Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gettin Jiggy Wit it - How I made a wooden puzzle

Many of the activities we do in our Montessori home school classroom require little investment, since they use things we already have.  But from time to time, an activity calls for something that we don't have and that isn't particularly easy to make.  Usually we head over to Alison's Montessori (their link is here) and just bite the bullet.  But when we started doing our continent study (see the globe we made here), I was loathe to spend almost $50 on a puzzle that Bella's only likely to use a few times.  This is the puzzle in question:

The curriculum suggested creating this out of foamboard if you didn't want to buy it.  But if you've ever tried to cut foamboard...particularly if you've tried to cut foamboard know that it's easier said than done.

Since I recently discovered the wood hobby shop at Camp Lejeune, I decided I wanted to try to make one myself out of wood.  I had already used the bandsaw for my laundry project (see that here), but this involved using the scrollsaw, which is able to make the much tighter turns required for this project.  This whole thing was made even more daunting by the fact that I only had one shot at the cuts.  If I messed up, I could go back and trim a little bit more off, because the pieces had to fit together like a puzzle.  I got to practice with the scrollsaw when I did the areas on the inside parts of the laundry room letters (like 'A' and 'R') and it didn't really go so well.  I managed to break a blade and give myself quite a scare in the process (it's loud when a blade breaks).  So I was very nervous going in.

The first step was to put the outline of what I was cutting onto the wood so I had a guide to work from.  I started with some cutouts of the actual puzzle.  I blew them up so they were close to 8 inches wide.
See that black stuff in the photo?  That's carbon paper. (How many of you had no clue?  Seriously now!)  Carbon paper (for the young whipper snappers) is coated on one side.  When you press down on it, you push that coating onto the surface under it.  So...if you put a piece of paper on top of it, and a piece of wood under it, and then trace over the outlines, it leaves the same outlines on the bottom wood.
Like this:
You can see that, for sanity and utility reasons, I approximated some of the edges.  This ended up being fine since I was going to paint it in the end.

The wood here is about 1/8 inch thick.  This is oak because that was what the wood shop had that was wide enough.  Then I took it to the saw and started cutting...very carefully.
I'm not gonna lie, it wasn't easy, but I did settle into a rhythm by the end.  I technically could have avoided the cut marks from the edge to the cutouts by drilling a tiny hole and threading the saw blade through it, but I was worried about leaving a drill hole in one of my pieces, so I decided to live with the cut marks.

I didn't want the pieces to slide through the cutouts into nothingness though, so that meant putting the wood with the cutouts onto another solid piece.  I sanded the edges of the cutouts prior to this to make sure the edges weren't sharp.

Then I used some wood glue and glued the piece with the cutouts onto the solid piece and I clamped it together.

Even with these 4 clamps, the inside areas started to curl up after I left, so the wood shop guys put some bigger clamps on all over it to make sure it didn't get ruined.  Whew!

Then I painted the oceans and islands, sanded the puzzle pieces, and painted them so they matched the colors of the continents on the globe (see that here) and on the continent folders (more on that soon!).

Here is the finished product:

I decided I sort of liked seeing the grain of the wood through the paint, so I only did 1 coat on the oceans.
I used the carbon paper again to get the exact outline of the continents onto the pieces (as opposed to the pretty vague outlines that I cut out). I also painted the names of the continents under each one on a last minute whim.

Many wooden puzzles have little knobs to pull out the pieces with.  I had bought some wooden push pins to use, but then I decided I liked it better with no knobs.  We just have to turn the puzzle over to dump the pieces out.

So, what do you think?  Would you ever try making something like this?  Does the thought of cutting foamboard overwhelm you too?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How Low Can You Go...With Pendants!

Ever since we saw the kitchen in this house, I knew I wanted to try out a conversion kit to turn some of the pot lights over the island into pendant lights.

I even had a bunch of options laid out on a design board:

I had originally decided on N for the pendant lights, because my grandmother had a bunch of the blue insulators.  Alas, she only had one with the wide bottom (which wouldn't have been a big deal because they aren't very expensive), but the bigger problem was that the size of our island just dwarfed the poor little insulators.  If we were hanging a bunch in a row, or something like that, it might work, but we're trying to go relatively easy on ourselves, therefore, we had 2 can light openings.  What we ended up getting was a mix between J and L.

First for the kit itself:
We picked up two of these guys at Lowes for around $19 each.  You buy your own shades separately to make it easier and they have a great selection.
So, inside, you basically have the light socket that the pendant goes on, a long cord that you can pull up or down so it's at the length you want, the light socket that takes the place of the can light bulb, and a cover to hide the opening.

So out came the light bulbs and I had to figure out how much cord to pull (or not pull) through the gap.  I looked it up and apparently the correct height is between 30 and 40 inches above an island.  It just so happens that when I first eyeballed it, it was exactly 30 inches above the island with the cover in place:
  It seemed a little low, and Vinny agreed, so we decided to move it up about 2 inches (Cause we're all rogue like that and 32 is so much cooler than 30).  So once I had the wires set in place, I just needed to tighten down the rubber holder to keep it in that position (no sliding around misters!)
Kind of tiny little thing.  It took a 1/8 inch flathead screwdriver and the manual (which I actually read) suggested not over tightening since you could basically tighten it through the wires if you tried hard enough.  So, no big muscles, just a little tight.  

I measured the second fixture so the wires would be the same length and therefore, the pendants would be at the same height.  I wish I could say I got it perfect on the first try, but I was off a little (because I forgot to tighten that nut til I was standing on the island).  The good news is that it was really easy to to correct.  

So, with the glass shades screwed into place, it was time to put in a light bulb and admire the handywork.  

Ran into a minor snag...the new bulbs are the smaller candelabra bulbs, not regular lightbulbs.  Fortunately we had a breakfast nook light that was willing to donate 2 of its 8 candelabra lightbulbs. (Yes, it had one light...overkill much?)

Then, the big reveal:
It gives off an awesome blue glow and it amped the kitchen up so much.  My only regret is not doing it the first day.  Total cost with the shades was around $30.  Not bad.  You can get kits that already have the shades, but I like the versatility with the Lowe's version.  Though I worry the people there might think I'm living there....I digress.

What do you think? 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cleaning house sucks, but it's more fun with friends

I'm so glad that Bella is in a phase where she loves to help.  As much as I hate housework, it is much more fun when you have a sidekick like this:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Onslow County Partnership for Children

We have been hearing lots of good things about the Onslow County Partnership for Children, and we finally managed to get over there and check it out.  It was all we had hoped for and more.

There were two smaller areas at the front with books, costumes, doll houses, puzzles and games that you can play with there.

Then an arts and crafts area where you can do projects with your kids.

An area with die cut machines, and tools for parents and teachers.

And in the back, box after box of themed learning activities.  

You can go in and play for free and you can check out up to 8 items that have barcodes.  A book could be a single item, or one of the huge tupperware containers could be one item.  You are allowed to keep each item up to 30 days.  If you want access to the crafts, you can get an enhanced membership for $25 a year.  With that you can use everything in the center and you can check out up to 15 items instead of just 8.  There are additional fees if you want bulletin board paper, poster board, or laminating, but the die cuts and all craft supplies are included.  

I was thrilled to find some activity boxes that had to do with plants and seasons (which are our current focus) and a few fun things too, like alphabet circles for the floor, felt mats with things to arrange and rearrange, and a princess and the pea stacking game.  Anyone in the eastern NC area with kids or those who teach should really check it out.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bella's Beloved: Gymboree Bubbles

We've used just about every brand of bubble out there.  But our favorite by far are the ones from Gymboree.
Not only is that bubble wand amazing (with any brand of bubble) because it makes tons of little bubbles that are fun to chase, but the bubble solution itself is great.  The bubbles are just stronger than regular bubbles.  The upside being that you can catch them (if you're gentle) and they stay in bubble form when they land on something.  The downside is that sometimes you find bubbles a week later.  But we've restricted bubble blowing to the back porch, so that's not too bad.  And it's good for some extra laughs sometimes, like when bubbles somehow find their way onto the inside of a pair of glasses.

Monday, September 19, 2011

House Tour: Dining Room

I realized I never finished our little house tour, so I'm going to try to finish it up.  First up, the dining room.  It used to be in the center of our home and we were in there all the time.  Now we pretty much live in the kitchen and living room and the dining room is rarely used.  Or rather, it's mainly being used for projects where we need more, say...upholstering letters (for this project)?

(BTW, if you want to see the other rooms, go here for the master bedroom, here for the guest bedroom, here for Bella's bedroom, here for the foyer, and here for the classroom)

This first shot is a look from the dining room out to the foyer, where our buffet went to live in order to open the dining room a bit more.

This is the opposite view, with me standing in front of the buffet and looking into the dining room.  It has great double french glass doors, but they stay open all the time because Bella likes running through the house.  You'll also probably notice here that the table isn't centered under the chandelier.  There was a lot of discussion about this on.  With the table centered under the chandelier, the chairs by the china cabinet were pretty smushed and there was very little room to get by.  Since we walk through that room a lot...we decided instead to center the table between the china cabinet and the far wall.  It stands out like a sore thumb in photos, but it lives nicely and that's more important.

We have some nice windows in that room as well.  They are sheltered by the front porch, so they don't make the room hot or anything, just open it up.

We don't mind the striped wallpaper, it's one of the more subtle ones, and given how little time we spend in there, not even close to the top of the list.  The painting on the left wall there is one of my favorite though, done by Ian Greathead (his website here) on commission.  You might also take note that we only have 4 chairs in there.  Right now, we're using the other 4 around the table in the breakfast nook until I get around to building some benches for that table.

So there is the dining room!  What do you think?

Friday, September 16, 2011

It's a Small World

We're getting ready to learn about the continents in our homeschool classroom.  It is recommended to have a globe with the continents in different colors when starting this topic.  We bought a globe with the land and the water differentiated already.  Here it is in the classroom (or you can click here to see it on the site where we bought it):

The greenish-brown areas are rough to show land and the blue water areas are smooth.

Rather than buy a whole new globe, I decided it was easier more frugal to paint this one with the colors for each continent.  I did two light coats of paint (crayola paint that I had on hand for Bella to paint with) on each continent.  The colors aren't super bright, but you can definitely see the colors, and I like the muted effect.  You can also still feel the texture of each area, which is great.  But best of all, it didn't cost me anything to make the switcheroo to a continents globe.  Yay for free! (it's listed at $55 for a sandpaper continents globe, so I'm happy)

And the heavens opened...

After a fast and furious thunderstorm, the sun popped through the clouds and I thought it was so beautiful I needed to share.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hummingbird Rocket in Flight

Here is one of the little ladies who has been chowing down at our all-you-can-eat sugarwater buffet.  I'm still working on getting good shots.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Real Montessori - The Purpose of Roots

We have been studying plants, working on a booklet about the parts of a plant, planting seeds in a root view container, checking out roots while planting flowers, and watering every flower we can find.  As part of our studies, we started an experiment about the purpose of roots.

The idea is to get a plant with white flowers, water it with food-colored water and watch the flowers turn colors. So I got a white phlox flower, we planted it and have been watering it with blue colored water for a little over a week now.



I should have known better to touch plants.  I have such a brown thumb.  Guess Bella will have to be content with pictures of what it should have been.  Good concept though, if you don't kill everything you touch. :)

Have you ever set out to do a nice science experiment with your kids (or by yourself) and have it go terribly wrong?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11, 10 years later

Millions of words have been written about September 11, 2001.  Millions more will be written about it in the years to come.  I have never added my words to those, because I wasn't in New York, Washington, or Pennsylvania.  I haven't spent the last 10 years mourning someone I knew personally who was killed.  In fact, I've spent the past 10 years trying to avoid thinking about September 11, 2001.  This year I decided to grow up and pay it a few words of respect and remembrance.

My memory of the day:
On September 11, 2001, I was a junior in college at Tulane University.  On Tuesdays, I started my morning with a particularly painful biochemistry class in Newcomb Hall, with 15 other crazy biology majors.  When someone came down the hall and popped in the room to say 2 planes had crashed in New York, I don't recall being upset, or even really surprised.  It was one of those tragedies that sometimes happens.  I think I assumed they crashed into one another.  I was 20, life was infinite.  When someone popped in shortly after to say a plane had crashed into the Pentagon, it was more startling.  Especially when one of the girls in the class jumped up and said, "My dad works at the Pentagon, I need to go."  The biochemistry professor, true to form, seemed irritated at the interruptions.  A few moments later someone came in to say classes had been canceled for the morning.  I rushed back to the dorms, calling Vinny on the way to let him know classes were canceled and I joined him at his apartment.

Then we sat on the sofa, glued to the news, and I just remember feeling like everything I thought about the world was crumbling around me.  I couldn't comprehend the level of hatred, the level of distress, the level of sadness.  It was all just more than I could handle.  I remember how quiet it was during those next few days, with no planes in the sky.  And I remember being so scared when I heard a fighter jet break that silence one day, and I just stood there and waited for the explosions.

Then I spent the next 9 years trying to move on.  Trying to pretend like everything was fine.  When Vinny and I visited New York in 2007, I stayed on the bus when we passed the World Trade Center site, because I knew it would upset me.

I was listening to NPR on the radio the other day and they had a piece from the series called story corps. (Here is the link to the site)  In general they record short stories from peoples lives, told to someone they know in a little mobile booth, and they archive the stories as a way to preserve history.  The news piece was talking about how they have over 1200 recordings pertaining to September 11, 2001, and they played a few of them on the air.

Suddenly, it struck me that I needed to take a few moments to remember.  That it was selfish and egotistical not to.   And I sat on the story corp website and listened to story after story, with tears streaming down my face.  Vinny kept asking me why I was upsetting myself and that I should stop.  But I felt like I needed to remember every life that was lost; those who died in the attacks themselves, those who died in the days after trying to save lives, those who died years later from various exposures, those who were hurt in racially profiled retaliatory hate crimes, the innocent lives lost overseas in the search for the guilty, the military lives lost in the search for justice and safety, and the lives of all of their loved ones, that will never be the same again.

I appreciate the reminder to cherish what I have in life.  I hold Bella a little closer. I call my family more often. I remember to say 'I love you.'

I know I owe it to my daughter to teach her about this part of history.  Not just the hatred that led up to the attacks, but the love and community that we found as a country in the days after.  I haven't found the words yet.  But I'm sure someday I will.  I'm glad that movements like Story Corp are preserving the memories of these people, so that someday Bella can hear about them herself, from the people who knew them best. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Beginning Ballet - My Little Girl is Dancing!

Ever since I found out we were having a girl, I've been dreaming about her beginning dance lessons.  I danced for 9 years and even though it was tough and I eventually stopped dancing because of family events, I'm so glad that I had those years and I'm thrilled to be giving Bella the same start.

Bella is going to Swansboro Dance Studio (here is their site) and I think the owner there has a beautiful outlook on how to teach dance to toddlers.  She lets them be kids and have fun, while at the same time laying essential foundations.
Getting comfortable in her surroundings with her buddy, Mady

actually listening!

her first plie

I was a bit wistful watching her dance for the first time and I'm so proud of her.  Because when Ms. Christy is using her full name because she isn't listening, I see myself in her.  And I find that the dance classes are teaching me as much or more than they are teaching her.  I remember to give her my patience.  I remember to giggle with her.  And twirl (and twirl and twirl and twirl).  And love life.

Also, funny side stories that I want to make sure and remember:

-at one point, when they were dancing, Bella bent over and touched her toes and Sarah, one of the other girls in the class, took the opportunity to smack her on the bum.  As I was riotously telling Sarah's mom about it, I found out that Sarah's dad has apparently been teaching her to smack people in the bum and say 'good job, buddy!'  My guess is they had a lot to discuss that night.

- the girls did a 4 step little routine at the end (which I somehow managed to miss videoing Bella doing) where they were supposed to run across the floor on a diagonal, run straight up the side of the room, stop, and then twirl at the end.  All the girls had trouble with the last step, but little Mady put a bit of extra attitude in her step 4.  You just have to see it:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hanging the Laundry Out

I had an idea for some laundry room art.  I decided I wanted to make some upholstered letters to hang from a pseudo-clothesline on the wall in there to add a touch of color and whimsy. (Yeah, I just said whimsy)  It took me a while to decide what word to hang.  I thought about 'clean' or 'fresh' or 'clothes,' but ultimately I decided on 'laundry.'  I headed to New Bern with my grandma and we spent some quality time in a fabric store.  I sort of knocked out 2 birds with one stone there.  I was test driving some fabrics for an upcoming project. (Aren't you just on the edge of your seat now?)

Anyway, back to the project at hand.  I needed to make letter forms, so I started by printing out the letters in a basic font so I didn't have to worry about as many curves.  Then I cut them out as a template.

Notice that workbench?  I finally got around to checking out the Base wood shop.  It has everything I could imagine and I'm thrilled to be in there knocking out projects instead of just dreaming them.  I traced the templates onto some 1/4 inch oak (I would have used the cheaper poplar or pine but I need some wide boards for another project and oak was the only one that met the criteria...yep, another project) and used the band saw to cut them out.  I had to use a skill saw to cut out the middle bits of letters like the R and D and A.  Then a touch at the sander and I was ready to upholster.

I traced the patterns upside down on some light weight batting and cut them out.

Then I laid out the fabrics I had picked and figured out which fabric would go on which letter.

Then I cut around each letter so I had about an inch and a half all around. (I will caveat here that I am no upholsterer, I just did the best I could)

Anywhere there was an inside corner, I marked it so I could cut at an angle to the corner to get a good fit.

Then I wrapped the fabric over the wood and batting and used a staple gun to attach it to the back.  Then we had a problem:

See how high those staples are?  Nothing I did seemed to help either.  I messed with the torque on the staple gun, I made sure it was good and horizontal.  Even when it was flush, the staples were all messed up (notice I switched to a scrap piece of wood and fabric while we worked out the kinks):

But that was pretty low at least, and it wasn't going to show, so we went ahead. I ended up buying an electric staple/nail gun for the later letters.  So I basically wrapped each letter in fabric and tacked it down.

Not bad, huh?

For the interior areas, like the A below, I cut a line on an angle to each corner.

When they were done, I used the glue gun to touch up all of the edges to make sure everything was down nice and tight and the edges wouldn't fray.  Then I hung a string up on the wall and used clothes pins to clip them into place.  I was worried they might be too thick for the clothes pins, but it worked out fine.

I still plan on painting in there, and I want to replace the white twine (that disappears into the wall) with a more substantial burlap twine.

So what do you think?  Did I pick the right word?  Any of those fabrics stand out to you?  Do you have a favorite?