crafting a meaningful little project at a time

Thursday, September 6, 2012

little playspaces, BIG IDEAS: Workspaces in the Playspace

Welcome back to my five part playroom redesign series, {little playspaces} BIG IDEAS! You’ve spent some time dreaming and planning the perfect playspace to meet your child’s needs by Planning an IntentionalPlayspace and you’ve thought through your desires for the Atmosphere of the playspace , and you’ve thought through your vision for the Aesthetics of the space … Today’s focus is on the workspaces in your new playspace.

Whether you have a large space to work with or a tiny nook, you’ll need to select functional furniture. Ask yourself: what will facilitate the work your child will do in the space?

I wanted to provide four areas of possible play in our itty bitty study: reading, sensory play, art, and kitchen. My two big challenges in making this part happen were space and budget…as in small space and an even smaller budget! Here is what I did to pull this off…

Reading Nook

Here is the reading nook in my dream home but in my tiny study in my real-life house, that just ain’t gonna happen! Keeping that in the dream file, I looked at how I could work with what we had. We have had this giant overstuffed armchair in our living room for over five years. It takes up an obscene amount of space in a small living room, no one in my family ever sat in it, and it looked like an elephant. I pulled this beast into the study, set it at an angle, and saw the monster in a new light when my kids immediately scrabbled into it…apparently moving the hulk into a new space made it interesting to them…and I never even thought of it as a possible reading nook. But guess what? It’s perfect! With a few comfy pillows, a basket of books, and one of my patchwork quilts protecting the ottoman, it has become a cozy little spot for the kids to snuggle up and read or play. It also makes a great place for me to tuck in with my laptop to work while the kids play. And it turns out that the ottoman, with a little chair pulled up, is the perfect height to serve as additional play space. It’s no hanging wicker seat with a round window behind it, but it works great and didn’t cost a dime! Perfect!

Sensory Table

My kids spend more time building scenes in rice with pinecones and pipe cleaners than they do messing around with toys, so I knew I wanted a sensory table in the new space. But my study is carpeted, and I despise cleaning up spilled rice and dry bins on carpet. Until I talk the hubs into pulling out all of our carpet in favor of wood floors, the rice and beans really needs to stay in the kitchen. As a tidier alternative, I came up with this idea that I wanted to build a curiosity table…I snagged an old wall shadowbox display at Goodwill for about $4 and figured I’d attach some legs to the bottom somehow so the kids could sit/stand at it and use the small spaces to organize, sort, and play. The challenge? I can barely hang a picture, let alone actually build anything- and we don’t have any workshop and woodworking space here either. So I tracked down a friend who had just built some furniture for his living room and commissioned him to attach some legs for me. Instead, he blew me away with this creation- wow! (If you’re interested, check out his other work here.) The children were equally amazed, and love to sort out whatever will fit in the little spaces: rock collection, tiny horses, clip-on earrings, Hot Wheels, sea shells, pom poms, play coins and dollars, figurines, you name it! The Plexiglas lid lowers to protect the collections and doubles as an extra surface to work on. Love it!

Art Table

Both of my little ones are big into arts and crafts, but they come by it honestly! Ha! An art table was a must for their play area. I would love to try making this DIY craft station from Martha Stewart someday, but my study will only support something, oh, a fifth of that size! So I had to ask myself, what do they really need? A table. A chair. That I can do! The tallest of an old set of nesting tables turned out to be the perfect height for the kids. One of the unused chairs from their dinner table pushes in very nicely. For materials storage, I covered some old frosting cans with some cute scrapbook paper and filled them with crayons, glue sticks, and safety scissors. We picked up a “real artist’s” wooden art kit with an easel at a garage sale for $3 (what a steal!). A stack of white drawing paper on top with my beautiful red clog full of colored pencils on top of that…this has been my daughter’s number one hang out since I set it up. First stop after waking up in the morning, before she hits the breakfast table: we added a little basket behind the chair for her to store her notebooks and works in progress, and she couldn’t be happier.


This was a big, unexpected, added bonus for our playspace! I was trolling garage sales, Goodwills, and secondhand shops for a teeny tiny shelf for the playroom, when I saw the back of what looked like the perfect-size bookshelf sticking out from behind an old couch. But when I turned it around, it was a gorgeous little preschool-grade kitchen set…for $9! Score! The finish was a little worn and totally the wrong color for my taste, and the stove top was a little scratched, but for under $10 it is absolutely amazing! I decided to get really crazy and try to refinish it myself…it actually turned out pretty great, if I do say so myself! The kids helped sand it, so in their minds, they “made” this new kitchen set themselves- which of course increases the kid appeal a hundred fold.

So there you have it: I rearranged, thrifted, and refurbished my way into creating all the workspaces we need for our new playspace.

Your turn! Go back to your Dreaming and Planning Sheets and your Atmosphere Sheet.  What do you need to buy, beg for, borrow, or build to create the workspaces you need for YOUR new playroom? Get busy planning and searching, and we’ll meet back here to focus on setting up and maintaining your new playroom!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

little playspaces, BIG IDEAS: Aesthetics of the Playspace

If you’re just joining in, we are in the midst of my five part playroom redesign series, {little playspaces} BIG IDEAS! You’ve spent some time dreaming and planning the perfect playspace to meet your child’s needs by Planning an Intentional Playspace and you’ve thought through your desires for the Atmosphere of the Playspace … Today’s focus is on the aesthetics of the playspace.


Aesthetics refers to the visual appeal of the playroom from an artistic standpoint. You may be envisioning your current playroom and snickering under your breath: “Artistic?!? Doesn’t she mean chaotic? Ha!”

This is a great place to stop and reassure you that I am not delusional or living in some sort of Stepford-child fantasy world of plastic-smiled mothers and perpetually tidy robot children: let me give you some background on mistakes we’ve made, lessons we’ve learned, what we believe, and how we came to the idea of the intentional playspace in the first place…the aesthetics follow that naturally!  J

I’m not unrealistic or pretending my kids are something they aren’t: my kids can be a hot mess, they make messes, and they make BIG, BIG messes sometimes. I have wrestled my way through the transition of the borderline OCD pre-mom days of lining up my canned goods from tallest to smallest to the post-mom anarchy that ended many days with me shoving a bunch of kid clutter into a basket and counting that an organizational victory. It hasn’t been an easy road, it will always be a work in progress, and I still miss my label maker sometimes…but I’ve come to grips with the messes that accompany our children, and I’ve divided them into two categories to keep us all sane: productive mess-making and unproductive mess-making.

Productive mess-making is not only tolerated in our house- it’s celebrated! (More so by me than the hubs, but that’s a different story!) What is “productive mess-making,” you ask? This is what happens when the kids are engaged in developmental, creative, or artistic play activities that inevitably result in a huge mess: think rice bins, finger paint, paper doll construction, figure & clay scenes, shaving cream painting, salt dough, birdseed ornament making (even I may never do that one again- eesh!),  water tables, pom-pom wars, etc.

Unproductive mess-making is the kind of mess-making that I have a hard time tolerating. This is the mess-making that happens when my kids are bored and overstimulated by access to too much stuff: dragging out random toys for no apparent reason but to make messes, dumping out a bin of toys to wallow around in it and then walk away, getting out and mixing up multiple puzzles and leaving them in a heap, walking away from a play area with everything everywhere and nothing in its place…agggghhhhhhhh!

We started off the kid years with nice little bins and organizers full of toys and books strategically placed all throughout the house…a basket of books here, a three-drawer organizer of blocks and cars there…this apparently blew their minds and made them into mess-making monsters. Everywhere they turned there was a bin full of stuff to dump out…dumping out bins is fun, fun, fun! Mommy following them around at the end of the day, refilling the bins is not, not, NOT!

It turns out that old saying, “less is more”…well, it’s true after all.

We put an end to the mayhem: over the course of about two months, we went through the whole house and performed The Great Purge of 2012. Every toy and kid item in our home was evaluated, organized, or abandoned: broken things went in the trash, outgrown/unneeded items went in two garage sales/ on Craig’s List/ to Goodwill, and the keepers were binned. The strategic storage for every nook and cranny? Gone. Bins of 100+ Matchbox cars in the living room? Bye bye. 25 Barbies in the study with only 14.5 outfits between them? See ya! All the toys were moved back to the kids’ rooms, and are housed in their active play bins, under their beds, or in the closet.

With the living areas of the home free from the kid stuff, we asked ourselves: what do we want to see when the kids are home with us, playing on their own or with us? What kind of play do we want to encourage? How can we be intentional about encouraging creative play and play-based learning in our home?

The intentional playspace was born.

Our goal was to redesign our little-used study into a functional space in which the children could play and work alongside us. Since our study is located just off the entryway from the front door in our open-floor plan home, we knew that we wanted the playspace to look “nice:” we wanted it to look like it was part of our home, and we wanted the area to be visually appealing to kids and grown-ups. As a teacher, I think I tend to look at my children’s home activities a little differently than some people. I don’t mean that I want to bombard them with school-like activities every waking minute of the day, but I do tend to focus on the educational value of where and how they’re spending their time.

I’m a believer in the idea that parents are a child’s first teacher in every sense of the word, and I am a firm believer in the certainty that children learn through play…in fact, I feel that they learn much, much more through creative-play-based activities and experiential learning than they do sitting at a desk…but I digress…  Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio principles drive my approach to living and learning with my children, though we do balance this approach with a healthy sprinkling of more mainstream kid-activities and, of course, that chipper yellow sponge that shall remain unnamed…  J

When it came to giving the children a space of their own, I knew I wanted to create the feel and function of a Waldorf-inspired classroom right here in our study. The two big concepts I focused on to enhance the aesthetics of our space were artistic displays and a comfortable feeling of home.

Artistic Displays

Displaying the children’s artwork in this space was a must for me: I love the look of matting and framing young children’s art, like you see here in this gorgeous display from Echoes of Laughter. Now as a mother, I love every little crayoned and painted masterpiece that comes out of my two, but as an artist- and as a human- I recognize the fact that some of the paintings they make just look like scribbles and mistakes. (Shh- don’t tell the littles!) I went through their artwork files and picked out three pieces that I loved, that had that artsy-feel, and that matched pretty well with our paint scheme and general home décor. I placed them in cream mattes within bold, black frames (just like the rest of the art and photographs in our home). Two of them went up on the wall above the desk, but I’m still working on convincing the hubs that the third- the mixed media horse- needs to be up there too. I think it’s the one wandering eye of the horst that’s bugging him…I’m working on him…  J

n addition to the kids’ art, I also wanted to display some grown-up art as well. I’m on the lookout for the perfect piece of subway art, but I’m trying to be patient: there are so many out there to choose from, and I don’t want to rush into anything pricey without making sure it speaks to what we really believe…Imagination by naokosstoop  is a beautiful art print at the top of the list at the moment, as is this subway art from AlexanderCreative, but I’m still deliberating…

Photographs are another must-have for the playspace. Last Christmas I laminated five 8.5x11 collages with family photos from the previous year. These travel around with the kids, and I wanted to give them a more permanent home in the playspace. A couple mini-albums and small scrapbooks from our adventures sit on the desk, and the baby books and family albums are on low shelves within grabbing distance. Little Lady likes to flip through our wedding album to get ideas for playing dress up, and Little Man loves to pull out his Yo Gabba Gabba birthday album and point out all the characters of the show. I’ve also taken to setting out a rotating display of small framed photos featuring the kids in action: they love to rearrange the photos to retell stories of the places we’ve been and the adventures we’ve had. I’m in the process of matting and framing some recent professional photos of the kiddos too, but the frames are a little spendy so I’m pacing myself on those…

Comfortable Feeling of Home

One obstacle to creating a playspace in what is effectively the entryway of our home has been how to make it kid-friendly without sacrificing the continuity of our home décor scheme. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m no decorating snob. But have you noticed that much of the affordable kid and playroom furniture is either painted in primary colors, made of plastic, or splashed with cartoon characters? This is my own preference, of course, but I wince at the thought of that being the first thing you’d see when you enter my home. On the other hand, there’s just no way that I would spend the hundreds of dollars it would take to give the space that natural, distressed, contemporary feel I love from Pottery Barn Kids…or from Target, for that matter! I had an image in my mind, some sort of cross between a Waldorf classroom (check out these amazing learning environments from Let the Children Play) and an extension of my living room…books, low shelves, nature, manipulatives, small chairs and tables, a grown-up chair to suggle up in with a good book…neutral tones, black accents, dark wood grain, baskets… It took some creativity, thrifting, and patience to pull together the furniture we wanted, (more on thrifted furniture and refinished pieces to come tomorrow in Workspace) but it’s coming together, and it looks like it belongs with the rest of our home.

I’ve taken you through my thought-processes in trying to bring beauty and continuity into our playspace…now it’s your turn! Look over your Dreaming and Planning Sheets and your Atmosphere Sheet. What do you want to see when you look at your new playroom? What color scheme will you use? What will be on the walls? What’s “the look” and “the feel” you’re going for…and what does that tell you about yourself and your children? I’ll see you back here tomorrow to talk about the Workspaces you’ll focus on in your new playroom!

Friday, August 31, 2012

little playspaces, BIG IDEAS: Atmosphere of the Playspace

Welcome back to my five part playroom redesign series, {little playspaces} BIG IDEAS! You’ve spent some time dreaming and planning the perfect playspace to meet your child’s needs by Planning an IntentionalPlayspace …now it’s time to jump in and start looking at each of the five areas of intentional planning that will make your small playroom successful: atmosphere, aesthetics, workspace, materials, and maintenance. Today’s focus is on the atmosphere of the playspace.


Atmosphere is key to any successful space, and a playspace is no exception! You’ll want to give some careful consideration to how each of these three attributes will come into play in your new playroom:

·         Lighting

·         Air Quality

·         Noise


Natural light is optimal for a functional playspace, but small reclaimed spaces may not happen to be near windows. Artificial lighting for your new playspace will likely be a necessity in some capacity, but it doesn’t need to be elaborate, expensive, or fancy. Consider your playroom’s lighting needs before you dash out to purchase a trendy floor lamp or brand new hanging light fixtures. Do you already have overhead lighting? Where would a small table lamp bring a homey feel or light up a dark corner? A reading nook should have a soft light close enough to the chair or comfy spot to provide adequate reading light, but should be placed away from hanging elements, like scarves and artwork, to avoid a fire hazard. In my opinion, an art table, building center, or sensory area could be nicely lit by a shelved floor lamp like this one from Target.

Air Quality

Reclaiming an area in your home to create an intentional playspace may involve simply sectioning off a corner of your existing living area, or you may choose to completely renovate, remodel, or paint an area of your home. Regardless of where your children will play, you’ll want to think about the quality of the air in their space. Will you have open windows to circulate fresh air? Will the area be well-ventilated to safely house art activities like painting? Will you need an air purifier to remove irritants such as dust, pet dander, pollen, mold spores, and bacteria from the air in your reclaimed space? If you are looking for an air purifier, check out Air Purifier Source. They are a family-owned company committed to top notch customer service and support for their American-made air purifying products and humidifiers. For a small playspace, I like the Austin Air Baby’s Breath. This particular purifier is small, affordable, and quiet with a gentle, soothing hum…if your child will be spending lots of time in this new area, investing in a dependable air purifier would be a wise decision.


Aside from the noise your children’s voices will bring to the space, what else will you hear in this place? The sounds included in an intentional playspace should enhance the play, not distract from engaging activities. The choice to include a TV in the playspace is one which should be made after some careful consideration: you know your child, and your television viewing practices are a personal decision. We are not against TV or other technology-driven forms of entertainment at our house, but we try to keep our TV viewing time to just one room of the house…and it typically isn’t the playroom. We find that when our kids are watching TV, they don’t do much of anything else. When they are crafting, building, or playing and the TV is on in the background, it serves as a distraction. In those cases I would rather see my children devoted and truly engaged in the creative task at hand. Then again, sometimes kids do need to lie around and relax! For those times we use our personal computer to play movies in the playspace. The point is that in our house, the grown-ups are in charge of the technology, not the kids, so we try to be intentional about when and why it’s being used.  Next, think about music. If you are crafting a place for child-driven, imaginative play, such as a nature area, you may consider including a cd player with nature sounds or instrumental music. This winter I look forward to adding our Santa radio to our new playspace: it’s a small electric decoration, shaped like an old fashioned television set, with a looping scene and repeating wordless tune. The littles like to listen to the tune as they work and play, and the soft light and scrolling scene provide gentle, peaceful movement without being distracting. I also like the musical nightlights that are popular right now, like this constellation-making turtle.

Now it’s time to *be intentional* and think through the atmospheric aspects of your new playroom: print off this free printable planning sheet, close your eyes, envision yourself in the space, and think about the lighting, air quality, and noises you’d like to create in the playroom…now write about your ideas, think through your needs, and make a plan! Tune in tomorrow to start thinking about the aesthetics of your new playspace!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

little playspaces, BIG IDEAS: Planning an Intentional Playspace

So you’re tired of your house looking like a daycare disaster zone? Don’t like watching your kids drag toys around without really playing with them, and then dropping them in piles here and there? Irritated when you hear them say, “I’m bored” or “There’s nothing to do”…as you think of how many amazing playthings they have lying around untouched? Feeling guilty about saying no to crafts and Play-Doh because you don’t want to haul it out or clean up the mess afterwards? Are you just completely over the chore of putting your whole house back together every night after your kids go to bed…only to watch it degenerate into a complete disaster zone again in the morning?

Me too!

I am no parenting expert, and my home décor ideas may leave something to be desired, but I made the decision to reclaim my house from the kid clutter and give the kids a place to claim as their own. I wanted to be very intentional about planning this space, because I did not want to simply give them a defined dumping ground or a space to do whatever they wanted with…that was the problem in the first place! I wanted to take what I know about child development, classroom organization, and Waldorf principles and be very intentional about applying those concepts to a small space in my home.

Creating an effective playspace is an intentional decision.

If you try to throw together a playspace in the heat of the moment without careful planning, you’re likely to end up with a smaller, more contained version of the disaster zone that was driving you crazy in the first place! You may be able to close the door on this one and pretend it doesn’t bother you…but it will…

Dream of the perfect playspace: my dream playspace was on page 12 of the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue…the distressed furniture, the low, sturdy art tables with built-in storage, the contemporary feel that complements my home décor, kids’ art displayed on giant bulletin boards and canvases, natural elements and learning materials in clear bins, soft lighting…ahhh!

My dream stayed a dream for a long time because I had neither the space nor the budget for that ultimate playroom. Then I had a revelation…

It’s great to dream big, but it’s good to keep yourself grounded too- in the back of your mind, ask yourself: where in your home can you claim a space- a spare bedroom, an unused office, a small corner of the living room, even a closet. Tell yourself it’s ok that you don’t have $3,000 to create that perfect playspace on page 12- there are big changes you can make for $30…or better yet, for free! Think through what you really want for the playroom…what do your children really need in their playroom…are you really looking for a toy storage area or a functional playspace? Is bigger better? Is more better?

Or is it possible that a small, cultivated, organized, intentional playspace is just what you are looking for? Could a smaller space house bigger play potential? Could reused, repurposed, and refinished items be more valuable than shiny plastic furniture?

Could *less* stuff mean *more* meaningful play?

So before you get all inspired and head off to start buying bins, baskets, and brackets and rearranging your home, stop! Slow down! Make a plan! Print off these planning sheets; grab a cup of tea (glass of wine, perhaps?), a pen, and hole up somewhere quiet to dream, write, draw, and plan…we’ll pick up here tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Coming Up: Little Playspaces, Big Ideas

I am excited to kick off a five part series with you to help you design a functional playroom in a small space of your home!

Whether you have a spare bedroom or just a mudroom, you can repurpose your small space to create a play room that works for your kids and looks like a part of your home… instead of a dumping ground for ignored toys and random kid-clutter!

I will share our process and intentions in repurposing our little-used study into a Waldorf-inspired playspace, sharing ideas that can help you turn even a tiny area of your home into a beautiful, tidy, functional playroom. We will look at the five areas of intentional planning that will make your small playroom successful:

·         atmosphere

·         aesthetics

·         workspace

·         materials

·         maintenance

Find a small space in your home, start thinking about the type of play you want your children engaged in, and get started with me here tomorrow!

Friday, August 24, 2012

How to Make a Miniature Twig Chair

Every little dolly, elf, or fairy should have a comfy wooden chair! Here’s a quick and easy way to make your own decorative miniature chair out of twigs.

Step 1: Soak several small twigs in a pan of water for 2-3 days until they are pliable enough to bend. Select a pliable twig for the chair back. Gently bend it into a U shape; secure with a rubber band and dry completely.

Step 2: Use shrub shears to clip off eight 1.5 inch lengths of twig: two front legs, four for the base of the chair, and two to support the leg bottoms. Secure these in the shape of the chair using hot glue.

Step 3: Use embroidery floss or wire to wrap the joints of the chair, and to create a simple base for the chair pad.

Step 4: Connect two pipe cleaners by twisting to make one long piece. Wrap the pipe cleaner in a scrap fabric strip, or several fabric strips. Use a dab of hot glue to close the ends.

Step 5: Wrap the fabric-covered pipe cleaner into a swirl shape, using tiny amounts of hot glue to secure the spiral as you go.

Step 6: Attach the seat pad to the chair using hot glue. Add your own dollies, elves, fairies, or other little friends for a comfy scene of relaxation!
Note: While children can certainly hold and manipulate this small chair, it is more of a decoration than a toy. Take care with the small parts, and keep an eye on its structural integrity if small hands are using it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Baa Baa Black Sheep...We've Got Wool!

Me and my big mouth.

We steered clear of the fair food and rides at the midway at the State Fair today, and stuck to the animals and agricultural attractions. As we wandered through the family arts building, the littles exclaimed over the antique toys, pointed out the African patchwork quilt with the elephant in the middle, and ogled the Lego creations. Since this was mainly a “look don’t touch” building, I figured we would take a quick tour and move on to the animal barns.

As interest in the cross-stitched ornament display wore thin, we turned and happened across an exhibit featuring wool. There were several women demonstrating the art of spinning wool, and Little Lady was fascinated, especially when she saw a spinning wheel that was designed for use by a child. She watched the spinning wheel turn; I watched the wheels turning in her head.

Touching and trying the equipment was off-limits at this display, but we were able to watch the women work the spinning wheels. Watching them deftly twist the fibers, pick free the pieces of straw, and guide the newly-formed yarn onto the wheel was inspiring, even for Little Man. One of the women talked directly to Little Lady, showing her a picture of the llama that had “gotten a haircut” to collect the wool she was working from the big bag on the floor. Little eyes flashed from photo to bag to hands on wheel…the wheels turned…

We had a chance to feel a several types of wool, fibers, yarns, and knitting equipment. Wool from sheep and llamas, fibers from corn protein and skim milk- we talked about which ones were soft, which were more coarse, how these might feel against our skin if they were made into a shirt, a blanket. We looked at the raw wool, the balls of yarn, the knitted sweaters and scarves. Turning, turning…

textile fashion show
We were walking down the stairs when activity on the main stage caught Little Lady’s eye and she was off.  She clamored into a seat in the front row next to a bored looking little girl. Slumped into her seat, I assumed this young lady was there against her will- stuck waiting for her mother or grandmother to finish up their crafty wonderings. Little Lady provided a stark contrast to this dejected youngling: my girl sat crisscross applesauce, leaning forward on her chair, staring raptly at what turned out to be the Textile Fashion Show. A small collection of older women and one little girl made up the runway model crew; a gray haired, bespectacled matron announced the models and described the fibers and processes used to create the crocheted vests, knitted scarves, and woven wraps displayed to the meager crowd. My boy was impressed, but his attention wandered after a few minutes and he moved on to explore the antique toys display behind me. My girl was enthralled: she watched, perched on the edge of her seat, for over 20 minutes. The wheels in her head spun faster than the spinning wheels…

I will admit: I lost interest shortly after my son, and kept an eye on the top of her cowgirl hat in the audience as we looked at other things.

I should also admit that I don’t know much of anything about wool, yarn, or anything related to knitting. In fact, within the last month I sold a huge bin of yarn and several teach-yourself-to-knit books in our garage sale. I had some pipe dream a while back that I would learn to knit and crochet…but it turns out that my little sausage fingers were clearly not made for clicking those sticks. I kept a few balls of yarn and my round looms (the only knitting that has ever made sense to me!), but I sent the rest on its merry way with a happy little lady and said “Good riddance!”

Clearly, I made a mistake.

Back to the fashion show: after nearly half an hour, Little Lady flew over to me, yammering on and on about the scarves and hats and sweaters she’d seen. Questions, answering her own questions, more questions: What kind of wool was that blue sweater made out of? It was probably a sheep or a llama. How did the wool get blue? Llamas and sheep don’t come in blue. Maybe they painted it. Then, the kicker:

“Momma, can you teach me how to make a scarf out of wool?”

Ummm…no? I don’t know how to knit? I don’t have the patience? My fingers are too fat, I am too busy, I don’t want to? Clearly I needed a better reason to offer up to those big eyes under that cowboy hat…

“I would love to honey, but we don’t have any wool.”

That did it. I felt only marginally guilty at the let-down I saw then: it was true that we didn’t have any wool, right? I mean, I do enough cool stuff, don’t I? I can’t do everything, can I? No knitting- that’s out. End of story.
"A bag of wool, just for me!"

It was about that time, when I was finishing up my inner pep talk and congratulating myself on my clever diversion, when we walked into the gift shop, directly into a big sign that said “Wool for Sale.”

Well, crap.

Me and my big mouth.

Now we have this bag of wool, and I have no idea what to do with it. Little Lady is thrilled- even Little Man couldn’t wait to get it out of the bag and fee how soft it is. I am less than thrilled: I have no spinning wheel, I don’t know where Rumplestiltskin’s studio is, and a cursory search on Pinterest turned up nothing! I obviously could have come up with more reasons why I shouldn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t get involved in this project…but I’d just be lying and making excuses. Isn’t there an old adage about weaving a web of lies, and getting hung up in it? Seems like that would be fitting here…

If it was a new toy from Target she was asking for, I’d have had no problem saying no and dropping the whole thing. I am not a pushover when it comes to buying new, impulse buy stuff for the kids: I don’t suffer that kind of guilt. My guilt comes when I say no to something meaningful because I just don’t feel like doing it. She’s intrigued, she’s engaged, she wants to learn a time-honored artistic tradition inspired by first-hand experience with it in an unlikely setting…we have the materials right in front of us, she’s ramped up about learning, and doing, and making something with her own hands…and I’m ready to weasel my way out of it? Why?

So here I am, staring at this mass of soft cream and brown wool (ok, ok, I’m kind of glaring at it), waiting for some inspiration. If I can just figure out how to make it into something more yarn-like than this wobbly wisp of fluff, that will be a start.

If I only knew how to build a spinning wheel…

kind of looks like a squirrel...sigh...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Don't Call Me Martha

I don’t wanna be a Martha.

My name is Sarah, but my penchant for crafts and meticulous, obsessive creative streak has earned me the nickname “Little Martha.” Martha Stewart used to appeal to me in so many ways: she seemed to be a strong, independent woman whose home was always just-so. Prepared to whip up a French petit four or German chocolate cake at the drop of a hat, constantly ready to entertain a guest of one or one hundred, able to carve masterpieces into gourds? Genius!

But over the last year or so, as I’ve grown and changed in my perspectives on parenting, and on what’s really important to me in my life, I’ve started to really resent the nickname “Little Martha.” Where I used to admire her, I now look on her as incredibly superficial…selfish…self-centered. I’ve been bugged by the question: who was she really doing all that crafting and hostessing for anyways? I still love to see all the crafts and clever things she can do, but I wonder why she bothers? What’s her goal? Who is she doing this work for?

I love to work with my hands, I enjoy making things, and the part about crafting that brings me the most joy is being able to give the things I make away to my family and friends. Handmade gifting makes my heart happy…being able to do use the gifts I’ve been given to do something that helps someone else fills my cup. This is true across the board in my life: whether it’s teaching, mentoring other teachers, writing, crafting, caring for children, I feel as though the tasks I’m engaged in are meaningful because I’ve been called to serve in these ways.

Which is why this picture, taken by my three-year-old son, gave me pause.

He was using my phone to take pictures of things around the house that he thought were important- he snapped and giggled for almost ten minutes before returning my phone and running off to play cars. As I scrolled through his snapshots after he went to bed, I found it so telling to see the world from his short-legged perspective, to review the things he felt to be meaningful enough to steady his little hands and click the button: a half-eaten cookie, his sister’s painted toenails, his pile of dinosaurs, his Daddy in the kitchen, his barely-able-to-see-over-the-counter shot of the art supplies…and this. Mommy, hunched over computer, coffee cradled, busy at work.

This one stopped me.

Is this how they see me?

There is always the guilt, even in working from home: every minute spent on a work or home or any task other than engaging in the moment with them…am I missing something precious? Will my children remember the moments spent with them, or lament the times I was “busy” doing something else? There is no doubt that, no matter how I craft my schedule each day, there are times when I have to do things that do not directly involve them. I am ok with that, I really am. But then pictures like this make me think: what was I working on right then? Was it a necessary action at that moment, or was I distracted from what was really important right then? Was it child or work-related, or Pinterest-related? Was I serving my children, serving others, and serving God at that moment…or was I distracted by my own interests?

The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38 has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and this photo from a three-year-old’s perspective really drives it home:

In this photograph, am I Mary, or am I still playing Little Martha?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tiny Elf Fairies

Tiny Thread Friends

What fairy garden is complete without little buddies to visit and play?

Just before bed last night, I asked Little Lady how she would know if any fairies or little friends visited the garden while she was asleep? She said, with a sparkly, hopeful look and a smile:

“Well, maybe they’ll still be there when we wake up and we can see them!”

How could I not stay up late to create a couple little friends to greet the Littles in the morning? (Find a tutorial to make your own Tiny Elf Fairy at the end of this post!)

After whipping up these little buddies, I posed them in the garden: Boy was climbing the trees, and Girl was taking a dip in the pool!

Little Lady opened her eyes this morning, called, “Mommy- I’m awake!” and when I entered her room, she popped up and said, “Mom! I wanna check the garden! Did the fairies come?”

Tearing through the house, skidding to a stop: smile, reach, pet, explore- she was tickled to find her new friends! Questions:

“Mommy, where did these come from? Are they fairies or elves? Do they have wings? Did you make these? Are these real live fairies? Can they come to life when we aren’t looking? Can I name her?”

I smiled and nodded along, noncommittal. Her decisions:

“Mom, these look like you made them, but I bet they can come to life when we are sleeping or when we’re not looking. I can’t see her wings, but I bet she can fly. She’s an elf fairy. I think she’s magic, and she likes to dance- see how her skirt twirls? She can jump and swim and do gymnastics too, and she can run really fast in the forest- see her long legs? Look, she can sit in this big seashell and row- it’s her boat. You can tell she’s magical because she has bells on her feet. Why doesn’t she have a face? Oh, I know: she can’t have just one face, she needs lots of faces, and you can’t draw all the faces on the same doll at one time. Now she’s happy- look- she just blinked her eyes and winked at me, Mommy- did you see her?”

And on and on and on…this friend was discovered six hours ago, and she’s been on enough adventures in the house to write her own book already. Beautiful, and so worth the time to craft these moments, to encourage these dreamers!

Make your own Tiny Elf Fairy!


·         2 pipe cleaners

·         1 small wooden bead

·         2 colors embroidery floss

·         2 tiny jingle bells

·         hot glue gun

·         scissors


·         Using one pipe cleaner, bend ends in to touch at center; bend in half at center, making a V shape. Glue the open ends and bend inside of the wooden bead.

·         Using one color of embroidery floss, tie the bells to the looped ends of the pipe cleaner V- these will be the feet.

·         Wrap embroidery floss in a double layer ¾ of the way up towards the bead head- these are the legs.

·         Use half of the other pipe cleaner- fold in the same shape, and wrap around the torso- these are the arms.

·         Wrap each arm in the second color embroidery floss. Wrap up to the head, like a turtleneck shirt, crisscrossing the chest, down around the tummy, crisscrossing the legs, and tie off in the back.

·         For the skirt, use a four inch length of lace. Baste along the top- pull to gather; tie onto the waist, and wrap over with embroidery floss to attach and cover.

·         For the hair, just gather six or seven threads; tie in the middle, and hot glue to the top of the bead. Trim to desired length.

·         Faces: I left my friends’ faces blank so the Littles can imagine the emotions on themselves. A smiling doll is always happy, and sometimes our dolls like to experience different emotions- sometimes they sleep too, and open eyes make it tricky to nap in the garden!  J

·         Safety notes on Tiny Elf Fairy: these will be played with as toys at my house, under my supervision. Any of the tiny parts can become detached, and the pipe cleaners do have pointy wires inside. If you make these friends, take care to monitor their structural integrity before, during, and after play to keep your Littles safe.

Make your own Tiny Buddies!

Wake up and see who came to visit the garden!

"Mommy- LOOK!"

"My little buddy is taking a cool bath with this dinosaur pet!"

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Our First Fairy Garden

placing the plants and "little buddies"

Inspired by The Magic Onions Fairy Garden Contest- 2012, we started collecting items for our first fairy garden.
I decided we had better go with a succulent garden, because we needed some very hardy, resilient plants that were resistant to death-by-Mommy. (Our Grace Garden was so very beautiful, but it was too difficult to keep alive- my black thumb worked its magic on that one.)
The aloe plant in the back is actually the only plant I have ever kept alive for more than a year- the Hubs bought me that plant when I got my second teaching job, and I have convinced it to hang on for dear life this whole time! The tiny aloe plant on the right was picked out just the other day by Little Man during our trip to the greenhouse at the IMA. He carried it all around the paths, cupped in his little hands, talking to it quietly: “Hey, you little buddy. You see that statue over there? Hey little buddy- you want a sip of water?” The rest were picked up on a clearance rack at Lowes.

All the rocks came from Little Lady’s extensive rock collection: she donated almost all of her “gray rocks” (the ones she finds in parking lots, so gravel), as well as some of her favorite, very well-loved painted river rocks, and her “beautiful crystals” for the special pool in front. "Can I make some of these rocks be headstones to remember our friends and family who've died?" Sure! The pool is especially magic because when water is poured in, it disappears right before your eyes! (This would be because the pool is a small terra cotta pot with a hole in the bottom, shhh!)

The tiny house was a garage sale find- we knew we’d need that for something special! A tiny basket in the back holds the plates- spiraled craft sticks formed into plates for the fairy tea parties, and a small foam apple hides behind a plant in case anyone needs a light snack. The purple flower because, of course, purple is the favorite color these days. Why the tiny lock even though there’s no door? “Because the little friends who come will have a magic key- that’s how they’ll know how to find the garden!” A sign on the side of the house, plucked from my scrapbooking supplies, reads “Dream as if you’ll live forever.” Some pussy willows and a stick from Little Man’s collection provide some depth- “the forest,” they call it. Voila: our first fairy garden!

Now here’s where things really got interesting. Watching the littles’ creativity fly as we assembled the garden was delightful- listening to them talk about it afterwards was spectacular, insightful, and inspiring…here is a snippet of conversation overheard from the kitchen:

LM: “Look- my dinosaur can take a bath in the magic pool!”

LL: “So can my horse- actually, this is a hot bath for the animals to come relax when they’ve had a hard day.”

LM: “Who else is coming to the fairy garden?”

LL: “Well, actually, anyone can come to the fairy garden, whoever wants to come can bring their friends, like animals, and bugs, and squirrels, and bunnies- no, bunnies will eat the plants- no bunnies, but frogs can come, and elves, and mushroom people…”

LM: “Can Jesus come too?”

LL: “Oh yes, of course- Jesus can go anywhere! He can take this path right here and take care of the animals. The little house needs a welcome sign, Mom.”

LM: “How ‘bout a sign that says ‘welcome buddies’ so all the buddies can come and stay here?”

LL: “Oh yes, that’s right- Mom? We need to get the art box out again…”

considering what comes next...decor?

"dream as if you'll live forever"

dinosaurs come for a visit and a hot bath

"welcome buddies" sign, and Mr. Toad says hello

ready for buddies!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finding My Secret Fish Pond

Take time out to blog? Isn’t that just adding another thing to the already overstuffed “to do” list?



Something about being busy makes me want to write.

When I’m busy with the things that have to get done, the things that should get done, and the things I want to do, writing feels right: it’s taking time out to put order to my thoughts, realign my priorities, to tell myself it’s ok to stop and think about things without feeling idle.

Some people can day dream. I can’t- I dream myself off to sleep.

Writing is my day dreaming: cataloguing, recording, thinking on paper, my way of processing my life.

In our many travels around the gardens of the IMA, we came across this little pool of goldfish. It’s become known as our “secret fish pond.” It isn’t a secret- it’s on a well-marked path; it can be found on the map. But it’s our secret place because we never knew it was there until we took a different path and just stumbled across it one day. Each time we return to the gardens, we wander around looking for the “secret fish pond,” and sometimes we don’t find it. I could mark the right paths on our map and make it a point of interest: I could lead the littles right to it each time we visit. But wouldn’t that take the magic out of rediscovering it every time? We find it when we need it, and it keeps its feel of magic and intrigue.

Writing is my secret fish pond. What’s yours?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Creating Spaces in My Life

A family vacation, double ear infections for each little one, three birthday
parties for one lucky lad, hosting Easter festivities in our home, all within
the past month…whew.
Now to rest: working full time from home, trip to the park, visit to Conner Prairie,
cleaning, babysitting, drawing and painting, writing a paper for a grad class, days
and days of Play Doh play and clean up, play and clean up, back to the gym
after being gone waaaay too long (ouch), date night with the hubs, laundry…rest?
What does that mean?
Go, go, go.
I love to DO, I hate to just sit. When I sit still, I fall asleep.
Is this telling me something?
I’m looking for balance, always looking for a way to get it all done without
sacrificing the moments with the littles: how to get the work done without
shooing the little ones away?
I cringe inside every time I hear myself say,
"I can't right now, I'm busy."
I’m looking for ways to create spaces in my life to rest without falling asleep…times to BE in the moment without turning into a googly-eyed flake…
And ha- I come across this post on my new favorite blog to follow, A Holy Experience:
Lovely. Inspiration.
And daffodils are my favorite flower…coincidence? I think not. Spaces, spaces,