Monthly Archives: December 2012




I picked these blank cards up at the dollar store for $1.50 for a package of 5 cards and 5 envelopes.

I decorated them with a simple design using a black felt-tipped pen. I used water colour pencil crayons to colour it and brushed water over the image to blend the pencil crayon streaks. Both the pencil crayons and paint brushes are from the dollar store as well.

How to:

1. Find a package of blank cards (dollar stores, department stores, craft supply stores). An alternative to buying pre-cut cards would be to buy a couple of sheets of paper (craft paper, bristol board) and cut your own out.

2. Decorate however you wish. I once got a card from a friend and he drew stick-men inside of it, tobogganing down a hill. I thought it was great! You could also cut apart pieces of old cards and paste them on. If a design is worth re-using, then re-use it!

3. You’re done, you now have instant homemade cards.

Another alternative to sending someone a card in an envelope would be to simply  use a sheet of tough paper, and cut it into squares. Use those squares as post-cards.  Decorate the front and then make the reverse look like a post-card. Leave a spot for a stamp (top right corner) and an address for it to be mailed to (under the stamp). Then write your message. No envelopes required.


A Knotty Gift


A Knotty Gift

This is a gift for anyone who spends enough time outdoors who ends up needing to tie knots in things, or for anyone who has ever tied their boat to a dock and had it float away!

  • Securing tarps, tents
  • anchoring a boat
  • Securing boats to vehicles and racks
  • Emergency situations
  • Climbing
  • Joining ropes together
  • Teaching knots to children

The list goes on…knots are handy. People who know how to tie efficient knots can be handy people! Once you learn how to tie a few basic knots, you will be surprised at how little rope it takes to secure something, and you might even think back to how much rope you relied on before.

The book was only $14.50 (Chapters) and I picked up the climbing rope (1 meter each of two different colours) at an outdoor store for about $1.30 a meter. You can use any old rope lying around to practice knots, but if you invest in decent rope, your gift receiver will have something worth adding to their collection of outdoor gear.

How to:

  1. Find yourself a book on knots. Some books are more comprehensive than others. Pocket-sized are handy and portable for travel. For the knot enthusiast, maybe a thicker, more comprehensive knot book will keep them more entertained. Try to find a book that has good pictures or illustrations.
  2. Go to a store where you can buy lengths of rope off a spool (or cut rope from an available spool). Many outdoor equipment retailers will have a section of their store devoted to rock climbing, and here you will find plenty of decent rope to choose from. They may also have scraps of rope that come off the end of a spool that may be sold at a discounted rate. I bought 2 lengths, 1meter of rope each.  1 meter is a nice length to work with. Two different colours can help because some of the diagrams in the knot book show how to join two ropes, which is easier to figure out when using two different looking ropes.

Go ahead, get tying 🙂


Nature Stones



Nature Stones

For outdoor educators, parents, camp counselors or anyone who plays with children in nature, these stones are a nice compliment to a nature hike with children or a scavenger hunt. These are decorated with nature drawings using a black, fine tip sharpie marker. The more smooth the stone, the easier it will be to draw on.

I liked to have a little cloth bag of them on me during our hike. At the end, we would sit in a circle and debrief (talk about the experience) where everyone gets a chance to share something they learned, saw, wanted to see, whatever they want to share. This is especially nice to do around a fire. After each child has an opportunity to share something, he/she may reach into the bag and pull out a nature stone to take home with them. The bag gets passed around the circle until everyone picks their keepsake.

It’s a nice touch when there are enough drawings so that no more than two children might have the same stone, and if the drawings are of things the kids might have seen on their hike. For a hike of 20+ kids, I used a dozen different drawings.

I like to encourage the children to close their eyes, and really “feel around” until they can tell they have chosen “their stone”, especially if they are younger children. They end up taking their sweet time deciding which stone to remove from the bag, it becomes a process for some of them.

I haven’t done this with anyone over the age of 12 (except for the teachers who accompanied their classes on my hikes, and I will admit I was surprised at the eagerness of the teachers to pick a rock for themselves too! I was glad to have drawn up extras).

How to:

1. Collect some stones. The more smooth, the easier to draw on. Stones found along river beds tend to be more smooth than those found along roadsides and forest hiking trails.

2. Decorate stones using a black, fine-point, felt-tipped permanent marker.

I found that certain stone shapes would lend themselves more readily to certain drawings (i.e.: a compass fit well on a round or oblong stone, while the squirrel fit well on irregular shaped stones, and the bone-fish on kidney bean shaped stones). This made me wonder, if similar personalities in the group would be attracted to similar stones (it is by feel after all). Having more than 20 children under your care, means these finer details often go unnoticed, in the buzz and hum that such a little tornado of children creates, so that question remains unanswered.

Depending on the season, you could draw whatever suits, here are some ideas.

  • squirrel
  • acorn (Incidentally, none of the kids wanted to keep the acorn stone. I did this twice, and each time, the acorn was returned to the bag for a trade-in! It’s not so popular yet, but I still put it in because you never know who might decide to like it, and it’s good to have variety).
  • various leaves
  • trees
  • bone-fish
  • compass rose
  • raven
  • bear paw
  • wolf paw
  • campfire
  • sun
  • moon
  • star
  • lady bug
  • spider
  • snowflake
  • flower
  • mushroom
  • dragonfly
  • butterfly
  • bow and arrow
  • various flowers
  • various bugs
  • fox
  • bear
  • moose
  • deer
  • lynx
  • turtle
  • snake

Have fun and good luck with your stone drawings!





I like to give blank notebooks as gifts for friends who like to write.

I forget what I paid for these journals, but I doubt that I paid much more than $5 bucks a piece for them.  I first laid down a light wash of diluted white acrylic paint. I cut a robot shaped stamp out of a square pencil eraser, and pressed it onto an ink pad to make all of the little robots on the conveyor belt and in the carts below. The rest was done in pencil crayon and a black ink, felt-tipped pen.  I wanted it to look like a drawing out of a children’s story book.

How to:

  1. Find a blank covered notebook somewhere. Another option would be to find a spiral bound notebook, remove the cover and flip the cover so it is blank. Refer to the post on Notepads for instructions on how to do this.
  2. Decorate the cover however you wish. This book also has a quote inside the cover that was made using an old label maker.

Tips for decorating stuff:

If drawing intimidates you, don’t draw.

Cut pictures out of magazines and collage them. Print stuff from the internet and paste it on. Some artists make beautiful collages using a combination of images.

Trace drawings you like and transfer them onto your project.

Find interesting household items and trace around their edges to make your design.

Try painting using something other than paint like black tea, coffee, or wine.

Find things in nature that you can use (leaves, grasses, berries).

Try sewing or applying fabric if you have a nice piece of fabric to use for the cover, or use pieces of old maps (maps have lots of interesting details on them).

There are many ways to decorate an object without requiring you to draw like the masters.





Mancala is played in many cultures. From what I understand it is a seed sowing game. Some cultures use holes in the earth with seeds in them, some use stones in carved wooden boards, and I’ve seen pictures online of children using egg  cartons they have decorated and versions made using pottery. This board game would make a great, inexpensive gift. Including a set of rules on how to play would complement the board game nicely.

For my game I scavenged a piece of ½”plywood from a pile of discarded construction supplies. My game is roughly 21” long and 5 1/2’” wide.  It has 2 parallel rows of 6 holes (called bowls), with a collector hole area at each end (called a Mancala).

I used an adjustable wood bit to make my holes. The downside to this is that the bit has a point that creates a hole in the center, of each puck shaped hole, that goes deeper into the wood (and I wanted my holes to have flat bottoms). I filled these holes with wood putty and sanded them flat. I made my collectors by using the same adjustable wood bit: drilling two or three holes side by side. I used a chisel and mallet to remove the excess wood between the holes and make the collectors pill-shaped. After getting the main form to the game, I sanded it and sprayed a coat of black paint on it. I would have preferred to stain it; however, with the amount of putty I put in the base of those holes, I figured the stain would highlight those less-than-perfect areas.

If you aren’t familiar with using tools like the ones mentioned in the instructions below, have someone help you who is familiar, or do some research/watch videos to better understand. Don’t go and use a power tool unless you know how to or you are being supervised by someone who does.

How to:

  1. Find a piece of wood. Try to stick to untreated wood (some wood is pressure treated and can contain chemicals hazardous to your health. This is not wood you want to be working with and making a board game out of).
  2. Draw in a rough idea (in pencil) of where you want your holes to be.
  3. Make sure the bit you are using will allow you to put two parallel rows along your board.
  4. Drill two rows of six holes. Don’t forget to leave room at each end of your project for the collector holes.
  5. Drill to make your collector holes and use a chisel and mallet to remove the excess, or create some straight edges.
  6. Sand it to remove splinters and rough edges/areas.
  7. Paint it or decorate it however you wish. I’ve seen ones with funky paper placed in the bottoms of the holes, and paper along the face of the game. I’ve seen ones that are painted a solid colour and then decorated with contrasting details after.I finished mine with a coat of black spray paint. Once it dried, I sanded the edges of the holes to give it a rustic, worn appearance.

There are more precise ways to do this. Anyone who works with wood will probably make a game board way nicer than mine, taking more care to measure and plan, and use the proper tools. I used what I had at the time (not what I would have preferred to use), and wasn’t sure how much effort I should put into the game because I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to get anyone to play it with me! I would have preferred carving the bowls so they are actually bowl shaped as this makes it easier/more smooth to swipe the games pieces out. I figure if some cultures play this game by digging holes in the earth, then maybe rudimentary wooden version will do just fine.

I have also seen all of the holes, for bowls and Mancalas, drilled completely through a piece of wood. Then glue a thin piece of wood or masonite board to the bottom (this layer will give “bottoms” to your bowls and Mancala holes).

Some friends and I went on a nature hike along the Bow River in Alberta, and everyone collected a few stones to use as game pieces (48 in total, 4 per bowl). This was a nice way to involve other people in the process, and it also made them more interested to play the finished game.

This is a board game that really comes from the earth!

Mancala Game Play:

The rules vary from culture to culture. The rules I play by were told to me by a friend and so far they work well.

  1. Place equal amount of pieces in each bowl (Mancalas start empty). I use 4 stones per bowl.
  2. Sitting across from the other player (board between you), the 6 bowls closest to you belong to you, and the other 6 belong to your partner.
  3. Your Mancala is the collector on your right, same goes for your partner, his/hers will be the collector on his/her right hand side.
  4. Until the stones are dropped into the Mancalas, they belong to nobody.
  5. The game is played in a counterclockwise fashion.
  6. To begin, one person removes all of the stones from a bowl (leaving that bowl empty) and drops one stone per bowl, going around the board, until there are no stones left in your hand. Then the other player does the same thing. Take turns doing this until the game ends.
  7. If the LAST stone in your hand lands in your Mancala, you get to go again.
  8. If the LAST stone in your hand lands in an empty bowl, across from a full bowl, you get to take the stones from the full bowl and promptly add them to your Mancala. (When we play, a person’s turn ends if they get to steal a full bowl).
  9. The game ends when one side of the board is completely empty.
  10. Leftover stones are discarded.
  11. Count the stones in each Mancala, whoever has the most wins.

There might be a turn where you have so many stones in your hand that you place one in each bowl of your opponent and end up placing one in his/her Mancala before you’re finished dropping your stones. It is ok to drop a stone in your opponent’s Mancala, it simply means he/she gets to keep it.

After playing this game a couple of times you will begin to develop strategies: for lining yourself up to steal a full bowl, for making sure to have your last stone land in your Mancala many times in a row, and to set up your opponent for desired moves.





Getting mail is fun.  Sending mail is fun.

I like to reuse envelopes for when I send mail to friends and family or make them out of scrap paper; it beats paying for them, and usually yields interesting results. They are easy to come by because there is always a supply of junk mail in someone’s house to scavenge from, or a recycle bin at work. It is especially inconvenient, if you are on the road or backpacking, to have to buy a box of 25 or 50 when one is all you need.

This doodle is based on the greedy, nut-crazed chipmunks and squirrels at my last job, I liked the design so I scanned it and saved it for future use. To use this image I have printed it out and pasted/taped it to a used envelope. I have also printed it and simply taped another sheet of paper to the back of it, presto-instant personalized stationary, and a funny envelope to greet someone who is checking the mail.

How to:

  1. Write someone a letter!
  2. Save this image and print it (you may decide to adjust the size by using a word processor or image editing program before printing).
  3. Cut it out and paste it to an old envelope or homemade one.
  4. Write the mailing address in the black box with the acorn in it, and put a stamp on the top right corner in the blank stamp area. Don’t forget your return address!!! This is important, or your mail could get lost and end up in “undeliverable mail” sitting in a pile somewhere on Canada’s east coast until it is disposed of. Return address can go on the back of the envelope but make sure it’s smaller and in the top left corner.
  5. Mail it!

Alternative: decorate your own envelope or have your kids or someone’s kids do it. Doodles are funny; they can brighten someone’s day, especially children’s art.

“But I can’t draw”. So draw stick men, they are also funny, and often get the point across succinctly. Or, refer back to step 2.

Postage Paid

One day I decided to push the envelope a little further (pun intended). I took an envelope that had postage paid (one of those return envelopes that comes with government mail. The kind of envelope you are supposed to put a cheque or document in and send it back to whoever sent you the request in the first place). Since I had no money or documents for them, I kept the envelope because I was curious.

Q: If I covered the return address with a different one, and this mail was scanned in the postal system, would the postage still be paid, would the envelope reach the new destination?

A:  Yes, it worked that time. I haven’t tried it since, but it does beg the question, why buy stamps when postage paid envelopes are floating around?




These wire bound notepads can be bought virtually anywhere at a low cost. I picked mine up at Staples for a couple of bucks and they came in a pack of 5. These were decorated using a black felt pen and some water colour pencil crayons from the dollar store.

This is a good gift for anyone. I figure the drawings are cheerier than the generic cover that comes on these things.

How to:

  1. Find yourself some notepads.
  2. Bend the little wire end open so the coil can be removed from the pad of paper. Turn the wire coil and it should twist right out.
  3. Flip the cover over  so the blank side is showing  and re-insert the coil.
  4. Decorate however you wish.

*see pictures below*