Friday, December 31, 2010

Farewell 2010...time to archive the year's adventures!

The year is coming to an less than two hours to be exact! 

This past week my husband asked me, "how can we keep our boys this age forever?"  I said, "through photos and movies!  It's the only way!" Sammy has begged me to "read" him his "baby Sammy book" (his baby photo album) about 6 times in the past couple days.  I love looking back through the years and I am happy that Sammy already does too!

Once Christmas and Sammy's birthdays are over, I kick my family memory archiving production into overdrive.  Now that the year is officially over (almost), it's time to wrap up my photo albums and family movies for the year.  For the past few years I've been doing our family albums digitally via iPhoto and having them printed by Apple.  I try to work on it throughout the year, creating new pages after each new family adventure.  I still prefer to create my own layouts in Photoshop and upload each page as one large image, rather than use iPhoto's layouts.  But, I really love how they are turning out and love to do them this way for several reasons...

1) They have a much slimmer profile than a scrapbook, and take up much less shelf space
2) Since I have everything backed up digitally, if anything happens to the books, I can always have a new one printed,
3) It's a big chunk of change at the end of the year, usually $70-$90 in the past depending on # of pages, but when compared to the price of all the supplies to do scrapbooking, or even to print pages digitally myself, it's actually cheaper.

I'm caught up through September now...a little bit behind but I hope to have it done and ordered soon!  I also do the same with movies...I keep running movie projects in iMovie and have been adding to them throughout the year.  One for each of my boys, and a third is all about our family activities together.  Working on them bit by bit throughout the year makes it much less daunting.  Can't wait to finish them, burn them, and watch them on our big screen!

I did just recently update my system on my Mac so that it could handle the new iLife '11, and have been pretty happy with the new iMovie so far.  I have been having some fun with the movie trailer capabilities it has, and put together one starting each of my boys, just as practice. But, I thought I'd share them because, well, I'm a mom and that's what moms do...they force everyone to look at cute pictures and movies of their kids.

Here's to a happy new year full of exciting blockbuster hits!!

Monday, December 27, 2010

DIY Train Themed Birthday Party!

Our little train enthusiast just turned 3!  Here's what I did for his party, in case anyone else out there is looking for ideas for a train themed party....

 I always have a lot of fun doing the invitations.  For the train theme, I made a boarding pass.  I did a Google image search for some inspiration, looking at boarding passes and similar invitations.  I made a train pattern in the background to look like a watermark.  The top and bottom edges are cut using scrapbooking scissors with a postage stamp edge.  The bar code on the bottom actually does read what it says, "3rd birthday 12/2/610."  I got this by Googling "free upc code generator" and getting a site that generates a bar code for you!  Photos of Sammy in his Halloween costume came in handy for the imagery.  Then I used his birth date for the section, row and seat, the date and time for departure and boarding time, as well as our address for the "station."  I was able to print 3 of these per sheet of letter sized paper, two sided, at home, and they fit perfectly into a standard envelope!

If you've been following this blog over the summer, this may look familiar...
 Since the party was a train theme, I thought it was an appropriate time to unveil the train table!! (see how I made it, here)  I set it up in the basement, and we gated everything off to ensure that we wouldn't miss seeing his face when he found it, if he woke up before us.  But, that plan failed, as he climbed onto a chair and over the gate, then popped his little head into our room to tell me that he was playing with his new train table!  I guess when you're 3, you are officially old enough to outsmart Mommy and Daddy!

 The night before his birthday (which so happens to be Christmas), I realized I didn't really have decorations so I made this sign above with some scrap foam core and construction paper I had in my studio.  I wrote the letters and colored the stripes on the gate arm with a big, black marker, and the rest is colored paper.

I made a bunch of these little yellow construction paper signs to hang around the house as well! Super easy!

 The cake was really fun.  Well, actually, my first attempt was using a 3-D train shaped cake pan, however, the instructions were WAY off for baking time and the thing sunk in when cooled, as it was still filled with raw batter.  So, I scrapped that idea and started over with a simple 9" x 13" rectangular pan.  I had a couple cupcakes that I made from some of the extra batter from the first cake, and put them together to form the tunnel.  Sammy loves tunnels, and he got to eat that piece!

 I frosted the tunnel and track location with chocolate, and the rest of the frosting is cream cheese frosting that I dye'd with food coloring.  I put a lake in the corner with some blue sprinkles, then spread on the green grass.  The blue pieces that I used for the railroad ties are made of a candy I found at the party strips of sour candy (kinda like a cross between a sour patch kid and fruit roll-up).  I cut the strip down the middle and then cut those to make edible tracks.  The rails are applied over the top with some black cake decorating gel.  Then, I added some more sprinkles to the grass, and some flowers.  The flower pedals are red frosting and the centers are mini m&m's.  Then I made a little paper sign to stick in the back and added a few train cars and accessories from his set!

The cake went over well, being a second attempt!  As you can see, we got a little more mileage out of his Halloween costume, dressing him up as Sir Topham Hatt for his party!

I started collecting party favor bag items months ago.  The wood engines came from the dollar bin section at Target.  I ordered the train whistles and train shaped suckers online, and picked up some Thomas stickers at the party store.  I just used white lunch bags and printed out everyone's name against the invitation image background, using sticker-back paper, to stick to the bags.

 I did a face painting gig this month for a law firm's party, and the caterer's had little peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut out using mitten shaped cookie cutters for the kids.  I thought that was a fun idea, so I made these little PB&J sandwiches with train cookie cutters!  I thought of the idea a little too late in the game to find a good sized cutter, so I got this little set of 3 at the mall.  It was hard to tell these were trains, but if I did it again I'd take the time to order a larger cutter online.

The rest of the menu included some home made pizza (on pre-made crust dough).  The little sandwiches worked great though to give the kids something to munch on until the pizzas came out of the oven!  We also had cut up grapes (to avoid choking), and other finger-food items like meats, crackers, banana chips, Craisins, juice boxes, etc...

 I decorated this set of food containers with some construction paper and put them in a row...voila..."snack train!" The "engine" is divided into two sections, one holding fruit snacks and the other, little boxes of raisins.  The center car has Cheese-it's, and the caboose is full of Craisins.  If you used regular raisins, it would totally look like a coal car!  ;-)

 The pinata I started back in the summer, when I already had all of the paper mache supplies and Thomas-blue paint out working on Sammy's Halloween costume.  So, when we got closer to the party, I just had to finish painting it, add the streamers (one lucky streamer opens the door when pulled), and glue a Thomas face on the front that I printed off of the computer.  The center is a mailing tube, so I could easily pop off the face and fill with candy! 

I did go to the party store and pick up some balloons and a banner to hang, but had lots of fun making things to go along with this theme!  Sammy had a blast so it was all worth the work!  Next up is Toby's 1st birthday, just a few weeks away.  His theme: Circus!  I'll be sure to post more photos then!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry (day after) Christmas, everyone!  I hope you had a fabulous Christmas!  I know we had a great one, and are still looking forward to celebrating half of our Christmas this coming weekend with my family, so the fun continues!  Here's a shot of my boys with Santa, during our visit a few days ago at the Mall of America (which happens to be 10 minutes from our house):

This time of year is sortof like the Mommy Super Bowl for me, hosting Christmas dinner on the 25th, and then turning around and throwing a birthday party the next day for Sammy.  This year was his 3rd, and of course we had to do a train theme.  I just finished cleaning up from that party, and finally hope to start catching up on my blogging this week!  Stay tuned for more photos of the train party, coming soon! 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fun Magnetic Frig Toys!

Recently I've come across some really fun frig toys and thought I'd share some links, as they'd make some great Christmas gifts for your little ones!

These "Frigits" toys offer a series of rails, chutes, buckets, and wheels that attach to your frig with magnets, allowing your child to set up a fun path for the marble to follow.  I think if I get this for Sammy, I just might end up playing with it just as much myself!
Frigits OriginalFrigits Extension - LauncherFrigits Extension - CornersFrigits Extensions Corner and Launcher Combo

There are also some pretty fun looking gear sets out there that can be arranged on the fridge via magnets as well.
Tomy Gearation Refrigerator MagnetsFridgigearsFridge Gears

We have the little Leap Frog farm magnet set which is a lot of fun too.  I picked this one up at a garage sale for $4, complete with all of the letters.  The idea is to match the front and back of each animal, and then when you push them in it plays a song about that animal.  The most fun part though, I think anyway, is to make mixed animals and hear the song sing about a "cow-horse," etc! ;-)
LeapFrog Fridge Farm Magnetic Animal Set
Leap Frog also has other fun frig sets to learn letters, build words, etc...
Fridge Words Magnetic Word BuilderLeapFrog Fridge Wash & Go Magnetic Vehicle SetLeapfrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Alphabet Set

I picked up one of these little Zero-Gravity frig rover cars on our trip up north this past fall for Sammy's's basically like a wind-up toy with a magnet on it, so when you wind it up, it drives up the frig door!  I think I'll probably test it on the side of our fridge first though, just to be sure that it doesn't leave any kind of scratched path behind it!

I like having a couple fun frig toys to rotate and keep my kids' interest.  They always love to hang out with Mommy while I'm trying to make a meal, and this helps keep them occupied and away from the temptation of hot stoves and sharp knives!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

...Aaaaand the Winner is...

Big thanks to those of you who entered the Tiny Bites Food Shears giveaway!  And HUGE thanks for the folks at Tiny Bites for donating the prize!!

So, I wrote a slip for every entry based on how many entries/comments you left in the contest post, cut them up into equally sized pieces, folded them all in half, recycled this very official looking Crisco container that happened to be sitting in my office to hold them...

...shook them up, drew one out, and the winner is...

Congrats, Debby!! I will connect you and Anila via email so you can claim your prize and get her your shipping address!

Thanks again for everyone who participated!!  I hope to have more fun giveaways in 2011 so stay tuned!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Cookies to Make With The Kids: "Chocolate Blobs!"

Okay, so this one is probably better categorized as a candy than a cookie, but they look good on any cookie tray!  This is another one I remember making as a kid with my mom, and it doesn't require any baking.

All you need is a package of almond bark (chocolate and/or vanilla), and some toppings (m&m's, sprinkles, nuts, pretzels, etc).

Break up the almond bark into pieces and melt it in the microwave per package directions. 
 Here's Sammy helping to stir the chocolate.  Stirring and pouring in ingredients are the main things that he is able to "help" with at his age and he loves it!  Well, that and a chance to wear his cool blue dinosaur apron.  (scored at a garage sale of course)

 Now Mommy pours little blobs of chocolate on a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet  (hence my very scientific name: "chocolate blobs"), and then your kids can "decorate" the blobs with whatever toppings you desire!  Unfortunately my wonderful selection of Christmas sprinkles is packed away somewhere unknown from our move that didn't happen, so we didn't have much for sprinkles.  But, they turned out just fine with the fluorescent green ones I did have on hand!
 Ours went something like, "one m&m for Sammy, one for the cookies, 2 m&m's for Sammy..."

You can do this with white chocolate or vanilla bark as well.  Then maybe you could pretend they are snow blobs. 

Once they are decorated, just let them cool and harden on the counter...they don't take long.  If you really want them done FAST, just slip them in the frig for a few minutes, and then peel off of the wax paper and enjoy!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas Cookies to Make With The Kids: "Play Dough Cookies"

 My mom is a SERIOUS baker when Christmas rolls around.  I'm talking over a dozen different varieties of cookies...baked in double and triple batches, starting in the fall and filling the freezer.  Mom's Christmas cookies have been the source of many great holiday memories for myself and my siblings, so naturally, I was excited to share the traditions to my own kids.

Even if your kids are very little, you can involve them in various ways.  Sammy is almost 3 and he just LOVES to stand on a chair next to me and help pour ingredients into the bowl, help stir, and of course, do some quality control taste testing. With each year he is able to get a little bit more involved in the process.
I wanted to share this recipe that I remember making as a kid with my mom, brother and sister.  I always called them "play dough cookies" because for a kid, it's just like making stuff with play dough, then baking it and eating it! It's actually the same recipe we use to make candy cane cookies...we just make more different colors of dough...

1/2 C Butter, soft
1/2 C Shortening
1 C Conf. Sugar
1 Egg
1-1/2 tsp Almond Extract
1 tsp Vanilla extract
2-1/2 C Flour
1 tsp Salt
1/2 C Sugar
Food coloring

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix butter, shortening, conf. sugar, egg, and flavorings.  Blend in flour, sugar and salt.  Divide dough and color as desired. 

I like to do about half green, then a little less red, a little bit of yellow and blue, and leave a little ball of white.  You can mix the colors later to get other colors too like orange, brown, etc.  Mine are wrapped in plastic wrap because I mixed them up while the kids were napping and stuck them in the frig, so I could pull them out to make before bedtime.

 Make your creations on a cookie sheet.  Give your kids some tools to "sculpt" with...We always have at least a fork and butter knife.  I found that a mini whisk worked great for making a pine-branch-y pattern on the wreaths and Christmas trees!  And heck, why not get out some of your kids' Play Doh accessories...just wash them well before and after.  Sprinkles are fun too for extra decoration!

 Here's Sammy with his full tray of cookies!  I made him one green triangle to decorate as a tree and a couple wreath shapes that he added colors to.  The rest were his own "blob" creations.  About 1/4" or so is fine for the thickness.

 Now carefully carry your pan over to the oven! (Mommy of course puts it in since it's hot!)

Bake 8 minutes until set but not brown. Watch through the window with extreme anticipation!!

 And they're done!  Of course, I made some more of my own (see first photo above).  But, I'm more excited to put Sammy's creations out on my cookie platter and get people's reactions to HIS works of edible art!!


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