Rules are Made to Be.


Summer arrived while I wasn’t totally paying attention.  The days got hotter and longer; the girls got stronger and picked the first sweet fruits of tomato, zucchini, cukes and sugar snap peas.  We watched the sparrows fledge; the supersmart baby rabbits devour the perfectly perfect crispy radishes; the catbirds feed their saucy fledglings, (and we carefully buried the one that did not make it); the ladybug larvae tyrannize the meadowsweet aphids; the swallowtail caterpillars eat the parsley, change from third to fourth to fifth instars, and then magically transform into camouflaged chrysalises.  Now it is here.

But summer is deceiving.  As carefree as it appears, with its crazy messy hair, p.j. pancake breakfasts, sandy wet beach towel floors, puzzle-piece days, and lazy late sleeping girls, it reminds me each year of this: small people can get really out of hand.

Because in the summertime something happens between my two joined-at-the-hip girls.  Something spellbinding.  Yes, they have always loved each other.  There has always been idolization and fierce protection and love, love, love.  They get each other.  “Let’s pretend….” one of them says, and they make funky paper reading glasses and make handmade paper pets that play together with intricate social relationships, and they make each other laugh so hard that they make me laugh at them laughing.

But as the school year comes to an end, we are here.  And it is just us.  And so it is now that quickly things can change.  The “on purpose” bump, the “stolen” crayon, the intentional pinch—it is time for them.


And I think that if you and I are going to continue with our great friendship, you’re going to have to admit that you, too, at least occasionally have small people in your house that get completely out of control.  In fact, it is true that once, in one such moment, my small sweet one pushed a chair down a flight of stairs.  And then threw in a five-fingered scratch from shoulder to wrist.  To my mom.  On purpose.

Sometimes during the hot summer it is like they are putting themselves together by tearing me apart.  Building themselves out of tiny collected pieces of this, that, him, her, me.  And so, because of this, sometimes you just have to go back to the source of something and let it wash over you.  Sometimes you just have to review the rules.

I know this much is true.  Our rules are simple and we make them together.  They range from “Drink your Milk” and “No Pushing” to “Be Kind” and “Help.”  In earlier years, as a visible reminder, we wrote them on a family chalkboard and kept them nearby.  More recently, I permanently painted them on an old stretched canvas.

To replicate this project, you will need an old canvas or scrap wood (size is up to you), wood stain or paint for background, paint for lettering, small- and large-tipped paint brushes, a sanding block, chalk or transfer paper, and a your trusty list of family-generated rules.

First, prepare your canvas.  It need not be perfect.  In fact, the more rustic and unfinished, the better. Prime, roughly paint all sides, allow to dry, and sand edges with a sanding block.  My friends Lea, Helen and Susan (who, unlike me are superstar painters) would proceed at this point to paint the rules freehand.  Instead, I prefer to print them out supersize, cut each word or phrase out, and place them strategically on the canvas.  With transfer paper and a sharp pencil, trace the outline of each letter onto the canvas.  Remove the paper.  Fill in using teeny paintbrushes.  Allow to dry.  Lightly sand the canvas.

Just a note:  I suggest you not follow my black canvas background lead on this one.  Envisioning a chalkboard-like background, I painted a black oil base over my scrappy canvas.  I then hand-painted our rules in white.  Don’t do this.  Instead, either lightly stain a wood background or paint a light-colored background on canvas or wood.  You will avoid the headache of transferring letters onto a dark background.  Uggh.  If you are chalkboard-obsessed like me (we have five), you will not heed this warning.  In that case, use white chalk as a transferring agent instead of transfer paper.  Thoroughly rub the chalk on the back of each paper rule printout, and then use a sharp pencil to transfer the word or phrase onto the canvas.  Remove and fill in with paint.

On another note:  Our rules are referenced incredibly often.  Choose your rules wisely.  For instance, beware of ones that may slip in like “Get Muddy,” “Ask Questions,” or “Try New Things.”  Outcome may be entirely different from your original plan.

And on another note:  Surely some of you will think of easier ways to do the job.  Feel free to reveal any tricks of the trade.

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§ 28 Responses to Rules are Made to Be."

  • Anne says:

    I love it! You know which word caught my eye? Flush…

  • Julia says:

    Hi Marcie!
    I’m in NY for a couple of weeks~
    Can I come hang out with you soon?


  • Tanya says:

    I LOVE this! It reminds me of my sister Chris’ 3 basic rules that she is convinced (and maybe they do) cover every situation: 1) Be Safe; 2) Be Kind; 3) Be Neat. Maybe you could make the boards for those families (like mine) that are unlikely to do this in such a creative way, but yet would like to display their family rules in a memorable and unique way, nonetheless. Thank you, as always, for adding wisdom to the day, my friend.:-)

    • Marcie says:

      And thank you, Tanya, for always posting such nice comments after each post. I love that you check in each time!

  • Barely says:

    This is SUCH a beautiful creation! I love the idea of those stick on wall sayings but I can never find one that is really.. “me”. I HAVE to make this. Like now. :) Thanks for the great idea! Do you think spray paint would work?
    You have a really fun blog, btw. First time reader here and you can bet I’ll be back ;)

    • Marcie says:

      Thank you for your sweet comments! Yes, spray paint would certainly work with a larger canvas and some stencils–handmade ones would work fine, of course. BTW, I just read your post on “contaminating” your own deli meat–great write-up. I’ll certainly check in to read your future posts. Nice to “meet” here!

  • meri says:

    i love this! i think i found a new project :-)

  • so wonderful, Marci — sure you don’t want to stitch it? xo

  • LeaCR says:

    I love this idea–wish I’d had a rule-board when the kids were little. Wait–maybe it’s not too late. #1 will definitely be “bypass the sink and go directly to dishwasher”!

    • Marcie says:

      Yes, Lea. There is still time. Although it seems as if you’ve raised fabulous kids without having had one. Nice rules for spouses and friends would be good as well. Yours, I’m certain, would be incredibly colorfully creative.

  • jennifer says:

    this is great…I will have to make one…will put it on my list of projects to do this century…my kids would love to help find words for it. you could print the words out and ‘decopauge’ them onto the canvas…would make it quicker. A nice way to have some ‘thoughtful’ art around the house

  • [...] en el blog de Marci también encontramos el tutorial para hacer este cartel con las reglas de la casa que rigen para todos, mayores y pequeños. ¡Nos ha [...]

  • Laura says:

    I loooooove it!! be sure i’ll be doing it!! thanks it’s a great idea :)

  • Lim says:

    WOW!!! Your family rules sing is GORGEOUS! I love it! I was looking for a tutorial and your blog came up. I love all the tips. Thank you so much for the inspiration and for the tutorial.
    Best Wishes,
    LIM :)

  • That’s awesome! Love that you make the rules for yourselves.

  • Angela says:

    I am living in Argentina and I found this site GREAT!! thanks for such a wonderful idea. this is my next project to do with my kids!! Thank you very much!!

  • marion says:

    can I commission one?

  • marion says:

    oops – hit wrong button too soon….to finish – I have nnoooo artistic talent but this is so incredible!

  • vivian says:

    I would love to have the time to do this for someone.
    I do like the wine and coffee rule, definitely have to add it to my rules of the home.
    thanks for sharing this great project with us.

  • grandma catfish says:

    I will make one as a Christmas present for my daughter and my 2 newly adopted granddaughters:) Thanks for the great idea. I love the way you added NO GUNS among all the other rules. LOL

  • Helen says:

    I enjoyed your comments about summer and siblings. I’m a grandma, and past posting family rules, but reading your post was a pleasure.

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