Friday, December 20, 2013

Last Minute Homemade Gift

This week I wanted to do something extra nice for some people that work in an office.  There are six gals that work there, and they did something so nice for our family that I wanted to show my appreciation.  I asked them to tell me each what their favorite color was to wear (in hopes I could whip up some quick decorative scarves) and deliver them in time for Christmas.  I finished them up just last night and in the process, revisited an easy crochet pattern from last year and put a little twist on it I thought I'd share with you.

Fluffy waffle scarves in a variety of colors
Last year I had called this the "Quick 2-hour fluffy scarf", because it literally takes under two hours to make one.  The reason these work up so quick is because you use Thick and Quick chunky yarn and a huge over sized "N" hook. Here is a link to the post on it, and here is a picture of the scarf.

This thick and chunky yarn made for a super soft, warm scarf.  This time around I wanted to still use a soft and fluffy yarn, but much thinner, so the scarf would be more decorative. I stuck with lion brand but this time used their "Homespun" yarn.

This stuff is SOOO soft!  I often comment that it feels like "I'm crocheting a muppet".  It is a lot thinner than the original thick and chunky stuff, and it works up more fine and airy.  The trick is I was using pretty loose stitches and still using my trusty "N" crochet hook.  Man I love this "N" hook.  I found one with a smooth bamboo handle and it makes things move quickly.

I wanted to make this scarf long enough so that it could be doubled up in half and pulled through, so it could look more like a cowl if the owner wanted.  My link to the original scarf is the same pattern I used here, but to make it longer, I loosely chained 130 stitches.  Chain 4 at the end, then skipping the first chain, DC in the next chain.  Chain one, skip one chain and DC.  It's a pattern you do across the whole scarf to get that waffle effect.

This yarn is so light and fluffy that when you actually put it on, it collapses on itself and looks like a much more complicated pattern than it actually was.

I love that out of 6 women, they each picked their own individual colors
I am very happy how these turned out! Some days I actually made two of these in a row to try and get finished by their Christmas party today.  So by keeping the same pattern and large hook, but using a thinner, softer yarn, you can change if you are making the scarf for warmth or more decorative. Here is the link one more time on the how to to make a scarf like this.  Here is also a link to the original pattern I followed.  Now off to deliver my Christmas cheer...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Molasses Crinkles

One of the perks of teaching piano is that when Christmas rolls around, some of your students will bestow you with gifts!  Some bring cards or candles, and other times they give something they made themselves!  One of my absolute favorite, most talented students (and her mom) baked me some cookies last year.  They were delivered in a tall, pretty cellophane bag with a satin green bow and oh MY were they delicious!  Mr. D literally spent the entire week sneaking them out of my stash when he thought I wasn't looking, and so I thought, I need to MAKE a batch of these!

Molasses Crinkle Cookies
The student's mom (thank you so MUCH Mercedes) was kind enough to give me her family recipe and allowed me to also share it with all of you!  This cookie is easy to whip up, bakes into perfect sugary circles, is great for Christmas goodie trays, sharing with friends (and teachers), and has all the flavors of the holiday season baked in.  The molasses must be the secret ingredient to make these cookies have that perfect chewy factor while keeping the light crisp edges everyone loves.  This coupled with just the right amount of spices, and you've got yourself a new go-to holiday cookie!   Here are the ingredients you will need: (full printable recipe at the end of the post)

Molasses Crinkles

3/4 cup soft shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg 
1/4 cup molasses
2-1/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger

Put the shortening and brown sugar into your mixing bowl and cream together

I doubled this recipe, these will go fast, I highly recommend making bigger batches

Add in one egg

then add in the molasses

Make sure everything is creamed together nicely

Next it says to sift the dry ingredients together, however I just added them one by one (I'm such a rebel).  Add the 2 1/4 cup of flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp of cloves, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp of ginger, and1/4 tsp of salt.

Spices... they are the spice of life. (deep thoughts)

Make sure everything is mixed thoroughly

Chill the dough

Once the dough is chilled to firm, roll into walnut sized balls and roll in granulated sugar

Place on a silpat mat covered baking sheet

Silpats rock!  If you don't have any it's not to late to ask Santa to bring you some for Christmas
Bake at 375º for 10-12 minutes until soft set

By the time you pull the first pan out of the oven, your whole house will smell like holiday heaven!  The granulated sugar you rolled the chilled dough in bakes up into a shiny, shimmery topping.  So pretty!  I love the "crinkled" look the tops get, and I also love that each cookie is the same size and perfect round shape.

This makes them easy to stack high into a towering treat you can give away


Or, you know... eat warm off the tray with a cold tall glass of milk.  

No judging people, once you taste these cookies you will be hooked!  

This, by the way is a great way to use up extra molasses you might have around after some of your other holiday baking.  Come to think of it, the last day of school is only two days away.  While I had every intention of making all of my girls' teachers homemade ice cream like we did last year, I think I have run out of time.  I'll probably be baking a couple batches of these tonight and wrapping them up pretty for school on Friday. 

Go ahead and try these cookies and let me know what you think!  Full printable recipe found here.  Enjoy. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The weirdest Christmas gift request

Wanna hear about possibly the weirdest Christmas gift request I have ever received?

Well then first I have to tell you about my nephew.  He's 9, has got the biggest brown eyes you ever saw, and freckles and dimples that go on for miles.  He is the middle child of three, and much like my middle child, is a very deep thinker.  We are talking DEEP.  He is completely filled to the brim with facts.  At any given moment he might rattle off to you some of these trivial tidbits that make you stop, cock your head to the side and say, "wow, I did not know that, Jacob, thank-you so very much".

When this picture was taken I am 99.98% sure he was telling me facts about turkeys
He's a funny thing too.  The other day, I am told that his mom was asking all three kids what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Gabe, the oldest and lover of legos, wanted to be a train conductor like his daddy.  Mackenzie, the only girl and baby of the family wanted what every girl wants: A mani/pedi chair and servants (Nice, I think she got that love from her mama).  Jacob was asked the same question and he says, "I want to work where you have those gray walls".  His mom wonders, gray walls??  He goes on, "You know, where you pop your head up over the top and look around?" 

 She stares blankly for a minute... 

"YOU MEAN A CUBICLE?!".  Yes, he says firmly. 

Just typing this story makes me laugh so hard. You've got to love him.  He is totally an out of the box thinker, or wait, I take that back, is he a way "IN" the box thinker, as in WAY INSIDE a cubicle box. What kid says when I grow up I want to be an office cog just so I can imitate a prairie dog?

Fast forward onto Christmas gifts.  Now I crochet.  Once I started crocheting I went way past blankets and hats, I started doing amigurumi, which is a Japanese term where you make three dimensional, stuffed objects that have a lot of realistic detail.  I got pretty good at it, heck I even made some amazing character dolls such as Mario, Luigi, the whole Mario brothers gang actually. 

I made these for my daughter's Super Mario Brothers birthday party a few years back
All of my nephews loved my work.  So I asked little 9-year-old Jacob about what he might like for Christmas, totally expecting he would list one of my Mario guys.  Not even close.  Not even REMOTELY close.  Without even pausing, without even looking up to the ceiling and pondering.  It's like he had this object on his mind already and I had just happened to ask him the correct time.  He simply said, 

"Can you make me a giant macaroni noodle out of yarn?"

Me:  Stunned silence.

Me: Um, macaroni... noodle??

Jacob: Yes.  A big one.

Me: Blinking

Then he walks off. 

Me: Hmmmmmm.

Okay.  How can you disappoint a face like this??:

This boy loves his pasta apparently!
So I went a searching the interwebs high and low for a 3-D noodle pattern.  Guess what people.  Almost impossible to find.  Turns out crocheting a circular curved tube that keeps it's dimensions throughout is plum near impossible.  Let me just break out my M.I.T. degree in advanced engineering and summon all the powers of physics for this one tiny Christmas crochet project.  Goodness!  Literally it was bugging me for weeks.  No matter where I searched for tips or patterns, I couldn't find one that might actually work.  I thought about enlarging a flattened rainbow arch pattern, but I really wanted that curved noodle look.  Finally, I was walking through a store when I stopped dead in my tracks.  There, in front of me, with a heavenly light shining down all around it, was a soft stuffed travel neck pillow.  Curved.  Tube.  I didn't have to figure out as much how to make and stuff a crocheted tube curve correctly, as I had to figure out how to cover an already existing shape! Christmas wishes from a 9-year-old are saved!!

First thing I did was take the cover off the neck pillow.  It was a nice, soft, zippable one.  Hey I realized, this is not only going to be fulfilling the macaroni dreams of a kid, it was at the very least going to be a FUNCTIONAL neck pillow!

I did not have a pattern, I just started a crochet circle with some extra thick, extra yellow, lion heart brand hometown USA yarn.   I kept eye-balling it around until it was wide enough to fit over the bottom of the pillow "leg".

To get the yard to turn 90º I single crocheted in the back loops only for two rows.

Once the yarn was turning "up" I started single crocheting again through both loops, which created a "bowl" that the bottom of the noodle could rest in

After that I slipped it off the noodle, kept doing single crochet around, then pausing so often to try and slip it over the leg of the noodle to see if it would fit.

Then I would slip it back off and work more rounds.

Soon I was at the top of the arch... and it was getting harder to pull the tube on the pillow.  From now on I would have to do the remaining stitches ON the pillow form.  This got a bit tricky and cumbersome at times, but I just kept working at it.

Now, in hindsight, I should have started the process over on the other leg and sewed them together at the top of the "noodle".  However, I was getting some bunches in the first "leg" near the curve and thought I could try and eliminate those. Also I did not want a seam in the middle of my noodle.  So now here is where I tried to get creative. Trying to make a "wedge" shape I stopped stitching in the round and went back and forth just on the top 3/4 of the noodle, turned and came back the other way.  Because it was curved, I could join the circle back up after a few rows.

It took a bit of trial an error, remember I had never done anything like this before.  But as I came to the end, I reversed what I had done on the first leg of the noodle, to give it that finished look.

You can see my wedge shape going over the right hand arch is not perfect, but it did not turn out half bad for a first try.  To a 9-year-old boy I am hoping and praying it looks like a giant cheesy macaroni noodle to him.  My girls, who have never had a neck pillow around until now, have been walking around with this thing around their neck at all times of the day.  So I am thinking that if Jacob doesn't like his miraculous noodle, the girls will adopt it back.

Needless to say, this little request is right up there with one of the STRANGEST, weirdest, most challenging things I have ever been asked to make out of yarn.  This tricky little curved, tubed, arched, stuffed, three-dimensional shape was quite the bear to pull off.  I'm just hoping he LOVES it.  Like I'm his favorite auntie of all time LOVES it. Like years from now, when he grows up and is working in his grey office cubicle, he thinks of me. I hope that when he pops his head up like an over-sized prairie dog and gazes at the other gray people, in their tiny, drab squares, he will still be wearing this bright yellow macaroni noodle, and it might just bring a little ray of comfort and sunshine to the whole office!

I will keep you posted on his reaction on Christmas day and post pictures here.  Stay tuned...

Monday, December 02, 2013

Free Kids App Giveaway - Intellijoy ABC Phonics!


Ho-ho-ho...and an early Merry Christmas! Do I have some exciting news for you.  As a mom of a Kindergartener, I am always on the look out for educational mobile apps I can download on my phone.  Of course I prefer FREE ones, but at the same time they have to still score high on the educational and entertainment factor.  We were already big fans of the line of free kid's apps from Intellijoy. 

We have downloaded the free (lite) versions of the Kid's shape puzzles, ABC learn to read, and the Kids connect the dots, which not only were played by my 5-year-old, but also by her older sisters ages 7, and 9.  However, I got a tip from a fellow Kindergarten student's mom that her son LOVED the Intellijoy ABC train game, and it was really helping him with letter recognition and sounds.  I downloaded the free (lite) version and it worked like a charm!  Soon she was tracing lower and upper case letters, learning sounds, unlocking new colored engines, earning badges, and I couldn't get my phone away from her. 

I decided I wanted to purchase the full app (seriously, the train games are so fun I would highly recommend buying it), and while attempting to buy the full app through the Google play store, I had some technical issues with it actually downloading onto my phone (I believe it was Google play log in related).  I emailed Intellijoy and I am not kidding, they responded withing in 10 minutes with a solution.  I was shocked at their quick customer service!  Wow.  After that I told them I am a mom blogger and if they have any other games they want us to try or review just let me know.  They again responded so quickly and offered to GIVE...that's right GIVE all of my readers the Full ABC Phonics app for FREE!   

This app is great for kids just learning their letters and sounds. The full (now free for you) version below comes with FOUR games.  My daughter immediately chose the Pop Bubbles game, where a letter sound is made and bubbles with lower case letters float by and you get to "pop" the bubble with the correct letter in it!  Another game called Learn Sounds has a letter block kids can spin and hear different things that start with that letter.  In Build Blocks, the kids start with a blank letter block, and they get to drag stickers of objects that have the same starting sound over and make their own blocks.  In Make Words, kids connect letters and make small words while hearing the sounds of the individual letters.  My daughter loved clicking repeatedly on the letters rapidly to get them to sound like they were "rapping".  She belly laughed at that one.  Okay so now onto the offer of a completely free app for you!!!  See below.

This Intellijoy full app offer is time sensitive!! The link and password will only be good until December 7th, 2013. From your android device only click the link below to upload this free learning app:

FREE ABC PHONICS APP - from Intellijoy

Once uploaded, it will ask for a password.  The activation code is:


That's IT!!  Hand this to the nearest youngster that needs to learn their letters and sounds and you'll be hard pressed to get your phone back.  The best way to make learning fun is to make it a game they don't want to stop playing.  By the way, some devices, like my phone had me give permission to download from a link from "unknown sources" (i.e. a dropbox link) verses a Google play app.

Feel free to share this page and pass it on to as many people who have young kids (Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunts and Uncles with smart phones, this can be for you too!).  The activation code will end December 7th, this Saturday.  Pass it on, and Merry Christmas early!!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thankfulness Turkey

We love to do crafts with all of the cousins when we get together for Thanksgiving. Each year I go on a quest to try and find new and exciting crafts.  Sometimes it is tricky to get one that works for all ages, as we currently have a wide range, from preschool to almost middle school.  I am happy to report that this next craft I'm going to show you was a BIG hit with everyone.  It was a "Thankfulness Turkey". 

Besides awesome food and chillaxing with family, we also like to focus on the meaning of thanksgiving, and help the kids really think about even the little things they can be so thankful for.  

Okay for this project you will need:

Brads/brass fasteners   
Brown + yellow construction paper or white cardstock with brown crayons/markers
Paint swatches in a variety of colors
Googly eyes

Also on hand you should have:

Thin sharpies (for writing in small spaces)
A round object or bowl for tracing
Hole punch

By the way we got this fabulous idea from the website Preschool Alphabet.  

First you want to make the body of your turkey.  You can use brown construction paper, or like we did, trace a round circle on a piece of white card stock (sturdier) and have the kids color them what ever shade of brown they think their turkey might be.  We used a small lid or bowl to get the perfect circle shape.

Add a small mark for the future hole.  It should not be dead center, but slightly towards one side

Once they have colored it brown, have them cut it out and punch a hole in it slightly off center.

Next, before the big day go around and collect some colorful paint swatches from Lowes, Home Depot, or Walmart.  I tried to find the colors of the rainbow plus a few extras.  These will make the feathers.  Round out the ends with a pair of scissors to make them more "feather" like.

Try to find tall swatches to maximize your turkey feather length
You will have to measure these up against your "turkey body" to find the right placement for the holes.  I prepped the feathers with a mock up turkey before hand and had all the holes punched in the paint swatches so we could be ready for our craft quickly.  This is where we are going to put what we are thankful for.  Hand out to each child all the colored feathers.

I had a sample of what their finished turkey would look like so they could see that they should probably write their thankful things in the top three or four spaces, as the lower parts of the paint swatches would be covered with the turkey body.

With thin sharpies, have them write on each feather things they are thankful for.  If they are too little to write, they can draw small pictures.  For our youngest ones, we had them tell us what they were thankful for and we would write the words for them.  Also at this time you can glue on some googly eyes above the hole of the turkey body, and a small yellow or orange triangle beak if you wish.  Or like Gabe here, stick the biggest googly eyes on your head.

After that it is just a matter of putting your cute turkey of thankfulness together.  Slip a brass brad through the top of the turkey body, and through all the holes in your turkey feathers and secure.  Fan out your feathers and you've got yourself one adorable turkey!

I thought it was pretty cool that the length of our turkey feathers were just long enough to poke out the bottom end of our turkey body, giving it a nice full turkey "look".

These were so bright and colorful.  We all LOVED making them.

Here is a whole FLOCK of turkeys.  GOBBLE GOBBLE
After dinner we all sat around and each child shared what they were thankful for.

Overall this turned out to be a fabulous and colorful craft that was not only FUN, but was able to drive home the atmosphere of thankfulness, how not to take anything for granted, and to help these little ones learn how to count their blessings.

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