Saturday, December 21, 2013

Just around the corner

I can't believe that Christmas is just around the corner!  I'm not ready in the least bit!  We've been having fun with our advent activities, even though they remind me that I don't have many days left to finish up my Christmas crafts!

Day 14: Nutcracker Tea with grams and momma!

Day 15: paint our nails like the starry sky!

Day 16: make a magic Christmas tree 

Day 17: make cookies. 

Day 18: make Ziplock Baggie ice cream!

Day 19: make a gingerbread house (or village)

Day 20: decorate the Christmas tree!  I misplaced the ornaments which could have been disastrous but Aria and I decided we'd decorate with bits and bibs from around the house!

I think my favorite memory from this week though is watching Aria pick out gifts for her cousins and friends using her allowance money.  It was very sweet.

Only 5 more days!  If you celebrate, are you ready?


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Bevy of Bath Stuffs

I have recipes for you today! But don't eat them!
Nope, today I'm making bath products instead of baked goods, some while there are divine smells in store they are strictly for smells and bathing, not ingesting. ;)

Now, I don't personally use many bath products because I have an oversensitive nose. I prefer everything unscented, and if I can't have unscented I like things with names like "rain" or "fresh" or "clean." However, I know and love many people who love bath products, so I made some batches of goodies for the holidays this year. If you're one of those lovely people feel free to stop reading and be surprised, everyone else - read on! Below are recipes or links to make the same bath & body indulgences I did. Enjoy!

Everything I used to make all 6 recipes.

Shower Jellies
These are super easy and very pretty. They're a great way to try your hand at spa products, and make nice quick gifts.

Ingredients & Tools
2 cups boiling hot water
4 packets gelatin
12 oz bath gel
mixing bowl & spoon
silicone molds or glass jars

In a large bowl, dissolve gelatin in hot water, then slowly stir in bath gel until fully combined.

Pour into silicone molds or glass jars. If there are bubbles you can either leave them, or spritz with rubbing alcohol to make them pop.

Refrigerate until firm (give it at least a few hours), then peel out and package! That's it!

Mocha Body Butter & Buffing Bars
That's a lot of B words, I know. These bars are a combination of exfoliator and skin conditioner, to be used in the shower.

Ingredients & Tools
4 oz cocoa butter
4 oz coconut oil
1/8 cup coffee grounds
1/8 cup ground oats
1/8 cup ground rice
double boiler
silicone molds

Melt cocoa butter and coconut oil in double boiler on med-low heat. Once melted, stir in other ingredients. Remove from heat and let cool.
Pour into silicone molds, then refrigerate until firm (at least an hour). Pop out and package!
Note: these will do best if kept in the fridge until you start to use them. I mean, leave it in the shower between uses, but leave unopened ones in the fridge.

Easy Bath Bombs
These are the fizzy bombs you drop in a full tub that get all effervescent and yummy smelling. They're a little more finicky to make, but do yield a nice finished product.

Ingredients & Tools
1 cup citric acid (either order online or try stores that cater to brewers)
2 cups baking soda
1 cup corn starch
essential oil
cosmetic coloring (you can use food coloring, but there's a risk of it getting on your tub - with the cosmetic grade stuff that won't happen)
mixing bowl & whisk
molds - I used mini muffin tins

Mix citric acid,  baking soda, and cornstarch with a wire whisk, breaking up any lumps, until well combined.
Drip in your essential oils, about 10 drops at a time. Stir well. Continue until the scent is as strong as you'd like it. Remember, it will dilute in the bath, so a strong scent is a good thing.
Add cosmetic coloring (I used about 10 drops) and stir in.
Once it is a good color and scent, you just need to get it a little damp to hold shape. You want it just damp enough to hold together when squeezed, but don't want to add too much water, as it will activate the bomb and you'll spend all you fizz. Try whisking with one hand and adding just a few drops of water at a time. As soon as it starts to look clumpy starts testing it by squeezing.
Press into your molds and let dry. A nice long drying time, like overnight, is best. Just set them somewhere where they won't get damp. Pop out and package!

Sugar Scrub
This one is great for experimenting and is the one I actually use most myself. The basic recipe is very simple, but allows for a lot of customization and experimentation.

Ingredients & Tools
2 cups sugar (white sugar, brown sugar, organic sugar, etc)
1 cup skin-friendly oil (almond, coconut, olive, sesame, etc)
1 tsp Vitamin E oil (either from a bottle, or you can break a few capsules)
essential oils (as desired)
mixing bowl and spoon
Mason jars or something else for storing your finished product

That's a pretty loose recipe, as you can see. Here's what I made:
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup almond oil
1 tsp Vitamin E oil
15 drops sweet orange essential oil

Mix sugar and oils. Add scent. Stir well and jar.
Experiment! This is great from trying out new scents and oil combos since it's so quick and has ingredients that are pretty easy to find.

I made 2 other bath goodies as well, but I'm just going to refer you to the recipes I followed for those, because I have no improvements. They're fabulous as they are!

Lemon Peppermint Foot Soak by Planet Forward
Sore Muscle Soak by Suburbia Unwrapped

These bath goodies make wonderful gifts or personal indulgences. Try them out and let us know your favorites!


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Buttons and Generosity

Continuing with my favorite family tradition, I thought I'd share what we'd been up to this last week. You will notice that some days are super simple and others are a little more involved.  I try to ensure that there is a good mix of activities, some that require a lot of time and resources and others that require very little.  By waiting the week before to fill out one week's worth of activities, I can ensure that our activities fit into our life.  So on very busy days, our activity may be low on resource and time effort but on our slower days, our activities are likely to be higher on resource and time effort.  Its one way I have ensured that the activity advent calendar is a successful family tradition.

Day 6: make a Christmas doodle with momma!  Aria and I take turns, I draw a little picture and she colors what I drew and then she draws a picture that I color.  We continue until we are satisfied.
Day 7: make button ornaments with grandma.  I was at a craft fair this night so I let grandma take the reins for this one.  Arias is at the bottom of the photo; grandmas is at the top.
Day 9: paint a nutcracker.  Aria loved this one and has been cracking sprinkles in his mouth.
Day 10: check out Christmas books from the library. Well that was the intention but Aria has her parents taste in books and after picking two Christmas books she selected 3 fantasy novels.
Day 11: paint pottery for someone special.  She completed three pieces.  This one was her second and it's actually a gift for me, but she told me I'm supposed to forget so she can gift it to me for Christmas.  Heh!

But wait, you may be asking...what happened to Day 8?  Aha...I have saved my favorite activity of this week for the last.

On day 8 we visited Alpenrose Dairy to see Santa.  We never intended to tell Aria that Santa was real, in fact I told her that Santa was just a story when she was a toddler.  But last year she met this Santa at the dairy and decided that THIS was the real Santa. It seemed really important to her so we've let it be.  Sometimes you just need a little magic in your life.

Anyhow I digress.  Day 8 we headed out to Alpenrose Dairy to visit Santa.  We had a few hiccups in the morning as my sensory kid struggles with getting dressed, but she finally settled on this fancy little number.  I think she was channeling the 80's.

The night before while she was making button ornaments with grandma she had pulled out a handful of the best and shiniest buttons from my stash.  She put these in a tin that she hid in her room.  After getting dressed, Aria ran to collect the tin full of buttons and informed us that she was giving these to Santa as a gift. Which is exactly what she did and the photographer captured the moment with his camera.  Santa told Aria that he rarely gets gifts from the children and Aria beamed with pride when he told her what a lovely gift she had brought him.

I was incredibly touched that my sweet child would think to bring Santa a gift all on her own.  It was such a sweet and spontaneous act of kindness and generosity.  

What has your family been up to these December days?  Any favorite memories in the making?


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

IKEA Hack King Size Bed

I have a tutorial for you today! Now, I know my tutorials are usually recipes, or small craft items, but today we're making a bed. A big one! Matt and I have been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for quite a while now. We keep saying we're going to get a frame, or build one. We've looked at them at several furniture stores, from used, to IKEA, to fancier stores. Usually we could only find ones that were either too expensive, not our taste, or too flimsy. We looked at some tutorials and designs, drew some plans, but never settled on anything or got started.

Finally, last week we decided we'd do something like this IKEA Hack tutorial. But bigger, and stronger. Storage to boot! So when I ended up with a day free on Monday, I decided to just go for it. I love how it came out, so I thought I'd share.

Phillips head screwdriver
Soft blow hammer (or something similar, like a hardback book) - to help in assembling the IKEA stuff
Saw (only if you're doing your own cutting)
Staple gun (helpful, but optional)

2   5x1 Expedit shelves
2   1x1 Expedit shelves (optional)
2   78" x 41" x 3/8" plywood boards
8   4" x 4" posts, 17 3/8" long
1   king size flat sheet
1   box 3" screws (deck screws are nice, but whatever you have)
King Size mattress


  1. Build your IKEA shelves following the included instructions. You'll definitely want the 2 tall ones, and I think the 2 boxes make it much more stable and attractive, but you could substitute in a few extra posts instead if you want. 
  2. Cut your plywood boards and posts to size. I recommend having this done for you at the store. I bought my wood at Home Depot and they did all my cuts for me for free. They cut the two  4' x 8' plywood boards down, and one 12' 4x4 into 17 3/8" chunks. 
  3. Lay out your large shelves. Arrange the middle posts as pictured below. Lay one of the plywood sheets across the shelves. Shift the posts to that they are near the middle edge of the plywood, and near the shelves. 
  4. Draw the shape of the post on the upper surface and plan out your screw placement. I used 2 per post, but more would be even stronger. Drill your pilot holes. Drive in screws.
  5. Now lay out the other 6 posts. 2 go near the middle, mirroring the fist 2, but for the other board. The other 4 go along the back. Lay the second piece of plywood across this structure. 
  6. Trace, drill, and screw in these 6 posts, as in step 4. 
  7. Drape the flat sheet across the whole bed. Staple along the back. Draw the sheet tight, tuck under the board, and staple securely. I actually only stapled to the back board, not the front, so that the pieces could still come apart. Once I moved it into place I tucked the sheet around the front board. 
  8. Place the small shelves under the foot edge on the frame. 
  9. Now add a mattress and linens! Ta-da!
We already had a number of the materials for this, but if I'd had to buy it all it would have been about $220 plus the cost of a mattress. Pretty good! It has tons of storage around the edges,  plus, there's a nice storage channel down the middle for boxes or big items. 

There are in-process photos below. This was a great project and I hope it helps some of you out!


1 - Build IKEA shelves

3 - Lay out shelves

3 - Arrange posts

3 - Lay out plywood

4 - Draw post outline and drill pilot holes

4 - Drive in screws

5 - Lay out other posts

5 - Lay out second plywood sheet

7 - Drape sheet over assembled boards

7 - Staple sheet in place

8 - Tuck small shelves in place

9 - Add mattress

9 - Add linens (and stuffed animals)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Winter Traditions

Alright, I was having fun with my collection of tutorials but Aria got sick, then I got sick, and now Aria is sick again.  Besides we've started the holiday festivities and I wanted to share my favorite one with you.  The advent calendar.  When I was a little kid, an advent calendar  was one of those colorfully decorated cardboard box with 24 little pieces of chocolate hidden behind punch out doors.  I loved those things.  We didn't always get one but when we did, there was something delightful about counting down the days until Christmas with little pieces of chocolate.

When Aria was 3, I stumbled upon the idea of an activity advent calendar.  I fell in love with the idea immediately and I quickly whipped up my very first activity advent calendar the night before December 1, 2011.  I discovered how hard it can be to come up with 24 activities that are the right fit for your family.  But I enjoyed the challenge and I still do.
Here are a few highlights from 2011, the first year we did an activity advent calendar.  Left: Aria and I collected twigs to make this little indoor forest; it was Aria's idea to add little scraps of fabric as leaves.  Top Right: Snow globes, Aria-style with awesome monsters.  Bottom Right: Baking with Daddy.
In 2012, we recycled many of the fun things we did in 2011, but we also introduced a few new ones.  Left:  we put together care packages for people living on the streets and handed them out.  Aria took her job very seriously. Top Right: Aria was not a believer in Santa.  We never made a big deal about him and when she asked I told her the truth...but then she met this one from Alpenrose Dairy and she is convinced he's the real deal.  We'll go back and visit him this year as well.  Bottom Right: A magic Christmas Tree...this one is just plain fun, we did this both in 2011 and 2012, I imagine we'll do it again for 2013.

Every year I say I'm going to make a beautiful advent calendar that I can reuse and every year, I never get around to it.  But now I don't know if I want a fancy advent calendar.  There's something really special about the simpleness of the paper and twine ones I put together the night before December 1st.  Its become a special tradition in its own right.

scrappy paper and twine advent calendar.
Day 1: make a Christmas wish list.
Translation: 1. pictures of my family, 2. bow and arrows, 3. wood easel, 4. plastic dragon, 5. necklace.
Day 2: Make soaps.
Day 3: make a hand-print wreath.
Day 4: Take Christmas photo!  This is NOT the one we're printing and sending to loved ones.
Day 5: Make Snowflakes.
What are your favorite winter holiday traditions?  Please share them with us in the comments or on FB!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Percy Pattern!

Hey, folks! If you have a train loving kiddo like I do, today's pattern is for you. Max is a Thomas the Train fanatic, but Thomas has never really been his favorite. For a long time it was Gordan, then James, but never really Thomas. And Thomas is kind of The Train when it comes to merchandizing. It's hard to find non-Thomas train stuffies, for instance. There are some, but not many. When Max was really little I crocheted him a giant stuffed Gordan (craftster post here) which he still sleeps with in his bed. A bit down the line I made a Percy for another little train fan. This year I made another one for a special little guy's Christmas present, and thought I'd share the pattern with you! If Percy isn't your little one's favorite you can simple change colors and details to match the train in question.

I won't lie to you: this is not a quick project. There are probably faster and easier train patterns out there, but I was going for detail here. The end product s pretty great, though!

1 skein Red Heart Soft in Guacamole (or similar) - this is the best Percy color I found.
            - The turquoise  is a great Thomas color, too.
1 skein black worsted weight
1 skein gray worsted weight
1 skein red worsted weight
small amounts of yellow and white yarn for embroidering details
size H (5.00 mm) crochet hook
polyfil stuffing
tapestry needle
safety eyes (optional)
small amount of felt (optional)

ch - chain
sc - single crochet
ss - slip stich
st - stitch
tblo - through back loops only
sc2tog - single crochet next 2 stitches together: insert hook in next stitch, yarn over, draw up loop, insert hook in next stitch, yarn over, draw up loop, yarn over, draw through all loops on hook
magic ring - this is a starting technique for crocheting in the round, wonderfully explained here. You could also ch 2, then sc the correct number of stitches into the first ch st.

Main body - The main body is worked in the round in a spiral. Mark the end of a round with a marker or scrap of yarn, but just keep working instead of joining and chaining.
With gray yarn
Magic ring 7
1) (sc 2 in next st) x7 - 14 
2) (sc 2 in next st, sc 1) x7 - 21
3) (sc 2 in next st, sc 2) x7 - 28
4) (sc 2 in next st, sc 3) x7 - 35
5) (sc 2 in next st, sc 4) x7 - 42
Switch to black
6) sc tblo around - 42
7-11) sc around - 42
If you're using safety eyes, now is a good time to place them.
Switch to green
12) (sc 2 in next st, sc 5) x7 - 49
13) (sc 2 in next st, sc 6) x7 - 56
Switch to red
14) sc tblo around - 56
*Switch to green
15 - 20) sc around - 56
Switch to red
21) sc around - 56*
22 - 28) repeat between *, including color switches
29 - 35) repeat between *, including color switches
Switch to green
36) tblo: (sc2tog, sc 6) x7 - 49
37) (sc2tog, sc 5) x7 - 42
38) (sc2tog, sc 4) x7 - 35
Begin to stuff
39) (sc2tog, sc 3) x7 - 28
40) (sc2tog, sc 2) x7 - 21
41) (sc2tog, sc 1) x7 - 14
42) (sc2tog) x7 - 7
Fasten off, finish stuffing, close off

Cabin - The cabin is made in 4 separate pieces, each worked back and forth in rows, then stitched together.
Back - make 2 in green
Ch 19
1) Skip first ch, sc 18, ch 1, turn - 18
2 - 22) sc 18, ch 1, turn - 18
23) Skip 1, ss1, sc 14, ss 1, turn - 16
24) Skip 1, ss1, sc 12, ss 1, turn - 14
25) Skip 1, ss1, sc 10, ss 1, turn - 12
26) Skip 1, ss1, sc 8, ss1, turn - 10
27) Skip 1, ss1, sc 6, ss1 - 8
Fasten off

Sides and bottom - in green
Ch 13
1) Skip first ch, sc 12, ch 1, turn - 12
2 - 21) sc 12, ch 1, turn - 12
22) tblo: sc 12, ch 1, turn - 12
23 - 39) sc 12, ch 1, turn - 12
40) tblo: sc 12, ch 1, turn - 12
41 - 61) sc 12 - 12
Fasten off

Top - in black
Ch 13
1) Skip first ch, sc 12, ch 1, turn - 12
2 - 23) sc 12, ch 1, turn - 12
24) sc 12 - 12
Fasten off

Sew sides and bottom to the back pieces. Stuff, then sew on the top. You can take a couple of stitches front to back and side to side and tighten them to help it hold its shape. Then sew the cabin to the main body so that the body and cabin lie flat along the bottom.

Platform - The platform is what attaches under the whole body and cabin sections. You will also attach the wheels to it.
Top - in green
Ch 16
1) Skip first ch, sc 15, ch 1, turn - 15 
2 - 51) sc 15, ch 1, turn - 15
52) sc 15 - 15
Fasten off
Attach red
sc around, 3 sc in each corner, ss to first sc
Fasten off
Bottom - in black
Ch 12
1) Skip first ch, sc 11, ch 1, turn - 11
2 - 41) sc 11, ch 1, turn - 11
42) sc 11 - 11
Fasten off

Sides - in black
Ch 11
1) Skip first ch, sc 10, ch 1, turn - 10
2 - 41) sc 10, ch 1, turn - 10
42) tblo: sc 10, ch 1, turn - 10
43 - 53) sc 10, ch 1, turn - 10
54) tblo: sc 10, ch 1, turn - 10
55 - 95) sc 10, ch 1, turn - 10 
96) tblo: sc 10, ch 1, turn - 10
97 - 107) sc 10, ch 1, turn - 10
108) tblo: sc 10, ch 1, turn - 10
109) sc 10, ch 1, turn - 10
110) sc 10 - 10
Fasten off

Stitch the sides piece into a loop, so the two long sides match. Stitch the bottom on all the way around.
Wheels - make 4 in green
Magic ring 7
1) (sc 2 in next st) x7 - 14 
2) (sc 2 in next st, sc 1) x7 - 21
3) (sc 2 in next st, sc 2) x7 - 28
4) (sc 2 in next st, sc 3) x7 - 35
Fasten off

Stitch wheels onto platform sides. Stitch platform top on (it will overhang the edges). Stuff before fastening off. Stitch body and cabin onto platform all the way around.

Dome - in green
Magic ring 6
1) (Sc 2 in next st) x6 - 12
2 - 3) Sc around - 12
Fasten off

Funnel - in black
Magic ring 6
1) (sc 2 in next, sc 2 in next, sc ) x2 - 10
2) tblo: sc around - 10
3 - 6) sc around - 10
Fasten off
Stuff and stitch dome and funnel into place. Embroider details like facial features and cabin number. If using felt for eyes, stitch those on. 

Whew! A long pattern, but sure to make your train fan swoon. I hope you enjoy!