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Monday, February 8, 2016

Felt Wands - perfect for a Valentine gift!

My youngests love language is sequins and sparkles so when I saw these wands on Pinterest I knew she'd want to make them for her friends at preschool. I printed out the text and she'll sign her name to them before tucking them into the pocket. 

I'm not anti-candy, but I do gravitate towards things that aren't gone in two seconds. I hope these wands bring hours and hours of joy to the little girls in Elsa's class.

Want to make some for your kids? Here's how:

First visit this blog for the original source of information and instructions. Below I have shared photos of my version for reference. 

I opted not to paint the dowel rods, but I did sand them down. My dowels are 10 inches long so I would have enough materials from 3 dowels for the 10 wands I wanted to make. Our local hardware store sells this thickness for less than $1.50 each.

I used Elmer's school glue to glue on the fiber fill. I let them dry overnight. This step is important for keeping the dowel secure in the wand.

I cut out three stars per color and sewed sequins on the front of the pocket using a color that matched the sequins as much as possible. I Googled 'star clip art' and printed out a template of a star that was the shape I wanted.

The purple sequins are dark so I used a darker thread for that part and a lighter thread for stitching the pieces together. 

I preferred to hand stitch the three stars together from the top of the star around to where the dowel is inserted instead of using a machine. This allowed me to put sequins right up to the edge of the felt. 

Don't forget to insert the dowel before you close up the bottom! 

That's all there is to it! This isn't a fast project, but it is a portable one which is nice for the down times waiting for school pick ups. 

My oldests Valentine's for his fifth grade class took 5 minute to print, cut and assemble for 19 kids so it all balances out in the end! I'll share his final results next. If you have a child that wants a more boy themed valentine then you'll want to stop back to see that post.

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Where is the Bear family now?

From 2008 until the spring of 2014 we lived inside a campground/park as the caretakers. Sam was 4 and Julia was 2 when we moved into the caretaker house. By the time we left Sam was 9, Julia 7, and our BabyBear, Elsa was 2 1/2. 

PapaBear and I decided that the time had come to find a better work/family balance and that meant a ginormous step of faith because we didn't have housing lined up when we resigned our post. 

Through some emotional twists and turns we ended up staying with family for three months before we moved into the house God had picked out just for us. It wasn't my first choice, but He closed the door on my dream home and opened the window to a property that was destined to be our forever home and turned out to be a perfect fit for our family in every way.

We have a huge garden, four apple trees, grapes, raspberries, and over 100 different flowering perennials growing in our yard. It feels a bit like we got to bring the country to town with us!

We live on almost an acre lot in the center of our sleepy little Midwestern town. We downsized from a 3,000 square foot farm house to a 1,600 square foot rambler and feel like we have MORE room than before. It helps that we offloaded 2/3rds of our possessions so we could fit everything in storage! 

Our kids love having neighbors to play with and easy access to school, church, and parks. I fill my gas tank once every three weeks in the summer because we walk most places. 

I continue to work at building my book design business and help authors who wish to self publish, couples who want wedding albums made, families who don't have time to make family albums, and companies who need help with marketing materials. PapaBear works 15 minutes from home and we finally have time to attend games, concerts, take vacations, attend school programs, and have relaxing weekends together instead of trying to figure out how we can be in four places at once like we often had to do at the park.

Will I change the name of my blog now that we aren't raising our kids in a campground anymore? 

That's a fair question and one I can easily answer even after almost two years of being out of the campground lifestyle. No. 

Living in a campground was an incredible opportunity and one that has shaped who I am today. If it weren't for the sacrifices we made to make park life work I wouldn't appreciate the life we have now. To this day I still think about how thankful I am when May rolls around and we can look forward to warmer weather instead of dreading the 50 extra hours a week we would add to our schedules. 

On a nice day we can go for a bike ride to Dairy Queen as a family and not have to leave someone behind to cover the office. That might seem like a trivial thing, but I can't put into words how precious a little margin in our lives has become. We made some great friends and have wonderful memories from our campground days, but that chapter has ended and we look forward to new memories and new experiences raising our cubs in our new place. 

So welcome to the new BearCountry! I am so glad you stopped by for a visit! The coffee is always on, the garden always needs weeding, there is always a crochet project in the works, and we will always be thankful for the blessings in our lives!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A return to blogging

When Instagram came on the scene it was so much easier to post there and slowly but surely my little corner of the Internet got covered in layers of dust - so much dust that after three years I didn't think it could ever be found under the multi generations of dust bunnies!

A friend asked me yesterday if I had a blog and I mumbled something about yes....a long time ago....that little spark of a conversation and another discussion with a client about mobile blogging got me motivated to try the ten different password options so I could try to log back into my Campground Cubs account. It only took four tries and I was in!

Will I jump back into blogging full time? I'm not sure.... I'm a busy mom who runs a business. We left the campground almost two years ago, but the margin the move to town created in our lives is so precious to me that I guard that time very carefully.

I've picked up some new hobbies, learned a lot, thrown some fun birthday parties, and taken about 30,000 photos since my last post....I have the content to share, but there are still only 24 hours in the day. I'm going to do my best to pop in more often! It is good to be back! 

Up next.... Updated 'about me' for the Bear wouldn't believe how much everyone has grown! 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A toddler Valentine's card

Elsa & 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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