Friday, January 23, 2015

A Gruffalo Play Day

It's been a while since we had a play day theme. Since it's winter, we are looking for a little indoor fun. We like to have play days with a few friends with food and crafts themed around a children's book. This time we did The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. This "modern classic" came out in 1999, but I'm ashamed to say I'd never read it until we watched the (Oscar nominated) animated movie on Netflix recently. There is also a sequel called The Gruffalo's Child. Both are just the cutest stories, perfect for the ages my boys are now. I am absolutely in love with the animated movies. (you can watch a scene  here on YouTube).

The authors also have a fabulous website (visit here) with tons of free activities you can print out for your favorite kiddos. We did this play day entirely with things we had on hand, so it was totally free--my favorite. 

We started by watching the movie, most of the kids hadn't seen/read the story. It really held the attention of our 5 and under crowd. Then we feasted on Gruffalo eyes (cheese balls), scrambled snake (as seen below--linguini with pesto alfredo, and swiss cheese eyes with peppercorn pupils--which we told them not to eat!),  a slice of bread (toasted ciabatta) and fruit from the forest. 

For dessert there were acorns (posted previously here) and owl ice cream, of course. : )

Then we had some crafts to choose from. All the printed pages came from We had coloring pages, 

this mask page, which we used to make brown bag puppets. We had purple prickles to glue on and a poisonous wart to add to his nose.

The kids also made their own Gruffalo forest dioramas to go with the finger or stick puppets we made. The day before, the boys and I gathered up a bin of nature stuff from the back yard. Even in the winter you can find pretty cool stuff out there. 

We sorted it and put it out with some sheet and reindeer moss (yes we had this, if you don't, you can find it at Hobby Lobby or even Walmart), tacky glue, and hot glue (for grown ups to help with).

The kids colored and cut out their puppets and then put the theater (or Gruffalo house, as they liked to call it) and puppets together. (We also used our burlap trees (posted here) as a decoration.)

I love how they came out...

...each one was so unique and fun.

I hope you enjoy the Gruffalo story, movie, and web site as much as we do. Stories are even more fun with friends!

To see other book themed parties and play days we've had, check out
Strega Nona
Stone Soup
Eric Carle Books
Dr. Seuss Stories
Curious George
The Lorax (Earth Day)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2015 Reading Plans

Well, it's the beginning of the year so I'm making my list of books that I want to read this year. Last year I had a goal to read one book a month. I think I came close. Here's some of what I read last year:

So those were the ones I talked about, but I also read: 

I think I read a couple others, but I can't remember them now. Anyway that's nine, so I'm pretty happy with that. I actually listened to Mere Christianity, which I absolutely recommend. I love CS Lewis so much, but sometimes I feel like I need to read sections  of his writing over and over to let it sink in. Listening to it really helped me feel like I was understanding it the first time. Our local library has a lot of books on CD, so we just borrowed it for free. 

When I looked back and my "books I'm going to read in 2014" picture, I realize that four of the books I put on my 2015 shelf are still on the "to read" list. I really am going to read these, plus I've added a few: 
Fly a Little Higher (I'm reading this now--prepare to cry and have a huge dose of perspective in the area of families dealing with childhood cancer. So good though.)
What Alice Forgot - my friend has recommend this author, and I'm trying to add a little fiction to the mix. 

I think I'll do better this year, because I now have a couple of book buddies, so now I can set some timeline of when we want to finish a book so we can talk about it. Yay, mini book club!

I love reading, because it's a hobby that doesn't have to cost you anything. Several of these books are borrowed from friends, and others were from the library. Can I say a few words about how I have discovered the e-library? You have probably been using it forever, but it's new to me and I love it! I don't have a tablet, Kindle, or an iPad--nor do I need one, but I have a smart phone and Kindle has a free app that allows you to read ebooks from the library, Amazon, etc., so you can just use your phone or an iPod with wifi. I've gotten several books for free, as authors, bloggers, publishers sometimes run a 24 hr deal to download their book for free. I will promise to share these deals with you this year, my friends, because free is awesome. But you do have to snatch it up right away, because then it goes back to the regular price. 

The library app I use is called OverDrive. It has been great! Thing One loves reading through chapter book series, but that's a problem when the library has The Absent Author and The Canary Caper, but not The Bald Bandit. With OverDrive, I can download The Bald Bandit and we can get books "A, C, D & E" in paperback, and we don't have to wait for "B" to come in, or make an extra trip to the library, just so he can continue the series. I don't like him to read all the time on my phone, but one book here and there has been great. Plus I love having a book with me all the time. I can read for a few minutes in the school pick up line, and I actually make progress on these books. Because a lot of days there is no time. OverDrive is like a real library in some ways, there are still waiting lists sometimes; I'm currently 39th in line for What Alice Forgot. But when it becomes available I'll have it with me right away. 

Here's to a great year of reading! Any books I should add to my list?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The New Kitchen Garden

Happy New Year! I hope that you are looking forward to good things. I always believe the best is yet to come. If nothing else, let's resolve to be hopeful. 

I really like getting to experience all four distinct seasons every year in Colorado. In winter, it snows and it feels like winter. We were extra lucky this year an it snowed like crazy all day on Christmas day. So pretty. But in the middle of all that sparkly white, I really miss my garden. So this year at the end of the growing season, before the first bad frost, we decided to set up a little indoor garden to keep us going through the winter. I set up this little cart with just a few pots and it just makes the house feel like the garden is continuing to grow. If you don't have a cart or side table, you could take the back off a cheap book shelf to make an open shelving area for plants. Our kitchen has an east-facing glass door, so it gets a good amount of morning sun. We brought in our stevia and swiss chard pots and started baby lettuce in the window box. Thing Two calls stevia "the candy plant" and is constantly sneaking a leaf to just chew on. It's kind of a miracle there are any leaves left, but the plant is taller than he is, so you can pretty much measure his reach by where the leaves are still growing. Like the trees that surround giraffes at the zoo. : ) 

After we get used to eating something fresh from the garden every day for months, we especially miss the super fresh homegrown produce. It's a small thing, but the swiss chard has done awesome inside. We cut some leaves about once or twice a week and add fresh greens to our omelets or salads. Swiss chard is the perfect thing to bring in because it doesn't need to be pollinated and it's ever-bearing. 

This has been a great set up. Its not so big that it takes over the kitchen, but still feels fresh and gardeny. I might add a couple small pots of herbs like mint and basil. Next year I will bring in a few more things so I won't have to start anything from seeds, and we can just enjoy the constant harvest. I think it's important not to overcrowd the cart though because the open and airy feel is what makes it feel fresh and serene. I hope that you are enjoying the promise of new growth somewhere in your life. 

You are loved!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Temporary Ugly Sweaters

A few years ago my sister told me she was going to a Christmas party with an "Ugly Sweater" theme. That's hilarious, I thought! Apparently everyone thought so, because three years later ugly Christmas sweaters are the theme of 5k's, office parties, and high school spirit days. Stores are actually producing uglier sweaters than ever, just for these events. We had one such event to go to last week, and with all the Ugly Sweater hype they are now harder to come by the old fashioned way (Goodwill); and there was no way we were going to shell out $20 each for a sweater that we hated and would only wear a few times at best. I cringe when I think of what people in other parts of the world would think if they knew people spend money--lots of money--on clothes they don't even like or want to wear again. Yikes. One day last week at a store I saw they are actually selling "Ugly Sweater Kits," and it gave me the idea that just like Cinderella could be turned into a belle for one night, so could our regular sweaters turn ugly for the evening, using things we already had. 
**No sweaters were harmed in the making of this post!** : )

Here's a quick easy way to make plain sweaters temporarily ugly. 
1. Choose a basic shape and cut out a pattern, to get a good size. I chose a Christmas tree. I think a wreath or candy cane would also work well. 

2. Trace your pattern onto the back of a sheet of adhesive vinyl, and cut it out. The dollar store sells contact paper or shelf paper, which I think would both work as well if you don't have adhesive vinyl. 

3. If you want to do another layer on top of the vinyl go ahead and hot glue that on next. I'm not even sure what this is called, but it's sparkly, and I got a whole roll of it for $1 after Christmas last year, and I'm using it for all sorts of crafts this year. Hot glue on any other gaudy embellishments. I used sparkly pom-poms. 

4. Once you've hot glued everything on you just peel off the paper backing and stick your giant ugly sticker to the sweater. 

I also used some Christmas packing tape to make presents on this one and suspenders on Thing One's. This worked great, but be warned hot glue doesn't stick to the packing tape. The pom-poms fell off right away from the presents. If you didn't want to glue any pom-poms on you could just use different kinds of packing tape to easily decorate a whole sweater.

For the little snow pom-poms, the deer and the green boa fluff, I used the same method, just cut out a small piece of vinyl, glue on the decoration then peel and stick on the sweater. Just be sure to do all the glueing away from the sweater to keep any hot glue from getting on it--or you really will have an ugly sweater when you're done.

I actually wasn't going to make sweaters for Thing One and Thing Two, but Thing Two begged for a "silly sweater" after I was done with ours so I used what was left to do something quick on theirs. 

I loved this project because it let us be part of the party without spending much money at all. The only thing I bought were the pom-poms and deer stickers (both on sale at Hobby Lobby--plus you know that you always have a 40% off with their app, right?). 

Here's to frugal merry making! Plus with the money you save by not buying an ugly sweater or an "ugly kit," you can buy someone a sweater who doesn't have one at all (go here). Now that's a beautiful sweater!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giving Tuesday -- Give With Your Heart and Your Brain

I love Thanksgiving. I love thanks and I love giving. Skip over four days of crazy consumerism (Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Sunday--no name has been thought up for this yet--, and Cyber Monday), and we are at a day now called "Giving Tuesday."

The idea of Giving Tuesday is that it's a day when you give money to charities near and far. Since Giving Tuesday really kicks off a season of year-end giving, I wanted to make sure you know about Charity Navigator. This time of year you will undoubtedly receive dozens of emails and letters asking for you to consider a generous year-end donation to their cause. So how do you decide which charities will receive your hard-earned money?

Whenever we plan to make a substantial purchase of any kind we like to do our research. I look up reviews, ask if others have experience with the product, etc. I know many of you do too. Charity Navigator is a great tool to help you do the same kind of research when it comes to giving. It tells you how the organization spends the money it receives: how much is spent on overhead, advertising, staffing, etc.; and how much is going to the people or projects that you intended to receive your money. Here's what they do in a nutshell:

We rate charities by evaluating two broad areas of performance; their Financial Health and their Accountability & Transparency. Our ratings show givers how efficiently we believe a charity will use their support today, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time and their level of commitment to being accountable and transparent. In the not-too-distant future, we plan to also rate charities’ reporting of their results. We provide these ratings so that givers can make intelligent giving decisions, and so that the philanthropic community can more effectively monitor itself.

Have a charity that you love to give to? Just go to Charity Navigator and search the name and see how they rate. I love that you can scroll to the bottom and it even compares the charity to others who are doing similar work. You may find a new organization that is doing the kind of work you like, in a more efficient manor. For example: you may find you'd rather support the Cancer Research Institute which uses 83.2% of it's funding on cancer immunology research worldwide, rather than the American Cancer Society who only uses 59.5% of it's funding on actual research. I bet you didn't know that almost half of what you thought you donated to cancer research, actually went to pay for something else, did you? It pays to do your own research before giving your money away, my friends.

 In any case it's great to see how many organizations are striving to meet a specific need.

We continue to support the charities below because of their transparency and the real impact they are having around the world. I hope if you are looking to give this December you will consider these worthy organizations! I'm including a brief description of each and their overall Charity Navigator score (which is given based on their financial and accountability/transparency scores).

 Compassion International

Compassion International exists as an advocate for children, releasing them from spiritual, economic, social and physical poverty and enabling them to become responsible, fulfilled Christian adults. Founded by Rev. Everett Swanson in 1952, Compassion began providing Korean War orphans with food, shelter, education and health care, as well as Christian training. Today, Compassion helps more than 1.4 million babies, children and students in 26 countries through a holistic program of Christ-based child development. Compassion work exclusively through Christian churches to implement its program.

You can sign up to sponsor a child on a monthly basis, or give a one-time gift to meet the needs of unsponsored kids around the globe.

Click here to give!

Charity Navigator Score: 95.30

International Justice Mission (IJM)

IJM exists to protect the poor from violence by rescuing victims, bringing the criminals to justice, restoring survivors to safety and strength, and helping local law enforcement build a safe future that lasts.

Charity Navigator Score: 94.45

Samaritan's Purse 

Samaritan's Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan's Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God's love through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Emergency relief meets desperate needs of victims worldwide. 

Operation Christmas Child delivers more than 8 million shoebox gifts to poor children in more than 100 countries each year. 

World Medical Mission sends doctors, equipment, and supplies to underprivileged countries. 

Community development and vocational programs in impoverished villages and neighborhoods help people break the cycle of poverty and give them hope for a better tomorrow. Vulnerable children are rescued, educated, fed, clothed, and sheltered, letting them know that God loves them, and they are not forgotten.

And Operation Heal Our Patriots brings rest and restoration to injured military members and their loved ones. 

You guys know I have a huge soft spot for Samaritan's Purse. Last year we got to help with their US disaster relief services, and this year year we got to work in the Operation Christmas Child distribution center. The center processed over 64,000 shoeboxes in one day to go to kids living in poverty around the world. The incredible organization and responsible use of funding impresses me every time we have the opportunity to work with this charity. With branches of this organization reaching children, the poor, the sick (read: Ebloa patients), agriculture projects, clean water, International and US disasters, and our military; there is something for everyone. 

Charity Navigator Score: 95.90

The Denver Rescue Mission

Founded in 1892, the Denver Rescue Mission provides food, clothing, shelter, transitional housing, and medical, educational, and rehabilitation programs free of charge. The Lawrence Street Shelter provides meals, food boxes, medical care, and clothing distribution, and shelters up to 300 men nightly. Champa House offers help toward self-sufficiency for single mothers and their dependent children. Harvest Farm in Wellington, Colorado is a long-term rehabilitation program for men. The Crossing offers a long-term rehabilitation program for men and transitional housing for homeless families and individuals. The Ministry Outreach Center distributes clothing, food boxes, household goods, and furniture. Family Services provides transitional housing, assistance for permanent housing, and mentoring for homeless working families, seniors, individuals, and refugees.

Click here to donate to the Denver Rescue Mission

Charity Navigator Score: 84.66

Sozo International

Sozo International formed in 2002, in response to the opportunity presented by the liberation of Afghanistan, shortly after September 11, 2001. Sozo International aims to reach the most impoverished people in identifiable communities where war and natural disaster have wreaked havoc. They provide emergency and ongoing relief for internally displaced people (IDP) and encourages development aimed at changing the day-to-day existence of people in need as well as providing hope for their future.

Click here to give to Sozo

Charity Navigator Score: 80.75*

*in spite of this score, note that 90% of funding goes to programming.

Not all charities are rated on Charity Navigator. Some are too new to have a long enough track record for CN to rate. The bottom line is be sure to ask for transparency from any organization you support.

We also love:

Mercy House Kenya --they opened a 2nd house this year!
Amazima Ministries --they're staring an academy!
Casas Por Cristo --they're expanding to the Dominican Republic!

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
                        -- Matthew 25:40

Thank you for the difference you are making in the world, my generous friends!

Happy Giving!!! 

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