Thursday, February 28, 2013

Five Fabulous Shows to Watch... If you love Downton Abbey

also titled - - Mary and Matthew got you Down(ton)?
or - - How I fell in love with Mr Bates over and over and over agian.

Whether or not your are on board with what happened in the last episode of Downton Abbey, there isn't a person I know that has started to watch that show and not fallen in love with it.  My husband is still holding out, but he likes to crack the occasional "Who is Abby again?" joke while I re-watch the first season for the 3rd time.  :)

But whether you are giving up the show for good or not, there is a English countryside sized space to fill in our hearts and I've got some ideas for you.

  1. Larkrise to Candleford (4 seasons, all are available free with Amazon Prime)
    Featuring the very Mr. Bates as a strong, uncrippled, albeit poor Farmer.  This is the endearing story of a girl who leaves her family to move to the next town for an apprenticeship at the local post office.  
  2. Upstairs Downstairs (2 seasons, season 1 free with Amazon Prime)
    A very similar story to Downton Abbey, regarding the workings of a wealthy nobel household in the early 1900s.  Not to be confused with the  long running BBC show which began airing in the 70s (I couldn't bear that one), I was sucked into the story of the Hollands and wished for more episodes as soon as they ended.  
  3. BBC Emma Miniseries (4 episodes, free with Amazon Prime)
    I'm absolutely loving this one, which features Dumbledore as the worrisome Mr. Woodhouse and poor Sir Anthony Strallon as Mr. Weston. Emma is such a great story and it was lovely to see a longer version.  And!  The Mr. Elton is actually quite good looking and the Mr. Knightley is not too shabby either.  
  4. Cranford (two seasons, both free with Amazon Prime)
    Featuring our dear Carson in a very different role, and Lady Judy Dench, who has never been bad in anything.  I fell in love with Cranford's eccentric residents as they try to cope with the modern world coming into their small town.  Lots of gossiping ladies, which is always a plus!
  5. North and South (four episodes, free with Amazon Prime)
    A pride and prejudice-ish love story.  A little darker feeling than the others as it is based in a factory town and not the country.  Mr. Bates appears again which is always a treat.   
Happy watching!

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Poppyseed Bread

Here's a re-post of a recipe I shared this week on Sumo's Sweet Stuff.

Today I'm going to share a recipe that's been a family favorite for many years - Poppyseed Bread. I love this recipe because it's simple yet delicious - once you collect the ingredients, you'll be able to keep them on hand and whip this up whenever you need to. It seems that in the spring, I find myself constantly needing to contribute a dish for one event for another. This is perfect for baby showers, teacher appreciation events, brunch, or just about anything! You can make it in either loaf pans or muffin tins, and either way it turns out great. 

Katie's Poppyseed Bread

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 t. salt
2 t. poppyseeds
3 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
2 1/2 c. sugar

Wet Ingredients:
3 eggs
1 1/2 c. oil
2 t. vanilla extract
2 1/2 t. almond extract
1 1/2 c. milk

1 c. powdered sugar
2 T. milk
1/2 t. almond extract

First, combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl or stand mixer. Then, add the wet ingredients, beating well. Pour batter into two greased and floured 4x8 in. loaf pans, and bake at 350. The original recipe we got from a friend years ago said 30-40 minutes, but for me, these larger loaf pans always take over an hour (about 65 minutes). I'd set your timer to 40, and then check on them in increments of 5-10 minutes and note what time works for your oven. For muffins, bake for 20-30 minutes. Your bread is done when a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean. The edges may darken quite a bit more than the center, but don't worry about it as long as it's not burned. Allow loaves to cool, and then top with the glaze.

Yield: Two 4x8 loaves or 3 dozen muffins

Note: On my original handwritten recipe card, I have the "bake 30-40 minutes" crossed out in angry black ink, and replaced it with "bake for 1,000 years." So don't be surprised if this takes longer to bake than you would think. Apparently it did for me too, and made me somewhat enraged.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Product Review: Hot Wheels Wall Track

As a parent, I always find it helpful to talk to others about toys I'm considering. One of my son's Christmas gifts was a Hot Wheels wall track. I'd read mixed reviews on it, so I thought I'd offer my thoughts now that we've had it for a few months.

Hot Wheels makes several different types of wall track sets, and they're just like a car track that hooks to your wall using Command Strips. My son (age 5) REALLY wanted one for Christmas, but I was somewhat hesitant.

I've mentioned several times that we live in a pretty small house. We'd gotten car tracks before, but one was stepped on and broken pretty much immediately, and the ones that still work rarely got played with. It just always seemed like kind of a hassle to get them out and put them away. My other concerns were lack of wall space, and durability.

He ended up getting this Hot Wheels Wall Track Starter Play Set, and it's been a huge hit.

We solved the wall space problem by putting the track in the upstairs hallway outside his bedroom. I was worried it would get jostled off the wall all the time, and occasionally it does (maybe once or twice a month?), but it hooks right back in really easily. Is this my absolute favorite arrangement? No, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for my kid at this point. Obviously if you had a playroom or bedroom to put this in, that would be better, but we don't. I was originally planning to just leave the hooks on, and take the track on and off, but it gets played with so much that it's just been up since Christmas.

It's extremely durable under normal amounts of kid play. It stays on the wall beautifully, and stays all snapped together nicely. I've had no complaints from my son (or my husband!) about issues with the track. So far, it's held up really nicely. I did have to talk to my son about how it's held up, and let him know that he can't be rough with it, or allow any of his friends to be rough with it. But so far, no issues there.

The novelty absolutely hasn't worn off yet. There's lots of different ways to configure the track to make the cars do different things, and my son likes to experiment with sending different types of toys through the track as well. He and his friends spend HOURS with this toy, and one of his friends' moms even bought it for her son since he loved the one at our house so much. I think it was definitely my son's favorite Christmas gift, and probably one of his top gifts in several years.

Definitely, DEFINITELY recommend this toy!

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Friday, February 15, 2013

American Girl Doll Versus Generic - Is It Worth It?

So it seems like every Christmas, the discussion begins... "My daughter wants a doll. Should I splurge and get an American Girl doll, or just get the generic one?" Here is our experience...

I'll start by saying that this was never about having the "American Girl" brand. I never had an American Girl doll, and I don't care at all about that brand as some sort of a kiddie status symbol, nor does my daughter.

When my oldest was 4, she asked for an American Girl doll. She had recently started playing with her older cousin, who had a generic Target one, but we didn't know if the doll phase would last. She's a responsible kid, so we knew she'd take care of it, but I didn't want to spend a lot of money on something that would just sit on the shelf.

So that first year, when she turned 5, we got her the Our Generation doll (from Target). She named her doll Sunny. Sunny was played with constantly, loved, and adored. She was more than getting our money's worth out of her. Two things to note: within a year, the material was coming apart at the neck, and the hair was incredibly tangled and ratty.

When she was coming up to her 6th birthday, she asked for the American Girl BRAND doll. Her cousin had gotten one by this time, and my daughter was in love with its smooth hair, and the ability to play the online game. I told her that I would buy her one for her birthday, but that would be her ONLY present from us. She gave it some thought and decided to just stick with Sunny.

That Christmas, Sunny got a makeover. We did the Doll Hair Detangler, and I sewed her up at the neck. Sunny looked pretty good, but as her birthday approached, my daughter again began wishing for an American Girl doll. I again offered her the same deal. She could have one, but it would be her only gift. For her 7th birthday, she agreed.

I was happy to do it, at that point. It had been over two years that her favorite pastime was playing dolls, and we knew she would take good care of it. Plus, we were making a trip to California and had the opportunity to go to the American Girl doll store to pick one out herself.

Ahhhhh.... the magic.....

 She named her new doll Charlotte....

 And we enjoyed a trip to the American Girl restaurant as well.
She doesn't regret getting Charlotte for one minute. The most important thing to her is the hair. It never gets snarly or tangled, and remains easy to brush out and style.  She also LOVES the online game that comes along with the My American Girl dolls. I love that Charlotte and Sunny are the same size, so Charlotte can use all the stuff we already had - we either make or buy generic for all the clothes and accessories. For my daughter, it was never about the brand name, it was always about having a doll like her cousin's that had "the good hair."

So, is it worth it? If your daughter is young, or you're on a limited budget, I would start with a generic one. Kids' interests change, and I would want to make sure it's something they were going to stay interested in. Also, aside from the hair, the generic ones are fine. My daughter made lots of good memories with her Sunny doll. If the money isn't a concern, or if your daughter is older, and you're confident that she'll love the doll and get lots of use out of it, and/or she will be very into styling the hair, I would definitely go with the American Girl brand. For my daughter, who plays with hers a LOT, the American Girl doll brand has proven to be far more durable. And really, it's pretty comparable in price to a lot of other big-ticket gifts, so I think in 2013, $100 isn't that much to pay for something your child will treasure and play with constantly. So I guess my final vote is: worth it!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Last Minute DIY Valentines

In true form, I found out today that I need to bring Valentines to my son's little Mommy and Me preschool that we attend.  At first I thought we should just run to the store and grab a box of Valentines, but I was already at the computer and decided to whip these up.

Some"bunny" loves you Valentines!

There are lots of kids in our class with different food allergies, but I know one snack that (almost) all of them can have are these yummy Annie's bunny grahams.  And when we went to grab some at the grocery store, they were on sale, score!

I wanted to use what I had on hand here at home, so I designed them with a snack size ziplock in mind.   I also printed mine on grey cardstock because that's what I happen to have extra of.

I'm so happy with how they turned out and Max loves them too! In the end it was very simple and overall less expensive than buying Valentines + treats at the store.

I revised them for download here, in case there are any others out there that need a last minute idea, and quick!

You can download the printable here.

Happy Valentines Day!

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentines Day Heart Hair Style!

This is a re-post, but I wanted to put some updated pics with this adorable hair idea for Valentines Day!

Original Post:
My daughter is 5 and way into everything girls, hearts, pink, etc. So I decided to browse the internet for some cute heart hairstyles to do in her hair for Valentine's Day. I had seen a post a while ago on She Does Hair that I liked, and wanted to see if I could do something on my daughter, who has really thin, fine, hair. None of those elaborate styles you see on other blogs. But I think it turned out cute, so I thought I'd share!

First, you take the hair into a ponytail, but don't fasten the hair-tie all the way at the base. Leave yourself some room, like this:

Then you want to split the hair that is UNDER the hair-tie, like this:

Then take your ponytail and pull it through the split part, and pull the ends tightly. This next picture is a good action shot of this step, but I accidentally did it backwards the time I took this picture, so don't look too carefully! Your ponytail will be going from the back of the head to the front through the split.

Pull it nice and tight and don't worry if it looks weird right now. The long ponytail will be hanging in your daughter's face here.
Then split the ponytail in half, and you can braid the halves, twist them, or just leave them plain. On Valentines Day I'll probably put some ribbon in the hair to make it stand out more. Arrange the two halves of the ponytail into a heart (the top of the heart is at the top of the head, and the bottom of the heart points down toward the neck), and clip the ends.

You can fasten the hearts with little clippies to make it more secure, if you want.

I did this on my little cousin, who has thicker hair, and on hers I did two little hearts instead of one big one, and just split the hair down the middle first and did them closer to the top, using only the hair above the top of the ears, and leaving the rest hanging down. There are some good pics on doing this with girls with longer, thicker hair on the link above, but this is the hair my kid's got to work with, so these are the pics you get!


This year, I did the same hairstyle, but with some ribbon wrapped around it! So cute!

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Kid-Friendly New Year's Party!

Okay, I know I'm posting this super late, but I kind of forgot about it.

This year for New Year's we were having a family party with 7 adults and 6 kids, ages 3-10. I wanted to plan a few things that would make it more fun than just your average family dinner, but it was hard to come up with things that everyone would enjoy.

First up? A New Year's Tree, idea courtesy of Sara at Our Best Bites. Loved this. We took down all the Christmas ornaments, and decorated the tree with curled ribbon, poppers, bead necklaces, jokes on pieces of paper that I curled into cute little rollies, and balloons filled with money. The kids LOVED the finished product, and it added a festive look to our party!

When our guests arrived, we had carnitas - complete with homemade salsa and guacamole! No pictures of that, since I was too busy eating!

Our first activity was an old-fashioned game we used to play called, "Are You There, Moriarty?" Two people lay down with their heads touching, both blindfolded. One asks, "Are you there, Moriarty?" The other answers, "Yes," and then the first player tries to thwack them with some rolled newspaper based on where their voice came from. Players need to hold hands so that they can't move too far. It was hilarious, and a game that all ages can play.

The kids really wanted us to have a drawing contest, which ended up being the most hilarious part of the night. Bad drawing can be reeeeeeallly funny! Here's my son and I, the winners of the adult and kid contests. The kids especially loved that we took their idea, and that they got to be a part of the planning.
For dessert, we had Caramel Corn Two Ways. On the left, Cinnamon Bun Popcorn, again courtesy of Our Best Bites. Amazing stuff. And on the right, classic caramel corn. I've got the best recipe for this - watch for it to be posted in a few weeks.

Every few hours the kids would get a balloon to pop and a joke to read. Here they are unrolling and reading out their jokes.
At midnight, they each popped a balloon with a WHOLE DOLLAR in it! So exciting when you're little! And then they popped one of the toy poppers. Six kids popping balloons, using noisemakers, and clamoring to see an unexpected fireworks show that appeared out our front windows, and you've got yourself a great New Year's!

I think we've got ourselves some new traditions!

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Valentine Love Notes

Each day this month, starting on the 1st, I've been leaving little notes on my kids' doors with something that I love about them. They have absolutely loved it! Every morning, my 3-year-old's first words to me are about the hearts. "Mom! Guess what! Dere's fwee hearts on my door now!" And each day when I read her what I wrote, she whispers, "THANK you, Mommy!" and gives me the tightest squeeze ever.

It's been such a good experience to sit down and think about all the reasons I love my kids, and to make sure they all know how special they are to me. This is definitely a tradition we'll continue! But it's not too late to do it for this year - even a few hearts would be so special!

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Best Ever Snickerdoodles

So tonight we wanted to do a little something special with our two younger kids while my oldest was at Girl Scouts. We made these Snickerdoodles and they were fantastic. Recipe is from the Food Network, and I've made notes about our baking methods or tips in italics. There are some complaints in the "Comments" section of their website that this recipe doesn't contain Cream of Tartar. I personally find that a plus, since that's not always something we have on hand, but if you're one who will miss the "bite" of the Cream of Tartar, you may want a different recipe. But in my opinion, these are perfect. Crispy on the edges, soft in the middle, and easily made with ingredients we always have on hand! Can't beat that!

Recipe from: Food Network

For the topping:
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the cookie dough:
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon and set aside.

To make the cookie dough, stir together the dry ingredients.

In a bowl with a paddle attachment, cream the butter. Add the sugar and continue to mix, then add the eggs (make sure eggs are room temperature), corn syrup, and vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients and mix until blended. Chill dough 1 hour if it's sticky or difficult to handle.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll balls of dough about the size of a walnut then roll them in the cinnamon sugar to coat (we use a portion scoop to make all the cookies an even size). Place on an un-greased sheet pan 2 1/2 inches apart (we use a Sil-Pat baking mat). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until puffed up and the surface is slightly cracked. (Do not overbake! They will look slightly underdone when you first pull them out.) Let cool on the sheet pan a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.

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What Works Wednesday: Straightener Storage (feat. The Corner of Truth!)

Some (read: many) of our organization ideas are born out of my husband's frustration with me. This is one of them. Every time I would straighten my hair, I would leave my straightener out, because I didn't want to put it away hot. But then I would leave for the day, leaving out my bright pink straightener with the ultra-long cord. Sooooo.... one day I came home to this. LOVE! That's an elastic attached to my straightener (probably a now-stretched-out hair tie, to be honest), and I just hang it on a hook. I hang the cord on a hook right next to it (along with one of my necklaces, apparently. Mysterious). I can get it out of the way as soon as I'm done, without nightmares that I'll burn the house down. Makes him happy, makes me happy.

Aaaaaannd... Corner of Truth.... because I like to share something that is NOT working each week as well....
That's the very messy floor of my bathroom/closet. With a giant trash bag of stuffed animals I confiscated from my youngest in a fit of frustration at being overwhelmed by them. I'm very much enjoying how my striped sweater and striped sweater dress are blending in together like one stripey masterpiece.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

How-Tuesday: Making a Behavior/Allowance Chart

So I decided a few weeks ago that it was time to start giving my kids an allowance. In a Love & Logic class I took a few months ago, the teachers talked about the importance of letting your kids have money and make mistakes with money, in order to learn valuable lessons about finances. My husband and I went back and forth about the best way to do the allowance, and finally came up with this.

Many times my career as a teacher accidentally seeps into my home life, and this is one of those cases! I decided to use a clip chart, like I do in my classroom. I separated it into 5 sections, and they start in the middle each day. They can move their clip up for doing what they're asked the first time we ask them, or for being particularly helpful. They move their clip down if they're not doing what we ask. If their clip is in the top 3 sections by the end of the day, they get a star. Five stars at the end of the week earns a dollar in allowance. Another dollar can be earned on Saturdays by doing Job Jars.

To make the clip chart, I cut 5 different sheets of scrapbook paper to 8.5"x 2.5" and then arranged them on a piece of cardstock, lightly gluing them down (not sure why my model is so resentful - I didn't actually want her in the picture anyway).

 Then I just put the words on each row.... (Download here if you want - sorry, cute font didn't make it over to Google Docs)
 .... and ran it through my trusty laminator! (The Purple Cow one from Costco - love it!)
 Here it is hanging on the fridge with their clips, which I'll let them decorate to tell them apart. Hanging below is where we'll put the stars they earn each day.
We've been using this system for about 2 weeks and it's working great so far! I'm a softie and give them a warning before I make them move their clip, and I swear to you every time I say "Warning!" it sends my kids scrambling!

When they get the money for their allowance, they can either save up for something they want at the store, or buy something from our Prize Box, which is made up of toys I find on mega-clearance and the dollar bin (which I then mark up a little bit from what I paid, hee hee). So far, they've been loving it!

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

February's Menu

Photo credit here

We did our menu plan tonight for February! Here's what we have planned:

Mondays (soups): chicken and rice soup, gumbo, Thai chicken curry, tortilla soup
Tuesday (kids' choice): French Dip sandwiches, hamburgers, homemade chicken nuggets, homemade macaroni and cheese
Wednesday (International): meatball sandwiches, potstickers, lasagna, bruschetta chicken
Thursday (Family Favorites): chicken & biscuits, heart-shaped pizzas (Valentines Day), Cajun turkey hash, sloppy joes

For more ideas, check out:
January 2013 Menu
December 2012 Menu
How We Menu-Plan

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Friday, February 1, 2013

How to Speak Kid: Baby in the House!

For me, one of the most stressful things about having a new baby was dealing with my other kids. My first two kids are 18 months apart, and from the beginning, I made a goal. When my older kids needed to be disciplined or reminded of a rule, I would try to make it as separate from the baby as possible. I didn't want them to feel that our rules were changing just because there was a baby in the house, and I didn't want to create unnecessary resentment. Their lives are going to be different enough - focus on what is the same. Even if the baby is the reason for the redirection, try to rephrase what you're saying so that it doesn't seem like everything is about "the baby, the baby, the baby!" Can you tell I'm an oldest child myself?

Mostly for me this centered on noise. There is nothing more aggravating than spending two hours getting a baby down for a nap, only to have him awakened by a shriek from an older sibling. While it's tempting to hiss, "Be quiet! The baby is sleeping!" (emphasis everywhere), take a moment and think. Can they normally scream in the house? Not in mine. Just as easy to say, "You need to use a quiet voice. We don't scream in our house." Takes the baby right out of the equation. You don't need to blame the baby for wanting a quiet house if that's always been your rule.

Other times you might want to use this technique?
*"Slow down. You're getting a little bit crazy for inside," versus, "Stop running! You are going to step on Sammy while he's doing his tummy time!"
*"I know you'd like to eat at McDonald's, but let's do that for dinner instead," versus, "We can't stop for lunch! Baby Charlotte needs her nap!"
*"Sure, I'll play Candyland with you! Go get it set up and I'll be ready in a little while," versus, "No, I can't play Candyland with you right now - I'm nursing Cam!"

Even when you have a new baby, try to talk with your kids the way you used to. Think of how you would have handled the behavior before the baby came, and go with that. You have parenting expectations for them that have nothing to do with the new baby, so make sure you're communicating that consistency to them.

Check out my other posts on "How to Speak Kids" here and here

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