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DIY Thrift Store Advent Calendar!

This year, our first in our new home, I figured we should do something different, something special for the holidays.  So I decided to put together a thrift store (second hand or previously enjoyed) advent calendar.  Thus far, it’s been a really big hit!

We’ve all had those store bought advent calendars with the icky pieces of low quality chocolate behind each window, counting down the days to the holidays.  Well, the thrift store advent calendar may count down the days to the holidays, but it’s WAY more fun, and really wasn’t all that expensive either.  It may be a little late for you to make one for this year, but I’ll talk you through the process anyway.  I have a feeling it may be one other kids would enjoy too.

Step One:  Collect the Goodies!

Every kid, or kid at heart, has something little they really enjoy.  For Lily-Ann I knew I could find a ton of little My Little Pony and Littlest Petshop items in thrift stores and from my fellow collectors at the MLPTP (an online forum).  Used toy cars, and other collectibles would also be great, and for the bigger kids in your life I’m sure there are all sorts of things you could find – think about their favourite things and just go from there.

Step Two:  Decide on Packaging!

You’ll also need packaging for your advent calendar.  We went cute and inexpensive with these little craft baggies.  I actually found them in the baking section at Michael’s, and they were only a few dollars a pack.  I bought two packs, one in red and the other in green.

Step Three:  Organize your Finds!

Next I poured all the goodies out on my bed and grouped them by theme.  In the picture above you can see that a bunch of the LPS items actually made a pretty good “camping” collection.  You can see how easy it would be for the girl to pretend that a kitten and a hamster head out for a weekend retreat with everything they might need.  Arrange and rearrange everything you’ve purchased until you’ve got 24 (or however long your countdown will be) piles of goodies.

Step Four:  Label the Bags!

Labeling the bags is the next step, and while there are lots of cute ways you could do this, I’m about keeping it easy.  So if you feel up to it you can use glitter and glue, beads, or stickers, stencils or cut outs, and any number of wonderfully crafty-good items…  but I simply grabbed one of the girls markers and wrote right on the bags.  As long as you have one bag for every day of your countdown, you are good to go.

Step Five:  Fill the Bags!

Deciding what goes in the bag for each day is a fun part.  Well, at least I know I enjoyed it…  I staggered things so every few days there would be a toy, and it would alternate with a crafting item, or maybe a dress-up item for one of her ponies, or collector’s cards.  Of course, you could just dump any old thing in any old bag in any old order, but I had fun with it.  LOL

Step Six:  Close and Place!

Then all that is left is taping the bags closed and putting them around the tree, leaving them out to be pondered over and opened with relish and the joy of discovery.  Enjoy your countdown!!!

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds – DIY

We roast pumpkin seeds every year.  Along with carving the jack-o-lanterns, it’s part of our rituals on the eve of Samhain (or Halloween, if you prefer).  As we were boiling our seeds, a few questions started coming in on FB – where I’d been sharing videos.  So I figured a blog post was in order.  Which brings us up to date.  😉

Home made, roasted pumpkin seeds are my very favourite Halloween treat.  Candies, chips, chocolates may be nice…  but nothing beats the yummy crunch of pumpkin seeds done right.  And to be honest?  I find the process of harvesting the seeds, washing, boiling, drying, and roasting them to be very zen.  I just enjoy the whole thing, which only adds to their natural goodness.

Tonight we’ll cover the basics, and by the end you’ll be on your way to developing your own way of seasoning and enjoying home roasted pumpkin seeds.

We were rather grateful that Damon had purchased two great big pumpkins this year, as we discovered our first one was partially rotten inside – which meant we wouldn’t be harvesting anything from it.  It still made a good jack-o-lantern, but I wouldn’t have trusted anything to be edible.  Thankfully our second pumpkin had such a wealth of seeds that we’ll have as many from one pumpkin as we often get from two!

So, the obvious steps to this process:

  • harvest your seeds
  • wash your seeds

freshly harvested and washed pumpkin seeds

Now, this next step is the one that seemed to generate all the questions:

  • boil your seeds

Yes.  I boil my seeds.  I didn’t always though, and I had the same problems many people report when doing their own home roasting.  The seeds were tough, and inconsistent.  I started boiling them six or seven years ago now, and it makes a world of difference.  My pumpkin seeds are crispier, lighter, and more flavourful.  It’s definitely worth the extra step.

I use a medium sized sauce pan, and add a couple of inches of water.  Roughly enough to cover your seeds and allow for an extra inch or inch and a half of water.  Bring it to a boil and add your seeds.

This is also when I add my seasonings or spices.

We try something different almost every year.  It’s fun to experiment with different spices or seasonings.  This year we kept it pretty simple and went with a tablespoon of garlic powder a teaspoon of salt.  Seasoning salt works nice, and things like dill pickle popcorn seasonings are even pretty good.  Try taco blends too.  There are lots of options – I’ve yet to find a dud.  LOL

Click the links below to watch the progression of our seeds as they boil:

All told, they boiled for about 25 minutes.  You’ll notice the colour change, then keep boiling until most of the liquid is gone (the steam clouded the iPhone lens):

seasoned and boiled - pumpkin seeds

At this point you have two choices.  You can pop them directly in the oven (on a buttered, oiled, sprayed cookie sheet or on parchment paper)…  or you can dry them first.  If I know I’ll have time to babysit them I’ll often pop them in the oven.  Kid kid has a hard time having the patience needed to dry them out any other way.  So at 350 degrees it will be between an hour and an hour and a half – and do watch them carefully because cooking time varies.

We didn’t get started on the process until the evening (we usually start on them in the afternoon), so it means I get to do them up the leisurely way – which I prefer.  I spread them out on a sheet to dry, and then put the girl to bed.  Which is where we are now:

the boiled pumpkin seeds, spread on a cookie sheet to dry overnight

Tomorrow morning, when they’re nice and dry, I’ll pop them into the oven at 350 degrees for about fifteen minutes.  The house already smells yummy from having them boil, but tomorrow will smell even better as they roast.  I’ll pull them out to cool for a wee bit, and we’ll have my favourite treat.  Some we’ll bag up in a ziplock to keep in my bag as a treat for when we’re out and about and happen to feel snacky.  But most of them will get eaten before they have a chance to be bagged…  though…  I will stash away a small handful or two, just for me.  LOL

So that’s it!  That’s how you make the very best homemade roasted pumpkin seeds – from scratch.  Follow the steps I’ve outlined here, and they’ll be perfect, every time!

Joyous Samhain and Happy Halloween!

Easy DIY Father’s Day Plaque

I’m in a pensive mood tonight, and realize it would be quite easy to ramble on about any number of topics.  So I turned to my iPhone for inspiration.  I began scrolling through all the photos and videos stored within my happy little device (yes, I imagine it’s a happy device, it’s well loved and frequently held, I believe it would feel cared for and treasured much like the old rocking horse or velveteen rabbit).  That’s when I realized, I never did share the Father’s Day project we came up with for Pop Pop.  I suppose it’s about time I gave up a few details on that one.  🙂

My Dad is a squirrel nut (pun intended, obviously).  He feeds them at the lake, and collects pictures, stories and the like.  I’m not really sure how his collection started – it’s really only as old as the girl is… so it’s not a long standing one.  One day we just kinda all seemed to agree that we should give him squirrel related gifts, and thus a collection was born.  I have to say, it’s a better idea than the Xena Warrior Princess figurine my husband and I jokingly gave him a decade or so ago – gotta love a scantily clad warrior princess, right?  LMAO

So I had this idea, that the girl and I should create a squirrel crossing sign for him, you know… for at the lake.  Problem was, I couldn’t find the materials I needed.  What I did come across though, was this cool tree round with the bark still on.  I bought it, not quite sure what it would become, but I loved it and knew I’d figure something out.  By the time we got home?  I knew it would be the perfect canvas for a squirrel picture.

Now, I’m not a cartoonist.  Impressionism I can do – in fact, I spent a number of years working as an impressionist painter and illustrator (sold quite a few pieces too) before I traded in my brushes for a camera.  So I’m not lacking in some skill, but cartooning has never been my strength.  I even tried my hand at some basic folk art, gave the results to my siblings (who were still wee things at the time)…  I see them all the time at my parents place and… well…  yeah…  cartooning/folk art?  Was not my strength even back then.  So clearly I would not be freehanding anything.

While the girl was occupied, I did some looking online for a “squirrel colouring page”.   Thanks to Bing (yes, I bing rather than google stuff) I found a few super cute little doods.  I asked kid kid which was her favourite, and we had our inspiration.  I downloaded it, resized it, and printed it out.

Now, like I said… I’m not a cartoonist – but I do have a pretty good eye.  So what I did was to hold the print out in place over the wood, and using the back of a paint brush (no, I didn’t trade them ALL in), I traced/etched a few lines to help with the proportions.  I etched six or seven little notches, but I imagine you could actually do the entire drawing if you can’t freehand at all.  Personally?  I have no patience for things like that – but if you can’t draw?  I think it would work just fine.  Then I took out one of my paint pens (just a plain black one) and sketched the line drawing out.  If you did etch the whole thing, you could then just trace over your etching to give you the black outline.  That gave me this:

A squirrel for pop pop

If you look closely at the paper, you can see where I’ve etched/traced a line here and there.  And comparing the two you can easily see the differences too.  LOL  But it’s not about creating an exact replica, it’s about having something that gives the impression of what you are creating.  Clearly, that doesn’t look like a REAL squirrel…  but you see it, and you know that’s what it is.  So whatever you create, the idea is for it to give the impression of the thing.  If you can tell what it is?  You’ve succeeded.  🙂  And for us, this particular squirrel holding a strawberry is significant.  I’ve called Lily-Ann “my strawberry” since the day she was born.  So finding a colouring page illustration of a squirrel holding one?  Pretty cool….  and I think that’s what swayed the girl to this particular free use image.

After the black ink was dry, I just let the girl have at it.  She painted it.  And to be honest?  I was actually downright shocked at how well she did.  She was only four at the time!  At one point she even had me stumped:

“Momma?”  she asked.

“Yes Lily-Ann.”

“Can I have the white paint again?”

“What do you need white for?”

“The strawberry.”

“Oh…  you don’t need white on the strawberry, do you?”

“Yes Momma, I do.”

So I dug out the white paint again (totally thinking she was going to make a mess of the very pretty berry she’d already created).  You can imagine my surprise when my girl, who doesn’t do anything gingerly or daintily, ever so carefully touched the very tip of her brush into the paint and dabbed a tiny highlight on the strawberry.  I shouldn’t have doubted her, or questioned her vision, but she showed me.  LOL  She knew exactly what she was doing.  And here’s the result:

The finished plaque - a pretty painting for Father's Day of a delightful little red and brown squirrel.

After it dried it just needed a couple of coats of sealant (which I did without the girl, don’t need her breathing in that scary stuff) and it was ready for Father’s Day.  All in all, a very cool project.  We had fun doing it, it turned out fabulously – and was well received.  A successful project to store in the memory bank.  🙂

Recoup and Recover

I could certainly do with a few days to recoup and recover…  It’s been a crazy week, and I’m feeling completely worn out and exhausted.  But no.  That’s just not in the cards (not for a mom with a high need little girl, anyway).

To attempt a recap?  I’m not sure I could even do it.  But I’m hoping that I’ll be able to share a little more again as things settle down. For now though, I do hope you’ll forgive me.  Two boring blog posts in a row?  *slaps self on wrist*  BAD BLOGGER, BAD!  I’ve been punished, and hopefully tomorrow I’ll come through with shining colours.  Maybe then I’ll be able to actually share a tutorial or two for the fabulous gifts I helped the girlie to craft for her Dad and Pop Pop.  See you then!

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