Monthly Archives: December 2011

The New Love in My Life

At the risk of sounding a bit Monica-ish, I have a new love in my life in the form of an all-purpose cleaner. I recently discovered the Method All-Purpose Cleaner in French Lavender from Target. I love love love the smell of lavender. It makes me feel like I’m in a spa instead of a chemical plant, like most cleaners out there. The Method cleaner is also natural and non-toxic, which helps my whole family breathe a little easier. But the best part? It actually WORKS! I use it to clean everything from the kitchen counters to the messy stove top to dried spaghetti on the high chair. It even cleans crayon scribbles in no time, which I found out the other day. Plus it doesn’t leave the granite all smudgy and streaky, which makes this clean freak very, very happy! (It’s the little things in life!)

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For Future Gryffindors

I recently made this shirt for my daughter for Christmas and couldn’t resist making one for my friend’s little boy as well, since she’s a huge HP fan too. I used the Harry P font from dafont.com (a free download) and had the shirts printed at CafePress.com on the toddler t-shirts in pale yellow. With the reddish font color, the combo was the closest I could get to the Gryffindor house colors. The shirts came out to about $15 each, including shipping. We’re already making plans to hunt down a toddler-sized Hermione-esque wig and tiny round glasses so we can take their picture together! And if you didn’t already know how much of a nerd I am, well, there you have it.

Front

Back


Kid-Proof Your iPad

Hope everyone had a lovely holiday and spent loads of time with family and friends. My little family traveled all over the state of Virginia visiting our nearest and dearest and even managed to squeeze in a night at Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town (totally worth it, if you’ve never been—we had a great time!).

This year, my husband and I decided to buy an iPad 2 as our gift to each other, which we did back before Thanksgiving. Our daughter has quickly taken to it and waits expectantly for us to pull it out when we plop her into the grocery cart so she can play with Grover. So when we opened this next Christmas present, I knew immediately that it was going on the blog for sheer brilliance alone.

The Gripcase for iPad 2 is designed to withstand even the most rambunctious toddler. Made of shock absorbent EVA foam (think the soles of your running shoes), the shape of the Gripcase protects your precious iPad no matter how it’s dropped (trust me, I already speak from experience). The handles on all four sides are easy for small little hands to hold onto and carry, which will no longer make you cringe or hold your breath. And at only $39.99, it’s definitely worth the investment!

 

 


Happy Holidays!!

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! My posting might be a bit random and spotty over the next few days as we travel and celebrate Christmas with family, but be sure to check back next week for more mommy fun! (And a quick shout out to Better By Design for designing our lovely Christmas cards this year!)

 

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DIY Decoupage Ornament

My friend and coworker, Stephanie, is just so creative and crafty! She saw this picture of a Christmas ornament on Pinterest from the blog Flea Market Style and decided to make each of us at work a decoupage ornament for Christmas. Katie and I (the editors) got book print (Pride and Prejudice to be exact!), Brandi and Ariana (our web ladies) got fun origami paper, and Stacy (our resident insane Duke fan) got a Duke ornament. How cute are these?! It’s hard to tell in our lovely fluorescent office lighting, but they’re each covered in glitter and twinkle in the lights!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the original inspiration image was just a picture of an ornament from a store, Stephanie has very graciously shared with me her DIY tutorial, which I now happily share with you. You can use any type of paper (books, scrapbook paper, etc.), so if you decide to do this project with or for your kids, the possibilities are endless!

DIY Decoupage Ornament
(By Stephanie Patterson) 

  • Any size clear glass or plastic ornament (I used 3-inch plastic ornaments)
  • Mod Podge® or any decoupage medium
  • Paint brush (I used a small sponge brush)
  • New/old/recycled book pages or scrapbook paper
  • Crystal glitter
  • Yarn or string (I used Martha Stewart Eyelash yarn)
  • Glitter card stock for the letter or you could really use anything that you want to use as tag-like adornment
  1. Tear book pages into 1- to 2-inch pieces.
  2. Remove the silver cap on the top of the ornament.
  3. Using the Mod Podge as glue, paint some onto the ornament and then place the paper down on top.
  4. Apply more Mod Podge over the paper to moisten it and flatten over the rounded surface.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with overlapping pieces of paper until the ornament is completely covered.
  6. Let dry for approximately one hour.
  7. Apply another coat of Mod Podge over the whole ornament and pour glitter over it, turning the ornament to coat the entire thing. Shake it to remove any excess glitter.
  8. Let dry overnight.
  9. Wrap the neck of ornament with yarn and add any adornments (to create the letter tag, I used my Cricut® Cutting Machine with glitter card stock and punched a small hole to thread the yarn through).
  10. Replace the silver cap on the top of the ornament.
  11. Use another bit of yarn to create a loop for hanging the ornament.

 


The 20 Minute, $12 Christmas Wreath

This post is a little late, considering Christmas is in just a few days, but better late than never! I decided to make my own Christmas wreath this year for the front door because I’m too cheap to pay for one (those things are EXPENSIVE!). So I went to Michael’s and bought two tubes of large ball ornaments (14 total), three tubes of small ball ornaments (21 total) and a wreath form. Because everything was on sale, it only cost me $12! Using a hot glue gun, I glued the ornaments onto the wreath form, making sure to alternate the colors and patterns. It might not be perfect, but I think it turned out pretty good! And it’s totally doable for a busy mom, or it could be a good project to do with your little one. The only change I would make is that I recommend getting four tubes of small ornaments rather than just three to help fill in any holes.

 

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Everyday I’m Trufflin’. . .

My friend Dori gave me a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated for my birthday this year. While it might not be the flashiest of magazines, it has quickly become one of my best cooking resources. There are really great tips sent in by readers and home cooks, as well as tried and true recipes that have been executed multiple times in America’s Test Kitchen until perfect. So I decided if I was going to try making truffles for the first time, the Chocolate Truffles recipe featured in the January 2012 issue would be the one to start with. It’s a bit time consuming, mostly waiting around for the ganache to cool and chill, but the results are well worth the wait! I gave these to my coworkers for Christmas (along with yummy homemade cookies, which I’ll post about later!), and they were a HUGE hit!

Chocolate Truffles
(From Cook’s Illustrated, January 2012)

Ganache

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (Mom Machine Note: I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate baking bars)

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in to small pieces and softened

Coating

1 cup Dutch-processed cocoa

1/4 cup powdered sugar

Mom Machine Note: I actually rolled my truffles in three different coatings:  pistachios, coconut and cocoa. You could also do powdered sugar, crushed toffee bits, chopped hazelnuts, really anything you like. If you do alternate coatings, just lower the amount of the cocoa mixture, since you won’t be using it for all 64 truffles. Since I did three different coatings, I only used 1/2 cup of cocoa and 1/8 cup of powdered sugar.

Optional coatings 

1/2 cup roasted salted pistachios, chopped super fine

1/2 cup flaked coconut (I actually used shredded coconut, and I think flaked would work much better)


Make a parchment sling for an 8-inch square baking dish by folding 2 long sheets of parchment so that they are as wide as baking dish.  Lay sheets of parchment in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra hanging over edges of pan.  Push parchment into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing flush to pan.

Microwave chocolate in medium bowl at 50% power, stirring occasionally, until mostly melted and few small chocolate pieces remain, 3 to 4 minutes; set aside.  Microwave heavy cream in measuring cup until warm to touch, about 30 seconds.  Stir corn syrup, vanilla extract and salt into cream and pour mixture over chocolate.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap, set aside for 3 minutes, and then stir with wooden spoon to combine.  Stir in butter, one piece at a time, until fully incorporated. Using rubber spatula, transfer ganache to prepared pan and set aside at room temperature for 2 hours.  Cover pan and transfer to refrigerator; chill for at least 2 hours.

For the coating, sift cocoa and powdered sugar twice over a large cake pan using a fine mesh strainer and set aside.Gripping overhanging parchment, lift ganache from pan.  Cut ganache into 64 1-inch squares (8 rows by 8 rows). (Mom Machine Note: From Cook’s Illustrated- run your knife under hot water and wipe dry before cutting to make it easier. I actually recommend doing this step before each cut. It helps keep the chocolate from cracking.) 

Dust hands lightly with cocoa mixture to prevent ganache from sticking and roll each square into ball.  Drop balls in cake pan with cocoa mixture and roll evenly to coat.  Lightly shake truffles in hand over pan to remove excess coating.  (Mom Machine Note: This works best if you do this assembly line style, so recruit help if you can. My hubby did the rolling while I handled the coating. It took about 15 minutes to do all 64 truffles.) Transfer coated truffles to airtight container and repeat until all ganache squares are rolled and coated.  Cover container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.  Let truffles sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before serving.


Sweet Little Umbrella Stand

How cute is this umbrella stand I came across at TJ Maxx today?! Or at least I’ve decided it should be an umbrella stand. I suppose it could be a really big vase or something if you wanted it to be. I would totally have bought it if a) I thought my husband would actually agree to let me put it somewhere in our house, and b) I didn’t think my daughter would knock it over and break it in about 43 seconds. Sigh. One day I will again be able to have breakable objects below 3 ft in our house. Until then, will someone please give this little guy a good home? He can be found at the TJs at Farifax Towne Center.

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Virginia is for *Wine* Lovers!

My day perked up considerably this afternoon when the UPS guy dropped off an unexpected package. It perked up even more when I opened the box to discover a bottle of wine. What’s this, mysterious bottles of wine are suddenly appearing on my doorstep? (Not that I’m complaining, mind you.) Then I read the card sent with the bottle. Family friends of ours gave us a 6-month membership to the Virginia Wine of the Month Club for Christmas! I love this idea— not just because it involves the delivery of wine but because it supports our Virginia wineries (something near and dear to my heart since my stepmom is Creative Director for the Williamsburg Winery). Each month, we’ll be receiving a bottle of the finest red the Old Dominion has to offer.

If you’re interested in giving a membership as a gift, you can choose the number of bottles per month (1 to 4), type of wine (red, white, sweet, or a variety), and the length of the membership in monthly increments (from 3 to 12 months). Prices start at $47.85 for a 3-month membership, one bottle a month.

Time to go spread some Christmas “Cheers!”

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Teach Compassion This Holiday Season

For as far back as I can remember, my family has made giving back part of our holiday tradition, even if all we could afford to give some years was our time. My parents didn’t just tell me that it was important to give to those less fortunate, they showed me. My entire family volunteered to ring the bell for the Salvation Army each Christmas; we painted our elderly neighbor’s house; I helped deliver Meals on Wheels with my grandma; I served meals at the soup kitchen downtown and visited the nursing home to sing (yes, sing, this probably wasn’t so charitable) Christmas carols to the residents.

Having a daughter of my own now, I  want to provide for her in every way that I can so that she never wants for anything. But I also want her to learn compassion for others and the importance of giving back. I want her to understand just how fortunate she is and fully appreciate everything that she has. The holidays are a perfect time to teach our children about empathy and charity. Here are some great organizations that can help you get started:

Toys for Tots  The Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation has been collecting and delivering toys to needy children since 1947. Take your little one shopping so he can pick out a toy for another child who isn’t as fortunate, and take the opportunity to explain why it’s important and what that toy might mean to that other little boy or girl. Visit www.toysfortots.org to find a drop-off location near you.

Share Our Strength®  Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is working to end childhood hunger in America. Each dollar you donate provides up to 10 meals for a hungry child, and your donation will be matched dollar for dollar through December 31st! Visit www.shareourstrength.org to learn how you can double your gift.

SHARE (Self-Help and Resource Exchange)  The SHARE Food Network helps families make the most of their food budget by putting together nutritious groceries at an affordable price. You can get involved by donating your time as a volunteer or purchasing healthy food for a family in need. My neighborhood actually has a SHARE program where we can purchase a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal for a family in need in our area. It’s great to know that our donation is going to help another Burke Centre family. If you’re in the Washington, D.C. area, visit www.sharedc.org for details. Otherwise, you can Google SHARE in your area to find a network near you.

Photo courtesy The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army  Donating to The Salvation Army can be as simple as dropping your change into one of the thousands of red kettles nationwide, volunteering your time as a bell ringer, or selecting a child in need from the Angel Giving Tree. I always loved selecting angels from the tree, shopping for the things on their wish list, and imagining the looks on their faces when they opened their gifts! Allowing your child to select an angel their same age and gender can help them learn empathy, since they can more closely relate to their angel. Visit www.salvationarmyusa.org for more information.

If you’re still looking for some other way to give back, try www.volunteermatch.org. This web site provides resources to help match volunteers with civic opportunities in their area.