Tired of looking at the nursery's grey plastic storage bin as a toy box I set out on a mission to find the perfect wooden box to create something special for my son. 

Here are my before photos. I got these from Bthrifty. They were 15.99 for the both but it was half off furniture the day we went so I got them for $7.50! What a deal! I instantly knew I wanted to make them toy boxes for Baby Brother but was not sure exactly what my vision was.

I got this Ikea fox plush from The Village Thrift for $1.

This awesome fabric...which took me hours to pick out, was only $2 a yard. I got it at Joann's on red tag half off clearance! The orange paint came from Home Depot and I got the sample size. It was less than $3 and I still have half of it left. The chalkboard paint was in my stock and I have gotten so much use out of the can I purchased about a year ago.

Total project cost: $12.50 for both
Published in Prince William Living
Star Chart Image 2
This summer, take your little ones on a tour to infinity and beyond from the comfort of your own backyard. To prepare for liftoff, know where you’re going and what you might see. Download this free printable sky chart, customized to the Northern Virginia sky.
We’re all captivated by the wonder of our galaxy—its faraway planets, many moons and falling stars. On clear summer nights, this vast expanse seems to beckon us to journey into deep space. Though you can’t climb into the family rocket and take a spin—not yet, anyway—you can take your little ones on a tour to infinity and beyond from the comfort of your own backyard.
To prepare for liftoff, it helps to know where you’re going and what you might see. After all, your kids will have lots of questions. You may have a star chart at home, but if not, I have created one for you to download and print here.
You can also visit Sky and Telescope magazine’s website and click on “This Week’s Sky at a Glance” to learn more about upcoming celestial events. Or you can download the Google Sky Map app to help locate celestial objects from your location.
You will also need an open horizon or view of the sky in an area that has low light pollution. A telescope is nice for viewing deep space objects and details on planets in our galaxy, but you can see them with a good pair of binoculars as well. Visit http://astronomyindc.org/places.shtml to see a list of local observatories, astronomy clubs, planetariums and space camps.

Start with the Moon
The moon is the largest and brightest object in the night sky. That makes it a good place to start family observations. Use a landmark in your yard to keep track of where and when the moon rises each evening. You do not need a telescope to see details on the moon. A set of binoculars will do nicely.
Watch how the moon crosses the sky each night. As time passes, your kids will see all of its phases. Explain that it doesn’t make its own light. As the moon circles Earth, the sun lights different parts of the lunar body. That’s why the moon’s shape seems to change. When the moon is full, look at its pattern of light and dark patches. Explain to your kids that the dark areas are large, flat lava plains. The light areas are hilly and full of craters. The largest full moon this year will be on the night of Aug. 10.

Virginia Moon 1
Reach for the Stars
The best time to see stars is on a moonless night. As soon as your family gets settled, ask everyone to close their eyes and count to 100. This will help your eyes adjust to the darkness. When you open them again, stars will seem to fill every corner of the sky. Ask your children how many stars they think there are. The universe contains billions of them, but we can only see about 2,000.

Pick a Planet
The first “star” you see at night might be a planet. How can you tell? Stars twinkle, but planets give off a steady light. Like the moon, a planet doesn’t make its own light. It reflects the light of the nearest star, the sun. Planets are smaller than stars, but they look big and bright to us because they are much closer to Earth.
Most planets will be hard to spot this summer, but Jupiter and its four largest moons, the Galilean moons, will be in the ideal position for viewing in July and August. You’ll need  binoculars or a telescope, so be sure your children have practiced using them before the big night.

Meet Some Meteors
A shooting star is really a meteor—a bright streak of light that we see when a small rocky body from space enters Earth’s atmosphere. You can see them any night of the year, but there are two excellent opportunities this summer:
  • Look for the Delta Aquarids meteor shower from July 21 to Aug. 23. The flashes of light will radiate from the constellation Aquarius. The best viewing will be July 27-28 after midnight, when the moon has set.
  • The Perseids meteor shower will produce up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak Aug. 11-12. Look toward the constellation Perseus in the northeast after midnight. The Perseids are particles released from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle during its numerous returns to the inner solar system.
Spot a Spacecraft
Shooting stars last just a few seconds. If you see a steady light cruise across the sky, it’s probably a spacecraft—a satellite, the space shuttle or the International Space Station (ISS)—orbiting Earth.
It will be easy to spot the ISS all summer long. To find out where and when to look, visit www.spaceflight.nasa.gov/ realdata/sightings. Click on “Go to Country” in the “Sighting Opportunities” box, and then select your state and town. Once you’ve spotted the spacecraft, watch your child’s interest in astronomy shoot to the moon.

Unplug and head outside. That’s the idea behind the National Wildlife Federation’s popular, nationwide Great American Backyard Campout.™ In conjunction with Great Outdoors Month, this annual June family event encourages people of all ages to camp in their backyards, neighborhoods, parks and campgrounds, as a way to reconnect with nature.
This year’s event is Saturday, June 28. “Kids need to experience camping, especially in their youth when the wonders of the outdoors can influence their future love for nature and wildlife,” said Maureen Smith, chief marketing officer for the National Wildlife Federation®, America’s largest conservation organization. National Wildlife Federation programs educate and inspire Americans to protect wildlife and its habitat for our children’s future.
There are a lot of benefits to taking your kids camping. “In addition to developing a deeper appreciation for the outdoors and the wildlife around them, through camping in their backyard or at a local park, being in nature helps to burn off energy, stay fit and be mentally focused for school, homework and all activities in their busy day,” Smith said.
For its Great American Backyard Campout, the National Wildlife Federation provides nearly everything you need to head out into the great outdoors. The event website(www.backyardcampout.org) has packing lists, recipes, nocturnal wildlife guides, exploration activities, nature games and more.
Now in its 10th year, the event is part of the organization’s 10 Million Kids Outdoors campaign, a three-year initiative to get kids outside regularly, connecting to nature. According to the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), which supports the National Wildlife Federation campaign, increasingly fewer American children are playing outside, from 75 percent a generation ago to only 25 percent today. The goal of the federation’s initiative is “creating a generation of happier and healthier children with more awareness and connection to the natural world,” according to the NRPA (www.nrpa.org).
The National Wildlife Federation has worked to connect youth with nature for decades, inspiring children through its Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. magazines, working with educators to get kids learning outdoors and helping parents find new ways to engage their children outside.
For the past two years, my son and I have participated in the National Wildlife Federation’s camping event. Prior to moving to Prince William, we lived in a small town in rural Alabama. So camping in our backyard was very much like being in the middle of the woods. Instead of just throwing up a tent and heading to the backyard, I like to try to make things as exciting as possible. We work on crafts the week before and get our grocery list for the things we will want to cook on our campfire.
Of course, no campout can be complete without making s’mores. Here are simple steps to creating your own custom marshmallow roasters. I spent a total of $3 in supplies for this affordable craft, and kids will love being able to use their creativity to design their own.
  •  Long round wooden dowel 1 inch in diameter
  •  Sandpaper
  •  Metal skewers
  •  Industrial-strength glue
  •  Paint
  •  Sponge brushes
  •  Clear wood sealer spray paint
  •  Twine, buttons, scrapbook papers and other supplies to decorate (optional)
  •  Cut the wooden dowel into about 6-inch lengths. Drill a hole in the bottom for skewers and, if making a string handle, also through the top for the twine or yarn. Sand the edges.
  •  Decorate your dowels as desired and allow them to dry. Use clear wood sealer spray paint to coat the dowels and let that dry completely.
  •  Clip the end of your metal skewers and add adhesive to the end. Insert the skewer into the bottom of your dowel.
  •  Add your twine for the handle along with any buttons or other decor items you want to use.
  •  Before roasting food, burn the end of the metal stick in the fire for a few minutes to burn off any residue.
Also, lighting is always important when camping. You can create this Mason jar solar lantern with a basic Mason jar and a $1 solar light. Uncap the solar light from its stand. Remove the inner portion of the jar lid and secure the solar light to the top. I used hot glue and twine on this one. Use some heavy wire to wrap around the edge of the jar and create your hanger. Your new lantern will now easily hang from inside your tent. You could also skip hanging it and just set it out on the ground or your camp table.
For more information about the National Wildlife Federation, visit www.nwf.org. To learn more about its campout event, go to www.backyardcampout.org.
Outdoor Movie Night

This spring I am going crazy thinking of all the fun activities I want to do with my family. Warmer months are the perfect time for casual parties, afternoons with backyard water slides, water balloons and homemade popsicles.

When the weather starts to warm up, I always think of my family’s movie nights, which my family loves. Movie nights are even more fun when you bring them outdoors. My family only does this a few times a year since it takes a little extra effort, but the results and memories are worth it. On the day of movie night we prepare the yard and start setting up.

First, you need a projector. Prices for new top-of-the-line projectors can start well into the thousands of dollars. However, along with newer models, many electronics stores carry a range of cheaper, refurbished projectors, and you can find used models starting at around $200. There are also several websites that will rent a projector to you for less than $100. Or you may be able to borrow one from a friend.

Outdoor Movie Night3

Next, you will need a DVD player. Laptops or popular game consoles, such as Xbox or Wii, can serve this purpose, too. You will need A/V cables to hook your player to the projector just like you would with your television. Follow your projector’s instruction manual if you have any difficulties. You will also need sound since the projector will not provide that. If you don’t have stereo speakers, you may find them at yard sales or thrift stores.

Now onto the screen. You can show your movies on anything from a purchased or rented screen to a smooth outdoor wall. I use my photography backdrop stand with a thick white sheet. You could also secure the sheet along the fence or clothes lines.

Outdoor Movie Night4

Then, of course, atmosphere is vital. There are so many ways to create the perfect movie theater feel. I hang string lights for a soft glow. Candles and lanterns will do this as well. For seating, my family uses beanbag and lounge chairs, blankets and even tents. If you are feeling really ambitious, you can pull the couch or a futon outside like my dad used to do.

Another important component is food. No movie night is complete without snacks. Popcorn, candy and soda are requirements. I also like to get creative. “Buttered Popcorn Cupcakes” is one of our favorite outdoor movie treats.

Popcorn Cupcakes2

Buttered Popcorn Cupcakes  
I have created a special #pwliving version, which includes the “Yellow Butter Cake” recipe by Jason Shriner, The Aubergine Chef and Prince William Living’s “What’s Cooking” writer and monthly recipe contributor. (Look for his recipes at pwliving.com under “Food and Drink.”) INGREDIENTS About 8 egg yolks or 6 ounces (room temperature) 8 1⁄2 ounces milk 1/8 ounces vanilla extract 10 1⁄2 ounces all-purpose flour 10 1⁄2 ounces granulated sugar 19.5 grams (1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) baking powder Pinch of salt 6 ounces unsalted butter (room temperature) DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place liners in cupcake pan.
  2. Combine the yolks, vanilla and 2 ounces of milk in a bowl and whisk lightly.
  3. Place all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and combine on low speed.
  4. Add the butter and remaining milk. Mix on low speed until all ingredients are moistened.
  5. Increase to medium speed and beat for 11⁄2 minutes. Scrape down the sides.
  6. Gradually add the egg mixture in three batches, mixing for about 20 seconds and scraping between each addition.
  7. Fill cupcake liners halfway and bake for about 25 to 35 minutes until finished. Let cool before decorating.
Simple Buttercream Icing
This easy-to-make, egg-free frosting recipe has been in my family for generations. It’s not only great on cupcakes, but also for decorating cookies for holidays, birthdays and parties. To add coloring to the icing, use color paste. INGREDIENTS 1⁄2 cup shortening 1⁄2 cup butter, softened 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 4 cups confectioners’ sugar 2 tablespoons milk DIRECTIONS
  1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and vanilla.
  2. Blend in the sugar, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Beat in the milk, and continue mixing until light and fluffy.
  4. Keep icing covered until ready to decorate.
Marshmallow “Popcorn”
For cupcake topping, you can get creative with marshmallow “popcorn.” You will need regular-size marshmallows, yellow food coloring and a little powdered sugar.

First, color half of your batch of marshmallows yellow and let them dry. Next, make a small cut in the middle of each marshmallow and then make three small cuts in their tops. Twist the marshmallows lightly at the middle. Then press the three “petal” shapes made from the three cuts lightly until they begin to fan out. Viola! Your marshmallows look like popcorn.

The more shapes you make, the better the “popcorn” will look. If the marshmallows get sticky while you are manipulating them, dust them lightly with powdered sugar. Be aware that the sugar will dull the yellow color of the marshmallows. So use it sparingly.

Click this image to download these custom Popcorn Cupcake Wrappers that I created exclusively for Prince William Living. Download, print on cardstock, cut along the lines and tape them together. Drop your cupcakes in after they have been decorates.
Popcorn Cupcake Wrappersa  

Wait! I forgot about the movie! Picking the perfect movie is key. Keep your audience in mind. Depending on the quality of the equipment you have, picking a family favorite may be better than choosing a new release as it could be hard to hear and the projector quality may not be up to movie theater standards. The Prince William Public Library System has a large selection of DVDs you can check out for free. Visit www.pwcgov.org/library.
This has been a project in the making for quite a while now. I have just recently had the time and motivation to get it done. That...and I now work from home 4 days a week since moving to Northern Virginia. I am able to work....get my house chores done and get dinner started before my son gets off the bus. I am so very thankful for the opportunity to do this....as it gives me more opportunities to cook from scratch and prepare nutritious meals for my family.

Enjoy your digital copy of my first release {Sweets}. I will be releasing a new section each month until I combine them into one collection. I cannot wait to share all of these recipes with you. If you have any questions about them please feel free to email me at amanda{at}greenowlcrafts.com

Hey Y'all Let's Eat! is an interactive online cookbook. Click links when you see them to get more information, photos and even videos. Hope Y'all Enjoy!

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When I was in college I worked at Olive Garden. I loved working there and my love for Italian cuisine came alive. An instant hit was their Zuppa Toscana soup. I’m not a huge Italian sausage fan, but this soup balances that flavor very nicely. I did create this recipe based on OG’s original recipe but changed a few things to make it more my own. Hope you enjoy it!

5-7 slices of bacon
1/2 lb hot Italian Sausage
5 medium russet potatoes, washed and thinly sliced
2 cups kale, chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 qt water
2 cans chicken broth
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper 
grated Parmesan for sprinkling 

On a greased cookie sheet, lay bacon flat and bake for about 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Flipping with a fork halfway between. Drain bacon, and crumble. 

 In a pan over medium high heat, cook sausage until it's heated thoroughly, and there's no pink. Drain very well on a paper towel (or else you'll have grease floating in your soup.) Set aside. 

In your soup pot over medium heat, cook the potatoes, onion, garlic, chicken broth, and water until potatoes are cooked through. 

Throw in cooked sausage, half the bacon, red pepper flakes, and salt & pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes. 

 Add in kale and cream. Let soup heat through and serve with the other half of the bacon. Sprinkle with Parmesan. 

I enjoy visiting our local farmer’s market. Using fresh and organic ingredients really makes a difference in the flavor of your recipe. Some of my recipes call for pre-made ingredients to save time but can easily be substituted for the most natural and organic ingredients. This photo was taken at the Spotsylvania Farmer's Market.

I am not a huge fan of red velvet cake. When I tell people that they freak out because I love to eat & bake sweets. However, I am a fan of these red velvet cookies. They are absolutely amazing. These would be perfect for a Valentine's Day treat or for cold winter days like today.

Here is the recipe:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups + 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature.
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon red food coloring
Toss the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.

 Using a handheld or stand mixer beat the butter on high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl as needed. Switch the mixer to medium speed and beat in the brown sugar and granulated sugar until combined. Beat in the egg, milk, and vanilla extract, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Once mixed, add the food coloring and beat until combined. Turn the mixer off and pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Turn the mixer on low and slowly beat until a very soft dough is formed. Beat in more food coloring if you'd like the dough to be redder. The dough will be sticky.

 Cover the dough tightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour. Chilling is mandatory. 

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

 Scoop 1.5 Tablespoons of dough and mold into a ball. Place 9 balls onto each baking sheet. Bake each batch for 10 minutes.

The cookies may have only spread slightly, that is ok. Simply press down on the warm cookies if you'd like them spread out more. Allow to cool for at least 25 minutes.
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