Kid-friendly science with Grandpa

We made a quick trip to Wisconsin last month for my dad’s 60th birthday and one of the highlights was a visit to his lab. Jax was thrilled to help with some experiments and is still talking about them. My dad also gave us some ideas of experiments we can do ourselves with common household staples, so the fun continues!

Animal GalleryLooking at a very large crab on display in the halls of the biology building.


Experiment #1: Dry Ice. What happens to it in water? Is the smokey stuff hot or cold?IMG_5695

Adding warm water made even more vapor.



IMG_5638Watching the stirring machine.

Jax left the lab with his very own flask and a couple of plastic test tubes. Here are some experiments we’ve been able to do right here in our kitchen:

Fizzy Whizzy!: Add vinegar to baking soda and watch what happens.
Which one floats?: Pour olive oil into a flask and then add water. Which liquid is on top? Put the top on, flip it over, and see if it stays that way. This was a huge hit, and got Jax thinking about other liquids to try. He is thinking like a scientist!

This board on Pinterest has many more exciting and elaborate experiments to try, too.


From photo to painting, the cheater’s way

If you have a projector – something that is becoming more common these days, perhaps even on your phone – then you can convert a photo into a painting in an evening. Here is a run-down of what I did to make my dad’s secret Santa present this year:

I chose a photo I thought my dad would like: it’s a shot taken this past summer of him rowing me and Jax during our stay in Door County.

Dad rowing in Door CountyI then emailed the photo to Seth so that he could open the attachment and view the photo on the projector phone. I set up a canvas and lined up the projector’s beam so that what hit the canvas was how I wanted the final image to appear.

Projecting PhotoThen I traced the main shapes. It helps to squint to see the contrast and shapes. It’s not just about objects, but the color variations in the water and trees, too.


IMG_0386Using this pencil sketch as a guide, I colored in the image with oil pastels, using the original photo as a reference point.

Oil PastelsI used a lot of blue.

IMG_0387This is what it looked like after just an hour. Voila!






Halloween Festivities & Kid Crafts

We’re getting excited for trick-or-treating tonight! But the festivities have been going on for a couple of weeks. Highlights:

Halloween fun at friend Vivian’s second birthday.

Pumpkin-carving party last Saturday

A ghost craft Jax and I did last night:

I asked if he wanted to glue black “eyes” on, and he enthusiastically asked for several, attaching them to the bottom.

Jax made this cute spiderweb at preschool.

The two of us made this bat last night. Tracing around his hands is something Jax loves to do, and he practiced cutting to make the border.


We had a wonderful time celebrating Jax’s second birthday at Muscoot Farm. Over a dozen other kids along with their parents joined in the fun. Since my talented sister, Monica, was in town, as well as my mom, the baker extraordinaire, we went a little crazy with the crafts and decor. Some people go to the gym or watch movies. Us? we stay up until midnight gluing felt to make a farm scene and devising ways of creating frosting of varying shades of brown “dirt.” Poor Jax.

Here are the craftastic highlights!

The invitation (created in minutes on using a July 4th template):

First, we had a craft table set up where the kids glued fuzzy balls of various colors to sheep silhouettes cut out of cereal boxes. We also had paper glasses to embellish with feathers.

Then it was time for the pre-lunch hayride!

We kept lunch simple by ordering party heros from the local Italian deli. Twelve feet of sandwich, three feet each of four kinds. Even 40 people couldn’t get through half of the sandwich slices. Now we know.

{Sources: animal plates, recycled plastic plates, wooden silverware, recycled napkins}

The cake:

Yes, there is a huge problem of scale here. Where you see the little tractor was supposed to be a wooden “2” in place of a candle. I forgot the number and we had to improvise. Cake Wrecks here we come!

We tried to have many activity options for all the kids. In addition to the craft table, I made a farm scene out of felt, with removable animals the kids could rearrange.

Of course, we also had a mini farmer’s market. It turned out to be a hit with the kids to grab a market bag and “shop”:

I made the canvas market bags out of a drop-cloth I bought at the hardware store and some ribbon from the craft store. I made 16 in all, but with one drop cloth probably could have made another 16. They are really, really easy to make using these instructions. The most time-consuming part was attaching the handles, and I think that was because I went overboard reinforcing them. I would estimate they took about 8-10 minutes each.

Inside each favor bag was a little wooden tractor from Etsy seller TnTWoods, which is based in Wisconsin and wonderful to work with (we created a custom order of 16 toy tractors.)

Highlights from the festivities:

…and a very happy birthday boy!

Summer Projects

It’s been quite a summer for us and I finally have about a week of downtime before my postdoc position begins. I am determined to finish the projects I’ve daydreamed about while finishing my writing and letting the house and yard and sweet little Jax fend for themselves!

Some of these took more time than others. Some things we’ve been working on:

A little project for my little nephew. I’m not finished yet so I can’t reveal any more about it!

New fabric roller shades I made using this tutorial on Design*Sponge.

I made this craft table and chair set from found items and decoupaged scrapbook paper. The only issue we’ve had is that because I used non-toxic milk paint, the finish is not very durable. You can see from the multicolored stains that we’ve done a lot of various painting projects!

A 5-minute craft organizer for under $10: That’s an inexpensive towel rod from Home Depot, some industrial S hooks, and metal buckets found for a dollar. If you wanted to make it a 30 minute project, you could paint it to match the decor. We’re all about function for the moment!

We also had a momentous month, with my finishing my dissertation and Seth contributing to the cover story of the current issue of Fortune. Whee!

Seth’s cover is cooler than mine.

There he is! In print!

Flower Hair Clip Giveaway Winners

We have our winners!

Commenter #12, Mary, who thought “Carnival” would look cute on her granddaughter.

Commenter #10, Sara, who had many favorites, but particularly liked the country-looking flower prints that would match her wardrobe.

Commenter #3, Lucia, whose daughter has strawberry-themed outfits to match “Petite Fraise.”

I know I said there’d be three winners, but taking the above clips out of the pile still left me with more than I can use at the moment, so I doubled the fun and picked three more:

Commenter #4, Stacy, whose daughter will wear “La Vie en Rose Encore” for the 4th of July

Commenter #7, Emily, who picked one of my personal favorites, “Deauville” inspired by the beaches and umbrellas of that French city.

Commenter #5, Alyson, whose vintage style will soon be accessorized by “Vintage Floral” and “Belle Epoque.”

I’ll e-mail you for your mailing addresses. If you don’t hear from me before seeing this post, feel free to e-mail me at rachel (at)

But wait! There’s more! Winners, let me know if you like any of the following new styles instead and I’m happy to send your new choice instead of the original one.

#11 + #12: Just Beachy, Big and Small

#13 + #14: Fête d’été, Big and Small

#15: Golden Girls

#16: Georgia

Thanks to all who commented. I appreciate the feedback! Happy weekend.

Old Chair, New

My latest before and after:

This is a classic chair update, nothing too fancy or unusual here, but it’s so quick and easy, I thought I’d photograph the process and encourage others to take on a similar project. You can do this in an afternoon (including drying time), and the actual active time is only about an hour or so. That means that instead of taking coffee/snack breaks, just take a quick painting break and it really takes no time at all.

Before: We picked up these two chairs at a now-closed antique shop in Cold Spring. I think we paid around $10 each and the seller believed them to be from the 1920s. They were cool and rustic-looking, but had some issues, one of which was smelling kind of stale. I knew those chair pads had to go.

The wooden parts are pretty beat up, especially in the cut-out backing and around the bottom where feet have weathered away the corners.

So let’s get  going! First, I took off the seat, which was really easy. I turned the chair over and just had to unscrew four screws.

Next, I sanded it down so that the paint would adhere better.

I used white furniture paint and brushes, but would probably recommend a spray paint for an object with so many nooks and crannies.

The first coat will look terrible, but after 3 coats, it wasn’t looking too bad. I let it dry about an hour in between coats.

While the paint was drying, I dealt with the seat. See how there are 2 layers of fabric? That checkered layer is actually a napkin from Pier I. I figured it out as I took it apart: its still had its original tag with a $3.50 price. The orange layer is probably original, and below that was that old-school stuffing that just falls apart. I’m not sure what it’s made of. Animal hair of some sort? Anyway, I pulled out all of the staples and upholstery tacks and got down to the wooden base.

All clean and ready for new padding.

I just took the wooden seat to a sewing store that cuts foam to size and had a new foam pad (2 inches thick) in minutes. I discovered a place that does this only minutes from our house, so this was really an easy step in the process.

I measured the old fabric for size. I figured I needed a square about 22 inches wide.

So I measured my new fabric and laid the foam and seat on top to make sure I was giving myself enough clearance for the new pad height. I think most upholsterers use more than just the foam padding in this process: they would at least add a layer of batting to the top, but I was keeping it quick and simple.

By the way, the fabric is a Japanese print I found at Purl Soho a few months ago (no longer available there) and bought specifically for this project, since it has a heavier canvas-like Lose Weight Exercise. It’s by Nani Iro for Kokka and called “Antique Label.”

I used these tacks to attach the new fabric to the seat with a hammer. One package contains 24, but I actually needed 28, so I used some of the really old upholstery tacks I recovered from the old padding and used them on some of the parts that wouldn’t show as much (not that any really show being underneath.)

I used the same technique to do this as you would to stretch a canvas: Start in the middle on one side, then the middle on the other. Then turn 90 degrees and tack the middle right and middle left. Work this way slowly extending to the corners, leaving the corners for last.

All attached.

Now all I had to do was reattach the seat to the chair with the four screws I had taken out at the beginning.


Heritage Crafts Day at Van Cortlandt Manor

The rain couldn’t keep us from having a picnic by the river and then checking out the Heritage Crafts day at Van Cortlandt Manor. The event showcased crafts like dying wool, making butter, working with tin, blacksmithing, and open air cooking. It seems all we do each weekend is visit some sort of historic farm or museum! When you’ve got a toddler who gets excited about a haystack, and you’ve got a membership to Historic Hudson Valley, it’s really a no-brainer.

Walking down the hill to the picnic grounds.

Throwing stones into the river.

The blacksmith demonstration.

Was the sausage in the foreground there as decor or was it their lunch?

Playing the triangle.

Abercrombie & Fitch pose.

Jax interrupted his run to the hay to point out the “airplane sky” he probably thought didn’t fit in with the 17th-century surroundings.

New favorite game: jumping or falling down objects or stairs to be caught. He’s very trusting!