Friday, November 30, 2012

The week in review: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

To keep things simple for December, I'll be posting each Friday a little review of our week, specifically the thrifty and frugal things we are doing to celebrate and enjoy the Christmas season.

This week I began to decorate with my kids, swapping our thankful tree for a felt Christmas tree and adding our stockings.

I finally stitched Will's stocking together (it was just pinned last year) and I'm so excited to see them next to each other. I can't even begin to imagine how many hours I put in cross-stitching their stockings!

The idea for the felt Christmas tree is all over Pinterest (check out Johnny In a Dress). I should have grabbed a yard of felt when I was at Joann's last to make it larger, but ended up just using the small rectangles and piecing them together. It was super simple, and has been a hit! I used cookie cutters as templates for the ornaments.
It was so great to pull my advent calendar activities and Scripture verses out of our Christmas box this year. I spent a considerable amount of time last year getting it exactly how I wanted it. I still need to put all the activities and verses in order along with some treats. Emma has been asking all week when we can get started!

I'm also incredible thankful for all the Christmas activities I packed away last year! Our sensory bin of Dollar Store items:

A few preschool pack activities (I think from 1+1+1=1, but not positive):

And a whole slew of Christmas stickers just waiting to go on coloring sheets and activities.

Before Thanksgiving I tackled a project one afternoon and was so excited to see how well it turned skinny jeans!

This was a pair of Gap jeans passed on to me from a friend that were extremely flared at the bottom.

I turned them inside out and pinned them where I wanted, then sewed a brand new seam, removing the excess material. So easy, I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shutterfly winner!

Congrats to Sarah, who won the $50 prize from Shutterfly!

If you are looking for a great deal on photo cards, there are still several options. Check out this one from Cardstore via Moms Need to Know!
This includes your stamp for mailing, so it's a really sweet deal!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Week

I mentioned yesterday in my Christmas Card post (enter the $50 Shutterfly prize giveaway!) that we have been doing a bunch of fun Thanksgiving related activities.

Here's a quick run through of some of our favorites; hopefully you will find a few ideas for over the Thanksgiving holiday this week!

Last year's "thankful tree" was much smaller scale. We modled after this craft on 1+1+1=1 and added things we were thankful for on each leaf.

This year I knew I wanted it to be much bigger and give both kids a chance to add as many things as they could think of. I used brown construction paper and cut out branches, then taped them to the wall. I just free-handed the tree, trying to make it look like a huge tree with lots of branches, but I traced the leaves. They've done a great job adding to our tree; it has many additional leaves at this point. It has also been a great teaching tool...the easiest thing for my kids to be thankful is all their favorite foods! But they are thinking outside the box a bit more now (and they both wanted to put each other on the tree!).

I was inspired by Housing a Forest to make shape turkeys. These took just a little bit of prep time and were a fun activity for both kids. We used it to work on not only shapes, but colors and sequencing/patterns.

Here's the finished product hanging up!

 Along with the turkeys, we've done several fall pictures, including a tree with the leaves made out of crumpled and wadded tissue paper.

We've also enjoyed using a number of free preschool packs that are Thanksgiving themed! Check out this one by Our Little Monkeys and another by 1+1+1=1. Some favorite activities include putting stickers on the white dots:

Measuring Thanksgiving items:

More stickers with a special visitor:

And lots of color by number fun with an Aunt!
 These puzzles are fantastic too!

 We'll also be making good use of some of the travel activities I posted about last Thanksgiving while we make the rounds with family and friends! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Shutterfly Christmas Card Review (and giveaway!)

We've been having a lot of fun doing Thanksgiving activities recently! I'm planning a recap of those for tomorrow, but I have a Christmas giveaway to get started first today. :) I am so excited to once again be able to talk about Shutterfly Photo Christmas Cards! My family has enjoyed using Shutterfly for Christmas cards for a number of years (last year we used Treat, a Shutterfly company). The selection of cards is much bigger and in my opinion, better, this year.

 I'm a big fan of cards that are a little more traditional in color and styling, but also have plenty of options to personalize. Many of Shutterfly's photo card options allow you to pick the same design in different sizes, colors, and even choose between a folded or flat card. Shutterfly introduced a new size card this year - its HUGE at 6x8 inches! It does not require any additional postage to mail, but it is more expensive than the smaller cards.

The inside (of the folded cards) and the back (of the flat cards) has TONS of options to personalize with additional photos, a large amount of text, or some of each. I am very thankful for the opportunity to have some space to write a bit about our year to keep family and friends that live far away from us updated.

Shutterfly is also one of the easiest to use photo gift sites from which I have ordered. As I scrolled through different cards I used the little heart icon to mark several cards as 'favorites' and they were automatically saved to My Shutterfly. It made it so much faster to be able to look back at the ones I had marked to narrow down the card for our family.

I get personalized offers from Shutterfly via email (free photo books, prints, other photo gifts) frequently, and these make great gifts, since all I have to do is pay shipping. If you haven't signed up for Shutterfly's email list yet, I highly recommend it! You can also check out their current Special Offers for more gift ideas.

I'm keeping our Christmas card a secret for now, but I wanted to share a few of my favorites to give you an idea of some of the new styles that Shutterfly has this year.

Simple, with one photo on the front (and I love this shade of blue):
(Light and Joy)

A bit more whimsical and fun, especially if you have small kids:
(Clothesline Frames)

I like the pattern over top the photo in this one:
(Snowy Window)

as well as this one:
(Ornaments of Peace)

Share your family's top ten memories from the year:
(Our Top 10)

I love the beautiful script on the side of this one, along with the multiple photo spots:
(Flourishes of Joy)

Win It!

Shutterfly has generously provided me with a fantastic giveaway prize: $50 off a $50 purchase (excludes applicable tax and shipping. Offer expires 12/14/12)! For a chance to win, leave a comment on this post telling me how you would use the prize...Christmas cards? A photo calendar? Another photo gift? Make sure that your email is visible in your blogger profile or in your comment so that I can contact you if you are the winner. Comments without an email are not valid entries. This giveaway will run until 9pm Eastern November 26, at which point a winner will be chosen via

Disclosure: Shutterfly sponsored this post and compensated me, but all opinions are 100% my own. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Homemade Pizza: Garlicky Mushroom and Feta

This week's homemade pizza is much more on the gourmet side...mushrooms and feta cheese with a garlic infused olive oil sauce! This is not one that our kids are brave enough to try yet (though they like all of the ingredients separately), but I'm quite fine with not having to share this right now :)

For the crust, use any of your preferred crust recipes. To go with the gourmet toppings, I like to use the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day crust. Saute the mushrooms first (I do it this way), and they can even be prepped ahead of time along with the crust.

While the oven is preheating, place a generous portion of good quality olive oil (Trader Joe's is excellent and very reasonably priced) in a small sauce pan. Add 3 or 4 (or more or less, to taste) cloves of minced garlic to the oil, along with salt and pepper. Watch closely and allow to get nice and hot, but watch so the garlic does not burn. Taste frequently (and carefully!), adding additional seasoning if necessary.

Roll out the dough and place on a heated pizza stone. Brush the entire crust with the olive oil. I am very generous with the olive oil in the center of the crust. Add mushrooms and feta cheese, then sprinkle with parsley. Bake according to crust instructions, until nice and brown. Cut, serve, and enjoy!

This is a great break from traditional tomato-based pizza, and even though the toppings are a bit more expensive than regular homemade pizza, it is still considerably cheaper than ordering at a restaurant. That's a win in my book!

Other Pizza Recipes:
Deep Dish (Pizza Hut copycat)
Basic Recipe
Stuffed Crust
Bagel Bites

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Be Consistant! (Loving Books, Part 4)

I feel like I've learned a lot about how to encourage my kids to love books, especially great books, and I wanted to take a few posts to share some of my thoughts. Any time you delve into parental advice-giving it has the potential to be a nasty can of worms. So, I hope the book recommendations and thoughts on encouraging a love a reading are helpful. I'm not trying to make out like my way of doing this will work for everyone. 

So far I’ve talked about being selective about choosing good books for your children, as well as being intentional about finding and identifying good books. In this post I want to focus on the importance of building reading into your routine. Routines will look different for every family, and rightly so, as you encourage reading in a way that is specific for your children.

My children love to snuggle together on the couch when we have a time devoted to reading. They are not holding other toys and we minimize distractions. Our routine always includes reading the title, author, and illustrator to our children. When our children discover a new favorite book, they are able to ask for it by name instead of referring to it as “the cow book” or “choo-choo.” And most important for our family, when we go to the library to get new books, it helps them and us when we remember the names of favorite authors.

We make the library a weekly part of our routine. I can’t read every book before we bring it home, so I also make sure that I have one or two old favorites each week, in case the new books are not as good as I hoped. Some weeks we only have time for a quick trip to grab a few books, but many times we spend an hour or more looking through books, playing with the toys (and the computer!) in the children’s section, and talking with the librarians. The library has become one of their favorite places, and because we go weekly, they anticipate each trip and ask to go even more often.

Favorite ABC books

ABC: A Child's First Alphabet Book by Alison Jay
  One of our favorite author/illustrators. Each page has beautiful images and several objects to discover that go along with the letter.
The ABC Mystery by Doug Cushman
  A simple book with great rhythm. Follow the clues to discover "whodunit" along with Detective Inspector McGroom!

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr and John Archembault
  The classic alphabet rhythm and song. We have this audiobook also and it is a hit.
Alphabeep: A Zipping, Zooming ABC by Debora Pearson
  Follow through the alphabet with cars, trucks, and other things that go.

LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
  This is an adorable book with occupations and activities for each letter of the alphabet. Great illustrations also.

Dr. Seuss's ABC by Dr. Seuss
  Another great classic. The board book is a good introduction for smaller children, but move on to the full version as soon as possible!
I Spy: An Alphabet in Art by Lucy Micklethwait
  Each page features a piece of artwork. Look for the part of the painting that corresponds to the appropriate letter. There are several books like this as well. This is a more difficult I Spy.

Also noteworthy but highlighted earlier...C Is for Caboose: Riding the Rails from A to Z and Baby Einstein: Alphabooks


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Homemade Pizza: Deep Dish (Pizza Hut copycat)

Next up in the homemade pizza is a recipe for deep dish pizza. I've been making this pizza for several years and found it originally from The Frugal Girl. The first few times were a little tedious because there are several steps to get this pizza on the table. This is also the perfect recipe for cold nights because you need really hot oven, which warms everything nicely since the sun is going down so early!

This recipe makes two 9-inch deep dish pizzas baked in cake pans! The secret ingredient is potatoes and I've also made them with a cup of white whole wheat flour subbed in for all-purpose. It makes a beautifully dense crust and browns up really well.

Deep Dish Pizza (via The Frugal Girl)
1 medium baking potato (about 9 ounces), peeled and quartered
1 1/2 t. active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup warm water
2 T. vegetable oil, plus 2 additional for each pan
1 3/4 t. table salt

Cook the potato, allow to cool, then grate, measuring 1 cup (lightly packed). You can also cook a large batch of potatoes and freeze them to use in this recipe! 

In your mixing bowl, add 3 cups of flour, yeast, and salt. While mixer is running, add water and 2 T. oil and mix for one minute. Then add the potato, mixing for an additional 2-3 minutes. Add in remaining flour slowly. You don't have to use it all, just until the dough is no longer very sticky. 

Turn dough out on to a lightly floured surface and kneed until the dough is smooth but still springy (usually only a minute or so for me). Return the dough to the mixing bowl, covered with a wet towel, and allow to rise for about an hour.

After the dough has risen, punch it down and place on a lightly floured surface. Divide in two and roll each into about a 9-inch round. Place dough into oiled pans (2 T. of oil per pan). You can manipulate the dough some to push it up the sides of the pans (see photo). Let rest for about 30 minutes. Fifteen minutes into this time I set my oven at 425 to preheat with the pizza stone inside.

Using a fork, prick all over the dough to allow the air to escape. I go right up to the edge which helps make a more defined and puffy crust. Put the pans in the oven on the pizza stone and bake for about 10 minutes.

Remove the pans with the semi-baked crusts from the oven and add sauce and toppings. These pizzas can handle a good bit of sauce since the crust is so substantial. Bake for an additional 10 minutes, until brown and crispy. I use a plastic knife to loosen each pizza so that it slides right out onto the cutting board for easy slicing.

This is one of our favorite pizza recipes! Enjoy!

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