Happy Easter!

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, which we celebrate around our house with Easter baskets for the kids from Mom and Dad and chocolate eggs hidden around the house by the Easter bunny.

Thing 1 particularly liked her Star Wars book pillow from Audin Roy Boutique.

Thing 2 really loved her Gudetama pillow, which I picked up at Ottawa Geek Market.

And the two of them spent most of the day eating chocolate eggs and making creations out of their brand new Makedo Cardboard Building System, which is so much fun that I have a set of my own.

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend too!

Yarn Dolls Tutorial

Yarn dolls are something that I used to make all the time as a kid; once again, I believe I learned how to make them in Girl Guides. I realized that I hadn’t made any with my own children yet when Thing 1 came home from Guides the other night with the beginnings of her own yarn doll in the works. Thing 2 hadn’t had a chance to make them yet, so I thought I’d dig out my solid-colour yarns left over from previous projects and let them get at creating.

If you’re not the kind of person who’d have yarn scraps around the house, don’t despair! There are lots of very cheap yarns available, even from the dollar store. But before you head there I might recommend hitting the local thrift shop. There you can usually find orphaned balls of yarn for a fraction of the price of buying new, and it keeps a previously-loved item from going to a landfill.

Yarn Dolls

Materials:

– yarn
– OPTIONAL: googly eyes, beads, buttons, scrap fabric, etc.

Supplies Needed:

– book, binder, folder, or piece of stiff cardboard
– scissors
– OPTIONAL: glue, needle, thread

1. Get your yarn, book, and a pair of scissors. I chose a stack of file folders for 8″x10″ pages because they were about the right size for the size of doll that I wanted to make. However, you can really use any size of book or even a piece of cardboard. Since it’s just going to hold the yarn, you don’t have to worry about damaging it.

2. Wrap the yarn around the book until you have created a thick hank. How much yarn you use depends entirely on how big you want the doll to be and what size of book you use. Feel free to experiment! There really isn’t any “right way” to do it. Then cut the yarn off of the ball.

3. Cut a piece of yarn that is a little bit more than twice as long as the book. Thread the piece of yarn under the hank and tie it tightly with a double knot.

4. Slide the hank off of the book. Pass the piece of yarn that you used in step 3 through the center of the hank again and tie another double knot for reinforcement. Turn the hank inside-out so that the knots are on the inside. Smooth the piece of yarn so that it is now part of the hank.

5. Cut another piece of yarn that is a little bit more than twice as long as the book. Wrap this yarn tightly around where you will want the neck of the doll to be, then tie it tightly with a double knot. Wrap the yarn around one more time and tie it again for reinforcement. Smooth the yarn into the hank.

6. Holding the yarn taut, snip the loops at the bottom of the hank (opposite from the head you have created). Trim the excess yarn so that it is roughly the same length.

7. Separate roughly a third of the yarn to create the arms (1/6 of the yarn per arm). For thicker arms, separate a little bit more.

8. Cut another piece of yarn that is a little bit more than twice as long as the book. Tie that yarn to create the waist, using the same technique as at the neck.

9. Braid the arms, double-tying the wrists tightly with scraps of yarn. Divide the bottom of section of yarn in half and braid it to create the legs. Double-tie the yarn tightly around the ankles.

10. Trim off the excess yarn on the hands and feet.

At this point your yarn doll is technically done, but if you feel that it is too plain, that’s where the optional decorations come in! You can:

– add googly eyes or beads or buttons for eyes,
– tie on more yarn as hair,
– sew scrap fabric for clothing,
– tie on artificial butterfly or dragonfly wings to create fairies
– twist a pipe cleaner into a halo and tie on a big lace bow as “wings” to make an angel
– make tiny yarn dolls to hang from earrings or necklaces
– make small yarn dolls in festive colours to use as Christmas ornaments

Exercise your creativity!

There are a couple of basic variations on this kind of doll that are useful to know. The first is the “dress” version, which basically omits braiding the legs to create a skirt. You may note that the arms of this doll are tied instead of braided, which is a much quicker way to do it; this is great for younger children who may have limited patience or braiding skill. It should be noted that this version requires a shorter length of yarn (i.e. a smaller book) due to the lack of braiding.

Also, for a simple snowman, use white yarn and tie it all together at the bottom to create a “snowball” instead of legs.

A great Halloween version of a yarn doll stops at Step 6, and requires only the addition of googly eyes to become a ghost. This is probably the simplest version possible, which is perfect if you want to make a bunch of them and hang them as decorations.

Have fun!

Paper Beads Tutorial

It’s that time of year again: March Break! For the Ontario school board anyway; the Québec schools had theirs last week. My kids were really looking forward to the break, not just because of the days off, but because they loved all of the crafts we did last year. This year we started with a craft that I’m pretty sure I learned in Brownies as a child: paper beads.

Paper Beads

Materials:
– paper (I prefer recycled magazines with glossy photos)
– water-based, non-toxic liquid glue such as Mod Podge or plain white glue
– narrow-width ribbon or cord
– OPTIONAL: coordinating beads

Supplies Needed:
– paper scissors
– bamboo skewers
– ruler
– pencil
– paint brush
– old newspapers (to protect work surface)
– clean, recycled container (to use as glue pot)

1. Spread out your old newspapers to protect your work surface. Remove the piece of paper of your choice from the magazine. (Since we’ve gone paperless for the most part, we bought an old National Geographic magazine for a quarter at a thrift store.)

2. Flip your magazine clipping over so that the back side is showing. Using a ruler and a pencil, draw a long, thin triangle from the base of the paper to the top. The base of our triangles varied from 1cm to 2cm or so; under 1cm they can be a bit too small for little hands, and over 2cm they become very chunky beads.

3. Using the scissors, cut out the triangle.

4. Squirt a small amount of glue into the clean, recycled container. Dab the paint brush lightly in the glue, then spread a thin layer of glue onto the back of the paper, starting about 3cm away from the base. (If you start directly at the base, it will stick to the bamboo skewer.)

5. Starting at the non-glued end of the triangle and working toward the thinnest point, roll the paper tightly around the bamboo skewer. Once the paper is stuck down, apply a thin coat of glue to the outside of the bead, being careful not to get it on the skewer.

6. Allow the glue to dry, then slide the bead off of the skewer.

7. String the paper beads onto the cord, adding commercially-made beads if desired.

My kids really loved making these beads, especially since they can say that they made them from scratch! As a bonus, it introduced them to National Geographic magazines. Thing 1 insisted that we return to the thrift store and buy a whole bunch more, and at a quarter each I couldn’t exactly object. I have very happy memories of paging through these same magazines as a child and I’m glad that my children are getting as much enjoyment out of them as I did.

Shrove Tuesday

I meant to write this post on Wednesday about Tuesday, but unfortunately I was in a minor car accident — a fender bender, really — which, while not severe in any shape or form, did eat away at my day. (Before you ask: I seem to be fine, the car is now in the shop but likely doesn’t require any major repairs, and no it wasn’t my fault (I was rear-ended while stopped in a right-hand turning lane, waiting for a gap in traffic so I could pull out).) So now I’m writing my posts all out of order, but this post will be backdated to Tuesday, which is when I actually made the pancakes.

I’ve written about Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Tuesday before, since it was a yearly tradition in my family growing up. In all of the hustle and bustle with travel (and my remaining jet lag) this year I’d almost forgotten about it, but somebody’s post on Facebook reminded me just in time. Not that pancakes for supper are limited to one day a year, mind. Some days I just feel like pancakes.

This year I went with Basic Pancakes from the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition); I’m not sure what page of the hard copy book, though, since this time I used the app (super-convenient, that thing). However, I discovered too late to go to the shops that I was low on eggs and completely out of butter, so I substituted half a mashed banana for an egg and canola oil for the butter. My substitutions seemed to work just fine since these pancakes were very fluffy and mighty tasty! I topped them with a fresh fruit salad of Granny Smith apples, dragon fruit, strawberries and more bananas, along with lots of maple syrup. And, as is pretty much a constant request in this family, I served bacon on the side.

Valentine’s Day Baking

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and while we’re not terribly into big romantic gestures in our household, the kids really do love celebrating this holiday at school. Everyone ends up with a little mailbox full of Valentines, and some sweets to bring home, and often parents send in some nice snacks for the kids to munch on throughout the day. So of course I had to get the girls to help me with some baking to bring along to class.

At Thing 1’s insistence, I made a chocolate sheet cake with chocolate icing for her class. Since she loved her Triforce Cake so much, I used the same recipe: Amelia Bedelia’s Sheet Cake, found at the back of the story book Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off (Herman Parish, 2010), or online via Desktop Cookbook. This time, though, I actually made buttercream icing from scratch — my very first time trying it! I used the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition) recipe for Chocolate Buttercream found on page 793. Honestly, the icing was more difficult to make than the cake, but it turned out so well! I used really dark chocolate and my munchkin appreciated it. She isn’t actually a big fan of the thick layers of super-sweet icing that are commonly found on commercial cakes, and to be honest, neither am I. I decorated the icing with a dusting of icing sugar over some heart-shaped cookie cutters, and then I removed the cutters to lay down a heart made of Smarties. I know it wasn’t symmetrical, but the kiddos didn’t seem to care.

Thing 2, however, really wanted to make mini banana muffins for her class. I went back to the trusty recipe in the Joy of Cooking and we together we made the Banana Bread Cockaigne on page 628. There’s a lot of teaching that goes along with baking with a child of that age, especially since they haven’t started learning fractions yet! Even so, this recipe is very forgiving (if you read my blog regularly, you’ve probably noticed that it’s a favourite), and it turned out really well. There were only three left over after she shared them with her friends, and those were promptly snatched up by her grandparents. Not that I begrudge them, because if they didn’t eat them, I would.

I hope you all had a lovely Valentine’s Day and were spoiled with some of your own favourite treats!

Resolutions

1. Crafting

This is a two-part resolution. Firstly, I’d like to use up the materials I have purchased over the years, and/or use recycled or thrifted materials whenever possible.

Secondly, I’d like to participate in more group or community projects, like Mochimochi Land’s Let’s Knit a Ball Pit — ideally using materials previously specified. The ball pit will be a part of Vogue Knitting LIVE in New York City, and once the event is over they will be donated to the American Foundation for Children with AIDS. I contributed the two knitted balls in the photo above to this project, and I really enjoyed it! I hope that they arrive in time. I’d like to keep the ball rolling, as it were, and donate my time and skills to other events, even if it’s something as simple as hats for the newborn babies at the local children’s hospital.

2. Environmental

I would like to try to decrease our household’s reliance on single-use plastic, and to continue to reuse, repurpose, and recycle. To me, that doesn’t mean being rid of plastics entirely; actually, I think it would be rather wasteful to completely be rid of the plastics we do have, just to buy all new replacements in another material. Rather, I’d like to commit to using recycled plastics, either post-consumer recycled commercial products, or finding a new home for second-hand plastic products, like the lunch boxes above that I bought at a thrift store.

3. In the Kitchen

I want to expand my cooking knowledge, skills, and style — while at the same time trying to keep it reasonably healthy. I think I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut lately, and I want to do better! To that end, I have purchased even more second-hand cookbooks that I’m not only going to try out, but that I’m going to read through for ideas. At Thing 1’s request, I am looking into more Japanese food:

Sushi by Ryuichi Yoshii (1998)
The Japanese Kitchen by Kimiko Barber (2004)
Ten-Minute Bento by Megumi Fujii (2007)

Of all of the books that I have thrifted lately, I think I am most excited about The Japanese Kitchen, which helps break down and de-mystify each ingredient, and Ten Minute Bento, which is all about quick and easy (and I think will become a favourite cookbook to pull out to prep dinner on busy weeknights). There is a lot about Japanese cooking that I don’t know, but these books look like they’ll really help me get a better grasp on it.

In a more general vein, I have also picked up:

Gordon Ramsay’s Passion for Flavour by Gordon Ramsay (1996)
Deliciously Dairy Free: Fresh and Simple Lactose-Free Recipes for Healthy Eating Every Day by Lesley Waters (2015)
Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens by Jennifer Schaertl (2010)
More Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway (1997)
Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube Presents: The Cake Book by Cupcake Jemma (2014)
Cocktails for Book Lovers by Tessa Smith McGovern (2014)

Now, some of these, like the cupcake book and the cocktail book, are just for fun — but shouldn’t cooking be fun? The dairy-free one and the one about cooking in small kitchens (and I have to say, that title grabbed my attention) are probably the ones I’d use the most, though. Yet every cookbook is a kind of inspiration for me, even if I don’t try a single dish.

4. Business

I think that it’s time for my business to expand from flea markets to online. I think I will start with local sales, since a lot of my products are both heavy and quite breakable. I just don’t know that it would be cost-effective to try to ship vintage Pyrex or, heaven forbid, cast iron cookware. But vintage Tupperware is both hardy and light enough to make the trip! I think that this expansion will challenge my photography skills (since product photography is quite different than casual snaps) and my organization skills. I’m also looking at how to make it all as environmentally-sound as possible; I especially don’t want to package items in styrofoam, bubble wrap, or air-filled bags, since they’re all single-use plastic. I’m looking into wool and straw and other biodegradable options. People shipped things without breaking them long before plastic was invented, so there have to be options. The question is, can I keep it cost-effective? Challenges, challenges!

So what are your resolutions for the New Year?