Snap Happy!

Didja miss me? A whole twelve days without something new from Ali Does It? Shenanigans! We are starting to find ourselves in a routine with now month-old LongJohn (for the most part) so hopefully I’ll be able to get back to some kind of regular posting schedule in the near(ish) future.

Anyway, here’s something for you now. I recently found myself looking for a birthday gift for a mom friend of mine, who takes a good number of pictures of her kid on her phone. As a new parent too, I find myself doing the same thing – my phone is usually to hand when my actual camera is not (if you check out my instagram you can see what I mean …).

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So on my searches on the internet I found a company called Photojojo, and their specialty is photography. And they had these nifty kits with camera lenses you could attach to your phone! So I got one for her, and one for myself. Naturally.

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Each lens comes with several little adhesive rings so you can attach them to your phone, your partner’s phone, your tablet … whatever. The ring clips easily to a magnet set into the lens itself. No fuss, no muss.

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Simply stick the ring to your phone (that blue plastic comes off) and let it sit for half an hour.

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I got all the bells and whistles in my kit.

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Including this wee pouch that holds all the lenses!

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Here’s the ultra fisheye lens securely sitting on my phone …

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And its effect.

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You have to zoom in a bit so that the lens itself doesn’t show up in the shot:

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I’m especially interested in the wee macro lens that also came with the kit. Most of the stuff I do here on Ali Does It is in macro so I think I can have some serious fun with it. Stay tuned!

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Modding the Mom Hat

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I hope you all enjoyed your Canada Day/Independence Day long weekend! And if you didn’t get to celebrate a national holiday this weekend then I hope at least it was sunny where you were. Speaking of sun, I bought this hat at IKEA last summer for 99 cents. It is great to wear to baseball games to protect my pasty white skin.

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Now I’ve discovered that it’s also a fantastic wearable parasol for LongJohn (so named because he’s a lanky albatross like his dad) when I’m wearing him out and about.

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The problem is that in a good breeze the parasol becomes a parasail and I lose the darned thing. It’s very hard to chase down a hat while wearing a baby. So I need to make some modifications to keep the thing on my head, and while I do that, I might as well have some fun with it, right? With that in mind, I dug out a huge pink grosgrain ribbon.

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I cut it to match the band around the hat. I set that aside for the moment.

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Then I took two more pieces and wove them into the inside of the band, for straps to tie coquettishly around my chin. I felt very much like a Jane Austen character, dressing a bonnet, while I was doing this.

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Tied off the ends to prevent fraying.

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And then decided I needed a feather in my cap.

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And because it was Pride Week in Toronto (Ottawa’s isn’t until August and it’s much more low key), I decided to put a rainbow of feathers in my cap.

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I wound them together with some wire.

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Used a bit of hot glue to ensure they stayed that way.

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Then wove the wire end into the hat to fix the feathers in place.

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And I managed to do all of this while still wearing LongJohn.

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Then I glued the first piece of ribbon around the band, leaving room for the hat to expand as it gets squashed on my head.

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And I took another piece of grosgrain, this one in black, and fashioned a rosette out of it.

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The rosette fit nicely on top of the feathers, hiding the wire machinations.

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Tada, my Mom Hat that I can wear with Pride!

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Ocean Room: Complete

This, along with the new fuse box and the stairs, was on my to-do list to complete in the first week of maternity leave. Since I last posted about the ocean room, we’d been adding things bit by bit: a mattress, bedding, a dresser … more onesies than any one baby really needs … you name it. But it was missing the final touches, and most of those were either hand-made by us or by one of our many talented and delightful friends and family members.

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I went a bit overboard with the Silhouette Cameo to print these out in white adhesive vinyl.

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This amazing crocheted jellyfish mobile was a gift from the highly talented Fussellette.

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She also MADE (MADE!) this amazing ocean-themed blanket. I still can’t even deal with how amazing it is.

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These jellyfish crib sheets were whipped up by Cait’s ever-talented mom.

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Rusty made sure that baby wouldn’t miss out on a very first baseball glove, and it gets pride of place on an octopus hook.

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Even Trav contributed a wee piece of art.

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Mrs. Nice found the inspiration for this on Pinterest, and made it for us MONTHS ago. I’m so glad we could finally put it up.

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Even the Pie’s favourite animal the anglerfish gets a spot in the baby’s room. Guarding the deep sea vents. Get it? VENTS.

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Even this rocking chair is handmade, by either my great-great grandfather or my great-great uncle.

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You like the ship? Again, I went crazy with the Silhouette. The knobs on the dresser are supposed to look like the sorts of things you pick up on the beach – most of them are from Lee Valley, actually, and others my mother has given me over the years.

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Everything else was kind of stuff we already had from our oceanic travels.

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So it really wasn’t hard to stick with a theme.

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Now we just need a baby to come and live here (and you never know: by the time you read this, there might be one!).

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Raspberry Mousse Pie

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This is another Martha Stewart recipe that I adapted to be gluten-free and made up for the second of our Mother’s Day celebrations (same day, different mom). This recipe is also great because it actually involves zero baking whatsoever, so if it’s hot where you are and you can’t handle the thought of turning on the oven – don’t worry about it.

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Start by lightly spraying a 9″ square metal baking dish with cooking spray. Or a 7″ x 10″ glass baking dish, which is what I did. Line it with parchment so that there’s some overhang, because you’re gonna need handles.

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Grab 7 or 8 graham crackers. These gluten-free ones are really tiny and kind of thick. We used the whole package. The original recipe involves laying them out in the pan whole but that always ends poorly for me so I plopped them in the food processor, together with about 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut and about 3 tablespoons butter and gave them a good whaz. Then I took that clumpy mixture and pressed it hard into the bottom of the pan. That way I could cut the pieces anyway I wanted without worrying about the shape of my graham crackers.

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Tip 3 tablespoons lemon juice into a wee bowl and sprinkle 1 envelope powdered gelatin (∼ 2 1/4 teaspoons) over top. Leave that for 5 minutes. Wash and drain about 2 cups fresh raspberries and plop them in your food processor. Purée the crap out of them.

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Pour the raspberry goo into a measuring cup via a fine mesh sieve. Scrape and scrape and shove the goo around until all the juice is through and what you have left is just seeds. Compost the seeds – you should have about 1 cup of raspberry juicy stuff.

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In a small saucepan, combine the raspberry stuff with 1/2 cup sugar and stir over medium until bubbles start to form at the edges.

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Tip in the gelatin mixture and stir constantly until the stuff is completely dissolved, about 1 minute.

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Pour that into a bowl and let it cool to room temperature.

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While you’re waiting, whip up 2 cups heavy cream with 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff and lovely.

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Fold your cooled raspberry goo gently into the cream and keep folding until the colour is uniform and it looks amazeballs.

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Pour the mousse goo over the graham crumbs and smooth if necessary with an offset spatula.

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Wash and drain another 2 cups fresh raspberries and use them to decorate the top.

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Refrigerate the mousse pie for about 2 hours or up to overnight. When you’re ready to serve, use the parchment handles to gently remove it from the pan before cutting it into squares. Enjoy!

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Grapefruit Poppyseed Soap

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After my disastrous start with melt-and-pour soap, I’ve been leery of trying it again. It was way more of an accomplishment for me to learn how to make soap entirely from scratch, though nobody will let me near the chemicals these days. And with melt-and-pour soaps, you already know the chemical reaction is going to work, so newbies like me have much more freedom to experiment with the add-in ingredients. And this mixture from A Beautiful Mess has been haunting me for ages with its deliciousness. I had to do it.

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The simplicity of the ingredients is a definite bonus, and the fact that it’s so quick and easy to put together and then you can ignore it for a while is also a plus. I made this while painting two sets of lawn furniture so obviously my attention was divided. All you need is 1 grapefruit, 3 tablespoons poppy seeds, peppermint essential oil, grapefruit essential oil, and 2lb goat’s milk melt-and-pour soap base (which you can buy in craft stores and from Amazon). You also need something to pour your soap into to harden – I used the silicone trays I bought for making my jelly fish mobile.

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Grab your soap base. Apparently you can melt it in the container provided in your microwave but I decided that was unwise.

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Chop it into cubes.

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Plop those cubes in the top of a double-boiler and let that sucker melt for a while.

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You’ll find a skin develops as it melts. Just stir that back in.

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While that’s a-meltin’, go ahead and zest the entire grapefruit. Mmm, lovely.

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Then eat your grapefruit. It’s good for you.

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Gather your poppy seeds as well, about 3 tablespoons.

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Once the soap has fully melted, remove it from the heat and tip in your grapefruit zest and poppy seeds. Shake in about 12 drops peppermint essential oil, and about 30 drops grapefruit essential oil, and stir that in quite well.

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Pour the melted soap into your moulds to harden. You can use individual moulds if you like but mine was a big block rectangle – the soap is soft enough to cut afterwards so you can chop the soap bars down to size when they’re ready.

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The soap will harden in a couple of hours, but if it’s hot or humid where you are I would recommend leaving it for a few more hours just to be on the safe side. When I tipped out my soap I did find I had quite a bit of settling with the poppy seeds, but that’s okay. It means my soap will have an exfoliating side to it. I suppose I could have stirred it a bit while it was cooling, but I was painting furniture, so …

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I chopped it up into regular rectangles.

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The rounded corner bits I re-melted and poured into the same mould but with the corners blocked off so they had sharper edges.

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These make great gifts!

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A little behind the times: Making Your Own Terrarium

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If you live in Canada you’ll know that this past weekend was so cold that it resulted in an extreme cold warning from Environment Canada being set for SIX of our ten provinces. That meant that here in Ottawa the temperature hovered around -28°C (with a windchill of -37°F) for almost three days. For you Americans out there, that’s basically absolute zero (actually on the Fahrenheit scale it’s kind of close to the same thing). It was too cold even to take our extra-furry dog out for a walk, and we were all cooped up inside driving each other nuts.

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As a nod to the spring that I know is coming, I decided to take the time to make myself a terrarium or two. I know I’m behind the trend curve on this one, but now I finally have actual windows that point in directions where sunlight comes in and I’ve been itching to make my own terrariums for YEARS. Now keep in mind that the versions I made are “quickie” versions, ones where the plants inside will need to be re-potted or moved in a couple of months. If you want to do it right, I suggest you read some of the articles I have at the bottom of this post. These succulents I picked up at Home Depot and very carefully bundled them home in a way that would avoid being outdoors for longer than thirty seconds at a time.

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These containers I already had. The little fishbowl thing came from the dollar store and the giant antique cookie jar thing came with the Pie when we moved in together.

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First thing you need is some gravel for drainage (at least until the root systems get bigger and they start traveling downwards). I didn’t have any gravel on hand so I used these glass pebbles I’ve had kicking around the house for like a decade. I’ve used and re-used them for projects like this a million times.

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Then you scoop in some potting soil. I used a cactus and succulent mix, which has decent drainage.

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Then you wrestle with your plants. When repotting anything, make sure to loosen the soil where the roots are – disturbing the root ball will make roots grow in different directions and force them to adapt to the new setting.

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I used  a soup spoon to pat down the soil inside my little fishbowl.

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The cookie jar ended up being smaller than I had anticipated for the plants I bought. These are way overcrowded, so I ended up pulling out one of the plants and putting it in a pot in the living room.

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Then I added a pirate. Looking for treasure.

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And a skeleton.

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To the other one it was some tiny army men.

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One is on my coffee table.

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The other is in the dining room. And both make me happy to see them every day. Spring can’t be that far away!

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How-to-NOT Build a Cactus Terrarium

Nine steps to make a terrarium using succulents & cacti

A guide to making a succulent terrarium

Coconut Cream Bars: REDUX

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The problem with this blog is that people I work with READ it. And then they EXPECT me to bring them baked goods. And then when I DO, they demand MORE. So sometimes I have to make things AGAIN. So these I’ve made before, and they were awesome. And I brought some to work. And one of the ladies I work with send me a calendar invitation for her birthday (which was MONTHS away) with instructions for me to make these for her (again). And so that’s what I did. I tweaked the recipe a little bit to add some more flavour, and I think I like them better than the originals. Conveniently they’re also Papa John’s favourite and his birthday is coming up …

Line a 9″ x 13″ pan with waxed paper and spray it as well. Set that aside. In a large bowl, dump in 20oz shredded unsweetened coconut, and 14oz sweetened condensed milk. I like to stand there and stare while the milk ever-so-slowly comes out of the can.

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Now here’s where I changed things up a little bit. I have some genuine Caribbean coconut extract that I added in for more flavour (I tipped in about 2 teaspoons) and then I decided to add a hint of orange by pouring in about 2 tablespoons Cointreau. I recommend doing it just for the subtlety of the flavour over the straight sugar taste you got before with the original recipe.

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I was actually amazed at how thick the coconut extract was – it was more of a syrup.

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Anyway, stir that up, together with 2 cups icing sugar, until you have a lovely gooey coconutty paste.

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Smooth that into your baking pan and level the top. Freeze that for a couple hours.

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When you’re nearly ready to go, melt up about 24oz chocolate of your choice – I used half dark, half milk in this batch. It’s also useful to do the chocolate in a couple of batches, adding more unmelted stuff to the mix as you run out.

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Let that cool a bit, and slice up your coconut goo into squares.

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Then start dipping! Remember that the cooler your chocolate is, the faster it will set, so act accordingly. Sprinkle the tops of each bar with more bits of coconut before the chocolate sets – for decoration.

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My chocolate was cooler (because it’s February and this is Canada) than last time so it set a little messier and less smooth than the previous version, but they’re still super tasty!

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Milling Soap

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This isn’t real, legit hand-milling of soap. If you want to do that, go here. But if you end up with all sorts of wee bits of soap that are too small to use without feeling ridiculous, and you feel silly wasting them, then this post is for you.

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These are all sorts of weird little bits that I had leftover, actually, from when I made real soap from scratch last winter. None of them is big enough or shaped well enough to use like an actual bar of soap, but I was loath to get rid of them considering I’d put so much effort into making the soap in the first place. And especially seeing as I gave every single bar away and had none for myself. 😦

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So the first thing you need to do is take all your soaplets (that’s what I’m calling the wee baby soap slivers) and grate them finely. It’s actually not as hard as you might think. This particular soap is pretty soft but I’m sure you could grate a commercial bar up in no time at all. And once soap has fully cured it’s not toxic (or at least, I don’t buy soap that IS toxic), so this is my regular cheese grater and I just shoved it in the dishwasher when I was done.

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Plop those gratings into a bowl over a pot of simmering water.

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I found that my gratings did nothing until I added a wee bit of water to the pot.

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And then I got some melting going on.

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It’s never going to get to that fully liquid state, but I got most things all squishy and stuck together. Then you can drain off the water.

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For distribution I stuffed the soap goo into this silicone tray overnight. It won’t cure completely in here because it needs air on all sides.

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But the next day it’s a little harder and easier to deal with so you can pop it out.

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It’s still pretty mushy so I just flattened mine into vaguely pebble-shaped pieces. Then I put this plate in a cupboard for a week.

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After a week, the pebbles are much harder (though it’s still a relatively soft soap because those are the kinds of soaps I made).

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But they make a nice little decorative guest soap kind of thing. Like little detergent-y geological gems. I think they look a lot like a sandstone conglomerate, so I think all my rock hound friends will appreciate the texture.

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Winter Sun

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There have been a slew of babies born into our circle in the past few months, with more to come in the new year, and it’s all very exciting. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to hand-make presents for everyone this year, but for the babies I spared an hour or so. This project, inspired by Made by Joel, is super easy and makes use of those little scraps of fabric you have on hand. If you don’t have a sewing machine you can do this by hand but it certainly saves a bit of time when you’re making them in bulk.

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So I have here some fabric scraps, a huge hunk of soft yellow terry cloth, and some empty plastic bags that previously held potato chips (but that are now clean, because you probably don’t want your baby to smell like potato chips).

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Grab your terry cloth (or whatever fabric you choose) as the centre of your winter sun and cut from it two circles of the same size (you don’t have to measure but think of how big a baby’s hands are and act accordingly).

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Cut out some circles as well in your chip bags. These things will be layered and stuffed inside your little creation to give it a delightful crinkle.

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I also decided to dress up the faces of my winter sun with some scraps of felt. I made one side a sleepy sun and one side a happy sun.

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Then I sewed those on carefully. You can use whatever you want to decorate your sun, though I would avoid buttons, as babies tend to swallow those.

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Then grab some more scraps. You’re going to want to cut out long triangles from this stuff. It’s easiest to fold it and then cut a diagonal line towards the fold.

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Then you can sew the open long end closed (leave the bottom open).

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Jam your thumb into the triangle and squish it up so it’s easier to turn inside out.

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Use a paintbrush or pencil to help you get it inverted properly.

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You’ll want enough scraps of differing colours to make enough triangles to go around the circumference of your sun. I eyeballed it and came up with eight.

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Cut ’em, sew ’em, reverse ’em.

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Now grab one of the faces of your sun and start attaching the rays. You want to attach them to the right side of the sun with the rays all pointing in towards the centre (so that when you turn it inside out they will stick out).

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Like this.

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Then grab the other face of the sun and make sure all the rays are tucked safely inside before attaching it to the whole shebang. Leave a few inches open so you can invert it.

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Grab your chip bags and stuff them inside the now right-side-out sun.

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If you have some, you can add a little bit of cotton batting or fill for fluff purposes. Then it’s a simple matter to hand-sew that opening shut.

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Then grab each of the rays and tie a single knot into each one for texture.

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Easy peasy!

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Mini Glitter Tree

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I saw a giant silver version of this on Curbly last week and thought that in our house, where we haven’t taken any Christmas stuff out (because we’ll just have to pack it all up again immediately), it could brighten up the place a wee bit – at least until I give it to someone else.

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The whole project takes about an hour from start to finish, and that includes harvesting the sticks, so if there are any members of your household you’d like out of your hair for a while – child or adult – give them this task and tell them to have at ‘er. A warning, though, that this is a GLITTER project, so you might have a mess on your hands afterwards. I managed to keep most of mine contained, but that depends on your manual dexterity and how you store your glitter. So BEWARE.

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Go out and grab yourself some relatively straight sticks, and cut them in decreasing size to form an elongated triangle when laid out (you know, like a Christmas tree).

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Then grab a paintbrush and some glue and paint the end of your stick with some glue. Not a whole lot – just enough to adhere to glitter, and we all know it doesn’t take much to get glitter to stick to something.

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Then take your glitter (mine is in a wee jar) and either sprinkle it over the gluey stick or dip your stick into the glitter. I found it tidier to dip the stick in but you can do as you wish.

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Do the same to all the other sticks. The original version had the tips painted silver with silver glitter but I decided to forego the paint altogether and pick as many colours of glitter as I owned.

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Make sure to get both sides done and then let them sit for a while to dry – if you didn’t go overboard on the glue then it won’t take long.

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While that’s going on seal your glitter carefully up where it came from. That stuff should be a controlled substance.

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Now find yourself a decent length of wire. I have this stuff that I pulled out of an old downed telephone pole many years back. It’s copper wire with various colours of wrapping. I picked gray as a neutral.

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The wire should, doubled, be probably twice the length of your little tree diagram from top to bottom.

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Take the bottom stick and fold the wire in half around the centre of it. Twist the wire several times to hold it in place, and keep twisting to create about 0.5 to 1cm of space between the first stick and the second one.

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Twist on the second stick in the same way, twisting again to leave some space.

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Keep going with all your sticks, leaving spaces in between.

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When you’re done, you should have a large amount of wire coming off the top of the tree. You can use this to create a loop for hanging or whatever you like. I left mine long so the people I was giving it to would have room to work with. Twist and turn your sticks to make the “tree” more three-dimensional, and hang it somewhere pretty!

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