Easy fall placemat craft for kids

3 Dec

I realize many parts of the country already have been at least dusted with, if not buried in snow, and by now the beautifully colored leaves are long gone, but…

I have a really easy fall craft that parents can do with their children: pressed leaf placemats.

These remind me of the leaf pressings we would do in Girl Scouts – where you seal pretty leaves between two pieces of waxed paper. Anyone else remember making those in Scouts or in school?

Well, this is an easier (no iron necessary!), littler-kid-friendly version!

20141111_203730Here’s how we did it:

First, we went on a walk around the neighborhood and collected leaves of all types, sizes and colors, as long as they were not torn and not too brittle.

Next, we cut out a piece of Contact paper to the size of a placemat, peeled off the backing, and laid it out on the table sticky side up; we held it in place using painter’s tape.

Then, we helped the girls place leaves face up and face down all over the sticky paper. Anna and Elise were about 15 months when we did this craft, so they picked up leaves and held onto them; they didn’t really lay them neatly on the paper. We guided their little hands, though, and managed to lay out about a dozen leaves on each placemat.

Last, we cut out a second piece of Contact paper, exactly the same size, peeled off the backing, and laid it on top of the first piece, sticky side down – sandwiching the leaves between the adhesive sides of the Contact paper.

20141111_20381220141111_203817I opted to sew double-fold bias tape around the placemats to give them a nice, finished look – and, in part, to match our existing placemats, which are a rich brick red color. I used this tutorial to sew the bias tape with mitered corners.

It is not at all necessary, but it sure makes for a polished look with relatively little effort.

20141111_203805Over time, the placemats might bubble up a bit, where the adhesive doesn’t stick well to the leaves, but they still work and are easy to wipe off! And they are so stinking easy and adorable!

These placemats were a great addition to our Thanksgiving table and would be lovely for everyday use in the fall months.

Easy DIY Halloween costumes for twins

6 Nov

Christopher and I made a pact that if the girls could walk up a driveway, up to the front door of a house, by Halloween, then we would take them trick-or-treating around the neighborhood.

We needed costumes that were simple, inexpensive and totally adorable.

A quick Google or Pinterest search reveals some pretty cute ideas for twins, but none of them really struck our fancy.

They say little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Christopher and I wanted to make Anna and Elise into sugar and spice.

20141031_161518Here’s how we did it:

Sugar: White pants, white long-sleeve shirt, silver headband, silver glitter fabric paint, silver glitter hair and body spray, and three sugar cubes.

Spice: Gold pants, gold long-sleeve shirt (I found one at Target that was ivory with sparkly gold stripes.), gold headband, gold glitter fabric paint, gold glitter hair and body spray, and two cinnamon sticks.

(The winter hats and matching mittens, not pictured, were not part of the costumes but were absolutely necessary with nearly 30 mph winds. The hats just happened to be a lovely – and sparkly – cream color. We just positioned the headbands over the flower adornments.)

20141031_161527Step 1. Spray the pants and shirts with the glitter hair and body spray. (It will not stick permanently, but it will add just enough glitz and sparkle for a couple of hours of Halloween fun.) Let the clothes dry for a bit.

Step 2. Paint the words “sugar” and “spice” on the respective shirts with the fabric paint. Let the paint dry according to the recommendations on the bottle.

Step 3. Affix the sugar cubes and cinnamon sticks to the respective headbands using a needle and thread or, if you have it, hot glue.

20141031_161523 20141031_161518

Step 4. Dress your little ones, stand back and admire the adorableness!

20141031_161535We got the girls bundled up in their hats and mittens and put them in their wagon with a blanket, and we made it to about three houses on our side of the street. The wind was whipping. The temperatures were deceptively cold. The girls faces were red and their noses were running. We called it quits.

But, Christopher and I got these wonderful photos and made a sweet, silly memory. That’s all we could ever ask for.

Old Factory candles review

3 Nov

Disclosure: I was sent some Old Factory candles to review. I am not otherwise being compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.


There’s something about the shift from summer to fall that brings out another side of me. I crave long walks in the crisp air with the crunch of leaves beneath my feet.  I want to bake with apple and pumpkin, cinnamon and vanilla. I work to make my house a warm, cozy home, and drape blankets over the back of the couch, pull out the seasonal decorations and light lovely scented candles.

20141103_211742I’m not a candle freak, but I enjoy burning seasonal-scented candles come fall and winter. The folks at Old Factory candles offered to send me a gift box of their hand-poured natural soy wax candles, and I accepted upon browsing the long list of scents, several of which are a tribute to the season.

  • Fall Harvest includes pumpkin spice, cranberry and autumn leaves.
  • Happy Holidays includes Christmas tree, candy cane and gingerbread.
  • Winter Wonderland includes hot cocoa, roasted chestnut and first snow.

I chose the last one for its more timeless trio of scents. I’m not over the fall scents, but I didn’t want the house to smell like pumpkin from a candle, when it could smell like pumpkin from a pie in the oven! I liked the more generic winter scents; hot cocoa smells rich and chocolaty, while roasted chestnut smells musky and floral, and first snow smells clean and bright.

20141103_211713I burned the roasted chestnut candle first, and I loved it. The little 2-ounce candle burned cleanly, evenly and relatively slowly for several hours.

I’m burning first snow now, and I love it, too. The scent is light but strong enough to fill the air within just a few minutes of lighting.

20141103_212451The candles come in sets of three for $25 and are available in a variety of scent packages. The candles come in plain jars with plain lids and a simple label; the wax is white, rather than colored. Some might argue the simplicity allows the jar candle to match just about any decor in any room of the house, while others might say a colored candle would look nicer. Either way, the scents are lovely and the candles burn nicely; the trios would make a great gift.

Baked Butternut Squash and Sausage Ravioli

14 Oct

It’s been a while since a recipe (a post, really) has appeared on this here blog, but this one is a good one and worth the wait.

The other week, I made a Pinterest board dedicated to things I want to cook or bake this fall. It includes a recipe for pasta with a butternut squash sauce and sausage. I thought I might make the dish as an accompaniment to our Thanksgiving dinner. But I craved that sweet, autumnal butternut squash flavor now.

Last week, I picked up a jar of butternut squash pasta sauce at Aldi on a whim. I figured I would pour it over cheese ravioli for a quick meal, either for us or for the girls.

This week, I combined the two ideas into a unique and delicious, warm, comforting and hearty meal.

2014-10-14 19.31.19

Baked Butternut Squash and Sausage Ravioli

(Inspired by Skinnytaste and adapted from Damn Delicious)

This hearty bake with sweet Italian sausage and autumnal butternut squash pasta sauce is on the table in about 30 minutes, thanks to a package of frozen cheese ravioli and a jar of pasta sauce. Plus it’s covered in gooey mozzarella cheese. In the words of Ina Garten, ‘How bad can that be?’


1 package frozen cheese ravioli

20 ounces fresh sweet Italian turkey sausage (I used turkey sausage links and removed the casings. You easily could substitute pork sausage, in bulk or in links.)

2 cups butternut squash pasta sauce

1 ounce Neufchâtel cheese (or cream cheese)

2 cups spinach, roughly chopped

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

Cook the ravioli according to the directions on the package, then drain them and set them aside.

In a large nonstick skillet, cook the sausage until browned. Add the pasta sauce and cream cheese and cook for just a few minutes, until the cream cheese is melted into the sauce and the sauce is warm. Add the spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted.

Spread the ravioli in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Pour the sauce and sausage over the ravioli. Arrange the sliced mozzarella over top.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the mozzarella is melted.


Christopher and I really enjoyed this dish. It was so delicious – sweet from the sauce (hooray squash!), savory from the sausage and creamy from the cheese ravioli – and hearty and just plain good. It was perfect for the rainy nights so far this week.

Twelve months

12 Sep

Written Sept. 12, 2014


I like to write these posts right around the girls’ “birthday” each month, but I got bogged down by a very busy few weeks. I elected to wait a couple more weeks yet because Anna and Elise are changing and learning and doing so much; I wanted to have more to write about.

Confession time: I wrote that at least 2 weeks ago. I have been putting off writing this post for at least that long, if not longer. Why? Maybe I wasn’t ready to admit that my girls no longer are babies. Maybe I wasn’t convinced I could do their first year justice with a simple blog update. Maybe I just wasn’t ready to share all of this with the world; maybe I just wanted to crawl back into my mommy-and-her-girls cocoon, where it’s warm, safe, loving – free from staring eyes, prying questions and unwelcome advice, admonishments and oh-so-astute observations.

But, here we are. Anna and Elise are 13 months old as of Wednesday. Christopher and I couldn’t be more proud of or amazed by our darling little girls.

So, here are some notes as our girls moved from babyhood to toddlerhood.

Toy box collageLikes: Crawling, when it’s more efficient; walking; unpacking their toy boxes, throwing toys and knocking down blocks and other structures; pushing or sitting in their (indoor) wagon; playing with Mama and Daddy’s shoes; dancing; offering their Nuks as their greeting; eating finger foods; cuddling Dexter and, now, Mama and Daddy and, occasionally, each other.


20140725_072602Dislikes: Being taken away from their play space and/or toys, having their toys taken out of their hands, and (sometimes) going to sleep.

Weights: Elise was 16 pounds on Aug. 19, and 16 pounds, 10 ounces on Aug. 27, while Anna was 16 pounds, 8 ounces on Aug. 19, and 16 pounds, 14 ounces on Aug. 27.

In a year, Elise gained 11 pounds, 5 ounces, and Anna gained 11 pounds, 6 ounces. Both girls more than tripled her birth weight.

20140802_071421Lengths: Elise was 27.5 inches on Aug. 19 and 28 inches on Aug. 27, while Anna was 27 inches on Aug. 19 and 28 1/4 inches on Aug. 27.

In a year, Elise grew 9.5 inches, and Anna grew 9 inches.


Milestones: Both girls figured out how to stand unassisted (Anna around July 24, and Elise around July 26) and then, within about 2 to 3 weeks, took their first steps (Anna on Aug. 6, and Elise on Aug. 12). Because they are so mobile, they are getting bolder and trying to escape the cordoned-off living room.

20140808_084511They also learned how to give kisses, both prompted and unprompted, and learned how to wave “hello” and “bye-bye,” usually when prompted with a wave.

Anna and Elise started sleeping through the night with regularity at the end of July.

Anna throwing collage

Fine motor skills: Clapping, throwing, pincer grasp, stacking rings, sorting blocks, playing peek-a-boo, turning pages, self-feeding, drinking from a cup.

20140809_172713Gross motor skills: Rolling, sitting up, crawling, pulling up to stand, standing unassisted, walking unassisted.

Anna basket collage

20140804_130325Eating: Breast milk, whole milk, plus a variety of finger foods.

Favorite foods: Scrambled eggs, pancakes, toast with butter and jam or peanut butter, black beans, carrots, cheese, pasta and meatballs with tomato sauce.

We dropped a couple of feedings (the middle-of-the-night feeding and the midday feeding) about six weeks ago, and we are down to just two—one in the morning upon waking and one in the evening before sleeping, or about 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

We also introduced whole milk, dropped formula and the bottle and pretty much dropped purees as a component of every meal. (We’re going through a finicky phase, so we’re using smoothies, purees and sauces to ensure the girls get the nutrition they need to grow big and strong.)

Sleeping: The girls are finally sleeping through the night—and have been for about a month now. One of them might squawk or truly wake up in the middle of the night, but she usually goes back to sleep on her own or with a little soothing.

They are still taking two naps a day—one at about 9 or 9:30 a.m. and one at about 2:30 p.m. The morning nap is usually 1.5-2 hours long, and the afternoon nap is usually 1-1.5 hours long.

Elise blanket collage 20140808_155439Wearing: Some 6-9-month, but mostly 9- and 12-month clothing; pocket (cloth) diapers during the day and size 3 disposables at night.

Music Fest collageNicknames: Anna Banana, Anna Bear, Elisey Bean, Elisio, Peanut.

20140810_065422 I wanted to write a tender, touching ode to my little darlings, but I just struggled to find the words. Christopher, on the other hand, penned this beautiful letter (with a few edits from me) to our daughters with ease and oodles of love.

Dear The Peanuts,

After one year of living, learning, and loving with you, we’d like to say thank you.

It’s such a simple message, but in this case, it needs explaining.

Sure, there’s gratitude for a good night’s sleep, for smooth meals, diaper changes and transitions to and from the car seat, for no longer cleaning up spit-up. That sort of thing.

But more so, it’s gratitude for a year unlike any other we’ve experienced, and the promise of so many more.

20140729_124327 20140729_124159

Thanks for showing us that we were wrong to think we’d be clueless as parents. Yes, we wanted you in our lives so badly. But we weren’t sure how we’d fare once you were actually here. Turns out, between you being such extraordinary kiddos and our learning curve not being as brutal as we thought, this is one happy-as-all-get-out family.

(And your mom, who many times said she didn’t know how to take care of babies before you came along? Holy smokes, you guys are like the Three Amigas. Every night when I come home for my break to put you to bed, everyone is so happy – as if you’re on vacation, and I’m finally able to catch up with the group. You’ve helped your mom become a rock star. She’s always been Bono. Now she’s Freddie Mercury, the unquestioned greatest performer of all time.)

We love laughing with you, so thank you for that. And it’s not just laughing at the silly things you do, like putting empty buckets on your head and then cruising around the living room blind. We’ve gotten much better at laughing at ourselves. And being willing to sort of throw our hands in say “Uh oh!” Or, in a less kid-friendly manner of speaking, “Live and let love.”

We both used to be wound much more tightly. I know that’s hard to believe. Thank you for helping us realize that something so simple – meeting Charlie Brown and Snoopy, walking around the county fair, whatever it might be – can be such an adventure.


On that note, thanks for letting us see the world through your eyes. We get to be kids again, sort of. It’s such a neat thing. When your eyes light up at the sight of something new, our hearts flutter. When you actually seem to listen while we read a book to you? Yeah, that’s awesome. As is watching you page through books on the floor – as long as you’re not tearing the pages.


Thanks for teaching us about whole new layers of love. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see you in the morning. And, even when we need a break, how our hearts ache a little bit when we close the door to the nursery at night. We miss you very easily. We’ve been together so much this first year that we’d never be us anymore, if we didn’t have you. If we didn’t get to hear your giggles and wacky babbling, see your smiles, feel your hugs.

Thank you for teaching me to be honest. I’m never more “me” than when I’m with you and your mom. I sometimes find myself wishing I could be that true to myself and unfiltered at all times. But only you can bring that out of me. You make me feel so important, so unique, and so exactly what you want. There’s nothing quite like how I feel when I’m with my family.

So thank you for teaching us what family can be. Your mom and I have been a family for a while now, but we never knew how extraordinary every day could be until we got to see you grow and, in turn, grow ourselves.

And to think of all the years we’ll have to grow together. Thank you for setting the bar so high for everything we’ll experience together.

Oh, the places we will go. Always together. Always in love.

Love, Dad

20140810_122953Happy (belated) first birthday, Anna and Elise! We love you to the moon and back!

Our Insta-month: August

3 Sep

Editor’s note: The girls have passed the major milestone that is their first birthday, so I am going to stop posting monthly updates. I probably will do more periodic updates or weekend recaps, so stay tuned for those.

In the meantime, enjoy the final Insta-month post and look out for the final monthly update soon.

IMG_20140802_071734 Anna showing off her flexibility and her sweet Chuck Taylors.

IMG_20140804_152855 Elise watching “House of Cards” with Mama while her sister naps a bit longer.

IMG_20140808_160137Elise showing off the bling she got for her birthday!

IMG_20140811_161925Riding in style.


Hanging out with Aunt Mindy!


Sending greetings from South Haven, Mich.


Making Mama’s job look like child’s play.


Anna modeling the latest in headwear.

Race recap: Music in Motion 5K

6 Aug

I know what you’re thinking: Another race recap? I promise this will be the last one for a while. The weekends from now through the end of the month are booked, and as it is, only a few local races are going on between now and the half marathon Sept. 28.

But, we ran a 5K on Saturday, and I must tell you about it.

We ran the Music in Motion 5K, a run that raises money for the orchestra program in the local schools. The course begins and ends at the big sports complex on the far west side of town and makes a big out-and-back L on country roads bordered by cornfields.

Unlike any of the other races we’ve run so far this season, we got to take the girls along in the jogging stroller! Christopher agreed to push them so I could chase a good time.

We gathered at the starting line, sang the national anthem and took off at the shot of the starting gun.

20140802_075859 (Awkward family selfie alert!)

The course headed west, just out of town, and then north on a country road, past cornfields, pastures and farms. It was a rolling course, surprisingly enough, and made more challenging by the sun and humidity.

I struggled with my breathing and a side stitch almost right away, but I pushed through and eventually got comfortable. I didn’t run with the intention of blowing away my new PR, but I wanted to at least finish under 30 minutes, if not closer to 29 minutes. I knew that was possible if I just kept going.

The girls were a welcome distraction; they giggled and sang through much of the race. Christopher offered words of encouragement, too, which helped; he reminded me that while a new PR wasn’t possible, something close to it was.

We turned back onto the road that leads to town and to the sports complex, and we did our best to turn up the pace a bit. We crossed the finish line and got gummed up in the chute thanks to the stroller and a rather unpleasant volunteer, who was collecting the tear strips from our bibs, then we grabbed a couple of bottles of water and caught our breath.

We were able to hang around a little bit, because we didn’t have to hurry home to put the girls down for their nap, so we grabbed some goodies and all four of us had a nice breakfast.

The Music in Motion 5K is a local favorite; it’s organized by a longtime runner and president of the local running club. It’s small (about 300 runners) and affordable (no chip timing, but a technical shirt). I definitely think we would do this one again.

Here’s the part you’re waiting for:

Distance: 3.1 miles
Duration: 28:47 bib time (28:52 RunKeeper time – forgot to hit stop until we were through the chute)
Average pace: 9:13 per mile
Mile 1: 8:57
Mile 2: 9:14
Mile 3: 9:24


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