Top 10 Posts of 2011

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” – Edith Lovejoy Pierce, Poet

So here we are at the end of 2011. Can you believe it? Are you looking forward to a better year, making concrete changes that will improve your life in 2012, hoping for a little more down-time or “me-time?” Whenever a year comes to a close I do a lot of reflecting on where we’ve been and where we’re heading, and I plan to continue on my quest for more organization and clarity in 2012. I always feel better when I can be my most authentic self, and find that this is more possible when my life is cleared of the excess.

We’re planning to ring in the new year tonight with a big family + friends play date, and thanks to the magic of YouTube, my 3 year old is looking forward to watching the big Ball Drop at midnight (it’s only 9 pm PST, thankfully!).

It seems to be a blog tradition to do a “best of…”, so I thought you might like to take a peek at some of the more popular posts of the past year. I’m saving my #1 post for Monday, which means this is really a top 11 list, so be sure to check back after the new year.

Even Toddlers Can Sew

Yes, it’s true. With some simple materials little ones can begin to learn the elements of sewing, and there are additional ideas in the comments of this post.

Salt Dough Ornaments

Not just for the Winter Holidays, salt dough could be used to make all sorts of sculptures year-round.

Flubber-Gak-Slime Exploration

Best sensory project ever! Hours of fun, over multiple days. Great for little ones who won’t put this gooey mess in their mouths.

Vegetable-dyed Easter Eggs

It’s almost Easter and you might want to sock this idea away for Spring. Featured on Craft Gossip.

Easy DIY Light Table

Light tables are wonderful for adding a little magic to your sensory play. We used ours with salt (pictured here) and Water Beads. With a little resourcefulness you can make one without breaking the bank.

Coffee Filter Flowers

Nice little rainy day activity to cheer up your house on a gloomy flower-less day. Or save it for the warmer months as we did, and make flowers inspired by your surroundings.

6 Tools for Building a Child’s Confidence

I love this post as it shares some insights into my thinking around raising creative kids. Bonus: There’s a link in the article to three more tools for building a child’s confidence for a total of nine tools!

Jell-o Excavation

Featured in Real Simple Family Magazine, Fall 2011, Ohdeedoh, and Craft Gossip. I still get comments and questions about this project. So much fun, with endless play possibilities.

Creative Challenge #6: Cardboard

If you like to upcycle materials into something fabulous, you’ll want to check out this exciting challenge that brought 20+ creative bloggers together with the collective challenge of making something, with their kids, with cardboard.

Rainbow Play Dough

Whether you want rainbow, blueberry blue, or cinnamon-scented brown play dough, this is the recipe you’ll want to use. It’s never failed my, it’s used by EVERY preschool teacher that I know, and it lasts forever.

Wishing you and yours a creative 2012!

Five New Year’s Resolutions that Fuel Creativity

Creative New Year's resolutions

Yesterday I shared last year’s creative new year’s resolutions, and I thought it would be fun (and maybe useful) to share some resolution ideas for making this a more creative year. Without further ado, I give you five resolutions, free for the taking, that will make 2012 a year full of creativity.

New Year’s Resolution Ideas that fuel Creativity

1. See Real Art

Do you enjoy visiting museums, but find that you rarely find time to go? Looking at real art not only elevates a mood, but it can boost cognitive growth as well! Here are a few ideas to choose from on how to make this a reality:

  • Make a resolution to visit a different museum each month.
  • Become a member at your local art museum, and milk it for all it’s worth. Go to all the openings (there’s usually music and free food — yay, date night is covered and you can share the experience with your loved one!), take the kids (many museums are kid-friendly and offer activities for little ones), and/or visit once a month, on your own, on a quiet weekend morning.
  • Find a listing of public art in your town or city, make or download a map to carry in your bag or car, and take a year-long art tour of your town. Reference the list often, spend a few moments investigating new parts of town, and look a little more closely at those places that you know well.

2. Keep a Sketchbook

Keeping a sketchbook can mean a lot of things, and you can tailor this to fit your personality and goals. On my artist friend Susie’s suggestion, I enrolled in one of the most inspiring classes of my life, Art as Process with Kata Hull at the SMFA (School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). One of my favorite exercises was creating a double-page spread (DPS) in a sketchbook every single day. All this means is that I would open the sketchbook and fill the two pages that were in front of me with anything that came to mind. No pressure to be amazing. By completely this task every day, I eventually become better at articulating my ideas, ideating, and I had tomes of inspiration to look back on at a later date. It’s been a while since I’ve maintained they rhythm of creating these DPS’s, but I still refer to those sketchbooks when I’m searching for a visual idea.

  • If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you could make one nature drawing every day.
  • If you like to collage, try filling a box with inspiring paper scraps that you keep in a space that you like to create in. Find some good paper glue and fill the sketchbook pages with paper creations.
  • Do you need a deadline-based project to motivate you to create? For a small fee, The Sketchbook Project will put your sketchbook in the Brooklyn Art Library, where anyone can read it.
  • You could also using a specialty journal like One Sketch a Day: A Visual Journal

3. Start a Blog

Did you know that blogging can boost your creativity? It helps me organize my thoughts, motivates me to show up almost daily with new ideas and inspiration, and allows me to reflect on my thinking (case in point!). If blogging speaks to you, why not start today (or January 1!)? After blogging for one year, I’ve met countless people who inspire me to think more creatively and tap into ideas I wouldn’t have otherwise conceived. A lot of growth can happen in one year, and it can all start with one post. The key here is to make every attempt to post often. If you want to become a better writer, a more creative parent, or a stronger blogger, you need to make a daily or weekly commitment to it. I love blogging, and would be happy to offer support and words of encouragement to anyone thinking about this as a resolution.

  • You can sign up for a free WordPress or Blogger account and have your first post up today. I’ve happily used both platforms, and currently write on a self-hosted WordPress platform (something to think about if you plan to get serious about blogging).
  • Make a commitment to at least one post per week, every week.
  • If you don’t already have one, invest in a good camera and learn how to use it. This is what I use.

4. Learn How to “x”

What do you want to get better at? Do you want to improve your drawing/painting/sculpting skills? Your resolution could be to:

  • Master one new art form by year’s end
  • Explore four art disciplines (try collage, sewing, glass blowing, or ceramics)
  • Invite friends over for monthly art-making parties. If this last idea speaks to you, you’ll want to read How to Throw Your Own Craft Night (Etsy). With one year to play and learn, you will be on your way to mastering that skill by next December.

5. Take Mystery Trips

This one is personal, makes my family life more creative, and I love it. My husband is one of the most creative people I know, and I credit his parents (and in turn, their good friend Joan) for bringing this golden nugget into our lives. Every month or so we plan mystery trips for each other in our family, which can turn the usual trip to the park into something more adventurous, or something adventurous into something completely over-the-top. On a recent date night I didn’t tell my husband where we were going, which built suspense and tons of anticipation. My plan wasn’t elaborate, and even included a trip to the diviest bar you can imagine, but the adventure made it one of the funnest nights out we’ve had in a while. Apparently Joan started this with her own children who lacked enthusiasm when it was time to go to the museum/zoo/park. But when she said, “we’re going on a mystery trip tomorrow,” her kids couldn’t wait to find out where they were heading.

  • Because anything can be a mystery trip, it doesn’t require any extra work or preparation.
  • Commit to plan one mystery trip each month, 6 per year, etc.
  • Responsibility for planning these trips can fall on various family members, or take this on as your own personal mission for the year

What do you think? How do you plan on making 2012 a Creative Year?

More New Year Resolutions

Family Friendly Creative New Year’s Resolutions

Four Goals for the New Year

A New Year’s Resolution to Purge and be Entrepreneurial

The Year’s Best Art and Creativity Books for Kids

New Year Resolutions | The Great 2011 Purge

This time last year I was reading Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living (Tsh Oxenreider) and made a New Year Resolution to simplify my life and purge unnecessary objects from my home. Before The Great 2011 Purge, art materials lived in all areas of our home and I spent countless hours looking for things and making room for objects that had no permanent place. Does this sound like your life? If so, I can’t recommend Tsh’s book enough.

Digging past my collections, knick-knacks, and countless art materials was exhausting and I knew that if I streamlined my possessions I could be more productive with my time. So I started poking away at corners of my home every week; a shelf of dishes here, a closet there. And it’s helped! I’ve given away unused applianced, weeded out my least favorite books, and I just donated four garbage sized bags of baby clothes to this incredible charity with the unintended consequence of teaching my children the power of helping those in need. I’ve never stuck with a resolution for an entire year, but this one was so successful that it’s seeped into my way-of-life and it’ll be easy to carry it forward into the new year.

paper snowflake scraps

2012 New Year Resolution

And now, guess what? I’m thinking about my 2012 Resolution.

Working for myself has long appealed to me, and over the past year I’ve developed a stronger entrepreneurial mindset that I’d like to nurture! I’m an artist at heart, with no real sense of money and lacking in organizational skills (obviously) , so my resolution for 2012 is to foster my entrepreneurial side. I’m starting 2012 off by working and blogging with this awesome new startup, developing curriculum for this creative children’s museum, reading this bookand devouring this blog.

I think it’s a good start, but to keep it going for the year, my plan is to read inspirational books and magazines like this, streamline my blog to make it more engaging and accesible (a newsletter and revamped archives are in the works), and remain open to opportunities that are a good fit with my my personal and professional goals. Now that I see it all written in front of me, it seems a bit daunting, but I have to remember that a year is a long time and baby steps will get me there. Just like they did last year.

In light of all this, because I’m a mom-to-my-kids first I have to remember that I can only take on so much. In my search for balance between motherhood and personal ambition I’ve had a few meltdown moments that I hope will shine brightly in my mind’s eye as a warning of what can happen if I bite off more than I can chew. These colorful pictures of a happy snowflake-making afternoon are here to remind me that my primary goal is to hold on to my core beliefs as an arts educator and mom who wants to raise her children to be creative souls and independent thinkers.

More New Year Resolutions

Family Friendly Creative New Years Resolutions

Four Goals for the New Year

Five Resolutions for a Creative New Year

The Year’s Best Art and Creativity Books for Kids

Last Minute Easy Handmade Gifts To Make With Kids

Could you use some ideas for last minute, easy handmade gifts? Read on!

Okay, so we’re down to the last holiday minute, and if you’re in need of a little something for your lovely neighbors or visiting cousins, this might just do the trick. My 3.5 year old actually helped me make everything here (in various ways), you might already have all or most of the ingredients/materials, and these won’t take you all day to pull together.

Easy Handmade Gifts #1: Beaded Ornament Activity Bag

Easy handmade gifts | Make a beaded ornament kit |

My daughter decorated some paper lunch bags with bits of wrapping paper and markers, and we filled them with a couple activities + a tape measure.

Easy handmade gifts | Make a beaded ornament kit |

Activity One: Make an Ornament. I folded a piece of card stock in half, typed (with this typewriter) “Make and Ornament” on one side (you could also stamp, print, draw this on, etc.) stapled up the sides, and attached an example of the activity to the side with a piece of clear tape.

Easy handmade gifts | Make a beaded ornament kit |

We filled the envelope with a small baggie of assorted beads (from a few big bags that we sub-divided) and four pipe cleaners that I prepared with a little bead-stopping loop at one end.

Easy Handmade Gifts #2: Make a Snowflake Kit

Easy handmade gifts | Make a Snowflake Activity Kit |

Easy handmade gifts | Make a Snowflake Activity Kit |

I prepared an envelope the same way, with typing, stapling, and filling. This time we placed a short stack of colorful tissue paper circles and a few pre-made snowflakes in the envelope for inspiration. I didn’t have time to write up directions, but hopefully everyone remembers how to make a snowflake. Most people don’t have circular tissue paper on hand, and a little stack of flattened, round coffee filters or squares of upcycled magazines would also do the trick. I love this tutorial for making snowflakes from squares of newspaper squares, from Maya Made.

Easy Handmade Gifts #3: Sugar Scrub

Easy handmade gifts | Make your own sugar scrub |

This is a nice way to spread some pampering cheer that will shine away rough wintery skin, and they couldn’t be easier to assemble. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Glass Jar with tight-fitting lid
  • Sugar
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Essential Oil in your favorite smell
  • Decorative Fabric or Paper
  • Paper Label
  • String or Rubber Band
  • Small wooden spoon (optional)

Collecting my materials was the most time consuming piece of this project. I found the jars and wooden spoons at Daiso, a Japanese dollar store that rocks my world, and the essential oil was from Whole Foods. I used grapeseed oil (Trader Joe’s) because it’s virtually scentless and has a long shelf life, and I included a wooden spoon so that my friends can scoop out their scrub without adding bacteria into the jar. It’s not really necessary, but I think it’s a nice touch.

Easy handmade gifts | Make your own sugar scrub |

I wish I was more scientific about this, but I’ll tell you how I made it and hopefully it will make sense. I filled 1/4 of the jar with sugar, added enough grapeseed oil to coat it, and then mixed it well. Then I added sugar to the 1/2 way point, added more oil, and mixed it again. I repeated this until the sugar-oil mixture was about 3/4″ from the top. I added a little more oil so that it floated on top of the sugar, making the whole mixture easy to stir. Once it was nicely blended, I added about 30 drops of grapefruit essential oil. Basically, I added the essential oil, smelled it, and then added more until I was happy with the strength of the smell. I thought about using lavender, which I also had, but the grapefruit smelled so refreshing and it complemented the green fabric.

Lastly, I covered it with a circle of fabric (traced with a bowl), secured it with a rubber band (to hold that heavy spoon on tight), and wrapped a gift tag on with some baker’s twine.

Easy Handmade Gifts #4: Pecan Chocolate Turtles

diy gifts with kids

These are so simple, absolutely delicious, and I made them with both my 1-year old and 3-year old. My one year old exercised some fine motor skills by unwrapping the candies, while my 3 year old placed them on the pretzels. It was assembly-line cooking at its finest! They won’t disappoint you, I promise! I found the recipe on All Recipes, and if 5 stars out of 855+ reviews doesn’t tell you how good these are, I’m not sure what will :)


  • Small Pretzels
  • Rolos (Chocolate-covered caramel candy)
  • Pecan Halves
The recipe can be found here: Pretzel Turtles on All Recipes
When they finally cooled (this part took a while, maybe 2 hours), I wrapped them up in wax paper and sealed them with a sticker.

More Ideas for Easy Handmade Gifts

Cookie Dough in a Jar, easy for kids to help assemble

Handmade cards that kids can make.

Handmade Valentine Cards with heart-shaped envelope


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Rolled Paper Snowflakes

paper roll snowflake decoration

When I saw this toilet paper tube star garland on Creative Jewish Mom, I knew my 3 year old would enjoy it. We didn’t have any toilet paper rolls on hand, so I improvised with what we had.

chipboard tube snowflakeWe made them from a chipboard box (very sturdy, just like toilet paper/loo rolls) and from construction paper (not so sturdy, but it worked well too).

chipboard tube snowflakeI cut the front off a box of yummy cookies, and then cut that in half.

chipboard tube snowflakeThen I stapled them right up like a toilet paper roll.

chipboard tube snowflakeNext, I cut vertical strips to about 1/2″ from the bottom.

chipboard tube snowflakeSpread them all out to reveal a starburst or snowflake.

chipboard tube snowflakeAnd then added glitter glue to make them a bit fancy.

Before we bought the cookies, we tried this out with construction paper using the same process.

paper roll snowflake decorationAnd we hung them from the ceiling with a couple feet of baker’s twine.

paper roll snowflake decorationThey’re a bit wobbly compared to their chipboard box cousins, but my 3 year old is quite pleased with the results.

Because I’m sure it’s the same for many of you, it’s a busy time at Casa Tinkerlab. I’m half-way through sewing an elf costume (it’s the only thing my 3 year old has asked me for this season!), cookies are cooling in the kitchen, and homemade sugar scrubs are in the works. I plan to slow down on the posts through the end of the year. But do check back because I have a few more ideas in the hopper before the end of 2011.

How are you getting busy on these days of early winter? What are you making?


{If you haven’t had a chance to read my interview about setting up a kids art space with the inspiring Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent, take a look today, and leave a comment by 9 pm PST to be entered into the giveaway.}