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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Make your own Silly Bandz...again

AGAIN?!? Yes. This is a take two version of the Halloween ghost silly band project I did here. Check it out if you wish to see some clear and more simple silly bands. Continue reading on if you're up for a challenge... and a week of green thumbs.

First, a disclaimer. This is not the easiest of projects. It's a bit of of a novelty, being able to create a piece of rubbery plastic in any shape you like, but at some point you may yell out loud "I can buy these for two dollars! What am I doing?!?" That said, it's still quite impressive. And relatively simple.

You will need:
-100% Silicone. Note the color: we first bought "almond" by mistake and they were pretty ugly! Go with "clear" unless you want something else. And make sure it's 100% silicone. If you've got an Ace Hardware, find the matching tube in the photo so you don't look like a dork standing there in the aisle with men making fun of you.
-A design. For size, look at a similar shaped bracelet you have. I printed off clipart.
-Clipboard and waxed paper. Works great for holding the pattern down, and you can do a few on every sheet without having to reposition patterns. Clip your pattern down and then cover it with waxed paper.
-If you are brave and want color: food coloring, a decorating tip (that you will forever have to give up) and a heavy plastic bag. And a toothpick to stir in the color. And gloves would be handy if you don't want to look like the Jolly Green Giant.

The procedure:

FOR CLEAR SILLY BANDS, just cut a small bit off the end of the tube of silicone and trace over. Make sure you cut the tip straight across, not at an angle.


-Cut a small corner off the plastic bag and put in the decorating tip.
-Squeeze a fair amount into the corner of a plastic bag. Put in a few drops of your desired food coloring and stir like mad with the toothpick (or other disposable stirring device.) It will be hard to get it all mixed in, and some of the dye will leak out, so make sure you've got your counters covered.


-Squeeze the tube/bag so that the silicone comes out solid and round, and fairly thick. Think of how thick an actual rubber bracelet it-- that will help. Make a continuous trace around your pattern, watching your connection. If there is a thin spot, it will break.

Some tips:
*DON'T "WIPE" with the tube. Keep it up off of the waxed paper.
*Watch your little doo-hickeys. I loved the recycling bracelet we did (Hello, Earth Day project!) but the arrows were less than perfect.
*Keep your designs simple, but don't be afraid to add some detail. My oak leaf looks like a blob, the maple is super duper.

And finally, let your silly bands dry for at least 4 hours. Gently peel them off, crossing your fingers that your connections are all solid, and make your children very cool.

And if you have questions, feel free to email me. Address is in the sidebar on the left.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Enjoying Christmas present and presents

There’s a certain magic of Christmas that isn’t much talked about, mostly because not many take the time to notice. It’s not their fault, though, because this magic is easy to miss because you’re too glazed over with Scotch Tape and curling ribbon.
It starts much earlier in the season, when we first start getting a taste for the holiday ho ho ho’s and we spend every waking moment living in a winter wonderland of cheer and candy canes. Even the stop lights blink in bright red and green; it’s everywhere. We eat, sleep, breathe, and shop Christmas until we have exhausted ourselves.
It’s all pretty much a giant build up to Christmas Eve night when the world is truly glimmering with excitement and anticipation. A last push before the big day finishing odds and ends, or if you’re like some, it’s the day you rush the stores for any last minute gifts, no matter how inappropriate they are. (My parents will remember the year of the potato chip maker, a gift of desperation and unfortunate drug store quality which didn’t matter because as usual, my mom was on some diet.)
The absolute culmination of it all is the last few minutes before bed, when letters are written, cookie plates are made up, milk is poured and carrots are left out. Children everywhere listen to their fathers read “The Night Before Christmas” and then, as they lay nestled snug in their beds, time drags on like you wouldn’t believe. Childhood insomnia attacks every kid who lays there with his eyes squeezed shut, trying to trick his brain into falling asleep, while his ears remain wide open and listening for the slightest and distant jingle bell. It’s nearly impossible to fall asleep, but eventually probable.
The secret magic of the season, however, explodes the very instant every child’s eyes open. There is a mad rush to wake parents who are groggy and trying to ward off the paper-tearing fury until they’ve found the cameras and at least started the coffee. From there it’s a frenzy of happiness: surprises, rewards, thoughtfulness.
And then, right then, time stops.
Save for the scurry of battery installation, there is nothing better than Christmas morning when you’re a kid or someone who has one. Time doesn’t matter. Work/school doesn’t matter. The upcoming bills certainly don’t matter. We personally have gone hours before realizing that we’ve eaten nothing but cookies all day and we just don’t care.
There are few things as blissful as that time by the light of the Christmas tree. It’s the reward for all of the planning and effort we put into office parties, waiting in line for Santa, and the fourteen paper cuts we got while wrapping when we were very tired late at night.
I wouldn’t trade those few hours we spend in our PJ’s tearing through packaging, cutting twisty ties, and playing the latest and greatest board game for anything.
Sadly enough, even the greatest mornings come to an end. Eventually there is a family gathering to attend or someone realizes that they need to consume real food and as fast as it all started, it’s over. Another year done in the blink of an eye, which suddenly notices the knick-knacks that need to be put away and the pine needles in every corner of the house.
And while my own eyes start to see the Christmas clean-up to be done, my heart truly hangs onto that magic bit of time when the world stops. My feet are covered in scraps of wrapping paper, my hands hold that cup of coffee I finally got around to, and somehow, in some way, my mouth waters a bit for a homemade potato chip.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The spirit of Christmas future: going paperless

It’s a rather bleak future, I’m afraid. I think it all started with the invention of the “gift bag” which was the first step in lazy holiday goers to forego the daunting task of paper, scissors, and tape. From there came the fancy and convenient “pre-lit” tree which is great for saving men and women from cursing knotted light strands during such a religious season, but also takes away the fun of getting tiny cuts and sap all over your arms from trying to string the lights just perfectly among the boughs.
The coup de grace, however, was the invention of the e-card.
To date, we have received six measly Christmas cards in the mailbox. Normally I’d have a complex about people not really caring to send their very best, but I know it’s not really our fault. It’s a change of the times, the rising cost of postage, and the fact that people just don’t want to send Christmas cards anymore. The world is going paperless, stampless, and cardless, which leaves my designated card hanging area cheerless and just plain bah humbug glum.
Of the ones we have received, only one was signed by hand. At the rate this is going, pens are going to be obsolete before we know it.
The history of the Christmas card is short but rich. In 1843, Sir Henry Cole decided it would be a nice idea to send a specially designed form of greeting to his pals at Christmas. So his buddy, John Callcott Horsley, got it all worked out and the very first Christmas card was born. They were approximately 5x3 inches and were on stiff cardboard in sepia tones. Lithographed, they were something special and they read “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
Only 1,000 of these were made, but the popularity of it all boomed.
According to their Web site, Hallmark estimates that approximately 1.5 billion cards will be sent this holiday season, and that 85% of people send greetings. Couple that with the U.S. Postal Service’s analysis that from 2007 to 2009 there was a 7.5% decrease in the number of cards sent by Americans, and you’re looking at a future where we might be down to those meager 1,000 cards.
It’s not that people don’t care, it’s just that it’s too easy and cheap to send electronic cards to inboxes rather than real cards to mailboxes.
E-cards, though flashy, just aren’t the same to me. I can’t hang an e-card on my wall and I certainly can’t cut up the pictures and put them in a book after the holiday is over. Call me old-fashioned (and I’m OK with that!) but I like to see an envelope with my address scribbled across it. To me it means that someone did more than hit “select all” and “send” after choosing a little cartoon and a few family photos to appear in my inbox.
If the past few years are any prediction to the future, we’ll soon have to put the Christmas card in the same list as the dodo bird and the triceratops: Extinct.
Gone with the paintings of snowy landscapes and gold embossed stars are the Christmas letters, the sugar coating of everyone’s lives for all to read. Without the cards, how else can you send out a year’s worth of everything good (and not at all exaggerated) that has happened to your family? How else can you tell everyone you really care about that your kid is multi-talented and surpassing genius levels, that your pet is of model quality, and that your life should be embossed with gold to match the card because it’s so perfect? How else can you put directly in the hands of all you know a staged photo of clean, well-dressed and well-mannered children?
I certainly can’t think of a better way than breaking out the envelopes, the phone book, and a good sturdy pen. And while your hand is cramping, be thankful for the traditional joy you are spreading and the invention of stamps that don’t require you to lick them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The spirit of Christmas Past

As if Jiminy Cricket himself floated down on his tiny umbrella, I can’t help but think about the Christmases of my own childhood past. In my mind I hold dozens of snapshots of memories, each one prized and in perfect form. A single moment in time, preserved in color so rich that if I close my eyes I can still smell the sauerkraut served at every Christmas Eve meal. They are beautiful pictures, all of them.
But unfortunately, like the snapshots in real life, they lay completely unorganized and without order, tossed in a box marked “Christmas” and all turned upside down, backwards, and without a single date to be found. It’s not as bad as you’d think, though. The mind works in mysterious ways, and my Christmas memories can all come together to make for one glorious story…
It was yet another Christmas Eve. We all sat in my Grandmother’s dining room which for some reason had one wall that was completely mirrors. This made for an entertaining meal for myself, as I would make faces and watch myself chew when no one was watching. Chewing was more of a task than you’d think, because this was our annual Polish meal and when my Great Grandmother came, she brought along very traditional (read: tasteless, gross) foods that I had to mentally will myself to eat with gagging.
After dinner it was dishes and everyone piling in the car for midnight mass. Living in Cleveland, there was at least a foot of snow and we all put on our snow boots over our hose. Someone would make a comment about how silly we looked with our bare legs hanging out between the woolen coats and plastic footwear, but off we’d got. I’d people watch during the service and make funny faces at my neighbor who was sitting two rows ahead of me and get dizzy from the smell of a millions old ladies’ perfume.
We’d ride home singing Silver Bells with comically inserted sound effects and then it was time for me to open one single present – a gift of pajamas. Once when my mother couldn’t remember which box they were in, I had the pleasure of opening almost all of my presents a day early just to find those pajamas.
Come Christmas morning, I’m somewhere in my late teens home on a college break and caught between the life of a child and one of an adult. The point when you start drinking serious coffee with your parents is a tough one, and after we opened our presents and drank our second cup, my parents and I decided to go ice skating on the pond out front. It was a perfectly sunny and freezing day and we skated for hours, gliding away the tension of being and having children growing up. Peaceful and fleeting as a stable day of weather in Northeast Ohio.
The next snapshot is of extended family gatherings, for after we had our fun of the visit from Santa, dozens of people would start lining their cars down the street and haul in casserole dishes and garbage bags full of presents. There’d be a card table full of two liter bottles and an ice bucket, and the one grouchy uncle would sit on the staircase just far enough away from everyone to avoid conversation. The party would go into the night and I would eventually be put to bed. I’d lay and stare out my bedroom window, past the plastic candle lights that were unnaturally red, green, and blue. Full of cookies, pop, and kielbasa and snuggling the Cabbage Patch doll that I forever wanted and would always love, I’d fall asleep having had yet another wonderful holiday, no matter which year it was.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas carols ring true

Any major retailer will tell you that the Christmas season starts in September, when they start taking down the racks of seeds and put up the giant inflatable Santas on top of every aisle. The radio stations will tell you that the holiday season is upon us sometime around Veteran’s Day. My husband is adamant about not celebrating anything Christmassy until the day after Thanksgiving, while I crank up my favorite Willie Nelson holiday album the minute the Macy’s Day Parade features good ol’ Santa coming down the street.
Whenever you started or think you should start, the holiday season is now full on. The entire month of December is just week after week of wild preparation, celebration, anticipation, and decoration. Each of our senses is attacked by the spirit of Christmas in one form or another, from the prickle of the evergreen needles, to the taste of frosted cookies, the vision of sugarplums, the smell of the dust that comes out of the boxes of ornaments.
But for all of the sensory attacks, nothing does it for me like the sense of hearing. Christmas carols are everywhere you turn. On every commercial, on every station, and certainly humming in my home.
I grew up with Christmas carols but like most things, I never took the time to listen to what they were about. Certainly the hymns and religious songs tell stories of the night of Christ’s birth. But there are other carols, and I think they have a story to tell, too.
Take “Frosty the Snowman,” for instance. It’s just a song about a bunch of kids who build a snowman who takes them on a crazy adventure thanks to his fancy hat, right? Or is it a glimpse into the magic of the season, into the faith of the imagination of children? For just once I wish I could have a sliver of that, and I think we all feel a glimmer of it when we hear the jingle bells of Santa’s sleigh.
And speaking of “Jingle Bells,” is it more than the most well-known winter song of all time? Set the stage for the story: riding in the snow in a sleigh pulled by horses. There is no motor running, no DVD player reciting Finding Nemo in the backseat. No cell phones ringing, no nothing. The silence is broken by two things (maybe three if that one horse has recently eaten), the singing of the song and the jingle of the bells. Two lovely things that take the riders out of the silence of the cold night and bring them closer together, where we all want to be.
But if there was any song that brings people truly together, it’s got to be “Home for the Holidays.” I never quite understood this one until my own family moved away and the only contact I have with them on those special days is via a phone call. There is no place like home for the holidays, and if you want to be happy in a million ways, you just can’t beat home sweet home. It’s true, and I know this because every holiday, no matter what it is, I couldn’t imagine it without being surrounded by the rest of my family.
What are those million ways? Mostly it’s stuff that means something to you and your own. It’s the traditions that have been built up over the years, of the same person falling asleep after the meal. It’s the comfort of knowing that one relative is going to be secretly fighting with another one and that so-and-so’s kid made the cookies so don’t eat them unless you want to eat dirt and boogers. It’s the kids running to tell their Grandparents about what they did in school and trying to hold off that one person who always like to sneak a look at the presents.
Mostly it’s the good stuff that makes a family, and a family a home, and a home for the holidays. And stuff that fantastic shouldn’t go in one ear and out the other.
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