Sunday, October 31, 2010

DIY Thomas the Tank Engine & Sir Topham Hatt Halloween Costume

There are a lot of cheesy store bought Thomas costumes out there that try to make the kid look like Thomas.  But, since my husband pulls our 2 yr old around in the wagon when he trick-or-treats, I thought it made more sense to dress him as a person (Sir Topham Hatt) and dress the WAGON as Thomas.  Here's how I did it!

Making Sir Topham Hatt

The Sir Topham Hatt costume was really just a matter of finding the right color pieces.  I pulled together a white dress shirt, a black velvet suit coat, and gray dress pants from garage sales and thrift stores for about $7 for everything.  The top hat I found at a Michael's craft store for $4.  Finding a bright yellow vest was the tricky part.  I was planning to find some yellow piece of clothing at a thrift store and use one of his current suit vests as a "template" to make one. 

 I ended up buying a sleeveless women's button-down blouse and altering it. I turned it inside out and put it on Sammy, and pinned in the sides and the shoulders to make it fit.  Then I just chopped off the collar, ironed and sewed seams on the neckline and waist, and boom...vest.  I cut off the buttons and sewed on giant black ones, with some iron-on velcro underneath.  So, the velcro actually holds the thing shut, so I didn't have to make new button holes.
I did have to shorten the pants a little, because I couldn't find gray ones in his size, but that was a quick and easy fix.  I found a black men's tie for $2 and a pair of black leather penny loafers for $3 to complete the costume.  (I shortened the tie as well...just with scissors and glue)

I think it turned out pretty good for only $16.00, and what mother doesn't want to see her little boy dressed up in a suit and top hat?!!  He was a dashing young fellow if I may say so myself.

Making Thomas the Tank Engine

Since Sammy was going to ride around in a wagon anyway, I figured, why not turn it into Thomas?  It would be way more fun to RIDE Thomas than dress like him.  I wanted this thing to really look like Thomas, but then be easily removed when we want it to go back to a wagon.  I'm afraid he may want this wagon to stay dressed as Thomas forever though...

 I used a mix of cardboard boxes in the garage, of which we have plenty since we're packing to move.  I used my x-acto knife, school glue and mailing tape to build a back and sides.  I tried not to intrude on the inside of the wagon too much, to ensure there would be enough room for little Sir Topham Hatt to get in and out.  The two sides are glued to a flap on the back box, so they can flex and spread apart, and the whole thing can slide back off of the wagon in one piece.

There is a cutout in the back box, so it slides over the back of the wagon just a little bit and sits on the wagon's sides.  The side "wings" are then held against the sides of the wagon with simple rubber bands (above).

Next, I made a front piece that slides over the top of the front, with cutouts that fit like a puzzle.

This piece stays on purely by friction and gravity, holds the sides against the wagon, and covers the rubber bands.

 Next I made the third piece of the puzzle...the rounded face.  The cutout fits over the front box, holding it into place against the wagon, and the cardboard that tucks inside the wagon then has a 90 degree bend, where it slips in between the wood side rungs of the wagon, locking the entire thing into place.  No glue or fasteners required to put it together and take it apart! After this photo I taped an old food canister on top of the round part for the smoke stack.  ( or "smoke stash" as Sammy calls it)

 Next I cooked up some homemade paper mache paste, (just flour and water on the stove top) and layered some brown packing paper over all of the seams and on top of all the mailing tape.  I didn't want the paint job to be chipping off of the smooth, shiny tape.  This way the entire surface is paper/cardboard, so the paint will look consistent.

I popped off the front circle and decided to make a 3-dimensional Thomas face to glue back on later.  To do the eyes, I cut a Styrofoam ball in half.  The nose, cheeks, and chin are crumpled up paper, taped into the shapes I wanted.

 Next I made some paper mache paste from flour and water and covered everything.  After this point, my dogs got into the garage when I wasn't there, ate all the paste and shredded the face.  So, this photo above is the 2nd time around!

Back to the face... I didn't like that the cheeks and chin were still so flexible, and didn't want paint chipping off if it got squished.  So, I took some plaster cloth that I had on hand from previous projects and put a layer of that over the whole face, which dried nice and hard.

 I used some gray paint left-over from painting a wall in our kitchen, and some white for the eyes and mouth.

 The black paint really made it look like Thomas!

The next time my husband went to Home Depot, I sent one of Sammy's toy Thomas trains with him so he could pick out a matching swatch of blue and get me a little can of "Thomas blue" paint.  I used that to cover the body, and had some really dark gray from a previous project to paint the roof and the front end.

The other colored accents were what really made it "Thomas!"  I added some red stripes, the #1, windows and whistles.

And, finally, I attached the face to the front, added little Sir Topham Hatt, and it was a match made in heaven!  Sammy was pretty thrilled when he stepped outside and saw his very own Thomas in the front yard.  I have a feeling we'll have to keep the wagon dressed up as Thomas for a while now...
Of course I had to go online and find a few contests for homemade Halloween costumes to enter him here is my shameless plug for votes from one contest!

I hope you and your kids have a fun, safe, and happy Halloween! 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Powerless in Minnesota

Yesterday, during a record-breaking wind storm in our area, we lost our power at 2:00 am.  With over a hundred flights to Minneapolis canceled, my husband was stranded in Detroit, so I was "home alone." Let's just say I slept extremely "light" that night, subconsciously straining to hear Toby's 4:30 cry for food from upstairs through howling winds and debris hitting the windows, since the monitors were not working! Sammy was a little freaked out when he learned that the lights wouldn't turn on, so I promised him we'd go to Target and get a cool new flashlight.

We spent the morning in between waking up and picking up Daddy at the airport going to various places with heat and electricity...first to Target to get some flash lights, baby food and breakfast since I didn't want to open our frig, then a race to the pediatrician for Toby's 9 month appointment.  I wasn't prepared for Sammy to also have two shots that he needed (by "unprepared" of course I mean having left the all important "Puppy" in the car).  It was a challenge to say the least, comforting two little boys who had each gotten two shots, with no comfort items!  Eeek!  Thankfully my ipod loaded with Thomas cartoons and a couple stickers from the doctor calmed Sammy down, who was more upset about the shots than Toby.  Then we were off to the Mall of America where we stopped in the Apple store for a surprise visit with Sammy's cool Apple Specialist Gramma!  I borrowed some electricity in an outlet in the hallway to re-charge my iPhone a little while feeding Toby some breakfast in the stroller.  Then, off to the airport to pick up Daddy who had finally been able to make it home on his 4th flight attempt...all of this done by 10:30 am!  It was a full morning to say the least!

My husband drove us home and headed to work.  We decided to stick around home since it was still 65 degrees inside (cold, windy, and snowflakes falling outside), so the boys could nap in their own beds.  We had some "analog fun" without electricity between then and nap time...

It was a struggle between having fun with flashlights and conserving the batteries in case we needed them when it actually got dark.  But, they were NEW and AWESOME and we just HAD to play with them!

Here we are clearly trying to see how many battery powered devices we can use at one time:

Sammy wanted to cut some paper so we spread out on the floor and made paper Thomas engines.  Here he is helping glue the wheels on Gordon:

More flashlight fun.  I had just read some magazine article about how you can help teach hand-eye coordination by having your kid point the flashlight at things.  So, I named things around the house up high or across the room for him to shine his light on:

Somehow every game comes back to belly buttons...we shone it on each others' of course...

I was afraid that after this morning's painful shots Sammy wouldn't enjoy his doctor kit so much.  However, it wasn't long before I heard "doctor me, Momma!"  He even "doctor'ed" his new paper engines:
 I did notice that when he gave me shots he pushed as hard as he could this time....he must have made the connection that shots are supposed to hurt!

We all sat on the floor in the basement and made a nice big mess playing with toys...

We rolled the ball back and fourth...
 ...and got good and worn out by nap time!  I got them all tucked in and less than 5 minutes later, the power came back on!  It was quite a relief as we lose our power during just about every major storm, one time for 4 days.  So, 11 hours without power was a short stint for us.

So, that is how we spend our power-less stretch!  While I had a TON to do this week, it was a bit of a blessing in disguise to be forced to stay away from my computer for a while and just focus on keeping the kids' minds off the fact that we had no power! Hooray for forced, electricity-free family fun!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thrift Store Find: Magazines From the 1920's

Recently I picked up a couple old magazines from the 1920's and 1950's at the thrift store for a whopping $0.55 cents each.  I thought they might be fun to decoupage on things.  I really love flipping through them and especially checking out the advertisements!  Here are just a couple I scanned today...

From "Mother's Home Life," March 1929...this poor woman lost her job because of gray hair!  "A younger woman would work more snappily!" If only she had a bottle of Wyeth's Sage & Sulphur!!

From the March 1928 issue of "Today's Woman and Home," this woman turned from a side show reptile woman to a beautiful cover girl in just three days after reading this FREE book that explains the "most astonishing German discovery in the history of beauty culture.... it's astonishing - almost beyond belief!" I also find it interesting that one of the benefits listed at the top of the ad is that you can "get rid of your TAN!"  Funny how people pay a fortune to keep a tan year round these days!

This one from the December 1954 issue of "Everywoman's" explains how you can combat those "coffee nerves" and "old coffee grouch" by simply switching to decaf!  Who'd have thought that they would ever print an ad claiming that you'll be LESS of a grouch in the morning if you wake up to decaf!

I also found an ad offering 12 day Caribbean cruises starting at just $88.70, full sets of furniture for $1 down and $4 a month...those were the days!!

There are just way too many "gems" in this magazine to scan them all right now, or to recycle them into something just yet...but I had to share a few!  Now I'm wishing I had picked up a few more issues...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Core 77's Play Doh Kicks Contest

This looks like so much fun, and I'm KICKING myself for not having found out about it soon enough to enter.  I love fun contests like this, as you can see from my design website on the bottom of my portfolio page!  I also have a hard time getting Sammy's Play Doh out without getting very much into it myself. 

Core 77 recently challenged their readers to recreate their favorite shoe out of Play-Doh as a tribute to shoe design.  Check out the winners on their site!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fun Friday Finds

It's been a while since I've done some Fun Friday Finds!  Sheesh, it's about time!

Speaking of time, I love this "eye clock."  The eyeball on the left looks in the direction of the hour, while the one on the right the minute. I originally saw it in Uncommon Goods ($35) but also found on Amazon for $19.99.

These stencils look like tons of can make faces by choosing your own combination of heads, hair, eyes, hats, etc!

This cute wooden tree house toy is expensive but I've always been willing to splurge on nice, quality wood toys! I would have loved to play with this as a kid...I was so fascinated by the Swiss Family Robinson in their awesome tree house!!

I love these super sweet hats (and booties!), perfect for Halloween!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Creativity in Overdrive!

I have learned over time that when I find myself in a very stressful time in life, I tend to bury myself in my work and various creative endeavors.  It has become obvious that trying to get our house sold with two little kids, two dogs, and a traveling husband has unleashed the obsessive creative monster in me.  So, I have decided to channel this energy into something positive...making Christmas gifts!

 I just finished making this serving tray out of an old Scrabble game for my Scrabble-loving Grandma.  I think it turned out pretty cool. My favorite parts are the handles, replaced with pieces of the little trays you set the letters on.  You can check out the whole project step-by-step on my Junk Mail Gems blog, here!

I've also tried making some soldered glass pendants that I hope to attach to some sort of charm bracelet down the road...

...have been turning old records into bowls...

...and have recently taken up needle felting.  I've always wanted to try it, and when my husband gave me the opportunity to leave the house kid-free and go wherever I wanted, I went to a local yarn store.
I picked up some colorful wool roving (loose wool fibers...before they've been spun into yarn), and some felting needles.  (needles with little barbs on them)
I've been wanting to make some felt beads, which I did do (above), but once I got into it I realized how fun it is to make pretty much anything you can imagine. Just do a Google Image Search on "needle felted" to see what I mean! this jack-o-lantern pin above, or this little robin below (the first thing I made!)...

There is just something so therapeutic about repeatedly stabbing the fibers into submission with a barbed needle until they become the shape you want! It's also the type of project that requires all of your focus to avoid turning your hands into a finger-ka-bob with those Medieval torture devices they call "felting needles."  So, it's a great way to take your mind and eyes off of everything else. I am already trying to figure out which yarn store to hit up next for some more colors.  I will try to post more about how to do this in the future if anyone is interested!

Of course I can only work on this stuff when the kids are sleeping or playing, my freelance work is caught up, and I'm not preparing the house for another showing, which leaves not a lot of time.  But, I have really enjoyed making stuff over these past couple weeks and hope to emerge on the other side of fall with a sold house and a pile of great Christmas gifts to give! In the meantime, if you don't hear from me much, I'm probably off brutally stabbing my aggressions out on a ball of wool until it turns into another cuddly wittle birdie...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

ID Mommy Tips: Little Time Savers That Add Up!!

Little things add up!! If you don't believe me, try having one or two m&m's. Once you realize you've finished the bag, turn it over and read how many calories you've just consumed! The same goes with little time savers.

People ask me a lot how I get all the things done that I do in a day. After all, on top of being a Mommy to my 2 boys, I freelance up to 20 hrs a week as an industrial designer, I run 2 online retail websites, I do face painting for events, I am an active member of my church and local MOMS Club, I keep 5 blogs, I wash and fold cloth diapers, make my own baby food, make home movies and photo albums, cook dinner, scoop dog poop out of the yard, cut my husband's hair, run errands, prepare my on-the-market house for showings 10-15 times a month, and somehow manage to sleep. A little.

I've had a lot of people ask me how I find the time to do everything that I do.  In addition to multitasking, multitasking, multitasking, and being very organized, there are many little things that I do throughout the day and week to save time, with the ultimate goal to be able to spend more time with my kids and less time doing boring stuff. Here are some of them...

Skip Grocery Shopping.
What? How do we eat?! I recently started taking advantage of my local grocery delivery service. I save at least an hour a week of driving, shopping, getting kids in and out of the car and cart, and find that I actually spend LESS money than I did when I'd try to tote 2 kids to the store and back.  Seeing the list and grand total as I shop enables me to swap out items for less expensive alternatives, evaluate what we really need, and avoid tempting impulse buys.  The website saves a list of everything I have purchased, so I can simply run down my own list of things I know I use without having to search for everything every time, saving even more time.  I'd say that's all well worth the $5 delivery charge!

Utilize Drive-Through Services. (and I don't mean McDonald's! Okay, maybe I do, sometimes.)
Our vehicle has left no drive-through untouched. From the bank to the car wash to the pharmacy, every errand accomplished via drive through gives me more time playing with my kids and less time dragging them through boring errands.  I mean look at them...your errand has now become so fast that you don't even have time to read the entire word "through," so they have to shorten it to "thru."

Skip the Post Office.
Who wants to spend their afternoon standing in line at the post office with antsy kids? Not me. I'd much rather be playing in the sandbox. So, even with two online retail businesses and packages to ship almost daily, I very, very rarely go to the post office. When shipping a package, I utilize the USPS's free carrier pick-up service. I order packing materials for free on their website which are dropped off at my door with no delivery charge. When I need stamps, I pick them up at the ATM (again, multitasking...and at a drive-through at that), for an extra dollar or less. Would you pay a dollar to avoid the long post office line and more getting-in-getting-out of the car with kids? Yeah, I thought you would. I'd pay five. I think now the post office delivers those for free too, if you have a couple days to wait for their arrival.

Don't Mess With Nap Time.
While my toddler's nap schedule has evolved as he's grown, whenever humanly possible I do not mess with it. It remains time blocked out on my schedule, etched in stone, equally as important as any one of my client meetings. Overtired kids lead to unhappy kids. Unhappy kids lead to me spending more of my day calming down tantrums and less time enjoying them or getting things done. Sammy also takes much longer naps when he goes down at the right time, which as you can guess, makes up the biggest chunk of productive freelance work time in my day. 

Make lists and Prioritize.
I would like to take a moment to thank my mom, champion list maker, for passing on her list making gene to me. A few years ago my husband bought me a spiral bound book of three lists labeled with the following headings: "Today", "This Week," and "Someday." This has been incredibly instrumental, not only in my ability to immediately prioritize, but to clear my brain of my virtual to-do lists at night and be able to fall asleep!! There's just something so satisfying about crossing off things on a list!

And when I say prioritize, realize that your priorities may change daily, if not hourly, or minute-ly.  (Is that a word?) Finding yourself so exhausted that you're not doing well on any items on your list? Time to add "nap for Mommy" to the top of your list and do whatever it takes to get that top priority done first.  Think airline safety spiel... put on your own mask first, then assist others!  You're no good to others if you've just run out of oxygen yourself!

Learn to Say No.
This is always a challenge for me, and as a woman you've probably heard this one a million times in every magazine and talk show you've seen. But, learning to turn down the things that aren't super important or that you know will add more stress than enjoyment to your life is key to optimizing the time you have.

Learn to Say Yes.
If someone offers to help you with something, let them. And if they don't offer to help you with something, ask them to. ;-) I have a hard time with this too, although when I do I can literally feel the stress lift off my shoulders and revel in the enjoyment of crossing off an item on my list that I didn't even have to do.  Also remember to say yes to YOU, especially with questions like, "should I stop working and go sip a glass of wine in a hot bubble bath with a good book for a half hour?" or "Should I eat that piece of chocolate cake?" Yes.  Yes, of course you should. Don't be silly.

Manage Other People's Expectations.
This is a big one that applies to my friends, family, my customers and clients alike. If I choose to take on something for someone, I figure out realistically how long it may take me to complete. Then I add on a little extra time, setting myself up to exceed expectations before I even begin.  I make sure people know up front how long it will take, so that I don't disappoint anyone. I also make sure that the amount of time I quote is enough that I won't go into a sudden panic when I hang up the phone. Know your limits and hold yourself to them!

Make Boring Stuff Fun.
Okay, so you've done everything you can to be able to spend more time with your kids and less time with the boring stuff. But what if you still have some boring things left on your list? Turn them into a fun time with your kids. They'll take longer to do, of course, (okay a LOT longer) but you'll be accomplishing the most important task at the same time...playing! My son LOVES to vacuum and sweep. I can do it in 5 minutes during his nap, or a half hour with him, but I'm still getting it done in the end. Anything I can get done while kids are awake I consider a bonus, especially when it counts as "play time with Mommy" at the same time. Folding laundry can turn into a game of peek-a-boo with your baby. Make up a song about whatever you're doing. Raking leaves is always fun for kids too (or un-raking them). Let them "help" however they safely can.

Take advantage of "tied down" time.
When my kids are tied down in their car seats, not only can I quickly get my drive-through errands done, but I also often vacuum the car. I find it's worth the 75 cents at the gas station to get the whole car vacuumed in a couple minutes, rather than using nap time to haul the vacuum cleaner outside and do it in the driveway. Now that's just depressing.  I'd much rather be napping too. When Sammy is occupied eating or coloring, I can get the entire kitchen cleaned up while still interacting with him and singing goofy songs.

Teach Your Kids to Play Alone.
Of course I don't mean toss junior a Rubik's Cube and then run off to the spa for a few hours. But you can still be in the same room, the next room, or just within earshot while your child plays on his or her own. (make sure it's a child safe room, obviously) It pays to start early on this, as it is something they learn and get more comfortable with over time.  Teaching my kids this "skill" has enabled me to get some urgent, last-minute client work done in a pinch many times! (or laundry done, or toilets scrubbed, or dinner started...)

Utilize Technology
My iPhone has really freed me up and I can safely say has changed my life! In addition to the many app's that really save me a lot of time every day in a multitude of tasks, just being able to quickly get a glance at incoming emails has enabled me to spend a lot less time running up to my studio to check on my desktop. In seconds I can see if there's anything worth reading or urgently in need of a response, and only go spend the time at my desk if it is really needed.  Last night I even ordered groceries on my phone, while sitting on the couch watching TV.  I love technology!

Dinner Time Shortcuts
While it's great when you're in a pinch, you don't have to have pizza delivered or send your hubby through the drive through to have a quick meal. Some things that I do to prepare for those hectic days when I have not time to cook and we've exhausted the drive-through and delivery venues already are:
1) Use the crock pot. It's really helpful when you know you have a hectic evening ahead to get dinner basically done in the morning or afternoon!
2) Pre-cook & freeze hamburger. I'll often buy a big package of ground beef and brown it all at once, then freeze in 1 lb portions. I have so many recipes that are much faster when the meat is already cooked. (tacos, chili, hamburger helper, hot dishes, gumbo, etc...)
3) Keep some Easy non-perishable meals on hand. The other night I had no time to cook. I boiled a box of dry tortellini, heated up a jar of alfredo sauce, added some shake-n-bake'ed chicken breasts, and had a fancy looking meal in 20 minutes. I can also make chili in a flash by mixing the canned and dry ingredients with the pre-cooked hamburger in my freezer.
4) Frozen Veggies. I always keep a few bags of frozen veggies in the freezer. When I don't have time to make a salad or snip stems off of beans, I zap a bowl of peas in the microwave. Food group done.

These dinner shortcuts have given me many nights where my husband called on his way home asking what's for dinner, I answered "I have no clue yet," and magically had a full meal on the table when he opened the door. Don't get me wrong though, I do still have Dominos and Papa Murphy's on speed dial!

 More Tips
Here are a few more links to articles with time saving tips for moms. Got a great tip to share?  Please leave a comment...I know I can still always use more!

13 Time Saving Tips for Busy Moms from iVillage
Time Saving Tips for Moms from Little Rock Family
Time Savers for Busy Moms from SheKnows Parenting
Time Saving Tips for Crazy-Busy Moms from Divine Caroline
15 Time Saving Kitchen Tips for Busy Moms from Baby Zone
18 Time Saving Tips from Real Simple


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