Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Fun Part 3

We were excited to get a little bit of snow a few days ago!  Benjamin must equate snow with Christmas, as he kept saying, "It's Christmas Eve!"  Joanna kept going from one window to the other to look at it.

We enjoyed playing in it for a little bit - it turned to rain, though, and didn't last long.

We joined Seth's parents for a trip downtown - the kids loved what they called "the train"!

We made one of our favorite Christmas cookies - sleds!  See the ones with dark frosting?  Those are especially for Ezra, our dairy-free guy.  (To make simple diary-free frosting, just mix powdered sugar with almond (or other) milk - you don't need much; just a little milk will make a nice thick frosting.)

We enjoyed some of our cookies with tea for a little Christmas tea party!

And, finally, nothing says "Christmas Magic" to me like the Christmas tree, all lit up in a dark house.  Perhaps it's because when I was little and we spent Christmas at my grandparents house, they would leave the tree on all night and it was the first thing I saw when I woke up in the early dark morning.  After the kids went to bed one night this week, I turned all the lights off, and Seth and I sat by the tree with a glass of egg nog.  A perfect end to the day!

As we enjoy a simple day at home today, before a fun and busy Christmas, we're hoping Seth gets over the flu or whatever he has, and that none of the rest of us gets it!  

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Fun, Part 2

We did cookie decorating for the first time this year - and we loved it so much that this will likely become a yearly tradition for us!

We divided the project over two days, which worked great for short attention spans, and made the project much more fun for me!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

18 months!

Ezra turned 18 months this past week and it seems that this past week his vocabulary has just exploded!  He's gone from around 5 words to probably 25 in just a few days!  This age is one of my favorites, and I think the cute little baby words might have something to do with it!  I ask him several times a day where Daddy is, just to hear him say, "Wook!"  =)

Christmas Fun, Part 1

One of my goals this year was to do lots of fun family Christmas activities.  Benjamin and Joanna are old enough now to start remembering the things we do, and I want to establish fun and meaningful traditions that they will look back on when they're older.

Some of the things we've been doing:

We're doing Advent readings every night using The Jesus Storybook Bible, but I also made a simple Advent wreath that we light along with our readings on Sundays.  The holly is so pretty that it almost makes me want to keep the trees we have in the front yard.  Almost.

Last year I started making matching pajamas for the kids for Christmas Eve.  I love making pajama pants - they are so quick and easy - and I love that I don't have to buy a pattern (I trace pants they already have).  They're really inexpensive, too - this year I made them with Black Friday sale flannel that cost about $2 a pair!

Of course we have the basic traditions - like tree decorating!  I don't worry about having a perfect tree - so everyone helps!

We put some lights on the outside of the house, too!  It looks like a cute little gingerbread house at night!  =)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Handmade Gifts for Kids

I finished up a couple of the gifts I was working on for the kids and I am so happy with how they turned out!

The first project was these darling little wooden people.  I kept them simple mostly because I want the kids to be able to use their imaginations with these and simplicity helps with that, but also because I am not a painter and I didn't have much confidence in my skills beyond this!  =)  I absolutely love them!  They are exactly what I love toys to be - natural, quality, simple and imaginative.  Perfect!

The next project was playsilks!  I used the Kool-aid dye method which was easy and inexpensive.   The colors turned out beautiful and I know that the kids are going to have lots of fun with these!   I enjoyed dyeing these myself and at about $5 each, they were much cheaper than the $15 or so that pre-dyed playsilks usually cost.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our Simple Gift Giving

I love keeping gift giving simple and minimal.  I think having fewer gifts helps us focus on other more important things, makes us more appreciative of the things we receive, and helps keep our home from being overrun with clutter!  I also prefer gifts that are useful, so as not to burden others with things they don't need.

I love that since our kids are young, we have been able to establish simple gift giving from the very beginning, rather than having to realize several years from now that we need to cut back.  Since our kids are so young, they are so easy to satisfy, and they are really very happy with only a few things.  I have often seen kids quickly overwhelmed by too many gifts, when only a few would have been perfect.  I do really love toys, and get especially excited by all the wood, natural, and open-ended toys that are available and am often tempted to want more than we need.  Thankfully, my desire to keep things simple, and the fact that we have a small home, keep me in check!

With all that in mind, here's what we do in regards to gift giving in our family:

- Everyone gets a Christmas Eve gift, usually a new pair of pajamas, although we have previously done a "family" gift of a movie or something instead.  I'm thinking about possibly doing both this year, since I'm making pajamas for the kids, but I'd also love to get another "What's in the Bible" DVD.   We'll see.
- We always do stockings, usually with around 6-8 small gifts, a combination of useful and fun gifts.  I try to avoid "junk" toys, but try to keep gifts to an average of a couple dollars each.  This year I'm doing a number of handmade things, including small crocheted animals, playsilks, and candy bracelets.
- Because the kids are so small, so far we have only done one large combined gift for the kids.  A couple of years ago we made them a kid-sized kitchen, last year they got a doll bed, and this year we're giving them a nice wooden truck.  This will probably change as they get older, but we'll probably still stick to one gift per child.

- We do a family tradition called "birthday bags", which are basically like Christmas stockings.  In the bag they get around 6 small gifts, again, a combination of useful and fun things averaging a couple dollars each.  In Benjamin's birthday bag, he received toothbrushes, candy, and three felt masks that I made.
- In addition to the birthday bag, we give one large gift.  Again, because the kids are so little, many years we have given useful gifts, such as a potty chair or a booster seat.  Little kids are happy with anything, and they receive enough fun stuff in their birthday bag that they are satisfied.  Obviously, this will change as they get older; in fact, Benjamin's large gift this year, now that he's four, was all fun - a large stuffed dinosaur tail!

Benjamin's dinosaur tail - made from this tutorial.  He absolutely loves it!

These fun superhero masks were made from this tutorial.
Lest some should think that our kids are deprived and have hardly any toys, let me assure you that we have a large extended family that is very generous and they have LOTS of awesome toys!  That is part of the reason we keep things so simple in our family - because they get many gifts and simply don't need much more.  Besides, they are always happy with what they get from us, so why do more?  If a little satisfies, more is just unnecessary.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Plan for a Simpler Christmas (that's actually working!)

I will readily admit that I am a perfectionist.  Sometimes that's a good thing, in that when I do something I usually do it well.  However, it also means that I often expect way too much of myself, which isn't such a good thing, especially when I also really want to make life simpler.  With Christmas, for example, because I can make homemade gifts, I feel like I have to make all of my gifts.  Don't get me wrong - I love making gifts, and I do think that homemade gifts can sometimes help keep things simple.  But it doesn't always, and I've found that sometimes making everything gets in the way of keeping things simple.  It doesn't feel simple when I spend hours trying to think of something to make that one person, or when I spend Christmas Eve finishing up that idea I finally thought of.

So, about a month ago, I decided to try things a little differently this year.  I decided to free myself of feeling like I have to make everything and gave myself permission to buy gifts as well.  I'm still doing lots of homemade things, but I'm sticking with mostly easy, simple stuff, and doing a lot of semi-homemade as well.  As for the gifts I'm purchasing, most of them are handmade (from bazaars or Etsy) or from small/local businesses.  I really expected to feel disappointed in myself whenever I purchased something, but by buying this way, I have found that since everything is unique or supporting people like myself, it actually feels really good.  As a huge bonus, I have a lot of my shopping done already - I'm way ahead of where I usually am at this time.  And I feel really relaxed about my gift-giving.  I love making gifts and I definitely still will when I can, but it feels really good to not feel like I have to make everything for everyone.

An Etsy purchase for the kids - they'll each get two of these little people in their stocking.
I'm finishing them with simple wood-burned eyes and a single-color watercolor-painted body.

I'm looking forward to having lots of time this Christmas season to savor my family and doing things together, instead of stressing about what I'm going to make for whom!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Three Fun Thanksgiving Learning Activities

I came upon a couple of super cute thanksgiving/fall activities that I knew I had to put together for the kids!


I absolutely loved this little felt turkey found here.  Amazingly, I was able to find five buttons that perfectly matched pieces from my felt stash!  Despite how adorable he is, the kids found him a little difficult, so he wasn't a huge favorite.  We'll bring him out again next year to try again!

This clothespin turkey, found here, is also super cute and was quick and easy to make.  I used cardboard for the body, though, because I wanted him to be a bit more sturdy (and because that's what I had!).  The kids liked this activity!

Since I have three kids and only two activities I decided I needed to make one more to give Ezra something to do, too!  I didn't find anything online that I liked, so I made up my own simple activity.  I just drew a bare tree on the inside of an empty file folder then cut out some felt leaves.  I didn't think it was that exciting, but I wanted something easy enough for Ezra to do.  To my surprise, this was the kids' favorite activity!   They enjoyed filling the branches with leaves, pretending that the wind blew them off, then doing it all over again!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Benjamin!

 My sweet little baby boy....

now a big, silly, imaginative four year old!  We love you so!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Put By

Sometimes the kids like to play in the laundry room.  I went in there the other to day to find all the kids sitting on my food storage buckets.

It's not quite as cool, but it reminded me of The Little House in the Big Woods, when Mary and Laura play in the attic and use the pumpkins as tables and chairs.  This is just our more modern version!

The thought made me happy because, while I might not be able to do all that they did to store and preserve food, I am doing what I can, and something is better than nothing.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

New Post at Simple Threads

Head on over to Simple Threads to check out the fun customized Tool Roll I just completed!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Last Harvest

Last week, when I heard the temperature would be dropping, I went out and gathered up the last of the tomatoes still on the vine and brought them in to finish ripening.  We got so many tomatoes this year - such a blessing!

I really wanted to try canning tomatoes this year, but I never could seem to find a block of time to be able to do it.  Finally, when I realized a few of my waiting tomatoes were starting to rot, I decided to just go ahead and freeze them.  Although canning tomatoes is still on my someday-do list, freezing really is such a simple, quick, and inexpensive way to preserve, that it probably is the best way for me to do tomatoes for now.  As a side note, I tried some of my frozen diced tomatoes in some chili the other day and I found it interesting that there were no noticeable chunks of tomato like there usually is when I use canned tomatoes.  I didn't mind, but I'm curious how they would turn out if I used them to make tomato sauce.  I'm planning on trying that soon!

And a little update to this year's Food Preservation List:

Pumpkin Puree - 17 (2 cup) bags
Pineapple Chunks - 6 gallon bags
Diced Tomatoes - Another 7 (2 cup) bags

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Homemade Stain Remover

When I finished up the last of my commercial stain remover several years ago, I decided not to buy any more but instead use natural products.  There are many different natural items that can remove stains; in fact, I've seen whole pages that list different items and the type of stain each removes.  That is way too complicated for me!  I really wanted one simple item or mixture that would remove most stains.

I came across this recipe in Natural Home magazine:
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup baking soda
3 cups water
Mix together in a spray bottle and use to pretreat stains.

I was pretty impressed with how well it worked.  It didn't necessarily remove everything, but it did at least help minimize most stains, and I was pretty happy with it.  Along with this solution, I also used dish soap to treat grease stains.

Then, I found this recipe online somewhere (I can't remember where):
1 part Dawn dish liquid
2 parts hydrogen peroxide
Mix in a squirt bottle.

Now, I'm not sure just how natural Dawn is (that blue!), but this stuff works wonderfully!  It has removed everything I've tried it on - grease, spaghetti sauce, berries, etc.  I love that I can use just one thing on everything.  I always try to put it on stains right away, but even when I apply right before washing it still seems to work great.  One thing that I found funny was that it starts out blue, but after a few days turns completely clear because of the hydrogen peroxide!

A recent example of the power of Dawn!

So, there's two choices - take your pick!  I love that the vinegar solution is completely natural, but the Dawn works so well, that I'm willing to compromise a little to keep our clothes looking nice!  And I'm sure it's at least a little better than regular stain remover (and it's much cheaper!).

Friday, November 9, 2012

Simple Washcloths

I wanted to make a couple of washcloths to put in our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, and I was originally going to knit some.  But I had some leftover pieces of terry cloth to use up, so I decided to try another idea!  I used fabric scraps to make homemade bias tape, and simply sewed it around the edge of the terry cloth.  I made the washcloths on the smaller side to make them easier for little kids to handle.  Super cute and easy!

At the Aquarium

After discovering that Benjamin would cost $15 to go to the aquarium when he turns four (in another week and a half), we thought we should go now while he's still free!

The kids absolutely loved it, as we knew they would!  Joanna especially loved seeing the "mans" in the water feeding the fish!

It was a great way to spend Daddy's birthday!