wax melting in double boiler The good thing about me being a planner is that I always have elaborate ideas about awesome things we can do to make our trips, parties and events even more exciting and memorable.  I’m the person who likes to read novels months in advance of a vacation to get in the right mood, who researches themed projects and crafts, and who starts talking up a trip well before it arrives.  I happily sew new clothes before a trip to the Renaissance Faire, develop a week-long berry themed menu as a follow up to a day spent picking, and create lists of dozens of fun things to do during Summer vacation.  For goodness sake, we might as well rename October as Halloween month, really!

 

We have our first of four summer camping trips coming up next weekend.   And, I have a list of dozens of new and fun camping themed activities to do at home to get ready for our trip as well as tons of great new ideas for during the trip.

First up, homemade firestarters made from an egg carton, dryer lint and melted candle wax.  I’m not sure where we found this idea originally but we made these once before and they work amazingly well (there’s a reason you are supposed to clean out dryer lint; it’s highly flammable!)

The girls and I made these yesterday.  It took about 45 minutes all together.

What you need:

Cardboard egg carton

Dryer lint

Candles or candle wax

Tin can for melting wax

Small pot as double boiler

Chopstick, pencil or thin stick for pressing the lint into the wax

We’ve been saving our dryer lint in a basket near the dryer forever.  This project uses a lot of lint so you’ll need to plan in advance.  I would estimate that each firestarter requires two loads of dryer lint and ½ small candle.

dryer lint and egg cartons for firestarters

To prepare, push the lint down into the egg carton.  This is a good job for your littler kids. Chopping candles for firestarters

Big Girl and I chopped up the candles and put in a can for melting.  We used 9 shabbat candles and just let the wick get added to the mess.

I put a pot full of water on the stove and set the can into the water to create a double boiler.   It took about 15 mins to melt the wax.

Once the wax is melted, pour over the lint.  We put everything in a cardboard box to catch spilled wax.  Press down hard with chopstick to let the wax bubble up and fully coat the lint.  I did the pouring while Big Girl pressed the lint in.  Little Girl took the picture 🙂

wax melting in double boilerlint in egg cartons ready for wax

In all, we made 18 firestarters for free and in about 45 minutes.  And, we got to spend the time planning all the fun stuff we’re going to do next weekend during our trip!

finished fire starters

18 fire starters as down payment for 18 nights by the fire? I’m in!

Added bonus?  My kids are really good at remembering to empty the lint trap in the dryer!

 

There are two very different birthday party trends among Big Girl’s (8 years old) friends.  Several kids have had parties that are super-hyper structured, like the two that were held at art studios where each of the girls painted the exact same painting under the guidance of an “artist.”  Those glorified paint-by-number events make my skin crawl.  I found myself wanting to scream, “It’s supposed to be the process!  Not the product, people! Please, let them be creative!”

Then there’s the other extreme: sleepovers or late nights with no structured activity at all. Just a wild, jumping on the furniture, swinging from the chandelier, dumping out every toy in the house and not putting it away free-for-all.  Those also make me want to scream. A little wildness is good, trashing the house is not.  (It’s wasteful and disrespectful, darn it!)

These birthday parties become one of the biggest parenting debates writ small:  How much structure is good for kids?  At what point does structure become too rigid and prevent kids from developing their own skills to plan, imagine and explore?

This is definitely something we struggle with in our parenting because neither of the two extremes seems ideal, and neither works for my kids.   Both of my girls hang back when kids are just running wild.  They want some structure so they know what the expectations are and so they know how to behave.  But, when it’s hyper-structured I see that my kids aren’t really enjoying the activity.  They are too concerned about doing it wrong!

I found myself facing this dilemma when planning Big Girl’s birthday party.  Despite the fact that they were flexible, at heart the crafts we planned were not open-ended—hair ties and headbands & charm bracelets—both either work or they don’t.  They were fundamentally about the product; making something cute.  And, they were a big hit. The kids loved to learn to make them for themselves.

But, I was uncomfortable with doing only structured crafts so we also added a third activity: clay play (model magic, really).  It was definitely the favorite activity.  The kids mixed colors, made shapes  and mushed it around.  For some it was just sensory fun and never turned into anything.  For others, they made elaborate pieces that they brought home to dry.  For every single one of them, it was a few moments when they stopped worrying about doing it right and instead focused on just doing it.

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It was a really good reminder to find that balance of both structure and open-ended.  Even for big kids who seem like they might be too old for “clay play”!

One of the joys about my new-found unemployment is that I am looking forward to a summer with my girls where the three of us will play and explore together every single day.  We will go on hikes, to museums and parks.  We will garden and cook.  We will do art every single day.  And, I will strive to provide just enough structure to keep us engaged and feeling creative.

IMG_3530Gifts are supposed to be a way to show the receiver that you value them and wanted to give them a token to show your appreciation and affection.  Homemade gifts are supposed to be personal and meaningful. Giving something you made should say, “I care so much about you that I took the time to make something from scratch for you.”

Gifts can also sometimes be an obligation.  This is especially true for those “hallmark holidays” when the people in your life end up with built up expectations for receiving gifts.  I try to make “hallmark holidays” into “homemade holidays” so I can try to prioritize the spirit of the holiday rather than the commercialization.

This week, it turns out is the perfect storm of “hallmark holiday” expectation.  It turns out that this week is “Teacher Appreciation Week”—a time when kids are supposed to bring gifts, cards and flowers to their teachers and parents are supposed to show their appreciation for the school.  And, this weekend is that pinnacle of “hallmark holidays”: Mother’s Day!

As you might imagine, we’ve been busy around here trying to make meaningful but affordable homemade gifts.  Despite only learning of Teacher Appreciation Week three weeks ago, I magnanimously agreed to provide a small gift to ALL of the teachers and staff in my daughter’s school (50!).  Small potted plants were already taken, so was chapstick with “You’re the balm!”

After much thinking about what would be affordable, doable and actually worthy of keeping, I decided that the kids and I would make magnetic bookmarks… mass produced by us.  They worked out so well that we might even include them with the homemade Mother’s Day cards we have yet to get in the mail (They are coming, mom & mil!).

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Materials needed for magnetic bookmarks:

light card stock in various colors (we chose the school colors)

sheets of thin magnets to cut into small pieces.

Instructions:

I used a paper cutter to cut everything quickly and neatly:  Cut cardstock into a 6″ x 2″ rectangle.  Fold in half to create a 3″ x 2″ bookmark.  Cut rectangles of 2 1/2″ x 1 3/4″.

Stamp the small rectangle with a “thank you” stamp, apply stickers, or use a shaped hole punch to decorate the small rectangle.  Center and glue (we used glue sticks) the rectangle to the front of the bookmark.

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Take two sheets of magnets and place magnetic sides together (sticky sides out but keep paper on).  Cut into small pieces of approximately 1″ squares.  Remove paper lining from one side and stick to the inside of the bookmark.  Remove lining from other side and stick to other side.  This technique will help to make sure your magnets line up.

Now you have a bookmark that holds firmly to your page.  These can be personalized endlessly and I’m hoping will be a big hit with those teachers.  You know they have some books to read!  (Cheap too.  Only cost about $10 to make 50 of these bookmarks.)

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I know I previously promised to show the final craft from Big Girl’s birthday party.  I promise to write that post soon… though it turns out that it is really more about the tension between kids’ longing for structure and need for open ended activity.  Sorry for the delay on that… we ended up spending almost all of our time last week taking care of a sick chicken (who died middle of last week) and setting things up for new ones.

Look too for a post on saying goodbye in these final days of the semester…