New Cement Mixer Toy

My new cement mixer is now for sale on etsy: The cement mixer really gets mixed in this truck–the mixing drum turns while the truck is driving.


This truck has been in the works for over a month. First I had to come up with a prototype, then I had to find a woodturner to make the mixing drums for me. I contacted a few Etsy artists, and settled on Hysun Woodturning.

First we tried using fir fence post wood, but it was too soft and had too many cracks in it. Finally he found solid maple pieces that were sold a baseball bat blanks, and those became our mixing drums.

It’s the first time I’ve outsourced a part of my toys, and it worked out quite well, since I don’t have lathe or woodturning skills.

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New Police Car and Ambulance plus a coupon code for this week

I had an etsy message this morning from a loyal customer who wanted me to make an ambulance for her daughter. I’m pretty sure this customer has asked me before to work on an ambulance, though it could have been someone else. At any rate, I decided there was no time like the present, and I got right to work on it.

While I was thinking about how to make it, I thought that I really wanted to have a police car too. I’ve been contemplating these two vehicles for years, to be honest.

For the police car, I wanted it to have a back seat for the bad guy, but there had to be some kind of barrier to protect the policeman. It also needed to have siren lights. So after some consideration, this is what I came up with:



My customer suggested that I make the ambulance just like my mail truck, just with the back open. Years ago, I actually did make one like that, and I wasn’t happy with it. There needed to be something in the back, so the patient wouldn’t just slide out. It also needed to look a little more comfortable than just an empty truck bed. This is what I came up with:


                                                  The pillow just makes it seem homier, doesn’t it?


To celebrate my new toys, I’m going to be doing a coupon code for 10% off anything the shop. APRIL15 is the code.


Bedtime Tea Time (with sugar-free Peanut Butter Cookies)

This is a habit that we have gotten out of the past, well, 6 months. Stopping what we are doing an hour before lights out and making some herbal tea, is one of my favorite habits.

I’m not a huge fan of the tea, mind you (Caleb is, and he is the one that got us started on this by following my mother’s habit of tea at bedtime). It’s the Time that is nice.

We turn off the computer, make sure the room is picked up, and wait for the tea kettle to whistle. While we are drinking our tea, we’ll play a short game, usually a card game like Rook or, occasionally, Uno. Last night we played Quiddler, which is a card game with letters on the cards instead of numbers. You try to arrange all the letters in your hand into words by taking and discarding cards from the draw pile in order to get the highest point value words.

When we have some, we’ll have cookies with our tea. Generally these will be whole wheat cookies without any refined sugar, using honey or maple syrup or maple sugar to sweeten. The result is a mildly sweet treat with our tea.

Here is one of the recipes we’ve used:

Peanut Butter Cookies (adapted from Chocolate Covered Kate’s recipe)



  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (with salt)
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup of white whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup maple sugar (we get our maple sugar from Mansfield Maple)
  • 1/8 cup of maple syrup or honey
  • 1/8 cup of applesauce
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


Mix it all together, and shape it into balls. Before baking, smoosh (even though smoosh isn’t really a work, apparently) the cookies down with a fork, making a criss-cross pattern. Bake them at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. It makes about a dozen cookies. They are best once they are cooled.

Enjoy! I’m going to go have some of our Oatmeal Cookies (recipe coming soon) and tea and a little game.

Never Stop Learning

The other day I was at my friends’ farm to help them start their maple syrup harvest. We were mainly there to spend time with our friends, with the added benefit of Caleb getting to bring one of his favorite parts of the book, Farmer Boy, to life.

But, we got firsthand experience tapping maple trees, and that firsthand experience is what can take an idea from the dream stage to the execution stage. If I had a maple tree on my 1/10th of an acre (or anywhere near it), I would have no trouble tapping my own tree.

When I started making toys for my son, I watch you tube videos, and read articles, but it wasn’t til I actually bought a scroll saw, that I really thought that I could do this.

But learning how to tap maple trees wasn’t the only thing I learned that day.

I’ve been having trouble with the cord for my miter saw (Dewalt, sliding miter saw, don’t go a day without using it). At some point in its history, before it came to live with me, someone had given it a new plug. After owning it for about 4 years, this plug wasn’t working right anymore. I had to jiggle the cord around regularly to get it to work.


I’ve been concerned about this, and unsure of where I would even take it to be fixed.

Well, at my friends’ farm, David, electrical/mechanical whiz, happened to be having trouble with some aspect of their power system, and close to the time we were going to leave, I realized that he probably knew what was wrong with my plug.

First he gave me a rundown on what was likely the problem, and how to fix it. BUT being the thorough and generous man he is, he went out to the barn and found me a piece of wire with a plug to get hands-on experience. He walked me through it step-by-step and had me do the work myself in order to cement the knowledge into my head.

I haven’t actually gotten around to fixing mine yet, but when I do, I will have perfect confidence that I can do it correctly.

Learning from other people is a highly underutilized resource. Youtube videos are great (I just used one to learn how to replace the belt on my dryer), but there is nothing like a real person there helping you out.

You don’t have to depend on the goodwill of friends and relations either (though most people are happy to lend their knowledge to help you, particularly if you don’t infringe upon their time). If you just pay attention to your repairmen, you can learn a lot.

That is how I learned how to do my own plumbing. Or rather how I got the confidence to glue pipes together (I had PVC pipes in my house). I just watched my handyman as he fixed the breaks and then next time, I just did what he did.

Another way you can learn without feeling like you are burdening your sources of knowledge is to volunteer to help them on their next project. This works best with friends, professionals would probably just feel you were in the way. If you want to get experience from your handy relative, offer to hold the tools for them when they put in their new ceiling fan, or prepare the grout when they are retiling their bathroom.

Most things that we need to learn how to do in life are not difficult, but they can be intimidating when you don’t know what you are doing. Rather than remain in your state of fear and ignorance, and forever paying the “expert”, stretch your limits. Ask for help. Never stop learning new things.

Oh, and Dave, if you are reading this, my miter saw doesn’t have a grounding wire. What??

Project Tuesday-Shields

We like to have nerf wars in the house and outside, and for a while we’ve talked about making shields. Finally we got around to it.

Caleb cut out a circle from a pizza box.


His idea, not mine. I thought we should have used a larger box, but it was his project. Once he had it cut out, he painted it while I worked on painting my peg people.

For the handle, he sewed a strip of fabric on the back. Sewing through cardboard worked surprisingly well, and I figured it was stronger than tape. My other thought was stapling it, but I couldn’t find the stapler.


After that it was ready to use!


New Toys! Forklift, Front End Loader, and Covered Wagon

I’ve got new toys for you today.

Do your kids like the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder? My son likes Farmer Boy the best. We’ve read it seven or eight or nine times. Way too many. But that was always my favorite too. I liked to read about all the good food they ate.

The covered wagon adventures always captured my imagination too. Imagine what it was like to travel over the prairie with all your worldly possessions, camping at night with nothing but the wolves to keep you company. Think of all the stars they could see!

My covered wagon (click on the link to purchase) will enable your kids’ wee people to travel all over the house.




The horse can slip out of his harness for Pa to ride her out on his hunting trips.

Caleb got kinetic sand for Christmas. It’s a nice alternative to real sand in the house. You can shape it without it being wet, and it doesn’t get everywhere like real sand, because it sticks together.

It’s also the perfect place for his Mama Made Them wooden toy construction vehicles. The latest edition to the crew is the Front End Loader (click the link to purchase).




Last, but certainly not least, is the Forklift.


This toy is just too fun. My son was so excited when I showed him the finished product, he promptly put it to work with the blocks. Given how often we go to Lowes and Home Depot and other lumber yards (A LOT), he’s had firsthand experience watching forklifts from a young age.


I hope you like them! I’ll have more new toys coming up soon. I’ve been feeling rather inspired lately.

Coming up: a cannon, a tank, a butterfly teether, and a cement mixer (I’m super excited about that one.)

Resist All or Nothing Thinking

When we are trying to follow healthier, more productive habits, it’s easy to think that it has to be all or nothing.

It’s easy to use setbacks as an excuse to indulge ourselves. You couldn’t resist the lure of making coffee cake for breakfast, so you snack on it all day, forgo your usual healthy lunch in addition to your normal breakfast, and by the time dinner comes around, you figure you might as well dig into the tortilla chips, because the day is pretty much shot at this point anyway.

Or is that just me who does that?

Or maybe you woke up late, like I did today, after staying up too late finishing your book. Rather than get right to business, you dally longer than usual on your computer. Then the kid(s) gets up, and you play all morning, instead of balancing work and play. Some work gets done in the afternoon, but you spend plenty of time reading and laying about. And by that time, you figure you might as well skip the gym and just stay in bed reading.

BUT you can stop at any time. You don’t have to be perfect. If you woke up late, wasted the morning, it isn’t all lost. If you ate the chocolate cake for breakfast, you don’t have to keep eating junk for the rest of the day. One slip shouldn’t ruin your day.

So you ate the cake, that isn’t an excuse to eat it for lunch and dinner too. So you ignored your kids all morning, that isn’t an excuse to ignore them all afternoon. Don’t worry about starting over. Just pick up your day where you are supposed to be. Even if it’s bedtime and you wasted the whole day, you don’t have to keep wasting time and stay up late.

There is no bandwagon. There is no perfection. Just pick up where you left off.

I haven’t been very productive the past couple of days in terms of the volume of toys that I made, but I did come up with two new toys that I’m very excited to share with you tomorrow, and I’ve got a couple more in the works that are coming in the next week or so.

There will be giveaways…. :)

Getting Along

Part of unschooling, homeschooling, and life in general is just being able to get along with each other. Getting along is a huge part of unschooling/homeschooling. I’ve heard more than one parent say they gave up on homeschooling, because they couldn’t stand to be around each other all day.

I’ve been feeling like that myself the past month. For whatever reason, things have been rather contentious around here. I haven’t considered sending him to school, but I’ve wished I could ship him off somewhere for a while.

Yesterday morning, I sat down with my planner and listed the times and events that lead to harsh words and conflict. Then I considered ways that the conflict could be avoided. Since we are a one parent/one child household, all the conflict is between the two of us, so none of my solutions take into account sibling conflict-for that you’ll have to go elsewhere.


Our main source of conflict is me being in a hurry-usually pertaining to getting to the post office on time, but also for various other appointments we have.

The solution is getting ready early, really, really early, much earlier than I think I need to be ready. Because with kids, something always comes up. Snacks are needed, boots can’t be found, and feet are always, always being dragged.

I say, “with kids,” but in reality, it’s often me holding us up. It takes longer than I think to package up orders. I can’t find my [fill in the blank with whatever I misplaced today]. When we rushing around looking for our keys, worrying about being late, this is not the time that we are gentle and patient with our kids.

So get ready early. 

Mealtimes and snacks can be troublesome too. Isn’t it always the case that as soon as you start working or getting ready for bed that your kid wants a snack? And mealtimes, particularly dinner, can feel like so much work that we sometimes skip them all together in favor of eating junk.

The solution to this is similar to the prior solution: get ready early. Plan for snacks. Plan your meals, and maybe even start the prep before the week even begins.

I am going to start having a prep day every week. On Sundays, I’ll prep whatever I can for the coming week’s dinners, and also prepare snacks that my son likes. It’s helpful to make big batches of biscuits, muffins, and other breads and keep them in the freezer for snacks and to go with dinner.

Also I’m going to make sure I have dinner ready to put on the stove or in the oven or already in the crockpot, before we leave for any afternoon outings. Most afternoons we go to the gym for basketball, tag, running, and swimming. When we get home, it’s dinnertime, but I also don’t really feel like getting dinner. But if I prep dinner in the morning. All I have to do is dump it in the pot, and turn on the burner.


AKA the worst time of day. At bedtime, I’m ready crash. I work hard (sometimes), and I get up early (mostly). My son, on the other hand, is ready to wrestle, do flips on the bed, and always wants four different snacks (I exaggerate).

Mostly though, the problems we have at bedtime are problems of rushing. I’m in a hurry to sleep; he wants to play with me. When we get up to bed before I get too tired, I can handle this, but when it’s already ten o’clock and we have to get through a story yet, I have no patience for games.

I keep coming up with the same solution to all my problems. Get ready Early. Turn off the computer an hour before bed. Go upstairs for teeth brushing and story reading way before you think you need to. Take the time to play some games before sleeping (in bed, with the lights off).


This is a weird one. Sometimes he’ll want a bath every night, but other times, he treats the idea of bathing with complete horror and disdain. Now there is no need for daily bathing for kids (as espoused in this Washington Post article), but at least a couple times a week is my minimum. Plus when he’s enjoying himself in the tub, it’s so peaceful.

Apparently there are whole websites with ideas to make bath time more attractive to children. Bath Activities for Kids is quite entertaining. I bought a 20 pack of glow sticks from Dollar Tree, and Caleb had a glowing bath last week.

The other night I offered to have a pillow fight with him after he got out of the bath, and that was a very attractive incentive to get clean.


I hesitate to even put this one in there, because he doesn’t really have regular chores, beyond taking out the compost, but he does do chores for other things: money, extra screen time, etc. I loosely subscribe to the radical unschooling idea of chores (delineating on Sandra Dodd’s website here), which is kids that are encouraged (help is requested but not demanded), but not forced to do chores will have a better attitude toward work and helping out in general. It definitely does eliminate the fighting around doing chores.

But cleaning up toys is not on my list of things I want to do, especially legos. We’ve worked out a pretty good system for after dinner clean up. We have a race. I do the dishes and clean up the kitchen, and he cleans up his toys. Whoever wins get bragging rights (if he’s reluctant one night, actual prizes may be given out– i.e. a quarter, an extra cookie, etc).

Schoolwork, of course, we don’t do. Next week I’ll expound on why I think “schoolwork” is a blatant waste of time.

What areas are contentious in your home? Can you think of ways to smooth over the problems? Look at your fights from your child’s point of view. Watch your tone–would you speak like that to an adult that you liked?

Replacing Bad Habits with Good Habits

What I’ve learned over the past week is that simply cutting out a bad habit is not very effective if you don’t replace it with a good habit.

I cut out television, but rather than cleaning the house, working more, or doing more things with my son—for the most part, I spent more time online doing various unimportant things. I played umpteen games of scrabble on the Internet Scrabble Club. I read an entire book (300+ pages) in one sitting while my son was busy elsewhere. I knocked out another book in 2 days.

Television was just a symptom of the problem. My problem was that I put off doing less pleasant tasks (or tasks that I perceive as less pleasant) for distractions.

I’m glad I’m reading more, but I can get just as hooked on a book as a TV show. In fact it’s even easier. I can read a book anywhere at anytime.

What I need to do is to create a plan of action. It’s not enough to just say that I will only watch TV on Fridays. I need to plan a way to do all the other things I want to do that I let television steal time from.

In Superhuman By Habit by Tynan, he suggests making a list to discover what your motivation is to create a new habit.

  1. What good things will happen if I implement this habit?
  2. What bad things will happen if I implement this habit?
  3. What good things will happen if I don’t implement this habit?
  4. What bad things will happen if I don’t’ implement this habit?

When I decided that television was a problem to be eliminated, I just assumed that all that TV time would turn into being-more-responsible time. Wrong!

Alcoholics that quit drinking are notorious for taking up smoking with a vengeance. When smokers quit, they have to be careful not to start overeating to deal with stress. Smoking is a problem, but just because you quit, doesn’t mean your health problems are over.

You need to retrain yourself to deal with stress and boredom in healthy, constructive ways.

What I really need is a systematic approach to recognize time-wasters and postpone them until I have completed my goals for the day.

The Incentive Myth and Unschooling

During the industrial era, factory owners found that they could improve their employees’ productivity by offering monetary incentives. This worked well for the boring, repetitive nature of factory work, and it continued to work for office laborers where the work was still mostly repetitive and routine. Tasks to complete were spelled out clearly, and all the employees needed to do was follow directions.

The monetary incentive provided sufficient motivation to increase their productivity.

The problem with traditional schooling is that it treats learning like factory work. That it is something unpleasant. Learning it is boring and repetitive, and students need to be bribed (or punished) in order to do it. You memorize x, y, and z, and we’ll give you a carrot. But true learning isn’t factory work. It’s creative work.

Motivation works differently for creative work.

In his book, The Myths of Creativity, David Burkus asserts that management style needs to evolve as employees’ jobs have evolved. According to a recent study by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company, almost seventy percent of new jobs created are creative in nature, where there are no set of instructions to follow and creative problem solving is needed.

Multiple studies have found that creativity diminishes in the presence of incentives to be more creative. The extrinsic motivator of money is not powerful enough to activate the creative thinking process. Incentives directly interfere with the creative process. When extrinsic motivators are present, they divert attention away from the problem.

In one study that Burkus cites, the researchers found that work that artists were commissioned to do was rated as less creative by a panel of judges that didn’t know which pieces were commissioned and which were not.

What we need, Burkus points out, is a way to increase intrinsic motivation. When people are excited about a project, when they are interested in it regardless of immediate compensation, that’s when they do their most creative work.

Some businesses have come up with new ways to increase their employees’ intrinsic motivation. Or rather, ways to get out of their employees’ way, and set them free to work from their intrinsic motivation. In creative work, you don’t need to create motivation, because there is plenty of interest and intrinsic motivation inherent in the work already.

They set aside time for their employees to work on projects that they are interested in. Projects that are outside of their daily work. From ten or fifteen percent of a workweek (3M) to a whole month at the company 37 Signals, companies are encouraging their employees to think beyond a prescribed set of duties.

Extrinsic motivation– like a paycheck or a bonus– can compel you to make the car, but intrinsic motivation can spark the idea of how to make the car better. Extrinsic motivation–like a good grade– can make you memorize the primary exports of Angola, but intrinsic motivation can lead you to learn everything you can about the country, it’s history, it’s relationship with neighboring countries.

Think of all the times you learned things in school, because if you did, they would give you an A. How long did you remember what you “learned.” Then think of the times you were interested in something, and learned about it of your own free will.

Learning is inherently creative, not boring or repetitive. When you are following your own intrinsic desire to learn about a topic, you remember what you learned. You think of ways that your knowledge connects to other things that you already know– or other things that you suddenly want to know about.

You come up with ways to find out what you desire to know, unique ways, ways that are suited both to your motivation and the way that you learn and remember things.

Companies want their employees to further the growth of the company. Parents want their children to further their education.

Mostly, like the aforementioned companies, we just need to get out of our children’s way. But, like businesses that have found ways to align their extrinsic motivation with their employee’s intrinsic motivation, as parents, we can find ways to align our desires for a well-rounded education with our children’s desire to  achieve mastery and acquire knowledge.

Games are an ideal facilitator.

Games demand problem solving, but aren’t particular about the way you go about it. For example, to play games successfully, it’s important to know how to keep score. Keeping score involves math. So kids learn enough math to allow them to play the game, but they are free to learn it anyway they want.

Caleb first learned about the concept of negative numbers by playing Dutch Blitz. Being in the red is a novel concept for a four year old, but with the example of the game and help from the other players, he gained a strong concept of adding and subtracting using negative numbers.

By allowing kids to solve problems creatively, games encourage kids to come up with unique methods of learning. The way they learn will be tailored to the way that they learn best, because they are in control.

When we started playing Scrabble, my son couldn’t really read and only knew a small number of simple words. He had to look up every word he wanted to make: going from his letters to a word on a list (rather than thinking of a word and checking his spelling). Games took FOREVER!

But as time went on, he learned words and an understanding of spelling at a ridiculous rate of speed. He thought about words when we weren’t playing. We would be driving along in the car and out of the blue he’d say, “Skating is a seven letter word.” Or one day when he was laying in bed and wasn’t feeling well, he sniffled, “I know how to spell Quiet.”

He tried to figure out the most points you could get from a single play (quizzical was his word, it would span 2 triple letter scores and have the Z on the double letter score spot).

Within 6-8 months of playing regularly, he is now able to beat me (if the stars (tiles) align correctly). He memorized 2 letter words and high-point value words without even trying. He can effectively use -ing endings to get seven letter words. He’s on his way to becoming an excellent Scrabble player, and he is building a strong foundation in spelling and reading.

That’s the power of intrinsic motivation.