Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hive and Swarm

We have been watching a beehive for months. It is a classic storybook hole-in-a-tree type, and we have often stayed to watch the bees coming and going. Some days they are frantic and some days they are lazy.

Today we were lucky enough to see our favorite hive on the move, as the colony divided and a large number swarmed off to form a new hive.

Someone told me that there was an average of over one feral bee hive for every city block in Los Angeles. Can that possibly be true? (Granted, that someone was only nine years old, but it is not every day that you meet a nine-year-old with his own beekeeper suit and such a wealth of interesting facts about urban bees!)

Here is our gorgeous swarm (you can click on the picture to enlarge it):

We wonder where they will move to next!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pen Block

This is a fantastic and inexpensive home made gift for a two to five year old. We use pen blocks like this at home and at school. They help kids to keep track of their pens and caps, make markers last longer, and are easy to carry from table to floor to easel.

I've been meaning to post a detailed tutorial on this for a while, but I thought I'd just show it to you today, in case you want to figure it out on your own.

You will need:

A well-sanded block of wood (2x2 or 2x4 are great)

Fat washable markers

A drill with a 1/2" bit (if your pen caps are 1/2" across!)

A wood-burning tool or permanent marker (optional)

I just looked through my photos for a picture of our pen block, but then realized that one of our artists-in-residence was using it just five feet away. So this is a picture of our home version with all of the pens in a row right at this very moment:

Some quick tips:

My holes were all 3/4" deep and at least 1 1/4" apart.

I hammered the caps into holes. In order to do that without damaging them or the pens, I put an old dried out marker in the cap, and hammered the end of the old pen. No glue was needed.

Personalizing or putting shellac on the pen block can make it fancier, but even a plain one made in an old scrap of wood will be loved for years.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Freezer-Paper-Snowflake-Stencil-T-Shirt

We love decorating our front window with paper snowflakes, so today we decided to try decorating some t-shirts with them. With just a little adult supervision, this is a great gift that a kid can make for his cousin. (You can stop reading this now, Anna.)

If this is your first time using freezer paper stencils, there is a good tutorial here.
And, here is a great place to learn how to cut some six-pointed snowflakes.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Toy Tree House

You can build a magnificent little toy tree house like this with just a few small logs, glue, and a saw:

A few years ago, I found some good, dry fruit wood, and after borrowing a mitre saw, I cut it into lots of little medallions that were 3/4" thick and about 3-6" in diameter. After an hour of cutting, I had buckets of these little wooden rounds. I did not wax or polish them, just set them out for play and they made lovely free toys.

We still have many of these loose pieces around our house that are played with in all sorts of ways (as cookies, coins, cutting boards), but I was inspired to make a toy tree house after seeing some beautiful examples online (especially here and here).

I carefully cut some branches to make the vertical supports, trying to keep the two cut ends parallel to each other, and then started building stairs from the ground up, using the small wooden rounds and a hot glue gun. (I highly recommend hot glue for this project; it dries quickly, and is very forgiving of uneven and not completely parallel surfaces.) I started with one spiral staircase around a column, and then kept adding more parts to go with the set.

On one tower, I added a railing made from a pine cone and some beach stones, as well as a rope ladder tied to two small holes that are drilled in the floor of the turret:

We have added new elements to this play set again and again, including a magnolia branch in plaster found at a yard sale (perfect for the basket lift), some cool old wooden finials from a broken headboard, ramps and ladders made from popsicle sticks, little wire chairs and a tipi.

Parts or all of this set move from table to floor all around and outside of our house, and I have needed to repair it a few times, but it has always been easy to mend with hot glue. It has seen many hours of play, and is frequently inhabited by kings, pirates, evil-doers and acorns.

(Click on the pictures to enlarge)

If you are inspired to make one of your own, please put a link in the comments or send me some pictures!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Giant Bubble Wand

Want to see something that is truly amazing and incredibly beautiful that you can make with just sticks, string and soap?

Here's what you need:

Bubble solution (recipe to follow)
A ball of cotton kitchen string / butcher's twine
Two sticks around 3 or 4 feet long

Here's what you do:

First, make your bubble solution. Use Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid. Very gently mix one cup of liquid soap with 9 cups of water. This mix gets better with age, so if you make it a few days in advance, you will get some great bubbles! As you can see, we use an empty laundry detergent container to store our bubble solution:

The brand of soap and the water that you use really matters, and this particular combination makes the very best bubble solution around here. If you can't find Dawn, or if you have hard water, go online and I'm sure you will find a great bubble recipe that works for you.

Next, make the wand:

Loosely braid or crochet two long strands of cotton kitchen string. Our finished strands were 44 and 82 inches long, but they don't have to be super exact. If you have someone in your house who is learning to crochet, this could be a perfect project to make with some of those long, loose practice strings.

Finally, tie the ends of the two strands to each other and then tightly to the sticks. Our sticks were 40 inch long dowels, but you can use any long sticks you like. We painted ours with acrylic paints but other decorations could be fun, just remember that they will get very wet.

Now you're ready to make your HUGE bubbles!

Just dip the strings into your bubble solution. Oh, wait... I forgot to mention this part: GO OUTSIDE! Okay, now dip your strings in the bubble solution. Make sure that the strings get completely wet.

Lift them out of the solution and slowly spread the sticks apart. A slight breeze will make your bubble film turn right into a giant bubble, but if the air is still, you may have to move around or wave the wands a bit. If it's too windy, you'll need to find a sheltered spot or wait until the wind dies down. Once you get the hang of it, try opening and closing the sticks to release your bubbles.

Some kids just NEED to pop bubbles, so be sure to make them some that are especially for popping!

Give those little guys a turn with the wand, and they just might make some beautiful bubbles of their own!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Not Far from the Tree

This is what I found in Julio's pocket the other day when I was doing laundry:

Why does this little collection make me so happy?