Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Land of 10,000 Kisses

So, we of this little Irish Norwegian family are Minnesotans. Not by birth, but by circumstance and choice. This state we call "home" is referred to as The Land of 10,000 Lakes. The truth is that there are probably more like 15,000 or so lakes. There are lakes everywhere in this lovely state. They dominate the landscape, which is a fantastic thing.

Where I live my life is the Land of 10,000 Kisses. Give or take a few thousand. I figure about 10,000 though, since my favorite Irish fellow and I shared our first kiss 10 years ago today. At the very least we've probably shared 3 kisses a day since then (minus a summer apart...Spain for me, DC for him...but we made up for that I'm sure!), so the math says at least 10-15,000 kisses since that first magical one. I remember it clearly. With a giggle.

What's funny is that, the night of our first "real" date---to an Olive Garden in Jackson, MI----the Cutest Irish Fellow on the planet told me he could see me being the mother of his children. I thought it an adorable comment, but never in a million years would've dreamed it to come true! We were opposites attracting, to say the least.

I'm glad that he was right and I was wrong. I'm unbelievably blessed to live with him and our three kidlets in the Land of 10,000 Kisses, where love dominates our landscape through the up and the down. God has richly blessed our lives and orchestrated us to come together at a tiny college in a tiny town 10 years ago. We are so grateful.

image courtesy dakota community college
I am also incredibly grateful to have a love that has grown more deeply than I could have imagined back in 1999 when we started dating, or in 2001 when we tied the knot. Here in Minnesota, wild prairie grass is prevalent and gorgeous. The thing about planting a prairie, like planting a good marriage, is that a lot of the important growth is below the surface. To weather the hot summers and the cruel winter, the prairie has to have a strong root structure. Our love has definitely grown that structure over time, with God at the center of our marriage. We have gone through ups and downs, trials and struggles. But with deep roots, we know that our prairie will continue to thrive and be gorgeous through the years.

I am thankful for that first kiss so many years ago and every one since.

Friday, December 11, 2009

LEGO Piñata Tutorial

Little Man, as previously mentioned, is obsessed with LEGOs. It helps that his daddy (my favorite Irish hubby!) loves them, too. Those boys play LEGOs for hours! So, when Little Man decided on a LEGO themed birthday party, I was all in. I love getting a birthday theme together and going all out, but in simple, affordable ways.

A piñata is obviously a party must for young kidlets, so I knew I would have to attempt one. I hadn't seen much LEGO anything in the party stores, with the exception of LEGO Star Wars (which was our theme last year--Star Wars). So, I knew I'd have to make the LEGO piñata.

I haven't made papier-mâché since 4th grade and was a little nervous to tackle this project, for fear of it not being perfect (I have issues. There. I said it.). I actually didn't even tell Little Man about it until I knew it was cute enough. (Again with the issues!)! Luckily, this project was super easy, ridiculously quick and the price was right (practically free!)! Three things I love in a project!

To start out, you'll need to make your papier-mâché "goo." I scoured the net and landed at Family Fun (which, btw, is a FAVORITE magazine of mine...such cute projects and ideas for kids and families). They listed their favorite recipe here and it worked perfectly. Make the papier-mâché:

Papier-Mâché (courtesy of Family Fun)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups cold water, divided
3 TB sugar

Bring 2 cups of the water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and reserved 2 cups cold water in a bowl. Add the flour mixture to the boiling water and bring up to a boil, whisking as needed to combine. Once it has come to a steady boil, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. It will thicken as it cools, then it is ready to use. Store in the fridge after use; it will take about 2-3 days of separate coats of papier-mâché to build your piñata.

 While your Papier-Mâché cools, get your fancy, high priced tools. Just kidding. You need:
-2 cereal boxes of the same size (Little Miss Pink loves Cinnamon Toast Crunch)
-fruit and nut cups, or dixie cups with the top lip of the cup cut off could work, too

-lots of newspaper
-rope to hang your creation from at the end

 Lay your cereal boxes on their backs and stack on top of each other. On the long sides of the boxes (where the nutritional information that I ignore is listed...!), cut a rectangle (I used an envelope to trace the shape) out of the cardboard with sharp knife.

Repeat on both long, skinny sides of the boxes. Then, cut a larger rectangle out of one wide sides of the boxes. You will leave one wide side, and both box tops and bottoms intact.
See, the goal is to create a frame for your Papier-Mâché to go around. If you left the boxes fully intact and then did the Papier-Mâché over the top, the piñata would be practically unbreakable!

Now, tape the box tops closed and then tape the boxes together at the top and corners where the rectangle holes aren't. Does that make sense? We want to tape our frame together. I used painter's tape, but masking or box sealing tape should work just as well.

Next, cut a hole in the top that you'll use to insert your candy later (I did end up papier-mâché-ing over it, but it was easy to re-open at the end). Also, get your rope ready and put that in place, too. I put the rope at the top, as well as the candy slit. I taped the rope into place so it wouldn't wobble around.

Now, for the "LEGO" part. I consulted the household LEGO expert (aka my husband) and he said that, for a rectangle LEGO of this size, I should have 8 little knobby parts (who knows what those are called!?!) on top. I used Fruit and Nut cups from Michael's. See?

They were the perfect size and proportion for the LEGO I was building. I taped them on using Scotch tape. It was looking more like a LEGO already!

Then, I cut lots and lots of strips of newspaper in various widths, from 1" up to about 3". Lots and lots of them.

By now, your "glue" or Papier-Mâché should be cool. Mine wasn't quite cool, but I'm tough as nails and wore latex gloves (which I HIGHLY recommend...this stuff is messy. I also wore an apron!) and couldn't feel the heat of the not-quite-cooled Papier-Mâché. Must be the Norwegian in me.

This is the fun part! Run a strip of newspaper through the Papier-Mâché, squeegee it off with your fingers and apply it to the box frame.

I did all sides in one sitting, then hung it up to dry overnight. Notice the gloves, apron and plastic cover on the table...I recommend all of these! It is messy, but fun. 
Cover the Papier-Mâché tightly and refrigerate overnight until you apply the next layer.

I ended up applying 3 coats, but the LEGO was really tough for the kids to break. I think 2 layers would've been perfect.

Repeat the layering again. I did it this time in front of the TV! So easy! The second and third layers went on in less than 5 minutes.

Once the layers have dried, it's time for paint. Alternately, you could apply colored tissue paper to the top, but I thought paint would yield the truest color result I was looking for in a LEGO. And it was free, since I already had the acrylic craft paint. Tempera would work, too.

It took about three coats of paint, which dried very quickly between coats.

  I re-cut the opening for the candy and stabilized the rope with blue painter's tape and painted over the top again.

I let it dry overnight and it was ready to join Little Man's Sixth Birthday Extravaganza! First, it was on the table as a centerpiece...who doesn't love a gigantic LEGO?

Then, once the kids had arrived, we headed outside for the piñata fun!

All in all it was an easy project, the kids loved it, and it was practically free! A hit all around. My only complaint was that it took too long to break (which is especially problematic in Minnesota when it's cold and getting dark at 5:00pm...less of a problem in the summer, I'm sure!). But other than that, this project was great! I hope you'll try it!

I will post some more details of the LEGO party. I've already shared the invitations here and here, and a sneak peak at the party in pictures, too.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Cookies in a Jar

We are so very blessed to have teachers in our kids' lives that care deeply for them and do a great job of teaching them. At Sunday School, the boys have 3 teachers who work diligently and passionately to teach them about the love of Christ and His life. At preschool and kindergarten, they have 4 great teachers who are kind, fun, and all around great! As Thank You gifts for our Little Men's teachers at school and for Sunday School, we decided to make Cookies In A Jar this year. Their everyday school teachers are getting another gift, too, that I'll touch on another day. I wanted to give gifts that were handmade and, hopefully, useful and special, too.

This project was very quick (under an hour) and totally kid friendly, with the exception of a bit of cutting.

To start off, I got 1/2 a yard of Christmas fabric at Wal-Mart. I love that I can go there to pick up fabric, chocolate chips and (if I needed them) truck tires. I am a big fan of only getting in and out of the car once, especially when it's -2 like it was when I ran out the other day!

I wanted to cut circles of fabric to go over the finished jars. In true Mostly Mom style, though, I had to mess up 2 times before I found the right size for the circle. The final product ended up being a circle about 6" in diameter. I cut as many as I needed, and 1/2 yard was the perfect amount for 9 circles.
I used a regular pair of scissors, but pinking shears would've been even cuter!

Next, gather your recipe ingredients and quart sized jars, spoons, etc. You'll need granulated sugar, brown sugar (light or dark), all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, oats, dried cranberries, and white chocolate chips. For spooning/pouring ingredients, I grabbed a flexible deli container (to mix and pour the flour, salt, and baking powder/soda), a spoon, my espresso tamper, and a wide-mouth funnel for canning.

We just did these assembly line fashion, with everyone (even Little Miss Pink) chipping in. They loved it!

Layer in the white sugar and tamp it down with an espresso tamper, or use a small ladle.

Then add the packed brown sugar and tamp it down again.

Next, in a flexible (ie bendy, so your kids don't dump the ingredients when they try to pour it in the jar!) container--like a clean deli container--mix the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Tamp it down. Gently, or flour will poof in your kiddo's faces! This step takes the longest. If you were super efficient, you could pre-measure and mix each portion of the flour mixture and have it ready for your kids to dump. But I think learning patience is a virtue. And I didn't think of that first!

Now comes the really fun stuff! Add in the oats, followed by the dried cranberries (try to keep your kids from eating most of them!).

Finally, the white chocolate chips go in!

Doesn't that look lovely?

 Place the jar lids on top and then the fabric circles. Next comes the labels with the instructions for baking. Don't be like me and realize the labels need to go on before the rings! Or skip the labels I did and do a separate tag.

After the jar lids and fabric were on, I placed this cutie pie label on top, listing the mixing and baking instructions for the cookies. I used Post-It Shipping labels, but you could easily print on cardstock and tape the circle to the fabric, too. If you'd like me to email you my PDF, post your email in comments.

So, lids, fabric and label are on, then come the rings. And voila!

Hello, Holiday Cuteness!

I added some ribbon for a final touch, and am thrilled with how they turned out. The boys love them too. And hopefully, their teachers will enjoy these tasty treats, along with a handwritten thank you from the boys. I hope they know how grateful we are to send our Little Men off to teachers who care for them so much! THANK YOU TEACHERS!!!

Christmas Cookies in a Jar, adapted from Taste Of Home (makes ONE quart-sized jar)
18 Servings

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick cooking oats
1 cup dried cranberries (I used Craisins)
1 cup vanilla or white chips

Additional ingredients (list these on a tag, or email me for the PDF of the label)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using a quart sized glass jar, layer (use a canning funnel!) the white sugar, followed by the brown sugar. Tamp down between each layer to create a clean line. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour gently into jar and tamp down gently. Layer in the oats, cranberries, and white chocolate chips, tamping between the oats and cranberries. Cover and store in a cool place for up to 6 months.

To prepare cookies (provide these instructions to the recipient!): Preheat oven to 375. Pour cookie mix into a large bowl, stirring to combine. Beat in the butter, egg and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Drop by tablespoonfuls 2" apart onto un-greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes until browned, cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cutest Little Breadbox turned Organizer!

I have a degree in elementary education, though I never taught beyond my semester as a student teacher. I'm a nerd at heart (well, all over, actually) and as a teacher I loved to correct papers and put stickers or smiley faces on them, to write the weekly updates, and to send the classroom newsletter home.

Kind of ironic, though. Because as a parent, I confess that I.Hate.All.That.Paper.

I love that my Little Men love school and love showing off their work. But do I need 2.4 million  (um. hyperbole) reminders every day of how well Little Man can trace a number 2? Or how expertly Littlest Man can glue cotton balls onto a piece of paper? Not to say that some of the paperwork that comes home isn't important---but do we need so much of it? And where to put it every day when it comes home but before I've gotten a chance to sort? I hate piles!

So, I found this little cutie to stash the paperwork in the kitchen when it arrives.

What? She doesn't take your breath away? Despite the fantastic and fun fungi? Can you imagine what the world was like when mushrooms were a hip kitchen theme, not roosters or vino?

Even with the fine job she does at cleverly concealing bread and whatnot? She doesn't take your breath away?

Okay. I'm not leaving her like this, I promise. I love retro as much as anyone, but shrooms don't really work with my decorating sensibilities. I imagine if they did, my life would be much more trippy and cool. Alas.

 I can imagine that a happy family pulled loaves of Wonder Bread out of this girl for years and years. In fact, when I started, there were still crumbs inside (eew).

The forms, the notes, the masterpieces. They can live in here until I have a chance to sort, save, and send to the circular file all the reams of paperwork that come home with the Little Men.

To start our project, this little breadbox needed a cleaning. I used Windex.

Then, I sanded her to prep the surface for the spray paint. I removed the knob, too.

Once it was sanded, I wiped her down again and then primed her well.

 After drying for 20 minutes or so, I started applying the main spray paint.
I  used Satin Black because I like it, though, I was tempted to do bright red gloss, too.
After 2 coats and a couple once overs to catch the spots I missed, the project looked like this. Let me remind you to be patient and wait between coats---it makes for a much better project! I'm not very patient, so I had to really force myself to avoid watching the paint dry! It is fast, though, and so easy!

With that tackled, I just wiped it off, reattached the knob and VOILA!
The Cutest Little Breadbox Turned Organizer!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Simple Christmas- Gift Tags

Remember this post about paring down the extravagance of Christmas and weeding out the excess?
I've been so psyched about it!

In case you missed it, this little Irish Norwegian family is going to simplify Christmas and focus more on the real meaning of the season. So, we are giving the kids (and each other) only four gifts: one WANT gift (LEGOS, a baby doll, etc), one NEED (Little Miss Pink is getting socks and tights...don't tell!), one WEAR (item of clothing, shoes, etc), and one READ gift (a book, duh!).

I designed these tags to attach to the presents

I will cut them out, mount them on simple brown butcher's paper, punch a hole and attach to the presents! Easy as pie. I didn't put names on the tags because I will differentiate between recipients with different types of wrapping paper. I got a four pack at the big W(al-Mart) of coordinating paper. I will get brown butcher paper. So, we all will know which fabulous gift is ours!

If you'd like a copy of this PDF to print out for yourself, comment or email me (nmfoley1@hotmail.com) with your email address and I'll send it your way!

Merry, Merry, Merry!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009