If you are a livestock farmer, much of your day is spent fixing barns and pens and flat tires, unloading feed trucks, and moving livestock from one pasture to another. If you are a high-rise maintenance worker, your workday starts as you rappel down 20 stories to wash away window goop in bone-numbing cold and unpredictable wind. If you are a high altitude alpine guide, a typical day includes repairing a broken climbing harness, carrying 40 pounds of gear up a ravine, cooking Mexican refried beans over a small pellet stove, and restringing your ukulele. If you are a kid, your job is to play.
Childhood is a short season. There is just this small pocket of time when a person alone in a room can be easily lured into designing an escape tunnel for some kind of top secret mission to protect innocent from evil—to criss-cross the globe and actively battle, risking it all, for the betterment of humankind (or doll-kind, or stuffed animal-kind). Given a collection of plastic crates, large empty cardboard boxes, an old telephone, a map, buttons, phone books, fabric scraps, fake train tickets and postcards, my small girls can easily overcome impossible odds to obtain godlike Supergirl powers and defeat massive magical beasts. In just an hour.
But, adventures can get messy. And oftentimes during this frantic hour or so the entire fabric bin is overturned, fuzzy scraps are transported into the bathroom sink, the bottle of buttons rolls under the dining table and its contents mingle with last night’s fossilized cornbread bits and a discarded grime-encrusted strawberry, giant cardboard boxes are dismantled and transformed into slides with detachable cat-sized dirigibles, awkward costumes wind up on innocent furry passersby, and permanent cap-less Sharpies magically appear and threaten to deface the sofa.
I cannot pretend that this does not sometimes bother me.
Sometimes, just sometimes, when I am without much time or patience (which lately seems to be fairly often), things are better when they are completely flat—not things like baby bellies, tires, or lakes without wind—but things that are held in small busy hands.
My two girls make small flat things they call Paper Pets. They never got fully into the doll thing, but these paper critters are really just like paper dolls and, in fact, they have very similar accessories, but without the bling. These flat friends have beds, brushes, bows, collars and treats—and they are perfect for that quiet rainy afternoon when we have just an hour to pop them out and then tuck them away nicely. For a long time, we kept them secured in an old manila folder, but just the other day we upgraded their home and then moved them in.
To complete this simple project, you will need the following:
An old hardcover book (8 x 10 in or larger, 300+ pp)
Mod Podge or watery glue (1 part glue to 2 parts water)
This requires an old hardcover book. Choose it wisely. Do not choose a book that your great aunt gave you for high school graduation. Do not choose a handwritten copy of J.K. Rowling’s “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” or an 1827 copy of Audubon’s “Birds of America.” Do not choose a book that looks even slightly interesting, or one that you plan to someday reread. You will not ever get to read this book again.
Open the book to the first page (or flyleaf). Draw a line one inch from each edge of the first page (including the spine)—this will determine the interior dimensions of the box. With the ruler as a guide, carefully cut along each line with a utility knife. Apply enough pressure to cut several pages at a time. After you cut through a large section of pages, you may need to turn these back to get farther along in the book. Leave at least a few of the book’s last pages as a box “bottom.” Again, open the book to the first page and inspect the cut edges. Clean up all bits and pieces and rough edges with the utility knife.
With Mod Podge and brush, generously paint all book pages that follow the box “bottom” so they will stick together. Make a cup of tea. Close the book and sit on it for a few minutes to flatten. Drink your tea. Clip out a photo or magazine print to use as a decorative box bottom—use Mod Podge to seal. Paint the book’s inside edges with Mod Podge, leaving the book’s exterior unpainted. Allow it to soak in and then apply a second coat. Paint all surfaces inside the box.
Place a generous layer of plastic wrap inside the box. Fill the box with a small book. Place a layer of plastic wrap over the small book. Close the book. Allow it to dry overnight underneath something heavy.
Remove the plastic wrap. Check to be sure the book is dry. Fill it with flat friends or small special somethings like a collection of heart-shaped rocks or worm-like twigs, or secret plans for potential scientific inventions. Lucky us, we found our Vol 1 and Vol 2 within a slipcase. We transformed both volumes into paper pet book boxes and then painted the entire slipcase—first with a layer of gesso to provide some texture, then with a few fancy layers of acrylic paint. Alternatively, decorate the actual book cover. Or leave it unadorned and mysterious.
A magical box can be your new best friend—it allows time for smallish people to become quietly immersed in little things. It promotes stillness. And it is this stillness that helps provide focus during times of clutter and chaos. Which, at our house, is most of the time.