Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Making Art Rocks With The Kids

We first started making these art rocks a year ago, and I don't know why I didn't write about them at the time--they're easy and fun, they look great, and they encourage kids to get out and about in their community.

Some people call them kindness rocks or friendship rocks, but if you do that you have to write supportive and encouraging statements on them, and we just like to make art, so we call them art rocks.

I'd known these were a thing for a while, and had it in my head that we'd try them out sometime, but last March, while doing all the Junior Ranger badges in all the national parks between here and Georgia, the kids managed to find TWO of these rocks, their very first introduction to them, and they were thrilled!

Side note: don't put these in national parks, Friends! The national parks don't like that, it violates Leave No Trace, and it's basically litter. Bear with me, and I'll tell you later some good places to leave these.

Finding the rocks was also awesome, because when the kids were intrigued by them and wanted to know more, and then wanted to make some for themselves, it was *their* idea, not just another weirdo scheme their mother was trying to foist on them for a change, mwa-ha-ha!

The kids actually chose to teach their Girl Scout troop how to make these, and then to make and distribute them as part of their Girl Scout Cadette Breathe Journey, so it was even multi-tasking and productive. Kids after my own heart, don't you know!

To start this project, I bought a large back of river rocks from my local garden supply store. They were something like these rocks. I researched the provenance of river rocks, because you never want to buy something natural and contribute to the devastation of its environment, and it seems like they're pretty much quarried. I'd love to know more about specific commercial sites that gather these rocks, as right now I can't decide if taking them from an already active quarry is better or worse than gathering them in nature from an approved spot, so let me know if you've got an opinion. Anyway, where I live people devastate creeks of their geodes and crinoids but we don't have river rocks, so it's store-bought for us, regardless.

If you want to do your art rocks really right, then your next step is to wash them with dish soap, giving each one a little scrub, and let them dry. This removes all of the surface dirt and oils that can cause paint to stick poorly. Seriously, if you super don't want your rocks to look shitty, then you've got to have a moment in which you literally find yourself standing in front of your kitchen sink, lovingly washing rocks. Breathe through it, and it will soon be over.

The kids and I left some of our rocks natural, and gave others a base coat from regular indoor/outdoor Krylon spray paint. We might be an unusual family in that one of my perennial art supplies that I always have on hand is about ten colors of spray paint, the full rainbow plus black and white and brown or grey. I'm not real fussy about property values, you might say, but the kids mostly don't spray paint things they shouldn't, and it's ever surprising how useful spray paint is! For instance, after I finish this post today, I'm going to walk the dog, eat breakfast, and then go spray paint a rainbow onto a giant pegboard for the playroom.

See? Spray paint!

To do the actual painting of the rocks, here's what you need:

Artist's acrylic is way better than craft acrylic for detail work like this, and the paint pens are the best of all. You won't regret having them, and you're probably going to think of a million more things to do with them afterwards.

I set our work surface up like this the first time--

--and it worked well enough that I've done something similar ever since. Our entire Girl Scout troop painted at our indoor school table covered with newspaper, and Syd and I have sometimes used our outdoor picnic table, the beauty of that being that there's no newspaper necessary!

Like I said... property values. I don't care about them.

This method of making a background for your rocks takes more time, but the results are super pretty:

It's just an ombre effect that's easy to do with two colors of acrylic paint, but look how pretty it looks when you add the foreground embellishments!

I'm also personally fond of making mandalas:

Mandalas are VERY accessible to people who don't consider themselves artistic...

I haven't been good at all about photographing the rocks that the kids have made over the past year, but here's a photo I took of one batch as it was drying out on the back deck one nice day:

It's optional, but I think the rocks do best if you seal them with a regular spray paint sealant afterwards; there's nothing that I hate more than a low-quality piece of art that starts falling apart the minute you're done with it.

So, where to hide these...

The kids were very thoughtful about this, since this was part of their Girl Scout Cadette Breathe Journey, and they needed to come up with ways to make the project sustainable without violating Leave No Trace or site rules. Here are some fair, sustainable, harmless places to share art rocks:
  • built environments, such as picnic benches and playgrounds
  • NOT state parks or national parks
  • inside Little Free Libraries
  • in or on planters downtown
  • hidden near outdoor sculptures
  • on a friend's porch
  • in a community garden
Basically, the idea is to avoid areas that should be kept natural, and objects that should be kept safe, such as art and artifacts. Built environments that are meant to be used are fair game, and if the built environment is a public access site, such that a painted rock can be a little reward for its use and encouragement to stay outside and active, so much the better for the Breathe Journey!

At least, that was the kids' reason for painting rocks for their Take action Project for the Journey. Mostly, they just wanted to paint rocks, and finishing the Journey was their handy excuse!

Since then, I've OF COURSE found ways to incorporate painting rocks into our homeschool curricula. Here's a photograph of Syd's name, written in futhorc runes, when we were studying Anglo-Saxon Europe:

It works for any subject. Science? Kids can make a whole periodic table of rock elements, or a Solar System of rock planets! Foreign language? They can illustrate their vocabulary list! History? Paint castles, or make a rock timeline. Geography? Flags of the world. State outlines, with the capitals marked. 

Or, you know, just paint them. For fun.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Throw a Birthday Party For Your Dog

I'm trying to organize all kinds of files and folders on my computer this week (generally when I get a new computer I just dump everything from the old one to the new and then forget about it, which is I suppose why, now that I'm finally organizing, I found a folder, nested probably five folders deep under various titles like "Backup" and "Julie's Old Computer" and "C Drive," entitled "FLOPPY DISKS." And in that folder? Like, essays that I wrote as a freshman in college! Treasures!), and going through some photos, it occurs to me that I never showed you pictures of the birthday party that Will threw for Luna!

Yes, we are apparently the people who throw a birthday party for their dog. But it goes like this:

Will isn't what you'd call a "people person," but it's important to me that she be comfortable practicing all the social conventions, including playing party host. I mean, of course! She hasn't wanted a birthday party since she was nine, which is totally cool, but I always offer. And so when the one-year anniversary of Luna's adoption date started to roll around, I asked Will if she wanted to throw a birthday party for her dog, expecting the same polite refusal that she gives me every year when her birthday starts to roll around.

I was stoked, and SURPRISED, when she said, "Sure!" and was super into the idea!

But it makes sense. Don't you always want to do more for the ones you love than you want to do even for yourself?

Nevertheless, I pointedly helped Will plan a pretty chill party, just a few people, just a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon. Just about the perfect amount of social time for the world's most introverted introvert. Will took care to invite the people she knew who she knew liked Luna the most, and I did a girl and her dog photo shoot with her so that we could make postcard invitations, which is by far my favorite type of invitation.

It was one of those parties that was so chill that I didn't even take many photos, and the ones that I DID take are terrible. Here, for instance, is the birthday cake halfway through the party, apparently, and also poorly lit:

Sydney made it for the party. The number above the bone is a 4; the shelter told us that Luna was probably around 3 years old when we got her, so we decided that this was her fourth birthday party.

Will made Luna a homemade birthday pupcake, frosted with peanut butter and decorated with a big dog bone:

Luna normally LOVES people, but unfortunately there was a severe thunderstorm that lasted the entire evening of the party, and Luna is absolutely terrified of thunderstorms. She spent nearly her entire party under Will's bed, with the children leading pilgrimages of guests to go pay homage to her. They lured her out for birthday cake, but all she was able to bring herself to do was lick the frosting some before going to hide again.

To be fair to Luna, the tornado sirens actually went off about five minutes after the above photo, and I herded all the child guests, plates of cake and all, into the girls' bathroom in the center of the house, while we adults stood around and listened to the weather radio and wondered if we were too lazy to get everyone outside to the root cellar.

We were too lazy, and the kids seemed just as happy to stand shoulder to shoulder eating cake in a tiny bathroom while a siren blared as they were to do it sitting on the carpet in the playroom. 

For dinner, Matt grilled hot dogs (thankfully before it started storming!), and we had a DIY hot dog bar. We printed this poster of different styles of hot dogs--which still fascinates me, by the way, and my goal is now to go through them all--and offered a lot of random toppings, including this, the BEST chili for a chili dog.

During a two-hour birthday party, I figured there'd be just enough time to eat, do one activity, have cake, and hang out for a little while before everyone went home, so Will and I decided that for the activity, we'd let everyone metal stamp their own dog tags:

It's one of my favorite all-purpose crafts, because kids and adults like it and can do it, and the dog tag blanks are really cheap, so after you've spent the money once for the metal stamps, you're golden.

For those of you who are in Girl Scouts, these also make terrific SWAPS!

On the invitation, Will had told everyone that no presents were necessary, but they could bring a donation for the Humane Society if they wanted. Sweet friends, but they pretty much all brought donations AND a birthday present for Luna, and if that isn't the nicest and cutest thing that you've ever heard of, then I don't know what is. Will's grandparents even heard about the party and sent her a card and gift by mail from across the country!

The village that this kid has just astounds me. She doesn't exactly hide her light under a bushel, but in a lot of ways she's very different from other kids, and so solitary and independent by choice that it amazes me to see that people do know her, and do accept her for who she is, and do like her. I wouldn't call this one of the gifts that Luna, specifically, has given her, because I've seen many people come to know and love my brilliant introvert for who she is without a dog by her side, but I will say that Luna is a gift that makes Will more accessible to know and love for who she is. Not everyone wants to talk pop culture semiotics with Will, or national and world politics, or about books, even, although honestly, who wouldn't want to talk books? Not everyone wants to spend all their time with someone sitting next to them and reading, occasionally looking up to comment and briefly converse about what one is reading, but then continuing to read. 

But when Will is with Luna, she isn't so much just the brilliant introvert; she's also a kid with a dog, and just about everyone knows how to interact with a kid with a dog. You know how to talk to a kid with a dog, and you know what you have in common with her, and if you're the kind of person who'd happily attend a birthday party for a dog, well, then you probably can accept that kid for who she is, too.

A birthday party is such a small thing to give back to a creature who's given so much.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

How to Sew a Sleep Mask

I freelance over at Crafting a Green World, an eco-friendly crafting blog. Every now and then, on a non-regular basis, I'll share one of my favorite tutorials with you..

...such as this one! I originally published this tutorial for sewing a sleep mask over here on Crafting a Green World.

How to Sew a Sleep Mask

 As I've gotten older, I've gotten a lot more precious about the conditions under which I can sleep. Long gone are the days when I could (and did!) happily fall asleep with a backpack as a pillow on the front lawn of the British National Gallery because the hostel was overbooked. These days, I'm more likely to toss and turn all night in a sleeping bag on the floor of the Newport Aquarium, surrounded by snoozing Girl Scouts, as I contemplate all the ways in which the aquarium lighting is slightly too bright, and the kids are breathing slightly too loudly, and I'm maybe slightly too cold.

Heck, forget the Girl Scout Overnights--I go through the exact same scenario five nights out of seven here at home!

So whether you, too, are a precious sleeper like I am, or you just need a little help occasionally, you might find that a sleep mask is just the ticket. A soft and comfy sleep mask will block any ambient light that comes your way, letting you drowse in complete darkness. And sure, a store-bought sleep mask doesn't break the bank, but if you've seen the way those things are thrown together, and out of what materials, then you'll understand why I think it's nice to make your own. You can use organic flannel fabric to make your sleep mask, and if it just happens to have dinosaurs or your favorite Star Wars character on it, well, so much the better!

 To make your own sleep mask, you will need:

flannel fabric. Organic flannel is the most eco-friendly choice, and leftover flannel scraps are the most budget-friendly choice.

fabric for the center of the mask. I use scrap pieces of black fleece to make my sleep masks nice and cozy and to block all light. Fleece isn't a natural fabric, though (did you know that you can buy eco-friendly fleece that's actually made from recycled plastic?!?), so organic options would consist of more organic flannel, felted wool or wool felt, or layers of any other organic fabrics that you have on hand.

elastic. I like a super-thin 1/4" elastic so that it doesn't feel constricting. I cut lengths of 14" for adults and 13" for kids.

pattern. You can make your own sleep mask pattern by tracing the front of your favorite sunglasses, enlarging it, and adding a seam allowance, but I like to do a Google search (search "sleep mask filetype:pdf" to find a pattern that's already the correct size) for a pattern that appeals to me. Whatever pattern you choose, these directions will work!

  How to Sew a Sleep Mask

1. Cut the pieces and layer them for sewing. You will need to cut one sleep mask front, one sleep mask middle, one sleep mask back, and one length of elastic. Since you'll be sewing and turning this mask, AND there's a middle layer involved, the layout is a little tricky, so read carefully:
  1. The sleep mask middle layer goes on the table.
  2. The sleep mask front goes on top of it, RIGHT SIDE UP.
  3. Line up one end of the elastic with the left side of the sleep mask front, and let the rest of the elastic rest across the mask and off the other end--see the image above for how that should look.
  4. The sleep mask back goes on the very top, RIGHT SIDE DOWN.
Pin all the layers in place where you've lined up the elastic at the edge of the mask. You'll be sewing across this elastic to hold it to the mask. The other end of the elastic will come out the part that you leave unsewn so that you can turn the sleep mask right-side out.

  How to Sew a Sleep Mask

2. Sew the pieces of the sleep mask together. Sew around the sleep mask, starting in front of the free end of the elastic and ending behind it, so that you leave an opening for turning the mask right-side out. When you reach the pin that's holding the other end of the elastic, remove the pin and then sew a couple of times over the elastic to secure it.

  How to Sew a Sleep Mask

3 (optional). Trim the middle layer. I like to trim that bulky middle layer before I turn the mask right-side out, but every now and then I forget, and my mask still looks fine. Regardless, it saves some wear and tear on your machine to not make it sew through bulky seams.

  How to Sew a Sleep Mask

4. Turn the mask right-side out and place the elastic. Turn the mask right-side out, and use a blunt tool (I use a dull colored pencil) inside the mask to press all the seams out. Iron the mask flat, straightening the seams as you do so and ironing the raw edges of the mask's open end to the inside. Make sure the elastic isn't twisted, then insert the free end into the opening of the sleep mask. Either pin it in place or keep hold of it until you sew it.

  How to Sew a Sleep Mask

5. Edge stitch the sleep mask and secure the elastic. Edge stitch around the sleep mask, beginning with the elastic that you inserted into the opening. Sew over the elastic a couple of times to secure it, then continue edge stitching all the way around the mask.


These masks are so cute that people don't realize how easy they are to sew, meaning that they make great gifts. A sleep mask would be a lovely part of a homemade spa gift, perhaps with a homemade bath bomb, some bath salts, and a crocheted washcloth.

 P.S. Skip the elastic, and after you've turned the sleep mask but before you've closed the end, fill it will flax seeds. Refrigerate, and you have yourself a weighted, cooling, restful eye pillow!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Her Girl Scout Cadette Silver Award Project in Progress: A Little Free Library for an Economically Disadvantaged Area

Will is in her final months as a Girl Scout Cadette, and also in her final weeks (at least, I DEARLY hope so!) of her Silver Award project.

To earn the Silver Award, the highest award that a Cadette can achieve, a Girl Scout Cadette must create, initiate, and complete a big project that fulfills a long-term need in the world around her. It must be sustainable, so that it works toward a permanent solution, not a temporary fix, and she must ideally spend at least 50 hours planning and producing this project. It's her project, so she must take the initiative and complete all the steps herself, doing lots of things that she's never done before and participating in the adult world at a level that she's likely never before experienced. An adult adviser guides her, offers advice, and helps her work through problems, but the project belongs to the girl.

It's a lot to tackle for a sixth-through-eighth-grader, but like much of the Girl Scout experience, it's experiential learning at its best.

Which is what I try to remember when mentoring Will's Silver Award project starts stressing me out!

Will did a lot of brainstorming for her Silver Award project a year ago (and let me tell you, a year has turned out to be just almost not enough time for this project! I am telling my current crop of Cadettes who bridged last fall that they need to start their projects this fall or by Christmas at the latest, giving them 9-12 more months than Will had), but had, as I think is fairly typical, a lot of trouble coming up with a project that inspired her. She really wanted to do something legislative, but I encouraged her to save that for a Gold Award project, as I doubted a year would be enough time for a project like that. Then she thought that maybe she'd do something for or with the national park system, since she loves Junior Ranger badges so much. She even did some networking at the GIRL 2017 convention, and a park ranger there gave her the contact info of a ranger who would be a good person to hear her ideas.

But you know what was also at GIRL 2017?

Well, NASA and Space Camp, and their program guide with its scholarship information is what got Will started down the path of earning an academic scholarship to Space Camp.

But you know what else was there?

The Little Free Library program! With its founder, reeling everyone in and speaking super enthusiastically and handing out fun patches!

The next time I asked Will to show me her brainstorming ideas, a Little Free Library for our town was at the top of her list, and I encouraged her to dig in and go for it.

Of course, just setting up a Little Free Library any old place isn't doing a lot to solve a "problem," so I encouraged Will to work through the steps to earn the 2018 Global Action Award, which is all about the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. As part of her badge work, I asked her to find a Sustainable Development Goal that could apply to her Little Free Library project. She realized that Quality Education was a good fit, and I helped her work out some specific ways in which a Little Free Library could improve access to quality education.

Using the Quality Education Sustainable Development Goal as her lens, Will decided that putting her Little Free Library in a public park would ensure the most access to reading material to the widest population.

Her next step, then, was to figure out who to consult about the possibility of putting a Little Free Library in a public park! We knew that there are a couple of parks in our town that already have Little Free Libraries (and that's okay, because a Cadette doesn't have to invent the entire wheel for her Silver Award project--even knowing it's already been done before, this is very much a big enough project for a Cadette!), so I Googled them to see if I could get any more information, and found an online article that covered one such library's groundbreaking, and included the names of the library's sponsors, the group that sponsored it, etc. I showed this article to Will and encouraged her to contact one of these people to ask them some questions about how they structured their process.

I would have asked one of the named sponsors, myself, but Will chose to instead email the author of the article, who happened to be the city's communications director and also the absolutely most perfect person to contact. That woman not only replied to Will promptly, but also found the exact person in the city administration whom Will should be dealing with, and connected the two by email!

I just need to say that I am sure that for any adult, working with a child who is a project leader must be a novel situation, and yet every adult that Will has worked with throughout this process has been just wonderful to her, treating her respectfully as an equal, but at the same time having a LOT of patience with the obvious learning curve she's experiencing in writing good business emails, summarizing and explaining her project, returning emails promptly with the relevant information, etc. People are really great!

I helped Will proofread her emails, and suggested edits, but Will was responsible for contacting the city official, explaining her project to him, and asking him for permission. He then asked for a meeting to hear her ideas in person, so then she had to prepare for that. What to say. What to wear! How to answer his questions! It was a big deal!

While this research and emailing was going on, Will also was working on the physical library, itself. She used the Little Free Library site to find a map of all of the Little Free Libraries in our town, and we took several trips to drive around and see as many of them as possible, often coming across unregistered Little Free Libraries and checking those out, as well. I encouraged Will to look at all the details of each Little Free Library, in particular its location, construction, installation, and special features, to decide what she thought would work best for her own build.

Here are some photos of her favorites:

Will liked those really unusual Little Free Libraries best--I mean, of course!--but decided that the following style would be the easiest to build, as well as the most practical for her purpose:

As you'll see, this was... ultimately not completely correct, but it IS a learning process!

Will researched plans for Little Free Libraries similar to what she liked, and when her grandparents came to visit to watch Syd dancing in The Nutcracker, her grandfather spent a day helping her build her first Little Free Library:

She stained it and sealed it, and it turned out just beautiful.

This, then, was the model that she brought to her meeting with our town's Parks and Rec official, and it was the model that he approved. Will told him what she was looking for in a location, and he helped her find a city park that serves an economically disadvantaged community, so that placing the Little Free Library there would hopefully increase the population's access to literature.

Parks and Rec took care of getting the site surveyed for utilities (call 411 before you dig!), and Will contacted the manager of the grounds crew and settled a time to meet them there and together install her Little Free Library. I invited the rest of our Girl Scout troop, and the girls all got a chance to help dig:

Will assisted in the installation itself:

She filled it with books, and it was perfect!

And from this moment on is where there started to be a LOT of problems.

Like, a LOT of problems.

Part of Will's commitment to Parks and Rec was that she would be the steward for this Little Free Library, so we drove back a few days later so she could check on it and restock, and we discovered that it had been vandalized. The back was cracked all the way across, with a boot print to show what had done it, and the Plexiglass from the front door was missing.

Will cut a new back, stained it, and mounted it over the broken one:

She cut new Plexiglass, which she will readily inform you is the thing that she hates doing the most in the world, and set it in with silicone caulk:

The next time we came back, the Plexiglass was gone again. We figured it had gotten "displaced" before the caulk could set, so this time Will unmounted the door, took it home, replaced the Plexiglass, sealed it, and then returned the door and remounted it.

We had a couple of good check-ups after that--

--and then came back one day to find that the entire door was broken off.

Will did a lot of troubleshooting for this repair, and eventually decided that a clear door was just not working. Instead, she cut a plywood door--

--painted it, and because she was worried that people wouldn't understand what was inside if they couldn't see, she stenciled a label on it. We drove her to install it...

...and it was too small.

So she made another door, same process, took her to install it...

...and it was too small, actually smaller than her first try, inspiring my new Word to the Wise, "Measure not, cut a lot!"

Will was SO frustrated by this time, but she DID measure so much more carefully, and cut so much more carefully, and (with some on-site sanding for one sticky-outy part), the third try fit.

There's been one good check-up since then, and I REALLY hope that this sturdier door solves the vandalism/rough usage/whatever is going on, because I have to tell you, I know it's not my project, but whenever I see that someone has damaged my precious baby's hard work, it makes me sick to my stomach.

I mean, at least let her reach the age of 14 before she loses all faith in humanity, you know?

Regardless, this project has so far taught this kid so much. She's got experience writing business emails and attending business meetings, and she better understands professional communication and what is required. She's a more confident builder. She's had more practice speaking with strangers. She has done a LOT of troubleshooting and problem-solving, sooooo much trouble-shooting and problem-solving, and she's learning how to deal gracefully with setbacks and disappointment, and how to just keep working towards a solution. She's seen a couple of kids squealing in delight at the contents of her newly-stocked library, so that was pretty great. And she's figuring out how to plan and handle and (hopefully) complete a very big, long-term project, which is something that will help her throughout her whole life.

Will still doesn't consider her Silver Award project complete at this point, which feels right to me, too. She's done a lot of work here, but most of it has been troubleshooting and problem-solving. That's all great--experiential learning!--but I think she needs to spend more time working on the big picture of her underlying goal of improving access to literature for underserved communities. Here are a few ideas that I've heard her toying with:
  1. Building and installing another Little Free Library in another park to reach more people.
  2. Holding a book drive to ensure a readier supply of books for the library, instead of relying on community exchange as one could do in a more affluent area where most people could be assumed to have excess books to share out.
  3. Hosting a community literacy fair at her library, perhaps involving the whole troop in fun activities and free books for community children.
  4. Hosting a Girl Scout workshop at the library, also with the troop to help with activities, but with the goal of doing service and garnering book donations, and rewarding the attendees with a fun patch.
  5. Writing instructions for constructing and installing a Little Free Library in an economically disadvantaged area, with her advice about hardening the library against vandalism or rough usage, ideally to help other people who want to do this same project. An alternative would be to host such a program at the public library or farmer's market.
  6. Writing lists of recommended books, all of which would be available at the public library, and providing instructions for how to obtain a library card.
I'm not sure what she'll settle on, but I am VERY much encouraging her to get whatever it is rolling by the end of the summer. She's still got a lot of paperwork to fill out and essays to write to apply for her Silver Award, and I want all of that stuff filed and recorded well before she bridges to Girl Scout Senior in October.

And then? On to Gold!

P.S. Come hang out with me on my Craft Knife Facebook page and I'll share more WIPs and Girl Scout hijinks with you!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Our Giant, Handmade Working Map of Europe

Our masterpiece!!!
In our house, all wall space is fair game. Nothing is sacred. Our paint isn't that nice, anyway. 

It's not like I'm desperate to cover every inch of blank wall, but more like I like my treasures to be out on display, used and enjoyed. They wear out that way, sometimes, and I'm sad when I toss them, but eh. The kids weren't going to want my old He-Man action figures, anyway. I honestly doubt they're going to want Mamma's china, and the other night when I told Will to stop pulling at a loose thread on my great-grandmother's quilt (which was on my bed, obviously, partly under the dog) because I wanted to keep it just the way Nana made it for as long as possible and hopefully pass it down to her someday, she just looked at me, looked at the quilt, then looked at me again, her face as clear as a bell on her opinions about any quilt that doesn't have dinosaurs or fighter jets or Medieval swords on it. Sigh...

Anyway, that doesn't just apply to heirlooms. I don't even know where I got this giant piece of fabric--I was quite the scavenger of free fabric back when I first started sewing and we were super poor (we're still poor these days, but not SUPER poor, and I have a huge fabric stash so I no longer scrounge)--but I was digging around the other day looking for some fabric to complete a Fibonacci squares quilt, found it, took a good look at it for the first time ever, liked that look, and hemmed it and hung it on bamboo in my bedroom:

Now that it's hanging there I actually don't *love* it, but it's colorful, and what else is safe to put right behind the treadmill? Not much, so there it will stay until I feel like doing something else with either it or that wall.

There's a similarly large and precarious space in our front hallway, next to our DIY aerial silks rig.

What is safe to put right next to an aerial silks rig? Not much!

Paper, tape, and canvas are about all I trust with that spot, so it's more often than not come to be the spot where large and unwieldy schoolwork projects in progress come to land. We had a map of Greece there for a year before our vacation there. We used to have a lot of kid-made horse breed posters there, I think. There might have even been another map of Europe there at some point.

Oh, we had a couple of kid-sized human body organ diagrams there for a long time. Those were so cool!

We're delving back into European history for another several months, until Will takes the AP European History exam next May, and we're combining it with European literature, geography, and art history. We REALLY need to study something non-Eurocentric next year...

So to ground and contextualize our studies, the kids and I made a giant, handmade working map of Europe. I printed the 8x8 map of Europe from Megamaps (my faaaaavorite homeschool resource!), and the kids helped me put it together in the most fiddly way possible, with Scotch tape only on the BACK side.

Because I wanted the kids to do this, you see, and this would not stick on tape on the front!

 The kids used our Crayola air brush machine, which is just about the best thing ever, to color the map using the four-color map coloring technique that we learned last year.

Mathematical map coloring is also one of my favorite things.

After the map was assembled, mounted, and colored in, the kids were in charge of labeling all of the countries and oceans, using their own research. I have recently begun instituting standards of craftsmanship, to combat tween/teen half-assedness, so I told them that I required labeling to be a 5/5 in craftsmanship, and threatened taking the map down and redoing it if it was not up to my standards.

They did a gorgeous job. Little do they know that now *I* know what I can expect from them, mwa-ha-ha!

That process took up a full four-day school week in the subject of European geography. This week, we started using Draw Europe, practicing one two-page spread a week and building on it by the week. We'll also cover countries in more detail when Draw Europe brings them in, which means that our next school week we get to learn awesome things about Russia!

Learning about Russia makes me very excited.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Crafty Book Review: Scratch and Draw Enchanted Animals

So, this book was totally worth it!

You know how they tell you that the only thing that has enough energy to keep up with a puppy is another puppy?

Well, the only thing that has enough patience to keep a kid entertained in the car is another kid. Will is a breed unto herself, and will only converse with you in the car when she needs to discuss what she's reading, something along the lines of, "It's annoying how Anne is so mean to Gilbert even though she clearly likes him," or "How are Buddhists different from the other religions?"

Syd, however.

Actually, I hadn't really understood this about Syd in the car. Before I took a six-hour road trip WITH her, but WITHOUT her sister, I would have told you that Syd spent her time in the car listening to audiobooks with her headphones, playing with small toys, writing and drawing and coloring, and chatting with the rest of us. Pretty typical.

But Syd in the car without her sister? With us? For six hours? With no escape?

Let's see... first, of course, we chatted, she listened to audiobooks with her headphones, she played with small toys, she wrote and drew and colored. That took up maybe half an hour.

She spent the next half an hour sing-songing the word "Alabama" in a Southern dialect, "like you, Mom!"

Thanks, Baby.

She spent another half-hour singing the following song, "If you were a cupcake what cupcake would you be?" It has no other verses. Just that one. Repeated infinitely.

And then I gave her that Scratch and Draw book, given to ME by a publicist, and for the next four hours she did this:

A post shared by Julie Finn (@craft_knife) on

You'd think she'd never seen scratch art before!

But to be fair, this scratch art is, like... fancy scratch art. With cool colorways. And facing-page sketches to inspire you, or that you can color. Syd sat back there, happy as a clam, and let Matt and I drive to Alabama with our sanity intact. Unpacking later, I found this book and peeped in, curious to see what she'd created. She had left maybe three pages in the whole book blank. Here's a sample of the rest of her work:

There are a lot of unicorns, you can be sure, but I also notice works in which Syd has noted and is trying to mimic the design aesthetic in the book, with a sleeping fawn and a fox with little embellishments on it. I also really like her first attempt at word art, trying to copy some lyrics from her favorite song, Train's "Mermaid."

When she gets that technique nailed down, I will frame all of her quotes--I LOVE fan art!

So, happy kid. Cool art. Reasonably quiet car trip.

Totally worth it! And there's still, like, three pages left to keep the first half-hour of the next car trip quiet...


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