Greater-Than Less-Than Craft Stick Alligator

Chances are, you were taught which way the greater-than and less-than symbols face by imagining them like an alligator's mouth. The hungry alligator wants to eat the larger number, so his mouth should open that direction. This craft stick alligator, complete with moveable jaws, is great fun to pair with a greater-than less-than math lesson. Affiliate links below.

Greater-Than Less-Than Craft Stick Alligator



Drill holes in the craft sticks. I used my beloved Craft Drill; in a classroom setting, I'd probably pre-drill the holes. Or, I'd have a parent monitor a drilling station. 

Paint the sticks and the brad green. Set them aside to dry. 

Use scissors or a punch to cut a green circle. Then cut two rows of white teeth. 

When the paint is dry, use the brad to connect the two craft sticks. The brad should be tight, but no so tight that you can't open and close the jaws easily. 

Cut the green circle into two uneven parts. The larger will be the eye and the smaller is the nose. 

Glue both green pieces into place. Add the googly eye, then use the black pen to draw nostrils on the nose. Glue the teeth in place.  

Use the alligator to help you solve greater-than and less-than projects, or make it as part of a reptile study. The alligator is the State Reptile of Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, so if you live there, that's another good reason to try this craft! 


Lisbon, Portugal

We had a wonderful time exploring Lisbon, Portugal back in April. In narrowing down the photos, I chose tiles, views, the funicular, steep and narrow streets, the cathedral, sardines, and Cristo Rei. Alas, I didn't have room for the glove shop

Lisbon (affiliate link)

I barely had room for the title, either. I took advantage of some relatively empty sky to house the title. It's hard to see here, but it's on a piece of scalloped vellum, which helps draw the eye. The little pops of red form a visual triangle between the only people pictures I included. I'm very happy to have another layout from our European adventure in the album.


"We All Wear a Lot of Hats" Name Art

We all wear a lot of hats. Some hats are literal, while others are figurative. This name art project is a fun way to look at the many hats we wear.  

I don't wear a lot of literal hats, but I wear tons of figurative hats, many of which are listed on my artwork. Some are difficult to represent with a drawing - what hat does a neighbor wear, for example? Or a blogger? I chose a chef's toque to represent my love of cooking and food, as well as my job as meal preparer for our family. The Scout hat is one of the few literal hats that I do wear in my role coordinating community service projects for Trevor's troop. The warm hat represents the time I spend at the ice rink each week, watching Trevor progress as a skater. The graduation cap represents my love of education and time as a classroom teacher, as well as everything I do now to teach others. The flower hat represents me as a Lutheran, even though I have never worn a hat to church in my entire life and no one else in my church does either. 

To make your own artwork, write your name in block letters in the middle of a sheet of copy paper. Add a hat to each letter, representing jobs/career goals, hobbies, sports, religion, or anything else that represents you. Draw a line about an inch below the letters to give them something to stand on. Add smily face and legs. Color in the characters, then list all the many hats you wear underneath.


Taco Tuesday: Paper Taco Craft

I just missed National Taco Day, but at least I'm sharing this on a Tuesday! I'm not sure we really need a National Taco Day, now that I think about it. So many restaurants, cafeterias, families, etc. celebrate tacos every week. Anyway, the next time you have tacos, pair them with this craft. Affiliate links below.


Paper Taco Craft



Fold the yellow cardstock in half, then cut a half circle, keeping the fold intact. This is your taco shell.

Use the brown colored pencil to make dots all over the taco shell. Don't make a pattern- just randomly dot all over the place. 

Glue strips of brown and red construction paper inside the taco shell. 

Now tear the tissue paper into strips. Keep going until you have a nice pile of lettuce.

Add glue all over the inside of the taco shell and add the tissue paper lettuce. 

Good enough to eat, right? Happy Taco Tuesday!


Empty Bowls

As it turns out, we did lose power during the Public Safety Power Shutdown last week. It was out for 48 hours, which was inconvenient, but not that bad. We had to make some changes to our routines, but it was well worth it to prevent wildfire outbreak. The PSPS allowed us to see where we can improve in our own emergency preparedness. It also helped me appreciate all the conveniences we have that we take for granted.

Anyway, I'm back and wanted to share a really neat event we attended this weekend. It's called Empty Bowls and it's a fundraiser for our local Food Bank.

Ceramic artists, as well as students from the community college and high schools, donate gorgeous, one-of-a-kind bowls to the event. As attendees arrive, they select their favorite bowl. The bowl becomes theirs to keep, as a reminder of the problem of hunger and the many empty bowls in our community. 


It was SO hard to choose our bowls! There were so many beautiful choices. I found a sage green one that I aodored right as Trevor fell in love with a blue bowl. 

Steve pointed out that I'd chosen the 'wrong' bowl because I hadn't stuck with our family colors. He was totally right, and as soon as he said that, I wanted a red bowl instead of the green one I'd picked. Steve happily took the green and I picked out a red.

We set them down at a table and went to check out the silent auction and raffle prizes.

The raffle and auction are organized by 4-H members and staffed by high schoolers. 

All the prizes had something to do with food or bowls. 

At the silent auction table, we ran into one of our all-time favorite people, Trevor's first grade teacher. She's a 4-H Mom and has been volunteering with Empty Bowls for years. 

Soon, it was time to eat. We each brought our bowls to the serving table, where we had a choice of three different soups: Tomato Vegetable, Creamy Potato with Bacon, and 15-Bean. The soups were made by soup kitchens served by the Food Bank and are the same hot meals that people in need receive. 

It was really hard to choose one soup because they all looked and smelled fantastic! I had the Creamy Potato (YUM!). Between the three of us, we tried all the flavors and they were all delicious. Along with soup, we got bread and lemonade or ice tea. 

Next, we heard presentations about the Food Bank's mission, as well as stories of the people they serve.

4-H members acted as MCs for the event and did an outstanding job. I'd expect nothing less from 4-Hers!

The evening ended with cookies and a tour of the Food Bank facility. We've volunteered at the Food Bank often enough that we could give the tour, so we skipped it. About half of the people attending Empty Bowls had never been to the Food Bank before and they appreciated the chance to see everything and learn more about how this organization manages to distribute 25 million pound of food to people in need each year.

They also got to see where this commercial was filmed:

It looks like a familiar warehouse store, but it's not! This was filmed at the Food Bank in Fairfield, in the same building where we enjoyed Empty Bowls.

Despite being so involved with the Food Bank for so long, this was our first Empty Bowls. But it won't be our last! All three of us loved it and will definitely go back.


Blog Break

We've received notification that our power may be shut off for an extended amount of time to prevent possible wildfire. I'm going to take this time for a blog break. If we don't lose power, I'll work on some under-the-hood blog tasks. Happy crafting, everyone! I'll be back soon.


Unexpectedly Awesome Cities for Family Vacations

San Francisco is an AWESOME destination for tourists. People come from all over the world to explore the City by the Bay, and deservedly so. You could spend weeks there and barely scratch the surface of all the city has to offer. (See my San Francisco Bucket List here.) But everyone knows San Francisco is awesome. Same with New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington DC, or Honolulu, for example. They're popular tourist destinations for a reason. You know before you get there that there will be a ton to do and see.

Today's blog post is about awesome cities that are flying under the radar, places that aren't on everyone's must-visit list, cities you may never have considered for a family vacation. Each of these places had so many fabulous things to do that we couldn't squeeze in everything.

I present to you...

The Top 5 Unexpectedly Awesome Cities for Family Vacations

#5: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Does your family like history? Art? Architecture? Food? Santa Fe has all that and so much more. Throw in the natural beauty, native cultural traditions, and great weather and this is a city your family needs to explore. We loved visiting the nation's oldest capital city, poking into the many art galleries, checking out the unique architecture, tasting local specialties, visiting museums, and exploring everything Santa Fe has to offer.

#4: Cleveland, Ohio

It's true what they say... Cleveland rocks! It's worth visiting just to go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but there is so much more to do and see in Cleveland. We loved the science center and all of the public art, including the World's Largest Rubber Stamp. The history and geography of Cleveland are really interesting. All in all, a great place to go as a family. 

#3: St. Louis, Missouri

Before we visited St. Louis, I thought of it as the home to the Gateway Arch and the birthplace of the ice cream cone... and that's it. I had no idea that St. Louis is such an incredible destination for families! Not only are there a ton of kid-friendly things to do, but many of them (zoo, science center, history museum, art museum, and more) are completely free. We packed in twelve different activities and there were plenty of places we ran out of time to visit.

#2: Louisville, Kentucky

The Louisville Slugger Factory is reason enough to go to Louisville. Same for the Kentucky Derby Museum. The American Printing House for the Blind is a real hidden gem (and free). The waterfront area, the public art (horses, everywhere you look) and oh, the food! Louisville is a great vacation destination, with plenty of fabulous things to do with kids. I can't wait to go back someday.

#1: Omaha, Nebraska

To be perfectly honest, my expectations for Omaha were not high. But I was so wrong. Omaha blew me away and now ranks among my favorite cities. We spent a full week and it wasn't enough to see and do everything Omaha has to offer.


The most difficult thing about making my list was deciding which cities are unexpectedly awesome versus which are widely known to be awesome. Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington are both fantastic, but I decided that most people probably already know that. Same with Austin, Texas. I highly recommend all three for family vacations. Other great places for family vacations? Salt Lake City, Utah. Kansas City, Missouri. Annapolis, Maryland. Boise, Idaho. Juneau, Alaska. I could go on. Phoenix, Arizona. Albuquerque, New Mexico. Baltimore, Maryland. We are blessed with a country full of treasures, justing waiting to be explored! 


Mythical Creatures Crafts

Back in January, I began the huge task of organizing all of my animal crafts to make them easier to find. It's been a ton of work, but so worth it. My 6th and final category, Mythical Creatures, is now live.

Curious how many animal craft tutorials I've shared on the blog so far? Me too! If I counted correctly, there are 204. Very few of those are mythical creatures, but now I have a place to put those that I do have. And as I make more, I'll add to the page.

Here are the links to all six animal categories:


I love seeing these all together. And I love seeing some of my all-time favorite crafts in the graphics. They totally inspire me to head to the craft room and make more animals!


Owl in a Cardboard Tube Tree

My favorite crafting material is obviously scrapbook paper (both cardstock and patterned paper), but my second favorite crafting material is probably cardboard tubes. I love turning an empty tube into something fun. Today, an owl in a tree. 


Owl in a Cardboard Tube Tree


  • cardboard tubes
  • scissors
  • glue gun
  • Folk Art paint (brown and black)
  • foam brush
  • construction paper or cardstock (brown and yellow) 
  • googly eyes


Use the scissors to open up a paper towel tube by cutting it lengthwise. Cut an oval hole about 2/3 toward one end on the opposite side of the opening. Cut a toilet paper tube in half lengthwise, then cut one end of each piece on an angle. 

Water down some black paint and use the foam brush to apply it to the inside of the cardboard tube. The moisture will loosen the fibers and relax the curve of the tube. You still want some curve so that your tree will stand upright on its own, so don't soak it. Let the paint dry. 

Meanwhile, cut an owl shape from brown construction paper or cardstock. Add googly eyes and a triangle beak. 

Now it's time for the glue gun. Glue the two toilet paper tube pieces to opposite sides of the paper towel tube to form branches. Then, draw lines of glue vertically along the length of the tree trunk. Vary their lengths and spacing to mimic tree bark. Do the same with the branches, making sure that the glue lines travel the length of the branches, rather than vertically, which would look unnatural. (Speaking of unnatural, look at my index finger. At any given time, there's a 50% chance I have paint on my hands.) 

 Add a coat of the watered-down black paint and watch the texture emerge like magic!

Use undiluted brown paint to add highlights and accents to the tree. Use as much or as little as you want. When the paint is dry, glue the owl in the opening in the tree.

I love how the tree looks against the dark background, but it looks pretty good in the light as well. If I were making these in the classroom, I'd do a black bulletin board with the moon shining down over a whole bunch of owl-filled trees. 

Some of you may be wondering about using glue guns in a classroom setting. I taught 9-11 year olds, who are certainly old enough to use them without direct supervision. Obviously, I always went over safety considerations and making smart choices and the consequences that would result from behaving carelessly or stupidly, but in 11 years I never had a problem. If I were doing this project with younger children, I'd find a parent volunteer to closely supervise.


Lucky Alphabet Block Photo Holder... and a WINNER!

Sometimes crafts come together exactly how I'd imagined them. Such is the case with this 'Lucky' photo holder made with alphabet blocks. I'm so happy with how it turned out! That's my niece, Allison, and my nephew, Timothy, in the photos. Both pictures are ridiculously out of date. (Hint, hint... Aunt Cindy needs new portraits.) Affiliate links below. 


Lucky Alphabet Block Photo Holder



Find blocks to spell LUCKY. Color doesn't matter, which is fortunate because the one blue with four yellows looks ucky. Literally. 

Give each block a coat of white gesso. It doesn't matter if you can still see a slight color difference. That will be hidden with the next coat of paint. Use a glue gun to connect the blocks. 

Carefully paint the letters and the border of the blocks green. Let the paint dry completely. Punch out some stars from scraps of cardstock and paint them gold.

Cut two lengths of green twisteezwire, one approximately 12" and one 10". Curl one end of each wire around something round with a small diameter, like a pencil. Make two complete loops, then remove the pencil. Gently bend each wire against something round with a large diameter, like a basketball.

Arrange the two wires so that their arcs bend outward. Check that the length of the wire puts the photos where you want them to be. Trim as necessary, then attach them to the back of the center block using the glue gun.

To display your photos, just slide the pictures between the loops. I opted to sprinkle the stars on and around the photo holder without attaching them permanently to it, but you can glue them in place if you wish.

It would be easy to adapt the design to display more than two photos. Simply add a third or fourth wire with enough space between them so that the photos aren't crowded. I don't think I'd add more than four wires on a LUCKY design, but you could squeeze in a whole bunch if you spelled out something like GRANDCHILDREN. That would be really cute and would make a great gift. 


Now, the winner from the Diamond Art giveaway! Thank you to everyone who entered. All of you correctly identified my latest Diamond Art project as the Hot Air Balloon. It's soooo pretty in real life. The sparkle is amazing. I loved reading which kit each of you would pick if you were the lucky winner. Congrats to....


Please email me your address and I'll have Leisure Arts get the Rainbow Tree kit out to you asap! Thanks again to Leisure Arts for sponsoring this giveaway and for being such an amazing company. For those of you who didn't win, think about adding the Diamond Art kit you wanted to your holiday gift list. Or buy it for yourself before the holidays... you deserve it!

Holiday Diamond Art