

asparagus and pancetta

For the main course I grilled rustic lamp-burgers in ciabatta rolls on wooden chopping boards like these, topped with goats cheese, fig jam and served with a generous portion of oven-baked parmesan fries, from a recipe found here; you can almost convince yourself they’re healthy, though they tasted good enough to feel sinful.

To add a little style to the table I spritzed the tips of a handful of white feathers with spray glue and poured platinum glitter over them, before shaking off; they caught the light and sparkled subtly all evening; a 5 minute project which definitely punches above its weight.  (If feathers are your thing by the way, have a look at Pinterest, where they are definitely having a moment; craft projects for headdresses, garlands and gift-tags abound…)

glitter tipped feathers

glitter feathers

Our eclectic recent weather has done wonders for the garden, so I braved the rain to gather a handful of vibrant peonies for a dash of colour;

fresh peonies

And a final party trick; freezing slices of lemon leftover from the tarts into a cupcake tray to form over-sized colourful discs of ice to float in pitchers of water on the table.  Once frozen, I pop any excess discs out of the trays and store bagged up in the freezer for next time.  Smaller fruits like summer berries work beautifully when frozen in regular ice cube trays in the same way.

lemon slices in cupcake trays

Preparations done, it was time to celebrate;  homecomings and new jobs, friendships and feast days.  It’s a holiday weekend here in our small corner of the world, as I know it is for friends across the ocean; I hope that the sun is shining for you, and that summer feels close at hand…

champagne

Back next week for more crafts, and an update on the Great Sunflower Race (yay; we’re back in the game!); let me know how yours are doing if you’re growing them too…

Kate

How to impress with your watercolour skills, even if you have none…

watercolour stencils DIY from katescreativespace

You can bet your bottom dollar that the likes of Turner and Kandinsky refined their watercolour skills over decades, diligently painting day after day as they mastered the art of pigment on paper, water and brush.

Not us, oh no.  This is, after all, the home of slapdash crafting where most projects take less than an hour and benefit from the accompaniment of a glass of wine.  And I’ve discovered, somewhat by accident, that using basic stencils can create impressively accomplished results with very little skill.  It’s a great thing to try when you have a few minutes to spare, and the results are likely to be as good if you’re 8 as if you’re 80 (and there’s not much we can say that about).

watercolour palette

A few basic materials are all you’ll need; simple stencils, watercolour paints and something to mix them in (I used an inexpensive plastic palette), heavyweight paper and brushes.  The choice of paper is the most important thing; using 300gsm paper will help the paint flood within the stencil but then be quickly absorbed, reducing the risk of it running.

DIY materials

Once you’ve chosen your stencil and assembled your paints and paper, simply hold it in place lightly with your fingers and brush your chosen colours into the stencil.  Work quickly, so that the colours can mix before they dry.  Warm colours work beautifully together (pinks, oranges, reds and golden yellows), as do cool ones (blues, greens, lemon yellow), but there are no rules.

bird in pinks

If you have a steady hand, you can whip your stencil off straight away; otherwise, wait for the paint to dry completely.  I’ve found the best technique varies from one stencil to the next (I guess it’s to do with the shape); for my hummingbird I was able to lift the stencil off instantly and the still-wet paint retained a perfect silhouette.  For the pigeon at the bottom of this post, it took 20 minutes patient waiting and a cup of coffee before it could be successfully revealed.

watercolour stencils tutorial

Once I’d done a few stencils, I began experimenting with rubber stamping, into both wet and dry paint.  Make sure you do this with the stencil in place to get a clean finish within your chosen shape.

watercolour stencil and stamp

watercolour pigeon with stamping

pigeon stencil how to

I used these bird stencils, but letter / monogram stencils would also look wonderful .  If you don’t have any stencils to hand but do have craft punches, simply punch out a shape in a sheet of thin plastic or cardboard, and use it as a stencil.  Use the finished paintings for cards, gift-tags or collage, or even frame them as paintings in their own right.

So; a morning’s artistic activity where you should be able to refine and develop your prowess in the space of an hour.  Much better than a lifetime spent starving away in some bohemian artist’s garret and waiting for the muse to strike…

stencil painting

Come tell me a story…

Fun with the Storybox

Storytelling is big in our house.  From tales of the little people who live behind the skirting boards, to the owl family up our chimney; from the lego men who come to life after bedtime and party hard in the playroom all night, to Mummy’s magic shoes which dance when anyone steps in them; we weave stories into the fabric of our days almost without thinking, and Harry loves it.  Experts may say that we are storing up untold problems and creating a fantasist; I like to think that we’re just unleashing Harry’s imagination throughout the wonder years before the real world starts to hem it in.

And indeed, Harry  loves telling stories too.  ’My turn, my turn!’ He’ll exclaim as we sit around the table, or bundle into bed together.  And Harry’s stories are a delight, though they tend towards repetition and rely heavily on goodies and baddies, robbers and jail, and cars.  Oh, and usually someone falls into a giant vat of mud at the end.

This week we introduced The StoryBox, and it’s transformed our tales.  Filled with random but enticing words – like custard, mud, helicopter, sword and pirate – each person has to pick out a word and use it to begin their story.  Whenever you run out of narrative steam, you choose another word and have to incorporate it.  At three-and-a-half, Harry grasped the idea immediately and loves the unpredictability of what might come next.  It gives him triggers to keep his own story going, and it also allows him to direct – or perhaps sabotage? – our stories too, by pulling out words and insisting that we now need to add in a huge pile of elephant poo – or grandma on a motorbike, or a slimy monster, or whatever is written on the card.

The StoryBox Game

To make this I used a sturdy giftbox and filled it with chips of foamboard to which I glued interesting words.  I chose the names of family members, comic concepts and ideas involving mud, poo, custard and slime, and current obsessions like Lego men, the emergency services and all forms of transport.  And I added in a few completely new words, so that we could explain them and continue to expand his world.  It’s helping with Harry’s word recognition too (though you have to shut your eyes when actually choosing, to add to the drama and unpredictability…).

make your own storybox game

Some very cool stories have emerged.  Like the one where Granny had to rescue Daddy who slipped on a banana whilst escaping from the naughty pirates, who she then chased  on her scooter before making them jump into a big bowl of custard that they had to eat all up before going to jail.

Making stories

You can make this at home in just a few minutes, and it can be as simple or as finessed as you have the energy for.  For the five-minute version, scribble a host of words onto scraps of paper and place them in a hat, shoebox or bowl for family members to pull out.  For the lux version, you can print them out and glue to something more substantial as I did, and decorate a special box to keep them in.

If you want to use my graphic (below) for the cover of your box, you can find a printable version to download at the bottom, albeit one without Harry casually strolling through the pages..

StoryBox

I will keep adding words to our game as Harry’s vocabulary expands and his interests change, to keep it fresh and ensure that the StoryBox retains a firm place in family life. And now I must go; apparently there’s a cross-eyed camel running loose in the garden, and we need to find a saucepan full of sausages to tempt it over with.  No rest for the wicked…

Storybox Main Graphic

Lost Arts: Paper Boats

tutorial on how to make paper boats

Do you remember making paper boats as a child?  Or perhaps paper hats?  I was thinking last week about how easy it would be for these oh-so-simple and yet so magical crafts to vanish in the modern world.  I grew up knowing how to make boats and hats, how to write secret letters in home-made invisible ink , how to tie a myriad of different knots – albeit mostly with the aim of binding my  brother to a tree – and how to build bivouacs and signal in morse code using my torch, illicitly, late at night.

It helped that my mother was a Girl Guide leader, and that most Friday nights saw the garden filled with girls flamboyantly  lighting campfires (health and safety be damned..) and practicing outdoor skills.  It was a gung-ho upbringing and I just assumed that all parents knew this stuff and could whip up a sailing boat, a double-half-hitch-crossover-hench-twist* or a series of intelligible smoke signals at the drop of a proverbial hat.

*Don’t try to look this one up; accuracy is not my strong point.

Of course, I have forgotten nearly all of it, so in an attempt to ensure I can create the same delight and awe in Harry, I gave myself a refresher crash course in elementary boat building.  If your skills are similarly rusty, arm yourself with a sheet of letter paper and follow this.  Pause it when you get lost and start-over.  Don’t do this after a glass of wine.

tradewinds paper boat with mast and ribbon flags

I made my boats from map paper and poked twigs and wooden skewers through each to form a mast.  Washi paper tape and scraps of fabric complete the sail, and I used a rubber stamp kit to print random numbers and letters on them.  I christened my boats with suitably nautical names – Tradewinds, Siren Song, Night Trawler et al – and prepared to set sail.

paper boat with sail

Tiny silver bells and paper dolphins accompany the boats as they take to the high seas; these are beautiful if you’re making boats to tuck into bookshelves and on mantels, but obviously won’t survive a voyage across the bathtub.

paper dolphine

If you find you’re having balance problems, try adding an anchor; I used a handful of beads from an old necklace which look a little like ancient maritime fishing bouys.

paper boat with anchor and paper dolphins, and linen sail

And finally if you want to produce an armada to be sailed across lakes, rivers or ponds, try using an old book.  The pages are perfectly thin and work brilliantly for folding.  I found an old book of letters in my local junk shop for 50p and now have a handful of tiny boats that we can practice bombing, sinking and blowing off course…

paper boats made from old book pages

Staying with our nautical theme, we managed a long weekend at the seaside, having a very British kind of minibreak; each day we acquired a smattering of freckles, a dash of windburn and the kind of bracing exfoliation that only frequent, brief hail-storms can provide.  Every time we turned to face each other our hair had been coiffed into evermore improbable positions by the briny crosswinds, and we practised our sprint-starts by racing each other to shelter under the pier when the heavens opened.

And yet, and yet …it was beautiful.

vibrantly coloured doors of houses and seaside photographs

In three brief, heady days we had a ball; crabbing in the harbour with leftover bacon from breakfast; building mermaids and forts in the sand; watching astonishing sunsets with a glass in hand, and gradually amounting a huge collection of dubiously scented seaweed, driftwood and flotsam, which has left a lingering & evocative presence in the car ever since that no amount of ventilation can quite dispel.

postcards 2

We came home, unpacked the car, collapsed in a heap together on the sofa, and then remembered our sunflowers.  A feverish scramble to the windowsill revealed…

..that we have life!!  A magnificent 4 inches of life no less; we are very proud.

sunflower germinating

Have a wonderful weekend when it arrives, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.  It’s a holiday weekend here in England, and for once the skies are blue and cloudless.  I feel a barbeque coming on…

Weekend notes

weekly shop

You just know it’s going to be good weekend when you go to the supermarket and find all the Spring bouquets discounted to £1.  Even then, buying flowers for yourself is somehow deliciously decadent.  Add baguettes, fresh figs, french cheese and drizzling honey and you have a sunshine feast in the making; never mind that I forgot the far more crucial household staples (domesticity will never come easily to me; lack of effort, I suspect…).

The same trip took me past a haberdashery store which was selling roll-ends of fabric; I bought some majestic raspberry velvet which will easily see Harry through a childhood of Harry Potter cloaks, wise man nativity outfits and Santa hats, plus a length of this cheery tea-party cotton for which I have a myriad of ideas; it will hang over my desk till inspiration settles.

time for tea

And on the theme of lovely-but-unnecessary purchases, the postman delivered me a long-awaited and utterly impractical lukrecja cotton apron from Polish company COOKie.  Whilst serious cooks would doubtless throw up their hands at the skittishness of my apron, I am giddy with adoration for it.  In its defence, it is made of heavyweight industrial cotton and designed for the kind of heavy-duty labour a kitchen skivvy needs.

lukrecja apron

Undermining this defence completely is the publicity shot for the apron (below), with the tagline  ’it is easy for Lukrecja to leave the kitchen to buy vegetables whilst absent-mindedly forgetting to wear clothes under her apron’.  Hmmm.  Completely mad, and all the better for it.  I have been waltzing round the kitchen in my jeans and apron, twirling and admiring myself in the oven door and every other reflective surface.  Dinner has been late.

LUKRECJA bicycle

In other despatches from the weekend, we’ve been channeling our inner Picasso, making a homemade picture for Harry’s grown-up brother who has recently moved house.  Harry adores Chris, so going to Chris’s first grown-up house is a very big deal.  In real life, Chris and his girlfriend Emma look as if they have stepped from the pages of an Abercrombie catalogue.  Harry, in the manner of Lucian Freud, has chosen to render them looking rather simian and obese, with no hint of flattery.  He stood back to examine them, then waved his hand dismissively; ‘they are done, mummy’. A 3yr old artiste.

Harry draws BIG, so I took his two pictures and scanned them in, adding the names and date, then mounted the print and placed it in a simple silver frame; he is immensely proud of his efforts, which manage to look stylish and understated in C&E’s hip neutral living room.

picture gift

The sun has shone this weekend, almost throughout, causing Britons up and down the country to hurl off their clothes and lie on every available patch of grass.  It’s a cultural kind of carpe diem; sunlight is so rare and cherished that we tend to overreact completely to the melting of frost and make the most of every ray of warmth.  In a rather more domesticated reaction, we hung washing on the line for the first time this year, and Harry tackled the spring-cleaning of his playhouse (for about 5 minutes; he gets that staying-power from me).

spring cleaning

We’ve planted our sunflowers, turned over a couple of flower beds and then there’s just been time, as the spring sunshine fades today and the air cools again, to lie on the still-damp grass and look up through our magnificent magnolia tree, which has suddenly burst into bud and bloom.

Heaven.

magnolia skies

I hope you had a lovely weekend too…especially those who planted sunflowers with us; let the race begin!!

Kate