Our Family Unit
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  • September23rd

    Not to put any pressure on, but only 6 more weeks until Halloween!  I don’t think Kyle and I planned as well as we could have…somehow we ended up with two birthdays and Halloween all in the same week!  That makes for one VERY exciting week around here, and one very busy mom.  :)  I’m trying to be better prepared this year though, and at least have the costumes figured out early.  Woody and Jessie have a plethora of costumes, thanks to the Dress Up Box, but we’re a little light on baby costumes around here.  Do you have any idea how expensive baby costumes are?  Even used ones are $20!  For 2 hours of fun on one night a year that he won’t even remember…

    I started looking around for an alternative and saw this cute idea for a DIY Sock Monkey costume here and decided to try  it.  She was a little more “professional” with hers, actually using a pattern for PJs.  This is my “down-and-dirty-done-in-an-afternoon” version.  You have to take into consideration that I am a s-l-o-w seamstress, not to mention, a little person interrupts approximately every 3 1/2 minutes.  A normal person could do this in less than an hour, I’m sure.

    sock monkey tutorial-11

    I started with three men’s sweaters from the thrift store, total cost $10.  I purposely chose the gray sweater to have a zipper, which then eliminated the need for me to sew one in down the road.

    sock monkey tutorial-1

    I laid out a current pair of PJs right on top of the gray sweater, and just cut around it, leaving everything from the neck to the arm cuff in tact.

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    I was left with this.  I just flipped it inside-out and sewed three seams.  From each arm cuff in and then down each leg, and then a u-shaped seem between the legs.  The giant man-sized zipper in front made the perfect closure, so like I said before, I didn’t have to put one in.

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    Next I took the white sweater and cut two strips from each arm.  These would turn into the hands and feet, but were way too wide left as is.

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    I just made a quick seem down the middle to narrow each one.

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    Then pinned each one to the sleeves and legs and attached.  Nothing pretty here, it’s for two hours of fun on one night of the year that he won’t remember.  :)

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    After they were attached, I shaped the excess and sewed it closed.  Bodysuit done!

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    For the hat, I didn’t want to bother with finishing edges, so I just used the hem of the shirt to be the hem for the hat.  I cut the two pieces directly from the bottom of the shirt.  This is all freehand, no need for patterns.  It’s for two hours of fun on one night of the year that he won’t even remember.

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    For the ears, I sketched a pattern on paper (so that they would be roughly symmetrical) and then cut four pieces from the remainder of the gray sweater.

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    I cut the sleeve of the red sweater into a few strips for “hair”, pinned everything together and sewed around the edge to close it up.  Voila!  Hat done!

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    For the scarf, I cut the bottom three inches off the read sweater, and just looped it around his neck, again letting the hem of the original sweater be the hem of the scarf.

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     And that was it!  So simple.  I am now the proud owner of the most cuddly sock monkey on the planet!  And we are ready to enjoy the two hours of fun on one night of the year, that he will OF COURSE remember, at least via pictures.

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  • August19th

    burlap roman shade-1

    I love the look of burlap, I hate the look of mini blinds.  Finally, I figured out how to solve both problems at once.

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    My mom helped me with a little DIY project that I had been procrastinating on when she visited in July.  A burlap roman shade to cover the mini blinds in our dining room.  I LOVE how it turned out, and since it was SO simple, I thought I’d share how to do it.

    If you rent your home, rather than own it; more than likely you are stuck with the standard mini blinds hung from every window in the house.  Now you could take them down and try to store them somewhere and rehang them when you leave, or you could try to talk to the landlord about installing something better, but you might want to try this option instead.  It keeps the mini blinds in tact, providing shade, privacy and a happy landlord…but it also makes the room feel much more homey and you can customize it to your decorating style.

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    I cut a piece of burlap to the size of my window, actually to the exact width and about 2″ longer, and ironed it flat.  See how to cut burlap in a straight line here.  Then I folded the top down approximately 2″ to give me a finished edge and used Wonder Under to hold the folded strip down.  I attached a strip of mounting tape to the back of that fold and then fastened the top of my curtain directly onto the mini blinds front facing panel.  This gave me a nice, straight, finished top.

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    Then we used a needle and thread to tie the burlap to the actual strings of the mini blind.  Once on each side and then again in the middle, making sure to carefully count how many slats were between each fold.  For my curtain, we tied it at the bottom and four additional times at equally spaced intervals.  We didn’t have to take the blinds down to do this, although I’m sure it looked a bit awkward as we tried to fit between the window and the shade looking for the needle in the burlap sack.

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    Doing it this way allows you to still use the mini blind just like before.  When it is down, it looks likes a curtain, but when the blind is pulled up, the burlap poofs out and folds like a Roman shade.  I especially like the look of the contrast between the curtain and the lace doily table runner.  (More on the jar of popsicle sticks later)

    This, {read with Rob Lowe’s voice} literally, could not be an easier curtain.  Tape, needle, thread, fabric – that’s it!


  • July18th

    kades 5th bday-9

    The Monster Truck birthday cake was a huge hit with Woody!  I got a few emails after his birthday post about how I did it, so I figured I’d give a quick tutorial.

    First I baked my favorite chocolate cake in two loaf pans.  After letting them hang out in the freezer a bit, I started carving and shaping.  Basically, one loaf was used for the bottom half of the truck and then a portion of the other loaf was the cab.  I used one of Woody’s little monster trucks to get proper proportions and really worked on shaping the cab and hood to help it look as realistic as it could.  Then I crumb coated with buttercream frosting.

    monster truck cake tutorial-1

    One little trick I figured out this time is how to get a super smooth crumb coat.  In every fondant tutorial I’ve ever read, the experts say that getting a smooth crumb coat is vital in making the fondant look its best.  But no matter how much I smoothed with the frosting knife, I couldn’t eliminate all the indents and ridges.  This time I tried something new.  I kept putting the cake in the freezer between working on it and other projects, which definitely “chilled” the butter in the buttercream.  Then I used my finger to warm and smooth the buttercream frosting so there were absolutely no ridges whatsoever.  It definitely made  a difference when I topped it with the fondant.

    monster truck cake tutorial-2

    For both the John Deere Tractor cake and the Noah’s Ark cake, I used store bought ready-made fondant.  This time, I tried making my own.  I used the Wilton recipe for Marshmallow Fondant and it worked really well.  Not to mention that the bag of powdered sugar and bag of marshmallows are about 1/10th of the cost of the boxed fondant.

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    I made the Monster Truck Tires out of Rice Krispies and followed this AWESOME tutorial.  Last year, I put the tire tread “V’s” on the outer layer, but this time I put them underneath.  I think it made it look more realistic.

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    Another lesson I learned from the John Deere cake was that heavy layer cakes like this need a lot of support, especially in the heat.  Sadly, the tractor was already stuck in the mud when the party started.  This time I had Kyle make a cake stand out of plexiglass and dowel rods.

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    Then I covered it in Saran wrap and wrapped the legs in black fondant, to disguise them.  The tires ended up basically just leaning against these legs, not having to support the actual cake/truck at all.

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    To make the flames, I colored a bit of fondant yellow, orange and red and laid them next to one another on wax paper.  (I like using Wilton food coloring since the colors are so vibrant and true).

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    Then I just just started smearing them together with my figner, up and down, until it looked “flame-y”.  I covered the flames with another sheet of wax paper and used a rolling pin to flatten it out.  Then I stuck it in the freezer to get good and hard.

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    When I was ready, I just free-handed a couple flame shapes to apply to each side of the truck.

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     Again, learning from the John Deere experience, this time I rolled out a HUGE piece of fondant, large enough to cover the entire truck.  Then I cut off the excess and cut out areas for the windows.  This worked much better than trying to piece it all together, like I had done with the tractor.

    For the final touches…the roll cage is just straws wrapped in gray fondant and I used a Play-Doh cut out for the “5″.  The ‘dirt track’ was, of course, OREOs that I’d put through the food processor.  (Best ice cream topping EVER!)  The assembly was ridiculously easy: Set cake on cake stand.  Lean tires against cake.  Serve.

    Tip: Don’t do this in a house that is 90 degrees!  I think the marshmallow fondant was sweating as much as I was.

    As always, if you make it…I’d love to hear how it goes and see pics.  Good luck!

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  • June26th

    park with 3-4

    We’ve had so much success with our Obedience Chart that I thought I’d share what it is and how it works…maybe it would be helpful to some of you.  Surprisingly, my genes did not produce a single perfectly behaved child!  I know, you’re probably as shocked as I am!  Instead, they all need lots of guidance, correction, and praise…not to mention a good example to follow…in order to learn how to obey.  Talk about a time intensive task, it’s never-ending!  The Obedience Chart is a tool that I dreamt up to help me stay consistent and keep us all on track.

    park with 3-6

    Kids go through stages in everything, including discipline.  As young as 6 months, you’re teaching them the word “no”.  Then at a year, you want them obeying simple rules or following your directions.  At two, you have to go through the frustrations of lack of language skills compounded with increased physical independence.  But as they get older and start to develop their reasoning skills and abilities to make choices, it seems like everything gets kicked up a notch.  I felt like my entire day was filled with just correcting, saying no, or dreaming up some creative punishment that would hopefully get the message through THIS TIME.  Enter the Obedience Chart.

    What It Is

    In Excel, I made this chart

    obedience chart-1

    and we have it on our fridge.

    At the top I wrote out Ephesians 6:1-3 and over the first week or so that we used this, I had Woody memorize it.  Kids ask WHY about everything, and obedience is no different.  They need to know the reason and logic behind WHY they must do what I ask them to do, otherwise frustration and resentment build up inside of them.

    Next I put in very clear terms what I expected – First Time Obedience and Respect.

    Each time I “catch” him doing something right, he gets to make a green mark, but if he chooses to disobey then he has to put up a red mark.  For every 25 green marks, he gets a prize.  Originally this was a basket of Dollar Store prizes that he picked from, but now it can vary from a special prize to extra time with a game to his choice of rare activity.  The most recent one was doing a project with Dad (building this wooden car from a kit I’d picked up at a flea market).

    obedience chart-2

    For every 10 red marks, there’s a consequence.  These vary too, from a favorite toy being banned for a few days to a time out to chores…just about anything that I can think of to keep him on his toes.

    Why I Set It Up This Way

    He is the primary mark-maker.  I want him to be very aware of whether he is choosing right or wrong, this provides a tangible way to do that.

    25 Green vs 10 Red.  Life doesn’t always pat you on the back when you do right, but there are always consequences to doing wrong.  I want him to be rewarded for making right choices, but not “expect” a reward for every good deed, if that makes sense.  So I have the reward be harder to earn, not to mention that I don’t want the bad behavior to go on and on and on before a punishment is enforced.

    The Unknown Consequence.  10 red marks does not always result in the same punishment.  I don’t want him to weigh out the consequence in his head and choose to disobey.  (ie. I don’t mind losing my transformer for 2 days, lieing about picking up my toys is worth it)  When it’s unknown, the risk is greater.

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    Why It’s Working

    I’m more consistent.  All disobedience (aside from something really major – “I bit my sister and stole her toy”) gets the same reaction – Put Up a Red Mark.  It’s easy!  I can do it if I’m cooking dinner, if I’m in the grocery store, if we’re at the park, if I’m feeding Buzz, whatever.

    • Did you talk back?  Put up a red mark.
    • Did I have to ask you three times to pick up your cars?  Put up a red mark.
    • Did you throw a fit in the middle of Target?  You’ll have to put up a red mark when we get home.

    It goes the same for green.

    • Thanks for helping your sister find her shoes.  Put up a green mark.
    • Thanks for obeying the first time.  Put up a green mark.
    • You used great manners at dinner.  Put up a green mark.

    It also reminds me to notice the good and praise him for it.  Sometimes my tendency is to only notice the bad because that’s when I get tired or frustrated, but reinforcing the good benefits us both.

    I realize it’s not rocket science, but it has revolutionized our home and saved my sanity.  Maybe it’ll help you and your kids out, too.  If you’d like a copy to try it for yourself, click here.

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