Monday, October 29, 2012

I-spy bottle

Nearly every year at Thanksgiving, we make a trip to see family in Idaho. It's a 9-11 hour drive depending on the roads. My kids are not the type of kids that are content sitting in a car, strapped into their car seat for a long day. I've already started thinking about this journey and trying to come up with some activities to keep them busy without watching movie after movie.

I've seen I-spy bottles in the stores and I've seen DIY versions too. Of course, I am going to try to DIY instead of paying $20 for a store-bought version. I started with empty coffee creamer bottles. They're a little larger in size, so I can hide more stuff in them. Plus, I save our creamer bottles to use for various things, so I had a couple ready to go. I searched my house for a bunch of little trinkets. I used everything from pennies to dice to buttons to binder clips to jolly rancher candies to legos. Pretty much anything that was small enough to fit in the bottle I gathered up to use. Here is my super mom trick: My kids are little. They can't read. Making a list of things that are in the bottle isn't very useful, especially because I'm trying to create a quiet game they can do in the car on their own. So, I took a photo of each of the items before putting it in the jar. Remember this. Then I put all the trinkets into the bottle alternating with a 1/2 cup rice and 4-5 trinkets at a time. I used a total of 30 trinkets per bottle. I hot glued the lid to the top of the bottle and also hot glued the lid closed. I wouldn't want the rice and junk being dumped in my house or my car.

Enter the photos again. I uploaded the images to my local Costco and had prints made for each of the items. I made 2 bottles and they contained almost exactly the same items. There were a few different things in each bottle but mostly the same. I ordered prints of the images so each bottle had a full set of pictures of each of the items in that bottle. I trimmed the images to a smaller size, punched a hole in the corner and threaded onto a binder ring. Now mom or dad doesn't have to be involved with the game! (I get car sick and turning and looking into the back seat makes me incredibly ill.)

The girls can play the game in a couple ways. They can take their book of pictures and find each of the items from the book. Or, since the jars are nearly identical, they can race by flipping to an image and both trying to find the trinket at the same time. The second way does contain a little more involvement from me, but doesn't necessarily need to.

Hope this mini tutorial helps you come up with a good quiet game for your kids. The pictures are a great addition for younger children too. Spy away!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness-round 2

I can't believe it's the end of October! When I worked in retail, we were already prepping and planning for Holiday. I'm proud to say I have most of my Christmas shopping done. Woo hoo! It feels great to have these things checked off my list.

The holidays are filled with excitement and energy, kindness and generosity. Through all the glitz and sparkle, gifts and goodies, I want my kids to understand the story and spirit behind Christmas. (I understand many of you may not celebrate Christmas, but this is the holiday of our home. Please know I am not intending to fail to acknowledge other beliefs.) Last year, I hosted a contest/giveaway for a little princess. I was truly humbled by the wonderful stories submitted and it was difficult to narrow down to just one winner, so I ended up choosing three. You can read their stories here. This year I want to have a similar giveaway, but I want to make sure I include both little boys and little girls. Here are the details:

I will begin accepting submissions for children starting immediately. For each nomination, please provide me a narrative/story of the child and why he/she should receive a surprise gift. I also need the child's full name and shipping address. Please also indicate whether the child would prefer princess or superhero costume and approximate size. Nominations will be open until November 9th. I will select the winners and begin making the costumes. This is intended to be a surprise, so neither you as the nominator nor the child will be notified ahead of time. After the gifts have been received, I will make a post talking about each child's story. NOTE: if you provide a submission, you are giving permission for me to share the child's story. Last names will not be used. Please email all submissions to:

The winners will receive either a princess tutu and hair bow or a superhero cape and mask. Littlest Wonders has also generously donated a crocheted hat for each winner. This will be sent anonymously to the child around the Christmas holiday.

I look forward to reading the stories of the special children in your lives. My other intention for this contest is to inspire each of you to perform your own random act of kindness. How about buying the coffee for the person behind you in line? What about raking the leaves in your neighbor's yard? Or make some cookies and take to a friend? Offer to run an errand for a sick friend or relative? Surprise a single mom with a few hours of child care. Your acts of kindness don't need to cost money. Your time is much more valuable than many things you can buy. Think about something simple that would make someone else smile.

Lastly, if you are a vendor who would like to contribute toward a superhero or princess prize, please email me at the same address (

Monday, October 15, 2012

Chai Tea Mix

Chai tea is another warm drink favorite of mine. If you are a chai tea latte drinker, you have your own preferences when it comes to amount of sweetness, spice and creaminess. I researched several chai recipes last year and made my first batch according to one particular recipe. Once I tasted it, I adjusted it to how I like to drink mine (less sweet, more spice, medium creaminess). Here is my recipe:

1 cup powered milk
1 cup instant coffee creamer
1 cup french vanilla instant coffee creamer
1-1/2 cups white sugar
1-1/2 cups instant tea (unsweetened and unflavored)
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon allspice

Mix well in a large bowl. I like to use a wire whisk to keep the powder super fine. Store in an airtight container. This will keep for months. Use 2-3 rounded teaspoons per cup of hot water.

I hope you've enjoyed my series of hot beverage mixes. I'd love to hear any suggestions or changes you make to these recipes. Stay warm this fall and winter. Cheers!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hot Chocolate Mix

Hot chocolate is fun for kids and the little kid inside all of us adults. It's a great belly warmer when it's chilly outside or for a fun breakfast treat. My second recipe to share is another long time favorite of mine. I remember helping my mom make batches of this hot chocolate mix when I was a kid. We had this big Tupperware container we'd use only for the hot chocolate. I made up the first batch in years last winter and gave some as Christmas gifts. It was perfect to take camping because you only need water to make it. Now, I get to have my kids help make the hot chocolate. My youngest is CRAZY for hot chocolate and chocolate milk. Here's the recipe:

1 cup instant cocoa mix (like Nestle Quik)
4 cups powdered milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup instant coffee creamer (unsweetened, unflavored)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients well. Store in airtight container. This makes a large batch of hot cocoa. If you seal in baggies, it will keep for months. Use 4-5 rounded spoonfuls per cup of water.

I hope you enjoy this hot chocolate with your family as much as we do. This recipe has been passed down in our family and I'm happy to share it with you too! Stay tuned for the third recipe in my drink mix series!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Instant Russian Tea Mix

The cooler weather makes me want to drink more warm beverages. There's nothing better than a hot cup of (enter favorite drink here) on a chilly day to warm me up. When I was pregnant with my kids, I drank a lot of hot tea. I always start my day with a cup of coffee, but I prefer to mix it up for the rest of the day. I have a couple of old favorite drink recipes I want to share with you along with one new favorite, too.

My mom is a tea drinker. She loathes coffee. She used to make this instant russian tea mix for home. It's really simple and it's a nice change to your herbal or black tea. Russian tea is a citrus, spiced tea. It has a little sweetness to it, but I like the spicy flavor best. Here's the recipe:

1/2 cup instant tea
2 cups instant orange drink (like Tang)
1/2 cup instant lemonade mix (more on this below)
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cloves
1 Tablespoon cinnamon

This is super easy. Mix all ingredients. Store in air tight container. Use 2 rounded spoons per cup of hot water.

The instant lemonade mix is variable. If you're using something that has sugar (such as Country Time), 1/2 cup works perfectly. Lots of options are sugar free and use much less. I can remember my mom using Crystal Light, so it's simply one container/package (to make 2 quarts). I used a sugar free lemonade mix pouch in this recipe. Just use whatever the directions state for a 2 quart mix.

This is the first of three posts for hot beverage mixes. Stay tuned for instant hot chocolate (just add water) and chai tea mix. Cheers!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Who says you can't get excited about spaghetti?

Spaghetti is a great comfort food. Warm pasta with a tomato based sauce. Simple. Classic. Boring? It depends. I admit, I used to buy my marinara sauce from the store. Easy. Cheap. (My local supermarket has cans for $0.80 each this week.) The prepared version is loaded with preservatives, sodium and lots of things I can't pronounce. So I started making my own. It's pretty simple, really. I will make a large vat of sauce every 6-8 weeks and freeze it in family size porions. I use the sauce for spaghetti, goulash and even chicken parmesan. No batch is ever quite the same. Partially because I generally don't use a recipe and partially because I "hide" vegetables in the sauce. It's a great way to use up the veggies I have on hand, especially those that my kids aren't crazy about. And who can't use a few more vegetables in their life?

I found a recipe on Pinterest for a crock pot marinara. I liked the idea of making it in the crock pot and letting the flavors simmer and meld all day. I can't simply take a recipe and follow it, so I borrowed some ideas from the recipe I read and added my own touches and spices. I also thought I'd add up the cost to making a batch to compare to the $0.80 can from the store. Here's my recipe (for today):

2-28oz cans diced tomatoes       $5.00
1 6oz can tomato paste               $0.48
1 medium onion                         $0.29  I used a sweet onion, but use what you have/like
4 cloves garlic                            $0.05
basil (about 1T dried)                $0 from the herb garden
oregano (about 1T dried)           $0 from the herb garden
2 bay leaves                                $0.05
salt to taste                                  $0.01
black pepper                               $0.01
1T balsamic vinegar                   $0.05 even using the expensive kind, the cost is minimal
1T brown sugar                          $0.01
1 medium zucchini                     $0 from our garden
1 small-med butternut squash    $0.50 this came from a bountiful basket so very inexpensive
1# maple sausage                       $0 My dad gets a 4-H hog and shares some of the meat, optional add
TOTAL                                      $6.45

My recipe was to mince the garlic and finely chop the onion. Add to slow cooker. Add tomatoes, paste, spices, vinegar, brown sugar and some salt and pepper. Cube the zucchini and squash and add to tomato mixture. Stir well. Cook on low for 8-9 hours. If you choose to add a ground meat, brown it first, then add to the sauce after it is fully cooked.

This method gives me more than 3 quarts of sauce. If you round to an even 3 quarts, your cost is $2.15 per quart (32 oz) which will make about 6 servings. Add a standard package of pasta for $1 and you have a main dish for about $0.52 per serving! We ate ours with some lettuce greens from the garden and our whole meal was right at $0.52 per person. Granted, we were lucky to have some of the additions on hand at no cost to us, but, again, use what you have and be creative!

Here's the great part: this took very little effort on my part to prepare (thank you crock pot!) and now I have marinara sauce for 2 additional meals in my freezer. Sweet!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Quick and Easy Halloween Decor

If you've been reading my blog for very long, you know that I'm a big fan of quick and easy. Meals, crafts, cleaning, you name it. Today's project is right in line with those characteristics. This happens to be a Halloween project (since that's the time of year) but can be changed to any holiday or home decor. Be creative!

I've really started canning this year. My favorites are pickles and applesauce. A friend of mine gave me some quart size jars leftover from her wedding decorations that I can use for canning. I had a couple extra and thought I could come up with something decorative to use them. Here is what I used:

3 quart size canning jars
glitter mod podge
dry beans

I used a stencil to trace the letters "B-O-O" out of orange paper and then cut them out. You can cut out letters, shapes, or whatever goes with the holiday or decor theme you want. Using the mod podge, decoupage the paper to the jar. 

I thought the glitter mod podge would be a festive touch, but use what you have. The great thing about mod podge is that it dries clear. Don't be afraid to use a lot to get your paper to stick to the jar. I like it uniform, so I painted the whole jar with the glitter mod podge.  It made the jars all glittery and have a little texture too. Set aside and let them dry.

Once dry, fill your jars. Again, use what you have or what works for the decor. I thought black and white beans would be cute as well as easily used again. You can use candy or marbles or any small objects to fill the jars (be careful if you have little ones!).
 To finish, tie some coordinating ribbon at the top of the jar.

The finished product is super cute! It was easy to make and you can have kids help along the way. I'd love to see or hear some of your creative variations. Happy Halloween!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Doggie (Birthday) Cupcakes

I am a dog lover. I didn't know it until I was almost 30. I didn't grow up with a dog. My mom isn't exactly the most animal accommodating person on the planet. She tolerated cats (one at a time of course), but that was really just because of extreme pressure from her children. The first (and only) dog I've ever had is our wonderful german wirehaired pointer mix Nikki. She was a shelter rescue. We went to the local humane society every week for 6 weeks before we found this scrawny scraggly pup. My husband and I fell in love with her immediately and she's been part of the family ever since. She was our first "child." She was our ring bearer in our wedding. And she is spoiled rotten! :)

This week is Nikki's 7th (people years) birthday. As in most homes with small children, birthdays are a big deal. To help celebrate our dog's birthday, my oldest daughter and I made up a batch of doggie cupcakes. I can't even remember where I originally found this recipe but it was somewhere online. I made these doggie cupcakes for Nikki's 1st birthday and she loved them. Of course, what dog wouldn't like something that looked like people food?? It's been a few years since the last batch, so making some for her 7th birthday (and sharing with the neighborhood pooches) sounded like a good idea. The great thing about this recipe is that it is made with ingredients you likely have at home. Plus, if a child gets a hold of one, they're safe to eat for humans as well. Here's the recipe:

2 shredded carrots
1 egg
2 mushed bananas (the riper the better)
2 T honey
3 c water
4 c flour (whole wheat preferably)
1 t baking powder
1 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon

Blend water, carrots, bananas, egg and honey in a large bowl. Add all of the dry ingredients and mix well. Prepare muffin tins with grease or papers. (I'm usually a big advocate of cupcake papers, but I usually grease the tins for the dog cupcakes to prevent any accidental paper consumption.) Fill tins 3/4 full with the batter. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. Cool well before serving. This recipe makes about 2 dozen cupcakes. Don't need that many? You can half the recipe for just a dozen by cutting all ingredients in half but still using 1 full egg.


Have fun delivering to all you furry canine friends!! Happy birthday to our Nikki-dog!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

DIY Cleaning Supplies

Holy cow! Fall is here! OK, not technically until next week, but it's certainly headed that direction. With my oldest going back-to-school and activities starting again, it's been crazy for me. I'm sure your family is no different. I constantly have ideas in my head for new blog posts. It's just a matter of me sitting down and typing them out for you.

At our house, there's never a shortage of messes, laundry, dishes, or cleaning to do. Not only do these things pile up, but they're never ending. And the supplies needed to take care of them can really add up, especially for a family on a budget (like ours). Thanks to the good ol' world wide web and my personal favorite, Pinterest, it's much easier to discover thrifty ways to save on cleaning supplies. In today's blog, I'm going to share a couple of favorites and one that was more of a bust.

Laundry, laundry, laundry. Completely unavoidable. It's not really the DOING of the laundry I dislike as it is the folding and putting away of the laundry. If I can put away all the laundry I wash and dry in a day the same day as I wash and dry it, it's reason for celebration. We do a ton of laundry around here. I wish I had a dedicated laundry room, but our washer and dryer are confined to a closet. (The architect of my house was a complete moron, or a single dude who has no idea how a family actually functions.) I digress. Having 2 kids who aren't afraid of getting dirty creates a lot of laundry in and of itself. Add on my husband and myself and towels and bed linens....well you get the picture. I generally try to limit my laundry to 2 days a week, but they're pretty full days of washing.

What I'm trying to describe is a LARGE amount of laundry. To buy detergent to wash that much laundry was getting a bit ridiculous, especially because of our sensitive skin. I had to buy dye free, perfume free detergent to prevent my kids and me from scratching our skin bloody. You laugh. It's happened. I had read some tutorials about how to make laundry detergent, but it appeared to be a little labor intensive. After talking with a friend who actually made her own, I researched more and thought I'd give it a shot. This is the recipe I used from a blog called I Can Teach My Child. My first batch was pretty much according to her instructions. The batches after that I've made slightly more concentrated. She recommends to split the mixture into 10  1-gallon containers and I've found with the amount of soiled laundry I have that about 7 1-gallon containers makes it at the strength I need to clean my clothes. Regardless, it is less than a penny per load!

I keep my jugs (recycled milk jugs) in the garage, clearly labeled, and bring them into my laundry area as needed. Give the jugs a little shake before using (it separates and gets a little chunky). I use about 3/4 cup per load of laundry. It works like a charm! As good if not better than commercial detergent. It does not irritate our skin. I'm incredibly happy I found this solution!

Another amazing DIY cleaning supply is a tub and tile cleaner I learned from my friend Angie. Angie has her own cleaning business (in addition to being a mom and a wife and having a successful direct sales business). She hosted our crafter's club meeting one month this spring and taught us how to make several different cleaners. My favorite was a tub and tile cleaner. It's easy to make and it works better than any commercial cleaner I've used. We have very hard water where we live, so the mineral deposits are endless. Plus, as I've mentioned before, my kids aren't afraid of getting dirty and my husband owns a landscape oriented business (read: lots of mud). Our showers/tubs get gross. This cleaner takes it all off. It doesn't require a ton of elbow grease to work either! Bonus!

Here's Angie's recipe:
12 oz white vinegar
10 oz blue Dawn dish soap (must be this color and brand)

Heat vinegar for 2 minutes in the microwave, add to spray bottle. Pour Dawn soap
into bottle and shake gently to mix.

TO USE: Spray cleaner in tub or sink, let sit for 2 minutes (or longer, depending on how
dirty it is) and then wipe clean with a DRY cloth! No water, or you will have a
bigger mess than when you started.

Seriously, try it. Hands down best tub cleaner out there.

Now for the flop. I'd had so much success with DIY cleaners, I thought this was the way to go! I researched and found a homemade dishwasher detergent recipe I wanted to try. (ps, this is a great blog, and the recipe may work for others. I am not stating it is a bad recipe.) I wash dishes and run the dishwasher like it's going out of style. That's what happens when you cook for 3-4 kids several meals per day and then a family at night. I was anticipating this blog, so took a great picture of the ingredients needed and was trying to make it look nice for my readers.

I ran the first load and wasn't happy with the results. It didn't clean very well at all. Thought I'd try a little more detergent the second time. It left a nasty film on all the dishes and the dishes were still dirty. I tried adding more vinegar as a rinse agent. Nope. Then I remembered why I originally started buying the expensive detergent: with our hard water and contractor grade appliance, generic and less expensive detergents didn't work. I have to get the name brand detergent (and then it cleans great). Sigh. Can't win them all!

Bottom line is that there are lots of options to try DIY cleaning products. Some will work. Some may not. Most are so inexpensive that you can afford to make them and try them for yourself. Good luck! May your house be clean and your wallet be full!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Easy Red Curry Chicken

Let's face it. Sometimes every family needs a quick recipe for dinner. One of my favorite quick recipes is a simplified version of red curry chicken. This recipe will take you more time to make your rice than it does to cook. Here we go!

You need:
1 can coconut milk
1 rotisserie chicken
red curry paste
vegetables (your choice)
salt/pepper to taste
1 T sugar
fresh basil for garnish
serve with rice (we prefer jasmine rice)

Start your rice cooking. We have a handy dandy rice cooker, so I just add my rice and water and turn it on. Remove the skin from your rotisserie chicken. Tear/cut the chicken into small pieces and set aside. Cube your veggies (make about 1/2" cubes). Put about 1/4 cup of the coconut milk (should be white and solid) in a large skillet. Heat over medium heat until melted and smooth. Add 1-4T of red curry paste. My kids don't like hot/spicy food, so I used 2T. Stir until well combined. Dump the rest of the can of coconut milk and stir. Add the veggies first so they soften and cook. Mix in the sugar at this time. When the veggies start to get soft, add the shredded chicken. Stir and warm until heated through and the veggies are cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with rice and basil for garnish.

That's it, folks. You can change the flavor depending on the veggies you add. I kept it simple with some zucchini and a little onion.

Hope you enjoy this quick recipe! You can keep the curry paste and coconut milk as staples in your home and just add the meat and veggies. The rotisserie chicken cuts down on the cooking time, but you (obviously) can use chicken breasts or other meats you have at home.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Pumpkin Zucchini Muffins

August and September are the months out of the year where we are inundated with fresh squash and zucchini. I plant them in my garden each year partially because they're hardy and will grow in our short Montana summers. The kids like them because you can actually see the growth from day to day. Last year, we had too much. I think I supplied about 6 families with all the squash and zucchini they could eat. We cut back on our plants this year, but our harvest is wonderfully plentiful. I like experimenting with different ways to use these vegetables. I personally love them roasted with salt, pepper and some fresh herbs. I use them pureed in my homemade marinara sauce. Of course, there's the ever popular zucchini bread. I have a wonderful recipe for zuke bread, but was searching for something new tonight. I really wanted to combine the warm nutty flavor of pumpkin with the delicious spices I usually use in the zuke bread. Plus, I'm a sucker for breakfast muffins.

I started with a recipe from "The Baking Barrister" and tweaked it toward my preferences. Here's my adaptation.

Preheat your oven to 350. Line upcake tins with papers or thoroughly grease.

2 c. flour
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
3/4 t. salt
2 t. ground cinnamon
1-1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 t. ground ginger

Combine these ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Grate 1 medium zucchini. Place the grated zuke in a tea towel and wring/squeeze as much water out of the pulp as possible. Measure out 1 cup and set aside.

1/2 c. butter at room temp
1-1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 c. pumpkin puree
1/3 c. water

Beat the butter and sugar until well combined. I was out of brown sugar, so I used all granulated/white sugar. I would normally do half brown and half white, but use what you have! Add the eggs and mix until smooth. Slowly add the pumpkin and then the zucchini and beat well. Begin adding the dry mixture about 1/2 c. at a time alternating with the water until you've combined all the ingredients into the batter.

Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full with batter. I was able to make 18 muffins and a small loaf of bread using this recipe. Once the batter is in the cups, sprinkle with NoMu sweet rub or Olivelle's sugar and spice dipper. This is an amazing combination of cinnamon, sugar and other spices that I use regularly. Bake for 20 minutes (or until a toothpick comes out clean). If you greased the cups, let cool slightly before removing muffins.

These are so moist and delicious! The pumpkin adds such a warm flavor and I think contributes to the moist texture. My husband spreads a little cream cheese on them and it is truly a party in your mouth.

Stay tuned for more breakfast muffin recipes this week!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Making Manners Fun!

Something very important to me as a parent is teaching my kids manners. There's no such thing as "too polite" in my book. Things like "please" and "thank you" are the foundation. I teach and we practice using phrases like "May I please...." on a daily basis. My husband and I are also working on having the kids sit at the dinner table, even if they are finished eating, until everyone is done and then asking to be excused. These are all simple things to teach my girls manners.

Thank you notes are another instance of showing manners. I want my kids to learn to be gracious for the extras in life. Birthday parties and friends are fun and birthday presents are extras. My kids are still pretty little, but it's not too early to have them help write thank you notes.

My oldest daughter just had her 4th birthday. She had a lovely party with friends and family. She's not quite old enough to write her own thank yous so I came up with this idea. Why not make the creation of the actual thank you card a craft project? She loves doing craft projects and it keeps her engaged in the process, even if she can't write the content.

I dug out a handful of my scrapbooking supplies to make the cards.

We started by using a light fibrous paper to stamp the word "thanks" a bunch of times over and over. Sorry, I didn't get a picture of the stamped page. Then I let her cut out each word.

I cut out paper to the size of 6" x 8" so when it's folded the card is 4" x 6". My daughter glued "thanks" to the front of each card.

Her birthday party theme was My Little Pony, so she stuck a couple MLP stickers to the fronts of each card.

She wanted to make them fancy, so we worked together to put some Prima paper flowers on each card using a brad.

Once the cards were done, I wrote the thank you note based on what she dictated to me. At the end, she wrote her name at the bottom of each card.

This was a very simple craft project to do with only a couple adult assistance steps. You can make it even easier by using index cards and stickers for younger kids. Having my daughter help in the thank you process helps her learn manners and graciousness. Sometimes the journey is just as important as the final product!!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Parenting Tip: Birthdays

I love birthdays. I love making my kids' birthdays extra special for them. I like choosing a theme with them and decorating like crazy. I'm still working on a post to show some of the fun ideas and decorations from my youngest daughter's party this spring.

But this post isn't about decorations or cakes or parties. It's about gifts. We all know that gifts are synonymous with birthdays (especially for kids). My husband and I noticed early on with our kids that birthdays and Christmas easily became overwhelming for them. You have to keep in mind that we don't buy a bunch of gifts. We're pretty practical (and thrifty) and don't feel we need to spend lots of money or buy lots of things to make a birthday or Christmas special. And yet, the girls would get this glazed look in their eyes when opening gifts and not know where to start.

We tried something different this past Christmas and have continued through their birthdays (my oldest will be 4 tomorrow!). We started a couple days before Christmas (or birthday) and let them open one gift. We would help them choose which gift so it was a toy (instead of clothes). This way, they would open the present, love the present, play with the present and enjoy the present without any pressure to continue opening more gifts.

What a world of difference it has made! The kids actually PLAYED with all of their gifts and there wasn't one or two forgotton. Plus, it provides hours of entertainment! A caution I would have is to make sure that one sibling can play too, so there's not someone left out, or be prepared to have one-on-one time with the non-gift opening sibling.

I'm sure there are people who might not agree with this plan. Who might want to keep everything special and associated with one day. Who don't think that their kids get overwhelmed when receiving gifts. I strongly believe every parent does what's right for them and their own family. I DO encourage you to consider this as an alternative. It truly has made a difference for our kids. Besides, who doesn't want to celebrate a birthday or holiday for more than just a day??

Here's a picture of my girls playing with the first present my oldest got to open. A Barbie pool!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quinoa with Roasted Acorn Squash

If you've been a reader of my blog then you know a couple things about me. First, I like to try new recipes. Second, I am a firm believer of using what you have at home. Today's recipe was a total experiment on my part. It could have easily bombed. Fortunately, it was delicious! My whole family liked it and it will be added to my regular recipe rotation.

Quinoa is something I haven't cooked before. I hadn't even heard of it until I was pregnant with my 2nd and my crazy preggo hormones wouldn't allow me to eat meat. My doc suggested it as a way to get extra protein in my diet. I've seen some delicious recipes using quinoa, but hadn't tried any. To top it off, the local grocery store sold it for an outrageous price and my regular grocery store was constantly out of it. I finally made a stop at a different locally owned store and bought a box (for a reasonable price) to try at home.

I wanted to use up some of the veggies I had in my freezer. I got some lovely acorn squash in my Bountiful Basket a while back. We didn't eat all of it, so I peeled and diced what was left and froze it. I thought that would be a nice flavor to add to the quinoa. That's where I started. Here's how it turned out:

Hello deliciousness! Here's my recipe:

1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 acorn squash, peeled and cubed
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 nice-sized handfuls of greens, chopped (more on this later)
2 tomatoes, diced
parmesan cheese
sunflower seeds or pine nuts
olive oil
other seasoning (more on this to come)
First, heat your oven to 325 degrees. Put the squash in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and stir to coat. Season with salt, pepper and other seasoning. I used NoMU Smokey Peri-Peri rub because I LOVE the flavor. The nutty sweetness of the squash with a touch of smokey heat was awesome. I have a local specialty food store that sells it (Check out Olivelle) or you can order on Amazon, too. Roast your squash for 45-60 minutes until soft. The time will depend on how big your cubes are. Turn off the oven and let sit inside to keep warm.

When the squash has been in the oven about 30 minutes, start making the quinoa. I recently made some homemade chicken stock that I wanted to use. The flavor is amazing and there's very little sodium and no preservatives. Hooray! Heat the stock until boiling, add the quinoa and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the outside of the grain becomes transparent and you can see the little "seed" in the center of the grain and the liquid is absorbed.

As you are making the quinoa, add a little olive oil to a skillet and saute the garlic and onion until soft. Add the greens to wilt them a bit. I happened to use red lettuce, spinach and some swiss chard all from my garden. I liked the variety of the texture and flavors, but again, use what you have! Once the greens are wilted, add the squash and warm through.

Your quinoa should be about done at this time. Combine the veggies and the quinoa in a bowl and mix well. Toss with some freshly shredded parmesan cheese. Serve with diced tomatoes and some sunflower seeds or pine nuts. I would have preferred pine nuts, but we just had the sunflower seeds on hand.

The flavors in this dish were great! I added the fresh tomatoes to keep it lighter for summer. You can use this recipe as a framework to make some changes and create your own dish. Try butternut squash or use a summer squash and zucchini. Try feta or goat cheese for a tangy flavor, or use an aged gouda to increase the nuttiness. Add a jalepeno for some heat and use cilantro for greens. Be creative! Have fun! Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trying something new: Quilt As You Go tutorial

There are a few things for which I'm a sucker. Crafts. Quilts. Learning something new. Challenges. OK, there's more, but for the purpose of today's post, we'll stick with those four. Here's my story.

I absolutely love making quilts. One of these days, I'll make one for myself. Right now, I make them for my kids, for gifts and for folks who order them through my home business, Carlia Creations. Recently, I've been doing a little research on the Quilt As You Go (QAYG) technique. One of the difficult things about quilting, for me, is the actual quilting part. I don't have a free arm machine, so my machine quilting is either stitch in the ditch or basic (and I mean basic) free hand machine quilting. The QAYG method allows for more detailed machine quilting using a standard machine because you're only quilting a small portion of the quilt at a time. There are a couple of different ways to QAYG, too. I thought I'd try the strip method to make some festive holiday decorations. One of the great parts to strip QAYG is that you create the decorative top at the same time you quilt so it saves time! For better or worse, I documented it in photos to share on my blog. If it worked, it was going to be a great pictoral tutorial. If it didn't work, at least I would know what NOT to do the next time. Fortunately, it worked and turned out great.

My inspiration came from a magazine. I saw a cute idea to use bandanas to create a flag placemat. It was a little rough, though. It had unfinished edges and glued to an existing placemat. The idea was great, but the execution made me decide to give it a go and make it better. I'm going to explain the process using "bandana" and "flag" but you can use any strips to make a placemat, table runner or quilt.

Supplies you need:
1 red bandana or fat quarter
1 blue bandana or fat quarter
1 white bandana or fat quarter
quilter's batting
1/2 yard of cotton fabric for backing
1 package quilt binding in coordinating color

Rotary cutter
Acrylic ruler
 I bought red and blue bandanas (they didn't have white) and used a white on white printed cotton fabric I had at home.

I cut the fabric in 2.5" strips.

I wound my bobbin using thread that matched the bottom fabric I was going to use. In this case it was a light blue.
I cut a piece of cotton fabric a little wider than the width of my bandana (about 16") and the length of my finished flag (about 15"). It's always better to have a little extra you can cut off than to not have enough. I cut some quilter's batting the same size. I used what I had at home, so it was a blue cotton fabric and a polyester batting. Be sure to square up one corner exactly. Line up the cotton fabric right side down then the batting and then the first strip of your bandana.
Pin and sew 1/4" seam along the bottom edge. All seams will be 1/4" seams.

Take your next strip (white) and place it right side down (right sides touching) matching the bottom edge of the new strip along the top side of the first strip. Pin through all the layers. 

Sew 1/4" seam along edge of strip sewing through all layers.

Open seam and press flat.

If you turn the project over, you can see the first quilting lines sewn!

Line the bottom of the next strip along the top of the previous strip keeping right sides together. Pin. Sew. Press.

Continue adding strips in this fashion. For the blue part of the flag, take one red strip and one blue strip, line them up right sides together and sew the short end. Press seam open.
When you line up the red/blue strip onto the flag, eyeball (aka guess) where the blue portion should be. You can make fractions and measure it out, but trust your instinct and line it up about 1/3 of the way across. Pin and sew like the other strips. Repeat for 1 blue/white strip and one more blue/red strip.

Finish by sewing the top edge of the top strip through all the layers of your project.
Notice all the nice quilting on the back side!
Using your rotary cutter and acrylic ruler, trim the edges of your flag removing excess fabric and batting. Be sure to keep it squared!
Finish the edges by sewing a binding around the sides. I had wide red quilt binding that worked great for this project.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on the Quilt As You Go strip technique. This is my first major tutorial and my first sewing tutorial, so if you have any comments or feedback for me, please don't hesitate to comment below. I'm not used to this many steps and pictures, so if you're trying to replicate and have questions, please ask and if I missed something, please let me know so I can add it.

Happy Sewing!!