Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Printable Gift Tags on Address Labels!

I am trying--TRYING--to stay on top of things this year.  Rather than getting bogged down by the many things to do this season, I'm hoping to tackle little things each day and enjoy many memories with the kids this year.

In the spirit of getting things done, I have most of my gifts wrapped already. And every year I get annoyed when I have to pay for the sticker labels that say "To" and "From" ...especially when I am wrapping multiple tiny gifts for my own kids. In previous years I have resorted to writing names directly on the paper with a sharpie, but this year I decided to print my own tags on printable address labels and voilĂ , it worked! 

If you have a packet of these address labels around the house, then you are ready to make 30 of your own Christmas stickers! If not, you can find Laser/Ink Jet address labels at any large retailer (Wal-mart, Target, etc.)
Simply go here and print this page on your label sheet (or on regular paper and use glue or tape!) and you have 30 stickers to help make your season simpler (and cheaper!)

I hope everyone is enjoying the memories and opportunities that are presented to us during this season. Don't forget to smile when you see 4 ornaments hanging from the same lowest branch on the tree and the needles that are slowly spreading throughout the house!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Make a Family Memory Match Game

A unique and meaningful gift for your young child or a niece/nephew is a Family Memory Match Game using pictures of relatives. This is especially great for kids who don't get to see extended family all the time. It's easy, but will take a couple of hours to put together.

If you are with family this Thanksgiving weekend, try to get some good individual or couple shots of each relative. This will save much time in sorting through old family-gathering pictures to find usable head-shots of grandparents, cousins, and uncles/aunts (uh yes, I do speak from experience!)

I made an easy little drawstring fabric bag to hold the game, but you could pick up a paper mache box at Hobby Lobby to paint if you don't sew. This is for a set of 24, but just add more cards if you have a larger family.

For a game with 24 cards, you need:
12 photos, 2 copies of each
2-3 sheets of scrapbook paper
photo adhesive
paper cutter (or very large circle/square punch)
laminator (or run them to an office supply store to be laminated)
fabric (14" x 11")
30" cord or ribbon
Note: If you are fortunate enough to have a 2.5" or 3" large circle or square punch, this project will go much faster! I cut mine with a paper cutter--this was the most time-consuming part of project.

Cut your photos into 2.5 x 2.5" squares
Now, cut your paper into 3x3" squares--same number as your photos.
Use the adhesive to attach the photos to the white side of the paper.
Laminate the squares and cut around each. I snipped the corners so they were not eye-hazards.

For the bag, fold the fabric and cut so the long side is 11" and the short folded side is 6.5". Snip a little of the corner off of each top outside edge--this will allow the drawstring to work. To finish the cut edges, fold and fold under again. Stitch down each angle.

Open the fabric and fold the top under, then fold under again 3/4-inch. Press. Sew. This will be the casing for the drawstring.
Fold the bag with right sides together and stitch the side seam and bottom. Clip the bottom corner. Turn right side out.

Use a safety pin to guide the cord through the casing. Once it's in there evenly, stitch across the center of it a couple of times to keep it from coming out.

You could have fun posing some creative personality shots!  This will be a thoughtful and well-used child's gift.  


Thanksgiving Day Scavenger Hunt!

Today I am very excited to have all 3 kids home with me--no school!  We are gearing up to make some cut-out cookies and enjoy the rest of the day outside since we have been struck by a mid-November heat wave here in the Southeast.

Here is one last idea I had for some Thanksgiving day kid-fun.  Whether you need a few minutes to finish up your cooking or perhaps you want to send the little kids outside to burn off their sugary energy after lunch, this should do the trick.
If you have older cousins/friends who can help the little ones read, then you are in luck!   You can add your own things to the list, make teams, and come up with prizes or just let them have fun hunting.  The idea is to enjoy time with family and put that endless energy to good use.  Here is the printable version.
Have a great day with your family, filled with reminders of the blessings in your life! 

"Blessed are those that can give without remembering and receive without forgetting."

Friday, November 18, 2011

T-Minus 6 days until Thanksgiving.

If you are like me, you are marking down the days until Thanksgiving is here.  I am so excited to sit around the table with loved ones and eat delicious food and relish in an entire day devoted to Thankfulness.  We are truly blessed.
Kylee and I are working on several Thanksgiving day activities, but I wanted to go ahead and post a few today. The first is a printable that allows your child (with help from you!) to create an acronym of THANKS. Take each letter from thanks and choose something that you are truly thankful for this year.  Then sign and date it and place it in your child's "All About Me" book!  Find this printout here.

Another quick thought is to print out these place mats for the kid table on Thanksgiving day.  Your child will enjoy writing and coloring on his or her special page.  Provide a few crayons and pens and let them decorate while you are fixing plates and setting the table.  If you want to laminate it and use marker instead, that would also be great.  If you decide to let your child decorate this printable as is, then when the day is over, this would also be a great addition to his or her "All About Me" book!

Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.  ~W.J. Cameron

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Quick Craft: Craft Stick Puzzle


This is the cutest and easiest little puzzle idea! I've seen it in a couple of places and decided to give it a try. You may have the supplies already on hand: craft sticks (I used the wide ones), acrylic craft paints (or paint pens), brushes, masking tape, and a marker.

For my pictures, I searched online for Fall clipart image and printed out a few.

Line up 7 craft sticks tightly together and tape diagonally across the back.

Turn it over. Now you can either paint a background color, or leave the background natural and trace your shape with a marker.

The fun part: painting! I went with larger, simpler pictures since I didn't have a fine paintbrush or paint pen to work on small details. For younger children, you probably want pictures with more obvious detail (jack-o-lantern face would be easier than plain pumpkin). I outlined them with a black permanent marker again when they dried. My daughter could hardly wait to test them out after breakfast.

Wouldn't these be great for kid favors or busy activities at the Thanksgiving table? Or tuck a set in your purse for entertainment at a restaurant or appointment.
My kids saw the turkey pattern and are begging for it on a puzzle...I'm off to find a smaller paintbrush!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Quick Craft: Make the Most of Your Clothespins.

If you are like me, you lose chip clips as often as you lose clothes hangers and left socks. Where do they go? 
I can't answer that question, but I have found that it is handy to always keep a large bag filled with clothespins. They are cheap, they serve many purposes throughout our home, and I recently discovered that with a little extra care, they can put an ordinary chip clip or magnet clip to shame.  
Tools for the job:

  • clothespins (you can find these at most grocery stores and convenience stores!)
  • Mod Podge
  • Paint and brushes
  • Magazines
  • Magnets and strong glue (ex. Gorilla Glue or Krazy Glue)

This little project is very simple;  a basic, painted clothespin is fun, but a highly detailed, customized clip could turn into the finishing touch on a Christmas gift.  I started out by painting several of our clothespins with a bright craft paint (I chose blue and gold.)  I was fortunate to have some skewers which I used to hold the clips as I painted them. When I finished painting I stuck the skewers into some floral foam that I had on hand.  Obviously you can clip them onto anything (an old book, a cereal box, etc.) while you let the paint dry. The skewers worked really well.  
While your paint is drying, decide how you want to decorate your clips.  I saw some really cute painted clips, and I plan to paint some clips before Christmas, but it required more time and patience and tiny brushes than I had on hand yesterday.  This time around, I simply went through the ads in the Sunday paper and pulled out tiny Holiday images and words and set them aside.
Once the paint on your clothespins has dried, it's time to crack open your Mod Podge.  If you want your images and words to fit snugly onto the surface of your clip, simply lay the clothespin onto your image, trace it with a pen and cut it to the exact size of your clothespin.  Then put mod podge onto the clothespin and press the image firmly in place.  Mod Podge over the image and around the sides of your clothespin, let it dry and you are ready to go! 
My daughter painted several clips and decorated them with markers. She had a blast!
Like I said, this is a simple, easy way to add some Holiday flair to your chip clips or wherever you hang children's artwork.  This may also be a way to add something special for a teacher gift (cut out the letters of his/her name) or whenever you need to clip down a bag of Christmas cookies.
If you want to make your clip into a photo or memo holder for your refrigerator instead, simply buy a packet of magnets (less than $2 at any craft store!) and use superglue to attach the magnet to your clothespin. Once the magnet has dried you have a great way to display any seasonal artwork!
This was a fun little project and I intend to paint a few more clothespins before Christmas Cookie season is here!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thankful: A Guest Post from Sarah.

What does it mean to be truly Thankful? When the electricity goes out for a few hours, I am really thankful when my lights come back on and the water flows out of the faucet again. Sometimes thankfulness is all about perspective. 
My dear friend Sarah has had many amazing experiences, and her stories always help me think twice about my own worries and woes.  As we strive to be here now with our own families this season, here is a challenge from Sarah that might also give us a slightly different frame of reference.

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving from one wildly overwhelmed but extremely thankful mother of an aspiring preschool-crocodile doctor, a costume-loving, cape-wearing toddler whose superpower scream can shatter ear drums, one teething, army-crawling infant and six precious, part-time foster divas. Welcome to crazy.

My name is Mommy and Miss Nerd (a lovely nickname given to me by one of my grown-up aged out foster kids), but mostly I am known as Sarah. I am plain (and yes, tall), my hair is a mess and I can usually be found wearing a tee shirt and jeans (that have butternut squash baby food splattered all over them). I love children of all ages, but especially sassy teenagers (more about that in a minute). I am not much of a leader, but I love working along side people who are.  I am obsessed with broken children, women, families, societies and cultures.
Sarah with her super-hero babies.
I grew up as a missionary kid whose pilot dad would take our family to Haiti every summer to boot-kick us out of our comfort zones and expose us to life in the raw, where normal was open sewage running down the streets, garbage piled as high as snow drifts and the prevailing smell of sweat. It was hot and there were chickens where they should not have been, everyone was dirty and I loved it!

After college, I had the opportunity to teach a combined fifth and sixth grade class in a small international school in Saipan, the largest of the inhabited Marianas islands, a little-known commonwealth of the U.S. that is situated in the Pacific Ocean, north of Australia and east of the Phillippines. That teaching experience allowed me the opportunity to work in the education sector for Samaritan’s Purse International Relief Organization, a Christian relief and development organization who works in crisis situations all over the world.
Two class rooms annexed onto a pre-existing school to help handle over flow from tribal conflict in North Congo.
Samaritan’sPurse hired me to work as an Education Coordinator in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. I was part of a team that helped establish five primary (elementary/middle) schools, a teacher’s training college and two rural village community centers. We lived in tents and huts, had little to no electricity except for what we could squeeze out of our solar panels that were connected to a series of car batteries. Our running water consisted of us running to the well to get water on our four-wheeler. Later, project management was facilitated by the truck Samaritan’s Purse had flown in for us on an old Russian Antenov. Flights days were once every two weeks; we received a crate of fresh vegetables and fruits that lasted about a week, then we were back to eating rice and beans.
After several months, my team and I were evacuated due to border security issues. The Nuba Mountains are geographically located in the North but the local Nuban army was a part of the South Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement and fought for religious, political and economic freedom with the rebels of South Sudan. The only way in and out of our area of the Nuba Mountains was by flight; the government of Sudan controlled the territory surrounding our small cluster of villages.
Visiting some of the kids at the Dinka camp in the Nuba Mountains.
Samaritan’s Purse then reassigned me to North East Kivu in the Ituri Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where I continued to work as an Education Coordinator and the Congo team and I helped build classrooms onto existing schools that were at overcapacity due to various tribal wars in the northern part of the province. Due to an unfortunate accident between a United Nations convoy and one of our work vehicles, the language point person for our team was badly injured and evacuated and I was again reassigned back to Sudan, but this time to Samaritan’s Purse surgical hospital in Lui, Mundri County near the border of North Uganda. I walked into the main house for lunch (after watching a rather unpleasant surgery) and saw for the first time, the tall, very sexy South African who was to become my husband.
John in Afghanistan
While in Lui, I was given the responsibilities of being the tuberculosis center logistics coordinator and it was my job to make sure all the young malnourished children with tuberculosis had the supplement feedings they needed. I also had the excellent opportunity to do rounds with the surgical resident, the visiting American doctors as well as the Ugandan doctor on call. It was during these few months of shadowing the medical personal that I began to dream of returning home to pursue my nursing degree so that someday, Lord willing, I could return to rural Sudan to work in a primary health care setting.

I became wonderfully engaged to John Tountas, and we signed up for one last six-month mission with Samaritan’s Purse. John was assigned to Afghanistan and I was reassigned to the Nuba Sudan team when the peace accord was signed and after twenty years of civil unrest Sudan was no longer a country at war with itself.

John and I came back to the states and were married in a beautiful orchid garden and honeymooned in Cancun where we were hit by hurricane Wilma and subsequently stranded in Mexico for two weeks (that is another story for the grand kids!) Because John was not yet a legal resident, I had to find a job to “support” him while we waited for his green card and work papers to be processed. My best friend from high school introduced me to Place of Hope, a faith based family style child welfare organization that was in need of a part-time female relief parent in one of the foster cottages. I had been married only one month when I inherited six beautiful girls, who were between five and seventeen years of age.

Over the next two years, we started a family, our son John Aaron was born and I finished all the pre-requisites for my nursing degree. Place of Hope then hired my husband and I to work as full time house parents to six teenage boys and with major support from my husband, I gave birth to two more sons (Asher Honor and Isaiah Abel), finally finished my nursing degree and became a registered nurse. (To those who are counting, that was: ONE husband, SIX teenage foster sons plus THREE biological sons to equal NINE men in the house, and only ONE lonely female).

The Lord taught John and I so much about His love for us through being house parents at Place of Hope (POH). There is so much hurt and suffering in this world and too often children have to bear the burden of such pain and sorrow. We learned so much from our kids at POH and will forever be indebted to them and to the Lord for the valuable life lessons we experienced with them. We consider “our kids” an integrated part of our extended family.

In June, John and I resigned as full time house parents and both took on minor roles as relief parents so we could continue to work with our foster children while we concentrate on our growing little family. We moved to an adorable house with a fenced in backyard, a perfect secret lair for our little super hero warriors to explore their super powers. We have always harbored the hope of being able to go back to South Sudan to pursue our dreams of helping to establish rural primary health care centers and incorporating appropriate non mechanized farming techniques into rural agriculture, but unfortunately, Sudan’s affair with peace has been short-lived.

This past July, South Sudan’s dream of becoming a new and separate nation became a reality as they voted for freedom from North Sudan to become the world’s newest country. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the peace talks and geographic location of the Nuba Mountains, the line of demarcation was drawn below the Nubas, essentially cutting the Nubans out of the peace deal and out of South Sudan even though they fought with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) for freedom. At the end of a long and bloody war the Nuba Mountains still remain a part of North Sudan and therefore subject to it’s bloody regime.

In August, I started hearing reports of genocide through Samaritan’s Purse and through a Sudanese friend I have who still lives in Nuba. The Government of Sudan had been bombing and raiding the Nuba Mountains, killing and pillaging this marginalized people group to the point that many Nubans have been forced to flee their homes and walk hundreds of miles to the new South Sudan.

Throughout September and up to the present time my Sudanese friend has been acting as a tour guide to the destruction and has been using his knowledge of the area to harbor Humans Rights Watchdogs as they take note of the human casualties and blatant disregard for the Geneva Convention in order to report these war crimes to the international community. The Nubans have been fleeing to Yida Refugee Camp in the Unity State of the new South Sudan. The Nuban refugee count went from 2,700 in August to 10,000 in September and has now more than doubled to 22,000 as of early November. 

As I sit safely in my dining room and write my friend in Sudan, bombs are dropping on him and on the women and children in the various villages. While my children play uninhibited in our secured backyard, many children in the Nuba Mountains are dying from a war they are too young to understand. While I nurse my chubby son, children will starve to death or become too weak to walk the hundreds of miles required, to seek refuge. My husband and I are burdened for the Nubans, a beautiful and hospitable people group who are famous for their wrestling and who love to dance and farm their shambas (gardens). They are a people who will defend their land and families to the death; a people group at risk of annihilation for no reason.
I cry at night when my children are asleep so I don’t burden them with these heavy realities. I need them to feel safe, to grow strong, to become super warriors for God, defenders of justice. I have begged God to let us go to Sudan, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but He says, “Wait,” so I wait, but I am not silent. I cannot and will not just sit here in safety and do NOTHING while innocent men, women and children die. I can and will pray. “The effectual and fervent prayer of a righteous man (woman) availeth much” James 5:16.

At the advent of the Thanksgiving season, take a moment to reflect on your life and ALL the blessings that you have been given. Blessings that are sometimes hidden beneath school science projects, runny noses, mounds of laundry, crayon wall art and holiday meal preparations. Relish in the noise, the mess, the piled laundry, and the bathtub floods. Take a moment and squeeze your little superheroes and tween princesses and thank God for his grace, His safety and His protection and pray for the safety of the Nuban families as they seek refuge. Remember the marginalized women and children who are at risk in the world and pray for peace.
"May the Lord bless you and keep you: May the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." – Numbers 6:24

For more information, please check here!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Classic Crafts: Melted Crayon Art!

Are you ready for a nostalgic project that will send you back to your childhood? Revisit the crayons of your past with your own kids--create some melted crayon art today!
Melted crayon art is simply good, slightly messy fun.  Have your kids scrounge up all those slightly broken crayons in the various crayon boxes scattered throughout your house while you get the rest of your supplies ready.
You will need:

  • crayons
  • a veggie peeler or knife
  • bowls or dixie cups
  • thick paper or cardstock
  • an iron & ironing board
  • wax paper

First, take your heavy paper or card stock and decide what you would like to decorate.  We printed this turkey, but I think leaves might have turned out better since the colors tend to melt together!  There are tons of options free online, or let your child draw something (large) on her own!
Once you have everything ready, choose several colors from the crayon box.  You will probably need to help your child make the crayon shavings.  We chose a few basic colors and shaved them into small bowls.  Simply peel off the crayon wrapper (a great job for little ones!) while you scrape the shavings into the bowls.  When you feel like you have enough colors, show your child how to sprinkle colors onto her drawing.  I let my 4-year-old do it all by herself. In retrospect, I probably should have removed some of the darker colors piles (yellows and oranges looked the best!) and also thinned out some of the thicker areas because they ended up being very dark.

Heat up your iron on a very low setting.  Place a large piece of wax paper on your ironing board to prevent wax leaking all over! Then carefully transfer your child's drawing with the crayon shavings on top.  Place a second piece of wax paper on top of the drawing and carefully iron over the wax paper.  As soon as all the crayon is melted, you are finished! It won't take much ironing at all.  Let the crayon cool completely, then remove the wax paper to reveal your child's colorful work of art!

I cut the outline of our turkey since the colors bled into each other so much, but my daughter was thrilled with the fun results.  I think leaves or a drawing with fewer details would work better for this project.

At any rate, take a step back into your past today and melt some crayons with your child.  Make some fun fall decorations and put those crayon scraps to use today!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Classic Crafts: Sponge Paint a Leafy Tree!

Saturday mornings have officially turned into a crafty-painting time for us; it is the perfect day to make a mess with all our papers and paints.
I recently came across this little project in a magazine and although it is nothing completely new or original, my kids had a blast and they turned out really cute. Hopefully you will get a chance to let your little ones make this colorful painting to decorate your home this Fall!
First, gather a few basic supplies:

  • card stock or heavy paper (2 pieces per child)
  • a sponge
  • paints (fall colors--red, orange, yellow, brown, etc.)

While you are gathering supplies, give your child a whole piece of card stock and tell her to draw the trunk of a tree.  The trunk should take up most of the bottom of the page with branches spreading into the top half.  In the meantime, take another piece of card stock and draw a cartoon tree-top on the top half.  This will be your stencil.  If you are terrified of drawing your own tree trunk or tree foliage on top, here is a template.
Cut your "tree top" from the paper as your stencil.
Once you have cut out the center of your "tree foliage" and your kids have finished drawing the trunk (and anything else they want to add) then you are ready to paint.
Place the template directly over the paper.  I taped ours to the table to keep it from moving around.  Next take an old sponge (or carpet squares) and squeeze the paint onto a plate or large surface so they have plenty of room to dip. Remind them not to mix sponges--use one sponge per color or else everything will mix and be a big mess.

This is the fun part! Watch your kids create original designs inside the stencil.  I enjoyed seeing how different the trees looked even though they had the same template, sponges and colors.

Once they are finished with their work of art, simply remove the stencil, stand back and admire!  I love how these turned out, the kids had a blast and continued doing other sponge projects long after they finished their trees.