DIY owl gift bags for teacher gifts

owl gift bagThis owl bag is a cute way to package baked goods or any other small teacher appreciation gift. The bag is easy enough for a preschool child to help make, and the hand tracings for the wings make it extra personal. Doesn’t it almost look like it is reaching out for a hug?

This is the first year I’ve had to come up with teacher appreciation gifts. I really wanted something that my 3-year-old could help me make so that it had a very personal feel, but I also wanted something the teachers would enjoy. These gift bags fit the bill. Adorable, personalized cuteness on the outside and total flexibility on what goes inside.

[Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links (read more here). ]


  • Paper lunch bag: One per owl. We used “giant” lunch bags (4” x 6 1/8” x 12 3/8”) which we found at Wal-Mart . We intended to fill the bags with mini loaves of quick bread so we needed this larger size. Regular lunch bags are approximately 3” x 5” x 10.5”. Depending on the size you need, there are also some brightly colored options which might be fun. When deciding what size you want, remember that you’ll lose the top two inches when you fold over and shape the top of the bag.
  • Accent paper for wings and belly: One or two sheets (8.5”x11”) for belly and wings of each owl, depending on how large the traced hands are. The belly takes 1/4 of the sheet. We were able to fit two preschooler hands on the remainder of the sheet. We used Crayola computer and craft paper (classic colors), but patterned scrapbooking paper might make these extra fancy.
  • Orange paper: Scrap piece for beak.
  • Yellow paper:  One sheet will yield six pairs of 2.5” in diameter eyes.
  • Cardboard: One piece slightly smaller than the bottom of the bag to reinforce the bag if the contents will be heavy.
  • Black paint and paint brush -OR- black marker -OR- black paper
  • Markers
  • Glue stick
  • Tape. We used invisible tape, but something wider would probably have worked better.
  • Scissors
  • Circular item to trace for eyes: Something about 2.5” in diameter like a shaving cream can.
  • Circular item to trace for pupil: Something about 1.25” in diameter like a soda cap.

parliament of owl gift bags


  1. Draw or trace the pieces for the eyes, wings, beak, and belly.  When tracing the hands for the wings, be sure to include some of the wrist which is where the glue will be applied. You may want to experiment with the finger placement to get a look you like. We found that fingers spread too far apart looked a little goofy.
  2. Cut out the pieces. I cut the wings, but my child was able to cut the eyes, beak, and belly well enough for a cute, if imperfect, look. owl bag awaiting assembly
  3. Make the pupils of the eyes. We did this by painting the rim of a soda cap and using it like a stamp to make a black circle on the yellow eye. We then filled in the stamped ring with black paint using a paint brush. We ruined a couple eyes along the way so I would recommend making the pupils before gluing the eyes to the bag. An easier way to make the pupils would be to trace and fill with a black marker or trace and cut black paper circles.
  4. Glue the pieces to the bag. The wings are glued inside the side fold. The glue was applied to the front of the wing and the wing was stuck into the front side of the fold.where to glue the pieces
  5. (optional) Label the wings or belly. We went with “OWL MISS YOU” on one wing and the teacher’s name on the other. Other punny labels to consider are “Have a hoot this summer,” “It’s been a hoot this year,” “Whooo loves you,” “Owl always remember you,” “Thanks for making me wiser this year,” and “Whooo’s the best teacher?” That’s one thing I learned from a web search for teacher appreciation gifts: all gifts must come with a play on words.
  6. Prepare the top of the bag before filling. Fold over the top of the bag, toward the back, about an inch. Make a 3/4” cut in the fold. Fold the cut pieces down toward the back, so the top of the closed bag will have an indent in it. Make sharp to fold the top of the bag
  7. Open the bag and insert cardboard reinforcement (optional) and the gift contents.
  8. Refold and tape top of bag.

These bags were a big hit with the teachers. One round of “awww” when they first saw them, another when they realized my child had cut and assembled most of the pieces, and another round when they read “Owl miss you”. I expect there was a round of “ooooh” when they unpacked the delicious baked goods inside. What would you put in your bag?

Posted in Crafts, Kid-related | Tagged gift bags, owls, teacher appreciation | 10 Comments

Elf on the Shelf takes old toys away

Elf on the ShelfWe do not have an Elf on the Shelf, but I had an interesting idea for those who have one. What if one night the elf takes some of the child’s old toys away with him/her up to the North Pole. The story can be that Santa is going to refurbish the toys to give to other children. The elf could leave a note advising which night it was going to happen so the child could help pick out the toys that would be going. This not only downsizes the toy collection before the influx of new toys but also explains why Santa gives commercial toys and also opens the door for Santa to give used toys for Christmas. The elf could bring a little note back from Santa that says thanks.

Here’s my silly little poem for the elf to deliver ahead of the day the toys disappear.

Elf-Enabled Toy Recycling

Do you know where old toys can go?
I can take them to the workshop up in the snow,
Where Santa will fix them up like new,
To give to a child younger than you.
So gather together the toys you don’t need,
And maybe some books that you no longer read.
Leave them in a pile here by the door,
And on <12/22>, away they will soar.
I’ll take them with me on my trip to the Pole,
And give them to Santa, so merry and droll.
He’ll work his magic on all you leave here,
Then give them to others as he spreads Christmas cheer.

© PW @

[Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.]

Posted in Kid-related | 3 Comments

Building a felt stockpile

felt rainbowFelt seems to be a crafting staple. Now that my daughter is crafting age, I decided to get a rainbow assortment of felt to have on hand for spontaneous crafting sessions.  I decided to go with felt by the yard (1/3 yard of each) instead of individual sheets. I wrote about the cost breakdown on Coupons Are Great, a friend’s blog. I also found a great remnant of white felt for just $0.75 to use to make a felt board for story telling and learning fun.

Posted in Crafts, Kid-related | Tagged fabric, felt, felt board, remnants | Leave a comment

Small book rack made from a desktop letter sorter

book rackThis easy, potty-side, book rack keeps my daughter’s books clean, dry, off the floor, out of my way, and within her reach.

Given that my child has over 500 books, it’s not a surprise that she often wants to bring one into the bathroom when she’s doing her business. This posed two minor problems. First, she wouldn’t realize until she was already in the bathroom with her pants pulled down that she didn’t have a book which meant she’d go running off in a tizzy to find one. Second, there wasn’t a good place to set the book before or after the reading.

It certainly wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a fun little problem to ponder. I kept my eye out in stores for something that might work. I thought about  mounting a long, rectangular bin like one of these drawer organizers, and I looked for something metal at a thrift store that I could repurpose with a little spray paint. In the end, I found this lovely, metal, desktop letter sorter at Office Depot for $7. It comes in black and white. The pattern reminds me of a decorative register vent.

Mounting was very easy. The pattern in the sorter is open enough to accommodate a screw so I just chose two open points in the pattern that looked close to equidistant from the edges and level. Although the load on the shelf should be small (< 5 lb.), I felt using wall anchors was a good idea since a small child can impart a lot of force unintentionally. A 5-pack of wall anchors and screws costs about $2.50 at Lowe’s, making my project less than $10. The anchors I chose are easy to install so the shelf was up in 10 minutes. You drill a hole in the wall, push in the anchor (might need to tap it in with a hammer), then screw the screw into it. I considered spray painting the screw heads white, but figured they won’t show if there’s always a book or magazine in the rack.

Time will tell if the anchors will hold up, but right now I’m very pleased with the result, as is my daughter.

empty book rack

Posted in Kid-related, Organization | Tagged book rack, books, potty time | 1 Comment

Magnetic bedtime chart

My almost three year old loses focus as she gets tired which can make the nap and bedtime routines a challenge. I made up a quick and easy to do list to help keep her on track. It’s not super pretty, but it’s working for us, which is all that matters in the end.

magnetic task chart

My first step was to search the web (using Swagbucks, of course) for chore charts to see what sorts of options other clever people have devised. Any promising candidate I pinned to a Pinterest board so I could later view all the ideas in one place and pick and choose what might work for us. I must say, there are some really beautiful chore charts out there. When my daughter gets older, if chores become a struggle, we may make something pretty together.

Nothing I found online really fit all my criteria. What I wanted:

  • Quick and cheap to make. I didn’t want to invest a lot of time or money in this venture since I don’t expect to need the board long term.
  • Graphics for the tasks. Since my daughter can’t read yet, I needed illustrations. Some charts are better suited to words.
  • Easy to add/delete tasks and to use for naptime vs. bedtime.
  • Quick to reset for the next day.
  • Easy for my child to change the status of items from to-do to done.
  • Easy to bring with us to the site of the next task. I didn’t want my daughter to have to go running back to, say, the refrigerator, after every task.

My solution: a cookie sheet, some magnets, a task list printout for naptime, and a task list printout for bedtime. All the magnets start at the bottom of the page. The magnets are used to cover the tasks as they are completed.

I got the cookie sheet idea from the homework center tutorial at Coupons Are Great. My cookie sheet came from the Dollar Tree, but CAG reports that Wal-Mart sells it for $0.92. I left mine unpainted so that if the board failed to keep my daughter on track, we could reuse the cookie sheet for cooking or play cooking. cookie sheet

The task sheets were made in Microsoft Word. I made a table and inserted the images. I resized all the images to 1.2 inches high. The majority of the task images came from do2learn. I used Google to do an image search to find the rest. I restricted my results to “line drawing” so all the images would have a similar look.

The magnets were actually the hardest element to find. I wanted something about an inch in diameter, preferably pretty colors. I thought about making my own, but in the end, I stumbled across these 1-inch round magnets, which are perfect, in the clearance bin. I love the mushroom shape because it makes them so easy for little fingers to grab and move. mushroom shaped magnets

Originally, I had three colors of magnets. I thought that letting her choose what color magnet to use to cover the task would be an easy way to let my daughter feel like she had some control. However, it became a negotiation with each new magnet placement. For example, the newly completed task had to be blue (who knows how the toddler mind works), but she was out of blue so the blue magnet would be taken off a previous task and replaced with a pink. There’s still a little negotiation with two colors, but it’s manageable.   magnets

When it’s time to start the other sheet of tasks, I just slide all the magnets down to the bottom of the cookie sheet, swap pages, and stick a magnet on the page to hold it.

Simple as it is, this board has made things go a lot more smoothly. I hated saying no to requests for “one more book”, but this board has put an end to those requests at nap/bedtime. Of course, requests for “one more book” are almost always honored at other times during the day.

Posted in Kid-related, Organization | Tagged bedtime routine, chore chart, kids, magnetic board, magnets | Leave a comment

4 ways to salvage a meal gone bad

I considered titling this post, “How I get my family to eat leftovers”. I enjoy trying new recipes. Even those rare *cough* times that the results aren’t especially tasty, we can usually manage to choke down the initial round. Getting someone to consume the leftovers, however, can be a challenge. I recently made several dud slow cooker meals that I managed to salvage into meals that were actually quite good.

I’ll start with the easy ones. My first experiment was a recipe for Italian Beef. It was basically beef, seasonings, onion, and bell pepper. The problem was the onions and peppers cooked away to nothing so it was pretty much just meat and thin sauce. The recovery on this one was easy and didn’t wait until the leftovers round. I chopped up some zucchini, sautéed it, and dumped it in with the beef shortly before serving. I chose to serve it over rotini (not shown) rather than the suggested couscous to give it some bulk. This illustrates the first two tips, Tip 1 Add an ingredient to change the flavor and Tip 2 Add an ingredient to change the texture.

Italian beef dish

Original italian beef (couscous not shown)

Italian beef dish, after

Italian beef with zucchini (rotini not shown)


In that same vein, I made a Thai Peanut Chicken dish that wasn’t especially flavorful. Adding chopped peanuts to the top gave the dish a little crunch and a some more peanut flavor.


Thai peanut chicken, after

Thai peanut chicken with peanuts


Sadly, I do not have a picture of the French Dip I turned into stroganoff. It was so good, we inhaled it more or less. The original dish was mostly sliced Portobello mushrooms, onions, and hunks of beef. It was meant to serve in rolls and dip in the broth. The texture came out all wrong. The meat hadn’t fallen apart properly and the large slices of mushroom were off-putting. The food processor came to my rescue. I ran the solids and a little of the broth through the food processor to make a mixture similar in consistency to chicken salad (without the mayo). I served it over noodles with a dollop of sour cream. It was delicious. Tip 3 Process the dish to change the texture.

The Lamb Stew I made was a big disappointment. Like the French Dip, the meat didn’t cook down properly. Inspired by the stroganoff success, I pulled out the food processor again. The meat and some of the vegetables were chopped up and became the stuffing for pasties. The pasties were served with a small bowl of the broth for dipping. The rest of the vegetables were chopped more finely and put into meatballs. Tip 4: Turn it into an ingredient for a different dish.


Lamb stew without the lamb

Lamb stew, minus the lamb, waiting to be chopped for meatball filler

Lamb pasty

Lamb pasty made from diced lamb stew


The Chicken and Brown Rice dish was another illustration of Tip 4. It was rather blah originally so the leftovers became a tasty soup. I diced up the chicken and broccoli into smaller pieces and threw them, the rice, and some frozen mixed vegetables into some broth with a little salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

Chicken and brown rice dish

Chicken and brown rice, ho hum

Chicken soup

Chicken soup made from chicken and brown rice dish


I hate wasting food so I was quite pleased to be able to turn these disappointing meals into food that everyone enjoyed.

Tip 1: Add an ingredient to change the flavor

Fresh ginger, lemon, lime, salt, pepper, or even cayenne pepper (sparingly) can give a little zing to your dish without cranking up the heat. A cheese like mozzarella can be used to mellow a spicy dish while a cheese like feta or parmesan can add a tang. A dollop of sour cream can work wonders.

Tip 2: Add an ingredient to change the texture

Nuts, chips, and crackers can add some crunch to a meal. A tender crisp vegetable can also give it some tooth. Broth, milk, water, etc. will thin out a thick sauce while corn starch or flour will thicken it. If the meal is served over/with a starch, that choice (couscous, rice, type of pasta, potato, etc.) can make a difference in the texture of the dish. One of the reasons so many different shapes of pasta exist is because each brings a unique texture to the meal.

Tip 3: Process the dish to change the texture

Using a knife, food processor or immersion blender on all or part of a dish can totally transform it.

Tip 4: Turn it into an ingredient for a different dish

Rice dishes can be cooked down into soup thickeners. Vegetable dishes can be pureed and made into vegetable stock. Vegetables dishes can be finely diced and added to meatloaf/meatballs or pasta sauce recipes. Meats can be cleaned of their sauces and used in casseroles or soups.

Posted in Food | Tagged crock pot, food, improving texture, ingredients, leftovers, slow cooker | 19 Comments

How I keep our mountain of paperwork in check

Stack of paperworkI’ve been thinking a lot about clutter lately. The mad cleaning frenzy before relatives come to visit will do that to a person. Like many people, we struggle with clutter. We have some areas that stay in shape and others that don’t. I think one of the tricks for us is having a designated spot for things. It’s not that we’re too lazy to put things away, it’s that we’re too lazy to *think* about it before doing it. When something’s been left on the table, if it has a designated spot elsewhere, the only brain power I need to conjure is to realize it’s out of place and needs to move to spot X. I can easily do that as an overlap with other activities and barely think about it. If I have to stop and make some sort of decision about an item, that’s where I get bogged down.

Incoming mail

Incoming postal mail is an area I seem to have under control. When mail comes in, I do a quick sort. Here’s where it goes:

  • Junk goes in the recycle bin. I can usually have all those pieces pulled out before I walk past the recycle bin on the way back into the house.
  • Bills go in a specific spot next to my computer. About once a week I pay them all on-line. More later on how I file the paid bill statements.
  • Financial statements go in another spot on my desk. More on those later.
  • Items to shred go in a box on top of the shredder. About once a week those get shredded.
  • Personal mail for me or my daughter or things that require more attention than I have at the moment go on my computer chair to be dealt with the next time I sit down. Personal mail, including magazines, for my husband go on his computer chair.
  • Mail order DVDs go on top of the TV if they are mine or on his computer chair if they are my husband’s.
  • Magazines of general interest go on the coffee table.
  • Manufacturer coupons go to my couponing area for filing. Coupons for free items go straight into my portable coupon organizer since they don’t need to be matched to a sale.
  • Retailer coupons, fliers, etc. that I want to keep “for awhile” go into my rotating three-folder system.

It sounds like a lot of shuffling, but we only get a few different types of mail on any given day, and the floor plan of our house is such that the destinations are all fairly close together so it works for us.

The keep for awhile pile

The three-folder system for certain items is what saved us from having paper everywhere. I have three file folders. One is labeled “Jan, Apr, Jul, Oct”, another is “Feb, May, Aug, Nov”, and the last is “Mar, Jun, Sep, Dec”. Anytime I get a piece of paper that I intend to keep only for a little while, I stick it in that month’s folder. At the beginning of each month, I quickly flip through the folder for three months back and purge everything in it. For example, at the beginning of December, I’ll purge the September materials out of the “Mar, Jun, Sep, Dec” file. The materials have been in the folder at least 60 days so most are beyond their useful lifetime. Anything that has a little more life to it stays in the file for another three months.

I started this system to catch mail such as a 30% off coupon for Kohl’s or packets of restaurant coupons. I wanted to keep those things and be able to find them, but I didn’t need them immediately. The purge for most of those items goes quickly. For example, the packets of coupons are old enough that they can get discarded without checking individual expiration dates.

The system’s worked so well, I’ve included other papers such as postal receipts that I want to keep until the item has been received or store receipts I want to keep until I’m certain the item won’t need to be returned. If I need to retrieve anything in the folder, it only takes a few minutes to flip through the items to find it.

Paid bills and statements to file

I had a revelation several years ago. Simply this, I don’t have to separately file all the bills or statements that I want to keep. I used to worry, for example, about filing the newest phone bill with the others in chronological order separate from all the gas bills. I realized I was wasting time with an unpleasant task. I now have three stacks in a letter sorter on my desk. One is paid credit card bills, one is other recurring bills, and one is financial or asset-related statements. If I need one of those items later, it’s easy to flip through the short stack to find what I need.

At the beginning of the year, the bills get bundled together, labeled, and tucked away in a box in the basement. The bundle from two years ago get shredded. For example, in January 2012, I can shred the 2010 bundle of credit card and other bills. This system results in me keeping the bills longer than the generally recommended three months, but it makes for quick and easy filing and purging. At the beginning of the year, I go through the financial bundle to pull out anything relevant to our income taxes and to shred monthly statements for accounts that issue a year-end statement. The bundle then gets labeled and tucked away in the basement.

But what to do about personal mail?

I feel pretty good about how mail gets handled with one exception. I am unwilling to throw away any personal correspondence. For example, I have every letter or card my mom sent me since the time I left for college, but they aren’t in a state where I can really enjoy them. Someday I hope to figure out the right solution for that.

[Photo credit: Photo by Keith Williamson, used under CC BY 2.0.]

Posted in Organization | Tagged bills, mail, paperwork, sorting | Leave a comment

How to adjust your Facebook profile picture thumbnail

Ever put up an awesome new profile picture on Facebook only to find that the thumbnail that gets attached to your posts is centered on a spot 5 inches above your head? You can shift what part of the picture Facebook uses for the thumbnail. The below image shows the thumbnail Facebook chose for my flower picture. I’d prefer it to be centered on the large purple flower.

Example of incorrectly centered thumbnail

To move the thumbnail, you must go to the area where you can edit your profile. If you are on your News Feed page, click the Edit Profile link in the upper left corner as shown below.

Location of Edit My Profile link

Next click on the Profile Picture link on the left.

Location of Profile Picture link

Next, click on the Edit Thumbnail link under your picture.

Location of Edit Thumbnail link

Move your cursor over the thumbnail image until you see the four-directional arrow cursor. Hold down the left mouse button and drag the image so that the part you want as your thumbnail shows in the box.

Example of shifting a thumbnail

When you have it just right, click the Save button, and you’re done.

Example of adjusted thumbnail

Posted in Facebook | Tagged Facebook, profile picture, thumbnail | 3 Comments, a great online registry that isn’t store specific

FindGiftWhen I got married several years ago, I dreaded setting up a registry. I have multiple complaints about registries, but my two main problems were 1) I didn’t want to tie people to a specific store. I’m quite frugal and know that shopping around can really pay off and 2) I didn’t necessarily have specific brand/model preferences for things. For example, I knew we wanted a meat thermometer but didn’t really have the time to figure out which one to put on the registry. Enter

FindGift allows you to create an online registry that isn’t tied to a specific store and allows you to add items with as much or as little detail as you like. Actually, it allows you to create multiple registries if you want. I maintain a general wishlist registry for our family. I could put each person as a separate registry, but I find it easier to have just one registry and use the category labels to delineate what items are for whom. Here’s a peek at my registry.


As you can see, years later I still don’t like pinning down a brand/model. That Visitor Message on the right is my text. There are some other things you can add in that area such as event details (e.g. for a bridal registry) and profile information. The category .Kid stuff was named by me. The first item on my registry is a specific book. It has the Buy Online button because I supplied an Amazon URL to the book to make it easy to purchase that specific book. The below image shows what information you can attach to items.


There are a few different ways to add items to the registry. One is to manually add all the information. Another is to supply a link and let the system try to pull the appropriate information from that website. Another option is to add their “browser button” (which is just a bookmarklet) to your browser and click it when you’re on a website with an item you like. If you use either of the latter two methods, you can manually make any necessary changes to the information.

Some other notable features are that you can password protect your registry if you wish, and that visitors to your registry do not have to have an account to mark items as purchased. I’m still learning new things about the system as they redesigned it from scratch at some point before I started using it for our general wishlist. It’s definitely improved since I used it for our wedding registry. Overall, I find the system easy to use and really like the flexibility to add non-specific gifts and custom categories. A relative’s response when I sent her the link to our wishlist was, “That is cool! It really helps.”

Posted in Great sites | Tagged FindGift, gift registries, great site, wishlists | 6 Comments

The importance of a strong e-mail password

Image of padlockBy now you may have gotten e-mail from one or more companies saying that Epsilon, their e-mail service provider, was hacked. The e-mail warns you to watch for phishing attacks. I’d like to issue a semi-related warning about the importance of having a strong password on your e-mail account.

Many people seem to have the attitude, “It’s just my e-mail account. A hacker wouldn’t be interested in reading my mail.” True, a hacker might not be excited about the message from your sister telling you what her kids did for spring break, but the hacker is definitely interested in accessing your e-mail account for several reasons.

Performing a password reset on another account – This is the big one so I’m going to put it first. The greatest danger of someone gaining unauthorized access to your e-mail account is that he may be able to request a password reset to one of your online accounts. Many companies allow a person to request not only a password, but also a username, to be mailed to the e-mail address on file. If the hacker intercepts that e-mail, he can access your online account without your knowledge.

Mining personal data for phishing attacks – A hacker may look for personal data in your e-mail account that he can use to launch a phishing attack on you. Phishing is when someone impersonates a trusted source in an attempt to get sensitive information from you. For example, a phisher might pretend to be your bank and ask you to supply your account number “for verification”. The more personal information a phisher has about you, the more plausible he can make the attack. Is your full name stored in your account? Do you have an automatic signature with personal information in it? Do you receive any newsletters that make your city of residence obvious? Do you have sent mail hanging around that includes your address or phone number? All of these bits of information could be used to write a more convincing phishing attack.

Mining company names to impersonate for phishing attacks – A hacker may look for e-mail in your account from companies with which you do business and then impersonate those companies in a phishing attack. For example, do you have any messages from your credit card company in your e-mail account? The messages might not have any sensitive information in them, but they let the phisher know that you have a preexisting relationship with that company.

Discovering other accounts to hack into – A hacker may look for e-mail about other accounts you have, even seemingly insignificant accounts like photo sharing sites, and then try to hack into those accounts. He might do this to gather more information for a phishing attack or he may do it hoping to find a shared password between an inconsequential, weak security account and a more important account.

Accessing your address book to cause your friends grief – A hacker may use the names and e-mail addresses in your address book for phishing attacks or to spread a virus.

The bottom line is that the security of your e-mail account is important. You should use a strong password for the account and change it often.

[Photo credit: Photo by James Laurence Stewart, used under CC BY 2.0.]

Posted in E-mail | Tagged e-mail, passwords, phishing | Leave a comment