Monday, July 28, 2014

How to Grill a Perfect Steak Every Time!

This shop is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group™ and Wet-Nap but all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #showusyourmess

One of my very favorite things about summer time is grilling dinner and eating it outside in the yard. I just love it. And my very favorite meal to eat off the grill is a big, juicy steak. Lucky for me The Maestro is a master griller and makes a perfect steak every single time (which is at least weekly!).

 How to Grill a Perfect Steak Every Time! It's so much easier than you might think--no fancy marinades or sauces, just a juicy, tender steak that everyone will love!

Lucky for you, he was willing to share all of his secrets with me, so I could in turn share them with you. Now you, too, can become a regular grilling Maestro. (Stick with this post until the very end, and you will not only learn how to grill the perfect steak, but you will be able to download a coupon for Wet-Nap.)

Happy Grilling!

(Couldn't resist the photo--he was totally being a dork because I was taking a picture, but he really does love grilling just this much, and don't ever let him try to convince you otherwise.)

How to Grill a Perfect Steak Every Time!

1. There are many different cuts of steak, and you'll probably be surprised to learn that The Maestro actually prefers to grill Top Sirloin. It's one of the cheaper cuts, so this makes me and my grocery budget happy, too.

Choose a cut that is approximately one inch thick. If it is much thicker or thinner than that, the following instructions cannot guarantee a perfect result.

2. Cover both sides of the steak in rock salt and let sit for exactly one hour. We usually just let it sit out on the counter in the styrofoam tray it came in and set the kitchen timer for 60 minutes.

3. After the hour is up, rinse off the salt in the sink and then pat the steak with paper towels in order to remove the excess water.

4. Pepper both sides of the steak. The Maestro just uses regular old black pepper, but you could use a fancier pepper if you wanted to. The true beauty of this steak is that there is no marinating or any fussiness, and it still turns out heavenly with just a few shakes of pepper.

5.  Grill the steak over high heat (we have a propane grill) for approximately 2 minutes per side. The Maestro likes to give it a quarter-turn after one minute on each side so it gets nice grill marks.

Grill for one minute
Quarter-turn, grill for another minute
Flip steak, grill for one minute
Quarter-turn, grill for one last minute

This will get your steak to a medium-rare/medium-well doneness. If you like it more or less done, you can adjust accordingly, but this is pretty perfect as far as we are concerned.

6. Take the steak off of the grill and place it into a baking dish and cover it with foil. Leave it in this dish for 10 minutes to seal the flavor--do not cut the steak, do not uncover it, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. Instead, take that 10 minutes to get your picnic table ready for the best steak you've ever eaten. 

Once the 10 minutes is up, The Maestro cuts the steak into smaller pieces and we dig right in to a perfectly tender, juicy steak. Mmmm-mm.

7.  Make your clean up easier with Wet-Nap. While I absolutely love grilling and eating outdoors, I don't love the mess. Our outdoor meals always seem to be stickier than usual, and regular napkins just don't do the job we need. Which is why I love to use Wet-Nap products. For grilling in the backyard, the canister of wipes is perfect, but I love the individually wrapped ones to keep in the car or my purse because my children get sticky everywhere they go (especially the one named Sophia).

 How to Grill a Perfect Steak Every Time! It's so much easier than you might think--no fancy marinades or sauces, just a juicy, tender steak that everyone will love!

Wet-Nap hand wipes are stronger and softer than ever before, plus they don't dry out your skin because they are infused with aloe. I bought mine at Walmart, where they can be found in the napkin aisle or in the health and beauty section near things like cotton swabs.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

My Baby Isn't a Baby Anymore and Other Adventures

I'm feeling that uncomfortable feeling that summer is almost over. Once July has ended, it always feels like August flies by and it's all I can do to squeeze the last bits of sunshine out before autumn has also sped by and winter is upon us. Why is it that winter seems to be never-ending and summer is so fleeting? (Hint: It might be because winter around here actually IS never-ending.)

We did everything we could to squeeze every ounce of fun out of this last week. Gotta get what you can from summer while you can get it.

Monday was a trip to Marquette for Chloe's orthodontist appointment. The Maestro has been working on his tenure file and couldn't go, so it was a girls only sort of trip. We ate lunch, we hit Target and Michaels, and spent the rest of the day at Presque Isle.

Sophia and Chloe have been wanting to get out letterboxing, so I looked up two boxes that were out at Presque Isle Park. The first one required a nice walk along a nature trail, where Chloe found the box pretty quickly. Bria had been unimpressed with--and may have even complained about--the letterboxing while we were walking, but once we found it, she remembered how fun it is. And she said, "Okay, I guess this is a little bit fun and I'm glad we're doing it." In case you don't speak teenager, that means "This is amazing and I am having so much fun doing this!"

Presque Isle Letterboxing

We started to look for the second box, but then as I was reading through the clues, I learned that it had been stolen, so we abandoned the search. DON'T STEAL LETTERBOXES! My girls were very disappointed.

Instead, we spent an hour or so walking out to the lighthouse (no photo, but you can see it in the distance there) and looking for beautiful Lake Superior rocks on the shore.
Presque IslePresque Isle Rocks

When we were driving out of the park to head home, we saw an area that was covered in Canadian geese and the girls begged to get out and look at them. I parked the car and we maneuvered ourselves through the minefield of goose poop, only to have Sophia begin to chase them. She chased them right down the hill and into the lake before I could corral her. Crazy child.

Presque Isle GeesePresque Isle Geese and Sophia

On Tuesday, we had Chloe's book club. She and her friends read The Kindling, which is the first in Chloe's favorite book series. I'll do a whole post about that book club, soon, but you can read all about Sophia's book club last week here: Charlotte's Web Book Club.

Wednesday is my day to work all day. I sort of hate it, but we always need the extra income during the summer months. It would have been a good day to head to the beach, though, darn it.

Thursday was spent catching up on housework and my two violinists had their lesson that day.

Friday was Sophia's 8th birthday. This is a hard one for me, people. Eight years old seems so big and mature and she's definitely not a baby anymore. She begged me to take her on a ride somewhere so she didn't have to use her booster seat. Plus, I swear the child has grown three inches since school got out last month. She'll be baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints next week, and I am feeling a little sad. I miss that I don't have little babies and toddlers around the house anymore. But I do love every new stage just as well.

Sophia invited our friends over to help celebrate her birthday dinner, where she requested a trifle as her birthday cake.

IMG_8878 Sophia 8 Birthday web

Good-bye seven-year-old Sophia. I'll miss you! I look forward to getting to know the eight-year-old version of you. She's crazy, and fun, and tender, and sweet, and spiritual, and smart.

Yesterday we spent most of the day at our Branch Pioneer Day Activity where I took no photos, but enjoyed sitting in the sunshine and being with my friends and family. Bria and I went on a date to see a Pine Mountain  Music Festival event later that evening. She had just gotten some new pants she saved up to buy online and is freaking adorable and also needs to stop growing up.

Bria and her new pants

And I think the summer is fleeting? Kids are pretty fleeting, too.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

How to Make a Harry Potter Golden Snitch Costume

Did you know that Harry Potter is turning 34 years old this week?


Well, trust me, he is. I am excited to be participating in a Happy Harry Potter Series with Marissa at Rae Gun Ramblings to celebrate this momentous occasion! What could be better than a bunch of bloggers who love Harry Potter getting together to share ways to celebrate The Boy Who Lived?

Nothing, that's what!

Want to be a Harry Potter character, but don't want to be the same as everyone else? Why not be a golden snitch? Here are directions for a simple and cost-effective golden snitch costume.

If you are a long time reader of my blog, you may remember our Very Hogwartsy Halloween in 2011, when my girls all went as Harry Potter characters. Bria was Hermione, Chloe was "Some Kid in Gryffindor," and Sophia was a Golden Snitch.

Yes, leave it to a 5-year-old Sophia to decide to be the one Harry Potter thing that isn't sold commercially. She really had her heart set on being a snitch, so I set to work figuring out how to do it.

Materials needed:

(affiliate links)

Pumpkin costume pattern
The pattern I had on hand is no longer in print, but this one or this one will both be perfect. Pumpkins are a popular kids' costume at Halloween, so finding a pattern that is doable for you shouldn't be difficult.
Gold lame fabric
Fleece fabric
Wide elastic
Or, whatever your pattern calls for.
Angel wings
Golden snitch
Black ribbon


A snitch is just a little round ball, so I decided to use the same pattern I used when I made a pumpkin costume a long time ago. If you know your way around a pattern, this is the easiest way. I used a Simplicity pattern, but if you head to your local fabric shop and look through the pattern catalogs, you will easily find a pumpkin pattern that will fit your needs.

I used gold lamé fabric for the outside, and lined the inside with fleece, which is what the pattern calls for. This gives it some "puffy" structure, and it keeps the costume-wearer a little warmer, too.

Use angel wings as the golden snitch wings.

I bought some angel wings for the wings. Cheap and easy. At Halloween time, there are always a ton of different wing styles to choose from, but I thought these angel wings looked the most "snitchy."

How to Make a Harry Potter Golden Snitch Costume

The entire reason Sophia wanted to be a golden snitch that Halloween was because she was given this Harry Potter golden snitch by her grandma. She wanted to still incorporate it into the costume, so I used a ribbon and made it into a necklace for her. I just used some hot glue and glued the snitch right onto the ribbon.

How to Make a Harry Potter Golden Snitch Costume

My Sophia is incredibly strong-willed. Not only was she the only golden snitch in town for Halloween (and also the fastest golden snitch on earth!), she refused to wear her costume properly. There is elastic sewn onto the bottom so you can fill it up with newspaper or even other fabric to make it look like it is actually round. She would have nothing to do with that, and every time the costume begin to ride up and poof out, she tugged it down vehemently.

So, I invited my fun little friend Ruby to come try on the costume the other day. Sophia has long grown out of it and Ruby is just the right size. And Ruby thought it was the best thing ever to stuff it with newspaper and be a round ball.

How to Make a Harry Potter Golden Snitch Costume

How to Make a Harry Potter Golden Snitch Costume

(I'm sort of amazed that the costume is still in such good condition. The snitch necklace is missing one of its wings, but otherwise my little friend Ruby could totally be a snitch for Halloween this year if she wants to!)

We loved this Halloween costume and it was really quite easy to make with the pumpkin pattern. It was also very cost-effective: I only needed a couple of yards of the lamé, I had a ton of fleece on hand already, and the wings were only a few dollars. For a wonderfully unique costume that everyone raved about, this was a good deal!

If you would like to see all the Harry Potter goodness other bloggers are posting, head over to Rae Gun Ramblings for a comprehensive list. 

Happy Birthday, Harry! 

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to Host a Summer Book Club for Kids: Charlotte's Web

This post is part of an ongoing Summer Reading for Kids series. Click HERE to find ideas for reading activities, reading lists, and reading incentives...and keep checking back for more!

This post is also part of a SUMMER FUN series hosted by Emily of Nap-time Creations

A really fun way to get your kids excited about reading in the summer is to host a summer book club for them! What better way to encourage reading than to have a fun party?

We started hosting summer book clubs for the girls two summers ago. The girls have seen how much fun I have with my own book club each month, and they love to help me come up with fun refreshment ideas to match the theme of the book we read when I host the book club at our house. So, naturally, they thought it would be super fun to do their own book clubs.

And they were totally right, because a book club is a great excuse to have a fun party! Bria and Chloe did their first book club together in the summer of 2012, and Chloe did another one last summer.

Sophia is going into third grade this coming fall, and she hasn't been interested in doing her own book club before this year (partly because she was terrified of chapter books last summer), but she was all for it this year. We just had her book discussion and party last week and it was a blast! I thought I would outline the steps we take to run a fun kids' book club, and at the same time tell you all about Sophia's fabulous book club party!

How to Host a Summer Book Club for Kids

1. Let your child help as much as possible

This is the most important thing. It's really easy for me to get carried away with ideas about which book they should read and which activities they should do, and I sometimes forget that this is not MY book club. I already have my own book club, and I need to let my child have the joy of planning and preparing for her own. I give a lot of guidance and help, but mostly they make decisions and make a lot of the invitations and other plans all on their own.

2. Choose a book

The first order of business is to choose a book. Sophia chose Charlotte's Web this year, because she had just started reading it on her own and was really enjoying it. While I think it is incredibly important to let your child choose the book, you may need to offer some guidance. Some kids don't read as well as others, so you'll want to be sure the book is pretty appropriate for the age group you are inviting. Charlotte's Web turned out to be an excellent choice for a group of girls between 2nd and 3rd grades.

3. Make invitations

Charlotte's Web Book Club Invitation-- could be a fun Halloween or Birthday invitation, too! Easy to make!

Sophia and I thought it would be fun to somehow showcase a spider web on these invitations. I have a Big Shot (die cutting and embossing contraption) and a spider web embossing folder, so Sophia helped me to emboss some light blue cardstock with a spider web. Sophia helped to hot-glue googly eyes to a black pom pom and then hot-glue that to the cardstock. We then drew legs on with a marker. These were incredibly easy to make and they turned out absolutely adorable!

Charlotte's Web Book Club Invitation

Sophia chose how to word the invitation (for the most part) and I helped her type it up with the fonts that she chose. We printed those out, glued them to the back, and were ready to go. We procrastinated the invitations just a bit, so it ended up that I was still printing and gluing way after Sophia's bedtime on the eve of the last day of school.

Which brings me to my next point–if you're going to have a summer book club, it's a good idea to pass out invitations before school is out. This way, everyone has time to procure a book and have it read before book club. Our last day of school was June 13 (see Sophia holding her bag of invitations in her last-day photo), so that gave everyone just over a month to find a copy of the book and read it. Also, Sophia wanted to invite a few friends that I wouldn't have been able to contact outside of school. Even if you don't pass out your invitations while school is in session, make sure to give a good four weeks between invite and the date of the book club meeting.

4. Plan thematic activities

As I'm sure you well know, parties with kids have to be well-planned and you have to have enough activities to last, because these little people move from one thing to the next at the speed of light!

While we waited for everyone to arrive, the girls played outside and ate watermelon. Sophia helped me set up the picnic table to look a little like a farmyard picnic table might look. Don't you love her sign? She also set out stuffed barnyard animals (I forgot to get a photo) on the deck furniture. So adorable.

Charlotte's Web Book Club for kids

Once all of the guests I knew were coming arrived, we started with an outdoor game.

Sophia wanted to play one of her favorite games–we call it Blind Barnyard Animals. Everyone draws the name of an animal out of a hat. In the hat are two of each animal. After everyone knows which animal they are, they spread out, put on their blindfolds, and begin to oink or moo or meow or make whatever sound their animal makes. The idea is to find their match as quickly as possible.

Playing Blind Barnyard Animals--fun game for Charlotte's Web Book Club

Obviously, one needs an even number of players to play, so Chloe helped us out with it. We played about five rounds of this game, and then we had lemonade to cool off and sat down on the deck to discuss the book.

After the (short) discussion (more on that in a minute), we went inside to do a fun craft project.

Charlotte's Web Book Club Craft: Paper Plate and Yarn spider webs

We made spider webs out of paper plates and yarn. It was a super easy project and the girls had a lot of fun with it.

Sophia had wanted to somehow incorporate the complimentary words that Charlotte spun in her web for Wilbur, so we had each girl write a complimentary word about all of the other girls at the book club. They then placed their words in the corresponding girls' spider web.

Charlotte's Web Book Club Craft: Paper plate spider webs with complimentary words.
I loved seeing the creative webs each girl made, and even more, I loved seeing the kind words they wrote about each other.

Charlotte's Web Book Club Craft: Paper plate spider webs with complimentary words

After we finished the craft, the girls went outside to eat, and our final activity was to watch the movie. That was another of Sophia's ideas, and all of her guests really loved it. (We watched the real-people version, not the cartoon.)

5. Plan thematic food

In all of our previous book clubs, we looked through the book and found a food to serve that matched the story somehow. This was a little more difficult in Charlotte's Web. I mean, we could have had rotten eggs or pig slop or lots of fair food like cotton candy and funnel cakes and stuff ourselves sick like Templeton the rat, but we opted against that. Instead, we made Charlotte and Wilbur cupcakes.

Charlotte's Web Book Club: Charlotte and Wilbur Cupcakes. So easy to make and the kids will love helping!

Didn't they turn out so cute?

Sophia decorated all of the spider web cupcakes. I piped three circles of black frosting on the frosted cupcakes, and she carefully dragged a toothpick through them to create the webs. She LOVED doing these, and I have a feeling we'll be making them again at Halloween.

And believe it or not, the pig cupcakes were incredibly simple to make! We frosted them pink to begin with, and then cut large strawberry marshmallows in half for the snouts. We then cut one of the halves in half again for the ears. Then I quickly piped black dots on for nostrils and eyes and we were finished! Easy peasy, and perfectly adorable!

How to make pig cupcakes
Sophia was very proud of herself.

Charlotte's Web Book Club Refreshments: Charlotte and Wilbur cupcakes

And the cupcakes may have been the biggest hit of book club.

How to Host a Summer Book Club for Kids

6. Make sure to have a discussion, but don't force it

Finally, I just wanted to talk a little about the discussion part of book club. The older the kids are, the easier this part is, but I have found that they are really willing to talk about the book. Most of them. There are always a few who don't have a lot to say, so don't make them feel like they have to participate in the discussion. Because there are also always those who have plenty to say.

Sophia didn't feel like she wanted to lead the discussion this time, so I did that for her. I found this packet online, and used a few of the questions and ideas from there. I loved how it was put together, and it helped me quite a bit to guide the discussion. I also asked each of the girls what their very favorite part of the book was, and that sparked a lot of discussion and chatter between them, as well. Our discussion lasted about 20 minutes, which I thought was really good for a bunch of 7 and 8 year old girls.

And that's it! That's how we host our summer book clubs. And I must say, I love that my girls love having them. I hope that it's the beginning of many, many book discussions with friends. Here's to raising kids who love to read!

If you're looking for other resources for discussing Charlotte's Web with kids, check out these ideas: Charlotte's Web Literature Unit Ideas

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Quick & Easy Bathroom Makeover

Every summer I have a huge list of home improvement projects to do. You know, since I supposedly have more time to do them. Which never turns out to be quite true, but it sure makes me feel really wonderful when I am actually able to complete one or two of them!

This summer, the upstairs bathroom was on my list.

Using Frog shape tape, make a stunning focal point wall in a small bathroom
When we moved into our 100+ year-old home five years ago, the upstairs bathroom was the very first room I fixed. Even though just about every room needed quite a bit of help, it wasn't a difficult decision to begin with the bathroom. It was obviously something that had been added to the attic much later in the house's life, and it wasn't done particularly well. There wasn't a lot I could afford to do but paint it white to brighten up the ugly, brown walls. To see the finished product of 5 years ago, click here: Painting the bathroom white.

We replaced the toilet about four years ago, which was a nice little update. A couple of years ago, when my dad was visiting, we finally pulled out the awful white linoleum that was stained and gross and replaced it with a lovely grey/brown linoleum. My dad also put in a new vanity, replaced the baseboards (the person who had put them in before did not bother to miter or anything, plus they were the flimsiest wood you could imagine), and we got new mirrors.

I did all of this during my unblogging period, so here are a few photos of the old and new updates.

Old linoleum and toilet:

 New linoleum and toilet:

Bathroom before3

I could have photoshopped out all the paper or whatever on the floor. But I'm too lazy, and I like to keep it real. You may also notice the ugly paint spots on the wall. When we replaced the baseboards, my mom began to touch up some spots that needed touching up, but it turned out that she used the paint we used for the baseboards and not the wall. White is funny that way...never actually matches.

Old vanity and mirror area:

New vanity and mirror area:

Bathroom before4

Yep, just keepin' it real there. The vanity usually has toothpaste smeared all over it and the mirrors are always smudged. In fact, it may actually be cleaner in this photo than it usually is. I bought the vanity online, though it came sans faucet, so I bought a nice faucet locally. (To see the vanity I purchased, click here: Pegasus Palmetto Vanity.) I was also incredibly proud of myself for thinking of the idea to just buy two framed mirrors for the mirror. The corner medicine cabinet thing was super annoying and you couldn't even open it all the way because it would hit the light. The room is small and cramped with very low ceilings (I can barely stand up all the way in there), but it's perfect for the girls!

Last fall, I bought another thing to hold bathroom storage. There is a large cupboard in there, but you can imagine that with three girls--one of them a newly minted teenager--storage space is always an issue. (To see the shelf unit I purchased, click here: Winsome Wood Shelf.)

Bathroom before2

Again, just keeping it totally realistic with the towel there. Don't judge.

Overall, I have really loved the more mature look of the bathroom these last couple of years as we've slowly improved it. But it was desperately in need of a new paint job, and we also needed to do something about the toilet paper holder.

Bathroom before5

The one that was here from the 1970s when we moved in was broken like this. This one that I replaced into a different part of the wall, using butterflies and everything eventually broke as well. And no matter what we did to try and repair it, it continued to insist upon being broken. I think it's just because it's on the wall opposite the toilet, and it's not close enough to really get the paper off gently, if you know what I mean. I think I had no hope of it never being pulled out of the wall again as long as children used this bathroom.

So, on the list was to fix the TP holder, repaint, and do something to give the room a bit of oomph.

I chose a very light grey paint color (Sherwin Williams Ice Cube). The difference is very subtle, but you can tell against the baseboards and doors and I really like it.

Bathroom during
Bathroom after3

It's really so subtle I don't think I could capture it in the photographs, but it's lovely.

The easy part was fixing the toilet paper holder. I just bought one of those standing ones. Now, assuming that people bother to actually put the roll on the holder, I won't have to worry about it breaking off of the wall. I wasn't totally able to hide the earlier holes, but I'll have to worry about that later. It looks a bit better in the photo than it does in real life.

Bathroom after5

For the focal point wall, I decided to go with some grey chevron stripes. I used Sherwin Williams Morning Fog and some Frog Shape Tape in chevron. Putting it up was super easy, and a lot quicker than trying to tape my own chevron pattern would have been!

The secret to clean lines with Frog tape is to first paint over it with the original paint color and let it dry, then use your design color. So I painted it with Ice Cube first, and then went over it with Morning Fog. It came out GREAT! I only needed to touch up a few spots and I am very happy with the finished product.

Bathroom after2Bathroom after4Bathroom after1

Love it! And, love is all I need. So I'm doing pretty well.

One summer home improvement project down, about six more to go! Next up, front door. Stay tuned...