Sunday, September 28, 2014

Homemade Dragon Costumes

Last October for a Halloween costume birthday party, my husband, son and I were dragons.  Later, for Halloween, my dragon costume was placed on the dog and I donned a wig to become Khaleesi and my husband, son and Chihuahua Terrier mix were my three dragons.  It was pretty funny and the costumes were a breeze to make.  Did I mention they were cheap?

To make the dragon costume for my son, I bought a purple hoodie from the girl's section of Kohl's for $5.99 for my son's dragon costume.  Using an old shirt of my husband's, I cut two identical lines of triangles out, stuffed them with old fabric, sewed the two strips of triangles together, and then sewed it to the hoodie.  I made sure the triangles strip was long enough to extend well beyond the bottom of the hoodie, where the tail would eventually go.

 The tail was made by simply cutting off the sleeve of an old cotton purple shirt of mine and sewing it shut on one end.  I then stuffed it with more scrap fabric and sewed the other end shut by folding down the corners into a triangle tip.  I then sewed the tail to the bottom of the hoodie and sewed the remaining triangles to it.
Cut Sleeve

One end of the sleeve sewn shut to make the tip of the tail

For the adult costumes, we knew we wanted to not do anything permanent to the hoodies we owned.  In order to use them later minus the spikes, I just cut two strips of identical triangles out for each of the two hoodies, cut smaller triangles out of the old cardboard backings that come with the free notepads you get in the mail or at hotels, and then put one triangle into each cloth triangle pair to make the spikes stand straight up.
I sewed the fabric over the cardboard and then just safety pinned the triangles' strips to our sweatshirts so that they could be removed after Halloween.  
This also allows you to save the spikes and attach them to other hoodies in the future.

They were easy costumes to make and other than my son's, which need the purchase of a $6 hoodie, all materials were upcycled so they were practically free. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

This Is My Humane Backyard

The Humane Society of the United States has great information here on how to ensure your backyard is a humane backyard.  It has tips on how to provide food, water and shelter for wildlife and how to be pesticide and herbicide free.

Plants in my Humane Backyard

No herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides on these gorgeous leaves from my yard

I love that HSUS is now giving away Humane Backyard signs and gardening gloves with a donation of $30 or more through this link.

It's a great way to teach your kids about unnecessary poisons and build awareness among your neighbors, and you can use it to bring attention to this matter to your local schools, PTAs, and parks and recreation departments.  There is nothing "green" about poisoning our children because of an outdated ideal of a green lawn.

So donate if you can, proudly display your sign, and ditch the toxic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides today!

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.  Coming up in the next few weeks: more DIY toys, DIY costumes, green toy recommendations, and more info on green products.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The LEGO Gender Divide

To see this post on The Huffington Post click here.

This August, LEGO introduced the limited edition Research Institute set, complete with three female scientists, and this August it sold out, creating an uproar online about the lack of well-rounded female representation in the Lego world and how it affects young girls.
But as a mother of two boys, I am also disappointed in LEGO, makers of some of our family's favorite toys, for this. My oldest son is just two so I don't have any experience with the Legos of today that are aimed at older children, but even if you just look at the few non-themed, non-media-tie-in LEGO Duplo sets, the introductory blocks for toddlers and young children, there is an issue.
On the LEGO Duplo Creative Cakes box, there is an image of two cute girls, giggling as they play with their Duplo cakes in various shades of pink. It is clearly marketed towards girls, as if boys don't enjoy baking or playing with pretend food.
In the LEGO Duplo All-In-One-Box-Of-Fun, the Legos are housed in a green box and come with a male figure. I'll give them props for putting flowers in the box but whereas this lucky LEGO boy gets a car base for children to build on, the girl version, in a pink box, comes with rabbits for the LEGO girl instead of a car base. Because she is a girl and should be nurturing animals instead of getting to drive? Or because the human girls playing with her would prefer a cute bunny to a speedy truck? Girls and boys like cars, just like both women and men can drive cars. This is 2014.
I was aware of the LEGO gender divide when it came time to buy my son his first Legos. I wanted an open-ended set that didn't have a theme but I really wanted him to have blocks in all colors, like pink and purple. Unfortunately, in the non-themed sets, those blocks were only in the pink box, which, as stated earlier, didn't have a car base. So I settled for the My First Garden and My First Construction Site sets, thinking they would supply a good balance of flowers and vehicles for my son. But after a few months, I still felt he should be exposed to all colors of Lego blocks and decided to look again for a set that would provide pink and purple blocks without being sexist. I finally decided to get him the Never Land Hide Out set with male and female pirates and a pink flower block.
Now, my son has never seen Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and has no clue what a pirate is. At two, he hasn't really been exposed to the sexist divide in toys and clothingthanks to a conscious decision to get him toys and clothes in all hues and themes, from butterflies and flowers to trucks and dinosaurs, from birth. So it made me really proud when I observed him playing with his Duplos.
He had made the male construction worker a female builder, and made the pink and purple-attired, Boho pirate a boy named Chris, and no, it wasn't short for Christina.
Open-ended play is a great aspect to blocks of any sort, and the fact that my son made a traditionally masculine figure a female and a pink-clad figure a male is a testament to the power of children's imaginations but that still doesn't mean it is okay to force a gender divide on these blocks. That is equally insulting to boys and girls.
If you look at the LEGO website, one of their filtering categories is "Girls." Since there is no category for boys, it is safe to assume all the LEGO sets but the few that come up for girls are intended for the male gender. What is going on here? When I was a kid, girls and boys played with the same LEGO sets. We didn't need them to be color coded to clue us in to what was socially appropriate for us based on our gender.
A few years ago LEGO took this divide even further by introducing LEGO Friends, Legos marketed specifically towards girls, featuring a handful of LEGO girls that have names and personalities, and based on their figures, are in the midst of puberty. I'll give LEGO credit for trying to have diverse representations of women with a few of these sets, like Emma's Lifeguard Post, Emma's Karate Class, and one called Andrea's Mountain Hut rather than being called something cute like Marshmallow Camp, but the other sets leave a lot to be desired. There is an ice cream bike, a lemonade stand, a newborn foal to take care of, a newborn lamb to take care of, a downtown bakery, an outdoor bakery, a pet salon, and a beauty shop. And last but not least, Andrea's Bedroom. As the Lego website states, "Hang out with Andrea in her pretty bedroom with a makeup table and lots of beauty accessories, a laptop and a sofa bed for sleepovers!"
Other than the laptop, (which I'm hoping Andrea uses to research papers, or write code, rather than using it just to shop online for more makeup), there isn't much room for open-ended play with these sets or gender equality.
Even the non-LEGO-Friends Research Institute Set's description on the LEGO website states that it is "created by real-life geoscientist, Ellen Kooijman." "Real-life?" You mean females can be geoscientists in real-life? Perhaps I'm nitpicking but what was the need for that qualifier? What is that implying to young girls and boys?
Yes, it isn't LEGO's responsibility to teach our kids anything. But they are inadvertently teaching our kids that girls wear pink and nurture animals and don't get to go on all the adventures that boys get to go on, so of course there is going to be backlash from parents concerned about the popular toy's influence on the youngest generation.
So here is an easy solution for LEGO: put a female and male figure into every set that isn't tied in to a TV show or movie. Bonus points if the male figure is occasionally in pink or purple. That means there should be a female and male construction worker in that Duplo set instead of two men. What about sets without figures, like the Creative Cakes set? Instead of just two adorable, giggling girls on that box, add an adorable, giggling boy. And hopefully that will lead to more changes, like the removal of the "Girls" filter from their online store.
After all, why make things so difficult? Treat boys and girls as equals, because they are. Help more kids create LEGO worlds where a man can be dressed in pink and purple and a woman can be a construction worker.
You know, like in real-life.
Author of The Booger Fairy, and several Indian language books for kids, Supriya works as a screenwriter for the Indian production house, Vinod Chopra Films, and blogs about green living and green parenting at
Follow Supriya Kelkar on
Check back every Monday and Thursday for more posts.  Coming up in the next few weeks: green toy reviews, green product recommendations, DIY toys and DIY Halloween and Diwali crafts and costumes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

DIY Play Mat: Halloween

I made a playmat for the Halloween toys I made my son last October.

I just cut out a few haunted houses, pumpkins, gravestones and smoke from felt and sewed them to the front half of an old men's t-shirt that was cut below the armpits.  The back half is what was used for the outer space playmat earlier this year.

Because the shirt already had stripes on it, I decided to make that into a road and put the houses on top of it.  It was a quick and easy project that upcycled an old shirt that was too damaged to donate.

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.  Coming up in the next few weeks: more DIY toys, DIY costumes, green toy recommendations, and more info on green products.

And if you like what you see here, check out my Amazon Author page for my picture books, and my blog posts on The Huffington Post. 
Follow me on Twitter @soups25

Sunday, September 14, 2014

DIY Felt Board

Last week I made a felt board to use at home.  It was a quick, simple project that costs less than $3.

I started with an old Seventh Generation diaper box, removed the tape, and flattened it like this:

I then took a large piece of felt and wrapped it around the box, so that it overlaps.

I sewed the side over the box.  No one is going to see this side so you don't have to be that careful about your stitches.  (If you don't want to stitch, you can use a hot glue gun to glue the ends of the felt together or your could pin it, but since I have young kids I didn't want to use safety pins in case they opened and the kids got a hold of them).

I then folded the top and bottom of the felt down and sewed them in place.  You can see how crooked I had cut the felt on the bottom edge but like I mentioned earlier, this won't be visible so it doesn't matter.

And just like that the felt board is done and ready to be used!  This is a quick and simple way to make an educational tool that kids can have lots of fun playing with and it is a great way to upcycle old cardboard boxes.

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.  Coming up in the next few weeks: More DIY toys, green toy recommendations, and more info on green products.

Follow me on Twitter @soups25

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Un-retirement of an Amateur Activist

To see this post on the Huffington Post click here.

I'm a vegetarian. And a lot of vegetarians have called me a "strict vegetarian."

Yeah, I guess I am strict, if not eatinggelatin because it is made of boiled skin and tendons, and not eating cheeses made with animal rennet because it comes from enzymes from the inner lining of a slaughtered calf's stomach is really stringent.

But 11 years ago I became even stricter. I learned a little about the flavor industry and found out that ingredients listed as "flavors" are often considered a product's secret recipe, and thus what's in them doesn't have to be labeled unless the contents are common allergens. To complicate matters further, "artificial flavors" aren't always totally artificial and can have natural components, which can make them non-vegetarian. My world was rocked. Up was down. Left was right. A certain fast food chain's fries, the only thing I ate there, had beef extract in their flavors. I guess I should have known anything was possible if beaver butt juice could make food taste like vanilla.

I started to call companies and the information just got worse for me. A leading soup manufacturer only had two vegetarian soups. Customer service reps from a couple of the biggest processed food manufacturers in the country told me they couldn't even tell me what was in their flavors because the products were reformulated so often.

Not one jar of my go-to spaghetti sauce brand was vegetarian, despite not listing meat in the ingredients. Not a single one of their spaghetti sauces? I considered myself a cook in the early years of the new millennium because I could boil spaghetti and pour a jar of this company's sauce on it. It was what I lived on in college.

This was life-altering news for me at the time and something that affected all sorts of people: those with rarer allergies, vegetarians, vegans, those who give up certain foods for religious holidays and those who couldn't eat certain meats at all due to their religion.

I longed for a labeling system like in India, where a green circle on the package meant it was vegetarian. But then I went to India and saw a shopkeeper putting his own circular green stickers on the very soups and spaghetti sauces he had imported that I knew to be non-vegetarian.

Back home, I was determined to draw attention to the issue and get things to change. I emailed the food companies, journalists, the FDA, senators and representatives. My emails went all the way to the top: Oprah, or at least her production house. I finally thought I was making headway when my alma mater's newspaper made it afront-page story. I was certain things were going to be different, that somehow the information would go viral, (in the days before "viral" could have positive connotations and wasn't just something to avoid at all costs on a college campus). But things didn't change.

So I had to change.

I drastically altered my diet. I stopped eating what little fast food I did eat at the time. I started to cook more than just spaghetti. And soon the only foods I consumed with flavors in their ingredients were ones that were confirmed vegetarian by emails from the companies, themselves, or a vegetarian label on the packaging (I'm, of course, assuming they're labeled by someone with more knowledge of the ingredients than the shopkeeper with the green stickers in India.)

A decade has passed since I last tried in vain to make a difference. I'm now in my 30s. I have two kids and a dog to take care of, worry about and focus on. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest weren't even around when I started working on this issue. I couldn't pose with a selfie and a hand-written sign asking for a million "likes" to get the food industry to change its labeling practice. I probably wouldn't have been able to figure out how to duckface my way into likes-for-change anyway. It took me a week to figure out how to start my blog; I'm practically an Instagrandma in today's tech-savvy world.

Times have changed but unfortunately, labeling practices haven't. But it didn't matter. I had given up. This post, written months ago, was originally titled "The Retirement of an Amateur Activist." I thought I was too exhausted and neurotic, worrying about VOCs and PFOAs and all sorts of other acronyms that meant nothing to me pre-parenthood to be able to handle the stress of another issue. But I was wrong. Just this week, Food Babe took up the cause and someone started a petition, and it already has over 10,000 signatures.

Obviously, social media makes everything public way faster. So instead of being overwhelmed by it, I need to start using it for more than posting status updates, sending fleeting snaps of my kids crying, and reading Real Housewives' articles. Eleven years later, I can now go back to being an amateur activist while feeding my kids, tweeting in seconds, while running defense so my dog doesn't lick my toddler's plate clean. So it's time to celebrate. It turns out I can have my (natural-and-artificial-flavors-free) cake and eat it too. I just hope my duckface doesn't scare the kids.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Felt Kartikeya

With Ganpati, Parvati and Shiva done, all that's left in this set is Ganesh's brother, Kartikeya.

1.) Cut out the following felt pieces:

Note: the body pieces and pants are all in duplicate.

2.) Using black thread doubled, sew two eyes and a mouth onto the front of the face, and red for the tikka
3) Sew the two duplicate torso pieces together using a blanket or whip stitch.
4.) Sew the feet pieces together with a blanket or whip stitch.
5.) Sew the two pink pants together using a blanket or whip stitch.  You will need to attach the torso at the waist to the pants and attach the feet at the points at the bottom of the pants.
6.) Use a running stitch to attach the hair to the front of the head and you're all done!
Optional: Add a yellow necklace.

And the whole family is complete:
Earlier Indian Felt Character Tutorials:

Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.  Coming up in the next few weeks: More DIY toys, green toy recommendations, and more info on green products.
And if you like what you see here, check out my Amazon Author page for my picture books, and my blog posts on The Huffington Post. 
Follow me on Twitter @soups25

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Felt Parvati

Last week I posted a tutorial on how to make a felt Ganpati, and earlier this week was Shiva.  Now it's time to make Parvati.

1.) Cut out the following felt pieces:

Note: the torso is in duplicate.

2.) Using black thread doubled, sew two eyes and a mouth onto the front of the face, and red for the bindi.
3) Sew the two duplicate torso pieces together using a blanket or whip stitch.
4.) Fold the yellow skirt part of the sari in half, around Parvati's waist.  Sew the three open sides of the skirt closed.
5.) Sew the little green and yellow pieces on the right to the yellow sari pallo (the large sideways L-shape in the right of the picture). 
6.) Sew the green blouse to the front of the torso.
7.) Sew the yellow pallo over the front of Parvati, and drape it over her left shoulder as shown in the very first picture.  Sew the yellow pallo down its length to secure it to the body.  
8.) Sew the black hair pieces to the front of the head.
9.) Sew the yellow crown over the hair.
10.) Sew the gold jewelry on and you're done!

Click here for my previous posts on making Lakshmi and the Ramayan Set out of felt, and be sure to search this blog for "felt" to find all my other felt creations like table forts, a doctor/vet toy kit, play food and much more!
Check back every Monday and Thursday for new posts.  Coming up in the next few weeks: Felt Kartikeya, more DIY toys, green toy recommendations, and more info on green products.
And if you like what you see here, check out my Amazon Author page for my picture books, and my blog posts on The Huffington Post. 
Follow me on Twitter @soups25