He’s with the band

He's with the band {Heather's Handmade Life}
I was never what you’d call musically talented and I’m almost certainly tone deaf, but I still really enjoyed my three years of junior high band. Well, everything except the itchy, royal blue and yellow polyester band sweaters that I can still feel on my skin all these years later.

I played percussion, which meant I got to learn the snare drum, bass drum, tympanies, bells (xylophones), triangle, wind chimes, tambourine, maracas, shakers, crash symbols — all of the fun stuff.

I liked the variety of learning different instruments. Percussionists were often envied because we got to whisk around in the back, moving from drumsticks to mallets during a single song, while the rest of the musicians were stuck in their chairs.

When I heard our children’s school starts a beginner band program in Grade 3, it brought back so many fond band memories, like smashing the bass drum as hard as I could — in front of the whole school — for the 21-gun salute on Remembrance Day. (Mr. Cormier swore I wouldn’t break it and he was right.)

It also brought up the embarrassing memory of playing the bass drum in a skirt at the Nova Scotia Kiwanis Music Festival, with one leg hiked up to support the drum, trying to angle myself so I wouldn’t flash my underwear to the audience.

Was our son ready for band? I only started percussion when I was in Grade 7, so eight years old felt young to be learning an instrument. But our son has always had natural talent in music — at least, according to his report cards — so he was eager to sign up …

He's with the band {Heather's Handmade Life}

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Nice ‘n’ navy nightstands

A magician always has a favourite trick, and I’ve decided decorators do, too. Mine is a simple one that never fails to amaze my audiences: sawing an end table in half to transform it into two nightstands.

How do I love this DIY? Let me count the ways.

  1. It’s inexpensive because you either already have a crummy old end table in the basement, or you can buy for a few bucks at a yard sale or thrift shop.
  2. It gives a new life to something that might end up tossed or ignored.
  3. It takes up far less space than full-sized end tables or store-bought nightstands.
  4. It’s easy to do, and takes nothing more than a circular saw or jigsaw — maybe even just a hand saw, if you’re into old-school tools.
  5. And, finally, it gives you a set of perfectly matching nightstands that make any bedroom look more finished.

So when I was working on a secret bedroom makeover for a client and she mentioned that we needed nightstands, it took no time at all to find a set of heavy wooden end tables in her basement.

They even had little drawers, so we decided to chop both tables in half so we could use the ends with the drawers. (She’s already musing which bedroom is going to get the other halves — two matching nightstands, just without the drawers.)

Once both tables were cut in two, it didn’t take me long to paint the “good halves” with some beautiful navy blue paint. (“Midnight Blue” by Fusion Mineral Paint.) Then I used my drill to widen the hardware hole in the tiny drawers. The original knobs had been plain wood and utterly forgettable.

We were replacing them with bright brass drop pulls (“EDVALLA,” $6.99 for a two-pack at IKEA). The gold looked stunning against the deep blue paint, and I was reminded, once again, that it’s always worth it to spend money on pretty hardware.

Everyone always thinks these nightstands will be mounted to the wall with clips or screws, but they actually don’t even need it! They sit firmly on their two front legs, and the back just leans into the wall — like me doing a wall sit, ouch, at the end of my Zumba class.

My client loved the nightstands and was equally giddy about the way the brass glinted against the navy paint. They looked way better than anything we could have bought, and we’d spent about $20 total on them.

Now aren’t you glad *this* magician revealed her secret? 😉

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A day well spent at the Ex

Since our family spends one full day at the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition every single summer, it’s something we all remember fondly throughout the year.

It’s also become a way to notice how very, very quickly time is passing.

Then … Now

This year at the Ex marked the first time my husband and I didn’t need to buy ride tickets or bracelets for ourselves — our petite six-year-old could go on every “big” ride she wanted, without an adult. She was so proud of herself.

(Technically she was a smidge under the line, but no one seemed too concerned about measuring her. It wasn’t like that scene in Big when little Josh Baskin is humiliated at the fair.)

So we didn’t ride. We watched and waited and patiently followed them to the next ride for more watching and waiting. Most of our friends were doing the same, and we all marvelled at how big the kids were getting. Before we know it, we said, we’ll be dropping them off at the gates!

The rides are mostly set up in the same spots each time, and we all have the layout memorized. The uneven dirt, the rubber mats covering the power cables, the clicking mechanical sounds from the ride motors, the smell of sugar mixed with grease — it’s all the same, every year.

C with her first candy apple, and D riding the Merry-Go-Round when he was too small to go alone

We have so many wonderful family memories at the Ex, and in a way, it was like walking back in time. Whenever I stood at the metal railings surrounding each ride, waving at the kids and taking blurry pictures as they zoomed by, I was overcome by how much had changed …

Big kids riding the Tilt-a-Whirl with their friends. No parents required.

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

How to save money at a fair


Kitchen chair turned desk chair

Kitchen chair to desk chair {Heather's Handmade Life}

Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to see the things you’ve stopped noticing in your own home.

I was recently standing in a client’s foyer, discussing what to pick up for the bedroom I was decorating for her daughter. We needed a desk chair to go with a beautiful new custom new desk we were building.

She was more than happy to go buy a new chair for the room, but my instinct is hardly ever to run to a store and buy something brand new, unless it’s project supplies like fabric, paint or lumber. (In any of those categories, I turn into a crazed shopping fiend.)

“What about one of those?” I asked, pointing into the next room at a couple of dark green kitchen chairs sitting around her daughter’s craft table. They were slightly battered, but very solid looking. Surely she didn’t need three of them at her craft table, and we could steal one?

The green had to go, but this chair had potential.

My client looked surprised, but told me I could certainly take one if I thought it would work. So I trucked it home with me, brought it into my studio, and got to work painting it a beautiful light cream colour. (Plaster by Fusion Mineral Paint.*) But the paint was just the beginning …

I picked up a chair pad and some fluffy white fabric, which is hilariously called “monkey fur.” (Um, I’ve never seen a white fluffy monkey?)

Once I’d trimmed the chair pad a bit to fit the rounded edges of the seat, I lay the chair pad onto the fabric — right side up — and wrapped it over the top and bottom, overlapping the fabric to make a pocket.

I pinned around one side of the chair pad, following its curves …

… and then took out the chair pad so I could stitch along the line of pins.

I repeated the process for the other side, trimming away the excess fur — woah, that was messy!

… and turned the whole thing right-side-out so I could jam the chair pad inside. If the fluffy white cover needs to be cleaned, the chair pad can be wrestled back out to make it easier.

Once I set the new fluffy cushion on the seat of the chair, I decided it should have ties to keep it in place so it didn’t slide around. I just sewed strips from a few scraps of cream-coloured canvas, and hand-stitched two in each of the back corners. Then I was able to tie the cushion to the chair rungs snugly.

This is just one of many, many pieces I’m working on for this “teenage dream” bedroom makeover, and I’m loving how it’s all turning out. The muted colour combination of cream and white is super elegant, and it looks like something you’d see on Wayfair for way more than the $22 it cost us for this project!

I can totally picture this chair pulled up to the new white desk — the perfect, fluffy seat for doing homework, sketching, or just hanging out. Ahh, to be 13 again.

Kitchen chair to desk chair {Heather's Handmade Life}
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10 tips for a smoother weekday routine

The following is a sponsored conversation with CLIF Kid Zbar Filled. As always, all opinions and weird routines are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Heather’s Handmade Life.


Attention please! School starts ONE WEEK FROM TODAAAAAAY!!!

*parents cheer*
*my teacher friends cry*

Yes, its going to be awesome to get our little darlings back in class. I know a lot of parents are dreading the end of summer, though — having to wake their kids up early for school, and get back into the chaotic routine of getting everybody up and fed and dressed and out the door with everything they need. And then there’s the after-school hoopla of getting them to activities and making dinner and getting everything finished in time for them to get the kids to bed at a reasonable time.

But me?

I’m over here, like, OH YES I GOT THISSSSS!

It’s not that I have it all figured out. Far from it. It’s just I’m a nerd about being on time for things, being prepared, being “ready” in general. I get an odd sense of pride when we’re all standing in the front hall, shoes on, coats on, umbrellas ready, backpacks filled, etc. and we are still precisely two and a half minutes from the time we need to leave for the school bus. It’s like my own Nerdy Parent Olympics.

I may not dress fashionably or be able to carry on conversations about popular TV shows (I’m currently working my way through every season of Who’s The Boss) but you know what I CAN do? Make our weeks to run pretty darn smoothly.

In the words of Taylor Swift, are you ready for this?

1. Simplify the morning routine.

I lay out our kids’ clothes in advance — usually a full week at a time — on the clothing trees I built. This means the kids can get themselves fully dressed without me having to pick out their clothes (or make them change) when I’m trying to get myself ready. And, truthfully, they wake up earlier than my alarm anyway.

DIY clothing trees

Once they’re dressed for school, they know they have to brush their teeth before they can go downstairs. (Hair comes later — keep reading.) The first stop is the kitchen to turn on my tea kettle, and then our eldest’s job is to fill the dog’s food and water bowl. They also know they’re not allowed on screens until they’ve eaten breakfast, OR they’re eating it WHILE they watch something. Which brings me to …

2. Don’t overcomplicate breakfast.

I made a huge batch of pancakes from scratch every Saturday morning. But during the week? UM, NO, I am not making pancakes. Or eggs. Or bacon. Well, I might be making bacon but not until your little butts are off to school. That’s more of a 10 a.m. thing.

If I’m in the kitchen and there’s plenty of time before the bus, sure, I’ll offer to toast them a bagel or something. But most of the time? They handle their breakfast.

Our eight-year-old is a morning person and will make toast or pour a bowl of cereal. Our six-year-old is a night owl (although school certainly tires her out, so this isn’t as bad as it used to be). She’s also just … not a morning person, so she’s often sleepy and/or grumpy in the morning before school. She prefers something she can grab with zero effort, like a baggie of dry cereal.

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The end-of-summer panic

I shouldn’t be surprised, really, because I’m struck by the same feeling at the end of every summer: The little burst of panic that it’s almost over and I haven’t done everything I wanted to do or, more honestly, everything I felt I should be doing with the kids.

It’s this time of year when I typically organize a spur-of-the-moment trip to the beach, overwhelmed by guilt because I haven’t taken them yet. (Luckily, they have gone to the beach many times this summer with my mother. She is a sun person, unlike her basement-dwelling vampire daughter.)

If it weren’t for my mom, they wouldn’t get NEARLY as many beach days like this.

If I let myself really launch into a bad mom shame spiral, I could add that we haven’t been to the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park at all this summer. (In fact, I can’t remember the last time we went …?)

We didn’t do a session of swimming lessons, even though I had the best intentions. (I signed them up for a few weeks of camp without realizing it was going to screw up any chance of also fitting in swimming.)

My husband tried to take them strawberry picking, but the place was closed, so they bought some at the roadside stand instead. He didn’t set up the pool we bought and used last summer and now it’s too late. We meant to build a new bonfire pit, and it just didn’t happen. He, um, did set up the sprinkler for them once!

We wanted to take them to Prince Edward Island (sigh … again), or even to Magic Mountain for the day, but we’re in a season of sacrifice (better known as scrimping) and decided those weren’t in the budget. Maybe next summer.

Ugh. I always do this at the end of the summer. I beat myself up thinking of all of the fun things we didn’t do, rather than focusing on what we did do, so let’s try that again …

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

Back to the mats

Back to the mats {Heather's Handmade Life}

A long time ago, in a dazed overtired world where I had a three-year-old son and an almost-two-year-old daughter, she was a gymnast.

Back to the mats {Heather's Handmade Life}
Yup, I had fun sewing the outfits!

Well, as much as toddler can be a gymnast. Ah, Kindergym, where people sit in hula hoops and the moms try to have conversations but end up rushing across the bouncy floor to stop their child from falling off a balance beam twice their height.

But when she turned three, she started ballet.

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Better late than never

Better late than never: a perfect belated birthday party for our son {Heather's Handmade Life}

It wasn’t that we forgot our son’s eighth birthday in early June. Not at all! We celebrated it in style, during our Ontario vacation, by spending the afternoon playing video games and arcade games at Chuck E. Cheese’s. It was clearly one of the best days of his young life.

Before we’d left on our trip, we had his traditional “family party,” where grandparents and aunts and uncles come to our place for dinner and cake. He had new Lego sets coming out of his ears and had them all assembled by noon the next day, which is his idea of heaven.

But, well, technically … we skipped the part of his birthday where we throw a little party for him and his friends. We came home from Ontario and just … no one mentioned it. June melted into July and July melted into August and I seemed to be the only one who was quietly remembering.

I felt guilty, but enough to go through the effort of pulling together a party — especially during the summer when it’s hard to keep track of who’s on vacation and who’s at their cottage and who’s in day camp. Why, oh why, hadn’t I gotten organized back in June?!

Do you know what it took to kick my butt into gear? A birthday invitation from his best friend, who’s birthday is one of the very last days of August. Suddenly, the guilt was so powerful that I decided I had to do something immediately.

I texted a few friends to confirm their kids would be available in three days — a random Wednesday afternoon — and asked if I could take them to Levels Game Loft for a few hours of nonstop video gaming. No invitations, no real notice and almost zero effort required.

Better late than never: a perfect belated birthday party for our son {Heather's Handmade Life}

Levels Game Loft is an amazing place here in Truro, with screens everywhere and cool rainbow lighting and those rocking video game chairs. The kids were bouncing with joy as they waited to start their two hours.

I didn’t rent the party room. I just paid for the kids to be able to play for two hours on the PCs, Wiis, WiiUs, Playstation 4 Pros, and Xbox One Ss, bouncing between whichever consoles they wanted. They all had a blast, with some of them switching games every 15 or 20 minutes and others sticking with the same one (good ol’ Minecraft) for almost the whole time.

We ate popcorn as we played. I got especially sweaty during an enthusiastic Wii Boxing match with one guest. Three of the kids fell in love with the dark room filled with PCs — complete with light-up rainbow keyboards and fancy headsets — and declared they were never playing anything else. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of these adorable little eight-year-olds looking like itsy bitsy baby hackers.

At the end of the two hours, everybody’s parents came to pick them up and I handed out cake pops. They had melted all over my kitchen while I made them and my freezer is still a mess of chocolate blobs — thanks, extreme heat and humidity — but they were edible-ish.

I never do loot bags because I hate them, but I’d picked up some $2 clearance water balloon kits at Michaels the night before, so everyone got to take one of those home.

The entire party cost less than $100 and I felt a huge sense of relief that I’d finally done it. Sure, it took two months and two days, but he’d had a “friend party” to celebrate turning eight. Everyone had a great time, and it just reaffirmed what I’ve been slowly learning: kids’ parties don’t have to be a lot of work — or really ANY work.

If you don’t feel like hot-glueing paper decals onto plastic cups or crafting elaborate banners — stuff I used to do for every damn party — you don’t have to do it. You don’t need real invitations or even a Facebook event, if that feels overwhelming. You don’t need a theme or a huge guest list or a single trip to the store to buy party crap.

Just text the kids’ parents and tell them where and when to show up, and do something fun with the kids for a couple of hours. That’s it, and everyone will have a great time — even you.

No-sew pennant banner

Back when my friend was pregnant, she’d mentioned wanting a burlap pennant banner to hang over the baby’s crib (which you might remember from this sweet little makeover).

DIY crib sheet, crib bumpers, and crib skirt

I insisted I’d made one, but then I found myself procrastinating the project. Burlap is a pain to work with because it frays so easily, and I was dreading cutting out the little triangles and sewing them together. Then, after all that, I’d have to cut out the letters of his name — Colton — and applique around each one, all while praying the burlap held up. Ugh.

When little Colton was not quite two weeks old, I was browsing the craft aisles of my favourite fabric store and discovered a wooden pennant banner kit.* I’d never seen one before. For 7.99 I would get seven wooden triangles, precut with holes, and the twine to string them together. Sold!

Before I left the store, I grabbed a sheet of dark brown felt* and 1.5m of burlap trim.* (I had no idea it was sold in narrow strips, but it was exactly what I needed to fit the pennants.)

No-sew pennant banner {Heather's Handmade Life}

Back at home, I printed out Colton’s name — split into two sections to fit it all on one piece of printer paper — using a free font called “Typo Hoop” (DaFont.com). I’d wanted something that would be easy to cut out, and solid enough to be legible from across the room when it was hanging above his crib.

I cut out the paper letters, and then switched over to my fabric scissors to cut them out of the felt. I didn’t bother to trace, since it might have marked up the felt. I just held the paper letters over the felt with one hand while snipping with the other. C-O-L-T-O-N was cut out in no time.

I plugged in my hot glue gun and spread out the length of burlap, cutting it into six rectangles — each slightly larger than the wooden pennants. Then I just squiggled glue over one side of a wooden pennant and pressed it against the burlap with my palm.

Once the glue had cooled, I trimmed around each pennant. It didn’t matter that the edges were already fraying a little, because the glue was going to make sure the burlap didn’t totally disintegrate.

The wood backing gives each pennant a nice heft, unlike a pennant banner made from only fabric, so there won’t be any flapping around if the nursery window is left open. (Years ago, I sewed a fabric birthday banner that we still use for every family birthday. I love it, but it drives me crazy that the pennants get wrinkled.)

I hot-glued each letter onto a pennant, which was a million times faster than having to applique around each one with my sewing machine. Then I strung the pennants onto the piece of twine included in the kit, using a dab of hot glue behind each hole to make sure they didn’t slide around.

I’ll be hanging up this banner next week when I go to my friend’s place for more baby snuggles, and I know it’s going to look great over his crib.

This project was so fast that now I want to get more of these wooden kits to make more pennant banners! Ooh, one for every holiday! I’ve missed you, my dear glue gun.

No-sew pennant banner {Heather's Handmade Life}
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Are you an early school-prepper?

Even before the calendar flipped to August — and by “flipped” I mean metaphorically, of course, because we’re a digital household — it seemed like everybody was talking about back-to-school shopping.

One neighbour came home with new backpacks, water bottles and plastic lunch containers. Another asked me to watch for a package because she was expecting a lunch bag in the mail. Further down the street, a friend already had everything purchased for her kids, except the indoor sneakers.

I was surprised. They had all of that already? I’d wager that I’m looking forward to the first day of school more than any of them (#workfromhomelife) and yet I had bought absolutely nothing.

Well, that’s not true. I’d bought fabric. Lots and lots of fabric, hee hee. I started sewing back-to-school clothes in early July. In our guest room, there’s a growing stack of hidden dresses, shirts, skirts and leggings. I even attempted to sew tights for the first time!

One of many shirts-in-progress

When it comes to the things I don’t sew, I’ve decided I should probably get my head in the game. Do they need new jackets? I have no recollection of what they were wearing last fall and if it might still fit them. It’s so humid that I am nearly weeping, though, thinking of the cool September breezes.

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

Summer brain melt is a real thing

Summer brain melt is a real thing {Heather's Handmade Life}

The humidity has been out of control for weeks — maybe a month, who even knows anymore.

My hair is twice its normal size, and I have big hair so that’s really saying something. Everyone’s hot and sticky all the time. Our house doesn’t have air conditioning, but it does have warm, damp breezes whipping through the windows. They are not refreshing.

My brain is melting, along with the makeup I half-heartedly swipe across my face when I’m making an effort. Summer brain melt is a real thing, I’ve decided. It’s diagnosed when parents (and children) are hot and cranky and can’t seem to focus.

I felt like I had nothing to write about this week, really, so I asked my eight-year-old and six-year-old to pinch-hit. (I really must be dazed and overheated if I’m using a sports reference.)

I told them the topic was “summer vacation,” and even tapped out a few questions for them to answer. It kept them busy for almost an hour, since it’s hard for newbie typers to spell when the A, S, C, N, M, I, O and P letters are completely worn off your keys. (“Mom! I don’t see the M!” “Just skip it! Mommy will fix it later!”)

So, in the spirit of summer brain melt — and to celebrate that summer vacation is nearing the halfway point as I write this — here is what they had to say …

Hello my name is Dexter. This is Charlotte. I’m here to tell you how much fun summer can be for a kid. Summer for a kid has so much time to make new friends. One boring thing: math worksheets in the morning, but some kids like it. Some grown-ups don’t like summer because their kids get loud and rowdy …
Continue reading in my (or maybe now it’s “their”) weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene … 

Our epic DIY fail

Our epic DIY fail {Heather's Handmade Life}

When we had our driveway paved, I was thrilled to see the grey gravel banished forever. Our driveway had been lumpy and uneven, with a rocky hill leading up to the stairs of our porch — which sat perched on a heap of gravel that kept slipping out from underneath it.

We tore off our old stairs, which needed to be replaced anyway, the day before the paving crew was set to arrive. It made total sense when the pavers explained they would need to even out the grade, giving us a flatter driveway and a nice surface on which to rebuild our stairs.

The kids were obsessed with watching the crew work. Best babysitters ever.

I didn’t care that it meant cutting into the front lawn a bit. I was getting a flat, paved driveway! They finished the work in just two days, and left us with a gloriously black, smooth surface. It was so beautiful, I didn’t want to drive on it and risk marking or denting the fresh asphalt.

Ahhh, the freshly-paved driveway!

Once the crew left, however, it was clear we were going to have to do something about the exposed chunk of earth that ran along one side of the driveway like a miniature cliff. As the yard got higher and higher, the drop down to the driveway got steeper — and crumbles of mud started rolling onto my pristine new pavement.

Um, now what were we going to do about the MINI MUDDY CLIFF?!

We built the new, taller staircase and that hid some of the ‘dirt wall,’ but it wasn’t enough. Despite having zero masonry experience, my handy husband decided he could manage a simple brick retaining wall. (Famous last words.)

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