Saturday, December 10, 2016

Christmas Vacation Dinner Kit White Elephant Gift

Finding gag gifts, or White Elephant gifts, is probably one of my favorite Christmas time activities, and I'm always excited anytime I get an invite to a holiday celebration that includes the request to bring a gag gifts. One of my other favorite Christmas activities is watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I just can't get enough of it!

When we got a Christmas party invite this year with mention of a White Elephant gift exchange, I wanted to see if I could combine two of my Christmas favorites. I went through a few ideas and eventually decide to create a Christmas Vacation dinner kit, which included:
  • Clark's Egg Nog
  • Aunt Bethany's Lime Gelatin Mold Kit (lime jello + a small bag of cat treats)
  • The first installment in the Jelly of the Month Club
  • Snot's Puppy Chow (a bag of Chex Muddy Buddies)
  • Catherine's Turkey (turkey jerky)
I made labels for all of the things I purchased (which you can download for free) and put a copy of the movie on the top of the box in case the individual who ends up with my gift isn't as familiar with it as I am.

Download dinner kit labels here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Traveling Nativity Christmas Countdown

Grace is finally old enough this year that she is getting really excited about Christmas activities. She even helped decorate the Christmas tree, hanging three cupcake ornaments on one branch and four donut ornaments on another. Because she's having so much fun, I wanted an activity we could do everyday for her to look forward to. I considered an Advent calendar with small activities each day or Elf on the Shelf. But to be honest, both sounded like too much work.

Then I remember something my mom did for a few years when I was growing up. Instead of setting up our entire nativity scene at the beginning of the holidays, she just set up the stable and the animals. Then, we moved Mary and Joseph around the window sills in our house on their "journey" to Bethlehem. On Christmas Eve, we added baby Jesus and the shepherds. And a few days after Christmas, we added the three wise men. 

I purchased a wooden nativity set that is perfect for Grace to move each day. By perfect, I mean she can't break it! Last year, she was fascinated with the sheep from the nativity in our living room. She grabbed it one night, along with the nearby garland, sending baby Jesus flying across the room and breaking a poor shepherd in half. The nativity set is from Mary & Martha for those that are interested!

I however do not have as many windows in my house as we had growing up, so I had to think of a few other places Mary and Joseph might visit on their journey. I created a FREE printable to help plan Mary and Joseph's journey through my home. Feel free to download it and try your own traveling nativity this year.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Flight Attendant Costume and Pillbox Hat Tutorial

I haven't outgrown my love of dressing up for Halloween. Every year, I look for some excuse to dress up. This year, I planned a date night for Blake and I that included a trolley tour to haunted places around town, and the tour company encouraged costumes!

As much as I love dressing up, I'm not a fan of spending a lot on something I'm going to wear for a few short hours. So, I usually try to pull together a costume made mainly of things I already down. This year that costume was a flight attendant. I had the dress, the shoes and the aircrew pin (thank you husband who once flew around in helicopters for a living!). What I needed was a scarf (super cheap to buy) and a hat (not so cheap to buy). I decided to see if I could make one.

It wouldn't have passed Pan Am uniform inspection, but it did impress a couple of ladies on the tour with us, so I'm considering it a success! Oh, and it only cost $5 to make.

Here's what I needed to make it:
  • 1 piece of foam that is 18 inches long
  •  2 pieces of felt in the color you want your hat to be
  • Tacky Glue
  • Thread in the color of your hat
  • Thick elastic
  • Button for embellishment 

Step 1: Cut a strip of foam that is 18 inches long and 2 1/2 include wide. Connect the ends together with a piece of elastic. I fitted it to my head to get the elastic the right size for me and would stay on my head. I then stapled it to the foam.

Step 2: Cut pieces of felt that is 18 1/2 inches long and 3 1/2 includes wide. A couple of notes: 1) I actually used two pieces of felt that were about 10 inches long. I had them overlap on the sides. 2) If I did it again, I would make the felt wider to make it easier to glue. I think four inches would be about right. Using Tacky Glue, glue the foam pieces to the middle of your felt. Let it set to dry.

Step 4: Fold the felt over the edge of the foam and glue it into place. I used clothes pins to keep it in place while it dried and worked in sections instead of doing it all at once.

Step 5: Next came making the top. I laid the hat in the middle of a piece of felt and traced around it, making a circle that was about an 1 inch wider than the hat. I put it inside the hat and glued it in just a few places to hold it in place. Once dry, I stitched around the edge between the top and sides of the hat. It was just a quick, messy whip stitch.

 Step 6: I sewed a button on one of the seams from the overlapping pieces of felt for a little embellishment.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Easy, Affordable Trunk or Treat Idea

We love Halloween, so when fliers came home from daycare about Trunk or Treating, we were all about it! However, as I started digging for ideas for decorating our trunk, I started to get discouraged.  I came to the realization that you either need a degree in theater or be an aspiring Hollywood set designer to properly decorate for a Trunk or Treat. 

I didn't have the time, money or energy to pull that off, leaving me to come up with an idea on my own. I found an example of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown that I was able to simplify to my budget and ability!

Here is what you need:
3 yards of burlap - $12
Peanuts Classroom Decorating Kit - $6.19
Safety pins and string to attach Peanuts characters to the burlap
Pumpkins - Ours were free from our garden, but we did use smaller pumpkins that you could get for just a few dollars from a pumpkin patch.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Halloween Sensory Bottles

We're big fans of Halloween in our house, and I like to give little gifts to friends and family to celebrate. Typically treats are always a hit, but this year, Grace has three cousins under the age of one! I wanted to do a little something for them as well that was affordable and would be fun for them. We decided to make sensory bottles.

This was my first time making sensory bottles, so we had a few test runs before all was said and done. Below are the steps that finally worked for me!

Gatorade bottle (I picked Gatorade because of their large mouths and orange caps)
Corn syrup
Red food coloring
Yellow food coloring
Orange glitter
Spider rings
Eye ball bouncy balls
Halloween confetti
Small rubber spiky calls
Gorilla Glue

Step 1: Fill the bottle half way up with corn syrup. My research uncovered that this helps slow down the fall of the items in the bottle.

Step 2: Fill with your bottle fillers - glitter, balls, etc. I used glitter and some items from the dollar section at  Target. You can see the full list of what I used in the list above. I did buy some spider rings and cut off the ring backs before putting them in.

Step 3: Fill the bottle with room temperature tap water until the bottle is complete full. Some things I read suggested using filtered water, but I got mine straight from the tap and it worked just fine.

Step 4: Put in the food coloring. I used three red drops with one yellow drop.

Step 5: Put the cap on and shake the bottle until the corn syrup and water is completely combined.

Step 6: Remove the cap and put a ring of Gorilla Glue around the very top of the bottle and screw the cap back on. The daycare Grace goes to makes sensory bottles a lot and when I asked her teachers, they said they always use Gorilla Glue to seal them shut and have to have it fail them.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Healthy, two-ingredient ranch dip

Hy-Vee is a local grocery stores and one of the unique things they offer is free store tours with a store dietician. On one of my many attempts to find healthier ways to eat, I took advantage of the service, and the dietician gave me a great tip/recipe that I use all the time, even when I've fallen way off the health wagon.

She suggested simply swapping Greek yogurt for sour cream when making ranch dip. She explained that by making the swap, you get the benefit of the protein in the yogurt. When using sour cream, you just get fat.

Ever since, whenever I make veggie dip, I use Greek yogurt. 

Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing
2 teaspoons of ranch dip mix (I used Hidden Valley Fiesta Ranch when I made it for this post)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

Mix the two ingredients together and enjoy with your favorite veggies!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Easy to make affordable bee costume: Perfect last minute costume and under $10

Easy to make and affordable
The closest I got to getting her to wear her antenna.
One of my favorite memories growing up was scrounging through our house to put together Halloween costumes each year. My mom was a master at helping us do this. When I had Grace, it was one of the things I looked forward to - the challenge of turning her costume requests into reality with everyday items either around the house or easily purchased.

Being the only words she is close to saying is, "All done," she didn't have much input this year. But, she loves bugs, so it made sense to try to do something along those lines. I decided to go with a bumble bee.

Once we had our costume picked, I went to the place all good moms go to get overly ambitious and unrealistic expectations of themselves - Pinterest! At this point, I thought I would totally pull of a Pinterst worthy costume, and the Pinerest worthy photos to accompany it.

I headed to the local craft store to stock up on all of the supplies I needed to create my masterpiece. Grace made the first chip in my expectations when she refused to put the headband on her head. How was I going to have a Pinterest worthy bee without antenna?

Then I sewed on the ribbons to her shirt to attach her wings. They were too low, and the chip in my expectations grew into a full-on crack. Then I just flat out ran out of time and almost forgot the wings to attach to her shirt all together.

My expectations fully crumbled when it came time to do her photos. No little cooperative Pinterest model, or overly stylized "set" for that matter. But at the end of the day, I had a pretty cute costume (mostly thanks to the cute, but uncooperative, model) that I made for about $10. And hopefully Grace will see this as a small example that pursuing your creativity is more important than perfection.

Easy to make and affordable bee costume
If you're looking for an easy, affordable costume that isn't quite Pinterest worthy, here is how I made Grace's bee costume:

Tu-Tu Skirt
1 25ft. roll of yellow tulle ribbon - $3
Thin piece of elastic (18 inches long) - Had on hand

Black onsie - $3
Yellow tape - $2
Black pants - Had on hand

Headband - $1
Pipe cleaner - Had on hand
Two small pieces of tulle left over from the skirt

Screen door screening - Had on hand
Yellow tape

What a trip to Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthplace taught me about the value of mom friendships

My friend Alicia has a saying, "Nothing brings people together like a common enemy." And in many ways that is exactly how we became great friends. With adjoining cubes at new jobs both trying to sell homes as the housing market bottomed out, we quickly bonded over our shared misery.

However, kids came, jobs changed and we slowly saw each other less and less. This spring we decided we needed to spend some time swapping stories and laughing about those failed mom moments that make you feel embarrassed to share with acquaintances but you get a sense of comfort when sharing with friends.

Then began the chore of finding a date to do this, which reminded us both of why moms struggle so much to maintain friends. The first date did work because of a wedding, the second date didn't work because my husband had to work, the third through tenth dates didn't work for reasons I don't even remember. After two weeks and what felt like endless emails and texts, we finally found a day four months later. You'd thought we were planning a week-long spa getaway and wine drinking marathon to Napa Valley, not a 50-mile drive to a Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum (we're both embarrassingly avid fans) and a Midwestern winery.

When the day finally came, it was great - uninterrupted conversation about topics that had nothing to do with work, going to a museum without being on constant alert for breakables and picking something from a menu for lunch because it looks good not because it would be easy to share with a toddler.

Still, there were those familiar pangs of guilt. As a full-time working mom, I have such limited time to spend with my daughter. How could a good mom want to spend a few of those precious hours without her? But as a I drove home after dropping Alicia off, I reflected on why this time is so important.

1. It showed my daughter the importance of friends and passions. From potty training to table manners, nearly every parenting advice column I read says something about modeling the behavior you want from your children. When I think about what I want for Grace, I want her to have meaningful friendships and interests, and if every advice column I read is true, then I need to show her the value of investing in those things.

2. It made me feel like a better mom. When I shared a story about accidentally letting two-year old jump off a dock into the lake with no one to catch her, Alicia countered with a not-so-fine moment of her own as if to say, "I get it; you're not alone. We're all doing the best we can."

3. It didn't just make me feel like a better mom. It in fact made me a better mom. When I pulled into the driveway, I was relaxed, refreshed and really excited to see Grace, and not just because I got her a Laura Ingalls Wilder book to pass on the obsession to the next generation. I played with her in a fully present way, not distracted or tired, and had a ton of energy to run around with her.

What the research says
This isn't just one mom's experience. It is supported by research. Kinstantly recently wrote about a 2015 study from researchers from Arizona State called "Who Mothers Mommy?" It looked at 2,000 mothers to uncover how moms cope with the demands of motherhood. In their research, mothers had four stand-out needs, and all of them highlight the need for friends, — unconditional acceptance, feeling comforted when distressed, authenticity in relationships and friendship satisfaction. Those were all things I saw the first-hand benefit of in a few short hours.

An article from did a similar article on the need for moms to have quality friendships that found research showing close friends help with everything from sleep and immune systems to actually living longer and having more joyful lives.

One final request
For me, the pangs of guilt from a few hours away from my kids will probably always be there. But, I'm starting to view them like getting out of breath when running, uncomfortable but totally worth  the long-term benefits.

I'll finish with a request. As soon as you're done with this post, reach out to a friend and set up with some time to do something together, even if it means taking the kids along. Understand it may take a few months before it come to fruition, but trust that it will be worth the wait! 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Relaxation in a Jar

My office mate at work recently had a birthday. To celebrate, I decided to refresh one of my most popular blog gifts - pampering in a jar!

I created a printable, to go along with it and updated the contents. Here is what I included this time around:
  • A gift card to a coffee shop for an afternoon break from her desk
  • Chocolates
  • A small cucumber hand lotion
  • Relaxing face mask

Feel free to download the relaxation in a jar printable label!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

You Blow Me Away: Valentine Bubbles with Free Printable

This year Grace will be exchanging Valentine cards with her little friends at daycare. With allergies and more than enough sugary treats on Valentine's Day, I wanted to do something different. I was inspired by my mom. My birthday was smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season when there is no shortage of sweet treats and my mom would always find something affordable but unique for me to hand out.

I found a pack of 24 bubbles at Target for $3. There were enough for Grace's classmates and enough left over that her cousin will also be giving his daycare friends bubbles for Valentine's Day.

Feel free to download the "Valentine, you blow me away" printable.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Free Chocolate Tasting Party Printable

Who doesn't love chocolate? I know it is a favorite in our house. I was recently trying to think of a fun at-home date night for my husband and I to do after Grace went to bed and after some brainstorming, I came up with a chocolate tasting! Although I used it for an at-home date, it would also be great for a girls get together! Here is how it works.

Purchase six pieces of chocolate. Because it was just the two of us, I splurged on some really good pieces from a local chocolate shop. But it would be just as fun with chocolates picked up at Target.

I placed the chocolates on a tasting mat/scoring sheet I made with a few lines to write notes about the chocolate to help you remember it and what you liked or disliked about it. Once we tasted all of the chocolate, we ranked all of the pieces based on how much we liked them.

If you want to indulge in some chocolate, feel free to download the chocolate tasting printable!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

HouseWARMing - Perfect Winter Housewarming Gift

 photo Housewarming4.jpgI had a good friend move into a new house in early December. Just thinking of moving amid the holidays stresses me out. Thankfully she is move flexible than I am! Because it was winter, I wanted to do something winter themed instead of my traditional Home Sweet Home housewarming gift.

After a little brainstorming, I decided to focus on the "warm" in housewarming, choosing a blanket, hot cocoa and a Christmas ornament to mark the occasion. Who doesn't love hot chocolate? And who can't use another blanket? Especially when you have boys like my friend does - they are always building forts! I ordered the ornament from Need More Heart on Etsy.


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