Kids

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

 

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.

*****

 

Retreating and Restoring

Firstly, thank you for the comments and encouragement and sharing of memories prompted by last week’s post; for me the loveliest thing about blogging is the connectivity and conversation it creates.  The sense of a shared maternal experience of that first day of school, whether separated by days or decades, was potent and wonderful.

Over the last few days, we’ve been in keep-your-head-above-water mode, taking every day as it comes and exhaustedly acknowledging a job well done at the end of each.  For Harry, each day at school has brought a volley of ‘firsts’ and newnesses which have left him glassy-eyed and teetering between giddy exuberance and tearfulness; for us it’s meant juggling work schedules with new school hours, navigating the unspoken rules about drop-offs and collections, pegs and bookbags; the chastisements for wrongly-labelled uniform or missing permissions forms… I’m in yet another maternal learning curve and tackling it with my usual hit-and-miss style.  As a result, it’s been a week of retreating and nesting, where the hours outside of work and school have been filled with the familiar; things which nurture us and guarantee smiles.  Things like..

apple recipes

I took our huge bounty of windfalls and your recipe suggestions and have been revelling in a heady, appley-fog in the kitchen.  Batches of apple sauce, pie and crumble are filling the freezer, and our hands-down winners so far have been more-ish apple & pecan muffins, which we convinced ourselves are healthy enough to be classified as breakfast rather than cake.  Our new apple peeler is a family favourite toy, providing hours of entertainment as we attempt to peel and core every fruit and vegetable we can lay our hands on.

pinceone firelighters 2013

Our walks in the woods coupled with a week of high winds have allowed us to fill pockets full of pinecones; I made a few batches of firelighters for the months ahead and we lit the woodburner one unseasonably chilly night to give them a test-run.

The gradual turning of the seasons has given us a chance for bonfires which beg for marshmallows on long toasting forks.  Soon we’ll be piling foil-wrapped potatoes into the embers and lighting sparklers as we warm our hands with mulled wine, but for now we’re still eking out the last of the summer rituals.

campfire marshmallows

And in a few heady moments of escapism and me-time, I went to a local antiques barn and fell in love with this vintage packing trunk, which is soon to take up pride of place at the foot of Harry’s bed.  A large, wooden trunk complete with working clasps and canvas inlays, it felt very Harry-Potteresque to me and appealed to my current preoccupation with school-life… but I hope it will  grow with Harry’s own taste and look equally good in his room at 14 or 16 as it does now.

harry potter trunk

My other treat this week has been a visit to our local garden centre where the trays and baskets of winter bulbs are stacked high, and where you can stuff paper bags full of papery brown hyacinths which promise to fill the house with scent and colour throughout the darkest days of the coming winter.  It felt like choosing sweets as a child; I limited myself – somewhat – and am looking forward to a weekend of pottering and planting up, aided by a small helper who will doubtless shower soil throughout the house but will revel in the importance of being my Right-Hand Man.

Hyacinths ready for planting

Have a wonderful, wonderful weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing…

Kate

Moments for which there really should be a word.

The Days May Be Long

I’ve just put a small boy to bed, teetering with exhaustion and glowing with pride at having completed his first day at school.  So proud in fact, that he has been wearing his new uniform since dawn and only agreed after much discussion that it should be removed not only for bathtime but also for bed. It is hung carefully in clear sight of his bed, lit by the nightlight so it can be admired at all times.

Everyone warned me that the day your child starts school is one of those watersheds, where the world spins a little more slowly on its axis, and the past four years flashes back in technicolor glory, from the tininess of hands and feet, the warm solidity of toddler thighs, the milestones of weaning and walking and talking… until suddenly you watch your child, so brave and expectant, in school shorts which look impossibly large and grown up, waving you off from the classroom door.

On the one hand I am so proud to have grown this amazing man-in-waiting who can take life in his stride and who views everything as the next great adventure; on the other I want to freeze this time forever to preserve the magic of these wonder years before he grows any older.

At the moment, I am required to play a starring role in all of his games; that of the beautiful princess, who must be rescued from danger (dragons, pirates, husbands; anything which might distract me in fact).  There is little to indicate me for this role in anyone else’s eyes, but for Harry this is my natural place and I participate willingly, even if this requires me to climb grubby trees and sit there for hours whilst he rushes around at ground-level, or to wedge myself into the impossibly small cupboard under the stairs which doubles as a castle dungeon.  Occasionally, Harry forgets to rescue me and I find him playing with Lego, oblivious to the cobwebs in which I am covered.  Still, I am all too aware that soon I will be required to maintain a low profile when games with friends are afoot, so I will make the most of my time in the princess spotlight.

All this came back to me as I sat in the school car-park today, clutching the wheel and bracing myself to drive away.  In every car in the car park this scene was repeated; mascara being reapplied, husbands being called and debriefed on the recent partings, and everyone being brave and taking a deep breath.

In the end it was a triumph; a brilliant day for Harry with no tears or drama.  In fact, the only thing that Harry found shocking was that at lunch they were served only half a jam-tart each for pudding, and not a whole one (Harry is a man of healthy appetite).  Despite this reportedly Dickensian approach to food, the signs are good and I couldn’t be more relieved.  It’s one of those days where you feel like a million miles have been travelled… but travelled well.

____________________

Regular followers of this blog will know me as a lover of words, so when I stumbled across this beautiful collection of untranslatable words (below) via Pinterest which capture specific feelings or moments in time, it resonated perfectly with my current heightened emotional scale.  The authors collected eleven words which in different languages define something perfectly, and appear to have no direct translation.  The piece itself is lovely, but equally fascinating is the response it has gathered whenever it has appeared; the list of new words just grows and grows as readers around the world add more, as in the comments here.

11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures

For me there is just one word which is missing from these lists and deserves to be invented or declared; that mixed feeling of pride, nostalgia, anxiety and infinite, reckless love which hits you like a wave when your impossibly small child turns to you at the door of his new classroom and waves you goodbye….

We should name it, I think.

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

A Palette for the Palate

paintbox cakes

 

How is your week going?  I’m having a slightly misty-eyed, bittersweet one here as I savour the last few days before Harry starts school (school! How did this happen??) – or preschool, to be precise.  But still, it somehow feels like the end of the free-wheeling freedom days of toddlerhood as well as a hugely exciting next step.  But more on that next time.  For now, when I have time off work we’re making the most of the lazy summer days, sometimes with big adventures requiring packed lunches, pirate swords and sunscreen, and sometimes just chilled-out messy play that practically requires us to stay in our  pajamas all day and then simply wipe down the house at teatime.  Yesterday definitely fell into this category as we refined our cake decorating skills…

coloured paintbox cakes

I sliced a store-bought madeira loaf cake into small squares and then mixed up a large bowl of  white icing (icing sugar & water, until it drops smoothly from the spoon), before spooning a dollop into a myriad of little bowls.  Together, we stirred in food colouring with toothpicks, watching what happened as the colours changed and deepened.  If I were an Alpha-Mum or parenting goddess, I would share with you how this was an excellent opportunity to teach colour blending, and how Harry’s vocabulary expanded to include words like ‘Cerulean Blue’ and ‘Magenta’.  Pfff!  Of course not; it was just messy, sticky, and brilliant fun.  We discussed what colour slime would be; whether pirate blood is the same red as our blood, and why girls always like pink (in Harry’s view) – all the crucial topics that matter when you’re 3yrs old.

Making paintbox cakes

 

making paint box cakes

Our efforts were surprisingly tasteful (and unsurprisingly tasty); it certainly impressed us.  I can imagine making a slightly more chic version of these to serve as petit fours at a future party or dinner; how cool would it be to have a huge palette of these tiny cakes that are just sized to be the perfect mouthful? And look, they’re so small you’d practically burn up more calories eating them than you consume in the cake itself….

paintbox cakes on chalkboard

 

cakes on a plate

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

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

The Little House

The Little House in Winter

House-painting can be a relentless, unforgiving task.  Slaving away in the burning sun and occasional rain, painting never-ending woodwork atop a wobbly ladder.  My advice?  Buy yourself a house that’s all of 8 foot high and you’ll find you can paint it in approximately an hour, including varnishing.  Trust me; it’s enormously satisfying.  A little small, perhaps, for the whole family, but perfectly proportioned for a 3yr old.

You may remember we bought a second-hand playhouse (above) for Harry’s birthday last winter, and it has sat looking picturesque but slightly weary through the harsh winter months.  Soon after buying it I added curtains made from tea towels and a slate ‘Little House’ sign, but we waited until the Springtime before tackling the interior.  Last weekend I gave it a proper overhaul, painting sills and gables, planting up hanging baskets and turning the bare interior into a proper bachelor pad. If you’ve time for a cup of pretend tea and a plastic cake, come on inside and have the tour…

the little house sign

When the playhouse was delivered, the inside was bare wood – and somewhat battered from having legions of small feet pattering in and out over the years in its former home.

playhouse renovation

We gave it a couple of coats of whitewash and glued inexpensive carpet tiles to the floor, and then decked out the interior with Harry’s play BBQ, table and chairs…

playhouse interior

harrys kitchen diner

All of these furnishings have simply been moved out from the playroom for the summer, freeing up some valuable space indoors.

Here’s the ‘loft’ sleeping platform before….

harrys loft before

And after…

little house loft

Above the sleeping platform hangs – securely –  a watchful angel; in reality a photograph I took of a folk-art Christmas decoration I bought years ago in New England.

little house angel

There’s enough space to hang your hat above your pillow, and a clock to wake you from a nap, should the bird chorus outside fail.  A decorative driftwood garland hangs by the ladder, and some well-worn old linens make for a comfortable den to retire to with a favourite book.  The paper animal garland was leftover from Harry’s first birthday party a couple of years ago and has found renewed purpose in bedecking the playhouse walls – I give it a few more months before it is declared too babyish and relegated to the (real) loft.

play loft

Do you remember Harry’s Hardware Store (below)?  With the advent of warm weather this has found a natural home inside the playhouse, where young drivers can park their scooters, pedal cars and balance bikes at the door and come in for tools, coffee or petrol.  It does a roaring trade..

harry store main shot

playhouse with built in store

Externally, The Little House is ready for summer; I exchanged the faux-topiary balls of winter for some low hanging baskets which Harry and I planted up with strawberries; they are just reachable for 3yr old hands, but tantalisingly out of reach for slugs.  Geraniums burst from the window box, mirroring those of the main house, and a passion flower climbs alongside the door.   A bird box mounted near the eaves will hopefully attract residents next winter, and a brightly painted cockerel weather vane adds a distinctive finishing touch.  And finally, I can’t forget our sunflowers, which now sit along the side of the Little House, where they can turn to the late afternoon sun, protected from the mayhem of small people crashing in and out of the playhouse itself.

The Little House in Springtime

the little house exterior

Work over, we all hunched inside for a celebratory cup of tea, served up with a hard, wooden play sausage and half a head of garlic.  Whatever else Harry does in his life, I doubt that a future in the kitchen beckons.

amish star

And finally, before I go; this week Pinterest is launching formally here in the UK, to great excitement.  For those who haven’t yet come across it, Pinterest is a very visual way of collecting together all the things you love, by ‘pinning’ images to your boards from all across the wide world of the web.  For those who are already converts, you can find me (and images from all of the projects on my site) here, or by searching under pinners  for ‘Kate Curates’; for those who are new and want to explore for the first time, you can register using the link here.  One word of advice; don’t do this if you have a deadline looming, or a child soon to wake from a nap, or indeed anything which requires your undivided attention for some time; it can be absolutely, deliciously addictive…

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