Monday, November 20, 2017

Gift Guide 2017: The Best Gifts for Kids, Teens, and Family Fun

Tis the season for Christmas shopping! Because I hate crowds, I'll be doing most of my shopping online on or before Cyber Monday. Today and tomorrow I'll be sharing gift ideas for everyone on your list. Everything is something I own and/or tried, love, and want. If you click a link and make any purchase, I will receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting My Creative Life!

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When shopping for kids' gifts, I look for the trifecta of fun, affordable, and educational. I don't always hit all three, but fun is non-negotiable. Below are some of my favorites, all of which are Trevor Approved. If you have a specific age in mind and would like more suggestions, just ask!


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You can't go wrong giving teenagers money. I have tutorials for a bunch of creative ways to give money as a gift. Read on for more gift ideas for teens.


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Our family loves board games. I've never counted how many we have, but I'm positive it's more than 100 and we play them all regularly. Here are a few of our very favorites that are fun for the whole family.

  • Labyrinth - quite possibly my very favorite game and that's saying a lot
  • Fluxx - silly, ever-changing, and totally unique
  • Quirkle Cubes - the original Quirkle is fun, but Quirkle Cubes is even better
  • Tsuro - I usually lose and I don't even care
  • Indigo - I always lose this one and still don't care
  • Disney Apples to Apples - great with a big group, and it's still fun when it's just the three of us
  • Exploding Kittens - the perfect combination of skill, luck, and silliness
  • Rummikub - loved it as a kid, love it just as much as an adult
  • Funglish - this game is difficult, but in a good way!
  • Ticket to Ride - hugely popular and for a good reason
  • Sleuth - my mom's favorite game - it's a lot like Clue, but better
  • Blokus - best for four people, but still fun with three
  • Tetris Link - like Tetris without the time pressure

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Tomorrow's post will have four more gift guides. Hopefully you'll find something for everyone on your list. And if not, just ask! I have a lot more suggestions that I'm happy to share. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Travel-Friendly Paper Plate Game

If you'll be doing any travel this holiday season, I have just the thing for you! I made a game from a paper plate and some pom poms that is perfect for car or airplane travel.


Each morning, I drive Trevor and a friend part of the way to their middle school. (We walk the remaining 1.5 miles.) They're only in the car for five minutes, but they often bring a game along and get a few rounds in before I park the car. As I watched them gather up supplies one morning for a not-so-car-friendly game, I decided to come up with something that is more portable. It's a really simple game, suitable for very young children, but they like it. 

I made the game while Trevor was at his book club. While I do the vast majority of my crafting at home, I bet the library is #2 for me!


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Travel-Friendly Paper Plate Game



Materials:

  • paper plate with corrugated edges
  • 8 pom poms (each a different color)
  • black drawstring bag
  • markers
  • 2 mini clothespins


Steps:


Use the markers to color in the corrugated sections of the paper plate, leaving two adjacent spaces blank. The colors should be random rather than in a pattern. Label one of the blank sections START and the other FINISH. Add the instructions for the black and white pom poms in the center. Color one of the clothespins brown. 


Here is a closer look:


To play, put the pom poms into the bag and clip both clothespins to the START area. The first player draws a pom pom, moves clockwise to the first space that is that color, and returns the pom pom to the bag.


The second player does the same: draw a pom pom, move to that color, and return the pom pom to the bag. 


If you draw a white pom pom, you immediately draw again. In this case, Player 1 drew orange. He moves ahead two orange spaces, then returns both pom poms to the bag.


Beware! If you draw black, you lose your turn. If you draw a white and then the black, you lose two turns, since the white doubles whatever follows it. The winner is the first person to land on final colored space (in this case, blue). 

Now make your own game! Follow my instructions or change up the rules and be creative!


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Angry Birds Turkey Thanksgiving Craft

There are a lot of things I love about my job as Editor of Fun Family Crafts. I've told you how much I love creating round-ups, but what I haven't mentioned is how inspiring it is to see all the crafts that our readers submit. When a submission comes in, I am the one who visits the site to see if the craft is something we want to feature. I'm primarily checking if there is indeed a tutorial (versus just a photo of the finished project with no materials list or instructions) and whether the craft is kid-friendly (99.9% are, but the 0.1% keep the job especially interesting). If it's a go, I edit the text, categorize the post by age range, holiday/occasion, and materials, tag the post with all relevant search terms, and schedule it to run. 

I love seeing all the creativity out there and sharing it with our readers! Occasionally, I like a project idea so much that I make my own version. Such was the case with this Angry Birds printable. Here's what I made:


As you can see, I didn't actually use the printable. I loved the idea of making an angry turkey and took it my own direction. An angry turkey seems fitting for Thanksgiving, doesn't it?

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Angry Birds Turkey Thanksgiving Craft



Materials:

  • cardstock
  • scissors
  • craft glue
  • masking tape


Steps:


Basically, do whatever you want. Angry Birds come in all sorts of shapes, so anything goes. Use your creativity! Read on to see how I made mine. 

Cut a teardrop shape from brown cardstock. Add a face. The eyes are two white circles with small black circles inside. Glue one in place, then layer an orange beak over the top. Put a red wattle next to the beak, then place the other eye over it. Add thick black eyebrows.

Cut a pair of wings and a pair of legs from the leftover brown cardstock. Glue the legs in place. I used the rest of the scraps to add dimension between the body and the wings. 


Cut turkey feathers from browns, reds, yellows, and oranges. Arrange them to form the turkey's tail, occasionally placing the body on top to check the spacing. Glue the feathers to the background paper. If your design is perfect and you don't want to risk messing it up by lifting each feather to glue it, use masking tape to join the feathers together. Lift the whole thing, add glue, and stick it to the background paper. 


Glue the body on top of the feathers. That's all there is to it! 

Trevor had a different vision for his turkey. He was adamant that Angry Birds don't have wings or legs, which is true of the game but not true of the movie. 


Here's his wingless, legless turkey. It's awfully cute. 


What a fun project! Make your own this Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Craft Roundups

Time to share another batch of craft roundups!

First up, a roundup of Pizza Crafts and Recipes. Two of these are mine, both from Trevor's pizza-themed birthday party.


I don't think I've ever crafted with denim, but there are some really good ideas in this denim roundup.


This candy corn round-up was so much fun to make. The collages come together so quickly when the color scheme is obvious.



I had a lot of skeleton and skull projects to choose from for this round-up. Two of them are mine. 


Next, witch-themed crafts. We have over 50 on Fun Family Crafts. One is mine and it's in the collage. 


The Frankenstein crafts were really fun. (Yes, I know that technically these are Frankenstein's monster.) One of them is mine.


Dracula crafts and recipes! One of them is mine. I'd forgotten about it. Rediscovering older projects, both mine and other people's, is another thing I love about doing these round-ups.


I'm a huge fan, so putting together a round-up of Muppets crafts and recipes was great fun! None are mine. 


I was proud of myself for thinking to turn the title of this Airplane round-up into an airplane banner. Skywriting would have been cool too.


How adorable are these Sesame Street crafts?! None are mine. I did make an awesome Cookie Monster cake once, but I didn't write it up as a tutorial so it's not on Fun Family Crafts. 


As always, I made these round-ups using PicMonkey. It is really easy with almost no learning curve. They are adding new fonts, design elements, and themes all the time. I don't know what I'd do without it!

PicMonkey Photo editing made of win

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Giving Money as a Gift: A Notebook of Money

Twice a year, I rack my brain to come up with a creative way to give money as a gift for my nephew, Timothy. I'm not out of ideas yet, but now that he lives 1000 miles away, I have to consider portability. This severely limits my options. I'm not mean enough to make him board a plane with 4000 pennies or a gigantic money tree.

For his 17th birthday, I decided Timothy needed a notebook of money. I played off the word 'Notes' by using patterned paper with musical notes (affiliate link) and filling it with bank notes, aka dollar bills. He can pull out bills as he needs them and the rest will stay nicely bound in the notebook. 


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A Notebook of Money


Materials:

  • Mint condition dollar bills 
  • Chipboard, cut to the size of a dollar bill (2.61" x 6.14")
  • Patterned paper, also cut to the size of a dollar bill (2.61" x 6.14")
  • Binder clips
  • White glue
  • Foam brush
  • Letter stickers

Steps:


Gather supplies, avoiding security incident if possible.**


Line up the patterned paper, dollar bills, and chipboard so that they are flush. Use the binder clips to hold everything securely in place. 



Use the brush to put a thin, even layer of glue across the exposed end. Let it dry, then add another coat of glue. I did a total of four coats and it held nicely.

When the glue is dry, use the letter stickers to spell out 'Notes' on the cover.


I paired the gift with a pen so that it looked more like a regular notebook. It was hilarious watching Timothy inspect the pen for more money. None hidden there... this time!


Now it's time to start thinking about his Christmas gift. Haha! (cackling and rubbing her hands together...)



** The Story of My Bank Security Incident

When I've given money gifts in the past, I've gone to the bank, asked for, and received $100-worth of mint-condition $1 bills. Easy. This time, however, I went to two different banks, neither of which had mint bills on hand. It would take over a week to order them and I wanted them sooner. Unwilling to traipse all over the county to banks that may or may not have the bills, I phoned branches until finding one that did. I told the man on the phone I'd be right over. 

It took about 15 minutes to get there. I stood in line and asked the teller (a woman) for $100 of mint-condition bills. Her eyes bulged out and she said that may be a problem. Annoyed, I told her I'd just spoken to someone 15 minutes ago who said the bills were on hand and that it wouldn't be a problem. She tells me, "OK, but I'll have to alert security."

Then she grills me about who said this wouldn't be a problem. I hadn't gotten his name, but was able to describe his voice well enough that she figured out who it was. At this point, I'm totally confused. Why is this such a big deal?! She calls security, then starts tapping away at her computer like crazy. Then she announces, "OK, security will be here soon. One hundred mint condition hundred dollar bills." 

Wait, what?

Not $10,000! I want $100! She looks at me, confused. The man who I'd spoken with on the phone comes out, also confused. He'd prepped my $100 and had no idea why she was calling security. Pretty much everyone was confused. 

The story ends uneventfully. I left with my $100 and all was well. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Exploring Pennsylvania Through Little Passports

Trevor and I always enjoy working our way through a Little Passports kit, but it's particularly fun when it's a state we've visited. We had a great time in Philadelphia, Easton, Hershey, and Hanover last month. How neat to take a virtual trip to The Keystone State as well! 

We started off with a maze activity that taught us more about transportation in Lancaster County. This reminded Trevor of the craft he made for Ohio's Little Passports! We learned about the regions of Pennsylvania, discovered the origins of the state's nickname, and did a word search for Pennsylvania's historic locations. We read all about the famous events in Pennsylvania history and did a matching activity about the important people who lived there. There was even an activity about Punxsutawney Phil!

The science experiment was about electricity, inspired by the many experiments and discoveries of Benjamin Franklin. Trevor followed the directions to fill a tray with a mixture of salt and pepper.


He rubbed a spoon vigorously with a piece of felt, then held it over the tray. Nothing. Hmm...  


Perhaps the type of spoon makes a difference. Sure enough! When he rubbed the plastic measuring spoon with the felt, the pepper leaped up toward it and stuck in place on the negatively-charged spoon. Neat!


Next we built the model of the Liberty Bell. 


The next day, we jumped back into Little Passports with a fun Battleship-inspired activity related to Hershey's Chocolate. Then we enjoyed a logic puzzle about the how coins are made. We'd learned all about that in Philadelphia at the US Mint.  

Finally, we worked on the Water Ice recipe. We tried two different flavors in Philadelphia and it was delicious! How fun to make our own! Trevor chopped strawberries and put them in the blender, then combined them with simple syrup and a little lemon juice.


He put it in the freezer, scraped it with a fork to break the ice crystals, then put it back in the freezer. After another round of scraping, we had the most delicious strawberry water ice ever!


Trevor and I really enjoyed our virtual travels in Pennsylvania through Little Passports. I strongly recommend a it for the child in your life. For the next three days, you can save 15% on all Little Passports subscriptions! Click below for prices and more information. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Pennsylvania Barn Quilts

Are you familiar with barn quilts? Trevor and I first learned about them while working on the Pennsylvania Little Passports journal, which I'll share on Monday. We kept our eyes peeled as we drove through Pennsylvania and managed to spot quite a few! (No photos due to highway speeds and rain.) It was really cool to see the different designs, patterns, and colors adorning the barns. Our family doesn't have a barn, but Trevor and I decided we could make our own barn quilts and hang them on our bedroom doors. 


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Bedroom Door Barn Quilt


Materials:

  • 12" square piece of chipboard (arrives with shipped scrapbook paper)
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • acrylic paint
  • paintbrush

Steps:


Use your ruler to divide the chipboard into sixteen 3" squares. 


Draw lines dividing some (or all) of the squares into triangles. Most, but not all, barn quilts are symmetric. 


Choose your colors and start painting, using your lines as guides. It's easiest with a flat brush.


Continue until all the squares are painted. 


That's my barn quilt at the top of the post, ready to hang on my bedroom door. Trevor pointed out that I used a very similar palette to the last time we made quilts together. Sure enough! The patterns are very different though, even down to the fact that this is a 16-block square and the other has four 9-block squares. 

Now that Trevor is blogging, he's shared his barn quilt on his own site, Trevor's Adventures. Check it out!


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Baltimore: Where to Stay and What to Eat

This is my twelfth 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.

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Baltimore, Maryland


When researching where to stay in a new-to-me city, my main considerations are location and price, as is probably the case for the vast majority of you reading this. (If price is not a consideration for you, I would like to become closer friends and do some traveling together.) Most of the hotels in Baltimore's Inner Harbor are a bit out of our family's comfortable price range, so I started looking at hotels that were walking distance but not right on the water. We like to walk. We also like to stay at charming, non-chain hotels when we're able. Hotel Indigo looked like exactly what we wanted. And it was. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay.

  

The building has its origins as Baltimore's first YMCA. There's no hint about that past inside though! Hotel Indigo is beautifully decorated with a subtle literary theme throughout.

  

We ate at the hotel restaurant, Poets Modern Cocktails and Eats, the first night we were there. It was outstanding. I'd recommend going even if you don't stay at the hotel. (But you should stay at the hotel.) Check out that HUGE piece of cake. We ordered it specifically because it is Maryland's state dessert, Smith Island Cake. It took the efforts of all three of us, but we finished it. And it was spectacular. 

  

Hotel Indigo is in a great neighborhood and an easy walk from most of what we visited in Baltimore. However, we learned an important lesson our first morning in town, which is that the transition from great neighborhood to less-than-great neighborhood is far more abrupt in Baltimore than in any other city we've ever visited. We had no issues whatsoever, but a quarter mile from our hotel we found ourselves walking through an area where Steve's expensive camera and the phone we were using for navigation suddenly made us feel very conspicuous in a way that we hadn't just a block earlier. Do not let that scare you off from a visit to Baltimore; as I said, we were totally fine. But plan your walking routes ahead of time. And if you turn a corner and things suddenly don't feel right, backtrack. Use your common sense and be aware of your surroundings, just as you would anywhere you travel.

So where else should you eat in Baltimore? HomeSlyce Pizza Bar. It's two short blocks from Hotel Indigo and the pizza is fabulous. They're famous for their 'Slyce' which is a boat-shaped pizza. 

  

Our good friends Justin and Mikaela and their daughters met us for dinner. Justin used to be the youth director at our church (and my June 2013 companion for Project 41!) and now works for a different church in a Washington DC suburb. It was so good to see them! We ordered 3 different Slyces and it was just the right amount of food for our group of 4 adults, an 11-year old who eats like an adult, a preschooler, and a toddler. 


Like I said, it was really good to see them. I'm so glad they were willing and able to make the effort to meet us in Baltimore.


Where else to eat? Try Vaccaro's. They're located in Little Italy, just a few blocks from the Inner Harbor. 


After splitting two of their huge (delicious!) sandwiches, the three of us didn't have nearly enough room to sample all the pastries we'd been drooling over when we entered. (We should have had dessert first!) We split one cannoli and it was the best one I've ever had. 


I want to share about one other place where we ate while in Baltimore, which is Lexington Market. My policy is usually not to mention something at all if I don't recommend it, but I want to share my experience in hopes that tourists have a better idea of what to expect. We went to Lexington Market expecting a place like the outstanding Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia or the Ferry Building in San Francisco. I thought it would be bright and clean and bustling and tourist-friendly and filled with tons of delicious food choices. I was wrong. 

The area surrounding Lexington Market was gritty, to say the least, and some of that spilled indoors. The market was a bit dirty and a little dark. Quite a few of the stalls were vacant and there was a smell of old fryer oil. I felt really awkward taking a photo. We did end up buying food from two different stalls and it was fine, but nothing I'd go out of my way to recommend. 


Overall, we had an amazing time in Baltimore. I definitely recommend a visit. It was a great way to wrap up our 12-day adventure through Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. Eventually, I'll share more about our trip, including Trevor's updated 50 States album, packing tips, and information about how I prep for a big trip like this. In the meantime, I have quite a few craft tutorials, recipes, scrapbook layouts to share. Tomorrow I'll share a craft Trevor and I did that was inspired by our time in Pennsylvania.