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Monday, April 22, 2013

Large Wall Chalkboard

When the boys found permanent markers and decided to decorate my daughter's wall, I decided it was time to finally give her the chalkboard wall I'd been promising. Problem is, when I started researching, I found out you need a smooth wall for a chalkboard and our walls are textured. We also have 10' ceilings and the wall is 13' long so that would be a a lot of paint and a lot of painting. But I had promised her a chalkboard wall, so onto plan B...A giant chalkboard on her wall.
Large Chalkboard
This chalkboard was pretty easy to make and it cost about $65, which is more than just painting would have been but way less money and time then de-texturing. I checked online and the cheapest chalkboard this size I could find was just under $200! And it didn't have a cute frame. 

* 8' x 4' Hard Board - $14 (Home Depot)
* 1 quart Chalkboard Paint - $15 (Walmart)
(you could also start with a Magnetic Primer if you wanted a magnetic chalkboard, but I didn't)
* 2 cans spray paint - about $1 each (Walmart)
* Paint Roller/Tray - most people probably have this but since I didn't $10 (Home Depot)
* 2-10'& 1-8' primed boards - about $5 each (Home Depot)
  Have these cut there...the 10 footers to 8' 3" and the 8 footer into 2-3' 11" pieces
* 4-5" corner braces - about $1.50 each (Home Depot)
* 16-5/8" wood screws (I think #8 about I can't remember so ask the guy at Home Depot what size fits the braces to be sure) - $1.18/dozen (Home Depot)
*a box of 1/4" or 5/8" nails -about $2 (Home Depot)

How To:
Buy your supplies 

Wipe down your hard board so you have a clean surface to paint

Stir your chalkboard paint and paint according to directions on the can. I think I did 3 coats. This picture is after the first coat of paint.
While waiting for paint to dry, it may be good time to work on the frame. Spray paint the top and sides of the boards your color of choice. I did 3 coats. When dry, assemble your frame by setting the board pieces out, unpainted sides up, in a rectangle (long on top and bottom, short on sides) and attach them using the corner braces. Be sure to leave about an inch of space from the center to fit the chalkboard in place.This picture was taken after the chalkboard was already on the wall, so it's not the best, but you get it.
After your frame is assembled and your chalkboard dry, fit the chalkboard onto the back of the frame, unpainted sides up. Then use your short nails to tack the hardboard into place all around the frame. I did nails about about 5 or 6 inches apart. 

This is IMPORTANT! Before you draw on it, you need to "prime" your chalkboard by taking a piece of chalk and rubbing the side of it all over your chalkboard. Then wipe if off and you're done! Chalk will now show up nice and bright.

To hang it, we used French Cleats ($15 at Home Depot)
I didn't hang it, but my hubby said it was really easy. There were instructions included. They are secure and do a great job of flush mounting without any hardware showing. The finished board was a little heavy and awkward so it's probably a good idea to hang it with help. 

So hopefully now the boys will use chalk on the chalkboard instead of permanent markers on the wall!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spiderman and his Amazing Friends Birthday Party

I love that Netflix allows our kids to enjoy the same cartoons we loved growing up. However, when their favorite show doesn't exist anymore, it does create some birthday planning problem. My 3-year-old’s favorite superhero is Fire Star. She was one of the Spider Friends on the cartoon Spiderman and his Amazing Friends. After multiple internet searches, I discovered that Fire Star now only exists in obscene fan art and a couple hundred dollar ebay collectibles  But I was determined to have a party based on Spiderman, Iceman, and Fire Star (aka Spider Friends). The actual party did not go exactly as I had planned, but the plan was great.
Poster-sized Spider Friends

I’m not an artist so I couldn't free hand it, but I found out how to print a large picture across multiple pages.
Find Coloring pages online; Open picture in Paint; Go to Page Setup; Set the “Fit to __ by __ pages” to however big you want your picture and print it
Then I taped the pages together and traced them with black marker before I colored them.
The trickiest part was finding coloring pages of Ice Man and Fire Star. I ended up finding a picture of Fire Star from the show and made my own coloring page of her, as well as Ice Man, but he was a lot easier. It’s not the best, but at least it’s not Sexy Fire Star, which is probably your only other option. 
I also printed smaller versions, make birthday posters, used blue and red balloons and streamers, and used the generic birthday decorations I already had.

The idea was to have a station with a game for each of the Spider Friends. I thought it would have been really cool to have a costumed character running each station, but that was a little too much for me.
Spiderman Station:
Silly String web shooting…have targets and practice shooting webs at them.
Ice Man Station:
Freeze Dance…when the music is playing you dance and when it stops you freeze
Ice Melting Game…you freeze a little toy or treasure inside an ice cube and the kids have to melt it to get it out.
Fire Star Station:
Hot Potato Suprise…instructions are here
Other Activities

I also painted faces as the kids arrived. I gave them a choice of superhero for their cheeks and they could choose a color for a mask. 

I would have liked to do red cupcakes with a spiderweb pattern in black BUT my 3-year-old wanted a chocolate cake. They have Marvel character figurines at Dollar Tree so we got Spiderman and The Hulk and just stuck them on top for an easy cake decoration.


I threw a 3-year-old party for 8 boys who were also 3. Parents did not stay. For most of the guests, it was their first friend party. IT...WAS...CHAOS. They didn't understand the games; I'm sure they didn't understand that there was even a theme. But the birthday boy had a great time and the now has Spider Friend's decorations for his room.

Baozi (Chinese Steamed Pork Buns)

When you think of Chinese food, you don't usually think of bread. But there are a few Chinese breads, and they are delicious! One of my favorites, that you can buy from street vendors in Taiwan, is Baozi. Baozi are steamed buns filled with all kinds of yummy things. Because the bread is steamed, it is light and fluffy. I'll never forget the day I rode my bike past a street vendor selling a Chocolate Baozi! Chocolate and Bread? I'm in! But Baozi doesn't have to be sweet to be delicious. This recipe is for a pork filled Baozi. Baozi make a great lunch (and they freeze well) but you can really eat them anytime. These aren't too hard to prepare, but because they are made with yeast dough, you have to start ahead. You can rush these if you need to (ask me how I know), but for the fluffiest Baozi, let them rise for the recommended times.

Start this recipe a couple of hours before you want to eat it. Mix the dough ingredients and then just walk away and let it rise. Go watch the latest episode of Once Upon A Time for me. Come back and divide the dough into little, somewhat equal size dough balls. Roll them out into thin disks of dough.

Add meat in the center and roll the dough in toward the center, pinching as you go.

Continue filling your dough with meat filling. Set aside and let rise for 20-30 minutes. Here are my baozi rising:
They will grow even more in the steamer, about doubling in size- be sure to leave room in the steamer.

(Chinese Steamed Pork buns)
recipe slightly adapted from
makes 16 buns
For the dough:
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
8 ounces ground pork
1/4 cup finely chopped cabbage or bok choy
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Pour warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix in the yeast and allow to stand until bubbly, ab out 5 minutes.*
Add remaining dough ingredients and mix on low speed with the dough hook, until the dough forms a ball. If the dough is too dry, add water, a Tablespoon at a time until you see a ball form. Knead for 5 minutes. Cover and allow to rise for approximately one hour, or until doubled in size.**
Prepare the filling by mixing all filling ingredients together in a separate bowl.
Once the dough has risen, divide the dough into 16 equal pieces. Roll them into balls and then use a rolling pin to flatten them out. Spoon a dollop of filling into the center of the disc. Pull the edges up around the filling and pinch together to form a bun.  Continue this process with the rest of the dough until all of the buns are filled. Allow the buns to rest for 20 - 30 minutes.
Cook the buns in a steamer (I use a pot and a steamer insert) for 12-15 minutes.  Depending on the size of your steamer, you may need to work in batches. You can cook the buns on parchment paper so they won't stick.
Eat! I love these with Trader Joe's Sweet Chili Sauce, but they can also be dipped in soy sauce or enjoyed plain. 
*This is called proofing your yeast and is a great idea to make sure your yeast will do its thing and make the bread rise. 
**If you're in a hurry, a great trick is to put the bowl in the oven- with the oven turned OFF!- and it will rise much faster! 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My secret love of school supplies

July is a favorite shopping time for me. I stock up on all my kids art supplies, and many of their gifts for the year. There are great deals out there right now, without too much work.

My kids have been looking forward to this sale too. We ran out of crayons a while ago, but I couldn't bring myself to buy any at full price since I knew they would be on sale soon! What the kids don't know is that I have a thing for school supplies. Something about blank notebooks, sharp new crayons, packs of pens... I get excited just thinking about them! In my house I have a "secret stash" (that technically isn't a secret since everyone knows about it) where I have stacks of office and art supplies, and I love it when the stash is full and ready for any writing or drawing emergency I may have.

Right now Walmart has Crayola crayons for 40 cents a pack. For that same price, you can also buy Elmers School Glue or a 2 pack of glue sticks. They have off-brand crayons for even less, but after once drying one of those in the dryer and ruining a bunch of clothes, I'm sticking to Crayola, because there are ways to get those stains out! For 20 cents, you can get a 70-sheet-of-paper notebook.

Staples has penny and quarter deals this week- erasers, pencils, packs of pens, pencil boxes. The only catch is that to get the penny deals, you need to spend $5. This is easy to do if you buy a pack of paper for $5.99- $5.75 of that will come back to you in a rebate with a few clicks online.

Another great sale in July is the Target toy sale. I LOVE this one! Target marks its toys down, as much as 75% off. I usually get at least half of my Christmas shopping done there, and also buy birthday gifts for the kids to take to birthday parties throughout the year.

Happy shopping!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Artichoke Salami Paninis

This recipe comes from Emeril Lagasse of Food Network fame. I make my own focaccia  bread, with half wheat/ half white flour. It has a great flavor that comes from the combination of all the ingredients, but what really brings it all together is the vinaigrette. Search for nitrate-free salami. If you can't find that, pastrami or even pepperoni also work in this recipe.

I serve this with whatever vegetable I have on hand. In this picture are zucchinis from our garden, sliced, breaded and baked. 


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 slices focaccia bread, sliced
  • 6 ounces thinly sliced provolone
  • 1 (6-ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and sliced
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced genoa salami


Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, oregano, garlic, and salt in a small bowl. Arrange the slices of bread on a flat work surface and, using a brush, divide the vinaigrette equally among 1 side of each slice. Divide the provolone equally among the bread slices. Top 6 of the slices of bread equally with the sliced artichoke hearts and sliced genoa salami and then place the remaining 6 slices on top. Brush the outsides of each sandwich with olive oil if desired.

Cook at medium heat (on a skillet or frying pan) until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted, pressing occasionally to compact with a large spatula, about 4 to 5 minutes per side.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Classic Fettucine Alfredo

This recipe is a classic, and one everyone should have in their recipe collection.  It's simple, rich and delicious. It's fancy enough to serve with company, but also good for a weeknight dinner because it's kid-friendly and comes together quickly.

Don't be afraid of the fat, or the carbs, or the calories. As long as you leave out this toxic ingredient, you'll be fine!

Fettucine Alfredo
from Joy of Cooking

1 lb. fettucine noodles

8 Tbsp. butter
1 cup cream
1 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add cooked pasta and remaining ingredients. Toss the pasta until well coated. This is best served hot. If there are leftovers, heat on the stovetop rather than the microwave, because the sauce and noodles will separate, and heating over low will let the sauce absorb into the noodles.

I served this with fresh green beans. To cook, wash and break off any tough ends or stems. In a large skillet, melt about a Tablespoon of butter over medium low heat. Add green beans, and cook, stirring occasionally, until green beans are slightly browned and crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Add a generous sprinkle of salt and serve.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays.

Monday, July 4, 2011


I've been RRARFing for the last couple of weeks. Don't be scared by the way it sounds-- RRARF is an acronym for Rehabilitative Rest and Agressive Re-Feeding. It's Matt Stone's creation, and you can get his free e-book to read all the details, but I'll outline the basics here.

RRARF is a program to heal and speed up the metabolism. Matt defines metabolism as "the ability to produce cellular energy at a high rate." When your metabolism is high, it keeps you healthy, resistant to disease, and hopefully keeps you lean.

However, the point of RRARF is not to lose weight. It's to get your metabolism revved up to where it's supposed to be. Matt says, and I think he's on to something here, that when we reduce our calories to lose weight, we are setting ourselves up for failure. The way to lose weight and keep it off is to have the body lower its setpoint, and the weight will slowly drop on its own.

This is so different from what we hear all the time that it's hard to believe. We are constantly bombarded with the mantra to "eat less, move more." But what if our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for? What if our bodies send signals to eat exactly what they need, and when we don't provide that nourishment (by dieting, for example), the body responds by slowing down the metabolism?

The idea behind RRARF is that for about a month, you overfeed the body. You can eat almost anything except sugar and polyunsaturated fats. That leaves you with all-you-can-eat of real, healthy foods. You can measure your progress by taking your temperature each morning. You also get a lot of rest. RRARF is really about learning and listening to your body cues.

Sad to say, before I started, my temperatures were in the mid 95s! That indicates that my metabolism was very slow. My cellular energy was quite low, and I could feel that-- I had less energy than I have ever had.  After RRARFing, my temperatures are in the mid 97s, and I can feel a big difference energy-wise. (note: armpit temperatures are generally up to one degree lower than oral temperatures.)

What I have loved about RRARF:

1. It's really helped me understand my hunger cues. I don't think I'm much of an emotional eater. But I did find that there are times when I'm hungry, but I don't feel that it's "okay" for me to eat (it's not a meal time, or we're about to have dinner or something), and those are the times when I'll reach for chocolate chips or something to tide me over. By taking sugar out of the picture, and being encouraged to eat whenever I was hungry, I understood what my real hunger signals feel like, and learned that I just need to eat when my body is telling me to!

2. Understanding body cues means listening to more than just hunger signals. The body knows when it needs to rest, when it needs to move, etc. The body knows what it needs and I need to listen!

3. Measurable results. We want to measure results in inches and pounds, but RRARF helps you measure another aspect of your health. Seeing my body temperature rise so much in such a short time shows me that I am really doing something good for my body. I also feel that I am setting myself up for future weight loss.