Monday, November 28, 2011

DIY: Paper Door Advent Calendar Tutorial

The countdown to Christmas starts early in our house.  It is not long after Christmas presents are open that the kids start asking, "How many days until next Christmas?"  While Christmas is asked about all year long, we officially start our countdown to Christmas on December 1.  We make the requisite paper chains and have a wooden Christmas tree advent calendar I fill with daily treats.  But the advent calendar my kids look forward to the most is this easy and inexpensive paper advent calendar. 

All year long, as I browse through my monthly magazines, I look for pictures of doors and windows to use for our annual advent calendar craft.  I prefer unobstructed pictures of doors and windows (no text) that are taken straight on.  Home magazines are good picks, but magazine ads also have a lot of really great window and door pictures.  I like to mix and match doors and windows of various sizes and designs.  Sometimes I throw in the occasional mirror.  

What makes this advent calendar so much fun are the activities behind the door.  You can customize the activities just for your family.  Most activities are inexpensive or free and can be done at home.  Some of our favorite activities are: make Christmas cookies and give to a neighbor, hang candy canes on the Christmas tree and collect and donate change to a bell ringer.  I will include a longer list of some of the activities we do at the end. 

Materials Needed
Pictures of windows and doors
Craft knife
Pen or marker
Heavy books (optional)

1. Cut out pictures of windows and doors from magazines.  Ads are a great place to find pictures of doors and windows.  You can also find images of windows and doors online and print them out.

2. Arrange on cardstock and adhere.  The amount of cardstock you need varies on the size and placement of doors and windows. For this year's calendar, I used 4 pieces of 12"x12" cardstock.

3. Cut around windows and doors on three sides so they open up. Gently score the "hinges" of the windows and doors, opening each one.
Make cuts so the doors and windows open in different directions.

I used a ruler and a bone folder to score along each hinge.
4. Turn page over and apply adhesive around windows and doors being careful not to get any on the back of the windows and doors.  Adhere this sheet to another piece of cardstock.  If using glue, you may want to place a heavy book on top of each piece while it dries.

5. Write an advent activity inside of each door.  Number each door 1-25.  TIP: Look at the calendar beforehand so you know which days of the week are appropriate for each activity. 

6. Lightly glue each door shut with a dab of glue.  You may need to set a couple of heavy books on each page to get the doors to stay down

My 5 year-old posing with this year's advent calendar. :)
Now your advent calendar is ready for your kids to fight over!  Have a very Merry Christmas!


(Project adapted from Family Fun Magazine)

Sample Activities
Choose three toys to donate to the thrift store 
Drive around and look at Christmas lights
 Wrap a present
Hang candy canes on the Christmas tree
Go to a Christmas party
Make a Christmas craft
Make paper snowflakes
Make cookies for Santa
Go to a museum
Build a fort
Go to McDonald's
Read about the birth of Jesus
Collect and donate change to a bell ringer
Make and send a Christmas card
Go Christmas caroling
Sleep over in the basement
Watch a Christmas movie
Go sledding
Call Grandma and Grandpa
Play family games
Make cookies and give to a neighbor

Friday, November 25, 2011

DIY Paper Punch Christmas Tree Tutorial

I have a growing collection of miniature Christmas trees that I put up around the living room every year.  Most, if not all of them, were bought at various craft stores.  I decided this year that instead of buying a couple of new Christmas trees to add to my collection that I would make some instead.  

This paper punch Christmas tree is super easy and inexpensive.  It is perfect for using up those pesky paper scraps you don't know what to do with!

Paper scraps
Paper or chipboard cone
Circle punch (I used 1 1/4" punch)

1. Punch out a bunch of circles.  For my Christmas tree I used a 1 1/4" circle punch.  The cone I used is 10.5" tall and I used about 125 circles. 

2. Gently curl the ends of each circle around a wooden dowel or round pencil. 

3. Adhere circles in concentric circles starting at the bottom of the cone and moving your way to the top.  I used Glue Dots adhesive for a strong, instant bond.  

4. Finish the top of your tree with a bow or other ribbon accent.  Now you're done and have a fabulous Christmas tree!
My finished paper punch Christmas tree!
My sister Lindsay's paper punch Christmas tree.

(Thank you Lindsay for being my fabulous hand model!)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

FREE SHIPPING! Black Friday through Cyber Monday

Enter coupon code BLACKFRIDAY at checkout
I am offering FREE SHIPPING on ALL items in my Etsy shop all weekend long!  The promo starts on Black Friday and ends on Cyber Monday (Nov. 25-28). 

Order your Christmas cards and Christmas gifts this weekend!  You can stock up on other greeting cards for the year to come! Free shipping also applies to custom orders placed during this promotion.

Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Disable In-app Purchases on iPod, iPad, etc.

This was a lesson learned the hard way.  Very early last Thursday morning my husband came in and told me our 7 y.o. son was in big trouble.  After asking why, I learned that he had bought nearly $200 worth of dragons for his favorite iPod app, Dragonvale.

The back story: My son has been coveting the highly elusive Rainbow Dragon for quite some time.  While I don't know much about Dragonvale, I know that you raise and breed dragons, and the Rainbow dragon is the most difficult to breed.  One has to acquire several different dragons over a period of time in order to be able to breed the Rainbow dragon.  Or, if you have little patience and about $65, you can just buy the Rainbow dragon without having to play the game. So, not only did he buy one Rainbow dragon, he bought three. 

Apparently my son came in early in the morning and said, "DAD, DAD!  I bred the Rainbow dragon!"  Knowing how important this is to our son, my husband quickly congratulated him.  A short while later my son quietly confessed, "Wait, did I say 'breed'?  I meant 'bought'?"

Somewhat amazingly, neither of us freaked out at him.  We were pleased by his willingness to come forward but his gaming privileges are still revoked for a while.  

Long story short, Apple issued us a one-time refund and in the email provided us with detailed instructions on how to disable in-app purchases.  The instructions are as follows:

If you would like to prevent In-App Purchases from being made in the future, you can block them on your iOS device. Follow these steps:

1) Tap Settings on your device's home screen.

2) Tap General.

3) Tap Restrictions.

4) If necessary, tap Enable Restrictions and enter a passcode. This passcode will prevent restrictions from being disabled without your permission.

5) Scroll down to the Allowed Content section. Switch the In-App Purchases option to OFF. Enter your Restrictions passcode if prompted.

After talking with some friends and reading accounts on the internet, charges racked up by children are common.  Save yourselves the trouble and disable your in-app purchases today!

Good luck!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me! FREE SHIPPING All Day!

Today is my 34th birthday so my gift to you is FREE SHIPPING on all orders placed today.  Enter coupon code BIRTHDAY at checkout.  That's it!  I have a bunch of Christmas card offerings so you can stock up for the upcoming holiday season.  Free shipping applies to all custom orders placed today, too!  Happy shopping!

Click HERE to go directly to my store. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Cut and Clean Leeks the Easy Way! (and a fantastic recipe)

If you have never heard of or cooked with a leek before, they may seem a bit intimidating.  At the check-out stand at the grocery store, I often get asked, "What is that?"  Leeks are part of the onion family and have a similar growth pattern.  In essence, they look like a giant green onion.  They have a mild onion-type flavor and they are well suited for soups and stews. 

Because the leaves of leeks grow very tightly, they often retain a lot of dirt despite being washed prior to sale at the grocery store.  There are lots of ways to clean a leek, but this is what works for me.  

First, chop off the top and bottom of the leek.  The greens can be a bit tough, but I like to leave a little bit for added color. 

Second, slice the leek straight down the middle.  Remove the outer most leaves.  

Ewww!  Dirty leaves!
Next, slice the leeks into 1/4 inch segments and place into a salad spinner.

Fill the salad spinner with cold water and vigorously agitate the leaves with your hand.  This will loosen the leaves and remove the dirt.  Rinse and repeat. 

Dry the leeks with the salad spinner to remove excess water.  Now they are ready to cook or freeze!

If freezing, lightly pack leeks in a zip top freezer bag.  Frozen leeks will not be good used raw, but will be excellent in soups or stews. 

Fresh or frozen leeks work really well in the recipe below.  It is a family favorite!

Summer Chowder
2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 large leek, chopped and cleaned
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 C milk
3 T flour
3 C chicken or vegetable broth
2 C corn, fresh or frozen
2-2.5 lbs. cubed red or gold potatoes
1 t salt
1/4 t pepper

1. Heat butter and oil in pot.
2. Add leek, celery and pepper and cook until tender
3. Whisk together milk and flour
4. Add milk, broth, potatoes, corn, S&P
5. Bring to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer about 20 min. or until potatoes are tender

Add in Maille whole grain dijon mustard or curry spices for some additional zing!