Saturday, May 5, 2018

Kid Dates at Mc Donald's

Several years ago now, James - then about age 5 - took a bike ride with his mommy (me!) Bike rides are boring without a destination, and we live in a fairly hilly, very suburban area. Thinking it through, I decided that McDonalds was within range (and reachable entirely by sidewalk!), so we set off on a roughly 1 mile trip passing through the subdivision, a schoolyard, a serious hill on a busy street, and three major intersections. We made it intact (although that hill is a killer!) and enjoyed an ice cream cone in celebration.
Little did we know that this would become a near unbreakable Saturday morning tradition for years to come. All of my kids were early bike riders (Lucy wasn't even 4 the first time she got up and moving) - but I'll save my rant against training wheels and in favor of glide-bikes for later. This post is about Kid Dates. Suffice to say that Grace was ready to tackle the ride when she was between 5 and 6, and we began rotating Saturdays. (Taking both kids at the same time strained both my patience and my nerves as they ride at very different speeds and have different levels of "good sense" around intersections and cars.) Gradually I learned that I could combine the plain old fun of the bike ride and ice cream with some extra school. We haven't been consistent about what we work on, but recently it's been mostly book reports, which they dictate to me while I type them into the computer.
We've also done some consumer math (having a receipt handy helps!), and recently we started doing some typing practice. Sometimes James finishes up his spelling. I won't pretend that the kids don't fight me on this at times, but it's become part of the expectation and rarely detracts from everyone's enjoyment.
We've also gotten to "know" (OK, recognize and exchange greetings with) a group of retirees who tend to be there at the same time of day, which adds to the enjoyment.  Last year I met a grandma who homeschooled her grandchild and exchanged some tips and resources. And last week I got a major bonus. It was Grace's day, and she was in a sadly typical mood where every difficulty, challenge, mistake, and misunderstanding in her work was upsetting her badly. Typing lessons were Not making her happy. Rather less typically I was being pretty patient and encouraging. Eventually we got through it - she finished what I'd decided was going to get done, and been allowed to run off and play. A few moments later an older lady who'd been sitting nearby the whole time came over and said - almost gruffly - "I know you probably don't need to hear this from me, but you're a great mother!" She went on in this vein for at least a minute, and I was glowing at the end. (I also assured her that I most certainly Did need to hear it and much appreciated it!) I know that I have my weaknesses as a parent and a teacher, and I can tell you about them at length. But having a disinterested third party tell me out of the blue that I was doing a great job was - somehow I've used this phrase a lot lately - life giving! (Glad she wasn't there this evening when I was shouting at the squabbling kids at the park...)
Is there a point to this post? Maybe just a theme. Everyone looks forward to our "dates" on Saturdays. They combine exercise, 1x1 mother-kid time, and probably nearly as much school as they get on many of our increasingly disorganized weekday mornings. And yet I often forget to count them when I think back over the schooling we've accomplished over the week just Because they are so fun and relaxed. I wish there was a way to bring more of that feeling into the rest of the week. Of course, then we wouldn't have as much to look forward to. :)

Friday, May 4, 2018

Let It Go

Just a quick little anecdote about the value of cutting back and letting go. 
My middle daughter (7) is in dance and loves it. 

Her older brother (9) is in taekwondo and loves it. 
For about 18 months, my daughter also did taekwondo. Mostly, she enjoyed it, but in the past 4-5 months a combination of chronic illness, her best friend dropping out, and the timing of the class (5:50 pm) took most of the fun away. Nearly every class night would be met with "Oh No, it's taekwondo!" and then we'd cajole and push her to get ready and rush out the door. It was frustrating to everyone. I don't know why it took us so long to cut the cord.
I mean I do know. First, she usually admitted to enjoying the class once she was there. She liked her teacher. Her big brother often got to help in her class. We'd paid for a lot of classes missed due to legitimate illness and I had this notion she could make them up. I think martial arts are great for discipline and fitness. I value following through and working past rough points.  Her brother experienced a rough patch with taekwondo a year or so ago and we are all glad that we didn't let him drop out. And, it's ridiculously hard for me to "give up" on anything. There's this loyalty / stubborn gene in me that feels like a failure when I do. *
Finally, this week, I managed to let go anyway. And it's a weight off everyone's shoulders! Her own sense of relief is palpable. She's happy on taekwondo nights because she gets to play with her little sister at the park while big brother practices. His class isn't until 7, so no more rushed dinner. We should have done this back in February, if not sooner!
My short-story-long to say, if, like me, it's hard to let go, take a step back and really examine what you're holding on to. Are you making the decision to carry on for yourself or your kids? And it's it really the right one? Cutting back on commitments isn't failure: it can be life giving!

* If I look back on my own life and count the things (jobs, classes, commitments) that I deliberately, proactively quit rather than waiting for a door to be slammed in my face, I can see the pattern. I stick with things out of habit, not wanting to disappoint others, and comfort - in addition to the more admirable traits of loyalty and dependability.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Mermaid In A Jar Kit Instructions


Did you get a Mermaid in a Jar kit? We're really glad you did. My girls had a great time making mermaids, and we hope you will too.

By the way, my girls were 4 and 7 when we did this project, and they needed a lot of help. You might be able to handle it on your own by age 10 or so, especially if you have some sewing experience.
If you are doing this project with younger kids, check out my related entry on how to keep them involved but still have a nice, solid project at the end.

Here is what you will find inside your jar

* felt cut-outs, two each for the mermaid's body and tail, and one for her bra
* embroidery thread in flesh and tail colors, and a little pink
* yarn for hair
* needle
* polyfill
* small beads for eyes
* sequins
* assorted small jewels or beads

Here is what you will need to gather from your own supplies

* Scissors for snipping thread
* glue, either tacky or fabric (optional if you decide not to sew sequins)
* disappearing fabric marker (optional, to help with face embroidery)

Here are a couple of sewing stitches you need to know 

* back stitch
* blanket stitch
* running stitch

Once you've gathered your supplies, make sure you have a good place to work. We recommend a table, not your bedroom floor!

Step One: Make her a face! 


  • Find your first body piece. 
  • Using your disappearing fabric marker, draw her a cute smile and mark the position for her eyes.
  • Thread your needle with two strands of pink embroidery floss and backstitch her mouth
  • Find her little bead eyes and sew them on. (Needle won't fit? You could always glue these.) 




Step Two: Stitch up her body


  • Place the two body pieces together, tie a good knot, and thread your needle with two strands of flesh colored embroidery thread
  • Starting at the "hips," use the blanket stitch to sew the two body pieces together. (The blanket stitch looks harder than it is, but you can always use an overstitch if it is giving you trouble. We used an overstitch with my four year old.) 
  • Leave the entire bottom of the body - between the hips - open. Tie off your thread. 
  • Lightly stuff her body with polyfill (you could also use cotton balls or even dried beans if you make another and run out of stuffing!). You can use a pencil or pen to help stuff the arms. 

Step Three: The Tail


  • Decide if you're going to sew on the sequins, or glue them. The former is time consuming and tedious, but very reliable. Glue is much easier, but they won't hold up to much handling afterwards before you start to lose them. 
  • If you're sewing them, get to it! I prefered to come up from the back, thread on a sequin, and then go back in from the front, then repeat.  (If you're gluing, do that at the end.) 
  • Thread your needle with two strands of tail-colored floss and use the backstitch to sew the two tail pieces together. Start and end at opposite "hips" again, remembering to leave the entire top open. 
  • Lightly stuff with polyfill, making sure to leave quite a bit of space at the top for her body

Step Four: Put it all together


  • Gently slide the body into the tail, adjusting stuffing levels for a good fit
  • Once it's right, thread your needle with two strands of tail-colored floss and using a simple running stitch to sew the tail to the body. Be careful to go through just two layers, not the entire body! 

Step Five: Hair! 


  • Separate your yarn into 5 hanks, and tie each around its midpoint with a piece of the same yarn. 
  • Using flesh-colored floss, sew 4 hanks set to hang down, evenly spaced just around the very top of the head, but on the back side. 
  • Sew the fifth hank dead center, just to the front, and spread out to each side. Added a stitch or two around a couple of strands at the side of the head to keep it in place. Think of the way you pin back center-parted hair behind your ears (assuming you don't do bangs.)   
  • There are other ways to sew on hair, so feel free to experiment!
    And definitely check out the photo above for a little guidance

Step 6: Final Details 


  • Assuming you didn't sew on the sequins, it's time to glue them. 
  • Apply a moderate amount of fabric or tacky glue to the front of the tail. Sprinkle on sequins, or - if you're feeling patient - place them individually
  • You may glue on her bra, or sew it on with a simple running stitch with tail-coordinated floss. If you want, use a backstitch to put "strap" details around her shoulders and back. 
  • Sew or glue additional beads and gems at her hairline or as a necklace - use your imagination! 
  • Let any glue dry overnight. 




Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Day In The Life: March 8, 2018

My day started earlier than I wanted it to when I was woken not by the alarm, but by Nettle yowling outside our bedroom door at 6 am. Needless to say, David didn't even stir. Probably she could have yowled for 15 minutes without waking the kids either, but there was no point in waiting since I would never get back to sleep. So I let her downstairs and, rather than play her favorite game of "lead the sleepy human around the entire house pretending you want water when you really just want to lick the dry toilet paper roll," I cut straight to the chase and put her in the garage with her food bowl. Then I grabbed 50 more minutes of sleep.
My actual alarm is a "smart" one in my watch that is supposed to buzz as soon as it senses I am awake between 6:55 and 7:30. As usual, I woke right before 6:55. Less typically I got up and dressed without too much self pity. A month or so back I decided to start my days right by rising before the rest of the family so I could pray over them and the coming day before taking a walk. This is where I'm supposed to say something sappy and spiritual like that since I began this practice both my spiritual and temporal life has been transformed as I've drawn closer to God and sensed His clear direction and blessing on my life. Unfortunately this would not be true. I started off pretty well with a great prayer system, but predictably I've become increasingly bored with it since about week 3. I've found myself skipping over large bits and phoning it in on the others. I'm not proud of this, but there it is.  And I'm not giving up. Even if I am not operating on a spiritual high plane, I do function much better if I am up and running well before the kids, and I know that I need to learn patience as much as anything. Also, I came across a great Lent Bible Study through Matthew on YouVersion which I read and listen to while on my walk. Admittedly I always combine this walk with Pokemon Go, but it keeps me motivated. Weather permitting I go up to the park, knock out the Pokemon gym, and head back home, listening to 2 or 3 chapters on the way over the 20 minute walk. Weather was not permitting today: it was drizzly and dreary. So I took a much shorter walk to the Pokestop on the near corner.
I arrived home earlier than usual and took a few minutes to poke through a few Words with Friends games and Facebook posts before frying up some hash browns. (Yesterday's writing project involved decorating "Potato People," and I wasn't willing to let the materials go to waste!) As the girls were up and the skillet was hot, I also mixed up some GF pancake batter I'd picked up at Whole Paycheck a few days ago. David and I happily ate the hash browns, but as hard as I tried to sell them, the girls were only interested in the pancakes. Maybe if I made the hashbrowns heart shaped? Or maybe just go back to cereal like the other 8 in 10 days.
The girls were long finished with breakfast before James (who had to be prompted) was even stirring. He's in a pattern of staying up late and sleeping in right now, which I haven't been worrying about since he's reading in his room and I don't really care all that much if we start school at 9 am on the dot. That said there are down sides.
A couple of days ago Grace decided that she was going to be a teacher. Lucy's teacher specifically. She had me draw up a schedule with 4 subjects and 2 recesses, dug up a backpack, begged a snack from me, set up a little desk among the discarded clothing, blankets, and toys on their floor, and is apparently making Lucy do her letter worksheets.  I see from my blog that Grace was studiously teaching Lucy to write her name about a year ago - and succeeded - so I am absolutely not interfering with this as long as Lucy wants to play along! They headed up to get dressed and do "school" around 8:45.
Meanwhile James ate the rest of the pancakes. ("Make more next time, Mommy!" "Get up before they're all gone and the kitchen is cleaned up!") He wanted more food and argued vehemently that he ought not have to sit down and do math with me next. I was equally adamant that he would: Mom was going to be here at 10 and I wanted to accomplish something academic before writing off the rest of the day. We plugged through intro to long division for about 15 minutes before she arrived, but once she did there was barely time to assign some very minimal copy-work to Grace before I had to rush off to the Chiropractor.
I will file this subject under "It sucks to get old." The visit was prompted by lower back pain that I managed to exacerbate about 10-12 days ago through a combination of a too-soft mattress and an abortive attempt to restart my exercise program. I thought the Yoga and Pilates workouts I'd selected were plenty low key, but that Saturday I woke up in serious pain that persisted all day and barely budged with NSAIDs. It's much better now than it was then, but a visit was still in order.
I hadn't been in over 3 years so I had to do all the new patient stuff, and ended up not getting home until 12:15.
Normally we go to McDonald's with my mom on Thursdays, but since Grace was officially diagnosed with Celiac last month, there's absolutely nothing food-like on their menu that she can eat. There are other options around town that can accommodate her, but none of them hit that sweet spot of price, decent food, pleasant atmosphere, and place for the kids to play while Mom and I talk.
The compromise proposal is to eat lunch here and hit McDonald's for dessert afterwards. I hadn't made a good plan for this today, but on the way home I remembered that we had the makings for grilled cheese and resolved to make this as soon as arriving.
Everyone was happy enough when I got in: Mom and James were playing Blokus, Lucy was entertaining herself with Perler beads, and Grace was reading a "graphic novel." Unfortunately I'd no sooner walked in than I was hit with a belly ache that was absolutely unignorable and quickly progressed to disabling. I was very glad Mom was there to take over the food prep. Belly aches haven't been that common for me over the past few years, and I find it highly ironic, suspicious, and frustrating that I've been hit with two this very week, roughly 10 days into my own GF regime. (Which I probably shouldn't even be doing right now since I haven't had the Celiac blood test or endoscopy and won't for three more weeks, but that's another story.) This afternoon I couldn't even find a comfortable position, which is even more rare not to mention highly unwelcome. After a bunch of twisting and contorting I finally managed something I could live with, and perhaps 15 minutes later I was all better. Why? Who knows. I decided to stay in bed with my book just in case while they finished up lunch down stairs.
I was ready to face the world again around 1:30. Mom had made me a sandwich - on regular bread. I'd forgotten to tell her I was testing out the GF thing, and I've gotten so superstitious about it that I didn't want to eat the wheat. So I chose not to say anything and stuck a GF granola bar in my pocket to eat at McDonald's with my yogurt parfait. After the usual delay over coats and shoes, we got there around 1:45 and ordered everyone ice cream. Did I mention that I also have a terrible canker sore on the bottom of my tongue which has proven impervious to my secret weapon of "Canker-Rid" medication? This made my granola bar pretty darned unpleasant, but the mocha frappe helped make up for it. I left the second half of the bar in my pocket.
Mom has to be heading home by 3, and that's about the time we made it back to our place. She took off and I, feeling distinctly unpleasant (but at least no longer with a belly ache) was hoping to grab a nap, but there were other things demanding my attention. Grace is super fired up about a play she has written and is directing with the semi-voluntary participation of the gaggle of girls at church. Today she insisted that she (we) need to work on props. As supportive as I am of the endeavor in theory, I feel compelled to pull her down to earth quite frequently. Her eyes are way bigger than her stomach on the prop thing, but James helped out by finding a pretty good cardboard box that I was able to sell to her as a one-size-fits-all combination castle and witch's tower. But by the time I'd helped her through the planning stages, prevented her from ruining the box, and hunted down various other costume pieces and whatnot that she needed it was far too late to think about sleeping before dinner.
I revised my dinner plans from "pork chops" to "pasta with sausage," but I was only able to grab about 30 minutes of down-time with my stupid video game before I had to start prep.
I wasn't hungry for the dinner, which we had to eat right at 5 so David could take James and Grace to Tae Kwon Do. This was probably a good thing, because everyone else Was, and the entire pound of rice pasta and 3 sausage links disappeared before they did. (Not that the kids would eat the meat. I don't feel good about sending them off with so few protein calories, but it was beyond me to fight it this evening. They didn't get fruit either today: the apples are gone, the last few oranges moldy, and no-one but Lucy will even consider bananas, which were also brown. I should have offered applesauce cups, but I didn't make it happen. I am a failure.)
The Tae Kwon Do schedule is not ideal right now: Grace's class is 5:50, and James' at 7:10 with a class in between. On the plus side James is usually able to "help" in both Grace's class and the lower belt class afterwards, meaning that on some nights he is getting upwards of 90 minutes of exercise. Tonight Lucy and I joined David at the park below the dojo around 6 pm. It was too wet and cold for Lucy to play, though, so after some obligatory Pokemon Go we headed back to watch James and Grace's class. Somewhere in this timeframe I forced myself to eat the second half of the unexciting and exquisitely painful granola bar. Then I took the girls home and hustled them quickly into bed before it was even 7:30. For the first time in a week they didn't want to share the "tent" I built for them in the gable of their bedroom. I don't even argue at this point: they've gone from refusing to share a bedroom 3 months ago to insisting on sleeping on the floor, together, in that small space. At the same time they've dropped their requirement for lullabies, but Grace definitely wants to read. As long as they're actually sleeping, I'm just going with the flow.
James got home with David around 8 and I coaxed him into bed not too long after that. But when I went to check on him he wanted to talk, which led to one thing and another and it was 9 before I managed to detach, after my obligatory lecture on the need to clean up his darned room.
As of now, I am feeling run down, generally inflamed (worse than usual), sore (because of? despite? the chiropractor), and hungry from lack of real meals all day. I need to find something to eat, but I can't even think of anything Unhealthy around here that I want to go to the trouble of chewing with this ##^$#$%@ canker sore. Maybe a smoothie. But that takes initiative, planning, and cleaning up afterwards besides being cold. Basically I'm cranky, a bit discouraged, and sick of feeling sick and in pain. I'm afraid of taking it out on my husband. Hopefully we can just turn on the TV and let the day coast to a natural end.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Zero Sum Parenting


An article recently popped up in my feed headlined "Rich parents are serving as 'college concierges' for their kids - and it's fueling inequality"  
From <https://www.marketwatch.com/story/helicopter-parenting-may-be-fueling-inequality-among-college-students-2018-03-05> "
The Washington Post reports on the same study with the headline "
Helicopter parents don’t stay at home when the kids go to college — they keep hovering"

Both articles cover a new study showing how rich kids still graduate and go on to attain degree-appropriate employment at a far higher rate than their poor classmates attending the same schools.
This inequality is attributed to their rich parents. In a nutshell, these parents advise, coach, and guide their children towards appropriate majors, classes - even societies, clubs, and fraternities. Secondly they use their own personal and professional contacts to gain their children entry into the internships, jobs, and other opportunities they need. In contrast, poor or working class parents simply don't have the knowledge or contacts to provide their children with these services. They incorrectly assume that "someone" at the college (or earlier) will make sure their kids learn what they need.  Thus the gap between rich and poor, which we supposed was to be magically erased by simply getting those lower income kids into college, doesn't actually shrink at all - but the poor kids now have college debt on top of everything else.

I'm not going to dispute the truth of this study; on the contrary, it seems self evident: more involved parents lead to better success for their kids. What I am reacting to is the value judgements made explicitly clear both in the headlines and in the stories. In today's culture, the words "Helicopter" (as in "swooping in to rescue") and now "Bulldozer" (as in "removing all obstacles") when combined with  the word "parenting" are always meant to taken negatively. We're supposed to think "Oh my, I shouldn't be doing all these things for my kids. They need to learn to sink or swim on their own. I am not doing them any favors by solving all their problems for them."

As indeed, you're not. I fully believe that backing off when your kid has a conflict at the playground, takes a minor spill on her bike, or finds himself facing a test for which he has not prepared is (usually) very good parenting advice. Not so easy to follow, maybe, but conceptually solid. The issue I take with these articles is conflating the term "helicopter parenting" with parents who are helping their kids in the ways described above. Nothing these articles describes comes even close to "helicopter parenting" in my book. 

My own parents (and yes, they are solidly middle class, maybe even upper middle class by some measures) did many of these things for me. In particular, my father helped direct me away from a major I might have chosen left to my own devices (journalism or some related path) and towards one that had far better income potential (computer science.) He knew that I was perfectly qualified for the latter, even if the former felt easier and less scary to me. And he was right. It only took one 200-level course to show me that I could even enjoy computer programming. Shortly thereafter he made sure that my resume ended up on the right desks at his place of business. He was very careful to avoid any hint of nepotism by actually speaking to any of the people in the departments he hoped might hire me (indeed, we kept our relationship all but secret during the 3 years I interned there), but he absolutely used his knowledge and contacts to find out who was looking for interns with my skillset.  Earlier, while I was still in high school, he'd urged me to apply for an internship elsewhere through an early STEM program. This resume-builder not only taught me some valuable database skills well before my peers had opportunity to learn them in college, but it almost certainly got me noticed by my next internship. Earlier even than that he encouraged me to take courses in basic programming in my early teens. And yes, we had computers available (the venerable TI99-4a and Commodore 64) at home all through my childhood. I learned to type in order to earn game time!

The end result was that, in addition to graduating a private college sans debt (about 50/50 my parents' contributions and my summer earnings and scholarships), I spent 10 years in a succession of rewarding and well compensated high tech jobs. Was any of this helicopter parenting? Not in my book. He certainly counseled me, pushed me in directions I would not have considered on my own, and suggested various courses of action, but once I took that advice and got into those internships and classes I had to sink or swim on my own. He didn't take my tests for me, lean on an underling to hire me, or go around covering up or bailing me out of my inadequacies or failures. And somewhere along the way I took up the reigns entirely. I turned down the offer of full-time employment with his company and took a job that had nothing to do with him: a professor in my minor field was impressed with my course work and recommended me for a position in a startup he was working with.

Returning to our headlines, even more than "Helicopter,"  "Inequality" is a highly loaded word in our culture, and it also is always negative. It is associated with institutional racism, sexism, and any other "ism" you can think of. When we hear the word we are supposed to immediately think "oh, that's bad. It's not fair! How can we make things more equal?" Of course the answer is usually "not much" - at least on the low side. While perhaps career counselors and other faculty in high school and beyond might possibly be able to do a little more to coach kids without successful, involved parents, that's about all you could hope for to improve the success rate for these less privileged students. So, barring much potential for reducing the delta on the poor end, we instead focus on the high end. They pull out the "Inequality" word. How Unfair it is that you rich parents are giving your kids the benefit of their wisdom, experience, and contacts! (And, I might add, your *genes!*) In fact, what you’re doing is nothing less than helicopter parenting. It's inappropriate interference in the "real world" that we are supposed to enter at age 18. Back off and let your kids figure it out on their own. Your input is not welcome. It is putting the kids who don't have parents like you at risk of failure. Let them have a chance by abandoning your kid to the jungle.

I resent and utterly reject the implied suggestion that by making my kids less, I will be making the world a better place by reducing the net inequality. Because where does that even end? Let's go back in my own life.  How unfair is it that my parents were *married?* (To each other!) That my mother chose to - and was financially able to - devote herself entirely to homemaking during my childhood? That my father's engineering strengths and my mother's more artistic and language-centric strengths were passed on to me by both nature and nurture? That my father remained steadily employed? That I suffered no serious childhood traumas or illnesses? That I was provided with opportunities to study music outside of school? That I was routinely taken to the library and encouraged to read? That I was always emotionally supported and encouraged to perform well academically? That I was taught the value of thrift, the hatred of debt, and the discipline of living within one's means? That I didn't have to chose summer jobs based purely on their income potential? That I was discouraged from dating or getting involved with much of the social garbage during high school? That I lived in a safe neighborhood on a cul-de-sac where I could ride my bike and make friends with the neighbors? That I had good medical and dental care?  That I was taught compassion and charity and service and commitment and loyalty? That I had access to my grandparents? That I was raised in the church?
All of this and more directly contributed to my inequality with my peers. It's called good parenting.
And all of this and more is exactly what I want to give my kids.

And no, it's not fair. Because life isn't fair. That's the fallen world we live in. But I can't solve it by not training my kids up to succeed - to make the best of their God-given talents and opportunities.
I can help solve it by training them to always be looking for ways of improving the lives of those around them, be it in minor or major ways. To love their neighbors, to act unselfishly, with compassion and charity, to have integrity and loyalty, and to look for the Kingdom of God around them. This is what I can do: more, not less. Infinite sum, not zero-sum thinking!


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sewing with Little Girls: Felt Mermaids

My husband and I have weird dates. Our favorite thing to do after dumping the kids with their grandparents is head for a downtown area that has plenty of Pokestops, have dinner somewhere, and then walk for about an hour catching imaginary monsters visible only on our phones. If we're really lucky, we take down a couple of gyms and hatch an egg or two. Either way, we are secure in the knowledge that not only are we are seriously uncool, but we're also getting a lot of exercise and enjoying one another's company.
Why do I bring this up? Because on the most recent of these "Poke-dates," my long-suffering husband and I wandered into a Jo-Ann's Craft store where I came across a free project sheet for felt mermaids.


Look, aren't they adorable?
Yeah, I know. The faces, necklaces, and bras are Awful. And they're clearly designed to sell high-profit sequins and stick-on jewels.
But I saw a diamond in the rough. And, I saw a imagination-catching project for both my girls (nearly 5 and newly 7) to practice some real life sewing skills.
So I bought two sheets of flesh-colored felt ($0.78) and a package of sequins ($1.99) knowing the rest of the necessities were in my stash.

Here are ours. I think they turned out great! And yes, the girls were involved with nearly every step.



This is a Joann project, and you can download the free instruction sheet here.
All I'm going to do in this blog entry is highlight a few places we improved upon the instructions, and talk about how I got my fairly little girls involved.

General Tips 

Fair warning to my followers this is not a "Quick n' Dirty" project. Well, it's a little dirty - let's face it, those sequins are going everywhere! - but it's not quick, and worse, it involves glue. Which I hate.
Oh, the sacrifices we make for our kids!
  • Substitute! We used tiny pony beads for eyes. We also skipped the stick-on gems, since not only are they pricey, I knew they'd never stay stuck.
  • Freehand your pattern! The project sheet tells you to enlarge the pattern to a specific size. I know exactly how to do this using scanner and image editing software, but wanted none of it.
    Instead I took a good look at the pattern and free-handed one of the approximate dimensions. (I estimate I saved 30 minutes and untold frustration this way.) If you're freehanding it, just make sure your "hips" are narrow enough to fit - very snugly - in your tail. Also remember you only have to draw one side and then cut on the fold!
    (Bonus: Here's a similar pattern in a larger size. I used my printer settings to blow it up. )
    I also made a tiny mermaid using the exact pattern from the project sheet. It was fun! Kids will probably want to stick with a bigger one since it's easier to hold, stitch, and stuff.
  • Modify! I free-handed a couple of "seashells" for a traditional mermaid bra. Ovals would work too. The girls were also very clear what sort of mouths they wanted, and I chose a super light color so they wouldn't look like something from the Nightmare Before Christmas.
  • Style! The flyer didn't go into any detail on the hair. I cut an appropriate amount in the right length, folded over, then separated into 5 hanks, each of which I tied around its midpoint with a piece of the same yarn. I sewed 4 hanks set to hang down, evenly spaced just around the very top of the head, on the back side. The 5th I sewed dead center, just to the front, and spread out to each side. I added a stitch or two around a couple of strands at the side of the head to keep it in place. Think of the way you pin back center-parted hair behind your ears (assuming you don't do bangs.)   

Hair and face detail. 
My "baby" mermaid. About 3 inches tall with sewed on sequins and embroidery floss hair

Kid Involvement Tips

Remember, the goal is to develop skill, confidence, and independence, not to have a perfect project that Mom made when finished! (Yes, self, I am talking to you!)
That said, this is a lot to bite off. Have age-appropriate expectations and expect to get your hands dirty.
(Having trouble holding yourself back? Indulge your perfectionism in your own copy of the project, like my miniature!) 

For 4 to 6 year olds, consider 


  • Drawing dots on the fabric where their needle goes in or out * 
  • Using a simplified stitch - just loop around the fabric for each stitch and ignore the puckering. 
  • Being aware of their frustration level and ability to concentrate. Break the project up into several sittings. Aim for them to complete 50% or less of the stitching 
  • Letting them do most of the stuffing. (Use pencils or markers as handy stuffing tools.) 


* Lucy had a little sewing experience prior to this, but not much. I used a purple disappearing fabric marker (~$5 on the notions wall) to mark dots at even intervals. I put the dots on top even though her needle was always coming up from the bottom, which was great target practice. She stayed remarkably focused for 10-15 minutes at a time.
See the fun purple dots? They eventually disappear!

For 7 to 10 year olds, consider 


  • Having them cut their own pattern out
  • Teaching them the blanket stitch  (Here's a video for you!) 
  • Depending on patience and interest, aiming for 75% of the stitching 
  • Teaching them to thread their own needles 
  • Teaching them to tie knots at the end of the thread. (OK, I didn't. It seemed too hard for either of mine, but maybe in a year or two!) 
  • Showing them how to measure and cut "hair." (We wound yarn around a piece of cardboard as if making a pom-pom.) 
Both age groups should be able to handle the glue and sequins - assuming You can!

Expect to do these steps yourself

  • Separating embroidery thread, cutting appropriate lengths, tying knots, and starting stitching lines
  • Embroidering faces (I used the back stitch.) 
  • Sewing on hair 
  • Sewing on "bras" (of course you could glue them!) 
  • Finishing up tricky sewing like attaching the tail to the body



Friday, August 25, 2017

Flowers in a Jar Kit Instructions


Did you get a Flower Jar Kit? We're really glad to hear it: my girls love making these flowers, and we think you will too!

Before you get started, find a good place to work. We recommend a table, not your bedroom floor.
Here's what you'll find inside your jar
* Several round coffee filters, dyed in one or many pretty colors.
* A few pipe cleaners

Here's what you'll need to find around the house
* A pair of sharp scissors (but don't use Mom's good sewing scissors: she won't be happy!)
* A pencil

OK, let's get started. You're not going to believe how easy this is!


1) Pick three filters, stack them, and flatten the stack. Then fold in half, half again, and once more so that your circle is divided into eights.

2) Place your folded stack on the table with the point down. With a pencil, draw an arc from one corner, down in the middle, and then arc back up to the opposite corner. Don't obsess over this: "good enough" is very nearly as good as "perfect." Also, after you have made a few flowers, you may not find it necessary to draw this guideline any more!

3) Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut along your line, making sure to keep just under it so that it will not show on your finished flower.

4) Open up your paper and admire the pretty petals you've cut.

5) Rotate your circles so the petals are slightly offset. Keeping them aligned, take your pipe cleaner and poke a hole in the exact center of the filters from the bottom side. Push it through about half an inch, and curl the end a bit to make it hard for the flower to slip off.

6) This last bit seems like it might be tricky, but you'll be surprised how easy it really is. Gently crumple your circles into a flower shape, twisting them together tightly at the stem end. Use your fingers to fluff out the petals.

7) Finally, bend the pipe cleaner up and wrap it tightly around the bottom of your flower to bind it in place.

That's it! You've made a coffee filter flower!
Repeat these steps for the rest of your dyed filters, and then display your bouquet in the jar it came in!

Of course, if you'd like to make more, all you need is coffee filters and pipe cleaners. But PLEASE ask before you raid Mom's filter stash: a coffee-less mommy is not a happy mommy!
In any case, you should be able to get enough for a dozen bouquets at the nearest grocery or dollar store! 
...

 Now, if you want to dye your flowers, please read on for some very important tips and tricks!

Before you start, make sure your work surface is protected, and that you have a safe spot to dry your filters after dying. Get Mom involved at this point. Trust me! 
(If it's dry out, we recommend your clothes line. Otherwise, cookie sheets will be fine. Just do Not get dye on your mom's counter!)

You have all sorts of options for dye, but the absolute cheapest is Kool-Aid. That's right: those little packets that go 10 for a dollar at the grocery store are mostly food coloring!

My favorite way to dye is to mix about 1/3 of a packet of Kool-Aid in about 1/4 cup of water in a small, tall bowl or a drinking glass. This Kool-Aid was orange, and as an added benefit the yellow and red separate out a bit as it creeps up the filter.
Other options for dye include standard food coloring, or even brewed tea or coffee.

Once you have your dye prepared, take a stack of 6-8 filters and very roughly fold into quarters. Place the point in the dye and allow it to creep up for several minutes. Carefully remove it, allow the drips to fall back into the dye dish, and hang outdoors or spread the filters out to dry (or hang on your clothes line if weather permits!)
Alternately, dip the wide end of the filters into the dye to make a flower with the edges rather than the center of the petals colored.

You can also use a wide, shallow bowl for dye and entirely submerge a stack of flattened filters. More time in the dye means more saturated color.

You can even use water-based felt tip markers to color the centers or edges of a filter, and then drip or spray a little water to make the colors run and spread.

Just remember to let the filters dry Entirely before using them to create a bouquet!  This might take 24 to 48 hours depending on temperature and humidity, so be patient!