Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Secret Letter

Did you ever write an invisible letter using lemon juice?  After watching Diego check the mailbox again today without finding a response to his letter, I realized that I'd better send him something very special.  I remember doing this with my brothers when we were kids and finding it a terrific thrill.

Just assembling the materials tonight felt magical.

I don't remember ever writing an invisible letter with a brush by candlelight, but it was such a delight that I can't believe I waited this long!

All you have to do is write your letter with lemon juice and let it dry.  To make it visible, have an adult wave the paper over a flame (candle, stove, lighter), letting the flame almost burn the paper.  The areas where you applied the lemon juice will brown faster than the rest of the paper, the words will slowly appear, and you will have decoded the secret message.

Of course, I did a test:

I know that this will be so exciting for Diego tomorrow.  I'm sure any child who has never seen this before  will be totally enchanted by it, so go get out your brush and lemon and write someone a secret letter!

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Kiss to Keep

I spent approximately one half of my childhood at my best friend's house.  As a result, her parents became my bonus set of parents and I also got to call one of her grandmothers "Grandma Alice."

Grandma Alice was everything you would want a grandmother to be; she had a bright laugh, a comfortable lap, candies in her purse, a indomitable humanitarian spirit, strong biceps, and an endless supply of hilarious expressions and anecdotes that would keep us happy for hours.

Whenever Grandma Alice was about to go home after a visit, her suitcases already loaded in the car, she would put on fresh lipstick, and give each of us "a kiss to keep" on the palm of our hands.  Over the course of the afternoon, the lipstick would fade.  We would carefully examine and compare our hands to see if we still had the traces of her kisses.

Goodbye, dear Alice.  Thank you for your sweet kisses.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I bought this great mailbox at a yard sale last year.  (Unfortunately, it was my own typical yard sale, where my neighbors and I swap our cool stuff and don't actually make room in our closets.)

Don't you want to get a letter from this box?  It looked perfect for some future castle, playhouse or tree fort, but I ended up hanging it on the wall in the play area of our living room.

Sometimes months go by without a delivery.  Other times, there is new mail every day.  I got a lovely letter this morning:

A prompt reply is clearly expected.  I'll have to write back tonight!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Open, Sesame!

A few months ago, I was watching a friend of Ruben's for a couple of hours.  Julio was sleeping and Diego was out, so I just had the two three-year-olds at snack time.  They looked up at me with hungry, expectant faces.

I sat them down on the kitchen floor and handed them each a small, silver prep bowl.  "You must be very hungry," I said, "here's your snack.  If you eat it all, I'll get you some more."  I put one raisin in each bowl.  They looked at each other and giggled.  One second later, "We want some more!"

I gave them each a single sunflower seed and said, "Sunflower seed.  If you eat it all, I'll get you some more."  More giggles, and then "MORE!"  An almond, a cashew, an oat, a peanut and a pecan later, we were all giggling and having a great time.  I was searching the kitchen for new things for them to taste, and they were happily trying everything.  Dried cranberry, blueberry and mango.  Candied ginger.  From the spice cabinet, they each tried a single seed of caraway, sesame (black, white, and toasted,) and cumin.  They were amazed by the big flavors of the tiny seeds.

They had a clove, a tiny piece of cinnamon and a grain of coarse sea salt.  I went through the fridge, giving them one tiny thing at a time: single slices of carrot, cucumber, banana and red pepper and small leaves of spinach, arugula and romaine.  The freezer gave us frozen blueberries, strawberries and peas.

I named each food as I put it in their bowls, and as they ate, they enthusiastically pronounced their verdicts: good, bad, spicy, sweet, salty, yummy, yucky, and above all, "MORE!"

Monday, August 23, 2010

Toy Bed

Here's a little toy bed that I made for the boys last winter: 

It was modeled after their bed, and was very simple to make using some wood scraps that I had around the house.  I made a little pocket on the headboard out of the same fabric that I had already used to make a pajama pocket for the boys' bed.  My favorite thing about it is that I had a bag that their sheets came in that I used to cover the mattress, so it really matches their bed.

My other favorite thing about the toy bed is how much time Julio has spent trying to figure out how to lie down on it.

Once he gets into this position, he just stays there and plays with the pajama pocket.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Harder is Easier

One of the greatest lessons I've learned as a parent is that doing things the hard way often makes life easier in the long run.

I thought of this as I was letting Julio help me load the dryer.

This was severely hampering my progress on the excavation of Laundry Mountain.  But, as tedious as it can be, toddler work leads to real work.  I'm convinced that the more I let him enjoy it now, the more he'll want to do it later.

Besides, I told Diego to leave his lunch plate on the table yesterday because the dishwasher was clean.  When I came back from getting his little brothers dressed, he had emptied the dishwasher and loaded it with all of the dirty dishes.

I'm not sure who was prouder, him or me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Flowers in Wax Paper

Ruben and I made this last spring.  We went to the garden, collected flowers, arranged them on wax paper, put another layer of wax paper on top, placed the whole thing between tea towels, and ironed it until the wax paper was well stuck together.

This is certainly not my original idea; I learned how to do it almost forty years ago, when I was in preschool.  But, I did discover something good when I did it with Ruben:  magenta bougainvillea and red geraniums keep their vibrant colors for months!  The orange nasturtium stayed pretty bright, too, but the fact that the bougainvillea and geraniums have such flat petals made them very easy to use.  The other bright petals and leaves that we tried faded fairly quickly, some turning brown as soon as we ironed them.

I'm going to make some big sheets of this to use as a window treatment in my kitchen.  My window is on the shady north side of the house, so I think that will help the flowers resist fading, and I'm sure it will look nicer than the raggedy paper shade that's been there for the past eight years.  I'll show you some pictures when it is all done!

On another note, I would like to wish a very happy TENTH birthday to one of my favorite readers, Beatrix!!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Plastic Trash

I am in love with Fresh Mesh.  I am not sure what I am going to do with it, but I find it strangely beautiful.  For years, I did not think twice about throwing it in the recycling bin, but now that I have a huge collection, it is a monument to my kitchen efforts: the empty bags from innumerable avocados, sweet potatoes, onions, lemons and garlic.

I have also been saving little plastic kitchen bits for the past three years or so.  This is just a fraction of the collection:

The colors are so vibrant, and they look beautiful as a collection.  A couple of years ago, I had Diego's preschool class save their bits for a couple of months.  I helped the kids to turn them into a giant mobile that we hung in their classroom.  We talked about recycling and turning trash into art, and we spent a lot of time sorting by shape and color.  It was a brilliant project, and I'd like to do it again this coming spring.

So, back to the mesh.  I have been storing it inside a couple of the larger bags, and I made a little ball of it by cramming a lot of pieces in a bag and tying off the bag.  It is very light and has a fun, squishy texture.  If I have enough of this some day, I would like to make a bean bag chair out of it, perhaps by sewing several bags together to make the cover.

I have a couple different mesh projects that I will share with you soon.  If you have any suggestions, please share them!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Seven Years Ago...

and today:

Happy Anniversary, my love.  How does it keep getting sweeter?

                                                            (top photos by the brilliant Andrew French)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Happy Things

Last night, my eggplant pizza:

Tonight, my favorite spot on the couch:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Welcome to Our Dollhouse (part 3)

Does everybody in our house need to have a cape?  Yes.  When Ruben asked for capes for the pipe cleaner dollhouse family, I made a bunch of these from felt scraps:

They were ready to go in seconds.  We slipped them over the heads of the pipe cleaner people, and Ruben happily ran off to zoom them around the living room.  Our toy house became super hero headquarters for a few weeks.  These are a very easy way to liven up a dollhouse!

I'm not sure when the kids realized that they fit perfectly on some of our other little friends, but a few days ago, I found this guy on the roof:

It begs the obvious, doesn't it?  The swine flew!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Looking Up

Julio kept asking to be lifted up to ring the bells that are hanging from the ceiling in our living room, a situation that quickly became frustrating for one or both of us.  I attached a long piece of yarn to the bells so that he could ring them from the floor.  I like to supervise him when he's playing with it, so I keep the yarn bundled up under the bells when it is not in use.

Babies as young as six months enjoy laying under the bells and ringing them, as do our older kids.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Superhero Paperdolls

Ruben led me into this project gradually.  For weeks, he'd been asking me (or Joe, or Diego, or anyone willing) to draw superheroes for him.  Then he wanted them cut out.  Then he wanted accessories.  Then he wanted the arms or legs in different positions.  They would get torn.  He would cry.  Something had to be done.

Here's the design that I came up with (there is a printable version for you at the end of the post):

Print the template on light cardboard or print on regular paper and glue it to cardstock or light cardboard.  (The cardboard we used was about the thickness of a cereal box.)  Get out the art supplies and turn it into your child's fantasy super-hero!  Older kids can color, collage and add details to the figure.  Younger kids can dictate what they want.  Remember to use only flat collage materials if you plan to laminate.

You can have them laminated, or you can carefully coat both sides with clear packing tape, then trim off the excess.  (Try it on a test piece first if it is your first time doing this!)

Make sure the thumbs are facing the right way.  Poke the brads through the laminated holes and fold them over on the back to tuck in the sharp ends.  Use a hard surface to press them flat.

If your kids can draw their own outlines for their superheroes, I think these will turn out even better!  I am hoping we can try that next.

Click on the picture below to get a printable version:

** added 5/6/12**  click here for some other fun ideas for your superhero paperdolls!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Welcome to Our Dollhouse (part 2) & Cereus

I made these pipe-cleaner people as temporary inhabitants of our dollhouse, thinking I'd eventually find the perfect dolls.  I looked everywhere for some little characters that would be neutral or general enough in their expression, gender and physical traits that the kids could assign any personalities and moods they wanted to them.  I was looking for dolls that would be easily posable, preferably not plastic, durable, fun to touch, and not expensive.

Almost four years later, these pipe cleaner people are still played with nearly every day.  They turned out to have all of the traits I was looking for, and have been used in many wonderfully different ways and scenarios by my kids and their friends.  Often, kids who visit us will pick out a small one and say, "This is me."

And now for something completely different:

Once or twice a year, I move this gangly, strange plant inside from its usual favorite location out back by the dryer vent.  I got it as a bridal gift from a dear friend who was once my preschool teacher.  She told me that even though it wasn't much to look at yet, it was a Night-Blooming Cereus, a cutting from her own plant, and that after a couple of years it would flower for me and I would understand why she gave it to me.

It blooms late at night, for one night only, and the enormous flower is a stunning and deliciously fragrant spectacle.  By the following morning, it is limp and closed.

Tonight's the night.

If I can stay up late enough, I'll have some pictures of the flower for you tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Welcome to Our Dollhouse (part 1)

Home, sweet home.  It's cluttered and dusty, and torn apart daily by a one-year-old baby, but it's all paid off, and we love it.

Here I am kicking back in one of my favorite rooms:

For a nice addition to your toy house, take a picture of some artwork that is on the wall in your real house.  Then print it out, but reduce the size so that it prints at about one or two inches high.  Frame it and hang it!

We used wooden coffee stirrers that I cut with a sharp knife.  My son colored them brown and glued them directly onto the picture.

Some other ideas are:

Have your child draw or paint the artwork, then photograph it and reduce the size.

"Laminate" it with clear packing tape before framing, so it looks like it's behind glass.

Make miniatures of your favorite books by photographing the covers and folding them around several tiny sheets of paper.

Print out a tiny version of your favorite family portrait.

Use silver paint or pens or glitter glue on the frames.

Take a "family portrait" of the dolls and frame that.

If you don't have a printer, use a beautiful postage stamp!

  (The picture shown above is a print that I love of a beautiful papercut by Elsita.  She sells them here.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Collect 'em all!

I'll admit that I am not a big fan of marketing aimed at children, and even less so of the little ads that are hidden inside of almost all toy packaging.  The worst thing about them?  They work.

So, what can you do if one of these ads happens to fall into the hands of a young child who can't stop thinking about those toys?  You can say, "Okay, let's make the pictures into toys!"

The art director waiting for the stylist to finish his final touches:

This idea was inspired by Joel's excellent paper city, a metropolis where all 16 of our action figures now reside...