Thursday, September 27, 2012

Make a Difference: Red Scarf Project

This month's Make a Difference is a crafty one. If you knit or crochet, or have ever wanted to learn, this challenge is for you! 

The organization I'm highlighting this month is called Foster Care to Success. Here's a brief overview of what they do for young adults who grew up in the foster care system:

Foster Care to Success (formerly the Orphan Foundation of America) is the oldest and largest national organization serving older foster youth. Since 1981 Foster Care to Success (FC2S) has helped over 50,000 youth attend post-secondary programs and become productive, contributing members of their communities. Today, we provide 5,000 annually with college scholarships and grants, care packages and family-like support, academic and personal mentoring, and internships and employment readiness skills. FC2S helps young people take control of their futures and achieve their goals.
In many states, foster youth must leave the social services system (also known as “aging out”) when they turn 18 or graduate from high school. But few young people are capable of starting adulthood on their own at the age of 18; imagine starting out as a foster child with no family and no guardian to help you establish an independent life.

I remember well the challenges and stresses of college. At this time as much as ever (and I think perhaps more), students need to feel loved and supported. I can't imagine making it through all that without the support of a family. That's why I am so impressed with this program that mentors and supports students emotionally, financially, and logistically to help them achieve success and thrive. Part of that support includes care packages. Every Valentines Day all the students in the Foster Care to Success program receive a care package which includes a handmade red scarf. That's where we come in.


Size: approximately 60” long and 5” to 8” wide. Scarves should be long enough to be wrapped around the neck, with tails long enough to be tied in the front. 
Style: Think unisex collegiate. Fringes are optional. Your scarf should drape, tie easily and be soft.
Color: Red! However, this could mean burgundy, cherry, russet, red stripes with other colors, or multicolor hues including red. 
Finished & tagged: Yarn ends should be securely sewn in. For a personal touch, attach a tag saying “Handmade for You” with your first name, city, and group affiliation, if any. Donors have also included washing instructions, messages of encouragement, gift cards, and more.
Mail to: Foster Care to Success, Red Scarf Project
21351 Gentry Drive Suite 130 
Sterling, VA 20166
NOTE: Scarves are accepted between September 1 and December 15 annually.  As we have limited storage space, please send your scarves only during this time period.

I will admit that I feel 5-8 inches is kind of wide, so I may or may not have made mine a little thinner than that, but you definitely don't want to go too short, stick with the 60 inches or longer. There are several free patterns for handmade scarves on the Foster Care to Success Website, find those and more info here.

These are the scarves I made for this year. I'm no expert at needlecraft, but even using a simple stitch or two can turn out a pretty decent scarf. Program coordinators suggest including a hand-written note and/or a gift card if you'd like. Just imagine how happy you would feel to receive a care package like this. There's is also a Red Scarf emergency fund that helps the students in times of greater need, in case you are interested in investing more than yarn in this great organization.  

Thanks for taking the time to read this today. Now go get some red yarn!

- Haley

Monday, September 24, 2012

Kids Coffee Shop

Now that we have two kids we don't take as many morning trips to the coffee shop. (Plus when you can make your own amazing iced coffee, and delicious chai for a fraction of the price, why go out?) But we still find our way to the coffee shop often enough. I pinned a bunch of ideas for cardboard boxes recently, and one that I really thought was cute was a mini coffee shop. Thing One always enjoys ordering and talking to the Barista, so I thought he might enjoy being one. Here's a sneak peak at how it turned out.

I started with a shallow cardboard box that was about 5 1/2 feet long and only 6 inches tall. I cut the two sides in the middle, folded the box in on itself and taped the two sides together with duct tape. You could also use two boxes and just put them together, or the top and bottom of a large box.

I found this faux wood wrapping paper at Target in the $1 section, and thought that would be the perfect coffee bar. I wrapped the entire outside of the box and used packing tape to reinforce all the edges and laminate the top of the "counter." I stuffed an empty coffee bag with newspaper, so it always feels full and holds it's shape. I bought this set of travel coffee cups also at the Target dollar spot, and we had saved this plastic french press even though it broke years ago. So glad we did, Thing One was so excited to have his own. I also had saved a bunch of Christmas cup sleeves, thinking I would come up with a project for them. I guess I did. : )

I made a little pastry case by folding a big piece of flat cardboard into a standing triangle, and taping it together. The piece of cardboard that comes with a set of queen or king sheets would be perfect I think because it's already kind of the triangle shape. I cut a large square out of both sides and then just used the squares as the shelves. I put a small piece of packing tape under the sides of each shelf to kind of secure it to the frame.

Then I felt sad about the poor selection of pastries. What is it, perpetually 4 p.m.? So I decided to make a couple of donuts and scones. I used a coffee cup lid as a donut pattern. I think that makes a good size, but I should have cut a smaller hole in the middle. Next time.

There are tons of felt donut tutorials, so I'll try not to bore you here. I sewed the frosting on the top layer before sewing the two layers together (right sides together, sewn all the way around). Then I flipped the whole thing inside out, stuffed and slip stitched the middle. Which was a little trickier than I thought it would be, but still not bad. The scones I just sewed around the edge, leaving space to turn inside out, stuff and  then sew shut. Then I used red embroidery thread to sew on some cranberries. The maple scone got a layer of frosting.

Here they are in the case. Cranberry orange scones are my favorite (and I actually have a really good recipe for real ones that I will share soon). I also tried to make a piece of banana bread, but wasn't super thrilled with how it came out. Oh well. The coffee shop manager here has pretty low standards, so he said it was fine : )

After I let Thing One play in the shop a bit I realized that he needed more space to set things down, and it would be nice if there was a little more interactive stuff. So I used a big diaper box to make a mini fridge. I taped the whole box shut and then cut a door out of one side and covered it with black duct tape. I covered the rest of the box with more of the faux wood wrapping paper. We had an extra cabinet door handle laying around, so I cut a few small pieces of cardboard and stacked them to make that spot thicker on the back. Then I just pushed it right through.

Now Thing One has more counter space and he can keep milk and ice coffee nice and cold. The creamer and milk are just washed out from the recycle bin. The more realist the more he likes it. And I like it because it's free.

Here it is again all together. Thing One really enjoys making us coffee all the time now. Best of all the whole project cost me less than $5, and probably about an hour all together (after the kiddos were in bed). I hate when a project is so involved or time consuming I spend more time making something for them than I do playing with them; this wasn't like that. I've spent more time ordering coffee already. As I should. Plus, kids are fickle. I know that he will get tired of playing coffee shop. Then I will be so glad I didn't invest in a big plastic cafe. I will throw out my cardboard box (or pass it on if someone wants it) and move on with life.

I've got to go get another cup of coffee. Thanks for coming by!


Friday, September 21, 2012

Homegrown Salsa

My gardening goal for a long time has been to grow everything to make our own salsa. Still not there yet, but we did get to pick almost everything that went into this salsa, thanks to our farm trip. If anyone has any advice on growing onions I'm all ears. I don't know why we can't grow them. Anyway today I thought I'd share how I make salsa. 

I used to chop everything by hand. Yikes! No wonder I never made salsa. Then I tried the food processor, but it always came out so runny, or with giant onion chunks. Then I finally figured out how to make salsa in the food processor; in two batches. 

First I process all the "firm veggies." I like to use:

1 white or yellow onion
4 medium chili peppers (here I used 2 anaheim and 2 yellow wax)
*for spicier salsa also add a couple of seeded jalape├▒os or seranos.
juice of 1/2 lime
1 handful of cilantro

Pulse until finely chopped, then pour into a bowl.

Next cut up tomatoes just so they fit in the food processor. I usually 1/4 or 1/8 them. Then pulse the tomatoes a few times, just until you don't see big chunks. The key is not to over process the tomatoes. I usually do two batches of tomatoes per one batch of peppers and onions.

Add the tomatoes to the pepper mix and stir until well combined adding salt to taste. I like my salsa pretty salty. This salsa reminds me of the kind you get at a good mexican restaurant. I hope you like it!


Monday, September 17, 2012

Garden Pesto

We are in the middle of the most rewarding weeks of the year, garden-wise. Every single meal we eat these days contains something we grew in our little backyard victory garden. I'd like to share a couple of my very own fresh garden recipes this week. I love pesto, but unfortunately our basil hasn't flourished this year. Our oregano has though, so oregano pesto it is!

Garden Pesto

  • 2 cups fresh, washed basil OR oregano leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup nuts (try pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, or almonds)
  • 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • Put all ingredients except oil, salt & pepper into a food processor. Pulse for a few seconds until finely chopped. Then with processor running slowly stream in the olive oil. 

    Once smooth and combined, turn off processor and pour into a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

    Add a few table spoons to Alfredo sauce for delicious pesto pasta or stir a few spoonfuls into a block of cream cheese and serve with crackers (or veggies) for a yummy appetizer. Store leftover pesto in an air-tight container in the fridge. It should keep for a week or so, or you can freeze it. If you make a bigger batch you can pour it into ice cube trays and freeze and then pop them out and keep in a ziplock to use a cube or two as needed.

    Oregano is perennial and it has started taking over our herb garden, so I love recipes like this where you can use a lot at once. I have made this using pecans and almonds and honestly like this pesto with oregano as much as any basil pesto. I hope if you have a garden you are enjoying the bounty of the season. Doesn't it feel great to grow things you can eat? I guess that's why they call it a victory garden.

    Thanks for reading!
    - Haley

      Wednesday, September 12, 2012

      Acorn Treats

      Thing One and I made these fun donut hole acorns last weekend, and I thought they turned out so cute. I saw them originally on Pinterest from a blog called Gracious Rain.

      I followed Launi's directions, except we used chocolate frosting instead of Nutella. I microwaved the frosting for about 15 seconds and then it was perfect for dipping. Thing One probably could have made these all by himself, but I helped a little anyway. : )   

      These are my new favorite mini dessert! Today was nice and rainy and it really is starting to feel like Fall. It makes me want to warm up some apple cider and curl up with a book and a couple of these little yummies. Welcome Fall!
      Thanks for reading!
      - Haley

      Sunday, September 9, 2012

      Mini Chalkboard Block

      Chalkboard stuff is really popular right now. I bought some chalkboard spray paint, and I've kind of wanted to turn everything into a chalkboard since. I've also seen a lot of cute little wood block crafts on Pinterest and other blogs. So we did a little project that was kind of a hybrid of a couple projects I've seen; we turned a small woodblock into a mini chalkboard. 

      We had saved some scrap wood pieces from when we made the picnic tables. Thing One picked out a square piece and we went to work. I let him work on sanding it for a while and then I finished it off, sanding all the edges until they were rounded. 

      Then I let Thing One paint it. We used acrylic craft paint. 

      After the paint was dry I taped off the edges and spray-painted the middle with chalkboard paint. After that was dry I used a little sand paper to scuff up the edges some to make it look more worn. We made this block to help with some nap-time struggles. I like for Thing One to stay in his room and have quiet time, but we don't always do that at exactly the same time every day. So now we can just write the time on the block and when his clock says that time he is free to be done with quiet time. He's excited about his time block, since he helped make it. I'm sure we will use it for other stuff, like the happy fall sign above. This was a fun and easy project and I see more wood getting the paint and chalkboard treatment in the near future. Maybe a bigger one next time.  

      Hope you had a good weekend. We did : )

      Happy Crafting!
      - Haley

      Thursday, September 6, 2012

      Harvest Time

      It's harvest time! We've been playing farmers here over the last couple of weeks. First we found an apple orchard right in our own town that I never knew about. We picked Honey Crisps to our heart's content--15lbs.

      And then we went back a week later because we had eaten them all! I made a few batches of crockpot applesauce, which I am now in love with. 

      Then this week we went out to a nearby working farm where they let you pick all your own veggies right from the fields. This is just a little bit of what we came home with. It was so fun to watch Thing One discover how everything grows and is harvested. He had a great time even though it was HOT and dusty. He was a trooper and he loved it!

      I spent today processing carrots, beets and tomatoes and loading up the freezer. After the announcement this week about organic foods not actually being healthier, researchers are concluding that the best way to ensure your food is as healthy for you as possible is to minimize the distance and time from farm to table. Um yeah, that makes sense. I feel pretty good about all this food that we picked ourselves. We also got some fun fall decorations. I've never seen Indian corn growing before. It felt kind of magical picking this. You don't know what color each one is until you pull back the husk. It was so fun and I think they are really pretty.

      We also picked a lot of little pumpkins. Aren't they fun? Tomorrow is finally going to be below 90┬║ and with all these veggies and decorations around maybe it will finally start to feel like fall.

      Have a great weekend!

      Tuesday, September 4, 2012

      Freezer Paper Shirts

      I really like making my boys personalized shirts using freezer paper. I used to just trace my designs onto the paper and cut it out with an Exacto knife. But then my husband who loves me bought me a Silhouette. : ) Now I can do fun, intricate designs and it is so much faster! I made my boys some coordinating cars shirts. 

      Just in case you are not familiar with freezer paper stenciling; you just cut out your design and iron it on your fabric (shiny side down). The wax in the paper sticks to the fabric sealing it off so you can paint nice clean lines using fabric paint.

      I always save my extra shapes in case I want to do something with them later. I use a flat sponge brush to dab the fabric paint on. Once it's dry (I always end up using a hair dryer to speed things along), you peel off the freezer paper and put a cloth over the top and iron it again to heat set the paint.

      Pretty fun to have your own unique shirts.

      I like the variety of shapes you can get at the Silhouette store too, and I really like that they give away a free shape every week. I also love that you can draw or import your own, so you don't have to pay for something every time you do a project (like some cutting machines).

      It's pretty impressive how fine the details can be with the cut images on the silhouette. Look at those spokes. The whole image on this shirt was small too, it was newborn size. : )

      You can make shirts that say anything you want too. Can you just imagine the possibilities?! I made this for a friend's son for her FRIENDS themed birthday party this weekend. 

      You don't need a Silhouette or any cutting machine for that matter to make a freezer paper shirt, get out an Exacto knife and give it a try, it's really fun! That's all from here today. I hope you had a great Labor day weekend!
      Thanks for reading!
      - Haley

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