Category Archives: Kids Stuff

Softies for Mirabel

Hello friends!  I’ve been away from this particular screen for a long while.  Moving house (back to my old place…hooray!), and still unpacking and organising (mostly solo with the addition of two pairs of small helping hands) being the major excuses.

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Anyway, this is intended to be a brief post as I’m exhausted after celebrating Miss L’s fifth birthday with a wonderful farmyard-themed birthday party (more to come on this soon I hope). I have just packaged up this year’s contribution to Softies for Mirabel, ready for her journey to Melbourne tomorrow.  She is a softie doll named ‘Sophie’ who I created several months ago using vintage, reclaimed and remnant fabrics, 100% wool felt and recycled polyester stuffing.  Sophie has her own sleeping bag and pillow, which might come in handy for the trip I guess.  

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Somewhere there is a child who is going to meet Sophie and hopefully become her pal, some time after Christmas.  Thanks to the work of the Mirabel Foundation, an organisation based in Melbourne, that assists children who are affected by parental substance abuse.  The toy drive was the brainchild of the totally awesome, Pip Lincolne of Meet Me at Mikes.  Crafters from across the globe send in their handmade (sewn, knitted or crocheted) toys which are then matched to a Mirabel child for Christmas.  Last year I sent a toy in for the first time – a cat named Ginger.  He was based on a design that my daughter drew when she was three.

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I had planned to write this post to promote the 2013 Softies for Mirabel toy drive.  But I’m a tad late.  I only discovered tonight that the deadline for posted toys to be in is November 30 (Sophie should just make it)!  Anyway, that should give any crafty types who are reading this plenty of time to whip up a handmade toy for next year.

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Bird Friends in the Garden

My poor little blog has been somewhat neglected of late.  Sorry about that.   My body and mind have been exhausted by Master J developing into a spirited and energetic toddler.  Nature’s plan for female humans to begin reproducing in their teens is  completely logical in hindsight.  I certainly could use some of my teenage (or even twentage) energy and physical condition in keeping pace with my one-year-old.  And four-year-old for that matter.  But then I suppose at thirty-something I have gained extra wisdom to help me get by.  Maybe.  I sure could do with more strength and vitality though.  Anyway.

Much of my time and creative thoughts have been taken up by a challenging bathroom renovation that is happening at my old abode.  More on that later I hope.  (Sooner rather than later would be good.)  But it’s actually this recent project that has led me to the topic of this post.

I’ve been spending many weekends at our semi-rural bushland property due to the reno (if you read about my blog you’ll see we’ve been separated for a short while…soon to be permamently reunited though…yay)!  We’ve been blessed with some charming weather.  And invariably along with that descends the feathered friends brigade!

These shots were all taken last Sunday on my iPhone.  First I was greeted, upon opening the blinds at 7.30am, by a gang of six sulphur-crested cockies and corellas.  I’m not sure why they had come together.  But there they were having an early morning party in our back garden.

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Later and throughout the day we were entertained with the antics and laughter of our resident kookaburras.  At one time there were five sitting around the front garden.  This youngster was courageous enough to venture so close that I could almost touch him.  In Australia we often take these iconic birds for granted.  But when given the chance to observe them close-up I get tingles down my spine.  Have you ever noticed how they can sit perfectly still watching from a vantage point and then in a flash retrieve a wriggling earthworm from the soil?  Or heard them chatter to one another quietly and quite different to the typical laughter that they are reknowned for?  Ever looked a kooka in the eye, front-on?  What an adorable sight.

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And finally our other special visitors.  The butcherbirds.  One of my favourite bird species. Not so much because of appearances, although I do think they’re beautiful to look at.  Not for their dining habits, although they are very clever in that regard.  But if you ever hear a butcherbird sing you cannot help but be entranced.  The sound is clear, melodious and could easily have floated out of a human-made instrument.  It gets me every time.  Last weekend it was seeing them so close that gave me a thrill.  Several of them appeared on the verandah while we were eating lunch.  And yes, they were being hopeful.

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We also had visits from the wood ducks, red-rumped parrots and noisy miners.  But we have many more bird species utilising our property, which we were once planning to name ‘Bimbadeen’ – an aboriginal word for ‘place of many birds’.  Until we realised it’s not a particularly unique property name.  (Google it and see for yourself.)

Here are some older pics of bird visitors at our place.

A pair of eastern rosellas on the fence.

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A young grey butcherbird.  So sweet.

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Sacred kingfisher couple.

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My pleasure in having wild bird company is enthusiastically shared by my kids.  Whenever he spots any variety of feathered friend, Master J is quick to produce his generic bird call imitation, together with a repeating sign-language gesture (tapping pointer finger on thumb to resemble a moving bird beak).  The infamous Indian Myna isn’t even spared such excitement.  And Miss L at four can already identify and name many more birds than the average Australian.  As well as being able to use her ears to determine what birds are about.

Pondering all this reminded me where my love of birds and the ability to identify them originated.  I spent many a camping trip or bushwalk as a youngster, creeping about the bush with my mum, oldest brother and sister, binoculars at the ready and bird book on hand.  The treasured binoculars, which I still own (despite the existence now of far superior models) were one of my earliest birthday gifts (I think I was six or seven) and they were proper adult ones.  Not a toy version like the pair Miss L has.  I was pretty thrilled to be trusted with using and maintaining such a special piece of equipment.  (And of course the binoculars were not only used for spotting birds.)

I realise that bird-watching is not a hobby that’s enjoyed by the masses.  You discover that fact quickly when you are frequently the only person around who doesn’t call every black and white bird a magpie or when others are surprised by your ability to make a distinction between a cockatoo and a corella.  Bird-watching is  perceived by some to be a pretty nerdy past-time too.  But Bill Oddie is an avid bird-watcher!  So it has got to be one of the coolest activities around.  Right?  He was always the hip one after all.

The whole process of seeking and identifying wild birds is just the perfect activity for kids.  For a start it gets kids outdoors.  It invites adventure but also teaches patience and listening.  It helps kids learn to appreciate fine details and subtleties of an image, to differentiate colours and patterns, and distinguish shapes.  Since bird-watching also incorporates bird sounds, it develops the sense of listening very well.  There might be three or four different bird calls going on at once, but a bird-watcher learns to discern that one call and put a name and face to it.  It’s a calming, quiet-time activity.  We need lots of those up our sleeve as parents.  And it involves challenge and achievement so it’s fantastic for kids’ self esteem.

If you’ve never done any bird watching before go on.  Try it. With your kids.  No matter how young they are.  Grab a bird book.  It doesn’t have to be the latest flash one…bird names haven’t changed that much over the years.  I bought mine from the local charity store as you might have guessed.  Get yourself a pair of binoculars if you’re keen.  Though to start with, especially with young children, you don’t need them.  Go outside!  Even the most urban areas in Australia have birdlife so it’s not a prerequisite to be in the bush.  But if you are that’s wonderful.

For some fabulous advice on bird watching as well as some excellent resources, check out the Birds in Backyards website.  (Note: this is an Australian website, so it mostly relates to Australian birds but it does have general bird-watching advice too.)  My best tips?

– Practise being still and quiet.  Not only so you don’t frighten the little birdies but also to help you hear their calls and movements.  Challenging for kids at first but you’d be amazed how easily this can be achieved once they realise the reward.  Whispering and using hand signals to communicate when you’re on the bird hunt also adds to the fun.

– Observe a bird for as long as you can so you get to appreciate its size, shape, beak appearance, colours, patterns, calls and behaviour.

– Familiarise yourself with groups of birds and their features (eg, parrots, owls, wrens, kingfishers, honeyeaters).  This will help when it comes to searching through pages for that one feathered friend amongst hundreds.

–  Get to know your bird book.  Most are divided into sections, with the first part usually providing very useful general information about bird identification and also a key to the different bird families.

– Take note of your location and utilise the distribution maps in the bird book.  If you see a kookaburra in southern Australia it’s not going to be a blue-winged kookaburra unless it’s in an aviary.

– Keep a record book of birds you’ve identified.  Kids will love this part.  Keeping tabs on things is a favourite past-time of most kids.  Younger kids can include drawings or photos.

The Birds in Backyards website keeps tabs too…on what birds are hanging around urban Australia.  By becoming a member (no fee required) you can participate in some important surveys.  Trust me it’s easy.  And very rewarding.

Finally, here is a bird who you won’t need a book to identify: our non-native neighbourhood peacock (Mr Peacock to friends) who makes periodic appearances in our garden and never fails to put on a show.  What a stunner.  If anyone can inspire you to take up bird-watching with your kids, Mr Peacock can.  Surely.

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Upcycling: Puzzle Piece Kids’ Clothes

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I made these trousers for Master One the other day.  Well.  I kind of cheated.  You see, my little boy has become a turbo-charged tank, crawling around the place like he’s on a serious mission.  His delicate baby clothes are being tested for toughness every day.  And they’re not doing too well.  In the toughness department, that is.

When his first pair of trousers developed a pair of holes, I was tempted to convert them to rags.  The upcycler in me knew better.  I cut off the holey knee sections of the trousers , leaving the top waist/bottom part (the red, top in the photo above) and the two trouser-leg bottoms (red trouser bottoms in photo).  I replaced the removed pieces with sturdy but soft fabric from my old corduroy jeans.

To minimise my sewing I cut the old jeans fabric to include the original inner-leg seams.  Then it was just a matter of cutting the width to match the original baby trousers pieces, with allowance for the outer-leg seams.  I matched the pieces together with right sides facing, sewed up the seams and zig-zagged the seam edges to finish.  Very simple.

Unfortunately I didn’t snap any pics of the process.  But I’ve started on some other kids’ clothes puzzle-piece mix ‘n’ match projects and photographed the cutting up and piecing together steps.

Baby jumpsuit becomes a shirt/jacket (I’d already cut the feet off these a while back thinking they could become a footless jumpsuit then discovered some holes in the legs, around the buttons).  I just need to hem the bottom.  

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Pyjama (long) bottoms become pyjama shorts or undies (post-nappies).  Again a simple matter of hemming the bottom edges.  (Look at those holes in the legs!  Some heavy duty crawling has been going on here.)  There will be a use for the non-holey parts of the leg bottoms too.

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More of Master One’s handiwork – stains and holes again (see second photo).  Plus they were a bit short.  I’ll join them to the bottoms of the grey trousers to make a new pair with longer legs.

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(Woops I’d already discarded – cut up for stuffing – the removed crutch section of these grey trousers before taking photos. They belonged to Miss Four before she wore some holes in the rear!  I’d attempted a repair initially but it came apart after one wear!)

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This final one might be interesting.  But I’ll see how it turns out.  I actually cut the grey  women’s T-shirt up to make T-yarn (the centre piece was used to make this) so was left with some scrap fabric which I cut up for the skirt below.  The pink T-shirt fabric was also left over from making T-yarn.  I’ll try to piece them together with the top of the grey trousers from the pic above.  

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Hopefully the overlocker for which I’m excitedly waiting, will make the joining together of these stretchy fabrics much easier.  I’ll post some photos of the finished pieces when I’m done.  Just to show that they don’t look totally ridiculous.

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Weekly Upcycling Inspiration: The Cardboard Box

Welcome to your weekly serving of upcycling inspiration! Once a week I’m going to feature an item for which I’ll endeavour to list some upcycling ideas. They might be my own or they might just be little light bulbs of genius that I pinch from someone else.

Cardboard boxes are incredibly useful for their intended purpose of storage and transport of goods. And they can be reused in this way over and over again. Plus they are completely recyclable and biodegradable (minus any sticky tape). We love cardboard boxes in our household as they are a wonderful resource for kids play. There is always a supply on hand ready for a rainy day!

1. If you haven’t visited my Makedo Creations page yet, then go on, take a peak. I hope you’ll be inspired by what my husband and daughter have made with boxes and other recyclables and trash. Here is their latest creation…a checkout.

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Complete with conveyor belt, scanner, monitor, scales, eftpos machine and packing area it’s been a popular play area for the children for the past couple of weeks. It uses only boxes and Makedo connectors plus an old mobile phone (eftpos machine) and real scales.

2. Use to suppress or kill weeds and grasses under a thick layer of mulch. Overlap pieces of opened out cardboard box on the area to be mulched, wet down then apply mulch. This is also a great way to smother grasses when building a no-dig garden bed or other raised garden beds onto a patch of lawn.

3. When wrapping odd-shaped gifts place the items in a box then wrap (reuse wrapping paper and other papers, fabric, etc). It will be much easier and neater.

4. Make an office in-box by cutting off one large side and the top. Cut the end of the narrow sides on an angle. Cover in decorative or interesting paper or fabric.

5. Make a magazine holder with a sturdy cereal box.

6. Place strategically under furniture when rearranging it, to protect the floor and make it easier to slide.

7. Entertain your pooch. Fill smaller boxes such as cereal boxes with dry dog food or treats, close then give to your dog to rip apart. This is a fabulous way to feed an active or young dog who needs lots of stimulation. Rather than gobbling up the food in a flash, your dog will spend extra time extracting the food and tearing up the box. The pieces of torn cardboard can later be placed on the compost.

8. Make a sled for snow or a grassy slope.

9. Protect fingers when hammering a nail. Push the nail through one end of a rectangular-ish piece of cardboard and hold onto the other end once you commence hammering. Remove cardboard then complete the hammering if necessary.

10. When transporting furniture and household items in a vehicle or trailer, use pieces of cardboard box placed flat against the items to protect against damage from rubbing and to help hold them in place. Use small pieces under ropes, again to stop rubbing but also to help secure the items when the rope is tightened.

Of course if you are a cat (or live with one) then you know what the best use for a cardboard box is, don’t you? No need to waste precious energy on upcycling. 🙂

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Weekly Upcycling Inspiration: The Egg Carton

Welcome to your weekly serving of upcycling inspiration!  Once a week I’m going to feature an item for which I’ll endeavour to list some upcycling ideas.  They might be my own or they might just be little light bulbs of genius that I pinch from someone else.

Two Striped Cats: Egg Carton

This week it’s the egg carton in the limelight.  What a cleverly designed bit of cardboard!  Almost as impressive as the little parcels of goodness that they are meant to protect.  I have trouble letting go of egg cartons because they are just so useful.

If you’re lucky enough to keep your own hens then the best and most obvious use is sorted.  In fact at peak laying time you’ll probably be begging your friends and family for egg carton donations!  Apart from re-using them over and over again for their intended purpose, here’s what else you can do.

1. Organise and store all kinds of goodies:

sewing supplies such as bobbins, safety pins, buttons, thread, small lengths of ribbon;

– small craft supplies;

stationery supplies;

– christmas ornaments, especially fragile glass baubles;

– decorated Easter eggs (real ones that have been blown);

Two Striped Cats: Decorated Carton Housing Dyed Eggs

– jewellery –  ideal for kids.  Here is a cute jewellery box project for kids, from B-Inspired Mama;

– hair accessories – clips, hair bands and bobby pins;

– a child’s rock collection;

– hardware – nuts, bolts, washers, screws, tacks;

– small plastic toy animals or dolls.  This cute one over at LilyBean’s Paperie has been decorated to hold plastic farm animals for a gift.

Not only will the compartments keep small items safe and locatable, the cartons stack for easy storage into boxes, drawers or on shelves.  You might like to decorate them first with paint or paper.

2. Plant seeds – fill each compartment with seed raising mix, sow the seeds, and water-in.  Once the seedlings are large enough, cut the carton up into individual cells then transfer them to the garden, still in their section of carton.  The roots will be protected from damage during the transplantation process and the carton will break down in the soil.

3. Make some play eggs (crochet, fabric, modelling clay, etc) and store them in an old egg carton.  Or just keep an empty egg carton in the play kitchen.

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4. Use to package mini muffins and other small treats that you’ve made for gifts.  Decorate first by painting or covering in pretty or interesting papers.

5. Make a pair of goggles for kids play.

6. Use for kids craft.  

7. Create these sweet buttons by Pretty Little Things.

8. Turn into a kids’ paint palette by placing a dollop of paint in each compartment (you might like to leave some empty for mixing colours).  The paint will eventually dry up (but not before that masterpiece is produced) and the palette can be used again.  Or allow your child to colour the carton with any left-over paint, once the other artwork is complete, and turn it into a storage container.

9. Make a colour sorting game for toddlers or preschoolers.  Or an egg carton counting game.

10. Use as a favour bag at a childrens’ birthday party.

Check out these pics on Flickr for some more ideas!

Happy upcycling!

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Getting Kids’ Hands Dirty…In the Garden

I’m not sure what incited my passion for gardening.  Perhaps it was the special times spent in my great grandmother’s sprawling garden with its tasty fruit and vegies, and delightful flowers at every turn.   Or the array of potted succulents and flowering perennials at Grandma’s back door that cheerfully greeted me on arrival. Or joining my dad in his vegie plot when I was just a wee one.  Maybe it was the little vegie and flower garden that my first-grade classmates and I created in primary school.   Probably ‘all of the above’ is how I came to be a green thumb.  Growing plants (especially edible ones) has excited me for as long as I can remember and I have many fond memories of being amongst them.

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I totally agree with Australian gardening legend Peter Cundall, that gardening is super beneficial to our health – not only from a physical aspect, but also for the mind.  And there’s the bonus of nourishing your body with a bounty of fresh fruit and vegies from the edible garden.   Whether you’re four-years-old or eighty-four, the merits of gardening hold true.    Encouraging kids when they’re small will help to start them on this wonderful journey.

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Here are some ideas on how to pass on the gardening bug to kids:

– Garden with your kids from their very beginning.  My daughter joined me in the garden as a newborn –  carried in a sling, resting in the pram or on a blanket.

– Provide child-sized tools and gloves.  Miss L has shown a heightened interest in gardening since receiving some lovely gardening tools for Christmas last year!

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– Give your child her own garden area, whether it’s a small pot or an entire raised vegie bed.  Making a sign for this, eg, ‘Sophie’s Patch’ can also be a fun activity to do together.  With some gentle guidance and depending on her age, allow her to choose what is planted and to do the planting herself (again with some help if needed).  Try to avoid the urge to take over.  For younger kids you might let them pick from a selection of seeds that you’ve chosen based on season and ease of growing, show them how to sow the seeds and help them to do it.  Older kids could be given the task of choosing suitable seeds and then planting these themselves.

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– Try to keep gardening sessions short.  Take your child’s cue – if he tells you he’s had enough then it’s time to stop.

– Develop their sense of wonder for the natural world.  Whenever you or your child sees something noteworthy in nature, even if you’re just walking along a suburban footpath, take the time to stop, examine closely and show interest and amazement: ’Wow!  Look at that caterpillar!  I wonder why it’s covered in all those hairs?’…’Can you see that bird over there?  The one with the white cheek and red face.  What other colours can you see on its body?’…’Oh fabulous!  Look at all these worms I’ve uncovered!  They are doing such a wonderful job keeping the soil healthy for our plants to grow!’…’Come and see!  Our beans have sprouted!’   You might feel that you’re sounding a bit like the late Steve Irwin, but your kids will pick up on your enthusiasm.  (I’ve no doubt Steve converted thousands of viewers into serious nature-lovers with his contagious passion)!  This helps kids learn to appreciate and even love, the many critters they might come across whilst gardening, that might otherwise incite fear or disgust and also keeps them interested in the biology of what is happening in the garden.

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– Avoid pressuring your child to garden…if they don’t want to garden at a particular time, that’s fine.  And try not to worry (at least pretend you’re not concerned) when the seeds aren’t in perfect little rows and neatly spaced, or they are planted a little too deep, or your child pulls out a young vegie seedling thinking it’s a weed!

– Do some gardening-based craft.  Decorate old containers (tin cans, canisters, cups) to be used as pots.  Make a scarecrow.  Paint rocks for signs and decoration. Create garden sculptures.

– Read about gardening…together…no matter how young (or old) your kids are.  We especially like The Australian Women’s Weekly Kids in the Garden, by Mary Moody and The Little Gardeners Guide, by Niki Horin.  But even your regular gardening books, magazines and catalogues can capture children’s attention as they are filled with lovely, colourful and often fascinating pictures.

– Harvest and eat your produce together.  Allow kids to help with the preparation, even if it’s just washing the carrots or lettuce.  Little hands are also ideal for fiddly jobs like shelling peas!

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I’m pretty sure my daughter, at four years of age, has caught the gardening craze.  Miss L chose The Little Gardeners Guide for us to read this morning.  On our walk she noted our neighbour’s lawn still hadn’t grown properly over a little defect that they’d filled with soil recently.  When we returned home Miss L insisted she go outside and water the plants, even though the soil was still wet from this morning’s downpour.  Then Miss L asked if she could plant some seeds.  Which she did.  Not before gathering her entire gardening tool collection and donning gardening gloves and hat…and treating the soil to lashings of home-made compost.  I’m pretty stoked that my daughter loves gardening.  But what made me smile tonight was that Miss L not only devoured all of her vegies at dinner, but she also ate the little mound of mint leaves on the side.  And declared them to be ‘delicious’.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  She  grew them herself!

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World Book Day: Books for Kids

April 23rd is marked by UNESCO  as World Book and Copyright Day  (or just World Book Day).  If you live in Australia like me, you might not have heard of it as it falls close to ANZAC Day and isn’t widely recognised here, although this might be changing.   In the United Kingdom and Ireland World Book Day is celebrated in March.

OK.  So that’s one excuse to write a post about books and reading.  Actually, I really wanted to share my recent exciting Vinnies’ find: a forty-year-old (yes, vintage) edition of Fantastic Mr Fox, by Roald Dahl!  I was drawn to it not only by the words ‘Roald’ and ‘Dahl’ but also by the absence of the words ‘Quentin’ and ‘Blake’.  This early edition is adorned with some very quaint, detailed drawings by a fellow named Donald Chaffin, rather than the suitably rough sketches by Quentin Blake that most of us immediately associate with Roald Dahl books.  At only $3, of course I had to buy it!  My kids haven’t met Mr Dahl yet, but Roald is the author who dominates my favourite childhood books list.

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Reading a good book is one of life’s little pleasures…and luxuries (especially as a caretaker of young children)!  How I could return to my childhood in an instant…snuggled under a granny rug by the fire, completely absorbed in the pages in front of me. I think I was born loving books.  I grew up in a world where books were part of daily life.  For a long time my family didn’t have a telly.  We didn’t have computer games. But we were never short on books.

Developing a love of books is a wonderful gift that parents can give to their kids.  Miss L at age four, already lists reading as one of her favourite past-times even though she can’t properly read yet!  Through being read to since she was a newborn, observing Mummy and Daddy being absorbed by print on a page, visiting the local library for story-time and borrowing, noticing that Mummy loves buying books, being read to every night at bed-time and being surrounded by books at home, Miss L is already a passionate book lover.  Master J at one, is following suit.

17th June: Aussie books

The downside of books, from an eco-friendly perspective, is that they’re made of paper.  And paper generally comes from trees.  I’d rather enjoy the old-growth-forest as it is, than on my bookshelf.   So in order to get my book-fix, I try to follow these guidelines:

– Utilise the local library!  You will be amazed what your local library has to offer in the way of books, as well as magazines, and audiovisual material (one of our favourite things to borrow is audiobooks on CD – perfect for car trips).  Many libraries have long borrowing periods, which can usually be extended;

– Buy second-hand books.   Search your local charity stores, garage sales, second-hand book sellers, ebay and other online bookshops.

– Buy new books printed on sustainably sourced paper (via an accredited body such as the Forestry Stewardship Council or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification – look for a logo FSC, PEFC, etc ).

– If you have a tablet or e-reader, buy e-books (for kids books though, you can’t beat the real thing).  These are incredibly handy as you can carry dozens of books wherever you go.

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There are some excellent sources of information about how to read to kids, how to help kids learn to read and how to develop a love of reading.  I particularly love what Mem Fox has to say here and in her book Reading Magic. Jackie French, another Aussie favourite, provides some very sound advice here.   And in this book which I borrowed from my local library, Jo Jackson King, gives parents excellent expert advice from an occupational therapy point of view (I can highly recommend this as a general book for parents of 0-7-year-olds; it’s not just about reading).

Here are some of our favourite kids’ books:

Longer Stories

– The Magic Faraway Tree series, The Wishing Chair series, Noddy and Toyland – anything by Enid Blyton is a winner in our household…and Mummy and Daddy are entertained by her too!

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne (we love listening to this brilliant audio version too).

Picture Books

Fox in Socks – Dr Seuss is oh so clever (we love them all)!

Time for Bed, Possum Magic and other Mem Fox books

Mr McGee series, Who Sank the Boat, by Pamela Allen

Miffy books, by Dick Bruna

Spot books, by Eric Hill

When I’m Feeling series, by Trace Moroney

Maisy books, by Lucy Cousins

Dear Zoo, by Rod Campbell

Mr Men and Little Miss books, by Roger Hargreaves

Hairy Maclary books, by Lynley Dodd

Books Printed on Sustainable Paper

Do Dogs Dream?, Geraldine Taylor (a Ladybird  lift-the-flap book printed on 100% recycled paper)

Little Green Books – What Do You See?, My First Garden (printed on 100% recycled paper and with eco themes)

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What are your family’s favourite books?  Who was your favourite author as a child?  Did you like Roald too?

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Good Old Toys

I adore old-fashioned toys. Just like other vintage and antique goodies they have character and charm that is so enticing. And I can’t help but contemplate the children who played with them in another era, before computer games and perhaps television existed. It is this history too, that draws me in. And of course, preloved toys are also green toys, so that’s another reason to smile.

One of the joys of shopping for these oldies is that I’m frequently delighted by my discoveries. I might come across toys I’ve never seen or heard of…or some that I recall from my own childhood or from old family photos. The excitement can’t possibly be matched with a visit to a modern toy super store (unless we’re talking about my daughter; the only time she entered one of these toy shops my husband and I couldn’t extract her without bribery…a tactic I normally avoid).

My son turned one recently so I was given the perfect excuse for some olden-day toy shopping (via my not so olden computer). I bought these sweet wooden vintage table skittles from Little Flea Vintage, one of my favourite etsy stores.  They look gorgeous with their bright colours, sitting up on my son’s chest of drawers. I think so anyway.

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Whether or not Master J agrees I don’t know, but he loves to play with his new…ahem…old toy. Which so far involves banging two skittles together (they double as claves), banging a skittle on another object or banging me with a skittle. But that’s OK.  I suspect these skittles have been subjected to this kind of treatment before.  They are toys that have stood the tests of time and juvenile destruction, so I’m sure they’ll be alright.

Some day soon my son will be lining the said skittles up and knocking them down with the ball (which is too small to safely offer him at present). And if Master J has inherited the ‘lover of old things’ gene, he will treasure this gift for years to come, until passing it on to its next little owner.

P.S. My mum bought Master J the cute crocheted horse by Anne-Claire Petit from a fabulous shop called Vintage Stash.

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Playing in the Kitchen

Miss L was lucky enough to be given her cousins’ lovely timber play kitchen a couple of years ago.  She spends hours in it – preparing picnic food, supper for her toys, whipping up cakes and batches of biscuits, making tea…not much dish washing goes on though.  Hmmm…I might have to encourage that a little.

The kitchen is stocked with a few hand-me-down items (little metal pots, fruit and vegies, teapot), but mostly it contains old real kitchenware and items otherwise destined for landfill or recycling.  Shabby or slightly broken cooking utensils and equipment that no longer has a place in my kitchen, often end up in Lucy’s – a perspex jug that cracked when it fell onto the tile floor (repaired with superglue), worn plastic mixing bowls, a  ladel and whisk, a wooden chopping board, and even old tea towels.

I find it quite silly that you can actually buy pretend packages and food containers for children’s play.  Once empty, the real ones make far superior toys for the play kitchen because they are the real thing – you can’t get any more authentic!  Plus by reusing these containers we are doing something positive for the environment and teaching our children about reducing waste.

I especially like to use containers that aren’t recyclable, since if they’re not used for something else after the food, their next destination is the bin (I try not to buy food in non-recyclable packaging though).  The containers/packaging might serve a different purpose in the pretend kitchen – think outside the square.  Plastic trays become oven trays, plastic trays with little depressions for cakes/muffins become muffin trays.

Also, containers that hold some basic cooking staples (especially for baking) and can be easily recognised by kids are a must.  Salt and pepper (in the plastic shakers), baking powder, cream of tartar, vanilla, egg cartons, butter/margarine containers all help to make the kids’ kitchen more authentic.

The tea set is a lovely, very sturdy one made of 100% recycled plastic milk cartons.  It would be very simple and inexpensive to make up a tea set from charity shop finds – espresso cups and saucers are ideal as they’re small, and likewise there are plenty of small size teapots around.  If the kids are too young to handle crockery without breakages, then choose stainless steel or plastic (if you can find it).  Or just buy a second hand play tea set…but the real stuff is very cool!

Miss L also has a gorgeous vintage Japanese tea set that was passed on to her by a special Great Great Aunty who had kept it since she was six-years-old.  That’s packed away for another year or two!

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