DIY Vision Therapy: It Is Possible!

When Pookie was three-and-a-half, he started putting letters together to make words.  Though I was surprised–he still only recognized less than half of the alphabet–I hauled out my early-reading materials and prepared for him to progress. Only he didn’t.  At first I assumed it was a readiness issue; he was very young, after all, and though his siblings also learned to read young, perhaps the fact that he couldn’t remember all of his letters was holding him back.  But after a full year with no progress, I began to wonder if there was more going on.  After all, ‘Love’s childhood medical records indicated that he had received vision therapy for tracking issues.

After receiving several recommendations for a particular optometrist, I called and made an appointment.  I had been warned that it would be pricey, but $250 (sans vision insurance) for a 75-minute-long, in-depth assessment that included a retinal scan didn’t seem too shocking.  The first appointment confirmed my suspicion–there were a few issues that deserved more attention.  A second appointment (another $350) involved another hour of interactive assessments for my little guy while I was provided with information on vision therapy and was told to expect a price tag of $3-4,000 for six months of treatment.  At the hour-long follow-up appointment (included in the cost, thankfully), the optometrist gave us a report on the testing that had been done and how our son had performed.  It was very thorough and helpful, and most of what she said made a lot of sense with what I had observed.

Then came the bombshell: the cost was going to be $6,400 for 34 weekly, 45-minute therapy appointments (plus one or two additional progress assessments).  Reeling from the unexpected price hike, ‘Love and I walked out with heavy hearts.  We had been braced to pay $500 a month for treatment we thought would have long-term benefits for our son; this amount would have been a stretch, but it was attainable.  Finding an extra $750 a month, however, was simply out of the question.  But how could we walk away from something that would help our child succeed in life? Continue reading

Advertisements

Earth’s Layers Cake: The Low-Tech, DIY Version

cakeMy kids wanted to study volcanoes.  I was totally uninspired by volcanoes, but I thought I’d run with it, perhaps expanding the study to include plate tectonics and the rock cycle so we’d have a bit more to talk about.  While I was searching for inspiration, I ran across the idea of having a cake to show Earth’s layers.  “Great!” thought I.  “Sign me up and show me how!”  (I’m a sucker for anything edible–particularly if it’s sweet!)  Unfortunately, everyone doing this project seemed to have round bakeware–cake pop molds of varying sizes, round-bottomed oven-safe mixing bowls.  Not I.  And, since I am disinclined to shell out that kind of money for the props to make one cool snack, I thought I’d look for my own way.

My creation doesn’t have perfectly-nested spheres (in fact, the outer core seems to spike into the mantle in a couple of places!), but it definitely has the layers, and–most important of all–it got the point across and thrilled my kids.  In case you want to try it, here’s what I did:

Supplies: White or yellow cake mix/recipe, chocolate frosting, white frosting, food coloring, multiple bowls for separating/mixing colors, two 8″ or 9″ round cake pans, large spoons, two cookie cutters (round is ideal–I didn’t have round), cake decorating set

1. I used a generic white cake mix (yellow would be fine, too–I use the yolks, so mine isn’t truly white).  After mixing the ingredients, I separated the mix into three bowls: a small one that I colored yellow, a medium one that I colored orange, and a large one that I colored reddish.  Make sure the mix is pretty colorful, since the color will be less concentrated once the cake poofs up during baking.  (Too much food coloring tastes bitter, though, so don’t go overboard.)

cake01

2. First, I placed a cookie cutter in the center of each pan.  The first one I filled with a dollop of yellow (inner core).  I spooned pink (mantle) around the edges of that pan and filled the space between with orange (outer core).  In the second pan, I filled the cookie cutter with orange (outer core–to cover the inner core from the first pan) and poured pink (mantle) all around it, reserving a small amount of the pink for the next step.

 

cake02

3. Then I removed the cookie cutters, covered the dollop of outer core in the second pan with a layer of mantle, and popped both pans in the oven.  (The first pan–with all three layers–had less batter, but both seemed to cook fine.)

cake03

4. When the cake was out of the oven and cool, I used a small amount of runny white frosting (I warmed mine to make it thinner) to glue the layers together.  The three-colored layer went on the bottom, capped by the layer that’s mostly mantle.  Make sure the little bit of outer core is on the bottom of the top layer–you wouldn’t want to have your mantle and outer core reversed!  Next, I used a very thin layer of chocolate frosting to represent the lithosphere.

cake04

5. This gray represented the solid rock of the crust.  I wanted to make it clear that even the oceans have crust beneath them.  Yes, I know the crust is included in the lithosphere, but the Red Cross/PBS material (more on that later) we’re using talks of them separately, so I just followed their lead.  I used really runny frosting so I could make a very thin layer.  (After all, this is already the second frosting layer, and I still had more to go!)  The generic brand frosting I use wins for runniness!  My gray, FYI, is made from a red/green mixture.  If I remember right, it was two red drops and three green.

cake05

6. Time to add the thicker continental crust parts and fill the oceans!  This time I thickened the frosting slightly with about a cup of confectioner’s sugar to the tub.  I wanted it just stiff enough to hold some texture, but still soft enough to spread in a thin layer.  Since we’re also studying the Middle Ages right now, I decided to do a rough map of Europe.  (Very rough.)  I rarely use the frosting tips as intended; I used the star tip loosely for a textured water look, but for the land I just did a rough outline with a tip and then spread the green around with my knife.)

cake06

The finished product!  Of course, you can’t really tell how many layers of frosting went into this (except when eating it!), but if the kids watch or help, they’ll get every detail of the process.  And the finished result was enough to spark their glee, so I’d consider this one a win!

 

12 DIY activities for emerging readers (plus three free online resources!)

Little Pookie surprised me the other day by walking up to his letter cards on the wall (as mentioned in my literacy activities for pre-readers) and pointing to “c” then “o” then “t”–which were not posted in that order on the wall—and saying their sounds. When I asked him what that made, he said, “Cot! Like I had at Grandma’s!” While my older two did this same thing—spontaneously sounding out words—it took me off guard coming from Pookie because he STILL can’t tell all his letters apart. (I know, he’s barely three-and-a-half, but the older two had them down by two or two-and-a-half!) Nonetheless, since he has pleased-ly been looking for words to sound out since then, I guess it’s time to haul out my early literacy activities. In honor of this auspicious occasion (what’s more exciting than your kids learning something new and difficult?!), here’s my go-to list of activities for early readers–in no particular order.  I hope someone finds them useful!

  1. Word Bingo – I made my own bingo cards with simple—and similar-looking—words. Including words like “pen,” “pin,” “hen,” “win,” “hat,” “hit,” etc. forces new readers to look closely at each letter of the word, ensuring that they are not simply guessing based on beginning or ending sounds or the shape of the word. And who doesn’t like playing Bingo?  I’ve made four sample PDF WordO Boards you can download–two with simple, three-letter words, one with initial blends and one with ending blends.  (By using the “cover all” rule, you can practice more words, and they won’t notice if you make the card 4×4 for a shorter game.  Otherwise, lengthen your traditional row/column based game by making your board 7×7.)
  2. Surprise Words – Early readers are typically thrilled with their new ability, eager to display their prowess. I’ve had great success at encouraging their skill by leaving words around the house for them. A pair of words spelled on the fridge with their letter magnets has a seemingly irresistible pull, drawing the new reader over to puzzle out their meaning.
  3. Word Families – This was a little silly, but it was fun. I paged through some magazines and cut out people, arranging them into families of various sizes. I then glued each person onto an index card and wrote a simple word on each card. Each family had one word ending (or “rime”), so the kids could match the families based on which words rhymed. (Matching rimes rhyme!) For example, the “At” family had hat, cat, fat, bat, and sat in it. The “Ig” family consisted of pig, big, and wig. Matching the words to their families allowed the kids to see that words that were spelled the same often sounded the same and also allowed them to work on their fluency at reading common letter combinations.
  4. Name Match – Hunt around your house for a variety of small objects with easy-to-sound-out names: a cup, a hat, a pen, a doll, a toy dog or cat… Write the name of each object on a piece of paper, and see if your child can match the object to its name.
  5. Spelling Stories – This is a fun activity to do if you have letter blocks or magnets. I would start to tell the kids a story, stopping every sentence or two to spell out a new word for them to read. So, for example, a story might begin like this:

    Once upon a time there was a [spell out “cat” for child to read]. Now this [point to “cat” again] was a black-and-white stripey [point to “cat”] whose name was [spell out “Sam”]. One day our [cat] friend named [Sam] was going for a walk in his neighborhood. It was a lovely spring day, and he was enjoying the warm air and the smell of damp earth. Suddenly, in the middle of the sidewalk, [Sam] spied something. It was small and [spell out “red”].

    You get the idea. The more suspenseful or silly the story, the more eager your readers will be to participate, so keep the comedy going and the intrigue high!

  6. If you're not feeling artsy, use clipart and print your puzzles on cardstock.

    If you’re not feeling artsy, use clipart and print your puzzles on cardstock.

    Spelling Puzzles – I owe this idea to the authors of Reading Reflex, a book I happened to get from the library as my older kids were learning to read. They suggested creating word puzzles. I used blank index cards laid horizontally. I wrote each word, spacing the phonemes so they could be cut apart. On each card, I also had a picture to match the word. Then, I cut the card so the picture was on one slice, and each phoneme had its own slice. Using the picture as their clue, my kids were able to assemble the matching word by sounding it out. Be careful that your words are decodable for early readers! You can begin simply, with three-letter words, and progress to words with beginning and ending blends (like “clap” or even “plant”).

  7. Word Building Games – Drawn from a vaguely-remembered activity I assisted with as a fourth grade classroom aide during college, this word building helps kids to focus on each sound of a word. In order to play, you create a list of words that are all one letter different. Then, gather your necessary letters and tell your child the first word. After that, make sure they only change one letter—don’t let them build from scratch! Leaving the word intact forces kids to distinguish the precise difference from one word to the next. If you want to add difficulty, you can have them add a fourth letter to their words or change two letters at a time.
  8. Partner Reading – For early readers, the act of reading is exhausting. Each letter must be translated into a sound, each sound remembered as the next one is added, and the whole string of sounds blended together to create a meaningful word. That’s a lot of effort! For this reason, my early readers delighted in partner reading. As I read aloud to them, I would choose a word or two per page that could be easily decoded. Even contributing “and” or “it” to the story can be satisfying for newbies; as a child becomes a stronger reader, he can be in charge of every “the” in the story, or simply assigned to more and more words per page. This method also serves to eliminate the need for early-readers, which my kids (and I) found stilted and painfully boring.
  9. Add magnets to make this a fun fridge activity or take it on-the-go with a magnetic tray!

    Add magnets to make this a fun fridge activity or take it on-the-go with a magnetic tray!

    Spelling Cards – I made a series of cards with a picture on one side and a corresponding word on the back (on cardstock, so the word doesn’t show through!). My kids enjoyed trying to puzzle out how to spell each of the words with letter magnets, checking themselves by looking at the back of the card. Once again, I started with simple three-letter words and increased the difficulty as they became more adept.  I’ll have to see if I can find the file to upload for this one…

  10. Treasure Hunts – This was definitely a kid favorite—they still enjoy treasure hunts! If you haven’t ever done one, it’s simple: Select a treasure to hide. (Ours was often our afternoon snack, but anything will do.) Hide your treasure, and then hide a clue to finding the treasure. Hide another clue and another…and then give your child the last clue you write. So, for example, you give your child a clue that says, “On Sue’s bed.” On her bed, Sue finds a paper that says, “In the tub.” In the tub is a paper which says, “On the T.V.” There she finds a clue that reads, “In a pan.” Finally, she discovers her treat inside a pan in the kitchen cupboard. These are great for rainy days, especially if you make sure to keep the kids running to opposite sides of the house (or upstairs, then down, then back up) with their clues. As your kids get better at this, you can make more complicated clues or find more devious hiding spots to increase the challenge.
  11. Labels – As your reader gains more competence at sounding things out, you can increase their reading vocabulary and phonic knowledge by posting labels on things around your house. “Lamp” may be a fairly simple word to sound out, but lots of words—like “light” or “knife” or “coat”–can spark helpful conversations about how letters work together, giving your kids a boost into more complex phonics. Besides, the more words your child has puzzled out and sees regularly, the more words they will be able to read easily in stories.
  12. Internet Resources – The internet has a wealth of resources on every topic, but here are a few of my favorite freebies for use with kids at the beginning of their reading journey.
    • Starfall – While this website has a plethora of varied content (and at a surprisingly reasonable rate), the learn-to-read material is available for free. After you have mastered the individual letter sounds (doable via interactive animations and short games for each letter on one portion of the site), you can move on to the phonics section. There, short, animated phonics storybooks, games, and songs gradually teach more phonemes. These were too intense for my kids at the very beginning (Reading four words per page for five pages in a row!? Whew, exhausting!), but may work better for older (or more patient? More motivated?) readers. Even so, my kids enjoyed some of the more difficult stories once they were more competent readers, and they have silly seasonal stories with fun interactive features. In addition, the site has more content for kids who are at higher levels of reading competence.
    • Progressive Phonics – This website has dozens of truly silly leveled readers, available for free download. Begin with the Alphabetti books for a young reader still working to distinguish every letter, or start with the Phonics Beginner books if your child is already confident in all their letters and sounds. The best part of these books (besides the stories that will have your kids giggling) is the fact that they are made for partner reading, with kids reading only the big, red words on each page—perfect for beginners! Many of these books also have matching downloadable activities, if you’re looking to extend the lesson.
    • Teach Your Monster to Read – This super-cutely-animated website—free of charge via the Usborne Foundation—is perfect for your just-learning reader. Letter sounds are taught via games—your customized monster has to herd sheep into the correct pen or choose the correct letter for each sound to rescue the princess. From there, you move on to sounding out simple words. While the super-sensitive mouse in-game and the fact that each activity has to be repeated three times (with slight variation) to move on were initial deterrents, the gradual addition of more game options and the fun animations kept my kids going. One minor drawback here is the British accent of the narrator. This might cause confusion for some (For example, “o” ends up sounding more like “aw” than the American standard “ah”), but my kids adjusted okay. (Perhaps it’s because we’ve had to get used to wrapping our ears around southern accents!)

30 pre-reading activities for young children

Encouraging your child in their love of letters?  Wanting to make sure your child has the tools they’ll need to learn to read?  These activities are a great way to start!  I’ve divided them into four main categories: Initial Letter Recognition, Capital/Lower Case Matching, Alphabetical Order, and Beginning Phonics.

Initial Letter Recognition: Whether you teach letter names initially or introduce your child to each letter’s primary sound, helping your child to recognize the shape of each letter is one of the first hurdles to overcome in the journey to reading.

  1. ABC coloring pages – A quick internet search will turn up dozens of these free printables.
  2. Alphabet crafts – Whole Pinterest boards have been devoted to this topic.  Find your favorites and go to it!
  3. Alphabet tracing pages –  I’m partial to Getty-Dubay Italic, which isn’t something you can find lots of freebies for, but if you’re not quite so picky, there are lots of free tracing pages for early learners to work on the sound and shape of the letter in tandem.
  4. Sandpaper letters – Purchase some pre-made letters or make your own.  You can use sandpaper, glitter glue, glue sprinkled with sand…  Look for tutorials for this tactile learning tool, and you’ll find plenty of options.
  5. Playdoh letter mats – These consist of a laminated letter outline for your children to cover with PlayDoh.  Look for free printables online.
  6. Cuisenaire rod letter patterns – Somewhere out there on the interweb is an entire book of Cuisenaire patterns for each letter (including pictures that go with the letter).  I did find it once after seeing it mentioned, but I don’t have the link for it at the moment.
  7. Letter building with straight lines and curves, HWOT style – Have you seen the Handwriting Without Tears letter building supplies?  They consist of short and long lines and big and small curves.  You can purchase theirs, look for a template (I printed a template and traced it onto foam sheets), or design your own.
  8. Letter magnets – The Leap Frog variety come with a magnetic holder that sings each letter’s sound, but plain ol’ letters abound and can be used with equal success.
  9. Alphabet puzzles (also useful for learning alphabetical order) – Take your pick.  We own the Melissa and Doug Alphabet Train one and a small cardboard-frame one that my mom purchased long ago, but there are tons available.
  10. Adding a toy car or truck to the letter hunt can keep the activity fun and playful.

    Adding a toy car or truck to the letter hunt can keep the activity fun and playful.

    Letter hunt – Neatly print letters on index cards (I used half-cards, since I wanted something compact.) or use a deck of pre-printed letter cards.  Spread them across the floor and have your child hunt for a particular letter.  This can be made more fun by driving a dump truck around the room to collect the desired letter or handing your kid a shopping bag and asking them to “shop” for a certain letter for Alphabet Soup.  For beginners, printing only a few letters several times each can make this game more fulfilling and less frustrating.

  11. Letter Wall – A little like a Word Wall used in schools, this is simply a place on the wall where you post the letters you’re learning. Some kids are very visual, and having the letters visible during their day-to-day activities will cause the letters to stick in their minds more.  My kids seem to stand and ponder anything I post in their line of sight.
  12. Spontaneous Letter ID – Using your posted letters above to reinforce letter learning throughout the day. At random points when walking past the letters on the wall, shout, “Child-of-Mine, quick!  Can you tell me what this is?”whilst pointing to a letter at random.  Hamming it up for dramatic effect will make this fun rather than tedious.
  13. Alphabet booksDr. Seuss’s ABC and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom are two of the most popular, but there are dozens—perhaps hundreds—of other options.
  14. Starfall.com – This website has animations for each letter, reinforcing the letter sound and emphasizing the lower case version of each letter. Many of the letters have a quick game at the end—a matching game, letter sorting, etc.  (The learn-to-read content of this site is free; there is a great deal of other content available—colors, numbers, math games—for a nominal fee.)
  15. Leapfrog Letter Factory video – Many people love this video as a way to get the letter sounds to stick in their children’s minds. Cute animated letters demonstrate their sounds multiple times in this musical adventure story.  Appealing for kids from 2-5ish.
  16. Letter matching – Help your child work on visually distinguishing between letters by providing a collection of letter cards for them to sort. This can be done before your child even learns letter names or sounds, simply allowing the child to become familiar with the shapes of various letters.  Use ONLY one type of letter—capital or lower case—and one font, to avoid confusion.
  17. Letter roadmaps – create your own little roadmap. (I made one using Paint.) Add a letter road name to each block of each road, and see if your kiddo can follow directions to drive their car around town.  (“Start by the green house and drive down “a” street.  Turn onto “g” and stop when you get to “d”.  What building are you near?”  Or, if you are working on one or two letters, use only those letters to name the blocks, and ask your child to get from one point to another using only roads with a certain sound.)

Capital/Lower Case Letter Matching – Our language forces your child to learn each letter not once, but twice!  (Well, with the exception of a few easy ones like O and C…)  Here are some ways to help your child make those connections.

  1. Big and Little Matching – As your child learns the pesky fact that each letter has both a large and a small version, they can familiarize themselves with both versions by matching. School Zone makes a deck of letter cards with matching adult/baby animals to help those children who are just learning to match large and small letters.  (This also adds a storyline to your game, if your child is one for whom “Help each Mommy letter find its lost baby” would make the activity more appealing.)
  2. Letter Go Fish! – The deck of cards from School Zone mentioned above is actually intended to be used as a Go Fish! Style matching game. Try using the cards as intended.
  3. Big and Little Memory – Need to spice things up or focus on just a few difficult large/small letter pairs? Try using letter cards memory-style.  Select several large/small letter pairs , turn them upside-down, and arrange them in rows.  Have your child turn over two at a time to try to find a match.

Alphabetical Order – This is a surprisingly useful skill in education (need to use the library?  look for a topic in an index?  find your name on a roster?), but one that’s often taught later or not at all.  An early familiarity with ABC order can make later usage a breeze.

  1. Alphabet Maze – Print out an alphabet maze for your child. They can continue working on recognition of letters while also reinforcing alphabetical order.
  2. Alphabet Cards – Use your alphabet cards from one of the matching games above and have your children put them in ABC order. This can be done with only one set of letters or with both the large and small ones together—though that many cards can be overwhelming initially, forcing a child to balance letter matching with remembering alphabetical order and thus making the activity twice as hard.  It’s best to start with one set of alphabet cards and add the other later if extra challenge is desired.
  3. ABC Dot-to-Dots –For some reason, my kids never liked these as well as their numerical counterparts, but they are a wonderful way to reinforce both letter recognition and alphabetical order.

Beginning Phonics – Did you know that phonics work starts before reading?  Early phonics is merely an understanding that words are made of sounds and the ability to distinguish what those sounds are.  These activities will help prepare your child for blending sounds into words as they learn to read and for breaking words into sounds as they begin to write and spell.

Make sure your child can easily identify each picture, or this game will quickly become frustrating.

Make sure your child can easily identify each picture, or this game will quickly become frustrating.

  1. Sound Matching – Collect a variety of objects, either real or in pictures. Ask your child to name each object.  If you are focusing on a specific sound, have them label only objects with that sound.  (For example, when you work on /a/, an apple, an abacus, and an ant would each receive an “a” label.)  Alternately, you can provide phoneme cards that match the first sound of each object and ask your child to match each card to its appropriate object.
  2. Match My Sound – Great for those sitting-around-waiting sorts of times—like car rides, restaurant visits, and checkout lines—this game consists entirely of picking a sound and seeing how many words you can think of that start with that sound.  If your child suggests “watermelon” as a /s/ word, simply repeat the word slowly, emphasizing the sounds, and say, “That was a good guess, but wwww-atermelon starts with a /w/ sound.  We’re trying to think of things that start with /s/.  Can you think of any?”  It may take a long time listening to your modeling, but eventually your child will get the hang of this pre-reading/spelling skill.
  3. Phonogram Bingo – Create a simple bingo card with one letter in each square, and prepare a matching set of letter cards. For a straightforward game, make the sound that corresponds with the card you draw, and have your child cover the correct letter.  To add challenge, you can say a word that begins with the appropriate sound and see if your child can determine the correct letter to cover.
  4. Rhyme Time—Another verbal sitting-around-waiting activity, this game is played like Match My Sound except with rhyming words. Start with short and simple words with common endings (-at, -ad, -ip).  Again, if your child suggests a word that doesn’t rhyme, try to emphasize the sounds in the word to help them hear the difference between its ending and the target ending.
  5. Modified Rhyme Time – For an alternate version (or if your child struggles to generate their own rhymes), try this: Think of two or three rhyming words and one that does not rhyme.  Say the words in any order and see if your child can identify which word is not like the others.  This will help them train their ears to hear the sounds in words.
  6. Mr. Fast and Mr. Slow – Tell your child that you are Mr. (or Miss) Slow. Mr. Slow speaks very slowly.  Your child will be Mr. (or Miss) Fast.  Their job is to say the same word quickly.  You as Mr. Slow will slow a word down to emphasize its individual sounds.  Your child will blend those sounds together to say the word at regular (fast) speed.  So, for example, if you said, “/m/-/a/-/d/,” your child should respond, “Mad!”  (Do you recognize this skill?  It’s what a child does as they learn to sound out words!)  If your child seems to grasp this concept, they may derive even more glee from the game if you pretend that Mr. Slow is trying to think of words they’ll never figure out, lamenting exaggeratedly every time they succeed.  My children were in fits of giggles over my silly over-acting and their success at thwarting Mr. Slow.
  7. Mr. Fast and Mr. Slow Reboot – Switch roles. Now instead of you saying the word slowly and your child blending it together and saying it at regular speed, see if they can be Mr. Slow, breaking the word into its individual sounds for you to reassemble and say speedily.  (Guess who’s working on foundational spelling skills!)

If your child is solid on these pre-reading skills, he might be ready to move on.  Check out some next-step activity options in my post 12 DIY activities for emerging readers (plus three free online resources!)

You may also want to check out my posts on fine motor development and math activities for young kids.

the great laundry soap dilemma

Periodically, I go on a statistics binge.  I record how many servings I actually get out of a box of Goldfish crackers (their estimated serving size is about what I give out for a large-ish snack), how many servings I can get out of an average-sized bag of grapes (I average about nine), and even how long a bar of soap lasts in the shower (Irish Spring lasts us about two weeks).

Washing machineA while back, before I had a time-consuming infant, I experimented with making my own laundry soap.  Being not-so-adventurous (and also not having a gigantic bucket handy), I opted to make the dry variety.  I found it agonizingly slow and blistering to grate the necessary laundry bar soap (Zote was by far worse than Fels-Naptha); after making three batches, I began wondering if it was worth all the effort.

An internet search for cost estimates of homemade dry laundry soap have it pegged (most often) between $.05 and $.07 per load.  Having made my own a few times, I did a cost-estimate and found that (depending whether I could find Fels-Naptha or was stuck with Zote), my cost was about the same as those folks online.  While name-brand detergents are generally pretty pricey, I could get a generic jug of 100-load laundry soap for $5.00 on sale—just as cheap as the homemade stuff.  Since I was at the near-bursting point of pregnancy when my homemade soap ran out, I bought the stuff from the store.

But after I got the stuff home, curiosity got the best of me.  I plunked a sheet of paper and a pen on top of my washer, and I started slapping down a hash mark for each load of laundry I did with that liquid soap, just as I had done with my homemade powder.

Now here I must pause to confess that I am cheaper than all get-out: if my washer is chock-full of stained baby gear, I fill my HE washer’s soap dispenser to the “Normal” line.  If that baby is just running sheets or is slightly less than super-full, I fill the dispenser to a titch below the “Normal” line.  Yep, I’m that cheap.

This detail makes what I’m about to say all the more remarkable.  I bought a jug of laundry detergent labeled “100 loads”.  If there were enough light in my laundry room, I would now be able to see the bottom of that jug, though it’s not quite gone yet.  So far I have done 49 loads of laundry.  (Remember, I’m not even filling the cup to the “Normal” line.)  That puts my total cost per load much closer to $.10 rather than the anticipated $.05.

Now comes my agony.  If I recall correctly, it took me at least a half-hour to grate the bar of laundry soap into usable form.  I have a food processor, but since I use that to prep baby food (or will again soon) I don’t want it all soap-coated.  So.  How much wallet-savings is my time worth?

project: impossible

Have you ever started a project knowing it was insane from the get-go?  Perhaps I’m feeling feisty, having succeeded at my valance (which, while not very complex for some folks, was more detailed than I’ve tried before).  Or maybe I was just looking for a challenge to keep me sane (I’m a goal-oriented mommy).  At any rate…

Element number one: My mother-in-law saved quite a number of my husband’s old toys, passing them on to us when we had our first child.  One of the things she passed along was a substantial collection of Micro Machines.  (Remember those?)  I think that these teeny vehicles are tons of fun—but I remembered all the nifty play-scenes you could buy for them, and I thought that the cars would be even more fun with props like those.  One look at Amazon convinced me that they weren’t going to happen for us.   (I don’t care how cool it is, I can’t justify spending $1 per square inch of plastic.)

Enter element number two: My son’s fascination with location and direction.  Last year, he was constantly asking us what each street was named; this year, he always wants to know where the train tracks, streams, and streets go.  “Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a map I could show him that he’d actually understand?  Not like you’d usually get, but one with all the landmarks he’d recognize, so he could mentally put it all together?”

Cloth map in progress

Here’s my progress so far–some soap lines plus the water.

Thus, The Impossible Project was born.  I am now attempting to make a three-dimensional map of the area where we spend most of our time—including most of our town, as well as some of two neighboring towns.  This whole project will be crafted from assorted fabric scraps I have around the house.  It will include (at a somewhat modified scale) the roads we drive most often, the restaurants and stores we see and visit, and all the railroad tracks and drainage ditches in the area.  I plan to make usable bridges, and I’m even going to try to make the buildings three-dimensional (and with appropriate store name/logo) to help my kids see why buildings are drawn as squares on maps, when they’re really not flat like that.

I started by drawing my map on an old curtain with a sliver of soap.  (I couldn’t find it in our sewing stuff, so I just grabbed what was left in the shower.)  Next I added the ditches in blue fabric.  I’m currently trying to sort out how to best make the lines on the streets before attaching the first of those.

Will I succeed at this?  It’s anyone’s guess.  My goal is to have it done by this Christmas.  Or maybe by next Christmas.  (On a side note: if you told me even a year ago that sewing would be my creative outlet, I would’ve been surprised; and yet, here I am, sewing.)

What’s your Impossible Project?