Southern Sideshow

I’ve often been asked where I came up with the name Southern Sideshow.  After all, it doesn’t seem to directly relate to my blog or the products in my Etsy shop.  Plus, there are definitely more search engine friendly options out there.  In truth, Southern Sideshow is a name that’s very near and dear to my heart.  It’s a concept that started long before my Etsy shop was officially born.

Back in 2012 this California girl had relocated to a small town in South Carolina.  My husband frequently traveled for work and I often found myself alone with three young kids, a wild rescue dog, and a tendency toward awkward mishaps.  On one particular day I arrived home with a vintage sofa I had discovered in a thrift shop.  It was oozing with potential and I was thrilled to have a little piece of history in my new home.  I couldn’t wait to get that sofa in my living room.

While three two kids and a dog danced around with excitement in the front yard (and one kid screamed bloody murder), I dragged that sofa from the back of my SUV all the way to the front porch.  Dripping with sweat in the southern heat, I managed to hoist that thing up the stairs and into my sitting room, all while neighbors shot furtive glances my way.


I knew what they were saying.  “Bless her heart…” and “She’s from California…” As if that was explanation enough for my behavior.


First blog post

This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.

DIY Clothespin Alphabet

The sun is finally shining!  Despite the onslaught of leaves that is attacking my workspace, I couldn’t resist sitting outside to write.

Clothespin Alphabet for Emerging Readers

I’m constantly on the hunt for easy literacy activities to do with Huck.  Clothespin letters are SO simple to create, and once you have a set there are endless activities at your disposal.

I had been working with a “basic” set of clothespin letters for a while now (think hand written in sharpie…), but I really wanted an upgrade.

At the craft store, I purchased a set of chubby clothespins and stickers.  Honestly, with so many alphabet sticker options, choosing just one was the toughest part of the project.  _dsc0265

I ended up selecting a typewriter font because the 3d effect was cool and I liked that the stickers seemed durable.  Plus, Huck is a bit fascinated with typewriters in general and I thought that might be added inspiration to do his schoolwork.

Look at my stickers, straight out of the bag.  I bet Martha Stewart never has this problem.


You’ll need some sort of glue to adhere the letters to the clothespin.  Most sticker adhesives aren’t strong enough to hold out through repeated use.  Just about any craft glue will work, but I used a hot glue gun to expedite my process.

Make sure you consider the direction you want your letters to face before adhering the stickers to the wood.  I wanted my letters to be positioned at the clip end, facing Huck.


Our end result?  A fun, functional set of alphabet clothespins for under $7.

Tips from the trenches:

  • Chubby clothespins are a bit wider than traditional ones, plus they’re shorter and easier to manage.
  • Buy a sticker set with more than one of each letter.  This way, you can use your clothespins to spell words.
  • Consider buying sets in different colors if you’d like to separate the vowels from the consonants.
  • If you use flat stickers, consider adding a layer of Mod Podge to prevent the edges from peeling.


I’d love to hear from you.  How do you plan to use your clothespin alphabet?





Montessori Sand Tray for Under $10

A DIY Sand Tray That’s Better Than the Store Bought Version

I recently purchased a Montessori sand tray for Huck to use during our literacy centers.  It definitely wasn’t an impulse buy, but I hadn’t spent time analyzing the logistics of how I planned to use the tray in our daily activities.

Huck was absolutely thrilled when I presented him with the tray and he immediately began writing his letters.  When we started to practice Huck’s sight words,  I discovered a problem.

At only 8 x 8 inches, the tray was nowhere near large enough for him to write three letters. Argh!  I had spent nearly $30 for a learning tool that was basically useless for my needs.

After prowling the aisles of my local craft store, I found a solution for under $10.


Budget-Friendly Supplies

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Basic wood tray.  (This can be found at almost any craft store, Target, or The tray I chose measured 10 x 12 inches and cost under $7.)
  • Mod Podge
  • Foam brush
  • Fun scrapbooking paper or wrapping paper remnants
  • Paint, stain or wood oil


I had planned to spray paint the tray to give it a fun, pop of color, but the weather didn’t cooperate.  When it comes to crafting, I’m the impatient sort and I didn’t feel like waiting 12 hours for my paint to dry.

I decided on Howard’s Feed-N-Wax to enhance the natural beauty of the wood and eliminate a long drying time.  (As a precaution, I taped the edges of the bottom of the tray. I wanted to make sure the oil didn’t soak into the wood and interfere with the Mod Podge in step 2.)  All I did was rub the Feed-N-Wax on the wood, allow it to penetrate for a few minutes, and wipe off the excess.

Make it Personal

Using a unique sheet of scrapbooking paper is a great way to personalize your child’s sand tray.  Huck’s favorite color is blue (unless camouflage is considered part of the rainbow) so I chose my paper accordingly.

First, I trimmed my scrapbook paper to the fit the bottom of the tray.


Tip: Use an old gift card to scrape off excess Mod Podge and leave a smooth finish.

Next, I used my sponge brush to apply a thin layer of Mod Podge to the bottom of the tray and then placed the paper inside.

This is when I discovered that the tray wasn’t perfectly square.  Here’s a little secret: that’s the kind of little thing that drives me batty.

After checking to make sure the paper was completely flat, I applied a topcoat of Mod Podge.  For extra protection, I applied a second coat of Mod Podge after the first was dry.

Et Voila!

Huck’s New Montessori-Inspired Sand Tray


Tips From the Trenches

You probably know me well enough by now to know that I’ll never share a project without also sharing what I’d do differently.  So, here’s my “if I could turn back time and start this project over again…” tip list:

  • Use regular Mod Podge.  I used the outdoor kind because I thought it would give me better protection.  It was way too thick and left my surface somewhat uneven.
  • Let the Mod Podge dry completely.  (As in totally completely–if such a phrase could exist.)  If you rush the drying time, you’ll end up with tiny sand grains burrowing into the bottom of your tray and eventually, the paper will rip.  Trust me.


A router is on my holiday wishlist, so I’m hoping to have a DIY “tray with lid” tutorial to share with you soon.

I’d love to hear from you and see your projects as you complete them!




Early Literacy with Play-Doh

Most days, I’m a DIY kind of girl.  I’m always seeking out new projects and ways to put my own personal touch on things.  Why buy something that I can make?  But some days, I just need a break and a chance to sip my tea without simultaneously wielding a hammer.

That’s why I love these Play-Doh letter stamps.  They’re great for early learners who are just getting introduced to the alphabet as well as emergent readers.



Play-Doh letter stamps have been a great addition to our homeschool learning centers.


  • Sight word practice:  Huck selects a sight word and stamps it into the dough. This is great for kinesthetic learners.
  • Sentence building: After Huck stamps the words, we use them like puzzle pieces and build a sentence together.
  • Spelling Tests: a spelling test is so much more fun when it seems like a game.  The letters are small enough that my 2nd grader can still fit his words using just one little tub of dough.  (My fifth grader either needs a truckload of Play-Doh or a mom who gives him an easier spelling list!)_dsc0331


Besides the fact that my kids love this Play-Doh alphabet set, the best part is the price.  I found mine for only $8.77 on Amazon.  For me, a learning toy that is under $10 and can be used with multiple age groups is a winner.

If you’re looking to save even more money, you can make your own craft dough and purchase stepping stone stamps (say that five times fast!) that serve the same purpose. The Milestones Stone Stamp Set retails for under $5 at big box stores and many online retailers.  Each stamp is double sided, so you get both upper case and lower case letters.

I want to hear from you!  Have you found any great craft dough literacy ideas that you’d like to share?