Transform a cardboard box into a fun word game

This last week I received several boxes of wonderful things in the mail. Instead of breaking them down and adding to the recycling, I decided to have some fun and create an easy word game for the tot. She’s right at the point where encouraging letter recognition would be a really good thing, and instead of heading to the store and paying big bucks on some plastic game, or one that she’d only play with for a week and then toss aside, I upcycled one of those cardboard boxes into a fun and interactive game that could be enjoyed — and then eventually recycled.

Simply cut away the sides from the cardboard box using a scissors or paper cutter. You probably won’t be able to cut completely through if using a cutter, but it does help create nice, straight scored lines, which can then be cut with the help of a scissors. I created four squares to use for creating matching letter and number games.

cardboard game

Now use the trimmings to create the squares for the letters and numbers. I found around a one inch square was the perfect size.

cardboard game2

Use a black marker to write letters and numbers on the squares. You could do all capital letters, lower case letters for encouraging advanced learners, and numbers up to 100 — or even higher! I kept it simple and wrote out the alphabet in block letters along with numbers 1 to 20, reserving any blank squares for replacing lost numbers and letters later.

cardboard game3

To create the game grids, use a ruler to mark each side of the cardboard squares and one inch intervals and then draw straight lines to create boxes. Now you can fill each box with a number or letter, create words, or even number combinations. Because my little one is just starting to figure things out, I kept things pretty simple. You can even have a theme for each square, such as one for only numbers, and others for letters, or short words.

cardboard game4

I helped my daughter spread the letters and numbers on her work table and offered her a square to fill in. I was amazed as she found the first match and stayed engaged while filling in the rest. We spent over an hour going over the numbers and letters and finding their matching spots on the game cards and exploring number and letter recognition.

cardboard game5

I was so excited my daughter loved her new game, but loved even more that it was made from a recycled cardboard box, which basically cost nothing to make.

Looking for another fun way to repurpose your cardboard boxes? Make a cardboard box oven for hours of pretend play….



Homemade play table

We have this spot at the top of the stairs on the side of our living room. It’s a “spot” we have no idea what to do with. It isn’t really part of the living room, not big enough to do much with, and has been the home to several different things, including a large plant, small bench, and mini pool table — all of which just sat there doing not much of anything.

I was getting really tired of just looking at that empty corner and watching it become home to a happy family of daddy-long-legs.

I was also getting a bit tired of the tot’s toys ALL OVER THE PLACE.

She needed a solution. I needed something. We talked about getting a toy chest (I had visions of pinched fingers), we dreamed of putting together a built-in bookshelf-slash-seating area (I had visions of power tool mishaps), and we chatted about buying furniture (and I had visions of lots and lots of fighting). So the corner sat deserted, the cat turned the mini-pool table into her new favorite lounging spot, and I kept vacuuming up the spiders.

While at O.S.H. picking up who knows what, I spied round cuts of plywood and knew I had to make a play table. But how to make it cool… Then we spied the big spools used for holding rope and I batted my eyes and inquired if we could have an old one. It was my lucky day and we headed home with the round and a spool.

After a nice sanding, and a coating of white stain, the husband took over and screwed the spool to the round and we had a table. I had plans for adding another round base to make the table sturdier, and to touch up the paint, but the tot had other plans. She got busy working the minute it was brought into the house.

Once she was tucked in for the night, I added a few other cute items around her area so she’d stay interested for more than a few days. On the other side of the play corner is our entry way buffet (that houses a bunch of the hub’s old CD’s) that will be cleared out for her toys so the area is comfortable for her to play and stay organized — and I’ll be able to slide the doors so they will magically disappear.

So for less than $20, we reinvented a spool into a fun play table that will hopefully be used for years and years.



The fence

I am not a fence builder. My dad and husband built the fence around our lot, but this situation was totally different. If you’re wondering why the need for a fence, here’s the back story. We weren’t so interested in making things super secure (basically we didn’t want to dig holes and pour cement) because we were paralleling the chain link fence. The plants that were still left from the butchering on our side of the fence were very happy, which meant we needed to build around or weave the fence through.

We had no idea what to do.

After digging holes and securing a few 6-foot redwood stakes, we started weaving thin redwood slates to create a horizontal organic fence. We are calling it a big trellis…

By the end of the first day we were feeling pretty good about how things were going. You can still see the (now bare) chain link fence and a bit of the football field, but at least now we can train the vines to grow on OUR FENCE.

Today we added the final few lengths, repositioned a few plants, and mourned the loss of quite a bit of one of our really mature grape vines. I think I’ll mourn it a bit more later with a glass of wine…

Glitter picture frame

glitter picture frame

It seems all I’ve done lately is clean. From going through closets to wiping down counters, I am crazy in the midst of spring cleaning. We’ve been in this house for just about three years, making it the longest time the husband and I have ever lived in the same spot. Instead of moving boxes that haven’t been unpacked (like ever), I’m on a serious attack of dust, old stuff, and more dusty old stuff.

I came across a whole box of unused frames – even one that had never ever been used – along with some other really awesome vintage frames. This one was boring and made of black plastic or something. It seemed a shame to not do something with it, and, while cleaning out the craft drawer, came across some super-fine glitter…

Super sparkly glitter picture frame!

This a fun project for both kids and adults. But, WARNING! If you aren’t a glitter person this is NOT the project for you! Super-fine glitter is even more invasive than the regular stuff. You’re going to have glitter in your house (and maybe your hair) after this project.

I’m all good with glitter at my house.

All you need is an old wooden or plastic picture frame, super-fine glitter, a wide paintbrush, an old shaker-top seasoning container, and Mod Podge. It’s a good idea to cover your work area with a sheet of paper to help make clean-up easier. Remove the glass and backing from the picture frame, give it a quick clean, and then place on the paper.

glitter picture frame

If you have small packets of glitter (like I did), open the packets and pour into a container with a sprinkle top. You can buy super-fine glitter in sprinkle ready containers, but I went with the mongo-multi color package at the craft store…. I used three small packets of glitter for my 8 x 10-inch frame.

Using a wide brush, generously coat the frame including the sides. Now the fun part – shake, shake, shake the glitter all around the frame. You can work in sections if you prefer – or if working with young helpers that might take a bit longer to shake-a-shake (you don’t want the Mod Podge to dry!).

glitter picture frame

Let the frame dry for at least an hour.

Gently pick up the frame and tap it while trying not to manhandle the frame. If you’ve got any areas that need more glittering, dot with glue and then coat with more glitter. Keep going until the entire frame is covered. When done, you can gently fold the paper to collect the glitter and then pour back into the container.

Let dry again for at least an hour

Give that frame a final few taps to release any not glued glitter and then you are good to go!

I had the perfect picture for our finished glitter picture frame and love looking at it hanging on the wall. Just think how cute smaller glitter picture frames would be – sparkly pink for baby girl pictures, bright silver for wedding frames, or vibrant red for the holidays!


Spring blossom artwork

spring blossom artwork

It seems everywhere I look there are blossoms, blossoms, blossoms. Spring is officially here, and with it, tons of flowers. While out for a nice walk, the tot and I couldn’t help stopping every few blocks to check out the colorful beauties, which reminded me of amazing Chinese blossom paintings. Full of bright pinks and reds, traditional blossom paintings are delicate and pretty and then lined with black lengths of tree. Blossom trees welcome spring in Asia and are also a large part of Chinese New Year celebrations as decorations.

After we returned from out outing, I pulled out the tissue paper and glue. While I cut several circles of pink, red, and fuchsia tissue, I enlisted the tot to mix together equal parts glue and water in a small container. If your child is old enough to cut with scissors, she can be in charge of cutting tons of different sized tissue circles.

Once there’s a nice pile of tissue circles get out a sheet of white paper and invite your child to sprinkle the tissue circles around the paper and then brush with the glue water. Encourage your child to overlap and layer the tissue as much – or as little – as she’d like.

While the paper is still wet, offer your child a black marker and invite her to draw lines to represent trees and the branches of the trees. The marker washes in with the glue water and tissue, making the artwork dreamy and spring-like. Your child can even use a green marker to add the surrounding grass.

Don’t’ forget to find the perfect spot for displaying your child’s finished spring blossom artwork!

Happy spring!

Cardboard box oven

cardboard box oven

I love cooking in the kitchen, which means the tot loves to “cook” in the kitchen. I’ve been searching for a really fun interactive kitchen for her to play with that isn’t all plastic-y or super expensive (you know, those all wood ones). I’d seen some really cute ideas for how to make your own using an old side cabinet, but didn’t have one hanging around nor wanted to frequent the stores searching for a used one. So, the other day, the answer came to me when we received something from UPS.

A cardboard box oven.

To make your own box oven, you’ll need one 18x18x16 box along with another to use for adding your embellishments. You can make your oven however you like – and add special items for your budding cook.

This is how ours turned out…

I started by taping one end of the box, which allowed me to still have access to the insides. I traced around a rectangular plate of the tot’s to create the opening for the oven and then carefully cut on the line using a utility knife – but not along the bottom edge. To create the opening, I pressed a ruler along the base of the opening and then folded out the cardboard. Then I used a piece of sand paper to gently smooth the edges. For the handle, I cut one handle-shap from some scrap cardboard and then used that template to cut two more exactly the same. The hot glue gun held them together, and then to the front of the oven door with the help of a few small rectangles to make things more stable.

Next up? Cute knobs – that turn! With the help of a few egg cups and pipe cleaners, these knobs were good-to-go. I separated the egg cups and cut four same-sized circles from the extra cardboard. Then, I used a push pin to make two holes in each of the cardboard circles, just like it was a button. Simply thread the rounds with the pipe cleaners (doesn’t matter what color) and then hot glue the tops of the egg cups over the cardboard button, with the pipe cleaner end coming out the other side. Now measure (or don’t) where you’d like your knobs at the top of the box above the oven door. Use the push pin to make holes, thread with the button knobs, and then twist the pipe cleaners on the inside of the box oven, adding a dab of hot glue to make things really secure. I even used a black marker to add cooking temperatures.

 To create the cook-top, I cut the side off the extra cardboard box and hot-glued it over the top of the cardboard box oven, which made things a bit more stable. Then, I cut four large circles from the extra cardboard, plus an extra four smaller ones to make the burners. Once again, my hot glue gun secured everything in place.

Just because the bottom of the box was just a bit low to use when the front of the oven door opened, I cut a length of extra cardboard to fit right under the door when open and also held happily in place with a bit of hot glue. Making the pice just a bit longer makes it easy to fold the sides and then glue in place. This way the tot’s cakes would bake up just right.

After taping the bottom of the box, it became apparent that the top of the range would be a bit low. So, with the help of a four folded squares of extra cardboard, I created legs for the cardboard box oven and used that trusty hot glue gun to attach.

The tot could barely stay away while the cardboard box oven was in production, and the minute she could have at it, she was in love. And what’s awesome is that it cost me basically nothing to make, took just about an hour, and can be hot glued back together when things fall off – or recreated with a bigger box!

Homemade chalkboard from a picture frame

The other day during nap time things got really quiet downstairs. You see, the tot doesn’t really “nap” anymore, she just kind of “hangs out.” I decided she was safe and fine and couldn’t do anything really bad all happily enclosed in her room.

I was wrong.

After about an hour or so, I went down to see how things were going and found this:

I’d seen lots and lots of people making homemade chalkboard paint, so figured that would be a perfect solution for covering up her crayon creation without making her seem like she’d done something horridly wrong. I had some old trim and a piece of plywood somewhere…

See, as an art teacher (and now a parent), I get it that she found a crayon hiding somewhere in her room (or had it hostage in her pocket) and decided to express herself on the wall. I could go all crazy and scream and throw a fit, but, really, it’s not that big of a deal. Even if I scrub-a-dubed like crazy to get that crayon off the wall –  she’d probably do it again.

Creating a nice chalkboard spot for her was the perfect solution. While I was making up the tot’s chalkboard, I decided to turn a couple of old picture frames into cute and funky chalkboards to give as holiday gifts. Big or small, handmade chalkboards are super fun – and super easy!

And the kiddies can totally get in on the fun – just use paint brushes and acrylic paint for covering the frames instead of the spray paint!

What you need

Old wood picture frame with glass removed

Piece of balsa wood or pressed board (I used an old backing from a larger picture frame)

Un-sanded grout

Latex Paint – any color

Plastic cup or container

Paint stir stick

Foam brush or roller

Spray paint – any color

Old sheets


Ribbon/string/twine (just for fun)

(Ruler, pencil, handsaw, eye hooks)

What you do

Find a nice outdoor area to work. Put down an old sheet or drop cloth and place your frames – free of glass and stuff – flat on the sheet. Now spray them like crazy with whatever color of spray paint you selected. I picked a nice shiny silver for my holiday gift chalkboards.

Go ahead and place your board on your work area and get mixing your chalkboard paint. If you need to pre-cut your wood, measure and mark, and then cut to size with a hand saw. You can also do this after you’ve painted if you’re using a large piece of wood for several small chalkboards.

This is so easy – and you can make your chalkboard paint any color you’d like! Measure about 1 cup of the latex paint along with 2 Tablespoons un-sanded grout in a plastic cup or container and then really stir things up, making sure their aren’t any clumps and lumps.

Roll that paint all over your board or use a foam brush to super-saturate the whole thing with your chalkboard paint.

That’s it!

Let things dry overnight and then prep the chalkboard by giving it a light sand with low-grit sandpaper and then rub with some fresh chalk and wipe off.

If you want to make things super cute, cut a length of ribbon and attach it to the top corners of the frame with small eye-hooks for hanging. I had some adorable *felted circle string left over from a gift-wrapped box from Anthropolgie that worked wonderfully!

Here’s how things turned out in the tot’s room…

*Want to make your own felted circle string? Simply cut several circles from felt…

fold in half and cut two small slits…

and string onto any decorative ribbon or string!


Felt flower hair clips

With the holidays right around the corner, I’m getting together all my crafty ideas for creating cute homemade holiday gifts. Along with making stuff for my family, I also like putting together a couple of things for friends. And, this year, I’m making stuff for my own tot. She’s finally old enough to understand this whole “gift opening” thing. So the hubs and I are scrambling to put together a few fun items for her to tear apart come Christmas morning.

While hanging out with my extended family over Thanksgiving, I had so much fun watching my niece and daughter play together – and get into some “girly-girl” stuff. Okay, I’m first to admit I’m not tossing bows and ribbons at my daughter, but it was fun to see her getting into wearing her niece’s hair clips and wanting to actually do something with her hair….

Which gave me a great idea for a holiday gift!

Itty-bitty felt flower hair clips.

This is a cheap and adorable homemade gift to make, and you can put your own spin on the basic design by adding beads or other fun embellishments. But, for the most part, you only need a few materials and, before you know it, you’ll have created a whole collection of adorable hair clips (and I guarantee you’ll keep a couple for yourself).

Start out by picking up some small hair clips from your local everything store. I found ones that were shades of pastels, but plain metal ones would also work wonderfully. I think they cost me about $3.

Now get out some colorful felt. Sheets of felt run about $1. You could play match-matchy and use colors that coordinate with your hair clips, or mix things up. To create simple flour rosettes, start by cutting a small circle out of the felt, about 3-inches in diameter. Then cut a line into the felt, swirling to the center of the felt circle – kind of like you’re making a snake – but stop cutting once you hit the middle.

It’s as simple as starting to roll the felt at the outside edge and continuing until you get to the middle and securing with a glob of hot glue.


Attach the felt flower to the hair clip and you’ve got an adorable gift! And your total cost is pennies!

For fun you could add small beads around the flower, bundle a couple of felt flowers together, or create the flowers out of different sizes of felt – or even newspaper or other materials.

I kinda fell in love with the big orange one…

Have fun – and Happy Holidays!


Comforting stuff: Homemade fire starters for the holidays

*This post is sponsored by Tempur-Pedic, the brand millions of owners trust to deliver their best night’s sleep every night. Enjoy our Buy 2, get 1 free pillow offer now and give the gift of custom comfort to someone you love.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

I don’t know about you but as soon as Halloween is over I’m all about planning for the holidays. I check my favorite recipe sites, take notes, spend tons of time day-dreaming about all the tasty things to cook and bake along with the cool things to create for handmade gifts…

The majority of this time is spent while on the couch with my trusty laptop in front of a nice, raging fire.


I’m a big fire girl.

So when thinking about my favorite holiday comforts, having an amazing fire (and some fabulous food) are at the top of my list. This year I figured I could combine my love of making stuff with that cozy fire and create something really special…

Scented fire starters.

Here’s how to make them…

Herb-tastic wreath

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

It’s that time of year. The holidays are right around the corner, and before you know it, you’ll be hustling about trying to figure out what to get, or make, for who-and-who. We have a ton of herbs that are going crazy in this early fall weather that won’t last much longer, so I headed out and harvested as much as I could. While trying to decide what to do with the mounds of amazing smelling stuff, I got a great idea.

Mini herb wreaths…

wrapped with a small section of cheese cloth…

perfect for tossing in your seasonal soups or stews! And perfect for gift giving this holiday season!

The spiffy name for this creation is a bouquet garni – a collection of herbs collected together and used to flavor anything from a savory sauce to a pot of mulled wine. You can use any types of herbs you like, but traditionally basil, oregano, rosemary, bay leaf, and thyme are included. And I had a big pile of them all.

To create your own mini herb-tastic wreaths, gather up your favorite herbs. If harvesting your own, try to cut as long of lengths as possible, which makes the bending and forming easier. If you purchase the herbs, select the longest twigs from the packages.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Start with a woody herb, such as rosemary, to create the base of the wreath. Gently bend together the rosemary and then secure with a length of cotton cooking twine. You’ll end up with a circle about three to four inches in diameter.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Now wrap and weave the rest of the herbs into the rosemary. Lengths of thyme can be secured into the twine and then wrapped around the rosemary. Basil and bay leaves can be tucked in, and oregano lengths threaded in with the mess, too.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Cut a section of cheesecloth (Don’t have cheesecloth? A piece of fresh, clean cotton, such as a man’s handkerchief, works wonderfully) that is big enough for the wreath to be placed in and secured with the length of twine. Fold it into a long section that can be used to tie at the top of the herby wreath.

For fun, a round of lemon or orange rind can be added as extra decoration.  As the wreath dries, it offers a lovely scent and something cute to admire. If giving as a gift, simply tie on a hand written name card or greeting and gently wrap in tissue paper.

And, when the time comes to use the herbs, simply untie the cheesecloth and the twine, pop in the wreath, wrap up in the cheesecloth, and re-tie the twine.

Toss in your bouquet garni and enjoy!

© Sarah Lipoff 2011