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    Entries in homemade (15)


    like rain on your (neighbors') wedding day

    Spring around here is a funny thing. It rains; it pours; your carport floods. And then, for one day, it is 62 degrees, bright and warm from the time the sun shows his unfamiliar face until he lays it down in the Sound. And those twelve hours are enough to make you optimistic about the possibility of enjoying outdoor life again, in a sincere way, not a ha-ha, good thing I'm wearing galoshes kind of way.  

    We actually had, like, THREE of those in a row, a week or two ago. And then my poor neighbors who had waited TWENTY FIVE YEARS to get legally married found themselves putting up clear flashing around their gorgeous deck in preparation for a torrential downpour that waterlogged their wedding day. PNW, we can't quit you, but you sure are a jerk sometimes. 

    To console ourselves after we put some measly starts into the garden only to have it frost overnight at 37 degrees and kill our broccoli, George and I decided our raised beds could use some flags to jazz them up a little. Zelda had never potato printed, so we got out some muslin, cookie cutters, a potato, some paint and a paring knife.

    If you don't know how to print with potatoes, there is no shortage of tutorials online that probably give all the details you need, but all I do is press a cookie cutter deep into the freshly-cut side of a potato, then slice into the side of the potato with my paring knife and cut away the excess potato. Not exactly rocket science.

    George and Zelda chose an arrow, a heart, a star and a leaf. One arrow attempt failed, and turned into a bunny. Zelda kind of just tried to eat the potatoes, but George had a good time stamping the strips of muslin I had torn. Speaking of which, I didn't bother hemming these; I just snipped the selvedge edge of the muslin and tore it along the entire width of the fabric, leaving me with strips. 


    I gave George dishes of the paint that came with a paint-your-own wooden car kit. I have no idea what kind of paint it is, but it's labeled non-toxic, and it hasn't yet run. Do I need to tell you how many times it's rained? When the kids were satisfied that they'd eaten enough raw potato and sufficiently stamped the soon-to-be flags, we cleaned up, and let everything dry while we ate lunch.

    While George napped that afternoon, I cut the strips into smaller pieces and sewed a ribbon across the top, bunting-style. We stuck bamboo poles into the ground on each end of the garden and tied on the flags. I love that it helps give the kids some ownership of our garden in these early, boring days of germination and perseverence. 




    an early birthday

    I am no good at giving presents. Well, I'd like to think that I'm good at some aspects of gift-giving. I put thought into it, and often a lot of time. But when it comes to waiting or surprising I'm pretty much the worst. It usually works out, since as a procrastinator I don't frequently have long to wait between finalization of gift and handing it over, but every once in awhile I plan ahead and find myself with weeks of lag time. This simply will not do, and do it did not in the case of Zelda and the armless baby.

    Zelda's beloved Gob, a naked thriftstore baby George picked out a long time ago and had since abandoned -- her akimbo limbs and creepy, uneven, dead-eyed blink citable as potential turn-offs -- recently lost an arm. It's no shame for her; she's dragged around by her arms more than anyone can be expected to survive, limbs intact. This hasn't affected Zelda's love much, but it was a good opportunity for me to make her a new doll. With her birthday coming up, I had the occasion in addition to the reasoning. 

    Waldorf doll making has always intimidated me. The particular supplies, the expense and the precise techniques were hurdles I hadn't overcome though I've long admired the style. Meg McElwee's book Growing Up Sew Liberated: Making Handmade Clothes and Projects for Your Creative Child includes a pattern for a Waldorf doll, and it's been in the back of my mind since George was smaller. Alas, he's never really taken to dolls. Zelda is a different story, though, my children being so unbelievably gender stereotypical as to make me think someone is playing a joke.

     I love Meg's book (and blog) and the directions seemed clear enough to allow for some finagling according to my budget and crafting style which is a little more by-the-seat-of-my-pants than Waldorf dolls generally call for.

    I regret that the face isn't shaped, and if I ever make another I'll put more time into the facial features. The body is out of some soft bamboo velour I thought was perfect for a one year-old to snuggle, and the clothes are made from fabric scraps (Heather Ross' beautiful and now out of print mermaids) and leftover yarn. Choosing the hair yarn was tough, and I wish that I'd found something more colorful to make a real rainbow mop but that, too, is something for the next attempt.

    This doll is most definitely a quick and dirty version of a Waldorf doll, but the Sew Liberated pattern and instructions gave me a great starting point and I gained some knowledge about how to attach arms and heads in ways that don't result in droopy shoulders and floppy necks. Because it's tough to have a tea party with someone who can't stay awake.

    She's real cute, and, true to form, I couldn't wait until Zelda's birthday to see the reaction, even though every gift I've ever handmade for my kids has been met with the same vague interest. When will I learn? Never! It doesn't really matter -- most of the fun is in the making, anyway. 

    At their introduction, Zelda dubbed her "Dunna!" which we took to mean Donna, a perfectly suitable sister for an armless baby named Gob. 

    They were fast friends, though Donna's gonna have to do something to prove her unconditional devotion á la allowing herself to be drawn and quartered. 

    The entire project took me three evenings of off and on work, the most time-consuming being the altogether pleasant handwork of the face, hair, and foot shaping.


    I think Zelda's actual birthday may see the opening of a matching outfit or two, because I am that person I would never have expected myself to turn into, who loves matching outfits on pretty much anyone and anything. When I was little, my mom made me a life size Raggedy Ann with a dress and pinafore for each of us, and if photos are to be believed it was a monumental hit.

    I think a more androgynous doll may be next on the agenda. Overalls, shorter hair, and some actual facial features.

    Happy early birthday to you, Goldie. Here's to a (doll's)life-long friendship.



    how to stain your baby

    Zelda is so into being a regular person. She wants to drink your water and eat your pizza and play with that choking hazard and she will not take no for an answer, even when it is the obvious answer (I do not feed my seven month old pizza: don't bother). So during Nathan's first week back at school, when I was attempting to keep extra busy, I tried to find some fun things for both kids to do together at levels they'd each enjoy rather than George coaching Zelda or Zelda having things pried repeatedly from her grasp. Cornstarch paint seemed a nice, easy DIY for these last warm days and George is on a painting kick that I'm really trying to encourage.

    My recipe is 1 cup of water to 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. For this batch I made three cups because I knew they'd go through it quickly. You just mix the cornstarch into lukewarm water, then heat over medium-high heat until it's thick, stirring pretty frequently. I put a few drops of food coloring into cups and added the gloop once it had thickened to my liking, stirred to mix in the color and put the cups in the freezer to cool off for a little while. I gave them another stir when they came out, and they were ready to go.

    Zelda immediately turned the tablecloth and paper into a slip-n-slide. The sensory aspect was basically it for her, but she squished the paint around in her fists and slid all over the place and that was good enough for her. George is something of a rule follower and wasn't thrilled that Zelda had dumped the paint and subsequently got it all over herself, but I tried to give him an area of his own by repositioning the remaining paint and corralling his sister. I encouraged him to paint on his own arms or belly, but that was preposterous and he was deeply offended at the suggestion.

    Zelda was having so much fun rolling around in the paint that George finally decided to give some handprints a try, and, after watching her brother for awhile, Zelda picked up a paintbrush. This exploration inspired by each other was, to me, totally the highlight of the activity.

    I plunked them both in the bath immediately after they were finished playing, but Zelda came out looking like I'd haphazardly shot a tube of sunblock at her and left her out in the sun all day. It came off, though... eventually.


    how to keep a toddler entertained

    Later this month, I'm scheduled to do a little workshop with some ladies who have recently graduated from transitional housing through Lydia Place, a local women and children's shelter. The topic of my workshop: DIY kids' crafts! I'm so excited to meet these women and share a few easy, cheap ideas. We don't have a ton of money to spend on all the cool new toys, or a rainbow of natural play dough so this subject is one I've researched and explored kind of a lot. The funny thing I've learned is that there will be a few "real toy" hits -- for example, George still loves his wooden shape sorter and he daily plays with puzzles -- but by and large, you can get away with giving your kid spoons, whisks, bowls, garbage, and he'll be just as entertained as if you'd spent a zillion dollars on an array of beautiful, handcrafted wooden toys. 

    At the workshop, I'll be sharing recipes for play dough and fingerpaint and all of that stuff, but I've recently sort of accidentally stumbled upon two major wins: rainbow rice and an odd use for an old oatmeal carton. 

    George is just now getting to the stage where I can trust that he won't put things in his mouth, so until now, sensory boxes have been a no-go. Knowing how good it feels, I'd love to offer him a container of dry beans to sink his little hands into, but there are plenty of Italian markets in his future, so I'll keep the choking hazards to a minimum right now. Somewhere, I saw a picture of kids playing in a bin of rainbow-colored rice, and I decided to replicate it using a little rubbing alcohol, food coloring and a bag of white rice left over from the last time I made a microwavable heating pad. I put a cup and a half of rice into each of six ziplock baggies (though any container with a lid would probably do), added about two teaspoons of rubbing alcohol and about 10 drops of food coloring. I shook and smooshed the bags around until the color was evenly distributed, then I opened the bags and let the rice dry. The rice doesn't absorb the alcohol, unlike it would water, so the drying time was pretty short. 

    I didn't take a picture of the rice arranged in a nice, even rainbow, but here's George, in the midst of his nearly hour-long first session of play:

    We had fun hiding his little plastic pig in the rice, spooning it into a seahorse stolen from the sandbox, naming the colors and had admittedly less fun trying to convince him to keep the rice in the box. 

    The other DIY is so easy and so weird -- to me, anyway -- that I won't blame you if you disbelieve in its amazingness. I've heard of making old Quaker oats containers into drums and knitting boxes, but the book Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready offered the idea that led to turning an oats carton into a... straw sorter. 

     I covered the outside of the carton with wrapping paper, leaving the top as it was (though paint is always an option, or if you're feeling especially fancy, mod podge-ing another piece of pretty paper to the lid). Using a regular hole punch, I made holes around the top of the lid, about an inch apart, as far in as my totally standard hole punch would allow. As two-thirds of our family enjoys drinking most everything from a straw, we have tons of straws. I cut the bendy parts off of ten straws, then put them in the container and handed it to George. He'll spend at least 15 minutes at a time meticulously inserting the straws into the holes (or, hole, as he has one favorite), opening the lid and extracting the straws to start over again. It's helped along his counting skills, as he likes to count the straws as they go in, and his dexterity is improving, too. He often wakes up and, upon walking into the living room in the morning, requests "game" which I play with him for a few minutes, then leave him to do alone while I make breakfast. Totally free, and miraculously engaging. 

    Do you have any tried-and-true recipes or projects that I could share with my workshop? 


    it's a...

    There are some people who can patiently wait until their baby is born to find out whether it's a boy or a girl. They enjoy the surprise, even. I've heard that it gives them motivation to get through labor, as though you need a motivator besides the small person who is, regardless, tunneling out of your womb. This, to me, is like finding a reason to keep peeing once you start. 

    I am not one of those people. I want to be, sort of, and I even entertained the idea of forcing myself to be one of those people for the four or five months of pregnancy during which knowing the baby's sex is even possible. It seemed fun to announce to everyone that a little boy or a little girl had arrived -- a small bonus to the anticipated name and stats, as neither are we people who name a child prior to meeting him or her. There's also the matter of pre-defining someone's gender, which is a little bit fucked up, and the very real potential for having a baby of the opposite sex than is predicted through ultrasound, or an intersexed baby (of which the prevalence is somewhere between 1.7% and .018% depending on the conditions included). 

    But. I am incapable of being that patient, enlightened person. Instead, I was itching to find out and get started sewing a few things (for a boy; for a girl, let's be frank: an entire wardrobe). What was I going to do? Make all this stuff and not show you? Please.

    So, we found out a couple of weeks ago. I sent text messages to the most fervently enquiring minds while (I kid you not) using the restroom at the ultrasound place, midway through the procedure. That's how hilarious a proposition it was to keep the sex a secret. I couldn't even get out the door. 

    So, here are a few things I've made in the past couple of days, using these tutorials, scaled down slightly so as to be worn sooner (have I mentioned that patience is not one of my virtues?). 

    The fabrics are, top to bottom, Alexander Henry Farmdale Orchard and a kind of robin's egg blue cotton lawn; two prints from Lizzy House Castle Peeps (reeling in my psychosis about making matching outfits, I saved the scraps to put at the hem of some otherwise solid-colored pants for George); and two patterns from Anna Maria Horner's Little Folks voile, which I could swathe myself in 24/7. These tutorials were so easy to follow that I whipped the three dresses up in just one night, plus an hour for finishing. I asked George if he liked them, and he said, "Piddy!" Which either means they're pretty or he pities the next in line to wear the clothes I've made. Based on his jacket review, I'm guessing it's the latter.