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.


Giving and Giving Again: One for One Shopping

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I’m hoping to keep the spirit of giving thanks alive as we enter the true giving season.  I was grateful for the opportunity to share this giving opportunity on NBC Connecticut on Sunday.  I will share the TV clip as soon as I get it!  Until then, please enter the giveaway below for a few extra gifts this season.

“Buy One, Give One”  or “One for One” shopping is making a major impact this holiday season.  For every item purchased by a consumer, participating companies are committed to making a donation of a similar item or the cash equivalent to those in need.   Far beyond TOM’s Shoes and FEED bags are a myriad of carefully designed products, inspired by their creator’s desire to better the world.  It may seem like a corporate gimmick, but when you read the companies’ mission statements and their founders’ bios, choosing to make these purchases is a simple, easy way to give during the holiday season and all year round.

“Buy once, give twice.”  Baby Teresa Clothing

“Show the World You Give A Shirt.” You and Who

“We are a part of a movement to help consumers turn their everyday purchases into acts of generosity towards people around the world.” Smile for the People

“When you make a (one to one) purchase, you give some kindness to someone you know, and someone you’ll never meet.” WINK Bags

“Our mission is to empower change by spreading the most fundamental need for happiness and prosperity — health.” Kutoa Bars


Wink Bag 5

Inspired by one mother’s stay at the Ronald McDonald House, WINK (When In Need of Kindness) sells stylish toiletry bags with luxury products from Soap & Paper Company inside. When you buy a WINK bag, one bag (filled with important travel-size basic toiletries) is donated to Ronald McDonald House Family Rooms across the U.S. so family members staying with their critically ill children don’t have to worry about these necessities.  Each adorable chevron-printed WINK bag contains a custom all natural WINK lip balm, a 4 oz. shea butter soap and corresponding solid perfume. $36 each.


Kutoa 1

In Swahili the word ku-toa means “to give.”  For every KUTOA health bar purchased, KUTOA donates, through a partnernship with the World Food Program, a nutrition pack to a child suffering from malnutrition, providing them with the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients.  The KUTOA bars are made with all natural ingredients including organic oats, fresh fruit and nuts.  My husband snacks on bars daily and he gave these two thumbs up.  The bars come in four flavors: cherry cashew, peanut butter and jelly, chocolate banana and blueberry almond.  $25.99 per dozen

FOR THE NEATNIK: Smiles for the People (

Smiles for the People 1

Smiles for the People’s Original Adult Brush is a premium toothbrush made from 100% biodegradable bamboo. The brush has an ergonomically curved design that makes it comfortable and beautiful. For every toothbrush you buy, Smiles for the People gives the cash equivalent of ONE toothbrush to one of their partner dental charities.  These donations enable Smiles for People’s giving partners to design locally appropriate interventions for their communities’ unique local needs. $5 each.


Baby Teresa 1

Baby Teresa was founded by two women who wanted to do something that would allow them to give back.  Rather than simply profit from their organic baby clothes and accessories, they decided to set their company up under a one for one giving model.  For each baby outfit they sell, another one is donated to a child in need somewhere in the world through one of Baby Teresa’s many charity partners (  All of the socially responsible clothing from Baby Teresa is made from fabulously soft cotton that is 100% organic.


You and Who 1

You and Who markets original design t-shirts and for every one sold, a matching shirt is donated to someone in need in the city of the artist who designed the shirt through local charity partners. Through this model, You and Who is not only helping those in need, but also the very artists who design the one for one t-shirts, providing exposure for their work and paying them $1 from the sale of each of their one for one t-shirt designs that is sold.

Find more buy one, give one products:

Thanks for checking out all these great products and wonderful companies.   To get the giving going, I will be giving away a One for One Holiday Package, including one WINK cosmetic bag, six Kutoa Bars and two Smile for the People toothbrushes (a $60 value).

Love Them Madly One for One Giveaway

How To Enter:

1. Comment on this post by sharing below your favorite way to GIVE during the holiday season.

2.  Next, do one of the following: subscribe to Love Them Madly (fill in your email, top right corner of this page) or LIKE LOVE THEM MADLY on Facebook.

3. The contest will close at midnight on December 10th. All entries will be entered onto on December 11th and a winner will be randomly selected.  THE WINNER IS AMY DEUTSCH!
WINK, Kutoa and Smiles for the People provided me with free samples of their products to review.  I was under no obligation to review them, nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review or sponsor a product giveaway in return for the products I received.

Anything Girls Can Do…

The boys’ camps finished on Friday so my counselor gig has officially begun. We’ve been getting through our Summer Bucket List  and finding fun everywhere.  I supplemented a little and dropped both kids off at Art Class with Tara (that’s the “A” on our list) yesterday.

“What are you going to do when we’re at art?” Noah asked.

“I’m going to get a pedicure so my toes will look nice for my friend’s wedding next weekend,” I answered, having gone through half the summer with lots of tennis blisters and not-so-pretty toes.

Ryan spoke up, “I thought we were going to go with you.”

You don’t need any more details of how this conversation went.  You already know I love them madly.  And that I’m a total sucker.  That is how I ended up in a nail salon on a hot July afternoon with two little boys.  The salon was not busy and kindly agreed to give the boys mini-mini-mini pedicures (a soak, lotion and polish) at a reduced fee.  I’ll let my iPhone tell the rest of the story.







noah drying

Both were so well-behaved and smiley, thank-you’s appropriately flowing, so patient and still while the polish dried, that I starting thinking we all should get pedicures a lot more often.

Then, about an hour later, as I helped the boys into the car, I noticed a lot of little green paint chips on Noah’s stroller.  Sure enough, he scratched nearly all of “Shake your Moneymaker” off his little toes.

Maybe one pedicure is enough.

I Loved My Birthday Madly

A few weeks ago, I bid on and won a yoga and picnic package at a charity auction for our local children’s museum.  On Friday, I hosted a dozen friends for yoga in my backyard and a lovely lunch (catered by someone other than me) while the kids were at school.  It was my 36th birthday — and one of my happiest mornings.

At 10:30 a.m., the yoga instructor arrived, as gentle and soothing as her expertise implies.  We picked a flat shaded spot of my yard for class, then chatted about kids and friends and birthdays.

By 11 a.m., my kitchen was filled with the hugs and smiling faces of some wonderful friends, along with lots of lovely birthday cards, plants, flowers and some unauthorized gifts (no presents means NO presents, people).  Strong sun (on a ninety degree day) had enveloped the recently shaded area of my yard, but my guests willingly set their mats out anyway.

I’ve been in my yard hundreds of times and most of these friends have spent considerable time there as well.  Never have we paused to listen to the rustling of the leaves and make out the sounds of our kids at recess just down the hill.  We definitely never lay in the wood chips beside the playscape, focusing on our breath.

yoga reverse prayer

See that teeny-weeny bit of shade over there??

Yoga forward

I felt so fortunate to be surrounded by such flexible friends. I also felt that I should do yoga a little more often.

yoga - me

Me: Letting it all hang out. Thanks RA for taking the photos!

My preparations for this party included making some energy bites and mini yogurt parfaits, brushing the pollen off my deck furniture and getting dressed in exercise clothes. Oh, and I also bought two six-packs of fancy bottled water at Marshall’s.  Thankfully, the donor of the yoga/picnic package went to some extraordinary effort.  While we were enjoying our backyard yoga, she slipped into my kitchen and set up a small feast, complete with a personalized menu.

bday lunch

I promise to pay this forward someday, and make a lovely lunch just appear just like magic.

Never much of a barfly, I was grateful when the twenty-something days of meet-me-at-the-bar birthday celebrations gave way to going out for thirty-something birthday dinners with the girls.  Now, I’m simply over the moon to be back on the party circuit.  Last month, I attended a friend’s 40th, where local caterers taught a cooking class as they prepared a four course meal for us.  AWESOME!  Next week, I have another 40th birthday party to attend; this time, at a local farm and vineyard.  HURRAH!

My kids have all sorts of parties to go to: bounce houses, video game trucks, science museums, nature centers, art studios, karate dojos, you name it.

I think it is our turn, ladies. Manicures, movies, photography lessons, paddle-boarding, ropes course, cheese-making. Whatever Groupon offers, let’s just book it and call it a birthday party.

“Oh, there are so many possibilities. I can’t wait to get started!!”

– Eric Carle,  A House for Hermit Crab

Surprise. They Don’t Like Surprises.

The latest wonder of my world: is it really possible that some people, in particular two people born of my very DNA, don’t like to be surprised?

In college, I almost show up a day earlier than my parents expected.  SURPRISE!  I’m home on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, not Wednesday. Surprise!! I’m home on December 20th, not December 21st.  It’s hard to imagine they didn’t catch on, but then again, we all like surprises. You know how some people are susceptible to hypnosis? Well, we Hamills are susceptible to surprises.

When I was newly engaged, my mom asked me what kind of bridal shower I had in mind (at home, at a restaurant, etc.).  “A surprise one,” I answered right away.  I completely requested a surprise party, and that’s just what I got when I showed up a few months later at my parent’s home for what I thought was a day of dress shopping and shower invitation assembly.  I was a little annoyed, but oddly not suspicious that I’d left my apartment on Boston’s Newbury Street to go dress shopping in the ‘burbs, not to mention I was responsible for stuffing my own shower invitations.  I loved that surprise party as much as the one my mom hosted for my 14th birthday, as much as the one my college friends threw for me the day I took the LSATs, as much as the few I have planned for friends and family.

Well, the verdict is in: susceptible or not, my kids don’t enjoy surprises nearly as much I do.

I pulled a trifecta on them last week: after five days at Gigi Pearl’s house, they each found a box like this waiting for them one morning.

lego box

legoland plans

The Lego travel boxes were a hit (check out the DIY here), and so was the destination, but they didn’t LOVE being surprised.  I expected shrieks and jumping up and down; instead, I got quiet, confused smiles.

After driving to our hotel in Orlando, we “bumped” into both boys’ best friends from home at the pool.  Surprise!  There was no crying or bad behavior but not quite the happy delirium that I expected.  Within minutes, they were relaxed and happy to be together but they clearly were not so thrilled about being surprised.  Ditto, the next day, when we surprised them after a day at Legoland with dinner at Disney World with their cousins, aunt and uncle.  Ryan looked embarrassed and uncomfortable — not at all what I intended.


I was aiming for happy, but how did the surprises make them feel? Dopey? Bashful? Grumpy?

I’ve thought a lot about why the surprises fell flat.  I think this is it: kids spend a lot of time getting ready – ready for school, ready for karate, ready for bed.  If ready is so important, it must feel awfully weird to be surprised, standing there so un-ready to see your best friend or best cousins.

My oldest is becoming very independent and like the rest of us, he likes to be right and in charge. I think the surprise might have been happier if I had given Ryan even five minutes notice of what was about to happen. Or maybe five days.  Or five months. Perhaps, for some, anticipating good things is as lovely as being surprised.

I, for one, am still daydreaming of the morning when my husband wakes me up, relieves me of my day’s duties and sends me shopping to the outlets with my friends or sisters.

Lousy surprise predictions aside, the trip did not otherwise disappoint.  I was so glad we added a weekend in Orlando to our great visit with Gigi.  Our mini-parks vacation – day at Legoland and a day at the Magic Kingdom with best friends and cousins – was just right.

A Look at Legoland:

once upon

…Our family went to Legoland. The park was clean and manageable, the crowds were small and the kids could go on nearly every ride.  The waffle sticks with whipped cream, chocolate and sprinkles weren’t bad either.



We loved the Lego shows and hand-on activities, like this WeDo Construction workshop Ryan and I attended, where we built an alligator, then programmed it to open and close his mouth to chomp on food.

legoland car

Everything is made out of Legos. Everything. That little hot dog vendor. The boy walking his dog. Everything.


All Legoland staff have a few Lego Mini-Figures on their name tags and are happy to trade them with guests. This guy is the hottest thing in the park with “TRADE ME” and “TAKE A LOOK” tags all over his minifigure-clad shirt – front and back. If you go, bring lots of mini figures (even mismatched) from home for a fun (free-ish) souvenir.

Day at Disney World (slightly soggy)


The cousins would have been happy just riding the monorail all day together.


wet MK

mn street


Don’t forget to check out our LEGO TRAVEL BOXES  – easy to create for your next road trip.

Gigi’s Treasures

There’s been far too much carnage far too close to home.  Amid the horrors of this week – in Boston (and yesterday in Texas), its been a comforting distraction to be with my grandmother in Florida.  For sure, Gigi has seen her share of national and world tragedies since she left Poland in 1936 at age 12.

I’ve no idea how to make it to nearly 90 years old amid all the danger.  How do we keep our families safe?

I make lots of good choices for my families’  health and safety, many I share with you here — exactly NONE of which would have protected us from these tragedies. We traveled to Florida with scooters and helmets, sunscreen, vitamins and thermometers.  I cut Gigi off from pouring Crystal Light lemonade for my kids.  I made a face when I came back from the restaurant bathroom with one son to find Gigi feeding the other the contents of a jelly packet with a spoon (as if that was any worse than the chocolate chip pancakes I ordered them for lunch).

With all the dangers in our world, it seems the best we can do is live each day with spirit, love and enjoy each other fully, make some healthy choices and plan on a good tomorrow.



Oh, and if you can manage to be so stylish and spirited at 89 that your 35 year old granddaughter (me) AND your 17 year old great-granddaughter (my cousin from Arizona) are happy to help you “clean” out your closets, that’s pretty good too.  I picked up more cute new tops in Gigi’s closet that I’ve bought all year — and this striped dress too.


Thank you Grandma for showing me we’re never too old to shop in the Juniors’ department.  And for playing doctor, New Year’s Eve party and picnic with my boys this week.  We all love you so very much.

Truth. Fib. Lie. Dealing with Kids and Lying

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Ryan started telling tall tales somewhere around age four.  They were so harmless I can hardly remember them.  Like most kids, he had lots of creative explanations about things he did or saw.
I remember a few whoppers from my childhood; mostly ones I told after being caught doing something wrong.  Once, on vacation in Florida when I was probably eight or nine, I hid out in one of the pool dressing rooms, reading a book and chewing on Twizzlers and chocolate bars I had sneakily purchased from the sundry shop.  When my mom poked her head in my dressing room, I took off running.  When she found me in a stairwell a few minutes later, I made up this story: I thought she was a kidnapper walking in the dressing room, I got scared and I ran away.  There was some truth in it: I was scared (of being caught in my hideaway with my contraband) and I ran away.  The rest no one bought — I’m quite sure moments like this one are what have made me a fairly honest adult who eats licorice and chocolate out in the open.
Luckily, around the same time Ryan started lying, I came across Sandra Levins’ book, Eli’s Lie-O-Meter: A Story About Telling The Truth at the library.
The book is funny and a story (rather than a preachy kind of lesson) about a little boy who tells some pretty fantastic lies.  Eli’s pretend play and imagination is celebrated throughout the story, but when he goes too far, his mom rolls in a Lie-O-Meter machine that spits out tickets when Eli doesn’t tell the truth, in six levels of severity: truth, fib, lie, big lie, giant lie and whopper.
We read it. I remember thinking then how much easier it was to talk to Ryan about Eli’s fibbing than addressing his own.   I hardly wanted to stop Ryan from imagining, but I wanted to be sure he knew fact from fiction and that when I asked for the truth, I’d be sure to get it.
A few days later, I told Ryan that moms are natural lie-o-meters. And I made colored tickets for TRUE (green), LIE (red)  and FIB (yellow). I laminated them. And for a few weeks, when he started telling stories, I’d run and get one and hand it to him.  I didn’t say much. He would laugh and grin, knowing that I knew he was making something up.
When I was being sarcastic and said something pretty awful (possibly a cooked green vegetable) was really great, he even ran up and gave me a LIE ticket.  Clearly, he got the lesson.
The tickets still float around the house, along with the occasional tall tale.  Some we let go, giving a little creative wiggle room, others we investigate and deal with.  I’m guessing there are plenty of dressing room crises ahead in my parenting days, and I’m glad to have some vocabulary and experience to guide me.
You can print and download my FIBLieTruth tags here.

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!

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!

The Peacemaker

It was a weekend of working my way through our kitchen, toy room and dining room.

I’ve got plenty of clutter to tackle this fresh new year.

And so do my kids.

Exhibit A: Ryan’s junk drawer in our kitchen.

Ryan's junk drawer

It looks like one of those I Spy pages.

Can you find mardi gras beads and ten deli ticket numbers?

A chapstick, a toothbrush and two fishing bobbers?

After watching me tackle two messy corners of our kitchen, Ryan was pumped and ready to organize his problem area.

action junk

I armed him with a few tools: a garbage can, a box to re-route things that belong elsewhere (play dough to the toy room, toothbrush to the bathroom drawer) and most crucial of all: our peacemaker, a long hanging jewelry organizer. Ours are bright and decorative; if Marshall’s wasn’t around the corner, I might have ordered the white ones from The Container Store.

Each of my boys have one in their closets, and they are free to fill it to the brim with loot bag trinkets, little toys and figures.

This is Ryan’s treasure keeper, post-junk drawer clean out.

jewelry organizer

Often the entire contents will be on the floor after a friend visits, which I know means Ryan has explained every shark tooth, gymnastics medal, duct tape creation and most importantly, his Avengers Superhero membership card (which is a really rare item belonging to only lucky children who happened to have been at the Disney store for Avengers training class). Its an easy clean up though, and one Ryan really doesn’t mind.

I call it the peacemaker, because it lets the kids keep all that, well, junk they collect, and have some control over it. Being a kid is hard sometimes: you have no money to buy the things you covet, your parents more or less dress you (by buying your clothes), tell you what to eat, limit wonderful things like candy and television and video games. Its challenging but respectful to allow them to be in charge of the plastic bits they pick up from birthday parties and fairs. They may look meaningless, but Ryan associates each with a sweet little memory.

For sure, I don’t need to weigh in on something that takes up this much room in the closet.


At some point, the treasure keepers will fill up and the kids will have to make hard choices. Until then, I say let them enjoy every charity rubber bracelet, bubble wand necklace and fake piece of money that comes their way. Even one particular clutter-free friend, who typically tosses her kids’ junk before it even gets in her house, found this idea so irresistible, that she included a treasure keeper in her kids’ Christmas stockings this year.

Ryan shooed me away from his junk drawer clean-up a few times, wanting to be the sole decision maker on what stays and goes. He did throw a few broken toys away and even donated some trinkets to his brother, who worked beside him, continually asking for “a few more things” to fill his keeper.

noahs organizer

I was pretty impressed with my three year old’s organization.

Little figures went together. Bracelets, nearby, but separate from a ring and some necklaces.

noah's guys

A few coins in this pocket. And some personalized “Noah” things together, way at that bottom.

noah's organizing method

Ryan is terribly proud of his cleaned-up drawer. I am terribly proud that I taught my six year old the very essential skill of cleaning out a junk drawer. By the way, that is not a real finger in the velvet lined box. That clever piece of plastic actually is a bubble wand from his best buddy’s Halloween party.

Junk drawer after

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