Adventures with Upcycling: Dining Room Table

Table restoration project

The table after it’s all been cleaned up. The oil, dirt, ink and everything else has been removed. It’s just the drill holes left that really mark it 🙂

So…for the last three years I’ve been eating my meals at an upcycled pink princess table. It’s beautiful, has white wooden legs, and matching white wooden chairs.  It is, as Goldilocks would say, ‘just right’. Of course, things being an issue of perspective, it’s just right if you’re aged 18 months to 4 years. As an adult, it meant sitting on the cold ’70s vinyl flooring which isn’t too bad in summer but was a pain in the arse in winter.

Over time, this requirement to sit on the floor (or perch on a low plastic foot stool) began to understandably pall. This was assisted by the fact that Miss 3 is very tall for her age (currently around 103cm) and prefers to stand / be in movement when eating (depending on what kind of sensory / ASD day she is having). The princess table had suddenly become a bit inadequate for her.

The quest began to try and find a table that would fit into our teeny tiny kitchen on our teeny tiny budget achieved by selling some old gardening stuff out of my parent’s garage. I lament my country’s lack of IKEA as I probably could have found something brilliant there! I scoured websites and secondhand listings for something that couldn’t really be bigger than 75cm square. It looked like I wasn’t going to find anything that would fit the space and our budget.

They say God moves in mysterious ways. Apparently, this includes ancient formica tables who’s retro orange perfectly matches the ’70s lino.  Driving along with Miss 3, I spotted an abandoned table by the side of the road not far from home. It would be exciting to suggest it had been shot up in some kind of Wild West saloon; the reality (based on the dirt and oil) was that it had been based in someone’s garage workshop before being deemed a waste of space.

One’s man’s waste is another man’s treasure (and other such common sayings). By dint of great effort (and demonstrating to Miss 3 the importance of perseverance, grit, and treating the car like a giant jigsaw puzzle), it was eventually carried home. More jigsaw puzzling finally squeezed it into the kitchen.

After the initial wipe down, it’s had multiple cleanings with Jiff, water, fly spray, and antibacterial spray. It looks much improved and the old wooden chair in the bedroom with clothes dumped on it, although a bit rickety, fits it just right. It turns out there’s a matching one, in unknown condition, squirreled away in the back of my parent’s garage; Mum had rung about it only this morning so it’s a happy coincidence to find a table to go with it!

I have to say I’m quite fond already of this dinged up orange table; it’s faced it’s challenges and come through as a survivor – just like us. It also allows me to sit with my laptop and a cup of tea while supervising Miss 3 in our rickety fenced little lawn; I don’t have the words to express what a dramatic improvement this is to sitting in the , doorway with a blanket wrapped around me to avoid shivering in the breeze!

I’m open to suggestions on how to proceed with the table. It’s clearly suffered some water damage underneath and I wonder how best to preserve it. I thought I’d set the dehumidifer running tonight. I wonder whether to get some sort of wood stain or polish to rub over it, or whether I should paint over it?

Thoughts?

Table restoration project

The under side of the table has clearly suffered water damage.

Table restoration project

Hmm, what to do about the underneath?

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Rewards for Potty Training

Reward Charts can help potty training.

Reward Charts can help potty training.

When starting potty training it’s a good idea to think about how you’ll keep your toddler motivated. Some toddlers will simply want to be ‘just like my big brother/sister’; others will respond to lots of praise; others need something tangible to work towards and that’s where reward charts can be useful.

Potty Training! It’s something that we all experience as parents as we help our children transition out of nappies. I’ve posted previously on:

Reward Charts

Sometimes toddlers need a little extra positive reinforcement to start (or stick with) potty training. Reward charts can be a great way of helping them to see progress, learn about delayed gratification, and learn about working towards achievable goals at a young age.

There are lots of great ideas online for printing out your own reward chart that you can stick on the fridge (like these free to print charts). The important thing is to choose a theme that will tie in with your toddlers interests. I liked this magnetic one from Kmart because I knew Little Miss would like moving the magnets around.

Tip: If you have multiple children, it’s a good idea to instigate reward charts for siblings as well to prevent tantrums, jealousy, and rivalry! If your 2 year old is toilet training, maybe your 5 year old can have a reward chart for homework or chores.

Rewards

These need to be relevant to your child’s interests, realistic for your budget, and appropriate in scale. A trip to the park, a book, a small toy, are more realistic then promising a trip to Disneyland! Also, keep in mind that a reward comes after the action has been successfully taken (and a bribe comes before).

Sit down with your child and be really clear:

  • what they will receive points for (i.e. stickers on their reward chart),
  • what rewards they are working for, and,
  • how many points they need to obtain those rewards.

Encourage your child to brainstorm with you what those rewards are going to be. Possible rewards include:

  • Items (toys / books)
  • Activities (trips to the park, library, the zoo)
  • Food (jellybeans, McDonalds, restaurant)

You may want to start off with reward stickers for:

  1. each wee / poo in the potty (or toilet), and then move towards
  2. stickers for staying dry at home that day,  then,
  3. staying dry at kindy, then,
  4. staying dry overnight.

The important thing is to scaffold your expectations and help your child towards success at a pace that’s realistic to them. Remember that every child is different.

Items

Toys or books can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. It’s a good idea to have a mix of rewards that they can work towards (with larger or more expensive items requiring more points).  If you take them to a store to choose rewards, it’s a good idea to guide their choices by offering them a few options and letting them select one.

It’s also a good idea to guide them towards choosing toys that you were thinking about getting them anyway and which you can afford. Consider items that will encourage open-ended imaginative play and remember that you don’t need to buy ‘branded’ items for your kid to have fun.

We chose a (non-branded) My Little Pony and a wooden pizza – each slice and topping has to be earned so it has a good mix of short and long term gratification.

Activities

Again, these can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. You may want to have activities close to home, or that are free, cost fewer reward points and then have costly activities be something they have to save more points to earn. Not all activities have to be away from home either!

  • At home: build a tent out of sheets & chairs; make a collage; parent play with cars / dolls / animals / trains for 20 mins without distractions; have a tea party with toys; invite a friend over for the afternoon.
  • Free: go to a park; feed ducks; favourite playground; go to a beach; bike ride; art gallery; museum.
  • Paid: go to an indoor attraction (like a playground or trampoline park); go to zoo; go to observatory to see stars; movie.

Food

Food can be a controversial choice because it risks weighting food choices to show that some foods are inherently more desirable than others. In saying that, plenty of parents have chosen to use a jellybean or other small treat as a reward.

For more creative options, why not choose food related activities instead. Reward points could be saved towards things like:

  • doing baking together,
  • helping to make dinner (or choosing from a list of dinner options),
  • buying and planting vegetable seedlings, or micro-greens for the windowsill,
  • going to a cafe for a fluffy or scone,
  • going to a restaurant for lunch / dinner.

Rainy day play: Making a spider

Easy to make spider

Make a simple spider!

Kids love playing with craft materials. Why not spend a rainy afternoon making spiders, insects, or monsters; you could tie it in with a trip to the library to find some books for inspiration!

Materials

  • Pipe cleaners
  • Milk bottle lid
  • Googly eyes
  • Sellotape
  • Craft glue / glue gun
  • Scissors

 

Directions

  1. Cut your pipe cleaners to length and sellotape (or glue gun) them to the base of the milk bottle lid. Bend them to give them knees / feet so that it can stand.
  2. Glue on some googly eyes.
  3. Take the spider exploring!

 

Why not share with them 20 Fun Facts about Spiders for preschoolers or watch a short educational video clip about spiders aimed at preschoolers and kids.

How to make an easy and cheap instrument at playgroup (Musical Maracas)

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

What you need

  • Paper plates (small).
  • Felts, crayons, paint, stickers etc.
  • Wooden beads, sea shells, bells etc.
  • Stapler.

Directions

  1. Help your children to decorate the outside of the plates (don’t forget to write their names on!).
  2. Fold the plate in half (like an empanada) and staple along the edges. Leave a gap at the top.
  3. Hold it upright with the gap at the top. Help your children to drop beads, bells, shells etc. inside their musical instrument; one big toddler sized handful will be about enough.
  4. Staple up the gap, put on some music, and shake!

Note: This is a great activity to do on a rainy day or with a playgroup. For younger toddlers choose larger items to put inside and play with under supervision only; i.e. keep choking hazards in mind.

Making a magical felt crown

Easy sewing projects - making a felt crown or tiara!

Beautiful glittery felt crown

Making a beautiful glittery felt crown or tiara is an easy sewing project. You can do it all in an afternoon either hand sewing or using a sewing machine and glue gun. Toddlers will have fun choosing all the colours and decorations! Older kids can be supervised to make this themselves 🙂

Materials

  • Felt
  • Buttons
  • Chalk / dressmaker’s pencil
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Thread
  • Optional: glitter
  • Sewing needle / sewing machine / glue gun

Directions

  1. Using your ruler and chalk, draw a pattern on the felt. You need the crown / tiara + two rectangles for straps. The straps bed to be long enough to tie at the back of your child’s head.

    Measure, draw, and cut your fabric

    Pieces of felt cut out for the crown

  2. Let your child choose decorations for their crown. You can choose whether to handsew buttons on (stronger) or hot glue gun them. Sprinkle on done rainbow glitter for extra magic! (The glitter will stick to the felt, at least for a while).
  3. Sew the straps on each side. You can either use a needle or a sewing machine.
  4. Ta da!

    Finished felt crown

    Beautiful crown ready to wear!

 

Making a drawstring bag

 

Making a drawstring bag

Making a drawstring bag for marbles

Making a drawstring bag is a fun and easy project to do with kids! I still remember the soft nubby green cloth of the drawstring bag of marbles my brother and I shared as kids. I wanted to make something similar for Miss 3 and gaining access to a sewing machine at kindy seemed like a great opportunity.

There is an easy project to follow in this book by Jane Bull, My Sewing Machine. I didn’t think to look so I actually designed my own project for this bag. My daughter’s sensory sensitivities mean she doesn’t like being in the same room as the sewing machine when it’s operating but she likes looking at the sewing book and she liked helping me with the pattern, cutting, and pinning.

Making a drawstring bag (for marbles)

Materials

  • Paper, sellotape, pencil
  • Fabric
  • Cord or ribbon
  • Ruler
  • Pins
  • Chalk / fabric pencil
  • Scissors (paper, fabric, pinking)
  • Safety pin

Tip: Shop around to find good prices for fabric. Sometimes you’ll find fabric in unexpected places – I bought a giant polyester fleece blanket for NZD$3 / USD$2. It was perfect for making a drawstring bag for marbles (though I wouldn’t use it to make a dress).

Design

I made up a design template using paper, scissors sellotape, and pencil. I could see there were two different ways of approaching the bag and decided to have the fold at the bottom and seams up the sides; this results in the cord being on on two sides (instead of one) which I thought would be easier for Little Miss.

Making a paper template

Making a paper template for the drawstring bag

Once I’d worked out the design, and order of sewing seams, I transferred the template into the fabric. My fabric pencil didn’t work on the fleece but chalk did 🙂

Fabric cut and pinned for the drawstring bag

Fabric cut and pinned

I kept my seams about 1.5cm from the edges, allowed plenty of space for the cord, and made sure the fabric was ‘wrong side’ facing out (not as important with this fleece but good practice).

Sewing the bag

I made sure the threads were all set up and then my sewing order was:

  1. Sew short end (for cord).
  2. Sew other short end (for cord).
  3. Loop silky cord through safety pin. Miss 3 loved helping wriggle the silver fish (safety pin) through the ‘tunnel’. We did that on both sides and then I tied the loose ends.
  4. Sew each of the long sides. I started with a curve at the bottom and then went up to the drawstring (enough to just go over that seam but not go over the cord). Then I turned the fabric around and did a small zig-zag back to reinforce.
  5. The nice thing with this fabric is that I didn’t need to hem or worry about fraying like I werewolf with cotton. I did use the pinking shears to cut the bottom corners off (being careful of the curved corners I’d stitched).

    Drawstring bag sewn (wrong side facing out)

    Inside the bag

  6. Turn bag right side out!

    How to make a drawstring bag!

    Drawstring bag for marbles

Bag of marbles

Next week we can go on a treasure hunt expedition to buy marbles for the bag we made!

Rainy day play: Make a fishing game!

Make an indoor fishing game!

Make an indoor fishing game!

Indoor fishing can be a great way to develop fine motor skills and imaginative play! You can buy fully stocked Gone Fishing kits or you can make your own. We picked up our fish very cheaply (as they were factory seconds) and then let our imaginations run wild with the materials we had at home.

The Fish

We were fortunate enough to pick up our fish cheaply. You could also use a saw or sandpaper and glue gun to fashion a vague fish shape from scraps of wood. The metal eyelet is the same as what’s used when stringing up net curtain cords.

We decorated our fish with: several colours of paint, glitter glue, googly eyes, coloured feathers, and plastic gems.

Tip: This is a great craft project for teaching your toddler patience. We worked on ours over about 5 days. We needed to do the base colour on one side and then let it dry overnight; flip it over the next day and repeat the same. You need more time to let things dry when you’re using craft glue but can speed things up by using a glue gun.

The Fishing Rods

You can make these with lengths of dowling. Use an electric drill to make a hole about 1cm from the top and thread some twine through that has a paper clip tied to the other end. Alternatively, you could glue gun the twine to the rod (if you don’t have a drill).

The paper clip is surprisingly effective; I can catch my fish with it and Miss 2 will normally ‘manually’ catch her fish but will also attempt to catch it without ‘helping’ the hook.

Our rods have multiple shades of paint and glitter glue on them (as well as plastic gems) and also needed drying each night in the hot water cupboard. I stood them upright in a small glass baby food jar (we have several that we use for crafts).

Easy Pizza Pie! Healthy, delicious, and packed with vegetables.

I was so excited to discover our corner dairy has started stocking locally made Middle Eastern flatbread. It’s baked and delivered fresh each day, soy free, additive free, and wonderfully cheap. I’m having fun experimenting with it to make pizza, pizza pie, and wraps. The latest experiment involved making a vegetarian pizza pie that contrasts a salty crispy top with the tangy sweetness of tomato and the rich flavour of melted cheese. Not only is it a great way to get vegetables into your kids but it’s also a useful idea to keep in mind for jazzing up leftovers.

Ingredients

  • 2 x large flatbread (dinner plate size)
  • Leftover tinned spaghetti or pasta sauce
  • Thinly sliced vegetables (I used mushrooms, fresh spinach, and zucchini).
  • Grated cheese (I used Colby and Parmesan)
  • Neutral oil (I use Rice Bran)
  • Rock salt + garlic granules / smoked garlic salt / dukkah
  • Optional: If you like meat then you it’s easy to add tinned tuna, cooked chicken, roast pork, leftover (cooked) mince, sliced boiled egg, etc…

Allergies: soy free, egg free, dairy free*, nut free.

Directions

  1. Place the first flatbread on a pizza tray or lined oven tray.
  2. Lightly spread on tinned spaghetti or pasta sauce.
  3. Layer on sliced vegetables (and meat, if using).
  4. Cover in grated cheese(s).
  5. Place the second flatbread on top.
  6. Brush with neutral oil or melted butter.
  7. Grind rock salt over the top and sprinkle on garlic granules. Alternatively, you could use a smoked garlic salt, or dukkah, etc.
  8. Cook in a preheated oven at 180’C for approx. 10 mins (until cheese has melted and the pizza pie is thoroughly heated through). Keep an eye on the top (you may want to move it lower in oven or lower temperature slightly if the top is browning and crisping too early).

 

Tip: For other great pizza ideas – consider making a scone base pizza!

How to make a vegan chocolate spread that is allergy free and tastes amazing!

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. I use Nuttelex + coconut milk to make a vegan, allergy free frosting that tastes amazing!

If you have a child with food allergies then you may find it difficult to source safe versions of products like Nutella. Alternatively, you may have a child attending a nut free kindergarten or school in which case Nutella isn’t permitted (as it contains hazelnuts). If you want to use a treat spread, for school lunches or parties, then this recipe will help you make your own!

Ingredients

  • 115g allergy friendly spread like Nuttelex (buttery taste)
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup Dutch Cocoa Powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 – 5 Tbsp  coconut milk

Allergies: gluten free, dairy free*, soy free, egg free, nut free. Vegan*.

Directions

  1. Whip the Nuttelex.
    • I like to use the food processsor (with a plastic beating tool rather than the metal cutting one).
  2. Sift in the cup icing sugar, and cocoa powder. Add the vanilla and 2 Tbsp milk.
  3. Beat until smooth.
    • I like to pulse it slowly in the food processor.
  4. Mix in more coconut milk, 1 Tbsp at a time, until you have a good thick smooth consistency.
  5. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

How to save money and freshen clothes naturally! Pre-soaking laundry using baking soda.

Replace chemical cleaners with a natural and cheap laundry soaking solution!

Replace chemical cleaners with a natural and cheap laundry soaking solution!

Miss 2 has really sensitive skin (and eczema) which means that I’ve needed to look around for non-chemical options for the laundry pre-soak bucket. Funnily enough, sometimes it’s the mid-range brands of ‘Oxygenated Whiteners’ or ‘Nappy Soakers’, which claim to be environmentally friendly and ‘natural’, which cause her to react more. Of course they’re still packed with chemicals and I know it’s just a marketing ploy but it’s easy to want to believe them!

Turns out all I needed was a 1/2 cup baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) dissolved in warm water (a couple of litres half fills my soak bucket). It helps to freshen and soak laundry (and keep it smell free) before it goes in the washing machine.

Tip: Rinse laundry first and handscrub any stubborn stains. Create a paste using four tablespoons of baking soda and ¼ cup of water. After working the paste thoroughly into the stains, apply a little undiluted vinegar.

Tip: Don’t add white vinegar to the soak bucket. Baking soda (base) + white vinegar (acid) will largely cancel each other out and reduce effectiveness. Instead, add white vinegar during the rinse cycle (instead of fabric softener or an anti-bacterial agent) and line dry in the sun if you can.  Vinegar will help to soften hard water, reduce odours, and reduce bugs. Sunlight will also help (especially if you’re washing cloth nappies!)