Okay, in its raw form this idea has a Christmas theme, but there’s no reason it can’t be generalized to make any season magical. It’s an adorable project to do for small children.
Over at East Coast Mommy, the Elf on the Shelf (aka Santa’s Narc) arrived for Christmas duty with a packet of “magic” tree-shaped candy sprinkles and planting instructions from Santa (on official North Pole letterhead, which I thought was a nice touch). The sprinkles were planted in a bowl of sugar and somehow grew into tree-patterned cookie lollipops overnight.
Well, there are candy sprinkles in shapes beyond numbering, and plenty of cookie cutters. A child could receive a special package from the Great Pumpkin, the Solstice Hobgoblin, or simply the Fairy in Charge of Magical Botany. They could plant anything from dinosaurs to ghosts to bugs to autumn leaves, and appropriately-shaped cookie pops (or even regular lollipops) can magically “grow” when they aren’t looking.
No need to wait until next Christmas; this is a fun and super-easy way to make any day a little more whimsical.
I’ve always liked the idea of “quiet books”–soft cloth books with an activity for small hands on each page. Over at Julie’s Blog, the eponymous Julie has taken the concept well beyond felt clock hands and ribbon shoelaces. Her quiet books let you do things like give Worf his bat’leth and untie Leia from Jabba’s leash. My kids would never be able to get near these because I’d want to play with them all the time.
Now, up to this point the subject matter has been somewhat more geeky than gothy, but according to her blog her next two quiet book projects will involve Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Awesome.
If you don’t want to wait for her to put them together, her clever idea might inspire you to make one of your own. I can envision activities like, “Help Aragorn Re-forge Narsil” and “Hatch the Dragon’s Egg.” (I also sort of like the idea of an “Unquiet Book” with activities like, “Put Dracula Back in His Coffin” or “Reattach the Zombie’s Limbs,” but that might just be me.)
Felt is a wonderfully forgiving material to work with, and there are lots of free patterns and instructions for quiet books (such as these and these) to help get you started. A custom book like this would be a lovely gift for a baby shower or for any small child of your acquaintance.
I’ve been sort of peripherally aware of the idea of making “witch hats” by sticking a chocolate kiss on top of a chocolate-covered cookie, but I hadn’t given them much thought until the fantabulous Jessica sent me this photo of cookies with teensy icing buckles. That upped the Cuteness Factor by about 1000%, so I decided to monkey with the concept a little further.
You will need:
Cookies with at least one flat, chocolate-covered side; I used Keebler “Fudge Stripes” turned upside-down.
Chocolate kisses; I used plain Hershey’s kisses, but the striped “Hugs” would also be cute.
Frosting. You can make this from scratch, but that kind of defeats the whole “easy, no-bake” thing. Individual decorating tubes can be expensive; I just used white canned cake frosting and colored it with some gel food coloring I had on hand.
M&Ms or other little round chocolate candies, if you want to add spiders.
To make the hats, pipe a little frosting in the center of each cookie (if the cookie has a hole in the center, pipe around the hole). Stick a kiss in the middle; I like to use enough frosting that a little bit gooshes out around the edges to make a “hat band.” In its simplest form, you are now done.
If you want to get fancier, pipe two thin oval-ish shapes on the kiss and two lines on the hat to make a decorative bow. I found that the frosting tended to warm up after a while, making it thinner and harder to control, so I periodically stuck the piping bag in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it back up.
For extra decoration, add a spider by sticking an M&M to the hat brim with a little frosting and then piping on legs. Here’s where a very thin round tip would come in handy; I didn’t have one on hand, and just snipping the end off a disposable icing bag resulted in–depending on the size of the hole–legs that were either a bit too big or a bit too thin and ribbony for my taste. (Fortunately, even the mistakes taste just fine.)
These are super-easy to make, so they’re not only a quick and attractive addition to a Halloween party, they’re a great project for kids.
I’m veering into science-fair territory a little bit here, but bear with me.
I recently ran across this article on BoingBoing which discusses a chicken mummification currently in progress at the Science Museum of Minnesota. I was struck by several things: 1) The comments on the article which indicated that this is a common elementary school science project (and also that it shouldn’t stink); 2) The comments which discussed other animals that could be given the same treatment. 3) The fact that they named the mummified chicken Nefertweety.
I did a bit of research and found that there are a bazillion pages devoted to mummifying chickens,* and no two of them seem to agree on a method. So here’s an amalgam of instructions from a number of sites, with notes about differences in technique. In addition to being an interesting educational project to do with kids, you could also use mummified bits as jewelry or art. It might also be possible–perhaps by practicing on chickens until you’re sure of your technique–to send a beloved pet into the afterlife this way.
You will need:
A small animal to mummify. A chicken or game hen seems to be the standard, but I’ve also seen projects that use fish, squid, and mice/rats. All but the last are available at the grocery store. Frozen mice and rats are available at many pet stores and via mail order; they’re used as reptile food.** Note that animals can’t be mummified with their internal organs in place, so if you’re squeamish about the idea of gutting an animal you should probably stick with a grocery-store chicken.
A drying agent. You can use salt, a mixture of salt and baking soda (a ratio of 2 parts salt to 1 part soda seems to be the standard), or sodium carbonate. The latter is natron, which is what was traditionally used for Egyptian mummies. It’s available at grocery stores (look for “washing soda” or “soda ash”) or at swimming pool supply stores.
Disposable plastic or rubber gloves.
Several resealable plastic bags, large enough to contain both your mummy and plenty of drying agent.
Lots of paper towels.
Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. This is an optional component, but it appears that using it will reduce the odor significantly. Its use also jibes with the Egyptian practice of washing the body in wine.
Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice (whole rather than ground) and/or dried rose petals. These are optional, but can be mixed into the drying agent to help perfume the mummy. They can also be used to scent anointing oil.
Oil to anoint the finished mummy (optional). You can use food-grade oil like canola oil or olive oil, mineral oil, or even baby oil. To perfume unscented oil with spices or rose petals, fill a small lidded jar with whole spices or dried petals and then pour in enough oil to cover. Close the lid tightly and place in a sunny location for a week. Give the jar a good shake a couple of times a day. Strain and discard the spices/petals. If you prefer, you can also perfume the oil with essential oils: Just add them until the desired scent is achieved.
Strips of gauze, cheesecloth, plain cotton, or linen, if you wish to wrap your finished product.
This is a very squee-worthy project indeed. Jessica of Running with Scissors created these adorable little dragon tails (or dinosaur tails if your kid is more down with Velociraptor than Smaug) with easy-on Velcro waist straps.
Her tutorial has detailed instructions and lots of photos, plus several suggestions for variations. They’re mostly made out of scrap fabric, so you may already have the required materials on hand. These would be a great addition to a dress-up closet, and you could run up several and keep them around for playdates. (Or, y’know, wear them yourself when you’re home alone.)
This is also a nice, simple design for any Halloween costume requiring a tail, and could also serve as the base for a last-minute costume: Just add similar spikes to a matching sweatshirt.
Oh, wow; where was this book when I was ten years old?
A.R. Rotruck used to have grand imaginary adventures when she was a child, with the help of props she made herself.
When she wasn’t reading, the ten-year-old me (we’ll call her “Tamie”) spent a lot of time playing in the woods and making crafts. For all the books she read, she never found one that would help with this particular hobby. Most of Tamie’s ramblings involved imagining various fantasy scenarios; grand quests and adventures. Tamie made a burlap sack to carry into the woods because it seemed like something the fantasy version of Tamie (maybe call her Fatamie? No, that’s getting a bit ridiculous.) would carry. It was bulky and scratchy, but it also, to Tamie’s ten-year-old brain, seemed authentic. Tamie would cobble together bits and pieces of crafts from books on Native American and colonial/pioneer folk art. Tamily only had one children’s book in this genre; the rest of the crafts were far too advanced for a ten-year-old. With Young Wizards Handbook, I wanted to write a book for the children like Tamie: fantasy fans who want to make things to help their imagination come alive with physical tools.
You can read the rest of the “big idea” behind her book here.
I love this idea. I want to go back in time and give myself a copy.
It’s great that the projects are both age-appropriate and engaging: It not only encourages imagination, it sounds like a great crafting primer for kids.
If you’ve got a young adventurer who yearns to track vampires to their lair or hobnob with hobgoblins, this would be an excellent gift. (Shadowboy will be receiving one shortly.)
Shadowboy just turned 7 (sob!) and since treat bags have somehow become obligatory at children’s birthday parties, I decided that instead of buying prefilled bags of random tchotchkes I’d rather do something a little more inventive.* With the help of Oriental Trading (whose order form should simply consist of the instructions, “1) How much is in your bank account? 2) Send it in”) and some random stuff I had in my sewing room, attendees will be receiving Monster Hunter Kits.
We hope that you enjoy your kit and use it to increase humanity’s knowledge of the behavior and appearance of monsters.
Please Note: The World Center for Monster Research is dedicated to environmentally-sustainable monster investigation. After tagging your monster for future observation, please be sure to release it back into its natural habitat. Remember that preserving the world’s population of monsters depends on you. What would Oregon be without its native Bigfoot population, or Loch Ness without its sea serpents? With your help, children will be able to enjoy these and other monsters for generations to come.
J. Percy Vermithrax
World Center for Monster Research
And thus do I amuse myself.
I’m hoping that the kids enjoy receiving something a bit more engaging than a bag of unrelated toys (although the downside is that if they enjoy it too much I’ll have to find a way to top myself next year). I’m definitely looking forward to their reaction.
*This will either impress the other parents with my amazing creativity or cause them to give me a wide berth because I’m clearly nuts. Either result is acceptable.
**A note to UK readers: I realize that “fanny” means something entirely different over there, and I apologize for any cognitive dissonance you may be experiencing.
Let me explain…no, there is too much, let me sum up.
Ethan Nicolle is a 29-year-old comic artist who has a 5-year-old brother, Malachai. One day Malachai was playing a truly epic game of pretend which involved a character named “Axe Cop,” and Ethan decided to start illustrating the storyline.
Thus was born Axe Cop, whose tagline is “I’ll chop your head off!” and whose cast of supporting characters includes Avocado Soldier, Uni-Baby, Bad Santa, Ghost Cop, and Vampire Man Baby Kid amongst many, many others. It is every bit as weird as one would expect something springing from the imagination of a five-year-old to be, and the illustrations are just wonderful.
Shadowboy lost his first two teeth over the weekend,* and instead of eagerly surrendering them to the Tooth Fairy he was adamant that he wanted to keep them.** This threw me a minor curve, since I’d made a tooth fairy sachet to facilitate the tooth-to-money conversion (it’s way easier to find that under a pillow than it is to go groping around for a single tooth), and I hadn’t expected a tooth-based mutiny.
We compromised by putting the tooth under his pillow but leaving a polite note asking the fairy not to collect it.*** In retrospect, however, we should have just filed an official Tooth Loss Certificate with the Central Bureau of Fairies.
Notion Farm has a cute kit that is precisely that: A pretty letterpress form with tooth loss details and embossed seal, plus a silk-screened “deposit bag.” It’s $16 for the starter kit, and extra certificates are $5 (apparently official fairy policy only requires one tooth to be kept on file, but some families like to be particularly diligent and deposit additional teeth).
I like the Notion Farm kit, but if it doesn’t suit your tastes it wouldn’t be too hard to DIY something more to your liking. An “official form” isn’t difficult to create–I did a mockup just for fun, and it took me about 15 minutes–and you can customize it to include whatever information you want (it’d be entertaining to do one that required reams of information, from blood type to grandmother’s maiden name). You could decorate the “deposit bag” with embroidery or fabric paint, or eschew the bag in favor of an official-looking manila envelope or file folder.
This is much more fun than just jamming a naked tooth under a pillow, so if you know a child who’s shedding teeth this would be a great project.
*Everybody sing! “Sunrise, Sunset….”
**It’s possible he thinks the Tooth Fairy dabbles in voodoo.
***She even wrote back! Her handwriting is surprisingly similar to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny’s, so apparently all mythical beings use the same stenographer.
Here’s an interesting charitable organization: The Princess Alexa Foundation is a charity that gives critically ill children the opportunity to play dress-up. They stock costume closets at hospitals and ship packages of clothes and accessories to children nationwide. It’s a nice way to let very ill children play and do something a little “normal.”
I have a tendency to buy costume patterns whenever they’re cheap even if I don’t have anything particular in mind for them, and since I’ll use any excuse to play with pretty fabric, this is looking like an excellent way to use up some of my backlog.
If you don’t sew, you might consider picking up a costume or two on clearance after Halloween to donate. For non-US folks, you can check whether there’s a domestic charity which performs a similar function, or simply do it yourself: I’m willing to bet that a local children’s hospital would be thrilled with the donation of a few costume items for the kids to play with.