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!!