Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gifts for Boys - Lego Mindstorms

Remember last week when I posted about all the great stuff I got Riley for Christmas? Well, yesterday my husband lost his damn mind and bought him another gift. A HUGE gift. He bought him a LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 , commonly called a Lego robot. 

LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 

My first exposure to these robots was through a summer camp Riley participated in at COSI, our local kid's science museum. The kids used the LEGO Mindstorms sets to build these robots and program them, using a computer, to complete particular tasks. One of the cool things about these robots is that they have all sorts of sensors they use to follow the programs kids create. Below, the robots are using some sort of light sensor thingie (technical term) to follow that masking tape line on the floor. (Crappy cell phone pics ahead - sorry.)

Riley with his robot he built at camp.

Riley has since joined the Lego robotics team in our area, and is preparing, along with his team, for the FLL (First Lego League) competition, which is in just a few weeks. 

Riley and his team preparing for the FLL competition.

So, why am I telling you all this?

Basically, because these things are really freaking cool.

They teach kids about engineering, robotics, problem solving, and computer programming, not to mention creativity. If you've seen my previous Gifts for Boys posts, you know that I really try hard to find gifts that are BOTH educational and creative. You can build all sorts of robots, and program them to do all sorts of cool stuff. Riley was just telling me today how some kid on his robotics team programmed his robot to go up and down stairs. I think it's pretty awesome that a 9-year-old can do that.

If you're going to spend a bunch of money on a gift for a kid in your life (yes, this is cool for girls too - you can see above that one of Riley's teammates is female), why not get them something fun and creative and educational rather than blowing a bunch of cash on an iPad or some video game? They're not cheap, but they certainly aren't as expensive as some of the techie gifts I hear kids asking for this year.

Riley is going to LOSE. HIS. MIND. when he opens this on Christmas morning. I know lots and lots of you have Lego fans too, so I thought I would put my assessment of the Mindstorm robots out there, in case it might help you with your holiday shopping.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Reversible Superman Hoodie, and the Return of my Sewing Mojo

I'm not gonna lie - ever since I sewed through my finger, I've been a bit hesitant to sit back down at the sewing machine. But I got my mojo back this weekend, and whipped up this hoodie for Quinn. He LOVES hoodies. LOVES them. Zips them up all the way and wears the hood up 100% of the time.

I used the KitschyCoo Reversible Zippy Hoodie pattern again. I really love this pattern. I used the 3T/4T size here, but I think in the future, I will make the 5T for Quinn, so he can get more wear out of it.

(Ignore the random thread there I forgot to clip, okay?)

One side is made from black sweatshirt fleece. I appliqued some of the Superman comic panels to the front and sleeve of the black side. The other side is a Superman comic quilting cotton. I see precisely one yard of it left on Etsy, so if you want some, you better get it fast.

Show me your superguy muscles, Q!!

I see several more hoodies in my future before Christmas, now that I'm not cowering in terror every time I look at my machine.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gifts for Boys - Ages 9-12

I get lots of questions from friends, family, and readers about what kinds of gifts boys like. I wrote a post here about gifts I got for Riley for his ninth birthday, and I think all of those would also make great holiday gifts. Over winter break, Riley and I are looking forward to working on some more papertoy monsters from the book I gave him for his birthday. I mentioned in that post that I have some gifting guidelines. The gift:

1. Must be at least a little educational OR
2. Must be at least a little creative BUT
3. I really want both educational and creative.

I think most of these gifts fit those criteria (except for the Wii game). And yes, I do think Legos are educational and creative. When building a specific project, it requires attention to detail, the ability to follow directions, and a long attention span. When building free-form, it requires creativity and planning.

So, with those guidelines in mind, I thought I'd share what I'm getting the boys for Christmas this year, in case you're looking for "boy toys". These gifts are good for boys in the 7-12ish range. 

Riley asked for ALL of the LEGO World Racer sets for Christmas. ALL OF THEM. He's definitely not getting them all, but he is getting this one from us, and this one from some other family members.

Guinness World Records 2012

I don't really get it, but the kid LOVES the Guinness Book. He pours over them all year long, and at least once a day parrots some obscure record back to me.

This is the second year Riley has asked for the Super Mario Bros. Wii game, so we're getting it for him this year. I have a love/hate relationship with the Wii - It's super fun, but he gets so sucked into it that he totally tunes out everything else around him, including ME, telling him to turn it off. We don't play much Wii for this very reason, but I think this game will be one that Riley, Bryan, and I will all play together.

LEGO Star Wars T-6 Jedi Shuttle

You thought I was done with only ONE Lego set? Oh no. No no no. We are ALL LEGO ALL THE TIME around here. And even though Riley has never seen any of the Star Wars movies (neither have I - yes, really), he still thinks that the Lego sets are pretty cool, and I have to agree with him.

LEGO Ninjago Ice Dragon Attack

Legos. Ninjas. Dragons. Shooting action. What else is there to say?

Forbidden Island

This game actually came highly recommended by the owner of our local math enrichment center. I overheard him telling another parent that his favorite part of this game is that it is team-based. The whole team wins or loses. Riley loves games, and could definitely use more emphasis on teamwork, so we're going to try this one out.

Lego: The Calendar 2012

Finally, it's tradition in my family to give each person a new calendar for Christmas. Riley's getting this 2012 Lego calendar.

So that's it! These things are actually living in my Amazon cart right now, and in a few short weeks, will be  all over my house, I'm sure. Especially those Legos - they have a way of ending up under my feet CONSTANTLY, and they feel like tiny daggers when you step on them. If you've ever lived in a house with a Lego lover, you understand.

What are you getting your the boys in your life this holiday season?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Avocado Fries Recipe

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Avocados from Mexico for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

I have a confession. Until I was 26, I'd never tried an avocado. Yes, really. But then my mother-in-law introduced me to her delicious homemade guacamole, and I felt like I'd missed out on 26 years of deliciousness. I became such an avocado convert that I served both Quinn and Sawyer avocado as their very first food. That's right, no rice cereal or pureed fruits - straight to avocado. It's actually a fantastic first food because it's soft and easily mashed by toothless little mouths, plus it's packed with tons of vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C, and E, as well as B-complex vitamins. Not to mention the potassium and folate! They really are super foods.

Your kids aren't avocado fans? Well, now is a great time to introduce avocados to them! Avocados from Mexico is hosting a Mini Chef Video Contest for parents of kids ages 5-15.

New Message

All you have to do to enter is submit a 1-3 minute video of your little chef making an avocado recipe. Be sure to have them mention why they love avocados, and include the catchy jingle on the Mini Chef Video Contest website. Videos will be judged on the Mini Chef's personality and presence of an avocado. There are all sorts of awesome prizes, including $1,000 cash, a Nintendo 3D with two games, and an HD camcorder! Get your video in by December 4th, and check back on December 6th to see if you video made the top ten. Public voting will take place Dec 6-11 on YouTube, and the video with the most "likes" wins.

This little  contest inspired me to make an avocado recipe that I saw on Pinterest awhile back - avocado fries! Cause really, what doesn't taste delicious breaded and fried? It's a great way to make avocados kid friendly too - I told my kids they were "green fries". They were SUPER easy and delicious. The outside is crunchy, and the inside is super creamy.
Panko Bread Crumbs - about 3/4 to 1 cup per avocado
Avocados - just ripe (If they are overripe, they won't hold up to frying)
Cumin (to taste)
1 egg per avocado
Oil for frying 

Slice your avocado into thin slices. Season your panko bread crumbs to taste with cumin. I used about 3/4 teaspoon per cup of panko. Press your avocado slices in the panko, then dredge in the egg, and then back to panko for one more coating. Fry in hot oil until golden brown.
 I also made a spicy aioli by mixing mayo and hot sauce to taste. It made a super easy and tasty dipping sauce!

That's it! Enjoy!

Visit Sponsor's Site

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gifts for Guys: Skateboard Sling at kojodesigns

Hey! I'm over at kojo designs today as part of their Gifts for Guys series. If you've never visited, you should. LOTS AND LOTS of fantastic ideas, and great eye candy - their photos are gorgeous!

I'm sharing a tutorial for this Skateboard Sling! It would be a great accessory for any current skateboarder in your life, or any guy who might be asking for a skateboard as a gift this year. You could also easily adapt it to use with all sorts of different types of sports equipment. 

Check it out over at kojo designs!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Skateboard Sling Tutorial

This post was originally posted over at kojodesigns as part of their FANTASTIC Gifts for Guys series!

Guys are hard to craft for. And they don't get nearly as excited about handmade goodness as women do. For these reasons, I like to include a handmade accessory that goes along with store-bought gifts, rather than trying to make their entire gift. Today, I'm going to show you an example of this - the Skateboard Sling!

My oldest son thinks skateboarding is "awesome". I created this skateboard sling to help him get his skateboard to and from the skate park. You could make this out of scraps, and pick up a skateboard and some safety equipment (I can't find it online, but Riley's is from Target, and was only $10.00, or you could also check out Amazon's skateboarding store for boards and safety equipment) , and have a great gift for any tween or teenage guy in your life!

This project is super easy and suitable for a beginner. You do need a couple of measurements from your skateboard before you get started. You need to know the distance between your wheels, and the circumference around your board. If your board is a different size than mine, adjust the length of the fabric strips accordingly.

In case you don't know these measurements, just use the measurements I provide here. 

Supplies: Long strips of scrap fabrics, or you could piece fabric together
Fusible fleece
Sewing machine
Velcro (about 30 inches of half-inch wide Velcro)
Coordinating thread

Cut two pieces of fabric that are 5 inches by 55 inches (for the main strap), and  two pieces of fusible fleece that are about 4 inches wide by 54 inches long. Apply the fusible fleece to the wrong side of the straps.

 Then, cut two strips of fabric that are 5 inches by 22.5 inches (to wrap around the board). You can adjust these measurements as necessary to fit your board measurements.

Cut your velcro into 5-inch segments.

First thing we're going to do is make the straps that wrap around the board. To do this, we're basically turing our shorter fabric strips into bias tape and stitching them closed.

Press your shorter strips in half along the long side, then open your strips and press the edges in towards the center crease. In the first picture on the left, you can see both of the long edges press in towards the center. Make sure to fold the short edge in about half an inch to enclose the raw edge of the fabric.

In the middle picture, you can see that I stitched a few rows along the short edge of the strip to keep those ends folded in, and then sewed parallel lines about half an inch apart all the way down the length of the strip.

Finally, on the right, you can see that I attached two 5-inch velcro segments to each strap end. Make sure that you attach the soft Velcro piece and the rough Velcro piece to OPPOSITE SIDES (and ends) of the strap. So, apply the soft part of the Velcro to one end, and then FLIP and ROTATE the strap to apply the rough part of the velcro to the other end. 

Repeat for the second strap.

Next, take the measurement for the distance between your wheels, divide by two, and mark that distance on either side of the center point on your 55-inch-strap. We're marking where our short strap will attach to our long strap. 

Or, if you have the board available, do what I did. Wrap your straps around the board, and then lay the board on the ground. The center point on your long strip (so 27.5 inches) should be in the center of your board. Use pins to mark where your board strap will attach to the long strap.

Place your long straps right sides together, and stitch together, making sure to SKIP the places where your pins are (for you to insert the straps later). I recommend starting your seam on a long side, wrapping around one short end, and the back up the other long side. 

Turn your strap right side out and press. Make sure to fold your open edge inwards and press that in place too.

Nest, grab your short straps. Find the openings you left in the side seam, and slide your short straps through the openings. Pin in place.

Topstitch all the way around your strap. This will secure your board straps in place.

I went ahead and made a box stitch across the place where the board straps attach, just for added durability.

Grab your remaining Velcro strips and apply them to opposite ends of the main strap. Remember to apply the Velcro to opposite ends AND opposite sides (so that when the strap wraps around the body, the Velcro pieces are facing one another).

And you're done! You've got a great, handmade gift for any skateboarding guy in your life. 

If you're opting out of handmade gifts this year (which is TOTALLY understandable because making gifts is something I get stressed out over) you can check here and here for some other gift suggestions for older boys.

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