Small Hands in the Big World

Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Lesson Learned

Handmade gifts are the only way to go. Beyond thrilled with their homemade costumes (Princess Accessories and a SWAT Team Vest), Sara and William have been telling anyone who will listen about their “fancy clip clop princess shoes” and “cool police gear” their Momma made for them. It’s the first thing they mention when asked about what they received for Christmas. Yes, I am aglow with joy every time this happens and next year I’ll give myself way more time to craft and create for my children.
The C.S.I. hat from an evidence collection kit (a gift I had forgotten about) turned out to be perfect with his vest

Furiously writing us all "tickets" (even though there were still a bunch of gifts to open)
"Now I can get out da window like Punzel!" (The long ribbons dangling from the back of her crown reminded her of Rapunzel's super long hair)

"I can wear these outside, Mom?"
I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, perhaps insecurity about my own design talents (or lack thereof) but the joy with which my handmades were received will forever erase my hesitation. Curiosity about how I put it all together was another benefit – the kids wanted to know what materials I used and how I put everything together. Once they heard how things were made, they were inspired to make magic wands for a couple of friends…. and this was on Christmas day when they were surrounded by new toys to play with! Yes, another aglow with happiness moment.

A whole other level of handmade beauty also came my way this holiday. My incredibly talented artist friend, Michelle Willows (watch for her in the future, people!), surprised me with these exceptional hand drawn portraits of my kids.

What a personal, thoughtful, brilliant gift. I will be forver grateful. I'm not sure I can ever return the favor at the same caliber but thankfully this beloved friend is a fan of glittery pinecones, homemade granola, and paper stars. Thank you, dear girlfriend, we love you! Pin It

Friday, December 30, 2011

First "Real" Movie

Forget Frosty, we have a new favorite Christmas movie. Not only was Arthur Christmas one of the most charming and funny holiday films I’ve seen, it was also the first movie my children have seen in a movie theater so it will always be special. I’ll never forget their look of wonder staring up at the big screen and their joy with the fancy springy seats and “oh my gosh, Mom, cup holders right on our chairs!”
In awe of the candy selection (we kept it simple with just popcorn)

After spending the morning visiting with her and another dear friend and her daughter, my former employer and the kids' Fairy Godmother Paula treated us to this impromptu matinee. I could tell she was a little shocked that I had never taken the kids to a movie theater but when I explained that I simply haven’t felt that the enormous screen and surround sound is necessarily good for their ears or brains, I think she understood. Plus, you never know how much sarcasm or bathroom humor is going to be included in kids’ movies these days (not age appropriate for a 3 and 5-year old if you ask me) so I’ve just chosen to avoid it.

But I have to say that there couldn’t have been a more perfect first “real movie” than Arthur Christmas. With just the right balance of plot and action, it kept my kids engaged and entertained throughout. Futuristic touches made it “cool enough” for my boy while the friendships and cute factor made it great for my girl. Both of them laughed hysterically at several parts. Only a couple of scenes made Sara ask to hold my hand and William just came and sat on my lap once…. pretty good for a couple of kids who have never sat in a vast dark theater while a big screen whisked them away to another world.

Too bad it doesn’t have much longer in the movie theaters at this point (sorry, we’re a little late to hop on the movie bandwagon) but this will be one we watch for on DVD to watch every year together.
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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Last Minute Costume Gift Making

Feeling guilty that there wasn’t a handmade gift under the tree for my boy, I went commando craft-o while Daddy took the kids out today.  Since last Halloween, William has wanted a S.W.A.T. team costume that he saw at our friends’ house (and has borrowed a couple times since). I decided to make him one of his own.

S.W.A.T Vest
The store bought costumes aren’t all that elaborate, just a black vest with SWAT written on it and usually some pockets and fasteners. Once again my strange abundance of crafting supplies came in handy. I used a large sheet of firm black felt for the front of the vest and a rectangle of soft black felt for the back (now it looks bulletproof from the front but it’ll still be soft and comfortable to wear). Trusty glue gun in hand, I turned it into an over-the-head vest with two strips of felt across the shoulders, attached a couple of felt pockets, some old badge clips, and modified an old black pocketbook that was just collecting dust in my closet. The change purse and interior slots for credit cards and a checkbook will be a great place for him to store a pen and pad of paper in case he needs to write someone a ticket. Old wires and broken chargers from cameras and cell phones were a nice touch too. I put one toward the top so he can pretend it’s some kind of headphone and clipped another one lower, to use like a radio. The finishing touch was a big S.W.A.T. painted across the top front. I used acrylic paint because that’s what I had on hand but fabric paint would have been better (letter stencils would have helped too but my boy won’t care that the letters aren’t perfect).

S.W.A.T Helmet
Grammy might recognize this when William opens it on Christmas morning… it’s actually from a set of plastic Kitchen Aid bowls she gave me a few years back. It’s so lightweight that it was never great for mixing but it does make a superb helmet. The smooth surface was a little harder to paint and I’m not thrilled with how it turned out but it’ll be a fun addition to the costume. Glue gunning on a weird plastic doodad from some kind of a container made a nice breathing mask in case the little pretender encounters any poison gases.

Bad-Guy Catching Cuffs (not pictured)
When searching for a box, I came across the lightweight cardboard “sleeve” supports that came with his last pair of Bogs boots and remembered with him playing with them when the boots were new. Starting with those as a frame, I wrote SWAT on each one and glue gunned on some black tech-y looking items left behind from broken toys, an old buckle from a car seat (the red button will look like something important, most likely some kind of weapon), and some weird bits we accumulated the last time we went to Creation Station up in Lynwood (more about that place on another day, it’s a great destination for inventive kids).

Follow up Note:  Click here to see how it all turned out Christmas Morning.
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Friday, December 23, 2011

Accessories Fit for a Fairy Princess

Discouraged by high prices for cheaply made princess paraphernalia and the insanely long line at the toy store, I decided to make some last minute handmade Christmas gifts for my girl. I’m no seamstress but I do have plenty of sparkly craft supplies on hand and I know how to wield a glue gun!

Digging in my various craft boxes, I was able to find supplies for a flower crown with flowing ribbons. Using two chenille pipe cleaners as a base, I connected them to one another, tied a long ribbon to one end (having previously measured it to leave long strips of ribbon at each end)then wrapped it around and around until it came to the other end at which I made another tie. Next came a string of pearl beads and I used the same technique, tying it at one end, wrapping it around and around then tying it off at the end. That actually looked pretty good but the perfect finishing touch was 5 little red ribbon roses. I glue-gunned those on and also used spots of glue to better secure the pearls. I will wait until Christmas morning to fit it perfectly to her head but it should be as easy as twisting ends together to make a custom Princess headpiece!

Do you have shoes in your closet that your kids always play with but you never wear? For me, it’s a few “clip clop shoes” with low heels that my kids love to thump thump thump around in. I’ve always worried that if I bought my daughter some of those little slightly high-heeled dress-up princess shoes, she’d want to wear them all the time. However, if my ridiculously-too-large-for-her clip clop shoes are her dress up shoes, it’s likely that she’ll only wear them for dress up… at least that’s what I’m hoping. I glue gunned on some faceted acrylic jewels and used glitter glue to make some one-of-a-kind fancy shoes.

Magic Wand
Glue-gunned onto a broken old wand, one of my handmade paper stars became a perfect topper for a elaborate new wand. Final touches included more strategically placed “jewels” and glitter glue.

Follow up note: Click here to see how it all turned out!
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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Advent Adventures: Face Painting

Silliness runs in our family, primarily on my side. I'm afraid mess-making is another thing we’re known for. In honor of Cuckoo Grandma’s (my Mom’s) pre-holiday surprise visit, we pulled out all the stops. 

William became a superhero: fire and lightning man, to be specific. Sara became a blue kitty. Then Cuckoo Grandma wanted to join the fun as a clown. She is such a good sport.

Like so many of our activities, face painting started out tame…until it wasn’t any more. Itching to get their hands on makeup sponges and brushes with the face paint, the kids talked me into letting them “just paint something small on my cheek.” 
Um, William? I'm pretty sure that's not my cheek

Nice! I'm all set for my audition for Braveheart 2
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Solstice Snowflakes

A serious chill is in the air but our first days of winter have been bathed in sunshine. Dressing up, marching with drums and flutes, singing and dancing, running around naked, and general merry-making seem to be a part of most of our days so we’re right on track with pagan rituals but I hoped to come up with something meaningful for Solstice.

Keeping it simple, we honored the shortest day of the year with a candlelit breakfast, making paper snowflakes (without the lit candles on the table, by the way) and we spent a lot of time talking about the earth’s relationship to the sun. Next year we may have dinner (or at least dessert) by candlelight too but the kids were wiped out after a day of fun with Cuckoo Grandma and friends. I had the pleasure of ending the day with a Yoga class taught by one of my favorite teachers which felt like a beautiful way to welcome the light's return.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas in Downtown Seattle

“What store were you in today?” Daddy asked at the dinner table. Since a special “Santa House” is built for the holidays (and they were so busy enjoying being downtown with their sweet Grammy) the kids didn’t realize they were even near a store when visiting Santa. When I answered “Nordstrom,” Sara perked right up and asked, “da North Pole?!” Come to think of it, those names do have a similar ring to them. It’s our third year making the trek into Seattle to visit the jolly old guy at the flagship Nordstrom store and I have to say that even though the line was long, we’ll keep going back because Nordstrom pulls off a mini North Pole experience beautifully.

Something new for us this year was getting a phone call when our turn came around. Leave it to Nordstrom to think of something like this instead of making us wait in the cold for more than an hour. Once we finished our hot cocoa and lattes across the street and received the call that it was our turn, friendly “elf” employees offered apple cider and cookies while we waited. Unlike many mall setups, parents are invited to take photographs of the kids with Santa in addition to the professional photographer selling packages there. The dear Nordstrom Santa greets every child by name and takes his time visiting with each one, gently asking questions and listening to all their requests. We also witnessed the very patient photographer pull a crying 1 year old out of a complete tizzy by pretending to sneeze and making a beanie baby fall off her head each time (I’ll have to try that one at home sometime). The whole experience was a pleasure.

Telling Santa "I want YOU to surprise me"
 Seeing Santa then heading to the carousel and either the Sheraton for Gingerbread Houses or The Fairmont for the Teddy Bear Suite has become a beloved tradition for us with Grammy.

Stopping to read a book in the sumptuous Teddy Bear Suite at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel (we wandered around a bit and showed the kids the room where their Daddy and I were married too)
After our carousel ride

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Adventures: Ice Skating

One forgets how many muscles in it takes to balance oneself on ice skates… that is, until one goes ice skating. Sore ankles aside, the Friday before the holiday break was the perfect day for an ice skating play date at Castle Ice in Renton. A busload of teenagers was leaving just as we laced up our skates then we practically had the whole rink to ourselves. For $21, we rented skates for me and my two kids (ages 5 and 3), and two walkers to help them get around on the ice (unfortunately those are only available to children or I may have rented one too).

William started out run-slipping on the ice, swishing his feet forward and back in short fast strokes but not getting very far. He was frustrated that he couldn’t go fast immediately yet when I tried to suggest he try pushing off with his feet at an angle, he insisted I let him do it the way he wanted to do it. Come to think of it, my own wobbly skating didn’t make me look like a very credible teacher…. smart kid. Eventually he decided the walker must be slowing him down and despite a few slips and falls, he did great on his own.

Sara didn’t want to set foot on the ice last year so I was thrilled when she dove right in this time around. She was cruising with the walker in no time but lost interest after about 40 minutes and decided to experiment with knee-skating, laying on the ice, and finally licking the ice. That’s when I helped her find a cozy spot to sit while the rest of us finished up.

I could tell you my pictures aren’t great because I used my point and shoot, the lighting was bad, and everyone was moving too fast but frankly, I was too busy trying to not massively injure myself to pay much attention to the photos.

Apparently an outstretched tongue helps with balance

Look at her go!

Me and my big kid... too cool to take skating advice from Mom but still willing to take a picture with me

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Handmade Holiday Gifts

Spoiler Alert! Grammy and Cuckoo Grandma (my two most faithful readers), stop reading right now if you want to be surprised on Christmas Morning! Your grand-elves and I have been busy crafting this past week.

Handmade often just ends up looking “homemade” or a kind person might say “quaint” when it comes from us. Thank goodness it’s the thought that counts… however, we did find a few things this year that turned out looking pretty darn nice if I do say so myself.

Glittery Pinecones: Loose glitter is something I've been avoiding for years. It always looks so fun and pretty when the kids have used it at preschool but the mess and knowing how glitter sticks to everything had me scared. Well, this is a simple and fun activity and they do turn out sparkly and luminous but at the risk of sounding Grinch-like, I have to say that my fear of glitter was justified. I'm still finding it everywhere. Next time I'll use large grain salt instead -- it looks frosty and pretty and the finished pinecones are not just decorative but also useful as fire starters in a wood stove or fireplace. 

Painted Picture Frames:  Michaels was selling these wonderfully simple unfinished wood frames for $1 each. I bought a dozen for us to use for holiday gifts and another dozen+ for William’s Kindergarten class to decorate on an upcoming art day (maybe we’ll make a Valentine’s Day gift using them). Providing a limited 3-color palette of acrylic paint colors to the kids and letting them loose on the frames resulted in some really fun gifts and they had a great time doing it.

Oil Pastel Artwork:  I could have put photos in the frames but since both lovely Grandmothers already have their homes wallpapered in pictures of the kids, we decided to make art. Oil Pastels were perfect since the frames have no glass and Pastels don’t need them. William had winter in mind with his Icicle image then ended up with an Orca whale on another one (I think he just draws then decides what it is at the end sometimes), and finally he drew a “really tough helicopter that doesn’t even need a person to fly it.” Sara copied the icicle idea in her mind for a couple Pastel pieces then I used a self-portrait that she did earlier this month for her last frame. I can’t get enough of her pictures of herself with wonderfully wild curls atop her head.

Homemade Granola:  One of our advent calendar activities was to make something for the kids’ teachers and bus drivers. Cookies are nice but while mine tend to taste great, they rarely look pretty enough for gift giving. This seemed like a more forgiving recipe to try and what doesn’t look cute in a fun little gingerbread bag? We made a vegan variation of Cynthia Lair’s Maple Butter Nut Granola using coconut oil instead of butter and omitting almonds (better to be safe than sorry with potential allergies). You’ll find her recipe and an accompanying video on her great website. By the way, another gift idea that I highly recommend for anyone interested in kid-friendly healthy whole food cuisine is Cynthia’s cookbook “Feeding the Whole Family.”  Darn, I should have thought of that sooner to give along with the granola. Oh well… maybe next year.

Paper Stars:  Best paper craft yet. I can’t stop making these. The finished product is so beautifully satisfying. Starting with pretty paper helps a lot (even better if it’s already cut into perfect squares for you to work with). I am a little embarrassed to admit how much scrapbooking paper I have in my closet. No, I’m not a scrapbook maker, I’m just a sucker whenever I find it at TJ Maxx for a super good price and I love pretty paper. Finally, now I have something to do with it! I found this idea over at Maya Made but must also give credit to this lovely website for posting such helpful instructions (please read both posts if you decide to do this craft, the tips in Maya’s post such as when to use glue stick versus Elmer’s glue are really helpful). My kindergarten boy was able to do the folding but got a bit frustrated when it came to the cutting and gluing part. My three year old had a harder time with folding but did great with the cutting and glue. These would make gorgeous gifts but sorry, the kids are hoarding them all in their rooms and want to keep them forever.

Costumes:  At the last minute, I got inspired to make Princess Accessories for my girl and a S.W.A.T. Team vest for my boy. They turned out to be the most beloved gifts of the holiday... Sara actually took her fairy wand to preschool this morning. Joy!
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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Santa Lucia

It is one thing to read about holiday traditions from other cultures but it’s altogether another thing to witness it first-hand. We had the pleasure of celebrating the day of Santa Lucia with Swedish friends last week and it was absolutely lovely.

In honor of Saint Lucy, Christians in Scandinavian and some European countries mark the passing of this martyr that lost her eyes and her life for proclaiming her faith in God back in the 300s.  The tradition is that one young woman is chosen to lead a procession of girls. They all wear white gowns and carry a candle but the girl in the lead also wears a red sash and crown of candles.

Our friends with girls ages 2 and 5 decided to forego the candle crown but much to her parents’ displeasure, the eldest daughter insisted on wearing her special Santa Lucia pure white cotton gown to our house for a play date before the party. I promised to not break out the paints that day. She practiced her song all afternoon—I still have it in my head, too bad it’s in Swedish or Italian (sad that I don't know, I'll have to ask their Mom) or I could really get into it. Anyhow, all of her crooning led to everyone finding their favorite instruments and we had a great jam session complete with a stage made from step stools, percussion, strings, and woodwinds (or are they called plastic-winds when it’s the slider flutes and old fashioned recorders)?
Helping Sara with the words

Sara on vocals, "lukealeylee," and jazzy dance moves
Later that evening we enjoyed snacks, spicy sweet warm Glögg, and a traditional cinnamon rice porridge beside our friends’ roaring fireplace. The lights were dimmed for their eldest daughter to come out carrying a lit candle and sing the traditional songs of a Swedish Santa Lucia celebration. Her younger sister stood close by, witnessing the ritual and watching with awe. All the kids (varying in ages from 1 to 8) sat quietly, mesmerized by the heartfelt performance, the candle’s flame and the thrill of something ancient and special.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Adventures: Gingerbread House Play Date

Technically they aren’t gingerbread houses, they are actually made from graham crackers, but it’s the same idea. What is so great about this variation on the theme is that the kids not only have a chance to be creative with the candy decorations but they can also use their imagination to build whatever type of structures they want.
William's house with garage

Since there would be six kids making their own little scenes, I pre-made a LOT of graham cracker right angles. To do this, I mixed 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar and heated it to about 250 degrees, the point at which it will harden to a firm state when cooled. Next, I dipped two sides of graham cracker halves into the hot mixture and affixed them in a right angle then set them on a parchment lined cookie sheet to cool. I also made some right angles of one fourth of the graham cracker and left out plain crackers from the box so the kids would have more materials to work with. Ice cream sugar cones are another great addition to the construction mix. They make great trees (even when they break along the top, they can be broken into a smaller tree), chimneys, castle turrets, or ballroom dancing buildings (yep, that’s what William decided they were on one of his creations).
Admiring her park with a slide, climbing wall and skate ramp

Another good tip to prepare for a bunch of kids to work on these at the same time is providing cardboard or mat board to build on and preparing multiple bags of frosting for “glue.” (Recipe here.) Taping the back of the bag so the frosting is less likely to squish out onto small hands is also important (one squished out mess still happened despite my efforts – it helps to go around and “fix” each bag from time to time, pushing the frosting down as if it’s a tube of toothpaste).
This activity is even cool enough for Super Girl
...and easy enough for her little sister (almost 3) along with Spider Man's supervision

Once the young architects have built their creations, muffin tins are a great way to distribute all the candy and goodies they can use for decorating. Fill as many as you have so there is less reaching across the table which inevitably results in trees toppling as things get bumped.

Mostly candy filled our tins but it was fun to add some unexpected pretzels and bunny crackers too. One friend made a wreath using the pretzel and trails of bunnies all through the yard of his scene. The options are endless. Leave it to the kids to come up with some really cool ideas.
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