Spark-Brownie Sleepover: “Under the Sea”

Under the SeaThis past weekend my Sparks group held a sleepover with one of the Brownie units in our district. This worked really well for several reasons: it’s a great bridging activity between the levels; our Sparks group is small so this gave us a bigger group to work with; and all the leaders from the Brownie unit are brand new so this gave me a chance to help them out with the paperwork and organizational structure of a sleepover-type event.

The theme we chose for the sleepover was “Under the Sea”. There are lots of parts of the Spark program that fit well under this theme, and the activities we did can also be counted toward Brownie badges of course!

I made name tags in advance for everyone. At the dollar store, I picked up some star shaped fun foam pieces and some rows of rhinestone stickers. A little patience and voila: starfish nametags! It worked out that I was able to give each Spark a pink one, each Brownie an orange one and each Guider a blue one.

IMG_8697Our first craft was a sea glass mosaic ornaments. I have a friend who lives on an incredible sea glass beach in PEI who donated a big Ziplock bag full of green, brown and white glass for the girls to use in the mosaic. If you don’t have access to sea or beach glass of your own you could purchase some or simply use mosaic supplies from a craft store. I purchased round wooden blanks for 49 cents each at Michael’s to use for the base. For the glue I found one called Elmer’s ProBond Advanced which is the strongest non-toxic glue I could find. It held the glass quite strongly onto the wood but it is a bit fragile – one girl dropped her mosaic the next day and a few pieces fell off. We skipped the part to make it a true mosaic by putting grout in the gaps since that would be a time consuming and messy process – and since they looked great without! As usual, there was a great variety in the styles, neatness and designs the girls came up with, which is part of what fascinates me about working with kids. Glue a ribbon on the back and these will make great keepsake ornaments!

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For snack we had “edible aquariums”. This idea comes from the Sparks program book as part of the Going Outside keeper. Each girl gets a small ziplock bag full of blue jello. Then you provide fish, whale, or other sea-animal shaped gummies and let the girls fill their “aquariums” with sea life. Then you close the ziplock bag and squish the aquarium to make the sea creatures swim, before opening it back up and devouring the whole sugary concoction. Lots of sugar but the girls love it! Just make sure you leave time before bed for the sugar high to wear off.

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Making paper-plate octopuses!

After snack we did a craft I found on Pinterest: paper plate octopuses (or jellyfish, if you prefer). This was a great craft for fine motor skills practice as well as artistic expression, and fit in perfectly with our theme. It also covers one of the suggested activities in the Sparks program for Going Outside – make an animal craft.

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My competed octopus

To make the craft a little faster and easier for the smaller girls, I pre-cut all the paper plates in half and hole punched each one with 8 holes along the bottom. We used drinking straws instead of coloured pasta, and I also pre-cut all the straws into short chunks for stringing. This bit of pre-preparation made the craft flow a lot more smoothly! I also gave each girl a bundle of the same rainbow colours of pipecleaners so no one would be fighting over the limited quantity of pink ones available.

The girls decorated the plates with octopus heads, then fitted a pipecleaner through each hole and twisted it on. Then each pipecleaner was strung with pieces of straw, and folded over at the end. Lastly, the girls could choose which colour and size of googly eyes to attach. (We did this step last so the wet gluey eyes wouldn’t slide off while the pipecleaner and straw steps were accomplished).

A pile of completed projects.

A pile of completed projects.

Then it was time to get ready for bed! Once the girls were all pyjama’d and on their beds, we put a movie on the “big screen” – using a projector to show the movie on the big white wall of our meeting space! We watched Finding Nemo since it fit so well with our theme and since it’s such a cute movie. By the time the movie was over most of the girls were asleep or close to it, so they settled down pretty quickly and we all got to go to sleep!

In the morning, the girls woke up and began to pack their belongings while everyone got changed. Then we served  a simple breakfast of cereal, milk, fruit and juice. Aside from one girl dumping another girl’s cereal onto her lap, breakfast went over well!

One last activity before going home: pirate flags! One of the other leaders found templates for a skull and crossbones and a sword online, which we gave to each girl to colour. We then cut them out and the girls glued them (in whatever configuration they liked) to a half piece of construction paper. Then we taped a straw to each flag so they could be waved proudly!

We also had some backup activities planned in case we needed to fill more time, such as a story about Oak Island treasure, and an outdoor wide game called Octopus (from the Spark program list), but we didn’t need them.

We all had a great time and the girls all went home happy!

Imajennarium Does Pinterest: Q-Tip Fall Painting

As a Sparks leader, I’m always looking for new activities that tie in with the programming provided by Girl Guides of Canada. One of the ways I do this is Pinterest – I have a whole board called Sparks Ideas where I save anything I think could work, and when I need inspiration I go back and take a look.

One of the Sparks Keepers (badges) is Going Outdoors, and one of the suggested activities is to pretend to be a tree, and to think about how a tree feels in different situations. (For the record, when its leaves fall off it’s sad and when a squirrel climbs up it, it tickles.) Scrolling through my pins, I found the perfect one: a fall tree painting project! (Note that the link in the pin takes you to a blog post written in Italian – but it has enough pictures that you get the idea! Also, Google Translate will give you a very rough idea of the words.)

Starting with white card stock – I used the spare inserts from some scrapbooking pages – each girl traced a circle at the top of the page. We used a small plate but you could use anything circular scaled to the size of the paper you pick. Then each girl painted their own trunk and a few branches – and then we took the paint brushes away. What?!?! They were confused. Then we got out… Q-Tips!

It sounds like a silly idea but it’s actually quite effective. Dabbing different fall colours onto the treetop (the circle) you get a kind of a pointillism effect. Then you can add some “leaves” falling off the tree, or piled at the base.

I love doing art with little kids, because I love to see what they can come up with and I love seeing how a group of girls working at the same table will come up with such different results. Some will be…. more abstract:

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Some are always more creative than average and think outside the box. In this case a couple of girls added squirrels and even a person to their trees:

IMG_7745This was a great craft/art project for a number of reasons. It let the girls experiment with colours – for example, I didn’t put out orange paint, just let them mix yellow and red. This led to them experimenting with mixing other colours, like gold and green which actually made a quite tree-like colour in the end! It also let them experiment with painting – not just for paintbrushes and fingers any more! And it was also good fine motor practice for them.

A Spark at work:

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I have a small group of Sparks this year (right now we are at 5) which is kind of nice in a way. It lets us have really good discussions with the girls, and also lets us as leaders get more hands-on. Tonight we both sat with the girls and participated in the art project, talking to the girls as they went along about what they were doing, what colours mixed well together, don’t mix brown and green or you’ll just get an uglier brown, etc.

Here are the leaders’ final pieces, “Amethyst” first and then mine (I go by “Sapphire” as a Spark leader):

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IMG_7751I’m quite proud of how mine turned out – it even made it onto the place of honour on the fridge next to my son’s masterpieces!

 

Gifts from the Sea Part 2: Beach Karma

I wrote in a previous post about the gifts I have been given by the ocean. I also believe that while the ocean giveth, it also taketh away – I call it beach karma.

There have been times when I have picked up a bagful of garbage while walking on the beach, and been rewarded with finding pieces on a stretch of beach where there usually isn’t much to find.

Last night I ran into a foursome on “my” beach and just as I reached them one woman exclaimed to her friend that she had “found one too!” and now they both had green pieces. I told her that I usually had pretty good luck on that particular stretch of beach. We stopped to chat for a few minutes as she told me the other couple was from Ontario and the man had never been to Nova Scotia before, and that she and her husband were moving back to Halifax from the Valley. As we were chatting, I spotted a white piece and picked it up and handed it to her, and then spotted a tiny brown piece and gave that to her as well. She was really pleased that I had given her the pieces (and impressed with my spotting ability – I told her it took practice). Later on my walk, I found my ‘karmic reward’ in the form of another sea glass marble for my collection, as well as a pocketful of other pieces.

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I think it works the other way as well. If you don’t respect the ocean and be thankful for its gifts, it’ll let you know. One day I spotted a piece and wasn’t paying attention to the ocean or the waves. Not only did I get a soaked foot for my inattention, the piece was also swept away with the wave and I never did find it.

The next time, I thought I had outsmarted the waves. I spotted a piece, but realized a wave was coming in, so I waited, stared at the spot where the piece was, and expected it to be there when the wave receded. Wrong. The peice was gone despite my attention. But then, as I looked around, I realized that while the green piece I had my eye on was gone, there was a white piece in its place a few inches to the left!

The power of the ocean, and beach karma at work.

#100HappyDays challenge: complete

The #100HappyDays challenge has been sweeping the internet over the last few months. It seems simple enough: every day, take a picture of something that makes you happy that day, and post it to your preferred social medium. I decided to sign up, and starting on March 1, I posted something every day.

I was well into the challenge when I started seeing the pushback: articles, new items, psychologist warnings that the challenge could actually make you less happy. One thing I saw stated that it’s impossible to be completely happy for 100 days so you shouldn’t try because it’d just make you unhappy. Well no kidding! I never went into the challenge looking to be 100% happy for 100 days in a row. Who am I kidding? A), I know myself, and that’s just not me, and B) I know that life happens! My attitude going in was that I would find one thing, no matter how small, every day, that made me feel happiness in that moment.

And you know what? It was a very valuable exercise. No one should expect to be happy 100% of the time, but if you can train yourself to recognize the happy moments when they occur, to be fully conscious of them and let yourself be aware that you’re happy, then chances are you’ll feel happier overall.

According to the #100HappyDays website, people completing the challenge claimed to  start noticing what makes them happy every day;  be in a better [overall] mood every day; realize how lucky they are to have the life they have;  become more optimistic; and even start receiving more compliments from other people.

Having completed the challenge, all of this makes sense to me.

My 100 happy moments (click to view full size).

I tried to make my moments diverse, too. It would have been fairly easy to find a moment that my (very cute if I do say so myself) kid made me happy each day, but I wanted to notice the other things that made me happy too. It’s easy to fall into the trap of being a parent to the extent that you forget yourself, and this was, as a side benefit, a good way to remind me that there are other things in my life that make me happy too. So, I think only about half the pictures involve him!!

Some days my job lets me do very cool things, so I made note of those (like meeting Stanley Cup champ Joe DiPenta and Canadian broadcasting legend Peter Mansbridge). Sometimes it was a small thing, like getting to park in valet parking during a work event or a nice new piece of artwork on the office wall or my coworkers’ sense of humour.

Sometimes it was a new bookor 6… or the last book in a favourite series, signed by the author.

I also tried to find the silver lining on days that weren’t so great. Home sick from work with strep throat? Well, at least I got to have ice cream for lunch and watch a hockey game in the middle of the day.

Signs of spring, a good meal, a rainbow, a bouquet of flowers, cloth diapers hanging in the sun, new clothes, a nice sunset, my goofy dogs, finding beach glass, beating my husband at a nerdy game… there are lots of little things that make me happy. It was a really good exercise to take note of them for 100 days and I find myself still thinking about what I would post a picture of on a given day if I was still doing the challenge.

Maybe I should extend it to #365happydays….

Gifts from the Sea

I find the beach to be one of the most relaxing places on earth – even in the rain, although I prefer a nice sunny day or gorgeous sunset, with some birds singing, the sand between my toes, and the rhythmic swoosh of the surf.1901838_10152506630188980_2207499547462815093_n

I try and take my dogs for a walk on the beach as often as I can. It’s win-win – they get to run off leash, chew sticks, and swim; I get the mental health benefits of the beach – and I get to do some beachcombing.

I am kind of obsessed with beach glass (or sea glass – they are sort of interchangeable terms). I will pick up any piece I find, unless it’s “unfinished” in which case I throw it back for some more wave pounding until it’s smooth.

I have come to believe that the sea glass I find is a gift from the sea. Isn’t that a nicer way of thinking about it that as someone’s long-forgotten trash? Sea glass is a treasure, and the more you look, the more you ask the sea for a gift, the more you will find.

What do I mean when I say a gift from the sea? Well, to be honest it feels like the sea glass has been put there specifically for me to find. It’s hard not to think that, especially when a nice piece is laying right in your path, on top of all the other sand and rocks, just waiting for you to look down.

10177449_10152489271673980_5816741740713506369_nI think you find more treasures on the beach when you ask for it. This can be as simple as opening your eyes and being observant of your surroundings, because you won’t find what you’re not looking for even if the sea lays it at your feet. However, I feel like because I visit the beach so often, and have such a connection to it, that I am somehow given special treatment, left special gifts.

I talked to an “Angel Lady” one day, who claims to communicate with the Angels. (I asked if she was like Theresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium, and she kind of rolled her eyes and said Theresa talks to dead people but SHE talks to a higher plane of beings – she talks right to the angels.) She told me that it is the faeries who are leaving me gifts on the beach. I’m not sure about that (the woman ahead of me in line was told that she needs to unclutter her bedroom in order to find “the one” and the woman said her bedroom is spotless, so….).

10275954_10152458287583980_2488494056441925359_nBut I do sometimes feel as though there is some sort of guiding force, be it faeries, or spirits, or sea goddesses, or maybe just what you’d call intuition, that lead me to some of the treasures I find. There’s knowing where to look – but then there’s also the feeling I get sometimes, when I think “I should look a few feet this way” and then find a big lilac piece, or when I think “I should check this tiny patch of gravel over here” and I find a marble, or when my eye is caught by something I think is glass, but upon closer inspection is just a shiny shell or a tricky rock, but because I’ve bent down I find the tiny blue piece a few inches away. Then there are the times I go to the beach unhappy, or frustrated, or having had a bad day, and that’s when I find some of the most special pieces. After a crappy day at work, I found both a green marble and my first ever piece of yellow glass, both sitting on top of the sand, not buried at all, just waiting for me to spot them and be happy again.      10395836_10152527985533980_8642703604830011277_n

Regardless of your beliefs, or even your interest in sea glass, there is something special about the beach. If you can, visit a beach regularly. Make friends with the beach. You never know what you might find.10294251_10152409314278980_4646930051314074537_n

#30x30challenge

For the month of May, the David Suzuki Foundation challenged Canadians to spend at least 30 minutes a day outside in nature with the #30x30challenge. Even though I was already doing the #100happydays challenge, I decided they were pretty complimentary and decided I could do both. After all, I already spent at least 30 minutes outside on a majority of days! I figured it would be a good reminder to try to do so every single day.

Here are the results:

30x30challengeThe first two days, of course, it rained!! But you know what? It actually felt good to go out for a walk in the rain, especially on day 2 when it was a little warmer (I do enjoy a good rainstorm if it’s warm enough out).

Some days were walks with my dogs on the beach, enjoying the ocean and all it has to offer. Some of them were spent in the yard with my son. A couple were spent on the deck with a book or a cup of coffee. One was a garbage cleanup around the pond beside my office! One day I spotted a tiny piece of rainbow, and the next day I was fortunate enough to catch one last view of the snowy owl I’ve seen a few times this spring.

A couple of times, my outdoor time for the day consisted of doing yard chores. But you know what? If you take some time while you’re doing that to appreciate your surroundings, it still counts!

There was one day when I only had time to go down on the beach for 15 minutes – but even that amount of time was enough to refresh me and lift my spirits. And the one missing day, I didn’t have a chance to sit outside or go for a walk, but even that day, I did stop and take a moment to admire the beautiful flowers growing outside of the seniors’ residence I was visiting that day.

After the month, I did feel better for having taken the time to go outside every day. So the moral of the challenge is this: Even if you REALLY can’t get outside for a full half hour in a day, take at least a few minutes to go outside. Look at the stars, stop to appreciate some beautiful flowers, spot an unusual bird, or just take a few breaths of fresh air and let the sun hit your face! Humans are meant to be connected to nature.