Thursday, August 29

A Fairy Princess Garden Party

When we started talking about Maggie's 4th birthday she had at least a dozen ideas for her party.  These included a parade, a dance party, making sno cones, having a tea party...and the list goes on and on.  When I was a Wish Granter for Make-a-Wish Foundation we'd play a game with kids to find out what their true wish was.  We'd ask, "would you rather do x or have y" and so on until we established their favorite wish.  So I did this with Maggie and the winning party idea was to have a gymnastics party.  "Yay! We're having a gymnastics party," I said.  Then I got The Look -- the one that says I have it completely wrong and she says plainly, "No mom. We're having a fairy princess party. In a garden. With a stage."  Oh girls.

So, we started talking about her ideas for a Fairy Princess Party.  She had a lot of ideas, many of which I had to convince her were a little too grand for a simple 4th birthday party.  Here are the ideas that stuck and the result of Maggie's Fairy Princess Garden Party.

Credits:  My dear friend, Becca Murdaugh of Social Graces, took these photos. She also featured it on her blog.  She's a sweetheart.

Because fairies always live in the garden, we set the table and decor up in a well-landscaped part of our backyard.  The table is just a child's size desk covered in burlap and moss leftover from previous parties. The toadstools are cheap Ikea stools covered in fabric.

Each girl received her own Fairy Princess costume.  The tiaras and wands were ordered in bulk from Amazon and I'll used the leftovers for gifts in the future. The tutus were homemade by my sister-in-law and the wings came from Zulily. 

Each girl had her own picnic lunch served in these cute berry baskets I found for $1 at Wal-Mart.  They're plastic and reusable.  Lunch included garden-themed snacks: flower shaped PB&J, carrots, cherry tomatoes, berries and pea snap chips.

Thank goodness I always have a lot of leftover party supplies on hand.  These mason jars were filled with raspberry lemonade and decorated with pink tulle and polka dot straws.

Place cards were attached to cute stands found at Hobby Lobby. I love the ladybug detail.

Maggie loves pink and purple, hence the colors for the party. She also loves butterflies.  I took an antiqued bird cage I had and filled it with pink and purple butterflies, cut on simple cardstock and hung with fishing wire. This was the focal point for the table.

Vanilla cupcakes and vanilla icing. Simple and doesn't stain. I strayed from the Magnolia Bakery recipe I usually use to try Giada's recipe since it contains less flour and are slightly less guilty of junk.  They are wonderful cupcakes!  I used Sprinkles vanilla icing recipe, cutting the sugar back by 3/4C and it is wonderful.

Edible decor is always a hit with kids.  I used pixie sticks, gummy flowers and gummy butterflies.   Oh sugar!

While the girls ate lunch I read Julie Andrew's The Very Fairy Princess.  This is a great book!

The girls made suncatcher necklaces.  For a how-to check out The Artful Parent.  We used a mini muffin tin to turn these into necklaces and saved the extras and made them into magnets for Maggie's art board.

The one thing Maggie wouldn't give up was a stage. She loves to dance.  So Jared built her this great little stage.  We turned on Pandora, channeled Choo Choo Soul and the girls danced to their hearts' content.

I pray constantly for the friends of my children.  I know there may come a time in life, too soon for my comfort, where friends are more influential than mom and dad.  I'm so grateful my little girl is making great friends with these other lovely little girls.  They are a sweet blessing to our family.

Wednesday, June 5

No Clutter - Artkive Kids' Art Projects

The first time I had to throw away some of Maggie's art projects from school I had a lot of guilt.  What if she wanted to keep the scribbles she made when she was two?  The problem is, I'm not a keep-everything-on-my-fridge kind of gal.  I like things put away, nice and neat.   One finger painting at a time on the fridge is my limit.

Here's my solution for guilt-free disposal of nearly all art projects:  Artkive.

Artkive is an app where we can archive (get it?) all our kids doodles, scribbles, and crafts.  Each time Maggie makes something - or 10,000 somethings like she is in Paint Camp this week - I take a photo of it with my iPhone and store it in an album.  Then I can share that album with friends and family, or print the album.  It also allows me to make notes about the masterpiece.

Hope this helps someone else out.  Artkive away...


Monday, June 3

Don't Buy Taco Seasoning, And Other Things

A couple years ago I was making tacos and realized I didn't have a packet of taco seasoning on hand.  Oh no! What to do, what to do?  Then it occurred to me -- taco seasoning is just a bunch of spices mixed together and I probably have all of them. I know you're thinking I'm a genius right about now.

I've grown up in a world where if we can buy it, we buy it no matter how simple it may be to make ourselves.  It's so natural to just put things on our shopping list even though making it from scratch is most likely cheaper, more convenient and healthier.  So this night with the no taco seasoning started another change in how I think about food -- what's in that stuff I buy at the store and can I just make it myself.

Here are just a few things we should never buy because it simply just doesn't make sense.

Taco Seasoning
Mix together: 1T chili powder, 1/4t each garlic powder, crushed red pepper, dried oregano, 1/2t paprika, 1 1/2t ground cumin, 1t sea salt, 1t black pepper
Use 2T and 1/2 cup water per 1lb of meat

A standard package of taco seasoning at the grocery store contains corn flour, corn starch, sugar and a whole lot of salt. Yuck.

Whipped Cream
Put a mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for a few minutes to chill.  Add 1 cup heavy cream to the bowl.  And whisk away until you have whipped cream.  If you want it sweetened add 1-2T sugar or honey, or any other flavoring to the bowl before adding the cream. This makes about 2 cups of whipped cream.

Whipped Cream is just one ingredient really -- two if you sweeten it.  Cool Whip, the most popular brand of whipped cream, has as many as 10 ingredients and not one of them is cream.

Shredded or Sliced Cheese
Let's just avoid additional and unnecessary processing by the manufacturers when possible and all the preservatives and additives. Just slice or shred a block of cheese. Grate the parmesan yourself.

Flavored Yogurt
Buy a 24oz container of plain Greek yogurt, whole fat preferred but low fat is good still.  Scoop as much as you want into a bowl and flavor it with a bit of honey and fresh berries. Use a fork to mash and mix together.

Even the best brands of yogurt use artificial sweeteners and preservatives in their flavored varieties.

Microwave Popcorn
I didn't love the day I learned microwave popcorn is pretty nasty stuff.  Popcorn is a superfood.  Microwave popcorn, not so much. I remember my great grandma Ruth always having popcorn on her stove so I gave it a try and it's surprisingly easy.  To make:  Put 3T oil (I use coconut) in a sauce pan with a few popcorn kernels   Cover with a lid and heat over medium until you hear the kernals pop.  Add some sea salt and 1/3C kernels   Replace lid and remove from heat.  For about 30 seconds shake the pan around to get all the kernels nicely coated with salt and oil. Return the pan to the heat and shake it from time to time.  The kernels will start popping.  Once the popping slows remove the lid and you've got popcorn. Then add any additional flavorings you want.  I prefer butter or nutritional yeast.

Skip the oreos! If you want cookies and hate baking, anyone can throw together some yummy no bake cookies in a few minutes.  If you're willing to turn an oven on it only takes 2 bowls and 9-10 basic ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies.

Ice Cream -- Well, maybe buy this some times.
I will not give up my love for Ben & Jerry's Half Baked.  Can I get an amen sister?  But for a basic vanilla ice cream don't buy it, make it.  You'll need an ice cream maker so if you don't have one ignore this...or better yet buy one! You won't regret it.  Basic recipe:  Put 3 cups of dairy (I use 2C heavy cream and 1C half and half) in a medium pot with 3/4C sugar, the pulp of 2 vanilla beans and (this tip comes from Alton Brown) 2T peach preserves.  Warm it over medium heat until just before it begins to bubble.  Chill in the fridge overnight.  Put it in your ice cream maker the next day and then in the freezer until you're ready to eat it.

There are many more items, like spaghetti sauce, we'll post about later but I'd love to hear what you stopped buying and started making.

I also recently made laundry soap.  Where we live there is a lot of calcium in the water and all my laundry, no matter which soap I tried, came out with an odd smell.  So I tried Sugarpie Farmhouse's Homemade Laundry Soap and I'm hooked. This stuff is amazing.


Sunday, June 2

Today is Today, You Don't Get It Back Tomorrow

Somedays this is how I feel.  I just want to stick my tongue out at the world and say "phewy!" Or like today, I just want to growl, stomp my foot and throw a fit...for absolutely no reason.  Can I act like a toddler pleassse?  Pretty please?!

Sometimes we all just get in bad moods even when nothing is really seriously wrong.  If we're honest with ourselves rarely is there anything worth getting upset about.  Of course there are little things --inconveniences, annoyances, even difficult things but nothing that's worth stealing our joy.

There's a truth I realized some years ago:  Today is only available today. You can't wake up tomorrow and do today over again.  Once today is gone, it's gone.  

I hate that truth when I'm not living a day to my best.  A lyric in Matt Redman's song 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) says "Let me be singing when the evening comes."  That struck me today.  Will I be singing when the evening comes or will I be exhausted from a day where I was upset about this, that and the other. And if it's the latter that is a day wasted.  A day wasted! UGH -- I don't get to do that day over again and I wasted it.

So this is my little note of encouragement, to myself and to you, to try and do today what will allow you to go to bed singing.

Before we went to bed we had chocolate chip cookies and milk on the kitchen floor.  On a day when I just couldn't seem to get rid of the grumps this provided some smiles and giggles.  And yummy chocolate chip cookies (click for recipe - Kim Boyce's Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies).

On another note:
I struggle with whether or not to write.  I have a lot to say, it fills up my head all day and night but I doubt anyone wants to read it.  Then I had a long visit with a friend last week and she encouraged me to put my thoughts to blog.  I found this verse today that also persuades me:

Matthew 5:15  "Don't hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all."


Friday, May 10

My Preschooler Is Bossy and Our Summer Lesson Plans

I have three-year-old going on thirteen.  Or at least she tells us every second, of every minute, of every hour that she is in fact a big girl now.  This is proven, she says, because she can brush her own teeth and do her own hair and she looks like a princess.  Goodness gracious!

One night this week we were all outside working in our yard.  As hubby and I are mulching, princess starts bossing us around.  Jared (hubby) says, "Maggie, you're going to make a great CEO one day."  With hands on her hips and full of sarcasm she respond, "You sure about that daddy?  Are you really sure?!"  Seriously people, I can't make this stuff up.  She's a smart little cookie and she knows it, so I'm going to try and harness her big girl attitude into some productive learning this summer.  She wants to be a big girl?  Then bring it on sister!

It's perfect timing to see if the munchkins living in my house and I can work together productively, and without too much injury.  I've been researching homeschool education, mostly because I think God is pushing me to (research that is, not so sure about the actual homeschooling just yet).  Week one is in the books and I have to admit, it went pretty smoothly...better actually.  Both Maggie and I seemed to enjoy it.  We'll see how we are come August.

Here's what we've planned for the summer.

I asked Maggie what her goals were for the summer.  I had to explain what goals meant but she got it and after thinking all of 10 seconds answered:

1. Learn to write my alphabet
2. Learn to tie my shoes
3. Learn to swim in the deep end without floaties

#1 I can handle.  #2 and #3 terrify me a little bit.

Activity Calendar
I'm a wee bit type A.  I keep a chalkboard calendar in our laundry room, a printed planner, an Outlook calendar and and iPhone calendar.  I like calendars.  So does Maggie.  She asks every morning what we're doing and where we are going so I created her a calendar (naturally).

This is just an inexpensive magnetic 7-day calendar from Target.  I made magnets using graphics and words for each activity she may have that week.  I also made smaller weather magnets.  Free graphics can be found online with a simple Google search of what you're looking for.  Each Sunday evening at bed time we check the week's weather and she puts the corresponding magnet next to each day. Then I tell her what activities she has and she fills the calendar.  This gives her that little bit on independence she's craving.

Bob Books
We've started reading Bob Books - Alphabet and Pre-Reading Skills.  This is mostly review for her because she knows her shapes and the alphabet, but she's not quite ready to read. She says she loooooves the books so I'll take that as a big thumbs up.

Bob Books - Alphabet

Bob Books - Pre-Reading Skills

Pre-K Homeschool Curriculum - Letters, Writing, and Math
The best $15 you'll ever spend on your kids education is's Pre-K "Letter of the Week" printables.

We just finished with the letter 'A' this week and Maggie loved all the activities and games.  It's not just learning her letters but it's also writing, logic, math, sorting, puzzles, etc.  Each week Maggie chooses the letter she wants to work on and at the end of the week she puts a sticker on the letter we completed - I found a letter chart in a pre-K workbook we had and hung it on the fridge.

She said she wanted to do B next week because, duh, it comes after A.  Until she realized that "popcorn" starts with P and if we did P she could have popcorn.  Then she also figured out playdough starts with P and we could make playdough.  So now we're doing P.  I told you -- smart cookie!

This is 100% her idea and not mine.  Teaching my 3 year-old to tie a ribbon and shoes sounds like as much fun as, well, nothing.  It sounds horrible.  But she asked so I'm going to do my best.  Pray for me.
I've found some great resources though and one I particularly like is this shoebox idea.

Camps - Science, Art, and Swim Lessons
Because I'm pretty sure I nearly failed every science class I ever took, I've enrolled her in this awesome class called "Meet the Quirkles."  The material is available to anyone, any where but we're really lucky to live just a town away from it's creator, Terri Johnson, who teaches Meet the Quirkles at her business Fiction, Facts, & Fun.

She'll also do a one-week painting camp and take weekly swim lessons because (a) painting is her favorite thing and (b) learning to swim is necessary, essential and critical.

Wish me luck friends!  Either this is going to go really well, or she's going to stay in the shallow end all summer, wear velcro shoes and go back to school with her little g's still looking like balloons.

Blessings always,

Wednesday, January 23

Almond Flour Banana Bread

I will not diet.  Will not.  I refuse. Anyone else with me?  I just don't get dieting.  Why do something for the short term, rather than make changes for your lifetime?  Sure I could stand to loose a few pounds, and if I stopped all this baking that would probably happen, but I would be one very cranky, not much fun lady.  You would not want to be my friend if I stopped baking. Instead, several years ago I started paying just a little more attention to the food I make and eat.

It started with a very small, simple change -- I started reading food labels.  Anything with corn syrup didn't go in my shopping cart.  If sugar or salt was in the first few ingredients, we didn't buy it. That was it.  Over the next few years, especially when we started having kids, I made more changes -- a little organic here, a little more protein there.  Then I moved next to this gal name Jen. Jen is nearly the polar opposite of me and that's why I love her so.  She started introducing me to ingredients like coconut oil and spelt flour, and that started more small changes in how I cook and bake.

Just the other day I had a big "ah ha" moment.  Ever have those? I literally stopped in my tracks at the grocery store -- nearly everything in my cart came from the produce or refrigerator sections.  The only isle I had gone down was to buy almond flour and xanthum gum. Say what?!?  In that moment I realized I had really changed how my family ate.  And that gave me joy.  

Here's a new banana bread recipe that my family, and all our friends who stop by to have some, love.  Bake it. Love it.  But don't expect your normal banana bread.  It's a little gooey in the center and has crusty edges.  The recipe posted below was adapted from the orignal recipe posted here: 

Makes 1 Loaf
  • 2 C Almond Flour
  • 3/4 C Sucanat
  • 3/4 t Cinnamon
  • 1/2 t Nutmeg
  • 3/4 t Baking Powder
  • 1/2 t Kosher Salt
  • 4 Organic Eggs
  • 1/4 Cup Coconut Oil
  • 2 T Raw Honey
  • 3 Mashed Over-ripe Bananas
  • 1 t Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 C Walnuts
  • 1/2 C Dark Chocolate Chips
Preheat oven to 350.
In a large bowl combine the almond flour, Sucanat, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and salt.
In another bowl mash the bananas.  Add the eggs, oil, honey and vanilla.  
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, just until combined.  
Fold in the walnuts.
Pour 1/3 of the batter into prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle in 1/3 of the chocolate chips. Repeat until all batter and chips are in the pan.  Sprinkle additional walnuts on top.
Bake for 1 hour, give or take a couple minutes -- do the toothpick test.
Let the loaf cool completely before removing it from the pan.


Almond Flour - Almond flour is high in protein  low in carbs and low in sugar, and a great wheat-free alternative for baking. To be it's decadent and by itself smells and taste like a good cake or tarte. 

Sucanat - This is a brand of very minimally processed cane sugar.  Unlike refined sugar, Sucanat maintains most of the molasses from the originally sugar cane.  It's the same calorie count as granulated sugar but it has good vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.