Tuesday, March 4, 2014

DIY Light Box


Winters in Wisconsin are long (especially this year) and the days are short.  In my search to find some fun activities that take advantage of our early sunsets, I happened upon light boxes and tables.  But the price tags ranging from $50 to $400 were a bit more than I wanted to pay for something I knew my children would use a few months out of the year, but it gave me an idea.  And so I present to you my $5 DIY Light Box. 

To make this you'll need the following items:

To make this light box I first covered the bottom of my bin (the one I found in my basement had clear sides and a frosted bottom) with paper and taped it neatly.  Next, I spray painted the sides of the bin black and removed the paper and tape.   If you can't find a frosted bin, I've discovered some plastic frosted sheets you could apply to the inside of your plastic box. 

We first tried tap lights inside the box which worked just fine, but I couldn't help but wonder if a strand or two of white Christmas lights would disperse the light a bit better...and so I ventured to our basement yet again and dug two strands out of a box.  I can't say if the Christmas lights provide better light or not, but I do know we stuck with them.  One corner of my bin had a crack which actually works perfectly for this project, allowing the light cord an exit from the bin.


And voilĂ , my light box was complete. 

The only money I spent on this light box was on some inexpensive toys from a local educational store, but even they probably weren't necessary.  My kids have enjoyed using the light box to trace pictures, they've laid out parquetry blocks to create silhouettes, and they love playing with their water beads on the box which roll around and feel squishy (it's a sensory explosion!). 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Love Letter to Anthropologie

 
Dearest Anthropologie,
 
You are a long-time, trusted friend...one who has proven to be there for me time and time again throughout each stage in life. 

Our relationship began back in 1998 when I was on the market for a new blazer to wear to my college internship interview.  Of course you came through for me.  And as I saved money earned from that first job (landed in part, I'm sure, to my stylish jacket), I peppered my apartment with unique home goods I found in the pages of your catalog. 

When my family expanded, you did too, opening brick and mortar stores in Chicago where you displayed a lovely dress for my bridal shower, detailed dog sweaters for my dear wire fox terrier Skone, unique shirts I could disguise as maternity clothing, and baby hats and sweaters for my children during the holiday seasons. 

Oh, Anthro (can I call you Anthro?), how do I describe the joy I felt when it was announced you were opening a store in Milwaukee only 20 miles from my house?  Do I tell you about the countless times this homeschooling mama of three has hidden away from home and roamed aimlessly around the store taking in it's color palette and prints or about the cherished memories and artwork created by my children during your in-store crafting events and now displayed in my home? 

Where do I even begin...and will it ever end?  No, I'm confident our relationship will forever continue.  For just this week I received news that my aging eyes required reading glasses, and without skipping a beat you offered me multiple stylish designs to choose from...and some colorful hair ties at checkout to pull back my long graying hair.  
 
We are not only friends, Anthro, but family...and our tree is sprouting new branches as the years go by.  My daughter Martha is grafting her own relationship with you.  This past November she was filled with pride when she recognized your name on the Rockefeller Center store when we visited a friend in New York City.  She settle in on the bustling sidewalk, mesmerized, as the designers created your holiday window displays, insisting the whole while that I take detailed photographs so she could attempt to replicate the geodes and yarn designs when we returned home. Yes, our family tree is a healthy one.

We have an excellent track record, you and I.  We are celebrating our 16th anniversary this year, and to date, we've only ever had one argument.  You know the one.  It involved a $6,500 Stand Up Paddleboard out of my financial reach that was stylish enough to ruin the excitement of any other board I would discover after.  And so, board-free I remain, despite living in an ideal SUP location nestled between Lake Michigan and Cedar Creek.  But it's OK, I'm sure over time I will find a way to forgive you.

Thank you, Anthropologie, for walking alongside me through this adventure called life.  I know the warmth I feel when I add a vintage Anthro sweater to my outfit is your loving arms wrapped around me.  A stylish and trusted friend can make even the darkest days a bit brighter...and the glow of your website on my computer screen has always remained one click away, never failing me.  And for that I am forever grateful.
 
Forever yours,
Shannon
 
PS - If you want to settle our squabble once and for all, say the word and I'll forward you my address (FYI: the Kai Ko'o is my favorite board design).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Freezer French Toast Sticks

I'm always on the lookout for healthy snacks and  meals that can be prepared ahead of time and enjoyed with only a moment's notice.  And if said nourishment can be prepared by my independent children, then I'm an extra happy mama!

These french toast sticks meet all of the above criteria...plus, they're delicious.  That's what I call a win-win-win!


Ingredients
  • 16 slices of French bread (cut into 3/4" slices) or Texas Toast
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 8 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1-1/3 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a cookie sheet with cooking spray or butter.
  2. Cut each slice of bread into thirds.
  3. Mix/beat together melted butter, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and milk in a wide mixing bowl.
  4. Dip each stick into the egg mixture (take a bit of extra care with the middle slices), place them on the cookie sheet, and bake for 25 minutes (flipping them halfway through the baking time).
  5. Cool on tray to room temperature and then flash freeze them (still on a tray).  After they're frozen, they can be stored in a freezer-safe container of your choice.  
Half of our initial french toast sticks never made it to the freezer...the kids came running into the kitchen when they smelled the baked cinnamon and vanilla and dug right in.  The rest were reheated, three at a time, for about a minute on high in the microwave and served with maple syrup.  

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve FREE Printables


This year, since two of my three children can now write on their own, we're going to start a tradition of writing a letter to ourselves on New Year's Eve...and our hopes and dreams for 2014.  In researching different ways to do this, I happened upon this great little kit from run lucas run

Included are Resolution Cards (which include great prompts like A habit I'm going to break, A good deed I'm going to do, A book I'd like to read, and A new food I'd like to try), blank Dear Me letters to write to yourself, and Children's Cards that have plenty of space for your children to record their favorite food, singing and dancing song, storytime book, color, and a place they'd like to visit. 

I think it will be great family fun to write these out tonight...and even more fun to read through them together in 2014! 

Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year full of love and laughter!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Handprint Beanie Turkeys


With only two days to spare, I finally executed a Thanksgiving craft with my kids (it's been a bit hectic over here).  And they turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

To create these little tom turkeys, I had my kids trace their hands on a piece of brown cardboard (not a thick corrugated cardboard, but one on the thinner side, like a cereal box...or, ahem, like the inserts in J.Crew shipping boxes...).  After they cut them out, we glued them onto their chosen color of construction paper using a glue stick so they'd remain flat.  I did press them in a book for about an hour as well to ensure their flatness, but I don't know that it was necessary. 

Next, using white glue, they glued on their googley eyes and kidney bean wattles, followed by the beans for the bodies and "feathers."  I thought that would be it, but Hazel wanted her turkey to be in grassy field, Martha found some yellow beans mixed in with the brown lentils that she thought would make a great beak and legs, and August thought his turkey should wear a hat.  I have to say, I agree. 

And there you have it, handprint beanie turkeys!  Gobble Gobble!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Homemade Deodorant Recipe


I have tried just about every natural deodorant on the market in the last 20 years...all with disappointing results.  Six months ago I whipped up my first batch of homemade deodorant and have been thrilled with the results!  It even works on my husband.  Even through summer.

I'm not exagerating when I say I whipped it up...it takes minutes to make and uses ingredients you probably already have on hand:  coconut oil, baking soda and arrowroot powder (or cornstarch).  If you want to get fancy, you can add some essential oil (I prefer peppermint, but lavender and rosemary are nice too).  
Once you've mixed it together, you can either keep it in a jar and apply it with your hand or a cloth or you can refill traditional deodorant containers like you see in my photo above.  No matter how you apply it, you'll need to be sure it's either rubbed in completely or blotted prior to putting your shirt on to avoid staining.  Coconut oil stains are difficult to get out...the earlier they're treated, the better.  But the best is to avoid them altogether.

My other tip is to use caution when in a hot climate.  Coconut oil melts quickly so you may want to store it in the refrigerator during summer if you don't have air conditioning.  Also, I use a small jar when traveling to avoid getting coconut oil throughout my toiletry bag (I learned the hard way).  It solidifies again within a couple of hours of unpacking.

Without further ado, I present my homemade deodorant recipe:

Ingredients:
  • 6-8 Tbsp coconut oil (solid state)
  • 1/8-1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch (the fine texture of arrowroot is preferred)
Directions:
  1. Combine your baking soda & arrowroot powder/cornstarch. Some people's skin can be sensitive to baking soda resulting in a rash.  If your pH level is affected, use less baking soda.
  2. Add coconut oil, working it in with a spoon or an immersion blender (pulsing, so as not to melt the coconut oil) until it maintains a firm but pliable texture similar to commercial deodorant.  If it is too hard, add more coconut oil.  If it is too wet, add more soda/powder. Once it's the correct texture, add it to your container of choice. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

OMG! J.Crew Maternity


I thought my family of five was complete...until I noticed the Maternity Pixie Pant on J.Crew's website this morning.

The Pixie has a classic cigarette silhouette and would be a great staple in any pregnant woman's wardrobe; they will always be in style and can be paired with any shirt!  The Maternity Pixie Pant comes in black, navy and pinot noir (at least there's one safe way to enjoy wine during the 9-month hiatus) and is available at jcrew.com for $118.

If J.Crew expands their maternity line any further, I may have to consider adding to my family...or at least entertain the idea of becoming a surrogate, as my BFF suggested when I told her the news. (I'm joking.  I'm at least 98.2% joking...)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

2-Day Magazine Sale


I received an email today notifying me of a steep sale on many family-focused magazines...THIS WEEKEND ONLY!  Below are some of the titles/prices included: 

For Children
  • Ranger Rick - $11.99/year (10 issues)
  • Boys' Life - $4.99/year (12 issues)
  • Jack & Jill - $7.99/year (6 issues)
  • Sparkle World - $13.99/year (6 issues)
  • Thomas & Friends - $14.99/year (6 issues)
For Adults
  • FamilyFun - $3.99/year (10 issues)
  • Parents - $4.99/year (12 issues)
  • Wired - $4.99/year (12 issues)
  • Popular Science - $4.99/year (12 issues)
  • Shape - $4.99/year (12 issues)
  • Glamour - $4.99/year (12 issues)
  • Yoga - $4.99/year (9 issues)
  • Instructor - $4.99/year (6 issues)
  • Vanity Fair - $4.99/year (12 issues)
 Happy shopping!  Happy reading!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Table Tennis: Love-All


I come from a long line of tennis players.  That same long line is quite competitive.  One of my first memories is being timed on a puzzle when I was 4...racing against my parents, older cousins, uncle and grandparents.  I obviously lost that round, but have won many other competitions since then, including Who Knows the Most Words to the Next Song on the Radio, Who Can Get This Rubber Ball Stuck in a Tree Branch First, and Who Can Guess the Waiter's Hometown City Closest in Miles, to name a few.  As I said, we're competitive...and our competitions know no bounds and are created when you least expect them.  It's a life lived on your toes.  And I love it.

During our cold, snowy winters, we all play ping pong (well, we actually play all year, but you get the idea) to keep a firm grip on our tennis skills.  Fortunately for us, one of the five SPiN locations in the world happens to be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (the others are in Dubai, New York City, LA and Toronto for those of you who belong to a competitive family like mine and need to gather all of the trivia information you can).  Throughout the year, my family travels from various states across the Midwest (some have even flown in from further away) and we execute a tournament bracket created by my cousin Doug. 

One product that makes our  year-round ping pong playing possible is the Anywhere Table Tennis Set from Sportcraft.  This nifty set includes an expandable and retractable net with adjustable posts that can turn any table into a ping pong table, two paddles, three balls, and a storage bag.

This set is easy to put up and take down (my kids use it on their own when they want to practice - they're fortunate to have two dogs to fetch the balls for them when they play) and is compact for storage, making it easy to pack for family vacations.   

Visit amazon.com to purchase the Anywhere Table Tennis Set for $24.99 (ships free with a Prime membership).  And wish me luck...we have a family tournament scheduled this weekend! 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Camp Classic Play

If you're like most parents I know, your children's planned summer activities are coming to an end.  Almost every parent I've talked to the past few summers have their children participate in organized camps and classes at some point in June and July, but leave the month of August open for spontaneous fun and family time (my family included). 

Camp Classic Play is a week-long list of classic activities put together by some of my favorite fellow bloggers.  If your family completes the activities, there are badges and a downloadable certificate to print out in the areas of Science + Nature, Athletics + Games, Gardening, Arts + Crafts, and Cooking. 

To get your family started on this classic play adventure, visit classic-play.com.  Now go and make some summer memories!  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Kids React to Cheerios Commercial

Do you all remember the Cheerios commercial that depicted an interracial family?  Unfortunately, there was a lot of hatred spewed as a result of the cute, supportive, thoughtful family due to the color of their skin.  :(

I felt sick and lost a bit of hope in humanity when first hearing of the unnecessary and unjustified controversy.  But I feel lighter and more hopeful today after watching the video below in which an intelligent group of young people react to the commercial (spoiler alert: they don't even realize there was an interracial family on the commercial!) and are then questioned afterwards.  It is quite touching. 

Out of the mouths of babes...




Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Buttered Spaghetti Sauce


It's hot today.  Really hot.  Almost too hot to even go to the pool.  (Almost.)  Silly me, despite the heat, I'm craving rich pasta for dinner tonight.  Luckily, I have the simplest, tastiest homemade pasta sauce recipe up my sleeve.  Only three ingredients: canned tomatoes, butter and yellow onion.  Easy peasy.

The recipe below makes enough sauce for my family of five, but I'll admit to doubling it occasionally to ensure I have leftover sauce for dipping bread (or to indulge in more spaghetti) the next day.  Without further adieu, the easiest (and darn delicious) red sauce on the planet:

Ingredients
  • 28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes from a can (pureed tomatoes, if your family likes a smooth sauce)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • Salt to taste
Directions

Place tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.  Once the temperature is elevated, lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally (crushing tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon when stirring).  After 45 minutes, remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt to taste (slowly....some canned tomatoes are salted in the process) and keep warm while you prepare your choice pound of pasta. 

Buon appetito!

Note: If you're a cheese-lover like myself, you may be surprised to find you don't necessarily need to add cheese on top of your pasta it with this sauce.  But, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to still sprinkling some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano anyway.  Like a security blanket.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Five things to do with your children today:


Five things to do with your children today: 
  1. Explain why it's important to ask questions when others are different instead of making fun of them; in addition, the importance of sticking up for others being made fun of. 
  2. Discuss what your family is to do in the event of a fire: stay low, don't touch doorknobs, exit strategies, meeting location, etc.
  3. Read a book aloud (a picture book or chapter book) while sitting close together.
  4. Tell your children you're proud to be their parent; provide a few reasons why.
  5. Prepare and enjoy a meal together.  Candles are mandatory.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Soap Snakes

We crossed off a summer sand bucket list item today:  soap bubble snakes!  As you can see, the kids had a great time...and our puppies were quite intrigued by the long bubbles blowing around the yard! 

The only materials necessary to make the bubble blowers, are:
  • Plastic water bottles
  • Old cloth (washcloth, sock, etc.)
  • Rubber bands
  • Dish soap
  • Water
To assemble, cut the bottom off of the water bottles and secure a piece of cloth to the end with a rubber band.  Then add some dish soap and a little water to a dish (there's no science here, just more soap than water).  To make a snake, dip the cloth into the soap and blow (lightly, so that the cloth doesn't blow off). 

I've seen people add coloring to the soap, but thought the extra mess wasn't necessary...a choice I'm glad I made since by the end, the kids were covered in bubbles. 

I hope your summer is off to a great start!

LEGO Father's Day

Father's Day a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...