July 31, 2013

Mid-week Morsel: 2013-2014 School Planners

August is just around the corner.  Although I hate to cut summer short, it's time to start thinking about getting ready to go back to school. This can mean different tasks for different people.  For traditional public schoolers it means buying a list of school supplies, and perhaps new uniforms.  For homeschoolers it means planning your curriculum and lessons for the year. For us virtual schoolers it means choosing our children's schedules for the year.  One task we all have in common is getting organized.  Regardless of what type of school your children attend, they cannot be successful if they are disorganized.  Even if your children are pre-school aged, it's nice to make a plan to keep their education (and your life) organized.  To kick off the back-to-school month of August I'm linking you to a few school planners to help you get organized.  They are aimed at homeschoolers, but are very useful to any student or parent who wants to stay on top of assignments and grades.  The Home School Mom has a list of planners with descriptions of each.  Some are free, others are not.  Some are printable, others are software or databases.  Also, Erica from Confessions of a Homeschooler made three printable planners.  One is free, the others are $5 each.  

How do you and your students stay organized during the school year?  Do you have a planner or system to share?  Let me know in the comments below.


July 27, 2013

Sea Shell Picture Frame

As I mentioned in this week's Mid-week Morsel, Beach Fun, one of my family's favorite beach activities is shelling.  Any time we are on the beach at least one of us is bent over looking at shells.  In the last year, we have amassed quite a collection.  We also love watching the sunset.  I can't tell you how many pictures of sunsets we have saved on our computer and phones.  There is truly no better way to end the day than standing on the beach, watching a beautiful sunset with the ones you love.  This seashell picture frame DIY is a great way to preserve those treasured moments.

Start with any picture frame.  Repurpose an outdated one in your
 home, or pick up a cheap one from a yard sale.  The uglier the better.

If your frame is dark, like mine was, I recommend
 painting it a lighter color.  I found small can of peachy
 tan in my shed...perfect!
The picture turned out a little dark, but the next step
 is to coat the frame with glue (I used regular school
glue), and cover the frame with sand & a sprinkle of
glitter.  The glitter helps the sand sparkle like it does
in the sunshine.  I used sand from my yard, but you can
buy sand at craft stores or at home improvement stores.

Hot glue your shells around the frame.  I found it helpful
 to lay the shells around the frame to see how they would
fit and look before I started gluing.  Finally, add a picture
from your memorable event.  This sunset was on my
husband's birthday last year.
Decorating frames not only with shells, but any other object is a great way to enhance the memories you've captured on film...or in pixels.  It is also a great way to display collections.  Rocks, bottle caps, or any other small object can be used to decorate a frame.  What will you use?


July 23, 2013

Mid-week Morsel: Beach Fun (and education)

For many people the summer is quickly coming to an end.  Families are heading to the beach to soak up the last of the summer sun.  Two favorite activities at the beach are building sandcastles and looking for seashells.  This week's mid-week morsel highlights two resources for taking sandcastle building and shelling to a whole new level.  First, Delray Beach, Florida has a very informative section on their website which explains all about sandcastles and the physics behind them.  And then, Seashells.org has an extensive seashell & sea creature identification guide.  Be sure to bring some of the shells you find home with you; this Saturday's post shows you how to preserve your favorite beach memories.


July 20, 2013

I Scream, You Scream...

...we all scream for ice cream!  Ice cream is so creamy, cold, and refreshing on a hot summer day.  Why shouldn't we celebrate it?  We should, of course!  And that is why tomorrow is National Ice Cream Day.  Of all the crazy things that have gotten their own day, this is one of my favorites. There's nothing better than a cold bowl or cone of sweet and satisfying ice cream...except a cold bowl or cone of sweet and satisfying homemade ice cream!  I know, I know, I don't have an ice cream machine either, but that shouldn't stop you.  I've been trying out methods for making ice cream without a machine, and frankly, it's really easy.  Even if you don't or can't eat traditional ice cream, there are plenty of other ice cream recipes out there. Scroll to the bottom of the post for some ideas.

First there is the bag method.  Use your favorite ice cream recipe to make your base.  Pour it into a quart sized zip-top baggie and seal it.  Some people recommend taping the bag shut to ensure there will be no leaks.  Place that bag in a gallon sized zip-top baggie along with plenty of ice cubes and salt.  The larger the salt chunks the better, but in a pinch table salt will do.  Seal this bag as well.  Now comes the work...ehh, I mean the fun part.  Squeeze, squish, roll, and toss your bag.  The salt makes the ice colder, the cold makes the cream freeze, and the movement prevents the ice crystals that are forming from becoming too large and ruining the creamy texture that is ice cream.  This part of the recipe is great to keep kids busy while they wait for the ice cream to be edible.

Next is the coffee can method.  It is very similar to the bag method.  Again, use your favorite ice cream recipe to make your base.  This time, pour it into an average sized, clean coffee can.  Seal the lid on the can, again using tape to prevent any leakage.  Now place the average sized coffee can inside an industrial sized coffee can along with your ice cubes and salt.  Like the bag method, you now need to shake, rattle, and roll your can.  You can roll it on the floor between two people (again, great for keeping kids busy), or I've even heard of gently rolling it back and forth under your feet while you work at a desk or sit on the couch.  The poster of that suggestion states that it is great for aching feet.

Finally, is the freezer method...the one I chose.  It seems to me that unless you use multiple baggies or cans, the first two methods limit the amount of ice cream you can make to what will fit in the bag or can.  With a family of five that includes two teenage boys, I need to cook in quantity.  With the freezer method, I can make as much ice cream as I wish.  Keep in mind, though, that larger batches will take longer to freeze.  I make a gallon at a time, and it isn't ready until the next day. Your time will vary, of course, based on the size of your batch, your freezer's temperature, and the starting temperature of your ice cream base.

Here's how it works.  Simply pour your ice cream base into any appropriately sized covered container.  I keep an empty one gallon plastic ice cream tub on hand just for this purpose.  Put the lid on the container and place it in your freezer. Periodically, pull out the ice cream and stir it up.  You can hand stir it, or use a hand mixer.  Just as with the other methods, periodically stirring the base prevents the ice crystals from growing too large, and makes your ice cream creamier. But, don't worry if you have frozen chunks because you waited too long to stir.  Simply put the ice cream in your blender and smooth it back out.  As I said before, smaller batches will freezes more quickly, and larger batches will take longer to freeze.  When I make a gallon, the ice cream is soupy for about 6-8 hours.  For me, it works best to make the base just before bedtime.  That way, the ice cream is just getting to it's freezing stage when I get up in the morning and can stir it through out the morning.  If you make smaller batches, or divide your gallon into smaller containers, you can make it in the morning and stir it through out the afternoon.

Here is my basic vanilla ice cream base.  You can use this as a starting point to create whatever flavor you can imagine. Beat 4 eggs.  Add in 2 cups of sugar, and beat until thick and frothy.  Mix in 2 cups of evaporated milk, one can (14 oz) of sweetened condensed milk, 2 tablespoons of vanilla, and a pinch of salt.  Once well mixed, pour into a one gallon container (or divide evenly between smaller containers totaling one gallon).  Fill the container(s) the rest of the way with milk (I use 2%, but you can use whole).  Mix again and freeze.  Don't have evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk?  You can make your own.  That makes this ice cream even more affordable!

What if you can't or don't eat ice cream?  Don't worry, there are plenty of recipes out there for non-dairy, vegan, and sugar free ice cream.  So whatever the reason, you don't eat traditional ice cream, you can still enjoy great ice cream flavor. Healthy Living How To posted a very tempting dairy-free, vegan blender ice cream recipe that uses almond milk...and Stevia, so it's sugar-free as well.  It looks delicious!  Try serving Rick Bayless' dairy-free avocado ice cream to your adult guests.  It has a little secret ingredient!  Perhaps this dairy-free, vegan creamy chocolate gelato from Healthy Living is more your style. Last, but certainly not least, is one of my favorites.  One ingredient, dairy-free, sugar-free, vegan ice cream.  The Kitchn explains how to make it, but it doesn't have to be one ingredient.  You can add anything you want to it!

You see, no matter your diet or lifestyle, we can all scream for ice cream...homemade ice cream, that is!  So, whip up a batch tonight and have a happy National Ice Cream Day tomorrow!


July 17, 2013

Mid-week Morsel: Using Paste Paper for Crafts

I love paper crafts.  Maybe it's the kid in me, but I have so much fun cutting, folding, gluing, and taping paper to create things.  It might also have something to do with my lack of ability when it comes to painting & drawing, but that's another story.  I didn't fully realize my love for paper crafts until I started making scrapbook baby books about 10 years ago.  It was great! I could create these unique works of art without having to draw or paint anything.  There were so many decorative papers to choose from.  Although, sometimes, even after spending an hour or more searching through all the different papers at the scrapbook supply store, I still couldn't find just the right style of paper to suit the page or craft I had in mind.  Now that I've discovered paste paper that will never be a problem again.  I'll just make the paper I want!

I've taken the papers I made last week and used them to create different types of paper crafts.  There are so many creative ways to use decorative papers.  These are just a few ideas to help spark your creativity.

Origami  Origami can be fun, relaxing, and even educational.  The fact that you can create wonderful creatures and objects with just a few simple folds amazes children.  What they don't know is that while they are busy folding and creasing, they are practicing laws and theories of geometry as well.  Maria Rainer from OnlineDegrees.org guest posted an article on Math Insider detailing some ways origami improves math skills.  I personally have used two fun origami math books from Scholastic's Teacher Express.  In fact, this whale comes from their 2nd-3rd grade book.  We also have the 4th-6th grade book.  They are great for summer learning, but are not free.  (Hint:  watch for them to go on sale during one of Scholastic's Dollar Deals sales.  That's what I did.)

Handmade Cards  In today's world of e-cards and Facebook posts, handwritten notes and cards are becoming more and more scarce...and more and more treasured by those who actually receive them.  Whether you want to send the cards yourself, or give them as a gift to someone you know who still takes the time to send cards, these handmade note cards are sure to be appreciated.  Simply make your paste paper on cardstock, then cut the sheet into cards.  Depending on the size of cards desired you should be able to cut 2-4 cards from each 8 1/2 X 11 sheet of cardstock.  I used rub on transfers to add the words and decoration to my cards, but you can also run the cards through your printer, or hand write a message inside.  Finish them off with either store bought envelopes, or make your own.


Personalized Notebooks  Even better than handmade notecards, is personalized notebooks.  Both children and adults who enjoy doodling, jotting down ideas, or journaling will absolutely love receiving a handmade personalized notebook.  They are very simple.  In a word processor, set your page to print two pages on one sheet of paper.  This can be done using either columns or in the page set up menu.  Use the underscore key to create blank lines on the page (unless you want a totally blank book for doodling.)  If you wish, add any sort of embellishment.  As you can see, I added a heart to each page.  Print as many pages as you wish.  Be sure to print on both sides of the paper.  I printed 5 sheets, which gives me 20 pages in the notebook.  Finally, crease all of your pages & cover down the middle and staple them together.  If you don't have a large enough stapler to reach the center of your notebook, you can simply sew a straight stitch down the center of your notebook.  If you have your children write over the summer, or homeschool, these notebooks are great for daily writing prompts.  You can even leave some blank space at the top of each page so that children can include a picture with their writing.

You may find that you have scraps of paper left over from your crafts.  Don't throw them away!  You can use them to create something new and wonderful as well.  Use larger pieces to create bookmarks.  Save all of your small pieces and make a mosaic picture from them.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to what you can make from your paste paper.  What will you make?


July 13, 2013

Paste Paper Craft DIY

How many times have you wanted to do a paper craft, but couldn't find just the right paper?  Whether you scrapbook, make personalized cards, or do any other type of paper craft, finding just the right paper pattern can make or break the project.  I've discovered a simple and fun way to make your own patterned paper.  It's called paste paper.  It's a very simple concept.  Use colored paste to create patterns, designs, and pictures on paper.  Don't worry, you don't have to be Michelangelo to create really great paste paper.  I will be the first to tell you that when it comes to painting pictures, I have no artistic ability.  I do consider myself to be very creative, though.  Here's how to do it:

1.  Make your paste.  There are many different recipes online for making your own paste.  We tried a couple different ones. The one that worked best for us combined 3/4 cup of regular white flour with 2 cups cold water.  Stir them together in either a stainless steel pan or glass bowl.  Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes, then gradually bring it to a boil until the mixture thickens to about the consistency of pudding.  Note that if you plan to use powder paints, you should leave the mixture just a little thinner.  Pour the paste into a jar, and put it in the refrigerator to cool.

2.  Gather your tools.  Think outside the box.  Almost anything can be a tool for creating your design.  The kitchen is a great place to start your search.  We included a silicone basting brush, a lemon zester, a shot glass, a rubber grip jar opener, and forks in our tools.  Also consider objects like combs, sponges, textured fabrics like lace & netting, rubber stamps, and scrapbooking supplies.

3.  Get creative!  As one bookbinder stated, "Paste paper is essentially glorified finger painting."  Color your paste.  We put spoonfuls of paste in an egg carton, then added acrylic paint to it.  Now cover your paper with one or more colors. Experiment with different ways to apply the paste to the paper.  Using a paintbrush, sponge, and a spoon will all give you different looks.  Choose different tools to drag through the paste and reveal the white paper beneath.  You can also paint your paper with plain paint before adding your paste to reveal a color other than white.  Check out the sheet I made that reads, "Sadie's Book".  I painted the paper pink, added glitter to the wet paint & coated that with uncolored paste to seal in the glitter, then let it dry completely.  Next I used some scrapbooking letter stickers I had to add the title.  I covered the whole paper with black paste, and quickly removed the stickers to reveal sparkly pink letters.  Next, I dragged a scrapbooking decorative edge across the paper to create stripes.  Finally, I used the cap to a Sharpie to make circles on the stripes.

As I said before, I am in no way an artist.  However, with a little practice, or if you do have artistic ability, your paste papers can be absolutely stunning.  Here are a few pictures of paste papers created by true artists.  Click on any of the pictures to be taken to that artist's website.  


If your family decides to create your own paste papers, please post a picture on either my Facebook or Google+ page.  I'd love to see them!  And save your paper after you're done.  Next week's Mid-week Morsel has some great ideas for using your paste paper in craft projects!


July 10, 2013

Mid-week Morsel: A Little More Internet Safety

On Saturday, I posted about keeping our kids safe online.  I realize that my post only scratched the surface of ways we can protect our children.  For this week's Mid-week Morsel I decided to give you a few more resources for protecting your little (and not-so-little) ones online.  Let's start with your computer.  Most operating systems have some sort of built-in parental controls that you can set based on your preferences.  Here is information for setting controls for Windows XP, Windows 7, and Mac.  If you let your children on sites like Facebook and Google+, you may be wondering what information can be seen, and by whom.  GoGoStat offers a Facebook monitoring service to keep you in the know.  I also found a Parents' Guide to Google+ from ConnectSafely to help you be sure you are using all the privacy controls available to keep your children safe.  If you have any other tips or resources, please post them in the comments so that other parents may benefit from them as well.


July 6, 2013

Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

In a world where everyone's so connected by technology, it begins to feel like a very small world.  That makes it easy to forget how big it really is.  This week I was reminded of how big the world still is when it was discovered that a child in my life had been using the internet without permission and making connections with total strangers.  Fortunately, her mother discovered the situation before she met anyone with bad intentions.  I decided it was the perfect opportunity to do some research and put together a post about keeping our children safe online.

My first and best piece of advice is to have clear rules.  My children know what is expected of them anytime they get online.  Here are some of the rules in our house:

1.  Mom & Dad must know all of your passwords.  We are your parents.  We are responsible for you until you are 18 and there is nothing that is too private to share with us.  (Most of the time, just knowing that Mom  & Dad can check up on what they're doing is enough to prevent bad decisions.  We rarely feel the need to actually check the kids' accounts.)

2.  Mom & Dad must be 'friends' with you.  Whether it's Facebook, Google+, or any other social site, we must be in all of your friends lists, circles, etc.

3.  Privacy settings for social sites must be set to the strictest settings. 

4.  Personal information is private.  Do not give it to anyone, any time, for any reason.  Period.  If there is a legitimate need to give a piece of information out, get a parent to approve it.

5.  If you don't know the person in the real world, they are not your friend.  (There are certain exceptions to this rule, but they must be approved by a parent.  For example, our daughter is allowed to be friends with our son's girlfriend's little sister even though they have never met in person.)

There are many other smaller specific rules, but those are the big basic rules.  If you talk to your children and let them help establish your family rules, not only will you have an opportunity to explain why each rule should be on the list, but they may actually suggest rules you hadn't thought of.  In addition, children are more likely to follow the rules when they have been allowed to help make them.  Once you have agreed on a set of rules, decide together on the consequences for breaking them.  

If you feel you need help teaching your children about internet safety, don't worry.  There are several websites dedicated to teaching children internet safety.  PBS Kids created a fun game site called Webonauts Internet Academy.  There children complete 12 missions while learning about web safety and good citizenship.  The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children also have a website specifically for internet safety.  Net Smartz Kids has e-books, games, videos, and even a club; all focused on teaching children to be safe online.  Geared more toward parents, SafeKids.com includes guides for social websites, tips for preventing cyberbullying & sexting, a family contract for online safety, and more.

For many kids, simply being aware of the dangers online, and the consequences for breaking rules is enough to keep them on the straight and narrow.  Some children, however, need more supervision.  If you have one of those children, you may wish to check out Gizmo's list of free internet filters.  Or, if you want a paid internet filter program, look into programs such as NetNanny, CovenantEyes, or SafeEyes.  Internet filters generally block or allow websites based on content, but they can also send you a report of what your children have been doing online.  Many are also able to monitor activity across multiple devices.  Don't forget that your children can access the internet through their phones, mp3 players, and e-readers as well. Just because they are not on the laptop, doesn't mean they're safe.

In the end, keeping your children safe in the virtual world is the same as keeping them safe in the real world.  Talk to them and make sure they know the rules.  If you've taught your children not to talk to strangers in the real world, teach them not to talk to strangers in the virtual world.  If they have boundaries regarding where they are allowed to go alone in your neighborhood, give them boundaries regarding where they are allowed to go alone on the web.  If you keep an eye on your children while they are outside playing, keep an eye on them while they are online playing.  Maintain an open line of communication.  Ask them about what they are doing and who they are talking to.  You don't have to be a sneaky spy, just an involved parent.

I'd love to hear what rules you have in your house to keep your children safe online.  What websites and programs have you found to learn about internet safety and keep tabs on your children's online activities?


July 3, 2013

Mid-week Morsel: 4th of July Crafts

Tomorrow is the 237th anniversary of our independence.  What a great reason to celebrate!  And children love to celebrate.  Waiting until dusk for the fireworks to start is so hard when you love to celebrate.  I've found a couple of websites that love to celebrate the 4th of July, too.  All Kids Network shares over 20 crafts kids can do to celebrate the 4th.  If you want more than crafts to help you celebrate, Enchanted Learning offers activity books, worksheets, and coloring pages in addition to crafts.  There's a whole lot of daylight between now and fireworks time, so break out your crafts supplies, warm up your printer, and get the party started.