Friday, May 1, 2015

May Day Baskets

We moved to Des Moines last spring in March. A few weeks later, on May 1, the doorbell rang. I was by the door and opened it right away. Outside was a kid running away, and a paper basket on our deck filled with candy. The kids mom was there and said, "Happy May Day!" I was puzzled. "What's this?" She had to explain to me the tradition of May Day baskets, which I'd never heard of before. She said people leave little baskets of candy for friends and neighbors. They ring the bell, and they're supposed to run away so you don't catch them. I later read that the old tradition used to include flowers. Here, it seems to involve mostly popcorn, plus a little candy.

This year, I decided we'd take part in this new-for-us tradition. I was telling Oliver all about it this morning when our doorbell rang. He looked so excited. I tried to calm him down, "It might not be a basket!" But not to worry. It was! His friend left a cup of goodies on our doorstep.
Oliver really liked the idea of trying to run away so people don't catch you leaving goodies at their door. He told me it would be smarter to hide than run, though. We got to work on our baskets, and then we saw our neighbor walking up our driveway. "Uh oh," I told Oliver. "I think Eli is coming to give us a basket!" Oliver ran to the door and flung it open and teased his friend with glee, "I caught you!" Haha. More goodies! The kids were thrilled to find juice boxes inside.

We got to work on our baskets. Oliver wrote math problems on one and drew a monkey on another. Jo requested I draw a fox on hers. I made one into a basket weave, but that was too hard for the kids. Then we walked over to the convenience store to pick out treats. I saw some dog treats, too, and decided to get them for the neighborhood dogs. Here are our baskets!

The kids were thrilled to deliver the baskets. Oliver would ring the bell and run! Jo would laugh and squeal as she tried to run away, too. Our neighbor who we caught delivering baskets to our house caught us delivering to their house! Uh-oh ;-) When we got home, Jo realized we no longer had the baskets. Her little heart broke, and she cried and cried. I had to talk to her about how those were presents we gave out, but to remember her friends gave her some gift baskets, too.

Next year, maybe we'll plan a bit ahead and make some cookies or something for the neighbors, but our first year participating in May Day was easy & fun!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Butterfly Heroes Pledge

I heard about this promotion from 2 Kids and a Coupon. If you and your kids make a pledge to help protect monarch butterflies, the National Wildlife Federation will send you a butterfly garden starter kit (while supplies last). The kit includes:

*Seed packet with native milkweed or a flowering nectar plant
*A list of milkweed and nectar plants native to your region
*Ranger Rick Nature Notebook
*Butterfly Heroes Sticker and Poster

To pledge and to receive your free kit, go to:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kindergarten Registration

Well, we did it. Oliver is registered for kindergarten!

I have been more emotional about this than I would have expected. It's weird! When the kids were infants, it was hard for me. I wasn't good at the middle-of-the-night wake-ups, I stressed over them not napping and not getting enough sleep, and I yearned for more physical space in between all their nursings. I wanted them to get bigger and run around and play. And they did. The toddler years have been my favorite. I love these times with the kids. Jo has been building things out of LEGOs with Oliver. Here are Jo's LEGO creations (a school and a house). Pretty amazing creations for a 3 year old!

I also love how they play little games and sing songs to their stuffed animals. They help me in the kitchen and with anything else I need. They get so excited over everything. Just going outside is something to get happy about! They constantly make me laugh, and I think I drive them crazy with telling them how adorable they are and all the hugs I give them as they do hilariously cute things.

But they keep getting bigger. I am so sad about the idea of Oliver being in school full time this fall. I mean, I don't want my kids to not grow up and be independent and happy and have their own lives. I absolutely want them to. It just seems like it's happened so fast. That's such a cliche, but it's also true. I've been so lucky to have these years at home with my kids, and it feels like a punch to the gut that it's coming to an end. For a (very) brief moment, I even considered homeschooling, but I realized I'd be doing that for purely selfish reasons. I know Oliver is ready for this next challenge. I just can't believe that time is almost here.

I hope I love this next stage, too. The next decade is going to be so busy with sports and after-school activities and friends and play dates. In the mean time, I just have to say, "Poor Joanna." I have a feeling she's going to be babied a lot over the next couple years.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Crochet Plastic Grocery Bag Holder (Pattern)

I made my first pattern! I'm excited to share it here and certainly appreciate any feedback from people who test it out.

I wanted to make a grocery bag holder, but nothing I found online was my taste. So, I decided to create my own, and I decided to use a crochet stitch that I've found on Ravelry a couple times now and added to my Ravelry queue. I can't find what the stitch is called, although a French site referred to it as "chain mail."

You can see examples of the stitch in this "babala hat" by Mamachee here, as well as a Moroccan tile market tote by Moogly at this site. I love both of those projects and might use that Moroccan tile bag to make a blanket one day! If you go to the Moogly website, you'll get detailed instructions on the stitch, as well as a video. I also loved the various color combinations used by MyPicot in their tutorial of the stitch. My directions are a bit different from both of those, and the technique used by Moogly is a bit different than the one used by MyPicot. Feel free to use either of their instructions for the stitch for the main body of this grocery bag if you prefer their instructions or style. Obviously, color choices can be modified, too, and MyPicot has many examples of colorwork options for this stitch.

My pattern works from the bottom up, so it will start with the dark brown color. I used four colors in my leftover worsted weight yarn. I probably used about 50 yards (or less) of each color. You can make the grocery bag holder as long as you want, so if you make it longer, you'll obviously need more yarn!

Supplies needed:
H hook
4 colors of worsted weight yarn (approximately 50 yards of each)
yarn needle
Stitch markers (optional)

DC = double crochet
FPDC = front post double crochet
SC = single crochet

1) Start off by chaining 34 with dark brown color (or whatever color you choose for the bottom). Then DC in the third chain from the hook and every chain to the end (32 stitches).

2) Slip stitch into the first dc, joining it into a circle. Be careful not to twist your row. When you weave in your yarn ends later, you will also sew together the two dc stitches that are split from the join.

3) Chain 2. DC in same stitch. FPDC in the next stitch. *DC in the next stitch, then FPDC in the next stitch.** Repeat from * to ** to the end, then slip stitch to join (32 stitches)

4) Chain 2. DC in same stitch in back loops only. Working in back loops only, DC two times into the next stitch, creating an extra stitch. *Working in back loops only, DC in the next stitch, then 2 DC into the next stitch.** Repeat from * to ** to the end, then slip stitch to join and switch to your next color (I used white). (48 stitches).

Here is a picture of the bottom:

5) Chain 3 using your new color (white is what I used here in my bag holder). DC in same stitch. Skip two stitches. *DC, chain 1, and then DC again into the same stitch (creating a V). Skip two stitches.** Repeat from * to ** to the end, then slip stitch to join. (16 Vs)

6) Remove your hook from the white yarn, and place a stitch marker or pull out a big loop to save your white to pick up again later. Don't cut off the white yarn.

7) Find your V stitches in the previous row. Attach your next color yarn (I used pink) to the top of one of the V stitches at the chain 1.

8) Using Pink - Chain three, then DC into the same stitch. (I crochet into the gap, enclosing the entire chain 1 of the V.) *In the next V stitch, DC, chain 1, DC.** Repeat from * to ** all the way around, join with slip stitch (16 Vs).

9) Don't cut off your pink yarn. Place a stitch marker or pull out the loop a bit to save the color and pick it up again later.

10) Pick up your white yarn again. This time, you do not work into the V. You will work in the spaces between the Vs from the first white row (or the upside-down Vs, if that's how you look at it!). From now on, all of the white rows will be worked in between the Vs. I took a picture of my hook to show where you'll be starting in this next row:

11) Starting in between the white Vs from the first row of white, chain 3 using your white yarn. DC into the same stitch. *DC into the next space in between the white V stitches in the first row, chain 1, then DC into the same space.**   Repeat from * to ** all the way around, then slip stitch to join. Don't cut off the white yarn. Use a stitch marker or pull the loop out a bit so you don't loose the stitch. (16 V stitches).

12) You will be working into the V stitches of the previous row again. Attach your green yarn to the top of one of the white V stitches from the last row. Chain 3, then DC into the same V space. *DC into the next white V space, chain 1, then DC into the same space.** Repeat from * to ** all the way around, then join with a slip stitch. Don't cut your green yarn. Use a stitch marker or pull the loop out a bit to save it for later. (16 V stitches)

13) This next row is a white row. Pick up your white again. Attach your yarn in between the V of the previous white row (not the last color row). Use the picture above as a guide for where you are working if necessary. Chain 3, then DC into the same space.  *DC  into the space between the next white Vs, chain 1, then DC into the next space.**  Repeat from * to ** all the way around, then join with a slip stitch. Don't cut off the white yarn; use a stitch marker or loop to save it for later. (16 V stitches)

14) Now you will be picking up your pink yarn from before. Make sure the yarn is pulled up from the inside of the bag and not up the front. Using pink, chain into the V stitch from the white row you just made to attach the pink. Chain 3, then DC into the same V stitch space. *DC, chain 1, DC into the next V stitch space**. Repeat from * to ** around. Slip stitch to join. Don't cut off your yarn. Use a stitch marker or pull out the loop to save for later. (16 V stitches)

Repeat rows 13 and 14 until your piece is the length you want it. Please note that row 14 will alternate between pink and green (or whatever color yarns you choose). End with a white row (row 13), then you can cut off your yarns.


15) Join your dark brown yarn with a slip stitch. Chain 2. DC in same stitch and each stitch around. You will be DC into each DC and chain stitch from the last round. Join with a slip stitch. (48 stitches)

16) Chain 2. DC into same stitch. DC the next two stitches together. To do this, you yarn over your hook, insert it into the next stitch, pull yarn through (3 loops on hook), yarn over again, pull through two loops (2 loops on hook), yarn over, insert it into the next stitch, pull yarn through again (4 loops on hook), yarn over again, pull through two loops (3 loops on hook), yarn over again, then pull through all 3 remaining loops loops on the hook. *DC into next stitch, then DC the next two stitches together.**  Repeat from * to ** until the end of the row, then slip stitch to join. (32 stitches)

17) Chain 2. DC into same stitch and each stitch around. Slip stitch to join (32 stitches)

18) Chain 2. DC into same stitch. *FPDC into next stitch, then DC into the following stitch.**  Repeat from * to ** to the end of row, then slip stitch to join (32 stitches).

19) Skip 2 stitches. Make 5 DC into the next stitch (creating a fan). Skip two stitches, then slip stitch into the next stitch. *Skip 2 stitches, then make 5 DC into the next stitch. Skip two stitches, then slip stitch into the next stitch.** Ending with a slip stitch. (5 fans). Bind off. Weave in all ends. Remember to sew together the split DC stitch from the very first row.


20) Chain 71. SC into the second chain from hook, and all the way across to the end. Turn. (70 SC stitches)

21) Slip stitch into first stitch. Slip stitch in next 31 stitches. Then, chain 20 stitches. Skip 5 stitches, then slip stitch into the next stitch. Slip stitch in each stitch to the end. Turn.

22) Chain 1, then single crochet across. When you get to the chain 20, be sure to single crochet into each chain stitch. This will create a loop to hang your bag holder. Single crochet across to the end, then bind off and weave in ends.

Here is a picture of my loop after it is woven into the top of the bag:

23) Choose what will be the back of your bag. I like to have my joining stitches in the back so they're not visible. Weave in your string ends in and out of each FPDC stitch at the top of the bag below the fans. Make sure your loop is centered in the back.

Here's a picture to show you what stitches you'll be weaving into (my hook shows where the string will be woven in):

24. You want the two ends to come out and meet together in the center of the front. You can tie them together in a bow, or in a knot like I did.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Snow Ice Cream on a Snow Day

Yes, we had a snow day today! Well, rather, it was a cold day. The snow hit on Monday, we had school on Tuesday, and then today was cancelled for the -35 windchill. Brrrr!

So, what to do on a snow day. Have you heard of snow ice cream? A friend shared a link on Facebook for fun activities to do on snow days, and it included a link to 
the Sugar Pie Farmhouse Blog on making snow ice cream. It's literally ice cream made from snow! 

It calls for 8 cups of snow, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

After making this recipe (if that's what you'd call it!), I can tell you the snow measurement is pretty subjective! I think it has to do with how hard you pack your measurements and what kind of snow you have. We needed a lot more than 8 cups! We could tell as we stirred because it was very liquid-like until we added extra snow.

We split ours into two bowls so each of our kids could mix. I gave them each 1 teaspoon of vanilla in their half batches, and I think that was a good choice. Also, I figured out why the original post didn't include very many "before" pictures. It doesn't look very appetizing at first, does it?

Sure enough, after some stirring and adding in more snow, we had ice cream! It came together so quickly that I didn't even get pictures of the kids stirring it up.

It didn't hold its ice-cream consistency for all that long. This is really something you'd want to eat right away. But how cool and fun! It's very easy to do with little ones.

...and a blurry shot of my snow ice cream (I tossed in a few chocolate chips. Shhh).

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Candy Cane Cookies

On a Facebook group I follow, a local woman shared her grandma's recipe for candy cane cookies. I decided to give a go at making them to give as Christmas gifts for the neighbors. They were fun to make, looked super cute, and tasted buttery and delicious. I couldn't get the peppermint candy pieces to stick, but I think the cookies looked better and tasted better without them anyway. The only other change I'd recommend is using less almond extract, as I thought it was a touch overpowering (my husband, on the other hand, liked the almond flavor).

The directions that are italicized are my additions.


2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract (I think 1/2 tsp would be enough)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons red food coloring (or as needed)
1/2 cup coarse sugar 
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies (optional)

1. Stir together the flour and salt. Set aside.
2. In a separate bowl, mix shortening, butter, powdered sugar, egg, and flavorings.
3. Stir half of flour mixture into shortening mixture. Work in remaining flour mixture with your hands until dough holds together.
4. Divide dough in half. Blend red coloring in half of dough.
5. Divide each half into four balls and refrigerate for 30 minutes while the oven preheats to 375.
6. Make two strips of two colors, side by side. Make like a rope.

My picture of my cookie dough rope:

7. Cut into pieces approximately 6 inches long.  Curve tops like love handles (Those are the grandmother's words, not mine!).

Here's my picture of the cut sections:

8. Bake nine minutes at 375 degrees.
9. While warm, remove from sheet and sprinkle with mixture of crushed candy and sugar (I preferred just the sugar without the crushed peppermint candies).
 10. Enjoy! Also, you will gain weight (Again, her grandmother's words and not mine! Ha!).

Once cool, I packaged them up in some plastic wrap, tied them with a ribbon, and attached a gift tag. All together, this made ~20 cookies for me, but some were very fragile and broke. Thankfully, I had some helpers who were willing to eat those broken ones ;-)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Family Christmas Event at Living History Farms

Andrew had to work tonight, so I took the kids to the Family Christmas Event at Living History Farms. Living History Farms is about a 10 minute drive from our house, and it has demonstrations on how farmers lived during different points in history. Tonight, they had the Visitor's Center, the Old Church, and the Flynn Mansion open. With our membership, admission to the event cost $4.75 a piece.

At the Visitor's Center, there was live Christmas music, and Santa walked around giving out candy canes. Oliver was happy about the candy cane but pretty distraught over the music. He wasn't the only little kid with his hands over his ears, though! There was supposed to be a taffy pull, but I guess there was a problem today, so they gave out little pieces of taffy for the kids. They also had crafts for the older kids. There was a table for kids ages 5-9 and another table for kids 10 and over.

We took a horse-pulled cart from the Visitor's Center to the Old Church. It was definitely the highlight of the night for Jo. If it wasn't for the horse-pulled cart, I think I would have asked about getting my money back for Jo. With the exception of cookie decorating at the church, none of the activities were for little kids. The horse-pulled cart was a hit, though, and Jo laughed and laughed. I'm glad we sat near the front by the horses! At the Old Church, they were teaching people how to do a dance. In the basement, they had hot cider, and the kids got to decorate cookies. 

After the kids ate their cookies, we took the horse-pulled cart over to the Flynn Mansion. The mansion was beautiful. We walked into a room where a woman wearing 19th century clothing was helping some kids string popcorn. Jo didn't even try that, obviously, and it ended up being too difficult for Oliver to do while standing in a group of kids. I told him we'll try to string some at home. We walked by another demonstration by a woman who was poking cloves into oranges, but it was another activity that was more for older kids. We found a room upstairs with old fashioned Christmas pictures for the kids to color. After the colored, we went back to the Visitor's Center to pick up Oliver's craft and headed back home. It didn't feel like we were there for very long, but it was almost two hours! The kids were great. It really was charming and fun, but I don't think it's an event I'd recommend to parents with little kids. I think it's probably good for kids who are in grade school, and especially good for kids who are 8+. I'd like to take the kids back in a couple of years, when they're big enough to participate in the activities and also big enough for me to be able to look around more.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Photos with Santa at Bass Pro Shops

I love how Oliver gets happier over the years, but little Jo is still pretty upset about seeing the jolly man in red. 

Last year, Jo requested her fox, which we hadn't brought with to the mall. The little fox puppet was in the car, so I handed her that. I'm still kind of disappointed the picture isn't of her with her beloved fox. Oh well! This year, they each brought their favorite stuffed friend with them. We went to Bass Pro Shops up in Northfield (Denver). They had free photos with Santa and free carousel rides. The kids had an excellent time. I think so many people had built up how great Bass Pro Shops is for the kiddos at Christmas that I expected something grand. It wasn't. It was simple and fun and free. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Small Business Saturday

I think Small Business Saturday is officially favorite shopping day. For me, Black Friday has been ruined by so many businesses opening on Thanksgiving Day. Don't get me wrong; I still plan on going out with my friends on Black Friday, but I'm looking forward to Small Business Saturday even more. Small Business Saturday is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which is November 29 this year.

For those who haven't participated in Small Business Saturday in the past, it's very easy if you are an American Express card holder. This year, American Express is offering each person with a registered card three credit statements for spending $10 or more (before taxes) with your registered American Express card at a participating small business. So, let's say you walk into a participating small business and see a book for $11. You buy it with your registered American Express card, and they will give you a $10 statement credit for it. You effectively get the book for $1 + tax. It's an amazing deal! You get to do that three times on Small Business Saturday! Plus, it motivates shoppers to shop at local small businesses. Oh, I should also mention that you have to shop at these small businesses inn person (you can't shop at them online and get the credit).

Registration opened up today, and it continues through Small Business Saturday (11/29), or until they reach their maximum number of registrations.

You can register your American Express card here. After you register, you should get a confirmation email from American Express, along with a link to search for participating small businesses in your area. I should also mention that people with linked credit cards can register separately. So, in the case of my husband and me, we can each register our cards and each get three $10 statement credits if we both make three separate $10+ purchases at participating small businesses on Small Business Saturday. Free $60 for Christmas shopping, woohoo!

This year, we'll be back in the Denver area for Thanksgiving. I'm not sure where we're going to shop just yet, but I have a feeling we'll go to Tattered Cover Book Store and Timbuk Toys. In the past, we've gone to Savory Spice Shop in Littleton. This year, I noticed there's a tea shop in Highlands Ranch called Moon Kats that is participating, too. We can stop there to pick up a gift or just get a treat after shopping!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Happy Third Birthday, Jo!

Our little Joanna Banana is 3. How did that happen?! Seriously, I just can't believe how big our kids are getting.

Jo is a little ball of sunshine. I think she should be a sitcom because she runs around and does hilarious things and often speaks in catch phrases. When I take a moment to stop and think of her, I always picture her with her messy bedhead that she has in the morning, reaching up with her pudgy little baby hand, and brushing the hair out of her eyes. She runs almost everywhere. She often thinks out loud, so we always know what she's going to do next. Also, she is extremely independent. I mean, sometimes I think the only problem she'll ever have in school is that she won't want to do whatever the group is doing because she'd rather do her own thing. She likes to sit in her room and play with her stuffed animals or sit and play with her dollhouse or sit with the iPad and play "Subway Surfer" or watch videos on YouTube (one of her favorites is a Russian cartoon called "Masha and the Bear" that is actually super fun to watch, and she also loves Peppa Pig). She loves being outside, but she usually wanders off to stomp through the flowers or play with rocks. She's aware what everyone else is doing and is socially aware, but she'd just rather do her thing.

She finished potty training back in May, so she was almost exactly 2-and-a-half. She loves singing songs; she sings dozens of songs and nursery rhymes. She memorizes books and videos. She loves dirt, rocks, leaves, and water. She likes monsters and lady bugs and trains, but she also likes princesses and queens. She's starting to like it when I do her hair. Mostly, she loves her stuffed fox.

Another big thing in Jo's life is that she's temporarily going to "preschool!" While I do my school practicum, Jo is going to the 2 year old room at school. The teachers say she doesn't talk much at all to them, but that she is so easy going and easy to care for. If they have room next semester, I might continue taking her for a couple hours once a week because I think it's good for her.

Now, as easy-going as she is, Joanna doesn't listen as well as her brother always has. If we tell her something, she'll try to just wait until she thinks we're not paying attention. If we ever catch her doing something she's not supposed to, she ducks her head and always says, "Sorry Mommy," or "Sorry Daddy," and then runs away. It's kind of funny. I'm pretty sure that she can get away with anything because she's just so adorable all the time. It's probably bad, but what is a parent to do?

Here's a collection of some of my favorite Jo-ments (Jo moments) over this past year: