Friday, January 9, 2015

Make your own snow! Perfect for Frozen parties or for kids who can't play in real snow. Indoor or outdoor activity!

We live in central Texas, and it doesn't snow here. When it does - once a decade, it's the gross kind of snow that's really mostly just ice that you can't actually play in. If it's pretty and fluffy - once a century, it melts upon ground contact. This year, my four year old has actually been praying for snow, the poor deprived thing.

Well, I took it upon myself to get creative, and boy have I found a real winner for you guys! I made "snow" out of corn starch and shaving cream (there are alternatives that I'll share). Yeah, it was that simple. Incredibly cheap, super soft, no cold, no mess (well maybe sometimes a little bit - but a vacuum cleaner solves that, easy peasy). My daughter absolutely adores Frozen. She has these little plastic figures of Elsa, Anna, Sven, Olaf, and a few others, and she played with them in her "snow" for two hours. Yes, you read that right, almost TWO HOURS. Boy did I have time to get loads of Christmas preparations done on that day!

On that note, I'd say that it's not only a winner for parents, but a winner for kids, too. I only wish I'd thought of it sooner, in time for my daughter's fourth birthday party which was of course, Frozen themed. She played in this outside, where she loved being able to stand in it and rub it all over herself. (We're still in the 70's for a large part of December.) But she also played in it inside at her little table and on the floor over a blanket or towel. She was able to build little snowmen and even had fun burying her little dolls and using a paintbrush to "discover" them and dig them up.

I planned on making snowballs with her when we were ready to get rid of it, and have a snowball fight in the backyard (and I'm actually pretty excited for that myself), but so far she hasn't lost a bit of interest in it, and plays with it at least twice a week. We've had it stored in a medium sized plastic container, nothing small enough for food, maybe more of a craft bucket, for over a month now. It's just as good and soft today as it was then! And if you're really brave, you can add some pretty glitter, too. :)

My method:
- 1 box of corn starch (16 oz.)
- 1 can of shaving cream (I used a women's since they don't smell as strongly)
- a container to fit your concoction
*Note* I actually quadrupled (or more) this 'recipe' so I needed a larger container. You can use as much corn starch and shaving cream as you want, to make as much as you want. I mean, technically you could buy bags of cornstarch and fill a kiddie pool with this stuff. How fun would that be!?

1. Simply mix your corn starch and shaving cream together, with your hands (or let your kiddos do it). It's that easy! You can get a feel for the consistency by trying to make a ball or snowman. If it falls apart, add more shaving cream.

Alternative #1:
- 1 box of corn starch
- 1/2 bottle of conditioner (about 10 oz.)

Mix these in the same way, and you'll definitely be able to build a snowman with this. While the corn starch and shaving cream stay together, you can't exactly go poking little sticks or carrot noses into them without them cracking at some point (or maybe not if you add more shaving cream?). But, the conditioner method is much messier and I'm not sure how long it will last.

Alternative #2:
- 1 box baking soda
- 1 can shaving cream
- vinegar

This one is for those of you who don't plan on storing this when play time is over. Simply mix your baking soda and shaving cream, and let your kiddos play away! When you're all done, (and I'd suggest doing this outside) let your child pour the vinegar over it and watch it "erupt"!

Alternative #3:
- 1 box corn starch
- 1 can shaving cream
- 1 'glob' of Elmer's glue

Mix all of these together and let your child build things out of them. Perhaps let them use little sand toy molds, placing the molded mixture onto a plate. This mixture will dry into a sort of hardened puff. Super cool!

Keep in mind that your child shouldn't be eating any of these mixtures, and they can potentially burn if they get into the eyes. My four year old has played in this "snow" 10+ times now, and hasn't once tried to eat it and even though she enjoys rubbing it onto her cheeks, and will brush her bangs out of her face and make her face look a little ghostly (easily wiped off with water and a paper towel or baby wipe), she's never complained of it getting into her eyes or it harming her in any way. Remember that if you have young children, supervision is important!

Happy playing!
♥ Mother Bear

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Crock-pot Cinnamon Sugar Pecans, Almonds or Peanuts

I started making this recipe with almonds a while back, and they could hardly make it past drying before my husband, daughter and I ate them all! This Christmas I made them for a family dinner, and once again, there wasn't anything left by the end of the night. So I decided to make a few batches, bag them up and hand them out on Christmas day to family, friends and neighbors, and also tried out pecans and peanuts. They were all amazing! And since then, I've been asked for the recipe by lots of people. So, here it is!

I easily double the amounts to double the recipe sometimes, so that's an option if you plan on sharing these, but more than that wouldn't fit in my standard sized slow cooker. For Christmas I had two doubled recipes going in two crock-pots! :P

You will need:
- 3 cups of pecans, almonds or peanuts (or a mix-up of all of them!)
- 1  1/2 cups brown sugar (packed or loosely packed)
- 1 to 1  1/2 cups sugar (I usually just eyeball this and use organic cane sugar)
- 3 Tbsp. cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 1 egg white
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/8 to 1/4 cup water (start with less and add more if needed)

1. Mix your sugars, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.

2. In a separate bowl whisk egg white and vanilla until it becomes frothy. Mix in your almonds, pecans or peanuts and stir until all nuts are coated well. This helps the sugar and cinnamon to stick, so be thorough. You don't want a lot of extra coating in the bottom, so if you feel that there's too much leftover, add a small handful of nuts and stir again.

3. In your large bowl, mix your nuts into your sugar and cinnamon mixture and stir.

4. Prepare your slow cooker by spraying the inside bottom and sides with cooking spray, then add the sugared nuts and turn cooker to low.

5. Cook your nuts for about three hours, stirring every 20 to 30 minutes. In the last hour, stir in 1/8 - 1/4 cup of water. This ensures a hardened coating. But you don't want them too watery or they won't dry properly. You really need very little water, especially since the crock-pot will sweat a little during cooking and add some water of its own. But, if you don't add enough water then the sugar won't set right and will be messy, flaking away instead of creating a coating. The first time I made these, they were perfect. The next time I did a lot of eyeballing, and added way too much water and they never really dried. The next time, I didn't put enough water, and all the nuts in the bottom of the pot didn't have any coating. After that, I went back to following the recipe exactly, and I haven't gone wrong since, lol. In your crockpot, all of the nuts should look gooey. There shouldn't be any dry sugar in the pot, but there also shouldn't be excess 'goo'. I took a picture with my flash in hopes it would give you a better idea of what you should have going on. They shouldn't be any less gooey than these. This was bare minimum on water:

6. After your nuts have cooked with the added water for about an hour, spoon nuts out onto parchment paper. Try to separate them as much as you can so that they don't dry together in clumps. But this can be pretty time consuming (if you've say, quadrupled the recipe :P), so as long as you don't have clumps more than two or three nuts, it's not too big a deal. Some people prefer clumps anyway.

7. Allow nuts to cool and harden, and then they'll be ready for eating or packaging. You can pop them in the refrigerator if you place your parchment paper on a baking sheet or two and have the room, but my husband says he prefers them still warm and chewy, so it's just your preference!

Happy munching!
♥ Mother Bear

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Holiday Volunteer and Donation Opportunities; specific to the Austin, TX area

Original photo by Jeff Sheldon

The Holidays are upon us! This year I wanted to do more giving than receiving, and I wanted to do it in a way that really helped people in my community and city. I've been wanting to do this every year, for many years, as a lot of people would like to. But of course, I never really do much 'giving back' at all, not since I was in high school anyway. Like most of us, I spend the Holiday season running around like a crazy woman, stressing out about how I'm going to get the 100 hours worth of things I need to get done; my daughter's dance and karate classes, crafts and activities, new recipes for my blog, breakfasts/lunches/dinners, grocery shopping, house work, Holiday events, family gatherings, etc. all into the few short hours each day provides me with.

Basically, it's all about me and my family, us, and all the things we feel like we need need need and just absolutely have to get done! But we're losing touch with the world around us. This year, I finally took a step back, breathed, and decided; I will do what I can do, and everything else, I've got to let go. *insert over-heard Frozen song here* But what really does matter, you might ask?

Our planet; its animals, people... Our families matter, and the time we have to spend with them that we aren't detached, lost in our cell phones and televisions or dragging them around to spend money on junk we've convinced ourselves that we have to have. Our neighbors matter, strangers matter, the state of the hearts around us, really matter.

Taking a step outside of my bubble I see that there are people in need, all around me. I've known this for a long time. But I'm choosing not to ignore it anymore, and I hope you do, too. It's not just homeless people we believe don't want to work, but real people just like you and me. Kids just like ours. They're people who've lost a spouse or a home, children who only eat what the school provides because there isn't enough food at home, women who are victims of domestic violence with no place to go and no way to start over. It's elderly who can't go to the grocery store on their own or change a simple light bulb, homeless animals with no food or shelter from the winter, families who've just been given life changing diagnoses for their children that they can't afford...

These people are also coming up on the Holidays, just like you and me. I implore you to put the one-sided thinking aside, about how these people could have and should have done something differently at some point, to avoid getting into the situations they're in. I implore you to feel it on your heart, to think about people who are hurting physically and emotionally, especially at the Holidays. You can care, and you can teach your children to care, too.

I've compiled a seriously huge list of links (with descriptions) to organizations that welcome donations and volunteers all year 'round, but some also have specific Holiday programs as well, to get you guys into the giving back mood this Holiday season. Many of these places also welcome children, so long as they're accompanied by an adult. If you're choosing to just donate, then your children can absolutely help and you can use this as a great learning experience for them!

If you're interested in giving back in other ways as well, check out my other post that's a list of things you and your kids can do easily to give back to your friends, family, neighbors, animals and community! *Stay tuned - as I haven't published that post yet. I will link it here when I have!*

Keep in mind that all of these places also accept cash donations, but my point of this post was to help y'all get more involved in the world around you and to help teach your children some seriously important values. :) Remember that the Holidays aren't the only time to care about one another and give back and perhaps you guys will find something you can help out with/donate to year 'round!

SafePlace is all about ending sexual and domestic violence. You can volunteer, sponsor a family during their Holiday program, or simply donate some items on their list of things desperately needed. You can even donate old, unused or broken electronics through The SafePlace Electronics Recycling Program, which SafePlace has recycled in accordance with EPA regulations, and 100% of the proceeds go towards funding their programs and services. And you get to claim a tax deduction on the donated items! For the animal supporters out there, you can even foster a family's pet while they're away from their home.

ADB is a non-profit organization that collects diapers which are in turn given to not only families stricken by disaster or poverty, but the elderly as well. Take a look at what they're looking for and consider donating unused diapers or picking up a pack on sale for a donation during the Holiday season!

The Foundation for the Homeless accepts donations of furniture,  travel sized toiletries, clean socks, new or gently worn clothes, backpacks, sneakers, blankets, and warm winter gloves/hats, etc. There are other ways to get involved, too, by volunteering to help serve breakfasts and more!

There are a lot of ways to give back through the Capital Area Food Bank. Did you know that nearly 46,000 Central Texans rely on the Capital Area Food Bank to deliver nutritious foods that they wouldn't otherwise be able to afford, and that one third of those are children? Did you know that due to the fact that Central Texas is among the fastest growing regions in the nation many of those families had to choose between paying for food and paying for housing in the past year? You can help by donating food or what you can gather in piggy bank coins (which ended up being over $200 for us last year!), or by volunteering your time for various things. You can even host your own food drive!

MoW delivers more than 3,000 meals each business day to the homebound and disabled, older adults and veterans. You can volunteer in many ways, such as delivering hot meals, transporting pets to and from the veterinarian and delivering pet food, dog walking and pet grooming, helping those with Alzheimer's via Mike's Place, helping with home repairs and modifications (also via Handy Wheels - for the more minor things like light bulb changing, installing safety rails, raking lawns, etc.), and many many more.

While some families are displaced at the Ronald McDonald House because their children are hospitalized nearby, you can volunteer by cooking a meal or  having a meal delivered, adopting a room by providing frequently used items, be a weekly house volunteer, help deep clean, or simply donate items to help these families live comfortably and cope during this hard time in the Holiday season.

Providing coats for children this Holiday season, Coats for Kids is in particular need of volunteers who speak languages aside from English, particularly Spanish and American Sign Language. They are also in need of, you guessed it, coats! Check out the website to find drop off locations and dates for coat drives.

ML&F provides food and clothing while promoting dignity to the homeless. You can volunteer to help make sandwiches and load the trucks, drive a truck and pass out food and goods, pick up donated items from local businesses, bake desserts, etc.

Make and/or donate to Seton's Care Wear for Infants; blankets, positioning logs, wraps, diaper shirts, hats and booties and mittens in all sizes from premature to extra large.

The Austin Humane Society is a non-profit animal shelter that welcomes volunteers as well as families interested in fostering a pet/litter temporarily. They are also looking for a great deal of items, including bedding, heating pads, can openers, kitty litter, medical supplies, cleaning supplies, bowls, crates, treats and more! You can also adopt a kennel or check out their Holiday Giving Guide to find out how else you can give back to the Humane Society this Holiday season!

Through Caritas of Austin there are many ways you can get involved to help other families at the Holidays. You can donate kitchen items, hygiene items and cleaning supplies, adopt a family, individual or refugee family, as well as volunteer by picking up and delivering donations, serving in the community kitchen and more.

An adult day health care center with activities, exercising, dances, and other things in need of volunteers to help with those things and others, to engage in conversations and help run activities, assist with regular jobs at the ACT, count and list inventory, accept and organize donations, repair and refurbish donated equipment, answering phones, running classes, etc. They also need and gladly accept donations of these things.

Operation Blue Santa is a non-profit organization that's organized by the Austin Police Department. Every year they provide each family they work with a full Holiday meal and wrapped Christmas gifts for children under 14. You can choose to volunteer, perhaps sponsor a family, or simply donate unwrapped toys to one of the many drop off locations.

A program of the Travis County Sheriff's Office. Brown Santa is dedicated to helping out needy families, and you can help, too! Check out their list of donatable items here, donate funds via Roger Casanova's fundraiser page, or volunteer. Check out their page for more opportunities to help!

The Salvation Army's mission statement is this: "The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination." The SA helps everyone from elderly, homeless, veterans, disaster relief, victims of domestic violence, to job loss, emotional distress, physical disabilities, mental and substance abuse issues and more. With that said, the Salvation Army has a Christmas Assistance program that helps families in need of Christmas dinner, toys for their children, meals for the homeless, and more. They also have an Angel Tree program, specific to giving a child in need, a Christmas. You can also volunteer to be a bell ringer, for disaster assistance or project and event help. Or donate items from their wishlist for their programs. Visit the website to find more opportunities to donate or volunteer!

El Buen Samaritano is committed to helping families lead healthy, productive and secure lives through high-quality and affordable healthcare, education and financial security services. You can volunteer in the daycare, sorting and bagging food, or you can donate toiletries or foods to help stock the Food Pantry. See the list of things they could use here.

If there's an organization I've missed, please feel free to link me to it in the comments so that I can review it and add it! I'm sure there are loads of other places in the Austin area, and encourage you all to look into doing something that will impact others' lives for the better. Please share with me your stories; Have you been the person in need? Have you helped others in need? How have these experiences changed you?

He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them will receive many curses. - Proverbs 28:27

♥Mother Bear

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mom shaves daughter's head as punishment; Child/public shaming, an up-and-coming trend

Lately we've been seeing more and more of this in the news. A dad who made his daughter wear a shirt claiming her age, a mom who posted a video while talking trash to her daughter for lying about her age, and my personal favorite; the dad who wore daisy dukes to take his daughter shopping to show her that they weren't as 'cute' as she thinks.

But sometimes these 'creative punishments' might be taken a little too far. There's been quite an uproar over the photo and punishment above where a mother who remains unnamed, shaved her ten year old daughter's head because she wouldn't brush it. The Facebook caption that the mother posted is pictured here:

Many people are agreeing that this is very unacceptable for many reasons, starting with obvious ones such as that the girl is going to be heavily picked on at school, if she wasn't already. Some are saying that the mother should have simply taught the girl to take care of her hair better or put it up, or as many other suggested, a short and manageable hair cut. Many people are outraged and calling this parental bullying. On top of ignoring the problem at its source, that she is creating a child who doesn't know how to deal with her problems or feelings and will become a bully herself, finding it acceptable to socially humiliate, degrade and punish others in public and on social media. Others are supporting the mom, saying that the girl will brush her hair next time and that it wasn't like she was beating the child.

Perhaps there's a fine line between teaching a valuable lesson in personal hygiene and parental respect, and public and social media shaming to the extremes? Where would one draw the line as an acceptable punishment for a child not brushing her hair? At what point does one decide to 'get back' at a child for not minding? When do you decide that your dirty laundry, or your child's should be aired for the world to see or is that ever acceptable at all?

I'd really love to hear what you all think about these new, up-and-coming styles of punishing our children. Are you on board? Where do you draw the line? Would you choose this as an acceptable form of punishment for your daughter? What would you have done differently? Were there other options? Have you ever been a victim of a punishment like this?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

DIY Fairy Garden with foraged & collected materials

I don't know about the weather where you guys are, but here in Texas it's finally cooling off. For my daughter and I, that means hours long walks and stays at the park, and tons of local outdoor activities. It's our favorite few weeks of the year. Yes, it's that short here. Sometimes we take "fairy walks". My daughter gets to wear her fairy wings (and sometimes requests that I do, too) and carries a little basket which she collects fairy things into.

This past spring, we collected the things in the photo above, which included huge acorns and acorn 'hats', what looked like an old wooden tinker toys piece, lots of thin sticks, snail shells, leaves of different shapes and sizes, a variety of different barks, mosses, a piece of wood that we found in a park from a previously cut tree, neat shaped rocks, among loads of other things. We have a box in our garage dedicated for our finds and we do lots of things with it from fairy gardens, to pressed flowers and leaves, etc.

I try my best to educate her on what things are, where they come from, what we can and can't touch and what things need to be left alone because someone planted them, or so that other people and animals can enjoy them. When we bring something home I don't know anything about, we take a few minutes to Google it, and we both learn a little something!

For our fairy garden (and we made one together, and she made one on her own - but for the photo above...) we used a fairly small round wooden planter with a plastic lining, a small broken clay pot, two small purchased plants (maybe $4 all together), one plant we moved to the fairy garden, moss (another few dollars from our local gardening store) and our foraged materials. We simply filled the pot with dirt, added our broken clay pot pieces and then added our fairy house, ladder, fence, other decorations and moss.

It's really very simple! We made our fairy house out of tree bark that we hot glued to a water bottle that I cut the bottom out of. Then we tied the leaves together and glued them to the top. The ladder and fence were both made from similar small sized sticks which we tied and glued together. We also made a small chair out of an acorn hat and a sea shell from our trip to the beach. The Venus Fly Trap was my daughter's idea, and it was really really neat, though it didn't hold up outdoors like the other two plants did.

We also made a small zen-type garden out of an old tray, and added fairy things to it. I wish I'd have taken a photo of that one, it was so cool! We filled it with sand that we brought back from the beach, sea shells for a pathway and coral decorations, plus another chair made out of two sea shells, and another fairy house made with a water bottle and glued on seashells that covered the entire bottle (we sprinkled a little sand over the bare spots of glue) and palm tree leaves tied together for the top. I even made a little zen garden rake out of sticks and hot glue. I can't believe I didn't take a picture of that one, but it just goes to show that you can throw a fairy garden together in no time at all, virtually for free, in any way you'd like!

Here's an example of one that we found at our local Botanical Garden. Every year they have a fairy trail where people create and donate little fairy 'exhibits' and they even have a little fairy tea party that you can sign your kids up for. It's really neat! So we didn't make this fairy house, but it's got an incredible amount of detail! They even had some hanging from trees. Very cool, and the kids love it.

For those of you in the Austin area or who might be traveling to our great city in the future. I suggest you check out the Zilker Botanical Garden. It's a nice day trip in the spring when the flowers are blooming, and they have nice family events there, too. We love their dinosaur exhibit and it just so happens to be the wonderfully magical place where my husband proposed to me!

Recently my mom bought us this amazing pot that looks like a carved out log, and it's quite large. When we make a fairy garden (or complex!) out of it, I'll add the photo here. I bet it's going to be amazing, and we're both excited to use it. If you'd like to make a fairy garden that looks a little bit more 'real', they do make fairy garden items such as benches, fences, houses, rakes, hammocks, etc. that you can find online or at your local Hobby Lobby.

Happy building!

♥Mother Bear

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Caramel Apples; decorated for Halloween

A few days ago I was browsing the bakery at my local grocery store, where they know me by name (I have a problem, I  know.) and I saw caramel apples. I haven't had a caramel apple since I was a kid and my daughter has never had one. After staring at them in their caramel covered goodness for about five minutes too long, I decided we needed to have one! Or many...

I absolutely adore the woman who runs the bakery, who after getting with her manager, just gave me the cute little Halloween decorations and sticks, and charged me half of what the sprinkles would have cost on the baking isle. I guess having bad luck since they were all out of those things already so close to Halloween, was actually pretty good luck! Then with two more ingredients, their examples and their thoughtful generosity, I was able to make pretty much exactly the same apples. And for less than it would have cost to purchase them, even if I'd have had to have bought the sticks and decorations, too.

If you want to make some caramel apples, I'll give you some options, including a homemade sauce and ideas for optional toppings. :)

For all methods, you will need:
- 6 to 8 apples of any variety (I chose red, gala and granny smith, all!)
- as many wooden candy apple sticks (or popsicle sticks) as you have apples
- wax paper
- 'toppings' of your choice; sprinkles, mini M&M's, chopped nuts, chocolate drizzle, mini chocolate chips, crushed graham crackers, etc.

With a homemade sauce that will cover about 8 apples, you will need:
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream, divided into 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup
- 3/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Non-homemade sauce ideas:
- store bought caramel bits (like the ones I used, shown in the photo below)
- wrapped caramel candies (like Brach's Milk Maids) unwrapped and melted

1. Wash your apples and dry them. Twist the stems off and insert the sticks into/beside the stems of each.

2. Line a plate or baking sheet with wax and prepare your ingredients into bowls for easy sprinkling or rolling once your apples have been dipped in caramel.

3. Prepare your caramel by the package directions. If you're making the homemade sauce, bring 3/4 c. cream, corn syrup, butter and sugar to a simmer, stirring constantly until smooth and golden. Remove from heat and add 1/4 c. cream and vanilla and stir.

4. While your caramel is still hot, hold the apples by the stick and dip them into the caramel. Spoon the caramel over the apples to completely cover them if you need to. Let the excess drip off the bottom. *You can dip them twice and hold the apple, turning it up and down while it cools for a thicker coating.*

5. Dip the coated apple bottom into your preferred topping or roll it to cover more ground. Set on wax papered plate and refrigerate for a little while, at least twenty minutes.

6. Optionally, top the apples with a decoration if you're making these for a holiday or event.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cheap and easy homemade truffles

Having a sweet tooth is something that runs through the women in my family. Lately, I've been craving sweet treats, but as you all know by now, I'm not very big on things that take a long time or cost a lot of money. I came across a recipe for these a few weeks ago, and put my own twist on them, as I always do with just about everything from styles, to crafts to recipes. We're all out own people, why wouldn't we? Well, I sure twisted up a winner here, and you guys need to try these.

For approximately 20 truffles, you will need:
- 2 cups of semi sweet chocolate chips in a medium bowl
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream (less is more in this recipe - don't go over a cup or your truffles will be too runny/soft)
- 'toppings' to roll your truffles in - we used what we could find in the pantry which was salty roasted almonds (which I chopped), cocoa (which I mixed with a little bit of powdered sugar so it wouldn't be too bitter), and my daughter's choice of sprinkles (hard chocolate shell would probably work, too, and be awesome - wish we'd had some of that!)
- wax paper
- a melon baller or a spoon/metal teaspoon (if you use a regular spoon you'll just have to be a little more hands on with making the chocolate into balls - this can be hard as it will begin to melt against warm fingers, but doable)
- optional: a cup of hot water to dip your baller or metal teaspoon in between scoops. This helps if your chocolate is a little too hard, and to ball them perfectly. I found that I still had to do a bit of shaping and with the water, you also have to dry the baller after dipping it into the water, which means you also need a rag which will get really chocolatey. It's really about preference and options. :)

*You don't have to roll these in anything. We left a few of them bare, and they were just as delicious as the others!*

Getting the delicious deed done:
1. Bring your heavy whipping cream to a boil. I feel like getting this too hot is a bad idea, so only bring it to a boil. When it begins to boil, immediately remove it from heat and pour it over the chocolate chips in a medium bowl. They will begin to melt right away. Stir the chocolate until it's all melted and well blended, but don't over stir.

2. Refrigerate your chocolate for at least four hours. We left ours in overnight and it wasn't too hard the next day when we were ready to use it. We did dip the melon baller in hot water first and that might have been helpful, though the chocolate is soft, so it may not make a huge difference.

3. When you're ready to make your truffles, get your toppings ready if you plan to use any. As you make each truffle, which should be about the size of a rounded tea spoon, you can place them on wax paper right away and refrigerate again before rolling in toppings (that way they aren't too soft) or you can roll them immediately into your toppings and place on wax. I rolled them immediately and noticed that after 8 or so, I had to stop, put all chocolate in the fridge and let everything cool again. So it would be more time efficient to ball all of them out on the wax paper, refrigerate and then roll in desired toppings. They soften quickly so they'll need to stay in the fridge while you aren't eating them, which  may not be ever, considering they're soooo good!

*As far as chocolate shell: I haven't tried this, but I'd love to. I don't think using a shell that has to be warmed is a good idea. The truffles will melt and not stay in a ball if you dip them into something warm. I've seen little bottles of shell 'sauce' at my local grocery store that look just like chocolate syrup and they don't have to be heated to use. I would use something like that. And how wonderful would a truffle be that's hard chocolate on the outside and gooey and soft on the inside? Or even a truffle rolled in crushed almonds and then given a chocolate coating? Why don't I have any shell in my supplies!?*

Easy enough for the little ones to help out, too!
The truffles on the plate were made by this sweet thang right here.
She chose all sprinkles, and they were just as delicious.
Easy peasy. :)

My husband wasn't so sure how good these would be without good expensive chocolate, and just chocolate chips, but he loves them. They aren't too sweet and they don't taste like cheap milk chocolate either. Plus, he didn't have to spend a lot to make these. :P Everybody wins! 


Monday, August 5, 2013

A vinegar and baking soda experiment; Creating gas to blow up a balloon.

I was cleaning out a drawer today and found some old birthday balloons that made me think of this experiment, that we had yet to try. So I grabbed a water bottle, some baking soda, vinegar and a funnel, and we headed outside (where I'll always do this in case of vinegar spills and splatters - I know some people clean with it, but the smell nauseates me in large amounts). It's fun and a great learning experience, too!

* "Blowing up" in this case does not mean exploding! Too bad huh? :)*

You will need:
- balloons
- enough baking soda to halfway fill up however many balloons you want to blow up
- enough vinegar to fill your water bottle 1/3 of the way to half way up
- a funnel (If you are going to use a funnel for the vinegar as well and are using the same one for the baking soda, fill your balloons first.You don't want the funnel to have vinegar in it when you try to pour your baking soda.)

1. Fill your balloons about halfway full of baking soda. It doesn't have to be an exact measurement. Set them aside.
2. Pour your vinegar into your water bottle until the bottle is halfway full, or a little less. It doesn't have to be exact either.

3. Stretch one balloon with baking soda inside of it over the top of the bottle, just the mouth piece. Be careful not to accidentally tip any of the baking soda into the bottle until your balloon is secured or it will fizz up and out of the bottle and make a mess.
4. When you're ready, hold the balloon up so that the baking soda falls into the vinegar and watch as it causes a reaction and begins to air up the balloon!

What's happening scientifically, is that the acetic acid in the vinegar mixes with the sodium bicarbonate in the baking soda and forms carbonic acid. The carbonic acid is unstable and falls apart, creating carbon dioxide and water. So you actually have a double replacement reaction. The carbon dioxide escapes the solution that's left and that's why you see all those bubbles. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Red, white and blue pudding pops

For a cheap, easy and delicious treat for the kiddos on the fourth of July, try red, white and blue pudding pops!

You will need:
- one box of white chocolate pudding mix (and it's required ingredients)
- popsicle molds OR dixie cups and popsicle sticks
- red food coloring
- blue food coloring

1. Mix your pudding according to the directions and separate it into three separate, small bowls.
2. In your first bowl of pudding, add blue food coloring until you get your desired blue color.
3. In your second bowl of pudding, add red food coloring until you get your desired red color. (Leave your third bowl with pudding, white.)
4. Spoon equal amounts of red, white and blue pudding into each of your molds or dixie cups. Top them with their lids, or insert popsicle sticks into the center of your dixie cups, and freeze.
5. When your pudding pops are frozen and your kids are ready to eat them, run the molds or cups under warm water until you can pull the pops free.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Cheesecake with blueberry star and strawberry topping

I love cheesecake and I love strawberries. I also love blueberries and their health benefits. For this fourth of July, I decided to combine the three in a patriotic desert and this is what I came up with! It is delicious! You can make your cheesecake from scratch, or you can cheat like I did today and use a boxed mix. I can't tell the difference, and it can be done and ready to eat in less than an hour.

You will need:
- one no bake cheesecake box mix (and it's listed ingredients)
- approx. one small carton of strawberries
- approx. one medium carton of blueberries

Simply make your cheesecake according to the box (or home make it - possibly the healthier choice) and once it's ready for serving, top it off with a blueberry star surrounded by chopped strawberries! I contemplated only quartering the strawberries. I think it may have made for a better presentation, though this was probably easier to eat. Hey, maybe you could even make the star out of halved strawberries with a whipped cream center! The possibilities are delicious!

Enjoy! :)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

DIY Starbucks Frappuccino!

If you're anything like me and not only love coffee, but often times find that you really need it, while realizing you're breaking the bank at Starbucks, well you're in for a treat! I've got a recipe for you that costs about fifty cents per "grande" frappuccino and boy does it taste uh-mazing! I made the drink in the photo above, I just put it in a Starbucks cup to trick my husband to see if he would notice that it wasn't a Starbucks. He didn't! Ahh, sweet success. Not to mention, it's HOT outside. What an amazing alternative to hot coffee in the mornings, without ever having to get dressed and drive to your local SB!

You will need:
- 2 Tbsp instant coffee granules (regular or decaf)
- 2 Tbsp fat free vanilla flavored coffee creamer (powdered)
- 1/2 cup fat free milk (I found that this makes it strong/bitter - but if you do 1/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup liquid vanilla creamer it's sweeter. Just my preference!)

- about ten ice cubes

Blend all of your ingredients together in a blender (add one or two more cubes of ice if it's too runny) and enjoy! How amazing is a 50 cent, homemade Starbucks drink from the comfort of your own home?

In the comments: Do you like Starbucks? What's your favorite way to drink coffee? Will you share this with your friends and save them money, too? :)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

DIY all natural sugar scrub recipes! Great for gifts!

If you love sugar scrubs but don't want to pay the crazy price for one, don't fret! Today I'm going to tell you how to make a few different sugar scrubs (one for your feet and even a coffee scrub that has some great health benefits) that will get you much more for your buck, and it's all natural, too. Not to mention, they can be made in minutes with things you probably already have in your home and make great gifts!

For the Coconut Sugar Scrub in the photo above, you will need:
- a jar with a wide mouth and a lid that can be put in the shower
- 1/2 cup sugar (more if your jar is larger - though I recommend smaller jars)
- 1/2 cup coconut oil

Optional variation:
- 1/4 cup fine sugar
- 1/4 cup raw, coarse sugar
- 1/2 cup coconut oil
- 2 Tablespoons vitamin E oil

Mix those things together and you'll get a substance that's not too dry and crumbly, but not something you could pour either. Like this:

Put your sugar and oil mix into your jar, and there you have the simplest, cheapest diy scrub in under five minutes that will beat out a good majority of those expensive, who knows what's in it, scrubs. If you're making the scrub as a gift, cut a piece of fun printed fabric out  in the shape of a square and secure it around your lid with a tie and a label.

Personally, the next time I make this, I'll use raw sugar that's coarse as well as regular sugar. A half and half mix of the two. I believe it will make a better exfoliator, though I haven't tried it yet so I can't say for sure. Also, keep in mind that the consistency of a scrub can be changed to please your preference simply by adding more sugar to make it dryer, or more oils to make it runnier.

Also note that you can use coconut oil, vitamin E oil, safflower oil, almond oil, jojoba oil, olive oil and grapeseed oils over any oil in a recipe. They're all wonderful oils that will do the job!

Here are some more recipes that I'd like to try soon!

Brown Sugar Coffee Scrub (recipe fit for smaller jar)
- 1/4 cup raw sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup ground coffee
- 1/4 cup vitamin E oil OR other oil
- 1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
- 1 tsp. nutmeg (optional)

Mix your ingredients together and viola! You have a Brown Sugar (and maybe cinnamon) Coffee scrub! I'm making this recipe as soon as I purchase some more sugar. We ran out of raw sugar and I've yet to need any again. I'm excited because I know that this will not only smell wonderful and leave my skin feeling amazing, it has some health benefits, too. Like:

...anti-inflammatory properties, as well as helping to speed the healing of skin wounds.
...being a natural antioxidant which helps to reduce age spots and wrinkles.
...preventing varicose veins and cellulite.

*My mom made a coffee scrub recently and told me that the trick to the scrub is NOT using finely ground coffee because it's hard to wash off. When you grind your coffee at the store, use a setting that won't grind it so finely! Thanks for the great advice, Mom!*

Peppermint Sugar Scrub (great for your feeties!)
- 1/2 cup raw sugar
- 1/4 cup regular white sugar
- 1/2 cup vitamin E oil OR other oil
- 4 or 5 drops of peppermint extract

Mix all of the ingredients together and remember that if you want your mixture to be drier, add more sugar. If you want your scrub to be smoother and runnier, add more oil. If it needs more smell-good, add more extract. Basically, you can replace the peppermint in this recipe with any extract of your choosing to create just about any scrub. They're a lot of fun to play around with especially when you have all of the ingredients sitting around anyway!


In the comments: What are some of your favorite scrub recipes? What are some of your must-have shower accessories/products?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The best list of children's songs with lyrics, videos, teaching instructions and sign language!

Little Riley really gettin' down on some drums!

Lately, my daughter and I  have been practicing sign language. It turns out that at least three families on our street only speak sign language, and we've had many conversations as to why that is, and what we can do to better communicate with them. Upon learning that she could in fact still 'talk' to our neighbors, Riley decided she wanted to learn sign language and she wanted to know it by yesterday.

I have sign language books, and we've practiced simple signs since before she could talk. So moving up from there, we've started learning songs, to make sign language fun and easy. I would recommend sign language to anyone with a baby unable to speak yet, as it helps them communicate with us before they've learned how to talk, and can greatly help prevent melt downs and tantrums. But I would also recommend it to anyone who would love to be able to communicate with others like us, who just talk a little bit differently.

If any of you out there have Netflix or are interested in purchasing DVD's, there's an awesome show called Signing Time that's made for young children to help them learn sign language. The mother who created the show did so when she found that her oldest daughter, who is deaf, was unable to really have fun and participate in group outings and play dates because so few other people knew how to speak in sign language. She makes it really fun and easy to learn, and even I've learned a great deal of sign language there! Our neighbors were really tickled when Riley first learned how to introduce herself and even 'sang' them one of the songs from this list. It's really great for everyone involved!

So here, I've gathered together a list of children's songs, mostly educational, but also some classic and just plain fun, too. You'll find lyrics, audio, video, tips on how to preform the song with or for your baby/child and some videos in sign easy language, too! The list is long, but once you find some favorites it will have done it's job. If  you have any song suggestions just drop me a comment and I'll add them to the list! Also, this list will probably grow over time, so keep checking back for new fun songs. Happy learning!

Counting Songs
5 Little Monkeys  (Lyrics, video & tune) - (Video in sign language)
Five Little Ducks  (Lyrics) - (Video) - (Video in sign language)
5 Little Sea Shells  (Lyrics, photo instructions for performing & audio)
In The Big Blue Sea  (Video only)
Ten In The Bed   (Lyrics, performing instructions & video)

Alphabet and Phonics Songs
Sign Language ABC's with song  (Video in sign language)
A is for Apple  (Video only)
Act Out the Alphabet  (Lyrics & audio)
The Alphabet with Elmo and India Arie  (Video)

Body Parts Songs
Dem Bones  (Lyrics & audio) - (Video with lyrics)
Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes  (Video)
The Hokey Pokey  (Lyrics, video & audio)

Memory Songs
Old MacDonald - Memory version  (Video with lyrics)
There's A Hole In the Bottom Of The Sea  (Lyrics & audio) - (Video)
There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly  (Lyrics, audio & video)

Animal Songs
Little Bunny Foo Foo  (Lyrics, video & audio)
Old Mac Donald  (Lyrics & teaching instructions)
3 Blind Mice  (Lyrics, audio & video) - (Video in sign language)
Pop Goes the Weasel  (Lyrics) - (Video with lyrics)
Animal Sounds Song  (Video only)
Alice the Camel  (Lyrics & audio)

Bug Songs
The Itsy Bitsy Spider  (Lyrics) - (Video with lyrics) - (Video in sign language)
Baby Bumblebee  (Lyrics, audio & video) - (Lyrics with performing instructions)
There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly  (Lyrics, audio & video)

Lullaby For Teddy   (Audio)
Rock A Bye Baby  (Lyrics & audio)
Lullaby and Goodnight  (Lyrics & audio)
I L.O.V.E. Y.O.U.  (Lyrics) - (Audio)
Hush Little Baby  (Lyrics, video & audio)
Someday Baby   (Audio)
Wings  (Lyrics) - (Audio)

Preschool Bible Songs

Jesus Loves Me  (Lyrics, audio & video) - (Video)
I've Got Peace Like A River  (Video with lyrics) - (Lyrics)

Fun Songs
I'm A Little Tea Pot  (Lyrics) - (Video)
The Wheels on the Bus  (Lyrics, audio & video) - (Video)
If You're Happy and You Know It  (Lyrics & instruction) - (Video with lyrics)
Row Row Row Your Boat  (Video) - (Lyrics & audio) - (Video in sign language at 2min. into video)
Do Your Ears Hang Low?  (Lyrics) - (Video)
Skip To My Lou  (Lyrics, audio & video)
Down By the Bay  (Lyrics, audio & video) - (Video)
This Old Man  (Lyrics) - (Video)
Hey Diddle Diddle  (Lyrics & activities) - (Video with lyrics)
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star  (Full song lyrics) - (Video) - (Video in sign language)

In the comments: Do you have any song suggestions? What were some of your favorite childhood songs? What are your children's favorites?