Quick and Easy Barbie Bed

Saturday, July 20, 2013 Posted by

A few years back, we made Evelyn a dollhouse bookcase. I wanted to use it as a bookcase, but she had other ideas. It has been used exclusively for Barbies ever since it made it into her room in the fall.

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(In the nearly three years since I took this picture, she has accumulated quite a lot of Stuff for this dollhouse. I will have to show off more of her decorations later–this is just about the bed.)

It has been a real mess mostly since, but she’s enjoyed it and I love it that we made it for her. A few months after the dollhouse made its way to her bedroom, I decided that poor Barbie needed a place to sleep. She had had some Megablocks-covered-with-a-washcloth beds since shortly after the above photo was taken in October, but it was ugly and it kept falling apart. And besides, how uncomfortable would that be! Evelyn loves projects, so I thought this would be a good way to entertain ourselves on a fine spring Friday morning. For the record, it was, at first, but then she got bored before I finished the parts she couldn’t help with. Win some, lose some. She was just three.

First, you start with a box. I used a Cheerios box, unfolded. I thought that the side of the box would be a good height for the bed, and four inches would be a good width. I determined this very scientifically, by grabbing a Barbie out of the basket and laying her down on the box. Measure four inches (or the width of your desired bed) on one side of the box and draw a line–let’s call it line A. Do the same thing on the other side (line B). Measure the width of your side panel–in my case, two inches. Measure that distance from the lines you just drew and draw two more lines–let’s call them lines C and D.

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Cut the box on lines C and D. You should still have two lines, two inches inside the box. Lay a long ruler down firmly on line A and use the tip of your scissors to score along it. You don’t want to cut all the way through it, just make it bend nicely in that spot. Do the same thing to line B.

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You should now be able to fold your box up into a smaller box. If you measured and scored correctly, it will fit together perfectly, as so.

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Use hot glue to glue the box together. If I’d had any masking tape handy, I’d have taped all around the box for extra strength, but I didn’t really feel like it was worth getting up for. I did know that if I left the box empty, it would be light and flimsy and easily destroyed, so it needed to be filled up. What better to fill it with than some of the contents of my fabric scrap trash? Little odds and ends of various sewing projects. This is the part that Evie got to help with (still in her pajamas, of course) and she thought that was pretty fun, but she greatly disagreed about several pieces of scrap fabric that I had placed in the bag. She’s an even worse packrat than I am. The scraps made the box feel solid and even a little soft, like a real mattress.

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She also got to pick out fabric from my flannel stash. She decided on a blue for the sheets and a cheerleader print for the blanket. I covered the box with the blue “sheet” using hot glue. This was quick and easy except I did “hem” the sheet using hot glue. I didn’t want raw edges visible anywhere. Evelyn, by the way, had to be convinced that it was okay to glue the sheet down. She wanted to be able to take it off and on, but I finally convinced her that this would just be the bottom sheet covering the mattress so we’d never have to see the Cheerios box. If I’d been choosing fabrics, by the way, I’d have probably chosen something that matched the pink cheerleader fabric a little better but I just do what I’m told. :) Anyway, after the box was covered, I whipped up a little blanket for the bed and a pillow. The blanket is just turned and topstitched, two layers of flannel, with a bit of lace trim added. I even quilted the thing.

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The back side of both the blanket and the pillow is the complementary blue print to the bottom sheet, so it’s fully reversible.

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Doesn’t she look nice and cozy? I am really happy with how it turned out. I didn’t spend a dime on this project and it’s pretty cute. It sure looks better than building block furniture, which I’m pretty sure is the doll equivalent of milk crate furniture. 😉 Of course, she’s currently sleeping on a cardboard box so I guess that’s not really much better? 😉

Mini Rewards

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 Posted by

I tried a lot of different ways to motivate my five-year-old into practicing her violin, but nothing really struck with her.  We started with stickers on a chart for every day of practice, to be redeemed for special rewards, like a small gift or going out for ice cream with Daddy.  She liked that in theory but it just didn’t last.  Then I tried a cute glass jar and pennies. I told her she could have five pennies to put in her jar every time she practiced.  She thought that was a great idea, except it really only happened one time and she showed no interest in the future.  (Yes, I’m cheap, but she doesn’t understand money and I shouldn’t have to pay her to practice anyway. Winking smile )  I think the problem with these approaches, for her, was that the benefit was too abstract.  It’s great that you’re going to get something cool LATER, but what about NOW? 

Finally, I came up with this.

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The perfect reward for good behavior! They’re little round cups with tissue paper on top. To open them, you just press your fingers through the top and tear the paper.  Inside, you can put anything small.  These have two Hershey’s kisses, a mini Reese’s cup or small coins, but you could use anything, as long as it fits.  Evelyn loves chocolate, but this isn’t enough that it makes her hyper, so we’re both happy.  It’s an immediate response to her behavior, so she doesn’t have to wait for a reward, and there’s something immensely satisfying about popping your fingers through that tissue paper top to pull out the candy inside. It’s like Christmas morning! 

I like a good excuse to break out the mod podge as well as the next person, but sometimes, instant gratification is what I’m going for.  I started with a plain old recycled plastic container, wrapped a folded piece of tissue paper around it and secured it with a yellow ribbon.  The ribbon wasn’t long enough to tie in a pretty bow, so I used a hair flower (homemade) with an alligator clip on the back to add a little bling to the front.  It took less than five minutes and turned out pretty cute. 

 

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The cups were just as easy.  I happened to have a dozen yellow medicine caps that I had saved for crafting purposes to use for this, but you could use applesauce cups or small boxes. Since I want to be able to refill these cups when they’re empty, I wanted something quick and easy.  I cut out rough squares out of my pretty tissue papers, put them on top of the cups and and stuck a rubber band around the outside.  Done.

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The best part is that it’s really worked.  She still enjoys opening them, and so she will do her violin practice and her homework in order to get to open one.  You could use this for anything you want to motivate your kids to do, or just have them as random surprises when you see good behavior in action. 

I just wish someone would make motivational rewards for me.  I would like large sums of cash, dimaonds or strawberry pie inside mine, please.

Encouraging violin practice in young children

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 Posted by

When Evelyn was two, we had lunch downtown on a Saturday, and when we were done, we ambled next door to a museum that we’d never been to because they had a huge sign outside advertising their current exhibit—local luthiers.  (A luthier, by the way, is someone who makes stringed instruments. I know it’s not a word that everyone is familiar with!)  My husband builds mandolins, so we thought we should check it out.  Part of the exhibit included a selection of string instruments for people, particularly children, to try out.  Evelyn had no interest in the mandolins or guitars or dulcimers and pretty much wouldn’t even take them when the attendant tried to interest her in them.  All her attention was for the violin.  She picked it up, he handed her a bow and she made one clear, perfect note and thus, her fascination with violins began.

In the months and years that followed, she talked about playing the violin and begged for lessons.  My husband told her that she couldn’t take violin lessons until she was five, and to be perfectly honest… we thought she’d forget. 

She did not.

Months before her fifth birthday, she began talking about the fiddle-themed birthday party she wanted, and tried to brainstorm how I could draw a violin on the cake. (Oh, child, your faith in me warms my heart but my ability to draw a violin in icing on top of a cake? HA. HA.)  In the eleventh hour, she decided that she wanted a Phineas and Ferb party instead, so the world was saved from that attempt, at least.  Still, like the dutiful parents we are, we ordered a half-sized cheapo Chinese violin from eBay and contacted a teacher and scheduled her first lesson. 

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Here’s the problem.  The violin is hard.  Your arms get tired and your fingers get tired and that noise that the thing makes?  It is not always pretty.  Plus, she has a strong tendency to give up if something is hard, because most other things come fairly easily to her.  I know, I sound like an obnoxious parent with that sentence, thinking that my child is so brilliant. What I mean to say is that most age-appropriate tasks are pretty easily mastered, so naturally, she thinks it’s perfectly reasonable, if she encounters something that’s not easy, to just give up since she’s no good at it.  I think this will be one of the challenges she will face throughout school.  In this case, that translates to her going to her lesson once a week, and then trying to get out of practicing every day. 

And yet, she’s still just five. Encouraging her to practice her violin has been a a big deal around here, but I think it’s really important that she learn that when something is hard, you can’t just give up.  On the other hand, we don’t want to push her too hard—she’s doing this because it’s something that she wants, after all, not just us, so I don’t want to turn it into something she hates.  She still wants this. She just wants it to not require any effort on her part other than going to class. Not. Gonna. Happen.

After one particularly awful practice session, I wanted to throw in the towel myself. It’s so frustrating to be the one in charge of making someone else work towards fulfilling their dreams when they’re trying their best to resist you.  I was seriously considering calling her teacher and telling him we’d try again next year because I couldn’t take it anymore.  Then I took a deep breath, got out a piece of paper and a pen, consulted Google for inspiration, and made a list of things that we could do to improve the experience.  This is something we’re still working on, but it’s been four months and we’ve had some failures and some successes in our path. Most of the people out there writing about this subject are either talking about older children, or coming from a more musical background than I am, so I thought maybe it’d be helpful to put this out there for other parents who find themselves in the same situation. 

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What’s Worked

  • Sillyness. One thing she had a hard time with at first was that her bow would go far astray from where it should be going, in either direction.  In a moment of inspiration, I grabbed the violin and showed her where she should be playing, and then invented a little story about the troll that lives under the bridge.  He might like to grab little children who come too close to him, so you can’t get too close to the bridge (or even worse—crossing the bridge!)  However, there are mean elves that live at the top of the strings, and they can grab children that get too close. Mommy is watching the little children play at the right bowing location, but if they get too far from her, either the trolls or the bad elves would get ‘em.  Evie thought this was great fun, and it kept her concentrating on the right path for long enough that it became a habit.  We have invented several little stories and games about trolls, elves, and fairies. Silly is fun, and learning is easier if it’s fun. 
  • Let the child teach a lesson. I have never particularly wanted to learn to play the violin, but I’ve had success with this in other areas with her, so I gave it a shot.  This worked better in the beginning, when it was difficult for her to keep the violin up for long stretches of time.  While she rested, I had her teach me how to hold the bow, how to hold the violin, and how to play the rhythm patterns that she was playing.  This was not difficult to understand because I was sitting in on her lessons at that time, while she was adjusting to the teacher.  She liked being the authority, and telling me what to do gave her back some control over the learning process, plus it reinforced the concepts that she was supposed to be learning herself.  The drawback to this approach comes quickly, though.  I’m 33 and she’s 5. It is easier for me to understand what I’m supposed to do and attempt to do so than it is for her, especially if she’s not trying.  Her father has experience playing mandolin, so when she teaches him, he picks it up even faster.  I actually bought a full-size violin to do this, but I’ve mostly stopped this approach because she gets a bit frustrated.  It helped a lot in the beginning, though. 
  • Games.  I’ve come up with a few games to play during the practice sessions.  This has worked, but it’s dicey because at this stage. honestly, she gets too enamored of the idea of the game and forgets to practice.  Her favorite was when I drew a large flowerpot on the white board and five empty stems.  Every successful attempt she made would allow her to draw the flower on the stem.  Many other things might work, though.  Google’s suggestions largely involved getting to do something with every successful repetition of the piece, whether it be finishing a drawing or throwing balls into a basket.
  • Rewards. I’ve tried several variations of rewarding her for practice, from giving her a penny for every minute of practice to plunk into a glass jar, to giving her stickers for every day that she practiced to be cashed in for a larger prize.  It never seemed to resonate with her because the rewards were too far off. I came up with a little present system recently that has worked very well.  I’ll post about it separately, but the rewards are tiny (two Hershey’s kisses, a nickel, a mini piece of candy.) Other ideas for this gleaned from the internet was play money that would buy actual rewards similar to the stickers, or getting to color in a symbol or picture on a chart that could then be exchanged for larger prizes. 
  • Get out of the room.  Like I said, I used to sit in the class with her. She was going through an extremely shy phase when we scheduled the first class, and she couldn’t bear to let me out of her sight. After a while, it became a habit for her, and she resisted any of my attempts to leave the room.  Last month, I got a phone call at the beginning of the session, and that allowed me to walk outside to answer the call and I just never went back in. It was the best lesson she’d had, and she’s continued to do better now that I stay outside.  This may be a useful concept to employ during practice as well.
  • Keep it short.  There’s a rule of thumb on how long you should practice a musical instrument based on age.  I think it’s five minutes per year, up to a certain amount of time per day. I’m sorry, I don’t think that my five-year-old should spend 25 minutes every day practicing her violin.  We started off doing five minutes and we still had some issues with it.  Recently, the pastor at our church, who is pretty much the most musical person I’ve ever met, told us that at her age, practicing two minutes a day would be great, as long as it was every day.  I don’t know if the violin teachers of the world would all agree with this, but I can tell you that since we started keeping this as our guideline, practice time has gotten much less stressful, and since she actually practices more often, if not as long—her playing has gotten better too.  We still don’t make it every single day, especially since kindergarten started, but we do what we can.  This week, I think we only missed one day, and two glorious days, she did it all on her own, without reminders.
  • Recital.  This hasn’t happened yet, but the idea of it was exciting.  She doesn’t have an official recital event planned, but we have promised her that when she gets a song mastered, we will let her dress up and take videos of her performance to send to grandparents.  For her, that was enough. Even if you don’t participate in lessons somewhere with recitals, there’s nothing stopping you from creating your own!  Grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins would surely like to be invited over for dinner one night, and to watch their favorite violinist perform.  Sounds fun to me!
  • Listening to the CD.  Her book comes with a CD of the music, which I think is pretty common.  I’ve noticed that she is more interested in doing the practice if we make a point of listening to the CD more often.  I like to put it on when she’s playing with play-doh or something like that—her hands are busy but her brain is free enough to enjoy the music.  Now she thinks she has to have play-doh when she listens to it. Winking smile
  • Leave it out.  Lately, I’ve been having her loosen the bow but not strap it all into the case and close it up, and we leave it in the place where she practices.  She’s so slow at getting everything out and ready that she is usually bored with the whole thing by the time she gets ready to practice.  Anything to lessen the time spent on other stuff will hopefully increase the time spent playing!
  • Praise. The more specific, the better.  “You did a great job keeping your bow nice and straight!” is much better than just “Nice job!” I will also add constructive criticism, sometimes, when I have any.  I’m not a violinist, though, so can only help her with the things that her teacher has specifically told me to assist with.

What Might Work

I haven’t tried these, but they’re on my list of things to try and/or implement.

  • Ask when/how often to practice, and then follow through.  This would not work for us right now, but I hope that later it will be more useful.  This is about handing control over to the child by asking how long and how often that they intend to practice, and then coming up how many times they want to be reminded. After being reminded that number of times, don’t nag and let it go. Theoretically, if they’re the one in control and not the parent, they would feel inclined to practice on their own.  I hope this works… later. I think you know how it would work for me right now.
  • Learning Without Practicing.  I have this idea of a computer game or flash card system of say, learning the notes or other intro stuff.  I’ve never gotten around to doing any of this, except in very limited form while waiting for her class to begin. I have a feeling that she won’t like it but the theory is that doing something different upon occasion would not just help her learn those aspects of the violin, but also have her mind on violin stuff at other, non-practice times. This would ideally be an addition to practice for the day and not a replacement.
  • Set up a dedicated violin area.  I have some hopes for this, but I haven’t yet figured out a place for it in my house.  Currently, she plays in the living room, which is okay, but I’d like to reduce the clutter and make it a nicer environment for her. Plus, we need a place to keep all the paraphenalia that comes with the whole violin thing, like her book.
  • Play with others. Her teacher mentioned the possibility of setting up times when all his students could get together and play.  This hasn’t started yet, if it ever will, but it sounds like it would be some pretty strong motivation to me.  Can you imagine showing up to play with your peers without knowing what you’re supposed to play?  I’ll be interested to see how this turns out, if it ever happens.

What Doesn’t Work

  • Punishment.  We haven’t tried punishing the child for not practicing or anything, but I’d be lying if I said that there has never been any disciplinary action to come from a practice session, and it does nothing to encourage practice.Winking smile  I try to avoid it because obviously if playing the violin gets associated with punishment, pretty soon she wouldn’t want to play anymore at all.  (Having said that, she’s still not allowed to say, hit people with the bow when she gets angry. Rules still have to apply while practicing.) 

I’m sure there are a thousand other things that could be included in this post, but these are the things that have worked the best for us, or not worked, as the case may be.  Perhaps the next frustrated non-musician who goes searching for ideas on how to motivate their child to practice will find it of some use. I’m afraid to say this for sure, but I have some hope that we have crossed an important line recently—for the first time, it’s fun because she likes what she’s hearing when she plays, and she can hear the improvement herself. 

Easy Rag Roller Curls

Thursday, August 23, 2012 Posted by
My little girl has perfectly straight blonde hair.  I have to make a date with a flat iron to get my hair as straight as hers.  It’s shiny and smooth and lovely. Naturally, she would like it to be curly.  Figures.
Unfortunately for her, that pretty straight hair is a bit fussy when it comes to curl.  Curling irons do nothing for her–all the curl falls out within fifteen minutes.  It’s just as well–I have gotten pretty good at say, french-braiding a moving target, but I am a little leery of brandishing a hot curling iron around a kid that can’t sit still.  Anyway, I remember occasionally sleeping on pink plastic and foam curlers when I was younger.  My mom would roll them for me and then I would have a terrible night of sleep and then I’d have cute little bouncy curls the next morning. Those things are wildly uncomfortable, although I distinctly remember telling myself that they weren’t so bad.

Anyway, there’s a far better way to get cute little curls and I have it on the best authority that it’s not uncomfortable, either.  Rag rollers!  It worked for your grandmother; it will work for you!  And best of all–they stay in place all day!
This is super simple, with just a little preparation involved.  Basically, you’re going to want some strips of fabric.  I personally cut up some fleece that was taking up space in my sewing room into strips about 1″ x 10″. This is a fantastic place to use your rotary cutter, but scissors will work just fine.  They don’t really even need to be that even or exact. I like fleece because it’s soft and fluffy, doesn’t absorb water, ties/unties easily and doesn’t unravel.  You can use anything you’ve got, though.  Your husband’s ratty old t-shirt that you would like him to stop wearing, for example.  Two birds? Meet stone.
So okay, you have your strips.  Now it’s time to introduce them to hair that wants to be curly.  Start with damp hair. I like to put the part in before I get started.  Section out a little piece of hair, place the strip at the bottom and roll up until you get to the very top.  Make a single tie–it should hold just fine, depending upon your material.
Rolling curls
You can’t really see this in the picture, but I like to lay the strip on top of a pencil and roll it all up together.  When I’ve tied it off at the top, I just slide the pencil out.  It’s easier to roll that way, plus it helps keep all the curls even and not quite so tight, and it also minimizes the chance of funky ends.  The pencil is completely optional, though–I don’t always do it.  You also should avoid laying them out in a perfect grid–your curls will hang funny when you’re done. Off-set every row so each row has room to hang down next to a curl, not on top of one.This is really easy to do, honestly–hard to mess it up. You can experiment with how tight you roll them and the placement–it will determine how big your curls will be.  It took about fifteen or twenty minutes to roll her entire head–I could have done it faster if I’d been trying, and if she hadn’t felt the uncontrollable urge to get up and dance to Phineas and Ferb in the middle.  My child, she’s got rhythm.
All rolled up
Now, the easy part–sleep on it!  In the morning, before you take them down, make sure you feel them to make sure they’re completely dry. if they don’t feel dry, you can use the hair dryer to speed up the process.  When my daughter’s hair was shorter, I started with wet hair and it worked great.  Now that it’s longer, though, I like it to be a little less wet. Last time I did it, they were a bit damp when I took them down because I didn’t test them or use the hair dryer. It worked well, though, because we weren’t in a hurry and I just told her not to touch them for a little while until they finished drying, and then I styled them.  A little of the curl fell out but it looked more natural. Removing the rags from the curls
Once you get done pulling the curls out…
Curls before fixing hair.
Ta-da! One curly girl, ready for church!  These curls stay in really, really well.
 Curls ready!
As cute as little curly girls are, I must confess that I am secretly glad that I don’t have to deal with curls every day. Maybe it’d be easier with practice, though.

She loves having curls, but she’s still just five and there are things in life more important than hair.  She didn’t keep these cute curls very long.  Here she is a few hours later.
Curls pretty much gone.Yeah, they hold up pretty well, but not if you dip them in water.  Just so you know.

Love and Gravy

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 Posted by

Welcome to LoveAndGravy.com!

I believe that the worst part of blogging is writing that very first post.  Should we have an awkward introduction post, or maybe a mission statement?  An explanation of your goofy name? Why, sure, why not all three?

Hi, my name is Kisha.  I’m a stay-at-home mom to one brilliant daughter, Evelyn, who just started kindergarten. She’s doing fine. I’m having separation anxiety.  I’m married to Magnus, whom I usually call M. He’s Swedish, but moved to the US to marry me and live happily ever after in 2000. It’s worked out really well for both of us, and our daughter is probably especially fond of that decision, given that without it, she wouldn’t exist and all. He is also brilliant and funny and pretty much the best spouse I could have ever chosen.  I just had to go a little farther to find him. We have a lot of fun together.

One of the bigger surprises in my life has been the development of my domestic side.  When I first got married, I couldn’t cook much at all, and it was generally accepted that M would be the one doing all the cooking.  We ate out a lot, at first, and then we started watching FoodTV and I learned to cook and also learned that I enjoy it.  There will be some great food here.

I also love crafting and procrastinating (those two things go together, for me.) I tat and knit and sew, and I”m currently on a quilting kick. I also like doing projects with the kiddo and playing with paper and glue and vinyl and paint when the mood strikes, so I’ll post about those things, too.

I used to have a frugal coupon-focused blog, More Than a Little, but a number of things made it hard for me to continue it. Namely, my child stopped napping relatively early in her life, and she also developed a true aversion to shopping, which made it difficult for me to actually get out there and shop like I was for a while.  Then that extreme couponing show on TLC really changed the dynamics of couponing, and I gave it up entirely for a while.  I’m getting back in the swing of things now, so that will also make an appearance here.

As for the name of this blog… it was my husband’s idea.  It’s a play on words from a song, Life Uncommon, by Jewel.  Here’s a piece of the actual lyrics:

No longer lend your strength
to that which you wish to be free from.
Fill your lives with love and bravery,
and you shall lead a life uncommon.

M and I have argued about this song’s lyrics for years, because what he hears in that section is:

Fill your lives with love and gravy,
and you shall lead a life uncommon.

He has long said that “love and gravy” has much more awesome than love and bravery.  Boy loves gravy, what can I say? Alas, that’s not what the song says, but it makes a pretty good blog name and can you imagine? No one else had taken it already! Shocking!

So, stick around. We’ll have a great time.