Thursday, August 30, 2012

WotW: Revisit the Moon Like It's 1969

All great civilizations have their heroes. From the Greeks and Romans to the French Revolution to the English Empire to today's American legends, heroes have played a critical role in teaching future generations principles of honor, devotion and sacrifice.

This last week, one of America's greatest heroes of the last century passed away: Neil Armstrong. While I wasn't even a thought when he landed on the moon and took those first impressive steps on an alien landscape, he has been a hero of mine since childhood. I wanted to be an astronaut because of his courage and adventurous spirit.

Sadly, this hero has passed on, but his legacy continues. Today's Wednesday on the Web (technically this week it's a Thursday on the Web) is a tribute to Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission that put the first man on the moon.

The site is an amazing online resource that documents the mission from start to finish in archival pictures, videos, actual sound clips and 3D animation. Even if you were alive for the real deal, you probably didn't get this up close and personal to the event.

When the site initially loads, you are taken to the launch pad. You will instantly hear chirps and sound bites that are recordings from the actual mission, which gives the feel of really being there.

On the left is the mission status tracker, which will follow you throughout the experience. On the right side of the page are transmissions back and forth between the astronauts and NASA. These are done in the form of tweets, which is kind of a fun way for modern readers to visualize history. At the bottom of the screen is a map showing the different stages of the mission.
Besides just allowing you to listen in and read the "tweets," you can also change your view and open up photo and video galleries. Throughout the site there are a number of galleries dedicated to President John F. Kennedy, which is fitting seeing as he set such a high standard for America to achieve such an audacious dream.

One of the great videos is the speech President Kennedy gave at Rice University on September 12, 1962. It is one of the greatest presidential speeches of all time and gives me chills each time I listen to it. In this speech, President Kennedy said, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

His words represent a different time in American history, one in which the American spirit was strong and the will to push through and accomplish seemingly impossible things was the norm rather than the exception.

After you push the button to launch the rocket, you steadily go through the various stages of the mission, each providing new audio, tweets, images and video.

At some of the stages, the animation is breathtaking, particularly when the lunar module is touching down on the surface of the moon. Even though I know they made it, I still found myself holding my breath in anxious anticipation as I watched it descend and make contact with the surface.

It's hard to do this site justice in a blog post. This is definitely a site where you have to experience it yourself.

Even if you're not a big space buff, the Apollo 11 mission was such a big part of our nation and world's history that you owe it to yourself to spend some time on the site. If you have children, this is a great way to get them excited about space exploration.

This site probably won't change your life, but it is a worthwhile way to spend a good hour or so that you will find educational, entertaining and awe-inspiring.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

2x4 Jack-O-Lanterns

I love fall. It is my absolute favorite time of year. Cool weather, jackets and most of all, pumpkins. Fall always gives me the chance to pull out all of my cute pumpkin decor, like these 2x4 Jack-O-Lanterns. Today I am joining with Fab Decor's "We Do It Wednesdays," featuring these little cuties.  

Fab Decor sells fabulous, (hence the name) decor, vinyl and craft kits. The great thing about these craft kits is you can buy the entire kit, just the vinyl or the completed project. Whichever suits you. So even if you aren't crafty, you can still have all of the fun projects. 
 Today I am featuring the 2x4 Jack-O-Lanterns. The kit comes with everything you see above: ready-to-paint 2x4s in 8-inch, 6-inch and 4-inches, as well as three little blocks for the stems, and fun vinyl faces.
There are some great vinyl faces to chose from for your pumpkins. Now I am sure there are a million ways to finish these pumpkins, but here is how I did it.
 The first thing I did is paint all of the 2x4s bright orange and the the small stem pieces brown.
 I used two orange pieces of scrapbook paper with a light patterns to cover the front of my pumpkins. Make sure you use paper without a heavy pattern or you won't be able to see the cute Jack-O- Lantern faces. I did an every-other pattern with my pumpkins, but you could do all three different or with the same paper. My first paper for my large pumpkin was 7.5 inches x 2.5 inches. The paper for my middle block was 5 inches x 2.8 inches and the paper for my little block was 3.5 inches by 2.5 inches. I mod podged the paper to the front of each block with a matte Mod Podge.
I left the blocks to dry and began preparing the vines. I took a sparkly roll of 3/8ths green ribbon and wrapped it around a dowel about 21 inches long. Secure the ends of the ribbon with clothespins.
After you secure the ribbon with clothespins, spray it with spray starch. You can use spray starch from a can like I did, or you can make your own with one part liquid starch, to three parts water in a spray bottle. Lay the dowel on a cookie sheet and then bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. I only had one 21 inch dowel (21 inches is about as long as will fit on a cookie sheet) so I had to do two batches.
While the vines are baking, add your faces to your pumpkins. I have found one of the best ways to transfer vinyl is with a flat card, such as a gift card. Use the card to rub the vinyl onto the wood before you remove the transfer paper.
 After you take the ribbons out of the oven, slowly unroll them from the dowels. They should look like this. Don't pull very hard when you unroll them, or you can undo the curls.
Cut the curly ribbon into segments. Cut one of the ribbons in half for the big one and then cut the other ribbon for the last two pumpkins. Hot glue the ribbons to the top of the pumpkins and then hot glue the stems on top.
Cute, fun and easy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Photo Shoot Idea: Preschool Songs

One of my favorite things to do when I am taking pictures of preschool age children, is incorporate preschool songs. The kids love it, because they know the songs and I am not sitting there and making them smile and mom loves it, because these songs are a part of their everyday lives.
These shoots are as easy as singing the song with the child and getting them to act out the actions. This works with any song that has actions, like the "Wheels on the Bus" and "If You're Happy and You Know It," but "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" is my favorite because it is so easily recognizable.
After you get all the images of the child acting out the song, combine the images into one multi-image. There are many programs you can use to combine the images, although I use Photoshop, the easiest is probably Picasa. (Need a tutorial on how to combine images? Try this one.)
After the images are combined, you can either leave them as is, or write the words of the song on them. This is also really easy to do in Picasa if you don't have Photoshop. See the tutorial here.
After that is complete, you have a cute image that shows some of their favorite songs. This particular image below was made to be a cover photo for a Facebook page, the perfect place to show off your little one's favorite song.
If you would like to know how to make a Facebook cover photo with many images, let me know and I will put together a tutorial. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Baked Zucchini Fries

My husband doesn't like it when I mess with his food, and I do it all the time. I have replaced his pizza crust with cauliflower, his chips with kale and all sorts of other experiments. Most of the time, he grin, eats the food and then runs out to McDonalds for a hamburger when I am not looking. Not this time. He like these Baked Zucchini Fries so much, he said I needed a husband approved stamp for them. 

These delicious fries are easy to make with pretty simple ingredients. They are delicious and will leave you wanting more, just how I like my fries. 
You will need:
Zucchini, sliced into long strips like fries, I used two of them
1 egg, you can use the whole egg or just the egg white, slightly beaten
1/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (this is not the powdered kind!!)
1/2 cup bread crumbs, I used a mixture of half Panko, half Italian. You need the Italian for the seasoning.
Mix the egg and milk together in one bowl and the Parmesan and the bread crumbs together in another bowl. Dip the fries first in the egg mixture and then in the bread crumb mixture. Place the fries on a sprayed cooking sheet (don't forget the spray). I dumped the remaining crumb mixture over the fries once they were on the sheet.
Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes at 420. These are a new favorite in our house, a favorite that is definitely husband-approved.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

WotW: Simplify the Social Media Circus

Whew! We made it through the social media trainings for your blog, at least as far as Facebook and Google+ are concerned. I still want to get to Twitter, but I felt a break was needed before tackling Twitter, especially since many people are unsure how to use Twitter.

One of the most common pieces of feedback I received through this series was asking how to juggle all these social media sites for your blog. After all, it does take a lot of time. Is there an easier way?

Of course, the answer is yes.

While there are a number of great options out there to simplify social media, I'm going to share one of the easiest and most powerful. It's called HootSuite. You may have seen it on some of your friends' Facebook posts.

HootSuite is basically a one-stop social media management system. With one HootSuite account, you can link up to 5 social media sites for free and manage them all from one location. That means when you write a post, you can automatically have it post in Facebook and Twitter and Google+. One post, three locations (or more). How's that for simple?

HootSuite has a free side and a paid side. The difference between the two is the paid version allows you to link more social media accounts and has more powerful post scheduling and analytics features. So if you're really into social media for your blog and find it drives lots of traffic to your blog, it may just be worth the low $9.99/month price tag. For most bloggers, the free version should be a good way to get your feet wet.

To get started, go to and fill out the quick registration form on the home page. As soon as you're signed in you will be asked to add a social network. By default, you are given a choice between Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. You can add more later though. Facebook is an easy place to start so click on the Add a Facebook Profile link.
This brings up the Add Social Network dialog box. From here, you can select another social media account or continue with Facebook. Since the process is pretty much the same regardless of the account, let's demonstrate how to add an account with Facebook. Click on the Connect with Facebook button. This will bring up a Facebook login screen. Type your username and password and authorize everything it asks. It may feel daunting how much they ask for, but remember, you're giving this site control over your pages so you don't have to log in to each social media account separately. HootSuite is secure and has a good track record. I'm paranoid about giving apps and other sites access to my Facebook and I allowed it.
OK, so you're registered with Facebook. By default, they approve your personal Facebook account. It's up to you if you want to manage your personal account from HootSuite or if you just want to use HootSuite for your social media accounts. Remember, you only get a total of 5 accounts and your personal Facebook counts as one of them, so if you get pressed for space, you can remove it.

Underneath your personal account, you will see the pages you own (you should have at least one for the Facebook page you created for your blog). To add this page, simply click on the plus sign and it will change to a green check mark. You can also manage groups you belong to, but remember, those also count toward your 5 limit.

Once you're done importing your Facebook accounts, you will be taken to your main screen which has tabs across the top, similar to a web browser. Click over to your blog's Facebook page. By default, you are given a Wall Posts feed and Events feed. This automatically updates when you load the screen. If you want to refresh while you're looking at it, simply click the refresh icon.

You can add other "streams" to your tab too. A stream is extra content from the social media service that you can flow in. This helps you get a better feel for what's going on. To do this, go to the top-left corner and click where it says Add Stream. You will then need to click on the Facebook option and select your profile (is it for your personal account or blog page). Then you can add whichever streams you want. It's really up to you how many streams you will need.

Notice in the image below how I added a Scheduled Stream Posts stream. It's empty now, but as I add things this section will auto-populate.

OK, so now that you know how to add an account and set it up, go ahead and add your Facebook and Google+ pages, if you have them. To do this, click on the Getting Started tab and select Add Another Social Network. Go through similar setup steps to what you did for Facebook.

Once you have all your accounts setup, now it's time to see the real power behind HootSuite: multi-posting. That's right, by typing one post, you can easily share it with all your other accounts. It will save you a lot of time. Of course, this doesn't save you time if you want to be unique on each account, but even at that it's useful because you don't have to log in and out of one account at a time. It's all here.

In the top-left corner, you will see a posting field, similar to Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Start typing your post, just as you would in any of those sites. You can also add a link, image/file and location. As you type, you'll notice a number counts down. This tells you how many characters you have left, which is mostly for Twitter purposes.

Once your post is completed, do NOT post yet. Why? Because you haven't told HootSuite which account to post from. To do this, go to the empty field to the right of the compose field. In the dropdown menu click on any of the social media accounts you want to share this particular post with. You can do one or many. As you add them, they will disappear from the dropdown list and just the icon will appear in the field above.

If everything looks just right, you can press the Send Now button. Give it a few seconds and you will see your post appear in all the accounts you told it to. Simple as that!

But wait, it gets better! Have you ever had a time where you published a post and immediately afterward you thought of another awesome post idea? You want to post again, but worry if you do people will feel spammed or won't read your first post. This is especially important when posting to your blog account. HootSuite resolves this problem by allowing you to schedule posts. So you can type the post now and schedule it to automatically post at another time. This is also good for those busy weeks or vacation times.

To schedule a post, write the post as you normally would and click on the little calendar icon. This brings up the scheduler where you can select the date and time for it to post. You can also choose AutoSchedule, which allows HootSuite to determine the best time for your post.

As you can see, HootSuite is an amazingly powerful service that can simplify your social media experience and make social media an enjoyable experience for your blog rather than just another hassle.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Healthy Banana Ice Cream

You never thought you would hear the words clean and healthy in the same sentence as ice cream, did you? This easy, fun recipe is a favorite around our house. I have no problem letting my daughter have a huge bowl of this "ice cream" and I often even have a bowl myself. The only ingredient is bananas and maybe a little honey if you want a sweetener. 

My little one loves when I toss a handful of sprinkles on top too! 

I use this recipe a lot like banana bread, you know, that recipe you grab when your bananas are about to go bad. Peel your bananas and slice into rounds. Place the bananas on a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet and pop in the freezer for a few hours. When your bananas are good and frozen, peel them off and place in a blender.

Blend them until you get a smooth ice cream like texture. You can add a little bit of honey to the mix if you want to sweeten it up a little bit. It should look like soft ice cream.

Scoop it out into bowls or cones, or put it back in the freezer, covered, to harden up into more of a scoopable ice cream. Both are delicious!

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