It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Ahh Christmas, we have a bit of a love/ hate thing, don’t we? While I love the aspects of celebration inspired by the Winter Solstice, I love being with friends and family and I love creativity, I don’t like the commercialism and the huge amount of waste… But, for now, let us focus on the good stuff. Here are some of the recent creations from our house:

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Our turquoise front door has got in the seasonal spirit. The wreath is made from willow, holly and a bit of spruce, all cut (with permission!) and made with my own fair hands. The result is something very ‘rustic’, but I’m down with all that this year.

 

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Talking of greenery, to celebrate the Solstice, the Tiny Overlord and I gathered some evergreens from the garden and proud displayed them in the front room.

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And we have received some really beautiful gifts, the centre three decorations all came from the Tiny Overlord’s playgroups. We’re really touched by how much love and care have gone in to them.

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Rather belatedly (or cleverly in advance of next year!) I’ve made some advent bags from simple small muslin bags (available in most cookware shops) and some iron-on appliques (ours are from here). Hopefully they’ll last us for many many Decembers to come.

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And even the Tiny Overlord has got in on the crafting action – His very first decoration, made from Salt Dough and painted all by himself, after he’d tested the paint by eating it, of course.

Obviously I can’t yet share what we have made for presents for people yet. But if you need anymore festive makery, here are the posts from Christmas 2013 and Christmas 2012. And, of course, you can also keep up to date with our general makings on Instagram.

Seasons greetings everyone X

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Wild Town

Since becoming a parent I am guilty of often tutting about ‘things not being like they used to be‘ – toys, clothes, music… Middle age eh? It comes to get us all eventually. But when it comes to outside time for children, things really are not like they used to be. The roaming distance that children play from their home has shrunk by 90% in 30 years, with time spent playing outside down 50% in just one generation. It is not just my increasingly curmudgeonly nature, British kids have never been more disconnected from the natural world. And it is believed that this increasing disconnect with nature, a nature deficit disorder, could even contribute to why the UK ranks so poorly in childhood satisfaction surveys.

wild-reading-project-logo

Nature Nurture want to change that. They are on a mission to get children and their families back outside to have some wild time and they want to start here, in our home town of Reading. They want to provide free nature themed Family Wild Day events, workshops for schools, training for teachers, outdoor Playdays for children. Including things like building dens, hunting bugs, conker contests… Things we remember as children! As well as that, they want children to learn about nature, all in our local parks, woodlands and other wild spaces. And they want to map the green spaces and wild side of Reading and help people of all ages discover some of the amazing wildlife that live there too.

And if you are thinking “well that’s nice for Reading, but what is in this for us?” As part of the project they want to create ‘The Wild Town Toolkit’ to help towns all across the country go wild!

But they need our help. They are through to the final of ITV’s People’s Millions and need 10s of 1000s of telephone votes to be in with a chance of winning £50,000 to make our towns go wild. Please watch the video below and pledge your support to vote for the project on Monday 24th November. Please help our kids have the kind of wild childhood we remember. Just like things used to be.

A Very Hungry Caterpillar Birthday Party

As mentioned earlier, this month our beloved Tiny Overlord turned one year old. And, quite frankly, we felt we all deserved a good knees up. So we held a birthday party for family and some of his baby friends at our house, based on his favourite book – Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Hungry Caterpillar birthday tea

Thanks to Pinterest, I found free printable labels, so we could all eat our way through all the things the Hungry Caterpillar ate (the sandwiches were displayed on a ‘great big green leaf’ platter. Water wipes and disposible bibs (eco ones from Naty) were also on hand for our younger guests.

Cupcake decorating at Hungry Caterpillar Birthday Party

Being a little wary of how much sugar my Hungry Caterpillar eats, I made plain cupcakes for everyone and then provided decorating materials so the ‘big kids’ could have some fun. The popping candy was a particular hit…

Ball pool at Hungry Caterpillar Birthday Party

In the front room we had a ball pool (inspired by all the colourful dots in the VHC book). I simply filled our paddling pool with ball acquired from charity shops and end of summer sales. We also put our these free Hungry Caterpillar colouring and activity sheets for the older children

Setting up the Hungry Caterpillar Birthday Party Paper Hungry Caterpillar head

Though my proudest creation, is possibly the Hungry Caterpillar I made from large honeycomb paper balls (inspired by this). I hung it the day before and the Tiny Overlord squealed with delight when he saw it. We really haven’t had the heart to take it down yet, so the caterpillar is still hanging over our dining room table. We wave at it every morning when we are eating breakfast.

Not pictured are our ‘party bags’, which were colourful reusable snack tubs (8 for £1 in our local pound shop!), filled with glittery homemade playdough and finished with a green leaf shaped parcel tag.

I won’t lie about being slightly apprehensive about holding a child’s birthday party, especially after reading this post from Free Our Kids. But the entire cost of the Tiny Overlord’s party came in at about £80 for over 30 people. And it created a lot of joy, personally for me doing my making and having a creative outlet, for our wider families getting together and celebrating and for our little family having something to mark this significant milestone in our life.

If you want to see the Tiny Overlord’s upcycled party outfit, you can do so just here.

 

Hardwick Squash and Pumpkin Festival

Welcome banner - Squash and Pumpkin FestivalAfter what felt like weeks of constant rain, the sun broke through and we made our way across the other side of the Thames Valley to feel the warmth on our faces and to visit Tolhurst Organic Produce’s annual Squash and Pumpkin Festival, set in their farm in the Victorian Walled Gardens of the Hardwick Estate.

Thames ValleyWe sat in the sun on the valley sides and drank locally brewed beer, ate locally grown foods, admired the most magnificent array of squashes and enjoyed some local bands.

Local beerThe Tiny Overlord practiced some serious toddling.

Toddling on the farmAnd we explored the farm. I often underestimate how much food is frown locally. Maybe I often mistakenly (or lazily) assume that we must rely on big supermarkets for our food. But these fields were bustling with tasty things to eat. I really want us to try to eat more seasonally, at least, and support more local growers like Tolhurst. Fresh, tasty and surely better for all of us? I am inspired.

Tolhurst Organic FarmThe festival was a real joy. I’m not too fond of commercial Halloween, but this festival felt like a proper celebration of the seasons – of truly appreciating what comes from the ground and the passing of that growing season to the winter. Do I sound like a hippy? Maybe. But good food, beer and music in a beautiful setting floats my boat far more than ‘trick or treat’.

One

And then the Tiny Overlord turned One. So to celebrate what has been equally the greatest, but also the hardest and most chaotic, year of our lives, we decided to celebrate. And naturally, my first thought when it comes to any celebration is ‘what to wear…

But it isn’t always as easy as that. I struggle with baby clothes, I really struggle with them. I don’t want to dress my little boy up as a tiny man, I want him to look like a baby, in baby clothes, wearing baby clothes that he can easily play in. However, sometimes this seems to be too much to ask. And having baulked at rails of tiny suits, shirts and bow ties, I decided to take matters in to my own hands and make him something special to wear myself.

Front of upcycled baby sweaterThe Tiny Overlord’s birthday jumper cost me a whole 50p in my local charity shop. I can not resist a good stripe. And armed with a fat quarter of Hungry Caterpillar print cotton from Etsy, I set about personalising it for him.

It really was rather simple – I traced the backwards shape of the ‘Ones’ on to some bondaweb, ironed it on to the ‘wrong side’ of the cotton and cut out the shapes. I then removed the back of the bondaweb and ironed the Ones in to position. Then, during an episode of Strictly, I secured them by stitching around the edges with a little embroidery thread. Above, is the front and here is the back…

Back of upcycled baby jumperAnd here is it worn by my cooperative model…

Baby wearing upcycled birthday jumperThe bondaweb and cotton was already in my stash, but the jumper and fat quarter came to about £4.10. A bargain for a special and unique  celebration outfit, if you ask me. And the result was something bold, bright and beautiful. A bit like the birthday boy himself.

The tale of two chairs

As mentioned in my last post, fuelled by a heady combination of Pinterest and ‘Fill Your House For Free‘, I’ve taken to upcycling in rather a manic way. Why upcycling? Isn’t it just a fashionable pursuit for the privileged with too much time on their hands? Well, maybe. Though being a full time carer of a small child, I’d dispute having too much time on my hands…

But I also rather believe in conscious consumption (I blogged about it here). I worry about our disposable society and what kind of environment the Tiny Overlord will inherit. And well, I just like old things, I love things with quirk and charm and character. I love things that are unique and if I can achieve some of those things through a good old bit of re-loving, then that’s just fine with me.

school chairs Made in Britain

The chairs came from a playgroup, via a reclamation yard in sunny Margate for a whole Four British Pounds (tip: avoid the ridiculously overpriced ‘vintage’ shops in the Old Town and head up the hill past the Shell Grotto to the real thing).

Covered in rust and grime, but proudly Made in Britain, I bequeathed them a stay of execution from the scrap heap and after lugging them home on the train (that lovely parquet floor above is in Ramsgate station), set about transforming them for the Tiny Overlord.

Chair makeover in progress Chair makeover in progress

It took me HOURS to sand all the flaking plastic paint and rust off the metal legs. It took me ages to scrub the plastic clean with sugar soap, so they could be primed and painted. But, after a lot of hard work, a couple of emergency trips to Wilkos for more cans of paint and a lot of cursing, they were transformed in to my primary coloured dream.

Yellow upcycled school chairs Play area

Can I be honest with you? Was it worth it? In principle, yes. These perfectly useable chairs have been saved from landfill and given a new lease of life and I love the colour of them. But, to get this finish on them took two cans of Plasticote paint (not including a coat of primer and lacquer) and two cans of spray Hammerite on the legs. That’s not only a huge amount of money to spend on £4 chairs, that’s an awful lot of VOCs released in to the atmosphere! Someone with more knowledge on these matters than I will have tell me if they really have better environmental value than new chairs.

Even though I have upcycled furniture many times before with a brush, I found the spray paint very hard to handle. I wasted loads of it spraying the thin chair legs. It didn’t dry in the time stated on the the can, the paint is uneven from where they were knocked over on to the grass by rampaging cats (that never happens to Kirstie Allsop…) and one chair has an amazing imprint of my finger prints for prosperity from where I had to pick it up, wet. Which is useful as a crime deterrent as there is absolutely no mistaking they are mine, but it wasn’t exactly the Pinterest perfect polished finish I was hoping for.

However, despite the resulting costs and imperfections, we really do love them. And paired with a slightly less ethical table from IKEA (I had planned to upcycle a table but this one was just too perfect. And it cost a lot less than all that spray paint…), we think they make the perfect pieces for the Tiny Overlord’s play area. And that’s really all that matters. Quirky, colourful and uniquely ours.

Three go to Dorset

Cows in fieldTiny CamperPaddlingSundown at EweleazeSunset at EweleazeEweleaze Beach and PontoonEweleze Farm Campsite, Dorset

Those from the Ray Mears school of camping, who might balk at staying on an organic farm with a wood-fired pizza oven, may wish to look away now. But we have just returned from one of the most magical weekends at Eweleaze Farm, near Weymouth in Dorset. Nestled on top of the spectacular cliffs of the Jurassic Coast, we found everything we needed at Eweleaze for our second family camping trip.

I’m won’t lie to you Ray, there is no need for survival suits or bushcraft here. With our 10 month old in tow, we wanted somewhere with access to a beach, animals for the little guy to be amazed by, fantastic walks, plenty of fresh air for our lungs and beautiful sea views for our souls – but also somewhere where we could easily get some hot food on a rainy evening and grab a tasty beer to sip, after the little guy had gone to bed, watching the sunsets and putting the world to rights. Eweleaze has all that.

Granted, the site’s increasing popularity (since our first trip there in 2011) means the illusive sea views are a little harder to find, especially for those of us with camper vans. And yes, at the weekend particularly, it did feel very busy at times. The increasingly popularity of ‘glamping’ means Eweleaze is ticking a lot of nouveaux campers’ boxes. I have never seen so many bell tents and bunting in one place. However, it does still have its many charms – views, the beach, the access to the Jurrassic Coast path… Lovely Weymouth is just a couple of miles walk away and on the site itself, the quality of the food (the bakery, the farm shop, the pizza oven…) and friendliness of the staff are still superb.

And for our fledgling family, it is a really really wonderful and inspiring place. In a world where I worry about too many gadgets and too much CBeebies, it was fantastic to see so many older children (and adult ‘children’!) running free, swimming in the sea, petting animals, laughing on hay bales and flying kites… For the time being you can keep your Extreme Survival, thanks Ray. I just want to paddle in the sea with my baby and have a beer watching the sun go down.