Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Craftapalooza

Two weeks ago we rounded up a few friends and hosted the first ever Christmas Craftapalooza at our house. I love the idea of kids giving handmade gifts for Christmas, but I'm not so much into giving out cheesy toilet paper roll Christmas ornaments or framed handprints (OK the handprints aren't necessarily cheesy, but there's only so many years you can really do those and have them mean something). I'm all about having the kids make GOOD and USEFUL gifts that aren't just pulled out once a year when the grandparents know you're coming over for a visit.

Usually Sport, Spice, and I make these candles every year for my mom and a few friends.

Photo from Family Fun

Obviously adult supervision is required, but they make a nice gift and are fun to create.

We've gotten a bit tired of those though so this year I scoured the internet to come up with some new ideas. Here's a look at what was created at our craftapalooza...

Beaded Rings:
Photo from Family Fun

Spice and I actually made one of these as a make and take on a recent trip to Micheal's. We liked them so much we decided to make more for Christmas. I found  instructions at Family Fun. Our rings were similar, but we used small pearls in place of the silver beads to give it a fancier Christmas look. Unfortunately I did not take a picture of any of the finished products. We had kids aged 5-9 at our event and some were better able to do this than others. I'd recommend it for ages 7 and up as an unsupervised craft. Some of those pearl beads are hard to string!

Cookies in a Can:

Similar to cookies in a jar, but uses Pringles cans instead. (This was one of those spur of the moment "I'm in desparate need of a gift NOW!" ideas I came up with last year.)We wrapped Pringles cans then fillled them with cookie ingredients in Zip-Loc bags. Here's our recipe:

In one quart-sized Zip-Loc bag, combine 2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, and 1/4 tsp. salt. 
In a second bag, combine 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup white sugar.
Fill a sandwhich size bag with 3/4 cup chocolate chips, raisins, nuts...We used the peppermint swirl chips for a festive look. They were delicious!
Place all bags inside a 6 oz Pringles can and add a gift tag with the following instructions:
To use combine all ingredients in a large bowl with 3/4 cup shortening, 1 egg, 2 Tbsp. milk, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Form into one inch balls and bake 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Altered Notebooks:

By far the favorite craft of the day was altered notebooks. My kids are still making these. I purchased three-to-a-pack memo sized notebooks at Dollar Tree. These had a plasticy type cover on both sides. One side had a second cardboard cover underneath the plastic layer so I cut the plastic cover off (I was worried the glue would not adhere to it as well) and we worked with the cardboard side. Before the party I traced the cover on a bunch of pieces of scrapbook paper and cut them out so the kids could just pick the paper they liked best and glue it on. Once they had a new decorative cover they were able to add embellishments using paper punches, stickers, and stamps. Some websites give instructions for removing the spiral wire so that the entire front of the notebook can be covered, then making new holes and reinserting the wire. Way too complicated for my tatste! We just glued the paper as close to the wire as possible, leaving a small white edge along the top of the notebooks. I think this worked out just fine and made it much easier for the kids to complete the project on their own. Oh and for all you true bargain hunters out there, I've since found more notebooks at Big Lots that come four to a pack, making these cute little personalized gifts come out to about 30 cents each.

If you're still looking for gifts to put under the tree, get the kids to work and if none of these ideas float your boat, check out Works For Me Wednesday for more last minute gift ideas.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Easy Teacher Gift

It's been a while since I've done a Works for me Wednesday post. I've been planning on making my comeback with this idea for two weeks now, but kept forgetting to post. Guess that's a good thing since today's WFMW topic is Gift Giving. You would think as homeschoolers, we wouldn't have to worry about teacher gifts, but you're wrong! There are co-op class teachers, piano teachers, dance teachers... the list could go on and on. We gave out our first round of gifts the week before Thanksgiving when Sport and Spice's weekly enrichment classes came to an end. Here's what the kids handed out...

a roll of Christmas wrapping paper with a note that says "May your holidays be wrapped in love." We also added a homemade flavored coffee drink mix to this batch. I tried some of it later though and found it kinda gross (guess I should've taste-tested it before we give some out) so I'm not sharing the recipe. I am not a coffee drinker though, so what do I know? Maybe that was how it was supposed to taste. At any rate, we also included a few chocolate dipped spoons with the coffee mix so that should have improved the taste. We will be giving out more of the wrapping paper gifts. They were a big hit and I like giving out gifts that can be used up rather than a cheesy knick knack that does nothing but sit around gathering dust. I found these rolls in the Target dollar spot. I like them because they are shorter than regular rolls, but have a ton of paper on them.

Here is another twist on a popular gift that I blogged about last year (scroll down to the picture at the bottom). We had friends over today for our first ever Christmas Craftapalooza. All of the kids put together a few of these kits, and made some other cool gifts that I hope to blog about in the next few days. In the meantime, head over to We Are That Family for more great gift ideas.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Roasted Carrots With Feta and Parsley

Hi all! I'm back from my extended hiatus to share this delicious recipe from Martha Stewart. Jen over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam is looking for Thanksgiving recipes for today's Tasty Tuesday. I tried this for the first time earlier this year and have planned on adding it to our Thanksgiving feast since the first bite. Not only is it delicious, it's super simple to throw together and looks quite impressive.

Photo from


3 pounds medium carrots, cut 1/2 inch thick on the bias
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss carrots with oil on a rimmed baking sheet, and season with salt and pepper. Roast until carrots are caramelized and tender, about 25 minutes.
Transfer carrots to a bowl, and toss with feta and parsley.

Check out Jen's blog for more new dishes to add to your Thanksgiving feast.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Muffin Tin Monday

This week's Muffin Tin Monday theme is Movies. This is probably a stretch, but here's my contribution...a build your own pizza kit because what goes better with movie night than popcorn pizza?!?

Truth be told, I've never been good at keeping up with the MTM themes (that would require planning ahead) and it's sheer luck that with just a little imagination, today's meal could acutally work with the theme. The thing I love about MTM is it's a great way to serve a decent meal when the pickins' are slim. I come up with some of my best meal inventions at the spur of the moment on Mondays when the kids proclaim 5 minutes before eatin' time, "It's Muffin Tin Monday!"

Today, I lucked out and found two large pepperonis in the fridge. We were out of tortillas, pitas, English muffins (you get the picture), but I did find one hamburger bun lurking in the cabinet. I toasted the bun, gave each kid a half and called it a pizza crust. I also lucked up on a little piece of Parmesaen cheese that I sliced up and split between the two and  a stash of homemade pizza sauce in the freezer. To round out the meal I added in a handful of almonds and a couple shreds of carrot. Spice is the world's pickiest eater. She'll eat carrots, but only with a side of ranch dressing. I put the carrots in the tin and acted like it was a perfectly normal pizza topping and it worked. She actually put them on her pizza and ate them. Score one for Mom!

Check out the Muffin Tin Mom for more creative muffin tins meals.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up For The Birds Part 2

We continued with our bird theme this week. I thought we would wrap things up today before taking some time off to visit Disney World, but the kids are really enjoying themselves. There's always more to learn so maybe we'll extend our studies for one more week before taking a few more days off to tag along with Hubby when he goes to a conference near the beach.

We do most of our heavy work from Wednesday to Friday. Mondays are devoted to the basics and Story of the World Volume One. Sport has a religion class and Cub Scouts on Monday nights so I like to make sure he has some time for fun during the day. The kids have homeschool enrichment classes on Tuesday so I also don't like to start in on our unit study work on Monday just to be interrupted by Tuesday! We do math and grammar every day of the week. Wednesday through Friday are more of our FUN days - assuming the kids like the unit we're working on. So...when I write these weekly wrap-ups and go on and on about what we did Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday that doesn't mean we didn't have school on Monday and Tuesday. It just means whatever we did wasn't exciting enough to share. We actually did have school this Monday, despite the holiday. Hubby had to go out of town, so after a morning of family mountain climbing, he left and the kids and I had night school. They were intrigued by the idea at first until they realized it was just regular school held in the evening.

Wednesday we started the day by going to Mass, then made a quick library run and visit to the park with friends. We came home and spent some time in the backyard looking and listening for birds. Then we put together profiles of the birds we spotted. Sport's profiles came from Cornell University's online bird coloring book, an awesome free resource.

Spice's profiles were from Enchanted Learning. We added to our collection of bird profiles throughout the week. Spice also had fun using her Math-U-See manipulatives to complete this Duck Stories worksheet from Home Education Resources.

We studied bird nests on Thursday. I'd been waiting for this day so we could work on our big art project for the week - making yarn nests! I've seen this project all around the web. Some crafters refer to them as yarn bowls. The basic idea is to cut strands of yarn, dip them in watered down glue, and stick them all willy nilly around a curved surface. Let them dry overnight and viola, you've got a nest (or bowl). I picked up a skein of brown variegated yarn from Wal-Mart for Sport to use because I knew he would want to go au naturel. Spice wanted to make her nest out of her favorite color...rainbow, so I dug out the yarn stash I put together for 75 cents a skein at Big Lots earlier this year. We started with about 30  4-6 inch long strands each, but ended up cutting more, so I'd double that amount.

My little darlins' hate to have messy hands so the idea of swishing yarn around in a bowl of glue was almost too much to bear. They did it, but weren't happy about it. I think both of them could have used more glue, especially on the ends of each strand. Here's how the nests looked about halfway through the project:

The original instructions I saw for this project said to turn a bowl over then place a piece of plastic wrap over the bottom of the bowl to provide the nest shape. I decided this would be too aggravating 'cause we all know plastic wrap never actually stays in place. I taped a barely inflated balloon to a large cup for each kid and had them glue the yarn to the balloon. I drew a line just above the halfway mark so they'd know where to stop with the yarn. Overall the project turned out well, but it was difficult to get the balloon unstuck this morning without messing up the nests. Here's a look at the finished products:

Today, as a fun activity to close out the week, we played hide and seek with these little birdies we colored in earlier this week. The template came from Preschool Express.

The first time around I hid the birds in easy to find places, like the red cardinal on a black TV stand. Spice quickly found all 6. The next time around, I made it much harder by camouflaging the birds. I stuck the bluejay on a blue part of their American Idol dance mat (it was free people) and the cardinal on a sheet of Strawberry Shortcake stickers. Spice had a much harder time finding the birds which led to a discussion about how birds camouflage themselves to hide from predators.

We read or referred to these books throughout the week:

All in all we had an enjoyable week of school that did not feel like school at all! If only every week could be that way! To see what other homeschoolers did this week, check out the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.


Sport loves to read all of my old Peanuts books. The other day he was telling me about a particular comic strip in which Charlie Brown and Lucy discussed the philosophy of life. Charlie Brown stated, "Life is like an ice cream cone. You just have to lick it." Sport, a deep thinker in his own right, told me he'd come up with his own philosophy: Life is like a thermometer. It has its ups and downs.

Later that day after getting some disappointing news, he applied this philospophy to his own situation, saying, " Life is like a thermometer. It has its ups and downs and right now we're at about minus a hundred."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up...For the Birds

Last week seems so long ago, I hardly remember what we did! I felt like we had a pretty boring week, but looking back at the pictures, it doesn't seem so bad afterall.

I found these synonym cards at the Dollar Tree a few months back. Sport has been learning about synomyms, antonyms, and homonyms in grammar, so I cut these cards apart to make a matching game for him.

Of course Spice had to get in on the action too. I pulled out some of the easier synonym pairs for her to work with. She begged me to do this over and over the rest of the week.

As promised in my last wrap-up (sadly I haven't posted anything since then), we started a unit on birds. I purchased two unit studies from Currclick (Birds of North America and Birds) and we have based most of our work off of them. I also looked around one of my favorite websites, The Crafty Crow, and found quite a few bird feeder related projects to work on. On Thursday, Spice strung Cheerios on pipe cleaners to make food rings for the birds in our backyard. They obviously enjoyed it because the whole thing has completely disappeared!

The always resourceful Sport dug through the recyle bin and crafted a bird feeder out of a Laughing Cow cheese wedge container.

On Friday we set our new hummingbird feeder out on a table on our deck until we could find a place to hang it. It wasn't long before we were rewarded with a visit from a fine feathered friend. The picture isn't the best because it was taken from inside the house looking out the window, but the green blur on the lower left-hand side is a ruby-throated hummingbird.

We also read these two books:

We will continue with our bird theme for another week or so. Check out Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers Weekly Wrap-up to see what other homeschoolers have been up to.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up

Twenty days down and 160 to go for the 2010-11 school year! We started school at the end of July because we knew we would be taking time off here and there to travel in August and September. We're using Story of the World for history this year and, honestly haven't gotten very far. We spent some time last week putting togethere our family history books and personal timelines then moved on to archeology this week. I set up an archeological dig sight in the backyard and told the kids to pretend they were scientists from the year 3010 looking for clues to human civilization in the year 2010. Before starting the dig, we read this book by Kate Duke:

Archaeologists Dig for Clues (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)

Sport and Spice had a fun time digging, once they finally came across the first artifacts. For awhile it was a little iffy and both kids decided there was way too much work involved in being an archeologist. Here's a tip if you do this activity: Draw a treasure map for yourself to remember what's buried where. I was sure I'd remember from one night to the next morning, but as it happened we actually did not get to complete this activity until 4 DAYS LATER! By then I could hardly remembered what I'd buried, much less where. At least I had kept the dig site contained to a small area.

I had the kids mark off their dig site with string and sticks then draw a diagram on graph paper showing what artifacts were found in each cell. After everything was found, along with a bonus bottlecap that Sport unearthed, we talked about each item and what kind of clues it could provide...pen and can showed they had a developed alphabet and knew how to write; the skaterboard dude and army guy showed what kind of clothes they wore and that they had weapons and wheels; the Mardi Gras doubloon could have been a form of money and the fork showed they had highly developed eating utensils (and perhaps worshipped frogs?) They had a good time with this and of course wanted to stay out digging afterwards which is why I planned this as the very last project of the day.
In math, Sport is humming along with Teaching Textbooks Math 4 this year. This is our first year with Teaching Textbooks and so far it seems to be a good fit. We started around Lesson 40 though because the first part was way too easy and I didn't see the point of spending the entire year in review. He is still reviewing, but he could always use more help with multiplication facts. Spice, meanwhile, is having a blast with Math-U-See Alpha. She loves Decimal Street and has asked everyday this week, "Are we going to go back to Decimal Street today?" So of course we do. Yesterday we used Mrs. Bear, one of her purple bear counters, to go from door to door asking how many units, tens, and hundreds were home. Spice has quite the imagination and can tell you a story that goes on for hours so this was right up her ally. I finally managed to tear her away after about 5 different number stories and two tornadoes on Decimal Street.

In just about every other subject, we've been studying John James Audubon. I'm employing more of the unit study approach this year and so far we are having a really good time with it. It has been much more relaxing for me too. Planning out 2-3 weeks at a time seems so much more managable! Sport has always loved birds, but his interest was piqued again during a recent trip to Avery Island in Louisiana. I promised him when we got back from our trip we would study birds. Next week we will focus on two bird units I picked up from Currclick. I thought learning about John James Audobun would be a nice way to ease into the unit. This week we read The Boy Who Drew Birds by Jacqueline Davies.

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon (Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12)

Then followed many of the unit study ideas from Homeschool Share. Today we recreated some of our favorite Audubon prints using this idea from Incredible Art Lessons. Spice drew a mallard.

Sport, the bird afficianado, used the ceramic birds he just had to have from the thrift store as models. He drew a cooper's hawk and a Florida Jay.

Here's a look at the finished products. (That's my Carolina wren in the middle. I can't resist getting in on the art action.)

That's pretty much a wrap on our week in homeschooling. Tomorrow we'll go to morning Mass, do some math, head to art class, and then enjoy an afternoon at the park with our homeschool group. Hope your week was as fun as ours. To find out how others are homeschooling, check out Weird Unsocialized Homechoolers Weekly Wrap-Up post.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Leftover Rice Lunches

When Hubby was stationed in Okinawa with the USMC one of his favorite meals out in town was TRC - Taco Rice and Cheese. He has talked about it often and I have tried to make it many times, but there's always something not quite right according to him. Last month he spent some time in the kitchen on our anniversary and whipped up some TRC for lunch. Even then he complained that it wasn't authentic enough. Well, I don't know how to help him, but I do know my kids loved the meal and have asked for it often since then. Hubby and I are not fans of leftover rice, but the kids don't mind it so I've taken to incorporating it into their lunches anytime we have it. TRC is pretty self explanatory...take some rice, add some taco seasoned meat and a little cheese on top and serve. Last time I made it I added in a little taco sauce too and got rave reviews.

Now, it's a rare occasion when we have leftover taco meat. The other day we had leftover rice and no taco meat, but the kids were clamoring for TRC. On the fly I came up with PRC - Pizza Rice and Cheese. I threw some rice in a bowl and chopped up a few pepperoni slices and some cheese. We didn't have any unfrozen pizza sauce so, in another moment of desperation, I stirred in some tomato paste and Italian seasoning. They LOVED it and I love having two frugal, easy meals to add to our lunch rotation.

I'll be linking these "recipes" to Balancing Beauty and Bedlam's Tasty Tuesday.

Blessed with Grace

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Bargain Shopping

Sport and Spice started their homeschool enrichment classes again last Tuesday. We are lucky to have a mega church nearby that offers all types of classes for homeschoolers. So while they're busy learning dance, art, geography, video game creation, Lego mechanics, and music, I get to go workout in the church's fitness center and shop in the basement thrift store. What more could a mom ask for?
The thrift store is small, but has unbelievable prices. I find that most church run thrift stores like this one or St. Vincent de Paul usually have the best prices. Amazingly, I wasn't in the mood for too much shopping, but as usual, I still managed to find some great bargains like this 99 cent Ralph Lauren turtleneck. Not many people are looking at sweaters when it's 99 degrees out, which is probably why they were running a 99 cent special.

I also found this apothecary stye jar for a buck (shells included). I've been hooked on apothecary jars ever since Thrifty Decor Chick first ran a post about them. My only problem is I'm never quite sure what to put in them. Any suggestions? I know the shells won't stay. We do have a large jar full of shells in our guest bathroom though so they'll be added to that collection.

My two favorite finds were this large letter C and this brass key for only 25 cents each! Can you believe that? 25 cents!

I still have to figure out where to put both of them. I also snagged a 12 pack of white plastic hangers for 50 cents bringing my grand total for the day to a mere $3.18. Not bad if I do say so myself!

This post was linked to Today's Thrifty Treasures at Southern Hospitality and Apron Thrift Girl's Thrift Share Monday.

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