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Friday, August 31, 2012

Triple Tiered Little Girl Dress

This past week I've been busy attending linky parties for the first time. Seeing so many cute projects inspired me to not only spend more time on my own blogs, especially in the photography department but to sew, sew, sew! This particular project comes from a dress my neighbor pinned on Pinterest, and it's perfect for the last two hot months of Texas summers. I liked the idea so much that I bought enough fabric for my daughter and two of my friends' daughters as well. I'm sure some day they will refuse to wear matching clothes, but until then, this is a fun way to get the most out of our fabric and patterns.

This blog has some seriously adorable sewing projects, so I urge you to visit it at Happy Together Creates. While her dress is a super-cute patriotic one for the Fourth of July, mine is a sweet alternative for the rest of summer.

For this particular dress, you'll need the following:
1. one tank top or t-shirt
2. less than a quarter yard of three coordinating fabrics
3. a high-waisted dress that currently fits your girl to get measurements
4. a tape measure
5. sewing scissors
6. sewing machine
7. coordinating thread
8. iron

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bucket List Activity #16: Homemade Fruit Roll Ups

Since we only have a few days left of summer break, I realized we better get through our bucket list soon. Since I had two pints of yummy strawberries, I chose to make the homemade fruit roll ups. I had found this recipe in Parents magazine this past year and promptly tore it out because it seemed easy and semi-healthy. (At least it didn't involve any chemicals or strange additives.)

The easiest part of this project was gathering the ingredients. All that is needed is 4 cups of berries and 2 tablespoons of honey. You will also need a blender, parchment paper, oven, knife, cooling rack, and non-stick spray (this last item is my recommendation).

Monday, August 27, 2012

New [School] Year's Resolutions

While I have been known to follow tradition on January 1st and select a resolution for the new year, it just seems to make more sense to do it on the first day of school. After all, that's when our routines start fresh again. Everything is new, from that perfect box of 24-count Crayolas with their untouched tips to those brand new outfits and crisp backpacks. I love fall! It's not that I enjoy sending my children away for almost eight hours a day; it's that I love the refreshing cool wisps of air, hinting that sweater season is just around the corner. I love the re-greening of the grass contrasting with the darkening of the leaves as they prepare their descent in lovely hues of reds and oranges. I love hearing the marching bands practice for half-time performances and the excitement of entering new classrooms, making new friends, and trying new activities. While spring is associated with new life, I always associate fall that way. Perhaps it's because we are worn out after entertaining our children for ten weeks or bored from spending too many days indoors to avoid those ozone alerts, but with fall comes new life thanks to school and the hope of cooler weather where, despite shorter days, children can actually play outdoors without fear of dehydration or sun burns.
I'm hoping by implementing the following ideas, our mornings will go from this... to this! Follow along if you have the same intentions.

Friday, August 24, 2012

More Sheered Dresses

Those are her brother's shoes. She loves all shoes!
This summer, I’ve seen several friends wear shirred tops and dresses, which is wonderful because I had wanted to make more after my first attempt! (If you want to revisit that entry, here you go: shirred sundress.)
My princess and I went to Wal-mart, something I typically loath doing, but this particular location has a good little sewing department, so if I’m lucky enough to find an employee to cut the fabric, I can actually get some cute stuff for cheaper than the fabric stores. They had some adorable sheered fabric for both my daughter and for me, and the employee was on hand. Jackpot! 

Sorry, you only get to see mine hanging up.
While the cost of this fabric is higher than other fabrics, it is still cheaper than buying a dress and takes just a few minutes to sew into a sundress. Another bonus this time is that both of the fabrics I bought didn’t even need hemming. Gotta love that! If you’ve never sewn before, this is seriously the easiest project I think you could do with your sewing machine.

Here's how to make one:  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Confessions of a Confused Mother

This morning, my two oldest boys had their first football scrimmage of the season. The sky was overcast with a temperature of just the high 80s, but the humidity was at 91%. If you've never been in such weather, consider yourself blessed. Just imagine a large gray cloud decides to go for a piggy back ride on your shoulders. I felt miserable!

My oldest son still has a boot on his broken foot, so he had to stand and watch his team from the sidelines. They lost, but as I snuck a couple visits down to their field, I saw him smiling. He still does that? Yay! I thought those muscles that allow your mouth to contort into an upward slant had permanently gone slack for him. Lately, I've been at a loss. Over the years, I've learned how to cope with a colicky newborn, a stubborn toddler, and all the other typical challenges associated with raising children, but this preteen stage has got me stumped. I chatted with two other moms I know well while at the games, one with a son, the other, a daughter, both the same age as mine. They were also at a loss. Well, at least I no longer feel alone in this hormonal craziness called adolescence. Maybe we should have consulted a parent who has older children who has already figured out how to parent a child during his/her preteen years, but we really were supposed to be focusing on the game, so all we could do was commiserate on the misery of it all.

Last night, my husband informed me that I'm hurting our son's feeling when I yell. Yes, I have already read Screamfree Parenting. Or at least I began it. I can't remember. I went through so many parenting books when my youngest son was little, trying to learn how to cope with a colicky newborn and then a stubborn toddler; they all blur together. I guess I could buy another book. I wonder if there is a Parenting Your Preteen for Dummies.  However, so many parenting books are like so many self-help books where the author who has skillfully mastered this particular craft fills the pages with anecdotes, theories, and/or philosophies but no real concrete instructions. I guess I'd prefer a manual. Give me specific step-by-step instructions like, "If your preteen doesn't put his clothes in his drawers for a full week, despite you specifically saying, 'Put your clothes in your drawers,' do X." Or "If your preteen continually picks on his younger sibling, do Y." You'd think it would be easier to discipline an older child because he can think a bit more logically than say a toddler or infant, but some days I have my doubts, serious doubts. How can he not understand why I'm yelling when I tell him specifically why I'm upset? How much more clear can "I've asked you three times today to bring in the garbage can!" be? Does it just sound like the teachers on those old Charlie Brown specials once parents get frustrated? Wa-wa-wa-waa-wa. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Weekly Menu Planning Recipes

As promised, here are my meals for my new weekly menu planning board. As I share the recipes through this semester, I'll create the links here, so feel free to come back.

Japanese and Italian
  1. pork katsu
  2. yashi soba (Japanese Noodles)
  3. fried rice
  4. chicken picata
  5. mini calzones
  6. individual pizzas
  7. spaghetti
  1. chicken enchiladas
  2. taquitos
  3. quesadilas and burritos
  4. tacos
  5. fajitas
  6. beef enchiladas
  1. mushroom gravy & rice
  2. crunchy chicken
  3. breakfast for dinner
  4. beef stroganoff
  5. shrimp & mushroom pasta
  6. hamburgers
Crock Pot
  1. pot roast
  2. chicken & rice
  3. brisket
  4. pulled pork

Friday, August 17, 2012

Weekly Menu Planning Board

Over the years, I've tried various methods to plan our weekly meals, with little success. I'm good at grocery shopping once a week, a skill I had to learn when I had to shop with my three boys before they were in preschool, but I would usually just think of two meals to buy for. The rest were created by winging it. And hubby has never been any help. Whenever I've asked him what he wants for dinner, he always answers with, "food." You don't know how many times I've been tempted to set a can of Alpo on a plate for him. But we don't have a dog. And that would be wasteful.

Last fall, I realized the reason I had a tough time deciding what to cook was two-fold. First, some of my favorite meals are not liked by all six family members. Second, I simply had too many recipes from which to choose. Therefore, when it came time to menu planning, I couldn't think of anything. It's sort of like a closet. When it's so full of clothes, it's hard to see the best outfits. Once you weed out those that no longer fit or don't work because tastes change over the years, we can find the best ones. Some day I hope to add my soups into the mix. My solution last year was very short lived. I picked ten recipes and decided to rotate them like this:

Monday: spaghetti or chicken
Tuesday: breakfast or fast food
Wednesday: beef enchiladas or tacos
However, I hardly stuck to it because it was just too limiting. This year, in preparation for back to school, I got the family in on my plans. We went through and listed about five of our favorite meals in each category: American, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Crock Pot. I only put down recipes that most of us liked and that weren't too difficult to prepare. Many of them require ingredients I always have on hand like onions, chicken breasts, shredded cheese, and Italian seasoning.

Now to organize these meals, I created a cute but simple menu to put on the side of our refrigerator.

Here's all it required:
  • Card stock paper in several different colors
  • magnets
  • glue
  • letter stickers
  • scissors and/or paper cutter
  • permanent marker
  • pen

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bucket List Activity #15: Jacob's Ladder

This past spring, my two middle boys and I went on a camping trip with our Cub Scout Troop to the Stephen F. Austin State Park. Before heading home, we all visited the Stephen F. Austin Museum. If you are ever nearby, I highly recommend going. However, this post isn't about our trip but about what we learned to make while on it. As part of the tour, they showed us a popular toy for children years ago. The speaker swore it would be more entertaining than their X-Box. Well, he wasn't quite accurate on that, but the toy was really cool. It's a Jacob's Ladder.

I remember them as a kid, but at that time, all I knew to do with them was hold the top board and swing it back and forth so it created this falling effect. We learned the original purpose of this toy was to teach stories. As he spoke, he created an assortment of shapes that amused us all. After the presentation, we learned we could purchase this toy for $5. Who could resist that? Besides, the museum tour was free, so the money goes to a good cause. However, a friend of mine on the tour with us told me she and her children had made one themselves a couple of summers ago. And there you go. I was on a mission to duplicate this purchased toy, not because I thought I could make one cheaper or better but simply because I wanted to know I could do it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What Happens When You Drag a Boy to the Fabric Store

Joann's was having a fabulous sale this past weekend, and I was really looking forward to running up there one evening all by myself. I had picked out three sewing projects and even wanted to browse through the pattern books. After all, I've yet to use a real pattern, and I figure it's about time to try that.

Friday night I got swamped with... something. Geez, I can't even remember? I swear some days I've losing my mind. Saturday evening I came down with a huge headache. Sunday had to be it. However, Sunday evenings are spent at my parents' house, period. I won't give that up, especially since my mom is battling lung cancer again. So Sunday afternoon it had to be. That wouldn't be a problem, but I had already promised my eight-year-old that we'd exchange a Texas Rangers jersey he had bought at the mall with his own money. It was almost $100, and before I could wash it, I found a tiny hole in it and realized one of the letters wasn't stitched on properly. Seriously? I thought it was crazy when he and his dad picked the thing out. I haven't spent that much on an outfit for myself since I got pregnant with our first child let alone a single shirt. But it was his money, and he's a serious sports fanatic, and he got to have his own last name and number sewn on it. It's actually pretty cool... just not $100 cool. But I'm a mom. What do I know?

Well, I didn't want to hold off on returning this thing in case they'd think we messed it up ourselves through wear and tear, and he was anxious, so the only way I could make my trip work was if I dragged him with me. Eight-year-old boys in a fabric store? Yeah, that's not a great idea. However, he did amazingly well. He helped me pick out a fat quarter for an applique I hope to learn how to do for my nephews. Pinterest will be the death of me! He also cooperated rather well as I tried to pick out coordinating fabrics for some dresses I will soon be making for several little girls.

He soon got bored. No surprise. So in an effort to prevent him from racing down the isles in a shopping cart, I told him he could look at the sports fabrics. He found one and asked if the store would put that pattern on a soft fabric for a blanket. When I told him that's not how it worked, he was disappointed. I showed him to the row of fleece and suggested he search there. That's when he asked if I could sew him a blanket. The kid loves blankets, and while he's probably getting to that age where he shouldn't sleep with a blankie, he has two blankets he got when he was a toddler that he snuggles up with every night. One is a twin-sized monogrammed one that matches the colors of his room while the other is this John Deere tractor blanket that he really has outgrown, but every time we talk him into giving it up, he comes back the next day asking for it back. It's just so soft and cool to the touch. And why rush making him grow up and sleep with just regular bedding? He's managing to grow up on his own fast enough as it is. Just not when it comes to cuddly blankies.

I told him we could make a no-sew blanket together. He found some fleece fabric with footballs all over it, and we matched it with an off-white color. It wasn't my first choice, but there wasn't any browns or greens that matched perfectly with his football fleece. The lady who cut my fabric said two yards would work. With their sale and my coupon, I was going to be able to make his blanket for $15, and while he didn't need another blanket, I new making the project with him would be well worth that money. Besides, how could I say no to his precious big brown eyes after he had so patiently let me pick out pink flowery fabric for his sister?

We ran out of time to buy fabric for the two projects I wanted to make for myself. Go figure. However, I'm really looking forward to the ones I'll be making for my daughter, my son, and my nephews. Some day I'll get back to Joann's and someday I'll get to make something for myself.

To make this blanket, I followed this wonderful tutorial I found through Pinterest by Grits and Giggles. The only difference is I cut my strips just a tad over 1" apart simply because the lines on the football field were that distance, so I could cheat and use them as my guide for two of the four sides. I also only cut 4" deep because our PTO and students made about 1000 of these blankets at my boys' school to donate to Project Linus during our Valentine's Day party this past year, and I remembered cutting them only 4".  

It took about 20 minutes per side to cut and tie the strips. We had 43 strips on the shorter sides and 48 strips on the longer ones. However, it was fun working alongside my son, chatting about football. He's excited about playing as quarterback and fullback for his first season of tackle football. As tough as this kid can be on the field, he's a sweet softy off, so this fleece football blanket is perfect for him!

Okay, so once we had made the blanket and he spent half the day cuddling up in it, I realized we had knotted it inside out. Take a close look at the numbers on the football field. I showed it to him after I tucked him in bed. He was bummed, but I promised him that I'd do all the untieing as long as we could work together redoing them. That's 182 ties, but thankfully, we can do it while we watch the Olympics together and continue to chat. Just chalk it up to another bonding moment or a good lesson on paying attention. Obviously, I hadn't done that when I lined up the fabrics. Oops. I'll focus on the positive side: lots of snuggly bonding time as we retie.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Little Princess Bow Holder

I found this adorable item at Hobby Lobby for $16. It was hanging by itself as though someone had picked it out, changed her mind, and hung it in another section. It looked like a super cute bow holder, but I wasn't sure. However, that's what I wanted it to be, just not for my princess because the colors were wrong for her room. I took a picture of it, figuring I could find a wooden cut out of a dress top, paint it, glue some bows on, and viola, I'd have a personalized bow holder for my daughter. Hobby Lobby sells wooden cut-outs, but they don't sell one like this.
I was disappointed because this project just doubled in complexity, no tripled. I knew I could buy a lightweight board, create a template, and have my dad cut it out since he has a garage full of nifty sawing tools. Before I had a chance to head to Lowe's, I saw a similar bow holder for sale. Someone in my neighborhood was going to order one and was asking if anyone else was interested. At $38, no thank you. That particular picture, which I don't have saved, showed the bow holder top made of fabric. Now that, I could duplicate.
A month passed before I had time for my project, but once I was back at Hobby Lobby, I bought a 1x14x14 piece of poly foam. It was on sale 30% off, so it cost about $2.50, and it was large enough to make two bow holders. I played around with measurements since I couldn't find any online, and this is what I came up with...

To make the top form template: Get a ruler, pencil, piece of card stock or standard piece of paper, and scissors. 
  1. On a piece of paper, measure out a 7" wide by 10" tall, then cut.
  2. Starting at the top, go down both sides, marking 2", 3 1/2", and 6 1/2". At the 2" spots, measure 1/2" inward, and mark it on both sides of the paper. At the 6 1/2" spots, measure 3/4" inward, and mark it on both sides.
  3. You will now connect the dots to create the sides of the top. To do this, begin at the top corner and draw a curve to the 2" mark and curve your line back to the 3 1/2" mark, which is on the edge of the paper. You now have your arm hole. Curve your line to touch the 6 1/2" mark and finish at the bottom corner. You now have your waist. Repeat on the other side.
  4. Let's create the neck and shoulders. Starting in the upper right corner, make marks at 2 1/4", 3 1/2", and 4 3/4". At the 3 1/2" mark, measure down 1 1/4". You will now draw the neckline by connecting those three dots.
  5. Cut out your top. You can now use this as your template on your poly foam and your piece of cardboard.
To make the bow holder, you will need the following:
  • poly foam at least 7" x 10"
  • cardboard at least 7" x 10"
  • fabric at least 22" x 14" (I bought 1/3 yard.)
  • glue gun
  • 220" of tulle in one or two colors (for ten strips)
  • 129" of 7/8" wide satin ribbon (72" for bows, 13" for hanger, & 44" for skirt)
  • 82" of 1 1/2" wide satin ribbon
  • scissors
  • hot glue gun
  • thread
Steps to making it...
1. Trace your template onto your cardboard and poly foam, and then cut out.

2. Cut the fabric into two rectangles, so one is 11x14 and the other is 9x12.

3. Lay the smaller rectangle onto the cardboard and cut 1" slits around all the curved parts about an inch apart. Then you will need to wrap the fabric around the edges, gluing as you go. Keep pulling tightly and rechecking the front to make sure the fabric lays flat.

4. The most challenging part of this entire project is gluing the fabric onto the poly foam. You do it the same way as the cardboard; however, due to the one inch thickness, you will find it more difficult. At corners, I treated it like wrapping a present as I folded material down. I also snipped extra pieces of fabric once I glues it down, so there wouldn't be so much. Glueing along the sides before you glue along the back helps. Just keep working in small sections at a time.

5. Now you are ready to prepare the skirt portion of the bow holder. Cut 10 strips of tulle 22" long, fan them out, using your foam board figure as a guide, and then glue them to the back of the cardboard figure, so they fan out. Optional: You can cut an additional 6 strips and glue them to the front of the foam board as well for a much fuller skirt.

6. Cut 3 strips of the wider ribbon and 2 strips of the thinner ribbon 22" long and glue them to the back of the cardboard figure (over the tulle), alternating them. Or, if you are opting for the fuller skirt, you will glue them to the front of the foam board, just on top of the added tulle.

7. Next, cut a 13" length of the thinner ribbon and glue the edges behind the shoulders. This will allow you to hang your bow holder onto a nail on your wall.

8. Glue your foam board to your cardboard, making sure to glue an extra dab where the ribbons are. Be sure the good sides are both on the outside.

9. Cut a 16" strip of the wider ribbon and wrap it around the bottom of the boards. Glue.

9. Now you are ready to create 4 bows. I learned how from this tutorial by Hip Girl Boutique. Unfortunately, I couldn't find instructions on how to finish the bow, so I cut a 5-inch strip of ribbon and tied it over the center.

10. Glue one bow at the neckline, which will hide possible problems as this will most likely be the toughest spot to cut and glue the fabric.

11. Lastly, glue the other three bows on the front of the foam board on top of the ribbon you previously glued, just above where the three wider ribbons are.

12. You are ready to clip the hairbows onto the ribbons and hang on the wall.

Don't you just love it? Since I already had the fabric left over from the window treatments and dust ruffle my mother and aunt sewed, and I used cardboard from a case of G2, those items were free. I bought one spool of tulle, two spools of ribbon, a package of glue sticks, and the poly foam all for under $20. Once I buy 1/3 yard of fabric and another spool of ribbon, and I will have enough supplies to make a second one for my Goddaughter, so the final cost will be about $12 each though I will still have some supplies left over for future projects. In all, I'm happy with the time and money I invested into this project. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bucket List Activity #14: Play-Doh Sculpting Contest

My 11-year-old son had broken his foot during his flag football tournament two weeks ago, and he had been rather grumpy. All the summer activities he enjoyed (football, swimming, skating, etc.) were now pretty much off limits. Redbox has had the lamest movies available too. I was sick of the kids watching reruns on the Disney channel, and they had begun a mild revolt against the summer workbooks I had bought. We were in a slump. I was about to start counting down days until the first day of school when I got a text from my mother-in-law letting me know they would be coming in town for a quick trip. Yay! They could always make my kids happy. This would certainly end our summer doldrums.

They arrived just in time to whisk the oldest two off to tackle football practice. While my oldest was stuck doing crunches, leg lifts, and sit ups for 90 minutes thanks to his broken foot, my middle son was actually enjoying running at tackling dummies in 90+ degree heat. The following day, before taking them to another insanely hot football practice with smiles on their faces, my amazing in-laws took all three boys bowling, something the boys had been begging me to do with them for a month. I couldn't picture dragging along a two-year-old who would be too little to haul a heavy ball down a lane. Visions of her insisting on trying and then crying as I held her back from chasing after the ball that ever-so-slowly rolled down the gutter kept flashing in my mind. No, while I can drag her to endless tae-kwon-do sessions, sports games, and even scouting events, making her watch her brothers do something she believed she could do would be cruel.

Thankfully, she still naps. That's when the five of them snuck out of the house and gave me three hours of quiet bliss!

But all good things must come to an end, and the next afternoon, they had to leave us. We hadn't completed a bucket list activity lately, so after three rejuvenating days with their grandparents, my boys were up to doing something other than football and television. Yahoo!

We selected "have a Play-Doh sculpting contest." At ages 11, 8, and 7, my boys no longer think to play with this stuff, but we still have dozens of tubs, so I thought this would be a great way to clean out the crate. A couple of the tubs had dried out, but we found several still sealed. Ah! I love brand new Play Doh. And this was the first time my daughter got to experience the lure of this stuff. She loved it!

Of course, with any contest, we needed rules. We quickly agreed upon these:
1. The theme of your sculpture had to be "Summer Time." (I got several moans when I announced this, but I wanted to encourage creativity while forcing them to work with some limitations.)
2. They could use no more than five colors. (We thought this would make for a fun challenge to have to work through.)
3. We had to share everything.
4. Dad was to be the judge.

I thought of setting a time limit but decided against it. I enjoyed seeing the boys play with such a creative toy for the first time in probably a year, and it was cute seeing my daughter experience the squishy stuff for the first time. (Okay, and truth be told, I had fun molding my own creations too.) I also realized my daughter is never to be trusted with real scissors as her first reaction when she got a hold of the Play-Doh pair was to grab a lock of her hair and try to cut it.

Everyone worked well together. Okay, everyone worked well together after I made up an obnoxious jingle about how we'd all be nice. It's amazing how quickly my boys will behave when they know it will silence their embarrassing mother. Here are our creations. My daughter never really came up with anything, but I was just thrilled to see she didn't eat the stuff.
My seven-year-old made a snake since those are more common in the summer.
I made a surf board with a wave crashing over it. That's either a hand from the underwater surfer or a shell. I'll let you decide.
My 11-year-old first made a small water park, but before I could snap a picture, he squashed it. This creation represents "no thinking in the summer," as he declared. Great. It's part of a brain on a square under that crossed out symbol.
This was a stretch to fit with our summer theme, but my 8-year-old son insisted on making breakfast, probably because we have some fun breakfast-making Play-Doh tools. He claims it is because we can sleep late and eat bigger breakfasts in the summer.

So, hubby came out to judge our creations and instead grabbed a wad of purple Play-Doh for himself and rolled out the letters TCU. He then declared his was the winner. No one argued that TCU has little to nothing to do with summer, but that was the beauty of this bucket list activity. We all had so much fun, we seemed to forget it was supposed to be a competition, and that is something big in our household full of very competitive kids (and mommy). We quickly pulled apart our creations, sorted the colors, and headed outside to enjoy the mild evening weather. It was in the mid 80s with a lovely breeze once the sun set, and we had a lot of pent up energy to release before heading to bed.

  1. It encourages creativity.
  2. It's flexible as you can adjust rules and set time limits to make the challenge more easier or harder.
  3. It can help kids practice sharing.
  4. It can help kids work through problem solving based on the rules and limitations you set. (For instance, my middle son had already used up his five colors before he made his plates, so he had to figure out which color would work best from the five he had already used.) 
  5. It helps little ones develop fine motor skills. (That's the former pre-school teacher in me coming out.)
  6. Who doesn't love Play Doh?
  1. It's messy.
  2. Who likes to clean up Play Doh?
Cost: Free!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bucket List Activity #13: Solar S'Mores

A few weeks ago, I had planned on doing the solar s'mores with the kids. We had ordered pizza, so we had the requisite box, and I had purchased the marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars. Then the rain came. It was relentless. The only time we'd get a break in it for about ten days was in the evenings. Overcast evenings aren't the ideal time to make solar s'mores. However, I had decided to go ahead and make the "oven" in hopes of a sunny day. None of the boys found any interest in this part of the project, so I made it on my own. I've sense come up with a phrase to use in instances like this: FFA. Nope, it doesn't stand for Future Farmers of America in our household. It stands for Forced Fun Activity. No, I don't plan to drag my children into an activity with an evil grin on my face and shout, "You ARE having fun!" but I do plan on working harder at convincing them to stop watching TV to participate in an activity I have come up with. Honestly, when I made this solar oven, it just seemed easier to do it myself. After all, I knew the one part of it they'd fight over doing was using the exacto knife to cut the lid, and I really wasn't in the mood to rush to the emergency room that day. We only need one ugly scar on a forearm in our household to learn that boys, knives, and cardboard boxes don't mix well.

Then, several days ago, once it was sunny again, I suggested we get out the solar oven and make our s'mores from our bucket list. The boys were in support of that idea until I found an empty graham cracker box in the pantry. Seriously, why do they finish an item and leave the empty box on the shelf? Ugh. The chocolate bars had gone missing too, so with only marshmallows, we went back to watching TV.

After having gone to the grocery store, I was ready to make the s'mores, and so were the kids. Their grandparents had just left from a quick three-day visit, so I knew we needed to do something fun to cheer them up. Just as I got out the ingredients, I heard the faint sound of an weedeater. I peared out the dining room window to see our yard crew had arrived. Deciding that melted chocolate bars and marshmallows would not mix well with flying blades of grass, I had to put the activity on hold for an hour or so. The boys were fine with it. They still had another hour left on the movie they were watching anyway. Sigh.

With the grass freshly mowed and the patio freshly cleaned, I was more than ready to set up the solar oven, so I grabbed everything, told my youngest son to bring out the empty storage tub I keep meaning to make into a homemade compost tub, and told the kids to come outside and help me assemble s'mores. Boy, I hope they had washed their hands recently. After we built nine s'mores, I worked around with tape and a set of chopsticks to prop the lid open, but I had to come back out to fix this several times during the "cooking" process. It did take a good hour to melt the marshmallows, but I think they'll cook much faster if we actually get around to setting up everything before 5:30 in the evening. 

We are definitely making these again tomorrow because we have enough ingredients left over, and we want to make them earlier in the day to see if they cook faster. This time, I will set a kitchen thermometer in the oven and discuss the strategy behind the solar oven. I've actually heard you can learn to cook real meals this way. I don't plan on cooking any roasts in my back yard, but it's pretty cool knowing you could if you had to. :)   

My daughter didn't want to leave the solar oven's side.
I think she feared somebody was going to steal her snack!
This was yet another project I got from Family Fun, so I won't go into details on how to make the solar oven. You can simply go to their website here:

I will advise you to assemble the s'mores a bit differently though. Our chocolate melted very quickly, so they were very messy to eat. I guess we are used to campfire s'mores where the chocolate is barely melted by the hot gooey marshmallow. Our chocolate oozed down forearms as we enjoyed the deliciousness of s'mores. To prevent this, I suggest putting half the number of graham crackers in your solar oven and setting one marshmallow on each. Then, once the marshmallows are almost ready, open the oven and set the other half of the graham crackers in there and place the chocolates on those. Once the marshmallows are finished, the chocolate might not be quite so melted, and you can quickly sandwich them together for a slightly less messy dessert.

We didn't put down the black construction paper for two reasons. First, I forgot. Yup, that's the real reason. Second, once I remembered, I decided I'd rather eat s'mores of aluminum foil than construction paper because it'd be less messy.

  1. S'mores are yummy!
  2. Using food is always a fun way to teach science.
  1. Making the box wasn't a family fun activity.
  2. It takes a long time to make the box and to cook the s'mores.
  3. The kids kept going outside over the course of 90 minutes to check on their desserts.
  4. They aren't as good as the real thing, but who wants to build a fire in the summer?

 Cost: If you take the cost of the pizza into consideration, you'd have to add ten bucks, but seeing that we'd order pizza anyway, I won't. In fact, with the exception of the pizza box, it used items I had from the house to make the solar oven, so our only real cost was the food. Assuming you would treat your kids to a dessert, you can't really count that cost either, right?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Nerf War Slumber Party

While I know most parents think slumber parties are crazy to host, I've discovered they can be some of the easiest and most affordable parties ever. When my middle son was turning seven, he asked for one, and I hesitantly agreed; however, when he asked for one the following year, I was happy to oblige. I limit the parties to boys whose parents we know, so this year, he invited his flag football team who also play on the same baseball team each spring, a buddy from scouts, and his best friend. We ended up with about a dozen boys. I also make sure to include a statement in the invitation that sleeping over is optional. For the boys who can't spend the night, the party will end at nine. This helps parents allow their children to participate in most of the fun and makes it easy to pull their son away when he's not the only one having to head out the door. Three boys had to take that option.
Okay, so the theme was Nerf Guns. I bought these Nerf Gun sets at Academy for $20 along with extra ammunition. This would serve as their entertainment and party favor, so I didn't mind spending $10 per boy.  Each boy was given the vest, gun, goggles, and five bullets with instructions to write their initials on everything.

At the start of the party, we divided the boys into two groups to make their individual pizzas using my friends' pizza dough recipe. Meanwhile, the others were welcome to play Wii upstairs or play football outside. I had made several batches of pizza dough right before the party began and had bought pepperonis, sausage (that I cooked earlier in the day), onions, mushrooms, and olives as options for toppings. Of course, I had the Ragu pizza sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese as well. To ensure each boy got to eat his own pizza, we had a toothpick system. One boy had no tooth picks in his pizza, the next had one, the next had two, etc. Since we cooked them in two batches, one boy had six toothpicks in his pizza, but he didn't mind. We let both batches finish cooking before serving the pizza along with bowls of carrot sticks and Ranch dressing.

After finishing their pizzas and carrots, they were given their Nerf supplies, which included goggles, vest, gun, and five bullets. We went outside where I told them to warm up and get used to shooting them for a few minutes. I also said to do their best to avoid shooting them over the fences or up on the roof as I'd only give them each five additional bullets.
Next, we divided into two groups: orange and green, and played a few of the shooting games that came with the set. In one, they shot at a particular partner and earned points for how many bullets they got on the vest. Then we played a version of "Capture the Flag" where they were allowed to shoot their opponents as they protected their own team flag. and tried to steal their opponents flag to return it to their base. Lastly, each boy was timed in an obstacle course I created with our swing set, tent, and tunnel that ended with them shooting at a vest I hung on the fence. I didn't award prizes for winning players or teams as pride seemed to be prize enough. I apologize for the lack of pictures, but my husband and our oldest son was at his end-of-season tackle football banquet, so I got to juggle being mommy to my toddler, hostess for the party, and referree. The role of official photographer was poorly played.  

Once they were sufficiently worn out, we came inside for birthday cake. Scratch that. My son asked for build-your-own sundaes. I loved the ease of that idea as I had feared he would expect me to make a three-dimensional Nerf gun cake. We bought tubs of both chocolate and vanilla ice cream, M&Ms, chocolate chips, chocolate fudge, caramel sauce, cherries, sprinkles, and whipped cream. We had a boy with nut allergies, so we avoided those. They took turns creating their own sweet concoctions and scarfed them down happily.

They then demanded to let the birthday boy open his presents, and by the time he was finished, it was nine o'clock, so a few of the boys had to leave. Next, we filed the remaining boys upstairs to set up their sleeping bags, brush teeth, and change into pajamas before putting in a DVD. 

By the time the movie was finished, many of the boys were sacked out! It only took about a half dozen reminders to settle down and be quiet before they were all snoozing around midnight.

In the morning, I served a simple breakfast of powdered sugar donuts, fruit, milk, and juice as we waited for the parents to gather up their sleepy boys before we got ready for church. I'm sure I took a nap after church, but overall, it was a relatively easy and inexpensive party considering the number of boys, and I know my son created great memories, so it was all well worth it. After all, a boy only turns 8 once.

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