Thursday, December 23, 2010

Last minute gifts!

I have a few last minute gift ideas I wanted to share, now that we are down to the final TWO days before Christmas!

First, we made a batch of Almond Rocha following the recipe at From An Igloo.  Oh my, it was unbelievable!  This is what we gave teachers and bus drivers. Check it out here:

Then, we made Hot Cocoa on a Stick.  You can eat it as is, or heat up a mug of milk and stir until it becomes the most lovely, wonderfully rich hot cocoa in the world!    Here is a link to the recipe:
The most wonderful part is making homemade marshmallows.  It seemed totally magical when the sugar mixture I was beating turned into marshmallow!

I think tomorrow the kids and I might make a batch of salt dough ornaments.  Christine at From an Igloo did a great post about that. Seriously, it is worth clicking on the link to see the colorful ornaments her kids made.

And my last gift idea is one for little ones who are just learning to write.  I saw a Crayola Dry Erase activity center in the stores, and I thought I could do that cheaper.  I don't have pictures yet, because I haven't got the supplies yet, but I hopefully will tomorrow!  This is my plan:  use a regular 1 inch white binder that has the sort of clear plastic covering that you can slide papers behind.  Then fill the binder with cardstock that has handwriting worksheets of various sorts printed on it.  (There are lots of free sites that can generate these.)  And then I will also add a few dry erase markers and a square of fleece (as an eraser) all stored in a pencil case.  I will have to buy this type that fits in the binder.  When they want to practice, they can slide one of the templates into the front of the binder, and it will be like a little desk on their lap.  :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Snowman ornaments

Here's a really fun little craft idea (in case you didn't already have enough to do in the last 3 days before Christmas!) -- snowman star ornaments.  I saw this idea in an old craft magazine at the library.  I will have to go back and figure out which one it was, so I can give proper credit.  These are made of fleece and painted, and they are a nice unbreakable ornament for the bottom half of your tree, if you have toddlers or pets.

First, draw a star shape to be your pattern.  It needs to be about 7" tall.  (I would definitely use the built in shapes in the drawing menu of Word for this.)  Round the tips of each point, and replace the top point with a half circle to be the head.  Add 1 cm seam allowance all around, and cut out your pattern.

Now trace your pattern on to white fleece, or whatever fabric you desire.  Remember to trace it twice -- once for the front of your snowman, and once for the back.  Cut out.

Now is the fun part -- painting!  Please believe me when I say I have NO talent whatsoever at painting or drawing.  You don't need it for this craft!  I used a set of $1.99 acrylic paints in little plastic pots -- you know the type, the ones that are all attached in a strip and come with their own paint brush.  :)  I just looked at the pictures in the magazine and free-hand painted these.  It only took 5 minutes per ornament, and it was really easy.
Let dry overnight.

Note:  You could let the kids do these and forget about any pre-conceived notions of how they would look.  Think what a cute keepsake this could be (or a gift for family)!

Now, put your painted snowman front right sides together with your plain snowman back.  Pin together.  At the top, pin in a loop of ribbon so that you will be able to hang this on the tree.  Sew all around, leaving an opening for turning.  Turn inside out, stuff with polyfil, and hand sew the opening closed.  Taaa daaa!  These would also be fun as beanbags, if you left off the ribbon loop and loosely stuffed with dried beans or rice instead.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Knitted doll

I have to confess -- I am a pretty pathetic knitter.  But even I could handle this project.  It has plenty of flaws, and I think it might be a little lopsided, so it is a good thing it is a present for an 18 month old. 
This is a super quick project and requires only the ability to do the basic knit stitch.  Honestly, it is so fast that you still have time to make one before Christmas (one week away!) if you are fairly diligent.  The free pattern is available here:
I should warn you -- adding each strand of hair individually takes quite a while (maybe 3 hours), but it is good mindless work while you watch TV, or wait at the doctor's office, or watch your kid's gymnastics class, etc.  And I think this doll will be perfect for my little one, who is too young for a nicer Waldorf doll.  I just hate those small plastic faced dolls that I can buy at the store.  I wanted something more soft and snuggly -- and something I could throw in the washing machine!  I hope she loves it.  I might have to cut off hair, as the long hair really weighs it down.  I think she might like a lighter doll.  But I will wait and see how she plays with it first.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Seasonal playdough

Noah has been asking for more playdough, so I made a few batches today.  (Here is a link to my favorite recipe. It lasts forever, if you keep it in a ziploc.)  He has been asking for purple and white, so that is what I set out to do.  However, it turns out, when I added equal amounts blue and red food coloring, I did not get purple.  I got brown.  Disappointing.  Who wants to play with brown playdough?  But then I realized it turned out just the shade of gingerbread dough.  So I kneaded in some cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, and it is wonderful holiday playdough!   Here's a picture of a gingerbread man my 5 year old made, using peppercorns to decorate:
This is so great, because it is all the holiday fun, without all the holiday calories!  (That's important to me, as I just started back to weight watchers...again.)

And I also mixed some glitter into the white playdough to make it look like snow.  We made snowmen with toothpics and more peppercorns.  It is a great activity to practice manual dexterity, as those peppercorns are really tiny and they kept rolling away!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Super Fuzzy, Fully Lined, No Slip Slippers!

I decided to make my sweet husband a pair of slippers for Christmas.  As it is a surprise, I did not have his feet available for measuring, and I am not aware of any patterns out there.  So I had to make my own pattern.  Here is a tutorial on how to make your pattern and sew your slippers.  From start to finish, it took me less than 2 hours for this project, and that includes taking all the pictures.  They are super warm and fuzzy, and can be worn with the tops up or folded down.  These instructions should work no matter what size feet we are talking about, so make them for your kids, your spouse, your mom, or whomever needs a little bit of fuzzy love!

Exterior fabric -- I used black anti-pill fleece -- you only need a small amount, but of course this is dependent upon foot size
Interior fabric -- I used white minky -- again, the amount varies depending on size
Soling material -- if you want a non-slip sole, use leather, faux leather, or Jiffy grip material (usually white with rubbery bumps on it)
               I used faux leather (thick vinyl) that I got on sale for $6/yd.  Half a yard is enough for my whole family!
Leather needles for your sewing machine

1.  Make your pattern.  Trace a shoe onto a piece of paper or onto pattern tracing material to make the pattern for your sole.  (I had to use legal size paper since my husband is so tall that he has big feet!)  Cut out your pattern.

2.  Now is the tricky part.  You have to make the pattern for the shoe upper.  Use a measuring tape on the shoe to figure out an approximate distance from the toe to the end of the upper.  You can see I used 5.5".

Now draw a horseshoe shape pattern using that measurement as indicated below.  The total distance from the top of the horseshoe to the bottom of the horseshoe should be about the same length as your sole pattern from end to end.

When you cut this pattern out, it might be smart to fold it in half lengthwise to make sure your pattern piece is symmetrical.

3.  Now we have to figure out the size fabric we need to cut for the leg part of the boot.  I did not make a pattern piece for this, as it is just a rectangle.  Here is how I figured out the dimensions for the leg fabric.  First, measure the length of the inner curve of the shoe upper pattern piece.  My pattern piece is still folded in half here, and you can see that the length was 8".  Now, I multiply that by 2 as it is folded in half.  So that gives me 16".  Then, just decide how tall you want the slippers to be.  I wanted mine pretty tall, so I decided on 8".  I added a 0.25" seam allowance all around, giving me a final dimension of 8.5" tall by 16.5" wide.

4.  Time to cut your fabric.  Here's a picture of my fabrics. On the left picture you can see minky on the top, then two different fleeces.  I am using black fleece for my husband, but I will use brown fleece for my kids.  On the right, you can see a picture of the faux leather.  It has a funny fiber backing to it, and it is pretty thick.

5.  Cut two of your soles, leaving 0.25" seam allowance all around.  Remember to flip over your pattern when you cut the second sole.

6.  From your exterior fabric, cut two leg pices and two uppers.  Make sure the stretch of the fabric goes widthwise on each piece.

6.  From your interior (lining) fabric, but two leg pieces, two uppers, and two sole pieces.  Make sure the stretch of the fabric goes widthwise on each piece.

7.  From this point on, I will give instructions on how to sew one boot, and I will just assume you will repeat with the second boot.
Pin the inside, shorter curve of your lining upper to your lining leg piece right side together and sew.
For sewing fleece, I use a narrow zigzag (number 3 on my machine below).

8.  Now rearrange it right sides together so that it looks like a boot.  Pin the seam at the back of the leg.  Sew, leaving an opening for turning.  In my picture below, I sewed from each end, and stopped at the red pins, leaving the area between the red pins open.  Make sure to backstitch at the start and end.

9.  Now attach the lining sole piece.  Use lots of pins to make this all line up, right sides together, and sew all around.

10.  If you turn it right side out, it should look like this.

11.  Change your thread color to match your exterior fabric.  Repeat steps 7 and 8, but do NOT leave an opening at the back seam.  At this point, the sole is NOT attached to the exterior (black) fabric.

12.  Now, put the white slipper (right side out) inside the black slipper (inside out) so that right sides are together.

13.  Sew all the way around the top, joining the two slippers together.  The pull them apart like this:

14.  Almost done!  It's time to attach the faux leather sole to the bottom of the black slipper.  Pin it in place, right sides together.
Sew all around, remembering to backstitch at the end.

15.  Carefully trim your seam allowance, without cutting your stitching.  This faux leather is very bulky, so this is an important step.

16.  Now turn it all right side out.

Here's what it should look like.

This is what the sole should look like.  See all my fuzz?  Minky is soft, but it sure is messy!

17.  Now either handstitch closed the opening in the lining, or if you are lazy like me, use the sewing machine to sew it closed.
18.  Push the white slipper inside the black slipper. You are done! 

Here is the slipper, next to the show that I traced to make the pattern.  I think it will fit my honey.

See those non-slip soles?  :)
If you like this tutorial, please make comments and link to pictures of the ones you make!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"How do you get anything DONE?"

Apparently, in this day and age, having four children who are all little at the same time is virtually unheard of.  When in conversation, someone says, "Do you have children?" and I say, "Yes, I have four!", the jaw drops, and eyes open wide.  I guess it is shocking to have four kids.  To me, it just seems normal...and maybe a little chaotic.  Well, maybe very chaotic.  But still normal, I swear!

People are always asking me how it is possible that we ever get anything done in our house.  To be fair, we have pretty low standards.  :)  No, really, our house runs very well usually, and we are a pretty happy little family.  We even manage to homeschool our first grader and our pre-schooler.  That's what this blog post is really about.  I wanted to share our system for keeping the baby and the pre-schooler busy and active and learning and playing, while still out of Hannah's way so she can work on her math and reading.

So here is our secret: we set up a toy rotation.  Our house is pretty tiny, but we made room on a storage shelf out in the entryway to store 10 or 12 different toys.  We picked toys that both a 1 year old and a 3 year old could play with, at the same time, without needing help from a parent.  We didn't buy anything, just collected toys from around the house.  Now, each day during school time, my husband (the homeschooling parent) takes out a toy for the younger ones to play with.  This is the only time they get to play with the toy, and then they won't see it again for at least a couple of weeks, so it really grabs their attention.  Sometimes they will sit on the floor and play together for a hour and a half!  That's amazing!  Here are some of the toys that are in our toy rotation stash: Aquadoodle, dolls with playpen and stroller, Mega-blocks (like big legos), a plastic bin filled with several pounds of elbow noodles and some digging tools, and a parking garage with cars.  Here's a picture of how we cram it all in.

An added bonus to this system is that now all these toys are not cluttering up the kids' bedrooms!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Great Sock Unification

Isn't it funny how the little things can have such an effect on our lives?  I know this might seem trivial to some, but last winter SOCKS controlled my life.  Seriously.  Socks.  I know you are thinking, "That's impossible.  They are little bits of yarn.  They can't control anyone."  But you are forgetting that they are not just little bits of woven yarn -- they are tiny bits of yarn -- and each week we have hundreds of dirty socks.  Last winter, each week I would have an entire laundry basket full of clean socks, and it would take me more than an hour to sort them!  The really frustrating part, of course, was having upwards of 10 socks each week without mates!  The basket of unmatched, unrolled, unfolded socks would wait for days at a time for my attention, hanging over me like a dreaded task from which there was so escape.  Now, this is the point in my story when my sister or mother usually says, "Well, that's what you get for having so many kids!"  True, true... but the kids are generally a source of joy to me, and I will not let socks steal that away from me!

So I started this fall season with a dramatic attempt to take back that hour of my life!  We call it the Great Sock Unification.  Now this is the part I feel guilty about:  I threw out many, many perfectly good pairs of socks.  And then I went out and bought 40 pairs of identical white socks from BJs.  I know, I know -- this is the worst example of American consumerism, a travesty of our "disposable" society.  And I thought it would bother me (and maybe it still does, since I am writing about it here, as if you all care about socks), but all I think of when I see the socks in the laundry basket is my new-found freedom from sorting socks.  And it makes me happy.  :)
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