Friday, December 30, 2011

Crafts On A Dime: Crafting From The Outside

Guest Post: This post was written by James Lander of,
a site whose mission is to make couponing etiquette and techniques
common knowledge.

Back when entertainment wasn't as readily available as it is now, people relied on something else entirely for amusement-  imagination. If you put your reservations and pre-conceived ideas aside and you may be surprised to discover that crafting either alone or with family, not only makes the time pass quickly, but can be very rewarding.

After all, in our media driven world, when was the last time you held something and
shouted, "I made this!!!"?

A trip to your local craft supply store can be a little overwhelming.  Supplies for projects abound and the price can be outlandish to say the least. However, like the crafter of yore you can find everything
you need around either in nature or in your own home.
Crafting from the outside in nature related crafts are an inexpensive way to celebrate the changing of the seasons. They are also easy enough to make that the whole family can join in, including the youngest members. Perhaps the best part of this project lies in the collection of items. You may find taking a walk with your friends or family in order to seek out what each of you considers indicative of the season more enjoyable than the crafting itself!
Here are a few suggestions:
  • Straw Wreath (available at local craft stores)
  • Hot glue gun or floral wire 
  • Scissors
  • Items from nature
  • After collecting what inspires you from outside, clean your items gently and allow them to dry.
  • Heat your glue gun (if using)
  • Arrange your items on the wreath by either gluing them or wiring them to the straw wreath or skeleton
Crayon Rocks
Children will enjoy this craft, but be sure that you supervise them carefully. Not only are the rocks heavy, but once heated they need to be handled with great care. Once finished these rocks are pretty enough to gift or to use in gardens as decorations
  • Various sized and shaped rocks
  • Crayons
  • Insulated Pads
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees and warm cleaned rocks for fifteen minutes.
  • Remove with oven mitts and place on insulated pads to prevent scorching any surfaces.
  • With strict supervision, use crayons to decorate the rock in any manner you and your fellow crafter's wish.

    Because media is so accessible now, many of us can't imagine a life where we couldn't stay in continual touch with our friends or download whatever we like, instantly. Some even start to get sweaty when there's no Internet access. However, it's not fair to blame the technology that keeps us to comfortably entertained.   It's up to us to make the choice.
    Exercise restraint and use your imaginations once and a while to source out amusement. Not only is this an important lesson to teach the next generation, you may find yourself strangely refreshed by the time away from the various screens in your home.

    Thursday, December 29, 2011

    Snow Ice Cream!

    Is your region experiencing an excess of white stuff? 

    I can pleasantly report that we are not!  Highs are in the 50's and no snow in the forecast.  This winter has been wonderful-  unlike the past few years when the drifts were taller than our vehicles and we were snowed in the house for days and days at a time.  My husband grumbles about the crazy Nebraska weather and how unpredictable it can be, but I am relishing the sunshine and hoping that tomorrow doesn't blow up a blizzard. 

    This is a picture of my youngest son two years ago posing in front of my neighbor's RV and full size van.  YES!  Your eyes are not deceiving you-  that snow bank about matches the height of an RV!  Now, you can fully understand my gratitude for 50 degree weather.

    So far this year we haven't had a chance to make our annual treat of snow ice cream.  It's a family tradition and a fun project perfect for a dreary snow day.  We put all that fresh white fluff to good use and whip up a batch of ice cream.  It's a lot more fun to shovel this treat into our mouths than clear the sidewalks.  Just remember the old adage about not eating yellow snow...

    I thought I would share this delicacy for those of you lucky enough to be enjoying a winter wonderland.

    Here are the items you will need for Snow Ice Cream:
    • fresh, clean snow-  this is vital, because you don't want any surprises or gravel
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • pinch of salt
    • 2 cups of milk
    Here is how you turn snow into ice cream:
    • Fill a large bowl with fresh snow.  We use the old popcorn bowl, but sometimes we need more than one bowl full.
    • In another bowl, mix sugar, salt, vanilla, and milk.
    • Add the snow and stir. 
    • Keep adding the snow until the mixture becomes thick.  You can adjust this easily to suit your tastes.
    • Enjoy! 

    What do you enjoy doing on your snow days?

    Thursday, December 22, 2011

    Puzzle Christmas Wreath Craft

    The boys were home today for Christmas break and full of energy.  I needed a project to keep them occupied and focused.  I had to find something that didn't involve wrestling or terrorizing the dog or knocking the tree over or wedgies or Angry Birds.  It was one of those days and the children were full of excitement and other things.  Christmas was only two days away and everyone knew it.  

    I was at my wits end.  Not a good way to start the two week long break.  Thankfully, I remembered a family I knew years ago who had made these festive ornament wreaths from old puzzles.  It was a prize winning idea, because it kept the oldest one occupied gluing and the younger set painting.


    Our day was saved and I didn't have to threaten cancelling Christmas.  We spent a few hours constructing these fun wreaths for gifts and singing carols as we worked.  The day started off shaky, but we managed to salvage our rocky start.

    We made these ornaments for gifts to give parents, grandparents, and neighbors on their goody plates we deliver. To make them even more special, we hung them on a bottle of Sprite and attached a small ivy leaf gift tag with the words, "May Your Christmas Be Merry And Sprite".   I saw this cute last minute idea on Money Saving Mom's blog and she has a printable version of her gift tag.

    To make these everlasting green wreaths, you will need:

    • small old puzzle pieces-  this is perfect to recycle an old puzzle that is missing a few pieces.
    • hot glue or sturdy craft glue-  I like hot glue because it dries fast and secure.
    • green paint-  I let the children use tempera, but you could easily spray paint them.
    • red paint or beads-  we painted our holly berries on, but beads would look nice also.
    • festive ribbon or yarn
    Here's what you do:
    •  Lay about 5 puzzle pieces to form a circle.  This will be the base of the wreath.
    • Generously glue the back of a new piece and lay it over the base.  I overlapped the top layer so it connected the two pieces underneath.
    • Continue around until your wreath is finished.

    • Next, paint the wreath green.  A few of the boys "sponge" painted and it made a very pretty texture. 
    • After the green paint is dry, add your berries.  We used the back end of the brush dipped into red paint to create the berries.

    • Finally, add a ribbon and a bow.  Secure them with hot glue.
    • Noel!  You are finished.


    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Do You Hear What I Hear?

    I was in tears today as I drove the carpool to preschool.  I was alone in the minivan cruising along Highway 20 past forlorn corn fields.  Nothing was wrong, but tears glided down my cheeks.

    What happened?

    Simply put-  I heard a story on the radio. 

    A man was talking about Christmas carols and how many people don't realize that some "classics" aren't really old.  During his conversation he brought up Do You Hear What I Hear?  and reflected a little on the story behind the song.

    Noel Regney weathered World War II, witnessed Korea and was upset with world events during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  He penned this beautiful poem proclaiming peace during the frightening fiasco with nuclear missiles.  He asked his wife to set the words to music and the rest is history.

    It was a moving story about the hope for peace.

    Now that I possess the story for this song, the visualized backdrop adds a new meaning to the Nativity story.  Year after year, we hear the same story about Mary and Joseph, no room in the inn, angels, and shepherds.  I am sure you've heard it at least once or twice, but somewhere over the years I lost a human connection to the story. 

    Sometimes, we just need to examine the story from a different angle.

    Here is a link to a youtube video with the original 60's version:

    If you are interested here is more information about the carol's history:

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Simple Snicker Doodles

    December is a month crammed with special programs and parties where we typically need to bring a couple dozen treats to share.  I have fell back on this cinnamon cookie recipe a lot during the past few years.  It's a great alternative to frosted sugar cookies and the always popular chocolate chip. 

    They go together fairly fast and easy-   that makes it a win win for me!  I doubled the batch and froze some of the sugared dough balls for later.  I will take them out of the freezer and bake when I need them.

    Here is what you will need to whip up a batch of these crisp cookies:
    • 1 cup softened shortening
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 tsp. vanilla
    • 2 3/4 cups flour
    • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
    • 1 tsp. baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 3 T. cinnamon
    • 1 1/2 T. sugar

    Here is what you do:
    • Mix shortening, sugar, vanilla, and eggs together.
    • Sift flour, cream of tartar, soda, and salt.
    • Slowly add the dry ingredients with the mixed.
    • Chill the dough.
    • When ready to bake, roll the dough into small balls.
    • Roll the dough balls into a cinnamon and sugar mixture.  I use about 3 tablespoons of sugar to 1 tablespoon of cinnamon.
    • Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  You may need to watch them.  Occasionally, I have had to let them cook a little longer or shorter.  It depends on your oven.
    • Enjoy!
    What cookie do bring for Holiday parties?

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Christmas Mice

    One of my family's favorite delicacies this time of year are Christmas mice.  My mother discovered these little critters years ago and spoiled the grand kids with this special fare.  Now, they are a traditional treat we look forward to during the holidays for treats and simple homemade gift giving.  Not many people dread finding these chocolate mice nestled on a cookie platter.

    Making these little nibblers is a simple process that involves no baking-  all you need is a microwave or a double broiler.  The hardest part of concocting these goodies is locating maraschino cherries with stems. 

    Here is what you will need to fill your nest with mice:

    • Maraschino cherries WITH stems
    • Chocolate Almond bark (you can substitute chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons butter)
    • Sliced almonds
    • Hershey kisses
    • Small round candies for the noses
    • Wax paper

    Here is how you piece together the treats:
    • Drain your cherries and let dry on a towel.

    • Unwrap your Hershey kisses and open the almond slices.  You need to be ready to add the faces and ears before the chocolate sets.

    • Melt the chocolate almond bark.
    • Carefully, dip the cherries into the chocolate.

    • Put together one kiss on the bottom of the chocolate covered cherry.

    • Place on wax paper.
    • Quickly, add two similar sized almond slices for ears.

    • If you desire, add a dab of melted chocolate on the tip of the nose and place a small candy for a cute sniffer.
    • Let sit and harden.
    • Refrigerate the mice until ready to serve.
    • Enjoy!

    What does your family like to make for the Holidays?

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Remake Old Sweaters Into Mittens and Hats

    My son was challenged by his teacher to recycle objects into something new and useful.  He had plenty of ideas, but they weren't exactly "useful" or challenging.  His favorite idea was to make a bail bucket for the boat by cutting a hole in a milk jug.  We debated for several days over bird feeders, Christmas ornaments, candle holders, penny banks, and advent calendars.  He finally decided on using a torn sweater to make a winter hat and mitten set for his Aunt's Christmas present. 

    So we dusted off the old sewing machine and my 9 year old received a crash course in sewing.  YES, while we are on the subject of sewing, I didn't use any hot glue!  I just wanted to point that little fact out.

    I have made these simple mittens in the past out of old sweaters or fleece.  As a daycare provider, I need a lot of mittens during winter and I can't afford to buy $12 gloves for other families.  People forget their children's gear or gloves get sloppy wet after playing in the snow so it never hurts to have an extra set of mittens laying around. 

    Here is how we made mittens and a hat from an old sweater:

    For the mittens:
    • Turn the sweater inside out.
    • Trace your child's hand or old mitten on the sleeves.    We used the cuffs already created for the bottom.  Make sure you trace enough extra space for seams-  my son had problems understanding this concept.

    • Carefully cut out the mitten shape.  You may want to pin your fabrics together to make sewing easier. 
    • Sew around your mitten outlines with an even edge.  We finished with a small zigzag stitch to strengthen the seams.
    •  Turn the fabric right side out and smooth the seams. 
    • Now you are ready for a round of snowball fights!
    For the hat:

    • Keep your sweater turned inside out.
    • Trace a hat on the bottom half of the sweater.  We took advantage of the hemmed bottom for our hat's base.
    • You can get creative in hat shapes.  I have made long tapered hats, small round hats, or "joker" hats in the past.  Tonight we decided on using a simple round hat.
    • Carefully cut both sides of the hat out.  Pin together if you want.
    • Sew the hat, keeping even seams.  Finish with a small zag stitch for increased durability.
    • Turn the hat right side out.
    • Add pompoms, tassels, and any other embellishments you like.  We made small pompoms to attach on top of the hat.
    • Voila!  You are now the proud owner of a winter hat.

    I hope Aunt Dev enjoys her "new" recycled winter accessories.  I am positive that she will smile when she learns that her nephew made them himself. 

    Now, I need to stash away the sewing machine so my hot glue gun doesn't rage with jealousy...