Sunday, February 5, 2012

3 incredibly easy toddler DIY heart-shaped Valentine's Day ideas!

Crafting with kids can be a fleeting experience.  While their enthusiasm at the outset is impressive (even inspiring), it seems to last about as many minutes as they are old before they're on to bigger and better things.  With this in mind, my 3-year old and I have been having a blast coming up with short 5 to 10 minute activities that pack a big punch.

Recently, I happened across a silicone heart-shaped muffin pan, and the possibilities for creating heart-shaped fun has been endless.  With Valentine's Day coming up, I thought I'd share 2 heart-shaped ideas that your toddler, with a little help from you, can do in just a few minutes (Well, a few minutes of hands-on toddler time; a little more for you).  So take advantage of those short but intense attention spans!

  • Heart-shaped idea #1:  Heart Crayons!

What you need:
Heart-shaped silicone muffin pan (or any other shape, of course)
All those old broken crayons you have lying around
Silicone muffin pan
Cookie sheet
  • Place muffin mold on empty cookie sheet
  • Take any remaining paper off the crayons, break them up, and place pieces in muffin mold. I wouldn't fill them more than 2/3 full.  You can be creative mixing the colors up, but in this case you will need to be careful to keep the tray very still once melted to avoid the color mixing together completely.  We played it safe and mixed like colors together (reds and oranges, or greens and blues), then added one piece of another color to give it a splash. My toddler loved deciding which would go in each heart.

    • Put in a 200 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until completely melted.  
    Liquid Crayons--keep very still!

    • Turn oven off.  Let cool until hard.  (You could remove the pan from the oven to cool, but keep in mind that the crayons are completely liquefied at this point and any movement will mix the colors up more)
    • Pop out of pan.  Heart-shaped crayons! 
    • Ta-daa!

      It appears that some clear wax rises to the top.  This makes it hard to color with this part of the crayon.  If you have a steady hand, or maybe a medicine dropper, spoon or suction this layer off while it's still liquid.

      Great Valentine's gifts for your child's class or friends...and so so easy!

      • Heart-shaped idea #2:  Birdseed Valentine's ornaments!

      What you need:
      Gelatin (optional)
      non-stick spray
      Silicone muffin pan (or cookie cutters)
      Foil-lined cookie sheet
      Straws cut into 2 inch sections
      Twine or ribbon

      • In a bowl, mix together approx 2 tablespoons flour and 1 tablespoon water for every cup of birdseed.  You can add gelatin (and/or corn syrup too) at this stage for added binding.  Not really necessary, but if you do, just mix in a packet of gelatin or about 1/4 cup corn syrup.  Mix well.
      • Spray heart-shaped silicone muffin pan with non-stick spray, or generously rub with oil. 
      • Spoon birdseed mixture into muffin pan or pack into cookie cutters on foil-lined cookie sheet.  Pierce shapes with 2 inch pieces of straw to keep a hole to hang the ornaments.  Bake with straw pieces in place.
      • Bake at approx 200 degrees for at least an hour.  Check.  If very soft, keep baking for another hour or so.  They won't get completely hard until they cool.
      • Pop out of pan (if using cookie cutters, leave in during cooling), place on a wire rack or on a plate to cool.
      • You want them to be very hard.  If after cooling they are still soft, place back in oven on cookie sheet or rack (with softer side up) and bake until hard.
      • Remove straw, thread colorful ribbon or twine through hole.  Hang on tree branches and enjoy watching the birds!
      Considerations:  Depending on your mix, these could take a long time to dry completely.  Don't worry, you can't overbake them.   A food dehydrator could also work in this case.

      Very cute and creative, and also great for Valentine's gifts for your child's class!  Not to mention much appreciated by the birds.

      Heart-shaped idea #3:  Breakfast!

      Another awesome thing you can do with your silicone muffin pan:  in a bowl, beat eggs, a little milk, grated cheese, salt and pepper and any veggies you want to sneak in, pour into well-greased muffin pan (about half full), and bake at 350 until cooked through (about 20 mins).  Pop out for heart-shaped breakfast kids will love!

      Sunday, November 20, 2011

      Soothing Herbals Skincare, Aromatherapy, Apothecary now here!

      I'm so excited about a new line of products we're carrying that I don't really want to share.  Because they're so great, and because the herbalist who makes them is so talented and dedicated (not to mention incredibly nice), I'll let the secret out.

      Soothing Herbals, a locally-owned, independent business, provides locally produced, hand-crafted, herbal medicines and organic skin care products to die for.

      My personal faves: Floral Facial Scrub followed by Divine Face Cream.  It's, well, divine.  Leaves your face feeling soft and clean.  Not dried-out, not greasy, not chemically-treated like most commercial brands that contain who knows what.

      Triple C Salve
      In addition to her skin care products (of which there are many more), she has her own high-quality medicinal herbal tinctures, gentle baby products, essential oils, and a DEET-free bug spray that is the only thing that let me get back into my mosquito-infested back yard garden this year.

      I'm a strong believer in knowing the products you use, most especially when they go on your skin or hair or in your body.  Chin Velasquez, owner and herbalist at Soothing Herbals, uses mostly herbs grown herself in her botanical sanctuary in Goshen, Virginia.  

      Pocket Perfume--in 5 scents

      She also had another fantastic idea--she runs an Herbal CSA, offering several sized shares of her great products.  She can ship or if you're local too, you can pick it up yourself at a local farmers market.

      Tuesday, November 15, 2011

      DIY: Tons of great ideas for homemade toddler fun!

      I just came across a seriously great post, packed with fantastic ideas to keep toddlers busy on indoor days, car trips, plane rides, any old time.  I'm so inspired I had to share it with you.

      Next time you need a quick activity, or next time you need a homemade present for a pint-size friend, or if you're dedicated to keeping your holidays homemade, crafty, and inexpensive (we try), check out this post for a ton of great and easy ideas.

      Matching clothespins and paint chips

      Build your own felt pizza

      The ultra-mom who created this blog apparently designed it as a party, to which each parent attending was in charge of bringing one easy, non-messy activity, duplicated 20 times, so each mom (or dad) left with a goody bag filled to the brim with excellent activities.  Great idea.  But so is making them as holiday gifts, or any old time.

      Thanks, Rigneys, for the inspiration!!

      Tuesday, August 16, 2011

      DIY: The Ultimate Backyard Bubble Blower

      We've been a little bubble obsessed lately.

      There's nothing that makes a toddler as happy as chasing bubbles around and popping them in the back yard--the enthusiasm and look of pure joy on their faces are inspiring to those of us who sometimes forget that such things are indeed important.

      I've been disappointed this summer, however, with cheap store-bought bubble blowers--too much effort for what turns out to be pretty shoddy and inconsistent bubbles that a toddler has no chance of being able to produce.  Not to mention the all the plastic pieces and the bubble liquid that contains who-knows-what and might not be safe for your kid or your yard.

      So we got a little carried away and built the "ultimate backyard bubble blower."  Far easier than one might think, you probably already have what you need for bubbles that will have your toddler--and your neighbors--squealing with delight in no time.

      After looking around for ideas and finding a surprising number of people who take their bubble blowing far more seriously than I thought possible (including this guy who spends a lot of time alone in the woods with his bubbles, records it, and sets it to music), I came up with my own design that works just fine.

      Here's what you need for the bubble wand:
      • 2 dowel rods--any thickness, at least a foot long but really as long as you want them (mine are about 18 inches long).
      • string--I used cotton kitchen twine, but you can probably use any cotton string 
      Here's what you need for the bubble blowing liquid:
      • dish soap--everyone seems to suggest Dawn--the original blue stuff--so that's what I used.  I am sure you could use whatever dish soap you have around, and experiment with the amounts.  You don't need much to get started.
      • water -- use about 2 tbsp soap for every cup of water--start with a couple of cups to experiment
      • 1/4 cup sugar dissolved in warm water (why?  who knows!)
      • a pie pan or some other sort of container for the liquid that allows you to submerge the string.
      Mix ingredients together without making too much foam, and that's all you really need, although you can find many recipes, some with hard-to-find ingredients, out there--apparently they'll produce bubbles that are "self-healing," meaning they don't pop as easily and you can blow little bubbles in the side of the big  ones.  For my purposes, dish soap, sugar and water did the trick just fine.

      1. Your bubble wand is made of two braids of cotton twine.  Cut 6 strands of cotton twine, 3 about 50% longer than the other three.  Make 2 braids with them.  Tie the shorter braid to the dowel rods at both ends, then tie the longer braid to the shorter braid.  It should wind up looking like this:

      2. Dip your bubble wand in your mix, holding on to the dowel rods:

      With a little practice, even a 2-year old can do it!

      3. Pull it out of the mixture and slowly open it:

      4. Wave the wand slowly backwards, forwards, or however you need to get the bubble to your desired size, then bring the dowels back together to seal the bubble:

      5. Practice makes perfect:

      Hours of cheap, homemade fun for all!  Enjoy!

      You can see how the length of your dowels and your braids dictate the size of your bubbles.  The smaller they are, the easier they are to create without popping--but really the key is to practice until you get the technique down--it doesn't take long and it's tons of fun.

      Tuesday, January 11, 2011

      Green Living Kitchen Tips

      If there’s one area of the home that can make green living efforts feel somewhat futile, it’s the kitchen. News reports alert you to the dangers of chemical-laden cookware and containers; and in spite of recycling and composting, you may still end up with a considerable amount of waste to haul away. Fortunately, there are eco-friendly food storage options and additional ways to reduce plastic waste.
      Non-Plastic Food Storage
      Reusable food containers that are made of plastic may contain bisphenol A, a chemical that could potentially disrupt hormones and heart health. You can reduce your chances of BPA exposure by keeping those hard plastic containers out of the microwave and dishwasher. But to keep exposure levels at an absolute minimum, it’s best to opt for BPA-free food storage.
      2-layer sandwich box
      Stainless steel food containers from Onyx, for example, are free from BPA—and stylish and sturdy to boot! Their food-grade stainless steel provides airtight food storage for the fridge, and is available in three sizes. With three clips to secure the lid, there’s no second guessing or fumbling around to close them either.
      Pack a Green Lunch
      Insulated Tiffin lunchbox
      Carrying food to the school or office can result in a lot of wasted plastic and paper. Carry a reusable lunchbox such as the Tiffin to save those paper bags, and use a cloth napkin, regular kitchen utensils and stainless steel straws to further reduce and reuse.
      The bento or sandwich box from Onyx can eliminate the need for plastic baggies in packed lunches, too, as its two-tiered stainless space keeps foods separated. By packing fruits with skins, such as oranges and bananas, you’ve got pre-packaged food that’s healthy too!
      Insulated Tiffin lunchbox
      Green Storage Tip: Eliminate the masking tape when marking dates and contents on containers. You can write directly on steel containers with a washable marker.
      Reuse Plastic Bags
      The use of plastic bags is sometimes unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean they must go straight to the trash after use. Line your wastebaskets with bags from the store, or use them for padding in shipments and storage. Smaller bags can be reused to store non-food items such as craft supplies, and freezer bags can be rinsed and reused for use in the kitchen.
      A telescoping bag dryer makes it much easier than the standard dish rack. You simply hang your rinsed bags upside down from the alligator clips, which help them dry efficiently. A marble base holds it steady and makes it an attractive addition to the décor too.
      While it may not be possible to totally avoid prepackaged foods, you can still reduce a lot of plastic waste in the kitchen (as well as exposure to chemical irritants) by going green with these eco-friendly food storage options.

      Sunday, December 19, 2010

      Recycled Products for the Home

      The increasing interest in green living has encouraged eco-conscious companies to create more and more products made from recycled materials. But better yet, many of those products actually help us with our own efforts to reduce and reuse in everyday life. The following are only a few examples of how recycled products for the home can help you do your part for the environment—and save money, too!
      Recycled Compost Bins
      Recycled compost bins can be an unsightly (and smelly!) mess when we go the homemade route and reuse old wire and wood from the shed to make them. But truly recycled bins such as the Good Ideas Compost Tumbler are compact, tightly lidded, and easy to use and assemble.
      Their compost tumbler is 99% recycled materials and has 7+ cubic foot capacity, with a 16-inch twist lid. Being low to the ground, it’s easily accessible but also out of sight. You can roll it from its base to take compost where it’s needed, instead of heaving it around on a pitchfork. And best of all, it’s actually more affordable than traditional compost tumblers.
      Recycled Rain Barrels
      Good Ideas also supplies 55-gallon plastic drums, which are recycled food-grade barrels that conveniently collect pure rainwater for reuse in the garden. Blue in color and topped with a screen, the Big Blue 55 Rain Barrel resists algae, mold, rust and rotting while fending off debris. Place the brass spigot in either of the two placement options for easy access to the varying water levels. It’s easier to use and maintain than homemade models, and continuously saves you money on the water bill.
      Mad Mats Recycled Plastic Rugs
      Recycled products for the home are not only functional, they can add to your décor. Handcrafted by Thai artisans (at fair wages!), eco-friendly area rugs from Mad Mats are made from recycled plastic bottles. They are durable, reversible, brightly colored, and easy to wash off with only a hose or some mild detergent. Here at CleverBean we carry the Turkish, Tall Grass, and Oriental Garland patterns, in 4 x 6’ area rugs and 2.5 x 8’ hallway runners.
      Eco-Friendly Backpacks
      Earth-friendly bags, such as the green canvas totes available in supermarkets, have saved loads of plastic from hitting the landfills. And now, with the help of eco-friendly backpacks like the ChicoBag Daypack, you can easily carry and store items for travel, camping and shopping—and do it in style.
      Available in four colors—amethyst, meadow, smoke and sapphire—the ChicoBag is made from materials like recycled PET, which is the end product of all those #1 plastic soda bottles taken to the recycling center. And while the pack is 95% recycled, it’s also durable and machine washable. Fold it into a 6 x 7.5” pouch for easy storage, and open it into a 16 x 18” backpack to carry your items comfortably.
      These recycled products for the home are both functional and stylish while helping consumers go green with everyday activities. And here at CleverBean we’re always on the lookout for more eco-friendly products and ideas!

      Saturday, December 4, 2010

      Eco-Friendly Gifts for Kids

      From dolls to musical toys to play-set accessories, sharing a gift-giving celebration with kids can sometimes feel a lot like swimming in a sea of brightly colored plastic. But if you’re striving this year to reduce the holiday clutter and give green gifts instead, rest assured that you can still inspire creativity and provide endless hours of fun for children with eco-friendly toys.
      One such collection comes from Kids on Roof, a Holland-based company that creates biodegradable toys from recycled materials. Not only are the toys designed to stimulate play and creativity, they come with simple instructions, require no extras for assembly, and store easily in the provided reusable boxes.
      The BoBuro desk and stools from Kids on Roof are sturdy and safe, yet easy to take apart and reassemble. Printed with adorable animal shapes and complete with pre-cut holes for hiding toys, this set helps children play anything from supermarket to safari adventure. The seats hold up to 80 pounds each, so kids can also use it as a desk for drawing and writing.
      Their Mini-Playhouse MobileHome is a lightweight, portable playhouse that kids can carry from a handle atop the roof. With eight inner rooms, attic space and spy holes throughout, this house is as fit for a princess as it is for an action hero. The solid white, printed and colored playhouses can all be decorated with paint, stickers and more, so kids can truly individualize this toy! If you’d like to double the fun of this gift, check out the eco-friendly art supplies here at CleverBean.
      Our natural paint from Clementine is environmentally friendly and certified non-toxic. Made from Mayan mineral earth pigment, these tempera paints are washable and long lasting—but free from chemicals. With two ounces each of six colors to choose from, kids can decorate their playhouses and create other original pictures on canvas or thick paper.
      The range of non-toxic art supplies from Clementine can be used with playhouses, too, as well as with other imaginative creations. Their soy crayons, natural markers and modeling dough are all eco-friendly alternatives to traditional art supply sets for kids.
      And, for the little ones who enjoy a fun-filled challenge, there is the TOTEM collection of eco-friendly gifts. TOTEM puzzles from Kids on Roof are building pieces made from recycled cardboard. Puzzles such as the airplane and dragonfly can be used for decorations when complete, and they can all be taken apart and reassembled instead if desired.
      TOTEM’s animal figurines serve as templates or upright models for fantasy play—and their backside is blank so that kids can decorate them, too!
      Eco-friendly gifts for kids can provide the same—if not more—fun while also reducing environmental waste and clutter during the holiday season. Be sure to check back with CleverBean for additional green holiday tips and gifts!