Category Archives: Toys

Trash to Treasure…

Several weeks ago, we inherited an old computer monitor.  Husband and Son quickly gutted  the machine, looking at how it worked, and keeping what spare parts they thought they could use for other things.  Then, the shell sat in the kitchen for weeks.  The more I looked at it, the more I thought it looked like something other than a computer monitor shell.  So I finally took it, and got to work.

Of course, I started with a simple shell…

But when turned face down, I thought it looked like a fortress….

So I grabbed my xacto knife, and cut up some cardboard…

to make some cardboard floors.  And since there were two floors, I needed stairs.  I made some of those, too.

(forgive the photos, the flash broke.)

Son loved his knew toy, even with the make-shift floors…

But I knew the floors would never stand up to his boyish playing.  So I took them out, and using the cardboard as a template, I cut new floors from some scrap pressboard.

Over spring break, after seeing I was spending all my time cleaning dear ole Dad’s house, I asked him to take over securing the floors in place, and making some stronger steps.  He obliged, and after a while spent cutting up a blue plastic barrel, and stapling it together, he had completed my little project.

Here are the finished results…

While I’d love to add things like railing to the balconies, I know they’d never survive.  I also want this new fortress to be a toy, not a model, and so I don’t want it too perfect.  Some day, Son will tire of it, and out it will go.  We won’t save it in the attic like some of his other toys, and I’m ok with that.  I want to be ok with that.  But for now, he has a place for his Army Men, Ironman, and the rest of the Avengers to scheme in attempt to save the universe, and it didn’t cost me a thing.

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Wash It Out…

As I mentioned, I spent my Spring Break cleaning my dad’s house.  This weeklong event included mopping, organizing, and having my Dad build a new console out of some old, junky dressers.  Well, while doing all that organizing, I came across a collection of old legos, left over from mine, and my brother’s childhoods.  Of course, these are perfect for Son to play with, but there was a problem.  It seems that years of being in uncovered storage, along with being played with on, and cleaned up from, a dirty floor had made the legos gross.

We’re talking turn your fingers icky kind of gross.  Sure, Son didn’t seem to notice, but I certianly did, and even Husband, who spent the week sandblasting, among other dirty things, noticed.  Something had to be done.

I decided to give the washing machine a shot.  I figured this could be dangerous, but I’d keep a close eye on it just to see how it did.  I put all the legos into a large laundry bag, gave them a good shake, and dropped them into the washer full of hot water and a bit of soap.

Yes, this was noisy, and I’m sure it would’ve gone a lot smoother if I had one of those washing machine without the center spindle.  Just the same, it worked!

After the cycle was over, I took the legos outside to drip dry.  I started by just hanging the bag, but after an afternoon of hanging out, most of the pieces were still wet.  If I had had one of those mesh sweater racks, I would’ve spread them all out in a thin layer to dry, but I didn’t.  Dad doesn’t wear sweaters, and even if he did, he’d never lay them flat to dry.  Instead, I had to leave the legos outdoors for a few days, remembering to stir them around every now and then.  I would reccomend a good quality bag, though.  Legos can get sharp, and you don’t want holes letting the legos escape.

Still, the legos are now clean, and I’m not so averse to playing with them; Son will be happy to hear that.

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Get Yer Gun…

While I was out in the garage, working on my home made picture frame project, Son decided he had to build something too.  As a parent, and a teacher, I am a huge advocate for teaching your children at home by allowing them to teach themselves.  By this I mean, you give them the tools, and minimal guidance, to figure things out on their own.  This day was no different.

Son came up with all sorts of ideas of what he wanted to build.  Seriously, a house?!  Come on kid, I’m glad you’re thinking big, but we just don’t have that amount of wood in the scrap bin.  I decided to send him for his sketchbook and a pencil, and have him draw up what he wanted to build.  I told him that this was called a Plan, and that everything that gets built starts with a plan.  So off he ran…

When he was through, he had drawn a gun.  He’s a boy, after all, so I just smiled.  And then I helped Son get the wood.

We laid out our pieces much like a puzzle, until we had the rough shape of a riffle.  Hey, I’m Texan, I’m OK with guns, but I’m no gangster, so I try to limit our arsenal to shot guns.  Even though I understand that my logic is flawed, I figure you can hunt with a riffle, not hold up a liquor store.  Yes.  I know it is completely illogical.  You may shake your head at me.  But back to the story.  We made our shape…

Then, I traced the butt of our BB gun to get the right shape.

Since two of the boards needed curved cuts, I did the sawing with our band saw.

But the barrel of the gun was a simple straight cut, and even though I helped, I left most of the work up to Son.

We used simple nails and a hammer to put the pieces together.  I helped Son line the boards up in the vice, and then helped him hammer in the nails.

And yes, he was beyond excited that his ears are finally big enough to hold a pencil.  It’s the little things!

Once the gun was fully assembled, I handed Son a sander, and told him to get busy.  After a few minutes, though, he got bored, and gave up.  Even in it’s rough shape, he still loves it.

Even better, will be the pictures I can get when he wears his coonskin cap.  Son likes Davy Crockett, and I can only imagine how awesome having a riffle to hunt bears, and maybe wabbits, will be… even if it’s not properly sanded….

 

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Our Giving Tree…

The tree in our backyard is amazing.  As far as trees go, it’s a simple fruitless mulberry, and not really anything special, but I love it.  I love it because it provides just enough shade to cool the sand box and our thrifted hammock in the summer.  I love it because it holds Son’s swing.  And now, keeping with the idea that this tree is the hub of our backyard, it holds Son’s scavenged slide and tree house.  I happened to spot the slide on the side of the curb one day, and Husband carried it home for me, in a truck, of course.  To Husband’s credit, he rigged up something to make the slide usable for Son, but I was getting tired of looking at this…

A few months back, I shared with you my tree house template idea.  I used some cardboard to trace out the basic shape of the tree house platform.  I figured it was lighter, and more easily handled than wood would be.  Then over the weekend, Husband and I finally built the actual, wooden platform.  Cardboard isn’t exactly recommended for a tree house.

We started with some 2x6s laid out, using screws for spacers between each plank.  The spacing will allow for both water runoff, and swelling of the wood.

Then I laid the template on top, and traced around it.

Then Husband had to cut through each 2×6 to get the required shape.  It wasn’t exactly easy, cutting curves in a 2″ thick piece of wood, but Husband indulged me, as he often does when I get neurotic about a design.  It’s nice to have good help.

Once the pieces were cut, I had the task of putting the puzzle back together, but in reverse, being sure to include the spacers.  Then we placed some ripped 1x boards across to hold the platform together.

We quickly discovered that each piece of 2×6 would need 2 screws to keep it from twisting.  Once we had it all attached, we placed it into the tree.  It suddenly became apparent that I hadn’t fully thought this out.  While the platform shape looked great, and fit fairly well, we had no way to support the platform.  I guess I was hoping it would simply rest of the tree limbs, but it wasn’t exactly stable.  Instead, Husband attached some 2×6 scraps between the platform and the tree to create shelves.  Of course to test its security, I climbed up and jumped a few times.  I’m still here, writing this post, so it obviously worked.

Now we just had to attach the slide.

I stayed in the tree house, and Husband thought about the slide.  After a few back and forths, we finally worked out a way to hang the slide, and once it was finished, I had the scary job of testing it out.

The last step was getting boards attached to the trunk of the tree so Son, and anyone else, could climb up to the tree house.  We decided to go with the traditional wooden plank screwed to the tree method.  We chose to use some scrap 2x4s that had been outside for a while, so they were nicely acclimated to the weather.  They were also part of the previous slide setup.  We cut them down, and then added spacers behind each board as needed for stability.

Naturally, we still had to get Son to climb up the ladder, and slide down the slide.  He was a little unsure, but I showed him where to put his hands, and reassured him the whole time.

Once he overcame his fears, he was ecstatic.

He played on the new slide all evening.  He doesn’t have mush use for the ladder, still, preferring to climb up the slide, but he’s getting there.

I can’t help but smile when I look out my back door.  I love it.  It’s just what I wanted.  The tree house is compact, fun, and it doesn’t take over my back yard.  It also cost us a grand total of 30 bucks, and we have several boards left over to use on other projects.  Even better, Son loves it.  I can’t wait to see what it looks like when the leaves come in.  I may also paint the platform with some of our leftover house paint.  Of course, I’ll share if I do.

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Happy Birthday!!!

Monday was Son’s 4th birthday.  I can’t believe it.

I had already shared with you all the invitations I made for his big Fire Station Birthday Bash, and all this week, I will share the other details of my party prep and planning, along with other things that made his day special.

I’ll begin with the biggest project of all.  Son specifically requested a pinata.  Seriously.  He saw one on Curious George on morning, and the idea stuck.  Being the awesome mom that I am, I obliged.

Like most people, I had only done paper mache a handful of times, and those times were all before I graduated Jr High.  So I had to do some quick research, but thanks to the internet, I found a recipe for mache paste pretty easily.  It’s just flour and water.  So here’s the break down…

I made a basic armature out of thin cardboard, also known as chip board.

Since the birthday was fire station themed, I decided to make my pinata look like a fire hydrant.  That meant I would need something rounded for the top.  I knew just the thing…

I figured I would need to make the bowl part first so that it could dry.  I set Son to work cutting strips,

while I mixed up the paste by adding water to a bowl of flour until I had a silky consistency.

I covered my bowl with plastic wrap, and then began dipping the paper strips into my paste, and then draped them over my bowl until the whole thing was covered.

I set it out in the sun to dry.  Once it was, I had to get it off the bowl.  Turns out this wasn’t going to be so easy.  I thought it would just slide off, but the plastic wrap stuck too well to the bowl.  In the end, I was able to slide a sheet of paper under the wrap to release it from the bowl.

I added three short cylinders to my cardboard form, and also decided to cut out some of the armature to create the details found in an actual fire hydrant.  In the end, it seems this detail was unnecessary.

I added rolls of paper to the top and bottom, and then I began covering my cardboard hydrant with more paper mache.  After one layer of paper, I let it all dry.

Apparently, if you add too many layers of paper mache, before it dries, the paper can mold, and who wants a moldy hydrant?

Once it was all dry, I made a paper loop, and began attaching that to the top with more mache.

As much as I liked my newspaper hydrant, I knew it had to be red.  I needed new supplies.

I mixed some glue with water, painted my pinata with the glue, and then covered it with a layer of tissue paper.

Then I cut tissue paper into millions of squares.  Too many, it turns out…

I applied my squares to the pinata to create a shingled effect.  As I shingled it, I cut a door in the back, and then filled the pinata with nearly 15 pounds of candy, cheezits, and fruit snacks.  I shingled over the door, and let everything dry before I moved it off the table.

We hung the pinata from a porch at the fire station.

The pinata was a hit, pun intended.  The kids loved it.  One parent even asked if I made it from a kit!  I think my family was proud.

 

 

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Homemade Valentines…

Monday is Son’s Valentine’s Day party at school.  That meant that I had to find some sort of valentines for Son to hand out.  Last year, I went traditional, and bought him some Transformers cards, but not so this year.  This year, I stepped it up, and saved myself some money.

It began when Son and I started sorting through, and organizing his toys in the living room.  His birthday is coming up, and we need to make room for any gifts he may receive.  In a basket under the coffee table, we keep the coloring books, scratch paper, and all of Son’s art supplies.  It’s also where Son stashes everything that is on the coffee table when I ask him to clean up.  When we started going through the basket, I noticed that there were a lot of broken, and small bits, of crayons.  I decided to put them all into a bucket, and that is when I got an idea…

When I was little, my mother would melt broken crayons into rainbow colored nuggets.  They were all sorts of odd shapes, but I loved them just the same.  But I had a better idea.  I thought about those silicone, heart-shaped baking molds I saw in my local Wal-Mart.  Why couldn’t Son hand those out to his classmates?  They would certainly be healthier than candy.

I placed my molds onto a cookie sheet, and then filled them with my broken, and paper-free colors…

And then placed them into a 400 degree oven.  Is that temperature over-kill?  I don’t know, I just know it worked, and nothing burned.

Once they were all fully melted, I pulled the molds out to cool.

But just before they did, I draped the string of some white tags into the wax, and used a toothpick to make sure the string was nicely submerged.

When they finally cooled, I popped them out of the molds.  I couldn’t be happier with the results.  Truly.

And while I realize that most of the parents won’t know that Color My World is a song, it still makes me laugh at just how clever I am.  It was the song at my mother’s wedding, and I will never forget the title, although I couldn’t hum the tune if my life depended on it.

I hope your Valentine’s Day is nice, and if you have a child’s party, that your kids won’t return overly sugared.  As for me, I will be smiling at my own genius ability to save a ton, and make something so cool.

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Up a Tree…

Literally.

This tree…

It was a beautiful, 70 degree day, and I felt it was a perfect time to get started on our latest back yard edition.

I don’t know if you can tell from this photo, but this tree is the play center of our back yard.  From its branches hang Son’s swing, and two climbing / swinging ropes.  In the summer, this tree shades the sand box, and even our thrifted hammock.  And now, I am asking one more thing of our own little Giving Tree.  I need it to be a slide support.

Way back in November, or maybe even October, I decided to take a different way home.  I can’t tell you why I suddenly had the urge to turn right, two rights too soon, but I guess it was fate.  While driving down that street, I came across a large slide, tossed to the curb.  I quickly thanked the gods, and called Husband.  He picked it up on his way home from work.  Why was I so excited?  Sure, there’s the warm fuzzies you get from saving an item from the landfill, but that’s not why I was so giddy.  Have you ever priced a child’s slide?  It’s insane!  The cheapest ones will run you at least $200 bucks, and the more expensive styles cost closer to your first born’s college tuition.  Ok, so maybe that last one was a bit of an over statement, but not by much.

Husband hobbled something together so Son could use the slide, and while it is sturdy, it’s not exactly pretty.

Yes, that is an old table, and yes, those are old chairs re-purposed into a ladder.  Please, ignore the ropes.  I think it’s pretty obvious that we need a more permanent solution.  So I gathered some tools, and got to work.

I started with this…

Now before you get worried that I’m using cardboard to build something in a tree, I promise you I am not.  Instead, I’m using my cardboard to create a template for the future, wooden platform that the slide can be attached to.

I climbed up, and using a pencil and a pair of scissors, I cut the cardboard to fit.

I cut the spaces for the branches out, and made adjustments, and notes as needed.

When I was finished, it looked like this…

Of course, my helper decided to take a Newtonian break…

So why the cardboard?  Simple.  It’s light, and easy to cut.  When we get to the next step of actually building the platform with wood, will will have a place to start, without having to guess, and hold heavy planks over our heads.  Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted.

 

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Bulls-Eye!

If you’ve followed this little blog at all, you know I often make toys for Son’s enjoyment, including puzzles, a garage, and now, a target.

For Christmas, one of Son’s Aunts gave him a nerf-style gun; you know, the kind with the suction cups, and I may, or may not have, said something about him shooting an eye out.  Just the same, Son loves it.  To keep him entertained, and give his aim some purpose, other than making me duck and squeal, I drew him a target on his bedroom window with a dry-erase marker.  After that, it was up to Son to take aim and fire.

Ok, so this was one of the easiest toy I’ve ever made.  It literally took me seconds.  But none of that matters.  Look how happy he is!  And his aim is soo good!  True, he may be standing a bit close, and the target might be just a tad big.  I’m just glad it’s no longer me!

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If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Find a new method…

Last year, I picked up a gingerbread house kit thinking it would be a fun family activity sort of thing.  Ignore the fact that I’m an architect, and a home maker, and still picked up a kit.  It was cheap, and looked simple and fun.

I actually have a bit of history with gingerbread houses.  My first grade teacher got a student teacher every year just so he could escape to a secret room in the school, and build elaborate gingerbread houses.  Every student in his class got to help at some point, although we mostly just ate the candies, and he displayed them in the front office.  Just so you wouldn’t think I was kidding, I decided to look my old teacher up on the world wide web, and he sent me some pictures.  I won’t lie, I was shocked, and pretty stoked, but now I have proof.  See?

 

Now, I’m sure the Bud Light sign isn’t hanging in the front office of the elementary school, that wouldn’t be right.  It’s probably in the teacher’s lounge; now you know why you’re never aloud in there.

Truly, you can see that I had a very talented teacher, and since he made ginger construction seem so easy, I felt I had nothing to fear last year when I picked up a kit from my local Target.  Here’s how it went down…

I laid out all the pieces neatly, and then read the instructions.

We then stood the walls up, and squeezed out the icing to glue the roof on.

Once the roof was on, things were looking pretty good, and Son was getting excited about the fun part, so I started to apply the icing to the rooftop.

The icing was really stiff, and this is where things started to go down hill.  Husband decided that the icing just needed to be warmed up so I could spread it.  Being a man, he went big.

Sure, the torch warmed up the icing, but it also burnt it in some spots.  This project was turning into a comedy show, but we plowed ahead, and the icing got spread.  Son finally got to help, and place the candy on the roof.  And then disaster struck.

First the roof plates began to slide, and then the nicely placed gum drops on the roof ridge began to sink.  Son tried his best to save them, but it wasn’t in the cards.  This picture says it all.

We abandoned ship, and just ate the candy instead.  Apparently, gingerbread houses aren’t child’s play.  Humbug.

So this year, when Son asked about doing another gingerbread house, I was decidedly against it.  Then he brought me the kit he found at our local Hancock Fabric, and I smiled.  It was perfect.  It was made of foam!  So technically, it wasn’t a gingerbread house at all, but it looked similar to one, and again, it was cheap.  Even better, I felt we’d have more success with this one.  I let Son put it together while I worked on my plaid table cloth, more on that here.

He had a little trouble getting the walls to log together, but once the roof plates were on, he was on his own.  I told him to look at the picture on the box, and then to use his brain and his imagination.  I’m always telling him to do that.  He worked pretty hard…

and after 20 minutes or so, his house was looking pretty close to what was pictured on the box.  I was impressed, but I guess it was just too cookie-cutter for him, and he began to remodel.  In the end, it looked like this…

Nice and tame in the front…

but there’s a party in the back.  Maybe his neighborhood has an HOA.

I think this is a tradition we can keep up with.

As an aside, I still can’t believe my old teacher is one, still teaching, and two, still making gingerbread houses.  Funny thing, part of my mind feels for certain that he must be a hundred years old by now —heck he had a beard, although my logical side says that it’s entirely possible that he was my parents’ age when I was in his class, and may only be in his fifties. Now that I think about it, his beard wasn’t grey….

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Happy Halloween…

We have a rule in our house, that Halloween costumes must be made.  Originally, I created this rule to hinder scary, gross, costumes (I don’t like to be scared), but it also opens the door for greater creativity.  It also means more work for me, right now.

Last year, Husband and I teamed up, and created a robot costume for Son out of a diaper box, footy-pajamas, and a helmet.  You can see it here.  Amazingly, as Halloween approached this year, Son kept asking when we were going to make his Robot Costume.  Hmmm.  I’m still not sure if he wanted to be a robot, or if he just things you’re supposed to dress as a robot on Halloween.  In either case, I explained to him that he did that last year, and he could be anything he wanted.  I gave him a month to think about it.

First, he wanted to be the “Scary Cat Man” from the Thriller video.  Yeah.  I don’t know if he meant MJ, or the creature from the beginning movie, but in either case, the challenge seemed too daunting.  Sure, it would be funny to see a 3 year old dressed in red-leather and loafers, but I didn’t want to spend that sort of money.  I simply hoped he would forget about it, and eventually, he did.

Next, he wanted to be  a tea cup, and then a clock, and then a chair.  There was quite a string of random household items, but again, I felt we could do better.  I waited.  With one week to go before the big day, I asked again.

“What do you want to be for Halloween?”

“A Transformer Police Car!”

“OK.  I think we can do that.”

And off we went to the consignment store.

For those of you not familiar with Transformers, and to an extent, this includes Son, a “Transformer Police Car” is actually the a bad, evil transformer named Rampage.  Son hasn’t seen any of the new movies, so he doesn’t know that.  What he does know is that he happens to own a small, impossible to put together, transformer police car left over from when his Daddy went through his Mustang phase.  Oh heck, I’ll just show you a picture…

 

You can see that I had my work cut out for me, but I wasn’t afraid.  We started by buying a long-sleeve black shirt, and then some black cotton pants, which I had to get in the girl section — apparently, boys only wear jeans and cargo pants.  Then, I created some stencils on my computer, and printed them out onto Freezer paper.

Then I began the process of cutting out all the white spaces.  After last week’s flask, me and my Xacto have become best friends.  Well, maybe more like old roomates that have seen too much of each other; it’s a love-hate sort of thing.

After the pieces were all trimmed, I carried them to the ironing board.  Here’s the magic of freezer paper…

It irons on!!  You just turn your iron to the highest, dry, setting, which for me was silk, and press away.  The plastic on the backside of  the paper melts just enough to stick to the fabric, but not enough to become permanent, or ruin your clothes.

(Yes, Husband still had the good camera hostage when I took these photos)

Once the paper was in place, I opened a bottle of metallic, white, puff paint  (they don’t seem to sell the same stuff in non-3d paint).  I used a sponge brush to paint the now black letters, trying to be careful around the edges.  It took two coats minimum to get the coverage I wanted.

Once the paint is dry, I simply pulled the paper off.  I repeated this process for a total of two Police with lines, two Police without lines, and one 643.  While all that was drying, I worked on the wheels and lightbar.

I went simple.  I used the cardboard left over from the Tossbox, cutting 4 circles, and then had Husband draw the rims.  I cut one of the rims, and then handed all four wheels to Son for painting.  I wasn’t going to make his costume completely by myself.  While his paint dried, I cut out four more circles from some mirrored paper I had on hand.  Then I very carefully attached the mirrors to the black wheels, and finished cutting out the rims.  I would have pictures of this, but as I mentioned, Husband stole the camera!

I used Velcro to attached the wheels to Son’s costume, and although the Velcro is sticky on one side, it didn’t want to stay on the clothing so well.  I ended up having to stitch it on, and I broke two needles in the process.  It was a painful time, but since I stitched nice long stitches (so I can remove them, and Son can wear the clothes later), it wasn’t a long time.

The lightbar was probably the most difficult piece of the puzzle.  I over-thought it.  Surprise!  When I finally came through, I had a skeletal frame made of cardboard with cardstock folded, and pinned over it.

I know.  It’s way more complicated than it needed to be.  It’s a sickness.

I painted it the required red and blue, stuck some black tape across the middle, and called it a day.

Oh, and I stole the good camera back.

As soon as it was all dry, I made Son put on the costume, and pose for pictures.

I hope the “let’s make dumb faces for the camera” stage doesn’t last too long.

And the best part of his costume?  It’s when he transforms.  It’s sad that you can’t actually watch the process.  Son will tense up, pull his body in, and then make sounds like metal and hydraulics while he moves his arms and legs into place.  When he’s finished, he looks like this…

Some days, he’ll crawl around the house like that, pretending to be some sort of transformer.  At least now, he has a costume so others will know what he’s doing.

I’m actually very pleased with how it all turned out.  And just in case you’re wondering, no, we didn’t save any money by doing it ourselves.  The clothes were $5.38, the paint was 4 bucks, and the freezer paper was around 4 too.  Then again, I still have paint left over, yards and yards of freezer paper, and Son can wear the clothes again later, so maybe I did come out on top.  One thing is for sure, nobody else will be dressed the same!

Happy Halloween!

 

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