Advent Activity Calendar…Again!

I know, I’ve posted this before…a couple of times! I think it’s such a great idea, instead of candy every day during Advent, since, Heaven knows, my kids get plenty of sugary treats during the Advent season.  They truly seem to love getting to do an activity each day, rather than a trinket or candy, anyway. Seriously. They’re weird.
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Anyway, on with the directions, so you can make one for yourself!  To make it, I simply resized and printed out the Days of December page template from Stampin’ Up, then resized and printed Ali Edwards Advent Boxes from DesignerDigitals.com.  I believe that Days of December is no longer available, but here’s a great alternative from Makoodle.

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Anyhoo, I printed, cut, and then wrote out our list.  If you would rather, you can even type the list right on the cards before you print them.  I thought it was a nice touch to have my own handwriting on them, though.   After I wrote the activities, I figured out what would work on which day of the countdown and glued the backs together.  To make it a bit more finished, I rounded the corners of each card.

Then all that was left was to spice up the $4 frame I found at Walmart. This craft allowed me to use both a staple gun to attach the bakers’ twine and a hot glue gun for the burlap background.  All that was left to do then was hanging each card with cute little decorated clothespins. I made these glittery ones myself, but I just came from Target, where they had red mini-clothespins in a pack of 20 for $1. What a deal!  Oh, and I looped a wide striped ribbon around the frame to hand the whole shebang.

Voila! The hooligans will have such a great time with this!

Here’s our list, compiled from extensive research (I Googled “activity Advent calendars”):

1. Read the Elf on the Shelf book in preparation for his arrival

2. Clean out and organize toys and donate

3. Buy a toy and donate it to Toys for Tots

4. Make thumbprint tree ornaments from salt dough

5. Write letters to Santa

6.Celebrate St. Nicholas Day

7. Have a family game night

8. Make pinecone birdseed ornaments for outside tree

9. Make paper snowflakes and hang them EVERYWHERE!

10. Watch a Christmas movie

11. Do something kind and helpful for a family member

12. Focus on being kind and polite to everyone you meet

13. Read some Christmas books

14. Draw a Christmas picture

15. Make snow ice cream (hopefully!), or ice cream sundaes

16.Make cinnamon ornaments to tie on granola for neighbors

17. Decorate a gingerbread house

18. Bake and decorate cookies

19. Write Christmas notes to your teachers

20. Make ice candles

21. Drive around to look at lights and drink hot chocolate

22. Decorate birthday cupcakes for Jesus

23. Make a Christmas craft

24. Make popcorn and watch “The Polar Express” movie

Of course, your family’s list will be different…we’re certainly not the poster family for Advent activities!  I’m sure you find that hard to believe…not.

Now I have to go hide this until December 1, or the hooligans will be begging to start!

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Kid-Made Acorn Sugar Cookies

Just in case you’re looking for another dessert to add to the meal on Thanksgiving, here are some super cute cookies my hooligans made Sunday afternoon.  The did the cookie making, I made the icing, then they iced them…so I think that counts as made by them!

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I found the acorn cookie cutter at World Market, and they used our favorite Best Butter Cookie recipe from Land o’Lakes. Of course it’s our favorite…it’s like 50% butter!

For the frosting, I made pretty thin royal icing…2 Tbsp meringue powder, 1/4 cup water, 2 cups powdered sugar.  They dipped the front of the cookie for the light tan base coat (see how here), then dripped the darker brown icing and swirled it around with toothpicks, like we’ve made Halloween and Fourth of July cookies before.  I love this method of decorating cookies for kids because 1) it looks really pretty and polished and is very forgiving and 2) it’s a thin layer of frosting, just the right proportion of cookie to icing. We used Americolor gel colors….for the tan, I used 1 drop of yellow and 1 drop of brown.

Princess Thundercloud’s teacher has a birthday on Thanksgiving, so we’re going to take a few of these to her on Wednesday as a little pre-birthday treat. I hope she likes them as much as we do!

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Stampin’ Up! Online Extravaganza

It’s that time again…Stampin’ Up! is having their Online Extravaganza, starting Monday November 24 and running until Tuesday. December 2.  BUT….there are some really good deals that are only available Monday, November 24, and Monday, December 1…and ONLY WHILE SUPPLIES LAST! I think the Card Kit Bundle is a fantastic buy…you get both the Everyday Occasions Cardmaking Kit and the Hip Hip Hooray Cardmaking Kit for less than $35.  That’s the supplies and stamps to make 40 creative cards!

Here is a list of all the deals, but you can see them more easily at my Stampin’ Up! website…and you can place your order right then and there!  Happy Shopping!

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Homemade Kahlua and Irish Cream

Yep, I’m cheap. I mean, thrifty.  Whatever…I hate spending tons of money on big bottles of liqueurs when I can make them at home. Not to mention that they make great gifts…a little handmade gift to spice up your coffee…what’s better than that?

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This is really easy, y’all…here are the recipes for both.  The Kahlua does need to sit for 2 to 3 weeks, but you have plenty of time before Christmas.

Homemade Kahlua

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp espresso powder (or 3 Tbsp instant coffee)
  • 1 whole vanilla bean
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups good-quality vodka

1. Combine the sugars and water in a small saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. Stir in espresso powder. Remove from heat and let cool.

2. Pour into a quart size jar. Add the vodka, vanilla, and vanilla bean.

3. Refrigerate for two to three weeks, until flavor develops.

Homemade Irish Cream

  • 1 can (12 oz) sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
  • 1 cup Irish whiskey
  • 2 teaspoons dark cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee
  • 1 cup heavy cream

1. Combine all in a quart jar and shake until well mixed.

2. Store in refrigerator and shake well before serving.

Click here for the printable recipe.

Give a little bottle of each, along with a bag of coffee, for a perfect neighbor or hostess gift!  I did write directions to refrigerate on the backs of the tags, just to be safe. I think these are a perfect thing to keep on hand for the holidays, in case friends drop by…a fresh pot of coffee and the addition of one of these, and you’re the hostess with the mostest!

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My Favorite Cranberry Recipes

Can you believe it’s almost Thanksgiving?  One of my favorite memories from childhood is reading “Cranberry Thanksgiving” by Wendy Devlin with my mom, then seeing the cartoon version on TV, and finally getting to make the Cranberry Bread that’s the star of the book.  We used an actual grinder to grind the cranberries, since this was way before food processors came along. It took what seemed hours to my little brother and me, but the bread was the best ever.  Now my kids and I make it, in muffin form, for teachers on the day before Thanksgiving…and it’s much easier with a Cuisinart!

But I digress down Memory Lane…cranberries taste like fall to me, even more than pumpkin or apples, so today I’m recapping some of my favorite recipes using fresh, tart cranberries.

First, the most amazing one…Sugared Cranberries.  It’s essentially no-cook and super easy.  It does take about 24 hours for them to be ready, though, so plan accordingly!  These are a great addition as an appetizer, a snack-y dessert, or even as a hostess gift.  Give them a try! Everyone I’ve ever served them to (from preschoolers to grandparents) has loved them.


We also love Cranberry Marmalade, like canned cranberry sauce except infinitely better! Better yet, it only takes a few minutes to cook and can be made days ahead of the meal.Marm-Sauce

For something a little different, but just as delicious, try this Cranberry Salsa…it’s full of bright, fresh flavors with a bit of kick.

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And, of course, my favorites include a couple of out-of-this-world desserts!  I took these Pecan, White Chocolate, and Cranberry Pie Bars to bunko last month, and my family was quite upset that I came home with an empty pan!  They’re so much better than pecan pie because the crust stays crisp while the filling is nice and gooey with the tartness of the cranberries to offset the sweetness. Really.

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And, last but certainly not least, these Orange Cranberry Cheesecake Bars make frequent appearances at our house! They don’t crumble easily, so they’re perfect to take to holiday gatherings.  

There now…don’t you just want to rush to Costco and buy a giant bag of cranberries? Don’t tell anyone, but I bought my fourth big bag there today, I’ve made so many cranberry recipes already…and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet!  And I still have to make Cranberry Muffins for teachers next week!  I better go get another one tomorrow, don’t ya think?

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Easy Crocheted Beaded Wire Bracelet

I know, like I need another needlecraftiness hobby, right?  I taught myself to knit a couple of years ago, but had never worked on crocheting. All my female relatives have were always working on afghans when I was small (and my dad would, too, losing the patience to watch my mom, he would take over her projects. I think that might have been her plan all along.). I think I learned how, years ago, but had forgotten.

Then, over the summer, I had a wild idea to make some crocheted wire bracelets.  I had to figure out to crochet first, though, which really wasn’t hard. This bracelet uses just chain stich and single crochet…how easy is that?  And it comes together in less than an hour, which makes it a perfect last-minute craft project for Christmas gifts.

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Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 28 gauge wire (in the jewelry or crafting section)
  • about 35 medium-sized beads (like pearl-sized)
  • F crochet hook
  • Word bead or charm
  • Toggle clasp

1. Thread the beads onto the wire in the order you like, adding in the charms or word beads.

2. Make a slipknot with the wire, and begin making a chain. Work one or two beads into every other chain stitch, whatever looks good. Make about 30 fairly loose chain stiches (your bracelet should be about 7-1/2” long).  Make two extra chain stitches to turn the row, then crochet a row of single crochet stitches, working one or two beads into each one.

3. When you get back to the beginning, cut the wire, leaving a tail about 2” long. Thread it through one part of the toggle, then wrap it around itself to make a tidy end.

4. Cut another piece of wire about 2” long, and thread it through the other part of the toggle. Wire it to the other end of the bracelet, again wrapping the wire around itself neatly.

This is a very forgiving craft…by its very design, it’s rather abstract and free-form. You can use colored wire, identical beads, or a mix of seed beads, silver ones, and pearl-sized ones, as I did. It’s entirely up to you and your aesthetic sensibilities!

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These are really fun to make, and there’s really no way to make an ugly one!  I hope you’ll give them a try…and if you don’t know how to crochet, there are tons of simple to follow videos online that will get you on your way in no time at all. Seriously, I watched one ten-minute long video and I was comfortable making this.

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Arm-Knit (in 30 Minutes) Scarf

I’m sure you’ve seen these Arm-Knit Scarf photos floating around Pinterest or any craft website…I saw whole endcaps of “arm-knitting” yarn at Joann’s and Michaels this weekend.  I made this one last December, when we were in the middle of a cold snap. Well, cold for the Pacific Northwest, anyway. These are fun to make and cozy to wear…I hope you’ll give them a try!

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As you might guess, you use your arms as if they were knitting needles to knit this. There’s a great tutorial at flax & twine,  and if you’re a knitter already it takes no time at all to catch on. I think if you didn’t have some idea how to knit, it might take a couple of tries to get it, but it should still be an easy learning curve.

All you need to make a scarf is 2 skeins of ultra bulky yarn (now conveniently labeled in stores as arm-knitting yarn, apparently!).  Then pull up a good show on your DVR and start knitting!

I made these as Christmas gifts last year, so, unfortunately, I probably can’t do that again this year. I may have to go make some new friends between now and December so I’ll have an excuse to make some more!

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A Few of My Favorite Things

It’s that time of year again…the time when I am ready to get in my craft room and make tons of fun Christmas gifts!  I’ve been finishing up Calc 2 this week, so my school term is done and I have no academic responsibilities until 2015…YAY!  So today I’m sharing a little recap of some wonderful gifts I’ve made (and given away, even!) in the past…enjoy!

These Washer Necklaces are inexpensive and quick to make in any color you’d like.

Handmade Coffee Syrups are, hands down, my most popular post…and you won’t believe how easy they are!

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The granddads (and dad, too) in our lives loved these Shadow Words I Love You Photos.

Just wanting a cute giftcard holder?  This Purse Giftcard Holder is adorable and quick to make!

What neighbor or friend wouldn’t love a personalized, Etched Glass Baking Pan, complete with your favorite breakfast casserole inside? And you get to play with etching cream and stencils!

And don’t forget about making ornaments!  These Simple Nativity Ornaments are perfect gifts for religious ed teachers, or to tie onto any package!

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These “Cozy Toes” Cupcakes, which actually hold a pair of warm and fuzzy socks, make a great little gift for teachers.

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People will be your friend forever if you give them a jar of delicious Jezebel Sauce.  It takes seconds to whip up, and is perfect for friends or as a hostess gift.

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We also like to give a Soup and Bread Gift, with homemade lentil soup mix and beer bread mix tucked into a fun bread pan.

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And, just to make it an even ten ideas, these Personalized Coffee Cup Notecards were easy to make, and impress anyone you give them to! Coffee-Notecards

Now, go get crafting!

Veterans Day 2014

Today, I’m not sharing a craft or a recipe…I’m simply expressing my gratitude to all of our country’s veterans. I made this shadowbox display after my favorite GI Joe’s second deployment. I think it spells out why he, and millions of other military members, as well as their families, do what they do…being separated from loved ones for months at a time, working twelve hour days when they aren’t deployed, and, for far too many, selflessly sacrificing their own lives.

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Since retiring a month ago, my husband has embarked on a new career, working with transitioning veterans in Washington state. I’m thankful he’s found a job that allows him to continue to serve others.  Although I’m not sure he realizes it, that’s where his heart lies…in making a difference every day, no matter how small.

Our country is blessed beyond measure by our military members. I hope we never forget to show them our appreciation, and always give them our unwavering support.

Thank you to all who serve.

Thanksgiving Platters

Today I’m sharing a couple of Thankgiving serving pieces that I can’t wait to use!  The first, a Grateful Hearts Painted Wood Plate, has been around our house for about twenty years.  I remember painting it when I was living in Denver while my GI Joe spent a year stationed in Korea. I did a lot of crafting that year, to make the time pass a little faster!

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All you’ll need is a wood plate, a white fine-tip paint pen, and a few bottles of craft paint (the 69 cent kind). Even though this project is 20 years old, I just saw wood plates at the craft store this morning.

I painted the whole plate a midnight blue, front and back, and let it dry, then traced cookie cutter shapes in the center for the leaves.  The tiny leaves are itty bitty stamps I used to have. After the leaves dried, I added the lettering and let it dry.  Next, I used a sponge to lightly add some rust-colored daubs all over it. Finally, I coated the whole thing in a clear polyurethane.

Obviously, this isn’t dishwasher safe, and I just use it for dry foods, like cheese and crackers.  This year, it’s on our coffee table for the fall, with a big jar candle on it.  I still love it, and the sentiment on it, after all these years!

The other platter I just made this year.  It’s a copy of one I saw somewhere…Macy’s, I think. platter-ChaosServedDaily

For this one, you’ll need a white platter and a metallic gold DecoArt glass paint marker. I just wiped the edge of the platter with alcohol, to make sure it was clean, then wrote my phrase around the edge.  I thought the little tic marks made it look prettier. If you make a mistake, you can wipe it off with alcohol.

Following the directions on the marker, let it dry and cure for 8 hours, then bake it at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.  You put it in an unheated oven, let it come to temperature, then start your 40 minutes.  The package says it will then be dishwasher safe, but I washed mine by hand, just in case.

My favorite thing about these pieces is that they have my handwriting on them.  Not that my writing is all that and a bag of chips, but I like the thought that my kids see it and will recognize it in years to come.  I still recognize my mom’s (and my grandmother’s, when I come across a recipe or note from her) writing when a letter or package arrives, and I want my kids to have that same little jolt of recognition some day.  In this world of emails and texts, we actually write far too little. Although I do have a callus on my hand from all the writing I’ve done since going back to school last January!

Anyway, I’m off my soapbox about handwriting…I just wanted to share why I think it’s important to incorporate your own penmanship into everyday life!

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