Garden – Miniature Fairy Garden (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , June 30, 2008 7:26 am

We have had a Wee Enchanted Garden kit in the closet for several years, but had not yet put it together. So that’s what we did this week for the Unplugged Project theme of garden.

The Wee Enchanted Garden is a mini fairy garden in a box. Since we love fairies, it was a fun project, but I think it would be even more fun and very easy to create your own fairy garden without a kit.

This is what came in the kit: a plastic plant saucer, paints in the three primary colors, a paint brush, soil (it feels like a very light seed mix), grass seed, assorted beans (to grow into the “trees”), stones, gravel, little plastic figures (a frog and a rat), some seashells, and a lovely little fairy house made of wood and bark!

First my two oldest children painted the saucer. Since the paints were just yellow, blue, and red, it was a good exercise in color mixing too.

My youngest happily painted with some water colors and, in typical 2 year-old fashion, refused all colors but blue:

Pita, our assistant:

After the paint dried, the real fun began: the planting and arranging.

The children wanted to add a few other treasures to the garden. They disappeared into their rooms and returned with a penny, a marble, and a plastic snake (to eat the fairies?).

One tip: be careful when you water. We used a watering can and flooded it a bit. There is no drainage and the seed soil is very light. Next time we will water by spraying with a spray bottle.

This would be a very easy project to replicate without the kit, although I think that lovely little house makes the kit really wonderful.


Here’s one more garden project idea. This one is more ambitious, but very worthwhile!:

The Children’s Garden


If you joined in this week for garden, then please leave your link in Mr. Linky and a comment so we can all find your project. If you didn’t join us, read about how to play and consider doing next week’s theme.


Since we will be flying on a plane soon, the theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Hope to see you next week!

Technical Difficulties

By , June 30, 2008 6:23 am

Last night I turned on my computer to write our Unplugged Project post and there was nothing. No blog. No admin panel. Only blinding whiteness.

Tech support was stumped but working on it, so I left the problem in their far more capable hands and went to bed.  This morning all was magically returned to normal!  I don’t think they really know why.

So this is a long way of saying that my post will be up shortly (as long as my blog doesn’t disappear into the ether again).

Summer Travel Unplugged

By , June 24, 2008 11:22 pm

Now is the time of year when most families embark on an overly-ambitious trip or two. Our main goal as traveling parents is to preserve our sanity and that of our fellow captive travelers by avoiding at all costs the inevitable “are we there yets,” whining, squabbling, seat kicking…well, you get the idea.

Of course you could plug the kids into a DVD player or video game. Personally I believe that when traveling: if it works, then go for it! Forget your principles and opt for The Easy Way Out (Dramamine anyone? Just kidding!).

If you are of a more solid constitution however, and wish to travel in an unplugged (and unmedicated) fashion – or if the battery runs out, what should you do?

Well as the proud Mama of two great unplugged travelers and one terrible one, I wrote this post (Traveling Unplugged) last summer after surviving a four hour plane trip.

I am not trying to “cheat” by republishing a portion of it, but just like in my kids’ rooms, stuff gets buried in the blog after a while, you know what I mean? Hopefully it might give you some good ideas:


Originally written June 18th, 2007:

“My two oldest are now 5 and 6. They each pull their own little rolling suitcase packed with their activities, as well as a favorite stuffed animal or two. Note: I supervise the packing of the suitcase, or better yet, pack it for them when they are not there. This avoids us finding a suitcase full of rocks, scraps of paper, bits of string, and other “toys” that simply could not be left behind. I always try to include a few new “surprises.”

Here are some ideas that have worked for us:


An obvious choice. Try to pack lightweight, paperback books.


– A French knitter (easy for ages 5-6+ to do on their own – makes yarn “snakes” that can be coiled and sewn into various projects)

– Modeling clay (I squish one stick into a plastic Easter Egg which makes a great travel container)

– Wikki Stix (strings coated with wax, like candle wicks, can be bent into many different shapes)

Art Toys:

– Travel-sized erasable drawing board (Magna Doodle for example)

– Pocket Etch-A-Sketch

– Don’t forget the plain old pad of paper and crayons.

Travel Games:

Are We There Yet

– Haba Story Telling Tin (children make up stories based on the picture cards they choose-very creative!)

– Also look for travel-sized editions of other favorite board games, there are many out there, you just have to search for them. Beware of games with too many small pieces to lose if you have young (or unreliable) children.

Magnetic Playsets:

– Melissa & Doug Magnetic Farm Hide & Seek

– Smethport Magnetic Playboards (some examples are below, but search for “Smethport” at Amazon toys to see all the possibilities).


Choose toys that are small, light, and don’t have a lot of pieces to get lost.

– Lacing block

– Zip-lock bag full of hot wheels cars

– Peace Ring

– Piece of string or yarn (for Cat’s Cradle)

Creative Coloring Books:

I like to find coloring books that are not your typical stay within the lines type of activity.

– The Anti-Coloring Book series is wonderful with suggestions for all kinds of imaginative possibilities.

– The Taro Gomi books are also very original but have a lot of pages so may be too big to pack easily.

– Here are also a few other suggestions for coloring books featuring abstract patterns that can be colored in many, many different ways.

Wipe Clean Board Books:

Tip: Stash away an airline cocktail napkin or two for wiping these off.

Find-It Books:

– Our favorite is the Look-Alikes series of books by Joan Steiner. These feature amazing, realistic photos in which the objects are almost always something else (sidewalks made of crackers or wheels made of buttons, etc.). Kids (and grown-ups too) enjoy looking through these books over and over as there is always something new to notice. It is also a fun activity to say to kids “I see a penny” and have them find it. You will tire of that game before they do! Of course there are also the well-known Where’s Waldo and I Spy books, but here are also some additional ones we like that are not so common:

Scholarly Pursuits:

Not fun for all kids, but my oldest loves this stuff!

– Workbooks

– Flash cards

– Brain Quest

Learn Some Games Yourself!:

If you are really desperate, buy a book such as Car Games: 100 Games to Avoid “Are We There Yet?”. This book offers suggestions for over 100 fun games to play in the car, airplane, or even while camping or waiting in line for example (not all games rely on spotting license plates or signs). A fun book. Parents could learn a few of these games in order to provide timely distractions at critical moments!

As for traveling by air with 18 month-olds: my best piece of advice is grit your teeth and remember that you will never see any of those people again!”


Plus here are a few additional ideas from the comments to this post:

  • a zip pencil case filled with canning ring lids for little ones, a disposable camera for use during the flight, a preflight gift of colored pencils and a little travel diary in a zippered pouch (from Wishy the Writer)
  • a small wrapped present to be given hourly and a small snack surprise on the off half hour (Andamom)
  • A bag of magnet shapes from the dollar store and a metal tin lid as a magnet board (“girlcarew”-sorry I can’t find your link!)
  • A new toy for a new trip – pick one that is easy to transport but whose discovery will occupy for a while (Whymommy)


BONUS!!: an extra special Pilot Trick (since I am a pilot) –

When you have a screechy kind of child that you must take on a commercial airplane full of other people, sit as close to the engine as possible since that is the noisiest part of the plane. Screechy child=bad, lots of ambient noise to help drown it out=good.


What works for you? Good luck and happy travels!

Old – “Ancient” Treasure Maps & Treasure Hunt (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , June 22, 2008 10:48 pm


The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project is “old.” It was a hard choice for me since I thought of many fun options, but…

My now 6 year-old son has always been somewhat obsessed with maps. Since, at the moment, he really enjoys drawing “treasure maps,” I ultimately decided that he might enjoy making a treasure map that really looked old.

When I was a child, in art class once we antiqued cards by burning the edges with a candle, gluing them onto wood, and then coating them with shellac to make them look yellowed and ancient. For some reason I LOVED this project. In fact I loved it enough to remember it to this day, and trust me, it was quite a while ago!

Well, I didn’t have any shellac on hand, but I have heard that similar results can be obtained with coffee or tea. So, we gave it a go. I followed the basic instructions for How to Antique Paper from Curbly blogger, DIY Maven. We then embellished a bit. Here’s what we did:


We needed brewed coffee or tea, instant coffee granules, a Sharpie (permanent marker), some plain white paper (I used computer printer paper), a baking sheet with a rim, some paper towels, and an oven:

First we drew our maps with the Sharpie. The kids loved this of course, and each made several:

Then we crumpled the maps and flattened them out again to create wrinkles:

Next came the really fun part. We laid the maps side by side on the rimmed baking sheets and poured coffee on them. You don’t need much, a cup probably would have sufficed. I don’t know what I was thinking when I made a whole 4 cup Pyrex jug full! Too bad instant coffee is too disgusting to drink or I could have a few cups while we worked.

We poured on a little (don’t flood it) and then smeared it around with a paint brush to completely cover the paper without drowning it too much:

The coffee is what stains the paper that yellow-brown tone. If you want “age spots” then sprinkle on some instant coffee granules and let them dissolve a bit:

Once the granules have dissolved a little, blot up all the excess liquid on the paper and the baking sheet with some paper towels. Tip – blotting with a dabbing motion seemed to work better than wiping:

Here they are before going into the oven. The oven dries them off quickly and gives them a slightly parched, brittle, old texture:

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees (93 Celsius – “low heat”) and put the baking sheet in the oven. It took about 5 minutes or so for ours to dry out. Keep an eye on it. When the edges start to curl up a bit, it is probably done.

They will come out looking hundreds of years old! But, if that’s not enough for you, you can take it a step further and burn the edges too. Obviously, this is an activity for adults only.

Light a candle and place it in the kitchen sink. The dry paper burns very well, so you’ll want water right there. You can also just drop the paper into the sink if the flame spreads too quickly. I was a bit overly-enthusiastic on my first go and burned a few apparently crucial areas of one of my daughter’s maps (sorry!):

I eventually got the hang of it and was able to produce just a lightly ragged burned effect instead of giant, blackened blotches.

Tip – gently slide the edge of the paper back and forth through the flame. Keep it moving and try not to really let it actually catch on fire. After a few passes through the flame, take it out. The edge will be glowing. Put the edge under some running water to extinguish the glow. Afterwards you can let the paper dry on its own, or if you are impatient as we were, then simply pop it back into the oven for a few more minutes to dry off.

Our finished maps:

The final touch was rolling them up and tying them with string:


While we were making the maps, my daughter asked if I would make a “real” treasure map for them, and then hide some treasure somewhere for them to find using the map.

I thought that sounded fun, so I did.

The map is revealed (they hadn’t looked at it while I was making it):

After a false start in the wrong location (perhaps Mom is a poor map draftsman?), they finally got their bearings and were hot on the trail of the pirate treasure:

And the treasure is finally found!

We had a great time on the treasure hunt and surprisingly, it actually taught some map-reading skills!

The treasure hunt is a fun activity to try anytime. It only takes a minute or two to draw a map and hide the “treasure.” You don’t have to get fancy and “antique” your map unless you want to.


We had a lot of fun this week. This project was easy enough for them to do on their own (apart from the burning of course), and we all enjoyed it

What did you do for old? If you joined in this week’s Unplugged Project, please put a link to your project in Mr. Linky. Also leave a comment so your project link will be forever immortalized should Mr. Linky fail, as he does from time to time.

If you didn’t join us, please think about trying to next week. You can read all about how the Unplugged Project works here.


In honor of summer (here in the Northern Hemisphere anyway), the theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Please note that I did not say “garden-ing” (although that would be a fine project to share). It could involve pictures of gardens, something to do with plants, seeds, bugs, colors, dirt, butterflies … anything! Be creative, I look forward to being inspired by you all!

An Open Letter

By , June 21, 2008 10:17 am

This is a comment I received this morning from “Greg Fillibuster” on my perfectly innocuous (or so I thought) Opt Out of Your Phone Books post:

“Everyone needs to get their facts straight.
Ever heard of lumber? Do trees grow in 2 x 4’s?
what happens to the rest of the tree once you have taken out the 2 X 4’s?
Paper Pulp. If not paper, this would go to the landfill.
Once a directory is used it can be recycled. Firms making insulation cannot get enough recycled phone books.
Insulation cuts down on energy used for heat.
What about the 87% of households that used a phone book last year. You Green nuts need to get your facts correct.”


Dear Mr. Fillibuster,

Before leaving a comment, especially an unpleasant reactionary one, please read the post.

1) First, THE SERVICE is for those who do not want 50 lbs of paper dumped on their doorstep several times a year.

  • I am not saying that phonebooks are bad and that no one needs them, I am simply saying that I should not have to be forced to waste my gas and my time to drive my 50 lbs of paper to the recycling bin so that it can be nicely recycled into insulation. Why not give those people the paper in the first place without wasting everyone’s time and gas getting giving it to me when I don’t want it.
  • This service allows people who don’t use phone books to have the choice to opt out. Those who do use them can still get their phone books. Obviously many people still use phone books. Not everyone has internet access. That is fine. I just don’t want one more than every two years or so, but that is my choice and I am pleased to finally have that choice
  • By the way, the service doesn’t guarantee non-delivery of phone books. It simply forwards requests to the phone company and it is up to them to act upon that request.

2) RECYCLING: Yes, phonebooks can be recycled but I would wager that the majority of people don’t waste their time and gas to drive them to the recycling bin. Do you?

3) FACTS: As for my environmental “facts,” I did list the source of those facts (I did not see the source of your “facts”). If you believe them to be incorrect, then please take the issue up with YellowPagesGoGreen, not with me. By the way, I thought that paper pulp came from paper which came from trees. And lumber, isn’t that wood that came from trees too? Silly me!

4) “GREEN NUTS”: As for your reference to “green nuts,” I am not quite sure what you mean. Pistachios perhaps? Last I checked, I was not a pistachio, nor am I the color green. Silly me again!

5) A bit of advice: Anger and name calling really detract from your message. If you want people to give more serious consideration to what you have to say, I would advise you to tone down your delivery just a tad.

Finally, I do hope your day improves because you must be having a very bad one if you have nothing better to do than leave unpleasant comments on innocent people’s blogs on a Saturday morning.

Peace and love to you Mr. Fillibuster,


Ms. Pistachio


By the way, thanks to all the people out there who make blogging a pleasant experience. I blog to relax, not to have my blood pressure raised. Some people like controversy on their blogs and that is OK. That has never been me (I have only ever “ranted” once, OK – now maybe twice!). I am non-confrontational in life and on my blog. I just want to say what I have to say and if people like it, they can come back. If they don’t, they can go away.

And yes, I hit delete on that comment above so you will not find it at the phonebook post. And by the way, that is the only comment I have ever deleted because it angered me.

But my blog is not a democracy, nor is it a dumping ground for other people’s anger. It is mine. I control what is published on here. For those who have no kind words to say, then please go away. It sounds corny, but I want to spread good feelings, not bad.

99% of the comments I get are great, keep them coming! Thank you!

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