As Winter relented and let go its grip on the world and parents everywhere began to let themselves just imagine the prospect of a day when going outside didn’t involve bundling their offspring into umpteen layers of waterproofs and wellies, one book kept appearing in my blogging peripheral vision, mentioned again and again in passing on some of my favourite blogs.  The Story of the Root Children seemed to be as much a part of their Spring as it is unfathomable to me to go through Christmas without reading The Night Before Christmas more times than you can remember to count.

And so my interest was piqued.  Which means I looked it up on Amazon.  In my defence I did also have to buy the Lion Storyteller Bible for a christening present for a friend of ours and the idea of adding in a little something for the girls and Pip was, irrisistible.  It always is when it comes to books.

But to my surprise, Amazon didn’t have a copy of The Story of the Root Children (we may all pause now at the wonder of discovering something that Amazon doesn’t sell) but they did have My First Root Children, and as it seemed about time to add a story to the more junior end of our library and I’d already picked something out for Kitty, into the basket it went.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It has been a huge hit.  I think in my mind I’d intended it mostly for Pip, and he certainly enjoys turning the pages, trying to chew the corners and looking at the pictures, but it’s Elma who has really taken it to her heart.  And will gamely wrestle anyone for possession of it, and the pictures from my attempts at taking a photo speak for themselves.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It makes me giggle a little because as soon as I looked at the pictures of the little root children then reminded me so much of Elma, with their sleepy faces and brown flyaway hair; I wonder whether that’s why she loves it so much, because she can see herself in them?

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

But on to the story.  This is an abridged version of the original, but packed full of Sibylle von Offers’ original words and drawings. Over the five spreads of the book the root children wake up, sew themselves pretty new dresses and set to work getting the beetles, bumblebees and ladybirds ready to do their work, giving them sponge baths, brushing their fuzz and painting on their spots before they all head out into the sunshine. They dance and dance until autumn comes and it’s time for everyone to cuddle up inside again and sleep the winter through.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It’s a simple story, very sweet and with echos of a dozen other tales of fairies, fantasy and magic but it’s the illustrations that really steal the show.  I’ve said how much the little root children remind me of Elma and I’d always love them for that but there’s so much to look at in each picture too, the little details that only pop out to you after you’ve read it a few times; Mother Earth with her knitting or the root baby playing peekaboo with a snail.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

There’s really only one problem; now that I’ve fallen for the baby board book version, I really really want to get the full version for the girls, because I think this could just as easily become a stalwart of spring in our family too.

Space for the Butterflies: What We're Reading

If you have read something lovely recently, please do put your link in the comments section and shout to the world – and we’ll all come and have a read!  What We’re Reading is a weekly round up of posts about children’s books.  That’s about as far as the ‘rules’ go; it can be picture books, baby books, books for older children or even young adult if you like; just come and join us to tell us what you’ve been reading recently.  Or if you’d rather join in on Instagram or Twitter that would be wonderful too, just use the hashtag #whatweread and tag me (@cariemay on Instagram and @cariemaymakes on Twitter) and then we can all come and say hi.

 

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

If you were to ask me what this is, I would in all probability tell you that those are H’s swimming goggles.  And if you asked H he too would identify them as swimming goggles.  But there aren’t. Not really.

My little miss imagination (Elma) got hold of them last week when we were cleaning the kitchen together, rifling through a bag hung on the kitchen door and she immediately put them on and tried to run around holding them up to her face and not bumping into the walls, which in fairness is a challenge for her at the best of times.  I’m pretty sure she was cuddling them when she went to bed, so they can be added to the long list of unusual things that my children have decided to cuddle up to, and in the morning she and Kitty tried to adjust them, brought them to me for help, and then passed the rest of the day taking turns to wear them.

They have been goggles for a swimming lesson, glasses, part of some sort of superhero outfit, part of an Elsa outfit, part of a Cinderella outfit (what, you did’t notice that Elsa and Cinderella wore glasses either!), a hairband, a necklace and when all else fails, a prized possession to be hidden away from one’s sister. Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

I was in the kitchen cooking our Sunday roast this week when a little pitter patter of feet heralded the arrival of one of the girls at speed and I turned to find Elma, clad only in an orange play silk for a cloak and the goggles on her forehead. She skidded to a halt, looked up at me, giggled at her brother and then turned without a word and scampered off again.  I’ve still yet to find out what the game was but I know the goggles were very important because she was adamant that Kitty couldn’t have them.

Oh well, as we have no immediate plans to go swimming in the near future as we’re outnumbered and the local pools have strict ratio rules for the under 5s, H has given in with good grace and I think they are now firmly part of the dressing up box.

I love seeing what their boundless capacity for imagination can come up with, and within reason, I don’t mind most of the household being co-opted for some great game.

I know that I said that this year I wanted my Living Arrows project to be about the stories of the things that made up their childhood, the toys, the inventions and the precious memories that went along with them, but for once I have to bend that rule rather heftily, because this is what happens when little girls put on swimming goggles. Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Suddenly she just looks so very very little, all the great height and grow up faces that make her seem four going on fourteen just melt away and there’s my baby again, the tiny little Kitty that looked so very like Pip does now.  I wouldn’t wish the years back, not because they weren’t wonderful but because it’s just as big an adventure seeing what comes next, but just occasionally, it’s nice to see a little hint, a little reminder that those baby years weren’t so long ago after all.    

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Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

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Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life  

The lovely weather this week seems to have brought everyone out of hibernation, the play park has been heaving after school gets out and it’s been wonderful to see all the children running together.  And we’ve bumped into the friends we made in the bleakest coldest days of the winter when we were the only two mums there, our four girls playing together as we chatted and let the children run off some of the cabin fever.  We would stay right until it really did get too dark to play any more, lamenting the early nights and it’s been so lovely to meet up again in the sunshine.

Our chats over the winter often came around to the school places; our biggest girls were born two days apart, get on like a house on fire, are similarly tall, and we hoped and hoped and hoped that they would be at school together come the autumn.  And happily for all of us they are, which brings the total number of other children that Kitty will know when they start at school right up to two.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

My friend of the winter introduced me to a couple of other preschool mums who had given way to the after school pleading for a trip to the playpark and we chatted about the children (whose names I know, even if I might struggle to pick the exact child out of a line up), and got all the inside information we could from the one Mum of the four of us who won’t be doing this for the first time.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It reminded me so much of being at school myself, when the prefects monitored the junior years, answered their questions and tried to help them be in the right place at the right time.  And the analogy seems apt because come September most of us will be the new mums at the school gates, the ones looking a little shy, a little nervous perhaps, trying to find our way in a crowded sea of other mums who all know exactly what they’re doing, the ones with the children in a shiny slightly too large uniform.  Through life your big chances to make friends are at school, and then at university, then work, and then when your eldest child is born (often through the wonderful friend speed dating service that is the NCT).  And then it’s at the school gate.

And as much as I want Kitty to make friend and be happy and settled in her school life, I really hope that I make good friends too; so that when our assorted offspring want to play together it’s not a problem, we can work it out, or just both sit back and chat easily together.

Assuming that none of us move, this is the start of the band of mothers that will be together for at least the next seven years as our children work their way through the primary school.  They are the mums that I will recognise to say hi to in the street, the ones I’ll stop and chat to at the park and I hope that somewhere in there are the ones that will become firm friends.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

By next summer, this will all be normal.  We’ll meet at the gate, get the children and head to the park together to let them burn off some steam, or at least I really hope that’s a daydream that will be coming true, but for now I’ll admit it feels a little daunting.  I haven’t been the new girl since I was four; I stayed in the same primary school until the sixth form and when we transferred over to the secondary school, the 16 of my class of 18 that went, made up the majority of the new first form and because it was a connected school we all knew our way around anyway. I don’t really know what it will feel like on that first day but I suspect Kitty won’t be the only one with a few butterflies in her stomach.

And until that day comes we have the summer, long days and sunny afternoons up at the park, and I very much hope that by the time that first morning comes, I’ll have some familiar faces to look out for too.

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Linking up with Jodi with a portrait of each of my children once every week for 2015.

  Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life  

Kitty:  The more we go to the park and the more you meet up with your friends the more fearless you become.  Where only a few months ago you’d want me or your Daddy standing by to catch you before you’d attempt the big climbing frame, now you scamper up it without a care and when we came to the big tree in the park you were attempting to climb it before I realised. We said that you could climb as long as you did it yourself; we’d only help you to get down, and you were just so proud of yourself for having got up so high (a little above my head height).  It’s not going to be too long before you can get much much higher and then we might need to have another of our “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” chats! 

(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/250, f/3.2, ISO 160)

  Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life  

Elma: You look as though butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth, but it does and I know this because you have a habit of sneaking a good chunk of butter out of the paper; for the record it’s the fingerprints that give you away though I hope that by the time you’re old enough to read this you might have stopped.  You are at such a fun age at the moment, coming out with funny little phrases and answering your sister’s rhetorical questions incredibly seriously.  You love to help; when Daddy said he was going to do a work out the other night you said “I get it” and rushed off to get your footstool from the kitchen to grab the yoga mat that was hanging over the lounge door, all to present it to your Daddy who was all of two feet away. It was just so sweet.

(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/500, f/3.2, ISO 160)

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Pip: Young man, all my photos of you at the moment involve you eating. It’s both part of the fun of baby led weaning and part of you not wanting to be anywhere else than in my arms.  You met my colleagues this week and bestowed beaming smiles on the lot of them as long as I was holding you, then wailed for me if someone tried to give you a hug.  For the record you didn’t eat all of this sweetcorn, it was your sister’s but she’d finished and with plenty of corn still on it I handed it over for you to chew and you loved it, you never like it if someone is eating something and doesn’t offer you a bite.   

(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/320, f/3.2, ISO 100)

 

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Our neighbours have fairies in their trees.  I know this because every night Kitty and Elma peek out of their window and we can see the lights in the magnolia tree. It must be fairies, mustn’t it?

There’s a lovely openness to their imagination at this age; anything really is possible if they want it to be; they’ll happily accept the possibility of fairies in the tree, pixie moments, and just possibly a black hole under the bed that eats socks.  

I think it must have been in one of our stories that Kitty first heard about the idea of a fairy tea party and from then on it was fixed in her head as something that would surely happen one day; one day she’d tiptoe into the garden, or around the corner of the path through the woods, and there before her would be a fairy glen with the tiniest table laid for tea, with cakes and sandwiches and all sorts of lovely things, just perfect for a little girls and her fairy friends.

I’ve written before about how much I love playing up to that imagination and letting a few of their dearest dreams come true; when they’re so simple and so easily achievable it’s irresistable; I know it won’t be many years before their dreams are way out of my budget and idea of common sense.

But this, with a little help from some friends, this we could do.

So we spent the morning doing a little baking, making cupcakes and gorgeous butterfly biscuits and then after lunch we drew the lounge curtains, shut the door and told Kitty and Elma that they were invited to a very special fairy picnic.  They got dressed up in their fairy princess skirts and found their wings from  wherever they’d last been abandoned and they and their flower fairy dollies sat giggling waiting for us to say that it was ready.

I laid the table and H refilled the bubble guns and then finally it was the moment they’d been waiting for, and they peeked out from behind the curtain, and then came running through a shower of bubbles.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And from the looks on their faces, I think it was everything they’d hoped for.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

A little path of eggs purloined from the Easter egg stash leading to the nearest we could manage to a fairy glen, the shady post under next door’s beautiful magnolia tree, with their little art table borrowed out of the lounge and a few tablecloths and play silks to set the scene.

The bunting I borrowed from their room; two of the strings have their names on them and usually hang across the curtain rail and the other says Happy Birthday on the back and the ribbons in the bushes are actually their streamers (9ft of ribbon on a stick – they use them for twirling, think ribbon gymnastics sort of thing).  

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And when they got close enough to see the table there was a feast! Well a little one, just perfect for two small girls, the poor fairies having been abandoned in the lounge in all the excitement!

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

 

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

 

They started with bread and butter cut to a flower shape on tiny plates borrowed from the girls’ toy tea service, together with lemonade in my favourite mini milk bottles, and the most gorgeous pink and white stripy straws, and then moved on to little St Clements’ flavour sponge cakes topped with orange icing and pink sugar paste butterflies. Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life  

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Half of the cakes were in plain cases and then dropped into garden cupcake wrappers, and the other half I baked straight into pink tulip cupcake cases.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

I really can’t decide which ones I like the best, I’m just so glad I didn’t have to choose, the pink tulip ones look just like flowers and I love the mini garden round the side of the wrappers. Plus if you’re careful enough with the wrappers you can save them to use again another time.

And if all that wasn’t enough, inside the green and white stripy bags were the butterfly biscuits that they’d helped to make in the morning.  It’s a really clever cutter, there’s an inner cutter that is just slightly shallower than the main cutter so it makes a nice deep imprint of all those lovely swirls but doesn’t cut all the way through unless you overdo it, or use the cutter the wrong way up (which Kitty seems to do with every cutter ever no matter how obvious the correct way).  I’ve amassed a number of butterfly cutters over the years (you’d never guess the butterfly love around here would you!) and this is by far and away my favourite.   Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life  

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life        

I know I’ve shared these pictures before but I can’t resist putting them in again; they are some of my favourite ever pictures of Elma, and they sum up the whole afternoon.  Kitty loved the bubbles and the butterflies on the cupcakes while Elma said the biscuits were her favourite, and I loved setting it up and watching them giggle their way through.  They spent the rest of the day dancing around the garden dressed as fairies, every now and then nipping back for a cake or a nibble of biscuit, and at the end of the day all that was left was the crumbs and a lot of happy memories.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

So it is a big thank you to Cakemart (who also have an English language shop here) who sent the butterfly cutter, stamps to make the sugarpaste butterflies and the sugar paste itself, pink stripy straws, the green and white chevron bags, and pretty cupcake cases and wrappers to make two little girls’ dreams come true.  Their site is a thing of wonder and joy for anyone who likes baking (my sister and I spent at least an hour on there texting each other and then facetimeing so we could show each other what we found) and the delivery was a piece of cake despite coming from Europe, my parcel came by courier, arrived inside a week and was tracked the whole way, perfect.

An afternoon that they definitely won’t forget any time soon.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Joining in with {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.

To see more, check out the comments to Soulemama

Last Thursday morning, after much much refreshing of the emails, the website and keeping half an eye out of the kitchen window for the postlady we got the news that we had been expecting. Kitty has a place at our village school. It wasn’t as nerve racking a wait as for some, we knew that if she didn’t get a place someone had to be hiding 30 preschoolers in a basement somewhere between us and the school and thankfully that turned out not to be the case.  But it did drive it home how little pre-schooler time we have left.  We’re already in the summer term here, it ends on 17th July and from then on we’re the parents of schoolchildren until 2032 at the earliest. Yes, you read that right, 2032. Eighteen years in which we can only go on holiday in the school holidays.

It made me wonder whether we ought to have planned some wonderful around the world adventure while we can still take advantage of cheap holidays, there seems to be some sort of accepted wisdom that once your children are in school you can only go away if you also happen to be a multimillionaire lottery winner. I don’t doubt that there are some places where the end of July sees a massive price hike, but if we’re going to load up all three children and their accoutrements to go on one of our dream trips I want them to be old enough to remember where we went.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And I know from experience that it isn’t impossible.  My Father was a teacher for his entire professional life, he was tied to school holidays before I started primary school and long after I left for university, and yet he and Mum made it work, and we had some amazing adventures.  The summer I was seven they planned out a trip to Greece, to go sailing around the islands and to meet up with the parents of a pupil who had become family friends.  My little sister was four, dainty, cute, and very very blonde. Which turned out to be a huge advantage, because what you may not remember about the summer of 1987 was that there was a huge heatwave in Southern Europe.  Just about everywhere in Greece reached temperatures of 45C or more, and the islands were no different.  So there we were, Mum and Dad, my little sister and me, on a four berth yacht named Illustrious whose awning was an old tablecloth and whose ‘fridge’ as I remember ran off a large block of ice.

Every port we were in my Mum and sister headed off to buy ice with the latter smiling winsomely at the shopkeepers.  Little blonde girls must have been a bit of a rarity because she was generally adored and admired everywhere we went, and we did manage to buy the ice we needed.

Now that I’m only a few years younger than they were when we went I can see how much planning, organising and hoping must have gone into it, and some bits I can look back on with a wry smile; the matching bright turquoise outfits for the two of us to make sure we were instantly spotable for example, or the decisions they had to make the day when it was so hot in port that we set sail, Mum helming us out with her feet in a bucket of water to try to keep cool.

So often I think your childhood memories can be influences by photos, sometimes you’re not sure whether you remember the event or just the photo but I know I really remember Greece, and I’m glad we went when I was old enough that I could.  There are things in my memories that aren’t in any photos; the feeling of the heat, the taste of watermelon in sunshine, watching the little silver fish who would swarm around the melon if you threw it in the sea,  eating cake on the last morning as we sailed back because that’s all that was left, and huge meals of meatballs eaten at the outside tables of little cafes, the four of us and the five of our friends on one huge table with a red checked paper tablecloth, drawing pictures and playing games on the cloth to pass the time while we waited for the food.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And I suspect it cemented my idea of a good holiday: boat, sunshine, book – sorted.

We’ve taken the girls on holiday, Kitty to Venice and both of them to Southern Spain and I know they both had a wonderful time when they were there, but Kitty has already forgotten Italy and they’d be doing well to remember Spain when they’re grown up.  So for now we shall make our plans for adventures slightly closer to home and one day, school holidays or no school holidays we shall take them all on the kind of adventure that they really remember. Preferably without the heatwave.

 Thanks to First Choice for the inspiration

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  Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life  

22 April 2006 – just outside the church – we’d been married about 15 minutes!

According to tradition, today H should present me with a piece of pottery.  Well he might pass me my dinner plate and I think that will have to do because we’re going to be celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary in very much the same way as we celebrate all other major events; with steak.

And possible chips and onion rings too now that I’ve discovered a great recipe for dairy free onion rings.

And very very hopefully, sleeping children and a chance to have supper just the two of us so that we can have a conversation that does not include “sit down”, “you liked it a lot the last time you ate it”, “why don’t you give it a polite taste”, don’t do that to your sister”, “reunite your bottom and that chair please”.

It’s going to be great.

Nine years feels both as if we blinked and it’s zipped past in an instant and as if we’ve never not been married, probably because when you add on the seven years we were dating beforehand we’re rapidly approaching having spent half our lives together. 

Together we have been on holidays, been to hospitals (only once at the same time but as that was our honeymoon it still looms large in the memories), climbed mountains and spent lazy days on the beach.  We’ve seen moments of pure unbridled happiness and utter wretched grieving despair. And through it all H has been my constant, my rock, the one person who will always have my back and the one person who will always know how to make me smile.

It’s such a cheesy phrase to say that he is the other half of me, but I think it sums us up very well; he is the other half of me, and I am the other half of him, and together we are balanced.  There’s so much about us that could on the surface seem like polar opposites; he’s much more social, where I like just chilling out at home; he’s ridiculously sporty whereas I’ve taken nine years to learn how to catch (I’m pretty sure I’ve only recently passed my indoor throwing test and I’m always slightly surprised when something lands up in my hand*), I’m the eternal optimist where he tends to worry and fret, even when there’s absolutely no need, and I’ve definitely got the better sense of direction.  We each fill in where the other needs a helping hand. 

Perhaps after all this time I should have something profound to say about marriage, not advice exactly, because I think everyone is happy in their own way and the key to a happy marriage is something you have to look for yourself, but a sort of summary of what marriage means to us.

And yet I think perhaps this evening sums it up best of all.  I’m writing this on the evening of 21st.  Pip, the girls and I have had a wonderful day out in the sunshine, the girls spent the morning in some very involved sort of water play that got them and the surrounding area very wet and this afternoon we headed up to the playpark for an hour or so and by the end of supper all three children were wailing; Pip because he thought I was going to leave the table without him, Elma because she’d had a catnap before supper but was still utterly exhausted yet still determined that it was not bedtime, and Kitty because she wanted an ice lolly for pudding and we have a no sugar after supper rule.

Eventually we got them all up to bed, I nursed Pip and he fell asleep and then went in to Elma who was just ridiculously wakeful, and all the milk and cuddles and settling down in the world wasn’t going to do the trick. I bribed her with Sylvanians and left her to try to settle herself but before too long we heard the familiar thud-pitter-patter of a little girl on the loose, and then Pip woke up and all I could see was the evening stretching ahead running between each child.  And it’s not that I begrudge them the attention, if they need me, I will be there, it’s just that for my well being, I need to have a little time in the day when they’re all asleep, when I’m not ‘on’ and when I can do the things that make me Carie as well as Mummy.  It’s the days after evenings when that doesn’t happen that so often turn out to be the hard ones.

I didn’t say anything to H, just got on with settling Pip and hoping Elma would stay quiet enough that he would go to sleep, but apparently I don’t need to say anything; H picked up Elma, put her shoes and dressing gown on, found her blankie and took her out in the car.  They went to the shops to buy me a new pair of washing up gloves, the apple pie that is currently warming in the oven, and the loo cleaner that I forgot to buy on Monday, and then H drove around in the twilight until Elma was asleep, brought her home and tucked her into bed.  And me, well I settled Pip and then snuck downstairs to read trashy articles on the internet, to catch up with some of my favourite blogs, and to write.

And that, for us, is nine years of marriage. It isn’t grand romantic gestures, or expensive presents, vast gardens of flowers or lengthy declarations of love, it is quite simply knowing what the other truly needs, and giving it, selflessly and as completely as possible.

And steak. 

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(Nine years and three children later – spot the difference)

*In reading this out to H he tells me that actually I haven’t passed the throwing test, I have a dispensation.  And just because I’m sure you’re all really confused now, the indoor throwing test is how we tell the girls they can’t throw in the house but can thrown in the garden, as in “put that down, you haven’t passed your indoor throwing test yet!”

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

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