A Grandma's spin on crafts, games, recipes & lifestyle

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DIY Yard Witches

Have you thought about being THE HOUSE that everyone loves to talk about once Halloween decorations start going up?  Do you get tired of seeing the same spooky decor at every other house?  You will love these very easy yet unique DIY Yard Witches and all of your neighbors will too!

There are some different ways you can create these spooky little gals, but using a tomato cage has to be the easiest.  Don’t have any tomato cages?  Don’t worry…read on and I will give you some other easy suggestionsas well!

Items Needed for DIY Yard Witches ~

  • Tomato Cages (we used 4)
  • Styrofoam Heads (4)
  • Black Plastic Tablecloths
  • Large Black Trashbags (optional)
  • Black Tulle Material (4 yards per witch)
  • Witch Hats (4)
  • Black String or Yarn (or other item to tie with)
  • Yard Staples or Stakes
Below are some links if you have a hard time finding some of the items in your local store:

Yard Staples/Stakes can be found here!

Styrofoam Heads can be found here!

Plastic Witch Hats can be found here!

Black Plastic Tablecloths can be found here!

Some of these items are not pictured in the photo above!

Instructions ~

  1. Turn tomato cage upside down with prongs at the top.
  2. Rip large black trash bag down the seam and then place on top of prongs (so that it hangs to the right and left side of the cage to be used as the arms).  Pull the prongs of cage together and place styrofoam head over the prongs and trash bag (to secure the arms).                                                                                                                                                                                   
  3. Cover head and tomato cage with black plastic tablecloth.  We placed the long ends to the front and back of the witch so the tomato cage is not visible from the front.                                                                                                     
  4. Place tulle over the tablecloth so that it is even all around.                                                                       
  5. Tie off at the neck of the syrofoam head.                                                                                                               
  6. Place hat firmly on top of head.                                                                                                                                             
  7. Make other witches and then place side by side, a distance a part, in desired area of yard.  Pull the trash bags out a bit to tie “hands” of each witch together.
  8. Push yard staples at base of tomato cages to secure in the ground.

Alternate Ways to Make DIY Yard Witches ~

If you do not have any tomato cages and cannot purchase any at this point in the stores, don’t worry!  Thick yard stakes or poles can also be used.  Of course, the directions are a bit different, but the end result is the same.  We make yard ghosts every year and we use yard stakes to create these.

If you don’t have tomato cages try this ~

If the ground is dry, you will need to use a mallet or hammer to pound the stake firmly into the ground.  It is important that they are at least 2 to 3 inches in the ground for stability.  You can then follow the steps above to create the witch.

If you don’t have styrofoam heads try this ~

I actually use this method for my ghosts so that I can make fatter heads.  Take a plastic grocery sack and fill it with other grocery sacks, crumbled newspapers, packing plastic or bubble wrap.  Continue stuffing until you get the desired size for the head.  Carefully place the filled bag upside down over the yard stake, pinching it closed until you can get it tied off.

After securing the plastic bag head to the stake, follow the steps above to complete your witches.

Yard Ghosts ~

As mentioned earlier, we make ghosts at our house and they are truly looked forward to every year.  Different families come down and take pictures in front of them…they make a great photo opportunity!  If you choose to make ghosts instead or along with the witches, you will need white flat bed sheets.  These can be hard to find, so you will need to plan ahead.

At the end of the month, I take these down, wash the sheets and pack away all of the materials for the next year.  You may need to darken the faces again with a black sharpie each year, but it will help them last much longer.  Believe me, it is well worth the step to clean and pack away.

Brad made a campfire last year to add to our ghost scene.  It has been a very fun addition!

Happy October and Happy Halloween 👻to you all!  I hope your month is “spooktacular!”

Love-

Mimi

Flat Skelly Skeleton

Halloween shenanigans are in full swing…decorating the house, planning trick or treat costumes, fun at pumpkin patches, carving jack-o-lanterns, spooky crafts, fun snacks and more!  As a grandparent, I love to be as much a part of all this as possible, but realize it is not feasible to do so.  Flat Skelly Skeleton is here to help out with just that!

The Flat Stanley Project is an awesome project that our children were able to take part in back when they were in elementary school.  Have you been lucky enough to be a part of it as well?   The teacher provided a template of “Flat Stanley” for the kids to color.  The kids then mail him to various friends, family members or anyone of interest.  The recipient takes Stanley along with them for a day, taking pictures and writing about his visit.  Once done, they mail him back along with the pictures and journal notes.  It is a great literacy program that also teaches geography in a very fun way.

Flat Skelly Skeleton ~

Flat Skelly is similar to Flat Stanley.  This is a fun way for grandparents (or any friend or family member) to be a part of Halloween activities…even if they are not physically present.  I have made it super easy for you to print out the fun Flat Skelly Skeleton poem along with the Jointed Skeleton template. Then all you have to do is mail them to your favorite little ghoul(s).  They will be so excited to share all of their Halloween fun with you!

Flat Skelly Skeleton Poem ~

Click here for free download of Flat Skelly Poem

Jointed Skeleton Directions~

Click here for FREE printout of Flat Skelly Skeleton

 

I found this free skeleton printout by Preschoolactivities.us.  You can use the link next to the picture above to print out or go to their website with the skeleton coloring page Preschoolactivities.us skeleton coloring page.  There are also other free options on Pinterest if you wish to use a different image.  Print these on copy paper or card stock.

You have options regarding how you wish to mail these to the little ones.  You can leave the skeleton template in tact so that they can cut out the pieces or you can pre-cut and put the pieces, along with the brads, in an envelope.  The option you choose will depend mostly upon the age of the child you are sending to and whether they are skilled with scissors yet.

Whoever ends up cutting and putting the skeleton together will need these instructions ~

  1. Cut out each skeleton part
  2. Let your child color and decorate, if desired
  3. Insert small brads at each joint to make Skelly movable (see below for more information on brads)
  4. Tape a popsicle stick or cookie stick to back of the skeleton

*************************************************************
*Types of small brads to try ~

Brads are two pronged paper fastners that usually have some type of decorative top.  There are different sizes, so pay attention to the details.  The mini-sized ones may be the best option for Flat Skelly since he is a bit smaller printout.  Below are some fun varieties:

Mini-sized, multi-color brads

Assorted colors of brads ~

Halloween brads ~

*****************************************************************

Once you introduce your children to the world of “brads” in crafting, the possibilities are endless.  They are such a versatile and inexpensive item to add to your craft baskets.  I even use them for scrapbooking!

There have been numerous spin offs of the original Flat Stanly that are so much fun to explore.  This project is a little different in that the child is receiving Flat Skelly instead of sending him to others.  They then have the responsibility to make sure pictures get taken and if of writing age, journaling about their fun experiences throughout the month of October.

You can take it a step further and get them a little “Flat Skelly Skeleton” journal to use for their journaling.  Here are some fun ideas:

Fun Vintage Style Skeleton Notebook

Dancing Skeleton Journal with blank pages

Wide Ruled Skeleton Journal

Sending Flat Skelly As A Package ~

If you live far away or like to send snail mail to the recepient of this awesome Halloween activity, here is what you will need to remember:

  • Skelly Skeleton Poem
  • Jointed Skelly Skeleton (or cut out pieces and put in envelop if sending to smaller children)
  • 8 brads
  • Popsicle or cake pop stick

Send it in a festive envelope.  I used a large manila envelope so there would be no fold creases.  Use stickers or color fun Halloween images on the outside.  What child would not be excited to receive this special delivery?

It’s no secret how much my family loves Halloween.  Even if you don’t love spooky things, you can enjoy Halloween with your kids.  To me, it is not just about the 31st….it’s a whole month of family fun!.  Whether it is as simple as coloring with your kids, crafting or making festive foods, you will create memories to last a lifetime.

Other Halloween Festivities to Check Out ~

Last year I shared some Halloween ideas:

Fun food ideas for Halloween!  Lots of fun ideas…including the infamous Feet Loaf!!!

Halloween Gingerbread Houses!  Buy a kit or make your own….it’s great fun either way!

You’ve Been Booed!!! 👻  This is an annual MUST in every neighborhood!

The month of October just really flies by way too quickly!  Don’t let these festive opportunities get away from you!  You may just find that you have more fun than your kids do!  Be sure to follow me if you aren’t already by entering your email…I promise you I won’t overfill your inbox….only good things coming and at good intervals!

Happy Haunting to all of you!

Mimi

 

Nurturing Self-Esteem in Children

I truly thought nurturing self-esteem in children was one of the hardest tasks of parenthood.  It doesn’t take long to realize that each child that enters your family dynamic has a very different personality.  Because of this, some of your parenting tactics will differ a bit if you want your child to grow up with self confidence.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting that you have to have a “smorgasbord” of family rules.  In fact, I feel just the opposite.  Most of your parenting skills should be the same to help in creating strong family bonds between your children.  Please understand, I am not a child psychologist or any form of specialist.  I am just a now “Mimi” that has experienced motherhood first hand.   Through victories and failures you learn quite a bit.

Our immediate family has a very strong connection.  Does this mean everything was done perfectly???  Hell no!  Wow, raising kids is the toughest, yet most rewarding, thing you will ever do (in my opinion).   While you are in the thick of it, you just keep pushing through, hoping you are making the “right” choices.   What I discovered is that it is important that your kids learn that some mistakes are made along the way….it is through failure that we find the most success!

Failure is OK!

We all want our kids to be the smartest, the best, the happiest, the kindest…….and on and on.  It is so important that they understand that they will fail at times and that is ok!  It is the lesson they learn from that failure that is so valuable.  Take this time to help them evaluate where things went wrong and discuss what they could have done differently to make it better.  However, don’t solve the problem for them.  Just be there to guide when needed.

It is also important for us, as parents, to understand it is ok for them to fail.  We have to be able to take a step back and realize they aren’t always going to be the “winner.”  Once we understand that, we are a huge help in building their self confidence.  This was hard for me as I am a competitive person by nature.  I quickly realized that my children were made differently from me and I needed to respect and nurture each of their personality traits.

Let them try numerous things.  You never know what hidden talent may arise from sampling different extra-curricular activities.  Likewise, you, as parents should try new things so that children can see their role models handing new situations as well.  My daughter has recently started boxing and as you can see it has had a positive effect on her children.

Mental Strength

This is many times referred to as “grit.”  While my husband and I were athletes, we quickly realized with our children (Karleigh in particular) that you don’t have to be an athlete to have grit.  That child was interested in so many other things in life, but we knew that whatever she set her mind on to do she would eventually accomplish it…or have a ton of fun trying!  She taught us that being good at kindness, community projects and mastering the violin were just as good of a lesson at “grit” as being a good athlete.  We just had to learn to let her follow her dreams….not ours!

I will never forget the first school orchestra concert we went to.  Our whole family went (because it is so very important for siblings to support each other).  Lauren and Eli were athletes like us so this was a very different experience for all of us.  The boredom we had to battle from them was painful.  However, when they watched their sister step on the stage and take her seat, we were all mesmerized.   Moments like these are amazing for nurturing self-esteem in children…for Karleigh as well as Lauren and Eli.  They quickly learned that the interests of each family member is important.

Boundaries ~

I was from the era that you had to remain at the dinner table until your meal was finished.  It was so agonizing!  Thank goodness for the dogs in my family that loved to sit under the table 😉.  This was a boundary that was set by my parents and we all knew it wasn’t negotiable.

I believe a good boundary set for today is no technology at the dinner table….for children AND parents.  Today’s dinner table may look a little different…maybe one parent is working late, maybe there is only one parent, maybe it is grandparents raising the kids.  However that table looks, still make it a family dinner and still set boundaries.  This is such a great time to talk, REALLY TALK about the kids’ day.  This, too, boosts self-confidence as it makes the child feel loved and cared about.

When our children were young, my husband worked late hours.  We didn’t switch to separate dinners, we moved our family dinners to later so that we could be together as much as possible.  For a long time, we also had “Sunday” dinners.  I tried to make this more of a special meal with themed dinners or special dinner settings as much as possible.  The kids got involved with this and enjoyed it as well.  As the kids got older, I let this tradition slide a bit….I wish I would have never let that happen.  However, now that we are all adults, we try to get together for “Sunday” dinners as much as possible now which is very special to us.

Conversation Starters ~

  1. What was the favorite part of your day?
  2. How were you kind/helpful to someone today?
  3. Who did you play with today?  What did you play?
  4. If you were the teacher, what rules would you have for the class?
  5. What is your favorite room in our house?  Why?
  6. If you could only keep one toy, what would it be?
  7. What do you like best about our family?
  8. What was the most challenging part of your day?
  9. Were there any instructions you had a hard time following today?

Responsibilities ~

Otherwise known as chores, responsibilities for each child is so important.  It may create extra work for you following up on spills and such, but the pride a child feels when you trust in their abilities goes a long way.  My daughter, Lauren, is amazing at this.  At very young ages, her children have been responsible for feeding the animals, cleaning their rooms, setting their clothes out, etc.  It isn’t always done perfectly, but when Max shows up to Mimi and Pappy’s in a thick velvet sport coat with shorts in the middle of summer….priceless!

Speaking of dressing, if the kids want to wear a Superman (or E.T.) costume to the grocery store…let them.  Maybe your daughter wants to go to dinner dressed as Elsa.  Who is it hurting?  In fact, it is only building their self confidence.  Check out the many benefits of role playing in my earier article Bring Back E.T. ~ Imagination and Role Playing.  Many times, the smallest things can make the biggest impact.  Besides, most people get a kick out of seeing children dressed in costumes…it may just make someone’s day!

Play Outside ~

Not only is the physical exercise so important, but so many life lessons are learned while kids are playing outside.  They have to learn to be creative and make decisions on their own, which of course, builds self confidence.  Even if you take the kids to the playground, don’t be that “helicopter” parent that stands right by them.  Sit/stand in watching distance but let them learn how to make friends and stand up for themselves when someone isn’t so nice.

It’s so hard to watch if someone isn’t being the kindest to our children, but how else are they going to learn to cope.  We are not always going to be there to fight every battle.  Now am I suggesting you let some child physically abuse your child…NO!  However, most of the time when there are struggles between children doesn’t mean it’s going to turn into some huge war!  Children will learn to stand up for each other and for themselves while playing with others.

Don’t Dismiss Their Emotions ~

When you child has had a bad day or a bad experience, DO NOT just say, “It will be ok!”  Take this time to REALLY TALK with your child and ask questions…

  • Why do you feel that way?
  • What could have been done to make it better?
  • Can you tell me more about it?
  • I’m so sorry this happened, how can I help?
  • What are you thinking about?

GREAT Children’s Book Series ~

Steve Herman is a best selling children’s books author.  The My Dragon Books Series has some great books to help children with learning from mistakes, dealing with bullies, handling sibling rivalry, loving yourself and much more.  Here is a link to his book Help Your Dragon Learn From Mistakes.

There is even a cute plush Diggory Doo Dragon Plush that kids can play along with as you read through each book.  How fun is that?

Nurturing self-esteem in children is so very important.  It helps a child thrive throughout life, teaches them coping skills and how to handle adversity.  Do everything you can to make this happen!

Much love ~

Mimi

Science Experiment ~ Cleaning Coins With Kids

There are so many things we do throughout the day that we don’t even realize have a “scientific” explanation.  Some of these things we do on a day to day basis, while others may be less common tasks.  Other times are planned just to create a learning experience for the kids.  Today we did a Science experiment cleaning  coins with the kids.

Have you stopped to wonder why some of the cleaning products work the way they do?  Do you take for granted that they just work?   (When it comes to cleaning I think I get taken for granted….anyone got an Amen?  Just kidding…I love being a StayAtHomeMimi)  Take a few minutes to think of items you clean regularly and how you could make it a learning experience for the young ones in your world.

Coin Cleaning Experiment ~

Now I am fully aware that the average person does not sit around and clean coins.  However, this is a very good place to help explain why items clean the way they do!  This is a simple experiment that encompasses quite a bit of learning and coordination.

Materials Needed ~
  • Warm vinegar – 1/4 cup
  • Salt – 1 tsp
  • Coins
  • Small bowl or jar
  • Tweezers
  • Paper towels
  • Spoon or something to stir with
Directions For Cleaning Coins With Kids ~

Warm the vinegar slightly in microwave.  Pour in salt.  Let children stir the mixture until salt is fully dissolved.  Drop coins in and watch the magic happen.  It is so much fun to watch their face as they are observing not only how the salt dissolves but also how  the solution cleans the coins.  They may notice that some coins become shiny quicker than others….why is that?

The Knitty Gritty Details ~

Depending on the age of the child you are performing this experiment with will determine how much detail you will want to give.  However, it is good for children to know that different liquids and items create different effects when mixed.   Its actually a pretty cool phenomena.  Below is a basic explanation:

Vinegar contains acetic acid, which strips the tarnish or patina on copper, thus revealing the shiny metal underneath all of the grime.  When metal (coin) touches acid (in vinegar), they neutralize each other. 

Brainstorming On Other Liquids That Could Be Used ~

If vinegar contains acetic acid, what other items contain acid as well?  Will these items clean coins too?  If they will, do we still need to use salt?  Does it have to contain acid to clean the coins?  Wow!  Can you see those gears turning in their little heads….so cool!  Let the kids brainstorm on what “cleaning agent” they should try.  Here are a few examples:

  • Ketchup
  • Lemon/Lime Juice
  • Orange
  • Dish Soap
  • Milk
  • Soy Sauce
  • Plain Old Water
  • Coca Cola
  • Juice

We only did the vinegar and salt, however, I think it would be so much fun and very educational to set out several bowls or jars and try the different ingredients to see which one works best.  This would create more of a “lab-like”  setting for a scientific experiment.  Heck, go the distance and get them some goggles and lab coats.

Check out these colorful kid-sized science goggles!

And, of course, this awesome lab coat for kids ages 2-16 years.

 

You can make this experiment as simple or as bougie as you wish (I have always wanted to use that word 🤣).  Obviously, the most important takeaway is that the children are engaged and excited about science!

Other Ways To Gain From This Experiment ~

I threw in the tweezers on this activity.  What a great way to work on coordination.  Max had so much fun figuring out how to pick up the coins with the tweezers.  The fun didn’t stop there though!  Once the coin was in the grasp of the tweezers, he had to move the coin from the bowl to the paper towel.  *This is definitely where goggles come in handy as the coin can splash in the liquid very easily.  

If you think you have a budding scientist on your hands, you might want to go ahead and invest in a fun kit for your little one!  This science kit is so dang adorable and includes everything you need for an inquisitive child!

Seriously, isn’t this just too cute?  It includes:

  • Lab Coat
  • Name Badge
  • 4 Large Test Tubes with Stand
  • 4 Eyedroppers
  • 3 Funnels in Different Sizes
  • 5 Measuring Spoons
  • 1 Large Measuring Cup
  • 6 Small Measuring Cups
  • 1 Plastic Beaker
  • 1 Magnifier
  • 1 Set of Tweezers
  • 1 Set of Safety Glasses
  • 1 Stirring Rod
  • 3 Color Agents
  • 1 Pack Citric Acid
  • 1 Pack Baking Soda
  • 2 Balloons
  • 20 Color Catching Sheets
  • 1 Double-Sided Activity Cards Book

Conclusion of Science Experiment ~

I have done this with the kids a couple of times.  In fact, I wasn’t planning on this activity when Max came to visit yesterday.  We were supposed to be having basketball camp with Mimi.  However, Max looked at me with those big eyes and asked, “Mimi, can we clean coins?”  Well, of course we can Max!  Obviously, he enjoyed this activity.

What I wasn’t planning on (but should have knowing my daughter’s obsession with cleaning) is Max being worried about one coin that just wasn’t getting clean enough.  “You see that dark spot Mimi?  We need to get that off of there!”  Next time I will have an old toothbrush ready for issues such as this.  This time, however, we used an SOS pad because that is what I came up with on the fly.

  • Yes, we washed his hands thoroughly right after using it
  • No, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest using this unless maybe they have gloves on
  • Yes, my cream colored chair stayed clean….whew!!!
  • Yes, THE SPOT CAME OUT OF THE COIN!

Have fun experimenting with your little ones and please, come back and let me know if you tried other methods of coin cleaning.  I can’t wait to hear about it!

Much love and learning ~

Mimi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pen Pal Fun With Grandkids

I walked out to retrieve our mail today expecting the usual advertisements and bills.  However, as I opened the mailbox, my eyes went straight to a different piece of mail.  There was a long white envelope addressed to Mimi & Pappy.  Well,  that sure did bring a quick smile to my face!  As I began to open the letter, I had an epiphany.  It is time to start having some pen pal fun with the grandkids!

In July, I wrote this post about Grandparenting from a Distance and in that article I discussed snail mail with the grandkids.  In fact, I even admitted then that I am not very good at it but want to get better.  Well, NOW is the time to start having some fun with the snail mail and pen pals!

Letters From The Grandkids ~

This particular mail was from Max.  He drew us pictures and wanted to send them to us.  Now, keep in mind that we are very lucky grandparents that get to see the kids several times a week.  However, this should not keep anyone from sending fun letters, cards, games, jokes, etc. to the grandkids.  As we all know, everyone likes to receive a special piece of mail.  It gives you the same feeling you get when opening gifts at Christmas.  Someone took the time to personally acknowledge you.

I actually keep a folder in my office of artwork and letters they have written for us.  Each one gets labeled with their name and date on the back of the pages so they can see how their writing and picture drawing improves over time.  I also pull them out once in a while just to enjoy the love they share in each page they create for us.

Pen Pal:  A person with whom one keeps up an exchange of letters, USUALLY someone that is so far away that a personal meeting is unlikely.

Benefits of Pen Pal Fun With Grandkids ~

  • Create a close connection
  • Allows opportunity to praise the children’s artwork and writing = boosts self confidence
  • Long-lasting memories
  • Teaches correspondence skills – stamps, addressing envelopes, proper writing etiquette over time
  • Patience – in this world of everything at our fingertips, it is good for them to learn the anticipation of “waiting for something good to come.”
  • Fosters creativity
  • Improves penmanship

Fun Snail Mail Ideas ~

  • Pre-stamp and address some fun post cards and give them as a gift to your grandchildren.  This way they can correspond with you any time they want.
  • If they are old enough to practice envelope format, then give them a blank notebook/stationery and envelopes.

Include some small item with your letter to them:

  • An old picture of you
  • A picture of the two of you together
  • Several charms – one at a time so they can make a bracelet or keychain once all are sent
  • A fun drawing
  • A coloring page
  • A seek and find page – I have always loved the Highlight brand but you can also find a lot of free ones to download on Pinterest! – I especially love this Highlights Back to School Version!

  • Bookmark
  • Ask a question and tell them to reply with their answer in a letter back to you
  •  Origami
  •  Stickers
  • Send a small puzzle a few pieces at a time
  • Cut the letter in large pieces so they have to put together like a puzzle
  • Write the letter in coded ink and send special pen for them to uncover the message.  I LOVE this Invisible Ink Spy Pen set…kids will too!

  • Bible verse – you can write them yourself in your letter or use something like this fun book to send in your letter – Fun Bible Memory Book for Kids

  • Send a Hug!  – I love this idea by Becca of Who-arted.com
  • Start a Write Me Back! – Jennie Moraitis describes this fun idea in her littlegirldesigns.com blog
  • Write a letter on a deflated balloon for them to blow up and read
  • Make an origami fortune teller – We love to create our own but if you struggle in this department, here is an easy fortune teller (or cootie catcher as we used to call them) book with templates – Origami Fortune Teller Booklet with pre-printed and blank templates!

  • Create a family quiz – it would be fun do do this annually and save to look back at their answers later!

These are just a few fun ideas.  Once you get started I am sure more fun ideas will come your way.  These ideas are simple ones that can be included in a small envelope.  It is also fun, of course, to send a small gift once in awhile.  However, the bigger importance here is trying to foster a fun relationship with your grandchildren with money not being the focal point.

Keep in mind, too, that it doesn’t matter if you live far away or in the same town.  It still can be such a fun activity between grandparents and grandchildren.  As I am sitting here writing this, I am getting so excited about all the fun ideas that are forming in my head.  I am truly looking forward to having some pen pal fun with my grandkids!  (And don’t you think for a second that I won’t be involving Pappy in this fun adventure as well! 😉)

Happy letter writing to you ~

Mimi

 

 

Blackberry Festival Family Date Night

Are you trying to squeeze the last bit of family fun into the remaining days of summer?  Why not plan a family date night?  Our family headed out to Wild Blackberry Farms for the inaugural Blackberry Festival.   While it can be difficult (but oh so worth it!) to find a night that works in everyone’s schedule, this was so worth the planning of our Blackberry Festival family date night!

I’ve had many people ask me how we knew about this particular festival.  I agree that it is hard to know about every fun event around you, but it led me to look into festival informational sites.  Each state has many local resources, but I also found a couple of sites that you can search all 50 states….

Blackberry Festival Family Date Night Activities ~

U-Pick Blackberries ~

This particular festival was a smaller fare, but not short on fun family activities.  We started out with the U-pick blackberries.  I wasn’t sure how much the younger ones would enjoy this part, but they loved it!  We had a quick lesson on which berries were ready to pick and everyone headed out with their buckets.  They had so much fun searching the rows for the ripest berries!  Also important here is that it kept them entertained for quite a long time!

What was even better was they could pick down low on their own while also enjoying a little help up from the family members.

Face Painting ~

This is the part of the festival that the littles were looking forward to the most.  In fact, it was so much fun that kids AND adults got in on the fun.  Aunt Karleigh and Pappy had their faces painted to match the kids, which made them so happy!

Food Trucks, Family Games, Petting Zoo, Photo Opps ~

Whether you are on a diet or not, you HAVE to eat the festival food!  Am I right?   So many yummy choices from lemon shakeups to bbq sandwiches of all kinds!  Of course, if you look closely at this picture you will see that some blackberries were definitely enjoyed along the way as well!

Other Family Date Night Ideas ~

While I definitely recommend festivals for a fun family date night, don’t let that keep you from planning other fun activities.  Plan a family date night once a month.  This a routine that will defnitely help to forge strong family bonds.  **On these special nights, be sure to put those phones out of place and concentrate on the family unit!

Family Date Night Ideas ~
  • Park Hopping – take a bit of time to map out local parks and go to several of them in one day.  It’s so much fun to see what equipment each park has to offer and discover which is each child’s favorite.
  • Splash Party – Put those bathing suits on…you too parents…and have some good old water fun.  Have plenty of squirt guns, water balloons, maybe a slip and slide and a small kids pool (for both swimming and refilling those water guns) on hand.
  • Bowling – Have you done this in a while?  For some reason we had ventured away from bowling and recently got back to it….the kids LOVE to bowl!
  • Scavenger Hunt – You can plan a scavenger hunt in your own house or yard or better yet, break off into teams and run around the neighborhood looking for items.
  • Glow in the Dark Fun – Purchase some glow sticks and glow jewelry (they almost always have them at the Dollar Store) and turn out all the lights for some fun family glow in the dark fun!  Add in some dancing or hide and seek!
  • Backyard Movies – There is a large assortment of video projectors available.  I do suggest going ahead and purchasing one with a screen as well.  I tried the cheaper route at first and tried to use a white sheet…the image wasn’t sharp enough with that.  Check out this video projector with screen for outdoor family fun!

  • Family Cooking – Plan, Cook and Eat the meal together.  Be sure to let the little ones help with the cooking…they will love it.  For extra fun, add some fun candles and pick some flowers from the yard for a beautifully set table.
  • Dance Party – You guys, this is a win-win here!  Not only will there be lots of giggles, but it’s a good workout too!
  • Family Puzzle – My all-time favorite puzzles are the ones that have different size pieces so everyone can take part in the puzzle.  Check out this fun family puzzle with small, medium, and large sized pieces! 

  •  Family Room Sleepover – Gather ALL of the blankets and pillows and make a big living room fort…but you also ALL have to sleep in it!  Have fun!

These are just a few fun ideas to create family fun.  The most important part of all of it is that everyone engages, you add in some good munchies and put down those phones.  Have some laugh until your belly aches fun with those kids!

Back To Those Yummy Blackberries ~

The fun continues as we decide what yummy recipes we are going to make with our buckets of blackberries.  Of course, we head straight to Pinterest!  Wow!  Seriously, do a quick search on blackberry recipes!  How do you decide on what you want to make?  I think I may have to figure out how to succesfully plant our own blackberry patch because I want to make SO MANY of these recipes!

This time around we are going with the Old Fashioned Blackberry Cobbler.  I prefer the cobblers where you cook the berries like this recipe from Saving Room for Dessert…Old Fasioned Blackberry Cobbler by Saving Room for Dessert.  I will be sure to let you know how it turns out!

Cheeres to each of you enjoying the rest of your summer and some good family fun!

From Our Family to Yours ~

~Mimi

 

 

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes that are Ahhh…mazing!

You may already have a scalloped potato recipe that you love.  However, do yourself and your family a favor and give this recipe a try!  Then once you try it, please come back and let me know if it is the new family favorite.  This recipe has been handed down through my family for years, and I decided to be very nice and share.  These, my friends, are cheesy scalloped potatoes that are ahhh…mazing!

It’s been a family debate over whether we should share special recipes.  One common belief is that if you keep the recipe secret everyone looks forward to you  bringing that special dish to family gatherings, right?  While this is indeed true, I am here to attest that your are still thought of when someone else makes your recipes.  I can’t tell you how many times I have made a special dish and stated to everyone, “Now you guys are going to love this because it is so and so’s famous recipe!”

Helpful Tips ~

There are a couple of different secrets I am going to share with you.  Mainly, just because I’m a nice gal! 😏

  1. This recipe is best if you cut the potato slices thicker.  You may be asking yourself, “If I make them thick, how can I ensure they will get done all the way when baking?”  There, my friend, is the first secret.  You need to parboil your slices.  Parboiling can be tricky because if you overcook them they will get too soft.  I truly can’t give you a specific amount of time needed because it depends on how many potatoes you are using.  I use the old fashioned fork test.  After about 5 minutes of boiling, I consistently and gently poke one of the potatoes with the fork to see if it is slightly soft.
  2. You are going to cook the sauce over the stove and then pour it over the potatoes in 2 layers.  Many people just layer cold cheese, however, by making a sauce you are creating a much more flavorful and saucy potato dish.
  3. Timing everything while cooking is one of the hardest things to learn for new cooks.  Once you put your potatoes on to parboil, you should start your cheese sauce.

How to Make Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes ~

Ingredients ~
  • 10-15 Medium Sized Russet Potatoes – sliced thick
  • 32 Ounce Block (2 lb) Colby Cheese -cubed
  • 2 Cans of Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 2 Cans Milk (using cream of mushroom soup can)
  • Salt & Pepper – to taste
Directions ~
  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Peel and slice potatoes.                                                                                                                                                   
  3. Parboil sliced potatoes for 10-15 minutes.  Check for softness with fork starting at about 5 minutes.  The time needed will vary according to thickness of potatoes.  You want them to be slightly soft.
  4. While potatoes are boiling cut cheese into cubes.                                                                   
  5. Mix cheese cubes, soup and milk in pan.  Cook over medium heat until completely melted, stirring occasionally so mixture doesn’t burn.                                                                                                                                                   
  6. Spray a 9 X 13 casserole dish with cooking spray.
  7. Drain potatoes.  Place half of cooked potatoes in casserole dish.
  8. Top with half of cheese mixture and salt and pepper to taste.                                                                 
  9. Layer remaining potatoes on top of cheese mixture and then top with remaining cheese.  Sprinkle again with salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour.  We like ours with the cheese browned quite a bit so I bake it for the longer amount of time.
More Tips for those Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes that are Ahhh…mazing ~
  • If your casserole dish is filled to the top, place it on a foil lined baking sheet to catch spillage of cheese as it melts.
  • Since parboiling potatoes can be tricky to get the perfect consistency, I always insert a fork into my casserole when done to ensure they are completely cooked through.  If they still seem a bit hard but your top is browned, put foil over them and bake for 15 minutes or so longer.
  • Since you are parboiling the potatoes, there is no reason to cover with foil when first baking.  However, see bullet above for example of when you may need foil.

I get requests to make this recipe ALL THE TIME.  I sometimes feel like I should stop making them for awhile because I don’t want people to get bored with the side dishes.  However, they just keep requesting them.  This alone tells you how awesome they really are!

Also, if you are thinking that your family may not like them because it is Cream of Mushroom soup, stop thinking that right now.  If it is that big of an issue just don’t let them know what is in it.  I promise you that once you make that cheese sauce, they will have NO idea!

What’s even better is that these potatoes can be paired with so many different meat items.  In fact, they would go awesome with the Smoked Poor Man Burnt Ends that I wrote about…see that by clicking here!  Heck, there are times we warm them up the next day (that is IF there are any leftovers) and have just potatoes for dinner!

As always, good food keeps people coming back….so be sure to give this one a try!

Printable Version of Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes that are Ahhh…mazing ~

Happy Cooking ~

Mimi

Shark Week 2021

It’s almost here guys!  Shark Week 2021 begins July 11 and we are pumped!!!  Are you ready for an exciting week filled with new reasearch on the  amazing world of sharks?  For the 33rd year, Discovery Channel will be airing programs hosted by many celebrities to help us better understand the behavior of sharks and respect the “fin-tastic” world they live in!

It was a bit of a struggle for me to find a schedule of all the programs to be aired in a nice little chart format.  I’ve finally decided that I have looked so hard for it on the Discovery channel that at this point I am staring right at it and not seeing it.  I’m sure you understand what I am saying, right?  Further search led me to the TV Insider website where I found a layout by days of the week that I felt is easy to follow.  Click here to see the TV Insider nicely laid out Shark Week schedule…

Of course, how do we completely enjoy this special week without some fun food and crafts to go along with it???  We started a few crafts early so we could share with everyone.  Read through some of the old posts as well as this new one to bring some jaw-some fun to Shark Week 2021!

Shark Week 2021 Crafts ~

Starting with the old posts first, “dive in” to some of these below to start gathering ideas for fun food and crafts:

Now, let’s move forward to the first of this year’s crafts.  The paper plate shark puppet made a real “splash” with the kiddos.  One of the things I learned while doing these is you need to think ahead when painting anything so that you leave time for them to dry (especially because kids tend to paint very thick).  Keep this in mind when working on the one!

Items Needed ~

  • Paper Plate
  • Hole Punch
  • Paint (colors of your choice)
  • Paint Brushes
  • Yarn
  • Marker
  • Googly Eyes
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Wax Paper or Newspaper
  • Hot Glue
  • Popsicle Stick or Tongue DepressorHot

Instructions for Paper Plate Shark ~

  1. Cut the middle ring of the paper plate out.  Save this piece as you will be using it to make parts of the shark.
  2. Draw lines as shown in this figure below.  All sections will be used to complete the craft.  As always, don’t worry about perfection here.  They will turn out adorable, I promise!                                                       
  3. Cut along all lines.  The bottom curved section be used for the mouth (which you will cut teeth into).  The other 3 sections will be used for pectoral and dorsal fins.   This is why I stress perfection is not key.  Let the kids do the cutting!                               
  4. Spread out a long sheet of wax paper (or newspaper) for this next step.  We used another paper plate and squirted colors of choice on the plates for kids to work from.  Lay each of the sections of the paper plate across the wax paper and let the kids start painting.  Encourage them to get creative!                                                                                                                                                         
  5. Let all painted pieces dry.  We moved on to another craft (shown below) while we “patiently” waited for our works of art to dry.                                                                                                                                                                                               
  6. Once dry, punch holes along the inside rim of the paper plate.   Make at least 8 to 10 holes.
  7. Cut long strands of yarn of choice.  You don’t want these to be too long or it will be hard for the kids to work with.  We cut them about 12 to 18″.
  8. String yarn up through one hole in the plate.  Pull completely through until you have a small section (about 1/2″) left on the underside of the plate.  Tape that section down to the bottom of the plate to hold yarn in place.   
  9. It is very helpful if you tie a knot in the end of the yarn that the kids are holding and pulling through the holes.  This helps their little fingers to get it through the holes better and also helps with the yarn fraying.     
  10. Have them continue to pull the yarn up and down through the holes (working from inside the plate) until they have a small section of yarn left.  Tape that section to the bottom of the plate too.  You can then stop there or if they want to “sew” some more, cut them another piece of yarn and let them continue to fill the inside of the plate with yarn. 
  11. Hot glue the fins to the underside of the plate and the googly eyes and shark teeth to the yarn sections of the plate.
  12. Hot glue a tongue depressor to the bottom of the plate.  It is helpful to write their names on the tongue depressor for future arguments of which one belongs to whom.  This also makes it into a very fun shark puppet!

Fun Variations ~

You can also let the kids paint the entire paper plate before you do any cutting.  This allows for them to not get paint scattered more when painting the smaller pieces.  They can also use stampers and such to make fun designs on their sharks.  In the first picture of this blog, the stick part of the paint brush was used to make fun polka dots!

Let the children mix two colors of yarn to “sew” with to make a more colorful shark.  We stuck with blue and gray but you can, of course, get as colorful as you would like.

If you don’t have googly eyes, cut circles out of another paper plate or some paper and let the kids create their own shark eyes.

We used colored tongue depressors, but you can also use plain and paint them yourselves.

Stay tuned for the second sharky post this week for directions on another exciting Shark Week 2021 craft!  I hope you enjoy learning about these fantastic creatures as much as we do!

I will leave you with these fun jokes to share ~

Q:  What did the shark say after he was accused of eating a human?

A:  Not gill-ty!

🤣🤣🤣

Q:  What do you get when you cross a shark with a snowman?

A:  Frostbite!

😂😂😂

Have a Fin-tastic week guys!

Much Love~

Mimi

 

 

 

 

 

Chipotle Cheesesteak Sandwich

The addition of the new griddle grill has been VERY fun so far!  Brad is having so much fun creating…and we are having so much fun indulging!  Our family loves cheesesteak sandwiches so of course he got to work on this new family favorite.   I hated to have him cook on Father’s Day, but it’s what he loves.  His chipotle cheesesteak sandwich has been added to the growing list of family favorites!

Ingredients for Sandwich ~

  • Beef shaved steak
  • Onion
  • Bell pepper
  • Provolone cheese
  • McCormick’s steak seasoning
  • Sub buns

Pretty simple ingredients for such an awesome sandwich.   I sometimes feel if it is that delicious, it has to be difficult to make…right?  (Kind of like rice krispie treats🤣)   These of course can be done on in indoor griddle as well, but I’m telling you, you HAVE to consider getting an outdoor griddle grill.  They are simply so much fun!

Prepping for the Chipotle Cheesesteak Sandwich ~

The amounts of the ingredients are obviously going to depend on the number of people you are serving.  We were cooking for 8 for this occasion.  I bought the beef shaved steak at Kroger in the packaged meat section.  Sometimes I can find it at the meat counter of other groceries and get the exact amount I want.  However, it is often hard to find (at least where we live).  You can also sometimes find it frozen.

(Four of these packages were used for our party of 8.)

We used red, green and yellow bell peppers.  You can certainly use just green, but we prefer the beauty of all the colors.  Five bell peppers were sliced and placed in a bowl for cooking time.  Slice 1-2 onions depending on the size and the flavoring you wish.  There is a package of sliced peppers and onions in the frozen section that you can use as well to save on prep time.  It is usually called the 3 Pepper Blend (depending on brand).

Griddle Time ~

The steak was liberally seasoned with McCormick’s Steak Seasoning.  For those of you who have been following me for a while, you already know Brad is what we would consider a “heavy seasoner.”  Believe me, it always tastes amazing!  After placing the meat on the grill, he chopped it while grilling.  His preferred method was cooking the meat in one sandwich proportion at a time.  It was then smothered with peppers and onions and topped with provolone cheese.

The buns were placed on the grill right before serving to give them a crispness.  You can choose to skip this step if you prefer, but I would highly recommend it crispy.  It keeps the bread from getting soggy and just tastes better!  There are many types of sub buns in the bread aisle at the grocery store, but we prefer the ones found in the deli.

The above pictue is Italian Beef (which will be coming soon!).  I have included this picture for you to see the bun.  As you can tell, we love these buns for so many different recipes….too bad they aren’t Keto-friendly!  Oh well, they are too good to pass up!

Chipotle Mayo Recipe ~

You guys, this sauce is a must to top off these delicious sandwiches.  I made a large bowl of this sauce and poured half of it into a squeezy bottle for easy application.  I was going to use the remaining for refills when needed, however, it ended up being a “dip” for chips and veggies.  Everyone loved it that much!

You can of course scale the sizing down if you do not wish to make as much.  I would go ahead and make more if I were you though.  Seriously, the kids all wanted a small bowl of it to take home with them for lunches the next day.

  • 2 cups Hellman’s Mayonnaise
  • 1 can of Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
  • 2 tsp. Adobo All Purpose Seasoning

Place all of these ingredients in a small blender and blend until thoroughly mixed.  I have discussed it before, but I LOVE our personal Ninja for blending sauces.  Check out the Ninja Personal Blender…it’s good for sauces as well as smoothies!

Those Squirt Bottles I mentioned ~

I use squirt bottles for so many things in the kitchen, so I love to have several.  They can be used for baking or for cooking reasons.  Squirt bottle set is a MUST in my book for many cooking needs!

This is a set I am getting ready to purchase as I love the labels.  I have a simpler set that I started out with and I tape on labels.  For instance, on Lauren’s birthday, she wanted a hot dog bar.  We made several fun sauces so each one needed to be labeled.

I also have special squirt bottles for cookie decorating.   Who knew there were so many types of squirt bottles out there, right?  These have metal tips for more intricate designs, which we use a lot when decorating cookies.   Squirt bottles for cookie decorating…makes precise decorating so much easier!

It seems crazy to write so much about sqeezy bottles, but I truly find SO many uses for them!  Do you use them in your kitchen?

Back to those YUMMY Chipotle Cheesesteak Sandwiches ~

The chipotle mayo recipe does not have to be used.  The sandwiches are delicious on their own.  Maybe you have a favorite condiment you love to use on sandwiches?  Many places slather plain mayo on the bread, which is good as well.  Also, you may be saying, “I just don’t like spicy!”  I promise you, this recipe is not spicy….it is just really flavorful!

I would love to hear any variations you may have cooked up!  Let me know in the comments below!

Happy grilling –

Mimi

 

 

Frozen Fruit Yogurt Bites

Finding snacks that are just as much fun to make as they are to eat can be challenging.  While our frozen fruit yogurt bites did not turn out exactly as anticipated, Addi, Max and Mimi had lots of fun in the kitchen and still enjoyed the end result.  This post is a tad different as I will fill you in on the right way to make these….and the wrong way! 🤣

I am notorious for just “winging it” in the kitchen.   The kids used to sit and watch at the kitchen island and marvel at how I just added a little of this and a little of that.  They have now learned that as you get more comfortable in the kitchen, it becomes easy to guesstimate while cooking.  However, sometimes one should really follow the directions.

Frozen Fruit Yogurt Bites Ingredients ~

  • 1 Cup Plain Greek yogurt
  • Handful of Frozen fruit of choice
  • 1 tsp. Honey (or more to taste)
  • Spinach (let’s get real sneaky!)

Directions ~

  • Place frozen fruit and honey (and spinach if you choose to add) in blender to puree.  We love our Ninja Personal Smoothie Blender… it makes smoothies so much easier to make.  By using the personal size, each person can choose their own fruit flavors.  Check it out here➡➡➡ Ninja Personal Smoothie blender – we LOVE it!

  • Scoop the puree into a bowl and add 1 cup greek yogurt.  Stir until well mixed.
  • Pour the yogurt mixture into a baggie (or a piping bag if you have one).  I definitely suggest a zip type baggie to alleviate any future messes.

Of course, even with a zip type baggie you can still get leakage out of the top if it isn’t sealed well.  Oh well, at least this is a recipe that is safe to eat even before you freeze!⬇⬇

  • Put in freezer for 3 to 4 hours or until solid.  These will melt fairly fast, so be sure to have them completely frozen before enjoying.

Very Important Tips ~

***Do not add water when making the puree.  This is the first step I messed up on.  I told Addi to add water to her cup to make the puree process easier.  Instead, we should have let the frozen fruit thaw a bit and NOT add water.  By adding water, the mixture came out runnier than it should have been! 

***Puree completely as small chunks will create a hole in your bag later….which you do NOT want!

***Greek yogurt helps with the consistency.  

***Let the kids use a whisk to blend.  They enjoy that so much more than a spoon and it blends better.  We started out with a spoon and switched once we realized it wasn’t mxing well.

***When letting kids help, as I highly recommend that you do, be prepared for the fact that you may not get “dots” as you originally intended.  That is ok!

***Add that spinach….it will make a very fun green color frozen yogurt bite and yet the kids won’t realize it’s coming from spinach.  Unless of course, you let them take part in the puree step as the spinach should be pureed with the fruit and honey.

End Result ~

Ok, so ours did NOT end up in the cute little button style.   I realized very early on that this step was not going as planned.  So, I put on my big girl panties and said to myself, “That’s ok!”  Afterall, isn’t learning in the kitchen part of this whole process?

Seriously, look at that determination in his face.  Who cares that they weren’t perfectly formed.  They still taste the same.  It was time for a little improvision.

We smeared that stuff around and decided to cut little squares instead.   This way, they got to use Addi’s new kid-safe kitchen knife that I talked about for her birthday post.  Did you catch that post?  If not, check it out here as I showed several great kitchen tools for kids….Great ideas for kids in the kitchen!

Does it look like she cared that her yogurt bites weren’t in the button shape?  Who can resist the happiness in that face?

Quick and Easy Version ~

While it is so much fun to create your own flavors, there is an easier version.   Using store bought Go-Gurts , snip off a small corner as mentioned earlier(do not use the precut pull tab they provide).  Proceed to squeeze small dots on wax paper and freeze until solid.  This is quick and easy!

These frozen fruit yogurt bites are a big hit with the kids and adults alike.  Everyone chooses their favorite flavors.  You can get creative and mix different fruits to make new fun flavors.  Have fun and enjoy!

Hugs ~

Mimi

 

 

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