Saturday, November 29, 2014

Why I'm NOT Doing Elf on the Shelf



Now that my daughter is in pre-school, every friend, family, and co-worker asks me the same question...

 "Are you doing Elf on the Shelf?!"

 Each person that asks me has wide eyes and excitement in their voice. Each person assumes I will say,

"YES!",

and we can share with each other the adventures that [Insert your Elf on the Shelf's name here] Buddy/Elfie/Charlie/Jingle/Fred/Jack/Snowflake/Max/Jolly/Rob will be going on over the next month. However, when I tell them,

"No, not this year.",

their faces sadden and it is as if I had sucked out all of the joy for the holiday season.

Let me explain.

1.  My daughter has never asked for Elf on the Shelf, so what she doesn't know won't hurt her.
2.  It looks like a lot of work. I see all of my friends post on Facebook and Pinterest each morning the trouble the Elf got into the night before. Whether it is a joy ride with Barbie, a marshmallow fight with G.I. Joe, hang gliding from the ceiling, or getting flour all over the kitchen after making cookies. I prefer lounging on the couch vegging in front of Hulu all night over making sure the Elf doesn't get into too much trouble.
3.  It is kind of pricey. When I looked up the price on-line for an Elf on the Shelf, it was more than $30 for the intro kit.

After I give my reasons for why I'm not doing Elf on the Shelf, the next thing I hear is,

"But my kids are on their best behavior all month long. I can get them to do whatever I want while the Elf is watching."

Suddenly, I am the one that is wide-eyed and full of excitement.

"What? Best behavior? All month? Can get them to do anything? Like go to bed on time?  Or get dressed on time each morning?"

But wait, before I am committed to the Elf on the Shelf, I ask,

"What happens if I forget about the Elf one night?"

With a consoling gesture, the parents nod,

"Oh, that happens, and you will be surprised with how many excuses you can come up with."

Ok, maybe I have had a change of heart. Maybe we will bite the bullet and start it this year. I imagine there will be a few nights where Elf will fall asleep on the couch watching Hulu, but Elf just might have a few adventures after all.

Ganz Santa's Little Helper
Are you doing Elf the Shelf this year?

Baby Shower Gifts that Last Through the Toddler Years

As I unpack boxes for my 3-year-old daughter's room after our move to a new place, although I am finding many toys and clothes that she has now outgrown, I'm surprised at how much she is still using from when she was a baby. Some items have been re-purposed, but other items are still going strong as originally intended. Below is a list of some items that we have been using since our daughter was a newborn and are still using today. Maybe they will give you some ideas for a baby shower gift that can be used from infancy through the toddler years.

Dishwasher Basket:
Ok, so I know this isn't a fun gift to buy someone, but a dishwasher basket really does come in handy when you are washing 5+ bottles a day. This specific dishwasher basket is designed to hold all the little pieces for the bottles for newborns, and then it even has spots for straws when the child is older.  Later, I repurposed this basket to sit in the utensil drawer for my toddler's tiny forks and spoons that otherwise get lost in the drawer. I simply took the lid off to get it to fit in the drawer.




Outlet Covers:
I'm not going to lie, when our daughter was a baby, we used the traditional 2-pronged outlet covers that   I'm pretty sure I picked up at a garage sale in a large ziplock bag of baby proofing supplies and from hand-me-downs from a co-worker.  Every time I want to plug something in, I have to pry off the cover and then remember where I put it when I am finished using the outlet. However, my husband recently bought a new outlet for our house that have the covers that automatically slide shut when something is unplugged from them, and basically, they are the coolest thing ever, so I had to add to the list.



Baby Journal:
When I found a vintage unused baby journal for $7, I bought it right away.  It was the same baby journal my mom kept when she was pregnant with me. What I love about this baby journal, is that it is so much more than a baby book where you have a tiny area to write down baby's firsts. There are titles on some of the pages to give you an idea of things to write, but then there blank pages for you to go on and on about all the amazing things baby does. There is also space to add entries from the toddler years (I haven't made an entry in a while, but now that I'm thinking about it, I might have to take some time and catch up.) After searching on-line, I found that you can still buy new editions of this book at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store.




Nightlight:
There are a variety of great night lights available. The Summer Infant Slumber Buddy is one, though, that has transitioned well over the past 3 years. When my daughter was a baby it played night time music and nature sounds to help her sleep, and now that she is older, she appreciates the stars that the butterfly produces all over her room before bed.  It can also help set the bed time routine since many other things will change as she gets older such as going from the crib and baby bedding to a big kid bed and to an older kid themed bedding set.



Storage Caddy:
When my daughter was a newborn I stuffed this caddy full of diapers, wipes, diaper cream, hand sanitizer, and any other baby must haves. I carried it from room to room during the day so that I always had the necessities next to me, which is ideal after a c-section. And it was also easy to pick up and go to grandma's and grandpa's house. Now that she is a toddler, it is still handy to take on trips. Now it is full of an extra pair of clothes, hair accessories, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and it is the perfect size and shape to leave in the car for when you need Neosporin and a band-aid for a skinned knee.




Car Seat:
We were lucky enough to get this great car seat as a hand-me-down. Some car seats are designed only for newborns and some are designed only for older kids, but this specific car seat was designed for newborns and children up to 65 pounds. The right car seat is a must have, and kids are recommended to sit in them until they outgrow the height or weight limit on the, which for some kids, can be up to 7 or 8 years old. This is a gift that will be used daily and last for years.




Dresser:
One of my favorite things we bought for my daughter before she was born was her dresser. We were lucky enough to find a 5-drawer Ashley dresser in the dents and dings section in the furniture store, so we got a great discount. The drawers are deep for tons of storage which was great when she was a newborn because I was able to fit all of her clothes into one drawer to easily pull outfits together quickly. And the drawers are easy for her to open now that she is old enough to pick out her own clothes.



Friday, September 12, 2014

Harvesting Walnuts

We recently moved to a new house, as mentioned in my last blog entry, and in the backyard is a large black walnut tree.  As a warning, if you have a walnut tree in your yard, don't put anything underneath it because it WILL stain it.  My husband warned me of this, and although we thought the toy was far enough from the tree, as you can see, it clearly wasn't.


Even though the walnut tree has proved to be somewhat of an inconvenience when it comes to the layout of toys in the backyard, I thought I should make the most of the tree, and attempt to harvest some of the nuts.  

Step one of harvesting walnuts is collecting the nuts.  My daughter LOVED this part.  Even if you aren't going to harvest the nuts, just collecting them can be a fun activity.  Most of the walnuts we found were completely enclosed with the green shell, but some were partially exposed.  We weren't 100% sure if those were okay or if they were old, so we trashed most of them just to be safe, but as we get more comfortable with the process, we might start including them in our keep pile.


For the next steps, I googled and watched some YouTube videos for tips.  The first couple of videos said to peel the nuts, wash them, and let them dry two weeks out in the sun.  I also asked friends for tips, and they told me there is no need to wash them, just peel them and lay them in the sun for a few days, and then begin to crack them open.  Another person had an even easier approach to just collect the walnuts, leave them in the green peel, and hang them to dry in a cool dry place for two months.  The nice thing with the different techniques is that you can pick the one that works best for your schedule and walnut demand.

We decided to go ahead and peel the green shell off of the nuts the same day we collected them.  In all of the videos, the people easily peeled off the green shell.  However, when I tried to peel them, it was not very easy.  And, even though I wore gloves, the walnut juice still leaked through the gloves and stained my fingers.  After watching me struggle for a bit, my husband came up with an idea.  To quickly peel the walnuts, he placed all of the walnuts in a bucket with some water and used a paint mixer attached to a drill and stirred the walnuts in the bucket.  The peels came right off!



Once the nuts were clean, I hung them up in a cheesecloth outside in the sun.  My husband poured out the peels and liquid in a spot in the yard that had a bunch of weeds growing since the walnuts have a natural herbicide in them.  Friends recommended hanging them in an onion bag, but I didn't have one on hand, so we will see how the cheesecloth works.


In two weeks, we will take the nuts down and attempt to crack them... well, maybe not quite in two weeks, we will see how our schedule works out... but more to come!  The biggest hurdle right now will be to remember to bring them inside if it rains and to keep the squirrels away!

What are your tips for collecting and storing walnuts?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The 'Cook then Prep' Dinner Routine

My family recently moved to a new state, which means there is a new school, a new office, and most importantly, a new schedule.  For the first few weeks, I did not feel guilty about ordering carryout for dinner.  However, now that we have settled in to our new place, and almost everything is unpacked, I'm starting to think it is time to prepare more meals at home and begin a regular routine.

Now, what will that regular dinner routine be?  We have tried the 'once a month cooking' approach, which for my family loosely translates into me being sore on Monday from standing on my feet all weekend in the kitchen cooking.  We did save a TON of money, and it was convenient to have meals ready throughout the week, however, my husband and I both gained about 5 pounds each since so many of the freeze ahead meals ended up being cream based casseroles, pot pies, and starchy dishes.

Another approach is the 30 minute meal... no, 20 minute meal... no, 15 minute meal! This method has also worked well over the years.  After work, enter the kitchen and prepare a dinner in the amount of time it takes to watch your favorite cooking show.  However, that is IF you have the ingredients on hand.  Plus, when we walk in the door, I can't head straight to the kitchen to start cooking; the dog needs to go outside, the cat needs fed, the bird needs fresh water, etc., and by then by that time my daughter is usually hungry for a snack.  Plus, relaxing a bit before putting on the apron usually sounds like a good idea.  However, there is not much time to 'veg' in between getting home from work/school and when the clock says it is time to start the nighttime ritual.

So, after trying a few different dinnertime approaches, we have decided to try a third avenue.  We are going to try to 'cook then prep' each night.  This may not be a 'thing', but it works pretty well for us.  Basically, after walking in the door, and throwing something in the oven that one of us made the night before, there is time to prep something for the next night.  Genius!  We get to eat right away, and we don't have to allocate large chunks of time for cooking, prepping, and shopping.  Plus, we still save money by preparing meals at home.  Prepping meals the night before also makes it easier to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables, which leads to healthier meals.



Okay, so enough jibber jabbers - for some reason, I signed up to bring snacks to my daughter's daycare, so I have about 2-dozen apples to slice.  I also need to figure out what meal I'm going to prep tonight for dinner tomorrow.  By the way, the best part of this for me is that I don't have to have a full week's meal plan; I just need to be thinking a day ahead.

What are your favorite meals that could be prepped the night before?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Miniature Crochet Heart Pattern


I found a cute little crochet heart pattern on planetjune.com, but I needed an even smaller heart for a project I was working on, so I took the pattern and modified it a bit to make it miniaturized.  I took the pattern for the Small Heart from PlanetJune, and I substituted double crochets for triple crochets and I substituted single crochets for double crochets.  I used a size 3 (size D) to achieve this miniature heart that measures about 1.25''.  Any additional ideas on what to do with these little hearts?  I hope to post what I did with mine soon!

Vet School Widow: Miniature Crochet Heart Pattern


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Whale Silhouette Wall Hanging from Vintage Buttons




I was at a garage sale a few months ago and purchased a Mason jar full of vintage buttons for a few dollars.  I didn't have a particular plan for them, but buttons are always good to have on hand.  Plus, they provide tons of activity time for my daughter.  In one swift motion, she will dump the entire contents of the jar onto the coffee table and begin sorting, stacking, and counting.  Last night while she was playing with the buttons, I noticed there were quite a few of the white and clear buttons in all different sizes, and so I decided to make some button art with them.

After my daughter went to bed, I dumped the buttons out on the coffee table.  The sound from each button hitting the table reminded me of all the times my daughter had done the same thing so many times before.   I moved the buttons around in different shapes, and the white whale appeared.  I pulled out some blue fabric that I bought about 10 years ago when I was going to learn to sew, and it became the perfect background for a white whale swimming in the big blue ocean.  My husband found a piece of scrap wood, and I procured the Elmer's glue and scissors, and I was ready to begin.

Vet School Widow | Whale Silhouette Wall Hanging from Vintage Buttons - Button Art for Toddler Room DIY
Collecting supplies to complete a DIY project for a toddler's room.

I glued the fabric to the wood by applying glue to the back and to the sides of the wood.  Then I cut out a whale shape out of the same type of fabric to glue the buttons to just in case I made a mistake.  I glued on the first layer of buttons and then glued the whale to the wood.  Next, I glued on the second layer of buttons, and let it dry overnight.  I was worried when my daughter woke up she would want to know where all her buttons went, but she said she liked her new whale for her room (although, she still doesn't believe me it is a whale...what do you think?)

Vet School Widow | Whale Silhouette Wall Hanging from Vintage Buttons - Button Art for Toddler Room DIY
Whale silhouette wall hanging made from vintage buttons.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Heart Shaped Crayons for Valentine's Day



Valentine's Day is quickly approaching.  Even though I haven't figured out what my daughter will be handing out to her classmates this year, I figured I would write about last year's Valentine's handouts.  My daughter and her friends were 1 1/2 at the time, so crayons are an appropriate handout at that age.  To up the cute factor, I decided to make heart shaped crayons by melting crayons into heart shaped molds.  I didn't want to cut up a bunch of brand new crayons, so I asked a woman at work whose kids were a little older to see if she had an old box of broken crayons.  Bingo!

Vet School Widow: Crayon Shaped Hearts for Valentine's Dayv

I took off the wrappers, cut them up with a knife, and organized them by color and brand.  I found the different brands melted at different temperatures (might be a good experiment to do with an older kid), so it seemed to work best when using just the Crayola brand crayons.

The only other thing I needed was a heart shaped mold.  I looked all over, but I couldn't find anything that would work, and didn't want to order one online.  The Dollar General store had heart shaped ice cube trays for $1, so I decided to try them.  To avoid a potential mess in the oven, I placed the mold in an oven safe pan; just in case the mold did melt, I didn't want to spend the rest of the day cleaning up melted plastic and crayon wax off of my oven!  Luckily, keeping the oven at a low temperature kept the ice cube tray from melting.  The tray did get a little warped, but it kept it's shape long enough to make the amount of heart crayons needed for the class. I washed the ice cube tray with soap and water afterward, but it still got pretty destroyed.  This year I was out shopping and found a silicone baking pan that would work much better, so I went ahead and bought it just in case I wanted to do this again in the future.

Vet School Widow: Crayon Shaped Hearts for Valentine's Day

Pull the molds out of the oven as soon as the crayons are melted.  Once the crayons are cooled, you can pop them out of the molds and admire your new heart shaped crayons.

 Vet School Widow: Crayon Shaped Hearts for Valentine's Day

To finish them up, I bagged the new crayons up into little treat bags and tied Valentine's cards from Hobby Lobby around them that looked like a page from a coloring book.  It would also be cute (and probably cheaper) to make your own tag.

Vet School Widow: Crayon Shaped Hearts for Valentine's Day | Tags to go with heart shaped crayons

I set one aside because I thought it looked like a globe, so it was a special one just for dad!

Vet School Widow: Crayon Shaped Hearts for Valentine's Day | Heart Shaped Crayon that looks like the world