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Five Fun Shamrock Crafts for Kids

Posted by Frederick Parker on

I recently bought a big tube of green finger-paint. It's a good thing I did because St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner. A shamrock, or trifoliate plant, is the national emblem of Ireland. Shamrocks are easy and fun to create. These five shamrock crafts for kids are perfect for St. Patrick's Day.

Sponge Painting

For this craft, you will need green paint, scissors, sponges, paper and paper plates. Even toddlers can create some shamrocks with sponge painting. First, you can cut some sponges into the shape of a shamrock. Then, place washable green paint onto paper plates. For some contrast, use different shades of green. Before placing their sponge shamrock onto the paper, teach kids to blot excess paint onto an empty paper plate or napkin.

Thumbprint Shamrocks

Little thumbs, paper and a green stamp pad are all you need for this delightful craft. Since shamrocks have compound leaves, you need two thumbprints for each leaf. For each leaf, take the child's inked thumb and turn it slightly to the left. Then, turn the thumb to the right and make another thumb print. Repeat this process for all three leaves. After making the thumbprints, use a marker or some green glitter glue to make the stems. Afterwards, you can back the shamrocks with black construction paper.

Shimmering Shamrocks

This craft requires green sequins, glue, glitter glue and light blue paper. For each shamrock, you need to glue three sequins down (in a shamrock shape) so that the edges touch. Then, draw a stem for each shamrock. Repeat this process until you have sea of sequin shamrocks. If you don't have sequins, you could also use buttons. Your child could draw a rainbow and a pot of gold or a leprechaun to complete the picture.

Heart Shamrocks

I love crafts that only require paper, glue and scissors. For this project, have your child cut out three hearts. In order for the hearts to be congruent, layer three pieces of paper together and then cut out the hearts. Next, place the points of the hearts together to form a shamrock. Finally, cut out a stem and glue everything onto a piece of paper.

Glitter Shamrocks

In my experience, kids love shaking glitter over glue, pouring off the excess and then seeing a glittery masterpiece. The same goes for these glitter shamrocks. First, "draw" the shamrocks with some white school glue. Then, kids can shake glitter onto the drawing. Then, take it outside to shake off the excess. You can use green or gold glitter. Another idea to make five shamrocks and use glitter in a rainbow of colors.

These art projects were a success with my five-year-old daughter. I hope your kids will enjoy making these shamrocks crafts too!



5 Fun Ways to Get Kids Interested in Gardening

Posted by Frederick Parker on

When I was a kid, I loved to head outside get dirty. I would dig holes, stomp in the mud, look for critters, and have a great time playing out in the garden. Kids and the outdoors are a natural fit, and it is going to be very easy to get your child excited about the fun of gardening. Listed below are five tips that get kids thrilled about heading outside for a garden adventure.

Tip #1: Pint Sized Tools

Digging holes and raking dirt are way more fun for kids when they have their own set of garden tools. Small shovels and rakes offer loads of fun for kids who may be too small to use adult sized garden implements, and the smaller tools can be found in just about any hardware store, or online at . Plus, when your child has his or her own set of tools, the gardening becomes less of a chore, and more of a fun opportunity to use the new “garden toys.”

Tip #2: Bring in the Critters

If you have kids who love bugs and other critters then gardening is the perfect place for them to explore the butterflies, ladybugs, frogs, birds, and creepy crawlies that live in the garden. Include a bird bath and frog habitats to attract entertaining critters. Want to take it a step further? Plants like dill and dandelion draw in ladybugs, while wild rose and marigold bring in butterflies. Check out Farmer Fred’s website and for a complete list of plants that will attract desirable bugs into your garden.

Tip #3: Garden Arts and Crafts

If you have a kid who loves arts and crafts, have him or her color some cute garden tags for each of the plants in the garden, keep a vibrant garden journal, or make some colorful pouches for storing seeds. Kids can also help make stick tepees for climbing vines, or help design the layout of the garden – I used to love to help draw the plan for my dad’s garden!

Tip #4: Instant Gratification

Nothing gets a child more excited about gardening that being able to enjoy the bounty that a garden can provide. Have your child help harvest vegetables, cut flowers, or plant blooming annuals so that he or she can enjoy the immediate benefits of the garden rather than just the “work” that goes into planting seeds. Meanwhile, get your child excited about planting and sprouting with the classic Lima bean experiment as detailed on the Utah Education Network website.

Tip #5: Choose Your Plants Wisely

My kids love being able to help grow something that eventually winds up on the dinner table. The look of enthusiasm and pride in their eyes as they set the veggies out is priceless! Children also like the unusual, so anytime you have the opportunity to plant strange looking plants, kids will almost always gravitate towards them. Last, but not least, one of my favorite things to do in the garden when I was a kid was to hide under the huge tomato and bush bean plants – It was like having my own, organic fort! So, if you can, try to put in a few “fort” plantings for your kids. Just make sure, with any of the plants that you put in your garden, that they are non-toxic.



Five Ways to Have Fun with Five Dollars

Posted by Frederick Parker on

In today's economy, entertainment is often one of the first budget-cutting casualties. Unfortunately, when your finances have you stressed, you probably need the stress-relief of fun and relaxation more than ever. Despite what the media seems to imply, you don't have to spend a lot of money to have a good time. Just five dollars can pay for two people to have a fun hour or more together.

Go to the Dollar Theater

Most metropolitan areas have at least one second-run movie house, and in most cases, seeing a movie there only costs one or two dollars. Go see that movie you didn't feel like you could afford when it was seven bucks. You can forget the world and have fun for two hours and still have change left from your five dollar bill.

Have Ice Cream at the Park

Go through a drive-through and get two double dip cones in your favorite flavors. Take them to the local park or nature area and enjoy a lazy hour wandering in nature while you eat your ice cream and have some great conversation. There's no reason to leave when the ice cream's gone.

Have a Skee-Ball Tournament

Find your local Chuck E. Cheese or other arcade that has Skee-Ball lanes. Five dollars should buy you twenty tokens. Take ten tokens a piece, choose side-by-side lanes and have a ten-game tournament. Choose ahead of time how to decide the winner–highest points in a single game, most tickets won or most games won are all good options. Afterward, you'll probably have accumulated enough tickets to get some candy to share at the reward redemption window.

Go (Silly) Shopping

Go to your local mall and have fun finding the strangest or most unique item you can buy for five dollars. Look in stores you'd ordinarily never go in. Even if you find something right off the bat, no fair buying it right away. The point is to have fun looking. At the end of your trip, you can decide which was the best thing you saw and go back for it.

Get Puzzled

A jigsaw puzzle can provide many hours of entertainment and can have a calming, de-stress effect. Go together and choose a puzzle with a picture you both like–you might even decide to glue it together and hang it when you're done. If you haven't done many jigsaw puzzles before, go for one with bold colors and a mid-range number of pieces. You don't want your stress relief to turn into frustration.



Have Fun with Your Fiction, Part III – Experiential Fiction

Posted by Frederick Parker on

Writers are not infrequently given advice that goes a little something like this: “Write what you know.” This piece of advice typically suggests writing about topics you are moderately to expertly knowledgeable of. If you don’t know what an atom is, you shouldn’t be writing science fiction. If you’ve never experienced deep hurt or great love, it might be difficult for you to write realistic or relatable fiction based in either of those topics. For example, I once wrote a romantic story of a single father who falls in love with the single and cancer-recovering mother who happens to be a favorite person of his daughter; meanwhile, the daughter meets and begins to fall for the son of the woman. All this happens in the midst of the turmoil of one family’s struggle to deal with the loss of a family member and divorce, and the other family’s battle with the broken relationship between mother and son. I had a teacher read parts of the story. Her comments made the “Write what you know” advice all the more potent to me. “It’s okay,” she told me, “but you can’t possibly really know what you’re talking about.” To this trusted advisor, the most realistic portions of the narrative were the young girl’s journal entry interjections into the story’s plotline. Her journal entries were actually snippets from my own journals.

To only be limited to writing about what you know, however, can feel like quite the unbreakable boundary when it comes to experimenting with the art of fiction. In this examination of “writing what you know,” we won’t look so much at basing your entire work on your own personal knowledge. Rather, let’s look at how taking close looks at some of your personal experiences can help when it comes to developing your characters’ backgrounds. In this instance, writing what you know relates more to your character’s experiences than to your narrative’s framework. You may be working on the next best thriller, but if your character has no substance he or she will invariably begin to bog down your narrative with his or her flatness. To avoid such flatness of character, try experimenting with engaging your own past experiences and memories-and perhaps even those of others who are open to having their experiences dramatized by you-by allowing your characters to “borrow” them as their own.

The best way to incorporate your experiences or the experiences of others into your work is to know exactly what kind of experience your character needs to endure. Say, for instance, your character has just been terribly embarrassed and has a strange reaction he or she must explain to another character. First, you will want to have a “catalogue” of embarrassing experiences to choose from; in this case, you’ll want these embarrassing moments to have had strange reactions. Let’s say you have a friend who shares with you the story of a time in sixth grade when he was mocked by his classmates; in order to avoid seeming entirely embarrassed by the incident, he chose to make a joke of it by singing the chorus of “Everybody Plays a Fool.” In this case, you might have the character, after his most recent embarrassing moment, murmur “Everybody plays a fool . . . sometimes” in the presence of another character. This allows the second character to inquire as to why those words came to your main character’s mind; this inquiry can lead directly into your main character’s flash back to that moment in sixth grade.

The benefit of using your own experiences as the experiences of your characters is in creating realistic and relatable back stories to drive the development of your character as a person who seems real to your audience. It also saves you the hassle of having to come up with experiences for your character off the top of your head. Using a few rehashed versions of your own experiences allows you to get closer to your main character without necessarily feeling as though the character is you. Using your experiences also allows you to have fun recalling your own memories and experiences while at the same time sharing them with your audience without your fiction being reduced to an autobiographical piece. In many ways, such use of personal moments will make your work autobiographical to a certain extent; yet even Shakespeare implanted parts of himself into his characters-like Prospero in The Tempest-without the story becoming overtly self-concerned. Your experiences benefit your character in a very major, almost essential manner: it gives your character depth.

Sometimes, using the shared experiences of others may prove more helpful than trying to use your own experiences. For example, let’s say your main character is based on several good friends you’ve had over the years. In such a case, your own experiences might not carry much weight in the development of your character; in fact, many of your own experiences may have been much different had the person or people your character is based on had them. In these cases, using the experiences of your friends and acquaintances would prove far more helpful. However, it also involves tact and responsibility on your part as the author. A writer should never use the personal experiences of another unless certain that it wouldn’t cause personal problems or turmoil for the person referenced, particularly if those moments were related in confidence. For instance, let’s say you want your character to have a drug related incident, and you happen to recall a story from a friend about a time when they were caught high. However, if your friend shared this story with you in confidence, or is ashamed of the incident, it would be wise not to use the experience without their permission. You may try to hide the real person’s identity in your recreation of their experiences, but you may also be very surprised to see how easily friends and family recognize themselves in your work.

Using your own experiences is also not limited to experiences you had in the past. Sometimes, the best way to come to an understanding of how your main character will react in a particular scenario is to put yourself in his or her shoes. Let’s say your main character is faced with a personal dilemma and must make a very difficult choice. What would you do to decide what your next course of action would be in that scenario? Who might you consult, and who would you absolutely avoid talking to? Where would you go to figure things out? Small details like this will likewise help to make the experience faced by your character more realistic. In these instances, it becomes vital that you are honest with both yourself and your audience. Don’t try to make yourself feel like a braver or wiser person than you think you might actually be in a particular situation; if your solution to a pressure situation is to tuck tail and run, perhaps that would be the best course of action for your character. There’s no need to be ashamed of feeling you might make the wrong choice in a given situation; in any case, trying to make yourself sound more heroic in such a situation will only make your character’s reaction seem all the more fabricated. At the same time, you don’t want to insult your audience by trying to convince them to believe your character is Mr. Exemplary when in fact he is more of a Mr. Wants-to-do-good-but-is-too-scared-to-half-the-time.

The same sort of method may be used in creating dialogue for your characters, with the added fun of being able to engage friends in your characters’ conversation to make the banter all the more realistic. Particularly if you relate well to one character and your friend relates well to the other, you may find yourself unexpectedly inspired. For example, in a recent story, a somewhat naïve young character, Peter, has an argument with his aggressive, somewhat evil future self. At this point in the story, I was growing more interested in the future self than my current main character and related to him much more. I had been discussing the story with a good friend who reminded me a great deal of Peter in many ways. Before writing the scene where Peter and his future self have this argument, I talked it over with this friend; our conversation wound up becoming the same conversation Peter has, almost verbatim. It came as a great surprise to me to discover myself growing very angry when my friend, as “Peter”, confronted “me” with holes in my logic; I was also surprised by how easily I took on the role of this somewhat despicable future self. These revelations helped to develop the character of the future self, as well as helped give me a better understanding of why Peter was who he was. To be honest, I wanted to cut the story off to get rid of the increasingly bothersome present-Peter until that moment, when my friend helped remind me of why I loved Peter so much. Granted, your experience with putting yourself in the shoes of your character may not be quite as literal as this instance, but even smaller forms of this personal engagement with your characters’ experiences will help develop a better understanding of who your characters are and what makes them that way. In conclusion, there are a few “rules” to the engagement of personal experiences in your fiction. First, be honest with the experience; whether you develop the experience through your own perspective or borrow from your past experiences, try to make reactions as pure to the reality as possible to avoid creating unbelievable fabrications. Second, when using the experiences of others, always be sure you have those people’s permission to use them! No work of fiction is worth offending a friend or loved one for the sake of a more realistic experience for a character. Third and finally, don’t be afraid to really “get into it”; if walking a mile in your character’s shoes means literally living out his or her experience, live it out (as long as it’s legal)! Engaging your characters as real personalities is a great way to get to know who they are. And, in the end, who knows what you may learn about yourself from these experiences!




Posted by Frederick Parker on

A wonderful gift for friends and family, to spice up your home décor, or for some creative family fun, there are many western-themed crafts that will take a minimal amount of time, effort and money. Here are a few great ideas for western crafts you can do at home:


Adding a bit of western flair to a room is very easy with a cactus pot display. Purchase a potted grouping of cacti, and a terra-cotta planter big enough to accommodate the pot. With some acrylic paints and a few western stencils, found at your local hobby store or online, you can paint the pot and add some of the old west to any table or shelf. Place the pot on a folded bandana to make a western placemat. If you do not have a green thumb, just remember that cactuses do just fine with neglect- often its over watering that kills them. Total cost of the project: $15-30. Time spent: 2-3 hours.


Many places online sell make-your-own dream catcher kits. Depending on the size of the dream catcher and the skill required to make it, these fun craft kits can take an hour or more, and add a little of the southwestern flair to any room. Kids’ kits are also available, which makes this a great family activity.

Similar bead projects and crafts with feathers are also available. Try or for some affordable kits and ideas. Total cost: $10-15 Time spent: Varies


Wood burning kits are widely available in many stores. Frequently they come with all the tools you need, as well as wood for door hangers, wooden signs, and often leather for making key chains and other hanging decorations. Western themes are easy to incorporate into this medium, simply by lightly sketching boots, a western hat, a cactus, chili pepper or other western-theme icon into the wood, and carefully tracing it with the wood burning tool. Total cost: $25-40 Time spent: Varies


What better way to really add style to your western-themed home than with a decorated lampshade! Again, using stencils and acrylic paint, you can add any variation of designs to a simple, flat lampshade. Use vibrant colors to add to the appeal, for example, use a sky-blue shade with brown boots, vibrant red peppers and Kelly green cactus stencils. A simple, plain lampshade can be purchased at any discount store for relatively cheap. The stencils, through any craft supplier or online merchant.

Knot a red bandana around the stem of the lamp for a little extra flair! Total cost of this project: $10-25 Time spent: 1-2 hours, depending on how fast the paint dries.


Finally, a little bit of western-style pottery can go a long way to dress up a shelf or table. Clay can be purchased at any craft store. Be sure the type you purchase can air dry and does not need a kiln. Depending on your skills and budget, you can try and make western style figures, purchase a pottery wheel, or you can make a simple pot.

To make the simple pot, take a good amount of clay and roll it out on a flat smooth surface to make a long cord. Once the cord is relatively thin, begin to wrap the cord into a circle, gradually increasing the height of the pot by placing the clay coil on top of itself, leaving a hole in the middle. Once the pot is complete, smooth out the sides using your hands and a little water, if needed. Let it air dry, and then paint with a western design or motif, or simply leave it as is for a more primitive western look. Total cost of this project: $10-50 Time spent: Varies on project.

Western crafts can add some style to your home, dressing up an otherwise boring room, or provide a fun family activity. Check the internet and craft store for more ideas on other western-style crafts, because with a little creativity and time, you can redecorate your home or make great gifts for friends and family alike.