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Archive for the ‘kids’ projects’ Category

Quinn Valentine 2014_Cant Disguise

Just about everything has been postponed around here because of the big snowstorm that hit us Wednesday night, including Quinn’s preschool Valentine celebration (and, incidentally, my post about his Valentines).

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But we are ready with some really cute ones (if I do say so myself) when his class meets up again.

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As is his custom, Quinn made sure to not only obtain a big scratch on his face just before we took the Valentine’s Day photos, but he was also ridiculously uncooperative about getting his picture taken. We did manage a couple of good ones, and I opted for the silly shot of him with a mustached disguise and another couple of cheesy Valentine’s puns. Might as well get it all out of my system since I have to wait an entire year before I get to do this again.

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Quinn’s Valentines are pretty cute on their own, but I thought it would be fun to include something for the kids to play with. His class is so fun and all of the kids enjoy being goofy and hands on, so I thought they might enjoy some silly stick on mustaches. I found a twelve pack of packaged sets of three different mustaches for about $5, but the packaging was pretty plain and tacky, so I whipped up a fun message and folded and stapled it over the cardboard tab at the top of each pack and–voila!–a fun Valentine with a matching fun little favor.

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Despite his best efforts to make it difficult for us to get things together, the cards (and the puns) are so very Quinn and he is super excited about the final product. I’m sure the kids will enjoy with them when they have their belated celebration next week.

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Ada Valentine 2014

Since she was only about six months old last year, this year was Ada’s first experience exchanging Valentines with friends. While she is much more aware of all the festivities this year, she’s still only a year and a half old, so most of the fanfare is for our benefit rather than hers.

Still, we had a lot of fun making the celebration fun for her and Ada really seemed to enjoy it.

For her Valentines, we went with a similar technique as Xavier’s, but I personalized the cards with each friend’s name on the computer and used the same font to address red envelopes for Ada’s playschool Valentine exchange.

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Each child in the playschool class was tasked with bringing in a homemade mailbox or envelope to collect their Valentines and while I had big hopes of elaborate shoebox art, I wound up finding a great pink and white polka dot cardboard mini suitcase from a craft kit I bought a long time ago for Xavier and decided it was perfect. My mother sewed Ada a couple of toddler-sized messenger bags for Christmas and she loves stuffing them with little toys and carrying them around the house, so I figured this would be a nice addition to her collection.

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I saved the task of decorating the suitcase for the night before the exchange and of course by then Ada was too pooped to be of any help. My procrastination turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the boys had a great time picking out stickers and covering Ada’s Valentine suitcase with sparkly Valentine fabulousness after she went to bed. It was wonderful to see them take such care with where each sticker would go, carefully pressing each one down out of worry that Ada might try to peel them off, and deciding to cover not just the outside of the box, but the inside, too. Those guys really do love their little sister and absolutely spoil her with affection and attention.

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IMG_9848They were excited to send her off in the morning with her new accessory (which she happily posed with–notice the classic “Cheeeese!” pose in the top left photo in the collage below). The playschool kids had more fun than I would have imagined receiving their Valentines. The one containing a little mini flute and the message “You blow me away!” was a particularly big hit.

Ada Valentine Playschool Collage

All in all, it was a fun celebration for all of us and a great reminder (for me and the boys) of just how fulfilling acts of kindness for others can be.

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a crayon-tastic valentine

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Apparently, I have a thing for bad Valentine’s puns. But hey, if you’re going to let your cheesy flag fly, Valentine’s Day is the holiday tailor made for it.

With both boys in preschool last year, we went handmade all the way and Xavier’s Valentines were the most hands on. I kept gravitating toward designs that included something (other than candy) that the pint-sized recipients would find fun and might actually use, which is why we ultimately opted for these crayon Valentines. (The photos and tutorials that inspired our project are here and here.) The terrible play on words was all for the parents. And Xavier was all over a project that involved crayons and the oven. What four-year-old wouldn’t be, honestly?

We started our project with a silicone mold with heart-shaped cavities. In a perfect world, I would have saved all of our little broken nubs of crayon to make our heart crayons, but in the world I lived in at the time, I had probably long ago thrown out such nubs. So we actually purchased a couple of new packs of crayons and sorted them into color families. Peeling the crayons was tedious, but breaking them into pieces was, as I remember, one of Xavier’s favorite steps.

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After the cavities were filled, we baked the crayons at a very low temperature for a few minutes until they melted and then set them out to dry. The marbled results were honestly better than I expected as I was sure the colors would all run together.

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We used pre-cut paper hearts in red and pink for our base and cut out smaller white hearts with specialty scissors to glue on top. I had Xavier address the back of each pink or red heart before I attached anything to them so any mess ups were easily recycled and replaced before anything was attached.  I let Xavier decide who would get which color crayon (a process which, as I remember, he made much more complicated than it needed to be but also relished in). We attached the crayons to the white hearts with Zots (which worked surprisingly well, as the crayons were fairly heavy) and the sticky dots were easily removed when the kids wanted to use the crayons.

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We added the obligatory cheesy message around the crayon hearts (“Happy Valentine’s Day, for crayon out loud!”) and–voila!–fun and functional Valentines.

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It makes me nostalgic to think of how difficult Xavier found the process of writing his own name on each heart last year, and how much simpler (and enjoyable!) he found the process of writing both his name and his friends’ this year. (Note how he converted the “oops” on the one below into a flower–it makes me smile every time I look at it.) He’s certainly come a long way in one short year.

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The day was off to an ambitious start when I decided just after breakfast that this would be a great time to get started on making a dent in all of those apples we picked last weekend by cooking up the first batch of apple butter. Jeremy had taken Xavier to Milwaukee for a weekend-long father-son adventure and, while it is quite routine for me to have Quinn and Ada all to myself, I felt inspired that, despite the rainy forecast back here at home, we should have a little adventure of our own. So once the apples were on the stove and the little girl was down for her morning nap, Quinn and I got to work on a fall sensory bin.

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Filling the bin is half the fun, so Quinn helped dye three batches of rice yellow, orange, and red. We added popcorn kernels and then went in search of farm animals and people to play in our fall scene. We also added some almonds in their shells, acorns, some silicone cupcake holders for filling, and a couple of funnels.

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When Ada woke up, I moved the bin outside to the porch so she could play, expecting lots of scooping and dumping out. The measure proved completely unnecessary, as she was only interested in the larger bits–the almonds, mostly, which she transported back and forth and in and out of the bin like a little squirrel tucking away her winter feast here and there for safe keeping. When the rain began, we moved the bin inside and Quinn and I made acorn muffins and sang “Happy Birthday” to each lucky playmate in turn. Ada was all smiles during our singing, but quickly returned to the important work of transporting her almonds.

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After all that back and forth play (Did I mention the breaks we for took for smashing apples through the food mill, loading the slow cooker, and getting that apple butter cooking?), we needed some sustenance. And since this was an ambitious kind of day, I decided this was the perfect time to try out that black bean brownie recipe I had my eye on.

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With the sometime exception of Ada, I can’t seem to get the kids to eat beans in any shape or form (except for hummus, of course, but only because Xavier remains unconvinced–or perhaps is willing to overlook the fact–that it actually contains chickpeas). And when your vegan kids don’t eat beans, it definitely limits your repertoire, to say the least. Quinn tends to be fairly open minded about trying new things and had no reaction whatsoever when he saw those beans go into the food processor. It probably helped that we had never made brownies, so he may have figured this was your typical brownie ingredient. I wasn’t eager to set him straight. The recipe couldn’t have been easier and the brownies turned out fudgey, rich, moist, and not too sweet. (In fact, if we’re being honest, I could have used a bit more sweetener in them. These might do well with a slather of peanut or almond butter or some ice cream if you’re looking for a decadent dessert. They’re low enough on the sweet scale that I might even grab one for breakfast.) Quinn gave them two chocolately hands up.

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With the kids finally in bed and my late dinner finally served, I was able to finally can the apple butter that had been cooking up in the slow cooker all day, filling our day with cinnamon and cloves (which is really the only way to do apple butter). For such a packed day, it was also a relaxing one. We didn’t leave the house (and I didn’t leave my pajamas) and there was ample time for collecting acorns, combing through colored rice with our fingers, and licking spoons. I’ve come to this season kicking and screaming so far, but this fine fall day might be just the kick start I needed.

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In some ways, when we moved into our new house, the question of how to decorate Xavier’s room had a simple answer. It had to include his favorite color: orange. But when it comes to decorating with bright, juicy orange, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I settled on painting the bottom half of the main wall orange (Benjamin Moore’s Fruit Punch, to be exact) and the rest of the walls and ceiling a nice off white (BM’s Vanilla Milkshake) to balance the look. Indeed, a little orange goes a long way. But the wall opposite this accent wall still looked pretty, well, empty.  It needed something big, bold, and colorful to complement the orange and brighten up that big white wall.

There was just one minor snag. Two, really. First, big art is expensive. Second, the space in question was above Xavier’s bed. I wasn’t about to hang something dangerously heavy in this prime bed jumping real estate. And god forbid it fall on him while he was sleeping… So what to do? I decided early on that what I needed was art on a big canvas–lightweight with no glass. But everything I was finding in the stores was either too cutesy or just too…bleh.

When I saw large canvases on sale at the craft store, inspiration struck. Why not let Xavier (my art-loving child) create his own art? I picked up a canvas on sale for just over $20, a few larger bottles of paint to supplement our current collection, and some new paint brushes, and we were ready to go.

Xavier finished his masterpiece during Quinn’s afternoon nap. After putting our paint clothes on and setting out the canvas on a large drop cloth on the screened porch, we got out our paint and brushes. We started by covering the canvas in a bright blue color since I knew a white background would just blend into the white wall. After that, I tried to intervene as little as possible and let Xavier do the rest. Art is all about the process for him these days, and much less about the finished product. The name he chose for the work reflects this mindset: “Painting Colors.” He enjoyed making circles and lines, flinging paint on the canvas, mixing colors together, putting the paint on in thin layers so you can see the paint underneath, putting it on thickly so that it created big blobs on the canvas, and painting from different angles. Towards the end of Quinn’s two hour nap (yes, the boy painted for two hours and could have kept going for much longer), I gently nudged him towards wrapping it up. He could let it dry and add more later or finish now, I told him. He opted for the latter. He just had two more color combos he wanted to try, he told me. The work was finished when he was done, not when the painting reached any particular stage. He loves it and couldn’t wait to show it to Daddy. I think it’s perfect, and so perfectly him right now.

Most importantly, he is inspired to make more art. “Maybe I can make one for Quinn’s room? And one for Mommy and Daddy’s room?” Bring it on, I say. Bring it on.

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An Art Caddy

I’ve been meaning to put an art caddy together for Xavier for some time now. He has a bunch of art supplies that were slightly more organized in our old house and are now less organized (read: mostly shoved into a plastic bin) in an under-the-stairs closet in the basement close to his art table. Organizing that space is a bigger project for another day, but after making dozens of trips downstairs to get markers, paper, crayons, scissors, and other supplies when Xavier has wanted to color or create something upstairs (and then finding them upstairs when he is working the basement) has made putting together a portable art station a high priority.

I initially had big plans to find the Perfect Solution, something attractive and functional. But after weeks of looking for something wonderful (that, let’s admit it, was just going to get marker and crayon markings all over it), I decided it was time for good enough. So on a recent trip to to the store I snatched up a plastic tiered tray with four removable bowls (which are actually pretty handy for moving supplies closer to the project at hand) on sale for about $10 and stocked it with paper, colored pencils, crayon rocks, a bottle of glue and a glue stick, scissors, paper and foam scraps, glitter paint, and little puff balls (one of Xavier’s favorite supplies). The handle on top makes it easy to move it around. Right now it lives on our kitchen table when we’re not eating and nearby when we are. Here’s hoping it makes for a more sane dinnertime/snack time/chasing Quinn time/Mommy-needs-a-glass-of-wine-cup-of-coffee-email-break time.

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