Nov 3

Rock Candy - Complete

Brandy at Gluesticks has been playing around with making different types of home-made candy. Apparently homemade rock candy is incredibly easy to make. There are many variations and links online to help you along the way, but thankfully she shared her version of a successful recipe.

Project estimate::

  • Sugar (lots of sugar), on hand or up to $5
  • Water, on hand
  • Food Coloring, on hand or up to $2
  • Bamboo Skewers, on hand or $1
  • Funnel, on hand or $1
  • Jars or Glass Cups, on hand
  • Clothespins, on hand or $1

Total cost: Free or up to $10


After following her instructions, just wait 7 days, and voila! She had a great time watching them grow and sampling the finished product. She did not add any flavorings to hers, just sugar and water, but it might be fun to try that sometime.

Nov 22

Impersonal gifts – the ones you give to teachers, party hostesses, coworkers, your local mail carrier or UPS driver… you want them to be cheap per piece, easy enough to make in an assembly line style, and impressive enough to get your message across (“Thank You!” or “I appreciate what you do!”). Generally, anything you can assemble from raw ingredients (cooking or otherwise) are going to be your best bets. Something like bath salts, pumpkin bread, homemade candy, or a quick and easy craft.

Here are some ideas:

Those should get you started! Share your good ideas — what are you planning to make this year?

Oct 31

I have made about eight costumes this year for my freelance writing jobs, but of course, my kids wanted to dress up as something else! So, this week, I got a bunch of felt yardage and made food costumes for each of my three boys. I discovered how wonderful felt is for costume-making!

Pros:

  • It’s cheap and
  • comes in really wide yardage (about $3.69 per yard, and 72″ wide, which is amazing)
  • cuts and sews up easily
  • comes in many bright colors
  • and it doesn’t unravel so you don’t have to finish the edges

It really is a fabulous fabric for costumes! There are cons, but they are not really a drawback for costumes:

Cons:

  • Will start looking shabby on clothing with prolonged use
  • Better for decorative projects (instead of projects that will see heavy use)

Neither of these things really matter with a costume that will probably be used for one day and no more. (But even if the costume is used again, it will probably hold up well enough for playtime).

The Costumes

My oldest son wanted to be a piece of pizza for Halloween. What a fun and unique idea! I made it like a very large pizza-shaped bib. Instructions are posted at Dollar Store Crafts:

Make a Pizza Costume

My middle son wanted to wear a candy corn costume. How funny that both boys wanted to dress like triangular food! The candy corn costume is basically a smock or simple A-line shift made out of felt. This costume was simple to make, and took about 30 minutes to sew. Instructions posted at Dollar Store Crafts:

Make a Candy Corn Costume

Because the older two boys wanted to be triangular food, I made a triangular food costume for my youngest son, too. His costume is either a watermelon or a strawberry (but I decided it looks more like a strawberry). This costume is kind of like a short-sleeved poncho. Again, instructions at Dollar Store Crafts:

How to Make a Strawberry Costume

If you want to see the other costumes I made this year, look at these links:

Oct 25

wax tart skull

I got these silicone ice cube molds at the dollar store that are shaped like skulls. I thought of several projects you could make with them, and have posted tutorials for a bunch of them over at Dollar Store Crafts. I didn’t realize just how fun a one dollar mold could be! I still have four or five ideas I haven’t had time to make yet.

Recycled Wax Tarts are my most recent project (photo at top of post). Wax tarts are scented wax you can use in a potpourri warmer. I made them from recycled wax off of a cheese – yes, yes you can do that!

Molded Papier-Mache: this technique was new to me, and made for fun teeny tiny Day of the Dead calavera decorations.

Molded Sugar Skulls: a fun twist on traditional sugar skulls, and you can eat them! Serve them with coffee or tea.

Melt & Pour Soap on a Rope: cheap ‘n easy soapmaking project using the dollar store skull mold.

A few other silicone mold crafts:

Oct 4

Make a Peg Family

by Heather Mann, Dollar Store Crafts

I wanted to make peg people for SO long before I made these ones — I had the pegs in my stash for at least two years!  My kids love playing with these little peg versions of our family members – and I think they’re so cute, I want to make a set of them to keep all to myself.

You can use old-fashioned wooden clothespins (find them in the craft or laundry section at your local dollar store), or buy peg doll blanks from your local craft store or on Etsy. . There are different shapes and sizes for males and females, adults, children, toddlers, and babies. I just used the male shape because that’s all my craft store had. If you want more selection, definitely go the Etsy route.

Don’t worry if your drawing/painting skills aren’t as refined as you wish they were. Your children can recognize family members with just the barest suggestion of reality.

You Need:

  • A blank peg doll for each family member
  • Acrylic craft paint
  • Fine paintbrushes (at least one super fine brush is helpful)
  • Clear acrylic spray sealant
  • (optional) Primer

To Make:

1. Prime: If desired, paint pegs with primer before you begin. Allow to dry.

2. Sketch: If you want, while you are waiting for your primer to dry, you can sketch out ideas for how you will dress your people. I decided to paint clothes that we wear regularly. My sons were really excited when they saw little peg versions of themselves wearing clothes they recognized. You can sketch features lightly with pencil on the pegs.

3. Paint skin: Paint the heads and necks with skin colored paint. (Tip: It can be tricky to mix up a good skin color, so you might want to buy a bottle of paint that most closely resembles your skin color. Or not, if you don’t care!)

4. Paint clothing: Paint bottom half of dolls (pants, shorts, skirts, etc.). Allow to dry, then paint shirts. To get a t-shirt collar look, paint all the way up to where the neck narrows. Allow to dry.

5. Paint hair. Paint hair base color and then allow to dry. Add highlights, parts, curls, etc. if desired.

6. Paint eyes: paint white dots for eyes. Allow to dry, then using the appropriate eye color, dot a teeny bit of paint on the white dots to make irises. When that is dry, dot an even smaller black dot in the middle of the iris. When the eyes are completely dry, add a white highlight dot (the smallest one yet) near the top of the irises.

7. Add detail: Now you can add detail to the clothing, hair, and faces. I added an upside-down ‘V’ on the front for pant legs in white, sleeves and arms on the sides of the body, and glasses on the people who wear them. I also painted a tractor on one boy-peg’s shirt, and jammies for the other boy-peg’s shirt. Oh, and don’t forget the mouths!

Don’t worry, if it doesn’t come out the way you want, you can always re-paint it!

8. Seal it: When you’re happy with your peg, spray it with clear acrylic sealer to keep the paint from rubbing off (as it inevitably will when kids play with it). You might want to skip this step if your kids are still young enough to put things in their mouths. Oh, and these are small enough that they could be choking hazards for those kids, too, so better just keep them away from the really-littles.

Alternately: Instead of paint, you can use fine-tipped markers to draw on your pegs. This is a great option for kids, since it’s not quite as messy as paint.

Additional Resources:

Heather Mann is the mom of three boys under 4, and is the founder of DollarStoreCrafts.com, a daily blog about crafting on the cheap, and CraftFail.com, a community blog devoted to sharing our own crafting blunders.

Sep 18

Tomorrow, September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate day! How will you celebrate? Here are some suggestions:

Fun Food:

Make a Treasure Map Quesadilla

Make a Pirate Ship Sandwich

Make a Skull Sandwich

Little Nummies: Make Pirate Sword Snacks

Little Nummies: Make Tricorn Hat Snacks

Have a Party:

Have a Pirate Birthday Party

Clothes:

Make a Cutout Skully Top

Make a 15 second Pirate Tricorn Hat at Dollar Store Crafts

Make a Pirate Do-Rag at Obsessively Stitching

Crafts:

Make a Paper Bag Pirate by Amanda at Kaboose

Printables:

Sep 7

Make Edible Sugar Skulls -written instructions at Dollar Store Crafts.

My son and I made these molded sugar skulls yesterday with a silicone ice cube mold that I got at the dollar store. It was very simple, and my 4 year-old had fun molding and unmolding sugar. After we were done, we just baked them for 10 minutes at 200° F, and they hardened.

I think they’d be a lot of fun to take to work and set next to the coffee maker on Halloween/Day of the Dead. But, I don’t go to work, so I’ll just settle for serving them to my sons next time they have a tea party.

Sep 2

diy indiana jones whip

My sons have been introduced to Indiana Jones via the Lego Indiana Jones games (they’re still too young for the movies), and they like to play Indiana Jones (when my 2 year-old was a bit younger, he would say “I’m Andy Dones!”). I made them each a special Indiana Jones cross-shoulder man bag (what would Indy call that? I don’t know), and I found a couple other cool Indiana Jones Crafts around the internet to share with you.

Whip: First up, the DIY Indiana Jones Bullwhip made out of duct tape, by Skip to My Lou. (See at the top of the post) This one is semi-serious (as in, it could hurt people if used improperly), so save it for the bigger boys. If you have little boys (or girls) who want a whip, try this one:

Play Whip: This whip by Pin and Paper is made of flannel fabric, and is softer and more appropriate for pre-schoolers! Instructions for play whip here, found via One Pretty Thing.

Satchel: Oh, satchel is a more manly name for it! I made this Indiana Jones satchel out of a panel of a leather skirt (thrifted). It came together in about 15 minutes. Instructions for how to make an Indiana Jones bag are at my other site, Dollar Store Crafts.

Hat: These felt hats are amazing! They were made by Anjanette at Roots and Wings Co. and she made up the pattern herself! I wish she would share the pattern! Go check out her amazing Lego Indiana Jones Party and comment to beg for instructions!
Aug 18

I am not a great cook. Cooking is quite a chore for me (yes, I’m a lazy mom), but I enjoy baking. One of my favorite foods to make are muffins! I love how versatile muffins are, and I love that you can throw just about anything in them and they’ll taste good. Growing up, my mom’s muffins ranked as my favorite thing she made for us (even above cookies!).

I have made tons of muffins in my life, and I usually improvise heavily. However, I have learned a few important tricks for making sure your muffins turn out yummy every time.

My Secret Muffin Tricks:

  1. Use enough sugar/sweetener. If you want people to love your muffins, don’t skimp on the sweetener. This is an important point if you’re making muffins to share with others (at work, or as a housewarming gift). If you’re eating them at home when they’re hot, you will still love your muffins even if they only use 1/4 cup sugar. The best muffins are always sweeter, though! And people are used to “muffins” at Starbucks or a bakery, and those things are basically cake.
  2. Always add sugar sprinkles on top. Use either turbinado sugar (“Sugar in the Raw”) or clear sprinkles from the cake decorating aisle. These up your muffin game exponentially.
  3. Make sure there’s a WOW ingredient. Don’t just make muffins with no additions. Plain flour muffins are completely missing the whole point of the muffin. Muffins with shredded veggies will be moist and delicious, and people won’t know why. You can use ugly fruit up and make it delicious in a muffin. You can use up leftovers, even weird ones. If you make juice with a juicer, don’t overlook the leftover pulp as a great addition to muffins. It adds fiber and flavor.
  4. But don’t add too many WOW ingredients. For an improvisational cook, it’s tempting to throw craisins, coconut, AND chocolate chips in a muffin (they’re alliterative!), but trust me when I say you really don’t want to add them all. Choose one, or maybe two. Save your other great ingredients for your next batch.
  5. Use cupcake liners, but grease them with nonstick cooking spray. Pop them into the muffin tins, spray them down, add muffin batter. Nobody wants to lose half their muffin on an unforgiving paper liner.
  6. Don’t overmix. They get tough if you stir them too much.
  7. If you want them to keep a few days longer: add more sugar, more oil. These help to keep them moist longer. Or, pop them in the freezer and they’ll keep for quite awhile.

My favorite base recipe is the Tightwad Gazette Universal Muffin Recipe. I use it as a rough guideline and generally use the following ingredients in a batch of muffins:

A note about sour milk: I like to use multiple leavening tricks because muffins can be notoriously heavy. Therefore, I always use sour milk (milk + vinegar) and baking soda, and it doesn’t hurt to add an extra egg. Blending the egg in the blender also helps!

Mix in a large bowl (dry ingredients):

  • 2.5 cups of flour (white, whole wheat, or any other kind of flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (only if you use vinegar or buttermilk, otherwise, omit – the soda & the vinegar make a reaction that adds lightness)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sweetening ingredient (sugar, honey, etc.)
  • Spices, possibly, as desired

Mix in blender (wet ingredients):

  • 1 cup milk plus 1 tablespoon vinegar (sour milk makes tender, delicious muffins! Or, omit the vinegar and don’t forget to skip the baking soda too.)
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1-3 eggs (3 eggs make a really nice fluffy muffin; 1 egg is more economical)
  • Flavor extract (I like vanilla and/or almond)

Stir dry ingredients together. Blend wet ingredients. Combine in bowl until just mixed. Spoon into paper liners (sprayed with nonstick spray) in muffin tins. Bake at 400 F for 17-20 minutes.

Additions:

Additions can be pretty much anything, from raw or cooked veggies (carrots and zucchini are favorites) to leftover popcorn (yes, you can use it in muffins – it’s pretty good, too!), berries or other fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, healthy stuff (wheat germ, bran), and so on. If you have a leftover that you need to get rid of, you might do well to use it up in a muffin.

You’ll have to decide whether these additions go with the wet ingredients in the blender, or the dry ingredients, or whether you’ll fold them in after the principle ingredients are combined.

To blend or not to blend:

  1. Figure out if you want the addition to be a prominent flavor (if you don’t, then blend it)
  2. Figure out if the item is wet or dry (duh, right?)
  3. Figure out if the item will be mashed beyond recognition unless you fold it in at the very end (I’m looking at you, blueberries!)

If you blend it:

  • The item will be turned into pulp, with nearly no discernible pieces in the muffin. It will also reduce the strength of the flavor of the item. For example: you can blend a ripe banana in the blender and the banana flavor will be harder to detect (it won’t taste like banana bread at all). If you blend blueberries, the delicious berryness will be undetectable. Don’t blend your star ingredient.
  • Instead of chopping them, just blend raw veggies like carrots or zucchini to shred them. Just put them in the blender first with about 2 Tablespoons of liquid. Blend until they’re cut up into small pieces.
  • If you want to add color, shred a bit of the colorful ingredient with the wet ingredients (half a cup of berries will give your muffin a fun tint).
  • If you use a lot of pureed cooked veggies or fruit, your muffins will have a tough outer crust, but added inner moisture. For lower fat muffins, you can omit oil if you use pureed fruit.

If you don’t blend it:

  • You might want to mash it (as in bananas)
  • You might want to fold it in gently after all the ingredients are combined (again, berries)

This info is all by Heather Mann. Please do not reprint in any form without permission!

Aug 10

My older boys are getting old enough to enjoy the occasional movie night, which has been a lot of fun this summer. A couple weeks ago, I took my 4 year-0ld to rent videos while my 2 year-old stayed home to make pizza. When we returned, he had also made a candy pizza! He made it with leftover candy from a recent birthday party, so the toppings were, uh, eclectic. He had a ball making it, though. Look at that proud little face.

The candy toppings on this pizza ranged from sour straws to chocolate-covered sunflower seeds to sour Smarties (as opposed to the non-USA chocolate Smarties). The citric acid-heavy candies did not taste great on the pizza, although the 2 year-old didn’t notice. The 4 year-old stopped eating his pizza after two bites, though!

Despite the interesting flavors of this particular pizza, I think the idea has potential. I have some tips for making it work:

  • Make sure all the candies are in the same flavor family: chocolates together, etc.
  • Avoid sour/citric acidic candies
  • Add sprinkles or nuts
  • Using pizza dough for the crust is fine as long as it’s not garlicky (ours wasn’t, but I’m just sayin’)

Candy pizza was definitely a memorable end to pizza and movie night!

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