January 31, 2014

Kid Crafts: Construction Paper Shape Art

Construction paper shape art is so easy to pull together. You can plan ahead and cut the shapes out ahead of time, or, you can be like me most of the time and stand next to the kids cutting as you go. Either way, this is so easy and my kids absolutely love it.

Here's the idea: Create pictures of whatever you want (We obviously did a lot of Christmas themed pictures last month!) using basic shapes: squares, rectangles, circles, triangles, etc. Depending on the ages of your kids you can either cut out the shapes for them and allow them to assemble things into a picture, or you can draw the shapes on the paper and let them cut them out themselves before creating their picture.

Either way, this is all you'll need:
- Construction paper in various colors
- Scissors (safety scissors if the kids are doing the cutting)
- Glue sticks
- Crayons and markers for adding details and background drawings
- Any other materials you'd like to add, like glitter, google eyes, etc.

First, decide what picture you want to create. Then, select the appropriate colors of construction paper for all the parts of your picture. If you need ideas for breaking things down into basic shape pictures, check out Pinterest, google clip art, or look at toys in your own house (I sat a toy ambulance in front of me as reference when I was creating that one.)

I don't even bother to draw the shapes on the paper, I just wing-it with the scissors (little kids don't care about perfect shapes!). But you can start by drawing out the shapes on the paper. I cut things out for both kids, then let my (just-turned) five year old do everything else herself. I help my two and a half year old with the gluing, though I try to let him assemble the picture without much help from me (I like the Van Gogh-esque results!) I do typically lay all the pieces out to create the desired picture as an example for them to see first--just so they get, oh, hey, this is supposed to be a Christmas tree--but then I disassemble the example and I let them do it however they want.

You can adapt construction paper shape art to most anything. We did lots of Christmas-inspired pictures last month, but we've also done emergency vehicles. (I actually originally got this idea from some fire engine artwork on display from another class at my kids' preschool in October!) You could do some birthday inspired ones near your child's birthday (build your own cake!) or princess crowns or flowers for Spring or, really, the options are endless! We're making heart people next...and I'm sure we'll do all kinds of other ones in the months to come.

I like this activity mainly because the kids have so much fun with it! But it also works on manual dexterity (manipulating all those little shapes) and allows a fair amount of creativity within the context of the activity. You could also just provide lots of shapes in lots of colors and let them create whatever they wanted (especially for older kids). But my kids love to pick what shape picture we're doing next--like they're challenging me to figure out how to turn things, like our Christmas elf, into a shape picture.

It's also a nice activity to occupy them at the kitchen island while I'm cooking dinner in the evening. And we have a great time doing it together! (I love when doing simple things for the kids makes me feel like a good mom…this totally does that for me!)

So, there you have it. Construction paper shape art. Good times.

So, until next time, happy creating!

January 17, 2014

This Salad Dressing Will Make You Want to Eat Salad

Salad dressing is a funny thing. I find most restaurant salad dressings to be yummy, but most bottled salad dressings to be yuck. (Especially ranch…I don't know what they do to bottled ranch dressing, but it's terrible and they need to stop.) Consequently, I typically don't enjoy an at-home salad nearly as much as I do a restaurant salad (which I have been known to swoon over).

That was, until I started making my own salad dressing. For some reason, I was sort of afraid to make my own dressing for a long time. I remember staying with my cousins in Chicago many years ago when I was doing an internship in the city, and my cousin, Nancy, would always make her own dressing for our salads. I would watch in amazement as she, without measuring anything, seemingly randomly put various ingredients into a bowl and whisked them up, and moments later I would have a deliciously dressed salad in front of me. But it all seemed a bit wizard-behind-the-curtain to my 21 year old self. I loved it, but was afraid to try it myself.

Fast forward many, many, many years (years of eating less-than-stellar bottled salad dressing), I finally plunged into the world of homemade salad dressing. And oh what a plunge it has been! Seriously, if you eat salads at home, like, ever, you need to make your own dressing. It. Makes. All. The. Difference. In. The. World. Seriously.

And if you're going to take the plunge, like I did, I have a fantastic recipe for you to try. This one is a hand-me-down from my grandmother (the wonderful Portia Hoffman, who I miss so very much) to my mother (the amazing Jan Scherzinger, chef-extraordinaire, who taught my brother and me to be cooks and made some adaptations to this recipe from my grandmother's original) to me. And now I'm sharing it with you. Because I love you. And I want you to love your salad. So you'll eat your veggies. And live a long an healthy life. :-)

Now, this recipe is not low fat or low sugar. But it is amazingly delicious. So just use a little to dress your salad if you're watching fat or sugar. And most definitely make this when you're serving a salad for company. It is totally company worthy. I made it for our Christmas dinner salad of mixed greens with goat cheese, pear, dried cherries and candied pecans. OMG. So. Good. Then used leftovers for salads of mixed greens with orange wedges and goat cheese and pecans. As far as I'm concerned, this dressing goes with anything. And you will want to lick the bowl after your salad is gone.

So here it is, my favorite salad dressing, like, ever…

Mom's Honey Orange Dressing
3/4 c. honey
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. cider vinegar
2 tbsp orange juice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated orange rind
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard

My favorite way to make dressing it simply put all of the ingredients into a Ball canning jar, put the lid securely on, and shake vigorously, until well combined. You can also put it all in a bowl and whisk, until well combined. This recipe will make a lot of dressing (1 1/2 cups) and will keep in the fridge for a while…I'm not absolutely sure how long it will keep because we always finish it all long before it has a chance to go bad.

And it's that simple. Takes about five minutes to make. And it's totally worth it. It's probably even mostly ingredients you have on hand. I mean, you may have to buy an orange if you don't keep them on hand. Otherwise, it's pantry staples.

So, thanks Mom.

And, until next time, happy cooking!

January 12, 2014

My Favorite Things from 2013

Happy New Year!! Welcome 2014! 

Okay, so I'm almost three weeks late on this, but cut me a little slack. (Please.) I intended to take two weeks off from the blog for the holidays, but two weeks turned into three weeks and then started knocking on the door of four, and here we are: twelve days into January and I'm just now getting to it. That doesn't mean I haven't thought about blogging. Oh, I have. It means I haven't had much alone time to write. Which means that I haven't worked on the novel since November, and I haven't written a blog post since before Christmas. Sigh.

But that's what the new year is for…new beginnings, just when you need it!! However, before I get into the new things for 2014 (I'll be talking new year's resolutions later this week), I want to go back a bit...

2013 has come to an end and 2014 blossoms before us, all shiny and new. I'm feeling pretty good about moving on from 2013. It was a big year for my family. A definite roller coaster ride. My husband took a new job with a new company and we moved from the area we'd lived in for 13 years to a new city, in a new state. Sold a house. Bought a house. (Moving. Ugh.) We went from having a 4 year old and a 1 1/2 year old to having a 5 year old and a 2 1/2 year old (and, as any parent knows, when kids are little, a year makes a big difference in day-to-day life). And that 2 year old had his first day of one-day-a-week preschool last fall. (Sigh. Not a baby anymore.) My weight has gone up and down in inverse proportion to my ability to find time for exercise, and in direct correlation with my ability or inability to keep my pie-hole shut. Our dog, Cooper, has gotten loose and lost (then found) twice…in two different states. (Damn dog's gonna give me a heart attack.) But we've survived it all. And I've survived another year of the awesome ride that is motherhood.

Still, not actually what I'm here to talk about. Crikey, I am tangential today. No, I thought I'd close out last year (twelve days late) by sharing with you some of my favorite things from 2013. So, before we get into what's new in 2014, let's look back at some of the wonderful things I discovered in 2013. And maybe they can become some of your favorite things for 2014. So, here you go…

My Favorite Things of 2013

My favorite things
  • On Etsy…
Re-usable Paper Towels
I love these things! I love that they reduce waste. I love that they clean things up better than paper towels. I love that they look pretty on my kitchen counter. And I love that you can use them for anything you'd use paper towels for, including covering things up in the microwave (the snaps used to hold the towels together in a roll are plastic). There are lots of different reusable paper towel makers on etsy, and I would imagine most of them make a great product, but I can only attest to the ones I purchased (shown here) from TheTailoredHome. And I love mine! They are well made and just lovely.

Custom Return Address Stamps
Another love. No more reordering return address labels each time you run out. No more paper waste. And they last and last and last. Plus they come in super cute, custom options. Pretty much any style you want, any font you want, self-inking or regular, any color ink you want…truly, the options are endless. And there are tons of sellers. I have three stamps…one winter/holiday, one just for me, and one everyday family stamp. Two are self-inking and one is a regular stamp. All are lovely. I have this self-inking snowflake stamp from MJsArtStamps.

As well as this self-inking typewriter stamp from savethedate. And a traditional one from RubberStampPress. Again, there are tons of return address stamp sellers on etsy. These are the three I've used, but search until you find just what you're looking for.

Prints on Old Book Pages
I love the whole trend right now with artwork and printing on old book pages. I have many of these pinned on my Pinterest art pages. My husband got this print from LePapierGallery (printed on an old dictionary page) for me for Christmas and put it in a beautiful, old-world looking frame for my writing desk. I absolutely adore it. It made me swoon a bit when I opened it Christmas morning. Not only is it lovely, but the thought behind gift was wonderful. He did a writer's theme for his gifts for me this year which I so loved and appreciated.

  • In Beauty…
L'oreal Age Rewind Glow Renewal
This is a recent addition to my moisturizing routine. Since winter dryness hit, my skin kinda went cuckoo. In December I got a sample of L'oreal Glow Renewal in a magazine and, on a whim, decided to give it a try. I am a little shocked to say that I loved it from the get-go (I've never used a L'oreal skincare product before). I have since bought a bottle of it at the drug store and use it everyday after I wash my face. Not only do I not have anymore dryness, I also think my skin looks younger and more…glow-y. I even got a compliment from my hairstylist this week on the look and feel of my skin (which is uber, baby-bottom soft). I normally use primarily all-natural skincare products, but this one is chocked-full of natural seed and flower oils, so I gave it a try. Love. It. (The only thing I don't love is the perfume-y smell. I wish the scent was more organic, especially given the many lovely smelling options, like lavender and rosemary leaf oils, on the ingredient list.) Still, great for my dry, winter skin.

Origins Body Souffles
I have used Origins' Body Souffles before, but my lovely husband got me a three pack of Ginger Souffle, Gloomaway (Grapefruit) Souffle, and the spearminty Smoothing Souffle for Christmas and I am once again reminded how much I love these body creams. They are great moisturizers and they smell divine. When I use the Gloomaway Souffle, my daughter says I smell like sparkly water. How happy is that?!

  • In Books…
I read many wonderful books in 2013 and am grateful to all of the authors for their storytelling gifts. But here are three of my favorites from the year…

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
I already wrote a blog post about this book. You can check that one out here: Eleanor & Park Book Recommendation on MamaManagement. Sufficed to say, I loved this book. So sweet. A lovely read.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
I had heard this book was good somewhere. I don't remember where. But I fell hard for it this autumn. I loved everything about this book. I loved the characters. I loved the prose. I loved the story. And I loved learning about this language of flowers. It made me want to give great thought to what flowers I plant in my yard and what I flowers I choose as gifts. I have since loaned my copy of this book out to my mom and sister-in-law. But once it's back on my bookshelf, I plan to read it again.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
This book was on my tween reading list from our favorite children's librarian back in Hudson, Ohio last Spring. And it will be included in one of my pending tween reading review posts in the coming months. But it was so good, I've pulled it onto my 2013 favorites list as well. I loved this book and consider it a must read for everyone from twelve-ish years old on up. It was fascinating…and fantastic. If you haven't read it, please do.

  • In Blogs…
Ashley Hackshaw's lilblueboo blog (www.lilblueboo.com) is one of my all-time favorite blogs. She covers a wide range of topics from parenting to art to cancer to religion to her current focus: joy. She's an excellent writer and an inspiring artist and person. Reading her blog is like talking to a wise, older sister (though she's not actually older than me). She makes me think and feel deeply and she inspires me to be a better person. What more can you ask for?

One of the many things I love about Kate Pickle's picklebums blog (www.picklebums.com) is that she makes me feel a parenting kinship with someone in far-off Australia. She manages to be both inspiring (she is constantly making homemade bread and maintains a big garden in her yard) and commiserating (she is also sometimes overwhelmed and imperfect)--and she shares it all. So she gives me some great ideas but she never makes me feel less-than. Plus it's just funny to read about someone who celebrates Christmas while her kids are on summer break from school. (What? So backwards.) And it's neat to feel connected to someone so far away. (That darn Internet is just amazing.)

Kara Fleck from the simplekids blog (www.simplekids.net) seems to have it all together when it comes to parenting her four kids. I am forever impressed by her. It's a bit like having a parenting mentor on my computer. She's among a group of bloggers that make me want to homeschool my kids. I won't. But they make me want to. She's got lots of great, fun ideas for things to do with your kids, as well as some great parenting advice. And I just like her. I kind of wish I could live next door to her…and to Ashley and Kate too. Blogging makes the world smaller and I think that's such an amazing thing.
  • In Recipes…
If you follow my blog at all, you know that I have been on a soup kick of late, so I'm going to share with you my favorite, and most popular blog posted, soup recipes from 2013.

Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup
This is not only a favorite in our house, it's such a classic, crowd-pleasing soup that it's a great one to share.  Who doesn't like chicken and rice soup, right? You can find the recipe for this soup here: Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup Recipe on MamaManagement. If you haven't tried it yet, give it a try one of these cold winter nights. I really don't think you'll be disappointed.

Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes
This recipe is super delicious and super nutritious. And it was my most visited recipe on the blog last year.  You can find the recipe for this chili here: Vegetarian Chili with Sweet Potatoes Recipe on MamaManagement. Give it a try. It's delish.

Harvest Corn Chowder
This is one of my favorites. I think it has wonderful flavor and I love a soup chocked full of veggies. Try this one out. You can find the recipe here: Harvest Corn Chowder Recipe on MamaManagement. I think you'll like it.

There you have it. A few of my favorite things from 2013. I hope you found something in here that peaked your interest and might bring you a little joy this year. But now it's time to let go of 2013 and move on to the shiny new penny of 2014. Since the holiday craziness seemed to carry over into the first week of January this year, I haven't even sat down to really flesh out my 2014 resolutions yet. (I mean, seriously, I just completed and ordered our 2014 family calendar from Shutterfly last week, that's how behind I am!) So, later this week we'll talk resolutions.

Until then, be happy and enjoy some favorite things.