DIY Jolly Rancher Lollies

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Yesterday, I made this cute favor for today’s family Easter party:  Jolly Rancher lollies.  Very cute, and so easy!

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Jolly Ranchers
  • Candy Sticks
  • Parchment Paper
  • Cookie Sheet
  • Oven
  • Cellophane Bags
  • Ribbon or Twist Ties (to fasten bag)

Directions:

  1. Place parchment paper on cookie sheet.
  2. Line up Jolly Ranchers in your desired color/flavor combinations on parchment paper.  Use two candies for regular-sized lollies, three for big ones.
  3. Heat at 200 degrees for five minutes, or until Jolly Ranchers have only slightly melted. 
  4. Remove from oven.
  5. Immediately insert sticks by lying them on top of melted candy, and twisting until stick is covered.  The candy hardens quickly, so you have to be fast
  6. Allow candy to harden on its own (only takes a few minutes), or place in freezer to speed up the process.
  7. Put lolly in cellophane bag, and fasten with ribbon or twist tie.  Be sure the lollies are completely dry/hardened so that they don’t stick to the bags.
  8. Enjoy!

For anyone who is as naturally not-crafty as I am, I will share with you a lesson I learned today:

Parchment paper is not the same as wax paper.  Yes, I seriously was unaware of this, despite the fact that they have two completely different names.  So I used wax paper, and encountered a (very minor) problem.  It stuck to most of the lollies, but only a little bit.

Fortunately, I was able to scrape the bits of paper off easily, and no one will ever notice.

So there you have it.  A tasty treat in under 10 minutes!

DIY Multicolored, Fun-Shaped Crayons (Semi-Redemption)

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Two days ago, I completely failed at creating these cute favors for our family Easter party.  (Click HERE to see the hot mess I made.)  So I gave it another go last night, and was semi-redeemed.

Clearly, I used a Christmas-tree-shaped mold, despite the fact that it’s Easter, but I refuse to spend $16 on an Easter mold just for melting crayons.  And instead of Crayola crayons, I used cheap Dollar Tree ones this time (much, much easier to unwrap!).  Fortunately, the recipients of my crayons will be toddlers, who will not care at all about the theme or quality of the crayons.

To make your own multicolored, fun-shaped crayons…

You will need:

  • Crayons
  • Silicone Mold
  • Oven

Directions:

  1. Peel the wrappers off your crayons.
  2. Break each crayon into pieces.  (I broke mine into four pieces each.)
  3. Put different colored pieces into your silicone mold.
  4. Heat at 225 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until they reach the consistency you want.
  5. Remove from oven carefully.  (Keep a steady hand:  you don’t want the colors to blend too much, or your crayons will look brown.)
  6. Allow them to harden on their own, or you can speed the process by putting them in the freezer.
  7. Pop completely hardened crayons out of molds, and enjoy!

Voila!  Fun-shaped, multicolored, super-quick-and-easy-to-make crayons.  Great for party favors or general kids’ crafts.

But I did say that last night’s crayons are only a semi-success. 

After sticking them in the oven, I began drinking wine (Reggae Red – woot!), and talking with my sister and her boyfriend, who are visiting from Kalamazoo, Michigan.  I remembered that the crayons were still in the oven only after the bottle was gone… 46 minutes later.  Oops.

So the colors mixed way too much toward the top of the mold, making the backs of the crayons a purplish brown.

Since the fronts were sort of okay, though, I decided that they passed as appropriate gifts for the toddlers at tomorrow’s shindig.  I look forward to having something homemade to give them!

Crash-and-Burn Craft Fail

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At the beginning of the year, I set a goal for myself to become more crafty by completing 12 DIY projects (one per month).  In January, I gave myself an oh-so-easy win by making homemade hair detangler.  In February, I made some really-cool-but-dull-gray T-shirt bracelets.  In March, I joined the genius Web site Pinterest, and pinned so many DIY projects that I didn’t have any time to actually complete one.

Now it’s April, and I’ve set out to give all the kiddos homemade Easter gifts.  And this evening, I completely bombed the first one I attempted.  Before I give you the embarrassing details, I’ll cut to the chase and tell you what I learned:  Always, always, always F-O-L-L-O-W D-I-R-E-C-T-I-O-N-S.

The challenge:  Make multicolored crayons in fun, Easter-themed shapes.

The result:  A complete disaster.

Since no one would let me break up their used crayons, I bought two boxes of new ones.  Then I spent two hours scraping the wrappers off of them.  (It was much more difficult and time consuming than I’d assumed.)  Of course I made sure to exclude the “ugly” colors:  black, gray, and brown.  The directions said I should put the broken pieces into a mold, and heat them in the oven.

I went to five stores looking for Easter-themed molds.  Didn’t find a single one at CVS, Walgreens, Meijer, or Walmart.  Finally found a great one at JoAnn Fabrics…… for $15.99.  Um – no, thanks.  So I decided to improvise.  I purchased a package of four cute Easter cookie cutters for only $2.99.

I put wax paper in a small cake pan, inserted my cookie cutters, and added my broken crayon pieces.  The directions said to heat them at 225 degrees for 10 minutes, but they were barely melted.  So I heated them until they were the consistency I thought they should be (18 minutes total).

This is what I got:

Not good.

I inserted a toothpick to see if the wax inside the cookie cutters was deep enough to still make sturdy crayons for a toddler.  Not a chance.  So I rushed upstairs and frantically dug up the only silicone mold I own – Christmas trees.  I poured what I could of the hot wax into my mold in hopes of salvaging my wasted time and money.

This is what I got:

Brown Christmas trees.  And cookie cutters and a pan caked in hard, brown wax.  (It managed to overflow above the wax paper on one edge.)

I am so bummed that I never want to do this experiment again – ever in life.  But……  I’m obsessive about not being wrong failing.  So I’m going to waste more time and money trying to do this – correctly – again tomorrow.

It’s no longer about giving the babies a cool, homemade gift.  It’s about proving to myself (and now my readers) that I can follow directions and successfully complete a simple craft project.

So stay tuned to see what I’m sure can only be an improvement: multicolored, Christmas-tree-shaped Easter crayons.

To be continued……

explosion photo credit

Today’s Field Trip: Washington Park Zoo

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The sun has been shining so brightly this week that I haven’t been able to justify sitting at home, even though it’s been kind of chilly outside.  So Josh and I have been bundling up with hoodies, jackets, and blankets, and hitting the pavement.  While we both enjoy our lengthy stroller rides through the neighborhood, I decided to change it up a bit.

Today, I took him for his first visit to Washington Park Zoo.  I haven’t been there since I was a little kid, so I couldn’t wait to take him up to the tower and show him the beautiful aerial view of Michigan City.  Unfortunately, it was closed, as was the big monkey jungle-gym thing – my two favorite zoo attractions!  I hope they are both up and running again this summer.

Fortunately, most of the animals were easily visible (I expected they’d be hiding in their little homes because of the cold wind), so Josh still had a fantastic time.  He was able to see free-roaming peacocks and wild turkeys, monkeys of all kinds, lots of reptiles, giant birds, bears, tigers, kangaroos, farm animals, otters, a bobcat, a mountain lion, zebras, and more.

It was great to see him get to interact with some of the animals that he had only seen in books until today.  He knows all his animal names and sounds, so he was really excited to try to communicate with them.

Below is a picture of Josh and his cousin, Connor, feeding the goats.  He really enjoyed the challenge of trying to get the food to their mouths, which proved difficult because the wind kept blowing it out of his tiny hands!

Here he is hanging out in the tunnel under the otter tank.  They were sleeping on land when we went through, but he didn’t seem to mind.  Even though they weren’t swimming around him in the tunnel, he was not a happy camper about having to get out and move on.  He’d have sat in there all day and waited if I’d have let him.

Here’s one of Connor and Josh in front of the little waterfall.  My intention was to get a picture of all the pretty flowers behind them, but that clearly didn’t happen.  Maybe next time…

My personal favorite moment of the day was seeing Josh hold and feed a bird all by himself.  He was very calm and gentle, which is the opposite of what I expected from my busy, one-year-old.  He’s becoming such a big boy!

I look forward to returning the Washington Park Zoo, especially once the weather is warmer.  It is surely one of this city’s greatest attractions, and at only $4.50 per adult ($5.50 for non-residents of Michigan City) and free for kids 2-and-under, I may just take him weekly!

Heavy Heart Tonight for Neglected Children

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Tonight my heart is bleeding for child victims of neglect.

Around 6 o’clock this chilly evening, we noticed a toddler who had wandered into our driveway from the alley behind the house.  She was dirty and wearing thin, short-sleeved pajamas and one adult-sized tennis shoe.  She was pretending to paint our car with a paintbrush.

I waited awhile for an adult to appear, but no one did.  When I rushed out to further assess the situation, I saw her barely-older brother, also in thin PJs and adult shoes, playing near the alley.  I asked them where their mommy was.  “She left me,” said the little boy.

So I knocked repeatedly on our neighbor’s slightly-open screen door , but no one came.  I opened the door and yelled inside several times.  Still, no one responded.  I sent the kids inside to get an adult, and they came back – twice – without one.

The little boy asked me to ask his daddy if they could play outside.  When I told him to get his father so that I could talk to him, he said, “There’s no grown ups.”

After ten-ish minutes of this, my mom called the police as I told the kids to wait for me to run inside and get my own shoes.  Before I knew it, both of them had let themselves into our house, and upstairs into my bedroom!

We tried again and again to knock and yell into the house near where they’d been playing outside.  More silence.  One of the kids said their daddy was sleeping in a chair inside, so we carefully and very nervously entered the house.

The kitchen floor was covered in items that I can only assume the kids had flung out of the kitchen cabinets.  There was a baby girl in a playpen chewing on dirty women’s tennis shoes.  They had all been left unattended for what was obviously a very long time.

Because there was their dad, curled up in a ball on the recliner, practically comatose.  We yelled and yelled at him, from only a few inches away, but he didn’t respond.  I was seriously afraid that he was dead.  So we kicked his chair multiple times, finally stirring him.

He said, “Yeah?”

We said, “We live in the house across the alley.  Your children wandered into our yard and then our house.  They don’t have on any shoes or jackets.  They’ve been playing in the alley, and could get hit by a car.  We’ve been trying for a long time to get your attention to make sure everything is alright.”

He said, “Okay??”

And we went through that exact dialogue two or three more times.

He didn’t question who we were, where we came from, or why we were in his house.  He wasn’t startled, worried, confused, embarrassed, or concerned in any way.  He was also obviously high as a kite.  When he finally staggered to his feet, we left and shut the back door behind us.

Unbelievable.  This man was more concerned about having been awakened than that the children for whom he was supposed to be caring were playing outside in the alley, in the cold, and entering a stranger’s home.

When a police officer finally arrived at our house, I explained to him my concern for those children.  He went to their front door, and got no answer.  He tried their back door – no answer again.

I started to walk back to our house, but decided to run after the police car as it was pulling away.  The officer told me that the guy finally answered the door, giving him the explanation was that the children had gone to sleep with him, and must have slipped out the unchained back door without waking him.  The officer said there was nothing he could do, and that he had to leave.  No big deal.

I beg to differ.  Huge deal!  I cried all the way back to my house.  I thought about those kids, imagining them getting hit by cars, being abducted, and worse.  I wondered if they had been whooped for causing trouble.  I thought about the baby, and wondered how long she’d been sitting in a dirty diaper in her playpen.  What kind of parents don’t know or care where their children are?!

I told my family that I want to go back and offer to babysit.  They told me not to get involved, that they couldn’t pay for it anyway.  I told them I’d do it for free.  They told me that I can’t save everyone.

I am so unbelievably frustrated right now.  Little kids deserve for their caretakers to actually care for them.  I don’t know what I can do for the little kids from the house across the alley, but there has to be something I can do for others like them.

I’m open to suggestions.  For now, I’m going to do some Internet research to try to figure it out.  And tonight I’ll pray for all the kids who are neglected by their guardians daily.

photo credit

Extreme Couponing: How to Avoid Buyer’s Remorse

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What I Know

What a rush it creates when you purchase a new outfit, pair of shoes, electronic gadget, decorative item, accessory, even a favorite snack or personal hygiene product.  Expensive, cheap, big, small, retail, on sale, for you, for someone else – doesn’t matter.  Buying stuff can make a person feel really good, both physically and mentally.  Until, of course,  you feel the pang of buyer’s remorse in your gut.

Shopping is one of my absolute most favorite things to do in life.  It always has been.  Except now, and for the past year (almost), I have been living in the exciting universe that is extreme couponing.  Doing so has completely altered and redefined the entire shopping experience for me.

My new perspective on what it means to get a truly good deal has taught me never to pay retail for anything, and that I can get many of the basic necessities for free.  These days, paying more than a dollar for nearly anything actually gives me minor anxiety.  Saving 50, 75, 90, 100 percent on grocery, personal care, and household items?  Oh, it’s possible.  And it creates an adrenaline rush unlike any other.

There’s nothing bad about getting something for free (or close to it), right?  Not necessarily.  Extreme couponing can come with its own form of buyer’s remorse if performed irresponsibly.

How I Know

I have an obsessive personality.  When I get really excited about something, it’s like I have tunnel vision.  And that’s what happened when I started my couponing adventures.

I spent hours upon hours researching deals, clipping coupons, making detailed shopping lists, and navigating the aisles of multiple stores.  Before I knew it – I’m talking a couple weeks – I had a stockpile of toothpaste, deodorant, and men’s body wash (which I don’t even use) to last me two or three years.  And I’d only paid pennies for all of it.  Needless to say, I. Was. Hooked.

And unfortunately, it was to the detriment of my sweet baby boy’s happiness.  After a few months, he would literally start crying at the sight of my coupon binder.  He knew that seeing it meant he’d be spending the next couple hours sitting in a shopping cart, bored to death.  And this was like five days per week.

Initially, I’d essentially just put a Band-aid over a bullet wound by taking out the coupons I knew I’d need before we left, and putting them in my purse.  So he didn’t freak out over having to see my binder, but instead would experience his anxiety upon entering any store.  I wasn’t fooling him.  And snacks and toys only kept him distracted for a few short minutes, if at all.  How unfair I was being to him!

So then I started squeezing my extreme couponing extravaganzas into lunch breaks and during the hour between getting off work and his daycare closing.  I thought I had it all figured out.  I could save money and not upset my son.  I was proud of myself.

Until one day late last fall, when my electric was disconnected.  I had become so obsessed with couponing, that I completely forgot about having to spend money in any other way.  (I wish I were kidding.)  Fortunately, I had more than enough money for the light bill in my bank account; so it only took a phone call, and everything was up and running again within a couple of hours.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose.  But that’s not the point!  The purpose of extreme couponing is to save money while providing for one’s family and community.  To become a better and more responsible steward of one’s financial resources in order to maximize quality time with loved ones.  And I had ultimately failed at doing so by wasting precious time with my son and neglecting to pay a basic utility bill.

How You Can Avoid this Kind of Buyer’s Remorse

As I said, the world of extreme couponing is an exciting place.  Once you know what you’re doing, it’s easy for it to become an obsession.  And it can overwhelm you, taking over your life and your home, if you let it.  You must always remember to prioritize and to maintain balance.

  • Be sure the savings are worth your time and effort.
    • You can save $10,000-plus per year by using coupons.  Of course, you’d have to use a lot of them, and you’ve already read that you won’t actually use the vast majority of your stash.  But you likely will still save several thousands of dollars by using only the ones you need (just depends on your family’s needs and buying habits).  That kind of money may be a big deal to some, yet would not be missed by others.  It’s up to you to decide.
    • In The Money Saving Mom’s Budget, Crystal Paine quantifies the value of her time.  She wrote:  “…if I’m not saving at least$20 per hour by implementing a particular frugal practice, then I’d rather invest my time elsewhere…  my time is more valuable than saving less than minimum wage per hour.”
      • Note:  Clipping coupons shouldn’t take you more than about two hours per week.  Planning shopping trips can take just as long.  And then, you actually have to do the shopping.  Here is where you calculate your savings per hour.
  • Prioritize.
    • If you’re a parent, try to only clip coupons, create store match-ups and shopping lists, and shop when your children are sleeping or away from home.  If you’re a student, don’t do these things until you’ve finished studying or completed your homework.  And so on…
    • Stick to your budget.  Just because your favorite body wash is on sale this week does not necessarily mean that you can afford it.  If money’s tight, and you have enough of what you need to last you until the next sale, then wait.
    • If you’re not going to use it, gift it, or donate it, don’t buy it!!
  • Pace yourself. 

Because in reality, it’s not really that great a deal when more important parts of your life – like spending time with your children or paying your (read:  my) utility bills – suffer because of couponing tunnel vision.  I can almost guarantee that when you are on your deathbed, you won’t be thinking, “I wish I had spent more time extreme couponing.”  You’ll more likely be wishing you’d had more time with your family inside a happy home (where the lights were always on).

photo credit

40-Day Lent Challenge: Days 20-27

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photo credit: ctklansing

On Ash Wednesday, I outlined my goals for Lent. Here’s how I fared on Days 20-27……

Counting My Blessings – Five Things for Which I Am Thankful (listed in no particular order & without explanation):

  • Day 20
    • The mild winter we’ve had.
    • Weather forecasts, especially via smartphone app!
    • Vaccinations
    • Freezers
    • Dishwashers
  • Day 21
    • Newspapers
    • Nail Polish
    • Bricks
    • Vitamins
    • Public Transportation
  • Day 22
    • Tums
    • Acetaminophen
    • Elastic Pony Tail Bands, especially the ones without metal clasps!!
    • Wide-toothed combs
    • Dentists
  • Day 23
    • Insurance, most kinds
    • Vacations
    • Sunscreen
    • The Bible
    • Public Parks
  • Day 24
    • Freeways
    • Fuel Alternatives
    • The United States Military
    • Blog Hosting, especially when it’s free!
    • Cotton
  • Day 25
    • Children’s toys, movies, etc. using more diverse races & more realistic body shapes
    • Lasers
    • Pets, especially dogs (even though I’m allergic)
    • Friends, the sitcom.  And the series box set.  One of my most prized possessions.  Has provided me with countless laughs.
    • Recipe Web sites
  • Day 26
    • The Internet
    • History Books, Museums, etc.
    • Editors
    • Increased tolerance for and acceptance of multiracial children/people
    • Epidurals
  • Day 27
    • Mechanically Inclined People
    • Caregivers, Aides
    • The Ability to Hear
    • Able Hands & An Able Body
    • Chicago Radio Stations.  I know I said on another day that I am thankful for free radio.  But after spending two years in Indianapolis, I am specifically grateful for good radio stations.  Indianapolis, you have quite a way left to go.

Fasting Research of the Day: 

Nonprofit/Charity of the Day:

Swear Jar Contribution: 

  • Day 20 – $0.00
  • Day 21 – $0.00
  • Day 22 – $0.25
  • Day 23 – $0.25
  • Day 24 – $1.50
  • Day 25 – $0.75
  • Day 26 – $0.50
  • Day 27 – $0.00

Stockpile Item to Donate:  

  • Day 20 – Pepto Bismol Max Strength, 12 oz.
  • Day 21 – Zarbee’s All-Natural Children’s Cough Syrup, 4 oz.
  • Day 22 – Barilla Medium Shells, 1 lb.
  • Day 23 – Barilla Farfalle, 1 lb.
  • Day 24 – Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup, (2) 10 3/4 oz. cans
  • Day 25 – Jif Creamy Peanut Butter, 18 oz.
  • Day 26 – Campbell’s Spaghettios, (2) 15 oz. cans
  • Day 27 – Bush’s Best Boston Recipe Baked Beans, 28 oz. can

If anyone else is doing something special for Lent and could use some encouragement, please feel free to leave a comment about it!

Other Posts in This Series: