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April 2012

writing letters

writing letters

Like the art closet, I've had this writing workshop in the planning stages for many, many months. Originally inspired by my Playful Learning E-course and Mariah's wonderful book by the same name, it was the call of the child that propelled me into action. When Finn started "writing letters" to everyone and everything, I knew I couldn't put off the writing workshop any longer.

writing letters

Finn is almost three (the big birthday is less than two weeks away!) and he is a fellow who (mostly) takes good care of his art supplies and writing tools. But his brother? Notsomuch. So first thing's first - Finn needed a space that wasn't accessible to little hands. A child-sized table would have been ideal, but this works best for shared spaces.

writing letters

You can see here that we have five envelopes, one for each family member plus one for "outgoing mail," where we can deliver inner-family notes and deposit letters that need to go outside to the mailbox.  

writing letters

writing letters

writing letters

This is a small binder that I found in the Martha Stewart collection at Staples. It's a perfect size for holding pre-printed address lables and stamps.

writing letters

The sheet protectors have four compartments with flaps over the tops, and they fit an accordion-folded set of address lables rather well. 

writing letters

And here's the space in action!

writing letters

Practicing the proper pencil grasp ...

writing letters

picking out Auntie Liz's address label ...

writing letters

putting the stamp on the envelope ...

writing letters

licking the envelope ...

writing letters

using his return address stamp ...

writing letters

and putting it in the outgoing mail envelope!

If you add some scissors to the writing table, he'll stay there all day, filling envelopes with tiny pieces of cut paper. 

All in all, one of the most-loved spaces I've created for my boy. I hope he continues to use it often, bringing his own ideas to the table while thinking about and creating for those he loves.

sponsor giveaway :: turn a new leaf


In 2005 Tracey and Henry started Turn a New Leaf as an outlet for their handiwork and a resource for families who wanted to lead simpler lives, leaving less of a footprint on the natural world - just as they wanted for their own family. Having a family-run business can take its toll on the simple life (I know!), and they continued to pursue their goal of a cozy off-grid home with a livelihood sustained by their handiwork and surroundings, which often meant stepping back, making intentional decisions to downsize, and, in their case, moving a few times. Here's Tracey, in her own words:

We re-evaluated our situation and on a drive home [from Oma and Opa's farm] came to the decision to close down [our retail space] to prepare to move across Canada. Arriving in Cape Breton in August 2010 with a fresh perspective on how we wanted to live and what we wanted Turn A New Leaf to be, we slowly re-established our client base.

Now with clear focus and even more grounded on simplicity we have finally fulfilled this part of our dream. Our products are made exclusively in our home studios with distribution online, providing important focus on our family life. This Easter we finally have our own dream acreage of woods and the natural off grid home begins. Our experience has taught us …… less is truly more!

Read more about their family at their blog.


Comments are now closed - congratulations to Rachel from At the Butterfly Ball who won the giveaway package!

Turn a New Leaf is generously offering the following giveaway package to a Sew Liberated reader. Please leave a comment to enter - a winner will be drawn and announced on Monday, April 30th. Also, Henry's shop, Highland Wood, which offers beautiful Montessori-style floor bed frames and other lovely wooden furniture for children, is offering a 10% discount on everything in the shop through May. Enter coupon code MAYTANL.

The giveaway package

A wool felted puddle pad: Perfect for co-sleeping families and ECers, our thick and thirsty wool pads are perfectly suited to protecting your mattress. Wool is inherently antibacterial and can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture before beginning to feel wet. A natural alternative to plastic or vinyl pads - makes a great change pad!

Wool wash soap -Cold Press natural Lanolin soap: The perfect wool wash bar loaded with lanolin. This soap is not to lanolize but will add lanolin to your wool diaper covers. Makes just enough bubbles and feels silky soft.This lanolin soap can also be used as a body wash. Moistens dry skin and cracked hands. Made with olive oil, coconut oil, lanolin, water, lye. Non scented. 

A certified organic Hemp fitted diaper, one size fits all.

Thank you for your generosity, Tracey and Henry! Leave your comment to enter to win!

taming the art supply dragon

Organizing art projects and their requisite supplies can be a daunting task. I know. Check out our art closet a few months after we moved into our house. 

the art closet

It stayed like this for a while, just out of complete mama overwhelm. Finally, I dug in. It took me weeks to sort through all of my supplies from my teacher days, the art supplies themselves, and all of the other learning materials that I've collected here and there in anticipation of our future homeschooling days.

the art closet

I did it during naps (when both boys were still napping - now I can only count on one!) and late at night. This is how it looks now; it's actually the second iteration of the closet. The first time around I tried to keep all of our learning materials - art, language, science, math, etc. in here. It was too much. It didn't make for easy navigating. I find that one thing is essential for me in organizing art supplies (or anything for that matter) - I must be able to see things in order to know they are there and put them to use. Placing things in a bin doesn't really work for me, unless the items fit nicely into one category (i.e. paper)and can be labeled accordingly.

the art closet

I'll admit that, for a while, this art supply organization wasn't at the top of my mama priority list. I was biting my nails just a little bit, fretting that my two year-old just wasn't that passionate about art. What did I do wrong??? I would ask myself, art projects being a HUGE part of my own memories of growing up. 

Not to worry. The art project bug hit Finn fast and furious several months ago, and he hasn't stopped since. I even had to put a latch on the top of this closet in order to keep him from entering of his own accord and pulling out material after material, wanting to use everything at once.

I thought I'd give you a little tour of what's inside, for those of you who are at the beginning of your journey into making art with your little one.

the art closet

I store all of our writing and drawing tools (markers, crayons, glitter pens, colored pencils, etc.) in large freezer bags inside of these two clear plastic bins. I really like this way of doing things - it keeps all of the sets together and visible, and is easy to grab something for a specific project. 

the art closet

Here I keep corn syrup, glycerine, gelatin, cream of tartar and food coloring for making play doughs and paints. All of the different kinds of tapes and the glue sticks are here, too. Don't forget the contact paper!

the art closet

Here are most of the paints and painting accessories - watercolors, temperas, foam paints, fingerpaints and paintbrushes, q-tips, sponges, scrapers, pipettes, bingo bottles, and watercolor spray bottles.

the art closet

Below are some of the collage supplies, stored in glass jars for easy visibility. 

the art closet

the art closet

Finally, here's a list of recommended art supplies for the creative family. I'm sure I'll leave some things out, so feel free to leave a comment with your can't-do-without art supply!

Found and collected

  • egg cartons
  • cardboard scraps
  • leaves, seeds, acorns, and small sticks
  • newspaper
  • jar lids for holding paint
  • stamps
  • buttons
  • old sponges
  • magazines
  • small dishes
  • fabric scraps
  • ribbons
  • toilet paper rolls
  • paper
  • little bits of anything for collage
  • sand

Basic supplies

  • masking tape, scotch tape, double-sided tape, clear packing tape
  • glue and glue sticks
  • paper - construction paper, tissue paper, newsprint, tracing paper, blotting paper, large kraft paper (find at home supply store), watercolor paper, easel paper, sand paper
  • drawing tools - markers, sidewalk chalk, crayons, fine-tipped pens, window crayons, beeswax crayons, Crayola Twistables (great bright marks!), glitter pens
  • glitter
  • trays for doing activities with glitter or paint
  • paint - finger paint, dot art paint, liquid watercolors, foam paint, washable tempera, Stockmar watercolors, homemade paint
  • scissors, basic as well as the fancy ones that cut different designs

Other fun things

  • acrylic mirros
  • clothespins
  • mod podge
  • hole punches
  • beads
  • pipe cleaners
  • sequins
  • popsicle sticks
  • wooden shapes
  • straws
  • beeswax for making candles
  • felt
  • googly eyes
  • contact paper
  • spin art
  • glue gun
  • q-tips
  • cotton balls
  • stamps and stamp pads
  • plaster
  • clay
  • feathers

I do most of my art supply shopping at Discount School Supply and Montessori Services, and I've been very happy with both. I'm also lucky to live near the Scrap Exchange - a great creative reuse store where I can often find lots of random supplies for very little money. 

I also want to mention the overwhelming feeling of too-many-ideas-and-too-little-time that can come from trying to plan all sorts of art activities using the internet resources at our fingertips. Sure, pinterest is great, but where to start?! I've found that I do more art with my boys if I can focus my "idea acquisition" on one or two sites and one or two books. Here's where I go, time and again, for ideas and inspiration:

The Artful Parent

Scribble Art: Independent Creative Art Experiences for Children by MaryAnn F. Kohl

First Art : Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos by MaryAnn F. Kohl.

How do you keep your art projects organized and inspired?

it's time




The strawberries are early this year, and word has it that it will be a short season. 

We plan to take full advantage of it, though I'm seriously scaling back my jam making this year. Maybe I'll just make a small batch. With two boys afoot, freezing the non-eaten berries seems to be what's best for us at this stage in our lives. 

When we brought home our brimming basket, it made me giggle to see just how many half-eaten berries were in there. Perhaps on our next trip to the farm, I'll have to keep a closer eye on that little Lachlan, who loves to eat berries and put things in baskets. The outing was perfect for him, I suppose!

in the background

photo shoot for new patterns!

I have a lot of plates spinning in the air with Sew Liberated right now. Thought I'd share a few in case you're wondering what we do around here when we're not hosing off muddy boys:

- We had a photo shoot yesterday afternoon with Jessi for our two new patterns slatted to come out in a few weeks - the first is a knit tee, the second is a most amazing sundress/dress with several pocket options!

- Patrick and I are interviewing students at NC State on Thursday, looking to bring on a few summer interns and, perhaps, a few more permanent employees come Fall.

- In order to transition the sewing studio into a shared office/creative space, we're knocking down a wall, putting in windows, insulating and finishing the ceiling, and putting in flooring ... starting in just two weeks! This remodel will make such a huge difference in our "cave," as we currently call the space - and it will make it more pleasant to be in come winter. This past winter, a very mild one at that, found us unable to work in there because it was so cold. 

- I have a few more behind-the-scenes sewing-related projects coming up for the rest of this year - details to come - that I'm quite excited about. 

All in all, lots of work, but we're hoping the interns will help us out in a big way this summer, and will allow us to move the business forward in a healthy way that doesn't compromise our ability to spend quality time with the boys. 

oh brother

oh brother

We're being far too serious here, Finn.

oh brother

What we should do is get our crazy on, like this:

oh brother


oh brother

Screaming at the top of our lungs while covered in mud sure is fun, isn't it?

Some of you have asked about my secret method for cleaning off my boys. Truth be told, my boys are often covered in something - mud, weeds, oatmeal, peanut butter - I am not one to fuss over their appearance. 

But being dirty is the sign of a day well spent! To keep them from leaving a trail of mud in their wake as they move through the house, I just hose them off, dump their messy clothes in the washer, and dump them in the tub before dinner. 

Then it's my tub that's dirty. It never ends. The soil everywhere is a sign that we made the right decision by moving out here to some land - they're country boys, these two. Nothing is better than being outside. I'll take the ever-present dirt packed underneath fingernails.

come on in

entry hallway after

One of my favorite prints, "I Will Help You Grow" by Creative Kismet. Regina sent this to me before Lachlan was born, and I can't help but think that he grew red hair just so he could look like the baby in the painting! So sweet.

Are you ready to see the ugliest photos I've ever posted on my blog? Well, here you go - the before pictures of our front entryway.

entry hall beforeWelcome to my home closet and depressingly taupe hallway/stairwell!

I've mentioned this before, but we bought this house for the yard. The house is coming along with the help of paint, patience, and some homemade touches. The previous owner, while an artist, did not share my aesthetic. Lots of dark paint on those walls ... trying to make it look like a tuscan estate. I'm converting it to a bright farmhouse. Slowly.

entry hall before

Lovely view! Notice the numerous control boxes on the wall. Pretty unwelcoming, as is the view of the side of the fridge and the laundry room.

entry hall before

Whenever I walked down this hallway or up those stairs I really felt like I was living in someone else's house. While not an essential living space in our home, we do pass through it all the time, so it became a decorating priority. I started this project in December, and I only recently finished it. I am NOT a weekend warrior. I'm more like a half-a-year warrior.

entry hallway after

Much better! I took off the doors of the closet and made it into a little entryway nook, adding storage with a re-painted and re-knobbed cheapo set of drawers and some baskets up above. There's also a coat rack by the door that you can't see in these photos. I took off the door to my laundry room and replaced it with a panel of cheery fabric on a curtain rod. Taking off that door gave us a lot more space in the laundry room, too.

entry hallway after

The chair is from Pier 1, and I found the vase garland a long time ago at Urban Outfitters.

entry hallway after

I can't claim the idea of using an IKEA Dignitet curtain rod as a display area for Finn and Lachlan's art - I think I saw it on Pinterest. I was able to find our set on Ebay for a very reasonable price. As an additional benefit, the art wires hide the multiple control boxes in the wall.

entry hallway after

The space is so much brighter now. The hallway is ultra pure white and the stairwell/entry alcove are Sky High from Sherwin Williams. I just have to finish the stairwell photo display and I'll be able to cross this whole area off of my list.

It feels like home now.

Montessori bloopers

Is this as funny to you as it is to me? From my dopey response to his question to the fact that he isn't washing any dishes and doesn't remember what he's doing to Lachlan banging who-knows-what on the coffee table in the background, this is a far-cry from my playdough putting-away prodigy. ;) Ah, it's still fun to wash dishes, though. You have to embrace the imperfection if it all! 

We're happy to be home and doing simple things like cooking and trying to clean up after ourselves. It sure beats eating out all the time like we had to do on our trip, which felt like this, meal after meal. Hooray for home! 

postcard from new york

central park

Central Park, New York City

Lachlan was pleased that his favorite toys, sticks and rocks, were available in New York City. Finn was equally tickled that we saw quite a bit of Micawber, the artist-squirrel that lives in Central Park (a great book with rich verse, by the way.) It was a good trip until they both started squealing like hawks at dinner, after which Finn practically fell asleep sitting up while chewing his food, at 6 o'clock. I guess we did too much? Tell me we aren't the only family to have had little boys trying to one-up each other's hawk squeals while dining on semi-posh Thai food. Ahem. 

My ability to connect to the internet (and the time to do so) is limited, so I'm going to sign off until we return home on Easter weekend. Until then!