Sunday, February 2, 2020

Fairy Gardens

It's almost spring, so it's a perfect time to think about fairy gardens. Two of our granddaughters have spring birthdays, and their creative mom decided to help them (and their brother) create fairy gardens as part of their birthday joy. For us, it was a four-part process, and the children were involved in all of it:

Choose a container: 
This can be easy or hard, depending on what you're looking for. There are a bazillion pots out there within a huge cost range. Our goal was to make fun gardens at a moderate price, so we used pots that I already had. And I think I purchased them initially at thrift stores. You want to be sure that the pot or container is large enough to handle the plants you choose plus the fairy decorations. However, soil alone is heavy, so it is also important to consider the weight of the container once it is filled. There are great inexpensive plastic or resin pots that look like stone or terra cotta. That is what we chose to work with:

Choose plants:
Fairy garden plants need to stay relatively small, so check on growth height and spread when you choose your plants. We went to a nearby nursery to find ours, but I have noticed since then that both Lowes and Home Depot have fairy garden sections, and they may be less expensive. (Also, Kroger, our grocery store, recently had small succulents for $1 a plant. Super price!) We tried to choose plants that gave us variety--color, texture and height. You want enough greenery to fill but not crowd your container. (Leave enough space for the plants to grow, and if things start to look too crowded, it's fine to prune a bit. These pictures were taken right after the gardens were created, and by the end of the summer they filled in even more.) Be sure to leave plenty of room for your accessories. Also consider light and water requirements. Two of our gardens had similar plantings, but we chose succulents for the third. Mixing them might have been a mistake because succulents require much less water.

Notice that this garden has ferns, plants that droop over the edge, flowering plants, and taller plants at the back to add dimension. Check for variation in color and texture as well.

Choose accessories:
This is the fun part, and you can be so creative. We found many of our fairies, structures and other accessories online, but we also found them at the dollar store, the hardware store, and thrift stores. (I spotted a darling mushroom at Hobby Lobby this week--a Christmas tree ornament that was 90% off.) The hunt is half the fun. In the gardens above, look for charming houses, bridges, a metal trellis, benches, woodland animals, stepping stones, and a pebble brook, The male of the group chose gnomes instead of fairies and succulents instead of leafy greens. The result was delightful, and of the three gardens, this was the only one that survived the winter cold. The others will need to be replanted:

Again, notice the variation in plant color, size, and texture (and the adorable hedgehogs.)

One of the cottages has little solar panels and lights up at night. SO FUN!:

Put it all together:
We bought a large bag of container potting soil and went to work. We had the children set out their design by arranging the pots and the accessories on top of the soil before we did any digging. That helped us create a pleasing composition without having to dig up and rearrange. Once everything is in place, it might be helpful to snap a reference picture so you can check back as you plant.

The children loved both the process and the finished products. And they are excited to re-imagine their plantings this year. It is fairy garden magic.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

There Was a Little House. . . .

Laurel and I have both taken a long blog break, mine longer than hers. But we plan to be back with a vengence because we have missed it. It stirs our creative juices, and, more importantly, it keeps us connected to each other in a special way.

Before I fell off the earth, I had started working on a children's garden and playhouse for our back yard. (I blogged about it clear back in spring of 2018.) Over the next few weeks, I'll update you on the progress and share what I learned from the experience--what worked and what didn't.

My yard growing up was a childhood paradise, a half acre of house, lawn and flowerbeds, and another half acre in back of orchard and trees--and a brick playhouse that my Dad and older brother built for me. I knew I couldn't replicate that sense of space and freedom in our much smaller city lot, but I did hope to carve out child-friendly, creative spaces for our grandchildren. That space centers around this playhouse--a much smaller and simpler version of the one that my Dad created for me:

I found the free building plans for this house at a site I use often for my DIY creations. Because the site has everything else you need to know, I'll just share the things I learned and the adaptations I made to make it more weather proof; the Ana White house was made for indoor use.

Although I wanted my structure to be sturdy, I didn't necessarily want it to be permanent, so I chose not to lay a cement foundation. Instead, I bought a prefab section of cedar fencing that was about two feet wider and longer than the house. Cedar was more expensive than pine, but I knew that it would weather better. If I had built it myself, I would have made it a about two feet longer to give the house a larger side porch area. As it is, it has a narrow back porch that is shaded by an overhanging part of the roof and a small side porch. It gave me enough room to add a little bistro table that can be served through the back window:

But choosing a pre-made foundation made sense; it was both less expensive and much easier since I was constructing the house by myself. I did add some extra bracing to the underside to strengthen it, and I attached boards to the front, back, and sides for strength and aesthetics.

To keep the platform off the potentially wet ground, I rested each corner on bricks. Since the ground slopes away from the house, I used smaller bricks in the front and cinderblocks in the back where the slope is greater.

I put the frame together on my porch because of a very rainy spring and then moved it to the platform to put up the walls. The biggest challenge was keeping everything square. Fortunately, wood is very forgiving, and when I had to, I just shaved a little off to make things fit.

In a way, it was a good thing that there was a lot of rain. It slowed the process down, and because of that, it quickly became clear that nails from my handy nail gun were not going to be sufficient to hold it together. As the tongue and groove planks became heavy with rain, they began to sag and pull away from the frame. So I went back and added screws to every board. It made all the difference, and I would recommend screws from the very beginning.

The plans call for a plywood roof, but plywood does not hold up well in wet weather. So my wise husband looked for and found a lighter and more durable solution online at Home Depot. We ended up using a Suntuf polycarbonate clear roofing panel that we cut to fit and then screwed into place. It keeps out rain and blocks harmful UV rays while letting in light. The entire roof is a skylight.

I painted the house, both inside and out, with two coats of clear polyurethane and painted the front trim with oil-based, green paint. (You can see from the pictures of the back porch that the wood is already beginning to weather a bit, but I'm okay with that.) Then I had the fun job of furnishing and decorating the interior. I found (or made) all the child-size furniture at thrift store bargains:

And the exterior--a thrift store rocker for the porch, solar lights from Amazon, and a genuine mailbox from the hardware store:

Welcome Home!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Octonauts Themed Birthday Party

Well, our first ever birthday party is in the books! Don't get me wrong; we didn't completely ignore SourPatch's first few birthdays. There were definitely cake and family time involved in all of them, and I think birthday #3 fell on a day I was hosting preschool, so we worked birthday festivities into the activities of the day (that year had the best dragon cake, too! The tutorial is floating around online somewhere...)

Then last year, SourPatch opted for an excursion with a friend over a traditional party. Yet this year... this year it felt like it was time. Patches was excited about a friend party, and I was ready to try to expand my mothering experiences to include hosting said party. His favorite show of the moment is Octonauts, a show of which I approve and an obvious theme for his party.

Here's what I liked about his birthday this year: it gave us an opportunity to work on party-preparations together. For example, we bonded making a pinata of Captain Barnacle's face. I was going to add a link to the tutorial we used, only to find out the site is having troubles. Basically, we cut out two outlines of a polar bear head in cardboard and a two inch strip of cardboard to go in between. We taped it together with packing tape (not too tight, lest the kids couldn't crack it open...) and left an open flap to add candy later. Oh, and I added some sturdy ribbon tied around the inner cardboard strip for hanging.

Next, the wrapping! To give it the appearance of fur--and that classic pinata look--I cut slits 3/4 of the way up two rolls of white streamers acquired from the dollar store. Since I had modge podge on hand, it was my adhesive of choice to brush across the pinata in sections as I wrapped the pre-cut streamer around and around and around, overlapping the strips to leave no brown cardboard peeking through. SourPatch was a great helper here.

Once completely wrapped, I let it dry and cut out a hat, ears, and face from construction paper and card stock. Add an Octonauts emblem to the hat, and voila! The captain.

I'm glad it looked cute and even more glad that the kids universally seemed to enjoy hitting it. Indeed, they kept hitting it even after the candy came out.

My son also enjoyed helping decorate for the party. We added streamer seaweed to the windows.

We also made and hung jellyfish from the ceiling (the tutorial is found here at Little Stars Learning.)

So... activities. I read lots of moms online skip the party games all together and just let the kids play, especially if they have pleasant weather and a big yard. I considered having the party at a nearby park, but the weather was inclement. Further, the point was to try to throw a "real" party, not just a play date, so, consulting with the birthday boy, we tried to think of activities he and his friends would enjoy.

As the kids arrived, we had a bubble machine blowing ambient bubbles on the porch. First thing, they came and played "Pin the Eyepatch on Kwazii" (another creation we threw together with poster board and construction paper, though I believe there's a version you can buy on amazon.)

Then, there were ocean sticker scenes from Oriental Trading Company available for the kids at folding tables to create while waiting for the other kids to arrive. I'd say half the kids chose to do the sticker scenes while the other half played with toys. Works for me!

Once all the children arrived, we unrolled a "treasure map" to three different spots in our home. The first spot had a classic "fishing game." Dad crouched on the other side of a blue blanket, attaching cheap plastic ocean animals to the end of a fishing rod as each child took turns casting it over. The next spot on the map went to these awesome swordfish swords, also from Oriental Trading Company (but sadly now discontinued.) I had them stabbed into a gold, spray-painted cardboard box so they could each pull their sword out King Arthur style. The kids enjoyed playing with them and surprisingly didn't kill each other with them (though one child did obliterate the box... no picture of that one!)

Our last stop on the treasure map led the kids to sand boxes on the porch full of buried gold (plastic) doubloons. After digging their allocated amount of coins, they were free to go and play until pinata time. I, like every other mom on the internet, made "Pesos' Medical Bags" to hold their party swag and pinata candy. Thank you, Misadventures of a First Time Mum for the band aid printable.

As mentioned before, the kids really do love hitting a pinata, especially with their new swordfish sword. Post pinata, we went inside for cake and candles. I made a Kwazii cake on Patch's actual birthday earlier in the week; we rocked cupcakes for the friend party. Now, what to do for food? Looking online, I found that some really beautiful, elaborate, and adorable, ocean-themed spreads. I thought and thought about what to do... and decided to follow one party planner's much simpler suggestion: ice cream bar. Kids love the power to choose their own toppings, she claimed, and she was right. Cake and ice cream? Simple. Though yes, I'm sure I did spoil these kids' lunches...

I really meant to say "no presents necessary" on the invitations and then just didn't... However, it was great to see how excited the kids were to see SourPatch open his presents. I thought kids hated the "open presents" part? I was actually going to skip it. Again, I'm a rookie mom, apparently; this was a highlight for the guests, and though I'll still likely say "no presents" next year, it was fun to see the kids' faces light up with the happiness of giving.

It felt like a win. Yes, we invited more kids than I thought prudent for the age group (and our square footage.) Yes, it was chaotic. Yet the kids seemed to enjoy the activities and company, and SourPatch had a great time, both in the preparations leading up to the party and at the party itself. Victory.