Friday, 27 February 2015

Top Cat

K says he's her best friend. I'm not sure he feels the same way but he sleeps on her bed and lets her pick him up without scratching or squirming so there's some reciprocal affection.

Cat on vintage bureau
 Best friends

Or maybe it's because the first thing she asks each morning is if she can go downstairs and feed him. She even attempted to change his litter tray once but we won't speak of that.

Daughter and adopted kitten
Not-quite-so-best friends

Can you believe he was dumped on a doorstep? We adopted him through the Cats Protection League. Mr had been worn down by the kids begging for a kitten and then finding a dead mouse festering in the oven after a holiday was the tipping point (that smell will haunt me for eternity, it was even worse than the holiday where we forgot to put the waste food bin outside and came home to find the kitchen floor teaming with maggots).

After going to a local rehoming day and ooing and ahhing at the cute cats and kittens I signed up for a home visit. A week later the volunteer house-checker arrived and I answered the door looking like something out of 28 Days Later thanks to E sharing conjunctivitis with me. After explaining that I don't usually look like this (and not mentioning that my house is never usually as tidy as this) the paper work was completed and a few days before Christmas we had a call about a kitten they thought would be good with the kids, so we went to visit him at his foster mum's house. The kids loved him and he didn't run away from them as most cats do so we took him home the same day! I was totally unprepared (conjunctivitis had been replaced by flu) and had to borrow a cat basket from a neighbour, use an old tray from the garden as a litter tray and run round to the shop to buy cat litter and food.

We've only had him two months but it feels like he's been here for ages. We don't know how old he is (they guessed three to four months when we got him) or where he came from, but he was found with another, younger black and white kitten who was from a different litter. And we kept the old-man name that his foster-mum had given him, it just stuck and suits him.

Drawing of black & white cat by 5 year old
K's kitten portrait

Cats Protection was such a good experience. The adoption fee we paid covered microchipping, de-fleaing, worming and two sets of vaccinations. One of the conditions of adopting is that you agree to have the cat neutered... ours is booked in for next week.

Their website has a "Find a Cat' section, a kind of Tinder for felines! They also have a surprisingly good online gift shop. I've picked out some of my favourite things. You know in case anyone needs any present ideas for me, what with Mothers day coming up and everything...

Cats Protection gift shop

Clockwise from top left: Sailor cat mug, Bunny paperclip holder, Blue Tit cushion, Tiger beaker

Monday, 19 January 2015

Banned books

Make and Do book by Childcraft

A general rule is: hoarding = bad, but hoarding books = good. A house without books is like a room without windows goes the saying. Unfortunately for me, a house with books is leaving little space for much else so I'm trying to cut down. This isn't a major cull, more like a few here and there, like pulling a plaster off slowly.

I usually get reading books for myself from either the library or the charity shop where they are returned to when I've finished. But I love art and design books and couldn't part with them, and often these books are BIG. My magpie ways also see me rescuing books. I spotted these amazing old kids books left out in someone's recycling box. There were lots more but I ran out of room in the buggy for them (yes, I did contemplate going back but it started raining). I had to take the one called "Make and Do" of course!

Vintage Childcraft books

The illustrations in them are fantastically retro and cover the strangest topics, like this one guaranteed to put kids off ever eating jelly again...

Jelly from skin & bones

And this one that is quite philosophical (and look at that decor)...

Minimalist or hoarder

K and E share a room so there's double the stuff to find space for. There are so many books rammed onto the shelves that it's impossible to flip through to even see what's there. Every time we do a library run I aim to find a couple of books that we've read, and are unlikely to read again, to donate. This is a win-win because it frees up space and you can always borrow the book again if you wanted to. I spotted one of 'our' books on the library shelves looking well thumbed and that made me happy.

Then there's the books that have been pulled apart, torn, chewed, and generally destroyed. When K was tiny and we'd be reading a dog-earred, scribbled on, ripped book from the library, I used to wonder what kind of parent let their kids do this. I've since learned that that parent is one whose back is turned for just a minute. Maybe they dared go to the toilet on their own or something. I'm ashamed to say that I have spent many a minute sellotaping flaps and pages back in after E has loved the books a little too vigorously while I was busy doing something else. And then there was the time K ate half a flap from a book so I couldn't even stick it back in. Sorry Croydon Council. I've been trying out ways to reuse them before they go in the recycle bin. It just feels wrong to throw a book away!

Recycled Mog book into greetings card DIY

K's school puts a book of used books out once in a while to help yourselves to, and again I can't resist a freebie. I took a Mog book home but it had some pages missing and the rest were literally falling out. Before we got rid of this one we went through and cut out our favourite pictures (while explaining to the kids that we don't normally do this to books) and made them into cards, like the one above. The picture was stuck onto card with the greeting stamped onto washi tape cut with pinking shears, and was really quick to do.

This is a nice DIY project; a collage of pages from a falling-apart book and an old canvas. It works really well when the colours are the same like this Cat in the Hat one from Fabulously Flawed...

Cat in the Hat canvas by Fabulously Flawed

Or maybe just use the pages as a background...

Book art by Carambatack on Etsy

There are also books that are such favourites – I want my hat back, I am an artist – that I will stash them in the loft. I've done something I saw recommended on a decluttering site, that said to allocate one large lidded storage box for yourself and each child. This keeps all their stuff in one place and should stop you from holding on to too much.

What do you do with books that are past their best? Or do you have a system for recycling old books?

ANA second-hand book shop, Singapore
Poster from ANA second-hand book shop in Singapore source

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Mini gingerbread bundt cakes

Happy New Year!

It's been a while since I've blogged; I seem to have caught every cold and bug going over the last month and tried every cure going too. Apart from keeping sliced onions in your socks, that is just grim.

I'm hoping to blog a bit more often this year and I've also been taking Instagram for another whirl which means taking more photos... always a good thing. I'm finding Twitter and Instagram easier to keep up to date with because I can do a quick check or update on my phone whereas a Blogger blog post via iPad or phone is pretty much impossible in my experience.

My Instagram account name is - no surprises - makedomum and if you take a peek you'll see some photos of our new family member, more about him to come!

I've also written my first post for someone else; a recipe for Wayfair. I love the patterns and shape of bundt tin moulds so I came up with mini gingerbread bundt cakes. Wayfair sent me the equipment I'd need to bake with and you can find the full recipe looking very polished and professional (!) on their site here.

Mini gingerbread bundt cake with ice cream
Individual black treacle gingerbread bundt cake served with ice cream and honeycomb

The mix would work in a large bundt mould too but I prefer the idea of a whole cake that you don't have to share! And the hole on the middle is perfect for holding ice cream :)

Bundt tins are too pretty to be hidden away. There's some nice ideas here at Brit & Co on how to repurpose cake pans. This cake tin planter is lovely...

Succulents in bundt tins

Beautiful succulents planted in bundt tins from from A Diamond in the Rough via Brit & Co

Monday, 1 December 2014

Best before...

Amongst the junk brought back after clearing some of mum's hoard was a vast array of free toiletry and cosmetic samples. This list on the wikipedia entry for compulsive hoarding pretty much summed up mum's hoarding and the collecting of free samples looks like a common trait...

She was happy for me to take them because at least then they'd be getting used. But on closer inspection some of these samples were VERY old. We're talking pre-website-address on packs, brands that don't exist anymore (remember Organics shampoo?) or exist but under a different name...

From a time long ago when Cif was Ajax, Snickers were Marathons and Olay was Ulay.

I use the same method for checking that toiletries are good to use that I would with food: if it looks ok and smells ok then I will use it. Make-up (especially mascara) and medicines I use a lot more caution with, and anything used by the kids.

Does anyone really take notice of the icon on the back of the pack that says when it should be used by? For ages I wasn't even aware of the significance of the "open pot with a number on it" symbol. I know that there are bottles in the bathroom that pre-date the birth of E (and probably K).

According to the British Skin Foundation, the use by date on cosmetics is from when you open the product. So if it says 18 months on the box, it should last for 18 months from when you open it, provided it's been stored correctly. Many of these samples didn't have that symbol or any indication of when they were manufactured. If it's hermetically sealed in its foil sachet how long will it survive and what happens when it does go off?

So far, one pack was ripped open to reveal contents that had separated and resembled cottage cheese... nice. A couple haven't had the strong perfumed smell I'd expect so perhaps that's worn off over time. I even used the vintage Ulay – out of sheer morbid curiosity – and it was fine; my skin didn't burn/start itching/hair fall out. 

I reckon I have enough here to last me for a few months so I'm setting myself a challenge to not buy any new products until I've used up these first. But I'll be giving the foundation samples a miss. They turn me a worrying shade of orange even before they've gone out of date so I'm not taking any chances.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

A hoarder's daughter

I've made no secret of my mum's hoarding but what I haven't explained is how severe it is. Those hoarder next-door programmes you see on TV? It's that kind of bad. Bad enough that the council have stepped in and told her that they class it a fire & health hazard and she has to clear her hoard to meet their approval (this is the first of many grey areas - just what is their measure of tidiness?)

Their idea of 'helping' her is to send a team to clear the entire flat. This sent my mum into a panic: how would they know what is valuable and what isn't. And with hoarding only recently being recognised as a form of OCD, clearing the junk would not be addressing the source of the problem.

Frustratingly for mum, she knows that she has a problem and has even asked her GP for help but there seems to be a lack of support for this condition. Perhaps because not much is really known about it.

To appease the council I been going over to her flat at weekends to help her start sorting. It's a daunting task with every dimly-lit room being stacked high with boxes and bags all in a coating of cat hair and dust (with the occassional fossilised cat poo thrown into the mix). It's physically and emotionally draining for both of us but mum is being surprisingly cooperative about getting rid of things and we often unearth stuff from when my brother and I were kids that makes us laugh - there was a smirk on my face as I put a smeg-head badge into the box for him. Her goal - apart from being evicted by the council of course - is to get the flat in a state that she could have the grandchildren over, which would be brilliant for all of us.

I've found the most useful tip is to get stuff out the house immediately: rubbish bags and recycling straight out to the bins, old furniture/junk - that hopefully the council will remove - straight out into the back garden, and boxes for me, my brother or for charity into my car. We also give ourselves a little cheer whenever we clear a cardboard box and flatten it for recycling! Also some proper storage has helped; we replaced two knackered old chests of drawers with an Ikea unit that holds multiple boxes which is useful when you're trying to group similar things together as you're sorting.

A few finds...
The Dressmaker magazine 60s 70s
Matching family kaftans (Dad looking especially cool) in The Dressmaker Special

crap craft chicken egg holder
Angry bird... crap crafts started early for me. This was an Easter egg holder I made at school. I took a photo for posterity before it went to the big chicken coup in the sky aka the bin

Retro Global Hypercolor and folding sunglasses
 A hipsters dream: from the top... Global Hypercolor sunglasses (still work!), vintage 50s sunglasses and 80s folding sunglasses

A collection of 1980s Sainsbury's Mr Men yoghurt pots
 A collection of 1980s Sainsbury's Mr Men yoghurt pots

I've brought back three carloads of junk - enough for several car boot sales. All the things for charity needed sorting and cleaning/laundering first; and if I didn't do it quickly then I had two little helpers going through the boxes too. "What is this mummy?" said E clutching a Zippo lighter - eek!

Mum's now at the stage that she can get to the windows and see the beds again. Mr has been helping with the flatpack construction and putting up blinds for her (her cat likes to shred nets). She seems determined to carry on decluttering and is waiting to hear back from the council to see if what we've done is enough. I'll definitely have to go back and help more but I'm looking forward to a weekend off to just relax a bit.

Happy 5th birthday BEAR

Birthday bear with badges

Thank you to BEAR for sending us a surprise birthday kit to celebrate their 5th birthday. We had fun making our own bear badges and party blowers. They have a new campaign supporting the WWF (the animal charity, not spandexed wrestlers).

For every pack of limited edition WWF Paws sold (with the iconic Panda WWF logo on), BEAR will donate 5p - and 25p for multipacks - to help protect endangered bears and other wild species.

More information can be found on the BEAR website here.

bear birthday wrapping

Bear birthday package

bear save our paws

Disclosure: We were supplied some BEAR paws and craft kit, all words and opinions are my own.

Friday, 6 June 2014

DIY quick & easy cat crafts: t-shirt and mug

DIY cat stencil T-shirt
I was given back K's P.E. bag before the Easter Break for washing only to find that her T-shirt and shorts hadn't been worn at all; although they did now reek of rubbery shoes. I remembered K's teacher telling me that it took twice as long to get 30 5-year-olds changed into a P.E. kit than it did to actually do P.E., so it seems they just wear the plimsolls to save time (does anyone else call them pumps?! I used to when I was at school in the West Midlands).

The T-shirt came in a 2-pack so I had another pristine one at home - complete with name label neatly sewn in - that would never see the schoolyard. And for some reason I'd bought ones with puffy sleeves so I couldn't even pass them down to E, so it was time to give it a makeover for K.

It was this quilt on Pinterest that inspired me...
Cat quilt by Mer Mag
Cat quilt by Mer Mag - tutorial here

I love the simple shape and the contrast. For my T-shirt I decided to go for a quick sellotape mask rather than faffing with stencils and scapels.

Sellotape mask for quick T-shirt stencil

It took only a couple of minutes to mask out the shape freehand (it's easy to peel off the tape and reposition if you need to).

Sellotape guide for T-shirt cat stencil

I put card inside the shirt to stop the colour bleeding through to the back and then got out this ancient pot of fabric paint.

Very old Dylon fabric paint

It's so old it has an 081 London dialling code (a hotline to Annette Stevens for usage tips!), and the old factory is just up the road from me but has long been closed although it does still has the Dylon sign. But the fabric paint is still going strong so I painted it on - the kids gave me a hand - and then left to dry for a couple of hours, peeled off the tape and ironed to set.

Fabric painting DIY cat stencil t-shirt

You could mask off an area for eyes but I had a delve in my Nan's old button stash instead and found some round ones with a cool inner cats eye shape and sewed them on with green thread and at K's request added a little bow from a scrap of ribbon.

DIY kids cat stencil t-shirt
 It's nice to see it getting some wear instead of languishing in a drawer.

I also had a plain white mug bought with the sole intention of making one of those Sharpie mugs you see on Pinterest, so when I saw this I knew I should try it with a cat design...
DIY bunny ears mug via Mommo Design
Bunny mug via Mommo Design

I drew on the ears freehand, in hindsight it would have been smarter to pencil them on first, and drew a face on the bottom.

DIY cat ears mug

K added her name... and then to figure out how to set the ink. 

Cat ears DIY mug

This link to a '21 tips for DIY sharpie mugs' post had some very conflicting information about what type of pens to use and how to bake them in the oven. My plan was to put the mug in a cold oven, turn it up high and leave for an hour, then leave the mug in while the oven cooled down again. I did this while cooking something, to save energy, which meant the mug ended up splattered with food, not a good look, and then the design went and washed off with just a gentle handwash. Next time I'll buy a proper ceramic pen and not have to suffer the wails of a child that has just seen their artwork destroyed before their eyes!

DIY cat ears & face stencil mug
The one time the mug got used (by a very chicken-poxy girl) :)


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