DIY Wee One House

Inspired by Cool Stuff for Your Garden: Creative Handmade Projects for Kids, I decided we had to try our hand at the Magical Fairy House on page 14.

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Which became my DIY Wee One House – something for the gnomes in the yard! And fine, I’ll admit I did this as a project for me and bought off Walker with a tiny birdhouse kit from Dollar Tree, that he painted, while Mommy indulged herself 😉

Birdhouse

So what do you need?

  • A birdhouse. Be it small or big, build yourself or ready to go – pick one you like! We used a Red Tool Box Birdhouse, that Kirk had picked up on a Lighting Deal on Amazon. It is nice and large, meaning it was easy to work with.
  • Craft paint. I used a forest green and a rich brown.
  • Paint brushes, bristles work better than foam ones.
  • Moss – find it at the dollar store, out in the plant section or in your back yard if you live in a wet area. If you harvest it, let it dry fully.
  • Small river rock. Honestly, the easiest source is Dollar Tree, in the florist section. The bags are a $1 and huge – use the leftovers in bee baths.
  • Craft glue.
  • Clear coat spray paint if using the house outside.
  • Birds, if you desire. Again, Dollar Tree sells various birds for $1 for 1-2 birds.

Assemble the birdhouse as directed, let cure if needed. For best results, use a primer coat of paint before heading on. Let dry fully.

Paint birdhouse as desired. Since my house opens on top, I painted it in and out, two to three coats. Let dry overnight before moving on.

To attach the rocks, paint craft glue on the wood, press rocks down as you like. Let set and dry before moving.

At this stage, if you want to weather proof the house, spray it with a clear coat outside, let dry overnight.

To add the moss, paint glue on the roof. Gently press down sections of moss, till it is covered. Let dry.

And should birds need to move in, attach them…or wait till real ones come in spring 😉

DIY Candy Jars

Last night we had a lot of fun watching The LEGO Movie, – which was a perfect family movie night 😀 The boys all loved it, and you know, so did I! I had an idea I thought the boys might like, a fun way to serve candy while we watched.

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The secret is using the TransforMASON Frog Lid Inserts, which are made by a company owned by Jarden, which owns Ball and Kerr mason jars….yes, they have an entire line of fun TransforMASON items.

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All you need are mason jars, a band, and a frog insert. Fill, and shake out what you want.

Yes, I know they say “not for use with food” on the packaging, I am OK with it since the food doesn’t have to touch it much. Originally, I bought them to make toothbrush holders – but my mind got distracted. The frog inserts make wonderful holders/toppers for a lot of items: flowers, paint brushes, make up brushes, toothbrushes, and anything you want to be able to shake out – or air out. Even potpourri would work well in a mason jar with this on top.

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If you want to get fancy, and happen to have Con-Tact Chalkboard Liner lying around, print out some templates for labels, and cut them out. They attach smoothly and easily. And yes, you can write on them with chalk! Or if you have no desire to do that, you can find precut Chalkboard Labels, ready to use. I’ve seen similar ones at Cost Plus World Market as well.

DIY Bathroom Cleaning Checklist

I’ll be first to admit I am not the best in keeping an immaculate house. If I learned from my Mom anything…well, she passed her lazy gene on to me. But I do like to at least keep the house presentable! It isn’t hard to pick up toys, do dishes, run the vacuum over the floors, and keep the bathrooms looking good. Well, 2 out of 3 bathrooms. I simply HATE cleaning the boys bathroom. They are slobs! Tired of nagging, after the past few years, I made up this printable to hang in there – and the oldest must do the chores and check off that he did them.

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To print, click here for full size PDF: Bathroom Cleaning Chart

5 main areas. Not hard. Doesn’t take long. 2X a week. (although garbage and towels do get changed more often on average). A minimum they MUST meet!

How to display?

I went for easy – a lightweight frame document. Hang a dry erase marker, and they can check off what they have done. Wipe off and start over each week:

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Now I didn’t say the teenager was happy with what I made 😉

Pretty Pink Popsicles

It’s strawberry season, and my transplanted plants have been producing:

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I don’t get many berries because usually there is a 2 & 4-year-old following me with beady eyes. But isn’t that why I grow so many berries? 😉

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So I made them little ice pops to enjoy –

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Pretty Pink Popsicles

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces coconut milk
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 10 ounces Lemonade

Directions:

If the strawberries are not sweet, sprinkle a little granulated sugar on them and let macerate for an hour before using.

Place 10 3-ounce cups on a small rimmed baking sheet.

Process the coconut milk and strawberries in a blender until mixed. Divide equally between the cups, a shy ¼ cup in each. Put in freezer for 30 minutes. Take out and pour lemonade on top of each cup, gently insert a craft stick or rigid straw into each cup. Return to freezer until hard, at least 4 hours.

To remove, run cups under hot tap water for a few seconds, then rip and peel off cup. Store leftover ice pops in a gallon freezer bag.

Makes about 10 ice pops.

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Swimming Pool Garden Beds

Last year in early May, I wrote a post on making raised garden beds using inexpensive children’s swimming pools. So did you wonder how that project went? Well, how about we peek in on this year’s garden:

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I added in a second bed this year. It is playing host to two types of bush beans and a pumpkin plant. The beans are easily encouraged to grow up with various tomato cages, that I run hemp garden twine around (the vines need something to grab on).

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Last year’s bed is back, filled to the brim with carrots. Walker asks daily “are the carrots ready?” Soon!

So…you just have to try this type of gardening. It exceeded my hopes last year. It is cheap and easy to put together. Go buy a standard kiddie pool, about 4 feet wide and 7 inches deep (buy made in the USA ones!), take home and drill drainage holes. Toss in some rocks at the bottom and about 4½ cubic feet of garden soil/potting mix. As I noted last year, keep the mixture light (not heavy on topsoil!) and it will grow great vegetables. Keep it watered, add in mulch every year and you have about the simplest garden you can make. And yes, the swimming pool survived the winter with no cracking, even with long periods of below freezing temperatures. And survived a move.

*OK, fine, yes…those fancy-pant decorator raised garden beds might look better in the yard, but they are not doing anything more than this one is. And this one runs $9-12 for the pool. Where as the fancy raised beds that are recycled plastic “boards” can set you back $50 to 100! You can always sink these pools into the ground and put bark around them, to hide the uglies. If you must. Or just claim your kids have their own garden 😉

An Open Letter To My Gym

This isn’t what you might think it is. At least not in the way  you might expect. Rather this is how I lost the love for a gym I once loved.

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When the shiny new LA Fitness opened in the town over, back in I want to say 2008, I was excited. The LA Fitness gyms are usually nice looking, and well laid out. This one was spot on. It has all the machines and weights one could want. A pool and sauna. Lots of classes. Even a trainer I can stand.

But you know what killed my love of it? The Kids Room. 

Those first years it was great. I enjoyed working out. Then the kids were born. And I noticed something. The daycare room, while bright and cheery, was about the filthiest place you could take kids. Seriously. They pick up head colds, Norovirus (omg…..so gross), pink eye and god knows what else. All it takes is ONE visit and boom, they are sick. And then they give it to me. Or Kirk. I have now been sick for nearly 2 weeks! I HATE summer infections. You know…when it is hot and you are sweating a fever, with a runny nose.

But the worst reason? The lack of safety in the daycare room.

When Walker was a baby, it was OK. But then when I started taking Alistaire, things changed. The first sign was when I picked him up after working out once, and he was all flushed/pink. Little did I know that this was his first allergic reaction. Only later, after he had his first trip to the ER for peanuts did I realize how lucky we were that day! After Alistaire was tested for all his allergies, I became that hovering helicopter Mother. Allergy-Moms freak out so much. We cannot help it. Most people just do not get it. He is everything to me.

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The daycare is supposed to be food free. It isn’t. It has a high turnover of staff. A few understand it, as they have friends/family with allergies. But the worst are the employees that think I am a nutter. You can see it in their eyes. The inward rolling of the eyes. The fear I feel every time I let them go in that room.

But the final straw for me? A few weeks back I came to get the boys after working out. The lady working says “Oh he has an allergy to peanuts, right?”. And then goes on to tell me that there had been a kid eating PB crackers NEXT to Alistaire. She asked me “how allergic is he”. And how they had watched him, after moving the other kid away.

But no one came and got me. They waited. WTF. I was livid, it took everything in me to not become demon mom and rip heads off.

I knew on that day I would never trust them to do the right thing. I do get that to those without allergies, my reaction was extreme. But it isn’t to allergy parents. Alistaire cannot tell you that he doesn’t feel good! An exposure can go from nothing to “where is the Epi-Pen” in minutes.

Why was a peanut item EVEN allowed in there? Why was the kid allowed to be eating in there, or at minimum, why was he eating in the main play area? When I asked why they didn’t come get me, the lady looked at me like I was “one of those moms”. It isn’t just eating the item, it is then transferred to everything the child touches after! And remember how I said that room never seems to get cleaned? Toys, contaminated, by everything a nut/peanut eating kid touches. It doesn’t go away. Unless you wipe it down or clean it.

It is our duty to remove our allergy child from harm, and if I have to, we pack up and leave. A few months back we were at a playground, I turn around and a kid has a sandwich hanging out of his mouth. I look at his older sibling and asked “is that peanut butter?”. The kid was right next to Alistaire. Older sister said yes, it is. I asked her, can you please ask your brother to back away. She did. And then I rounded up the boys and we left. (Let’s not dwell on why a kid needs a PB sandwich at 10 am, on a playground….)

But for me…I have lost the last bit of confidence in taking them with me to the gym. I don’t enjoy working out there anymore. All I do is worry that something will happen. And I hate that.I don’t expect change from LA Fitness, but I can tell you that I have decided to cancel my membership this month. Not sure what I will do after. But I do not like the fear I feel. It isn’t healthy for me.

Strawberry Ice Pops

Last winter I found Crayola Freezer Pops on super-clearance, so I bought a package. We had broken more than a few popsicle molds last summer, mostly due to me yanking on them too hard. Oops. Walker found my copy of 200 Best Ice Pop Recipes and was flipping through it, looking for a “red” one. I asked if he wanted Strawberry, and yes he did. So we walked to town and picked up fresh berries and a lemon.

Two happy boys!

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The molds release easily with a run under hot water – and yep, look just like crayons. Even if Alistaire kept grabbing his by the pop. Lol….poor kid was sticky and red by the end 😉

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Strawberry Ice Pops

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh strawberries
  • 1 lemon, juiced and strained, about 3 Tablespoons
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup raw honey or agave
  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar

Directions:

Add the ingredients to a blender, process on medium until mostly smooth. Pour into ice pop molds. If using one with caps, insert, otherwise freeze for an hour or so before putting in popsicle sticks. Freeze for a total of 4 hours, or longer, before serving. To remove from molds, run quickly under hot tap water.

How many you get depends on mold size, recipe makes about 3 cups total.

Starting From Scratch: Quick and Simple Pasta Sauce

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Starting From Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking is a food manifesto that helps young readers relate to what they eat, inspiring both budding chefs and budding food lovers in the process. Beginning with an exploration of taste and how it works, author and food activist Sarah Elton explains how ingredients have been on the move for centuries, resulting in the unique fusion of flavors we love today. She breaks down the science of food and cooking into bite-sized and easily digestible pieces of information that cover the chemistry of heat versus cold, fat versus acid, and salt versus sweet. Both practical and philosophical in its approach, Starting from Scratch demystifies food and cooking by boiling it down to the basics. Young chefs learn to make sense of recipes, measure and substitute ingredients, and stock a pantry, and discover that food is more than just a prepackaged meal. Using simple and universal examples, Starting from Scratch inspires children to eat better, try new flavors, and understand what’s on their plate. Even reluctant chefs will gain an improved sense of where food comes from and be able to join in on a conversation that continues from snack time to dinnertime.

After reading through the book, and sharing it with Walker (who has become my helper in the kitchen), we decided to try the Quick and Simple Pasta Sauce recipe, and adapt it to our taste. Fun, easy and yes, it tasted great! Even at 3 or 4 years old, children can be in the kitchen learning from us.

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Quick and Simple Pasta Sauce (As adapted from page 90)

Ingredients:

 

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 28-ounce can whole or diced tomatoes (used unsalted with basil)
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning blend
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
  • Pinch sugar, to taste
  • Fine sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

 

Directions:

Finely chop the onion and garlic. Heat a large saucepan over medium, add oil, onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes (with any liquid) to the pan. Add Italian seasoning, vinegar, capers and pinch of salt. Break up tomatoes with a potato masher. Cook over medium-low, on a low simmer, for 20 or so minutes, stirring often. Season to taste with sugar (to cut the bite of the acid in tomatoes), salt and pepper, to taste.

Dresses 16 ounces of cooked spaghetti.

FTC Disclosure: We received a review copy.

Book Review: Max’s Magnificent Choice & The Tacky Box

Our two youngest boys love being read to. Like really love it. If you let them, they will keep bringing book after book. Kirk settles them into bed almost every night by reading 1 or 2 books. It makes me smile, because they enjoy it so much. So when a new book came recently, and it had a little treasure chest (oops, Tacky Box!), Walker was after me to read it to him. We curled up on our bed and had story time. And I noticed something as I read. The boys were quietly laying there with me. No goofing off, falling off the bed or wrestling. They really loved this book. What was it?

Max’s Magnificent Choice – A book to spread the message of a Campaign for Kindness. Can one person help others to be more kind? Can one person create a ripple effect? That by treating others as you would like to be treated, you will show others they too can. I’d like to think they can! They do well with manners, such as opening doors for strangers (and those known), saying please and thank you but as for words, I think we can all do better.

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The tale of a handsome and smart monkey (with a great choice in head gear!), who unfortunately has a habit of insulting other animals in the jungle. This leaves him quite sad as he doesn’t understand that the words he uses are insulting and hurtful, and that is why no one wants to play with him. And yes, there is a story for girls as well! Margo’s Magnificent Choice. Max is very sad, as he doesn’t get why the other animals reject him.

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He meets a wise owl who tells him why he is being shunned, and how he can make things better. The owl explains that bad or hurtful words are “Tacky”. Max is given a box to store these bad things, so that he won’t think of them again. The book comes with a very own Tacky Box for the child. To have, to decorate, and to use. If a bad word is used, or they hear a word that is mean/hurtful, they can write it on paper, and store it inside. What a wonderful idea.

And then Kirk pipes up and says “Maybe you need a jumbo Tacky Box for when you drive.” Harharhar. Although, OK, he is right. Having little ones who repeat everything has led me to see how bad my own mouth can be!

The story behind how it came to be, from the mouth of a babe, is a learning lesson. Handle it well, and the child can learn from it.

The Tacky Box? Slowly, Walker and I are writing words on the pad of Tacky paper (that is included) and tucking them away. This weekend we will paint the box together. Walker has picked out a deep blue, metallic gold and silver paints from my craft supplies. And snuggle up and read about Max again! And talk about why mean words can hurt so much, and why we should try to use them less.

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The little box is neat. Unfinished wood, with a little closure that even little fingers can open easily, it holds the pad of paper and a pencil, with lots of space for thoughts.

Walker says “Abra Cadamera” when he opens it, and puts a pice of paper in it. Then closes it, latches it down and says “Bye-bye paper, see you later!” (Which I find pretty funny, the abra-cadamera….I’d love to know how he picked that one up! So much cuter than what he should be saying!)

I will continue to think more actively about how what I say affects my children, my husband and how that ripples out to them, and then out of our house. And also help them make better choices in what they say.

FTC Disclosure: We received a copy for review.  #TackyBoxKindness

Wee Houses

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I am SO feeling the season this year! Something about Walker being old enough to do food crafts makes it so much more fun.

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It works as gingerbread houses in their own right, or for me, to get Walker warmed up, so he wouldn’t get too worked up while we did the “real” houses. He was mellow by then!

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A box of brand name graham crackers, a tub of plain frosting, some powdered sugar and toppings. Why commercial frosting? It works easy, no dyes in this one and I find I like it better than homemade for graham crackers – by adding powdered sugar it becomes very paste like and sets fast. Beyond that, The Frosting Creations frosting is allergy safe for my youngest.

I used a square flat plate for the base, but built each house separately, then added them once dry. Take about half the frosting out, into a bowl. Stir in enough powdered sugar till the frosting is thick. Spread frosting on a whole cracker (this makes the base). Carefully snap another cracker in half. Frost one side of each half, and one short end of each. Make a pyramid on the base as you like, then fill out the frosting gently (I find a thin butter knife works well). Add pretzel sticks if you like for decorations. Walker had seen gingerbread marshmallows, which we added as well. Sprinkle on crystal sparkling decorating sugar (Wilton), mini marshmallows and whatever else one likes. Let dry overnight.

The next day place the houses on the plate. Sugar Pearls make a neat pathway. Shredded coconut (the sweetened kind) makes a lovely snow. Decorate as one likes….and have fun!

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