Get Started With Cricut Explore Air 2 and Brighten Up Winter

Posted in CRAFTS, CRICUT, DIY, KITCHEN
on February 15, 2017

So, you just brought your new Cricut Explore Air 2 home. You’ve opened up the box, taken your shiny, gorgeous new machine out – I’m dying to know what color you chose  – you’ve plugged it in, and then… Well, that’s where you start asking yourself, “What am I going to DO with this thing?” Amiright? I was right there with you a few weeks ago when I opened up my new machine! But don’t fret! I’m here today to share some tips and a simple beginner project to get you started.

This project was born out of a need for green and a gentle reminder that Winter isn’t going to last forever.  The skies seem always to be gray, the ground hard, and covered in winter debris – twigs, dead leaves, it’s like nature’s litter out there! The days, while lengthening, are still short and dark. My lips are chapped. My skin is dry, and I’m itchy. I’m sick of sweaters. I might even be tired of boots – oh, the blasphemy! I’m irritated with coats that make me look like a linebacker. Since it’ll be a while before we see any real green on the ground, I decided to take matters into my hands.

I had these adorable faux herb planters that I’d picked up at Joann’s last spring. Yes, I know, faux is passe` bu let’s face it, even if it were spring, I’m a plant-killer which makes faux the only plants for me. They were cute on their own, but I thought it would be fun to add a bit of an embellishment with a wee bit of color.

Let’s get started. First things first, if you’ve not done so already,  and if you’ve not signed up for a login with Cricut in the past, you’ll need to create an account at Cricut.com. If you already have an account,  you’ll login using this account by clicking the login link in the top left corner.

Next, you’ll want to download the plugin and go through the New Machine Setup. Connect your machine using the provided cables, or you can also connect using blue tooth. To do that, set your Ipad or Iphone’s blue tooth settings to your Cricut Explore Air 2 and enter the provided pin. Just like that, you’re connected!

No matter how you choose to connect, you’ll want to go through the “Getting Started” rubric which will automatically walk you through your very first project, which is an excellent way to get a feel for what the Cricut Explore Air 2 can do.

Now that you’re logged in take a look at the Cricut Design Space. The Design Space is where all of the magic happens.

When you log in, you’ll see a list of projects. These projects are what are called “Make it Now” projects. In these projects, Cricut has done all of the work for you. Clicking on a project will show you a list of materials you’ll use, the cost to purchase the project, as well as the directions to create a project. I would encourage you to look around as there is a project for every need and check back often as they are always adding to the library.

Our project today uses the Southwest Pottery Wraps “Make it Now” project. To get started, you’ll click on the picture of the project. First, you’ll see the details of the project, the supplies required and you’ll also see the “Customize” button. Clicking this would allow you to change the design to your preferences – we aren’t going to do that with this project, but it’s good to know that it’s possible to do if you’d like!

I decided to change up the design slightly, using vinyl instead of the leather. The vinyl is self-adhesive, so I also didn’t need the spray adhesive. So, for my version we’ll need the following materials:

Let’s get started! Clicking on the ” Make it Now” button takes us directly to the mat window.

To use your mat, remove the plastic sheet – put it aside to protect your mat when you’re done. Load your vinyl sheet by lining it up to the top left corner and smoothing it with your hand.

Load your machine, aligning and feeding the mat through the guides, then pressing the feed button.

 

Be sure to set your blade to the correct material setting, in this case, vinyl.

 

In the Design Space, push the go button, then press the flashing Cricut button on your Cricut Explore Air 2 to begin cutting.

 

I decided to layer two colors of vinyl and therefore cut the design twice. What I love is that you can just reload your material, reload the mat and it will automatically reset, allowing you to cut by just pressing the Cricut button rather than having to resend from Design Space.

When you’ve finished cutting, press the Finish button in Design Space.

The vinyl is self-adhesive and comes with a backing. Remove the backing from around the cut design, leaving the design on the backing. Use the weeding tool to remove the center of the design that did not come away when you removed the backing.

For this project, I found it easiest to peel the design and place it by hand rather than to use transfer paper.

Once completed, the pots made their way to their new home – my kitchen window sill!

I love the little bit of green and the contrast between gold and stainless steel, giving them a bit of a modern/industrial look and is a great reminder that Winter is only temporary. The fact that my Cricut Explore Air 2 makes this such a simple and quick project makes me love it even more!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Cricut. The opinions and text are all mine.

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DIY Valentine’s Day Heart-shaped Candy Boxes

Posted in CRAFTS, CRICUT, DIY, HOLIDAYS
on February 13, 2017

Do you remember the first year that Valentine’s Day mattered to you? I do. I was in the sixth grade and was boy-crazy over this kid named Warren. He had the cutest little bowl cut and the biggest teeth I’ve ever seen. He was my Mr. Dreamy. Every time someone accused me of liking him my voice would rise to an octave that only dogs can hear as I shrilly said: “I do NOT!” Only I did. On that Valentine’s Day, after finally admitting I maybe liked him a little bit,  we started “going out.” You know, the going out, which means we were thinking of holding hands some day when our palms weren’t sweaty and the planets aligned. Still, on that Valentine’s Day, he gave me a decorated teddy bear cookie that said, “I love you ‘beary’ much!”. I swooned, and vowed never to eat the cookie – it was just far too romantic gesture ever to eat it, and knowing my love of cookies, I must have liked this boy even to consider not eating it. In my heart, I just knew I’d be cherishing that cookie on our wedding anniversary some day!

 

Flash forward a few years – okay, a few decades – and now I’m married to the most excellent Valentine who, lucky me, will have to put up with me forever. Now, I have a whole slew of young people all worried about whether or not they’ll be getting an “I love you ‘beary’ much!” cookie, or something equally as heartwarming, on February 14th. Of course, I can’t guarantee that for them, but I can make sure they know how much I love them.

Every year, without fail, we have a little Valentine’s Day party, where we exchange little cards and candy and finish the day off with one or two of our favorite Rom-coms. This year’s movies were “10 Things I Hate About You” and “A Knights Tale” – it was just a Heath Ledger kind of day!

My youngest knock-it-off-crafter spent an entire day crafting his Valentine’s, everyone made a box or a bag to hold their goodies, and I surprised everyone with these personalized candy boxes. We sat around talking about how dumb boys are sometimes (truth) and how impossible girls are to understand (won’t ever happen), nibbling on our sweets and getting lost in the rom-com giggles. Each box reflected the current personality of the receiver – as you can see I’ve passed on my love of leopard print to one of my mini-me’s.

With the varied card stock patterns, it was easy to have each box reflect the current personality of the receiver – as you can see I’ve passed on my love of leopard print to one of my mini-me’s.

* This post contains affiliate links for your convenience

I made my boxes with my Cricut Explore Air 2 – by the way, I’m STILL loving this machine –  but if you don’t have a craft cutting machine, you could easily create the project by cutting the template by hand.  If you’re interested in creating these candy boxes for yourself or loved ones, the template files are available to subscribers to my weekly newsletter. If you’re using a newer Cricut or Silhouette import the images into the designer software and enlarge the image to cut on a 12″x12″ card stock sheet. If you’re cutting by hand, print the images at full size. Either way, you’ll need to cut one of each sheet.

The boxes go together in a snap with hot glue. Here are the basic steps (shown using a Cricut):

Gather your supplies:

  • 12″x12″ mid-weight cardstock in your choice of colors
  • Cricut or Silhouette cutting machine OR scissors
  • If cutting by hand, a printer
  • Glue and Glue gun
  • Embellishments (optional)
  • Mini cupcake liners
  • Candy of your choice

Step 1: Cut out your template patterns, one sheet of all three files.

Step 2: Trace the liner hearts (smaller of the two) to the back side of the base hearts (larger).

Step 3: Connect the two pieces of the solid band in the center, aligning the edges. Attach the solid band to the back side of the bottom base heart, using your traced line as a guide. Bend the tabs, then attach by gluing the circle tabs slightly INSIDE the line onto the base, starting from the tip of the heart and working around to the top of the heart.

Step 4: Connect the two pieces of the contrast band in the center, aligning the edges. Attach the contrast band to the back side of the top base heart, using your traced line as a guide. Be sure to check fit over the bottom band before gluing, and cut to fit as needed – The top band provided is longer than necessary to allow for a custom fit. Attach by gluing the circle tabs slightly OUTSIDE the line, starting from the top of the heart and working around to the bottom of the heart.

Step 5: Add liners to both top and bottom lid and embellish, if desired.

Step 7: Add cupcake liners and fill with candy.

Step 8: Gift to make someone happy!

 

 

I found it easiest to work from the bottom up to ensure the contrast band fits inside the peek-a-boo band.

Although the boxes were cute without any further decoration, I had found these fun embellishments in the Target Dollar Aisle. They were the perfect finish to compliment the different cardstock designs.

The best part of creating your candy boxes is that you can fill them with all of your favorite sweets! Mini cupcake liners are perfect for holding each treat or chocolate – I was able to nest seven liners into each box. I filled the boxes with Mike & Ikes, Skittles, Peanut M&Ms, Cinnamon hearts, Gummy Roses, Milk Duds, and Lindor Truffles, but you can fill yours whatever you like.

It’s a very personal way for you to show your Valentine’s, large and small, how much they are loved!

So, I bet you’re wondering what happened to Warren and the cookie? Well, he broke up with me the day after Valentine’s Day, and although I did keep the cookie, it eventually disintegrated. It goes without saying that if someone were to give me a cookie today, I’d eat it right there on the spot – with age comes wisdom. I eventually moved away and have no idea what happened to the boy that gave me my first lesson in “boy dumbness”. It’s probably for the best, though – between his teeth and mine one can only wonder what would have happened to our children!

Whether you have a Warren or not, I wish you the happiest Valentine’s Day. I’m off to finish my shopping – I want to make sure my Valentine knows that, without a doubt, “I love him ‘beary’ much!” Since I love him, I may even be persuaded to share a cookie with him!

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Egg-Allergy Friendly Samoa Cupcakes

Posted in FOOD, KIDS PARTIES
on February 12, 2017

How many of you realize that some ice cream cakes contain eggs? I didn’t know that either until I nearly poisoned my son at his birthday party. Although there have been more than a few non-super mom moments in my life, that event rated right up there with one of the worst. I still cringe thinking of the look on his 8-year old little face as we frantically left his party to grab some Benadryl before his reaction got out of control. Yes. I had changed purses and didn’t have any Benadryl either! Ugh! #Badmomsunite #Alwayscheckthelabel

Before I had a child with food allergies, I had no idea how difficult it would be managing events like birthday parties or other such social events. It became glaringly obvious early on that homemade was the only way to go. It’s no small wonder that I’ve been trying to make up for that birthday party and that cake ever since!

Everybody around here LOVES Samoa Girl Scout cookies, but nobody adores them more than my oldest son. There was a time when he had what we called his “stash” drawer, filled to the brim with candy wrappers, marshmallow containers, and yep, you guessed it, Samoa boxes. (Much to my envy, the boy burns calories just breathing). So, when his birthday came around this year, it was a no-brainer as to what flavors he’d be looking for, but with nary a Samoa in sight, I had to improvise a little bit.

Over the years I’ve tested dozens and dozens of recipes, and I’ve had great success with two methods. In the first method, Ener-G Egg Replacer acts as an egg substitute. The second method uses a depression cake recipe, which is a cake that uses no eggs, butter or other dairy ingredients. These cupcakes fall into the latter camp.

Incidentally, depression cakes have been around since – yes, you guessed it – the Great Depression, when ingredients such as milk and eggs were scarce. These recipes are often passed down through families and are so, so simple to make. As well, surprisingly, they produce a moist, well-crumbed cake that, lucky for me, is perfect for allergy sufferers. This cake is dairy free as well and produces a delicious dark chocolate cupcake.

But, the chocolate cupcake is only the first chapter of this story. After all, what gives a Samoa it’s yummy goodness? Is it the crisp, vanilla cookie? The smooth chocolate? The gooey, sweet caramel? The flaked coconut? Of course, it’s all of that!

But, how do you put all of that into a cupcake?

For me, you start with the chocolate cupcake and use a simple trick to fill the cupcake liners.

First, prepare your muffin tins by filling each cup with a liner. Set aside. To evenly fill your liners, you will need a large Ziploc bag and a large-mouthed cup or jar. Place your Ziploc bag into the cup or jar and fold the opened edge over the lip. Set aside and prepare your batter. Spoon your prepared batter into the Ziploc bag, lifting carefully to fill completely. The bag will be approximately half full. Carefully lift out of your cup or jar, press the air out of the bag and close. To fill, carefully clip one corner of the Ziploc bag and carefully pipe the batter into the liner by squeezing through the hole. To stop the flow, pinch the hole closed and tip the filled bag backward before moving on to the next cup. Repeat for the remaining cups and until all batter has been used. To clean up, just discard the Ziploc bag. Voila! These chocolate cupcakes were made using this recipe from Savory Sweet Life without any tweaks and made one dozen cupcakes, baked for 16 -18 minutes.

Then, you add caramel. If you’re going to have caramel go ahead and use homemade caramel – it’s much easier to make than it seems. You’ll never regret it. I used this fabulous recipe from Add a Pinch. Easy-peasy and Oh so good!

Buttercream frosting is where I shine, and I’ve shared the recipe for that below. A simple vanilla buttercream frosting flavored with dollops of caramel takes care of the vanilla layer, save for the crunch aspect.

For coconut use toasted, flaked coconut to get back some of that crunch, along with the unmistakeable flavor of coconut. I like to toast coconut in a pan over medium-high heat, tossing it gently to prevent burning. Remove the pan when the coconut is nicely browned.

Now, put it all together – decadent chocolate cupcake, topped with whipped salted caramel buttercream, topped with toasted flaked coconut, drizzled with sweet, gooey caramel and velvety chocolate – and my friend, you’ve got yourself the ultimate Samoa cupcake. And if you’re a better momma than I, and left out the eggs – or at least brought the Benadryl, you’ll also be wearing your Supermom cape.


My son has grown into an impressive young man. Lucky for me, I got the honor of watching that happen – with or without my cape. Maybe someday I’ll forgive myself for what was certainly the worst party he ever had, but for now, I’m so glad I FINALLY got it together in the birthday baking department for him.

Caramel Buttercream

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (softened to room temperature)
2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
1/3 cup cooled caramel sauce
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
Beat butter until light and fluffy. Add caramel, vanilla, and half the cream. Beat well. Slowly, add sugar, beating on low until well combined. Add additional cream until you reach your desired consistency. You want your frosting to be soft but able to hold it’s shaped. Place frosting in a piping bag (I like to use Ziploc bags!), or spread onto cooled cupcakes.

 

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