It’s Never Too Late: Last Minute Mother’s Day Crafts

The boys have been taking art classes with a wonderful teacher.  Each week, Tara introduces the kids to a different artist and they work on a project inspired by the artist’s work.  My house is covered in decorated soup cans (Warhol), painted collage (Chuck Close and Gustav Klimt) and sculpture.

After the kids filled a notebook with some Warhol-like drawings in marker, Tara created personalized notepads for each artist, using a scanned in image of one favorite drawing (for Ryan it was Spiderman shooting a long line of webbing).

The notepads seemed a perfect Mother’s Day gift.  You can work with artwork your child has already created, instead of “forcing” the creating in time for the holiday.  I love working with my kids on most gift projects, but it certainly moves things along to be able to crank a project out after their bedtime.  All you need: a scanner, printer, paper, glue and some of your child’s artwork.

****NANA BONNIE AND GRANDMA BARBARA****

**IF YOU LIKE SURPRISES AS MUCH AS ME, YOU SHOULD REALLY STOP READING THIS POST**

1. Select a few of your child’s drawings and scan them into your computer.  Insert the scanned drawing into a Word document and resize the picture to fit.

Noah Bright

For Noah’s gifts, I used this pretty watercolor painting he made and faded the colors a bit to use as a background on every page.

ducks in a row

Ryan has been drawing lots of Mo Willems-esque ducks.                                                                                     He drew and cut these out of an 8.5 by 11 piece of paper and I scanned into a JPEG.

For smaller notepads, you can make columns to divide your page – 2 up, 4 up.  Select a fun font and type in the recipient’s name, a saying or a quote to the image.

notes together

I used a free graph paper template as a background for my mom’s full sheet notepad as she is building a new house and will be spending lots of hours planning the space.

3. Print (10-30 pages for binding) and cut to size.  We use a inexpensive sliding paper cutter, but if you don’t have one, you can use a scissor or borrow a paper cut from your local copy center.

4. At this point, you can leave the paper loose and have an adorable stationary set.

Image 8

If you wish to bind paper into a notepad, stack pages neatly, carefully lining up the tops.  Add a piece of cardboard to the back (I used nice patterned tab divider and file folders).  Add an extra sheet of paper to both front and back to keep glue off your pages as you work.  Then clip the sides together to hold in place.  I used waxed paper under the clips to avoid creasing.  Apply rubber cement (I’ve read gel glue or gorilla glue works well too) along the top, then clip along the top to hold together (or use heavy books).  Let dry a few minutes and repeat 5 or 6 times, until the pad stays together.

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5. Package with a cute note, pretty pens, folders or other supplies.

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Wishing you a wonderful Mother’s Day and some peaceful time with your loved ones.

Need More Ideas?  

Check out Love Them Madly’s Shopping ideas, Fingerprint ArtLotion Bars and Word Cloud Art, and more great kid-made ideas at Homegrown Friends and All for the Everyday.

DIY Lego Travel Activity Box

I made the boys some lego activity boxes to surprise them with for our three hour drive to Legoland.
ll boxes
ryan box
I bought each an unfinished 8 by 8 wooden box with a clasp at Michaels.
After my mother in law and I poured through hundreds of legos trying to find enough of the same color to glue together to cover the box, I realized a bunch of my storage bins had large green baseplates inside them that are thin and flexible enough to cut with a scissor. I trimmed each base plate to cover the box, rounding out the corners.
Then I glued the plate to the box using E-6000 glue. I stamped the boys’ names on the wood and trimmed the boxes with some wash tape.

lego box

Legos get tucked inside, ideally in a pouch or bag that can be removed when you are ready to build.

This is Noah’s Squirrel Estate, complete with acorn anti-theft system (lower left), garage, veterinarian and fairy princess.

Legos to Go sq

I’m excited to have these ready for our summer road trips. After our trip, I happened to find these Minifigure Speech Bubbles that I’ve added to our sets, combining a little literacy and story-telling with our fine motor building.

minifig captions

Like this idea? Know someone who might? Please share it!

 

Green and Clean Moms’ Night Out

I know that a “night out” should not generally have anything to do with green cleaning products — but it did this week for 20 mom in my town.  My friend Stacey and I coordinate the moms’ night out activities for Moms & More, a West Hartford, CT based group of some 200 mothers. We’ve done movies and manicures, drinks and dinner, book club and cooking class. This week, we tried something new: a hands-on class to learn to make your own green cleaning products. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones with a skewed sense of the words “night out”  as this event drew a bigger attendance than last month’s night out at our upscale taco/margarita bar.  We were glad to see so many mamas (many of whom were pregnant) eager to green up their cleaning routines.

In keeping with our theme, I made a big batch of green fries and a healthy caesar salad, and Stacey made some energy bites that she either took home or were devoured before I had a chance to eat one.  The two bottles of wine I left out went unopened; we had other concoctions in mind.

Our Natural Green Cleaning Guru

Armed with a million pinterest links, we nearly tried to teach the class ourselves. Gratefully, a local organic cleaning pro agreed to share her expertise and philosophy with our group.

Shal Sprays, Making Green products

Sheila (“Shal”) Gagne, owner of Maid Organic LLC in Bristol, Connecticut credits her mom for “instilling the importance of eating organic and all-natural foods as well as using all-natural products to promote a healthy body and a healthy home.” Raised with a brother with severe allergies, she eventually started an all natural cleaning business using only natural products.  Shal tested nearly every “natural” cleaner on the market, and like many of us have found, discovered they either worked great and contained not-so-natural products or smelled great and didn’t work at all.  Ultimately, Shal set up a cleaning products lab in her basement and created her own line of natural green home cleaners, available for purchase here (along with her signature green microfiber cloth).

Shals line up of green natural cleaners

Shal believes in very simple ingredients – the base of her cleaning sprays are distilled water, distilled vinegar and essential oils like lavender, peppermint and tea tree oil.  As a mom to a one year old and as a professional house cleaner, Shal knows the importance of having safe and environmental friendly products that clean effectively, without tremendous scrubbing effort.

What We Made: Cleaning Products

We settled on four products to make with the group – an All Purpose Spray, an Disinfecting/Anti-Bacterial Cleaning Spray, a Facial Scrub and Lotion Bars. I set up stations for each with recipes, ingredients, supplies and of course, some cute stickers for our products.

First, the sprays:

sprays, green labels, green microfiber

The spray recipes are very simple. No heating, just measure and mix.

All Purpose Spray, green

Disinfecting Spray, green

Shal provided us with the adorable two ounce spray bottles. It would be green to recycle other cleaning product spray bottles, but you really don’t want to taint your products with any chemical residue. Distilled water and vinegar are inexpensive ($1-$3 per gallon) and available at most markets. Distilled water (and vinegar) is key because the distillation process removes impurities.  The essentials oils (available at health food stores and online) run between $12 and $25 for 2 ounces, but a small bottle will go a long way (our group of 20 DIYers hardly made a dent in these bottles) and will not spoil.

The Early Results

I’ve been using the products we made along with some of Shal’s cleaners she generously left behind for me (sooooo glad I hosted this event at my home) since our class.  When my six year old came home from school Wednesday, before he even took off his jacket, he said “What have you been cooking? It smells SO good in here.”  The house does smell awesome – clean and fresh, not at all over-fragranced or perfumed.  Ryan immediately hijacked my new products, insisted on washing all the windows downstairs and cleaning a cabinet in the bathroom.  He used about half a bottle of window cleaner (spraying is so irresistible) and somehow spilled half the fruit and vegetable wash on the floor.  I could still scream about it but I’m trying to focus on all the green cleaning enthusiasm here.

What We Made: The Beauty Products

Next, the facial scrub (also Shal’s recipe and the one she keeps in her shower for daily use). This one is a bit messier – honey, cornstarch, lemon, brown sugar, honey, heated up and then mixed with apple cider vinegar.  I’ve been using it the last few days and I’m loving it. My skin feels good, clean and exfoliated and the scrub tastes pretty delicious too.

Facial Scrup, green

Do I look happy? I was deliriously happy with how the evening and our products turned out.

jodie mixing, happy in my green dress

It was a good decision to hold this “party” when Scott was out of town. This doesn’t look much like a cleaning class, does it?

my counter

Last, the lotion bars I had read so much about here and here and here. This time of year, I’m always looking to soothe my own dry skin and my kids’ excema patches. Shall hadn’t tried this one, but approved the ingredients – organic beeswax, cocoa or shea butter and coconut oil.

Lotion Bars, green label

With the right supplies, these bars are incredibly easy to make. I ordered beeswax pellets (“pastilles”) and chunks of cocoa butter instead of solid bars. This made measuring easy. We cooked ours on the stovetop in a covered glass container set in a pot of hot water set on medium heat. The oils melted within minutes (the beeswax took the longest) and were easy to transfer into muffin pans.

lotion bars green label

To use the lotion bars, just rub between your hands to warm and apply wherever needed.  I worried it might be a bit greasy but it soaks right in and my skin feels healthy and soft.  I even used a little on my face today and didn’t feel greasy or shiny at all.  Crunchy, wholesome and thrifty, yes. A bit like Laura Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie, you betcha. But greasy, no.

Have a favorite green product or DIY tip — please share it below!

What Happens (When Dad Is) In Vegas…

Well, the truth is we don’t know what happens when Dad is in Vegas at a beer convention (yes, he calls that work).

I do know that we miss him and we’re grateful that he manages to fly cross-country, attend a bunch of (beer) meetings and make it back home in 50 hours.

MAP STACKED

I do know that it’s both easier (french toast for dinner) and harder (Mommy! Mommy!! Mommy!!!) without him around.

I do know that I enjoy a certain independence and freedom being the only grown-up around. I might act like I call the shots all the time, but I do defer often to my husband’s good sense. Without him, I do things like painting in a 30 degree garage while also cooking breakfast for dinner in the kitchen.

painting

And this was AFTER I took my kids to Sunday’s opening of our new local Home Goods store. This may deem me an unfit parent, but at least I know I’m not alone in my excitement as there was a theme park-like “thirty minutes from this point” sign in the check-out line. We WI-WA-WO-d it (walk in, walk around, walk out), wistfully leaving behind a lovely 8 by 8 nonstick brownie pan to move on to Michael’s and the grocery store.

The kids were kindly enthusiastic about my choice of errands. On the way of out Home Goods, I did promise that our next stop had an excellent selection of C-A-N-D-Y. Noah looked at me with the biggest, most sparkly grin and whispered “Mickey Mouse????” (You know, like M-I-C-K-E-Y…)

Though we are on our own plenty, something about Dad being across the country always prompts me to make a few special memories with the kids. I mean the kind you can’t make at a very crowded Home Goods.

At bathtime (usually dad’s domain), I had the kids close their eyes as I got the tub ready.

They held hands and opened their eyes – one, two, three.

bath

I’m not sure who had more fun. We took the glow stick lanterns apart (50 cents at Michaels) and put them back together, then made one giant lantern. The boys swam with glow worms and electric eels.

Image 3

We played basketball in the tub, and eventually in the bathroom sink.

bath-ket-ball2

The boys went to sleep with the lanterns glowing by their beds.

I’m counting on the glow lasting just about until Dad comes home tonight.

The Beach Is So Sandy

I like the beach. Ideally, I like it from a padded lounge chair, with an unspoiled view of the ocean.  A light breeze, a thick towel and a good book.  Easy on the sweating, the stickiness and the sand.

My kids feel differently.  I admire their willingness to be knee deep in the sand, to roll around and be caked in grains for hours.

DSC_6434

To keep us all happy in the sand, I did some beach homework before we headed to Puerto Rico.

Did you know if you sprinkle baby powder on your sandy hands, you can rub the sand right off? That worked just as advertised and now I get to be the crazy lady on the beach chasing her kids with baby powder.

I brought some random supplies for beach play – a plastic ice cream scooper and some little cups for an ice cream shop and a half dozen plastic test tubes (the watering vials from my Valentines’ roses) for my beach scientists.  Coupled with a few sand toy sets our awesome Aunt Ginny picked up at the local Walmart, the kids were set.

We also had fun with our beach shadows.

photo

my shadow

Miraculously, I remembered to bring along these wood craft dinosaur models I picked up months ago.

dino kit

My husband helped me stage a little dinosaur dig for Ryan, Noah and my 5 year old nephew.  After I tagged each set of bones with a color for each paleontologist, Scott hid the “bones” in a mound of sand in a small, defined area of the beach.

set up

The kids dug and sifted through the sand, looking for bones and sorting by the colored dots – pink for Milo, blue for Noah and green for Ryan.

heads together

Dino Dig

noah's hands

noah's pail

The boys loved the digging and amazingly found every last bone (at least 60 pieces each).  Putting the dinos together was a bit trickier.  N.B….use the diagram on the instructions to number the bones BEFORE you pop them out of the wood board.  Once, we labeled the bones, fitting them together according to the instructions was easy and the kids could build their dinosaurs with just a little guidance.

dino snack

The dino sets are now available half-price at The Mill Stores at 74 cents each.  No sand required – you could “bury” them in a tray of rice, couscous or cereal or just about anywhere.  I think it would be very cute to decorate them with markers or paint before (or after) putting them together, but Ryan plans to spray paint his white to make it look more like real bones.

Just Plane Cool Valentines

Remember last week’s elaborate window display?

heart windows

During our 36 hour/36 inches of snow blizzard, the kids finally were bored enough to spend 90 seconds peeling the hearts from the plastic sheets and decorating the windows.

I was not entirely looking forward to helping Ryan write out his 24 class Valentines.  I know I do lots of creative activities with my kids, but I also read blogs where adorable children hand paint adorable clay hearts for each of their classmates. Those are not my kids. Mine run out of steam after one or two (of anything) and I (ever the patient one) would end up with unpainted clay hearts and paint on the kitchen table for weeks.

Miraculously, Ryan’s kindergarten discussion must have sparked his interest in the holiday (we didn’t celebrate in preschool).  Armed with his teacher’s instructions and class list, Ryan was excited to create something fun for his friends and teachers.  After scrolling through some ideas online and in magazines, we settled on an airplane constructed out of candy.  Irresistible to my six year old.

Airplane Valentine Love Them Madly

The original inspiration used a piece of gum for the wings. Ryan fancies himself the only six year old who chews gum, so he scored Airheads candy for his friends, along with Smarties (the body of the plane), Lifesavers (the wheels) and Silly Bands (the glue).

Threading lifesavers

We wrapped the wings in paper stamped “AIR MAIL” which would have made perfect homemade class Valentine’s note. Except if you are six and your Nana already bought you a package of store-bought robot Valentines.  Then, you attach the redundant note, like this.

Emma Airplane

P.S NANA, I KNOW YOU MEANT WELL. RYAN REALLY LOVED ADDING THE ROBOT CARDS AND WE ARE SO LUCKY YOU THOUGHT ABOUT HIS CLASS VALENTINES. THAT IS MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN THEM LOOKING PERFECT.

What a fine looking fleet of planes (and it only took a few sessions and a few days of all the candy and crafts on the kitchen table)!

Airplane Heart

Airplane Valentines Construction Instructions

1. Thread a rubber band through the holes of two Livesavers, then insert a roll of Smartie between them, resting across the rubber band.

2. Add the wings (gum, airhead or mini-fruit roll up) by placing them perpendicular to the Smarties and stretch the rubber band over each side of the wings.

Ryan could handle the construction on his own, until we decided to keep the Lifesavers wrapped for his friends. Then, he “stabbed” holes in the plastic wrap for each Lifesaver, I threaded the rubber band through the holes and we constructed the rest of the plane together.

See more of our favorite Valentine ideas on my Pinterest board.

For a sweet start to your V-day, check out these mini cinnamon rolls.

Special Winter Storm Edition: Just Keep Shoveling

They weren’t wrong.

And it’s not just snowdrift.

Winter storm Nemo dumped a heck of a lot of snow on New England.  I was as giddy as a ten year old as I did responsible things like fill up on gas, batteries and groceries — and giddier still when my sister Kim and her husband Dean arrived on the last train out of Manhatten just in time to be snowed in with us.

Mid-blizzard, there was skiing in the backyard, courtesy of the dad/uncle Dean human chairlift.

skiing

chairlift

Post-blizzard, lots of road closures (okay, the whole state is still closed) and lots of shoveling.  Neighbors pitched in, digging out driveway after driveway.  Sadly, I was excused from active duty on account of my bad ankle, so my sister and I were in charge of  feeding the kids and shovelers. 

Nemo Sticks

To make your own Nemo snacks, cut an apricot in half and stick a toothpick through it (this is your Nemo tail). Then add another apricot to the toothpick as the body.  Add stripes and an eye with your choice of frosting, cream cheese, yogurt, white chocolate and chocolate chips.  We used vanilla frosting and mini-chocolate chips – a total treat as good as candy.

nemo snacks

Another fishy hit of the storm: PBJ and cream cheese & jelly sushi!  Just trim the crusts off sandwich bread, flatten with a rolling pin, add toppings, roll up and slice.

sushi set up

sushi

 

Valentines for Hermit Crabs

Maybe it’s the shorter days. Maybe it’s the winter blues.

Or in my case, maybe its the I-got-out-of-winter-but-sprained-my ankle-on-my-vacation-to-Florida-without-my-kids blues.

The boys have been happy with legos and board games and puzzles and frankly, more Sponge Bob than is good for them. We’ve made up some good stories and a few great forts, but haven’t been creating much else.

To kick off some Valentine’s Day crafts, I picked up some cute heart shaped window gels and some pipe cleaners I thought we could turn into hearts. Nearly a week has gone by and here are the boys’ window displays:

heart windows

Do you see that clear rectangle outline around the hearts? That is actually the plastic sheet the gels come loaded on. They didn’t even have the decency to peel off the gels one by one. Just peeled off one side and pressed it to the window. Noah at least moved some of his gels around so at least we have a little layering going on.

So many gorgeous Valentine images and ideas on the ‘net (you can see some of my favorites here). I’m not boycotting but I’m not pushing the Valentine’s theme in our house. The kids have some ideas for their class Valentines and I think we have a foot or two of snow heading our way to give us plenty of time to work on those.

After a fruitless effort with the Valentines’ agenda, I’m following the boys’ leads. On my mornings home with Noah (with a sprained ankle, remember, this means no running errands), this means we finish a jigsaw puzzle only to crush it up, stick it back in the box and start another. Then board games. Then read some books, which always seems to include his favorite: Eric Carle’s A House for Hermit Crab.

This amazing little story tells of a hermit crab who decorates his shell until it is just right, only to find within a year, he has outgrown his shell and needs to find a new one. Crabs really do this – apparently my science education ended in preschool, because I had no idea before reading this book. There’s lots of lovely lessons, big and small, about making a home and the sad, but exciting wonder of moving on. A friend mentioned that someone gave this book to her children when they were moving – so perfect.

Hermit Crab Excerpt

Noah loves this story and can recite most of it – the cutest of which comes on the last page when hermit crab is looking at the blank slate of his new shell and thinks of all the “possibilities.” “Sea sponges!,” Noah yells along with Hermit Crab, “Barnacles! Clownfish! Sand Dollars! Electric Eels!”

“Want to make our own house for hermit crab?” I said to Noah after the second reading. I cut a snail-like swirl into a paper plate as I had seen when I googled/pinterest-searched house for hermit crab crafts a few weeks ago.

Then we made a crab out of those meant-for-Valentines’ pipe cleaners.

The Crab

Every crab needs a parasol, right? That was Noah’s touch, along with the goggly eyes.

Noah went page by page in the book and we talked about what Hermit Crab was adding to his house and how we could add them to our paper shell. I led with a sea anemone cut out of paper and a starfish drawn on the house. When we got to coral, Noah told me that coral is hard and doesn’t move (a direct quote from the book, but I was still very impressed). We wrapped a straw with lots of yellow tape and made some branches. Page by page, we worked through snails and lantern fish and seas urchins, talking about which were soft and which were spiny and how we could make each one.

Hermit Crab's House

Noah was very focused on making this house and wants to make Hermit Crab’s new house next (will be googling barnacles shortly).

A few readers have mentioned how hard it is to find time to create with their kids, amid busy schedules and all the hectic to-dos of our lives. It was frustrating to try to fit in my forced Valentines crafting, but I tell you making a house for hermit crab was such a pleasure for both of us. It took about 15 very special minutes. Plus another five when we had to read the book through once more.

If you sometimes don’t know where to start or an activity fails to capture your kid’s interest like my window gels, just google or do a pinterest search on your child’s favorite book (or movie or TV show). I bet there’s a teacher out there who has already thought of a craft or activity for it. They’ve done the work, just file it away so you are ready to bring the story to life in your playroom the next time your child opens that book.

In the words of one smart hermit crab “Oh, there are so many possibilities! I can’t wait to get started!

Ski Ya Later

I haven’t had a family ski weekend since college.

sunapee

The wait is over.

nana and grands

How cool is my mom skiing with her grandsons?

Not only do I have a skier (Ryan), but I have a skiing joke Ryan thought up on the chairlift:

How does a skier say goodbye? Ski Ya Later.

Apres ski with the rest of the family was nearly as fun.

A mix of cousins – my kids + my sister in law’s kids + my sister’s kids – had a blast together, all marvelously hosted by my in-laws.

There was yoga.

yoga

And lots of puzzles and games and Hide-and-Seek.  The grandparents and outdoors provided the bulk of the entertainment but in the downtime, we had fun with some downloads from a smart and adorable website, Mr. Printables.  I printed this set of ABC flashcards and the 3 to 6 year olds ran around the house finding objects and people starting with each letter, then handing the cards over to the “writing” cousins for labeling.

Emily af

eagle

papa letters

I guess we should have expected this when we got to “T is for…”

tv

We also liked this 6 page “doodle on the moon” activity (can print twice as big on 12 pages too).

emily moon

The frozen lake surrounding the house felt a bit like the moon to me (except there was plenty of gravity and I have the bruises to prove it).

icy lake crop

Lots of happy campers. Me included.  As my older sister watched me play the Disney HedBanz game with our kids, she said I looked completely returned to (or did she say stuck in?) my childhood.  No matter. Not such a bad place to be.

Noah garage

For outtakes from the weekend, check LTM’s facebook page here.  And if you haven’t already, be sure to click the LIKE button.  Thanks!!

Good Old Plastic Fun

We do not have the stomach bug.

Yet.

So far we are just grossed out. Ryan’s locker mate threw up on their teacher today. The girl who sits next to him, the boy who sits across from him and the boy he’s been playing with at recess all week went home ill. Four others were already out sick.

With knowledge of the real horrors of what can happen in a kindergarten classroom, we can certainly handle stomach bug/flu season.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t all take showers after school today and fumigate Ryan’s locker items. Suddenly, our natural bath and home products did not seem so lovely and useful. So free of sulfates, petrochemicals, parabens and soap. Soap-free??? How did I get to a place where I have to scrub off airborne stomach bug particles with a houseful of soap-free products? I wanted bubbles, lots of chemicals and sulfate-loaded, bacteria busting paraben bubbles.

Chemicals and plastic are bad for us. I’m sure of it. But sometimes they are so very fantastic.

Remember Shrinky Dinks? My husband was trying to explain the shrinkable plastic craft to our kids a few weeks ago. I spotted a tutorial on a website called Curbly on how to make your own shrink-dinks using #6 plastic, typically the stuff of (non-Whole Foods) salad bars and take out. It was easy and perfectly demonstrated the totally fantastic features of plastic.

I love a project that requires no shopping and instant results – just need the right plastic, some permanent markers and scissors.

shrinky dink supplies

We started by cutting flat sections of our cleaned out plastic containers.

cutting plastic

Then we worked on some drawings. Ryan opted for tracing; Noah for one of his “designs.”

drawings sd

We set the finished drawings on aluminum foil and put them directly in the oven (no baking tray needed) at 350° on the lowest rack.

Within a minute, the plastic curled up.

hippo oven

After another minute or two, our art flattened out and sure enough, shrunk up to about a third of the original size and thickened up to the thickness of a plastic game piece. The colors changed a bit (perfect – we wanted a purple hippo).

hippo before and after

Keep an eye on your creations – cooking time should be just two or three minutes. Be sure to have tongs and pot holders handy. If you are worried about the chemical fumes (I didn’t note any, but my husband thought he did), you could use a toaster oven plugged in outdoors for ventilation.

Good plastic fun for the whole family.

zebra

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