The Winter of Contentment.

We really challenged ourselves in April. I mean, more than usual. Every day in April we were working on the Minimalist Game, putting together the dolls’ house and working around the (worthy) challenges of avoiding the supermarket. It was a great, eye opening month, but I was glad when it was over.

I feel like I spent most of May catching our readers up on April and now we’re here and it’s June and in many ways, I’ve run out of words. So here, instead, are some pictures of fun BNNish stuff I’ve been doing lately.

The Fearse Family DIY Cress Men

Making Cress Men on Easter Sunday. Little Fearse asked to see the “Cress man and cress lady” every morning and gave them a kiss hello until their hair was ready to eat.

The Fearse Family DIY Scrap Material Rag Doll

Making a Jemima style rag-doll from a very sketchy pattern in the 1980 edition of Play School’s Useful Book. Little Fearse helped choose all the materials and even sacrificed her favourite (but very worn) PJ pants for Jemima’s striped leggings. An old pair of jeans was used to make feet and the rest were scraps found at the bottom of my material bench. One of her arms has already fallen off twice and she was given a much nicer Jemima for her birthday anyway, but it was a really fun holiday activity to do together.

The Fearse Family DIY Old Jeans and Place Mat Tool Belt

Making a tool belt for a friend’s third birthday using a place mat, old jeans (the waist band of the jeans was used as the belt part – vintage buttons were added to make it adjustable and they even kind of matched the place mat) and tools collected from the op shop and market. I looked at lots of tutorials for these but ended up making my own by combining different ideas. Worth exploring!

The Fearse Family DIY Vintage Curtain Material Zoo Skirt

I used some vintage curtain material to make my first ever Little Fearse skirt, using a combination of this tutorial and this tutorial. I made this one for a special trip to the zoo. It’s very zooey

The Fearse Family DIY Vintage Fabric Scrap Dolls' Bedding

Little Fearse has been asking me for awhile to make blankets for Maggie in the dolls’ house. Yeah, true, this did take me al of about three minutes to sew, but I love the material Little Fearse chose from my new stash of vintage fabric scraps. I look forward to whipping up some more blankets for the rest of the dolls’ house inhabitants.

The Fearse Family DIY Vintage Scrap Patchwork SKirt

Using the same lot of vintage scraps and a similar concept to the zoo skirt I patch worked some of my favourite scraps together and (lacking elastic) I used an op shopped skirt (with bonus shorts inside!) and attached my patchwork to the skirts original waist. I am absolutely thrilled with how this turned out.

You know, Winter isn’t my favourite time of year, but I’m really determined not to let it get me down this year. I hope that with the satisfaction I gain from these mini projects (plus lots of reading, which I’ve been indulging in more and more lately) I will while away the gloomy days and bring on Spring a little faster.

Mama xo

Dolls’ house renovation: The Library

The Fearse Family: Dolls' house renovation

 

The thing I love the most about the library is that it wasn’t a library when we began. It wasn’t an anything. In the time the dolls’ house had been played with it was simply a landing. No furniture, rarely used in play, just there. I’m not sure what inspired the library, probably the desk that came in the raw wood set from eBay. Here’s the nothing room before we began…

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If you know me, if you’ve been reading along – you’ll get the library straight away. This was all Mama. If Big Poppa had his way this would probably be a music studio. If Little Fearse was designing it? I dunno…a zoo? A museum? But it was up to me and I made a library.

The Fearse Family: Dolls' house renovation (The Library)

I pretty much love everything about the library. The bookshelf is simply a printed out picture of a bookshelf from the ‘net modge podged to the wall. If I had time to be fiddly would I customise the books? Chuck in my favourites? You know I would. Maybe a future labour of love. When Little Fearse unveiled the dolls’ house Marge was sitting drinking a cup of coffee. The first thing Little Fearse said was “Ooooh, coffee!” It just struck me as a place Marge would enjoy, hidden away from her needy family.

I made the chair. I had grand plans to make a whole lounge suite, but I ran out of time and fortunately our friend donated the suite for the living room. I used the material from some old curtains that hung in my parents’ first house. This chair is not perfect, but I kind of love it. I wish I had a full sized one to lounge in (in my own study, of course). I got the pattern from one of the books referenced in our first post. Big Poppa cut the wood, my brother Loc helped file them down to size. The rest was done by me. It was exceptionally fiddly and took a lot of glue and a surprising amount of material, but I enjoyed (almost) every moment of it.

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The table came with the lounge suite and the lamp with the bath and second toilet (see in the background of the lower level – I kind of figure a household of 8 needs more than one toilet).

The desk is one of the secrets of the dolls’ house. It was raw wood with blue shelves (you can see from my dodgy paint job some of the blue coming through). I painted it with some of the guache paints we got at the Reverse Art Truck. It’s not ideal, but it was the best I could do. The map on the desk part is the block BP and I lived on when we stayed in Brooklyn for a month in 2009/2010. I am kind of annoyed at how the desk turned out, but I still love that it bears that map and that I managed to find a way to memorialise the map without having it hanging around, useless forever, with a bunch of other sentimental paper bits and pieces.

The gorgeous brass pot was found at the market with the two photo frames (in the bedroom and living room). I think it’s beautiful.

For those who’ve stuck with me throughout the tour – thanks. I wish I’d been more organised and published the whole series at once, but we live, we learn. This really has been a labour of love (the house and this ‘blog tour). I appreciate you coming along on the journey.

Mama xo

Dolls’ house renovation: The Bedroom

The Fearse Family: Dolls' house make over

 

The bedroom was a pretty unimpressive shade of 50s pale green before the makeover. Like a less dazzling version of our new bathroom green.

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Someone who has had the in person tour of the dolls’ house asked us why Marge and Homer sleep in the same room as the kids. Well, aside from relegating the kids (or the parents) to a cupboard under the stairs we didn’t really have many options here. This room is our designated bedroom for all types. Grandpa Simpson sleeps here, Krusty the Clown sleeps here, Doctor Hibbert sleeps here. Everyone sleeps in this room. This has, so far, caused no major problems in the dolls’ house. I’ll let you know if any arise. (Let’s also note that it isn’t that dissimilar to our own house where Little Fearse’s bed is in the part of our bedroom probably designed as a dressing room…)

The Fearse Family: Dolls' house renovation (The Bedroom)

 

The best features of this room come from the same angel who gave us the best features for all the other rooms; the gorgeous fireplace and the double bed. The bed needed a bit of work. One end was detached and the mattress as covered in a faded striped fabric that was fairly heavily marked from years of play. I reglued the bed head and searched through my fabric stash to find this gorgeous vintage material featuring kids and cats in silhouette. I wish we had a bed spread like this on our bed!

The double bed mattress before updating the material.

The double bed mattress before updating the material.

We found the beautiful vintage photo frame at the market with the one in the living room. The photo was taken at our nephew’s school fete in the photo booth. We both really loved this picture of Little Fearse and thought it would make a very cute addition to the house. Lil Fearse was pretty stoked to find herself on the mantle.

The camera came from the container of bits and pieces from the op shop. There is also a camera case somewhere that hasn’t yet made it into the house. The wardrobe and bunk bed came from one of the eBay lots. I stained the wardrobe slightly to make it less raw. There is a cradle somewhere that went missing somewhere between purchase and putting the furniture in the house. I’m sure it will show up one day. The pram and tiny baby (Little Fearse’s absolute favourite thing in the house…she loses it constantly, though) came from the same set.

The map on the back wall is another secret of the dolls’ house. It is from a map of Geneva that my parents used on their trip there in the late 60s. Don’t look too closely, I accidentally cut it out upside down!

The other secret of the dolls’ house in this room is the Mos Def poster (I can say that, because he wasn’t Yasiin Bey when this photo was taken). This photo was on a gig flyer. It came from our pretend honeymoon (pre-actual honeymoon) in New York when we booked out a suite in the Hotel Chelsea and went to see Mos Def play at midnight in the Highline Ballroom. I can say with certainty that it was the best gig I have ever been to. I love that we can commemorate that in the dolls’ house.

I hope to one day add a rug, some curtains, maybe more pictures to the walls. I’d like to add some clothes to the wardrobe, too. Future endeavours.

The last room will be one that is very close to my heart, the library.

Mama xo

Dolls’ House renovation: The Bathroom

The Fearse Family: Dolls' house renovation

 

You’ll now be accustomed to our drab before shots. Here’s this one.

The Fearse Family: Dolls' house renovation

It has been been pointed out to us that the bathroom in the dolls’ house is ridiculously large. This is not unlike the bathroom in our actual house, which is the size of a single bedroom. Not only is the bathroom ridiculously large, but it is also absurdly non-private. I kind of like this about the bathroom, but maybe one day I’ll make some little folding screens to go around the toilet and bath. I’d also like to add a shower one day. Here she is, all jazzed up.

The Fearse Family: Dolls' house renovation (Bathroom)

The bathroom (slash laundry) was painted with some green paint left over from a side table we did up for Little Fearse’s bedroom before she was born. (You know, the one she still doesn’t sleep in.) Admittedly the paint job is a bit rushed. We decided against adding curtains due to time restraints, but I’d like to add a sheer curtain some time that can stay across the window. Just to add a bit of privacy, you know? 😉

The ironing board, vacuum, washing machine, mop, bucket and broom all came from a set Little Fearse’s Nan bought for her at Aldi. You never know what you’re going to find in that place.

The toilet was from our dolls’ house angel (the piano and table and lounge suite friend…I think she really needs more credit for this house than we do at this point). It’s a very cute toilet actually – I love the chain and the fact that it’s porcelain. The bath was bought with a set of random things on eBay. It was a simple raw wood bath. BP painted it white and added the hook for a tap. I found the rubber ducky, soap, shampoo bottle and a small hair dryer that is in one of the vanity drawers in amongst the container of things I found at the op shop.

The vanity is one of the things I am most proud of designing. It is also the thing that Little Fearse likes destroying the most and I have had to reglue the sink and mirror several times already. This started off as a baby change table purchased with other nursery stuff on eBay. It was raw wood with red handles. I painted it with the wall paint and the handles with the gold paint we got from the Reverse Art Truck. BP screwed a hook into the top for the tap. I glued one of the bowls from the kitchen on top for the sink and glued a mirror from an old purse to the back (it’s plastic but quite reflective).

As well as curtains and some screens we plan to frame some small paintings from a MoMA guide to hang on the bathroom walls.

Next room: The Bedroom.

Mama xo

Dolls’ House renovation: The Living Room

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Our living room has a lot less detail than the kitchen, but it is still a very charming room (we think!). This room is even more influenced by the wonderful presents from my bagel-gifting, E.T.-contributing, kitchen table-donating friend. But before we get into the finer details. The before shot…

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This is a very blah shade of pink. Of course it is grubby, too, adding to the dreariness of this picture. It was a very not-wow room. Although it isn’t my favourite room in the house, I’m pretty fond of the newer version..

The Fearse Family: Dolls' house living room renovation

As I mentioned, this room is mostly furnished with gifts from my friend’s childhood dolls’ house. The lounge suite, coffee table, piano and piano stool are all from her miniature house. I was going to make a lounge suite to go with the comfy chair I made for the study. I was so relieved to be gifted these as I was fast running out of time and I had a strong feeling I wasn’t going to finish them in time. Next thing I know I have a shoe box in my hands full of these gorgeous mini things.

The piano. Swoon! This is another of the dolls’ house secrets. The piano plays! It has a music box inside. This is one of the best features of the house and sometimes while Little Fearse is playing with the house I pull the piano out and set it playing next to the house just for my own aural pleasure. It is just gorgeous.

The curtains I cut from some vintage fabric I had in my sewing box. I’d purchased it on eBay years ago. I sewed these on my machine. They’re a bit wonky and rough, but tied up you’d never know. I tied the bows with a ribbon that I cut off a shirt. They were the little ribbons that are sewn inside the shoulder and used for hanging the clothing on hangers in the shop. I always keep these. They’re often handy! The curtain rod, like the kitchen rod, was a poorly painted plastic rod from our spare room blinds. Big Poppa screwed little eyelets in for the rod to slide through. I found them in the shed looking very rusty. I painted them with gold paint, too.

BP printed off a picture of some brick work and glued some of these inside the fire place. It used to be painted red, but got a few white streaks on it when BP painted the room, so he decided to add the brickwork to cover it. I think it’s really charming and also goes with the brickwork he glued to the chimney outside the house. This is one of my favourite new things about the house and it was so easy to do.

The big backed TV with all its vintage charm comes from the Simpsons set BP was given in 1992. There is also a purple plastic couch somewhere, but we didn’t use this in the house. You can change the picture, there is a slot on the side. We’d like to add some different television shows over time, probably mostly Play School at this stage, as that’s Little Fearse’s favourite.

The picture frame on the mantle piece we found from a kooky vintage stall at the market. The photo of us is from our honeymoon in New York. We sought out all the photo booths we could find throughout New York and have a whole series of photos which we have so far done nothing with. We thought this photo was kind of fun hoped Little Fearse would think it was silly, which she did. Eventually I’d like to mount this on the wall, too, but I need to figure a way of doing it without gluing it to the wall, so that can wait for now.

Next up, the bathroom.

Mama xo

Dolls’ house renovation: The Kitchen

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I’ve been writing this post in my head all day (do you do that?) and what I keep wanting to start with are the words “The kitchen is my favourite room in the house”. But, actually, I feel that way about all the rooms. They just came together so beautifully. I think that the kitchen is the most “together” room in the house. Most of the furniture in there kind of matches and looks vibrant and lovely. Since the furniture and decorations for our house were sourced from all over the shop there was never any real intention for things to go together, so that was a nice surprise.

When I was a kid the kitchen had a contacted floor. The grey and white checks looked very smart and gave it a real kitchen-y vibe, but somewhere along the way half the contact was pulled up and the kitchen was left looking pretty ratty.

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The paint job left a bit to be desired. I did like how you could see stencilled writing coming through from the original wood on the floor. I wonder what my Papa used to make the house in the first place. Anyway, it’s gone now, hidden beneath a layer of shiny white paint. We hope to update the floor of the kitchen one day with tiling or floor boards, but for now the paint will suffice. So…time to unveil.

The Fearse Family: Dolls' house kitchen renovation

 

Ta-da!*

The kitchen is the life-blood of most homes. Yes, it bugs me that not all the Simpsons can fit around the kitchen table. This will probably be something I rectify in the future. The adorable little red table and chairs were a beautiful gift from a friend’s childhood dolls’ house. I think they are very charming. The other red chair (with Marge’s apron draped over it) came from a set of things we bought on eBay. The child’s high chair came from the same set. They just happen to (sort of) match the other furniture.

The long bench we made from items purchased from the Reverse Art Truck. This is a not for profit organisation that collects items from businesses that would otherwise go into landfill and recycles them for arts and crafts. They offer it by the bag load to customers. We bought a garbage bag full of paints, varnish, paper goods, wooden bits and pieces, plastic, foam, material etc etc etc for $30, which was our major expense. We have a lot of this stuff left for other craft projects. The bench is made from a piece of Venetian blind with dowels for legs.  It actually caused us quite a bit of trouble putting this together as we had lots of different ideas about how to make it. As it turned out the most simple method (literally gluing dowelling to the bottom of the blind) was the best one. It is so easy to over-think things sometimes.

The wall paper was also found at the Reverse Art Truck. It was gift wrapping and I thought it was perfect for vintage-style wall paper. I attached this with modge podge. I think it turned out really well. The paper itself is very thin and I was worried it would tear, but it adhered beautifully.

The fridge was purchased from eBay with some other random things you’ll see throughout the house. The door opens. There is a small slice of pizza in there that came with an E.T. doll a friend gave me years ago. The same friend (actually, the same one who gave me the table and chairs, too!) gave me bagel and cream cheese earrings after a trip to New York. I lost the cream cheese earring somewhere along the way, but the bagel was removed from the earring to join the pizza in the kitchen.

When I was hunting for things for the dolls’ house I found a round take away container, sealed with tape, in the op shop for $1.25. It was full of Barbie clothes, but amongst them I could see little bits of plastic here and there. I wasn’t able to open it to check what they were, so I decided to risk the $1.25 and see what I could find. It was filled with great stuff for the house, including the champagne glasses, bowls, plates, orange juice and cereal you can see here. It was a really lucky find.

The stove was made by Big Poppa. It took us a while to come up with this idea. The painted block was left over from an abandoned project for Little Fearse’s first birthday. BP drew the details on the front of the stove, including the time 8:00. This is one of the “secrets” of the dolls’ house as whenever we ask Little Fearse what time it is she says “8 o’clock, tick tock”. I borrowed the idea of using buttons for hotplates from my favourite dolls’ house tour. I plan to add a sink one day.

The small pictorial plate was my Mum’s as a child. When she had to clear her parents’ house out she gave me a sewing basket from her old bedroom full of random bits and pieces. This was in there. I really like that something she had as a child is in the house, since it was originally hers.

The final feature of the kitchen is the curtain. The rod is actually a piece of strong plastic that came out of some blinds we removed from the spare bedroom in our house. I cut off a small piece and painted it (poorly) with gold paint I found at the Reverse Art Truck. I used a scrap of material left over from my Mum’s 70s sewing fabrics to make the cafe style curtain. I attached this to a scrap of calico I usually use for practising stitches on my sewing machine. I really love the curtain – it turned out exactly as I hoped it would.

Stay tuned for room 2, the living room.

Mama xo

*For those of you that, like me, enjoy continuity you will notice these photos were taken from two different shoots. It definitely irritates me that the bagel turns up in different spots in different pictures. I hope you can cope with this, my fellow anally retentive persons.

Little Fearse turns 2! (The dolls’ house renovation edition)

The Fearse Family: Dolls' house make over

Over the past month Big Poppa and I have delighted in this dolls’ house renovation project. It was an adventure very close to my heart. My grandfather build this simple house for my mother in the cramped little shed at the end of his garden in the 1950s. My Mum played with it as a child and then it was passed on to me in my childhood in the ’80s. Now in the twenty-tens (discussion has ensued regarding what we call this era, Little Fearse rejected the “teenies”, so 2010s is the best I’ve got) my daughter has been gifted this gorgeous house made by her great grandfather. It’s the kind of continuity that really delights me, being a sentimental kind of lass. My grandfather, who I called Papa, was a gentle, industrious and humorous man who I adored and admired as a child. It gives me such a thrill to see my daughter, who never knew him, playing with the house he designed and built with his own hands. Now Big Poppa and I have had the opportunity to make our mark on the house, giving it extra sentimental credit if it ever gets handed on to future Fearse generations. Or, you know, Little Fearse may have been taught the skill of decluttering so well that she turfs it first opportunity she gets.

The original dolls’ house had a frontage the slid along the runner at the front. This was present in my childhood but has since disappeared. We may make another one day, or maybe unearth the original one in my parents’ shed, but for now we’re not worried – it’s just for appearance anyway, and would hamper play. The lid of the house comes off. As Little Fearse grows she will be able to play through the roof space as well as the front.

The dolls’ house is filled with items sourced from here and there and everywhere. You may recognise the family living there. The old school Simpsons family have been gathered by Big Poppa since childhood. They are the perfect size for the house and since he doesn’t want to part with them, we thought we might as well give them a purpose and a home. Each room in the house holds its secrets, which we will reveal in a room-by-room series.

Our dolls’ house isn’t finished – we have lots of plans for additions and improvements (including doing up the roof, which wasn’t done in time). We’ll keep you updated as we make changes.

Part 1: The Kitchen

Part 2: The Living Room

Part 3: The Bathroom

Part 4: The Bedroom

Part 5: The Library

Mama xo

 

There are a number of resources we’ve used throughout the project. Most of these are web based, but we have also learned a lot from a number of books we borrowed from the local library. These were:

Making period dolls’ house accessories. Andrea Barham.

Dolls’ house furniture : easy to make projects in 1/12 scale / Freida Gray.

Finishing touches / Jane Harrop.

Creating dolls’ house period style / Lionel & Ann Barnard.

If you are setting out on your own dolls’ house renovation here are a few of our favourite websites we turned to for inspiration:

Modern DIY dollhouse with wooden furniture – this was my absolute favourite and most inspirational tutorial. I just love how Erin used only things around the house. Our own stove is inspired by Erin’s.

Seven Thirty Three – an adorable dolls house renovation tutorial.

How to: Make a modern doll house – this is a great little house. I’m actually quite envious of the kitchen and the window planters!

My froggy stuff – tutorials for everything dolls house related! Great pics and printables, too.

Creatively content – DIY from building the house to decorating and creating furniture.

Dollshouse decorating – I found this page a little confusing to navigate, but the ideas are endless and usually quite simple.

Kathy’s Miniatures – this gorgeous Irish cottage is themed down to the bathroom towels. Lots of adorable ideas. I particularly liked the little knitted blankets and plan to add some of these to Little Fearse’s house one day.

 

Mama Fearse’s Top Tips for Toy Culling

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[A friend asked me last year if I could create a useful  “decluttering tips” printable document. I think maybe she was joking, since I’m definitely far from expert in this domain. I decided to give it a go, anyway. The following entry will be available for download in .pdf format if you’re interested in filing it, sharing it, sticking it up in your kids bedrooms  or…using it as loo paper?* Click here to download.]

For us, it’s that post Christmas, pre-birthday time of year again. Time to hunt through the ever growing pile of toys for things that we no longer want in our home. Toy culling can be complex. I don’t recommend you do it without your child, as it can create trust issues. I do recommend you do it regularly and, if your child is old enough, encourage them to see it as an opportunity to share some of their material wealth with those who don’t have as much. Here is all the other stuff I recommend…

1.       Forget where it came from. Great grandma brought it back from her trip to Peru, but it’s ugly, and no one ever plays with it. Sound familiar? Try not to get sentimental about where the toy came from, especially if it was a gift. No gift giver is doing so to burden you. If it is not played with, for whatever reason, and no one really loves it…donate it.

2.       Limit plastic. I suggest you put all your child’s toys into piles of plastic and non-plastic, and then reduce the plastic pile first. Why? Some plastics, such as PVC, can be hazardous to our health. Often plastic is treated with chemicals to give them different properties. These chemicals can cause interruptions to hormones, or in the worst cases can be carcinogenic. Do you want your young child chewing and sucking on potentially dangerous plastics? I know that if I can avoid it, I will. Keep in mind that some non-plastic toys may also be painted with toxic paints. I’m not suggesting you go overboard with the anxieties, but being aware of what your child’s toys are made of and where they come from is a good start.

3.       Refuse to purchase brand new toys. If you have ever been into a charity store (I hope you have) you will have seen piles and piles of toys begging for a new home. One of my local stores bags them up in garbage bin sized lots to sell, knowing that selling them individually will take a life time. Many charities will not accept large toys or soft toys anymore because it takes so long to move them. Have you ever noticed how often brightly coloured, cheap, plastic, rubbishy toys adorn hard rubbish heaps? I haven’t been to my local tip shop yet, but I can imagine how many plastic toys end up there, or worse, in land fill. I struggle to think of a good reason to purchase first hand toys when there is a world of abandoned second hand toys out there waiting for a new child.

4.       Only keep what you can fit. Settle on the type of storage you want for your child’s room or your play corner. Don’t add to this – ever. If the storage you’ve chosen over flows it is time to move on some of the toys. The more storage you have the more stuff you have. It’s a simple equation.

5.       One in, one out. This theory will seem easy at first, but as you pare down to a less daunting amount of toys it will get harder. If you commit to the one in, one out philosophy really commit to it. Even at Christmas time or birthdays.

6.       Put some toys away for special occasions. I like doing this with Little Fearse’s cars. She has small collection of her own cars that she plays with often. She was also gifted a larger collection of second hand cars from some of my ex-students. I like to bring these out when her cousins come around as it means all the kids can play cars together and the items become “valuable” to the children as they are not always readily available. When the guests leave, the cars go away again. It reduces every day toy clutter and gives the kids a thrill when they’re allowed to play with them.

7.       Get rid of toys that are not age appropriate. This rule really only applies to families that don’t plan to expand, or families that can easily lend their toys for younger children in bulk to another family. If this is not possible store baby toys outside the house where they won’t accidentally come back into the rotation.

8.       Get rid of doubles. Being a Sesame Street family we often go through Little Fearse’s toys to discover that somehow, somewhere she has managed to double up on the number of Cookie Monster’s she has. Or, being musically minded, we notice that she now has three drums, but only uses one. This is an easy cull – get rid of those doubles! Look for them all the time. It’s almost like they multiply while we’re asleep.**

9.       Reduce “sets” to a manageable amount. Lots of toys come in sets. There is no good reason why they have to have all the set to play with all the time. If there are six pieces of fruit in the wooden fruit set, put away three. If the tea set is for five, put away three settings until a friend comes over.

10.   Be creative. After our first visit to the zoo we made kangaroo and koala puppets using pictures from a magazine and pop sticks. Little Fearse loved playing with them for about a week, and when she was done the pop sticks and magazine pictures could be added to the craft box (or recycled if damaged). Little Fearse is endlessly curious about koalas at the moment and every time I see a stuffed toy koala I’m tempted to buy it for her, but I know the phase will pass and the puppet is enough to encourage koala inspired role playing.

11.   Store “like” toys together. This will help you keep an eye out for doubles as well as recognising when your child has enough of that type of toy. It also means that toys are more likely to be played with and less likely to be forgotten. When Little Fearse’s cousins wanted to play shop on a recent visit we were easily able to locate all of her wooden and woollen food because it was stored together.

12.   Battery operated? Gone! I know that I don’t need to explain this. I guess sometimes battery operated toys are fun, but generally they’re noisy, annoying , over stimulating and require very little use of the imagination. Battery operated toys are fun killers. And that’s not even mentioning the ecological impact of replacing batteries all the time. Even rechargeable batteries have their own impact that is worth avoiding.

13.   Be critical. Spend some time observing how your child plays and get rid of things that don’t suit their needs. Sometimes it is (painfully) something you have bought them because you thought they’d love it (and they don’t). Sometimes it just doesn’t peak their interest. If it is neglected pass it on to someone who will use it.

14.   Display toys. Toys that can’t be seen or can’t be found might as well have already been culled. If you think some toys have great potential but aren’t being used display them prominently in your child’s play space. Change these every now and again (but not too regularly).

15.   Join a toy library. Often toy libraries work on a member volunteers basis – for every hour you volunteer you get a certain number of loans for the year. This means toy libraries are not only a great parent resource but also a wonderful way to expand and contribute to your community. Toy libraries, like any other library, are a brilliant way to reduce the number of toys you own. It is also a great way to ‘trial’ toys you think your children might like. You may use the toy library to borrow out larger toys that you don’t want to store when your child has out grown them. One person I know even borrows out a slip’n’slide for hot weekends! Talk about a money and sanity saver.

Your turn – have you got any great toy culling tips to share? Leave them in the comments.

Happy culling! (Not something I say every day..)

Mama xo

*Please don’t do that, it will probably block your toilet.

** They don’t. You are letting them into your home. Always remember that toys don’t happen to you, you let them happen.

Hot Days: An Ice Age Adventure

The middle week of January was a scorcher here in Victoria. The heat started around 35C and grew to 43C by the end of the week. The house was hot, the yard was hot, the car was hot. Everything was hot. BP does not cope well with the heat. He gets hot and bothered fast. It seems that my daughter also suffers from this infliction. She also shows the heat in her face quite alarmingly. She goes beet red and stays that way until the weather breaks. I used to think she was somehow sunburnt, but I’ve learned now that it is her body’s way of telling me how hot she is because she isn’t yet able to. (I personally love the heat, but this post isn’t about me.)

I started my preparations for the week on the weekend before – freezing fruit salad; buying frozen yoghurt (something Little Fearse had never eaten before); freezing bottles of lemon juice and water; obtaining a variety of foods that could be cooked outside on the barbie; cleaning out the wading pool, and preparing an Ice Age Adventure (inspired by this Frozen Ocean Animal Rescue).

This took a couple of days to prepare. First I had to purchase some toys, as Little Fearse didn’t have any figurines that were quite the right size or weight. I headed to the op shop hoping to find some sea creatures, but instead I found a couple of dinosaurs, a lion and a snapsnap. Uh, sorry, a crocodile.

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Paired with two heavy little Muppet toys I layered these in a large bowl of water, starting with the heaviest. I let each layer freeze for a few hours before adding a new layer and new water.

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Luckily we were passed down a chest freezer from BP’s Mum just before we had Little Fearse. Lately I’ve been really conscious of it getting a little low on supplies, which means it’s using much more power than it should be. With the addition of several bottles of icy water and this Ice Age Adventure it was running at a much more optimal level.

We waited until Friday, when the house was at its hottest, before we unveiled the adventure. We decided to do it in the bathroom where the tiles would keep us cool and used the wading pool instead of a tub. This ended up being a great idea as it turned it into a kind of swampy pool at the end, adding to the whole atmosphere of the experience.

I started off using a spray bottle of coloured water (our blue and green food dye was very dark) and two containers of pink and green salt. Next time I think I’d stick to plain water and green salt. This is what gave it the best colouring as you can see in the pictures.

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A few tips:

– Little Fearse was a little young to do this alone. She did more watching and celebrating of animal freedom than actual ice-scavating. She still loved it, but either tee up an older child or adult to help your under 2 year olds.

– Sometimes the ice could get sharp, briefly, as it melted. Not sharp enough to cut, but sharp enough to hurt. Be wary of this when supervising your child.

– Very slightly warmed water in sqeezy bottles (like the sauce and mustard bottles we ended up using, over the spray bottle we started with) are more effective and easier to manage for little hands.

– Using ‘new’ toys rather than toys your child already owns has the extra excitement that comes with new toys. Little Fearse was really excited about getting the lion and crocodile out most of all and this kept her focused and attentive. We’ll try and find a way to rotate these out in our next toy cull. We do plan to do another Ice Age Adventure and will collect a few more toys for that. It’s EASY to find this style of toy in op shops or at the market. You could work on a theme – African animals, dinosaurs, sea creatures, little dolls etc

What activities do you share with your little ones on hot days? Any tips for surviving the heat? There is still a good deal of heat left in our Australian summer yet.

Mama xo

The non-parents’ guide to giving parent friendly gifts to children.

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[As an aside, how cute is this wrapping paper made by my students – with the guidance of a teacher who wasn’t me – for Christmas this year?]

Before we had Little Fearse we gave some dreadful gifts to other people’s children. At the time they seemed perfect – they connected with the child’s age, or interests, or reminded us of something we’d loved as children, or seemed cool, or irresistibly cute. Generally speaking, these gifts were well thought through, it’s just that we had no understanding of how these gifts affected the parents. We had experience of being kids, but not of being parents and this is where our mistakes were made.

Now that we have a child of our own we understand that many gifts are perhaps kid friendly, but definitely not parent friendly. Some of them are neither. Here is the Fearse Family guide to giving parent friendly gifts to children.

1. When possible ask the parents what the child may want or need. This helps avoid children having six pillow pets or three baby dolls and gives parents an opportunity to tell you something their child actually needs.

2. Consider an experience gift. This may be an outing to the zoo, beach or park, or something more elaborate like a treasure hunt or a day at a fun park. Either way, the child has an experience with an adult other than their parents and maybe the parents get a day off, too.

3. Think outside the box for consumable gifts, for example, home made coupons for reading together, building something together, teaching them a new skill, making a toy or item of clothing. The best gift Little Fearse received this Christmas was a home made muffin mix, which came in a beautiful jar with the recipe attached (along with a wooden spoon). Best of all, the givers (her Aunty and Uncle) asked us to come to their house to cook them together. Perfect!

4. Children can still find joy in a useful gift. If the child is under about 3 years old, they probably won’t even notice. If the gift is for a birthday or Christmas and you know the child will be receiving a lot of other toys, consider something that their parents will have to buy anyway. You will probably buy a snazzier brand or a cuter style than their every day items, anyway, so it will still be special. Think cute toothbrushes, fun bubble baths, funky hair accessories or adorable clothing.

5. Find toys that encourage imaginative play. Can you think of five different ways the child can play with the toy? Many toys have a limited use, or don’t particularly encourage imaginative play, if possible, avoid giving gifts such as these. They usually end up as clutter.

6. Put the soft toy away. Almost all children have too many soft toys already and once they hug one and give it a name it is very hard to get rid of. They take up a lot of space and can be neglected for months or years at a time.

7. If in doubt, consult the parents. Accept that they may say ‘no’. Give them permission to say ‘no’. I would recommend consulting parents before giving a gimmicky gift (e.g. t.v. or film merchandise), large gifts or gifts that require a lot of up-keep (e.g. cacti, fish).

8. If the gift needs assembly offer your services, or assemble it first.

9. Kids love dress ups. Accessories such as hats, masks, capes, fancy adult shoes and cheap jewellery can be used in a trillion different ways to create different characters. These are gifts that are inexpensive, easy to store and can be used in a huge variety of ways.

10. Think about durability. The toy should be durable enough to be played with for hours, then handed on to another child who plays with it for hours and then passed on to another child who plays with it for hours. Rinse. Repeat. (Yes, this is an “ideal world” situation,but if I had one wish for the world…okay, if I had 10 wishes for the world one of them would be that all people considered the durability of everything before they bought it.)

11. If you want your gift to be well used buy something useful such as a book  or music. 

12. Many parents (or at least this one) are happy to receive gently used hand-me-downs. If your child has loved something but grown out of playing with it, consider passing it on as a gift for a new child to enjoy. If you’re unsure, ask the parents.

While this guide is designed to keep parents happy it also considers the whole child. A child who is inundated with plastic (you could read that as “toxic”), crappy toys is not a happier child than the one who is encouraged to use their imagination, or the child who is offered an opportunity to learn a new skill, or the child that is offered quality one-on-one time with an adult who genuinely cares for them.

Mama xo