Monday, June 30, 2014

Creating a Turtle Habitat

A neighbor found a little turtle and brought it to us.  The kids wanted to keep it temporarily to enter in an upcoming turtle race so they made her (well, we think it is a "her" anyway) a home.  It comes complete with pool and flowers.  Hope she enjoys her stay!

Her favorite hiding spot

Taking a dip in the pool

We added a few more flowers plus rocks and shells

Monday, June 23, 2014

Temporary Nature Art (Land Art)

After several days in super-busy, on-the-go mode, my kids and I finally have a day to stay at home.  My daughter is fighting a cold and I think I'm coming down with it too so I spent my late morning relaxing outside watching our chickens and enjoying the (unusual for June) coolness after a light rain.  Since I have trouble sitting still for very long, I couldn't resist turning the sticks and rocks at my feet into a picture.  So after creating this guy (see photo on the right), I dragged my two younger kids outside for some fresh air and nature art.

Here are some of our creations.

These are great projects to do at a park and leave for someone else to enjoy.  Also, a good way to get kids outside having fun and being creative.

Check out Land Art for Kids for more great land and nature art ideas to inspire creativity in children.
Taking a break from his art

Some of our chickens (and one duck!)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fairy Gardens

Looking for a fun summer craft project?  This is a great project to make outside with kids!  I did this project with a group of children and teens who came to a summer arts and craft camp.  The Fariy Gardens they created were portable and could be taken home to keep or given as a gift.  The children made some delightful little gardens and they really enjoyed the process.

Here are some of the materials we used:
Large plastic bowls
Potting Soil
Wood craft birdhouses
Small pebbles from the craft store
Smooth rocks or river stones (larger than the small pebbles, but not too large)
Faux moss from the craft store
Faux moss rocks
Miniature plastic birds
Glass gems
Craft paint (if the gardens will be kept outside use Outdoor Craft Paint)
Hot glue gun to attach miniature birds
Permanent markers for writing on the stones
Small potted flowering plants and herbs
Gravel or broken pottery pieces for drainage at the bottom of the bowls

You don't have to use all of these items, but the list gives you some ideas.  You may have other miniature items around your house that would make a great addition to a fairy garden.  I bought most of these items at my local craft store with the exception of the bowls, potting soil and plants.  This project was fairly inexpensive.

Making the gardens:
First have the childen paint the miniature wooden birdhouses in the colors of their choice.  Next place a layer of gravel or broken pottery pieces at the bottom of the bowl to help with drainage.  Then add potting soil and fill to the top.  When the paint has dried on the birdhouse the children can begin to design the layout of the garden.  It's best to place the house first then decide where the other items will go.  Have them chose a few flowers and herbs to plant.  They might want to add a pebble path and a larger stone with a message or name on it.  We added some faux moss and faux mossy rocks plus a miniature plastic bird.  The children can glue the birds to the little houses or onto one of the rocks.  The kids can really get creative with these and will no doubt have plenty of ideas of items to add.  They could glue small sticks together to make other items such as a garden bench to place outside the miniature house.  Children will think of plenty of ideas to make their gardens inviting and cozy spaces for their tiny friends.

Some of the children who made these decided to give them as gifts.  I even made one to give a dear friend and she really loved it.

I'll be sharing some of the other projects I've done with kids and teens at my summer arts and crafts camp.

Happy summer everyone!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Travel Themed Party Decorations

I needed to make some quick decorations for a travel themed party a friend and I were hosting so here's what I came up with.....

I used the super simple instructions found here to make the accordian fold flowers from an old map.

My kids helped cut out triangles from the map to make a bunting.  I punched holes and used small red ribbon (the color I happened to have on hand) to string through the holes.

Table decorations included wooden toy vehicles, globe balls, a small cardboard suitcase decorated with travel stickers and some pretty roses from my rose bush.

Simple, quick and fun decorations!

A gift from the heart....

My ten year old daughter loves to make things and she loves to give gifts, especially gifts she has made herself.  (I need to do a whole series on the homemade toys she has made for her little brother over the years.)  I absolutely love her creative and giving spirit!

Another thing my daughter loves is looking for four leaf clovers.  She finds a surprising number of them.  Guess she has a lot of good luck in store for her!  She found a four leaf clover recently and decided to make something special with it for a friend.  She remembered the Modge Podge we had used recently for another project and came up with the idea of decorating a box with the clover.  So she pressed the clover flat in a book for a few days and I took her to the craft store to pick out a paper mache craft box.  She chose a small oval shaped one.  We brought it home and she carefully decided on the color she wanted to paint it.  Then she attached the clover to the painted box and covered it with a couple of coats of Modge Podge.  Here are the results.  I think the box turned out lovely!  It was a simple, yet pretty project that she came up with on her own.  And a beautiful gift for her friend.  She decided to put something in the box too, but we were running too crazy and busy that day (dance recital!) so I didn't find out what the special something was she put inside.  I'll try to remember to ask her that tomorrow......

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Naturally Dyed Eggs

This was my first year to try dyeing eggs with natural materials (except we have dyed red eggs with onion skins and made one attempt with blueberries which resulted in a deep purple color).  I was very pleased with the results I achieved this year.  We used purple (red) cabbage to make blue, beets for pink and turmeric for yellow.  We took eggs which had been dyed yellow in the turmeric and put them in the blue dye for to make green.  I also dyed a few with plants attached to make a print design.  The results were truly lovely!

Here's how to make them:

First hard boil the eggs and include about 1 Tablespoon of vinegar in the water (to remove any residue that might be on the eggs).  Let the eggs cool.

For yellow dye:
Add 3 tablespoons turmeric and 1 tablespoon of vinegar to 3 cups hot water.  Stir well until dissolved, then let cool.

For blue dye:
Chop one small head of purple cabbage (or half of a large head) and simmer in 3 cups of water for 25 - 30 minutes.  Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar while it is cooking.  Remove the cabbage and allow the dye to cool.

For pink dye:
Chop 3 beets into approximately one inch chunks.  Simmer in 3 cups of water for 25 - 30 minutes.  Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar while the beets are cooking.  Remove beets and let the dye cool.

For green eggs:
Dye eggs yellow, then place in the blue dye.

Place eggs in the preferred color of dye and let sit for 10 - 30 minutes depending on what color you desire.  The yellow worked the quickest.  The beets and cabbage dyes took longer to reach the desired color.  Gently stir the eggs in the dye occasionally to ensure even color.  I blotted the eggs with a paper towel after taking them out of the dye.
CAUTION:  These natural dyes will stain things other than the eggs (like your counter top!) so I recommend covering your work space with newspaper or a disposable table cloth.

For plant print designs:
Gather leaves or flowers from your yard.  I just used weeds from my yard.  The longer stems with multiple leaves look nice because you can wrap the stem around the egg.  Place the leaf or stem on the eggs then wrap with a mesh type material.  I used some mesh fabric I had on hand.  Pantyhose would probably work well too.  I secured the mesh with a rubber band.  The main objective is to keep the plant tight against the egg while still allowing the dye to get through the mesh to the rest of the egg.  Mine turned out better than I expected!

I really love the delicate earthy colors!

The blue is my favorite.  I love the color and the little heart designs.
I believe the plant I used is called 'spepherd's purse'.
It has little green heart shaped buds that later bloom out into small white flowers.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Red Eggs for Easter

In the Orthodox Christian tradition we color red eggs for Easter (or Pascha as we usually refer to Easter).  There are various legends surrounding the red eggs.  A few can be found here.  After the midnight Pasha service we each take a red egg (which was first boiled) and tap it against another person's egg while one person gives the Paschal greeting, Christ is Risen! and the other person answers, Indeed He is Risen!  The egg that doesn't crack is then tapped against another person's egg and then another and so forth until there is only one person with an unbroken egg.  That person is considered to have good luck for the rest of the year, good health or long life (it varies according to different traditions).  Of course children love this egg tapping game and look forward to it every year.  It is a fun tradition that all ages enjoy as they proclaim the Risen Christ at midnight and begin the joyous feast!

This year we will color our traditional red eggs using yellow onion skins, but we will also be trying some other natural dyes.  One year I tried blueberries which gave a deep purple color.  This year we will also experiment with turmeric (for yellow), purple cabbage (for blue) and beets (for pink).  I will report back here on our results!

Here are some pics from a previous Pascha and a link to an egg dye recipe I have used in the past.

Brown eggs dyed red with yellow onion skins, then rubbed with olive oil.

My kids tapping their eggs

Friday, April 4, 2014

St. Mary of Egypt

This coming Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent,  we commemorate St. Mary of Egypt.  I really love St. Mary and the story of her very sincere and deep repentance as well as her amazing life of asceticism.  It's no wonder she is commemorated in the Orthodox Church during Great Lent, a time of repentance and spiritual renewal.

Her story has many elements that children find interesting (especially the lion!).  St. Mary lived a very sinful life before her conversion.  Therefore, it can be a somewhat delicate task to tell her story to children in a way that is appropriate for them while at the same time conveying the depths of her sins from which she repented.  I searched online for a children's book or story about the life pf St. Mary of Egypt.  I still haven't found any storybooks about her life for children, but I did run across a re-telling of her life for children posted on her feast day (which is April 1).  It can be found here along with some lovely icons that help tell her story.

I read the story to my children and showed them some of the icons.  They were particularly interested in the lion and her miracle of walking across the Jordan river.  We talked a bit about how sorry she was for her grave sins and why she chose to live a life of extreme asceticism in the desert (as a form a deep and humble repentance, to keep herself from returning to her old ways and to become closer and closer to God).  We also talked a bit about Fr. Zosimas' pride and his sincere humility after meeting St. Mary.

I asked my kids what part of St. Mary's story they found the most interesting.  My daughter said the part where Mary was unable to enter the church on Jerusalem was most interesting to her and my son was most fascinated by the fact that she lived so long alone in the desert.

For our project I decided to have the kids draw a picture depicting Fr. Zosimas and St. Mary with simple figures in the Waldorf style.  We used watercolor pencils (I have a set I have been wanting to try out so I thought this would be a good project for that!).  We used two particular icons (see above) as inspiration for our drawings and I encouraged the children to either depict Fr. Zosimas with the reposed St. Mary (and the lion nearby) or St. Mary coming across the Jordan river to receive communion.  I made a quick drawing as an example for them.  After they completed their drawings I showed them how they could dip a paintbrush in water and go over parts of their painting with the brush to make it appear like a watercolor painting.  I think the effect and the resulting pictures are lovely.

(click on photos to see them larger)

A note on paper:  After a trial run, before I did the project with my children, I decided to use watercolor paper.  I first tried the project with an 80# drawing paper, but with the water it made the paper wrinkle up too much.  The heavier watercolor paper worked much better.