Thursday, November 8, 2007

Playhouses (I need cardboard, people!!!!)

I've got "the bug" again. I need to build. I need to paint. My REAL impulse is to repaint the girls' room, painting over the Madeline murals and instead creating murals with scenes of all the different historical figures from the American Girl books. Kit high up in a tree in her tree house... Felicity riding her horse... Kaya with her wild dog... Samantha and Nellie reading or boating at Piney Point... Molly tap dancing...

But since we don't know if we'll be in our apartment after this May (when our lease is up), I'm reluctant to put in that amount of effort...

So... instead... how about a cool new playhouse?

I'm kind of known for my playhouses. I'm the mom that (unintentionally!!!) made other moms in Brooklyn feel like intimidated, uncreative losers when they'd come over for playdates at our house. We didn't just have tea parties... We had them in the Eiffel Tower. Want a cool reading nook? Why not read that book inside St. Basil's Cathedral! You liked the Madeline story? Why not play in her house--complete with the iron lattice-work outside of each window (made out of black pipe cleaners). You like farm animals? Have a barn!

YES, I had a lot of frustrated creative energy coursing through my veins! I was so used to throwing myself into my job teaching and directing middle school theater productions... and all of the sudden I was just... home. Pretty much hanging out with only my toddler all the time. It all started when I made this dinky house one day while Katya was napping (she was 10-months-old). The roof did, however, have scalloped overhang... The flowerbox was two-dimensional and there were real curtains on a rod.

It didn't take long for me to become pretty bored with that little house... I had BIG ideas! I wanted to travel--but knew it would be while before we could. I missed our friends in Russia. So.... I brought St. Basil's to us! We had a tiny apartment, but there was some available space wrapping around a corner--so I spliced boxes at a 90 degree angle and created this:

Here's the page I made about that house in our scrapbook. I even installed rugs, a flashlight that worked like a lamp and shelves for her picture books. I did a sponge paint technique to mimic the brick of the actual cathedral in Red Square and I used popsicle sticks painted gold to create Russian Orthodox crosses on top of each papier-mache dome. The towers were made so you could stand up inside them and look out. That playhouse was COOL. Be-yond cool. It was a shame to have to destroy it when we moved that spring to a different apartment; there was no way to take it apart without ruining it and it would never have fit out of the door and down three flights of stairs. (Wow, I'd forgotten I used to do that many stairs with a stroller each day...)

Katya's next interest was farm animals, inspired by the petting zoo at a farm near my mom's house. I worked nights to surprise her with this barn. The sides were painted to mimic knotty wood and the roof was spliced to mimic a rounded, tiled barn. I used grey felt to make actual tiles that I separately stapled on. There was a cow peering out of one window, a door with a real handle, a mother duck and her offspring, a puppy and flowers grew three-dimentionally. Katya loved putting on puppet shows through those windows and her friends loved the barn, too.

When Katya was three, she fell in love with the Madeline books. This lead to many more playhouses and murals... Here's the first house I made, as exact a replica of the "old house in Paris" as I could create (compare it to the illustrations in the book!). I already mentioned how I used a drill and pipe cleaners for the lattice-work in front of each window... Also note the chimney with smoke coming out. Here's Natalia in front of it at six months.

The girls loved this playhouse so much that I begged the movers to send it with all of our stuff to Moscow--and it made it here intact!!! Having that house really helped the girls to settle in once we arrived in Russia. They no longer had their Madeline murals, but at least they had their familiar house to play in... It took a few months for me to recreate the murals you can see in this picture.

That playhouse even had working Christmas lights in the windows... We finally gave that playhouse away to a friend of mine last spring in order to make way for a couch in the girls' room. (I had nowhere to sit with both girls and read).

Before we left Brooklyn for Moscow, though, I had made one other playhouse... Behold "La Tour Eiffel"!!!

That house was AWESOME. The way that I cut out spaces in the tower made it light inside--but still a "secret" place. The girls loved reading and playing in there. Here's Katya with one of her friends having a tea party. It's too bad that this house couldn't make the move to Moscow; it was shaped in such an odd way and was too big. A friend of mine took it for her kids.

So... where does this all lead? I want to make a teepee for the girls, and I really wanted to have it done by this coming Monday when Katya and Chris get back from Colorado. This being Moscow, however, there was of course a snag...

NO ONE would sell me large cardboard boxes. NO ONE. And I tried EVERYWHERE. Every single moving company (they wouldn't sell me any supplies unless I was moving with them). The big stores that are the equivalent of Home Depot and Office Max. I went to Ikea and asked. No. I also asked at two malls and five huge furniture stores. No, no, no. No one would take my number and call me once boxes came in, either. I found some by dumpsters--but with trash on them. I've actually spent time over a five day period trying to get these darn boxes! Me and my quests... Once I get started, I just won't give up.

After I started writing this post, I got a call back from one moving company after I had tried them again, BEGGING. I explained that it was for a nursery school studying Native Americans and that we needed to get it done for a unit on Thanksgiving and had offered to pay whatever it cost. (I could always say "no" if the price was too high--and I AM studying Thanksgiving with my younger English students.) Well... this being Russia, someone finally took my bribe! (I had tried bribing all along; I wasn't stupid enough to wait this long before trying...)

I can go to a warehouse on the other side of Moscow on Monday morning and buy some boxes at prices between $3 and $15. It's not a done deal, however, until I have the boxes in my possession... Too bad I can't have the teepee already built, however, before Katya and Chris get back... She's in a "Nez Perce" Native American phase right now, inspired by the American Girl Kaya books. She had saved her tooth fairy money and ordered a dress-up costume like Kaya's clothing that was waiting for her in Colorado and she's having so much fun...

I'll post pictures of the teepee once it's done!


Tina in CT said...

Oh, I wish I could turn the clock back! They are growing up too quickly.

Rachael said...

Those are some pretty awesome playhouses. AMAZING! You're too cool and wicked creative.

I bought some suede fabric -- several yards off the discount table at the fabric store. It's too bad you couldn't use that for your teepee. It would be awesome. (I'm sure it will be anyway.)

My Katya's actually kind of interested in Kaya too (she wants her horse anyway). Maybe I'll have to make my own teepee.

I wish we didn't live so far away from each other. We could have some fun creative times together!

kate said...

lol! i saved the last two ikea boxes for just this purpose! must be that theatre bug that make us want to create sets everywhere...

Nataliya said...

Wow, these playhouses are amazing - I'm really impressed!

Good job finding the boxes in the warehouse - I know it's not easy to get this kind of stuff in Moscow.

Tami said...

All I can say is WOW! Those houses are amazing! Where do you find the time, energy, etc., to do all that! I am humbled in the presence of Mommy greatness! ;)

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