Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Disney World Autograph Book - Update

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They. Are. Amazing. 

My girls were really into meeting all the characters and collecting signatures. 

The pages from the Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters are bright and perfect for signing with a Sharpie. We brought every color marker under the sun, and the characters all made a big deal out of their pictures and the colors they chose. 

Spiral binding them was also perfect. Even if you don't add in the extra pages, the spiral allowed characters with bigger hands to hold them with relative ease. It also made it easier for us, the parents, to open the books while in line. 

I have started to sort through pictures and place some in the books. As of right now, I only have small prints of the characters. There are a few that I want to have as larger prints, so I've been skipping around the book. It is a work in progress. 

I made a few embellishments with my Cricut and purchased a few stickers to decorate the pages. I'm going to caption a few moments, too, like the one below. The girls offered the Mad Hatter some coffee. 

My original plan was to purchase an Epcot Passport for each girl, but they were perfectly happy with Duffy the Bear. We were chatting with a lovely woman helping with the Kidcot station in Norway who noticed their autograph books. She offered to sign those in lieu of the passports. This may be my favorite page overall. 

With just enough space left for a picture of the girls at a Kidcot station or somewhere in Epcot! If you go this route, I highly recommend adding a white piece of cardstock for Epcot.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Tagalong Cookie Brownies

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These brownies have been circulating the internet for years under many names. But now I have children and calling them by what I first knew them, slutty brownies, isn't exactly appropriate. I also don't like calling them simply brownies, because then my kids will think this is the base model for a brownie. And it should be, but that is an argument for a different time and place. 

Anyway, the concept behind these treats is simple. The original recipe is to press a tray of break and bake chocolate chip cookie dough into an 8 x 8 pan, arrange Oreos atop that (I only ever used Double Stuf) and add brownie mix to the top before baking as per the instructions on the brownie box. (I usually take them out a few minutes early, to keep the brownies fudgy.) Easy. Delicious. Potentially deadly. 

These are my go-to dessert for a crowd. I buy the giant log of Nestle cookie dough (it is DF, because everyone should enjoy these), press it into a 9x13 pan, and then proceed as usual. However, there were Girl Scouts outside the grocery store on Friday, and they had Tagalongs. 

Tagalongs, for those unfamiliar, are the cookies that are layered with peanut butter before being covered in chocolate. You see where this is going.

I'm torn between finding the Girl Scouts and buying every last box of Tagalongs they have or keeping this as a once-every-year treat. Because these are really dangerous. Really, really dangerous. 

Want to make it even better/potentially artery clogging?

Not only is this ice cream amazing on its own, but on top of these brownies? You don't need to take my word for it. You need to go to the store, get the ingredients, bake them, and find some friends to share in this experience. (Please do not try this alone. I worry.)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Stitch Fix review by a SAHM who loves yoga pants

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My first goal every day is to get my comfy pants back on. This may happen at noon, it may happen at 9pm. But my end game is always comfy pants. I don't go out in yoga pants and my 15-year-old hoodie that is more holes than woven cloth (okay, I actually have THREE of these...) so this is something I really look forward to every day. I think most humans operate the same way.

It is weird to post about Stitch Fix right after going KonMari on my wardrobe. I was a bit nervous about this incoming fix, my third one. What I realized is having such organized clothes helped me see where I have gaps in my wardrobe, and where I have way too many of any one thing. I probably don't need another white teeshirt. Or a grey one. Or a black one. In fact, I'm well covered in the tee department. My wardrobe is pretty much teeshirt, jeans, cardigan or sweater. Repeat.

And I'm tired of that. 

I don't need to be that mom at pickup. Which is fine if you are, but sometimes I like to look like I have my sh*t together, for my own sake. I volunteer in four different roles at our school. If I'm in the office or with kids, I want to look closer to teacher and further from kiss-and-go line. As much as I love my yoga pants and fluffy socks, I knew comfortable fashion was a thing I just wasn't connecting with for some reason. Getting rid of all my old teaching clothes (I've been out of it for 4 years and another kid now... none of that was coming back or fitting like it did...) and things that were not making me happy has helped make space for a few choice items I could really use.

Onto the fix. 

This is my third Fix. The first two were pretty good. Just remember it is a learning process for you and your stylist. I'm trying to figure out what I want, like, and need. Haley is trying to deal with my hot mess while making me happy. I try to give helpful feedback on each piece I receive (the app makes this super simple) and keep my Pinterest board in order. My stylist does a great job listening and giving personal feedback.

Right now, I have monthly fixes set up. You can pick the frequency and date of delivery online or through the app, and as long as it hasn't shipped, you can alter the date. I had to rearrange the last one to fall between Disney and my trip to see my family. It took less than a minute to do. 

What did I get? 

The first item was a cute necklace. I did not keep it, but only because I have something a bit similar and I need to do a better job mixing up and using the jewelry I already have. 

The other four were clothes. Each comes with two ideas on how to style the piece. I study these cards like it is my job, since I have no clue what I'm actually doing when it comes to fashion. 

I kept the knit top and the jeans. They are ready to be tried out! As for the other three items, Stitch Fix wants to be sure their items are cared for properly. They include a prepaid envelope to put all the pieces you don't keep into and send back. It can go in any US mailbox! Again, I love the easy.

I still come home and change into yoga pants. That is going to happen. But I also feel great when I'm not in my favorite sweater(s) and fluffy socks. I don't need to spend time at a store trying on things that don't work, someone who knows how this stuff works is helping me pick out stuff I can use and will work, and if I don't like it instantly, it goes right back, no fuss no penalty. What isn't to love?

If you are thinking of trying Stitch Fix, please consider using my link. I get an amazing referral credit and you get to know you helped a mom stay away from Keds and mom jeans.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

KonMari - Books

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Friday was a snow day! At 4:30am there was no snow on the ground. Then, at a day that refused to drop below exactly 32 degrees until the afternoon, big, soggy flakes of snow came down. It was heavy and it was a mess. We didn't leave our land. What better time than to move on to the next purge? 

Side note: Those bushes are 6-7 feet tall. By the end of the storm, they were maybe 3 feet off the ground, despite my clearing them twice. After the snow stopped the temperature dropped and everything froze. This is the only time I've been able to see the swing set from our dining room. Please survive, bushes. 

I regret not having taken before pictures, so here is the best I could do.

Don't judge. Nacho dinner and BSB live in 2016. It was like being 14 again.

We read. We read all the time, in every room. To start the purge, I had the girls remove the books from their room, allowing them each to keep two. I took all the books out of our room, leaving only my husband's current read. I cleared out the dining room, the basement (reading nook and shelves) and any room that didn't have built-ins or the spare room, which has my husband's two book shelves. None of those spaces are pictured above. Or below.

The clothes took me an hour to gather and two to purge. I knew before starting this would take longer. I underestimated, though. It took hours to clear off the shelves and gather all the literature. Although one of the rules is to just gather, there were some I touched and instantly wanted to get rid of, so I would just drop those in a bin while bringing the rest of the books into the room. I soon had a big problem. 

A whole day of work. Now, I did do things like parent, cook, play games with my kids, shovel 100 times, and make sure the chickens didn't freeze all day long. We don't watch tv on snow days, so the kids wanted to help. By help, I mean they wanted to play in a book jungle. Still, the above photo is what our living room looked like before bed. I was pretty certain we'd never use the couch again. My mother-in-law even took some choice books for her home, and I used the only two boxes I had to pack some books while separating the rest back onto shelves or into laundry baskets or bins. (That giant bin of maternity clothes that were donated? Filled with books in about 30 seconds.)

My big criticism here is that Kondo states you won't likely reread books, and the memories are in your head. That is mostly true for adult readers. I have a few sets of books I reread. I reshelved those. I also have a few book sets that I know my girls will read in the future if I don't read to them first, such as Harry Potter, Narnia, and Howl's series. I used the "Does it bring you joy?" criteria with modifiers, because most books bring me joy. If I knew I was going to reference it soon (or never, but that really depends on if George R.R. Martin gets his act, and sixth book, together soon) or if I had it for less than a year and hadn't read it, I kept it. 

This doesn't work with children's books at all. I'm not certain if Kondo has kids, but if she does, surely she's been asked to reread one book 9,000 times. Each peach, pear, plum, I spy Tom Thumb. 
I started the kid stuff by getting rid of worn out books, books my kids never showed interest in despite being in prime location and appropriate age and interest levels, and books that exist in our house in duplicate. Or triplicate. Tip: Don't buy book lovers and teachers books unless you know they don't have them. Let them go to Barnes and Noble and pick some new ones out. We had 3 copies of Dr. Seuss's ABCs, and 4 copies of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and Where The Wild Things Are. We had 7 copies of Jamberry. Many classics had at least one repeat. I kept the hard copies or nicer copies of each. This made the pile considerably smaller so that I could reorganize and separate the remainders. I did this by genres: Fairy Tales, Fiction, and Poetry all went into the den while Holiday, History, Science, and Cookbooks all went into the main room. Our dedicated kid shelf was restocked by random fiction and board books. (That means it wasn't sorted fiction - one of our favorite authors, a series we love, anything like that.)

After surviving the kid books, all my books were simple. Even the cookbooks. 

I discarded every magazine except Cook's, which I kept for my dad. Hubsy even went through his two bookshelves, turning them into two shelves on one bookshelf. 

Then we reclaimed the couch, celebrating by sharing a Lunch. 

15 boxes of books to donate. 15. That doesn't include the ones I gave my inlaws, the Cook's Magazines for my father, or the ones I set aside for friends (that they had asked for or that they are pregnant with their first kids and aren't teachers, so they lack the classics. Hope you all love Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.) or the ones I sold. Even though I said I was going to follow the rules, I couldn't help but list a few on our local Trading Post. I made $40 today. Whatever doesn't sell will get added to a box. 

Now the shelves are bare. I still need to reorganize some things, but check it out. Between the books and the clothes, there's an echo in the house. 

I have also gone way over the maximum bag and box count for our donation truck. We may need to schedule a second pick-up. Especially after Hubsy purges his clothes tomorrow. 

Next, paper. No no no no no. 

KonMari - clothes

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I'm awful at book clubs. I'm too fussy a reader and generally devour assigned reading or never start it at all. So I started The Un-Book Club on Facebook. (Come join us!) The idea started with a meme about 12 books to read in 2016, and grew.

One of those 12 books is a book that intimidates you. I thought I was going to need to find a book on dead war generals or finance on my husband's book shelves. But then I was enjoying my coffee in the book store and this was on display:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Well. That strikes fear into my heart. 

My house needs this. My family needs this. I need this. Even though we just went through a few huge weeding out cycles, we also went through a million holidays. And quite frankly, I'm tired of the crap everywhere. 

So I started to read. Right off the bat I was combative with the author. The first 30 or so pages are pretty much her detailing out every OCD moment she had as a child that led up to refining this method interspersed with anecdotes about hoarders of her past. The author also has some clear control issues, but if her method works as well as she claims, then the least I can do is follow her method in exact order and timing. She only stresses the importance of this every 3 pages. Finally, I reached something to do. Clothes. Excellent. 

The KonMari method involves gathering everything you own of one type in one spot and going through each piece while considering the emotion it invokes. If it doesn't bring you joy, get rid of it.

I moved all the toys, vacuumed the floor, and gathered every last article of clothing except the few pieces in the laundry (which the author allows for) right in the middle of my home.

All my clothes. All. Shoes, coats, purses, underwear, everything.

Now I understand why this step is important. When you see ALL of it in one spot it is a bit overwhelming. It makes getting rid of stuff easier, though. I mean, look at all of it! That giant grey bin behind the couch was full of maternity clothes, too. She said gather every last piece. So I did. 

This is what I kept. Now, here is my gripe with this chapter. The author says you are to hold each piece and if you don't feel joy, discard it. 

What about Spanx. Spanx give no woman joy. But you need them. I also hate wearing stockings. But I need them. The author alluded to discarding an item you don't love as soon as it has fulfilled its purpose. I don't need Spanx but a few times per year, but I'm not going to toss them out every time and get new ones as needed. So be practical. In reading, you may get the sense that Kondo's family had enough money to make this type of living sustainable growing up, and her method has ensured she can buy new Spanx every day for the rest of her life. That is all well and good for her, but it takes a bit of realism out of the whole purge thing. (More about that in BOOKS.)

The KonMari method comes with a folding method, too. This actually makes sense. Look at all the neat rows! So organized! My Wannabe Type A Complex is so happy.

Before I did this, my wardrobe was crammed into two dressers and my half of a generous closet. Shoes were everywhere. It was all a mess. I could have placed all of my clothes in my larger dresser, but I spread it out over two, considering the space my New England winter sweaters consume. Still, they can stay there all summer if they want. I have that much space. 

I did not rectangle fold my Spanx. Sorry, Kondo.

I am fairly certain I'm not going to do all of this correctly. But looking through Instagram, even the ones that are failing pretty hard are improving in some way. Uplifted by the 8 kitchen garbage bags of clothes, shoes and bags that I purged, I set up a donation time with a charity that collects in our area and read the next few pages to see what we were scouring next. 

Books. Oh boy.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

PJ Masks Valentine's Day Cards Free Download

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Of course, riding that PJ Masks high, my daughter wanted to know if there were any PJ Masks Valentines.

When I told her there are not, she was happy. "That means we can make them."

We sat down with the computer for about 20 minutes this morning (she let me get my coffee first, that kind child) and created some cards using Google and Pixlr.

And because we are good people who like to share joy, we will share these with you. Just print, cut, and back with colorful paper (or print right onto cardstock) for passable cards!

Get your Valentines here!

Eggs! It is why we keep chickens, after all!

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Eggs! We finally have eggs! Our six Easter Egger chickens have finally started laying, in the middle of our (warm) New England January, at nearly 33 weeks old. The first was on my birthday, from the lady I named, Dotty. We had five before we left for Disney. I haven't bought eggs since. Not even for baking.

Checking for eggs doesn't lose excitement. We thank the ladies and check the colors. I'm pretty certain Little lays the pink eggs, Dotty's are a light bluish-green, and the rest are between green and olive.

Our eggs are fairly uniform in size, but we did have one bitty egg and one giant egg. One teeny complete egg and one double yolk!


And here is why we lay eggs. The top left is the one store egg we had left. Fine, but you can see how it pales in comparison to the rest of the yolks. Our eggs are creamier and richer in taste. We know what goes into them because I've been the one filling the feed bowl since the chickies started eating. They do free range when we are about the house or in the yard, and I mix their food for their health and interest as well as ours. 

Finally! Eggs! Eggs to eat, eggs to spare, eggs to give to friends!

A Method For Mixing Your Own Layer Feed

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Look at those happy ladies, stalking me for treats. They free range occasionally and I get them greens every day in the winter, but most of what they eat is feed. So what do I give my chickies?

I must have read a few dozen recipes of homemade chicken feed by now, ranging from people who swear by crumble over pellets, fresh meat or live insects, dried herbs and hot peppers. Most are precise and all are certain in their amazingness.

I'm not that organized.

Here is what I've learned mature chickens should eat, and why:

Feed, either pellets or crumbles. Both have advantages, and this is the mainstay of their food. Some is organic, some boasts added omega-3.

Oyster shells - These should always be available once chickens are nearing maturity. I keep mine in a PVC pipe not unlike this.

Herbs - Like for humans, herbs are great for chickens. I always add some garlic powder into their feed, since they don't like it fresh or in water, despite my best efforts. Here is a helpful guide to which herbs are useful where in the coop. In the summer, the chickens have the herb garden to benefit from. I hung some oregano to dry this fall, and we've just run out.

Grains and seeds - Remember when chickens were wild? No? Neither do I. But given the chance, chickens will scratch and peck for grains and seeds all day long. Variation is what gives chickens tasty eggs. Oats, flax, wheat berries (or wheat grain), sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and dried lentils or split peas are just a few of the grains our birds enjoy. I toss in whatever I have on hand, or bought at the grain store. If you don't have a grain store or gobs of money, buy these from a bulk supplier online. Buying flax and wheat berries at a grocery store will cost you, easily, four times as much. I do buy the oats and seeds at the grocery store, though.

Brewer's Yeast - My dog and cat go nuts for this stuff. I had a giant jar from when I was nursing J, and as much as I loved lactation cookies, I don't need to keep eating them now that she is weaned. I kept the yeast, though, because it is great for flea prevention in pets. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, and Brewer's Yeast is packed with B12. (So much so that too much can cause acne.) I put some in the chicken food for the nutrients and the repelling properties, not that we've had an issue with pests, yet.

Corn - I read so much about chickens loving corn and being careful how much is offered that I was a bit disappointed when my girls didn't lose their minds over it. They do like it, but they don't go to town like the do on a container of meal worms or wheat grass. In the winter, corn is more important, as it helps keep them warm as they digest it. I add it to their feed in the winter for this very reason. It also adds color to the yolks.

Kelp - This is supposedly the holy grail of chicken feed. Seaweed is chock full of great minerals and vitamins. It makes their feathers silky, their eyes bright, their waddles red, and helps boost their health overall. I toss some in there. They like it. It is expensive, but one small bag lasts quite a while when you are mixing it in. Just don't go to Whole Foods to buy your chickens kelp.

Scraps - Chickens are composters. I give them the kitchen scraps. It cuts down on waste, cuts down on what I spend on chicken food, and cuts my trip to the compost pile in half.

Greens - Everything outside is brown right now. Chickens like greens. Whenever I grocery shop, I ask the produce people if they have any "shrink" that they will give to me for my chickens. Some stores will tell you that they can't give you any past date food because they are worried you will consume it (which is ridiculous, because if they are going to toss it in the trash because it is bruised, they might as well give it to someone asking for help... or chickens) but plenty of stores will gladly haul out some wilted greens or heads of lettuce or boxes of sprouts that are at their date, and most are completely fine still. When that fails me, I buy whatever greens are on sale that week. If the weather is in the 20s or lower all day, I get some iceberg lettuce and cucumbers. Both hold a great deal of water, so if I can't be around and the water freezes, the ladies have a backup.

Protein - Italian farmers feed their chickens protein. It is the secret to rich, hearty yolks. The other day, I made chicken stock with a whole frame, some meaty bones, and plenty of vegetables. When I was done, I set the strained scraps out to cool before tossing them. Next thing I know, Dotty is racing through the yard with a bone in her mouth, and five other ladies are darting after her. They ate every last bit of meat in that bowl. Chicken meat. Cannibalism is disturbing to us, but they didn't care one bit, and it was from a really great, organic, roasted bird. Better to them than the garbage can, right? Usually their additional protein comes from tried meal worms, but sometimes I will give them fresh meal worms, and they just go crazy for those. They were also the lucky recipients of some salmon before a vacation, and it was more or less Christmas for them.

I used to keep the pellets separate and mix the other dry elements together as scratch, but I found that much of the small stuff was lost that way. Here is what I do now.

NOTE: This is layer feed, for chickens ready to or actively laying eggs.

I fill the bottom of my bin with whatever "scratch" items I'm going to add. This time it was cracked corn, hulled and unhulled sunflower seeds, some dried meal worms (a lady had some molt going on, and I want to be sure they all have a little boost for new feathers... this makes up maybe 2% of the final mix), oats, wheat berries, garlic powder, and brewer's yeast.

Then I top with pellets. If you don't have a feed store with cheap pellets, organic pellets can be found here for a reasonable price. 

Snap the lid on and do a few kettle lifts with the container. Voila! Variegated, healthy food for the ladies that costs less when you mix it yourself!

They hear the food shaking...