Easter 2015

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Easter celebration!  I promised to give you the details of ours, so here goes.  Jeff’s parents were visiting the week leading up to Easter and left for home on Good Friday, so we had a Good Friday egg hunt and feast to send them off consisting of:

The Barefoot Contessa’s Perfect Roast Turkey

The Barefoot Contessa’s Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

The Barefoot Contessa’s Roasted Asparagus

Bulk Herb Store’s Chocolate Strawberry Cheesecake

Water Kefir Lemonade (fermented water kefir plus 1/4 cup lemon juice)

As you can tell, I love the Barefoot Contessa.  I am always delighted with how her recipes turn out; these recipes were no exception!  I’m sad to say I was disappointed in the cheesecake recipe (sorry Bulk Herb Store!); though it’s not nearly as healthy, the Cheesecake Factory original cheesecake copycat recipe presented here is still my favorite.

We celebrated Easter at church on Saturday evening, which is our normal time to attend church.  Then, we had a pretty typical Sunday morning, but we did dye and decorate hard boiled eggs and take baths so that we would look our best for our EASTER PICTURES!  Here are the family picture highlights:

2015.04_Family Pic

(best family picture)

2015.04_Couple pic 2

(best couple picture)

2015.04_Kid Pic

(best kid picture)

2015.04_Worst Pic

(and, lest you think all our picture taking endeavors are magical, here’s the worst picture)

Then, we did our Easter egg and basket hunt.  For those of you who are curious, I stuffed my kids’ plastic Easter eggs with:  nickels, dimes, stickers, Barbara’s Vanilla Animal Cookies, nuts, Yummy Earth Gummies, Annie’s Gummies, “chore pass” coupons, and “free smoothie” coupons.  In the past, I’ve also stuffed the eggs with bracelets, xylitol sweetened gum, pretzels, hair ties/clips, Legos, lip balm, balloons, dice, etc.  In their Easter baskets this year were a small toy (car/plane), fun pencils, summer hats, a few crafts, and a chocolate bunny.  Other great ideas I’ve heard or used are spring/summer clothes, shoes/sandals, sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, garden/sand toys, games, books, art supplies, and Legos (do they ever get old?!).  In any case, here are some pictures from the action.

2015.04_Egg Hunt Gwyn

Gwyn (22 months) got a 30 second head start in the Easter egg hunt, which didn’t help her very much because she would find an egg, then open it, eat what was inside (if edible), and then go searching again.  In the picture above, she’s opening an egg, happy with what she found and probably surprised that we were letting her eat so many sweets.

2015.04_Egg Hunt Ben

Ben (almost 5) started the Easter egg hunt 30 seconds after Gwyn.  He doesn’t have the same sense of urgency or keen attention to detail as his older brothers yet (as you can see from the picture where there’s an Easter egg hanging in the bush beside him), BUT he had still fun AND found the most eggs!

2015.04_Egg Hunt Will

Will (7) and Elliot started the Easter egg hunt 60 seconds after Gwyn.  Lest things get too easy for them, we hid their Easter baskets very well this year.  Here’s Will pointing to his in our backyard tree.

2015.04_Egg Hunt Elliot

Here is Elliot (9) jumping for an egg.  You can see his Easter basket in the background on the roof!  Like I said, we didn’t want it to be TOO easy.  (We also didn’t want Gwyn finding their baskets and eating their bunnies!)

After the egg/basket hunt, we made dinner.  The boys were excited to get to use their dyed eggs to make dinner.  On the menu was simple dinner of:

Tarragon Egg Salad on toasted English muffins with tomato and bacon

Salad of Mixed Greens with Brianne’s Poppy Seed or Honey Mustard Dressing

Chocolate Milk

Easter Candy

Throughout the weekend, we talked, sang, and thought about Jesus and his sacrifice.  It was a sweet, simple time of talking with our kids about who Jesus is, why Easter is important to us about it, and why we celebrate!  Though I believe fun and food are important parts of our celebration, I believe our dialog is even more important, so we’re hoping to make that experience deeper and richer in the years to come!

Growth Chart

Today, I want to show you how to make a few simple, easy growth charts for your family or as a gift for a child/family you love.  The in-depth tutorial presented here is going to take through the process of making a growth chart using canvases and paint, two of my fondest arts & crafts loves.  However, at the end, I link you to another few tutorials for making growth charts out of wood (a 1″ x 6″ x 8′ board to be exact).

Canvas Growth Chart

Materials

3 Canvas Panels, measuring 9 x 12″

4 Small Hinges

Acrylic Paint (I use Master’s Touch brand from Hobby Lobby)

Poly-Acrylic (I use Minwax brand from Lowe’s)

1 Picture Hanging Sawtooth (or D-Ring)

1 Picture Hanging Hook/Nail (optional)

Process

1.  Start by lining up the canvases so that two of the 9″ sides touch.  This allows the 12″ sides give you as much length as possible (for measuring growing children!).  Then, screw the hinges onto the back sides of the touching 9″ sides as shown below.

IMG_7153

2.  Turn your hinged canvases over and make 1″ markings along one side of the canvas.  You can make all of the markings the same width or vary their length to look like a ruler (which is what I did if you look closely at the second picture below.  I believe that my 2, 3, and 4 FOOT markings were 2-3″ in width.  My 3″, 6″, and 9″ (quarter foot) markings were 1″ in width.  And, all the remaining inch markings were 0.5″ in width.  In any case, you can play around with the width of them until you get the aesthetic that you’re looking for.

IMG_7152  IMG_7154

3.  Next, I drew the inspirational picture onto the growth chart.  In my example here, it was lady bugs climbing a vine.  But, the sky is the limit here.  You can draw anything.  I would look at growth charts from Pottery Barn, Land of Nod, Etsy, and Pinterest until I found one that I (or a dear child in my life) fell in love with.

IMG_7166

4.  Now, get out your paint and fill in the drawing.  I’m not going to lie, it can take a while.  But, for me, this is the most fun part.  I love to paint!  Can you tell?!  🙂

IMG_7445

5. Once the painted part is how you like it, allow it to dry thoroughly (at least 24 hours).  And, then, apply 3 coats of poly-acrylic, following the directions on the can (I think it’s one coat every 2-4 hours).  Then, allow the entire chart to dry thoroughly again (at least another 24 hours).

6.  Last, but not least, attach a picture hanging sawtooth or D-ring to the TOP of the back side of the canvas.  If you’re giving the growth chart as a gift, you may also want to give a picture hanging hook and nail set for the wall mounting convenience of the recipient.

You can also include an inspirational note or message on the back of the canvas as I did on the left side here.  I simply used an ultra fine point sharpie to write the message and went over the writing with the poly-acrylic as I was sealing the rest of the painting.

IMG_7447

This is my favorite way to make a growth chart with a picture, but it’s certainly not the easiest or least expensive way to make one.  I also love the simple, rustic look of the growth chart in the tutorial here:

http://517creations.blogspot.com/2011/04/ruler-growth-chart-pottery-barn-knock.html

And, this rustic growth chart tutorial would also be easy to adapt with paint and stencils to make one like Pottery Barn sells here:

http://www.potterybarnkids.com/products/personalized-measuring-tape-growth-chart/?pkey=e|growth%2Bchart|11|best|0|1|24||7&cm_src=PRODUCTSEARCH||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-NoMerchRules-_-

In any case, if this inspires you, go make something fun for a child in your life and, most important of all, WATCH and ADORE them as they GROW!  🙂

Quick, Easy, and Adorable Kid’s Valentine’s Day Cards

GRANDPARENT SPOILER ALERT:  To all the grandparents of my children who read this blog, you may be getting one of the cards described in this message in the mail soon.  If you would like to be surprised, you may want to wait until after Valentine’s Day to read this post.  😉

This afternoon, I was inspired by my beloved, Pinterest, to make these Valentine’s with my kids.  Setup, project, and cleanup literally took less than an hour.  They turned out so cute and the boys had so much fun making them (or anytime we get out paint of any kind for that matter!).  So, without further delay, here’s how we did it:

Heart Handprint (Valentine or Anytime) Cards

Materials

Cardstock, cut to 8 1/2 x 5 1/2″ and folded in half (to make a card sized 4 1/2 x 5 1/2″)

Invitation Envelopes, size 4 3/8 x 5 3/4″

Tempera or Acrylic Craft Paint

Paint Brush (optional)

Marker

Process

I cut and folded the cardstock in advance and had it ready for our card-making time.

VDC_01

Then, I brushed the boys right hands with pink paint, aligned the card in front of them upside down with the crease to the right, and stamped the hand print.  I repeated with all of the cards and then moved to the left hand.  I brushed the boys left hands with red paint, with the card still aligned in front of them upside down with the crease to the right, and stamped the second (red) handprint just to the left of the first (pink) handprint as shown below.  I repeated with all of the cards and had the boys wash their hands.  Simple as that and the boys parts were done!

VDC_02

Once the paint dried, I turned the card right-side-up with the crease to the left and drew a heart around the handprints.

VDC_02b

It’s optional, of course, but I thought it was cute to write their name and age at the bottom, too.

VDC_03

I paired each card with an envelope and now we have lots of cute Valentine’s to send out to loved ones!

VDC_04

I hope you and your loved ones enjoy this project as much as we did!  I would love to hear your experiences.  If you decide to make it your own and modify it, I would also love to hear your ideas for that!

Healthy No Bake Peanut Butter Cookies

Sometimes, you’re just in the mood for a cookie.  My boys love these cookies and they are full of ingredients that I’m comfortable with.  You can add more oats for a firmer cookie and/or chocolate chips, coconut, chopped nuts for more flavor/texture.  However, I will say that we happen to like the basic, unamended recipe the best!

Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup butter

1 cup oats

2 Tbsp. wheat germ or flour

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup chocolate chips, coconut and/or chopped nuts, optional

Preparation

Heat the peanut butter, honey, and butter until smooth.  Then, add the oats, wheat germ, and vanilla.  Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.  Then, add in the chocolate chips, if using.  Pour into an 8×8″ pan and refrigerate.  Alternatively, you can drop spoonfuls onto wax paper and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.  Enjoy!

Art Folder (Beta Version)

Let me just give you a quick update on what’s been going on in our family lately.  Ben (2) learned how to crawl out of his crib and onto the top of my minivan, all in the same month.  Jeff and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary and Jeff’s 36th birthday.  The garden is going crazy.  And, Elliot started homeschooling (level K in some subjects and grade 1 in others, like science and math, no surprise there).  Anyway, it’s been a bit busy, but we’re getting into a good routine for which everyone is thankful.

In any case, today, I’m going to take you through a tutorial on making an art folder for your, or your children’s, drawing pleasure.  These art folders are particularly nice for travel since everything gets stored efficiently and folded up compactly!  On a recent family trip, I think I drew as much (or more!) than the kids and I’m not joking!

I’ve been putting off posting this tutorial for a few weeks because I still have some ideas for improving it.  However, I decide to go ahead and post what I’ll call the beta version.  And, then in a few weeks, after I try out some of the improvements I have in mind, I’ll post the alpha version.  🙂

Materials

*All seams are 1/2″ unless otherwise noted.*

For the Outside:

2 – 4.5 x 13″ fabric pieces (the red Curious George print in this tutorial)

1 – 13 x 14″ fabric piece (the yellow solid in this tutorial)

2 – 10-12″ handles (the blue solid in this tutorial)

For the core:

1 – 1″ 3 ring binder

masking or packaging tape

For the inside:

1 – 13 x 21″ fabric piece (the cream muslin in this tutorial)

1 – 9 x 13″ fabric piece (also cream muslin in this tutorial)

1  – 6 x 13″ fabric piece (and, again, cream muslin in this tutorial)

2  – 1.5 x 13″ fabric strips for binding (the yellow solid shown here)

colored pencils or crayons

coloring book or drawing pad

Preparation

Start by removing the rings from the 3 ring binder.  I did this by bracing the white part of the binder with one hand and very firmly pulling on the rings with the other hand.  If you don’t brace the white part of the binder, it will crease and bend when you pull on the rings.  So, be sure to brace it as best as you can.  A little bending and creasing is fine, but you may not like the results if there’s too much.  I would also like to note that I chose a white binder because then if my fabric is light colored or thin, I won’t notice any color coming from the binder beneath it.

Next, covers the holes you made by pulling out the binder rings with either clear packaging tape or beige masking tape.  DO NOT use duct tape.  I did that the first time around and could see it through my fabric.

Measure and cut all of your fabric pieces as described above in the materials section.

Take the 6 x 13″ piece of fabric and iron the bottom 1/2″.

Next, take the 2 – 1.5 x 13″ strips of fabric and make 3/8″ binding with them.  Iron the strips in half lengthwise to make the folded strips measure 3/4 x 13″. Then, iron the strips lengthwise again, folding the edge 3/8″ (half of 3/4″ = 6/8″) to the interior of the first crease to make a binding strip 3/8″ x 13″.  Does that make sense?  I’ll try to remember to take more pictures of the process next time, until then please feel free to ask if it doesn’t make sense!

Sew the binding strips onto the long edges of the 9 x 13″ piece of fabric and the 6 x 13″ piece of fabric that you ironed above.

Baste the 9 x 13″ piece of fabric to the right side of the 13 x 21″ piece of fabric as shown below.  Baste the 6 x 13″ piece of fabric 4″ from the left side of the 13 x 21″ piece of fabric as shown below. Then make seams in the middle of this/these piece/s.  I’ve made 3 seams in this example.  However, I will make more in the future because 3 seams didn’t hold the colored pencils in as tightly as I would have liked.  The more seams you make, the more tightly the pencils will be secured; however, be sure to make the pockets wide enough to hold at least 1 colored pencil/crayon.  Otherwise, the pocket will be useless.  Alternatively, you could add slightly gathered elastic along the underside of the yellow binding on these pieces.

Center and pin the straps to the interior of the binder as shown.  Spacing is personal preference.  It looks like I had about 3″ on either side of each strap.

Next, sew one of the 4.5 x 13″ pieces of fabric (red Curious George) to the left side of the 13 x 14″ (yellow) piece of fabric.  And, sew the other 4.5 x 13″ piece of fabric (red Curious George) to the left side of the 13 x 14″ (yellow) piece of fabric, so that it looks like this when you’re done.

Place this red/yellow piece FACE DOWN, RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER with the cream colored interior of the binder two pictures ago (sorry I forgot to take a picture of this step!).  Pin all the pieces in the sandwich together and sew a seam along three of the edges (leave the bottom open).  Invert to reveal an inside that looks like this:

…and an outside that looks like this:

Insert the prepared (de-ringed and taped) binder into your art folder.

Pin the bottom shut, folding the raw edges toward the interior as shown here:

Top stitch the bottom edge and remove the pins to reveal:

…a completed ART BINDER!  Now, go draw in it…or just bask in its beauty for a few more moments!

Rustic Colored Pencil Holder

I saw this idea on Pinterest and fell in love.  So, I asked my dad to help me with it during our trip to Ohio last month.  Decently sized fallen trees are easier to come by in Ohio than in Texas (especially since they just had a big storm a few weeks before we arrived).  First, acquire a log…like the one below.  This log is about 6″ in diameter and will accommodate about 12 colored pencils.  To accommodate 24 colored pencils, choose a log 8″ in diameter.  And, to accommodate 36 colored pencils, choose a log 9″ in diameter.

Next, cut the log down to the desired height.  I chose to make mine 4-5″ tall.  As an optional but recommended step, apply 2-3 coats of shellac to the log.  Shellac will help keep the wood from splitting and cracking with use.

Next, drill the desired number of holes (12, 24, or 36) into the top of your log about 1.5″ deep.  Use a drill bit slightly larger than the diameter of your colored pencils (test this on a scrap piece of board before drilling your log).  Apply a little bit of shellac to the holes to protect them.

Once the shellac has dried, drumroll please…insert your colored pencils into the holder and behold its rustic beauty!  I made each of my kids one of these:

And, then, I made this one for me:

…it’s a bit unfair, I know, but they will probably be hijacking borrowing my colored pencils soon anyway!  🙂

Traveling with Kids

We recently returned home from a trip to Ohio to visit our friends and families.  Since we live 18 hours away and travel to see them once or twice a year (driving and stopping only for gas), many of my friends ask me for tips for happy traveling with small children.

For this trip, we packed a few toys, mostly cars (since I have 3 boys).  This time around we also taped together a cardboard box, drew a road on it, and placed it in the center back seat between their car seats as a barrier between them…or, rather, a play table.  😉  We also packed art folders with coloring books, drawing pads, and colored pencils (NOT crayons or markers because they are too hard to clean up on the road if a curious young child decides to color on something other than the designated books).  I will be posting the art folder pattern soon; I’m still working out a few details on it.  And, lastly, we packed some movies and video games.  We try to encourage them to alternate playing/drawing with media.  I also packed a few dollar store surprises…a bag of balloons for blowing up and bouncing around the car and glow sticks for playing with in the early am/late pm.  I know these thing sound really simple.  But, since we don’t play with balloons or glow sticks very often, they really did a great job of adding a little excitement when the boys started to get restless.

And, last but not least, I would suggest packing your own meals WITHOUT ANY REFINED SUGAR since we want happy kids in the car all day.  As I said earlier, we only stop for gas. So, the car ride is long, but the trade-off is more time with our friends and family (as opposed to stopping and staying in hotels or eating in restaurants along the way).  Also, eating our meals in the car helps pass the time instead of prolonging the trip as a stop at a restaurant would.  In any case, I thought it would be fun to share what we ate on this trip:

Breakfast: Bananas and Breakfast Burritos with Eggs, Cheese and Salsa

Lunch: Pita Chips, Carrots, Celery, Humus, Raspberries, Blueberries

Dinner: Turkey/Cheese Wraps, Broccoli, Raspberries, Blueberries

Snacks: Greek Yogurt, Trail Mix, Apples, Peanut Butter Cookies (sweetened with honey)

Drinks (not shown):  Milk (for the baby), 1 Juice Box per person, and LOTS of water

I packed our lunches and dinners in plastic divided containers (available for $0.75-3.00 or so, depending on where you shop).  If you don’t like plastic containers, the Smart Planet Silicone Collapsible Lunch Boxes and PlanetBox Lunchboxes are also really neat (especially for school/work lunches).  The latter range in price from $10-80 each, depending on the options chosen.  And, they are exceptional in quality and are suitable for long-term, daily use.

This is the first trip in which we completely avoided refined sugar in our meals and I believe it made a big difference in our energy and attitudes along the way.  We had a great drive there and back (except for the a/c going out for a while during our drive back home :/ )…but even better than that, we had a great time with our family and friends and keeping the focus on the joy of being with them while we drove also helped keep us happy as we traveled!