Friday, 28 December 2012

Five Things for Friday: Family Life Edition

-1-

My youngest child is the clown of the family. At 2.5 years old, she does everything and anything she can in order to get a laugh from someone else. Unfortunately, my older children do not have discerning tastes when it comes to humour, so toilet jokes rule the day. Specifically, she has recently taken to calling me "Mummy Butt". 

I'm not too fond of that nick-name, to be honest.

So after a few days of asking her to stop, she occasionally reminds herself by coming out with, "No say butt?" and every time, I have to confirm this fact.

But this has severely limited her joking material. A two year old only has a couple of jokes, and I've taken one away! Don't worry, she came up with a replacement. 

Whenever I do something she approves of, such as helping her on the toilet, or serving food, or tying shoes, she'll say "Good doggie!"

At least before, I was actually human.


-2-

Yesterday was another daughter's birthday. She is now six years old! She has to use TWO hands to show her age! It's a breakthrough. As you can imagine, having a birthday so close to Christmas can be quite hectic. Ever since I found out her due date (the 1st of January, actually, so hurray for not going overdue!), I stressed about how to make her birthday memorable and separate from Christmas itself.

Our birthday traditions don't change for her, for one thing. She still goes out shopping for her own presents with birthday money (usually with just Dad, but we've had to be flexible on this one from time to time), she still gets to bake her own cake and eat the "first bite". (birthday kid takes a bite out of the cake before cutting) A banner or balloons or some such are put up. We usually forego birthday wrapping paper and either use plain paper or pile everything up on the table with a cloth covering it all. (I'd like to say this is because we're just so good at being green but it's mostly due to laziness!)

The day after Christmas, we take all the decorations down. We put them up during the first week of December, so we don't mind the mad rush to put them away straight after Christmas. This gives us a small break between two celebrations. 

Birthday parties are best in early January, after the flurry of family visits are out of the way.

Yesterday, I asked her if her birthday felt special, and she said yes. She quite likes her birthday being so close to Christmas, because she gets a mountain of presents by the end of it all! The rest of the year seems a bit hum-drum, of course, but at least she won't ever feel like her birthday was lumped in with Christmas. I heard stories of people's birthdays being forgotten, or presents combined into one "big" present, or a present wrapped in Christmas paper.... I mean, if it was no big deal, kids wouldn't carry those memories into adulthood, right? I didn't want that to happen to my daughter.

So far, so good. I look forward to making the same effort for many more birthdays to come!


-3-

We rent. Due to house prices, the way banks lend, being a single income family, and our family size, we'll probably be renting for a long time to come. As such, house decor has never been high on my list of priorities. 

A few years back, my friends came up with an AMAZING surprise while my husband and I went away for a short weekend break. They looked after our kids while at the same time repainted our living room! We had talked about painting the lower half of the wall a lovely chocolate brown for several years, but never really got around to it. These friends called in some more people and completely blitzed the house in 24 hours. It was jaw-dropping! I still smile thinking about it.

On a sad note, we moved out of that house a little over a year later, and the landlords wanted the walls back to off-white. Repainting the walls was a little bit heartbreaking but also just plain ANNOYING. The brown was really nice! It may not sound as good as I'm describing it, but it really gave the house some character, in a quiet sort of way.

We painted the house after moving most of the furniture out of the way, but it was highly stressful in a stressful situation (is moving EVER simple?!).

So this house has all white walls, except for in the kids' bedrooms, and we're keeping them that way. The girls' bedroom has one garishly pink wall - fine. My son's bedroom as a bright yellow wall - also fine. We've put a few pictures up and that's that.

But the rest of the house is bright white. Well, bright white from about 4 feet from the floor and upwards. My toddler views the walls as her blank canvas, and grubby hands make marks all along doorways and around light switches! 

I digress. On one wall, there was a lovely centrepiece of pretty wallpaper just on the part that jutted out around the (gas) fireplace. When we first moved in, it was in pretty great condition. Two years later, not so much. There were gouges and scratches and peeled bits of paper and it finally succeeded in driving me just crazy enough to do something about it.

Last night I started pulling it down, and 24 hours later, it's over halfway done. I do a little bit at a time, encouraging the kids to join in, and soon there will be more bright whiteness staring me in the face.

I will not succumb to the temptation of painting colour on the walls. I will keep them white. 

I may, however, buy some sort of vinyl sticker motif to put on the walls; at least they come off easily!












-4-

In about a month, I'm going back to the States for a visit! I've lived in England for 13.5 years, and have only been back ONCE. Isn't that crazy? Well, I mean, the cost makes it difficult, but still! Since I've been married, my husband has been to the States like 5 times or something. HE'S NOT EVEN AMERICAN. LIKE ME. I AM AMERICAN.

Okay, so most of those times he went for work. I'm still not letting him off easy.

The main reason I'm going back is to visit my friend and help her with her new baby. She's pregnant with her eighth! She'll need all the help she can get! I haven't seen her since she moved back to America about 6 months ago? I can't quite remember. Anyway, it's been a while! And my other friend, who also moved back to the States but over a year ago, is coming along to help with the baby too, and it's going to be a reunion! I'm super excited!

Hopefully, I'll be able to see family, too, but I don't know... direct flights between the two cities are hard to find, which is silly. The other flights had 2 or 3 stop overs and took 12+ hours to reach the destination. A direct flight would take 3 or 4 hours. Bah!

I'm kind of scared to leave my kids for 11 days, because I'm still breastfeeding my toddler and don't want to forcibly wean her. I have a feeling that she'll pick right back up from where we left off, but who knows, y'know? We'll see. She has Daddy and all her older siblings, so she'll be ok. Me? I'll probably be a wreck by the end of it, but at least I'll be comforted by a brand new baby to hold. Aaaahhh.


-5-

Y'all remember my Living Chemical Free series? Well, I thought I'd mention a new hair wash alternative that I just tried today.

Eggs.

Yup. Just crack that baby on your scalp and you're good to go!

Okay, not really.

You use the egg yolk. I just did it all in the shower, straight up. I cracked the egg into my hand, let the whites dribble through my fingers down the drain, and agitated the yolk in between my palms just like soap. I was surprised at how big the yolk is - way more to it than a blob of shampoo!

As I scrubbed it into my hair, the yolk left a white residue on my hands. Weird?! I don't know if the white was the grease coming off or what, but that was not the colour I expected.

Today my hair was pretty gross; I can't remember the last time I washed it, but probably a good week ago at least. I needed two eggs to get the job done thoroughly! (I just feel the need to mention here that I actually shower much more regularly than I wash my hair....)

So two egg yolks destroyed the oil slick on my head and left my hair tangle-free and soft and lovely. Hurray!

It doesn't smell of anything. My hair smells like hair. I was ever-so-slightly concerned that my ultra-hot shower would cook the egg on my head (which is silly, because I don't like my showers hot enough to scald my skin), so out of paranoia I turned the heat down to more luke-warm ish. 

I gotta say, I LOVE THIS. How easy is it to crack an egg, right? No prep work, no extra thought, no concoctions to brew up. Crack, plop, done.

So yeah. Try washing your hair with an egg. See what happens.

I also washed my 9 year old's hair with apple sauce today, because apparently it's good for dandruff and that child has dry skin issues. I didn't want to bathe her scalp in chemicals, so this seemed like a good alternative. FYI, make sure your homemade applesauce is skin-less. Those little pieces of apple peelings are not easy to wash out! However, I think it's been worth it because her head looks flake-free. I will update on that later.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Singing

I really enjoy singing. I used to perform in a Gilbert and Sullivan society, but when we moved to our new town (2 years ago, so not really new anymore) I had to give that up. Life got busy, and I didn't really want to commit to singing in a big production again, but I missed the singing part.

Currently, my only singing outlet is through church. I recently performed Whistle Down the Wind at a "Musical Extravaganza". It had been a while since I sang solo in front of an audience, and the adrenaline made me shaky for the first few bars! Once I got into it, I felt confident and happy up there. Good thing, too - my pianist forgot his music and had to improvise during the song! That meant an unexpected pause in the music where I had to sing a cappella. Gulp! It actually sounded like we did it on purpose, so the performance worked out fine.

Fast forward a month, and I've been asked to sing a duet with a friend during our church's Carols by Candlelight service. Funnily enough, the piece we are singing is called Candlelight Carol. It's a beautiful song. I am also singing with our church choir, which is incredibly fun also.

I have gotten the taste for singing back. I love the challenge of learning a new tune, getting the breathing right, the timing and dynamics. I have very little musical training - I stopped taking piano lessons after a few weeks at the age of 10 or so, and I played the clarinet for a couple of years during middle school. I know how to sight read, but can't actually name the notes without going through that old mnemonic device: Every Good Boy Does Fine. I'd like to be a tad more knowledgeable on the subject! In fact, eventually, I'd like to learn how to be a choir conductor, and coax beautiful music out of a group of willing subjects. (someday...)

Unfortunately, there aren't any amateur choirs in the area that I can join. They either don't exist, or are full up. I am a Soprano, and it seems like most women who sing are sops. Maybe not, but every choir I've been has been Soprano-heavy. My friend - who is in the Candlelight Carol duet with me - is an Alto (her voice is simply gorgeous, I feel lucky to sing with her). She would like to join a choir but can't either, and we recently had a conversation bemoaning our lack of singing opportunities. We want songs that are challenging and interesting and just plain HARD to sing! It's more fun that way.

So we hit upon the idea of this: Who cares if we can't join a choir or sing in a concert? Let's just SING.

We are going to get together once a month and learn an amazing song, get it perfect, and see where it takes us. Maybe nowhere. But maybe life will take us in interesting directions, and we'll get the opportunity to perform a song that we've already practiced and polished. Fun, right? Singing for the pure joy of it. I like the sound of that.

My friend is musically trained and has a love for opera. So.... we are going to learn the Flower Duet from Lakme.




Gulp! High, or what?!

But I love a challenge. I'm really excited to try!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Drumroll, please!

Yeesh, I can't even GIVE stuff away! Clearly, my finger is not on the pulse of what's popular or trending on Pinterest or whatever.

That's ok, because Zelda benefits! By virtue of being the only commenter who actually wanted to be entered into the giveaway, she wins!

Zelda, email me at raisin3cookies [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk as soon as you can!

Merry Christmas to you all.

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Giveaway!

So, after making my daughter's needle felted playscape, I had so much fun that I wanted to make another one. I considered making one to sell in my Etsy store.

But every single time I make something to sell, the joy of actually making it gets sucked out of me and I can't do it anymore. It's kind of baffling, but there it is.

Then I hit upon a GREAT idea: a giveaway on my blog! Hurray! I get the fun of making something, and the excitement of giving it to someone who wants it.

After thinking about it, I decided to make a little stream with a gnome house and bridge leading to a field of flowers.




The gnome is dressed in gender neutral colours, so the recipient can decide if it's a boy or girl gnome.


Little gnome has many beautiful flowers to enjoy in the field, whilst picnicking or just taking a stroll.


The bridge is a great location for fishing, or perhaps a game of Pooh-sticks.


Taking a stroll....


Such a beautiful day!


There isn't a lot of detail, since it's my second attempt at this playscape thing, but I might come up with a few more things before it gets sent to its new home.


Like, maybe a toadstool or two wouldn't go amiss? 



Little gnome surveys his/her domain. A gnome's eye view, if you will.

===============================================

So! Who wants to enter the giveaway?

I was thinking about the "rules" of the giveaway, and cast my mind on other blogs I've visited (with many more readers than I have!).

They ask for entries by way of:

1. "Like" the blog on Facebook -- I don't have a page on Facebook for my blog
2. Visit their Etsy store and come back with a favourite item and why -- My Etsy store is defunct
3. Tweet or Facebook message about the giveaway -- How would I even know you did that? I don't know how to check up on these things...

Okay, so for the less blog-savvy blogger, here's my simple rules of entering the giveaway (one entry for each item, please leave separate comments for each thing you've done):

1. Leave a comment here on any additions you think I should add to the playscape. I reserve the right to steal your ideas as I see fit!

2. "Follow" the blog. (link should be on the sidebar to the right)

3. Mention the giveaway on your own blog, leaving the link to the blog entry in your comment.

I hope that sounds painless enough!

The playscape itself is smallish (6"x12", I think?) and very lightweight, so I'm happy to send it internationally.

I wish I'd thought of doing this two weeks ago, because now it'll be too late to send to anyone in time for Christmas! Oh well!

Giveaway is open until Thursday morning, 9am GMT. I'll try to get it sent out by this weekend!

Good luck, everyone.

Disclaimer: This playscape is probably best suited to children aged 5+, simply because I don't know how robust it will turn out to be! I've attached the bridge and gnome house to the base as best as I can, but I've never done this before so it might not last long under rough playing conditions.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Needle Felted Playscape

One of my original gift ideas for my two year old was a hobby horse. It seemed simple enough to make, but the more I thought about it, the more I fretted over the giant STICK attached to the horse head. (hello, weapon) And I couldn't just make a horse head and give that as a gift. I'm not trying to evoke images of horror on Christmas morning.

Clearly, other people don't see a problem with the stick feature of a hobby horse, but I kept imagining scenarios of it being used to reach high places, whack other people, put eyes out, etc.

So that idea was scrapped.

Through googling, I happened across this idea of felted playscapes. From what I can tell, a felted playscape is just a nature scene come to 3D life, with little creatures thrown in for good measure. Many of the pictures I found were like works of art, they were so beautiful.

I haven't needle felted anything in a while, so the concept fully captivated me and I got to work!

First of all, I went the lazy route and didn't wet felt the base. I don't mind wet felting, but it meant that I wouldn't be able to get started straight away on the fun stuff (flowers, tree stump, etc) and it also meant that I couldn't make the base as big as I wanted because my bamboo mat is tiny.

Anyway, I cut out a 12"x12" piece from an old acrylic sweater/jumper. It was a lovely shade of green, so if it peeked through the wool it would match nicely.

I just poked the wool straight through the fabric, added details and voila!

Water, grass, lilies, tree stump, a little duck house, cattails, etc

Another view
Tree stump, little duck saying hello!

The "back" view

Lily pads and flowers

 This book was the inspiration.

I'm really happy with the results! I might add a few more flowers here and there, and the tree stump needs roots, I think. I also want to make Momma duck, but unfortunately little Daisy duck is pretty big! I'd have to make Momma HUGE.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Homemade Christmas Gifts

This year, I am trying to keep Christmas simple by making most of our gifts to the children. My husband is tasked with making a marshmallow shooter and miniature bows and arrows. He's also giving me some great ideas for our 9 year old's time capsule kit.

Other presents include a photo album for each child, with pictures from the past couple of years. I'm hoping to start a new tradition in this gift, and make a greater effort to photograph them doing various cool/fun/interesting/seasonally appropriate things throughout the year so I have a nice array of photos to print in November. Every year, they should have a retrospective of things they've done and how they've grown. I am not going to great lengths for these albums - they aren't scrap-booked or anything; it's literally just pictures inserted into ready-made slots in a cheap album. That'll do. The kids LOVE looking at pictures of themselves, and often accost me while I'm at the computer in order to flick through our digital files. Now they'll be able to look at real pictures any time they want! And in ten years, they'll have a stack of photo albums to treasure. In an ideal world, at any rate.

Starting from my youngest, I made her some slippers:






The tutorial is found here, on a blog I truly adore. That woman's creativity knows no bounds and her sense of humour is a treat.

I ran into a snag with these slippers which nearly made me cry. The ones pictured are my second attempt; the first set were made out of gorgeous satin, gold fabric that shimmered and seemed perfect for ballet-style dressing up shoes. Unfortunately, I was working from scraps and must have cut the fabric in the wrong direction because it completely unraveled at the seams when I tried to insert the elastic. At that point, the shoes were halfway made and it was very disheartening to have to start all over again.

In the end, however, I think it worked out for the best, because these new slippers are made from warm fleece which is entirely necessary in our house over the winter. Laminate wood flooring downstairs makes for very cold toes! My youngest is the only one in the house without a pair of slippers to pad around in, so as long as she actually likes to wear them (who knows with toddlers), it'll be great.

And no picture yet, but today I started on a needle-felted playscape, based on a story she adores called Come On, Daisy!. There's an entire series of Daisy books with beautiful paintings and an adorable duckling who gets into a bit of mischief, but always comes right in the end of course. I've started the playscape on a scrap of a green jumper, 12"x12". The plan is to create a watery scene and Momma and Daisy duck to live there. I might add a frog or two, and hopefully I'll figure out a way to make a felted cave or tree stump for the ducks to live in. It's all very experimental, but luckily the recipient is two years old and thinks everything I do is amazing! I really love to needle felt, so I'm excited. It's also a departure from sewing, and I've been doing a lot of that....

For my five year old daughter, I put together a sewing kit out of notions and fabrics that I already had on hand. My inspiration came from this cute tutorial. I didn't have all of the stuff to make the box (plus the font she used on her pdf file was REALLY hard to read, so I gave up on that real quick!), but I did have a zippered pencil case thingy with Hello Kitty plastered all over it. It already had the elastic holes that could be useful for holding more than just pencils and erasers, so I ironed some fabric to a bonding agent to stop it fraying, and hot-glued it to the front of the case.


(the ribbon thing is supposed to be a heart!)

I then just dug through my sewing things, and grabbed some cute fabrics and itty bitty thread reels.



The tutorial I linked to also had some ideas for a needle book and a pin cushion. They were cute, but I seek to simplify, and so I took some pre-cut hexagons in my stash, sewed them together and stuffed it. Viola! Pin cushion in 5 minutes or less.



The needle book was a bit trickier, because I don't have actual felt sheets on hand, but I do have a bunch of fleece. I tried to cut a square of pretty fabric and fleece but that took me several tries to get it right and the fabric got smaller and smaller.... Got there in the end! I sewed a tiny tiny seam down the middle of the book on the outside in order to encourage it to stay shut when lying flat. And that was it!



I'm going to make a little certificate/coupon thingy that entitles her to sewing lessons from momma. She is the type of kid who thrives on attention (I know all kids do, but she takes it to a whole new level), so this sort of gift will send her into fits of joy.

Interestingly, some of my sewing notions are really ancient. In the picture above, next to the thimble and thread, there is a white-handled metal hook thingie. I'm unsure what it is, but it MIGHT be an old-fashioned seam ripper? My nine year old was helping me put this gift together and we both agreed it was pretty so it needed to be added to the kit. But what is it actually for? Who knows.

The blue ribbon still has the price tag attached: 9d, which was 9 pence in old money. I don't understand British old money AT ALL. But it's fascinating that the ribbon went unused for so long, and now my five year old will likely cut it into small pieces and scatter it in the winds. Thank you for buying it so long ago, whoever you are!


This little girl of mine will also be getting a dream catcher, to catch all those bad dreams she keeps having. I don't have any pictures of it, but just imagine a spider web made by a drunk spider, adorned with random beads and feathers, and you get the idea. It's not my best crafting work, but kids are generous with praise so I'm not worried!

My son will be getting some cool books about a boy turned superhero, and the aforementioned marshmallow shooter.

My eldest, in addition to the time capsule kit, is also getting an artist's pencil and notebook holder. I found this tutorial, which made it seem super easy, and off I went.

The trouble is, I started the project at 11pm, when I was too tired to function, and didn't bother measuring anything accurately. The corners aren't square, and the outer fabric I used was this very pretty black velour that shifted under the presser foot of my sewing machine. Oh, and I didn't pin anything, either. Clever!

But it turned out ok.






It's very soft and tactile, which is fun, and I know for a fact that she likes the inner fabric because she recently used it to make a bag! The pencils are proper artist pencils with different hardness or whatever it's called, and there are a few extra pockets sewn in for her own custimisations. I made the flower on the front cover out of the lining fabric and used a bead in the middle to cover up the stitches. I'm really excited about this gift, because she loves to draw and is really keen to get better at it. Plus, it's one thing to be given a set of pencils and a pad of paper, but quite another to have a cute little home for them as well! Yay.

My husband - who doesn't read my blog so I can say whatever I want, haha! - is getting a leather phone case made by me (no pictures, but I should really do that soon), some deodorant scented with his favourite cologne (he's noticed it works! I'm sucking him into my hippy ways, one day at a time), and a cunning hat, NOT knitted by me. Because I am not a knitter. I mean, I know the basics and have made a few things in my past, but it's just not my "thing". Some of us are knitters, some of us are not. I am not, and that's ok! It means I can pay my friends to make me things and I can enjoy the feeling of handmade items without the frustration of losing count, dropping stitches, and messed-up tension. Hurray! And honestly, it's worth the money to not have to deal with all that hassle.

Most everyone else will be getting a card, or a photo album which will be sent to the grandparents.

------------------------------

As much as I love the idea of simplifying Christmas, making gifts is quite time consuming and stressful. I should have started earlier in the year! Something to bear in mind for 2013, I guess.

And yes, the kids know they are only getting a few presents this year. They are okay with this, and acknowledge the wasted money, time, effort, and resources that go into buying toys that get forgotten about by February and thrown into the bin by summer. When I asked them what they even got for Christmas last year, they couldn't remember! It's ridiculous how much stress I pour into buying them gifts when it is essentially dross a few weeks later.

So yeah. Few gifts, made with love, and hopefully useful and fun for longer. We'll see on that last point....


(I've also been making some gifts for my daughter's birthday, which is two days after Christmas! More to come on that on another day.)