Category Archives: kid stuff

jack o lantern


Some people are into delicately carving elaborate designs into hollowed out pumpkins to create the seasonal exterior lamp we call a “Jack-O-Lantern.

rfierce dinosaur jack-o-lanternWhile these can be spooky in the dark, or beautiful works of art, I’m old fashioned. For me, the traditional jack-o-lantern wears a face. That’s why we call it “Jack.”

If you’ve ever tried to light a candle out of doors, you probably understand that a lantern shelters the flame from the wind that would otherwise extinguish it. Glass was at a premium in Canadian pioneer days, but pumpkins were thick on the ground.  Since bringing in the harvest made for long days, hollowing out these large squash plants made a simple lantern that could be use out of doors when night starts falling early in the autumn months.

Hallowe’en has long been my favourite holiday, and we always had plenty of pumpkins to carve from the garden.   We used to have great fun carving our scary faces into our pumpkins free style.  These days many people buy permanent jack-o-lantern substitutes made of ceramic, glass or metal.  My preference is always to make my own.

Make A Jack-O-Lantern

1. Cut open the pumpkin,

traditionally by cutting a circle around the stem, which then forms the handle of what will become your jack-o-lantern’s lid.   For more artistic designs, often people avoid having the light escape around the edges of the lid by cutting the bottom out of the pumpkin.  Depending on your pumpkin’s shape, this can provide more stability to a jack-o-lantern that will stay in one place.  If there is any possibility that you will want to reposition your pumpkin once it’s lit, it is best to put the hole at the top.

pumpkin guts... goopy strings and seeds2. Scoop out the pumpkin guts

using a large spoon.  This is a messy job, so I scoop out the seeds and the strings into a metal mixing bowl, being careful to scrape the interior sides of the pumpkin smooth.  The seeds can be baked in the oven later.
drawn on pattern of a face on the pumpkin3. Draw on the face

(or whatever design you plan to use) using pen or marker.  You will cut away the drawing as you cut out your pattern.   Note: The “child safe” pumpkin carving tool (pictured above) was not very good.
carving out a face in a pumpkin4.  Cut Out The Face or design.

If the piece you remove is large, you can do it incrementally.   If your child is old enough to carve a pumpkin, s/he is probably old enough to use a paring knife.  As you can see, this jack-o-lantern was opened and emptied from the bottom.
jack-o-lantern lit with a glowstickGlowstick Jack-O-Lantern . . .

If you plan to place your jack-o-lantern along the path where trick-or-treaters — who often wear flowing and/or flamable costumes are likely to walk, you might want to consider using a glowstick rather than a candle in your jack-o-lantern.

Jack-o-lantern lit with a candleCandle lit Jack-O-Lantern . . .

Especially if you plan on using a candle to light your jack-lantern, remember that it can be a fire hazard, so:

  1. don’t carve the pumpkin a week before so it dry out (I do it on the day)
  2. ensure that the interior walls are scraped clean of all the pumpkin strings
  3. don’t use a candle with a flame that burns high enough to touch the roof or walls of the jack-o-lantern

Tea lights — the small candles used to keep a teapot warm — are a good choice.

Have a safe and happy Hallowe’en.

post script

First,  I’ve changed my weekly blog posting day from Saturday to Sunday.

This article needed some photos I didn’t heave, so I found these licensed to share photos on flicker:

  1. fierce dinosaur by SamanthaChapnick
    Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License and
  2. pumpkin guts by Care_SMC
    Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License

doll house


doll house front

Several years ago I built this durable doll house to barbie doll scale. The wood was largely bits and pieces I had laying about in my workshop.


The bathtub feet are wooden beads; the mirror is a picture frame with silver foil paper inside. I used baker’s clay to mold the bathtub and sinks, and there’s a nice detail shot in the baker’s clay article. .


The wall paper and matching curtains came out of wallpaper books I got from small decorating store. The curtains were hung on craft dowels.

Living Room
A woven placemat became the livingroom carpet; a framed greeting card became the artwork.

Front Door
Picture hanging hooks served as the coat hooks beside the front door, as well as the front door handles.

Kitchen Sink detail

Miscellaneous fasteners and L-hooks became taps and faucets.


Scraps from my own kitchen curtain were used for the main floor curtains.
opening the front door

I would have loved this when I was a kid.

the back of the doll house

I made it up as I went along, and it was great fun figuring it out and making it.

baker’s clay like Mom used to make


baker's clay fish ornamentI especially loved this clay my mom used to make for us. What I remember most was making miniature food… teeny tiny hamburgers and hot dogs for my barbie dolls. Because the finished product had been baked hard, it was firm enough to play with.

how to make it

This recipe produces white clay. If you want the clay coloured, you can add food coloring (or sugarless Kool-Aid) in the water when making the clay. (Our hamburger buns were yellow, the patties red.)

Mix together

  • 2 cups baking soda and
  • 1 cup cornstarch in a saucepan.
  • Add 1 1/4 cups cold water

and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 10 – 15 minutes. You know its done when it reaches the consistency of squishy mashed potatoes.
[note: if cooked too long, the creations you make may crack.]

Scrape the mixture out of the pan and onto a plate, then cover it with a damp cloth. Once it’s cool enough to handle, pat it until smooth.

baker's clay gingerbread cookie ornamentsculpt it
You can form this clay into shapes as you would with any other play dough.

cut it out
Or you can place it on a sheet of waxed paper, placing another on top, then roll it our with a rolling pin, to a thickness of about a centimeter (or 3/4 of an inch). Remove the waxed paper and then you can cut it into shapes with cookie cutters. Use a toothpick to poke a hole for hanging, making sure it’s not too close to the edge..

While working with it, the unused clay can be kept under the damp cloth. For longer storage, put the remaing dough in a tightly sealed bag or air-tight container in the refrigerator where it will last for at least a week.

Place your creations on a non-aluminum cookie sheet or tinfoil and bake in a preheated oven at the lowest setting for 30 minutes.  Turn oven off, leaving the cookie sheet inside for another hour or two.  Depending on the thickness of the clay, it may take another day or two before it is absolutely dry all the way through.

Although I usually bake this clay, for thicker sculptures it is best to leave them to air dry on a wire rack for a few days. I have also been told you can microwave your decorations on a paper towel, at 30 seconds per side, turning them until completely dry.

baker's clay star .... decorated with crayonn_8087

When your creations are dry, they can be painted with just about any craft paints (tempera, acrylic etc) or coloured with markers or crayons.

You can use a craft paint sealer, varathane  or even clear nail polish to varnish for a hard sheen and greater durability.  (Make sure you have adequate ventilation before using nail polish or any chemical with a strong odor.  This step is not suitable for small children.)   Glitter, feathers, pom poms etc. can be glued on, with or without varnishing.

what for
We used this most to make Christmas tree decorations, but it can be used to other kinds of wall hangings or small sculptures.

The largest piece I ever made with this was a bathtub for a doll house. I used an oval plastic take-out container as the mold, and coated it with enamel paint to get a nice porcelain bath tub look.

who for
This clay can be useful for anyone. It is great to use with small children because, although not very tasty, it is edible. (For very small children, make sure dried pieces are not small enough to be a choking hazard.)

baker's clay doll house bathtub and sink

making drawings


We were always making things when I was a kid. My parents were creative, and they certainly encouraged us in this. These are some of my pencil sketches from when I was three and four years old.

a bunny drawn when I was about 4 and a half

Paper was expensive, so we drew on whatever we could get our hands on. When I was a little older, I rememberwe used to go through our notebooks at the end of the school year and liberate any unused pages for drawing paper. That’s why a lot of our early drawings are on lined paper.

primitive pencil drawing of a lion

my dad, drawn when I was almost 4

I never felt I was a good artist, because my older siblings drew so much better than I did. I was never very good at colouring inside the lines.But it never stopped me from making art, because making art was fun.

pencil drawingsfrom when I was three years old