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Play Furniture and Pretend Food From Recycled Materials

November 15th was National Recycling Day and I thought it would be fun to share some toy accessories that you can make by recycling materials you have on-hand.

This all started back when Henri had received a Zhu-Zhu Pets toy hamster for Hanukkah one year. It wasn’t long before his “pet” needed to have its own house and so we adapted a shoe box into rooms with a garage.

Of course every home needs furnishings and that’s where these projects came in. According to Henri there was a bedroom, kitchen and living room, so I tailored what I made to that, but you can easily adapt any of these little projects to your rooms of choice.

The first recycled materials to be used were an egg carton and a plastic bendy straw. Cut out sections of the carton to create different types of furniture.

The cups that hold the eggs became armchairs (when the upper rim was kept on 3/4 of the edge) and a table (when flipped upside down and trimmed to have legs).

Two of the flat base of the egg cups were cut out to become vessels for food and water, and finally the divider piece that separates the eggs was cut out to become a lampshade.

One of the cup bases was painted silver to become a serving plate and the slightly deeper one had the inside painted blue to appear like water. To make the most out of using what I had on hand (pun intended!) I painted them both with nail polish!

The lamp shade was painted Henri’s color of choice with regular acrylic paints and then set aside to dry.

Once dry it was time to assemble the lamp. You need a base that’s sturdy and heavy enough to support the weight of the shade. You could use wood blocks, a little box filled with rice or sand, or anything else heavy enough. I used a few spare washers I found in my toolbox.

I cut a felt circle for the base and hot-glued the washers on top in descending size order, making sure to keep their holes lined up. I also glued a decorative bead to the top of the lampshade.

The shade was filled with hot glue to set the straw in place and then more glue was used to attach it inside the tower of washers.

With that, the little hamster’s living room lamp was complete!

The bendy bit of the straw was a nice touch, allowing the lamp to be angled wherever the little guy needed.

The silver platter received a coat of clear nail polish to seal it and the water bowl was filled with more hot glue to look full.

To make the pretend food for the hamster takes only three supplies – a pool noodle, fabric paint, and scissors.

That’s right – all these little pretend foodstuffs are actually squishies! They’re really easy to make: simply cut pieces of the pool noodle foam into the general shape of the food item then use fabric paint to make them look like their respective foods. A toothpick comes in handy instead of a paintbrush when working at such small sizes. I scaled my foods to the size of the egg carton “plate” and made (clockwise from top right) pepperoni pizza, chocolate chip cookies, donuts, a cheeseburger, and a chocolate cake.

The food storage bin was made from plastic canvas and yarn scraps.

First I made a base large enough to hold all the food. The lid is the same size but less deep, and the faux latch is simply stitched on top. The lid was sewn to the base all along the back edge but I used the same gold yarn as the latch to embroider 2 fake “hinges”.

The living room furniture was painted black and copper “studs” were added with a paint pen. One neat thing about using the egg cups is that the furniture will stack which makes putting it away after playtime that much easier.

Finally the hamster’s cardboard box bed was upgraded to one with a full headboard and footboard, and painted with gold glitter paint.

I used scraps of white felt and stuffing remnants to make a mini mattress and pillow, and leftover sock yarn knit up quickly to make a colorful blanket.

One evening of crafting and by morning the hamster had his house completely tricked out. Henri was really excited to set everything in place and added more to the decor by painting a rug in the living room and even drawing a TV on the wall!

Bonus – I wanted to take some current pics to show how well these little accessories held up after 6 years and we thought it would be really cute to include Jakob’s REAL hamster for scale. Here’s Dusty enjoying a little nap…

…and here he is foraging in the snack box looking to see what other treats there might be.

These were such simple, quick and easy DIYs to make and became playtime accessories that were loved and used over and over, AND held up incredibly well over the years. I hope this post gives you some ideas on how you can recycle items from around the house and give them new life with a new use.

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Make a Snake Squishy Out of a Pool Noodle

Today Lunar New Year 2022! It’s also National Serpent Day! While today starts the Year of the Tiger, my Chinese sign is the Snake, so I think that makes this a perfect day to share this snake-themed DIY from my backlog of never-before-posted projects.

I’ve always loved snakes and Jakob inherited that affinity from me at an early age.

In fact, here’s him at about 3 years old proudly showing off a live snake around his neck!

Back in 2016 I was doing the Christmas gift prep and realized I was short on a stocking stuffer for him. I’d been on a squishy-making kick, having made an assortment of faux food for Henri’s robo-hamster, and decided to try and see if I could figure out how to make a snake for Jakob.

It worked perfectly, and here’s how you can make your own:

You will need:

  • pool noodle(s)
    • You can get multiple from one noodle, though can make them as long as you wish. I’m not going to put an Amazon link – you can get them much cheaper at your local dollar store!
  • puffy paint
  • scissors
  • pencil
  • craft knife
  • craft sticks
    • At least 1 per color you plan to paint
  • paper plate or other disposable surface

Start by cutting the pool noodle to your desired length.

You can use scissors for this but I find it easier to get a flat cut with a knife, and slicing halfway through then rotating and slicing the other half to match.

Draw a diagonal line around your noodle tube. This will mark the divisions where your snake is coiled up.

You can score the line with the tip of your pencil or knife/scissors to make it more visible and easier to follow.

Starting at one end, cut through your tube to the hole in the center and then cut along the line you’ve scored. Try to keep your line straight though it’s ok if it’s a bit messy at this point – it will get cleaned up in the next step.

Remember that one end is the tail and the other is the head, so start your cut on the diagonal as in the image above, to create the point of the snake’s tail. Stop your cut short at the other end and then cut vertically to leave a wider, flat edge which will become the snake’s head.

Once your basic shape is established, you can clean it up. Use your scissors to take small snips on the diagonal of each edge to round out the snake’s body. Shape the head, and you can carve in any other details you’d like, like eyes or scales.

If you want to make sure your snake will stand on its own, make sure one edge is flat.

Don’t forget to make sure that there is enough room between the coils to keep them from sticking to each other as you are painting.

Then you get to paint! You want to use puffy/fabric paint in opaque colors. If you use colors that are too translucent you will need to do many more coats. If that is the case I would suggest a base layer of an opaque white first.

Note: Do not use acrylic/craft paint! If you do, the first time you squish your toy the paint will crack and flake off, which would be a shame after your hard work. With fabric/puffy paint your toy can last for many years.

(Here’s a pic I took as I’m typing this in 2021. Looks brand new!)

Don’t try to use a paintbrush! Squeeze some paint onto your squishy then spread it out with a craft stick. Repeat this process everywhere you want the current color, remembering to leave one side or base unpainted so you have somewhere to set it down while the paint dries.

Continue in this manner, adding more paint in your desired colors. Allow each coat to dry thoroughly between layers. When the body is dry, you can paint the base with the same number of layers.

When the final layer is dry you can add further details like eyes or scale patterns.

Not only are these little guys easy to make, but they make ASMR-like sounds when squished.

(Sound on!)

I hope you enjoy making your own!

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