April 29, 2013

Homemade Finger Paint

Who doesn't love getting their hands dirty?  I suppose some kids with sensory processing issues and another small percentage of "type A" kids don't, but for the most part the little ones love any chance to squish something with their hands.  

My kiddos love using finger paint.  I mean *LOVE*.  They start the activity putting the paint on the paper with their fingers or paint brushes, then it somehow the activity turns into "hand-washing with finger paint".  I'm okay with that.  A little mess doesn't bother this mom.

Homemade Finger Paint

food coloring

There's really no recipe here.  Just mix together the ingredients until it's to a consistency of your liking.  I find that the lids of jars holds the paint really nicely.

I've also found that a heavy-duty canvas paper holds the thick paint a little better than regular paper, but we use both.  A pad of canvas paper can be bought at Michael's pretty inexpensively, especially if you use one of their weekly 40% off coupons.

Now go whip up some paint and get creative!

Photo: A Musing Mamma

April 28, 2013

Free Shipping on Diapers and Wipes!

Did you know that Sam's Club and Costco offer free shipping on their baby diapers and wipes? That's pretty great, if you ask me.  

There are so many times where I'll almost be out of diapers or wipes, and I can't tell you how convenient it is to be able to order them online in less than 10 minutes.  Though I can't vouch for Costco, Sam's Club usually arrives 2-3 days after I place the order.  Another plus!

If you're a Sam's Club or Costco member, I highly advise you to make your life a little easier and take advantage of this convenience.

Photo: www.samsclub.com

April 18, 2013

Gorgeous Children's Table & Chairs Set

How gorgeous is this children's table and chairs set?!

This exquisite piece of furniture is available for my esty shop, handcrafted by my brother-in-law.

This solid wood children's table and chairs set is created from Alder wood. No MDF or plywood used. This is heirloom quality furniture, something that can be passed from generation to generation and withstand the test of time and roughness of children's play.

Available in any color of your choosing.

This stuff is built to last.  None of this particle board stuff they sell in some shops.  Good, solid, craftsmanship.

Photos: A Musing Mamma

April 17, 2013

What Has My Attention On Etsy Right Now...

Etsy is a fantastic place to find one-of-a-kind, handmade gifts for someone you know (or for yourself!). It's a great way to support local artists (there's a feature to only search artists local to you).  Head on over and find something great today.  While you're there, be sure to check out my shop MimiAndWah. I have a couple amazing things I'm lining up that I can't wait to sell!  Check back soon to see them.

Check out these super cute little girl hair clips and headbands from CharlottesCorner2013.  Very adorable and very affordable.

Photo: CharlottesCorner2013 via www.etsy.com

How cute is this cowboy/girl hat and boot set from sheepishhooker?

Photo: sheepishhooker via www.etsy.com

Not from Etsy, but here's a less expensive cowgirl boot for a sweet little babe from iKnitQuiltSew.

Photo: iKnitQuiltSew via www.handmadeartists.com 

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love The Wizard of Oz.  Might have to buy this lot of 12 Oz fabric panels from QuiltPanelsAndCrafts and whip up a quilt.

Photo: QuiltPanelsAndCrafts via www.etsy.com

Speaking of The Wizard of Oz... how great is this bookmark from kiranichols?

Photo: kiranichols via www.etsy.com

I have to bookmark these slippers from FrancescasToyChest when some of my nieces' and nephews' birthdays roll around.  Adorbs!

Photo: FrancescasToyChest via www.etsy.com

Beautiful dress and pretty affordable from wonderxue (whose other dresses are amazing too).  Now only if I had somewhere to wear it.

Photo: wonderxue via www.etsy.com

April 12, 2013

Neely's BBQ Sauce + Slow Cooker Anything = Major Deliciousness!

The Neely's BBQ Sauce from The Food Network is my go-to barbecue sauce.  It is tangy, sweet, and has a bit of a kick.  It's quite simple, and the flavors all blend together really nicely.

Now, what I absolutely love about this sauce is that you can put any meat in the slow cooker, dump the sauce ingredients on top, in a couple of hours you have a delicious barbecue meal.  I've tried it with chicken, pork, and beef, and all turn out superb.  I omit the white sugar (and sometimes even cut down the brown) and it still works.  I will also omit the 1 cup of water if using in the slow cooker because the juices from the meat water it down enough for my taste.  To make sure we get our veggies, I will usually toss in a diced onion, 3 carrots (cut in to chunks), and sometimes a couple of halved potatoes.  So simple.  So healthy.  So delicious.

2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
5 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 tablespoon ground mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Mix all ingredients in your slow cooker.  Put meat in slow cooker.  Cook for 5-7 hours.

Photo: A Musing Mamma

April 9, 2013

Homemade Paddles and Balloon Game

I'm very cheap when it comes to my children's fun.  If I don't buy their entertainment at a garage sale / thrift store / children's consignment event, then I make it.  Children are usually entertained by the simplest of things, so I generally believe that most entertainment can be found in objects around the house.  Mine currently love watching the washing machine run through a cycle, for instance.  When we're not watching our clothes being laundered, we are playing this game.  It's simple, really, and the kids get a kick out of it.  You make two paddles of sorts, then you hit the balloon(s) with them.  So we have balloons, and we have hitting stuff.  What's not to like?

duct tape
paper plates or cardboard
popsicle sticks

First, blow up your balloon(s)*.  Now, I would have used paper plates for our hitting device, except that we didn't have any.  Instead, I cut large squares from a moving box we had lying around.  Next, use the duct tape to affix your popsicle sticks to the paper plate / cardboard.  I couldn't find our duct tape so I used scotch tape instead, which I really don't recommend.  It works in a pinch but doesn't stay taped like duct tape does. And that's it.  Hit those balloons, and be entertained by the fact that you just created some cheap entertainment.

*Obviously you must be careful with latex balloons around small children, as they can pose a choking hazard if popped.  Therefore, you must keep a close eye on youngsters playing this game.

Photo: A Musing Mamma

Healthy Honey Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies

I'm always on the lookout for healthy recipes, especially for dessert.  I love a sugar-laden, buttery, chocolate chip cookie every now again, but for the most part I really do prefer the healthier option.  I don't feel so sluggish after eating them, for one.  I also feel better giving them to my kids.

They were asking for a cookie and we had just run out of our last batch (which we typically keep in the freezer to last us longer).  The kids really enjoy cooking with me so I figured why not search for a new healthy cookie recipe to try out?  I found Healthy Honey Oatmeal Cookies from www.Food.com and made a few adjustments.  To be a bit healthier, we used Greek yogurt instead of butter, and we cut the sugar from 1/2 cup to a scant 1/4 cup.  They are still plenty sweet even with the reduction. You could probably use even less and they would still be tasty, especially if using chocolate chips or the other optional ingredients that provide sweetness.  The chocolate sweetens them a lot, so I used a bit less than I normally do.  There's a very subtle sweetness to the batter, which balances out the chocolate nicely.  They are pleasantly chewy, which I wasn't expecting.  They hold their shape rather nicely.  Since butter is absent, they didn't spread, so they were perfect bite-size snacking cookies.  We likely won't even have a chance to freeze these -- I'm certain they will be gone in the next couple of days!

Healthy Honey Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 20-25

3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
scant 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups rolled oats

Optional Ingredients: chocolate chips, raisins, cinnamon, chopped nuts, chopped dates, chopped figs, currants, dried cranberries, dried cherries, white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly oil cookie sheet or use parchment paper.  Mix together yogurt, brown sugar, honey, egg and water.  Add dry ingredients and mix until combined.  Add the optional ingredients, if using. Use a cookie scoop or drop by heaping spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet.  (Since these don't spread at all, you can place them rather closely on the cookie sheet.  I managed to put all of mine on one sheet.) Bake 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Photos: A Musing Mamma

April 8, 2013

Breakfast Ideas -- Smart Starts

This is an article I recently wrote for www.twiniversity.com.  They are a terrific resource for parents of twins (or even parents of non-twins) and feature useful articles and advice, classes, forums, and more!

Breakfast Ideas -- Smart Starts

Now that you’re a parent you understand the phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. You strive to make sure your little ones eat a nutritious and healthy breakfast, but sometimes our little ones have other plans. Sometimes we get in a breakfast rut and need some inspiration to think outside the box and get excited about breakfast again. Sometimes we are short on time and need something that’s quick to prepare. Below you will find tips and ideas for getting your brood to eat a wholesome breakfast each day.

1. Smoothies. We are huge fans of smoothies in our house. I make them almost everyday, and not just for breakfast. They are a hit with little ones because they are naturally sweet (although you can sweeten them to taste with honey, dates, or prunes), and parents love them because they are nutrient dense, meaning you can really pack a substantial amount of vitamins and minerals and all things healthy into one little cup. The probiotics in the yogurt are great for kids’ tummies and a 1-cup serving of the 2% Fage Greek yogurt has 46% daily value of protein. Our favorite is cocoa-peanut butter-banana, but the great thing about smoothies is that anything goes. Milk (cow, almond, soy, coconut, etc.), yogurt, and any fruit you can think of (frozen or not) goes into a blender, and in seconds you have a healthy breakfast that kids love. **Tip: Add a handful of spinach, avocado, or dry, uncooked oatmeal for more good-for-you stuff!

2. Change your idea of what breakfast is. Who hasn’t eaten leftover pizza for breakfast? Or breakfast for dinner? Well how about dinner for breakfast? Nobody says breakfast has to be strictly “breakfast foods”. Did your kids devour that meatloaf you served them for dinner last night? Go ahead and serve it for breakfast. As long as it’s healthy and your kids will eat it, I say why not? Many times my kids have loved the previous night’s dinner so much that I serve it for breakfast (ok, or I was too lazy to make something new). Do your kiddos love tuna sandwiches? While you may not sound thrilled at the prospect of eating fish first thing in the morning, this may be just the thing to get your little ones to be excited about their breakfast.

Food art -- Play with your food!
3. Be artistic. Shape your kids’ banana slices into a snake using peanut butter to hold it together and raisins for eyes. Make rainbows out of their fruit or silly faces with their pancakes. Serve them "ice cream" for breakfast (using a waffle and peanut butter instead of grilled cheese). Ask them to get in on the fun and create something themselves. If you’re not the creative type, do a Google image search for food art to gain inspiration, or check out this great blog with lots of ideas, Kitchen Fun With My Three Sons.

4. Make and freeze. If being short on time is your breakfast dilemma, try baking or cooking a large batch and freezing the leftovers in individual sized portions. Then all you will have to do in the morning is pop your breakfast in the microwave and be on your way. Wondering what to freeze? Some of our favorites include cranberry orange oat muffins, breakfast cookies, whole wheat pancakes, whole-wheat-banana-oatmeal-Greek-yogurt waffles, sausage-egg casserole, breakfast burritos, sliced honey zucchini bread or whole wheat banana bread. There is an abundance of healthy recipes on Pinterest and the Web, so find one that your kids enjoy and get cookin’!

5. Savory oatmeal. This healthy little grain is so versatile and it has so much potential just waiting to be unleashed. We all are familiar with “sweet” oatmeals... cinnamon-raisin, apple-cinnamon, cocoa-peanut-butter-banana (YES!), but what about savory oatmeals? Just like it sounds, these oatmeals incorporate anything savory -- eggs, cheese, bacon, sausage, spices, cooked vegetables, salt & pepper. Once again, anything goes. Get creative and experiment to see what your kids like. Fortunately, kids really have no pre-conceptions about what oatmeal should be, unlike adults, and will take to savory oatmeal like any other yummy breakfast food.

6. Experiment with different grains. Oatmeal isn’t the only grain suitable for a breakfast porridge-of-sorts. Quinoa, bulgur wheat, and amaranth are all seriously nutritious grains that deserve some of our your family’s attention as well. Cooking directions differ for each, but they can all be treated like oatmeal -- a bland grain waiting to soak up whatever yumminess you decide to put in! One of our favorites: amaranth pudding. Delish!

Break away from your usual breakfast routine and try some of these tips. Get creative and think outside the box. I challenge you to try each of these tips, and I almost guarantee that you will keep them on your morning rotation.

Photo: A Musing Mamma

April 5, 2013

Healthy Chocolate Pudding Using Avocado

This chocolate pudding is ah-may-zing!

My kids wanted a smoothie for breakfast this morning.  I typically put in frozen bananas but didn't have any, so I used room temp bananas.  I added the rest of my ingredients and it turned out like pudding!

Rich, silky, smooth, chocolate-y, healthy, delicious pudding.  My life is forever changed.  I might have to make this every day.  It's that good -- and good for you!  The banana and honey add sweetness, and the avocado lends a silky, smooth texture (I swear you won't be able to taste it).  The only change you might want to make is omitting the oatmeal.  I am the kind of person who actually like the seeds in raspberry jam, so I personally don't mind flecks of oatmeal texturing my pudding, but some people may want a smoother texture and may choose to leave it out.

Healthy Chocolate Pudding

1 C milk (cow, almond, soy, etc.)
1 banana
1/2 avocado
2-3 Tbs peanut butter
1-2 Tbs honey
1/4 C dry, uncooked oatmeal

Blend all ingredients using a regular blender or immersion blender (my favorite shown below).  I have also eaten this with a dollop of Greek yogurt on top, acting as the "whipped cream".  Some may wish to sweeten the yogurt with a bit of powdered sugar, but I enjoyed it without.

Photos: A Musing Mamma

April 4, 2013

My Favorite Cookbook

My favorite cookbook so far has to be At Blanchard's Table: A Trip to the Beach Cookbook.  Let me tell you the story of how this came to be.

In 2006 my parents moved to the Caribbean island of Anguilla, the most beautiful place I've seen so far.  My mom was a bit hesitant about leaving her family and friends and moving thousands of miles away, so I wanted to get her a little going-away present to cheer her up.  I searched online for something Anguilla-related and came across this cookbook.  I knew she could appreciate a cookbook that came from the tiny island where she was about to live. I sent it with her not expecting to hear much of it again, except that every time I would talk to her on the phone she would say "Michelle, I made another recipe from Blanchard's cookbook.  It's awesome! I can't wait to make it for you when you come visit!" I ended up trying a bunch of the recipes each time I was there, and it quickly became my mom's -- and my -- favorite cookbook.

Why? The recipes are so simple, yet so delicious.  The photographs feature bright and colorful food that leave your mouth watering, as well as the people and landscapes from the island that transport you to this amazing place.   The recipes are intertwined with stories about Anguilla and the folks that run the restaurant (from which the recipes are based), and that makes it feel very personal.  Moreover, the recipes are just plain delicious.  I haven't made a bad recipe from it yet.

A sampling of what's inside:

Blanchard's Corn Chowder
Quick Seafood Stew with Tomatoes and Herbs

Chocolate "Cracked Coconut" with Homemade Coconut Ice Cream

More recipes include...
Baguette Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Mascarpone, and Basil
Spicy Coconut and Sweet Potato Soup
Chicken and Green Bean Salad with Kalamata Olive Dressing
Potato Salad with Lime and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Orzo Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, Feta, and Chili-Lime Vinaigrette
Sweet-and-Sour Swordfish with Onions, Raisins, and Tomatoes
Calypso Chicken with Lime
Pan-Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Olives, and Rosemary
Penne with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Capers, and Olives
Island Rice with Cumin and Coconut
Light-as-a-Cloud Lemon Mousse
Coconut Cheesecake

Bob & Melinda Blanchard decided to open Blanchard's Restaurant in Anguilla after wanting to try something new.  They sold almost everything in their hometown of Vermont and uprooted to Anguilla to live out their dream.  Read more about their inspiring story here, or read about it more in-depth in their inspirational book Live What You Love: Notes from a Passionate Life.

Bob & Melinda Blanchard
Source: www.blanchardsrestaurant.com
Anguilla Photos: A Musing Mamma
Food Photos: Ben Fink via www.blanchardsrestaurant.com

April 3, 2013

Little Birdie Baby Shower

I threw a baby shower for my sister-in-law a couple of years ago and I thought I'd share with you all of the decorative touches.  Her nursery theme is birds, so I went with that for the shower theme.  This was before Pinterest and I always think of how much easier planning would have been if Pinterest was around then!

The sign that hung on the front door was made from a scrap piece of plywood my husband had lying in the garage.  I used Mod Podge to adhere the decorative paper and the birds and flowers, then had hubby drill holes up top where I then secured the ribbon.

This is the food table (minus the food).  The "tablecloth" is actually a sheet that I picked up at a garage sale for probably $0.50 (shhhh, don't tell anyone).  I think it's much prettier (and cheaper and more multi-functional) than a paper or plastic tablecloth.  The pink lantern was a $1 garage sale find as well, and it now serves as a nightlight in the kids' room.  Topiary = garage sale.  Ok, I was on a very tight budget when this was planned.  BUT, just goes to show you that parties can be planned on the cheap, and the cheap can be found at garage sales :)

 Decorative handmade sign that reads "girls are tweet".

Clothesline birds inspired by Pink Peppermint Blogger.  *Love* this idea.  The clothes were ones that my little girl had grown out of.

The books were garage sale finds as well (I'm a big garage sale junkie), on morning of the party actually.  The lady used to work for a publisher and they would send her home with books with her for her kids, so she had all of these books in perfect condition, and they were ridiculously inexpensive -- something like 10 for $1.  I do think that children's books work very nicely as decorations for a kids birthday party or baby shower.  Wondering where to find inexpensive, used children's books? See my post "The Best Places To Buy Used Children's Books".

The tissue paper pompons were inspired by Martha Stewart.   I absolutely love them and hung them in the babies' room after the shower.

Labels for the food.

These great birdhouses were only $1 at Michael's craft store. They were unfinished wood that I then painted.  The ceramic birds were a Michael's find too, and were ridiculously cheap with their weekly 40% off coupon.  The knitted birds were made for my kiddos by my talented sister-in-law.

I got the idea for these adorable birdcage lanterns over at The Bride's Cafe. You can find directions and templates there.

I replaced photos on my fireplace mantel with cute bird art.  Get the downloadable PDFs herehere, and here.

I'm not sure where I got the idea for this "wishing tree" but I really liked it.  Guests could write advice or wishes for the baby on the birds (template here), then place them in the nests (another Michael's find) that I hot-glued to a real tree branch and stuck in a vase with some rocks that I... um, borrowed... from a house down the street.

Custom bird art for the baby.  Love how this turned out.  It actually says "Welcome Baby" and the baby's last name, but I've blurred the last name to protect the innocent :)

The straws were inspired by Martha Stewart.

The food table....yummmm.....
Those yellow-ish crispy things in the corner of the first photo? Those were supposed to be parmesan "nests" for guests to put their salad in. It didn't work out too well for me and ended up being parmesan crisps instead, but it's a totally cute idea that I'm sure would have worked if I didn't have two 7-month olds demanding my attention instead.

Love this custom bird art. Currently hangs in kiddos' room. I admire it every time I see it and it's probably my favorite piece from the shower.  Thinking of selling some in my etsy store... when I get an etsy store.

Best thing ever to put on a baby shower cake, thought up by my co-planner. 
Amazing cake. So yummy. If you're in the Denver area and need a cake, get it from Daniel's of Paris.

I'm not much into party favors but did one anyway.  Made puppy chow and put it in bags, because... who doesn't love puppy chow?!  Sign idea from Pink Peppermint Blogger.

Photos: A Musing Mamma