Sunday, December 15, 2013

Making Gift Bags Without Spending $$$

This year, we decided to see what kind of Christmas gift bags we could make for free using scraps of fabric and greenery from our garden.  It also was an easy way for the girls to embark on their first sewing project.  Here's how we did it.

First of all we gathered fabric remnants of projects past and picked out the "Christmasy" looking ones.  I used a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and fabric ruler to measure and cut out long rectangles of fabric but that was just because I had them from my pre-kid quilting days.  Scissors would have worked just as well.

We figured out the dimensions we wanted for the long rectangles of fabric destined to become gift bags by placing the item we wished to have a gift bag for on the fabric.  In this case, we were making gift bags for Sugared Nuts so we ended up with fabric about 6 inches across and 18 inches long.  We left some extra space for the seams (1/2 inches on the side and about an inch for each end).

Once the fabric rectangles are cut to the size we wanted, I used an iron to fold over the top edges of the future bag.  

Next, the girls sewed across the tops I just ironed.  Since this was so short and I had folded the edges over by at least an inch I didn't even bother pinning this section for the girls to sew.

Once the top edges were sewn, I folded the rectangle right sides together and then pinned along the two long sides.  The girls sewed these sides and then turned the bag right side out.

After we had our bags done, we assembled some decorative elements from our garden.  The lemon we sliced thinly and dehydrated overnight.  The other items we used were bay leaves and rosemary.  A ball of twine located in a back drawer and printed out Christmas tags from a previously purchased Scrappin Doodles package completed our supplies.

The decorations were simple enough the girls were able to tie them to the bags themselves.

Here are some of the finished bags ready to be given to our teachers, therapists, friends, and relatives.

We had a lot of fun making these bags and we didn't spend any money doing it which was a total bonus.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Holiday Gift Idea: Sugared Nuts

This summer, the girls won the sweepstakes prize of $100 bucks at the local fair for each getting five blue ribbons in five different baking categories.  One of their favorite recipes was this Sugared Nuts recipe we also used this year to make gift bags for the teachers, therapists, aunts, uncles, and other assorted relatives on our list.  We also had success with this recipe holding up beautifully when getting shipped to Afghanistan in a care package for their uncle.  Try it yourself, but plan on giving away a chunk of the end result, unless of course you WANT to be jogging a few extra miles to work off the additional calories!  They are that tasty.  And it is impossible to hide them in your pantry.  People will find them.  Fortunately this recipe is very easy to make so another batch can be whipped up when the supply runs low.

Sugared Mixed Nuts Recipe

1 egg white
1 T water
1/2 tsp vanilla 
1 pound mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans)
3/4 cup white sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix egg white, water and vanilla in a bowl with a fork till frothy.  In a separate bowl mix sugar, cinnamon, and salt.  Dump nuts into the egg white mixture and stir gently to coat evenly.  It sometimes helps to use your hands here.  Add the sugar mixture and continue to mix gently until evenly coated.  

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  

Spread the nuts evenly onto two baking sheets which have been lined with parchment paper or silpats. Bake for 1 hour stirring every 15 minutes.

Let nuts cool completely and then package in an airtight container or plastic bag.

Notes:  You can use just one type of nut.  One of my daughters like to replace the vanilla with pure orange extract.  If you have two timers set one for an hour and one for fifteen minutes.  That way you can look at the timer that has been set for an hour and see how many fifteen minute intervals are left (good for kids who are doing the cooking or harried moms who might not remember which 15 minute segment they are on currently).  The low cooking temperature keeps the nuts from burning.  Don't raise the temperature to speed the process along.

Shared with The Chicken Chick.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sneaky Math: Starbuck's Iced Passion Tea Lemonade

Buy a glass from Starbucks or make a huge pitcher of the same stuff
for the SAME price.

Right next to my kids' speech therapy building is a Starbucks.  The therapists lament the percentage of their paycheck that gets sunk into supporting their Starbucks habit.  I usually succeed in avoiding the siren song (but mainly because I'm allergic to caffeine) until the Iced Passion Tea Lemonade's popped up this summer.  I caved and bought the drink.  Which my kids promptly drank for me.  And then wanted more.  

Not wanting to add a weekly expense to the therapy session, I started looking for a way to copycat the drink.  Turns it it is pretty easy to do.  In fact you can buy a box of Tazo Iced Passion Tea at Starbucks (or any local supermarket) and the recipe is on the back of the box.

Copycat Tazo Iced Passion Tea Lemonade

1 tea bag Tazo Iced Passion Tea Lemonade
1 quart boiling water
1 quart lemonade
Sweetener of choice

Bring your water to boiling.  Add in the tea bag.  Wait five minutes.  I find adding the sweetener (I just used regular, old sugar) while the water was boiling make it dissolve easily.  I experimented with amounts and settled on about the 1/2 cup range for sweetening.  After your five minutes are up, dump in 1 quart of lemonade.  Serve over ice.  Watch your kids chug-a-lug.  Make sure you save some for yourself.

Lemonade and Tea: Our favorite summer drink.
Now I could have left it there, but being a teacher I figured this would be a great time for some sneaky math.  Here's some of the hands-on math we did:

1.   Had the kids make the recipe which involved measuring out the different solids and liquids.  

2.  Calculated the cost per liquid ounce if we had bought the drink at Starbucks vs.  the cost to purchase the ingredients and make it at home.

3.  Made double (triple) batches requiring multiplication of the original recipe.

So not only did making Passion Tea Lemonade at home save us a bundle this summer, we also snuck in some math practice.  That's something I can drink to.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What in the World Freebie

Click HERE for Freebie.

Lurking in the Depths

Nicaragua has a lake so large it has its very own volcanic islands, a history of being terrorized by pirates, and a reputation for developing fierce storms which can catch sailors unprepared.  As if that wasn't enough Lake Nicaragua has something else lurking in its depths which might make you think twice before slipping in for a swim.  What in the world could it be?

Intrigued?  I know my middle school students were when I brought out the deductive reasoning mysteries.  Think of it as 20 Questions but better.  Better because it is a way to sharpen reasoning skills AND learn something about geography, culture, or history.  

Basically how it works is I present a mystery like the one above,  and then the students have to figure out the answer by asking a series of yes/no questions until they arrive at the solution.  

Now that I'm homeschooling my girls, I've adapted the idea for them a bit (although they do like to read over my shoulder as I'm writing a new mystery and try to figure it out....even though the mysteries are written more for the upper grades).  It works great at a car game.  For example, when we were studying types of animals in science we did something like this:

I'm a mammal.
I'm an ocean dweller.
I give birth to live young.


I'm a bird.
I do not fly.
I live on an island.

Then they have to figure it out by asking the right kind of questions.  They often ask for more mysteries until quite frankly sometimes I'm glad to see our driveway come into view signaling the end of the trip.

If you'd like to try it out yourself, I have link to 8 FREE deductive reasoning activities based on South America, Canada, and Central America.   Just click here to access it at my TPT store.

And just in case you were wondering what was lurking in the depths of Lake Nicaragua the answer is SHARKS!  Yep, don't know about you but I wouldn't be dipping my toesies in there anytime soon...

Shared with: 

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Acorn Jack-o-Lanterns

We had fun making miniature jack-o-lanterns from all the acorns that have been pelting down upon us from the oak trees.  Follow these simple steps to make you own row of spooky faces.

1.  Collect acorns.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  The fatter ones with the flat tops are best for this activity as you will be resting them on the side where the cap would have been.

2.  If you want to bring nature into your house you have to kill it least that is what I read on some of the blogs featuring acorn crafts.  Basically, acorns make great apartments for nice little creepy crawlies.  Personally I didn't bother with this step because I want the excuse to toss these in a week or two when the season is over with as opposed to keeping them for ever and ever, amen.  But if you don't want little wiggly things popping out to scare you (despite it being the season for scares) stick the acorns in the oven for a bit and toast them to neutralize the threat.

3.  Using acrylic paints (don't use tempura as the color will not be vivid enough, same goes for watercolor) brush a little base color on the acorns.

4.  If you put your fingers on the bottom point of the acorn (which is now functioning the top) you can keep the acorn still as well as not painting that bit making it look like a miniature stem. 

5.  Once the base coat is dry use a marker or black acrylic paint and a fine brush to paint on the face of your choice.  Spooky, sad, happy, or toothy it is up to you!

And now you have something you can do when your child comes to you with a bucket of acorns they have harvested instead of surreptitiously dumping them elsewhere when your little darling is otherwise occupied with another activity.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

5 Great Series for Bedtime Reading

Every evening my husband crawls up on top of the bunk bed and settles down with the girls for a little reading time.  It is a much loved routine by all three and it frees me up to go do my own thing.  A win all around.  Now that Little Dude is getting to be of age he has his own reading time with Daddy as well.  I thought I'd share some of the favorite bedtime reading material.  I personally like series because when one book ends there will be another to take it's place (cuts down on the sad faces and least until you reach the end of the series).

Mr. Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Rylant.   These also make great first readers, just when your child is ready to branch into stories with "chapters" although you can read the entire book in one setting.  WE started reading these together and then the girls were already familiar with the story when they started reading on their own.  This series revolves around Mr. Putter, his old cat Tabby and their neighbors Mrs. Teaberry and her dog, Zeke.  I like this series because the main characters are older who still remember what it is like to be a kid.  The first book is Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea.  Favorites in our house include Pick the Pears and Walk the Dog although we have all in the series.

Living Forest Series by Sam Campbell.  It looks like a good portion of his wildlife stories have been packaged into one bulk buy on Amazon.  Some of the titles include How's Inky, Loony Coon, and Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake.  There are many more.  I grew up loving these stories about this great naturalist and his interaction with the animals of the forest.  From raccoons to deer, beavers, to skunks, Sam spins yarns that will entertain while encouraging conservation and other good life lessons.

The Little House on the Prairie Series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  While I remember reading these by myself when I was in middle school it turns out this series was a hit with my girls even at a younger age.  It took a good chunk of time to get through considering these are a lot of books in the series.  I was wondering if they would be interested in the stories about Laura's later life (courtship/teaching) but they stayed interested.  When I asked them if she had met Almanzo yet they rolled their eyes, smiled and said, "Yesssss."

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.  While Misty and kin have several books revolving around the same characters there is also Justin Morgan Had a Horse, Black Gold, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, and King in the Wind.  Best of all these are based on real horses.  When we went to the Grand Canyon guess which book we were reading for bedtime reading.  All about the theme folks!  Of course that meant we had to hike part of Bright Angel Trail (hint: even though the down part is easy you have to go back up).

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  While technically there is only one after (Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator), I found Charlie to be a wonderful springboard to some of the other Dahl books.  I do have to say that while I don't like all of his offerings, I do like the BFG and Danny the Champion of the World.  If I can't remember the story line from when I read them, I usually skim to make sure they are appropriate for the age my kids (second grade).

And one more:
I remember spending the Christmas break of my 5th grade year engrossed with James Herriot's books.  It had me contemplating veterinary school for about two years until I actually spent some time with a vet seeing what they actually do (as if the books didn't lay it out already) and then I thought um, nope.  There are plenty of books with specific stories pulled from this series.  This Treasury is one example.

I think I have a few more books till Sam Campbell's set has run its course in this household.  Then I'll have to keep hunt for some more reading material.  If anyone has other suggestions about a good book series (or just single books) for the pre-middle school crowd I would love to hear your suggestions.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Raising Readers Without Breaking the Bank (ages 0-2)

When I taught middle school, I could usually tell how a student would do in all their classes simply by listening to them read a paragraph.  If they showed up in 5th/6th grade still struggling to read with fluency and ease most likely they were going to struggle in other areas as well.  So with my own kids I had several goals in mind when shaping my reading program.

Get them hooked on reading as soon as possible:  We wanted to our kids to love picking up a book and disappearing into their room for a few hours as they check out new worlds between pages.  Kids who sneak books under the breakfast table.  Spend their time in jammies hanging upside down off the couch with a book in hand.  Get busted for staying up late with a flashlight reading types of kids.  If we could show them from an early age what a fascinating world books could be, they would be self-motivated to learn the skill we call reading.

Keep the learning process fun and enjoyable:  Since the goal was getting them reading as quickly as they showed an interest, I had to make sure to keep things light and interesting, especially since they were so young.  Yes, I realize sometimes learning is hard work.  I am not one of those pom-pom teachers who is always sparkle and light during the school day, but at the same time if what I was trying caused tears and frustration I found someway else to teach a concept.  Kids learn to read different ways.  You might find some ideas here that will work for yours or not.  And that is okay.  Just keep looking through the blogs and other reading resources until you find something that works.

Don't spend a huge amount of money on reading curriculum:  There are tons of resources out there to help kids learn reading skills.  I was determined not to spend a lot of $$$ during this process.  I'll be talking about what I did to minimize cost while maximizing reading practice.  Okay let's get started with some of the things I did when raising our readers without breaking the bank.

Ages 0-2

Develop the Kids' Library
There are an unlimited supply of board books lurking around books stores and Amazon.  I did not want spend a lot of money buying books at this stage, though.  We didn't head to the library either right away (because library board books are usually a little chewed and gross).  Yet we ended up to quite a lot of books.  How?  When people asked what they should get for birthday and Christmas presents I usually put in a request for books.  When friends had kids grow out of the board book phase I gladly inherited them.  My little guy qualified for Early Start and the teachers would bring in bags of books for him to borrow for a while.  When I had friends move I was first in line to help them prune down their libraries.  We've ended up with more books that I know what to do with (if there is such a thing) and I haven't broken the bank to do it.

Keep Books Accessible
We had a lot of board books we would hand them to look at while traveling, at church, hanging out at home, etc.  I keep a basket of books in the car and when they get squirrely I hand back a book.  Sometimes there is a small tsunami of books that wash out of the car when I open the van doors after a long trip.

Make Reading to Your Kids Part of Your Routine
I'll be honest.  There were days I never cracked a book with my kids.  With the girls being twins I was super busy.  At around 18 months we noticed they seemed to be ready to sit still for a night time story.  My husband started reading those stories to them.  The kids and he enjoy this ritual immensely.  Since it was a guaranteed part of the day, the kids would know to go pick out books after bath time and toddler over for a story.  I've been able to work my own read-to-the-kids routine into day by reading a morning devotional at breakfast.  My two year old just yesterday pointed to the book and hollered, "READ!"  Other than that sometimes I forget or get too busy to sit down with the kids, but by making specific parts of our routine about reading the kids pester us incessantly if we forget it becomes a habit.

Once they stopped chewing and accidentally tearing their books we headed to the library to check out the picture books.   We made this a weekly event.  Oh the blessed silence of the after a library run.  I would stack all the books in the middle of the living room and the kids would sit down and look through them entranced by the pictures.

Videos Can Be Your Reading Friend
We limited TV time at this stage.  That isn't to say my husband and I were total TV banning Nazis.  But we did try to encourage the idea that if they wanted to be entertained then go look at a book.  If we did let the kids watch TV we tried to make it Sesame Street or other educational shows.

Enlist the Help of Friends and Family
When visitors showed up and asked what they could do to entertain the kids we shoved a pile of books their way.  I'll never forget my long-suffering mother-in-law greeting me at the door after she had babysat the girls for a few hours.  She looked a little peaked.  I asked her what was the matter.  She sighed, "I think I read every book in this house to the girls, twice!"  I laughed a bit and told her, "You could have said, NO."  The kids learned from an early age to bring over a book to an adult and it would be read to them.  They could be quite persistent about it. 

Develop Prereading Skills
The focus at this point was getting the kids to internalize the way books are organized.  I would hand them a book upside down or backwards to see if they could figure out how to turn it the right way to get started on the story.  Kids needs to know there is a cover side and a back side to a book.  The words go from left to right, top to bottom on a page.  I would show them this by running my finger along the print as I read the story.  Not all the time but periodically (if you do it all the time they get a little annoyed with your hand being in the way of the pictures).

Model the Behavior You Wish To Instill
I love reading and my husband loves reading so this part wasn't too hard.  When we went to the library, we checked out books for ourselves as well.  When we got home, sometimes we sat down with our own books and read beside the kids.  We want them to see that Mommy and Daddy also like reading.  That isn't going to be conveyed so much if you plop them down with books and then go turn on the TV for yourself.  I personally did not have a brain cell to spend on anything remotely scholarly at this point so I read authors that I find entertaining (such as Jonathan Kellerman, Julia Quinn, Janet Evanovich, Malcolm Gladwell, and Lois McMaster Bujold).

Put in the Time
When you're learning a skill, you have to put in the time.  Not a day goes by that the kids don't have a reading opportunity.  Reading is a skill just like playing baseball or riding a bike or learning how to bake cookies.

Books I Love For This Stage
Here are some of our favorite books by some of our favorite authors.

My Friend Rabbit, by Eric Rohmann
Where is the Green Sheep?, by Mem Fox
The Going To Bed Book, by Sandra Boynton
First 100 Words, by Roger Priddy
I See, by Helen Oxenbury