Category Archives: Crafts

Starting from Scratch

What you see in this picture is not edible.  Well, actually it is, but it isn’t meant to be.  Let me start again…

About a year ago I started removing artificial chemicals from my home and body as I could.  I had finally had enough.  I’m tired of hearing again and again about how a trusted company or product is now found to be not only be unhealthy to use, but in fact might be down right harmful.  Enough.  I’m not going off grid (not exactly sure what that means) or embracing my inner Puritan (I don’t have one), but little by little, where I can, I’m getting rid of the stuff that I can’t pronounce and have no idea what it is or why it’s going on my body.

Frankly this goal was also driven by my budget.  As a Sessional Instructor (aka Adjunct Professor) my employment is not guaranteed, and we need to be careful with spending.  I was having a harder and harder time justifying the crazy cost of multiple moisturizers to be used at different times of day or on different parts of the face all promising different paths to eternal youth.  Fighting free radicals, etc..  The list of things that these facial creams are supposed to do make them sound like members of the Avengers.  If that was true, Little Man would be impressed.  I, however, was not.

So I decided to start someplace simple, my face cream.  The first time I tried this, I simply melted some coconut oil and added a few drops of essential oils.  That was fine, but didn’t have the same pampering feel that my nice, expensive and unpronounceable face cream from the store had.  Then I tried it again with a bit of shea butter added in, and after some internet research found that this concoction could be whipped with a hand blender.  Oh yes, DIY whipped face cream from ingredients that I for the most part I already had in the house.  Sold!

One note about this face/body cream… a little goes a long way.  I use this twice a day on my face, as well as all over my body.  For the face especially you only need a tiny amount.  If you use too much, depending on your skin type, your skin will feel slick.  I like to use it in the morning right after cleaning my face, and I wait a fair bit of time (oftentimes until after I’ve eaten breakfast) before applying my make up.  Another friend of mine found that in the morning her face stayed too slick, so instead uses this as a night cream for her face and as an overall body moisturizer.  It is especially great for dry feet and elbows.

The whipped face cream is incredibly easy to make.  Here is what I do:

Whipped Face/Body Cream
Ingredients
:
½ cup coconut oil (preferably organic)
½ cup shea butter
5-15 drops of essential oils (lavender, cedar wood, and frankincense are my favorites)
1 cup-sized container with tight fitting lid

Directions:

  1. Put the coconut oil and shea butter into a metal bowl, and then set this bowl into a second bowl filled with hot water. Otherwise you can use a standard double-boiler, or use a microwave safe bowl and melt the oil and butter using short, 30 second bursts.
  2. When the oil and butter are almost melted, stir them together until everything is clear. Remove the metal bowl from the hot water and set it aside to cool.  Do not add essential oils to anything hot since that will destroy many of their healthful properties.
  3. Once the oil/butter mixture is cooled (but not set) add your essential oils. I like to do a blend of about 5 drops each of my favorite oils for skin.  My current favorites are Lavender, Frankincense, and Cedar Wood.

    IMG_8865

    For this batch in the picture I used Lavender, Frankincense, and a Young Living blend called Progessence.  I often use Cedar Wood instead for my third oil.  I use Young Living oils for their purity and high standards of production and sustainability.  If you are interested in where to purchase Young Living Oils, you can send me a comment through this post.

  4. Depending on the temperature of your room (and the amount of time you have), place the metal bowl into the refrigerator (or freezer for a quicker set) until the oils just start to harden or set.
  5. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator and use an electric hand blender to whip up the oils until light and fluffy. If your oils are still too warm, put them back in the refrigerator or freezer for a couple of minutes then whip them again.  Watch it like a hawk or it can set up too quickly.  If the oils have solidified before you whipped them, try your blender anyway.  You might need to use a spoon to scrape the mixture into smaller bits and then blend away.
  6. Put the finished face/body cream into your container of choice with a tight fitting lid. I keep my face lotion on my bedside table, so I use a small, wide-mouthed mason jar.  For face/body cream that I would travel with or take to the gym, etc., then try a food-safe plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.

* You can double this recipe to make two jars of face/body cream and then save one in the refrigerator.

 

Young Living Essential Oils Distributor: 3025584
Check out Young Living essential oils at youngliving.com

What I like to do now is to make two jars of the cream at a time.  One I use immediately, and the other I keep as a replacement.  That way I didn’t have to rush to make more when one was getting low.  Also, if you are doing this in the summer or live in a perpetually hot area, you might want to store your face cream (at least the replacement one) in the refrigerator.  While our summer here on the island has been a mild one, normally by mid July all of the coconut oil in my house has liquefied in the heat.  I still used my coconut oil face cream when that happened, but I prefer the fluffy, whipped cream.  And frankly, in that type of summer heat to have the face cream cool when I put it on… sounds perfect!

Click here for a printable version of the Whipped Face Cream.

 

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Making a Knotted Fleece Blanket

For a long time I resisted the urge to be crafty.  I liked the art things I did, like throwing pottery and making mosaics, but I didn’t “do crafts.”  I’m not sure what my issue was with being crafty, maybe I was too mired in graduate school to be allow myself the freedom to do fun creative things.  They had to be serious art, not fun.  Bleh!  Whatever the reason, soon after moving to Iowa and after Little Man’s birth I was invited to join a Mom’s Club and I started to notice that a number of the moms in our group were not only crafty, but made some truly beautiful things.  One was crafting a fantastic quiet book for her daughter with hand sewn pages of button flowers, and tie up shoes, etc.  Another was getting into felting and made phenomenal dolls and toys.  Most importantly, as beautiful as these pieces were, what made them the most special and unique was that the crafts were made for a specific person (or child) by someone who loved them.  I started to rethink my bias against craftiness.

I already knew that I loved throwing pottery and making mosaics, but neither one was really useful for Little Man the infant.  While I did throw some special bowls and plates for him, the fact that I made these specifically for him will be lost on Little Man for awhile yet.  I wanted to make something for him that he could have and use now.  I wanted it to be crafty, but functional at the same time.  I decided that I wanted to make him a knotted fleece blanket.

Of course I had no idea about how to go about doing such a thing, other than the fact that I’d need some fleece and scissors, but a little Pintrest research solved that issue.  I wrote down the things I would need, went to my local warehouse store, bought my supplies, and then proceeded to do nothing for weeks.  I watched the calendar move forward towards Christmas and dust gather on my plastic bags of goodies, but couldn’t bring myself to actually do anything with them.  One evening while I sat there and contemplated my bags of unfulfilled craftiness, I finally put words to my dragging feet.  I didn’t want to do the craft alone, but with friends.  Not because I needed any help, this craft is superbly simple, but I just wanted to share in the camaraderie of being crafty.  So I invited the members of the Mom’s Club over to my house with the caveat that each woman bring a craft that she wanted to work on.  I would provide snacks and a cocktail, and we’d see how much we got done.

In the end, I don’t think I accomplished much beyond laying out my fleece and getting it pinned together.  Not a single cut was made or knot tied that evening, but I had a wonderful time.  And after that, the knotted fleece blanket became something that I worked on in the evenings when Little Man was sleeping but we hadn’t yet gone to bed.  It didn’t take long to finish once I’d actually started it, and for Christmas Little Man got a soft, snuggly, fleece blanket that is still on his bed today. Looking back, that first Crafty Night was one of the moments that made Iowa feel like home, though it was far from family and anything but familiar.  In fact, it was the friends that I made through the Crafty Nights who I knew I would miss the most when we moved.

Little Man and his first knotted fleece blanket in Pooh Bear print with a cloud background.

Little Man and his first knotted fleece blanket in Pooh Bear print with a cloud background.

Then last Fall we needed a blanket to send with Little Man for his day care while I was teaching at the University of Victoria.  This was a big step for us all, since before in Iowa his day care had been in a lovely woman’s home with his best buddy and just a couple other children.  Here in Nanaimo day care would be much larger, and I really wanted to send him with something that felt like a big hug.  So off to the local fabric store I went, Little Man in tow to pick out his fleece.  Then the week before he was to start day care I pulled out the materials and went online to refresh my memory of how to put the whole thing together, only to find that the original post was gone.  Luckily it didn’t take me long to remember the few tricks involved, and I quickly had it all laid out, cut and knotted well in advance of the blanket being needed.

The night before Little Man was to start day care we read the Kissing Hand story about a racoon who is getting ready to go to school for the first time.  In the story the little racoon’s mom kisses his hand and tells him that the love of that kiss will stay with him all day long at school, and any time he needs to feel the warmth of that kiss he just has to lay his hand to his cheek.  Then we pulled out his new knotted fleece blanket and talked about how Mommy and Daddy’s hugs stayed with the blanket and that whenever he got to use the blanket at day care our hugs and love were with him.  Sappy, yes, but such is the life of parents of wee little ones.  Embrace it and move on.  😉

If you would like to make your own knotted fleece blanket, here are the instructions:
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Knotted Fleece Blanket Craft
This was my introduction into the world of being crafty. It’s a great place to start for someone who would like to make something for a loved one, but may not yet be ready to tackle something that involves machinery or needles. The soft fleece is machine washable and snuggly as a hug.

Supplies and Equipment:
2 pieces (1 – 1 ½ yards) of fleece. One patterned and one solid.
Scissors
Yard (or meter) stick
Lots of large safety pins

Directions:

  1. Machine wash and dry both pieces of fleece.
  2. Lay one piece of fleece face (or presentation side) down on a large, flat surface, such as a kitchen table. If the fabric has any sort of pattern or picture, the “pretty” side should be down and the dull side facing up.

    The first piece of fleece should be laid face down on the table, so the presentation side will be facing out when the blanket is done.

    The first piece of fleece should be laid face down on the table, so the presentation side will be facing out when the blanket is done.

  3. Lay the second piece of fleece face up on top of the first piece. Make sure that all edges line up. If one is larger than the other, trim the larger piece to fit the smaller. You may find that the person who cut your fleece at the store did not use a very steady hand with the scissors. This is your chance to clean up those edges, but don’t drive yourself crazy about it. Once cut and knotted most such inaccuracies will be invisible.

    The second piece of fleece should be laid face up so that the "pretty" side is visible.  I like using one patterned piece of fleece and one solid color.

    The second piece of fleece should be laid face up so that the “pretty” side is visible. I like using one patterned piece of fleece and one solid color.

  4. Using the safety pins, pin the two pieces of fabric together about 4 ½-5 inches in from the border. This will keep the two pieces of fabric together as you move it around to cut and knot the fringe.

    This craft uses a lot of large safety pins.  The more the merrier.

    This craft uses a lot of large safety pins. The more the merrier.

  5. Cut an approximate 4 inch square out of each of the four corners of your blanket. This is an important step so that your pieces fit together nicely.

    Could my cuts have been smoother?  Yes.  Do I care?  No.  Once knotted the messy edges disappear.  Remember that the goal is to have fun and to create something meaningful.  So relax, and give yourself the freedom to have some craft fun without the pressure of trying to be perfect.

    Could my cuts have been smoother? Yes. Do I care? No. Once knotted the messy edges disappear. Remember that the goal is to have fun and to create something meaningful. So relax, and give yourself the freedom to have some craft fun without the pressure of trying to be perfect.

  6. Lay your yard (or meter) measuring stick down along one straight side of the fleece about 4 ½ inches deep from the border. Use this as your guide as you cut the fringe incisions along the four sides of your fleece. Make 4 inch deep incisions through both layers of fleece at 1 inch intervals down the length of your fleece to create the fringe. Don’t panic if your incisions are not exactly at 1 inch intervals, just do your best. If you go too much thicker than that, then the knots can be a bit messy. If you do much thinner than that, and the knots look too small. Repeat this for all four sides of the blanket.

    Use a yard stick to space your fringe incisions along the four edges of your blanket.

    Use a yard stick to space your fringe incisions along the four edges of your blanket.

  7. Starting at one corner edge, loop both pieces of one section of fringe around your finger and tie a single knot as high up on the incision as possible. You should see the color of your bottom fabric at the base of the knot. Tie the knot tightly so that it does not unravel later. Some people pull the two layers of fleece apart and tie them in a knot that way, but I think the looping method of both pieces together looks nicer. Continue this until all fringe pieces are knotted.
    Loop both pieces of one fringe section around your finger.

    Loop both pieces of one fringe section around your finger.

    Knot the section as high up on the incision as possible.

    Knot the section as high up on the incision as possible.

    Pull the knot tight so that it doesn't loosen or come apart later, even in the wash.

    Pull the knot tight so that it doesn’t loosen or come apart later, even in the wash.

    Keep going around the blanket until all fringe sections are knotted.  This is a great activity for the evenings when you just want to relax a bit and not think too hard about anything.

    Keep going around the blanket until all fringe sections are knotted. This is a great activity for the evenings when you just want to relax a bit and not think too hard about anything.

  8. Remove all safety pins from the blanket, and let the snuggles begin!

    The finished blanket.

    The finished blanket.

Click here for a printable version of the Knotted Fleece Blanket craft.

Crystal Planets

I’ve been on a bit of a planetary kick recently, with the theme of Little Man’s birthday party and with us redecorating his bedroom.  But since I’ve started on this path, let’s continue.  🙂  This Crystal Planets craft is something that Little Man and I did last Autumn, but I haven’t had a chance to share here until now.

I was initially inspired for this craft by a post about making sparkly crystal Easter eggs to hang in the window.  The pipe cleaner eggs,however, were crystallized using Borax to form the crystals.  While they were beautiful, I didn’t feel comfortable using a substance that I wouldn’t want Little Man to handle.  As I thought about the craft more, even if Little Man didn’t touch the Borax crystals themselves, I was concerned about what would happen if the crystals flaked off and he (or our cats) found little sparkling bits on the floor.  In one of the comments on that post another parent expressed concern for the toxicity of the Borax and wondered if sugar crystals could be used to do the same thing. That was my “ah ha!” moment, and I started working on ways to use sugar to create sparkly, crystal planets.

"Uranus"

“Uranus”

Before I go further, I want to be clear that while kiddos can help with the beginning of this craft, the making and pouring of the sugar solution should only be done by adults.  Hot sugar solutions are quite dangerous if spilled or splashed, so little hands should not be involved in those parts.  Little Man loved helping me shape and initially sugar the planets, as well as checking on the planets daily to look at their growth.  He also loved hanging the planets in the window, and even took one (Mars) to day care for show and tell.  So while little hands cannot be a part of every step of this craft, the process and the final product are totally worth it.

Yes, Little Man enjoyed this craft quite a lot, especially the part where he got to play in sugar.

Yes, Little Man enjoyed this craft quite a lot, especially the part where he got to play in sugar. Notice the little water hand print on the table as well.

While I shaped the pipe cleaners to make planet shapes, like I mentioned above the original post I saw used the cleaners to make Easter egg shapes.  I’ve since seen posts for the Borax crystals to make heart shapes, shamrocks, and the list goes on. It could be fun to shape the pipe cleaners into letters to form a child’s name, or to make butterflies.  The possibilities are as endless as your imagination… and the size/depth of your mason jars.

This same “craft” can also be used by suspending food safe chopsticks (I recommend bamboo since its more environmentally friendly) in the sugar solution to create rock candy sticks.  Some day if I feel like completely wiring up Little Man’s birthday guests, we’ll make these as part of the goodie bag.

Enjoy!

Making Crystal Planets
Equipment and Ingredients
:
Assorted colorful pipe cleaners
2 bowls and 1 plate
Stock pot
4 large (1 liter) canning jars
4 wooden chopsticks or other sticks
Kitchen string
Assorted food coloring
18-20 cups white sugar

Directions:

  1. Coil 1-2 pipe cleaners to make your planet shape. Don’t make it too fussy since you need to have room for the sugar crystals to grow. My favorite shape was a circle with a small curlicue across the equator to give it depth. Make sure that the “planet” can easily fit into and out of the mouth of your jar with extra room. It will be wider than it is now once the crystals have formed.

    Pipe cleaners coiled and shaped into "planets."

    Pipe cleaners coiled and shaped into “planets.”

  2. Measure a length of string so that once it is tied to the top of one of your “planets” and  suspended from your chopstick, the planet does not touch the bottom of the jar. If it touches, crystals will form and adhere your planet to the bottom of the jar, and you’ll have to destroy your planet to get it out.  Make sure that your chopstick (or other stick) is long enough to rest both edges on top of your jar. The chopstick will suspend your planet in the sugar mixture, so it’s good to have a bit of overhang to ensure that your “planet” doesn’t fall inside.
  3. Tie one end of the string to the top of your planet and the other end to your chopstick. Suspend the planet in your empty jar and make sure that it fits well, adjusting as necessary. Remove the planet from the jar and repeat this for the number of planets that you want to create. Set them all aside.

    A planet with string ready to be sugared.

    A planet with string ready to be sugared.

  4. Pour about ½ cup of sugar into a bowl and place a bowl of cool water next too it.  Working one at a time, briefly dip the pipe cleaner planet into the cool water, and then press the planet into the sugar on the plate. Flip it over and press it in again. Gently take the sugared planet and place it on a plate to dry completely. Repeat this with all of the planets and then set them aside until you are ready to proceed.
    Planets ready for sugaring.

    Planets ready for sugaring.

    This is definitely a kid-friendly part of the process.  Just be warned that sugar will be flying, often towards the mouth. Little Man had a blast feeling the sugar... and then jamming his little fist into his mouth before I could wipe it off.

    This is definitely a kid-friendly part of the process. Just be warned that sugar will be flying, often towards the mouth. Little Man had a blast feeling the sugar… and then jamming his little fist into his mouth before I could wipe it off.

    A planet made it into the sugar and not Little Man's mouth.

    A planet made it into the sugar and not Little Man’s mouth.

    Sugared planets set aside, out of Little Man's reach, to dry.

    Sugared planets set aside, out of Little Man’s reach, to dry.

  5. In a stock pot add 8 cups of water and begin to heat it. Do not bring it to a boil, since you want to create a sugar solution not sugar taffy. Be careful since hot sugar can be dangerous. No boil overs or burns, please!
  6. Once the water is hot, but not boiling, slowly add the sugar. You want a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of sugar to water. If you need a refresher on your high school ratios, feel free to look them up on the internet. 🙂  In short, you want 2-3xs more sugar than water. Start adding your sugar a few cups at a time, stirring carefully until the sugar dissolves and the water becomes clear again. Go carefully and slowly here. After you add a good amount of sugar (aka an obscene amount), it should start taking longer for the sugar to completely dissolve. This means you are reaching saturation and that’s what you want. You want the sugar solution to be so full of sugar that it can’t hold any more (aka saturation). This may look like you have a few grains of undissolved sugar at the bottom of your pot, or some cloudiness.
    At first I used my lovely Dutch Oven, but soon found that it wasn't quite big enough for me to feel comfortable with all the heating sugar solution.

    At first I used my lovely Dutch Oven, but soon found that it wasn’t quite big enough for me to feel comfortable with all the heating sugar solution.

    So I upgraded to this one.  Little Man loved using the LONG handled wooden spoon to stir our "cauldron."

    So I upgraded to this one. Little Man loved using the LONG handled wooden spoon to stir our “cauldron.”

  7. Line up your four (or more) one-liter canning jars on a heat resistant surface (I used my cutting board) and carefully ladle in enough sugar solution to fill the jars to just below their shoulders. Leave some room at the top for the planets to be added without causing an overflow.

    One jar ready to go.  Filling the jars is definitely an adults only task.  I used a canning funnel to make sure I didn't make too much of a mess while ladling in the hot sugar solution.

    One jar ready to go. Filling the jars is definitely an adults only task. I used a canning funnel to make sure I didn’t make too much of a mess while ladling in the hot sugar solution.

  8. Carefully add a few of drops of good quality food coloring to each jar to create the color that you would like. If you add too much color the solution may become so opaque that you cannot see the crystals form. However, if you don’t add enough color the crystals will not take the color. My planets do not have much color to them beyond the color from the pipe cleaners, but they looked pretty in the window while they were forming.Once the sugar solution is dyed to your liking in the jars, carefully insert the planets using another chopstick to submerge the planets in the liquid. Let the jars cool until safe enough to handle.
    Adding a few drops of yellow food coloring.

    Adding a few drops of yellow food coloring.

    With me right beside him, I let Little Man use another chopstick to stir the food coloring into the solution and then to help submerge the planets.

    With me right beside him, I let Little Man use another chopstick to stir the food coloring into the solution and then to help submerge the planets.

    One down...

    One down…

    20140821_105400

    Three more to go.  I ended up having a good amount of extra solution, so made an impromptu fourth "planet."  I did a quick coil of yellow pipe cleaner to make a "comet."  Interestingly this one did not have the same amount of drying time as the others, but still formed crystals just fine.

    Three more to go. I ended up having a good amount of extra solution, so made an impromptu fourth “planet.” I did a quick coil of yellow pipe cleaner to make a “comet.” Interestingly this one did not have the same amount of drying time as the others, but still formed crystals just fine.

  9. Once the jars have cooled until safe to handle, place them in a sunny window or tall shelf where they can sit and slowly, slowly, slowly grow crystals. If after a few weeks you do not see crystal growth, then you may need to individually pour the solution back into a pot, heat it again, add more sugar and repeat the process. It took my planets awhile to form the crystals, but they did.
  10. Hang your planets in a window for a sparkly decoration.
"Jupiter"

“Jupiter”

"Uranus"

“Uranus”

"Mars"

“Mars”

This is the full view of Mars, showing the sugar crystals moving up the string where it was submerged.  The other planets look similar, and the crystals really catch the light on a sunny day.  Alas this photo day was a bit dreary, but even with a rainy day you can still see their sparkle.

This is the full view of Mars, showing the sugar crystals moving up the string where it was submerged. The other planets look similar, and the crystals really catch the light on a sunny day. Alas this photo day was a bit dreary, but even with a rainy day you can still see their sparkle.

Click here for a printable version of the Crystal Planets craft.

Our little solar system of sugar crystal planets and the comet hung above Jupiter.

Our little solar system of sugar crystal planets and the comet hung above Jupiter.

A Space-Themed Birthday Party: The Decoration Edition

Space, the final frontier…

I hadn’t realized how fulfilling it would be to write that line, and I have to admit that am rather pleased with myself for doing so.  🙂  However, this is not our final birthday frontier, but just the beginning.  Little Man is already talking about the party themes he wants to have next time, although to him “next time” means tomorrow.  Not gonna happen.  In the meantime, let me share with you some of the fun space-themed party decorations and foods that we did for Little Man’s fourth (how can he possibly be four years old already!?!?!) birthday party.

When we were giving Little Man options of what his birthday party theme could be, we had no idea that “space” would be such a difficult one to fill.  I figured that with all the cartoons, etc. there must be some options out there for plates and table cloths, right?  Not so much…  Luckily our local dollar store had a good selection that if not directly related to space (like a really cool bag of marbles that look sort of like planets) could be spun that way (like the little finger lasers).  Combine that with Pintrest, and we were off and running.
IMG_3352Here are some of my favorite things that we did.  I’ll post the food tomorrow.
IMG_3309

Decorations and Activities
Since there weren’t any nice space-themed decorations in the local stores (and I searched them all), I made most of the decorations with supplies from the local dollar store.  My main focus was on the cake/food table backdrop, but I also wanted to have a fun play area for the kids, as well as decorations that extended across the room to make it all look more festive.  My favorite things that we did are the Galaxy Backdrop, the Hanging Planets, a Poppin’ Pluto Dance Floor, a Rocket Ship and Glittery Stars.

Galaxy Backdrop

IMG_3294For the Galaxy Backdrop, I followed the directions from the excellent Elephant of Surprise website for Galaxy Pillowcases that could be used for floor/ground pillows.  I “upgraded” the project by using a twin-sized flat sheet so that I could use it as the backdrop on the wall above the cake/food table.  Aimee’s directions on the website are great, so other than the size difference between my twin flat sheet and her pillow cases the process was virtually the same.  Just be sure to use the real deal, cheap bleach.  I first tried this with my environmentally safe bleach and couldn’t figure out why the fabric didn’t bleach.  Ah well…  When using the “real” bleach, you should see the fabric change color almost immediately.  I ended up doing the spray bleach step twice since I didn’t quite get the results I wanted the first time.  Then after the galaxy sheet was washed and dried, the next two steps were to add a little white fabric paint and then some glow in the dark fabric paint.  Taa daa!

Here’s what you’ll need: a black twin-sized flat sheet, bleach, a spray bottle, white fabric paint, and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint. Elephant of a Surprise website link.

The swirled and scrunched sheet ready to be sprayed with bleach.

The swirled and scrunched sheet ready to be sprayed with bleach.

The bleach should immediately start to change the color of your fabric.  Here mine started to turn red almost instantly.  I let it do its magic for 10 minutes and then into the wash. I repeated this step twice to get the swirly galaxy that I wanted.

The bleach should immediately start to change the color of your fabric. Here mine started to turn red almost instantly. I let it do its magic for 10 minutes and then into the wash. I repeated this step twice to get the swirly galaxy that I wanted.

Here is the galaxy after the bleaching, washing and drying.

Here is the galaxy after the bleaching, washing and drying.

Then I randomly sprayed and sprinkled the galaxy with white and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint.

Then I randomly sprayed and sprinkled the galaxy with white and glow-in-the-dark fabric paint.

Hanging Planets
IMG_3296
This project was so much fun, and the effect of the Hanging Planets suspended in front of the Galaxy backdrop is pretty spectacular, so the DIY craftiness really paid off here.  Another bonus is that we are also in the process of “upgrading” Little Man’s room to change the decor he’s had since being a baby to actual little boy decor (Sob!).  After seeing his party decorations, Little Man asked if the Hanging Planets and Galaxy Backdrop could hang in his room, so now a Space-Themed bedroom is in the works and the major decor is something that resulted from his party.  That makes me doubly happy since the effort wasn’t only for his birthday, but now the decorations will be enjoyed for quite some time.  A further bonus is that all of the supplies should be available from your local dollar store, and if you do crafts with your kids you might have some of the equipment already.

Here’s what you will need:  9 styrofoam balls of varying sizes, bamboo skewers, 4-5 (depending in the size) florist foam blocks, an array of acrylic paints (I used combinations of red, blue, yellow, white and black), multicolored glitter, a wide foam brush, a smaller bristle paint brush, a plastic paint palette for mixing colors, push pins and golden crocheting yard.

Step 1: Cut the bamboo skewers in half, insert one end into the foam ball and then the other into a foam block. This will let you hold the “planet” by the skewer while you paint it, then you can put it back into the foam block to let it dry while you move on to another planet.  I was able to fit two planets each on the smaller blocks, and three on the larger one.  Just be sure that the balls don’t touch each other or it will smear the paint.  I then pinned planet names to the blocks so I could remember which ball was to be painted like which planet.  As you will notice, I also included Pluto.  While technically a Dwarf Planet, this party is more about fun than planetary fact checking.  And, I thought that my mom would like Pluto included here too.  🙂

Prepping your planets for painting and other awesomeness.

Prepping your planets for painting and other awesomeness.

Step 2: Paint a base layer of whatever the predominant color for that planet (for ideas see my color examples below).  To do this, simply remove the planet by its skewer from the foam block and use the wide foam brush to apply a good layer of paint to the planet.  The planet might spin a bit, and when that happened I just stuck the skewer in a bit tighter.  The goal here is to cover the sphere, not to be painstakingly precise with your color.  Once a planet is fully coated with the first layer of paint, return the skewer to the foam block and move on to another.  Make sure to let the paint dry completely before moving on to your second coat.  With 9 planets this shouldn’t be a problem, as by the time you get the base coat on all nine the first one should be dry again.  In terms of color choices, please remember that my field is not astronomy, and I painted these planets to more or less represent their “astronomical” look.  Google images helped with pictures of the planets, but I followed whimsy more than scientific fact in their creation.  See below for the colors I chose for each planet.

The base layers for Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

The base layers for Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

The base layers for Mars and Mercury.

The base layers for Mars and Mercury.

Step 3: Go back over each planet with a second coat of paint, adding whatever details can be individual to the specific planet.  Depending on the details you want to paint, use either the wide foam brush or the narrow paint brush or both.  I played fast and loose with planetary features here, so remember that the goal is fun not accuracy.  Jupiter got its storm, but I didn’t go into the detail to give Saturn 3-D rings.  Instead Saturn got rings painted around its equator.  Earth, as usual is the most problematic with the continents, but again this isn’t about a geography lesson.  Get the continents more or less on there, give Earth white on both poles and move on.

Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

What is key to this step is that the instant you finish with the secondary painting, have your glitter sprinkles ready and apply them immediately.  My planets were drying quickly, so if I hesitated for even a breath the glitter wouldn’t stick well.  For each planet I had my glitter jar opened to the correct color and a layer of newspaper laid out to catch the extra sparkles.  The moment I set my paint brush down, I grabbed the glitter and sprinkled away.  See my description of Mercury for an idea of what to do with the mixed glitter at the end.  Once one planet is complete, return its skewer to the foam block and move on to another.  Let the planets dry completely before moving on.  I let mine rest overnight.

The finished planets.

The finished planets.

Here are the color schemes I used for the planets:
Venus: Base coat of bluish green.  Secondary coat of bright green bands.  Green and gold glitter.
Earth: Base coat of bright, turquoise blue.  Secondary coat of green continents, with white at both poles.  Green glitter more or less on the continents and silver more or less on the poles.
Mars: Base coat of red.  Secondary coat of red with just a drop of black in random swirls.  Red and gold glitter.
Jupiter: Base coat of white with just a drop of yellow and brown. Purplish swirled band around the equator with a large swirly “eye” for the storm, as well as two yellow bands just off from the poles.  Purple and gold glitter.
Saturn: Base coat of muted yellow with a couple drops of purple.  Secondary bands of red and purple around the equator.  Purple glitter.
Uranus: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary white and darker blue bands just offset from the northern pole and one near the equator.  Blue glitter.
Neptune: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary coat of midnight blue (blue with just enough black so that you can still see a predominate blue color), applied not too evenly.  Blue glitter.
Pluto: Base coat of bright blue.  Secondary swirls of dark blue and yellow.  Yellow and blue glitter.
Mercury: Base coat of dark gray.  Secondary coat of black applied not too evenly.  Sprinkled all over with the combined dregs of sprinkles from the other planets.

Mars and Mercury were two of my favorites.

Mars and Mercury were two of my favorites.

Step 4: Once the planets are completely dry they can be suspended.  I cut varying lengths of golden crocheting yard and secured each end to a push pin.  I then put one end of the pin into a planet (close to where I removed the skewer) and the other end we pushed into the ceiling.  See more below.

Planets Backdrop
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Before you set up your backdrop, decide where you want the focal point of the room to be.  Position your cake/food table in that spot, then hang the Galaxy Backdrop above the table.  Decide on the order you want your planets hung in.  The plan was to put them in actual astronomical order, but as you can see in the picture I switched Mars and Earth.  Ah well… More artistic license I suppose.  I’ll get that fixed before hanging them in Little Man’s room.  The correct order should be from left to right: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.  Hang Jupiter first since that gives you your midpoint.  We then hung Mercury and Pluto on either end of the backdrop, and spaced the remaining planets between them.  We then hung a “Happy Birthday” banner across the top and wrapped a cool strand of changing color star lights around the whole thing.  Taa daa!
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Poppin’ Pluto Dance Floor
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This was almost one of my best ideas ever… almost…  I was inspired by the picture posted on Design Dazzle where for an outdoor party they simply unrolled some bubble wrap and let the kids run around on it.  For Little Man’s party, I knew we wanted to do some dancing and I thought that using the bubble wrap to make the dance floor would be perfect.  And it was… almost…  What I didn’t take into account was my sensitive child’s sensitive ears.  The other kids LOVED the popping bubble wrap, but Little Man was happier once the bubble wrap went away and he could groove to his heart’s content.
IMG_3348Here’s what you’ll need: 1-2 large rolls of large bubble wrap (not the tiny bubbles), clear packaging tape, glow-in-the-dark bracelets, rainbow light disco ball (optional but super cool)

Step 1: Decide where your dance floor (outside or indoor) will be.  Unroll your bubble wrap, cut it into long strips and then tape them together to make a square or rectangular “dance floor.”  We used 2 rolls for our area.  Then roll up your dance floor and stash it until ready to use.  Bubble wrap is near irresistible and unless you have armed guards protecting it, if it is laid down when the kiddos arrive, they will pounce.

Step 2: When you are ready to dance, activate and coil the glow-in-the-dark bracelets and place them on the floor where the dance floor will be.  The darker your room, the brighter the bracelets (aka planets) will be.  Unroll the dance floor over the planets, start your rainbow disco ball and unleash some tunes.  Little Man’s party dance music of choice is still Imagination Movers: Rock-o-matic.  It was awesome!

The DJ station.

The DJ station.

 Cardboard Rocket Ship
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There are a surprising number of cardboard rocket ship designs out there.  We wanted something that would be a great backdrop for pictures, but also that the kids could play in.  As long as it survived the party, I was happy.  It is just cardboard after all, and you should be able to get empty boxes for free from any selection of local stores.  Recycling can be fun!

Here’s what you’ll need: multiple large cardboard boxes, wide masking tape, a box cutter, spray paint, and acrylic paint.

For this craft I don’t have specific construction steps since this will vary wildly based on the shape and size of rocket you want to make.  I used a large cube-shaped box for the body, opening out the flaps and taping it all together to make a long rectangle.  If your “rocket” feels a bit unsecure in places, take some of your remaining boxes, cut strips from them and tape or hot glue these reinforcing strips on the inside of your rocket.  Once the body is complete, spray paint it silver.  After the silver paint is dried, shape fins for your rocket, hot glue them on and hand paint them dark blue with acrylic paint.

We made our rocket in two pieces so that it wouldn’t break whenever it fell over.  With another large box, shape a cone (or pyramid) top for your rocket.  Once the cone is shaped and secured with interior structural strips, spray paint it red.

After everything is dry, I cut a round window in the front and a door in the back.  Make sure your door is big enough for the kiddos to fit in, but don’t take it all the way down to the floor.  Leave a little bit that the kids need to step over in order to keep the base of your rocket strong.
IMG_3311Glittery Stars
IMG_3301Even though these popsicle stick stars (or snowflakes) are a pretty ubiquitous craft, I included them here since it was something that Little Man could have an active hand in creating.  I wanted him to be able to feel a bit of ownership in this DIY adventure, and to be able to see his art work hanging in the party space.

Here’s what you’ll need: : Large craft popsicle sticks, hot glue gun, craft glue, sticky jewels, silver glitter, silver and blue glass gems, sparkly yarn to hang them with.

Step 1: Adults, using a hot glue gun, glue two sticks into a plus sign.  Do this with the remaining sticks that you want to use.  Little Man and I made 8 stars, so we completed 16 of the plus signs.  Then glue two of the plus signs together to create the star (or snowflake) shape.

Step 2: Kiddos and adults, you can now bedazzle the stars to your hearts content.  I put a little glue on a disposable plate for Little Man and gave him a paint brush.  He could then paint the glue onto the bare star, and then place the glass gems.  Be careful to not use too many glass gems on a single star, since they can become quite heavy.  We used 4-5 glass gems per star, with the remaining space filled with sticker jewels and squiggles of glue encrusted with silver glitter.  Let your stars dry completely.
IMG_3301 (2)Step 3: Adults, once your stars are completely dry, cut lengths of your sparkly yard for hanging them.  Tie the ends of the yard together in a small knot, then hot glue the yard to the back of top arm of your star.  I used the knot in case some of our stars were heavy enough to pull the yarn through the glue, but if your stars are light you might not need to do this.  We then hung them across the ceiling with push pins.

The whole effect... except for lots of screaming... more or less.

The whole effect… except for lots of screaming… more or less.

I hope that you enjoy these ideas for a Space Themed kids birthday party.  Please feel free to share any other ideas that you come up with or that you’ve seen elsewhere.  I “pinned” a ton of ideas to my Pintrest page under Kids Birthday Ideas, and only had the time (and gumption) to pull off a few of them.  Have fun!

The party in full swing.

The party in full swing.

Oh, Canada!

My next post will continue the recipes from Dave’s Graduation Party, so if you are waiting for those do not despair.  They are coming, and soon!  This post is a “break from your expected programming” inspired by the fact that Canada Day is just around the corner.  I wanted to share this craft idea with you before the holiday has passed us by, hence the interruption in the grad party recipes.  Spoiler Alert!!!  If you are one of Little Man’s Papas avert your eyes, since this is also your belated Father’s Day gift.  Well, OK… you can peek…  I just wish that I’d been able to get the shirts to you before this was posted.  🙂

The original idea comes from the workmanfamily website, and I thought it was fantastic!  If you would like to see their original post, please click here.

I thought that the workmanfamily post’s idea of using a kid’s hand print as the maple leaf in a Canadian flag was brilliant, and the bonus is that it doesn’t take many supplies beyond a t-shirt and fabric paint.  From the original wormanfamily post they shared the idea of using an empty cereal box for the cardboard to put inside the shirt to keep the paint from seeping from one side of the fabric to the back side as well.  Just another example of renew, reuse, recycle.
Love it!

I was able to get good quality t-shirts on one of those major chain mega sales!  I used a torn up box from our recycle bin for the cardboard between the shirt layers.

I was able to get good quality t-shirts on one of those major chain mega sales! I used a torn up box from our recycle bin for the cardboard between the shirt layers.

I used a small plastic plate to hold the fabric paint, and it was just the perfect size for Little Man's hand.

I used a small plastic plate to hold the fabric paint, and it was just the perfect size for Little Man’s hand.

We did three shirts in one go, so set up the little work area for Little Man's hand prints.

We did three shirts in one go, making a little assembly line for Little Man’s hand prints.

Then I started the bars.  I began by painting the main column.

Then I started the bars. I began by painting the main column.

Then I went back and darkened in the column.

Then I went back and darkened in the column.

They I went back and strengthened the straight lines on all four edges.

They I went back and strengthened the straight lines on all four edges.  I know the edges don’t look straight here, but that’s partly from the rotation of the image.  It’s also a craft, so I can claim “rustic” just like in cooking and that makes it look better, right?

Oh, Canada!

Oh, Canada!

Two shirts for Papas and one for Daddy!

Two shirts for Papas and one for Daddy!

This Canada Day marks our one year anniversary for living in this amazing nation!  What an awesome and crazy year this has been.  I can’t wait to see what this next year has in store…

A Week on Our Own: The End

I am so glad to have gotten to the end of this week!  It was a great week all together, full of fantastic accomplishments, reuniting with good friends, and some awesome Mommy/Toddler time.  It was, however, also a long week of single parenthood (Much love to all the single parents out there!  You’re amazing and don’t ever forget it!), a week of feeling like I should be somewhere else, and a lot of laundry… a lot of laundry.

Day 6 for Dave was spent jaunting from one airport to the next, each one a bit more disappointing than the last.  For Little Man and I the morning was spent at the Hazelwood Herb Farm in Cedar, and then a lot of cleaning… a lot of cleaning.

The Herb Farm was by far the bright spot for both of our day, and it’s finally convinced me that I’m trying to rush Spring along a bit too quickly for Vancouver Island.  The minute the temperatures got into the high teens in Celsius (that’s 60s… I think… in Fahrenheit…) I feel like I should be out in the garden planting something.  Except that it’s still pretty cold at night, and the ground is still pretty cold, and nothing that I want to plant (peppers, basil, etc.) is ready for that type of temperature.  This became very clear to me at the herb farm where they sell the types of plants that currently do good at this time of year.  Little Man and I came away with some great herbs (oregano, thyme, chives, and sage), as well as celery.  I’ve never tried celery in my garden (or container box) before, but I thought that it might look like a great dinosaur forest for Little Man.  So like for most things, including parenting and gardening, I’m learning that a little patience goes a long way.  But right about now, I’m really impatient for Dave to be home!!!

Day 7: Homecoming!!!

Welcome Home!Dave finally made it home this morning.  Little Man has been counting the number of breakfasts he had to get through before Daddy would be home, so this one he ate with relish and was constantly glancing at the door expecting Daddy to come waltzing in the minute his food was finished.  Not quite…  But after breakfast and the crazy dance of getting myself and my toddler ready for public appearances, we finally got the long awaited text that the ferry was pulling in, and then we were off to the car.

It’s always good that I give a buffer zone of time just for the process of getting the few meters (Canada-speak there… Did you catch it?) from our front door to our car.  This time it was the two farm dogs that caught Little Man’s fancy, but then he had to go say “hi” to his lady friends, the chickens.  At that point the little bitty “not dog,” as the farmer calls him, was running with him, Little Man took the opportunity to make a mad dash across the farm towards the sheep pen and his favorite hill at the back of the property.  Eventually the dogs and the toddler were corralled and we got to the ferry terminal just before Dave made it out of the building.

The rest of the day was a blur of Daddy and Little Man cuddles, nap time for all, and much playing.  You could almost hear the “reunited and it feels so good” chorus as the two of them raced around the yard, Little Man “cutting the grass” with his toy lawnmower and chasing his dad.  I have a feeling that the upcoming week will be one of recovering from exhaustion and gearing up for more dissertation deadlines, but at least we’re all together and now there are two of us to clean up toddler messes.  And there’s the awesome sign, too.

Checking the fluids to ensure the mower runs smoothly.

Checking the fluids to ensure the mower runs smoothly.

Lots of toddler cackling here...

Lots of toddler cackling here…

A Week on Our Own: Days 4-5

I’ve fallen a bit behind due to dealing with a lovely Springtime head cold, but to continue our saga of the Defense Week, Days 4 and 5 were a day of play and then a day of rest.  On Day 4 to celebrate Dave’s passing the Defense, Little Man and I went on a meandering Springtime adventure leading up to a picnic in one of his favorite parks.

We began our trek by stopping at Coco Cafe in Cedar for a picnic lunch.  After securing an amazing Roasted Chicken Club on thick, multigrain bread, a Carrot Muffin (Little Man’s arctic fox teddy apparently loves carrots), and a Mandarin Orange sparkling water for myself we were off again.  Cedar Street is a meandering half-circle, more or less, that goes through the town of Cedar and out towards North Oyster and the airport.  Along the way you also come across Fredrich’s Honey House, one of Little Man’s favorite places.

Today at the Honey House we’d brought along a couple of our empty honey jars to be refilled.  I’ve got plans for a post with the contents of one of the jars soon so keep your eyes peeled.  One of the jars we brought to be filled was Little Man’s own “tiny, tiny, tiny” honey jar that he was given there full of Blackberry Honey last summer when we visited for the first time.  We filled up the jars with their local wild flower honey and a gorgeous dark honey, sampling as we went.  Little Man liked them both, but thought the dark honey was the best.  Then with his little jar clutched tightly in a fist and a wooden tasting stick in Mommy’s bag we were off again.  This time we were heading for the park for our picnic.

Our destination for the day was Transfer Beach Park in Ladysmith.  Ladysmith is about 20 minutes south of Nanaimo, and is the town where we went for the Ladysmith Lights display last November.  It’s a cute town, perched on a San Fransisco-esque hill overlooking the ocean.  At the Transfer Beach light turn toward the ocean and follow the curving road down past an old steam engine, past the amphitheater and turn left into the parking lot by the playground.

An astute viewer might notice that Dave is in this picture while the post is about him being in New York.  These photos were taken just after Dave got back, since I failed to take photos earlier.

An astute viewer might notice that Dave is in this picture while the post is about him being in New York. These photos were taken just after Dave got back, since I failed to take photos earlier.

There are two playgrounds, one shaped like a ship for the little ones and a larger contraption of swinging bridges and slides for the more adventurous kiddos.  We generally only spend a short time on the playgrounds, since Little Man’s favorite thing to do is to go down to the pebble beach and throw rocks into the ocean.  I think soon we’ll come back with a little cork boat on a string and see how that fares in the calm waters.

Skipping rocks is the best thing ever.

Skipping rocks is the best thing ever.

While the playtime was great, the picnic was a little less successful.  It consisted mostly of me chasing my toddler around the playground with the chicken sandwich and him giggling maniacally as he dashed this way and that, clutching the arctic fox under his arm, and sprinting for anything he could run around.  All in all a good time was had by all, including the fox, and we succeeded in a good nap time once home.

Day 5: Face Time

After our shenanigans the day before, we played Day 5 close to home.  Dave spent the day with our dear family friends in New York, and I spent the day wishing desperately that we were there with them.  The highlight was later that afternoon when we got to do some Face Time chatting with Dave and our friends.  Little Man was a bit confused as to why Daddy couldn’t appear at his door immediately after appearing on the computer, but in the end was just happy to get some time to chat with his dad.  The next day was to be an all day travel extravaganza for Dave, and a good bit of cleaning for us.

Operation Daddy Sign: Day 4/5

We finalized the Congratulations, Daddy! sign over these two days.  On Day 4 I took a gigantic Sharpie marker and wrote the words on the sign while Aiden took his nap.  Once the ink was completely dry we added a little more glitter glue to the sign, and I added some glitter glue accents to a few of the letters that were written over dark paint and weren’t showing up as well.

The completed "Congratulations Daddy" sign.

The completed “Congratulations Daddy” sign.

A detail shot of the added glitter glue to make dark letters a bit more legible.

A detail shot of the added glitter glue to make dark letters a bit more legible.

Now the stage was set, all we needed was for Dave to make it home.

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