Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holiday Finger Puppets

The other day I was thinking of ways to fill Abe's advent boxes and decided to design some felt finger puppets. His aunt knitted him a little glow-in-the-dark ghost for Halloween and he plays with it all the time (it haunts the attic of the Little People house), so I figured he'd enjoy some new finger puppet friends for the holidays.

There's Santa...

...and Frosty...

...Rudolph... Elf...

...and a Christmas tree!

The pattern for the whole gang is available here as a free download. They're really quick and easy to make, and since my little guy and his cousin already spotted them, I know that kids love them...

...even if they're too young to know who this is.

Monday, November 28, 2011

DIY Advent Calendar

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We went up north and since I can't sit in a car for three hours and not try to get something done, I spent much of the drive cutting and folding little boxes for our advent calendar. Didn't expect to have it done before December, but here it is all ready to go... 

I started by choosing some free wrapping paper designs from I played with some of the designs in Photoshop, adjusting the hues and saturation to get the colors to coordinate, and then printed them on cardstock. (I used a 65 lb. cardstock because it's light enough to cut and fold easily, but heavy enough to hold it's shape.) Then I made a box template (you can download that here), and printed it on the back of each design.

I added the numbers before cutting since I knew that would be hard to do in the car, but I think it'd be easier to figure out where to put the numbers if the box is already cut out. 

To add the numbers, I found a font I liked (Nueva Standard - 150 pt) and printed the numbers 1-25 out on a sheet of paper. I taped that piece of paper to the window and held up each box template (positioning the number I wanted in the middle of the box front) and traced it with a black Sharpie.

To assemble the boxes (make sure to fold along all the dotted lines before trying to assemble the boxes), simply bring the open sides together and tape the loose flap in place, then close the top and bottom flaps.  I found it helpful to keep a pair of scissors nearby since my amateur folding skills left uneven edges that needed to be trimmed in order to close the lids.

Insert goodies and display however you wish. Oh, and when you're done with them...just open the top and bottom and they'll fold flat for storage!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mini Cherry Pies

I always make a pie for Thanksgiving, but so does everybody else, and it's a tough competition when there's a kitchen full of pies. This year I decided to make something that would really stand cherry pies! I have a feeling this Thanksgiving my pies will disappear…

I used my favorite sour cherry pie recipe from Oregon Fruit Company (similar recipe found here, but I only used 1/2 cup sugar, and no food coloring, almond extract, or butter), and followed the cooking instructions for making mini pies in a muffin tin (found here). I made enough filling for one pie, which was just enough for 12 mini pies. 

They turned out great (except for some of the juices bubbling out - I accidentally cooked them at the higher temperature called for in the first recipe). Abe and I "sampled" a pie after lunch today. So good, although a little too sour for Abe's taste - add more sugar if you like it sweet!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Handprint Turkeys & a Thankful Jar

Today we made a thankful jar. We started by using brown acrylic paint to make a handprint on an empty pickle jar. 

Once that was dry, I painted some glue over the fingers, which we then covered with feathers. I thought Abe would be able to help glue the feathers on. This was his idea of helping...

Instead I had him fingerpaint the handprints we made on white paper, while I finished working on the turkey jar.

His abstract turkeys were so cute, and this is how our thankful jar turned out... 

I used a small brush to add the beak, eyes, and feet, and a little fingerprint for the waddle. 

It'll be fun to fill it with everything we're thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Of course, our little turkey is at the top of the list!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Quick & Easy Chocolate Croissants

I adore croissants...and you know what makes them even better (besides eating them in Paris)? Chocolate! I still have leftover Halloween candy, so I decided to try some quick and easy chocolate croissants. 

You'll need:

1 can crescent rolls
4 small chocolate bars

1. Preheat the oven according to the instructions for the crescent rolls.

2. Pull apart the crescent roll dough and put two chocolate pieces at the bottom of each triangle.

3. Roll the triangles into crescents and bake until the outsides are golden.

4. The chocolate will harden as it cools, so enjoy them straight out of the oven while the chocolate is still gooey!

I wonder if a love of chocolate and buttery, flaky goodness is hereditary?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Baby Apps

When we were planning our trip to Arizona last spring, I was worried about taking Abe on a plane for the first time. How would he react to being stuck in our laps for so long? How would we keep him happy? How could we prevent him from screaming for three hours straight? In an effort to prepare myself for the worst, I loaded up my iPad with his favorite books, family photos, and a few apps that seemed like they would be entertaining for a seven month old. Luckily, he loved flying so the iPad stayed tucked away for most of the trip.

Fast forward to our recent trip to New Orleans. Now that Abe was able to climb and walk I knew he wouldn't want to sit still for more than 10 minutes at a time. I downloaded a few more apps and off we went. He seemed to enjoy flying even more than the first time and spent much of his time looking out the window, playing peekaboo or chatting with nearby passengers, and dozing off for a couple good naps, but when he was awake and started to fidget I was glad I had my iPad. For a baby that rarely gets any screen time, the iPad is a novel distraction.

I'm really picky about which apps I let him use, so I always try out any new apps first. To make the cut an app has to be fun, appealing to look at (and listen to!), easy to use, at least somewhat educational, and can't contain links for ads, easy to access in-app purchases, or other content that leads baby out of the game and into the "real" world. These are a few that we love...

1. Baby Painter - $0.99

I searched a long time for a finger painting app that a baby could use and finally found this one. No colors to choose or brushes to select. No confusing menus or buttons. Just a blank white screen waiting to be touched. And when baby touches it...colors appear at their fingertips! The color changes each time baby lifts a finger off the screen, and if using more than one finger, each finger makes a different color. Press harder and the lines get thicker. It's so simple. It's so smart. It's so clean! To erase, pick up the iPad Etch-a-Sketch style and give it a shake. Want to save your baby's masterpiece? Take a screen shot! (Also great for tic-tac-toe, hangman, and other games kids normally play on foggy car windows.)

2. Baby Look Peekaboo - $0.99

Another easy app for babies, this one features a baby face that pops up at the edge of the screen, wherever baby touches, and says "peekaboo," "hi," or "hello." The baby's voice is sweet and the tone changes to keep it from getting too annoying or repetitive.

3. Peekaboo Vehicles - $1.99

I found this the other day after searching endlessly for an app that would appeal to my car loving kid. Normally I wouldn't pay two bucks for a baby game, but I purchased Peekaboo Ocean awhile back (after trying the free version for awhile) and we love it. Since Peekaboo Vehicles is made by the same company, I felt pretty confident that it would be just as much fun. My son loves it and it's easier for him to use than Peekaboo Ocean (which is why that one didn't make this list). In addition to cars, Peekaboo Vehicles also contains trains, trucks, tractors, rockets, planes, helicopters and more! Touch the screen to clear away the clouds and an animated vehicle appears, along with the name which the narrator reads. Touch the screen again and the vehicle will move along producing a puff of exhaust that gets cleared away to reveal the next vehicle. The animations are super cute and the sounds the vehicles make are realistic and fun.

4. Monster Chorus - Free, in-app purchases $0.99 each

I found this one while searching for a baby piano app. Cute, easy to use, and it has monsters in outer space. What could be better? Each monster sings a different note when you touch it, and there's a songbook that shows you which monsters to press to play four different songs (two more sets of songs are available as in-app purchases). Unfortunately, the record and songbook buttons are in a bad spot (lower left hand corner) and get pushed accidentally quite often. It's not too hard for baby to navigate back to the main page, but it takes a few seconds which sometimes results in a lose of interest. As a free game though, it's really one of the best!

5. Wood Puzzle HD Lite - Free (Full version available for $1.99)

I knew my son was too young for this when I first downloaded it, but once he figured out how to turn on and unlock the iPad, I figured it was time to give puzzles another try. Just slide the pieces into place. The shape puzzle tells you the name of each shape as it's put in place, the animal puzzle makes animal noises. My son loves it, and at 14 months he was able to solve the easiest puzzles by himself! I downloaded the full version, but I recommend the Lite version for younger kids. All of the easiest puzzles are on the Lite version, so once baby has mastered those, go ahead and buy the rest! (There are also three holiday puzzles I wasn't aware of when I had the free version. From the main page, swipe your finger across the screen to get to a second menu with the holiday puzzles.)

6. I Hear Ewe - Free

When I was a kid we had one of those Fisher Price "The Farmer Says" Toys. This is the modern day version... Tap a picture of an animal (or vehicle - there are three different pages) and the narrator (which sounds an awful lot like Al Gore) says "This is the sound a _____ makes..." followed by the sound. It's cute, easy to use, and free! 

So those are a few of our favorites. Do you have any favorite apps for your kids? Or discovered any great app makers? I'd love to know what else is out there!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New Orleans

A few weeks ago, we went down to New Orleans for a friend's wedding. It was a really quick trip (only two days not including travel), but it was fun. I went to school down there, so I really start missing New Orleans in the fall. Luckily we've been able to go back a few times since I graduated. (See photos from our past trips here, here, here, and here.)

Of course, no trip to New Orleans is complete without stopping for a bite (or sip) at some of our favorite restaurants, and since there wasn't time to do much else, that is mainly what we did. 

For breakfast the first morning, we went to The Coffee Pot on St. Peter Street (oddly enough, most of my favorite restaurants are on St. Peter). Noah and I randomly chose to eat lunch there a few years ago and have been going back ever since.

Abe usually seems pleased with my homemade French toast, but he made it pretty clear that my French toast doesn't hold a candle to this stuff. I'd have to agree. Their French toast (or Lost Bread) is to die for. To. Die. For. 

After breakfast we took a short walk up to the Riverwalk where Abe watched the streetcar and pointed at the boats he saw on the river. He even stopped a sweet older couple (who were heading towards the river just as we were leaving) to tell them "boat!" Wanted to make sure they didn't miss a thing. He is a very good tourist...

That evening we went to the wedding at The Court of Two Sisters Pavilion in City Park. 

Abe spent most of the ceremony pointing out birds to the lady sitting next to us, or wandering around the gardens with his dad when he couldn't sit still any longer.

I was prepared to take off around 8:00 when he usually starts melting down, but he surprised us and was quiet and cheerful until the end. It may have helped that he was completely smitten with one of my other college friends, and spent a lot of time giggling and flirting with her. The dancing also kept him entertained, and just when he was starting to get a little bit tired, the red velvet cake gave him the strength to carry on. 

Oh, and when he heard the word "bubbles" just before the big send off, that was all he could think about for the rest of the night. He held onto his little bottle of bubbles the whole ride home, and after spilling the remaining contents on the bed, he fell asleep with the bottle clutched in his chubby little hand.

The next day, we had the whole day to ourselves, so we grabbed a quick breakfast and took the streetcar up to Audubon ParkSince we were down these just before Halloween, much of St. Charles Avenue looked something like this:  

Abe really enjoyed his first ride on the streetcar, which seems to have sparked a new found love of trains.

The weather was gorgeous - perfect for a nice long walk around the park. We stopped to watch the ducks and other birds (not really sure what these are), which came towards us looking for food. We didn't have any treats for the birds so they quickly lost interest. As we were leaving, a girl across the way pulled out an almost empty bread bag and all the birds ran to her squawking loudly. Now whenever Abe sees a bird he says "Duck." Apparently those ducks made quite an impression.

After the ducks and a quick stop to play on the playground, we headed across the street to my alma mater, Loyola University. I think Abe could have stayed there all day climbing on the letters...

I had to stop at the bookstore to pick up a Loyola shirt for Abe. He has tons of Gopher shirts since his dad went to the University of Minnesota, so I figured he should have at least one shirt from my school! 

On the way back Abe fell asleep almost as soon as we got on the streetcar and didn't wake up until we were getting off. By then it was lunchtime so we went to Acme Oyster House. Acme is one of the places I didn't discover until after I graduated, and that's probably a good thing. Oysters aren't cheap, but they are delicious...

We never seem to get enough of their Chargrilled Oysters. (Abe was too busy annihilating a package of Saltine crackers to bother trying anything new. Not that we tried very hard to convince him. That just meant more for us.)

Since we can't (afford) to live on oysters alone, we also split a Peace Maker Po-Boy. Half fried oysters and half fried shrimp. I usually find all oyster po-boys too rich and all shrimp too boring, but I've always liked this one. Wash it down with an Abita beer and that's a lunch that could save the world.

Abe's little nap on the streetcar seemed to be all he needed, so after going back to the hotel and trying to get him to take a nap, we decided to go for a walk around the Quarter instead. Like so many times before, we ended up at Pat O'Brien's. (Just a note, if you have kids with you they won't let you enter Pat O's from St. Peter Street. You have to go around to the entrance on Bourbon. Weird but true. If you do not have kids with you, enter wherever you want but head straight for the patio bar. It will make you want to get a house in the French Quarter and spend the rest of your days sipping cocktails in the courtyard...)

Their menu claims that they have the "Best Bloody Mary" in New Orleans, and I think that's a pretty safe bet. Definitely one of the best I've ever had and I've tried a lot of Bloody Marys. 

Of course they're famous for their Hurricanes. My husband always orders a Hurricane. I'm not a big fan, but I don't really like fruit punch flavored drinks of any kind...booze or no booze.

We had some time to kill before dinner so we wandered around the Quarter looking for ghosts.

We found a couple...

...and one place that definitely looked haunted.

I would have just wandered around taking pictures all day, but my boys were urging me to keep going. Abe really wanted to get back to the balloons he spied on Bourbon Street when we ducked into Pat O's. Noah and I had other (more kid-friendly) plans.

We were going to stop at the Cafe du Monde on Sunday morning, but were deterred by the huge line to get in. Instead we stopped in on Monday evening and found a table right away. 

Their beignets were fabulous, as always, although Abe preferred playing in the pile of powdered sugar to actually eating anything.

Afterwards we headed over to Pirate's Alley for a few pictures. The light there is always gorgeous.

I think Abe was really excited to get out of the stroller to run around for a bit. Or maybe he just inhaled some of that powdered sugar... 

I don't think he stood still for a single picture, but capturing his hilarious expressions and this moment of sheer joy was time well spent.

Pirate's Alley runs along the side of St. Louis Cathedral, so we walked around Jackson Square one last time before heading off to dinner.

We finished our trip with a delicious meal at The Gumbo Shop. I usually start the meal with a cup of gumbo, but can never choose between red beans and rice or jambalaya, so I always order their combination platter and get a little of both (along with some excellent shrimp creole). 

Abe was so tired and hungry when we got there, but he cheered up when our waiter brought him a little bowl of strawberries. Then when our meals came, he gobbled up my red beans and rice and jambalaya like candy.

I do wish we had stayed longer. If I had known that we'd spend our entire day on Tuesday either in airports or on a plane (our original flight was cancelled), I would have just booked a later flight to begin with. At least Abe likes flying. Six hours in the air could have been a lot less fun!