Friday, August 25, 2017

Flowers in a Jar Kit Instructions


Did you get a Flower Jar Kit? We're really glad to hear it: my girls love making these flowers, and we think you will too!

Before you get started, find a good place to work. We recommend a table, not your bedroom floor.
Here's what you'll find inside your jar
* Several round coffee filters, dyed in one or many pretty colors.
* A few pipe cleaners

Here's what you'll need to find around the house
* A pair of sharp scissors (but don't use Mom's good sewing scissors: she won't be happy!)
* A pencil

OK, let's get started. You're not going to believe how easy this is!


1) Pick three filters, stack them, and flatten the stack. Then fold in half, half again, and once more so that your circle is divided into eights.

2) Place your folded stack on the table with the point down. With a pencil, draw an arc from one corner, down in the middle, and then arc back up to the opposite corner. Don't obsess over this: "good enough" is very nearly as good as "perfect." Also, after you have made a few flowers, you may not find it necessary to draw this guideline any more!

3) Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut along your line, making sure to keep just under it so that it will not show on your finished flower.

4) Open up your paper and admire the pretty petals you've cut.

5) Rotate your circles so the petals are slightly offset. Keeping them aligned, take your pipe cleaner and poke a hole in the exact center of the filters from the bottom side. Push it through about half an inch, and curl the end a bit to make it hard for the flower to slip off.

6) This last bit seems like it might be tricky, but you'll be surprised how easy it really is. Gently crumple your circles into a flower shape, twisting them together tightly at the stem end. Use your fingers to fluff out the petals.

7) Finally, bend the pipe cleaner up and wrap it tightly around the bottom of your flower to bind it in place.

That's it! You've made a coffee filter flower!
Repeat these steps for the rest of your dyed filters, and then display your bouquet in the jar it came in!

Of course, if you'd like to make more, all you need is coffee filters and pipe cleaners. But PLEASE ask before you raid Mom's filter stash: a coffee-less mommy is not a happy mommy!
In any case, you should be able to get enough for a dozen bouquets at the nearest grocery or dollar store! 
...

 Now, if you want to dye your flowers, please read on for some very important tips and tricks!

Before you start, make sure your work surface is protected, and that you have a safe spot to dry your filters after dying. Get Mom involved at this point. Trust me! 
(If it's dry out, we recommend your clothes line. Otherwise, cookie sheets will be fine. Just do Not get dye on your mom's counter!)

You have all sorts of options for dye, but the absolute cheapest is Kool-Aid. That's right: those little packets that go 10 for a dollar at the grocery store are mostly food coloring!

My favorite way to dye is to mix about 1/3 of a packet of Kool-Aid in about 1/4 cup of water in a small, tall bowl or a drinking glass. This Kool-Aid was orange, and as an added benefit the yellow and red separate out a bit as it creeps up the filter.
Other options for dye include standard food coloring, or even brewed tea or coffee.

Once you have your dye prepared, take a stack of 6-8 filters and very roughly fold into quarters. Place the point in the dye and allow it to creep up for several minutes. Carefully remove it, allow the drips to fall back into the dye dish, and hang outdoors or spread the filters out to dry (or hang on your clothes line if weather permits!)
Alternately, dip the wide end of the filters into the dye to make a flower with the edges rather than the center of the petals colored.

You can also use a wide, shallow bowl for dye and entirely submerge a stack of flattened filters. More time in the dye means more saturated color.

You can even use water-based felt tip markers to color the centers or edges of a filter, and then drip or spray a little water to make the colors run and spread.

Just remember to let the filters dry Entirely before using them to create a bouquet!  This might take 24 to 48 hours depending on temperature and humidity, so be patient!

Fairies in a Jar Kit Instructions

Did you get one of our Fairy Jar Kits?
We're excited for you! My daughters love making fairies, and we think you will too.

Before you get started, find yourself a good place to work. I recommend a spot at the dining room table, and you might ask to borrow one of Mom's (clean) cookie sheets too, just to keep your materials together.

Now, let's open the jar. Here's what you'll find inside.
* Two or three flowers and leaves
* Four pipe cleaners
* Two wooden beads (heads)
* Hand-full of pretty plastic beads
* Two 4-inch hanks of embroidery floss

Here are a couple of tool you will need
* Old, sturdy scissors or wire cutters for the pipe cleaners. (do NOT use Mom's good sewing scissors!)
* Fine tipped permanent marker for faces (unless you got one of our kits with the faces pre-drawn.)

Now that you have everything, let's get started!

  1. Remove a some small blossoms from your flowers for a hat. They should pull apart easily. There may be a hole in the middle already, or you might need to poke one with a pipe cleaner. 
  2. Thread a small coordinating bead and a blossom onto your pipe cleaner, leaving about 1.5 inches or so at the top. 
  3. Find the fairy hair. Loop the short end of your pipe cleaner back through the hole in the flower 'hat.' Use this end of the pipe cleaner to secure the hair by wrapping it around the bundle, and then twisting it around the long end of the cleaner. (See photos to the right) 
  4. If you haven't already, thread on your fairy's head. 
  5. This is where you get to do all sorts of improvising.
    Are there leaves in your kit? Maybe you can thread them on here to make wings!
    You could also make wings by stringing 6 medium beads on a pipe cleaner, folding it into a loop, and then repeating to make a figure-8. Attach it just below the head with the loose ends of the pipe cleaner.
    Or, you can make your fairy a blouse out of another blossom. Thread it on before you add arms. 
  6. Cut a piece of pipe cleaner for your fairy's arms. Attach it to your fairy below the head by wrapping it around the stalk a couple of times. You can add beads or other decorations if you like, too. Make a loop at the end for hands. 
  7. If you added a blossom to make a blouse, complete it by folding it over, allowing two petals to be "sleeves." Tie a piece of yarn or thread around the middle to keep it in place. 
  8. Now, add one or two blossoms for the fairy's skirt. 
  9. Finally, make her legs. If you want, add some beads before folding over a loop for a foot. Cut another piece of pipe cleaner and attach it by wrapping it well at the waist, decorate as desired, and fold into the second foot. 
  10. Use a fine-tipped permanent marker to draw your fairy's smiling face, and you're done! 

But since pictures are worth so much more than words, here are some close-ups of several of our fairies.
Fairy with leaf wings and beaded blouse and bloomers
Fairy with blossom blouse
Fairy with jeweled wings


We hope you had fun making fairies with your kit. If you need a few more friends for them, you should be able to pick up extra pipe cleaners, flowers, and even beads at your nearest dollar store or craft store. The only thing you might have trouble finding are the wooden beads for the heads. I think we got ours at Jo Ann Fabrics! 

Please, let us know in the comments how your fairies turned out. We'd love to hear from you!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Easy Polymer Pastry Pendants

Yes, this entire project started with a pun.
A few weeks ago my kid's Sunday School teacher had them all making stuffed donuts out of socks.
Why donuts, you ask? Because the Bible tells us "Donut be anxious about anything..."
Goofy, to be sure, but it stuck in all of our minds. My middle girl, Grace (age 6) definitely struggles with anxiety. She's the one who has nightmares, is scared of shadows in her room, stays awake worrying about random things, and gets really uptight about anything she might not excel at. (In other words, she is most definitely her mother's daughter!) So this week I decided to make Philippians 4:6-7 our family memory verse.

To help drive it home, we made donut pendants from my huge stash of polymer clay. As hoped, it was easy enough that the kids could make their own, and we made a bakery-full!  Grace is eager to give them to all her friends at church this coming Sunday.

I hesitate to classify this particular project as "quick and dirty" because there are quite a few steps involved over and above the fun part of making the clay pastry. Also, the "dirty" part is more literal than in most of my crafts: polymer clay can be difficult to get off of your hands, and you definitely don't want it in your carpet. That said, it is still far less than complicated, so don't let it spook you!

Here's what you'll need: 

1) Polymer clay* in several colors: base, frosting, and hopefully some sprinkles.
2) Clear nail polish, or a purpose-made sealer from the craft store.
3) (optional) Cord or ribbon to make necklaces, and findings of choice

Equipment

1) Dedicated cookie sheet (get one from the Dollar Tree), or tinfoil to line the one you use for cooking
2) Oven
3) Purpose-made clay tools with cutting and poking ends, or pencil and a toothpicks (which work just as well.)

Directions


  1. After protecting your work space with a tray or plastic, soften a grape-sized lump of clay in the donut color between your palms. Once pliable, shape into a sphere, then gently and slightly flatten between your thumb and forefinger. 
  2. Using a sharpened pencil or clay tool, very gently poke a hole in the center of your flattened ball, just until you barely break through the other side. Turn your donut over and poke again from the opposite side. Work your donut around the pencil until the hole is smooth and centered. 
  3. Now, soften a much smaller portion of clay in your frosting color, and flatten it into a thin pancake just slightly wider than your donut. Don't try and make it perfect: you want your frosting to look natural.  (Hint: If you're using a very light color, clean your hands - maybe with a diaper wipe - before switching.) 
  4. Just like on your donut, poke a hole in your frosting, working from both sides. Position your frosting on your donut and smooth down with your fingers. 
  5. Believe it or not, sprinkles are the hardest part! A few tips:
    * Use a harder variety of clay, like Fimo, to avoid smearing and stretching.
    * Take the amount you need, cut it in half, and then cut it in half again.
    * Glass seed beads could be a reasonable substitute - don't use plastic!
    * Pre-making a bunch of sprinkles and baking them (for no more than 5 minutes) would be a great strategy if you're going to make a bakery-full of donuts. You can use them more like "real" sprinkles this way. 
  6. Time for baking! Preheat to 275 F, then bake on a foil lined sheet for 15 minutes.
    Do Not over-bake! Burned polymer clay is Noxious! (Don't ask me how I know this...) 
  7. Allow to cool fully, then paint with clear nail polish or commercial sealer. Aside from making it shiny, it'll help keep the sprinkles attached. 
  8. String on cord or ribbon, attaching fasteners or the like as desired. 
  9. Package and give to all your friends! 


* Polymer clay comes in several brands and styles. I've used most of them, and while you can make this project successfully with any, there's no denying that they are different.

Your cheapest options are original Sculpey, with the Michael's store brand coming in even slightly under that. Both of these clays are super soft: they're ready to go straight out of the package. On the flip side, sometimes they are too soft and sticky for fine details. They also tend to bake up with more of a matte, even chalky finish. Durability is less than more expensive brands.

On the more expensive end is Original Fimo, a much harder clay that takes a lot of working to get pliable enough to shape. It will be a challenge for littler kids, and you can expect crumbs all over the work surface - not to mention the floor! On the plus side, it bakes up with much shinier finish, and is considerably more durable.

In between is everything else. Fimo has a variety called "Fimo Soft," and Sculpey has a variety called "Primo." Both of these middle-of-the-road options worked well for this project (see photo above.) If you are mixing and matching, use a softer option for the frosting, and a harder one for sprinkles and donuts.

And here's a fun fact for anyone who stuck with me this long: 20+ year old Fimo Still Works! Really! I assumed I would be replacing my ancient stash a few colors at a time - I mean, I was buying this stuff as a teen when $2.50 per block still felt really steep. But it still softens up and bakes just as nice as when it was new. Fimo: The eternal substance! :)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Quick n' Dirty Peanut Lime sauce, aka "Kung Foo Chicken"

I have long since lost track of the food blog where I initially found this recipe, or at least a version thereof. We've been using it off and on for at least 8 or 10 years, and I think it's worth sharing.
My husband likes to call it "Kung Foo Chicken" for some reason, but it's really just a basic peanut lime sauce with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen that takes Very little fuss to get right.

Peanut Lime Sauce
(Serves about 6)
1 C peanut butter (natural is best, may be smooth or crunchy.)
1/2 C lime juice
1/2 C water
1 heaping Tbsp of minced garlic, or to taste
1 T of soy sauce, or to taste
1 t of sriracha or Tabasco sauce, or to taste

Whisk all ingredients together.
Hint: if you  place the lime juice and water in a 2 C Pyrex measuring cup, it's pretty easy to measure the peanut butter into the same container: just watch for the liquid to hit the 2 C line.

Serve over about 1 lb of spaghetti noodles, or ~4 packages of ramen (discarding the flavor packs, of course.)  Or get fancy with proper Asian noodles - we never do, but I'm sure it'd be great!

Add diced, cooked chicken, shrimp, or the protein of your choice.
I pan-fried my protein with a little lime and soy sauce just to enhance the flavor a bit.

As for veggies, green onions are great, as is cilantro, shredded carrots, or lightly cooked broccoli. Garnish with chopped peanuts or sesame if desired.
Pick your favorites, and get creative.

This is easy and quick to feed to a crowd as it can be doubled easily. Similarly, cut it in half for a small family.

Parables for Pre-Schoolers: Using Story to Sooth and Teach

"Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the (not so) innocent..." 

It happens with depressing regularity. Everything is going along smoothly. Maybe not perfect, but OK. They're dressed, they're clean(ish), they're about to be fed, and - BAM - you're dealing with a tantrum. Maybe she wanted nuggets instead of PB&J.  Maybe she didn't want to wait in the other room until you were done working with an older sibling for school. Maybe she didn't want to wear the pants you picked out. Maybe it's the classic "my plate is the wrong color" melt-down. You try to calm her down, to offer compromises without caving into her terrorism, but it's not working. The emotions are out of control, and there's nothing to do but plop her in her room with the door shut until she works through it.

The tricky part for me is what to do next. After I've got my own calm back and it's time to "re-integrate," my inclination is to lecture, explain in minute detail what the child did wrong, ask for them to acknowledge their fault, and then expect her to please Get Over It so we can move on with our day.

Since this almost never works, I've come to rely on another technique that I stumbled into when my oldest (now days from his 8th birthday) was a toddler: story telling.
Instead of explaining to a still-sobbing pre-schooler "Lucy, you're up here because you threw a big tantrum when you got an orange plate instead of a purple one," I ask her if she wants a story about Magnus, Anna, and Ida, the trio of monsters I invented for James when he was little. Sometimes she'll say "yes," and sometimes she'll ask for one about Poppy the Rabbit instead.
This afternoon was a "Poppy" day.
My little "Bunny"

So I jumped in.
"Most of the time, Poppy is an obeying bunny rabbit. But sometimes, Poppy is a disobeying bunny rabbit instead. Usually, Poppy is very good at 'getting what she gets, and not throwing a fit,' but sometimes that fit starts before she even knows what's happening.
Well, one day Poppy was really excited for her favorite lunch of carrots. Mommy made everyone a plate: she made one for Boppy, and Floppy, and Moppy, and finally she gave one to Poppy. But this time, Mommy did something Terrible. Instead of giving the purple plate to Poppy, she gave it to Moppy! And Poppy was MAD. Before she even knew it, she was crying and crying. Because Moppy wouldn't give her the purple plate!
Mommy tried to help Poppy calm down. She reminded her "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit!" Then she asked her to take some deep breaths to calm down. She even counted down from five to give Poppy a chance to get quiet. But when the counting was done, Poppy was still angry and she still wasn't willing to eat her lunch on the ugly orange plate.
Mommy told her, "I'm sorry Poppy, but you will need to go to your room to calm down. When you're ready to eat your lunch without fussing about your plate, you may come back." Then Mommy took Poppy by the hand and lead her to her room.
But Poppy was still angry. As soon as Mommy left, she threw open her door and stomped into the hallway. "I don't want to stay in my room, and I don't Want the Orange Plate!" she shouted.
Mommy came back to Poppy's room. "I'm sorry, sweetie, but I am going to have to lock your door, because you didn't chose to follow my instructions."
Now Poppy was Really mad, and she shouted and kicked for what felt like Hours (but was really only a few minutes) until Mommy and the other Rabbits finished their lunches. Then Mommy came back to Poppy's room.
She hugged her and held her. Then she asked Poppy to look around her room with her and find things some orange things that made Poppy happy. They found a book, and a toy, and a stuffed animal, all with pretty orange colors. Finally, she asked if Poppy was ready to eat lunch with no more fussing.
Poppy was. In fact, Poppy was happy to eat lunch on her pretty orange plate.
When Poppy was really calm, she thought back and realized that when she made good decisions, Mommy always gave her more choices. But when she made bad, disobedient choices, she started losing choices like having her door open and unlocked. 
Well, the next day, guess what? Mommy made a mistake again. This time Poppy got a blue plate. Poppy wanted to throw a fit, but then she remembered: good choices mean I get more choices! So she made sure she didn't cry or fuss, and Mommy was so happy with her! In fact, Mommy made sure to ask Poppy what color cup she wanted her carrot juice in!"
By the time we got to the part about Poppy finding orange things that made her happy, Lucy was ready to participate. And by the time we were done with the story, Lucy was ready to eat her own lunch on the orange plate.

Now, my kids are not idiots. They know that their troubles are being given nearly unmodified to Poppy or one of the Monster kids. But somehow it works anyway. That one level of remove seems to give them the distance they need to consider their situation with new eyes and less defensiveness.

Admittedly, it works better with my four-year-old than my eight-year-old, but even he occasionally gets a Magnus story to help him through a tough experience.

"But I'm not CREATIVE enough to make up a story on the fly," you protest.
Don't be intimidated. You're not trying to be the next Caldecot Medal winner; you just want to give your kid a new perspective with a story. If you want to change a few detail, feel free, but mostly you can (and should) stick to the facts.

Still seem kinda scary? Here are the basic steps:

1) Invent a character or characters to represent your child and anyone else involved in the real life events. Not feeling super creative? Chose a favorite stuffy or doll. Or, you can always punt and use a character from a favorite show.
2) Tell a story about this character having exactly the same problem as your child, reacting in exactly the same ways, and experiencing the very same consequences.
(Sidebar: This may be time for rather more honesty than you'd like, especially if you happen to have reacted with less calm and composure than you wish. Feel free to mention that the "Mommy" in your story felt badly about having lost her temper and apologized to the child in the story. Maybe you need some distance too?)
3) When your story arrives at the current moment, make sure that your character models the response that you hope for your child.
4) As a postscript, consider retelling a portion of the story set sometime in the future in which a similar situation takes place. This time, however, the character remembers his or her lesson and responds in the mature, reasoned fashion you're trying to develop in your child.

If your kids are anything like mine, you may find this a very useful tool to tuck away in your box for when lecturing just isn't cutting it!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Quick n' Dirty Coffee Filter Flowers

Hello, all. It's time for a new quick n' dirty tutorial: Coffee Filter Flowers!

These are a great bang for your buck. Super cheap, really easy, nearly fool-proof, and suitable for displaying in actual grown-up inhabited rooms.

Here's what you need:

* Basket style coffee filters (3 per flower)
* Pipe cleaners, green or brown
* Pencil
* Scissors

And here's how it's done

1) Flatten your stack of coffee filters. Then fold in half, half again, and once more so that your circle is divided into eights.

2) Place your filters on the table with the point down. With a pencil, draw an arc from one corner, down to the center of the paper, and then arc back up to the opposite corner. Don't obsess over this: "good enough" is very nearly as good as "perfect." Also, after you have made a few flowers, you may not find it necessary to draw this guideline any more!

3) Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut along your line, making sure to keep just under it so that it will not show on your finished flower.

4) Open up your paper and admire the pretty petals you've cut.

5) Rotate your circles so the petals are slightly offset. Keeping them aligned, take your pipe cleaner and poke a hole in the exact center of the filters from the bottom side. Push it through about half an inch, and curl the end a bit to make it hard for the flower to slip off.

6) This last bit seems like it might be tricky, but you'll be surprised how easy it really is. Gently crumple your circles into a flower shape, twisting them together fairly tightly at the stem end. Use your fingers to fluff out the petals.

7) Finally, bend the pipe cleaner up and wrap it tightly around the bottom of your flower to bind it in place.

That's it! You've made a coffee filter flower!
Now, make a dozen more and display them in a pretty vase - or a mason jar!
...

Oh, so white flowers are getting a bit boring? 
One of the major advantages of coffee filters are how easy they are to dye.
At this point the project gets a little less quick, and rather more dirty. It's still not a major time investment, but you do have to let your filters dry out in the hot sun for a couple of hours, or overnight if you're stuck indoors.


Before you start, make sure your work surface is protected, and that you have a safe spot to dry your filters after dying.

You have all sorts of options for dye, but the absolute cheapest is Kool-Aid. That's right: those little packets that go 10 for a dollar at the grocery store are mostly food coloring!

My favorite way to dye is to mix about 1/3 of a packet of Kool-Aid in about 1/4 cup of water in a small, tall bowl or a drinking glass. (This Kool-Aid was orange, and as an added benefit the yellow and red separate out a bit as it creeps up the filter.)
Take a stack of 6-8 filters and very roughly fold into quarters. Place the point in the dye and allow it to creep up for several minutes. Carefully remove it, allow the drips to fall back into the dye dish, and spread the filters out on a cookie sheet to dry (or hang on your clothes line if weather permits!)
Alternately, dip the wide end of the filters into the dye to make a flower with the edges rather than the center of the petals colored.

You can also use a wide, shallow bowl for dye and entirely submerge a stack of flattened filters.
Finally, you can even use felt tip markers to color the centers or edges of a filter, and then drip or spray a little water to make the colors run and spread.

Other options for dye include standard food coloring, or even brewed tea or coffee.

Just remember to let the filters dry Entirely before using them to create a bouquet!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Diva Challenge 304: Waybop - and Shrinky Dinks!

I was glad to see Waybop featured in this week's Diva Challenge. I was immediately drawn to this tangle when I first saw it a couple of weeks ago. You get a lot of bang for your buck, with a surprisingly simple set of steps yielding a complicated, cool-looking image.
The one thing I haven't figured out is how to make it play nicely with other tangles. I've tried a few auras, or gems in the middle of the shapes, etc, but I'm not finding it easy or instinctive on how to flow it together with other patterns. (Unlike most of you other Diva Challenge participants, I see! I am getting lots of fun ideas!)

That in mind I decided not to even try today. Instead, as I also needed to occupy my girls, I pulled out my little stock of hoarded #6 plastic takeout containers and made Shrinky Dinks!
I let Waybop play all alone on mine, with just a few jewel and seed shapes to fill in the empty space.

 Before shrinking. Image is 2 - 2.5 inches in diameter.
After shrinking. Colors are darker and more vivid. Item is about 1.25 inches in diameter - just bigger than a quarter.

For anyone who is interested in recycled Shrinky Dink projects, it is simplicity itself. Just be absolutely sure that your plastic is marked with a #6 in the recycling logo.
I like to draw the outline on one side of the plastic with a Sharpie or (better yet) a Sakura Identipen. I then flip it over and color (again with Sharpies) on the other side so there's no fear of muddling or smearing the black line.
Then you cut your image out, punch a hole if desired, and put it in the oven at 325 F for 2-3 minutes. It will curl up at first and then flatten out. Watch carefully and take it out when it goes back to flat.
That's all there is to it!