Friday, December 16, 2011

A Gift from Ruben

Holiday decorating is in full swing at our house.  We will get our tree tomorrow, but the halls around here are already decked with many quirky decorations.  Last week, Ruben made this posable paper Santa toy for our front door, and today he asked me to share it with you.  If you want to make your own, you can print this on heavy paper, punch holes in the arms, legs and body, and use wire brads to put it all together.

Ruben's fondness for Santa runs deep.  He pulled out his old hat and pipe cleaner beard again, and I can easily imagine him dressing up like Santa every year from now until his real beard is long and white.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December Leaves

Do you decorate your house for the seasons?  Here in Los Angeles, the reality of our natural world bears little resemblance to our "seasonal" decorations.  Back when the kids were painting Fall leaves in school, outside the trees were green and blooming.  We picked strawberries and went to the beach.

Now that it is December and the school children are making cotton-ball snowmen and construction paper evergreens, the few deciduous trees that show color are giving us their muted reds and yellows, while the chilly winds kick up their fallen leaves and swirl them about.

It won't snow here.  People are just now harvesting the last of their tomatoes.  In winter our hills are green and in summer they are brown, but our seasonal decorations carry on with daffodils, ice cream cones, falling leaves and snowmen as if the whole world was New England.  I don't mind.  I want my kids to know that in December, children somewhere else are sledding and having snowball fights.

But, last week we gathered some of the prettiest leaves on our block and found a sycamore branch that fell in the wind, and I made a Los Angeles style December decoration for our living room.

Falling Leaves Mobile:  Sycamore branch, Liquid Amber & Ginko leaves dipped in beeswax, transparent thread.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Play Kitchen Made From An Old Bed!

Here is a very special play kitchen that I made out of an old wooden bed frame:

It started out like this:

It was a little dented and scratched and had a broken leg, but I loved some of the details like this "beehive" bedpost finial.

We cut it up and reassembled it:

I had some ideas for it that worked out especially well, like this olive oil can that I cut open and mounted behind the stove.  It is mainly decorative, but it could also double as a magnet board.  I used some painted rulers along the sides to protect fingers from the sharp edges.

The "burners" are lids from large cans.  I used a can opener that pries the lids off without making them sharp, and attached them to the surface with small button top wood screws.

I added some little drawings with paint pens, like this doorway and a small stop light.

Most of this project was made using recycled materials.  The little picture frame was once an electrical outlet cover.  (I taped two photos to a piece of clear plastic and taped the plastic inside the metal cover.)  That funny hanging mushroom is an old chime mounted on a wooden spool.  Just under it is a springy doorstop that rings the chime.  The spinning stove knobs are slices of a wooden dowel, wood screws and bottle caps.

The sink was made with a steam table pan, plumbing pipes and some old hot and cold bathtub knobs.  Joe hand cut a perfect little matching shelf out of one of the leftover wood scraps.  The beehive shape on top of the bedpost inspired me to paint it yellow and draw some tiny bees on it.  I drilled a hole in it and painted the inside of the hole black.  It was immediately used to gather honey for pretend tea!

This kitchen was made as a gift for some very special young friends of ours who are two and a half year old twin boys.  They love to cook and I wanted to make a kitchen for them that they could work and play at together for years.  It was so fun to build and tinker with, but the most gratifying part was giving it to those adorable little guys and watching them enthusiastically cooking! 

I have to admit, as excited as we were to deliver it, we missed it when it was gone.  But then, just a few days after we delivered it, we found another darling little solid wood bed frame with lots of potential, so more kitchens are coming soon!

If you are considering making a play kitchen, I hope this gives you some inspiration, and if you have already made a play kitchen of your own, I would love to hear about it, so please share your ideas and links in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Monster Game

Here's a simple family art game that we think is so much fun:

1.  Get a piece of paper and a pencil for each person who wants to play. 
2.  Sit so that you can't see each others' papers. 
3.  Take turns giving drawing instructions by naming monster parts for all players to draw on their papers. 
4.  When you are all done, show each other your monsters!

Here are some examples of drawing instructions: Draw a square head, add striped horns, make a mouth with as many teeth as you like, draw a long neck, make a fuzzy body, give it feet but no legs, add six arms, draw some eyeballs.

Here are three of our monsters (Diego's, Ruben's and mine) from the same set of instructions:
So far, we have only drawn monsters, but we enjoy this game so much that I'm sure we'll try it with other themes in the future.  It could be fun with castles, cities, animals, robots, or anything that the kids are loving at the moment.

The idea for this game was inspired by a lovely post on The Artful Parent.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Non-Stop Halloween

Julio LOVED his super-special Halloween costume:

But, after so much excitement, he happily got back into his boring old everyday clothes:

(Ladybug costume made with aluminum wok cover, red spray paint and black tape, held on to the back by a tiny backpack taped into the inside. Pipe-cleaner antennae stitched on to jersey knit hat.)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Eleventh Hour Halloween Ideas

Happy Halloween, everybody!  In case you need a last-minute costume change, here are some very fast ideas from the archives for you:

The Fastest Capes

5-Minute No Sew Skirts for Witches, Wizards, Pirates and Fairies

Tin Can Tin Man

Cats and Mice

Fork Fangs

If you make the skirts or capes, remember to save the t-shirt sleeves to use for super-easy matching doll or toy costumes!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Simple Play Kitchen Sink

I have been busy working on a special play kitchen with a toy sink that I am building for some friends.  Julio has been so drawn to it while I'm working on it, that I decided to make a simple version for him.  I knew that I wanted to make it out of recycled furniture, and before long, I found this little treasure out on the curb:

Am I the only person in the world who could get excited over this piece of junk?  When I saw it, I knew it was just perfect.  I cut a few inches off of the legs and a hole for the sink, painted it blue, and outfitted it with some inexpensive plumbing pipes and a steam table pan.

I made some wooden knobs that are decorated with bottle caps.  They were very simple, and they are nice and sturdy.  (Let me know if you like these little knobs, and I'll give you a tutorial.)

I stuck a wire rack in there, but I may have to take it back every time I want to bake some real cookies.  I thought the kids might want a door and more knobs for the oven, but I was happy to see them miming opening and closing the oven when they were pretending to bake.  I'm going to wait and see how they play with it, and then I might add some more details later.

The only real problem with it is that now Julio believes that he can really wash his hands here.  When I tell him to wash up for lunch, he refuses, saying, "I already did it in MY sink."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Chalkboard in the Hall

This simple project  has been on my to-do list for years.

And then, moments after I hung it on the wall, Ruben wrote his first sentence.

I bought a piece of decorative molding that had a ledge big enough for holding chalk and catching dust.  I rubbed some mineral oil on it, let it dry, and screwed it directly into the wall studs.

I painted a thin sheet of MDF with chalkboard paint (three coats with a smooth foam roller, and light sanding after each coat with 250 grit sandpaper).  I waited three days and then "seasoned" it by rubbing it all over with the side of a piece of chalk and then washing it.  I mounted it on the wall with drywall screws and finishing washers.

It has seen a lot of action all week.  Julio has become an expert at drawing 7 and 8-pointed stars.  What?  Your two-year-old can't draw an 8-pointed star?

I'm kidding, of course!  He just loves scribbling on everyone else's drawings.  And we all love this new chalkboard.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Things you would never see on my sideboard before I had kids:

A.  Monsters, bats and superheroes
B.  Broken glass
C.  Collectible figurines
D.  Jigsaw puzzles
E.  Piles of bills

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Front Tooth

It was a happy day when, after weeks and weeks of wiggling, it finally came out.

Diego would like to add:  "When I lose a tooth, I feel surprised, happy and glad.  It feels like an upside-down crevice when I put my tongue in the gap if it's one of the top teeth that's in the middle."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Quesadilla of the Woods

After the first rains of October, these enormous brilliant yellow Laetiporus fungi popped up here and there around Los Angeles.  I remember seeing one growing on this same tree last fall, and there were dozens of them on a block near our house last year.

Apparently, they are edible, and according to this, they taste like chicken.  (Note to my mother: I am NOT going to eat this.)  It may be delicious, but in addition to "Chicken Fungus" and "Sulfur Shelf," another of its thoroughly unappetizing common names is "Quesadilla of the Woods." 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Is Halloween Tomorrow?

As we went outside to carve our pumpkin back in 2008, a then four-year-old Diego said, "I've been wanting to do this ever since last Halloween, and as soon as we're done I'm going to want to do it again next year!"

What is it about Halloween?  It seems like it has constantly been Halloween around here for years... the daily costumes, the obsessions with monsters, skeletons and candy.  But it's October now, and the rest of the city has finally caught up with us.  The boys want to decorate our front yard.

This guy's been on our front window for a month already, but he'll have some spooky company soon!

Monday, August 29, 2011


The other day, I stopped a very angry Julio from pinching Ruben by asking him to draw a picture of what he was feeling.  He looked at the paper and crayons and then asked me to draw it for him.  Before I could answer, Ruben eagerly offered to help, and the two of them sat down on the floor to make this:

Of course, I love this drawing.  Isn't it expressive?  Julio drew the little dark cloud on the left, and Ruben made all of the faces.  That is Julio on the left with his arm out trying to pinch.  Ruben is at the top, and Diego on the lower right.  Julio sure looks mad, and it was a pleasure watching Ruben draw him, as Ruben kept looking up at Julio's face to get the details right.  It's on an 18"x 24" paper, and was done with those wonderful beeswax block crayons.

I love the actual fighting a bit less.  Over the past few months, they've had a lot of time to practice getting along with each other (including learning some shockingly colorful insults and hand gestures).  I think they resolve their frequent conflicts more quickly now than they did in the beginning of the summer, and they don't always need my help to work things out, but my boys are LOUD and physical and expressive, and right now I'm ready for some quiet

Summer vacation is almost over, and very soon we will not be spending all day together.  In spite of the fighting, I think I'll miss it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Locks and Keys and Canada

Many years ago, I gave a presentation about a children's book to a class of second graders in northern California.  At the end of my talk, I asked the kids, "Do you have any questions?"  Half a dozen eager hands shot up, and the girl that I called on breathlessly asked, "Have you ever been to CANADA?"

I had asked a bunch of seven-year-olds if they had any questions.  Of course, they had questions!  As clever as those kids were, they hardly knew anything.  It didn't matter that Canada had absolutely nothing to do with my book and that I had only spent two hours once upon a time in the airport in Calgary, they were amazed.  We talked about Canada for twenty minutes!

I'm telling you this story because sometimes I need to remind myself that the most mundane things are often completely new to kids.  If your house is like ours, you probably even have lots of boring things in your closet or garage that would be fascinating and special to kids.

These locks were perfect for Ruben.  How on earth did we have so many kinds of locks in our hall closet?  There was a combination, a u-lock, padlocks in many sizes, and an old deadbolt with two cylinders.

I will look around for more accidental collections like this in our house.  Maybe we'll clean out the tool box or take apart some obsolete gadgets.  I'd love to give them an old typewriter or sewing machine to dismantle.

What else can you think of that is probably lying around the house and might be fun to examine?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Playing with Magnets

My kids almost never say, "I'm bored."  I think the reason may be that if they do, I always look at them like they just said the coolest thing ever and tell them, "Great!  That probably means you're about to have a good idea.  People often think of interesting things to do when they are bored!"

This doesn't mean that my kids don't get bored.  Sometimes I see it coming, and then I try to quickly bring out something new for them to explore.

Lately, the magnets on our refrigerator have been seeing a lot of action, so yesterday I put out some trays on the dining table with as many magnets as I could round up.  We had lots.  I put out several kinds of metal objects like cans and containers, cookie cutters, and whatever I could grab in a few minutes.  I even brought out a box of pins (but only left them out when I was standing by).

They were occupied with these for over an hour, testing them, building things, trying to make them stick to different things, and gathering more magnets from their toy collection.  Before long, they came up with some fun games to play using little rubber guys that had magnets in their hands and feet, controlling them with other strong magnets under the tray.

Sometimes they called it "Little Guy Dance Party" and sometimes, "Little Guy Fight!"

Speaking of little guys fighting, did you see that scratch on Diego's cheek?  Little guys fighting seems like one of the "interesting things to do" that my boys come up with when they are bored.  That is why I scurry around trying to conjure up something else for them to do if I happen to see it coming!

Monday, August 1, 2011

I do it MYSELF.

This particular toddler phase is a lot easier for me the third time around.  I'm a little better at knowing when to help and when to wait, and a lot better at budgeting some extra minutes for getting dressed.  Pretty soon he will be able to do it all by himself, right?  Didn't we all suffer this pain when we were two, this wanting to take care of ourselves without needing help?  Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I still make these same faces when I look at our laundry pile.