Sunday, December 30, 2012

Oprah's Favorite Things Inspired Gift

As a working mom, I never watched the Oprah Winfrey show, but what human being hasn't heard about Oprah's Favorite Things show and all the amazing gifts she gives away to her studio audience? After hearing from a friend of mine about a Christmas gift she received, I decided to put these two "favorite things" ideas together in order to craft a birthday gift for one of my closest friends.

A little Photo Shop magic, and it's no longer an Oprah Magazine cover with Oprah and Ellen, but a personalized magazine cover with my friend's and my face!  I printed this image as the front cover of the birthday card I made to look like a magazine.  Hilarious!
Instead of writing a happy birthday message inside the card, I wanted to stick with the magazine theme. I decided to write a letter to the C&D Magazine subscribers of course mentioning my friend's birthday and how amazing she is. It also gave me a chance to explain the gift.

Just four of the items included.

For the actual gift, I bought 10 items that are some of my friend and my favorite things.  Each of these items was tied with a tag made on my Cricut machine. I tried to keep each item within a budget, so some items were purchased and others were handmade.  For example, my daughter really wanted to make my friend something too, and she decided to color a Little Mermaid picture for her.  I cut out the coloring book page after Ella was done, backed it with card stock, and then added it to the gift. My friend loved it!

Inside the card/magazine, I explained the included items much like Oprah does in her magazine. I did all these pages on Microsoft Word with images from Google.  I cut them to be 10"x7" (my card was 5x7) and folded them in half to place inside the "magazine".  I didn't have a stapler large enough to reach the fold, so I hole punched two small holes on the fold with my mini punch and threaded thin white ribbon through them/tied a knot to secure the book.

I also included some advertisement pages.  I did this mainly to fill up blank spots in the "magazine", but I also thought it would make it seem a bit more authentic. I chose images that I could easily manipulate with text boxes, etc, so that I could personalize them.

I had a lot of fun making this gift, and my friend really got a kick out of it. I wanted to share the idea with my readers in case you are looking for a creative way to present a gift in the future!  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Elf on the Shelf Ideas

We decided to introduce the Elf on the Shelf idea for the first time this year.  Luckily, it is fairly low-key in our house currently and the kids don't expect much, so I have gotten away with doing some fairly simple placements around the house.  I wanted to share a few easy/creative ones in case you are running out of ideas and need a few.

Idea #1:  Have your elf eating a banana.  I hang our bananas, so this worked out perfectly.  I ate half in the morning, and left the rest for "Jake."

Idea #2:  Time to go fishing!  My daughter has a small fish bowl which has a glass fish in it.  I made a fishing pole out of a wooden skewer and some embroidery thread, set Jake on some books, and he went fishing.  My daughter got a kick out of this.

Idea #3:  Lincoln Log fort. I set up a fort/store with my kids Lincoln Logs.  Jake sat on top so he could easily be seen.  I have to keep Jake up high since I have an 18 month year old, so this is why he is on top of our buffet table.

Idea #4:  My kids love to color. I printed out a coloring book-style Elf on the Shelf page on Google Images,  and set Jake up to color himself.  I used a dollhouse chair, some building blocks, and a Frisbee to create the table.

Idea #5:  On the day my mom takes the kids to story time, Jake decided to have story time as well. The book is just cut up typing paper stapled in the middle.

Idea #6:  My daughter loves to play dress up.  Today, Jake decided to play with her!

I'll try to post more Elf ideas that aren't already all over the internet as I do them.  Feel free to share your ideas with me as well!  Would love to steal them!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Black Friday Party

To start off December and get the monthly girls in the holiday spirit, I decided to theme our December dinner after Black Friday.  I wanted to have a holiday theme, but one with a little twist.  This led to the craziness of hosting a Black Monday Madness party (since my dinners are actually on Mondays).  I put in some long hours of prep on this one, but I loved how everything turned out.

Invite:  I designed my invitation to look like a Black Friday advertisement, and printed it on 8.5x11 paper.  The image is a Walmart advertisement I found on Google, that I just added text boxes, etc. so that it revealed all the party details in a creative way.  As you may recall if you read my blog regularly, I have no idea how to use Photo Shop, so everything you see in this post is done on Microsoft Word.

Entry:  Although I didn't really make my guests line up and wait outside like Black Friday, I did set up the outside to look like it.  I used wooden stanchions to create an area for the "line"  A sign on the first stanchion told guests to form a line.  I put a Girls R Us sign on the door as if that was the name of our "store."

Decor:  I set my table with a black tablecloth for Black Friday.  I used a shopping cart filled with small kid toys for a centerpiece as well as my daughter's cash register.

For added fun, I made shopping bags using mini gift bags from Michaels.  I cut out logos of various stores to glue to the fronts and spread these around the table.  I also bought some fake money at the Dollar Store to wrap around green napkins.  Black Friday is all about saving money!

I spent hours making coupon place cards for each guest.  I wanted them to be silly, so I found funny/different photos of each guest to use rather than plain typical looks.  Depending on the photo, I then adapted what was being sold and the description of the "product".  I even found fun logos that went with the pictures to spice it up a bit.  These were a bit hit, and we all got a kick out of seeing the photos and reading the silly descriptions.

I made these simple wine charms to go with my theme.  I had everything from 10% off to 80% off.  The images were found on Google Images, printed on card stock, hole punched, and tied with ribbon around the glass stems.

Menu: I created an advertisement with my menu as well.  These were placed at various spots on the table.  The food was free for the first 10 customers on Black Monday = my number of guests for the evening!  I tried to think of clever titles and descriptions to really pull in my theme.  We started with Saving Lots of "Green" Salad.

The main dish was Blackened Chicken Alfredo Pasta, Zucchini Quarters with Black Pepper, and a Little Extra "Dough" bread sticks.  I found the recipe for the pasta on This Week for Dinner.  I followed the recipe except that I used the grill instead of pan frying/oven.  This dish has a bit of a kick, which I usually can't tolerate, but I actually enjoyed it.  The spice was strong, but not overpowering.

The dessert was Million Dollar Chocolate Pudding Pie with Peppermint.   This is an easy dessert that is great for the holidays. I called it Million Dollar pie to pull in the theme and created dollar signs out of chocolate.  The original recipe made stars.

Favor: The whole purpose of Black Friday is to save money and spend money.  This is why I created a purse favor. I made a rectangular box for the inside and filled it with some black tissue paper and gold chocolate coins I found at the Dollar Store.  The outside is made with card stock, ribbon, and a scrapbooking rhinestone.  I had to purchase sticky Velcro to keep it closed as the coins were too heavy for just scrapbooking glue/tab.  I designed the priceless tag on Microsoft Word.

We had a great time at this party.  Almost all the details were very inexpensive because I made them all myself; it just took time to create each item. I think it was worth it though.  The girls and I had a lot of laughs and enjoyed the night.  As usual...if you would like any of the documents for a future Black Friday party, just send me an email!  Oh, and please comment below.  I love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Shopping!

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Little Naughty, A Little Nice

Looking to add a little spice to your holiday this season (and I don't just mean in your spiced cider!)?  Then this just might be the post for you!  With December only one day away, it is time to get the advent calendar ready.  I've been working on our family advent calendar with fun holiday crafts and activities similar to last years, but this year, I've decided to make A Little Naughty, A Little Nice advent calendar for my husband!!

With two young kids and full time jobs for both of us, it is sometimes challenging for my husband and I to find the time to have stress-free couple time.  I decided to craft this fun calendar just for us.  Since it is meant just for us, I decided to hang it from our headboard. Honestly...this was also so we wouldn't get so busy we'd forget to open one each day!! 

I painted clothespins in red, white, and greens and clipped them to a red ribbon. I bought two small packs of 6x6 holiday paper from Michaels ($4 on sale) for the rest.  I ended up cutting the paper to be 6x4 because I thought it looked better.  The paper pack came with the numbers that I just cut out and glued to the clothespins.  I decided to roll the paper, so my husband couldn't cheat and know what was coming! I even taped them!

I typed up the advent activity for the day and glued it to the inside of each paper.  I couldn't just write it because the stack of paper I bought was double-sided.  It was fun coming up with the days activities.  I was purposefully vague on some items.  For example, I thought we could decided together which of us would give the back rub and which would receive it.

Here's some examples of A Little Naughty...(only a "little" naughty for this post!)

 And A Little Nice...

As crazy as the holiday season gets, I think these activities will enable my husband and I to have a little of our own time and just enjoy each other a bit. I cannot wait for December 1st!  If any of my readers do this, please let me know.  Maybe I can swap out some of my ideas for yours!

*Another note: Just like I do with my kids' advent calendar, I keep a hidden list of the days in order.  This way if something comes up and I know we won't have time to fit the activity in that day, I can switch it with a less time-consuming day.  This is another reason why I numbered the clothespins and not the papers. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful Tree

Happy Thanksgiving!! I love this holiday, not just because of the delicious food which makes me feel like I need to be rolled out the door, but because it is a holiday season that presents us with a great opportunity to reflect on all we have to be thankful for.  My husband and I took our family out for a walk on the horse trails near our house at the beginning of the month and we came across this...

This thankful tree displays the numerous blessings that surround us.  There were tags dangling from the tree written by neighbors and others who passed by the tree.  On these tags, the writers noted something they were thankful for and then hung it on the tree like an ornament.

Attached to the trunk of tree was a plastic container with a lid and inside the container were blank tags and pens/markers for anyone who wished to add what they are thankful for to the tree.  I loved this idea, and I decided to make a small tree for our house.  The remainder of the walk, our family picked up long sticks to be used for our tree.

When we got home, I found a vase.  My daughter and I placed the sticks in our vase, and then set about making the tags. We used my Cricut machine and Stretch Your Imagination cartridge to make 3.5" tags on light tan cardstock.  We threaded twine through the top of the make the ornaments, and placed the vase as the centerpiece of our dinner table.

Next to the vase, we placed a dish with blank ornaments and a pen, much like the neighborhood tree.  Throughout the month of November, our family (and whoever visits that wishes to add a thankful tag) have been writing down things we are thankful for.  Every time I look at this tree, it reminds me of all I have to be thankful for and the many blessings we have in our lives.

As this month comes to a close, I plan to write 2012 on the back of each tag and keep them all together. Next year, it will be so neat to read them again.  It will also show the growth of our kids as their handwriting and what they are thankful for changes. My favorite tags so far this year have been one I wrote on behalf of our 17 month old son, "Chairs, books, toys...anything that I can step on to reach things I shouldn't" and one of our 3 year old daughter's "I'm thankful for Johnny-John."  This one will be neat as her nickname for her little brother changes over time.  Each year, I will hang some of the past years on the tree, and then I will make tags in a slightly different color for the current year.

We have so much to be thankful for, and this tree has been a wonderful daily reminder for my family of just how much we are blessed.  I highly recommend making a tree of your own.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Bare Necessities

November is a time we often count our blessings and be thankful for all we have.  Others do not have even the bare necessities, and they are struggling every day. This prompted me to host my November monthly dinner with the theme of Bare Necessities where the girls and I made care packages to give out to the homeless in our communities.

Entry:  I wanted my decor to fit with my theme, but not be depressing.  At first, I was going to decorate all in teddy "bears" and play up this homophone, but that seemed too cutesy to go with our activity.  I decided instead to mix the two.  A shopping cart was donated to my ASB several years ago, so I borrowed that to set outside my entry door. I filled it with blankets, sleeping bags, etc.  Across from it, I set out a flattened cardboard box with a giant panda bear (thanks Gracie!).  I made a simple sign for the panda to hold inviting guests to enter.

Decor:  I set my dining table with some camping tarps as a tablecloth. As a centerpiece, I filled a small shopping cart with washcloths as well as some of the care package items.  Next to this, I placed another teddy bear holding a sign that read: "Homeless Let's Help" instead of the general Please Help that you often see on the side of the road. I placed newspaper under it -- the employment section -- for added color and contrast.

As place cards, I made knapsacks out of a scrap of fabric and a pencil. I filled the inside of the fabric square with Thanksgiving M&Ms, tied the ends of the fabric together in a knot to create the sack, and slid a new pencil in (writing side down so it didn't show).  To add the name to each pencil, I used by Cricut machine to cut letters and then glued them on.

To keep with the theme, the menu card was a piece of cardboard with the menu written in black marker.  The wine bottles were wrapped in paper bags.  I tied the tops with a burgundy ribbon for the red wine and a white ribbon for the white wine.

On the table we used for assembling the care packages, I used a sleeping bag as my tablecloth. I set out another bear, this one holding a sign that read "We Care Packages".  Another small shopping cart held the cards (see Activity section below).

Our good friend Josh in Mammoth carves these amazing bears out of wooden logs.  This bear was given to us at our wedding years ago.  It is engraved with our names at the bottom, and the bear was originally holding fresh flowers when we received it at our reception. He was a perfect addition to my table, and the hole was perfect to stick a skewer with a sign to identify the table.  By the way, you should really check out Josh's website to get one of these for your home, Bare in Mind Carvings. We love ours and get so many great comments on it.

Menu:  Again, I tried to adapt or fit menu items to the theme.  We started with Raspberry Salad with Candied Almonds.  Yummy!  The salad consisted of mixed greens, feta cheese, whole raspberries, and candied almonds.  It was served with a raspberry vinaigrette.  To make the candied almonds, I used 3 tablespoons sugar with a half cup of almonds. In a non-stick skillet, heat on medium heat 6-8 minutes, or until sugar forms a golden brown syrup and coats almonds.

For the main dish, I made individual Chicken Pot Pies, but shaped them like knapsacks.  To complete the look, I stuck a wooden chopstick through the top and tied a small strip of fabric around the end.  Although my pot pies included carrots and peas inside, I decided to serve green beans with it as well.  To make the knapsacks, I made the dough and then cut it into 6"x6" squares.  These squares I filled with the chicken mixture before folding the edges in. Here is the recipe for the inside mixture:

Chicken Pot Pie
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
Freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup frozen peans
1 1/2 cups cubed or shredded cooked chicken (I got mine pre-cooked from Costco)

Melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Cook the onions, carrots, and celery with salt and pepper to taste, until the carrots soften, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and thyme and cook an additional minute, stirring frequently.  Add the flour and cook off the raw flavor, about 1 more minute.  Turn up the heat to medium-high and deglaze the pan with the wine.  Which in the stock and Dijon mustard.  Add the peas and chicken and cook on a very low simmer until the sauce thickens up into a gravy, 5 to 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

For dessert, I served Strawberry Pie with whipped cream.  The best thing about this entire dinner was that I made almost everything the day before, so I actually had a chance to visit with my guests during this dinner rather than spending all my time in the kitchen preparing the meal.

Activity:  As I stated above, this theme was centered around the creation of Care Packages to help the homeless in our community.  I asked each guest to sign up to bring 20 of one or two items on the care package list.  I then bought gallon size Ziplock bags to hold all the items.  The items I asked guests to bring were:
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Packages of Tissues
Trail Mix
Bottled Water
Hand wipes
Granola Bars
Pair of Socks

One of the girls even typed up a list of local shelters in Orange County, and she brought single-day bus passes that we attached to several.

I also crafted a small note card for each guest to write a message of their choice before placing into the bag. The girls seemed to like this addition. (If you'd like a copy email me.)

When filled, the idea of these bags it to place them in your car, so it is handy the next time you encounter someone in need.  Each guest left with two full bags ready to give out to others.

This was a great party, and we all enjoyed putting these bags together.  The feedback I have received from the guests and the stories they've shared when they gave a bag away makes me smile.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Halloween: Family Fun

Happy Belated Halloween!  This is not my favorite holiday. However, I have come to the understanding that you must learn to like this holiday once you have little ones running around super excited about dressing up and trick or treating.  My hang up with this holiday is twofold.  First, I have a hard time spending the loads of money that costume stores want you to pay for something that is poorly made and your kids will wear once or twice.  Secondly, the creative gal in me has a hard time settling for standard princess or super hero type of costume. Our costumes this year were a big hit, so I decided to share them with you in case you can use them for the future.

Here is our family this year...

My daughter's favorite movie right now is Up.  She begs to watch it almost every night. So one evening we were watching Up, and I hinted to my daughter that she should be an Up character for Halloween.  The clincher...I told her she could carry balloons while she trick or treated.  She was ecstatic! Immediately, she assigned each member of our family the character we would represent.

My husband was Mr. Frederickson.  We made a visit to the local GoodWill and picked out a dark brown coat and slacks.  We already had the white shirt and suspenders.  We borrowed the cane and just added 4 tennis balls to the bottom.  The glasses we found at a thrift store for $0.59.  The bow tie and white hair spray were purchased at Party City.  To finish off the outfit, I made a Grape Soda pin for him to wear on his lapel.

I was Russel.  I borrowed a yellow hat and shirt from my dad.  The Boy Scout sash was borrowed from one of my past students. I already had the brown shorts and hiking boots, just added orange shoelaces.  I wrapped a piece of orange felt around my neck to make the scarf.  The hat emblem, flag, and patch were made out of scrapbook paper.

My daughter wanted to be Kevin, the Snipe.  This is where I had to use my creativity because a Snipe costume does not exist.  I bought a purple fleece hooded sweatshirt and 2 rainbow boas.  I stitched the boas to the sweatshirt with needle and thread without cutting the boas at all.  The sweatshirt was a zip-up, so it worked perfectly to take the sweatshirt on and off without ruining the costume.  I also stitched some feathers extending from the top of her head.  The yellow beak is made out of card stock and stitched to the hood to hold it in place.  Blue card stock is behind each googly eye as well. All these items can easily be removed and the sweatshirt used normally after Halloween too!  For the feet, I cut these out of black foam and safety pinned them in the back.  They ripped fairly easily we found, but a little black duck tape helped!

My son was Doug, the cute little dog from the movie. I looked everywhere for an expensive puppy costume that was brown like Doug in the movie.  I found this one at Party City for $ for me.  If I had more time, I would have added a collar with a red light flashing, but I ran out of time on that one.

This was a really fun Halloween costume.  I think it is even better than our one last year (although I loved my chicken and my egg...)