Up-cycled No-sew TOMS


My sister has been harassing me to replace my TOMS for the past six months. I own three pairs, and they are all tattered. I was trying to hold out until summer came to a close and just get a new pair next spring. You really can’t wear canvas shoes in Seattle when it is the rainy season (the majority of the year) unless your want your feet soaked in about ten minutes. As our extra hot and dry summer has stretched on, I finally decided something needed to be done with at least one pair of my ratty shoes. I had seen some repair ideas online- but they involved gluing a small bit of fabric or a patch onto the toe. I had worn holes in the heel and sides as well. So I decided to try using a very strong all purpose craft glue to re-surface the entire shoe. I chose wool felt as the main fabric because I happened to have it on hand, and also because I am hoping wool might be more durable and supportive, and keep my feet warmer and dryer than a simple cotton would. I also know how well felted wool can stretch and mold to a form, so I hoped it would be a forgiving material to work with. I used some scraps of patterned cotton for the toe and heel details, which I applied over the wool. Read on for a list of materials and basic steps.































Getting Ready for Fall: Easy DIY Pillows


I am brand new to sewing. My wonderful Mother in Law recently gave me a sewing machine for my birthday, and it sat in the corner intimidating me for several months. I took lessons in elementary school but the hobby didn’t stick, and I can’t recall anything from the lessons aside from my teacher doing a lot of the actual sewing, and putting a needle through my finger. Ack.

Thanks to Pinterest, my creative impulses eventually got the better of me and I made some very simple and beginner projects. I am very pleased with the results and have had a few people ask me to make them similar pillows, so I thought I would share the simple process here. I used my existing pillow inserts- they are down inserts I bought at Crate and Barrel when we were first married. They are still as good as new after seven years. I used a half yard of fabric per pillow. The beauty of these covers is that they don’t require buttons or zippers. As I’m getting more confident I’m thinking of going back and adding buttons just to secure the back and add a cute detail.

I found the tutorial, with step by step pictures, at the lovely blog thecreeklinehouse.com  She calls this her ten minute pillow cover. As a beginner, they definitely took me more than ten minutes. But it was a project I completed start to finish in one solid two-hour toddler nap time window.

Here is the link:



DIY Tutorial: Magnetic Fishing Game


I love a project that uses up fabric scraps and recycles odds and ends from around the house. I also love to make toys using natural materials. This is one of our new favorites. I didn’t have to buy a single thing, and I was able to make it using some simple sewing in just a couple of hours.

One nice thing about this game is that it allows for versatile play and can grow with a child. For now, we just set it up and try to hook the fish, and have some fun developing both fine and gross motor skills, and engaging in dramatic play. I plan to make another pole and about a dozen fish total. That way it can be played with a friend and is a way to play cooperatively and share. Later, it can be a prop for more complex games. My mom, who is also a career preschool teacher, uses a similar fishing game with her pre-k students. She sticks letters, numbers, or words to the fish and uses the game to work on recognition, reading, and math skills. Go fish!



A stick or dowel


A small hanging hook or carabiner that is free of sharp edges


Strong magnet



Fabric scraps to make the worm and fish

Stuffing, such as cotton, wool, or polyfill


To make the pole I cut a birch branch, added some twine, and tied a hook on the end. For some reason the previous owners of our house loved hanging things from the ceiling, so we removed several dozen little hooks and just had them in a jar. They can be purchased at any hardware store.

For the worm, I set the magnet on top of some pink corduroy fabric (the perfect material for a worm!) and free handed a cut that allowed room for the magnet to fit inside of the “head” and looked somewhat worm-ish. I left about a quarter inch seam allowance. I turned the front sides in, and inserted a small loop of ribbon at one end of the worm. I used a straight stitch on my sewing machine to do the seams on the worm and fish, but this would not take long to sew by hand. I started stitching near the loop, securing it in place, and continued to stitch around the edges, leaving an opening of about an inch and a half near the head so that I could flip the worm right-side out, and insert the magnet. I put a small bit of stuffing into the worm tail and hand stitched the opening shut.

For the fish, I used some cute and colorful fabric, which I set right-side (pattern side) facing inward, and cut some free hand fish. Again I cut the shapes a bit fatter to allow for a quarter inch seam. I looped some ribbon through a washer. I lined it up so that the washer and a loop of ribbon were between the two layers of fabric, and would be sewn so that they were coming out of the fish mouth when the fish was turned right-side out. If using a sewing machine take care to avoid the washer and don’t let it get underneath the presser foot or needle where it could damage the machine. Sew in the same way as the worm- leaving a small opening that is large enough to accommodate the washer and turn the fish right-side-out.

Make as many fish as you please. When you are finished you should have a little worm that you can loop onto your hook, and a set of fish that will snap neatly onto the “hook” when the magnetic worm touches the washer.

A blue blanket or play silk makes a perfect “pond” for your fish, and we found our couch to be the perfect fishing spot.

I just happened to have enough scrap burlap and canvas to make a simple bag, with a ribbon strap, to carry the fishing game. My toddler likes purses and my inner preschool teacher likes each of her toys, jobs, and games to be stored neatly, in a predictable place, with all of the pieces together.

We like to sing songs about fish while we are fishing. Our two favorites (which you can find the tunes for on Youtube) are “slippery fish” (the Octopus song), and the folk song “You get a line, I’ll get a pole”. I’ve included the lyrics to that one below. Happy Fishing!

The Crawdad Song

You get a line and I’ll get a pole, Honey,
You get a line and I’ll get a pole, Babe.
You get a line and I’ll get a pole,
We’ll go fishin’ in the crawdad hole,
Honey, Baby mine.

Sittin’ on the bank ’til my feet get cold, Honey,
Sittin’ on the bank ’til my feet get cold, Babe,
Sittin’ on the bank ’til my feet get cold,
Lookin’ down that crawdad hole,
Honey, Baby mine.

Yonder comes a man with a sack on his back, Honey,
Yonder comes a man with a sack on his back, Babe,
Yonder comes a man with a sack on his back,
Packin’ all the crawdads he can pack,
Honey, Baby mine.

The man fell down and he broke that sack, Honey,
The man fell down and he broke that sack, Babe,
The man fell down and he broke that sack,
See those crawdads backing back,
Honey, Baby mine.

I heard the duck say to the drake, Honey,
I heard the duck say to the drake, Babe,
I heard the duck say to the drake,
There ain’t no crawdads in this lake,
Honey, Baby mine.

Forager’s Delight: Evergreen Huckleberry Jam





Visiting family who live on an island in Puget Sound, we noticed an abundance of tiny blue and black berries growing on six foot tall shrubs. With the wonders of modern technology and the wisdom of our grandparents, we were able to verify that these were our lovely little native plant- the evergreen huckleberry. Thankfully we had some help picking – as the berries were tiny, and our toddler charges a hefty berry tax for her participation (one berry into the bucket = one handful into the mouth). After about an hour we had filled a medium size bowl.

I had never eaten these berries before, let alone cooked with them. I considered making a pie but ultimately decided jam was the best way to share their sweet blueberry-esque  flavor with friends, and enjoy it ourselves for weeks to come. This ended up being one of the best jams I’ve made. The only pain was de-stemming the berries.

My advice to others would be: these little buggers are tiny and you end up having to go through thousands of them. It is probably a good idea to pay close attention as you pick, and try to toss the stems and bad berries before they get into the bowl.

This is the first time I’ve ever used low sugar pectin- thanks Emily for the advice! It created a nice firm batch of jam. I used six cups of wild huckleberries, four cups of sugar, and one packet of low sugar pectin. That’s it! I heated the berries and mashed with a potato masher. This ended up releasing the lovely purple juice, and about half of the berries remained whole, so the final product was something like a combination of a jam and a preserve.

We liked it so much we decided to add some bushes to our yard! I love native plants because they are so low maintenance, and tend to compliment our local wildlife. For example, these are somewhat deer resistant plants. They make a lovely shrub or hedge and can do well with heavy rains or dry shade. Awesome. Unfortunately they are nearly impossible to transplant. However, we were able to find them at several area nurseries. After we brought them home, one of the baby bushes actually produced a handful of berries. We will hope for more next year!

Avgolemono Soup

I am currently participating in a workshare program on a local biodynamic farm. In exchange for my time and labor, I am given a large box of freshly harvested farm goodies. Since it’s so early in the season, I had a lot of greens, kale, chard, onions, and herbs. It’s easy to make a “throw everything in the pot” chicken and veggie soup, but we can get pretty burned out on that. As an alternative, this tangy, creamy, Greek soup is one of my favorites to make. It is thickened using eggs, which gives it a vitamin and protein boost and makes it much lighter than other creamy soups which are often thickened using cream, starches, or flour. The lemon/citrus flavor is unique and makes it a very refreshing dish.  After ordering it every time we visited our favorite Greek restaurant, I decided to learn how to make it myself. I adjusted the recipe each time, and it has a lot of flexibility. Feel free to add in extra veggies at any step along the way.

Trapping Leprechauns: so much to do, so little time


A spontaneous group project grew into a lesson in creativity, design, engineering, and psychology.

I had a plan going into school today. We’ve been exploring innovative artists. Jackson Pollock was on the agenda, and I was planning  an activity where the children could stand in the middle of a huge canvas and explore art as a process- using lots of different tools and textures and paints. I stopped by the grocery store on my way to work, to grab some whisks to use as tools for applying paint. At the front of the store there was a big St. Patrick’s Day display. Green food, Guinness, and plastic pots of gold.

On a whim, I decided I would share St. Patrick’s Day with the class. Half of my heritage is Irish, and  I’ve always enjoyed the day myself. We have a diverse group of students, so I knew many of them wouldn’t have heard about it. We also have an Irish student enrolled, and I was looking forward to talking about the holiday with him. I thought it would be fun to touch on some of the cultural traditions associated with the day, and with Ireland. I bought some shamrock stickers, and little brownies with green sprinkles.  Before the students arrived my co-teacher and I pulled out some traditional Irish folk stories and leprechaun tales, and added them to the bookshelf. This was still intended to be a side note to our other plans for the day.

Sometimes, things grow beyond our control and take on a life of their own. This was one of those times. We read one of the folk tales at morning circle time. Only a few of the children had heard of leprechauns before. They loved the idea. From the shamrocks and the Irish dancing, to the idea of tiny people who love gold and play tricks. They loved the magic, clever shenanigans, and riddles. Their eyes were bright with excitement and they couldn’t stop asking questions. They talked enthusiastically about what they would do with gold, and whether any of them had ever seen a fairy or a leprechaun before. In the midst of all of the excitement I turned to my co-teacher and whispered- “Let’s make leprechaun traps!” She loved the idea. When you are a somewhat impulsive and creative person it’s a real gift to have flexible co-workers. “Keep them busy!” I called, and ran into the storage room. I pulled out a bunch of tissue boxes, felt, Popsicle sticks, paper, sequins, glitter, bottle caps, and other treasures that seemed fit for the project. When I returned I invited the children “if anyone is interested in building a leprechaun trap, join me at the tables.” There was a stampede. Every single child madly dashed to the art tables in a creative fervor, and began gathering supplies.

Once they were settled I told them “Guess what? This is a surprise leprechaun party. It even surprised me, because I just now decided it was a party. SURPRISE!” and I passed out the brownies and stickers. Their excitement and happiness was tangible.  What could be better than a surprise party that even surprised the teachers? As they ate their brownies, we thought about what a leprechaun trap would need. This is what the children came up with as a group:

It would need to be hidden or camouflaged in some way, because leprechauns are clever.
It would need to be small, because leprechauns are small.
It would need some type of door or opening.
The leprechaun would either need to walk inside voluntarily, or the trap would need to surprise him- either with a trap door, or by falling on him.
If a leprechaun is going to check out the trap, we would need to add things that leprechauns would find interesting.

As the children began to build, they came up with a variety of innovative designs for their traps. Some of them made little houses or hotels or restaurants. These became tiny buildings with furniture and doors and signs, that looked like they were part of a leprechaun village. Some of them covered their boxes in sparkles or gold, because leprechauns like gold. One student filled her box entirely with cotton balls “because eventually the leprechaun will get tired and then it will look for someplace cozy.” One student had the idea to create a beautiful pretend leprechaun girl (like a mannequin) to lure any leprechauns looking for romance. As they worked out how to construct these traps, and used glue and sticks and tape, they became architects, and designers. Seeing things from the point of view of the leprechaun was an exercise in psychology and empathy. We discussed whether any of us might actually catch one, and if so, would we be willing to split the treasure? This was math. Probability and statistics and predictions. They remembered our story and used to to guess what might happen. They used signs and arrows and drew shamrocks and wrote notes to show the leprechauns where to go. This was a literacy exercise- reading, and writing, and storytelling. The entire time they worked, they talked through what they were doing. Explaining how the traps worked, and offering ideas to the students sitting around them. One child would throw out an idea, “What if we put a pot of gold inside?” and another child would build on it “Oh yes, these gold sequins could look like coins, or maybe we can cover a stone in glitter…” The room was abuzz with creative energy for a full hour. We delayed snack time and our second circle time so that they would have more time to work. When it was finally time to clean up, about a third of the children vowed that they would continue perfecting their traps at home.

We brought our traps outside, and then had a picnic in the grass. During our picnic, at the request of the children, we read another leprechaun tale. In the story, the leprechaun uses his wits to get out of trouble. When the book was over, and everyone was done eating, the children began to play. I watched them act out the stories, search for four leaf clovers, and hunt under bushes and trees with the hopes of glimpsing a little person.

At the end of the day, the children headed home covered in glitter, and glue, and paint. They were wide-eyed with excitement and stories to tell. Each set of little hands proudly and carefully carried a one-of-a-kind leprechaun trap. I can’t wait to hear what they catch.

As I stayed after class for a few extra minutes to clean up the aftermath of our project, I reflected on the day. I was so proud of their creativity and ingenuity, and the way every child had been included and worked together. Yes, we went off course from the plan. Very far off course actually. But at the end of the day they  had discovered many new things about art as a process, and so much more. My book about Jackson Pollock, and my Pollock art activity will still be there tomorrow. And tomorrow I will show up with my intentions and plans and supplies, and I will set my course. And the little explorers might steer us in a totally different direction. I will go willingly, seeking adventure, and following their excitement and interests like the North Star.

What if….

“What if I’m an ice queen, and you are my cat, but then I make you turn into ice with my wand.” Two preschool students are gesturing wildly with sticks as they play underneath a large fir tree. “Yeah,” adds the second child “but what if I have my own powers and if I point my wand at something and say ‘un-freeze’ then it is un-frozen.” The first child pauses, considers this, and nods. Then she exclaims “OK! Let’s GO!” and in a flash they are gone, running in the wild frenzy of children in the meadow.

Hearing the way four-year-olds pose alternate “what-if” realities is always amazing to me. They work together, trying out different scenarios, and alternating who controls the way their role playing will evolve. They are free to explore every possibility, expanding on ideas they like, and discarding ones that they don’t. This is how problem solving and imagination develop through play.

Sometimes as a teacher I can forget how much I have to learn from the children, and how well things can go when I step out of the role of instructor, and into the role of facilitating their dreams and creativity. Today, as I observed this imaginary “what-if” game, I was reminded of the importance of asking myself “what-if” a little more often. Saying no, and giving constant reminders, is one of the most challenging aspects of working with children. My least favorite moment is when I say something two or three times, and I look around and nobody is hearing me. Maybe because it’s loud. Maybe because there is something more exciting going on somewhere else. Maybe… deep breath…. because I am nagging them and they have tuned me out. When this happens, I need to ask myself “what-if”. What I made a change here? Maybe I need to let go of a rule that is already being ignored, or maybe I need to find a new way to communicate. Maybe I need to shift something in our routine to set the children up for success. Sometimes this means giving an extra 2 minute warning about what is about to happen. Or it might mean eliminating an unnecessary transition during the day. Sometimes it means I have to let go of my adult agenda, and see things from a child’s perspective.

I try my hardest to listen, to find ways to say YES. There was most definitely a time when a child might have come to me asking for glitter and tape, and I would have said “No, we aren’t using those today.” In my head I would have been thinking “What if it makes a mess? What if everyone sees the glitter and tape and they crowd the table and argue? What if nobody does the other project I prepared? What if this becomes more work for me somehow? What if doing this messes up my plan, and my schedule?” But I have learned how to put those negative what-ifs to bed. Because they aren’t about teaching. And they aren’t about the child. Those what ifs are about me. My point of view, and my problems. Today, I re-frame my thinking and make it about the child. I say to myself: What if I listen, and support this creativity? What if it helps them to make something wonderful? What if today could be their best day of school yet? and so instead of giving them no for an answer, I say “YES!” and together we go get the glitter and tape. And because they aren’t off limits, the children know they can use them when they feel they need them. So they don’t ask every day. And when they do ask, they have a good reason, and they end up making something they feel very proud of. So today I challenge all of the parents and teachers to be better grown ups, by following the lead of the children and asking ourselves, “What-if….”

When I started working with this group of children there was “no playing with sticks” rule already in place. Because “what if they poke each other? And what if someone loses an eye?” Well…. what if they don’t? Fingers are capable of poking people and eyes as well, and somehow they manage to control ten of those without too many problems. Don’t they at least deserve a chance to try? Because, you know, “what if”…. what if they come up with a new game? What if they need to dig a hole, or test the viscosity of some mud? What if they build a machine? What if they need a magic wand? What if we stopped having to say NO STICKS every five minutes, and took a deep breath and let them play? What if, when we yell “NO” we are interrupting a child as they are transforming into a character with a scepter, or a light saber, or a broom, or they are heading on an adventure with a fishing pole, or a walking stick? Maybe turning a stick into that pretend object will help their game evolve and to solve whatever problem has them stuck at the moment.

In our classroom I don’t give out a “No” unless I can explain the reasoning to the child in the same sentence. And if the child has a different idea, I ask myself “what if we give that a try?” What if we suspend our fears of what could go wrong, and we entertain new possibilities? What if we trust the children to do the right thing? What if we communicate our apprehension and see what they have to say? So I let the children know that grown ups were worried they might get hurt, and together we developed some ground rules for playing with sticks. So far, we have not had a single stick related injury all school year. Every child still has two eyeballs, fully intact. I think this is because the children value being trusted and included in the decision making process. They appreciate being listened to, and they listen in return.For the most part, children are careful with one another, and inherently kind, so nobody is actively trying to stab their friends.

If we had never changed our rule about sticks, and I had made them leave the chalk on the sidewalk, we would have missed a beautiful moment today. A moment where every single child in the class joined together in a pretend campfire. They looked for kindling, and firewood, and stoked pretend coals. One little boy painstakingly used the chalk to color the sticks on top of the pile orange and red and yellow, like flames. Another group hunted for long sticks to roast pretend hot dogs. The blue and white chalk became the marshmallows, roasting for s’mores. “What if we make one hundred s’mores…” I heard a small voice wonder. “Yeah,” added her friend “and then what if we look for shooting stars.” And then, at ten in the morning, under a sunny sky, that’s what we all did.

photo 5

Just Beneath the Surface

In January, February, and March, the Pacific Northwest days march on, damp and dark. There is a general sogginess to the world. I used to think that there was nothing outside but bare branches. Everything seemed dead and asleep. When I started to investigate the wet wintry landscape with the children we began to see life everywhere. Tiny. Hiding. Resting. Waiting. Reminding us of cycles, and the sunshine on the horizon. Lurking just beneath the surface.

We set up an incubator and selected our eggs. We cared for them and monitored the temperature and humidity, turned them, and counted the days. We talked about statistics and probability and predictions. Two eggs hatched. We talked about fractions and babies and joy and disappointment, and how things can be fragile and strong at the same time.

We set up an incubator and selected our eggs. We cared for them and monitored the temperature and humidity, turned them, and counted the days. We talked about statistics and probability and predictions. Two eggs hatched. Four didn’t. We talked about fractions and babies and joy and disappointment, and how things can be fragile and strong at the same time.

This week, some of our chicks hatched. Some didn’t. We talked about embryos and how we all start as cells and look very much the same. We wondered what happened inside of the eggs that didn’t hatch. We wondered if chicks have something like a bellybutton from where they are attached to the yolk as they grow (they do), and talked about why they don’t need milk and can eat solid food. We wondered if they know they don’t have a Mama hen, and how they might be feeling. We were amazed by how strong they are when they are so small and so new. We touched them and held them and sang to them and watched them fall asleep in our hands.

We welcomed a boy goat in the fall. We watched the Mama get bigger and bigger. We can see the babies moving, and feel them as they push one another and bump into our hands. A child shared that the babies are both real and pretend right now.

We welcomed a boy goat in the fall. We watched the Mama get bigger and bigger. We can see the babies moving, and feel them as they push one another and bump into our hands. A child shared that the babies are both real and pretend right now.

We noticed how big our goat is getting. We see legs and a head and try to guess how many babies she is growing. Maybe one, or two, or even three. We remembered when our friends and family members had babies in their tummies, and thought about how we used to fold up like that too. We wondered if the baby goats can talk to each other in their water world inside their Mama. We wondered if she will have enough for milk for them if there are more than two. We watch her eat next to the kid she had last year. We wondered if last year’s baby knows what is coming, and how she feels about being a sister. Someone asked how a baby goes poop while it’s floating in the water. I told them that the umbilical cord gives them nutrients and also takes the waste away, so the Mama eats and poops for the babies. The children then asked what happens if that special cord gets pinched so nothing can get through, so we talked about that as well. Then we talked about how bodies and babies are amazing, and if they love these things maybe they can be midwives or nurses or doctors when they get bigger.

We check the soil and the branches and notice as they change from week to week. In Winter things seem dead, but really they are just getting ready. The leaves and buds appear during the shortest darkest days, and get ready. Each week they change a little bit. They are wrapped up tight, like little presents. Now, they are ready to explode.

We check the soil and the branches and notice as they change from week to week. In Winter things seem dead, but really they are just getting ready. The leaves and buds appear during the shortest darkest days. Each week they change a little bit. They are wrapped up tight, like little presents. Now, they are ready to explode.

The earth and the trees are getting ready to be green and bright and put on a show. We watch the new life emerging from seeds and sprouts, and see the trees getting ready to unfurl their leaves, and we are excited. In order to notice these changes we had to go back over and over to the same trees and dirt and secret places, and watch the way they were affected by weather and the way they changed over time. Today there was a flood, and a field became a wetland. We wonder how this will affect the plants and animals we have been watching.