Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My fall project is finished! Introducing the Lil' Fishstick Kit

One of my Mom Duties I most enjoy is thinking up creative gift ideas for the boys. I have a tendency to brainstorm and then enlist my husband when its time to turn my ideas into a reality. Our biggest joint effort to date is an enormous train table that sits in our basement playroom. It is big enough for a large layout of Thomas the Train Take-N-Play tracks and buildings. However, if it ever needs to be moved out of the basement, the whole thing can easily come apart. 

My newest idea is a magnetic felt fish/fishing pole set. This idea has been simmering in the back of my mind for a few years. My husband likes to fish, and the boys have begun to go with him. Since we live in a state that is cold for about 8 months of the year, I thought they might like some sort of indoor fishing game/activity. I have looked in stores and online for what I had in mind, and have found nothing that impresses me enough to buy.

I am making this project for my soon-to-be 4-year-old's October birthday, but I know all three boys will want to play with it. So, one of my requirements for the fishing set was it had to be simple enough for a 4-year-old, but intriguing enough for my 8-year-old. Most of the "crafty" sets I've found online include really cute magnetic felt fish, but very, very simple wooden dowel rods with a magnet on the end of an attached string. This would be fine for my youngest, but would bore my oldest to tears within minutes. There has been absolutely nothing, other than plastic bath toys, in stores.

So I put my thoughts on paper and came up with my own kit.

First I found some printable fish templates I could use as my starting point. These two sites had free templates that translated well into patterns:

Then, through trial and error, came up with my first usable fish. It took me a few tries to develop a fish that looked nice, was a good weight, and had a strong enough magnet that could pass through two layers of felt. I also needed something metallic that I could anchor inside the fish for the magnet to catch. Almost all of the handmade sets I had seen for sale online used a very small, exposed washer sewn to the mouth of the fish. I didn't want any small parts exposed. Other than the obvious choking hazard, my boys are rough on things. They would yank those "hooks" out in a heartbeat. So I found larger washers and anchored them to the interior of the fish. They are big enough to attract a strong magnet and there is no way they are ever coming out.

Then I had to figure out a pole. That was a design challenge. I found a very cute, child-sized trout creel (basket) at a local hobby store. That gave me my starting point for the pole. I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if not only the fish, but the pole, fit inside this little basket?" I like things tidy, so making a set that stored in one basket seemed like a good idea. That meant the boys would either have a very short pole (the basket is only 8" long) or the pole would have to fold somehow. So I designed a folding wooden fishing pole. It also needed to be a little more complicated than a dowel with an attached string. I wanted it to mimic a real fishing pole as closely as possible, so I thought it should have a reel.

This time, my husband lucked out. I designed and built the poles myself. Each basket holds one pole and 6 colorful fish. I'm thinking my older two boys will get their sets for Christmas. Until then, all three will have to practice their sharing skills.

I call it the "Lil' Fishstick Kit"

 The fishing pole, trout creel and six colorful felt fish.

How the pole looks when it is folded up.

The pole and fish fit neatly into the creel - a toy with its own storage system!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Home sweet home

It's been quite awhile since I've had time to blog. I had to take a hiatus from writing because my plate was just too full. In the last year, we've been repairing our basement from a very freakish flash flood in the neighborhood, then preparing our house to sell (the bigger our boys get, the smaller our house feels!), keeping it clean while it was on the market and then making the difficult decision to pull it off the market when it didn't sell in the time frame we had. It was a very long year, with a lot of back-breaking labor (I never want to have to refinish wood floors again!), with very little in the way of pay-off, except that our house now looks as good as it did when we moved into it eight years ago, before we had three little boys! I give it less than three months to revert back to it's well-loved state.

However, now that I'm not trying to get some home-improvement project done or worrying about keeping a spotless house with every surface gleaming and everything in its rightful place, I have time to be an interactive mom again. So far, the kids and I have been baking up a storm and making a glorious mess in the kitchen. Today, we baked 8 dozen sugar cookies, and then frosted and decorated them. Powdered sugar dusted every surface, sprinkles crunched underfoot, and an egg white ended up in a gooey slime all over the floor at one point. But did I care? NO! We thoroughly enjoyed our day and ended up with half of our cookies decorated. The sprinkle factory had to shut down when I ran out of powdered sugar to make frosting. I didn't quite estimate correctly the output on a double batch of my great-grandmother's sugar cookies! I had piles and towers of cookies everywhere. As it was, we did get the quantity done that we needed for the boys' school Halloween parties next month. They are now safely tucked away in the freezer and I can cross that off my list of things-to-do.

Today's time in the kitchen with the boys also gave me a proud Momma Moment. All of my cookie-decorating lessons I've given the kids in the last few years have paid off. I noticed today that instead of licking fingers to get the sticky frosting off them while they were decorating their cookies, they would carefully wipe them on the paper towels I had provided. The one time one of them slipped up and took a lick, he remembered to stop, and before touching anything else, got down from his chair and washed his hands in the bathroom. That's my boy.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

It was a very merry Christmas in my family this year. Mainly because my three boys were showered with all the presents their little heart's desired and as much loving attention from relatives as they could wish for. They wouldn't admit it, but I noticed their happiness meters went up significantly the more attention they got from grandmas, grandpas and cousins, rather than from which presents they got. It was wonderful seeing them revel in all the adoration. They are so fortunate to still have all of their grandparents and most of their great-grandparents still living. The most anticipated part of my holiday season is seeing these beloved relatives.

If my boys were asked what their favorite part of Christmas was, though, they wouldn't hesitate to enthusiastically claim, "PRESENTS!!!!" They spent two entire days opening gifts. Spoiled doesn't begin to describe my little munchkins.

They harvested a whole bushel of weapons and ammunition. I'm not kidding - I have a bushel-sized wicker laundry basket that now holds our weapons cache. This year alone, they became the proud owners of eight Nerf dart guns, three marshmallow guns and three "Star Wars" lightsabers. They also got the ammo to go with the first and second, and Jedi capes to go with the last.

I'm not a lover of violence or weaponry, by any means. In fact, I'd consider myself more of a pacifist. I'm coming to learn that one woman in a houseful of boys doesn't stand a chance at instigating quiet, peaceful playtime. But I have to admit that these new toys have already provided hours of imaginative activity. My boys have shot down the bad guys in a battle zone, fought the separatists and empire at a rebel base camp in a "Star Wars" galaxy far far away and hunted down ghosts in our supposedly haunted house, just to name a few. I can't help but smile when their playtime is punctuated by shouts of "Dang Nabbit! The ghost got away!" or "Hurry! My gun needs to power up!" (In other words, "Bring more darts! Quick!") It makes my heart smile to see them interacting so joyfully with each other.

I did come up with one gift to counteract all the weapons I knew they were getting: a play doctor kit. When they get hurt, they go visit the "doctor's office" to get patched up so they can return to duty. The worst injuries reported so far have been suffered by my 3-year-old: once when he was whapped on the head with a lightsaber by Grandpa, on accident of course. And again when he decided to turn his Jedi cape into a ghost costume and head-butted a table because he couldn't see where he was going.

The bruise on my 3-year-old's forehead is just beginning to fade, but I hope their happy memories of this holiday season stay with them for years to come!