Lighting (without electrical skills) – Part Two of the Dollhouse Series

The deeper the dollhouse and the fewer windows, the darker the interior. Here are some ideas for lighting up the rooms that your child can do with you.

Purchase strings of LED mini lights. As they become more common, the price is dropping. Tape them to the ceilings.

Only under total adult supervision should flood lights be added. They get really HOT! But, if your child wants to make a video, they’re great. Positioning in front is the best for lighting but too close to the child for safety. I mounted them beside the dollhouse and pointed them through the windows. I blocked the access. The second floor window should be bigger for this.

Another idea is to add battery operated tea lights. They can sit on the furniture.

Little tea light holders are fun and easy to make. Buy craft sticks like this at the dollar store. You also need the little wooden cubes.

Cut the circle away from the handle. Glue the circle in the middle supported by the cube. Have your child paint it gold or white or whatever she chooses.

Tape them to the wall. (Note,  tape doesn’t stick well to fabric but works on peel and stick paper.)

Try out other ways of using the tea lights in table lamps, floor lamps, chandeliers. The sky’s the limit.


Building (without carpentry skills) – Part One of the Dollhouse Series

There’s no need for hammer or nails or saw, just a trip to the dollar store. Your child can help with some or all of the construction depending on her age.

Assign a large work area where the dollhouse can be left in progress for several days. Trying to do it in one day is too much.

Purchase 12 or more styrofoam craft sheets from the dollar store for $1.50 each as well as several bottles of Lepages glue. You’ll benefit from a glue gun as well. This will allow you to work faster. Your child can spread the white glue and you can use the glue gun. If you’re making a two-storey, dowels or something similar can be handy.

Use three full sheets and two half sheets to create a box. At this point you are only using the glue gun.

Glue on a second layer for strength but make the pieces overlap the way you would lay bricks. Do this by scoring and bending the styrofoam but not splitting it. Have your child spread white glue all over the piece. You hot glue gun the edges. This will hold it in place while the white glue dries and you can keep working. If you are going to do a second floor, make a third layer for strength. You can clamp the edges together while it dries. I also glued two pieces together and made a half wall for extra support. I just hot glued that in place.

For more strength, I added pillars to the back corners. I was making a three storey so the bottom box would need to hold a lot of weight. I scored a piece of styrofoam to make it like a fan or accordion bellows. Then I soaked it with glue and wrapped it with masking tape.

I glued these into the back two corners. Be sure you cut the first piece the right height to fit snugly.

This is a good spot to stop for the day. That will give the glue time to set well.

I was concerned about the front of the storey sagging in the middle. If you’re only doing one floor or a one-and-a-half- storey, you can skip this.

I thought I could try to make a header for extra support. Using the cheap dollar store imitation legos at $5.00 a box (probably using almost three boxes) we made a 4 X 6 peg pillar. You and your child can work on this at the same time and then join your pillars to make one.

We used some scrap pieces to extend the top and then taped some craft dowels  to spread the support out.

We covered the post with the same sticky paper as we used to wallpaper the walls.

On the second floor, we just made three pillars for the two front corners and the middle. I taped them in place with heavy duty clear tape.

Pick a day to gather wall covering. Cheap sticky paper is available at the dollar store but it can be frustrating to  use. It’s a two or three person job. They also have small rolls of  fabric you can glue on the walls or floor. Be careful not to make the second floor too heavy with thick flooring. Let your child do as  much as possible. It won’t be perfect, but it will be hers.

You can use anything you like for wallpaper, flooring, or paint. I discovered it was super dark inside, so I added a window. This would have been easier to do as I went along. Too many windows will weaken the structure so use caution on the bottom floor.

I let my granddaughter pick the colors, etc. It’s her doll house so it doesn’t need to be showcase perfect. I printed out picture frames and she drew the art inside to tape to the walls.  You could use real picture frames but be careful how much weight you add to the second floor.

On another day, we built a half-storey and roof-top garden out of Duplo.

Next week: How to light the interior of the dollhouse when you aren’t an electrician. Ideas for you and your child.



Recycled Sundays – Who Has Been Eating the Bird Seed?

I have difficulty saying no to charity canvassers. If I’d known about the great mice hoard, have forced myself.

A gentleman was selling bird seed for a children’s charity. We have a feeder. It was mostly frequented by sparrows who seldom eat sunflower seeds. The gentleman left the bag in my front hallway. Sit stay there until my husband came home. I couldn’t carry it to the shed myself. I couldn’t even drag it across the kitchen floor. The bag weighed more than my oldest child and was almost as tall. She’s twelve.

My husband dropped the bag in a corner of the shed. He added a quarter cup of sunflower seeds to the wild bird mixture in the feeder. At that rate, our children would inherit the remaining seeds. We seldom added to sunflower seeds to the feeder since the birds seldom ate them. One cold March morning, we discovered some other wild creature enjoying the contents of the bag. It looked like it was still full but it was actually full of empty shells.

Mice had been feasting and cleverly disguising the evidence. My husband bought six traps. We thought we’d catch three or four. After the twentieth, I realized there was a Mice Metropolis under our shed. The mouse mayor must have sent out flyers: Come for the best seeds in town.

As time passed, the trapped mice became smaller and younger. I tried not to think of Baby Mice trapped while out searching for their mothers who had already been killed. My children displayed a mixture of sadistic fascination and sympathy for the small defenseless creatures. “Do we have to kill the little ones?” (In six weeks, those little ones are having little ones.) The hardest to accept was that we refused to dig up half the yard for a rodent cemetery.

Some mice, it turns out, are more callus then we are. I think they send the stupid out to die. An unsuspecting fool springs the trap and while he’s gasping his last goodbyes, the others munch safely on the peanut butter bait

Peridocally, my husband caught sight of a huge critter fleeing as he reset the traps. It looked like the same large mouse was often enjoying the benefits of another mouse’s death. This giant may well have started the whole society. More traps were set but he was evasive.

When the count passed forty, I wondered if there any more left in the entire city of Thunder Bay. My husband kept setting up the traps. He hadn’t yet caught old Wiley.

One spring day my husband swept out the shed. Mice don’t clean up after themselves. A few boxes were damaged fortunately the mice had not chewed through the tent. Traps were reset with double doses of peanut butter.

“Wiley’s probably moved out with the good weather,” I said. “Who’d want to stay in a place where everybody gets their heads crushed?”

But the temperature dropped and old Wiley returned for another stab at the peanut butterr. He was the last one caught. He almost deserved a little grave beside the sparrow the cat got and the Bohemian waxwing that hit our neighbor’s window.

There was almost a third grade out there last fall. I discovered my husband was storing bird seed in the shed.

“Are you nuts?” I screeched.

“No problem.It’s in a sealed plastic bucket. They can’t get in.”

That wouldn’t have stopped old Wiley. Come to think of it, rodent teeth can chew through wood so why would plastic be any different? I gave the bird feeder to charity.


First published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

Sunday, February 2, 1992

Recycled Sundays – Animal Karma

I am relieved to see that our Canadian animals are not following in the violent footsteps of their Old World Counterparts. I do hear stories of bear and cougar attacks every summer and nod. These animals know we are the enemy. They’ve seen us destroy their homes, clearcutting and pollution being the favored methods. They have watched us trap, poison, and shoot their kin. It’s open warfare.

What scares me is when the attacks come from an unexpected source — hoofed farm animals, for example.

I must admit, though, they were provoked. I had previously thought that inbreeding eliminated that wild eye for an eye, fang for a fang trait. Unfortunately, domestic animals have begun to show their true colors.

For example, in Manganeses de la Polvorosa, Spain, the villagers drop a goat from the church belfry to start a religious festival. My first reaction upon hearing this was, what religion thinks this is a good idea? Is this the Church of the Holy Splattered Ruminants? These people have bats in their belfry. Each year, (I’m not making this up), the townspeople toss a goat from the 14 meter high belfry, catch it in a tarp, and release it, suffering only from vertigo and a new mistrust of crowds. This feat begins the Festival of Saint Vincent, the town’s patron saint. He was famous for his works of charity, especially to the sick, old, and orphaned. He must have had a taste for kid pancakes.

Fortunately, local police force lept to the defense of the goat. Unfortunately, villagers refused to take this butting in. They attacked the police at the last festival, and the journalists for good measure. It seems the only one who walked away unharmed was the goat.

Another hoofed fellow didn’t fare as well. A Romanian farmer in December 1991 wanted to clean the skin from his slaughtered pig. He usually used a vacuum cleaner to inflate the pig and burn straw over the skin to remove the hair. Do you suppose that’s where they got the idea of the giant Miss Piggy as a parade balloon?

The farmer’s vacuum broke so he used bottled gas. The pig went whole hog on revenge, exploding and injuring the farmer who spent three days in the hospital. I wonder whether a man who ignites a gas-filled creature should be allowed to work with sharp garden tools.

This is the kind of behavior I might expect from animals who have been treated as nothing better than a vegetable for consumption. But I didn’t expect vengeance from man’s best friend.

Last winter in Moscow, Gennady Danilov, at the young age of 33, was shot by his dog. His dog got his hind legs caught in a trap while they were out hunting. When Danilov tried to free him, the animal struggled and made the rifle discharge.

So far, these acts of vengeance have not spread to North America. Perhaps they are still to come by the poor unfortunate animals we use and abuse. However, I live with three cats. I would never allow my children to toss them. I lock the felines in the basement whenever I am working with any flammable substances. No firearms are allowed on the premises. But deep down I know this is futile. When they study me with six gleaming yellow eyes, I try not to imagine what kind of revenge they are planning in return for the last trip to the vet.

Originally published in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News

Sunday, June 14, 1992

Recycled Sundays – Defensive Ballroom Dancing

My husband and I are learning how to ballroom dance. I’ve always liked dancing but never learned the difference between a box step and an I-stepped-on-his-foot step.
Square dancing is experiencing a revival. It looks like fun too, although I am kept from participating by the music. Country and western gives me a nervous twitch. The lyrics make me want to slap the person next to me. The nasal twang makes me want to kick them while they’re down. But the intricate steps and choreography are impressive.
So, too, with ballroom dancing. It’ll be a long time before I can ever cha cha with Charro or Viennese Waltz without counting under my breath but I like a challenge.
The most reassuring thing about dance classes is that everyone struggles together. We all learn at our own rate and since I’m in the couples class, we bring our own encouragement. The confidence is most noticeable in men. Remember in school when we learned square and folk dances? The boys all turned into Jerry Lewis. As adults, they have weathered worse and survived. The travelling step isn’t as daunting when you have lived through parenting or job loss or divorce.
We practice our steps separately at first and the males are a joy to watch. Every man has his own style. One keeps his mouth tightly closed in determined concentration. A dust molecule couldn’t penetrate those compressed lips. One blushes brightly when he stumbles, seemingly unaware that four or five other guys have made exactly the same mistake. The older gentleman is as smooth and debonair as Fred Astaire while the younger fellow performs with the rigid precision of a military drill. One dances to the beat of a different drummer. Then there’s the totally in control gum chewer who not only remembers the steps and keeps the beat but doesn’t even seem to bite his tongue.
The women watch from the sidelines as their partners learn a new step. They parade past us like graceful peacocks each subtly flaring their invisible feathers. They boogie, rock, sizzle and strut. Of course, it’s easier for them to look good since they get to go forwards. They are most challenged practicing the spins. I imagine it’s because they didn’t have the opportunity to spin in a flared dress as a child like many of the women have.
When we women practice, we have to dance backwards without anyone to lead us away from each other. Since most of us are wearing heels, we move rather tentatively, not wanting to impale the woman behind us onto the gym floor.
Finally we get to dance together. The instructor calls out the men’s steps. The women must reverse the footing and do it while dancing backwards. So, we struggle with gender imposed restrictions, one step forward and two steps back, madly translating the dominant patterns until it makes sense from our point of view – just like real life, eh? Later on we get to change partners and try to accommodate a different man’s body shape and size with its unique rhythms.
At this point I am anything but graceful. I sweat like a high school gymnast without a bucket of chalk dust. I vary between counting the beat and reciting, “long, long, short, short” like a tribal chant. Not exactly the romantic exchange I had in mind when we started.
My husband has trouble leading. It’s the first time in eighteen years I’ve let himcontrol me without an argument. When my husband asks the female instructor for help, she offers to go through the steps with him. He hesitates, hands raise and asks, “Are you being a lady?” She laughs good naturedly and says, “That’s questionable.”
Our favorites are the polka and the tango. I give my husband a little extra room so he doesn’t bang my sore knees when we twist in the polka. He gives me a lot of extra room when we do the lunge in the tango. He’s learned that falling to the floor and clutching oneself is not an option in ballroom dancing. We’re getting pretty good since we learned to dance defensively.




Don’t Ask a Dinosaur Blog Tour

April 6:       Michelle H. Barnes (Interview w/month-long writing prompt)

April 8:       Kate Narita (Trailer & activity sheet spotlight)

April 11:     Deborah Kalb (Interview w/Matt & Deb)

April 13:     Yours Truly (Interview w/Louie)

April 16:     KidLit Exchange (Blog post re: process of illustration)

April 17:     Momma’s Bacon (and I’ll be promoting the book’s release on my blog, as well)

April 18:     Bonnie Ferrante (DAAD review)

April 19:     Brenda Harsham (micro review)

April 25:     Bonnie Ferrante (DAAD interview)

May 2:        Unleashing Readers

What Did I Put in My Mouth? – Recycled Sundays

After reading a particularly good article on contagious diseases, I provided separate bathroom cups, towels, and face cloths for my husband and myself. I made sure our toothbrushes were always different colors. The segregated cups and towels often fell by the wayside, but the idea of someone else accidentally using my toothbrush was more grotesque than sharing a Q-tip.

When my children arrived bathroom hygiene became trickier. The towel on the floor generally belong to my daughter and the scrunched up one behind the toilet was my son’s. Fortunately, their toothbrushes were smaller than mine, so when mix-up occurred, it was usually between them. Santa helped out by bringing brushes decorated with Muppets and Bugs Bunny cartoon characters. The problem now was who got radical Gonzo and you got stuck with silly Tweety. We muddled along, everyone attempting to keep their own germs. Everyone, that is, except Virgil.

Virgil is a cat. He was named after the chimpanzee in the movie Project X who caused all the trouble at the research lab. Virgil, the chimp, was charming, intelligent and strong willed. My Virgil is charming and strong-willed.

Like most cats, Virgil loves to swat dripping water. With two kids in the house, you can bet there’s always a leaking faucet somewhere. I learned to rinse out the sink and the bathtub before using them.

One day, as I worked on marking, I saw movement in my peripheral vision, (a woman with one husband, two kids, and three cats, and a classroom full of kids develops rabbit vision – able to see in 360°). Virgil slunk by and raced to the basement.


“Kids,” I called. “Virgil just got something in his mouth and the way he’s acting, I suspect he shouldn’t have it.”

Let the chase begin.

Gleeful screams of laughter, thumps and crashes followed.

“It’s a toothbrush!” my son squealed.

A snake twisted through my stomach.

“Take it away from him and throw it in the trash,” I shouted.

More gleeful screams of laughter, thumps and crashes.

After supper, I went to brush my teeth. As soon as I finished, I realized no toothbrushes were missing from the container. Four people, four toothbrushes.

I bellowed to my son, “Where is the toothbrush you took from Virgil?”

He smiled proudly and stated, “I got it back.”

“Which one was it?”

Innocent shrug. Yuck! Feeling like Lucy after Snoopy licked her lips, I gargled and rinsed and until my mouth stung. I explained to my son, yet again, the importance of listening to my entire instructions.

Last month we took Virgil to the vet for his yearly check up. He had the beginnings of gum disease.  The cat had to be put under anesthetic to have his teeth scraped. When we picked him up, we were given the dual enzyme cleansing system – a box of animal toothpaste and a tiny toothbrush with a few bristles shaped into a point. If we want to Virgil to stay healthy, we’re supposed to brush his teeth.

Right! I have enough trouble getting my kids to brush. How does a cat swish and spit? Of course, Virgil has no excuse to steal anyone else’s toothbrush now. He has his own red one. Then again, he’s colorblind. Perhaps I should get him one with a picture of Garfield. Now,of course, he doesn’t want anything to do with toothbrushes.

Let the chase begin.

Recycled Sundays – Achoo!

I know I’m coming down with something when I become accident prone. The first viral assault tends to knock out my coordination, not that there’s much to begin with. But, when I try to lick a stamp and get a papercut, I know it’s a stuffy head is on the way.
I was getting cocky this year, not having missed a day of work even in the midst of cold and flu season. Then, Mr. Virus slapped me a good one. It wasn’t the kind of virus for the victim is knocked off her feet for three or four days and then recovers. It was the peekaboo kind.
There was a slight fever that came and went for no apparent reason. In midsentence my face would suddenly flush in the room would seem a little smaller. I would return to work after day in bed and then find my head drooping to my desktop, an overpriced paperweight. By the end of the day, lifting my briefcase seemed as impossible as restoring Michael Jackson’s reputation.
There were sinus headaches and fever headaches and “someone hit me in the temple with a hammer“ headaches. There were aches and pains, and pains and aches, as though I had run the Triathlon wearing barbed wire. I never knew armpits good hurt so much.
But most of all, there was exhaustion. I easily slept 10 hours a night but every afternoon I napped as well. “I can’t possibly need more sleep,“ I’d tell myself. Then, I would put the milk in the cupboard and the sugar in the fridge or I would change the empty toilet paper roll by throwing away the new role and trying to flush the empty cylinder.  When I wasn’t sleeping, I was resting. The couch is permanently form to my body shape, left side down, space for the remote by my elbow.
This might not have lasted for weeks if I had given in and gone to bed at the start but colds and flu never arrive at convenient times. There were pre-Christmas tasks to be done. There were jobs at work no ask no one else could do. They were commitments to be met. There were people who needed me. The virus and I were on alternate schedules.
To complicate matters, I never get sick alone. Leaving living with a family means someone else always catches it. To be fair, I think my son had it first. It just seem to hit him hardest after I spent my first day in bed. When a child is sick, the sick mother‘s recovery takes second place.
I didn’t read a large novel curled in bed but sat on the couch, a small corner of my son’s blanket on my feet, reading aloud the original saga of Batman with a cough drop in my mouth. Forget watching relaxing ballet or figure skating on television. By the end of the first week I memorize the songs and chants in Power Rangers, “Go! Go Power Rangers! (hopefully out of sight). There was Captain Planet and the Planeteers, “You can be one too! Saving the planet is the thing to do.“ As opposed to what? I’ll never forget Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, “This is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on my friend.“ It gave me a strong craving for not roast mutton.
I learned how to lock on my Camp Caribou baseball cap should I ever be forced to wear one. I learned that Samurai Pizza Cats are smart mouth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rip offs that deliver pizza by being shot from a revolver and fight an interior decorator in their spare time which seems a bit drastic now that chrome and black plastic is no longer popular. I learned that Dennis the Menace was really a sweet little boy.
Instead of cross stitching orwriting letters, I play played canasta, washed sheets, played canasta, washed pajamas, and played canasta. Thank goodness my son received an automatic card shuffler for Christmas. I was getting permanent heart and club works on my hands.
I also spent a great deal of time exclaiming over three dimensional or holographic or brilliantly coloured comic characters. They had names like Daredevil, Dead Pool, Ghostrider, Punisher, Spawn, X-Men, X-force and X-cutioner, some of which I think are actually the good guys. Everyone was armed to the teeth with super weapons and seem to have several problems with saliva control and mucus. This was an eye-opener and let you some rather intense discussions and weeding out of the comic collection. I miss the days of Archie and Garfield.
First published by the Chronicle-Journal?Times-News
Sunday, January 2, 1994