Thursday, February 11, 2016

Minecraft Creepers & Minion Pudding for Valentine's Day (or "Friendship" Day)

Somehow, we're more than halfway through the school year. Oliver celebrated his 100th day at school last week, and now we're planning for Valentine's Day parties at school today & tomorrow.

Last year, I got to craft the valentines I liked best since the kids had no opinion on the matter (remember these?). This year, Oliver asked for Minecraft valentines. That sounds like a simple request, but, alas, stores don't seem to sell them. I appreciate a challenge, so I took to Pinterest to find an idea. This is what we came up with:

Andrew found some Creeper images online and adapted them so they could be printed and folded over a fun-sized Kit-Kat bar.

These are the tags I made (with a little help from Andrew). They aren't the greatest, but I don't pretend to be an expert at photoshop:

Then it was time for Jo's valentines. She loves Minions, and I'd seen some creative Minion ideas on Pinterest that involved making minions out of pudding cups. They looked cool, but I'm pretty busy these days and was spending enough time making those Minecraft valentines.

So, I decided just to get some simple store-bought valentines. Jo loves so many different cartoons and candies that it would be easy. Right? Seriously, that's easier said than done. The small grocery store by my house doesn't even sell children's valentines. I planned a trip to the bigger grocery store, but whatever they had was mostly gone when I finally got there last night (That's what I get for waiting until the last minute). I was looking for anything Jo would love: Frozen, Minions, Doc McStuffins, Peppa Pig, even Peg+Cat. Nope. The only things they had left were superheroes and My Little Pony.

What happened next is either serendipitous or just a flat-out lie for dramatic effect. I then stumbled into a sign from the mighty Valentine's Day gods (Cupid, I guess?). A big Price Chopper display of pudding snack packs: 99 cents for a 4-pack. So, I bought the stupid pudding to make minions. 

Now, my husband and I don't fight. We just don't. But after juggling the kids and going to ballet, finding time for school work, and prepping for the "Friendship Day" craft that I'd signed up to host at Jo's preschool, I now needed to run out to the craft store to buy supplies to make minions. Let's just say I was a little testy, and my children are going to grow up with issues related to Valentine's Day. But I got to Michael's, and I bought a package of googly eyes, a 70 cent sheet of silver paper, and some thin black tape to make some minions. (If you're reading this to actually do this craft yourself, make sure you also have a hot glue gun!)

I found something round in my house to trace 12 silver circles (one for each pudding) and cut those out. 

I stuck a piece of black tape around each, and then I hot-glued a googly eye onto a silver circle and glued that to the black band. Note that I accidentally bought glitter tape, and these minions are actually shedding glitter all over the table. I imagine they probably shed into the pudding as well, making these some sort of bio-hazard, I'm sure.

But they're cute, right? Maybe that was worth all the driving around. I kind of thought so. Andrew and I hugged and made-up, and I swore I'd buy store-bought valentines next year.

Then, this morning, I got to Jo's party. I swear to you, there was a table display of pudding robots set up by a parent of one of the students.

I called my husband and told him that these robots put my minions to shame. They have juice box bodies, lollipop arms, pudding heads, two googly eyes, and chocolate shoes & hair.

Bonus photo of Jo wearing the necklace she'd made at her friendship party. At least that went over well!

One kid gave the other kids a tub of Play-Doh. That was Jo's favorite (better than the Minion pudding, for sure). She made a robot out of it because the robot Valentine made such an impression on her.

Happy Friendship Day!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Swan Soirée

The Trumpeter Swan Society hosted a "swan soirée" at Walnut Woods State Park in West Des Moines today.  They promised hands-on activities, crafts, hot dogs, and presentations from the county. It sounded promising, so we had to go check it out!

The first thing I noticed was how beautiful the woods are. We've been in Des Moines for almost two years now, and I never knew there was such a great state park this close to us. I made a mental note to check it out for camping later this year. Here's a link to more information on the park and campground.

When we arrived at the lodge, the parking lot was full. We continued on and found a spot in a tiny lot about a block down. We happened to park next to a man who was taking a trumpeter swan out of a crate. We got to meet and pet the swan! Notice its black beak.

We hiked the short distance to the lodge, which looked modern from the exterior. I was surprised (pleasantly so) on how "natural" and rustic it really was. There was an outdoor shelter attached with a fire burning in the outdoor fireplace (free firewood). Considering we were having an unseasonably warm day, about 50 degrees, it felt good to stand out there by the fire. Inside was packed! There were a few families there with kids, and the rest of the audience was older. We migrated to the craft table, where the kids got to create their own swans out of pipe cleaners, pine cones, and feathers.


I got to hear a little of the presentation on the trumpeter swans. The director of the Trumpeter Swan Society explained how our grandparents and great-grandparents never got to see a trumpeter swan because they were so close to extinction. 

In the United States, there were fewer than 70 left earlier in the 20th century. Thanks to an Alaskan population of trumpeter swans, there has been a huge effort to re-introduce the animals to more of their native habitat. Iowa is currently the only state that has had trumpeter swan sightings in all parts of the state. Here's a map from Wikipedia that shows their current range: 
After the kids finished their craft, we decided to take them outside to eat their hot dogs. I didn't expect them to sit through the presentations very well. They enjoyed the fire and the food, and then we hiked over to the nearby playground. My friend just so happened to be at the event, too, so we got to hang out while the kids ran around and played in the good weather.

The day's events didn't end there. A bald eagle flew overhead! Sorry for being a poor photographer, but I was actually so quick with my camera! This isn't the first time I got to see one in the area. When Jo and I were driving through Raccoon River Park one day, we saw bald eagles soaring over the water there.

In just a couple weeks, Des Moines Parks & Rec will be hosting "Bald Eagle Day." Attendees will have a chance to view bald eagles, and there will be activities for kids there as well. As long as the weather isn't bitterly cold, we plan on checking that event out, too. The details for that can be found on their Facebook event page here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Pictures with Santa - 2015

I took the kids to the mall in their pajamas to get their picture with Santa! Oliver just hopped on up there and made himself comfortable. Jo was a little ticked when I told her she'd sit on Santa's lap for a picture. It seems she gets a little less upset with each passing year, though. 




Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Halloween on the Hill"

Here in Des Moines, trick-or-treating is done the day before Halloween on Beggar's Night. Kids go around, tell jokes, and get candy on the 30th! When we moved here last year, we did Beggar's Night and then looked for something to do on Halloween night. We read about a free event in Sherman Hill called "Halloween on the Hill."

Sherman Hill is the oldest neighborhood in Des Moines. People who live in the neighborhood opt to decorate their houses for this event, and some really go all out! There are also people dressed up as monsters who wander the streets.

You start out near Smokey Row at 19th & Crocker/Cottage Grove. They collect canned goods out front of the "Kathedral," or the international church, and, in exchange, they give drivers and walkers a map that marks the decorated houses, the monsters, and the Thriller dance that takes place every 15 minutes.

Here are the kids looking out at the "cemetery" where the zombies do the Thriller dance:

I took a video of some of it, but it's pretty dark. They did an amazing job, though! Oliver started dancing along as he watched.


We had a great time! We saw Frankenstein and his monster again this year. Last year, we got out of the car and got "scared" by Frankenstein. This year, we drove by slowly in the car with the windows rolled down, and he reached in at Oliver. It was so much fun! He was just a little scared, but later he said it was the best part. He's already making plans for his own Frankenstein costume to wear next year.

Here are a few other photos of the decorated houses:

We really love this event. I love that the neighbors put it on themselves and that it's free for us to enjoy. I think we'll be going for many years to come!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

LEGO Birthday Cake

I made Oliver & Jo's LEGO birthday cake! I'd seen a few cakes like these online, but couldn't find any tutorials on how to make them. I did my best, but I wish I'd taken the time at the beginning to cut the sides of the cake to be completely straight. The final product looks a little bumpy. Live and learn, right?

I started work on the bricks a few days before I baked the cake. I bought silicon LEGO block molds that were fairly inexpensive on Amazon (3 for $7.75). I also bought fondant this year instead of making my own. I used an online coupon from Michael's and bought fondant for $5.

I used a melon baller to help measure to make sure my blocks were all about the same size. The first set of fondant LEGO blocks got stuck in the mold. I dusted in the inside with powdered sugar, and that fixed the problem. The rest came out without any problems.

My final supply list:
Fondant pack of green, red, yellow, and blue
White fondant
Powdered sugar (to dust the inside of the molds)
Silicone LEGO block molds
2 boxes of cake (and the ingredients needed to make the cake--eggs, oil, etc)
1 can of frosting (for the crumb layer)
Black gel frosting for the lettering
LEGO figures to decorate the cake

I didn't want to use the blocks up the size of the cake. Instead, I just cut out rectangles from rolled fondant to look like the sizes of the LEGO blocks. I kept all of the fondant pieces in the fridge so they wouldn't lose their shape. 

Two nights before the party, I baked the cake. I used two boxes of cake mix, and I made two 13x9 inch cakes. The next day, I frosted and stacked them as a crumb layer. That afternoon, I covered the cake in a very thin layer of white fondant. It will save you a lot of trouble later if you make sure all of the sides are as flat as possible! I dampened one size of the rectangles (water helps the fondant stick), and I built up the walls in a LEGO brick pattern. You can see my progress here:

When I finished, I added some strips of rolled white fondant and made it look like Emmett was unrolling it onto the cake. I stuck fondant on the bottom of the LEGO figures to get them to stick to the cake.

To make the lettering, I just printed a picture of "Happy Birthday" in LEGO font. I set it over the fondant and cut out the red. Then I set it over the fondant and cut out the yellow, and then I set it over the fondant and cut out the white. I stacked them, and then outlined the white lettering in frosting. I made a makeshift frosting bag out of fondant for Good Cop to hold to try to make it look like he was writing "Happy Birthday."

I found the candy letters at the grocery store. I wanted to give each of the LEGO Movie characters a job, so Benny got the letter R to look like he was spelling out the names.

When the fondant was still soft, I stuck Wyldstyle's arms in the block. I refrigerated her and the block until it was hard, and then I added them to the cake.

Larry the barista is helping make the cake, too!

There's the finished cake! I'd added the white frosting shells to the top to conceal the spot where the sides met the top. I didn't like how it turned out, so I covered it up ;-) I finished the evening before the party and then kept it in the fridge so the fondant wouldn't get too soft and start to droop.

It took a lot of planning and work. I really wish I'd spent more time getting the sides straight, but I still love the cake. It's a lot of fun!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Adventures in Diaper Wreaths

I love an excuse to be crafty and make things. My sister-in-law's baby shower is this weekend, and I am bringing decorations. So, I decided to make diaper wreaths! I had the "brilliant" idea to make a guitar-shaped diaper wreath, but it just didn't turn out as planned. When I hung different little gifts on it, they concealed the shape of the wreath. It looked like a weird, hanging blob. So, I made a regular diaper wreath as well and hung all the little goodies on that one!

I'll start with the round diaper wreath. I based mine from a tutorial from Homemade Gifts Made Easy. I changed a few of the steps based on what I had at home.

1) I used a large dinner plate to measure out a circle on a piece of cardboard I had on hand (from a large shipping box). I made a large circle around that so I could cut out a ring.

2) I used a wire hanger on the back of the ring, which I thought made it sturdier and easier to hang. I used packing tape to secure it.


3) I used wrapping paper I had on hand to wrap the cardboard and hanger. You can see how I cut strips to be able to wrap along the curve.

4) I followed the instructions from the tutorial on hot gluing the ribbon around the diapers and securing each one to the wrapped cardboard ring.

5) I criss-crossed some thin green ribbon around the diapers, and then I tied some little toys and gifts to the diaper wreath. I finished it off with a big bow on top. I love the way it turned out!

To make the guitar-shaped diaper wreath, I began by shaping a wire hanger into the shape of a guitar.

I started out by folding the diapers around the frame, but I lost the shape of the guitar:

So, I tried a different method and actually wrapped the diapers around the wire frame. I wrapped twine around as I went in order to hold the diapers in place. 

Here's what it looked like when I finished wrapping the diapers around:

I worried it didn't look distinctly like a guitar. I ended up sewing some tan-colored construction paper onto the frame using twine. I printed out a picture of the bridge of the guitar and glued at onto the front, along with a black circle for the hole in the guitar. This is what it looked like from the back as I worked:

I made a little striped sweater and rolled that up to kind of look like the neck of the guitar. I secured it with a bow. Voila! I was just happy it looked like a guitar when I was done!