Taking summer reading to a new level

Taking summer reading to a new level {Heather's Handmade Life} Why our kids are LOVING the TD Summer Reading Club
Our son has been staying up late these days, but it’s for the best possible reason: he’s reading one chapter book a night.

I’ve always felt strongly about raising readers. I’ve loved to read since I learned how, but my husband struggled with reading as a child and now that no one’s forcing him to read, he won’t touch a book unless it’s to read to our son and daughter.

As we read to them as babies, I’d wondered if they’d take after him or me. Would they only read what they needed to read for school — and complain about it — or would they devour books in their free time and always want more?

Reading has always been part of our nightly routine and they certainly enjoy it. We would read to them before they could read and we started taking turns reading once each of them learned how. Then, after prayers and tuck-ins, they have always been allowed to quietly read for awhile until they go to sleep.

It has only been this past school year that our son has taken it to a new level. He’s outgrown the Easy Readers (which our daughter is now slowwwwwwly picking her way through) and traded Berenstain Bears* for chapter books. His favourite series is called Magic Tree House* and he’ll snuggle up in bed to read all 110 pages before he goes to sleep.

Because he’s reading a book a night, we’ve been making lots of trips to the library to stock up on more. I don’t care how busy or tired I am. If he’s out of books, we will find time to drive down so he has a new one to read that night. Must. Not. Discourage. Reading. Obsession.

During one of these visits, both kids signed up for something called the TD Summer Reading Club.

Our kids get to “buy” new parts for their robots using credits they earn reading. They love it!

They hadn’t done a summer reading program before, but a few library employees visited their school and apparently had an excellent sales pitch because the kids insisted on going that very day …

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene …

Bedroom decorating on a budget

I recently helped a client redecorate her master bedroom and we made a pretty spectacular impact with very little cash. I love how it’s now a space that expresses her fun, loving personality.

It all started with a dresser makeover. Since we redid her existing dresser for one of her guest bedrooms, she bought a new one second-hand and painted it a rich navy (Fusion Mineral Paint’s Midnight Blue). It came with two matching nightstands (all for $125), which she also painted. The dark blue paint is perfect against her pale grey walls, and it goes well with her dark bedframe.

I like dark furniture against light walls and light furniture against dark walls.

Heather’s home hint: I’m a fan of contrast, so I like dark furniture against light walls and light furniture against dark walls. Not everyone agrees, of course, but my heart skips a beat at the idea of white furniture popping against dark emerald green walls. I also believe in painting furniture to match, even if it’s not technically a matching set.

One of the biggest crimes to commit against a big, beautiful dresser is to hang something tiny above it . . . and nothing else. This new dresser was the width of her queen-size bed, so it needed more than just a single frame floating above it …

One of the biggest crimes to commit against a big, beautiful dresser is to hang something tiny above it . . . and nothing else.

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, Heather’s Handmade Home … 

Sources for this room:

And so it begins

We’re not even a week into summer vacation, and already school feels like it ended months ago. Was it really LAST FRIDAY — not even one week ago — they got off the bus for the last time? REALLY?

Our weeks of summer camp have yet to begin, so we’re in those early-summer days of getting used to the new normal. Read More

Summer needs some structure

Summer needs some structure: Why I make my kids do certain activities during summer vacation {Heather's Handmade Life}

If my kids were left to their own devices this summer, they would not leave those devices — electronic devices, that is. They would alternate between the iPhone, iPad and PS4 until their eyeballs fell out of their heads and rolled across my Wayfair rug.

My kids (most kids, I think) thrive on structure, and sometimes summer can get a little too loosey-goosey. Without the steadiness of that Monday-to-Friday school schedule (I miss it already) kids can get cranky because they (A) don’t know what’s coming up next and (B) get into a rut of doing the same things without any variety.

Yes, they will spend a lot of time playing outside, and we will make many trips to the local park, library, pool, playground, etc. They will draw and make crafts and play with their toys and build blanket forts and invent new games.

Sometimes, I just structure activities that will keep them quietly content while I’m working. So here are some of the ways I’m going to structure our time this summer to keep them from becoming “vidiots.”

1. Tinker time.

I started doing this a few months ago actually. They run up to our son’s room and each build a unique Lego creation, and then I come upstairs and tell them what I like about each one — um, what I like about the Lego creations, not the kids themselves.

2. Wayback playback.

(Yes, everything has some sort of alliteration. It’s the “fluency heuristic,” which means ideas are more valuable if they’re easier to say or think). This is when I’ll pull out toys they haven’t played with in a long time, and they are legally obligated to play with them for a certain amount of time. I’m looking at you, giant expensive Playmobil collection they never touch anymore.

Read the full article
Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene … 

DIY hanging bars

DIY playground hanging bars {Heather's Handmade Life}

Three summers ago we built a simple wooden teeter-totter for $60 and the kids still love it today. It opened our eyes to the genius of building your own playground equipment from solid wood, rather than spending hundreds or thousands on dinky metal and plastic sets.

My babies were so little here! Sniff! (Oh yeah, click for the full seesaw tutorial)

Last summer, we built a set of monkey bars for $175 and they’re still the most popular thing in our backyard — well, maybe second to the swings.

Read the full tutorial for our DIY monkey bars
Read the full tutorial for our DIY monkey bars

This summer, I decided we could expand on the monkey bars and add two hanging bars. The kids love flipping around on the ones in their school playground, and it felt like a natural next step in our backyard.

It started off pretty similar to the monkey bar build — the same pressure-treated 4×4 posts and the same giant ground spikes to keep them snugly nestled in the yard. Because we were building the bars off the existing monkey bars, we just needed two new posts. (My handy husband even remembered the trick he “invented” last summer, where he used a small scrap of 4×4 to help him pound the spike into position before adding the real post.)

We’d purchased the monkey bars as a set, but the hanging bars needed to be hunted down since they’re not a standard piece of playground equipment. It involved visits to several different stores as we shopped for something decidedly unusual …

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home … 

DIY playground hanging bars {Heather's Handmade Life}
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Confessions of a dance pusher

It wasn’t a shady deal in a parking lot where two cars pull up next to each other and try to act casual. It didn’t take place in an alley or in the dark corner of the park. The deals were all made via text, but I still felt like quite a … pusher. Not a drug pusher, though. A dance pusher.

The messages started flying early in the morning on the day registration opened for existing students of the dance school. Over the course of a few hours, I was popping in and out of group texts and individual texts — weaving an intricate web of plans involving weekday afternoon dance classes for six-year-olds.

Instead of just answering their simple question of, “What class/day/time is Charlotte doing in the fall?” I couldn’t help but try to lead them over to my side.

I might as well have been smoking a cigarette and casually leaning against a brick wall. Probably wearing a cool leather jacket and ripped jeans, too.
“You want the good stuff?” I’d say in a gravelly voice. “It’s all about lyrical. Have you heard about lyrical? Oh man, you’ve gotta try lyrical.”
Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene …

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene …

DIY crib bedding

DIY crib bedding {Heather's Handmade Life}

My friend is expecting her third baby, and we’re all so excited for her. She wanted a rustic, woodsy feel for the nursery to go with the rest of her farmhouse, and didn’t want to reuse the old brown and green bedding from her previous two nurseries.

Is there anything better than a blank canvas?

We ended up spending just $75 on everything we needed to recover her old crib bumpers* as well as make a brand-new crib sheet and a four-sided crib skirt.

DIY crib bedding {Heather's Handmade Life}

I also made her a sweet, woodland-themed quilt for her baby shower.

DIY crib bedding {Heather's Handmade Life}

If you’re an expectant parent, feel free to hand these tutorials over to a friend/family member who sews and beg them to help you make custom nursery bedding. You’ll be able to get exactly what you want for a fraction of the price of baby bedding sold in stores, and think of the possibilities …

DIY crib bedding {Heather's Handmade Life}

Sewing crib bumpers: Full tutorial
DIY crib bedding {Heather's Handmade Life}
Sewing a crib sheet: Full tutorial
DIY crib bedding {Heather's Handmade Life}
Sewing a crib skirt: Full tutorial

(*RE: BumperGate. I’ve gotten a lot of emails about crib bumpers, since this article ran in the newspaper this past weekend. I don’t “endorse” crib bumpers and didn’t use them with my own babies, BUT my friend has used them with her two previous babies and wants to use them again. That’s her choice, and any parent’s choice. I just made them look pretty for her.)

Cake pops are surprisingly easy

Cake pops are surprisingly easy to make {Heather's Handmade Life}

I always admired parents who made cake pops. They seemed so fancy and I’d imagined they’d spent hours in the kitchen, perfecting each little ball of cakey goodness before dipping it and decorating it.

While I’m definitely better at baking than cooking (which isn’t saying much), I don’t like making cupcakes because I find it a pain to frost them individually. I prefer to just slap some frosting on a cake — much faster — and maybe toss on some sprinkles. I assumed cake pops were way out of my league.

But when we threw a “mobile” birthday party for our daughter back in April, I realized cake pops would be really convenient. We wouldn’t need to pack napkins or muck around with globs of frosting and we’d also avoid the crumbs that come from half-eaten cupcakes.

I was shocked to discover that cake pops were MUCH easier than I’d imagined. They were actually kind of fun to make! They were tidy to eat, really delicious and a huge hit with our party guests (and their parents).

So, if you’ve been tempted to try making cake pops but figured they were too difficult, here’s exactly how to master them on your first try …

Cake pops are surprisingly easy to make {Heather's Handmade Life}

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene … 

DIY pergola picnic table

DIY pergola picnic table {Heather's Handmade Life}

When you’re a certified indoor person and avoid the sun like a vampire, it’s a challenge to have children who love (and need) to play outside.

Even with my collection of oversized hats, sunglasses and tubes of fancy sunscreen, I’m all about sitting in the shade. I don’t like to feel hot, I’m prone to heatstroke, and working as a drugstore cosmetician in high school and university left me extremely paranoid about sunburns.

I wanted a spot where I could sit outside our house semi-comfortably to supervise the kids in their little pool. A large umbrella seemed like the obvious solution. But we live on top of a very windy hill, and umbrellas are a joke. (Well, and a weapon, since they’re likely to catapult through the air whenever the wind picks up.)

Picnic table
Here’s the picnic table we started with …

My next thought was a retractable awning attached to the house to cover our (very small) back deck. But those started at $500 and the majority were several thousand dollars (yikes), plus there was a good chance the wind would destroy it anyway.

“I just need some kind of little roof,” I whined to my handy husband on a particularly sunny day. “Just something to cover me. We could almost just . . .” I paused, looking at the picnic table sitting in the backyard. “We could just put a roof on the table! …”

DIY pergola picnic table {Heather's Handmade Life}
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Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home … 

Work-at-home meal hack

Work-at-home meal hack {Heather's Handmade Life}

When I’m working, I’m completely zoned out and don’t register that I’m hungry until suddenly I’m STARVING and ready to eat anything in sight. I feel like I’m too busy to stop and make something — even if it’s just opening a can of tuna and making a sandwich — so I used to run upstairs to the kitchen and grab a handful of crackers, a bowl of cereal, a granola bar, or another non-meal that takes mere seconds to prepare.

Then I started doing this …

Work-at-home meal hack {Heather's Handmade Life} Read More

Canvas grocery bag hack

Canvas grocery bag hack {Heather's Handmade Life}

Yesterday’s post was all about how we packed our carry-on luggage, and today’s is about the kids’ “airplane activity bags” they also carried onboard (since each person is allowed two carry-ons). Instead of hefting around backpacks (which they would invariably load with way too much stuff), I wanted them to have something smaller to tote around.

I had a few of these free canvas grocery bags from Atlantic Superstore, as part of their new online shopping program. (Pssst — if you’re local, I did a full review video on Facebook.) Lots of companies give out similar bags, so chances are you have one or two floating around somewhere.

Canvas grocery bag hack {Heather's Handmade Life} Read More

Tips for packing carry-on luggage

Tips for packing carry-on luggage {Heather's Handmade Life}

My dad’s been a pilot since before I was born, so I grew up traveling as an “airline kid.” When I got married, I smoothly transitioned into being an “airline spouse,” since my husband is a baggage assembly lead. This means I’m very comfortable on airplanes — while simultaneously suffering from Standby Stomach — but I don’t exactly travel the traditional way.

For one, we never check luggage. Checked luggage is a huge pain when you’re traveling standby since it means you can’t jump from flight to flight as opportunities present themselves — you’re stuck with the plane holding your suitcase.

We started flying with our kids when they were three and five, and while it certainly would have been easier to check huge suitcases full of everything we might need or want, we’ve managed to keep things streamlined and only take what we can carry directly onto the plane.

Tips for packing carry-on luggage {Heather's Handmade Life}

Ready to dive into how we organize our neatly-packed ultra-efficient suitcases? Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for takeoff …

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene …