Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Eek! Spiders! Halloween Craft

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Every year, our moms' group has a Halloween party. It is one of the really big events we do, and we go all out. 

I saw similar cute little spider craft kits on a bulk-order site for a small fortune. I decided this was something I could replicate for little cost and effort. The cost was definitely lower. I may have gone a little overboard with effort, but that's how I do. My definition of "simple" is skewed. 

For each spider web set you will need: 

3 Notched popsical/craft sticks
1 black pom pom
2 pipe cleaners, cut in half (for 4 total pieces)
Black and glow-in-the-dark paint (or colors of your choice, or none at all)
About 64" of yarn

A hot glue gun

Start with the sticks. Glue them together to look like a snowflake. I chose to spray paint them black, then coat them with glow-in-the-dark acrylic paint. 

While those dry, make the spiders. 

Twist the pipe cleaners together in the middle to create 8 legs. Hot glue a pom pom right in the middle, and glue the eyes onto the pom pom. If your kids are older, they can make the spiders. I am aiming for the PreK crowd, and want something quick, since we have a million crafts. 

Hot glue the length of yarn onto the back of the craft sticks. Mine took about 64" of cheap, worsted weight acrylic yarn. You  might want to test one out on your sticks to be sure. 

The kids weave the web, and glue the end of yarn into a loop on the end of a stick. Now, all that is left is to wrap a spider leg around a web string and display!

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Most Useful Websites For Planning Your Disney World Vacation

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I started a Pinterest board for Disney World minutes after I discovered Pinterest. I was planning paint colors and nursery rooms and a Disney-related pin popped up. With no trip in the foreseeable future, I went with it anyway, in true Pinner fashion. Four years and 191 pins later (I did some culling when we actually booked a trip) I have a board filled with everything from countdowns to lists promising the biggest secrets ever.

My husband and I have been to Disney once each. We were both about ten. So it is just me, our amazing Disney agent, and Pinterest. And every person who has been to Disney. Because sharing Disney stories is like sharing birth stories. You will relive the magic and the trauma to anyone who has been or will be in the same boat.

I don't pin every article I've read. There are so many that repeat the same information, contradict each other, or have become outdated. I skim 20 articles and get 40 new ideas and spend 2 hours trying to figure out where I left one of 90 hot glue guns I own so I can make some felt Mickey ears to hid in the closet for the next 70 days. Not useful. Nothing gets done that way.

What have I found useful in actual planning?
(Aside from my wonderful MouseLady who has had to deal with a joint email with Hubsy and me asking really odd and random questions at weird times.)

First, an understanding of how Disney works, and what kind of trip you want. There is no one place for this. Here is the method I came up with, centered on our character-crazed kids, both under 5. Know the duration of your trip, choose a resort (based on money or proximity to a park or deals Disney runs), and pick if you are in it for characters or rides. Once you have an idea, the following links will be much more useful.

If you are already planning your trip, you likely have set up My Disney Experience. If you haven't, go there, set it up, get the app. If you don't have an agent, get one. Love The Mouse is free to the vacationer, and our woman clearly knows what is what. We haven't had a single question or concern go unaddressed, and they'll do as much as you want them to, or just be there for support.

The most useful non-Disney site has been the park times for your specific stay. This is useful if you want to make reservations before park open, take advantage of Magic Hours (for resort guests only) if you do not have Park Hopper, avoid Magic Hours if you do have Park Hopper, and look at the parade and fireworks schedule. This was permanently open on my computer for a month. I should have made it my wallpaper. It is that useful.

Disney Dining Plan. Oh, mercy. Some people swear by it. Some swear it is a rip-off. I guess it all depends on what you are going for. I've reviewed the plans and studied the charts and tried to figure out based on what our family would chose with a menu in front of them, because most blogs say that you need to order the most expensive entrees to maximize credits. I don't go out to eat to order the highest number, I want to eat what looks good to me. Then I found the Disney Dining Calculator. You plug in your dates, the restaurants you want to visit, and a few other specifics, and it spits out all the numbers. It not only tells you what you would likely spend on your trip without a dining plan, but breaks it down by various meal plans to show if you saved or lost money, used or neglected credits, and estimates gratuity for you as well. It is the most complete picture of what you can expect to spend on dining at Disney. It is the easiest way to figure out which meal plan will work for your family. I wish I had found this before reading all those charts.

This amazing mom detailed her princess-heavy trip to Disney World. I love that she and her daughter came up with questions to ask the princesses while waiting in line. Not only will it help the time pass, but way to make the most of your three minutes!

Like the Old School way of planning a trip? Fodor's Walt Disney World With Kids is the book you need. That, and a rainbow of cut-up Post-Its or book tabs, because you'll want to mark everything. I've flagged reservations, maps, characters, rides and playgrounds to check out, and our FastPass + wishes, which are color-coded by days. (Yeah, playgrounds! Because sometimes kids just don't tire out as quickly as the old people chaperoning them.)
It makes sense to me. Mostly.

Good luck! And have fun!

Your Best Shot At Character Meet-And-Greets, Disney World

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My girls love their Disney princesses. My youngest could sing the phrase "Let it gooooooo!" at seven months old, complete with arm gestures. My oldest can give you a synopsis of every princess movie (and fairy movie) Disney has made. 

Needless to say, our Disney trip is going to revolve around character meet-and-greets. Don't worry; we can go back when they are older and ride the rides. 

How do you plan a Disney World vacation? 

For every one blogger out there, two ideas on this subject exist. 

Between our travel agent, the people at the Disney Store (who are FULL of information!), friends, and blogs, here is the approach I've taken to try and maximize our character experience while still leaving time for rides and shows. 

1) Pick a date. Avoid peak times if you can, because your kid isn't the only kid who is jazzed to spend three minutes with Rapunzel. WDW makes projections about the upcoming year in the late summer and lays it out in a detailed chart. Planning before the projections are out? Just check out previous years and try to avoid holidays, marathons, and any weather you aren't fond of, like Florida summer.

2) Choose a ticket option. Really, just know if you are signing up for Park Hopper or not. The park hopper option gives you the ability to come and go from any park you would like in one day. We are not doing this option. Without Park Hopper, you can come and go from the chosen park for the day. The reason you need to have an idea about this now is that if you have a reservation at a restaurant in a park, you need to use your ticket for that park on that day. So if you start the day at Akershus Princess Story Breakfast and you do not have Park Hopper, your park for that day will be Epcot.

3) Decide which character meals you will attend. If your child has a favorite or two you don't want to miss, check out's handy chart on where to get your best shot at dining with that character. Disney does not guarantee any character at any meal, but if they are listed as a regular, odds are pretty high that they will show up. 

4) Be ready to make those meal reservations at 6am EST 180 days out* for the most popular restaurants, especially if you are going during a busy time, do not have Park Hopper, or have a very specific time in mind. For my daughter's 5th birthday, we wanted to start the day at Cinderella's Royal Banquet and end at Be Our Guest. Given the specific date and that these are two of the three most popular reservations at Disney World, I was up at 5am with my coffee and notepad of reservation wishes, listed by popularity. Remember, if you don't have Park Hopper, you can not make a reservation at two parks on one day. 

* If you are staying at a Disney World Resort, your 180 day count is from the day you check in. If you are staying anywhere else, your 180 days is from the day of the reservation. If there is a reservation you really want and you are staying on-site, you have a better chance of getting your time and date towards the end of your trip, since the least amount of people will have been able to request that reservation. You will also have the ability of having one giant, coffee-fueled reservation party at 6am about six months before your trip, making all your ADRs at once. If you are off-site, you'll need to make the reservations as the days pop up, or wait until 180 days from your last date and then make all the reservations at once. I don't recommend that last one. 

5) Now that you know your meals and parks for the day, you can get an idea of where you will be on what day. Start to look into any meet-and-greets you want to sign up for ahead of time. Check out where you might find characters in any given park, remembering random run-ins are not guarantees. 

6) FastPass + your character meet-and-greets. If you are a DWR guest, you can make your FastPass+ reservations 60 days from check-in. Everyone else has 30 days from the date of the reservation. Know the popular attractions (at this time, Elsa & Anna are the hot ticket) and be ready to make them as soon as you can. Once you use your three FP for the day, you can make a fourth at a kiosk or using the app, so making your first three for earlier in the day could help you later in the day. 

7) Figure out the rest of your trip. Because you still need to sleep and eat. 

8) The theme parks each have daily schedules you can get right at the gate. They give an idea of who will be seen where in the park that day. 

That's my strategy. I know we won't see all the characters (nobody does, do they?) but the ones that matter most are in the bag. That is, barring any weather, toddler, or other life issues. I have done what I can. I'll let you know how that goes. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Two apps you and your 2-5 year old will love!

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Once upon a time, I wrote an entry about apps my toddler loved and I saw some educational value in using. I thought this is great! I'll do this every 6 months, as she grows! And then she got a LeapPad and my iPad died and I stopped blogging for a while. 

Well, here is the next review. It is just a little late. 

Cost: $3.99

This app has won the 2015 Apple Design Award for a great reason. It is all-around gorgeous. It is a simple app based on the alphabet. When a user taps a letter, it gets larger, becomes a 3D object, and then becomes a variety of animated objects that start with that letter. Users interact with the item to get it to morph into another item. The audio track is gentle, and the graphics are dynamic. I test every app before I let my kids at them. I played this the whole way through, it was so entrancing. Think of it as a kiddie primer to Monument Valley. Oh, and it teaches your kid letter-sound-word correlation. That, too. 

Endless Reader for Apple and Google
Cost: The first few words are free. Then you need to purchase levels at $6 a piece or in bundles, for more.

Both my girls love this one, and both learn from it. Based on popular K-2 sight words, this breaks words apart by letter, then sentences by word. I chose the word "train" to give you an example. 

When you select a word, the monsters run by and break apart the word. As the user drags a letter into place, it makes its phonetic sound in a silly, animated way. 

Once the user gets all the letters in order, there is a little celebration before the sentence appears. Again, the creatures run by and three words, one being the featured word, scatter. 

Once the words are safely back in the sentence, the user is rewarded with a short animation while the sentence is read aloud.

My girls started playing with this by taking turns. J. would do the letters, V. would do the words, they'd watch the video together and repeat. They loved it so much I shelled out the $6 for this app. And it is worth every penny. Even J., who is nearly 2.5 years old and is recognizing the sight words she plays. This isn't because she is playing this all day, every day. We save phone apps for unfair wait times or places I don't want her hands on everything, like post offices or public restrooms.  Occasionally I'll bust it out while waiting for PreK pick-up if we get there early. (Like I'm ever early for pick-up.)

Here's a bonus app: Starbucks

Even if you don't go to Starbucks, get this app. It is free, and you get the featured app or song of the week free regardless of your coffee habits. I received Metamorphabets as a free download using the Starbucks app. I purchased Endless Reader, so naturally it was featured as a free app a few weeks later.

All of these reviews are my honest opinions. I received nothing in return for my reviews. I'm not that cool. Yet.

Real Moms Get Sick. Like Bosses.

Pin It "Moms don't get sick days!" is something you hear all the time from the moment you sneeze your first postpartum sneeze. (And if this is the first time you just sneezed postpartum, you probably care more about your lack of bladder control than a sick day. It gets better.) It is true.

I was fortunate. My tonsils started to ache around 1pm on a Friday. I changed the dinner plan slightly, having the girls set it up early (Raddish Kids apple curry! WIN, post to come.) and tossing it in the crockpot  By 3pm, I had changed into sweats, hit "play all" on Doc McStuffins, and settled into my corner of the couch with some tea, attempting to rest to the dulcet sounds of a contractor and plumber ripping apart the bathroom piping. By 5pm my husband had come home to take over, so I could be properly sick, or at least as sick as I can with two kids and a household to run. Maybe I'd be better by Monday, because really, what choice do I have?

Every day, I miss teaching. I miss being in a classroom, watching kids figure out why math works, discussing the intricacies of language acquisition with specialists, sharing silly stories with coworkers at lunch. But the only time I wish I was working and my kids were daycare goers is on a sick day. I'd love to be able to drop my kids off somewhere and curl up on the couch to hack up a lung in relative peace for a few hours. Can you imagine?

I've learned, in my almost-five-years as a stay-at-home parent, that you need to have systems in order for when you do get sick. I'm awful at maintaining systems, but not this one. The stakes are too high.

Step 1: Have a drawer full of various teas.

When I'm sick, I want Traditional Medicinal's Seasonal Sampler. This stuff is voodoo herbal ancient magic at its finest. I kept it in my desk, too, and would start drinking the Echinacea Plus tea the moment a kid came in with faucet nose. Throat Coat will bring back your voice long enough to make it through a lesson comfortably. And whatever is in the Gypsy Cold Care is delicious and alleviates that foggy head cold feeling. I'm not paid to say any of this. In fact, I spend a good deal of money on this tea every year, the way I chug it. (The way I chug it is out of my biggest mug, with honey, after it has brewed and then cooled for 5 minutes.)

Step 2: Have bones in the freezer.

I start to feel sick, I put this in the crockpot, generally in this order:

Whatever chicken frames I have in the freezer
A few carrots, broken into thirds
1 TBSP apple cider vinegar
a large onion, unpeeled and quartered
about 5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, chopped in half (you can just chop a whole head in half if you like garlic. Five makes the garlic a nice background note, not a really discernible thing.)
a few stalks of celery, rough chopped
a bay leaf
Water, to cover all the ingredients

I generally always have chicken frames frozen. When you roast a chicken, or have a rotisserie chicken, put all the bones, the neck, and any pan drippings into a bag and freeze it. You can thank me when you feel better.

If I don't have chicken in the freezer (What?! But you just said...) I will drag my starting-to-get-sick self to the grocery store and grab a rotisserie chicken (dinner, done.) or some cheap bone-in chicken pieces (drumsticks work well for this) so that I have some. Ideally you want two frames, but whatever you have is fine. This time, I had one roasted frame and a few uncooked wings and necks. In they go.

Set it on low and leave it. Ideally, you need at least 10 hours so that the nutrients can be sucked out of the bones. You can't overcook this, so even two days is fine. Shabbat Shalom, my cold-hearty people.

I started this after dinner last night and had some for lunch, over white rice, with a squeeze of lemon. I strained out what I needed in the separator and left the rest, still cooking. My bones hurt. I'm not going to futz around with it more than I need to.

If you have turkey bones on hand, those work nicely, too. 

If you want a vegetable broth with this sort of ease, throw this into your crock pot for hours on end:

Two onions, unpeeled and quartered
A head of garlic, unpeeled and cut in half
A bulb of fennel, with fronds, rough chopped
1 pound of carrots, rough chopped
A small bunch of celery, rough chopped
Bay leaf

I like to add ginger to my soup broths (chicken and vegetable) but ginger is strong and specific. If you are just going to drink this or have it with rice, I recommend a nickel-sized slice of fresh ginger. If you are going to use this as a base for dishes, you may want to omit ginger and just add it to the dishes (or stick some in your soup mug to steep) later.

Strain your broth and separate out the fat if you used bones. Freeze any unused portions.

I don't add salt until consumption for the same reason that I hold back on ginger. If you pull out a cup of this later to put in a dish that is already salty (Use broth to make your rice pilaf or couscous. Really.) you'll be disappointed. I also tend to use chicken frames and pan drippings from well-seasoned birds. 

Step 3: Books. If you are like me, your body gets sick, your brain won't shut off, and you end up driving yourself mad overthinking what needs to be done in relation to your physical inability to do anything worthwhile. Expect more posts today. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fiesta Soup in seconds. Seconds.

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There are a million versions of this soup out there. I can't remember where I first found it, but here is my pantry version. I let my toddler assemble most of it, it is that simple. 

Dump this into your crock pot if you have an hour or a day. Use a regular soup pot if not - it only needs 15-30 minutes to simmer that way. 

1 lb ground turkey meat, cooked (or beef. Leftovers from tacos work well.)

1 drained can (14.5oz) EACH: red kidney beans, navy beans, black beans, corn

1 jar of salsa. Fill the jar almost all the way with water and dump that into the pot, too. 

1 packet of ranch dressing powder

That's all. Put it on low and let it go. Serve with tortilla chips, cheese, jalapeƱos, sour cream, avocado slices...

If you omit the water, this comes out as more of a dip, which is how 3/4 of my family likes it. 


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

One Minute (and two hour) Fudge

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Maybe you have seen Tip Hero's Easy Microwave Fudge video that has gone viral on Facebook. Maybe not, but I'm betting you are interested now. Because it promises fudge from your microwave. 

I've tried many of these little 30-second shorts that always have text imposed over artsy videos of pouring ingredients into a glass bowl while someone plays whimsical, generic chords on a ukelele and poof! something delicious appears. Many times I have been disappointed.

But not this time, dear reader. This time, we win.

The cutesy video instructs you mix 3 cups of any candy melting chips (I used 2 cups of semi-sweet and one cup of dark chocolate) with one 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk. I microwaved mine for the instructed one minute, stirred, and then added another 20 seconds, because it was still fairly chunky after vigorous stirring. 

Then, you pour it into a container lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray. In the video, they use a square baking dish. I used a plastic storage container, because I wanted more depth to my fudge. If I did this for a party, I'd double the amount and pour it into a loaf pan, for a legit brick of fudge that can be sliced.

The last step before "destroy" is to let it cool in the refrigerator for 2 hours. Fortunately, I had to leave the house, so I wasn't tempted to poke at it every 12 seconds. 

Upon arriving home, I opened the container, peeled off the foil and... had some concerns. The one in the video was much prettier. 

But whatever. I'm not about presentation.

I sliced off a bit, just to see, and sampled a small piece.

Now, I know there are die-hard fudge people. I married one. The consistency is off. This is fudge like mug cake is a cupcake. Of course it isn't perfect, because you didn't put the time and love of the real stuff into it. It is perfectly good for what it is - quick, easy, and stuff you likely have on hand. It is chocolate. You just need to wait a few hours for it. 


Use a cup (or more) of butterscotch or peanut butter chips.

Stir in some Heath.

Press walnuts or salted almonds into the top (pieces, of course)

Put nuts and mini marshmallows at the bottom of the pan before pouring in the fudge, or just stir them into the fudge.

Prepare 2 cups of milk chocolate separate from one cup of dark chocolate (or white, or any other chips) and mix at the last minute, for a swirl effect.

The possibilities are endless!

World's Okayest Mom

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I just want to remind you all that sometimes, this is just fine. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Rubbing Crayons

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My preschooler has been obsessed with crayon rubbings for years. Every autumn, we collect leaves and make a giant leaf rubbing mural. Last spring, she made colorful rubbings of the engravings on benches at the baseball field, all logos for local shops that supported the sports field face lift.

The one complaint she has is the crayons. She doesn't like peeling her crayons, and they snap while she uses them. (This was more true when she was two, when this project started, but we like it this way now.)

To solve this problem, we melt crayon pieces. Silicone treat pans and the small colorway packs Crayola puts together work amazingly well for this. I purchase most of the specialty silicone pans I use at craft stores (get the apps for the coupons!) or the Dollar Store, which sells seasonal themes.

We only have Crayola products because they are the only ones I've found to be truly washable. In this project, they are the only ones I've had luck melting completely and without leaving a weird, waxy residue, causing a horrible, lingering smell, or losing color. You may need to make adjustments to the time if you use other brands.

We'll be doing bone shapes for our playgroup Halloween party. Today we did squares of autumn colors. We talked about melting points, change of states of matter, and physical changes. A science lesson in the books, and cool crayons to boot. 

Peel the crayons. You can soak them in water to make the labels come off a bit easier. I didn't, to give my kids something to do for 5 minutes while I cleaned up from lunch. 

Preheat the oven to 160F (which takes minutes... I do mine in the toaster oven) while you fill the cavities of the pan you are using to the top. You can use a higher temperature, but this keeps the smell down. I love the smell of legit Crayola crayon wax, but not for hours and hours on end. 

Bake the crayons for 20 minutes. Check to see that all chunks have melted. If they haven't, return the pan to the oven for 5 more minutes. 

Allow the crayons to cool, then pop them out of the molds. If they don't come right out, put the pan in the freezer for 5 minutes and try again. (I have never had this issue with silicone pans, only metal.)

About 20 whole crayons made 8 of these little squares. How many crayons you need will depend on the pan used. 

All that is left to do is color.