Brothermade: DIY Karate Belt Display

We had a long and busy Hanukah, with some wonderful family and community celebrations.  The best part: my boys made sweet gifts for each other (a karate belt display board and a see-through birdhouse), so sweet they nearly made up for the fact that they didn’t make me ANYTHING!  I will start hinting much earlier next year.

Noah and I decided to make a karate belt display for Ryan to keep in his room.  He is due for a belt test soon and I thought that seeing his progress so far might provide some extra inspiration.

We followed a fairly simple DIY from Brit & Co.  This is a perfect entry-level mild carpentry project that any child/adult pair can handle.

We used a precut hobby board (8 inches by 2 feet) from Home Depot, added some stain, holes and a bungee for a kid-made gift that any big brother would love. And did!  Ryan was so surprised by this gift from his little brother and so proud to show off his stripes in his room (instead of in the bottom of his closet where the old belts had accumulated).

karate belts

This project happened so quickly and required my hands-on attention, so I don’t have too many pictures to share.

Supplies needed:  wood board, sand paper, wood stain, rag (to apply stain), ruler, drill, bungee cord and picture hanging kit.

1.  Show your child how to smooth any rough edges on the wood board with sand paper.

2.  Use a sponge or rag to apply wood stain to board.  Noah loved seeing how fast the color changed and especially liked comparing the stained board with an unstained one.  Following manufacturer’s instructions for drying time.  We used two coats for our desired honey-colored wood.

3. Using a ruler, determine where to put the holes for the bungee cord and the adult can drill the holes (Noah squeezed the trigger while I guided the drill). We measured 2 inches from the side and found the middle point from top to bottom.  If you don’t have a drill bit big enough for the bungee to fit through, you may need to visit the hardware store. Our local Ace Hardware guided us to purchase this spade bit, which worked perfectly.

4. An adult can remove the plastic hook from one end of the bungee cord by prying up the staple around the bungee loop.  Then the child can slide the bungee cord through one side.  Nail or staple in place (the Brit & Co. tutorial successfully guided us to use a regular stapler and hammer in the staples).


One side of bungee with original staple not removed.


Other end of bungee with original staple removed and new staples hammered into                          wood board to secure bungee.

5. Noah helped me screw in a picture frame hanger and attach a wire.  This board works great for sunglasses and hats, scarves and jewelry too.

bungee hats

The gifting was adorable.  Noah worked hard decorating the gift box and could hardly wait to deliver it. Noah gifting to Ryan

The reciprocal gift was fantastic too.  Ryan and Scott made Noah a birdhouse, with a clear plexiglass back, using this tutorial. Once it is suction-cupped to our window, Ryan is hoping Noah can watch birds nesting from our living room.


I want my boys to always enjoy gift-giving like this.  Whether homemade or store bought, I hope they always take their time  and enjoy planning, shopping and creating something special for their loved ones.


Brothermade: Trash to Treasure Sign

My parents are building a new house in Rhode Island.  The end result will be spectacular.  The building phase is equally impressive because my parents involve the boys in every step of the adventure.  Our latest trash to treasure creation (our new term is “brothermade” though it is a bit “mother-brothermade”) makes a great gift for siblings, grandparents, teachers and friends.





noah dirt

The boys have collected and brought home a lot of construction debris from our last few site visits – tire rubber, caution tape, dynamite wiring from demolition, nails, foundation stakes and more.  I am quite a junk collector but this kind of sharp and dirty trash had to be put to immediate use.  We covered a wooden board with chalkboard paint and the boys help me spell out our preferred name for the new house.  Somehow I think this name will stick.

PondHouse Sign square




grandies back

Don’t have a construction site to tool around at?  Any found treasure or hardware will do – and will get the kids involved in making a special personalized gift for the holidays.  Try spelling out a family name or nickname, a hometown or an inspiring word  – just like the SAS Interiors that inspired our sign.

The kids can help with every step except gluing the hardware to the board, as most of the glues are quite toxic (like We the 2 part epoxy I used).

Spot It: Hanukkah Style

We unpacked our holiday bin this week.  It felt a bit like a Lifetime movie; the boys helping me slide and unstack boxes in the attic until we found the right one, then squeezing down the stairs alongside me and the big green bin, jostling to get a glimpse of the contents.

The highlights – a Curious George Thanksgiving book, last year’s homemade dreidels and menorahs, Hanukah window gels and our holiday version of the Spot It! card game.

My kids (especially Noah) love Spot It!, the fast-paced matching game from Blue Orange Games. If you haven’t played, try the free demo here. The circular tin includes 57 symbols, 55 cards, with 8 symbols on each card. By creation of some mathematical genius, there is only one matching symbol between any two cards in the deck.  The recommended age is six, but Noah has loved it since age 3.  The decks are themed – Alphabet, MLB, NHL, Spanish, French, San Francisco and more – and at ten to fifteen dollars each, make great little gifts for all ages.

Last year, our local Learning Express toy store gave out mini Holidays Spot It! sets with a Spot It! purchase.  Like many “holiday” editions, this one was pretty Christmas-y, save for a snowflake and an (arguably) secular snowman (why do snowman so often don Santa hats and green scarves?).

Spot It Xmas

Noah loved the new game and learned a pretty good Christmas vocabulary – from ornaments and jingle bells to Rudolph and cookies and milk. I was glad for the chance to explain the symbols to him to give him an idea of how many of our friends celebrate this time of year, though I can’t imagine what it’s like to take in all the American traditions of Christmas, all at once. What was he was thinking when I explained each symbol as they arose in the game — kids who get coal in their stocking, Santa coming down the chimney, leaving presents, having cookies and milk and driving away with the reindeer. I’m not sure if I made Christmas sound wonderful or terrifying.

Of course, he asked when we could get the Hanukah version of Spot it.  There isn’t one. So…you can imagine where this is going, right?

Hanukkah Spot It with Pup

We pulled both our Hanukkah and Christmas Spot It out of the box and played last night.  I was surprised that (1) at this time last year, I managed to find the time to make our own Spot It, and (2) our version played as well as the official. With Hanukkah just a little over a week away, playing the game was a fun way to remind the boys of latkes, gelt and the letters on the dreidel.  Since you have to shout out the match as soon as you spot it, their Hanukkah vocabulary was quickly refreshed.

Ry noah cards


miracle card

Spot It Cards

You can print your own set of our Hanukkah game by downloading this file: Hanukah Spot It 2013.  As the PDF is formatted for Avery #22807 2-inch Round Labels, you can print on sticker labels and then adhere to pre-cut cardstock circles (we used a two inch hole puncher). If those supplies are unavailable, print onto cardstock and use scissors and a 2 inch circle guide to cut out.

Not Jewish? Try it anyway! We like Christmas Spot It and hope you’ll like our version too, including this Hanukkah Spot It Guide to the holiday symbols on our cards.  You can also check out Sesame Street’s Hanukkah story on YouTube.

Want to make your own Spot It version? You could have a Spot It themed about your child, your family, your town or a place you are traveling. It’s not a quick project, but it’s worthwhile and you can involve the kids in the creating.  Here’s how:

  1. First, get to know the official Spot It by purchasing one here.
  2. Photocopy the instructions and guide to the symbols. Substitute one of your images for each image on the Spot It guide.  Then use Avery’s design software to re-create a deck of cards with your images instead. Kids can help by brainstorming images and matching the Spot It image to your substituted image to make a working deck.
  3. Print sticker labels and assemble cards as described above.

Spooky Cupcakes — For Kids, By Kids

Enough about kale.  Halloween is here, and with it, fantastically sugary and chocolate-y treats.  I mentioned last week how one talented mom’s Spooky Cupcakes (gorgeously decorated spiders, mummies and eyeballs) sold out in minutes at our school farmer’s market.


Think you have to be a meticulous decorator to achieve such Halloween excellence?  Not so.  My son Ryan, niece Emily and I went to Stew Leonard’s cupcake decorating class on Friday – and we’ve got all the details.

welcome sign


If we were making these at home, I’d probably use a variety or two of boxed cake mix and focus on the toppings for one or two different kinds of cupcakes.  Unless you have the whole day free and very patient kiddos, I’d bake the cupcakes ahead of time and let the kids have fun decorating, instead of watching their interest wane as they mix, bake and wait for the cupcakes to cool.  Stew’s had batches and batches of gorgeous cupcakes in red velvet, chocolate and vanilla all ready to go at our cooking class.

red velvet

Stew’s talented teaching team, Bokai, Jackie and Tyler were super organized with the decorating supplies and very clear with their step by step instructions to the children.  There’s a lot of frosting and candy involved when twenty-five kids are decorated cupcakes and these three were pros and keeping the class fun, productive and sanitary.

team stew's

They showed the class samples of the six cupcakes we would be making and promised the kids could take all six home in their own decorated box, much to the delight of my little chefs.

emry cakes

The Owl

Ingredients: Cupcake, chocolate frosting, two oreos, M&Ms

Directions: Top cupcake with frosting.   Split oreos in half and use creme side up with M&Ms for eyes. Add an extra M&M for the nose.


The Mummy

Ingredients: Cupcake, chocolate frosting, oreo cookie crumbs, giant marshmallow, M&Ms

Directions:  Top cupcake with frosting. Dip in a bowl of cookie crumbs. Make three slits in the jumbo marshmallow and fill with M&Ms to make eyes and a nose.



The Scarecrow

Ingredients: Cupcake, yellow frosting (vanilla frosting mixed with a little yellow food coloring), black and green gel icing, vanilla wafers, green M&Ms or Mike & Ike’s, candy corn

Directions: Top cupcake with frosting. Break off a third of a wafer and set the pieces atop the cupcake to look like a straw hat. Add green candy for eyes and candy corn for mouth.  Use the green icing to draw hair, black icing to draw mouth and center of eyes.


The Spider

Ingredients: Cupcake, vanilla frosting, black gel icing, plastic spider

Directions:  Top cupcake with frosting. Use gel to make a swirl, then using the end of a toothpick or skewer, scrape gel from outside of the swirl to center of the swirl, to give the spider web effect.  Add a plastic spider (not edible).

spider web

the spider

The Vampire

Ingredients:  Cupcake, purple frosting, black gel icing, marshmallow cut into small triangles

Directions: Top cupcake with frosting. Use gel to create hair, eyes and mouth.  Add triangle marshmallow fangs.

vamp decorating


The Eyeball

Ingredients: Cupcake, vanilla frosting, strawberry jam, green icing/frosting, M&Ms

Directions: Before frosting, scoop a small spoonful of cake from the center of the cupcake top.  Fill with jelly. Then frost.  Add jelly on top, along with green icing and M&M for eyeball.


There you have it! Six kid-decorated, Halloween-inspired cupcakes.


To be a little fancy, you could pick up these candy eyes, instead of the M&Ms.

Candy eyeballs by Wilton. Readily available at Michaels and most party and grocery stores.

Stew Leonard’s has a slew of cooking classes for kids of all ages at their New York and Connecticut locations. View the Stew Leonard’s class schedule here (for Newington, CT) and know that classes fill up fast!  Children five and older do not need an adult present in class (just in the store), so you can shop while they are in class.  The supervision, hands-on instruction and supplies provided were awesome.  My only suggestion: I’d love to see the kids get written recipes/instructions to take home so they can share the lesson with their families.

Check out some other Halloween favorites on the Love Them Madly Facebook page and click LIKE to stay current on all our creations.

Disclosure:  Stew Leonard’s provided me with a free kid’s cooking class to review.
I was under no obligation to
 review it, nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review.

Halloween Costume Round Up: Royalty to Rainbow Loom

Three days to go and my family has already donned five Halloween costumes for three separate pre-Halloween festivities.  For a last minute girl like me, these early events mean that we are oddly, unusually ready for Halloween and I don’t have to wait until after the holiday to share our costumes with you.

ltm collage halloween

Pete the Cat:

Noah settled on Pete the Cat, one of his favorite book characters, for his Halloween costume.  If you don’t know Pete the Cat, check out the books, videos and songs here. I sewed ears and a tail to a blue super skin suit (which he wore backwards), then added four groovy buttons to his yellow raincoat.  He was such a cute and happy Pete at his buddy’s Halloween party last weekend that I had no idea he’d soon morph into an…


As Noah set aside my Pete creation for his brother’s old astronaut costume, I decided to go along with the costume change, keeping my cool much more than when he told me he wanted to trade in last year’s homemade Frosty the Snowman costume for a new one at our supermarket’s swap.

Blue Cat versus Foil Wrapped Space Explorer: we’ll see which costume will win out on Halloween night.

Prince William and Princess Kate

My husband often attracts attention as a Prince William lookalike.  No one has ever mistaken me for Princess Kate, but we ran with it for our friend’s awesome costume/birthday bash. We could have worked a bit harder on our hair color, but we accessorized instead.

Rainbow Loom

Ryan wanted to be a human Rainbow Loom, one of the hottest toys in America (and our house).



We’ve been working on this one for a few weeks.  First, Ryan took careful measurements of his loom, and together, we calculated proportionate measurements to his body.  We then created a prototype with cardboard and plastic cups as pegs.  This was an unplanned, but excellent, math and spatial exercise for both of us.

rainbow loom detail

To make wearing posterboard as comfortable as possible, we kept the dimensions small and used a 10 inch by 30 inch piece of gray posterboard, wrapped in Saran Wrap to give it a shiny plastic look.  Thanks to Dad’s meticulous measuring and cutting skills, the loom came together without much trouble.


Now this is a dad. A Friday night watching Shark Tank and making a Rainbow Loom.

Scott used a penknife and zipties to secure 10-ounce clear Solo cups to the posterboard, in the alternating one peg/2 peg pattern of the original loom.  Blue duct tape made the loom’s signature blue baseplates and doubled as straps to attach the loom to Ryan. Giant rubber bands from Staples and a cane-turned-loom hook finished the costume.

A testament to the loom’s popularity (and Scott’s brilliant workmanship), Ryan’s costume was recognizable to many (only one person asked if he was DNA).

A testament to the loom’s popularity (and Scott’s brilliant workmanship), Ryan’s costume was recognizable to many (only one person asked if he was DNA).

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The Greatest Show On Earth: Your Family Circus

Thank you all for the enthusiasm over my Better Connecticut appearance last week.

If you missed it, you can watch the segment here.

THE WINNER OF THE Toddler On-the-Go Package is JENNIFER BENOIT. Congratulations Jennifer!


We’ve had circus on the brain ever since my three year old’s preschool class put on a circus for their end of the year show. Sweet and kid-made, complete with a tightrope walker teetering along a chalk line on the sidewalk, the adorable show inspired our family circus over July 4th weekend.


Top 8 Reasons to Have a Family Circus

1. The circus is magical and engaging.

We’ve read our favorite circus books dozens of times: Sawdust and Spangles: The Amazing Life of W.C. Coup by Ralph Couvert and G. Riley Mills,  Circus Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina and Chris Van Dusen’s The Circus Ship. 

 2. You can fold in literacy activities for some writing and reading practice.

My circus performers loved designing this logo on the website PicMonkey, along with some great handmade signs.

PROGRAM COVER Sunapee Circus

Using the computer was very enticing – the older kids also worked together to type up our program and a loose script.

3. There’s an act for everyone.

The seasoned teachers at my son’s school taught the kids a bit about the circus than encouraged the kids to develop their own acts and jobs.  The older girls made up acrobatic routines on the monkey bars.  My shy little guy proudly braved the playground’s log balance beams, while others served popcorn and collected tickets.

Letting the kids in our family circus (five kids, ages 3 to 6) brainstorm the acts was hilarious. I spread out some props during our “planning session” and the kids quickly came up with this list of acts.

List of Acts

Our List of Acts and Performers

3. Step Right Up…and out of your usual roles.

My older son is quiet at school and less likely to take charge of a group.  Among the cousins, however, he’s the oldest and comfortable and confident with them and his grandparents. He took the reins as ringmaster of our family circus, taking charge of the script and guiding the cousins through joke telling and the acts.  The younger cousins played an important role too, with acts all their own.  And the starlet most used to putting on shows happily shared the stage with her cousins.

family irc us

4. Anything can be a prop.

A hula hoop is great for the lion and lion tamer.  The rest can be improvised with whatever your players dream up.  I gathered some props and costumes from our toy bins (microphones, animal face masks, knight costume) and a few July 4th decorations from the dollars store.  The wig was fun, but wearing Uncle Scott’s giant shoes really completed the clown get-up.

Milo the Magnificent
Blow-up jousts from our inflatable gladiator game become barbells for the strongman.  At the preschool, they used plastic tubes (pool noodle would work) with boxes on each end covered in black construction paper for the same effect.

5. Everyone’s Got A Joke. 

The comedy part of the show was a hit with the actors and audience.
We googled some circus jokes:

Why did the clown go to the doctor?   Because he was feeling a little funny!

Why was the clown sad?  She broke her funny bone!

What kind of a key opens a banana?  A monkey!

Which circus performers can see in the dark?  The acro-bats!

Then there were the more organic jokes.

What do you call melted cheese? Cheese fondue.

What do you call melted fish? Fish fondue.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Dinosaur. Dinosaur Who? Dinosaur knocking on your shoe.

6. Parents Included. (This is a good thing.)

My husband juggled.

I got to be a horse for the brave knight.

me as horse

7.  Circus Snacks Are Delicious.

You can go traditional (popcorn, cotton candy, peanuts or cracker jacks) or get creative here.  To celebrate my son’s school circus, we made these cute cookies I spotted on a blog called Munchkin Munchies.  The blog also features an adorable circus snack mix.

Photos from Munchkin Munchies


8. It’s all about making memories.

circus close up

Last weekend, nearly a month after our big circus, my kids sought out our still unpacked bag of circus tricks and reenacted the July 4th show.  And the greatest show on earth continues… Noah has asked for a circus party for his 4th birthday.


Heat Wave Edition

Four summers ago, we went through a heat wave just like this one. Only recollectable difference: I was nearly eight months pregnant last time. With Ryan in tow (then three years old), I climbed our playscape with a power drill and expertly installed the water slide adapter my husband said would not fit on our swingset. Or would fit, but would be a tripping hazard. Or some other reason that seemed insane to a very hot and bothered pregnant person.

I slid down too, with such impact into the playground mulch that I spent the next 24 hours rehearsing how to tell my husband, my doctor and my mother what had triggered early labor.  Somehow I made it to my due date some weeks later.

Four years later, that $19.99 water slide adapter had both my kids singing “it’s the best day ever” (sponge Bob version) after a multiple water slide sessions this week, including one pre-bedtime slide, topped off with outdoor showers on the playscape deck.


Last night, with the help of two friends, the kids set up a tarp catch basin at the bottom.  Before long, they had a few inches of a splash pool to land in.  Instant water park in your backyard.

You can order one from Timbergyms and other swingset retailers.  You could of course simply position a garden hose or sprinkler near your slide, but we sure have gotten our $20 worth of this device.

Since my local news team keeps teasing that the heat isn’t going away just yet, here are a few other ways we have been keeping cool:


My kids had never tasted creamsicles before, a major staple of my summer camp experiences.  Now they’ve been spoiled with these homemade ones, made from fresh oranges, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.  Recipe and photo from a wonderful blog called A Beautiful Mess.



Like hundreds of thousands of others, we’ve been smitten with the Rainbow Loom bug. This clever loom, created by an engineer-dad for his two daughters, provides great fine motor work with quick colorful wearable results.  It takes a bit of patience to get started, but spending a few minutes watching a nine year old’s tutorial on YouTube will get you and your little ones up to speed quickly.  The box says 8 and up, but my almost-seven year old picked it up quickly, and my almost four year old can make the simple stitch with assistance.  Available at Learning Express stores and on-line; $14.95 for the basic kit, $3.99 for additional bags of rubber bands.

How have you been staying cool?

I Spy My Most Puzzling Neighbor

I had no idea that Walter Wick, creator of the “I Spy” and “Can You See What I See?” children’s book series, has been working on his best-selling picture puzzle books in a renovated firehouse just a few miles from our house. With 43 million copies of his books in print, I’m guessing I am not the only parent struggling to bite my tongue at bedtime when I’ve found the objects on the page and my kids are still hunting. Or the only one letting her kids stay up late until we’ve found every last item on the page.

We were lucky enough to take a tour of his awesome studio last month.


Wick designed the space for his “I Spy”  creations, complete with a carpentry workshop, rows and rows of storage for his carefully sorted toy bins and seemingly endless natural light for his photography.



Every scene takes Wick and his team nearly three months to create. A book can take nearly a year.

When you work on the books page by page, you might not notice the story in each book. In the “Can You See What I See? Treasure Ship” book, the first page zooms in on some dazzling treasure: a gold coin and a strand of pearls. The next pages continue to zoom out further and further, first on the treasure and then on a larger scene of which the treasure is a small part.  As you turn the pages, you realize the treasure is actually in a ship in a bottle in a gift shop on a boardwalk, on a postcard.  Every dizzying page is a photograph, with scenes and props meticulously designed by Wick and his team.


In the latest book, “Can You See What I See? Out of This World,” a princess from the past meets a robot from the future.  Click here to see how the stagings from his workshop (shown below) turn into the pages of the book.



Wick has hidden a little figure named Seymour (SEE MORE!) on each page and his name once in each of the “Can You See What I See?” books.  Just as we like hunting for Goldbug in some of the Richard Scarry books, my kids and I loved going through our books looking for Seymour.


The boys and I hope to set up own I Spy scenes and take some photographs of them this summer (it’s letter S on our Summer Alphabet list).  Happily, I found a great tutorial at and on Delia Creates by a mom who amazingly made her kids their own travel DIY I Spy books starring their very own toys. 

Ambitiously impressive!

Photo from Delia Creates. 

Chalk it Up for Father’s Day

After school yesterday, I showed my kids and our neighbor a few Father’s Day crafts I have been admiring on-line.  Despite some drizzly rain, they couldn’t wait to create these pavement chalk art photos. I’ve seen plenty of these on-line but none starring my kids.  This was totally delightful playtime as the kids happily focused on making something special for dad.  There was talk of angles and how to get the photographer (me) higher than our four foot ladder to capture a larger drawing area.


I love backing out of the action and watching the kids brainstorm and divvy up responsibilities.  Ryan quickly started with the rainbow frame (the Crayola chalk rake is irresistible) while his friend Maggie started on the bubble letters; then Ryan colored in the letters while Maggie decorated the scene.


I like good regular play that becomes part of gifting for someone special.  Just order some photo prints and frame ’em up or glue them on paper for a homemade Father’s Day card.


The rain interrupted the kids’ next plan to make a giant scene and have me take photographs from our second story window.  Somehow I think we’ll be going through a lot of chalk this week.

For some more great chalk photo art inspiration,                                                                                                           check out Burgh Baby and Craft, Interrupted.

For more Father’s Day craft ideas, check out my 2012 Father’s Day Post.

Ombre Plant Markers

You know the best thing about a vegetable garden?  The plant markers.

Okay, maybe the veggies are the highlight, but something has to keep you busy once the plants are in the ground and you have a few weeks before anything is ready to harvest. Here’s what kept me up late one night last week.

veg crocs

I used vinyl letter stickers to spell out the name of each veggie on balsa wood boards.  For each, I made a few vertical paint stripes, then continually lightened the paint color by adding white, for an ombre effect.  Once dry, I peeled off each letter then sprayed each sign with a clear coat of spray paint.  I then used some screw-in hooks to hang the signs off of stakes.


Those are not worms on the ground, just these worm-like things that drop from the trees around here.

My kids were excited to match our plants with our new signs. Now just crossing my fingers that the veggies live up to the signage.

noah peppers

Grow A Rainbow Ombre Plant Markers


4 by 12 inch balsa boards, spray painted white

Vinyl Sticker letters (I used 2 inch letters)

Clear Spray Paint (I used Satin finish)

Metal screw hooks and eyes

Stakes or poles


1. Use the stickers to spell out the name of each plant on the wood.  Press hard to make sure the letters are sticking, so that paint won’t seep in underneath.

2. Choose a color for each sign.  Use a one inch paintbrush to make vertical stripes adding white to lighten the paint every few stripes.  (Save your paint palettes by covering with saran wrap for touch-ups).

3. Let dry and peel off letters.  Touch up with leftover paint as needed.  Dry overnight.  Apply a few coats of clear spray finish.

4.  To hang from stakes, attach “eye” to center of vegetable sign, and screw hook to a garden stake or pole.

carrot marker

tomato sign


Check out last year‘s wine cork plant markers and more ideas on my Garden board on Pinterest.

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