Coffee Filter Crafts: Jellyfish

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If your kids had fun making the coffee filter seahorse craft, they will certainly enjoy adding these jellyfish to their art aquarium.  They are made with the same technique of washable markers and water and have long tentacles that sway in the breeze.

The topic of jellyfish made an engaging subject in our ocean animals unit study.  As with the seahorses, we borrowed some books from the library to begin our quest for information on these magnificent creatures. (Jellyfish by Louis Spilsbury, Box Jellyfish: Killer Tentacles by Natalie Lunis, and Portuguese Man-of-War: Floating Misery by Natalie Lunis.)  We followed these books up with some videos on YouTube so that we could actually see jellyfish in action.

Here are ten things you may not have known about jellyfish before:

1.  A jellyfish does not have a brain.

2.  Jellyfish come in all sorts of colors: pink, blue, red, even multi-colored.

3.  A jellyfish’s body consists of a polyp, or float, on top and many tentacles dangling below.  The mouth is underneath the polyp.

4.  A jellyfish’s tentacles are filled with toxins used to hurt or paralyze their prey, which can be little fish, other jellyfish, crabs, and plankton.

5.  A group of jellyfish is called a bloom, a swarm, or a smack.

6.  Some jellyfish can glow in the dark.

7.  Jellyfish are a favorite snack of sea turtles.

8.  The Portuguese Man-of-War is not actually a jellyfish.  It is a group of organisms that live together and function together as a whole.

9.  Most jellyfish have a life-span of a few hours to a few months.

10.  Jellyfish range in size from very tiny (thumbnail size) to very large (whale size).

Now, let’s make some coffee filter jellyfish.

You will need: 2 coffee filters, washable markers, water, a paintbrush, a paper plate,  plastic grocery bags, a stapler, party streamers, and some tape

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First, lay your coffee filters one on top of another on the paper plate. Color dots and swirls and scribbles however you like (just like we did when we made the seahorse) on the top coffee filter with the washable markers.  Then, with the coffee filters still stacked up on top of each other, paint over the top filter with water until the colors are swirled to your satisfaction.

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When the coffee filters are dry, staple the outer edges together as shown, leaving a small opening on one side.  Insert the plastic grocery bags into the opening until the polyp is nice and full and then staple shut.

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Next, cut varying lengths of your party streamers and tape to the bottom of your coffee filter polyp.  (I found a couple of rolls of blue and yellow in the junk drawer, so blue and yellow it was for us!)  Use fishing line or thread to hang your jellyfish from the ceiling.

For a short while, we hung our jellyfish in the entrance of our dining room.  They added a beautiful pop of color and a touch of movement to the area, but they were too distracting when you had to walk underneath them.  We ended up moving our jellyfish to a safer location in a corner of the dining room instead.

Get creative!  Think another material besides party streamers would work for the tentacles?  Try it and see!  As with many other ocean animals, the different types of jellyfish vary widely in shape, size, colors, textures, and even the way they move.

And while you are creating your jellyfish masterpiece, you may want to try reading aloud Jeremiah Jellyfish Flies High by John Fardell.  It’s a funny picture book for the kindergarten set but will be sure to entertain the older kids as well.

 

Creative Ways to Connect With Your Kids: Love Languages

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Two weeks ago I posted about a special way I had discovered to use in communicating with my oldest child. (If you missed it, you can read here about the mom/daughter journal we started.)  Today I am continuing this series about connecting with your kids by writing about another child of mine.  This boy is the funniest kid and has amazing talents in a lot of areas.  If I give him video game time undisturbed, he is the happiest boy on the planet.  When you first meet him, you might mistakenly assume from his personality that he loves to be the center of attention.  While he can definitely be louder than life, my little man often disappears to get some quiet time and is most content when he is left alone.  He is my earliest riser, getting himself some cereal and curling up on the couch underneath a quilt to eat by himself.  It has been quite the challenge to find a way to connect with this solitary boy.

One day while casually scrolling through Facebook, I stopped at one of my favorite homeschooling pages, Simple Homeschool.  There was a picture of a red heart with the title “The Five Love Languages of Homeschooling”, and underneath Jamie had captioned it: “Have you discovered your child’s love language? It might just be the homeschooling break-through you need.”  Intrigued, I clicked through to the post on Jamie’s blog and began to read.  Many years ago, I had taken Dr. Chapman’s love language test and found that mine was words of affirmation.  I had never considered the love languages to be pertinent to kids, but the more I contemplated it, the more it made sense.  There are five general love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch.  Jamie started off her post speaking about the love language of physical touch.  The first two sentences jumped out at me: “A child who best receives love through physical touch desperately needs hugs, kisses, and pats on the shoulder.  Not having enough can leave them feeling that they’ve done something wrong and that you are not pleased with them.”  Somehow I felt immediately that these sentences were describing my Mikey.  Physical touch?  Well, he had been a little cuddle bug when he was just a baby, always pleased to be in my lap with his head nestled near my heart.  But surely physical touch was not what he needed now.  If so, why did he always disappear and crave his alone time?  God’s voice persisted in my head.  “Yes, this is the key to your boy’s heart.”

I wasn’t so sure of this discovery.  I thought perhaps it was a wild guess, a shot in the dark in an absurd attempt to make a connection with my younger son.  So I prayed, and God said, “Do it!”  I decided to conduct it as an experiment of sorts.  Over the next several days, I would be very intentional in giving him high fives, hugs, fist bumps, back rubs, etc., and see how he received it.  I am by nature a very touchy-feely person anyway; so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for me, but I hoped it wouldn’t be off-putting to Mikey or push him even further into his solitude.  The first day, I gave him extra hugs as he came stumbling into the kitchen to make his breakfast.  I offered to sit and snuggle with him on the couch while he ate.  To my surprise, he accepted.  Throughout the school day, I made sure to pat his back, touch his hand encouragingly when he was struggling with a word, and invited him to sit on my lap while we did reading.  The next day went much the same way, except this time I could feel him leaning in as if asking for more.  By the third day, he was actually seeking ME out for hugs and kisses and “love you Mama”s with his face buried in my neck.  I was astonished at the change in my kid.  The more we physically connected throughout the day, by hugs, shoulder pats, etc., the more he opened up and the less he crept away to his room for quiet.  Even his grandma noticed this change in him.

Now that I know with certainty that physical touch is my son Mikey’s love language, I need to make sure that I am “speaking” to him often in that language.  It fills up his love cup and spills over to the others in his life.  He is kinder to his siblings, more thoughtful to others, more expressive of his thoughts and desires, and more open to God’s work in his life.  He was a fantastic kid before we started this experiment; now he is a fantastic kid that feels loved and connected to in all the right ways.

I encourage you to take the time to find out your child’s love language.  If your child is old enough, they can take this online quiz at Gary Chapman’s website to help you both figure it out.  The time spent evaluating and determining their love language and then implementing it will be paid back in dividends you can’t imagine.

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(Also, as it turns out, there is a love languages book just for kids.  I think this one is going to be added to the Foster family library!)

Super Cool Melting Ice Experiment

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Lately, we have been up to our ears in ocean animal books and projects and notebook pages.  Apparently, it is a science subject that is going to stick around for a while.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t get sidetracked every now and then.  Honestly, it’s one of the beauties of homeschooling.  Your child suddenly shows interest in something, you go with it, and the learning happens!  Not a bad formula in my book.

A while back, the kids and I participated in a “Brain Break” at one of our local churches.  It is hard to explain a “Brain Break” in just a few sentences, but basically the church uses it as an outreach to the schools in the area.  When there is no school because of a holiday or teacher in-service day, the church provides a full day of care for the students whose parents can’t afford to take off work for that day.  They feed the kids breakfast and lunch, do crafts, games, activities, science experiments, and more.  It is an amazing opportunity to serve others and to share God’s love with the kids.  I got to serve in a room where we taught the kids how to make their own snow globes before doing a fun melting ice experiment with them.  The experiment was a simple concept, but it held a definite wow factor for the kids.  My boys had a chance to try the experiment at “Brain Break” too, and they talked excitedly about it all the way home.  I decided we would replicate it at home.  I thought of a few modifications that would make it even more fun, and that night I secretly filled up four balloons with water and put them in the freezer.  The next day we popped those sparkling balls of ice out of their rubber casings and using salt and some food coloring, we conducted our science experiment and did a little art, too!

Want to get in on the fun?  You will need: a balloon, water, a large bowl, salt, and food coloring or liquid watercolors.  That’s it!

Fill your balloon with water, tie it off and put it in the freezer.  (Tip: put your water-filled balloon in a bowl in the freezer so that it does not get lopsided or ridged from your freezer shelves.) Let it freeze in there overnight in preparation for the experiment.  SCIENCE TIME:  How does the water change from a liquid into a solid when it is put into freezing temperatures?  You might already know that water is made up of molecules moving freely around, filling the space it occupies. Those molecules have three atoms each – two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.   When you put water into a place that is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, the molecules stop moving so quickly.  The cold slows them down.  Eventually they slow down to an almost standstill.  The oxygen atoms establish an organized pattern like crystals (remember those?), but the hydrogen atoms are rebels and go wherever they please.  This is why water expands, or get bigger, as it freezes.  If you put a bottle of water in the freezer with the cap screwed on tightly, it could explode from the water expanding as it freezes.

The next morning, put your frozen water balloon in a large bowl. (I have several colorful plastic bowls from the dollar store that we use for various occasions, and they worked perfectly for this experiment.) Use a scissor blade or knife to slit open the balloon and remove the rubber from your ball of ice.

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Just doing this will produce some “This is so cool!” responses or whatever the kids are saying nowadays.  Before we went any further in our experiment, I challenged the kids to hypothesize why there were these beautiful, sea-anemone-like structures inside our balls of ice.  Gabi guessed that it was the flow of the water as I filled the balloons.  David thought that maybe the water started turning to ice at the bottom and then moved out to the sides as it froze.  SCIENCE TIME:  Those were great hypotheses, but here’s the real reason for those crystalline structures inside the ice.  It may have seemed that I filled my balloon completely with water, but as I tied it shut, there was some air trapped inside the balloon.  If you look carefully at the first photo (the red one), you can see that the structure is actually made of hundreds of tiny bubbles strung together.  Those bubbles are the air trying to escape while the water froze.

Now comes the fun part.  Ask your kids to list some ways to melt or get rid of ice.  The kids at “Brain Break” certainly had some interesting answers to that question!  Inevitably, especially if you live in an area where snow and ice abound, someone will mention salt because they have seen it sprinkled on sidewalks and spread on streets during freezing winter weather.  Salt is what is used in this particular experiment to melt ice. So scatter (don’t dump!) some salt over the top of the ball of ice. The next part is hard – waiting for a few minutes while the salt starts to do its thing.  It’s a good time to discuss – SCIENCE TIME:  How does salt melt ice?  Here’s a quick video to explain it:

Or, if you want the Cliffs notes version, salt lowers the melting point of water.  Its atoms of sodium and chlorine disrupt the hydrogen and oxygen atoms of the ice and cause it to slowly break apart.

You may not be able to see the melting of the ice initially.  That is where your food coloring comes in.  We used food coloring because that’s what I had on hand, but if you can get liquid watercolors, I would recommend that.  Unless you like having rainbow-stained hands, then, by all means, copy us and use the food colors.  Choose a color and carefully squeeze a few drops over the top of your ball of ice.

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The salt actually sinks into the ice as it pushes aside the water molecules.  When the color is added, it drips down into these little pockets left by the salt.  This is clearly the art part!  Wait a little while and then add a few drops of a different color.  Try adding a little more salt.  You will notice that after each time you add salt, the surface of your ball of ice will become more dimpled like a golf ball.  It would take salt alone a very long time to melt this ball of ice.  It works more on the surface, which is why it is used on icy roads and walkways.

Other factors are at work in melting the ice.  Consider the temperature of the room you are in.  Is the sun shining through the window and perhaps directly on the ice?  Have you touched the ice at all with the warmth of your hand?  Now leave your ice alone for a while.  We went out to the library and the park before returning to see how our balls of ice were faring.

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You can see that our ice now resembled alien brains, as Mikey pointed out.  The tiny pock marks left by the salt had widened into larger pits like the finger holds on a bowling ball.  The water trickled down the sides in a snaky fashion as it twisted and turned around all the salt holes.  We added more color, which pooled up in the salt holes and streamed down the squiggly paths left by the melting ice.  We again left it alone for a while and came back to see new designs and patterns etched into the ice.  Each time we checked the ice, we were given a new art piece to admire and enjoy.  The kids left out their ice all night, and in the morning they came out to see their bowls filled with dark, cold salt water.

It was such an enjoyable and educational experience that we want to do it again.  What if we use something else beside a balloon to contain the water?  What will happen if there are substances in the water before it freezes?  What will the melting process look like if we use a hair dryer instead of salt?  There are a great many more possibilities, and my little scientists are eager to explore this new world of solids and liquids with more experiments.

 

 

Some Trust in Chariots

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As usual, we were running a little behind schedule.  David could not find his shoes, and Mikey did not want to wear a coat.  Finally, I herded the last of the kids out the door and to the van, where we discovered that someone had left on the interior lights.  The van would not start, despite the kids’ pleas to Goldie (the name of our van) to get going so they could go play in the gym.  I looked at my antsy kids.  Hosanna was running in circles on the front lawn, and Gabi was attempting to stand on her toes and do a pirouette in the driveway.  “Let’s get the dog and go for a walk,” I made a snap decision.

Now, we live in a metropolitan area that is not exactly suited for walking with four young kids and a not-so-obedient dog.  There are several businesses on our own street, which means a steady stream of dangerous traffic.  Still, I was determined to exterminate the cabin fever and so we forged ahead.  Despite the dog almost darting out into traffic a few times and Hosanna loudly and mightily resisting her hand being held by her big sister, we managed to traverse the more perilous streets of the neighborhood before coming to the “nature trail” behind our local Wal-mart.  By “nature trail,” I mean a skinny asphalt trail with random trees planted on one side and a stunning view of the backside of Wal-mart on the other.  It didn’t matter – now I didn’t have to be on high alert for traffic and could enjoy our walk a little more.  The kids ran ahead of me, squealing with delight at each new stick find and giggling at the antics of the dog.  The trail looped around to the front entrance of Wal-mart.  The kids begged to go inside and “just look at the toys for one minute, promise.”  I was secretly relieved that we had the dog with us, thus eliminating a long stay in the Lego aisle as the kids examined the newest sets.  Reluctantly, the kids followed as I led them back to the neighborhood behind Wal-mart.

Just as we were starting to climb the ramp to the sidewalks beyond, I became aware of flashing lights and police sirens everywhere.  A police car pulled right up next to us, and the officer driving shouted something at me.  Confused and admittedly a little freaked out, I couldn’t understand what he was saying.  He pulled out a megaphone. “Ma’am, you can’t go back that way!  You ‘re going to have to turn around and go back to the store.”  What?  “But this is the only way we can walk home!” I protested.  ” Ma’am, that way is not safe.  A man shot someone and is somewhere back there with a gun.  Please go back to the store.”  I nodded and directed the kids to turn around.

The kids heard the words man shot someone and gun and panicked.  “Mom, I’m scared!  What if the guy with the gun is right here in the parking lot?  What will we do?  How are we going to get home?”  I heard the fear in their voices and almost automatically said, “It’s okay, I’m here.  Mom will take care of you and keep you safe.”  Because that’s what we moms do, right?  Whether it’s a boogie man in their closet or a very tall slide at the playground, we reassure our kids that we are there to help them and protect them in any way we can.  But if that man with the gun appeared right now in front of us, there would be nothing I could do to protect my kids.  In that moment, I realized that I didn’t want my kids looking to me for safety and protection.  I wanted them to put their trust and their safety in the arms of their Heavenly Father.

I gathered my kids in a circle and wrapped my arms tightly around them. I looked into their frightened faces and spoke the truth.  “I don’t know where the man with the gun is.  I’m not sure how we are going to get home yet.”  I chose my words carefully. “Let’s talk to God, right now.”  There, in the parking lot of the Wal-mart, I began praying for God’s protection on our little family and on the other people around us.  David hesitated and then joined in, asking God to help the police find the bad guy.  Gabi chimed in next, openly sharing that she was scared and that she didn’t want to be scared and would God please help her to stop being afraid?  A sense of calm enveloped us as we hurried back to the Wal-mart entrance.  We were told to go inside, dog and all, and of course the kids immediately headed to the toy section.  While they were occupied with the latest toys and games, I waited.  What was I waiting for – we certainly would not be able to walk home.  That was out of the question.  Maybe Christ could come get us – except the van wasn’t working.  I decided to call my mother-in-law, who within minutes of my call jumped in her van and headed out to rescue us.  When she pulled up to the store, the kids piled in, excitedly telling their grandma all about the man with the gun.  We drove past the neighborhood that we had just been walking in hours earlier and saw dozens of police cars blocking every entrance, red and blue flashing lights illuminating the area.  I thanked God that we had not been there at a different time, a time when perhaps things may not have ended so well.

That night, as I tucked the kids into bed, Gabi stared at me anxiously and asked if the police had caught the bad guy yet.  She kept looking at her bedroom window and admitted that she was afraid that he might come to our house.  I told her that I understood her fear, but that we just had to put our trust in God and in His protection.  Because that’s what it’s all about.  My kids can trust in their mom and dad.  They can trust in their grandparents.  They can trust in locked doors and in the police and in loaded guns.  But all of those things will eventually fail them.  Only God is worthy of complete trust.  When we trust in Him completely, He will direct our paths.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.  Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:1-3, 10a

Coffee Filter Crafts: Seahorses

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This year in science, we have been studying ocean animals.  We have checked out library books on sharks, watched videos about octopuses, studied the starfish, and really have enjoyed investigating in depth the many creatures of our oceans.  The kids are making ocean animal notebooks to go along with our study, but I have also tried to incorporate arts and crafts into our unit study as often as I can.  Doing something creative with your hands helps solidify learning and makes it more fun, especially for the hands-on learners.

A while ago we examined the lives and characteristics of seahorses.  We borrowed some books from the library (Seahorses and Sea Dragons by Mary Jo Rhodes and Seahorses:Everything About History, Care, Nutrition, Handling, and Behavior by Frank Indiviglio) and learned amazing things about these fascinating creatures.  We found that YouTube has some great educational videos on seahorses as well:

So what did we learn?  Here are ten facts about these little equine-looking sea creatures.

1.  Seahorses have the ability to change color and sometimes even their texture to blend into their surroundings, such as seaweed, various types of coral, and sea anemones.

2.  Seahorses are monogamous, mostly because they cannot swim very well, making it difficult enough to find one partner in life.

3.  Seahorses greet their partners every day with an elaborate dance and an intertwining of their tails before they venture off to find food.

4.  Seahorses have prehensile tails just like monkeys do, which means they can use them to grab onto coral or another seahorse.

5.  Seahorses have few enemies because they are too bony and too hard to eat, but often crabs are willing to try.

6.  Seahorses eat plankton, tiny fish, and small crustaceans by sucking them through their snouts like a vacuum cleaner. They have to eat constantly or they will die.

7.  Seahorses are the only animal species in which the male is the one that gives birth to their young.

8.  Seahorse swim upright.

9.  Seahorses are actually fish, as they breathe with gills, have some fins, and use a swim bladder to float.

10.  Seahorses can measure anywhere from less than an inch to more than fourteen inches long.

And now that we know a little about seahorses, let’s gather a few supplies to make a coffee filter seahorse.

You will need:  a coffee filter, washable markers in bright colors, a paintbrush, water, a paper plate, a googly eye, scissors, a glue stick, and a seahorse template such as this one

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First, flatten the coffee filter on top of the paper plate.  Have your child draw all over the coffee filter with the washable markers.  Big circles of color work the best.

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Next, give your child some water and a paint brush and let them thoroughly paint over the coffee filter.  It’s okay if they use too much water as it will dry. (eventually!)Lay the coffee filter and plate in a warm place to dry.  (I put ours on top of our dryer!)

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Once the filter is dry, show your child how to cut it up into small triangles and squares.  Then, instruct them to glue them to their seahorse page, overlapping them like the bony fins of a seahorse and covering the entire animal’s body.  More overlap will produce a prettier effect.

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Finally, glue on a googly eye and hang the completed art in a conspicuous spot for all to admire.

I think the results of this craft are very Eric Carle-like.  In fact, he has written a cute book called Mister Seahorse that features bright watercolor seahorses in the illustrations. That might be a fun read-aloud while the kids are doing this craft.

Creative Ways to Connect with Your Kids

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I have been doing this parenting thing now for nine years, but the complexity and differences of my children still never fail to amaze me.  There are four individuals who call me “Mom”, and although they definitely look alike, their personalities and character quirks could not be more diverse.  I have a child who is artistic and friendly, a people-pleaser and an overachiever.  Another child is class clown, the center of attention, loud and funny and yet introverted in his own way.  In discipline, what works for one child does not work for another.  In housework and other responsibilities, what motivates one child will not motivate another.  In school, what helps one child learn confuses another.  And, I have found, my relationships with each one of my children work in pretty much the same way.  The way I communicate and interact with each of my children varies based on their personality and also their age.

Gabi is my oldest.  She recently turned nine and is moving toward those preteen years faster than I would like to admit.  We named her well, as she loves to talk my ear off about cute kittens and puppies and Minecraft and her friends and books and cool science facts and, well, you get the idea.  Several months ago, as I was half-listening to her tell me about her latest issue of Kids National Geographic, I thought “When was the last time Gabi and I talked about something deeper than books or video games?”  The realization that it had been a long time motivated me to try harder.  I would purposefully bring up spiritual topics or body topics in an attempt to dig a little deeper and build my relationship even more with my oldest.  And while this did work, in a way, it felt forced, manipulated, and completely artificial.  There was nothing wrong with me bringing up these conversations, but it didn’t seem genuine and never led to more conversations on the same subject.  In other words, she was not coming to me to talk about these things.  I started praying for a better way to connect with my daughter.  I thought about the activities she liked the most – writing, drawing, creating, making things – and how I could incorporate those things into a more beneficial way to communicate with her.

That’s when I came up with the shared journal idea.  When I was Gabi’s age, I would keep old notebooks with doodles scrawled on the covers and in the margins.  I wrote things like “Today was a happy day” and “Rachel is my best friend always and forever” with lots of illustrations and stickers.  What if Gabi and I had a journal we would write together?  I could write her a note or a question, pass the book on to her, and she could write her answer and anything she wanted to ask me before passing it back to me.  From my own childhood experience I know that sometimes it’s easier to write about hard topics than it is to actually say them aloud.  I searched the local bookstores for the perfect journal and fancy pens to accompany it.

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As it turns out, someone else already had this idea.  At a small stationery store in the area, I found a journal written by a mother and daughter team called Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms. (by Meredith and Sofie Jacobs)  The concept of this journal is similar to what I had in mind, only better.  The journal is filled with writing prompts like “What I was like when I was a daughter your age/What I’d be like if I were a mom” and “How you and I are the same.”  There are lots of pages that have free space to write whatever you want.  With this journal and a new set of sparkly gel pens in hand, I sat my daughter down and explained to her how sharing a journal would work.  She was tremendously excited and couldn’t wait to get started.

At first, the things we shared in the journal were superficial and light, things like “Mom, you should make pancakes tomorrow for breakfast” and “My favorite color is still green, in case you wanted to know.”  She would write these things, dotting her i’s with hearts and surrounding her precious handwriting with smiley faces before leaving it on my nightstand so that I could write her back. I would try to write her back as soon as I could and leave my ribbon in the place I had written so she could find it.  Gradually, the topics in the journal got deeper and more personal.  One time in particular, we resolved an argument and misunderstanding by writing down our feelings in the journal.  I won’t share an exact situation since the journal is “just between us,” but it has become quite evident that both of us can express ourselves better in writing sometimes.

I bought this journal many months ago, and we are still using it faithfully.  Of course, it is not our only means of connecting with each other.  There are still long conversations in the car, Starbucks coffee dates, chat over folding laundry, etc. But we have this method for when it’s too hard to say it aloud or when it just really needs to be accentuated with lots of exclamation points and glittery hearts. Someday, my little girl will be all grown up, but I will always have this journal to remember our “conversations” when she was young.

Cupcake Crochet Gift Basket – Tutorial

My mom first taught me to crochet when I was nine or ten years old.  I remember making that first laborious “dog leash” for my Pound Puppy and then moving on to other projects, like dish cloths and dolly blankets and Barbie doll clothes.  I loved that I could take something as simple as a ball of yarn and turn it into something practical and beautiful.  Somehow along the way, in the busyness of life and the pull of other things, I lost this little hobby of mine.  Yes, I pulled out my hooks to make a sweet baby blanket for my first child and occasionally picked them up to create something as a gift.  Mostly, though, my few hooks and random skeins of yarn lay buried in the back of my closet.

Enter my beloved friend and all-time nemesis, Pinterest.  While casually browsing one night a couple months before Christmas, I saw a pin for a cute Christmas coaster pattern.  Oh, I should totally do some handmade gifts this year, I thought rather irrationally.  Forgetting that Gabi was dancing in seven performances of The Nutcracker Tea and that all the holiday family stuff was happening at my house, I fatally entered the search term “crochet” in Pinterest and began to pin away.  You can see the results of my madness here on my Pinterest board entitled nonchalantly “Crochet Time.”  Yes, that is a total of 114 pins. . .so far.  If I did nothing but crochet and somehow have an insane amount of money to spend on yarn, I still would not be able to complete all those projects in my lifetime.  Well, I did not actually complete anything in time for Christmas.  But, I did get a blanket almost done (I’m in the not-fun process of tucking in yarn ends right now) and have gone on to do a few more projects.  In taking up these new endeavors, I rediscovered the calm and joy that comes with making something for someone else.

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Pictured here is a basket-weave project I am still working on in my favorite colors.  I made Gabi the Legend of Zelda hat and Tri-force wrist warmers for her birthday. (bought the pattern from Level Up Nerd Apparel on Etsy and highly recommend it.  It was easy to follow, and I learned something new – changing colors in the middle of a row and back again.)

I have a friend who loves to crochet also.  Her teens ask for her to make Pokemon and Star Wars and all sorts of clever amigurumi creatures, and she delivers.  She happens to be the leader of our homeschool co-op as well.  Back in November when we were finishing up our fall term of co-op, we thought it would be nice to give her a special gift to honor her for all she does to make the co-op a success.  I wanted the gift to be meaningful and not just a hastily bought Starbucks card (although, not knocking Starbucks cards here – they do make great gifts.)  I decided to make her a gift basket of sorts with her favorite things – crochet and hot chocolate.  While wandering around the craft store trying to figure out how to put it all together, I came up with an idea.  I was going to make it look like cupcakes!  And this is what I made:

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It turned out pretty adorable, if I do say so myself.  I wanted to share here how I made it in case any of you need a creative gift for the crocheter or knitter in your life.

Okay, so you will need:  three skeins of yarn in the recipients’ favorite colors, three red pom poms, three wooden toothpicks, large paper cupcake liners, white tissue paper, curling ribbon, cupcake stickers, tape, scissors, and a metal or plastic bucket.  (Check to make sure your skeins fit into the bucket and don’t stick up too far from the rim)

Optional: a travel cup with gourmet chocolate packets tucked inside, a crochet pattern book  (Pick things that will work for the gift recipient.)

Now put it together:

First make your “cupcakes” with the yarn skeins.  For each cupcake, take two paper cupcake liners and cut out the bottom of each one so that you are left with just the crimped sides of the liners. Put one of the trimmed liners around the top of a yarn skein like a collar.  It will probably not be quite big enough; so cut off what you need from the second trimmed line and tape into place. (Sorry for the lack of photos of this process.  I hurried to get this done and only snapped a phone photo at the end.) Do this for all three skeins.  Top off your “cupcakes” with a sweet little “cherry” by pushing a toothpick through a red pom pom and then inserting it into the top of the yarn skein.

Carefully put all three “cupcakes” into the bucket and add any extra treats to fill up the bucket.  Fill in all remaining gaps with the white tissue paper.  Be sure to put plenty of the tissue paper around the yarn skeins so that you will not see any yarn at the bottom of the cupcake liners.

Decorate the bucket with cupcake stickers.  Cut long pieces of the curling ribbon (I found my cupcake ribbon at Walmart) and curl with a scissors blade.  Insert the ribbon curls evenly around the bucket and trim to fit.

It’s a perfect gift to satisfy the “sweet tooth” of any yarn artist. 😉