Thursday, December 29, 2016

Home is Where the Heart Is: A Little Bit of Texas Love

To those of you who don't live in Texas or who may not know anyone who calls Texas home, I'm just letting you know that Texans tend to be very devoted to the Lone Star State. (Please forgive us if it ever gets just a teensy bit annoying.) That said, this particular post is pretty much all about, well, lovin' Texas.

I saw something similar to this and thought, "I should make one of those!" So I did, and this is how:

Orignally, I planned to paint my Texas on burlap and then frame it, but one day while I was in Michaels with Delys, she pointed out this pre-stretched burlap panel which also happened to be on clearance. (I just saw some at Walmart as well.) Perfect!

I googled Texas shapes until I found one the right size, carefully cut it out, and then used the outside as my stencil holding it in place with masking tape. Notice that the Texas shape is not centered up and down; I left extra space at the bottom so that there would be room for the caption. Using charcoal colored acrylic paint and a lightly loaded stencil brush, I gently tapped the shape onto the burlap:

I like the smokey, uneven pattern it created:

If you are a decent artist, which I am not, you can simply freehand a heart over your favorite Texas location. Because I have absolutely no confidence in my artistic abilities, I created a small heart stencil and painted it the same way I did Texas except that I loaded more paint onto the brush so that the heart stands out a bit:

Again, if you are a skilled penman, you can freehand the caption onto the burlap. I am not, so I chose a simple font that I liked and printed the phrase onto paper from the computer. I had hoped that I could transfer the words onto the burlap using tracing paper and then go over them with a fine tip Sharpie, but the transfer paper didn't work on the burlap. At all. So, taking a very deep breath, I taped the computer paper strip above where I wanted the words to be and simply used it as a reference as I wrote in the words:

Thankfully, no major flubs:

So, wherever you live, welcome home . . . to Texas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Preschool Lesson: The Letter "F"

It's illuminating to me how bad I am at predicting which letters are easy and which are hard when it comes to preschool. It's a good thing that the first four letters, A through D, are all fairly easy and versatile. Then, I hit "E" and realized that there are only so many "E" animals, words, and activities to appeal to preschoolers. Naturally, with fewer options, I was also less likely to have said objects and activities at hand.

Not so, however, with Letter "F." What a great letter! So many fun things to do. As per usual, I like to have a little powerpoint presentation pulled up on the television so I can introduce the letter with a picture of capital and lowercase "F." We talked about what sound "F" makes while making the letter with our popsicle sticks.

We then went fishing! It's a little tricky with only one adult, I admit, but still very doable. I set up a blue blanket screen for them to cast the fishing rod over, and when they felt a tug on the line, they reeled in their fish. Kids love this game, right? I remember loving this game... not sure why, but it's magical. SourPatch's foam bath fish made great catches.

Once we caught all our fish, it was time for some real water to play "Float or sink?" I had several objects in a bag, and they took turns pulling them out and guessing if they would float or sink in the glass bowl full of water. Basic, splashy science.

The last item we tried out was a mini football. It signaled time to go outside and get our wiggles out learning to throw footballs together. They did great!

For our fine motor skills inside, we did "Do-a-dot" painting of numbers 4 and 5.

This segued nicely into singing time, since there are so many songs with five creatures, such as:
  • Five Little Speckled Frogs
  • Five Little Pumpkins
  • Five Little Ducks
  • Five Little Monkeys
With so many songs, I split up singing time into two segments. We had our "five" session, and later we sang "finger songs" such as "Where is Thumbkin?" and "1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Once I caught a fish alive.)" We also sang "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" using finger puppets. We then watched Ernie sing "One Fine Face" and sang along as he repeats the song a second time.

Whew. We put back on our science hats and talked about our different senses, especially how we can feel things. The kids then took turns reaching into my mystery bag and trying to feel what fruit I had in there. I was using SourPatch's plastic fruit set, which naturally made it trickier than real fruit, so I had a giant picture of fruit pulled up on the television to help give them ideas.

After a snack of fruit (not plastic this time) and fish crackers, we had story time. We read The Foot Book and The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night. Well, really I sang the second book, and after it was finished, I played the Nickle Creek version while we played a freeze game. They danced ran around and around the room to the music but had to freeze whenever I hit pause.

I pulled out some farm puzzles for them to do while I set up the fox and flower craft...

...which I think turned out super cute, don't you? I needed some redemption after the less-than-adorable "E" craft.

There you have it. I hope the children have as much fun at preschool as I do.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Glitter Stenciling on Fabric

This is just a simple idea for embellishing fabric--napkins, table coths, runners, etc.--for the holidays. I found some natural, linen-type table runners at Target on clearance, and I thought they could be fun under Christmas decorations:

The runners are edged with twill tape that has a fine thread of gold running through it, but I wanted to give them a little more glitz. I searched both in stores and online for appliques but didn't find what just the right thing for the right price. So I began looking for another alternative. Browsing through Michaels, I found a display of Christmas stencils. This freeform ornament trio caught my eye:

And right next to it was a variety of glitter pens:

Making sure that it would work on fabric, I grabbed one in gold and headed home to try it out. The stencil is reusable and has adhesive on the back so that it adheres well to the surface you are working on. I centered it in the middle of each end of the runner and used the pen to fill in the stencil:

The pen sounds easy, but it was a bit of a struggle to keep the glitter flowing evenly. Still, I was generally pleased with the result:

It looks festive with Elin's candle ring:

This would be a fun holiday craft to do with children and would make lovely gifts. Think how cute a small snowflake stenciled with white glitter would be in a corner of a red or green napkin, or gold stars sprinkled on a placemat, or silver bells on a winter blue stocking, or . . . . So many possibilities.

Get your sparkle on!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Crochet an Infant Football Helmet Hat

Like most alumnae, I'm proud of where I got my undergraduate degree! I bleed blue; go BYU cougars! Elin and her hubby, too, have such a pride, especially in our football team. This is loyal of them, since our football team is usually pretty ho-hum. Still, they religiously watch the games, all decked out in BYU apparel.

Elin and I are living parallel pregnancies, and I thought it would be perfect to crochet her little bun in the oven a BYU football helmet hat. There were, of course, a few barriers to this:
  1.  I really don't know how to crochet. I'd only made one thing: SourPatch's Halloween Dobby hat.
  2. There's no tutorial specific to such a helmet. 
  3. I really don't know how to crochet.
Still, despite these difficulties, I forged ahead, and here's the result:

I decided to work off of this free pattern from Breezybot. So cute, and I love it when talented people generously post their patterns for free. I do wish I'd read some of the comments posted below before I began, however. Several people had trouble getting the stitch count to add up. So did I. I pulled out and re-crocheted one of the rows multiple times before giving up and continuing on with an altered stitch count from the pattern. Still, it worked out! Also, I used a larger hook than recommended, hoping the hat would come out on the larger side. No such luck; this is definitely a newborn size. This is probably fine for a baby born in Texas; he won't have very many occasions to wear warm hats after he outgrows it.

I then found a tutorial to make an oval and another to make the letter "Y." I had to cut back on the stitch count of the "Y" to make it small enough for the hat. I carefully sewed my appliques (and the button in the tutorial) onto the hat with a yarn needle. I was pleased with how it turned out, and now am just excited to see it on my nephew!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Pinecone Candle Ring

Elin and I both fell in love with the pinecone wreath that Laurel posted about last month. So while we were all together for a few days in October, we set to work making one for Elin:

After they left, I stared at the bag of extra pinecones and thought, "Hmmm, these shouldn't go to waste. I need to make Elin a candle ring to match her wreath!" (Sorry, Elin. Present spoiler alert.) So I chugged back to Walmart where we had purchased the filler flowers, berries, and picks to buy some more.

I had hoped they would have a smaller wreath frame that I could use for a candle ring, but they didn't, so I browsed in their craft section until I found an unfinished, 6 1/2" round wooden plaque. I used it for my base, and it worked great. (I often don't think about taking pictures until I am in the middle of a project, but you can see the plaque here:)

Leaving a 3" hole in the middle for a pillar candle, I glued on rings of pinecones, tipping each ring outward a little until the final ring was almost parallel with the table. I then filled in gaps with red and orange flowers, berries, green leaves, and gold filigree flowers and picks. Elin specifically wanted oranges as well as reds in her wreath so that it can be used in the fall as well as in the winter, so I continued that theme:

As Laurel suggested for the wreaths, I sprayed the finished ring lightly with gold spray paint to add a little extra sparkle and then inserted the candle:

Merry Christmas, Elin!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Preschool Lesson: Letter "E"

First, we started off circling up and talking about the letter "E". I made a basic PowerPoint to put up on our TV to display the upper and lowercase letters. Then, we talked about long "e" (followed by pictures of eagles and eels) and short "e" (followed by pictures of elephants and eggs). We then made uppercase "E" with popsicle sticks.

We jumped right into our fine motor activity of dot painting. I had a suspicion they'd be excited about it, and I was right! After seeing how much Elin's little girl enjoyed the Do a Dot markers when she was SourPatch's age, I decided to buy a pack as a quiet General Conference activity. It was a hit! I used the elephant printable from This Reading Mama's free letter E pack and this engine printable.

For our large motor activity, we decided to "exercise" by playing a jumping game. Okay, only a 2 or 3 year old would call this a game, but that's the crowd we're catering to, right? I had them take turns pulling a numbered elephant card out of my envelope. We then jumped all together that many times, counting aloud. (It took them maybe one round to add falling to the floor at the end while laughing to the routine. Kids are funny.) After we jumped to all ten cards, we arranged them in order, 1 to 10 (I got these cards from the free letter E pack mentioned above!)

Next, we went on an egg hunt around the house. Conveniently, these eggs are also shakers to segue into music time. I feel like I do need more shaker songs in my repertoire. I mean, I know you can shake to the beat of any song, but some work better than others. Today, we just did two egg shaker songs and two "E" songs:

  • Shake Your Shaker Slowly
  • Tue Tue This song is a throwback to the amazing music class we attended in California. The organizer, Brittney, was good about incorporating non-English songs into her class. Plus, I spent a month in Ghana, so it brings back good memories. Furthermore, it has an echo component to it, which is great for Letter E day!
  • The Elevator Song
  •  Sing After Me How perfect is this song? Ernie and Elmo singing about echos? We watched it twice so we could sing along the second time, echoing along with Elmo.
After a non-e-themed snack (sorry, kiddos!) and playing outside, we read:
  • The Little Engine that Could
  • First the Egg 
  • Green Eggs and Ham

The kids were done with books by the time we got to Horton. Sorry, lil elephant! Next time.

We then reviewed the "E" words we learned by decorating an evergreen tree with objects and pictures, such as elephant, eggs, engine, envelope, ear, eagle, Elmo, and earth.

Back to the craft table, the kids put together some 2-piece puzzles (again courtesy of the Letter E pack linked above) while I got our envelope craft ready.

Okay, time for my disclaimer... this craft is not actually very cute. Still, it turned out to be a good choice for practice gluing, and the kids enjoyed filling up their envelopes with "E"s on little paper squares.

All in all? It felt like another preschool success.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

DIY Pine Cone Wreath

2016: I really feel the need to decorate for all the holidays this year. Maybe it's because SourPatch is old enough to appreciate the decor? Or maybe it's just an extension of my nesting instincts (a less useful one; my nursery is still a disaster.)

Yet since this is me, I also don't want to spend any money... there lies the rub. When I casually looked at wreaths online, the prices were quite shocking. $100 wreaths from Walmart?? You've got to be kidding me. Luckily, I really knew in my heart that I wanted to make my own wreath (nesting, right?), and that I wanted to make it out of pine cones.

I think pine cone wreaths are lovely. They are naturey and have great texture. There are so many tutorials out there, too! We live next to several pine trees, so over the past few weeks, I would gather a few cones every day during my walks with Patches.

Good idea: gather lots of pine cones. I was going to count how many I used, but then I didn't. You need a lot.

Another good idea: wash and bake them. I found that some tutorials wash first and others bake first, mostly depending on if they wanted them open or closed when applying the cones to the wreath (a bath in cold water will cause the pine cones to "close up" tight.) I liked the idea of putting them on my form closed so that when they opened, they would interlace together tightly. This worked great with the first wreath I ever made. It worked less well with my second. With my third? The pine cones all popped off and I had to start all over again. The lesson? Glue them on once they've reopened. It's safer.

So first, the washing: I doused and swirled the cones in cool water several times until they looked nice and clean and the water stayed clear.

I popped the cones in the oven for 20 minutes at 200 degrees to kill any bugs and dry up any sap. (I forgot to take a picture here. All I did was line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and pile them on! Here are the rejects that for some reason didn't make it into the initial washing phase.)

 This... is where the tutorial ends. Thank you for reading. Okay look, I kind of trialed and errored my way through this wreath rather than sensibly following one of the sensible tutorials out there. Would you like a list of my bad ideas?

  • I wanted to fit my pine cones into a wire frame and let them expand to keep themselves in place. No gluing or wiring? A dream come true! It's a good idea if you have the skinny kind of cones, such as in this tutorial here. Though I knew my cones would probably be too fat, I tried it anyways. Bad idea. Some did fit, yes, but most didn't. 
  • Most tutorials with a wire frame actually wire them in place (such as this tutorial). I used hot glue. (Update: Shockingly, both wreaths I made in 2016 are still kicking one year later, good as new.)
  • Most wreath tutorials have you sort the cones by size and then put them in concentric rings accordingly. I preferred the wreaths that mix up the sizes a little more, giving it a more natural look (see the difference at this blog). However... I still should have sorted the cones so I could better created overall symmetry.
Disclaimers aside, I'm so glad I made this wreath. I had a fun time doing it, and it felt very low-pressure working with the free cones nature provided. Any frustration over my poor choices I shrugged off, knowing that I'd only invested $2 in the wire frame (and I suppose in the glue sticks.) Overall, I think it turned out actually quite beautiful. I lightly dusted it in gold spray paint and added $3 worth of berries and flowers from Dollar Tree. I do plan to spray it with a clear, acrylic sealer to better preserve it for future years on my door. Voila!

2017 Update: My glorious fall wreath I made last year held up so well! It made me happy all autumn long. Yet autumn did end, as it always does, so I thought I'd share the Christmas wreaths I made as well (one for me, one I shipped off to Chicago last year as a Christmas gift.)