Our Christmas in Photos

I am just in awe of the beautiful pictures my aunt and uncle captured over the holiday.  We held Christmas at my parents house this year (usually hosted by my aunt in Minnesota), since my sister welcomed her littlest just two short weeks ago.

Here are some pictures I thought were too good not to share.

Our DIY Christmas: Homemade Gift Round-up

Looking back on it, it was certainly a wonderful holiday. I got to see my aunts and uncle that live in other states. I also got to spend time with my Grandpa and his girlfriend (I know that sounds funny, they've been great partners for each other since my grandma passed almost 20 years ago).  You can check out some of our photos, in a post that I'll be uploading soon. What amazing photographers we have in our family!

Now, let me be clear... making almost all of our presents was quite the undertaking. And I should have known better than to wait until the last minute for some of them. Can someone explain to me why I always do that?!  :)

New Year's Clock Countdown {Free Printable}

I couldn't believe how much fun we had with our Christmas Countdown, adding a cotton ball each day. So simple, yet great for teaching a 3 year old some larger number recognition.

I got to thinking about fun things to do on New Year's Eve.  Why not do a spin-off of the Christmas Countdown, and do a New Year's Countdown?

This free printable was born:

Candy Cane Cocoa Dippers {Daycare Teacher Gift}

 Need a yummy last minute gift?  Quickly throw together these Candy Cane Cocoa Dippers for teachers, school staff, friends, or neighbors.

A great project for little ones to help with, they will love assembling the marshmallows & candy canes, then smashing up some peppermint pieces, and decorating.  Our three year old even enjoyed putting each bag together.

Spruce Up Bath Time! {Dollar Store Shaving Cream}

I consider myself very lucky. Both of my children love to take baths. I love having water babies, except for that they now fight over bath toys.... >:(  What's a mama to do to keep some peace in the house??

Distraction.  That is my favorite parenting tool. 

How to distract the three year old from his baby brother who steals all his bath toys?

Shaving Cream to the rescue!

Our Holiday Traditions, and a few other things...

I am a follower of the blog Marigolds' Loft, and today she posted about some holiday traditions.
Then she asked some questions for her readers to answer, about holidays and our traditions.
How fun! I love learning about how others celebrate the holidays, especially those in other countries :)

Here are my responses to the questions she posed

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Yesterday I decided to stop by The Cutest Blog on the Block and grab a free and totally adorable Christmas background.

I just coudln't help the adorableness. It's probably not proper professional blogger ettiquite to change backgrounds - I know I know, I need to create a consistant brand...
But it's the Holidays!

Hope you enjoy!

I'll try not to get too crazy with changing backgrounds for everthing.. I just lack the creativity (and time) to create an original of my own.

Enjoy the season ya'll!

{Pinspiration} Quilted Teething Rail

Mr. E decided it would be fun to show Baby that not only can you use coffee tables and couches to pull up and stand with, but the crib works great for that too!

Armed with four amazingly sharp little teeth, a standing Baby inside that gorgeous crib that my Dad handcrafted for us was like unleashing a 22 pound monster! Pure terror ran through me when I saw Mr. E grab those chubby mini hands and place them on the edge of the crib...

Well that night I made a quilted teething rail for the crib.  I set out to make it using material I already had in my stash; I am in love with blue and brown combos, so surprisingly most of my fabric matches! But had to get some binding at Joann's the following day. I had found on Pinterest a little while back this fabric teething pad, and used it as my inspiration  {side note: do you see the other bedding she sewed?! Holy mama she's got skills :D }

It was pretty free form sewing.. no pattern, no real plan. I just cut varying widths of 10-inch long strips (which is how wide I needed to cover the wood) of all the different fabric leftovers that coordinated well. Then laid them out on the floor slightly overlapping the edges to allow for the seam, arranged the pattern I liked and started sewing.

One of the fabric is leftovers from hemming up Baby's curtains (which I also used in making play Chef's hats for TRex and my nephew), and I love that it ties in the curtain pattern, adding to the polka-dot theme of the room.

I got to a point where I realized I hadn't compensated for the seam allowance very well, so I added in one more strip about half way through.  Not perfect, but it works :)

I sewed on the big buttons and loops of elastic to keep in on the crib. The buttons were free, and from some probably super awesome 1980's era dresses from my Mom.  My parents taught me many frugal things, such as always keeping those extra buttons you get from clothes, and even saving some off of shirts and dresses when they are no longer wearable.

Ok... so the far left has a safety pin... I ran out of buttons I liked, and had to dig through my Mom's stash a little more, then forgot to sew it on. Another part of my to-do list!

Crib from my Dad, buttons from my Mom's sewing stash, and the rest sewn by me. There isn't much in our house that doesn't have family built right into it, and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Our DIY Baptism: Grey Upcycled Baby Suit

I had known all along that I wanted something special for Baby to wear on his baptism day, and that I was probably going to make it.

But when searching baptism and christening outfit patterns, I just couldn't find what I envisioned my little man wearing. They typical baptism outfits and gowns are adorable for an eight pound sleepy newborn... not so much for my always moving, twenty pound, nine-month-old.

Surfing Pinterest I had found a few tutorials to make the perfect outfit - a snappy little suit vest and matching pants.  Originally I thought I would add a white button down shirt to the outfit, but that was impossible to find last minute. Instead, a long sleeved white onesie was the perfect undershirt - perfectly comfortable for Baby, and I didn't have to buy something that would only be worn once!

Hmm... yeah.. so don't mind the spit-up stain on the vest. And a apologize now for the terrible photos and instructions. Well really, don't follow my instructions or lack there of. Go to the tutorial, and follow it, because I did most of this on the fly (and messed quite a bit up!) so save yourself the trouble! :)

My materials:
All free!!!
1 pair of grey stretch dress pants (that no longer fit thanks to Baby :D )
1 dress that had a bottom half of grey stretchy satin fabric  (that I wore while pregnant with Baby and got a salad dressing stain on the tummy!)

The Pants:
-Using a pair of Baby's pants inside out and folded in half, I traced the shape onto the grey dress pants (also inside out). I made sure to line up the pattern-pants onto the very bottom and along the side fold to minimize the amount of sewing that I had to do.  The nice invisible hem would be re-used on the new grey pants, as well as the professional serged edge for the outside seam. Why re-do the work?

-Sewed up the inside leg seam on each. 
-Pinned together in the crotch, and sewed.
-Ironed, pinned and sewed a top waistband - but didn't sew it all the way shut.
-With a safety pin at one end, threaded through a small band of elastic. Using the waistband width of the pattern-pants as a guide, adjusted the elastic to the right amount, pinned about a 1-inch overlap in the elastic, zig-zag stitched, and trimmed the end.
-Once the elastic was all tugged into the waistband, sewed the waistband shut.

And that's it!

The Vest:
This was the most challenging part of the outfit. I made my own pattern from freezer paper, following this tutorial at Make It and Love It.
1. Using a onesie that fit a little bit looser as a guide. folded in half the long way, made a pattern for the back of the vest.  Traced & cut along the fold of a grey pant leg, so that the already finished seam ran along the middle of the back.
2. Altered the pattern of the onesie using a ruler to have angles.  This was the scary part - how would it turn out? Are the angles too sharp/not enough?
3. Traced and cut out two of the front flaps pattern.
4. Traced and cut out the same 3 pieces (back and two front flaps) of the grey satin for the lining.

Um.. so this is where it gets blurry. I sewed the vest and lining making essentially two vests. Right sides together I sewed along the arm holes.  Somehow my insides and outsides got jumbled.. I thought I'd be able to also sew the arm holes and turn it right side out, then sew along the outsides, and turn it around again... none of it made sense, and still doesn't make sense.
Well... there were seams that got picked apart, and redone later, honestly I couldn't even tell you how I did it anymore. Be smart.. follow a pattern :)

Half of it was sewn by hand to hide the stitches. Then I used white thread to sew about 1/4" from the edge for contrast.  Added three buttons and button holes, and voila! About three anxiety filled nights of sewing and I was done!
(never mind that I was also extremely sick and had a fever... I wonder if that would explain why my logic on the whole inside/outside thing was flawed, LOL!)

If I were to do it again:

1. I would start the project waaaaaay sooner. I was so crunched for time that I didn't enjoy sewing this outfit.

2. I would try to do it when Baby was awake... I didn't check him for sizes very well.... so the pants were a little too snug...

3. I would take more pictures of Baby in his outfit. It was so precious on him, but almost all of our pictures are of him being held by someone and hands in front of the cute vest!

Gobble Gobble Turkey Onesie

I've seen Thanksgiving turkey onesies on Pinterest and at some of the blog link parties that I frequent.
With it coming up soon, I thought I'd get busy this weekend and finally make one for Baby!

I didn't have any scraps of yellow or orange (not the colors I use frequently) I had to cut a little bit out of some remnants I had gotten on clearance.  The brown came from some scraps of polyester - I had bought at St Vincent De Paul years back and made Pirate coat for Halloween costume from... it seems all my fabrics have stories :)  The red came from a bit of tie-die fabric that was already cut into 6x6 inch squares for quilts that never got done. Scraps of white, red and orange made the eyes, floppy nose thing, and beak.

Then for the eyes I wanted to sew on two little black buttons, but we didn't have any buttons that small, and I wasn't going to go out and buy any. So I used embroidery floss to create the eyes... don't look too close in my pictures for it though, all that is in the picture is black sharpie, as I did the embroidery after the pics were taken :)

Once cut, I worked from the inside of the tail out, first spraying each feather with quilt basting spray, adding a couple pins, then zig-zag stitching around the edge.

Once the tail was done, I added the face to the turkey body - but used a narrower and shorter zig-zag stitch.

Then basted and pinned on the body over top the tail, stitched all around.

Hmm... while putting the pictures in this post, I realized that Mr Turkey looks a little crooked.. like his head is cocked just ever so slightly. Oh well! That's part of handmade clothes, and I guess things that I make... they aren't going to be perfect.  Besides, it adds a little character :)

Now to photograph Baby in it on Thanksgiving!  I wonder how long the sleeves will stay white....

Ah-Ha! I finally found the original tutorial that inspired me!!!  The Cottage Home has a great tutorial including a template to used linked here.  I did mine free-hand, but it was that post that got my gears turning. 

Handmade Christmas Gifts: Child's Apron & Chef's Hat

One of the greatest things about Pinterest is that I've been able to find affordable Christmas presents to make that are full of creativity. 

Included is this apron and chef's hat, in child's size.

A little birdie told me that TRex is getting a cooking table toy that includes an oven, play food, play dishes and all. So what goes better with that than his very own apron and chef's hat?  I planned to make two of each, one for TRex and one for my nephew who is the same age.

The Apron:
I followed the tutorial by Joanna of Stardust Shoes.  While I didn't make it reversible, as there is just plain blue fabric on the back, I did follow the measurements and the general idea. I think I did my straps differently, but only because I was working with scraps.

I used leftover fun blue/brown circle material that was originally from Baby's crib skirt and matching lamp shades {you can see one of the lampshades in the picture of the apron, I had knocked over the lamp and broke the shade, and it was in the drying phase of Gorilla Glue at the time that I took the apron pictures... sorry for the cluttered photo, but it was too much a coincidence to crop it out :)}. The backside (which I didn't take a picutre of!!) is leftover plain blue cotton material from a flat bed sheet. I often use bed sheets that I can score on super clearance for the backs of quilts or other projects like this.

The pocket is from a similar color-schemed pillow cover. I loved that pillow case, other than it had gotten a stain on it from eating & studying in bed freshman year of college. Glad I saved it, because I just cut out around the stain, and the colors match great... plus I'm digging the trend of mixing patterns.The blue side ties of the apron pictured directly above and brown top tie of the apron pictured at the very top are also made of the pillow case.

I didn't have any D-rings, but I did have white plastic rings that I had leftover from curtain tie-backs. They work pretty much the same.

The Hat:
So I didn't quite follow the hat tutorial of this one, but again, the idea is the same.

I used the very top edge of the flat sheet where it is doubled over as the head band. Since fabric was already doubled up and sewn nicely, and I didn't have any interface, I skipped that part. It saved me some time (remember I made two of each!), but it certainly is not stiff like the tutorial's pictures show.  The fabric of the poofy top was leftovers of the bottoms of Baby's curtains that were too long for our windows.  The curtains were very inexpensive from Ikea, and are made from stiff and somewhat see-through material. The stiffness of the fabric makes it great to hold the poofy top of the chef's hat, and the polka-dots tie in the circles of the apron too.

I also sewed it up along the side making a permanently sized band, after measuring TRex's head and giving about an inch extra room. I liked the idea of the Velcro, but I didn't want to buy any, and I'm sure the hat will be cool for about 3 months.  We'll see if I regret not making it adjustable.

Instead of the pleats as the tutorial shows, I basted and gathered the large circle for the hat. Mostly because I wasn't paying attention to the tutorial... yup, way to not follow directions! LOL. But oh well, works the same. Then sewed the gathered poof-top to the band.

Being crunched for time, and lazy, I didn't bind the raw edges either. Sorry kids, you'll just have to deal with some itchies inside the hat! 

I'm hoping the boys enjoy their culinary attire for a few years, and if they don't, well they both have little brothers that it can be handed down to!

Santa Christmas Countdown {Free Printable}

Oh Pinterest, what did we ever do before you?

Seriously I've only been on Pinterest for a few months, and I am beyond loving it.

I found this great pin of a Santa Christmas countdown, created by a super crafty woman.

I don't have any sort of skill with paper (one of the reasons I've given up on scapbooking), and don't have any cutting machines or tools either.

So, I set out to make a simple printable one.  Same idea: cute Santa face with numbered circles to glue on cotton balls each day.

Using MS Publisher, I found a clip art pic of a Santa face, then made 25 circles and arranged them in his beard. I tried to keep the numbers scattered a bit, while slowly filling down his beard each day almost like it grows.  I want TRex to have to search for the number, so that his recognition of numbers above 10 will hopefully get a little stronger.

I've uploaded this into Google Docs for anyone to download and use (for personal use only please), just click on the photo and it should take you to the PDF file..  Also, should you use it in any projects that you blog about, I'd appreciate a link-back :)  Plus I'd love to see what someone else can do with it.

LOL, that's assuming there is something to do with it....
 anyways, print it out, glue some cotton balls on it with your kids and enjoy it as much as I hope our home will.

Oh my goodness! I've been featured! Thank you so much Allison @A Glimpse Inside, you made my Friday :)

featured button

Another feature? Wow! Thank you Natalie at Marigolds' Loft!

{Update 19-Nov}
Sorry to anyone who has had trouble getting the PDF. This is my first time sharing a file using Google drive! I believe I now have allowed all viewers to download the file. Under the "File" tab, go to the bottom and click "Download" and you should be set to print
Thank you for your patience while I'm learning! :)

Can't believe how many times this little project has been pinned! Thank you Pinners :)
For many more crafty things, please follow me on Pinterest or Facebook, or on your blog reader!

{Homemade DIY Baby Food} Zucchinis!

Here's another recap of some new veggies I am exposing Baby to lately.

While shopping at Aldi's, I saw zucchini was a great price, and had to scoop some up. I absolutely love zucchini, just sauteed in oil and garlic. The night I bought them, I worked them into a super quick supper of tortellini & zucchini.

I had read a post the next day at a link party about another mama who makes baby food for her little one. On her list was zucchini! How had I never thought of making zucchini?

Well, I went back to Aldi's and bought some more just for Baby.

Here's how I made zucchini into baby food puree:

1. Wash well. Zucchini's can have grittyness if you don't scrub the skins well.

2. Cut off ends & discard.

3. Chop into large chunks - probably 2 inch rounds.

4. I chose to steam the zucchini. No rhyme or reason, just sounded like the way to do it.

5. After they got good and tender, let them cool.

6. Puree in blender. Use the water from the bottom of the pot. I found it didn't take much added water since the zucchinis were pretty juicy.

7. Store in whatever you like. I use Mumi & Bubi trays, and reuse store bought baby food tubs and jars.  Use within 2-3 days if refrigerated.  I like to put all of it straight into the freezer, and take it out right before we use it.

Our reviews:

Baby has eaten my zucchini now 3 times. He was a little hesitant on the first few bites, and looked at me with the expression of confusion.  LOL. I love how he can say so much with no words at all.
He's only had about 2 ounces of it each time, and I'm trying to think of what I can mix it into for a tasty combo.

{Homemade DIY Baby Food} Asparagus


It gets a bad rep, for making some stink for a usually not so stinky bathroom function. LOL. Is there a nice way to say that? Hmm..

Well anyways, it's a great veggie. We ate freshly grown in our garden asparagus as a kid. Just the tops though, those were the most tender.  I found some frozen at Aldi's the other day when browsing frozen veggies, and thought to cook some up for Baby.

The usual how-to:
1. Fill pot with water

2. Bring to boil.

3. Add asparagus. Cook until tender.

4. Don't dump the water! Put stalks into blender, add some water.

5. Pulse your blender a few times. Does it need more water to work? Add more. If not go ahead a puree.

6. Put into containers of choice. Use up in 2-3 days, or freeze.

You could steam them too if you'd like. I went the easy boiling route, and also found I needed quite a bit of water for the blender to handle it.

So we tried the asparagus last night with dinner.  

And... drum roll.... Baby was not a fan.  Whomp, whomp :(
I wish I would have gotten a picture of that precious little face when he tried it!!

I wonder if it has to do with the texture. The asparagus I got was so very fibrous that the puree wasn't smooth at all.   We will try again tonight!  Maybe it needs to be mixed with something.... any suggestions from mama's whose babies enjoy asparagus?

{Sneak Peak} New Veggies for Baby Food

While browsing around some link parties this past week, I found this fabulous post from another mama who loves to make food for her baby.  She has made many of the same foods as I have for Baby C, like apples, sweet potatoes, peaches, and the like.

But there were a few veggies on her list that I had never thought to give Baby before, and knew I'd have to grab some and try it!

We had to stop at Aldi's to pick up bread, and I decided to browse the selection of veggies. Sure enough, they had exactly what I was looking for: asparagus (frozen), fresh zucchini & yellow squash.

Food is such an emotional thing for me.  So many tastes bring back all the joy of carefree childhood. All three of those veggies are things we ate when I was young.  My dad grew asparagus in the garden, amoung many other fruits and veggies that were homegrown.  Zucchinis and yellow squash were some of our summer favorites - just sauteed in a pan with a dash of oil and garlic. I love passing down the same flavors and food traditions to my kids... well they aren't really traditions, but I'm making them be now :)
Mama's little helper!

While Mr. E was driving TRex to his mom's for the weekend, I decided to get busy cooking.
I didn't get many pictures of the process, since it's the same old thing: 1-boil/steam, 2-puree, 3-put into containers & freeze.

I'll write up Baby C's reviews of them after we explore the flavors this weekend. I'm excited!

I know I have an easier time finding great fruits to feed Baby, but veggies seem to be the usual sweet potatoes, carrots & peas.  What other varieties of veggies are you feeding your babies, or even kids, to get them exposed to a more worldly palette of flavors?

DIY Baby Food: Slow Cooked Apple Pork Roast

Life has gotten so busy lately between my sister's baby shower, Baby's Baptism, and Halloween parties & costumes. I've found it hard to keep up making our own baby food.

When planning supper for a weeknight, I usually resort to something in the slow cooker. It's so much easier to cook meat that way.  I had planned on a pork roast smothered in a homemade apple butter.  But what to do with all those leftovers? I mean, I love taking hearty homemade meals to work for lunch, but there would be enough to eat pork roast every day all week... how boring.

I had the thought of making baby food with the leftovers, and tweaked my recipe a bit to accomidate that.
Shown mixed with Apples & Butternut Squash

Slow Cooker Pork Roast:
2-3 lb lean pork loin roast
1 cup applesauce
2 cups water  - or enough to keep the roast moist while cooking all day

Put roast in bottom of slow cooker. I used my 2qt insert. Dump water in. Spread applesauce on top (I used some homemade apple sauce that had a little bit of cinnamon in it).
Let cook on low all day (6-8 hrs) making sure internal temp reaches at least 170F, and that no pink is left in the middle.

I usually add some random spices, whatever I'm feeling at the time, like onions, garlic, dash of chili powder, maybe some ginger or extra cinnamon. I also will add a cube of chicken bouillon. All these things were intentionally left out so that Baby could eat it. Remember to never add salt to baby food, the chicken bouillon is loaded with salt, and all sorts of things that I don't want going in baby food. At this point, I think it's best for us to leave those extras out, since Baby seems to have a little bit of a sensitive stomach still.

We ate some of the roast for supper (we added some salt on top because it was pretty plain), then the rest got chunked up and put in the blender. Save the juices & water left in the slow cooker to use as the liquid when blending.

It turned out a little bit lumpy, even after a good thorough blending. I think it's just the way the pork meat fibers latch to each other, as the mouth feel of it (yes I taste test!) it very similar to the more smooth chicken puree I've made.

Quick & Easy Zucchini Tortellini Dinner

Last night was another one of those:
"Mama, what we havin' for supper?" (said by TRex)
"Dunno yet, whatcha cookin' for me?" (I replied)
I was simply enjoying playing with my kids too much to realize I needed to cook some supper.

 So off to the pantry & freezer I went, to dig around and find some inspiration. Then I remembered the tortellini I had picked up at Aldi's last week. Throw that together with the fresh zucchini's I had also gotten, and half a jar of spaghetti sauce leftover... and BAM! We had supper. And a good supper.

You know how sometimes when you whip up a recipe with whatever you've got that cooks quick... and it turns out wonky, but you all eat it anyways because supper was 30 min later than usual, and you're all starving?  LOL... nope, never ever happens here :)
Well, this was NOT one of those suppers, I am proud to say I whipped it out super quick, and it was as gourmet as my cooking gets!

OMG it was sooo good. I have a weakness for zucchinis, and they were beyond delish.

2 ~8oz packages of tortellinis 
1 medium zucchini, sliced into half moons
1 cup spaghetti sauce of your choice
olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
Italian herb grinder (mine is from Aldi's called Pizza and Pasta Grinder)

Fill a large pot with enough water to cook your amount of pasta. Turn burner on high.

While waiting for water to boil, get zucchini going. Add just enough olive oil to coat bottom of non-stick skillet (I used my medium sized one). Set burner on medium, and dump in the garlic.

Wash zucchini well.  Slice into rounds, then cut into half moons. Stir around the garlic in the pan to distribute it well, then add in the zucchinis. Cook until mostly tender. Don't bother flipping every single one over, they'll get good and done when added into the pasta later. I like to get some golden spots on the zucchinis, and just barely brown up the garlic. That's when I know it's done for my taste.

Once your pasta water is boiling, add the tortellinis.  Cook per the package. Mine suggested 8 minutes. Drain pasta, add back into pot. Add cooked zucchinis. Dump in spaghetti sauce (your family might like it saucier than I do, add as much or little as you see fit). Add a couple cranks of the Italian herb & spice mix, depending on how your family likes it. Stir up to mix. Give it a minute on a warm burner if your spag sauce was refrigerated.

Serve hot with a side of fruit, maybe some garlic toast, and a glass of cold milk.


No More Bruised Bananas {Simple Solutions}

What the most perfect snack. It comes in its own wrapper, requires no silverware, and tastes oh so delish. 

Our family loves bananas. They are great on road trips (probably the cheapest gas station snack), in lunches, for breakfasts, and in banana bread. 

But how to tote it around without those nasty slimy bruises?

Well, when trying to throw together a healthy lunch this morning I had an idea... oven mit!

It's the perfect size, it's something we already have, and it is cushioned enough to keep the banana from getting banged up in my lunch sack. Yay! Problem solved. One of those "why have I never thought of that before?" moments!

Those brown spots on the banana aren't bruises, it's the freckles of a super sweetly ripe banana!! My favorite kind....mmmmm...
Now I think I might create quilted banana cozy's for Christmas gifts. I have so much sewing to do :)

Toddler's Busy Box {Part 2 - Finished Product}

I set out to make a busy bag.. well it turned into a box... full of fun and educational activities. None of the items are too small to worry about a small baby choking on them (you never realize how many kids toys are small until you have a baby that puts EVERYTHING in his mouth). Every piece of the busy box fits inside, so its easy to pick up and put away. I tried to make sure it's all stuff that can be done by a 3 year old, pretty much independently.

This post got way too long all together, and with so many pictures that I decided to split it up into two postings.  To see the inspiration with pictures and links, click here.

Super large formula can with lid
craft sticks (or popsicle sticks)
clothes pins
scrapbook paper & scraps
fabric scraps - any shape
Wide ribbon
Big button
hot glue & gun

The "box":
Instead of a bag, I decided to recycle a formula can. It's a giant cardboard can with a plastic lid (formula originally in bulk from Sam's Club). I liked the idea of an actual lid of a box/can versus just a bag. To me it's much easier to keep the kid's toys rounded up in things that shut nicely.

I used hot glue to attach two sheets of scrapbook paper around the outside. Then created a label "G---'s Busy Box", on contrasting paper scrap using some lettering stencils and marker. Then hot glued that on too.

The hot glue maybe wasn't the best idea, but I didn't think Elmer's would hold, and couldn't find my tacky glue. It was a pain to work with, since you can see the lumps where it cooled before I could flatten it out. Oh well!

The metal rim of the formula can was also pretty sharp. I was afraid of little hands getting cuts from this, so I wrapped it in some scrap of light blue bias tape. Perfect use for the little bit I had leftover from some quilts.

Counting wheel:

I knew if the counting wheel was on just plain paper, it would get smashed and crumpled in about 4 minutes. I don't have a laminator and was NOT going to be tracing and cutting a circle of cardboard.. too much work! Plus... how would it fit into the box nicely? So I incorporated it into the lid of the box, now it can't get crumpled, won't get lost, and doesn't need to be a certain size to live inside the box.

Using scrapbook paper, I traced the lid. Then cut out just a tad smaller. Many blogs I read suggested to use stickers, but I didn't have any small stickers in those quantities. Using a stencil acquired from my lovely semester of drafting class, I make perfect little circles. Remember to do this BEFORE gluing it in... yup... mistake I made :)

I originally used Elmer's glue to fix it to the underside of the lid, but quickly learned it wouldn't hold on the plastic. A small ring of hot glue on the very edge of the lid worked perfect, plus it will deter little fingers from prying the paper up.
The first attempt of numbering clothespins, I went the easy route, and just used sharpie straight on the pin. Well... soon did I realize that it didn't look so great. The marker would bleed into the wood grain, making it look messy, and somewhat unreadable (especially for a kiddo just learning his numbers, clarity is key!). Those yucky looking numbers got covered in little scraps of paper that I glued on. Then the pins got renumbered. Much, much better!!!

Craft stick puzzles:
I printed off some Halloween realted graphics from my favorie site, The Graphics Fairy.

Then using my paper cutter, cut them into the width of the craft sticks.

Using two strips of masking tape, aligned the craft sticks in a row. Glued them on with Elmers.

I was concerned about those every picking and prying toddler fingers, so I ended up giving them a couple quick coats of clear spray paint. I'm thinking Modge-Podge would work too? But I don't have any of that...

Here are the finished puzzles, held together with painters tape so that my newphew knows what they look like before taking them apart to play.

Upper-/Lower-case Alphabet Spoons:
How awesome is this idea!?! I love this because
1. It takes less than $2 of spoons from the Dollar Tree
2. What toddler doesn't love to play with silverware? (We are constantly reminding TRex that spoons and forks are for eating, not playing)
3. If a few break or get lost, it's an easy cheap fix for my sister!
At age 3, I know that this activity would be a huge challenge for TRex - it wouldn't be an independant activity at all. So I added a little hint! On the very bottom of the handle, on the backs of the uppercase spoons, I wrote a little lowercase of that letter. So it essentially just makes it a matching game - flip over the white spoon to find the little letter, then find the clear spoon to match. I figure the repitition of seeing upper & lowercase letters side-by-side will help him learn pretty quick!

And my favorite - The Button Snake!
I have been wanting to learn how to make button holes on my machine for a while now, and this gave me the perfect practice! I knew my nephew wouldn't mind a few wonky button holes as I experimented with the settings on my sewing machine, so I jumped on the opportunity to do this.

I have a ton of 6inx6in squares of fabric from plans to make a quilt that I never did. I picked out some blues and reds to use for this. I cut the squares in half - making 2 retangles of each. Turned them right sides in, sewed all around but left a gap. Turned right-side-out, ironed, and used zig-zag stitch to add contrast around the edge.

Next, I learned to use my button hole setting!!! I sewed, and sewed and sewed. Then pined each end of the button holes, and cut them open. Once I got the hang of it, it was a pretty automatic process... it took no brains and became an assembly line of fabric squares. All together the squares for the button snake probably took about an hour.

I had about 2 feet leftover of wide baby-blue ribbon that I had used to make tie-backs for TRex's curtains last year. The best part was that the very end was fray-checked, so I didn't have to do any sewing or fray-check myself!! About 2 or 3 inches from the end, I sewed on just one of the finished squares. At the other end, I sewed on the large button (which was a spare from my favorite H&M cardigan).
I buttoned on all the squares, and it was ready to go!

I know that TRex struggles with buttons, and this is the perfect teaching tool. With a large enough button for toddler fingers, and fun colors to make patterns, I know it's something that would get a lot of attention in our house!

And that's it! Busy Box finished!!!

All you mama's of more than one child know that the transition for a toddler to suddenly not be the center of attention can be rough... and I hope that this gift to my nephew will make it easier for him, and his mama in the first few weeks of meeting the new baby.

Toddler's Busy Box {Part 1 - Inspiration}

My sister is due in about a month with her second little boy - making my parents proud to have 2 daughters that gave them four grandsons :)

A few weeks back we held a "sprinkle" for her, just a small get together of some close family and friends. Sprinkles are usually just diapers and wipes, but of course we all couldn't help ourselves and have already spoiled that little boy rotten with the cutest darned outfits ever! I made from my fabric leftovers two adorable bibs, as well as a taggie toy that crinkles.

I drew back on a few memories of when I was pregnant and then also when Baby C had first arrived, as inspiration of what to give my sister at her shower.

When my sister thew my baby show last year, she was so kind and generous to also give T a few gifts. All the attention being on the baby in Mama's tummy can really make an older sibling feel left out, and just a small gift of toy animals and books really tickled T!

Another very kind gift that a friend got after Baby C was born was a pack of puzzles and a Thomas the Train movie for T. She said it was stuff to keep T busy, so I could be a little more hands free to nurse baby, or give Daddy a bigger break so Mama can sleep. I've just been so touched how family and friends have welcomed T into the family with such open arms, and been so very thoughtful.

I've mentioned in many of my other posts that finances are very tight right now. I would have loved to buy my nephew DVD's, toys, and games, but even $50 extra right now isn't possible. But who needs store-bought toys, when I've got a craft stash big enough to make some awesome things... oh yeah, and Pinterst to get the most amazing ideas :)

So away I went to make a busy box - here's my inspiration:

Uppercase & Lower Case Matching

Popsicle Stick Puzzles

Button Snake

Number Counting Wheel

I had hoped to not spend any money at all on craft supplies, but since most of it was cheap, and only required partial amounts of what you'd buy in the store, it wasn't too big of a deal.

I set out to make a busy bag.. well it turned into a box... full of fun and educational activities. None of the items are too small to worry about a small baby choking on them (you never realize how many kids toys are small until you have a baby that puts EVERYTHING in his mouth). Every piece of the busy box fits inside, so its easy to pick up and put away. I tried to make sure it's all stuff that can be done by a 3 year old, pretty much independently.

This post got way too long all together, and with so many pictures that I decided to split it up into two postings.  To see the tutorial & finished project of the Busy Box, click here. {if the link isn't working, check back soon! I'm still in the process of writing it all up :) }

Keeping a Naughty Boy Busy - Tot Books

Pre-post note: I've been trying to come up with cute nicknames for the kids for the blogosphere and I think I'll start calling our 3-year-old T-Rex. He LOVES a dino book we have, and it's pretty fitting for his loud personality :)

I know TV rots kids' brains, and that parents should strictly limit the amount of exposure, it's on at our house much more than probably should be. When we get home, Baby needs a bottle, then right afterwards I start supper - then TV is what keeps T-Rex preoccupied and out of the kitchen while I cook. Let me make a few more excuses for the one thing I'd said I'd never do when I was a parent...the only TV shows we allow him to watch are definatly age appropriate, with no violence. I've even stopped letting him watch Thomas the Train, just because the characters are so sassy (another bad habit of T-Rex).

Our habit of letting T-Rex watch too much TV got even worse when Baby was born. Exhausted parents, hands tied up nursing a little one, it all was just easier to sit T-Rex down on the couch and veg.

We also have new rules in the house that naughty boys don't get to watch any TV. Then the challenge becomes that Mama has to come up with creative ways to keep T-Rex interested and stimulated while dealing with a grumpy, angry, or just not-having-a-good-day type of boy. (We've been having A LOT of these days lately....)

Somewhere in the world of Pinterest I found a wonderful website written by a mom of 3 who homeschools: 1plus1plus1equals1.com. I am not a teacher by any means, but yet want to help teach my children the skills they will need. There are printables for toddlers, preschoolers, kindergardeners, and older kids. I've only really explored the "tots" section, but am really blown away by it!

I really want T-Rex to start to read. He knows all of the letters, upper and lower case, but hasn't started to put together the recognition of short words. He also can't draw letters either (or shapes for that matter). I've printed off the Thanksgiving pre-school pack and plan to do it bit by bit with T-Rex this week.
The best part is that some of the activites will require me to guide him - tracing letters. But there are others that I can simply give him instructions, and let him go on his own - color by number, sorting people from shapes.

I do enjoy making things for my children, but the simplicity of printing this off is what has totally won me over :)

I can't wait to start this with him and I'll update on how he likes it!
Super huge thank you to the creator of these activity books!

Tot Books & Packs

Easy Pantry Chili {Slow cooker & Freezer Meal}

With Mr E back to work (it really is a blessing he found work so quickly in this economy!), I feel my already busy hands not capable of carrying the whole load of housework, cooking, and raising children not glued to TV. I could get it all done if I ignored my children, but they come first.  I'm trying to simplify life, not let chores distract me from what's really important.

One of those ways is a crock pot supper like this.

I prepped the meat and mixed together all the ingredients the night before. In the morning, I dumped it all into the crockpot, set on low, and when supper time rolls around, all I have to do is dish it up!

Ingredients, well other than I almost forgot the corn!
1 1/2 lbs ground hamburger 90% lean
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 Tbsp chili powder  - use more if you like a kick, we are a spice-less prefering family
1 tsp powdered garlic
1 tsp McCormick Garlic & Bell Pepper (optional)
2 cans beans (I used 1 black bean & one kidney bean)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can crushed tomatoes (this is a bigger can.. sorry I don't remember how many ounces!)
1 bag of frozen corn

In a large skillet, add hamburger and onion. Cook on medium until hamburger is cooked through, and onions are soft and translucent. Add chili powder, garlic, and garlic/bell pepper mix, stir well.  Add in any other spices that your family enjoys in chili (cayenne, tabasco sauce, oregano, cumin, etc)

While the onions and hamburger cook, empty cans (do not drain!) & corn into large tupperware.

Let hamburger and onion mixture cool. Add to tupperare. Store in frigde overnight.
The picture to the right shows the hamburger all browned up, and the tender onions. See how translucent they are? Yum, I could eat the computer screen!

Morning of - dump into crock pot (4 quart or larger will do), and set on low. Dish up with a dollop of sour cream and shredded cheddar.

Serve with rolls, and fruit.

Freeze leftovers for a heat & eat meal! Want more freezer meals? Check out some recipes and reviews here.

T - our 3 year old - actually ate quite a bit. He's been in a very picky phase lately, so the fact that he took about 10 bites means a seal of approval.

I thought it was too bland, so I ended up sprinkling a couple more pinches of chili powder onto mine. It was just perfect. I wiped my bowl clean with the biscuits I served :)