I show you how to make

Air travel and diversionary tactics


What about that little bit of celebratory travel I mentioned earlier? It has everything to do with our anniversary. Which is the big One-O. Which is a number that seems so big and momentous that I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that it's real and here and requiring immediate attention. It was a decade ago that we planned ourselves a little trip to Vegas and had our nuptials there, a ceremony that was small and simple and broadcast via internet. 

In the intervening ten years we've taken very few vacations. There were a couple of roadtrips the first few years. Then workaholism set in. Then saving up all vacation and personal time with the knowledge that we'd soon be trying for a baby while I was a job that offered no paid maternity leave. Then actually having a baby. Then a new job with no paid vacations. And then another baby. 

So family trips are largely unexplored territory. Save the annual Thanksgiving trip to turkey-gorge with the in-laws, we're really just homebodies. Air travel is a rather iffy proposition for us, having had a middling success rate, half our flights including some kind of child-weary breakdown. But ten is an awfully grand number, and so we've scheduled our first family vacation. To Vegas, the most family-friendly of towns.

As you might imagine, I'm not looking forward to the flight. The Girlie's become a squirmy rugrat, hellbent on mobility. Not an ideal candidate for confined spaces at high altitudes. So, I've resigned myself to a certain amount of pain on that front. But The Boy's reached that wonderful stage where he can be sat down with an iPhone stocked with videos and games, and as long as his sugar intake has been kept to a minimum, he should be a tolerable travel companion. But, so I hear, technology does not equate good parenting. And batteries run out. So I stock his special airplane backpack with little books and activities. Things like lacing cards and a thumbprint drawing book and simple connect the dots (I love you, Dover Books). 


And as part of that digital kick I've been on, I made up some writing practice sheets for The Boy. Just some lined pages for him to practice his alphabet. On the reverse side, I printed out a little diamond-y grid, for some open-ended coloring/patterning goodness. And then I did up some tic tac toe templates, because The Boy is nuts for that game. And I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I did get my behind handed to me in a tic tac toe tourney the other day at lunch. Honest to goodness. He actually beat me repeatedly at a game that was deemed pointless by Ally Sheedy in "War Games" because of its propensity to end in a tie. I like to think this says more about the nearly-4-year-old's intellectual prowess than the lack of the same in myself. 


I sealed up the worksheets in some laminating pouches and tossed them into a pouch with some dry-erase markers and a swatch of wool for erasures. In my extensive research I've found that, for a nearly-4-year-old, there's no artistic allure quite as strong as drawing in marker. And as a parent, nothing quite beats being able to wipe marks off with a dry rag. 

And here's a nifty little tip. When you're standing in the office supply aisle, examining the laminating pouches, and you see that the self-laminating pouches are exponentially more expensive than the heat laminating pouches for which you don't have the corresponding laminating machine, go ahead and pick up the cheaper, heat laminating ones. Just apply a hot iron (and pressing cloth, of course) slowly and evenly over the filled pouch until it seals. The beauty of the simple iron. Not just for burning your fingerprints off anymore.


Wanna whip out your own set of worksheets? Too lazy to work something up yourself with Creative Suite? What? You didn't shell out $1800 for a legal copy of the software? Here's our version of the worksheets, in PDF form. Knock yourself out. And try not to burn yourself on that iron.

Produce bags

Hands down, the greatest thing about being married is having an in-house spider catcher. The greatest thing about being married to Mr. New Media is having an in-house web-developer. Thanks to him, I now have this nifty new slideshow thingie. 

Made of muslin (I get the 108"-wide stuff), these things are crazy-cheap to sew up. Get yourself one of those 40% off coupons at Joann's and you're in business. 

Produce bags in muslin

This neat little stack of sacks is freshly french-seamed and drawstrung, all ready for market.

  • Muslin — I used about a yard and a half of muslin to make 15 sacks
  • Cotton string — I used a thick crochet yarn
  • Threaded sewing machine — duh

Cut out the pieces

Cut a lot of them. I did mine in a variety of sizes, but the vast majority were made from 25” x 13” swatches of muslin. I also did a few that were a bit longer, to accommodate unwieldy things like lettuces and chards. Just remember to cut pieces about twice as long as your intended bag length.

Fold in half and stitch

Fold in half, wrong sides together (if your fabric has a wrong side) to get a squarish shape. Stitch the two sides, starting at raw edge and moving toward the fold, about a 1/4" from the edge.

Turn and stitch

Turn the sack inside out. Push out the bottom corners (I use the point of my scissors for this) and lay seams as flat as possible. Stitch again, a little more than 1/4" from the edge, making sure to entirely encase first seam.

Turn again

Turn the bag right side out again, so that the encased seam lays on the inside of the bag. Push corners out.

Make the drawstring casing

Fold the top of bag 1/4" toward the outside and press. Fold over another 1/4" to encase that raw edge and press again.

Stitch the casing

Stitch the fold down, leaving a teeny tiny opening at one of the side seams. (Funky camera issues and tree-filtered natural lighting lend this shot its dramatic flair)

Insert drawstring

Cut a length of string about 5" longer than the circumference of the bag. Use a large darning needle to run it through the casing at the opening you left in the seam.

You're done!

Fill with produce. Store in fridge. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Produce bags in muslin

This neat little stack of sacks is freshly french-seamed and drawstrung, all ready for market.

  • Muslin — I used about a yard and a half of muslin to make 15 sacks
  • Cotton string — I used a thick crochet yarn
  • Threaded sewing machine — duh

Making pink lemonade


The Boy is in a full-coverage stage of artistic development. Given crayons or markers or paints or beads, his primary goal is for utter annihilation of any white surface. Sure, he also diligently colors within the lines when they're given, a development that at once makes me proud and sad. And there are rudimentarily representative drawings, things like happy faces and rough and tumble renderings of our little familial unit. But lay out a fresh sheet of paper, and as often as not, it becomes a full-frontal abstraction of colors and textures. Which doesn't stop us from posting much of it on walls and appliances and more walls. But abstract art isn't really my bag. 


In a twist of gender stereotypes, The Boy finds pink to be a most pleasing color. Somehow, I find this less distressing than the idea of The Girlie embracing it as her IT color. And his current medium of choice is the watercolor set we redeemed our grocery incentive program points for. The paints are in residence at the dining table, a cheap bribe to get him to sit at and partake of a meal every once in a while. So we get our fair share of washed out studies in the pastel shades known as Valentine's Day colors. Embracing the Valentininess, I slapped together a little something on the computer and whipped out the good ol' Xacto. Deciding to share the love (Get it? Love? Huh? Huh?), I've posted a handy PDF of the cut-out here. Just print onto card stock, carve out the gray parts and lay over whatever you feel is too cloyingly saccharine to take on its own… too-pink watercolors, wedding photos, dessert. Whatev. 


While I was at it, I took the computer file for that Gocco'd Love Letters card and made up a little printable PDF for that one, too. Even drew up a little envelope template, to boot. Download that goodness here. Might I suggest coaxing an appropriately cut piece of cereal box through your printer? That's what I did here. Our trusty inkjet did its share of protesting, but in the end submitted to the power of me forcing the paperboard down its gullet. So maybe you don't want to try it. I mean, I don't want to be responsible for any permanently traumatized printers out there. But I'm awfully happy with my result. So do what you will.

Ornamental grub


We arrived home in the early evening yesterday, worn from travel, and sick from whatever it was that The Boy was throwing up earlier in the week. Ours is the kind of neighborhood where people are ON TOP of the holidays, and as the light grew dim yesterday, we could see that the residents of our street had already decked their porches and trees with twinkly lights and stars. Even our neighbors next door, who didn't return from their Thanksgiving trip for a few hours after we did, had managed to emblazon the behemoth of a tree in their front yard. Not sure how that happened, exactly. But I'm sure it required a certain dedication to the season. And a willingness to pay other people to do things for them. At any rate, I was impressed.

So, between the shame at not having prepped the house for the upcoming holidays, and having spent a week of relative un-craftiness in the Colorado wilderness (suburbia, wilderness, same diff), I was amply inspired to get in some seasonal making. 

Step 1: Rustle up salt dough recipe

It may have looked like autumn out there today, what with the overcast sky and occasional shower, but at 77° (what gives, Houston Weather In November?) there's no way I'm turning on the oven, so I made sure my recipe was an air-dry one. I added the appropriate spices to give it a gingerbread-y aroma. I also tossed in some molasses to try to darken the dough a tad, but it didn't really work out that way. Oh well.

Step 2: Gather materials

We were given these fun little cookie cutters a few years back, but we seldom make roll-out cookies. So, we had long ago given them over to The Boy for his play dough fun. First things first, they needed to be reclaimed. Then I decided, for extra adornment, I'd make a little stamp of sorts out of my beloved metal type. I just clamped the letters together with a mini binder clip and called it good. (It's kind of nice having a name that's also a word. Makes it a little less narcissistic to put our name on things. Just a little.) Brought the toy rolling pin down from the top of the bookcase, where we'd banished it after The Boy used it as a whacking device one time too many.


Step 3: Reach really freakin' deep for my inner reserve of patience

Once the dough was mixed and kneaded into submission, I called The Boy over and we got down to business. I let him roll out small batches of the dough, as much as he had the attention span for, which is to say not much. He'd give the dough a couple passes with the rolling pin and run off to the other room where he was working on some lacing cards. Fine by me. I finished the rolling and called him back for the cookie cutter stage. Then, his favorite part — stamping the dough with the metal type. Then I added the hole that we will later string yarn through to make it an ornament. Actually, very little patience was needed, as The Boy was, for once, happy enough to take instruction. All in all, 'twas a nice, relaxing way to inaugurate the crafting season.


So, I went through the trouble to find an air-dry recipe, but several hours later the dough is pretty much still as soft as it was at inception, so I may just have to pop them in the oven. Maybe I'll wait for tomorrow, when the temperature will approach a sane level for this time of year. We'll keep some here for the tree we'll eventually get. Some will go out in Christmas packages. Maybe we'll make up another batch for teachers. I remember my childhood tree being adorned with one of these, brought home from a hard half-day spent at pre-school. I also remember licking it for the saline hit. Because that's the kind of kid I was. Hopefully, The Boy's memories of these ornaments will be so rich.


All lit up


It used to be that the parents were the hardest to drum up gift ideas for. Which is why ours have curio shelves and mantles stocked with miscellaneous vases and bowls and clocks and herb gardens that look great on the catalog page but, let's face it, offer very little use. Now that we've made grandparents out of the mums and pops, gift giving has gotten much easier. Step 1: get kid to draw a picture, pose for a photo, stamp his hand in paint or clay or pile of dryer lint. Step 2: frame it, if applicable. Step 3: mail it off. Do grandparents actually appreciate it? Who cares? It'd be terrible form for any grandparent to look unfavorably upon these presents. 

Here's the #1 lesson I've learned from the 2+ years that The Boy has been in the daily care of others: Parents will continue to gladly bring home the same old "art class" nonsense and stick it on the fridge as long as (1) their child made it and (2) if there has been some cursory attempt made to change it up a bit (i.e., strategically adding some squigglies so that this handprint looks like a horse instead of a fish). So here it is, grandparent gift cop-out #833: The Brownie Light Box. 


You'll need:

Battery-operated tea light (I've seen both flickering and non-flickering options -- choose wisely)

Cardboard brownie box (should be at least 1.5" deep, or enough to accommodate your particular light)

3.5" square template for the cutout (I made mine with cardboard from another box)

1/8" double sided tape

Colored artist tape (think colored masking tape, washi tape would be pretty sweet, if you can swing it)

X-acto knife


Rotary cutter or scissors


Step 1: Assemble the art

We used a thick vellum paper, because that's what we have around. A piece of acetate backed with wax paper, or white parchment would work just as well. Something nice and translucent (sunprints would also be quite nice). Hand the kid watercolors/pastels/markers/crayons/glitter/pencils and take them away before too much craziness ensues. Cut two 4" squares.


Step 2: Prepare the box

Carefully open the box and scrape off any excess glue. Lay it out flat and measure the width of the box from side crease to side crease. My box was 5.25" wide, so I marked and cut the bottom of the box off 5.25" down from the top to make it square.


Step 3: Cut the openings

On the blank side of the box, trace your template for the cutout in the middle of both of the large panels. I'm a big fan of the eyeball method, but you could, you know, measure it out for greater centered-ness. Using a straight edge and X-acto, cut out the holes.

lightbox6.jpg  lightbox7.jpg

Step 4: Affix the art

Apply the double sided tape to the printed side of the box as close to the opening as possible. Make sure not to leave any gaps, so no light peeks through once the art is attached. Remove sticky backing and attach the art, artwork side facing the hole.

lightbox8.jpg  lightbox9.jpg

Step 5: Close the box

Pre-bend the box creases, so it folds nicely with the printed side on the inside. Lay a couple strips of double sided tape on the blank side of the box tab, and, being careful not to warp or twist the box, attach the tab to the inside of opposite side. Fold in the smaller top tabs and apply one last strip of double sided tape to one of the longer top tabs. Seal it up, again making sure not to twist the box.


Step 6: Tape it up

Apply the colored tape(s) of your choice to the sides of the box, tucking the tape ends inside the box.


That's it. Turn on the tea light, plop the box on top and call it a present. I suppose you could also turn it upside down, attach string and use it in a hanging capacity. Easy peasy. You've just (1) made some kid-generated art, (2) rescued a box from the recycling bin, and (3) created something for the curio cabinet that Grandma will never be able to take down. Because what heartless grandparent would do that?