Saturday, December 24, 2011

My First Cricut Project = Gift Tags!

I have finally entered the world of Cricut.  Why didn't I do this sooner?!?!  I LOVE this thing!  And I don't even have one of the new, fancy models.  A friend of mine was going to sell her Cricut "Personal Electronic Cutter" (one of the old models) at a garage sale.  So, I told her I'd buy it from her instead.  So, for $15 I got a Cricut.  It doesn't do the big shapes, but really for what I'm probably going to do with it, I don't need anything big right now.  If I decide I want something bigger and fancier some time in the future, I can always upgrade.  The only downside to buying it used is that it came with no cartridges.  But, Cricut has an online design room that comes with a few really basic shapes, so I was at least able to try it out.

For my very first Cricut project, I decided I'd make some gift tags for all of those Christmas presents I have to wrap anyway.  So I made four different designs.  None of them were hard, and I only bought a couple pieces of paper.  Most of what I used was scrap card stock (or glittery red foam) that I had on hand from other projects.

I made this one using just white card stock for the scalloped oval, and red glitter foam for the Christmas tree.

The next one I cut a fancy doodad (I'm sure there's a name for it, but I don't know it) out of white card stock, and cut a small tree in that.  I cut a slightly larger doodad out of dark green card stock and used that as the backing.

I took the little tiny tree and attached it to a circle of light green card stock that I cut by using the "O" of the basic (free) font.  It was the inside of the O.  There is no circle in the free shapes, so it was the best option I had.  Then I attached that to a snowflake patterned rectangle.

I still had the actual O itself in the green card stock, so I attached that to a scalloped circle cut out of red card stock.  I added another scalloped circle cut out of "Merry Christmas" paper to that (to cover up the hole in the O).  I think this one is my favorite.

I'm hoping to get some real cartridges for Christmas and then I'll be able to have fun playing with cards and other projects.  Next year, maybe I'll do something a bit more creative with the gift tags, but for my first projects, I think they are pretty good!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Peppermint Hot Cocoa Mix

My daughter is SO excited to give Christmas gifts to her teachers at preschool this year!  She has had a great school year so far, and just adores her teachers.  So, when it came time to think of what to make (and yes, we always make the gifts for the kid's teachers) I wanted it to be something she could help with.

Last year, my oldest son and I did the "twelve cookies of Christmas".  That gift seemed like a great idea but once I had to come up with the 12 different cookies, then make them, it was more stressful than fun.  They did turn out great, though.  I'll see if I can find all the recipes and post them one of these days.  This year, I wanted to keep it simpler, but still as thoughtful and wonderful.

Then I found this idea on Pinterest.  Simple, easy peppermint hot chocolate mix.  It looks beautiful, makes enough to serve 12, and was easy enough for my 4 year old to pretty much do on her own.  It would have only taken 5 minutes to do, if it wasn't for unwrapping all of the peppermints to crush. :)

I made a star-shaped tag with the instructions on the back, added some glitter, and attached it with a red ribbon.  Simple, beautiful, and delicious!  I'm adding an angel ornament that I made to go with it.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kung POW!!

In addition to all of the crafts and things to do I've found on Pinterest, there are tons of yummy looking recipes.  The other day, I pinned this recipe for Kung Pao Chicken.  It looked SO good.  And, I already had most of the ingredients on hand.  So, with a few changes, this is what we ate for supper last night.

One thing I changed was that it was no longer Kung Pao Chicken.  We don't eat chicken much in our house, for medical reasons, so I substituted pork.  I just happened to have a pork tenderloin in the freezer. I also didn't have any linguine, so I used whole wheat spaghetti instead.  For the last substitution, I didn't have any red chili paste.  So I looked up substitutions, and found that you can just use red pepper flakes, which I have a lot of.  The substitution guide said to use 1/4 of the amount, which was 3/4 Tbsp of pepper flakes. time, I think maybe a little less would be good.  That is why I have renamed this recipe Kung POW Pork! :)

1 lb pork tenderloin, cubed
1/2 cup cornstarch (more or less - I didn't measure)
oil for frying
1 lb uncooked whole wheat spaghetti noodles

1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup dry sherry
3/4 Tbsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup sugar (I used evaporated cane juice, but you can do either)
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1/4 cup minced garlic
1 cup dry roasted peanuts (use UNsalted - I only had salted, and it was pretty salty!!)
1 cup green onions (sliced)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add spaghetti, and cook according to package directions.  When finished, drain and set aside

Meanwhile, toss cubed pork with cornstarch until evenly coated.  Heat oil in deep skillet.  Fry pork in batches until golden brown and folly cooked.  Drain on paper towels.

Mix chicken broth through sesame oil in a bowl.

Drain all but 2 Tbsp of oil from the skillet.  Add garlic and stir-fry for 15 seconds.  Pour in the sauce and add the peanuts.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thick and bubbly.

Mix the pork into the sauce.  Serve over the spaghetti and top with green onions.

I served this with a side of Japanese-Style Sesame Green Beans.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Snowflakes, Snowflakes, Everywhere!

I think every child does it.  It's like a right of passage or something.  Paper, scissors, and a little imagination.  What do you get?  Paper snowflakes.  I decided today was a good day to introduce this magical paper artform to my oldest two children.

I personally have never been much of a paper-snowflake-artist.  My snowflaking abilities never really progressed beyond about the 5th grade level.  So when I saw these patterns on pinterest, I thought I'd give them a try.

I started by copying the patterns by hand onto graph paper.  I thought graph paper would make it easier, but really regular paper would have been just as good.

Then, when my oldest got home from school, we sat down to make snowflakes!  First, I had to teach the 7 year old how to fold the paper.  Of course, since I haven't  done this in YEARS, I had forgotten how myself.  So I looked it up here.  Then we cut.  I used some of my patterns.  He used his imagination.  The 4 year old made confetti.

I strung the finished snowflakes on fishing line and we will hang them in the window.  Mine may look a little "nicer" but his are wonderful.  I will treasure this memory forever.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Time Out!!!

Time out is a great discipline concept for some families.  In our family, it works great...if you can get the child to sit still.  We have tried sending them to their room - too many toys.  We have tried standing them in the corner - doorstops are a fascination like no other.  We have tried sitting them on the couch - just doesn't seem to make the point.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw an idea on Pinterest for a time out chair.  As soon as I saw it, I knew we needed one in our house.  Now the one on there was professionally painted.  I am NOT a professional!  But I knew I could have some fun with it, and make something neat.  The kids now have a place to go for timeout, where they KNOW why they are there.

I started with just a plain wooden dining chair I picked up at Salvation Army.  When I went, I knew it needed to meet certain criteria - it had to be wooden.  Plastic is too light, and in a fit they would just tip over.  Plus, wood is easier to paint on.  It needed to be sturdy - no loose legs.  It had to be safe, after all!  Finally, no rockers.  Too much fun, plus little brother's fingers make a good target for rocking chairs.  I thought I'd look for a child size chair, but the 7 year old needs it just as much as the little ones, so bigger was better.  This is what I found.

Then I painted.  I already had a bunch of acrylic paints in the basement leftover from different murals in the kids' rooms, Jesse tree ornaments, and various other crafts. So, other than the chair itself, this project cost nothing.  Most of the colors took several coats.  Especially the blue.  For some reason that blue just did not want to look right!  Once I had the base coats on, I did the polka-dots, "zebra stripes", and some zig-zags on the legs (you can't see those in the picture - sorry!).

Then I did the writing on the seat.  It says "Timeout to think about the things that you do.  But always remember that I LOVE YOU!"  I admit it freely - I borrowed that phrasing from the chair I'd seen.  But it was perfect.  I used a font called Party.  Originally I thought I could find a way to trace the words, but I ended up free-handing it.  When it was done, it was a little (OK, a lot) off center, so I added the heart. Personally, I love the way it turned out.

Finally, I added the TIMEOUT to the back of the chair, and drew the hands on the clock.

It still needs a coat of something to seal it, but it's finished!  And just in time.  Both the 2 year old and 4 year old have used it this morning...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Activity Chain

My son brought this home from 1st grade this year, and I thought it was a great idea.  I'll probably reuse this craft in coming years with all three of my kids.  It is so simple, but he loves it, and it really does help with the anticip....ation of Christmas!

All they did was make a paper chain of alternating red and green construction paper.  On each link of the chain, there is an activity to do to get ready for Christmas.  Now, this is a school project, so no religious activities.  But, if you are making your own, you could definitely include whatever you want.  Also, his started on December 9, so if you wanted to go the whole month, you would just add more links.  Each day, we cut off a link and do what it says on the tag.  When the links are gone, it's Christmas!

Here is a list of what was on the chain he brought home:
- Make a Christmas card for someone special.
- Listen to a song about Christmas.  Be sure to sing along!
- Make snowflakes from a coffee filter or paper and hang.
- Share a joke or riddle with someone.  What does a snowman eat for breakfast? (Snowflakes!)
- Do something nice for a friend or family member.
- Go sledding with a friend or family member!  If there isn't snow, draw a snowy scene.
- Make a snowman.  If there isn't snow, draw a snowman and decorate the scene with cotton balls or glitter.
- String raisins or cranberries for the birds, or put bread crumbs out for the birds.
- Give everyone in your family a hug and tell them something you especially like about them.
- Watch a Christmas movie.
- Write a Christmas story or poem.
- Write a letter to Santa Claus.
- Make a paper Christmas tree and put colorful ornaments and decorations on it.
- Read a Christmas book with a family member.
- Make and decorate napkin rings from paper or a paper towel tube.
- Help make snacks for Santa Claus and his reindeer.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Toddler Busy Bag Exchange

Two year olds are difficult to entertain.  Am I right?  At least my little guy is.  So when my moms group announced we were having a Toddler Busy Bag Exchange, I was all over it!

What is a Busy Bag?  It's just what it sounds like. A bag full of things to keep toddlers busy.  In this case, 21 different games or things they can do over and over again.

Here's how our exchange worked.  We had 18 moms participate, with a total of 21 kids.  For each kid you wanted a bag for, you had to choose one "activity" to make.  So, if you just have one kid, you made one activity.   If you have two kids, you made two.  You could make anything you wanted, and there are tons of websites out there with ideas.  Here are a few:

I chose to make felt pizzas.
They were super easy.  Just cut a circle out of cream felt for the "crust", a slightly smaller circle our of red for the "sauce", circles out of a dark red for the "pepperoni", odd shaped almost circles out of brown for the "sausage" or "hamburger", green squares for "peppers", white squares for "onions", and I used grey felt for mushrooms.  I printed an outline of the mushroom on cardstock and traced it so it looked pretty close.

On the day of the exchange, we all met at our local library.  You just went around and took one of each of the different activities.  Now I have 21 different things to keep my toddler busy!  As you can see from the pictures below, some of the ideas were pretty elaborate; others were really simple.  But, he will love playing with all of them!

PomPom SortPomPom Stuff ItPasta Color Sort
Pipe Cleaner Stuff ItFelt FishiesFruit Loop Color Sort
PlaydohMemory GamePopsicle Stick Puzzle
Number WheelColor-Your-Own ButterfliesEdible Bracelets
Sand Seek-and-FindChalkboard"Bird" and "Worms"
Gel WriterAlphabet Letter MatchPaint Chip Sort
Make-Your-Own ButterfliesColor WheelFelt Pizza

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lightsaber Crafts (aka Moms, Please Don't Hate Me!)

I've made it a tradition to always have a craft for the kids to do at birthday parties.  I guess I'm just trying to pass on my addiction to my children!  We've painted wooden trains, made foam bookmarks, designed our own princess crowns, made cars out of toilet paper tubes.  So this year for my oldest's 7th birthday I wanted to make lightsabers.

A couple of years ago, he went to a Star Wars themed party where they made lightsabers out of pool noodles.  You can find "how-to"s for that all over the internet (here for example).  The problem is, this is December.  In Iowa.  And I didn't plan a Star Wars party back in the summer.  At that point he wanted Cars 2.  Kids just don't plan ahead.  And stores in Iowa evidently do not sell pool noodles in December.  Believe me.  I called at least 10 places.

So, rather than give up, I searched the home improvement stores for ANYTHING that could be used instead.  What I came up with was foam pipe insulation.  I actually loved this, because it's got a smaller diameter than the pool noodles, so it's more realistic.  However, it is black, and knowing my son and his friends, I was going to be a total failure of a party mom if the lightsabers were not the "right" colors.  So, I decided to have them wrap the entire length of the foam in duct tape.  An added benefit was that it ate up a significant amount of time! :)

After wrapping a little more than 3/4 of the tube in their chosen color of tape, we finished off with silver on the end.  I even splurged and got the shiny stuff instead of just plain grey duct tape.  Hey, he only turns seven once!  Each kid now has their very own lightsaber.

We did some Jedi mind training games involving blindfolds and knocking down cans.  The kids had pretend lightsaber fights.  Then we confiscated the weapons for the rest of the party.  I'm sure all of the moms are absolutely thrilled with me now that the kids have them back, and are at home chasing their brothers, sisters, dogs, cats, hamsters, or whatever else they can find.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

May the Force Be With You (Part 2)

So, by my last post, you can tell that the birthday party at our house is a Star Wars theme.  That requires a Star Wars cake.  Most years, I would be breaking out the buttercream, but not this year.  One of my son's best friends has food allergies, so he chose to have rice krispie treats for his party instead of cake.  He really is a great kid!

So, Rice Krispie Yoda it is!  I just made regular Rice Krispie treats (recipe found here).  It took 1 1/2 batches to get the amount I needed.  I added green food coloring to avoid frosting.  This really may be the easiest cake I have made yet.

I started by lining a cookie sheet with waxed paper.  It is going to make serving the cake 10x easier.

Then I made the first recipe of treats and put them in a well-greased 9" cake pan.  I let it cool a few minutes and turned it out on the cookie sheet.  That's when I learned a lesson...if you don't let them cool long enough, they fall completely apart!  SO, I squished it all back in the pan and let it cool longer.  This time it worked.

The second half-batch I just turned out on waxed paper and made a little brick.  This was my sculpting pile.

I started by making the ears, which were really pretty easy.  Just sort of big triangles stuck to the side of the circle.  I then used the remaining treats to make a nose, wrinkles, a mouth.  I basically just played with it until I was happy.

I used a big marshmallow and a chocolate chip for each eye, and have (I think) a pretty darn good Yoda cake!

Today is the party, and the boys are going to be making lightsabers (I'll post about that later), playing Star Wars, eating Yoda's face, and opening presents.  What more could a 7 year old ask for???

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

May the Force Be With You...

Tomorrow is my son's 7th birthday.  Wow!  That went fast!  And with each birthday comes the annual tradition of snacks for the classroom.  This year, he begged me to make cupcakes.  Alright.  Not too hard.  For cake, I forgo my no refined flour/sugar policy.  The boxed mixes are just so much easier than making 30 cupcakes from scratch!

But wait...those cupcakes have to be decorated.  And what are the 1st grade boys at our school really in to right now?  Yup.  Star Wars.  Is that just here?  Or is Star Wars huge with 7 year old boys everywhere?  Anyway, Star Wars cupcakes it is.

Now, if you haven't read my first post, let me explain that I love to craft and cook and bake, but I don't always have great ideas.  The internet, however, is full of them!  So, I googled star wars cupcakes and found a couple that I was able to use for my inspiration.

I decided to do two different flavors - white with white frosting for the Yoda cupcakes, and chocolate with chocolate frosting for Vader (the dark side...).  Then I had to make the faces.  I used fondant, which I bought at the store, and tinted green and black.

I used a small circle biscuit cutter to make the heads for Yoda.

Then I used a knife and cut some triangles to make the ears.

I attached the ears to the heads, and had pretty good looking Yodas.

Then I used a toothpick to make the indentations for the face, and white and chocolate frosting for the eyes.  I got the "pattern" for the face here.

I plopped those down on the white cupcakes and they were done!

For Darth Vader, I used a bell shaped cookie cutter - hey, it's almost Christmas.  That box of cookie cutters had to come out anyway.

Then I used white frosting and the smalled decorator tip I have to make the face, using the idea I found here.

Vader went on top of the chocolate cupcakes.  Done!!

Hopefully all the kids in the class will appreciate the love and effort that went into making these cupcakes.  Ha.  Who am I kidding.  At least my son will be happy!