Thursday, December 20, 2012

The fastest, easiest gift!

Don't laugh! This is the easiest, fastest teacher/hostess/neighbor/mechanic/mailman gift ever! I always keep all items on hand during the holidays for a quick gift. This really doesn't need a tutorial, but I'll do one just in case your brain has gone numb from all the holiday stress & craziness!
Here's what you need: A pack of cookies (anything festive will work, but I personally LOVE peppermint), a holiday tin, ribbon & some decorative waxed paper (even plain waxed paper would work, but this is an optional addition).
Stuff in the waxed paper so it's flat on the bottom & fluted up the sides.
Open the cookies. Make sure a quality control test is issued...

Fill it up, put the lid on & tie up with some ribbon! Then decoratively sprinkle your facorite soft peppermint candies around for the picture. Yum!
I told you this was easy!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dark Chocolate Torte

Every Sunday I make either a dessert or an entree for Football Sunday (it's a weekly holiday in our household) and my mom makes the other one. I wanted to make a dessert this weekend but with no flour and 3 cartons of eggs in the refrigerator, I knew there was only one dessert that I could really make. Drum-roll please...... A dark chocolate torte. Believe me, I'm so grateful for the circumstance, 'cause this torte is easy (only 5 ingredients, which I always have on hand) and delicious!

Ingredients needed:

  • 16 oz dark chocolate (you can use semi-sweet as well! I always recommend a higher quality chocolate, especially for this recipe, but all I had were Nestle Dark Chocolate Chips)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and grease a spring-form pan generously! Melt the butter and chocolate in a saucepan over low heat.

The delicious after!
Separate the eggs.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and vanilla together.

Slowly beat the warm chocolate mixture into the yolk mixture until well blended.

With the mixer on high speed, blend the egg whites until soft peaks form.

Gradually beat in the 1/4 cup of powdered sugar until it dissolves and whites stand in stiff peaks.

Fold the stiffen egg whites into the chocolate mixture, one third at a time.

Spoon the batter into the pan and spread evenly.

Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (about 1 hour 10 minutes for me). Let the torte cool in the pan. When cool, remove the sides and cut into slices.

Sprinkle half of the wedges with cocoa powder and the others with powdered sugar. Arrange the slices alternately on cake plate.

I serve this with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but it's insanely delicious just on its own! You'll want to eat more, but it's so rich you won't be able too!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Football Yarn Wreath - Go Vikings!

I've seen yarn covered wreaths everywhere lately and since I couldn't find a nice fall wreath that I liked, I figured I would try making one myself. Browsing through Joann Fabrics, I had a ton of ideas running through my mind, but all that was discarded when I saw yarn in purple and gold. It's football season and what better way to show my support for our team than with a stylish wreath on our door!

Here is my list of supplies:
  • Foam wreath
  • Colored yarn
  • Embelleshments (I chose a wooden V and football)
  • Ribbon

Since I purchased a plain wooden V, I painted a couple coats of white and then sprayed it with a matte sealer. Once that was dry, I glued the football on top of the white V so it would be ready to attach to the wreath when I finished it.

Next, I tied one end of the yarn around the foam and then continued wrapping and wrapping and wrapping, switching hands occasionally to avoid cramping!
How I started the wreath

Over half-way done!
Finished wrapping yarn!

Once finished with wrapping the yarn, I glued the embellishment to the wreath and tied a white ribbon around the top to hang it up. This was a very simple way to create a wreath that fits your style perfectly! These are a great gift and will definitely be making more for all the Viking fans in my life!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

I want to introduce a system that we've come to adapt in our household, to accommodate O's language developments: its called "PECS" - the Picture Exchange Communication System.  

Essentially, it is the use of pictures in place of words for actions and items; rather than ask my son what activity he would like to do next - and rattle of four or five options that would verbally overwhelm him - I hand him his book of pictures, and he picks the activity from a page of velcro-ed images.

Here's how we made O's book:

We bought this small three-ringed binder from Staples, and two sets of these, as well, to divide up the categories in his book.    (I also purchased a package of this hard, plastic "paper" to use inside the book as pages that hold velcro strips with the images...but I can't for the life of me remember what that "paper" is called!)  I used my label maker to divvy up the different categories we'd have for O to search through on various occasions.

I then went through and found images - almost entirely from google-image searches - and saved them to my desktop.  I wanted each image to be a square, and be the exact same size in the binder.  Here's how I did that in Open Office for Macs (I'm not sure if it is the same for PCs):

First, I cropped each image in to the square, and then copy/pasted them individually in to a word document. To make an image down to the perfect size in word, you right click the image, click "picture."  In the "Type" section, you have the option to change the height and width.  Because I wanted all of my images to be the same size (and fit in the binder well), I changed the width and height to be equal to one another.

I printed out pages and pages of these perfectly sized images.  For extra protection, I ran them through my laminator (you can take your images to Kinkos to be laminated.  Given how much use our PECS images get used, I'm glad we took this extra step!).

I cut them out in to the perfect size, and put velcro dots on the back:

I did this for all of the categories:

We also have a section for routines.  I've posted his Bedtime Routine below as an example: it shows all of the steps we take to get ready for bed.  He's been doing this specific routine for so long, that we don't use this set any more.  But, if we have to change the routine for some reason, we change it on this sheet, and then use it to go through each step.  It helps him to better visualize what he is doing next, and what it is ultimately leading to.

Now that O is becoming more verbal, we don't use this as often as in the past.  But for a long time, this book was a life saver!  Whenever O was having a meltdown, instead of trying to list a dozen different things he might want ("sweetie, do you want a sippy? a banana? do you want to color? want to watch cars? what about a nap - are you tired?"), I would hand him the book, and he would flip through it to find an activity that could help calm him down.  

And, given the size, it fits so nicely in my diaper bag or suitcase for traveling!

This book definitely took time and effort to put together - and it honestly is still a work in project.  Sometimes I have to remove activities that are no longer feasible, or that are season oriented (like swimming or going to the park).  And I have to add other activities to fill their spots, or activities in which O has becoming newly interested.  But it has been a worthwhile investment.  This book has shortened meltdowns, and made decision making significantly easier for O. 

Hopefully you can take something away from this post that can help your child communicate with you in a more effective fashion!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"At a Glance Journal" For Toddlers

About a year ago now (wow!) I started keeping journals for my boys.  I was at Michael's Craft Store and saw a few hard cover sketch books on sale and decided that they would be perfect for this project.

When I took the books home, I was eager to get started, but a little overwhelmed by the task ahead of me: here I was, hoping to start a journal that I would like to write in for the next several years.  It had to be all encompassing: holding pictures, drawings, random little tidbits of noteworthy moments.  It had to be practical.  Knowing had to be perfect.

I started from the outside and worked my way in. (for some reason, this made it seem FAR less daunting!)

I wanted to personalize both of the boys books as much as I could.  For O's cover, I re-printed a stencil that I had used for his Halloween costume that year - he was Super O!:
Totally adorable, right?!
It turned out like so:

On the inside covers of his book, I wrote a small quote I found that just completely depicts my relationship with him:

Once I finished coloring in my big bubble letters, I let O go crazy on it.  He had just turned two when I started the books, so now I have a beautiful drawing that perfectly depicts both his personality and artistic styles at the time.

I had determined earlier that I wanted it to be an "at a glance" style journal; something that I could write in every day, but see multiple days at a time, just by opening one page.

I started out just experimenting with using a grid for the whole month, to see if I had enough room still in each square to write something substantial.  And it totally worked.  I measured the width of the page, and then divided it by four on the left side, leaving a little wiggle room.  I then cut a perfect sized square out of the side of a cereal box to be my template, and I created the grid in that fashion.

But doing it that way took a lot more time to put together than I was hoping to spend on just writing out each month.  So, I switched to circles.  I had a circle stencil similar to this one, and found a size that would fit four across on the left page, and three across on the right page.  And I LOVE how it turned out:

I can do it MUCH quicker with the circles, which is great, because I usually stencil out three or four months in advance.

And I LOVE having "guest" writers!  My husband's sister came in town and drew a VERY accurate portrait of O!  

At the time, he was obsessed with Cars II, and would only eat graham crackers.  Almost every night, he'd bring a small piled of graham crackers in front of the TV and would just stare up at Lightning McQueen and Fin McMissile.  I love that I can be reminded of that adorableness when I go through his journal. 

I do love how they are turning out.  It is fun to end most days by jotting down one or two special things that each of the boys had done.  Even after a bad day, it takes effort to look back and find something noteworthy and positive - sometimes I need that little reminder that even bad days have beautiful moments.

My hope is that, as the boys start getting older, they can sit down with me at the end of each day and tell me what they want to have put in their journal.  And, eventually, they can do it for themselves.  It would be fun for me to see what they find noteworthy about their days - and a good lesson for THEM to try and find the beautiful moments in the bad days.

Thanks for looking!  I hope you were able to get a few ideas of how you can journal your children's growth and development!
The End 

Halloween Baby Jars

Am I the only one who cannot bear to get rid of baby food jars? I literally have a cloth tote bag full of clean empty jars just waiting to be used! My husband has been bugging me to get rid of them, but there must be an adorable way to re-use them... right? 

I'm proud to announce that I have found a way! I saw on Pinterest awhile back some baby food jars that were spray painted yellow to resemble lego characters (which I will be doing for the Conductors first birthday coming up in November, but that's a different post for another time!) and mentioned the idea to Catti. She suggested painting the inside of the jar to keep the outside nice and smooth and a little more durable. Catti also had some orange paint on hand and we thought how cute it would be to make pumpkins! I took the idea and ran!

Here is my Halloween Baby Jars tutorial:

First off, you need your supplies:
  • Obviously some clean, dry baby food jars. I soak the jars in water for a couple minutes to get the label to peel off easily. 
  • You'll need paint. Catti had some washable paint which did an okay job, but I had much better results with the Joanns store brand acrylic craft paint, but really most any paint will do the trick!
  • A permanent marker for details.
  • Paper towels for any clean up and spills
  • A paper plate. I used the plate for when I would tap the jars in case paint came out during the process.

Make sure to shake the paint if needed! I poured about a tablespoon of paint into the jar and slowly swirled it around to cover the bottom evenly.

Then, I tilted the jar horizontally and slowly turned the jar (think like a cement mixer) making sure the glass was getting covered evenly. The first two I was tapping insistently on the kitchen table and it took me about 15 minutes to get each jar covered. On the third jar, I tapped it again the palm of my hand and it went much quicker when I rolled the paint along.

There. Now we've got three orange colored jars ready to be jack-o-lantered. I drew a couple test faces on a piece of paper to figure out which ones I liked the most and then proceeded to draw them on with the permanent marker.

Of course after finishing the pumpkins I started thinking of Frankenstein and Ghosts! Maybe even a Witch or Dracula! Same process, just different colored paints and new faces!

Then make sure you husband comes in and makes himself at home on your work table. He brought me a mug of pumpkin spice though, so I guess I can't really complain.

Ta-daa! I let the jars dry overnight (much to the dismay of the Engineer who had a hard time keeping his hands off of the jars - he wants to incorporate them into his train scenes) and worked on the lids the next morning.

To paint the lids, I screwed them onto the jars, poured some paint on the top of the lid (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of paint) and dabbed it with a foam brush. The application was not smooth and was bubbly, but I let it dry and proceeded to do another 3 coats and they turned out better than I thought they would!

Enjoy! We can't wait to see what ideas you come up with for your left-over baby food jars!

P.S. I just couldn't resist...