I started writing this post pre-illness. And during my hospital stay, I had one goal: not cancel my daughter’s third birthday party. I already worked so hard on that damn pinata!
Thanks to help from family and friends, I was able to pull it off. And thank goodness it was a morning party because when the guests left at 1 p.m. I passed out hard!
It wasn’t the perfect Buy Almost Nothing party I had planned, but I still managed to come pretty darn close!
Months prior, I reached out to my local Buy Nothing Group and quickly accumulated a brilliant Peter Rabbit/cabbage dish, a ceramic watering can, a few photo frames, some paper butterflies, and nine assorted stuffed bunnies.
For a craft, I decided to let kids decorate their own mini planters. I had markers in abundance and just needed to purchase some mini terra cotta planters at 10 for $5.99
And for the piece de resistance: my pinata. I loved creating one for my son’s 5th birthday party a couple years back especially because I detest traditional junky pinatas. So I was excited to get to work on this one!
Making one is simple and not terribly time consuming – it’s just a matter of taking time to do the steps.
Start with a jumbo latex balloon (about $3) and do three coats of papier mache, careful to let it completely dry in between coats. When it is solid and hard, use a scissors to pop the balloon and create a small hole to fill with treats.
You know all those temporary tattoos, plastic figurines, and whistles that you put in your goody bags? Well you are about to receive them all back via my piñata! I also filled it with YumEarth Organic Lollipops (50 for $6.39) YumEarth Organic Fruit Snacks (40 snack packs for $19.88).
I had originally planned to bake a carrot cake. I even practiced! But I had to give in to the post-illness fatigue and allow a bit of help from Whole Foods, who did a killer Peter Rabbit cake. We’ll just pretend I didn’t pay a fortune for it.
In the end it was a wonderful party filled with family and friends. It didn’t have to be “Pinterest perfect” but having a silly goal of getting those carrots into a vase and filling planters with broccoli motivated me to do a bit more everyday. I also learned that being a crazy Type-A advance planner isn’t such a bad thing when life throws a wrench at you!
Using items found around my house and discarded or shared by others to create something beautiful makes me even happier than a birthday girl surrounded by presents. Thanks to everyone who lent me their stuffed bunnies – now I just have to figure out what to do with them all!
Because I am cheap, green, and love a challenge, I love to DIY Halloween. It’s particularly challenging because I can not cut a straight line or properly sew, so I rely on a glue gun and ingenuity. Last year I pulled off two Jake and The Neverland costumes for $2. This year I plan to dress the whole family, including the dog, as the cast of Teen Titans Go!
Sam = Robin
Cut sleeves off red shirt and put over long-sleeved green shirt. Construction paper for the accents. Old Super Why cape gets turned inside out. It’s green instead of yellow but will work. Yellow belt also from old Super Why costume. Black mask made from cutting up a black fabric bag.
Evelyn = Starfire
She already owns purple shirt and shorts and silver leggings. I inadvertently inherit a suitcase full of princess costumes, and some wide, silvery ribbon from one of the dresses does well cut into pieces and stitched up into arm bands and a neck piece. I have no large green buttons, so I use a magnatile.
Mommy (Paige) = Raven
Blue hoodie clasped with a brooch to serve as cloak. Batman mask slightly altered.
Daddy (Mike) = Beast Boy
Green wig courtesy of Yerdle ($4 for shipping). Mike’s long sleeved black shirt under a purple T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, courtesy of Buy Nothing Group. My black leggings, silver belt, and purple shorts (I don’t know how to feel about the fact that they fit him). Some eco-friendly green face paint.
Dog (Gizmo) = Cyborg
Random Robot Mickey Mouse ears someone once bestowed us and his Darth Vader T-shirt.
Total spent = $4 for the used wig shipping only.
HOW THINGS ACTUALLY TURN OUT:
Evelyn has been telling me for the past couple days that she wants to be “a pizza and a cookie.” Sadly she is too late. She immediately tears off the magnatile, refuses the belt, and there is no way in hell I’m getting pink ribbons in her hair. She spends the entire evening in a coat so she is pretty much dressed as herself.
At the last minute I fear being too cold and swap out my dark blue hoodie for my husband’s warmer light blue hoodie with no zipper. I improvise with construction paper, but, looking at photos later that night, see that in my haste I’ve pasted the whole thing on upside down. So I look like I am wearing a Nazi concentration camp badge.
Mike is a great sport and his legs look way better than mine. He does, however, refuse the face paint. And he thinks the wig may have given him lice. Everyone thought he was dressed as The Joker.
The dog barely accepts the costume long enough to take one picture.
But, ultimately, Halloween is all about the six-year-old. And he rocked it.
Now this is the kind of stuff that makes me want to write a second book:
For months, my 5-year-old Sam and I have been planning a very special project to share with his preschool friends. The school agreed to set aside a time for me to come do a short presentation on “upcycling” with a fun hands-on project – recycling broken, old crayons into new fun-shaped crayons!
What a treat it would be to teach the kids a great way to recycle and make a cool craft at the same time! For weeks we collected broken crayons from families and Sam spread the word that “Thursday was going to be a special project with my mommy!” Even the blackboard in the preschool entrance read, “Thursday is Crayon Day!” We were stoked.
Wednesday afternoon, just after I packed up everything I would need for the following day, I opened my laptop to see a steady stream of THIS on my Facebook Feed:
Now, reading these reports, I am naturally appalled – but sadly not surprised – that crayons could contain actual poison. And though this information is frightening, I would still probably let my kids color with whatever crayons were given to them in a restaurant and keep the ones in their goody bags (typically one of the only goody bag items I don’t throw out).
But I am about to present a project to a classroom of children in which we literally COOK ASBESTOS. And then go home to tell their parents how they would like to do this on a regular basis.
You see, the crayons have already been collected and there’s a good chance some of them would test positive for asbestos. So it seemed like melting them couldn’t be a great idea. Turns out, I’m right.
“Toxic substances embedded in wax as in encaustics sticks or crayons are often deemed safe. But if encaustics are fused by heating or using torches, or if crayons are melted to make into candles (a common project), the wax converts into toxic airborne emissions and toxic pigments can fume into the air.” – Alternet
So what do I do now that I’ve promised a bunch of children I would essentially turn their art room/lunchroom into a meth lab?
First: panic. Then cry. Then ask everyone on the Internet what they would do.
Some suggest scrapping the project altogether. Some suggest saying “screw it” and teaching the kids how to burn poison over an open flame. But the most rational minds helped me to find a solution better than trying to create an incredibly lame project where we just glue broken crayons to paper and call it a mosaic.
1. Sort through the collected crayons and cherry-pick only those that can be identified as Crayola, a made-in-the-USA brand that does not contain asbestos. Sadly this means I also have to discard any “naked crayons.”
2. Ask the school if I can send a note home in the children’s cubbies about what we did, how to replicate the project, and why they should only use Crayola!
Fortunately everyone was receptive to crayon sorting and accepting this new information along with the learning experience. For any children who asked, I simply explained that some crayons don’t melt well – which is also entirely true.
Overall “Crayon Day” was a great success!
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“One persons junk is another person’s potential engineering solution!”
I adore 11-year-old scientist Anne on Amazon’s TV series Annedroids.
Where most people see junk, Anne sees possibility. When faced with a problem, no amount of failure ever dampens her spirit. That’s why her character was recently named one of TV’s Best Role Models of 2014 by Common Sense media. And that’s only part of why it’s a show I genuinely enjoy watching with my five-year-old.
Available on Amazon Prime Instant Video, Annedroids. is a live-action adventure series about a young female scientist, her human friends and their android assistants, and the amazing scientific discoveries they make. The series spotlights, through trial and error, how science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM) can inspire children to do great things.
Anne uses things found in her junkyard to create new inventions, so we celebrated National Recycling Week by making our own creation out of trash found around our house. We’d love to make a real-life android, but unfortunately, our “Steve Jo” doesn’t have quite the capabilities as the TV robots.
On the “Reduce, Reuse, Robocycle” episode, Anne and the androids help Nick build a lawn-mowing robot to help him with his chores. Our robot’s capabilities include scaring the dog, antagonizing the baby, and displaying our love of both dairy and non-dairy products.
Fortunately we live in a city full of upcycling inspiration, living just a couple blocks from Philadelphia Magic Gardens, a massive, winding mosaic made up partly from junk!
Tune in to Annedroids for your own inspiration and a show that will definitely make the most of screen time.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
I refuse to buy made-in-China junky Halloween costumers for $50 a pop – simply refuse! In the past I have borrowed used costumes, bought used costumes on Ebay, and occasionally been known to piece together things on my own. But this year when Sam announced his plan to be “Jake” from DisneyJr’s “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” and have his little sister be “Izzy,” I was ready to go totally D.I.Y.!
It was still more than a month before Halloween when I passed a $1 costume rack outside a local fabric store and saw this bizarre blue and yellow top (which originally had sleeves and was not cut in half – got too enthusiastic before remembering to take a photo).
I bought a couple yards of yellow ribbon for another $1. I don’t have a sewing machine (nor would I know how to use one), so I pulled out a hot glue gun that I hadn’t used since I was 12 (and way into very bizarre crafting). I’m pretty sure the hot glue is seriously toxic, but I figured this will only be worn once (and hopefully not eaten by baby or dog.) Fortunately clean lines were not a requirement for a child pirate costume.
I searched my bounty of buttons collected from the sewing kits of deceased relatives and found four perfect yellow buttons (sewing buttons I can do). And just for fun I sewed on a couple of cute gold pirate-looking buttons at the top – a true original!
I also needed a red bandana which ended up being magically provided by Applegate Farms in my swag bag at ShiftCon.
For the shirt, I took a random hand-me-down white t-shirt and used some leather string that I randomly had to create the “X-loop” at the top of the shirt.
Hand-me-down blue jeans and timberlands complete the look. Total cost = $2.
Now for the Izzy costume.
I wasn’t surprised to find a pair of purple pants in Evelyn’s stock of hand-me-downs. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a pink peasant-style blouse pretty much identical to the one Izzy wears. The boots I pulled out are pretty random, but definitely give the illusion of pirate style.
For the loot-bag necklace all I needed was a scrap of yellow fabric (I used a microfiber cloth), some more of that leather string, and something small and circular to wrap (I chose a wooden egg). The bandana – which she wore for exactly 13 seconds – was just some pink scrap fabric. Done. Cost = $0.
Can you beat my $2 upcycled costume? Would love to hear about your DIY and upcycled costumes!
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Here we go again with the birthday party planning – and FIVE is a big one! My son wants to invite everyone he ever met, load them up with goodies, and have a grand piñata finale. So how do we keep a party for 30+ kids fairly green and under a $500 budget? Fortunately, I have been thinking about this for a while.
September is a great time for an outdoor party and we have plenty of lovely public parks and playgrounds. But I, for one, am not taking a chance on a rainy day. So we found a small local playground with a no-frills recreation center that we can rent for $100. Done.
On to the theme: Our family is not averse to well-timed doses of television or celebrating fictional characters. This year we are going with Special Agent Oso, a Disney Junior program that breaks down everyday tasks into preschooler-sized “missions.” We’re going to take the special agent theme a step further with scavenger hunt missions around the playground and even find a way to green that piñata! Ready for your “three special steps?” Because we actually have like 30…
Scavenger Hunt Treasure
We gathered rocks and random slabs of granite from around the neighborhood, painted them, and doused them in glitter.
Total Cost? $5 for glitter. Total Environmental Cost? Rocks are as green as it gets. Conventional paint and glitter don’t help the planet, but I consider them an acceptable evil when it’s all about upcycling!
Tablecloths and Serveware
Paper and plastic tablecloths are a total waste. I was able to find plain white fabric tablecloths for $6 a piece that I will be able to use over again for events! And if you are better with a scissors than I, you can even buy a bolt of tablecloth fabric and cut it down yourself! Four tablecloths = $24 (and will never need to be purchased again). I will tally this total cost as $6 – price per use – as I am sure I will use these at least four more times
Compostable and biodegradable plates, cups, and cutlery are an imperfect science. Chances are they will not be disposed of properly and will not simply dissolve into the earth. BUT, using them avoids petrochemical plastics and uses more eco-friendly resources for manufacturing. We bought this all-inclusive-plate-and-cutlery-set for 50 guests for under $40.
Total Cost? $46 Total Environmental Cost? The amount of time it takes bio-based materials to degrade in Philadelphia landfill conditions + possible methane off-gassing.
I wanted to keep the party favors simple and functional and thought the kids would have a good time using magnifying glasses for the scavenger hunt. I refused to buy any worthless trinkets from Oriental Trading Company and scoured the internet for something affordable and actually useful. These kids magnifying glasses got decent reviews and I was able to buy 30 for a total of $42. I only wish they didn’t come individually wrapped in plastic baggies. Add some stickers and we have unique party gifts for all!
Total Cost? $42 Total Environmental Cost? Lots of plastic. But at least the products are useful and should make it home in one piece.
You can buy a conventional party pinata filled with absolute garbage for about $30. I found a Pinterest tutorial describing how to make your own piñata using a large balloon and paper mache. I bought a pack of three super big and sturdy latex balloons (the two extra are just for at-home fun!) Newspaper and water are free and a few tablespoons of flour costs pretty much nothing.
For the filling – here is where I got to have some fun! I spent a bit of money buying organic gummy treats and lollipops in bulk. But the rest of the stuff I threw into the pinata included things I had around the house like random samples of green baby shampoos and bodywashes and even a few little trinkets like stamps and stickers from previously received goody bags!
And my most brilliant innovation for this thing was sticking a wire hanger through it for hanging! I’ll be honest, I am more proud of this thing than most of my life accomplishments. It’s going to be devastating to see it axed.
Total Cost? $35 spent mostly on organic candy. Total Environmental Cost? A giant latex balloon is not very sustainable. However, I have recycled a wide variety of items, including the newspaper, and introduced kids and parents to some healthier treats!
Here is where I say screw it and purchase plain ol’ conventional pizza. Seriously there are more than 30 kids showing up at this thing! (13 pies for $140). I make up for the junky pizza with cases of Honest Kids organic fruit drinks (on sale for $10.69 for 32 at Fresh Direct). But to my dismay I am pretty much forced to purchase bottled water as there is no realistic potable source in this rec center ($15 for two cases).
Total Cost? $166. Total Environmental Cost? Pretty high.
Our friend’s sister is a very talented “hobby baker” and always does a great job with our themed cakes. We don’t put any parameters on her as far as ingredients or even artificial icings – it would have been unreasonable to have asked her to make a Special Agent Oso cake for 60 people out of blueberries and organic buttercream. But we feel like homemade is still better than store bought and she gives us an amazing deal. (She asked for $50, we gave her $75).
Total Cost? $75 Total Environmental Cost? Plus points for homemade, minus points for sugar content.
+ Balloons + Helium Tank
I’ve written before about one of my biggest pet peeves – super wasteful, toxic, and pointless kids party favors. So I’ve tried to offer some affordable and creative ideas – though my craft ideas are often better than my execution. I’m not the best at cutting straight lines or coloring between the lines. However, I was pleased enough with my Despicable Me Wine Cork Minions and recycled crayons for Sam’s 4th birthday.
For Evelyn’s first birthday we went with a Chipmunk theme, inspired by her impossibly chubby cheeks and big brown eyes.
My first bit of craft inspiration came from a slew of plastic deli containers my mother left at my house.I thought with some brown paint they could be lovely little chipmunk heads. Too lazy to go to the store, I mixed up some super safe baby furniture paint and ended up with mauve. But the bigger problem was that once it dried it all peeled off – not sure if it was the paint or the plastic, but they did not mesh well.
Fortunately I was able to salvage the pieces and start over with plan B – those incredibly pointless Fresh Direct ripening bags (or brown lunch bags with the ever-important instructions on how to place-fruit-in-bag.) With the adornment of some felted acorn necklaces from Etsy, we have a winner!
Are you planning a kids birthday party? Share your theme idea and let’s come up with some more upcycled crafts!
The only movie I’ve gone to with my four-year-old is “Despicable Me 2.” So when we had to chose a birthday party theme it was a pretty simple choice. Since then I’ve been going a bit minion-crazy!
I got the idea for these little wine cork minions after seeing a “pin” about making regular wine cork people. We don’t drink a lot of wine here but fortunately our babysitter works in a restaurant. My minions are a bit sloppy because my ideas are often better than my execution – at least craft-wise.
I don’t really think this “how-to” necessitates any real directions – the photos should suffice.
And of course I had to have a bit of fun with Vine:
I always loved the idea of recycled crayons and every year for my son’s birthday party favors I have bought recycled crayons from Crazy Crayons or on Etsy. Little did I know I could save some money and easily make these on my own!
All you need are some silicone candy molds or plain muffin tins with paper liners. The trick is to use just a couple complementary colors for each crayon so you don’t end up with a big brown mess.
Preheat your oven to 250 degrees and fill the molds with crayon pieces. Put them in the oven for about 8 minutes, checking regularly to see if they melted. When you take them out you can use a toothpick or similar to create a little swirly. They will harden best if you stick them in the fridge for a few minutes.
I was so excited with my first batch I asked the moms at preschool to leave their broken crayons in Sam’s cubby! I even told them to let their kids do the paper peeling if they were so inclined – that is the only hard part depending on your children’s willingness to help. I used to send my crayon pieces to the National Crayon Recycling Program but now I have created my own recycling program!
Important Note: A 2015 study came out that showed asbestos in several brands of children’s crayons (I know!!) In general, try to buy and use only trusted brands like Crayola. And if you do a project like this at home, be extra sure not to use any questionable crayons that may release toxic fumes. You can learn more about this craziness here: http://healthychild.org/is-asbestos-in-your-childrens-toys/
Filed under: crafts, food + water, giveaway, review, toys
I don’t usually bake with food coloring – but, then again, I don’t really bake much apart from bread. I have, however, tried to use vegetable juice to dye my homemade play-dough, but that didn’t turn out so well – it was just a terrible mess of beet juice and bits of beets staining the kitchen. So I was excited to learn about Maggie’s Naturals, a food coloring made from all natural and organic plant, fruit, and vegetable extracts.
Maggie’s Naturals believes you should know the food that you ingest is safe, know the ingredients on the label, and trust the companies that make them. And it’s easy to trust this same company that produces eco-kids, a line of art supplies using non-toxic, natural ingredients and environmentally friendly packaging. We love the finger paints, play-dough, and even non-toxic crayons and glue for crafts.
Maggie’s Naturals is available in six colors including blue made from Green made from green gardenia extract, spinach, and parsley and Pink made from beets and sweet potato.The set costs $60 for six colors, but could probably last for an entire childhood of cookies.
Two lucky readers will either a Maggie’s Naturals 6-pack of Food Colorings ($60) or an Eco Dough + Rolling Pin set ($30). Contest closes 9/10 and winners will be randomly selected.
Disclosure: This company gave me a sample for review. Regardless, my opinions are honest. See my full disclosure here.