TURN HOUSEHOLD ITEMS INTO JUGGLING BALLS

Running a household requires the skills of a juggler. First come the kids and their schedules, then toss in cooking, cleaning, car repair and pets. As most parents will attest, just when you think you’ve got it, the unexpected comes along to throw everything off balance! Start and stop … the juggling act never ends.

My kids called themselves jugglers too, but for them it was juggling oranges out of the fruit bowl, potatoes from the pantry or just about anything that crossed their paths. Then, with some creative thinking, we came up with some alternatives, like a set of juggling balls.

Much to their delight, we made these handy, sturdy balls in minutes using basic supplies we had in the kitchen.

Here’s how:
Scoop 1/2 cup of uncooked instant rice into a plastic sandwich bag. For heavier balls, you may substitute the rice with dried beans or clean sand. Pinch the bag tightly around the rice, squeeze out any air, make it into a ball shape and secure the ball shape with a rubber band. Cut off the excess plastic bag near the rubber-band knot.

Cut the tip off the neck end of two sturdy, medium-size balloons in contrasting colors. Stretch one of the balloons over the filled bag, making sure the rubber-band side is completely covered. The balloon should fit very tightly. Snip three or four quarter-inch holes randomly on the second balloon. Stretch it over the ball, covering the opening of the first balloon. The cutouts will reveal the color of the first balloon.

Make several balls with a variety of cutout shapes and colors, and let the performance begin! For extra-sturdy balls, add a third balloon. Store your set of juggling balls in an empty and clean Pringle’s-style chip can. Cover with decorative adhesive-backed paper.

Tip: If you are a beginning juggler, practice the moves using three lightweight chiffon scarves. When you toss them in the air one by one, they come back down slowly to help you get the hang of it!

MAKE LOOK-ALIKE POLAR FLEECE SCARVES FOR COZY WINTER DAYS

   
Be warm and feel cozy with easy, no-sew polar fleece scarves. Make one for each member of the family — including your dog! — in the same plaid or pattern, and you’ll be dressed with extra family spirit for  sporting events, get-togethers and taking photos.
Find washable polar fleece fabric in a variety of patterns and designs by the yard online and at fabric stores. (Stores such as Jo-Ann offer coupons regularly for significant discounts on your purchase. My scarves came to less than $2 each.)
I zoomed in on the checks and plaids, and chose classic black and red buffalo check this year — a great look for cold winter months. The straight lines of plaids and checks provide a visual guide when measuring and cutting, a timesaver when cutting out several scarves.
For school-age kids and adults, an 8-inch-by-60-inch scarf is a nice size, so count on purchasing about 1 2/3 yards for six scarves, depending on the repetition of the pattern. Since the fleece doesn’t ravel, there’s no need to allow for seams.
Here’s what you’ll need for six medium-size scarves:
  –1 2/3 yards of 59-60-inch-wide polar fleece fabric
  –good sewing scissors or rotary cutter (adults only) and rotary cutting mat
  –a clear plastic ruler such as a quilter’s ruler
  –straight pins or fabric pencil if using scissors
Here’s the fun:
  1. Lay out the fabric on your worktable and rotary cutting mat, if using rotary cutter. Measure and mark the length (60 inches) and width (8 inches) points of your scarves with straight pins or fabric pencil. The scarf length should be along the selvage (not across the width of the fabric), so that the scarves won’t stretch out of shape. For a uniform look, be mindful of repeat checks or plaids as you measure. Adjust measurements if making scarves for small children or your pet.
  2. Cut off the selvages, and then cut out scarves.
  3. Cut fringe 1/2 inch by 4 inches on each end for a fun, finished look.
  Extra idea: For a unique and useful memento, make matching scarves for guests at your next birthday or sledding party.

 

MAKE “PINE TREE” VOTIVE CANDLEHOLDERS

Creative time also can be vocabulary-building time when your kids learn how to say and spell “arborvitae.” Check it out online or, depending on where you live, take a walk together and discover the common hardy shrub with flat spraylike green branches that grows in most zones of the country. Here’s the fun part. Take a closer look, and see how the tips on branches resemble the shape of a pine tree.

“Why not glue the flat tree-like tip portions of the branches onto clear glass votive candleholders?” thought my friend Lisa MacMartin, who is always on the hunt for natural materials for sharing projects with children at her welcoming store and family craft studio, Heartfelt, in Minneapolis (heartfeltonline.com).

I gave her idea a try. After clipping a few sprigs in my backyard, I flattened them between pages of a thick book for a week. When pressed, the mini branch tips were ready for adhering to clear glass votive candleholders. For the holidays, a dash of white glitter on the sticky glue was the perfect wintry touch.
Press a few branch tips, and you’ll be set for a family craft night making these festive votives for a cozy candle lit evening in your home. Or, wrap extras up for hostess gifts when you share the season with others.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–pressed stems of arborvitae
–scissors
–standard-size clear-glass votive candleholders available at craft stores, or upcycle clear glass jars with labels removed
–Mod Podge water base sealer, or household white glue
–paper plate
–small paintbrush
–fine white or sparkly white glitter

Here’s the fun:
1. Trim four “tree-shaped” ends of the arborvitae to fit a bit less than the height of the votive holder.
2. Pour Mod Podge or glue onto plate. (If using glue, dilute with a few drops of water). Brush Mod Podge or glue mixture on a section the size of one of the “trees” on the outside of the glass. Press greenery with your fingers until it adheres. Lightly brush on another layer or two of the adhesive. Sprinkle with glitter. Repeat as you go around the candleholder.
3. Once dry, your votive holder will be set for service. Place a lit candle inside, and watch it shimmer.

Extra idea: If you don’t have access to arborvitae, instead, print and cut out images of pine trees or other natural images online or from magazines.
Safety note: An adult should always be present when burning candles.

RECYCLE A PLASTIC BOTTLE INTO A SHARK-THEMED PLANTER FOR SUCCULENTS


A few years ago, a friend inspired me to pot a succulent container garden. I discovered that trendy jade, aeonium and echeveria are the most forgiving, low-maintenance sun-loving plants I could ever grow on our deck in the summer and indoors during Minnesota’s winter chill. And they are easy to propagate. Break off an offshoot from a larger plant, stick it in the soil, and a new plant will root and grow.

No matter the season, why not encourage your young child to grow his own succulents and plant them in a container he is familiar with: a plastic soda or water bottle? It’s a fun craft project to upcycle a liter size into a planter, and decorate it to enhance bedroom or family room decor. If he’s fascinated with sea life, how about a shark?

Here’s the stuff you’ll need to make a fish-themed planter:
–1 empty liter size soda or water bottle with lid, label removed
–markers
–craft foam sheets in 3-4 colors
–non-toxic craft glue
–craft paint and brush (optional)
–fast-draining soil, like cactus potting mix
–pebbles
–3 small succulent plants

Here’s the fun:
Set the bottle on its side. Let your child measure and draw a 2-inch-by-6-inch rectangle lengthwise where the label was removed. An adult should cut out the rectangle. (Tip: use a pushpin to poke a few holes in the plastic on a line for ease in getting the cutting started.) The opening will be the top of the planter.
Use the craft foam to decorate the outside of the bottle to look like a shark. The spout with lid already looks like a fish mouth. Refer to a picture or photo of a shark in a book or online to sketch and cut out shapes resembling a shark’s mouth, eyes, gills, fins and tail. Glue cutouts to the bottle. Add details with craft paint, if you wish. Let dry.
Scoop a half-inch layer of pebbles into the bottle and about 1 1/2 inches of damp potting soil. Plant succulents, sprinkle more pebbles around them and display in a sunny spot.

Let your child care for the plants by giving them a drink of water when the soil is thoroughly dried out.

PAINT AND CRAFT A BIRD FEEDER FROM RECYCLED MILK JUG

Swish! Swish! Swish! The chubby brush goes in all directions on a big sheet of easel paper. “Jameson loves to paint,” says  my niece, 34-year-old mom and athletic trainer Natalie Whitfield. I want to encourage his love for art, so it was time to find something to paint on that isn’t just paper (or potentially our house),” she says with an “I know where this joy of painting could lead” kind of expression.
“How about making and painting a bird feeder?” she thought — and do it the recycling way with plastic milk jug. She and her 3-year-old made a plan for their first big craft project, and went to a store to choose paint and shiny stickers. Supplies for the “roof” became a second outing — a nature-walk adventure to collect twigs. Just the right ones.
The project was a success. “He had a great time painting and decorating, so we decided to make two more for Mother’s Day gifts for his grandmothers,” she said.
Are you looking for simple outdoor projects to enjoy with your kids this summer? A feeder for fine feathered friends is a good starter craft, and together with your child’s creative flourishes, it makes a unique Father’s Day gift, too. (Or, assemble all the supplies to make the feeder, put them in a box and wrap it up with a bow for a gift Dad or Grandfather can enjoy making together with your child.)
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–1 clean, gallon recycled plastic juice or milk jug with label removed and cap on
— standard coffee mug for a pattern
–scissors
–thick wire or heavy twine for hanging
–nontoxic acrylic paint and paintbrush
–waterproof adhesive decorations (optional)
–3-inch sticks
–glue or outdoor Mod Podge
–birdseed
Here’s the fun:
1. Place the mug upside down in the middle of one side of the jug about 1 1/2 inches from the base. Trace the semicircle shape. An adult should cut out the shape with scissors. Repeat on opposite, or all sides.
2. For hanging, an adult should poke two holes opposite each other on the top near the cap. Loop wire or twine through holes.
3. Paint and let dry.
4. Decorate with stickers and glue on sticks for a “roof.” Let dry.
5. If you wish, add perches by poking holes under the “windows” and inserting sticks.
6. Scoop birdseed inside. Hang from a tree or bird feeder stand. As birds come, identify them, take pictures and talk about your sightings.
                                                                

“PICTURE YOURSELF” GIFT WRAP

It’s fun and easy to make this inexpensive personalized wrap using photos, markers and a copy machine or printer.

Start by sorting through photos stuffed away in albums and drawers, or browse through digital photos on your phone and computer. Choose your favorites, and then pick one of the following ideas to show off smiles, smirks and grins.

Andy Warhol-like wrap:

Inspired by Warhol’s technique of painting repeats of the same image of celebrities and objects such as the Campbell’s soup can, make a similar artistic collage from one of your photos. (For an example of Warhol’s painting, go online to www.wikipedia.org/wiki/andy_warhol and under “Contents,” click on “Paintings.”)

Go to a photocopy store and make lots of black-and-white copies of one of your photos. Cut them out and trim off any excess white paper so that the prints are all the same size. Glue them together in rows on an 11-inch by 17-inch sheet. Photocopy the large sheet.

With markers, fill in some of the light spaces with bright colors to enhance the black-and-white images on the sheet. Set aside. Wrap a gift with plain paper from a recycled paper grocery bag. Trim the photo sheet to size, and glue it on the front or top. Add a ribbon or bow, if you wish.

Note: Instead of using a photocopy machine, create a black-and-white photo collage of repeated photo images with a computer and printer, if you have them available. Use the preloaded photo software that came with your computer and printer, or one that is recommended.

Other quick photo gift wraps:

–For a small gift box, simply make one photocopy of a photo of the person receiving the gift. Glue the black-and-white copy to the center of the wrapped package and color it in with markers. Add a greeting and your signature.

–Choose a photo to provide a hint for what’s in the package and glue it on top. For example, if the gift is mittens, a wool scarf or hat, use a photo of your favorite sledding hill. For a box of Legos or building blocks, use a photo of a city skyline. For a cookbook, pick a photo of the family at a picnic or sitting around the dinner table.

CREATE A HOUSE OF HEARTS

     

The last of the December holiday decor has finally been tucked away in bins in the attic. Well, almost. In frigid snow-covered Minnesota, I’ll keep the white twinkle lights up that frame our outdoor windows and wind around the pine treetops in flowerboxes. The lights seem to brighten our spirits, and add warmth with their sparkle in the evening snow during sub-zero temps and blistery snowstorms — at least through February … OK, March.

This time of year I think about the happy color pink, the taste of chocolate and lovely heart shapes everywhere. Even outside. That’s why I’m inspired to freeze water with a sprinkling of birdseed in heart-shaped cake pans to unmold and hang with twine from tree branches in the front yard. It’s a suncatcher attraction for feathered friends and passersby (search Heart-Shaped Ice Sculptures at www.donnaerickson.com).

What’s next? More heartfelt ideas to create a house of hearts. Enjoy them with your kids no matter where you live:

  1. Heart-shaped cookies

Use your favorite rolled-out sugar cookie recipe and cookie cutters in heart shapes to fill your cookie jar with cookies made by you and the kids.

For a creative twist, when making medium or large cookies, use a knife to cut out a 1 inch deep and 1/4 inch wide wedge off the side of the heart-shaped dough before baking. Once cool and decorated, hang the cookie on a glass of milk or a mug of hot chocolate.

Or, poke a hole through the top of several cookies before baking. When cool, string them with twine individually, and hang from a table centerpiece of bare branches. When friends visit, they can take home a cookie heart.

Make mini cookies with your smallest heart cookie cutter. Pack in a cardboard jewelry gift box lined with waxed paper. Give to someone special with a Valentine message attached.

                             

  1. Say “I Love You” on Valentine’s Day

Put a love twist on breakfast. Use strawberry jam from a squeeze container to draw a heart on your child’s toast. When you prepare pancakes, spoon the batter onto the pan in various sizes of heart shapes. Top them with fresh strawberries cut lengthwise to make hearts.

  1. Family love

Share your wedding photos with your children. Tell them how you and your spouse met, and include any funny or romantic stories they would enjoy. Look for formal wedding pictures of grandparents and great-grandparents, too. Learn their names and share family love stories and lore.

 

HEART-SHAPED ICE SCULPTURES

Make beautiful heart-shaped suncatchers out of ice to hang from a tree branch on a cold day. If you live in a warm climate, place an edible version in a punch bowl for a Valentine’s Day party with friends.
Here’s what you’ll need:
–A heart-shaped cake or small cupcake pan with a rim, or the base of a heart-shaped candy box lined with aluminum foil so water can’t seep through
–Dried flowers, leaves and rose petals for suncatcher
–Decorative edible items such as thinly sliced oranges, limes and strawberries
–Strong string or wire for a hanger
–Water
Here’s the fun:
Set some decorative items into the pan or lined box. (For punch-bowl ice, add edible items only.)
Set a portion of a 20-inch length of twine or wire in the water, making sure it is submerged near the top center of the heart. Fill with water and set in the freezer.
When the temperature outside is freezing, remove the heart from the pan and hang from a branch where a glimmer of sunlight will shine through.

SNOWBALL CANDLES

snowball

Bring extra holiday light into your home during the December holidays with candles. Instant mood creators, the flickering light not only brightens a dark winter evening, but also quiets us down after a busy day and becomes a subtle conversation pacer.
Here’s a fun way to create festive wintry candles by whipping up melted paraffin wax and frosting it over and around a round candle or votive, so that it resembles a pretty white snowball Or, add some whipped wax to pillar candles to look as if covered with freshly fallen snow. Make extras for gifts, too.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need for snowball candles:
–ball-shaped candles or 2-inch or larger votive candles
–coffee can, or other sturdy tin can such as a clean 28-ounce stewed tomato can
–paraffin wax (available in the canning section of most grocery stores)
–saucepan
–medium-size heat-resistant bowl used for crafts.
–small metal whisk or fork used for crafts
–dull craft knife or brush (optional)

Here’s the fun:
1. Bend one side of the rim of the can to create a spout, then place a brick or two of paraffin wax in the can. An adult should set the can in 2 inches of water in a saucepan to create a water bath. Heat the water until the paraffin melts, keeping an eye on it at all times. Never place the can on the burner or over an open flame, because the wax is flammable.
2. Carefully pour the melted wax in the bowl and let cool, about 20-25 minutes. It will develop a firm crust, but it should not be hard. Gently beat the wax and thick liquid with the whisk or fork until it becomes a fluffy white consistency. It’s amazing to watch the transformation!
3. Kids can spread the warm whipped wax around a candle, keeping wick exposed. If your candle isn’t round, add more wax as it hardens and mold a ball shape with hands. Let wax harden before use. If you have extra wax, re-melt in tin can and add to pillar candles. (See below.)
To create snow on pillar candles, “frost” the wax onto the sides and top of a candle, keeping wick exposed with the knife or a craft paintbrush. Sprinkle with glitter for extra sparkle.

Safety note: Before burning candles, always set them on a plate or tray intended for candles. An adult should always be present when candles are burning.