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Annique's Christmas Tree

I jumped on the Pinterest Felt Christmas Tree Train this year!  It just looked so easy and fun.  I went to JoAnn and got some green felt by the yard.  I also got a few sheets of colored felt.



Then I cut a rectangle roughly the size I wanted the finished tree to be.  I folded it in half and free-handed a Christmas tree design.  I cut it out and unfolded it for a symmetrical tree (because that is how we type-A's roll).

I pulled out my Cuttlebug and a my Sizzix Circles #2 die and ran some of the colored felt through for some ornaments.

My biggest problem was adhering the tree to the wall.  I had planned to use the picture-hanging command strips, but I would have to buy one for each branch and the top and bottom (12 total) and I wanted to find a cheaper option.  Someone suggested glue dots.  I did a little research and found one place that said you could put them on drywall.  Quite skeptical, I adhered a piece of felt to the wall in the garage using a glue dot.  Two days later, I pulled the dot off along with the paint.  Lesson learned.  My third shot is holding up OK.  I used some painter's tape that I looped into a circle.  I had not tried sticky-tack, though, since I did not have any.  I don't think I'll have to use my last resort: to return to the craft store for a large rectangle of felt.  I would glue the tree onto the rectangle using fabric glue and then I could use the command strips (just not as many).



Verdict?  Annique LOVED setting it up!  She keeps the ornaments on the center of the tree and doesn't "branch out" with them, but oh well- it is her tree.  The goal is to have this tree to direct her attention if she starts playing with "mommy and daddy's tree."  I take her ornaments down occasionally so she has the desire to put them back up because she doesn't just approach the tree and start playing with it when it is decorated.



It does help a bit with keeping her out of the big tree.  If she ever starts to play with an ornament on our real tree, I pick her up and say, "How sad, Annqiue is playing with mommy and daddy's tree.  Let's play on Annique's tree instead." I put her down at her tree and start playing with her there.  I think I've only had to do that twice.  I'm pretty sure we'll see this tree again next year!

Did you know I make my own...

I'm pretty frugal.  I'm also a bit adventurous in the DIY department.  Those are two reasons I make a lot of things myself.   A third is easy access to tutorials thanks to Pinterest, but I digress...

What do I make exactly?

Syrup!  This recipe is from a friend.  She said, "allegedly this costs .11 per batch."  I haven't done the math myself, because it passed the taste and simplicity tests.  If you are going for a low-calorie or low-sugar syrup, then this is most definitely not for you.

Ingredients:
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon maple extract

Directions:
Bring the water and sugars to a boil, stirring constantly until it seems to be thickening.  The longer you boil - the thicker it will become, but know it will also thicken as it cools.  Remove from heat, allow to cool and add the extract.  Store in the fridge.

What else do I make?  Laundry detergent!  I have been using this recipe I found on The Yellow Brick Home via Pinterest for months now.  Love it and won't go back!

Image Source

I also make my own oven cleaner.  You can read that post here.

I have tried making my own liquid hand soap using this recipe from The Farmer's Nest (also via Pinterest).  I failed at my first attempt because I used this awesome-smelling, locally made lavender mint soap by Indigo Wild and the consistency was wrong.


Their soap is made with goat's milk and I think that had something to do with it.  I used three bars (although the recipe calls for one) and it was still too runny.  Nevertheless, I had a gallon of it and we are using it all up so I can try again.  (It works OK for a shower gel, though!)


The last thing that I make is my own lavender spray. It is great for people with curly hair as lavender has cleansing properties so it kind of cleanses and deodorizes the scalp while reviving curls.


I have also used this spray to to freshen up clothes that smell like bonfire smoke. The recipe (5 drops pure lavender oil to 2 quarts water) is from the book Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND to anyone with wavy to curly hair.  I have a copy to loan!

A final reason I enjoy making things myself?  I feel it is Eco-friendly.  I cut down on packaging by not purchasing bottle after bottle of syrup or laundry detergent.   I obviously still have to purchase ingredients, but they are either in smaller containers (maple extract), paper containers (Fels Naptha) or purchased with less frequency (washing soda).

Is there something you could buy but choose to make yourself instead?

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream Recipe

In a moment of culinary genius, I have created a masterpiece.  Oh yes I did.  And by created, I mean combined two Pinterest recipes with a modification or two.  The first recipe is for ice cream made with three ingredients without an ice cream maker. My husband and I really enjoy it, although it is very rich. The second recipe was for egg-less cookie dough (the original link no longer works), something you would eat straight up and not bake.  Here is my tutorial for combining these recipes.  I have put the recipes below.

First gather your ingredients.



For the cookie dough you will need 1/2 cup chocolate chips, 1/4 cup milk (we use vanilla soy around here), 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 cup gluten-free all purpose flour (used King Arthur), pinch of salt, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/4 cup butter, softened.


For the ice cream you will need 2 cups whipping cream, 2 tablespoons vanilla, and a 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk.  Really, that's it!  You don't even need an ice cream maker!

To make to cookie dough you will cream your butter and sugar.  Then add the vanilla, milk, flour, a pinch of salt, and your chocolate chips (minus the few you ate, I get it).


Mix well.  At this point, it starts to look awesome, like this.




Now your cookie dough is ready.  I just got right to work on the ice cream because when you are making a dessert of this magnitude, there is no time to waste.  However, it might be nice to stick the dough in the fridge for a bit so when you go to put it in the ice cream, it holds together better. 

Speaking of ice cream, let's make some!  This recipe is awesome because it is simple, rich, and you can add whatever you want in there, like cookie dough.  Start with a large bowl and mix together the vanilla and can of sweetened condensed milk.


  

Stir, stir, stir!


Now take another bowl (we're up to three!) and pour 2 cups of the cream in there.  Take your mixer and get to it.



The goal is soft-peaks.



Ah, so nice.  This is a good time to check in with your assistant for moral support.


Now, in three equal batches, you are going to gently fold the whipped cream into the sweetened condensed milk/ vanilla mixture.  Here we go with batch one.


Fold it in and add batch two.  Fold that in and add in the rest of the whipped cream.  Fold until combined.


Here is where things get crazy.  And by crazy I mean delicious.  You have several options here.  I just took the cookie dough and put clumps of it into the ice cream, folding them in.

 
However, a few of the cookie dough "drops" dissolved into the ice cream.  I think if you had it in the fridge the dough would be more firm, and thus easier to keep the clumps of cookie dough intact.  Another option would be to pour some of the ice cream into the container you will be freezing then layer some cookie dough on top, then add more ice cream, then cookie dough etc.  Here is what my batch looked like before I put it in the freezer.



Now we have reached the hardest part.  Put this in the freezer with a lid on it (or you can use a loaf pan with cling wrap) and leave it alone until it is firm which is an eternity at least six hours.  But, once you have overcome the wait, you have awesomeness!  Grab your spoon (which we obviously did before taking this picture).


Gluten Free Cookie Dough Ice Cream Recipe

This was amazing.  My husband hadn't had cookie dough ice cream in years so he was so excited with my creation.  I had my fair share as well.

Thanks for stopping by and do give this a try!  It is not that difficult and well worth the effort!


Cookie Dough

1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup milk
1 cup gluten-free all purpose flour
pinch salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips. 

Cream butter and sugar.  Combine remaining ingredients.  Stir until well blended.  If you are going to put these into the ice cream, I suggest putting the dough in the fridge for awhile to harden.

Ice Cream 

14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla extract.

In another bowl, pour two cups of whipping cream and whip with a hand mixer/ stand mixer until medium-soft peaks form.

Gently fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the condensed milk/ vanilla mixture.  Add half of the remaining whipped cream and fold it in as well.  Add the rest of the whipped cream and fold until combined.


Cookie Dough Ice Cream

Take the cookie dough and drop spoonfuls of it into the ice cream.  Gently fold to combine.  Pour into a freezable container with a lid or a loaf pan covered with cling wrap.  Freeze for at least 6 hours.


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Organize and Decorate Everything

Two Point Five

One of the things for which I enjoy using my blog is to document what my child is doing these days.


On Saturday the 20th, Annique turned two and a half.  If you ask her how old she is, she will show you a two on her hand.  She works hard but can successfully show you a 1-5 on her hand.  She can count verbally to 20 and can count backwards from 10 thanks to this video.  She really likes numbers and is particularly drawn to digital clocks.  She will read the time, "One zero zero, one of clock, one hundred!" or "One two one seven (for 12:17)!" Then she'll stare at it waiting for it to change and she'll say, "Maybe an eight." or whatever number would come next.

Sweet girl still loves to sing! The other night we took her on a wagon ride and we heard the alphabet, Come Thou Fount Of (as she calls it), and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (as she noticed the stars.)  She likes to imitate dad when he practices worship songs for Sunday and will even make requests.  Dan wanted to play some Billy Joel on the piano when he got home from work but all Annique wanted to hear was "Rise with a Shout!" by which she means "Our God's Alive" by Andy Cherry.  This is one of my favorite videos of her singing, "Beneath the Waters (I Will Rise)," by Hillsong.


One year ago, Annique started walking (first steps at 17 mos and walking at 18 mos).  Now, she is super-active and loves running up and down the hall, usually while repeating word or phrase that makes no sense. "Mcazey!  Mcazey!  Mcazey!"  She still wears inserts in her shoes but has no problems with them.  She likes playing the game where you say an action and she will do it (run, walk, squat, spin, gallop, walk backwards).

The last skill that I will brag on is "reading."  She is coming closer.  She loves books and will now entertain herself with them.  She has memorized many of her books and will "read" them to herself.  She will also recite them while at dinner or some other time she does not have the book in front of her.  I love this!  Her pronunciation is actually pretty good.  Here are just a few of her memorized selections:







Thanks for letting me gloat over my big girl!

Best Oven Cleaning Method Ever

Well, the best I've ever found, anyway.

I have a gas oven with no self-cleaning option. That is OK by me as I am starting to read that using that feature is not a good idea  if you want to prolong the life of your oven.  However, it obviously makes for more work when one's oven does need cleaning.  I'm using cleaners with chemicals less and less so I wanted to see if there was a more natural way to clean an oven.  Sure enough, there is!  Ed wrote this article which is where I was introduced to this method.  If you need specifics, Ed is your man.

This method takes time and persistence, but honestly not too much physical effort- which is why I love it!  Here are your supplies:

Baking soda, brand-new garden-sized (1 quart or 1 liter) spray bottle, water.


Take the water bottle and fill it with 3 teaspoons of baking soda.  Fill bottle up with water.  Shake to dissolve.

Now that you have your cleaner, here is the process:

Spray your solution on all the black spots in your oven one or more times a day when the oven is OFF.  Since I am a bit of a nerd with to do lists, I just added this one as a repeating daily task on my iPod.  Oh, how I ♥ checking things off!  Eventually, the oven (or broiler pan in my case) will look like this.



Now you're thinking my oven is supposed to be getting cleaner, yet it looks so much worse.  Don't give up!  And yes, you can safely use the oven for cooking during this process, even when it looks all crusty.

After several days, well weeks is actually better, wipe with a damp sponge.  If you waited long enough, you only have to wipe it once.  You don't even have to scrub!  A-MAZING!


I, however, did not wait quite long enough and some black spots remain.  No problem.  Just repeat the process!

I'd like to give a shout out to Ed who saved me from using harsh chemicals to clean my oven when my dinner bubbled over.  A lot.  (I'm sure this NEVER happens to anyone else....)

Living Room Before and After

When we moved into our mid-century home back in 2006, it had a lot of decor updates that needed to take place.  Gold chain to a low hanging fan, ugly carpet, average window treatments, ugly paint/ border to name a few.  We are finally finished with the living room and I would like to show you some before, during, and after pictures.  This is how the living room was set up when we put in our offer:



  This is what it looks like now:


Now, if you've been over you might think, I've seen your living room look like that for a while now.  True, painting and such was completed back in 2009 and some decor help came along in 2010.  But I didn't want to call it done until I finally found the art to go above the piano.  Actually, I made it myself from this tutorial.  I LOVE the lamps I got at Hobby Lobby (50% off!) and glued some ribbon with beads hanging off to the bottom.  Points to my mom for that idea.  Points to my Aunt Susie for upholstering some plain ottomans from Nebraska Furniture Mart and using the leftover fabric for throw pillows.  With a two-year-old scampering about, there are generally more toys around, but we do keep most of them hidden in the ottoman.

When the previous owners moved out, they left the bookcases along the wall.  On our final walk-through, we asked that they be removed.  To us, they were furniture. To them, they were fixtures because the walls were not painted behind them AND the carpet was not updated beneath them. Read: new tack strip laid right in front of the bookcases.  No matter, we enjoy the hardwood floors now.


Here are the hallway before and afters:



















And here is a shot of the rest of the room by the front door.


I get comments all the time on my mom's hooked rug with our engagement picture in it.  The rug was designed and hooked by my mom who lovingly incorporated pieces of her wedding veil into the piece.  More points to her.  Let's look at the rest of the room again:



Love  love love it! 

Fizzing Fun

I LOVE all the ideas for toddler play over at Play at Home Mom.  I've also seen many good ideas on Pinterest as well.  I know I don't need to set up an elaborate "invitation" (as they are called on the PAHM blog) every single day, but I do need to be better about inspiring learning through play more often than I do.


This idea came from Pinterest.  I had the supplies on hand so we tried it out.  I took a pan and filled the bottom with baking soda.  I took a few small containers and filled them with vinegar and food coloring.  I taught her how to use the eyedroppers and we were off!
Pretty neat just to drive the eyedropper around in there.  That drop cloth is getting annoying though.

There we go. Much better.  Putting some on the pink side.

Watching it fizz when you put the dropper back in the vinegar.

"Mommy do it."  How can I say no to those eyes?

As interest was waning, we just dumped the rest of the vinegar in for one last fizz-fest.  Annique enjoyed sliding the pan around on the floor.  "Round and round.  Round and round.  Gently!" She'd say.

This was great for her fine motor skills as well.  We should try this again soon!

First Attempt at Amigurumi

In my quest to try every craft out there, I've given amigurumi a shot.  Ok, that is not really my quest because I don't think I'll ever get into cross-stitch, but sometimes it seems that way.  I just like trying something once or twice to see if I can do it.  Handmade cards? Yes. Crochet? Yes.  Fleece no-sew blankets? Yes. Glass etching? Mixed results. Applique using the Cricut? Yes.  Amigurumi? Yes.

Now, what the heck is Amigurumi you ask?  It is the Japanese art of crocheting small animals or toys.  It is definitely an art to perfect so if I don't move on to something else and instead give this some practice, I could get to be amazing at it.  Maybe.

I went on Ravelry.com and searched for a beginner amigurumi pattern and came across this link.  I pinned it, because that is what any self-respecting crafter does with a project they want to attempt.  Not only can I find the link again, but I can re-pin to my "Pinished" board, now right?  Who's with me here?

Those little monsters were pretty cute, so I whipped up one myself in this real fun green.


I didn't have any crafting eyes, I just had brads.  Er, my mom did, since I finished this at her house.  I also used wool for the eyes because my felt was at home.  Annique loved this guy, but he was for my niece who just turned seven.  No problem.


I made another for her, but this time I painted on pupils because I didn't want her pulling the brads off.  (She's my gentle girl, so I doubt she would have tried, but I have also learned not to doubt a two-year-old.)  These monsters are about two inches tall.

Feeling pretty confident, I wanted to see if there were any amigurumi books at my local library while I was there picking up a different book I'd had on hold.  I came across Creepy Cute Crochet by Christen Haden.  The ninja looked worth a shot so here's my take on him:


At four inches tall, he's so stinkin' cute!  I wish I had silver thread for his star, but no matter.  He can still take you out.  He inspired me to get some black yarn so I could try him again.

So, anyone else hop from project to project?

Kitchen Drawer Organization

Ever since I discovered I Heart Organizing, I realized that yes, I too, heart organizing.  I'm still working on the scrapbooking desk drawers, but I have done a few tweaks here and there.  The first organizational thing I did was throw this cabinet shelf in my cabinet.




Yup.  That baby started it all.  I was able to shuffle some things around and put rarely used items out of the way and frequently used items in easy to access locations. (See the mixer?  Frequently used and now it's handy!)  Feeling good about this change, I felt it was time to tackle the utensil drawers.  Another good reason was because they looked like this:



I was tired of opening both drawers each time I needed something because it was inevitability not in the first drawer.  Also, some items kept the drawers from opening and/or closing.  I pulled everything out and evaluated what I really used and how often it was used.  I also made use of the drawer under our microwave, which previously held take-out menus and paper plates- both of which were rarely used.

I pared down and put few items in each drawer check out the amazing result:




And the recommissioned microwave drawer:



SO much better!  I can find exactly what I'm looking for every time.  Even better, my sweet hubby is making a conscious effort to learn where everything goes!  Win!

One final before/ after:



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