This year’s handmade valentines

I’m happy to report we finished Corban’s valentines a whole day early, and I didn’t have to go to the store to buy any supplies for them. Success!

(Tulips to brighten up a freezing rain kind of day and celebrate that our cats are locked in our bedroom for a few days working on some training issues…which I will have to share another time. Oh, and cats in bedroom = flowers are safe from getting eaten by them.)

Last year we were the lame ones who didn’t give out candy with our valentines (which, as a parent, I am great with, but I know the kids get excited about little treats). This year, Corban’s school doesn’t allow any food with valentines (score) but we had a bunch of glow sticks on hand, so there’s our treat. And since puns are not only encouraged but celebrated on Valentine’s Day, here’s what we ended up with:

I traced hearts onto card stock while Corban and Mara cut them out.

Haddon got to be in charge of handing out washi tape while the big kids carefully taped the glow sticks on.

I fixed about a third of the taped glow sticks so they were in the right spots and wrote out the pun while the kids played, and then Corban addressed each with his classmates’ names and signed his name. Oh, and decided which color glow stick each person would like—very important.

Now they are safely tucked in a box so the glow sticks don’t crack before they’re delivered.

Here’s another fun and easy valentine we made one year…

…and a less easy valentine (for that special someone, not your kid’s class).

We also just turned fruit snacks into butterflies with heart antennae one year.

Handmade pop-up valentines

Handmade cards make me giddy, so when Corban had his first real school valentine exchange last year, we sat down together to make the cards ourselves. Corban requested pop-up cards. My goal was to just use what we had to make them. This was not a huge challenge, as I have a hoarder’s supply of paper and I’m a recovering clearance craft supply purchaser.

Here’s what we ended up with and how we did it.

First we cut the cards from cardstock and I had Corban cut two slits in the fold to make the pop up part.

Next I traced a bunch of hearts onto glitter paper and Corban cut them out and added smiley faces with permanent marker.

Corban wrote his classmates’ names on the front of the cards. We had just enough foam glitter sticker letters to use one for the first letter of every kid’s name.

He stamped a heart above the name.

Then he signed his name on the inside.

And finally we glued the hearts onto the pop-up tabs.

Sure, it’s more work than buying a pack of valentines and signing your name, but we had fun in the process and Corban was pretty excited about his cards.

This year Corban says he wants to make his cards again, so we’ll see what we come up with! And I do remember that choosing a box of valentines from the store was always super exciting as a kid, but I’ll save that joy for when I have multiple kids in school.

In other news…

I realize that it’s been a WHILE since I’ve written here, and I’m not sure what made me start typing up a post again last week. Maybe it’s that the only professional writing I’ve been doing for the past year plus has been medical/health related and I’m missing the more creative, fun topics I covered at the Journal Sentinel. If I can keep up posting here, I’ve got a lot to share. Much has happened in the past year!

DIY Captain Underpants Halloween costume

I have a draft of a post from July still waiting to be published. I have two birthday party posts yet to be shared. But right now I want to share this year’s Halloween costumes: superheroes!

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I don’t know how many years we have left of doing family costumes without any dissenters, so I was happy that Corban and Mara ended up on the same page with their costume selections: Flash and Wonder Woman (for a while it was looking like Princess Leia or Elsa were going to win out for Mara, but in the end she said she wanted “star underpants” — which, still, she did not get, but it was enough to convince her to join Corban in the Justice League).

This is Haddon’s first Halloween, so I had almost full control over his costume since he had no concept of the holiday. Going along with the superhero theme, Haddon’s pick was a no-brainer. I knew he’d actually be excited (and not just confused) to dress up as Captain Underpants. After the five of us saw the “Captain Underpants” movie this summer, he has had an affinity for running around the house in a diaper and cape shouting, “Captain Underpants! Tra-la-la!”

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My original ambitions were to make everyone’s costumes myself, but time got the better of me and we ended up ordering Mara’s and Corban’s on Amazon so we’d have them in time for some festivities two weekends before Halloween. I was actually really impressed with their costumes, considering they were both $20 or less. Here is the Wonder Woman costume and here is the Flash costume. I ended up sewing the Wonder Woman belt to the dress just to keep it in place (a tiny stitch just at the center of the waist, not all the way around), but otherwise they both worked just fine straight out of the package.

Captain Underpants seemed simple enough to make, and I also found the store-bought versions really creepy, so that was my project this year. Here’s what I did.

(Past DIY Halloween costumes: Berenstain Bears, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Peter Rabbit, a mouse)

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The bod

Nude long underwear is apparently difficult to find in toddler sizes (though for an older kid, this would be perfect) so instead I bought a white long-sleeve shirt, thick, cotton tights and a package of tan Rit dye.

This was my first experience dying clothing, and it was really simple to do on the stovetop, although the shirt ended up with some weird dark dots on it (not ideal but I don’t think it was too noticeable). I used the powder dye, so maybe the liquid dye would be more reliable? The color turned out darker than I was anticipating. It worked fine for Haddon’s skin tone, but for a fairer child you would probably not want to leave the clothing in the dye for the full amount of time.

The underpants

I drew lines with permanent marker on a pair of white underwear to match the look of Captain Underpants’ underwear.

The head

To achieve Captain Underpants’ bald-headed look I crocheted a simple skin-toned beanie for Haddon. This also was convenient because it ended up being fairly chilly for our trick-or-treating last night. Here’s the pattern I followed (via video). I am not a crocheter—I’ve crocheted two or three hats in the past but that’s it—yet this was simple enough to knock out in spare moments here and there over a few days.

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The cape

I bought this $6.99 red satin shawl and cut it in half (the other half became my Supergirl cape). If I owned a sewing machine, I would have hemmed the cut edge, but un-hemmed it survived trick-or-treating and a Halloween party with only a few stray strings. To make the cape fully authentic I drew seed-shaped black dots on it with a permanent marker.

That’s it! Totally doable, and Haddon loved his costume. You could also add a plunger as an accessory, but Haddon had enough work just carrying his candy bucket.

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Other Halloween notes:

At the last minute I decided to dress up as Supergirl—literally 10 minutes before trick-or-treating started I printed out a Supergirl logo and pinned it to a blue shirt, pinned the remaining red scarf into my collar for a cape and cut a strip of yellow fabric and tied it around my waist with a red skirt. Pure luck that I already had everything for that one.

Peter’s Clark Kent costume included woodworking safety goggles since he couldn’t locate any normal fake glasses in our house.

Haddon was my pumpkin-carving sidekick. He mainly enjoyed sticking his hands in the pumpkins and playing with the scooped-out seeds. I roasted the seeds to perfection this year (I’ve found the best route to success is soaking the seeds overnight in a bowl of water with lots of salt before roasting).

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I managed to carve three of our five pumpkins (the kids lose interest after about 10 seconds so it ends up being my solo project). They got to choose the designs, though, and I’m sure you can guess who’s pumpkin is whose.

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All in all, it was another very fun Halloween, made even more special by getting to introduce Haddon to the holiday and share in his excitement.

Berenstain Bears Halloween costumes

We did another full-fledged family costume this year for Halloween. Last year it was Jake and the Neverland Pirates. This year: Berenstain Bears (yes, that’s how it’s always been spelled).

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Corban discovered the Bear family thanks to the extensive collection of books my parents have from when I was a kid, and these past few months we have been compelled to read multiple Berenstain Bears books a day. You can’t get away with shortcuts with Corban either—he notices if you skip so much as a sentence.

This is a good thing, though: good moral lessons, childhood reminiscence, enjoyable storylines. Naturally, Corban draws connections between the Bear family and our own family of four. He is Brother Bear, Mara is Sister Bear.

So despite a new Star Wars obsession that has them plotting next year’s costumes already, they were excited to dress up as the Bear family for Halloween.

You can’t just go out and buy a Berenstain Bears costume (I looked and came up empty), so we had to get a little bit creative.

Thankfully, I came across this Etsy shop, which sells handmade embroidered Berenstain Bears masks. They only come in kids sizes, so they looked slightly off on Peter and me, but they were perfect for the kids. Without these masks the costumes would have been really obscure, especially since the Berenstain Bears are not normal-looking bears.

Brother Bear was the easiest: blue sweatpants and a red long-sleeve polo (found at Old Navy).

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Papa Bear was simple, too: Overalls and a yellow plaid shirt.

My original plan for Mama Bear was to buy a blue nightgown and paint white polka dots onto it, but upon realizing how expensive even the most basic long-sleeve nightgowns and dresses are (at least the ones that I could find), my mom offered to sew me a dress. She has years of sewing experience and has made many Halloween costumes throughout my life, and I’m grateful for her expertise and eagerness to help! She used blue polka-dot fleece fabric and modified a basic dress pattern, adding a white collar.

Sister Bear was my project. For her shirt, I just used fabric paint to paint pink polka dots onto an old long-sleeve shirt of Corban’s. I could have bought a pair of regular pink overalls, but Sister’s overalls are slightly different—they have scalloped straps and a straight line across the front and back (no bib). So after hunting around unsuccessfully, I got inspired by something I saw on how to turn an old pair of jeans into shorts overalls.

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I bought two pairs of pink fleece sweatpants (thank you, Walmart) and went to town. First, I cut two rectangles out of one leg of one of the pairs of pants in order to bring the waistline up to nearly chest-height. I sewed those two pieces together then sewed them to the waist of the other pair of pants.

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Unfolded:

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No hemming needed with fleece; yay!

For the straps, I put the newly modified pants on Mara, measured the length the straps should be and cut a scalloped pattern out of poster board.

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I took the other extra pant leg and cut along the seams to create two long rectangles of fabric. I folded each long rectangle in half lengthwise and cut the scalloped line out of the open side. Then I pinned the edges to prepare to sew them:

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I carefully sewed along the scalloped edge.

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Then I turned them inside out and ironed them flat (in the photo below, the top strap shows it before being turned inside out and the bottom one after).

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I sewed the front of the straps to the front of the pants, and my mom sewed snaps onto the inside of the back straps and back of the pants. The snaps ended up being unnecessary, though; Mara just pulled the straps up over her arms. I did end up pinning the shoulders of her shirt to the straps so they wouldn’t fall down (thanks to the double layers of fleece, you couldn’t see the pins).

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Oh, and the kids were super excited to wear these gorilla feet slippers we spotted at Walmart. They look enough like bear feet, I guess. They weren’t the easiest to walk in while trick-or-treating, though.

I also concocted some furry gloves for all of us by sewing some felt pieces to cheap cotton gloves to make it look like fur was coming out of our sleeves. If I were to do that again I would have hot-glued the felt…my quick hand-sewing job didn’t really hold up. Mara also refused to wear them, so there’s that.

It was a fun Halloween weekend: costumed play date party Friday morning, adult party Friday night (my solo Mama Bear costume isn’t quite as cute without the rest of the fam…), pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating Sunday and a Halloween party for the kids at our gym this morning.

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Hard to believe we are entering November already!

Past years’ Halloween costumes: Pirate/Tinkerbell (2015) | Peter Rabbit/bumble bee (2014) | mouse/cat (2013) | lobster (2012)

Pirate-themed 4th birthday party

Ever since Halloween, Corban has had his heart set on a pirate birthday party.

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I thought this would be a good age to have his first “kid” birthday party (as opposed to past birthdays where we’ve either just had family or invited all of our friends). We kept it small (by our standards) and resisted the urge to invite everyone we know, instead letting Corban pick a handful of friends and their families.

The invite

Of course every party starts with an invitation, and I’m game for any excuse to mail one. I used this ship font to make it in Photoshop. (This site has a bunch of awesome, free pirate fonts.)

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I wanted to add an interactive element, so I cut bands from red construction paper and tied them around the invites with baker’s twine.

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Inspired by all my reporting on hand lettering (for this story) I attempted a little pirate lettering on the envelopes. Not easy!

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I also get giddy over picking out stamps, and was pleased with this vintage rose option in stock at our post office. I know, nobody notices stamps, but it made me happy.

The decorations

On to the party itself! I think this was the most fun I’ve had planning a party.

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To start, I designed a few posters to get printed as engineering prints (black and white) from Staples.com. Unfortunately there are no Staples stores near us, so although the prints are a steal, the shipping fee is not. Anyone know of a place near Milwaukee for affordable engineering prints?

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For the banner, I just cut 8.5-by-11-inch black paper into quarters and painted the white letters on with a paint brush. The framed skulls and anchor are also just white paint on black paper.

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I found a bunch of huge black frames in Corban’s closet. I bought them on Clearance from Michael’s YEARS ago and never had a use for them, so decided to put them to use for the party. I desaturated and upped the contrast on some Halloween photos of Corban and us dressed as Jake and his crew and printed them out.

Then, of course, there wasn’t really anywhere to hang them so they ended up as the backdrop for the drink station.

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I also framed some Jake quotes (possibly will be putting the designs in my etsy shop). However, as my mom observed, most of the kids couldn’t read and most of the adults probably didn’t recognize the quotes. Oh well!

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My mom put up crepe paper, which is still hanging because I love how festive it is.

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This was my favorite detail (printable from etsy).

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The food

We kept it really simple. Jimmy John’s sandwiches for lunch (our go-to for parties), chips, veggies, dip, grapes and pirate bananas. I forgot to put out the cheese I bought.

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I saw this pirate ship-from-a-loaf-pan idea on Pinterest and attempted to re-create it using my favorite chocolate cake recipe. The results weren’t quite Pinterest perfect, but still fun. I used this fudge frosting recipe.

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I also made vanilla cupcakes using this recipe (which I will definitely be saving) and this vanilla buttercream frosting. Flags are just toothpicks and red Scotch tape.

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The games

We gave Corban his birthday gift the night before the party—another Jake toy to add to his collection of pirate ships—and I had all of his pirate toys out for the kids to play with as they arrived.

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I also offered each child a red bandana, spyglass, pirate sticker and Jake temporary tattoo.

Peter made a little “walk the plank” game that none of the kids really paid attention to.

We had name tags out with a framed sign to help everyone find their pirate names. Peter’s name was the best—Stinky Creeper Chumbucket. I designed my own version of this and changed a few names.

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The first official game was a treasure hunt. It needed to be appropriate for ages 19 months to 6 years old, so I drew pictures of spots around our house on index cards, with a red “X” on the back of each card. The kids (as a group) had to use the picture to figure out where the next clue was.

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They got pretty into it (at least the older ones did).

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The treasure hunt ended in the basement, with little goodie bags and treasure map sticker activities for everyone.

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I had way too much fun picking out junk for the goodie bags. In each bag there was a bag of fruit snacks, pirate stamper, pirate notepad, gold doubloons and stickers.

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Next we played pin the eye patch on the pirate. The pirate face is a framed engineering print, and I punched the eye patches out of black paper using a 2-inch circle punch and painted the kids’ names on.

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After the party, my heart was full. It means so much to have friends and family who love our kids. Corban and Mara had a blast, and I actually felt like I was able to relax and enjoy it (which can be hard when you’re hosting). It was a really sweet celebration of our boy and we all felt very loved.

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Jake and the Neverland Pirates Halloween costumes

Corban’s favorite TV show is “Jake and the Neverland Pirates”—it’s a spinoff of Disney’s “Peter Pan” about a crew of nice pirates (Jake, Izzy and Cubby) who interact with Captain Hook, Smee and their gang. He’s been in full Jake/pirate mode since last year, so naturally he wanted to be Jake for Halloween.

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Of course this is the prime age for adorable coordinating sibling costumes, so I convinced Mara to be Tinker Bell (she makes a guest appearance on the show once in a while—it’s set in Neverland, after all).

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Corban wanted to get the whole family involved, including stuffed animals, so Peter dressed up as Smee and I was Izzy. The stuffed animals were on their own for costumes, though. (Corban sighed last night, “But Quacky doesn’t have a Scully costume…”)

After browsing the costume selection available online, I decided it would be fun and easy to make all of our costumes.

Fun, it certainly was. Easy? Well, that would be a stretch. It was definitely doable, but all the little details added up and this ended up being the most ambitious costume undertaking I’ve attempted.

But I really did have a blast putting all four costumes together, and I’m pleased with how they turned out.

If you’re looking to make a DIY Jake, Izzy, Smee or Tinker Bell costume, read on for details on each of them.

First, some highlights from our Halloween:

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Halloween crafts at the library, and the first test run of the costume. 

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Somehow we wrangled 15 kids into a Halloween party photo.

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There’s my Izzy costume.

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This poor pumpkin didn’t stand a chance.

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Carved a pirate pumpkin.

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And got a little fancy.

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Eager to start trick-or-treating.

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Tink didn’t end up doing much walking. Plus, it was cold and misting.

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Pretty good haul. I showed them how to sort their candy.

Now, for the costume tutorials…

 

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Jake the pirate

There are three basic parts to a Jake costume: The shirt, the vest and the boots. Let’s start with the easiest one.

Jake’s T-shirt

White T-shirt
About 10 inches black ribbon

Cut the collar and sleeve hems off the T-shirt. Cut a few slits in each sleeve and make a 3- or 4-inch cut down from the middle of the collar.

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Cut two slits on each side of that cut and slide a black ribbon through to form a loose X. Tie the ribbon at the bottom inside the shirt.

Jake’s vest

Navy blue T-shirt
Yellow bias tape (found in the sewing department of a fabric/craft store—it is more like ribbon)
Fusible bonding web (such as Stitch Witchery)
4 yellow buttons
Yellow thread and needle

Cut off the shirt’s sleeves and collar and cut straight down the middle of the shirt to make a vest.

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The 3T shirt ended up being a little too small, so for the final version I used a 5T (Corban is 3, going on 4).

Iron the bias tape to remove any creases. Iron the vest to make a collar.

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Starting from the bottom of one flap of the vest, use the bonding web to attach the bias tape along the edge of the shirt. Since bias tape consists of several layers folded lengthwise, I actually attached mine around the edge—using bonding web on both the inside and outside of the vest. This looks nicer than just attaching it to the outside of the vest.

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Work your way along the edge of the shirt, lining the flap of the collar*, around the back of the neck**, back down the other collar and around the back of the vest, cutting the bias tape into sections as needed (I used six separate sections of tape).

*I attached part of the collar flap to the shirt with bonding web to help keep it in place:

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**”Pop” the collar up as you go around:

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Sew two buttons on each side of the vest. (Side note, why are buttons so expensive?! It took me a good hunt to find inexpensive yellow buttons that were the right size and color.)

Jake’s boot covers

This was a serious challenge for me, so I’m pretty proud that they turned out. They fit over shoes and are a lot cheaper than Uggs (plus, you can paint Jake’s signature “J” on them). Here’s what you need:

4 yards brown felt
This pattern
Yellow paint (I just used some acrylic I had)

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I followed this tutorial. The biggest challenge was to decipher the instructions since they were a bit confusing at parts. One thing I didn’t realize until my mom stepped in to help is that “right sides” in sewing lingo means the sides you want to show in the end, not the sides opposite the left. With felt, it doesn’t matter, but knowing that will help clarify the linked instructions. Another helpful hint: at the start of step 5, turn the boots rightside out.

One thing we (my mom) added was to fold and hand stitch the tops of the cuffs into the boot. (Yikes, it’s not easy writing sewing instructions!)

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After the boots are constructed, use a paintbrush to paint a solid gold rectangle on the tops of the feet and Js on the insides of the cuffs. Strangely, the J on Jake’s left boot is a mirror image of the right, so it’s backwards. (I’ve Googled “Jake pirate” images an embarrassing number of times while working on this costume.)

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Other Jake elements

Red headband—just a thick strip of red fabric (we already had one from a pirate costume I’ve worn)

Hair—Find some mega extreme hold hair gel (that’s how the one I used marketed itself) and spike that hair straight up in front.

Thick black belt/cummerbund—you could cut up an old T-shirt or do what I did and tie a pair of black tights around your son’s waist (tuck in the ends in the back)

Wooden sword—Peter insisted we buy this instead of attempt to make it. I’m glad we did even though we payed way more than we should have on Amazon for an apparently discontinued Disney Store set of Jake accessories. It’s foam and nice and Corban loves it, plus it came with a spyglass (much better than the paper towel roll I had planned) and pouch of gold dubloons.

Tinker Bell

There are a lot of routes you can take with Tinker Bell. I wanted to be as authentic to the Disney version as possible while making it appropriate for a two-year-old (um, look at Tink…she is a mature, scantily clad woman).

My plan was to do something like this, but use a leotard instead of sewing the body myself. I found an adorable mint green leotard, but at the last minute decided the mint green didn’t look right, so ended up hand-sewing an alternative last night. It was a smart move. Here are the elements of our toddler Tink costume.

Tinker Bell’s skirt

1 1/4 yards green fabric (get something that won’t fray)
Matching green thread
Non-roll elastic (for the waist)
Ruffled ribbon/trim (for the waist)
1 roll cream or white tulle
Thin elastic (for the waist of the tutu)

I followed this tutorial for the skirt. It was simple, even for a sewing novice like me. The ruffled ribbon is a good addition to cover up the seam along the waist.

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Tulle tutus are the easiest thing to make. Just loop-tie strips of tulle to a thin elastic waistband. It’s a fun touch for under the Tinker Bell skirt.

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Tinker Bell’s top

White long sleeve shirt
Leftover green fabric from the skirt
Matching green thread

Cut and pin green fabric to the shirt, starting under the arm on one side and continuing all the way around the shirt. Hand stitch the fabric to the shirt, then stitch it down the side. You’ll tuck the shirt in, so don’t worry about the bottom.

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Tinker Bell’s wings

This took me a bunch of finagling and trial and error. I will try to explain what I did, though.

2 white wire hangers
Pliers
1 pair white adult women’s tights
Small piece of tape
Thin elastic
Glitter glue (optional—I never ended up adding it)

Tink’s wings each have a tall pointed section on top and a smaller, round part on bottom. For a toddler, one hanger is plenty large enough for each wing. First, untwist the necks of the hangers and use pliers to form each into the shape of the wings. Leave a few inches of the end sticking out from the middle and use that part to hook the two wings together by twisting them around each other.

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Now, unhook the wings from one another (stay with me for a minute). Cut the legs off the tights and stretch them tightly over the wings starting over the top section of wing. I twisted them a little in between the two wing sections to help keep the shape, then pulled the open end of the tights back up to the middle after going over the bottom section.

Poke the end of the wire (the part that will hook the wings together) through the tights once the tights are in place. Now, re-connect the wings. The ends of the tights will just be hanging out for now. Wrap tape around the connecting pieces of wire to keep them together (it’s OK if it’s not totally secure at this point).

Tie the thin elastic into a loop that will fit across your little one’s back and hook around her arms. Poke the elastic into the hole of the tights on one wing and finagle it to loop around a section of wire inside, then repeat on the other wing so the wings now have elastic straps coming out from the middle.

Tie the loose ends of the tights together around the connecting wire, pulling one leg around the back, then tying it together with the other leg on the side of the wings that will be facing out (the side without the elastic straps), then bringing both sides around to the side with the elastic and tying them together there (so the legs are tied together on both the front and the back of the wings).

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Paint glitter onto the wings if desired.

Tinker Bell’s magic wand

1 chop stick or other thin, wooden stick
Silver washi tape
White or cream tulle

Wrap washi tape around the stick in a spiral motion to cover.

Make two tulle pom poms. To make each, cut 20-30 4-inch strips of tulle (1/2-inch-wide). Lay a wider (2- to 3-inch-wide) 4-inch strip of tulle down and stack the 20-30 strips perpendicular on top of it. Tie the thicker strip around the center of the stack of strips and knot it tightly, then knot the ends around the end of the tape-covered stick. Repeat to make the second pom pom and tie it to the same end of the stick but on the opposite side. Tape the ends of the tulle strips you used to tie the pom poms together down to the stick, using the same spiral taping motion to cover them completely.

Separate the 1/2-inch strips in all directions to form a puffy ball, trimming where necessary to form a sphere around the tip of the stick.

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Other Tink elements

Shoes—Make tulle pom poms as described above, but tie or pin them to the toes of a pair of white or green ballet flats (technically Tink wears green shoes).

Hair—She wears her hair in a high bun with a little ribbon around it and bangs sweeping down and to the side.

Izzy the pirate

Izzy’s shirt

Light pink T-shirt
Darker pink permanent marker

Cut the hems off the sleeves and bottom of a light pink T-shirt. Cut wide scallops around the bottom and sleeves. Outline the edges in marker, adding loops between each scallop. Outline the neckline, adding an upside down V shape at the neck (I messed this part up so it looks pretty bad).

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Izzy’s bandana

Medium pink bandana or old T-shirt
Light pink fabric paint

If using an old T-shirt, cut the hem off the bottom, then cut straight up the middle as high as you can get before hitting graphics, or up to about the sternum or mid-back. Cut all the way around the shirt from that point, so you end up with a large rectangle. Cut it into an obtuse triangle.

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Paint loops and dots along the edge of the triangle, as pictured.

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Izzy’s pouch necklace

8-inch circle of yellow fabric
24-inch strip of felt (1/4- to 1/2-inch wide) or two 12-inch strips (or use brown yarn, string or cord)

We had a pouch lying around so I just used that, but you can easily make one by cutting a circle from yellow fabric and gathering the edges together to form a pouch. Tie the felt strips or string around the top to secure it. On the show, this pouch contains pixie dust.

Other Izzy elements

Hair—Pigtails, or if your hair is really long like mine then add braids in to keep it under control. Wrap strips of brown felt around each pigtail. Corban called me out because Izzy has a piece of hair sticking out from the front, so if your hair is the right length to do that, you should probably do it.

Boots—I just wore my Minnetonkas, but you could make boot covers like the Jake ones I made, just without the painted parts (note the pattern I used is for toddler size 8 to 10).

Pants—Izzy wears purple pants. I found these purple fleece-lined leggings on Amazon for $5. They are super warm and comfy, though not the greatest quality (but hey, only five dollars!).

Earrings—Like any good pirate, Izzy wears gold hoop earrings.

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This is oh so easy, hence the reason I switched from the original plan of Peter being Captain Hook.

Hat—Bright red stocking cap.

Shirt—Blue and white striped T-shirt.

Shorts—Royal blue (it was cold so Peter wore jeans).

Glasses—He wears round glasses on the tip of his nose. (Forgot this.)

Belly—Stuff a pillow in if you don’t naturally have a pot belly. Peter was going to, but ended up not bothering.

Sciency fun: Pool noodle marble track

We checked off another at-home item on our big list of summer fun the other week, and it is too good not to share.

Inspired by this blog post and the fun my kids had at an exhibit at the children’s museum featuring golf balls on wooden tracks, we made this genius creation: a marble track.

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It cost $3 total for two pool noodles and a giant bag of marbles at the dollar store. I used a serrated bread knife to slice the noodles in half, taped them end-to-end with patterned duct tape and then let the fun begin. It took less than five minutes to make our giant track.

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Corban has been having a blast with it for the past week. He’s gotten more confident in creating his own configurations, experimenting with different heights, curves and items at the end for the marble (or “narble,” as he calls it) to roll into. I love how he’s unknowingly learning about velocity and friction–but to him it’s just fun. Yay physics!

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Mara likes to help but sometimes gets in the way of big brother’s fun, so I’d say this is more appropriate for ages 3+ (I find it just as much fun as Corban, so it’d be great for older kids too). The shorter race track version like my inspiration would be easier for younger ones.

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Our cats are fascinated by it, too, so this is definitely something the whole family can enjoy!

First birthday sign

A garden/bunny-themed first birthday party

Our dear niece Isla turned one last week and over the weekend we attended her birthday party on an especially sunny, warm spring day. So beautiful, in fact, that the party was held outside! (Not something to be taken for granted in April in Chicagoland.)

My sister, Lauren, kept the garden/bunny theme simple and subtle. Here are some of the details that made this party casual yet adorable.

The spread was sandwiches, an incredible salad that included figs, avocado and roasted chickpeas, some addictive dips and popcorn.

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And bunnies!

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First birthday sign

Isla’s monthly photos lined the patio door as we swooped inside and outside throughout the afternoon.

First birthday photo collection

First birthday photo collection

Lauren made the cake — strawberry cake with strawberry cream cheese frosting. Isla’s smash cake was blueberry (her favorite food) and Corban enjoyed a dirt cup (“gummy worm cake,” as he called it yesterday when he mentioned out of the blue, “I liked Isla’s cake!”). Pictures of those to come in a minute.

Pink strawberry first birthday cake

There were four little ones in attendance and they each received one of these sweet bunny baskets filled with a little seed planting kit, a chocolate bunny and rabbit ears (where were those when I was making Corban’s Halloween costume?!).

Bunny-themed party favors

Look at that glorious patio sunshine!

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And pink roses…

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The kids donned their bunny ears for an Easter egg hunt in the backyard.

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Birthday girl and her mama.

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Little Peter Rabbit in full force.

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Isla’s cousin was not cool with wearing his bunny ears or sitting still for the group photo, but no worries… he successfully photobombed it.

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Cake time.

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Step one: remove and consume all blueberries.

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Why are you trying to shove this other junk in my mouth when I see BLUEBERRIES?

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She was not into the cake. Until she was.

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And then she was really into it.

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Baby’s eye view of the remnants:

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Proof that Corban loved his “gummy worm cake.” I don’t blame him; dirt pudding is the best.

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Gratuitous Mara photo.

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And we’ll end with a look back at one year ago. Crazy how much they’ve all changed!

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A ‘Peter Rabbit’ themed 3rd birthday party

I have several things I have been wanting to write about for the past few months, so I’m just going to catch up in chronological order. First on the docket: Corban’s 3rd birthday party! (Yes, it was back in December, but… time flies!)

As hinted, we had a Peter Rabbit-themed party with Peter’s and my immediate families. Our little Peter Rabbit was excited to have four grandparents, one great-grandma, two aunts, four uncles and one cousin all come in from out of town for a “bunny brunch.”

I kept things really simple, but still enjoyed playing around with little details for the party… starting with these paper invitations.

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Keeping it old school with handwritten invitations. I gave them a little modern update with some “font” mixing.

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Kudos to Peter for picking out these farmers market stamps. I love a good coordinating stamp.

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We said the party was at Mr. McGregor’s garden, so…

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The brunch menu started with carrot and beet hummus with crudités in a clay baking pot.

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It’s sitting on a cube from a Peter Rabbit block set my aunt gave Corban for his birthday.

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I used the other blocks in the set as part of the table decorations…

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…along with burlap, radishes, a watering can and lots of kale and carrots.

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The menu was very simple, but it still managed to destroy my kitchen, my sleep and nearly my spirit the night before. But in the end it was worth it. 🙂

Breakfast strata (adapted from this recipe from Food52 — I added sausage and zucchini, eliminated mushrooms and generally futzed with it).

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Fruit salad (tried to keep it easy with grapes, honeydew melon and pomegranate, but I owe my mother-in-law big time for seeding the two pomegranates!)

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Cinnamon rolls from scratch. Oh yes! This was my first attempt at homemade cinnamon rolls and I would definitely recommend this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. It’s simpler than other recipes I came across since it only requires one rise. They’re topped with a coffee glaze (not a strong coffee flavor though).

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Roasted red potatoes, sweet potatoes and purple sweet potatoes — nice and colorful.

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For drinks we had coffee, orange juice, mimosas and chamomile tea (a Peter Rabbit reference: “Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea: ‘One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime.'”).

It was a relaxing meal.

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(At least for the adults.)

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I wanted to do some sort of guest book type thing, but not anything too formal, so I printed out some cards and asked everyone to write a little time capsule message about Corban. This worked since the party was all family.

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The cake was chocolate carrot cake, a compromise between my theme obsession and Peter’s desire for chocolate cake. The recipe was a State Fair winner, but next time I would pick either chocolate cake or carrot cake and not combine the flavors.

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Decorating the cake was a blast. I taped a popsicle stick to the invitation and stuck Peter in the middle of the garden. Chocolate cream cheese frosting made good dirt.

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I used this easy method to make the carrots and radishes (but used a wide, round pastry tip) and a star tip for the lettuce.

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The “three.” shirt was a steal from Old Navy (much, much easier than sewing a shirt like I’ve done in the past!).

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(A little egging on from Aunt Lauren…)

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We forewent the afternoon nap for him, and instead relaxed with family. It was so sweet to have everyone hanging around our home.

Of course there were presents, too.

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This Hot Wheels set was the big winner. (Thanks, Uncle Brian!)

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After Mara’s nap the two of them got to work playing with every new toy simultaneously.

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I love big bashes with lots of friends and family, and I seriously considered having this be a kid party and just inviting Corban’s friends, but in the end I think a small family brunch was the perfect way to celebrate this year. Corban got to spend quality time with those who love him most, and vice versa. And the fact that Peter Rabbit was included in the festivities? Well, that just made it extra-Corban-special.

DIY Christmas card box from a produce box

In year’s past, I’ve hung the Christmas cards we’ve received with ribbon on our kitchen cabinets. I loved being able to see the smiling faces of our friends and family and the beautiful holiday designs of the greetings they sent, but this year that just seemed like too much work and too cluttered.

Instead, I was inspired last night by the cardboard box housing the clementines I had just purchased. It’s a nice box, so why throw it away?

I pulled out some gold card stock, scissors and a glue stick and in less than 20 minutes had transformed it into something worthy of sitting on our coffee table.

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First, I traced each side of the box onto the gold card stock.

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Then I cut them out.

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And glued them securely to the sides.

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The blue insides kind of ruin the effect, so I glued some card stock over the blue parts, too. Had I a tad more ambition and time I would have covered the entire inside.

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There you have it!

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Our friends and family are really killing it with cute photo cards this year.

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I also love how the shape of the box sort of looks like Bethlehem’s skyline (at least how it’s portrayed as we often see it).

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It’s also nice having them out at kid-level so Corban can browse through them at his leisure. He loves seeing his loved ones’ faces.

Of course, that also means they’re at Mara’s level and thus will probably end up strewn around our family room most of the time…

How do you store or display your Christmas cards?