Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sea shell turtle craft

We've been spending A LOT of time at the beach lately - this endless summer has us beach combing most weekends and some weekdays too! I think I prefer the beach more when the water is too cold to swim - the supervision is less strict when the kids aren't in the water and it actually allows us adults time to chill too. And chill we do - sifting through tiny shell remnants for cool shapes and colours, searching for sea glass (we're obsessed!), picking up fancy shells and little curios and just enjoying being by the sea.
So when the school was invited to create a turtle artwork or sculpture as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the sea turtles and how litter in our oceans is impacting the health of marine life, we had plenty of bits and pieces at the ready to get creative with. We decided little turtles made from shells would be cute so we played around with what we had at home (and made a special trip to the beach for fresh sand!)

We used a range of blue paints to cover MDF coasters for an "ocean" and sprinkled sand from Umina Beach over the bottom - and some glitter on the top! The girls chose a big shell each for the turtle shell and a smaller one as the head - the legs (flippers?) were broken shells and the tails were a bit of seaglass or another piece of shell. Immy drew a face on her little guy, added a tile we found at Patonga (I'm still not sure why!) and a starfish, while Layla added a tiny piece of coral and painted on bubbles.

Layla's turtle - how cool is the ikat-like pattern on this shell?

Immy's guy with a back-to-front head!

It was a simple afternoon craft and the girls loved it (I did too!), so I thought I'd share just in case you have a million beach finds sitting in a jar somewhere too! I've been getting creative with all of our finds lately - I'll share some more soon.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A reading tree

I now have three children in school. THREE! Three out of four - I'm not sure how that happened so fast but there you go! I was a little concerned about Imogen starting Kindergarten as she is so young (she turns five in early March) but she is the third child, she is ready and excited to go and her preschool teachers promised me they would be honest and let me know if they thought she wouldn't be able to handle it. So while I worry (hey, it's my job, right?!) I also am confident that I made the right decision.

But seeing as last year kind of fell apart at the seams in terms of ensuring homework was always done and the home readers completed, this year I want the kids to nag me about reading, rather than the other way around. And so... the reading tree was created very spontaneously a couple of days ago. It's similar to a rewards system but it's also a record of things we've read throughout the year and also a pretty cool decor addition to our hallway! 

The idea is this: every time one of the kids read a book/part of a chapter book - or I read to them - they write their name, the book title and date on a leaf and stick it on the tree. Every 50 leaves stuck on the tree, I'll buy a new book for their library. 

I first came across this concept at my mum's preschool when I used to work there during university. During the Read-A-Thon, they would place leaves on the tree for all the children who read that day. In the end it was colourful and pretty and cool. I think she used paper as the tree - and you could do so if you rent or don't want anything marking your walls, but I wanted something more permanent for the year so I just painted it on the wall in our hallway just outside of Zak's room. I used watercolour paints (the Micador paint palette from Officeworks) and painted the tree on freehand in various shades of brown and black. The first strokes are quite dotty and don't look like it would look great at all, but once it's dry you simply gently wipe it over with a baby wipe or two and it blends beautifully. It is also easy enough to wash away - it might need a light coat of paint eventually, but it won't need much at all. I actually prefer using watercolours on the wall than proper paints - the blend of colours is so pretty.

Freehand painting - the outline hasn't been "smudged" yet.

Smudging the paint with a baby wipe.

The leaves are just cut up bits of coloured paper - we're going to start out with greens and greys and yellows and change colours as the seasons change. I envision it should look quite colourful by the year's end! I also imagine our book collection will be a lot fuller. And that can only be a good thing.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Our house plans: spending big to live small(ish)

Sounds so silly, doesn't it? Spending big to live small. That's my life at the moment - a bundle of contradictions! I feel so hypocritical talking about living more simply and with less stuff yet planning to spend a small fortune in order to extend our house! But to us it makes sense. We're realists. We know we can't do teeny tiny living - we plan to be here for a while and want our tweens and teenagers to have their own space. But we're not knocking our house down and building a McMansion and we're not adding on masses of extra rooms or installing luxury fittings or giving each child an ensuite or spaces that won't get used. We're working with the existing structure and attempting to make it look better, flow better and suit our family of six. It took us two years and many, many different versions, but we finally got a final plan together and submitted to council and I think we nailed it - for us. Want to take a peek?

Front and back in line-drawing form, above. The windows are still to be decided in terms of their exact looks (I'm thinking part of the centre upstairs windows will be louvres and the rest fixed. And probably not so many panels. The back is also going to be slightly different - the deck cover will just be pergola style, not a second roof or the hot west Summer sun will just cook us! My little illustration of the front and back of the house will be more like it (hopefully not as wonky in the structure's lines though!!) 

Ground floor, above: So everything right of the dotted red line is our existing house. See? It's tiny! Since moving in we renovated the bathroom and painted the bedrooms. Then after playing with several floor plans we decided to rejig what we had already and eventually extend onto the back of the house only. So we knocked out several walls to open the living room side of the house all the way up front to back. It's like living in a fishbowl at times, but it's made a huge difference to light and my sanity. I love being able to supervise the kids when they're playing outside from pretty much anywhere on that side of the house. The good thing about our plan is, we now don't need to make any drastic changes to the existing structure - no bedrooms need to be converted to staircases or anything like that. All we want to do is slightly extend the dining room area as it's so tiny - we're hoping council lets us continue the floor at this height for one more metre as well as the laundry and storeroom. We have to increase the floor height due to living in a flood zone (the downside to living so close to the water!) so past the dining room will be a couple of stairs up to the new floor height family room. The wall dividing the family room from the laundry and storeroom will have a long built-in low shelf along it with a fireplace. The ceiling in this family room will be raked so it will be a huge open room with lots of light. The stairs will feature a large linen cupboard built under the highest steps; the middle and lower stairs will have a bar built in underneath them. French doors will open outwards onto a covered deck and there will be plenty of windows to keep it light and airy. The windows on the north wall in the family room will be high ones purely for light. The laundry will have an L-shaped bench with another linen cupboard and extra pantry - our kitchen is not huge so it'll be the go-to place for extra everything as well as the recycle bin. We'll be installing Ikea kitchen cabinetry for this room again and I want to cram as much storage into it as is physically possible! Next to the laundry will be a built-in tool/garden/bike/scooter/fishing kit storage room. Steve wants it to be all old-school and a bit beat up like a Grandad's shed at the back of the yard kind of room. 

Top floor, above: Upstairs you'll come into a large open landing. The roof will literally slope down to the floor on either side of this landing area - the bigger side will be Steve's library looking out into the family room and the small side will maybe eventually be turned into a small study/bedroom for Annika. Above the laundry and store room will be a long narrow storage area built into the sloped roof - perfect for office paraphernalia if we ever start a business, which is a future goal. There will also be a laundry shute in there - yesssss. This excites more than it probably should. I mean, it's a laundry shute!?
Through the doors is our master bedroom suite. The ensuite will have a super-large shower - we'd like a walk-through one but I don't think the space is big enough. Bummer! Still, it will be nice to have a dedicated shower again! There will be no door to the ensuite - in fact, the walls on either side of the doorway will be low-height. Opposite the ensuite will be a wardrobe built into the eaves. The rest of that narrow storage area I'm thinking of using as my sewing/craft space. It should be just big enough to sit in comfortably. Our bed will sit alongside the knee wall under a roof window and there will be a small door or large window out onto a little balcony. Access to the other storage area will be from the small study/little bedroom area and I'm picturing it hidden in a cupboard and being a magical play space for the kids eventually. Both of these storage spaces at the front of the house will have large fixed windows in them and plenty of light, so I might as well make them useable!

So providing we get the all-ok from council (neighbours had until last Friday to object so we should  hear something from them very soon), this is what our house should hopefully end up looking like. It's not too big, it's not too small, it's just right for us. There isn't anything too tricky or unique in the design, but it's not your bog-standard home extension either, which we like. The entire look and feel of the house will just start off pretty clean and simple and we'll see where we go from there. I don't want clutter or all surfaces filled with things. We just want to surround ourselves with pieces we love, that are comfortable, made from natural materials and hopefully pleasing to the eye too! With a fair bit of breathing space in-between it all with white walls and natural-stained timber floors. I'm calling it cosy simplicity - can that be a thing? I think it could be...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My home style over the years

After last week's post about Instagram messing with my mind and making me question my taste in things, I wondered how much my style had changed over the years. So I went through the archives of my blog (and when I say archives, I mean the archives via Wayback Machine - this poor blog has been majorly hacked a couple of times over the years, meaning a whole bunch of content has yet to be posted to this site; I could win awards in procrastinating). Anyway. Going through the archives I realised my style hasn't changed too much at all - maybe refined a little, but mostly, the basis is the same: white, black, grey, hits of natural timber and a shot of surprise. For colours I still like them muted and with a touch of grey.

I also spent a silly amount of time looking through my Pinterest boards - back to the start when I first starting pinning images I loved. Aside from the odd WTF picture (usually after looking at it for a little while wondering if it was an accident, I noticed there was some small part of the image that spoke to me, not the entire thing), I realised again, it was pretty consistent. Looking through my past, it's clear I've always had these relatively clean, simple spaces. Even when the mess was insane covering every surface and you're ankle-deep in tiny toy cars or dolls, the spaces were still relatively simple in terms of furniture, decor and colour. I've always said I was afraid of colour and would joke that I'm boring in my decor. I wondered when the urge to throw a red cushion on my couch would hit. Or to buy bright art or paint a wall something other than black, white or grey. It never has! So boring or not, this is obviously who I am and I guess there is nothing wrong with it. It's taken me a while to accept that. I thought I was waiting to grow up and find my style. It turns out it's the same style I've always had and most likely always will. I realised, though, while the rooms are pretty simple and standard, I've always tried to incorporate some kind of statement feature - murals in a kids room, driftwood hanger, cut-out recessed shelves, stencilled window, black wall, fairy lights in a branch... Just one thing to make it look a little more unique - and it's not often something bought, but something made - something just for you that not every single person on Instagram has bought from Typo or Kmart or the wall decal store. Creating something yourself - or directing someone else to do it for you! - is the best way to inject that bit of personality into your home. After all, a house is a home when it reflects those who live there. 

I can't imagine me straying too far from this formula for our upcoming extension and renovation - in my mind the house itself is all blindingly white walls with black accents on door hardware, the fireplace and fans, stair rails and balcony and the odd piece of furniture. The floors will be natural timber (my whitewashed floors were nice, but annoying to upkeep so they're going), there'll be a few statement pieces of furniture (hopefully!), a bunch of greenery with houseplants, simple and stylish rugs, a few fun kids elements and pieces and features that we love and that bring us joy (see previous post!). 

It's all going to be simple and clean - the calming backdrop for our chaotic lives, the perfect blank canvas for our colourful crafts and imaginative play, the ideal space for our family to grow, spend time with each other and have our own spaces for that all-important alone time. The kids will get a say in how their rooms will look and Steve will have his own library space to play with, leaving me in charge of tying it all together. I can't wait. 

{All images of my previous homes. Pictures by Belinda Graham for The Happy Home}

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Breaking up...

No, not with my husband (I still kinda like him!) Or the blog (though it's tempting!). Or sugar (NEVER gonna happen). Or anyone. But with... things. Physical things. Mental things. Annoying things. Things. A year ago I was sitting at my dining table that was piled high with papers, half-finished kids crafts and an overflowing washing basket. I had approximately 10 minutes before Annika woke up (I knew this because I had just put her down - the child does not sleep!) and basically I just wanted to enjoy the sunshine coming through the back doors and some peace and quiet before it was back to my one-arm life (she also only ever wants to be held...) I looked over to my sideboard for a spot to put the washing basket and my eye just saw things. Too many things. A pile of books with a shell and glass dome on top, a brass stork I bought from a charity shop, about 8 different vases with nothing in them but the shapes or colours were nice so they'd been collected over time. There was a clock that didn't work that was a gift so I felt obliged to keep it there, candlesticks, decorative letters that once adorned a wall somewhere, random picture frames, some white ceramic animals I don't recall buying and a pile of magazines. Oh the magazines. That was just one pile - I knew there were cupboards full in my cabin from my previous life when I worked for them. I realised I couldn't see my sideboard properly - obviously there was a piece of furniture there, but you'd be hard pressed to notice its beauty. The map on the wall - one of the favourite things I own - was barely noticeable for the crap that lay beneath it and the string lights I had draped over it. The two items that I loved in that whole space - my Parker sideboard (roadside find!!!!) and vintage world map (one of the first things my Dad bought when he migrated here from Germany) were hidden by things. Things I didn't even really care for. Or - as was the case for a lot of them - things I didn't even like.

While these "things" had been styled to some degree into vignettes you see in magazines (assorted heights/ layers/odd numbers!), there were too many of them. The sideboard is so large, I thought it was the perfect space to show off some pretty things. But in that moment I realised how stupid it looked. It looked cluttered and pointless and dusty. The only reason stylists do these decorative vignettes in magazines is to promote as many products for advertisers as is physically possible - after all, most of the time it's all about getting you to buy something. I suddenly hated it all. So instead of enjoying the sun, I picked up a box and put pretty much everything on the sideboard in it. Then I walked around the rest of the living areas and boxed anything that just screamed at me "WRONG!" There was quite a lot. I grabbed a few other things I had piled in a box in my bedroom for when our house was big enough to display them again. And I grabbed all my Domino magazines from storage, chick-flick DVDs I just don't watch and a couple of chairs that were just taking up space outside and piled everything on my dining table. I made up signs and had a spontaneous mini yard sale the next morning. Whatever didn't sell went straight into the boot of my car and to the charity shop. I felt so happy. I felt lighter. My house instantly looked cleaner and tidier and nicer. Better than that, the emptier space made me want to ensure it was always clean and tidy. I started to enjoy cleaning - there were less things I had to move to dust or vacuum. It was addictive to keep it pristine and good for my soul to see clean, empty surfaces. I started making my own cleaning products to enjoy the experience even more - it was creative DIY that didn't clutter my space or look like a shonky DIY project (which, let's face it, so many do). It was a nice feeling but I wasn't finished.

I've never been one for excess. I rarely buy things for the sake of it. I don't own or want a cupboard full of kitchen appliances or five different sets of crockery - I don't care to spend a good chunk of a pay cheque on a Thermomix or even a Kitchenaid. I used to want a Kitchenaid mixer - I thought being the baking-lover I am it would be worked into our kitchen budget and look smashingly good sitting on the kitchen counter. I never bought it. I like my little hand mixer and I like my almost-bare counters even more (There is a toaster for convenience, though, and fruit bowl and knife block). Even when I worked at Cosmopolitan magazine, I didn't spend all my money on clothes, shoes or going out - we had a mortgage we were keen to pay off as quickly as possible. We bought things only when we needed them or in terms of the big things like a house/car/boat/renovation, when we could afford them - we have never owned credit cards or gone into debt for anything other than the mortgage on our house. We don't buy the kids things for the sake of it. They get a few things at Christmas and their birthdays. They get new clothes when they need them and at the start of each season. There are no cupboards of make-up or beauty supplies. There are more than enough towels for each member of our family, but only one set of linen for each bed. There is one vacuum cleaner, one broom, one mop. There is not only nowhere else to PUT extra of anything, but there is no need for it either. And to me there is still too much stuff in this tiny house. And with four children and two adults and so much noise and chaos every day (and night!), I need calm and order and quiet in some aspect of my life and I feel I can get those instantly to some degree with less things and a tidier home.

I started being drawn to Instagrammers with clean, simple spaces. Those magic "people you might like" suggestions that Pinterest and Instagram do are amazing - they always get it right and soon I found myself following a whole bunch of new people who loved their homes, who lived with less and who were happy. One day I saw a comment on someone's Instagram about a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I'm pretty sure you've heard of it - hasn't everyone by now? Well I hadn't at the time and so Googled it. And read review after review of it - I was a little obsessed. In fact, I probably didn't need to read the book because the reviews and constant articles or blog posts about it told me all I needed to know. But I wanted the whole context so I bought an eBook version and read it during Annika's feed/nap times. Honestly, the last time I completed a whole book that wasn't a children's book was before any of my children were born. I haven't read anything - completely - in almost nine years. That is a whole other issue! I lapped that book up. I read every page. I eye-rolled so hard and questioned her mental health several times throughout it (and also mine - I was reading a book on TIDYING? What was wrong with me?), but sometimes even the most blindingly obvious things in life can be missed and in this case, it took a book to tell me that I should only keep things in my home that bring me joy. How simple and obvious is that? And yet... I realised I wasn't really living that way. I started her method immediately. 

I didn't stop at the contents of my home (to be fair, I'm still going, but with our home all upside down in parts due to our cabin being torn down a few months ago in preparation for our house extension, I have to hit the pause button on some areas). I felt the need to apply the konmari method to other areas of my life. For each of the new people I started following on Instagram, I unfollowed about 10 more who didn't inspire me or who started to bug me. I said no to invites to things I wasn't interested in. I stopped blogging for ages because it was a huge chore. I even turned down all work - even crafts for Kidspot and other offers - because making the kids do forced crafts for photos wasn't bringing them OR me joy. Instead, we started exploring more of our area on the weekends with bush walks, we got obsessed with nature and creating things with it. We realised it was ok to do absolutely nothing some weekends except watch movies or sport and let the kids run crazy outside all day and play computer games or YouTube videos at night till really late. Because sometimes, being ignored by my children and ignoring them for hours on end doing frivolous things brings me joy.

I even got rid of niggling thoughts that were stressing me out unnecessarily; the main one being my lack of career. All my life growing up, all I wanted to be was a news journalist. I became one. When that got too heavy, scary and depressing and I craved the lighter side of journalism, I knew magazines were for me and that's where I ended up. Once babies came along, I watched that life and the determined, ambitious me, drift further and further away. Ideas for various things would pop into my mind and ultimately be brought to life by other people. I watched shops start up, business ideas flourish and careers I'd maybe have considered had the time been right, all be taken up by someone else. My mind became muddled and I didn't know what I wanted to do anymore. I still don't. I have NO IDEA what I want to do with my working life when the time comes to go back to it. It's a horrible feeling and a new one. So I recently decided to not worry about it anymore. Not right now, anyway. There is no need for me to work. We are incredibly lucky in that respect. Steve has a good wage and Annika is still young. I never wanted to work outside the home when my kids were little so why worry about it now? Why not be grateful I can enjoy this time time with them. Why not put that energy into enjoying being AT home? After all, playing house - buying, renovating, decorating, living, being around the home - has been my obsession since forever. So I might as well take this time to revel in it - in those little things like nice-smelling, homemade cleaning products, tidy, organised spaces, edible and pretty gardens, play spaces for the kids, designing and organising our extension... These things are bringing me joy, so I'm sticking with them.

You know what doesn't bring me joy sometimes? Instagram. This week I just stopped using it. Not for ever; maybe not even for another day, but I just couldn't stand being on there anymore seeing the same images, the same selling of souls for free gifts and money, the same waffling tones that make you think you're doing motherhood wrong if you don't write in poetry the fact your kids ate breakfast or tied their shoes. The same sameness. Social media is a funny thing. For something that inspires so much and brings me in contact with great people and ideas, it completely, utterly does my head in at times. From watching small businesses get ripped off by bigger companies (I'm looking at you, Kmart), to seeing a product I love become a trend and done to death in a matter of months or even weeks hurts my brain. I'm now even seeing this "less is more" lifestyle, the KonMari book, the simplicity and beauty of little things become "trendy" on Instagram and it makes me question every thought I have now when I decide I like something: am I liking it because I like it or because I have seen it so much, I assume I'm meant to like it? Am I doing this because others are? Or because I want to? What is harder to deal with is when you do it BEFORE it hits the "trend" bandwagon and then you feel like everyone will assume you jumped on it too. That is the most annoying one... Oh no wait! The most annoying aspect of it all is seeing people spend a lot of money buying a lot of new things in order to live with less. Seriously, if you're doing that, you're doing it very wrong and for the wrong reasons! The truth is, I don't want my home, my kids clothes, my activities or my lifestyle to look like everyone else's. But sometimes they do. I am guilty of having similar kids clothes, plants or home accessories and adventures or activities to many, many other Instagrammers. Because when you find like-minded people with similar tastes/ideals/style as your own in a handy app on your phone, whether you're the copier or the copied, if you keep peeking into the tiny square windows of their lives, sooner or later, it's all going to look the same. Your real life is filled with different types of people with different interests and styles and values. On social media you can pick and choose and seek out people just like you. The downside is it becomes a very concentrated dose of "you" in so many forms and there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! Maybe I just need to get over that. And maybe my love/hate relationship with Instagram is a post for another day.. Right now, I have to sleep! I do wish my sleep pattern was not of the "living with less" variety, but alas, it is right now. A shame, really, because sleep most definitely does bring me joy and is not something I could ever break up with...

{All pictures are scenes around my home. Images by Belinda Graham for The Happy Home}