Monthly Archives: December 2011

Make Soap Art!

20111225-234117.jpg

Now, lets just humor me and everybody pretend you don’t see the dirty corners in this picture, but my messiness does not negate the super awesome funness of this project!

Got a bar of Ivory soap lying around your house somewhere? (or even better, a partial bar!) Pop it in the microwave and stand by to see what happens. It will only take a few seconds before things will start to get crazy!!! Just be ready to stop it before it cascades right out of its dish!

Ivory is near and dear to my heart because it’s whipped together with lots of air. This makes it famous for its buoyancy, and makes it kind of just explode when those microscopic pockets of air are heated till they expand!

This project is nothing less than life altering for two reasons:

1. That fluffy soap mass beside your sink will be so much more convenient for hand washing than a bar. Just break off a piece! Remember what it was like the first time you washed your hands with the foaming soap instead of the normal liquid stuff. Yeah. It’s kinda’ like that.

2. All the kids in your house will think you’re a crazy awesome insane mad scientist!

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Categories: Activities, children, Home, Home Decor | Leave a comment

Pulling Off a Traditional Holiday Meal in 30 Minutes or Less! (Smartypants Style)

Many feel the crunch that is often unique to this time of
year. This crunch, I believe, comes from trying to become super-human and do
everything within only a human-sized allotment of time. A few friends of the
4smartypants have already been discussing how they might best use their savvy
to accomplish this great fete. Among those we have talked with, much of the
conversation and brainstorming has been focused on trying to attend some type
of religious service in the evening but also wanting to host a traditional
holiday meal immediately following the service. In this post I will share with
you how a smartypants would go about meeting this challenge.

When hosting a dinner party, I always recommend planning
ahead. This includes setting the table and having all essentials ready to go
long before menu prep. I also recommend pre-making some hors devours like
cheese plates, crackers, cold-cuts, veggie plates, etc. Plates like this can be
covered with plastic wrap and stored in the fridge until guests arrive. Beverages
can be prepped by keeping cold beverages in the fridge, ice ready in the
freezer and appropriate cups and glasses arranged nicely on a counter. Desserts
can also be bought or baked ahead of time and covered until it is time to serve them.

Now that everything is looking pretty and ready to receive
guests, all that’s left is the prep work for the dinner. I recommend the
following menu for its traditional qualities but also because it can be
prepared in 30 minutes or less. (Bonus!).

What to make ahead of time…

Salad or soup. Many families serve a traditional oyster stew
on Christmas Eve. This harkens back to a time before iodized salt when families
couldn’t afford to serve foods with iodine on a regular basis. An oyster stew
on Christmas Eve was a real treat and is now celebrated with this tradition. If
this is your plan, I recommend purchasing and then re-heating this starter. If
salad is more your speed, I recommend my salad below. I’ve made it for years
and have always gotten really good feedback.

Cranberry Pecan Salad

Ingredients:

½ C Pecans

½ C Dried Cranberries

2 Tbsp Butter (or substitute)

1 Tbsp Sugar

1 Head Romaine Lettuce

¼ C Parmesan (grated)

Honey Mustard Salad Dressing (to taste)

Method:

In a sauté pan, toss pecans with butter (or substitute), and
sugar over medium heat. Set aside.

Prep then toss romaine lettuce with parmesan, cranberries
and salad dressing.

Sprinkle salad with pecans

The salad above can be prepped ahead of time minus the
dressing which can be added just before serving. For your main course I
recommend honey glazed ham, sweet potato pie and sautéed green beans or green
bean casserole. Don’t worry! This menu still fits into the time frame.

Honey Glazed Ham

Ingredients:

Sliced, pre-cooked Ham

2 Tbsp Honey

2 tsp Brown Sugar

Method:

Partially separate ham slices and heat through in the
microwave (times will vary pending on amount).

Drizzle honey over ham then sprinkle with brown sugar.

Place ham neatly in casserole dish or roasting pan and heat
in oven at 170 degrees.

Place on serving platter and you’re done!

Sweet Potato Pie:

Ingredients:

1 Tube Crescent Rolls

1-15oz. Can Sweet Potatoes

6-8 Tbsp (about 1 stick) Butter (or substitute)

½ C Brown Sugar

1 tsp Cinnamon

½ tsp Ground Nutmeg

½ tsp Vanilla Extract

3 C (about ½ bag) Mini Marshmallows

Salt to taste

Method:

Arrange 2/3 crescent roll dough in the bottom and around the sides of a
greased pie pan.

Bake crescent roll dough (now pie dough) for 12 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Cook sweet potatoes in microwave for 2 minutes.

Mix sweet potatoes, butter (or substitute), brown sugar,
nutmeg, and vanilla with hand mixer or food processor.

Add salt to taste.

When crescent roll dough has baked 12 minutes, remove and
add sweet potato mixture.

Twist the remaining 1/3 of the crescent roll dough and place
 on outside edges to make the “crust”.

Add marshmallows to the top of the pie.

Bake pie for an additional 12 minutes.

Green Beans or Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients:

4 Cups (or 1 bag frozen) Green Beans

1-2 Slices of Bacon cooked and crumbled into bits

2 Tbsp Butter (or substitute)

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

¼ Cup White Onion, diced

Salt & Pepper to taste

½ C French Fried Onions

(For Casserole method add one can cream of mushroom soup)

Method:

Place beans in microwaveable bowl with 1/4 C water, cover and
steam for 2 minutes.

Sauté onion in oil and butter until caramelized.

Drain beans and add to the sauté pan.

(For casserole method, add condensed soup at this time and
stir until heated through).

Mix in bacon and toss.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer beans into a serving dish and sprinkle French fried
onions over the top.

HINT: A smartypants cook would read through the above
recipes and have all ingredients pre-measured and prepped ahead of time.

So above are some recipes and quick prep tips to help you
pull off your last-minute meal in style. How does a smartypants go about
pulling this off in 30 minutes or less? And how does one cook this meal while guests arriving? Below is a step-by-step guide to pulling this meal off, from the time the savvy host/hostess arrives home to the time everyone is sitting for the meal.

Step 1:

Wash hands and put on music

Step 2:

Preheat oven

Step 3:

Set out hors devours

Step 4:

Open wine

Step 5:

Put crescent roll dough in pan and bake for 12 minutes

Step 6:

Begin green beans

Step 7:

Begin sweet potatoes

Step 8:

Heat ham

Step 9:

Finish sweet potatoes

Step 10:

Finish green beans

Step 11:

Prep salad

Step 12:

Plate all main course items

Step 13:

Change oven temp to 170 degrees and keep all things warm
until ready to serve

Step 14:

Serve starter course

Step 15:

Serve main course (don’t forget your trivets!)

Step 16:

Serve coffee and desserts

All steps should be interrupted as each guest arrives so
that the host can serve each guest their drink of choice. Guests will enjoy
visiting while the good smells of the meal begin to fill the home.

In this post I have given you a fail-safe menu and
entertaining plan in hopes to take some of the hustle out of your bustling
about. All that’s left to do is to kick back and show off your smartypants!

Categories: Christmas, Entertaining, Food, Home, Party Planning, Social Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reindeer Poo Goo!

Okay parents! Are your kids home for winter  break? Time to roll up your sleeves and have some old fashioned messy, yucky fun!  I am always a fan of adding science to a child’s regular set of activities. The following activity is guarenteed to be a fun way to have some seasonal, science fun!

HOW TO MAKE REINDEER POO GOO

What you will need:

Materials:
•Bowl
•1/2 cup flour
•¼ cup oatmeal
•¾ cup water

•1 tsp. salt
•3-4 drops Christmassy food coloring

Directions:
1.In bowl, mix flour and oatmeal together.
2.Add salt.
3.In a separate, smaller bowl mix food coloring to water together.
4.Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and stir until you have goo (add more water if necessary)

Why make Reindeer Poo Goo? Because it’s disgustingly fun, of course!

Also… Finding creative and unique ways to help kids flex their brain muscles is an excellent way to spend breaks from school. “Learning about polymers, or glues, does not have to be a boring chemistry lesson… [Making reindeer poo goo] helps children discover the fun side of adding properties together to create a completely different product. Parents can get a head start in teaching about polymers by visiting www.hometrainingtools.com. Children can also “ask a scientist” about polymers at Cornell University by visiting www.ccmr.cornell.edu/education/ask.  product.” (www.ww.naptimeconfessionsofastay-at-home-mom.blogspot.com).

 

 

Categories: Activities, children, Science | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

How a SmartyPants Buys a Computer

Looking to get a new laptop this holiday?  Our technology correspondent, Drew Stewart, will tell you everything you need to know:

Buying a New ComputerI get asked a lot of times to help in purchasing a computer. Consider this the text version of my usual response.

It seems that the further into the future we go, the more everything is being based on the web. Save for organizing your pictures or music (which can be done online now), most people just use their computers to get on the internet. That means that any computer currently for sale is going to do pretty much anything you could need, you’d only be limited by the speed of your connection to the internet. This also means that for most people the “Mac vs PC” argument is purely personal opinion. In my opinion, Macs have all of the advantages of design, stability, and ease-of-use, but PCs have the advantage of being cheap. I’ll go forward assuming you’re buying a PC.

But if you still need help choosing a new laptop (because who buys desktops anymore?), remember that bigger numbers are usually better. First, find a screen size you really like. Some are too small to really use and others are too large to be portable. As for what’s inside, the higher the numbers, the better. Processors are no longer rated by speed so much as how many processor cores are inside; the more cores, the faster it does things. RAM or memory is how many things you can do at the same time; the more GBs, the more you can do. Hard drive space has gotten ridiculous. A lot of new computers will come with 1 TB (terabyte) of space. That’s one million MB (megabytes)! Unless you’re going to be editing mass quantities of video, I don’t think many people need that much space. Don’t pay too much more for more space unless you know you’ll need it. I would avoid Acers, eMachines, and Compaqs myself, as they are basically the store brand versions of HPs and Gateways.

Once you pick something out, don’t let the salesperson sell you things you don’t need. The antivirus programs they usually sell are a lot more powerful than you’ll need and might slow your computer down. Microsoft Security Essentials (http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/products/security-essentials) is free, fast, and automatically updates along with the rest of  your system. And before you buy Microsoft Office, first see if you can do what you need using Google Docs (http://docs.google.com) or download LibreOffice (http://www.libreoffice.org/). Google Docs is pretty basic, but you don’t have to worry about ever losing a document because its automatically saved on the internet. LibreOffice is very similar to Microsoft Office and may still be more than what you need.

Before you really start using your computer, download and run PCDecrapifier (http://pcdecrapifier.com/). It helps get rid of all of the junk programs most manufacturers put on your computer that are really just advertisements. Also run CCleaner (http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner) periodically to clean up temporary files your computer doesn’t need to have cluttering up its system. You might also consider leaving Internet Explorer for Google Chrome (http://www.google.com/chrome) or Mozilla Firefox (http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/). Both are faster, more customizable, and more secure than Internet Explorer.

Another helpful tool is Dropbox (http://db.tt/1r7445U). What Dropbox does is make a folder on your system that whatever you put in it is automatically saved to their website. It’s a quick and easy way to make backups of your files. What’s also neat is that if you have more than one computer, you can install Dropbox on each of them and whatever you put in the folder is not only copied to the internet, but to your other computer. I have not used a flash drive since installing Dropbox, and I used to use my flash drive all of the time. And the more people you invite to Dropbox, the more free space you get to use! (Fair warning, the link I posted is my referral link, but we both get more free space if you use it!)

If you really want to live on the cutting edge and already know that you do everything on the internet, consider buying a Google Chromebook (http://www.google.com/chromebook/). Especially useful as a second computer, it only has the internet on it. Since everything is on the internet, it never needs to be backed up. Since its only a web browser, it can’t get a virus. Since it doesn’t need much hard drive space, manufacturers use the fastest hard drives available, meaning it boots up in less than 10 seconds. You can’t sync your iPhone to it or anything like that, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a replacement to a full PC, but if you just need something to check your Facebook and update your blog from the couch, you might be interested.

You can follow me on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/doubleofive) or Google+ (http://gplus.to/doubleofive). This article was written on Google Docs from my Google Chromebook.

Categories: Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Useful Stocking Stuffers! (Because your kid doesn’t need more cheap crap from Dollar Tree.)

Good morning, SmartyPants! Hope your December is going well! Can you believe Christmas is less than a week away?

I’m excited, because this is the first Christmas my older son might actually remember! Up until now, we’ve kept things simple and cheap for our household. Mostly, we just let each other get one big thing that we’ve been wanting for a while and call it Christmas, then buy something fun for the kiddo to open on Christmas day. Our son’s been too young up to this point to have any expectations, or, frankly, to really even get that excited about opening presents at all! This year will be the very first year we’ve hung stockings in our home!

BUT, our budget hasn’t really changed, so I’ve been struggling with how and what to fill FOUR brand new stockings with! I don’t want to just go out to the dollar store and buy a bunch of cheap candy and trinkets. I don’t want tiny broken pieces all over my home, and I certainly don’t want my kid having a sugar meltdown on Christmas day.

I’ve started a running list of things I can put in our stockings. In the interest of my budget, most of them are just NICER versions of things we already consume. Like the fancy Cars 2 body wash instead of the usual generic soap. Get it? I’ll let you take a peek at my brainstorming. Some of my ideas are better than others…

For the Baby:

This stuff is really for the caregivers, but if you still want to involve your infant in the stocking tradition, you could do this:

  • Teethers
  • Oragel
  • Baby Tylenol
  • Gas drops
  • Bottle nipples
  • Feeder bottle
  • Blue Jean or “Designer” disposable diapers
  • A new cloth diaper
  • Burp rags or bibs
  • A nicer thermometer
  • Clothing items
  • Teething biscuits or finger foods
  • A fancier baby lotion or wash. (like California Baby)
  • Crib sheets
  • Pacifiers
For the Toddler or Preschooler
  • Obviously, small toys and candy.
  • Toiletries that are branded with their favorite characters. Soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, bandaids, wipes…
  • Individually wrapped snacks
  • Gummy Vitamins
  • Character underpants and socks
  • Sippy cups
  • Hats
  • Gloves
  • “Magic Towels” (Its like a compressed wash cloth that expands when put in water. They’re fun.)
  • Fun pillow cases. (I have a drooler in my house. Pillows and pillowcases cannot be laundered often enough!)
  • Sunglasses
For the Grown Ups (and older children)
  • Various high end toiletries. Shaving Gels, Moisturizers, Lip Balms, toothbrushes, hair products, body poufs.
  • High end or scented cleaning products. (I’ve recently fallen in love with Mrs. Meyers dish soap!)
  • Air fresheners
  • Hand warmers
  • Hats, scarves, gloves, socks… Warm stuff!
  • Earphones! We lose these so often! We can never seem to have enough in our home!
  • Actually, any of those things you find yourself losing all the time. Think scissors, pens and pencils, screwdrivers, tweezers, etc.
  • Small kitchen tools.
  • Smartphone cases and chargers. (To make this cheap, check closeout stores like Big Lots and Five Below.)
  • Paperback books
  • New moms will appreciate washable nursing pads, Lanolin, or an extra cover up or two!
  • Extra video game controllers. (To make THIS cheaper, buy pre-owned from Game Stop.)
  • Guitar pics
  • Gum or breathmints
  • Simple sewing tools
Anything that is both practical and beautiful would make a lovely stocking stuffer, no matter the age! Any product they enjoy using but consider a splurge (like the salon brand shampoo instead of the usual stuff) makes a wonderful stocking stuffer. Anything you’ve been curious to try out, but are usually too stingy to buy (like the “Boogey Wipes” for your toddler’s runny nose). Anything they already have but would enjoy having duplicates (like their favorite reusable water bottle). Anything they often forget to upgrade or replace (like windshield wipers, water filters, contact lens cases).
And FYI: Santa won’t mind if drop a few nicer but practical things in your own stocking, too! Hope I’ve helped get the wheels a’turning! I’m sure you’ve already got tons of ideas I haven’t even considered, yet! Care to share???
Categories: Christmas | Leave a comment

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