Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Kid and Cat Photo Shoot, or, How to Royally Piss off a Cat

Here's a thing: I have Christmas issues.

We had really big Christmases when I was a kid, with lots of relatives and lots of presents and a huge feast, and it was awesome and I felt really special and loved. I'm the youngest in my nuclear family by far, though, raised by my grandparents, and so you know how it is with families--cousins grow up and have their own Christmases, and the aunts and uncles go to their houses, instead, and Christmas gets smaller, and the grandparents grow older and don't have the energy to make a big fuss. Life moves on.

I mean, it moves on for regular people, not me. I insisted on going back to my grandparents' house for Christmas every year, even after Matt and I were married, even after we had kids. We never had Christmas in our own house, but instead drove screaming babies and bored toddlers ten hours down and ten hours back every single year. It was kind of stressful and kind of sad, because I had, like, this visible reminder every year of how my Pappa's health was declining, but what was I going to do? Not go, and possibly miss the last Christmas with my Pappa?

I had that last Christmas with my Pappa a couple of years ago, and he did six days later, on New Year's Eve. People get over it at some point, right? Someday? Asking for a friend.

So anyway, I've always tried to buy the kids and Matt nice presents for Christmas, and when the kids were little it was easy--what little kid doesn't love toys? Presents were a huge part of my childhood Christmases, a big part of why I felt so special and loved. And that's possibly because I'm shallow, because I still like stuff. I can tell you, off of the top of my head, 100 presents that I would genuinely love to get right now, and none of them are those "experience" gifts that non-consumers are always into--none of that "a surprise dinner out" or "a spa day" stuff for me--I want Dalek cookie cutters and those adult fleece romper pajamas and that awesome toaster that will also cook you an egg and warm your Canadian bacon!

But Matt is NOT like that. He wants for nothing. And as the kids have grown older, they've gotten like that, too! Yay, of course, for them, but they are SO hard to buy for. They like getting presents, sure, and they're grateful and it's nice, but even presents that wow them? They don't really play with them. Syd plays with her American Girl stuff and her My Little Pony stuff, and otherwise she listens to audiobooks from the library, draws and colors and messes with craft supplies, bakes weird recipes. And she's got all the craft supplies and baking supplies that she needs, and when she needs something else, I go out and buy it for her from my homeschool budget.

Will reads. That's it. She reads real books, and ebooks, and messes about online and reads stuff there. When she's not reading, she's playing old-school computer games. If I bought her new computer games, she'd play them, but she gets plenty of screen time, as it is. If I bought her new books, she'd read those, but then they'd get put on our shelves and she'd go read something else.

So every year I kind of agonize over what to buy the kids and Matt that they'll really love, that will make them feel special, and I buy them, and they open them on Christmas, and they love them and say thank you and use whatever it is for a while, but then they move on with their lives and stuff sits on shelves and it seriously bums me out.

At the same time, though--AT THE EXACT SAME TIME--I have entire Pinboards and planners absolutely full of projects that I'd love to make for every single member of my family, if I just had time between school and work and family. Stuff that I want to make for Matt. Stuff that I want to make for Will. Stuff that I want to make for Syd. Just sitting there in my plans, never made because I can't scrounge up the time.

This, then, is my Christmas revelation: handmade gifts for my very own family.

Sure, I've got a couple of things bought for the family already and set aside already, so there will be a couple of store-bought gifts in the mix, but mostly, I'm going to make for them the things that I've been dreaming about making for them, and give them to them at Christmas. I've got so many ideas!

I'm going to tell you these ideas, but I'm going to trust you not to spill them to my kids, who, I assure you, do not read my blog because it's boring.

Here's one project in the making: formal portraits of Syd and her best friend, her cat, Gracie.

The first photo shoot, on a picnic blanket in our sunny backyard, went amazingly well:

Seriously, how cute are they? And you can tell--the cat was super into it!

The next set that I wanted to do was a Hogwarts photo shoot. You can bring an owl, a cat, or a toad (also apparently a rat, but not a rabbit) to Hogwarts, so I wanted a shoot in which Syd was going off to Hogwarts, with Gracie as her familiar.

I should have ironed the sheet that I duct taped to my garage door. Also... Gracie was not super into being photographed this time:

She kind of did okay, but you can tell that she's trying to get down in that last photo, and when she looks at me it's only to give me the stink-eye.

I  thought that this shoot would go better. Instead of standing on the sunny driveway, after all, Gracie was already hanging out in Syd's comfy bed with her when I spotted them and said, "Ooh, photo shoot time!" Gracie didn't have to do anything extra, and so at first it was cool:

And then she spotted the camera.

 Commence with the stink-eye:

They still turned out really cute, but I'm wondering if I should ditch the last photo shoot that I had planned for the drive-in. I also can't yet decide how I'm going to present these photos, although I'm leaning towards making her a photo book of them, as well as a large prints of my favorite shots to put on the wall by her bed.

I'll tell you something, though--putting this together is obviously taking hours upon hours longer than it would to click through Amazon to find some stuff to put under the tree, but it's so much more awesome to do. I've been wanting to take these photos forever, so making the time to do it is an actual relief, and I have no doubt in my mind that my kid is going to LOVE them, and in fact is going to cherish them forever. Hell, I'M going to cherish these forever, as well as the memories of making them.

Next up, a Choc-ola candle for Will, and fleece mermaid tail lap blankets for all three of us (well, one of them may actually be a shark...)

P.S. I share weird and wonderful crafting and homeschooling stuff all day on my Craft Knife Facebook page, because work/life separation is hard for me.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fall Semester Homeschool Plans for the 6th and 8th Grades

For the 2017-2018 school year, Syd is in the sixth grade and Will is in the eighth grade--and it only took me eight or so years to work out a good system for homeschooling them! I'm still creating most of my own curricula, but I try to have a textbook as a spine for many of the subjects, and then I fill in the syllabus with extra readings and activities. Thankfully, though, I have found some go-to packaged curricula that I like, and that offer several levels, so I don't have to reinvent the wheel for every kid in every subject.

Even though Will is an eighth-grader, I've also decided this year to present her with high school work. She's well able to study at the high school level, and she's made some suggestions that she might want to consider going to public high school next year, so I wanted to give her a preview this year of what homeschooling high school would look like, as well as provide her with a background transcript that will make it clear that she's prepared for high-level academic classes if she does decide to enroll. She might as well reap the benefits of being bookish by nature!

A couple of Will's high school-level courses are year-round, which means that we'll be doing far fewer themed units for science and history. I'm a little bummed, but it's already clear that what we're losing in variety we'll be gaining in depth. The other challenge is leveling the work for Syd, as I am NOT planning two entirely different curricula for each subject. 

Here, then, is our overall course of study for this year:

Service Learning

We'll be continuing to volunteer with the Children's Museum of Indianapolis this year, primarily as tabletop activity facilitators. It's a little tedious, since tabletop activity facilitators generally have to sit for two hours and I prefer activities in which we're up and moving, but I do enjoy interacting with all kinds of children, and the skills that we practice--communication to all kinds of children, teaching/demonstrating an educational activity and a scientific concept, leadership (especially Will, who usually gets to run her own table independently, while Syd works with me), and patience--are terrific for the kids. I also really love the environment of the Children's Museum, a place where learning is eagerly encouraged, and I love that the adult staff members treat my children as equal and valued members of the team, fully capable and respected.


Syd is continuing with Math Mammoth, generally completing one lesson a day. Will went through the same curriculum, so it's old hat to me by now. I often have to help teach the lesson by using hands-on manipulatives--

--but otherwise it's an independent work that she completes and then hands to me to mark. I mark the incorrect answers, hand it back, and she tries those problems again. If she misses a problem for the second time, we go over the solution together.

We are still getting into the groove of Will's brand-new math curriculum, Art of Problem Solving's Introduction to Algebra. It's also written to the student, but the format, in which a kid tries a few problems at the beginning of the lesson, then reads the solutions to to those problems, learning the lesson material along the way, and finally tries a new set of problems to see if she's mastered the lesson, is not yet working well for my kid who deeply desires to do the minimum effort possible. I'm still reminding her that yes, she has to work the problems out, not just write down answers, and yes, she has to read through the solutions to the problem, not just erase her wrong answer and write in the correct one, and yes, she has to work the problems out, and yes, she has to read through the solutions, etc. etc. ETC.!!!!!!! This week I have her working through the AOPS online reinforcement problems to see if that will help her cement the concepts that she's barely learned the past two weeks, but ultimately, she's just going to have to get the hang of doing the work. 

This could be a year-long curriculum, but after she settles into it, it actually shouldn't take the whole year, allowing her to get a head start on another of their Introduction series--I'm looking forward to geometry!

Because neither of the children's math curricula provide much in the way of hands-on reinforcement, I also run a math lab with them every week. Usually, this is a hands-on activity that relates to what at least one of them is currently studying. This week, for instance, both kids are working with exponents, so I had them use poster paper and centimeter graph paper to model the perfect squares up to 400, writing the equations next to each square. It made a giant and lovely Montessori-esque paper tower, and I've already seen Syd referring to it as she did her math work. 


Both children are using the Analytical Grammar curriculum, and I'm quite happy with it. Will completed the first third of the Reinforcement and Review book over the summer, and has begun the second season of Analytical Grammar, just as Syd finished Junior Analytical Grammar over the summer and has begun the first season of Analytical Grammar. I'd like Will to get through the remaining two seasons of Analytical Grammar this year, in case she does want to go to public school next year, but after Syd finishes the first season of Analytical Grammar, she'll likely just have a Reinforcement and Review lesson to complete once a week for the remainder of her school year, and then she'll start season two of Analytical Grammar in the seventh grade.

I've toyed with the idea of also having a grammar lab once a week, and we do so sometimes--

--but it's too much work for me to plan to do it consistently, mostly because hands-on grammar activities are thin on the ground and so I have to invent, create, and then plan most of them myself. Perhaps I'll prioritize it when the kids aren't doing Analytical Grammar every single school day.


This is one of the studies that I'm creating as I go this year, and it's my favorite so far. Music study has been very much a failure for our entire time homeschooling--nothing sticks, because I've found nothing that the kids care for and want to invest any effort in. But last semester, almost on a whim, I added a weekly folk song to our work plans. I'd introduce the song on Monday, we'd talk a little about it, and learn it over the week.

Oh, my gosh, the kids have LOVED this! I've put more thought into it this semester, seeking out folk songs that have interesting social, geographic, or historical context, and we highlight the important themes and specific elements of each folk song as we discuss it. I find a variety of interpretations of each folk song to present to the kids, and I've become more interested in finding more resources, as well. This week, for instance, we're studying "As I Go Down in the River To Pray," and so in the evenings we've been watching O Brother, Where Art Thou. It never would have occurred to me to show this to the kids before, but they're familiar with The Odyssey, they're now more familiar with folk songs, and so they LOVE it. It's turning out to be a really fun unit.

Foreign Language

This is another subject that we've struggled with, as I keep trying to get the kids invested in learning a language and they keep just. Not. Caring. We are two lessons in, however, to private language classes with a personal tutor through italki, and so far it's successful. Syd is still a little shy with their tutor, who's a native French speaker who Skypes us from her current home in Russia, but it helps that Will is with her, and I'm liking the personal attention, and the personalized homework that the tutor assigns. Maybe it's the fact that there's another adult who's not me that they're accountable to, but they work on French every day without complaint. I've also told them that if they continue to study hard, they'd know enough French that we could take our next big vacation to Canada. They're excited about possibly seeing the Northern Lights, and I want to go to Prince Edward Island!


Will wanted to study biology this year, and Syd didn't object, so biology it is! For our spine, I'm using the CK-12 Biology flexbook, which is written at the 9th/10th grade level, so this will be listed as Honors Biology on Will's transcript. Both children are required to read the chapter assignment, although Will is also required to answer the end-of-chapter questions, and Syd is not. I've been relying a lot on Teachers Pay Teachers resources to flesh out this unit, both for interactive notebook elements that help the children cement the concepts, and for ideas for the labs. I'll be spending a lot of our homeschool budget on this class, as I'm making it very lab-heavy, since that's what both kids are interested in. This week, for instance, we'll be completing a two-day lab to isolate certain organic compounds in food, and I think we'll also be experimenting on spit, urine, and--if I can convince Matt to prick his finger again--blood. I don't have a deadline for this class, and it's already taking longer than I thought it would, as we've been having to wait for some supplies, so I won't mind if it takes us through the entire year.


This will be another year-long class, although it does have a deadline--the AP exams take place in Mid-May! I wanted Will to take an AP class this year, so I showed her the list of options, and she chose AP European History. I'm currently in the process of writing a syllabus for this class to send in to the College Board for approval so that I can list it in her transcript as an AP class, and I'll also expect her to sit the exam. This class is, by far, the most work that any of us will have done for homeschool to date--it has a ton of material to cover, a ton of writing that Will needs to do, a ton of facts to memorize, and although I do most of the homeschooling in our family, Matt will assisting me with this class by providing weekly lectures and a weekly art history lesson. It helps that we homeschool, because we can manipulate our environment and our family time to provide more enrichment, from the movies that we watch at night to the podcasts that we listen to while we craft and the audiobooks that we listen to in the car to upcoming field trips like this weekend's Medieval Faire and the monastery that we'll visit later this year.

Since this is a college-level class, it's way too difficult for Syd, so she is going to be keeping up with the time period by listening to Story of the World and participating in the lectures and art history lessons. I also have one catch-up day a week in which I ask Will to also read through the time period in Story of the World, and I've already found that it adds some excellent depth and a lot of interest to the study. 


Syd does NOT enjoy Worldly Wise, so she's allowed to work as slowly as she likes, which means that she's still halfway through Book 4 at the start of sixth grade. What she doesn't know is that when she finally finishes Book 4, I'll just skip Book 5 and put her straight in to Book 6. Since she moves so slowly, this will likely remain a daily work for her for the entire year. Will zips through Wordly Wise at a lesson a week, since she enjoys it, so she'll finish Book 8 well before the year is out. She'll have a little more free time then, as I won't give her Book 9 until ninth grade.

Girl Scouts

This is a large component of our school week, because it's one of the kids' absolute favorite things--and mine! I love that the kids are so invested in it, and that the badges are so cross-curricular, and that they expose them to subjects and activities that they wouldn't usually choose, and encourage them to do things that they wouldn't usually do. For instance, this week alone both kids are planning the activity that they want to do to complete Step 5 of the Outdoor Art Apprentice badge, and then we'll collect and/or buy the materials, and then they'll complete that activity later this week; they're finishing making dog toys and decorating donation jars for a local Humane Society as the last leftover bits of Syd's Bronze Award project; setting up their online stores for the Girl Scout Fall Product Sale (buy magazines from my kid!); and Syd is finishing up one last Junior badge, the retired Art in 3D, before she officially Bridges to Cadette at the end of the month.

I'm making extra use of this year, as it's the ONLY year for the kids' entire Girl Scout career (until they both Bridge to Adult) that they're in the SAME LEVEL!!! And can earn the SAME BADGES!!! SQUEEEEEE!!!!! So although I do ask the kids to choose most of their own badges to work on, and to plan how to earn them, I'll be planning several badges that I want to do with the both of them, while I've got them both at the same level. I'm also incorporating some badges, mostly Council's Own or Retired ones, into our biology study--one council has a badge for wildflowers, another for bats, and another for manatees! To complicate the matter, Will decided very recently that she wants to earn the Summit Award, which means that she needs to complete two more Journeys this year, and Journeys are a lot more work to plan and complete. AND Will wants to earn her Silver Award, so that's another huge project that she needs to plan and complete. Squeee? 


We read a lot, as a family and as individuals, and I'd thought that I would have a separate literature study this year, but honestly, I think Will is going to be doing enough essay writing for her biology and AP European History studies. Syd is still working through the MENSA reading list for her grade, so we'll continue to have our casual discussions of those books, and I've added to Will's history study the MENSA books for her level that apply. It's turning out that we're also doing a lot of critical analysis in our folk study unit, so it's seeming that a separate literature unit is a no-go for this semester, at least for Will. I might let a few more school weeks settle in, and then consider adding book reports to Syd's plans.

SAT Prep

This is just for Will, obviously. She's going to sit the SAT in early November, and to that end has completed the Khan Academy SAT Prep unit, and is doing daily prep work in the Barron's SAT manual, supplemented with LOTS of example problems from actual SAT exams. I expect her to do extremely well in the Verbal section, and to perform at her grade level in the Math section. And when the exam is over, so is this study! Well... until next year, at least...

History of Fashion

This is a unit just for me and Syd! We use this history of fashion book as a spine, with some supplemental readings and YouTube videos, but the meat of the study is that for every time period, we do some actual fashion projects for that period. We spend more time on some periods than others--for prehistory, we decorated shells and wove on a loom and worked with leather, and for Ancient Egypt Syd learned how to put on their eye makeup, but for Greece Syd just made a laurel wreath and for Rome she simply learned how to put on a chiton. For the barbarians, though, we're making soap together AND I'm teaching Syd how to sew leggings. If you want to know how that applies to barbarians, you should read the book! This is another unit that will take as long as it takes, with no particular deadline.


This is another simple, easy to plan, and not very challenging unit for the kids. They both adore earning Junior Ranger badges, and many national parks encourage children to complete their Junior Ranger badges by mail--so that's what we do, every single week! I pick out the badge book for them to complete, after previewing it to make sure that the work can be done at home or through internet research and that the site accepts badge books by mail, the kids do the work, I mail it in, and a few weeks later, here come the badges! Just yesterday, the kids received their Junior Ranger badges for Hot Springs National Park, which was actually one of Will's favorite national parks to do this badge work for, and it is now on our must-see list solely for that fact. We also plan to visit Jimmy Carter's birthplace one day, also because she was so inspired by him thanks to her badge work.

It's not terribly relevant to a geography study, but I do require that the kids know where each place is that they're studying, and I do try to find a couple of relevant secondary resources for us to peruse for each place. Two nights ago, we were watching a very dry documentary that covered several national parks, including Glen Canyon, which the kids had just completed the Junior Ranger badge for. I was confused by it, and I asked out loud, "How did they choose what parks they're covering?" Will immediately answered, "Mom, it's because these are all on the Colorado River," and then Syd began going on and on about dams, so they're getting more out of it than just plastic badges!


Matt is the children's art professor, and every Sunday, just after breakfast, he holds art class. Sometimes he teaches them a new technique--this weekend, they used our light table to trace images to make a more elaborate piece of art--and sometimes a new media--a couple of weeks ago, he showed them how to use Photoshop, and the kids had a fabulous time making very ridiculous Photoshopped images--but it's always something hands-on and creative.


Horseback riding. Pony Club. Ballet. Ice skating. Girl Scouts. Homeschool playgroup. Mommy is a chauffeur! 

Other Daily Work

Every school day, the children also have to watch CNN10 for current events, do a 10-minute workout with me (we did take turns leading the workout, but that caused a lot of fighting, so now we take turns choosing a 10-minute workout video from YouTube) for physical training, and spend 30-minutes doing chores (mostly they're just asked to clean, but they have to come to me first and ask me what their priorities should be--I might really need for them to empty the dishwasher first, or clean the kitchen table, or sweep the back deck). 

And that's our planned school year! Some studies will last into summer, some will only go through this semester, we'll have an entire month during Nutcracker season and another during Girl Scout cookie season when we have a light schedule, and I'll add in extra units before and after our planned travels, and follow the children's interests for other studies. 

What are YOU studying this year?

Friday, September 15, 2017

String Art: The Easiest Woodworking Project That You'll Ever Meet

The Cadette Woodworker badge is one of my favorite Girl Scout badges. It's a real skill-building badge, and a great way to encourage kids to get a little outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes kids have never built with tools before, and sometimes they don't feel capable, or they feel like woodworking is a boy thing.

Or sometimes a kid has built with tools all her life, but she forgets that she enjoys working with her hands because she enjoys reading so much more and only wants to read, read, read her whole life through.

****cough, Will, cough****

Woodworking can also look intimidating, because there are so many elaborate, sophisticated woodworking projects out there in the world to see, and if a kid isn't confident even using a hammer, how on earth is she going to get inspired to follow the instructions to make an entire bookshelf right away?

But just hammering nails into scrap wood? That's not product-oriented enough for a kid who wants to BUILD something.

So that's why string art? Is the best. You don't even need a tutorial for it, because it's just that easy.

You just get yourself a piece of wood, cut it to size, paint or stain it if you want (I tried to encourage Will to do this, because I'm working on getting her to have higher standards in what she creates, but I didn't push the issue when she didn't want to, because it's her string art, not mine, sigh...), draw or trace a template, hammer nails with a wide head along the pattern--

and yes, you can even do this on my family room floor
--and then tie on embroidery floss and wrap it around the nails to create a pretty picture:

I love that even my kid who's not as detail-oriented can create something this cute; I think that's really encouraging for a kid, and will help her be even more detail-oriented in the future.

P.S. Psst, want to know what I'm doing all day? Follow my Craft Knife Facebook page and you'll find out!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Pumpkin+Bear Etsy Shop Update: Christmas-Themed Blocks and LOTS of Play Dough

Check me out, actually working on what I said I'd work on! In my breaks from novel writing, syllabus building (oh, my, that AP European History syllabus is a bear to build! And Honors Biology is just barely better!), creating posts for Crafting a Green World (my first post for the new owners should be up later today), trying to my daily 10,000 steps even though my treadmill is broken AGAIN, planning Girl Scout meetings (Bridging and the Breathe TAP, even though everyone is going on vacation at different times in the next month), and, you know, living my best life by eating leftover carrot cake while reading Harry Potter fanfiction, I got some new and improved pretty things listed in my Pumpkin+Bear etsy shop.

Here's my first holiday listing--decoupaged decorative building blocks!

I first saw little blocks decoupaged with pretty papers at a Renegade Fair in Chicago several years ago (I bought two of them), and I was really into making my own versions for a while:

I really love how they're a way that you can upcycle the building blocks that your children loved to play with after the kids have grown up, but you CAN still play with them after they're decoupaged. Honestly, I think they're even more fun afterwards--at least, every time I do this project in a different way, it inspires a renewal of the kids' interest in playing with their blocks.

Another thing that my big kids still enjoy? Play dough, so I put some different varieties of our favorite homemade play dough in my shop. You can now buy one full pound of any single color--

That particular listing makes me particularly happy. 

I'm feeling more inspired to make things by hand this autumn, as I've made a personal goal to make most of my family's holiday gifts this year. I'll go more into that decision another time, but I'm pretty excited about it, and I've been having a lot of fun coming up with actual plans to make all of the actual things that I've always wanted to make my family someday, whenever I have the time. 

Turns out that time is now!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

History of Fashion: How to Put on a Doric Chiton in Ancient Greece

In our History of Fashion study, Syd and I have:

worked with leather, embellished shells, and woven on a loom in Prehistory.
put on the eye makeup of Ancient Egypt.

and now here we are in Ancient Greece!

We've done a LOT of studying on the subject of Ancient Greece, including dressing the part--doesn't Syd make an adorable Spartan?

--so we didn't spend a lot of time on this particular unit in the study. Syd read the chapter on Ancient Greece in The Complete Book of Fashion History, found a rectangle of fabric (it just happened to be the My Little Pony blanket that I gave her for Christmas last year), and I helped her assemble her chiton.

It's really very simple. The fabric gets wrapped under one armpit, and the edges are pinned at the opposite shoulder--don't pin them right at the corners, which will make the neckline gape, but at a comfortable spot for a nice boatneck. Pin up the other side at the shoulder, as well, and there you have your chiton!

We have neither made the decorative overfold nor added the belt--if your fabric is too wide, either or both of those will take care of the excess, but that My Little Pony blanket was made to be this kid's chiton!

For extra embellishment, the clips that hold the fabric at the shoulders can also be fancy. And if you were male, your chiton could be knee-length.

Here are some more hands-on projects for studying Ancient Greece:

P.S. If you like hands-on homeschooling projects, check out my Craft Knife Facebook page, where I share all the awesome homeschooling and hands-on resources that I come across.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Pumpkin+Bear Etsy Shop Update: September

One of my goals this autumn is to spend some time sprucing up my Pumpkin+Bear etsy shop. Etsy recently doubled the number of photos that we're allowed to include with a listing, which means that now none of my listings have the maximum number of photos in them. It will be nice, because I can add more examples of the options that I offer for each item, but still... can YOU add six more hours to the day so that I can get all of my listings reshot?

It's also, of course, the beginning of the build-up to the holiday season, so if I want people to, you know, actually buy some stuff for me so that I, in turn, can buy some stuff for my kids, I should probably beg/barter/steal/scam those six hours somewhere...

Just in case you haven't visited my Pumpkin+Bear shop recently (which is silly, because I know you click over there every day so you can moon over all my pretty things), here's what I'm currently making to order:

This is one of the last of some obsessive American Girl doll clothing sewing that I did a while ago for Syd. I don't expect to make anymore of these skirts, so this one and the one below are likely the last that you'll see in my etsy shop:

Syd still LOVES My Little Pony (did you know that they've got a movie coming out next month?!? Syd is beside herself), so it's possible that more pretty things in My Little Pony fabric might be arriving in the shop later. First, though, I promised to make Syd a pair of MLP leggings. Ooh, I bet I could make matching doll leggings from the same fabric!

These are the largest candles that I offer--full-size tapers that work well in conventional candle holders. I've got the ones above that I sell individually,  and the ones below that I sell in a rainbow set of seven:

And if you're not into rainbows, I also sell a set of six!

I came up with this candle when I was brainstorming different ways to add more rainbow candles to my shop--Syd was big into rainbows that year, and my line of candles was selling well. I really like this one because it has all the colors of the rainbow in one candle.

I added the six-inch version of the rainbow taper candle at the request of a customer who wanted a lower price point. I don't love this one as much, because with the way my beeswax sheets are sized, cutting it out makes more waste than with the eight-inch version. But it does tend to sell better than the eight-inch rainbow taper, so I keep making it.

These are the birthday candles that we use for all of our family birthdays! I think the rainbow set is the cutest, but Syd, at least, usually wants to choose the exact color scheme for her birthday cake--hence the assorted set, below, for fellow picky party hosts:

I have a lot of people who use this option to get all pink and purple candles, say, or all white ones. I'm thinking of setting up a special holiday listing, so that people can see right away how cool black/orange/purple would look for Halloween, or orange/brown for Thanksgiving, or red/white/green for Christmas.

One single candle is so small and delicate that shipping isn't really efficient for this, but a customer who really did want just one candle requested it, so I keep it around as an option. Sometimes people will use it to add one or two candles to one of the larger sets, and that makes the shipping a lot more reasonable.

This is the go-to play dough recipe that I still make for the kids on occasion. When I first set up my etsy shop, my philosophy was that if I was making something for my own kids, I could also make it for other kids, and that's how pretty much everything in my shop came to be.

This, though, is the version that my own kids want--the colorful version! I sell this particular pound of play dough in one container, although I do have another listing mostly photographed, in the queue to be listed whenever you get me that extra six hours that I asked for. The new listing will offer any of the colors, including non-rainbow colors (I know--gasp!), in one-pound containers, with a separate listing for seven pounds of rainbow play dough or six pounds of assorted colors. It will be a bounty of play dough for a lucky kid!

I used to sell a bunch more varieties of pinback buttons, but gradually I got tired of making them, and so this one is the last type that I offer. Syd's been drawing me some super cute stuff lately, though, so it's possible that she could be interested in making some button designs and starting her own little side hustle in my shop one of these days.

The bean bag sets take by far more work than anything else in my shop, but they're so cute that I can't stop making them. This set of seven is a little less work than the stenciled set below.

This set of ten bean bags is a RIDICULOUS amount of work, because the numbers have to be stenciled on every single one of them before I sew them--stenciled on both sides!!! I long to offer a complete alphabet set, or even a complete Greek alphabet set, or maybe a periodic table of the elements set, but I can't fathom where I'd find the time to make such large sets--maybe you'll find me an extra twelve hours a day, rather than just six?

The Waldorf ring candles are probably my favorite item in the shop--they're such a good size, and less fiddly to make than the birthday candles, and they look so pretty lined up altogether!

As with most of my other items, I've learned that it's best to offer a lot of varieties, and at different price points. I've got the single Waldorf ring candle, this rainbow set of seven, and a much larger set, below.

People don't often ask for larger sets of the birthday candles, but they do sometimes want larger sets of these Waldorf ring candles. One of my dreams is to start making and selling the special holders for these. They're so sweet and festive at the holidays!

This is another listing that I set up at a customer's request. It's all the materials needed to create four Waldorf ring candles. It's nice for customers, because you can't really buy the supplies to make just a few rolled beeswax candles from a regular store, and it's nice for me, because putting together one of these sets is quick and easy!

I'm a little annoyed with myself, because I've had all the photographs that I need to rework this listing for ages, and just haven't done the work. But seriously--those six extra hours! I need them! Right now they're still listed as fairy candles, because when I first made them, my kids used them in their small world play. I had the revelation a few months ago, however, that these are actually the perfect size to be real, working doll candles for 18" dolls, and so now I just need to edit my photos and remake the listing to reflect my genius revelation.

An etsy shop is one of those things that is never perfect, never quite done. There's always something else that needs to be re-shot because the photos were weirdly lit, or a shipping calculation that needs to be recalculated, or a new variety of something that I want to make and list. There's always a holiday coming up that I could be adding special items for. Always something that could be altered and listed at a different price point. Always some viral marketing to be done. 

Get me those six extra hours a day, though, Friends, and I bet I could have my shop just the way I wanted it in a week!

I mean, it would be just the way I wanted it for a few minutes, at least, before I thought of some new thing that needed to be changed up...

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sun and the Solar Eclipse Study: Solar Power

For the month before the solar eclipse, the kids and I completed an intensive science unit on the sun and the solar eclipse, and it was awesome! Even though I LOVED astronomy as a kid, I'd been having trouble interesting the kids in the study (they are very much attached to the life sciences...), but this event turned out to be the perfect incentive to interest them, and they picked up a lot more than we'd started out intending to.

We used the NASA Eclipse Activity Guide as a spine--I used their main science activity and instructor's information for each lesson, but I added readings from library books, videos from YouTube, and arts and crafts activities for Syd. I had to buy a few special supplies, such as our first spectroscope and a digital outdoor thermometer, but most of the required materials were readily available.

We completed most of the units in the order suggested by the Eclipse Activity Guide, or at least we intended to... the sun has its own agenda, so it was actually a Saturday when we did some of this particular unit on Solar Power; it had been overcast for most of the week, so when the sun rose bright and shining that day, I was not going to waste its power!

The kids and I read and discussed part of this non-fiction children's book on solar power, then watched this TED-Ed video that shows how solar panels work, and Bill Nye's simpler explanation of the same subject. We've never lived in a house that got enough sun to be worth putting solar panels on it, so I'm always impressed to see solar panels in action. And after watching the TED-Ed video, I now actually understand how they work!

The activity that goes with this lesson in the NASA Eclipse Activity Guide is making and using a solar oven. The kids actually did this for a couple of days, re-engineering their first efforts when they didn't get great results with their first solar ovens. The basic model that the activity guide instructs them to build is a not incredibly efficient compilation of pizza box, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap:

These didn't really heat up the quesadillas and s'mores well, so the next day the kids reworked them with some stash mirrors (managing to break fully half of them, so I guess that's some more junk out of my storage space!). The second versions worked a little better, but if I had this unit to do again, I'd take the time to pull up some hardcore solar oven plans, get out the woodworking tools, and make a "real" solar oven with the kids, one that we could use over and over again to ACTUALLY cook our food...

Oh, well. I'm sure the subject will come up again some other time!

To make this study more suitable for Will, I added selections from Khan Academy to her requirements, wherever they applied. For this solar power unit, she also completed the Energy lab, which covers solar power and other energy sources, with an emphasis on sustainability.

To make the study more suitable for Syd, I added hands-on activities to her requirements, although they were tempting enough that Will often joined in. And when we made sun prints for this unit, the whole family joined in!

We are absolutely going to put building blocks on sun print paper again for math one day--I can't believe that I didn't get a good photo of the finished print, but the dark print where the bottom of the block sat, plus the lighter print made from its shadow, formed a beautiful and realistic-looking cube on the sun print paper. It was astonishing.

If we'd completed this study over a longer period of time, it would have been interesting to try to arrange a field trip to a solar park, or a lecture from a member of one of our local non-profits that try to encourage people to use solar power. We could have made a more elaborate solar oven, and experimented with sun printing onto fabric. The kids could have measured our house's energy expenditure, and done some problem-solving to reduce our usage. I could have bought them some solar panel kits and let them make themselves some solar-powered toys and gizmos.

But for our brief look, we now know about solar power, solar panels, and some uses for solar energy. And now I know how a solar panel works!


Related Posts with Thumbnails