Thursday, November 05, 2020

Halloween 2020: DIY Roman Centurion Costume

Despite the fact that we told the kids that we wouldn't go trick or treating this year, somehow Halloween costumes became a very big deal. I used to be able to get away with picking cute outfits and stuffing my willing kids into their getups but those days are very long gone. The kids have firm costume opinions and they will not be swayed by any parental suggestions. 

Which is hard. Truth be told, I was not excited about the Roman Warrior idea. It shouldn't have been a surprise; Ben is absolutely gaga over Greek, Roman, and Nordic mythology, as evidenced by his character last year: Thor, God of Thunder. Soon I was receiving emails with all sorts of elaborate (and expensive) cosplay costumes for my inspection - darn the kid and his new email account. Drastic preventive action was required. I set about sketching some ideas before he could latch onto something too complicated for a mom in the midst of a pandemic. 

Here's what we came up with: Leather(ish) vest with attached cape, armored skirt, shield, helmet with fancy plume, and plastic sword. 

Leather Tunic

Astute readers will notice that his vest from last year suspiciously made it into this year's costume. No use reinventing the wheel if you have a perfectly good faux muscle shirt already made. Ben was content to use last year's model provided we added a few upgrades. Fair enough. 


Armored Apron
The gold lapels of his 'leather' vest are made from this weird thick gold pleather that has been insanely handy for costumes. Fortunately we had some left and Ben went about tracing and cutting some strips for his armored skirt.

I sewed the whole thing to a waistband and added velcro and a black felt backing on the fancy 'buckle'. 


Supplies Needed
-Craft Foam (two thicknesses used here)
-Hot Glue (lots)
-Spray Paint (gold and red)

I began by using my thickest foam (black) to do a band around the head. Secure with hot glue. From there do a band that goes over the crown of the head and two supporting pieces, forming a cross at the top. 

I also glued supporting pieces (light grey) over the seams for extra strength. 

From there I drew templates on paper for the face shield, visor, and neck guard. Once we got the sizing lined up, we transferred it to foam and attached with hot glue. 

Small triangles were used to fit between the cross pieces to form the hat. And then it's time to get creative with the hot glue. This is also the stage in which Ben got a dime-sized burn on this thumb so be careful with the glue gun. It was a rough night and it's still a blistered, seeping mess. Poor kid. Anyway, use your creativity here.

Then we were ready for the gold spray paint. Paint the red plume separately and attach later.

The red plume consists of six pieces of thin foam that were painted red and feathered with scissors. Glue the whole mess to the helmet and you're done. The helmet is awesome, btw. Definitely the coolest headgear I've ever made. 


Plastic serving tray
Spray paint
Full page sticker paper
Parachute Cord


Over the course of their military history, Romans employed a few different types of shields, the most common being the rectangular Scutum. We went with the earlier round shield, called a Clipeus.

The shield is a plastic serving tray from Goodwill that set us back $2.00. I sanded it down and spray painted it black.

To make the eagle: find an image online (or draw one). Print onto a sticker paper (like this). Cut out around the image. Remove the backing and stick onto the shield. 

Since I wanted our eagle to be black, I first painted the shield black, put the sticker down, and then sprayed red over it. After it dried, I peeled off the sticker. 

Next carefully drill four holes in the shield and attached braided parachute cord. 

You can also paint the exterior nubs of the parachute cord to match the colors of the shield. 

Voila! Practice your antient war cry and you'll be ready for your grand debut. 

This is tricky since we already had the sword, leather vest, and fabric for the armored apron. All supplies like hot glue, a quantity of foam sheets, sticker, and paint were also on hand. I spent $3 on the tray (shield), $2 for some extra foam, and $4 for a can of gold spray paint. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

New Holiday Traditions: Jolabokaflod, The Christmas Book Flood

I realize this is the exact wrong time to be talking about Christmas but I seem to be running about two months late in all aspects of my life today so here goes:

On Christmas Eve the kids always get a pair of PJs and a book. Then we all sit down and read The Polar Express, which was a tradition in Chris' family growing up. The adults cry. Every time. 

(image by rawpixel via

This year we incorporated another Nordic tradition, this one from Iceland: Jolabokaflod, the Christmas Book Flood. 

The story goes like this:

During WWII, import taxes on foreign imports were painfully high so the stoic Icelanders turned to paper, which was still relatively cheap. Books became their newest gifts of choice during this difficult time.

Today, the tradition continues. Iceland has an unusually high literacy rate and a healthy publishing industry: each year a free catalog is distributed to all home with a list of every published book. The vast majority of the country buys their books between September and November (the 'flood'), in preparation for gifting favorite stories to loved ones on Christmas Eve. Once the special night arrives, everyone cozies up with chocolate and reads far into the night.

Naturally, it doesn't take much to sell me on chocolate and books so this tradition was a slam dunk, as far as I was concerned. Unfortunately, we all got the flu on Christmas Eve and it was an ill child, indeed, that didn't even have the heart to touch her giant chocolate bar.

Sigh. We'll try again next year.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Meet Oliver

We have a new addition to our little family!

His name is Oliver.

Little Ollie joined us on Saturday after we drove down to Olympia to meet him.

The funny thing was, we weren't in the market for a dog although everyone around us certainly was: my sister-in-law and best friend adopted dogs within days of each other and my mom has just ramped up her canine search.

In fact, Chris was helpfully sending her profiles of potential dogs on Petfinder when he came across this sad old little pup at a county shelter. My mom wants a younger pooch so he knew that it wasn't a good fit for her. But he kept coming back to this dog's profile page.

I was mostly, blissfully, unaware of Chris' spiral into longing-for-a-dog-mode until he called me up one day and casually said " Hey, I'm leaving my meeting in Downtown Seattle right now. I was thinking of popping down to Olympia to have a look at that dog".

Wait. What? You're going to "pop down" to another city that has a 3 hour round trip commute time?

Is this my husband? The not-at-all impulsive, responsible, think-of-every-scenario-before-acting man? The neat freak who dislikes finding dog hair floating in his breakfast cereal?

I'm the crazy animal lover that wants to bring home all the critters and be the next Dr Doolittle. I'm the one that volunteered weekly in high school at an animal shelter, cleaning up crap and nurturing traumatized dogs.

But here's the thing. Our  last dog, Bailey, was my canine soulmate. I didn't think that any pup could fill his shoes and I've resisted, strongly, the pull of any and all dogs. You want a fish? A frog? Knock yourself out, kid, just don't ask for a dog cause that's a firm no-go.

That policy worked right up until we put the kids in the cars two days after Chris' jaunt to the shelter so the rest of us could meet this ancient bundle of mangy fur that had captivated my husband.

Here's the thing about dogs in county pounds: they're total unknowns. You have no idea how they'll react to small children, men, women, or other dogs. Heck, they don't even get names. Chris marched up to the counter and reeled off this dog's ID number.

Dang, he'd memorized the dog's identification number. This was bad.

Before we adopted Bailey we'd turned down countless dogs because they weren't the right fit for our family. I firmly believed myself capable of doing the same again.*

I believed that as we stared at the dog in the kennel. As all the other dogs went crazy and my eardrums nearly burst because of the howling.  I believed that as the volunteer was dragged outside by this untrained dog to the small meet-and-greet area, and as the dog took the longest pee ever.

And then he came over and put his dirty, matted, old dog head in Ben's lap while Emma scratched his ears.

30 seconds.

We had ourselves a dog.

So. What do we know about Ollie?

Not much. He is old. Somewhere between 8 and 10. Probably. He's mostly Labrador with a bit of something else. Collie? Who knows. Who cares. He'd been in the shelter a month yet was still painfully thin. He has bad skin, likely from eating trash for however long he was a street dog. He scratches constantly.

He was not amused to lose his ability to procreate and clipping his nails caused him to think some very rude thoughts about his new owners. He knows no commands, jumps on the furniture, and would probably steal the food from your plate. All the stuff you'd expect from a stray dog.

Yet he adores my kids. Unequivocally. Zero aggression and everlasting patience. Yesterday I went into Emma's room where she and the dog were involved in a complicated game that involved using Ollie as a mountain over which she drove her Barbie horse carriage.

He flops down at my feet while I'm working and begins snoring almost immediately. He hates going outside because he wants to be around his people every moment of the day. Going for a walk brought him everlasting joy.

Ok little pup, you can stay. It's going to be a long road ahead with some very much-needed obedience lessons, but we're glad our family is bigger by one.


*My mom, to her credit, laughed when I told her that I was capable of walking away from 'not-the-perfect' dog. "Ha! You could, maybe. But the kids can't." Truer words have never been spoken. Thankfully he was Mr. Right and I didn't have to tell heartbroken kids that he wasn't coming home with us.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Christmas PJs with Iron-On Transfer Paper

On Christmas Eve the kids get a new pair of pjs that theoretically will last them through the year. By Autumn, of course, they're capri pjs, but it's the home stretch at that point so who really cares.

A few years ago I experimented with fabric transfer paper when I made these winter pjs for the kids. This year I was trying to find something that didn't scream exclusively 'holiday-themed' since they wear these in July. Not that wearing Santa pjs in the height of summer has ever stopped us before.

Anyway, I found this talented Australian artist Rachel Lee on Etsy and promptly ordered two of her (instant download) prints.

One of my favorite kid's clothing stores is and they have good cyber monday sales on solid-print pjs. My only beef (and it's a small one) is that the blues of Ben's top and bottom are slightly different hues. Different dye batch, perhaps. pjs have a snug fit (great for my string bean kids) and they're not treated with any flame retardant chemicals, which we avoid given how much time my kids spend in their sleepwear.  Primary and Hanna Andersson are great sources for untreated pajamas.

The trick for dark-colored fabrics is to use the appropriate transfer paper and then to cut out the pattern. Which, for Emma's pjs, required a lot of cutting.

Worth it, though!

 The one question that remains is how well the transfer will hold up after a year of intense use. I refuse to do any fancy handwashing when running kids clothing in the laundry machine so they'll be washed on a regular cycle and low dryer heat (our standard process for all clothing). The previous transfer pjs held up well but they had a lot fewer fidly bits that could potentially peel off. I'll do an update next November.


Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Organization: Bullet Journal

Random fact: I'm a notebook person - each year I fill up a few books with various collections of sketches, meeting notes, shopping lists, packing lists, and travel plans. In restaurants I'll dig a sketch book out of my purse so the kids can play fierce games of tic tac toe to pass the time.

Besides, there is nothing - and I mean nothing - more satisfying than crossing off the last item on a miles-long To Do list.

My absolute favorites are the pocket-sized Field Notes booklets that are great for travel notes, species lists, or the good old fashioned shopping list. Santa got this one for me a few years ago and it's been a constant companion on trips.

But, to be honest, all my notebooks are a jumbled mess of scribbled and barely legible notations that are completely lacking in organization. I'm only showing you the prettiest of pages and well...they're not exactly beautiful - and barely functional.

So this month I'm trying out something new: bullet journaling. My husband and sister-in-law are converts, with Chris claiming that it helps him methodically track his work tasks and keeps him up to date on daily events. Besides, he is uber organized,  a characteristic I would love to model in my slightly messy daily existence.

 I ordered myself a snazzy notebook online and watched a few tutorials. Here is the Cliff Notes version of how to bullet journal. Like Moleskin sketchers, there are some amazing examples out there.

 The process is mostly simple, and I've adopted Chris's system, which is a slight variation on the formal setup.

So, grab a dotted notebook and dive in .

Step 1: INDEX

This will evolve as you add more months or sections throughout the book; two pages will probably suffice. Some folks also choose to do a legend here to denote notebook symbols.

Section 1: FUTURE LOGS.

This is simply a list of things that will happen during the year that you want to easily reference: trips, important events, etc. I have one for each month of the year.


Mine is a combination of both work and personal tasks that need to be completed monthly. Sorry for the close-cropped pictures, I'm showing mostly family stuff, rather than business tasks.

Proper Bullet Journalers will have a Monthly Log next but Chris found he wasn't using his regularly so he simply does a Daily Log next.

Section 3: Daily Log

This is a day-by-day compilation of appointments, tasks, reminders, and whatever else you need to get through your daily existence.

There is a system of symbols that indicate if you have completed a task, abandoned the task, or need to push it off to the next day or month. Chris spends a few minutes at the end of his work day organizing his journal for the following day so there are no surprises when he sits down the next morning.

Section 4: Collections
At the very back of the book is the Collections area, which is basically a bunch of miscellaneous lists: places to travel, books to read, or meals to cook. I also have my #52Hikes Challenge which is...currently empty. :)

So, that's my grand plan for the year. I'll let you know how it goes. On one of my lists is a desire to take a sketching class - wouldn't that be fun to do while traveling?

Wednesday, December 18, 2019


I just read this blog post about the art of the Out-of-Office Email Reply and it included this gem:

For the Dallas Morning News book critic Michael Merschel, a recent trip was an opportunity to do many things at once with his out-of-office. The first few sections covered the usual territory, including a few admonishments about how and who to correctly pitch.
For recipients curious enough to continue scrolling down, though, there was a heartfelt explanation of the reason for his absence: “I want you to imagine a middle-aged man who fell in love with a beautiful baby girl almost 18 years ago, and now he is driving her to a gigantic college in a distant city filled with all kinds of people who do the things people do at college … and he has to leave her there. And drive home alone. In the dark. In a minivan.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Week In News

Hello! Happy Holidays!

I am feverishly sewing Christmas stockings this week in the hopes that they might be completed in time for the all-important night.

Here are a few interesting things happening in the world:

Photographer Spent Days Waiting For Museum Visitors To Match The Artworks They Observe (Hilarious!)

My Rescue in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest

A must-read for any parent but be warned that it is TERRIFYING: I’m a 37-Year-Old Mom & I Spent Seven Days Online as an 11-Year-Old Girl. Here’s What I Learned.

How a salmon scientist got hooked into a battle over the world’s largest gold mine

What's Brewing in Texas: Maggots: A taste of food’s future

Do you own any diamonds? How were they mined? By whom? Under what conditions? Next time, consider a lab-grown gem 

Tired of all the usual travel photos your friends post? Here's an instagrammer with an interesting theme: "Stef Dies" (not gruesome)

I'd love to do this sometime: conservation volunteering

On a school-related note: I love that this poster is up in the halls at our sweet little school. "Be the "I" in Kind"

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


This last winter our beloved Madrone tree suffered a catastrophic loss when we got slammed with a giant winter storm. The branch that broke was roughly a quarter of the tree's mass and unfortunately, our car happened to be directly under it when it came down.

The limb didn't break cleanly, instead it ripped down to the trunk and hung vertically. Bad for the tree, but it probably saved our car from massive damage. Poor little Pepe the Prius has a few more scratches but came away from the encounter generally intact. 

A few weeks later my dad came over with his chainsaw and went to work. Madrones are native to Washington State yet have had a rough time lately, so we were especially worried about disease susceptibility. 

The cut pieces sat out in our parking strip for a few weeks. One day I got a note on our door from a neighbor asking if she could have a few of the logs as she was trying her had at wood carving. Of course! Off they trundled to a new home. 

And today this sweet spoon showed up on our doorstep. An excellent use of our fallen branch. 

 The tree is flourishing, by the way. As I sit in my office typing, it's currently hosting 50 robins that are gorging themselves on berries before continuing their journey south.  

Saturday, November 02, 2019

DIY Rainbow Halloween Costume

You guys know how much I love making costumes and this year's projects were no different. Emma is in love with this crazy getup. Let's dive right in to her rainbow costume. 

Here was our mock-up: a  white cloud skirt topped by a separate rainbow tunic and a sun crown. Pink tights and a white leotard complete the costume. 

She fell off the stool directly after this photo was taken. No harm done though - this kid is tough!

You'll notice that she has two crowns: her fancy, formal glittery burning sun crown and the soft, yet comfortable everyday crown. The formal one is a bit to unreliable for trick or treating so we made a second version that will likely stay attached to her noggin. 

 Ahem. Problem illustrated.


Rainbow Tunic & Cloud Skirt
Felt: 1 yard for tunic (red, in this case), 
Felt:1/2 yard each of rainbow colors (Sometime fabric stores sell individual sheets, which can be pieced together)
Felt:1/2 yard white for clouds
Velcro (for closing sides)
Tissue paper (optional) for tracing the rainbow pattern
Hot Glue Gun
Elastic for Skirt
White Tulle (3+ yards)
Sewing machine

Crown Materials
Fire Crown: Stiff glitter cardstock, plastic headband, hot glue, wire or wood supports
Comfy Crown*: Thick gold fabric, hot glue, wire

*Find the firmest, thickest material you can. Mine was from the clearance section and was similar to a vinyl tablecloth material with a felt backing. Even so, it required wire (glued between two layers) to keep the prongs upright. 

Using an existing shirt, trace a pattern onto the felt tunic. Because felt doesn't stretch, make it a generous measurement. Fold felt in two and cut out, leaving you with front and back tunics. Use a strip of extra felt as a side and glue together, leaving one side open (to be velcroed at a later stage). Sew tops of shoulders together. 

Trace your pattern onto the tissue paper. After laying the paper down on the felt, trace only the outside of the pattern, so that each color is a solid half circle, instead of a thin curved band. 

Assemble your felt in the correct order to make sure you have enough. Cut out the pattern and glue each layer together. Trim excess. 

Note: You'll see that my light pink is too short. Fortunately, plan on big fluffy white clouds to cover any gaps in your felt. I ended up trimming the whole bottom by a few inches because Emma thought the rainbow was too tall. 

Draw a cloud onto the white felt. For added stability, glue two layers together to stiffen. I only had extra red felt so our clouds have a red backing. Sew velcro onto the tunic to secure the sides. 

Measure your child's waist and buy a generous amount of elastic. Joann's fabric sells a Dritz metallic elastic that I used on this project. Any extra can be used to make wrist cuffs. 

Pleats are tricky and I don't have a great way to go about explaining them - I'd recommend heading over to this site for a quick tutorial. Additionally, you could skip the elastic and sewing altogether and go with this tutu version

Because she'll always wear this skirt over a leotard, I didn't bother to line the waistband. You'd definitely want to do this if your child was going to wear it against his/her skin. Additionally, I used two thicknesses of tulle/netting, but no liner. Again, you'd want to do this if your child was going to wear it without tights/leggings/leotard. 

Here is the template for the first crown: I made it out of stiff glittery cardstock with a heavy dose of hot glue and chopsticks(!) on the back to give it structure. It's glued to a plastic headband. I blew up the template and printed it across two sheets of paper. From there trace onto the glitter cardstock and cut out with scissors or an xacto knife. 

A few notes: The back of my crown looks rough. I used wooden skewers to give it strength and it looks messy. In the end, I got tired of fiddling with it, sprayed the entire thing silver with spray paint, and called it good enough. A thicker paper (or multiple sheets) might solve the tendency of the prongs to curl. 

The comfy crown template can be found here. I traced mine onto gold fabric, adding a few extra crown prongs. I found that it worked to cut out two of the exact same crown shape and then glue together to provide a version that was able to stay upright. 

Once the templates are cut, add wire for strength and then glue the whole thing together in a gold fabric sandwich. My backing wasn't a perfect match - it's smaller than the front so that you can't really see the backing when the crown is on the head.