Thursday, January 28, 2016

5 Easy Life Hacks that Actually Work!


Let's face it, with motherhood and life in general, sometimes its those little life hacks that come in handy. I know there are a bunch floating around out there. I've tried many myself. Some work, others....well I'll be nice and say back to the drawing board for those. This post shares the top 5 Life Hacks that I've found actually work and are pretty darn helpful!

Hack #1 Cereal Bin Turned Garbage Can- I was super skeptical about this one. Seemed too good to be true, but with two growing boys, ANYTHING that helps keep the van looking less like a natural disaster is an improvement. My one issue with it, the original source didn't make use of a bag inside. It was more of a toss things in and then empty as needed. For an adult only car, this would probably be easy to pull off on a daily basis. When you factor in kids, things change. I purposely got a container with a deep fit to the lid. It allows me to put in a plastic grocery bag and fold it over the outside of the  bin with the handles out. Put the top on after you've done that, and your mini garbage can now has a liner for easy garbage removal, and those handles on the bag help anchor it in place. I hook the handles over the arm rests of the driver and passenger side up front and the can sits between the seats just behind my console. We can all reach the can and throw out our bits of garbage as needed. Best part is the flip open top means you can seal the potential stinky stuff, like fry containers, until you are able to toss the bag. This hack proves most helpful when we are road tripping it to visit the grandparents. We can eat a meal in the car to keep the kiddos occupied and then toss the garbage into the can and get rid of it when we make our next pit stop. I'd even venture to say this helps cut down on those lost french fries or finding those random half eaten lolly pop sticks shoved between the seats ;) 

Hack #2 Dollar Store Shower Caddy Turned Snack/Meal Server- When do I like using this one? Well, on those road trips of course!! This little trick is the other reason why lost bits of food is drastically reduced in my van. Now, keep in mind, these caddies come in different sizes. I went with a smaller version for the time being because it is easier for little hands and laps to hold onto them without getting to be too much for them. The larger ones will probably come in handy as they boys get older and start eating even more. All you have to do is load up the caddy with the meal or snacks and pass it along to your child. They can take it from there! Leaky juice box? The caddy will catch it since there are no holes in the bottom. Nuggets still to hot? That's fine. Their little hands hold onto the caddy, not the hot food. A quick hand washing and they'll be ready for the next use. I purposely keep them in my van for any impromptu stops, too. 





Hack #3 Shoe Organizer Turned Snack and Pantry Items Holder- I'll be perfectly frank here. I actually have three of these in my house being used for items other than shoes. The pantry incarnation is the most recent and the most liked by the kids because it means easier access to their favorite snacks. I purposely fill it on the vertical so that my younger guy can still reach the various items. The great thing is that this frees up so much space in your actual pantry for larger items like cereal and large bags of chips. For the way high up sections that they can't reach at the moment, I rigged them for my plastic wrap, foil, parchment paper, and various takeout menus. If you notice, the parchment paper boxes are a bit longer than the other items. To keep them from flopping out, I cut the bottom of the pocket just above the pocket in which the boxes are placed. By doing so, you still have the upper pocket material to use as a strap instead of a pocket. I'm so pleased with how well this works. As for my other two, I have one in my linen closet for cleaners, toothpaste boxes, mouth rinse bottles, soaps, etc. The laundry room one holds our reusable water bottles, dusting pads, and the other various odds n ends you'll find in your laundry room, especially of the smaller variety.




Hack #4 Soaking Your Produce in Vinegar and Water- Yes, I know you can buy products that get your produce items squeaky clean, but, have you read those labels? Why do I like this hack? Because it's simple, it's food safe, it's cost effective, and it works. I make sure my sink is cleaned out (see Hack#5 for that cleaning tip) and then begin to fill the sink with cold water. While it fills I add in food grade white vinegar. Usually 1 cup will do the trick but a 1 part vinegar to 5 parts water works if you want to size this hack down to a bowl. I then add in all my produce and swish it around every so often while it soaks. Make sure to soak for a about 15 minutes. Then, I removed the produce and rinse it under cold water and then place on clean tea towels to dry. If you have a double sink, this is an easy way of doing it. If you don't you'll want to remove the fruit before you drain the sink, and then rinse the fruit once all the water and debris is down the drain. I also find this trick keeps my produce longer, especially my peppers and strawberries!





Hack #5 Citrus Peels in Cleaning Vinegar- I like knowing what I am using to clean. This means that I use my steam cleaner more often and love my baking soda for a good scrub down on my sinks and tubs. It also means I am a huge cleaning vinegar advocate. It really gets things fresh and clean without dealing with dangerous fumes like bleach. I actually have to avoid bleach because it triggers my migraines and asthma. (Fun combination that one, can't breathe with a raging headache.) Oh, but some people are gun shy because they don't want their homes smelling like a salad. I get that, I really do. So, here's a great way to get the power of vinegar AND citrus oils with little effort on your part. In a large jar put as many citrus peels as you have on hand. I've used anything from oranges, clementines, limes, and lemons and all do a great job of masking that vinegar smell. Once you put the peels in, fill your jar the rest of the way with cleaning vinegar. Cap the lid tightly and give it a shake. You'll want this solution to marry for about 2 weeks. I leave the jar on my counter near the sink so I can shake it every other day while things marinate. After two weeks, take out a fine strainer, a large measuring cup with spout, and a funnel. Put the funnel into your spray bottle and then in the large measuring cup, put your strainer on top while you slowly pour out your vinegar mix. The strainer will catch any rogue bits of peel and pith from the citrus. Then take your measuring cup and carefully pour your vinegar mix into your spray bottle. Fill it halfway and then add in water. Give it a swirl or a shake and your mix is ready to use! I use this daily for various needs around the kitchen and home. The citrus soak gives it a fresher scent than just as a straight vinegar mix. I store any remaining concentrate in a glass jar under my kitchen sink. 

So there you go! These are my tried and true and will not go without life hacks in my house. I do have some others, but those are for later on. Give these a try and see how well they work out for you!






Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What a Hoot! Owl Valentine Craft for Kids and Families



I signed up to "host" the Valentine's Day party for my youngest son's class. Now I knew this would mean that I needed to get a fun and easy craft pulled together for this. I also had some fall back ideas from things I've done in the past, but I really wanted to try and bring in something fun and new for everyone. Off to Pinterest I went and found a really cute pin of animals made up from different sized heart. A fish, a puppy, a lady bugs...oh such great options! Of course the mind begins to come up with ideas just from that. You have to see what is there by going here to see the adorable animals from housingaforest.com.

Oh but wait...14 4-5 year olds and lots of animals to choose from really wouldn't be the greatest combination. First of all, trying to prep to make sure I had enough hearts for all variations would land me in the funny farm. Secondly, you know that a few will suddenly want to do a different animal once they see a friend making one they didn't select.

Ok...regroup...the owl. For some reason, these kiddos really like owls this year. Perfect! There was an owl option. Taking a look at the photo gave me an idea of where to start. I wanted to turn this into a cute valentine for the kids to give to their parents. So, the doily concept came about along with a cute little phrase to add to the back to function as the message of the card. I came up with the phrase myself with the help of the other mom working with me. The cute little owl on the message is a nice clip art pic absolutely perfect for this project. Very easy to recreate, I promise. But if you want to get a downloadable version, use the contact me feature on the page and let me know. I'll happily share the file with you!

There was also the other issue of making sure the hearts all worked out size and symmetry wise. I'm good, but not THAT good where various sized hearts would not only be perfectly balanced but also the same variety of shape regardless of size. Ok, google me this..."heart templates"....and kid you not, heart templates abound in the image options! Woohoo! Or is it woohoot? Anyways, for a great pair of printable templates you will want to check out these two from activityvillage.co.uk. For the first one click here and for the other go here.

Looking at the 1st template from "click here," the 1st large heart will act as your head heart, the heart next to that will be your tummy 2 heart, and the one next to that will be your tummy 1 heart. Moving down on the same template, the largest heart is your body heart and the one flipped upside down will be your wings heart. Now for the "go here" heart template, you will want to use the smallest heart for your nose and two feet hearts, and the second smallest one will be your ears heart.

supplies visual for color and count of hearts
Medium wise for the owl, I went with sticky back foam paper. It's easier for kids to work with and helps to cut down on the amount of glue stick needs. Plus, it comes in some really fun colors! You're going to want to choose 4 colors and a sheet of white for all the parts of your owl.

Here's how the count will break down for each owl you want to make:
Color 1 needs to have 1 head heart, 1 body heart, 1 ear heart but split lengthwise (though the ear heart can be made from color 2 if you'd like).
Color 2 needs 1 wing heart split lengthwise, 1 tummy 1 heart
Color 3 needs 1 tummy 2 heart
Color 4 needs 3 nose/feet hearts

You will also need a small round object to trace for your eye whites, a paper lace doily of at least 10" or larger, red/pink construction paper, a glue stick, scissors, and small heart stickers for the pupils of the eyes, which is so much easier than trying to snip out itty-bitty hearts.

Now I'll move onto a visual step by step to help you get going on this...

1. Once you cut out everything, gather all your owl parts first to make sure you have everything you need cut out. Put to one side and move onto prepping the doily. (The yellow hearts are still a three count but stacked on top of each other.)




2. You will want to glue your construction paper heart onto the back of the doily so that the spaces of the doily will show off the color from the front. Set to the side to dry for a bit and move back to your owl pieces. (To get the right shape and size, I simply marked the outer edge of the cutout detail and then traced the marks into a heart shape. Works well to get a better fit.)




3. Get your body heart, your tummy 1 heart and your tummy 2 heart. Remove the backing to tummy 1 and place onto the body heart. Remove the backing to tummy 2 and place on top of tummy 1 heart.




3a. Completed view of Step 3




4. Now you will need your head heart, your two eye rounds and the two small heart stickers. Remove the backing from the eye rounds and place the rounds at the top of the heart in the curve. Then stick the small heart stickers on for the pupils. 


5. Get the body heart and turn it face down so you see the backing. Remove the backing to the body heart and then position the head heart onto the sticky back, keeping the arches about and putting the point of the head heart down a little bit onto the body heart. 
 

6. You now will need your wing heart pieces and the ear heart pieces. Remove the backing to your head heart at this point as well. First stick on your wings onto the body heart and then the ears onto the head, Make sure the wings have the curves facing out and the ears have the curves facing up and in to the center of the owl.



7. Now you will need to remove the backing to both the wings and the ears and then turn the owl to face right side up and place onto the front of the paper doily.




8. The feet and nose hearts will be added at this point. You can remove the baking to the nose and careful pinch the middle of the heart to make it more beak like. Or you can just leave as is and place between the two eyes. Then stick the feet on at the bottom of the body heart but have the hearts of the feet turned upside down.


9. Finally, turn the doily over and using a glue stick paste the message onto the back of the doily and fill out accordingly. 




And there you have it! A very cute, sweet, and lovingly made valentine!







Sunday, January 17, 2016

Faith In Humanity Restored

It is so hard to not grow jaded and skeptical of the goodness out there in the world. With all the negative news coverage and media articles, you can't help but wonder what is happening to our world. Then something unexpected happens. Something that causes you to pause and realize that it's a matter of shifting perspective and making an effort to look for the good instead of fixating on the negative.


For those who may not know, I work with a volunteer based, local animal rescue in my community. At first, I happily brought baked goods for the monthly bake sales. Then when I got more time in the mornings, I went in to clean out enclosures and play with the kitties at one of their adoption locations. That lead to my taking over as a volunteer coordinator, where I basically organize the schedule, recruit new volunteers, and make sure my volunteers have the needed supplies to care for our cats up for adoption. Oh, and I still go in to scoop the litter and clean up ;)

In and effort to jazz up our enclosures and bring in some more cost effective supplies, I stumbled upon some truly adorable paw shaped litter mats from a company called Two Paws. Initially, we had sisal based ones in front of our litter boxes, but they got pretty worn and shoddy looking after a few washes. Plus, we kept having to replace them and needed a surplus in our supplies since cleaning them wasn't exactly a wash and go scenario. When I saw these bright and cheerful paw mats, I knew they were going to work.

What I didn't expect was how well they would be received! Not only were the volunteers happy to have something much easier to clean and easy on the eyes, but people were more drawn to the enclosures, which means our cats were getting more viewing. Needless to say, I was super pleased so I took a moment to thank the company for a great product.

Then another unexpected turn occurred. The owners of the company read the note and actually reached out to me. They wanted to try and help out my little local rescue, even though they were a couple states away. After a couple emails back and forth, they are providing our group with a helpful donation and my heart is so touched by it all. They didn't need to do anything beyond saying "Thanks, glad you like our product." Instead, they asked what they can do to help...they were actively responding and figuring out what would work on their end. Once I heard back about what they were going to do, I was speechless. Above and beyond certainly comes to mind and I now have a pet based company I have no hesitations in recommending. So, if you have a moment and a Facebook account, please visit them and like their page at https://www.facebook.com/twomeows and then visit their website after you've done so. Two Meows really is one of those companies who restores your faith in humanity. It's not just about the sale but about the story and the people behind it. Thank you again to a wonderful group and to a much appreciated, and entirely unexpected donation! The Pet Adoption League of Hackettstown will benefit from your kindness and consideration for sure!









*If you would like to help out our little group, there are a few ways to do so. You can donate through paypal by using this click here to donate option. Or you can visit and like our Facebook page at The Pet Adoption League of Hackettstown. Finally, if you are an Amazon shopper, you can use the Amazon Smile option and a portion of your purchases will be passed along to the group. To check that out click here for more information and scroll down to the Amazon Smile icon on the main page of palpets.org .

Egg and Dairy Free "Buttermilk" Pancakes


It's Sunday morning, and to top it off, it's a sleepover Sunday morning. Of course that means pancakes. The only problem is, all those great pre-mix deals have some dry milk or such in there. It took me a while to realize that I was reacting to pancakes because of these dry milk ingredients. Wanting to treat the boys to the much desired, fluffy pancakes, I decided it was time to make a pancake recipe everyone would appreciate!

I don't know about you, but in my pre-dairy-free world, buttermilk pancakes were always the best. That subtle tang, pillow like texture, and filling meal would always make weekend mornings that much more special as a kid. So of course I wanted to create something like this for my own kids, but be able to eat it as well. I mean, if you are making these suckers from scratch the baker at least deserves a few bites! After looking over a few old school recipes, I managed to pull together a batter that has those qualities every good pancake should! Now, some of the ingredients have amount options. This is so that you can customize the batter more to your liking. For a thinner batter, add more of the water. For more tang, add more of the apple cider vinegar. 

Without further ado, here's the recipe! 




Eggless and Dairy Free "Buttermilk" Pancakes


Ingredients
 
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 tbsps brown sugar (white works too, raw will not)
1/2 tsp sea salt
4 tsps baking powder
1 can Golden Star canned coconut milk. (Must be a full fat variety, not a LITE)
1/4- 1/3 water
2 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
1- 1 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (depends on how tangy you want them)

Optional mix ins- chocolate chips, blue berries, bananas, strawberries. (The chocolate chips will add in traces of dairy, I added them because it was a sleepover breakfast treat for my boys. For myself, I go with blueberries. Make sure if you use frozen to allow them to come to room temp before using and drain off any excess liquid first.)

Directions

1. In a large bowl, combine your dry ingredients and whisk together. Set to the side.

2. In microwave safe bowl, empty the coconut milk out of the can and microwave for 40-60 seconds to get milk to liquid form. (I keep mine refrigerated so you may need much less time if you keep you can at room temp)

3. To the coconut milk add in the rest of the wet ingredients and stir until well combined.

4. Pour wet ingredients over dry and with a wide spatula fold into each other until everything is just combined and wet. Do  not over mix! Allow mixture to set about 5 minutes and then you can add in your mix-in of choice if you'd like but again only a few stirs should be used.





5. On a griddle set to medium low, scoop out the batter and spread out on the griddle. I use an ice cream scoop for more consistent sized rounds.  When the edges start to get a couple of bubbles and the bottom side is golden, flip your pancake. Cook until golden on the other side and serve.  You can keep these warm in your oven at the lowest setting on a cookie sheet with a tea towel over them.

Makes about 12 pancakes







And there ya go! Hope you get a chance to try this out and get some smiles on your family's faces as well. How do I know this is a good one? My pickiest eater actually ATE these! Yes, he actually consumed the pancakes. That's a miracle over here folks. Look at that happy, chocolate lined mouth!


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cinnamon Ginger Knots. A Ridiculously Easy, and Yummy Treat!


It's the season of snow days, sick days, and lazy days thanks to this winter season. Let's face it, it's hard not to want to enjoy a nice baked treat on those super cold days, but sometimes you just do not want to get out all those ingredients and spend hours baking cookies and then cleaning up the mess. If you find yourself in this situation, I'm happy to say this recipe will make it seem like you spent alllll day baking, when really, it was maybe half an hour. 

These Cinnamon Ginger Knots will be a fun new recipe you and your kids will have fun baking together. And when they are done, you can sit down with some(many, lots, every last one) and a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy.



Cinnamon Ginger Knots


Ingredients

1 round of frozen/pre-made pizza dough thawed. If gluten intolerant, use your preferred pizza dough.
2/3 cups sugar
2 tsps real cinnamon 
1-2 tsps ginger. The more you add the more zing you get.
1/2 cup melted coconut oil/ butter if you are not a dairy free type

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400.  In a shallow bowl mix together the sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. Then make sure your melted coconut oil is placed next to it. Have a baking sheet with parchment paper on top on the other side. You want an assembly line of dough, large plate for the knots, oil, sugar mix, and baking sheet.

2. With your area prepped, tear off about a 1" ball of dough. Roll out into a snake and then "tie" into a knot. I find it helps to make a loop and then tuck one end of the snake into the loop to make the knot.

3. Roll dough knot into oil and then move to sugar mix and roll until well coated. Place sugared knot onto the baking sheet. Make sure to leave about 2" around each knot. 

4. Once sheet is full, move into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. I find the convection oven needs only 8 minutes usually. 

5. Remove baking sheet from over and serve warm. (I love the way these taste fresh from the oven.)

Makes about 2- 2 1/2 doz knots.









Tuesday, January 12, 2016

I'm "just" "sorry"...Changing My Words

Really, I'm not, but it's something I am working on as a personal change of habit. I realized, more often than not, the fall back words of "sorry" and "just" keep sneaking their way into my vocabulary when I feel like I need to seem compliant, super perky, or easy going. This got me thinking, for what exactly am I sorry? Why do I feel the need to minimize my statement, my own personality, with "just" ...

I prefer to keep the people around me happy, but there are times where I know what I have to say may not be what they want to hear. In an effort to soften a blow, I begin to crutch my word choice with these words. The thing is, it's not what I really mean and it muddles what I am trying to convey. In the end, I'm annoyed with myself, and come off as more wishy-washy than I'd prefer.

It also has nothing to do with the whole snarky #sorrynotsorry attitude. If anything, it's going to help me not be as willing to take a #sorrynotsorry response. Plus, it's a matter of respect for myself, as well as the other party. I need to respect myself enough to be me, and I need to give the other person the benefit of the doubt and respect that they'll be ok with my no random apologies approach. Random is the key word there.



If I've made a mistake, sure, then "sorry" is perfectly acceptable. But, to say, "Sorry, the kids needed dinner and I just needed a minute" when responding to a text really doesn't need those two words. "Kids were hungry and I needed to get dinner together" is the truth, and it's simple and to the point. In fact, pretty sure my husband wouldn't even think twice about a text like that, but I do. I'll wonder did that sound too harsh or terse...and forget it if the other person fails to respond back within a few minutes. Then I worry that I insulted them or came off angry.

For myself, I am trying to shift this matter of thinking and to realize it's ok to say what you mean and not have to be so passive about it. Now, I am also not going to start throwing around the **tch card, I-don't-give-a-damn attitude because that just creates a whole different dynamic and issues. I am going to allow myself to be. I'll read through an email and go through deleting all the unnecessary "sorry" and "just" inserts that I find. I'll pause a moment before starting a sentence "sorry" when I want to know something.  Instead a "Would you please tell me about this information?" still works, doesn't throw me into a standoffish personality. but doesn't minimize my need for the knowledge the response will give me.

I'm discovering that pleasing people doesn't mean I need to diminish who I am . You can still be respectful and gracious, without cushioning who you want to be with "sorry" and "just." In the long run, you really may be just sorry for all it.

So, join me in riding yourself of these two words if you find you are as guilty as I with their overuse. It will be hard at first, but once you start making yourself more aware of it and wanting to adjust, the easier it gets.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Here Piggy, Piggy! And Other Fun Novelty Hats


I try to give handmade when I can for special events and as gifts for those near and dear to me. This winter, I decided my nieces and nephew were going to get some fun animal/character hats as part of their Christmas presents. The first hat was rather easy to create since my one little niece is obsessed with all things Disney. So a couple of familiar round ears and touches of red made for a sweet, girly mouse hat for her. The best part is that she just so happened to be wearing an outfit that perfectly coordinated with it when she opened it! (Please do keep in mind though that this hat is not an option for sale)


This next set I made up for the other niece and nephew since they are a pair of siblings. I got it on good authority that they are a big fan of pigs at the moment, so I made up a couple of cute piggy hats for them. Sweet little snouts, button eyes, and a bow added to the little girl piggy certainly amp up the "awww" factor. These are hats I am happy to customize and recreate since they are of my own design. I can even make up other animal theme hats like lambs, cats, bear, and puppies.

Seeing me make some hats as gifts for those near and dear to us, my son wanted to jump on the handmade band wagon and asked that I make hats for his friends instead of buying some toys at the department stores. Quite honestly, I was so touched that he gave the particular themes of the hats such careful thought. He wanted to be sure it would be something his buddies would really like. In the end it was to be a Creeper hat for one friend and an ear flap hat with a Pokemon ball theme for the other. Both were much appreciated and now that it's finally getting cold in our region, they will hopefully get some use. (Again, these hats are not for sale.)









The last pair of hats were made for a very personal reason. Last year, I lost my friend to domestic violence, and it's something that will always stay with me as well as the two children she left behind. Before she left this earth, she had ordered a matching mother and daughter scarf set for her daughter and self in the early fall. After she got them she mentioned how she wanted to order a couple of hats for her son and daughter but closer to the Christmas season. As life goes, we lost track of time and never got to that particular order. She was then gone only two days after Christmas of 2014. Perhaps it was a means of closure for myself, but it was also something I wanted to do in honor of their mother. I decided that I would make a hat for each of them as Christmas gifts. For her daughter, I went with a little lady bug. For me, a lady bug visit always means my friend is near by and saying hello. I couldn't believe how many lady bugs I saw those first few months after her death and I thought it fitting her daughter should have a lady bug hat. Her son is a fan of baseball, so for him I went with his favorite team's colors in a simple stocking cap design.


When making something for someone else, the gift is inherently special and unique. Each of these hats will mean something special to me, and hopefully to those who get them.



*Why are some hats only for show and not sale? Simple answer, copyright and trademark laws. I can make them as personal gifts for my friends and family, but will not sell them for profit. I appreciate your understanding in the matter. I share my end results here in case there are other people who can crochet and are looking for some fun gift ideas of their own.