Winter Wonderland in NC

For North Carolina, at least the central part of the state, a snow storm is truly rare. Where we live, the threat of snow empties bread/egg/milk shelves, and a mere dusting sends schools and businesses into an almost laughable tailspin (laughable if you’re a transplant from the north or Midwest). We just don’t have the means to manage the roads, and honestly, no part of the country can really manage ice in great quantity.

This winter, our kids have had the great fortune of several snow days…some justified, some not so much. This past day, however, has certainly made up for those laughable days of the past few weeks. We got snow! Lots and lots of beautiful snow fell Wednesday, followed by an overnight coating of ice, and then another few inches of the pretty fluffy stuff throughout today!

Needless to say most of the state is immobile. But we have made the most of it – having prepared with a decent food supply and other “power-outage-potential” materials – and today has been a fun-filled day of exploration and snow play. I even had to resort to “rustic” means to knock the ice off our DISH satellite…using a very long fishing pole, no less! LOL!!

All that said, I’ll share some of our favorite spectacles and moments of the day!

DSC_0075 DSC_0020 DSC_0017 IMG_2974 IMG_2976 IMG_3012 IMG_2982 IMG_2983 DSC_0052 DSC_0037 DSC_0019 DSC_0022 DSC_0001 DSC_0024IMG_3019 IMG_3046 IMG_3039 IMG_2971

*That last shot of the snowy ground…those are two bushes which were split in half this morning by a sheet of ice which slid off our metal roof above the front porch. This also happened four years ago, and I had to dig out one of them to replace it as it died. Not feeling great about the chances for these two fellas…

Back in the Saddle with Big News and Shoe Goo (UPDATED!)

Well, hello there stranger! It feels good to be back online. I took a brief (2 months?!) hiatus from blogging to enjoy the holidays, travel and focus on my family. To say the last few months has been a roller coaster is an understatement.

To make the long story short…after several weeks of negotiations (and more than a few emotional ebbs and flows), my husband’s company was bought out by a well-known, publicly traded media company (click here to see press release). Woo-hooooo! It’s a win for both companies, and the team is excited to be part of a revolution in the industry.  I’m elated to have my husband back (physically, emotionally and spiritually, ha!), and Gemma is enjoying the extra attention and playtime she’s getting from daddy. We’re looking forward to a quick family getaway this weekend to Wintergreen (Virginia) to ski, ice skate and make great memories!

And while I’m on the subject of cold weather, we’ve had our fair share of freezing temps this winter…even a few snow/ice days (rare, for NC). While packing for our weekend trip, I found my favorite pair of snow boots. They are comfy, warm and unfortunately, the outer rubber shell has cracked. Honestly, I’ve only worn these boots a total of 12-15 days in the last 6 years!

When I first noticed the problem last spring, I contacted the manufacturer and learned the boots have a lifetime warranty for defects (and Columbia admitted these were a defective style). I was pleasantly surprised to get a brand new replacement pair of boots in the mail a few weeks after submitting my documentation. However, I was bummed I didn’t get to choose a comfortable style (to address my wide foot) or color (to coordinate with my existing winter wardrobe). The new boots are okay. Wouldn’t have chosen (bleh) brown or a boot with the higher ankle shaft (as the top of the shaft on the new boots digs into my calf when I walk). But they were free…so I really shouldn’t complain, right?!

old boots new boots

I’ve worn the new pair a few times (even despite the fashion-clash…oh, the horror! LOL) but held onto the old boots with hopes I might be able to repair them. So earlier this week I found myself fresh off an REI-run where not one, not two, but three employees were eager to help me find a solution to heal my broken boot.

cracked boot

We settled on a fix-it collection of 1) Shoe Goo (a waterproof adhesive/sealant; $6, REI), 2) ParkTool TB-2 Emergency (bike) Tire Boot (a thin, reinforced adhesive tire boot film; $3.50, REI), 3) Tenacious Tape Patches (round adhesive patches similar to duct tape; $2.95, REI), and 4) a 10-inch piece of bicycle inner tubing from the REI recycle bin (FREE thanks to the bike shop attendant).

boot repair options

After closer inspection, I decided the Shoe Goo and Tenacious Tape patches would likely be my best options. So here’s how my experiment went…

Step 1. Cleaned the surface of the boot. Stuffed the toe of the boot with paper towels.

Step 2. Used a popsicle stick to apply a thin layer of Shoe Goo to the open crack base layer and between all open edges of cracked rubber. Cut a piece of Tenacious Tape patch to roughly the size of the cracked opening and wedged that piece inside the opening to seal the inner soft shell and create a new base layer for the next step of Shoe Goo. 

Shoe Goo to inner shell

Tenacious Tape patch to create new base layer

Step 3. Used a popsicle stick to apply another layer of Shoe Goo between the layer of Tenacious Tape patch and the outer rubber layer. I made a make-shift compress using popsicle sticks and rubber bands to keep pressure on outer rubber layer and then let the first layer of Shoe Goo dry for 2 hours. Repeated this step and let dry for 3 hours before removing the compress.

Shoe Goo under compression

Step 4. Cut another piece of Tenacious Tape patch and affixed to entire cracked area to seal Shoe Goo, making sure to press all edges to ensure tight seal.

Tenacious Tape seal

"Fixed" boots

I’m hopeful this will give extended life to my winter boots, and our weekend on the mountain will be a great test of the waterproofing and durability/adhesion capabilities of the Tenacious Tape.

I’ll post a follow-up next week with the results of this project. At least I know I have a back-up pair of boots waiting for me at home if this doesn’t turn out as I hope it will! Until then, I hope y’all have a great weekend!! Stay warm and snuggle with your loved ones!

UPDATE (2/10/14): Despite my well-intentioned DIY attempt to fix my favorite snow boots, I am sad to report it was not a success. I can safely say the boot itself became an epic fail. Not only did the spot I fixed begin to tear around the edge of my glue/tape but new cracks began to open on the other boot (in no less than 4 different spots). Its clear the rubber on these boots was indeed defective (as Columbia admitted), and I was possibly too optimistic I could salvage them. I’m happy I got another weekend out of them before tossing them out. Now to break in my replacement pair (and just in time as we’re expected to get another bit of snow or ice this week…yay, grrrr!).

more cracks in the rubber

more cracks in the rubber 2

Special Delivery: Gift Cards

This year the families from Gemma’s preschool class combined forces to get the teachers gift cards to their favorite stores and restaurants for Christmas. Here’s an idea for how to package those cards and give the teachers a little something extra for all care and guidance they give our kids!

gift card boxwood planters


  • Boxwood or other potted plant (We found mini boxwoods in wood planters at Trader Joe’s.)
  • Gift cards
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Drinking straws
  • Scissors
  • Optional: colorful tinsel garland, small ornament(s)

Step 1. Wrap your gift cards in pipe cleaners to resemble bows on a present. Wrap your gift card vertically with one pipe cleaner, leaving a long end to thread through a drinking straw. Wrap a second pipe cleaner horizontally from behind, twisting or making a bow with the ends on the front.

Step 2. Insert straw in dirt of potted plant; you may wish to cut your straws to create varied heights for the “presents”. Insert your pipe cleaner/gift card into a straw.

Step 3. (Optional) Tuck some tree garland around the base and add a few ornaments (we used a foam craft gingerbread ornament which Gemma made at home).

gift card boxwood planter

This is a fun way to package gift card presents for anyone on your wish list!!

Norwegian Krumkake

The holiday season is the best time to celebrate traditions and feed your soul. My celebration couldn’t be complete without some good old-fashioned baked goods, and this year I’m including a family favorite which represents my Scandinavian heritage. Krumkake (krmk), is best described as a fancy waffle cookie and simply translates to curved cake in Norwegian.

Krumkake recipe


My mother and grandmothers made this delicate treat each holiday season, and as a child I’ll admit it wasn’t the first item I chose from the dessert tray. No, I lunged for anything with sprinkles, chocolate or caramel. However, as an adult, I have come to love this crispy, sweet-tasting cookie and decided to make a batch myself. Lucky for you, I’m sharing my recipe (a slight variation from the one pictured above) and some tips you can use to make your own krumkake.

To make krumkake, you will need a special krumkake iron, available online from Villa Ware through Amazon or other specialty retailers (~$100). I received mine as a gift from my mother, who incidentally uses a traditional stove-top iron vs. my electric, non-stick iron. Your iron will come with a wooden cone to roll/shape the cookies. You’ll need a large cooking space, a timer, and a spatula to remove the cookie from the hot iron once it’s done. As you can see below, I wasn’t sure what type of spatula would work best. The slotted, stiff spatula did the trick.



  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened to room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 6 tablespoons milk

Step 1. Preheat krumkake iron. Grease iron with cooking spray or shortening.


Step 2. Beat eggs with a hand mixer or Kitchen Aid mixer.


Step 3. Add sugar, butter, vanilla and cardamom and mix well.

krumkake_sugar krumkake_butter

krumkake_vanilla krumkake_cardamom

Step 4. Add flour and milk, alternating a little of each and mixing well as you go. The batter should have the consistency of a thick pancake batter.

krumkake_flour krumkake_milk

Step 5. Spoon a tablespoon-sized dollop of batter in the center of each krumkake plate and close the iron. Let the batter bake for 30-45 seconds.


Step 6. Open the iron and use a spatula to remove the cookie from the plate and set on a towel/countertop. Use the wooden mold to roll the cookie into a cone shape. Allow cookie to set a few seconds before transferring to a cooling rack. The cookie will be soft when you remove it from the oven and will crisp up as it cools. Repeat until you’ve used all the dough.

krumkake_baked krumkake_baked spatula krumkake_roller krumkake_rolled

Step 7. You may wish to sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar for additional sweetness, or serve with berries, jam, whipped cream or Nutella. Be sure to store krumkake in a covered cake pan or other airtight container (to avoid humidity as they will stale quickly otherwise).

I love the traditional krumkake cone however I also love waffle cones with my fro-yo and ice cream. After making about half the batch, I decided to experiment a bit using some nesting bowls to create some krumkake bowls for my frozen delights. I was pleasantly surprised to see these turn out so well!

Instead of rolling the cookie on the cone, I simply placed the warm cookie over top of the smaller glass bowl, then cupped the larger glass bowl over the top to mold it into a bowl shape. I let each one cool for 30 seconds before transferring to a cooling rack, placing them upside down to keep their shape until they cool completely.

krumkake_glass nesting bowls

krumkake_bowl mold



Yield: 24

Special Notes:

Tea Time

Well that was the silliest tea party I ever went to! I am never going back there again! Said no 4-year-old little girl ever!

Last week, Gemma hosted five of her classmates at a special tea party playdate complete with mommy’s fine china and lots of sugar cubes. Oh, and an hour of dress-up time pre-tea!

From the moment she hopped out of bed, Gemma was a ball of energy. She happily downed breakfast, helped me prep the table, and hopped into her leotard with no foul or fuss to await her friends’ arrival.

waiting for her tea party

Aside from the girls in her class, we also had the pleasure to visit with a few younger siblings and a group of great mama’s and grandma’s. It was wonderfully packed house as the girls tried on dresses and fairy wings and loads of jewels from the treasure chest. Gemma was a good host, letting her guests choose their accessories first, and finally settled on her chef uniform for her attire. There were puzzles, ponies and dolls strewn throughout the house, as the girls explored the playroom and kept busy entertaining themselves. However,  it wasn’t long until the tea table, filled with cookies and fruits, beckoned them. So to the table we went!

tea party guests

The girls got to select their tea flavor – either Passion Fruit or Baked Apple Cinnamon – and judging by their request for refills, I’d say their apple cinnamon choice was a hit…or maybe the sugar cubes kept their thirst alive! The girls were perfectly polite and it brought me great joy to see Gemma engage with her peers throughout the morning.

As the adult host, I must admit I was amused overhearing the conversations between mothers and daughters as the elders asked the little ones to be very careful with the fine china tea cups and saucers. I had to admit to them I was not worried…considering I spent the night before taking price tags off of all but five settings. Needless to say, the cups and saucers were part of our wedding china set (we got hitched in 2005) and most had never been used before. Over the years I’ve adopted a rule to use it if we’ve got it…and in this case if I haven’t used them for my adult friends, Gemma might as well get some enjoyment out of them.

It’s safe to say every little girl deserves a tea party with her best girls. And if you’re thinking of hosting a tea party yourself, I’ll share a few tips to help you prepare a fun, colorful and inexpensive partyscape for your special occasion.

Tissue Paper Poms

I’ve always wanted to make tissue paper poms and this tea party was the perfect excuse. I love the simplicity of the tutorial from Bramblewood Fashion blog. The author, Ashley, offers clear pics and instructions for fool-proof poms in just five easy steps. G and I chose red, pink and turquoise to compliment the holiday decorations we already have throughout the house.

tissue paper garland for tea party 1

tissue paper garland for tea party 2

Easy-peasy Placemats

The easiest items of our crafty tablescape were the placemats. We simply placed paper doilies on sheets of scrapbook paper. Voila! The scrapbook paper lets you create any theme, color scheme or mood for your party. And if you don’t want the frill of a doily, place a smaller, solid-colored square of paper on top of the larger, patterned scrapbook sheet, and you have a modern alternative.  Next time we plan a tea party, I’ll be sure to laminate these babies so we can reuse them.

tea party placemat partyscape

I’ll also give a shout out here to my grandmother, Lorraine (Weigelt) Schossow Black, who crocheted the white tablecloth I layered on my green cloth. She passed away in 2011, and I’m fortunate to have several pieces of her handiwork throughout my home. She was the original crafter in our family; she made cloths and doilies year-round and sold them at festivals and shows throughout eastern North Dakota. I have great childhood memories watching her work in her rocking chair and seeing her stretch the pieces on a large board to keep them taut for starching. This craft, along with many of her other talents (knitting afghans, playing the organ, making lefse and canning foods, are almost lost arts these days.

Coffee Filter Garland

The last element of our DIY tea party decor was the coffee filter garland I hung in the window. My only regret was not making more to fill the windows.

coffee filter garland

Coffee filters are great for party garland since they’re easy to find (probably in your kitchen now), inexpensive (in case they’re not in your kitchen now), and are built to withstand water (which makes for easy dyeing). The only con is they don’t absorb colors strongly…i.e. the colors are muted or pastel (perfect for baby or wedding showers), so keep that in mind if you try this at home.

Here are 5 steps to create your own coffee filter garland.

What you need:

coffee filter garland materials

  • Coffee filters (I used the smaller size filters since that’s what I had in the house)
  • Water
  • Food coloring
  • Cake pan (one for each color; or wash same pan between each dye job)
  • Baking sheet/jelly pan
  • Paper towels
  • Sewing machine/thread

Step 1.  Preheat oven to 175 degrees. Place 2 cups of water in shallow baking pan/dish and add 8-10 drops of food coloring. Make a pan for each color you desire. (or plan to reuse same container and dye each filter set individually).

Step 2.  Separate coffee filters and set each filter into colored water one at a time. Separate each filter from one another and add them individually; this will help you separate them later when you need to take them out and lay them to dry. Let the filters soak for 5-10 minutes until they absorb the level of color you desire. You may wish to add more food coloring to deepen the color; be sure to mix in thoroughly the additional color so your filters absorb the same color evenly.

coffee filter garland dye job

Step 3.  Set a paper towel on counter, remove filters one at a time and lie them flat on your paper towel to allow excess water to drain from filter. I was able to lie four filters on each paper towel sheet with only a slight overlap at center edges. Repeat this step by placing a new paper towel on top of your previously removed coffee filters and keep stacking your filters between sheets of paper towels. I recommend starting a new stack for each color to avoid cross-color-contamination (lesson learned the hard way as my pink filters absorbed some of my turquoise color).

coffee filter garland drying 1

Step 4.  Place your paper towel/coffee filter stacks on a cookie sheet and place in oven for 8 minutes. The heat will help speed up the drying process. Remove cookie sheet from oven and remove filters from between paper towels. Lie filters on dry surface (I used my island countertop but a dining table would work, too). Allow filters to dry for 30 minutes.

coffee filter garland dry 1

Step 5.  Thread your sewing machine and place it on a straight-stitch setting. Let out 10-12 inches of thread before placing your centering your first filter under the needle; this thread can be used to tie your garland to a curtain rod or hook later. Sew straight across the center of your first filter then place your next filter (and each thereafter) as close as possible to the end of your previous filter and sew them together.

While the filters seem fragile, the paper fibers are strong hold up well to sewing. I had no issues with tearing or the presser foot bunching the filters on the feed dogs; if you have trouble with this you may try to adjust your tension slightly. If you are hanging your garland (as I did above), you should measure the length you’ll need to ensure your garland is long enough/not too long (mine was too long but I didn’t mind it wisping on the floor). Since this garland is likely for one-time use, you need not worry about closing your last stitch (as that process might just be too much for the filter to withstand anyhow).

coffee filter garland sewing1

coffee filter garland sewing2

coffee filter garland sewing3

coffee filter garland
For more tea party ideas, click here…..whatever did we do before Pinterest?!

2013 Best Gift Ideas for Boys

It just wouldn’t be fair if I only offered up great gift items for girls so I’m happy to say I also polled parents to get their best suggestions for holiday or special occasion gifts for boys.

Some of the best comments from parents of boys…

“I like giving the kids gifts that will continue to spark their sense of adventure.”

“We try to focus on family trips, tickets (zoo, movies, museums, etc) or lessons (tennis, swimming, music, etc). I find these are things that we can all enjoy as opposed to toys that have fifty pieces which will be scattered all over the house and partially lost within a week.”

“I prefer gifts that are engaging and choose items my son enjoys. Children’s tastes change so much and right now my son is into super heroes, building and cars so those are all fun toys for pretend play. We do a lot of craft kits for both our children and use them as gifts – it is so fun for them to make gifts for others vs just buying something at the store.”

“Honestly, my son wants a real vacuum cleaner for Christmas. He likes things that he can take apart and put back together. He loves his scooter too.” (parent of 3-6 year old boy)

“Boys in this age group are pretty easy – electronics and video games.” (parent of 9-12 year-old boy)

I must admit since I have a girl (my only child), boy gifts are always a struggle. My mind immediately goes to cars, trucks and Legos, and I’m left wondering if my lack of imagination and experience is easily recognizable. Selfishly, I’m so relieved to have the list below next time I need ideas for boy gifts.

All Ages

  • Sporting equipment (clothes, bat, baseball glove, t-ball stand, soccer ball, soccer goals, helmet/pads)
  • Outdoor gear (compass, Camelbak hydration pack, hunting gear)
  • Activity voucher/tickets (paintball, bowling, batting cage, arcade)
  • “A Day with Dad” and “A Day with Mom” voucher (lunch + arcade = happiness!!)
  • Things with wheels (bicycle, balance bike, scooter, Plasma car, skateboard)
  • Tickets to sporting event, movie or concert
  • Enrollment in lessons (tennis, piano, swimming, martial arts, guitar)
  • Trip to museum or zoo
  • Personal entertainment device (iPad mini, Kindle HD, 2DS XL, MP3 player)

Ages 0-3

  • Puzzles (Melissa & Doug wooden peg puzzles)
  • Blocks (Duplo, Mega Bloks)
  • Books (I Spy, anything Dr. Seuss)
  • Games (Spot It, Bingo, Dominoes)
  • Animals in a toob
  • Magazine subscription (Zoo Books, High Five, National Geographic Little Kids)

Ages 4-6

  • Legos
  • T-Rex shirt, sports team clothing
  • Puzzles, books, flashcards
  • Arts and crafts supplies
  • Leap Pad reader/early reader/explorer
  • Toy cars, trucks, machinery, trains (Thomas the Tank Engine train set/table)
  • Instruments (guitar, keyboard, bongos)
  • Action figures/sets (Batman, Spiderman, Mike the Knight, Star Wars)
  • Chalk trail (attach to back of bicycle)
  • Games (Angry Birds, Hungry Hippo, I Can Do That/The Cat in the Hat)
  • Magazine subscription (Highlights, National Geographic Kids)

Ages 7-9

  • Skylanders Swap force figurines & Wii game
  • Video game console/games
  • Board games (Hedbanz, Apples to Apples Kids/Junior, Life)
  • Magazine subscription (Ranger Rick, Sports Illustrated Kids, YUM Food & Fun for Kids)
  • Donation to children’s charity in his name

Ages 9+

  • Gift cards (iTunes, batting cages, arcade)
  • Star Wars Death Star Lego set
  • Kitchen supplies (hot dog steamer, popcorn maker, personal smoothie blender)
  • Magazine subscription (Sports Illustrated, Ranger Rick)

I hope this list has helped inspire gift giving to the boys in your life. And just for fun, I’ll wrap up this boy gift post with a few fun snapshots of my little brother and a few of his favorite gifts from childhood…love you, bro!!!

Erik and “Arnold Leo” (an original Cabbage Patch Kid)

Erik + Arnold Leo (one of the original Cabbage Patch Kids)

Erik and his GI Joe loot (during his 9th birthday party)

Erik + GI Joe gifts (9yo)

2013 Best Gift Ideas for Girls

Wow! I asked, you answered, and I’m so grateful. A few weeks ago I asked a group of parent-friends to share some of their favorite gift ideas for girls so I could steal them and pass them off as my own share them with you! I was blown away with the responses!

I hope this post will help parents, grandparents and all gift-givers as you brave the crowds this holiday season in search of those special items for the young girls in your world.

Here are some general thoughts on gift-giving shared by my parent all-stars…

I like gifts for girls to be something they can engage with – such as crafts, Legos and dolls for pretend play.

I prefer all the stuff leading up to Christmas – getting and decorating the tree, making cookies, reading Christmas stories, ice skating, looking at lights, making things for other people, singing Carols. I would prefer only a few special gifts be given on Christmas.

Anything that involves glitter and art is a hit – sparkly pens, glitter glue, shiny/metallic beading crafts always provide hours of open-ended creativity!

[I’m] trying to get gifts to foster activity, imagination, and play yet aren’t branded or suggestive with image. There will be plenty of things telling our little one what she “should” be before we know it.

Every year before Christmas and birthdays, the girls and I go through their toys and see which items other kids might enjoy more than themselves, and we donate them to different charities. It helps teach the children a good lesson on life and also helps to keep my house clutter-free.

And while you’re out-and-about this season, don’t forget to SHOP LOCAL! This coming Saturday (November 30) is Small Business Saturday. You can support the health and wellness of your community this holiday season by spending your hard-earned cash at small retail, dining and service businesses in your local town. Visit the link to find a list of stores in your area. I’m excited to spend a few dollars this Saturday in my parent’s mom-and-pop drug store back home in Danville, IL!!!

52% of local sales image

This is also a great time of year to select a charity and help your kids celebrate the joy of giving to those who need our support. Last week, Gemma and I gathered a cart of groceries to contribute to her preschool food drive, and this will be the second year we’ll let Gemma purchase several items from her Christmas wish list to give to other kids through the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign in NC. Take as many opportunities to instill a passion for community service in your kids…the world will thank you for it later!

Now on to the survey results! A majority of parents (47%) said they prefer giving a combination of both material and “experience” gifts (i.e. tickets to sporting events/concerts). I’m so with you on this one! It’s nice to know so many folks strive to create more meaningful memories with their kids. Keep it up! Your kids will undoubtedly recall fondly the year you took them to a pro sporting event or enrolled them in art class.

This was Gemma and I last December (2012) before we headed out to our first annual mother-daughter outing to the Carolina Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker:

Gemma + Jill Nutcracker Day 2012

And now…without further ado…the list of gift suggestions for girls…

All Ages

  • Tickets to an event (ballet, baseball games, live theater, carriage ride and tea)
  • “A Day with Dad” and “A Day with Mom” voucher (lunch + fro-yo + movie = happiness!!)
  • Clothes (pajamas, robe, slippers)
  • Summer camp registration
  • Travel gear/luggage
  • Athletic apparel (leotard, swim suit/goggles)
  • Personal entertainment device (iPad mini, Kindle HD, 2DS XL, MP3 player)
  • Kitchen gadgets (ice pop maker, popcorn maker, measuring cups/spoons)
  • Things with wheels (bicycle, balance bicycle, tri-cycle, skateboard, skates, scooter)
  • Sports equipment (helmet/pads, balls, basketball hoop, zip line, swing set, pogo stick, golf clubs)
  • Furniture (bed, desk, playroom/toy storage, “hope chest” to store memory-heirlooms/artwork)

Ages 0-3

  • Books (Olivier Dunrea’s Gossie series, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, anything Dr. Seuss)
  • Puzzles (rock-a-stack, wooden peg puzzles)
  • Pretend play sets (doctor kit, baby care center, kitchen)
  • Melissa and Doug toys (Magnetic dress-up set, puzzles, play food, really anything M&D rocks!)
  • Music table
  • Easel, art supplies
  • Bounce house
  • Power Wheels
  • Dolls and accessories
  • Soft, cuddly bath towels

Ages 4-6

  • Arts and crafts supplies
  • Rainbow Loom
  • Magnatiles
  • Dress-up clothes
  • Puzzles
  • Motorized car
  • Rollerskates
  • Legos/blocks (Friends sets, Duplo, Disney and Barbie series’ were offered as popular choices)
  • “My Very Own Library Card” for your child (and make a cute book of vouchers to redeem for weekly visits to select books at local library)
  • Books (Pinkalicious, anything Dr. Seuss)
  • FurReal Friends Pet (there are kitties, puppies, monkeys and horses)
  • Leap Frog reader/early reader/explorer
  • Dolls/character figurines and accessories (Hello Kitty, Doc McStuffins, Disney princess, American Girl, Barbie)

Ages 7-9

  • Dolls/character figurines and accessories (American Girl, My Little Pony and Disney were popular suggestions)
  • Arts and crafts supplies
  • Hello Kitty beauty kit
  • Musical instruments (keyboard, karaoke machine)
  • Tickets to the ballet
  • Legos (Friends sets)
  • Dance classes
  • Sewing machine and gift certificate to local fabric store

Ages 9+

  • Clothes
  • Jewelry (monogrammed necklace, heirloom ring/necklace)
  • Tickets to show/concert (Broadway series, music, dance)
  • Gift cards to favorite retail store or movie theater
  • Bedroom re-do (let your daughter select new paint color for her bedroom and then paint it together!)
  • Paint-n-pour art class registration for daughter + a friend/sibling/parent (lots of cities are offering these one-night art classes where everyone paints the same image; class is led by a local artist/teacher)

Special thanks to all the parents who responded to the survey. You offered up some great ideas…especially those unique, memory-making “experience” gifts for girls!!!

Update: My mom thinks it’s unfair I put up ancient pics of my bro without putting ancient pics of myself…so here you go…





Check this out! 2013 Best Gift Ideas for Boys

Festive Puzzle Ornaments

Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” -Albert Einstein

I’m so glad to be blogging today and super excited to share this special craft with everyone. For the last few days our kitchen table (and almost every other surface within 10 feet) has been awash in paint and glitter…all in the name of these festive little nuggets of joy!

puzzle ornaments

I can’t quite remember what inspired this project…other than seeing holiday images in magazines and perusing the web for a kid-friendly craft idea. I wanted to create a set of cute ornaments to decorate a small tree just for Gemma. The art supplies I needed were already in my craft closet. Unfortunately, we had just donated some puzzles that would have been perfect for this project, so I had to find another set (which only set me back $1.50).

This craft is super cute and super easy to make. I hope you enjoy the tutorial and catch a creative bug this holiday season!

Festive Puzzle Ornaments


  • Large puzzle pieces
  • Acrylic paint
  • Paintbrushes (small and medium tip, firm and loose bristle)
  • Hole punch
  • Ribbon
  • Other materials you might consider: buttons, glitter, string, sticky-back jewels/pearls, glue, etc.

1. I found an inexpensive box of large puzzle pieces at a local kid’s consignment store. It helps to have a few ideas of what you want to create so you can set aside pieces with corresponding shapes before you start painting.

puzzle box

2. Grab your paint and give the pieces a base coat. White is a classic base for Santa, the Christmas Tree and angels. Green works well for the poinsettia and Rudolph. Red and blue are great for presents or gingerbread people. Feel free to play with colors…you can always paint over it if you don’t like the way it looks. Let your base coat dry completely before you start the next step.

puzzle craft paint

3. Use a pencil to faintly sketch the designs, then begin painting. Use the wider or fuller brushes to fill in larger spaces or blot in the paint to create textured looks (like on Santa and Frosty below); use the smaller, fine tip brushes for things like the eyes, noses, polka dots or other dainty features. Once the paint dries, you can embellish with goodies such as buttons, pearls or poms. If you are worried about materials falling off, you can give these a quick seal with glossy, clear Mod Podge (or for more festive-glittery goodness, use the Sparkle Mod Podge…and don’t worry, it goes on opaque but dries clear so only the glitter remains visible). Here are some pics of my ornaments as they were drying:

painted puzzle 3

painted puzzle 2

painted puzzle 1

4. Once your paint/topcoat and all glued adornments have successfully dried, use your hole punch and find a good spot to make your hole. Next, cut about 6-8″ of ribbon or fishing wire (or just use a simple ornament hook) to hang your new decorations. Before you use your hole punch, be sure to think about how each piece will hang on the ribbon. (I.e. I put a hole in the neck of my angels so when hanging, the ribbon covers their faces; I’ll be replacing the white ribbon with clear fishing wire for better viewing as they hang on the tree.) 

Here are my finished ornaments all snuggled into the lighted garland on my mantle. Can’t wait to let G hang these on her special little tree!!!

puzzle ornaments puzzle ornaments santa angel poinsettia puzzle ornaments stars rudolph puzzle ornaments frosty swirl puzzle ornament polka tree puzzle ornaments gingerbread santa puzzle ornaments frosty swirl present puzzle ornaments angels

A Break in the Monotony

You’d think with a 4-year-old in my care the word monotony wouldn’t cross my lips. However, the reality is while we’re active and adaptable most days, Gemma and I still have a pretty consistent routine – eat, school, eat, play, eat, sleep. It’s been just over four years since I became a stay-at-home mom, and I’m still coming to terms with what that means.

I get asked “What are you up to?” a lot. And many times it’s a subtle implication about not working outside the home…”Are you really still doing the stay-at-home mom thing“? (like it’s taboo). In response, I usually get fidgety, break eye-contact and offer some long-winded response that only half makes me feel relevant (and mostly never exudes confidence). I want to scream “This is doesn’t define me. I didn’t plan to still be at home four years later. I am still relevant. A little person relies on me…loves me…can’t live without me…and that means something, dammit!” But that seems a little desperate, right?! In reality, I didn’t plan it. And it’s still not a natural “career” for me but I have to remember you don’t start a job at the top of your game…it takes time, training, guidance, mentors, confidence, mistakes, apologies, ownership, more training, more mentoring, etc. And so it goes…parenthood.

The work of being a stay-at-home mom is primarily teaching and involves a high level of craftiness, planning and undivided attention (even when you’re not in the mood—no sick days or “I’ve got a headache” excuses will do when a little ball of energy wants you to play UNO or dress-up). Oh, and btw, the cooking, cleaning and transportation duties are just the icing (so they say). Sometimes I miss working outside the home, the selfish part of being able to have something “just for me” but then I have days like yesterday…

  • Woke up and got G ready for school.
  • Had a rare and special family breakfast at Dunkin Donuts (since daddy is going out of town for the week).
  • Delivered G safely to school then dropped packages at the shipping store, got in a 2-mile walk and a P90X workout, grabbed a shower, posted a blog, and prepped dinner.
  • Picked G up from school and hit the grocery store…G got to put all items in and mostly push the cart herself AND hand all items to cashier AND “pay”…which by the way turns a 15 minute grocery trip into an hour-long learning activity).
  • Got home, put away groceries and finished putting crock-pot chicken noodle soup together.
  • Made chocolate chip cookies with G (baked 1/2 of dough, rolled and froze 1/2 of dough).
  • Played 5 hands of Slap Jack then snuggled with G in home theater for 1 hour “quiet time” watching the Dreamworks holiday shorts episodes featuring Shrek, Madagascar and How to Train Your Dragon (super cute, btw).
  • Ate chicken noodle soup dinner; G crowned me Chopped Champion for soup…again! Golly, do I love this girl and her accolades!
  • Drove “in the dark” to UPS to pick up a package. (This, by the way, is also exciting for a 4-year-old who is usually not in a car after dinner/dark…she noticed the moon and Venus in the sky, so we chatted about the universe, planets and why the moon is not a planet even though it looks like one. Note: We need to get out more in the dark.)
  • Got back home and had a kid-friendly “nightcap” (hot cocoa).
  • G helped me put on a clarifying face mask (and take it off…which elicited a lot of giggles from both of us!)
  • Snuggled in jammies and read 3 books before bedtime.
  • Got a few quiet moments by myself to clean up kitchen/dishes and brush/floss before having a great chat with my brother and sis-in-law (planning Thanksgiving dinner so my mom doesn’t have to cook!).

I don’t realize until I write down my day’s activities how much of G’s life I would miss out on if I had a full-time job outside the home. Who would be there to answer her silly questions? Or her serious questions? Who would tell me she now has an imaginary dog (in addition to her imaginary friend)?

But truth be told…I have a mild jealous streak, and I often envy Ben’s ability to break away from our “monotony”…

  • to converse with other adults about “business things”,
  • have quiet moments in the car listening to “his” music,
  • watch a movie or “catch up on email” on an airplane,
  • have a cocktail or eat “peacefully” at a fancy restaurant on a business trip,
  • talk on the phone without being interrupted,
  • select and eat his lunch at will,
  • to pee (for God’s sake) without a tiny human sticking her fingers/artwork/candy under the door to get your attention (assuming the door is even closed!) or yelling through the door “do you need me to turn the fan on for you, mommy?”.

While I envy his luxuries, I’m learning to better accept my position and its “on-the-job training”. My latest revelation is 4-year-old’s are bipolar…one minute I’m gritting my teeth because G’s refusing to finish breakfast and get dressed for school, and the next minute my heart is melting because she’s sweetly requesting a hug and a kiss, with arms outstretched and puppy-dog eyes, because (doh!) we haven’t hugged and kissed since we woke up (a mere 40 minutes ago).

This is a special time for both Gemma and I. It is challenging and rewarding in so many ways. I must remind myself more often because someday I’ll work for someone else again but for now I’m pretty happy working for Gemma.

On a side note…while searching the archives, I came across this photo…

shaving cream mask

You see, I was at wit’s end. We were visiting my parents in Illinois, and Gemma had been pushing everyone’s buttons the whole day. Come bath time, she was spitting fire, and I’m fairly certain scales were forming on her arms and legs. So instead of fighting it (more), I decided to just be silly. I snuck off, grabbed a can of shaving cream and slathered it on before creeping through the house to give my l’il dragon a scare. Before I knew it we were all laughing, and l’il G returned to her kind-hearted self.

As I look ahead to this week while Ben’s out of town, I may need some ideas from you (yes, you!) on how to inject some more levity like this into our daily routine! Suggestions are greatly welcomed in the comments section below. What out-of-the-ordinary things do you do to maintain humor in yourself and with your kids/family??!!

A Headscarf for Granny

Most of you know my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer this past summer. She had a lumpectomy and is currently in chemotherapy.

After her first treatment, she got the tell-tale signs of hair loss…head tingling and tiny, loose hairs showing up on her arms and pillowcase. A head scratch here and another there and before she knew it small clumps were falling out like crazy. So instead of being annoyed by all that hair all over the house, she chose to shave it off! You. Go. Girl!!

After getting a sort of “high and tight” from her hair dresser, she attempted to razor-shave it on her own (fail!). Finally she resorted to a full-blown buzz cut…by my dad! Man, do I wish I could have been a fly on the wall that night! Can’t imagine my dad gathering the nerve to make that first guard-free pass through her partially shorn scalp. Not to mention mom tensing up when he finally did make contact. LOL!

Last week, during my follow-up visit to the doctor, I happened upon the UNC Comprehensive Cancer Center information library, which also houses the “gift shop” (the Mary Ann Long Brighter Image Boutique) selling wigs and a wide variety of head wraps and scarves. I ventured in, prepared to buy an item or two to send to baldy mom, only to learn the shop is only open by appointment for cancer patients. To my surprise, after a brief conversation about my mom and what I was hoping to do, Tina, the very kind and knowledgable attendant, invited me in and graciously gifted me a soft, red head cap, a burgundy head scarf and a “port pillow” (like the ones in this tutorial) for me to send to my mom.

And after learning I could sew, Tina also gave me a tutorial on how to make a turban-type head wrap. Unfortunately, I don’t have a serger, so I set off to make a more simple head scarf my mom could tie on to keep warm inside and out this winter. The color options most of the cancer centers offer are pretty plain so I wanted to make something colorful to match my mom’s personality and let her beautiful face shine through over the winter and spring months in Illinois (and hopefully Florida, if she can swing down for a visit).

Here’s Winnie the Pooh, modeling the headscarf I made for my mom.

blue headscarf front 2  blue headscarf back 2

Here’s a brief tutorial on how to make a super easy headscarf.

Step 1. Select your fabric. Since I wanted to make this one reversible, I chose two complimentary cotton fabrics I already had in my stash at home. You’ll need at least 1.5 yards of each fabric (or 3 yards of a single fabric if making single color piece).  Make sure to pre-wash your fabric to avoid puckering after laundering later.

headscarf prep 1

Step 2. I made a simple pattern using freezer paper. Be sure to iron your fabric to ensure straight cuts. Your triangle should be 32 inches on the short sides and 45 on the long side. Pin your pattern to the fabric and cut two triangles. A rotary cutter is best for cutting fabric to a pattern…the fabric stays flat while you cut straight lines.

headscarft prep 2

headscarf prep 3

Step 3. Place the two pieces together (good/patterned sides facing in…i.e. your backside/reverse sides will be facing out). Unfortunately I didn’t take photos during this process. Sorry, folks! Feel free to email me and I can walk you through it, if you need help. Make sure your sides line up, then pin the pieces together (roughly one pin per 6 inches). You’ll need to maintain a 3-4 inch opening (so you can turn the fabric right side out before closing it fully. I typically use a special color pin or change the direction of my pins where I want to leave the opening so I have a signal while I’m zipping this through my machine.)

Step 4. Using your sewing machine, sew the two pieces together using a straight stitch. (When I made my pattern, I accounted for a 1/2 inch seam around all edges.) Before you turn your piece right side out, snip the extra corner fabric a bit so you’ll get a nice pointed corner on the outside.

Step 5. Use your 3-4 inch opening to push your fabric through and turn the piece right side out. Use the eraser end of a pencil to push corners out so they point nicely.

Step 6. Now you need to close your opening. To get a nice, tight close, fold the fabric under/inside so that the seams are even on the inside edge of the opening (i.e. the frayed/cut edge of the fabric should not be visible). Pin your fabric together and then sew it as close to the edge as you can to ensure a nice aesthetic. Trim your thread strings and you’re done!

flower side headscarf flat

blue side headscarf flat

Special thanks to Gemma’s friend, Winnie the Pooh, for modeling the finished product!

blue headscarf front 2

blue headscarf front 1

blue headscarf back 1

After some practice and tweaking, mom was able to roll up that back flap to cover the knot and keep the “tail” under wraps.

And here’s the burgundy headscarf I picked up at the Cancer Center. I’d like to think the one I made will give mom some style, boost her skin color and remind her how much she’s loved every time she looks in the mirror!!!

burgundy head scarf front

Special Notes: