Wednesday, January 22, 2020

There Was a Little House. . . .

Laurel and I have both taken a long blog break, mine longer than hers. But we plan to be back with a vengence because we have missed it. It stirs our creative juices, and, more importantly, it keeps us connected to each other in a special way.

Before I fell off the earth, I had started working on a children's garden and playhouse for our back yard. (I blogged about it clear back in spring of 2018.) Over the next few weeks, I'll update you on the progress and share what I learned from the experience--what worked and what didn't.

My yard growing up was a childhood paradise, a half acre of house, lawn and flowerbeds, and another half acre in back of orchard and trees--and a brick playhouse that my Dad and older brother built for me. I knew I couldn't replicate that sense of space and freedom in our much smaller city lot, but I did hope to carve out child-friendly, creative spaces for our grandchildren. That space centers around this playhouse--a much smaller and simpler version of the one that my Dad created for me:

I found the free building plans for this house at a site I use often for my DIY creations. Because the site has everything else you need to know, I'll just share the things I learned and the adaptations I made to make it more weather proof; the Ana White house was made for indoor use.

Although I wanted my structure to be sturdy, I didn't necessarily want it to be permanent, so I chose not to lay a cement foundation. Instead, I bought a prefab section of cedar fencing that was about two feet wider and longer than the house. Cedar was more expensive than pine, but I knew that it would weather better. If I had built it myself, I would have made it a about two feet longer to give the house a larger side porch area. As it is, it has a narrow back porch that is shaded by an overhanging part of the roof and a small side porch. It gave me enough room to add a little bistro table that can be served through the back window:

But choosing a pre-made foundation made sense; it was both less expensive and much easier since I was constructing the house by myself. I did add some extra bracing to the underside to strengthen it, and I attached boards to the front, back, and sides for strength and aesthetics.

To keep the platform off the potentially wet ground, I rested each corner on bricks. Since the ground slopes away from the house, I used smaller bricks in the front and cinderblocks in the back where the slope is greater.

I put the frame together on my porch because of a very rainy spring and then moved it to the platform to put up the walls. The biggest challenge was keeping everything square. Fortunately, wood is very forgiving, and when I had to, I just shaved a little off to make things fit.

In a way, it was a good thing that there was a lot of rain. It slowed the process down, and because of that, it quickly became clear that nails from my handy nail gun were not going to be sufficient to hold it together. As the tongue and groove planks became heavy with rain, they began to sag and pull away from the frame. So I went back and added screws to every board. It made all the difference, and I would recommend screws from the very beginning.

The plans call for a plywood roof, but plywood does not hold up well in wet weather. So my wise husband looked for and found a lighter and more durable solution online at Home Depot. We ended up using a Suntuf polycarbonate clear roofing panel that we cut to fit and then screwed into place. It keeps out rain and blocks harmful UV rays while letting in light. The entire roof is a skylight.

I painted the house, both inside and out, with two coats of clear polyurethane and painted the front trim with oil-based, green paint. (You can see from the pictures of the back porch that the wood is already beginning to weather a bit, but I'm okay with that.) Then I had the fun job of furnishing and decorating the interior. I found (or made) all the child-size furniture at thrift store bargains:

And the exterior--a thrift store rocker for the porch, solar lights from Amazon, and a genuine mailbox from the hardware store:

Welcome Home!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Octonauts Themed Birthday Party

Well, our first ever birthday party is in the books! Don't get me wrong; we didn't completely ignore SourPatch's first few birthdays. There were definitely cake and family time involved in all of them, and I think birthday #3 fell on a day I was hosting preschool, so we worked birthday festivities into the activities of the day (that year had the best dragon cake, too! The tutorial is floating around online somewhere...)

Then last year, SourPatch opted for an excursion with a friend over a traditional party. Yet this year... this year it felt like it was time. Patches was excited about a friend party, and I was ready to try to expand my mothering experiences to include hosting said party. His favorite show of the moment is Octonauts, a show of which I approve and an obvious theme for his party.

Here's what I liked about his birthday this year: it gave us an opportunity to work on party-preparations together. For example, we bonded making a pinata of Captain Barnacle's face. I was going to add a link to the tutorial we used, only to find out the site is having troubles. Basically, we cut out two outlines of a polar bear head in cardboard and a two inch strip of cardboard to go in between. We taped it together with packing tape (not too tight, lest the kids couldn't crack it open...) and left an open flap to add candy later. Oh, and I added some sturdy ribbon tied around the inner cardboard strip for hanging.

Next, the wrapping! To give it the appearance of fur--and that classic pinata look--I cut slits 3/4 of the way up two rolls of white streamers acquired from the dollar store. Since I had modge podge on hand, it was my adhesive of choice to brush across the pinata in sections as I wrapped the pre-cut streamer around and around and around, overlapping the strips to leave no brown cardboard peeking through. SourPatch was a great helper here.

Once completely wrapped, I let it dry and cut out a hat, ears, and face from construction paper and card stock. Add an Octonauts emblem to the hat, and voila! The captain.

I'm glad it looked cute and even more glad that the kids universally seemed to enjoy hitting it. Indeed, they kept hitting it even after the candy came out.

My son also enjoyed helping decorate for the party. We added streamer seaweed to the windows.

We also made and hung jellyfish from the ceiling (the tutorial is found here at Little Stars Learning.)

So... activities. I read lots of moms online skip the party games all together and just let the kids play, especially if they have pleasant weather and a big yard. I considered having the party at a nearby park, but the weather was inclement. Further, the point was to try to throw a "real" party, not just a play date, so, consulting with the birthday boy, we tried to think of activities he and his friends would enjoy.

As the kids arrived, we had a bubble machine blowing ambient bubbles on the porch. First thing, they came and played "Pin the Eyepatch on Kwazii" (another creation we threw together with poster board and construction paper, though I believe there's a version you can buy on amazon.)

Then, there were ocean sticker scenes from Oriental Trading Company available for the kids at folding tables to create while waiting for the other kids to arrive. I'd say half the kids chose to do the sticker scenes while the other half played with toys. Works for me!

Once all the children arrived, we unrolled a "treasure map" to three different spots in our home. The first spot had a classic "fishing game." Dad crouched on the other side of a blue blanket, attaching cheap plastic ocean animals to the end of a fishing rod as each child took turns casting it over. The next spot on the map went to these awesome swordfish swords, also from Oriental Trading Company (but sadly now discontinued.) I had them stabbed into a gold, spray-painted cardboard box so they could each pull their sword out King Arthur style. The kids enjoyed playing with them and surprisingly didn't kill each other with them (though one child did obliterate the box... no picture of that one!)

Our last stop on the treasure map led the kids to sand boxes on the porch full of buried gold (plastic) doubloons. After digging their allocated amount of coins, they were free to go and play until pinata time. I, like every other mom on the internet, made "Pesos' Medical Bags" to hold their party swag and pinata candy. Thank you, Misadventures of a First Time Mum for the band aid printable.

As mentioned before, the kids really do love hitting a pinata, especially with their new swordfish sword. Post pinata, we went inside for cake and candles. I made a Kwazii cake on Patch's actual birthday earlier in the week; we rocked cupcakes for the friend party. Now, what to do for food? Looking online, I found that some really beautiful, elaborate, and adorable, ocean-themed spreads. I thought and thought about what to do... and decided to follow one party planner's much simpler suggestion: ice cream bar. Kids love the power to choose their own toppings, she claimed, and she was right. Cake and ice cream? Simple. Though yes, I'm sure I did spoil these kids' lunches...

I really meant to say "no presents necessary" on the invitations and then just didn't... However, it was great to see how excited the kids were to see SourPatch open his presents. I thought kids hated the "open presents" part? I was actually going to skip it. Again, I'm a rookie mom, apparently; this was a highlight for the guests, and though I'll still likely say "no presents" next year, it was fun to see the kids' faces light up with the happiness of giving.

It felt like a win. Yes, we invited more kids than I thought prudent for the age group (and our square footage.) Yes, it was chaotic. Yet the kids seemed to enjoy the activities and company, and SourPatch had a great time, both in the preparations leading up to the party and at the party itself. Victory.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Young Women's Smash Book Activity

Fact: Young Women's is new to me. I mean, yes I attended young women's class as a teenager at church, but this is my first time called to it as an adult. It's a learning curve, but I'm tentatively enjoying the process.

I feel like our last mutual activity was a success, in part do to the wonderful hoarding of goodness knows how many previous presidencies. Our YW closet, it turns out, is a treasure trove of stickers, jewels, and scrap booking do-dads. Add to it some awesome scrap booking paper and wasabi tape one of the counselors inherited from work, plus some dollar store composition books, and we were set. If you have a similar stash of materials available, this might just be the activity for you: we made "smash books," the internet-sensation, journal/scrapbook with no rules and no pressure. I hoped this would be a good prelude to upcoming personal progress activities; after all, so many experiences have a journaling component. It's also a nice start-of-the-year activity, don't you think? Resolving to document your thoughts and adventures of the upcoming year?

Here's hoping. As the girls arrived, we played a few rounds of "This or That?" as a get-to-know you opportunity. I printed the ideas from Amateur Craft Hour and cut each  suggestion into a strip of paper, thrown into a bowl. It was fun to hear which "item" each girl would pick, and hopefully a good bonding experience, too!

Next, I explained we were making "smash books" and showed some online examples to get the girls excited and give ideas of what to do. I then asked why we are commanded to keep a journal or record, and answered it a couple of ways. One, there's this great, short video from President Eyring's talk O Remember, Remember. After watching the video, we passed around and read some of my favorite quotes pulled from the New Era article The Angels May Quote from It by President Spencer W. Kimball. It's a fabulous message.

Now on to the creating! Almost. With all of these crafty supplies on hand, this is also a natural time to write an amazing birthday card, a thank you, or a "we miss you" message to anyone to whom the YW might need to send their appreciation! If the bishop or a member of your ward needs a pick-me-up, it's easy to spend 5 minutes expressing love and appreciation... in every color. And with stickers. In our case, it was the YW president's birthday, so each girl wrote a birthday note and decorated a giant card (poster, really) to leave on her doorstep.

Then, on to their books! With the 2019 youth mutual album playing in the background, we just chatted and decorated. It's nice that these books are open-ended and low pressure. We'll see if the girls bring these journals with them to Young Women's on Sunday; I feel more motivated as a leader to provide handouts when I teach so I can encourage them to glue them in. It was a fun activity.