Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Ballerina in Her Classroom

As you will likely have guessed if you've known me for at least a year, we are deep into Nutcracker season, with the curtain rising in just nine days for my little Mother Ginger boy.

Every year, I tell you that the experience is overwhelming, and then the next year Syd is offered an even more demanding role, and the experience becomes that much more overwhelming. Soldiers rehearsed twice a week, but Mother Ginger's children rehearse every single flipping day--sometimes twice a day! I am a chauffeur, and a babysitter of young ones on their breaks, and I have a bad cold to show for it. Syd, of course, thrives, loving every minute of it, her only wish to dance even more (and perhaps to be a Mother Ginger girl instead of a boy, but we mustn't dwell on casting decisions past, for there madness lies).

The Mother Ginger scene, though, is my second favorite in all of the Nutcracker (nothing can beat the battle!). I also think it's interesting how every choreographer creates a different version of the dance to the exact same music.

Here, for instance, is Balanchine's version:



This epic performance is a hip hop version!



Along with rehearsals, of course the pre-college ballet program's dancers are expected to keep up with their regular dance classes, and for a treat Syd's teacher (who, despite being only a sophomore in the university, I think, is the absolute best ballet teacher that my child has ever had. The children all adore her, and Syd has never improved so quickly as under her tutelage) the other day invited us parents into the typically no-parents-allowed studio space to watch our children's class.

I am about to show you too many photos of that class, but don't worry--I have a hundred more that I'm not sharing!













I don't know where the kid gets her grace and poise from, but it is not from me or her father. Her sister, too, runs into every doorway that she passes. How wonderful, then, to have found a program where she can develop her natural talent into a deeper skill, one that challenges her and helps her develop perseverance and dedication.

Nevertheless, I am DEEPLY looking forward to the post-Nutcracker winter break!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Holiday Store-Bought Gift Guide: The Tween and Young Teen

I'm making most of our Christmas gifts this year, so this holiday gift guide for tweens and young teens isn't so much of a must-buy list for me this year. I have some things on here that I hope to buy the kids, but everything else is something that we already own and use and love:

These are the BEST colored pencils, I swear. They ain't cheap, but they are worth the price. My kids prefer to use them for everything. We have a family set, the kids each have a small set of 12, and for her birthday this year, I gave Will, who enjoys adult coloring books, this very set, with the instructions that she did not have to share her pencils with ANYONE. I may have to buy Syd her own set for Christmas.


I LOVE  this LEGO set! I love that it inspires more exploration of female scientists, and I think it has that nerdy-cool chic that a lot of teens (my teen, at least!) go for.

Best Friends Necklace for You and Your Dog

Is your kid's best friend her dog? MY kid's is, and she would be so happy, I think, to wear this necklace that matched a collar tag for Luna.

Colorku Logic Game
My kids don't love Sudoku, I think because the numbers make them worried that I'm tricking them into doing math, but at the same time they adore logic puzzles. They'd enjoy working the puzzles, but I know they'd also enjoy just making patterns with the colored marbles.

DIY Cat Sculpture

Don't tell Syd, but I already bought this for her. I bought it, like, months ago, and it's sitting in the top of my closet, along with an American Girl doll outfit, a homemade candle, already wrapped, for Will, and a bag of gourmet coffee, already wrapped, from me to myself. Syd is obsessed with her grey tabby cat, and she is going to freak out over this sculpture!

Slackline
This is the slackline set that I bought our family a few months ago, and we all really like it. It's definitely got a learning curve to it, but it's fun for the kids to see the adults struggle to learn along with them, and that perseverance while learning something is such a good example for them!

 Hatching Dragon Candle

This candle is ridiculously cute, and even better for kids who are super into dragons--like my kid!

Drone with a Video Camera
This was technically a present for both kids last Christmas, but Will, in particular, was totally wowed. It's not as hard to operate as you'd think, especially if you're mindful of the wind and you don't fly it too high until you're really, really comfortable with operating it.

Gummy Bear Night Light

Because even big kids need to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom! I'd suggest buying or scavenging an AC adaptor so that you can plug this night light in, although it would also be cute sitting on a kid's nightstand, easy to squeeze when she wakes up and needs a light.

Prime Climb
Although any kid old enough to know how to multiply can play this game, it's especially great for older kids and teens, because the way that it delves into numbers is algebraic, and encourages a deep understanding, while still being fun!

Personalized Pocket Knife
I carry a pocket knife wherever I go, and it's come in handy countless times, so you'll be unsurprised to hear that I think that everyone, even kids, should have their own pocket knife. I bought Will this exact one (with HER name on it, not Steve's...) for Christmas last year, and she absolutely loves it. And yes, it's come in handy countless times!

Stacking Cats Game
My teen won't get out most puzzles or games, but she WILL play endlessly with these desktop-type puzzles. She's also so inside her head all the time that these fine motor challenges are still great for her. My tween, who's still into most puzzles and games, would be hooked on this simply by the fact that it's cats.

Toaster/Egg Cooker
I fully admit that I am eagerly waiting for our family toaster to die so that I can buy this, but my kids also make their own breakfasts most mornings, as I bet do a lot of middle and high school kids. Wouldn't this be an easy way for a kid to make herself a filling, healthy breakfast in just a few minutes?

LEGO Mindstorms
These are crazy spendy, but there are adults who happily spend their free time programming and playing with these babies, so if you've got a techy kid, it's certainly not a hobby that she need outgrow.


We have an indoor aerial silks rig that the kids are in and on and around constantly, but for those of you with normal ceilings, something like this, mounted from a joist, would make a kid so happy--especially if you were able to put it in her bedroom so she didn't have to share it with you!

Gummy Candy Maker
Yes, it is kind of annoying to have a bunch of little electric novelty cookers in our cabinets (at last count, we have a combo mini cupcake/doughnut/cake pop cooker, a second mini cupcake cooker that Syd won't give up even though the thing I just mentioned also cooks mini cupcakes, a waffle maker that puts a princess on each waffle, and a cotton candy maker. The two play-and-freeze ice cream makers live elsewhere), but the kids love them and use them and get a lot of pleasure out of them, so there you go. Also, they use them to make FOOD, which I then don't have to make or buy.

Lootcrate

I'm deeply invested in several fandoms, so I know what it's like to be super into something and want to read/know/have all the things having to do with it. If your kiddo is super into something, you can often find a Lootcrate just about that, or if your kiddo is super into everything, they have subscriptions that have a different theme every time. I like the idea of a subscription as a gift that keeps on giving, but I also like the idea of sneakily ordering just one kit in advance, and then wrapping it up for your kiddo for the holidays.

Weird Perfume
Most perfumes are so cliche--pick a flower, make it cloying, and off you go. This company, in contrast, has really awesome scents--crayon, giant sequoia, paperback, etc.

Do you have anything that you've bought a tween or teen that has been a huge win? I'd LOVE to hear about it, so let me know in the Comments below!

P.S. I've got another holiday gift guide just of BOOKS for tweens and teens in the making, and another list that I'm working on just of handmade gifts for tweens and teens. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

23 Things to Make with the New Girl Scout Fabric


I, and volunteers around the country, let out a great squeal of excitement the other day when we learned that there is now such a thing as Girl Scout fabric.

Because obviously I don't live and breathe Girl Scouts enough--I also have to WEAR IT!!!

Which is about right, because I'm the kind of person who really just wants to spend my free time doing something along the lines of wearing Harry Potter jammy pants (which I own) and a Harry Potter shirt (which I own), watching Harry Potter on DVD (obviously), while flipping through the books (so I can compare them to the movies of course!).

Give me a chance to run a Girl Scout troop meeting while eating Girl Scout cookies and wearing jammy pants and a... I don't know, poncho?... made from Girl Scout fabric, and I am all. In!

Anyway... I don't actually have any Girl Scout fabric in my hands right now, because what I am actually doing is living and breathing the Nutcracker instead, but soon, my Friends. Soon Thanksgiving break will come, which means that Nutcracker rehearsals will be on hiatus and all I'll have to do is keep practicing my French braiding (Syd is wearing a wig this year, and has to have her hair French braided and pinned to her skull underneath it), so I will have LOADS of time to finally drive that whole ten minutes from my house to Joann's and buy myself some Girl Scout fabric.

ALL of the Girl Scout fabric.

The only thing that I know for sure right now that I'm making is jammy pants for me and the girls, because of course, so this long list that you're about to read is just me brainstorming other cute things that I think would be even cuter when sewn with Girl Scout fabric:
  • fleece blanket with trim. This fleece blanket would definitely be simple enough for a kid to sew, but the addition of the trim would add a lot of interest. A Girl Scout green trim would be especially cute.
  • tote bag. I could definitely use a couple of tote bags to carry around all of my Girl Scout meeting supplies. The simple lines of this one would let the fabric print take center stage (I write, just a few yards from a literal center stage, as Syd dances the Mother Ginger dance in a rehearsal room three flights up)
  • bucket bag. This roomier bag that you can close completely would make a good choice for the kids to carry their own stuff to troop meetings, or on overnights.
  • circle skirt. The fabric is a little spendy, considering that I already own plenty of cotton fabric, and it couldn't be part of either kid's uniform (I've already sewn the kid who wears skirts a Girl Scout uniform skirt, reversible with a prettier print on the other side because who can get excited about a khaki skirt?), but I do think that a simple circle skirt, made with one of the cotton prints, would look really sweet when paired with a camp T-shirt.
  • quilt. I wouldn't make a quilt just out of Girl Scout fabric (although maybe I should squirrel some away, or even start assembling blocks, for the Girl Scout T-shirt quilt that I'm planning to make both of my girls when they're older?), but I really like this method for using up smaller scraps of fabric in quilts
  • headband. This would be the PERFECT thing to make with the fabric! The kids could wear it with their uniforms, but it wouldn't be so branded that they couldn't wear it with their everyday clothes, as well.
  • zippered pouch. Depending on the size, the kids could use this to carry their cash while selling cookies, or it could hold their SWAPS at events.
  • sun hat. My favorite hat pattern is on Creativebug, but since I can't link to that one, this one is  a close second. My original idea for sun hats had been a Girl Scout color on one side and a fun print on the other, but both kids understandably rebelled at having yet one more khaki accessory. But if one side was a fun GIRL SCOUT print, it would totally work!
  • messenger bag. All of the girls in my troop could really use a small messenger bag like this one, just big enough to hold their water bottle and their notebook and pencil.
  • pajama shorts. These would be cute summer pajama bottoms, especially for Girl Scout camp. If you wanted to make a complete pair of pajamas, you could take a white shirt and applique a trefoil or your girl's initial on in the same print.
  • pillowcase. This would be another cute item to take to Girl Scout camp--make pajamas, the fleece blanket, and the pillowcase, and your kid will be totally decked out! Notice that I'm not linking my favorite burrito pillow method, because this particular tutorial is better if you want to fussy cut your fabric, which you would.
  • water bottle sling. I still like the idea of the slightly larger messenger bag better, because I like the girls in my troop to also bring their notebooks and pencils on field trips, but for hiking, a kid could just throw her water bottle sling over her shoulder and be all set!
  • pajama pants. I deeply want to make jammy pants for me and both girls out of fleece, but this pattern would work with cotton or flannel, too.
  • bean bag checkers. This fabric checkers set would be another opportunity to fussy cut and show off the cute Girl Scout prints. The whole set would be something fun to bring out on troop camping trips. Because you HAVE to play checkers when you're camping!
  • bandanna quilt. You'd have to modify this tutorial, because bandannas don't need hemming, but this would still be a pretty simple project to sew, and the four big pieces mean that it wouldn't have a lot of prep work, either.
  • pennant. Instead of felt for the background, you could use a Girl Scout print with interfacing behind it. Put each girl's name on it in felt, and I could imagine it being a cute souvenir for them to carry in a parade, or to plant in front of their tent while camping or at camp.
  • bean bags. You can do all sorts of games with a set of bean bags, so this would be a good permanent addition to a Daisy or Brownie troop.
  • lunchbox napkins. I've sewn a couple of these for the kids to use when they take a packed lunch somewhere. They're easy to sew, and would be a good teaching element/party favor for a meeting dedicated to the Junior Social Butterfly badge. 
  • one-seam skirt. Syd has made this exact skirt as a birthday gift for another little girl before, so I know a kid can sew it! You can use one cut of fabric to make two identical skirts, actually, so a whole troop of girls could learn to sew by sewing their own Girl Scout skirts.
  • apron. There are cooking badges at all levels of Girl Scouts, so girls of any age could use their own aprons. For Cadettes and up, though, you probably need to find a bigger pattern, as this particular one looks like it's designed for younger kids.
  • Geranium dress. This is a dress pattern for kids; I think the clean lines would show off a special print nicely.
  • ouch pouch. This is a little bag that can hold a small first aid kit--the tute uses quilting cotton and shows you how to piece a little red cross onto the front. As Juniors, both of my girls made backpack first aid kits as part of their First Aid badge, and this would have been so cute to put them in. Actually, they still carry those first aid kits, so maybe I could just surprise them with new packaging...
  • fabric-covered notebook. Even non-sewers could show off their cute fabric this way, and it would help the girls identify which notebook they're supposed to be bringing to meetings.
Have any other ideas for things to make with the Girl Scout fabric? I'm still brainstorming, so let me know!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Our Handmade Paper Came Out Awesome!

The Girl Scout Cadette Book Artist badge may turn out to be my favorite of the Cadette badges. It has hands-on art elements, some science and history, and you know how much we all love books. It speaks to me especially, since one of my Master's degrees is in Library Science, with an emphasis on Special Collections. Next month, my Girl Scout troop is actually taking a field trip to the special collections library where I spent much of my time working in the Reading Room in grad school, preparing the delicate collections for patrons and monitoring their use.

Most of the Book Artist badge is about bookbinding, with a bit of book repair thrown in, but you know that I have never met a lesson plan that I didn't burn to meddle with, so I have added two components to this badge: making paper and altering books.

I'll tell you more about our journeys in book altering later (just imagine embellishing old book pages, and making book page crafts, and turning books into art journals, and all kinds of other projects that treat damaged old books as resources), but we have just finished the last batch of homemade paper that we're doing for this badge, and so it's the perfect time to show it off!

Making paper is shockingly easy, but it does require a couple of special supplies that are likely what keep it from being something that everyone, everywhere does all of the time. Years ago, I scored at Goodwill an immaculate vintage children's paper making kit, with two perfect screens. I'm a little glad that the children haven't shown interest in the kit until now (and yes, it HAS sat on the playroom shelves completely untouched until now--strewing something doesn't guarantee they'll use it!), because the mesh on the screens can be fragile, and I'd rather have the screens now, when we really have a purpose for them, than to have had the kids goofing around with them years earlier and breaking them. Here's a similar paper making kit.

The other thing that you need is actually even optional: I bough the last sheet of paper making pulp from our local art supply store, but you don't even really need that, as torn-up white paper will also do for your amateur efforts.

The kids tore some of the paper pulp into chunks, but I really wanted to include an upcycling component in our project, so I brought out some of the ripped-up comic that I used to buy for a quarter apiece back when I was selling comic book pinbacks at craft fairs.



These are mostly vintage, and the kids almost got permanently distracted by poring over the ads, of all things:



To be fair, the ads are really great:


Like, who wouldn't want a blow-up pillow with Raquel Welch on it?

Ahem.

To the kids' irritation, I then stopped the entire world and made them have a lesson inspired by this ad:


I didn't blog about all of our acid and base experimentation back when the kids were super into it a few years ago, but one of the demonstrations that they did that was super cool and mindblowing was when they mixed citric acid and baking soda. Both substances, being dry, didn't react, but when the kids put the mixture into plain water--it erupted!

So imagine a white powder, similar to table sugar, that would cause a foaming reaction when wet, and boom! Foaming sugar!

Anyway... read the comics, then tear them into pieces and add them to your paper pulp:

Add water--


--and blend to bits!



The best wide bins that we own are the kids' work drawers, so we temporarily sacrificed the Monday drawer to our project:


It looks really gross, in my opinion, so add a bunch of water to cover it up:

I walked the kids through the process of creating one piece of paper each (even nicer that our paper making kit has two screens!)--


--and the paper pulp can keep for a while, so we let it sit out on the counter. When the kids' first pieces of paper were try, I then required them to each dip and make another piece of paper independently, without being walked through the process. And when THAT piece of paper was dry, they each had to think up and add an embellishment to the process. Will had really wanted to add colored thread, which I thought was an awesome idea, but then Syd added glitter to her paper so Will changed her mind and added glitter, too.

We ended up with plenty of homemade paper!

Fun fact: paper is ridiculous to photograph. It threw off my white balance and now I can't get it right, but trust me, there's glitter in there:

I like that you can also see the bits of comic book, but they're small enough that you can't tell what it is, just that it adds some extra color to the paper.

Homemade paper has a rough side that you can iron down if you want to use both sides--

It also works best with gel or ballpoint pens, not markers or felt tip pens, although you can paint it with a gelatin wash if you do want to use felt tips.

I don't have a purpose in mind yet for the kids' handmade paper, but there will be several different opportunities to make books throughout the Book Artist badge, so I'm keeping this paper, as well as the book pages that they've already altered and embellished, in a portfolio for them, and hopefully they'll be inspired to include some of the pieces in the several books that we'll be making during the course of this badge.

P.S. Love homeschooling or crafting or reading instead of cooking dinner? Follow my Craft Knife Facebook page and let me drag you down into distraction daily!

Friday, November 10, 2017

How to Metal Stamp Dog Tags

Metal stamping, especially metal stamping dog tags, is actually super easy, accessible and with a short learning curve, and great for kids. My kid who isn't really into crafts still gets into metal stamping, and my kid who is REALLY into crafts does all kinds of creative things, making cute slogans and gift tags for friends, etc.

I'm not that creative with it, but I do think it's fun and you can make some handy stuff. I took Syd's good idea and made some gift tags for Christmas gifts,  and a couple of tags with my name on them to put on my stuff--I am always leaving my stuff places!

The "real" metal stampers will tell you that you need a steel anvil, and that's awesome if you've got one on hand, but just between us, we've always done all of our metal stamping on top of a flat brick. I'll show you later how it makes the tag look a little janky on the back, but honestly, it's fine.

Here's what you actually need!

  • metal stamps. These 1/4" stamps are easier to wield--




--but I think that the look of the 1/8" stamps is nicer and more sophisticated. 
  • something to stamp. We played a little with stamping on coins, and it works, but I bought this pack of dog tags--



--and that's what we mostly use. I like that there are tons of tags in the set, so that when there's a group who's all stamping with us,  I can encourage them to do a couple of practice tags first. I HATE feeling the pressure to do something right the first time just so I don't "waste" supplies!

I haven't tried stamping on flattened soda cans yet, but it's on my to-do list!
  • something to stamp on. This steel anvil is the best surface to use, but we get fine results by using a regular old brick.
  • masking tape.
  • hammer.
  • fine-point Sharpies (optional).


1. Set up your dog tag on the brick, with masking tape to hold it down. The masking tape also makes a good guide line, although don't try to line your stamp up against it, or you'll end up stamping over the top of the tape and your stamped image won't be as crisp.

2. Starting at the center of your word, hold the stamp level against the dog tag and give it one hard whack with your hammer:


If you're using dog tags and a brick, it won't hurt your stamp to whack it more than once to make the image, but it's likely going to blur your image to do that. So just harden your soul, screw your courage to the sticking place, and WHACK that stamp!


Here's what the back of the tag will look like:

That raised pebbling is what I meant by the back of the tag looking kind of janky--it would be nice and smooth if you used a steel anvil, but YOU try throwing your dog a birthday party and having dog tag making the party craft, and YOU buy a steel anvil for every party guest to use at the same time!

That's right, a brick works just fine, doesn't it?

3 (optional). Use a fine-point Sharpie to carefully trace the lines of your stamping:


It gives the stamped image a nice contrast to the plain metal tag. 

I left these stamping supplies out on our playroom table all week after the dog's party, and this morning I came by and noticed all the tags that the kids have stamped off and on all week. Here are a few of them:
I made this one as a reusable gift tag.

Syd made this one. I have no idea what her plans are for it.
I encouraged the kids to make these as future SWAPS.




Will made a dog tag for the dog!
 This project seems to appeal to everyone. It's highly satisfying to whack something with a hammer as hard as you can, and my non-crafty kid seems to appreciate the fact that she can make a whole tag in less than five minutes. At the same time, if you like fiddly work, you could also spend ages of time getting all your letters lined up just right, or making each tag ever more decorative, or even buying more fonts or symbols if you wanted.

Or you could do what I do, and make another gift tag for someone every time you pass. Next time I go in there (to sort LEGOs, which is my other endless project currently running), I need to make a tag for Syd's ballet teacher that will go with her Starbucks gift card, Syd-made card, and letter from me explaining in detail that she is the best ballet teacher my kid has EVER had.

Thanks for being so awesome, Victoria!

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