Junk Drawer Projects for American Girl Dolls

Right before Christmas last year, a coworker very generously gave me three American Girls dolls that had belonged to her when she was a child. I was awestruck by this gift; she was apologetic that they weren’t in “the best shape,” and I asked over and over if she was sure she wanted to part with them, interspersed with a whole bunch of “wow”. It was an awkward exchange, at best. North Dakotans are so weird.

The dolls were beautiful and in excellent condition, considering their age and the obvious love they had endured. All they needed was a good hair treatment just in time to make it under the tree for Christmas.

A cursory internet search informed me that this American Girl thing is an obsession, with websites dedicated solely to American Girl DIY projects, YouTube channels made by mother/daughter teams with thousands of followers, doll clothing that costs more than my grown-up clothing, plus books, movies, and accessories for days. It’s a sight to behold.

And I can’t afford any of it.

Or more accurately, I cannot afford to invest in it without first testing the obsession level on my kids.

So I did what all good Makers do – I improvised.

Scraps of paper, toothpicks, felt pieces, a compact from the dollar store,and a variety of other miscellaneous items, and, VOILA!, I had doll accessories!

Notebooks, Clipboard, and Pencils

Notebooks are made of small bits of scrapbook paper with lined paper inside, held together by a single staple in the middle. Clipboard is a thick piece of chipboard, a sticker, and a tiny binder clip. Pencils are toothpicks cut in half and colored with Sharpies.

Writing Instruments in a Box

This writing set is made of toothpicks cut in half and colored with Sharpies. Box is a simple origami box. It also has a lid to keep the tiny writing instruments contained.

The Lunch Box

My favorite junk creation is this lunch box from an Altoids tin. I covered the outside of the tin with cute tape, then filled the inside with tiny food. Food comes from a set of miniatures and dessert-shaped erasers, food buttons and a delicious-looking sandwich made of make-up foam and felt.

The Doll Computer

This is my kids’ favorite creation – the doll computer. It is a small make-up compact with the make-up removed. I did an image search for a computer screen and keyboard and played with them until I got the size right. The compact is painted black and the computer images are decoupaged; a few stickers complete the look.

I spent exactly $1.08 on the compact at the dollar store because I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my Mary Kay compacts, but the rest of the items were scavenged from around the house.

Here are a couple of other tips I’ve learned to make American Girl more affordable:

  1. Don’t be fussy about the American Girl brand. Joann’s sells 18 inch doll clothes, sometimes on sale for 40-50% off, but there are always coupons if the clothes are not on sale. (Coupons cannot be used on sale items.)
  2. A lonely sock can be fashioned into a no-sew dress for an American Girl doll. If you cut it just right, you can also get a pair of underwear and a matching headband.
  3. Have the kids ask for doll clothes or doll accessories for Christmas or birthdays and let someone else pick up the tab.

Help me think of some low-budget, no budget ideas in the comments below!



Happy 9th Birthday, Hillary!

I remember this time last year, when you turned eight years old. We were struggling with the drama du jour, and I didn’t write you a happy birthday letter because I didn’t want to write about my parenting shortcomings. If it makes you feel any better, no one told me that my children’s struggles would be a reflection of me. It’s not in the instruction manual.

But now you are nine. Whatever you were struggling with at seven and eight is long gone. The transformation has happened before my eyes, and it delights me to watch you grow into your own person.

You are kind, polite, and overall wonderful to others. You understand the basics of injustice. You share and give easily. You wholly understand that others are watching you and behave accordingly. Honestly, if you learn nothing else, these things will be your greatest asset in years to come. I am so proud.

You are coming out of your shell. Long gone are the days when you look to me for approval or hang on my arm waiting for rescue. You say what you want to say and certainly don’t need me to intercede for you anymore. Just a few weeks ago we went to dinner with some friends, and you spent the whole time engaged in conversation with adults like you’d done it all your life. I was so proud. I am so proud.

You understand that life isn’t fair, and not just because I say it all the time. You know that responsibility increases with age. You know that sometimes it’s easier to do the thing you hate than to argue about it. You know when to speak up for fairness for others. I am so proud.

You are so smart. You got straight A’s and A+’s in school this year. Your teacher says you are the first person to raise your hand, that you offer to help others who struggle, that you are a great team and individual player in her class. I am so proud.

You fill an important place in our family. You take your role of oldest child very seriously, often better at keeping the peace between your brother and sister than I am. You love to be near me, either helping me cook or keeping me company when I am writing or working on art or grocery shopping. I love your company, too.

You are nine now. As of 7:54 AM on Saturday morning, you were nine. You had your first friend sleepover and two parties, too. You had funfetti cake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. You got your ears pierced. You blinked and smiled and pretended it didn’t hurt. You hugged me all day because I finally let you pierce your ears. You called it the best day ever.


I already know this is going to be a great year. You’ve got every tool you need to make the world wonderful and your whole family behind you to help.

Happy 9th Birthday, Hillary. I love you so much. You are my best friend.

With love,


December Birthdays Are The Worst

December birthdays are the worst. I know because I have one. Somewhere in my early 30’s I became apathetic to birthdays – I do not care about my own birthday and, frankly, don’t care a whole lot about yours either. I care about you, but I am ragingly jealous of your non-December birthday, your week-long celebrations with family and friends, and your fancy parties and your getaways and gifts not purchased from the Christmas clearance racks.

Friends, today is my birthday. A floral company did a survey and confirmed that today is the worst day of the year to have a birthday. According to the survey, most cited that they were least likely to receive gifts or have friends attend their parties on this day.

Why might that be?


I’ve got a couple of ideas…

The Weather: Who hasn’t looked out the window before a party and decided they’d rather stay at home and snuggle on the couch to catch up on Fargo reruns than go to someone’s birthday party all the way across town in a loud restaurant with mediocre food. It’s, of course, snowing, because that’s all the weather knows how to do this time of year, so, yeah, let’s stay home and promise to take her out next month when “things aren’t so busy.” Spoiler alert: It’s even colder in January and that promised get together is never happening.

Money: Nobody’s got any! Black Friday just happened a few weeks ago and the credit card statement showed up the other day and now you’ve got to watch your spending. The dollar section is lookin’ pretty good right now! And Christmas wrapping paper is on sale! Score and score!

Sickness: Not only are people actually sick, but it’s an excellent excuse to avoid birthday parties and stay home and wrap Christmas gifts instead.  You don’t even have to work up a cough to get away with this one; just tap out a text and wait for the, “I’m so sorry, I hope you feel better,” text that comes back and go dig out the scissors and tape and you’re scott free for the night.

Scheduling Conflicts: It’s not uncommon for someone with a December birthday to be upstaged by a Christmas program, a Christmas gathering with the in-laws, the company Christmas Party, or Great Uncle Arthur’s 78th birthday that was actually in October but nobody could make it then, so we’re going to get together now and have a mini Christmas with him at The Home in Dinkytown 100 miles away (in a snow storm).

In addition to these excuses to not get together, there are a few other obnoxious things that happen to people with December birthdays.

The Combo Gift: Not a myth. It’s happened to every single person born in December, though it’s less common now because I’m trying to raise awareness. Mostly, we sound like ungrateful whiney-pants, but this is the first world and I can cry if I want to.

Finals Week: This affects a small fraction of December birthdays, those only in the couple weeks preceding Christmas break. I am a member of this elite group and let me tell you, my 21st birthday was a drag. When did succeeding in life become more important than partying? Somebody tell me that.

The Christmas-Themed Birthday Gift: I swear to you that I am going to buy up Christmas merchandise like crazy after Christmas and give it as birthday gifts all year long. You’ll be getting snowman candy dishes in June, a box of ornament hooks in April (and I’m going to shake it up real well so it’s a tangled mess, and it’ll be like one of those brain teaser games, too), Christmas M & M’s in September, expiration dates be damned.

The Post-Christmas Slump: I understand this happens to everyone, but for us December birthday celebrators we have nothing to look forward to until next December. Just Memorial Day weekend, the Fourth of July, Labor Day weekend, Halloween, Thanksgiving and a sprinkling of other postal holidays. We party it up (as best we can alone) and wait all year to do it again.

All is not lost my friends with December birthdays…

There are certain things we get that no one can get in any other month.

First and foremost, we share a birth month with Baby Jesus, which isn’t actually true, but since no one’s petitioned to move Christmas to September, the distinction is still ours.

Also, how many people can get a personal birthday greeting from Santa? One-twelfth of the human race, that’s who!

And of course there is always a chance for a snow day on your birthday! How great would that be to stay cooped up inside all day with your mom and brothers and sisters while the weather outside is frightful and the electricity goes out, so no cake, and Dad can’t make it to Walmart to buy you your gift, so you’ll have to celebrate another day, but there isn’t another free night for weeks on end so they’ll do it up extra special for you next month on your brother’s birthday.

If I’ve learned anything from having a December birthday, it’s how to love myself better. I buy myself the best gifts and I come up with lots of fun for me and me alone.

Honestly, it could be worse: I could have a January birthday.

This is cross-posted over at Bright Above Fargo.

Happy 3rd Birthday, Bryce

Birthday boy
Birthday boy

Dear Bryce Lee,

I’m writing this letter on the eve of your third birthday. I’ve had the kind of evening where I’m not feeling much like being a parent. You were climbing all over me, being way too rough. You refused to sit in a time out, you refused to use the toilet while at the same time refusing a diaper, and you slammed the bedroom door in my face while shouting, “I don’t like you, Mommy!”

Thankfully, this isn’t how you normally operate, though you do hold a grudge longer than necessary. Nothing I can’t fix with the ole tickle monster.


You are so busy. I love to watch you play, to bounce from place to place, to follow your sisters everywhere. The most wonderful thing you do is lay on the floor and jibber jabber while you play with people or cars or Legos. You make them jump or dive or drive with a little whoosh sound, or an, “Aaaaaah!” I also love how you turn your food into cars and animals that you push all over the table between bites. I love the way you point to Brother Bear in the Berenstain Bears books and say, “That’s me!”

In fact, everything is endearing about you. Your big blue eyes, your curly blonde hair (I’m sorry I cut the curls off; I promise I won’t do that again.), your dimples, your giggle, the way you talk all the time, the way you laugh at yourself, your snuggles, and, yes, your potty mouth. I won’t let you call me Mommy Underwearpants forever, but it makes me laugh so much right now.


You love your sisters dearly, especially Maris, who you follow around like a puppy all the time. You two make up some of the funniest stuff together.  Hillary adores you and will do almost anything for you, except change your diapers.

You’ve struggled with growing pains in your legs quite a bit this year, understandably, considering how tall you are. I wish so badly I could take your pain away. I remember having growing pains when I was little. I’m so sorry you have to endure them, too.

I think this is going to be a big year for you. Both of your sisters are going to school in a few days, and I imagine you’ll walk about daycare saying, “Where are my sissers?” for a little while.

I’m sorry I didn’t make you the Spiderman cake you requested for your birthday. Sometimes, I just can’t pull it all together. Maybe next year.

I love you so much, Bryce Sunshine. If you keep smiling and laughing, I’ll be the luckiest person to know you all my life.


With love,


Maris Sunshine Is Five


Dear Maris,

Here it is your fifth birthday already, your golden birthday. I remember your birth in vivid detail – the meconium concerns, the horrible epidural, that first SCREAM, your heft and weight on my chest, all that hair.

You cried (a lot) those first few months, so much so that we made you sleep in the dining room, but after awhile you stopped fussing and we renamed you Maris Sunshine. Life was good with our little family of four. You were rolley polley and headstrong, full of mischief and curly, wild hair. I kissed you ten thousand times before you were a year old.

Then one day God decided you needed a little brother and BAM, you became a middle child. You were born with the soul of a middle child, so I guess it had to happen that way.

Maris, you have weathered a few storms over the years, always with a smile on your face and the matching even temper. When everything around you is chaos, you are a calming whisper in the breeze, a sliver of sunshine on a cloudy day, the quiet waters just around the bend.

I love it when you put your soft, squeezable hand into mine. I love the smell of your hair and the feel of it on my face. I love to watch your fervent play, to watch you build and create and make cakes and art and huge messes with glue. I love your hugs. They are simply the best hugs I get all day long. And I’m a hugger, so I know a good hug when I get one. I love when you tell me what makes your heart happy.

I love you so much, Maris. You are my bright sunshine. You are sunshine for the whole world. You are beautiful, inside and out. You have a deep understanding of things you shouldn’t yet. I see that being your greatest blessing and greatest curse in years to come.

May today be your best birthday ever! May you always be my Maris Sunshine.

All my love,