Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Stockings

In addition to the cloth paper dolls, which the kids will be opening on Christmas morning, I made them new stockings. Since I had bought my felt for 50% off on Black Friday, I stocked up (maybe $20 worth) for other projects, including these.

This project was relatively fast, not to mention very affordable.I laid out some red felt and folded it over so that it was 2 layers thick. Since I loved the size and shape of my stocking, I traced around it, leaving about 1/2" for the seams. I also measured and traced the white part for the top, also in two layers. Less cutting! I sewed the tops on the red portions, then turned them face to face (as if it were inside out), sewing around the whole stocking. After that was done, I flipped it inside out, folded in the top of the white, and sewed that down for a clean edge. I made hooks by cutting a strip of red felt about 1 1/2" wide, folding it in half, and then sewing it on the inside of the back part of the stocking, right under the top seam. They are decorated with a $1 pack of sparkly foam stickers (which I adhered with hot glue) and a multi-pack of puff paint (also used to decorate the doll clothes).

Here is how they turned out:

I am planning on wrapping these up for them to open on Christmas eve so we can hang them up before bed. I can't wait to see their eyes when the stockings are filled with treats and gum on Christmas morning!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cloth "Paper" Dolls

One of the gifts I am making for the girls this Christmas is cloth "paper" dolls. I love the idea and remember seeing some a few years ago in an online shop, but there aren't many to be found right now. So, why not make them myself? I think they turned out quite cute!

 I made matching sets so they won't get jealous ;). Each set has a doll, 2 dresses, 2 boy hairdo's, 2 girl hairdo's, 1 pair of shoes, 1 hat, and several mix-and-match outfits. 

I still need to add some velcro attachments to the back of the clothing and the front of the dolls, but here is what one looks like dressed:

I'm even making sparkly carrying cases for doll sets. The cases will hold plenty more, so I can make them extra outfits for future gifts.

I think they'll really like them, don't you?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Creating a Frugal and Beautiful Christmas

Photo Credit
I was going to write this post up yesterday, but I spent the evening listening to a group of singers I discovered called Il Divo. Their Christmas album is positively heavenly. Music has a way of touching me, such that I can hardly focus on anything else.

But I digress.

Since we are sticking to a tight budget, we don't spend much on non-essentials, even during the holidays. But that doesn't mean we go without beauty and memorable moments. Here are some of the  gifts and traditions I have run across in the past few years. Some of them I have incorporated already. Some of them I would love to begin at some point in the future.

-One of my high school friends had a wonderful tradition during the advent season. They would turn the lights down in the evening, light the candles (another each day), and read scripture pertaining to the season. Sitting in the candlelight sipping peppermint cocoa is one of my favorite memories.
-Driving to look at Christmas lights. My grandparents did this with us a lot and it became something I looked forward to.
-Make a popcorn string for the tree with a needle and thread. Make sure to save some for eating, too!
-Build a fire in the fireplace (if you have one), turn the lights off (and the tree lights on), and listen to your favorite Christmas music.
-Bake your favorite Christmas goodies and eat them with some hot apple cider.
-Put on your favorite Christmas movie while decorating the tree.
-Read a Christmas-themed story to the kids each night in December.
-Make a simple advent calendar, putting a different activity for each day (use some of the above and add your own).
-Attend a Christmas eve church  service with the  whole family. This has really served to get us in the mindset to be thankful for the gift of Christ.
-Invite someone to spend Christmas with your family that might otherwise end up alone for the holidays.
-My favorite tradition that we do with the kids now is that I spend the time right before bed on Christmas eve blowing up a large package of balloons and cover the living room floor with them. When the kids wake up, it's play time. This is a frugal, yet magical way to bring lots of joy to little ones. They love this!

-Make a fleece blanket or scarf.
-Knit or crochet a simple blanket, scarf, or kitchen rag.
-Sew some flannel pajama pants or pillowcases, both of which are simple patterns, even if you're a beginning sewer.
-Design paper dolls and clothes for a little girl. I'm going a more time-consuming route with these and making girls paper doll sets out of felt so they will last.
-Sew and decorate new stockings.
-Make drink mixes for flavored coffees, hot cocoas, or teas.
-Make candies, cookies, or breads and put them in holiday gift bags/tins.
-Put together simple themed gift baskets (spa, movie, gardening, arts & crafts, etc.) The sky is really the limit here. You can come up with lots of frugal, fun items that anyone would love to receive.
-Give framed family pictures.
-Make ornaments. You can get really creative with things you already have on hand. Or head to the local craft store.
-Make gift certificates for things your loved one would appreciate, such as babysitting, housecleaning, a massage, etc. Let them arrange to cash them in throughout the year.
-Stuff stockings with small, fun items. Examples include candy (homemade or otherwise), trail mix, gum, lotion, nail polish, socks, ornaments, small games, toys, books, puzzles, crayons, gloves, stickers, etc. My grandparents always put an orange in the toe of our stockings, so now we do the same. We loved coming down and opening our stockings on Christmas morning. Everything was wrapped and packaged, even the small packs of gum. So fun!
-On Christmas eve, we give each of the kids a new book and new pair of jammies. They need not even be brand new. Consignment shops, garage sales, and thrift stores can all be a wealth of great items that are more than gift-worthy.

These are just a few ideas. Just do a web search for homemade or frugal Christmas gifts and you'll have more ideas than you know what to do with.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Salad for your Sweet Tooth

Photo Credit
I remember the first time I tasted a strawberry spinach salad. I thought I had died and gone to salad heaven. Well, at Gleaner's tonight, I happened to pick up some block romano cheese, strawberries, and spinach. I always have a mason jar of slivered almonds on hand, since I buy them in the bulk section at Winco. I decided to make my own dressing from what I had on hand, too. Here's what I came up with. Enjoy!

Superb Strawberry Spinach Salad
4 C. fresh spinach, washed
1 C. sliced strawberries
1/4 C. slivered almonds
2 Tbsp. grated romano cheese

3-4 oz. each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. cooking sherry or sweet wine
1/8-1/4 C. strawberry preserves (I used strawberry peach jam that I made last summer)

Shake dressing. Pour desired amount over salad and toss until coated. Put the leftover dressing in the fridge, since you know you'll want to make it again :).

Monday, December 05, 2011

Catching Up

Photo Credit
It seems like life just goes at full-speed sometimes. It's all we can do to keep up, isn't it?

But in the midst of all the crazy schedules, dishes, laundry, church, friends, cooking, diapers, marriage, and anything else you can think of, I find myself wondering something. Why don't I just take time for me once in a while? Mommy is much more happy and at peace when she takes a spare moment to do something that she loves to do. It doesn't have to be something big. Simply sitting to read my Bible for a few minutes, drawing or painting a picture once in a while, blogging a few times a week, or practicing my instruments. I get to sing on the worship team at church once a month, and I would do it more if they needed me to. Something about taking those times to focus on the One who loves me right where I am at helps me to be a better person. Or, at least desire to be a better person.

So, that's where I'm at. As much as I want to serve my family and friends, I also need to take time to do the things that I love. And you know what, most of the time when I do those things, I inadvertently bless others in the process! In short, expect to hear more from me in the coming days.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pears, Anyone??

A couple of weeks ago, we got down to business and processed our numerous pears that came off the tree in our wonderful new back yard. Have I said how much I love our home? The yard has been a work in progress.
It went from this:

To this:

I've been cutting up the wood the previous owners left in piles around the yard, as well as moving wood to the shed. Phew!

There was quite a bit of salvageable wood as well, which we used to build the chicken coop (pictures of that process will be coming tomorrow). I've even still got a pile of wood we can use for future projects.

I even stained/painted the deck last week to get it ready for the winter rains:
But, about those pears....

My hubby and mom even got in on the fun of this all-day project for part of it. I peeled, cored, and sliced pears for hours.

 Packed them into sterilized quart jars with hot apple juice that I prepared on the stove.
And processed them in the water-bath canner for 25 minutes.
 The result? 13 lovely quarts of pears!

I didn't quite get all the pears canned in one day, so I decided to take my friend Meg's suggestion and dehydrated some. But these aren't just sliced and dried. They are dredged through red-hots. At Meg's instruction, I melted a package of the cinnamon candy on the stove with some water, stirring to keep it from burning.

Once it was a nice syrup, I stirred a few pears at a time into the syrup:
 Then placed them in the dehydrator, where they still are (and smelling quite tasty, I might add):
 I think they'll take about 24 hours, but I just might have sneaked one off the bottom rack this morning and it tasted wonderful already. What a treat! Thanks, Meg!

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Recent Endeavors!

I'm really enjoying our new little home. Here are just a few of the things I've been busy with lately. Canning has been big on my to-do list. I've made a few jars of pickles and plenty of jam, including strawberry, strawberry-peach, and strawberry-rhubarb. I even tried my hand at some plum jam from all the plums off our tree and I must say that it turned out quite tasty! I also made a large jar of cranberry sauce for the holidays, and oh, did the house smell heavenly after that one. In addition to canning, I've processed and frozen several batches of zucchini and rhubarb for breads and pies this winter. Tomorrow I'll be peeling, slicing, and canning the numerous bags of pears that came off our tree. Whee!!
As for the rest of the garden, our cool summer hasn't been the best for production (of course, neither was transplanting). I've gotten a grand total of 4 pumpkins, a handful of cucumbers, and a few tomatoes. There should be a good 8 or so small cantaloupe to harvest here in a bit. But when we moved, I had to leave behind my snap peas, pole beans, corn, and two gigantic tomato plants. I am sure that whoever rented that house is loving them. As for my green peppers and jalapenos? I got two small ones from each plant. Ah, well, there is always next year. Oh, and see that shed back there behind the garden? I've been moving wood from the fence to that shed. I've still got a bit to do, but I'd guess that we have almost enough wood to last us through the season. That should really help us cut down on heating costs... and cooking costs, since I can throw pots of soup/stew on the top of the stove as well.
I've been loving our outdoor clothes-drying rack. But, given our apparent lack of summer and early arrival of fall, I decided to string up some lines in the basement. Here's hoping that they'll dry quickly enough when the weather is cool and damp.
My next project? Building a chicken coop with all the scraps of lumber that were strewn all over the yard. That's right, we'll be getting chickens. Not only will we not have to run to the store for eggs, but we'll save on waste since chickens love table scraps.

Hmmmm, and should we add a puppy to the mix? I don't know, but one of my longest and dearest friends just announced that her dog had 8 puppies. It's tempting....

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Our Summer

It's been a whirlwind couple of months. Between buying the house, packing, moving, unpacking, kitchen construction, gardening, church, and family, it's been hard to keep up with even the normal chore routine... let alone doing anything extra. But, I think things are (sort of) calming down now. We celebrated William's first birthday in August. Dorothy's birthday was just a couple of days ago. She just turned 5 and we decided to put her into a Kindergarten program at one of our neighborhood churches, as they were fine with her birthday being a bit past the cutoff. Today was her first day and since her birthday was recently, they celebrated it today. Her first day of school and she got to wear a crown all day! Here she is in her crown, her Dora backpack, and her princess shoes. My little girl is growing up.

Speaking of growing up, sweet Charlotte is potty training now. She just decided one day last week that she wanted panties, and that was that! Of course, when she wants something "just so", she tends to do it herself....

Monday, August 29, 2011

Checking in!

My plan is to get back on a regular blogging schedule after next weekend. We're still getting settled in the house and we're loving it. Our neighbors are really nice, plus two of them have girls Dorothy's age. She's happy as a clam playing with them. Speaking of Dorothy, she's turning 5 next week! She missed the cutoff for public school Kindergarten, but I may try out the home school thing this year, anyhow. We'll do some pre-K/K stuff and see how she does.

By the way, plum jam is awesome! I'll be sure to share with you all about it when I get back to writing more next week.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Back to Blogging Soon...

Between house preparations, packing, and taking care of two homes (rental and new house), I am too busy to sit and write much at the moment. I have lots of blog posts rolling around in my head, and they will make it on here.... when things calm down a bit. But for now, know that we're doing ok. Just busy! The move is planned for Saturday, then David will be on vacation next week. We'll unpack, have William's 1st birthday party/housewarming BBQ, then hopefully go camping or to the beach next weekend. In addition, I now have a plum tree that is bursting with plums, which I'll be pitting and freezing for use later in fruit leather and jam. The pear tree is not too far behind. The zucchini, peas, beans, and tomatoes will also be coming up on their most productive few weeks pretty soon. I see a lot of canning in my future!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mmmmmmmango Salsa

(Photo Credit)
Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I love me some salsa. In fact, when I was extremely morning sick with all of my pregnancies, one of the only things that made my stomach feel somewhat normal was a big ol' plate of tortilla chips with melted cheddar and some nice, fresh salsa. Well, since I had gone to Costco and bought a box of 9 large mangoes (for about 75 cents each), I thought it might be time to make some salsa! I snooped around for recipes and didn't find one that really struck me. So I kind of picked things that I liked about various recipes and did my own thing. I like doing that. My friend Jessi calls this "Amelia Bedelia-ing". Remember Amelia Bedelia?

Anyway, as I was saying, I made some salsa. I went out to my garden and picked some parsley, some green onions, and a purple torpedo onion. I also had an avocado and some tomatoes from Gleaner's, as well as some lime juice in the fridge. I jazzed it up with some salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper from the spice cabinet and... ta-da! Mango salsa was born. Following this recipe should give you a nice, big bowl to share with those you love. Or, you can put it in the fridge and hide it all for yourself. Your call. Either way, it's a winner.

Mmmmmmmango Salsa
2 large tomatoes, diced
2 large mangoes, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
1 avocado, diced
1 bunch green onions, sliced (What? Not diced?)
1 handful fresh parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
1-2 Tbsp. lime juice
salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste

Throw it all in the bowl, stir it up, and eat it. And yes, I do tend to make things that I can just dump together and stir, don't you?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Today (and every day) I am so thankful for my kids. With all that we had to go through to get them here safely, they are such a miracle.

I am also grateful for my garden, for Gleaner's, and for David's job, through which God gives us all that we need. Here is yesterday's garden harvest!

And I am always thankful for good food. Yum!

This post has been linked to Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers. What are you thankful for today?

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Gardening Update (and a bit on the house)

I'm really enjoying my garden these days, especially as things begin bearing fruit. There is something very satisfying about preparing dinner with veggies from your own back yard. We made some simple boxes with untreated boards and filled them with a trailer load of fill dirt. Too bad we are moving now, because that was a lot of work! I haven't quite decided if/how I am going to transfer all of my plants, but I'll do my best to keep them alive and productive. Meanwhile, I'll be tending the garden as well as I can. I've started using some organic pesticides, such as sluggo and some insect killer, which seems to have helped. Although, some little bugs (aphids?) are still getting at my broccoli and brussel sprouts. The slugs are completely gone now, so that makes me really happy!

Out front is the main garden:

In the pots are two tomato plants and my herbs.

The first box has chard, purple onions, and green onions.

The second box has carrots, beets, and 4 cucumber plants.

To the side of those boxes are 3 pots of lettuce and 3 pots of spinach.

In the second row, I planted two broccoli plants and two cauliflower plants.

Next to that are two jalapenos, two green peppers, chard, kohlrabi, brussel sprouts, and cabbage.

On the bottom row is another tomato plant.

And next to that is my corn, some of which has been eaten by critters, but is looking quite a bit healthier now.

And next to the corn, I planted cantaloupe, strawberries, and yet another tomato plant.

The back yard plants are doing really well, too:

Here is my corner area with zucchini, pumpkin, kale, and (more) beets.

Along the fence are my fava beans, which are now taller than the fence with a good crop of beans maturing on them.

Here are my snap peas, which are also quite a bit taller and making nice little peas for us to munch on.

And lastly, the green beans, which are about twice this size now!

As for the house, closing is set to happen on the 15th, barring any complications with the appraisal. Lots of work is getting done on the house this week and next, so things are moving along nicely. We've decided to wait on finishing the basement so we can save our money and avoid paying interest on that project. We will, however, be hiring someone to help us paint the interior, mostly because I am not going to have the time to do it with all the packing, unpacking, and caring for 3 kiddos. As soon as everything is painted and cleaned, I'll be posting more pics. I'm really excited about our first home!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Strawberries and Cream Oatmeal

My girls and I love to eat oatmeal in the mornings, and we love to try lots of different flavors in it. One of our go-to additions is peanut butter, but this week we went for something fruity. This is a great use for the quick oats and somewhat soft strawberries that we pick up from Gleaner's. It's creamy and tasty, with much more flavor and much less sugar than instant strawberry flavored oatmeal packets.

Want to make some? It's really quick and simple :)

Strawberries and Cream Oatmeal
1 1/2 C. quick oats
1 1/2 C. milk
1 1/2 C. water
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. butter
1-2 C. chopped strawberries
dash of salt

Throw all the ingredients in a pot over med-high, stirring frequently until creamy and bubbly. You can add any sort of fruit, such as peaches, blueberries, raspberries, etc. Apples or raisins are great with some cinnamon and vanilla, although the apples may need to be sauteed in a little butter first to soften them up. That's it! Amazing oatmeal on a budget. My kids always ask for more, even my picky little 2-year old.

Oh, and I just had to tell you about the amazing deal I got on Spray n' Wash last week. I stopped by Safeway for some drain cleaner and saw that Spray n' Wash was buy 1, get 1 free. In addition to the sale, each bottle had an attached manufacturer's coupon for 50 cents off. I got all these for $1 each, which is great since we get a lot of stains on our clothes with 3 small kiddos in the house.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Expect the Unexpected

I really shouldn't be surprised when God brings things into my life that I've dreamed of. For as long as I can remember, I've dreamed of owning a home of my own. That dream might be finally coming true! Last week started as any other week. David was on vacation, but we had no big plans. That is, until his dad called us early in the week. He knew a couple that was getting ready to list their home and said if we liked it, they would sell it to us instead of listing it. And the great part? David's parents are gifting us the money needed for the down payment as an advance on our inheritance, which helps us to get a better interest rate on our loan.

Well, we went to look at it and liked a lot of things about it, so we're working on the buying process right now. We've already signed a sales agreement, and barring anything major on the inspection, it looks like things will go through just fine. The inspection should happen sometime this week, and I'm trying to be patient :).

So, here are some great things about the home:
*It's only about 5 minutes from our current rental home.
*The price is right in our budget. In fact, it's looking like we'll come out $100 a month less than we're paying now, with our money going into our equity instead of somebody else's.
*It's a good size for our family at around 1200 square feet with 3 bedrooms, plus a large, partially finished basement (that we hope to finish in the future).
*Raised flower beds in the front and a huge fenced back yard with 2 small storage sheds, 3 fruit trees, and a great clothesline setup.
*Wood floors that look to be in fairly good shape.
*The bathroom has been updated with tile and a jet tub.
*A wood stove that heats the home well (plus a whole season's worth of wood that they're leaving here). Not only should this save us money on heating, but also on electricity during the cold months since I can easily cook in a dutch oven over the stove.

There are a few things we'll need to work on, but most of them are cosmetic. The kitchen is a bit rough, but we're going to try to do things ourselves. Such as new hardware for the cupboards, replacing the counter top (with something attractive, but not super fancy), and replacing the dishwasher (we saw some good deals on Craigslist). We'll also need to paint throughout the home, as the walls were painted over wallpaper. I'm thinking I'll learn how to apply some texture and then paint over that so we won't be able to see the wallpaper marks any more. I definitely see a lot of potential for a great home.

Also, being that we're going to need a bit of cash for home improvements, I'll be waiting on my hair for a bit. I hope to do it later, but right now we're investing in our family's future. So exciting!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Many Blessings

We really have so much to be thankful for. We may not be rich by earthly standards, but we always have more than we need. One thing I am so very grateful for is our gleaning program, Birch Community Services. Because of this wonderful program, we have been able to pay off some of our debt, learn to budget more effectively, and feed our family much more abundantly. Thanks to Gleaner's and the affordable bulk section at Winco, we always have a fully-stocked fridge, freezer, and baking cupboard. As such, we can extend hospitality to our friends and family on a regular basis. We've always got family and friends stopping by for a snack or a meal.

Like a barbecue, spaghetti, stir fry....

banana muffins...

coffee cake...

and smiles:

I am so blessed to be in this wonderful rental home, where I can finally garden for the first time. I feel so at home here, and so ready to welcome those I love. Even if my house isn't always clean, it's always open. And the thing I am most thankful for? The people in my life that make it so rich! You're all I could ask for and more, and you love me just the way I am no matter what. Thanks for being a part of our lives.