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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Easy Lemon Cake Truffles

I'm not going to pretend that these are healthy, but they are really fun, easy and tasty. It's the kind of project that is great to do with your kids. Just have them pull a stool up to the counter and dig in. My neighbor Charlie taught me how to make these a couple weeks ago. She makes them with neighbors, grandkids and kids in the daycare she works at. She used chocolate cake and frosting, but I have a general aversion to chocolate frosting and a serious weakness for lemon desserts. And as it is my blog we are doing it my way. (You're welcome to make yours however you please. :D Most flavors should work.)

Easy Lemon Cake Truffles
1 box of lemon cake, prepared per directions

1 container of lemon frosting
sprinkles, coconut flakes, dried fruit, colored sugar and small candies

1. Take baked cake and crumble in a bowl.

2. Dump in entire container of frosting. Mix thoroughly.

3. Using an ice cream scoop form balls from cake mixture. Roll into a more even shape.

4. Roll into toppings.

5. Refrigerate before eating.

When I made them with Charlie they looked AMAZING. This time I believe there were two
problems with mine. a) I think I should have let my cake cool off a little more, so the "dough" was less sticky, b) My two year old and five year old were involved. Things are not going to be picture perfect. I'm ok with that. We had fun. :)

Shared  on Themed Baker's Sunday link up party @ Cupcake Apothecary

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Ornament Giveaway #1-Believe in Miracles

Hooray it's Christmas time! That means it's time to decorate. Long ago I made the decision to try to keep my Christmas decorations focused on the Savior and His birth, to help remind me it's not about the stress or the glitter, it's about a miracle. This also means that I am always on the lookout for great Christmas ornaments with a Nativity theme, especially ones that are just a little different. Although this year I have a plastic tote and a half of my collection that are staying packed because I can't replace them, they're fragile, and my darling son has the obedience of a goldfish.  Recently I found some beautiful nativity ornaments through Etsy and a few very talented and generous artists who were willing to share with my readers.
Our first week's ornament comes from riricreations (who is btw offering free shipping for Cyber Monday and some deals for her shop anniversary this week). To win it: 1. Tell me about you help your family to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. For additional entries 2. Check out riricreations and comment below on one item you like from her shop. 3. Become a follower of Secrets of Mom through GFC and leave a comment (or just leave a comment if you already are). 4. Share this giveaway on Facebook and leave a comment. The giveaway will run until Friday December 3, 2010 at 12:00 MST. The winner will be selected using a random number generator and announced Friday afternoon. Then Rita will send off the winner's ornament off in time to be enjoyed for the holidays. Good Luck!

Most Successful Toys at Our House

Last week a friend asked about a toy that my son was playing with. It got me thinking about the toys that have been most successful at our house. To me successful toys are the ones that we have gotten our money's worth from, that our kids don't seem to tire of, don't have any tiny pieces that get lost or broken like Littlest Pet Shops, were reasonably priced (I have never spent more than $50 on any single toy) and don't make my life more difficult in some way or another like Playdough.  It seemed like the perfect post for Cyber Monday.

LeapFrog TAG Reading System - Green1. Leapfrog Tag Reader Pen When I first heard of this I was skeptical. My kids don't need a pen to read them stories, I read to them all the time. Plus the books are kind of expensive. However, this toy has saved my sanity on many a car ride. (Thank you, Grandma) The original pen only has 16 MB of memory, which is about 5 books. Now there is a pen out with 32 MB. Both of my kids love this. The pen is essentially a camera that works with the specialized paper to play words and music when it recognizes images. There are also learning activities and games that go along with each book. When these first came out they were $50 each, but last week I bought a 32 MB pen for $27. The books are generally retail priced at $14 each, but I have gotten several for $5-6 with sales and coupons. If you are buying this one for the first time and not finding a smashing deal somewhere else I recommend going to the Leapfrog website. A starter bundle is cheaper there and you can find numerous coupons on the internet, plus you can get an Ebates bonus. The only drawback is that they take AAA batteries and the pen will warn you that the batteries are low for a few hours before they actually need to be changed. :S
2. Leapfrog Tag Maps I love these maps! They have interactive games that work with the Tag reader pen and teach about geography and culture. And they have been another hit with the kids. (Or the one they have at the moment, the other one is for Christmas.) Amazon has the USA map for $20 and the world map for $50, but I found both of them for less than $28 shipped from with a sale and coupon. If you're feeling brave this holiday season, I've heard that Toys R Us has them for $20 each, but that place is just crazy this time of year. They are much bigger than I expected and are not a toy that can easily be used in the car.
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Band Set3. Melissa and Doug Deluxe Band in a Box We have had this one for years and my kids still love to play with it. There are enough instruments that I can sit down with both of them and we can have a "jam session" trading instruments as we please. My son likes to slobber all over the recorder and then try share with others. It has pretty much become his exclusive recorder. (Amazon lists this one for $43. I swear I got mine for $22. Shop around.)
4. LEGO Duplos Yes, Legos are more expensive than many other building blocks out there, but they are good quality products that encourage imaginative play. My kids love to build things with them, and even though my kids can be kind of rough on toys we have yet to have any of these break. For my son's birthday last year I managed to score 3 sets in the Dino Valley series for $35 together shipped (retail at the time about $170) from (Part of the reason I got such a good deal was that the packaging had been smashed, but the toys themselves were still good.) I think it would have been worth it if I had paid full price for them, he plays with them that much. Here's a post I found awhile back on how to get good deals on Legos.
5. Melissa and Doug Puzzles We have about a dozen of these. (My kids are only grandchildren.) My kids love to put them together over and over again. I like them because they are sturdy. We may have lost a few pieces, put we have yet to break any. Another good quality toy. I have found that I can usually find these at reduced prices at Ross and TJ Max.
Pound and Roll Tower by Melissa & Doug6. Melissa and Doug Pound and Roll Tower Whoever came up with this one either has spent a lot of time with small boys or is a genius. It involves balls, a hammer and a ramp. What more does a little boy need? (And at the moment it is only $13 on Amazon.)
7. Melissa and Doug Pound-A-Peg Funny story about this one: One evening my daughter was playing with this toy (she was two at the time) and my husband said to her "It's time to get ready for bed." She replied "No, it's Hammer Time!"
8. Bouncy Balls- The kind that are slightly smaller than a playground ball and you can get for about a dollar. My kids have just as much fun with those as their more expensive toys.
9. Fisher Price Little People A to Z Learning Zoo Ok, my kids haven't actually tested this one yet, but I have read several reviews before deciding that this one will be my son's "big toy" this year.  I'm excited about it, it plays music, it has little animals and it will help him learn his alphabet. They have a few other Little People toys that we have been happy with. (Another toy that was bigger than I expected.) I found this one for $48 shipped at, plus they gave me a code for $10 off $50 "10thanku4" and another small free bonus toy that will make a good stocking stuffer.
10. Pop-Up Pirate We kind of have a thing for pirates at our house. (See right.) This is a good game that all family members can play and enjoy together. Y'aargh! A pirate's life for me.
11. Playskool Ball Popper I can't believe I almost forgot this one. My son loves this and has spent countless hours playing with it. It's basically a fan with a tube slide and 5 plastic balls. Of course he figured out how to use it like a blow gun, but it doesn't pop the balls out hard enough to hurt anything.

Check out my post about tips for online shopping.

What have been the most successful toys in your family?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Christmas Tree is Up

We got our tree up. The pictures were kind of blurry, but believe me it looks better in real life. Not bad for a tree that we got at Home Depot for $2 when we were newlyweds and $7 worth of filler ornaments that I found on Amazon a few years ago. I love putting up the tree and all of the stories behind my non-filler variety ornaments. :)
You can tell that my kids were helping because we have one "very well decorated" corner.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I'm sure at some point I'm going to learn something from this.

 This morning I was supposed to work, but there weren't enough sick children, so I was put on-call. Hooray! I love being put on-call, it's my favorite. Especially on the weekends, because then my whole family is home. Yes, being on-call I make less than $3 an hour, but I get to be with my family, so it's worth it.
 Today I had marvelous plans. I did some small grocery shopping and rented a carpet cleaner. (Earlier this week when I tried to rent one there weren't any available, even though I called to verify beforehand. :S) Then I took my turkey carcass from the fridge, and threw it into the crock pot to make stock. Thing 2, who generally doesn't take much interest in my housekeeping activities found this to be very interesting. As I was chopping vegetables to put in it, he pulled up a chair and kept trying to convince me that we needed to put some purple grapes in the mix. :)
  Then I cleaned my house like some kind of crazy person. There is probably something wrong with me that I find it magical when my house is clean. I love it. But really it is fairly magical that I happened to have both the time and the energy to thoroughly clean my house. And looking at my carpets really makes me feel like singing. They really, really needed to be cleaned. Renting the carpet cleaner and buying solution came to $41, whereas paying someone to clean my carpets would cost at least $150. Hooray! Thing 2 also found carpet cleaning to be very interesting, for most of the cleaning he crawled along on the floor next to me watching the brushes. Silly boy.
  So my house is smelling like yumminess and my carpets were clean. When I was done I had more magical plans of pulling out all the Christmas decorations and bake cookies, maybe even do a little bit of shopping. The only thing left was my closet. Now for the past few weeks something has been amiss with my closet. There has been a musty odor, and it appeared about a week after I cleaned out and organized it. I had not the foggiest idea what it was. So my husband and I pulled everything out of our closet. Near the door we found a very moldy crayon. Thing 2 has a terrible habit of pouring water on the carpet. Why he enjoys this so much, I don't know, but we thought this was the cause of the problem. Then we kept pulling stuff out. Against the back wall sits our suitcase, and underneath it was more mold. (Shows how often we travel.) This had spread to 3 of my shoes (from 3 separate pairs) and my non-washable purse that I bought for $1 in Argentina. (I'm pretty sad about the bag, it was awesome.) When we pulled that away we discovered that there was about an inch of water damage along most of the baseboard. (Also of note my closet is inside my bathroom.) An inside wall mind you, which can only mean one thing. Plumbing issues. Murg. That totally puts a damper on the Christmas spirit and definitely no shopping.
  I cleaned everything with hydrogen peroxide and called a plumber. If he comes out today (Saturday), it will cost $130 per hour. If I wait until Monday it will only be $60 per hour. I can wait until Monday. Yes, this is a big pain in the neck that I need to address soon, but it totally can wait til Monday. I'm also thinking that putting my husband through school would have been a lot easier if I had been a plumber instead of a nurse. I'm sure that I will learn something useful from this experience and probably be able to get a blog post out of it with some helpful information to save someone else some hassle. And as I write this Thing 2 is shredding Styrofoam on my freshly cleaned carpet. That's my cue.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Christmas Traditions: Christmas Books Advent

A Christmas Dress For EllenI found this idea in a magazine years ago. Assemble 24 Christmas (or winter) children's books, wrap them up and every evening from December 1st to Christmas Eve, the kids get to unwrap one book. It helps them with the "IamsoexcitedandifIdon'topenapresentrightnowIamgoingtoexplode" phenomenon. Of course over the years I've collected more than 24 books, so now we start reading books on the night after Thanksgiving. Here are some of our favorites. Most of my books I have gotten at Seagull Book or at 'after Christmas' sales. I have also gotten a few good deals through Scholastic book orders. The vast majority of my books I have bought for $4 or less.

  1. A Christmas Dress For Ellen by Thomas S. Monson
  2. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
  3. Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
  4. Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner
  5. I Spy Christmas by Jean Marzollo
  6. Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate
  7. The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats
  8. And Then In A Twinkling by Becky Kelly
  9. The Very Smiley Snowman by Jack Tickle
  10. What Santa Can't Do by Douglas Wood
  11. Mary Engelbreit's A Merry Little Christmas: Celebrate from A to Z
  12. Today Is Christmas! by P.K. Hallinan
  13. Christmas Pea Coat by Richard H. Schneider
  14. The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale by Angela Hunt
  15. The Little Drummer Mouse by Mercer Mayer
  16. Fear Not, Joseph!: A Story of Christmas by Julie Stiegemeyer
  17. There Was No Snow On Christmas Eve by Pam M. Ryan
  18. Silent Night illustrated by Thomas Kinkade
  19. The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett
  20. Bear Noel by Olivier Dunrea
  21. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  22. Christmas for a Dollar by Gale Sears
  23. A Cricket's Carol by Mark K. Moulton
  24. A Christmas Stocking Story by Hilary Knight
  25. Merry Christmas, Mouse! by Laura Numeroff
  26. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
  27. The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
My blogging friend Jocelyn also has a list of 24 favorite Christmas books plus she has a simple craft or ornament to go with each one if you're feeling ambitious. They're worth checking out.