Maybe Matilda

Thursday, July 2, 2015

June 2015 Books

My book selections have been called eclectic in the past. And they have perhaps never been more eclectic than they were in June.

We've got a post-apocalyptic thriller, a cinematic memoir, a romantic/historic mystery, a supernatural horror . . . odd stuff, this month. Odd stuff indeed.

Short and Sweet Book Reviews // june 2015
(Affiliate links ahead!)

The Children Act (Ian McEwan) I know McEwan from Atonement, which I read for a class in college and loved. In this book, an English judge must rule on whether a 17-year old leukemia patient who is also a Jehovah's Witness should be forced to receive a potentially life-saving blood transfusion against his wishes, while dealing with her crumbling marriage. Lots of interesting moral/ethical questions, and I've found myself thinking about it over and over since finishing it. I didn't love it, and the ending felt really unsatisfying to me . . . but I think it's worth looking at.

Bird Box (Josh Malerman) My sister-in-law recommended this one, and I learned too late that she was actually only recommending it to Jeff, not me ("You're not supposed to read it! It's too scary for you!"). Something--no one knows what--is causing people to kill themselves. The only way to stay safe is to not look outside. And 5 years later, one of the very few survivors must journey out in an attempt to bring her children to safety. This is creepy and quite gruesome, but so hard to put down, too. The lack of answers is frustrating, but the ambiguity may make it creepier since you fill in the blanks with whatever scares you the most.

The Splendour Falls (Susanna Kearsley) I'm on a bit of a Kearsley bender lately. Her blend of modern life with historical romance works for me. This one, though? Definitely not my favorite. She has such a nice way of writing, but I found this book slow and boring and hard to stick with. The mystery wasn't particularly mysterious, the romance wasn't all that romantic, and I never much cared whether the characters found answers to their questions. It was a relief to finish it, simply so I could mark it off and move on to something else. I'd recommend skipping this one and picking up The Rose Garden or Mariana instead.

Within These Walls (Ania Ahlborn) I always research books before I check them out--this one was the first book in many, many months that I picked up purely because it was available when I needed something to listen to. This horror is about a crime author who is invited to interview a cult leader and death row inmate responsible for the deaths of 8 people--with the catch that he must move into the house where the murders were committed (and, wouldn't you know, it turns out to be haunted). If you've watched The Following (which I started and was intrigued by, but it was too dark and creepy for me), this book has a very similar feel.

As You Wish (Cary Elwes) If you grew up watching The Princess Bride every chance you got and planning to get married in Buttercup's wedding dress and slowly shouting "aaaaaaas yoooooouuuuu wiiiiiiiiish!" while rolling down steep hills at the playground, chances are you will love this memoir by Cary Elwes (who, of course, played Wesley) about the making of the movie. And even better, if you listen on audio, the actors, director, author, etc. all read their own behind-the-scenes memories. I loved it, and am now desperate to watch the movie again.

What did you read this month?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Graham Cracker Coconut Bars

This post is sponsored by Honey Maid.


I have a large extended family, and it’s an extremely rare day that we all end up in the same place at the same time. So it was fantastic to be able to catch up with my grandma, as well as aunts, uncles, and cousins that I haven’t seen in years, at a family picnic last week. 

One of the treats that my aunt made for our get-together was these Graham Cracker Coconut Bars. I can remember my mom making these for me and my siblings when we were kids, then making them myself from the recipe in our family cookbook. I’ve brought them to parties and picnics and baby showers for friends, and I always get a request for the recipe (which I hope isn’t a family secret, since I’ve been handing it out all these years).


Graham Cracker Coconut Bars

And I have to say, there was something special about eating a traditional family dessert while surrounded by family members at our picnic recently. We’ve all changed over the years in countless ways, but this one dessert has been a constant. I’ve been eating it--and now making it--for my entire life. I can remember sitting at the kitchen table as a little kid to eat these bars, and now I’m serving them to my own kids. So many awesome family connections and memories involved with one simple food.

Graham Cracker Coconut Bars

They make the perfect picnic food since they’re so easy to make ahead, transport, and eat without any utensils. If you have a 4th of July family picnic coming up, go ahead and make these delicious bars. You will be so glad you did.

To start, I like to line my baking sheet with lightly sprayed foil first to make cleanup easier. Then lay out full graham crackers to cover the pan.

Graham Cracker Coconut Bars

You’ll make an amazing coconut, nut, and caramel filling in about 5 minutes on the stovetop, then pour it over the graham crackers.


And spread to cover them completely.

graham cracker coconut picnic bars

Another layer of graham crackers covers the filling.

graham cracker coconut picnic bars

And finally, a layer of homemade frosting finishes them off. They’re delicious right away, but infinitely better after they’ve had time to sit. If I’m bringing these bars to a get-together, I always try and make them a few hours ahead of time, or even the day before.


graham cracker bars

They make the perfect picnic treat, so if you’re looking for a dessert to bring to your 4th of July family party, look no further. This is the one.

Graham Cracker Coconut Bars
recipe slightly adapted from my aunt Miriam in our family cookbook

For bars:
1 cup butter
½ cup milk
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1 cup chopped walnuts (divided--I like to reserve some for topping)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 sleeves whole graham crackers

For frosting:
⅓ cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk

Prepare a baking sheet by lining with foil and spraying lightly with nonstick spray. Cover the bottom of the baking sheet with whole graham crackers.

In a medium bowl over medium heat, combine butter, milk, brown sugar, and egg. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 2 minutes. Add coconut, ⅔ cup nuts, and graham cracker crumbs, and stir to combine.

Pour coconut mixture over graham crackers in pan, and spread evenly to cover the crackers. Top with remaining graham cracker sheets to cover the filling.

In a medium bowl, combine butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla, and beat to combine. Add milk as necessary to make a smooth, spreadable consistency. Spread frosting over bars, and top with reserved nuts. Let sit for several hours or overnight before cutting and serving.
_______________________________________

I love making and sharing these bars with my family, and hopefully you’ll love sharing them with your family this July 4th!

No matter how things change, what makes us wholesome never will. Honey Maid provides wholesome snacks for every wholesome family.

honeymaid


Monday, June 29, 2015

Healthy Green Smoothies My Kids Will Actually Drink

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #NaturallyClean #CollectiveBias 

I remember once, ages ago, complaining to a friend about what a picky eater Forrest was. At the time, I think he was only really eating breads (muffins, rolls, etc.), and hadn't touched a fruit or vegetable in months. And this other mom suggested all casually, "Why don't you make him smoothies? My kids love smoothies." 

And I think I actually laughed out loud, because it seemed to me that a child who will drink smoothies is not a picky child.

Thank goodness, Forrest has been improving on the picky eating lately. I still think he's absurdly picky, but at almost 5 years old, he's finally becoming more willing to try things. 9 times out of 10, he'll take a microscopic bite and declare it disgusting, but at least he'll try. This feels like huge progress to me. 

And although he insists that he hates almost every ingredient I put into smoothies, he actually is loving and requesting them lately. 


The smoothie love started a few months ago--Forrest was out running errands with my mom and watched while she ordered herself a smoothie. I swear to you, the greatest persuasion tactics in the world wouldn't have made the smallest impact if it had been me drinking a smoothie in front of him, but we're not talking about boring mom here. We're talking about Grandma. I'm not sure she even had to offer--he asked for a sip and then proceeded to gulp her entire smoothie down, and started requesting them at home. Which Darcy appreciates, since she can't say 'smoothie' but loves them anyway.

And now, these homemade smoothies are probably the only source of actual vitamins and nutrients that he ingests. I'm only half joking.

I almost always have these ingredients on hand, so it's really easy to whip up a quick smoothie when he asks. Here's the formula that has worked best for us:

1/2-1 cup ice
1 1/2 cups frozen mixed berries
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1 banana, fresh or frozen, chopped
1/2-3/4 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt
1 cup juice (or milk, or almond milk)

Our blender has been slowly dying for years now--I'm always a bit surprised when it kicks on after being plugged in. We really ought to just get a new one (especially since the kids are such smoothie fans now!), but in the meantime, I try and help it as much as I can by chopping up some of the ingredients before adding them to the blender. 

I give 1-2 handfuls of spinach a rough chop before tossing it in--I love using spinach in smoothies because (and I'm being totally honest here) I think it tastes like nothing. So why not add some healthy greens when they have literally no impact on the flavor of the smoothie? Forrest doesn't need to know.

green works and healthy smoothies

I used new Green Works Pump 'N Clean while making my smoothies the other day--it's completely food safe, so it's great to use if you need to clean up a tad while cooking. I used it to clean off my knife after chopping the spinach. I love that I can use it one-handed, and that it's totally safe to use in the kitchen and even around food.

green works and healthy smoothies

green works and healthy smoothies

Then just jumped right back in to chop my banana.

green works and healthy smoothies

green works and healthy smoothies

If I've really gone heavy on the spinach, or if I'm using milk instead of juice, I'll sometimes add a bit of sugar to the blender, too. 

healthy smoothie recipe

If you're interested in trying out new Green Works Pump 'N Clean, grab it in the natural section of the cleaning aisle at Target. And even better, from June 14-July 11, use the Target Cartwheel app to save 10% on all varieties of Green Works products (including Pump 'N Clean). Target is actually the only retailer carrying the entire Green Works line, so check them out while you're there.

green works pump n clean at target

Do you use natural cleaning products like Green Works in your kitchen? And--as the parent of a picky eater, this is always on my mind--how do you convince your kids to try healthy new foods?

Friday, June 26, 2015

DIY Curious George Shirt (Be a Good Little Monkey!)

My kids are hardcore Curious George groupies. And that's totally fine with me. I think it's such a cute show. Let's be honest, there are some kids' shows that are just awful to watch, or even to hear in the background while you're busy doing other stuff. (Don't even get me started on Sid the Science Kid.) But I think Curious George is as sweet and adorable as they come.

Forrest was the original George fan in our house, and now Darcy is crazy about, too. I love seeing them sitting side by side to watch George together. And it's not uncommon at all to hear Forrest telling Darcy to 'be a good little monkey!' (If you don't watch the show, that's what the man in the yellow hat says to George in nearly every episode.)

So I figured Curious George inspired shirts were in order for my little monkeys.

diy curious george shirt "be a good little monkey"

I'd like you to know that Darcy ate 2 and a half bananas in the 5 minutes it took to get these pictures. Girlfriend is insatiable. They were meant to be props, not snacks! She is indeed part monkey.

diy curious george shirt "be a good little monkey"

Making an important call on his banana phone, I guess? I don't even know.

diy curious george shirt "be a good little monkey"

These cute tanks were really simple to make with my Silhouette Portrait and some heat transfer vinyl.

I started with store bought shirts--I picked these up from the toddler boys' section at Walmart. Then I downloaded a font that was as close to the Curious George font as I could find. It's called 'Wrexham,' and it is free at Urban Fonts.

Step 1: Lay out your design in Silhouette Studio. Make sure to measure your shirt so you know how large to make the words. I made my first line of words just shy of 6", and the second line between 7-8" to fit Darcy's shirt (18 months). For Forrest's (4T), I stretched the text box about 1" bigger. Remember to mirror image the design so that it cuts in reverse!

Load the heat transfer vinyl into the Silhouette and start cutting. Weed out the excess vinyl after cutting is complete, and you'll be left with just the design, cut backwards, on the transfer paper, as shown in picture 1 below.

Step 2: Lay out the design on your tank. The plastic backing is slightly tacky, which is awesome since you can play with the positioning and just press it down when you're ready so it won't slip as you iron. (And you can't see it in my picture there, but the plastic backing is, in fact, still there.)
how to use heat transfer vinyl and silhouette to make your own t shirt design
 Step 3: Cover the shirt with a thin cloth and iron over it (follow the vinyl package instructions). I ironed it a little longer than called for, just to be safe.

Step 4: Slowly peel off the glossy backing to reveal your awesome completed shirt.

DIY Curious George shirts

Forrest was really excited about his shirt, and eagerly put it on before the fabric had even cooled down from being ironed. And I expected Darcy to put up a major stink about having her clothes changed (because in her world, a wardrobe change is only a baby step away from child abuse), but as soon as she realized that her little shirt matched her brother's, she was frantically clawing at the outfit she was wearing so I could take it off and put this on her. I think she might like matching him. Much tears, many sad at the end of the day when the monkey shirt had to come off so the jammies could go on.

DIY Curious George shirts

Yes, that picture's blurry and as such is probably not blog-worthy . . . but it was one of my favorites anyway.

Do you have any Curious George fans at your house, too?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Townhouse Tour: Nautical Big Boy Bedroom

Our recent move seemed like a good time to upgrade Forrest from his toddler bedroom setup to a 'big boy' bedroom. It started out simple enough with a few practical ideas, and snowballed until we had an entire room makeover on our hands.

His itty bitty 3 drawer dresser has been bursting at the seams for years now, so maybe we ought to get a bigger dresser for him . . . and if we're going to be getting a bigger dresser, maybe I'd better get him a matching nightstand, too . . . and if he's going to have a full-sized dresser and nightstand, I suppose he ought to move up into a twin bed since his little toddler bed might look silly next to all that big furniture . . .

All of a sudden, we had an entire bedroom transformation on our hands. These projects always start out innocently, don't they? Classic 'if you give a mouse a cookie' situation.

I wanted it to be a room he could grow with--something that's perfectly fun for him now while he's little, but will be just as fitting for a 6- or 10- or 13-year old boy. I love how it came out.

Classic, Nautical Big Boy Bedroom


Classic, Nautical Big Boy Bedroom

 His bed started out as my brother's bed when he was little, then when he left for college, it moved into my room. So Forrest is now the 3rd person in the family to use this bed. I love the simple, timeless style, and I think it's a perfect fit in here.

I wondered if he'd have any issues with moving from a little toddler bed to something bigger--he's actually done really great. He loves his new bed and seems to think it's really cool and grown up to sleep in a big bed.

Classic, Nautical Big Boy Bedroom

 The inspiration for the whole room began with the bedding. I toyed briefly with the idea of sewing a quilt. That lasted about 2 minutes. Right up until I realized that we were moving for Pete's sake and did I really want to add a giant sewing project onto my to-do list? NOPE.

I remembered looking at Beddy's months and months earlier, and revisited their site, where I fell hard for the Game On bedding set. It looked to me like the perfect bedding for a classic boys' room--it has personality and was a great jumping-off point for the rest of a traditional, nautical room design, but it's simple and classic enough to be a great fit for all sorts of bedrooms, so I'd have some freedom to change up the look of the room later on. But more on the bedding in a minute.

First, the dresser that started it all. As I mentioned earlier, Forrest has been using a 3-drawer dresser forever, and while it was a good fit for his baby clothes, it was just too small as he (and his clothes!) grew. So we went all-out with a big 9-drawer dresser, with the hope that I never have to buy him a larger dresser ever again. It's a pretty large piece of furniture, but this room is bigger than his room in our old house, so I think it actually works fine in here. Never could have made this work in his old room.

classic, nautical big boy bedroom

I bought it from a woman on facebook, who said she would refinish it however the buyer wanted. So I asked her to paint it navy blue with a stained top, and I think it came out nicely. The map above the dresser is a years-ago thrift store find, and I've always loved it. I've wondered if I should paint the frame, but it's one of those 'eh, whatever' projects that I always think I'll get around to someday, but never end up actually finishing.

I feel like Pinterest would want me to accessorize and style the top of the dresser. But real life tells me that this is a 4-year old boy's bedroom, and any styling will last approximately 45 seconds before he sweeps it off to use as a superhero fighting arena. So I didn't even bother. Just for the sake of these pictures, I tossed on a wood slice leftover from my sister's wedding decor, along with a wooden fish my brother brought back for me from Guatemala about 15 years ago, and Forrest's alarm clock that is only like 80% clock, and 20% little kid finger grime.

classic, nautical big boy bedroom

The woman who painted the dresser also refinished this little nightstand for the room, too. I worried about the style of this one, but I've decided that it's actually really functional. The drawers are fake (bummer), so having an extra shelf provides some of the storage I wish it had in the first place.

classic, nautical big boy bedroom

The little basket (toy storage) is from HomeGoods, the plant and planter are from Ikea, and the light-up letter is from Joann. The anchor art above the bed is also from HomeGoods.

I felt like a nautical bedroom wouldn't be complete without a red, white, and blue pennant banner. I made this super simple one in less than an hour (super simple in that I didn't bother making it reversible or finishing the cut edges or anything--it's going to hang, untouched, on a wall, so I don't see the point of making it all fancy). The fabrics are from Joann--1/4 yard each of 5 different prints, plus 2 spools of navy ribbon. I love the playful touch it adds.

classic, nautical big boy bedroom

One of my biggest annoyances in Forrest's room has always been that he won't (or can't) make his bed by himself. It's not that big of a deal for me to make it for him, really, but it's just another chore to do when I already have so many things to do around the house every day. I've tried teaching him how to make his bed, but even with a small toddler bed, he couldn't reach far enough to pull the blankets up, and he could never pull them straight, and he'd get frustrated and upset about it.

This is awesome--the Beddy's includes all the bedding you need in one piece. The fitted sheet and blanket are connected along the bottom, and the top blanket just needs to be zipped up along the side to make the bed. When you need to wash the bedding, you just pull it all off in one piece and toss it in the washer. And the top blanket? It's lined with minky. What I wouldn't give to sleep under a minky blanket each night.

beddy's zipper bedding

He just unzips it at night and climbs inside (and a minky panel pulls out so that even when he's under the top blanket, there's some blanket hang-over on the sides so he won't get chilly). How obvious is it that he thought it was awfully silly to pretend to be sleeping for this picture?

beddy's zipper bedding

And in the morning, he just pulls the blanket straight and zips up the side to make his bed.

beddy's zipper bedding

I LOVE that he can make his bed completely on his own. He doesn't need my help, he doesn't get frustrated about it like he used to, and it only takes him a few seconds. The quality of the bedding is really wonderful, and the idea itself is genius. No more morning fights over making his bed.

beddy's zipper bedding

For your viewing pleasure: a GIF of the bed-making in action. I hope this works. I have no idea what I'm doing.

beddy's zipper bedding

Just an FYI: this post is not sponsored. But I wrote to Beddy's after falling in love with their bedding online and they graciously sent Forrest's bedding in exchange for mentioning them in this post. And I can recommend them 100% . . . awesome customer service, high-quality materials, and it makes our mornings go a little more smoothly.

What do you think of Forrest's bedroom? Do your kids struggle to get their beds made in the morning?
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