Sunday, 29 June 2008

Notes from behind the hanky...

Sometimes we go and sit upstairs in our favourite cafe - a wonderful place, home to fresh milkshakes and excitingly filled paninis - and look out of the sash windows at the back, into a side street where our first house here stands, the place where we lived with Zebra-girl when she was very small. Zebra gazes at its creamy lime washed walls and tiny front garden and longs to be back there, up in her cosy old bedroom or sorting her toys in the tiny playroom at the back of the house. No amount of discussing the benefits of our new house (of which there are a great many for her) can sway her in its favour...so began a dissection of what exactly it might be about her old bedroom that made her long to back there...and eventually we realised that the difference was in the floor covering. Part-way through our refurbishing programme, we had yet to tackle the final issue of the flooring, which is an unbedroomy laminate, and so this weekend has been one of tearing up both that and some old carpeting (for it has propelled us into tackling other areas of the house too), followed by trips to the tip. It has also been one of a swelling face and streaming eyes, so allergic have I become in the wake of the dust that flew up in great plumes as the carpet was lifted from the stairs. Mr Teacakes dispatched me to Sainsburys in the hope that a sterile environment might still my dancing histamine, but, as well as the dangers of driving in such a state, we had also forgotten about the flower section as you enter. As I pushed my trolley round the aisles I became aware of people staring at me...(I checked and I definitely hadn't gone out with this accidentally left up my nose and I'm sure there was no way of them knowing of its presence there only 1/2 an hour earlier)....and I wondered at what it must be like to have a permanent facial disfigurement, for people are so very rude and tactless, and I was surprised by quite how long people found it acceptable to stare for. But back to the stairs...beneath the carpet were these lovelies, which admittedly would need some work, but how very tempted we were to call a halt to the carpet that is destined to be fitted over them.

There's something so lovely about their treads and carefully rounded edges...but I can imagine also something very drafty about them in the winter...

It always seems a shame to cover up wood, no matter what its condition...it has so much character and natural elegance. But instead I will content myself with keeping out this wonderful darning mushroom, sent to me by my Aunt, which delights me not least because it has such mushroom-like markings on the underside...I could look at it all day...I would like to do a darning mushroom/button mushroom photo next time I remember!

Too sneezy to be useful, Mr Teacakes very kindly sent Zebra and I off together to do something of our choosing while he made up the packed lunches for tomorrow. With a request from Zebra-girl to sew, a link on the Crafty Crow to an activity that Anna Maria Horner did with one of her children instantly sprang to mind and it appealed to Zebra-girl too. The idea of sewing around the borders of flowers printed on fabrics seems a much better way to practice precise hand sewing than simply sewing up and down in straight lines. Anna Maria had sensibly picked a flower with a much more clearly defined edge to it, but as Zebra wanted to use something from her own fabric stash that Hazel had very kindly sent for her, then I let her choose which print she wanted to use. After she'd carefully sewn around the edges, she then decided that she wanted to pick out some of the inner petals. She is now expert in tieing knots in cotton and threading her own needle and has extracted a promise that we will move onto picking out the leaves with an apple-green thread tomorrow evening.

Below is her little fabric stash (such lovely colours together)...folded and refolded with great pride of ownership! One of my favourite posts from last week was reading about the sewing box, full of so many special things, that Annie created for her daughter's birthday. I am so looking forward to doing this for Zebra-girl as I know she would treasure it and Annie's beautiful gifts have given me perfect inspiration. I remember very clearly the sewing basket that was given to me by my grandmother when I was about eight years old and it pains me that I no longer have it. Wicker on the outside and red satin lining within, and little elasticated pockets containing a rainbow of embroidery floss and a pack of pearly-headed pins.

And finally postal goodness....already knowing Lisa and how efficiently she runs her business I was predisposed to think that any U-handbag purchases might be sent out speedily, but how surprised and delighted I was to find a delivery man at the door at 8am the next morning bearing my parcel....and look at these lovely cherries she put in - thank you Lisa (The little Teacakes have of course stolen them already...but perhaps you knew that might happen!). The bag snaps I am hoping may be an answer to magnetic problems...I have found that the 18mm bag snaps that my local shop sells can be too heavy for a silk lining...so I am hoping that these less fiercely snappy 14mm ones might be better.

Monday, 23 June 2008

A bad day for stitchery...

Today has been something of a sewing disaster...my Mama had bought swathes of black linen so that I might make a skirt for her...but we both quickly came to realise that a skirt is not like a smock or even a wrap dress....a skirt has to fit perfectly to be acceptable day wear, and a mermaid skirt that fits snugly on the hips, cinches in and then kicks out from the knee is by definition a precision-fitted garment. Blogsters, it went wrong. I had used one of my mother's existing skirts as a template, and even though, when placed one on top of the other, the cut appears identical, once on, my skirt had the effect of making my dear mother look a very strange shape indeed (which is not her way at all, for she is quite lovely!). On discovering that I had temporarily turned my mother into an upside-down pear, I also realised that I had only 15 minutes in which to get to the post office to pick up a parcel before it closed and raced out of the house in something of a fluster, nearly crashing the car no less than three times on my way there (lesson learnt: never drive immediately after a stitchery disappointment...it causes one to make poor judgements). However, on my return I raced up the stairs to find that my sweet mother had tidied up the fabric, pins and lint that only half an hour earlier had been littering much of the floor and there was instead only the happy smell of just-hoovered carpet (a smell of warm cleanness...or is the warm smell just our overheating vacuum cleaner, the result of Mr Teacakes throwing a vital part away when emptying the bag one day?).

I think we were both a little disappointed by the skirt debacle, but if one must draw positives (and yes, one must) then I should tell you how very satisfying inserting a concealed zip can be when you have one of these special feet above....its design means you simply cannot do a bad job...your stitches stay in a perfectly straight line and are as close to the actual zip as is humanly possible, while preventing you from ever going so close as to get your stitches stuck in the teeth. So much fun.

Looking for other positives (for the day was bad in other ways too...poor Dinosaur-boy had to be wrenched from me, and his fingers unpeeled from my clothing when I dropped him off at nursery...his trial afternoon at school seems to have induced a severe case of separation anxiety), then seeing my jeans lying on the bed this evening next to this Missoni foulard scarf would be one of them. This was bought for me several years ago, pre-children and packed away with so many of the clothes that I boxed up the summer that we moved house when I was pregnant with Zebra-girl. It was only last year that I re-found this forgotten piece of loveliness and I have since been utterly delighted by it, for it isn't something that I can imagine choosing now, but there is a youthfulness that I find in the wearing of its lovely strands that reminds me of our old life in London.

But this weekend has not felt so dissimilar from that life, for Mr Teacakes and I went to a wedding, had old friends sleeping on our sofas, read the Sunday papers in bed, enjoyed a long lunch at our favourite restaurant and slept away the afternoon, as the little Teacakes visited their grandparents, rode on the beautiful Christmas (pictured below, a gift that my father bought for my mother a couple of years ago) and visited the seaside on a shell-collecting mission. They returned home tired and happy and full of stories of what they had been up to...but then nearer bedtime full of tears for a weekend that had passed too quickly.

So today after the upset of dropping two crying children off at their respective educational pods, ruining a skirt, and being unsettled by my own bad driving, I am also finding these matryoshka tins (there is also a blue and a red one) to be quite the most perfect thing to gaze upon in order to bolster flagging spirits. Isn't she gorgeous?

Oh, and the rose at the top of this post - I am quite in love with it. I took a picture of it when we were out walking near my parent's house last week - and now it is for Mama....with much sorriness about the skirt and with appreciation (in equal measure) for her laughing with me about it. x

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Making a snail house...

With no nursery, no errands to run, no plans to see friends, and Zebra-girl out to tea this evening, Dinosaur-boy and I had a rare uninterrupted nine hours stretching ahead of us today.

In the morning we staged elaborate dinosaur fights and contemplated whether it was acceptable to introduce plastic frogs into the game...then we practised cycling up and down the drive on Dinosaur's new pedal bike....a little later we set up a giant train track that stretched from one bedroom into another. At lunch we ate cherries together and wondered how to spend the afternoon....then literary inspiration struck and the hours suddenly passed very quickly.

My children have both loved an old book from my own childhood, called Acorns and Stew by Ruth Orbach, in which a little girl called Lenore builds houses for the ducks in her local park so that they needn't emigrate for the winter time....the colours are basic and bold and the story told in rhyme... however, with no ducks about and an almost summery feel to our day, it prompted us instead to go for a walk and see if we could find snails to house.

First we made a house from an old Amazon box and Dinosaur-boy decorated it with pictures of swirly shells and their owners, then we found a bucket and went snail hunting in the hedges and walls up and down our road.

We found many, but we both fell for the liveliest one that, once housed, ventured around his new home and waggled its antennae at us, while the others hid in their shells.

Dinosaur-boy carried their house carefully to the bottom of the garden, so that the snails might have a grassy garden around them, should they venture beyond their new front door...

We had our doubts about the safety of the loft room, but have since seen evidence that our design hasn't been the cause of snails hurtling to their death...they are clever things.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

More mustard...

A couple of weeks ago (for I am suffering from something of a blogging backlog) I made this bag, hot on the heels of my other mustard adventures. A wonderful-looking Melly & Me Sherbet bag pattern has been in my cupboard since March, but as any regular reader will know, irrespective of simplicity and clearness of instructions (which I have no doubt that Melly's would have been both), I am not inclined to follow patterns, so using the photograph on the front for inspiration, I set about making my own version.

What I really loved about the Melly & Me bag is the use of the three fabrics across the front and the unstructured, relaxed feel of the bag. However, I prefer my bags to have a single handle, rather than two, so I incorporated one similar to that of the bags that I usually make. I then added some little ribbon ties to fasten it. The other reason that justifies not using a pattern (rather than just my cowardly fear of them) is that at 5ft 1, I like my sizing to be a little smaller than most bags so that it's in proportion with my frame.

Inside is this lovely sea-coloured blue polka dot fabric that I have quite fallen in love with...so often I find the opening of the bag to reveal the lining inside to be far more pleasing than looking at the exterior (but I must not spend life with my head in a bag, for I believe that the delight comes from restricted exposure!).

It took me an awfully long time of fiddling with concertinaed pieces of paper to work out how much bigger your original piece of fabric must be in order to incorporate the desired number of pleats, but once I'd finally cracked it, I realised that they are the most satisfying things to create...so crisp.

So I now have two mustard bags...which seems a little excessive...but as someone commented on my first mustard venture, it will work so well with jeans...

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Puffed up heartyness

This week I have been experimenting with puff pastry. First I started off with some little squares containing leeks and walnuts, topped with goats cheese (below)...but the nuts weren't a popular ingredient with Dinosaur-boy, so today I tried out a red pepper and onion combination, and in an attempt to give it added child-appeal (and perhaps because I'd been feeling excited all day about the whole new avenues of fun that have been opened up to me by venturing into puff pastry) I cut the pastries into heart shapes before I cooked them.

The little Teacakes were delighted by them...and oh how lovely it is to be eating outdoors again!

When I haven't been dreaming about different shapes of pastry cutters I have been playing with the overlocker that my father (is there no end to the man's sewing goodness this week?) very kindly financed....the overlocker cost a little more than the £4 he spent on my other machine, but is equally wonderful. After a couple of sessions whizzing through scrap cotton remnants, I now have some Amy Butler under its foot that I am making into a kimono.

Threading an overlocker is every bit as hard as people make it out to be, but once it is finally threaded (my first attempt took a little over half an hour and it's decreasing all the time) it seems fairly simple to use, although far less easily controllable than a sewing machine....going around curves is problematic, but luckily kimonos tend to be straight-cut garments.

The other problem is that an overlocker (for those of you who aren't familiar with one) cuts your fabric as it overlocks it...meaning that extreme weight loss may be the only remedy for the shrinking size of the butchered garment should there be any error....but thankfully my first foray into overlocking was free from mistakes, so I will be off to the cake shop in the morning.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Comings and goings

This week I went and collected from the ceramics studio the pottery that we had painted during half-term. Above is my coaster that I based on a Heather Bailey print. I was most delighted by Dinosaur-boy's rabbity eggcup though. He put much effort into daubing it and it looks so bright and lovely, now that it's been glazed, that a tea of egg and soldiers was rustled up that very evening to celebrate.

Another wonderful new addition to our home is this vintage Singer sewing machine. On Sunday morning all the other Teacakes were off gallivanting when my father surprised me by knocking at the door with this wonderful machine stashed in the footwell of his car.

He had been off 'booting' (as he calls it) and had parted with £4 to buy me this virtually unused piece of loveliness. The old man who sold it to him told him that it had been his mothers and while the wooden travel case that it has lived in for all those years is quite battered, inside, the actual sewing machine is pristine...just look at those shiny unscratched unworn plates!

It has a bobbin shaped like a torpedo and the minute I'd worked out how to put it back into it's correct place (which took longer than a minute) I had some material under its foot and was delighted to find that it is capable of producing perfect stitches. I have to admit to finding even modern sewing machines breathtakingly beautiful...so you can imagine my feelings of wonder faced with carved scratch plates and golden decoration...and quite how touched I was that my father had been off investigating all things stitchery-related in a muddy field at 6.15 in the morning.

Also this week we received in the post this fantastic little cup, bowl and plate set that we had won on a giveaway on the Hurrayic blog...I was so delighted on opening the box to find that, despite her long journey over the seas, she was perfectly intact. The little Teacakes have had so much fun lining up all her body parts - isn't she lovely! Thank you, Ellen.

Above is Zebra-girl's cake pot that she made. Out of interest Dinosaur-boy and I checked whether it will actually hold a single cupcake, and our experiments revealed that it is the most perfect fit, which was pleasing, even though I then had to tell Zebra-girl that 'cupcake holder' will not be its ultimate purpose as that would mean that a constant supply of baking would have to find its way up to her bedroom.

We are hopefully getting our car back today, after it was towed to the garage last Sunday...I am excited, not because I actually want to go any where in it, but because I know that they will have washed it for me and it will be pleasing to live for at least the next week pretending that I am the type of person that bothers to wash the car....I wonder if this necessitates the wearing of different clothes to truly become the embodiment of my new imagined persona...first I shall have to think about what such a person might wear. Additionally, I think that its return may force some of Mr Teacakes 'rules' to be rewritten. You see, after the dish cloth accumulation crisis, Ian decided that our shopping bill would be less costly if he took charge of the weekly shop...however, since we purchased our car it has broken down four times, and on each occasion it has been on a Sunday when Mr Teacakes has been driving home from the supermarket...to me this can only mean one thing....our dear little car wants me to buy MORE dishcloths! Horay! I am so happy that it feels this way that I may even set one of them aside to give its bonnet the occasional polish.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Half-term happiness and baking experiments...

Dinosaur-boy returned to nursery a day earlier than Zebra-girl after our week off and so today, after we'd walked him to nursery, we scurried home to get started on the doll's quilt that Zebra-girl had already picked out the fabrics for. Last night after the choosing had taken place I spoke to my mother on the phone and told her what Zebra-girl's sewing plans were. When I revealed that her fabric choices revolved around greens, yellows and blues she instantly congratulated me, for she knew that it would have cost me dearly not to have forced a plethora of pinks and reds upon the little dear. It worked in Zebra-girl's favour that I have been reading Soule Mama's book 'The Creative Family', the gist of which is to allow your child to express their own creative choices. So although things might not look the way I would initially have liked them to, Zebra-girl is delighted with her completed quilt and it is all the sweeter to look at knowing that something in each of those fabrics specifically appealed to her sense of taste (and just in case you were thinking we'd found some common ground with the pink fleecy backing...that was agreed to purely because of a lack of any other suitably soft material being to hand).

My children seem to stay the same for a very long time and then quite suddenly enter a period of rapid change...after a year of only agreeing to sit down at a table long enough to create pictures comprised of no more than 7 straightish lines, Dinosaur-boy has quite suddenly begun to spend hours at a time drawing intricate worlds, dinosaurs and trains. I can't tell you how unexpected and delightful it is to find him surrounded by papers and pens, too busy with finishing one last detail on a picture to join us for tea.

No amount of asking Dinosaur-boy to pick out letters on the front cover of the books we read, or playing with fridge magnets has previously ignited a desire in him to learn the alphabet though....it was only when I came across a long-forgotten book of dinosaur letter puzzles on the shelf that I saw how dramatically different his response to it was...it was like a penny dropping for me and I suddenly became aware of how differently, with my children at least, girls and boys are motivated in their learning. While Zebra-girl's eagerness to draw, read, learn and create was so intrinsic to her very being that the subject matter of these things was completely secondary, with dinosaur-boy that is reversed.

With this in mind I spent a couple of evenings scouring Amazon with some of his unspent birthday gift vouchers and eventually found The Dinosaur Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta and Ralph Masiello (pictured above and below). What an amazing book this is...a dinosaur for every letter with just the kind of information about each that he will love.

I also ordered a couple of the Kumon books that Ali had written about using with her son. Looking through them I can see exactly why they might hold an appeal for a small boy.

We have also been experimenting with some baking over the last few days. Every week we spend so much money on putting things from the wonderful, sugarless Organix range into lunchboxes, that I thought we might have a go at creating our own version. This is the recipe (after some trial and error) that we eventually settled on:

Zebra & Dinosaur Sugarless Carrot Cakes:


2oz butter
3 generous tablespoons of honey
8 oz plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
A huge amount of ground nutmeg and mixed spice (be generous and then double it!)
3 carrots finely grated
1 peeled and diced apple
1 very large (think man-sized) handful of sultanas
2 free-range eggs
Large muffin cases

1. Melt the butter and honey together (zebra-girl's first time standing over the stove in the making of the final version!) and then remove from the heat.
2. After sifting together the baking powder, flour, nutmeg and mixed spices, stir them into the melted butter and honey mixture.
3. Add the eggs and stir
4. Finally mix in the grated carrots, diced apples and sultanas
5. Distribute between 10 large muffin cases (one for each day of the school week for both children)
6. Cook in the oven at about 180, until your knife comes out clean (around 20 minutes).

My children love them and our half-term visitors didn't seem to vocalise any awareness that their cakes were part vegetable...but does the 3 tablespoons of honey render these too unhealthy to be eaten on a daily basis? I'm still pondering on that.