Sunday, December 6, 2015

DIY Kindness Elves and Elf Portal

I guess I expected too much from Elf on the Shelf. I think it happens to everyone. I hoped that a fun, creative way of having an elf around would encourage my kids to behave a bit better and would save me some lectures.

Of course that was the easy way out, trusting a doll to take care of my parenting responsibilities.  I was already debating before Thanksgiving  whether we should have our Elf on the Shelf return again this year. It just felt like the return was not worth the time I put in it. But, my youngest son loved the creative and fun idea of having an elf around. I needed a creative and fun way to teach my kids to try a bit harder to think of others during the Advent instead of the usual lectures.

Enter the Kindness Elves. I happened upon the idea right before Thanksgiving and while I would have loved to order a set, it was already sold out.  Of course I had the brilliant (yes, I am being sarcastic)  idea to make my own the week before December 1. Because I have so much free time on my hands. And I can just whip things out in a flash and they turn out perfect for the first try.

Just to be clear, I am not expecting miraculous results, I simply hope that a more creative way to package daily lectures  lessons on kindness will stick for at least until Christmas.

So, here is my take on the Kindness Elves.
First, our Elf on the Shelf did come the day after Thanksgiving to bring a letter to my kids. In the letter he explained that Santa has been concerned about the lack of kindness in our family and to help us learn more about the magic of kindness, he is sending his experts, the Kindness Elves to teach us. The Kindness Elves would arrive from their home, the Black Forest in Germany (geography lesson!) and since they are wood elves and not North Pole elves, they cannot fly, therefore an Elf Portal will be provided for us to help the Kindness Elves to travel quickly from our home to the North Pole and their home in the Black Forest. The Kindness Elves have hundreds of years of practice in kindness, they  help lost or hurt hikers, travelers or even plants and animals in the forest. They are also small and hard to notice and would assign tasks for us to do help us learn about being kind and the kids are to write short notes back all through Elf Mail to Santa.

The DIY Elf Portal (Because somehow I got the idea that Kindness Elves don't fly. A simple homemade mailbox couldn't do.  Obviously, I like to complicate my own life.)

I used a this wooden birdhouse from Joann's, picked up a thin 3 in by 3 in wood square in the same aisle and asked a very kind and talented friend (thanks again, Wendy) to make a doorway in the front of the birdhouse.

 I used 3 Popsicle sticks and the wood square to make the mailbox.

Painted everything then when the paint was dry, glued the mailbox to the side of the birdhouse. Use wood glue and clamp for best result.

Elf Portal done!

The Elves

I chose to make Waldorf style bendy dolls. Here is a great tutorial that I based my elves on. But let me warn you that wrapping these guys is not as easy as it looks. My first elf looked like he had an Egyptian mummy ancestor. It was pretty sad. I decided to practice my wrapping first a bit and delay the Kindness Elves' arrival. They sent a note to my kids to let them know that they were stuck in a snowstorm, could not get to the nearest portal and will be a few days late. But, they did send a book to the kids to read about kindness and their first task was to find kindness around them! They were instructed to pay attention and notice when someone was kind to them and write about it on the North Pole Notes I made,  and put it in the Elf Mail box. You can download the blank North Pole Notes  HERE.

Almost moved on and forgot to go into a bit more detail about the book the elves got! I ordered The Golden Rule and we all loved it! Well, maybe I loved it the most, but the kids did like it too. The book explains in such a wonderful way what kindness is and how we should treat others. My kids enjoyed reading about what other religions say about treating each other as well. I am surprised I did not come across this book earlier, it is a keeper!

Since I had a few extra days to make the elves, I had time to procrastinate until last minute again and changed the original design. The changes I made follow:

 1. used yarn instead of embroidery thread
2. doubled the pipe cleaners

My elves are a bit thicker but I feel they are sturdier. I started wrapping with embroidery thread but I didn't like it. Yarn was quicker and I felt I had better control.
 To double up I cut a shorter piece, I did not want the hands to be too chunky and used the single long ends for the hands.

 Same with the legs, but here I trimmed 2 ends to be shorter. For the second double pipe cleaner leg, I simply folded an equal length piece and held it to the body while I wrapped it on to secure it. By the way, WRAP TIGHT!
 To add the boots, I stopped wrapping with the white yarn once I got to the end of the short pipe cleaner, glued it down, then wrapped and folded up the end of the long pipe cleaner.

 Then I added details, cut hair etc. And made clothes. I was going to make a pattern but realized each of my elves were a tad different. I made Mossyoak much taller and slimmer than Tinleaf. But I did make a basic tunic and hat design I could alter as needed. For the boys elves I cut the sides of the tunic straight down and were of course shorter. By the way, don't forget to add seam allowance! I sewed the elf clothing just like I would a regular tunic, inside out. Just be gentle when you turn it right side out as to not pop any seams. 
Before I sewed them together I also used some fancy stitches on my machine to decorate the edges of the hat and the tunics.

Tip: trim hair after you place the hat on, and secure hat with some glue before you put it on.

Naming the elves.

Did you know there is an elf name generator? Yup! Crazy stuff you find online!
Only generated one name, Darunia and came up with Tinleaf and Mossyoak on my own. Since they are wood elves, I wanted their names to reflect their woodsy heritage.




I chose some activities from the brand new Kindness Elves site and came up with a few of my own.

Here is my list:

Lesson 1: Be kind by encouraging someone
Lesson 2. Be kind by serving someone
Lesson 3: Be kind by being patient (allow someone else to go first, etc)
Lesson 4: Be kind by being cheerful and smiling at others (kids got toothbrushes)
Lesson 5: Candy Cane bomb cars on our street
Lesson 6: Find kindness (Kindness Elves do service all day for the kids and the kids have to find what, like doing some of their chores, etc.)
Lesson 7: Be kind by sharing (donate toys)
Lesson 8: Be kind by complementing someone and saying "thank you" more often
Lesson 9: Being kind is sometimes NOT doing something we really want to (no complaining, whining, name calling)
Lesson 10: Be kind by caring for others (taking flowers to someone and a meal)
Lesson 11: Bake some cookies and share them
Lesson 12: Be kind by being more thankful (write thank you notes for each other)
Lesson 13: Be kind to animals (make a bird feeder)
Lesson 14: Be kind by thinking of those who are hungry (donate food to the local food bank)
Lesson 15: Be kind by taking care of our earth (pick up trash at the park)
Lesson 16: Be kind by giving hugs!
Lesson 17: Be kind by being helpful (help each other with chores)
Lesson 19: This will fall on Christmas Eve and the elves will bring a new nativity set for the kids (our old one is broken and missing pieces), read about the birth of Christ from the Bible and find kindness in the scriptures or examples of kindness

Obviously we have not done all of them yet. We started out good and hope that we will carry on with a good attitude. Today was an already great day, my 6 year old comforted his sad little sister when her balloon flew away and gave her his own! I will update this post in the new year about how it went.

And one last thing, being kind can achieve miracles. The following article is worth to read:
What happened when I was nice to everyone and I mean everyone?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Disney Princesses Printable Peg Clothes {FREE printable}

Making these Disney Princesses Peg Clothes was a labor of love. I am not going to lie, it was challenging and hard. I am self taught and I learned a lot making these printable clothes.

However, the printable clothes make it much easier to make Disney princesses peg dolls. I already made 2 sets and I love how they turned out. Best part? If you have a little artist on your hands, she can color her own princess outfits. The files are made for large and small peg dolls and both have the color-your-own versions as well. You can find large peg dolls HERE or on Etsy and most craft stores carry the small peg dolls.


Please make sure you do not fit or scale the page before printing as it may cause the size of the template to change. You may print the pages on your home printer on copy paper or card stock paper, however I recommend taking the files to your local print shop. Depending on the paper thickness, there will be a change in how much the front and back pieces overlap on the sides. The design will fit with the smallest amount of overlap on 60 lb card stock (or cover) paper. Please be aware that using thin copy paper will not give you the best results and it will be difficult to work with. Please use card stock paper for durability and the best results.
While you may print the peg doll clothes on your home printer, the ink may bleed slightly if you choose to use Mod Podge as a sealer. Spray sealer is recommended if using home printer.

The printables are formatted to fit 2 inch and 3-1/2 inch peg dolls. These are standard sizes are available in general.

Materials needed & directions: 

- printed files
- scissors
- wooden peg dolls (I recommend ordering them from
- matte Mod Podge
- paint brush
- acrylic paint

 Cut out template, making sure to cut the 4 small slits on each.

Starting with the back peg doll clothes template, brush Mod Podge on the wrong side of it but just the bottom half.

Align the bottom of the clothes template with the bottom of the peg doll and gently wrap it around the peg doll up until the side slits. Hold edges firmly for a few seconds.

Then add glue with the paintbrush to the top part.

Wrap the top half around the doll, holding it firm for a few seconds.
Repeat with front piece of the peg doll clothes template, making sure to align and slightly overlap each side with the back piece.

Add details with paint and paint brush, such as eyes and hair. If needed, paint can be sanded off with sandpaper. (Do not use Sharpie markers! They bleed and cannot be sanded off the wood.)

To seal, simply brush Mod Podge over the peg dolls and let dry or use a spray sealer for acrylic paint.

Click on the following links to download the files:



Few things before you run off to the printer.

These files are FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY. Please do not sell them in any form. That includes peg dolls made with this printable but painted by you.

What you CAN do:

- use them for birthday party treats
- girl scout activity (Hi Connie, thanks for the fun idea!)
- craft club
- rainy day fun with the kids and the whole neighborhood
- class project
- put together a craft kit to give as a gift etc.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Cinderella 2015 Costume Inspiration

Warning! This is not a tutorial. At least not a very detailed comprehensive one. Please do not come yelling at me if yours does not turn out like mine did. If you are going to make such a dress, you should have some sewing experience. And should be a fearless DIY kind of gal who is not afraid to use the seam ripper.

It never even occurred to me to try to write a tutorial on how to make the Cinderella dress. I am not going to lie, it was at times difficult, other times surprisingly easy and included a whole bunch of winging it. I will give ideas, resources and inspiration in this post so you can make your own version. And just a tad bit guidance on how I made it.

First of all, I did a lot of research. On the original dress, on other tutorials etc. I found 3 that were useful and based mine on those.
The first is a video. I think Designer Daddy made a wonderful dress but the directions were not as detailed as I wished. The bodice I made was closely based on his. I did not use the same fabric he recommended for the shiny-shimmery fabric. I found it at Joann's, bought it and hated it. It was a nightmare to work with. I chucked it.

The second was the following post from Happily Grim which was full of useful info.  I used a T-shirt that was a close fit on my daughter to make a pattern like Designer Daddy did. Also added 1.5 inches to one of the back pieces for an overlap.
And the third was a pattern I bought. I relied heavily on what I learned from making the Geranium Dress from Made by Rae when it came to assembling the bodice, except I did not leave any opening at all, the bodice was a stand alone piece, all finished.

- blue satin (5 yards I think)
- shimmery lilac tulle (3-5 yards, I got the last on a bolt, it was somewhere in between)
- shimmery blue tulle that matched the satin (5 yards)
- tulle a lighter more greenish blue color, I think it was called Copenhagen blue (5 yards)
- cotton fabric for the bodice lining
- butterflies came from Amazon
- sew on Velcro
- zip ties

Here is a picture of the 3 different tulle colors I used. I actually ordered tulle and organza online as well, but the colors were too dark and did not work at all.

Here is how the bodice looks from inside. I used turquoise elastic for the strap and simply sewed them on after I made the bodice, used Velcro for closure. Almost forgot, I layered the lilac tulle and the shimmery blue on top of the satin bodice pattern pieces. Plus the lining. Zip ties worked great as boning, just make sure you cut the bottom off. Like I said, at this point the bodice was all finished. Once the straps were sewn on I used a long shimmery blue and lilac tulle strip, and folded the lilac piece inside and attached it by hand to the bodice. I started on the front- middle and moved to the right front strap, right back strap and right middle back. Repeat with left side. In the back, I simply bunched up the tulle, stitched it together by hand, then folded it under itself and basted it to the back opening and finished it with the sewing machine. Not  an elegant finish but it worked. I hand sewed the butterflies to the tulle.
The skirt....I simply used whatever leftover satin I had, cut it in half, then I cut one of the rectangles in half.  Repeated it with the 3 tulle colors. Sew the 3 rectangles together of each fabric as shown here.

Now, line up the edges of each large rectangle, pin and mark 3" from the top edge of the skirt. Sew the pinned edges together beginning at the bottom and ending at the mark. Backstitch at the mark a few times to reinforce. Stitch down the selvages of the seam.
Now comes the fun part. Gathering each layer. It was difficult and was the least favorite part of making the Cinderella dress. The bodice was a piece of cake compared to dealing with mountains of slippery satin and tulle and came together really easy. Basically the gathers need to be the same size as the bodice around the bottom edge. I ended up making a 2 wide inch band from the same fabric as the lining but I did not connected it, and of course it needs to be the same length as the bottom of the bodice/skirt. I used it as the base for all the gathered layers of tulle. First, I simply added the satin layer to the top of the band. Then I hemmed it a tad shorter that the tulle was going to be. Then the blueish greenish shimmery tulle layer, slightly under the satin layer. Pretty much just bellow the gathered part. Then the lilac tulle layer, right bellow the gathered blue-green tulle and the shimmery blue right bellow the gathered lilac. I tried just sewing the whole thing together and it was misery. Too thick to battle through my sturdy old German sewing machine. By the way, make sure you line up the slits on the layers of fabric with the ends of the band!

I wish I took a picture, but here is a diagram how it looked. It really helped with reducing the thickness.
Once that was done, all I had to do is place the bodice right on top of the skirt layers and sew it together. I followed the bottom edge of the bodice and it took a bit of playing around. I pinned the band to fit and follow the edge of the bodice first, and the bodice like I said was right on top of the skirt, the wrong side of the bodice to the right side of the skirt. I had to use the seam ripper a few times. You should baste them together first. Make sure the slits on the skirt line up with the back of the bodice.
Here is a very childish diagram of the dress, red line indicating the stitching line.
Once the dress was done, I trimmed the tulle layers while my daughter was wearing it. She stood on a chair and I trimmed away. Much easier that way! That's about it. She loves it and will twirl and twirl and not take it off. Thank goodness we have loads of Halloween candy to bribe her with at bedtime.

The tulle layers in their shimmery glory. 

Hope this inspires you to make one of your own! 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hungarian Cherry Cake Bars (Cseresznyés Piskóta) - 2 ways

Hungarians love cooking and baking with seasonal fresh fruit. These Hungarian cherry cake bars are not overly sweet and are wonderful for breakfast!  The following recipe can be adapted to use many different fruits. Peaches, apricots and plums are often found in Hungarian baked goods.

The batter has 2 versions, one made with butter for a heavier, more filling cake. The other is made with water for a lighter, airier bar. The advantage of using butter is that the cake will stay moist longer and has a richer flavor. The lighter version gets stale and old quicker but it has lower fat content and less calories.

You also have a choice to pair the cherries with almond or lemon flavors.

Hungarian Cherry Cake Bars (butter version)

Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Place a piece of baking parchment paper in a 9 x 12 inch pan. If you spray the pan with none-stick cooking spray, the paper will stay in place better.

6 eggs, whites and yolks separated
1 1/4 c butter, softened
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional: use 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp almond extract)
(optional: the zest of 1 lemon)
1/4 tsp salt

2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 - 2 cups halved and pitted cherries

powdered sugar

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl mix together the egg yolks, sugar, salt, butter, vanilla (or almond extract or lemon zest). Beat for 2-4 minutes until color is light yellow. Sift flour and baking powder and add them to the sugar mixture. Mix it together. Fold in egg whites as much as possible. Spread batter in prepared pan. Add cherry halves on top, push a few into the batter.

Bake for about 20-30 minutes until light brown and an inserted knife or fork comes out clean. Allow it to cool. Dust with powdered sugar

Hungarian Cherry Cake Bars (lighter version)

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Place a piece of baking parchment paper in a 9 x 12 inch pan. If you spray the pan with none-stick cooking spray, the paper will stay in place better.

4 eggs, whites and yolks separated
6 tbsp  sugar 
4 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional: use 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp almond extract)
(optional: the zest of 1 lemon)
1/4 tsp salt

8 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 - 2 cups halved and pitted cherries

powdered sugar

 Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl mix the egg yolks with the sugar until smooth and light yellow.  Add the water, vanilla (or almond extract or lemon zest) and mix well. Add the baking powder and flour gradually and mix well. Fold in egg whites. Spread batter in prepared pan. Add cherry halves on top, push a few into the batter. 

Bake for about 30 minutes until light brown and an inserted knife or fork comes out clean. Allow it to cool. Dust with powdered sugar.  


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Day of the Dead Unit Study

The files were created a year ago and I intended to polish it some more and tweak a few things here and there including the cover design - but no time right now. Maybe later. Enjoy it as it is. 

Over a decade ago I was introduced to Day of the Dead festival and sugar skulls at my local library. The women who volunteered for the event made hundreds of sugar skulls, and taught us about her heritage. It made a lasting impression on me and on my children. The following year, I ordered my sugar skull molds and since then every few years I prepare dozens of sugar skulls and share this festival with friends. Over time, I researched Day of the Dead and other holidays and decided to write a unit study. The title of this post therefore a tad bit misleading, since the unit study also includes Halloween, the Bon festival, Turning of the Bones, Feeding the Ancestors and a couple other festivals celebrating ancestors from around the world. 5 lessons. With recipes. Crafts. Activities. Templates. Stencils. Notebook pages. Vocabulary page. Map work. Creative writing. Book marks. Coloring page.  Cupcake toppers.

Includes making an ofrenda, carving turnips, making black bean brownies,  learning about the history & symbolism of the different holidays, including the origins of Halloween.  

Download the unit, the pages are organized to be printed back to back until the appendix, after which you want to print them one by one, last two are cupcake toppers and bookmarks - those should be printed on card stock. Take it to your local printer, punch holes in it and put it in a binder. Print all the pages as is, no page scaling! Print extra copies of the notebook pages and use them as you wish.  I am sure everybody will find something useful in there. Best part? It's FREE! Yup. No charge. 

Here are a couple pictures of what my family and I made from this unit. You can find instructions in the unit on how to make these tin can candle holders or (a bit more on how it was made HERE) and the Day of the Dead ofrenda.


Since the file was so massive (49 pages with color graphics and pictures), I had to break it down for my Google Docs to be able to handle it.

Downloads are here:

PART 1 Lessons 1-3 (cover page, copyright, letter to parents, content page, lessons: Life and Death, Festivals In Ancient Rome, Halloween)
PART 2 Lesson 4 part 1 (Day of the Dead partial lesson)
PART 3 Lesson 4 part 2 & Lesson 5 (remaining Day of the Dead lesson, Other Festivals From Around The World)
PART 4 Appendix (notebooking pages, coloring pages, stencils, templates, map, bookmarks etc)