Friday, November 30, 2012

A Little Naughty, A Little Nice

Looking to add a little spice to your holiday this season (and I don't just mean in your spiced cider!)?  Then this just might be the post for you!  With December only one day away, it is time to get the advent calendar ready.  I've been working on our family advent calendar with fun holiday crafts and activities similar to last years, but this year, I've decided to make A Little Naughty, A Little Nice advent calendar for my husband!!

With two young kids and full time jobs for both of us, it is sometimes challenging for my husband and I to find the time to have stress-free couple time.  I decided to craft this fun calendar just for us.  Since it is meant just for us, I decided to hang it from our headboard. Honestly...this was also so we wouldn't get so busy we'd forget to open one each day!! 

I painted clothespins in red, white, and greens and clipped them to a red ribbon. I bought two small packs of 6x6 holiday paper from Michaels ($4 on sale) for the rest.  I ended up cutting the paper to be 6x4 because I thought it looked better.  The paper pack came with the numbers that I just cut out and glued to the clothespins.  I decided to roll the paper, so my husband couldn't cheat and know what was coming! I even taped them!

I typed up the advent activity for the day and glued it to the inside of each paper.  I couldn't just write it because the stack of paper I bought was double-sided.  It was fun coming up with the days activities.  I was purposefully vague on some items.  For example, I thought we could decided together which of us would give the back rub and which would receive it.

Here's some examples of A Little Naughty...(only a "little" naughty for this post!)

 And A Little Nice...

As crazy as the holiday season gets, I think these activities will enable my husband and I to have a little of our own time and just enjoy each other a bit. I cannot wait for December 1st!  If any of my readers do this, please let me know.  Maybe I can swap out some of my ideas for yours!

*Another note: Just like I do with my kids' advent calendar, I keep a hidden list of the days in order.  This way if something comes up and I know we won't have time to fit the activity in that day, I can switch it with a less time-consuming day.  This is another reason why I numbered the clothespins and not the papers. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful Tree

Happy Thanksgiving!! I love this holiday, not just because of the delicious food which makes me feel like I need to be rolled out the door, but because it is a holiday season that presents us with a great opportunity to reflect on all we have to be thankful for.  My husband and I took our family out for a walk on the horse trails near our house at the beginning of the month and we came across this...

This thankful tree displays the numerous blessings that surround us.  There were tags dangling from the tree written by neighbors and others who passed by the tree.  On these tags, the writers noted something they were thankful for and then hung it on the tree like an ornament.

Attached to the trunk of tree was a plastic container with a lid and inside the container were blank tags and pens/markers for anyone who wished to add what they are thankful for to the tree.  I loved this idea, and I decided to make a small tree for our house.  The remainder of the walk, our family picked up long sticks to be used for our tree.

When we got home, I found a vase.  My daughter and I placed the sticks in our vase, and then set about making the tags. We used my Cricut machine and Stretch Your Imagination cartridge to make 3.5" tags on light tan cardstock.  We threaded twine through the top of the make the ornaments, and placed the vase as the centerpiece of our dinner table.

Next to the vase, we placed a dish with blank ornaments and a pen, much like the neighborhood tree.  Throughout the month of November, our family (and whoever visits that wishes to add a thankful tag) have been writing down things we are thankful for.  Every time I look at this tree, it reminds me of all I have to be thankful for and the many blessings we have in our lives.

As this month comes to a close, I plan to write 2012 on the back of each tag and keep them all together. Next year, it will be so neat to read them again.  It will also show the growth of our kids as their handwriting and what they are thankful for changes. My favorite tags so far this year have been one I wrote on behalf of our 17 month old son, "Chairs, books, toys...anything that I can step on to reach things I shouldn't" and one of our 3 year old daughter's "I'm thankful for Johnny-John."  This one will be neat as her nickname for her little brother changes over time.  Each year, I will hang some of the past years on the tree, and then I will make tags in a slightly different color for the current year.

We have so much to be thankful for, and this tree has been a wonderful daily reminder for my family of just how much we are blessed.  I highly recommend making a tree of your own.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Bare Necessities

November is a time we often count our blessings and be thankful for all we have.  Others do not have even the bare necessities, and they are struggling every day. This prompted me to host my November monthly dinner with the theme of Bare Necessities where the girls and I made care packages to give out to the homeless in our communities.

Entry:  I wanted my decor to fit with my theme, but not be depressing.  At first, I was going to decorate all in teddy "bears" and play up this homophone, but that seemed too cutesy to go with our activity.  I decided instead to mix the two.  A shopping cart was donated to my ASB several years ago, so I borrowed that to set outside my entry door. I filled it with blankets, sleeping bags, etc.  Across from it, I set out a flattened cardboard box with a giant panda bear (thanks Gracie!).  I made a simple sign for the panda to hold inviting guests to enter.

Decor:  I set my dining table with some camping tarps as a tablecloth. As a centerpiece, I filled a small shopping cart with washcloths as well as some of the care package items.  Next to this, I placed another teddy bear holding a sign that read: "Homeless Let's Help" instead of the general Please Help that you often see on the side of the road. I placed newspaper under it -- the employment section -- for added color and contrast.

As place cards, I made knapsacks out of a scrap of fabric and a pencil. I filled the inside of the fabric square with Thanksgiving M&Ms, tied the ends of the fabric together in a knot to create the sack, and slid a new pencil in (writing side down so it didn't show).  To add the name to each pencil, I used by Cricut machine to cut letters and then glued them on.

To keep with the theme, the menu card was a piece of cardboard with the menu written in black marker.  The wine bottles were wrapped in paper bags.  I tied the tops with a burgundy ribbon for the red wine and a white ribbon for the white wine.

On the table we used for assembling the care packages, I used a sleeping bag as my tablecloth. I set out another bear, this one holding a sign that read "We Care Packages".  Another small shopping cart held the cards (see Activity section below).

Our good friend Josh in Mammoth carves these amazing bears out of wooden logs.  This bear was given to us at our wedding years ago.  It is engraved with our names at the bottom, and the bear was originally holding fresh flowers when we received it at our reception. He was a perfect addition to my table, and the hole was perfect to stick a skewer with a sign to identify the table.  By the way, you should really check out Josh's website to get one of these for your home, Bare in Mind Carvings. We love ours and get so many great comments on it.

Menu:  Again, I tried to adapt or fit menu items to the theme.  We started with Raspberry Salad with Candied Almonds.  Yummy!  The salad consisted of mixed greens, feta cheese, whole raspberries, and candied almonds.  It was served with a raspberry vinaigrette.  To make the candied almonds, I used 3 tablespoons sugar with a half cup of almonds. In a non-stick skillet, heat on medium heat 6-8 minutes, or until sugar forms a golden brown syrup and coats almonds.

For the main dish, I made individual Chicken Pot Pies, but shaped them like knapsacks.  To complete the look, I stuck a wooden chopstick through the top and tied a small strip of fabric around the end.  Although my pot pies included carrots and peas inside, I decided to serve green beans with it as well.  To make the knapsacks, I made the dough and then cut it into 6"x6" squares.  These squares I filled with the chicken mixture before folding the edges in. Here is the recipe for the inside mixture:

Chicken Pot Pie
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
Freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup frozen peans
1 1/2 cups cubed or shredded cooked chicken (I got mine pre-cooked from Costco)

Melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Cook the onions, carrots, and celery with salt and pepper to taste, until the carrots soften, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and thyme and cook an additional minute, stirring frequently.  Add the flour and cook off the raw flavor, about 1 more minute.  Turn up the heat to medium-high and deglaze the pan with the wine.  Which in the stock and Dijon mustard.  Add the peas and chicken and cook on a very low simmer until the sauce thickens up into a gravy, 5 to 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

For dessert, I served Strawberry Pie with whipped cream.  The best thing about this entire dinner was that I made almost everything the day before, so I actually had a chance to visit with my guests during this dinner rather than spending all my time in the kitchen preparing the meal.

Activity:  As I stated above, this theme was centered around the creation of Care Packages to help the homeless in our community.  I asked each guest to sign up to bring 20 of one or two items on the care package list.  I then bought gallon size Ziplock bags to hold all the items.  The items I asked guests to bring were:
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Packages of Tissues
Trail Mix
Bottled Water
Hand wipes
Granola Bars
Pair of Socks

One of the girls even typed up a list of local shelters in Orange County, and she brought single-day bus passes that we attached to several.

I also crafted a small note card for each guest to write a message of their choice before placing into the bag. The girls seemed to like this addition. (If you'd like a copy email me.)

When filled, the idea of these bags it to place them in your car, so it is handy the next time you encounter someone in need.  Each guest left with two full bags ready to give out to others.

This was a great party, and we all enjoyed putting these bags together.  The feedback I have received from the guests and the stories they've shared when they gave a bag away makes me smile.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Halloween: Family Fun

Happy Belated Halloween!  This is not my favorite holiday. However, I have come to the understanding that you must learn to like this holiday once you have little ones running around super excited about dressing up and trick or treating.  My hang up with this holiday is twofold.  First, I have a hard time spending the loads of money that costume stores want you to pay for something that is poorly made and your kids will wear once or twice.  Secondly, the creative gal in me has a hard time settling for standard princess or super hero type of costume. Our costumes this year were a big hit, so I decided to share them with you in case you can use them for the future.

Here is our family this year...

My daughter's favorite movie right now is Up.  She begs to watch it almost every night. So one evening we were watching Up, and I hinted to my daughter that she should be an Up character for Halloween.  The clincher...I told her she could carry balloons while she trick or treated.  She was ecstatic! Immediately, she assigned each member of our family the character we would represent.

My husband was Mr. Frederickson.  We made a visit to the local GoodWill and picked out a dark brown coat and slacks.  We already had the white shirt and suspenders.  We borrowed the cane and just added 4 tennis balls to the bottom.  The glasses we found at a thrift store for $0.59.  The bow tie and white hair spray were purchased at Party City.  To finish off the outfit, I made a Grape Soda pin for him to wear on his lapel.

I was Russel.  I borrowed a yellow hat and shirt from my dad.  The Boy Scout sash was borrowed from one of my past students. I already had the brown shorts and hiking boots, just added orange shoelaces.  I wrapped a piece of orange felt around my neck to make the scarf.  The hat emblem, flag, and patch were made out of scrapbook paper.

My daughter wanted to be Kevin, the Snipe.  This is where I had to use my creativity because a Snipe costume does not exist.  I bought a purple fleece hooded sweatshirt and 2 rainbow boas.  I stitched the boas to the sweatshirt with needle and thread without cutting the boas at all.  The sweatshirt was a zip-up, so it worked perfectly to take the sweatshirt on and off without ruining the costume.  I also stitched some feathers extending from the top of her head.  The yellow beak is made out of card stock and stitched to the hood to hold it in place.  Blue card stock is behind each googly eye as well. All these items can easily be removed and the sweatshirt used normally after Halloween too!  For the feet, I cut these out of black foam and safety pinned them in the back.  They ripped fairly easily we found, but a little black duck tape helped!

My son was Doug, the cute little dog from the movie. I looked everywhere for an expensive puppy costume that was brown like Doug in the movie.  I found this one at Party City for $ for me.  If I had more time, I would have added a collar with a red light flashing, but I ran out of time on that one.

This was a really fun Halloween costume.  I think it is even better than our one last year (although I loved my chicken and my egg...)