with/for/about kids

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melt and pour soap handmade

Last week I pulled out the ingredients for melt and pour soap. My crafty double boiler, some clear soap base, various fragrance and essential oils, a stone shaped mold previously used for plaster, a silicone mini muffin tin and regular old food coloring. Soap molding isn’t something I do regularly but I’ve done it a few times and some of the ingredients overlap with other crafts such as candlemaking. The girl and I started on this project one morning and once the boy saw what was going on I ended up having to get more soap base, creamy white shea butter. The boy ended up making most of the different combinations but the girl enjoyed making the labels, which I cut from full sheet label paper I had on hand.

handmade melt and pour soaps with kid made labels

Purple glittered gentle rain, light blue clove, light brown clove with actual ground cloves mixed in, clear green peppermint, pink jasmine, clear orange bergamot, natural white cinnamon with cinnamon sprinkles, and maybe a few others that didn’t make it into the picture.

This project is so easy and fast that it is fun to do with kids and I think I have mostly done it with kids other than mine until this time. You can even use a glass mixing bowl in the microwave to melt the soapbase and any plastic container can be a mold. Clean up is a breeze of course!

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or alternately: How to get your kids to joyfully destroy a pound of Halloween candy in an hour without eating any of it

My friend Krista mentioned a website, candyexperiments.com, that gives suggestions for using candy to do simple science experiments with kids. (Check out Krista’s pictures, she must have been a lot more organized than I was.) The catch of course is to get your kids to willingly give up their candy right? We’ve done some household science experiments before so I knew that would be a good draw. I explained to the boy and his sister that they could each pick out 5 pieces of candy and then we would do science experiments with the rest of it. The boy looked thoughtful for a moment and then readily agreed. Sister followed suit.

I pulled out several heavy clear glass bowls, a bunch of spoons, cold water, hot water, baking soda, salt and lemon juice. The best part is the stirring of course. We tested to see what temperature of water dissolved candy faster. We used baking soda to test which candies were acidic (acid plus baking soda equals bubbles.) We dropped hard candies into boiling water to watch them crack. We all made a guess on which candy might float and then tested to see who was right. The girl picked Charleston Chews, because they are white in the middle. I don’t know about her logic but they did indeed float! We were also surprised to find that the addition of salt to one of the bowls of candy made the candy corns pop up to the top.

We also put a bunch of candies on a cookie sheet and watched them melt, crack open, and even change color in the oven. We were surprised to see that candy corn melts, bubbles and then turns transparent and cools into a hard glassy puddle. It was all rather chaotic, and the candy disappeared faster than I would have guessed.

candy melting and cracking in the oven

I managed to save some M&Ms for one particular experiment found on candyexperiments.com. I started with a clean bowl of water and very carefully dropped in different colors with the “m” face up. It was hard to be patient but we were rewarded with a rainbow of colors as the candy shells dissolved and the neatest trick of all: the white “m” floated up to the surface of the water!

m&m candies dissolving in water letter "m" floats


These projects barely qualify but since I haven’t done much else with a needle and thread lately you get to see them. Please excuse my lack of grammatically compete sentences. Strange mood tonight.

Water bottle holder. Yummy coffee/cocoa swirly fabric from Robert Kaufman. Self-lined with thermal-reflective fabric enclosed. Normally used to make potholders but should insulate cold as well as warm drinks. We’ll see how it performs.

water bottle holder with thermal lining

Mario Galaxy luma stars. At the request of the boy and his copycat sister. Green, his current favorite color and dark pink, her perennial favorite color. Highlights and eyes sewn on by hand, outline sewn by machine on felt. The boy named his Starfy and the girl named hers Perla but subsequently calls hers Starfy as well. The inspiration is thanks to “Uncle” Chad who brought his Wii game with him when he came to visit. (The jury is still out on whether or not we should press charges.)

hand sewn handmade felt luma stars from Mario Galaxy

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Under the waterline, starting from right side is large scuba man with lots of little oxygen tanks inside for the little scuba guys at the bottom who are dug into rooms under the sand along with a crab. In the upper left quadrant is a jellyfish, a cameraman, a horseshoe crab, an orange starfish and a lobster. This is a perfect example of the boy’s drawing style. Arrows represent relationships, movement, or the passage of time. Different elements are drawn with different levels of detail, often using varying points of view depending on the subject.


Do you sense a theme here? An ocean unit at school and a summer of trips to the beach have likely contributed to the subject matter, although I’m rather surprised not to see a hermit crab among the creatures.


Again we see a representation of events or cycles, not just a single snapshot. “A whale eating a shark eating a dolphin eating a little fish eating a little tiny shrimp” across the top. Also pictured are a diver taking a picture of a jellyfish, a baby shark, a manta ray gliding across the sand, a tiny starfish, and a “diving digger”. And “don’t forget the sea plant.”

I find the thought process of the boy’s drawings intriguing. Every child has their own style, even those who think they don’t like art can be encouraged to open up and go for it in the right environment. If you don’t have your own children to draw with, I highly recommend borrowing someone else’s child for an afternoon (with permission of course.) Get out some chalk on the driveway or some large pieces of paper on the floor and get down on your knees and draw together. Let the child guide you and don’t worry about having the right color or the right perspective or any of that kind of thing. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much you can enjoy and learn from drawing with a child.



The girl put on a fashion show with some of her favorite stuffies the other day. The boy provided music, commentary and urged me to take pictures. I complied of course.


The new looks for fashionable stuffies everywhere, available by appointment only.


The girl did most of this herself, using her own hair things, dress-up stuff and doll blankets, etc. The littlest bear is dressed in a cutoff baby sock, I did that.

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hair that is.

The boy has been in need of a haircut for several weeks. This is never an easy task. But he said he wanted his hair cut like the character Sosuké in the animated movie, Ponyo, from one of our favorite directors, Hayao Miyazaki.

Sosuke, little Japanese boy from movie Ponyo

So I hoped that we might have an easier time cutting it. Eh, not so much. But it turned out okay, may have to go back and put a few layers in the top but it’s cute, a traditional Japanese schoolboy haircut. (Or at least what I remember from when I was a kid.) With his light hair and blue eyes, very few people would guess the boy is 1/4 quarter Japanese. He’s happy with it and those friends who have seen the movie instantly recognized the haircut.

Before, during and after:
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Actually this is the baby gribble but the details are much easier to see. They are round and fuzzy with long pointy ears and a long snout with which to suck up ants and other bugs. Adult gribbles are solid green and have little stubby legs. I wish I could remember the other details of the habits of the gribble, it was a comical story told to me by the girl with large gestures and lots of giggling.

Here is my interpretation in polymer clay (with direction from the girl of course). Maybe I should attempt it in Fun Fur instead.

polymer clay gribble creature

The artist with an adult gribble—blue ant half way up the snout. Watch out!


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This post is for you, ArTchrJan.

rag rolled hair curls

Okay, this is actually the back of the girl’s head while she is working on the project to follow. She asked for curly hair so I put her hair up in rag rolls, too cute huh? Anyway, here’s her beach scene collage cut with the “special” scissors. We have an assortment of scissors with different edges like waves, scallops, etc. That’s a person on the beach and a sea monster in the water.

construction paper collage

Friday the boy brought one of our plain canvas bags to me and asked to paint it. The girl immediately wanted to paint too of course. As usual, I requested they make a sketch first. Otherwise the girl is apt to just scribble. Here are the results, including the feet of the artists; a Pokémon ball (or so I was told) and a tiger cat with red rat. And now we have a one-of-a-kind library bag! I think I’ll request they paint some others.

pokemon ball painted on canvas bag

tiger cat and red rat painted on canvas bag

And this project is a little older, maybe a week or two ago. the girl and I made this juice can lid mosaic out of Sculpey. Actually she did most of it, rolling the clay through the pasta machine and cutting out the shapes with canapé cutters, I just helped fill in the blue background and worked the oven.

polymer clay sculpey mosaic flower on juice can lid

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I haven’t posted any of my children’s funny words and phrases in a while so here are a few that I keep forgetting to share.

zazoo: looks like a whistle but makes buzzing noises, courtesy of the girl

egg noggin: you know, eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, yummy stuff. It’s good for your brain according to the boy.

dracamole: an imaginary creature that likes Mexican food (think avocados), as used by the girl

pig, pig, turkey: an answer to what kind of meat are you? or a game similar to that old waterfowl favorite. This was a coordinated sibling effort at Thanksgiving dinner, far funnier than the original.

And one of my favorites from the girl:
clap shoes: as worn by Gene Kelly or Shirley Temple. They sure do make a racket on our wood floors!

tap shoes with covered button elastic closure

The idea for the covered button closures on the tap shoes came from a post on the forum at Sew, Mama, Sew! from this blog: http://etownhooks.blogspot.com/2009/10/craftiness.html

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The boy built a cardboard house for his kitty. Added an attic for the girl’s kitty. And a porch with a telescope on the roof. For the baby kitty to watch the moon a.k.a. the kitchen light. There was much tape involved. (I helped with the heavy cutting and brought out the duct tape to spare the rest of the roll of scotch tape.)


I am privileged to be a spectator and sometimes participant in the amazing stories that they weave together. Their imaginations are quirky, funny and heartwarming. They can be sincerely sweet to each other in a goofy, storybook way that almost seems too cute to be real. Just as real as the 45 minutes of wrestling and screaming at each other they put me through later that afternoon. On occasion I regret that they share a room and there is no way to send them both to their room separately!


Rather close to Christmas, the girl and her daddy went to see Santa and she asked very seriously for a toy soldier. We knew that what she wanted was a toy soldier as seen in the Nutcracker ballet which has been very popular in our house this fall. I had already looked everywhere for a set of Nutcracker dolls or ornaments and while there were many sets out there, nothing seemed quite right. Or affordable for that matter.

So I added another project to my list and worked surreptitiously in my notebook (lots of math) and on the miter saw in the basement. The dolls are made of wood and the style is influenced by old-fashioned clothes peg dolls but made mostly with dowels and wood pieces I already had on hand.

wooden toy soldier with working drawings

Later I completed a few more of the characters—Clara, Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King—and she got them on New Year’s Day when we shared Christmas with my parents. The girl and her brother have been merrily humming Tchaikovsky and acting out bits of the Nutcracker ever since. What more could artistic/musical parents want?

Clara, Nutcracker Prince and Mouse King wooden ornaments

I may need to add wood-working as a category to my blog, I enjoyed this project very much (except for those pesky safety goggles). I could probably use some earplugs and a shop vac as well.



Admittedly, this photo is about a month old but I just realized I’d never shared it. The boy in the leaf pile. We had a great time that day, jumping in, playing leaf monster, piling on dad, etc. There’s some other things I’ve missed as well but I’m just going to offer some random favorite photos here until I get myself reorganized.

sleeping cats

Lila and Duke, curled up on the couch, just about every evening. Sometimes they let us sit with them too.


The girl, as Rudolph, with her ballet teacher, as the Nutcracker, after her very first performance. She was thrilled to be on a real stage although she did say more than once that she would have preferred to be Clara so that she could dance with her teacher. And of course she was quite enamored with all the beautiful costumes. The Maine State Ballet has a cute tradition of Father Christmas and his reindeer (the youngest ballet class) pulling the sleigh with Clara in it off the stage at the end of the ballet. It has nothing to do with the story and they are only on the stage for about 20 seconds but everyone loves it. Her brother and a special friend attended with us and all three of them sat in rapt attention through the performance. Tchaikovsky has such a universal appeal.


The girl cleared the top shelf of her bookcase of all its usual oddments and carefully arranged this sweet vignette. I had to snap a picture of it. The rose her daddy gave her after her performance in the Nutcracker, her well-loved kitty, given to her by her Nana, and Abby, her little Lego girl that I handpicked the pieces for and assembled to look like her.

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If you have small children and you’ve watched the Wonder Pets too many times I have now gifted you with that song stuck in your head. You’re welcome. At least I’m giving you a cute image to go with it, yes?

polymer clay sheep

The boy helped me make these little polymer clay sheep (about 1 to 1.25 inches long) for a game we played to go with a lesson at church. I made a felt pasture with a gated fence and a pool of water, there were also two different colors of felt stepping stones which the kids could arrange and rearrange into paths. A cliff and a little lion puppet provided dangerous distractions from the goal of following the shepherd’s voice to reach the pasture. We played it similar to “Simon Says” but instead I would say “The Shepherd Says” because sheep will only listen and follow their own shepherd, did you know that?

The game, and the sheep, met with giggling approval from the K-1 kids at church but I realized that with a few tweaks the game could be improved so that they could play it themselves. I haven’t quite worked out the mechanics of the game but my friend Jan made some suggestions similar to Candyland which would make it easier and more fun. When I work that out I’ll show you the improved game board.

The kids named the sheep Chocolate, Coffee, Vanilla and Cinnamon (left to right). There are no purely black or white sheep because we are running out of Sculpey but you can always mix whatever you have to make shades of brown!

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Sniff, sniff. My baby’s first hair cut. 4 years and 2 months. It will never look the same again. I’ve delayed and delayed but it seemed like it was finally time. After I recklessly wacked at my own hair and had to get my mother to fix it, the girl pronounced it beautiful and then quickly asked that I cut her hair too. She’s asked before several times and I’ve put her off but I gave in and cut off a few inches. Sigh.

With the machine AND by hand. Last week while we were all still pretty sick he got it into his head that he wanted to make a cube out of felt. I elicited a response that he was willing to do the work himself before we started. He quickly chose six colors and used a wooden block to trace out squares of equal size. He cut most of them out himself and showed me the placement. Since I didn’t want it to take forever and risk him losing interest I decided we should go for machine sewing. So I set him up next to me on the machine and helped him guide the squares through with a zigzag stitch. After the first try or two he could stop on a dime! After doing as many seams by machine as possible he used leftover quilt batting to stuff his creation. Then he enthusiastically agreed to sew up the open side by hand and did so, quite well, considering he’s never tried before. Then he decided to add four feet and also sewed those on, with my help, I tied the knots. He was very proud of himself, as was I. He named his creation Bobby and took it to school to show off what he had learned.

sewn felt cube


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