Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Ornaments

We put together several of these cute little reindeer the other day. They've been a big hit! Camden asked that we make a couple without strings for hanging, so he could play with them. You betcha, kiddo.

A tutorial really isn't even necessary, but here are the basics:

You'll need three "old fashioned" clothes pins. Size doesn't matter, but they should all be the same size. These are about three inches in length.You'll also need a tiny little red puff, a little brown or white puff {for the tail}, two wiggly eyes, some string of ribbon for hanging, and a glue gun.

Begin by gluing two of the clothespins side-to-side to make the body and legs. Next, attach the third clothespin in the opposite direction to make the face and antlers. {if you'd like a ribbon or string hanger, I suggest sandwiching the cut ends in between the body and head pins as you're gluing the pieces together.}

Use glue to attach the nose, eyes, and tail, and you're set! Our ornaments are hanging on our tree, of course. They would also make adorable little gift toppers.

As with my other projects, a word of caution... please use your best judgement with a glue gun and your small chid(ren). Same goes for the tiny puffs and eyes.

{DIY} Twine-Wrapped Christmas Ornaments

These ornaments come together quite easily {are you noticing a trend?? this mama needs simple, but with a big impact in the end!}, and are another perfect addition to our nature-inspired tree. All you need is a roll of twine from the hardware store, some plain glass bulbs {or old, recycled bulbs in funky colors}, and a glue gun.

The pictures below show the process pretty well, I think:

A couple of things worth mentioning:
1. Work in small sections. Lining up the twine can be a bit fiddly at times, and I'm forever amazed at how quickly that glue dries!
2. You might burn your fingers. I apologize. {also, for that reason, this is probably best reserved for adults or big kids.}
3. Notice that I didn't cut the twine until the very end. This way, I was guaranteed not to run out.
5. Stick the end of the twine down very well. This will keep it from looking ragged on the bottom.
4. Try other materials! Yarn? Sure! What else can you think to use?

Apple Crumble-Pie {vegan, gluten free, and soy free!}

These little pies are completely drool-worthy! They were consumed in quantity over the Thanksgiving weekend, and will definitely be making their way into our dessert rotation. They're quite tasty on their own, but they move to a whole other level when topped with freshly made caramel sauce.*

I like pie crust but I don't need a ton of it, and my hubby is the type to eat the filling and leave an empty shell on his plate. The little star-shaped crust on top was just enough for both of us. It mingles with the crumble topping just enough.

And the portion, when baked in cute little half-pint mason jars? Perfect! We all felt satisfied after a single serving, without the feeling that comes with having taken too much pie.

Ready to make some of your own? Let's do it!

You'll Need:
For the Filling
Apples {I used Pink Lady's, and cut up twelve apples for twelve jars}
1/2 C. Sugar
2 Tbsp. Cinnamon {or more--it can't hurt}
2 Tbsp. Corn Starch

For the Pie Crust
1 C. Gluten Free AP Flour Blend
1 tsp. Xanthan Gum
1 Tbsp. Sugar
1/4 C. Coconut Oil
1/4 C. Cold Water
2 tsp. Cider Vinegar

For the Crumble
2/3 C. Brown Sugar
1/2 C. Earth Balance
1/2 C. Gluten Free AP Flour Blend
1/2 C. Gluten Free Rolled Oats
Sprinkle of Baking Powder

To Make:
For the Filling
Wash and peel your apples, and the slice into very thin slices, so they bake quickly. I estimated one medium-to-large apple per jar, and I was right! We had a few slices to spare, which my little guy consumed while he was "helping" me fill the jars.
Place the apples into a large mixing bowl, or use a large zip-top bag.
Mix the sugar, cinnamon, and corn starch in a small bowl, and then pour over the top of the apples.
Stir to coat the apples, or close your zip-top bag and give the apples a good shake to coat.
Pack the apples into clean, dry half-pint mason jars. I spread my jars in front of me and worked with several jars at a time, placing apples as they fit, sometimes breaking a slice in half to fill a gap. I wanted to pack the apples in snugly, so that the pies wouldn't shrink too much once they had been baked. It may seem tedious, but it really isn't.

For the Pie Crust
Combine flour, xanthan gum, and sugar in a small mixing bowl.
Heat coconut oil a bit so you have a liquid, then add it to the flour mixture and stir.
Add cold water and vinegar, and stir or knead to thoroughly mix.
If you dough seems gummy or soupy, add a bit more flour, working in small increments to avoid making the dough too dry. I added a couple of extra teaspoons of flour to my batch.
When you're satisfied with the consistency of your dough, sandwich it between two pieces of waxed or parchment paper, and roll it out to about 1/4-inch thick.
Use a cookie cutter to cut the shape you'd like to place on the top of your pies.
Place a cut-out on each pie. {If the dough is hard to work with at this point, place it in the fridge for several minutes to cool. Cooler dough retains its shape more easily, and won't stick to your fingers.}

For the Crumble
Combine brown sugar, earth balance, flour, oats, and baking powder in a small bowl.
Mix thoroughly with your hands, or with a potato masher. You can also use a hand mixer, though I've never gotten mine out for the purpose.
Dig your hands in and pack little bits of the crumble topping around the cut-out pie crust so that you've completely covered the top of each pie.

Arrange the jars on a baking sheet to more easily get them in and out of the oven, and then bake at 350 degrees until the filling bubbles and the crusts have a nice, golden color. Roughly 15-20 minutes, perhaps longer.

*Homemade caramel sauce recipe coming soon!

Shared on... Allergy Free Wednesdays

Green Bean Bundles {gluten, dairy, and soy free}

These little bundles of happiness have been a part of my life for years and years. You see, we spent a year living in Tennessee. We experienced a lot of fascinating stuff while we were there, and we made friends with some pretty memorable people. Among those friends? Allison.

Why am I telling you this?? Because Allison first shared this recipe with us when we were invited to celebrate Thanksgiving in her cute little log cabin. I'm pretty sure we've made these at least once a year since. I'm also pretty sure I do things a bit differently than Allison did on that day, because, well, it was a long time ago.

If you even sort of like green beans or bacon, you need to try this recipe. It's life-altering. It will make you regret all of those mushy green bean casseroles you've served over the years.

Change the quantities based on the number of people you're serving, but whatever you do, don't underestimate. Make a lot! My measurements, below, were enough to fill a 9x13 baking dish with bundles.

You'll Need:
Green Beans {we use four cans of whole beans}
Bacon {I used two packages of the uncured variety}
1 C. Earth Balance Spread {use butter if you aren't dairy free}
2 C. Brown Sugar
1 oz. Amaretto {completely optional! I didn't use any this year}
Garlic Powder {just a hearty sprinkle, or more if you really love garlic}

To Make:
Soft-cook the bacon. I did this by lining baking sheets with parchment paper and baking the bacon for a few minutes at 350 degrees, while it preheated in preparation for our Thanksgiving turkey.
Drain the beans into a large collander and set aside.
After the bacon has cooled enough to work with, cut each strip in half so that you're left with two short strips of bacon.
To make a bundle, arrange several beans in your hand so they make a tidy little "stack," and then wrap the bacon around the center {as pictured above} of the beans. Secure with a toothpick, and place in your baking dish.
Continue wrapping beans in bacon until you've used up your supplies. Don't be afraid to squish the bundles in a bit, as they'll shrink some while they're in the oven. Making neat rows will also help you to fit more in. {I believe I wound up with 32 bundles in my 9x13 dish.}
Place the bacon-wrapped beans in the oven at 350 degrees for a while*, so the bacon continues to cook.
Make your sauce on the stove top. Add the Earth Balance, brown sugar, and garlic powder to a small sauce pan and heat over medium-high heat, until the brown sugar has dissolved completely. If the sauce comes to a boil, don't worry. That's just fine.
When the brown sugar is melted and thoroughly combined, remove the pan from the heat {that's an important one! never add alcohol to a pot that is being heated!} and add the amaretto. Give it a stir to mix.
Pull the beans out of the oven, pour the sauce over the top, and return to the oven.
Let the beans cook a bit longer {20 minutes or so, but a longer amount of time is just fine too*}, and then enjoy!

The beans and bacon, ready for their first round in the oven.

*I've found baking time to be REALLY unimportant with this recipe. I had between four and five baking dishes cycling through my oven at a time on Thanksgiving, as I usually do, and just stashed these in the oven and forgot about them--with the oven set at 325 degrees. I do this every year, and they're always perfect! So don't panic. Just put them in, and let 'em hang out.

Shared on... Allergy Free Wednesdays

Woodland-Inspired Christmas Stars

I absolutely love the way these star ornaments turned out. They're a bit whimsical, but still so nature-inspired, and their puffiness makes me smile. They're quite simple to put together, too!

Here are the supplies I used. The moss is from Hobby Lobby, the star is from Michael's, and the twine is from the hardware store.

The monarch butterfly isn't pictured, but is the type found in the floral department--with a wire pick at the back. I removed the wire pick and attached the butterfly with a dab of hot glue.

Begin by wrapping the edge of the paper star with twine. Attach the twine at one star point by gluing it to the side of the star, and then wrapping it up and over the edge. This will hide the tail of the twine and make sure it stays put.

Glue and wrap, glue and wrap, over and over until you've covered the entire edge.

Working with small chunks of moss, apply glue to the edges of the star as pictured above. Press the moss onto the glue, stretching it a bit if you need to cover the entire surface.

Repeat on the other side, so the ornament is finished all the way around. Apply extra moss to fill blank spaces until you're happy with the appearance.

Stop here, if you'd like. Adding the little butterfly is completely optional. 

Shaving Cream Letters {toddler activity, homeschool, creative play}

I can remember this activity from my own kindergarten days! It's simple, really. Grab a can of men's shaving cream next time you're at the grocery store. Nothing fancy, just the cheap stuff in the red and white striped can. Clear your table, roll up your sleeves, and squirt a nice, big pile of the cream onto the table.

If you use your hands to spread the cream around, you have a perfect place for letter and number practice, or for drawing silly faces and favorite shapes. "Erase" the letters or pictures with the swipe of your hand, and you've got a blank slate.

When we were done playing, I used a towel to scoop the cream off the table, and then wiped everything down with a wet cloth. The end result? A clean, sparkling table and some effortless letter practice!

Homeschool: The Letter E {crafts, preschool, toddler activities, elephant, eagle}

I'm running behind!! We've seen a whirlwind of overnight visitors lately, and while I've enjoyed every minute, I have neglected my blog just a bit.

So, without further delay, I bring you... the letter E!

E is for Elephants! {paper plate craft}

These elephants were quite the silly project! I was literally opening the cap on the gray paint when Camden said, "mama, I want PINK elephants!" So, we made pink elephants. We painted three paper plates, set them aside to dry, and then cut out legs, ears, and trunks. Twine with a knot tied in the end made tails, plus a couple of tiny twine bows for the "mommy elephant, and the baby elephant!" Finally, we added a googly eye for each of our friends. {The baby elephant was made by cutting the center circle from the third painted plate.}

E is for Elephant {hand print craft}

This might be my most favorite project to date. I just love that little hand print, and the elephant parts make it even more adorable! We applied paint to Camden's hand, made a print, let it dry, and then cut it out. He helped me paste it to the red paper, and then I went to work with a thin black marker. I added leg detail, trunk detail, an ear, an eye, and a tail. Camden wrote the word elephant at the top by tracing the letters I provided for him.

E is for Eagle {hand print craft}

How CUTE is this guy?? We followed this template to make our little eagle, and then used letter stamps to spell out "eagle" along the top.

Lemon Overload Cake {gluten free, dairy free, soy free}

When I asked for some ideas and inspiration the other day on Facebook, Jaime sent me a recipe for lemon cake. {Here is the original recipe.} It sounded delicious! But... the recipe didn't fit an allergy diet even a little. So I set out to remedy that problem, and came up with this little gem.

The cake was moist, and just tart enough. Two loaves were gobbled up quickly by our out-of-town guests over the weekend.

For the Cakes, You'll Need:
2 1/2 C. Gluten Free Flour
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Xanthan Gum
1/4 tsp. Salt
2 C. Sugar
Zest of 2 Lemons
1/2 C. Earth Balance Spread
1 tsp. Vanilla
4 Eggs
1/2 C. Coconut Milk

For the Syrup, You'll Need:
1/3 C. Water
1/4 C. Sugar
2 Lemons, Juiced

To Make the Cake:
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
In another bowl, thoroughly mix the lemon zest and sugar. Don't be afraid to dig your hands in to rub the zest around and really mix it in.
Add Earth Balance and beat thoroughly.
Add eggs and vanilla and beat thoroughly.
Add coconut milk and beat again.
Working in small batches, incorporate the flour mixture.
Pour into two greased loaf pans, and bake at 350 degrees for about 55 minutes. When the cake is done, a toothpick inserted near the center will come out clean.

{Baking Note: My loaf pans are very thin. I kept the bottom of my cakes from browning too quickly by placing the filled pans on top of two stacked cookie sheets, then putting the whole thing in the oven.}

To Make the Syrup:
Combine water and sugar in a sauce pan over medium heat until the sugar melts, and then bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and stir in the lemon juice.
Transfer to a bowl to cool.

To Finish the Cakes:
Let the cakes sit in the pans for several minutes, and then turn onto a wire rack to begin cooling.
While the cakes are still warm, and with something under your wire rack to catch crumbs and spills, begin poking the cakes with a skewer, or a thin, sharp knife. Poke holes all over the tops of both cakes.
Brush the syrup over both cakes, working slowly so that it is absorbed into the cakes rather than rolling over the sides.
Allow the cakes to finish cooling on the wire rack, and then serve.

Shared on... Allergy Free Wednesdays

Homeschool: The Letter D {crafts, preschool, toddler activities, dinosaur, dandelion, donkey, D is for...}

We've wrapped up another week! I won't lie--this week was a tough one, in some respects. My sweet boy is really exploring his boundaries lately, and I know I've said it before, but sometimes I really struggle with keeping my "mom hat" tucked away in favor of my "teacher hat." We're navigating the waters together, though, and I'm THRILLED to report that today {the beginning of a new week} went amazingly well, and we were able to accomplish so much together.

One day at a time, yes?

It is my goal to write about our best moments together, but also to let you in on our not-so-good moments too. My intention won't ever be to paint a false picture of reality, or to pretend that we don't come to occasional road blocks in between all of these fun, creative projects.

How about you? What do you struggle with while you're working with your child{ren}?

Moving along. The letter D!

D is for Dandelion

Without question, this is my favorite project yet! Do I need to explain why??

It was a simple craft that we were able to complete in a single sitting, but with several techniques and textures. The craft easily held Camden's attention, which is top priority for us.

I began by cutting a strip of grass from green paper, then glued it to the blue. I wanted to create a starting place, where the dandelions would be 'anchored,' for an easy start. I also snipped several q-tips in half before we began.

We bent two green pipe cleaners to have the appearance of a stem and a leaf, and then attached them with a glue gun. {I've said it before, but use your own judgment with a glue gun and your own child. I have been over the safety factors several times with my little guy, who is almost four.}

Next, we attached a cotton ball for the center of each dandelion, and then we worked our way around each cotton ball, adding q-tip pieces to create the dandelion look.

Finally, I lightly outlined the word 'dandelion' for him to trace. Writing without disturbing the dandelions for a bit tough for Camden, so you might also consider stamping the word, or writing it before beginning the project.

D is for Dinosaur: Letter Craft

This project was a good idea, in theory. I wanted to wind up with a 'cute' dinosaur, so I added the spikes to a dinosaur that has the appearance of a brachiosaurus, because of his longer neck. My son, who is obsessed with dinosaurs, was NOT impressed. He spent a great deal of time explaining to me that a brachisaurus doesn't have spikes--that, clearly, I was mistaken and had meant to create a stegosaurus. But the neck was too long for that, "you see, mom." Nevermind that, though. This is a cute use of the letter D for your preschooler.

Begin with a large letter D, cut from green paper. Supply your kiddo with glue, and the following pieces... neck/head, tail, spikes {optional, of course}, and legs. Add a mouth and eye.

Help your child write or stamp the word 'dinosaur' above their creation.

D is for Donkey: Paper Plate Craft

This was a big hit in our house! The steps were simple, and could be personalized in so many ways. Our steps went something like this... paint a plate and some white construction paper gray {if you've got gray paper, feel free to use it!}, then set aside to dry. Cut a circle from white paper, and draw on a smile and nostrils. Cut a bit of a mane from from black construction paper. Cut ears from gray painted paper. Attach the parts and pieces with glue, then add a pair of wiggly eyes.

Homeschool: The Letter C {crafts, preschool, toddler activities, color wheel, corn, bubble wrap printing}

Another letter on the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom tree! We had a lot of fun this week, though we didn't spend as much time working as we have previously. I have finally come down with Camden's month-long head cold, and then daddy unexpectedly took Friday away from work, so we did some crafting that day as a family. More on that later, though, when the Friday project is finally complete. Anyway, we still thoroughly enjoyed the projects we worked on!

As a side note, my little guy is almost done with his Kumon uppercase letters workbook. When it is complete, we'll move to the lowercase letters workbook. I love to see how accomplished he feels after completing the pages, and his improvement is already so obvious.

C is for Colors: Color Wheel Activity

This was a really fun way to spend an afternoon. There were several steps involved, but my three-year-old didn't lose interest because we were up and moving around part of the time. We also spent a great deal of time talking about colors, primary colors, mixing colors, and so on. He really took to the conversation. To make a color wheel like ours:

1. Cut out a large poster board/tag board circle. I used my largest mixing bowl as a template.
2. Divide the circle into six equal sections, marking them with a pencil.
3. Fill in each section with the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. We used the torn paper mosaic approach, but you could paint the sections or attach pieces of construction paper pre-cut to fit the sections.
4. While the glue dries, it's time for a scavenger hunt. Dig around to see what you can find to fill each section with the corresponding color. {the bulk of our goodies came from the craft closet downstairs... can you tell??}
5. Attach the items you found. We used a glue gun. {My little guy is very well-versed in glue gun safety, so I feel comfortable working WITH him to use a glue gun safely. If you don't feel comfortable with this idea for your little one, consider another glue, such as craft glue.}

C is for Cat Paper Plate Craft

With Halloween rapidly approaching, I wanted to include another fitting craft. I love the way this black cat turned out! There are many options for this craft, including making a "scary" cat face, etc., so use your imagination.

We painted TWO paper plates using washable black paint, and set them aside to dry. While my son was busy with another task, I cut the center out of one plate to make the body, and then used the center portion to make his head by cutting off the ridged edge to form a circle. Next, I cut apart the second plate to make the tail and ears.

We glued everything together using craft glue, then embellished our black cat with wiggly eyes, a pink puff ball for the nose, and a pipe cleaner cut into four pieces for the whiskers.

C is for Corn: Bubble Wrap Printing

Corn is a big hit in our house, especially when it is served on the cob, fresh off the grill. I knew my little guy would also love to make his own ear of corn. He was also excited over the new technique... bubble wrap printing! In this case, the print from the bubbles gives the appearance of corn kernels.

We started with a piece of blank construction paper {ours was a light tan color}. I showed Camden that he could use his paint brush and yellow paint to put a light coat of paint on the bumpy side of a piece of bubble wrap, and then we quickly flipped the wrap onto the paper. While I held it in place, he gently patted the bubble wrap {he was oh, SO tempted to pop those bubbles!} to transfer the paint to the construction paper.

After plenty of time for the paint to dry, I cut out an "ear" {of corn} shape, plus two green shapes to form the husk. With a glue stick, my son put everything together. He wasn't feeling very well that afternoon, so he asked me to write "corn" on, rather than trace the word himself or use stamps to spell the word.

C is for Castle {coming soon!}

We're making a castle! Check back soon for details.

Where to Shop for Allergy-Friendly Ingredients and Products {a state-by-state, and international listing!}

One of the things I hear most often is how difficult it can be to change your shopping habits, or to discover which local-to-you places will best meet your needs after giving up gluten, dairy, or something else. It's true that we can all be successful by "shopping the perimeter" of our mainstream grocery stores for produce and what-not, but sometimes there is no getting around it. We need to know where to find dairy free chocolate chips and gluten free flour!

With that in mind, I'm hoping you'll help me to develop this list. Imagine if we could get at least one listing for every state. Add some international resources to that list, and my heart goes pitter-patter! If you've got something to add to this list, will you let me know with a comment or a message? I would be thrilled to add your favorite shopping spot to the list.

For future reference, you'll be able to find a link to this page  on the right-hand side bar at all times. {over there ----> }

US Locations:
San Diego: Sprouts, Jimbo's

Coeur d'Alene: Pilgrim's, Fred Meyer, Super 1
Hayden: The Flour Mill
Moscow: The Co-Op {such a wonderful, happy place!}

Bloomington: Naturally Yours
Mortin: Colby's Natural Health
Peoria: Hyvee, Naturally Yours

Lawrence: Natural Foods

Olney: Roots Organic Market
Rockville: Whole Foods, Trader Joes, My Organic Market

Grand Rapids: Saffron's: A Gluten Free Market Place

Duluth: Whole Foods Co-Op

Missoula: The Good Food Store
Whitefish: Super 1 Foods, 3rd Street Market

New Jersey
Butler: Green Life Market
Northfield: Bonterra Market
Pompton Plains: Nature's Pavillion
Vernon: Healthy Thymes

New York
Huntington: Value Drugs

North Carolina
Matthews: Earth Fare, Trader Joes, BiLo
Monroe: Sprue-Licious
Winston-Salem: Whole Foods, A&S Natural Health

Portland: Bob's Red Mill Company Store, New Seasons Market, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's

Dallas/Fort Worth: Sunflower Shoppe, Sprouts

Washington State
Kirkland: PCC Natural Market, Whole Foods, Fred Meyer
Mead: Yoke's
Olympia {and Tumwater area}: Fred Meyer, the Co-Op, GF Joes
Pullman: Head over to the Moscow Food Co-Op!
Spokane: Huckleberry's, Rosaeur's "at the Y" in North Spokane, Fresh Abundance, Yokes, Fred Meyer, WinCo

Janesville: Basics Co-Op
Pewaukee: Good Harvest

International Locations:
British Columbia
Vancouver Island:

Dominican Republic
Santo Domingo: Nacional, Jumbo, Gluten free shop in the Agora Mall

Norwich: Rainbow Wholefoods {check for city centre shop AND warehouse wholesaling!}
Penzance Cornwall: Archie Brown's
Surrey: Ocado {local, online delivery}

Yokosuka: AVE

Lisbon: Miosotis, Celerio, Brio

Disclaimer: I have not personally visited all of these places. Use your best judgement when it comes to selecting foods and products that are safe for your family and your dietary restrictions. 

Gluten, Dairy, and Soy Free Chicken Fried Rice

I love to throw together a big pan of fried rice. It just seems so... perfect! It comes together quickly, fills my family up with healthy veggies and things, and it makes a perfect leftover lunch the next day. My steps vary a bit some days, but the basics are listed below. If your diet dictates that you must avoid eggs, or if you'd like to add a different veggie, or something else simply doesn't appeal, go with it. I really don't think you can mess up when it comes to fried rice.

You'll also notice that my measurements aren't precise. I don't measure when I make fried rice. Instead, I base my ingredient quantities on how much rice I've got, and how many people I want to feed. I filled my rice cooker with two cups uncooked rice and the appropriate amount of water, and went from there.

Chicken {or shrimp, or cubed ham, or tofu, or...}
Carrots {grated with the large holes on your cheese grater}
Peas {ours were frozen}
Rice {this was made using sticky rice, fresh out of the rice cooker, but leftovers are great too}
Coconut Aminos
Garlic Powder

To Make:
If you've got a large, electric skillet, it is perfect for your fried rice. Pull it out and plug it in! If you do not, a large skillet or wok are both great choices. My instructions are based on the use of my non-stick electric skillet.
Scramble several eggs {I used four}, cook them however you'd like, then break or chop the cooked eggs into small pieces, and set aside.
Cut some chicken into bite-sized pieces {I cut up two thin-sliced chicken breast pieces}. Heat a bit of olive oil in your skillet, and cook the chicken, seasoning it with a bit of salt and pepper, and garlic powder.
To the cooked chicken, add shredded carrot {I used two large carrots}, a healthy dose of green peas, your cooked eggs, and the rice.
Stir the ingredients in your skillet to combine, then pour in a bit of coconut aminos. If you aren't avoiding soy sauce, you can use it in this recipe. Be careful not to over-season with additional salt, though!
Add a bit more salt and pepper, and a bit more garlic powder, and stir your rice while it cooks and the flavors combine.
Pour in a bit of water {about 1/4 cup}, put the lid on quickly, and let the rice sit for a few minutes to steam your peas and carrots.
When you come back to check on your rice, it's time for a taste test. Does it have enough flavor? No? Add some more coconut aminos. Not salty enough? You know what to do.
Finally, enjoy!

The Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Tree {preschool, homeschool}

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Have you read it? No? You really should. It's really quite cute, and has a catchy ring to it that sucks everyone right in.

We read this story several times a week. It has helped my son in learning the alphabet, and it is a fun way to introduce the letters of the alphabet.

But the best part? We've got our own Chicka Chicka Tree! Our tree hangs on the wall in our homeschool room. Every week, we'll finish up by hanging our newly-learned letter in the tree. The tree serves as a visual reminder of the letters we have already focused on, and is a fun way to 'celebrate' completing another letter.

There are many ways to create your own tree, including making your own. We found a jointed palm tree cut-out at Hobby Lobby for $2.99 and stapled it directly onto our wood-paneled walls. The letters are from the dollar store. Each package included the entire alphabet in one color, so I purchased the four available colors to make things more interesting.

If you're inspired to create your own Chicka Chicka Tree, I'd love to see it.

Pumpkin Pie Bread {gluten free, dairy free, soy free}

I'm so thrilled with the way this bread turned out. The texture is perfect, the pumpkin flavor is present but not completely overwhelming, and the "spiciness" is just right.

You'll Need:
3 1/2 C. Gluten Free Flour
2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Xanthan Gum
1 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Cinnamon
1 tsp. Freshly Ground Nutmeg
1 C. Sugar
1 C. Brown Sugar
1 C. Applesauce
3 Eggs {my three eggs were quite small, so if you use extra-large eggs, two should be sufficient}
1 Can Pumpkin
1 tsp. Freshly Grated Ginger

To Make:
Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a mixing bowl, and set aside.
In another bowl, combine sugar and brown sugar {I was lazy and didn't want to head down to the basement for a fresh bag of sugar, so I wound up using 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup coconut palm sugar, and one cup brown sugar.}, applesauce, eggs, pumpkin, and ginger.
Beat the pumpkin mixture with your hand mixer to thoroughly combine, and then slowly incorporate the flour mixture.
Divide the batter evenly between two greased {I used coconut oil} bread pans, and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the bread comes out clean.

If you're really feeling bold, use your pumpkin pie bread to make french toast. I did--and it was quite amazing.

Vegan Curried Lentil Stew {gluten and soy free}

I've really wanted to like lentils for a long time, but every recipe I've experimented with left me feeling... unsure. Until now. This lentil stew came together so easily and packs a ton of flavor! It has definitely been added to our "make again" list.

2 Stalks Celery {diced}
2 Carrots {diced}
1 Onion {diced}
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. Curry Powder
1 Tbsp. Cumin
2 tsp. Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
3-4 Tomatoes {diced, or a can of diced tomatoes}
1 C. Dry Lentils
2 Red Potatoes {diced}
4-5 C. Vegetable Broth {or a mixture of broth and water}

Optional: freshly cooked rice

In a large pot, saute celery, carrots, and onion for several minutes in olive oil.
Add curry powder, cumin, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes and stir to coat the vegetables.
Add tomatoes, lentils, potatoes, and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for at least 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over rice, if desired.

Woodland-Inspired Monarch Butterfly Christmas Ornament

I'm in the mood for a 'new' Christmas tree this year. For the last few years, we've decorated our tree in a bright, almost over-the-top, playful, toy theme. I love my collection of ornaments, and plan to keep them in our rotation, but a change is in order this year. Enter the woodland-inspired tree.

My goal is to fill the tree with as many handmade ornaments as possible... and my plan is to share each of them with you as a tutorial.  I really love clear, glass ornaments because of their endless possibilities, so I've already scooped up several shapes and sizes for the coming season. If you think you might like to make some of these ornaments along with me, I'd encourage you to watch for sales and begin stocking up now.

This ornament is the first of many. Not only is it ridiculously simple, it would also be very easy to customize!

To make your own, you'll need:
Clear glass ornaments with a removable top
Craft moss in whatever variety you like most
Small butterflies, birds, toadstools, etc. {usually found near the floral department}
Something to "poke" with, like a chopstick or pencil
String or a ribbon for hanging

A tutorial is hardly necessary, but the steps go something like this:
Remove the top from your ornament.
Partially fill the ornament with moss. Break the moss into chunks and use your 'tool' to compact it a bit in the lower half of the ornament.
Add something cute. This monarch butterfly was a bit larger than the opening at the top of the ornament, so I gently curled the wings in on themselves to guide them through the opening, working first with one side, and then the other.
Using your 'tool' again, turn the butterfly so that it looks like it's resting on the moss.
Replace the top of the ornament.
Add a loop of string, thread, twine, etc. to the top for hanging, and you're done!

Homeschool: The Letter B {crafts, preschool, toddler activities, bumble bee, Blueberries for Sal, boat}

Moving right along to the letter B! Last week, I felt a bit... stiff. My crafting plans felt a bit generic to me, even though my little guy thoroughly enjoyed each project. This week, I am feeling a bit more confident and capable, and I love it!

B is for Boat Paper Craft

What little person doesn't love boats?? The was a very simple craft that went together a bit like a puzzle. I cut the pieces ahead of time, and then we talked about what the different pieces are called and what their purpose is. Camden required a bit of help mapping out the pieces, but he handled the rest on his own.

When I asked him if he wanted to stamp the word "boat" on the page, he said, "no mama, I want to WRITE it!" I wanted him to feel successful, so I very lightly outlined the letters in pencil. Using a red marker, he traced the letters. The look on his face afterward was absolutely priceless!

B is for Bumblebee Fingerprint Craft

We really had fun with this project. You can make it as simple or as elaborate as you'd like. To begin, use a yellow stamp pad and your thumb to place bumblebee bodies on the page. Using a crayon or marker, add stripes, wings, stingers, and so on. Camden asked me to draw the wings and things on this day, but you could also leave that part up to your child.

B is for Bats!

We're approaching Halloween! What perfect timing for this activity. See the tutorial here.

B is for Blueberries! Reading and Paper Craft

When I went off in search of our copy of Blueberries for Sal, I couldn't find it. I was on a mission, though, and didn't want to let the little guy down. A quick YouTube search resulted in a homemade video of a mama reading Blueberries for Sal to her children. We listened along, and then got to work on a blueberry pie.

First, I cut a circle from construction paper. Second, I provided Camden with some blue paint and some simple instructions to make "blueberries" using the tip of his finger. Third, we made woven "pie crust" top for our pie by cutting strips of paper, then weaving them together and gluing in place. Fourth, after the paint had dried, we glued the crust to the top of the pie, and then trimmed around the edges so that the square, woven mat fit our round pie. Fifth, we glued our pie to another piece of paper. Finally, we finished off the pie project by stamping "blueberry pie" over our work.

During the entire process, we talked about the parts of a pie, and what I would do if I were making a real pie.

B is for Bird Paper Plate Craft

I think this might be my most favorite project yet! This little guy is just so happy... round! To make your own bird, start by having your child paint two paper plates.

After the plates have dried, grab your scissors. Cut one plate in half. Cut one half of the plate in half again, so you're left with two 1/4's of the plate. One piece will make his wing. Cut the second 1/4 piece into three smaller pieces to create his tail feathers. Cut a beak from orange construction paper, and two stick legs from brown paper.

Attach the wing to the front of the second plate. Attach the beak to the front of the plate. Attach the tail feathers to the back of the plate. Attach the legs to the back of the plate. Attach a large wiggly eye, or fashion an eye from construction paper or markers.


Remember that learning opportunities are everywhere. While we're driving or shopping, we try to spot objects that begin with the letter we're learning. Imagine Camden's surprise when his sandwich became a boat!

Homeschool: The Letter A {crafts, preschool, toddler activities, apple, alligator, acorn}

Our first week! I was blown away by so many things this week. The sense of pride I saw in my little man's face was priceless. He was thrilled with each new accomplishment and project, and wanted more, more, more! He has grown by leaps and bounds in just one week of more structured learning time, and I find myself constantly amazed at what he is capable of.

I struggled a bit here and there. It is challenging to keep my "teacher hat" on, and to keep my "mom hat" tucked away. Of course I want to keep Camden on task, but I also want him to enjoy his time "at school." I try to be conscious of the subtle differences because, well, it's important.

Because he's not quite four, my goal for this year has been to keep things light. If he isn't "on" for a couple of days, we step back and do a couple of extra crafts instead. I encourage him to finish what he has started {no throwing in the towel half way through that worksheet!}, but if he isn't taking to an activity, we find a stopping point and save it for another day.

Anyway--those activities I'm sure you're eager to see.

Each week, we will repeat some activities. For example, these letter templates. Camden begins each week by filling in the circles with circular color-coding labels. Dot markers, or bingo markers, would also work. While he's filling in the stickers, we talk about the letter. We practice making the sound(s) the letter makes, and we list a few words that begin with the letter. I found that keeping the chatter light and simple was the best way to keep his attention.

We also tear the appropriate letter page from another workbook I bought at Target, made by Mead. This week, he was really eager to do a few additional worksheets, so I used Pinterest and google to find things I thought he would enjoy.

Letter-specific activities we enjoyed...

A is for Apple Paper Plate Craft

Paint a paper plate red, then glue apple seeds near the center or draw seeds with a marker or crayon. Cut a leaf shape from green construction paper, and a stem from brown paper, and attach with a glue stick.

A is for Apple Mosaic

Draw or print an apple shape. Cut or tear small pieces of paper from red construction paper, and attach with a glue stick. Repeat with green paper. Fill in the stem by repeating the paper process, or use a marker like my little guy did. Cut out the entire shape {renewing the apple shape, if your child's torn paper went over the edges}, and glue to another piece of paper, if desired. Use letter stamps to stamp the word "apple" above the image.

A is for Alligator Letter Craft

Cut a large letter A from green paper. Cut small triangles for the teeth, and small circles for the eyes. Attach the pieces to turn the letter A into an alligator. Stamp the word "alligator" on the picture, if desired.

A is for Acorn Mosaic

Draw or print an acorn shape, and then tear or cut brown paper into small pieces. Attach the pieces using a glue stick. At this point, Camden chose to fill in the white spaces with brown marker. Cut out the entire shape, then glue to another piece of paper.