Archives for posts with tag: Children

Parents! Don’t take this the wrong way: I’m not trying to shame you. But so many people ask me about storage when they have kids, and I think to answer this you just have to take a long look at the floor and see what’s getting between your toes. Be reassured: I have very little interest in hoovering, so feel free to take a rather blurry look at the floor. We are focussing on the toyscape, not dust bunnies or muddy footprints: the ever-encroaching army of kids’ stuff that litters any free surface of our once-calm homes.

For everyone it’s different, but I’ll bet you can name at least one plaything that you would love to put in its place, and stop spending at least a significant proportion of your day tripping over.

For us it’s cars. Races, lines, complex combinations snaking around furniture and walls, with a high-pitched Murray Walker-style commentary and glorious shrieking engines.

Looks like an opportunity to overtake....

Looks like an opportunity to overtake….

Ever since Jonas was tiny, we’ve had to respect these lines, and the story behind them: the race isn’t over until the chequered flag waves.

Two races, two commentaries, too loud

Two races, two commentaries, too loud

In times when we’ve needed the floor to be clear, they’ve taken snapshots of the race for future re-enactments. That’s how I’ve got reams of these photos, blurry and wonky, but with crucial information contained within.

The M25 is a trifle congested today

The M25 is a trifle congested today

Even a brief dabble in ‘track’ building (Brio wooden railway)

Commuter chaos: leaves and a baked bean on the line

Commuter chaos: leaves and a baked bean on the line

normally ended up serving as a backdrop to another race.

“Could it be that we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere? Maybe it wasn’t left after the chicane…”

I thought it would be helpful to share some of the best-loved and most successful storage items  — those which have got you through those years of ‘entire house as playroom.’

Our particular floor/sanity saver — one which has served us so well — has been a set of hinged, lidded wicker baskets with a calico liner (see above photo). With the cars tucked up safely inside for the night, these boxes looked rather attractive stacked in an unused fireplace in the living room of our first home. For the 18 months we spent in a (cosy/small) rental, they took up residence under a window next to the sofa. They didn’t look like kid furniture, so once the lid was shut, they blended right in. Now they live in Malachy’s bedroom — holder of the race mantle these days — and have lost their fabric innards at some point or another.

We bought the set of three from B&Q at a satisfyingly low price, and they’ve served us so well, but B&Q don’t do them any more. All I can do is point you in the direction of some other savvy outlets who still offer something similar. Remember, the hinged lid is the important bit for stacking. You want a box big enough to hold your stash of vehicles (nothing more frustrating at tidy-up time than a lid that doesn’t quite close: tantrums are made of this) but small enough for you to lug from room to room when needed. Also, and maybe this is a boy way of thinking, but toys seem to work best stored in families — ie cars in one box, trains in another; Playmobil in a big tub… I don’t know: where do Little Ponies prefer to hang out? In any case, they and all their equipment should be stabled together.

So in a spirit of great stowed generosity, I’ve compiled for you a list of the places you can still buy hinged lidded wicker baskets – so that you too can clear the clutter. You’re welcome.

In at Number One, with good looks and a reasonable price point is the offering from Wilkos:

Willow Grey storage hamper/ £8 Wilkos size 35 x 25 x 17cm

Willow Grey storage hamper/ £8 Wilkos size 35 x 25 x 17cm

If you’re looking at a more advanced case of toy invasion, or simply don’t have the floorspace free for any more furniture, how about tucking this friendly storage monster under the bed?

Underbed Storage Willow Grey/ from Wilkos at £20, 40 x 70 x 20 cm

Underbed Storage Willow Grey/ from Wilkos at £20, 40 x 70 x 20cm

George at Asda is on the case too, with this similar-looking basket. They call it a trunk, but don’t worry, it isn’t actually that huge. The price is reasonable too.

Vintage Style Storage Trunk/George at Asda £10, 40.5 x 30.5 x 22cm (or £6 for the smaller version at 31.5 x 20.5 x 13.5cm)

Vintage Style Storage Trunk/George at Asda £10, 40.5 x 30.5 x 22cm (or £6 for the smaller version at 31.5 x 20.5 x 13.5cm)

You’d have to shell out more at Homebase, but you do get three for your investment — one largish trunk and two bijous containers (easier for little hands to transport).

Natural Storage Chest plus two boxes/ Homebase £45.99, chest measuring 44 x 84 x 45cm and the small baskets neat cubes of 35cm

Natural Storage Chest plus two boxes/ Homebase £45.99, chest measuring 44 x 84 x 45cm and the small baskets neat cubes of 35cm

A stately offering from Muji with taller dimensions — a steeper price point too.

Rattan Box with Lid in X-Large/ Muji £20, 36 x 26 x 32cm

Rattan Box with Lid in X-Large/ Muji £20, 36 x 26 x 32cm

Finally, a couple of giant options — less wieldy, to be sure, but sometimes those collections do get rather large. This from Wilkos is a reasonable price for the size:

Wilko Storage Trunk in White/ £35 with hefty measurements at 59 x 42 x 40cm

Wilko Storage Trunk in White/ £35 with big bones at 59 x 42 x 40cm

And at the top end of our collection, Ikea brings you this sturdy trunk for the bulkiest items (I’m thinking Scalextric for this one: nice spacious garaging here).

Byholma Chest in grey/ Ikea at £65 for the sizeable dimensions of 72 x 50 x 50 cm

Byholma Chest in grey/ Ikea at £65 for the sizeable dimensions of 72 x 50 x 50 cm

How do you contain the chaos? I’ll bring you some more ideas in future posts, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your tidy-up time solutions!

We interrupt this series of tasteful flooring posts to warn readers of a potentially hostile takeover bid by a phenomenon some call The Beautiful Game.

The more perceptive amongst you will have noticed that there is a global tournament afoot, the ups and downs of which have obsessed most members of our household for a good few weeks now. Wide-eyed in admiration at the skills and bad behaviour of those taking part, our boys have bought into the atmosphere (and a substantial chunk of the Panini sticker empire) with the dedication and stat-devouring fervour you’d expect of die-hard fans. Which they are.

Oh yes, we have three of these

Yes, we have three of these

The walls are alive with the high-definition motion of little running kicking men, and the sofa spectators agape with the drama of it all. Meanwhile I have been pondering how, even before the World Cup 2014, football is pretty much wallpaper in our lives (despite the fact of course that I would never ever sanction the application of football wallpaper in our home).

I will admit I started it: I installed a football handbasin in the boys’ bathroom.

Slippery slope: I installed this basin in the boys' bathroom -- Orrizonte Latino, Meridiana Ceramiche

Dear Future Me, This is just a slippery slope…/ Orrizonte Latino, Meridiana Ceramiche

Then we decided that in the interests of garden preservation we would not bother with a classic lawn. We have a pitch. Made of plastic. You don’t have to mow it, you can’t wear it out, and, come rain or shine, your players remain clean. It is the best investment we ever made.

Turf laws - fake grass is the best purchase ever

Turf laws: fake grass is the soundest purchase ever

Days are measured by the amount of football playing opportunities. Some interesting tweaks to the accepted rules of play sometimes make an appearance….

What happens when you mix football with breakfast time

Malachy discovers that his new cereal-inspired goalie kit has some design flaws….

So we knew what we were doing: we designed with the boys in mind. However the boys took this idea and ran with it. And that’s when the subtle nod to personality turned into an all-pervading house style.

Artwork? Sure! As long as it's red. With a football /pocket money bargain and ubiquitous team calendar in background

Artwork on my wall? Sure! As long as it’s red. With a football.

We kept the boys’ bedroom walls for the most part a fresh white, in keeping with the rest of the house. A few feature colours, like a brightly painted wall colour or striking curtains, were emphasized by the lack of pattern elsewhere.

Until blue-tack happened. And then Caspar found a ‘wonderful’ painting for £1.50 in a junk shop. And we realised that the passing of each year means the opportunity to hang a new team calendar with athletically posed gurning player photos.

Starter for ten: Which team does.... ah yes, well done

Starter for ten: Which team does…. ah yes, well done

When you’ve been successful in some area of junior level football, you get to keep a carefully moulded and easily breakable trophy to display for ever and ever in your room. Nothing must stand in its way.

Trophy fives

Trophy fives. Books take a back seat

And the clever folks in the football business know that whatever they make, we will buy. Duvets, lamps, clocks, watches, bath flannels, even Monopoly. And football cards. I can’t even begin to explain the joys of football cards and stickers.

Carpet design for the football enthusiast: cover it with as much tat as you can

Carpet design for the football enthusiast: spread your bets (that is City Monopoly for those who were wondering)

So as you prepare to bid adieu to the World Cup in Brazil — with the breathtaking, inspiring, bitey, frenetic, heartbreaking, staying-up-late, virtuoso fun of it all — remember us. Football is not going away any time soon. It’s here, and no amount of tasteful interior design influence can do anything about it.

The players fulfil stage one of their house domination campaign: Being Glued Back Onto Wobbly Platform

The players fulfil stage one of their house domination campaign: Being Glued Back Onto Wobbly Platform

I like a clever way with stairs. As you probably know, I decided to highlight mine with an orange line. Other staircases which made me smile were the ones with bright stripy runners, and even one with a tree. Another trick you’ve probably seen is the one where people write messages on the risers.

Mission statement/ In This House decal stickers on Etsy

Mission statement/ In This House decal stickers on Etsy

These inspirational quotes are great, and also of course can be used as wall decals too. Check out some of these for some words of wisdom:

Decal from Wulfsexpressions

Decal from Wulfsexpressions

You can get this whole wall's worth of decal from tkwraps

You can get this whole wall’s worth of decal from tkwraps

This handy reminder is part of a hotel/ apartment design experiment by company mode:line

This handy reminder is part of a hotel/ apartment design experiment by company mode:line

Though I think, if I’m honest, that these perky messages could wear a little thin after a while. A snappy phrase that seems so apt at first might eventually become trite when you’ve seen it every morning for a few months. Maybe that’s the beauty of a wall sticker: once it starts to annoy you, just rip it down.

So you need to choose carefully, and get something that you’re not going to regret. Something that you need to hear over and over. Something that can only make you stronger. And that got me thinking: how could I make it work for us?

This one appeared on a kids’ rooms blog. This is a great example of what we don’t need:

Bob Dylan's endearing poem is a stretch too far. To be honest, I probably wouldn't put this on a greetings card, let alone a wall. But maybe for a less confident child it could work?

Bob Dylan’s endearing poem is a stretch too far

I probably wouldn’t put this on a greetings card, let alone on a wall. But maybe for less confident characters there could be some value here.

I enjoy the solid practicality of this one, however:

Handy work with the mosaics. This message will stand the test of time.

Handy work with the mosaics. This message will stand the test of time

Yes, this resonates with my style of parenting.

Reading it approvingly, the answer hit me: I don’t want to get poetic, or need to remind myself or my family of what we could be. Everyone in our house has plenty of ambition and self-belief.

What I want is not to have to say the same things over and over again, many times a day, on some crazed audio loop.

I want the rules. Written down, so that I can take a break. I can just stand mutely and point to the appropriate stair or wall, instead.

RULE #1

Don’t throw balls inside. Don’t throw anything inside. Or kick or bounce anything inside. 

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. And by elephant I mean pretty much anything that can be launched in a missile-like manner. Windows, table lamps, picture frames and drinks have all been sorry casualties of the throwing/kicking/bouncing-things-inside game. The amorphous beauty of this game is that any person caught red-handed playing it can say, eyes wide in innocence, “Oh! I didn’t realise we weren’t allowed to throw elephants!” Or bounce sheep. Or kick pandas.

Evidence

Evidence

"I have no idea what you mean, I have never been used as a projectile."

“I have no idea what you mean, I have never been used as a projectile.”

"No, I just slipped on the stair. I know nothing about the wonky pictures on the wall."

“No, I just slipped on the stair. I know nothing about the wonky pictures on the wall.”

It’s not that I don’t like the boys to be active. We have a garden with an AstroTurf lawn, which is perfect for throwing and kicking. Even so, our back windows are liberally decorated with pretty ball imprints in a random pattern, a bit like year-round festive snowflakes.

The ball just wants to come inside. NEVER relax your guard.

Even the ball wants to come inside. NEVER relax your guard.

So this is my most important rule, and as such should feature on a wall, large, in Tahoma Bold. On particularly trying mornings, I am sometimes asked, “Can we roll things, then?” This makes me feel just that little bit more weary than I already was. On which note…

RULE #2

Nobody needs to wake up before seven.

This is a true word which none of my kids even remotely acknowledge. Every day, I say it. Sometimes I get out of bed and say it to the noisiest awake child actually in person. It doesn’t have to be this way. Most times I hide my head under my pillow and pretend that I wasn’t woken up before seven.

I would paint it on their ceilings, and the underside of the bunk bed, for Malachy, in special, glow-in-the-dark ink. I think if we catch them early enough, we may be able to change things. This is inextricably linked to…

RULE #3

No getting up before seven. Certainly no playing music or radios before seven. Definitely no jumping up and down or running loudly around the house before seven. You may read quietly before seven, if your eyes will simply not stay closed any more.

Like I say, nobody needs to wake up before seven. But since that is not a concept that my boys have ever grasped, the next priority is that we should try and minimise the impact on others. The problem here is that I don’t have a catch-all phrase for the variety of different things a boy can do before seven. It’s the sheer number of loud activities that defies the inspira-litigation approach I’d like to take. I could, I suppose, go down the route of addenda, or draw up a ‘definitions’ page on the back of the bathroom door.

RULE #4

Walk with your whole foot!

God made your foot to work in a smooth heel-toe motion

which enables you to go quietly when necessary.

If you walk on just your heels

you might as well have been given a stump or a hoof.

Heel walking sounds like someone is trying

to pogo-stick down the stairs

or buffalo are trying to break through the ceiling of my bedroom

(regarding which I refer you to the points written

on your bedroom ceilings regarding wake up times)

This could look good on the stair risers, no?

RULE #5

Please sit down while you are eating. You don’t need to get up. No. Sit down. On your bottom.

I was going to add something about knives and forks being used and not nibbling your food out of both hands like a squirrel, but I did read an advice column once about table manners which said you shouldn’t try to tackle too many issues at once as it can be confusing and demoralising. Since I am already pretty demoralised about what goes on around our table, we’ll stick with the basics. I can always upgrade if we ever make it past first base.

Clearly this is a perfect tablecloth design motif, along the lines of Not on the High Street products.

With Love Tablecloth from notonthehighstreet.com

With Love Tablecloth from notonthehighstreet.com

(You heard it here first).

RULE #6

Time to get your shoes on. Coat on. School bag. Lunch box.

It’s fine, I recognise that we haven’t got very far since my previous post on this matter. I do still yell “shoes ohhhhn!” most mornings. But it’s the process between initial shout and exit which I’d like to refine.

Somehow, this moment becomes the ideal opportunity to practise the piano. Then, everyone remembers how thirsty they are. Suddenly, we need to rearrange Match Attax cards in a different order and must finish the task. But we don’t have a ‘show and tell!’

The lack of focus is the thing. I think I need some sort of funnel-effect graphic on the floor towards the door. Oh yes, and…

RULE #7

Shut the door!

Or maybe I just give up on this and buy a spring-loaded hinge.

When it comes down to it, I suspect that even with the best calligraphy and most careful formatting, these helpful notices will be about as effective as my spoken nags reminders. That is, a sort of decorative white noise, for immediate mental relegation below the more important things of life, such as The Grand Prix, or Winning, or Who is More Famous: Wayne Rooney or The Pope?

Anyway, I have my own special written out rule, and it’s one I have heeded obediently since we received it as a wedding gift. I think it’s stood me in good stead over the years and I haven’t felt bored by its message yet.

A motto to live by

Finally, a wise motto to live by

 

There comes a time, and I’m not sure exactly at which point it is, when the suggestion of taking A Nice Walk or making a visit to a historical site becomes a really good idea, rather than a really annoying imposition on your play life. Possibly it’s when you are the suggester rather than the suggestee of the activity, and you are settling comfortably into at least your fourth decade.

I remember going to National Trust properties when I was little. I remember the untrodden lawns, the beautifully manicured gardens, and the grey-haired and sensibly-shod visitors wandering in them, the lavender-infused shop selling mainly fudge, the dangled possibility of an ice cream at the end, and most certainly a picnic with Bovril sandwiches. There were also woody wild areas to explore and the familiar unusual plants to rediscover just around the corner… maybe even a ‘climbing tree’.

Memories! We went here/ Watersmeet river gorge from the National Trust

Memories! We went here/ Watersmeet river gorge from the National Trust

Often we eschewed the house visit for fear of potential toddler malfunction, or, when we were older, in deference to the encroaching teenage boredom threshold. Most of the dingy exhibits were sequestered out of reach behind a rope barrier (and how tempting that rope was for us younger visitors, for swinging on or deftly looping around a sibling’s neck) and presided over by a stately and disapproving figure in the corner, who seemed to have a lot in common with Sam the Eagle from the Muppets.

The culture police have changed at the National Trust over the years/Sam the Eagle generally disapproves

The NT culture police have mellowed over the years/Sam the Eagle generally disapproves

In many ways, the National Trust has changed, and all to the good. Children are made so welcome now in the houses, and interaction with the objects in them is now actively encouraged. Where items need to be preserved, explanatory notes are placed next to them, showing the reasons for the Do Not Touch notice. The once frosty security guards have been replaced by a cosy army of grandparents, eager to chat and inspire.

So as parents, we didn’t baulk at the concept of taking our kids and another family into Lanhydrock House in Cornwall one rainy half term day. The children had a fantastic time looking for Halloween pumpkins but also following an easy-to-read guide as we toured the rooms, answering quizzes and imagining themselves as little lords and ladies from a bygone age.

But I didn’t bring you here only to muse upon middle-class family pursuits. I mentioned in my previous post that I found some treasure here. As our party swarmed ahead, I lingered in the kitchen, captivated by their collection of ‘Victorian mod cons’ and stylish work spaces. But mostly because these guys clearly had a big copper trend going on then too.

Trays to turreens: it's all made of copper

Trays to turreens: it’s all made of copper

copper kitchen lanhydrock

I could work with this. An inspiring kitchen

How many fry-ups? Pans hang on the wall.

How many fry-ups? Pans hang on the wall.

The willow pattern crockery is the height of Chinoiserie chic

The willow pattern crockery is the height of Chinese-style chic

Statement piece/ jelly mould

Statement piece: grand mould

Mrs Beeton recommends a jelly. Copper moulds for all kinds of fine foods

Mrs Beeton recommends a jelly. Copper moulds for all kinds of fine foods

Solution to easy-clean kitchenware: have staff

Solution to easy-clean kitchenware: have staff

Shining examples/ serve it all up with dainty blue Royal Doulton and beaten copper.

Serve it up with dainty blue Royal Doulton and beaten copper

This kitchen, set out ready for action, made me realise how similar our aesthetic tastes are currently with those of the big houses a century ago. The copper, the chinoiserie, even the light pink shade on the walls as a pastel backdrop, are all elements we might include in our modern interiors.

I can’t pretend that all our boys leap up in eager anticipation every time we say we’re heading for a National Trust property. Sometimes it’s hard to tear themselves away from that six-hour game of Chelsea Monopoly, or the re-enactment of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But by the time we’re there, and the valuable badge prizes are up for grabs, everyone is immersed, loving the challenge, learning without realising it, and continuing in the great family tradition. A copper-bottomed option for a good day out.

Inherent quality and beauty in interior design will always resurface, sometimes with new approaches and settings. The way we choose to spend and direct our time with family now draws on memories of that which was valuable in our own childhoods. What goes around comes around.

It’s coming up to birthday time of year in our house. Jonas and Caspar have been hard at work writing their wish lists, and we have been noting the items with interest. Caspar’s list is minimalist, I guess he is ensuring that he’ll get his top favourites. There are five suggestions on there, one of which is a pair of signed Ronaldo football boots, apparently available for the bargain price of £309.99 from a sporting memorabilia website. It’s possible a 7-year-old will be disappointed later this month.

A steal: Cristiano Ronaldo's signed boot

A steal: Cristiano Ronaldo’s signed boot

Jonas on the other hand has scribed a short legal document with scores out of ten (tickets to a Chelsea match, 11.6/10: extreme giver satisfaction rating) stretching to 57 items. There is a pleasing variety of presents for reasonable prices, including a Lego Glow-in-the-dark Racing Car at an encouraging 8.4/10, and Some More BBQ Sauce From KFC: this not to be recommended at an all-time low score of 4/10. Specifics ensure that all expectations will be met: A Trip To Yo-Sushi at 7.45pm reaps 10/10, but please read the timings carefully for full point capture here. A donation of £100 will garner top score of 13/10. I should think so too.

Floating around the middle of the list at a respectable 7/10 was Cardboard Box To Make A House Out Of, which was so surprisingly wholesome I had to check it for small print. I did then remember that a few years ago we purchased a new washing machine, and the cardboard packaging from this provided hours of fun outside in the garden with some paints, some of which were used to decorate the box and transform it into a “house.” More pertinent for scientific study, this entry on the present wish list seems to confirm the old adage “Kids! They spend more time playing with the box it came in!” I was about to proffer my new-found evidence to some market researchers as a tip for future manufacturing trends.

However it would seem that someone has already leapt on that opportunity: you can purchase a cardboard house from eBay for your child to decorate and play in. Really! And only pay £32.99.

Through the keyhole. Who would pay for a house like this?

Through the keyhole. Who would pay for a house like this?

Almost hyperventilating at the cynicism of the toy profiteers, I ventured down to the cellar to find a couple of the large removals boxes we had managed to empty of old CDs and junk. A little soggy around the bottom (the one and only link our cellar floor may have with The Great British Bake-Off), they were nevertheless huge and housey. Which was just what we wanted. In a fit of generosity I brought them up into the kitchen before birthdays for general craft and decoration fun.

Toy box

Toy box

A little parental involvement became necessary around the door and window cutting, thankfully intercepting Malachy’s attempts at slash and stab with a table knife before too much blood was lost.

Cowboy builders, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Cowboy builders, you ain’t seen nothing yet

Now the yellow felt pen is apparently officially ‘run out’ and actually the cat has played more inside the boxes than anyone else, but for an afternoon of creativity these worked perfectly.

Thinking of entering the Room for Color competition next year too

Thinking of entering the Room for Color competition next year too

Lotus is not sure about the standards of workmanship

Lotus is not sure about the standards of workmanship

And Jonas’s present list is now down to 56 items.

We were in Paris for only two nights, and so had to squeeze in our adventures to a relatively short time. Hence on the first morning we set off to find a perfect breakfast bakery, with tables outside, and delicious creations inside. The Rue des Martyrs was freckled liberally with award-winning cake shops and bread shops, sushi bars and wine bars, delicatessens and cheese emporia, sawdust-sprinkled floors in butchers and punnets of fruit and veg spilling out of greengrocers onto trestles on the pavement.

Stocking the pavement with five-a-day supplies

Stocking the pavement with five-a-day supplies

The only seated refreshments we saw initially were the wobbly plastic chairs outside tabacs. Parisians seemed content to perch on these to enjoy their early morning espresso, but we were after the holiday dream (always a dangerous aim with children in tow), and bakeries weren’t obliging with seating as we traipsed up the hill.

Roll up, roll up! Get your posh ham here.

Roll up, roll up! Get your posh ham here

Thankfully at the top was a tiny cobbled square with trees, benches, and a few local people stretching the legs of their minuscule dogs. At the corner, some artfully arranged painted chairs and rickety tables heralded our boulangerie holy grail.

The colour shop next door. How to match your soft furnishings with your floral arrangements

The ‘colour shop’ next door. How to match your soft furnishings with your floral arrangements

Each boy chose an inordinately enormous cake for his ‘second breakfast’, whilst Tim and I enjoyed a simple croissant each with black coffee, so everyone was happy.

It's not muesli. But it is second breadfast.

It’s not muesli. But it is second breakfast

Our meander back down the hill was slightly less single-minded, and we found some dear little treasure shops nestled between the cafes.

What lovely crockery you have! Quirky little interiors shop

What lovely crockery you have! Quirky little interiors shop

I pretty much wanted everything in here.

So many nice things, so little interest from my tourist companions....

So many nice things, so little interest from my tourist companions….

And through this murky window some existentialist toys contemplated their future.

Don't jump, Claude. Playmobil figures close to the edge

Don’t jump, Claude. Playmobil figures close to the edge

Thus set up, we went on our way to the Metro, and headed to our next, even more magical destination….

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