Friday, December 24, 2010

I Am Cookie Monster

Growing up, my mom would begin to stock up on wax paper just before Thanksgiving in preparation for the frosting, packaging, and storing of tin upon tin of Christmas cookies. Our dining room table would be lined with wax paper while my younger sister and I rolled out dough and cut it into stars, bells, Christmas trees, and a very awkward looking Santa, which once baked, never really resembled much of anything. Later, the wax paper would be rolled out once again as we frosted the cookies. Wax paper lined the kitchen counters as my mom made press cookies and those crumbly nut-filled cookies that are rolled in powdered sugar that I never learned the name of. At last, the cookies would be carefully packed into decorative tins, layers separated by wax paper, and given out to our postal carrier, our neighbors, co-workers, teachers, and friends.

With two children of my own, I now stand in awe of my mother, not so much that she was able to bake and give away such a variety of confections during the holiday season with my sister and I running around, but that she was able to keep any sweets in the house at all! I have tried to bake Christmas cookies and peppermint bark and fudge to give away during the holidays. And I can usually time it so that I can do the baking while my youngest naps. My two year old loves to help out and dons the apron that matches mine, made for us by my mom, in order to help me stir all the ingredients together. The problem is - I can't keep the sweets around long enough for them to be given away!

And so, I give up. Instead, I've rediscovered some quick cookie recipes perfect for making with little ones and munching on at home. The recipe below is from my mom, a no-bake chocolate and peanut butter cookie that you can make in just a few minutes.

  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa (try Dutch cocoa for a yummy dark chocolate treat)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 3 cups quick oats

Boil together the first 5 ingredients for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add peanut butter and oats. Mix well and drop by spoonful onto wax paper. Allow to cool.

And that's it! Easy, fast, delicious cookies just for you!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

It's Not You. It's Me.

I do some of my best thinking during the twilight moments, somewhere between lucid and dreaming. As my head his the pillow last night I realized I was working too hard at being something I'm not all that interested in being...well, at least as far as this blog goes. I adore all the crafty mom blogs out there. Each week I see moms posting tutorials and giveaways and recipes, and I have tried to imitate that approach with my Made By Me Monday tutorials and Tech Tuesdays and whatnot. But I didn't really start this blog with that in mind. Instead, this blog was borne out of my work with students and blogging about my adventures in teaching. Upon becoming a parent I realized that much of my reflection on teaching connected with what I was also learning as a new parent. I wanted a place to share those reflections, to connect with other parents struggling in similar ways, and start a conversation. Turns out, I didn't intend to start a tutorial blog. I was just easily sidetracked by all the great tutorial blogs out there.

So with the coming new year, I'm going to start again, returning to where this blog began. But I need your help. Last night I had an idea that I would blog each week in response to a question. So, I need 52 questions, one question for each week of 2011. I'm not talking "What color should I paint my kid's room?" kind of questions. I need 52 of the big parent questions to think about, reflect on, and respond to. I'm already thinking that I need to respond to a question on religion. What happens if you were raised a religion but haven't attended in years - should you return to services simply because you've had children? Or something to that effect. Maybe even some practical parenting questions - to cry it out or coddle? Or how about how do you handle gift overload during the holidays? Help me create my list of 52 questions to answer. Use the comment box below to post your ideas. I'll start to organize a list as the questions start rolling in.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fabulous Finds Friday: All About the Holiday Tutorials

There's still time to get your craft on before Christmas. Check out these great tutorials and blog posts for some inspiration and motivation.
  • Elizabeth over at Twelve Crafts Till Christmas has a great post on Handmade Holiday Tips. She gives me hope that there's still time to finish those seven or so unfinished projects cluttering my dining room table.

  • I love all the ideas over Green Eyed Monster for Sustainable (and creative) Gift Wrapping Ideas. I'm already scouring our house for old books to use their pages as gift wrap. But if you do receive some gift-wrapped packages, repurpose that wrapping with some creative origami. Check out their great tutorial for a Repurposed Wrapping Paper Box.

  • I was at JoAnn Fabrics this morning buying terra cotta pots and paper mache letters, inspired by Jessica over at Craftily Ever After. I LOVE the "Noel" wall art, especially since it's inspired by Philly's own "Love" sculpture. And I'll be putting together my mini-potted pines tomorrow morning.

  • I love this DIY Dish tutorial for felt flowers. I used it for the felt flowers that I added to the yarn wreaths I created for gifts this holiday season.

  • This is another great fabric flower tutorial posted a while back by Wise Craft. And in my search for different fabric flower tutorials, I'm so glad to have run across this blog. Wise Craft is full of such great ideas and ones that I can relate to!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tech Tuesday #5: Twitter or Facebook?

I'm cheating a bit for this week's Tech Tuesday. I'm posting a link to Amber Jordan's article "Should I use Twitter or Facebook for Marketing my Handmade Business?" over at Handmade Spark. It's a short piece, but full of great links and information for marketing your handmade crafts online. The short of it - Twitter is the way to go.

The key is to make sure that you are using Twitter effectively. "A constant stream of look at me updates will leave you alone in the tweet-o-sphere. You have to learn the tweeting etiquette and use the 80/20 rule. You retweet useful articles, links, interesting tweets made by others 80% of the time and only self promote 20% of the time," says Jordan. It's all about establishing relationships, especially in the handcrafted online sphere. You need to know who you are connecting with before just jumping in to either Facebook or Twitter. So, to help you get started, Jordan passes along a couple of great links:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Made By Me Monday: Burlap Wreath

I'm on a mission this holiday season. I've banished wrapping paper from our house in an effort to find more environmentally friendly and unique ways of packaging our presents for friends and loved ones. So, as I was putting together a coffee themed gift for a relative, I went in search of a place that sold the burlap bags coffee beans are shipped in, thinking I could use the burlap sack to wrap the gift. Luckily, the Online Fabric Store not only had the bags I was looking for, but they also were incredibly inexpensive and shipped very quickly (I even got a shipping discount). Since they were inexpensive, I bought more than I needed, figuring I would think of a crafty way to use these very cool printed burlap sacks. So, here is my first adventure with coffee bean burlap: a coffee-inspired burlap wreath.

There are a couple of really good reasons to use the coffee bean bag rather than simply buying a yard or two of burlap fabric. First, it's environmentally friendly. You are finding a creative way to upcycle burlap rather than purchase burlap that's never been used. And second, you can't go to a fabric store and find the cool prints that these coffee bags have on them. Depending upon how you wrap your wreath, you can really incorporate some of the great colors and texts that you'll find on the coffee sacks. You'll notice that in the pictures of the smaller wreath that I created, I didn't incorporate much of the printed text on the burlap into my design. But on my second larger wreath, I wrapped the strips of burlap so that the text and graphics showed a bit more. Since many of the graphics were in red and green, I think I'll be decorating this larger wreath to fit in with my Christmas decor. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me show you how to create this great, upcycled coffee bean burlap wreath.

  • 1 burlap coffee bean bag
  • straw wreath of any size
  • hot glue gun
  • scissors
  • ribbon of your choosing, though wired ribbon is easier to shape
  • decorative button
  • any other decorative elements you might want to incorporate on your wreath
  1. Begin by cutting your burlap into strips about 2-inches wide. Keep in mind, this will be a messy process. You will have threads and burlap dust everywhere. But since you're creating a rustic-looking wreath, you don't really want neat edges. There's no need to measure before cutting since the fabric will unravel in places.

  2. Plug in the hot glue gun; it's time to burn some fingers. Be warned, a little hot glue goes a long way. Since the burlap is an open weave, be careful of burning your fingers. You'll use your hot glue gun as you wrap the strips of burlap around your straw wreath. Start by hot gluing one end of a strip to your wreath on a slight diagonal. You'll use your glue gun each time you come to the end of a strip and need to add a new one. Keep in mind that you ideally want your strips to end on the backside of the wreath, so you may need to cut off some of the length of your strips to ensure that you'll be gluing on the back of your wreath. Before gluing a strip into place, wrap it to make sure the design looks as you want it to. Do you want more or less of the coffee bean graphic and text showing?

  3. Now that your wreath base is put together, you can begin to decorate. I wrapped this small wreath with ribbon following the diagonal of the burlap wrap. I also left ribbon on the back of the wreath so that I could create a loop to hang the wreath.

  4. There are a number of great tutorials on the web for creating decorative flowers, some of which I've listed below. I wanted to create a flower using the coffee bean burlap, but since I knew the fabric would likely ravel, I couldn't use a pattern that called for clean edges. So I created my own flower. I began with four 3x3 inch squares of fabric, and four 2x2 inch squares of fabric. I first folded each square into a triangle. Then, holding the folded edge, I took the outside tips of the triangle and folded them toward the top tip. I used doubled up quilting thread and used a few stitches to hold the folded triangles together, but you could also use hot glue. You'll repeat this for each of the squares of fabric, which should leave you with four large petals and four small ones
  5. To assemble the flower, you can either stitch or hot glue the large petals together at the center. If you stitch, as I did, double up your thread and cut an extra long piece. I used only one length of thread to assemble this flower, often leaving the needle sticking up through the center and stacking my parts onto the needle.

  6. After securing the four bottom petals together, you'll use ribbon to create the next layer. I simply looped in my ribbon so that it would peak through the open spaces between the large petals, folding it much like you would an awareness ribbon, with the printed side of the ribbon always facing up.

  7. Then repeat with the smaller petals. Once you have your layers together, secure them by stitching a button at the center of the flower. Then all you need to do is hot glue your flower to your wreath and you're done!

You'll find this tutorial linked at:
MakingThe Girl Creative Keeping It Simple

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fabulous Finds Friday: This Week's Cool Finds

Thought I would share some of the great tutorials I found myself reading and bookmarking this week. Many of them have been inspiration for the gifts I'll be giving this holiday season. Enjoy!

  • Stephanie over at Full of Great Ideas has a wonderful tutorial on making hand-print snowman ornaments with your kids. This easy-to-do project will make a great addition to our Christmas tree this year.

  • I want to be Heather Bailey. You need to check out her blog, tutorials, and free patterns. They are amazing! I especially liked the idea of using her pinwheel tutorial as a way to create decorations for the top of your holiday packages.

  • This wine cork wreath tutorial was sent out via an Etsy tweet not long ago. I've been collecting our wine corks for years in hopes of putting something like this together. I'm looking forward to using this tutorial to help me do so.

  • While I'm being Heather Bailey, I want hang out with the women over at Green Eyed Monsters, a fabulous collection of environmentally responsible crafters and bloggers. Check out this well-written tutorial for creating a wreath out of your old sweaters.

  • I love Becca's tutorial over Blue Cricket Designs for easy-to-make bird inspired artwork. I've just recently discovered how fun and easy it is to decoupage, so I'll certainly be using this idea soon.

  • And speaking of art, this is a great tutorial for creating holiday inspired art over at Alphamom. I especially love the Rudolph inspired mirror design.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's Not Guilt

My three month old has been a bit fussy the last few days. He's adjusting to a new sleep pattern, and, given the slime-trails of drool that coat nearly ever shirt I own, he very well may be starting to teethe. So this afternoon I found myself standing in the middle of my living room swaying and shushing my swaddled infant in a desperate attempt to get my little one down for his afternoon nap. Usually, I can lay him down, awake but just barely in his bassinet without so much as a squeak, but this afternoon he wouldn't even let me sit down to rock him to sleep. He wanted to be held close while I stood to bounce him off to dreamland. All this to say, I don't normally watch afternoon television, but since it was taking my little man a bit of work to drift off, I popped on "The Talk."

I had never watched the program before, but who could miss all the television ads in prime time touting it as the modern mom talk show to watch. My reaction - really? REALLY?!

The opening talk of today's program was inspired by Julianna Margulies' interview in Harper's Bazaar. The hosts mention Margulies' role on "The Good Wife" and begin to discuss their moments of being the good wife versus the bad wife. What evolves is an conversation where Leah Remini declares that she is a good wife when she gives "it" up for her husband, which according to her is the only thing all men want any way, versus Holly Robinson Peete saying that she is a good wife when she brings her husband his slippers and pipe. My initial reaction is to stop bouncing my little one (to his dismay) and stand dumbfounded. Really? You're going to argue over which superficial gender role is more accurate? And this on a show that touts itself as the program that "gets" modern mothers. I highly doubt a majority of their viewers would agree that what makes a woman a "good wife" is the level to which she submits to her husband's desires, whether they be for sex or slippers.

Ironically, when Julianna Margulies was asked about how she was able to be a good wife and mother, she responded in her interview that she feels
"...guilt all the way around. You want to be there for your husband, be there for your kids, be great at your job, all that stuff. But at the end of the day, if you put everyone in front of you, what happens to you? I think all these 1950s Leave It to Beaver housewives suddenly woke up and went, 'What about me? F--k you all. You know how hard this is? I've had dinner on the table, I've figured this out, and now you're sleeping with your secretary?' I do believe the balance lies in yourself. I can't say I can do it all, because I can't."
One of the hosts mentions this quote from the magazine. From here the conversation slips into talk of our role as mothers and our place within the family. Holly makes a comment about how she takes care of her husband, her kids, even her dogs before she takes care of herself. The camera pans wide, the women in the audience can all be seen nodding their heads. The women around the table lean in closer as the camera zooms in for a close-up on their pensive faces. They begin to discuss how mothers are motivated by guilt. I am no longer dumbfounded. I'm irritated. I am actually a bit surprised by how strong my reaction is at the mention of mothers' guilt, and I find myself wondering, "Why does this bother me so much?"

In frightful earnestness the women discuss how guilt haunts every choice they have made since becoming a mother. They feel guilty for having a career, for not spending more personal time with their husbands, for putting the children above their own needs, for putting their own needs above their children - their guilts start to contradict each other.

I hate the word guilt. It's cheap. It's easy. It's superficial. It is word too easily attached to the role of motherhood. It is not guilt these successful television hosts feel. It is ambivalence. They feel ambivalent about wanting a career, or alone time, or a role in addition to that of mother. They feel ambivalence for wanting to be successful outside the home as well as inside. But it is certainly not guilt. If it were guilt, they could repent for the offending behavior, never to be "guilty" of it again. This, however, is not what they mean when they declare their feelings of guilt.

Our culture almost seems to demand that these successful mothers publicly declare their "guilt." We are supposed to feel guilty for wanting more, for not being able to balance it all. But "guilt" is a disguise for a choice that we've already made, whether that choice be to achieve professionally or to stay at home to raise happy, healthy children. By falling prey to the pressure of "working mother's guilt," we cheapen both our roles as mothers and as professionals. Such proclamations of guilt take away from the difficult choices we've had to make along the way. Proclaiming feelings of guilt is a disavowal of those choices. Guilt oversimplifies what it means to be a modern mother.

I wished the television hosts would own their ambivalence and not some false sense of guilt. Clearly they would not be on television and as successful professionally as they are today if they were truly motivated by some sense of guilt. Instead, I wish these public women would spend time talking about the pull they feel for wanting something for themselves versus the pressure they feel to also be the attentive housewife and mother. It is these polarized images of the modern woman - career-driven versus crafting mom - that have us embracing notions of guilt. The modern mother is more complicated. We need to own our ambivalence, not the guilt.

Only one voice on the panel, that of the youngest of the mothers, Sarah Gilbert, prevailed as the voice of balance, observing that we all want what we don't have, and that at some point "we need to come to terms with our choices in order to find balance." It was with that sound declaration that I was able to lay my infant son down for his nap and pick up my laptop to blog.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tech Tuesday #4: Better Searching

Cross posted at:Teacher Et cetera

Be the spider, not the bee
When looking for food, the bee travels from flower to flower to flower. This is the traditional way that we think about researching. We go to a search engine and jump from web page to web page to web page. This is tiring and inefficient. Instead, we need to be like the spider.

The spider spins a web and waits for his food to come to him. He doesn't waste time. He has found a better way to make what he wants come to him. So, how can we do that as researchers?

BEE A Better Searcher: Google Smarter, Not Harder

Using Better Search Terms and Options
  • It's all about your search terms. Before ever putting a word into the Google search box, first spend some time coming up with 5 - 10 specific search terms. In fact, refer to these pages to help you refine your search terms.

  • Use quotation marks to limit results. Putting quotation marks around your search terms tells Google to return results that include only that exact phrase. This is especially important to use when you are looking for research on uniquely worded or specific terms. For example, there are over 16 million results for India's water supply but only 186,000 results for "India's water supply," and the results that are returned when using the quotations are more relevant.

  • Search within a specific website (site:) Google allows you to specify that your search results must come from a given website. For example, by typing India Google will return pages about India from the New York Times website. You can broaden this, too. If you type India, you will get results from a .gov domain.

  • Use the minus to limit what your search returns. When you put a minus before a word in the search box, Google will not return sites that include that term. For example, by doing a search like salsa -dancing (notice there is no space between the minus and dancing), the minus will remove "dancing" from the search results you get back.

  • Define: Need a quick definition? Type define: word and viola! An instant definition!

  • Use OR to refine your search. Google's default behavior is to consider all the words in a search. In fact, you don't need to use and because this is Google's default. If you want to specifically allow either one of several words, you can use the OR operator (note that you have to type 'OR' in ALL CAPS). For example, Philadelphia Phillies 2008 OR 2009 will give you results about either one of these years, whereas Philadelphia Phillies 2008 2009 (without the OR) will show pages that include both years on the same page.

  • Use the tilde to find synonymous search terms. Adding the tilde (~) before a search term will help broaden your search because the tilde tells Google to return not only the search term you specified, but also terms that Google thinks are synonymous with your term.

  • Use an asterisk to find a quick answer. Sometimes the best way to ask a question is to get Google to fill in the blank by adding an asterisk (*) at the part of the sentence or question that you want finished into the Google search box. How many MPH can the world's fastest man run? Ask Google by typing the world's fast man can run * MPH.


GOOGLE SEARCH OPTIONS: Search smarter using timeline searches, scholar searches, and book searches

  • Google Books: Search full texts of books (hint: use the search box to the left of the book's pages)

  • Google Scholar: Search scholarly online journals, presentations, and texts

  • Google News: Search worldwide news sources

Tips and Tricks for Searching Sources Faster
  • Control + F opens a find box at the bottom of the page to make searching within a document for specific information even easier. This works on any web page.

  • Search a specific site by using site:

  • Kite Runner will return pages on my site that mention Kite Runner

  • India water shortage will search educational sites for mention of India's water shortage issues

  • filetype:.pdf (or .doc or .ppt, etc.) will help you find specific file types (this can also be done from the advanced search

Make the WEB Work Harder:
Google Alerts
  • Create Alerts to send relevant news resources to your email inbox. BE THE SPIDER!

Access Your WEB of Research Anywhere:
Online Bookmarking

Monday, December 6, 2010

Made By Me Monday: Easy Earring Display

Looking for a unique gift for a jewelry lover? Instead of simply purchasing a pair of earrings and wrapping them up in a generic gift box, why not give two gifts in one? This easy to make earring display stand makes a nice gift by itself or as a lovely display on which to hang a gift of homemade earrings (and here's a great earring tutorial).

Before beginning, you will need to make a trip to your local arts and crafts store (don't forget your 40% off coupon), and then a trip to your local hardware store. You will need:
  • a good pair of crafting scissors or a safety cutter
  • a wooden picture frame, a 5x7 frame works well
  • a picture frame or plate stand
  • glue gun and glue
  • a roll of pet screening (large weave, plastic instead of wire)
  • decorative drawer pulls (optional)

  1. Begin by carefully removing the entire back from the frame. You'll also remove the glass, but don't discard it. You'll need to use the glass as your template for your screen material.

  2. Lay the glass from the frame on the pet screen material. Use masking tape to mark off the area you will need to cut, and use your scissors or safety cutter to cut out a section of screen that will fit where the glass used to sit. Your screen will need to be slightly larger than the opening of the frame as you will need to secure it to the back side of the frame.

  3. Next use your hot glue gun to secure the screen mesh to the back inside of the frame.

  4. The optional drawer pulls can be screwed into the front of the frame to be used as a place to hang necklaces and bracelets. However, you only want to add these pulls to a sturdy frame that you feel comfortable drilling into.

  5. Use the picture stand or plate stand to prop the earring display up. And there you have it! You're own easy-to-make earring display.

You'll also find this tutorial linked at:
The Best Part Of Believetopsy turvy tuesdays
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