For lots and lots of good reasons, I have taken a rather long hiatus from this blog.  The list of excuses is long and boring… busy, little screen time, exercising, cooking, crocheting, playing, walking, reading and socializing!  Blah, blah, blah… Happy!

The most important reason though is that I just haven’t wanted to write.  And, after years of being obligated to write, of trying to write to save my career, in fact.  I decided that if I didn’t want to write anymore then I didn’t have to!  

Freedom!

But, recently I’ve noticed that it’s not really true anymore…  I keep thinking about writing. Fantasizing about writing, even.   I keep finding myself drafting things in my head… wandering through the supermarket and imagining a short story, encountering something interesting and wanting to write an article (news not journal!), narrating a blog post in my head while crafting.  And, I’ve started to think that maybe that means I can let myself transition from an academic (yuck) to a writer?  

Maybe I can write and still be free?  (Do you also hear the chirping birds when you read that line?)

So, I will be back soon.  I am going to reorganize the blog a bit and then I’m going to start writing here again.  Check back next week.

At the start of the summer I challenged my kids to make something everyday.  Big Girl looked skeptical, clearly imagining one giant project after another.  But, she quickly agreed once I pointed out how many different ways there are to “make something.”

For the next 5 posts, I’m going to share some highlights from our make something challenge.  The rules have been as basic as can be:  make something using your imagination (rather than a kit or strict rules) and as much as possible try to use stuff we already have in the house.  Cooking counts and so do temporary structures.

One of our cheapest and most impressive group projects was to make lanterns using mason jars, elmer’s glue, food coloring, and nail polish.  We mixed glue with food coloring and used a sponge brush to apply the colors.  Each of these jars took two coatings.

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IMG_3982We were inspired by some reading we had been doing about India as well as some lanterns we had seen for sale at Pier 1 (but I refused to buy 🙂 ).  So we painted them in bright jewel tones and used nail polish to create designs.
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The final effect is really charming.  It took a few hours from start to finish and we have enjoyed making them our table centerpiece– especially when we are having Indian food for dinner.  Yum!

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Rachel's iPhone 236Like many other parents, I spent a large part of early June attending end of year celebrations, preparing children to say goodbye, and thanking teachers for their work.  For us, this included deciding to make 12(!) homemade teacher gifts.

We wanted these gifts to be affordable but special.  After (too many) hours of brainstorming, browsing, reading, and websurfing, I finally hit upon the idea of making fabric covered journals.

These cost us only about $4 each to buy the notebooks and some additional elastic ribbon for the closing mechanism.

The full list of materials:

5″ x 7″ soft cover bound notebooks (not spiral)

10″ x 14″ piece of fabric (cotton works great, brocade was a disaster) to cover the notebook

9″ piece of elastic ribbon to bind on the back cover and stretch around to close the book

9″ piece of regular ribbon (we found 1/2 inch to be a nice size) to serve as a bookmark

2 4 1/2″ x 6 1/2″ pieces of paper to line the inner cover

modge podge or elmers glue and foam brush for spreading the glue

Optional: fabric flowers, beads or other embellishments to attach to the closing elastic

It takes a couple of days to make the journals as you need to allow enough time for the glue to dry in between steps.
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Step 1: Cut fabric (trust me, don’t use brocade!) to allow for one inch overlap on all sides. Cover the journal in glue.  Fold the fabric over the journal, smoothing out any bunching or bubbles.  Do this for one cover at a time and then stand up with the pages spread out to dry.

 

 

 

 

Rachel's iPhone 151Step 2: Once the fabric has completely dried and
adhered to the journal, cut the fabric to allow for folding on the inside of the journal covers.  This requires cutting a v at the top and bottom middles along the center page binding.  (Top left corner of the picture).  Also cut a v at each outer corner to create a neat corner edge.

Step 2: Fold in the edges of the fabric onto the inside front cover and glue into place.  Be careful not to get glue on the front page of paper and be sure to prop open so the front cover has time to dry.  I found we needed to complete the front cover one day and the back cover the second day in order to allow sufficient time to dry.

Step 4: Once the fabric is secured and dry on the inside and outside of both covers, it’s time to attach the closing elastic and the bookmark.  I used the hot glue gun for this.  I put a dab of hot glue in the left top corner of the back cover about 1″ from the top (bottom of the fabric edge but where paper would cover) and attached a ribbon to serve as a bookmark.  I repeated the process on the right top corner and right bottom corner to attach the elastic.

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Step 5: We lined the inside of the front and back covers with decorative paper.  The girls wrote brief notes to their teachers on the inner cover.

Optional:  For Big Girl’s main teacher we attached a fabric rose to the elastic closure.

I know this project comes too late for anyone to use for this year’s end of the year gifts but maybe it will work for some of you as a holiday gift or an idea for the future.  The great things about this project were that both kids really made them on for their teachers.  They picked out the fabric and cut it, glued it down, picked out the paper and glued that, etc… Also, for anyone with lots of fabric scraps this is a great use for them!  Since we could use fabric scraps these were really affordable so I could let both girls give one to every teacher they wanted to say thanks to!

Downside, because of the drying time, they took a long time to finish up.

Even so, I’m totally making one for myself this summer!

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That works!

Rachel's iPhone 132I bought way too many essential oils this past winter, partially spurred by the lip balm making projects and partially because I find it so hard to resist those magical looking vials.

So, in my quest to save money, live cleanly and make stuff everyday, I decided to make our own herbal bug spray.  After reading about 75 recipes this is what I came up with… and it has totally worked so far; even when camping!

This is for a 4 oz bottle that I picked up from our local coop.

1 Tablespoon Witch Hazel

15 drops citronella

10 drops cedar

10 drops lemongrass

5 drops lemon eucalyptus

5 rosemary

10 rose geranium (I love the smell)

3 1/2 oz of boiled or distilled water

The recipe is based mostly on studies about efficacy of various oils and what bugs we want to repel (mosquitoes- citronella, cedar, lemon eucalyptus, rose geranium and some report rosemary does too and ticks – lemongrass and eucalyptus) but it also is based on the fact that I have really sensitive skin and didn’t want anything that could sting (like peppermint or a vodka base).  And, I like things to smell good too.

I might have had to buy a few of these oils… but at least I didn’t buy anymore bug bands or Herbal Armor this year 🙂

(By the way, that’s 4 out of 5 days for a post.  Trying my best!)

 

I’m starting small and easy…
Rachel's iPhone 171It’s true what the internet says… this time.  Roasted Starburst are delicious!!!  Really, really delicious!

 

Rachel's iPhone 177Turns out, though, they can be improved.  I tried stuffing the starburst into a marshmallow.  My goodness, it was amazing; tangy, sweet and melty.  Think of them as S’mores for the fruit flavored crowd.

Two other awesome camping ideas:

-For my birthday I received a cast iron campfire popcorn maker.  Others (my husband) were (inexplicably because popcorn is his favorite food) skeptical.

Turns out it works great and is worth dragging around!

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Campfire popcorn made with olive oil.

I used olive oil because it’s what we have in the cooking bin for camping.  I also bought a taster pack of different types of popcorn kernels from Hoosier Hill Farms.  I think the Mushroom popcorn is yummiest but I haven’t tried the Ruby Red yet!

-After Little Girl fell out of her camp chair and landed on a rock for the 100th time, I decided we needed some alternate (close to the ground) camping seating.  I remembered the sit-upons I used to make for girl scouts when I was little.  They were a pile of newspaper (NY Times in my house) in a garbage bag (heavy duty, if you were smart) and sealed with tape (duct, if you knew what you were up to).

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Camping Sit-Upons made from left over foam, tarps, cotton stuffing, fabric scraps and camp-dry spray.

But… times change.  We only subscribe to the digital edition of the NY Times and duct tape comes in hundreds of colors and patterns.  So, my girls and I made super glamping style ones.  We used foam from old things lying around the house (great use for old nursing pillows!), cotton batting and stuffing, fabrics from my stash and lots of duct tape.  (All of these items could be bought from a fabric store.)   For the bottom we used a cheap tarp and then I bought a can of camp dry to spray over the fabric layer to make it water resistant.

These are so comfy and I styled them as backpacks (using folded over pieces of duct tape secured at an angle at the top and bottom) so each kid can carry her own to concerts or camping.

Phew… that wasn’t so hard.  But, practice makes perfect so I’ll be back again tomorrow.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted…  but boy do I have a list of excuses!

Top four:

-I’ve been so busy!

-I’ve had writer’s block!

-I’ve been giddily enjoying my state of unemployment by indulging in leisure!

-I’ve actually been taking time to exercise!

Given this state of busy laziness, I’ve mentally started a couple dozen posts but never found my way to my computer to actually draft a post.  And, as every writer knows, writing is a habit.  When you don’t practice it gets harder.

Since I like this blog I don’t want to abandon it, I’m setting a 7-day-7-(mini) post challenge.  For the next 7 days, I am going to post briefly about something I’m thinking about (Orlando shootings, making friends as a grown-up, crochet patterns for summer, the good and bad of cooking with kids) or something we’ve done (bell jar lanterns, Chinese character drawings, homemade bug spray).  They will be short posts so I hope the frequency doesn’t drive anyone too crazy.  I hope too they will help me get back in the writing habit.

Thanks for reading!

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…

IMG_3492The second craft at Big Girl’s 8th birthday party were charm bracelets.  One of the things I was thinking about when I was planning this party was about how I could (subtly) teach the girls something about how things are made and in doing so, empower them to feel like they too can make (instead of buy).

I figured making jewelry (other than simple beading) was something that seems especially mysterious  and hard so therefore it would be a fun and exciting project to try out with the kids.  Big Girl and I decided that charm bracelets were the way to go.

What you need:

chain

latches

charm beads

jump rings

pliers

We purchased chains, clasps and charms online (we ordered from Oriental Trading Company).  We decided to order a pack of pink, purple and blue chains to create fun and springy bracelets.  The charms we picked were all either Spring (birds, butterflies and flowers) or in the same color family.  I already had jump rings and wire cutting plyers so I didn’t need those.  This craft cost about $45 for 18 bracelets with lots of leftover charms for future activities.

134In advance I cut the chains into approx. 6″ lengths and used a jump ring to attach the clasp to make the bracelets.  For those of you who have never done this, it sounds hard but is pretty easy.  You simply need to cut the chain link with the wire cutting part of needle nose pliers.  The little links next to the chain in this picture are the cut links that we removed when we cut the chain.

Jump rings are those simple metal rings you’ll find on all of your jewelry.  You see in this picture a pile of silver jump rings and the plastic case holding an assortment.  You can use jewelry pliers to help you open and close them, but you can also often do it with your fingers.

For this project we used fairly large ones that were easy enough for the kids to grasp in their hands.

I also discovered that most of the charms we had purchased did not come with rings so I attached jump rings to all of the charms so the kids wouldn’t need to deal with finding rings themselves.  I made Big Girls do lots of this work as it was pretty time consuming. She got a little cranky but she’s really good at putting jump rings on now!

Once I had premade the bracelets and prepped the charms, I laid out the charms by type and posted instructions on a tray.  121

I asked each of the girls to first lay their bracelet
out flat on the table then to pick out the charms they wanted and to place them where they wanted them to be.  I showed them how to open and close the jump ring and encouraged them to try it themselves.  I helped each kid in turn to either tighten the ones they had done themselves or to attach the rings for them.

They turned out really well.  IMG_3486My girls and I have been wearing ours often!  Several of the girls were able to open and close the jump rings themselves and create the entire bracelet.  For a few of the girls, I may have reached a bit too high.  But, you have to admit these bracelets are charming!

The final big project for the party was making clay beads.  I’ll post more on that within a few days.