Monday, July 23, 2012

{Free Printable} DIY Train Play Mat Tutorial

For my son's train-themed second birthday, I wanted a place for all the kids to play trains.  But I'm too cheap to buy a real play mat or play rug, so I decided I'd try to make my own.  I was pretty happy with how it turned out.  I free-handed the drawing, so it's a little rough, but in the end, I kind of liked that effect.  It was more fun...or something.

And, since I made it all by myself, that means I can give you the files so you can make your very own if you're so inclined.  It was a really inexpensive way to keep the kids entertained for a while.  In fact, I saved it and still pull it out for Little Spaghetti to play with sometimes.  The total cost of the project was probably under $4 (using some materials I had on-hand), so it was well worth it!  (This play mat ends up about three feet by three feet.  And I mean about.)

Here's the step by step:

You'll need:
  • A printer that can print 11x17. Alternatively, I've provided the jpeg, so you can print it on whatever size paper, provided you can figure out how to scale it appropriately.  Or, I think you can probably get 11x17s printed at Kinkos or somewhere for a few bucks if you don't want to deal with all that.
  • Tape
  • Scissors or a rotary cutter (and cutting mat)
  • Contact paper (clear)
  • Non-adhesive shelf liner (or a non-skid rug pad)
  • Spray adhesive
  • Something long and straight  if you're using a rotary cutter
First, you'll have to print the files.  The word document version is already scaled for you to print on 11 x 17 paper. Or you can use the jpeg version and try to figure out how to print it a different size.

Once you print the pieces out, you'll have to trim off the white borders that print along the outside.  I used this long straight edge and a rotary cutter to be sure I was cutting straight (ok, mostly straight) lines.

Once you cut the borders off, you'll have to tape the pieces together.  It's sort of like a fun jigsaw puzzle.  Or not so fun, depending on how late at night you're working on this project.

The pieces will probably have to overlap a bit here and there, so just play with it until you've got them lined up.

This is kind of hard to see, but once you tape them together, the edges probably won't have lined up exactly.  That's alright.

Just trim the edges straight and nobody will ever know that they didn't line up exactly.

Now you've got the basic play mat, but it's time to make it a little sturdier.  I used a roll of clear peel and stick laminating contact paper.

Because the play mat is fairly large, I had a hard time figuring out how to get the contact paper onto the mat without getting all kinds of crinkles and bubbles.  If you have a second person to hold one end of the contact paper, I'd go that route.  I didn't, so I decided to cut a length of contact paper about the size I needed, then tape one end to the table.  That way, I could mess with the other end without the paper moving.

You're going to be tugging on the contact paper pretty good, so make sure you use enough tape to really hold the other end.

Once you've taped one end to the table, start peeling off the other end.

Hold tight to the loose (untaped) end, and peel the paper away from yourself. 

Keep holding tight on the loose end and keep peeling.  Once you've uncovered a good section of contact paper, start sticking it down to the front of the mat.  If you keep tension on the contact paper, you should be able to keep it relatively wrinkle and bubble-free as you stick it down.

Once you've got one strip of contact paper down, simply repeat the process until you get all the way across the mat.  I think I ended up using three strips.

Then I repeated the process on the backside of the mat.  Or maybe you want to be less of a daredevil and start with the back so you get in some practice before moving onto the side that people see.  Your call.

Once I had the whole thing laminated, I realized that it was kind of slippery.  It slid around on my hard floors.  Luckily, I had some extra shelf liner laying around from when we'd lined our cabinets.  It was the rubbery kind that's not adhesive (it kind of looks like one of those non-skid rug pads you can get to put under area rugs).

I applied some spray adhesive to the shelf liner, and then stuck it to the back of the play mat and let it dry.  Problem solved.  (Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of that part).

I added some cool wooden trains and blocks to match the gray, black, and yellow color-scheme, and we were in business!

I called it the "Conductor's Corner." I thought it turned out pretty darned cute.  (Better yet, these signs are available as a free printable on the birthday recap post.)

There you have it!  A fun and easy party game. Or anytime game.  I hope you enjoy!

Here are the playmat printables:

Click on the image above to get the full size version of the .jpeg or get the .doc version here.

If you have any questions, let me know! Comment here or email me at spaghettiwesterner at gmail dot com.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why do toddlers only follow directions to taunt you?

My son has always had a fascination with toilet paper.  And, don't worry, I've gotten plenty of slack already for that time I taught my male child to wipe when he pees. That was ten months ago, though, and the toilet paper infatuation still runs strong.

So strong, in fact, that I've decided I should invent some kind of toddler-proof toilet paper roll holder because my son insists on unrolling the entire roll of toilet paper just for kicks and giggles. Often.

One day, I went to use my restroom.  It wasn't until too late that I realized that there was no toilet paper on the roll.  Thank you, child. "Oh wait!" I thought, "Surely I can get my toilet-paper-loving monster of a two-year-old to bring me some."

"Hey! Come here!" I shouted.  And waited.  "Come on! I need your help." And waited.  "I need some toilet paper." And there's the tiny pitter patter of little feet.

He came bounding into the bathroom. "Hey, mommy needs you to go into the other bathroom and get her some toilet paper," I instructed.  His eyes got wide with excitement as a grin spread across his face.  "Not the whole roll!! Only a little, okay?" I added.

He ran off and soon returned.  With this.

Proof that he does actually know how to follow directions. Quite well, really.  Just that he only chooses to when he wants to mock me.  Why is that?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Parenthood = Paranoia

I've always been a bit of a worrier. I worry that the potato salad that's been sitting out in the sun at the 4th of July party is going to make me sick.  Or that the guy I inadvertently cut off in traffic is going to follow me home in a fit of rage.  Or that my storage unit is going to mistakenly be auctioned off to the highest bidder and everything I own will end up in a pawn shop.

But when I got pregnant, the worrying got worse.  I worried whether or not the baby was ok.  If the coffee and beer I'd had before I knew I was pregnant would screw up my child forever.  If the cold cuts on my deli sandwich were going to kill my unborn child.

And I thought that, at each stage, the worrying would get better.  Once I can feel him move, then I won't worry. Wrong.  Once he's born, then I'll be able to look at him and know he's ok, so I won't worry. Wrong.  Once he's out of the newborn phase and can move himself around a little, I won't worry so much. Wrong.

In fact, the bigger he got, the more I worried.  And it's not just your run-of-the-mill worrying.  My brain - without my permission - paints very vivid pictures of the multitude of ways in which my child might end up maimed...or worse. 

Now that it's been two years, I think my husband has gotten used to my paranoia as just a normal part of our everyday lives.  For instance, ever since we stopped sleeping in the dining room and started sleeping in our separate bedrooms, I've been leaving the hall light on in case Little Spaghetti wakes up in the night.  But it shines right into our bedroom and keeps my husband up.

So tonight, I went around trying different lights to keep on that would provide enough light, but give us some more peace.  I settled on the light in the hall bathroom.

I climbed into bed.  "That's better," my husband said.

"You think so? You sure??  You don't think it's just a beacon calling to a groggy toddler to come drown himself in the toilet?" I replied.

He just laughed as I crawled out of bed.

Thanks to a little masking tape, I'll sleep a *little* sounder tonight.

As I recently told a pregnant friend of mine, "The worrying as a parent is constant and unavoidable.  But I think it's supposed to be that way."

What about you? Do you worry about your kids all the time (or do your parents still worry about you)?  Does it ever get better?

Monday, July 2, 2012

How to: Make cupcakes when all of your stuff is in boxes

Last week, Little Spaghetti and I went grocery shopping.  While we were picking up the things we needed, he saw a box of cake mix and proceeded to let me know that he definitely wanted cake. I figured a little cake never hurt anybody, so I threw the box in the cart and didn't think much else about it.

It wasn't until I got home that I realized I had a problem.  All of my stuff is still in boxes in a storage unit. So I had no spoon, no bowl, no measuring cups, no cupcake tin, but a very insistent toddler who I'd promised to make cupcakes with.

So we got creative. And I must say that I may make cupcakes this way from now was easy to do with a little one, and - the best part - there was almost no mess and absolutely NO dishes to clean up!  Here's how you do it.

The supplies: aside from the usuals needed to make a box cake mix, you also need a gallon-size plastic zippered bag, a 4 oz. juice container left over from your toddler's lunch (because I didn't have a measuring cup), and a cheapo tinfoil cake pan with some cupcake wrappers in it.

Put your box of cake mix and eggs in the gallon bag.  I'm not sure if this method would work with cupcakes from scratch, but I dare you to try it and let me know.  The worst that happens is that you end up with a batch of bad cupcakes.  And in my experience, even bad cupcakes are good.

I racked my brain trying to figure out how I was going to measure the oil and water I needed.  Then I saw Little Spaghetti's apple juice container, which was the perfect size at 4 oz.  So, I added a full apple juice container of water (1/2 cup) and a half-full apple juice container of oil (1/4 cup).   But if - you know - your stuff's not in storage, you can go ahead and use measuring cups.

Now comes the fun part.  Zip your bag close and squish it.  Or give it to your toddler and let him squish it.

So squishy!

Now, I'm sure that a *real* baker would tell you that this is a hideous and horrible idea.  That you could never produce cupcakes by squishing them in a bag instead of beating them with your mixer to incorporate precisely the right amount of air into the batter that's required to get a perfect cupcake.  But I say screw it!  These cupcakes were delicious and fluffy. So squish we will in my house.

Next, cut the tip off one of the bottom corners of your bag.

Then pour the cupcake batter into the wrappers in your tinfoil cake pan (or a cupcake tin if you don't want to end up with super cool square cupcakes...).  Seriously, though, pouring the batter this way was so much less messy than spooning it into the wrappers like I usually do.

Then they're ready to go in the oven.  Oh, yeah, the oven.  I should have told you to preheat that before we started.  My bad.

See! This is ALL the mess we had.  That's it.  No sink full of dishes.  No cupcake batter smeared all over the counter and the floor and my Kitchen-Aid mixer.  Note the blue shop towel instead of a regular paper towel...did I mention we're in the middle of renovating and don't really have our household set up yet?

And they're done! They smell delicious.  And, I kind of like the way they came out all funky shaped.  It was kind of like a puzzle cake.  Or something.

I lied, they're not really done.  You always need frosting.  I used the same cut-the-corner -off-of-a-bag method that I'd used to pour the batter to "pipe" the frosting onto the cupcakes.

Don't forget the sprinkles.

Not bad for winging it with no supplies, huh?

I know at least one person who wasn't complaining.

This guy!