Home-made Finger Paint

I’ve made my own playdough before and it is a really easy project. But finger paint seemed so much more difficult! I don’t know why. If you have the patience to stand over a stove for 15-20 minutes stirring, then you can make the stuff. It’s just about time and having corn starch in the cupboard. Sheesh.

Three recipes can be found here. I used the first one, which was basically: combine 1/2 cup cornstarch, 2 cups water, 1/2 tsp salt and 2 tbsp sugar in a pan and stir over medium-low heat for about 15-20 minutes, until it becomes a thick, almost gelatinous substance. Let it cool completely, then divide into jars and add food coloring. We made three colors using 15 drops of yellow, 15 of red, and 10 of blue.

Then we took it outside along with a bunch of brushes and a big piece of cardboard (white on one side!) and tried it out. It was a huge hit! Bonus: it washes right off and seems to clean easily from clothing, too.

Spring Cleaning

We had a fantastic Memorial Day weekend and did so much that I’ll have to write a separate post with at least 384 pictures ‚?? just as soon as I have a tad more time (I will finish my dissertation’s conclusion this week!)

In the mean time, I thought I’d post a quick note about some stuff we found: I guess Memorial Day weekend is a chance for many people to get their spring cleaning out of the way before summer, and there is some amazing stuff being lovingly given away around here. We went out yesterday evening for our nightly walk and couldn’t even make it halfway around the block without loading up on stuff: a brand new beach umbrella (useful for the daily trips to the river I’ll tell you about soon), a kite in the shape of a biplane (still in its bag), old school kid’s camp chairs, a wooden play kitchen, woven baskets, a shoe shining kit, and a plant stand. After two trips we decided we had enough projects to sand and clean up and that we didn’t need to be those people who stock up on so many “bargains” that their house looks like a permanent rummage sale.

But then this morning I drove by one of the piles again and couldn’t stand the thought of leaving a wooden student desk in the approaching thunderstorm. So with no other help than my toddler-carrying-trained biceps and the Volvo, I brought this sturdy piece home, too. It’s in the garage pending a decision on its fate. If nothing else, we can put it on freecycle.org to find it a home.

I love this neighborhood. Everybody seemed to be outside last night and we met a bunch of neighbors/owners of the piles we were perusing. They were so happy to know their stuff was going to be used and loved by another family.

So here are the highlights:

The desk, which needs sanding and refinishing, but is in perfect working order.

The plant stand, something I was just talking about getting for the overflow pots on the side of our house (and to somewhat mask the hose from street view).

These kid’s chairs looked a bit better in the darkness. Today it’s becoming clear that a couple may need to be rewoven, but they are so lightweight compared to today’s beach chairs, it may be worth figuring out. Or maybe they’ll have to go back out onto the curb.

The kids who enjoyed this play kitchen are now 16 and 20 years old. It’s been hanging out in a garage, but after some sanding and scrubbing, I think it’ll be very well-loved by our 20-month-old¬†aspiring chef. Have you seen how expensive wooden kitchens can be? I think this project, if none of the others, will be worth it. Plus, I love projects that involve light sanding and painting/varnishing, since I’m not too handy with the actual woodworking to make such things.

Jax has been officially initiated into our ragpicking ways: he held the kite in his hands as he rode in the stroller on the way home, with a grip that meant he took his task seriously. Poor thing, he doesn’t yet know it’s not normal to routinely bring home the neighbors’ trash!

Poisson d’avril!

I love that in France the fish is the symbol of April Fool’s day. Back in high school my French teacher went all out (as she did every day, for that matter), sneakily taping a paper fish to someone’s back and seeing if they caught it before class was over. During our time living in France, I noticed that a lot of the Easter/spring candies were in the shape of fish in addition to eggs and bells. I wonder if the symbols all became associated with Easter, or if the fish takes on new meaning for the Christian holiday (fish on Friday during Lent perhaps?). In any case, I have fully embraced the fish as our springtime emblem.

With fusible interfacing and an iron, it took me about 5 minutes to enbellish this shirt last night. I was going to zigzag stitch around the borders of each fish, but I’ve got job applications to write and a chapter to finish, so this will do for now!

Pause for quick photo…and…he’s off!

Because Jax loves fish and all things water, I thought I’d perfect my recycled crayons method using an ice cube mold we picked up at IKEA. Now, the tray said “for water only” but I thought it would still work well for crayon melting since the oven is only set to “warm” for this project. I had tried this with a heart mold for Valentine’s day but neglected to grease the mold first, so I thought that would solve my problems this time.

The greased mold with broken crayon bits

After 10 minutes, they started to melt, but I soon noticed the bowing of the tray was going to pose a problem…

Some spillage, but using the potholders to weigh down the sides, I straightened out the mold and let the crayons cool and harden this way.

And then the removal: disaster as I carefully popped the fish out. Only two fish survived with tails (out of twelve).

The mold didn’t fare any better with the greasing, either. Oh well. We can always remelt and try again with a different mold. In the mean time, we still have some fun multi-colored ovals to color with!

Happy April Fool’s Day!

Our New Energy-Saving Wood Burning Stove

Our heating bills for January and February were each over $400, most of which was made up of gas charges for heating. And that was with us being away for a week each month, during which we set our thermostat to 45. Yikes! Maybe it’s just because we were used to low bills in our 350-square-foot apartment, but we still thought we could do much better. It was frustrating knowing that we’ve taken all the little steps to save on energy (covering drafty windows with plastic, setting the thermostat to 64, wearing extra sweaters and wool slippers indoors…) and still end up with a huge bill.

We had heard from several neighbors, friends, and websites that a wood-burning stove was an energy-efficient and effective way to heat a house. Even better, you could have a wood-burning stove insert put into an existing fireplace so that you need not have a freestanding stove in the middle of the room (something a bit more than scary with kids in the house). The big snowstorm that knocked power out of half our town and left many households without heat (even gas heating systems have electrical parts) basically sealed the deal for us. Oh yes, and with an EPA-certified clean-burning stove, you get a big tax credit that cuts the cost by a third.

So yesterday we had the wood burning stove installed and we are all cozy now!

Some photos of the process:

Before: Just a regular ol’ fireplace, which was actually quite well insulated, but couldn’t really heat the room very well.

Delivery on Thursday: The stove is the big cube and the insulating pipe for the chimney is in the box at left.

Always a favorite toy.


A close-up shot: Sadly, we have a little smoke in this one, but in fires since we’ve had a clear view. You get that comfy by-the-fire visual with the major heating capacity of the stove.

Now if only it had a pizza-oven insert…

Wooden Toys from Vermont


Happy Earth Day! I thought talking about wooden toys would be appropriate for the day’s festivities.

Our friends B√©reng√®re and Perry (and their cute almost two-year-old twins) sent us some adorable natural wooden toys made in Vermont by Maple Landmark Woodcraft. Jax is finally old enough to play with them and thinks they’re fun to bang around, roll, and bite. I thought I’d look up the company to see what they’re all about (and for future gift-giving reference…), and was pleasantly surprised with their line of toys called Schoolhouse Naturals, which are unfinished. They make the standard firetrucks and school buses (so cute), but also more unusual vehicles, like a hybrid car and recycling truck. And I am in love these alphabet blocks!


Seeing the Trees for the Forest

urbanforestcorbettcarri urbanforestkirschjesseCheck out these awesome downloadable posters from the Urban Forest Project. I didn’t even know about this exhibition, which took place in Times Square in August 2006, just as we were leaving New York for Paris. One hundred eighty-five artists and designers took the theme of the tree to raise awareness about the importance of forests. The giant banners were then recycled into bags designed by Jack Spade. Pretty cool.

Via an old post by Sweet Jessie.