My coffee table was looking really shabby. I bought it used on Craig’s List back before I had kids myself, when a friend’s son drew all over my old one in black Sharpie. It served us well through Dorothy’s toddler-hood, sustaining the abuse of many marker and crayon episodes, though I kept my Sharpies under lock and key. By the time Worth came along I thought it really could use replacing, but I hated the idea of getting a new one and then watching it suffer through another child. I decided to stick it out, and that poor old table got pock-marked when Worth banged on it with wooden food, scuffed when the boy and his puppy made a game of chasing each other up and over it and off the other side, and colored on some more. Then the legs, which always needed a periodic tightening, actually reached a place where they just wobbled hopelessly and no amount of wood glue could keep them from going askew when someone forgot, once again, that the poor old table was not for sitting. I still wasn’t sure I could get another one–after all, dog and boy are no more reliable around furniture than they were, and the Sharpies are bound to come out sometime. But then I saw the one in the picture above at a local thrift store for $15.00. I figured that for $15 I could watch the decline of another table; at least this one seems sturdy.
I sanded it and used chalkboard paint on the top panels. Maybe having a legal place to write on the table will save it from other child artwork mayhem. (A girl can dream.) I painted the rest in a shade of red that goes nicely with the flowers in my curtains, then distressed the edges a bit with sandpaper so when my paint job starts getting chipped it might look a little intentional.
The chalkboard panels look interesting and are functional too, since we often sit on the sofa to do our homeschool work. This is our official “first day of school” photo from this morning. I love not rushing out the door in the morning! We aren’t morning people, my kids and I.
I sewed erasers from scraps and an old towel. It has pockets on the back to stow the chalk.
I had some red paint left a the end of the project so I painted an old end table to match. I love the way paint makes non-matchy things go together.
Since I was already in furniture-painting mode I finally got around to sprucing up a desk chair I’d bought at a thrift store more than a year ago. I was using a very ugly, wobbly chair at my desk and I’d found this sturdy wooden one to replace it. I painted it in black paint left over from my china hutch project and recovered the seat, which had been wearing ripped faux leather. Now it feels good to have this room that we spend so much time in be a little brighter and all around less wobbly as we start the school year.
Not much time for craftiness around here the last couple weeks. We’ve had good times with out-of-town guests, not such good times with the appliance repairman, and now we’re dealing with a leaky basement. Life does come in seasons, doesn’t it? But I’ve been enjoying my children in the camper shirts I designed and bought from Cafe Press.
Worth dripped water down the front of his right as I asked to take his photo, so that makes it more realistic, right? Somewhere just beyond the photo is the huge stack of books that has been building every day when the mailman brings more parcels. I’ve been ordering first grade supplies like crazy this last week. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it on the blog, but we decided to continue to homeschool. We applied to and were accepted into a public school program we felt good about, but we decided that homeschooling just works best for our family. We aren’t anti-school and we aren’t really anti-any of the other things that many people try to avoid by homeschooling–we’re just really in favor of our comparatively relaxed, family-centered life and we didn’t want to give it up. I’m looking forward to the start of school like a kid myself, and Dorothy and I play a game where she sneaks off and pours over the new books that are coming in, and I pretend to be mad because she’s not supposed to see them until school starts.
The only crafty thing I’ve done recently is these lamp shades. We just purchased a new fixture for our dining room but weren’t pleased with the shades available for the lights. (Ecru anyone? Or do you prefer off-white? Not in my house…) I sponged watered-down crafts paint onto the bland shades and now they are beautiful and colorful and go with my house. I’m just waiting on my hubby and father-in-law to install the thing so I can pop the shades on and post a picture of the final product.
We’ve been on the move again. My awesome parents flew the whole family with them to Florida for some fun times at the beach. The last time we’d all been to the beach together was to celebrate my Mom’s retirement in 2010. I made Dorothy and her cousins matching dresses to wear on that trip, pictured below. They were so cute running around in their little coordinating beach gear that I knew I had to do the same thing for this trip, plus some shorts for Worth. I bought this fabric and used McCalls MP339 as a basis for the dresses and just improvised Worth’s little shorts. The pattern was simple and adorable and the sizing was right on except for the straps, which had to be shortened considerably from what the pattern called for. I added the ruffles to the top and bottom. The kids collected smiles and coos everywhere we went, and they liked their matching outfits so much they wore them for two days straight.
This was the 2010 picture, with sweet little Maggie just 3 months old and Worth only a dear hope!
I’ve been going through some photographs from the last couple months and I found these two that I’d taken this spring but not yet blogged about. This one above is a picture of our “toothpick lunch.” Dorothy and Worth are not the pickiest eaters I’ve encountered, but they aren’t exactly omnivorous when it comes to food either. One of the strategies I find very useful for feeding them at lunchtime when I know we may not have their favorite foods on hand is to declare that we will have a “surprise lunch,” and that they must play away from the kitchen while I fix it. For some reason the pleasure of having the table set with food laid out on their plates (like a restaurant!) is so compelling to them that they may eat food they would otherwise not have selected. One day I really couldn’t come up with much that looked like lunch in a just-bef0re-grocery-time refrigerator and pantry. I had some cheese sticks the kids rejected because they weren’t the right color (the horror of yellow cheese when one prefers white!), some crackers they didn’t like, some fruit. For some reason the line from the original Fancy Nancy book, about sandwiches tasting better with frilly toothpicks popped into my head. I sliced some fruit, cut up the despised crackers and smeared them with a little hummus, cubed the rejected cheese sticks, located a few other bite-sized goodies and arranged them on a breakable platter I wouldn’t ordinarily use for the kids, then I got down our cocktail toothpicks and set out an assortment of colors. The kids totally bought the “toothpick lunch” idea. They loved the colored toothpick frills, they giggled, and they ate every single thing on the platter. The color of the cheese or the substance of the cracker was never even mentioned. I’m absolutely going to use this idea again.
Finally, Dorothy has been into puppet shows lately. We have a small store-bought puppet theater but the game would be just as fun with a cut-out cardboard box. I’ve printed some scripts for her from a website I use as a resource to our homeschooling. She’s had a blast coloring simple paper doll forms into the characters for each script, gluing them to popsicle sticks, and then putting on performances. She can spend a long time doing this on her own, and I’ve also divvied up characters with her and participated in her performances. I love that she always dresses her narrator characters in black–how did she know? In this photo she’s holding Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.
When I did the bat pillows last month I also cut out pillowcases for my family room sofa. I wanted something that could stay out all fall, not just for Halloween. I vaguely remembered seeing something in a magazine that used a similar style for a felt leaf applique and I liked that idea, so I went with it. I didn’t want these pillows to match so I put an acorn on the other. These pillows have been nice projects because they are quick but make a nice impact. I used really inexpensive clearance fabric for the pillow cases, attached the felt cutouts with fabric glue, then stitched around them with embroidery floss. I printed out some internet clip art to look at while I cut out the shapes. The only problem with these was that in a couple places the fabric glue soaked through the felt and left dark splotches. If I did this again I’d use less glue and not handle the pillowcase at all until the glue was dry. After these were done I thought that if I was going to blog about it I should try to look up that magazine reference and I found it. I love the shiny fabric they used but that wouldn’t be so practical in a home full of peanut-buttery fingers.
This autumn has been so erratic with the temperatures. Right when I get settled into fires in the fireplace, homemade wool socks and hot spiced apple cider (with brandy after 6 pm!) it turns warm again and I need something refreshingly cool. One day I experimented by stirring some maple syrup into sparkling water and pouring it over ice and I was so happy. Yum. Since that day I have experimented with the syrup, cream and milk and determined that the perfect maple cream cooler is this: 1 TB real maple syrup + 1 TB whole milk + glass full of iced sparkling water. This is what warm autumn days are for.
And while I’m on fall snacks, it annoys me that the popular consciousness considers peeled apple slices dipped in sugar syrup (caramel, whatever) to be a “snack.” I hate to break it to anyone, but peeled fruit with a side of sugar is dessert. But the dipping of apple slices is kind of awesome, and I’m pleased to have landed on a new apple dip for the days when we’re tired of our usual almond or peanut butters. I stirred a dollop of honey and a pinch of pumpkin pie spice into plain yogurt and it’s very good. Fallish and creamy and reminiscent of pie. And much more virtuous than caramel! If you don’t have pumpkin (or apple) pie spice you can easily make your own. Here’s a recipe that turned up in a quick google search, or you can create your own based on your favorite fall spices. I use it in everything this time of year from pancakes to yogurt to sprinkling it on top of my coffee grounds before brewing. The local schools are on fall break today so my little homeschooler took the morning off as well. Our neighbor friend came over to play with Dorothy and I helped them have a crafty morning together. The girls decorated treasure boxes out of old yogurt containers that seem very much like some flower pots we made once before, and they sewed dolls inspired by the ones I saw in Martha Stewart Living this past month. They made theirs out of old white napkins because they didn’t like the idea of a doll made from printed fabric. They have big plans for sewing doll dresses next but have now taken an extended break to dig in the dirt out in this lovely fall sunshine.
We’ve had a good first week of school! This is Dorothy getting ready to blow out our circle time candle on the first day. I’ve learned that a) homeschooling takes a lot more of my day than I had been able to comprehend (although I’d been warned about that) and b) I need to make some curriculum adjustments or we’ll both get bored in a hurry. I’ve purchased a ready-made kindergarten curriculum and I love many things about it but it’s a little soft on some skills we’re ready to march on into. That’s a great thing about homeschool, I have to say, because I can easily make these adjustments to suit my specific child.
And late last night after my wee padawans were snug in their beds I snuck back down to the sewing machine and made a baby quilt to gift to a friend. This is for the first baby of an old college pal. This friend is the only person with whom I’ve attended a midnight movie showing (he was in costume) and the only person I know who owns (or owned? It’s been a while…) red contact lenses. When he told me he and his wife were expecting a boy I knew I had to make him something cool and nothing light blue or fluffy.
I bought one fat quarter of Star Wars fabric on Etsy, then found coordinating prints on Fabric.com. I used the licensed fabric to make homemade patches and then made strips of the rest. I’m not much of a quilter but I like the cutely haphazard look of strip blankets. I machine stitched it all and didn’t use batting because I wanted it to be thin and flexible enough to actually wrap the baby in. The finished size is 34 by 38 inches and the back is a soft black flannel. It felt funny to have the sewing machine threaded in black to make a baby gift, but I think this one will be appreciated by the baby’s father, at least.
We start school Monday! I loved this house before we purchased it party for this cozy, cabinlike room tucked down in the basement. Touring houses almost two years ago I kept my eye out for the perfect space the kids and I could dedicate to our creative endeavors–a parent/child studio. I’m kind of joking when I now call it our homeschool classroom; we’ll learn here, as we’ll learn everywhere. We do have a table and chairs set aside in this room for our morning circle and lessons. I’ve not gotten much use out of this room up to this point because it is, ahem, rather afflicted by water. Like the kind that is supposed to stay outside in heavy rains. Yuck. But we’ve made some changes to our gutters and are hoping to have some professional work done soon. Meanwhile, I’ve ditched the rug and repainted the floor and I’m hopeful that even with a little water we should be able to clean up and move on.
Since we’re going with painted concrete floors until the water problems are completely solved I thought I might as well have fun with the concept. I used exterior paint to make a big sun on the floor in front of our awesomely cozy (and functional) fireplace. On some wicked winter morning in a few months I will laugh at the snow and the cold outside, give thanks that I do not have to take my car on icy roads to participate in any kind of carpool, and will head down to our quilt-laden futon by the fire with a huge stack of good books, a mug of coffee, my kids and be happy.
New beeswax crayons.
Paintings move from the easel to our art line.
A thrift-store mirror and some hooks turn our dress-up box into a full station.
Tools of the trade…
And one snapshot of my garden, to represent that our “classroom” is actually much bigger than our basement studio. This is going to be an adventure! Hopefully one that is fun. I’m excited.
Wishing you and yours a happy start to the school year as well!
I sometimes enjoy reading other blogs and often get inspired by them. There are only so many ways certain tasks or projects can be done, so there will often be some overlap between the creative projects of different crafty bloggers. There is a difference between inspiration, intentional knock-offs, and flat out copycatting, right? Last winter I bought yellow paint to makeover my family room, the exact same color I’ve used in my living spaces in my last two houses. I tried to think of ways to make a user-friendly entryway spot to keep my family’s accoutrements tidy near our main (side) entrance. I purchased a row of hooks, a little step stool from IKEA, and a big basket to keep everyone’s shoes in. I decided to blog about it after I painted the wall behind them. The very next week Soule Mama blogged about a very similar project and I had to laugh–maybe great minds think alike? Then I realized she actually did it a bit better than me because she included a row of hooks for the children, not requiring them to use the step stool like I was. So, inspired by her execution of a project that exists in many homes’ entryways, I added a row of bottom hooks myself after our recent paint job. The space now functions better. Isn’t sharing ideas great?
I’d like to make the point that while taking inspiration from the beautiful marketplace of the mama blogosphere is acceptable and even lovely, actually taking someone’s intellectual property and passing it off as your own is not okay. It is hurtful, wrong, and fundamentally uncreative to take something that belongs to someone else and present it to the world as if you own it. Inspiration is lovely. Following tutorials, giving credit and back-linking is grand. Passing another person’s intellectual property off as your own, especially in a way that diverts search engine traffic from the blog for which it is intended, is stealing. (Um, yeah, sorry I had to get all preachy, right? But I wouldn’t say it unless I felt like I needed to…)
Moving on, Dorothy has been asking me every day for a week how many days are left until we start school. Although homeschooling kindergarten at my house is actually going to be a pretty informal and fluid event, I have decided to follow the school schedule of our local public schools so that Dorothy and her public-schooling BFF next door will always have their days off together. It seemed high time for me to finish the perpetual calendar we will be referencing every morning and to let her see for herself how many days we have until we officially begin. I sewed rows of clear vinyl pockets over fabric that matches my new kitchen curtains. I printed off little cards with the days and numbers on them and inserted them into the pockets. I will task Dorothy will decorating/labeling the special days on our calendar (like the first day of school!) and she’ll add a sticker indicating the morning’s weather to each card as we go. Who knows, maybe the whole family will be better organized now that we have a pretty, easy-to-update calendar right there in the kitchen. (Yeah, right.)
For the first time since preschool began in the fall, I really can’t wait for it to end. Dorothy has had a great experience but the commute is getting to me. I’m tired of trying to schedule all of our family’s living around the picking up and the dropping off. I’m increasingly plagued by the annoying feeling that I can never get anything done, which must mean my priorities are off somewhere. At this point I’m thinking that the problem is the prioritization of sending my kid to a great school on the other side of town, and I know how to fix that. I’m glad we’ve chosen to homeschool next year so our lives and our learning can be more seamless. In the meantime we’re making do with weekends, like this Saturday when Noah’s Ark and my sewing project collided, creating a brand new playscape and a cozy scene. It was neat the way the toy took on a whole new creative dimension after I’d scooted the sofa over and spread out my work–the animals took on completely new existences. I’m finally working on the yellow quilt for Dorothy’s room that occasioned the purchase of many yellow-toned sheets almost a year ago
, when we were still playing the real estate game and day-dreaming of living in our current house (wallpaper and all).
My household now includes (cue ominous music) a walking toddler. He took steps the day before his birthday, apparently feeling the pressure of that milestone–or perhaps all the overheard whispered conversation about what an early walker his sister was. In any case, he’s a full-fledged across-the-room walker now, and wow is that dangerous. I’m so tired of replacing all the contents of my drawers that I went to the hardware store and bought an entire can of bungee cords and have been attempting to babyproof with them. They actually work pretty well on places like these. I have to make sure I don’t get them on there too tight because I don’t want to put stress on the cabinetry, but they do seem to be deterring the marauding child for a whileand I didn’t have to screw in any complicated locking mechanisms. (P.S. Stay tuned for a future before and after in which those kitchen cabinets become white!)
Also this weekend we took advantage of a Monday preschool holiday to take a one night getaway with our extended family. In honor of Dorothy’s upcoming birthday we journeyed to her idea of Paradise–the Great Wolf Lodge
outside Cincinnati. We went there once before, as a sort of consolation prize to her after a summer spent watching a newly-pregnant Mommy lie on the sofa in nauseous misery, and she’s talked about the experience ever since (the Lodge experience, not Mommy’s pregnancy–ha). I’m on their e-mail list so I know when they have good rates, and I really do think it is a worthwhile trip for the money. It’s not too far from home, not as overwhelming as a large park would be, and holds just the right amount of child-sized pleasures to keep a kid Dorothy’s age happy for a short trip. From the discovery of the complimentary child shower gel to the wolf mascot’s bedtime story, the experience kept a smile on Dorothy’s face for 24 hours straight. (And did I mention that all her doting grandparents went? Lucky girl!)
I wasn’t sure what baby brother’s take on the excursion would be, but after a short hesitation as he explored the splashing water he seemed to enjoy himself as well. We had to keep his stumbling little zombie steps from carrying his chubby baby legs out into deep water!
Unrelated, if anyone else likes embellishing t-shirts for themselves or kids, Old Navy is having a spring stock-up sale right now that involves good prices ($4 and $5) on solid-colored tees. These shirts are much better for crafting than the ones sold at craft stores because they have a more flattering shape and are softer. They won’t last forever, but do you really need them to? They are comfortable and cheap! Now I’ve got a whole bag full of future t-shirt projects waiting.