Thursday, December 14, 2017

Never-fail Homemade Presents That Are Easy To Make

It was awesome to read Twitter this weekend with all the updates of snow incoming from very different places on Earth. A lot of folks from old and new world reported having a very happy Sunday with a mug of cocoa snuggling under the blankets with their families. The families were getting out to let their kids have fun with the snowflakes for the first time in their life. 

Having the first real snow of the season on Sunday, when you can truly relax at home in your most comfortable PJs and embrace this magical mood to the fullest, is a blessing, do you agree? A Christmas miracle of its own kind. 

And as this Christmas feeling is kicking in - for real - I'm already all into the process of piling the Christmas presents. 

Not yet fully in minimalism, I nevertheless feel much irritated quite often with the pointless possessions and over-the-edge gifting of the unnecessary things. I try to order perishables for presents, shop in the thrift stores, and reuse as much as I can. Not really a minimalism warrior yet, rather a timid consumerism rebel.

So, based on all the facts above, I decided to go for the home-made presents this year.

It's not the first time I'm doing this, so I have a nice list with an abundance of items to cook, make and bake calmly with lots of love in these three weeks that I got before the New Year. 

This year I skimmed the list to the most foolproof and perfect present recipes. Most of them would be food goodies - which I reckon the best solution. You enjoy making it, people enjoy eating it. They're very easily whipped up with a bottle of wine or a pack of a deli. What remains, in the end, is just a glass jar, some crumbs, and happy feeling. Our planet could use more of those.

So, let me tell you about all the homemade presents I ever made and gave. They're always a big, big success and very little hassle. 

Plum Chutney

A winner for all the meat-eaters in your life. Spicy, hearty, sweet and sour, with a dense cinnamon-cloves aroma, it's a perfect condiment for any roasts or BBQ. I use this recipe, it's in Russian, but you can go for this one - it's pretty similar. 

Of course, it's best to make it when the plums hit in, which is September. I was farsighted enough to make a big batch back then. It was a hectic time with hubby stuck in the hospital, yet I managed to spend one evening on this meditating activity. If you don't have plums around at the moment, you're welcome to make chutney out of any seasonal stuff - pumpkin? Persimmon? Orange? Go for it. The great thing about this Indian preserve is that it is very various and pretty much always a success. 

The onion marmalade, or Confit D'Ognion

A magical sophisticated French appetizer. It is to die for when served with the cheese plate or pate with crackers and washed down with wine. Again, I use this recipe, and here's the English version, but it's missing honey - add extra 100 grams of honey and it'll be even better. 

The preparation is an absolute easy-peasy for beginners. Then it takes several hours for your marmalade to boil down into divine gooey sweet and savory goodness of the most beautiful deep purple color. Makes a great weekend project. That's what I did this Sunday - made it up, put to simmer, and then sat in the warm kitchen, snuggling in my PJ overalls, binge-watching The Handmaid's Story, and just stirring the pot occasionally. Choose your prettiest jars for this one, and I guarantee that it will be a hit. 

NOTE: you don't even have to buy the jars! Collect all petite glass pretties from the jams, pates, capers, and olives that you eat through the year. Wash off the labels, and re-use them. 

The Christmas cakes

They're massive. I used this recipe. It is very similar to the Stollen cake, but using at least twice as much filling ingredients. These rich, indulgent, made to occasion cakes are bursting with the nuts and candied fruits, and butter, and spices, and the warmest feelings of the year, and a pinch of Christmas miracle, of course.  

For the NY 2014, I made four of them. You could tell how stuffed they are with the good things by the fact that each "pound cake" actually weighed more than 2.5 pounds. My mom made the prettiest linen bags for them, adorned with a crocheted trim. Neatly packed, they went to all the four households of the extended family. Made a very impressive and appreciated present! Didn't last long, but I still get praised.

You do have to spend a little fortune on the ingredients (still reasonable compared to store-bought presents.) Also, you'd better have some baking experience before going for it. But the result will amaze your loved ones, and make you feel oh so proud of yourself.

Biscotti cookies

Wonderful Italian crisp cookies. The can be made in big batches and given to everyone as a present, or with a present, in nice coned packages made of the gift paper. 

NOTE: I must admit that I get the store-bought wrapping paper. I made my own wrapping paper couple times, but frankly, it's way too much ado for making something that will last only a moment. And what's even more important - sorry not sorry - it never looks as good under the Christmas tree as the store-bought. So, this is my compromise. I'm fine with it. 

What's great about biscotti, is that the fillings are so variable. You can make a right one for every person in your life. So far I tried: 

The first four are sweet. The latter one is a perfect savory snack to be served with wine, how they do in Italy. So imagine making a batch of this babies, pairing them with onion marmalade, a nice little piece of Brie cheese, and a bottle of Chianti and giving to your boss, mom, neighbor, best friend, reading club buddy and who not. I guarantee they'll be thrilled and enjoy your gift to the most. 

Wooden spoons

They're affordable and lovely. With a little personalization (which takes only half an hour), they make a cute addition to any of the gastro-presents mentioned above. There is absolutely no need for your recipient to be a cook. You can still use a wooden spoon to stir a store-bought mac-and-cheese, or just to beat things around. 

Cute baby rattles

They're simple, fun to make, look adorable, and stuffed with your love. Pair them with a jumbo pack of diapers, and the new parents in your life will be really grateful for saving them some cash, while still adoring the handmade souvenir. Another pro is it doesn't make annoying sounds like most of the baby presents do nowadays. 

So, this year I'm going for the onion marmalade, plum chutney, biscotti, and probably trying out the panforte and homemade beef jerkies for the first time. 

I can't wait to try the jerkies. If they're fine,  I'll be giving them to my fitness-obsessed friends, as it would be a perfect non-carb gift. Hope they turn out good - wish me luck! 

Biscotti, marmalade, rattles, and little handmade tree ornament packed & good to go!

I also have several pretty Korean wash clothes at hand, and few tubes of a good hand cream to fill my present baskets with. Couldn't feel more confident about the upcoming celebration.

My only concern so far is those teenager nephews. Still thinking about what could be a good perishable present for the teenagers. Old good cash, I suppose. But what to pair it with? 

Monday, November 27, 2017

My biggest inspiration turns FIVE today!

It's not "I can't believe it" moment. I surely believe it - so much joy came to my life over these five years, that it would be enough not for five, but for twenty-five at least.

I remember this exact day five years ago (of course every mother can recall the birth of her child in detail).

Emir arrived at 2:25 am, they transitioned us to our room at about 5 in the morning. The nurses told me to get some sleep, to take a rest. But I just couldn't. While my newest born baby was lying in his tiny crib, I only could stare at him, or stare out the window on the snow falling from greyish skies. Embracing this new feeling. Tasting the emotions of being a mom.

Yesterday evening, he climbed into my lap and asked to turn on the "Adventure Time". And while my boy was quietly immersed in the wacky princesses world, I stroke his back gently. His last day of being four. Him being so big and strong now. Him only climbing into my lap to cuddle now, not because I need to feed him, to hold him, to help him with everything.

This first big milestone is here. More yet to come.

My happy munchkin, my biggest inspiration, my knight in shining armor, my most playful, gracious, joyful gentleman. May your life be the fullest, the happiest. I love you.

Monday, November 13, 2017

How To Make a Busyboard Like No Other: It's Alive!

I always make custom busy-boards to order. First, I believe that each kid deserves his own board, made to his or her likings. Second, because I'm thrilled to come up with new designs every time - it never gets boring. Third, because I love how each busy-board I make gets its own name and story.  

Buddy Board

one year old playing with activity board

So I met this guy named David the other day. A bit of a chubby angel, funny as hell and with a truckload of charisma. We instantly got along and had a really good day spent together. 

I was so happy to make this board for him. One-year-olds are just marvelous. They stand up, and then they’re unstoppable. I once counted how many efforts Emir made a day when he learned to stand up. It was over 200. 

And as I and David’s mom get along really well, I felt extremely comfortable to come up with any design. Even the craziest one. And David obviously wouldn’t mind.

So I had this board sized about 12x20 inches and several elements at hand. The red and white palette is an homage to my first Control Panel Board. It is bright and dynamic, I love how it pops into the room.  

And I like the chevron pattern. A lot. I really enjoyed how all the Pinterest was bursting with it couple years ago. So I started with a single chevron zigzag... and gotcha! The teeth! The eyes had to follow. Before I even knew it, I was making a Buddy Board.

bright busy board design DIY

Sorry chevron, maybe next time, I’m really looking forward to.  

A process, step-by-step: 

instructions activity board DIY

Step 1. Sand your board thoroughly, round the corners and sand them, too. 

activity board step by step instructions

Step 2. Add one or two base layers of paint, if you plan for a bright design. 

activity board step by step instructions

Step 3. Pencil your design. On this step, you’ll probably want to fit your elements.  

Step 4. Use painters tape to tape out your design. 

activity board step by step instructions

Step 5. Paint over with your second color. Let dry. Peel off the tape. 

activity board step by step instructions

Step 6. Lay out your elements once again and move them around until you’re happy with the looks. Note that they shouldn’t intersect. Place each so it would be easily reachable and playable for the kid.

how to make a busy board activity board

how to pick parts for busyboard

Step 7. Start assembling. Be creative and precise. 

toddler toy DIY project

Step 8. I like to add a handle somewhere on my boards. It works great for the babies to hold on. Also, you can use it for transportation. 

busy board like no other


busy board easy project

Lovely! It has its mojo. 

David loves his new buddy! He even tried to feed him. Ain’t little kids just the best empaths? 

baby in sunshine with activity board

The board looks amazing in his play space, too. 

activity board in interior

The busy-boards are just the best statement pieces when you look for a solution to brighten up the playroom. Always.  

cool busy board present for toddler

Oh, David, you’re the apple of my eye, have fun! As you’re the sweetest chubby guy I ever met. See you soon! 

Want to order a busy-board for a cool kid in your life? Feel free to shoot me a message via TwitterInstagram or email (in profile). 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How To Make A Montessori Wooden Toy: A-Moose Yourself!

If you like the Montessori or Waldorf methods for raising your little one, your house is probably full of wood already. Wooden toys and furniture are a staple characteristic of this simple yet very mindful approaches. 

To take a step further, you can make a wooden toy yourself. Pick your favorite totem animal and go for it, it won’t take more than one evening to finish. I made a moose - their antlers are so eloquent and I feel deeply connected to them as some of my ancestors come from the Scandinavian lands. 

scandinavian wooden toy

You will need: 

  • a piece of solid wood or plywood, 3/4 to 1 inch thick
  • pencil 
  • clamps
  • jigsaw
  • sandpaper 
  • drill & screws (or white glue)
  • wood wax (optional)
As soon as you get everything ready, it will only take about an hour and a half. 

Step 1. Draw 

Sketch out the parts of your animal. There will be three pieces: body, legs and antlers/ears. You can even skip the latter for some animals - say, fox. But it will add a nice detail and dimension, so I recommend making them. 

Add the interlocks on each detail - it’s the notches that will later intersect to keep all elements secured together. 

Step 2. Cut

Pick a piece of solid wood or plywood. Make sure it's thin enough for your jigsaw to cut through (up to 1 inch would usually do). Trace the elements onto wood. Make sure you trace the legs part twice. To make cutting easier, trace them close to the edge of the board. 

Make sure you have a good sharp blade installed in your jigsaw. It will save you a lot of effort and make cuts much prettier. Trust me, I learned this lesson the hard way. 

A good advice is to google "how to cut curves" BEFORE you cut them. Here, let me save your time with this perfect tutorial. Two words, guys: relief cuts.

baby teething wooden toy
Terrible, huh? Well, practice makes perfect. 

This moose was very far from perfection, as you can see. But I'm still sharing it. Be confident. You'll need to push through lots of imperfect projects to get good at woodworking. So don't give up. Your baby will love it no less, and you will be even more proud showcasing your path to success.

Step 3. Sand 

Sand each element very well. After all, it’s your kid who’s gonna play with it, right? A good decision is to use several pieces of sandpaper, finishing off with as fine as 400 grit. You may skip the interlock notches as they will be hidden. 

make it yourself wooden animal

Step 4. Assemble

Connect all the elements with the interlock notches. Then screw it together. Drill the toy through beforehand, so the screw doesn’t splint your elements. When the wooden pieces are not too thick, that happens all the time. 

Drill twice: first with a 1 mm drill bit for the screw going deep and then with 4-5 mm drill just deep enough to get screw head dipped into the wood. Now get your animal screwed together. 

If you’re uncomfortable with drilling, just glue it all together with white glue. Works just as good, and if the toy breaks down, there will be no nasty sharp parts sticking out. Just put the clamps on it and let sit for about a day to make sure it sticks together well. 


a wooden moose perfect present for baby DIY
Note the leg - this moose looks like he is dancing just a little bit! Yay to imperfections!

What a lovely wooden toy you've just made! Wax it up for a smooth glowing finish. Or don’t. 

A perfect addition to your Montessori nursery and to your baby’s fun time. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Stylish Minimalist Labels For Toy Storage Organization

Traveling back from the Vietnam, we carried 6 kilos of the matchbox cars, 3 kilos of Lego, a dozen of different costumes and Playmobil pirate shack. 

Marta, who lived at our place while we were away, was extremely kind and left for Emir piles of the toys she outgrew.

Then, the shipped belongings started to arrive. A Viking ship, Japanese railroad sets, 3 more kilos of matchbox cars, Guru Gears and stuffed Moomins topped it all up. 

Considering that our apartment in Ukraine is at least twice smaller than the one we rented in Saigon, the place was absolutely bursting up with toys. 

So we needed a storage solution - any solution!

Not that we have so much storage in our playroom, by the way. As we don’t have Ikea in Ukraine yet (would you believe someone can just fantasize about having Ikea goods available?), my dream Trufast system is still beyond my reach. 

I have another Ikea piece, though - the Norden table. Highly recommended for any multifunctional spaces you’ve got. It’s easy to clean up, sturdy and unfolds really quickly. You can set up a working area anytime you want in a breeze. I use it for the sewing projects - even with one flap open it’s perfect to put on a sewing machine and all the paraphernalia. My husband also uses it when he needs a temporary home office. 

Also, this table has 6 drawers from both sides, which I decided to use for the toy storage. The only thing I craved for was the organization - so I decided to mark off these solid drawers with simple labels. 

As I did this before, it was a real easy-peasy. I didn’t even bother with the sticky paper. Painters tape works just fine. It does the job perfectly and doesn’t come off easily. At the same time, you can take it off whenever you need, leaving no trace. 

So I cut the pieces of painters tape, stick them to the tabletop, draw on with a sharpie, and put on the drawer front when I’m happy. 

I try to draw the toys exactly as they appear in the drawer. It makes it easier for me to sketch, and easier for Emir to identify and clean up. Besides, I love how personalized they turn out to be. 

I don’t sign them up as I love the minimalistic intuitiveness of those. But you can absolutely add your caption if you feel like it. 

Oh yeah - as you can see, all the Playmobil and Lego is still roaming free across the playroom. But I’m satisfied. At least, I can keep the cars, cars, cars, and cars at bay. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Neverending Story of a Boy and a Busy Board

It's been almost four years since I made this first busy board. And Emir still plays with it a lot!

Toys for 1 year old boys Toys you can make

Yesterday he asked me to join. It's really funny, but at his almost five he wanted to play the peekaboo. We have little googly eyes behind the door on this board. And one day I pretended to be hell scared of them. So now it's the Scared Momma in the limelight every now and then.

My astonishing drama skills are of course unbeaten. But really, it is not that hard. Anyone can yell terrified on a pair of googly eyes.

I feel really sad when I read that parents get disappointed by how little interest their kids show in busy boards. Considering a number of efforts you put in this toddler toy, you'd want to get most out of it. How do you keep your kid engaged? Well, being an example works perfectly for me every time with every parenting issue.

Toys for kids Toys 0-3 years

I know, I know. You actually made it for the purpose of keeping them busy and getting your 30 minutes coffee-break. But trust me, if you only invest 10 minutes of your best play self, you'll keep it going for three years instead of three weeks. It's a great ROI!

So yell at these googly eyes at the top of your lungs and roll your eyes fiercely - and your baby will be laughing her pants off.

Cool toys for boys Baby girl toys

I gave an overview of my ways of creative play with busy boards in this post so if you want your baby to enjoy his cool toy to the fullest, go check them.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I Made These Wooden Medals And I Loved It!

Remember these 20 scrap wood toy projects I shared recently? #2 - The Wooden Medals - had me at "hello". The idea is remarkably simple, attractive, highly customizable. Easy! So I made them. And I loved it! 

This project is absolutely beginner-level, though involves sewing, woodworking, and assemblage. If you don’t feel confident about making your own wood cuts from scratch, you can easily order some online from any crafts site.