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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Handmade Christmas Gifts: Felt Animal Book

Today's project is the one that took the longest, and that I almost gave up on.  I saw this little felt book idea in a link-up, and I thought, "Oh that's cute.  I could do that for my niece!"  And then I started.
The fabric I picked for the cover from my random bin of fabrics was a silky one.  Very pretty.  Very unforgiving. I had to redo the cover, because the first time it pulled wonky and didn't lay flat.
I don't sew very well.  I mostly taught myself.  So there are plenty of imperfections in this book.
But it's still really cute!  
The little pouch at the back holds all the clothes for the three animals to dress up in.
Some are casual.  
Some are seasonal.
My favorite is the little tuxedo and the kitchen apron.  I really had a lot of fun coming up with some different outfits!
So the back pouch is kind of full.  I opted for snaps to hold the whole thing shut, because that's easier for a kid than tying a ribbon.  I think.  I hope.
Helpful Links:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Handmade Christmas: Handprint Calendars

If you haven't guessed by now, I like to make some of the presents that we give out for Christmas.  I truly enjoy making things for others, and it usually saves us some money as well.  Plus, I like to think that the recipients enjoy these gifts as well!  
I saw the idea for a handprint/footprint calendar awhile ago, and we ended up making two of them this year, for Jesse's mom and for my parents.
I involved all of the kids, and we set to painting.  The first time around we did the painting over three days, and the second time we just powered through and did the whole thing all at once.  I don't know if either method is better, but I know from a painting-is-chaos-at-my-house perspective, it was easier for me to have one crazy time and then be done as opposed to getting the mess out a few days in a row.
I went with mostly seasonally appropriate items, although we did a bunny for Easter because I couldn't come up with a Jesus-y one that wasn't weird.
My favorite is probably these footprint tulips, if only because it has all four kids' feet on it.
Helpful Links:

I made sure to label what each picture is, and whose hand or foot made it.  This was a really fun project, and the kids liked it too!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Weekly Goals: December 27-January 2

One of my favorite traditions from when I was younger was having an appetizer feast on Christmas Eve, where each family member gets to pick an appetizer that they want.  I picked jalapeno poppers, of course, and Jesse picked this copycat Olive Garden fonduta, which is a pie plate of melted cheese and bacon.  Jonah picked blue jello, and the rest of the kids didn't really have an opinion yet.  It was a fun thing to bring from my childhood to my family now!

Last Week's Goals:
  • Finish Christmas presents.  I did!  The morning of December 23, but I did!
  • Make a projects list for 2016.  Done (see below).  It's actually not as long as I thought.  These are not goals (I'll be posting soon-ish on why I don't set yearly goals or make resolutions any more), but they're extra things that I've been meaning to do but haven't gotten to yet.
  • Look into listening to a few podcasts.  Not done, but I'm working on it.  Anyone have a good suggestion for an app to listen through, or should I just stick with iTunes?  
This Week's Goals:
  • Do a bit of toy clearing out and organization, now that we have new Christmas presents to put away.  Some people do this before Christmas.  We do it after, so the kids know what they're making room for.
  • See how many thank you notes I have and maybe make some more.
  • Write thank you notes.  We split these up - I write all family notes throughout the year, and Jesse writes church member notes.  So I get a lot around birthdays, but this is his busy time.
My pretty pink planner that Jesse got for me because he knew I would love it.  He knows me so well!

2016 Projects List:
  • Make our 2015 family photo book on Shutterfly.  I've done one of these for the past 4 years or so, and it's a nice way to get some pictures printed out and saved without being too clutter-y.  The kids love looking at them too.
  • Update the baby books.  I've kept up on writing most of the dates and what not, but I need to order a bunch of pictures and finish them up.
  • Sell Legos on eBay.
  • Sell baby clothes on eBay or maybe Schoola.
  • Finish KonMari.  I have the miscellaneous category left, which is obviously the biggest.
  • Put my organ music into an excel spreadsheet by name, tune name, season, etc. so I can easily look up to see if I have anything to match the hymns for the week.  My sister and mom have both done this and have said it makes it a lot easier to choose music.
  • Organize our home videos.  We have various digital videos of the kids, and I want to at least create a folder for each child with their videos so far (think first steps, blowing out birthday candles, etc.).  At some point I'd like to combine them into one big movie with dates and descriptions added so they can watch it, but for now, just getting the files in one spot will work.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Our Four-Gift Christmas

There are a few cool ideas out there for how to give gifts to your children for Christmas.  And by that, I mean if you want to have a certain number, or a meaning behind the gifts.  Not how to wrap them up and hand them over.  Hopefully, you can figure that part out on your own.

In the past years, we've just kind of gone shopping and found things we liked, making sure to get an equal number for the kids that are paying attention to that sort of thing.  This year I mentioned the "something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read" idea, and Jesse liked it, so we (mostly) went with that.
  • Want: This Lego pack.  He has spoken of nothing but this Lego pack with his favorite character Skylor in it for the past three months or so.
  • Need: Kids need Jesus.  We got him a Bible stories dvd.
  • Wear: Captain America shirt.  We like our superheroes, and these shirts were on Target clearance for like $2.
  • Read: Wild Kratts Sea Creatures . The boys like the show, and sharks are his favorite animal.

  • Want: We scored the very cool Lego Samurai pack on Ebay for $14.  It's retired, and it was originally about a $50 set, I think.  The Samurai is Matthew's favorite Ninjago character.
  • Need: Jesus again.  We got him a Bible Stories dvd also, completing our set (we had 2 of the 4 already).
  • Wear: Lego guy shirt, also Target clearance.
  • Read: Wild Kratts Snakes and Reptiles .  They didn't have one about kangaroos, which are his favorite.

  • Want: Daniel Tiger Trolley .  "Dan Dan" is her favorite favorite.
  • Need: Here's where we deviated, because she didn't really need anything, so we went with the Daniel Tiger character 5-pack to go with the trolley.
  • Wear: Minnie Mouse socks using a $5 Famous Footwear coupon from my email.
  • Read: Dan Dan, of course.  Daniel Tries a New Food , because she's being extra picky about food lately.

Elizabeth got a box of Kleenex.  Really.  She is always pulling out Kleenex or baby wipes, so we gave her a box of her own to do what she wished.  She enjoyed it quite a bit!  One year olds don't need a lot of presents anyways, at least not in my opinion, and the kids all get gifts from relatives and church members as well.

So that's what we got for Christmas.  I really liked having the four things to keep us in check from spending overload, and I enjoyed putting a spin on each category depending on what the kids like.  We ended up opening presents this morning because we'll be at church tonight and all morning tomorrow.  And honestly?  We were excited too.

Check back next week to see all the projects I made to hand out for gifts this year!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  Buying through these links doesn't cost you anything, but it adds a little bit to our budget for things like Christmas presents for the kids.  And toilet paper.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Crockpot Chicken Pot Pie Stew

We have been enjoying this Southern Stew recipe for quite awhile, but as the kids have grown and started eating more, that recipe just wasn't filling enough for our whole family.  So I kept adding things to it to make it a more substantial meal, and came up with this version, which makes enough to feed our family of six plus leftovers.

  • 16-20oz. chicken breast, cut into small pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 6 carrots, chopped
  • 4 potatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup frozen green beans
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except corn, peas, and half and half in crockpot.  Cook on low 6-8 hours, until chicken is cooked and potatoes are soft.  Add corn, peas, and half and half for last half hour of cooking time.  Serve alone or with biscuits.

This stew is perfect for a cold winter day!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Weekly Goals: December 20-26

Earlier this week, the kids made Lego nativities.  It was a fun activity that took the place of school, and they're decorating our dining room window.

Last Week's Goals:
  • Make food treats to share.  Done! 
  • Finish making Christmas presents.  Well, I finished the ones for this weekend's get-together.  I still have a couple to finish up and mail out.
  • Take at least one afternoon rest time to relax and read a book and NOT work on something.  I used one to catch up on email and blogging and computer stuff.  Does that count?  How about two afternoons in the van traveling?
This Week's Goals:
  • Finish Christmas presents.  For real this time, because, well, Christmas.
  • Make a projects list for 2016.  I know I have several scattered notes and ideas of things I want to get done, so once we get through all the Christmas crazies and slow down a bit, I want to have that ready to go.
  • Look into listening to a few podcasts.  Stacy mentioned in one of her Periscopes that some of them are as short as 7 minutes, and that makes them seem way more accessible to me.  For some reason I had in my head that they were super long.  
Jesse's mom and all seven of her grandkids at the Christmas party this weekend.

Stuff I Like:
  • The Hack That Will Simplify Your Homeschool For Good (Ed Snapshots).  One of the reasons our homeschool doesn't include specific time for things like art and music appreciation and geography is that I don't have a curriculum that tells me what to do.  (Also, those are extras we'll add as the kids get older and have longer school times) This method of preparing for them makes a lot of sense to me and helps with the "no curriculum" problem.
  • Ritz cookies.  I only make these around Christmas time because I make and eat too many of them.
  • Listening to my two year old talk.  The way she pronounces things just cracks me up!
  • Peace and quiet.  I love visiting family and friends, but it's so lovely to be home and just have a few moments to myself.
  • This Plant Therapy sale (today only!).  I actually don't have any essential oils yet, although I asked for some for Christmas (and just sent my husband an email with specific links, prices, and codes!).  But these seem like a good deal and have been recommended by a few people.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

My Monthly Quotation Motivation

We have a large whiteboard hanging in our dining room.  I use this for a variety of things: my grocery list, our family wish list for larger items, my weekly cleaning list, the boys' piggy bank totals (they like to keep track of how much they have).  But a few months ago, I also started writing down a motivational quote for the month.
These are quotations that I've read recently that have struck a chord for me.  So far they've included the two pictured, plus this one: "A year from now you'll wish you had started today."

I try to make these big picture ideas that can help me make smarter decisions in the day to day.  It's easy to say something like, "I should lose weight" or "I want to lose 20 pounds", but to turn that into a reality takes a lot of little decisions and tiny steps.

Jesse likes to read these to me at dinner time, a little bit tongue-in-cheek.  His favorite was to use the "small goals" quote to try to convince me to order pizza during our no spend month, because ordering it once was better than ordering it several times, and that's a good small goal.  But I like to think the words motivate him too.

I see the marker board every day.  And every day, I have to make little decisions.  Eat an orange when I'd rather have a brownie.  Save money.  Exercise instead of watching tv.  You know, adult things.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fixing Hannah's Favorite Blue Dress

Hannah has a really cute blue dress that we got as a hand me down from one of my cousin's friends.  But the little string that tied in the front was getting really frayed and tangled.
So I wanted to fix it in a way that it would still look nice, but that I wouldn't have to deal with fraying strings over and over again.  I opted to just twist and sew the strings to a meeting point.  That was quite the process, and I wish I had a few more hands to hold things in place!  But I made it.

And then I had these big frayed ends hanging off still and no idea what to do with them.  After pausing and trying to calculate the odds of my destroying the FAVORITE dress, I went ahead and cut a small slit and pulled them through to the back, where I tied them off and trimmed them.  I stitched over, around, and through to close the slit, and I'm really hoping it holds.
It looks much more controlled now, and I don't have to worry about Hannah constantly untying the strings, which is what she did before.  Maybe this seems like a simple fix, or maybe you're really impressed (don't be).  My dad showed me how to sew on a button at one point, but the rest of my sewing skills are pretty much self-taught.  I can mend things, but taking on much more than that is a big deal to me.

What about you? Do you know how to sew, or would a project like this send you running?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Thoughts on Little Things and Big Things

I sat down to write our yearly Christmas "brag" letter.  I stared at the cursor blinking on the screen.  I typed a few words, erased, tried again.  I didn't know what to say.

We didn't do anything this year.  Nothing remarkable.

We didn't take any huge trips.  No new babies.  No moves.

I tried to think of a humorous way to say we did nothing.  But that isn't completely true.  We had to have done something.  After all, 365 days have passed.  We certainly didn't spend the whole time asleep.

We did plenty of little things.  We finished our first hodge-podge year of kind of preschool at home, and started our official homeschool with a kindergartner and a preschooler this fall.  I started a monthly church newsletter.  Jonah lost his first tooth. Matthew learned to sweep the floor. Hannah's vocabulary exploded, although please don't ask me to translate two-year-old speak before I've had my coffee.  I have now figured out why her favorite phrase is, "What you say?" (What did you say?)  Elizabeth learned to function, which is a lot of little things over the course of her first year of life.

In a brag letter, these things aren't that impressive.  But in real life, life made up of little ordinary things, these are the big things.  Sometimes I need that reminder.  Maybe you do too.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Weekly Goals: December 13-19

We decorated flat gingerbread houses this week. We cheated and bought a kit because that was just easier, but I do eventually want to construct a full on gingerbread house from scratch.  That will probably not happen for years though.  The kids kind of had fun, and kind of didn't quite have the skills to do what they wanted.  I think this will be a bit more fun in a few years.

Last Week's Goals:

  • Mail Christmas cards!  I have them all sealed and stamped and ready to drop in the mailbox tomorrow.
  • Continue working on homemade Christmas presents.  This went well this week, and I got a lot done.  More this coming week!
  • Make a Christmas treat.  Done! You can find the recipe for White Chocolate Treat Mix here.
This Week's Goals:
  • Make food treats to share.  I'll be making more White Chocolate Treat Mix, and some pretty normal Chex mix (minus the pretzels so it's gluten free).  I'll also be making some more Ritz cookies to share as well.  These are definitely not real food treats, but it's some of the stuff we enjoy (and others do too!) around the holidays.
  • Finish making Christmas presents.  As I think I mentioned last week, I'll be sharing those projects in a few posts after the gifts are delivered.
  • Take at least one afternoon rest time to relax and read a book and NOT work on something.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

What We Do To Celebrate Advent and Christmas

I've seen several other bloggers posting their Advent traditions, and I thought I'd share mine as well.  Kind of.  We don't have a ton of traditions for Advent and Christmas yet.  We're still figuring out what we like and don't like, and what works for our family.

For Advent itself, we do a couple things.  We have an Advent wreath on our dining room table, which we light at dinner time.
And we also have this 12 day Advent calendar, which we use as our nightly devotions leading up to Christmas Day.  Each box has a little cutout inside with the person or thing of the day, and the devotions focus on that.  The boxes turn around to make a nativity scene.

The kids like to take turns with that.  Sometimes we have the chocolate calendars, and the past two years we had the Lego Advent calendars, but this year we didn't end up getting anything extra. We have an ornament that plays either a hymn or a part of the Christmas story for 25 days, but we didn't end up getting that out this year.  Once the kids put their ornaments on the tree, I thought it looked nice, so I didn't bother getting out the rest of the ornaments.
We also have church each Wednesday night, which is still difficult for Elizabeth, because she wants to either crawl around or go to bed, neither of which is an option.  Next year will be a different world, I can already tell.

I've been trying to limit the extra activities, because we end up being really busy in December anyways, but there are a few things we are going to try to make time for.
  • Making paper chains to countdown to Christmas.
  • Decorating the Christmas tree.
  • Decorating flat gingerbread houses.
  • Driving around to see the Christmas lights.
  • Sending out Christmas cards. 
  • Making a fun garland to hang over our school room doorway.
  • Make a Lego nativity.
  • Adding some fun Christmas worksheets and activities to our school day.  I've been saving things like nativity puppets and word searches and color by numbers for days when we want to still do something, but not necessarily anything too hard.
Will we get to all of these? Maybe.  Maybe not.  If not, there's always next year.  What do you do during the Advent and Christmas season?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

White Chocolate Treat Mix

When we visited my parents over Thanksgiving, my mom gave me some extra almond bark that she wasn't going to use.  I knew I wanted to make some sort of treat, and one that the girls could actually eat (although we'll probably still make some more of these!).
So we came up with a popcorn Chex mix that is easy to make and really tasty.

  • about 10 cups popped popcorn
  • about 3 cups Chex cereal
  • about 1/2 cup M&Ms or candy of your choice
  • about 1/2 package almond bark, melted
Mix the first three ingredients in a large bowl.  Dump almond bark on top and stir to coat.  Pour onto a parchment lined cookie sheet (or two) and let cool/harden.  

You'll notice all the ingredients are approximate.  This is what I used for this batch.  You could add in other things to this mix too.
  • pretzels
  • peanut butter chips
  • any kind of nuts
  • chocolate chips
  • small candies like rolos or mini reeses
You'd need more almond bark depending on what and how much you add.  The possibilities are pretty endless though!  What would you put in your treat mix?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Iron Craft Challenge #24: Lego Ninjago Ornaments

It's been awhile since my last Iron Craft post.  Crafting has kind of taken a backseat to life at this point.  But I did do a project this time around that fit with the theme.  Each year we like to add one ornament to each kid's collection, with the goal of them having their own collection of ornaments when they grow up and move out on their own.  My parents did that, and it's a tradition I love!

I also like the ornaments to reflect something the kids are interested in (like these Thomas the Tank Engine ornaments made from toy trains from a few years ago).  This year the boys are really into Ninjago (that's Lego ninjas, if you're not in the Lego stage of life).  And there are really not a lot of options to buy Ninjago ornaments, unless you just hang the minifigures on the tree and call it an ornament.  

So I decided to make them.  I found a pattern for keychains here.
I used the trick of using a gluestick to glue the paper pattern to the felt, which I think I learned from the Iron Craft-y ladies.  It peels right off, but it sticks while you're cutting.  Then I followed the directions to stitch the details on these guys.  I sewed a ribbon loop to the top and voila!
And then the boys hung them on the tree.  Hannah got a Rainbow Dash pony for her ornament, and I still have to find something for Elizabeth for this year.  Jesse bought a little Superman and Wonder Woman for us as well.  Ornaments for everyone!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Weekly Goals: December 6-12 and Clearing the Surface Clutter

We put up the Christmas tree this week, and these two goofs were really excited to hang their ornaments.  Christmas is pretty much the only holiday I decorate for (at least for now), so I enjoyed putting up a few things around the house as well.

Last Week's Goals:
  • Put up the Christmas tree and other decorations. Done!
  • Declutter a few specific surfaces that always bother me when I look at them: the shelf above the craft cupboard, the ledge in the upstairs hallway, and the top of the appliance island. Done (almost)!  See below...
  • List the rest of the lots of baby clothes on ebay. Not done.
Here's the shelf above the craft cupboard before (I apologize for the lighting, but there's really no way to get a good photo staring at a window).
And after! I moved a few of the decorative items from the mantel over to this side to make room for Christmas decorations, and put most of the stuff that was up there away.  Because honestly? Most of the stuff up there did not belong.
Here's the pretty fireplace with the Christmas decorations all set to go.
That space was easy enough to take care of, because I knew I wanted to put up Christmas decorations.  The other two were a different story.  Here's the upstairs ledge before:
I love this ledge because it's an easy place to set things down, but I hate this ledge because it's an easy place to leave things for months.
It took me about ten minutes yesterday to put everything where it belonged or find a home for it.

And finally, appliance island, as I have named this cart.  The top always gathers extra stuff.  
There's no after for this one, because I didn't get to it yet.  But 2 out of 3 isn't bad!

This Week's Goals:
  • Mail Christmas cards! This is one of my favorite things to do, and I love receiving updates and pictures from everyone else too.
  • Continue working on homemade Christmas presents.  I will be doing a post (or two) after Christmas to show you all what I've been working on.  For now, I'll just have to be vague...
  • Make a Christmas treat! My mom gave me a bunch of extra baking chocolate and almond bark, so I'm going to make some sort of popcorn/chex/white chocolate mix.  Hopefully it turns out well (and I'll certainly share if it does).