Mary Helen Leonard, author of The Natural Beauty Solution and professionally trained culinary instructor, shares recipes, projects, tips, and stories about living a more natural, handmade, and creative life with her family in Austin, Texas.
CC has always been an inquisitive child, but lately his curiosity has really taken off. He inspects everything with such scrutiny. When he discovers anything resembling a switch, button, or dial he becomes obsessed. Scott and I decided to create a little busy board for him so that he could push, pull, turn, and jingle to his heart's content. We bought a large circular hunk of wood to use as the base, then filled it up with odds and ends from the hardware store.
The hardest part was probably drilling out hollows for the light switches to sit into. Otherwise it was just a matter of drilling small holes and screwing in screws. We cut small pieces of wood to create little doors complete with tiny hinges, knobs, and fasteners. I hid stickers behind the doors to make opening them up a bit more fun.
All in all we probably spent too much on the project - around forty dollars. In hindsight, we could have saved a bit of cash by using a plain piece of plywood for the backing or picking up more of the hardware at a dollar store. We did get one portion of the project for free though. It turns out that the key-making station at Lowes has a whole box full of dud keys that are free for the taking! We picked out four keys from the little collection of misfits and added a forgotten spare from a former car that we had lying around to give CC his very own keychain.
Did he like it? You bet he did. He liked it so much that he had to check out every inch, including the underside. After flipping it over he began dragging it around the room to use as a wobbly surfboard-step stool combo. He's crafty alright. Our next step will be attaching this sucker to the wall.
Would you like to make your own busy board? This is a great project because you can really go any direction you like with it. You can include the gizmos that your kiddo would like best and keep the rest as fancy or as simple as you like. Here are some links to help get you started. You can also check out my Busy Board Pinboard on Pinterest for more ideas.
Disclosure: I was compensated by Minted.com for sharing a review of their retail site. As always, my words, ideas, opinions, body, soul, etc. are my own.
I've discovered that having a child means being surprised on a daily basis - not just by random shrieks or mystery wetness but by how quickly these tiny humans become aware of the world around them. It seems like every day CC does something that I had no idea he could do yet.
For example, he began showing an interest in artwork when he was just a few months old. It started with a glossy stare at a colorful print, then later he became so excited by certain pictures or photographs that he would wave his arms and coo or chuckle. These days he can spend minutes (these are like hours in baby time) gazing at a picture in a book, tracing every line on a page and smiling when he finds one that is especially compelling.
Our friend, Tara, gave us a painting she made of a chimp before CC was born and it is by far is favorite piece of art in the house. He loves to rub his little hand over the chunky texture of the paint.
He seriously can't get enough of that chimp. He's similarly enthralled with every other piece of visual art in the house - so much so that I've had to move anything framed with glass or made of ceramic that his ever-growing arms can reach. The thing about kids and art is that it isn't enough for them to just look. They want to touch too. Some might even say that they need to.
I was really impressed when my sister (who blogs over at Scissorina) recently installed a miniature kid-friendly art gallery in my nephew's room. Sarah chose some prints and photographs that she knew he would love - including some artwork made by CC and a family portrait - and then framed them in simple frames made of wood and plastic. By removing the glass she made the pictures safe for the rough treatment of toddler hands, and sturdy enough to withstand all of his curiosity and appreciation.
The folks at Minted.com contacted me recently to see if I would like to try out some of their beautiful products which include prints, stationary, photo gifts, and even fabric by the yard - all featuring artwork created by independent designers. Many of their products can be customized too so you can make prints, cards, and party favors with your name on them. They even have a gorgeous line of wedding and party invitations.
After browsing their site, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to furnish CC with a little art gallery of his own. I picked out three prints for his room and personalized each of them. Minted.com's limited edition framed prints start at just $29.00 and use plexi-glass - a big plus if you are decorating a child's room.
Tips for Sharing Art With Little Kids
Make It Safe - Avoid using frames with glass or breakable embellishments. Instead, choose simple sturdy frames with plastic to cover the print - or just remove the glass from a traditional frame. Artwork on canvas is a great option too. Use Command Picture-Hanging Strips instead of nails and metal hardware to hang the artwork and do your best to mount it flush to the wall. There is a great tutorial on this method of picture hanging here.
Hang Art at Eye Level - Most of the time artwork is hung at the eye level of an adult. Try hanging the artwork where your child can enjoy it - at their eye level, two or three feet off the ground.
Choose Artwork Your Kids Will Love - This might sound obvious but it is very easy to get caught up in the fun of interior design and forget that this particular project is about engaging your kid. Children tend to be drawn to colorful images with plenty of contrast and well-defined shapes. It can also be fun to look for artwork that reflects your child's interests. CC is obsessed with cats so I made sure at least one of his prints featured cute kitties. Kids also love to look at faces of people they know. Adding a family portrait is likely to delight your little one.
Invest In Art That Grows With Your Child - If you'd like to keep the same artwork hanging for years try to avoid buying pieces that are overly babyish. Look for artwork that would appeal to both toddlers and older kids.
Another really fun option is to forgo buying prints and make your own art instead. You can even include your little ones in the project. Check out my Sharing Art With Little Kids Pinterest Board for tons of great ideas. Here are a few to get you started:
Scott and I picked up an unfinished dresser from Ikea for the nursery recently and decided to dress it up with a little paint and fabric. This project was pretty easy, taking just a few extra tools and materials to transform a plain piece of furniture into something more unique. Here's how we did it.
Upholstered Ikea Tarva Dresser
1 Ikea Tarva Dresser (with hardware and necessary tools)
2 sample size tubs of paint (We had ours mixed at Lowes)
Rags for whitewashing
About 3 yards of fabric
A staple gun (with plenty of heavy duty staples)
Fancy knobs (optional)
A few notes on the materials:
When you pick out a fabric, try to choose something fairly thin. The fabric we used was a little too heavy, which caused the drawers to stick together. Then again, you don't want to use fabric that is too flimsy, or it could rip and tear during use. I'd recommend a light canvas or thin upholstery fabric.
You can pick out almost any paint color you want at a home improvement store like Lowes or Home Depot, and order it in a sample size. One sample tub is enough to coat one three-drawer dresser, but it is good to have an extra tub on hand, just in case. You can always return it if you don't end up using it.
I think adding fancy knobs did a lot to enhance our dresser, but it was the most costly part of the addition for us. Knobs range from $3 to $10 a piece, so getting six can add up quickly. The original dresser comes with unfinished wooden knobs. If you are on a tight budget, I would recommend just painting those to match. By the way, we got our knobs at World Market for about $6 each (before a coupon).
Lay out the pieces of the dresser on a large tarp or piece of cardboard. (We used the packaging from Ikea as a work surface.)
Mix one tub of paint with an equal amount of water, then use a rag to rub the color onto the bare wood. This technique is called white-washing, and you can learn more about it here. Paint all of the wooden parts of the dresser, then let them dry. To darken the color, repeat with a second or third coat of paint.
When the paint is completely dry, lay the fabric beneath one of the drawer fronts. Lay the fabric right-side down, and the drawer front inside-up. Use a pencil to trace the shape of the drawer front onto the back of the fabric, and mark the knob-holes with the pencil as well.
Set the drawer front aside, then cut the fabric about 3 inches outside of the lines traced from the drawer front. Repeat this with the rest of the fabric, cutting one panel for each drawer. Punch small holes into the fabric for each knob hole.
Set the drawer front back onto one of the panels of fabric, then use the staple gun to adhere the fabric onto the drawer. Fold the fabric under before stapling to avoid fraying. Be careful not to cover any of the grooves or holes in the drawer piece. You'll need those to be accessible during assembly.
Assemble the dresser according to the directions from Ikea. If you are using fancy knobs, simply install those instead of the wood ones when the time comes.
If you end up with drawers that are too thickly covered, they will stick. You can fix this, but it's kind of a pain in the butt. You'll need to remove the fabric from the bottom of each drawer front, then sand down the bottom edge of the drawer by 1/4 inch or more. Then, re-attach the fabric and try fitting them in again.
We are still waiting to add a few big things to the nursery, like curtains and a new mattress, but for the most part, we are awfully close to having it finished. I thought it might be fun to share a few shots of the details here while we are waiting for the last bits to come together.
This is the mobile that we have hanging over Babeleo's crib. It was the first thing I purchased for the nursery. I found it on Etsy, from a really neat artist who creates pretty things from driftwood. Check out Sunset Driftwood on Etsy to find more mobiles and art pieces.
The map in the background is a small one that I salvaged from my Travel Themed Baby Shower. I have dreams of replacing it with a much larger print, then tacking it with map pins for every place that our family has traveled.
I hung this teddy bear beach print toward the foot of the crib. This print hung in my own room as a child, as well as all of my sisters' rooms. It's from the Teddy Bear Shop in Newport, Rhode Island. I'm not sure if the shop exists anymore, but it was a favorite when we were kids. We spent summers in a little cottage on the beach back then, so this print brings back some really marvelous memories.
Above the print are my homemade Prayer Flags. They share some of my favorite Buddhist prayers and quotes from the Dalai Lama. In the corner is another seagull. My bestie, Melissa, bought me this mobile as a shower gift, and I love it. It's also from Etsy, from a shop called Mobile Art.
A little more Etsy art, this candle holder came from another shop that I am totally enamoured with, EarthSteps. In addition to the pretty mermaid and dolphin on the front, the back features a quote from my childhood hero, Jaques Cousteau. "I am the sea, and the sea is me." And just in case you were wondering, this candle holder contains an LED tealight - no pyrotechnics in Babeleo's future.
The little ceramic Earth next to the candle is one of my very favorite handmade posessions. My sister, Heather, crafted this little globe in art class way back when, and I have loved it ever since. The best part of the piece is hidden. It opens up to reveal a shiny molten core in red glaze. I am not 100% sure how it ended up in my posession. I may have stolen it. I'm certainly not in a hurry to give it back.
While I'm pretty sure that Babeleo is 100% clueless when it comes to fine art, I decided to add a little portrait of one of my own favorite artists to the room. I printed a coloring sheet of Frida Kahlo's portrait from the internet, dressed it up with some crayons, and displayed it in a frame that I scored from a recent trip to Goodwill. Fancy!
You can spot another tiny DIY project just below the frame. I covered the light switch plate with some travel themed craft paper leftover from my shower. Scott Bobleo thought this was pretty cool and asked me why all of our light switches weren't so well dressed. Good point, Bobleo.
This little collection of prints and shelves displays some of the international tchotchkes I've been collecting. There is a little pig from Peru, a cowbell from Switzerland, and a golden rooster from Taiwan. Up top are two scuba diving figures from my own childhood keeping watch over a giant Chinatown goldfish.
The story of Ping the duck, a print of Babeleo's own Chinese Zodiac animal, and a poster from the Willie Nelson Heartbreaker Banquet are all here to complete the slightly strange collection. I have to admit that it doesn't exactly scream "baby", but it does share some of my favorite memories of exploring our world. Since Babeleo is brand new here, I thought that might be nice.
Because I am a weirdo, and I love weird stuff, there had to be a certain element of weirdness involved in this room. My opportunity came along after my sisters sent me home with six cute animal jars from my shower. I cleaned the dill pickle popcorn out of them pretty fast, then set about finding tiny things to fill them with.
Each jar contains a different theme of tiny toy. One jar has sea creatures, another has mini kewpie dolls. There is a jar full of tiny paper flags, another with dinosaurs, etc. and so on and so forth. Scott thinks it's creepy. He's probably right.
But we also have some normal toys. The basket is filled with homemade softies, including the fabric beach balls I made and the cute bunny teether we got from Scissorina. Next to the basket is an adorable ABC Abacus from my friend, Mad Betty, and some classic plastic toys passed on to us by another blog friend, Elizabeth from Local Savour.
It's all coming together. I'm looking forward to sharing the rest with you soon. We've got a hacked Ikea dresser, DIY picture frames made from stock molding, and my Mom's custom made curtains all coming soon. By the time we get around to sharing the finished room there very well may be a baby in it.
As our budget gets pulled tighter and tighter, and Babeleo's arrival creeps closer, I'm being forced to rethink a few things when it comes to decorating our nursery. I had a truly lovely list of gorgeous handmade decorations going on Etsy. Several months ago, purchasing those pretty things seemed totally reasonable. Now, however, reality has reared her obnoxious head, and is making me realize that we just can't afford to blow a bunch of money on prettying up a baby room.
I had a "waaaaaah" moment there, but soon remembered that I am a very crafty person. Why on Earth would I need (or even want) to buy those things from other artists when I could make similar versions myself? Most of the things I had my eye on were very simple, after all. Beautiful, no doubt, but also totally re-creatable.
The first thing I decided to tackle was prayer flags. I'd had my eye on these, and these. So pretty! But how would I add words or pictures to my flags? Screen printing? Hand painting? Fabric stamps? After a quick look through my crafting stash I discovered three sheets of printable fabric. Hallelujah! This stuff is PERFECT for this kind of a project.
I hopped on InDesign and whipped up six little flags to print out on the three sheets of paper. I "borrowed" some illustrations from the internet, then downloaded two pretty handwritten fonts from Dafont.com (I used Dawning of a New Day and Sunshine in My Soul.) If you are looking for a good resource of Buddhist artwork, check out the Buddhist eLibrary.
I combined each picture with one of my favorite Buddhist prayers and quotes from the Dalai Lama. You could easily customize this project to suit any kind of sentiment or spiritual belief you like though. Bible verses, song lyrics, or famous quotes would all work nicely on prayer flags.
Next, I rummaged through my fabric stash to find six small pieces that looked nice together. I picked a few different quilter's cottons, and one random green knit. I also used some satin ribbon, a handful of jingle bells, and a little bit of embroidery floss.
I started by printing out my fabric. I used InDesign to make printable PDFs, but you could use any kind of Word or document program that you are comfortable with. Just make sure your page is formatted in a landscape position so that you'll have enough room to make two flags on each sheet. You can download a copy of the PDF I used here: Download Prayer Flags
After you print the fabric, cut out each flag individually. Try to make sure each one is well centered on its little rectangle.
Now it's time to cut the fabric for the back of the flags. Each flag needs two layers of fabric. I cut each flag at about the same size, a few inches wider and longer than the flags I had printed. Give each flag an extra two inches on the top so that it can be folded over later. I cut each of my flags into 8" x 11" rectangles.
Use an iron to adhere the printable fabric to the top panel of your cut fabric (according to the instructions that come with your fabric). I used the cotton setting with no steam to attach my printed fabric. After they cool, run a zig-zag stitch around the printed fabric to make sure it's totally secure. Using a contrasting colored thread also makes the flags extra pretty.
Lay the top and bottom panels of fabric for each flag together, wrong sides in, right sides out. Use the zig-zag stitch (or a serger, if you are so lucky as to have one) to bind them together. Again, I like using a contrasting thread for this part. Stitch all the way around all of the outer edges.
Fold the top edge over by about an inch, with the folded fabric on the back of the flag, the straight stitch across the bottom edge of the fold, leaving a good sized hold for you to thread a ribbon or cord through the top.
Get yourself a nice long piece of ribbon or flat cord, then thread it through the top of the flags. Run an inch or so of straight stitch over where to ribbon sits inside each flag. This will help stop them from moving around on the ribbon. Leave at least few inches between each flag, and be careful not to let the ribbon twist.
It would be even prettier with more rustic bells. Of course, these were all I had in my craft stash at the time.
After all of the flags are attached, cut four six-inch lengths of embroidery thread. Use the thread to tie the jingle bells in the spaces between the flags.
Now hang your flags somewhere lovely! Here they are in Babeleo's room. (...which is coming along nicely. Don't you think?)