Wednesday, February 29, 2012

DIY pretend mail set

If you've read this blog at all the past couple of days, you'll know it's little brother's birthday this week. Tomorrow, that is.

Over the weekend I finally finished the mail set I was making for him. And yes, that bag is yellow. But that is not because that's his favorite color, no, it's because federal mail in Germany is yellow and has that black logo. We've got to be authentic here, after all. Even if it's just felt.

I saw lots of inspiration on Pinterest, but in the end I decided to do a bag and not a mailbox. Those American mailboxes are not so common over here, and he enjoys having a bag to carry stuff around in. I actually got fleece for this but ended up doing a felt version because the thick felt just holds its shape much better. I didn't follow a pattern or even a tutorial, I just eyeballed it, cut out some pieces and tried my best sewing it all together. Since it's felt, I sewed on the right side and didn't have to turn anything. And because I'm just starting at this sewing thing, the bag took me all of Wednesday morning last week. Oh well.

For the envelopes I considered using felt, too, but I have boys. These things are bound to get dirty or deliver chocolates. So I started making them from fleece as you don't have to hem fleece. Yeah, I'm lazy, what can I say.

Except I didn't really love them. I mean, there were nice and all that, but I just didn't love the way they turned out. So I started over with a bunch of gorgeous fabric scraps I bought while shopping for fabric for another project. They weren't even that much harder to make. They're still all crooked and different sizes, but I love them anyway. Hey, I'm new at this, so give me a break.

I added some velcro so the brothers can add stamps and address labels.

The address labels are simple thick white felt, stamped using my beloved fabric ink pad. I didn't iron it to set it, figuring these are not washable anyway. Besides, we're talking about a five minute project here: cut felt into a long strip, stamp on name, cut, stamp next name, cut again. Repeat until felt is used up or you have enough labels.

And the best part? You don't have to sew on the other part of the velcro, because the felt sticks to it as is. The stamps are made the same way, except I used pinking shears cutting them out. Yeah, the images are a little too small for them, but oh well. You've got to leave room for improvement, right?

All tied up and ready for the big day!

This is probably going to take someone with more experience in sewing a mere hour or so to put together.  And I hope the brothers are going to have fun delivering mail, writing their own messages, big brother practicing reading the address labels...

Until then, I'm back in the kitchen.

Happy sewing,

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

DIY yarn wreath for special occasions

Remember my yarn wreaths? Well, turns out they're sort of addictive. I just can't stop making them. So I give them to friends and might even sell some. Wrapping that yarn is just so ... calming.

Anyhow. I made a very special one last week. It's a simple beige-grayish color because I plan to use it year-round for special occasions and holidays. Next up is little brother's birthday, so I decorated it with a DIY felt garland and some felt letters and of course the number 3. In yellow.

I didn't glue anything on and just used pins to attach the felt pieces to the wreath. Since I used silvery pins they do show, but I don't really mind.

Hmmm, already thinking about what to use for Easter. Bunnies? Pastel colored eggs?

I think this is one of my favorite wreaths ever.

Hope you have a great week - mine will be busy with a long overdue haircut and of course lots and lots of present wrapping, cake baking and general party preparations. I'm trying to schedule some posts for the rest of the week, but just in case you don't hear anything from me, well, I'll probably be somewhere in the kitchen making chocolate layer cake with vanilla buttercream frosting by the special request of a little someone turning 3 very soon.

Have a great week!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

{the simple things} homework

Big brother is going to school this year. I'm still sort of in denial. My baby, going to school? Really?

Meanwhile, his preschool does sort of practice lessons every Wednesday, and they get homework.

It's not so much about what they do and they don't get more than stickers for getting it right, it's simply to practice doing homework on a regular basis, remembering to take it home, get it done in time and taking it back to preschool on the right day. He loves doing it and has gotten much better about coloring in the lines and cutting things out.

He's supposed to do it all by himself, but our cat can't help but supervise a little.

Little brother usually does some "homework" too and has recently graduated from coloring books to actually doing little activity pages.

Trying to find all the round shapes in those tiny stamp details.

Trying to find out if you can erase crayons.

We all don't really like coloring books, but I'm usually happy about anything that keeps little brother occupied a bit so big brother can focus on his homework. Now, little brother could of course play with those toys they usually fight about, but somehow those seem to suddenly turn boring as soon as homework comes out. Sigh.

And, as with the paper lanterns, tongue sticking out is vital when trying to concentrate.

At some point the head gets heavy, too. Luckily he's almost done!

I still can't believe he'll be going to school soon (well, August actually). Oh, my.

Now tell me, what was the most important thing you taught your kids before they went to school? And how do you keep little brothers busy?

Linking with Rebecca for the simple things sunday.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

February home projects update: on eating frogs

February was a very busy month.

You see, next month I will change my office days from two to three. I won't increase my hours so that basically means more time with my kids as I get to pick them up from preschool in the afternoon instead of coming home at (or past) dinnertime. But it also means more time spent commuting and getting up before the crack of dawn. And it means a lot less time for projects of any kind, be it organizing, photography, sewing, party preparations or blogging.

So what does a crazy list-maker do? Prepare herself and make a list of what really, really needs to get done and then try to cross as many things off that list before March.

So February was a very busy month.

While reading a chapter or two in Tsh's 52 bites book I came across the concept of eating frogs. Frogs are those things on your list you don't really want to deal with, the ones you keep putting off. Eat your frog first thing and you'll feel much more productive. Sounded good. So instead of tackling my photography goals or start working on my annual family photo book, I tackled the things that I've been dreading and that really are best done in bigger chunks of time. A lot of them from my home projects list.

Like that small storage room / walk in closet, a.k.a. catch-all clutter magnet. I've cleaned this one out what feels like a zillion times after moving in not even three years ago. It always started to get messy again soon. That's a fairly sure sign that there simply is too much stuff in there, so no matter how you organize it or what storage bins you buy, it will get messy again.

Ironically, I did start by finally putting together the white storage boxes I got months ago. With some help, of course. 

Then I took a deep breath and dragged most of the closet's contents out. What bugged me most were the recycling stuff I kept in there for possible future craft project use (in a cabinet that I hadn't opened in weeks. Or months?), all the cleaning supplies that I purged before but that still looked cluttered sitting on an open shelf and the general lack of space to even walk in there.

So this time I was ruthless. All the cardboard boxes saved for mailing packages were tossed, other mailing stuff like padded envelopes and such was purged until it fit into a nice little white box. I kept 10% of the paper bags I had, and those are probably still too many. Then there was the bin where I keep things to be fixed. Broken toys and other household items. Some of them have been sitting in there for months. Apparently nobody was missing them enough to fix them, so most of that got tossed, too. I could keep going, but the bottomline is that I really tried to stick to that simple, number 1 decluttering rule: Love it, use it or lose it.

You know what happened? The rest of my house looked like a disaster zone. And the closet? Well, that one has empty bins now. I even took out one third of the shelves and will eventually replace the remaining ones with something that takes up less space. Not only can I walk in there now, I can also turn around and put things back where they belong.

I labelled all the boxes, drawers and cabinet doors, although I have to disappoint you: no scrapbook paper, fancy scalloped edge labels and not even a labelmaker. Nope, just some simple white paper cut into crooked pieces, the contents written on in my very own handwriting and stuck down with simple clear tape. Yeah, I know, I'm not going to win any make-it-cute awards here. But I don't care. Besides, I was busy getting rid of the recycling, donation boxes and other miscellaneous items no longer needed.

Ahhhhh. I can't even begin to tell you how great it feels.

So, on to the next frog: Kid's clothes.

Twice a year there's a local market where you can sell used clothing, and the great thing is that you don't have to stand there and sell your stuff, instead you get a number that you stick on your items together with a price and you bring it there the day before and pick it up after. It's only a very small fee and usually a lot of the stuff gets sold. I always wanted to do that but last Fall was the first time that I actually found the time to get it done. So now I try to make it a routine to sort through ALL of the kids' clothing before that date, purge what they've outgrown or simply don't wear, store what we're keeping for little brother and sort through the stuff previously stored to make sure he has the items that fit in his dresser. The remaining things directly go in the pile to be sold.

Again, I was ruthless and put everything in the sell pile that hardly gets worn. I know my mom and mother-in-law won't agree with me here, but I really, really don't think my kids need that many not-so-good longsleeves for messy projects. I have boys: every day is a messy project over here, really. And I don't buy designer stuff for them anyway. I also made lists of what they need. Luckily they always seem to have growth spurts right before I purge their stuff so it's easy to remove things that no longer fit and be strategic about buying new things. I'm getting much better at this, too, not replacing all the stuff I purged with new stuff right away (I'm entirely capable of that).

I also found two plain longsleeves in the pile of stuff that big brother had outgrown at age 3. He had hardly ever worn them, so I decided to pretty them up a bit for little brother, adding simple stamps I had on hand with my new fabric ink pad. I added circus stamps to the yellow one and a simple row of cars to the blue one. A five minute project and he loves wearing his "new" shirts.

Now I still have to get that mountain of clothes labelled for the market (unfortunately the labels weren't available yet when I did the sorting) and get the stuff over there, but that's ok.

My next frog actually deserves its own post, especially as this one is getting a bit long. So I'm just going to tell you that I sorted through that messy cabinet in the living room and also the glassware and dish cabinets in the kitchen.

As for the frogs, that was enough for a month. There are still things like paper pile sorting and doing taxes on my frog list. And I also did a lot of non-froggy things this month, such as preparing for little brother's birthday party, making lion costumes, tackling sewing projects and making more wreaths.

From my home projects list I also did some smaller things, such as decluttering my recipe binder and finally put up that one Expedit door add-on that had been sitting in that closet ever since we moved and now nicely conceals my far too rapidly growing fabric stack in my home office. Now I only have to find a way to automatically clean up the chaos on my desk after projects...

Next month I'll likely focus on small things. Tiny things. Nice things.

As effective as that frog eating thing is and as good as it feels to get it out of the way, it's also fairly exhausting. I don't know about you, but I get tired just writing about it.

What frogs did you eat lately? And what's the biggest frog still sitting on your list? Do tell me in the comments, I'd love to hear.

Happy organizing,

Friday, February 24, 2012

{kid craft} Simple paper lanterns

Just in case I didn't mentioned it often enough, next week is little brother's birthday. So we made some simple paper lanterns. I'm sure you've seen this before or made them before so you won't need a tutorial. But I haven't made these in ages and had forgotten how much fun they were!

We started with some papers in the party colors. Yellow happens to also be little brother's favorite. >ou just fold the sheet in half lengthwise and then either just cut slits from the folded side, not cutting all the way through. Or you draw lines and have your kids practice cutting on the lines. Little brother loved that and was very good at cutting just to the end of the line. For about four lines or so. Then he handed it over to me: "You do the rest. OK, mommy?".

Big brother also cut along his lines.

Apparently that goes much better with the tongue sticking out!

So this is what you're left with.

Now simply glue the ends and you're done. As you can see, I did that. Because my kids were already upstairs playing.

They are sort of addictive. So I made a few. And some more.

Here's the lineup ready for the party!

At night just place a jar and a small candle in them and enjoy. I know I did.

So what's supposed to be a kid craft post sort of turned into a kids-started-mommy-finished-it post. Oh well.

Any other suggestions for party decorations kids can make?


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Celebrating Carnival

The last few days was Karneval over here - Carnival, Mardi Gras, whatever you call it. It's the occasion for everyone to dress up and go to the big parade. The kids shout "Helau!" and try to catch as much candy as possible. This year we caught a lot.

Big brother waiting for the parade.

He was dressed as a lion this year, after being a cat the previous years. I bought the hat at Ikea on sale after the holidays and sewed (yep! Me! Sewed! With a machine!) some felt to a simple yellow sweatshirt, also adding paws complete with felt claws and a tail with a pompom.

There's lots of music at the parade, too.

The kids like it - but prefer the parts with the candy. Obviously.

Here are some of my favorite costumes.

These guys here were "dressed as nothing" or "NIX" in German.

Ice cream cones!

Lots of animals, too.

Big brother kept holding up his basket and shouting Helau for more candy.

These guys here had Ikea lamps as hats!

And these were hot air balloons.

Since it' still fairly cold here and little brother is coughing already, we decided to let him have the choice of going with mommy and big brother to the parade or spending the day at grandma's. Needless to say, grandma won. He loves her. 

I'd say it's back to normal now, but it's little brother's birthday next week. So what have you been up to?