Pencil Holder

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This toddler craft is so easy but the result is a pencil holder that really does look (almost!) like real leather. It’s a beautiful gift and your toddler can proudly claim to have made it themselves.

To start, clean and dry a 15-ounce can. I then showed Veronika how to cover it with strips of masking tape. She loved pressing these down by herself, and I only helped to make sure they overlapped and no metal was showing.

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Now it was time to make it look like leather. First she painted it with brown paint, very studiously applying it with her brush. I later added a second coat of paint for a polished look.

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Once dry, spray with shellac. (Note: This is a grown-up-only step, and be sure to do so in a well-vented area). I also wrote her name and the date on the bottom.

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Veronika is so proud, and this will make a perfect gift for daddy on Christmas morning!

Second Birthday Party: Tractor Harvest

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Veronika is obsessed with tractors, and since her birthday is in the fall, it was a natural fit to tie the vehicle in with a farm theme for the autumn harvest.

This party was very different departure from others I’ve planned, since it was the first time an event took place off site, followed by the party finale back at home.

But as always things start with the invite! I ordered a classic green-and-yellow tractor design (from Amazon) to fill guests in on the deets.

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The birthday girl got a tractor dress to fit the theme (Etsy), and was so thrilled when I pulled it out on party day. “It’s cozy!” she told me.

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The rest of us didn’t want to overdo it on the tractor theme, but plaid prints seemed appropriate for farmers and harvest time.

Onto the decor! Yellow and green balloons matched with a set of party ware (also Amazon) including plates, napkins, paper cups, and cutlery.

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Outside, where the two-year-old guests would be playing, we set up a mini farm! Small straw hay bales (from Party City) were topped with our farm and tractor toys.

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Don’t forget a few seasonal pumpkins. A vinyl tablecloth underneath meant cleanup of all that straw was, well, a piece of cake.

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I kept food primarily to single-serve noshes to keep the party safe in the era of COVID-19.

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Packets of Cape Cod trial mix, applesauce pouches, and clementines (which looked like mini pumpkins), all fit the harvest feel, as well as veggie chips in a trio of harvest colors: orange, yellow, and green.

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Even the cake featured veggies from the earth: Carrot cake perfectly fit the bill.

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Before all of that, though, our guests gathered at a local farm for a behind-the-scenes tour. Including of course, tractors!

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Then it was back to our patio for cake and socially-distanced play outside. Entertain big kids with pumpkin bowling while the little ones play with the farm toys. If you want to organize a toddler circle time, sing classics like Old Macdonald Had a Farm or Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.

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Favors were very simple: mini bottles of farm animal bubbles to take home!

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Needless to say, this party girl had fun on the farm.

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Halloween Countdown Day 15: Eat Orange Meals

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Forget about eating the rainbow for a day. As we reach the halfway point in our countdown to Halloween, it was time to eat only orange for the day (well, mostly orange).

At each meal, I made sure to include at least two orange foods. Breakfast featured oranges and pumpkin waffles.

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Snacks included goodies like vegan cheese crackers, cheddar cheese slices, and crunchy orange bell peppers.

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Carrots were the star of the show at lunch, including a carrot sauce over sauteed tofu.

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Dinner featured roasted butternut squash and orange pasta (Note: if you cook up red lentil pasta, it will turn orange after it boils). An carrot-laced marinara sauce finished things off!

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The one place we didn’t have orange was dessert. Too bad we didn’t have pumpkin pie in the house! What would you serve on an all-orange day? Please share in the comments!

Balloon, Cork, and Ice Bath

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What do the three items in the title of this post have in common? They all float in water! And that was precisely the point of this simple way to make bathtime more fun. Little did Veronika know that this was a mini lesson on density, disguised as novel water toys.

For the first surprise, I tossed in a handful of corks I’d been saving (you can also simply purchase corks at a craft store). These were fun to bob around like little boats. We could even have cork boat races.

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Big brother Travis suggested drawing faces on them! Now they became little swimmers to figure into the kids’ imaginative games.

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Next, I blew up a few bright balloons and tossed these in. I challenged the kids to try dunking the balloons under the water, and of course they popped up every time.

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Veronika also loved pouring “potions” over the balloons. For the final surprise, I tossed in a handful of ice cubes.

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These floated for a moment (again, there’s that mini science lesson), before very quickly disappearing. Could we hold them in our hands as they melted? Not for long!

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Needless to say, bath was extra fun tonight with minimal effort on my part.

Mars Rover Kiwi Crate

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Travis has long had a fascination with Mars and the NASA rovers, so he was thrilled to discover this month’s crate from Kiwi Co. A chance to make his own rover! He wanted to know if it could really go to Mars, and although the answer was sadly no, there was lots of fun to be had.

We jumped right in to making the Mars Rover: Travis enjoyed helping with the axles, one featuring square holes and one round so kids can tell them apart.

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The base of the rover is made from a wood frame, but Travis grew frustrated with the following step to thread through string that attaches the spring.

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The tension of this spring is what makes the rover move forward, similar to a pull-back car toy. With a little grown-up assistance, the rover was complete.

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He loved the second part of the project: Make the Flag. Using the wooden flagpole as a scratching tool, kids can scratch off the black surface of the flag to reveal rainbow paper underneath.

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The sky’s the limit for what design to put on the flag, but Travis just loved revealing the color underneath and spent such careful time on this.

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Once my artist declared his flag done, we threaded it onto the wooden flagpole. Insert the flagpole into the stand on the rover, and then i’s time to wind up and give it a test.

Alas, I can’t say any of us were wowed by the results. Yes, the rover moves forward, but neither very fast nor very far. Perhaps our strings or spring weren’t taut enough?

Still, we forged ahead to make the Crater Course. Layers of cardboard are piled up and put on a felt “Mars” surface. Send your rover over them and see if it can make it across the bumpy ground.

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There were lots of suggested ways to vary the course: Space the craters further apart, arrange them in different ways, or pile them on top of each other.

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After that, there was still more experimentation to try! We turned to the crate’s suggestion of rubbing cooking oil over the strings, to see if this resulted in a faster rover. Well, no, but the kids thought it was funny!

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Then we set up a little course for the rover, with a piece of cardboard angled off two books. Could the rover make it up?

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Alas, still no, even when we added other items (a paper towel, a fluffy towel) to give it more traction. Well, at least it could zoom down!

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As a final experiment, it was time to make our own Mars sand. We filched some from the playground, then poured it into the Kiwi box.

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Add a little bit of water, along with a steel-wool scrubber. Ideally we’ll see the sand take on a reddish hue in a few days as it turns rusty from the iron, just like the sand on the Red Planet!

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Halloween Countdown Day 6: Paint with Pumpkins

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We’ll be doing lots of pumpkin decorating now that Halloween is fast approaching, but for today’s build up to the big fright night, it was time to paint not on a pumpkin, but with a pumpkin!

Yup, pumpkins can be your “brush”, instead of just your canvas. I rolled out a big piece of craft paper and set out a tray with all the colors we’re seeing outside right now: orange, yellow, red, and green.

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I showed Veronika how to hold a mini pumpkin by the stem, dip it in the paint, and then press onto the paper.

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“Let’s try yellow!” she said.

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“Let’s  try orange!”

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Because she had seated herself squarely in the middle of the craft paper, she soon had pumpkin marks all around her, just like a little pumpkin patch!

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You can also roll the sides of the pumpkins in the paint, and then roll them across the paper. But be careful, this gets a bit messier!

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Of course then Veronika wanted to get her hands in the paint. She dipped in curious fingers, and then smeared the colors across the paper.

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This was wickedly fun!

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If you have older kids, perhaps you’d even dare to try painting with full-size pumpkins. What happens, I wonder, if you roll them across the paper!

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Ranch-Style Pasta

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This easy pasta salad is perfect for lunch since it’s best served chilled. Use rotini or fusilli for a fun spiral shape.


  • 2 and 1/2 cups uncooked corkscrew-shaped pasta
  • 1/2 cup sliced vegan deli ham (such as Tofurky)
  • 1/2 cup cubed vegan cheddar (such as Violife)
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy ranch dressing
  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain and transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine.

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Threading for Toddlers

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Veronika wanted to copy along when Travis threaded beads to make friendship bracelets back in the spring, so today I thought I’d introduce her to the skill! Threading is a fantastic fine motor activity for toddlers, and although I didn’t expect Veronika to ace it today, the idea was to introduce the concept and see if she could loop some items with large holes onto string.

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Good, early items for toddlers to thread include dried tube-shaped pasta, cut up pieces of a paper towel tube, beads with big holes, and wooden craft spools.

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At first I was going to have her thread onto shoe laces…

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…but these were a little droopy and wobbly. We switched over to pipe cleaners which were much sturdier for her!

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She was most interested in the pasta, which was by far the easiest item for her to thread. She could loop it onto the shoelace or the pipe cleaner with a little assistance.

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She also loved testing out the beads, although these were tough for her fingers.

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After a short while, she was mostly just interested in playing with the materials.

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But I thought it was so sweet when big brother Travis swooped in and created a “bracelet” for Veronika.

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She loved his creation!

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Taco Notebook

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On the heels of a fun avocado textbook, here was another project to kit out Travis’s school supplies for the first day next week!

Travis helped glue a piece of brown cardstock to the cover of a standard spiral notebook. Then we glued scrapbook paper in a gingham print (which reminded us of a picnic blanket!) on to the first sheet of paper of the notebook; let dry.

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Trim the edge of the cover so it is rounded like a taco shell.

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Next up was cutting taco fillings (lettuce, tomato, and cheese shreds) from felt. This was great scissor practice for Travis since felt is tough to cut.

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We glued the felt shapes along the inside cover of the “taco shell”.

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Once closed, it looked almost good enough to eat!


Fuzzy Book Covers

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With back-to-school just around the corner, I’m starting to put together fun supplies for Travis to help ease his transition. These fuzzy book covers, a cute idea from Highlights magazine, will make any textbook go from daunting to exciting.

Since Travis hasn’t actually received books from his new teacher yet, we practiced the craft with a favorite book from home: his nature field guide.

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Cut a piece of green felt so it completely covers a textbook, leaving an extra 1/2-inch or so on the sides and top. Use hot glue (or tacky glue) to adhere the felt along the inside cover.

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Cut an oval from brown felt, and glue in the center of the cover. Now you have an avocado… so we avocadon’t forget to study, as Highlights pointed out.

You can have fun with this and make lots of different fruits and veggies from different colors of felt. You could make them even fluffier with craft fur instead of felt, too!