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!

Monday, November 5, 2012

New Items at Simple Threads

Check out this great gift idea here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Our "Activity" Cupboard

Although I'm in no hurry to start "formal" schooling with the kids, I do think it's good (and fun) to sometimes have some more focused "learning" activities.  Similar to the "busy bags" many people use, it's nice to have the kids doing something at the table while I'm trying to clean up the kitchen.  I have a fair amount of supplies to do these kinds of activities, but I don't get them out very often because they've been buried in a drawer and at the bottom of my someday art cupboard.  Because I'd like to do art and learning activities more frequently, I've been trying to figure out a way I can have my supplies a little more accessible.  

I finally decided to switch up some of my kitchen cupboards.  I moved my jars to the slightly-smaller cupboard above the oven - which should work fine because since I use my jars so frequently, there's not usually many in there at any one time!  My former jar cupboard is now our activity cupboard - here's a peek:

Supplies - having everything organized makes it easy to put together a few activities.
The scissors, crayons, markers, and such will eventually go in our art cupboard.

The bin holds some random things, and the basket has some ready-to-go activities.
My plan is to switch up the ready-to-go activities every week or two, so I always have something I can grab.

I'll be posting activity ideas on the insides of the cupboard doors, so I  don't have to look them up all the time.

This corner cupboard is in our dining room.    My plan is to add shelves and use it for our art cupboard, holding markers, paint, glue, etc. - everything art related!  For now our paint supplies just sit on the floor in there.

Friday, November 2, 2012

New Post at Simple Threads

Check out what's over there today!

A Quick Fix

Like all old homes, our house has many quirks.  One such quirk is the fact that the kids' room does not have a light switch.  Instead, the ceiling light has a pull chain.  It's kind of fun because, really, who else has that?  However, since it's high, the kids can't reach it and always have to ask for help when they need the light on.  Adding a light switch is on our list for someday, but I finally decided maybe I should do something about it now!  It only took a few minutes to paint a wooden bead, then add some twine to extend the chain.  I kept the end high enough that Joanna can just reach it, but Ezra can't, and there's no worry about anyone getting strangled on it!

The kids were thrilled!  They love it when they can do things themselves, and it makes it easier for me, too!  Win-win!