Life

45 Days

I remember the day I first really entertained the idea of quitting my job to take some time off.  I had just come home late again after having spent over 12 hours in thick coveralls out in the summer heat of Texas.  This was followed by a long drive home, where Houston traffic forced me to spend 2 hours reflecting on the frustrations that had been accumulating at work over the past year.  Working the way I had been over the last few years, it became common for me to come home late; in fact, I can not tell you how many nights I had to put my bug to bed over the phone.  It broke my heart, but my job enabled me to provide well for my bug, so I bit my lip and continued to press on day after day.

But on this particular evening, I came home in tears.  I had reached critical mass and  decided I was done– but I didn’t have the slightest clue about what “done” looked like.  I sat in my car a little while longer, sobbed a little bit more, then pulled myself together before I was able to get out of my parked car and go inside.

Being a single parent and the sole provider in my home made it difficult to even entertain the thought of quitting my job without an offer; nonetheless, I began to crunch numbers that night– the exercise alone lifted my heavy spirits.  However, as I moved from row to row in my spreadsheet, I began to realize that with some preparation and a revamp of my budget, that quitting my job and taking a break from work were entirely possible.  That was enough for me to commit to make the leap.

Fast forward to today, I am officially 45 days in to my “sabbatical.”  These last 45 days have been powerfully rejuvenating, each filled with simple pleasures that have been therapeutic in their own right.  Though the time has certainly sped by, I already feel like a new person– less hurried, less stressed, and more open, loving, and giving.  As I reflect back on 2017, I realize that my favorite parts of this year have mostly occurred in the last 45 days–  I have spent my mornings having breakfast with my mom after walking my son into school, or sipping on coffee as I curl up with a book; visiting my bug at school for lunch; and picking him up every day after school; volunteering to tutor at his school, or just to come and read a book to his class.  I have been experimenting in my kitchen again, and I successfully baked my first bread cornucopia and made tamales for the first time; I spent hours crafting ornaments for our Christmas tree and many more hours crafting goodies for my son’s classroom holiday party that I also hosted.  Most satisfying of all, I have had the honor of serving in my community again, donating time, resources, or even just a batch of homemade goodies.  I am not only happy, but in a way that I haven’t felt in a very long time.  I can honestly say that this break is one of the greatest gifts I could have ever given myself and my family, and I am better because of it.

2017 has been a good year for me and it is ending on a wonderful note.  I am so thankful for the good, the bad, and even the ugly parts of this year, for it has reminded me of the things in life that are truly important.  As we get ready to enter January, I will begin the New Year feeling refreshed and with a greater sense that my priorities are back in order.  I’ll go back to work in the near future simply because my savings won’t last forever, but for now, I will just sit here and enjoy the quiet while I sip on my coffee; and as I wrap up this post, I am smiling both on the inside and out.

Here’s to the end of 2017 and to the start of an even better 2018!  Thanks for visiting my blog–  I have a bit of catching up to do on on here but I hope you’ll be back soon anyway!

Have a very safe and Happy New Year, everyone!

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Crafty

Book Character Day – The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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If you have small children, chances are that you’ve heard of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.  This was one of my favorite books as a child, so when my bug told me he wanted to be The Very Hungry Caterpillar for Book Character Day at school, I was thrilled!

Then things got busy, and the next thing you know, it was 9PM the night before Book Character Day when I realized that I still had not prepared anything for my bug to wear!  It was far too late to go to the store for materials, and it didn’t matter anyway as my bug was already in bed.  I started to panic until I realized that I’m a parent and as everyone knows, parents work well under time and pressure constraints 😀

So I hit my crafting boxes to see what I could piece together.  By 10PM, this is what I had come up with:

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This is my bug in his Book Character Day outfit:

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This outfit was so easy to make, and it took me less than an hour to pull together.  Best of all, my bug loved it!

To make the shirt and hat, here is what you’ll need:

  • A Green Shirt
  • A Red Beanie (I made one out of an old red T-Shirt I had on hand)
  • Colored Foam Sheets (Construction Paper will work as well if you have that on hand, but you will likely need to double-it down to make it more sturdy)
  • Button Pins or Safety Pins (Optional)
  • Hot Glue Gun/Hot Glue

How I made the the shirt:

  1. First I cut several fruit shapes free-handedly out of the foam and construction paper (I used the fruit shapes that were in the book as reference), and then glued on green “stems.”  (*Note that I had limited foam sheets/colors on hand so I used both foam and construction paper to make all the fruits I wanted; otherwise, I would have used all foam sheets.  Also note, you can cut out any food shapes you would like– I just made fruit shapes because they were easiest for me to cut free-hand and I was pressed for time.)
  2. I then hot-glued the fruit shapes onto some old buttons that could be pinned to the shirt and removed later.  Place the pins where ever you would like on the shirt.  (*If you are OK with fully sacrificing the green shirt you’re using for this project, feel free to hot glue the shapes directly onto the shirt where ever you like.) Just like that, the shirt was complete!

Front and Backs of my Fruit Pins:

How I made the hat:

  1. Again, I cut the shapes of the eyes, nose, and antennae free-handedly out of the foam sheets and construction paper, using the pictures in the book as reference.
  2. At this point, if you have a red beanie, just glue the shapes directly onto the beanie.  Since I did not have a red beanie, I just made one by cutting a beanie shape out of a red shirt and sewing around it, leaving an opening only for the head. (If you have a beanie, you can use that as a pattern to trace and cut around. Also, you can use glue in place of sewing if that is easier for you, or if you do not have sewing materials on hand.)  
  3. Last but not least, I glued the shapes directly onto the hat.
  4. After the glue dried, I put the hat on myself to figure out where I needed to tuck and trim.

Pictures of the outside and inside of the hat:

 

I paired this hat and shirt with khaki pants and sneakers (it was cool outside) but this could easily pair with a variety of different bottoms and shoes.  My bug is still able to wear the green shirt, and the fruit pins and hat are waiting in queue to be added to a scrapbook I’m working on.

This was a cheap and easy project that took me less than an hour to make, using materials that I already had on hand.  Best of all, this outfit survived the whole school day, including recess and P.E.!

I hope this post gave you some ideas for your own Book Character Day project.  I’d love to hear from you– let me know if you liked this project, or have any questions!

 

 

Gift Ideas, Shopping, Super Deals

20 Great STEM Gifts for Kids for Under $10

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For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for math and science.  I remember mixing random hygiene products in the bathroom in an attempt to create a chemical reaction and digging up holes in the backyard in search of fossils.  To this day, I am still fascinated by the universe, and while I did not grow up to be a chemist or an archaeologist, I have spent my adulthood in a career in STEM as an Environmental Specialist.  Needless to say, I LOVE SCIENCE!!!

When my son was born, I had hoped that he would grow to have that passion for science and math that I did as a child; as luck would have it, he absolutely does.  Just look at this face when I told him we were going to learn about chemical reactions and polymers:

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Children today are so fortunate to have been born in a time where access to STEM has never been easier.  The internet is full of How-Tos for DIY STEM activities, and books and kits are only just a mouse-click away from being delivered right to your doorstep.  Since we are officially in gift-giving season (yay!), I though I would share some awesome STEM gift ideas that won’t break the bank, and more importantly, incorporate fun into science and math.  If you’re interested in purchasing any of these sets, just click on the set name or picture to be redirected to Amazon.  I’ll also note that at the time of this post, Amazon is having a special on many of these items and you might be able to nab them for even less than the prices listed below:

***Disclosure: The links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.***

1. 4M Tin Can Robot – $9.97

 

With this set, your child can create a battery-powered robot out of any used tin can.  This is too cute!

2. 4M Kitchen Science Kit – $9.97

 

This kit contains a few different (more like 6) experiments using things found in your kitchen.  It even has a few experiments that focus on chemical reactions (my fave!)!

3. Edu-Toys DIY Microscope Kit – $9.97

 

This is a great starter microscope set that you have to build.  I love that you could find a million things to observe without even having to leave your living room.

4. Educational Insights Nancy B’s Science Club Discovery Lab Pens & Field Journal – $9.99

 

This is my favorite item on this list– I just love this kit!  This set comes with 2 multi-tool pens (1 for water and 1 for land observations) and a journal.

5. Smithsonian Rock and Gem Dig – $9.00

 

I gave my bug a very similar set earlier this year– he loved it!  This set comes with a block that contains several stones– the block has to be chiseled away, archaeologist style, in order to unearth the stones.

6. Solar System Planetarium DIY Model Kids Astronomical Science kits – $9.66

 

This model requires painting and assembly.  This is a great set that will not only teach your children the order of the planets, but also each planet’s characteristics.

7. 4 in 1 Wind and Rubber Band Powered Experiment Car for STEM – Wind Sail Car, Rubber band Launched car, Propeller car, Propeller cable car – $9.99

This is a great set that you can use to teach your children about physics.  This kit includes the materials needed to make 4 different moving models.

8. Make 7 Game – $9.99

 

This game is the love-child between Connect 4 and math.  This is a great way to teach your kids about the Commutative Property without saying “Commutative Property.” 🙂

9. Battery Power Generation Experiment Combined Creative Building Diy Science and Nature Toys – $8.90

This is a building kit that contains several different experiments involving batteries.

10. Elenco LED Robot Blinker Soldering Kit [ SOLDERING REQUIRED ] – $9.99

 

This is easily my second favorite item on this list.  Soldering is one of those things that sounds intimidating, but is actually pretty easy to do.  This kit will teach your child about electrical components and how they interact.  I love love love this set.  This is definitely going under our tree this year.

11. 4M Grow a Maze Kit – $8.16

 

This is a great kit to teach your children about how plant life interacts with the environment around it.  This is also a great kit if your little one has a green thumb!

12. Ravensburger Science X 3D Optics Activity Kit – $9.77

 

This kit is a great way for kids to learn about 3D concepts and how to create them.

13. EIN-O’s Molecular Models Kit – $7.49

 

This is a great and easy way to introduce children to molecular structures.  This is a basic set that covers more common/simple compounds.

14. Yannothing 6-in-1 DIY Science Educational Solar Energy Robot Toys Kit Plane Windmill Airboat Car Educational Developmental Toys Baby Kids Training Toy – $8.99

 

This set is another one of my favorites on this list– I love how this kit can help children learn about renewable energy.

15. HiLetgo Kit Clock – $8.79

By this time I’m sure you’ve probably figured out that I really like sets and kits that require building and assembly.  I like this set because it checks that box, but also that it can be used to create a real, working clock that can be used daily.

16. Straw and Connectors Building Set – $7.88

 

This set is perfect for a budding civil engineer!  The possibilities are endless with this set, and it can be used to create large 3D figures.

17. Electronics Lab with Fiber Optics – $9.31

 

This is another great set that helps kids learn about electrical components while also introducing them to fiber optics.

18. Little Labs Physics and Forces – $7.01

 

This physics set focuses on activities that teach children about force and motion.

19. 4M Fingerprint Kit – $9.07

 

This kit contains a series of different items that enable a kid to collect fingerprint samples, including dusting powder!  This set serves as a great introduction to forensics.

20. Piccolo Genio Discovery The Human Body Game – $5.88

 

This set helps children better understand/learn about human anatomy.  This is a perfect set for a future doctor!

 

These were just some of the great items I came across this season.  I hope you were able to find some gift inspiration for your future scientist.  I’d love to hear from you– what are the STEM gifts you would recommend?

Thrifty Dishes

Easy Atole De Arroz (Mexican Rice Pudding)

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I am a first generation Mexican American– my parents emigrated from Mexico several decades ago, and my siblings and I were born here in Houston, Texas.  My mom embraced the American culture passionately– we only spoke English in the household, celebrated American holidays, and grew up on traditional American cuisine.  My mom rarely made Mexican dishes, but the ones she did make were family favorites.  One of those dishes was Atole de Arroz.

My first trip to Mexico to visit my grandmother (I’m the one in the pink, yellow, and black dress.  My grandmother, mom, and little brother are also pictured.)Screenshot_20171130-103739.jpg

My mom is the kind of cook that doesn’t need measuring cups– she’s very intuitive in the kitchen like that…she is also far more patient than I in the kitchen.  🙂  That said, I’ve not been able to replicate the flavors and texture of her Atole; however, through experimentation, I’ve managed to come up with a recipe that comes pretty close.

This is an easy recipe that takes me about half the time to make relative to my mom’s more traditional recipe.  That said, I like to prepare the rice and liquid ingredients separately but simultaneously, and mix together only after both are done.  The recipe below yields about 4-6 servings which is perfect for my bug and I and will last us a couple of days; however, since I plan to make this dish for my family’s Christmas dinner this year, I am going to quadruple the recipe.

What you’ll need

  • A medium-sized saucepan (for rice)
  • A small saucepan (for liquid ingredients)
  • Measuring Cups
  • Small whisk

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (cooked) white rice
  • 1 – 2 sticks of cinnamon (1 tsp of ground cinnamon will substitute just fine)
  • 1 tbs of vanilla (or vanilla substitute) (this ingredient is optional)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup of evaporated milk
  • 1/2 – 1 cup of regular milk (depending on your desired consistency)

Instructions:

  1. In the medium saucepan, prepare the white rice according to packaging instructions and set aside.  (When I’m running low on time, I just begin Step 2 on a different burner while I’m waiting for my rice to reach a boil). 
  2. In the small saucepan, add water and cinnamon (sticks or ground cinnamon) and set to medium/medium-high heat until the water begins to boil.
  3. When the water/cinnamon reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low/low-medium, and add condensed milk, evaporated milk, and vanilla.  Whisk well, cover, and simmer for at least 10 minutes, continuing to whisk every few minutes to ensure consistency of the mixture.  The mixture will thicken slightly and will turn a light caramel color ready for the next step.
  4. Pour the water/cinnamon/milk mixture into the medium saucepan with the cooked rice and stir well.  Place on low heat for another 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.
  5. Add 1/2 – 1 cup of regular milk to mixture to reach desired consistency.  (I like a thicker Atole, so I usually add about 1/2 cup.)
  6. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve warm.  Alternatively, place the Atole into the fridge and serve chilled.  Enjoy!

The total cost for the ingredients is about $7; this is assuming that you have none of the ingredients on hand, and that you would purchase the smallest standard-sized packages typically sold in stores.  This is pretty good considering that you would still have enough ingredients left over for at least another batch– after that you would likely have to purchase another can of condensed milk to make additional batches with the remaining ingredients.

Atole de Arroz was one of my favorite treats as a child; I love that it is now one of my bug’s favorites.  I’d love to hear from you– let me know if you liked it as much as we do!