DIY: Flower Power Earrings

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If you’re anything like me, you have a stash of crafty stuff from years ago that you have yet to use up. Long ago, I picked up a package of felt embellishments that are intended to be used for scrapbooking, decorating photo frames, or whatever else you can think up. Well, however many years later, I thought something up …

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Jewelry-making is much more my speed than is scrapbooking, and since it seems that spring may be here to stay (70s all this week!), I thought some nice bright earrings were in order.

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First, I took a large safety pin and made a small hole in one of the petals. This will be the top of the flower. The felt was pretty firm and thick, which makes it a little tough to work with but will make for sturdy earrings.

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I opened a jump ring using my jewelry tools, then worked it into the small hole formed by the safety pin. From there, it was easy to close that jump ring and add another, then finally add the earwire.

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As you can tell, it’s a very straightforward project but makes for some super cute earrings. These would be perfect for a little girl or for anyone who wants to add some fun, bright flowers to their wardrobe this spring!

 

 

Loving lately: Backpack edition

Lately I’ve been carrying my favorite Eddie Bauer backpack from college and grad school to work. It holds everything I might possibly need during the day — wallet, phone, sunglasses, iPad, whatever book I’m currently reading, and my camera. Could I travel more lightly? Sure, and I want to do that more often, but until then … I carry a backpack.

My criteria for a backpack are pretty simple — must be large enough to carry everything listed above, but must not be too big so that it is bulky and unwieldy. It must also make me look like a hip adult going to work, not a teenager going to school on field trip day. Too much to ask? I think not.

I’ve been coveting a few nice backpacks lately. Here’s the rundown:

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1. Timbuk2 Candybar – $85.00

I think this one is my favorite out of all of these. However, each time I look at them I seem to choose a new favorite. Fun colors, but still work-appropriate, and the reviews are great – it holds a lot but is not too bulky.

2. Mossimo Solid Backpack – $29.99

Easily the cheapest of the bunch. Target offers solid colors or prints, which can be fun. The drawstring seems secure, but the bag itself is still a little bulky.

3. Quick Trip Backpack – $59.99

I love these colors, although the eggshell fabric would probably dirty easily. The double latches are nice, and the shape is trendy.

4. Electra Commuter Backpack – $62

Gray and green work beautifully together, and the fact that this bag is made by the Electra bicycle company gives it bonus points. This one would stay secure even on my bike.

5. Ranger Small Laptop Backpack – $119.95

This is the priciest, but that mustard color is hard to resist. It comes with a rain cover (I can only hope that there would even be a reason to need that here in Kansas), and the reviews are fantastic — this is a bag that works well for petite frames.

6. Contrast Zip Backpack – $33

My favorite color combo for this bag is the red and blue, which of course is out of stock. If it were in stock, I probably would have already ordered this bag, in spite of the questionable reviews about the website itself. I love the shape, the double zip, and the size. *Sigh* … light blue isn’t bad, either, I suppose.

What kind of bag do you carry? Should an almost-30-year-old woman give up the idea that she is some sort of hipster academic and just ditch the backpack? 

Cooking Beans from Scratch

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Bags of dry beans on grocery store shelves can be pretty intimidating. Don’t you have to cook them somehow? And don’t they take forever to cook while I stand over the stove? And they’ll never turn out like beans in a can, right?

Guess what? It’s not very difficult at all to get tasty beans from a bag.

I’ve been using the following process for a couple of years now, and it’s pretty hard to mess it up. The process itself is a lot like my cooking stuff – no need to measure things and very forgiving. Plus, the process uses a slow cooker, so you don’t even have to be at home to get great beans!

If you need beans right now, then you’ll need to buy them in a can (they call it a slow cooker for a reason). But if you want to always have a stock of beans in your fridge ready to go at a moment’s notice, this process will work great for you. Let me break it down.

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Grab a bag of your favorite beans at the store. Dry beans are much cheaper than beans in a can – a single bag will cost between $1.50 – $2.50, depending on the type of bean. I haven’t noticed much of a difference between the store brand and “name brands”, so you can make it more affordable by choosing the store brand or whatever is on sale. Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) tend to run a little bit higher, in our area, so I only get them when they are discounted. Pinto beans tend to be the cheapest, and I can get a 32 oz bag for about the same cost as a 16 oz bag of black beans. This process will work with any type of dry beans in a bag.

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Next, you’ll want to open the bag and pour it into a bowl. If your slow cooker has a removable insert, you can pour the beans right into there. Sometimes in the bean “harvesting” process, little rocks will be picked up along with the beans. This happens with any brand, so don’t think it’s just because you cheaped out and got the store brand. It just happens, and it only takes a few seconds to sift through the beans and look for the stones. In the last few bags I’ve cooked, I haven’t found any. In some bags, I’ve found up to 3 or 4.

Once you’ve sorted the beans, fill your bowl or slow cooker insert with water, enough to cover the beans plus maybe half an inch over. This is the soaking part of the process, and it helps prepare the beans for cooking. Once the beans are covered with water, just slide your bowl or insert into the refrigerator. You’ll let the beans soak for around 8 hours, or overnight. Or longer. Sometimes we’ve gotten busy and the beans have soaked for an extra few hours. No worries.

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So you’ve got this bowl of water and beans in your fridge. Once they’ve soaked, you’re ready to cook them. If you’re using the slow cooker insert, you might want to let it sit on the counter for a bit to warm up so you’re not putting cold stoneware right into a hot slow cooker. However, the slow cooker takes a little bit to really get warm, so if you’re in a hurry, pop that insert right into the slow cooker. If your beans are in a bowl, pour them into your slow cooker. Turn the dial to “high” (that’s what it is on my slow cooker, anyway) and let it go. You’ll leave the slow cooker on for about 8 hours, or overnight.

Now, some beans take a little bit longer to cook than others. I’ve found that Great Northern beans tend to cook the quickest, maybe in as little as 6 hours depending on your slow cooker, and garbanzo beans take the longest. Black beans and pinto beans are somewhere in the middle. But the difference is negligible, so just figure your beans will take about 8 hours to cook.

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To check if your beans are cooked, take the lid off the slow cooker (watch out for steam!) and poke the beans with a fork. If they’re tender, they’re done. Sometimes cooked beans will float to the surface, or the skins will come off the beans in the cooking process. Garbanzo beans will sometimes have a residue that floats to the top of the water while cooking. This is all totally fine.

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Now that your beans are cooked, you’ll need to drain off all that water. Put your strainer or colander in the sink, and pour beans and water right into it. Next, rinse your beans thoroughly. Once the water runs clear, you are ready to put your beans in a container and keep them in the refrigerator.

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We use mason jars for just about everything, and this is no exception. They store well, they’re compact, and they last a long time – plus, they’re not plastic. One 16 oz bag of beans makes almost two jars worth. We go through beans pretty quickly in our house, so we know that when we get through the first jar of beans, it’s time to soak another bag of them. If you don’t go through beans so quickly, you can make them keep even longer by storing them in the freezer. To do this, instead of using jars, you’d put the beans in a Ziploc freezer bag, squeeze out the air, and place the bag in the freezer. They could keep for a couple of months. In the refrigerator, they could keep for a week or maybe two.

If you have a bag of beans bigger than 16 oz, you can either cook the whole thing and then store them in the freezer, or you could just cook a portion of the bag. I usually buy pinto beans in a 32 oz bag, but will only prepare half of them at one time. This keeps us from getting burned out on pinto beans, and it helps stretch our dollar a little further.

This process will easily make the amount of beans you’d get in 3 to 6 cans, at a much lower price point and with little effort on your part (other than a little bit of planning ahead). Remember, 16 oz of dry beans does not equal a 16 oz can of beans! A lot of the weight of the can comes from the water that the beans are packed in, that you drain off anyway. You get much more bang for your buck from buying dry beans.

How do you save money while you shop? And have you ever fixed dry beans?

Making Oobleck

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Recipes for Oobleck, slime, and magic mud are everywhere, but all you need to know is that cornstarch and water makes for major fun for kiddos. You probably already have a package of cornstarch in your kitchen – it’s one of those ingredients that, when called for, you only use a little bit and then have a ton leftover that takes forever to use up. If you do have to buy it, it runs pretty cheap at the store. Don’t bother with the boxes that can spill all over the cabinet; instead, you can get cornstarch in a nice plastic tub with a screw-on lid, and it keeps practically forever.

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The fun for kids starts when mixing it up. Grab your mixing bowl and add about a cup of cornstarch and 1/2 cup of water. Stir it up (be prepared, this stuff acts weird – if you want to get scientific, it’s called a non-Newtonian fluid), and feel free to add a little more cornstarch or a little more water to get the right texture. You can add a bit of food coloring too, but food coloring can sometimes stain, so use caution.

The easiest way for Aoife to play with it is to pour it on the tray of her high chair. Keep in mind, even though Oobleck is made with edible ingredients, it really shouldn’t be eaten. We get about 20 minutes of playtime before Aoife starts trying to test the limits and put it in her mouth, which is longer than we get with Play-Doh. If you’ve got older kids (let’s be real, this stuff is fun to play with at any age), the fun will probably last even longer.

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Oobleck (named for the Dr. Seuss book) acts like both a solid and a liquid depending on what you’re doing with it. If you smack it, it feels solid, but if you rest your fingers on it or put it in your palm, it will run like liquid. To clean up, simply run the tray and your your toddler’s hands under running water.

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For something a little more contained, you can also pour your original cornstarch/water mixture into a Ziploc bag. It will still feel cool and act crazy like Oobleck does, but there will be even less mess. If you’re ready to kick it up a notch, you can try Dancing Oobleck! We haven’t done this yet, but it looks awesome. And for more fun, check out a couple of videos of people walking on Oobleck. Then go try this crazy stuff for yourself!

 

Loving lately …

Here are a few things I’ve been enjoying online lately:

Adorable Mother and Daughter Show Off Impressive Yoga Moves   My Modern Metropolis

Love these images of a mom and daughter bonding over yoga.

Pop culture / literature related workouts? That’s a win in my book.

Amazon.com  Meri Meri 45 0957 Little Garden Cupcake Kit  Kitchen   Dining

How cute is this fun cupcake kit for springtime?

Game of Thrones is pretty great for a lot of reasons — one of them is its awesome theme song. Check out these impressive cover versions. Maybe “impressive” isn’t the word for the dog cover …

 

 

Great Snacks for Toddlers

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Aoife’s been walking for a while now, so I’m calling myself the mom of a toddler. She’s definitely not a baby anymore, that’s for sure. For the time being (although if you know about parenting toddlers, you know schedules can change overnight), Aoife eats three meals a day and has an afternoon nap. Forever, she’s been a great eater and I’m thrilled that, at least for now, she eats pretty much anything we put in front of her, especially if it’s something we are eating too.

Snack time happens shortly after I get home from work, so I take that time to make a cup of tea and sit down with Aoife while she has her snack and talk about the day with her. We talk about what she and Daddy got up to during the day, and we talk about what we’re going to do for the rest of the afternoon. This is great one-on-one time, and I get a moment to breathe between work and all-out “Mom time”. For the sake of routine and getting into healthy eating habits (which helps avoid choking, not to mention the mess of finding crumbs in the couch cushions), when at home we always sit at the table in the high chair for snack, just like we do for meals.

Here’s a quick listing of some of Aoife’s favorite snacks.

Peanut Butter

Not by itself, obviously. Peanut butter is super kid-friendly, and it’s a great protein source for vegans and vegetarians. It’s also super affordable, easy to find, and goes with so many different things. We’ve used it in several different ways:

  • On top of a banana and sprinkled with hemp seed (a great source of omegas, protein, and fiber!)

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  • On a toasted slice of bread (great when short on time or when there’s nothing else handy – we all have those days, right?)
  • Mixed into a bowlful of those “puffs” sold in the store. I don’t buy a lot of packaged foods for any of us, so it’s rare that we have these on hand. I bought a tub of them because we needed something while on the go, and once we were at home they seemed so empty and not very filling. Enter peanut butter – pour the puffs in a bowl, add a tablespoon of peanut butter, and stir. In this case, I also added more hemp seed.IMG_9170
  • On a leftover pancake from our big Sunday breakfasts. Just pop that pancake in the toaster (my husband claims they’ll fall apart, but maybe that’s just the non-vegan ones that he grew up with – I have not had that happen in my adult life!) and add some peanut butter. No need for syrup at snacktime.

Peanut butter is also great with apples – one of my favorite snacks on the weekends (I try to follow the No S Diet - a topic for another post).

Any Kind of Fruit

Are blueberries in season? What about trying mangoes or papayas for a change? Fruit is a very simple snack to have at any age, and it’s great for toddlers because so many times you can just throw a clementine or an apple in a bag and go if you’re in a hurry. Add peanut butter if you need it to be a little more substantive, but for most kiddos, the piece of fruit (especially when high in fiber) should be enough to hold them over until dinner.

Avocados

I think avocados are technically a fruit, but I’ll categorize them differently here because they’re not exactly going in your ambrosia salad anytime soon. Avocados are full of good fats, which every growing kiddo needs for their healthy brain. They are pretty filling, and the texture is easy to eat. Try mashing the avocado and then spreading it on a piece of toast, much like you would do with peanut butter.

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Mixed Vegetables / Potatoes

Even my good eater sometimes leaves a bit of lunch untouched. When this happens, it’s easy to cover her plate and pop it in the fridge, bringing it out again when it’s time to sit down for a snack. Aoife responds to this really well, and it ensures that she gets the nutrients that she missed out on at lunch. If you don’t have any leftover from lunch, there’s no harm in grabbing some frozen veggies and warming them up in the microwave. And potatoes, whether they are mashed, roasted, or even sauteed a bit, are a filling and tasty option. Sweet potatoes can help mix it up a bit, if you’re looking for something a little different. If they haven’t already been cooked, plan ahead – they can take quite a while to bake and sometimes that’s not an option when a toddler wakes up – they want their snack now!

Water

A tall cup of water is essential for snacktime. Aoife drinks soy or almond milk at her three meals, so at snacktime  we mix it up and give her something more refreshing. Water is also a huge factor in making that little brain grow bigger and stronger, not to mention the rest of her body. We also have water throughout the day, especially as the weather gets warmer and we do more playing outside or running in the stroller.

What are your kids’ (or your!) favorite snack foods?

Great toddler snacks from around the web:

Keep in mind, this is what works for us. I hope to inspire you, and I appreciate your respect about how we choose to raise our healthy and happy girl!

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DIY: Mod Podge Map Necklace

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I’ve had a pair of round wooden earrings that have gotten quite a bit of wear. Lately, though, I’ve neglected them and I realized they could use a change.

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Enter this tutorial from Happy Hour Projects. I love the dictionary page she used, but I had a stash of maps just crying out to be my new necklace.

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My earrings were already darkly stained, so I didn’t do any prep work. I removed the earwire (tip when working with jumprings: rotate your wrist when opening the ring, rather than pulling the two ends apart), then positioned the wooden circle where I wanted it on the map.

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I traced around the outside of the circle, then cut it out. A tip here: the paper will fit better on the circle if you trim it slightly smaller than the circle itself. I added Mod Podge to the back of the cut-out map as recommended in the tutorial, then applied it to the wooden circle.

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Once it dried, I added another layer of Mod Podge, making sure to get the outside and inside edges. Then add a jumpring and a chain, and you have a new necklace! I was able to re-use the hole that was already there; a safety pin worked wonderfully to poke through the paper and Mod Podge.

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I wore the necklace today with a white t-shirt and rust colored skinny jeans, to bring out the colors in the map.

Do you have any jewelry that needs a refresh?