Category Archives: celebrations/holidays

Counting Down

countdown calendar 2013 at amyhoodarts.com

With Thanksgiving being so late this year, I needed to take down our Thankful banner right after Thanksgiving and replace it with our countdown calendar. I meant to highlight that tutorial much earlier in the month, but November has simply slid right by. Fortunately, this countdown calendar design has open pockets, which is one of the many reasons I love it so much. I can slip in the activity cards as we go. I’ve said before, I know: our countdown activities are things we’d be doing anyway–getting a tree, writing to Santa, sending out cards, and so on–made extra special because each day’s activity, even the simple ones (have hot cocoa + whipped cream, for example), have an element of surprise from the anticipation of seeing what’s in the pocket. Our countdown always starts the same way on December 1–celebrating my firstborn’s birthday. And then we can begin with Christmas in earnest.

I slip some chocolate in there every so often, but overall, this is about doing simple things, together. The kids look forward to it, too, making sure I don’t forget to include their favorites. “Will we be making snowflakes this year?” my oldest wanted to know. “We can’t forget to drive around looking at Christmas lights,” reminds my youngest. I like to think that this element of simple ritual is something they’ll look back upon when they’re older as a beloved part of celebrating the holidays together.

Meanwhile, I’ve been a bit quiet in this space because I’ve been busy getting the second issue of Art Together ready for release the first week of December. This issue focuses on line, and the kids and I have had fun researching it and putting it together. The featured artist is one of my favorites, Piet Mondrian. We have really enjoyed learning more about him. I’m looking forward to sharing this issue with you (and simultaneously quieting that voice that always says, No, not quite ready, not quite yet).

I’m also counting down to Sew Mama Sew’s Giveaway Day on December 9. I’ve decided to participate this year, so there will be something up for grabs here the second week of December. So many things going on here this month! Finally, a little something for the holidays–code HOLIDAY13 will get you 10% off in the shop through December 31.

Phew. I think I’ve caught everything up for the time being. Now, I have a birthday to prepare for before coming back next week to announce the new issue!

The Christmas Project

My daughter, who just turned five, really gets Christmas this year, by which I mean, she is into it. By nature, she is a Planner. She likes to plan birthdays–her own, and, if allowed, other people’s as well. She plans birthday celebrations for her stuffed animals that go on for days, complete with presents wrapped up in pieces of printer paper. So last week, after a morning of listening to her ideas about Christmas, a combination of things we’ve done in the past that she remembers (“We need to drive around and look at lights, Mama! And go around the big lit-up tree!”) and things she’s not quite sure we do but would like to (“Do you make the cookies shaped like men? Will you?”), I suggested we make a notebook for all her ideas, and planning Christmas can be her project. Planning Christmas starting on Veteran’s Day is not necessarily my thing, but my daughter is All Over This.

Christmas project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

We made a simple notebook with printer paper, a card stock cover, and the awesome long-arm stapler, and she chose stamps for the front and back covers. Then she got to work listing her ideas. She began with decorations.

decorations from the Christmas Project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

My favorite is “Santa’s sleigh, reindeer and all.” I’m not sure where she envisions this, or how large it’s supposed to be…but I’ve agreed to give her small budgets for her planning. She will have to winnow her list herself…and therein lies one of the bonuses of putting her in charge of her own project, even if it’s Christmas. We won’t be arguing or negotiating; I’ll be helping her prioritize within her budget.

She is, in case you’re wondering, incorporating other family member’s wishes, too. I told her to put everything on the lists, so nothing is forgotten–we’ll sort it out. Her categories so far also include “Activities,” “Foods,” and “Things to Do.” I’m not sure how “Things to Do” differs from “Activities,” but she is, and that’s what counts.

"Foods" in Christmas Project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

There is a lot going on with the Foods list, as you can see. She’ll have to factor cookie cutters into that budget, looks like.

"What to do" list in Christmas Project Notebook at amyhoodarts.com

Her handwriting, my goodness. It just slays me. She asks how to spell everything, and I either spell it out loud or write it down for her to copy. (In a pinch, her oldest brother helps out with spelling things as well.) Creating this notebook has been great for both of us–she has a place to record all of her ideas, which means I’m not feeling pressured to remember them all. And have I mentioned, she loves to plan? She is telling anyone who will listen that SHE is planning Christmas this year.

As far as I can see, this is a win-win!

Freezer-Paper Stencil Birthday Shirt

We have a nephew turning five this weekend (whose favorite color happens to be green), so top of my to-do list upon returning home was to make him a special shirt. This process will never get old, I don’t think. It’s so much fun and the results are so pleasing. The paint application is a little uneven on this (there I go, being a perfectionist again)–it’s a little tricky on the colored t-shirts to get good coverage without applying overmuch paint, which could lead to cracking later on. So I decided a little unevenness was better than possible cracking. But shoving that aside, I think this shirt is adorable. My kids all approved (and none of them commented on any uneven paint application, either), so I hope our nephew likes it too.

I’m teaching a local workshop on this in December for ages 8-13 (see the classes page)…it’s a great technique for making gifts!

Experiments With Natural Dyes

Dyed with onion skins (with some sticker resist)

Last year we painted wooden eggs for Easter, but my youngest has since outgrown her egg allergy, so we were back to decorating real eggs this year. However, I wanted to get away from the fluorescent, fake colors. I’m the one who eats most of the eggs, and the food coloring dye that leaks onto the egg white always gives me pause. So this year we experimented with natural dyes.

Way back when, in the dark times before the Internet, I experimented with natural dyes while working at a summer day camp. A group of kids and I tie-dyed t-shirts using dye made from beets and blueberries. (We’d been learning about local Native American tribes, so I’m thinking, but am not positive, that I found these dye suggestions in my research, which would have taken place in the library, with books.)

So that’s where I began with Easter egg dye, and I added in onion skins after reading this post. That blogger boiled the eggs along with the onion skins, but I was a little hesitant to give my three-year-old a raw egg to wrap, so I decided to make the dyes separately and dip already-boiled eggs into the dye. There are lots of tutorials on this–such as here (via KiwiCrate) and here (via Craft)–but it looks like many dyes need a long soak, even overnight. I wanted something the kids could see working rather quickly.

The two orange eggs were dyed in onion skin dye. The reddish one at the front is from beets, and the bluish one at the back is from blueberries. The blueberry dye and beet dye looked almost exactly the same in liquid form, but as the blueberry-dyed eggs dried, they became bluer. For all of these, I boiled and then steeped the dyeing agent, then strained the liquid through a wire mesh strainer and added a splash of vinegar as a mordant.

Dyed with blueberry dye

A couple of days later we tried spinach and red cabbage as well. These weren’t as successful. I think the red cabbage would have required an overnight soak, and something interesting happened when I added vinegar to the strained spinach dye. First off, I didn’t need to-spinach contains its own acid, oxalic acid, which is strong enough to act as a mordant all on its own. When I added the vinegar, the liquid, which was a dark green-gold color, lightened into the color of lemonade–and had no effect on the color of the eggs. I’ve been searching for an explanation (what reacted with what?) and haven’t found one yet, so if you know, please tell me!

The Easter Bunny usually leaves my kids little rhyming clues as to where their baskets are hidden. This year, my oldest mentioned he hoped his clue was in code.

Cracking the code

I used a simple number/letter substitution, but I began at “N” as “1.” I helped him work through the first word, which was three letters, using logic to figure out where the vowel probably was (in the middle) and going from there. Then he was off and running. Every year, the Easter Bunny has to get a little smarter…

Have you experimented with natural dyes? What worked best for you?

Patterned Paper Bag Heart Banner

Since November, I’ve been decorating our big sliding glass door to the deck with a seasonal banner of some sort. Our thankful banner was even created from paper bags! So when I saw that TinkerLab’s paper bag challenge fell at the beginning of February, I figured it was a great opportunity to get the kids involved in creating this month’s banner—but with a lot of open-ended process to balance out the product.

Materials: Paper bags (I used brown lunch bags, which are thinner); paint; scissors; materials to create patterns (ie, sponges, cork, pom-poms…whatever your kids want!); heart template; glue or glue stick; yarn for hanging; mini-clothespins (optional)

First I cut open the paper bags and cut off the bottoms so we could lay them out flat. Then we painted them in layers. We covered them in a solid color and then let that dry before going back in to make patterns.

V used gesso on one of his bags because he wanted to use watercolors on the second layer, and we weren’t sure how the watercolors would get along with a layer of tempera paint. G added all her colors of paint pretty much at the same time.

Making the patterns was so much fun! I gave G one of the bags I painted so she could use the sponge to make sponge prints.

She also used the sponge roller to layer some more paint on her own bag. V dropped red liquid watercolors onto the bag he painted with gesso, and a really fun polka-dot effect resulted.

Both boys also used the sponge on one of their bags, and on his second, N made dots with a wine cork and a big pom-pom. We ended up with a pile of colorful paper!

Once the bags were dry, I cut a heart out of cardstock so that all our hearts would be the same size (more or less). We traced hearts onto our bags and cut them out.

The boys were very specific on which parts of their patterned paper they hoped to get on their hearts, so they mostly traced on the painted side. G isn’t quite up to cutting on a line yet, so rather than have her end up frustrated with this part of the project, we gave her the scraps and a heart paper punch.


When the hearts were cut out, we glued them together in pairs so whichever side you see, it’s patterned. Because the watercolor soaked through the bag, V decided not to paste those together—one side shows white with red, and the other is paper bag color with red. G, of course, could participate with the gluing. We thought about gluing the hanging yarn inside the middle, but with so many of us gluing, and at different times, in the end we decided it would be simpler to hang them off the yarn with mini-clothespins.

And what about the hearts G punched out with the scraps? I added some more to her pile and sandwiched them again, this time with a length of perle cotton in between, to make a sweet little hanging string of hearts.

If you’d like to add your project to the link-up, you can do that below. If you’d like to enter to win a $100 Visa gift card and 3-month subscription to Kiwi Crate, make sure to add a link to your project at either TinkerLab or the Kiwi Crate blog (all particulars can be found here). And be sure to visit these other creative bloggers to see what their kids created out of paper bags for the challenge:

Paint Cut Paste, Imagination SoupHands On: As We Grow, Child Central Station, Putti Prapancha, Irresistible Ideas for Play-Based LearningTeach Preschool, The Chocolate Muffin Tree, Nurture Store, Small Types,Make Do & FriendThe Imagination Tree, Toddler Approved, Red Ted Art, Kids in the Studio, Rainy Day Mum, Glittering Muffins, Sense of Wonder, Mom To 2 Posh Lil Divas, Come Together Kids, My Creative Family, Kitchen Counter Chronicles, A Mom With A Lesson Plan, Angelique Felix, The Golden Gleam, Clarion Wren, Living at the Whitehead’s Zoo, Let Kids Create, De tout et de rien, PlayDrMomCreativity My PassionKiwi Crate, Tinkerlab

Happy Valentine’s Day, and have fun!

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Tin Lanterns (Two Ways)

We made these lanterns to celebrate winter solstice, but they’ll be welcome all through winter. We made one version appropriate for older kids, and one better suited to younger kids.

Tin Can Lanterns

Materials: Clean tin can (I used 28-oz tomato cans) with the lid taken off with the type of can opener that doesn’t leave sharp edges; water; hammer and nail

Age level: Elementary & up

Fill the can with water and freeze overnight, either in the freezer or outside. I left room at the top for the water to expand, but it expanded downward for some reason. (If you want your lantern to have handles, you need to be able to punch a hole up near the top, so you’ll need ice up there.)

When the water is frozen, gently tap out a design using a hammer and nail.

We did this in the living room, as you can see, just spreading out a towel and using some old cloth diapers to brace the cans. We made our holes in the ridges of the can, so it was easier to brace the nail. It only takes a gentle tap.

I told the boys to turn the can so that they were always banging the nail straight, not at an angle. They’re 7 and 10, and both of them were easily and safely able to do this. G “helped” me by holding my hammering hand, but I wanted her to be able to create her own lantern without help, so I took inspiration from these jar luminarias at Family Fun.

Aluminum Foil Jar Lanterns

Materials: Glass jar; aluminum foil cut to fit; nail, toothpick, pushpin, or similar (to make holes); foam, cork, cardboard, or similar (as backing while making holes); tape (I used double sided)

Age level: All ages, and suitable for preschoolers

I happened to have a roll of cork lying around the studio, so I spread it out on the table and lay the piece of foil on top of it. G used a nail to punch the holes because it made a slightly bigger opening than a toothpick. I showed her on a scrap of foil how to punch the hole up and down, and how dragging the nail (like you’re drawing with it) will tear the foil. Then she punched her holes.

When she was done, I wrapped the foil around the jar, tucking a little under the bottom and a little around the top edge. I used a piece of double-sided tape to secure the overlap on the side. G ended up making two lanterns, of random design.

Tin can lanterns: my snowflake and N's initial

I placed tea lights in our cans and jars for use indoors. If you want handles on the tin can lanterns, punch a hole on either side at the top and string with ribbon, twine, or the like. But you need to have ice behind while you’re tapping the nail; otherwise the can will dent. (Also, you might not want to use a candle if you’re carrying the lantern; perhaps one of those battery-operated tea lights?)

One of G's aluminum foil jar lanterns

Because my ice expanded downwards, the bottom of our cans were a little warped, but I just gave them a tap with my fist and they flattened enough to sit level on the table.

Our grouping of luminaria, reminding us the light will return

Happy Solstice! And now we turn, ever so slowly, towards the sun.

Children Making Gifts (With Links)

I’m stepping out of the usual process-focused activities to give you a glimpse of what my children are making their loved ones for Christmas this year, and to share some links and ideas. Because my children vary in age, ability, and interest, their gifts do, too. Perhaps you will find something here your child would like to try.

First up, my three-year-old, who absolutely loves bookmarks. She likes to empty the bookshelf that holds chapter books, quietly spiriting them away one by one, each with a bookmark inside. If you try to reshelf them, she’ll exclaim, “I’m reading that!” She’s been known to “borrow” her brothers’ library books, too, claiming them as her own with a bookmark and sticking them in her bedside shelves. She thought giving people handmade bookmarks was a fabulous idea. Here is her painted, salted sheet of paper before cutting:

And here are some finished bookmarks.

I love this project because it is simple, yet with a beautiful and useful result.
She chose the ribbon color for each one, I looped it through, and she pulled it tight.

My seven-year-old realized he could sew recently, so I asked if he’d like to try making felt Christmas tree ornaments. He very much wanted to. I sewed on the embellishments, since that’s a smaller needle and thread (but he arranged them first), and he sewed and stuffed the trees. Here he is sewing:

No photos of the finished trees, in case any relatives are reading. They are something to treasure, though.

My oldest also wanted to make ornaments, making more paint-drip globes like we did last year (using this tutorial). Last year, we made them for the boys’ teachers; this year, he’s making them for aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Here are the original six dripping upside down.

But a funny thing happened…on four of them, the paint dripped right out without adhering to the glass. Weird, right? So I rinsed out the remaining bits of paint (not much) and swished some rubbing alcohol around inside, assuming there was something in there that was repelling the paint. When they were completely dry, we tried again, and this time the paint stayed put. Last year we had enough to make extra, and we have several hanging on our tree. They’re simple and lovely.

Some more links for you:

Last month we made recycled crayons for the youngest cousins, using fun candy mold shapes. Our how-to is here.

A couple of years ago we made these surprise snowballs for cousins—they were easy to make and hopefully fun to use! I included a rhyme with them: Wash your hands, wash them every day/and your “snowball” will slowly melt away./And when it’s melted more than a little/You’ll find a surprise tucked in the middle!

And recently, as a countdown calendar activity, we made bird seed “cookies” using these directions. I doubled the recipe and we were able to make two larger and two smaller cookies. The birds loved them–and we’ve enjoyed watching the birds love them! And you don’t need special cookie cutters (although those do look cute)–for one of our molds, I cut about two inches off the top of a 32-oz yogurt container. Be warned, though—the mixture is very sticky.

Cut Paper Snowflakes

Materials: Scissors, various papers

Yesterday’s countdown calendar activity was to make snowflakes, so when the boys got home from school, this is what they found.

A basket full of pre-folded paper, ready for cutting into snowflakes. I used a variety of paper–coffee filters (which we’ve used in the past), vellum, and magazine pages, inspired by Pinterest. Earlier in the day, G chose pages from magazines and I cut them and the vellum into squares, then folded everything. (You can see how I fold here; I like six-pointed snowflakes because that’s how nature does it!)

When the boys came home, we cut.

And cut.

The vellum was hardest to cut, and the magazine pages, the easiest. (You might want to keep that in mind if you’re cutting snowflakes with young ones!) While I thought the coffee filters would be easiest, because they’re so thin, they are, of course, tough, as they’re meant to be, and it wasn’t easy for G to get her scissors through the fibers. She mainly cut the magazine pages, and because she was doing it herself (as if there could be any other way?!), she made lots of six-sided shapes by cutting the tips off at angles. We like these snowflakes just as much as the others.

V, being the oldest, did the most experimenting with different types of cuts to see what sort of patterns would emerge. The fun lies in the cutting and unfolding!

This morning, G and I took down our autumn leaves and hung up our snowflakes. (It is a grey, wet day outside that window.)

The magazine page snowflakes are very pretty in their randomness.

This window has some of each–both white and natural coffee filters, vellum, and magazine pages:

I’ve promised to refill the basket with snowflake blanks whenever I have a some spare minutes.

Do you have a favorite material with which to make snowflakes?

Autumn Window Leaves

(Inspired partly by the Artful Parent’s Autumn Leaves Stained Glass and partly by Fall Leaves and Mod Podge at Gingerbread Snowflakes, via the Crafty Crow; this is a sort of hybrid.)

Materials: Colorful autumn leaves, Mod Podge, brush, double-sided tape

This isn’t art and it isn’t craft either, really. It’s more like kid-friendly DIY home decor. But I include it because G (age just-3) helped with it all and our windows look really pretty and seasonal now. I wasn’t quite up to applying contact paper to our windows (as in the Artful Parent link above), but that’s due to my own struggles with any piece of contact paper larger than my hand. So I thought we’d just skip the middle step and tape the leaves right to the windows.

I don’t have photos of the process because it’s so easy I didn’t think to take any! These leaves were pressed for varying amounts of time. The leaves we only pressed overnight kept the most color but weren’t flat. The ones we pressed for longer seemed to lose a lot of color, although they became more vibrant once sunlight was shining through them.

After they were pressed, G and I brushed one side of each leaf with Mod Podge. When that dried, I put a coat of Mod Podge on the other side of the leaf (just me, because G was in bed). Then I put pieces of double-sided tape on the window and we pressed the leaves onto the tape.

There are so many great art activities out there using leaves, but my kids balk at anything that involves covering up the inherent beauty of the leaf. A walk from the car to the door invariably results in every kid handing me at least one leaf and asking, “Can we press this?” I like that they’re looking so closely at the leaves and finding so much gorgeousness in them. It’s good to be able to display all these small pieces of nature-made artwork.

Do you have some great ideas to share using colorful autumn leaves?

Chalk-o-Lanterns!

(Inspired by Pinterest.)

Materials: Pumpkins, chalkboard spray paint (we found ours in a craft store), damp rags for cleaning, chalk for playing!

G has an October birthday, and while her parties are still simple family gatherings, I like to have something for her cousins, who range in age from three to fifteen, to do. October, of course, makes me think of pumpkins, but I didn’t want to have the kids paint pumpkins, mainly because the last time we tried that at a party (many years ago), none of the pumpkins were dry by going-home time, and we had to figure out how to transport wet, painted pumpkins home in cars without accidentally pumpkin-printing everyone’s upholstery. So I hopped onto Pinterest for no-paint decorating ideas and eventually decided on spray-painting them with chalkboard paint.

Eleven-year-old cousin~doesn't he look comfortable?

So last weekend, the kids and I picked out seven small pumpkins at a nearby pumpkin patch and brought them home. First, we cleaned them in the yard. I gave G the spray bottle, which is one of her favorite things to use, and she sprayed the pumpkins while the boys and I used rags to rub the dirt off. Really get as much as you can–I used my thumb nail to work the rag right down the crevasses. Once they were clean and dry, my husband spray painted them (not a kid’s job–it really does smell unhealthy–and he did it outside).

He gave each pumpkins two coats of spray paint, and once it was thoroughly dry I primed it according to directions (rubbing the side of the chalk onto it, then erasing). On party day, we invited the kids to decorate their pumpkins, erase, decorate again as much as they wanted, and bring them home too, of course.

Four-year-old cousin, drawing on her pumpkin

I know my fifteen-year-old niece isn’t really a child, but we painted one for her, too, and she drew on it too. Truth be told, I wish I’d gotten one for myself!

G drawing on her pumpkin during her party

N and V

We learned that if you use the sharp edge of brand-new chalk, a bit of the paint would scratch off, which wasn’t the plan but of course made me think of sgraffito. I wonder what paint might work best for that? I’m thinking kids’ tempera would probably flake, but maybe liquid acrylic or regular acrylic would work. You could paint a layer of paint onto the pumpkin and then scratch your design on, lightly enough to expose the orange but not pierce the pumpkin itself. I’m thinking that might look pretty cool! If you try it, let me know.