Saturday, October 30, 2010

Idea: NaNoWriMo

30 days of intense writing. It's fast and furious with complete disregard of grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, and ramblings, just to complete a first draft of a novel in one month. Write, write, write! This is NaNoWriMo. Writing can only begin November 1 and must end by midnight November 30. The goal is to complete 50 000 words within that time frame.  It's fun and there are all kinds of support.

Well, that's the goal for adults. Those under the age of 17 can set their own word-count goals. NaNoWriMo has a Young Writer's Program section complete with rules, guidelines, assistance, workbooks, forums, and other resources.  

You can even hook up with other NaNoWriMos in your local area. Edmonton is home to the EdmoWriMo Literary Ninjas! Who knew? And they have events set up throughout November and the beginning of December.

As a participant or promoter, you can download your own web badges here!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Idea: Give That Kid a Camera!

A camera is such wonderful way to explore the world and express your creativity. And why not let the children in on this?!

My son captures his favourite toys
He captures vacation memories
Although I don't think children, depending on their age, should be running around with $2000+ cameras, a decent camera is a must in my books. Just like good quality art materials, a good quality camera can be the difference between well used or forgotten. If the camera is too cheap and takes poor quality photos, then who would want to use it? Luckily, it is relatively easy to find a decent camera new or used for a good price these days. Each year camera technology changes and updates leaving behind perfectly great cameras that no one wants anymore. These can be awesome starter cameras for the young photographer who may or may not be the most careful with such devices.

I also abhor dumbing down things for children. I never dumbed down my vocabulary for my son and I'm not going to do so with technology. Besides, these kiddos take to technology like a fish to water, it's so oddly natural!

And plays with perspective
Sure, start off simple with certain things, but allow for continued growth. I'd prefer to buy a camera with several features, but begin a child off with the concept of point and shoot and increase their camera knowledge as they gain experience and/or as they desire.

Photography helps us explore our world, capture memories, and is an outlet for creativity.

Ideas for all those photos?

How about create a picture book using the photographs! Children can write and "illustrate" their very own picture books, for themselves or as gifts.
And tries different angles

Of course, there is always the scrapbooking idea. Scrapbook an event or vacation, etc.

Make a photo timeline! Of a person's life or a day in your life. Take pictures of historical locations and sculptures and create a timeline with them.

Make photo t-shirts by printing out the photos onto iron-on transfer paper. If you don't want to do t-shirts, do canvass bags or aprons or something entirely different.

Create a photo collage and frame it. Maybe a family one or a collage of special memories. How about a collage of all the things you're grateful for?!

Print out and frame favourite photos and put on an art gallery opening in your living room!

Create photo note cards, holiday/birthday gift cards, calendars, or other stationary.

With your imagination, the sky is the limit!

If you live in, or are visiting, the Edmonton/Area you can visit the Royal Alberta Museum and see the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit which is breathtaking and very inspiring. It runs from May 8- January 9, 2011. From the RAM website, here's a link to their pdf describing the event, the history of the competition, and a few stories behind the winning photographs.

Or, you can visit the Natural History Museum's website to check out the photographs from the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crayon Molds!

I just had to make an additional post on all our melted crayon fun and a plug for reusing items!

I love reuse stores!
Goodwill, Value Village, the Bissell Centre, the Edmonton Reuse Centre, and the new Free Store are a few of the ones available to us in Edmonton! And then there are all the consignment stores too.

I highly recommend second hand stores period, but they are absolutely fantastic for crafts. Don't have a pot to waste or risk? Go to a second hand store! Need some molds? Go and find some from a reuse store, you just never know what you may find!

Arrow crayons
I went to Goodwill and found all kinds of treasures. Of course there were old muffin tins of various sizes, but there were also all kinds of novelty ice cube trays and silicon molds too! And these molds were only $0.49 each, what a deal! I didn't buy everything I saw, lol. However, I did come home with three new rubber ice cube molds originally from IKEA.

Long Crayons
Now, I must admit, the rubber molds were not the easiest to use for this particular craft. I had placed them in the freezer to cool off quicker and found the new crayons difficult to remove. But! Once I let the molds warm back up to room temperature, the new crayons were a *bit* easier to remove and I didn't break any--- but they certainly did not slip easily out like the previous shell and pyramid molds I used. Oh, and the crayons stained the rubber IKEA molds. C'est la vie!

Ikea rubber molds
Another note to add:
The shell crayons were a huge loot bag hit. The kids loved them. And no one ate them... since inquiring minds wanted to know ;-)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Idea: Melt Those Old Crayons Down!

Make Old Crayons, New!
If you have ancient crayons lamenting in a drawer or minute stubby crayon ends, STOP, don't throw them out! Here's a wonderful craft to recycle those unloved, unused, but perfectly good crayons. It's very easy and can be very inexpensive... or more expensive depending on your choices.

 The idea is to melt the old crayons and create new ones in fantastic and inspiring shapes using molds. However, you can also use old muffin tins, ice cube trays, inexpensive silicon molds, small tomato paste cans... or whatever your imagination can conjure up.

I used an old ice cube tray with pyramid shapes. Plus I bought a sea shell mold. I specifically bought the sea shell mold to create crayons for birthday loot bags! Since I didn't think the plastic mold would work with the oven method, I chose to melt the crayons, double broiler style, on the stove.

[Note, this is not the most kid friendly method, but does result in very kid friendly crayons! Adult supervision is recommended. Melting crayons in the oven with oven-safe molds would be more hands on fun for children as they can make their own colour creations, see the craft link near the bottom of this post]

old crayons, papers removed
melting container (I used tin cans)
pot for the boiling water


1)  Prepare the crayons.

          Start by removing all traces of paper from the crayons. And it helps if you sort the colours. Some people say it's important to sort by crayon brand too as not all crayons melt at the same time. However, I did not bother to do this. It is true that they did melt at different times, but this stove method allows for such a variance, just keep heating and swirling till all of it is melted!

2)  Melting.

          Bring some water in a pot to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Don't use too much water or the cans will not be heavy enough to stand up in the pot and will bob around. It is also advisable to use an old pot that you are not worried about ruining because crayon wax can get into the pot and make a mess. Make sure your tin cans are clean and dry (water and wax don't mix). I bent the tops of the cans to make a very useful pouring spout.
           Break the crayons up and put them into a can. If you start with the lighter colours, you can use the same can with a darker colour after.
          Put the can(s) into the pot of water and gently swirl the contents as they melt or stir with a wooden skewer/ plastic spoon. Careful of the steam! Using oven mitts is also helpful.

3) Pour.

         Once the crayons are completely melted, remove the can(s) from the water. Dry the outside of the tin with a cloth to prevent water dripping into your mold with the wax. The, start pouring in to your mold!
         You can do solid colours, layers of colours, or mix two colours and swirl with a toothpick (just a little bit). If you are melting in two separate cans at once, you can pour one after the other and the colours will meld and swirl together for a different effect.

4) Let Set.

          The molds are filled, now let them cool. Putting them in the freezer for 15-20 minutes will speed up the process; however, you may wish to let them set just enough that movement will not risk spillage. 

          Once they have set, remove them by turning the mold upside down. Usually they will slip out easily and quickly because they contract as they set, so make sure you are doing this close to the counter or table. Otherwise, they make break (but you can always re-melt them).

5) Go Colour!

        Ah, you can figure this one out. Enjoy!

For additional crayon-melting ideas and techniques, check out Melted Crayon Crafts For Kids.

First Batches

 Note: A few of the resulting crayons separated. I'm not positive why, but I have a few of guesses. First, it could be due to incomplete melting. Or, it could be because of the mixed quality of crayons. Or, it could be because the previously melted layer was too uneven to properly adhere to. My guess is as good as yours... unless yours is better!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Unschooling: Thomas the Tank Engine

Photography by my son
What do I like about unschooling?
I enjoy the fantastic surprises, growth, change, and cultivation of new endeavours that result from fully explored passions and through the luxury of unbridled time!

Photography by my son
Not too long ago, my son was considering selling his wooden Thomas the train collection. At that time he was really into Lego and itching for money to buy more sets. It's a good thing he never followed through as he is now so engrossed in the subject of Thomas! He reads the stories, he knows what characters and destinations came out in which year, he has read all the character profiles online, he watches the videos and movies, he draws Thomas and Friends engines and scenes, he creates new layouts with his tracks and creates stories with his engines, and he's found several YouTube story videos by fellow children.

Perhaps this last bit is where he's found his inspiration. In fact, I believe he had been searching for Lego videos when he stumbled upon a YouTube videographer by the name of ThomasWoodenRailway who does a series of Thomas videos. Ever since then, the Thomas madness has stricken my child.

The fantastic thing about it though, is how his play has developed and grown since his initial interest in this subject. His story creation is infinitely more elaborate and richly detailed and concise. But he's found a new passion: story videos. He is now filming his own YouTube-bound videos. In this process he is learning all kinds of techniques through trial and error and by viewing other people's work. He's even learning to self edit and purge the not-so-great videos while keeping the ones he likes. 

Photography by my son
My son told me one day that I should thank Thomas because he's learning new things. I asked him to elaborate, so he explained that he was practicing his writing and spelling while labeling his sketches. Furthermore, he knows what cameo means in relation to movies.

I thought about it and figured he's learning so much more than that! I've already explained how his stories have grown, but his ability to research and navigate the Internet is also developing in leaps and bounds. His editing and analysing abilities are likewise skyrocketing; it's really funny listening to him explain all the "goofs" he finds in the YouTube videos or within the real Thomas and Friends shows. He's back into photography and documenting his track layouts. Not to mention all the arts and crafts related to Thomas that he's been doing. And, all that reading of so many different mediums! He's even learned about the original author and how his son took over after his death. I'm sure I could sit down and scrutinise it further, but I think you get the point.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Geocaching -- Trackables and Events

While this may not be the last geocaching post ever...
this should be the last one for... a while :)

The glitter and glue of geocaching: trackables and events.


One of the fun perks of geocaching are the trackables: travel bugs and geocoins!

Keychain TB in Banff, AB
Travel bugs (TBs) are items made trackable through the use of specially coded dog tags which you can buy. First, someone buys the travel bug dog tags, attaches one tag (and keeps one tag) to an item, activates the code online, and then places it in a cache for someone to find and bring to another cache. The finder will then log the cache site s/he found and then log the trackable that s/he found, hopefully adding comments.

TB: Aang, mastering earth
Why? For fun, of course! Often the travel bug is of some personal significance and maybe given goals. Goals range from simple ones of going the furthest, racing another TB, or getting to as many cache sites as possible to more complicated ones. And as the TB travels from site to site, it gathers little stories along the way if the finders add comments to the travel bug's page (where the finder logs it). More details and FAQ can be found by clicking Trackables

Croc Out of Water TB with Monty
Our first TB was a toy crocodile that wanted to be photographed with other reptiles. Some travel bugs have no specific goals, but we've hosted TBs aiming for specific destinations, a butterfly one that wished to be photographed with other butterflies, and had a TB that wanted to "master the powers of air, water, earth, and fire!" { Note, the dog tags are hidden in the photos so that the TB code would not show up}

Geocoins are like TBs without the tags and attached personal items. Geocoins are coins, go figure! They come in all shapes and sizes and commemorate all kinds of things. The trackable code is part of the coin itself.  As you collect geocoins (which you do have to log and release, like TBs), your geocaching account shows little icons for the ones you found-- you collect them virtually! Like travel bugs, geocoins can be given goals too.


The geocaching community often has some kind of local events on a regular basis. Edmonton has monthly meetings, and regular Cache and Release events (there's definitely a winter one). In the spring time, there are often Cache in Trash Out (CITO) events where geocaching is combined with the removal of trash! Actually, part of geocaching is that we should be observing CITO all the time, but the event gets the community together and makes it a social occasion. Any geocacher can set up events and have them posted. Some events are small and some are mega events. There's even GeoWoodstock!

If you sign up for a free geocaching account at Groundspeak, you'll likely get weekly newsletters sent to your email detailing all the new local geocaches and all local events. If you want to learn about newly posted cache sites as they are posted (thereby giving you a fighting chance to be the first to find-- FTF), then you'll need a Premium Membership ($10 USD for 3 months or $30 UDS for the year). Premium membership also comes with other perks too.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Geocaching on Vacation

Truth be told, I believe the majority of our cache finds are outside of Edmonton. The fantastic thing about geocaching on vacation, or on short/long car trips, is the neat places you may find that otherwise would have been missed. If it's not a fantastic location, at least we got out of the car to stretch our legs!

Two of our first out of town geocaching adventures were on our way to visit the Ukrainian Village, to the east of Edmonton. We stopped off at a little cemetery smack dab in between the divided highway! 100 Fun Adventures (GC1JH8B) and YellowHead East YLHDAB (GCM6QR).

Found While Geocaching
We have geocached in and around Jasper, Banff, and Canmore. Wagner Natural Area (just outside of Edmonton to the west) is a lovely place to geocache. I've even geocached around Sylvan Lake during a storytelling retreat. These are all in Alberta, of course, but we've geocached outside the province too.

Manatee Cove. Unseen in photo: two dozen manatees!
Manatee Cove (GC10260) in Florida, USA was an amazing geocache. The cache was hiding within the mangle of roots of a very cool tree, but the really great thing about this geocache (which we found on a Valentines Day) were the manatees! We counted about two dozen manatees slowly swimming and grazing in this inlet--- they had come in for the warmer waters.

The B.B. & B.C. Cache (GCWQ5K) took us to a wonderful model train museum in Bellingham, Washington, USA where we had to find the answers to the questions by searching the place. This went over very well with our son, lol!

Model Train Museum
Spin the Bottle (GCGY7J) was a traditional cache at Bottle Beach, Washington, USA. A really great place to stop and stretch the legs on a long car trip. Even better if you're a bird watcher.

And one of my all time favourites...
DR. Who. (GCW6EM) in Portland, Oregon. I can only aspire to be so clever! This one required taking *all* the clues and hints with you in order to get to the cache container... or else you'd be sadly disappointed. That's all I can say publicly/online :P

Friday, October 8, 2010

Geocaching in Edmonton

"The Migrant" at City Hall with Rabbit
I love hiking in the river valley or visiting Edmonton ravines and geocaching at the same time; it's a great way to explore the natural beauty of Edmonton. However, those aren't the only type of geocaches that capture our attention. There are tons of great geocaches in Edmonton, and we have barely scratched the surface ourselves, but I wanted to list a few to provide a sense of what geocaching can be.

Lil' Mama's City Hall Sculpture Tour (GC14J93) a cache by Bonkerstheclown. This is a multi-cache which means that you must visit more than one location before seeking the final, physical, cache container. As the title suggests, this is a tour of the sculptures around city hall. At each you have to find the date, collect numbers, and do a small bit of easy math to figure out the final coordinates of the cache container. Who knew there were so many sculptures!

Star Blanket Sudoku (GCRWX1) a cache by Team Scratch. This is a mystery/puzzle cache. On the geocaching map, it looks like it is located downtown, however, you must solve the sudoku puzzle to find the real coordinates. I won't say where this is located, the fun is in the solving. I will say that the cache container is a regular size ammo can and contained lots of good swag for children when we found it. It's always fun to find these larger containers with great swag (aka trade items). One thing to note about swag/trading is that you should always make sure your trade is of equal or better value than what you take out!

Something on a Stick 'YXD' (GCBB2A) a cache by Tommi Potx. This is a virtual cache-- a cache that takes you to a location and asks questions of you in order to log your visit since there is no physical cache container. You can no longer create these types of geocaches at This one was grandfathered in. Now, virtual caches are considered waymarks and can be created at instead.

Spaceship Landing (GC1QHRO) a cache by cerebus48. This is a typical traditional cache that is easy to get to. I am offering it up as an example of a fun/unique cache container that may take some searching to find!

A Typical Ammo Can Cache with Swag
The Camel Humps (GCGR5J) a cache by Shumway. This is another typical traditional cache with a small/decent sized container. But I love these types of caches: unknown-to-me historical sites! I really enjoy being introduced to parts of Edmonton and its history that I had not known about. From the cache description: "The area was the site of a brick factory in the early twentieth century. There are several small hills here that were created by the piling up of waste from the brick making process - mostly clay. Nature being as she is quickly took root. The humps are now covered in vegetation - almost to the point that you can't tell the humps are man-made."

We've been to another historical cache when it was in need of maintenance (it was missing and needed replacement), so we need to go back and find it still: Schools Out (GC1FX06) a cache by Geo Muggler. This is Edmonton's oldest schoolhouse (1881)!

Edmonton even boasts Earthcaches, one of my personal favourites!
"An EarthCache is a special place that people can visit to learn about a unique geoscience feature or aspect of our Earth. EarthCaches include a set of educational notes and the details about where to find the location (latitude and longitude). Visitors to EarthCaches can see how our planet has been shaped by geological processes, how we manage the resources and how scientists gather evidence to learn about the Earth."

Of course there are earthcaches in the river valley (Dawson Park Hoodoos--GC1AXTN by EngGuyJay... hoodoos in Edmonton), but there are also two downtown.
City of Edmonton-- Rockwalk Tour 1(GC19JJT) by Celestial Badger is one of two rockwalks that tour you around downtown to learn about the rocks and minerals used in building our city!

Like I said, that is only a glimpse into the types of geocaches out there.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Idea: Geocaching?!

A Rainy Day, But Still Geocache-able!
Geocaching is a wonderfully flexible outdoor activity which I highly recommend. Whether you're out for some solitude or with the family, there are a multitude of easy and difficult caches to find here in Edmonton... and all over the world. It's a treasure hunt! Often geocaches bring you to great locations and places you've never been, even in your own home town. Some caches bring you to historical locations complete with educational trappings. Some have specific themes like Harry Potter while others are designed to create a challenge. From basic hidden caches or earth-caches to complex puzzle caches and multi-caches, really, there is something for everyone!

From the official website at

"Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment."

We went geocaching today to find "Net-0" on the River (GC2FQWN).  This cache, set up by Sara and Grant as their very first cache, honours a gorgeous river valley view, the downtown skyline, and a new housing project with aims at being net-zero and has a blog: Chasing Net Zero. While the terrain on this one wasn't particularly kid friendly, the majority of caches are family friendly and great fun for all.

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