Monday, June 24, 2013

Bathroom revamp: dreaming

The truth is I am not really a bathroom kinda girl. Check out my pinterest boards and you’ll see 131 kitchens at the last count and only 6 bathrooms. There a few more tucked away on my decorate board but only because I thought the tiles had potential for a kitchen renovation. I don’t dream of recreating some luxury spa experience I had in Thailand. I hate massages. I’m not into beauty treatments. My favourite product is nivea soft because it does the job and it's cheap. I see the bathroom as a very functional room, not somewhere to linger. The truth is I am finding it difficult to visualise what my dream bathroom could look like.

I do however have a list of criteria; clean, simple, light, contemporary, inexpensive and no subway tiles. I am not a fan. It is more an association thing than a style prejudice. My husband loves them but then he hasn’t spent great swathes of his life travelling up and down the Northern Line. I can’t imagine anything worse than relaxing in a hot bath glancing at your tiles and suddenly being transported to the stink, heat and airlessness of the underground at rush hour.

The reality is we have almost no money to spend on this project and I am slightly fearful that if our design choices are too simple, the bathroom could end up looking purely functional verging on institutional. I prised myself away from the many beautiful kitchens seducing me online and trawled about for some bathrooms to get excited about. And guess what? I did get excited. How amazing is that flamingo above the bath? Only for most of these bathrooms you would need a pretty hefty budget and to live in some amazing high-ceilinged period house chock full of original features. So that rules out our boxy practical 1970s house then. Still I found plenty to inspire me. (All images are credited below where possible). Which ones do you like?

Images from top to bottom:
originally pinned from Pretty Plum Sugar
Chic Design Investments
Bad pinterest link. Can't find original source.
Can't find this last one either. Let me know if you do!

Bathroom revamp: meet the bathrooms

When we moved into this house almost two years ago, top of our to do list was to get rid of all the weird textured metallic wallpaper and paint every room white. The next job was to rip out the bathrooms. “There is no way I can live with those bathrooms for even a month,” I seem to remember saying. Well two years on we have the white walls but the family bathroom, en suite and downstairs loo are just the same. Okay we tore up the carpet in the loo and replaced it with lino when the smell of stale pee became overpowering but otherwise not much has changed.
I am guessing from the swamp green floral tiles that this bathroom was put in sometime during the 80s. It is dark, dull and depressing and never feels properly clean. 
The family bathroom is split into two rooms – bath and sink in one room and loo in the other. It's a ridiculously inconvenient layout so we are going to knock down the dividing wall and block up one of the doorways to create one big light-filled room.
Then we may swing the bath around so instead of being wedged in against the short wall, it runs along the external wall under the windows. And we desperately need some storage. At the moment all our shampoos, shower gels and bubble baths are crowded along the windowsill.

We are on an extremely tight budget in the sense that we really don’t have any money to spend at all. Big M is going to do all the work himself on weekends and after work – well that’s the idea anyway. We are already looking out for bathroom suites and tiles that don't break the bank but are still relatively stylish. In a dream world I'd be going to made a mano for tiles but I think the reality is more Wickes and Topps Tiles.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dinosaur cake

This beauty is my first ever attempt at a novelty birthday cake. And I have to say I am mighty proud of him. Little M like most boys his age is OBSSESSED with dinosaurs. I would be surprised if there are many palaeontologists out there more informed than he is. Initially I had no intention of making one myself but by the time I had unsuccessfully scanned all the supermarket shelves and got a quote from a local baker (too pricey), I realised it was all down to me.

The fanciest I have ever got with a birthday cake before is to write their new age in smarties on the top of a Victoria sponge so this was quite a leap. I used a Nigella recipe for a birthday buttermilk cake which is supposed to be good for holding unusual shapes. And I baked it in this cake tin. Don’t worry I didn’t sculpt the whole thing myself. 
I was forewarned by reviews on amazon that you needed to use cake release spray to grease the tin. It is pretty gruesome stuff. It contains wax and all sorts of worrisome ingredients.
It worked because the cake slipped out like a dream but did leave a weird bubbly texture across the surface. Here he is in all his naked T-rex glory.
I did have to mentally ease up on what I do and don’t allow the kids to eat for this cake. The green icing I used had a warning on the pack that one of the E numbers could cause kids to become over-active. I reasoned a birthday comes once a year and I could have them back on the healthy stuff the next day.

I rolled the icing as thin as I dared and draped it over the cake. I was convinced I would immediately lose all the lovely dino detail but it came through after a bit of gentle pressing and stroking.

I used squeezy tubes of fruit gel for cake decorating to pick out the details and cut out triangles of white icing for the teeth and circles for the eyes and dotted jelly tots everywhere. My friend who must be psychic texted me at 10pm saying I hope you are not up making the cake. I was. You can see my espresso cup in the background.  

The birthday boy loved it though you wouldn’t know from this rather melancholy picture post candle blow out. Maybe he’s focusing on his birthday wish.
And Little P couldn’t get enough of the green icing. I kept a sharp eye on her for signs of hyperactivity but I think she was okay.

I was trying to psyche myself up for another novelty cake bake a few days later for Little P’s birthday. She had her heart set on a Hello Kitty cake but I was feeling a little baked out. I knew I had found my perfect out when I spied this pink piggy in M&S.

My kids’ current film obsession is Charlotte’s Web so when they saw Wilbur in cake form I knew I was off the hook, Hello Kitty well and truly forgotten. I was going to make an accompanying Charlotte from a tunnocks teacake and eight chocolate fingers but we all forgot so it didn’t really matter.
Maybe next year...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It's my party and I'll cry if I want to

Phew! I’ve thrown two birthday parties in one week. Little M turned five and little P three within days of each other. It was the first time I'd done separate ‘at home’ parties for them and oh my goodness it was hard work! I hadn’t realised how much preparation was involved.

Little M’s party fell on the only rainy day of the week, which meant no bouncy castle in the garden and ten boisterous boys bouncing around indoors instead. Luckily I was ready with plan B, a military precision schedule of party games and party food all timed to the last minute.
I am always amazed at other children's parties how kids love doing crafts. I guess they need something calming after all that jumping around. I’ve seen crown making, colouring party bags and biscuit decorating all go down really well. We opted for shield making. I cut out shield shapes in gold and silver card and they decorated them with stickers, pompoms and feathers. It was amazingly popular and we had a prize for the best knight.
As a complete contrast, it was a gloriously hot day on Little P’s birthday, so we had a very easy laid back party in the garden. We finally got our bouncy castle. Hurray! And a rather bizarre warning not to have a barbeque on it. We only needed a couple of party games as the children seemed happy enough racing around the lawn.
We survived it. The children had fun. And there weren't too many tears that couldn't be dried with a packet of Haribos. So here are my tips for hosting a children's party;
  • Get help: I’m not including husbands or partners here. You need expert multi-taskers. That means women. Recruit your mum, sister, sister-in-law, other mum friends.
  • Keep it simple: Yes I know you want to go all Nigella Lawson domestic goddess but save yourself the hassle. Kids want chocolate finger biscuits and hula hoops. Save your tiffin recipe for a rainy day with the kids. Ditto making your own bunting. Ditto sewing a homemade party dress. You don’t have the time!
  • Keep it cheap: I discovered the marvels of the 99p store. Stock up on cute paper cups and plates, party bag supplies, balloons, pass the parcel gifts, pretty much everything here.
  • Plan, plan, plan: Make a playlist in advance. Gangnam Style seems to be the party song of choice for YR boys. Dora Explorer is a winner for pre-school girls. I can report that Skyfall was only a popular choice with me. Decide in advance what games you are playing and when you are eating.  
  • Haribos: These little gummy wonders are your secret weapon. Hand them out frequently to keep everyone sweet.
  • Party bags: If all else goes wrong at least you are sending them on their way with a good party bag which will wipe all preceding disasters from their memories. That is my theory anyway. I put plastic dinosaurs, pencils and haribos in bags for Little M’s friends and fairy wands, bouncy balls and haribos in Little P’s friends.
  • Remember: They will be excited about hanging out with each other outside school or pre-school. All the rest is flim flam.
And finally, put a bottle of prosecco in the fridge to chill for later on. You've earned it!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A perfect play dress

This dress is far from perfect. It kind of bellows homemade at you. Hopefully in a cute endearing way and not in a "yikes, look at that" way. Its perfection is not in its uneven hem and less than tailored fit. Instead it is the ideal little girl's dress for running through a sprinkler on a hot summer's day, for poking around rock pools in search of crabs and turning cartwheels on a sandy beach.
It is light and airy. It’ll keep you cool but covered at the same time. And there are pockets big enough to keep all your treasures in. After a busy day of fun and games, you can kick off your flip flops and head home looking as fresh as when you set out.
And how fabulous are these beach huts? I wish they wrote the paint colours on the side.

I bet people walk past saying things like "Now that is the shade of muted canary I was talking about for the kitchen dresser." 
But back to the dress. I keep spotting pretty peasant-style dresses at Boden and other lovely but pricy places and wanted to try one out myself. There are a gazillion tutorials around but I found this one by Teresa Brady particularly clear. It is actually for an adult-sized peasant top but the construction is the same. 
A peasant dress is basically made of four pieces; front, back and two sleeves. You sew the sleeve pieces to one of your large pieces first, then attach the remaining large piece and run a seam up both sides. 

Finally you make a casing for the elastic around the neckline of the dress. I pulled the elastic quite tight as I wanted the dress to work as a cover up from the sun.
I test ran the pattern first with a dolly-sized version. I drew the pieces freehand on a piece of A4 using the whole length and width of the paper. Remember that the curves where the sleeves meet the body must be exactly the same size and shape on each of the four pieces, so once you have drawn one piece trace your curve onto the other pieces.

Here is Pandora the Panda looking very sweet and demure in hers. 
Perhaps not too cleverly I decided to give the girl-sized version a bash in the middle of the night without measuring my girl first. The upshot was a dress so voluminous, I could have worn it as a maternity smock in my ninth month. I did a fair amount of chopping and resewing until I had something wearable for her.
The pockets really helped pull it all together. It was my first time doing patch pockets and I was pretty pleased with how they turned out. You could add elastic to the sleeves too to make puff sleeves but I had run out of steam and I think I prefer the floaty look anyway.
So go on! What are you waiting for. Make your girl a play dress and go play with her out in the sunshine.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Why pinning beats shopping

I just passed my driving theory test. I know ‘Woo hoo! Go me!’ I was feeling pretty drained after the hazard perception test. My goodness, after an intense half hour dodging virtual bolting horses, narrowly avoiding collisions with cyclists and reversing vans, trying and failing to spot pedestrians in the pitch dark, I was in need of a reward.

Luckily there was a Debenhams next to the test centre, so after a restorative cup of tea in the café, I took a wander around the store looking for my prize. There were some stunning party dresses for little girls, a gorgeous black one with a hummingbird print by Ted Baker, and some cool carrot leg trousers for boys, and very cute pyjamas in womenswear. I kept picking things up and walking round with them, then putting them back thinking ‘I don’t really need this.’

But they were having one of their blue sticker days and I was finding it tough to resist the lure of 20% off. In bedding I nearly succumbed. I was zigzagging methodically down the aisles going ‘nice, cute, nice, sweet…’ when I spotted The One: a John Rocha duvet cover in white with a scattering of photographic effect single stemmed flowers. 

It was the bed linen I have been waiting for all my life. With trembling hands I picked it up. Would it be 100% cotton or not? A sure deal breaker. It was. Result! I was already picturing it in the bedroom working perfectly with the curtains. Then I looked at the price. Nearly sixty quid and no pillowcases included. Did I really need it? Would my husband like it? 

Then I had my Eureka moment. ‘I can pin it!’ Simple. I stake my claim on it, publically declare my love for it. I can admire it as often as I want and I don’t have to shell out a penny. I felt pretty darn pleased with myself.

I adore pinterest. I collect and organise all the beautiful, inspiring and wonderful images I find on the internet. I 'follow' people whose taste I admire and other pinners follow me back. And strangely I suspect pinterest has saved me an awful lot of money.

I headed back to the café for a second cup of tea thinking about how pinning rather than increasing our desire to accumulate stuff can actually curb it by satisfying our consumer lusts before we indulge in them. We don’t have to own the physical object. It can be enough to have a glossy picture of it on our computer screen. And there is that little buzz of pleasure when someone else pins it or likes it. That affirmation that yes you have great taste. You are cool, you are beautiful, you rock. You are ok.