Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 KIDS HOLIDAY GIFT BUYING GUIDE: ROUND TWO + A GIVEAWAY



Just in case you need a few more gift ideas for the little people in your life...

PLUS a fun giveaway from Educational Insights!
TWO lucky winners will a Magic Moves Electronic Wand! Enter below to win!



#1. JILLEE BEAN AND THE ONE GOOD THING CHILDREN'S BOOK: $13.00
An endearing story of a Dad that teaches his daughter all about serving others by doing one “good thing” at a time. A great message with beautiful pictures illustrated by a third generation Disney artist, this book would be a great addition to your child's library. Watch the book trailer HERE.  

#2. MAGIC MOVES ELECTRONIC WAND: $21.99
Living in Wisconsin, winters can be long... and hard... and boring... and filled with inside 'fun' for our kids, which can translate to a lot of screen time. Ugg. I love this toy bc it promotes active play indoors! It is one of Educational Insights best selling toys with fantastic reviews! Any toy that gets my kid up and moving is a win in my book! (WIN ONE OF TWO of these great toys - enter to win below!)

#3. MAGNA-TILES: $50-$120
These things are awesome. Even Logan and I can play with them for hours. We belong to the Children's Museum here in Madison and that is where we first saw them. They have a few sets in the arts and crafts area and Ellis will sit and build with them for a the majority of the time we are there. They are not exactly cheap, but they are worth the splurge!

#4. TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN WISCONSIN CHILDREN'S BOOK: $9.36
I learned about this book from my co-worker. She is pretty much the ultimate gift-giver, so I get a lot of ideas from her. This is her go-to children's book for the holidays. I bought it for Ellis and we have read it several times in the past few weeks. It sums up winter in Wisconsin perfectly!

#5. MR. (AND MRS.) FOOD FACE PLATES: $12
These ceramic plates, inspired by the famous Wooly Willy Toy, are such a fun gift! I got them for my niece and nephew a few years ago and they love them! They do encourage kids to play with their food, but I am ok with that! Half the time toddlers don't eat anyways, so they might have fun while you make them sit there. ;)

#6. FAMILY CHARADES GAME: $26
Living in a digital age, I sometimes feel like we forget how nice it is to play a good old fashioned game of charades. I loved charades when I was growing up. This game has separate decks that cater to all different age groups.

#7. BUGNOCULARS: $9.99
I loved catching bugs as a kid. Fireflies were my specialty. I love these bugnoculars b/c not only can you catch the bugs in it, but you can view them through the two magnifying glasses in the top! Ellis had something similar to this last summer, but it was from the dollar section at Target and lasted a whole two days. In those two days, I drew a bunch of bugs on cardstock, cut them out to make pretend bugs, and hid them around the house. She would search for them and put them in her 'bug house.' She loved it and would do it over and over. It was a great way to keep her entertained!

#8. DISCOVERY KIDS FORT: $19.99
What kid doesn't love a fort? We don't have a huge house, so it is nice that the fort can be put up, but easily taken down for storage. Plus, the kids can put it together several different ways!

#9. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BLOCK SET: $100
I am in love with these blocks! First off they are wooden, which I love and second they are great for toddles when they just want to build and then serve as a learning toy as they get older. Each block features information such as the state capital, motto, flower, bird, and tree. They are handcrafted in Michigan and made of Basswood grown in the Great Lakes area!

#10. JULIA, CHILD CHILDREN'S BOOK: $12.30
This story is about two girls, Julia and Simca. They are two young friends who agree that you can never use too much butter -- and that it is best to be a child forever. Sharing a love of cooking and having no wish to turn into big, busy people who worry too much and dawdle too little, they decide to create a feast for growing and staying young. A playful, scrumptious celebration of the joy of eating, the importance of never completely growing up, and mastering the art of having a good time, Julia, Child is a fictional tale loosely inspired by the life and spirit of the very real Julia Child -- a story that should be taken with a grain of salt and a generous pat of butter.

#11. ROWDY HORSE: $49.95
This thing is so darn fun! It has nearly 700 reviews on Amazon with 4.5 star rating. Our friends have one for their two boys and every time we go over to their house, Ellis loves hoping on it. She falls over half the time and it is hilarious! It is just a funny looking thing and I love it!



Enter to win one of TWO Magic Moves Electronic Wands from Educational Insights.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

DINNER WITH DEBBIE

Last month I was invited, along with 11 other women, to a fun little dinner party at my friend Reg's house. The delicious Mediterranean meal was prepared by her mother in law, Debbie. It wasn't just any old meal though. There is a bit of a back story why we all got together for this special dinner and I have asked Reg to tell it...




Why would anyone want to do something for nothing? (written by Reg)

It’s not often in life when you meet a person that wants to do something for….NOTHING! In a world where we are all out to find the perfect way to “get rich quick” (myself included), it’s not often that you meet a person that gets the most out of knowing she is making a difference in people’s lives. Enter my mother-in-law, Debbie. She's a fabulous cook, retired dietician, butt kicker of breast cancer and the epitome of the "average jane"! She can make a mean piece of chocolate cake and cooks steak like she’s the star of Hell’s Kitchen, but these days her decadent desserts are saved for special occasions, her slices are a bit smaller and her “meat and potato” meals are not quite as regular in her meal rotation. Debbie has always been known for her fabulous and fairly healthy meals, however, the day she learned she had breast cancer was the day that everything in her world (and kitchen) changed! Debbie dove head first into finding out what had possibly fed her cancer, how she could provide her body with the very best chance to keep the cancer away, and how to help anyone and everyone she could along the way. (In the most humble, loving, and YUMMY way possible!)

After sharing Debbie’s journey with my wonderful co-workers, they were all interested in what she was discovering, in addition to being curious if this could really be done in a fairly quick and “tasteful” way! So 12 woman (along with too many kids to count) piled into my kitchen for a night of learning, tasting, sharing, and most importantly, taking that first step towards supporting each other in the often times confusing journey towards healthy (and somewhat easy) cooking.

So after we had tasted a variety of different Mediterranean dishes, shared tips, talked about weight issues, taste issues, and picky kids/husband issues. We ended the night with a promise to meet back around the table in the near future for more support, ideas, and updates. When the last person had left the table I looked at my mother-in-law, who now had a little bit of dark chocolate on her cheek and big grin on her face, and asked her what she thought of the evening, she just beamed from ear to ear. This made me realize that in the end, making a difference in someone’s life is pretty far from doing “something for nothing”!

And of course, here are all the delicious recipes we got to try:






HUMMUS

1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans (rinsed & drained)
¼ cup tahini (sesame paste)
¼ cup lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

1. Process all of the ingredients in a food processer or blender until smooth.
2. Transfer to a serving bowl and chill until the flavors have blended. About 30 minutes.
Serve with veggies such as sliced peppers, cucumbers, carrots, etc.





KALE CHIPS
2 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil, plus a little more for the baking sheets
2 bunches of kale or collards, washed and thoroughly dried, ribs removed, and leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
A sprinkle of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat 2 or 3 large baking sheets with oil.
2. Combine the kale and 2 tablespoons oil in a large bowl and massage the oil into leaves, making sure every bit is covered.
3. Arrange the kale in a single layer on the baking sheets and bake for 15-25 minutes flipping the kale now and then with tongs and turning the baking sheets or switching racks if the kale starts to brown too quickly in spots. The kale will go dark green and crispy; do not let it brown.
4. Sprinkle with seas salt. (You can do this either before or after baking)





TABOULI

2 cups cracked wheat (bulgur)
2 cups very hot water
1 cucumber, chopped
4 small tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch green onions, sliced
½ cup mint, chopped
2 cups parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

Dressing:
½ cup lemon juice
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

1. Soak the cracked wheat in the hot water until the water is absorbed – about 20 minutes.
2. Drain any excess water.
3. Combine the salad ingredients, including wheat, mix the dressing ingredients together and stir into mixture. Chill.





TUSCAN CHICKEN

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
8 chicken thighs, with skin and bones
2 large shallots, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 package frozen artichoke hearts
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 cup pitted green olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, divided

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Heat olive oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium high heat.
3. Salt and pepper both sides of chicken thighs. Transfer chicken to skillet and brown for five minutes on each side. Remove chicken and set aside.
4. Add shallots and garlic and saute for three to four minutes. Deglaze pan with wine, scraping to loosen the brown bits. Add tomatoes, artichokes, olives, one teaspoon salt, one half teaspoon pepper, and one tablespoon of oregano. Saute for two to three minutes.
5. Nestle chicken in tomato mixture. Transfer skillet to oven and bake for 30 minutes. Use a large casserole dish if your skillet is not big enough to accommodate the chicken,
6. Garnish with one tablespoon oregano and serve immediately.





CHOCOLATE NUT BARK

1 cup(s) walnuts (or almonds, etc.)
1 pound(s) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup(s) pistachios, coarsely chopped (or pumpkins seeds)
1/4 cup(s) dried cranberries
Cracked sea salt
Unsweetened coconut (optional)

1. Heat oven to 400ºF.
2. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, tossing once, until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and coarsely chop.
3. Line a baking sheet with nonstick foil. Melt chocolate in microwavable bowl on high 2 minutes. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until completely smooth.
4. Scrape melted chocolate onto the prepared pan and spread into a rectangle (about 14 x 10 in.).
5. Scatter walnuts, pistachios, cranberries and coconut evenly over chocolate. Crack some sea salt over the top. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Break into pieces.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

2014 KIDS HOLIDAY GIFT BUYING GUIDE: ROUND ONE

I really love gift-giving. If money grew on trees, I would buy everyone I know a Christmas present. Now if 'free time' grew on trees, that would be a dream come true because then I would totally MAKE everyone Christmas presents. A girl can dream, right?! There is something about the holidays that makes me want to sit at home all day in my sweatpants, drink tea, and make DIY christmas ornaments and felt advent calendars. If I ever get to any of those things, trust me, you will all hear about it. Don't hold your breath.

Anyways, turns out we don't have a 'free time' tree growing in our backyard, so that means everyone is getting store bought presents. Here are a few I have on my shopping list for my nieces and nephews.



1. ORANGE MINI TOP $54.50
Don't you just want to hop in?! My friend bought one of these for her niece and I guess she just LOVED it. And really, what could be funnier than a dizzy toddler?!

2. OLLIBLOCKS $12 digital download
You purchase and download the file, print it out, cut and modpodge the faces, bodies and legs onto little wooden blocks and you have one seriously adorable gift - or gifts depending on how many sets you chose to make. This is a great one for people like me who like crafting. You have to check out the Caravan Shoppe. They specialize in digital downloads for home, family, and fun and have the most adorable designs. My olliblocks are at the print shop right now. I can't wait to get started!

3. WUBBLE BUBBLE BALL $19.99
This thing is AWESOME! It inflates up to 3 ft, has won several awards AND it has a lifetime guarantee!!! As the tagline says, "It looks like a bubble, plays like a ball!" Check out their website for videos that show it in action.

4. BEKA BLOCKS $50-$300
Do you remember these as a kid?! I do! They are good old fashioned wooden building blocks. Ellis has them at daycare she can play with them for hours. BEKA is a St Paul, Minnesota company that makes all natural wood products that are made right here in the USA.

5. BEADING KIT (CREATE YOUR OWN) AROUND $20
When I was little, my Aunt put together a beading kit for me and gave it to me for Christmas. It had all different kinds of beads, string, clasps, wire, and even pliers. I spent hours making necklaces and bracelets and I will always remember it as one of my favorite gifts. Even when I was little, I was crafty. All I ever wanted to do was create things. My Niece (almost 4) is a crafty little one, so buying for her is my favorite. I put together a little beading kit for her this year with things from Consumer Crafts. I have bought a lot of crafts in my day and trust me, this site has great prices and they carry pretty much anything and everything you could ever want. Here is what I put in her kit: storage box ($4.97) / various plastic beads ($1-$3) / string ($3.57) / key chain clips ($0.97) / ball chain necklaces ($2.37)

6. FACE PAINTING STICKS $2.97
What kid doesn't love having their face painted? The size and price is perfect for a stocking stuffer!

7. LOST MY NAME PERSONALIZED CHILDREN'S BOOK - $29.99
I am a sucker for personalized gifts, so naturally, I am drawn to products like this one. I have seen so many companies try and do the 'put your kids name in a book' thing and to be honest, I have not been overly impressed. That was until I saw these books. They do not just pop your kids name into the story, the story is actually about your child going on an adventure to find each letter of their name. Ummmm... why didn't I come up with this genius idea?! Oh and the illustrations are adorable. I got one for my nephew and one for Ellis for when she is a bit older. This is the kind of book a kid keeps for a lifetime.

8. SCULPEY CLAY VARIETY PACK WITH TOOLS $21.94
Yes, this is another favorite from my childhood. I would make beads and clay creatures for hours and my mom would bake them in the oven. This is a must for any crafty kid. Ohhh the memories!

9. DohVinci DELUX STYLER $5.99
It's a cross between a cake decorating set and a caulk gun! Fit a tube of the soft compound (from the makers of Play-Doh) into the styler, then squeeze to make 3-D dots, swirls, and lines on paper, cardboard, even wood. Leave the creation to dry overnight for a permanent design.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

HAPPY HALLOWEEN 2014

Happy Halloween - one day late! To be honest, I have never been that into Halloween, but now that we have kids, it has a whole new meaning. We took Ellis trick-or-treating to a few houses last year, but she was so little that she really didn't understand it and I doubt we even let her have much for candy at that age. This year she caught on real quick and she couldn't have been more thrilled to be getting treat after treat after treat! Pure joy, I tell you!

The kiddos had two sets of costumes this year. Ellis went as Miss Piggy (VERY fitting) and Lennon went as Kermit the Frog to the kids Halloween party at my work. I bought Ellis a princess crown at Target for $.99, made some pig ears out of foam and felt then sewed them onto the crown, made her a piggy nose out of a toilet paper roll and felt, bought her a boa and she wore a tutu she already had and a strand of fake pearls of mine. It was cheap and totally did the trick! For Lennon, I took a pair of Ellis' old white leggings that had a hole in the knee and a stain, a white stained onesie and two pairs of Lennon's white socks (one for his hands and one for his feet) and died them all green with Rit liquid dye. I cut green felt to make the scalloped pieces around his neck, feet, and hands and my super talented sister in law knitted him the most adorable frog hat (in one night)! Oh, how I love homemade halloween costumes!

It ended up being freezing on Halloween here in Wisconsin (surprise, surprise) so we went to plan B for costumes so we could incorporate coats. I ended up pulling out a bunny costume that my mom made me when I was little for Ellis and I put Lennon in a hand-me-down snow suit that just happened to be brown. I looked at them and thought..... hmmm.... this is totally Ralphie and Randy from A Christmas Story! We went with it! ;)







Sunday, October 26, 2014

How Family Pictures REALLY Go

It’s fall y’all! Well, actually, it’s been fall for a while now and it just dawned on me that we should probably get our family pictures taken so we have something to slap on a Christmas card in about a month or so. In the back of my mind, I knew I should get a session on the calendar, but I have been dragging my feet. For one, I HATE getting family pictures taken and for two, I have been selfishly wanting to lose the last few pounds of baby weight before I send out pictures to about 100 of our closest friends and family. I am just being honest (and self conscious) here.

I figured we should get this over with, so I called our friend Kari to see if she could take our pictures yesterday. I asked her maybe two days in advance and luckily, she had an opening! Fall for photographers is like tax season for accountants, so I said I would edit them if she spent an hour with us taking them.

Family pictures are kind of funny to me. Like I said, I hate taking them, but I love getting them back. Everyone looks so happy and the kiddos look so sweet. Well, let me tell you, that was NOT what was going on during our family photo sesh. Here is a quick recap of how it really goes – at least for us…

First off, I always fuss way too much trying to color coordinate and figure out what everyone is wearing. It usually consists of a last minute run to Target or Old Navy because we never seem to have anything cute. Then, we strategically plan out when we need to get everyone showered/bathed, dressed, and fed/nursed so we can to get to the session on time. Right before we left, Lennon had a blow out. Logan changed him and put him in a new (unfussed about) outfit. We then got everyone in the car and we were on our way! Half way there Ellis says, “Oh no! Look at Lennon!” from the backseat. I unbuckled my seatbelt and looked back and he had spit up all over his 'plan B' outfit. I swore under my breath, sat back down, buckled up, and hoped it dried by the time we get there. We got to the park and it was beautiful out and actually pretty warm. (Yay! One thing went our way!) We then gathered up the kids and a cute antique quilt that I love and followed Kari to the spot to take our pictures. So far, so good I thought. We were finally all set up and Kari was ready to take our pictures when Ellis decided to grow horns and become a devil child. So, the rest of the hour went pretty much like this – the wind was blowing my hair in my face and Lennon’s hat off his head, Ellis was chewing on her scarf, both kids were sneezing and had boogers everywhere, Logan and I were arguing b/c we both thought the other one should've grabbed the diaper bag from the car, Ellis wouldn't stand still or look at the camera and from time to time decided to sit in the dirt (in her fussed about outfit), throw rocks and take off her shoes. Poor Kari was standing there trying her best to get a good shot while, I assume, secretly wondered if I was going to throw my two year old in the bush next to us.

Can anyone relate? Are we the only completely dysfunctional family when it comes to family pictures?! Is there such thing as a two year old that stands still, smiles and looks cute for the camera?! I asked Kari at what age kids get better with the picture taking and she said about six years old. Well, I guess our next family photo session will be in 2020 when Lennon is six!!! ;)

Anyways, out of the 196 frames, we got about seven good pictures that didn’t require major editing and head swapping. We look so happy, huh? It’s all lies I tell you, lies! Lol






Here is what about 95% of them looked like:


And now on to the fun and EASY part --- picking your family Christmas card design! There are tons if companies to go to for your printed family photo card, but Minted is my absolute favorite! Their designs are very much my style and because I am 100% a paper snob, I love that they print their cards on beautiful, thick paper. I was just looking over their site and found these adorable holiday ornament cards! What a great idea! If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that we are a rather thrifty family – and by thrifty, I mean cheap. I know several families that have done away with the whole holiday card tradition because it actually costs quite a bit of money. There is the cost of the photographer, new clothes if you choose to purchase them, the printing of the cards and then the cost of mailing them out to all of your friends and family. Even though it is pricey to keep up with this tradition, it is one I refuse to let go. I LOVE getting eveyones holiday cards in the mail. The entire month of December, I cannot wait to get our mail! I also always keep one of our own cards every year and it is so fun to look back at them throughout the years. We have been sending them out since we got married in 2008. What I love about the holiday ornament cards is that people will probably hang them on their trees and keep them for years to come, instead of just pitching them once the season is over. I dont know about you, but it makes me feel just a little better about spending all that money. Here are a few of my favorite designs from Minted:


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

WELCOME LENNON WHITAKER

Yes, after two and a half months, I am finally getting back to blogging! I have lots to share, including the arrival of our sweet little man, Lennon. He is Benjamin Button, a little old soul. I love him to the moon and back and feel so blessed to have him.

Announcement: Designed by me. Photograph courtesy of Roots to Wings Photography.