Mystery Project

I recently quit Instagram. Probably temporarily (I didn’t delete my account, but I did remove the app from my phone), but for now it’s gone.

Before I did, however, I saw a post from a mom-owner business called Pixel Hooker. They create corner-to-corner (sometimes abbreviated C2C) crochet “graphgans.” A graphgan is an afghan created using squares of color (made with double crochets) to make a picture, usually done in the C2C style. The post was advertising a promotion they’re running, in which you download the free pattern and make the blanket. There’s no picture of the blanket included (unlike most other graphgans). Instead, it’s a row by row list of the colors to crochet. The reward for completing the mystery blanket is one free pattern from their store. 

I’ve always wanted to try making a graphgan, so I bought the yarn needed and started making the blanket. It’s one of three projects I have going right now, so even though it’s been a couple of weeks, I’m not done yet. But here’s what I’ve got so far.

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Any thoughts on what it might be? For a while I was thinking it was going to be a bee, but now I’m not so sure. I’m excited to finish up and see! Stay tuned for the reveal when I finish. And make sure to check out Pixel Hooker; they’ve got some amazing patterns that I’m excited to try out in the future!

Blessings,

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Bumblebee’s Birthday

My baby turned 2 this weekend! We had a small get-together with the grandparents and a couple of friends, and it was (mostly) great fun. The exciting moment of the day was when the kids went outside to play only to come running in with bee stings a short while later. Turns out they were wasps, not bees, and a couple of the kids had them trapped inside their shirts. As I’m sure you know, trapped bees are angry bees, and as soon as they were freed they started chasing down everyone inside. Many of us ended up with multiple stings (I personally got 4 on my foot). We were able to kill all the wasps inside within just a few minutes (though it felt longer), and my husband went outside and sprayed the nest so that wouldn’t happen again. All in all, much more exciting than we anticipated!

But back to Bumblebee (an ironic nickname, considering…). He’s 2 now! He is definitely my most difficult child. I’ve heard stories for years about kids who climb all over things, get into the fridge, and generally cause trouble. I’ve never had a kid like that before, though, until now. It can be exhausting at times, but he’s so sweet the rest of the time that it’s worth it. 

Here are a few pictures of him over his two short years of life 🙂

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Bumblebee and me enjoying our first skin-to-skin after his birth while I get stitched up from the c-section.

IMG-1598Moments after birth

IMG-2089At 6 months old, meeting Grandpa (my dad, who passed away this past January) for the first time. Bumblebee’s middle name is my dad’s first name, so they’re namesakes.

IMG-2836First birthday cake. He wasn’t terribly interested because he was super tired; we’d had a busy day at the waterpark that day.

IMG-3912About 17 months old; his first buzz cut (it’s par for the course now)

IMG-5617New clothes for his 2nd birthday. He looks so grown-up!

IMG-5637Instead of cake, we did fruit salad for dessert on his birthday. Ballet Boy (16) made the dump truck out of a watermelon.

Blessings,

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Project Bag (sewing craft)

I’ve been knitting a lot lately (as I’m sure you’ve noticed!), and in order to bring my projects along wherever I go to always be able to work on them when time permits, I’ve just been stowing everything in either a paper bag or a little basket I have. The basket actually works really great for working on stuff at home, but it’s a bit too big to comfortably fit at my feet when riding in the car, for instance. When my paper bag tore last week, and we didn’t have any others that were at least a little bit cute, I decided to make one out of fabric. I’ve developed quite a fabric stash over the past few months, but lost my interest in sewing when I had two or three projects in a row not work very well for me. (I’m still glad I have the sewing machine, but I don’t really see it becoming my main crafting outlet any time soon based on the difficulties I had.) So I poked around into that stash and found two fabrics that I really liked and that each had quite a large piece that I hadn’t really cut into yet, and made this bag.

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I used this tutorial from The Spruce Crafts, but modified it slightly. Here’s what I did. Unfortunately I don’t have “in progress” pictures, so hopefully my words combined with the pictures of the finished product will be sufficient.

CED7CFDD-FBE6-430E-AC26-ACF17AD6AF53First, I made two straps instead of one. And I made the straps double sided. So instead of cutting one piece from the lining fabric only, I cut two pieces of each fabric, each 2.5″ x 12.5″. Then I sewed them together on three sides (both long sides and one short side), right sides together. I turned them right side out and pressed them flat. Then I top-stitched around the edges to get a nice flat pair of straps. (Also, I didn’t use any interfacing because I didn’t have any on hand. The bag would be more stable with it, but I find that it stands up just fine with the fabric alone.)

I opted to use just one fabric for the outside of my bag instead of a printed top and plain bottom. To accommodate, I cut the pieces for the outer in the same dimensions as those of the lining (12.5″ x 13″). So I had four pieces of fabric the same size. I cut out two of the corners from each piece just like the tutorial says. I’d never made boxed corners this way before, but I rather liked it. There was a lot less guesswork as to how high up to sew this way.

When the lining and the outer were both completed, I sewed the straps to the right side of the lining. I didn’t measure or anything, just eyeballed the first one. Then I lined the second one up with the first so that they would be at the same position on either side of my bag. With the lining right side out and the outer wrong side out. I tucked the lining into the outer, making sure that the straps were tucked down in between the two pieces. With everything in position, I sewed around the top, making sure to leave a 3-4 inch hole for turning the bag. At this stage, it’s really important to pay attention to the stitch lines for where you sewed the straps on and sew the top of your bag below that level in order to keep your straps looking nice when you flip your bag. I thought I’d done okay at this, but I noticed the next day after making my bag that it’s not perfect. I might go back and rip some stitches out and correct it, but I haven’t decided yet.

D87BE3BB-4EA6-42BC-BB1A-BF3EA2CF82C5Turn the bag right side out through the hole you left. Press the top, then top stitch all around.

That’s it! (Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive tutorial – make sure to visit The Spruce Crafts for that. This is just my modification of their design.)

I couldn’t be happier with my new yarn project bag (except for the imperfect straps sticking out). I really like the fabrics I chose, and the size is exactly right for holding two cakes of yarn – exactly what I need for my current project!

Blessings,

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A sweater for Dragonfly

I mentioned last week that I would share pictures of the kids’ new sweaters. Here is the one I made for Dragonfly (who is 4 1/2).

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A few details about the sweater:

2D22F32B-9267-414C-81BE-CEC02081983CThe yarn I used is Knit Picks Bare Wool of the Andes, which I dyed using Wilton Kelly Green food coloring. I knit it bottom up (meaning I started with the sleeves, then at the hem of the sweater, joined the sleeves to the body and finished up at the top) in size 4-6. I prefer knitting bottom up because the sleeves get done while you’re still excited about the project – no risk of developing “2nd sleeve syndrome” (a term used by knitters which means that you’d rather start a new project than finish the second sleeve of an existing one).

He wanted a sweater “with buttons” (a cardigan), so this was my first ever steeked sweater. If you’re not a knitter, you may not know what a steek is… It is when you take a sweater that you’ve knit “in the round,” and then cut the front open to turn a pullover into a cardigan. It was a bit nerve wracking to do the cutting, but it all worked out, just like the tutorial promised it would! There were a few extra loose ends (I’m guessing my floats in the steek were too long), but I was able to knot them together with others nearby to secure everything. I plan to be a little rough with it the first time I wash it to encourage those ends to stick together.

I took Dragonfly to the craft store so he could choose his own buttons, and he selected fruit-shaped ones.

I’m not 100% happy with the choices I made in the multi-colored section at the top, but it’s not terrible. And my son loves it, which is the most important thing. 

Blessings,

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Yarn Dyeing

Every couple of years, I get an itch to work with real wool yarn (I usually end up using acrylic because it’s easier to find in-store places). I prefer the natural fibers, especially wool, but it’s not always feasible to get. (Acrylic does have its place though – it’s great for all the animals and dolls I made in April and May.) But the past few weeks, it’s been all about the wool! Today I’m going to share just the plain yarn that I dyed, as well as a quick rundown of the technique. In a few days, I’ll show off the sweaters I made for my littler boys. They have all turned out so gorgeous that I’m excited to show you!

How I dye yarn:

I follow the techniques from Chem Knits on YouTube, but less precise. So, I boil a lot of water mixed with a little bit of vinegar. While I’m waiting for that to come to a boil (simmer, really), I mix about 1/2 teaspoon food coloring (I like the Wilton gels in the little tubs) into a bit of warm water. I prefer to do this step in a disposable cup – we usually have empty Dutch Bros cups around from the day’s drinks, so I often just repurpose those.

When the water and vinegar mixture is hot, I carefully pour in the dye and then gently push the yarn into the water using a cooking spoon. Reduce the heat and let everything simmer for 10-20 minutes, then leave it alone to cool in the pot. What I find the most fascinating is that by the end of the simmering time, the water is clear! 

Once the yarn has cooled, I wash it using cool tap water and liquid dish soap, then air dry (usually outside, away from direct sunlight).

This method works for all “protein based fibers,” meaning something that comes from an animal – wool, alpaca, silk, etc. I’ve personally only ever tried it on 100% plain wool (not superwash), but I’ve seen the videos that show that it just rinses right out of plant based (cotton, linen, etc) or man made (acrylic, polyester) fibers.

And now, yarn.

19129A44-DFFF-41BF-B302-04C1F2E6EA9CThis blue is for Grasshopper’s sweater. He decided he wanted a sweater that was dark blue, and it had to be a pullover. To get the blue color here, I used three different food dyes. I started with 35 drops of McCormick’s blue (from the box of primary colors from the baking aisle of the grocery store) per skein. When it was done, Grasshopper asked if it was possible to make it a bit darker, so I said sure. When I went to get some Wilton’s, though, the only blue they had was Sky Blue; that wouldn’t work for “dark”! So I picked up a vial of black too, and mixed the two. I didn’t measure carefully, but it was mostly sky blue with a bit of black. When I overdyed the yarn, it ended up being perfect! I just love the variations I got by mixing colors.

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Dragonfly wanted a green sweater, and he wanted his “to have buttons” (a cardigan). I dyed his yarn using Wilton’s  Kelly Green. What surprised me most about this one was that there was such a bright blue left at the end of the dyeing. The yarn had turned a nice bright green, and there was lots of blue left in the water! I went ahead and continued simmering to absorb that blue, and what happened was that I got a few specks of bright blue on top of the green. They’re barely noticeable in the knit sweater, but pretty cool anyway.

The orange you see in that same picture is dyed from Wilton’s Copper. I’d hoped for a more “coppery” copper, but I only used 1/4 teaspoon dye per skein (it was the first one I did from this batch and I was out of practice), so it turned out pastel orange. Still very pretty, and I’m pleased with the result even if it’s not exactly what I had in mind. The orange became a sweater for Bumblebee (who turns 2 next month), as well as accents in Grasshopper’s sweater.

The pink was another surprise to me. It was a color called Burgundy (also Wilton’s), and I expected a much darker color. Not only did it turn out bright pink, but I didn’t stir the yarn enough, so it ended up pink-and-white variegated instead of a nice deep burgundy like I expected.

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The last one to talk about today is this dark purple. Would you believe me if I told you it was dyed using just one color: Wilton’s Black?! It was. Because the black food dye is made up of different reds, yellows, and blues, they all strike the wool at different rates, leaving this beautiful, mottled purple. This yarn became the accents for Dragonfly’s green sweater.

Okay, in a few days I’ll reveal the sweaters! (But if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have already seen the blue one.)

Blessings,

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Leather Armor

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As I mentioned last week, Ballet Boy took up the hobby of swords and related things when ballet classes were put on indefinite hold due to COVID-19.

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He started by purchasing a pair of fencing foils from an antique store last fall, and things have been “all swords all the time” ever since. For the holidays, he made a couple of swords (yes, MADE) for gifts. I got a new sewing machine earlier this year, and after a couple of very basic lessons, my oldest child just took on on his own, and his biggest accomplishment (besides making his own swords) has been the “leather” (really vinyl fabric) armor he made for himself.

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He didn’t use a pattern, but instead just estimated the size and shape of fabric he would need and cut it straight out. Brave boy!! But it worked out for him. We bought a separating zipper, and he YouTubed his way into installing it correctly. On the areas where he was working with many layers of fabric, he knew that he needed to use rivets instead of stitches, and he did that. Overall, he’s done an amazing job, and I am ridiculously impressed with the work he did on this.
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Blessings,

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Animation

Because the boys’ ballet classes were cancelled for so long due to COVID-19, they had to find new hobbies. Ballet Boy (16) took up swords, sword-making, and armor-making, which I’ll talk about next week. Scorpion (13) took up animation, and he is the topic of today’s post.

Each semester, we require the older boys to choose a topic of interest to them and do a full study on said topic. Then they have to present a project showing us (Will and I) what they learned. The idea is that they get to have some autonomy over their schooling, but also that they will learn to manage their time effectively (all they’re given is a due date).

Sometimes they choose to present their findings in a video, sometimes it’s a poster or a report. Once, Scorpion did a project on locks and keys and made a working safe out of a cardboard box. This term, he chose animation.

illusion bookTo help him with his studies, we bought him a book that Will always wished he’d had as a teenager called The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation (not an affiliate link) by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, and Scorpion has been reading it practically nonstop. In addition to reading the book, he’s been working with various iPad apps to develop his own animated stories, and he has 8 of them so far. Each one is a little different in length and story, but they’re all pretty fun, and they definitely show a full understanding of the topic – which is the whole point of the “project” class. He’s even started a YouTube channel with all of his animations, using the name “Box on a Belt” that he created for his “company.” He tries to add a new one every other week or so.

Here is the first big one he did. (I know the title sequence looks a lot like Finding Nemo, but the rest of the story isn’t like it at all.)

Blessings,

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Dollar Tree home decor sign


I decided recently that I wanted to redo our bathroom. Even though it’s fairly cliche, I decided on a beach theme. We live fairly near the coast (about 30 minutes away), and spend a reasonable amount of time looking at the ocean. (We haven’t been able to go actually down on the beach lately because of COVID restrictions.) I love to see the Pacific Ocean, and so I was okay doing a fairly unimaginative theme in there based on my likes.

The first thing I did was to cover the ugly yellow countertop with a blue shower curtain, which I taped down. Because we rent, I couldn’t do anything super permanent about the counter. I cut out a hole for the sink, which was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I also bought a blue toothbrush holder (we’d been using a kitchen glass before that) and a blue votive holder with “coastal breeze” scented candles. For the finishing touch, I bought a package of seashells from the Dollar Tree and spread them out on the counter.

And the piece de resistance (lol). I took a summertime sign from the Dollar Tree:

0BB82E94-4945-4F31-BB14-88DD616C670F and turned it into this:

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How I did it:

I bought two pieces of scrapbooking paper from JoAnn. I really love the seashell one! I googled “beach theme home decor phrases” and found one that I liked – I’d rather have seashells than snowflakes. I really love that it’s not just something basic like “Life’s a Beach” or something. And it went with my paper perfectly!

 I first dismantled the sign. I knew I wasn’t going to want to keep the bright pink ribbon holding it together, so I wasn’t concerned with keeping it nice. Then I took the arrow boards and traced them onto the back of the paper and cut it out. Using school glue (I was out of Mod Podge and forgot to buy more), I glued the paper onto the sign pieces, and then had trim the edges a little bit.

When the glue dried, I did the stenciled words on the blue tiles. This wasn’t as perfect as I’d hoped, but it turned out okay enough. I freehanded the word “than,” and decided that I liked that a lot better than what I’d stenciled, so I decided to just paint the “seashells” freehand on the center board instead of using my stencil. When all the words were painted and dry, I used my school glue to seal everything down. It worked really well! I love the firm, glossy feel it gave my sign.

After the glue dried, I had Ballet Boy drill new holes in the sign so that I could reattach them to one another. I threaded some twine into a yarn needle and then used it to tie the signs together in the right order. For the final flourish, I took one of my seashells and hot glued it to the seashell part of the sign. Ballet Boy had a small artificial pearl on hand, so he glued it into the shell.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how the room turned out – especially the sign. 

Blessings,

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Mastering Essential Math Skills (review)

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way.

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Math… You either love it or hate it, am I right? Personally, I rather like math. Perhaps not as much now as when I was a kid, but I definitely don’t hate it. My kids, on the other hand… even the ones who claim they love it aren’t very willing to do their math classes! And with the teenagers, it’s always been a struggle. In fact, they have always fought me on basic things like learning their times tables. This is why I requested a copy of Mastering Essential Math Skills Book 2 Middle Grades/High School from Math Essentials. We’ve had great experiences with Math Essentials in the past (I’ve done reviews of No-Nonsense Algebra and Math Refresher for Adults), so I knew this would be another fantastic choice for my family.

Mastering Essential Math Skills is a 158-page, softcover book, and like its name implies, it goes over all the most basic essential skills of mathematics. There are chapters on Whole Numbers (adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing), Fractions, Decimals, Percent, Geometry, Integers, Charts and Graphs, and Word Problems. It concludes with a final review (could be used as a test if desired) and the answer key, with the final ten pages being a resource center. This includes things like a glossary of terms, reference sheet of math symbols, times table, list of prime numbers, squares and square roots, and fraction-decimal equivalents. The book comes with free access to a plethora of instructional videos taught by author Richard W. Fisher. Everything covered in the book has a corresponding video lesson, which is great if you as the parent/teacher are unfamiliar with a concept – you don’t have to be able to teach it! For the more basic lessons, the “helpful hints” on each page is probably enough, though. For example, on the subtraction page the “helpful hints” are:

  1. Line up the numbers on the right side
  2. Subtract the ones first
  3. Regroup when necessary

For most of us (and our older children, whom this book is geared toward), this is enough information to get through the lesson. On the off chance it’s not, though, you can refer to the appropriate video lesson.

351D6FC6-0062-431D-998C-E7FCA04A04BEMy teens, as I mentioned before, aren’t as quick as we’d like them to be on their times tables. They know them, but they have to think about anything above 5s. So I had them dive into those lessons first (we skipped addition and subtraction). The book allows a little bit of space for working the problems, as well as a column for recording answers, so I had Ballet Boy work right in the book. The lessons took him under 20 minutes, and while he was quite rusty at first (a reasonable number of wrong answers), just a little bit of practice had him up to speed easily.

Mastering Essential Math Skills Book Two has been just as great an asset to us as I knew it would be. I will continue to have the kids work through the book on a regular basis; it is going to be really great for reinforcing the math skills they’ve learned in the past as they look to move into more advanced math programs in the future.

The Homeschool Review Crew is reviewing three books from Math Essentials this week. In fact, it’s the two books I’ve previously reviewed (Math Refresher for Adults and No-Nonsense Algebra) and this one. Make sure to click through to learn more about those books.

Blessings,

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