January 13, 2017
by sarah
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DIY Valentines

It seems like the down time we enjoy on the MLK long weekend has often turned into the start of our hand made Valentines. Here are some of our past attempts: heart crayons and paper flowers. This year my 7 year old wanted to use the sewing machine to attach painted paper hearts to card stock. I set her up and she was off and running (or sewing).

Sewing on paper was one of the first things that connected Jenny and I. I think it was 6 years ago when I sewed a family photo on to a folded piece of card stock and sent it out for our yearly holiday card. After Jenny received it I quickly got an email enquiring why and when and how! We were friendly before, but it connected us as fellow crafters and experimenters.

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January 6, 2017
by jenny
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Some of our favorite movies

In honor of Hayao Miyazaki‘s 76th birthday yesterday (January 5th), I’d like to recommend Miyazaki’s movies to people and families who haven’t watched them.  My kids and I love watching these movies. We are definitely not original or alone in that.

These Japanese anime style movies are often talked about because of their strong leading female characters or their amazing imagery, but there is so much more to talk about.

We started watching Studio Ghibli films when The Secret World of Arriety came out around 2010. My daughters (who were 4 and 6 at the time) LOVED the movie right away. The story is that of The Borrowers. The film is very gentle and beautiful, which is what my girls were into at the time. The story concept in this one is pretty easy to follow, especially for girls who love playing with dollhouse/Polly Pockets/Legos.  We have rented Arriety on Demand and borrowed it from the library again and again and again. After seeing the previews before Arriety so many times, my girls starting asking to see Ponyo.

But a couple years later (by now my son was old enough to follow a movie) we watched My Neighbor Totoro. And we watched it again and again, until I bought our own copy. Totoro is a big Studio Ghibli fan favorite, and a good example of what the movies are like. Most of the movies are somewhat of fairy tales and magic happens in different ways. Because the main characters are relatable in such a real sense and the imagery is so awesome, it’s easy to melt into the world created by the movie. But then there is so much that happens around the characters that stretches the limits of your imagination. A cat is a bus in Totoro. When we first watch one of Miyazaki’s movies, it’s both very comforting and very uncomfortably confusing. Having a little time to digest, and wrap our heads and stretch imaginations around character concepts (there is a lot of spirits becoming animals, beasts or human like), plots and probably knowing the whole story helps. We re-watch and usually appreciate it even more.

(I got these socks for my daughter for Christmas and she reported a couple other kids at school also received them over vacation!)

Because we like to watch these movies over again, we know the next movie is going to be awesome and the list of movies is finite (we only have a couple left!), we have been savoring and re-watching each movie (and others we’ve seen) for a few months before moving onto the next film. We have been saving (and looking forward to seeing) Howl’s Moving Castle, which is also a big fan favorite. I bought it for Christmas. We’ve bought of the movies (before and after seeing the movie for the first time). We have watched some OnDemand (free and paid) and getting discs out of the library. Song of the Sea streams free if you have Amazon Prime.

We took a vote in our house and while we have a range of favorites, Kiki’s Delivery Service is currently the top by popular vote!

If you haven’t seen these movies yet, they likely aren’t like anything you’ve really seen before! Give it a try!

(Disclaimer: While not necessarily violent, in most of the movies there are monsters and big wind storms or tidal wave sort of scenes, my girls are generally sensitive to that stuff, but haven’t minded or been scared by these things, again, there are some common fairy tale sort of themes, but you’ll want to see what your kids are comfortable with!) (Second disclaimer: Links are Amazon Affiliate, but as mentioned, check your library!)

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December 19, 2016
by jenny
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Stinky Boots/Skates/Cleats Solution

Last year my son’s hockey skates smelled so bad. I could smell his skates just standing talking to him. His skates smelled so bad that I literally gagged/dry heaved when I had to bend over to tie or untie his skates and would have to pause halfway to collect myself.  In between skating we would take the skates out of the bag to air out. I bought some specialty enzyme spray. My husband would put baby powder and other powders in the skates. I tried tea tree oil, vinegar, Lysol, sunlight, and freezing temperatures.  Sometimes these did nothing, sometimes the treatments temporarily helped or temporarily masked the problem.

BUT THIS YEAR, I have found a solution that works (at least for his stinky feet). Up until last week he had even been using the same skates at last year, and I could and did (no joke) stick my nose in the skate and it wasn’t like a bad dare.  I can’t believe it. Who knows, maybe my son’s diet has changed. He has practice even more often, and since the solution has been working, we don’t necessarily pull the skates out to air out after every skate. It’s awesome.  I’m definitely going to get another pair for his cleats!

I thought I’d share. There are definitely similar products on the market. I’ve been using a pair of charcoal filles inserts and they are awesome! Below is the Amazon Affiliate Link to the inserts we’ve been using, which are ~$10/pair. My son slides them right in his skates when he takes the skates off and leaves them in his bag when he puts his skates back on. We haven’t had to do any maintenance on the inserts and now more powdering/treatment of the skates. The inserts don’t even smell. It’s CRAZY- CRAZY GOOD!

Enjoy, hockey moms!
Mini Moso Natural Air Purifying Bags, Shoe Deodorizer and Odor Eliminator.

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December 15, 2016
by jenny
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Looking for chocolate melting tips!

I saw a video on making homemade peppermint patties a couple weeks ago. Looked super simple. My middle and I decided to make them.

It was fairly simple. There are only a handful of easy ingredients – the filling was just sweetened condensed milk, powdered sugar and peppermint extract. We had to play with the amount of powdered sugar a little to make it workable. We rolled the dough into balls and flattened them instead of rolling the dough and cutting out into shapes like the video. We followed some reviews and experimented which would work better by leaving half of the patties to air dry a little at room temperature for a couple hours and the other half we put in the freezer to harden/freeze.

And then came the dreaded part for me – melting the chocolate for dipping. I am seriously horrible at melting chocolate. I’ve tried for literally decades to get this down. I improvise a lot when recipes call for melting chocolate and dipping (I struggle through, use my hands a lot, sometimes brush chocolate on, give up, etc.).

I know one has to go slow and can’t heat the chocolate too quickly. I’ve tried short bursts of low temperature on the stove. I’ve tried real double boilers. I’ve tried a bowl sitting over a pot of simmering water (not touching and not boiling).  I’ve tried the chocolate package instruction, youtube tutorials, cookbook instructions, online tips and instructions. I’ve tried microwaving for a minute. I’ve tried microwaving for 15 seconds at a time. I’ve tried microwaving for 30 seconds and then 15 seconds. I’ve tried microwaving at half power and full power. I’ve tried heavy bottom and cheap pans. I’ve tried many brands of chips, bars of chocolate, wafers of chocolate, high quality and low quality chocolate, and even chocolate specifically for melting. I’ve tried putting in butter and even bought shortening specifically to try. I’ve tried adding in cream, milk and condensed milk. I’ve tried melting small batches, medium size and large batches. Nothing has worked to make a smooth drippy dip-able dunk-able chocolate. Sometimes I can get it that way nice and smooth for a minute or two, I start dipping, and when I need to stir, to redistribute the chocolate for full coverage dipping, it seizes up.

Mostly, my chocolate “seizes” and goes from looking like it’s melting and then suddenly becoming “gritty” and unworkable. I always thought I was burning the chocolate, but it doesn’t make sense based on using low heat. There is something about the chocolate refining process and moisture/water getting in that makes the chocolate seize. I try to be careful to not let a drip of water in.

What I learned this last time, is that oil can help, it wasn’t great/smooth dipping chocolate like the video, but allowed us to revive a bowl of seized chocolate and dip some patties this time! I added a couple teaspoons of canola oil to the seized chocolate and heated a little, and it definitely smoothed out some.

The peppermint patties, by the way, definitely don’t taste like store bought patties, and if not comparing them to the store bough patties are okay. They aren’t as delicious as the reviewers tout, but we may have to play with the amount of extract. I’ll post a recipe if we refine it!

I’d love any chocolate melting tips!!! We really want to make buckeyes again (peanut butter balls), but don’t want to struggle with the chocolate part!

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December 10, 2016
by sarah
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The Opposite of Tie Dye

bleach-shirt-3

I have just discovered the opposite of Tie Dye! Today I used bleach on a t-shirt to make an image. I took away color instead of adding it – never would have thought!

Here are my steps…

T-shirt Bleach Design

Supplies

  • 1 shirt – it doesn’t matter the materials. I used shirts with a rayon/spandex combo. Cotton is fine too.
  • bleach
  • water
  • bucket
  • paint brush
  • large plastic cutting board
  • old towel (we call them dog towels)
  • optional paper and water colors

Directions

  1. I started by painting my designs on paper. It was useful to practice before starting the shirts.
  2. When I perfected my design on paper I collected all my supplies and put on my yuckiest clothing and headed to the laundry room with a utility sink.
  3. I lay the towel out on the small table (it really is the extra freezer).
  4. Mixed 1:1 water to bleach in a small plastic container.
  5. Placed the plastic cutting board inside the t-shirt. This prevents the bleach from bleeding on to the back.
  6. I placed the shirt with the cutting board inside onto the towel. I made sure the cutting board was center inside the shirt.
  7. I filled the bucket about 1/4 of the way with cold water and placed it near by.
  8. Then I started painting on the shirt with the bleach solution.
  9. I left the bleach on for about 5 minutes after I finished. The bleaching happens almost immediately so you can see when you get to your desired color.
  10. Then I dunked the shirt into the bucket of water and rinsed it thoroughly.
  11. After that I put it into the dryer.

Helpful Hints – After one shirt dried I went back and reinforced some lines with another application of bleach then repeated steps 10 and 11. On another shirt I went back to early when the shirt was still a little damp and the bleach bleed a little too much (see Yoda’s left eye).bleach-shirt-1 bleach-shirt-2

 

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November 15, 2016
by jenny
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More Comfort Food – Chex Mix

I’ve been into comfort food too. Part with all that is going on in the country/world, part because we’ve been winding down a very busy fall schedule, and part because my body/brain/sleep hasn’t adjusted daylight savings.

I come from a family and part of the country where Chex Mix was/is a big part of holiday tradition. It brings about the feeling of family, fires in the fireplace, piles of brazil nuts at the bottom of a bowl because no one liked them, and being very very thirsty.

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So I thought homemade Chex Mix was a good idea as a respite comfort food in our house. I made the first batch and it was gone in a few days. One of the many fantastic things about Chex mix is that you can adjust the ingredients and flavors to your tastes. We stick to the “original” recipe flavor, but go heavy on the seasonings. My mom is a fan of the speed and easy of microwaving, and I can’t taste the difference, but I still oven bake. I left out tree nuts because of an allergy in the house, and peanuts so my kids could take the snack to school and obey the nut free rules. We like the new “original” recipe addition of bagel chips to the ingredients, so add more than recommended. We still like Cheerios, even though that’s not on the recipe anymore, so add those in.  One family friend growing up added M&Ms to their mix.

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No one has dug much into the leftover Chex and the gerbils could use those boxes to chew, so I made a second batch. I was looking around for what to add besides the cereals since I used up the bagel chips in the last go around. I had pretzel twists out, but put them away to add in these sourdough pretzels bites. I have more than one family member who is definitely going to pick those out first!

Anyone else add something different/special into their Chex mix? img_7172

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November 9, 2016
by sarah
0 comments

Comfort

halloween-cookie

No matter how you voted in the election yesterday I feel like we are all exhausted and need a little comfort. Comfort food or comfort crafts. (I started crafting at 7:00am this morning). I have been making more of these sweet tutu dolls. And I’m about to roast some pumpkins to make Jenny’s pumpkin bread. And I recently made these left over Halloween candy cookie bars. Then made a second batch and made them into cookies instead. I liked the cookies better. As you can see making stuff makes me feel better.

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November 1, 2016
by jenny
0 comments

Hand Pies Make Me Happy

This is an advertisement for hand pies. I don’t have a solid recipe I use, so I just wanted to give a shout out to all hand pies and encourage others to make their own.

I really dig hand pies. My last batch exploded to almost all look like awesome faces looking at me, as if hand pies didn’t make me happy enough.

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In high school we could walk to a convenience mart during lunch or before sports practices. I loved to get Drakes or Hostess fruit pies (mostly apple). I also liked the McDonald’s apple pies and am feeling a little nostalgic opening up that cardboard sleeve for a hot pie.

When I stopped frequenting convenient marts, I sort of forgot about hand pies. And then I saw a picture/recipe online a few years ago. I’m guessing homemade hand pies are only slightly better for you than the commercially mass produced versions, but they are just as (and sometimes even more) tasty.

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I won’t say they are as easy as pie (yes, I made myself laugh out loud typing that), but they are just about as easy as making a whole pie. Depending on your filling, making hand pies are not only incredibly quick and easy to make, but super convenient to eat. They are portable and go great in a lunch box. You don’t have to eat an entire pie within a week. You can make a batch and freeze some and pull them out one or two at a time, so as a mom can make your favorite and hide them or not worry that no one else likes them! They are easier than pie to share. If you are into crust, there is lots of crust! I like store bought crust, which makes life even easier.

Hand pies make me happy.    img_7017

 

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October 20, 2016
by jenny
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Do you have any Instant Pot Recipes for me?

I recently received an Instant Pot from someone who was gifted one but wasn’t interested. When offered, I did not jump at the chance. I already had a slow cooker and stove top pressure cooker. I work from home and feed my kids a dinner type meal around 3:30-4pm before leaving the house for evening activities. We aren’t a family who all comes in from our days at 5pm looking to sit down and eat at 6pm, which seemed like the target audiences for the Instant Pot recipes I’ve seen.

But when re-offered, I thought “sure, why not.” You know I’m always up for an experiment. The first thing I did after receiving the multi cooker was donate my old slow cooker. I had tried to make dashi stock over a year ago and it spilled into the cooking portion of the cooker and not matter how many times I tried to clean it, I could smell it every time I walked by the shelf the crock pot lived on in the basement. I was afraid to ask if someone else smelled it or not, but either way, I was happy to see it go.

The next Instant Pot related activity I did was buy a whole chicken to allegedly cook in 45 minutes. But I chickened out (bad pun) and roasted it in the oven, not wanting to risk messing it up or have it come out “weird” because we had a busy night that night and I wanted to make sure the kids actually filled their stomachs before heading out.

My husband often makes a bean chili for himself to eat for lunch for a week using dry beans that seem to take all day to cook, so I was trying to pressure (another pun) him into using the Instant Pot to cook the beans. But he wasn’t that inspired and now he hasn’t made his chili.

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On Sunday afternoon, my daughter and I bought a couple rotisserie chickens. I’ve been making stock in the crock pot overnight a lot after cleaning off the chicken carcasses. It never turns out to be the alleged gut healing gelatinous bone broth I intend even if I leave it for 18+ hours of cooking, but makes a fine stock to freeze or use for soup. Monday is our trash and the truck usually comes early Monday mornings so I wanted to get the chicken bones into the trash Sunday night. In comes the Instant Pot. I figured I could make the stock quickly with nothing to to lose and get the bones in the trash.

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It totally worked! Quick and easy, as advertised. I dumped in two birds’ bones, a small onion, a couple carrots and celery stalks, a few cloves of garlic, a couple bay leaves and water. I have pressure cooker experience from canning, so the spurting steam didn’t bother or surprise me at all, but I guess I could see someone being alarmed by that. And the end product under two hours after starting was perfect bone broth. It was easy, quick and delicious. And the bones didn’t have to stink in my trash all week. I’m definitely doing that again.

What Instant Pot recipes to you recommend?

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October 17, 2016
by jenny
1 Comment

Small pets!

We have gerbils.

If you are my mother, mother-in-law, or some of my neighbors you will read that with the connotation that one might read “We have chronic and very contagious lice” (we don’t, we’ve still only had that one easy bout!)

But we really like our gerbils. Their rat like tails and ratty faces don’t bother us. We think gerbils are cute.

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Gerbils HAVE added a lot of “oh man, the things we go through for our kids,” stories to my life over the past 5 years. But I’ve really enjoyed having the little rodents around. It took my husband about 3 years of being mildly disgusted by their ratty look, and having to listen to the beasts running in a squeaky wheel for hours while he watched TV at night, but he’ll even admit he thinks they are kind of cute now.

In fact after a tough loss of our old man gerbil, Teddy, last month, it was my husband that initiated the pushed to get more. We adopted two new little guys  last week (gerbils are social and not only enjoy people, but like to be in pairs). It’s fun to have babies again!

Here is a picture of our new pair, Patronus and Sirius Black:

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I was watching them this morning as they zipped around running in and out of a paper towel tube, burying themselves in bedding and popping up on another side of their tank. It made me appreciate one of the reasons pets of any kind are so fascinating – it really is amazing to be able to observe an animal up close and study and appreciate their completely different (or similar) brain, body, mind, needs, wants, actions, reactions, mannerisms, abilities, and priorities.

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We have a dog, some fish, a hermit crab, gerbils and a water frog. Each kid currently has tank with something living in his/her own room. I can’t say that pet ownership has given my kids any “sense of responsibility” as the plot of Arthur’s Pet Business or any other kids’ book would lead me to believe. I’m pretty sure no one else has ever once cleaned out a cage/tank, washed the dog beds, given the dog a bath, had the dog’s nails clipped, or bought any food or supplies. I doubt anyone has ever once even fed or walked the dog without being asked. I let the dog out, feed and walk her at least 80% of the time when there are other people in the house.

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But the amount of compassion my kids show for the animals in my house is worth it. (With one current compassion exclusion: one kid won’t stop touching the new gerbils even when the little guys probably need a break, I’m hoping this wears off a little after they’ve been here a few weeks!)

My kids all talk to our pets with such tenderness. Our dog clears out of a room scared from a lot of weird things, like cardboard boxes, and the kids are so sympathetic and never chase after her or tease her with an Amazon delivery in hand. They are inclusive and tenderly invite her into their rooms, and don’t drag, push or lock her in if she doesn’t want to go. They don’t force her into weird situations she doesn’t want to be in (like standing next to a tower of cardboard boxes) and they help her out of situations that make her uncomfortable (like UPS deliveries left on the front steps that she needs to get past to go inside/outside). If she does something that seems unintelligent to humans, they might laugh for a second, but then they don’t make fun of her, they almost always give her a hug, pet her, and in a soothing voice point out her other good qualities (like that she wins the stinkiest in the house award!)

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I’m all for pets, whether or not you have kids in your life. I don’t think pet ownership is a great exercise in physical responsibility for kids, but there is a sense of pride, and I think having pets in the house can make kids more compassionate people as they navigate co-existing and interacting with other beings (animals, people, and even the environment) who need things different than us and can add different sorts of experiences to our lives.

We hugely recommend dogs around here, but we would also recommend gerbils for those who can’t gave a dog looking to start off with furry interactive pets! I can give you more information on gerbil care if you are interested!

 

 

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