‘Tween our travel tips

Travel season has officially ended for the kiddos as they made their way back to school this week. And I’m lucky enough to also have a break from travel for work even. So as I stare at the semi-unpacked state of things – I’m rather impressed that so far the tally of missing things is: two pairs of sunglasses (one of which conveniently looks like my daughter’s pair that are still around), one thing of nasal spray, a change wallet (mine and mostly empty), and just a smidge of my sanity.

We usually only do one major road trip but this year we added a second in August. All told we estimate about 3,000 miles in the car, 6 states plus the District of Columbia. In a mid-sized sedan. And they didn’t kill each other. Miracle.

We are on year 9 of doing our summer beach vacation so the kids have reached near pro level of packing their stuff. Last years checklist might get minor updates but we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.

As far as car travel itself, in the past we’ve also learned a few things and repeated them – like the travel binders and the surprise activities every hour or so. What I’m slowly grasping is that any activity with more than 3 parts is never successful (like all art kits and craft kits). Also overdosing on library books also doesn’t go over well.

But new ideas are always welcome and I did my usual stalking of Pinterest. Here’s the break down.

Things we tried this year that went over “meh”

– using suction cup shower organizers on their windows. All in all they held up surprisingly well. Kind of a pain though when someone wanted to roll down a window.

– few pre-printed travel books – from Amazon I grabbed these: Ultimate Sticker Puzzles: License Plates Across the States: Travel Puzzles and Games and National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas: Maps, Games, Activities, and More for Hours of Backseat Fun – these were about 15 minutes of interesting for them. I was told I do a better job of finding fun facts – who knew.

– three sets of games – metal puzzles, spot it travel edition and the good ole triangle puzzle from Cracker Barrel. The triangle puzzle opened and played with for a few minutes. The metal puzzles were finally opened and fun when we got back. And spot it game remains unopened to this day. Again I think really it comes down to anything with more than 3 parts, just doesn’t go over well.

Things we tried this year that did go over well:

– using the pass thru to put snacks in the trunk (non meltable kind). It helped free up valuable space in the backseat as well as created less more of “mom can you put this up front with you” requests.

– tervis straw lids – no one seemed super impressed until I went to take it away to wash it. Apparently they worked super well.

– audio book – my youngest finally got bit by the Harry Potter bug. So on one leg of the trip everyone was listening to the end of book 4. When I travel alone, I’m into various podcasts and audio books so for our next venture I’ll take up the challenge to find more books for everyone to enjoy.

The thing I’ve found most successful for family trip survival – giving the kids choices in advance. It’s a bit of a joke at this point since it looks like a travel agent’s intake sheet but I give them a list of things to choose from before a long travel trip. It includes things like: snacks in the car, meals at the condo, activities and spots to go sightsee. They are given a checklist of sorts with options – to be returned or no votes will be counted. It helps me plan and helps make sure everyone gets to choose something about the trip.

As for me and my personal travel organization, I’ve tried to up my game a little. New cord organizers and a travel cord keeper – have been great in preventing me from leaving cords behind – blank organizer spot helps me realize something is missing. My new other favorite travel discovery – Lush brand shampoo bar. I was hesitant and now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get the matching conditioner bar.

So as I sit here on the cusp of soccer tournament weekend – luckily local – I prep the backpack for two days in the sun on a field. But it dawns on me that next year, our travels will probably put us on planes – and I get to level up for travel planning. Maybe just maybe, if I start Pinterest this weekend I might be prepared for next summers’ vacation.

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Tie dying eggs – with actual ties

Once again Pinterest sucked me in for Easter. I’ve been waiting a whole year to try this one. Silk ties and boiled eggs.

Here’s the link to instructions I pretty much followed:

The basics

– silk neckties (I fetched mine for $1 each at goodwill)

– cotton cloth (a tired old pillow case met it’s end)

– a way to tie the cloth on (the twine disappeared…no one is claiming knowledge of said disappearance – so we used floral wire)

– pot of water

– vinegar (she recommended a 1/4 cup, some suggested less which I can’t recommend)

The pitfalls

– dissecting those ties took longer than I planned (I used a seem ripper which now has me realizing I really only needed the bottom of the tie because that’s where it’s wide enough to get a full size square)

– fabric size – she recommended 7 inch squares (others say 5 x 7) – either way I must have mismeasured or the large eggs in Ohio are extra large because I just barely covered a few of them

– fabric placement – I realized it about half way through wrapping that I was doing it wrong – trying to gather all the fabric at the top (narrow point of the egg) because it wasn’t going to transfer the pattern evenly on any part but the bottom. Wrap the egg “sideways” to ensure at least one very lovely pattern. Definitely keep the cloth tight to the egg shell surface.

– fabric selection… I didn’t read all labels carefully… also I chose some lighter color fabrics which I realized quickly that was a mistake. Dark colors transferred much better and ones that I knew were silk.

– boiling time and vinegar… I started my timer when I turned up the heat and I wasn’t great in measuring vinegar which I’m going to suggest might have cost me some brightness on a few patterns

A dark color with a great pattern but couldn’t confirm it was silk

Was excited to see the color transfer onto the cotton

But the egg itself came out quite faded

The final results

Fun and different with varying levels of success 

The paisley remains my favorite

The 3 most successful fabrics were these ones – all double checked to be silk. 

The pale blue surprised me but the pattern does have dark dye in it

Besides the pitfalls – if I were to do this again I would use blown eggs (she mentioned this in her post – and every year I say I should try blown eggs and yet never do). This is mostly for the return on investment of time and that the eggs aren’t edible due to the dye.

But I think next year is my year to try food-based dye. Turmeric and beets and red cabbage – oh my!

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Back to School – MOOC for Mom

It’s time to ship the kids back to school. And I’ve had a solid year of no homework since finishing grad school. So naturally I became jealous of the kids’ school supplies and was feeling a little bored. The most logical solution – try an MOOC (massive open online course).

Never heard of MOOC? Simple explanation – universities of varying notorarity have opened up their online courses for you to take for free (as an audit) or a for a fee (for either a grade or certificate).

Why try one of these courses? First – you can do them for free. Second – it’s a huge world of learning that is right at your fingertips. The course catalogues cover a huge range of topics.

Where do you find MOOC info?  MOOC-list.com was my starting point. Put in a few key words to search and voila – list upon list of possible courses. They aren’t the actual providers though. I ended up on edx.com and coursera.org and had to register at each of those sites. What is nice is that each course you register within the site can be taken through courserra or edx. Which is especially nice when you sign up for 5 courses – I’ll add decision making 101 to the next round.

Only one of the courses I’m taking is self lead – and that’s the Spanish course through edx. The other 4 are scheduled and two started the Monday after I signed up. The other two started the following Monday – and I had forgotten about them until a nice email came through to tell me class was starting. I might have added two more since then.

The classes vary in length with two of them as short as 4 weeks. The Spanish is meant to be 16 weeks but it’s self lead.

What’s my impression so far – well since I added two more, I guess you could say I like it. I’m auditing so I’m skipping (locked out of) some of the major assignments. Reading the boards though I’m seeing an interesting note – some of the classes are relying heavily on peer reviewed grading. And some people are very unhappy about that. I’m also noticing that we have assigned mentors – who are not necessarily the instructors. So if you’re buying the course – take a moment to find out what you’re actually buying.

All that said, other than me recklessly signing up for too many, I’m enjoying the courses. They are largely video based, so I can retreat back and rewind to listen again. The videos are shorter clips (most are 5-7 minutes) so I can watch just a little and come back later when I have more time. 

Don’t want to be tied to a laptop or wi-fi? Both edx and coursera have apps – and you can download the content for offline viewing. Helpful for waiting during soccer/baseball/insert after school practice.

Time to finish my first course. And try not to sign up for anymore ūüôā

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Traveling with the not-so-littles – 1200 miles in a car

I did it. We did it. 3 hotels, 1 condo, 8 days, 7 nights. 1200 miles in the car. Me, two kids, 4 states and the District of Columbia. My sanity and my data plan still mostly intact. It’s taken me a week to finish unpacking and recover ūüôā

We’ve been doing this trip for several years. This was the 7th to be exact for this particular route. And several more travels with long car rides. So the kids aren’t novice travelers. ¬†But it’s still a long trip and the journey is part of the adventure.

The last two years I’ve tried to mix it up and make it more interesting. This would be after the year of the data plan disaster. The time they somehow went through a gb of data in less than an hour and mom had to put massive restrictions on data usage.

As always Pinterest to the rescue…

Our first year ideas that we picked up and found successful.

– the “tray” – yes the simple dollar store baking sheet. It was a success and has remained in the car ever since. Useful for dining on the go. Hard surface for writing and the occasional craft. Dry erase markers were fun. But other markers made themselves permanent after baking in the sun.

– the “surprise” packets – there were a total of 8 – meant to be opened about every hour… The only packet that I really remember doing really well was an m&m guessing game. Mostly because the results were eaten. The rest were opening and considered for some time and set aside.

For year two I needed to up my game РI had a future middle schooler in the car now.

First – ¬†I¬†upgraded their space – a shared seat in the back of a sedan. I went for the back of the seat organizers. They had different options to choose from – with or without the tablet viewer. My son sent me back to find a hybrid that had a tablet holder and had plenty of pockets. She had picked a different one and switched over to his after she saw it. The final choice was this one –¬†https://amzn.com/B00UO6DDVS – large enough for two older kids, and smart enough to have openings for the charger and headphones on the tablet pocket.

Second – I decided to try to do a travel binder this time around. (note binder should be minimum 1 inch – the pouch alone took up most of the space)

– binder basic contents – a zipper pouch with: new markers, colored pencils, glue stick, post it pad, pencils and pens plus scissors, pencil sharpener; blank lined paper, blank three hole punched paper, a few page protectors, in the back pocket some regular plain paper and a small 5 x 7 envelope that they could use to put trinkets in

– dividers – I created a few sections in the binder to help keep things a little more organized…

1) maps of the trip – we actually had multiple stops so multiple maps. These went over surprisingly well. ¬†Not so much of the “hey how much time do we have left?” and more of “did we pass such and such yet?”)

2) a travel section with information about each state we were traveling through. Most of the pages came from education.com. ¬†There’s quite a bit here including a fun page for each state. ¬†However both kids (now headed into 4th and 5th grade) felt those pages were better for younger kids. The¬†favorite was a print out of fun facts about DC (helpful that the Lincoln Memorial was on our list of things to see and yes, there really was a typo). More of these are requested for next year.

3) travel fun pages – a checklist of I spy type things for bigger kids (http://travelwithkids.about.com/od/Free-Printables/ss/Free-Printable-Travel-Games-for-Kids-in-the-Car-or-on-the-Plane.htm#step11 – this one we completed, but this one we did not http://carlaschauer.com/travel-scavenger-hunt-for-tweens/) ; a license plate hunt (42 out of 50 states – not too shabby) ( we used this one, simple checklist – but wish a bit we had used this one, as coloring on a map takes a few more steps ); and a few word searches that were ignored.

4) travel journal pages Рconcept good, execution was meh. I tried using two different kinds (all one page Рand multiple pages Рfor more options Рtry this page). And of course my daughter wanted what her brother had. They were initially intrigued but nothing was written in past the first day.  They liked the options to circle things.  Neither wanted to draw pictures.  I may try to design my own version for the next trip.

5) some typical word games Рsheets for hangman, tic tac toe, and battleship. I put one extra in the page protector for reuse with the dry erase marker.

Third – I went for the surprise packages again. Different options this time.

Рpostcards for friends and family Рthis went over decently with my daughter. I had some instruction sheets (http://www.time4english.com/aamain/school/Vac/v3_postcard.pdf and https://learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/skills/writing-skills-practice/postcard-new-york ) and ideas for what to put on a postcard (https://www.postcrossing.com/blog/2013/02/05/20-ideas-of-things-to-write-on-postcards) . I included postcard stamps and a few starter postcards (I travel through the area for work and had a stockpile). For good measure threw in a few articles on the history of postcards (http://siarchives.si.edu/history/exhibits/postcard/postcard-history and http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/photography/History-of-Postcards.html). Plus a  few addresses of friends and family. Educational and fun. (Side note Рpostcards that are bigger than 4 x 6 require full first class postage, so grab a few regular stamps)

– pressed pennies – simple enough – a binder clip with enough quarters and shiny pennies to do a few pressed pennies along the way. This one made everyone happy. (Side note – there are never enough quarters on our road trips – the arcades are highly adored by my two, so having these specifically set aside made it easier to ensure pressed pennies for all)

make your own comics – this had potential but my kids asked that I make something a little more generic for them to use next year

Рpuzzles and mazes and brain teasers Рby far their most favorite were the rebus puzzles. And they blew through them in less than 5 minutes.  Mom has promised to find more and more challenging ones for next year.

calculator riddles – entertaining for 2.3 minutes when she figured out how to read the riddles without the calculator…

– I Spy Challenger books – my daughter loves to play I spy – however in a car with a driver who can only look so many directions and a brother who bores of the game quickly – the books made a good 30 minute dent in her time.

All in all – worth the effort to keep them off the devices and the data plan for at least some intervals. ¬†Not saying that I’m not pricing hot spots and pay as you go options for the next big travel at Christmas, but it was nice to have them enjoy a few bonding moments over staring out the window on the look out for¬†license plates and random searches. And my daughter is still looking for those last 8 licenses plates.

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Easter egg hunt for tech kids – QR code hunt

As they’ve gotten older, the kids have turned the holidays into 10 minutes of frenzied activity and then a feast of chocolate for breakfast. Last Easter, I attempted to slow them down a bit through the use of technology.

Once again Pinterest was my guiding light – from this pin – leading to this blog post http://blog.bitsofeverything.com/2014/04/smart-phone-easter-egg-hunt-older-kids.html

What you’ll need:

  • A piece of technology hardware – iPod, iPad or tablet, iPhone or other smart phone
  • A QR reader app – I tend to use RedLaser
  • A QR code generator (if you don’t use the clues in the original blog post) – this is the site I used – http://www.qr-code-generator.com
  • A printer
  • A plan
    • How many eggs? What are you clues to where you’re hiding them?

Quite frankly the plan is the hardest part. In the original blog post – she uses the QR codes to link back to clues in images in her website.  My tech savvy oldest would have busted the easter bunny for sure on this, so I needed to generate my own codes and clues.

If you aren’t familiar with QR codes – they look like a series of dots inside of a square.  And basically that’s what they are – the QR code reader reads them and translates (think of a bar code in a different shape).  The result can lead you to a website or text or any number of things depending on the complexity.  To keep it simple, I’m just using text.

Step 1. – Come up with your clues. (  Number them.

Step 2. – Go to your QR code generator. Type in your text and generator your code.  Save the code image with a name (and a number) – such as Clue1.  Repeat until you’ve coded all your clues.  

 Step 3. – Print your clues.  In our case, we started with a letter from the Easter Bunny explaining the hunt and what they needed to do to find their clues.  Then the other clues (qr codes) were printed separately.

Step 4. – Hide your clues.  The clues fold up nicely inside of the eggs and the code should be able to handle a few small creases.


Helpful Hints

1) Watch your locations and your clues. I have two kids and I managed to make two clues arrive too close to each other nearly creating a snafu.  Luckily along with the note for the kids, the Easter Bunny conveniently left a note for mom just in case a code broke so no eggs would be left unfound.

2) Test your clues.  Before hiding the clues, double check that you have the right words showing up at the right time.  

3) Pre-download your QR code reader.  My kids are old enough to download on their own safely but just in case…


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Easter egg coloring with shaving cream 

Ah the smell of vinegar and the hands of many colors Рit is the time of coloring the Easter eggs. Last year we decided to deviate from the path and try something new. Pinterest idea Рthe shaving cream method.  The end result some marbled-looking eggs with a side of messy fun.

It’s really quite simple

  • Containers that are deep (2-3 inches) and wider are preferred to be able to utilize multiple colors
  • Food coloring dye – colors of your choice (McCormick has neon colors now – which my daughter gravitated to immediately)
  • A can or two of shaving cream
  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Rack to dry them on
  • Newspaper for managing messes
  1. Hard boil those eggs and cool
  2. Put shaving cream into container
  3. Drop a few drops of no more than 3 colors into the shaving cream (if you try to go past 3 colors Рyou kind of end up with a solid color)

4. Put the egg into the container and swirl it around in the colors


5. When satisfied transfer to a rack to dry (hint: put something under rack to catch drips).


6. Based on the pinterest comments – the longer you leave them to dry the more intense the colors. ¬†We left ours out overnight – since we had already figured we weren’t going to eat them.

7. All in all Рafter 24 hours, there was just a little bit of left over shaving cream to wipe off.  The colors were pretty stunning.  It was a little disappointing because the initial look of the eggs is really cool and the end result is a little more smooth than you might expect.

Lessons Learned:

  • this is messy and fingers will be all kinds of colors – just like when you do normal dying
  • choose some strong contrasting colors
  • once the colors “blend” change out your shaving cream
  • the dye-able craft eggs at places like Michaels and Target don’t lend well to this (soaking in liquids for extended periods – and quite frankly they didn’t manage well in the regular dye-bath either in our opinion)

I saw a suggestion to try “cool-whip” instead of shaving cream so you have edible eggs. ¬†I think we’re going to give that a try this year.

Ratings from the kids:

  • 9 year old boy actually participated in this and this only – he was too bored to do the normal coloring of eggs
  • 7 year old girl – artist creative type – liked it a lot but was a bit disappointed that the very distinct designs were lost at¬†the end
  • Both said they would like to try it again
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DIY Chalk Paint Attempt

“You don’t have to prime or sand” – this is where chalk paint got my attention. ¬†I had decided I wanted to try to make a version of this –¬†http://pin.it/73xIDxX

Chalk paint looked to be my answer. ¬†On the amazing land of pinterest I found several recipes using unsanded grout, plaster of paris, and even chalk itself. ¬†Some were even nice enough to show some comparison results like this one –¬†http://inmyownstyle.com/2012/08/testing-1-2-3-versions-of-chalk-paint.html and¬†http://howtodistressfurniture.net/definitive-guide-homemade-chalk-paint-recipes

(side note – calcium carbonate seems to be the new one to try and wasn’t really on the radar when I attempted this)

I had grabbed doors from an old cabinet and some lighting a la Ikea to attempt to make the pin happen. My choice for the chalk paint – though having bought all of the items – was plaster of paris.



Other than a quick wipe down with a wet paper towel, I did NO PREPPING of the surface of the cabinet door (it was dusty from basement storage). ¬†Mixing was pretty easy with the ratio – using inmyownstyles recipe – 3 parts paint, 1 part plaster and water to mix in to get a decent consistency. ¬†The first coat has me squealing with crafter joy. ¬†It covers super well and looks pretty darn good (let’s just ignore the fact that I failed to note the holes in the door and plug them)


Then it’s that dilemma – do I stop here or do I keep going? Not knowing when to say when, I opt for another coat.


With some of the darkness of the wood stain still bleeding through I was pretty pleased all in all with the second coat and merely touched up a few spots.

Things to Note:

  1. This stuff dries faster than the average paint job.
  2. Have on hand disposable materials including: plastic stuff for measuring, sealable container for mixing (as I mentioned – this stuff dries fast!!)
  3. Plaster of paris is way cheaper at the hardware store – but you’re going to have way more than you need
  4. I recommend¬†to get the small sample size paints at Lowes/Home Depot for experimenting with. Catching them even more discounted on the “mixed wrong” rack makes it even more fun.

My uh-oh moments:

  1. discovering that I forgot to plug the holes where the cabinet handles had been
  2. forgetting that I hate the feel and touch of a chalkboard – when the paint was dry it drove me crazy to touch the doors as I have yet to put wax or any other coating on it
  3. when I attempted to mount the lighting (first they ran the wiring through the back, then again when I attempted to figure out the best spot given that the doors had inlay, and finally when I failed to measure the proper length of screws)
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Festivals, Fairs, and Events – Oh My! Taking on Toledo

Oh look it’s snowing – again. Being as it’s Ohio and January, this is sort of like saying it’s Wednesday. The purpose of Ohio in winter is to be cold, snowy and generally all the reasons to stay inside.

Still¬†there is life outside of winter in Ohio. I’ve heard rumors at least. When I lived in Annapolis, I would take time each year to note the various goings on that I wanted to check out in the upcoming year. Now that I’m in Toledo, I’ve decided to carry forth that tradition.

Presenting…. the Taking on Toledo list


It’s my running list of possible things to do, places to visit, festivals to attend. ¬†I’ve never been a fan of being bored¬†so a few quick google searches and voila! – some things to keep an eye on to do – fun for mom, fun for kids, and less scrambling to try to remember when that thing was that we wanted to do.

No I will not attempt all of them – if I get to even half I’ll be surprised. But at least I’ve got a list to check back on and update each year to keep trying new things.

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Reusing Old Ornaments and an Old Frame – The Thrift Store Christmas Decoration

Once upon a time, several years ago РI had a lovely habit of crafting my way through the final weeks of a semester.  With the help of pinterest, I would channel my frustration and urge to procrastinate into something rather pretty.

So this one started with a trip to the thrift stores.  I picked up some old ornaments (cost $.75), an old frame in a gross color ($2).  The usual art supplies were on hand from previous projects: paint pens, acrylic paint, floral wire, glitter glue and the ever popular glue gun.

Step 1 – paint the frame. In this case I painted the frame several times – the previous paint was a pain to cover and the wood was happily soaking in the paint.


Step 2: Find the ornaments and paint pens.  Get inspired.  Draw designs. Get out the glitter glueIMG_7614IMG_7615

Step 3: Decide that the paint needs a boost.  Cover frame with glitter glue.

Step 4: Glue the tops of the ornaments down.  This is important. Skipping this step means broken ornament when the wind blows.

Step 5: Cut ribbon to hang the ornaments from the top of the frame.  Loop ribbon through ornament and hang, securing with glue.

Step 6: I finished mine off with a lovely bow from the dollar store. I removed the original hanging wire and rewired with floral wire. Luckily I’ve had a string of green doors so the wire doesn’t show.


Cautionary advice:

  1. Check your lengths of ribbon so the ornaments aren’t all the same length (oops)
  2. Maybe you’ll consider the use of plastic ornaments. ¬†The old glass ones look great but one was sacrificed to a strong gust of wind before I glued the tops down.
  3. This also doubles as a slight wind chime when the wind blows.  Maybe adding a little felt to the back of the ornaments would make this stop. Or maybe plastic ornaments would be a little less noisy.
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Liberate the Elves! (At least their hands)

Yes yes I’m one of those nutter parents who has adopted an elf and plans some of the more elborate antics of Diamond, our girl elf. Last year she wrapped the toilet in Christmas paper, got into my makeup and gave herself a make over, plus she toilet papered the tree (I think that was the kids favorite)

But the kids are getting bigger and the oldest I’m fairly sure is just going along with a good thing, just in case. The elves are on limited time along with the big guy. So this year needs to be ready to possibly go out with a bang. 

For this to happen – the elves had to get upgraded. So thank you again Pinterest for the much advice on how to liberate the elves.

Most of the instructions are the same. Wire, something to cut the wire with. And Velcro. Or magnets. 

I only went as far as the wire. The Velcro upgrade can be considered later.

It really is quite simple. In theory.

Rip stitches holding hands together. Cut wire. Insert into seam. Trim wire. Viola!

Except for two things. Some of the elves have additional seams at the knees and elbows. And some of the elves are actually “stuffed” with cardboard tubes. Lucky me I had one of each to help.  

As you can see I opted for floral/craft wire doubled over as I had seen in one Pinterest idea. On the upside it was in theory easier to push through the seams. The downside – I’m pretty sure I’m going to wish for something heavy duty. And the green on the wire wore off onto the red and white fabric ever so slightly. Only up close could a child actually notice. I hope.

For the boy elf with his seams – a seam ripper was needed.  It’s suggested to aim for the backside to find a stitch to pull. My other piece of advice – check where the wire is guiding towards. The stuffing is surprisingly thick but you can tell where the wire is.

The cardboard insert did make the girl elf easier to add the wire to. But it also makes it harder to get wire to work and why I’m going to reconsider the gauge of wire for her. 

she needs her nails done!

All in all the worst of it was getting past a few tight seams. (A scene from Happy Gilmore might have gone through my head a few times – the hole is your home…) But done with no injuries ūüôā


And now there are two happy elves ready for mischief.

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