A sweet Halloween

Goodness. The longer I go without blogging, the higher the hurdle seems to jump back into it. I’ve been procrastinating on sharing updates on my dear little ones, Mara’s first birthday and other thoughts… but I’ll keep this at least relatively timely and share some Halloween pictures first.

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I feel like there is so much pressure in these young years for the Halloween costumes to be timeless, adorable, matching and fitting for each child’s personality. Oh and homemade, of course. That’s insane, I know, but those kinds of thoughts contributed to my procrastination in actually deciding on Corban’s costume.

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When it came down to the wire, though, we went with Corban’s current favorite character: Peter Rabbit. And after all my stewing, it actually did unintentionally live up to all my ridiculous standards! He was so adorably excited to “be” Peter Rabbit (in a very real sense, to him) and that’s how I knew we couldn’t go wrong with this costume. It was really simple to make, too.

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Mara had two options I was excited about — both costumes we already owned. A lobster (a la Corban’s first Halloween) and a bumble bee. The bee won in the end.

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Starting last year, fall will forever be a special time of year for me. This fall I was reminded of all the wonderful memories we made last year with newborn Mara and sweet toddler Corban, while I was off work and the weather was gorgeous. This fall seemed to fly by, but I couldn’t help but reminisce about that blissful season last year, and it makes me want to savor this time of year even more.

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Halloween marks the turning point, for me, between warm, carefree evenings outside and the bustle of the holiday season. It’s the most social night of the year for our neighborhood–a kind of culmination of Wisconsin’s warm months. It’s a night where we relax outside with neighbors–some of whom we may rarely talk to the rest of the year, and we most certainly won’t see much of once the snow falls and the temps drop.

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And this year we really got good bang for our Halloween buck. Our trick-or-treat hours were the Sunday before Halloween. The weather was perfect and both kids had a blast (we also got candy from a local radio personality who apparently lives down the street from us). We also celebrated with friends the morning of real Halloween, then drove to my parents that afternoon, trick-or-treated again with family/friends and then left the kids with my parents and actually went to an adult Halloween party at a friend’s in Chicago. An absolutely perfect mix of people and events that made the long day totally worth it.

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Lamb-themed baby shower (and my new etsy shop!)

Corban and Mara got their first cousin this April when my sister had a baby. In October they’ll welcome another! Peter’s eldest brother and his wife are expecting and we are thrilled to see our family grow.

I had the privilege of co-hosting a baby shower for my sister-in-law the other weekend in St. Louis. Planning from afar was low-stress since my co-hostesses took care of the food and venue. I was in charge of invitations, games and some of the decorations (a.k.a. my favorite parts!)

Since the mom-to-be, Jenny, is planning a lamb theme for their gender-neutral nursery, we ran with that as the theme for the shower. It was a lot of fun incorporating sheep into every aspect of the shower — I was especially excited to come up with some puns.

I’ll share details from the baby shower, but first I have some exciting news: I opened up an etsy shop! After planning several showers and themed parties over the past few years, I’ve designed a small collection of printable items — games, favor tags, invitations and the like. I definitely would have paid a few bucks to have modern designs for printable baby shower games at my fingertips when I was in planning mode, so there have got to be some people out there who would appreciate having these designs available, right?

I guess we’ll find out. I’ve listed a handful of instant download baby shower games (two of which you’ll see below) and plan to add a couple more listings, including one for the gold confetti themed invitations I designed for my sister’s baby shower and some lobster/sea creature art I designed for Corban’s room. I’m excited to see where (if anywhere) this goes — right now it’s just fun to see my work listed on the site!

On to the lamb-themed baby shower details. First, the invitations (from zazzle):

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front and back.

Now, the party itself!

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Table decorations were fun and simple to make. Jenny made an impressive diaper cake for my baby shower (here it is) so in a nod to her diaper artistry I made very unimpressive diaper circles wrapped in burlap.

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To keep with the lamb theme, and the sub-theme of books (the invitation suggests — not demands! — that guests write a note in a baby book instead of a card) I topped the diapers with a lamb book. There are quite a few cute options out there.

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Here is what the tables looked like in action:

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Love this book!

Also seen on the tables: games! And glittery pencils from Michael’s, and favors (which I’ll get to in a minute).

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These are my lovingly designed table games, some of which you can purchase for a few bucks in my new etsy shop!

Name the baby animals (buy here). Harder than you may think! My mother-in-law won this one.

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Name the children’s book (buy here). I thought this one was going to be too easy, but everyone was sufficiently challenged by it.

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Gift BINGO (guests fill out a BINGO card with items they think she will open). I downloaded it for free from here and customized it a tad using Photoshop.

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We also played “Don’t Say Baby,” where everyone starts with a bracelet, and if you get caught saying the word “baby” you have to give your bracelet to the person who catches you. At the end, the person with the most bracelets wins. It was a hoot seeing some of the ladies get into it.

My favorite games are the ones that involve the dad, so we played one called “Dad Knows Best.” I had my brother-in-law James answer some questions about the baby in advance and we all had to guess his answers. The questions I asked:

Will the baby be a boy or a girl?
Do you want the baby to be a boy or a girl?
Will the baby be born with a lot of hair?
If Jenny had no say, what would you name the baby?
If you had no say, what would Jenny name the baby?
Will you or Jenny be the disciplinarian?
Will you or Jenny be the first one to hear the baby cry at night?
Out of every 10 diapers, how many will you change?
What personality trait do you hope the baby will inherit from Jenny?What personality trait do you hope the baby will inherit from you?
Bonus: What sport will the baby play in high school?

Jenny did impressively well; the rest of us did not. Here is the little prize stash I picked out from the dollar bins at Michael’s.

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I also made a burlap bunting that Jenny can now hang in the nursery — “baaaby sherwood,” get it?

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The food was simple — chicken salad sandwiches, fruit salad, veggies and spinach dip.

Lamb detail on the bunting was my favorite. It’s just cut out of paper and hot-glued on, as are the letters.

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Lamb cupcakes were homemade by a friend of one of the co-hostesses, and they were divine.

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My mother-in-law found two lamb vases that she received — get this — when James (the dad-to-be) was born(!) and had them filled with beautiful flower arrangements.

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The guest book was fun to work on. I bought a burlap canvas, punched a bunch of circles from three different patterned sheets of scrapbook paper and hot-glued the dots (and some black legs and a head) into a lamb. Nursery art?

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Yes, but also a guest book! Everyone signed their name on a circle to be glued onto the canvas (either on the lamb itself or across the bottom).

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My co-hostess/partner in crime made these cute diaper decorations.

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And one last lamb pun: “Thank Ewe” tags (designed in Photoshop) for the favors, yogurt-covered pretzels tied with burlap strings in these bags.

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The mom-to-be (pictured with my co-hostess) had lots of laughs and (hopefully) felt very loved by the lovely group of ladies who attended.

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Meanwhile, these ruffians had fun at home with the men.

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It was a fun weekend overall, with the shower being the centerpiece. I’ve got a few more party recaps to share with you soon, so look forward to some more fun details!

Toddler Valentine’s Day

In all the hype surrounding the romantic side of Valentine’s Day… gifts, cards, dates, chocolate recipes (especially when you’re planning content for a lifestyle site – I have been living and breathing all of those topics), I had almost forgotten how much fun Valentine’s Day was as a kid.

Disney Princess valentines torn along the dotted lines. Candy hearts. Stickers. A pink hair bow. An exciting whirl of an afternoon slipping cards into your classmates’ decorated shoeboxes.

Peter and I did go out for a nice dinner this year on Valentine’s Day eve. It was romantic and very adult. I tried foie gras. But Friday morning I was reminded how fun and festive the holiday of pink and red is for those to whom a kiss is the thing that makes an owie better and a heart is one of the five shapes you can identify.

We went to a little party with some of Corban’s best buds and their moms. It started with lots of playing – with 11 kids ranging from age 5 months to 5 years it’s more like strangely choreographed chaos interrupted by occasional tears – and eventually moved to craft time for the older kids.

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Yes, Corban is now one of the “older kids.” I don’t know when that happened and why it now seems like he’s always been one.

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They decorated picture frames for their dads with fun Valentine’s Day stickers.

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Then they made drawings to put in the frames.

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Somehow the pictures make this seem like a calm and controlled affair, but it was more like trying to keep a bunch of cats sitting at a table. I’m glad I was able to sneak away to snap some pictures, but crafts with a two-year-old are always very hands-on adventures!

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After Corban completed his frame, he decided to rip all the stickers off and throw them on the floor. I may have done a bit of reconstruction.

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Next on the agenda: cupcakes.

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Not hard to keep kids still for the approximately 2 minutes it takes to eat a cupcake!

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Then, the valentine exchange.

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There are so many cute ideas out there for DIY kid valentines. Oh, the puns! I promised myself I wouldn’t get too ambitious this year, but I wanted Corban to have some sort of hand in what he gave to his friends. Here’s what we ended up making:

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These were very easy to throw together the day before. I made a heart stamp from an empty toilet paper roll and had Corban (admittedly with the help of his nanny, not me) stamp hearts with white paint onto folded pieces of red construction paper.

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Then I filled resealable sandwich bags with about an inch of Valentine’s Day M&Ms…

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…and folded the tops down and stapled the construction paper sandwiched over the bag.

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So simple and fun to put together.

If you’re wondering what little Mara looked like on her first Valentine’s Day… well, I’d be happy to show you.

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Sweet and smiling as usual.

Hope you had as lovely a Valentine’s Day as we did. I’m hoping to get back here with some more updates soon since it’s been a while!

Fall front porch

My DIY wreath, which had such potential to change with the seasons and be a happy, holiday-appropriate fixture of our front door, is finally living up to its potential! Last year I attempted to update it for fall and then for Christmas, but both were fairly sad attempts. I am pleased with this round though.

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Our entire front porch got a tiny bit festive for fall.

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See the neighborhood watchman?

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I just tucked some fake leaves behind fall-colored felt flowers that are attached with bobbi pins.

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Our previous doormat lasted five years — and by lasted I mean it lay there for five years. It probably should have been replaced much sooner, but this find was worth the wait. It ties our blue door trim in with the fall colors.

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Corban helped us pick our family of pumpkins from Cozy Nook Farm’s pumpkin patch. They aren’t quite to scale.

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We learned the hard way that mums apparently require sunlight. Or at least that’s why I’m guessing ours died and our neighbors’ across the street are thriving.

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Happy fall! Although now it’s pretty much time to change over to Christmas decor. I’ll share that as soon as I get it up!

My mini mouse (an easy DIY costume)

My mom made almost all of the Halloween costumes I can remember from my childhood. Bride, witch, Barbie doll, Grinch (my brother)… she found patterns to sew, and when there was no pattern she made up her own. I didn’t realize at the time just how much work it was, but I loved every Halloween costume and went all out with it every year through high school, and even college (though by then I was putting together my own costumes).

I would love to do the same for my kids, but this year I found myself browsing Pinterest with less than one week until trick-or-treating, still undecided about Corban’s and Mara’s costumes. At that point, it had to be something simple if it was going to be homemade.

Then I found a pair of mouse ears from my sophomore year of college, when two friends and I dressed up as the three blind mice.

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(I forgot how un-mouse-like that costume actually was…)

Bingo! It would be easy to make him a simple mouse costume, and Mara could even be a cat.

It only took one (long) naptime to make this costume, and I didn’t have to buy anything at all!

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Here’s what I used:

Gray sweatshirt or jacket (light gray is best, but I used what we had)
Gray sweatpants
Two 8 1/2 x 11-inch sheets light pink felt
One 8 1/2 x 11-inch sheet gray felt
Needle and thread
EyelinerMouse ears

I cut one sheet of the pink felt to make the pink belly, and sewed it onto Corban’s gray fleece jacket using only a handful of single stitches spaced a few inches apart. I wanted to be able to easily remove it after Halloween without any damage to the jacket.

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I just pulled it over his head to put it on him come trick-or-treat time.

I decided to make mouse paw mittens, which aren’t really essential to the costume, but ended up being my favorite part. If you have gray mittens, you can just sew the pink paws onto them instead of making the mittens themselves, but for some reason I find that hand stitching a pair of mittens is less stressful than going out shopping to find a pair.

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I used Corban’s mittens as a pattern and cut a mitten shape about 1/4-inch larger than them. Then for each mitten I hand sewed two pieces of mitten-shaped felt together. If you have a sewing machine this will only take a minute, but it took me a couple episodes of “The Mindy Project.”

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I turned the stitched mittens inside out and prayed that they would fit Corban (he was still sleeping). Then I cut a few rough circles of pink felt and stitched them onto the palms of the mittens.

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Lastly, the tail. For this, I just hot-glued some pink felt into a roll, including in the middle of the roll a thin piece of wire we had lying around. I ended up making the tail way too long (this is what happens when your child is not in your range of vision — you forget how short he is!) so I pinned it pretty high up inside the back of his jacket once he was wearing it.

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For the nose and whiskers, first I tested out some homemade, all natural face paint by mixing a little bit of baby lotion with cocoa powder (for brown) and frozen raspberries (for pink). I did not want to put face paint on my babies for fear of exposing their gentle skin to potentially dangerous chemicals.

The homemade face paint was a giant fail! If there were a natural way to make black face paint, that would be one thing, but the brown just looked like chocolate (or you-know-what) on my face when I tested it. The pink actually turned out OK, but I don’t think it would have lasted very long on Corban’s or Mara’s noses.

So I went the eyeliner route instead. I’m sure there are chemicals I don’t want to know about in eyeliner, but I just told myself since it’s made to be applied near one of our most sensitive areas (the eyes) it can’t be that bad on baby cheeks and noses.

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My little kitten wore cat ears we already had, a black onesie, black tights and a small boa tail.

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Trick-or-treating was on Sunday in our city (I know, the Milwaukee area is weird and every city has its own trick-or-treat day and time, which is often not on Halloween). We went with friends who have two toddler girls and it was such a blast watching the little ones scramble up to each door on our street and reach their mittened little hands into bowl after bowl full of candy.

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Corban also helped me carve our big pumpkin that afternoon.

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It all reminds me once again what a fun age he is at.

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Your turn: What are your little ones being for Halloween? Or what were you as a toddler? Toddler Halloween is the cutest!

Valentine’s Day DIY goodies

My mom was a Pinterest mom long before Pinterest (or even the Internet) was around. She always made Valentine’s Day extra special with a craft or handmade gift. In first grade I had the COOLEST valentine card box for school (remember making those?) My mom helped me make a candy heart house with a slot for valentines (think gingerbread house but with conversation hearts). That thing would totally be all over Pinterest these days.

Last February I was on maternity leave and in total nesting mode, so I made several DIY goodies. They’re no conversation heart gingerbread house, but still kind of fun and festive.

3-D “I love you” Valentine – tutorial here.

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Valentine’s Day wreath (which easily converts for any season) – tutorial here.

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[My wreath remained in Valentine’s mode until about October. Then it had a brief stint in fall mode, and it’s currently still in Christmas colors. Oops. Time to make it pretty in pink again!]

2-ingredient strawberry fudge. I made it last year but never wrote about it. It’s just a bag of white chocolate chips melted with a container of strawberry frosting stirred in (I made a batch with cherry frosting too and liked it even better). I topped mine with mini M&Ms. It’s sickeningly sweet, but strangely addictive. Recipe is from this blog post.

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I’ll keep you posted if I get ambitious and do anything cutesy for Valentine’s Day this year. Right now, though, I’m in Groundhog Day mode. Yup. We are having a little gathering Saturday to celebrate Peter’s favorite movie and the holiday behind it. Groundhog cookies, here I come.

How to DIY a first birthday shirt (no sewing machine required)

Ah, the first birthday shirt. Yes, this is a thing.

I found some extremely cute “one.” shirts on etsy… for $32. I mean, I know the photos will last a lifetime, but I wasn’t going to spend that much on a one-time-use shirt for C.

So, instead, I bought a shirt from Walmart for $3.50, cut letters out of old T-shirts of mine (that I recently cleared out of my closet and stuffed in bags for random future projects) and spent 3 episodes of “Parenthood” and 2 episodes of “New Girl” creating this:

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No sewing machine required! Here’s how it’s done.

STEP 1: Start with a solid-colored baby T-shirt. The sleeves are a little short on this one, but it was $3.33… so, yeah.

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STEP 2: Find some old T-shirts (or shorts) in colors and textures you like. I went with colors that matched his party theme.

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STEP 3: Carefully draw and cut out the letters. Use sharp scissors. Print out the letters in a font you like and trace them onto the fabric if you need to. I freehanded it and used lots of little snips with my favorite dollar store scissors (seriously, very sharp) to smooth everything out.

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STEP 4: Pin the letters in place and carefully hand stitch around the letters’ outlines. Adjust placement as necessary, and check often to make sure your letters stay lined up. The stitches don’t have to be super tight.

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That’s it! Very straightforward. Just be sure to have some good shows on the DVR to keep you entertained.

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Corban tolerated loved it!

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How to make yarn balloon pendants

In tomorrow’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in honor of Mother’s Day, I have a short story on how Corban’s nursery came together. Look, it’s posted online right now if you want to read it!

So, there it is. The nursery:

I’ll write more about it in a few upcoming posts, but right now I want to share how to make the yarn balloon pendants hanging over the crib. If you remember from my inspiration board, I loved the idea of hanging paper lanterns over the crib. Then I saw balloon-shaped yarn party decorations on Pinterest, and realized they would fit perfectly with the print of an elephant being whisked away by balloons that I had already hung.

They seemed easy enough to make, so I decided to go for it. Here’s what I did:

STEP 1: Stir together an approximately 50/50 mixture of glue and water. Regular old Elmer’s works fine. You can also get by with a little more water than glue. No real need to measure it.

STEP 2: Cut about 30 to 40 3- to 5-foot pieces of yarn.

STEP 3: Blow up a balloon to your desired size and suspend it somewhere where you can get a little messy. I found that the easiest way to suspend the balloon was to pierce through the tip with a wire hanger and hang it on a rack in the laundry room.

Looking back, it might have been easier to use a safety pin instead of a wire hanger. You will also want to put some newspaper or a dropcloth underneath to catch drips.

STEP 4: Dip a piece of yarn entirely into the glue mixture. Wring it between your fingers to remove excess glue as you lift it out. Hold one end of the string at the the tip of the balloon and carefully wrap the yarn around the balloon in a random pattern. Tuck the other end of the yarn under or around itself to keep it on the balloon.

Repeat with remainder of yarn pieces until you have reached your desired coverage of your balloon (like the one below on the left).

STEP 5: Let the yarn dry for at least 24 hours. I think I gave mine a good two days, or until it was completely dry on the bottom.

STEP 6: Carefully – carefully – poke your fingers between the holes of the yarn and push the balloon away from it. You’ll hear a crunching noise as the yarn becomes unglued from the balloon. Do this all over, in every nook and cranny, until you don’t hear much of the crunching noise anymore. You don’t want the yarn to stick to the balloon in this next step (I learned this the hard way when my first yarn sculpture completely collapsed in step 7. So sad!)

STEP 7: Use a thumbtack or pin to pop the balloon. Carefully extract the balloon pieces from the center of the yarn ball and remove it from the hanger.

STEP 8: Tie a piece of yarn tightly around the top of the balloon and hang it up!

I didn’t want to put holes in the ceiling so I used some 3M Command hooks to hang mine. The pendants haven’t come crashing down yet so I consider it a success (they’re super light so even if they did, they wouldn’t hurt Baby C!)

Unfortunately, my dark blue balloon suffered some damage from curious cat explorations when they were first hung. The cats have since lost interest, and I’ve lost motivation to re-do it, but there’s always the possibility that someday I’ll replace it. I’m also considering adding another couple to fill out the area a bit.

This project wasn’t too challenging, but it was a bit mundane wrapping string after string around the balloons. In the end, it was worth it since it works so perfectly in our nursery, but as you can tell I’m not overly enthusiastic about repeating the process anytime soon.

Stay tuned for some more nursery tidbits and DIY projects in the coming week.