Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween Crafting: Tissue Paper Art, Sugar Cookies, and Decorated Candy

This post contains affiliate links. 

This weekend we celebrated my nephew Timothy's 17th birthday. In past years, his parents hosted a family Pumpkin Party on his birthday. But now that they live in Idaho, my parents hosted the get-together. We didn't carve pumpkins, but we did do a bunch of Halloween crafting and had a lot of fun.

First up, Tissue Paper Jack-o-Lantern Suncatchers. This is a craft my mom used to teach as a preschool teacher. For years, she displayed the ones my sister and I made in preschool on her window. As her grandkids have reached preschool age, she's made this craft with them and her display has grown. Since cousin Allison is now preschool age, it was time for her to make one. Trevor and Timothy did too. The jack-o-lanterns weren't dry when we had to leave, so I don't have finished photos of them hanging in the window. Below you can see Trevor's artwork mostly complete. Once it's totally dry, you cut along the outside of the pumpkin and then hang it in a window.


---------


Tissue Paper Jack-o-Lantern Suncatchers


Materials:


Steps:


Unfold a sheet of orange tissue paper in front of you. You will be designing your jack-o-lantern on the bottom half of the tissue paper only. Use scissors to cut the yarn into lengths and arrange it on the bottom half of the tissue paper to make a jack-o-lantern. When you are happy with your design, dip each piece of yarn into the glue and then lay it back down on the tissue paper.

 

Here's Trevor, deep in concentration:


Fold the upper half of the tissue paper over the lower half, then press to make sure the yarn sticks completely in all areas. Let the glue dry completely, then cut around the outside of the jack-o-lantern and display it in a window.

---------

After we cleaned up, it was time for some edible crafting. We decorated sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies...


.... and Hershey's and Reese's Halloween candies. (Yum!)


Some of the Hershey's candy didn't need any decorating. Check out these super cool milk chocolate and cookies'n'creme tombstones and the Halloween Kit-Kat bars. Huge thanks to Hershey's for the fun sample pack!

 

Happy Halloween to you all! Tomorrow I will resume posts about our east coast travels. I left off with Valley Forge and Washington Crossing, which means Trenton is up next!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Day of the Dead: Paper Plate Calavera

I've never made a Day of the Dead craft before, so I decided to jump in and create a calavera from a paper plate. I LOVE how it turned out!


---------


Paper Plate Calavera


Materials:

  • paper plate with a corrugated edge
  • scissors
  • pencil
  • regular Sharpies in a variety of colors
  • black fine-tip Sharpie

Steps:


Use the scissors to cut the paper plate into a skull shape. Keep a small part of the corrugated area to be the teeth and cut the rest away. Use a black Sharpie to color in the dips in the corrugated edge. Draw a line through the middle to separate the upper and lower teeth.


Cut a piece of scrap paper into an oval. Trace it where one eye socket goes, then flip it and trace it again to make the second eye socket. If you can draw two eye sockets that look like mirror images without making a tracer, go for it. For me, it's much faster to cut and trace than to draw one good eye socket and try a zillion times to draw its mirror image in just the right place. Draw a nose, too. It looks like a stretched out upside-down heart. 


Now start adding your designs! Calaveras commonly feature flowers (particularly marigolds), paisleys, circles, swirls, and dots in bright colors. The left and right sides should match each other and the background of the eye sockets and nose should be black; otherwise, be creative! 


Use the extra fine black marker to outline all the shapes and add dots and lines. Continue until you are happy with your design. Finally, draw black lines on the top and bottom of the teeth. 


Need inspiration for your calavera? Hershey's came out with awesome Cookies 'n' Creme Skulls this season and sent me some samples to try. They're delicious and a great addition to a Day of the Dead celebration.


Inspired to make your own paper plate calavera? I'd love to see it if you do!


 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hershey Bar Halloween Costume

When we started our trip on October 1, Trevor still hadn't decided what he wanted to be for Halloween. This stressed me out, as he tends to choose things that are obscure or specific enough that they have to be homemade. (Exhibit A: the time Trevor dressed as a campfire). How would I have time to make a costume in only a few days after we returned home?! I tried encouraging him to re-wear a previous costume or do something simple based on things we already have, but he was not feeling it.

As we made our way through Annapolis and then Dover and then Philadelphia and into Trenton, I was hoping Trevor would want to dress as something from history. Maybe our visits to all the American Revolution sites would inspire a Continental soldier costume? All we needed to do was find an appropriate wig/hat/etc. for sale in a gift shop somewhere, add a few accessories, and we'd be set. No. He was not interested in any of that.

But the trip did end up inspiring his costume. I haven't blogged about it yet, but we spent three nights in Hershey. It was there that Trevor announced he would be dressing like a chocolate bar for Halloween. During the rest of the trip, we drew sketches, brainstormed materials, and bounced ideas back and forth. As soon as we got home and we were no longer concerned that our house would burn down, we started making the costume. We're both so happy with how it looks and how quickly it came together. 

 

Want to make your own? It's actually really easy. I've included affiliate links in the supply list. Any purchases you make from those links will help support My Creative Life, at no extra cost to you. 

---------

Hershey Bar Halloween Costume 


Materials:


Steps:

I started by testing three different silver options I had on hand (paint pen, Sharpie, and silver paint) on the hem of my splatter paint t-shirt. You don't need to do this step, because as you can see from the photo, the silver paint is the only one that shows up against the dark brown. 


Now find a brown t-shirt that is much too large. Trevor wears a child medium, so we used a men's medium for the costume. Open a Hershey bar to use as reference. Make sure you have plenty of back-up reference bars in case one disappears. Use scrap paper to rough cut some letters to figure out how large you need the HERSHEY'S to be. (Acutally, all you care about is HERSHE because it's cut off there.) This will vary based on your t-shirt size. 


Now head to the computer. Helvetica Neue Bold is very similar to the Hershey's logo. Type in HERS (because you only have to do the H and the E once and you don't need the apostrophe or Y) and change the page to landscape. I sized the font to 590 and then reduced the spacing between the letters 66%, which fit the size I wanted (approximately 6" high and 4" wide). When you have the size you want, print, cut, and trace the letters onto the t-shirt using the Scribe-All.  


Now carefully paint in the letters. The DecoArt paint has excellent coverage and dries quickly, which is awesome. 


When the paint is dry, CAREFULLY cut off the sleeves, staying as close to the seam as possible while you cut. You want to leave the seam attached to the shirt, not to the part you cut off. It will roll inward and look surprisingly finished without any need for hemming. Save the sleeves- you'll need them. 


Now, it's time for your reference bar. If it isn't open yet, I'm not sure this is the right costume for you. If it's gone missing, open another one. Heck, open two. In fact, Trevor and I HAD to open multiple Hershey bars for the sake of research. We needed to know whether the writing on the bar itself goes the same direction as the writing on the package or the opposite direction. Fun fact - it's apparently random which way the bar is sitting in the wrapper! But don't believe me. Open some bars and test it yourself. 


Use the Scribe-All and a piece of chipboard to draw the diagonal line on the t-shirt where your Hershey bar will be opened. For us, that was right through the E. Now cut the chipboard into a rectangle (size will once again depend on the size of your t-shirt) and use it to trace three pips. Cut a slightly smaller rectangle and trace just inside each pip, forming the double border. 


What's a pip, you ask? 


Now it's time to write HERSHEY'S on each pip. The easiest way to do this is to print a template (Helvetica Neue Bold 330, 33%), place it on the shirt, and then use a pencil to trace over the letters. Press hard and the indentations will be visible. Trace over those with the Sharpie.


Now add the piece that creates the border between the wrapper and the chocolate bar. To do this, I opened up the sleeves and cut one long, thin piece from each. I bunched it up along the white line I'd drawn earlier, then used hot glue to keep it in place. If you have silver fabric or a thicker silver ribbon, you can use that to mimic the foil wrapper that Hershey bars used to have. I didn't have either one on hand, so I repurposed the sleeves. Trevor and I like the way it looks, but silver would be more striking.


The final step is to glue (or sew) ribbon to the bottom of the t-shirt. Check your reference bar. Even though the wrapper is now plastic, it still has the look of foil on the ends. Wear your costume over black sweats or thermals and you're all set for Halloween! 


And yes, you can eat the reference bar now. Steve wondered if that was cannibalism (or candybalism, as we heard it called while at Hershey's Chocolate World), but I don't think it is. 


More Hershey-related posts to come!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Baked Cheesy Panzanella

For months, Trevor and I have been enjoying the bounty of tomatoes from the garden in every way imaginable. (Steve doesn't like tomatoes, which is inconceivable to me). While we're technically over a month into fall, our tomato plants are producing as if we were still in the peak of summer. They'll wind down soon, I'm sure, but in the meantime we're enjoying the daily harvest.

I've mentioned before that no one in our family especially likes bread heels, so I keep them in the freezer until I build up a big enough supply to make croutons or bread pudding. This time, I decided to experiment with a savory bread pudding that incorporated tomatoes. As I started adding ingredients, I realized I was actually making a baked, cheese-laden version of panzanella. I served with garlic-infused olive oil, basil from the garden, and even more cheese and it was fabulous.



---------

Baked Cheesy Panzanella




                                  2 T. butter                                                2 cloves garlic, minced                           
                                  8 cups cubed bread                                    4 eggs
                                  3 large tomatoes, diced                             2 c. milk
                                  1 c. shredded mozzarella                           1 sprig basil
                                  2 T. olive oil 
                          
                                                                                                   
Use a piece of wax paper to spread the butter on the bottom and sizes of a 13" x 9" pan. In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, tomatoes, and most of the cheese. Stir gently, then transfer the mixture to the pan. Whisk the milk and eggs together. Pour the liquid evenly over the bread and let it sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the minced garlic and the olive oil into a small dish.

After the bread has completely absorbed the liquid, bake the panzanella at 400°F. for approximately 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes.


To serve, spoon a portion of hot panzanella onto a plate, then drizzle the garlic-infused oil generously over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese, then garnish with shredded basil. Delicious!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Popcorn Box Cockatiel

This post contains affiliate links.

I had so much fun turning a popcorn box into a clown! Since the materials were already out, I decided to decorate another box. This time it's a cockatiel. Enjoy!

---------



Cockatiel Popcorn Box


Materials: 


Steps:

  1. Cut white felt to size and wrap it around the popcorn box.
  2. Glue the googly eyes near the top of the box. 
  3. Cut two orange circles from felt and glue them below the eyes and to the sides.
  4. Cut a beak from grey felt and glue it between the orange cheeks.
  5. Cut a pair of wings from the white felt and glue them to the sides of the box.
  6. Pop the popcorn. Put the candy melts in a bowl and melt them, following the package instructions. Pour popcorn into the melted coating and stir. Spread the popcorn onto parchment paper to dry.
  7. Fill the popcorn box with popcorn.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Valley Forge and Washington Crossing

This is my fifth post about our adventure traveling through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. You can find the first post from this trip here and links to all the other educational US travel our family has done here

Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and other benefits for some of the hotels and attractions we visited throughout the trip. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone. I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I whole-heartedly recommend. If you notice any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love a particular hotel, attraction, or restaurant enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay.

---------

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania


We'd debated whether or not to add Valley Forge National Historical Park to our itinerary, but I'm very glad we did. We started at the Visitor Center, where Trevor picked up his Junior Ranger materials. We read all about this location that served as winter headquarters for the Continental Army in 1777-1778 and saw interesting artifacts. Then we drove along the 10-mile Encampment Tour route.

  

There are nine stops along the route and we stopped most of them. As we drove and as we wandered around each location, we listened to their audio tour. The stories really made the whole park come alive.

  

We ended up spending a lot more time at Valley Forge than we'd planned, as there was so much to see and do. 

---------

Washington Crossing National Historic Landmark


George Washington famously led his army across the Delaware River in December 1776, so obviously the area is preserved as a National Historic Landmark. However, it wasn't until I researched this trip that I realized that the two states on either side of the Delaware (New Jersey and Pennsylvania) each have separate, competing state parks right across from each other!

We parked our car in New Jersey at Washington Crossing State Park. We explored the Visitor Center, then headed out along Continental Lane, the road where Washington's army started their march to Trenton in 1776.  


We'd been hoping to see some beautiful fall color and Washington Crossing did not disappoint. The leaves were just starting to turn to yellows and oranges. 


Just before we got to the river, we stopped to tour the home of the ferry operator who handled the task of bringing the army's horses and cannon across.

  

Washington's and his army used boats to cross the river. We walked across a handy bridge instead.


Our brief walk over the Delaware River started in New Jersey and ended in Pennsyvlania at Washington Crossing Historic Park.


There were, of course, quite a few similarities between the two state park located just a few yards from each other and dedicated to commemorating the same historic event. However, there were more differences than I'd expected. Both parks are very nice, but either Pennsylvania's facilities are a lot newer than New Jersey's, or they have a significantly larger budget for signage, upkeep, and maintenance. That's not so say we enjoyed one more than the other; in fact, having explored both led to a deeper and richer understanding than one would have provided alone. So see both!

  

Since our car was in New Jersey, we crossed the Delaware again and headed the back along Continental Lane. It was very peaceful and we saw a lot of animals. There are some wonderful trails on the New Jersey side. 

After exploring both state parks, head directly to It's Nutts for a meal or a snack. It's just a few minutes away and the food was fantastic. The ice cream was outstanding, too!

  

Over the next few days, I'll be sharing some craft tutorials and recipes, then I will go right back to sharing the rest of our recent travel adventures, including the destination that inspired Trevor's Halloween costume!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Philadelphia: Where to Stay and What to Eat

This is my fourth post about our adventure traveling through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. You can find the first post from this trip here and links to all the other educational US travel our family has done here

Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and other benefits for some of the hotels and attractions we visited throughout the trip. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone. I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I whole-heartedly recommend. If you notice any gaps in my narrative, it is because I didn't love a particular hotel, attraction, or restaurant enough to recommend it to you, regardless of how much I paid or didn't pay. 

---------

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


We arrived in Philadelphia in the evening of Tuesday, October 3 and left early on Friday, October 6. During the two full days we were in town, we filled our time with museums, monuments, tours, and scavenger hunts. How did we manage to pack so many activities into such a short amount of time? Part of it was by being really organized and setting a schedule ahead of time, but no matter how much preparation I'd done ahead of time, we would not have been able to do so much if we hadn't chosen the hotel we did. The Thomas Bond House was just a short walk from absolutely everything we wanted to do. It was so convenient to park the car once on Tuesday night and not move it until we left town on Friday morning. We saved a lot of time not having to deal with traffic and parking, which left us with more time to explore and enjoy Philadelphia. 

   

Dr. Thomas Bond built the house in 1769. In 1988, it was restored to its Federalist glory and opened as a 12-room inn. Each morning we had a wonderful breakfast to start our day. In the evenings, we enjoyed wine (soda or juice for Trevor) and fresh-baked cookies.

  

We stayed on the second floor in the William Penn room, which was ideal for our family of three. (Go here for an explanation of the stickers on Trevor's jacket.)


This is the view from the window next to Trevor. That's Welcome Park.


While the Thomas Bond House was perfect for our family, it may not be right for your family. Their policy is, "Children over 10 are welcome, as long as they will respect the historic fabric of the building, the value of the antiques, and are sensitive to the presence of our other guests." Not a problem for Trevor. The other guests wouldn't have known he was even there if he hadn't challenged them to chess. 


And when he wasn't playing chess, Trevor was working on homework. He was on Independent Study during the two-week trip, which means that he had to stay current with all the work his 6th grade classmates did. This translated to two reports, an essay, daily journal writing, four blog posts, an entire math chapter, an entire history chapter, a daily reading log, and a few other items. As it turned out, school was canceled during the second week of his Independent Study because of the fires, but we didn't know that at the time. Trevor returned to school one week ahead of his classmates in every subject and enjoyed a very easy week when school resumed!


Now that I've covered where to stay, it's time to tell you where to eat! We had fantastic food in Philadelphia, starting with Little Lion.


Not only was the food amazing, but they serve mocktails (and cocktails) made from colonial shrubs that were almost as good as the ones we made! (OK, fine. Their shrubs were actually much better than ours, which were pretty tasty. Meaning theirs were amazing. You should try them. And then try making your own! Perhaps rhubarb?)

  

Another restaurant you absolutely should not miss, no matter what? City Tavern. It's just across the street from the Thomas Bond House and dates back to the same era. Every detail, from the servers' clothing to the harp player, brings you right back to the 1700's. 

   

Check out our dining room. Apparently there are 10 dining rooms, plus the patio. 

 

The menu is based on authentic American cooking from the 18th century. Everything we had was fantastic. If it weren't 3000 miles from home, City Tavern would be my go-to special occasion restaurant. I'd love to try the rest of the things on the menu. Shout out to our server, Sierra, who made the evening extra fun!

  

Speaking of places I'd like to go to again and again... Reading Terminal Market is, in a word, awesome. It is an indoor public market and it is so large that it has street signs and friendly, green-aproned ambassadors to help you find your way around. 

  

We wandered up and down every aisle before selecting pizza, a beef sandwich, and a whoopie pie to share. Delicious! You could go there every day for a year and not repeat a meal. And based on the lines and the yummy smells, all those meals would be outstanding.


I also recommend a meal at Philadelphia's 9th Street Italian Market. It is the oldest outdoor market in the United States and it is an experience not to be missed. Many of the stands are for grocery items that won't work for a tourist staying in a hotel, but they're still worth a visit. 

  

There were plenty of places selling ready-to-eat food. We split some amazing pizza, a sandwich, and two flavors of Pennsylvania's iconic water ice. So good!


And while I'm talking about refreshing desserts, The Franklin Fountain is an absolute must. This old-time soda fountain serves up drawn sodas (we got one for the three of us, finished it quickly, and went back to try a second flavor because it was so good), sundaes, phosphates, and all sorts of other delicious concoctions. We tried the Ladies Choice, raspberry soda infused with peach ice cream and sweet cream. It was amazing. 


You can't go to Philadelphia without having their most famous food, the Philly cheesesteak. I did a bunch of research ahead of time and asked every Philadelphian we met for recommendations. Armed with that knowledge, we did a head-to-head taste-off from two of the most highly recommended, Campo's and Sonny's

  

They're located just a few storefronts away from each other, which was key to having a fair tasting. Steve and I split up, each buying an identical cheesesteak at the same time so neither would be fresher than the other. We brought them to a neutral location and opened them up. That's Campo's on the top. It's stuffed with more meat and was oozing with cheese. Sonny's fillings fit nicely in the bread. From a 'what you get for the money' standpoint, Campo's is the clear winner. (Those are The Franklin Fountain drinks on the right. Pineapple soda and Ladies Choice.)


I cut each sandwich into chunks. Campo's cheesesteak basically fell apart, while Sonny's split nicely with the bread sturdy and holding all of the fillings. 


As for the taste? They were both outstanding and I'd have either one again in a heartbeat. Steve had a slight preference for Campo's because of the meaty flavor. Trevor preferred the flavor of Sonny's. Both looked to me expectantly for the tie-breaking vote. It was so difficult! Ultimately, I went with Sonny's because the onions were caramelized a bit more than Campo's and the bread was tastier. But it could have just as easily gone the other way. Have your own taste test when you're in Philadelphia and let me know what you prefer!

We had the best time in the City of Brotherly Love! Tomorrow I'll share our next destination.