Learning Something New – Dottishop’s Hello Spring Kit

So I was lamenting to a friend that I was much more productive when my boys were younger. I remember baking cookies till the wee hours for sales when I was heavily pregnant with my elder boy and running charity project during my second pregnancy. I ran an online store selling baby stuff. I did my own product shooting, order tracking and delivery while juggling household chores, cooking and tending to a demanding baby. I had just quit my job to become a stay at home mom and felt the need to fill my time with ‘productive’ work. Work with tangible rewards that could be measured by dollars and cents unlike those that comes from scrubbing the bathroom tiles, the endless cooing to your newborn and watching him try his first food.

More than a decade on, my boys now spend most part of their days in school. I now have a big pocket of time in the morning where I can devote it to me, myself and I. Ironically, with the extra time on hand, I wasn’t half as ‘productive’ as I used to be. I realised that I might have finally figured out what it means to be a ‘lady of leisure’ but now having too much of a good thing is beginning to worry me! Such irony!

My friend and I joked that we should pick up a new skill, learn something new to get our brain active and prevent our grey matter from degenerating. Even with this study, I wasn’t totally convinced that just regular exercise will be good enough.

My friend is an avid online learner. She learned and refined many of her craft skills online. Inspired by her, I did the same and signed up for some painting classes and thought that that would be a good start. Unfortunately, there is always something more urgent to do on a weekday morning. I never find the time and discipline to go through those videos!

Then recently I found out about Dottieshop’s Hello Spring Kit, which comes with step by step instructions for painting spring blooms such as cherry blossoms and roses. I was really eager to try out the kit yet at the same time worried that I might not be up to it.

I have known Dorothea through a group of mother bloggers and have been really inspired by her works on water colour painting and brush calligraphy. She has been really encouraging even when I told her that I have never done water colour painting before and was kind enough to trust me to do a review for her kit!

One of the things that baffles me when it comes to the different kinds of painting was getting the appropriate materials to get started. From choosing the type of paint brush to figuring out what kind of paper and paint to use. The Hello Spring Kit has EVERYTHING to help me get started!

Being a total noob, I was really intrigued by the water brush that came with the kit.

A water brush has a reservoir of water that is attached to the brush. The amount of water you feed to the brush/paint can be controlled by squeezing the barrel of water. What makes a water brush really cool is that artists can paint on the go without having to carry a water container around!

I initially worried that the choice of colours that came in the palette were too dark and dull. To my surprise, each blob of dull paint changed into lovely beautiful colour once water was added.

It just so happens that a good friend was celebrating her birthday this month and I decided to paint something for her from the Hello Spring kit which illustrated some of my favourite flowers.

Dorothea’s instructions were brief and concise and I especially like the fact that she has very clear pictures of how the leaves and petals were supposed to look like. Still, it wasn’t easy to get the strokes and colours right. I fumbled with how much water to squeeze to get the right colour tone. I figured out that it was much easier to just draw the shape of each petal and fill them with colours!

After a morning of mixing colours and experimenting, I managed to churn out what looked like an amateurish mish mesh of everything.

Unlike my usual adrenaline pumping aerobic work out, a morning spent working on this kit was really calming and therapeutic. I was so engrossed and focused on what I was doing that my legs turned numb from sitting too long in the same position without shifting!

It was especially satisfying to see the different blobs of paint come together, creating a decent looking piece of work and I especially love the colours that Dorothea has chosen for the palette!

I realised that I will require many more sessions of practice before I could perfect my flowers and leaves but for now, I gonna make up to my friend with a cutesy bouquet of REAL flowers and just hope she doesn’t notice the flaws in my painting! Shhhh!

The Hello Spring kit includes instructions for painting cherry blossoms, roses and Japanese anemones, quality watercolour paint, palette, water brush, and watercolour paper. Everything comes in a pretty pink folder, so you can bring everything with you on-the-go! Each set is $46 and only available for self-collect – to order email dottieshop@gmail.com

You can follow Dottieshop on Facebook and Instagram.

 

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A Harry Potter Birthday Party

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My younger boy turned 7 over the weekend and we threw a Harry Potter birthday party for him. We had about 20 kids over and they had a blast but I suffered a headache and a hoarse voice after the party.

It took us a couple of weeks to prepare for the party but I realised that having enough energy to see through the party on that day itself is just as important. My boys rated the party a perfect 10 but I would have rated a much lower score mainly because we didn’t get to play all the games we wanted to.

We did quite a bit of craft for the party ourselves and I was happy to find reason to indulge in my crafty instinct. The birthday boy was happy to dab his hands here and there but left me to finish most of the jobs. His elder brother was however a great help. He came up with some really cool stuff for the party.

1. The Invitation

We sent out the invitation 2 weeks prior to the party. It includes a letter of invitation to Hogwarts and a train ticket for Platform 9 3/4. You can easily find a copy of the train ticket and the letter on the internet. Harry Potter birthday party ideas were all over the place!

I used Microsoft Word to type out the letter and the fonts used were Lucida Blackletter (for header), Apple Chancery (for body) and& Xingkai SC Light (for McGonagall’s signature)

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The letters and envelopes were printed out on normal A4 size paper but we brushed coffee over them to get the aged look. My elder boy had wanted to make his own Hogwarts mould using hot glue and real wax but I thought it was too complicated. We ended up using some cheap clay from Popular bookstore.

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We rolled small balls of clay and pressed 10 cent coins on them. After the clay has hardened and dried, we painted them with red poster paint. Overall, I think we achieved the “seal” look.

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The envelope was a little tricky to make. I downloaded a jpeg copy of the envelope from here and used GIMP (I was too cheapo to pay for Photoshop) to add in the individual guest names. You will need to rotate the text and align it to the envelope. I downloaded this Harry Potter font and used it for the text.

2. The Food

The party was in the afternoon so we ordered some mini savories. We had a snack station where we dressed up some candy and bottled drinks with Harry Potty Labels. All labels were downloaded from the same website.

Drinks label
Candy labels
Potion labels

The kids were thrilled to be eating cockroach clusters and drinking FireWhisky, Elf Made Wine and ButterBeer which were essentially chocolate clusters, promegranate, green tea and oolong tea.

3. The Cake

I had wanted to bake the cake if not for a failed bake a few days prior to the party. My brain was fried, I forgot the sugar! The boys ended up eating the cake with honey and they actually finished it! I decided that it would be safer to order our favourite chocolate cake instead.

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The decoration was simple. I had Quidditch hoops made from green pipe cleaners and straws. For the golden snitch, I cut out 2 wings and attached them to a Ferrero Roche.

4. The Props

The birthday boy made himself a wizards cloak from a black trash bag. He had probably spent enough time playing with trash and knew exactly where to cut holes so that his hands and head could stick out.

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You can print out Harry Potter glasses from here. Halloween was round the corner and we found wizard hats at Daiso for 2 bucks! The wizard broom was kindly donated by the Bangladesh worker who worked at East Coast Park.

On the night before the party, we unwrapped this magnetic chalk board that had been sitting in the study for months. It came in a cardboard packaging that looked just like the photo frame we needed for the party!

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I really wanted the owl balloons and had bought a bundle of helium balloons in the morning. My very talented sister managed to draw them in a jiffy by following pictures from here

We had everything placed at the entrance of the party site and I thought it was a welcoming sight.

5. The Games

My elder boy was assigned the game master and was responsible for planning the games. He was in charge of gathering the kids during the party but was obviously having too much fun playing and didn’t get the games started till late. Out of 3 games that he had prepared, the kids only played 1.

They played a game of dodge ball using squishy balls as Bludgers as seen in a Quidditch match. The kids were divided into 2 teams using the sorting hat. Whoever gets hit by the balls will be out of the game and whoever catches the ball will get to bring its members back into the game. The team with all its members kicked out loses the game.

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He followed this table Quidditch game idea and made 3 hoops. We found these ready made hoops from the Gardening section in Daiso! All he did was hot glue the hoops to the metal stand. We collected some sand from the beach and put them into our Ginger Ale glass bottles to keep the hoops upright.

We also made these lockets for a treasure hunt game. They were supposed to be the Hocruxes! The boys came up with the design and they learned to tie sliding knots so that these would fit every kid. Whoever finds these Hocruxes during the treasure hunt game will get to keep them.

For the pinata, we had a dementor which was made of paper marche and trash bag. Unfortunately the trash bag wasn’t hardy enough and the dementor fell off the tree after the 3rd hit. Thankfully there were some quick thinking kids who managed to put the pinata back onto the tree again. This time, it lasted another 5 hits or so. The kids refused to give up and insisted that they should continue to hit the pinata. The poor dementor was mutilated and the kids finally decided that it was time to pick up all that candy on the ground!

We learned that kids don’t need games with rules to have fun and if you really need to get them to play the games you have planned, invest in a handheld loud speaker!

6. The Party Favors and Souvenirs

We pre-packed some of the candy into these Wizard’s broom party bags to be given out to the younger kids who were too slow in picking up sweets from the pinata. But they were so cute that even the bigger kids asked for them.

The idea was from Martha Stewart and I really like how they turned out.

The hottest item among the kids have to be these! My elder boy made 20 of these wands using disposable chopsticks!

He used hot glue for the design and hand painted each wand with double coat of acrylic paint. Every wand comes with a description tag and he compiled a list of spells with their respective usage and printed them into 3 books.

He called them the Standard Book of Spells (Pocket Edition) Grade 2, 3 and 4. The plan was for each kid to know a fraction of the spells leaving him and his brother the master of all spells! (the last I heard, he kept more spells to himself!) They know exactly which wand belongs to which wizard, Gawk!

The boys spent many days working on these wands and even more days pretending to be Lord Voldemort and Dumbledore casting spells at each other! We had wanted to blind fold the kids to let them choose their wands (because the wand chooses the wizard!) but they were so intrigued by these wands and the description that came with them that we decided to let them choose their favourite wand instead.

These wands were made of disposable chopsticks and were all 8 inches long. The boys used longer chopsticks for their own wands and decorated them with special gold and silver trimmings. They made the better looking wands for themselves! Ha!

You can find the wand tutorial here

As you can imagine, it was hell lots of work preparing a themed birthday party. The good thing was it was the end of school year and the boys were freed up from homework and CCAs. We spent many afternoons working on the party, talking about Harry Potter and discussing details in the book. It was a great project to work on and they are now the Harry Potter birthday party planner experts!

 

Like I said during the last themed birthday party I organized, this will absolutely be the last themed birthday party for us! But then I suspect like most things painful but fun, the memory is short. Oh well, till the next one comes around!

 
 

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A Tree, A Stall And A Christmas Wreath

I can’t believe it’s 3 days to Christmas. It’s been a maddening rush this school holiday with the renovation of our new place, house moving, a trip to Australia and before we know it, it’s just a couple of weeks more before school reopens.

Amidst all the packing, unpacking and tidying up loose ends around the house, shopping for a Christmas tree was like the last thing on my mind. Didn’t help when the weather had been wet. Just the thought of packing a drenched fir tree into the car made me tired.

I wouldn’t mind having a tree like this again but we don’t have a backyard here and a dead tree branch this big would probably be very sick. Humid weather and sick tree don’t seem like a good combination for the house.

A couple of days ago, while I was clearing up my boys’ nature pile, I discovered some good looking tree branches and twigs collected while we were overseas. The oldest among them was probably a branch of pine wood which my elder boy picked up at Yellowstone National Park some 8 years ago.

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I decided to put some of the nicer tree branches together and thought I could almost make out the shape of a Christmas tree. The boys thought it was pretty cool, but we needed more branches in order to make a taller tree. So that afternoon we took our bikes to East Coat Park and the boys’ job was to bring back tree branches that could fit into our ‘tree’.

My elder boy wasn’t hopeful as he was quite sure the park cleaners would have cleared away the fallen branches. I was more worried that the branches were either too damp or infested with bugs. He was right as it was hard to spot any tree branch on the cycling track. We had to go off the track and even so, we could only find a few twigs, nothing like what we had in mind.

We came to a big field and noticed a few big trees standing at its far corner. We decided to ride across the field to try our luck, hoping that the cleaner might have missed the secluded corner.

Lo and behold, there were indeed some big branches lying around the tress. It looked almost like parts of the trees were ripped off by the recent storm.

With some teamwork, we managed to break off some of the smaller branches and carry them on our bikes to the nearby jetty. We spent the next hour or so peeling off the barks.
What lay beneath the damp and often lichen ridden barks was smooth, solid and unspoiled wood. If not for the storm we had the last couple of days, these healthy branches wouldn’t have fallen.

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We brought them home and managed to work through most of the branches except those more stubborn ones which require us to use a sharp knife to get the bark off.

We chose some of our best sticks, strung them together with string and that was more or less how we got our Christmas tree this year.

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Apart from the Christmas tree, we made a Christmas stall using one of the cardboard boxes kept from the house moving.

Someone was thrilled to have a stall to sell his knick knacks. He named it ‘Marcus Christmas Stall’ and had hours of fun playing with it. He planned what to sell, came up with the price list and we had some lessons on money.

Hopefully our pretend play would help to ease him into Primary school, which is starting in a couple of weeks’ time, and buying his own food at the school canteen would be like the scariest thing.

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Last but not least, we made a simple Christmas wreath using Nespresso capsules. It was the simplest wreath I have made thus far.

I have always wondered what to do with these pretty Nespresso capsules. When I chanced upon this wreath on the internet, I knew I have to make one.

If you are a Nespresso drinking family like us, you will probably gather enough capsules to make this within a week.
Here are the things you need

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1. 13 used Nespresso capsules

2. a cardboard ring of about 7.5 cm in radius and 2 cm in thickness

3. ribbon to coil around the cardboard ring

Put these 3 items together and viola, you get a cute Christmas wreath!

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Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

May the simple joys of life warm your heart and fill your home this holiday season.

 

Our other DIY Christmas wreaths
Burlap Christmas Wreath
Toilet Paper Roll Christmas Wreath
Dried Twigs Christmas Wreath

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