Sunday, January 31, 2010

Picture Block Puzzle

Have you seen these fun blocks around? I wanted to make a set but everyone said the blocks we really expensive. I found the six blocks for about $3.00 and then I used a 40 percent off coupon so they ended up being a good deal.

You will need blocks, a sponge brush, white Elmer's glue or Modge Podge and your favorite 4x6 photos.
Line the pictures up on the blocks and trim off the excess. Modge Podge the pictures on by gluing them down and then coating the top with a thin layer of glue. I know the purists are going to be mad that I used glue instead of modge podge but honestly? I am cheap and I need to make my projects more affordable.
When it dries. Use a knife and cut the blocks apart. Turn the blocks and then repeat until the sides are all covered.
My thoughts on it afterward? I would be more careful to use photos that wouldn't require me slicing through faces so much or photos where the face was much bigger so it didn't matter if I sliced through it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Organizing your photos using Picasa

(Photo Thursdays is designed to help average people learn how to make their photos better. All the tutorials are done using Picasa which is a free program from Google. Go here to download it and join in the fun. If you want to read the rest of my tutorials and get caught up, go here.)

Organizing your photos using Picasa.

Did you know that you can view your folders in one of two ways in Picasa? If you select the one below, you view your folders of pictures in chronological order, starting with the most recent. I have circled the button at the top of the page that needs to be selected to view chronologically.

If you select the button that is selected in the photo below, you will view your files as they are on your computer. Basically, it will look the same as if you were looking at a list of your files to upload them.
You can also make albums of your favorite pictures. They don't have to be from the same folder. It is a way to bring together pictures that are similar but you don't want to pull them from their folders.
Select the group of pictures you want to add to an album. Right click and go down to add to album. You can either select an existing album from the list or you can scroll to the bottom of the list and create a new album.
If you select create a new album, the following screen will pop up. You just need to date and name your album.
Have you ever starred your photos? If you want to select a photo to flag for later but you don't need or want to make a permanent album, you can star it. Select the individual picture and then select the star on the bottom menu bar. Hit the star once when selected and it stars it, hit is again and it unstars it. The starred album is at the top of the Picasa folders on the left side.

Do you have a bunch of pictures that you have starred from different folders and you want to upload them to blogger or another program? No problem, just export them. Select the pictures or folder you want to export and hit the export folder in the bottom menu.
This screen will pop up. You can hit the browse button and select where you want the folder to appear. You can name it and then select whether or not you want to use the original size or shrink the pictures.
After all that you still can't find the picture you are looking for? No problem, just type what you think the name of the folder is in the top right search bar and it will narrow down the photos to things that have to do with that name.
I hope these organizational tips help. Let me know if you need any help!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Poppyseed Chicken- Tasty Tuesdays

2 or 3 chicken boneless skinless chicken breasts
8 oz of sour cream
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 1/2 tablespoon poppyseeds
30 Ritz type crackers
1/2. cup of butter

Cut the chicken breasts into cubes and then brown with a little bit of butter. Combine the browned chicken, the sour cream and the soup in a casserole dish. Melt the butter and crush the crackers. In a separate bowl, combine melted butter, poppy seeds and cracker crumbs. Pour over chicken. Bake at 350 for 30 - 40 minutes. Serve over rice.

This is a super easy meal. It really only takes a couple of minutes to prepare to go into the oven. It seems like everyone has a version of this meal. Leave a comment telling me how you make poppy seed chicken.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Felt Food- Pasta

This is super basic idea for pasta felt food. Cut out your shapes. Trim the ends with pinking shears to give it that pasta look.
For the ravioli, cut two pieces, put a small amount of stuffing in between and stitch all the way around.
For the bowties, cut one piece, take a couple of stitches in the middle as an anchor then just loop the thread around the middle a few times and tie off.
Repeat as many times as you want noodles.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Guest Blog: In a pinch, go for the noodles

By Seth R. Hawkins

Noodles are one of the first foods that kids discover they love. We can blame Kraft for that. After all, who doesn't love a little bit of fake cheese with some soggy noodles? But as we get older and our taste buds get a bit more refined, we start to discover there is a whole world of noodles out there. To be completely honest, my eyes were opened to noodle heaven when I started buying groceries for myself. I was overwhelmed by the plethora of options (by the way, any sentence with the word 'plethora' in it is bound to be a good one).

But, the multitude of options doesn't have to be complicated. At the same time, this doesn't mean any noodle will do. Yes, I am going to be a stickler on this one. There is a right type of noodle and a wrong type of noodle to every meal.

Believe it or not, so much of cooking comes down to texture. Most noodles taste essentially the same, but you get a different experience with different noodles. For instance, spaghetti has long been known to be dominated by long, thin strands of noodle. That's how it works. You wrap it around a fork and it's a nice meal. Try that with wagon wheel noodles. Sure, the kids love it, but somehow the quality of the meal has been downgraded in your eyes. Is it still essentially the same? Yes, but the experience is completely different.

That's why I say there is a right and a wrong noodle to every meal. That being said, there is no official government Oversight Committee on Noodle Texture. It all comes down to your texture preferences.

Personally, I hate sea shell noodles. I think they are slippery and the sauce never seems to coat them properly. However, my wife loves them. So, she uses them for more kid-friendly leftover type meals and I use real noodles for everything else.

By real noodles, I mean my favorite three:
  1. bow tie
  2. penne
  3. angel hair

These three noodles have common shapes, but they also have a certain level of sophistication to them. But, not every meal can accommodate each type of noodle. Remember, you're after experience, so select a noodle that will pair well with your other ingredients without overwhelming them. The noodle is the base of the meal, but it should not be the dominant feature of the meal.

This brings me to this week's creation:
Sausage with a cream sauce (sorry about the lame title)

This was another, "Honey, what do we have in our fridge," meal. I knew I didn't have a lot to work with, so I went to one of my favorite standbys - noodles. We'll get to the other bases in another post.

I searched through my options and selected the penne noodles because I knew they would be firm and filling, a great complement to a meal that very little else in it.

1/2 pound sausage
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
diced green onions
1 can cream of mushroom soup
8 oz sour cream
penne noodles

Herb/Spice Rack
cajun spice

Slice sausage in diagonal slices no larger than 1/4-inch thick. Dice green bell pepper and green onions. Saute all of the above, including the mushrooms, in olive oil for only a few minutes. The goal of the sauteing is to just start to break down the vegetables and brown the meat without overdoing it. The sauce will take care of the majority of the cooking, but this will keep the veggies from being too tough, plus it adds a nice flavor. Remember, when you are sauteing, it is always a good idea to add a pinch of salt and pepper. You can be more adventurous if you like.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by placing the can of cream of mushroom soup in a saucepan. Heat until it starts to get smooth. Add the sour cream to thicken. If you accidentally add too much, pour in a bit of milk to smooth it out. Add spices as desired (the cajun spice really adds a nice touch to this meal). Put sausage and veggies in sauce and heat thoroughly. Serve over a bed of pasta, served al dente.

This was a simple meal that tasted surprisingly good. Sometimes it can be stressful to come up with a sauce from scratch, but using "cream of ___" soups will often serve as a good starting point. The noodle selection was extremely important to the texture of this meal. The veggies had a light crunch and the sausage is soft and round, so the tubular shape of the noodles added great contrast, making for an enjoyable eating experience. Go ahead, try it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Decoupage Necklace

One of my husband's aunt introduced this to me. It is simple and cheap to make. Here's how.

You will need a washer, the size is up to you, scrapbook paper, a bead and some sort of cord to serve as the necklace part.

Select you scrapbook paper. Then cut it to fit your washer. Decoupage the paper onto the washer by gluing it with white glue and the applying the glue to the top of the paper as well as a sort of varnish. When it dries be sure to do another coat or two on top. Then string the cord through the washer and put a bead on, tying a knot just above the bead. Now you have a great new necklace.

Two different variations. Be really careful when cutting your paper, any nicks will show the washer below such as in the red one pictured.

Felt Food Tutorial Pancake and Eggs

Cut two eggs whites out and one egg yolk.
Before you sew the two eggs white together, put a small amount of stuffing between the yellow yoke and the egg white. Sew in small stitches around the whole yolk. Start from the bottom and move to the top so the knots are under the egg white.
Then put stuffing between the two egg whites and sew the two eggs whites together.
Follow the same principle with the pancake and butter pats. Sew the butter pats onto the top piece of pancake before you sew the two pancakes. Use small amounts of stuffing under each butter pat and a larger amount of between the two pancakes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How to put text on your photos - Photo Thursdays

(Photo Thursdays is designed to help average people learn how to make their photos better. All the tutorials are done using Picasa which is a free program from Google. Go here to download it and join in the fun. If you want to read the rest of my tutorials and get caught up, go here.)

Do you want to know how to write on your photos? Do you have a collage that made with one of my past tutorials that can use a cute saying at the bottom? Let me show you how.

First double click on a photo so the it enlarges. On the menu bar on the left you will see an icon that says text underneath it. I have circled to make it easy to find.
You photo will then appear with a slightly transparent text that says "Type anywhere to add text." Find the the part of the picture you want text and click at the point you want the text to start.
Once you've clicked just start typing.
Once your text is on the page by clicking in the circle box next to the T on the far left side of the screen you can change your text color. If you click on the T in the middle of the box, you can change the outline color of the text.
The slider that is circle in the picture below allows you to add a heavier outline or no outline at all. Just slide it to the ride for a heavier outline.
Then at the top of the menu on the left, you can change the fonts and the sizes. You can also bold, italicize and underline.
After you have your fonts the way you want them, you can select the transparency of your text with the slider I have circled in the photo below. It will allow you to fade your text so it isn't quite so bold.
There you have it. An easy, simple way to add text to your photos for free!

Book Review- The Screwtape Letters

Reading fast is one of my only talents. When my church youth group would get together for talent shows, I would be at a loss for what to do. I am not an amazing singer. My trumpet skills have never been that great. Adequate but not great. I am an adult and still taking beginning piano lessons. I have never taken Karate. I get extremely anxious when I have to dance to music in front of people for fear of being off beat. I had nothing but reading. How do you exhibit that?

"Hey guys, why don't you all sit here and watch how I can read the fifth Harry Potter book in three hours. It will be really exciting for you. Promise."

It has never worked out well for me. One of the only times I decided to brag about it growing up, I made the little girl I was bragging about it to burst into tears. How was I supposed to know she had a hard time reading? I was like 10. I just wanted to feel awesome because I was in an extremely awkward stage and looked awful.

The Screwtape Letters is a relatively short book. Only a couple hundred pages. I figured I would have it completed in about an hour. No so. This book took me almost as long to read as some of the longer Harry Potters. Why? The text is so in depth. It is so thought provoking that you have to almost reread every single sentence.

This book by C.S. Lewis is a collection of letters written from Screwtape to his apprentice. Screwtape is a master devil/tempter and he is trying to teach his apprentice how to tempt people away from God and to Satan. He goes into detail on how to exploit each human weakness. It is almost unnerving to read it because we have all seen ourselves think those destructive thoughts or even do the destructive behaviors that this devils trys to get humans to do.

As a religious person, one of the biggest stumbling blocks in this book was the names. Screwtape refers to God as the enemy. Every single time I read "the enemy" I had to remind myself that he was speaking of God and not Satan. Satan is also referred to as Our Father. It was a confusing but necessary mix up that really kept me on my toes.

The whole story is revolved around tempting one specific person. You see yourself in this human. You almost feel guilty every time the tempters gain ground because you realize that there have been times in your life that the tempters would have gained ground with you too. It is a religious book, not for one religion or another but when the primary topics are God and Satan, it is impossible without the book to come off without religious undertones.

My verdict? I loved it. I will probably read it again. It is one of my husband's favorite books too. It certainly is not an easy read but it is definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Book Review- Julie and Julia

 I usually have a strict policy of reading the book before I see the movie. I didn't follow that rule this time, with Julie and Julia, and I wish I had. I was so enchanted with Amy Adams as Julie and because of that I was so excited to read the book. Julie Powell in real life is nothing like Amy Adam's version of Julie Powell. I should of expected that. It was a little disappointing.

365 days, 524 recipes. Crazy. Although reading this made me want to do something similar. I wanting to start cooking my way through a cookbook and make all of you suffer through it. Yes, it would be entertaining but after reading this book, I realize it would have too much of a bad effect on my relationships with my family. I love always having something to do but 524 recipes in one year is a lot.

Anyways, my crazy cookbook antics aside, I did like this book. It was entertaining and captivating. Although sex is briefly mentioned it is not explicit but the "F" word does appear hear and there throughout the book. OK, sometimes a little more than here and there but nowhere like the Time Traveler's Wife, if you have read that.

Do not go into this book with expectations of reading about the Amy Adams Julie Powell. She doesn't exist, except on the big screen. Julie Powell whines a heck of a lot more than her movie counterpart. She has mini breakdowns every chapter and large breakdowns about every other chapter. She is a heck of a lot meaner to her husband than I thought he should tolerate but he seemed to get along fine. She is not the amazing, wonderful person I had imagine. She is incredibly flawed, as all of us are.

The thing that broke my heart, that made me want to stop reading? Julie Powell's next book is about her affair with another man. It made me want to slap her. Her husband, as she writes him, so I will venture to say as she sees him, is the bright spot in her life. It made me want to stop reading about the sweet things he does for her when I knew she was just going to cheat on him in the end.

Anyways, aside from the tantrums, the eventual affair which doesn't even appear in this book but still made me angry and the swearing, I did mostly like this book. I hope to get my hands on Julia Child's book. I have heard it is way better than this one!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pizza Lasagna

This quick and simple recipe is one my husband started making when he first moved out on his own. He introduced me to it when we were first married and I have been making ever since. Our kids love it because of the pepperoni and I love that they eat it without complaining! 

You will need: 

  • 12 oz. package of penne pasta (cooked and drained)
  • 1 lb. grated mozzarella cheese
  • 26 oz. spaghetti sauce
  • 3.5 oz. package of pepperoni
  • 1 chub of sausage, browned

Preheat oven to 350. In a 9x13 pan pour spaghetti sauce, enough to thinly cover the bottom. Place a layer of pasta and place half of the pepperoni on top of the pasta. Then sprinkle half of the cheese over the pepperoni. Then add a layer of all of all the sausage. Pour half of the remaining spaghetti sauce on top followed by the rest of the pasta and then the rest of the pepperoni. Pour the rest of the spaghetti sauce on top and top with the rest of the cheese. Bake for 25 minutes or until heated through and the cheese is melted. 

What is a meal your kids always love to eat? 

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Valentine's Box Ideas #1

It is almost that time of year. When little kids make Valentine's boxes to take to school. I have a few ideas that I like to share on the Valentine's front.

This is actually my mother's idea because the little girl in the photo is actually me. A bear is super easy to make. All you need is a Kleenex box and four toilet paper rolls, brown paper and a small amount of fabric. Cover the Kleenex box with the brown paper as well as the toilet paper rolls. Cut out small paws and put them on the front of the toilet paper rolls. Attach the rolls at each of the corners of your box. Cut out 2 bear shaped pieces for the top. Stuff toilet paper between them to make it 3D and then glue them together. Draw your teddy bear's face and then attach it to the front of your box. Tie a bow with your fabric and glue it over where you attached the head to hide the attaching place. Cut a slit in the box behind the head and Voila. A Valentine's box!

Friday, January 15, 2010

DIY Scrabble Bracelets

Shortly after I had my first daughter, my best friend and I got together for a craft day. We wanted something that was affordable to make (because we were poor college students), easy to make in between holding an adorable baby and super cute to wear. We came up with these Scrabble Bracelets and still years later I love wearing it. It is a pretty easy DIY, but it does require power tools. Which wouldn't scare me now, but at the time, using a drill seemed kind of terrifying.

For this project you will need: 

  • Scrabble Tiles (I picked up my game at a thrift store for a couple bucks) 
  • Scrapbook Paper
  • Mod Podge 
  • Fishing line or other sturdy cord for stringing 
  • claps and a small bead for the end

 Pick out the letters of the name you want on your bracelet. If you have a longer name you can probably get away with just using the letters of your name. If your name is shorter, like mine, you will need to pick random tiles to go between each letter. I am lucky enough that my husband's name fits in between my name. So one side says my name and the other side says his.
 Drill four holes into each Scrabble tile. I used the smallest drill bit my husband has which is a 1/16th bit. After you have your holes, on the back of each tile Mod Podge a small square of paper. After your squares are dry, use a pin to poke holes in the paper where you drilled your holes. Next thread your tiles with fishing line. I went over one tile and then under the next, so the fishing line shows up on the tiles with the scrapbook paper instead of the tiles that say my name.

When we finished stringing them, we put a small bead at the end to bring the ends together and then tied it onto the metal clasps. I put a small dab of Mod Podge onto the knots at the ends to help keep the bracelet together and 8 years later it is still holding strong after quite a bit of wear.

This would be a darling project for a girls night. I have found that thrift stores and yardsales are the best places to pick up cheap Scrabble tiles, but if all else fails I believe that craft stores sell them now too.

Whose name would you want on a bracelet?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Photo Thursdays- Organizing all of your photos using Picasa.

Organizing all of your photos using Picasa. If you are new to photo Thursdays go here to catch up and learn how to download Picasa for FREE!

Every time you load pictures onto your computer, Picasa should find them and load them into Picasa. If it doesn't automatically do this, go FILE and then Add folder to Picasa. Find the folder you want to add from the list and click on it. Make the sure the menu bar on the right is clicked to scan always in case you add more pictures to the folder and then you are on your way.

OK, not that your pictures are all in Picasa, what do you do? Well, your digital pictures have a digital timestamps assigned to them so they should automatically go to the right place on your time line. Unless, the time and date on your camera are set wrong then you are going to have to manually fix them. So here is how you manually fix the pictures as well as scanned in pictures.

Find the folder you want to redate. Right click on the folder. Select the first option which is Edit Folder Description.

The folder properties box will open up for you. Hit the scroll down bar on the date and then use the calendar to find the right date.

Sometimes you can't get the date right on but you can get close. Even just the right year is better than nothing. Have fun reorganizing your Picasa!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tasty Tuesdays- Shoyu Chicken

This recipe is SOOO easy and so yummy. I think it is one of my little brother's favorites.

Chicken 3-4 pounds ( I personally like to use Chicken thighs for this but I am sure you could use breasts too.)
1/2 c. soy sauce
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. water
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Prepare chicken by removing skin and excess fat, place entire mixture
in deep pot and boil 30-45 minutes, serve over steamed rice.

A couple of tips. I know it says boil for 30-45 minutes but you might want to make it more of a simmer after awhile. There is only so much boiling a mixture can do before it boils dry. I also like to make this in a sauce pan type pot instead of my larger pot because the mixture covers more of the chicken and I am kind of particular about the way my chicken is cooked.

There you have it. Get adventurous tonight.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Felt Food Cookie and Tea bags- For Amy

I have the world's best little sister. She is 7 and a definite bright spot in my life. Amy loves drawing and dolls. The love of those two things eventually led her to designing clothes. She didn't just want her clothes to be on paper, so she has begun to design them so she can cut them out and tape them on her dolls. She wants to learn to sew really bad. Sewing is a four-letter word in my mom's house. She hates it. She avoids it. She didn't know where to start with Amy, this is where I come in. I can't teach Amy to sew from almost 2,000 miles away, but I can help.

This is a basic sewing project. It is meant to be Amy's first project. If a seven-year-old can do it, so can you. :) The photo below is the patterns I created for the project. Sorry, I am not fancy. The patterns are hand drawn. I am not sure how to upload a PDF, if someone knows let me know.

The project is done in felt because felt is easy to work with. It doesn't fray and do some of the other things fabrics do.

You will need three colors for this project, A tan (the cookie), a pink (the frosting) and white (the teabag)
I used a cup to make my circles. I also traced that circle onto my pattern. Use whatever you are more comfortable with.
You need two brown circles and one pink one. Then cut the pink one with some squiggles on the outside so it has more of a frostingly shape.
You can see my frosting like shape on the pink circle below. Then sew the pink circle onto one of the brown circles. Use different colors of thread. These stitches don't have to be anywhere near perfect. Different sizes and different places is half the fun of having sprinkles on your cookie.
Grab a small handful of batting and sandwich it between the two brown pieces. Make sure your pink piece is facing the outside. Do a simple stitch around the outside. If you start the stitch on the inside of one of the circles, you end will be on the inside of the cookie.
Cut out 1 teabag and three hearts from the pattern. Fold the teabag in half, putting a small cut of white ribbon at the top and do a simple stitch around the edges.
Using fabric glue, I glued the heart on the tea bag. At the top of the ribbon, place a heart on both sides of the ribbon and then glue them to each other.
There you have it. A cookie and a teabag for your next tea party.