Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Top Three Ways to Have Fun with Cardboard

The cardboard is one of my all-time favorite materials. It is cheap, omnipresent, abundant, and sensory friendly. I've made a bunch of cardboard projects over the years, and I always find it hard to just toss away pieces of nice cardboard. This year, with adopting the Sort-My-Trash resolution, I feel even more obliged to re-use every piece of cardboard by putting it to good use. After all, if cats like cardboard boxes, there is probably something magical about them, right? 

What I love about cardboard is that it's so easy to handle for the parents and children alike. And cheap! You will never stress out if your baby wastes the material. Just go and grab another box. 

Here are some of my favorite projects.

1. ART

Collages. Collages and cardboard is a match made in heaven. Cardboard makes a perfect base for any mixed media that you would like to assemble. Get a big piece of cardboard and some other junk - oh, I mean recyclables - from around the house. Now fantasize about what you can make out of it. 


Check this Tibetan Mountain Flags art for inspiration. I made it out of next to nothing. Some cardboard, an A4 sheet, twine leftovers, colored paper, glue, crayons... that's it! Turned out lovely and adorns our nursery just perfect. 

Think of all the landscapes that can look good in cardboard. A desert would definitely look natural, as well as the Mars or Moon surface. Go for a deserted island, a stormy sea, or a dinosaur cave. 

Cut out your elements from the color paper of from magazines, put them on your cardboard, throw in some ropes, buttons, napkins for the texture. You can use any leftovers and scraps you have lying around. Check out this Winter Wonderland we made last weekend out of the wrapping paper leftovers. Ta-daaaa!  

Abstract art Constructor

The abstract sculptures constructor. I saw this one on Pinterest, and it's crazy cool. Note how this project is also made from the leftovers only. It teaches the assemblage, modern art, and the volumes. Awesome. I will cut out the details and then involve my boy to make fun designs on each of it. We will learn parallels and perpendiculars with this one. Or, just make a huge abstract sculpture. 

Collage Faces


These cardboard faces are awesome. The project is easy to adjust to any age. Smaller kids will have fun placing ears, eyes, noses, and mouths in the right places. Let them get creative with the hair. 

Older kids can be introduced to Picasso art with this project. Get some of his staple face features pre-made: eyes, half-face noses, unibrows. Ask kids to recreate some masterpieces. Maybe, you can even get yourself portrayed in Picasso-ish manner. 


Knights Castle

This castle was my response to a hundred-bucks fortress that we spotted in the toy store. (Since then, I sure changed my mind about Playmobil - their kits are worth every cent - but the good part was that it pushed me to go home and create this one.)

I grabbed a bunch of boxes from the nearby supermarket, combined them in a castle-like shape, and secured with scotch tape and glue. Then I added ladders and balconies, cut out the door, secured it all together once again and painted grey. 

Only took me about an hour of assembling. It was not as cool as store-bought - it was much cooler! Our Playmobil toy soldiers sieged the castle, and it was a true challenge for them. The high towers were unreachable for the attackers to get their hooks on, and the monster jumped out from the castle as they tried to ram the gates! 

We had a ton of fun with this one. It is very light and easy to get around, too, unlike the store-bought ones with millions of small parts. The cardboard one can be picked up with one hand and moved to wherever you need it. The best part? After Emir lost his interest in this one, we tossed it to the trash bin. No regrets, no re-selling, no money wasted. Profit! 

Viking Ships

These cardboard Viking ships by ikatbag are one-of-a-kind and make an awesome toy as well as a nice school project. Imagine making a fleet and telling the story of how Vikings explored America for the very first time. Amazing. 

The weapons

Here is a picture from the same lovely ikatbag with the adorable swords she made for her girls.

Emir came up with something else. He would collect all the cardboard tube sticks, then get his painters tape (we're using a ton of this, all the time) and make a club. Boys. They're still cavemen. 

Then he took a toy knife and attached it to another stick. I'm so proud of my boy. 

Then he made nunchakus. Also, numerous rifles, and more than one spying glass and binoculars. What's good is he can smash it however hard he likes. The supply is always flowing, so we can replace weapons as they wear out.

Toy Garage


The Pinterest is full to bursting with the ideas and tutorials on making toy garages for the Hot Wheels cars. To my pity, I still haven't tried out this project, yet I'm definitely going to. As the proud owner of 200+ cars, I just have no choice. Moreover, I really really hate the tracks from the brand - so DIYing them is definitely a better option. 


Cardboard car is the best thing you can make for your kid and for yourself. Attach a smaller one to the back of it to perform as a trunk, cut out several wheels and attach on the outside to make it all more realistic. If you have two boxes, you can make a Cabrio with a convertible roof.

What is the difference between a car and an airplane? Apparently, the propeller. 

Wings can be added, too. Or you can just keep the flaps on the board. 

Emir can play for hours with these, while I relax with a cup some of my well-deserved cocoa.

You can go an extra mile personalizing and adding details to your car, like Sarah from FrugalFunForBoysAndGirls did, for instance. We tried this several times, too. Yet, I didn't notice much difference in result - the little ones have such a wild imagination, they would enjoy their car anyway!


Kids are a bit like kittens, don't you think? After all, you can just give them a box and feel like the best parent in the world.

Our stack of cardboard is growing, slowly but surely. It is begging me to be recycled into something - collages, armor, doll houses, airplanes, shields... And what are your favorite cardboard projects? Please share, cause I need to tame this beast - the sooner the better!

Monday, January 1, 2018

13 Elements for the Best Busyboard Your Baby Will Love

I was very happy to make this custom busyboard for a boy named Orest. Even more excited was Orest's auntie, who ordered it. She couldn’t wait to get her hands on the board and swore she is keeping it to herself for at least a week before giving away. 

how to choose the elements for the activity board

I'm so grateful for meeting adults who are sincerely fond of the busyboards. I feel like that's exactly my tribe. Every time it happens, it gives me an enormous boost of inspiration. 

little kid in the playroom with busyboard

Same as every time, I went for the custom designs and got a bit creative with elements. I prefer my busyboards to be something bigger than a set of hardware attached to the wood. I’m always on a lookout for the elements that would be special, whimsical, not like anything that you can see around every day. I believe it kicks the kid's imagination, and also broadens their engineer thinking.

a busyboard developmental toy

I like to puzzle little ones with something they've never seen before, like the Eye Button, little propellers, or this Counting Curtain made of the plastic chain. 

making of activity board

As the named auntie was eager to give her nephew a LARGE busyboard, I opted for a Long Board pattern. I like that layout gets more even that way. Also, several kids can play with it simultaneously, which aids the teamwork skills. I used a similar approach for the Ash and Luca’s Tandem busyboard. 

red and white bright busyboard

The color scheme is my all-time favorite bold red-and-white. It's stimulating, cheerful, and perfectly compliments any interior. It pops up in the playroom, saying: 'Playtime!' It's also an homage to my first Control Panel board. 

sensory board unusual elements

Now to the elements. Let's go through these shiny knick-knacks one by one. 

13 elements that guarantee success to your busy board

elements for sensory board

1. The tube. It amazes the toddlers to the most. Like in the Mario game, they would put their little toys, or cars, or little balls through the top and squeak from joy when they fall out from the bottom. They can do it for thirty minutes in a row, for real. 

bright busyboard for toddler

2. The light switch. Neat and tidy, and easy for the small hands to practice switching on and off, without a need for the whole family to seizure from the light flashes in the living room. 

Bright busyboard elements

3. The button. Pretty simple and obvious, yet the big hit. I always choose the buttons that would be pleasant to touch and make a lovely sound when pushed. As a kinesthetic, I aim for the most satisfying experience. There are buttons that push more satisfying-ly than others, do you agree? 

parts for activity board

4. The concierge bell. Ding! Ding! This one is awesome and deserves to be a centerpiece on any busyboard. It is big, round, loud, mirror-y and looks like a shiny metal boob. A bit tricky to attach, but as I've been using them for a while now, I mastered the process. This bell makes outstanding prop for the Sailing and All-aboard games. Toddlers go crazy about it. 

sensory board how to make

5. The hook. Simple, yet actionable. I was surprised how much the little ones like the opportunity to have a place designed for their stuff. If they have a favorite bag, basket, or a toy guitar, they would eagerly hang it on their busyboard. It adds nicely to the imaginary play. When they pretend the busyboard to be a car or a plane, the hook is like a trunk where they put "luggage".
wheels activity board

6. The wheels. Big ones are mesmerizing and bring momentum. Smaller ones give the distinctive busy looks. Perfect for the little fingers to practice the precision operations. Or, for the little palms to steer them fast, getting a good massage on the way. 

chains activity board for babies

7. The plastic chain Counting Curtain. Making this was fun. I wanted the plastic chains to be something bigger than just an eye candy. I cut the pieces to have a 1-2-3-4-5 ratio of white and red links. Then stenciled the similar numbers to the board. Attaching was a challenge. I installed a couple of massive metal hoops. Kids love grabbing them. Then I attached a rubbery rope, beading the pieces of chain accordingly to the numbers. Voila - this Counting Curtain works like the abacus of a kind. When pulled and released, it jumps and rattles, making the funniest motion.
sensory board best elements
8. The spring door stoppers. No need to introduce these little guys. A huge hit of all times. Boing! Boing! A perfect element. Get a spring stopper on your board, and crack open a bottle of chardonnay - your baby isn't getting anywhere for at least couple of hours. 

elements that baby will love

9. A mirror. Peek-a-boo, baby! This one is a rear-view with a fish-eye, it can be spinned around, and lets your baby see the room behind while playing. A must when playing a driving game.

how to make a sensory board with mirror

10. A door chain. Isn't it lovely? A shiny golden chain to practice the eye-hand coordination by pushing it through the slot. One of my favorite statement pieces on any board, and also can make a cute smile face when attached next to two buttons, like here. 

sensory sound elements activity board

11. A jingle bell. A lovely smaller sound element, that adorns any blank space perfectly. Install several of them to get the Christmas-y feeling on your board. 

sensory board elements

12. The little door. A nod to toddler peek-a-boo obsession. I didn't put the latch on it, because what’s underneath sticks out and wouldn't let the door close properly. But it's so worth it, because underneath there are… 

bright busyboard detail

12a. Googly eyes! Love them. The babies get most excited when they peek under the door and there is someone staring at them. 

fun elements for sensory development

13. The handle. It's highly functional. For the almost-one-year-olds, the busyboard becomes a great training machine for practicing standing skills. The handle helps a lot. They will grab and stand-up confidently while they play. And you will use it more than once to get the board around while installing. 

cool DIY toy for babies
Ta-daaa! It took me several days to make this one, couple hours at a time. Very happy with the layout and with the creative stretch that the Counting Curtain gave me. And look at this excited auntie! 

best sensory board idea

Or, at this very busy boy.

Want a custom board made for a special kiddo in your life? Or, maybe, for yourself? 
Shoot me a message via v.gospodarenko@gmail.com or Twitter, and get 50% off the shipping until the end of February!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

New Year Resolutions To Support My Life Goals

Last year I introduced myself to setting goals. With the help of WikiHow, at 32 years old, for the first time, I was deciding what the hell I want from my life. This week, a year later, I spent some much required time on reevaluating and brainstorming my life goals for 2018.

I have always been very suspicious towards all the visualization and affirmation techniques. When put on paper, your goals might seem small, or silly, or sound too ambitious. Altogether it doesn't look like some life-changing activity. 

Yet, I’m going for it. Why? Because it helps. It helps me to keep on track. It helps me to align with my values. It helps me to prioritize. It keeps anxiety at bay. When you see how things in your life you fall into the certain categories without you even thinking about it, you’ll know you’re moving towards your true dreams. 

My Resolutions for 2018

The resolutions are the tools that can help you to nail down the bigger goals. Let me tell you about mine and show how they correlate with what I'm going to achieve. 

1. I will read in English only for one year straight

That may sound funny to Native English speakers, yet for this Russian-Ukrainian bilingual it doesn't come naturally. Reading in English for a year will be a scaffolding for another goal - passing an IELTS test by the end of the year. 

While in Vietnam, I didn't have access to the books in Russian, so I just had to read in English. And I liked it! I read ‘The Help’ for the outstanding language and lovely setting. The Mockingjay was a junk food for the brain, yet very helpful with the grammars and basic sentence structure.

2. I will keep working out every other day

You can check details of my workout schedule here. When winter came, I enrolled the gym. It's just the best feeling in the world to come to the group sessions and be in the top 3 toughest girls there. A-ma-zing. 

I'm still running outside when I can, but the Winter in Eastern Europe is not something you can fool around with. It's pitch dark, cold and wet. The roads are hideous as is, and just hazardous when covered with snow. So, it’s treadmill every other time now. 

3. I will sort the trash

A nice stretch out from my comfort zone. Here in Ukraine (as well as in Vietnam), they don't have any state regulations for the garbage. There are recycling stations, but you have to take your paper or glass there yourself. 

I will be really happy if the habit will stick. It supports my goal of adopting the ‘Reuse. Recycle. Repair.’ philosophy that I’m gravitating towards. To begin with, I’ll print out the 'Which Trash Goes Where’ manual and put it on the wall. 

4. I will get rid of ten things monthly

Sell, donate, or toss away, but the clutter has to go. After we moved back to the small city apartment, I was underwhelmed. It's our home, I love my storage, I love my shelving, and I'm absolutely in love with my kitchen. Yet.. it's cluttered. 

Since Kiev is my birthplace, I have all my emotionally priceless possessions here. But life abroad taught me you need to detach from material things. You only need few to get cozy in any place. Everything else can be replaced. 

So, 10 things a month are going away. This is not much. I'm setting the plank low and will reevaluate it in a couple of months. 

5. I will write 500 words for 5 days out of 7

Freewriting is astonishing. It is a good practice with multiple benefits. When you consequently learn that you can just get a thousand words out in half an hour, writing the drafts becomes easy-peasy. No, really. 

This resolution is a great cornerstone for my career goals. Last year I switched to Content Marketing position, and feel very inspired by it. Good writing is crucial for this sphere. 

The two remaining days a week go for the morning runs. It breaks the streaks, but I don’t care. Anyway, I always write more than 500 words a day. 

6. I will do my skincare routines

This pretty girl recently visited cosmetologist for the first time in her life. It was awesome. Turns out it’s never too late to stop picking your pimples, not even when you’re 33. 

I’m committing to cosmetologist sessions, proper cleansing and moisturizing. Here I stop and leave the rest to the beauty bloggers.  

I've got much more on my plate. Blogging is a big part of it, as well as making busyboards. Emir's education will take another huge chunk of time, as I'm now officially a Driver Mommy responsible for the commute of all family members. 

But I feel very excited. I love setting goals. I love making resolutions. I love to brag about my adamant 80th level willpower so much. Let's see what I can nail from the list above. So far, I consider it doable, just have to stretch out a little. 

I think I can!

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?