Why We Love Little Critter

006My son is 5, almost 6, and his kindergarten teacher recently sent home a form to fill out about his upcoming birthday celebration at school.  She requested that instead of sending a treat (since he’s in an allergy room), one of us brings in a story to read to the class.  The story he chose is “Just Grandma and Me” by Mercer Mayer.  This choice, may sound a little strange to you, but makes perfect sense to me and I’ll explain why.


The Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer have always been some of his favorite books.  The stories are simple and cute and are just about everyday life from the perspective of a little kid.  But it’s not really the stories that make these books so perfect.  The illustrations tell much more of the story.  For example, in “Just my Friend and Me” Little Critter is telling about a playdate with his friend and the words are saying what a great time they’re having, but the pictures show how his friend is being kind of a jerk.

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It’s also in the facial expressions of the characters.  Certain faces in the story “Just for you” have my son cracking up as soon as I turn the page.  He especially loves it when I read the book with a silly voice.  In the Christmas one, he loves the page where Little Critter sits on his dad’s head to put the star on top of the tree, because he’s naked!

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One of his favorite parts in “Just Shopping With Mom” is when Little Critter’s sister is begging for candy, and his mom asks her, “Would you like a spanking instead?”  (This would never be published these days) but it’s so funny, because it seems like a normal everyday threat by this mom.  My son just loves it, because he’s always trying to get his sister in trouble, and being the lover of anything violent, I can see those wheels turning in his head when he thinks about the possibility of his own sister being spanked.

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So one day, while reading “Just Grandma and Me”, I decided to surprise him at the end of the story, and it went like this:  “We had a good time at the beach, just Grandma and me.  AND THEN SHE SPANKED ME!!!!”


He was literally rolling on the floor laughing so hard that of course I joined in, and everyone had to come over and see what was so funny.  When I told my husband, he totally didn’t get it and looked at me like I was weird.  I guess you had to be there.  But anyway, that’s why this is my son’s new favorite book, and why he chose it to be read to his class for his birthday.  So now I have to decide if I should read it to the class that way with the”special” ending, and totally make my son’s day (and get a strange look from his teacher to be sure), or if I should just read it as it was written, and look like a completely normal mom?  I haven’t decided yet.

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One more thing I have to say about the pictures in these books.  There’s usually a little cricket and a spider on every page that are fun to look for making it kind of like an I Spy book and just adding to the general awesomeness of these books.  Good job, Mercer Mayer, and thanks for the years of fun and entertainment.  Kids grow up too damn fast, so I’ll definitely be saving these for my grandkids.  AND THEN I’LL SPANK THEM!!!!  Ha ha, just kidding.


Homemade Birthday Cakes

We’ve had some serious fun making B-day cakes over the years for the kiddos.  They haven’t always turned out quite the way they were imagined, but they were always delicious and always loved.  I think homemade B-day cakes are yummier, less expensive and a lot more personal than the store bought ones.  They might not always look better, but they are like an extra “I love you” to the birthday person.  Here are some of my homemade beauties and not so beauties of the past.


This number 1 cake was for my little boy when he turned 1.  It was super easy to make by just cutting up a 13×9 inch cake into the necessary shapes, laying it out, then frosting and decorating it.  The other kids helped with the sprinkles and eating the leftover cake scraps.


This puppy dog cake was made with 2 round cakes.  One for the face, and the other for the ears and collar.  We used Whoppers for the eyes and nose, and jelly beans for the collar.  You can see how the kids “cleaned” the frosting off the tray with their fingers.  (mmmm…germs)


This Barbie cake was one of my favorites.  It was made by baking the cake in two round bowl shaped pans, then stacked and carved until it looked like it could be the bottom of a dress.  The fun part was jamming the naked Barbie into the cake.  Then we gave her a frosting dress.  It turned out cute, and my daughter loved it.


This truck cake was trickier than it looks.  It was made with one cake baked in a loaf pan, and the other baked in a square or 13×9 pan (sorry, I can’t remember.)  It was then carved to look truckish.  We used donuts for the wheels, and crushed up cookies mixed with chocolate frosting for the dirt and mud.  The grass was green colored coconut, and the windows were blue Airheads, flattened, and cut into window shapes.


This is supposed to be a Gotham City cake.  I baked a couple of cakes, then cut and stacked them to form buildings.  I’m pretty sure there’s some chopsticks in there holding it all together.  Then it was frosted gray.  Using a toothpick, I created some outlines of bricks.  The windows and doors are yellow Starbursts and chocolate bars.  There’s marshmallows for Mr. Freeze, and red and yellow sprinkles for Flash’s fire path.  We topped it off with a Bat Signal made from construction paper, and put all the Imaginext super heroes on the cake.  It’s a little saggy and slopey, but the little boy thought it was totally cool, and his was the only opinion that mattered to me.


This was an ice cream cake that I made in a spring-form pan.  Ice cream cakes are surprisingly easy to make.  I made an Oreo crumb crust, filled it with softened vanilla ice cream, then decorated it with sundae toppings and placed it into the freezer to firm up.  It was delicious and great for a summer birthday when you don’t want to turn on the oven.


I made these when my boy was seriously into Indiana Jones.  If you are unaware, they eat chilled monkey brains in the first movie, so I decided to make monkey brain cakes.  First I baked little round cakes for the heads (I think I baked them in mugs).  Then I frosted them gray.  I used black food coloring to make black coconut for the fur.  Chocolate chips for the eyes and black icing for the face.  The brains are whipped cream with mashed up strawberries.  They looked so weird and gross, that nobody wanted one at first.  Ha ha, success!  They did taste really good though.


This was my birthday pie that my kids and husband made.  (okay, okay, I helped.)  They did a really good job, especially considering they didn’t cheat and use store-bought pie crust.  Aren’t I lucky?  Although not a cake, it still counts as a birthday cake in my opinion.

There have been many more than this over the years (hello, 4 kids), but these are the ones that I could find pictures of.  Ugh, so lazy and disorganized.  Someday I’ll get it together.

Regrowing Scallions

I love learning new money saving tips and tricks like this one: Regrowing Scallions written by Chase & Chance’s mom on her blog, ChasenChanceRanch.  This is something I had no idea you could do!  

Saving and reusing scallions kept alive in a little water.  She’s a genius.  You gotta check out her blog.  It’s full of cool stuff like this.

Cute Candy Valentines

I made these sweet valentines for my kids last year using chocolate candies and scrap book paper.  Scrap book paper can be found at your local craft stores.  You can buy it in stacks of about 200 sheets for about 10 bucks!  There are many different patterns in each stack.  It is our go-to paper for all card making and other crafts.

These valentines were easy and fun to make.  Just cut out cute shapes of your paper, and glue them on the way you want.  Add chocolate candies to embellish your design.  I used chocolate hearts and kisses.



The kids were delighted to get these when they got home from school on Valentines Day.

Some other fun gift ideas for the kiddos on V-day are:

Coupon Books – make your own paper coupons for the kids to “spend”.  You can make them for things like a treat at the store, their choice of dinner night, hugs and kisses (my fav), read a story, trip to the mall (ugh), etc.

Scavenger Hunt – hide clues around the house making sure each clue leads to the next hidden clue.  At the end of the hunt, have the last clue point to the “treasure” (a small box of candy or a valentine gift).

Happy Valentines Day!  Love to you all!

Books to Inspire a Lifetime of Reading

First of all, I have to say that books are way better than any TV show, movie, or video game.  Even for just entertainment value alone, they’re better.  They can transport you to another time and place, even into another life!  They can make you laugh, cry, scared shitless, or fall in love.  They’re portable, pausable, cheap or free (with a library card), free of commercials and advertisements, cordless, and they won’t ask you for your email address.  When you add in all the educational benefits, such as reading and writing skills, improved vocabulary, spelling, grammar, empathy, and depending on the genre, history, geography, sciences, and every other subject known to man,  I would say there’s no question of their worth and importance.

So, how do we get our children to discover this great and wonderful world of literature?

I have to admit, there’s some sort of break, or stepping stone that is or was missing between Mommy reading picture books to the little ones, and the point when they would seek out books that they actually like and have the skill to read to themselves.  I don’t know if my kids just didn’t like the type of stories available in the early reader books, or if they just didn’t have the reading skills necessary yet to truly enjoy them.  When reading is frustrating and feels like a chore, it’s hard to love books.

Step one is finding a book that your kid will like.  This is probably the hardest step for most parents and kids.  I realized that just because I liked reading it when I was their age, doesn’t mean that they will get into it.  But I’ll share with you my childhood favorites along with the ones that my older kids really enjoyed.

The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls-Wilder –  My mom got me the set, and I think I read them all in 3rd grade.  I liked these books because they were easy to read, and I loved learning about the way people lived back in the pioneer days.

 Charlotte’s Web & Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White – Beautifully written, adorably fun books personifying animals that appeal to young readers.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – Just an amazing story with characters your kids will become best friends with.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis –  Awesome adventure books for boys and girls.  These books opened my eyes to the possibility of a fantasy world.  By the time I was done reading these, I remember wanting to marry C.S Lewis so he could tell me stories all night long.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – I have wonderful memories reading these books with my mom.  We would take turn reading chapters as we laid side by side in her big cosy bed.  I know she loved these books as much as I did, maybe even more!

Warriors by Erin Hunter – Autumn’s first favorite books.  She would spend hours reading these books which was amazing to me after years of struggling to get her to do her daily reading requirement for school.  These books are really good though.  I read a few of them myself, and they remind me of Native American tribes, but they’re cats!  Very cool idea.  No wonder they’re so popular with both boys and girls.

Maximum Ride by James Patterson – Gabby’s first favorite books.  She started reading these in 5th grade and couldn’t wait for he next one to come out so she could read it in one day!  These books are full of action and the characters are mysterious, powerful and hilariously rude.  Great books for teens and pre-teens.

This short list is only a few of the great books that are out there for reluctant readers to get started on.  When your child finds out how awesome reading can be, they will be readers for life.  So once you’ve gotten all the good books you and your kids picked out, they have to actually make time to read them.  There are so many more entertaining distractions now a days then there were when I was a kid.  (And I’m only 36!)

One of the ways my parents got me to want to read was with a bedtime rule.  This was before most kids had TVs in their bedrooms, so it was probably a little easier for them.  But we had to go to bed at 9 o’clock, and we were allowed to read ’till 10.  Since we weren’t that tired yet at 9, and there was nothing else to do, we read.  Though I would usually keep reading till I fell asleep, and probably strained my eyes too much trying to read in the dark after my parents told me “lights out”.  It might be a little harder these days for us to get our kids to turn off all devices and pick up a book, but if we stick to our guns and make it a rule, it will work.  Someday your kids will thank you for it.

Another way to help your young reader enjoy the books they want to read but might be getting stuck on, is to read with them.  I know it’s easier said than done, and I don’t know how my mom found time to do it with us 4 kids.  It is my goal this year to schedule 30 min. a day to read with my 10 yr old.  She hasn’t found her love of books yet.  She likes some of them, but she’s not in love.  When you know, you know.  Since she isn’t very motivated to find her true love, Momma’s gonna have to but in and help her.

Then, look out little boy… you’re next!  Ha ha ha!  (Too creepy?  Yeah, I think I went a little too far there.  Sorry about that.)

So, what are your family’s favorite books for all the young readers out there searching for something great?

Best Toys List

I wanted to write a post about the best toys we’ve ever had or those of you looking for some good ideas for Christmas presents.  These are toys that have have stood the test of time, and are the most played with and the most enjoyed by all my kids.  They aren’t the newest, and most high-tech toys, but I think they’re the ones that no kid should grow up without.

  • #1 Toy Kitchen– Our kitchen is the best, most played with toy we have.  We got our play kitchen back in 2002.  It’s a little beat up, and has needed some tightening of the screws from time to time, but considering the amount of use we’ve gotten out of it, it’s still in pretty good condition.  My kids play house, store, or restaurant with it, they pretend to cook, and make us delicious meals.  They even make food out of play-doh, and pretend to bake it in their kitchen.  Add a cash register (another good toy to have), and your kids will be entertained with imaginative play for hours.

Play Kitchen    Open Kitchen    Boy with Kichen

We got ours from Target about 10 years ago, I believe it’s a Melissa and Doug toy.  If you’re looking for something similar, here’s what I would recommend: Melissa and Doug Cook’s Corner Wooden Kitchen, or Deluxe Pretend Play Kitchen
Cook's Corner Wooden Play Kitchen
                        Deluxe Pretend Play Kitchen

  • #2 Building Blocks- Legos, Mega Blocks, wooden blocks, etc.  They’re all fun.  We started out with wooden blocks and some Mega Blocks when the kids were little.  As they got older, Grandma bought them a big bin of Legos (just watch out for little pieces if you have babies boppin’ around).  Since then, we’ve added some Lego building sets over the years, and now have a pretty big assortment.  Most of the Lego sets started off being built according to the directions, and were fun to play with.  As they fell apart, they’ve been used to build other things.  Watch The Lego Movie, then you’ll feel better about that.  By the way, I have to mention the Lego movies and video games are fantastic too and enjoyable for the whole family.

Lego Bin    Legos    Boy with Legos

Here are the Lego Bucket and Wooden Block Set that I would recommend getting started with:


  • #3 Wooden Train Track

We got our first wooden train set from Grandma when our oldest child was little.  Grandma got it for her because all of her kids liked theirs so much.  It wasn’t something our little girl had asked for, but when she saw it, her eyes lit up, and she played with it daily for hours at a time.  We’ve added some more tracks and trains over the years which has been easy since it seems they’re all universal and fit pretty well with each other. It’s not only fun to set up, but the kids have to use their sense of ingenuity to figure out how to put the pieces together to make it work.  Once it’s all set up, they can play and pretend the train is making deliveries and what not.  Add their building blocks to the mix, and they can set up a whole town!

Train Set    Kids Train Set    Train

Here’s one I found on Amazon that looks pretty good:

  • #4 Schleich Animals

Schleich animals are awesome!  They’re durable, educational, very realistic looking, and offer some great imaginative adventures to be had.  We started our collection when our little horse-loving girls wanted some toy horses to play with.  They had a few Breyer horses, which are also nice, but the Schleich line has so many more animal choices.  After a few birthdays and Christmasses, we had a decent size collection.  These animals are one thing my kids still haven’t out grown.  They love to dump out the bin, and organize the animals into groups, then they set them up, and play!  They have all different animals from all over the world, even mythical ones like unicorns, fairies, and dragons.

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We’ve had different doll houses and even barns over the years.  Some things we’ve had to get rid of when we’ve moved due to space.  Right now we have this Barbie house.  It has it’s pros and cons, but in general, doll houses are lots of fun.  I would suggest getting one that’s big enough to fit dolls the size of Barbies, since they’re such a popular toy, if you have girls.  My little boy has the Imaginext Bat Cave, which is basically like a dollhouse for Batman and his other guys.  They’re fun to set up, and my kids play little scenarios inside and out of their houses/playsets.


If I had it to do over again, I would probably get one like this KidKraft Sparkle Mansion.  It looks huge, and it costs less than what I paid for our Barbie one:

  • #6 Keyboard

Keyboards are great for little kids because they don’t have to know how to play it to make some beautiful music.  As they get older, they can learn the notes and once they learn how to read music, they can play actual songs on it.  Most keyboards also have buttons that play prerecorded songs and drum beats.  They also have buttons that change the sounds of the music to sound like all different kinds of instruments.  My kids like to jam out on it and dance to the music.  It’s a great way to introduce music to your children’s lives at a young age, and they are so proud of themselves when they can show off the songs they’ve made.  I’ve always wanted a piano in the house, but never had the space or money for one.  Keyboards are a great alternative, and relatively inexpensive depending on what you’re looking for.

Keyboard    Boy Playing Keyboard    Keyboarding

This 54 Keys Keyboard Electronic Digital Piano looks like it would be good for kids to play on, and not too expensive:

This year, I’d like to get the kids one of those easels with the paper on one side, and chalkboard on the other. I’m thinking about getting this one from Melissa and Doug:


Any recommendations?

What are some of the great toys your family has enjoyed playing with?

Homemade Gifts for Grandparents

I wanted to share with you some fun and easy homemade gifts your kids can make and give to their grandparents, teachers, bus drivers, or whoever!  Grandparents are great.  And no matter what your kids make them, they’ll love it.  I think homemade gifts are so much more meaningful and appreciated than anything you could buy them.  Especially when you think they already have everything they would need or want.

Family Photo Calendar

Photo Calendar

These make great Christmas gifts just in time for the new year.  You can design your own cover photo, and we like to put in the photos from the past year according to the months they were taken.  We make one of these every year for each set of grandparents.  I get ours printed at the Walmart Photo Dept.  Simply go to Walmart.com then follow the links in the Photo Dept. page to create your own photo calendar.  They are much appreciated by the grandparents who live far away, and don’t get to see their grandkids as often as they would like to.

Shadow Silhouette Picture


This is a relatively easy gift idea, and gives a classy and homemade look to the pictures of your kids.  First, take pictures of your kids facing to the side making sure they’re about the same size.  Next, print the pictures out, and carefully trim around their heads.  Use the printed out pictures as a template to trace them onto paper.  We used fancy scrapbook paper to trace the silhouettes onto.  Carefully trim out the paper along the lines you traced.  (This is the hardest part.  I had my artistic daughter do this step for me.)  Trim, until the silhouette looks like that of your child.  Mount with a thin layer of crafting glue onto paper that complements the paper you chose for the silhouette.  Pop them into a nice frame, and your done!

Scrabble Art

Grandparents Day

Use Scrabble letters to decorate photos or just make a cool design out of your kids’ names and frame it.  You can also make things out of the Scrabble letters like coasters or small boxes.  This time of year, you can usually find Scrabble games pretty cheap.

Hand Print Art


This is a sweet gift for grandparents when your kids still have cute little hands.  You can take anything from towels to a T-shirt and decorate it with your child’s hand prints.  There are some cute patterns you can do, or just a random one looks cool.  Be sure to use washable fabric paint so the grandparents can actually use them and wash them.  Another cute idea is to use your baby’s foot prints for this project.

Homemade Ornaments


We’ve made these in past years using pictures of the kids as part of the ornament.  I used cookie cutters in Christmassy shapes to trace and cut out of cardboard.  I also used popsicle sticks to glue together in a star shape.  Once I did this step, we glued on the pictures of their faces, then I gave them the freedom to decorate them as they liked.  You can use things like glitter, jiggly eyes, pom- poms, cotton balls, etc.  Then you glue on a ribbon for hanging.  Now the kids’ grandparents can see the cute little faces of their grandchildren every time they decorate their tree.

We’ve also made ornaments out of cinnamon and glue which worked out beautifully.  Get my recipe for Cinnamon Ornaments!

Yummy Stuff


We like to make homemade candies like toffee and fudge, or just a sampling of our favorite Christmas cookies and put them in a festive tin.  The kids can help out with the mixing and cookie decorating.  We’ve also made gingerbread houses for the Grams and Gramps, then on New Years Eve, we come over, and help them smash it and eat it. Gingerbread House Recipe.

Whatever you decide to make, try to let the kids do as much as possible to really make it be from them.  It might be hard not to step in and make it look perfect, but the receivers of their gifts will know that it came from the hearts of the little ones they love.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

These cookies are delicious.  They remind me of brownies and chocolate covered cherries all in one amazing cookie.  They disappear fast, so make sure you try one first.  Someone has to be in charge of quality control, right?


1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 (10 oz.) jar maraschino cherries
1 (6 oz.) pkg. chocolate chips
1/2 c. condensed milk

Preheat oven to 30 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In mixer bowl, beat together butter and sugar on low speed until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. Gradually add dry ingredients to creamed mixture; beat until well blended.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls;  place on ungreased cookie sheet. Press down center of ball with thumb (not too deep).

Drain cherries, reserving juice. Place a cherry in the center of each cookie.

In small saucepan, combine chocolate chips and condensed milk; heat until chocolate is melted. Stir in 4 teaspoons of reserved cherry juice. Spoon about 1 teaspoon frosting over each cherry, spreading to cover cherry. Frosting may be thinned with cherry juice.

Bake for 10 minutes or until done.  Yield; 4 dozen.

Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps

These cookies are so easy to make, and they are full of holiday flavor.  They are crispy and sweet and go great with a glass of cold milk or egg nog.  To pretty them up a bit more and make them even yummier, try dipping them halfway in some melted white chocolate and allow to dry.  Either way, this Ginger Snaps recipe is outstanding.  They’re great to give as gifts too because they stay fresher longer than most Christmas cookies, and don’t break and fall apart as easily.  I’ve even shipped them in the mail before, and they arrived unbroken.


1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/3 cup white sugar for decoration


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 C)

In a large bowl, mix together the brown sugar, oil, molasses, and egg.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger; stir into the molasses mixture.  Roll dough into 1 1/4 inch balls.  Roll each ball in white sugar before placing 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in preheated oven, or until center is firm.  Cool on wire racks.

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

These cookies are one of my personal favorites.  They are soooooo good when fresh and warm right out of the oven.  Mouth-burn worthy!  And, they’re easy to make!  No rolling out dough business here.  If you can make chocolate chip cookies, you can make these.  And if you’re on a budget, like me, you can sub the macadamia nuts for less expensive walnuts, and they’re just as yummy.


1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup dried cranberries, chopped

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

3/4 cup macadamia nuts, chopped


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheet with parchment paper.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and both sugars together until smooth. Add the vanilla and egg, mixing well. Sift together the flour and baking soda. Spoon the flour mixture gradually into the creamed sugar mixture. Stir in the cranberries, white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts.

Drop by heaping spoonfuls, about 2 tablespoons, onto the prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time until lightly golden on top and the edges are set, 12 to 15 minutes.

Cool on the sheet about 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.