Monday, November 24, 2008

Blogging Break

We're up in the cold and snowy state of Michigan right now visitting our family; so I won't be blogging for the next few days.

Visitting home always inspires me with lots of fun ideas though; so I'm hoping that will translate into lots of great posts coming up soon! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and I'll see you next week!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Nature Thanksgiving Banner

e have never really decorated much for Thanksgiving before. This year though, when I found this idea for making a thanksgiving banner entirely with items found in nature, I thought it might be fun to start.

The project especially appealed to me because it would cost us nothing (we already had construction paper and glue on hand) and it would give us a reason to be outdoors.

M and I went on several nature expeditions hunting for materials. We even brought our nature bag to the zoo because I was hoping to find a peacock feather to incorporate (sadly, no luck).

It's really fun how many new things about nature one notices when one does something like this. For example, I had no idea how many different kinds of acorns there are in our area until I started scouring the ground for them.

t this stage it's difficult to predict what kinds of things will become traditions for our family, but I think it would be neat if this project became something we did every year. As our kids grow older they would become more involved. Each child could become responsible for a certain letter, etc. And wouldn't it be fun to have a collection of photographs of these banners over the years to display somewhere?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cardboard Puzzles

I have found a new way of making puzzles ! (new to me anyway- maybe you've been making them this way for years)

Here's what I did:

- Using an exacto knife, cut shapes out of a piece of cardboard (the thick kind- from a box).
- Painted the cardboard (an ugly metallic purple- because it was what I happened to have on hand)
- Obtained two duplicate images for each shape.
- Glued a piece of cardstock to the back of the cardboard.
- Glued an image into each hole
- Glued the other set of images to the cut-out shapes
- Trimmed each shape to make it easily fit into its hole

For this puzzle I used pictures of one set of our relatives to provide a little refresher course for M before we head up to Michigan for Thanksgiving.

M liked doing the puzzle very much. (She is especially fond of the doggie puzzle piece- can't leave it alone even when it has been correctly placed in the puzzle) Next time I make one of these, I am going to cut the pieces into different sizes. That way, it will be more obvious to her when she has a piece in the wrong place. (I think I'll stick with circles as it's still a little hard for her to match sides and corners)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ambigrams and Symbiotograms

Do you know what an ambigram is? It is a word that spells the same thing right side up or down. A symbiotogram is a word that spells one thing right side up, but when flipped spells an entirely different word.

Here is an example of a symbiotogram:

Each word "Ryan" and "Kate" spells the other when it is flipped.

If you think your kids might have fun with this concept, you might want to check out the online ambigram generator. (It does symbiotograms too, but they have to be words of the same length).

I think ambigrams and symbiotograms have all kinds of creative potential. For example, when I was a middle school Latin teacher, I used to create symbiotograms using Latin words and their English definitions. The kids had fun figuring them out! Certain kids were inspired to create their own word tricks. Interestingly, the activity seemed to be an especial hit with a couple of my students with Asperger's Syndrome.

If you do anything interesting or fun with the ambigram generator, I'd love to hear about it!

Giveaway Winner!

This week the random number that came up with was #7. That means that Jenna is the winner of the Dr. Seuss Marble Magnet Set!

Jenna said:

These are really cute magnets. My niece likes Dr. Seuss books, so I am sure she would love to get these for Christmas. Thanks for the giveaway!

I hope your niece enjoys these, Jenna! I contacted you by email, but if you didn't receive it for some reason, please contact me.

Thank you to all who participated in the giveaway and also to those of you who helped get my etsy shop off to a great start this week!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Favorite Nursery Rhyme

I wake in the morning early
And always the very first thing,
I poke out my head and I sit up in bed
And I sing and I sing and I sing!
- Rose Fyleman

Isn't that a perfectly happy poem?

Choo Choo Chair Train

Do your kids look a little bored this afternoon? Maybe you could suggest they build a train out of chairs! Send them scouting around the house for as many as they can find so it can be really long.

Then of course, they'll need to round up some passengers; stuffed animals and little siblings work well!

Kids can take turns being the engineer- tooting the whistle and leading the others in the chugging sounds and of course, announcing what they see up ahead on the tracks. Maybe they would like to sing along with a Thomas the Train CD after they have made up their own fun for a little while!

Twice the Fun Tuesday: Old Dryer Sheets

This tip may not exactly qualify as "fun," but it is useful! After fabric softener sheets go through the dryer they have not yet outlived their usefulness. Use them to clean mildew off of shower curtains. It works very well! They are also useful for taking soap scum off of the bathtub areas. Just wet and use like a cleaning cloth.

For more good tips today visit here!

Do you have an everyday item that you have put to new use? Please feel free to post a link to it here. I would be so thrilled to see your idea- even if it's a simple one. You don't have to link back to this site (although it would be great if you wanted to). I only ask that the link be family-friendly and that you link directly to the post and not some other place on your website.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hand and Footprint Wrapping Paper

Yesterday my daughter and I went outside to make some Christmas wrapping paper with her hand and foot prints. We used plain white wrapping paper and green and red paints (not finger paints- they aren't vivid enough). I think it will look cute wrapped around presents for the grandparents and tied up with big red bows!

For more great tips today, head on over here!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pitching Pennies

One Christmas when I was young, my grandpa taught us all a game he used to play when he was a boy- pitching pennies. We thought it was so fun!

Here's how you play:

Everyone starts out with a certain number of pennies and stands (or sits) a determined distance from a wall. One at a time, each person flicks a penny off of their thumb. When everyone has pitched their pennies, all rush forward to see whose penny is the closest to the wall. That person wins all of the pennies. Play continues like this until one person has all of the pennies and is the winner.

When I was a teacher I used to play this game with a slight variation. The way the students earned the pennies to play with was by answering review questions correctly. That way the students who answered the most questions had the best chance at winning, but it was still fun for the others.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Telephone Numbers to Letters Activity

Does your family have a long car ride coming up for Thanksgiving this year? Here's an idea from my friend Andrea that you can file away in the back of your mind in case the kids get restless. (This idea actually works best if there are at least 2 older kids in your bunch).

Have in mind a list of phone numbers that it would be good for your kids to have committed to memory. Maybe it could include grandparents, a work phone, the school office, a trustworthy neighbor, etc.

Hand your kids your cell phones (or if you'd rather, you could make a print- out of the letters that correspond to the phone number buttons ahead of time). Give them one phone number at a time to work on converting into an easy-to-remember word or phrase. (Most people have a much easier time remembering words than numbers).

One and zero are kind of tricky because they don't have letters assigned to them. Because of that, you might end up having to leave some numbers in your mnemonic device. For example, 512- 775-3746 might become "51 apples go."

See who can come up with the best idea, and let it become something your whole family uses from then on! Maybe you could work on converting the phone numbers of everyone who will be at your Thanksgiving celebration this year. Your kids would get a kick out of informing everyone of what their phone numbers spell, I'm sure.

Once you run out of phone numbers that need converting, you can work on your license plate digits. In that case, you'll work things a little differently. Each letter becomes the first letter of a word in a phrase. For example, HMQV-234 could become "Her Majesty Queen Victoria the Second is thirty-four" (never mind the fact that it's ridiculous- it works!)

13 Ways to Complete Household Drudgery without Numbing Your Mind

A housewife can spend many hours a week in mundane drudgery. In many of those chores one's hands stay busy, but the mind is left to its own devices.

I have found that if I am not deliberate about what I do with my mind during those times, it's easy to get resentful or negative. And, when you think about it, that's really an awful waste. There are so many useful and pleasant things I could be doing with that "free time" for my mind.

Here are thirteen ideas for making housework more pleasant:

1. Listen to books on tape, the radio, or podcasts. My mom always had classic pieces of literature blasting through the house as she did the dishes. As kids, that meant we were introduced to lots of great works like Sherlock Holmes and Jane Eyre effortlessly.

2. Pray while you work. You could assign a different kind of prayer to each chore. For example, dusting might be the time you think about and pray for your church's missionaries.

3. Work on making internal to-do lists. This way you don't waste time in between tasks figuring out what you are going to do next. Keep a small notebook nearby to jot down the tasks if the list becomes long.

4. Race yourself. Be very clever about efficiency, and run a timer to keep track of your progress. See if you can improve your time each time you do the task. Read Cheaper by the Dozen for inspiration!

5. Quiz your children on their times tables, spelling, etc.

6. Plan your next blog entry.

7. Make fun lists. Think of Christmas present ideas for your friends and family. Come up with ideas for new holiday traditions in your household. Make lists of your favorite foods. Think about insightful ways you might answer the question "how are you?" the next time you are asked. Keep a notebook nearby to jot down things you don't want to lose.

8. Let your children quiz you on fun things. Collect books of trivia questions, riddles, etc. that they can use.

9. Memorize Scripture. Keep index cards with Bible verses you want to memorize taped around your kitchen to help you when you get stuck. Change the verses periodically.

10. Whistle while you work. Or hum, or sing, or sing along with music on a CD. Not only will it improve your mood, it lets the rest of your house feel your happiness as well.

11. Think about ways you might make the task an art instead of a chore. The classic example of this to me is my mom making pie crusts. She always makes them from scratch even though it takes a long time and she thinks that storebought taste almost as good. She does it because it is something she really studied how to do, and she takes a healthy kind of pride in doing it well. Many things can be made more pleasant through a little creativity and by adding extra touches that make the completion of the task something special.

12. Come up with fun bedtime stories you can tell your children that night.

13. Consider how you will teach your children to do the task you are doing. What kind of things do you take for granted that they would need to be told and shown?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Givewaway: Dr. Seuss Marble Magnet Set

To kick off the start of my new Etsy shop O The Lemon Tree, I'm giving away a set of 12 of my handmade Dr. Seuss marble magnets. These magnets feature a wide range of creatures, expressions, and objects from Seuss' well-loved books.

Isn't it amazing how those illustrations have captured the imaginations of so many different kinds of people? Young and old alike can't help but smile when they see the simple, ridiculous creatures with their amazingly subtle range of human expression. I'll bet you know someone who would thoroughly enjoy having little snippets of Seuss in range of their everyday life. This set might be the perfect stocking stuffer for that person this Christmas!

The magnets are approximately 3/4 inch in diameter and can securely hold at least three regular sheets of paper.

Please note that marble magnets are not suitable for young children as they could pose a choking hazard. But older children or high school students might love having them for locker decorations!

To be entered in the giveaway, simply leave a comment below, and please include an email address or some way for me to contact you if you win. I will choose the winner next Tuesday night by selecting a random number through and will post the name shortly thereafter.

If you would like a second entry, you may write about this giveaway on your blog and leave a second comment giving the link for the post.

Some Flowers Have Faces

Monday, November 10, 2008

DIY Shipwreck in a Bottle

Here is something fun you and your kids can make from things you probably already have in the house. Here is what you need:

  • A jar (I used an old sesame seed jar)
  • A toothpick
  • Oil (baby oil is best, because it is clear, but I used vegetable oil and it worked fine too)
  • Food coloring
  • Paper and cardboard
  • Packing tape
  • Super glue
1. Wash the jar and remove sticky stuff from outside with goo-gone if necessary.

2. Fold a piece of cardboard in half and cut a little boat shape out of it. Use your scissors to cut a little hole in the bottom of the boat.

3. Cover the front and back of a small piece of paper with packing tape and cut a small sail shape out of it. Use your scissors to cut two small holes along the flat vertical edge of the sail.

4. Poke the toothpick through the hole in the boat and holes in the sail. Trim toothpick with scissors. Now you have your little boat.

5. Fill the jar part way up with water. (I actually filled mine a little too high- you want there to be enough room for the boat to stand up straight even when the jar is on its side)

6. Drop some blue food coloring into the water. Drop your little boat in the water. It should float upright. Fill the rest of the jar with oil. Make sure you fill all the way to the top so that there are no air bubbles.

7. Apply super glue to the rim of the jar or to the lid. Screw lid on tightly.

Watch your little ship bob and dip on the stormy seas!

Shaving Cream Bathtub Paint

Your child's next bath very well might be his very favorite bathtime ever. My daughter and I just had so much fun with an idea from a book called Prime Time Together with Kids. Maybe you'll want to try it too!

The Palette: A muffin tin with shaving cream squirted into each cup and mixed with a different color or colors food coloring. The Brush: An old basting brush from my kitchen.

The Easel: Our bathroom shower tiles
A Happy Artist:

We didn't fill the bathtub up with water this time so that she would be able to stand up without as much fear of slipping.

We had a great time!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Can a 15 Month Old Help with Dinner?

Well, maybe not very well, but here is my daughter helping me snap asparagus rods and getting quite a kick out of it. (she was also in charge of making sure the bad part of each rod made it into the garbage bowl)

I think it was quite a thrill for her to actually be part of the dinner-making process instead of being relegated to the floor with a pile of books like usual! :-)

Teaching Numbers

Here is something my friend Julia shared with me from her nephew's montessori class:

One is fun.
Round and back on the railroad track. 2-2-2
Round the tree, round the tree, that's how we make number 3.
down and over, down some more. That's how we make number 4.
Down and around with a flag on top. 5-5-5
A line and a loop, six makes a hoop.
Across the sky, down from heaven. That's how we make number 7.
We make an S, do not wait, climb back up and make and 8.
A loop and a line make number 9.
Straight line down, circle we bend. That's how we make number 10.

Isn't that fun?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Colossal Bread Fights

Every family has traditions. My extended family has one that I admit is a trifle odd...but fun! Almost every time we come together we have a bread fight of epic proportions.

Before a family event, my uncle goes to the discount bread store and buys a massive amount of bread, hot dog buns, bagels, you name it. It's very cheap because he's willing to take anything- no matter how stale. (the stuff other people might buy to use as duck food). On the day of our get-together, he places it all in the middle of his yard and we spend the next 40 minutes or so pelting each other with bakery goods.

And it's not just the kids who get drawn in- part of what makes it so fun to the kids is that they can take aim at an aunt or gang up on an older cousin. The tiny tots are awfully fun to watch because they can barely throw and so will run up to a person until they are about two feet away and take aim. Of course they squeal with delight when they plop their intended target in the arm.

Some personalities, being particularly fun to torment, find themselves attacked with a higher level of frequency. My sister is among that group and will often end up in a snowbank with about twenty hamburger buns stuffed down the back of her coat. (she's a good sport).
You might think that a bread fight would encourage bad habits with the kids- that it might cause them to start throwing rocks at each other or that food fights might break out during dinner time. As far as I can remember, nothing like this has ever been a problem. Instead, I think the bread fight is a good outlet for a natural childish urge. Maybe it is the case that because there is a time when it is appropriate, kids don't feel as compelled to act out in that way.

Because many of my extended family live in different parts of the country and don't see each other that often, the Bread Fight has served as a fun way to brake the ice over the years and bring our family together.

Does your family have a fun but wacky family tradition? I'd love to hear about it!

Yogurt Container Fishing

I'm always on the look-out for easy homemade toy ideas- especially those that use items I would otherwise have thrown away. So when I found in a book recently a use for old yogurt containers specifically for 15 month old toddlers I was happy to try it.

I cut a hole in the lid of a container, and tied a piece of string to a clothes pin. The idea is to clip various objects to the clothes pin and allow the baby to "go fishing" by reeling in the string and pulling the objects up through the hole.

It is supposed to be a brain stimulating activity because the objects get stuck, and they are supposed to work with them until they come out. So far, though, my daughter hates the idea. It frustrates her to no end. Oh well, I'll try again in a couple weeks and see if she warms up to the activity!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Keeping Puzzle Pieces at Bay

This is my solution to puzzle pieces running all over the house. (It's so unsatisfying to only be able to complete a puzzle part-way because one of the pieces is hiding under a cushion in the couch. :-)

Homemade Yogurt in a Crock Pot

Did you know that you can make delicious homemade yogurt in your crockpot- AND that it's EASY?

I didn't either until a couple of days ago when I found this site.

It really works! Here's what I did:

1. Put 3 cups of whole milk in my crock pot on the low setting for 2 1/2 hours.

2. Unplugged the crock pot. Let it sit with the lid on for 2 3/4 hours (ish)

3. Took 1 1/2 cups of the warm milk and mixed it with 1/3 cup Dannon plain yogurt.

4. Poured the yogurt back into the crock pot, put lid back on.

5. Wrapped crock pot in beach towel and left it unplugged and insulated overnight (or at least 8 hours- I left mine for 13 hours)

That's it! The next morning it thickened into a very nice yogurt. I like my yogurt extra thick though; so I let it drain for about forty minutes through a coffee filter-lined colander in the refrigerator. The whey that runs off is good for using in homemade bread (or so I hear- I'm going to try it in a couple days).

If my daughter were a little older, I would have had her help me and taught her a little bit about bacteria along the way. Here, by the way, is a site that gives a good overview of the science of yogurt.

Do you have any experiences with homemade yogurt? Any good recipes or things I should try?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Apple Puzzles

Here is a puzzle you can make for your kids that takes no more than 5 minutes- and it tastes good too!

With a sharp knife cut deep and jagged around the middle of an apple.

When you have cut all the way around, you should be able to easily twist your apple into two pieces. Now you have your puzzle!

Let your child see if he can put the apple back together again. If he is older, you can challenge him to put it back together on the first try (without touching the two pieces together until he has made his guess)
Apply a little lemon juice to the pieces and it would make a fun bagged lunch item for school!

For more great ideas today visit here!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Most Extraordinary Thing

"The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children." -- G.K Chesterton

Giveaway Winner: 2 Classic Children's books

Thanks to all who participated in this week's giveaway. Here's the report from

Here are your random numbers:

Timestamp: 2008-11-04 14:29:51 UTC

That means that this week's winner is lmkirb who said:

I adore Margaret Brown Wise books. The Runaway Bunny and Bunny's Noisy Book are 2 favorite here. I believe there can never be too many children's books in a home that has children.
Thanks for an amazing giveaway!!

lmkirb, please contact me within 48 hours so I can get your books sent out to you!

Be sure to come back in a few days when I will have another great giveaway!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Twice the Fun Tuesday: Old Mattresses

An old mattress that is on its way out to the dump may be good for a few good jumps out in the back yard (especially for children who have always wanted to jump on their beds and are not allowed to). Or it might also put in a few extra days' hard work as a puppet stage!

Here you see my sister and I standing on chairs behind an old foam mattress that we covered with printer paper (remember those old printers?!) and painted on for scenery. I don't know how many unfortunate souls we forced to sit through our puppet plays those couple of days, but I'm sure it was a lot.

Even if you don't have an old mattress to get rid of right now, you might rip the sheets off one of your beds and steal the mattress for an afternoon in order to inspire any young puppeteers around your house to new heights of greatness. :-)

If you have more than one mattress on hand, maybe you can make some fun tunnels like my cousin and her dad!

For more great tips today head on over here.

Do you have an everyday item that you have put to new use? Please feel free to post a link to it here. I would be so thrilled to see your idea- even if it's a simple one. You don't have to link back to this site (although it would be great if you wanted to). I only ask that the link be family-friendly and that you link directly to the post and not some other place on your website.