Sunday, December 31, 2017

Craft: Therapeutic Rice Bags

I had hoped to write this post earlier in the month, but I am just now getting around to it, which gives me the chance to wish you a Happy New Year!

Our fifth grader wanted to continue our tradition of giving her teachers a homemade gift for Christmas. Finding inspiration in the January/February 2016 edition of American Girl Magazine, she searched through a basket of material scraps in the craft closet and set off to make rice bags that after being placed in the microwave or freezer could be used to help relieve sore muscles.

Winging it with the first rice bag, she modeled the others after it. She decided a pair of 4" x 14" rectangles would do the trick. In addition to this gray polka dot fabric, she used cute prints, including characters like Charlie Brown and Rudolph along with another featuring festive Christmas trees, which were left over from another project.

Using sewing clips, she secured the edges with the right sides of the fabric together. These clips were easy for her to use and remove as she sewed, avoiding pin pricks and the need for assistance from an adult.

 She sewed a straight stitch along one 4" and both 14" sides, leaving the other 4" end open.

After turning the sleeve so the right sides of the fabric faced out, she used a skewer to help reveal the sewn corners when they remained tucked in the sleeve. She filled the bag with between 2 and 2 1/4 cups of uncooked, white rice. On occasion, the skewer helped clear the funnel as she poured the rice in the bag. 

Prior to this point, we had discussed different ways to finish the bag, and she chose to use the sewing machine to close the open edge of the full bag with a visible straight stitch. Heating and cooling instructions were handwritten on a tag that she attached to the bag with a safety pin.

She completed every step of the project on her own, and she was proud of the accomplishment, especially when her teachers expressed their appreciation for her effort.

I share this project here because she made a bag for me, and I found it to be quite soothing on tight muscles. Not only do these rice bags make great gifts, they are relatively easy and inexpensive to create. Scout troops could put them together and distribute them as part of a service project - recipients could include family members with a loved one in the hospital, residents in assisted living facilities, women in a residential addiction recovery program, or veterans staying in a Fisher House. Get even more creative and combine the project with a badge the troop is interested in earning. Have fun! And thank you for reading.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Slumber Party for Tweens, Part 2

Our younger daughter turned 11 this weekend, and she invited a few friends over to celebrate. This lover of art decided to have an arts and crafts themed slumber party. As we bumped around the internet for ideas, we came across This website provides great inspiration for parties hosted at home. Though our daughter chose activities we have done in the past , I wanted to mention the site as a wonderful resource for inspiration.

Tie Dye Pillowcases

I bought pillowcases at a discount store (2 for $2), and I purchased a Tulip Paradise Punch Tie Dye Kit. After washing the pillowcases, I swirled the fabric and secured each with three rubber bands, following the instructions shown in the kit's directions. With the pillowcases prepared, the girls only had to douse them with dye during the party. NOTE: While I did wash the pillowcases, I did not use soda ash.  We did not use plastic wrap. Instead, we placed each tie dyed pillowcase in a gallon-size zippie bag and let them sit overnight. The next morning, I rinsed the pillowcases in cold water. Be sure to wear gloves! I tossed all of the pillowcases in the washer and ran them through a quick cycle, using hot water. I then threw them in the dryer, pulling them out well in advance of the parents' arrival. As I revealed the designs to the girls, I made sure to emphasize how they all started with the same twisted fabric and the same colors of dye, though their pillowcases turned out differently - each unique and beautiful - just like them.

Alcohol-Inked Ceramic Tiles
Last year, our older daughter and I attended Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, and she had an opportunity to create an alcohol-inked ceramic tile. The instructions are detailed here, but I thought I'd show one tile created during the party this weekend.

Sketchbook Party Favors
Our daughter loves to draw, and she has many how-to books that have helped her learn to draw Disney Characters , horses, Dogs & Puppies, and zoo animals. During the party, she wanted to teach her friends how to draw her favorites. I found sketch pads on clearance and made a cover sheet to personalize one for each girl. I downloaded a free Disney font (this one is "New Walt Disney") and then found sketches of some of her favorite Disney and Pixar characters to copy and paste into a Word document I later printed and glued to the cover. The girls enjoyed drawing, and I instructed them to search for tutorials online at home with permission from a parent or caregiver.

We served pasta, meatballs, garlic bread, and salad for dinner, birthday cake for a snack, and donuts and strawberries for breakfast. When we weren't working on crafts, the girls played games they had created during recess at school. Though our kitchen got a little messy, the girls had a great time! Maybe Scout troops could incorporate these activities into a holiday party. Maybe they could complete badge steps in the process. If you give them a try, I hope you have fun with the kids! Thank you for reading.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Holiday Party Idea for Students and Scouts

During the Reader Retreat I attended this weekend, author Becky Wade used M&Ms to illustrate the steps required in the creation of a novel. In this super fun activity, participants passed a bag of the colorful candies around the room. We each took one piece, and the bag was passed around four different times.

In Round 1, the color of our M&M determined the genre of our novel. We learned the setting of our story in Round 2. The professions of our heroine and hero were discovered in Rounds 3 and 4. We then spent a couple of minutes brainstorming different events that could bring our heroine and hero together. In the next step, we listed her story goal as well as his. Then we wrote and revised the first sentence of our story.

I woke up this morning with the thought that this activity could be fun to try with students during a classroom party or with Scout troops during a holiday party. I spent a few minutes jotting down possible characters and settings for Halloween and Christmas stories. I do realize the Halloween jobs are stereotypical, and I included a couple of faith-based ideas. These can be modified to fit the needs of your group.


                Setting                     Heroine's Role                   Hero's Role

Red           Castle                        Cheerleader                        Cowboy
Orange  Haunted House                   Nurse                              Pirate
Yellow    Graveyard                      Princess                            Fireman
Green     Pumpkin Patch                   Witch                        Football Player
Blue       on the Moon                       Baby                         Superhero/Jedi
Brown  Deep in the Woods                Cat                                Soldier


                Setting                     Heroine's Role                   Hero's Role

Red      in Santa's Sleigh               Nutcracker                         Scrooge
Orange  under the tree                    Angel                              Santa
Yellow      Toyland                         Caroler                             Grinch          
Green     in a manger                        Elf                                Rudolph
Blue        on the roof                     Mrs. Claus                          Frosty
Brown on the Polar Express      Gingerbread Man                       Elf

Depending on the party agenda, you could have the kids stop after the first sentence has been written and ask for volunteers to read them aloud to the group. Or additional time could be given to allow the kids to write a short story. They could illustrate the paper as well, and then this exercise could be considered both a game and a craft. Not only will they be practicing their writing skills, it's free, and there's no clean up. Sounds great to me!

I hope your kids have a great start to the school year. Before we know it, teachers will be asking for classroom party volunteers, and the planning will begin. I wish you the best as you settle into a new routine this fall. As always, thank you for reading.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Service Project: United Through Reading

With Memorial Day memories fresh in my mind, I look ahead and begin preparations for our family's 4th of July festivities. In addition to cookouts, parades, and sparklers, we will make our annual Independence Day donation to the United Service Organizations (USO). We receive USO mailings on a regular basis, and through one of these packets, I learned about United Through Reading.

United Through Reading (UTR) is "dedicated to uniting U.S. military families who face physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together. UTR creates emotional connections between parents and their children, encourages literacy, and makes homecomings easier."

How does it work?  A service member stops by a United Through Reading recording area near his or her duty station. A book is chosen from the UTR library provided, and a video of the service member reading the story is recorded and sent home to the family. The organization's website details the impact of UTR on the families they serve:
  • 81% of participants report a decrease in their children’s anxiety about the deployment
  • 88% of participants report an increase in connectedness with deployed service members
  • 90% of participants report that participation reduced their own stress during deployment
  • 78% of participants report increases in their child’s interest in reading and books
  • 83% of UTR recordings are watched nearly every day or more often.
More than 80% of participants report that recordings are enjoyed every day or even several times a day. It’s not unusual for children to watch a recorded story 250 times during a ten-month deployment.
How can you help? 
  • Donations are accepted online, by phone, or by mail. United Through Reading is made possible by generous sponsors and donors. Your gift matters!
  • Volunteer. Become part of the United Through Reading Team:  event and communications volunteers are needed.
As we encourage kids to participate in a Summer Reading Program at a local library or bookstore, and as we guide our Scout troops toward various ways to use the money earned during the Cookie Sale, let's remember our service members and their families and give them a gift they will treasure.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Kindness Diaries

Earlier this spring, our daughters discovered The Kindness Diaries as they scrolled through recommended show selections on Netflix. For readers who may be unfamiliar with this adventurous documentary, here is a description of the series:

"Host Leon Logothetis travels the world with only a vintage motorbike and the kindness of strangers, which he pays back in unexpected, inspiring ways."

As we watched each excursion, I was inspired to incorporate his vision in various ways while traveling with our family this summer. I then decided to share my thoughts in this blog post, hoping to encourage other families and even Scout troops to do the same.

When planning a vacation or road trip, people may set aside a discretionary budget for souvenirs. What if your family or Scout troop decided not to buy a t-shirt, cinch sack, fridge magnet, or postcard from the gift shop at your destination, but instead, chose to spend this money to brighten someone's day or make a stranger more comfortable?

Here are some pocketbook-friendly ideas:
Buy someone a cup of coffee
Deliver a doughnut to an unsuspecting recipient
Treat a stranger to lunch
Fill a person's tank with gas
Cover another's campsite costs for a night
Pool your money and purchase a blanket for a homeless person

*If the timing and circumstances are right, consider learning more about the person's story.

As I watched Leon travel around the world, my thoughts drifted to Thinking Day. If your troop is making plans for their Thinking Day booth, host an overnight for the girls and watch an episode or two of this series for ideas and inspiration on a featured destination. While the show is rated TV-G, I would recommend adults preview the show before viewing with children and asses the appropriateness for your kiddos.  Side note:  If your troop chooses to learn more about Uganda, consider watching Queen Of Katwe (rated PG). If the girls wish to discover more about India, I recommend Million Dollar Arm (also rated PG).  Both are great stories that provide a glimpse of the respective countries and cultures. Again, I recommend adults preview these movies before showing them to the Scouts.

Whether you're heading across the country, setting out on a short road trip, or driving across town to the local pool this summer, remember Leon and his quest. With small acts of kindness, we can make this world a better place. As always, thank you for reading.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cupcake Club: March and April

This spring, the Cupcake Club at my daughter's school experimented with buttercream and flower tips as well as fondant. I'm sharing here in case troop leaders are hosting a spring event for the troop - a craft, snack, and service project in one!

Club members used Wilton Round Tip #3, Petal Tip #102, and Petal Tip #104, and Leaf Tip #352 to decorate these strawberry cupcakes. Prior to the meeting, I made and colored buttercream before filling various piping bags. Since most of the kids have been introduced to a piping bag at home, I didn't provide instruction unless someone was struggling. Instead, I let them test it out and try different techniques on their own. These cupcakes were donated to a local senior center.


As Easter approached, we invited my incredibly talented sister-in-law to be a guest instructor. My daughter chose Lynlee's popular Pinterest design for this month's meeting. Club members first iced the carrot cake cupcakes and then dipped them in crushed chocolate graham crackers. Our guest instructor showed them how to make the bunny, and club members worked with her individually to make their rose "cabbages." Huge thanks to Danielle for spending time with us that afternoon. It was their favorite meeting of the year.

 Danielle's example.

 I love how a couple girls made brown bunnies with spots.

In addition to the Bunny Garden cupcakes, the girls used the Wilton Grass Tip #233 to pipe green grass on the remaining carrot cake cupcakes before decorating them with mini jelly bean "eggs." The cupcakes were donated to a local women's shelter. I'm sure the women and children seeking safety there enjoyed a sweet taste of home.

We're planning a field trip for our last meeting of the year. I invite you to check back soon. Thank you for reading.


While driving around town this morning, I heard a story on the radio about the #DuffleShuffle and felt inspired to share the movement with readers. 

The number of children in out-of-home care in Northern Kentucky and Hamilton County (Ohio) due to child abuse and neglect is staggering and still on the rise. But this is not just a significant issue in the Cincinnati tri-state area - it's an alarming trend across our nation and the globe. As these children are shuffled from one home to another, they often shove their belongings in garbage bags. They deserve better. When you think about the statistics, it's safe to say our children and teens know someone who is living in transition.

The Children's Home of Northern Kentucky is collecting NEW duffle bags for kids and teens in out-of-home care (e.g., foster care, kinship care, residential treatment) around the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati area. Please note:  There are countless organizations around the world who help abused and neglected children. Donations to those organizations are a blessing to the children they serve.

Around this time of year, troops are counting their profits from the Cookie Sale. While we all want to (and should) do something fun with the money, the Scouts are also encouraged to use a portion of their earnings to serve others. 

How can your troop help?
1.  Buy a NEW duffle.  If you'd like to stuff the duffle, check out this link for a list of useful items. They also accept monetary donations.
2.  Shuffle and Share.* Record your best shuffling dance moves and share on social media, using #DuffleShuffle  
3.  Duffle Drop.  Drop off the duffles at an official Duffle Drop location between now and June 30, 2017.

*By participating in this movement, Scouts can complete various petals badge steps. Think along the lines of being considerate and caring or friendly and helpful. Are your girls earning a badge with dance requirements? Or do they have to make a video or learn about online safety and use of social media? Some may be learning about budgets. Maybe they could write or draw about the experience to satisfy an additional badge step. There are many creative ways they could with such a project.

"The combination of your donations, dancing, and duffle bags will both encourage awareness for the kids and their struggles in our area and provide them with a renewed sense of connection and community. We know our efforts are not a solution to ending child abuse and neglect, but our hope is that the Duffle Shuffle moves people to open their hearts and homes to kids in out-of-home care." - Children's Home of Northern Kentucky

As always, thank you for reading.