Sunday, February 28, 2016

Quiet Book Fishing Page

I was a touch late to church today; and as I tried to slip into the chapel inconspicuously during the opening hymn, I was delighted to find an extra seat next to my dear neighbor and her sweet 20-month-old. When her daughter started to get antsy during the service (as most toddlers do), I was so happy to hand over our quiet book.

I have to tell you, I'm pleasantly pleased with our great quiet book project. SourPatch really does enjoy it, and though I specifically bring it to church, he pulls it off the shelf on his own volition while we're at home to play with his favorite pages.

Now that we have used the book for a while, I've noticed a few things I would do differently the second time around. One, I've realized that not all snaps are created equal. Little silver snaps? Awesome, and great for little hands to learn dexterity. Little white snaps? Not-so-awesome. Hard for little hands to use... and hard for adult hands as well.

Two, be sensible when deciding which way to orient the pages. Why did I put the tree next to the binder rings?? It makes it that much harder to snap the leaves onto the tree (along with the evil white snaps!) Not the best idea; I should have sewn the buttonholes on the other side.

Speaking of buttonholes, have we discussed how proud I am of the button holes I used to bind the book? I wondered if I'd regret not using grommets, but I'm exceptionally pleased with my buttonholes. They are sturdy, the pages turn easily, and that's one more skill I learned to do on my sewing machine! Yes, I do still have sticky notes on my machine to remind me which knob does what, but I really am getting more proficient. Baby steps, my friends.

Mom recently gifted a few more pages to add to SourPatch's book (but I sewed them together and added the button holes! So we basically made them together, right?) Today I want to share James' favorite: The Fishing Page.

There's not a lot to it, but I think that's part of the point and the appeal. You snap off the colorful felt fish and add them to the fisherman's net.

Since our quiet book is a staple at church, I like to think of it as a scene from Matthew 4 or John 21

Monday, February 22, 2016

Bread Box to Roll-top Doll Desk

As you can see from this earlier post, my closet/doll townhouse is full. There isn't room for any more furniture:

 However, when I saw this breadbox at a thrift store, my first thought was, "This would make a perfect roll top desk for 18" dolls. I'll make it and then give it away."

I knew that the biggest challenge would be creating stable legs, So I began by building a small, sturdy shelf to serve as the back support as well as provide storage for books and school supplies. (I probably wouldn't have thought of that, but I have a small, vintage roll top desk that is constructed this way.) I used the height of the doll's kitchen table, which was 10" from the floor to the bottom of the table, as my guide for the height of the shelf and front legs. The width of the shelves was slightly less than the width of the bottom of the bread box. Using an inexpensive 1 x 3, I constructed this simple shelf and attached it to the bottom back of the bread box with wood glue and screws:

While I was at Lowes picking up the 1 x 3, I noticed some bannister posts on clearance for 54 cents and bought two of them for the front legs:


They were, of course, way too long, so I cut them to 10" and will save the rest for another project. Because the posts are a bit spindly, I knew they would need extra reinforcement to keep them from breaking off the desk, so I added a bracket to the back of each post:

I marked the spot for each post at both front corners of the desk (I just chose a spot that I thought would look good and made sure it was the same on both sides) drilled a hole, applied wood glue to the desk and the post, and then secured the post to the desk with a 2" screw. I had pre-drilled a pilot hole through the center of each post. I then drilled up from the bottom through the bracket hole and added a shorter screw so that it wouldn't pop up through the desk top. I filled all my screw holes with wood filler and then sanded them flush. The back shelf also needed some sanding.

To reinforce the "old time" feel of the piece, I decided to paint the desk with chalk paint (not to be confused with chalk board paint.) I went with black because I already had a dark chair that was a perfect accessory. (My granddaughter thinks black is a disappointing choice, so you may want to choose something cheerier.) Knowing that it wouldn't take much, I used a coupon and bought a small pot of chalk paint at Hobby Lobby. It did take three coats to cover the large word "bread" emblazoned on the front, but I still had enough. After the paint dried, I applied a thin coat of wax that I bought at Lowes:

Ready for school. . . .

(I wish I had taken a picture of the desk with the top open, but it's too late
--I have already given it away.)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Understanding How Your Children Learn - Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

I spent a week taking care of five very different children and learned a lot of things in practice that I only learned in theory during my education classes in college. It was particularly interesting watching my two oldest nephews throughout the week. They were raised in the same home by the same parents, but have completely different personalities and ways of communicating and expressing themselves. It was interesting for me to interact with them individually and collectively and try to help them with the problems and stressful situations that naturally occur in a busy household. I realized very quickly that the way I encouraged and helped one of them did not yield the same results with the other.

Take this experience and then imagine the dilemma of an educator in a typical classroom trying to teach the same information to 30 different students who come from very different backgrounds and who learn and communicate in different ways. Crazy.

One of the greatest and most useful tools I learned in my education classes is Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Basically, Gardner's research showed that we all have different gifts or "intelligences". He identified several intelligences initially and added others as his study continued. I like the graphic below that shows several of the common intelligences. If you read through the summary of Gardner's research in the link above, you will probably identify pretty quickly which intelligences you possess. And you could probably likewise identify what types of teaching styles and learning activities best facilitate your learning and ability to apply new information.
Image from
The idea, then, is that someone with visual/spatial intelligence will probably be able to learn a new concept better if it is presented visually. As teachers, we are encouraged to incorporate all of the learning styles into our lesson plans to try and ensure that each child has a chance to learn the material in ways that make sense to them. Hopefully, gone are the days when lessons were only read or recited or written down.

Perusing the many blogs and education websites dedicated to learning and lesson plans, I think that there are a lot of pre-k and elementary-age parents and educators that do a really good job of this-- but they don't necessarily take the time to explain why their lesson for the letter S involves sensory bins, do-a-dot paints, a craft, a nature walk, a game that requires standing up and sitting down, and music time. It may seem like overkill, but the more ways you can find to present a concept, the better. It doesn't have to be overwhelming. It can be as simple as this: when you are teaching your little girl about the letter Q, don't just give her a Q to glue on a piece of paper. Give her the oval part of the Q and then the tail part and talk about the shapes and what they look like.Say the sounds that Q make out loud and have them say the sounds too. Then sing a little song about how the letter Q says what it says. That covers tactile, visual, music, auditory, etc.

More than anything, take the time to interact with your child in learning situations and figure out how they learn best. For me, somehow I retain information better when I write it down. One of my nephews responded really well when things were communicated verbally. The other nephew responded much better when some type of kinesthetic or tactile activity was involved. Understanding your "intelligences" and your children's "intelligences" and the different ways you and your children learn and communicate best will change your life.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thick, Creamy, Delicious Oatmeal

I can clearly remember the time I first had delicious oatmeal. It was one summer during college when my boss took me out to breakfast. I imagine she peer-pressured me into getting the oatmeal because I never would have ordered it on my own.

Oh. My. Goodness. It was delectable. Sweet, creamy, utterly delicious oatmeal. Oatmeal. I mean, we all know that porridge is what people used to eat for breakfast before they invented real breakfast cereal. You know, the kind that comes in a box with marshmallows? We moved on; civilization progressed to something more delicious. Yet here I was, eating a hearty, healthy bowl of oatmeal, and I loved it.

Yet years went by without a repeat of that experience. Oh sure, I ate the stuff every now and again. Elin would buy the cinnamon roll oatmeal packets from BYU creamery on ninth, and they made a bearable bowl of microwaved mush. I tried Trader Joe's something-sugary-pecan oatmeal, and it wasn't bad. But none of the instant oatmeal packets quite did it for me.

So I went beyond the convenient packets and tried a variety of other methods. Old fashioned on the stove, overnight oatmeal in the fridge, slow-cooker oatmeal, oatmeal with cream, butter, and sugar, oatmeal with yogurt and berries... nothing ever had staying power. I just didn't like it very much. Yet oatmeal is something I wanted to like! It's a warm, whole-grain, minimally processed food full of protein and fiber. I saw mothers who fed their children oatmeal every morning and wanted to be just like them.

So eventually, I went to the source. Meet Natalie, my inexhaustible sister-in-law. Natalie is the kind of mom that inspires us all. She gets up at the crack of dawn, exercises, dresses her daughters in cute matching outfits, braids their hair, and, of course, feeds them oatmeal. I sampled some of her oatmeal once at the in-laws, and it brought back memories of that first time I liked the stuff. So I asked the expert for her secrets.

The answer maybe should have been obvious: steel-cut oats, my friends. It improves the texture and taste three times over. With steel-cut oats, you don't have to dump in a ton of cream, butter, and sugar to make it palatable (and ruin your "healthy breakfast"). Instead, all you need is steal-cut oats cooked in a little milk with fruit and a touch of brown sugar.

Why isn't everyone doing this??? Well, these lovely oats take much longer to cook, up to a half-hour, in fact. There are some shortcuts around this. Sister Natalie orders Coach's Oats, which apparently maintain the marvelous texture of steel cut but cook in 5 minutes. There are also 3-minute Steel Cut Oats one can buy at the store. I actually bought them on accident (and was mad.) Yet after trying them out, I find they are, for me, a cut above rolled or instant oats.

But my favorite remains regular steel cut. To be fair, my oatmeal guru also likes the old fashioned oats, but she always cooks them on the stove rather than microwave. Let me tell you what, though: pressure cooking is the way to go! Love my new pressure cooker.

With me so far? Mathematically speaking...

Steel cut>Old Fashioned>Instant

Pressure cooker>stove top>microwave

How to Make Delicious Oatmeal

Step one: Buy steel cut oats. Many stores stock it in canisters with the old fashioned or instant oats. Others keep them with the bulk bins and let you scoop out your own.

Step two: Buy a pressure cooker. Just kidding! But seriously. You can just throw in 1 cup oats, 2 cups water, and 1 cup milk, cook on manual for 3 minutes, and then go get ready for 20 minutes. (It takes about that long when you include the pressure buildup and natural release.) The result is perfect every time.

However, assuming most don't have a pressure cooker. bring 2 cups milk and 2 cups water to boil in a medium saucepan on the stove (you can adjust the milk-water ratio). Stir in 1 cup oats and reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will make about 4 servings.

Step three: Mixins! Again, from Natalie: frozen blueberries are an awesome mix-in. They're easy to have on hand and can quickly cool your piping hot porridge to an eatable temperature (such a perk when feeding them to kids, amiright?) As long as you don't mind purple oatmeal, that is! I like to add blueberries, canned peaches, and a spoon of brown sugar.

I'm sure there are lots of great combinations out there, and I intend to try some more. Yet this is a great staple: simple, sweet, healthy, and so delicious. It also keeps pretty well in the fridge to re-heat the next day in the microwave. Happy eating!

Monday, February 1, 2016

"You Can Do This" Doll Bed for 18" Dolls

After seeing the "closet into dollhouse" conversion I did, a friend tagged me and posted this bed on Facebook:

Of course, I fell in love and immediately went to the site. It is a project person's dream! So many cute ideas, and she shares purchasing lists for materials needed, cutting guides, diagrams, and building instructions. (I'm so excited that Elin has bought a house so that I can build her all kinds of things she probably doesn't want or need.)

I had been piling up reasons to purchase a drop saw, and this cute bed tipped the balance. You could make it using a hand saw, but having this tool made it so much faster and easier:

If you are interested in making this bed, here is the link to her instructions:

Because I had wood scraps available, I used what I had--including pieces of molding that were left over from framing out my bathroom mirrors. I used them as the inset panels in the head and foot boards:

Some of my scrap pieces where pretty rough, even after sanding, and mine doesn't look nearly as "finished" as hers. We'll call it a "Rustic" Farmhouse Bed:

Sweet Dreams!