Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Minimalist Hula Hoop Fort

Once we started having a bunch of hoops around the house, my kids started making hula hoop castles or forts. They had learned about them in gym class. They are fun to play inside, topple over and can have a blanket or sheet over the structure for a secret hideout.

My sister saw a picture of one with my girls inside and thought she'd love some hoops to make a fort at her house.

My daughter often would use all our hoops for her castle. I wondered how many you really need. It seems that six is commonly used. Five works pretty well in the grass. I wondered if I could make it work with four.

When I set up four in the house, it looked ok until anyone came close and then it toppled over. I decided to make a little Velcro strap to hold the two hoops making an upside down "V". It worked! Four hoops and a little Velcro becomes the minimalist hoop fort. This little fort also makes my niece and nephew very happy. :)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hula Hoop Ornament

Another Google search did not yield what I was looking I made it myself! I ended up with metal shower curtain rings, removed the small hooks and applied cut hoop tape. This one is a gift, can't wait to make another hoop ornament to put on our tree!
Hula Hoop Ornament

Monday, December 26, 2011

Veggie and Turkey Lasagna

Another gift idea realized.  I was wondering what I could do for my parents this year.  I realized that dinner might be a nice thing to provide and I sought out good freezer meals.  While I searched around I decided that I should probably go with something that I know personally works for this time.

I make lasagne somewhat regularly.  I usually use sauce in a jar, no-boil lasagna noodles and ground turkey.  I thought it would be nice to add some vegetables in order to make the meal more nutritious on its own.  After spending some time looking around, most recipes I saw cooked veggies along with spices and crushed tomatoes and created sauce.  I wasn't sure I wanted to do that and I have a sauce I like.

Carrots, Squash, mushrooms, and spinach were what I decided to add.  When reading through the recipes, I learned that cooking the veggies a bit before baking them into the lasagna would allow most of the excess liquid to be cooked off.  I took one of my jars of sauce and slowly added the different veggies.  I started with mushrooms, then as they began to change, I added shredded squash, and then carrots.  I added fresh spinach towards the end as I figured it wouldn't need as much time to cook.  The sauce did take some time to make.  I prepared everything else for the lasagna while the sauce was bubbling away.

I decided to use the veggie sauce on top of each meat layer and then see what I had left.  For the beginning sauce, I just used the jar sauce.  I also used the jar only sauce in one other layer.  It all went together very well and fit in my dish.

I baked the lasagna according to the directions on the noodle box, I let it cool and then refrigerated overnight.  The next day I cut the lasagna into eighths and individually wrapped each portion.  They went right into the freezer and will get transferred to my parents freezer today!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

3D Memory Game

When considering gifts for my toddler this year, I remembered that she is getting to the stage where memory games are fun. We have memory cards of course, but over the years they seem to lose matches and also get a little worn.

I remembered that my sister had a cool Shrek 3D Memory Match Up game. There were five sets of matching figures and little cups to cover them up. Pretty neat. I don't remember at the time considering using other items under the cups. You could really use anything.

After searching for other kinds of 3D Memory games, I considered making my own. I found baby zoo animals and bought two packs. Then I searched around for cups. When I am looking for certain things out of the ordinary, I am reminded that it's all about supply and demand. Finding little cups to hide toys is not a common toy or even item. I did come across stacking cups and considered them for a short while. There are even mini stacking cups. But I didn't think they'd work for my baby animals, though I did get a mini set for my older kids to stack cups.

Finally I went to the Dollar Store and hoped I'd find something. I wasn't having much luck until I spotted these little Ramekin dishes. They were 3 for a dollar and made out of plastic. They seemed to be a good size for hiding the little animals too.

Now we have a 3D memory game too. Some animals work better than others, but for now starting with just a few matches will be best. I imagine just matching the animals up without hiding them will be a good activity for us too.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pumpkin Muffins & Mini Pumpkin Pies

I was looking for a low fat pumpkin muffin recipe and settled on this one. I used 2 eggs instead of the egg substitute, added a heaping 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and used a mixture of half wheat and half white flour.

Doubling the recipe was something I considered, but a can of pumpkin contains 15 ounces of pumpkin, just short of two cups. Also, I wasn't sure how they would come out.

The muffin batter was very wet, but I remembered there was a lot of baking soda and figured it would all work out. It did, they are a different texture than my favorite banana muffins, but still good.

When I got the can of pumpkin out, my son asked if I was making pumpkin pie, it's his favorite. I've never made pumpkin pie, but after my muffins were done, I looked around at recipes to see what I could do with my almost 1 cup of remaining pumpkin.

I found a few recipes that I thought might work for me. A couple constraints I had were that I didn't want to make and roll out crust and also I wanted to use milk instead of condensed milk or half and half. One mini pumpkin pie tutorial I liked was from Honey I shrunk the Gretchen.

I found a recipe for graham cracker crust and made a half recipe. It was pretty good, but some of us feel it was a bit chewy. I used muffin tins and pressed the mixture into 9 cups.

The pumpkin pie recipe I used was for two pies. I quartered the recipe as well as I could and my son thought it tastes perfect.

Pumpkin Pie Recipe
Almost a cup of pumpkin
1 egg
1/4 cup skim milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
Sprinkle of nutmeg
Sprinkle of salt

I placed them in the previously baked (5 mins at 375 degrees) graham cracker crust and baked them for 10 minutes at 400 degrees and the reduced the temperature to 350 for another 23 minutes until my toothpick came out clean.  A good use of my leftover pumpkin.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Gifts - Chocolate Pretzel Treats

Chocolate Pretzel Treats have become our most favorite holiday gift. We started making them long ago and even the youngest member of the family can help. We have made them at Christmastime, for Valentine's Day, and also Easter. The more varied M&Ms have become, the more treats we make.

It's a very simple concept. Hershey Kisses are unwrapped and set upon waffle pretzels. The Kisses and pretzels go into a cool oven of 250 degrees for five to eight minutes. Once the chocolate has just started to glisten and lose a bit of its form, it's time for the M&Ms. This job has always been reserved for mom. M&Ms are pressed into each softened Kiss. The chocolate takes at least a couple hours to harden again. This is important for packing them up and gifting.

When I first read about making them, the tutorials cautioned against using Kisses other than milk and dark chocolate. I wasn't convinced this was necessary. We have tried a variety of Kisses including caramel, mint truffle, Hugs and white chocolate with candy canes. What I will note is that each variety seems to melt at varying lengths of time and the caramel sometimes makes a big mess if they get too soft. However, those ones are especially tasty. The specialty Kisses seem to take the least amount of time, then milk chocolate, and finally the dark chocolate takes the longest. The softness can be checked with the back of a spoon. Another thing I always do now is to only bake one variety at a time.

Along with a few other specialty chocolates, this is our staple teacher gift. We find the teachers love them as much as we do!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Boring Balaclava Transformed

I ordered this mini balaclava with the intention of protecting my toddler's face this winter.

Snowshoeing with baby
Last winter we had lots of great snow and I had just been given a new pair of snowshoes. When it wasn't bitter cold, off we went, snowshoeing through the woods. My baby was dressed warmly in a hat, neck muff, and snowsuit. I thought we were fine until one day I noticed a purple mark developing on her cheek. It wasn't getting better and I couldn't track it back to any event. After seeing a dermatologist, cold panniculitis was the diagnosis. As Wiki also told me, it is a skin condition characterized by inflammation of the subcutaneous fat after exposure to cold, most often seen in infants and young children. I was shocked...but wondered what else I could do to protect her face.

Cold Panniculitis
The balaclava came in the mail from Land's End. I knew it would be a little boring, especially compared to this year's surplus of animal hats. I had been eyeing the owl winter hats in the stores, maybe we could transform this boring balaclava into something more exciting: an owl balaclava?

Owl Balaclava Hat
After perusing Google Images, I was ready to start my own project. I looked through the fleece I had and started cutting circles. Then I pinned them on and used my sewing machine's embroidery stitch to sew around each circle. A little nose got stitched on. Finally I removed some stitches in the seam in order to add pom-poms. All the while, my toddler kept visiting me and saying, "owl? owl?" Yes, Kessa, it is an owl, just for you!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Complete vocal rest with a toddler

Well it hasn't happened yet, but I have had time to give it some thought. I don't think it will be an ideal situation, but with a little creativity we will make it work.

I have had an intermittent hoarse voice for eight months now. I didn't really realize it was a regular occurrence until the summer. Finally in the fall, I had it checked out. A small, five millimeter cyst-like bump resides on one of my false vocal cords. The false vocal cords are next to the true vocal cords. Everyone I talked to recommended I have it taken out and soon. And with the surgery comes almost certain complete vocal rest. This means no speaking, whispering, laughing, crying, throat clearing, or whistling.

Of course my older children think it will be great to have mom not be able to speak for the five day minimum. My toddler doesn't know what to think. I know it will be hard and she will be confused.

After thinking a lot about this no talking, I wondered what kind of technology could help me out. It occurred to me that there might be a neat iPad app designed for autistic children that I could use. After perusing the App Store and reading various reviews, I found iclickitalk. It was on sale due to an upcoming update. I decided to try it out.

With iclickitalk I can add my own categories, upload my own images, and most importantly record my own voice. Because the recording length has no limit, I can record single words at a time, a sentence, a rhyme, song or story.

It has been fun customizing the iclickitalk app and also a good thing to keep my mind off surgery. We even took some special pictures for it.

I even added a few phrases directed towards my older kids. Though I expect most of my communication with them will be in written form. With the new OS for the Apple products we own, we had noted a new "Messages" app. We hadn't given it much consideration. Finally I read about it and realized it would be a perfect way for me to communicate with my older children. It works much like text messaging, but can use wifi and your Apple ID and email address. This may be the way my seven year old learns her way around a keyboard.

My husband and I have always used "chatting" as one way to communicate. Gmail chat is what we use nowadays. I expect it will help us out during this time too.

Complete vocal rest, but not silence. My fingers will have to do my talking for a little while, tapping along a keyboard with a little signing mixed in.

Update 12/11/11 - Surgery went fine and the surgeon actually was able to perform the surgery without touching my vocal cords. I wasn't required to have complete vocal rest, though it felt a little strained to speak. While I could still talk, it was nice to have my little rhymes and things prerecorded for us.