Monthly Archives: April 2014

DIY: Moo Card Magnets

Long ago, there was a promotion at Flickr where you could get a few Moo minicards free. I ordered them, and then for about five years have had minicards floating around my house. I finally decided I absolutely must use them for a project.

I had lots of magnet-making supplies from my forays into Etsy selling (rebooting the shop is in the plans, so stay tuned).

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Guess what I did next?

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I was able to get three circles from each Moo card. The paper is pretty sturdy, so it took some oomph to get the circles punched.

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If you’re using super strong magnets like mine, be sure you don’t put your finished magnets near each other for the glue to dry! If they are within a few inches of each other, they’ll attract each other and possibly ruin your magnets!

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These magnets are easy to grab onto, and the Moo cards are affordable enough that it’s not the end of the world if they get a little worn over time. However, since the paper is thick, I see these lasting for quite a while.

Loving lately…

Here are a few things I’ve seen online lately and wanted to share …

If you’ve ever wanted to just pick up and live your life on the road, here’s some inspiration.

enJOY it by Elise Blaha Cripe  kale   quinoa salad.

Kale and quinoa salad from Elise – this sounds pretty amazing (minus feta, of course).

A brilliant gift idea for anyone moving or even just traveling.

A Kansas company is committed to making solar power affordable and widespread. Any chance of coming a little further west??

Tech Tuesday  Clever home screen for people who are likely to lose their phones

Do you fear losing your phone? Here’s a great idea that can help your phone find its way back to you.

Brunch: The New Date Night

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Need an idea for a weekend get-together that’s fun for all ages? Try a breakfast bar with DIY pancakes!

We had another family over for brunch this past weekend, which we’ve decided is the most ideal time for families with young kiddos to get together. Everyone is pretty fresh since it’s earlier in the day, it’s before most naptimes, and you still have the rest of the day to recuperate and then get the kids to bed on time. I don’t want to imply that this should completely replace good old date night with adult-only company; however, this is a great alternative when you want to get out and about but don’t want to resort to arranging a sitter.

You could easily stick to just serving pancakes or even waffles, but we wanted to add something heartier as well. Lentil gravy is perfect to serve on top of toast or biscuits. Cook your lentils ahead of time, then melt some butter (we used Earth Balance) in a separate saucepan. Add some soymilk and flour, then season with salt, pepper, sage, and oregano. We also used nutritional yeast and a touch of liquid smoke. Add a bit more soymilk or flour to get the right texture, then add drained lentils.

For convenience, we used an electric griddle, but you could easily do this on the stovetop as well. Mix up your pancake batter a little ahead of time, then set out add-ins and toppings. You can take orders as to what people want, or you can let folks add in their own goodies.

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Here are some add-in and topping ideas:

  • chocolate chips
  • shredded coconut
  • cinnamon
  • peanut butter
  • nutmeg
  • sprinkles

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Don’t forget the maple syrup! Add a side of fruit to your plate, and you’ve got a solid meal to keep you going for the rest of the day.

(Thanks to Holly for the great photo at the top, as well as the great company!)

After kids, did your get-togethers change? What are your favorite things to do on the weekend?

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!