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Thursday, January 23, 2014

A toddler Valentine's card

Elsa and I made play dough this morning and as I was rolling it between my fingers inspiration struck me. It might have had something to do with the Frozen soundtrack playing in the background or the Frozen soundtrack that's been playing in my head for two weeks. Either way, an idea was born....

Why not make more play dough and share it with Elsa's classmates as part of her valentines? I bet moms would love to sample this new idea that's been floating around on Facebook and Pinterest for play dough made out of hair conditioner and corn starch!

So I grabbed a black backdrop, hung it over the front of our fridge, stuck Elsa in a red shirt, and snapped away as she played with a snowman. We tend to use photocards as our valentines to make them personal and affordable. My go-to photo processor is Walgreens, but if I need envelopes with them I get them at Sam's Club. We chose 4x6 size so I can get those easily enough at Walgreens and this whole project will only cost 20 cents per child.

I don't have many extra fonts so this is a good as it gets for us using Picsasa to make the collage, photoshop elements to make the color blocks and move some of the text, and to add a heart.  I'll punch a hole in the corner and tie a red ribbon around a little bag with three balls of play dough in it so Elsa's friends can build a snowman too.

I included the recipe for what I call 'play snow' at the bottom of the card so parents know how to make their own batch. You can add food coloring, but I'd prefer the white even if we weren't making snowmen. I love the feeling of the play dough and because it was lavender scented conditioner it smells good too! I'm so glad I didn't toss out that expensive bottle of conditioner that didn't work on Julia's hair! We have enough to make 3-4 batches of playdough that is equal to almost 8 cups!
Sam and Julia have done some fun photocards over the years... This is the first year Elsa has given out valentines to classmates - usually I just do a photoshoot for fun. Who could resist this cherub?
Our go to teacher valentine is this idea that is a big hit. The only bad part is that with two teachers and 24 mini muffins in a box, we don't get to sample any. :(

On a side note, people can get kinda up in arms about going 'all out' for holidays and bashing people who do anything other than the boxed valentines from school, which is a whole other post in and of itself! But you want to know a secret? THESE ARE EASIER! No signing, perforating, folding, sticking of stickers.    Print, punch, bag, tie and go! 
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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Homemade Halloween - The Peanuts Gang

We waited a long time for the Great Pumpkin this year as it was back in the summer months that I chose The Peanuts Gang as our Halloween costume theme. I knew that once I started working again in September I wouldn't have the time to come up with costumes so I started watching Ebay for Snoopy hats in July, and FINALLY in early September I finally scored this one for under $10. 

You can get them on Etsy too, but I prefer this tight knit instead of the crocheted look.  The big pumpkin and the one with Elsa's name grown in it were grown in our straw bale garden. The rest belong to my sister-in-law who brought pumpkins to her parent's house for our annual Halloween photos and pumpkin carving. It is much more relaxing to snap pictures days before instead of the night of. We've been doing this for a couple of years now.


 Details on how we put together our version of the Peanuts Gang can be found below each character's photo, but first, here's the whole gang!


By far the hardest piece to find was a Peppermint Patty shirt. I found Charlie Brown's online - they are easy to find with a quick Google search, but Peppermint Patty's? forget it! Had I known what I know now, I would have made Charlie Brown's too because it was super easy to make a homemade Peppermint Patty costume using fabric paint.

 Matte fabric paint (bigger than a 2oz bottle), a thick paint brush, and some painter's tape was all I needed to make the unique stripes on one of PapaBear's shirts. I made it simple by skipping the sleeves and not bothering with adding stripes on the back. I eyeballed the spacing and it really turned out nice. I was afraid the shirt would be stiff, but it wasn't at all! Dab the brush, don't use brush strokes so none of the paint seeps under the tape. I already dye my hair red so I didn't factor that into the $12 per person budget. I donned some of PapaBear's Birks, black capris, & a speech bubble with a well known line from the holiday specials, "Hi! Chuck!"
 The swirl on Charlie Brown's head was made with an eye liner pencil from the Dollar Store and his speech bubble says, "Good grief!"

To make your own speech/thought bubbles you can download the Peanuts font for FREE here. I centered the text, printed each quote on cardstock, free handed a bubble around the words then used spray adhesive to attach the cardstock to a second piece of cardstock for stability. Be sure to draw the bubble so that the point comes out on the top half. I'll admit, I had all the speech bubbles done then realized I would have to hold the paper above my head because I had put the point at the bottom. Oops!

Sam's Linus costume was as easy as it gets...a $2.49 shirt from Walmart & black shorts that we already had. Again, you could easily use black fabric paint on a red shirt if you can't find a striped shirt. I used Google images to copy the writing for the "Welcome Great Pumpkin" sign to make it look authentic. Sam has had this blue blanket since he was born so that was another element we didn't need to purchase.


I bought suckers at the Dollar Store so we could recreate the scene in the movie, It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, where Linus jumps into a pile of leaves with a sucker.



Next up is Julia's transformation into Frieda, the girl with the naturally curly hair. She's most known to my generation for her role in the Christmas special where she's suppose to be the Inn Keeper's wife (Pig Pen).

Since I had a long time to watch for the items needed to create our costumes I kept an eye out for this particular Ralph Lauren dress off of Ebay over the summer. Frieda does wear other colored dresses, but this is the one I thought more people would recognize as it is the one from the Christmas special.  It's something she can totally where the rest of the fall/winter so I didn't include it as a cost to her costume. $12 saddle shoes from Ebay and an old mirror complete the look.  Isn't she adorable!?!?!


Last but certainly not least, Elsa's Snoopy costume....


 I sewed the spot on during the drive to my inlaws that afternoon and called it good. I was really really nervous that she wouldn't wear the hat, but one mention of candy being put in the dish was all it took for her to ham it up for the camera.




The dog dish was a big hit when we went to the houses in our town. My favorite part was her sweet little 'tank you' in response to candy being put in her bowl. Linus and Frieda carried paper bags just like the characters in the movie - granted in the movie Linus doesn't go trick or treating since he was waiting for the Great Pumpkin, but we let that slide.

Have you ever dressed as a Peanuts character for Halloween or if you haven't - who would you be if you ever did?  I found the perfect dress to be Lucy at Goodwill, but with my red hair and freckles, it was a no brainer for me to be Peppermint Patty. Besides, she has a crush on Charlie Brown. :)

To see more costume ideas visit The Mom Creative. The Turners were dressed up in a a theme we did once when Julia was Elsa's age.

P.S. We'll never use these costumes again so if your family wants to get a head start on next year I am more than happy to ship anywhere in the US. Leave me a comment with which costume you are interested in and I'll get back to you with their price.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

The RAD Zoo

Back in March when I was researching things to do over spring break in Minnesota I came across the RAD Zoo website. RAD stands for Reptile & Amphibian Discover Zoo and is located in Owatonna, MN. Once I showed Sam a picture of Big Al (their 12 foot alligator!) he couldn't stop talking about how much he wanted to go. To be honest I was a little unsure whether it was worth the cost of admission for our family of five, but now that we've been there I can tell you it's well worth it!

(In full disclosure - we were given tickets to go from the nice folks at the Rad Zoo for our first visit in exchange for writing a review of the RAD Zoo, but we have every intention of going back some day and know it will be worth every penny.)

What makes this unassuming warehouse turned reptile & amphibian haven so much fun?  Well, just take a look at the photo below.... Holding a python is just one of the cool things my kids got to do. Granted to hold it, we paid $5 for the opportunity, but they printed out a photo for us to keep AND they encouraged us to take photos with our own cameras too. How nice is that??


Other features that set the RAD ZOO apart for us was the opportunities to touch many animals. After the 15 minute talk one of the keepers gave we could touch a python and a baby alligator. We also got to watch some of the animals eat. They even got to feed the turtles in the turtle pool! The snake eating was a highlight for my reptile loving kids!

If watching a rat being swallowed whole isn't your thing, there are couches & a toddler play area in the middle of the displays. This was nice for Elsa who would lose interest after a while. Julia and Sam on the other hand were mesmerized for THREE STRAIGHT HOURS!

The displays were set up with lots of interesting facts about each animal and if your child wasn't tall enough to see inside the higher glass, there were stools for them.

The website is full of details on how to plan your visit which was helpful for us as we wanted to maximize what we could do while we were there. We timed it so we were there when Big Al got fed. What can I say?! The kids (OK, us too!) like to see the animals in action!
There is a gift shop area so when you go be prepared for that. We let the kids pick out one item and to this day they still play with their souvenirs!

All that fun (and education!) wears a kid out, and that my friends, is priceless!!

In case Owatonna isn't a day trip for you, we stayed at the Holiday Inn a couple miles away. It was a terrible waterpark from a parent's standpoint (cold water, inattentive life guards, poor sight lines, and overcrowded), but our kids had fun! The animal display and aquarium at the Cabela's in Owatanna rounded out our mini Spring Break trip this year.  So if you are looking for something different to do around the Twin Cities the 45 minute drive to the Rad Zoo is totally worth it!

And if you can't make it to their facility, they do birthday parties, school programs, and we've enjoyed a number of their summer library programs this year.  We even booked them to come to our park for our end of the camping season celebration this Saturday at 1:30. Let me know if you are local and want to come! I can hook you up with the info you need.

p.s. They are having a contest on their Facebook page right now where you could win tickets to get into the zoo!





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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Looking Beyond the Baby Book: How to record memories in the 2nd year & beyond.

I will forever be grateful that I found Tiff's post over at A Day In My Life. If it weren't for her post about the photo book she made as an alternative to a traditional baby book, I can pretty much guarantee that all the photos I took of Elsa over the past year on the 1st of each month would STILL be stuck on my computer waiting for me to catch up on 6 years of blog books.  Instead I was motivated to get 223 of my favorite images into a book for me to publish using my favorite bookmaking site. When Elsa turned one I was at a loss as to how to keep recording her milestones in a way that didn't require a lot of effort. I knew I would have plenty of photos, but I didn't know how to tie all the text together or even what exactly I would be able to blend together into a cohesive book.  I searched for a 'prompt' so to speak, and what I landed on is so simple yet so full of information about Elsa each month of her second year.

All I have to do is complete sentences that begin with the word "You". I jot notes on our family calendar and in my daily journal so it's really easy to pull everything together. Despite my best intentions it wasn't possible to keep up with making new monthly pages so that task was left for the end, BUT it wasn't hard because I had all the information in only two places.


Opposite the page with text (I make those in Photoshop almost the exact same way as Tiff), I placed a full bleed photo of Elsa with her white chair.  Like the basket series I did every week for 52 weeks, I used a consistent prop to show her growth. Granted she's so wiggly the chair was off in the background sometimes!


The colors for the numbers were chosen based on whatever outfit she was wearing for her photo shoot. Knowing this ahead of time was good motivation to mix up the colors she wore. I didn't realize how much dark pink she has!


 After the initial spread for each month the layouts vary depending on how many photos I was able to get that month. All but a couple of times I did her mini sessions on the 1st of each month since her birhday is July 1st, but the information for each month covers the entire month. What that means is that below she's exactly 14 months old in the photo, but all the milestones happened over the course of the month she was 14 months old. Make sense? I wanted the 14 to go with the things she did at 14 months, not by the time she turned 14 months. Confused yet? I know I had to stop and think a few times as I sorted out the months, milestones, & photos so I was consistent! Have you noticed that's something very important to me yet? :)




I was able to sneak in a dear photograph spread which I loved! Julia was a little younger than Elsa when her photo was taken next to the same tree, but with birthdays in October and July this was the closest I could get of them in the same dress.


The very last 'you' on every month is 'you' are loved! and so that's what I titled the book.
I hodge podged a font to make the 'you' fit my needs. I'm too cheap to buy a font so I altered one to get the look I wanted. I simply enlarged it for the cover.


I'm still on the fence about whether I'll use the same format for her 3rd year. I think it would be great to go back and make a page a year for Sam and Julia with some highlights of the year, but I think it might be too late :( Besides, they have Alphabitty Moment books to remember their younger years. Eventually they'll have blog books too. What have YOU done to record milestones for your little ones?

If you want to see all of Elsa's book you can click here. Enjoy!

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Low Sugar Zucchini Muffins



The first day of school is just around the corner for us so I've been trying to brainstorm ideas for making the transition to a more structured routine & busier schedules as smooth as possible. One area that needs to be addressed is breakfasts. I find that making lunches the morning of makes them taste better so I don't have the luxury of time when it comes to making breakfasts - even if I do get up at 5 or 5:30 most school mornings! I needed something that didn't require me to stand over a stovetop so I Googled Best Zucchini Muffins ever and found this recipe. Then I went to work making some adjustments to cut sugar & increase nutritional value. While not as low sugar as this recipe, the taste is better & there is more zucchini. The reason I chose this particular recipe is that it has three cups of Zucchini for 14 muffins which is a cup more than my old recipe. Nice!

I baked up a batch for the kids the other day and the declared they were stuffed after only one. They came back for seconds later when they had cooled and gobbled those up as well.  I declared my adaptations a success & will go ahead and freeze 3 cup bags of zucchini from our garden for the rest of the season. It will be super easy to take a bag out the night before.

Do you have a favorite fast and easy breakfast recipe you'd like to share? leave a link in the comments! I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd like school mornings to send their kids off to school with something healthy in their bellies!

Zucchini Muffins

(makes 14 regular sized muffins)


2 cups organic whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1c sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3c grated un-peeled zucchini

Whisk together, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.  In a separate bowl, beat together sugar and eggs until creamy.  Add the 2/3 cup melted butter, vanilla, and mix well.  Add the shredded zucchini and mix to combine.  Last, add the dry ingredients and mix just until blended.  Batter will be very thick.  Use Coconut Oil to coat muffin tins or muffin cups. Distribute batter evenly between greased muffin cups, filling completely full. Bake at 350 degrees for 21-23 minutes for regular muffins or 30-32 minutes for jumbo muffins.  Muffins will be browned and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.   



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Friday, August 9, 2013

Alphabitty Moments Meets Instagram

As most of you know I have been designing book for other people for a while now. When time permits I also make books for my own family. Sometimes it's a photobook from a vacation (that I used as a pregnancy announcement!) Other times it's a book from our Summer Series. (I can't believe we're on our SIXTH summer here already!)

But my passion, when it comes to photos books, are Alphabitty Moment books.

Don't know what an Alphabitty Moment is?

Let me explain...I'm sure we all agree that the big events of childhood - the firsts we all photograph and document are important, but Alphabitty Moments are about the ordinary moments that fill in the gaps. Using the alphabet to tie those things together weaves a story unique to each child. They are the little moments that might go unnoticed until they are no longer part of our daily life. I wrote in the front of Elsa's book the following reminder to myself....


Don't let milestones overshadow the fleeting moments that make up childhood,
                                for it's the ordinary moments of every day life
                     that define childhood & become our most treasured memories.

A quote that's popular on Pinterest goes something like this, "Some day we will look back on all the little things and realize they were actually big things"

My personal favorite is this Winnie the Pooh Quote I added to Elsa's book:
 
I'm so passionate about this project that I've published four versions so far and have two more waiting in the wings. Elsa's baby book was based on the Alphabitty Moments theme, but was much more elaborate than Sam's and Julia's. What can I say? Technology has made things much easier than when my first two were born! THEY got 30 minute DVD slide shows of their first years so don't feel too bad for them.

This year when I made Elsa's book I used mostly pictures from my phone that I posted on Instagram (I'm 4MamaBear) at some point, but that wasn't always the case. I set up the layouts so no matter the Instagram border or size of the original photo, they will all be consistent and mesh well together.

I made a couple of other design changes so I could include MORE information without compromising the simplicity of the book's theme. Now instead of only a letter, word, and photo in each spread an explanation is included along side the photo.


I use a special section in the back of the book to include the date and location each photo was taken & use a custom designed key to fit all the information together seamlessly.  

Now here's the fun part! I am going to offer my design services to YOU so your photos and little moments can be preserved as well! My kids LOVE looking through their books and hearing stories of when they were little.

For the first five clients who put down a $25 deposit I am offering an introductory price for a 62 page hardcover 7x7 book with up to 105 photos for only $100. This offer is only valid for the Instagram book format like you see in this post, but is customizable as far as number of photos per page, font, & color scheme & includes the ability to see a digital copy for editing purposes.

Please contact me at 4theloveoffamily@gmail.com if you have any questions! I think you might be surprised at how quickly you can scroll through your photographs & come up with 26 words & photographs that describe your child! And if you want to stick with a general A-Z photobook without a focus on the little things, I am still more than happy to offer my services.






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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Alphabitty Moments - The letter M

In a couple months when I'm knee deep in book design, homework, soccer, piano, & karate I'm going to kick myself for not being a better blogger during the summer months, but the truth is we're busy all.the.time. It is my goal to punch out a couple more personal photo books before the end of the year - potential Christmas gifts for the kids perhaps? We're trying to downsize significantly so we don't have so much STUFF. I was able to finish one for Elsa in time for her 2nd birthday party which we held on the 3rd of August. Now that I have that project under my belt I don't have any excuse to not post an Alphabitty Moment on Thursdays!  I had been posting on Instagram for a while, but I've gone back through old posts to find where I left off on the dusty 'ol blog. It looks like the letter 'm' was next. For us, "M" means McDonald's playland. I get a large coffee with five creams, the kids get to play & burn off some extra energy, and I get a few moments of peace.  Score!


A few design details on how I put together this particular book.... It's different from my others in that I used mostly Instagram photos & tied them all together by zooming in passed the Instagram borders in order to make them all borderless other than the rounded corner 'border' that Booksmart offers. I moved the text to the same spread rather than putting it at the end like previous editions.

Some spreads have 4 photos like this one, but others have only 1. Whenever I can I can mix continuity & flexibility I feel like I've hit the jackpot. The icing on the cake is that the simple layouts combined with the 'ittybitty' detail section in the back packs a TON of information. I'll share how I put that part together another time.  Until then, feel free to link up your own Alphabitty Moments post in the comments below.