Kid’s Birthday Gift: Painting Kit

One of Quentin’s classmates is having a birthday party this weekend. Since it’s so early in the school year and we don’t know the interests of his new friend, Audrey, I wanted to get her something that wasn’t too specific. I think this Painting Kit is a great gender neutral gift, and works for almost any five year old. Plus, it’s inexpensive! Here’s what I included in the kit:

Smock

KUUQA Waterproof Art Smock; Long Sleeve with 3 Pockets

$5.99

I thought this smock was so cute. It has velcro in the back which makes it easy for kids to put it on and take off. I wanted to give it a little extra touch, so I embroidered the birthday girl’s name. To make sure it displayed nicely in the basket, I cut a piece of cardboard and folded the smock around the cardboard.

Paint

Crayola Washable Kids Paint, Classic Colors

$4.27

I love these Crayola paint pots. I buy a new set for Quentin every Christmas and we use them throughout the year. They’re not very opaque, but they do the job for a kid’s project.

Paint Brushes

Crayola Big Paint Brushes

$3.99

These brushes are also a big hit in our home. They’re very inexpensive, but a great deal for the price. They’re easy for little five year old hands to hold. I’ll sometimes use them for craft projects if I don’t want to ruin my good brushes.

Palette

Penta Angel Art Paint Tray Palette 3 Pieces, 6 Well

$4.99 for 3 – I kept two for Quentin to use and included one in the gift ($1.66)

These paint palettes are nice because you can pour the paint into the wells, mix colors, and keep the paint pots free from cross-color contamination.

Canvas Panels

Artlicious Canvas Panels 12 Pack – 8 inch x 10 inch

$12.99 for 12 – I kept six for Quentin and included six in the gift ($6.49)

Canvas panels are the best for kid art projects because they’re a more sturdy than painting on paper, where the corners curl up or the paper can get overworked and disintegrate. Plus they are easy to frame with regular 8 x 10 frames.

The total cost of this gift was $22.40 – how can you beat that?! I used a basket that I already had in my house from the dollar store, and hot-glued some felt decorations to the front. Last step was to wrap it in clear cellophane gift wrap and tie it with a bow. I really love how this basket turned out and I think Audrey will have many hours of enjoyment and creativity out of this gift!

Rainbow Halloween

Our Halloween decorations are up! One day I hope to own a home with a beautiful fireplace and a mantle I can decorate for every holiday, but while we live in our little East River apartment, the kitchen table works just fine as my decorating home base.

For Halloween this year I wanted to do a colorful theme to match the rest of our apartment. Everything is in rainbow colors with black and white accents. I wanted a lot of layers with this year’s installation, both on the wall and on the table, to create a lot of visual interest and add a lot of color to my kitchen. I’m really in love with how it turned out.

Color Block Pumpkins

These pumpkins are fake, and I found them on sale at Michael’s for $5 each. The pumpkins came white with a brownish stem, and I painted them using acrylic paint. That’s gold metallic acrylic paint on their stems. I taped off their circumference to get a clean line, and it took two coats to get a really opaque color on them.

Garlands

I made three different types of garlands so that the wall space felt finished. The first is the Song of the Witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I cut the letters freehand out of felt and hot glued them on to a strand of thick, decorative baker’s twine. The other garland is a rainbow ghost motif. The little ghosts are made out of felt, that I stitched together using black embroidery floss, and stuffed with ploy-fil. They’re also hot glued to baker’s twine. After I had hung those two garlands I felt like I needed a little something extra to tie the two together, so I threaded together rainbow pom-poms.

Halloween Art

Above our table is a very ugly fuse box. It needed to go. I had a thin piece of plywood in my house from my woodcutting days, so I covered the panel in Kraft paper and painted a cute Halloween scene on the paper – a pink full moon with black bats. I like how it hides the fuse box and I can now change up the board to match whatever decorating theme I’m going for.

Rainbow Tree Centerpiece

I wanted to create some height with the decorations on the table, so I decided to create a rainbow fall tree, with pinecones, acorns and fall paper leaves. I painted the pinecones and acorns with acrylic paint and attached them to the tree branches using flower wire. The leaves are just cut out of colorful origami paper, and also attached to the branches with flower wire.

Neon Specimen Jar

When I found these squishy eyeballs and brains, I knew I had to add them to the installation somehow. I think they’re really fun and so festive. Easiest way for me to do that was to stick them in a mason jar, fill it with water, and secure it with a lid. I added a piece of blue felt to the top of the lid to add another pop of color.

Pink Tombstone

I think my favorite item out of all the things I DIY-ed is this pink tombstone. I bought it almost as an afterthought, it’s a Kraft paper tombstone from Michaels. I had some pink paint that I had mixed left over from the pumpkins, so I decided, why not a pink tombstone? I painted the skull and crossbones and the lettering with pastel pink paint. The tombstone and the specimen jar don’t take themselves too seriously.

I had so much fun making all of these Halloween decorations, and I’m glad they’re up early so we have more time to enjoy them! I think I might hang a few black paper bats around the house to spruce up the rest of the rooms. And I still haven’t made my wreath for the season! I’m torn between an autumnal floral wreath and a colorful Halloween wreath – I’ll have to see what strikes me more this weekend.

Gus being very On Brand

Do you decorate your home for Halloween? What are you planning on displaying? Is a rainbow Halloween even in the spirit of Halloween?! Where’s the orange and black!!

What are you doing to celebrate the season?

Kid’s Room Makeover

It’s been a few years since I’ve been out of school, but I haven’t stopped feeling like I’m running on a school schedule. After I graduated, my husband and I moved to a college town in New Jersey, so the years still felt regimented by fall and spring semesters. Now my son is starting kindergarten, and it really feels like school is back in session. I love September for the new beginning it represents: a chance to get back into old routines and an opportunity to start new ones.

October marks one year since we left that college town apartment and moved to this new apartment in New York. We just renewed our lease for another year, so we know we’ll be here for a little while longer.

The first year after moving is survival mode. There’s so many changes, new things to acclimate to. It’s impossible to make a new space feel like home overnight, but until you do, you yearn for it.

While I’ve found some great organizing solutions for our small space over the past couple of month, Quentin’s room has been a bit of a disaster for the past year. I had a great system for his room in our old apartment, but his last room was double the size of this one! Of course I had a place for everything.

Now that we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the move, and with the new school year looming, I thought it time to overhaul his toys, clothes and organization system as a whole. The greatest challenge is that his room needs to play double duty as a bedroom and a playroom. Toys quickly overtake every nook and cranny, especially since he’s an only child and a bit spoiled toys-wise.

We have two IKEA STUVA dressers in his room, and while they’re built for kids, the top drawers are still tough to reach for a five year old. I wanted to make sure the things he needed accessible to him were lower down, while also making better use of his storage space in general.

As he’s gotten bigger his clothes have gotten bigger. Keeping his clothes in the shallow drawers wasn’t working anymore, and laundry day often means shoving folded clothes down, wrinkling them in the process, and squeezing the drawer shut. The deeper drawers also presented their own problems. While I had tried to contain things in baskets in the drawers, they still ended up as a toy cemetery, overflowing the baskets and ending up as one symbiotic pile.

Without further ado, here is Quentin’s Room before:

When I’m taking on a whole-room reorganization, I like to map everything out on paper first. I create a “before” so that I can inventory everything and think of solutions before the mess of organization begins. It helps me think critically about the space in the planning phase, and when the project is underway, I have a roadmap if I feel overwhelmed. I like to think of a few things when coming up with my organization plan:

LIKE WITH LIKE

The most important thing you can do when you’re trying to create user-friendly, maintainable storage is to keep like items with like items. “Miscellaneous” is a dirty word. There should ideally be no miscellaneous storage. For example, we don’t have a “junk drawer” in our apartment. The goal (while not always realized perfectly) is for everything to have a home.

The cabinet of the right dresser was stuffed with all different sorts of things: bed linens, sweaters and sweatshirts, a stroller rain protector, old book bag, etc. When things that don’t belong together are put together, it leads to more random things thrown in when you’re trying to tidy up and don’t know where to put something.

ACCESS

Storage space that is easier to access should be for high-traffic things that you use just about every day; storage space that is more difficult to access should be for low-traffic items, things that you use maybe once a week or less.

In the case of the dressers, the top drawer of the left dresser only my husband and I can access, so it’s useless for toy storage. Bed linens were perfect for that drawer, because we are the ones changing his sheets. The top shelf of the cabinet in the right dresser is also tough for Quentin to get to, so I decided to put baskets close to the edge so that he could easily grab them himself.

MINIMALISM

Because I’m an artsy craftsy person at heart, I’ll never achieve a “true” minimalist aesthetic in my home. However, I really appreciate a good purge. It’s important to comb through things on a frequent basis, and let go of things that are no longer serving you. Or you could do what I did, and not take my own advice. Just wait eleven months and do it all in one shot.

I believe that my home should only have things that we need and love. Everything else creates clutter and detracts from the things we need and love. When you can’t find your favorite sweater under the pile of sweaters that you never seem to wear but still hold on to, those other sweaters are a misuse of the time and energy that it takes to maintain them or live around them.

This is especially true for toys. Kids outgrow things, more quickly than we’d like, and the train set that use to provide hours upon hours of entertainment one day collects dust. I’m very lucky that my parent’s home has a basement playroom that Quentin uses when he is visiting them. I give his forgotten toys to my parents so that they can choose what they’d like to keep, he can see them in a new light in a new environment, and I can free up some space.

THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH

When you’re doing a big re-organization, it’s going to be darkest before the dawn. There’s going to be a point where you consider giving up. You’re going to want to put everything back in the boxes they came from, and put those boxes back on the shelf. Close the cabinet, walk away. Go back to whatever it was you were blissfully doing before you had the crazy idea to turn a room upside down.

Don’t do that! Resist the urge to give up! While you’re at it, don’t take shortcuts. Those last, niggling items that don’t seem to fit into any of the homes you’ve already created? Don’t place them in a home they’re not fit for just to be done with it.

Also, I’m a firm believer in dumping. It’s always best to just dump everything out onto the floor to see exactly what you have. It’s easier to work through with everything spread out. That way, you get a visual on the things you can give away, and you can create new storage spaces that will fit those things properly.

Finally, work quickly. Taking too much time to consider every item and the emotional, spiritual and psychological ramifications of giving it away will make this process go on FOREVER. You’ll be drained and exhausted and lose steam. Only allow a few seconds to the “do I need this?” and “do I love this?” questions. Use the “maybe” pile sparingly.

The under-bed storage was my darkest hour of Quentin’s room reorganization:

Note the winter hat and construction paper in with the train tracks and LEGOs bin. Also, a Kalimba song book that was buried beneath a pile of STEM toy parts. What was Santa thinking when he gave Quentin all those STEM toys last Christmas?

I eventually came out on the other side of the dump, and I had six big garbage bags full of toys, outgrown clothes, etc., to prove it. They’re off to my parent’s home now for them to figure out what the hell to do with it all!

LABELS

The last piece of the organizing puzzle is labeling. Labels are important because it’s much quicker to read a word on a label than it is to visually take stock of what’s in a drawer or cabinet or inside a jar, and determine what should go where. That takes too much thinking.

It also give space for a re-writing of the rules of that particular storage space. Hmm… that empty space between the silverware organizer and the side of the drawer? I don’t know what goes in here, so I’ll just put this stack of extra napkins I got from our last Seamless delivery! While I’m at it, mason jar lids. A star-shaped cookie cutter. Icebreakers mints. A package of 100 wooden skewers I bought so that I could use two skewers as support for a cocktail garnish that one time. What am I doing with the other 98 skewers? Not sure.

Anyway, while labels won’t necessarily solve the problem of skewer storage, they, at the very least, make you feel guilty when you knowingly put something where it doesn’t belong. That’s enough motivation for me.

I really should do something about that silverware organizer black hole…

The labels for Quentin’s room have icons on them because Quentin is still learning how to read. He can still follow the system by just looking at the pictures. It’s important for us to have Quentin tidy up his room on his own, without us having to monitor the whole process. Or just giving up monitoring altogether and doing it ourselves after he asks, “Wait a second, are mummies real?” in hope we forget why we’ve met in his room in the first place.

Aren’t these labels just so cute? I created the icons using Adobe Illustrator, printed them and laminated them before sticking them on his dresser and under-bed storage.

After a few late nights, Quentin’s room was complete! Clothes file-folded! Under-bed storage taken from three bins to four, less packed-to-the-gills bins! A walkable path around his bed! Drawer dividers!! An “electronics” basket reachable only by adults to monitor screen time!!! It was a journey, but his new and improved room is truly a thing of beauty.

Quentin’s New Room! Note the labels posted on the outside of the dressers and the neat under-bed storage.

I try to keep surfaces mostly clear; clutter begets clutter. However, I think a few curated items add charm to a home.

No one needs more file folding content, but look at this file-folded drawer!! Shirts on the left, pants on the right. Rainbow order forecasted to last the total of one laundry cycle.

While I was organizing I gave a lot of thought to maintenance. Now that Quentin is five it was time for him to start doing some chores. We picks chores that we knew he’d be able to do without getting frustrated, and assigned each chore a monetary value. He can use his earnings on whatever he wants. This chore chart is laminated and we’re using dry erase markers to mark off what he completes.

Inside the dresser cabinet that was once a no man’s land we set up two additional baskets for smaller toys that he can access on the top shelf, as well as a space for him to put his backpack and shoes every day when he gets home from school. The pouch attached to his new backpack is, what looks to me an iPad sleeve, which Quentin is calling his “briefcase”. He said he’ll need to bring his iPad to school so that he can do math and science. Makes sense.

The two bottom drawers of that dresser have been converted to arts and crafts storage. We previously had all of his art stuff in a shoe box and a basket that was difficult for him to reach and not contained properly, so it was just a big pile of crayons, markers and colored pencils all hanging out together. Now everything is separated using a bamboo utensil holder I purchased for our previous apartment that doesn’t fit in the drawer of our new apartment.

His new under-bed storage is my proudest achievement of this room makeover. Remember the pile of death that I dumped out onto the floor? This is what it looks like properly separated by category of toy: building/STEM toys, his marble tower thing, LEGOs and Hess truck collection.

While reorganizing a whole room can seem daunting at first, the payoff of the finished product is truly like nothing else. His room feels so calm now. There’s a new energy in the space that feels lighter and full of creativity. Seeing the smile on his face when he saw his toys in a new light was worth the hours that it took to put everything together for him.

What are your tips for organizing children’s rooms?

Do you let things get out of hand before tackling the whole room like me, or are you a one-drawer-at-a-time sort of person?

Let me know in the comment section below!

Back To School Teacher Gift: School Survival Kit

Growing up I was the eldest of three. My mother stayed home to raise us, and my parents were resourceful and shrewd enough to make a single-income work.

As a stay-at-home mom, she was just the sort of mother for the job. Patient, optimistic, nurturing, creative; arts-n-crafts at the kitchen table, trips to the park, the zoo, baking together, hand-sewn Halloween costumes, my Girl Scout troop leader. If she ever felt lonely or overwhelmed or frustrated raising three children, at home by herself while my father worked, often long hours and late night meetings – which I’m sure she did – my siblings and I never knew.

After the youngest of the siblings started kindergarten, my mother had time to think of her next steps. With her children in school, she decided that she wanted to go back to school herself.

Picking up where her community college associate’s degree had left off, she earned a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s in special education. No small feat for a woman who looked back on her poor grade school performance with a self-critical eye. “I never liked school,” my mother would respond when people congratulated her on going back. What she left unsaid was that her childhood was tough. A daughter of immigrants and divorce, planted in a gritty New York City school system, she could have blamed her bad grades on her environment growing up, but she never did. When she gave herself a second chance at an education, she did so with flourish, graduating cum laude and walking to accept her diploma with the happy family she built in the bleachers.

After graduating from her master’s program, she started teaching. First kindergarten and now second grade. As a teacher, she is just the sort of mother for the job. The same positivity and zest for life that she wove into our days as a stay-at-home mom, she seamlessly weaves into her classroom.

As a teenager, I remember her staying up late at our dining room table with lesson plans strewn about. “It’s a good thing I’m a kindergarten teacher,” she would say, “the kids only need to know how to count!” Anyone who knows her, knows that this self-deprecation is cover for how talented an educator she truly is.

Everyone remembers their kindergarten teacher, and for those who had my mother as their’s: if only we could all be so lucky. With my son starting kindergarten in just two short weeks, I’m thinking about the teachers in my life and the teachers who will be in my son’s life. An education is a privilege and teachers are never thanked quite enough for dedicating their lives to being a vehicle for that privilege. It’s a gift to teach people how to be people.

I wanted to give my son’s kindergarten teacher something to start the school year, so I put together a School Survival Kit. Nothing crazy, just a few travel-sizes items that everyone could use while they’re stuck at work. 

The box is from ikea. I glued a bright, floral patterned wrapping paper on the lid and around the sides. The paper is a sheet from Papyrus that I cut to size and glued to the box using tacky glue. 

I wanted a box with a lid that was big enough to fit everything but small enough to fit in a desk drawer or on a shelf. When I was walking through CVS to purchase all the items in the kit, I almost wanted to keep the box for myself! I might have to make a survival kit for my own office drawer next.

To add some more decoration, I stitched “School Survival Kit” with pink embroidery thread onto a scrap of magenta felt, and glued the felt with tacky glue to the top. 

You could put whatever you’d like in your kit, but in mine I added:

  • Emergen-C packets
  • Chewing gum
  • Advil & Tylenol packets
  • Tide To Go stick
  • Tums
  • Lip blam
  • Facial cleansing wipes
  • Lotion
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Travel toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Mouthwash
  • Deodorant
  • Band-aids
  • Scrunchies
  • Cough drops
  • Candies
  • RX Bars

To teachers everywhere at the start of another school year: we are grateful for you! I sent a picture of my kit to my mom and she texted back: “I wish I had a parent like you in my class!” I texted back that my son better be Line Leader and Star Student for the whole year, but what I really meant to say was that I’m the parent that I am because of the teacher that my mother is. 

Thanks, mom.

Popsicle Stick Wreath

It’s back to school season, and this year is special for our family because our five year old is starting Kindergarten! He’s been in daycare since he was two years old and graduated from Pre-K this past June, so I should be used to sending him off into the world. I’m not! Kindergarten feels different.

New York City public school enrollment is super competitive. We live on the Upper East Side in a third floor walk-up without a dishwasher or laundry in the building. It’s the sort of apartment in which every square inch of space must be used. While we’re not stashing shoes in the oven like the NYC apartment cliché, I do have multiple kitchen cabinets dedicated to my crafting supplies.

It’s close quarters for our family of three, but it works for us. What our apartment lacks in space, it makes up for in opportunity. We are “zoned” for Upper East Side public schools. Last spring, we submitted our list of about ten public elementary schools in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, hoping and praying that he would be accepted to our first choice school.  

Our first choice school was highly ranked among public schools in the city, but the best part for us is it’s a two minute walk from our apartment! Having his school right down the block is such a convenience – we would no longer have to take the bus every morning like we were doing for his Pre-K further downtown.

Well, he got in to our first choice school! We couldn’t be more excited for him to start this new adventure in his life, and to meet other parents who live in our neighborhood that have children in his grade. I get a little teary-eyed when I think about dropping him off for his first day in September. Where has the time gone?

To honor back to school season, I had my five year old help me make a very simple, very inexpensive, very elementary-school-inspired wreath for the front door of our apartment. It’s a Popsicle Stick Wreath! Glued to a paper plate! You really can’t get any more “kids art project” than this.

I was able to make it with things I already had around the house. Because it’s such a low-maintenance craft, I don’t feel at all bad about throwing this out when we’re done with it, instead of storing it away. When you live in a 500 square foot apartment, there’s not much room for wreath storage.

We started off this project setting up our mason jars with water and food coloring. The food coloring part was the perfect job for my five year old. I had him count out 20 drops of coloring per jar as he squeezed the little food coloring bottles. We made six dye jars: red, yellow, green, blue, purple, and greenish-blue. The purple and greenish-blue jars were a good exercise in creating secondary colors from primary colors. There’s always teachable moments when you’re making things with kids!

While my son was counting out drops, I divided the 150 sticks into six piles. We placed the sticks in the jars to hang out and absorb the dye. Two of the jars we made – the purple and greenish-blue – ended up not being saturated enough to dye the sticks. I threw the purple sticks into the red jar and the greenish blue sticks into the blue jar just to hurry things along. We left the sticks in the dye for about three hours, but you could leave them for as little or as long as you’d like, depending on how saturated you want the coloring to be.

For the wreath ring, I took four paper plates and cut out the centers. I used four plates so the sticks would have enough stability, one paper plate seemed too flimsy. The four plates were secured together with masking tape.

Working from the outer ring in, I glued the semi-dried sticks using my hot glue gun. I definitely could have waited over night for the sticks to dry fully, but I’m impatient. Life’s too short to wait for Popsicle sticks to dry, right?

I glued a section of all red sticks, then a pattern of one yellow, one red, yellow, red and again a section of all yellow sticks. That way, the sticks have more of a softer, gradient effect. This is the pattern I used:

R R R R R R R Y R Y R Y Y Y Y Y Y Y G Y G Y G G G G G G G B G B G B B B B B B B R B R B

In total, I created three layers of sticks so that the paper plates were completely hidden, and the wreath had a nice 3-D depth to it. I had a leftover yard of blue ribbon to use to hang the wreath. To secure the ribbon to the back of the wreath, I first hot glued it straight to the plate, and then used a strip of duct tape just in case.  

What’s great about this technique is that the Popsicle sticks can be dyed whatever color you want. You could make an ombré wreath with varying saturation of one color. Or, you could paint the sticks – which I personally found too time consuming an idea for something as transient as a Popsicle stick wreath. But, by all means, knock yourself out! I also think the sticks would look nice with just their natural wood color, or you could purchase the pre-colored sticks and save yourself a step.

Working with the Popsicle sticks brought me back to my childhood, when I went to the summer day camp in my little suburban town in New Jersey. The mornings were spent making friendship bracelets and boondoggle keychains and playing Spud. During the arts-n-crafts segment of camp, we would make those Popsicle stick treasure boxes with the alternating Lincoln Log technique.

All cards on the table, I know this is a Popsicle stick wreath. It’s in the spirit of those same childhood crafts. This might not be a fancy craft. It’s not fine art, it doesn’t use expensive or unique materials. It’s the sort of craft that reminds you: creating is fun just for the sake of it.

Not all D-I-Y projects need to be a permanent fixture in your home. I think keeping that in mind takes the pressure off of making things, and instead allows decorating to be a fun, playful experience. I don’t like making my home a monument to itself, everything perfect and perfectly in its place and unchanging. Sometimes my home is getting ready for the first day of kindergarten, and a Popsicle Stick Wreath is all it really needs.

MATERIALS:

  • 150 Popsicle Sticks
  • Food Coloring
  • Water
  • Glass Jars
  • 4 Paper Plates
  • Masking Tape
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Hot Glue Sticks
  • Ribbon (length depends on how you are hanging the wreath)
  • Duct Tape
  • Scissors
  1. Fill jars with water, 20-30 drops of food coloring per jar in whatever color combination you prefer
  2. Separate Popsicle sticks into even groups and place in the food coloring/water jars
  3. Let soak for at least 1 hour (I let them sit for 3 hours)
  4. When the sticks have reached their desired saturation, let the sticks dry upright in cups or laying flat on paper towels
  5. Meanwhile, cut the centers out of 4 paper plates; secure the plates together with masking tape; I put masking tape at the 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 & 9:00 positions of the plates
  6. Starting with the outermost ring, glue the sticks using hot glue in whatever design or pattern you choose, for a total of 3 layers of sticks
  7. Turn the wreath over and secure the ribbon to the back of the wreath using hot glue and/or duct tape
  8. Hang your wreath and enjoy for as long as you can before the sticks start inevitably popping off one by one each time someone slams the door too forcefully – this is a Popsicle stick paper plate wreath after all!