life with a toddler

they hammer in the morning...

... in the evening ... all over our land. Oh, it's darn cute around here, friends, let me tell you! Both Finn and Lachlan are ever-so-enthusiastic with our chicken coop building project. 

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building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

Our pint-sized tools, work gloves, safety glasses and tool belt are from For Small Hands. Everything is the right size for Finn, (who hit the three-and-a-half marker on Saturday) and Lachlan enjoys using the safety glasses and hammer, too.

The bones of the coop are set - now for the roof (and everything else.) So far, so good - we're using the Garden Coop plans, and they're easy to follow for us woodworking novices. 

I'm not sure if you read the comments on Friday's post announcing the arrival of the chicks, but I have to share a conversation my mom had with Finn while they were driving home:

Mima: How are the new chicks, Finn?

Finn: Good! We can hold them if we sit on the floor and put our hands like this (two little hands cupped together).

(Pregnant pause.)

But we cannot throw them...(another pause)...Laquinn (Lachlan) doesn't know this.

Goodness! Must teach Lachlan not to throw the chicks, I suppose! The chicks are still alive and thriving, despite Finn's lack of high esteem for his brother's behavior. :)


what's today?

Here's my answer to Finn's question:

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Turns out, our days are pretty simple. Simple enough to be described by one or two main activities a day, in three year-old terms. In my terms, it's more like "wakeupprocessphotosbloggoforarunshowerpacklunchremembertoscrubthepoopoffofthatdiaperetc ..."

You know.

But isn't it nice to look at it like this instead? I think so, too.

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I've edited out the name of Finn's Waldorf nursery as well as a friend's name, but here's the low-down:

- Everything I used here was found either in my scrap fabric pile or in my art closet, except for the metal clasps - I think they're called findings? - which I found at Michael's and hot-glued to the activity squares.

What you'll need:

-smooth stones, one for each child

-mat board. I found mine a while back at the Scrap Exchange, a creative reuse center

-fabric and paper scraps

-one larger piece of fabric (brown linen in my case)

-thin cardboard - cereal box thin (this is for the brown labels)

-hot glue gun

-metal findings, both rings and clasps

-Mod Podge

-acrylic paints or other paints if you wish

-Micron pen for little details

-random stuff around the house

-felted wool sweater for the "day" pockets for the stones

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Go at it! I can't really give you any specific instructions other than I used collage, got crazy with the Mod Podge and hot glue, and had a lot of fun doing it!

Happy weekending, y'all.


where we're going

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We never know where we will end up when we start along a path, do we?

Things evolve organically. Our family is changing, and we're taking a turn in a different direction. 

Patrick took a leave of absence from his PhD program in history to take a computer programing job. He would like to finish his dissertation one day, if he can do so while working full-time as a programmer. (A high five for my brilliant and hard-working husband who is both a humanities guy and a mathy, programming guy. How often do those two talents get put into one (darn cute) package? :) 

He will start work soon. We will get a regular paycheck, which is a huge stress relief for us. We were working way too hard to get Sew Liberated to make up for Patrick's grad school stipend which was about to run dry, and it just wasn't happening. It's a good source of supplemental income. It's not enough for a family of four with hefty medical bills. We're tired of money stress. We needed to do something about it.

You know, part of me cringes at the mention of money. I have - as many of you have, too - embraced a movement toward simpler living. Less stuff, less technology. Focusing on time instead of income, living slowly instead of doing everything. Perhaps part of me wishes that I could fully jump on board and simplify our lives to the point where Patrick didn't need to work outside the home. Many families are able to do this, and I am grateful for their ingenuity and gentle influence. I'm moving toward a self-acceptance that we are not one of those families. But thankfully, I know now that we will be ok. We have health insurance. We will have enough money to replace our roof (which is a "green roof" by the happenstance of thirty years rather than ecological standards.) We will be able to buy plane tickets to visit my grandfather who can't travel anymore. We've had many sighs of relief around here.

Of course, Patrick's job precipitates a huge shift for both of us. Since Finn's birth, we have been co-parenting full-time - he worked half the day, and I worked half the day, and we each took the boys when the other was working. Patrick will be leaving around 8:15 AM, and will return around 5:30 PM. I will be with the boys all day, with the exception of three mornings a week when Finn is at his nature school and Lachlan is cared for by my parents. During those three mornings, I will work on the blog and Sew Liberated. It will be an exercise in letting go of the unnecessary, streamlining my productivity, and learning how to delegate. My parents will be gone for four weeks right before Quilt Market in Houston this October, which I am attending this year. I have four new patterns in the pipeline. It will be an interesting Autumn.

What I am both very excited about and very nervous about is orchestrating each day solo, from breakfast to dinner, with Finn and Lachlan. Right now I'm trying to get myself organized, so I know what kinds of fun activities we can do together while at home. I know many can fly by the seat of their pants, but I need to have a flexible plan. I also need to figure out how to recharge. As a borderline introvert, I need head space to myself. I'm contemplating daily quiet time for my non-napper, and looking into a yoga class on Sunday mornings. 

This is where I am - getting everything in line for the next turn in life. I'm full of optimism that with it will come new lessons, less stress, and a soon-to-be-found groove.


kids in the kitchen

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There's a new parenting/cookbook (my favorite combo!) on the block, and this is a must-have. Sara of Feeding the Soil and Kylie from How We Montessori have joined together to offer a primer on inviting young children into the kitchen. Kids in the Kitchen will provide you with all of the ideas and tools you'll need to make endless food prep into a memory-making, skill-building, family experience. 

Tell us a little about yourselves and why it is you're passionate about Montessori education. 
 
From Sara:

Whenever I read the news about another mass shooting or more death in Syria or corporate greed or climate change, I feel an overwhelming need to turn my attention and focus toward hope. For me, that hope is our children. Maria Montessori said, "If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men [and women]."

The Montessori approach to education and parenting helps children become confident, loving, compassionate, and responsible for the well-being of themselves, others, and the world around them. It is a truly transformational approach that has the potential to change the world. 

I first experienced Montessori as a child and later as a teacher and parent. I am currently working to create more public Montessori schools in diverse communities nationwide as the founder and executive director of Montessori For All

Kylie found Montessori when she was searching for a parenting philosophy that resonated with her and her family's needs. She was immediately attracted to Montessori's emphasis on "fostering independence, following the child, order and consistency." She currently spends much of her time writing and communicating with parents around the world via her blog, How We Montessori.

We came together to create the cookbook we couldn't find in bookstores. It explains all the benefits of cooking with children (as young as 18 months), details step-by-step directions for setting up the kitchen in a kid-friendly way, includes a sequence of skills to prepare children for cooking, and features ten simple recipes that are illustrated with photographs so even pre-readers can follow along with confidence and independence. 

The simple act of allowing children to cook helps them develop a core of confidence that is so instrumental to their formation of self. 

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The cookbook is a very accessible, visually appealing primer on getting your young child into the kitchen. Could you share with us your own family kitchen routines? What does a typical day in your kitchen look like - busy? Peaceful? Chaotic? Fun? How does involving your children change the way you cook and the way you think about cooking? 

From Kylie: 
A typical day in our kitchen is all of those things--busy, peaceful, chaotic, and fun. Having children definitely changed the way I cook. More importantly, being a parent changed my entire life. I've learned to focus on the process not the outcome, to accept that things will not go as planned and to really live in the moment. I've learned that the key to living an active and engaged life with children is to look past the barriers and find ways to say yes. When things get a little crazy or out of control, I think about the wonderful memories we are making. Usually the the bigger the mess the louder the giggles.

My fifteen-month old has begun to pour his own milk at breakfast, he will help with snack and dehusk corn or shell peas at dinner. Most of all he likes to be by my side so he spends a lot of time in the kitchen exploring or sampling the food. My four year old loves baking and he loves experimenting. His favourite thing at the moment is making up his own flavor combinations and writing his own recipes.

No matter your child's age or personality, it is important to empower them. Give them the equipment and skills so they can work independently. Involve them in decision making as much as possible. Often they amaze us with what they are capable of.

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Because we all have different children, how do you bring out the best of their own personalities while working in the kitchen? One of us might have a vibrant firecracker of a child who joyfully generates the most fabulous messes, while another may have a detail-oriented, innately ordered child who is passionate about carrying out the ideas that she has in her head. 

From Kylie:
Not only are all children different but I've also found that children have different energy through the day. My best advice is to focus on the child and get to know your child in the kitchen. A little preparation can help. For a child who likes to work fast, have everything ready to go, ingredients out and measured. Other children might enjoy the process of collecting all the ingredients and measuring. It helps to have basic ingredients in the pantry and the basic tools for cleaning up ready. Flexibility is also important. Cakes can be turned into muffins, water can make up for too much flour, dinner can be late. It all works out!


Tell us about your non-profit organization, Montessori for All. All profits from cookbook sales go directly to benefit this great organization.

In the United States, there are more than 4,000 private Montessori schools and only about 400 public ones. Montessori For All seeks to change that. We believe that all children deserve access to an educational experience that develops their minds, hearts, and bodies. We believe that children's educational options should not be limited by their families' incomes. We seek to open and lead high-performing, authentic, dual-language, public Montessori schools in diverse communities across the nation. We are currently working to open our flagship school in Austin, TX, in the fall of 2014. 

 

Thank you, Sara and Kylie, for putting so much of yourselves into Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes That Build Independence and Confidence the Montessori Way . I know it will be a fabulous, go-to book for families with young children!


fun was had

the fun we have

Before I left for Denver, I found myself with a bit of senior-itis when it came to my sewing course. You know, I had to pack, attend to small details, etc., but all I could do when I sat down in front of the computer was search for sensorial play ideas for the boys. 

And oh, my. The 'nets are chock-full of fantastic "activities," as we call them in our house. 

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First up is shaving cream and ice paint from Growing a Jeweled Rose. Total hit. 

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Lachlan had the idea of covering his hair in shaving cream. Finn and his friend thought this was the greatest idea ever. Somehow, we avoided shaving cream in the eyes, which was fortunate. 

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What I like about Growing a Jeweled Rose is that Crystal has so many innovative ideas of her own, but she aslo posts thematic round-ups from around the web, which is very helpful for planning activities for children of different ages and interests. 

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She does not shy away from messy play, and has great ideas for containing it in a bath. She calls them sensory baths

This was our first time trying a "special bath," as Finn now calls them. Both boys were awestruck with the glow bath I put together for them. 

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

I'm pretty sure if Lachlan's cardiologist saw this picture, he would be concerned! Black light + camera at work. Speaking of Lachlan's heart, I forgot to mention that, at his last quarterly check-up, he was looking so great that his cardiologist gave him a six-month pass! No hospital for six months! Way to go, Lachlan. His heart function is excellent.

I hope you all have a great weekend, and that you have the time to do something crazy fun. We are heading back to the beach (can't stay away!) for an impromptu, two-night camping trip to celebrate Patrick's birthday. 

Happy weekending, friends!


glitter soup

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

There comes a moment in the day when the energy slows.  A warm, cut-grass-sticking-to-your-feet moment, when you are without a thing to do other than lay around with a popsicle. In this moment, Finn and Lachlan could either melt or seize the day. It was time to get out the water play.

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the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

I just gathered some things I had around the house, including glitter, liquid watercolors, and ground turmeric, and filled the tub. I lounged next to the cat, hands behind my head, while they played in peace for over an hour. I could have fallen asleep were it not for the passing thought that a cup-full of green glitter soup could be poured over my head.

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

Oh, it was good. They're making soup again as I write these words. 

I will miss these little boys as I jet off to Denver for several days of filming starting tomorrow. I've never "left" before. Finn has traveled for a few days with his Dad, leaving me at home with Lachlan, but I've never NOT put a little boy to sleep in the last more-than-three years. Sigh. I already can't wait to be home! I'll let you know how it goes, from the filming to the uninterrupted nights of sleep!

Be well, friends.


7 tips for family music time

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This morning, I stopped to ponder the road I’ve traveled to get where I am now – which led me to consider a few of those roads that I didn’t choose. The one that stood out to me was that decision, nine years ago, to pursue graduate studies in Montessori education rather than music therapy - a decision that led to living and teaching in rural Mexico for three years, which ultimately led to an interest in Latin American history on Patrick’s part, which landed us here in the land of Duke, et cetera, et cetera.

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Nine years ago, despite my background in classical music, my confidence in my voice, and my ability to read music and harmonize, there was one thing on the list of qualifications for admittance to the music therapy program that made my heart sink a little. The paragraph said something about fluency in guitar or piano or both. Fluent I was not. I was a putzer. A dabbler. A “learned-the-basics-but-never-had-the-discipline-to-REALLY-master-them,” decidedly amateur musician.

Had I known then what I know now, I would have applied anyway. For what I’ve learned, these past eight years of working with little children, is that they could care less how you play the guitar, or, for that matter, how you carry a tune. What matters is that you enthusiastically demonstrate your love for music, and surround them with it.  If you do that, you’re already an amateur music therapist for your family. No need for a degree. I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned over the years that have helped make our family music time a joyful bonding experience.

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1. Drop everything when there’s an interest

We don’t have a schedule in place for family music time. It happens organically, when one of us, adult or little one, feels thus moved.  This morning, Finn finished his oatmeal, hopped out of his chair, and zoomed over to play the washboard.  With no second thoughts or “we need to clean up after breakfast first” parent-y statements, we left our dirty dishes on the table and joined him. Lachlan had other plans, namely pushing his stroller around, but he eventually joined in, too.

We were recently gifted an old swing set by our neighbors, and have found it to be an unlikely help in the music department. I call it “captive music time,” when the boys are happily swinging and often “singing” along, yet both Patrick and I can bring out a few chairs, sit down with our guitars, and work on some more challenging songs and techniques. I think of it like modeling a love of reading – you aren’t going to curl up with Goodnight, Moon when you have a moment to relax – you’re going to read a good novel.  No need to play children’s songs all of the time – nourish your own love of music, too. The kiddos will notice.

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2. Provide a handful of real, yet child-accessible instruments

It’s been really wonderful to see the boys hopping from one instrument to the next, rarely squabbling over who gets to play what. In our music corner, you’ll find a ukulele, several harmonicas, a washboard and some soup spoons, a small pair of drums with drumsticks, maracas, shakers, and jingle bells. A popular item with both boys is the small basket of guitar accessories that only comes out during music time – a guitar tuner, regular picks and a set of finger picks, a slide, and some capos.

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3. Make a list of your family’s favorite songs

Do you find yourself singing the same three songs over and over because you just can’t recall any others in the heat of the musical moment? We did. Oh my, we did. Queue internal parenting dialogue: “Oh cr**. If we sing the Itsy Bitsy Spider one more time, I’m going to wish for the rain to wash me out, and I’m going to wish for many, many rainy days so I don’t have to climb up that spout AGAIN.”  Here’s the thing – I don’t think it’s just us adults that get stuck in a rut with a certain set of songs. Kids forget, and wish they could remember, other songs just like we do. Having a set of favorites that you can call on during family music time really helps.

The list doesn’t need to be fancy. It doesn’t need to be too long. I would suggest starting with at least twenty songs. Start with songs you know your child already loves. When other songs come to you – from your childhood, from a book, on Pandora, etc., write them down. Any song you enjoy singing as a family, or a song you’d like to teach your children, should go on the list. We keep ours on the side of our piano – out of the way but always there.

Not sure where to look for children's songs? We love All Together Singing in the Kitchen, Rise Up Singing, The Singing Day, Elizabeth Mitchell, Raffi, and listening to the Indie Children's music station on Pandora.

4. Learn, or make up your own hand motions and movements for songs

As tempting as it can be to hide behind your guitar and strum “D – D –A –D” over and over again, don’t. What really gets kids excited about music is movement – the hand motions, the spinning, the clapping, the stomping, the pretending.  Make sure to add several movement-heavy songs to your family music time.

We all know the Itsy Bitsy Spider – what about Pick a Bale O’ Cotton? Look to the words to come up with your own motions.  Have your kids pretend to be an animal while singing Old MacDonald – they’ll love it when you have to guess what they’re acting out!

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5. Sing the same song in different ways

Nothing gets a three year-old going more than singing the same song fast, then slow, then loud, then soft, then operatic, then just plain goofy.  Sing the song like a dog. Like a cat. Like a cow.  Enough said.

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6. Introduce new songs with stories

When I was teaching 3-6 year-olds in Mexico, before kids, I had a lot of time on my hands outside the classroom. I had time to knit socks, to knit sweaters – I spent a lot of time knitting. And talking to my cats. My cats spent a lot of time grabbing my balls of yarn and running around the house with them, much to my chagrin.  This happened so frequently that I wrote a little ditty about my cats and their yarn addiction, which I shared with my students. “Una gatita,” (a little cat), was a hit because it had a story behind it. My own boys now love it as much as my students did.

When introducing a new song, try to come up with a way to personalize it, to make it come alive for your audience. Be it a true story from your childhood or a made-up story of the going-ons in the natural world, a little context goes a long way.

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7. Turn on the speakers and jam

No need to be purist and only make your own music! I’ve found our Pandora jam sessions to be a great variation on family music time. It’s also a great way to expose kids to different genres. This morning, for example, we ended our time together with a few blues songs. We tried to name the instruments we heard and we worked on imitating the beat.  Don’t hesitate to come up with dances for the various genres while you’re at it. Just make sure to have a video camera hidden in your hand to capture the cuteness.

May your music-making be merry!


doodle tee

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I almost forgot to show you Finn's handmade birthday gift for Lachlan! I know you would have seen the shirt in photos eventually, and you would have wondered what the deal was with that crazy shirt, so I think an official show-and-tell is called for.

We used a basic white onesie and Finn drew all over it with fabric markers. I did need to hold the fabric taut while he drew to prevent it from stretching and bunching under the pressure of the marker. It turned out to be an activity well-suited for a two year-old. I think it's one of those gift projects that's perfect for all ages and all occasions - Mother's Day, Father's Day, sibling's and friend's birthdays, etc. I'm sure we'll do it again one of these days.


baby rain pants

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There's no such thing as bad weather - only bad clothes.

Very true. Since moving to our house in the country this past summer, we spend so much time exploring and working our land. Early morning is a favorite time to be outside; watching the sun rise, noticing the dew collect in the cup of a leaf, searching for frogs in our small pond. 

I already knew the importance of dressing children in layers of long johns if the weather is even slightly cool, but somehow I didn't figure out until this year the paramount importance of rain pants. 

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Finn has had his pair since Fall (they're from REI) and they are our most-used piece of clothing. Even if it's not raining, the grass is damp in the morning, and there's always a puddle to explore. Rain pants give us the freedom to let him explore without a litany of parental cautions, most of which focus on our desire to keep him dry (because we know that clothes are washable, but we also know that being wet can be very uncomfortable and can spoil any well-intentioned nature walk.)

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But what about Mr. Red-headed Crawly McCutie Pie? The REI pants only went down to a size 2T.

I needed to make him some pants - he needed them more than anyone, because he's always crawling and sitting on the damp earth. But rain pants require fancy material. You can't get it at your local fabric store, and you can't get it in most fancy quilt/fashion fabric online store, either. You can't use oilcloth or laminated cotton for rain pants (nor should you for kids' raincoats, as the material is not breathable.)

After a long search, I found what I was looking for! Waterproof, breathable fabric that is easy to sew. Now you can turn any pants pattern into rain pants. You can get it at The Rain Shed, an outdoor fabric specialty store. I used item #3388, 40 dernier ripstop 3-layer. 

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You can use any basic, elastic-waisted pants pattern, although I like a design that also has elastic or velcro at the ankles to keep them snug against the body. Make sure you size up a bit, too, as these are meant to be an outer layer, worn over other pants.DSC_2662_4559

It's nice to be able to get right down there with them (I have rain pants, too) and not worry about soggy jeans. Just need to make a pair for Patrick, and we're all set!


simple

waxing the play kitchen

Sometimes, in my bag of parenting tricks that I've gathered from here and there, I tend to forget things. It's a big bag of a lot of randomness, with some Montessori thrown in, a dose of Waldorf for good measure, and a good amount of attachment parenting. And yes, some may find the bits of granola dispersed through this parenting bag a bit messy ... even funny. But it works, and that's how we learn to be parents - by throwing past experiences and good ideas into that bag, hoping that we can a.) find the bag when we need to pull something out, and b.) rifle through it to find that particular idea among a sea of others.

waxing the play kitchen

Lately I've been thinking to myself that I need to clean out this disorganized mess. I'll be the first to admit that I'm addicted to parenting books. I need to break that. There's just too much information coming in. 

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All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I'm rediscovering the value of Montessori's Practical Life exercises in my home, after nearly forgetting about them. I gave up the idea of being a Saint-in-Residence a while back, ;) a character trait that some believe Montessori and Waldorf parenting necessitates. Yet, even though I got rid of those unrealistic ideas from my parenting bag, that didn't mean that I threw out some simple tools - dare I say the backbone (at least a supporting leg?) - of the philosophies themselves. 

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I've written about Montessori Practical Life before while I was teaching, and here's something I happened upon recently from a Waldorf perspective.

And you know what? Even if neither of these two philosophies truly resonate with you, the idea of giving young children meaningful work to do in the home is an amazing parenting tool. It calms nerves. It centers children. It gives them confidence. It develops their capacity to concentrate. Out of it will come content for creative play. It allows you, the parent, to get a few things done while they work. Setting up activities for your child makes you feel like a capable parent (when I often feel like I'm floundering in the murky waters of sibling messes.) I love me some Practical Life.

waxing the play kitchen

I thought I'd share with you some of what we're doing around here in terms of meaninful "work" for Finn.

Today, I had some pictures of this recent beeswax-fest on my camera. You will need some polishing cloths (I made mine from Little Folks flannel), a very small spoon for applying the wax to the cloth, and some yummy beeswax/jojoba oil blend from my go-to practical life resource, Montessori Services.

waxing the play kitchen

Wax anything that's unfinished wood - from the play kitchen to toys to tables. It helps to have a smaller container of beeswax so there's a limited amount and it is used more judiciously. You see the whole jar here because I forgot my own advice. Next time, next time. Now our kitchen is super-waxed! 

Best of all? Thirty minutes of contented work. For all of us.

Oh! P.S. The apron pattern (including the template for all of the embroidery work) can be found here!