Playing Unplugged

A few weeks ago I lamented about how much I stink at summer. I’d like to make a shout out to those of you who commiserated with me.

I can’t say it’s gotten a whole lot better. I’m writing this post

at 10 p.m. the night before it goes live. I just barely got most of my kids in bed and I’m holding my youngest while she fights off sleep and I try to type.

Sigh.

But this week I discovered a local program that has gotten us out of the house and we’ve done some fun, new activities together.

The program is called Play Unplugged. From what I have gathered, companies in the community sponsor different activities. If you kids participate in a sponsored activity the can go to that company and get a coinciding badge (a dog-tag) and some brag points.

Once kids in our city receive 20-30 brag points they can head to one of the monthly city council meetings and enter a drawing to win $50.

But that’s not the only incentive. Many of the businesses offer fun activities for free. Just yesterday my boys got spend a couple of hours fencing at a local sponsor business.

They parried, they lunged and they attacked. They had so much fun they wanted to sign up for lessons. Which I am guessing is probably part of the program’s plan.

Not only are these businesses getting kids out and giving moms ideas of new wholesome activities, they are exposing new families to their services.

Next Monday we are heading to a karate place to take a free lesson. Then on Wednesday we are going to a retirement center to volunteer with the adults during their reading/craft time.

All while earning brag points and badges.

One of the activities in our city is to make some s’mores, snap a picture and show it to a local grocery store. Another is to head to gift shop and see how long you can hula hoop while there.

I don’t know how far spread this program runs. From what I can tell it’s a Utah thing with about 20 cities participating so far. If there isn’t a city near you, you can purchase badges to do at home.

I might purchase some later this year if we run out of city sponsored ones. I’m all about active, fun activities that someone planned for me.

You check out the program and see if it’s in your area at www.weplayunplugged.com

Project Wooden Baby Gate

DSC_0267Our fifth baby just turned one so it was finally time for my husband and I to invest in a baby gate.

Luckily our youngest has been a late crawler and our previous home had a full-sized door to the basement. So we haven’t needed one.

Until now.

I searched online for a bunch of different gates ranging in a bunch of different prices. But none of them caught my eye until I searched for wooden gates on Pinterest. There were beautiful gates with easy how-to instructions.

Instantly I wanted a wooden gate. The only problem was I didn’t know if I could build one and the ones to purchase online were on average $150 – too much for my taste.

DSC_0235That’s when I spotted the old graffiti-laced wooden tool hanger we took down from our garage. I have been saving it for months and had big plans of turning it into a piece of Subway art in my living room. But it was bigger than I thought and I couldn’t decide what wall to put it on or what saying to put on it.

So I left it in my garage until last week. When I held it up to the top of my staircase and discovered that it fit the space perfectly. Suddenly project wooden baby gate was born.

My husband and I took a trip to Home Depot where we purchased two 4-inch heavy-duty hinges, a heavy duty latch, some 14″ black zip ties and a 4-inch wide piece of lumber.

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I wanted the to gate to match my new red barstools so my husband took one of them apart and I took its leg into Home Depot and had them match the color. I bought a quart of paint and got busy.

DSC_0237 DSC_0238 DSC_0241I painted the front and back of the wooden tool hanger – with the help of my three-year-old of course. We covered up that weird mask-faced smile in the corner of the wood.

Then we waited for it to dry.

Last night my husband marked the wood where the hinge would go then predrilled holes for the screws. Then he attached hinges to the top and bottom of the wood.

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Then he used a stud finder to locate the closest stud on the wall next to the staircase. He marked the stud with a straight line on the wall by using a level and marked where the holes for the hinge would go. Then he pre-drilled those holes too.

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It took us a couple of tries to figure out how we wanted the door to swing. We ended up mounting the hinges to the wall with the hinge flush to the wall. Then we attached the hinges to the red gate. It swings beautifully.

Next my husband took two 14-inch black zip ties and hooked them together. Then he wrapped around the post of our banister and the piece of lumber we bought at Home Depot. I painted that red as well.

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He wrapped twist ties around the top and the bottom of the post to make it more secure. The piece of wood allowed him to fasten the gate’s latch to the wood without drilling into our post – that way we can easily remove the gate some day.

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Finally he added the latch.

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It looks amazing and swings beautifully. And the whole thing cost less than $30.

Wahoo! We did it. I am so happy. Now I have one less thing to worry about.

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Fun Fabric Monster DIY

DSC_0493This week I made some fabric monsters with my little monsters. And it wasn’t even scary.

Sometimes I take on projects with my kids and I think that I am going to scream by the end. It tries my patience.

This time I did some prep work to make it easy and less stressful.

We used the pattern from this blog as a base for our monsters.

We made more than 60 of these recently at a church service activity I was in charge of with the women in my neighborhood. We are donating them to a local children’s hospital.

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My kids came to the first part of that activity (before grandma came and got them and rescued me from their over-energetic, run-around-the-gym personalities.) I let each of them make one monster that night. And even though I told them we were going to give them to some kids who were sick, they didn’t want to part with their new furry friends. (My 3-year-old kept fake coughing, trying to convince me that he was sick.)

That’s when I promised to make some of our own at home…that they could keep.

I cut out the monsters from fleece ahead of time. I got ¼ of a yard of several different colors. The fabric was so wide that I was able to make three monsters out of each color. We used white, green, red, yellow and purple.

Then I sewed them mostly shut – I left a small opening to stuff the monsters. I did all of this before even enlisting the help of my boys.

They got to help stuff the monsters. I had a medium size bag of stuffing and we used it all on our 15 monsters. The boys loved pulling the fluff apart and shoving it inside their new friends.

They each got to pick a specific monster that was “theirs.”

After we stuffed them all we called it quits for the day. Then, when they were at school and napping a couple of days later, I sewed all the monsters shut.

That night we took the fleece scraps from when I cut out the monsters, added some black felt, and started dreaming up face shapes for our monster crew.

We giggled as we added crazy teeth, long tongues and wacky eyes to our lot.

I let the kids help for a little while then shipped them off to get ready for bed with dad while I finished working on the rest of the faceless monsters.

They each turned out so cute and so different. Just like at my church activity. Each of the 63 monsters we made for that activity was unique. I couldn’t help it I had to take a picture of them all.

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I love them.

If any of you get the urge to make some of your own, send me a picture of how yours turn out!

Here are the four designed by my boys.

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I couldn’t resist making a few female monsters. The one in the middle is my baby girl’s monster.

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Here they are all on our toy bench. They seriously are my new favorite Halloween decoration.

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Monster Mess

yarn monsterWhy did I think it would be a good idea to make yarn monsters with a bunch of elementary school students?

It ended up being a monster headache.

Last week I was reminded that I signed up to help with two Valentine’s Day parties at the school. (I signed up last fall and completely forgot.)

So I scanned the Internet looking for easy, fun kid crafts. That’s when I found this craft.

I am sure I was swayed by how cute the little love monsters were. That, and I have a GIANT bag of yarn that takes up more than half of my basement craft closet.

How hard could it be? Wrap yarn around your fingers, tie it into a pom-pom body, glue eyes and antennas on and viola! Cute little monster guy.

It sounded so easy.

I had everything organized. I even had a back-up craft to do if the monsters were too easy. HA! We didn’t even touch the backup craft.

My first grader’s class was first. I had four groups of kids to help with and each group had 10 minutes to make their monsters.

What happened? All heck broke loose.

Kids were wrapping their fingers till the tips turned purple. Yard ends were getting tied into knots. Mini wiggle eyes were flying everywhere, and that was just after the first group.

I brought a glue gun because I thought that would make it easier and faster to glue the pieces on. But that meant I had five or six anxious six year olds all shoving eyes, antennas and accessories at me, anxious to have their monster glued together. I needed six sets of arms.

After the first group I decided to simplify things. Our monsters were going to be bald. No hair. That should solve things, right?

It made it a little simpler, but we still had monster pieces scattered all over the place. And I had a handful of girls who tucked random yarn scraps into their pockets so they could add hair to their creatures later.

If you are a school teacher of any sort you are probably laughing out loud right now because you realize how unrealistic and complicated this craft was.

I can’t tell you how fast a 10-minute rotation goes by when you have yarn flying in your face.

I ran out of time to glue pieces onto the monsters and had students set them in piles on the table. Those poor piles. They mixed and mingled until I could no longer tell what eyes and ears went to what puffs of yarn.

It was an hour filled with absolute chaos. I left that first-grade classroom needing some chocolate and a nap!

Then I realized I had to do it all over again the next day with my other son’s third-grade class.

Luckily most of them listened a little better and I didn’t have as many kids wrap their fingers ‘til they turned purple. But it still was crazy and I wished there were five of me.

Despite all the chaos, I loved how the monsters turned out. I only had a split second to take a picture of a few of them in the first grade.

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We took two of them to the cemetery with us and gave one to Luca and one to our grandma Mae for Valentine’s Day.

If, and that’s a big IF, I decide to help with another school classroom craft I’m going to do something simple, something easy and something that doesn’t require me to glue tiny pieces onto a clump of yarn.

I should have stuck with what we were going to do as a backup craft – yarn wrapped valentine’s hearts – and made that our main craft. That would have been a hundred times easier. What was it? Check it out here. You make a heart-shaped yarn ball using a cardboard base. So cute. So easy.

I cut out over 50 cardboard hearts that we never got to use.

Anyone what to make some?

Reptile Rescue

Our new friend chilling in the grass at our nearby park.

Our new friend chilling in the grass at our nearby park.

What happens to our family when we take a Sunday stroll to the park to kill some boredom and get out some I’m-going-to-kill-my-brother energy? My oldest finds a shelled reptile meandering through the grassy field.

And all of a sudden the start to our summer turns into a turtle adventure.

Yes. He found a turtle – a yellow cooter house pet.

There we were just getting ready to leave when he walked ahead to go take a peek at the neighboring pond. He came charging back with something hard and round in his hand – the turtle.

Who leaves a turtle at a park? Who finds a turtle at a park? It was the craziest thing.

My oldest son holding the turtle.

My oldest son holding the turtle.

The boys begged me to keep it. That’s when I convinced them we could “rescue” it instead. I called the Ogden Nature Center, the local animal shelter and the Utah Reptile Rescue. But of course it was Sunday and none of them were open.

Not knowing anything about animals – especially turtles – I didn’t know if it was native to the nearby pond or if someone really did ditch it at the park. We ran across the street to our friends’ house and asked them if they had ever seen a turtle at the park or pond. When they said they hadn’t I made the crazy decision to take the turtle home.

The turtle, taking a ride in the bottom of our stroller.

The turtle, taking a ride in the bottom of our stroller.

And that’s how it ended up taking a ride in the bottom of the stroller. We walked it home, found a box for it and cut holes in the top. What on earth was I thinking? I guess I was just so happy it wasn’t a snake I took pity on the little thing.

I couldn’t bear to wonder if it would have died had we left it at the park. The thought of knowing we could try to save it propelled me forward.

We gave it some water – which it spilled all over the box – and a giant carrot and I crossed my fingers that I would be able to get a hold of someone to come “rescue” it in the morning.

First thing the next morning my boys were outside with the reptile. They took it for walks around the cul-de-sac, they chased it around our jungle back yard they paraded it around to everyone who came within a 50-foot radius of our house and they filled a plastic tub with water so it could swim around. They spent hours with that little guy.

Except for the moment that it nipped my oldest son’s pointer finger, they were having the time of their lives with it.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone to take it. The nature center said it needed a special permit to take a pet. They suggested I call the wildlife rehabilitation center. That center told me they don’t deal with reptiles. It suggested I call the “Ogden Turtle Lady” Nita Vono. Who knew there was an Ogden Turtle Lady? Sadly, she never got back to me.

We were stuck with the turtle at least one more night. My boys were thrilled. I was less than thrilled.

That first night we left him in a cardboard box in our backyard while we went to a barbecue. We didn’t get home until late and I thought I’d take him some lettuce as a snack.

One slight problem. He was nowhere to be found.

The turtle was missing!!! Seriously? Had it crawled out of the box? Did a dog sneak into our backyard and nap it? Did an eagle soar down from the sky and snatch it away?

Where in the world did it go? I was panicking. I searched the whole back yard with my cell phone flashlight at 11 p.m. trying to find it. If you’ve seen our new back yard you’ll know it was literally like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Many of you know I HATE losing things. Especially when I know my children are going to freak out when they find out it’s gone. I was stressed out all night.

The next morning I told the boys I had some bad news … the turtle was gone. It escaped. They were absolutely fine with that. They didn’t care one bit about the little reptile they had rescued and spent hours playing with.

I on the other hand was not going to let it die in my back yard only to find it later while doing yard work. As soon as we ate breakfast we headed into the back yard on a turtle hunt – half of us were still in pajamas.

I found him within five minutes tucked under a wild rose bush on the side of my house. It really is a miracle that I found him.

This time we put him in a taller, sturdier box and I called the turtle lady and the reptile rescue again. Thank heavens Utah Reptile Rescue answered.

They said they’d come get the little guy. Actually they were kind of excited. The man I spoke with said that they don’t see very many turtles like that anymore. He said they were going to keep it with about 400 of their other reptiles.

He also told me that there aren’t any turtles in Utah that are native to ponds. So it had to have been dropped off and abandoned by someone. My neighbor said she heard a news story several months ago urging people to stop dropping off their unwanted animals at our local pond. Apparently our turtle’s owner didn’t hear that story.

So there you have it, we found a turtle, we lost a turtle and we spent two days caring for, loving and playing with the green little shelled guy. Although we did find out it actually was a female. And its diet consists of worms not carrots. We’re hoping she’s chilling at a new pond with some new friends. Maybe she’ll find a husband and have some cute little turtle babies – all because my oldest spotted her in the grassy field of the park down the street. What an adventure.

The turtle in its taller, sturdier box.

The turtle in its taller, sturdier box.

Banded

bandsDoes anyone remember when small, colorful rubber bands were used in crazy, high-centered intricately woven ponytails instead of hooked and looped on looms to make key chain/bracelet creations?

I want my crazy hair back. I’m tired of our rubber band looms.

Well, let’s be honest here, I’m not necessarily tired of the looms, I’m tired of the rubber bands. They are everywhere! And I’m not talking about them being everywhere you go – the grocery store, the craft store, the gas station. I’m talking about them being everywhere in my home.

I don’t know where they are all coming from. I have bought my boys a few packs here and there but I think they have lost half of the bands in my couch cushions or in my vacuum cleaner. It’s a wonder they still have any left to make anything.

I used to cherish small, colorful rubber bands. I would hoard the tiny braces bands and use them to braid my hair for girls’ camp. I remember parting and separating my hair to make rubber-band anchored headbands around the top of my head.

Those were the days.

Now the bands are a dime a dozen. They sell for dirt cheap and come in every color and scent imaginable.

Whose big idea was it to take those bands and use them to fuel a giant rubber band weaving world? It was brilliant. I wish I would have thought of it.

My boys both have looms now. They even have an extra loom that they borrowed from their grandma. She also let them borrow a new kit of 2,000 glow-in-the-dark bands. Little does she know she probably won’t get nearly half of those back.

They’ll end up ground into our carpet or huddled in the corner of our cars.

I like the looms. I like when my boys sit quietly making their own bracelets. I like when they carefully lie out bands beforehand and get things organized and ready to make something.

The problem is they NEVER do it that way.

Normally I’ll walk into the living room to find a mountain of bands spread all over my carpet several yards away from their looms. They scoot back and forth from their bands pile to their loom, brushing them with their small fingers deep into my carpet.

Also, they rarely make things on their own. They need my help a lot of the time. And to tell you the truth I stink at using the loom. Half of the time my bracelets end up looking like this:

messed up bracelet

They are hard. I think I get in a hurry so I try to place the bands too quickly then I loop them in the wrong order and when we pull it off half of the bands fly back and hit us in the face.

Luckily we found a bunch of YouTube video tutorials on how to make things. That has been the only way we have had success.

We even pulled off making a Spider-Man. That was a serious victory.

Spiderman

But I don’t always have time to sit and watch a 40-minute video on how to make a waterfall-style bracelet and help my boys step-by-step – because if you have ever tried making one of those bracelets, you will know that you need to follow each step precisely. You mess up one time and the whole things turns into a rubber-band rats nest.

I’ve started picking up bands and tossing them. I know I shouldn’t. I know we will probably need them one day, (like the time we watched and followed an Olaf tutorial for more than an hour only to find out that we were a few white bands shy of being able to make the cute, animated snowman) but I’m sick of them peppered throughout my entire house.

The other night before dinner my youngest son put a couple of bands on his thumb, wearing them like a ring. That was fine and cute until he shoved his hands in his mouth in order to eat all of his macaroni and cheese and one of the bands ended up in his mouth. I had to scoop the food/rubber band wad out before he choked.

Help! How can I make this work? How can I make this fun? My boys love it. I need to calm down and realize that a few bands strung all over my house is not the end of the world. But it’s getting to me.

I’m about ready to melt them all down and make myself a giant, colorful paperweight. Maybe I’ll just steal them away and use them in my hair.

Summer Fun Roundup

cool-sun-hiIn a little more than 24 hours I will get my kids back. School will be OVER!!! They will be all mine until August.

I love having them home. That said, I know we will need lots of things to keep us from driving each other insane.

So I asked the boys to help me make a list of things they wanted to do this summer. Number one from my oldest was: take a trip to New York. Number one from my second oldest was: take a trip to California. Nice.

After I dashed their dreams of having an awesome out-of-state vacation, we made a toned-down sensible list with local attractions.

Below you will find a list of the top 10 things we want to do this summer. Also, I’ve rounded up some pretty awesome blog posts from other bloggers on fun activities for kids. I know I’m going to take advantage of all of these creative ideas during the next several weeks. I’m too tired and overwhelmed to think of everything on my own. I love that people share their ideas – I hope they don’t mind me sharing their blogs here.

Let me know what you are going to do this summer. Maybe I’ll steal some of your ideas for our family. Hopefully this summer will be epic.

  1. Go fishing at the trout farm
  2. Go to the dollar/free movie at our local theatre
  3. Go to the dollar store and get some stuff
  4. Go visit grandma Helen (my grandma, my boys’ great-grandma – if you have ever met grandma Helen, you’d want to go visit her too)
  5. Go to our city’s splash pad
  6. Drive to a park near dad’s work and have lunch with him
  7. Go camping
  8. Go to the free movies in the park in our new town
  9. Go to Tracy Aviary
  10. Go to the really cool castle park by our new house

Here are some killer ideas from other sites:

101 Fun Things to Do With Kids This Summer:

http://www.care.com/child-care-101-fun-things-to-do-with-kids-this-summer-p1017-q27919161.html

50 Outdoor Summer Activities for Kids:

http://www.sixsistersstuff.com/2013/05/50-outdoor-summer-activities-for-kids.html

33 Activities Under $10 That Will Keep Your Kids Busy All Summer:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/mikespohr/activities-that-will-keep-your-kids-busy-all-sum

Indoor Summer Activities:

http://www.thetaylor-house.com/summer-activities-for-kids-series-indoor-activities/

Outdoor Summer Activities:

http://www.thetaylor-house.com/summer-activities-for-kids-outdoor-summer-fun-ideas/

How to Make Rainbow Bubble Snakes:

http://www.housingaforest.com/rainbow-bubble-snakes/

How to Make Your Own Water Blob:

http://www.clumsycrafter.com/2012/05/water-blob-tutorial/

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