Haba Number Dwarves

We spent the day at our not-so-local Children’s Museum. It’s an awesome children’s museum, with a nice Maine focus in terms of local animals, habitats and cultural items. There is a great 2 story climbing tower that is a “raven’s nest”, a nice river water system that the kids can run boats in, and a cool lobster boat that the kids can climb on/ring the bell/etc. Three stories of museum fun. They also have a great toy store in the lobby filled with awesome toys like Haba games and marble runs, Holztiger wooden animals and figures, Animalz, wooden cars/trucks from a local Maine woodmaker, Family Pastimes cooperative games, and just all sorts of cool toys that are really hard to find except on the Internet. Unfortunately, while we were there, I discovered that they were going out of business. Very sad. But, on the bright side, everything in the store was 60% off, including the Haba Number Dwarves game. Normally $32 and I got it for $12.xx. How awesome is that??!

We broke it out tonight after dinner and it’s a great game, as all the Haba games that we have are. (Well, maybe except for Dancing Eggs, which the boys love, but sends rubber eggs flying all about the room, and which they enjoy playing in the living room where I keep the crystal.) It’s just a basic counting exercise at heart, but it really goes about it in a creative way. It’s for 5+ and 2-4 players, but my 4.5 year old had no trouble playing it. You have to collect six pieces of treasure by landing on the treasure spaces on the board. You determine how far you move based on the card that you draw. If you draw a card with a picture on it, you have to count the number of items on the card and move that many spaces. However, there are various things you could count on the card, so by being creative, you can increase your chances of landing on the treasure spots. You get a card of a pillow. Do you count “1” pillow? Or do you count that the pillow has “8” spots? Or “4” corners? There are also “Imp” cards, which require you to do an action like jumping jacks, and you can choose one of two sets of imp hats to count and thus move. This corresponds to how many jumping jacks or other action that you have to do. Or, when you get the fairy card, you take a number shape card out of the cloth bag. The sides of each shape correspond with the number that you move, so the triangle is “3”, the square is “4”, up to ten. So, once the child realizes that, they can play a “hide and feel” sort of game to find the piece with the number of sides that they are looking for. (A circle is “1” and an oval is “2”.) The pieces also have the number written on them, as well as crowns corresponding to the number.

Top it off with totally adorable little dwarf game pieces complete with felt beards, and you’ve got yourself a great game! And all for $12.xx! Thankfully for my wallet, they had sold most of their stock, and there wasn’t too much to choose from. I did splurge on two Putomayo CDs – French Playground and Latin Playground – for $5.99 each! I just love a sale. I am really bummed that they are going out of business though as I really enjoyed browsing there whenever we visited the museum. Z Recommends also has a very good review of this game if you are interested.

Felting wool sweaters

I got an awesome crafty book for Christmas, Warm Fuzzies: 30 Sweet Felted Projects by Betz White. It looks like a ton of fun. Lots of fun, easy projects made with reclaimed wool sweaters that you felt in your washing machine.

1) Love that you are using recycled materials for your projects.

2) Love wool.

3) Love the totally cute projects and the fun ways she puts things together.

Betz also has a great blog that you should check out! The weather was kind of nasty yesterday so I decided to stay home and play with all those new Christmas toys (Legos anyone?), but I think I’m going to head out today and check out Goodwill. I have some sweaters upstairs just waiting to be felted that I picked up at Goodwill a few months ago, but now that I’ve gotten this new book, I want to see what else I can find!

Gingerbread houses

Okay, making up for lost time here. I haven’t really had time to blog the last week or so. I’ve been too busy making my Christmas presents. Well, I’m still too busy making my Christmas presents, but am enjoying taking a break and writing up a few blog posts.

Today’s Advent activity was making gingerbread houses. This is something that we do every year. Before we moved, it was a big family event at Gramma Flo’s house. Well, no longer the huge family event, but we still do it of course. Usually Gramma Flo has everything ready. The houses are pre-made, all the candy is laid out in bowls, and we just have to decorate! Wow, that is a lot easier than the DIY route. I used the Wilton Deluxe Gingerbread house kit. No way was I making that gingerbread. You can’t eat a bit of it, don’t try. But, it’s really just for decoration anyway. The kids eat some of the candy while they are decorating the house, but that’s it. I don’t let them eat the candy once it’s on the house.

It actually wasn’t too hard to put together, and I didn’t wait the prescribed times on the box, but it still turned out fine. I was actually quite impressed by the boys. They did a great job. K was very particular about making sure everything was a pattern. The M&Ms on the roof were blue/red/blue/red, etc. There is definitely not enough candy in the box to decorate. So we sent Grandpa out in the Nor’easter to pick up some candy from the drug store. He came home with M&Ms, marshmallows, jelly bellys, and white chocolate covered pretzels, and it was perfect, along with the candy included in the box.

I was in charge of the royal icing, and they just told me where to put it. That stuff is too sticky-gooey to let the kids have a go! Although, I did let J do a few when he asked. I was careful to only put it where they asked, and not make any decorating suggestions. So, these are all of their own creation.

Today was “penguin” day on the Advent calendar. J requested that there be three clues in today’s Advent calendar. So, the first clue sent them upstairs to look “under the TV”. And, there was hidden some of the candy wrapped up. Then, a clue at that point said to go look “in the hall table”. There was more wrapped candy. Next clue sent them back upstairs to look “under J’s bed” where I had the wrapped gingerbread houses. They were so excited! We had a lot of fun and they turned out great.

Star Wars Yoda Pajamas

Check these out! I’m so excited about them. I bought the flannel at Jo-Anns, but they don’t have it anymore. As I discovered yesterday when I didn’t have enough for leg 2 of J’s pants, and I tried to find some. I bought some plain green flannel and was going to make cuffs, but decided that it would look funny. Instead, I just pieced some scraps to the bottom and because of the black color, you can hardly tell.

Then, the coolest part is that I cut out some of the pictures from the flannel and appliqued them on the black t-shirts! K’s looks a little different because I was being lazy and didn’t swap my needle in my machine for a ball point needle. BIG MISTAKE! It totally ate up the knit t-shirt fabric as I was appliqueing and it took me about 20 minutes to get all the garbage out of my machine. So, then I switched out for a ball point needle and it was 100x easier. I won’t do that again! I added the little Yoda at the bottom to hide the hole.

If you’ve never appliqued on a t-shirt, all you do is use some Heat & Bond Lite. Iron it to the fabric, then cut out your shape. Remove the paper and place on your t-shirt (or whatever fabric). Iron again (with a damp press cloth, but the Heat & Bond comes with directions). Then, I just sew a small zip zag around the outer edge of the applique. So easy! I made these t-shirts in about 30 minutes (if you don’t count the needle extravaganza).

These are going to be their Advent present on Christmas Eve. They are going to be so excited!! While the black flannel may not have been the best choice considering our two golden retrievers, they are still ultra-cool. No worries, we are used to having dog hair all over the place.

Barbeque spice rub

This is the package that I sent to my swap-buddy for the Sew Liberated Holiday Traditions Exchange 2008. We had to send a handmade ornament, a recipe, and a write-up about a favorite holiday tradition. I made a felt bird from the Winter 2008 Living Crafts magazine, and my recipes were for use with the spice rub that is included in that little tin in the picture. I wrote up my tradition story and used Lollychops‘ new pear paper as the background.

I’ve been meaning to share the recipe for the spice rub for awhile, but just haven’t really had any time to sit and write it down. I have a super-yummy barbeque spice rub that hubby and I created awhile back. We use it on pork blade roast (aka “boston butt”) to make pulled pork sandwiches, and we also use it on our ribs. We recently wanted to see what else it would taste good on, and created a little flank steak fajitas recipe too.

I made some this holiday season, and packaged it up in some silver tins that I got at Frontier Co-op, and then printed some cool labels from Lollychops to put on the top. Very cute!

So, here is the basic recipe. If you want to create more for gifts (or to store), just double, triple, quadruple it. I just store it in a Ziploc bag in my spice cupboard, but you could be fancier in your kitchen, of course!

2 Tbsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
1/2 Tbsp. garlic powder
1/2 Tbsp. ground thyme
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1/2 Tbsp. dried mustard
1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground cayenne
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili pepper (can omit if you don’t have any)

Just mix it up and keep it stored in an airtight container. To use on ribs, you’ll want to take 1/2 cup of the rub and mix it with 1/4 cup light brown sugar and 1/4 cup dark brown sugar. Mix that up and rub it all over your ribs. (Remove the membrane first if you don’t like that toughness. We like to buy baby back ribs, but those are usually more expensive, and you can use this on spare ribs as well.) Wrap tightly in saran wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours. Remove from saran, wrap tightly in aluminum foil, and cook at 300 degrees for about 2.5 hours (3 hours for spare ribs).

Remove from oven, and finish on a grill (charcoal preferred, but you can do it on a gas grill as well). Heck, Hubby likes to cook the ribs on charcoal for the whole time, but that’s too much effort for me, especially on a day like today when it’s 0 degrees.

To finish on the grill, just throw on a low/medium grill for about 8 minutes per side to brown it up. We like to serve the ribs dry with our favorite sauce on the side. You can also sauce the ribs on the grill at this stage if you prefer them that way.

I always serve ribs with cole slaw. Just take a bag of prepared cole slaw cabbage. I make the dressing with 3/4 cup of mayonnaise, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 Tbsp of sugar. Pour the dressing over the cabbage, making sure to only use the amount that you like. I almost always have some leftover because I don’t like my cole slaw to be too runny.

Check out those little puppy eyes in the corner eyeing the ribs. Those aren’t for you, Puppy!

Snow Day!

We have a snow/freezing rain day today, so the boys are home from school. Unfortunately, I have some work to accomplish so I can’t take a totally free day. Thankfully, the hubby had scheduled to have this day off already (even though he went into the office this morning anyway! but was thankfully back home by 10am). However, I am hoping to quickly finish my work, and then work on my felt birds from Living Crafts. I am almost finished with the first, and it’s very cute. My friend in California requested a red one, so I will need to work on that and get it out to her on Monday, considering how slow mail seems to be this time of year.

Hubby is in the kitchen making “charms”, AKA Russian Tea Cakes. We are using the recipe from one of my fave baking books, In The Sweet Kitchen: The Definitive Baker’s Companion which includes the addition of maple syrup. How can you go wrong with maple syrup? I just got a taste test of the dough. Yummy! I’m glad that I planned ahead and had some awesome Tierra Farms pecans in the freezer downstairs.

I am also planning on packaging up my spice rubs this afternoon. And then we have a holiday party tonight, which should be a good time. I will hopefully be sharing some pictures of the finished birdies later today/tomorrow!! No plans this weekend, other than tonight’s holiday party, so I am planning on cranking out a lot of these projects this weekend. Wish me luck!

Handmade holiday To Do’s

Okay, I am feeling flustered because Christmas is getting closer and closer and my list of projects is not getting any smaller! So, what does Tina do in such situations? Write a LIST! Come on, who doesn’t love a list. These are just my crafty things to do – while I’m not doing 100% handmade holidays, I am trying to make several things for different people. I’m not going to bore you with all my other holiday to do’s which include family house guests, organizing a staff holiday party, shopping for the non-handmade presents, and all that other boring stuff.

1. Felt bird ornaments from the current, Winter issue of Living Crafts magazine. Completed! Although, I have one more red one cut out that I would like to make for myself. They are awesome.

2. Montessori apron in gingerboy/girl fabric for J’s class. Must get this one done ASAP before they have no need for it anymore! Guess I’ll be doing this one for next year.

3. Flannel pajama pants for the boys for Christmas presents. I bought three different flannel prints. A holiday penguin one for J, a sort of country snow-bear one for K, and then this super-cool black with bright green light-saber Yodas for their Christmas Eve pajama gift! I definitely need to get the Yodas done! I got mine at Jo-Anns, if you have a Yoda fan in your house. K’s are done! Hooray, so cute! Unfortunately, I did not buy enough fabric since the fabric is directional. I’m about 4 inches short on the second leg of J’s. And they didn’t have any more at my Jo-Anns. So, instead I bought some plain green flannel that sort of matches, and I’m going to put some solid green at the bottom of both legs.

4. My father in law has requested some pajama pants for Christmas. I might buy him some just in case I run out of time, but wouldn’t it be fun to make him some? So, that’s a new one that I added to my list yesterday. We’ll see. The boys picked out some fishing fabric so I am hoping to have them help me make them this weekend.

5. I am participating in the Sew Liberated Holiday Traditions exchange, so I need to get that together to mail by Friday. I need to send my swap partner a handmade ornament, a favorite recipe, and a write-up about a favorite holiday tradition. And any other little goodies that I feel like. Completed!

6. Mother-in-law’s scrapbook. I maintain a scrapbook (8×8 size) of my boys for Grandma. I have totally slacked in this department, and the last page in her scrapbook is from January 2007. Yes, 2007. So, I ordered a bunch of photos from Shutterfly, and now I need to get to work!

7. Food gifts #1: LollyChops Chocolate Cobbler. Completed! Although, I need to make one more for K’s teacher. Very quick to put together.

8. Food gifts #2: Tina’s homemade bbq rub. I made a huge batch of my special barbeque rub, but now I need to package it up (I bought these great little tins), and write up a few recipes for how you can use the rub. (pulled pork, ribs, on flank steak for fajitas) Completed! I am planning on writing this up and sharing it very soon, hopefully.

9. Finish my glass marble magnets. They just need the magnets on the back! Almost done, have glued the magnets on and they are currently drying downstairs on the work bench.

Okay, I think there is more, but I’m already feeling overwhelmed. So, what are you crafting for the holidays? Anything fun? I was vaguely considering making handmade holiday cards this year, but after seeing this list, and counting up my card list at 100 families, I’m off to make a quickie Shutterfly card! Shutterfly cards arrived. However, I’ve decided that these are going to become New Years cards as I would rather finish my Christmas presents and send the cards out late.

Updated, Friday, December 20, 6:48pm

Japanese cute

Superbuzzy, purveyors of everything cute and crafty Japanese, is debuting charm packs. Woo-hoo! I want them all, several of them. This has moved up to the top of my Christmas list. (Anyone listening??)

Cinnamon applesauce ornaments

I made some cinnamon applesauce ornaments last week. They turned out quite cute and I strung them up on a ribbon and hung them over my kitchen window. And so easy-peasy. These would also make a fun children’s craft, of course. Many of you have probably done this with your children in the past, but this is amazingly the first time I’ve heard of it. (How is that possible? Do I live under a crafty-rock?)

All you do is combine 1 cup of cinnamon (yes that is 1 CUP, see that industrial sized container of cinnamon in the picture?), and 1 cup of applesauce. I just used store-brand unsweetened applesauce. I’ve read you don’t want to use handmade applesauce because it’s a bit too runny (and oh my goodness, why would you waste homemade on ornaments??!). Just mix it up with a wooden spoon and it comes together into a dough.

I then rolled it out between sheets of wax paper. It’s sticky. To about 1/8″ depth. Then, I cut out the ornaments with my cookie cutters – I used gingerbread boys and trees. I used a straw to punch a hole through the top.

Then, just leave them on a cookie sheet to dry overnight. You may want to flip them over halfway through. I decided to bake mine a bit to speed up the process, but I’m not sure if that’s the best way to do things. They don’t look good on the back, even though I tried turning them halfway. It doesn’t matter for what I was planning on doing – making a garland – but if you were making ornaments then you’d want them to look nice on the front and back. You bake them on the lowest setting you can (150 degrees or so) for an hour, turn them, and bake another hour.

They smelled rather pungent when they had just been completed, so I put them in the basement for a few days. There is only a small bit of smell now, which is preferable to me as I don’t care for strong smells (even good ones) in the house. (Okay, I know some of you are thinking, don’t you have two dogs? But, no worries, I can’t smell them. *Insert gratuitous puppy shot here.*)

When they were good and dry, I strung them on a thin holiday ribbon, tying knots in between so that they would display correctly and stay in place. Then, I hung them in front of my kitchen window. Very cute!

Swap birthday crown

Just had to share the birthday crown that I made for a handmade toy swap. I think it turned out great. It’s wool felt, and my inspiration for the sun embroidery was from the season ornaments in Doodle Stitching.