Monday, September 30, 2013

No-Bake Mac & Cheese

This has to be one of the few foods that actually tastes just as good or better, even when it's re-heated. For that reason alone, every mama should have a decent mac & cheese recipe in her repertoire. I have tried several over the years. In case you are wondering, it was a process to wean my kids off of that nasty stuff in the blue box! So far, this is our favorite, and the main reason why is that the kids don't like the baked versions that involve bread crumbs. (Not sure why considering the little dude is essentially a "carbivore" but whatever...)

I am not complaining, though, since this saves me time and money.

To make our no-bake mac & cheese, I use my personal revisions to this recipe. I omit the Dijon mustard, altogether, for personal taste preference. Also, instead of adding the frozen broccoli to cool down the dish, I serve it steamed on the side. As much as my kids like broccoli and other vegetables, (Really! They do!!) I cannot convince them to eat it mixed in with the mac & cheese.


  • 8 ounces whole wheat elbow noodles (2 cups, or about 1/2 a box if you don't feel like measuring)
  • 1 3/4 cups low-fat milk -- divided (Okay, honestly, I often use whole milk because that is what we buy for the kids. This tastes good either way, but the whole milk is richer.)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • pinch of pepper (The original recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper. I use black pepper which is what we always have on hand.)
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or Colby-jack, whatever is on hand)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (The original recipe calls for shredded, but I use grated because we always have it.)


  1. Boil a large pot of water and cook macaroni noodles according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, simmer 1 1/2 cups milk over medium-high heat. (I use my "green" ceramic frying pan for this.)
  3. Whisk the other 1/4 cup milk, flour, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in a small bowl to combine, and then add the mixture to the simmering milk. Return to a simmer, stirring constantly for about 2-3 minutes, until the sauce thickens.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in cheeses until melted.
  5. Drain the pasta and then add the cheese sauce. Over medium-low heat, stir the macaroni and cheese for about 1 more minute, until heated. You can serve this right away, or as I mentioned above, re-heated. Sometimes, if I know we're going to have a hectic evening, I will make it during the day, and then re-heat it at dinner time. It's perfect either way, and my family eats it up.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Boo to You: Year #4

I love Halloween! It is my second-favorite holiday, right after Christmas, and I think it can be so much fun! Okay, I don't love all of the blood and gore that I seem to be seeing more and more of, but that's not the point. Halloween can and should be fun for kids of all ages, which is why our family once again initiated "boo bags" in the neighborhood. This is a simple and inexpensive way to spread a little holiday cheer.

We first started this in 2010, and I don't think it spread beyond the first two houses where we delivered our "boo bags."

Then, we tried again in 2011, and the results were pretty much the same.

Last year, Brett was a little surprised to see me at it again. However, come Halloween, I was pretty darn excited when we actually received our own "boo bag!" This meant that it was possibly catching on, or at least that someone figured out who started it and passed it back to us. Anyway, it was all new stuff -- not what we had included in our "boo bags" -- so this gave me hope that people were ready to join in on the fun!

This year's bags were the simplest (and probably cheapest) yet. Knowing that I would continue this tradition, I found items on clearance after last Halloween and put them aside for this year. The bags themselves were small canvas trick-or-treat totes that I found at Meijer for 14 cents apiece. The insides of the "boo bags" included items I had saved for this occasion and other little things I had on hand such as:
  • a small package of animal crackers (left over from soccer snacks)
  • some Pixie Stix (left over from the rainbow pinata)
  • a few suckers (I am guessing that these were left over from some other birthday party that the kids attended at some point...)
  • jack-o'-lantern pencil erasers (I had gotten these a couple years back on clearance at Target.)
  • Halloween pencils (Also from that same shopping trip to Target, if I remember correctly.)
  • plastic vampire teeth (These came in a 24-pack that I got on clearance at Kroger. I put 3 sets per bag into 2 baggies, and then I placed each baggie into each "boo bag.")
  • a set of black and orange paper bag luminaries (These were also on clearance at Meijer - 30 cents for each package of 8.)
  • window gel clings that spell out "Boo to You!" (Perfect, right? These I got either at Walmart or Kroger last year, for 50 cents each, and I bought all they had at both stores. I also got some other Halloween gel cling window sets that were not creepy or gory, which is why I can't remember exactly which store they came from. The moral is: just buy things after Halloween and make sure to get them when you see them because they will be gone by the next time you get to that store.)
  • 3 copies of the "You have been BOO'ed" poem, explaining the activity -- one for each recipient of our "boo bags" and two more for them to pass along to neighbors.
  • 3 copies of the "We've been BOO'ed" sign -- one for each recipient to put in a window, door, or even on the garage door -- and two more to pass along to neighbors.

That's it. I didn't add cute ribbon or do any rubber stamping or anything else to make it more decorative. (The idea is to make it fun, not to spend lots of time making it look perfect.) I didn't make excessive copies of the papers in hopes that this would help it spread throughout the neighborhood, as I had tried in the past. (This didn't work anyway, so save yourself some paper and printer ink!)

I just kept it really, really simple -- and cheap! It cost me a little over a dollar, and certainly no more than $2 per bag. (14 cents for the bag, 50 cents for the gel clings, 30 cents for the luminaries, and add few more cents for things that I have forgotten the cost of. When you break it down per unit, this was very affordable.)

Once we had our "boo bags" assembled, Logan got into our red wagon, I slipped the leash on the dog, and we went for a walk around the neighborhood. (It is always nice when we get perfect weather for these special deliveries!) Once we had selected our candidates (people who were not home, and who had not gotten "boo bags" in the past), we quickly slipped them into their mailboxes, and kept on moving. 

He had a lot of fun delivering our secret packages. In fact, it was hard for him to contain his excitement as we were headed down to the bus stop at the end of the day and he noticed one neighbor retrieving the "boo bag" from her mailbox. "Look! Mrs. T. got our bag!" I reminded him, "Shhh. Remember, it's a secret," and he replied, "Oh, yeah... right!" Not that I was upset, mind you. It's nice to know that someone else is having fun with our "boo bags", and I am just enough of a cock-eyed optimist to believe that eventually more neighbors will participate in the fun...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Photo Thank-You Cards for a Shark-Themed Birthday Party

After making fill-in-the-blank style photo-thank-you cards for the past few birthday parties, I think I have it almost down to a science. The only part that nearly threw me was that when Mia was this age she was able to start helping to personalize the notes by signing her name. Logan, on the other hand, can't write his name and to be honest, I'm not even sure if he knows what letter it starts with! Luckily, I was inspired by my friend Liz who had her son color a homemade shark birthday card, and I realized that Logan could do the same thing for his thank-you cards. (By the way, Liz, I have your card sitting right in front of me, so it's coming soon!)

{Card views from the outside (top) and inside (bottom)}

  • blue card stock (8 1/2" x 11")
  • paper trimmer
  • word processing software/printer
  • pinking shears
  • scrapbooking adheseive (or glue stick)
  • markers/crayons/colored pencils
  • pen
  1. At the party, take a picture of each guest. We used the shark photo prop that I had made for this.
  2. Have photos printed. Note: My 4" x 6" prints were ordered from Snapfish.
  3. To get two cards per piece of card stock, fold a sheet in half, hamburger style. Then, use a paper trimmer to cut along the crease. Now you have two cards. Again, fold each one in half like a hamburger.
  4. Check to see that the photo fits inside the card, trimming as needed. Next, use scrapbooking adhesive (or a glue stick) to adhere the photo to the inner left part of the card.
  5. While the card is still open, use your pinking shears to cut a "bite" out of the top left corner of the card. Make sure that this won't cut out anybody's face, of course. If desired, use a pen to add the date below the photo.
  6. For the fill-in-the-blank thank-you templates, use word processing software like Microsoft Word. Mine is in portrait layout and I was able to fit four per page. I chose to keep this simple, but still fun by including some invented words (or, as I like to call them, "mommyisms.") The wording reads:

Dear ______________________­­­_____,                        
     Thanks for helping me celebrate my                                       
“jawsome” 4th birthday! Thanks also for                         
the  ____________________________                                           
It’s “fintastically” fun!                                                       

Your friend,                                                                                        

There was also a photo of a shark that I found online and inserted to the left of Logan's name, but I can't get it to show up here. After printing these out, I trim them to size with my paper trimmer and then use pinking shears to make decorative shark "bites" along the top and bottom edges. Lastly, affix the fill-in-the-blank template to the inside of the card, to the right of the photo. Depending upon the age of the birthday boy (or girl) you can either fill this in or let him (or her) help.

7. For the front of the card, print out simple coloring page shark designs. I can't seem to find the image I used, but just do a search for something like "shark images for coloring." I pasted my image into Microsoft Word and scaled it so that I could fit six per page, in landscape format. Then, I used word art to "Thank You!" below each shark. I trimmed and adhered these to the front of each card and then Logan colored the shark pictures.

I love the idea of taking the theme all the way through the party and wrapping it up with a thank-you card. Adding photos is a little something extras that makes for fun souvenirs. These cards were not difficult to make, (once I did the advanced planning and creation of the shark photo prop!) and they were perfectly personalized to the theme of Logan's "jawsome" 4th birthday party. For more themed party thank-you card ideas, see my previous posts about the Care Bears party thank-yous and the Cars-themed party thank-yous and the Fancy Nancy party thank-yous.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mommy Holds It All Together (Barely)

I try to not write negative posts because really, who wants to read it? But then, I occasionally think, well, maybe people would like to hear the honest-to-goodness not-so-great stuff and not just the "highlight reel" that I typically broadcast. So, let's be honest here. This week has been loooooooooong and difficult.

Being a mom is really hard. Moms hold the entire family together. When I say "family" I mean the schedules for all children and pets PLUS household (and sometimes yard) maintenance. Of course, the mom also has to keep track of Daddy's schedule (and while this mommy thankfully does NOT need to do all the scheduling for her husband, I do at least need to know his meetings and appointments and have them noted on the master "MOM" calendar), in order to keep the family machine well-oiled and in working order. That is not counting anything that moms need (or want!) to do for themselves. Obviously this is a tall order, and even those of us who have you all relatively fooled by our exterior presentation don't really have it all together.

While I have tried to put a positive spin on some of the more challenging curve balls that life has catapulted my way, there are not too many silver linings that I can find at the end of this crazy week.

Let's start with my refrigerator, which had some crazy electrical or mechanical or whatever mishap that caused the light bulbs to remain on. All. The. Time. At first, this was just annoying. What's with the burning smell in the 'fridge? Then, when the cover actually melted and fell off, it became more obvious what caused the burning smell. However, we decided to just live with it. Who cares if there is no cover over the light bulbs, right? 

Wrong! Whatever underlying problem that caused the melting/burning/cover destruction continued until the point at which the refrigerator overheated and it actually cooked all the food! Yes, I spent Monday afternoon tossing out the contents of the refrigerator: milk, eggs, butter, cheese, yogurt -- all very questionable. Meat? Obviously not a good idea to keep. Condiments? Who knew if they were even safe. I erred on the side of caution and pitched it all.

Now, the silver lining here was that my refrigerator was very empty, which was convenient for giving it a thorough cleaning, likely the best cleaning it has ever seen since I became a mom. And, at least it happened on the day before trash day.

The bad news was all of the phone calls that I have had to make to try to get the darn thing fixed. I won't bore you with the details, but I had to make multiple calls to both the manufacturer and the repair company because ... honestly, I don't know why. These people must not have mothers manning the phones! If they did, questions would get answered accurately and promptly, and repeat phone calls would not be needed.

Tuesday was not too terrible by comparison. Mia was stressed out over school picture day, mainly because she did not want her photo to be taken by a "stranger." I didn't really know how to fix this one other than helping her get her hair right. A stranger? Maybe that was why she had such a weird look on her face for her kindergarten picture? It should be interesting to see how this year's school portrait turns out.

The following morning got off to a frustrating start. Things did not go as planned when Logan and I went in to help out at the elementary school. (Well, I went to help. He went with matchbox cars, crayons, and a coloring book.) Essentially, someone had finished a task that was meant to be done as a group, presumably because she thought that this was helpful. For some of us (okay, just for me, the one who showed up to help with the Little Man in tow -- after I had checked and received confirmation that this would be okay) this was not particularly helpful as he was ready to "play at the school" while Mommy worked. In four-year-old world, this meant a meltdown had to occur in the hallway, while classes were in session. Ugh! Plus, I had to come up with a plan B that was satisfactory him. This mainly included the playground (which we could not stay at for long, because like I said, classes were in session) and a consolation prize: a Dum Dum sucker. (Good thing I usually carry those!)

Thursday was quite educational. I would like to thank my husband for being the person to successfully collect the dog's urine sample, which was needed for her vet appointment. As you may have guessed, this was not a routine visit; it was a special appointment that I'd scheduled since she was urinating in the house. It turned out the be a urinary tract infection, which I was not even aware that dogs could get. Our previous dog, a cocker spaniel, never had any UTIs, but now I have learned that they are fairly common in bichon frises.

So, the good news, is that this is easy to take care of -- just assuming I can get her to swallow the antibiotics. I haven't found any partially chews tablets since yesterday morning, so I think we are okay, but have you ever tried to get a dog to take pills? I swear they have some sort of spring in the back of the throat to eject whatever is not immediately recognized as "food."

And the bad news? Well, naturally I feel guilty. (This had to come up at some point in this long venting post, right?) Yep. Guilty. She was peeing all over the place, little amounts, big amounts, all times of day and night, no rhyme or reason really, for about 3 months. And I was completely clueless that she was in pain. I actually thought she was mad at us for switching her food as we were trying out different grain free formulas to try to help her with her skin allergies (another breed tendency that I was aware of). Poor baby. I had even begun to wonder if she and Logan were conspiring against me. (That's a whole different story, but let's just say that potty training is VERY challenging with this child!)

Of course, that was not the end of the big to-dos. We also had to get through soccer photos. (This meant more irrational worrying about photos being taken by a stranger... and more anxiety about getting her hair just so!) Meanwhile, Mia has been complaining of pain in her legs for the past few days, so she was not all the happy to have to go to soccer practice in the first place. We have determined that this must be "growing pains" since she can't pinpoint a particular area and it seems to be pretty constant. Fortunately, she seemed more comfortable after a dose of pink children's ibuprofen.

We got through the photos, and the soccer practice, despite everyone being T-I-R-E-D. After practice, Logan's coach asked me if I could bring the snack for the game on Saturday morning. I wish she had asked sooner because I had already went to Kroger and Walmart this week and I don't really want one more thing on my plate! So, of course, I said I would. (Mom guilt. It'll get ya every time.) I turned to Brett and asked him to remind me to pick up a snack in the morning. In typical fashion he immediately replied, "Don't forget to buy a snack tomorrow."

Um, thanks, not what I had in mind. Then I told him, "Thanks for being the glue that holds this family together." The coach laughed, and said, "Ahhhh, sarcasm. I know it well." I told her, "I learned from the best!" So, truly, he shouldn't be surprised when I throw it back at him.

So, this morning we made the all-important trip to Walmart to buy soccer snacks. (And furnace filters, except they didn't have the size we needed. At least I don't think they did. That aisle was a bigger disaster than my life at present so who can tell?) In going from the furnace filter aisle to the snacks, I had to cross the desert of clearance clothing, and obviously I had to stop and look for things for the kids.

This is where things started to go downhill fast. Logan saw a shirt that he liked. It was several sizes too large for him and he had a hard time understanding why I wouldn't buy it for him. He tried to convince me, saying, "We can put in in my grow-into bin!" "Yes, we can," I agreed, "but it doesn't make sense to buy a size 8." So, we went around to the other side to look at the smaller clothes, which is about when he decided that it was okay to climb out of the cart. I didn't want him to, and a big hissy fit ensued. After some struggle, I got him back in the cart (not before being embarrassed in front of the other mom whose kid was not having a tantrum) and we made our way over to the grocery section to buy animal crackers.

Logan had another fit in the cracker aisle, and I don't even remember what this one was about. He wanted something and I wouldn't buy it for him, no doubt. I was very glad to leave Walmart.

Now, this is the point when I clearly lost my mind. Against my better judgment, I decided we should stop at the new resale shop in town to look for pants and sweatshirts for Logan. I knew he really needed fall/winter wardrobe items and I had not been able to find them at garage sales or consignment shops because boys wear their clothes! Amazingly, we found several sweatshirts that would work, and I had him help me narrow it down to one pull-over fleece, one hoodie, and a regular sweatshirt. He was even helpful enough to try on most of the jeans I found for him. They were all much too big in the waist, which is the ongoing problem we have, so I just got him the sweatshirts, but as I was ready to pay, he was not about to leave without the wooden excavator toy that he had found.

I tried everything in my repertoire:

  • "Say bye-bye to the toy, and we'll come see it another time." (Heck yeah, I found clothes that fit him! We would definitely be back.)
  • "Why don't we start a Christmas list when we get home? I'm sure Santa will be happy to know that you like that toy." (Yes, Santa is always happy to have ideas in plenty of time to find good deals.)
  • "I don't have enough money to buy the toy. Sorry." (I'm kind of worried about everything else that is costing me money this week, especially the 'fridge and the dog's vet bill.)
  • "When you put the toy down and we're out of the store, then you can have a Dum Dum sucker!" (What do you mean you don't want a sucker?! That usually works.)
  • "You don't have enough money for this either, but why don't we save up and come back when you have enough?" (Please, please....)
  • "Do you want me to call Daddy?" (I was running out of rational thoughts, and really, there is no rationalizing with a four-year-old. He might be able to help!)
  • "Okay, you can offer her your dollar and see what she says." (Not surprisingly, this didn't work.)
  • "Well, you've left me no choice. I have to yank it out of your hand and run!" (I know the owner understands what I am going through, but still, this is so embarrassing! And, of course, another customer would show up while I am in the midst of this...)

I managed to get out of that shop with only the items I had paid for, but not without several minutes of power-struggle. In fact, he was hitting me as we were heading out the door, so the other ladies may have heard me saying those age-old words, "No. We don't hit. Hitting hurts, and we don't hit..." By the time we got back to the van, Logan was so upset that I couldn't get him buckled into his car seat. We sat for a few minutes while he calmed down, but then I realized that he had taken off his shorts and underwear. Well, this was a first! 

On the way home, I had to pull over because he had managed to pull the box of animal crackers out of my shopping bag using his feet! (That's pretty clever, I've got to hand it to him!) Then, he had gotten a package out of the box and was trying to figure out how to open it when I noticed this in the mirror. Wow!

Despite it all, the tears, the yelling, the utter weirdness -- (Really? He took his underwear off to show me just how angry he was?) -- I am holding the family together this week. While I came close to losing it, I have managed not to let them "see me sweat,". (I finally get that expression now, because believe me, I was sweating after the resale shop incident.) Yes, this mama is the glue that holds her family together --
with a mixture of bubble gum flavored ibuprofen, hair elastics, and Dum Dum suckers --the tools of the trade, apparently.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Homemade Photo Prop for a Shark Birthday Party

This was the first project I started making for Logan's shark-themed birthday party, and once I saw this fellow swimming on my kitchen floor, I knew that I was track for a pretty "jawsome" birthday for my favorite little boy! (This was good news because scrounging up the appropriate amount of cardboard had been somewhat challenging, so once again, it pays to plan ahead, folks.) I found inspiration for this project here, but as always, I tried to figure out how to do it myself for as cheaply as possible. Note: While this project cost me next to nothing, (Proof positive: the best things in life are free!) it did take about 3 hours to complete, and that actually shows that I am getting faster at these cardboard constructions as I make more and more of them.


  • corrugated cardboard
  • scissors
  • pencil
  • ruler
  • tape: clear packaging, masking, Scotch
  • Sharpies: black and red
  • paint brushes
  • white acrylic paint
  • gray primer
  • two white plastic bottle caps
  • hot glue gun
  • 2 blue plastic table covers

  1. First, I cut apart two of the largest boxes I could find to produce flat sections to work with.
  2. Then, I laid them out and found the center with my ruler and pencil. I sketched out the shark's head, followed by the fins and tail section.
  3. Next, I cut out the different parts of the shark's body, using scissors. I also used my scissors to cut out the inner part of the open shark's mouth.
  4. I taped each section to the next, using lots of clear packaging tape. This was on the back (printed side) of each box piece, meaning that the front of my shark was plain brown cardboard.
  5. I laid a vinyl tablecloth (used only for crafts) on my dining table and then painted the shark using gray primer that we already had on hand. A large foam paint brush worked very well for this, and since I got such great coverage, I only applied one coat. (This right here saved me lots of time. Normally when I make this sort of party prop, I need to do at minimum, two coats of acrylic paint.) I let this dry completely before moving on.
  6. For the teeth, I used white acrylic paint and a smaller paint brush.
  7. Afterward, I used a red Sharpie marker to draw in the gum line around the teeth. I followed that with a black Sharpie marker, which I also used for all of the outlining to make the shark look more finished.
  8. The finishing touches were the eyes. I took two white bottle caps from apple juice containers and used the black Sharpie to make slit-like pupils. Then, I hot-glued each one to the top of the shark's head.
  9. For the background, I used two blue plastic table covers from Dollar Tree. (So if you're keeping track, this project cost me a total of $2.12.) I folded them both in half and then I used lots of rolled masking tape to adhere the shark on top of the two table covers, which were held together with Scotch tape. After it was taped down, I cut away the inside of the shark's mouth so that there was no blue backdrop in that part. 
  10. Displaying the photo booth was the hardest part to figure out. Luckily, Brett was able to help with the logistics. After trying several types of tape, we settled on clear packaging tape (and plenty of it!) to secure the layers of plastic table cover to the top of our mantel. (Failed attempts included Scotch tape, blue painter's tape from Dollar Tree, and masking tape.) I added some red table cover (left over from a previous party) to the inside of the mouth area by taping it to the fake fire place with Scotch tape.
  11. The kids, and some brave adults, too, were then able to stand or kneel behind the backdrop, put their faces inside the shark's mouth, and let me take pictures (which were for the thank you cards). It stayed up for many days before I decided to take it down, and I think it was picture perfect.
{Say, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"}

{You can't say I never post photos of myself!}

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Best Homemade Bubbles

Last summer, I tried out three different recipes for homemade bubbles, and I posted about our experiences here. This year, I had hoped to do a similar experiment and try out several more recipes for bubble solutions. However, I only tried this one. In part, time slipped away from me, but the main reason for not trying other recipes is that I really like this one! Recently, a few people have asked me for the recipe, so I decided it was time to share my current favorite bubble recipe.

This one has made the rounds on Pinterest and Facebook so you may have seen it before. When I saw it, people were claiming that it makes super industrial-strength, indestructible bubbles, so naturally I was curious to give it a go. The original recipe said to use JOY dish detergent, which I have been unable to find. So, I used Palmolive instead. I am not sure if the brand makes a significant difference, but our bubbles were pretty run-of-the-mill as far as pop-ability goes. With the right tools, however, this did create very large bubbles, and quite easily, I might add. Combine this with the fact that the recipe does NOT call for ingredients that are terribly expensive or more difficult to find (glycerin, for instance, which I used for last year's recipes) and it is a sure-fire winner.

So, far I've made a couple of batches, and we've had lots of fun with these bubbles throughout the spring and summer months. It was a hit at Logan's recent shark-themed birthday party. We have even  packaged this in small peanut butter jars along with homemade pipe cleaner wands and given it for birthday gifts along with some other homemade goodies, so this also makes a nice gift.

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup light corn syrup (I used Karo.)
  • 2 cups dish soap* (I used Palmolive.)
* If using ultra concentrated dish soap, reduce to 1 1/3 cups.

  1. In a large bowl, add water and corn syrup. Stir until combined. Note: It is difficult to completely dissolve the corn syrup, so just do the best that you can.
  2. Add dish soap. Sand gently until well mixed, avoiding creating bubbles as best as possible.
  3. Dip wands into bubble solution and blow or wave to create bubbles. Tip: To make it easier, pour the solution into containers such as cake pans and pie tins. Set these on the ground (or any flat surface) and let kids dip their wands into the solution.
  4. To store bubble solution, pour it into a container with a lid. This should keep for many weeks. As mentioned above, I like peanut butter jars for this. They are unbreakable, but secure.
Note: Any bubble "wand" will work, whether it is something you have saved from commercial solutions or homemade wands made from twisted pipe cleaners, which are a favorite of mine.

Plastic bottles with the bottom cut off work very well for young children who are just learning to how to blow bubbles.

We've also had lots of fun this year with a couple of fly swatters that I got in a 2-pack at Dollar Tree, which can be used two different ways: first you can blow bubbles, or you can wave them around to create lots of tiny bubbles. We have found that swatting up and down works better than side to side.

Also, don't forget to check your kitchen for possible "wands!" Slotted spoons and spatulas are two that we have found to work well. I've even had success with old glow necklaces, which make quite large bubbles!

So, don't be afraid to think outside of the box (or commercial bubble container) here! It's very easy and affordable to make your own bubbles at home.

{Tiny bubbles... make me happy!}

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Chicken & Cheese Tortellini Stew

This is a current family favorite at our house. Well, to be more precise, it pleases 3 out of 4 family members every time I serve it, and let's face it -- that is a better rating than most politicians get, so how can I possibly hope for better? I have adapted the recipe somewhat by omitting red peppers and onions, which are not something the kids (or I, to be honest) love to eat. Also, in place of the summer squash, you may use zucchini, but the squash has a nice flavor and lends more color to the dish, so this is my preference. Finally, if you're one to plan ahead, the Buitoni brand of cheese tortellini comes in a 2-cup package, which means that you will have enough to make this dish twice.

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 - 14 ounce can chicken broth
  • 6 cups spinach, torn
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced carrots
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash, diced (or zucchini)
  • 1 cup dried cheese tortellini (I use Buitoni.)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (I use a pinch.)
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, diced
  1. Cook your chicken. I used one very large, boneless, skinless breast, which I cut into strips and cooked in about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. For a shortcut, use left over rotisserie chicken.
  2. In a large pot, combine water and chicken broth. Bring to a boil.
  3. Stir in the vegetables, tortellini, basil, oregano, and black pepper. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Add cooked chicken. Replace cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until tortellini and vegetables are tender. Makes about 4-6 servings.

Friday, September 6, 2013

DIY Shark Party Game

In trying to come up with party activities for Logan's shark-themed 4th birthday, I was reminded of a magnetic fishing game with sock fish that I had seen on Pinterest. (The link no longer works so I can't show it to you. Sorry.) However, I had also pinned this idea for making a feed-the-shark-beanbag-toss game. I decided to combine the two ideas and this is what I came up with for a young-child-friendly version.

Aside from being an inexpensive party activity, this Shark Bait game was a great way to re-purpose some items that were no longer functioning as intended (but that I was still reluctant to throw away they still could be used for something.) While my sewing skills are not the greatest (which I have previously admitted to here and here), this was still a simple project to pull together with items I already had around the house.

Materials for "Beanbag" Fish:
  • old, mismatched socks (Make sure they do not have any holes.)
  • buttons (2 per fish)
  • thread
  • scissors
  • rice
  • rubber bands (1 per fish)
  • puffy paint
 Directions for Making "Beanbag" Fish:
  1. Sew two buttons near the toe end of a sock to make eyes. Tip: I found the rolling the socks up made it easier to reach inside the sock in order to get the needle to pass through without getting the thread hopelessly tangled.
  2. Add rice to the sock until it is filled up to the heel. Tip: If you don't have rice, use whatever you have on hand; dry beans would work. I've even used beads or small pasta for things like this. Tip: I used a spoon to fill my socks.
  3. Secure the "beanbag" by wrapping a rubber band tightly around the heel end of the sock. This should leave you with a "tail" with a length determined by the height of the sock. Ankle socks are, of course, shorter, so you will be done shaping your fish. You may, however, wish to trim the tail-ends of longer socks. Tip: To make it look more tail-like, I held the two sides of the open end together and then used scissors to cut an inverted "V" through both pieces of material.
  4. Add a mouth to the fish. I used puffy paint in assorted colors and then left the "beanbags" upside down to allow the paint to dry. Tip: My current favorite material for placing crafts on to dry: cereal box liners. Paint won't stick to it while drying, unlike newspaper, and you can re-use it. And, it's free, unlike wax paper.

Materials for "Chum Bucket":

  • large empty container/can
  • blue construction paper (2 sheets)
  • paper trimmer
  • black ink pad
  • foam alphabet stamps
  • shark stencils
  • black Sharpie marker
  • glue
Directions for Making "Chum Bucket":
  1. First find a large container and make sure it is clean and dry. (I re-used the same cocoa canister that had been made into a drum a few months ago, but a coffee can would also work.)
  2. Then, measure the paper to fit around your container. (My ultra-professional method for this? I wrapped the paper around the can, and then used my fingernail to make an indentation to show where the bottom would need to be cut, since the paper was too tall.)
  3. Trim the first piece of paper using the paper trimmer, then use it as a guide to cut the second piece to the same size.
  4. Stamp "SHARK BAIT" with foam alphabet stamps onto one piece of the construction paper.
  5. Use shark stencils to draw a shark on either side of the wording. Fill in the sharks with black Sharpie. (I used the Mako and Blue shark stencils for this.)
  6. Glue the blank piece of paper onto your container first. Then, layer the stamped piece over it so that the entire container is covered.
  7. Place the "beanbag" fish into the "chum bucket" and get ready to play "Shark Bait."
 How to Play "Shark Bait":
  1. You will need: a hula hoop, your chum bucket, and your "beanbag" fish.
  2. Lay the hula hoop on the ground to make a "shark pool."
  3. Have children stand back and toss the "bait" into the "pool." (Younger kids will stand closer, obviously.)
That's actually all I had planned for this game. No scoring system or anything too complicated or too challenging, just simple fun for preschoolers. Now, some of our bigger party guests decided to make it more challenging for school-age kids by holding the hula hoop up in the air and creating a moving target for others to pitch through, and that made it far more interesting to them.

One last note: I suggest that you make this an outdoor game. We had one "beanbag" burst open before the party and that meant that I had rice all over my living room, and while having rice all over my house is not something I am unfamiliar with (for fun things to do with rice check out my posts here and here), it was not exactly what I had in mind for our party game. Fortunately, the weather cooperated, and we were able to play outdoors on the day of the party.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

DIY Shark Party Decor: Warning Signs and Land Sharks

Logan's 4th birthday party turned out to be pretty "jawsome" and these homemade decorations helped set the tone right as guests were arriving. I was inspired by these signs that I saw online. So, I set out to make my own, using my cheap, go-to-party-decor material: cardboard. After the past couple of birthday parties -- Care Bears for Mia's 6th and Cars for Logan's 3rd -- I have decided that I can make just about anything out of cardboard! So, these signs and shark fins were not very difficult or time-consuming for me, and I was able to make them almost entirely with items I already had at home. (The only thing I had to purchase was another small bottle of yellow acrylic paint, which I believe was 53 cents at Wal-mart.)

{CAUTION: Shark Sighting!}

Materials for Fins:
  • corrugated cardboard
  • pencil
  • scissors
  • gray primer (or paint)
  • large foam paintbrush
  • Styrofoam tray (to hold paint)
  • cereal box liner (to protect work surface)
  • wooden skewers (2 per fin)

Directions for Making Fins:
  1. Draw a shark fin onto the cardboard and cut it out. (I made three because odd numbers always make sense from a design perspective.)
  2. Lay the cut-out on a flat surface. (Mine was the dining table protected by the cereal box liner.)
  3. Cover the first side with gray primer (Paint would work as well, but Brett pointed out that we had primer already. Score! I didn't need to mix paints or buy any extra. This provided very good coverage, quickly and easily.) Let the primer/paint dry completely before moving the fin.
  4. Now, flip it over and paint the other side. Again, let it dry completely, or you will end up with smudged paint. (Note: I also painted the outside edges of the fin, as best as I could. This is best left until the end of the painting process.)
  5. Insert two skewers into the bottoms of each fin. These will fit directly into the spaces of the corrugated cardboard. Mine were placed about two inches from the outside edges. Tip: I found it tricky to insert the blunt ends into the cardboard, so I first expanded the openings by sticking in the sharp end of each skewer. Then, I removed the skewers, and flipped them around so that the sharp ends were pointed down. 
  6. Stick skewers into the ground to make the sharks "swim" in your lawn. The skewers may end up poking up through the tops of the fins, so push them down and re-adjust as needed until they look the way that you want.

Materials for Warning Signs:

  • corrugated cardboard
  • pencil
  • ruler
  • scissors
  • shark stencil
  • black Sharpie marker
  • yellow acrylic paint
  • large foam paintbrush
  • Styrofoam tray (to hold paint)
  • cereal box liner (to protect work surface)
  • 2 wooden skewers (for yard sign)
  • masking tape (for hanging on door) 

Directions for Making Warning Signs:
  1. Using a ruler for assistance, draw a rectangle shape from a piece of cardboard, to the dimensions that you would like. (Note: I decided on smaller signs than I have made in the past, for Logan's 2nd birthday which had a construction theme. This made things go faster, which was perfect, in my opinion. My "DANGER" sign is just 9" x 9" and my "CAUTION" sign is about 8 1/2" by 10 1/2".) Cut out your sign. Repeat as desired.
  2. Protect work surface (and clothing) and then cover sign/s with yellow acrylic paint. Let dry, and add a second coat.
  3. Using a ruler and a black Sharpie marker, create a black border for each sign. (On the "CAUTION" sign, this is set in about 1/2" and on the "DANGER" sign, it's only about 1/4".) 
  4. Decide on the placement of the shark for each sign. Set the stencil down and then trace around the inside with your black marker. Fill in the entire shark outline. (Note: I used the Great White shark stencil from the set.)
  5. Add your lettering. I chose to hand-letter the signs, but you could also use black letter stickers as a time-saver. I suggest using a ruler and a pencil to lightly block these in. First create a space for each word with a lightly-penciled line to show the tops of the letter and a lightly-penciled line to show the bottoms of the letters. I had three such lines for each sign. Then, find the approximate center of each word or grouping of words, and pencil in that central letter. Work your way out toward each side. Once the lettering looks the way you like (Remember, it doesn't need to be perfect! Mine certainly aren't.), go over it with black Sharpie. You can make corrections as you go. When in doubt, make the letters thicker. Note: The "CAUTION" sign also has some waves that I drew by hand so that the shark appears to be swimming near the top of the water.
  6. Post your warning signs. I used masking tape to hang the "DANGER" sign on the front door. For the "CAUTION" sign, I used two wooden skewers, inserted with the same method as mentioned above for the shark fins. Then, I stuck it into the front yard near the "shark sighting" area with the three visible fins. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kids' Quotables

My notebook is getting too full again, so here are the memorable kids' quotes from the past 4 months. Looking back, it appears that our whole lives revolve around food, particularly bacon.

Logan (at dinner): "Guys, I'm getting a rice mustache!"

Mia (seeing a jet with the stream appearing to come off the sun): "Look at that rocket ship!"

Mia: "Mom, guess what a sheep is."
Me: "What?"
Mia: "A grown-up lamb."

Logan (with his head in the toilet): "Hey, Mama, there's an echo in the potty!"

Logan (after spilling lemonade on his cucumber slices during lunch): "Look! Those can be boats now."

Logan frequently asks me in the morning where we are going that day that is "fun and exciting." Today I told him we had a playdate planned. He said, "Good idea, Mom. Everyone LOVES me!"

Logan: "Motorcycles are made out of metal and motors."

Mia (at breakfast): "I know how to spell yogurt: Y-O-P-L-A-I-T!"
Brett: "I'm sure most people would agree."

Mia: "Why are they called pigtails? They look more like rabbit's ears."

Mia (on why we cannot include dyed pasta beads in a friend's birthday gift): "Boys don't wear jewelry... unless they are pirates!"

Mia (whisking batter for strawberry shortcake): "I made a whirlpool!"

Mia (after placing raspberries on all of her fingertips during lunch): "I have tree frog fingers."

Mia: "Mom, Logan took his watermelon upstairs, and it spilled!" (File this one under "Things I do not wish to be told...")

Mia: "How come Ritzy's tongue looks like bacon?" (I don't even know what to say to that one.)

Logan (sounding alarmed): "Mom! There's holes in your ears!"
Me: "I know. That's where I put my earrings."
Logan (seemingly relieved): "Oh."

On the way home from the grocery store...
Mia: "Are we almost home?"
Me: "Yes, we'll be home in a few minutes. Why?"
Mia: "My forehead hurts."
Logan (apparently not wanting to be outdone): "My SIX head hurts!" He later added, "Does that mean I have a headache?"

Logan (watching Brett pick apart a rotisserie chicken for dinner): "Is that a dinosaur sculpture?"

Logan (laughing hysterically at the dinner table): "I just tooted!"
Me: "We say, 'Excuse me, please.'"
Logan (throws head back and yells): "Excuse me!" Then he continues to laugh crazily.

Mia: "Mom, you're the best spaghetti maker in the WHOLE world!"

Logan (sad because he doesn't like having pancakes for dinner): "I want to eat my food."
Brett: "What's your food?"
Logan: "Chicken nuggets, tacos, ... and BACON."

The kids are playing on the swing set when Mia notices a large yellow butterfly.
Mia: "Whoa! Look at that huge swallowtail!"
Logan: "Do they eat dogs?"

Mia (when I asked her if she needed her hands cleaned after painting): "I only painted with my right hand." {Holds up her hand.}
Me (noting paint): "This is your left hand."
Mia: "No wonder it was so hard!"

Logan (making faces in the mirror): "Hey, Mommy, look. My eyebrows can go up and down, up and down, up and down."

Mia (discussing the weather): "Muggy means it's hot like hot chocolate?"