Thursday, April 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Felt Crinkle Fries Tutorial

On Thursdays I'll repost old posts that I think are worth sharing again, many from my old blog Maman A Droit. I may make a few changes to them, primarily fixing errors and updating links. I hope you enjoy them as much this time around!

As a newbie to felt food making, I've been trying to start with foods my son loves. And as much as I'd love to pretend that's quinoa with eggplant & brussel sprouts, he wouldn't recognize any of those things even if I managed to make the awesomest felt food versions of them known to man. So instead I've got some fruit, a sandwich, an egg (not too terrible nutritionally so far, right?) and now...crinkle fries. We don't have them all that often, but when we do, my son gobbles them up. But all the fry patterns/tutorials I found were kind of lame 2D renditions (maybe they're supposed to be smushed McDonald's fries?), so I had to come up with my own. And when I showed him the first felt fry I finished, he was super excited and clearly recognized it. So if your kid is a fellow french fry lover, give this a go!

Yellow felt (one sheet of felt should easily make 8-10 fries)
Matching embroidery floss.
Stuffing of your choice

How-To Make It:
1.) Cut out 4 rectangles of yellow felt for each fry you'd like to make. They all need to be the same length (mine were about 3 inches long), but I think it looks cute to have the two side pieces narrower than the top & bottom of the fry. The important thing is that the top & bottom are identical and the two sides are identical.

2.) Use blanket stitch (or whipstitch if you'd prefer non-crinkle fries) to attach the four pieces together to make a rectangular felt tunnel.

3.) Cut two small squares of felt to fit the ends of your fry (I just stood the fry-tunnel up on the felt to figure it out. If you prefer measuring, the end pieces should have two sides the same width as the long top of the fry & two sizes the width of the long side pieces.)

4.) Attach one end piece, then stuff the fry with poly-fil, wool stuffing, felt scraps, or whatever else you'd like. A pencil or stick might be helpful for shoving the stuffing way down in.

5.) Sew on the other end piece. If you want non-crinkle fries, you can stop here!

6.) This is the slightly tricky part. Thread yellow embroidery floss on to your needle and loop it around the fry, going underneath the thread at each seam but not into the felt.

7.) When your loop is back where it started, pull it really tight and quickly secure it (I used a small knot incorporating the seam I started from.) This is your first crinkle! Repeat this process 3-4 more times until you're happy with the number of crinkles.

8.) If you're making these fries for someone who still chews toys (or whose younger sibling does), I'd recommend sewing several fries together in little clumps to reduce the choking hazard. (We've all had fries stick together like this for real, so I don't think it ruins the realisticness at all.)

Voila! French fries.
Bon Appetit!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Felt Monkey Finger Puppet Tutorial and Free Pattern

On Thursdays I'll repost old posts that I think are worth sharing again, many from my old blog Maman A Droit. I may make a few changes to them, primarily fixing errors and updating links. I hope you enjoy them as much this time around!

I decided to make my son some felt animal finger-puppets. He loves animals, especially monkeys, right now and we're working on learning how to pronounce all their names and make the noises they make. I thought finger puppets would be a great way to supplement the learning-about-animals we've been doing with books, Fisher-Price Little People, singing "Old McDonald", and staring & pointing at the occasional woodland creature who strays into our "backyard" (We live in an apartment, so I'm using the term pretty loosely).

I remember thinking they were fun as a kid, and also figured they were simple enough I might be able to actually make them successfully despite my limited sewing skills. The fact that felt is dirt cheap is an added bonus (20-40 cents for an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet in my neck of the woods).

So I started hunting for patterns. I fell in love with some on Etsy, but couldn't justify spending the money/

I enlisted the aid of the children's librarian and scoured through dated books on puppet-making, all to no avail.

So I took a big gulp, and made my own. And to my worked! I used the auto-shapes in Microsoft Word for the shapes, and hand-embroidered the eyes, nose, & mouth. And here's what my completed monkey finger puppet looked like:

His neck was a bit too long & narrow, so I corrected the pattern. So if you follow this pattern, the neck will be more like this bunny (pattern coming next!):

Anyway, I want to share my patterns with you guys, for free. So click here to get to the PDF of my monkey finger puppet pattern (on Google docs) and feel free to print it, use it, customize it, & share it! And please leave me comments to let me know how it goes or if you have any questions. I'm hoping to make lots more-you can see I already made a bunny (for his Easter basket) and I'll try to post as many patterns for you as I can.

Materials needed for monkey finger puppet:
Brown felt
Light brown or white felt.
Embroidery floss in the same two colors as your felt.
Sewing needle

Print the PDF pattern & follow the instructions on it. For the eyes, I used satin stitch to make some rough ovals, then backstitch to outline them. I used backstitch on the nose and mouth.

2014 note: I found it easier and cuter to actually cut out the head and body all as one piece. This relieves the problem you can see where this cute little monkey had an oddly long and narrow neck. Besides correcting the pattern a bit after that, I also just didn't get his head positioned as well as I ought to have before doing my final stitching!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Gentle parenting techniques for blood draws

Parents of babies and kids with special needs know: blood draws and shots may be routine to the nurses, phlebotomists, doctors and lab techs who handle them, but they're no picnic for our little ones! Through our own experience and through chatting with other parents of babies and kids with special needs though we've come up with some pretty good strategies for parenting gently during pokes. 

All ages
  • Stay calm, both before and during the procedure. Children of all ages pick up on the emotions of their parents. 
  • Request someone new if the person drawing cannot get a good draw after a few pokes. Medical professionals are real people like the rest of us and sometimes have bad days or specific tasks at work that just don't seem to be going quite right. And that's okay-but when it's your child, it's also okay to request someone else try today. 
  • Make sure your child is especially well hydrated the day before the blood draw. This will make it easier to do the blood draw, which should make it a more pleasant experience for everyone.

Newborn and Infant
  • Ask whether you may hold your newborn during blood draws. I was actually able to hold and even nurse my son during some heel pricks in the newborn days, which made it much easier to keep him calm. 
  • If your child can sit well supported by you, ask if you can have your child sitting in your lap to do an intravenous blood draw, much like how an adult would do such a draw sitting up. 
  • Stay calm and use your voice to calm your baby. It's disheartening to not be able to hold your baby when they are in pain and/or upset, but you can use your voice to let them know you are still there and help them stay calm. Whether you're singing a favorite lullaby or saying "shh shh shh", your child will be calmed by your voice. 
  • Nurse as soon as possible after the blood draw. 
  • Plan on nursing extra throughout the rest of the day, especially if your baby was very upset by the draw or had very much blood taken. 

Toddler and Beyond
  • Prepare your child ahead of time with an age and personality appropriate explanation. For my older son right now, this means a brief explanation, but not very far in advance, and making it clear that it is not a big deal. 
  • Make clear your expectations that it may hurt a little and its okay for them to cry or say so, but it is not okay for them to behave aggressively towards medical staff (or anyone else) or to shout (or whatever your specific concerns are with your child). 
  • Distract him or during the blood draw by talking, reading them a story, singing, showing him a show on a tablet or smartphone, or whatever else would be a good distraction for your child. An awesome company I recently heard about called Buzzy actually sells distraction cards that are perfect for this, along with their namesake device, the Buzzy, which distracts your child's body (I don't actually completely understand it, but it basically confuses and distracts your nerves and has been proven to reduce pain by up to 50%! They were on SharkTank this week so I'm excited to watch it online and hear them explain it more in depth then!) Blowing has also been shown to help, much like focused breathing can help with labor pains! Since hospital staff might not appreciate you blowing bubbles in their lab, I recommend something less messy to inspire blowing, like a pinwheel.
  • Give your child a snack when they get home especially if they have had very much blood taken. You might even consider making this something kind of special, just as many adults have juice and cookies after a blood draw. This will help them rehydrate and replenish their electrolytes while also improving morale!
I hope some of these ideas help your family next time you're due for a shot or blood draw! And I'd love to hear your tips too: how do you help your children cope with blood draws, shots, and other medically necessary pokes?

Some links are affiliate links. I received no compensation for this post.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Learning Through Play Giveaway & Ogo Bild Pod Review!

learning through play
This review is part of Natural Parents Network's Learning through Play Giveaway! "Play is . . . the way that children make the world their own, exploring, making sense of all their new experiences, and recovering from life's upsets." {Larry Cohen, Playful Parenting} It is also well-established that children learn through play, which is why we've gathered some creative and fun products and websites to share with you and your children. The Learning through Play Giveaway features nine amazing products for kids of all different ages and interests. I'm featuring one of those companies in my review below. When you get done reading my review, please click on over to the full Learning through Play giveaway post (live on March 1), where you'll find information on all of the goodies you can win. In total, we're giving away products worth $738!
Even if you don't win one of our fabulous prize packages, please consider spending part of your educational budget at one of these small businesses. By supporting small businesses and independent authors, you are helping families, boosting local economies, and supporting ethical practices of manufacturing, production and selling. Without further ado, here is my review - thank you for reading and entering! (Check back here on March 1 when our Rafflecopter widget will be live and ready for entries.) 

What it is
The OgoBild POD is a building set comprised of 12 rubber balls with 12 holes in them and 30 plastic tubes with rounded knobs on the ends designed to fit into the holes on the balls.

Who made it
Ogo Sport, an innovative toy company started by a pair of graduates of the Pratt Institute of design hoping to make high-quality toys that encourage creative, open-ended play for all ages!

Our experience
We love it! In fact, it inspired us to make our first ever video review:

Basically, OgoBild POD is a fun toys with lots of possibilities that is fun for preschoolers on up. My whole family loved building different shapes and sizes of structures and playing inside them. At one point my husband, preschooler, baby and I were all playing inside a fort we built from the OgoBild POD all together!
While my 4 year old son is slightly below the recommended age range, he was able to build simple shapes using the OgoBild POD all by himself, and with my help build complicated structures.
I also love that it is washable plastic, so I can take it outside this spring/summer and make a fort to picnic and play in. 
We did have a slight problem with a defective pole, and I included a picture so you can see that it is sharp inside and probably a choking hazard for babies (who are not the recommended age for this, but may be playing inside the fort their older sibling built!), just so you know to watch out if one of yours breaks. The pole that broke from my set broke the first time we used it, so it was clearly defective and not a product that just got worn out faster than expected. The others have all proven very sturdy. 
I was extremely impressed with Ogo Sport's customer service. Within a few days of notifying them of the defective piece, I had a replacement from them! 

Easy to build with
Easy clean up
Great customer service

Can't build squares/cubes
Knobs have sharp end if out of tubes

The bottom line
I definitely recommend the Ogo Bild kit to families who love engineering, building, and playing in forts!

Buy it
You can buy the Ogo Bild Pod directly from Ogo Sport, from many specialty toy stores around the nation, or from Amazon.

Win it
Ogo Sport is giving an OgoBild POD building kit to one lucky reader of Crunchy Con Mommy and the Natural Parents' Network! Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter!

Learning through Play Giveaway: Enter March 1 - 31, 2014!

$738 ARV; United States residents only

Enter below in our Rafflecopter widget - the main entry is simply to tell us which prize you'd prefer. a Rafflecopter giveaway For actions like following and subscribing, if you already follow or subscribe, just tell us with your entry. Tweets must be a minimum of 24 hours apart — you can return to update your Rafflecopter entry without losing any of your previous entries. Your Tweets must be unprotected (publicly viewable). You don’t have to do any of the bonus entries, but you do have to complete the first mandatory one. Rafflecopter will pick the winner through after the contest closes, and a representative from NPN will send an email notification. Leave a valid email address as you enter so we can contact you if you win. If we can’t reach a winner, we’ll draw a new name at random. The winner will have 48 hours to respond by email; otherwise, NPN will select another winner. No purchase necessary. Entrants must be age 18 or older and be residents of the United States. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Winners agree to hold Natural Parents Network and the giveaway hosts harmless for any problem with receipt and/or use of prizes. Winner must contact the product seller or manufacturer directly if there is any problem with the prize or prize delivery. Winners are responsible for any taxes or customs fees related to prize winnings. NPN and the giveaway hosts reserve the right to publicize the winner's first name. Void where prohibited by law.  

Contest closes March 31 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time.

Disclosure: Reviewers received sample products for review purposes, and consideration was given to NPN for hosting the giveaway. Amazon and other links may be affiliate links. We try to seek out only products we think you would find relevant and useful to your life as a natural parent. If we don't like a product, we won't be recommending it to you. See our full disclosure policy here.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mardi Gras Cooking Giveaway with Char Crust Dry Rub and NielsenMasseyVanilla!

Are you ready for Mardi Gras?
To help me capture some authentic New Orleans flavor in my admittedly Midwestern kitchen, my friends at Char Crust and Nielsen-Massey vanilla sent me a few products and recipe ideas, and I can't wait to share them with you! On the menu? Cajun flavored chicken tenders with jambalaya rice on the side and vanilla beignet bites with vanilla-lemon raspberry jam for dessert! 

Plus, read to the end to enter to win some Char Crust Amazing' Cajun Seasoning and some Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract!

What you need
Boneless skinless chicken breast
Char Crust Amazin Cajun dry rub
Flour, sugar, salt, & other pantry basics
Jambalaya rice mix (I used a store brand)

What you do
  • A few hours before you plan to eat, make the dough for beignet bites and let it rise
  • A half hour before you'd like to eat, start the jambalaya rice mix and start heating the oil for the beignet bites
  • Then, start making Amazin Cajun chicken strips using this recipe.
  • Once the chicken is in the oven, cut and cook your beignet bites. I found it worked better for me to fry them at a slightly lower temperature than recommended by the recipe-between 325 and 350 rather than at 375.
  • Let jambalaya and chicken rest for 10 minutes after removing from heat but before serving. Finish beignets at this time if you are not already done.

My family loved this meal. My husband devoured the chicken and my son devoured the beignets. I *may* have devoured both. The Char Crust really does keep the chicken moist and adds tons of spicy delicious flavor, and the wonderful gourmet vanilla from Nielsen-Massey really made the beignet bites shine. 

Win it

One lucky winner will win some Amazing Cajun dry rub from Char Crust and some bourbon vanilla from Nielsen-Massey! To enter, use the Rafflecopter form below. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Thank you to Char Crust and Nielsen-Massey for sending me sample products to review and providing prizes to the winner of this giveaway!

Friday, February 21, 2014

7 Quick Takes Feb 21, 2014

--- 1 ---
Did you hear about the fun Lego building event at Barnes & Noble stores on March 1st? It's at 1pm and is free and open to kids from 4-7, but you have to register in person or over the phone in advance to reserve your spot! There are rumors of free Legos for attendees, so I think it's worth signing up if you're free that afternoon and your local store is participating!

I remember doing Lego building events at the mall as a kid with my brothers and thinking it was really fun and and exciting. I hope my son loves it as much as my brothers and I did!

--- 2 ---
I was just checking Bloglovin' to read some blogs I love if they've posted since I last checked and discovered I didn't set my blog up as mine on ther! Oops! All taken care of now though I think! Follow my blog with Bloglovin

--- 3 ---
Next week I have two giveaways being posted including my first ever video review, so be sure to check  back in! One is for a great building set and the other is for ingredients for a delicious Mardi Gras meal. So much fun!

--- 4 ---
Have you seen the new CW show Star Crossed? I had high hopes, as a sci-fi fan, and so far I'm on board. The basic premise? Humanoid aliens seek refuge on Earth, but of course the stupid earthlings think its an invasion and genocide like half of them and force the rest to live in a gated area called "the sector". Now (which is like 2024 if I was doing math properly and paying attention well) 7 alien teenagers are being allowed to go to high school alongside the humans as a sort of social experiment.  The staging of the school scene was very reminiscent of the integration of schools in America in the 60's, which I thought was an interesting choice. I think we are going to see a lot of potentially though-provoking discussion of what it means to be human in the course of this show. 
Anyway, so it's the CW, so all the high school students are actually like my age (mid twenties) and good looking, and the stars are a human girl and an Atrian boy who met on "landing day" when they were little kids but hadn't seen each other since. It'll probably be a typical CW romance, fraught with triangles and indecision, but you never know. Maybe the CW will think outside the box a little. 
We can hope. 

--- 5 ---
Boy #2 has started walking around holding on to furniture! Today he went probably 5 or so feet from a chair to an air filtration device to the window sill!!! 
--- 6 ---
The weather is finally improving so we are getting to actually play outside most days and Boy #1 and I started sprouting some seed inside. We have 34 radish sprouts now that we have to figure out a plan for though!!

--- 7 ---
Boy #1 is also continuing to improve his writing skills and today we got some new workbooks that I love. They are from Kumon and start by having the child trace shapes (like vertical lines and horizontal lines) and then trace letter made of those shapes. It seems like such a logical way to teach it that it makes me wonder why that's not the method used in every workbook! Anyway I definitely recommend them to anyone looking for alphabet tracing books to use with preschoolers, and I'm excited to try some of their other workbooks with my son too!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Some links may be affiliate links. I received no compensation for this post. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Homemade Playdough Recipe

On Thursdays I'll repost old posts that I think are worth sharing again, many from my old blog Maman A Droit. I may make a few changes to them, primarily fixing errors and updating links. I hope you enjoy them as much this time around! I originally posted this in May of 2010.

My mom recently found the play-dough recipe she made when we were kids. It's made of all edible ingredients, so it's safe to eat, but it's so salty, your kids probably won't be tempted to try it more than once (and yes, I know this because I ate it myself as a kid-I still remember the saltiness!)

What You Need
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cup salt
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp cream of tartar
  • Food coloring or unsweetened Kool-Aid powder as desired (it'll be sorta off-white if you don't dye it. Yellow was my personal favorite playdough color as a kid!)
What You Do
  • Mix all ingredients in a large saucepan, then cook over medium heat until it's thick (hard to stir) and comes away from the edges of the pan.
  • Remove from pan and let cool on wax paper or parchment paper
  • Knead a few times with your hands.

We always stored it in a large ziplock bag until it eventually dried out.

2014 Update
I've made this playdough many times in the last four years, and I discovered that herbal tea is also a good dye for playdough if you want color from a more natural source that food coloring or kool-aid! The colors tend to be very muted, but pretty. To do this, soak teabags in three cups of hot water until it is well saturated. Allow the water to cool, then use it in the playdough just as you would plain water.