Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mission: Organize - Mail and Art Center

This is the first post in a series of Mission: Organization - hoping to get my family and home decluttered and working efficiently.

It's no secret the Little Fur Family leads a busy life.  Hubby recently started working seven days a week, I work nearly every waking hour, the kids are all in school or pre-school this year, and there are the three cats and the new doggie.  Chaos abounds, mama is always tired, and things seem to constantly get missed.

Add to the busy life the daily tasks of the house.  The dishes, laundry, mail, groceries, etc.  It's enough to drive anyone a little batty.  What has suffered recently is our house.  The clutter is starting to get overwhelming, I can't just let it go anymore and pile it up for another day.

The kitchen, playroom, our bedroom, the loft/office and our basement are all due for a massive declutter, and with the little time we have, I'm taking it in small bites and hoping that the end of January will see massive improvements.

Ideally, I'm looking to move my studio to the basement and build a larger and more functional space.  So mission of organization is really leading somewhere big.

This weekend's mission was to organize the mail piles in the kitchen, get a spot for homework and the bazillion pieces of paper that come home from school.  And simultaneously to clean out the art center that resides in the kitchen hallway.

Mail Center:
I don't think I'm alone in letting the mail pile up.  I glance at it every day, especially around this time of year, like to thumb through the catalogs that come, but can't always do it right when the mail arrives.  And then the papers that come home.  Three kids, two schools, LOTS of things to keep track of.

(Yes, that's my kitchen on the left.  The piles are crazy...and the fridge is just a week's worth of artwork brought home from school!)

The solution to this was easy...I found a pin on Pinterest.  I used this pin, and pretty much copied exactly what she did.

I used hanging files to create one for each family member, one for unfiled stuff, bills, one for Split Pea's medical stuff (that really does need its own folder!), coupons/catalogs (I am always wondering what I did with the latest sales flyer), and one for "To be filed" items.

The front is a calendar that I can write our month on (starting in January 2013)  And then I've tucked a binder in back that I'm now trying to use as the organization central for my life.

To fill the binder, I searched Pinterest for "kitchen printables" and downloaded lots of forms including, the week-at-a-glance, daily to-dos for work and home, weekly meal plan, shopping and cleaning lists, and even a monthly lunch menu so I can write down which kid will be eating at school and if not, what I'm packing the for that day.

I laminated all of the printables to save paper, so I can write on them with a dry-erase marker and wipe off.  I added sheet protectors in the back to hold the monthly lunch menu for the Monkey's school as well as the recipes for the meals I'm cooking for the week. 

Art Center:

The boys all LOVE to create.  A while back, I filled this chest of drawers up with art supplies, but lately it has felt totally disorganized as they just shoved stuff back in when they were done.  The Monkey and Small Fry have been making lots of comic books and doing stories, so nearly every morning, I find them creating with crayons, markers, googly eyes, etc.

I decided it was time to clean the drawers, toss things that were broken, missing pieces, donate the not-used stuff and refresh the supplies.  I stocked up on new colored pencils, crayons, "Pip Squeak" markers from Crayola, paper, some new foam shapes and art kits, clipboards, tape, erasers, pencils and glue sticks.

I put things into labeled containers, and sorted everything into the drawers and labeled the drawers.  The Monkey is an expert reader now and Small Fry is working on it, so this is a great way to encourage them to pay attention to where their supplies belong.

They also have binders with sheet protectors where they can place their finished work (I had piles of papers from them too!), and a folder where they can put the work they are still working on (The Monkey is working on a version of "Alice in Wonderland", and Small Fry is finishing a comic book story. 

I organized it in an evening, and we were out of the house all day.  But as soon as we returned home, I explained and showed what was in each drawer.  I said that things like glue sticks, the hole punch and the drawer of paint, foam shapes and art kits are things that require mommy's permission.  But other than that, they can have at long as they are respectful and keep it organized and everything in the correct drawers.

It took about 2.2 seconds and the kids had out markers, crayons and colored pencils, paper on the clipboards and they were off - creating their newest masterpiece!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Win - Reusable, Snapping "Paper" Towels from Mamamade!

I don't post here too often these days.  In part because those three kiddos keep me busy, and lately, because of the sales of my Reusable, Snapping "Paper" Towels. 

Back in March 2012, I had just returned from a ski trip, and was thinking again about work.  I had a brainstorm, hid in my studio for an afternoon, and created these amazing towels.  I tested them, and soon after, released them in my Etsy shop.

The response has been, to say the least, amazingly overwhelming.  Not only are they selling so fast I am sewing, cutting, and setting snaps 16 hours a day to keep up with demand, but people love them.  I've had lots of return customers, fantastic reviews and great feedback.

And I want to THANK YOU.  All of you who have purchased a set, shared on your Facebook page, tweeted about the towels, repinned them on Pinterest, read about me in magazines, or just let your friends and family know about them. 

THANK YOU to all of you.  I can't say enough how much this year would have been the most difficult ever for our family if it wasn't for the amazing customers I have.  I am constantly touched by your support and encouragement.

So now for the fun part.  Enter to win a set of towels - the ones pictured here, completely free...shipping too!  Each set of towels has 12 towels that snap together (elastics included slip around an existing cardboard towel tube), roll them up and they fit anywhere you've been keeping paper towels. 

Just follow the details on the Rafflecopter box below to enter - follow me on Facebook and Twitter and tweet about the giveaway for your chance to enter.  You can also get another entry if you pin this blog post on Pinterest.  The contest will end at 12:01 am EST on Sunday, so enter today! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lego Birthday Party - AKA The Pinterest Birthday

I blame Pinterest for why this party suddenly grew to epic proportions.  The Monkey and Small Fry are 23 months apart, meaning their birthdays are within 3 1/2 weeks of each other.  It's really easy, since they're into the same things, to just celebrate all at once.   And once I started seeing ideas here and there on Pinterest, I made a Lego Birthday Party board and decided we'd have a Lego Party.

Last year we skipped a party, had a small celebration for each kid.  In previous years, we've invited our family and friends which always ends up being about 20 or 30 people, but mostly adults and a handful of younger kids. 

This year.  This year, Small Fry is in pre-k and the Monkey is in Kindergarten.  And I invited all the family and friends from past parties and then all the kids in both of the boys' classes.  And the guest list quickly skyrocketed to nearly 50 people (or more, it was a blur the past few days). 

Thankfully, my mom provided all the food, so I could focus on decorations, cake and desserts, games and goodie bags. 

It was nearly impossible to get pictures of the boys.  But here's Small Fry sitting still for .8 seconds.  My friend made the shirts using reverse applique technique and a yellow minky for the minifigure.

And the Monkey, wearing his Lego minifigure shirt and his new Lego necklace.  (more on the necklaces below). 

The gift/goodie bag table before the guests arrived.  The small minifigure head with balloons was purchased from Container Store.  I filled the head with the crayons I made as a take-home gift.  I wrapped a few rectangular boxes with solid red paper for added height.  Container Store has LOTS of fantastic Lego items, perfect for party decorations and then gifts to the birthday kiddo afterwards. 
Next to the gift table was the "Guess How Many Legos" game.  In the clear glass container (a rectangular vase I had), I put in 193 Legos.  Had guests write their guesses and the winner received the water bottle pictured on the right.  (The giant minifigure head is the Sort and Store head)

Couldn't forget about drinks!  (We had beer too).  I actually didn't end up getting a picture of the food.  But we had a mid-morning party and had platters of fruit, veggies, dips (sweet and savory), deviled eggs, cheeses, and pre-made sandwiches (turkey with various kinds of cheese) as well as condiments, and add-ons like pickles.  Everyone snacked on and off throughout the party. 
The cake was inspired by another Pinterest find, and a friend of mine made it for me.  I made cupcakes too, as we were expecting many guests (there's a female small minifigure head in the right of the picture, also from Container Store). 
Mmm.  Lego cake.
My kitchen full of guests (I guess you can see the food a bit).  We served the food on our kitchen table, which had the hidden leaf added, and placed plates, napkins and silverware on the kitchen island.  (Notice Split Pea downing a juice box...quite the treat for him). 
We played one game (Lego Bingo), which was a HIT with the older kids (the Monkey's 5 and 6 year-old friends).  But then the kids all had a blast just playing in our playroom and all around the house.  (As Small Fry gets tackled by his uncle!)
The Monkey was the only kid who sat at the kitchen table to eat his lunch.  And build a Lego set, of course. 
The gift table serving its purpose.
Since we have three kids 6 and under, we have a variety of toys, perfect for the various ages of kids that came to the party.
Our "dining room table"  (We sold the dining room table a few years ago when we inherited this air hockey table.  It gets much more use than a table ever did).  This was great for all of the kids.  People played the entire length of the party. 
I didn't plan so well on the candles, so we used the leftover candles from Split Pea's 1st birthday. 
The Monkey and his BFF, Captain America, eyeing the cupcakes. 
I made these from scratch, vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting.  I used the silicone brick and minifigure molds with candy melts to make the cupcake toppers. 
THE Lego Cake.  White cake with buttercream frosting. 
Even said "Happy Birthday" on his minifigure head. 
I was so sad to cut him open.  (Notice I'm sporting a Lego necklace too!)
We actually cut each slice into fourths to serve to the kids. 

My cupcakes.  I'm SO not a cupcake maker, but these actually turned out to be tasty. 

Couldn't leave out Split Pea.  He navigated the people fantastically, and true to form, ate his way through the day. 

Even the toddlers played dress-up!

The box of costumes we have was a HUGE hit (I buy costumes on clearance the day after Halloween and the kids use them year-round for dress-up.)

All of the kiddos went home with a few treats. 

Lego necklaces that I made literally the night before the party - they went together really quickly.  (some of the adults got these too - I had a bunch of different colors). 

Minifigure and Brick crayons.  I did NOT use the same molds for crayons and food.  I also followed a few tutorials I'd pinned (here and here), but ended up using silicone cupcake liners to hold the broken up crayons and melt them in the oven (225 degrees for about 20-30 minutes) and poured the melted crayon into the molds.  Let me know if you want more details, but this worked really well for us. 

And marshmallow Minifigure pops.  I used an M&M for the top of the head, and some black candy melts to pipe on the smile.  

Once the guests left, Split Pea and Small Fry napped while the Monkey played with his Legos.  I cleaned the house and hubs left for an important poker tournament.  As evening approached, we started opening presents.  (This was bigger than their Christmas and Hanukkah). 

Small Fry's favorite gift, from his girlfriend at school was a Melissa and Doug Dinosaur Stamp Set.  He could not WAIT to play with it.  

One thing I noticed that is new this year is that a) the Monkey can read his cards and b) his friends all wrote him a message.  What an amazing milestone.  

From one of the Monkey's friends.  I must find where this was purchased, because I LOVE it (and Small Fry wants one too).

The big gift from mom and dad.  A new Leap Pad for Small Fry.

And a DS XL for the Monkey.  I actually used Christmas and birthday money and gift cards to purchase these big-ticket items for the boys.  They received so many amazingly wonderful presents from their friends.  I actually cried when they were opening everything because I just felt that they are so lucky.  

 Their amazing haul of gifts.  Excuse Small Fry for the sour face, he was mad I made him stop checking out the toys to snap a photo. 

All in all, I hope the boys don't think I'll be doing this every year, but I am so glad we did host this event.  It was fun,  I think all the kids had a great time, and so did the adults.  Surprisingly, the house wasn't any more disheveled than it would be after an afternoon of the boys playing. 

Next year when it comes to birthday-planning time, I am definitely going to have to avoid Pinterest.  ;)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Homemade Valentines - Wildcards Tutorial

This year, the Monkey gets to celebrate Valentine's Day at school.  The catch is that all his Valentine cards have to be handmade (and no candy).  I was psyched to hear that, as I knew exactly what we'd be doing.  He's almost 6 (only 3 weeks) and it's a great time to introduce him to sewing.

I planned to make Wildcards - index cards with a fused fabric on one side, decorated with stickers and a plastic overlay, and filled with sparkles and sequins. 

Materials needed for one card:

- One 4x6 or 5x7 index card
- Fabric piece the same size as index card
- Heat-fusible webbing (Steam-a-seam, heat n' bond, wonder under, etc) the same size as the index card)
- Clear plastic (overhead projector/transparency sheets) cut to the same size as index card)
- Stickers or flat treasures
- sequins, sparkles and other shiny glitter to fill the card
- thread, sewing machine, scissors

The concept uses a lot of the fundamentals he's working on every day, and I wanted him to be able to do as many of the steps as he could, so it was really him making the cards and me just assisting.  I ended up doing the ironing stuff, he helped for a few, but 26 cards take a bit of time. 

We started with a quick tutorial of how to sew (I need to do some more in-depth instruction, but for now it was just about how it all moves).  I had him sew through some paper to get the hang of it.  (My machine also has a speed control which is really useful for teaching young kids). 

With time quickly inching closer to Valentine's Day, we had to buckle down to finish the cards.  Luckily we were granted a break when a massive winter storm hit, and the entire family (including Hubby, who could watch the other kiddos) was snowed in for the day.  

I had already fused a heat-activated fusible webbing to a stack of 4x6" index cards (unlined).  I used Steam-a-Seam because I had it on hand, but you can also use any other heat-activated fusible (Heat n' Bond, Wonder Under, Therm-O-Web, etc).  I then removed the paper backing from the fused side of the index card and placed the fusible web side of the card on the wrong side of my chosen fabric.  (Using a cotton, no steam setting on my iron)

While I continued to fuse the fabric to the cards, the Monkey trimmed the fabric flush with the edges of the cards.  

Once we had all of his cards fused and trimmed, we laid out a variety of stickers and mostly flat trinkets (I had some stick-on jewel hearts and puffy stickers.  I collected heart and Valentine-themed stickers from the dollar store and various craft stores.  The only rule was nothing directly on the edge because I didn't want him to sew over it.  

After the cards were decorated, I took a piece of clear plastic (overhead projector sheets or something similar works really well), and placed it on top of the card.  I happened to add a decorative thread in the top of the machine, but any thread works well.  

I instructed the Monkey on sewing around the card, lining up the presser foot with the fabric edge, and marked where he wanted to stop and start so that there would be an opening left in order to put in some sparkles and sequins.  We worked on speed and pivoting. 

Using a funnel, he placed a small-kid-sized handful of sparkles into the open hole of the card (probably about 1/2-1 tablespoon).  Then I helped him sew the opening shut, and because our clear plastic wasn't the exact same size as the card, he trimmed the plastic flush with the rest of the card.  

After the cards were finished, he needed to write on them.  He still needs to finish writing on the ones to his classmates, but couldn't wait to give one to my mom, who of course owned a quilt store for over 30 years and wrote books on teaching kids to sew.  I'm pretty sure my heart melted at this point. 

Now we just have to decorate his box to bring home the Valentines from his classmates.  Can't wait for that project!