ghost of Christmas past {2012 recap}

i get this whole christmas thing

Decorating the estate was a serious joke this year.

i get this whole christmas thing

Partially due to Monkey Magoo redecorating of all things tree.  The Christmas tree, you see, was not a tree, but a feast for his newest obsession-his animal collection.

Tiger eats leaves! Giraffes eat trees!

tiger eat leaves

Plus Moose enjoyed ramming the tree with his trusty tryke that we let him ride in the house nursing a bottle of Pellegrino.  Because we ride in high style here at the estate.

moose dr

The tree looked like crap the whole Christmas season.  So I took a crappy picture.  Because.  God.  Whatever.

christmas tree that needs V8

Better Homes and Gardens will come a-knockin’, right?

One day, friends, one day.

Meanwhile, poke fun.

Notice the angle.  Moose battery-rammed it three times a day.

We will require a new fake tree next year.  I’d love a real tree, but unfortunately, who ever designed this 1938 dollhouse didn’t see the need for walls without vents.  Which would equal a dried out tree or fire hazard had we gone with the real tree route.

In a few short years, we will have a bigger home and boys indifferent about holiday decor, so rather than “keep up with the bloggers” in the DIY/decor department that this blog sometimes dabbles in,  I embraced the chaos of 1100 square feet with two small boys.

christmas chaos

My father-in-law thought inserting shredded paper into the gifts he wrapped would be a fun idea for the kids.  Maybe at your house, next time Papa?  Et tu Brute?

Chaos it is.  Our first floor is roughly 500 square feet, and has a giant wall dividing the living room from the kitchen/dining room combo.

Not a lot of breathing room for entertaining.  See above again.


Santa didn’t grant my wish for the housing market to upturn here in Chicago, so we could rid ourselves of the estate.

I had a few choice words for him.  We’ve now been in our starter home for a decade.  Thanks, economy!

Santa was a little too happy

Plus, he scared the life out of my 3 year old.

kids who hate santa


And it wouldn’t be Christmas without the handmade ornament from Monkey’s first year at real preschool.  Complete with scary googly eyes.

monkey first prek ornament

I did manage a little decorating…{and will now be making paper garland for every holiday, season, reason, and just because…}

front room outtakes

Sparse decorating at best.  You’ll see why in a minute.

banister at christmas-001

monkey takes on christmas decor


I rest my case.  Flat surfaces are not safe.

So I looked into vertical decor this year ala fishing wire like the big department stores.



But it didn’t stop Moose and Monkey from batting at it during dinner.



My one homemade ornament made a really fun fabric baseball.

pomander ball


Given the high energy and demands of my boys…I spoiled their teachers far beyond my budget allowed.  Because, gawd, I had to.

teacher gifts momnivore's dilemma

For the first time at the estate, I made some piss poor attempts at outside holiday decorating.  $2 garland from Michaels and fun glittery bows.  No lights here!  The King never put in the outlets he promised 10 years ago.  I don’t want to DIY electric for fear of death, so…

Also notice the neglected fall leaves in the lower right hand corner.

outdoor bows and garland

It wasn’t the prettiest of holidays.  The kids were off school for nearly a month because the boys go to a year-round school.  I was chewing my fingernails down to the nubs by the end of break.  Chicago winters, small houses and even smaller children don’t mix.

But we had plenty of time to bake,

chocoalte crinkle cookies-001

and play

moose engaged

I took it slow and shut down the sites for nearly three weeks {well sort of with the classroom creative}.  Which was necessary because you can’t even shower when the boys are awake.

I did make this pretty wreath from another holiday decoration that made this blog {almost famous} two years ago.  Late one night.  After their bedtime.

pearl wreath DIY close-up

I was too cheap to part with all those lovely pearl beads I spent hours dismanteling from this now-deceased tabletop tree.

tabletop christmas tree craft pearls

Look at the difference in photos over the past two years.  What a blogging freshman I was.

Thankfully, Santa brought me a DSLR camera that I still am getting acquainted with.  Nonetheless, the pictures will rise above iPhone quality here at momnivore’s dilemma.

Santa was also aware that our other blog, The Classroom Creative became an LLC in December and such an extravagant purchase screams TAX WRITE OFF.

bowl of christmas ornaments

Nonetheless, it affords me to luxury of capturing the true meaning of the season.

Watching Moose open presents for the very first time…

moose opens presents

and moments for the ages.

reason for the season

Thanks for reading,



Monkey threw a massive tantrum when the leaning tower of tree came down on Three Kings Day, because the old Italian grandma in me is all superstitious about that day.  If you aren’t in the know, it’s bad luck to take down the tree before The Epiphany.

I allowed Monkey’s menagerie one last supper.

last supper

Sharing at The Inspiration Gallery & Liz Marie Blog

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Holiday Gift Ideas for Teachers: Do’s & Don’ts

holiday gift ideas for teachers, teacher gift ideas


By the end of my 7th year of teaching, I amassed 1,500 candles, 74 bottles of body lotion/shower gels, and 45 coffee mugs.

Please for the love of consumerism, do not buy these for the teachers in your child’s life.


Of course, I appreciated all gifts. It just becomes a running joke after you open that 45th: Best Teacher in the Universe Mug! Another apple-scented candle from Bath & Body Works!

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not being tacky or ungrateful, just real.  Real meaning I worked in both private and public schools here in Chicago.  With well-to-do families and those on food stamps.  Real meaning I needed basic supplies like construction paper and books.

Rather than another mug or apple candle, I wanted copy paper the most, as Chicago schools often ration it out like butter and sugar during a world war.

Given that I am on the purchasing end of the teacher gifts spectrum now that my sons are in school, I wanted to pass along some “do’s & don’ts”.

This is what your child’s teachers and therapists really want to tell you:

Many teachers make crap money.  I know I did. My first year teaching, I made UNDER $20,000 a year.  I spent at least $2000 on my classroom.  Sad, right?

What made the difference that year was the gift cards to bookstores, Target, dollar stores, etc. It really helped me build my dream classroom.
Teacher Gifts Do’s:

1.) Purchase gift cards.  Yes, they seem impersonal, but in all reality, your child’s teacher spends a LOT out of their own pocket on books, craft items, and school supplies.  If you want, include something handmade with said gift card.

Gift cards to craft stores, dollar stores, teacher stores, and Target are a good bet. The dollar bins at Tarjay alone are enough to make most teachers smile.  General mall or debit card gift cards are awesome as well.  If your child’s teacher is a coffee junkie, feed their habit with the usual chains.  Awake teachers are happy teachers.  I have yet to work in a school where the coffee pot is ever NOT brewing.

2.) Give spa treatments! Manis, pedis, massages, and the like are great for those underpaid and overworked teachers!  One lovely family, who I had three of their little ones, gave me a gift card to my favorite salon at the time.  That really impressed me.

3.) Consult with other parents on a massive gift.  One year, my first grade class bought me a digital camera.  This was way back in the early 2000s before camera phones existed. That was very meaningful and relevant to my teaching.  I used it to build my portfolio for my master’s and take great photos of my classes.

4.) Include the gift receipt! 

5.) Consider making something personal from the class. My best gifts were scrapbook of my classes throughout the year made by my room parents.  It was by far the most thoughtful gift I received teaching, and one I still cherish today

6) Something homemade from your child can NEVER go wrong.  We teachers gobble that stuff up.  I have a file with all the handmade cards, photos, and letters.

7.) Stock their classroom libraries!  Consider replenishing consumable classroom supplies: stickers, stamp pads, etc are always a good bet.  If you are of the crafty variety, I’m sure Pinterest has like 15,000 ideas for you.

8.)If money is tight, a letter of gratitude.  A genuine letter, especially if your child’s teacher has gone beyond the scope of their job.

Extra credit:  Look around your child’s classroom.   Does the teacher have collections of any kind?  One music teacher I worked with was obsessed with Hello Kitty. Imagine her delight if you added to that collection.

Any parent that would have bought me vintage lunchboxes would have been awesome {I had them all over my classroom}

So, observance is key.

Teacher Gift Don’ts:

1.) Send baked goods or food of any kind.  Your teacher may be battling with her weight or have food allergies.  For instance, I can’t eat gluten, yet well meaning neighbors drop cookies I have to toss in the trash.    My favorite “food” gift was a gift card to Whole Foods.

2.) Forget the aides in your child’s classroom.  They work just as hard as the teachers, but for even less money.  My son’s aides change his diaper and work one on one with him daily.  I adore these women.

3.) Buy clothes or accessories.   I think it’s too personal. If it’s not your teacher’s style, they may feel obligated to wear it.   If you really want to do this, please make sure to also give the gift receipt.

4.) Buy things that scream “teacher”.  The apples, alphabet, etc.  Unless your child’s classroom looks like an apple explosion by all means, feed that teacher’s apple obsession.

5.) Please step away from the scented candles, soaps, lotions, and coffee mugs.  Chances are, your teacher has a closet at home FULL of these gifts.  I have many teachers in my family who often regift these items to unsuspecting grandmothers and aunts.  Don’t add to the madness.

What are your thoughts on teacher/therapist gifts?

For more caustic wit and brilliance, please follow me via the time sucks of social media.
I want to see your pretty faces here.
I really do.
You are pretty.


{This post is reworked from one I wrote in 2011}

p.s.:My tune has changed on teacher gifts a wee bit this year, as I have 7 teachers and 8 therapists to buy for, between my two sons. 15 teachers in total. Wow.  That’s more than the people I buy for in my family!

I will share more on what I do for them exactly in the week ahead.  If you have less than 15, well you’ve come to the right blog post.


Sharing @ Happy Hour at Craftberry Bush

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Halloween Spider Craft: Knock-off Z Gallerie & Pottery Barn

glittered spider halloween craft

Pottery Barn had these darling glittered spider vase fillers on their site a month ago {they are no longer available}.  I knew I had to knock them off for a fraction of the price.  Pottery Barn listed the materials as styrofoam, wire, and black glitter finish.  Any crafting goddess worth her glue gun could easily remake these.

Inspiration photo…


Glitter Spider Craft

 My take:

  • coarse styrofoam balls {mini & small}: 1 size of each for one spider*  {mine were from the Dollar Tree}
  • E6000 glue
  • 20 gauge black jewelry wire
  • black acrylic paint
  • paint brush
  • black fine glitter



  1. Join the mini/small stryfoam balls using a toothpick and E6000 glue.  Don’t use hot glue.  It won’t hold up if you want to keep this craft alive for future Halloweens.
  2. Use a separate toothpick to hold up the body while you paint.
  3. Immediately coat them in the fine black glitter {the paint will act as a glue}.
  4. After drying, cut and insert wire gauge legs. {Mine were cut on the curve of the wire so the legs looked more realistic.}  Keep the entry point of the wire near each other.
  5. Use on wreaths, vase fillers, on pumpkins…etc.

This post is 3 of 31 for my 31 days Project @ The Nester 



Have Halloween Projects of your own?

Click the button to be taken to the party.  Open 24-7 this October.

Sharing @ Polish the Stars, Happy Hour Projects, and Tatertots & Jello

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31 Days of Halloween: Projects, Crafts, Ideas, Stories, and Recipes

31 days of Halloween crafts, recipes, activities, ideas, stories, and projects at momnivore's

Yup.  This month will be all about Halloween.  31 days of Halloween projects, crafts, ideas, stories, and recipes galore.

This October, I will celebrate my favorite month of the year for Nester’s 31 days project.

I’m tackling Halloween, because last year, I epically failed on that front.

Now, I’m accountable.

This post will serve as a stockpile of every entry for this Halloween project.  In keeping all of things  “good blogger”, I will use a photogallery.  For all you Halloween lovers out there, there will also be a month log linky party to go along with my 31 days topic.

{if you are reading thru a rss feed, please click thru to see the gallery}





See you tomorrow for my first project {hint: Pottery Barn-watch out!} and link-up…



Don’t forget…tomorrow as well!

{Click button to be taken to the party}

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Upcycled St. Patrick’s Day Shamrock Craft

Back by popular demand…

This blog has resurrected the art teacher in me.  I look forward to each holiday like I did when I was teaching.  Plus, having decorations for Saint Patrick’s Day marks the end of one very long Chicago winter.  Here’s an easy and cheap Saint Patrick’s Day craft.  Even get the kids involved.

All holiday decor at the estate must have bling.  Or glitter.  Saint Patrick’s is no exception.

So, I rummage through the basement and found some old cds.   Headed over to Michael with my 50% off coupon and bought a bag-o-gems.  Then went to town.

Y o u ‘ l l   n e e d
-three banged up cds or dvds
-green cardstockpaper
-packing tape
-three popsicle sticks
-mod podge
-bling in the form of sequins, pearls, rhinestones and such in the Saint Patty’s color scheme

D i r e c t i o n s
1.) First, trace circle using the cds on your cardstock.  Cut and glue them to the cds.

2.) Then, cover the space in between the cds with some paper.
3.) Draw, cut, and glue a stem.
4.)  Reinforce the back of the shamrock with the popsicle sticks to hold the cds together. Use packing tape.

5.)  Now, the fun part.  Arrange your bling and glue down.  I found my elmer’s glue stick collection worked fine.  But for the pearls, I flooded the spaces in between the gems with Modpodge.

6.) Now this shamrock’s all dressed up and has no where to go.  I think I will suspend her from my front door and retire the recession wreath.

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Valentine’s Day Craft: Love Letters & Beaded Heart Tutorial

{reposted from last year}

Believe it or not, this entire project cost me less than a gallon of $3.60 gas here in Chicago.
Less than $2.

-gift boxes {yup I ask for them whenever I go shopping}-Free
-magenta colored Christmas picks {70% off at Michaels}-29 cents on sale
-damask fabric that I scored for $1.20/yard at Joann’s Black Friday sale- {used a half a yard}
-scissors, packing tape, and hot glue {had on hand, of course}

1.) First, choose a template of a font for your letters, blow it up on your computer. Print it out  Trace and cut. Or if you have one of those fancy Cricuts or Sils, use those.  I hope one day I will be the proud owner of a studio again and one of those digital cutters  {Or do what I did, freehand}

2.) Then, cut your letters out trying to use the side of the box to make it 3D. {This will be less work for you later}

3.) If you have missing sides, cut the side of the gift boxes and use them as strips.  This is nice because they are all even, and the measuring is done for you.

4.) Use packing tape to adhere the letter to the sides.

5.) For the heart, I simply hot glued the picks I cut down to the front of the letter. Then I cut a strip of fabric the length of the heart and glued it around.

For the letters, I hot glued the fabric, mitering the corners and hot gluing it to the back.

Perfect, because my Valentine’s Day decor budget was $10.

Stay tuned for more projects on the cheap.

If you have valentine’s projects of your own, please share them at my 2012 party!

momnivore's dilemma

Sharing @ Tatertots and Jello

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Ghost of Christmas Future: 5 ideas to plan for next year.

Now that the decor’s on sale for 70% off, and Santa is comfortably relaxing in Florida…we can safely say the madness of Christmas is over.

Here are some ideas to help you for next year…
1.)  Wrap as you buy, and label everything with a post-it! Also keep a running record of what you bought, and keep all receipts together.  I did a MUCH better job of this, this year.
2.) A good friend of mine keeps a Christmas account.  I think I will try and sock away $20 a week toward the next holiday, as that’s what our budget usually is.  We keep it pretty minimal in our family.  I think I may overdraw our groceries by $20 a week, and keep it in a jar.  Or have it automatically deducted.
3.) Support handmade, DIY gifts yourself, or try to buy American.  Etsy has tons of amazing, high-quality toys. Not that there are a TON of American toy companies these days, but I did score quite a few toys for my family at the California based company Green Toys.  Given that my husband is a union man, we try to buy American whenever possible.  In the toy arena, that’s almost IMPOSSIBLE.
4.) Start early.  I felt like I was cheating on Thanksgiving by thinking about Christmas in November.  Not so next year.  As soon as the Halloween decorations go on clearance and November 1st hits, I am starting my holiday shopping.  I may be one of those people that Christmas shop all year.  Probably not, but I will start the two epic holiday calendars that I make for both side of our family in AUGUST.  They are so tiring to make.
I plan to have my holiday cards in the mail before Thanksgiving.  Like my awesome sister-in-law.  
5.) Use pinterest.  Seriously.  You can have a beautiful, simple holiday for next to nothing.  Here’s some   eye candy to save for next year.  {Be sure to pin from the original site, and not here!}
Hope you aren’t sick like my boys are here!  The madness always drains my kids and leaves them with fevers.
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Grain-free Christmas Sugar Cookie Recipe

As was the case with our epic failure of a gluten-free gingerbread house, the boys were not interested in the process, but rather, the product.  And the dough.  Monkey was caught at one point escaping to the basement with a ghee-coconut sugar covered beater.

Moose managed to shove this little fingers in the dough.

The product was so perfect.  This six-ingredient grain-free, gluten-free, casein-free, AND to boot, refined sugar-free cookies were a happy mix of crisp and soft; the way I remember sugar cookies to be.

The cookies didn’t even make it to the decorating phase, because the boys attacked them like vulcans.

1/3 cup of coconut flour
2/3 cup of blanched almond flour
1 tsp of aluminum-free baking soda
{extra coconut flour for dusting surfaces and your rolling pin}

1/2 cup ghee
1/2 cup coconut sugar {extra for sprinkling}
1 egg {at room temperature}

unbleached and reusable parchment paper

1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2.) Combine ghee and coconut sugar in your mixer.  Add in egg.
3.) Blend in flours and baking soda slowly.
4.) Refrigerate dough overnight or for a minimum of four hours.  You want to work with this dough cold, as it was tricky to work with.
5.) Pop in your oven for about 8 minutes.  I used my convection setting so these guys baked up in less than 8 minutes.  Keep a close eye on them.

Makes one dozen.

*These are browner than your traditional sugar cookie because of the types of flours and sugar used.
*The texture was slightly soft, yet crunchy.
*Working on cold stone surface would be ideal.  My counters are granite, and that seemed to work better than my wood dining table.

Enjoy! You will be seeing this recipe again at Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s, Easter, and any excuse I can find to make them.

Sharing @
Tatertots and Jello
Centsational Girl

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Kicking the Bucket…List {Christmas Edition}

Just a mere two days away from Christmas, and I wanted to update where we are at on our bucket list.

I set the bar low this year, so here’s the original list I made a few weeks back…

1.) Elf on the Shelf was shelved til next year.  I don’t think my kids will really “get it”.  I think next year that would be fun to start on Black Friday.  Note to self: try to find said elf buried in a clearance rack.

2.) “Seeing the lights” scheduled with Dada on Thursday night.   Monkey fell asleep in car.  It rained.  Just glad we started the tradition.

3.)  Winterwonder Fest.  This consisted of Moose and Monkey running wild for two straight hours at Chicago’s Navy Pier’s colossal Winter Wonderfest, which coincidentally is filled with booths of gluten and crap.  But the kids were more excited to run at full speed into strangers.

I did manage a few cute shots with bribes.  They had to be photoshopped because the lighting in Navy Pier is god-awful.

4.) Christmas ABCs.  If you haven’t seen it…check it here.  By far, the best part of our day since it went up in early December.

5.) Gluten-free gingerbread house EPIC FAIL.  Kids ate the rice krispies I attempted to glue with sunbutter.  Disaster.  No interest in decorating on their part.  JUST EATING.

6.) Visit Santa.  No photos taken as the kids refused to near the fat man in the red suit.  So, we have the classic kid-avoidance picture for this year’s scrapbook.  Moose went boneless when I attempted to pick his 45lb body from red carpet.

He may be destined for Hollywood, given his attachment to the red carpet.

Monkey wouldn’t even step foot on the red carpet, “No Santa! I don’t want to! Santa No! I hate Santa!”

7.) Make crafts.  Really hard when your kids eat the supplies.  Will try again tomorrow.  The former art teacher in me sighs.

8.) Watch Charlie Brown Christmas.

9.) Watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  I may have dozed off.  Monkey liked it.

10.) Gluten-free cookies for Santa.  {scheduled with friend Kelli tomorrow}.  Dough is setting in the fridge now.  If the recipe works, I will share it tomorrow for all you last minute bakers.

I made good holiday progress until Moose, Monkey, and I contracted some odd flu bug from the other boogery kids at Moose’s preK.  I’m a bit behind on handmade gifts.

All my shopping is done.

Tomorrow, I bunker down and get-things-done.

How’s your holiday prep going?  Did you get it all done?

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Our Christmas Decor Tour 2011

Welcome to the Christmas Decor Tour of our “estate” here in Chicago.  Term used loosely.  It’s really a frat house shoved inside a 1938 dollhouse.   Here’s the president and vice-president of our fraternity: Alpha Sigma Sticky Floors. 
Our front room entry cabinet acts as my mantel.
Simple with my two unbreakable homemade table top trees:
{although both trees needed plastic surgery due to wild boys}
My favorite part: a few picture books from my childhood.

The books are moved often by curious preschoolers.

They know better than to touch the one set of breakables in my entire Christmas decor: the beloved crystal snowballs.

The most practical decor in our home this season: 
 The Christmas ABC word wall in the boys’ room.
It’s really helped build their vocabulary and understand the concept of Christmas.

My favorite makeshift craft:  
A simple grapevine wreath with a few clips I wear in my hair 
and some berry picks from the craft store.  
Simple and lovely.

Our half-naked Christmas tree that is destroyed by a mischevious two year old each morning.
I surrender.
A pretty tree may happen next year when Monkey is 3.5 instead of deep in the terrible 2s.

To make it extra kid-proof, I used unbreakables: christmas picks, pinecones, and ribbon. Although the poor dog has been pelted with far too many pinecones.  He’s the resident pledge of our frat.

 Sentimental ornaments are kept out of reach of sticky fingers.

Moose’s first school-made Christmas ornament.  Now deceased.  At least we have a photo.

The most sentimental “ornament”: Moose’s first pair of shoes.  Sniff. Sniff.

My makeshift fireplace: the stockings are hung by the staircase with care.

The holiday card display makes me smile.  These pictures do not give it justice.  I hope my husband Santa surprises me with a camera.  These doctored iPhone photos get old fast.

We’ve kept it simple this year.  I’m too sleep-deprived to take my decorating too seriously this year.  Although there are still 11 days til Christmas.

Consider this post a living document to be updated again before I host Christmas Eve…

Now off for a long winter’s nap while the kids consume mass amounts of Sesame and Thomas.

Sharing @ The Nester
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