Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Daily Ramblings - Merry Christmas and all that

Hard to believe it's Christmas Eve already.  This year has been filled with a whirlwind of activity and, even now, with only a few days left, we still have so much left to do.  So, in anticipation that I won't get a chance to update this space until 2014, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Daily Chuckles - My completely random gift guide: 2013 Edition

I can hardly believe that Thanksgiving has passed, Hanukkah went with it, and Xmas is only 2 weeks away. I've been horrifyingly neglectful of my blog, and wanted to return from that brief hiatus with something that was a big hit back in 2011 - my completely random gift guide. There is no rhyme or reason to this...just things I have found on the internet that are worth of being shared.  Enjoy!

1) Chainsaw Attack Bookends (courtesy of Knob Creek Metal Arts) - $64.99 (currently $55.24 on sale)
I actually had a really hard time picking just one item to feature from this site.  They have a plethora of alien invasions, dinosaurs, swamp beasts, and more.  Whether you want bookends, or a zombie on your key rack, there is sure to be something for somebody you know!

2) Muffin Tops Cupcake Molds (courtesy of Perpetual Kid) - $12.99
There are few times when a muffin top is appropriate.  This, however, is one of them and there is something about making muffins in a delightful pear of denim cut offs that is strangely appealing.

3) Star Wars™ Vehicles Pancake Molds (courtesy of Williams Sonoma) - $14.99 (currently $6.99 on sale)
Would it be a true nerdy gift guide without something for the Star Wars fan?  Perhaps you could eat your X-Wing Fighter with the Chopstick Sabers from my 2011 guide.  Seems like a great excuse to play with your food.

4)  Medieval Weapons Push Pins (courtesy of Amazon) - $9.99
Feel like stabbing your TPS report with an axe (without getting in trouble with your boss)?  This is the answer.

5) Samurai Sword Kitchen Knife Set (courtesy of Think Geek) - $59.99
For those times when you just need to practice your ninja moves on a zucchini...  'Nuff said.

6) Bubble Wrap Calendar (courtesy of Amazon) - $29.99
This is a poster sized calendar, which is sure to delight everybody in the family.  The biggest problem I see is that there will need to be some kind of bubble popping chart indicating whose turn it is, or everybody in the family needs a separate calendar, or you have to be stealth (see ninja knives) and sneak away to pop the bubble of the day before anybody else gets to it....and even then, can you really just stop at one bubble?

7) Disappearing Civil Liberties Mug (courtesy of Uncommon Goods) - $12.00
If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you have a variety of friends who are frequently outraged by this exact subject.  Now, every time they drink a coffee, they can be reminded of their outrage.  They will thank you.

8) Volume Knob Pacifier (courtesy of Baron Bob) - $9.95
Perfect for those new parents who are bewildered and trying to figure out what day of the week it is.  Give them a laugh, while making them simultaneously sad that the knob doesn't actually work.  If it did, I'm pretty sure it would cost one hell of a lot more than $9.95.

9) Song Map (courtesy of Dorothy) - £25
As a music lover, who wouldn't want to go to a place where you can go west on the Road To Hell and end up on The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams.  This map features 390 song titles and a matching Spotify playlist.  A sure fire way to get lost in the music!  (You see what I did there?)

10) Hot Mess Spoon and Cutting Board (courtesy of Think Geek) - $9.99-$14.99
If you know somebody who likes to make a mess in the kitchen, you might as well help them along with this spoon rest and cutting board set.  Hide existing spills under functional ones. 

Now - get shopping!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Daily Craft - This hat is a hoot!

I'm participating in another birthday swap with some Ravelry folk in one of the birth boards and was determined to find the time to crochet something fun for the recipient.  I seem to have much more free time in the evenings now that Owen has transitioned to regular milk and we got rid of the bottles.  Is that a good excuse to spend more time crafting?  I hope so!

Almost as soon as I started my search for a cute hat to crochet, I came across this rather fantastic owl hat from Repeat Crafter Me and knew it was the one. She's actually written the pattern in newborn through adult sizes, so nobody needs to feel left out! It was a quick pattern to work up and my only complaint would have been that I misjudged the size of the buttons to use for the eyes (although that's user error and the pattern writer should not be held responsible). 

I do hope the recipient loves it. It's just so cute that there may be more owl hats in my future...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Daily Deal - My Memories Scrapbooking Software FREE!! (This week only)

Thanks to my sponsor, My Memories, I have a code to download their awesome digital scrapbooking software for FREE (a $40 value).  No raffles, no quizzes, no random number generators, no strings attached.  (Of course, if you'd like to become a follower of my blog, I'd love that but it's not a requirement!)  This is completely free to my readers for this week only.  Just go to http://www.mymemories.com/ > Software > Choose the My Memories Suite.  Enter the following code at checkout (I recommend you cut and paste).  FreeTreatHA109

So, a little bit about the My Memories Suite software.  This is my go-to for any kind of scrapbooking stuff.  I will admit to being a pretty bad at scrap-booking on paper.  I do love making photobooks though, which makes this software the perfect addition to my arsenal as I don't have to rely on the presets offered by whatever site I'm ordering the book from.  In addition to the pre-set templates that the software has loaded, there's a TON of beautiful paper and element downloads on the My Memories site - some free, some paid.  The beautiful part being that once you've purchased a kit, you can use it as many times as you like, rather than just the once like regular paper.  It's so easy to move elements, change picture sizes, add shadows, borders, layer "papers" and so on.    

I've been working on Owen's first year book for a little while now.  Here's a sampling of pages that I've compiled using the software along with the Sweet Baby Boy kit (a steal at $3.99).

Another great use for the software is for holiday cards, invitations, etc. I used it to do Owen's birth announcement, birthday invitation, baby shower invite for a friend, holiday card for 2012...the list is endless when it comes to possible uses.  There's also a neat function to create a "movie" from your scrapbook, which is something I hope to explore should I ever finish Owen's book!

Once again, the code is FreeTreatHA109 and it will only be active through November 11th.  What are you waiting for?  Go get your download! 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Daily Baby - Happy Birthday Owen

Hard to believe that my little boy is one.  He's an actual PERSON, not just a helpless, tiny, scrunched-up thing.  We had his party this weekend and he was surrounded by family and friends, all of whom are very much appreciated for attending!  I was having a bit of a decorations meltdown at the park as there was just enough of a breeze that nothing wanted to stay put.  I had to take a deep breath, remind myself that it doesn't need to go on Pinterest, and be secure in the knowledge that the people there to celebrate were far more important than the balloons staying upright.  Armed with a roll of duct tape, my brother went for the uncle of the year award and fixed it all while I ran home to pick up the birthday boy, who was being dressed by his auntie, who should also get an award for leaving home at 4:30am and driving 5 hours to be there. Little man celebrated his first year with his first slice of pizza, stealing and chowing down on a cake pop from his auntie's hand, and sharing his first cupcake with mommy. 

So, after my first year of parenthood, I look back and wonder if I'd do anything differently.  To be honest, I don't think I would.  We've had our ups and downs.  There have been moments of sleeplessness and frustration, far outweighed by joy and laughter.  We have a happy, friendly, funny little boy who delights us and those around him on a daily basis.  He makes us proud, which makes me think we must have done something right.  It's been an adventure, but a grand one.  I can't wait to see what the next chapter brings.

Happy Birthday my little love.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Daily Travels - My top tips for flying with baby!

Having just returned from our 10 day trip to the UK to visit my parents, Owen now has a stamp in his passport and 20+ hours of flying time under his belt.  We were prepared for the worst but hoping for the best.  Turns out that he's a pretty good little traveler and handled both flights with relative ease.  That being said, I definitely came away from the experience with a few tips and tricks that I figure may be helpful for somebody out there.  So, here you go (in no particular order of importance)!

Are we there yet?
1) Call your airline to double check their individual policy, but it should be standard allowance to gate check a stroller for free.   Even if the baby's not in it, use it to tote your luggage through the airport.  I highly recommending shelling out the $14 for this gate check stroller bag.  When we arrived at Heathrow, it was raining (no surprises there) and the bag was soaked from making the trip off the tarmac in the rain, but it kept our stroller dry.  It also provides a level of protection against heavy-handed baggage handlers, who would potentially mangle your stroller should it pop open at some point. 

2) If you aren't booking a seat for baby, find out if you can get a bassinet/bulkhead seat.  It may cost a little extra, and there may be weight/age restrictions (depending on the airline) but, if you can't buy a seat for baby, the bassinet is a great option.  It cost us $50 each way, but having somewhere that we could put him down and he could play was well worth the price.  Unfortunately, it meant that he was in front of the screens (not that he was going to let us sit quietly and watch a movie anyway) but on the flip side, the bulkhead gives you a little extra leg room too.  They're available on a first come, first serve basis, so I recommend calling as soon as you book.  [UPDATE: Since writing this, a reader made a good observation that the bassinet option may only be available on international flights.  Something to keep in mind.]

3) Order your meal selection for the baby while you're calling about stroller checks and bassinets.  As it turns out, our request for a low sodium meal for Owen didn't make it into the computer.  The flight attendant very nicely arrived with some Gerber baby jars on a tray for him, and we had to inform her that there was no way he'd eat it.  She was able to procure a meal for us though and he chowed down quite happily on the regular food.

Makes pulling an all-nighter look easy
4) Speaking of, bring some of your own food too.  We packed a couple of the Plum Organics pouches - just make sure you declare them at security.  They didn't even look at them at LAX, and at Heathrow they just took a quick look to make sure the pouch was sealed.  While we didn't on this trip, you can also bring breast milk and formula through security too.  Here is what TSA has to say about it.  

5)  Ask the flight attendant for a bottle of water early on.  They were happy to give us a liter bottle so that we could use it for ourselves, the sippy cup etc.  Much easier for them than having to bring us water repeatedly throughout the flight.  It also made us the envy of our neighboring passenger who asked what the magic trick was to get a bottle, and I informed her that having a baby would do it.  The flight attendants also offered to warm up bottles etc. if we needed it, so that's always a good thing to know.

6) Head off to the dollar store and get some "disposable" toys.  I spent about $5 on some board books, flash cards, plastic discs, etc.  They were new and kept his attention for a few minutes at least.  It was also no hardship if they got lost along the way and it wasn't a question of losing a favorite toy.

7) Alternatively, random things on the airplane make great toys.  Simple things like plastic spoons and cups are easily wiped off and make great toys.  Owen spent quite a bit of time dropping one of his links into a plastic coffee mug over and over.  He also spent a good 20 minutes on the flight to Heathrow "sharing" his coffee with Husband and I.  It's the simple things.

8) Load up some baby apps.  Fisher Price and Baby First both have some nice options.  Some are flash card type apps, others are interactive story books.  Either way, a little screen time isn't bad given the circumstances.  Also, check out the kid's programming for in-flight entertainment as they probably have some kid-friendly options.

9) Bring at least a couple changes of clothes for the baby, plus a change of shirt or two for yourself.  I actually recommend having this in the diaper bag for the entirety of the trip.  It came in super handy when Owen, who had never previously projectile vomited in his 11 months of existence, decided to get a bit Exorcist all over himself, me, and the floor at Waterloo Station.  The horrified look on the face of the teenagers that he almost nailed was classic, and probably did serve as instant birth control.  I was, however, super happy to be able to change us both out of the offending puke covered items and back into something less offensive.

Suggestion:  Drink beer before giving can to baby
10) Dress the baby in an extra layer.  We didn't need any costume changes on the way out, but on the flight back, there was a little more vomiting.  Fortunately, I was able to take off the outer layer of clothing (revealing that Owen is indeed Batman) and let him hang out in a onesie until we could get him an appropriate change of clothes.  It may be worth having an extra layer for yourself too...in case the vomiting is projectile, or a poop-splosion happens.

11) You probably want a stash of plastic bags on you too...you know, to hold all the gross stuff that I just mentioned in the previous two points.  My aunt taught me many years ago how to fold plastic bags into nifty little triangles for space saving.  Here's a video - it's a neat trick.

12) Wear the baby.  I wore Owen through security both times, and was not required to take him out of the carrier.  That freed up the stroller for our carry on luggage.  In an airport like Heathrow, where you have to walk a mile to your gate, that can be a great help.  Be aware that they won't let you wear the baby for take off and landing though.  The airline will provide a lap belt attachment for you to use.  Personally, I feel like they'd be more secure in the carrier, but I don't make the rules.  There was no way that we were going to get Owen to sleep in the bassinet, especially with the screens right there.  We would turn them off and he figured out that if he smacked them, they'd turn on again (the downside of touch screens).  I managed to get him to sleep by popping him in the Ergo and taking him to the galley where I could sing/rock him to my heart's content without bothering our fellow passengers.  Once he was asleep, I went back to the seat and tried not to move too much.

13) Don't forget to ask for wings to mark the first flight!  We were flying Air NZ and they don't have wings, but the flight attendant was nice enough to fetch us a little packet for him to commemorate his first journey. 

14) Find out which bathrooms have changing tables as soon as you can.  Turns out the Air NZ had changing tables in all of their bathrooms, which was a win because it meant no waiting for a particular bathroom to open up. Granted, there is nothing fun about trying to change a poopy diaper in a confined space like that, but you do what you gotta do.  It's also not fun when you find out that your child has figured out how to open the door lock while you are trying to use the facilities, leading to one-armed grappling with baby, pants, and door in an attempt to maintain some kind of modesty.

In the end, it all went much smoother (barfing notwithstanding) than I thought it would and we found everybody to be quite understanding.  We are lucky that Owen is generally very friendly so delivered smiles to security agents, immigration, customs, flight attendants, and neighboring passengers.  I think that people have such a preconceived notion that any baby on a plane is going to be a problem that they are thrilled to see parents trying to make it a pleasant experience.  We never even had to offer up the earplugs that I'd packed in our carry on!

I've probably forgotten some things here, but if this list is helpful to anybody, then I have done my job! Happy travels....

Friday, October 11, 2013

Daily Craft - Birthday invites in a rush!

Has to believe that Owen is turning 1 next week.  People say that the time goes fast, and it's true.  Seems like yesterday he was a sweet little newborn, and now he's a fully mobile little dude with a huge personality.  We're keeping his birthday pretty low key and I was dithering back and forth for the longest time about whether to just send an evite (seeing as we're trying to keep things simple), or mail invitations (seeing as it's his first birthday).  In the end, I realized that we'd need to mail an invitation to Owen's great-grandmother at the very least, and the grandparents as a whole would probably like a proper invite.  Of course, I decided upon all this pretty last minute, which meant ordering and waiting for invitations to arrive probably wouldn't work.  Instead, I came up with a simple to make, but super cute (in my humble opinion at least) concept.

I designed a 4x6 card (using the My Memories Suite software, although any photo software could work).  I then got the photos printed at Walgreens, which generally isn't my photo printer of choice, but they conveniently offer 1-hour service and in-store pick-up.  The rest was some very easy construction.

- 12"x12" cardstock
- 4"x6" photos
- washi tape.

 - Cut the cardstock sheet in half to make two 6"x12" strips.
- Score the cardstock approx 2" from one end.
- Stick the photo onto the cardstock, up against the score line.
- Score on the other side of the photo.
- Fold both flaps over the photo, then
secure the flap and the sides with washi tape.
- Address and put on stamp.
- You're done.

It really was that simple and total cost of about $4 to make 15 invitations (not including postage).  If you wanted to, this leaves a ton of space for a personal message, which means it could work great for holiday cards.  The options for cardstock are endless too! 

I actually have a great giveaway coming soon from my sponsor, My Memories, who have fantastic digital scrapbooking software.  I have used it for invitations, holiday cards, photo collages, and it's currently housing the epic work-in-progress "first year" scrapbook for Owen.  Stay tuned...  :)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Daily Baby - Stash busting, infant approved!

Feels like the last week or so has been a whirlwind.  We have a trip coming up to visit my parents in England.  It's our first plan ride with Owen - an 11 hour one at that.  Needless to say, we're excited to take him, but a little nervous about our very active child being couped up in tin can for that long.  Hopefully he will be his usual charming self and our neighbor passengers will find him delightful before he passes out for the rest of the flight.  One can hope right?

Meanwhile, around the house, we've been having a blast.  While we have our fair share of battery operated toys, it is fair to say that kids and cats like playing with random household items.  Remotes, coasters, tupperware, spoons, cat toys, storage bins etc. are all fair game.  This suggestion is a quick and easy sensory toy for anybody who needs an excuse to get rid of fabric scraps!  I simply took a variety of scraps in different sizes and trimmed them with pinking shears.  I tied some pieces together to make longer strips, and popped them all in an old wipes case.  He took to it right away and loves to remove and inspect the fabric.  As with anything else, he also tries to chew on it, so if that is a risk for your child, don't cut any pieces too small that they could accidentally swallow them.  Time spent?  About 10 minutes (most of which was selecting the fabric).  Total cost?  Pennies.  Now, if only I could get him to put the fabric back in the box rather than leaving it all over the living room...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Daily Craft - Fun with washi tape

Not sure if you've heard of washi tape, but it seems to have exploded out of nowhere.  For a little while I've been wondering about it and when I saw some in the clearance section at Target, I had to buy it.  (Does anybody else cruise the end caps for random clearance items that you didn't know you needed, or is that just me?)

Last weekend, I had a vow renewal to attend for some good friends of ours and, in that I did forget to buy them a card at Target, I decided to play with the newly acquired washi tape and make my own.  I embellished "Congrats" using some stickers (also from Target).  The heart was made using a trick I'd spotted online - to cover a piece of paper the necessary size with the tape, then cut out the shape.  I also added some tape to the envelope to tie both pieces together.  I think it's simple, but cute!

The other card I made is for a friend's baby shower.  I used the washi tape as a background for the 3D stickers, then hand wrote the "congratulations" message.  I'll admit that hand-writing makes me nervous as, while I do have good cursive, it can be too easy to be critical of how the end result looks.  An alternative would be to print or stamp the message, but that's for next time! 

My favorite thing about washi tape has to be that it's completely re-positionable so, if you mess up, you can pull it off and start again.  There are so many cute tape designs out there and I can see how many potential uses it has.  Really, you could put this stuff on just about anything! 

Have you tried it?  I would love to know your favorite uses if you have.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Daily Craft - Edible finger painting

Since it's been so hot recently, I've been hesitant to take the wee one to the park for fear of burning his butt on the plastic bucket swings.  This means I've been searching for indoor activities and finger painting seemed like a great idea.  Owen still puts everything in his mouth so I needed edible paint and, with this paint recipe from Growing A Jeweled Rose (who is a wealth of handy info for baby and toddler activities in general), I figured I'd give it a shot and make some potato paint.  When I first shared my plan with Husband, he laughed at me and wished me good luck, but I was determined.  I armed myself with some sketch paper and potato flakes from the dollar store, stripped off the baby, laid a towel on his high chair to try and contain the mess, and made paints in red, yellow, green, and blue.

He wasn't quite sure what to make of it at first and needed some gentle encouragement, but was happy smearing the potato flakes around for a little bit.  He definitely tried to eat some, which I was anticipating.  Although I'm not quite sure he got the concept, he seemed to be curious nonetheless.  It pained me a little bit to admit that I probably spent more time cleaning up than actually painting, but I think we still had fun and I have a pretty neat (albeit lumpy) picture to show for it.  

If you are curious about clean up, the food coloring was sufficiently sucked into the potato flakes that it didn't make a mess and wiped up nicely.  The only bit that didn't wash off immediately was the couple of drops I got on myself when making the potato paint in the first place.  Overall, a success!  What are your favorite indoor activities?  We're always open to suggestion.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Daily Travels - Chicago Photobook

I posted about my baby shower photo book a couple posts ago.  It arrived, looked adorable, then I popped it into the bookshelf without remembering to review my thoughts on it.  As it happens, I had another free coupon code, so decided to make a book for our trip to Chicago.  It was the last big trip that we took before Owen's arrival and it was 3 days of good eats, tons of walking, and beautiful architecture.  It's actually a city that both Husband and I felt like we could live in, except for the ridiculous weather.  We happened to be there at a beautiful time of year (end of May) but even then, the last day was crazy humid to the point of not really wanting to go anywhere and getting bug bitten to hell down by Lake Michigan.  From a photography perspective, it was a dream.  I wasn't actually sure that twenty 8x8 pages would do it justice, especially given how many pictures I actually took, but it certainly got the message across for the fantastic time we had.

As for the Shutterfly books themselves?  I think it is a testament to the Shutterfly Custom Path software that I was able to put this book together in about 3 hours.  I used preset pages through the template I chose, but could tweak those to look exactly as I wanted as each template has a good number of embellishments to play with.  There's a range of photo layouts to use if you want to create each page from scratch and my only complaint in that area is that there's no option to just draw your own photo box where you want on the page.  Instead, you have to decide how many photos you want and move the photo spots around accordingly.  Not great if you suddenly decide to add a photo to the page late in the game! 

I don't really have other books to compare to, but I found the quality of the book to be nice.  The hard cover with title on the spine gives it a nice, professional finish, and I very much like being able to customize both front and back covers.  The inside pages feel heavy enough and the printing is clear.  There's also an extra protective page at the beginning and end, which I actually feel is a nice touch when opening the book.  I do love the look of a beautiful, glossy photo in a scrapbook; however, I know my limitations and that I would never get around to actually scrap-booking by hand (and it certainly couldn't be done in 3 hours!)  No matter what, better than the photos sitting on my computer.

My grand plans would be to create a photo book for each major vacation, and a more general "family yearbook" each year.  I love how easy Shutterfly makes this.  While I will possibly test out some other services for future books (Winkflash, Blurb, Costco), at least I know what to expect from Shutterfly and will definitely order again.  

What's your preferred method of scrap-booking family photos?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Daily Craft - A birthday swap!

In the October birth group on Ravelry, we elected to do a swap in honor of the pending birthdays of our little ones.  It was a secret swap and, as my partner has no clue who their package is coming from, I'm going to share the contents here.  A little pampering for both mom and baby for making it this far!

Here it is in it's entirety.  (Not a fancy background, but this is what happens when you forget to take pics at home and end up doing so at work in the commissary on top of the pool table with your cell phone...)

Top row (left to right)
- some British themed loose leaf tea.  I love the little tins too and would definitely need to repurpose
- vintage photo notecards
- our favorite Sandra Boynton book "Moo, Baa, La La La!"

Middle row
- a tea pouch that I sewed with some of my favorite teas in it, along with dried chamomile flowers to add
- crochet stitch markers that I made
- Sesame Street toddler socks (they were too cute!)

Bottom row
- Josh Groban's last studio album, and the "Whip It" soundtrack
- a couple of soft acrylic yarns from my stash
- puffy bath books (which are also a favorite for Owen)

I certainly didn't get to craft as much for this swap as I have for swap packages in the past, but I still had a blast putting it all together and was happy to add a couple of handmade touches at least.  I have a package coming my way from somebody and can't wait to see what's in it! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Daily Baby - A shower photo book

It's only taken 10 months, but with a free photobook code from Shutterfly via BabyCenter in hand, I figured it was about time to do something with the photos from my baby shower. I haven't used Shutterfly photo books since the one I put together after Husband and I got married. They've actually changed the whole set up since then and it's very user friendly, allowing you to easily move and rotate embellishments, add text, switch backgrounds etc. While I love using the My Memories software (which is what I'm currently using to compile Owen's baby book), for the purposes of just getting it done, I went with one of the themes that Shutterfly has available. Even more nifty is that you can now embed the photo book for all to see! Pretty cool. The book itself should be here in a week or two, and I will report back on how it looks when it gets here. In the meantime, I love having this digital version to share.

Thanks again to my girls, Holly & Paige, for being such amazing hostesses, my in-laws for allowing us to invade their house, and all my friends and family in attendance. It was beautiful and I cherish the memories of the day.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Daily Chuckles - Shark Week (sort of)

I have been AWOL recently and I apologize, although I'm not going to make excuses. I guess I've had nothing in particular to say. There's things afoot though that I hope to share soon. In the meantime, enjoy this video of a cat...in a shark costume...riding a Roomba.  (Thanks to my friend Paige!!)  Is there anything better?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Daily Craft - Sensory toys, overload!

Yet another thank you to Pinterest for introducing me to the world of sensory toys.  After perusing a variety of pins and written down ideas for those that I liked, I decided that this was going to be a weekend of making sensory toys for Owen.  I settled on the idea of some bottles and some bags, and set off to the local dollar stores for supplies.  I may have gone a little overboard, and I think Husband was surprised/amused by the variety of things I brought home.  He was quickly swayed though because these sensory toys are just as much fun for us adults as they are for the little ones.  (In fact, I think it's fair to say that these could totally work as office items for those moments when you want to drop kick your computer and need to put yourself in a quick time-out.)

Step one is to gather materials.  Not pictured here are the bottles and the freezer ziploc bags.  That being said, everything can be purchased at a dollar store, which makes these really inexpensive to do.  I think the cost of each was in the range of $0.50 to $1.  The "recipes" I used are below each picture, but there really is no limit to what you could put together.  I still have a ton of other materials, but I'll be putting those together at a later time.

First up, the sensory bags!  For each of these, I used a quart sized freezer bag and colored duct tape to reinforce the edges/closures.  It is recommended to use freezer bags as they're more durable against little teeth but, if you don't have any on hand, doubling up regular bags should work.  I used enough hair gel that the bags felt suitably squishy but wanted to make sure that it was still possible to manipulate the items inside.
For the sensory bottles, the hardest part might have been finding the right bottles.  I've seen people use Voss bottles, which are the perfect shape, but not super easy to come by.  I ended up finding small Vitamin Water bottles, which were 2 for $1 at the dollar store.  To remove the sticky residue from under the labels, I ran the empty bottles under warm water for a minute, then used some vegetable oil on a paper towel to gently rub away the residue.  Then, I gave the bottle a good washing.  I preferred that method of removal over others because at least oil isn't toxic should Owen lick some (based on the assumption the bottle is going to end up in his mouth at some point!)  Also, to ensure that little hands don't take the top off the bottle and ingest what's inside, you'll want to super glue the lid on once you've filled them. 


This one is like an ocean wave and the glitter stays in the oil, which makes for a fantastic effect when the occasional oil bubble breaks off into the water!


It took a little bit of shaking for the glitter glue to properly absorb into the water so use that an excuse to play with this one for a bit!  What I love about this is that it's like lava.  The glitter will start to separate and swirl both upward and downward.  The more glue you add, the longer it will take for the glitter to settle.  I also like that the glitter in the glue is finer than the other glitter that I added, which gives the appearance of multiple textures.


This one is definitely the easiest, but still has a ton of appeal because the beads also make noise while you swirl them around, plus there are lots of different colors to look at. 

Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without an action shot, so here's Owen enjoying his new toys.  I enjoy the guilty look he's got in that picture on the right!

Have you heard of, or made, these sensory toys before?  When he's older he can help me make them but, until then, I think all of us in the house will have the opportunity to enjoy these!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Daily Dish - A little Brownie

I told you a couple of weeks ago about a baby shower I threw for my friend.  I finally got off my butt and pulled the photos off my camera, so now I can finish telling you about the favors!

The mom-to-be's last name is Brown, and she's having a girl, so the pink and brown shower "theme" was created.  I had spent several days thinking about favors, which are always a bit of a challenge as I always prefer favors to be either practical or edible.  I had an a-ha moment when I realized we'd been joking for months about how she's "baking a little Brownie", and brownies must therefore be the favors!  My original thought was to make a full batch worth of brownie mix in a mason jar, but this was turning out to be incredibly cost prohibitive on account of needing excessive amounts of cocoa powder.  That's when my friend made the genius suggestion of doing a brownie-in-a-mug.  Now, I should note that I didn't even know such a thing exists.  I'm also quite sure my waistline doesn't need to know that I can make a brownie...in a mug...in 60 seconds...in the microwave.  Too good to be true right?!  Of course, Husband and I had to taste test the recipe (several times) and it has a consistency that is more like the center of a molten chocolate lava cake, which means it's deliciously rich.  Ice cream or milk is a requirement!

I bought cute pink polka dot cone bags at Party City, brown ribbon, and plain white mugs at the dollar store, then added all the dry ingredients to the cone bags.  I think they turned out nicely!  For those of you curious about making this, here's the recipe card.  Your mouth will thank me even if your hips don't.

While we're talking dessert, you should drool over the desert bar that was on offer.  Pink lemonade cupcakes with chocolate ganache, super cute sugar cookies, and my friend Paige's infamous cake pop babies.  Cutest thing ever!

So, congrats to the mama-to-be (pictured here with Owen who is trying to eat her childhood doll).  We're thrilled for the arrival of your little Brownie!  :)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Daily Baby - A girl and a pump

This one is truly a blog rant from mommy-land, so people who are unnerved by discussion of breast-feeding beware!

When I became pregnant, there was no question in my mind that I wanted to breast-feed.  After all, it's the most natural thing that has kept our species alive for centuries right?  I'd heard about the struggles that come with nursing - problems with milk supply, pain, engorgement, and a plethora of other issues.  I was still determined and knew I could get myself into the mindset to overcome anything that would put a bump in the road to success.  Owen is now 8 months and we have had our fair share of bumps to get over, from an over-active letdown (resulting in him having gas pains) to a tongue-tie that wasn't corrected until he was 5 months old.  Don't even get me started on the leaking.  Regardless, I can happily say that, so far, he has only had my milk, no formula, and for that I am both grateful and proud.

Upon my return to work, I started pumping to supply Owen's bottles while at daycare.  The first couple weeks he was there, despite our best efforts to get him to take a bottle, he was stubbornly refusing.  His first day at daycare, he drank about 4oz in 9 hours, which sent me into a tailspin of guilt and panic.  On the upside, it allowed me to add the milk he wasn't drinking to my frozen stash for later.  Sure enough, as the little one settled into daycare, his appetite settled at a point where he's actually drinking more each day than I am able to pump for him.

Pumping sucks - literally and figuratively.  I'm fortunate enough to have an office where I can close my door and listen to the dulcet tones of the pump "speaking" to me in a funky, hypnotic voice that others have liked to Darth Vader.  My old pump (we'll get to that in a minute) sounded like it was saying "black heart" over and over.  Appealing when you're trying to squeeze out the life source for your child right?  Although, I sometimes feel like it's pulling the air out of my soul, so maybe it's appropriate.  In attempts to keep supply up, I have shoved a variety of different herbs and supplements down my throat (none of which made a significant difference I should add), I've made lactation cookies (which Husband quite enjoyed because they taste delicious, but he didn't start lactating so not sure if it was much help), drank gallons of water (which sent me back and forth to the bathroom reminiscent of my third trimester of pregnancy), and various other tricks.  The worst case scenario was when my pump output suddenly dropped to half and, having exhausted all possibilities as to what was wrong with me, I came to a disturbing realization that my pump was losing suction. (Maybe Dyson should get into the pump business, being experts about never losing suction and all.)  To their credit, the pump manufacturer (Medela) sent me a replacement overnight and I had a crazy weekend of being attached to the pump and baby simultaneously to try and send my body the simple message - MAKE MORE MILK!

I didn't know that boobs were as emotional as they are.  While they may respond happily to relaxed baby thoughts, they also respond negatively to stress, tiredness, anxiety...  Husband, and my girlfriends (who are huge nursing advocates) have talked me off a ledge repeatedly over the last few months.  My goal is to get to one year of pumping, which puts me at T minus 15 weeks.  Owen can nurse all he wants after that, but the days of anxiety over a bad pump output, repeatedly counting the bags of frozen milk in the freezer in the hopes they can cover my daily pump deficit, washing bottles and pump parts with scalding hot water every night, will all be over. 

I know that breast-feeding isn't a possibility for all.  I do feel fortunate that I have been able to supply my little guy this long, despite it being one of the toughest personal challenges that I have had to face.  What I'm trying to do now is just let go of the anxiety that I'm not producing enough, or won't make it to a year.  Let go of any guilt in case I do fall short of my goal.  The end is in sight and when I'm finally able to pack up the pump and put it in the closet, I'm going to do something whacky like drink whiskey at lunch...mid-week.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Daily Craft - Some earrings!

This weekend, I threw a baby shower for a good friend of mine who will be having a baby girl in September.  It's really had my creativity flowing but, of course, I've not been able to post anything about it previously for risk of giving anything away to those that would be in attendance!  I'm going to start with my earrings though, which were part of the prize bags for the various games.

The theme for the shower was pink and brown, on account of the mom-to-be's last name being Brown, and her having a girl.  I immediately knew that I wanted to make some pink and brown jewelry for the prizes.  I picked up some glass pearls and fished around for antiqued brass findings in my stash.  In that there would be a variety of different age groups being represented, I was hoping for something somewhat classic.  I packaged them with lotion, a compact mirror, and a magnetic notepad.  I'm hoping the winners enjoyed their haul!

My co-host found a polka dot card stock that she used for the invitations, which then became part of the theme, so I was happy to make some nifty packaging with that card stock too.  (More on the packaging to come later.)  I actually love this color combo, so thinking I'll make some more with the supplies that I have left over.  Watch out for those!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Daily Review - Pong cell phone case

Since being on maternity leave, Husband has accused me of becoming a cell phone addict.  I'm not addicted, per se, and I still adhere to the no cell phones at the dinner table rule, but I definitely get wrapped up with my electronic leash more than I used to.  My friend at Pong just sent me a new "intelligent" cell phone case, for my Samsung Galaxy.  You may be wondering what makes this case special and worth the hefty price tag ($49.99-$99.99 depending on the device).  Pong's cases are designed to protect the user from the radiation that cell phones emit, redistributing the radiation away from the body without disrupting your signal strength.  We all know that constant levels of radiation probably aren't a good thing, even if the long terms effects haven't really been proven yet.  Children are even more susceptible to radiation than adults, and with kids using mobile and wireless devices more and more, it's nice to know there's something out there that can provide some kind of protection against it.

Courtesy of Pong Research

I got the rugged case, which is perfect seeing as my phone may need to withstand some tough treatment (between me being a klutz and having an infant who may get his hands on my phone).  I've got to say that it feels rugged - durable, fitted, and makes me feel confident that it would withstand being dropped.  The external buttons are covered in the design, but still function well, which means that the entire outer case is one piece with no weak spots.  In the end, this is a case that really appeals to the tech geeks among us but, as a mom, it also holds a lot of appeal.  I, for one, have spent time on my cell while nursing, or while Owen is sleeping curled up on my chest.  Plus, with the accessibility of games and books for children on phones, or the iPad, it's nice to know there's a product that can keep tiny heads and hands safe from harmful radiation.  It's not available for all devices, but this is a company that more people should know about and it's definitely worth checking out if they make a case that would work for you.

DISCLAIMER:  I received no money for this review, but did receive a Pong case .

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Daily Tip - Binders are your friend!

Husband and I have a lot of kitchen appliances.  If I'm looking for somebody to blame, it's either my brother (who has admitted to poking around in the kitchen to find out what we don't have in preparation for holiday gifts), or my step-mother-in-law (who loves to pass along new kitchen gadgets that she has found).  We have a drawer that was dedicated to all the various manuals and warranty information for said appliances.  Then, once the baby arrived, it started to fill with all the various manuals for his toys.  Upon opening the drawer the other day to add a few more bits of paper, I realized that it was at capacity.  Thus, time to find a solution. I think there is currently a little section of my brain that is dedicated to "things I've seen on Pinterest."  I haven't necessarily pinned all of those things, but I've spotted them while poking about.  This falls into that category.

I took one 3-ring binder, and one pack of heavy weight sheet protectors.  I gathered all of the manuals for the kitchen, baby items, and other household things.  Each one went into a sheet protector pocket with the corresponding warranty info, receipts, or any other related documents.  I didn't go so far as to alphabetize, but I did try to organize by type.  The binder filled really quickly, so I'm pretty sure I'll already have to start a new one shortly and will probably separate by type into different binders.  It's nice that I'll know where to find everything...for once.  Next up, the closet of doom (which is where boxes of random stuff go to die)?  Perhaps.

What you're favorite household organization tip?  I'm all ears!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Daily Tip - Pool noodle to the rescue

Owen has very rapidly become a mobile baby.  Gone are the days when I could leave him on his activity mat and go shower with the peace of mind that he'd be in the same place as I left him once I got out.  Of course, mobile baby means baby proofing everything.  We already switched our beloved coffee and side tables for a cheapish ottoman that he can bounce off/barf on without incident.  The second he started crawling though, I knew something had to be done with the bed frame of the spare bed that's in his room.  It has a nice exposed metal edge...right at eye level for an infant.

We discussed various options - bubble wrap, packing foam, etc.  Then, one day on Pinterest, I came across a picture of somebody who used a pool noodle as a bumper.  It was just crazy enough to work.  So, a trip to my favorite place (the dollar store) and $1 pool noodle later, and we have one fully babyproofed bed frame.  No more sharp pointy edges! 

As you can see, it's also baby-approved, non-toxic, and matches his room.  A win for sure.  Short of putting  him in a bubble, we know there will be bumps and bruises, but we figure it's best to minimize the possibility of scarring and/or losing an eye.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Daily Dish - Pork chop with mango salsa & couscous

I'm really trying to be more creative in the kitchen.  While we have our staples that are quick, simple, and Deuce kitty could probably cook from watching us make them enough times, I have always loved variety in my food.  I'm not a big meal planner though, so it can be hit or miss whether I can put together something new and fun with the ingredients in the house.  Last night, I hit the jackpot though.

It all started with a pork chop.  We like to get the center cut pork chops from Costco.  They're thick and I don't think we've spotted a lot of other chops that come close in comparison.  That led me to the mango salsa, which was easy because we keep frozen mango in the freezer for the baby these days.  It is easy to dice from frozen and defrosts quickly too.  Don't get me wrong - I love a fresh mango, but it can be easy to miss that perfect ripeness.  As a nice compliment to the protein, I whipped up a little Israeli aka "pearl" couscous (which I generally prefer to the standard American couscous as it has a more hearty texture) with some sauteed veggies.  This was super easy to make, and has a pretty short prep/cook time too!  I will say that I loved pretty much everything about this dish, so here's a recipe for you.

Serves 2    

Make the mango salsa first, then set aside while the other components are cooking.

1/2 cup diced mango
1/4 cup red onion (I actually substituted green onion because we didn't have any red onion)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 medium japaleno (If you feel like the jalapeno is too much, it's not as spicy once eaten with the pork chop)
1/2 lime

Place first four ingredients together in a bowl.  Add the lime juice and salt, stirring until well mixed.

2 center cut pork chops (approx 1" thick)
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup Israeli "pearl" couscous
1 small onion
1 cup baby bella mushroom
1 cup spinach
2 tsp Lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, garlic

Season pork chops with salt, pepper, and garlic.  Place oil in pan and heat until medium-hot.  Add pork chops and cook until there is a nice brown sear (approx 4-5 minutes on each side).  Lower heat, add the chicken stock to the pan, cover, and cook until pork chops have reached an internal temperature of 145°F.

While the pork chops are cooking, start to cook the couscous per instructions on the packet.   The instructions on the package I had were to add couscous to 1 1/4 cups boiling water, salt, and cover.  Cook for 8-10 minutes stirring frequently.

In a separate pan, heat olive oil, then sautee onion, mushroom, spinach and garlic over medium heat.  Once couscous is finished cooking, remove pan from heat.  Add in sauteed vegetables, toss well with the lemon juice and a little extra olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Once both the pork and couscous are done cooking, serve it up, adding the mango salsa on top of the pork chop.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Daily Baby - My strange addiction?

My name is Natalie and I have an addiction to board books.  It's rare that I can pass a stack of board books, all brightly colored, without diving in.  My favorite place to peruse would be at the dollar store.  Sometimes, they have nothing.  Other times, it's a score!  I can justify those purchases though because, at a dollar per book, I'm spreading the love of reading without breaking the bank.  Husband knows that if I pop out to get Ziploc bags, there's a likely-hood I will return with a box of Ziplocs and 4 books.  He says I have an itch that needs to be scratched!  I think part of the problem is that I always have to see if the book is part of a series and, if it is, I'll be damned if I'm only buying that book alone.  Next thing you know I've found all variations (shapes, colors, numbers....day at the park, day at the zoo, day at the movies...bath-time, bedtime, tea-time) and they will all be coming home with us!

This weekend's haul included a bunch of Richard Scarry "Busy Town" books, Garfield, a collection of Nursery Rhyme books (in part to help me remember them), a Pirate treasure hunt counting book, plus a couple of Disney classics (Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmations).  Other favorites that I've been collecting are published by Ollie Bollie books, which I love for the illustrations.

Owen gets to enjoy a couple of books every night while he gnaws on his baby toothbrush.  Sometimes he tries to grab and turn the pages...but mostly he just wants to chew on them.  I think that's still encouraging a love of books!

What are your favorite books for babies/children?  I'm open to more suggestions on books to buy!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Daily Review - Knitting Cast-on E-book

A while back, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to review an e-book on Brioche Knitting.  The author of that e-book, Liat of KNITFreedom has a new video course - this time a guide to knitting cast-ons

When it comes to knitting cast-ons, I've always defaulted to the trusty long-tail cast-on.  It's the first cast-on I learned and works for most things.  There are definitely those times though when the long-tail cast-on just isn't as pretty and fitting as the piece calls for.  I do know that there are lots of other cast-ons out there, but I didn't know how many until taking a look at this e-book!   [Did you know multi-colored braided cast-ons even existed?  Mind blown!]

The course covers some basic info on cast-ons, even including some tips about the long-tail cast on that I didn't know.  No more pulling 100 stitches off the needle when the tail gets too short!  Turns out there's a pretty easy fix for that.  As with Liat's other video courses, the videos themselves are clear and very easy to follow along.  It's a lot easier than scouring YouTube for something when you're not entirely sure what it's called.  There is a very handy table of contents at the top of the guide which takes you to the exact spot you need - whether you're looking for a cast-on by name or category.    I really like the short description included with each cast-on video, explaining how it is best used, along with tips, and a clear swatch photo to show what the finished product is supposed to look like. The only thing I would have liked would be a video covering how to get a nice clean join when casting-on in the round (i.e. for a hat or top-down sock). 

In the end, I think this video course is a fantastic reference tool for knitters looking to take their craft to the next level.  For all the hours of care and love put into a project, starting with the perfect cast-on makes sense, making this a great resource to have at your fingertips.  I know it's going to make me think twice next time I pick up the needles to start a project and I'm excited to try some new techniques.

This cast-on video e-book is available for $24.99 through the KNITFreedom site.  Check out the other classes on offer too!

DISCLAIMER:  I received no money for this review, but received a preview copy of the e-book prior to release.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Daily Craft - My design needs your vote!

You may remember a few weeks back that I won a set of beads through Artbeads' "Tuscon Ten" contest.  So, part two of the contest was to create a design using those beads, with the beads making up at least 50% of the design.  Usually, I just let inspiration come to me when thinking about jewelry pieces, so it was different to have the parameters of my design set by the beads in hand.  The biggest challenge I faced was figuring out how to combine the different sets of beads, which I may not think to put together under other circumstances. 

In the end, I designed two necklaces.  The intent was that they could be worn separately, or together.  The first necklace used the giraffe beads combined with the tiny peacock pearls, and wire wrapped together with antiqued brass wire.  The second necklace tied in the antiqued brass with chain, and I decided to go with a lariat style so that I could feature a couple of the larger beads at each end.  I think the end result ended up being pretty cool!

Now onto the second part of the contest though.  I could win a giftcard from Artbeads for my design and could use your help!  If you could take a minute to vote for my design, please scoot on over to this Facebook page.  Voting is open through May 20th.  You can also check out the designs on the Tuscon Ten Pinterest Board.  Thanks all! 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Daily Ramblings - Birthdays and un-birthdays

Our household was recently hit by the dreaded lurgy (which is one of those British phrases I'd very much like to get people using here in the US).  A couple of weeks ago, Owen brought home a daycare cold, which resulted in getting me sick.  He recovered pretty quickly but, having given the munchkin all my antibodies, I didn't fare so well.  After the cold symptoms dissipated, the following week of sinus headaches led me to the ENT doctor.  He congratulated me on the general disturbing state of my sinuses and tonsils, then sent me home with a 10 day dose of antibiotics.  The drugs had just taken hold on my infection when Owen started coughing and wheezing, leading to a weekend trip to urgent care where he was diagnosed with bronchitis.  Now we have to give him breathing treatments with albuterol twice a day, which essentially means we wave a wand that is spewing vapor into his mouth and try to get him to stay still for 10 minutes while it works it's magic and opens up his airways.  There is nothing fun about this.  Trying to get a six month old to stay in one spot for 10 minutes is hard enough as is, let alone with something that he doesn't understand shoved in his face.  If he doesn't start crying straight away, I will potentially spend those 10 minutes trying to wrestle the wand out of his hands because he's trying to eat it.  This morning he thought it was a gigantic straw and was trying to suck liquid out of it, then got frustrated because it wasn't working.  The kid is too smart for his own good.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, we did have cause for celebration.  Owen turned 6 months on Monday. That's half a year since he burst into our lives and changed us forever.  I can hardly believe it.  In that he was sick, I didn't get to do the photoshoot that I was hoping to, but snapped some pics on my cell phone to commemorate.  I'll do a proper photoshoot with him in the next couple of weeks.  I'd say his "blue steel" is pretty good already though.

Yesterday, it was my birthday.  I'd say 34 is a relative non-event, and the universe did feel the need to remind me of that as I struggled with car trouble and a wheezing baby, which meant my celebratory dinner ended up being Indian takeout, obtained and hand-delivered by my loving husband.  It certainly wasn't the ideal birthday but, in the end, I was surrounded by my boys (the big one, the small one, and the furry one) and I can't complain about that too much.