Thursday, 17 April 2014

Building A Bookcase

It turns out that Darren is quite fond of building things. His latest effort has been a bookcase for our study.

He drew up the design and then got the wood pieces cut and drilled at Allboard. Then he painted the pieces and he, Peter-from-The-Toy-Boys and our friend put it all together on the wall, killing a few screws in the process.

It's turned out to be quite a masterpiece and is very solid too. Hurrah.

More on our move and house renovations.

Oh! And I'm guest blogging today over at the Madeit Blog, sharing some super autumn mushroom finds.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Materials and Techniques - 'Birthday Blocks' by 'Get Crafty Creations'

I like to find out what other people are doing in the crafty world, and how they are doing it. So each fortnight I talk to another artist about how they do what they do. Today I am talking to Megan. She makes decorated wooden blocks that are perfect as photo props for babies and children. Megan is as fellow EstyKids member, who operates as Birthday Blocks by Get Crafty Creations and she is based in Chicago, IL in the United States.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I am recently re-settled back in my native Chicago after five years living in Las Vegas with my husband and three year old son. We are also currently expecting our second child at the end of July. I created Birthday Blocks after my son was a little older, so I never got to use them for him. I love to read and watch movies, and as a former theater major, I love all things musical.

What materials and techniques do you like to use?

I spent over a year creating and refining my birthday blocks, so I tried all sorts of materials. I prefer using paint and vinyl, but I do incorporate acid-free paper from time to time, if the design is a good fit.

What challenges have you faced in the creative process?

It took me a long time to figure out how to make my blocks durable and still attractive. They are meant to last for years, after all. I didn't want to simply paint them and ship them out; paint could scratch or wear, and my vinyl/paper designs could easily stain or peel. I went through lots and lots of different "sealant" products to find the right mix. I was anxious to get my shop started, but waiting until I had the right process was essential. I recommend the old trial and error method, and just know that it is best to be patient until you can showcase your best product.

What drives you to create?

I have what I like to call "Crafty A.D.D." :) I am constantly being inspired to try new mediums and crafts, and inspiration comes from everywhere. I get ideas from movies, cartoons, books, songs, photographs, you name it. A lot of my block designs are custom designed based on requests to match a nursery theme, so that helps a lot.

What is coming up next?

I'm looking to branch out and add other fun photo props to my shop, which still keeping the general theme of the Birthday Blocks alive. I'm working on some alternatives to the blocks, such as stickers and signs, as well as props geared specifically for newborns and families. I love that there are so many avenues to pursue to keep my shop fresh!

All images provided by Megan of Birthday Blocks.

Explore more materials and techniques interviews, and if you would like to contribute, please do leave a comment.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A Happy Household

Mum needs time alone with the children. 
Dad needs time alone with the children. 
Mum needs time on her own (work doesn’t count). 
Dad needs time on his own (work doesn’t count). 
Mum and Dad (partner) need time together. 
The family need time all together. 

All of the above need to happen, both at home and away from home, at least once per fortnight.

I saw this Formula For A Happy Family by Martien Snellen when I was at the maternal and child health nurse and thought that it was a lovely, commonsense approach to thinking about what makes my household happy.

We have a new baby and as for all families with a new baby, it takes a little while to work out how to fit the happy formula around the new circumstances. Now that we are three months in, we are getting more and more comfortable with how it's all going. Increasingly, I have time on my own playing netball, gardening and crafting. Increasingly, my husband has time on his own playing board games, building things and riding his bike. Increasingly, we have time together when the kids are asleep and when a kind relative takes the children out. The family has time together playing in the house or on excursions out to the park or the zoo.

Time alone with the children is actually more challenging that it appears. Not because my husband and I don't both get time with the baby and Miss 3 together, that's easy, but we also have to be conscious to have one-on-one time with each of them. Miss 3 is older and has a strong personality; she is quite able to ask mum or dad when she wants to do something alone with us and I wrote last month about some of the activities that I have been doing with her.

But what about alone time with the baby? This baby is very calm and unless he is hungry, hungry is usually happy to entertain himself on his play mat. But feeding does not count as alone time. So how to make sure that he gets his one-on-one time?

Carve out some time for the baby.

It can be hard to find time completely alone with the baby, and it would have been even harder if the two were closer in age. But when Miss 3 is at kindergarten or swimming lessons or playing over at a friend's house, this is the perfect time to recapture that alone time that was so easy with #1. Right now, we use the time when Miss 3 is out to just sit and sing to, read to or play with the baby. But as he gets older, we'll be heading to the park, or story time, or perhaps music classes together.

Find separate activities for each child.

The baby is only three months old. But already his personality is different to Miss 3's. For example, at this age her favourite toy was a green noisy ball, but he loves a brightly coloured peacock. So I can often set Miss 3 up with an activity that she likes to do alone, playdough or driving cars on the car mat for example, and then spend some time alone with the baby looking at high contrast pictures or shaking rattles.

Carry the baby.

As you know, we love the park and have for a few years. And we also love walking and riding around the neighbourhood. It's easy to put the baby in the pusher for these outings and he is happy looking around and the napping when he gets tired. But when he is in a baby carrier, he's not just sitting alone at the side of the playground, he is part of the action.

Leave the children to play alone together.

One-on-one time is important for siblings too. Miss 3 is learning to be more careful and gentle around the baby, and he is less breakable. So she can play with him on the play mat or bouncinette, or burp him, or read to him. This makes her feel very important and children often learn much more from other children than they do from adults. It also promotes the bond between them.

We're only three months in to a family of four. We're by no means experts and there's a lot more to learn. And we'll be happy learning.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Preschooler Cooking - Gingerbread Biscuits

Six three-year-olds.
36 gingerbread cookies.
Four bowls of royal icing.
One bowl of sprinkles.
What could possibly go wrong?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

New Playmates

If you've been reading this Blog for a while, you would know that over 2012 and 2013, I had two little girls to look after - my daughter and her three-month-older best friend (currently Misses 3 and 3.5). I've talked about how this came about in a previous post and Miss 3.5's father has also talked about the child sharing arrangement, but in essence when I am at work, both girls are at Miss 3.5's house and then when Miss 3.5's mother is at work, both girls are at my house.

This year, I am at home with our new baby, so although the girls are attending the same preschool and having play days, we are not running our formal child sharing arrangement. However, because we are totally brilliant at planning and co-coordinating things (or just through coincidence), both families fell pregnant with number two at around the same time and Miss 3.5's mother will be at home this year too. And about three weeks ago, Miss 3.5 welcomed her little brother into the world.

Photo borrowed from Miss 3.5's father.

The current plan is to resume child sharing in 2015, so although there'll be less Miss 3.5 on here this year, next year you'll be seeing both Miss 3.5 and her little brother.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Materials and Techniques - 'Swaddle Me Snugly'

I was lucky enough to grow up with a mother who was always trying out new ways of creating. From painting and quilting, to raffia hats and fimo, she was always crafting and introducing us to new materials and techniques. As a result, I've been running fortnightly posts on my Blog, interviewing different artists about the materials and techniques that they use to create their works. This week I am talking to Kelli from Seattle, WA in the United States. She is a sewer who has the online store Swaddle Me Snugly.


Please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a retired wife, mother of three outstanding grown children, and grandmother of three very wonderful children.

Sewing new swaddle blankets, bibs and burp cloths recently for my new grandson, Petey, gave back to me a long-dormant pleasure in designing and creating sweet and fun things for a newborn. My brain and my hands recalled old skills and design ideas that I’ve had since I learned from my mother and both grandmothers how to make things for babies and children. Marrying these traditional designs and skills with current improvements in functionality was so much fun that I was inspired to open this shop to keep on designing and creating them. Before long, Petey grew out of swaddle cloths and burp cloths and tiny drool bibs, but I can keep on having fun making them for my shop.
It’s been a few decades since Petey’s father was a baby, and 18 years since Petey’s next youngest cousin was born. During that time, a lot of changes have taken place in the types and styles of baby care items! What I noticed first of course was the disposable diapers. They replaced the old flat folded cloth diapers that we used for burp cloths, and that led to a wonderful array of shapes and combinations of materials for burp cloths. What fun! Today drool bibs and burp cloths can be coordinated with swaddling cloths to make a well-dressed, stylish baby!

Swaddling cloths, too, have undergone a revolution of sorts, thanks to Dr. Karp’s book showing us all how to swaddle newborns and why a good swaddle is so important in the first few weeks, especially for little ones who were born early. When Petey was brought home from the hospital, they sent one swaddle cloth with him that was the right size and shape. His parents had difficulty finding more of that size and shape so I made them some them some square ones, 42” x 42”, and – yay – success! Snug swaddle, happy Petey! I figured if his parents had trouble getting the right swaddle wraps, looking everywhere online, then there must be other new parents needing a source to get them. So that’s how Petey’s shop, Swaddle Me Snugly, was conceived.

Ever since, I’ve been having a wonderful time designing and making more and more cute and useful things for parents of newborns. Now a few months since opening this shop, my swaddling cloths are snugly cuddling babies all over the country, and in Canada, allowing them to rest quietly and comfortably.

Now that Petey is a year old, I am making toddler bibs for him, those are fun to make, there are so many cute fabrics to choose from, and so I’m putting some of them in my shop too.

Every morning after breakfast, I walk into my sunny studio overlooking our beautiful gardens, and it’s like entering a candy store: I can pick from my fabric stash whatever I want to work on that day, and spend hours making cute baby things, while keeping an eye on the birds in the garden. What else could anyone want?

What materials and techniques do you like to use?

My favourite material is 100% cotton flannel. It’s so soft and lightweight for swaddle cloths. Another favourite that some families like for swaddle wraps is cotton knit jersey. I use both. It’s lightweight and a little stretchy and so is easier than the flannel to get a good snug swaddle. For burp cloths and bibs I marry the flannel with my other favourite material, 100% terry cloth. I launder all fabrics before I begin cutting and sewing, to reduce shrinkage and make sure the fabric will withstand hot wash water and hot dryers. Now and then I depart from this format and I’ll use polyester chenille which has to be laundered and dried in moderate temps. Sometimes I’ll marry cotton percale with the chenille or with cotton terry. Also sometimes I use diaper cloth that I quilt to cotton batting and marry it with cotton percale or flannel.

The swaddles are always single layer, with turned edges. I like the turned edges better than serged, because the turned edge feels softer to the baby’s tender skin than the serging. The edge of serging can be slightly abrasive. I like to use decorative stitches to stitch down my turned edges – lately I favour a decorative stitch that has a triple design that locks the edges of the flannel to the swaddle wrap more efficiently than other stitches, and looks really nice, too.

I designed my first batch of swaddle wraps with mitered corners, but now I make them with rounded corners; the rounded corners can’t get inadvertently flicked into a baby’s eye like the sharp corners can.

What challenges have you faced in the creative process?

My biggest challenge is space! After retiring, we downsized substantially and it has been a challenge to make space for fabrics and for finished products. We purchased two sets of cube storage units and have one set in our bedroom and one in our study. I sew in the bedroom because the light is the best in the house; I use the raised bed (that has drawers under it where I keep some of my fabrics) as my cutting and pressing table; it’s just the right height for me, no bending over and causing back pains. My sewing machine is in the sunny window corner of our bedroom. I have two shops, over 100 items in each shop, and aiming at 200 items in each shop, so I will be filling the cube storage to the top when I get there!

I have no problem thinking up things to make, my brain is full of designs and colour combinations that I want to make. As long as my machine works and I have the right knitting needles I’m in good shape. Getting fabrics and yarns is also no problem; I always have to restrain myself when I hit the fabric shop or the yarn shop.

What drives you to create?

What drives me to create is something in my brain that wants to see my ideas turned into finished products. From selecting the material and colours, to the shape and size of the item, to the building of it, to the finished product, is a gratifying adventure all the way from beginning to end. Almost always when it’s finished, I think “hey, that turned out great” and then reach for the next thing that’s on my mind to make. If I can’t say to myself “hey, that turned out great”, then I set it aside, to be taken apart later and the materials reused in some other way. I’m glad to be able to say that doesn’t happen often.
For this shop, for these baby care products, my inspiration was the need to provide the right kind of swaddling cloth to my son, and the fun I had making drool bibs and burp cloths for Petey before he was born. How I get started? Every day I can’t wait to get breakfast over and a little housework done so I can begin making things. It’s my passion.

What is coming up next?

I will soon be rolling out a line of products in 100% certified organic cotton. I think there is a growing market for them. Watch my shop for those.

All images provided by Kelli from Swaddle Me Snugly.

Investigate more materials and techniques, from pottery to upcycling dead insects. I'd love to hear what you do, so do please share with us.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Preschooler Cooking: Coconut Ice

Whilst the baby was sleeping, Miss 3 and I made coconut ice. It's quick and requires no cooking - really she could do this by herself if I measured out all the ingredients. It's also tasty and terribly unhealthy!

Pour a 400 g tin of condensed milk into a bowl.

Then sift in 350 g icing sugar

Add 350 g desiccated coconut and stir until there are no dry bits left. The mixture gets quite stiff, so your little one might need help with the stirring. Then line a tin with plastic wrap and pat half of the mixture into the tin.

Add red food colouring and stir again (Miss 3 has a fascination with food dye. She poured blue dye on the carpet once. I have learned. Don't leave small children alone with dye.), then spread the pink mixture over the white. Place it in the refrigerator for a few hours to set.

When set, remove the coconut ice from the tin, cut it up into bite-sized pieces, and eat it.

More preschooler play ideas, including art, cooking and play.