A perfect (and throwback) mid-flight diversion

Our Dum Dums bracelet. FTW.

Our Dum Dums bracelet. FTW.

Because our family spends so much time in the air (literally), we’re always looking for new diversions for the girls in mid-flight.

We discovered a new one on our flight home from Walt Disney World resort earlier this month. The technique mixes a take-off and landing treat with a “skill” that I learned as an 8-year-old, attending summer camp on Long Island, in New York.

I taught the kids how to make bracelets out of Dum Dums lollipop wrappers.

The Dum Dums part was a no-brainer; we’ve been feeding the kids lollipops during take-off and landing for the better part of the last 14 months or so in an attempt to mollify the effects of cabin pressure on their little ears. The bracelet part was a bit more of a stretch; I found myself sitting with six wrappers on the way out and started folding them into bracelet parts—a skill I learned 30 years ago this summer.

In terms of technique, the process of making these bracelets is similar to basket-weaving—you fold the wrappers down into tiny little rectangles, then you manipulate them so they interlock. Because the wrappers are coated in wax, the rectangles form a surprisingly sturdy chain.

At first the girls had no idea what I was doing. The bracelet wasn’t big enough for them to conceptualize what it would look like, and they couldn’t understand why I didn’t just throw the wrappers out.

Gradually, however, as we consumed more Dum Dums and the bracelet got longer and longer, it evolved into a really big deal. L became obsessed with my color patterning, R proclaimed herself the master of quality assurance and tried (unsuccessfully) to break the thing at every turn.

Our project didn’t only keep us busy; it also attracted the gazes of seat neighbors and flight attendants alike.

(One flight attendant said she hadn’t seen the craft in “at least 40 years.” She gave the girls free wings.)

By the time our flight home from MCO landed at SFO, the bracelet was long enough for the girls to wear. Since then, they’ve shared it nicely, and it has become their go-to jewelry of choice. The kids already are asking about whether we’ll make a second bracelet on our next flight. As of now we don’t have any family air trips on the books. The answer, however, always is yes.

What are your favorite artsy mid-flight diversions?

The best hotel-room diversion of all time

The morning ritual.

The morning ritual.

We just got home from a week in Hawaii—a week that included some early mornings in some pretty fabulous family-friendly hotels (including this one).

We could have passed the time by having the girls draw or paint or play dress-up. Technically, I guess we also could have let them watch TV (though that’s not our style). Instead, we put them in a position to entertain themselves with another diversion: Perler beads.

If you’re not familiar with Perler beads, they’re fusible plastic beads, each about the size of a chocolate chip. You can do a whole bunch of things with the beads—such as string them and weave them and melt them. We usually go for the third option; the girls arrange beads in particular patterns on a variety of different peg-boards, and when the arrangements are finished, we (parents) melt the beads together with a clothes iron (and wax paper in between).

The iron is what makes Perlers such a fun activity for hotels; every hotel room in America has one, and it’s totally free to use. We rolled into Hawaii with 3,000 beads and six peg boards in different shapes. We rolled out of Hawaii with a few hundred beads and more than two dozen original creations in various forms.

It doesn’t really matter what we do with the finished products (though most of them likely will end up as Christmas tree ornaments); what matters is the fun we all have while making them.

L took her designs incredibly seriously, inventing elaborate patterns every time. R crafted hers with more whimsy, frequently spilling her designs back into the master (gallon-sized) Ziploc to start again. In case you’re wondering, I’m big into color-blocking mine. And Powerwoman really likes symmetry.

As a family, we Villanos became so obsessed that Perlers became a morning ritual—the kids would wake up, Powerwoman and I would set them up with Perlers, and the three or four of us would create designs until breakfast (and sometimes beyond). We couldn’t go to the beach until each of us had made a design. And we couldn’t eat lunch until my wife or I had ironed the creations to make them whole.

Trust me: If your kids like art, try the Perlers. You’ll be surprised how addicting and engaging they are.

What are your go-to hotel-room diversions on a family vacation?

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