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!

 

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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.

Big Girl turned 8 a few weeks ago.  She was really eager to have a birthday party at home this year.  We decided to invite the girls in her grade (12 kids) to our house for an evening craft party.   To make this really fun and special, I decided to think up some crafts that would be wearable, a little challenging and distinct.  The next big challenge though?  How to do this without spending a fortune?

After tons of brainstorming, Big Girl and I finally settled on three major craft activities (not counting cupcake decorating!): hair-ties & headbands, charm bracelets, and clay beads.  Each of these crafts were reasonably affordable and manageable for kids 8-12 years old.

First up, hair-ties and headbands:119

I was so amazed a few months ago when I discovered that those fancy “yoga band” hair ties were really just ribbon tied in a knot.  Ever since, we’ve been making our own, sometimes with the addition of bows, beads and flowers and sometimes plain.  We’re not a headband family, but we realized around the same time that we could make headbands just as easily.  We decided to share this magic with Big Girl’s friends as the first craft at her party.

To make these hair-ties and headbands, you need:

-needle and thread

-fold-over satin elastic bands

-flowers, gems, etc…  We used chiffon flowers.

I purchased the chiffon flowers and elastic ribbon on amazon.  Fifty flowers and 10 yards of ribbon cost about $25.  This is enough to make 10 headbands and 20 hair-ties with leftover flowers!

To prepare for the party, I cut the ribbon into 18″ (headbands) and 9″ (hair-ties) pieces and trimmed the netting off the back of the chiffon flowers.

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Hair-ties are super simple.  Just tie a knot!  I pre-knotted them for the kids.  For the headbands, I sewed the ends together with a three inch overlap.  It took a minute or so to quickly hand sew them; would have been even quicker with the sewing machine.

I then pre-threaded a dozen needles and laid them out for the kids to grab.  I wrote instructions on an index card and taped it to the tray.

I had them mix and match flowers with headban117ds/hair-ties and sew the flowers to the bands themselves.
It was a huge success.  The kids loved making them and wearing them.  Some of the girls needed a little help with the sewing but most of them could do it just fine.  And, check out how cute this looks!

 

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Super cute and super fun!  The charm bracelets were a big hit too.  I’ll post about them later this week.

115I mentioned months ago and weeks ago that we were turning an underused room into a library.  It’s finally done and it’s a lovely space.

I am enchanted with the idea that of a library, reading room and game space up at the top of the house where sounds can barely reach you and one can get lost in a great book. I look forward to the day when I’ll get to hang out and read up there.  In the meantime, I’m pleased to have made the space!

The major goals were 1) to create a space to store all of my favorite work related books; 2) to create a space where the kids could go and browse for a new unusual book to read; 3) a place for the kids (Big Girl especially) to play checkers or chess with a friend; 4) a retreat.

I think we hit all of those goals.  But it took some effort.  For one thing, it’s very small room.  It was a lot of work though to make it truly usable.  The room itself is less than 10′ x 8′ and has three doors and one window.  It used to be a small office, it could be a small kids’ bedroom, but instead we decided to make it a library.  With all those books it could too easily become a storage room instead.

To maximize storage, floor space and airiness, we decided upon a bright glossy wall color, very minimal built in shelves and floor pillows.  First, we had to clean the mess.  The picture below is already a cleaned up version.  The room was full to the brim of stuff! (Anyone else still storing 15 years of bills and receipts?  I know my husband would love to talk with you about all the reasons we needed that paper. )

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Next we picked the color and repaired the damages to the walls.  I used the same brown for the trim that I used in the kitchen a few months ago.  Big Girl and I decided to go for a bright navy blue that we though was kind of like blue velvet wallpaper.  Then we built book shelves by mounting 1″ x 2 ” to the wall, mounting shelves to them, and using posts on the fronts to make secure.

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This was an affordable way to build in almost 100 linear feet of bookshelves.  It took some real work though since our lathe and plaster walls are crumbling and we needed to insert toggle bolts before attaching the 1″ x 2″s.  (Thanks to my dad for this vision, drill bit and manual labor!).

We decided to move flor tiles from the kitchen (before the revision) up to create a rug.

Then the girls and I turned our attention to the floor pillows.  We bought some new fabric for these, but we also used TONS of stuff laying around the house both for the fabric and also for the stuffing.

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We used an old dog bed we had bought for a little kid who kept falling our of the bed!  We used old bed pillows in a stack.  We cut open other old pillows and pulled apart their fluff to revive them.  And, we broke up old bits of foam (from an old breast feeding pillow and some other stuff) to create new filling for another pillow.  Little Girl spent several days hand-sewing another pillow for the room too.

All in all, it’s a lovely, sunny spot for reading.  I’ve just started Carol Berg’s _Soul Mirror_ (the second in the Collegia Magica) series.  Maybe I’ll find a chance this weekend to sneak up there for a bit and read.

IMG_3412It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had time to update here.

One reason is just the mid-semester busy-ness that makes it so hard to catch up.  (While my countdown helps with that, I’m not quite done.)

Another reason is that our library project has also taken an enormous amount of time! (About a month ago we decided to empty out a room on the third story that was being used mostly for storage and turn it into our library.  I’ll post pics about that project in the next few days.)

The third reason is that my kids have been on Spring Break and we have been super busy having tons of fun!  They went back to school today… and I’m missing them a bit.  So, I decided to do this post first: a collaborative found art rainbow that we made a few days ago to hang in the window of the library.  IMG_3405
We started by scavenging around the house to gather up items to use for the collage. We used bits of paper, pompoms, sequins, ribbons, feathers, scraps of paper, and even rubber bands from the asparagus frittata I had made for breakfast!

While the kids dug through drawers to find more materials, I cut a piece of clear contact paper and laid it on the table.  We then worked together to fit in the different objects we found in rainbow order.

To finish it we just pressed a second piece of clear contact paper over the top and folded it over to create a seam along the edges.  We used a hole punch to tie ribbons to the corners to hang in the library window.

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I really enjoyed making this because it was one of those rare projects where Big Girl, Little Girl and I could all participate collaborative and equally rather than dividing the tasks up. This could easily have been done with a younger kids too.

I also love that it is made only from found objects.  The papers we used were odds and ends that could easily have been tossed in the trash next time I cleaned up.  It’s a great trash-to-treasure project for sure!

I also like how this project gave Little Girl a chance to concentrate on sorting by color and concentrating on the relationships between colors.

And did I mention that it looks beautiful?!?!

Be back soon to show you the long promised library… promise.  And, next week I’ll post about Big Girl’s Crafty Birthday party.

It’s one of the earliest signs of Spring; Big Girl’s skirts and dresses are suddenly all way too short! Before I break down and buy her a new Spring/Summer wardrobe I decided to see how we might creatively fill some of the holes.  This skirt is an awesome solution; it’s warm enough for cooler spring days, super cute, it was free and it only took about an hour to make.

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We began by looking through some of the older clothes I have in storage; things that don’t quite fit right or are in a color I like better on the hanger than on myself.  Among those clothes we found a very cute kelly green sweater that I never wear because of the awkward arm length.  sweater skirt 1

We began our project by having Big Girl cut the sleeves and collar off the sweater.

She wanted an A-line skirt with as much drapy-ness as possible so we then folded the remaining sweater in in half and drew a line from the former-neck-now-waist to the bottom corner.  I ran those sides through the sewing machine, cut off the remainder and reinforced the hem by hand-sewing with embroidery floss.

My preference for the skirt would have been to make it a pencil skirt.  To do that I would have made a line perpendicular to the waist, cut and re-seamed along those lines.

sweater skirt 2sweater skirt 3

I cut elastic to fit her waist, sewed it into a loop, and then attached it with a loose running stitch along the top of the sweater neckline. sweater skirt 4

I was concerned about the sweater fraying so I used embroidery floss to fold the hem over the elastic and then secured it by whip-stiching the entire waist.

The final skirt is super cute and just in time for her to wear to school on St. Patrick’s Day this week!

I only wish I had a way too big sweater that I could use to make one of these for myself.

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Remember those cute blackboards I made for the kitchen?  Perfect for my countdown of teaching days…  18… 17… 16 days to go.

I decided back in January to submit my resignation right away and to use this semester to wrap things up and say my goodbyes.  For the past several weeks, that’s what I’ve been doing during my work days… slowly but surely packing up my office and saying goodbyes. (Tell me, do I really have to keep paper files? The paper copy of my dissertation?  My M.A.?  No, embrace the digital world, right?)

One thing I’ve noticed is that while the sr. faculty are fully in the know (but decline to address the issue with me) everyone jr. to me is shocked to learn I didn’t get tenure.  I don’t just mean shocked on my behalf in the sense of that’s so unfair (although I get a lot of that too).  I mean, they had no idea; the news had not reached them.

I don’t know why this surprises me or bothers me so much.  I know that my department and university are profoundly hierarchical and that decision-making is completely opaque.  But, maybe since I am slowly extricating myself from this soul-sucking atomistic culture I see more clearly how information is tightly controlled in order to control people and maintain the social order.  Since I’m on my way out, I can’t change the system, but I can break the silence by refusing to let the fact that I was denied tenure a secret.  So, I have been telling all the instructors, non-tenure track people, grad students and undergrads that I am leaving because I was denied tenure.  I’m not complaining or griping, but I am making sure it’s not a secret.

While I’ve been tying up the ends of my academic career, I’ve also been making plans for the future and making space at home.  This has mainly meant two big things: thinking hard about how we use our house and reconfiguring that space to make it fit our family in this new stage, and figuring out how to cut expenses and save money so we can afford for me not to work.

Some of the saving has been easy and fun.  We’ve been making cute hair ties instead of buying more, we have plans to upcycle one of my old sweaters into a new skirt for Big Girl, and to make floor pillows created from old pillow cases and baby blankets (posts on these activities soon!).

Other saving has been more challenging… since January I’ve been trying to cook all of the food from our freezers and pantry to use up older things and decrease our food waste.  We’ve definitely done that to some extent… but we had to eat a couple of yucky dinners in the process and we still have some odd mystery ingredients to go… including two kugels that I don’t want to eat…  The upside is that I have been doing so much cooking and baking that the girls can make banana bread, cookies, and gougieres pretty much on their own!  (Maybe a few baking posts to follow soon too?)

This week its all about our new home library!  I’ve been working hard on it and can’t wait to share pictures of the gorgeous color scheme, built-in bookshelves and fabulous floor pillows in some future posts.

Epson_02262016141119 (1).jpg Last week my kids had a day off from school but were too tired and cranky to go to a museum or out for a hike or even to the library.  They also couldn’t just have “alone time” (seriously do anyone’s kids both want alone time at the same time, ever?).  Just as the pitch of their bickering reached a dangerous level, I happened upon a super fun idea.  I told them that we were each going to draw a creature and then we were going to do a series of art projects using those creatures.

Thus, Sparkle the Unicorn, Bluebell the Bluejay and Fran the Faun were born.   This project worked really well for a few reasons.  First, we could each do parts of an animal but we found that we liked having someone else do another part.  So, I sketched a unicorn, Little Girl made it rainbow, Big Girl added the purple, I outlined it, and Little Girl covered it in glitter glue.  Same process for Bluebell and Fran too (though minus the glitter!).

Doing it that way meant that we were working IMG_3194together… which means there was no competition.  (A dramatic improvement from how our day had been shaping up before that.)

This approach also  had the benefit of getting us all thinking about how we might want to use our creatures.  What sorts of scene they should be in and how they fit together.

We decided to create a water color scene for the original animals but also to create alternate versions to fit with our bigger story.  For one picture, Big Girl had the idea that we should trace the creatures so we could make multiples.  I loved that idea and proposed that maybe we could use scraps of colored paper to make it work.  For another version, I thought it would be fun to scan our coloring creations to resize, reprint and reuse.

Tracing and cutting for art projecttrace

We wrapped up our day by putting our creatures into scenes, a few of which I hope to frame and hang in the house.

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We also ended the day happy, relaxed and feeling like friends.  It is so tempting to think that when kids are cranky we need to get them out of the house to provide some stimulation.  Of course, we can all end up stir crazy so sometimes getting out of the house is what is needed.  But, sometimes, staying in, working together and building closeness is what we really need.

One of the best parenting books I ever read (Raising Your Spirited Child) proposed that when your kid is most monstrous and infuriating and you are most tempted to yell at him/her, the best thing you can do is give them a hug and try to reconnect instead of letting anger take over.  This project did that for us.