Nature’s Opera Glasses (Leaf Peepers) & Fall Foliage Crowns

This week has been awash with what my mother-in-law calls Goldilocks days. Autumn days when you feel perfect in jeans and a sweatshirt and everything seems to sparkle. We made these “leaf peepers” to dress up a little for all the grandeur going on out in the woods. Gingkos aflame and momiji (maples) turning indescribable shades of fruit sherberts, we couldn’t help but go for leaf collecting romp in the park.

The opera glasses are easy to put together. Start by tracing around your favorite pair of sunglasses onto cardboard that has widely corrugated channels. Make sure to orient the channels of the cardboard vertically so that you can insert a stick on the side once you have cut them out.

Add another inch to inch-and-a-half at the top of the glasses to make long enough channels to stick leaves into.

It worked fine with a large pair of curvy adult-sized sunglasses as well.

Insert a stick into one of the channels on one side.

We also made these simple crowns out of a strip of cardboard taped into a circle.

Happy Fall!

Oh My Deer: Cardboard Antlers

If you are anywhere around Michigan (USA) this week, don’t go out and about with a pair of these on your head.


Like it or not, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandpas are out in their  hunting blinds right now hoping to bring home some four-legged game of the white-tailed variety.

For those of use city dwellers who are not out hunting and are limited to interacting with wildlife like birds, dogs, cats, rats and the occasional tanuki, we’ll be snug in our beds on a cold November morning.

If you’d like to make your own pair of cardboard antlers, it’s ideal to use light weight cardboard that is plain brown on both sides. I first cut a paper pattern from newsprint, then traced onto my cardboard with pencil. Be sure to allow for enough length at the base of the antlers to fold up a small cardboard tripod. Adhered with a little masking tape at the back, the cardboard loop allows you to string a ribbon or head band through the antlers and easily secure them to your head to help them stay in place.

You can add more horns to your antlers by making a cut at the base of the horn piece and at the place where you will insert the horn on the antlers.

So whether you are celebrating a trophy buck, curling up with a copy of Imogene’s Antlers, or dressing up as our favorite reindeer this Christmas, I hope you enjoy making these cardboard antlers. With the pattern, I’m sure you could assemble this project in 10 minutes or less; less time than it would take you to go to the store and buy something similar and no extra burden on the planet when you pop them into the recycling box at the end of the season.

Tool: Off-set Handled Scissors

These scissors are a great new tool for cutting through cardboard. The off-set handle makes it easier to maneuver around corners and curves, and the wide openings in the handles provide for a roomy grip. The English translations for the packaging here in Japan always makes me chuckle. These scissors are definitely either made of hard materials, or will help you go after a hard(difficult) task!

On a scissors space-time continuum, the off-set handled scissors definitely rate as the best for getting through cardboard, even outperforming the “chicken boning shears.” At the other end of the spectrum we have my sewing scissors, which I would never, ever use to cut cardboard, our household paper scissors, the delicate, but still useful for poking small holes embroidery scissors, and last but not least, wooden scissors. They actually do cut paper.

Cardboard Marquees

Another way to display cardboard beads, letters, pictures or shapes cut from cardboard.

To make the marquee I first decided to orient my cardboard with the fluting running vertically since most of the letters to be cut from cardboard run in the same direction.  I used one side of a box with the top and bottom flaps folded back to create a triangular base. Next, I  gently scored the the edges of the area I wanted to display and then started to gently peel away the top layer of paper to reveal the corrugated part of the cardboard below.

I used a chopstick to pry up some of the paper from between the flutes of the cardboard. It really helped to move the process along. (I would definitely enlist the help of any willing young spectators for this part.) If you are lucky enough to find some cardboard with the corrugated part exposed, then you can just glue it on top of the marquee base and get to work peeling the backs off of all the cardboard letters or shapes that you are using.

Make sure that your letters have the same size fluting as the marquee base if you want them to hold their place securely.

Just a piece of tape (masking tape, washi tape, or paper tape) to secure the marquee base at the back and you are ready to start crafting your own personal message to the world.

Strings of Things

Although the leaves have not quite begun changing here in Tokyo, we got a jump start on leaf collecting when we made Electra’s big fat cardboard book booster seat / leaf press. The other day we opened up the book and took a look at our leaves. I happened to be reupholstering our couch at the time, so I had button thread in my sewing machine in addition to settings that made for the longest stitch possible. We ran stitches through the leaves to create a chain to hang in our window. I have a thick denim needle in the machine that created large perforations in the leaves but they seem to be holding up all right. I must admit they are so beautiful to look at that I want to don a fuzzy sweater and sip spiced apple cider all day long. Isis loves to look at them and I often catch her rearing up on her knees like a mongoose sniffing the air for an opportunity to pull them down. I’m sure she fancies them as the perfect floss for her two new baby teeth.

Here’s a picture of our cardboard beads hung from a stick as a mobile. The thin wide beads were an experiment that remind me of Alexander Calder’s work.

Alpha Beads: Learning to read in English or Japanese

My husband just started taking Japanese classes in the evenings after work, so everyone in the house now is learning to speak in one way or another. After stringing cardboard beads onto long strands to make mobiles, I started cutting out letters to make alphabet beads in both English and Japanese. Japanese has two phonetic alphabets called hiragana and katakana in addition to kanji characters (derived from Chinese characters). One of my biggest challenges when learning to read Japanese hiragana was recognizing the slightly different ways of writing the hiragana. I thought this activity of getting all the slightly different looking letters together would be a good exercise in recognizing environmental print (albeit out of context) for both my husband and my 2 1/2 year old.

Most of the flutes in the cardboard run vertically through the letters and create multiple channels for threading.

I have quite an unruly cache of cardboard accumulating in our small apartment and we have rounded up a good little collection of letters and hiragana.

The only materials we used for these picture stand-ups were cardboard boxes from the grocery store, sturdy scissors, (We have chicken boning scissors from my father, who uses them on the farm for their original purpose.) paper tape (more beautiful than plastic tape) and pipe cleaners or wire.

Use a strip of cardboard and some tape to make a little tripod on the back.

You can make mobiles, spell out words, or make strings of letters with needle and thread. How about a rudimentary version of Scrabble or some other kind of game? I served this mekan (pronounced mee-kon) (Japanese for tangerine) for breakfast. Fruit + chopstick + carboard beads. Mmmmmm.

Tokyo Toy Museum


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On Saturday we went down to one of my favorite places for children in Tokyo; The Tokyo Toy Museum. Housed in a renovated elementary school building in central Tokyo, TTM is home to a superb collection of toys, both traditional and modern, from around the world. The museum has several floors with rooms and play spaces devoted to different age groups. This past weekend the museum hosted a matsuri (festival) showcasing retail toys from a variety of special toy makers, toy making workshops, activities, games and performances.

One of the highlights for us was visiting the new, or at least new since our last visit, 0-3 years room, filled with beautiful wood and cloth toys. The space felt both serene and joyful at the same time. How do they do that?

Electra loved the sculptural pieces of cedar that had been carved and sanded until soft, into earthy slides and tunnels. Isis was fascinated by the fabric balls and otedama (Japanese bean bags) that had wandered into the white concave space she spent most of her time exploring.

I am again overwhelmed with inspiration after our visit to Tokyo Toy Museum, and am hoping to post about many, many TTM inspired cardboard playthings soon!

My favorite picture from the day.

This is the toy hospital. Where your favorite toys find new life. Staffed by retired electricians, hobbyists, and other kindrid spirits.

Sandwiches are Beautiful ….. Sandwich Books are Fine!

The latest addition to our cardboard book library; a very delicious book about how to make a B.L.T. (Bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich. This book was easy to make and I had help from Electra painting the pages. We used the same process that I wrote about earlier in the How to Make Cardboard Books post. I used a type of tape made from white paper that could be painted for the binding. I touched up the spots where the book was adjoined after the whole thing was assembled. The coolest part was finding white cardboard for the bread that gave the look of “brown crust” when you cut the pages out. This is literally a recipe book for getting your child or toddler cooking in the kitchen!

Mmmmmm cardboard!

Big Fat Cardboard Book Booster Seat

When Isis took over the highchair, Electra needed a booster seat so she could sit in one of the big chairs at the kitchen table. We put together a big fat cardboard book for her to sit on. We found a box with a Japanese castle on it, so you could even say this seat is throne-like.

I sewed an elastic band to keep the pages from opening up when she was getting into and out of the chair. The beauty of it? It doubles as a leaf press!