Thursday, December 20, 2012

Magic Reindeer Food

Last year we started the tradition of sprinkling Magic Reindeer Food on our front lawn on Christmas Eve to help Santa and his reindeer find our home.

Here are the supplies that you'll need:
- Brown lunch bag
- Brown paper for the reindeer antlers
- Red pom pom ball for Rudolph's nose (or make your own with a red marker)
- Googly eyes (or make your own with white paper and a black marker)
- Gift tag poem (click here for the free printable poem)

Our reindeer food that we include in the bag consists of:
- Uncooked oatmeal
- Sugar
- Glitter (I hate glitter but as long as it stays outside my home I'll tolerate it)
- Red and green candy sprinkles
- Snack bag (you could just put your reindeer food in the brown bag but I like to make sure that glitter does not escape so we put our food in a snack bag inside the brown bag)

And here's what our finished product looks like!

We put the reindeer food out by our "Cookies for Santa" plate and our Reindeer carrot plate so that we remember to sprinkle the food on Christmas Eve.  It's such a busy night and there's a good chance we'd forget otherwise.  

PS - When we visited Santa this year, he told the girls that reindeer like to eat the carrots from the side (not from the end, like a horse).  All these years and I never knew that.  We'll have to check our carrots this year and see if there are any bites out of the side ;)

Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dollar Crafts - Clothespin Reindeer

Another day, another Christmas craft.  I think I saw this one on Pinterest and was very excited that (a) it involved painting and (b) we had all the supplies at home.  

Here's what you need for one reindeer:
- 3 clothespins
- 1 short Popsicle stick
- Brown and black paint
- 2 small googly eyes (or you can make your own with white paper and a black marker)
- Small red pom pom ball (or you can make your own with red paper or red paint)
- Hot glue gun (or white glue will do)

Here are some instructions for making the reindeer, although it's pretty self explanatory:
1. Paint the clothespins and Popsicle stick brown.  Once dry, paint the ends of 2 of the clothespins (the ends that you pinch with your fingers) black for the reindeer hooves.
2. Glue the eyes on the remaining clothespin on the end that clamps.
3. Assemble the reindeer and then glue on the nose!

If you have a small jingle bell and some ribbon you could tie it around the reindeer's neck too.  You can also tie some ribbon around the neck to hang on your Christmas tree.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Gifts for our Neighbors

Normally I bake tons of cookies for our neighbors but this year I just didn't have the time.  So instead, I did the next best thing - Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread with Walnuts and Pecans!!  I have baked loads of this bread in the past few months.  You'd think I'd be sick of it by now, but I don't think I could ever get sick of Pumpkin-y treats.

To wrap up the gifts, I used a Christmas dish towel, red and green tulle and a jingle bell ornament.  I hope the neighbors enjoyed their treats!

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Dollar Crafts - Christmas Wreath

Christmas break is here.  It couldn't have come at a better time.  I was not ready to send Ava back to school.  Not after the events that occurred in Connecticut this past Friday.  So sad and unthinkable.  Thankfully, I have a few Christmas craft ideas up my sleeve to keep the kids busy.  I'll be posting all of them this week so be sure to check back if you need some ideas!  Bonus: I am doing crafts with only materials that I have around my house because I refuse to shop the week before Christmas.

Ava made a Christmas wreath at school and I'm totally copying it.  It only requires: green construction paper, tissue paper, a glue stick, scissors, a hole puncher, red ribbon and a glue gun.  I knew that Sidney would love this project which is why I copied it - if it involves a glue stick she's set for hours!  She made several wreaths!

All you do is cut a circle from a piece of green construction paper, then cut out a smaller circle inside to make a wreath.  Use your hole puncher to punch out circles around 80% of the wreath, leaving room for a ribbon.  Then cut out small squares of tissue paper.  The kids used a glue stick to glue the tissue paper to the back of the wreath.  I used the hot glue gun to stick the bow on the bottom of the wreath and that's all there is to it!

If you don't have a red ribbon, you could also cut one out of construction paper.

You can't tell from this picture below, but I put the wreaths on our Christmas tree to show the girls how pretty it looks with the Christmas tree lights shining behind the tissue paper.  And it makes a cute ornament!  Or, if you have as many wreaths as we do, you can attach them to a thick ribbon an use them as garland for decoration!

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Dollar Crafts - Gingerbread Houses

The girls have been doing lots of Christmas craft projects, especially now that school is out and Ava is home during the day.  Thankfully, the craft stores had their Christmas crafts out on the shelves well before Clara was born in October so I was able to plan ahead. 

These gingerbread houses come in a pack of 30 and were on sale for 50% off at Hobby Lobby!  The girls are well on their way to making an entire gingerbread village!

They also come with gold string so you can hang them on the Christmas tree.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chocolate-Covered Christmas Pretzel Rods

Did you know that December 16th is National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day?  Really?  There is a national holiday for something like this??  I'm not arguing - I love anything smothered in chocolate.  I just wonder who decides on these things?  Anyway, in honor of National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day, I'm sharing with you my Christmas Pretzel Rods.  These are super easy to make and kids can help out too!

1 bag of pretzel rods
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
Crushed candy cane bits
1 – 2 teaspoons vegetable shortening or vegetable oil

1.  Melt 1 cup dark chocolate chips with 1 - 2 teaspoon shortening or vegetable oil (never use butter or olive oil; it will end in disaster) in the microwave, stirring at 30 second intervals. 
2.  Melt 1 cup white chocolate chips with 1 -2 teaspoon shortening or vegetable oil in the microwave, stirring at 30 second intervals. 
3.  Dip the base layer about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way down the pretzel. To make any dipping easy, you can either melt the chocolate on the stove top and transfer it to a tall narrow glass cup or just melt it directly in the cup in the microwave. Then you can hold the pretzel in one hand and the cup in the other and maneuver it however you need to to coat the pretzel.
4.  After dipping, allow the excess to drip back into the cup. You can also roll the pretzel rod between your hands to spin the excess back into the cup.
5.  For drizzling, dip a fork in melted chocolate and drizzle as desired.  If decorating with crushed candy cane, sprinkle it on before the chocolate hardens.  Here's how I decorated my pretzels:

6.  After dipping or decorating each layer, you don't want to ruin your pretty creation, so you can either allow them to harden with each end of the pretzel on a wide-mouthed bowl or you can use a cooling rack. Just be sure and spray whatever you use with non-stick cooking spray.
7.  Keep chilled in the refrigerator.

  • Keep the layers thin. It's tempting to load those puppies up, but pretzels are pretty fragile and you still want to be able to taste the pretzel underneath everything else.
  • Try to be patient and let the layers cool completely before dipping or drizzling. This is especially important if you're using two different kinds of chocolate. Otherwise, they'll melt right into each other.
  • After the chocolate had completely hardened, I placed them in cellophane treat bags for gift giving!

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Monday, December 10, 2012

A Year's Worth of Deals

Before you make any big Christmas purchases, check out this monthly list from Parents Magazine so you'll know when you can catch certain items on sale.  Happy Shopping!

Luggage - Retailers try to unload pieces that didn't sell during the holiday travel season.
Sports Equipment - The off-season (summer) equipment is on sale.
Exercise Equipment - Sales for the New Year's "get in shape" resolution-makers
Linens - This tradition started in 1878 so it's a sale few retailers miss.
Furniture - New styles hit the floor in February.

TV's - Retailers offer deals leading right up to Super Bowl Sunday.
Cameras and Camcorders - Trade shows for electronics happens in January so last year's models will be deeply discounted.
Winter Clothes - Because spring fashions are in stores, sale racks will be full of winter wear.

Grills - Come springtime, retailers are serious about unloading last year's models.

Save your money!  Sellers know that shoppers may have an influx of cash from their tax refunds so prices tend to go up.

Vacuums - New models arrive in June so consider buying one of last year's models.

Tools - The prices will drop just in time for Dad's big day

Furniture - The year's second crop arrives in stores in August so the old inventory has to go.

Summer Clothes - Fall fashions are up next so kids' warm weather essentials will be on sale.
Computers - Prices will drop in line with back-to-school time.  If you can, wait for a tax-free day to buy.
Small Appliances - Stores that sell microwaves and toaster jump on the back-to-school bandwagon too.

Cars - Dealers want to sell their old models to make room for new inventory so they start to drop prices now through the end of the year.
Outdoor Equipment - As store owners make room for leaf and snow blowers, they'll drop the prices of their lawn mowers and patio furniture.

Big Appliances - Stores offer discounts on washers, dryers, etc. to make room for next year's offerings.  You can save even more on floor models.

TV's - Thanksgiving and football season translate into some sweet deals.

Toys - It's a holiday miracle - the kids' stuff you want is actually on sale when you need it!

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Newborn Photo Props and Poses

I love photography so it's no surprise that we've had professional newborn photos taken of all 3 of our girls.  Before my baby girls were born, I looked around on photographer's websites to get some ideas of poses that I liked and cute props to have on hand.  Here are some of my favorite newborn photos of my girls:

Clara's Newborn Photos
Clara was born right before Halloween.  I made a little tutu for her and bought a pumpkin hat on Etsy.
We decided to combine Clara's birth announcement with our Christmas card.  I bought the Santa hat on Etsy and our photographer, Keri Dummerth, brought the basket and blanket.

 A fluffy white blanket always looks good in newborn photos.
Candid shots are my favorite!

Sidney's Newborn Photos
 Our photographer (We were living in Chicago at the time - her name is Laura Eisenberg) Photoshop-ed the birth details on the heart.
 A friend of mine made the cute little hat for Sidney.
 White fluffy blanket again! 
 You can find the cutest headbands on Etsy.  

One of my favorite candid shots!

Ava's Newborn Photos
 I love tiny hand and feet photos.

 Ava was alert during most of the photo shoot - unusual for a newborn, but very typical for Ava.  She never wants to miss out on anything!  This picture always reminds me of that.
We were living in New York when Ava was born.  Amanda from Amanda K Photography spent 4 hours capturing these great memories for us.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Peppermint Bark

It's December and even though it's an unusual 78 degrees outside and doesn't feel like Christmastime, I'm not going to let that deter me from my Christmas baking.  My family loves Peppermint Bark and it's so easy to make.  Here's my simple 4 ingredient recipe:

12 - 16 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
15 oz white chocolate chips (I like Hershey’s Premier White Chips)
¾ teaspoon peppermint extract
½ - 1 cup peppermint candy, crushed

1.  Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 250 degrees F. 
2.  Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil, letting it hang over the sides. Spray foil with non-stick spray.
3.  Pour the semi-sweet chocolate chips in an even layer on the foil and place in the oven for 10 minutes or until almost melted.  Check every 5 minutes.
4.  Remove from the oven, smooth with an offset spatula or knife and place in freezer until cold and firm, about 10 minutes.
5.  Melt the white chocolate chips in the microwave, checking the chocolate every 30 seconds until melted.  Do not overheat the chocolate - it will be unusable.
6.  Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir until completely melted while stirring in the peppermint extract. 
7.  Let the white chocolate cool a little bit so it does not melt the chocolate layer when you pour it on top.  Then pour into the pan over chocolate layer, and, working quickly, spread to cover.
8.  Sprinkle with crushed peppermint candy and chill in the freezer until both layers are firm. 
9.  Lift foil out of pan and shake off excess candy and trim edges.  Cut into 2” wide strips. 
10.  Peel bark from foil and cut each strip as desired. 
11.  Keep chilled in the refrigerator in a covered container.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

P E A C E and quiet

Because Clara was born close to the holidays, I decided to send out a birth announcement / Christmas card this year.  So before Clara was born, I bought Ava and Sidney's Christmas outfits and did a little Christmas art project.  Here is the result:

I bought the letters at Joann's and spray painted them red and green.  It took several takes to get a pictures that we liked, but it was worth it!  Happy Holidays!

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Pine Cone Jingle Bell Wreath

How was your Thanksgiving?  Ours was a total bust.  We had decided to stay home and celebrate since Clara is only one month old and we didn't want to expose her to a bunch of potentially ill people (I think I may have jinxed us).  Tim was pretty pumped to be able to make a big Thanksgiving feast (for just the two of us since our girls would never eat this delicious food).  So Tim went out and bought a turkey and all the ingredients to make his homemade gravy.  Little did I know that our home would soon become a petri dish of germs.  

Ava came down with a nasty cold on Saturday, then Sidney got it on Monday.  Tim took off work on Wednesday and spent most of the day prepping the meal.  But by 10:30 that night he was vomiting - stomach flu.  All that hard work went straight to the trash can.  No turkey for us.  Tim enjoyed 7 Up and Saltines for the Thanksgiving and the girls and I had cereal and store-bought pumpkin pie (and Oreos for Sidney of course).

Upon hearing that Tim had the stomach flu, my mom rushed over and took Clara back to her house.  That woman is amazing.  She canceled all of her Thanksgiving plans and stayed home with Clara.  I'm sure she didn't expect to have her more than a day or two, but then I caught Ava and Sidney's cold and have been coughing my head off.  It is now Monday and we still haven't gotten Clara back!  My mom wants to wait until I stop coughing.  She's so afraid that Clara will get sick, as am I.  But how will I ever repay my mom!

Since I was stuck at home all weekend with no baby Clara, I decided work on Christmas decorations.  This "wreath" is the first project I've done since Clara was born!  I had gathered all of the materials before Clara was born in the hopes of having some time to finish it before Christmas.  Mission accomplished!

Here's what you'll need to make this wreath:
- Pine cones (I collected them from our back yard.  You can buy them at the store too.)
- Red and Green ribbon (for the pine cones) - I used ~3 yards of each
- Thin Gold ribbon (for the jingle bells) - I used 5 yards
- Red, green and gold jingle bells
- Hot glue gun

1.  Cut your ribbon at different lengths so that you can scatter the pine cones and jingle bells at different heights.  
2.  Tie the gold ribbon onto the jingle bells.
3.  Use your hot glue gun to glue the red and green ribbon to the pine cones.
4.  Once the glue has cooled, gather the ribbon and arrange the pine cones and jingle bells.
5.  Tie a knot at the top and cut off the extra ribbon.

I hung my wreath from a wreath hanger by threading the loop of the wreath hanger through the ribbon knot.

Happy Holidays!

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dollar Crafts - Turkey Headband

Lately, Ava has been begging me to do art projects.  Art projects used to be a daily activity, but it's much harder now that I have Clara to take care of.  The Kiwi Crates have been great because I don't have to get to the craft store or do any pre-planning.  If your child likes arts and crafts, the Kiwi Crate would make a great Christmas gift.

I happened to make it over to Hobby Lobby last week so I stocked up on some easy craft projects to do with the girls.  All of their holiday stuff is on sale at least 40% off!  This little turkey headband craft came with the supplies for 12 headbands for about $3!  After Ava made a headband for herself, she went on to make them for her Teddy and some other stuffed animals.

If you don't have time to do Thanksgiving crafts before Thursday, there are lots of cute Christmas craft ideas at Hobby Lobby too.  I can't wait until Clara gets into a good sleeping/napping routine so that we can make use of our new arts and crafts room.  More to come on that!

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Crunchy Pumpkin Coffee Cake

Okay, okay.  I know you've probably had enough of my pumpkin recipes, but hear me out.  This one is truly amazing!  I found this recipe on Pinterest and made it for the first time this year and I'm already getting requests to bake it again.  You will not be disappointed, I promise!  I baked this a few days before Clara was born and while Tim and I were in the hospital my parents and my in-laws polished it off!  I like to think that it was a "thank you for watching my kids while I was away" gift to them!

1/3 cups water
1 can pureed pumpkin (15 Oz)
2 eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (See Note below)
1 box yellow cake mix (18 Ounce Box)
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup brown sugar, divided
½ cups flour
4 Tbsp butter, melted
¼ cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cups heavy whipping cream

If you do not have pumpkin pie spice you can make your own by combining 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.

1.  Preheat oven to 350F.
2.  In a large bowl mix together the water, pumpkin, eggs, 1 Tablespoon of vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice until well combined. Add the cake mix and baking soda and mix until just combined.
3.  Grease a 9×13 pan with butter and pour batter into pan.
4.  In a small bowl mix together 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour and melted butter. 

5.  Use your fingers to sprinkle over the top of the cake. 
6.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

7.  For the glaze, combine the other 1/2 cup brown sugar, granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and heavy cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir until all sugar is dissolved.
8.  When cake is finished baking, poke holes in the top with a toothpick. Pour glaze over the cake, making sure to cover all surfaces. Serve cake warm or at room temperature.

When I make this again, I'm going to add chopped walnuts and pecans to the topping....yuuuuummmmm!

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