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Crafting Parenting Reading Relentless Self-Improvement

…and this concludes the intermission…for now…


My goodness; I had never intended for the blog to go so silent for so long.  My schedule has been kicking my butt lately – I’ve been working on a Master’s in Psychology focusing on Child Development, which has been AWESOME.  The program is through a venerable (online) university and I think they didn’t bank on candidates like me when they set up the system that bills me a set fee every three months until I finish.  What better motivation could there be to crank out 55 papers in six months?  So I’ve been a bit busy with that.

Oh yes, and with a little podcast I started.

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Crafting Education Parenting

A series of bubble provocations – with recipes!!


Carys received a small bottle of bubbles as a birthday party favor a few weeks ago, and she fell in love.  The first thing she wanted to do every morning after she woke up was blow bubbles.  (Actually she usually wanted us to blow bubbles for her while she sometimes chased them down, but she was still having fun.)

We blew lots of little bubbles (blowing sharply through the hole in the wand) and bigger bubbles (blowing more gently through the hole) but I got bored of blowing bubbles for her pretty soon so following on from my recent thoughts on provocations I decided to extend the concept into a provocation.  The following series of photos were taken over a period of a couple of weeks as I researched and found ideas for things to do with bubbles and introduced them one by one.

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Crafting Hiking & Backpacking

A new logo, and a new look!

You might notice some changes around here today…

When I started this blog in September I had no idea how long I’d be able to keep it going – I thought I’d run out of things to say within a few weeks.  Here we are six months later and I generally have an editorial calendar of two posts a week planned about a month out, so I guess there’s no end of this in sight yet!  My readership is steadily (if not exponentially) expanding – I’m so grateful that y’all are out there and continue to be interested in what we’re thinking and doing.

So, the changes:

I’ve shifted the blog from to  That didn’t mean much to me either until recently but it should give me a lot more flexibility as the number of you stopping by continues to grow.  Plus we get a nice fancy layout!

The ‘Parenting,’ ‘Hiking,’ and ‘Making Stuff’ introductions at the top of the homepage are new; I felt that I never really adequately explained why we do some of the things we do on these subjects so those pages are a good place to start if you’re newer around here and want to know what we’re all about. Continue Reading

Crafting Parenting Woodwork & Home Improvement

Time for a playroom tour!

It seems like ages ago (actually, it was ages ago) that I showed you a sneak preview of the play room and promised an update when it was finished.  It’s been pretty well finished for a while but somehow it always seems to be a bit messy, and I’ve seen so many lovely play spaces on Pinterest that I wanted mine to be perfect in the photos too.  Finally I spent five minutes tidying up on Saturday and took some photos while I was waiting for Alvin and Carys to eat their waffles so we could get going for the day – it’s not perfect, but it’s as perfect as it’s gonna get! Continue Reading

Crafting Relentless Self-Improvement

Changing Mindsets Update: Learning to Draw

Update: Reader Survey Still Open!

Many thanks to those of you who have already completed the reader survey; it will still be open for a couple more days.  If you haven’t yet filled it out I’d be most grateful if you would do so – it’ll help me tailor my content to make it more useful to you.  I decided not to promise a ‘prize’ so as to avoid having droves of random people show up just to do the survey, but if the responses are exceptionally helpful then I may reward one of them in some way.

And, in other news…

It seems like I’ve ended a number of my posts with some variation on “I’ll let you know how it turns out” – and I’m not always so good at following up for a variety of reasons, usually related to a feeling that I don’t quite yet have enough to report and that if I wait just a bit longer, the subsequent post will be just a bit better.

Several weeks ago I talked about how I’d been reading Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, which I’d read mainly to get a better understanding of the idea with a view to applying it in parenting.  I did not expect it to change my own mindset about something I’d assumed was a fixed (in)ability in myself: the absence of any skills related to drawing.

I’m about half way though the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain book, and I’m getting better!  I’ve taken a sneak peak ahead and it looks like I’m coming to the end of the major building blocks of techniques, and I’m about to start putting things together to move beyond simple line drawings.

Here’s a picture I drew of my own hand, which was one of ‘pre-work’ exercises, designed to give you a baseline to compare back against.  Note the short, ‘sketch-y’ strokes, building curves out of straight lines. Continue Reading


Learning Letterpress Printing

I’ve wanted to learn how to use a letterpress for as long as I can remember.  No real reason; it just seemed like a gaping hole in my crafting knowledge.  I thought about printing our holiday cards a couple of years back but you have to take four classes at San Francisco Center for the Book before they’ll let you rent press time and while I do usually plan my holiday cards about five months ahead, I think that was the year we bought the house and we didn’t have a lot of free cash floating around.  I considered it again last year but I was nursing and it would have been a major hassle to have to stop and pump every couple of hours through an eight hour class.  Finally the stars aligned this year when both sets of parents offered to throw down some cash to cover the cost of the classes for my Christmas gift – thanks, guys!  I’ve taken two of the four so far and I’m really enjoying it.letterpress futura font

In the first class we learned the basics of printing – how to set type on the composing stick (left to right and upside down, with the nicks up!), how to transfer the type to the press and set up the ‘furniture’ (wooden blocks) to hold it in place, and how to run the press with assistance.  In that class I made a thank you card based on something my Dad used to say (and probably still does)… Continue Reading


Giveaway and Tutorial: How to make a Waldorf “Knotty” Doll

I was going to make a Waldorf doll for a friend’s baby for Christmas, but the kid is only three months old which seemed a bit young for a full-featured doll.  Besides, all she probably wants to do with toys right now is snuggle something soft – so a knotty doll seemed like a much better idea.

I made the head first, using a tutorial from Living Crafts which I used to make my real Waldorf dolls, except the head is 8″ in circumference instead of the recommended 9-10″ because that seemed like a better size for a smaller baby.  I also like my dolls to have noses, so I added one using a different tutorial from The Silver Penny.

I pinned several pictures of knotty bodies from different sources with notes on what I liked and didn’t about each one as I formulated my approach.  I realized I wasn’t going to be able to tie actual knots as the fabric I had was far too thick, but I was OK with thread wrapped tightly around the ‘wrists’ and ‘ankles’ instead of knots.  I sketched out a body shape I thought might work, sewed it up, turned it right side out, and put the head in it to see whether it looked right.  I had seen reference to ‘generous’ blanket (body) dimensions in an Etsy listing so I wanted to be sure to start out too big, but I ended up cutting it down three times to get it to look proportional with the head.

Download the Knotty Doll Pattern template (printable on standard 8.5 x 11 paper), and head on over to Instructables for step-by-step directions if you need them.  If you make this, I’d love to know how it turns out.

(Note: As with all blankets and toys, this toy is not suitable for an infant’s crib.)

I am giving away a Knotty Doll in a beautiful grey color – pictured at the bottom.  If you’d like to be entered to win, just sign up to follow my blog using the link on the right side (if you’re already signed up, you’re already entered!).  I’ll pick a winner at random after 5pm PST on Tuesday January 19th (not June, as previously announced – seems like a long time to wait!).

Update: the doll has now made its way to its new home.  Congrats to Cassie in Missouri – hope your little one loves it!

Waldorf Knotty Doll Pink.jpg

Waldorf Knotty Doll 1Waldorf Knotty Doll


9 Tips for Making a Woodland Hideaway Kids Teepee

Apparently kids teepees have been all the rage for a while, although Alvin only discovered them in the Land of Nod catalog a few weeks ago, and of course he immediately fell in love. Naturally there was no way I was going to pay $199 (on sale from $218!) + tax and $20 shipping, particularly when 9′ x 12′ canvas drop cloths can be had for $20 on Amazon, so I set to work on a plan.

As seems to be the custom these days I started searching for teepees I liked on Pinterest, and found that there are so many kids’ teepee-themed boards that I couldn’t even scroll through them all.  I ended up basing my design on this tutorial, although I split my front all the way up to the top – partly to make it easier for me to get into and out of(!) but partly because two skinny halves made for a more economical fabric layout, leaving enough behind to make the cushion.

We have a bit of a theme of ‘bringing the outdoors in’ in both Carys’ play room and playthings, so I decided to do the same with the teepee.  I searched for tree applique patterns, and decided to use this image as my inspiration:

tree applique

With a lot of my DIY projects (including our bathroom remodel!), when I begin I don’t have a solid plan for how things will turn out, and just see what inspiration strikes as I go along.  I got some interesting fabrics from New Pieces  – I was actually quite shocked to find that there was a fabric store in Berkeley that I hadn’t been to before!  Since quilting is their ‘thing’ they had a great selection of cottons, and one of the staff helpfully steered me toward some prints that vary in color along the width of the bolt, allowing me to get multiple different-colored trees from a single quarter-yard cut.

I had planned to use the fabric with the green and brown streaks in a single strip across the bottom of each panel, but in true Jen style I hadn’t fully figured out the size of the teepee before I went shopping for the applique cottons, so the piece of fabric I bought was about 4″ too short.  “What a wally,” I thought, and then I turned it into an opportunity, deciding instead to cut ‘hills’ from several different fabrics and layer them together, placing the trees on top.  I set the bottom of the hills an inch or so up from the (hemmed) bottom of the teepee, going for an ‘artistic’ rather than ‘realistic’ look.


Carys’ new favorite thing to do is help me with sewing projects.  We have a ‘no hands on the machine while it’s running’ rule.

There’s no real ‘tutorial’ here because as I said, I just made it up as I went along.  I laid out the first panel on the dining room table, found an old chunk of tailor’s chalk and drew out a tree shape I thought might work (on the right side, so I could get the full effect of the colors – some of which are quite deep), adjusted as necessary, and then cut out the shape, tested for whether it seemed like the right size and then adjusted again if needed.  I cut all the components for each panel, laid them out to test how they fit together, and pinned them.  I sewed across the bottom to start and then worked my way up to the top of the design, sewing down the hills that were ‘behind’ others first, and the ‘in front’ ones next, and so on up to the top of the design.


First panel detail.  The left-most tree is unfortunately truncated by the pole sleeve.  Lesson learned.

IMG_3459I’d planned to do all four panels essentially the same, but half way though the first one I thought “how about a river?”  So the second panel incorporates a river.  It took me a while to decide what shape might work well and I’m still not 100% happy with it (I’m not sure you can really tell what it is unless I tell you), but it’s OK.


For the third panel I decided to incorporate some snow-capped mountains (I also realized I could layer multiple hills behind each other for a more nuanced look), and it was then that the whole concept came together in my head – I went back to the store and picked out a Japanese flowery print, still mostly green, that says ‘flowers’ without screaming “FLOWERS!”, and used that for the door panels.  So the overall concept is the idea of sitting in your tent in a flower-filled meadow at the edge of the woods, with a river in the middle-ground and the mountains behind.  A bit esoteric for a kids teepee?  Maybe, but I had fun making it.


The mountains disappear into the background a bit on the photo; they’re more obvious in-person


We have some bamboo screening our house from our neighbors, and there are quite a few dead canes in it – I’d been meaning to thin them out for ages but I realized I could use some of them for the teepee poles.  I found four that were just about the right diameter, and were relatively straight, and cut them to length with the Sawzall.  I guess it tends to split down the length when it dries out but that didn’t seem to affect the structural integrity.IMG_3435

When I was back at New Pieces for the flower fabric I also found they have a good selection of minky fabric (although Joann does have it for half the price).  Carys’ Aunty Irene bought her a small blanket in that fabric wrapped in a sheep toy also in the same fabric for Christmas, and it’s her absolute favorite thing at the moment.  I found some minky with a green leafy trellis design (that Joann doesn’t seem to carry:-)) and knew that would be a winner for the cushion top.  I used this tutorial as a basis for my cushion, although I made my cushion out of plain white cotton and the canvas/minky is a cover with a velcro closure, as I know it’s going to need washing at some point.  Carys likes the teepee, but she really loves to launch her whole body at the “piwwow.”


Amazingly, this cushion is actually about an inch thinner than the Land of Nod version…

In case you fancy making something similar, here are a few things I learned along the way:

  1. Wash the drop cloth.  Most teepee tutorials don’t seem to do this, and one did mention that the canvas is hard to handle with the sewing machine – I could imagine the sizing in the fabric being the reason. I had initially considered dyeing the cushion fabric and when I found this tutorial on that topic I also saw the pictures of the nasty chemicals that wash out of a drop cloth – I suppose most people want it to be a bit water-resistant if they are using it for its intended purpose.  The tutorial does the washing in the bath and I was about to do the same when I realized that our industrial-sized washing machine could likely do the job.  Carys enjoyed watching, and I, too, felt a bit sick watching all those chemicals disappear down the drain – but at least they’re not in our home (or all over my hands – and the bath) any more.  Maytag for the win!
  2. My applique would have been easier if I’d pressed some interfacing on the back of the cotton.  Don’t be as lazy as me.
  3. You can get away with just a couple of colors of thread even though you have a lot of different colors of hills and trees – I had a dark green for the darks and a light green with a lot of yellow in it for the lights.  I already had white, brown, blue, and taupe on-hand.
  4. When figuring out the placement of your design, factor in the width of the pole sleeve so your trees don’t disappear into the seam (like one of mine did).
  5. The teepee tutorial suggests that hemming the top might not be necessary (after first offering a caution about how much canvas frays).  Hemming the top is necessary, although I didn’t zig zag the sides as the diagonal cuts prevent fraying.
  6. Make sure you sew your pole sleeves wide enough.  I guess after doing all that zero-seam allowance applique I was a bit freaked out by sewing with a two-inch ‘seam allowance’ and I had to unpick when the first sleeve was too narrow for the bamboo to fit.
  7. Some tutorials advise drilling holes in the poles near the top to thread rope/ribbon through and some don’t.  I initially didn’t but I couldn’t stop the fabric from sliding down the poles (and we know my pole sleeves weren’t too wide!) so I drilled holes  and also placed an eyelet at the top of each panel.  I ran a double length of ribbon through each pole and eyelet and then tied a tight knot in front, which seems to be holding everything up just fine.
  8. Eyelet kits really suck.  I think I placed 17 of them and I probably got three just right – the rest didn’t open up properly like they are supposed to; I guess I wasn’t hitting the anvil 100% straight down.  Not a huge problem because the eyelets are small and filled with ribbon so you can’t really see, but slightly annoying nonetheless.  Also, the instructions say to use two layers of moderately thick fabric plus interfacing, but multiple trials and errors showed that just the single layer of canvas (plus a 1″ square of interfacing ironed onto the back to stabilize the cut edges) worked best.
  9. Wait until your teepee is finished before measuring/cutting fabric for the cushion.  You know why, and no I didn’t learn this the hard way. Also, zig zag the edges of your canvas cushion pieces.

I hope you’re inspired to try something similar, or invent your own design…


Crafting Parenting

Our little bird got a sugar high for Halloween

DSC00268All in all I’d say Halloween went pretty well, especially considering Carys got a grand total of 15 minutes of nap time the entire day.  She still takes two naps daily with our nanny, but resists like crazy on the weekends.  Saturday morning she was getting cranky so I put her in the pack and took her over to the Little Farm to run around for a bit, but she was asleep by the time I got there.  She had her head sideways (usually she sleeps with her head forward in the pack) and woke up with a cough after about 15 minutes, so we detoured back to the Farm and she had fun petting the cows.  She refused second nap entirely so I thought our trick or treating experiment might last for all of five minutes before the meltdown began but she actually coped really well.  She wasn’t sure what to do at the first house, but she was eventually persuaded to take some candy and then burst into tears.  After that she got into the swing of it and pointed to the houses she wanted to go and visit.  Mostly she liked swinging the bucket around and watching the other people out for the festivities.DSC00212

The streak of chocolate down her dress is from a Lindt truffle that Alvin gave her before we even left the house.  She could smell the chocolate inside and eventually worked out how to get to it, leaving a trail of chocolate drool on her front as she devoured it.  Our good friend BG said it just looked like another bird crapped on her; very fitting with the theme.  Then she chewed her way into a Crunch bar without us noticing while we were walking between houses.  So not that much sugar, but as Alvin pointed out – taking her body weight into account it’s actually quite a bit…


Photo credit: David Buchholz

(The scab above her eye is from a fall down the steps in our garden last week, when she sat on a step and reached for something on the step below her.  It just fell off during her nap today, so there were definitely fewer tears from that than from the last band aid I had to remove after her shots…)


well this started out kinda weird-looking (How to make a Waldorf Doll)

I can’t even remember how I first found out about Waldorf Dolls a few weeks ago – I certainly wasn’t trolling the internet looking for dolls for Carys.  Most of our current toys are of the block/cup/spatula/bowl/milk jug variety so someone must have mentioned the dolls on one of the Facebook parenting groups I’m in or something.  Anyway I went and researched them and found out that they’re dolls that are usually handmade out of natural materials with very neutral facial expressions so kids can project different emotions on them.  I thought that was pretty cool and Carys doesn’t really have any dolls so I figured I’d make her some.

“When they are fashioned simply, they make the entire range of human appearance possible through the child’s imagination.”
Jaffke Freya, Toymaking With Children

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Making Stuff