A Star for the Tree

It’s the height in hilarity at our house that the second Hadley saw our finally upright tree after his nap (after shouting “Christmas tree!!! Goody, goody!!!”), he insisted that it needed a star on top.

Huh. Yeah. We didn’t have one.

As kids, we had our own hilarious time making fun of our omni-drunk angel tree topper (um, she was always crooked, no matter what we did or shoved up her dress to straighten her out). I guess we weren’t a star family back then, and I didn’t think I was part of a star family now.

It’s even more ironic since we’re a pretty non-religious group. We feel that we’re spiritual and insightful, but don’t relate to one specific religion. We’re all baptized Catholics, and at times (usually around Christmas), I feel the pull of mass, but all-in-all, we’d like to educate our son about morality more than doctrine. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

So, there he was, sweetly demanding a star topper, then again later that night, then again in the morning. After seeing some crappy store versions, I turned to Pinterest (clearly my real religion…that’s a joke, guys) to see if I could figure something out.

During my star search, I also heard a sweet story about my grandmother, who would annually cut out a star out of cardboard that came from my grandfather’s starched shirts, cover it in tin foil, and cut a hole in it. She’d stick it on top, pull a light up through the hole to let it “shine” and call it a day. Classic, sensible and creative. Apparently, everything my grandmother was.

So, I got to work. I cut a cereal box up to expose the two large sides. After printing off a star shape, I traced it onto each box and cut them out. Then, I creased inside each point for some dimension and glued each side together. (Before it was fully dry, I trimmed it further and pressed it together again.) Finally, I glued an empty toilet paper tube to the back.

You could paint the star, cover it in glue and glitter, or put foil on it. I decided to keep it natural this time. I’m not sure if the best part is the fact that it was totally free, that it appeased the little guy’s craving for a star, or that it was a pretty old-school way to handle the issue. And not to mention eco-friendly up the wazoo!

Oh, and while I’m at it, I thought I’d share another tree that has taken up residence at our house. It’ll probably be up until Valentine’s Day, with how long it took me to finally toss it up.

I just cut out a tree shape from a large piece of green felt, then a textured piece for the trunk and a “skirt” from red. Then, I cut out random shapes, including a little snowman and present, and of course a star for the top. I used Command strips (the poster kinds) on the back and the “ornaments” and such attach without any adhesive (one of the best parts of felt). I’ve also made a felt board for pretend play as a Christmas gift, a “piece of pie” to add to his collection of fake food, and may make another piece if I find the time before Christmas eve.

Felt = the perfect toddler plaything!

So, what type of tree topper do you use in your family? We’ve used bows in the past, and even a scarf last year (I’d LOVE to find an old antique top hat with holly berries!), but we’re always willing to change if the little guy dictates a better idea.
 

Free (Yes, Free) Holiday Gift Ideas

I’ve requested to Dave that we not only do a pretty sparse budget for each other (or, at least, it’s sparse to me!) this holiday season, but also to give each other one gift that costs nothing.

So, this could mean a lot of things. It could mean that you use something you’ve already got lying around that you haven’t gotten around to giving the person. It could mean making something by hand (whether you’ve got the materials lying around or had to buy them, it’s totally up to your standards of “strict” are). It could mean repurposing something around your house to give. Or, it could just be a huge act of kindness or unforgettable experience. The list goes on, really, but here are a few ideas…

Artsy Fartsy Stuff

Wall Collage 

This is best if you live with the individual so that you can surprise them with it, already-done. I’ve had a stack of Instagram prints (had a coupon, I almost think they were free or darn near close to it), but don’t we all have SOME picture prints floating around that we don’t know what to do with? Well, I’ve fallen for the personal yet organized look of a wall collage of same-sized prints. Mine just happen to be 4″ x 4″ but even rectangular shots (or pictures cut down to squares) can look awesome grouped sweetly on the wall. You can use that sticky tack stuff or tape (or spend a little money and get Command strips; I won’t tell). 

Handmade Wall Art
Similar to the wall collage, look around and see if you have any art supplies that would help create some wall art. Maybe you have an old canvas (or an ugly one you can paint over). Or maybe you have an old embroidery ring that’s begging for one of those quirky embroidered quotes (or an inside joke!) that you can hang. If you’re stumped, look for simple art ideas on Etsy or Pinterest. You can keep it simple, or if you’re on the artsier side, paint a family portrait or pet portrait for your receiver.

Repurpose an Old T-Shirt
You know that ratty old t-shirt that just won’t go away? Or the perfect vintage shirt with an awesome logo that they can’t wear anymore because they splattered paint on the bottom? Stretch it in a frame or create a quilt, pillow or bag! You’ll not only give it new life, but the giftee will love that they don’t have to say goodbye to it forever.

Knit a Scarf  
Again, this totally depends on your ability level and whether or not you have the materials around the house, but a scarf seems far easier than mittens or a hat, right? Think of the person’s favorite color (or if you know what color their favorite winter coat is, be sure it won’t clash) and get a move on!

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

Look around and see what doesn’t seem to have a life anymore. It’s perfectly fine to re-gift something, especially if you personalize it a bit first. Like, you have way too many mugs in your life, so that set of white plain ones sit totally unused? Use a Sharpie (or paint pen, if you have one) to draw a design or cute quote, then cure it (may not be dishwasher safe). Or go ahead and spend a buck at the Dollar Store if you want to get new ones; I won’t tell. 😉

Nom-Noms

Favorite Cookies
You’re probably making a buttload of cookies for the holidays, anyway, right? Grab a large, clean mason jar and fill ‘er up. If you’ve got the time, feel free to add a label with a cute holiday saying (check Pinterest, there are a million), or just tie some burlap or a festive ribbon on and call it a day.

Homemade Granola 
You may already have the makings of this in your cabinet as we speak, so why not make a super big batch to dole out to all your friends and neighbors? No extra shopping needed.

Fudge
Mmm. Fudge. This pretty much goes hand-in-hand with the cookies, but I just wanted to make everyone aware: fudge. 

Favorite Meal
Make the recipient their absolute favorite meal, just be sure that it’s in your grocery budget (hence, y’know, practically free ;-)). Or, make a “gift certificate” to make the individual their favorite meal after the holidays. 

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
Okay, this may not be free, but all it really takes is the purchase of some strawberries (since we all have chocolate in our pantry, right? RIGHT??). And, I tell ya, they’re a show-stopper.

Keep It Simple

Create a “Thankful Jar”
This is a great gift for birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Father’s/Mother’s Day, and more, but I love the idea of gathering together the warm fuzzy feelings you have for a friend or family member and letting them know. I’ve done this for Dave (on Valentine’s Day), filling a mason jar with individual ideas of why he’s awesome and why we’re lucky to have him. You can fill it with 365 “favorite” things about the person for them to pick each day, or 52 (one for each week), or whatever! I just printed them off using Word and cut them out; easy peasy. 

Scavenger Hunt
This could be as simple as an indoor one at your house or as complicated as sending your friend or loved one around an entire city (think: your favorite haunts). The trick is to not make it too lengthy (especially if it involves schlepping all over town in holiday traffic) and to be as witty as your brain can possibly be. Oh, and don’t make the clues too hard or else you’ll get a tearful phone call. Maybe. It’s possible.

Homemade Coupons
This is a classic from our “we don’t earn an income, what can we give to Mom?” days, but you can modernize it for your current needs. Think of what you’re good at and see if you can give a “gift certificate” or book of coupons to help out. If you’re a budding photographer, offer free sessions. If you love organizing, offer up a day of helping to declutter one room. If you’re a cook, offer a free meal of their choosing (just wanted to see if you’re paying attention; this is a repeat from above, mwahaha).

Or, if it’s for someone you’re a bit closer to, make a booklet of kindnesses. If they have a little one at home, make one coupon of a homemade meal, another for an afternoon of babysitting, and still another a coupon for a girls’ (or boys’) night out. This is also your way to spend zero dollars at the holidays but offer a nice gift for later in the year, like taking a friend out to their favorite restaurant or your sweetie out to a movie (and popcorn, of course).

Movie Night at Home
Speaking of movies, this idea would honestly make my husband’s day. Gather together some popcorn (we use the loose organic kernels, so I’d put them in a simple brown paper bag with cute writing on it), a DVD or two that you already own (ours would probably involve “Citizen Kane,” a William Powell flick, or a fun ’80s rom-com), and anything else you like to enjoy at movies. If you drink soda, put a bottle or two in; if you snack on candy (and have some around the house), throw some in. You can bag this all up in a holiday gift bag or basket or popcorn bucket or, heck, whatever!  

Walk Down Memory Lane (Literally)
You can give a card saying that you’ll be (politely) kidnapping them for a day or half a day at the person’s convenience. Take them to some of the spots that have meant the most to you both over the years. For example, if I was going to kidnap my sister, we’d drive by our first home, walk the town, check out the schools, maybe “play” at the playground (although they’ve changed a ton over the years), and grab the makings for lunch at The Village Market (or junk food at the convenient store). For Dave, we’d probably walk around the town he used to live in, waste time at Barnes and Noble (and maybe Target), then I’d take us to lunch at one of the local places we used to eat a lot — like Raspberries Cafe. Or, feel free to do a nature walk or hike, if your giftee is into the outdoors.

The point of going these places is to trigger positive memories and meaningful conversation. So, be ready to chat and keep things upbeat. Our hometown is a bittersweet place, but by keeping the memories realistically light, it could help to reconnect with a shared, fond past.  

What do you guys think? Have any great (free) gift ideas to add? Are any of these doable for you?

Our Makeshift Kitchen

Given Hadley’s propensity for pretending to be a cook with his beloved play food, I’ve been jonesin’ to get him (or, more likely, make him) a play kitchen for, like, ever. But, it’s kind of useless in our house. We live in just shy of 1,000 square feet and, while it works now, there’s not a ton of “just his” play space. It’s one of the things we’ll be looking for when we eventually move, hopefully in 2015.

But, for now, we’ve gotten creative. We use bins and baskets to store most of his toys, but his “food” and anything he likes to use with it (like empty containers or spoons) has their very own makeshift home.

We have these cool but slightly crooked-door built-in cabinets between the living room and dining room. The living room side houses DVDs (perfect size) and one of the dining room ones holds decorative stuff. Awhile back, however, I cleaned out the final cabinet and decided it would be all Had’s.


It isn’t much, but finding a space that’s his very own is awesome. Oh, and he’s also only getting into my cabinets a fraction as much as he used to and he hardly gets into those “no, don’t touch” places as much. And, yes. We sucked at toddler-proofing.

I still hope to create a mini kitchen area for him in some future playroom, but for now, this spot doubles as an oven, a pantry, a fridge, and more. Pretty much whatever his mind comes up with, which is incredible.

What are some tricks that you’ve used to contain the clutter or give your little one some space that’s his/her own? I love seeing alcoves and bedroom closets transformed into little nooks just for them to play in, too. So cool!

Anti Clorox Wipes

In a house full of cats and an active toddler around, messes are inevitable. Namely, messes of the bodily function variety.

That’s right. Cat pee and potty training smears.

It happens. Daily. Gross, but it’s kind of a moot point when you’re in love with those little rascals.

So, when we recently ran out of my OCD-ish husband’s favorite clean-up tool, disposable Clorox wipes, I found myself hesitant to buy some more. I knew full well that it was contributing to an eco-hater status, which I cringed over every time we wiped a potty seat. Plus, the nasty chemical makeup of the wipes bummed me out.

Of course, I did what every mother does when faced with a dilemma: I took to Pinterest.

There actually wasn’t as much as I thought I’d find, but I really only needed to find one great pin. And I found an awesome resource for you guys at Live Renewed. You’ve got not one but TWO recipes for a natural disinfectant.

I decided to take her Castile soap (ahem, I hope you all know we mean Dr. Bronner’s when we say that, right?) and tea tree essential oil recipe and run with it, mainly because I had all the ingredients on hand.

Side note: My essential oil experience has been a fun experiment that’s working out quite well so far, and I still haven’t ordered my replacement lemon (and any new ones I’d like to try out, so any suggestions for new “flavors” would be welcome in the comments!), which is why I didn’t try the other recipe. I’m loving the quality and non-pressure system that Native American Nutritionals has in place compared to others.

Anyhoo, back to the wipes. Here’s how I put this shebang together:


 
For the reusable wipes, I just cut up a couple of (*cough* too small *cough) soft old T-shirts, which gave me…like…maybe 16-20 wipes per shirt, depending on how big you make your wipes. You can also use old cloth napkins (I cut up a few of those for the days I’m out of T-shirt rags) or your husband’s old boxers or whatever. Just check first. Let’s just say I’m waiting for mine to give up on a couple of crappy white tees to sacrifice for the cause. I’m not sure if color really matters or not; it’s not like I care whether they get stained since they’re rags, but I’ll be sure to update you if the color runs. (That said, if you have something white to cut up or use, um, choose that. Probably best.)


Here’s the stuff I mixed up. Per her recipe, I used about 10 drops of tea tree oil (which actually SMELLS like it’s disinfecting, I kid you not! Like Lysol, but natural!), two tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s, and a cup of water. I ended up splashing a little more water in to moisten all the wipes, but I think it’s because I put the solution on the bottom of the container instead of pouring it over the top.

Doubt that this stuff works as well as Clorox? Behold…doesn’t this look all disinfecty? If that were a word, of course…

Right?? So, I put the solution at the bottom of my empty, de-labeled and washed Clorox container…

Sexy. Anyhoo, this is the point that I cut up my reusable wipes. I wadded them together, kind of in a roll, and pulled them up in the middle (I didn’t end up using the old white napkins on the outside since there wasn’t room in the tube)…



Don’t overthink it. Just shove it in and pull in the middle. It works. Okay, this is probably the point I should have poured the solution over everything, but I had already put it in the bottom hoping that it would seep upward. I’m sure it probably would have seeped just fine, but I’m an impatient mama and love to see results. So, I splashed a bit more water on the top and shook the thing. Here’s our final product:


Yup, I grabbed a marker and labeled it with a cheeky description. It also has the recipe in small lettering on the other side, just in case my husband feels like whipping some up next time, or in case my incredibly shoddy memory fails me. Again.

I’m keeping them where we kept our old wipes, under our bathroom sink. It’s where we dump Hadman’s potty and where they get used most frequently. This also happens to be where our laundry hamper lives, so it’s perfect. If I think it’s gross to toss these in with the laundry, I’ll grab our old wet bag from cloth diapering days and keep them in there ’til all the rags and linens need to be washed. No big deal.

Whatchya think? Would you try reusable wipes, or are you addicted to your current method of disinfecting? No judging here.

(By the way, there’s an affiliate link or two included in this post. Just a warning. It won’t blow up your computer, and if you purchase anything off of Amazon after clicking through my links, even if it’s not a product I listed, you’ll be helping to run this here little blog. Which is awesome of you and earns you a gold star for the day.)

Massachusetts Vacation 2014 – Concord, Pt. 2 & Montague

On Monday, I described our trip to Massachusetts and our first day in Concord. Today’s post will cover “day two” at Concord (which I will forever say in my head as “Concerd” since apparently that’s how locals, and quite possibly the historical folks who lived there, say it…there’s a whole thing with how to say “Syracuse” properly, too) and our trip back to Western Mass. Y’know, for the test you’ll have on this whole thing next week.

No. There’s no test. Unless you really want one, but that’s just sick.

So, we got up after a great night’s sleep — as great as it could be with a pushy toddler wedged between two adults — and packed up every last bit of paraphernalia we’d brought into the hotel room. After loading up the car, we headed to the “Harvest Room” for our continental breakfast. We’re nothing if not cheap. Plus, I was shocked that they had organic oatmeal (which Dave ate, good boy). Hadley provided both entertainment and, to some, irritation with his feistiness and lack of willingness to eat, but we all made it through unscathed.

We drove back through town to the Concord Museum, showing up just as it opened. It was surreal and absolutely bemusing to see a man dressed in impeccably detailed Revolutionary War garb getting out of his Hyundai parked next to us. Dave almost grabbed a picture, but I’m a buzzkill. Dude, he was, like, two feet away.

We were SO lucky to show up on one of their Free Fridays (it would’ve cost us $20 otherwise), especially considering that we breezed through the whole thing in just over an hour.

We only went through the main building, but it was perfect for us. We tried to sit through the short-ish video about Concord (lots to cover, and we walked in late, so of course I missed anything regarding the transcendentalist movement or being the hub of the revolution…hmph), but Hadley immediately disliked the idea, so poor Dave dragged him out of the auditorium. I sat watching but worrying that he was tearing down precious artifacts or being his moody self (he has many sides; moodiness is just one of them). But, nope! Apparently, they had coloring stations set up for little ones, so the boys had colored a picture of a rather frazzled looking “colonial woman” and a powder horn. Whew.

We then turned our attention to the rest of the museum. I LOVE the fact that museums try to identify with the needs of all their attendees, be they families with various ages in tow, history buffs, people with little to no interest in history, etc. There was a time that the fanciest, most interactive part of a museum was a diorama, but today there are buttons to push (which play high-quality recordings), little doors with information behind them, uniforms to try on, and tons more.

Hadman was very much in an “okay, that’s great, what’s next?” mood, so I only skimmed through what I was interested in seeing. Besides, sometimes the artifacts themselves are enough. We looked at the rooms dressed in original furnishings and asked him simple questions — “What do you see in this room that we have?” “What color are the plates?” and explained things where I could — “Instead of a pen like we have, people used to dip a feather, or quill, in ink to write. Isn’t that neat?” He takes things in constantly, so anything that seeped into his mind makes me glad enough.

The museum workers were incredible with him, too. They were highly accommodating for a child of his age (I was worried we’d get the raised eyebrow, which only happened in, of all places, the museum shop) and talked with him lots.

The most impressive parts, to me, were that the original “Boston Massacre” print by Paul Revere (actually a copy of another man’s work, ahem) was on display. We happen to have a much larger scale of the print in our dining room, so that was AWESOME. I was also in awe over one of the two original candle lanterns — the “one if by land, two if by sea” ones. My mind was blown.

I’m also a bit of a Thoreau fan, so seeing some of the original furnishings he used at Walden (you can see here where I enjoyed visiting the replica of the building over by Walden Pond), as well as his snowshoes and the last pen he wrote with before he died (again, quill…in the mid 1800’s? I couldn’t believe he’d be writing with something so simple at that stage in history; goes to show you I’m not a know-it-all after all).

And, dude. Emerson’s pad. Not a replica. His actual study/sitting room. Right down to the original wallpaper. 

 
I just loved the crap out of that museum.

We perused the gift shop and I ended up with a couple of Thoreau works (my “Civil Disobedience” had gone missing) and an awesome editing of his works that proves what an activist he’d probably be today in the world of environmentalism (which also discusses his beliefs on technology and more). I can’t wait to delve in when I finish my current read.

As is our custom, we also grabbed a cool Concord magnet.

I was bummed there was nothing Hadley-aged there, but he didn’t seem to care either way.

So, we bid adieu to our lovely Concord and hit the road westward to Montague to meet up with a friend of ours and his lovely lady friend. We had some major difficulties finding our way, but when we did finally reach our destination, it was wonderful. We met up at the Montague Bookmill (yup, more books) and grabbed a bite at their Lady Killigrew Cafe. The food was great, and we ate outside as a gentle rain started to cool things down. What a great time catching up and sharing a new experience.

We walked through the bookstore (I believe it was all used, so the prices were great) and I couldn’t help but think of the huge difference between the independent book stores we had visited. Both were great, but it showed the grandiose next to a more “mom-and-pop” almost counter-culture vibe. We grabbed a book with a built-in clock that monkey had gravitated to (numbers, people, the kid loves numbers), said our good-byes, and plopped him into his car seat. Moments later, he was napping.

After Montague, we headed to South Hadley to meet up with some awesome practically-family friends who let us sleep over and hang out. So, that’s where I’ll leave off for now. One more post, then we’re back home with the kitties! 😉 

Flashing What We Know

I recently mentioned falling in love with a few homemade birthday presents for our monkey. Thank you, dear friend Pinterest. I call her “Pinny” and she looks remarkably like Kaley Cuoco (whatever her married last name is, I can’t be bothered to Google) in my head. Pinny’s my new enabling BFF.

Anyhoo, one of the super easy projects I just HAD to stay up past midnight working on was the toddler flashcards. See, the kid’s a toddler genius (but what mom doesn’t think that, really?) who is starting to pick words out (for real), LOVES reading, and knows tons of letters, numbers, and animal sounds. Kid’s got it goin’ on, thanks to his Grandma’s diligent work with him daily. So, I don’t want all her hard work to go down the toilet while he’s lazing about spending intellectually stimulating summer days with me.

So, I spent some time on PicMonkey making and saving a few sets of flashcards. Here are a few wicked easy samples (not the whole sets, that’d be cray-cray):

Numbers!

Shapes!
(Boring as all get-out with the gray, but didn’t want to detract.
Side note: I did a rhombus AND separate diamond. We’ll throw the spaghetti on the wall and see which one sticks. Child-led learning. ;-))


Matching Game!
(Printing an extra set of the above shapes, he has to match them to the “real life” objects; moon goes with “crescent”, by the way. I’m tricky. I would accept star there, too, though.)

Colors!


Now, to print, *evenly* cut, and laminate them! Actually…first, to head to my mom’s basement to track down my tiny old laminator. *wink, wink*

By the way, I’m still thinking of making up a few cards for matching with colors as well as a set of friends ‘n family ones with pictures and names (especially to learn the folks who love us who happen to live far away, or whom we just don’t get to see often).

I am wondering, though — the game ones I’m obviously going to keep loose for matching purposes, but the others I’m thinking of putting on a metal ring. Whatchya think? Loose or ready-for-car-use?