Another Handmade Christmas

Things around here have been busy, fun, and full of good family time. LOTS of board games have been played, and we have three very happy girls. We once again gave and received many handmade gifts, so I thought I would share some of them.

handmade kids swords

These simple wooden swords that my husband made are perfect for our 4 year old nephew.

chalkboard

I made this chalkboard from an old mirror frame that I picked up from a yard sale.

crocheted mouse

This adorable crocheted mouse was a hit with our 2 year old niece.

superhero capes

Two of our nephews now live dual lives as superheros.

finger puppets

Karis loves her new felt handmade finger puppets.

crocheted beard and crown

Another nephew is now a king when his crocheted crown and beard are being donned.

I hope that you all had a lovely Christmas celebrating the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

Karen

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25 4 & 5

3 Simple Steps to a Good Day

Sometimes mornings are terrible. Like the day when you forgot to set your alarm and you woke up late, or the day where you were so tired that you turned your alarm off in your sleep. On these days you wake up and the pace is frantic and can sometimes set the tone for the day. Most of the time, the morning goes pretty much the same (whatever same means with children…). You get up at the same time, go through the same routine, and start your day. I have discovered three things that help my entire day to go better when I do them, and I will share those with you.

#1 Make the bed

When I take the two minutes it takes to straighten the covers and make the bed, it’s a good way to start the day. Have you ever noticed that if the bed is made, the bedroom looks clean, and if the bed is unmade the room looks messy and chaotic? What a simple way to tidy up the room and bring some order into the bedroom. I love coming up to bed at night to a tidy bedroom; that bit of order and calm helps me to unwind at the end of the day. And come on, who likes having their covers all messed up before the night has even begun? What’s interesting about the simple act of making the bed in the morning is that this is an action that effects the very ending to the day.

make the bed

#2 Have a cup of tea

Something as small as having a cup of tea makes my morning more productive by slowing me down (this could be coffee for you). It means that I’ll sit down to drink my tea, and this helps me to think about my tasks for the day and to prioritize. if I skip my cup of tea, sometimes I go through nearly an entire morning without sitting at all. A cup of tea is also comforting and it makes me feel good because I’m doing something good for my body (I choose herbal tea which nourishes my body).

#3 Pray

Prayer in the morning starts my day off right. If I forget to acknowledge my Creator and to submit myself to Him for the day, my day starts off on the wrong foot. Sometimes I pray before I get out of bed, sometimes I pray in the shower, sometimes I pray while I’m sipping my tea, and sometimes I get down on my knees and pray. However it is done, it is intentional, and it makes a huge difference. When I acknowledge that it is not by my strength that I’m able to do anything on this day, but only by His, I am taking a huge weight off of my shoulders. I am relying on the Lord’s strength and not mine. Not only does it lighten my load, but it orients my heart toward the things of the Lord. I begin to think differently. I begin to listen for the Lord’s nudging and prompting throughout the day, as I choose to follow Him.

Sometimes it is the simplest things that make the most profound difference in our lives. These three things are so easy to do, yet can change the course of a day. I challenge you to try them! If I do these things does that mean that I will have an easy day full of lovely things? Absolutely not. But they do point my day in a positive direction, in which I am making intentional choices and submitting my day to the Lord.

Do you have a simple thing that you do to start your day off on the right foot? I would love to hear about it!

Karen

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25 4 & 5

The Three Week Menu Plan (that could save your marriage)

I was encouraged by all of the feedback that I have gotten regarding my post Suppertime Stress – a Solution. I had the hunch that this was a struggle for some other moms out there, and now my suspicions have been confirmed. I have been asked repeatedly to share my menu and my recipes from all you weary moms out there, and so I will be happy to do so. And just to clear the air, my marriage didn’t need saving. But more on that later.

Today I will share my 3 week menu plan, and then I will share the recipes in several mid week posts throughout the next few weeks. Without further ado, here is the menu plan (that could save your marriage):

Monday to Thursday utilize the slow cooker, so that on those busy school nights supper is ready right on time with no last minute stress.

3 week menu plan

There it is! I should mention that all of these recipes are gluten free and dairy free (with some optional dairy toppings). It’s been amazing having a go-to menu plan. I never have to try to come up with something at the last minute anymore which has been so stress free. I also now feel like I have the freedom to try something new if I want to change it up a little, and I’ll most likely end up adding a fourth week for all those other yummy meals that haven’t made the menu yet.

But how can this meal plan save my marriage, you ask? Well, that may be an outlandish claim BUT even so, following this menu plan has led to more harmonious, peaceful, well running days for our family as we go about doing all of the things that we do. There are fewer harsh words spoken; there is calmness where there was often calamity. Could that be enough to save your marriage? Well, it could be… What I do know is that it’s simple, and simple is good.

Go ahead, try it!

Karen

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25 4 & 5

 

 

 

Costume Creativity

This week we had the privilege of watching our older girls perform their ballet routines that they have been working on in their weekly ballet classes. Since this parent viewing day is so close to Halloween, all of the students were supposed to wear a costume. This posed a bit of a dilemma for us since although costume wearing is a regular occurrence in our house, we have one tall girl who no longer fits into most of the costumes that our fun costume bin contains…

We needed a new costume, and we thought we would think outside of the box a little and use things that we already had in the house to make a bumble bee costume, which it turns out that our daughter loved! What can’t you make with a little duct tape right? Here’s her fun costume:

Homemade bee costume

 

What did we use?

  • The yellow stripes are taped onto her black leotard with yellow duct tape
  • The wings are made from a cereal box that we painted and glittered up, elastics were added for wearing
  • The antennae we made by attaching pipe cleaners onto a headband with yellow pompoms hot glued onto the tops
  • We made the stinger by cutting a toilet paper role and forming it to the correct shape, and then covering it in black hockey tape. We used a black ribbon to tie this onto her back

Simple right? I just love things that are homemade. I hope this inspires you to use a little costume creativity this year!

Thanks for reading,

Karen

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” Psalm 25: 4 & 5

Shampoo Free and Loving It!*

*Update, May 2013: since writing this post I have gone back to regular shampoo. Although this baking soda/cider vinegar combo worked great for a couple of months, I had to discontinue due to an unhappy scalp. While my hair remained healthy and clean, my scalp became very dry and I began to have dandruff for the first time in my life. I have since found a new recipe for shampoo that includes coconut milk, and will give that a try in the near future.*

About a decade ago I tried to go shampoo free for a couple of reasons:

1) To avoid some unhealthy chemicals that are in most shampoos
2) To allow the natural oils to regulate in my hair and eliminate or lesson the use of product in my hair

At that time I stopped using shampoo altogether and just washed my hair with hot water. This lasted a couple of weeks and resulted in some pretty yucky looking hair. Needless to say, I shampooed.

Fastforward to three weeks ago, when once again I decided to ditch the shampoo. This time I had an alternate plan though, and it has made all the difference! This alternate plan is so simple that all it involves is baking soda and apple cider vinegar.

homemade shampoo and conditioner

Here are the supplies: For the cleanser, I add 1 Tbsp of baking soda to 1 cup of water and shake until the baking soda dissolves. For the clarifier, I use 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar added to 1 cup of water.
So here’s how it works: After my hair is thoroughly wet, I use about half of the baking soda mixture squirting it directly onto my scalp, and then massaging it into my scalp for a couple of minutes and then thoroughly rinsing it out. Next I use my apple cider vinegar mixture to restore the pH balance to my hair. I apply this just to the ends of my hair and avoid the scalp. I work it in for a few seconds and then rinse (I got the recipe from the book “Organized Simplicity” by Tsh Oxenreider – a great book with lots of fantastic ideas. Tsh also has a website: www.simplemom.net).

The result? For the first week I wasn’t using enough of the baking soda mixture and I experienced some greasiness. After adjusting the amount of mixture I use to approximately half of the bottle per wash (every 2 or 3 days – when I shower more than this I just wash with hot water) I ended up with clean hair with no grease at all. I love it! And, I am using less product than I did when using shampoo since my natural oils aren’t getting stripped each time I wash my hair. I have also been using it to wash the kids hair, and their hair is nice and clean with the only drawback being that there are a few more tangles to brush out than when using a conditioner in their hair (I need to look up a natural detangler recipe).

To make this really simple, I just keep a box of baking soda, a tablespoon, and a funnel under the bathroom sink so that I can mix up a bottle of cleanser really quickly whenever I need it. It takes quite a lot longer to go through the clarifier, so it’s no big deal to go down to the kitchen to refill that.

What do I love about going shampoo free? Not only am I exposing my body to less chemicals, I am also using less product in my hair to control my head of curls, I have nice clean hair, and I’m saving money! I love simplifying.

A Handmade Gift Exchange

This year we had another handmade gift exchange with my side of the family, and it was AWESOME! It is so cool to see everyone’s creativity flowing, and to see the different talents that everyone has. I will let these images speak for themselves, with just a small sampling of what was exchanged this year between kids and adults.

Handmade Doll Handmade Gift
Vintage look doll.

Handmade Painting Handmade Gift
Butterfly paintings.

Handmade
Spice Mixes and ornament.

Handmade
Slingshot. This gift was fun to make! The post office worker gave us the long elastics, and the shoe repair shop owner gave us the leather for the pouch. My husband made the rest from some pine board that we had in the garage, by whittling it down and sanding it. It was really fun to see how much our nephew loved it – he was shooting felt play food all over the house in the days following!

Handmade Purse Handmade Gift
Crocheted purse.

Handmade
Knitted Legwarmers.

Handmade BBQ Kit Handmade Gift
BBQ Grilling Kit.

Handmade Batman Cape Handmade Gift
Batman Cape and Mask.

We had such a variety of gifts! Others included a custom welded bike rack attachment, a tin of Christmas cookies, hair clips, soaps and lip gloss, an apron, a child’s denim tool belt, and more!

The other thing I love about handmade gifts is that because you’re putting time and love into them, you are more likely to have a thoughtful gift that has so much meaning to the person on the receiving end. We are all just loving our handmade gifts, and I would encourage you to think outside the box and consider doing a handmade gift exchange as well next year!

3 Moms, 3 Creative Businesses, 1 Christmas Open House

Part of our strategy for simple living is that I work from home and run a small business. This allows me to stay home with the kids and to work when we can fit it into our schedule. This past Saturday we opened up our home, and along with two other mompreneurs we had our first Christmas Open House, and thanks to many of you, it was a great success! Here is an image of the front side of our invitation designed for us by Daryl of Cowlick Studios (my husband and favorite designer).

Open House Invitation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were excited to offer such a diverse group of products at one event.

Margit from Roots and Leaves featured her delicious and healthy herbal teas, as well as her handmade soaps which don’t strip your body of moisture like most soaps do. Margit’s products are all natural and don’t include any added flavor, chemicals, or preservatives. We were also serving her Christmas Tea which was a big hit with all of it’s lovely flavor!

Roots and Leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laura from Walls and Words by Wilkinsigns featured her stunning decals that can be adhered directly onto walls, as well as her beautiful pieces of art – some of which are done on reclaimed wood. What talent she has!

Walls and Words

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I featured a full line of my Koala Pouch Baby products including both girl’s and boy’s crocheted hats, toy balls and animals, baby slings, nursing covers, infant bibs, and toddler bibs.

Koala Pouch Baby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a picture of some of the lovely goodies that were offered to our guests.

Cookies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here we are at the end of a day that was successful thanks to the support of our family, friends, and local supporters from the community – Laura, Margit and I wish to THANK YOU for making this a great event and for shopping locally this Christmas!

3 Moms

My Little Nature Photographers

This summer I have been trying to be very intentional about doing fun things with the kids. Not elaborate or expensive things, just fun, sometimes educational, sometimes goofy things. A few days ago we went to Point Pelee National Park, which happens to be a short drive away from where we live, with the purpose of being nature photographers. My older girls love to take pictures, and they also enjoy going for hikes and learning about nature, so I thought this would be a fun spin on things (the week before we went with our binoculars as birders).

It was a lot of fun, and mostly a success. We saw lots of living things that the girls were excited about. The mostly was because a 1/2 a km before we finished our 3 km hike, my oldest daughter got a blister from her shoe and refused to walk any further. My 2 year old had already walked most of the way and had just settled into her mei tei carrier when this blister problem happened – she was tired and didn’t want to walk any further (I don’t blame her – that’s a long way on little legs!). So, I put my oldest daughter on my back in the mei tei and carried my little one in my arms in the front and off we went. I’m smiling in the picture (at the end of the photos shown here), but by the end of our hike my hips were killing me with almost 90 extra pounds that I was carrying. Note to self: don’t go on hikes that are so long with three kids and no other adults!

Here are some of the pictures from our hike, from the cameras of a 5 year old and a 6 year old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Didn’t my little nature photographers take some good pictures? A simple and fun day.

Simplifying Life through Meal Planning

I must say that I wasn’t always a meal planner, and I still have my weeks where I do not practice this discipline – and those weeks I always do feel a little more stressed out during the day as I think about what I am going to make for dinner and if I have the correct ingredients to pull it off.

The way that I do meal planning is pretty simple, and it allows me to take advantage of certain sale items at the store, as well as save multiple trips to the store to pick up that “must-have” ingredient for  a recipe that I wouldn’t regularly buy.

So this is what I do: I look through the sale flyers for all of the local grocery stores and mark down those groceries that I will buy because we use them, and they are priced right. As noted in another blog, I price match. This means that my grocery list is quite detailed as it lists the store, and the page number where we can find the sale item quickly at checkout. Next, I look at our “Meals we Like” list which includes our favorite meals that we regularly eat and I decide what we are going to eat for the week, and then I fill in the missing ingredients for those meals that aren’t yet on the grocery list. This ensures that I will have everything I need for seven meals throughout the week, and I can anticipate each day what I need to do to prepare the meal for the day without any stress. Sometimes I pre-chop all of my veggies earlier in the day, other times I will put everything in the slow cooker in the morning and turn it on, and other days I will simply remove any frozen items from the freezer to ensure that they are ready for the night’s meal.

meals we like - a list

Some other benefits of meal planning:

-I try new recipes more often. When I’m making a meal plan for the week I very often will throw a new recipe in there that I have yet to try from one of my favorite cookbooks. For me, this makes cooking fun and keeps things from getting too predictable. Also, I think that it is good for my kids to be pushed out of their comfort zones to try new things. I will not have any picky eaters!

-I can look at our calendar for the week and strategically pick meals that fit in our schedule. This makes the week run a lot more smoothly.

-I can involve the kids! They often help me pick a couple of meals for the week, and they eagerly look forward to these meals. Sometimes we all write our own lists (the older two girls and I) and this helps the girls to practise sounding out words and writing their letters. I suppose that it also teaches them how to be organized in this area of running a household.

-It saves money. When I thoughtfully plan our menu I use less convenience items, more sale items, and I do more cooking from scratch and this saves money! (Okay, I almost always cook from scratch anyway BUT about once a week if I don’t have a menu I am at a loss for what to make and we go buy something that’s convenient in a pinch.)

There you have it, that is how I simplify life through meal planning. Do you meal plan? Do you have a different strategy? I would love to hear it!

Frugal and Happy Living

Yes it’s true – I am frugal. You might say that I am very frugal in fact. Thankfully my husband is a bit of a tightwad as well, which makes life easier as we tend to agree on financial decisions. We are pretty good at pinching pennies and living on one full time salary, so I thought that I would share some of our strategies for stretching every dime so that I can stay home with our beautiful girls.

Frugal Living Tip 1.

Price matching: I can go to our discount grocery store and show them any other grocery store price, and they will beat it by 1 cent. This is awesome! (Although the people in line behind me don’t always think so.) Before this store came to town, I faithfully drove to all 3 grocery stores to buy sale items. I should note that when price matching, one may only buy two of the same item – this brings me to my next point…

Frugal Living Tip 2.

Stocking up on sale items: When an item is on sale that we use, I try to stock up so that it will last until the next sale. For example, if peanut butter is normally on sale every 3 weeks, I will buy a 3 week supply (This may mean driving to the store where the sale is on to purchase more than 2 of that item).

Frugal Living Tip 3.

Only buy meat when it is on sale: I only buy meat when it is half price. I buy enough to last me for about a month, bring it home and package it in meal sized portions and freeze it (First I wrap it in saran wrap and then put it in a ziploc bag).

Frugal Living Tip 4.

Cook with small amounts of meat or eat vegetarian dishes: We seldom will eat a meat and potatoes meal. Stir frys, crock pot concoctions or casseroles are much easier on the pocketbook. I fill our meals with lots of yummy vegetables, and whole grains and legumes on our vegetarian nights.

Frugal Living Tip 5.

Cook and bake from scratch: Being at home gives me the time I need to make homemade granola, muffins, and freshly baked bread. I also can try out new recipes and make my own sauces, coatings, soup broths and salad dressings which saves so much money!

Frugal Living Tip 6.

Reuse, reuse, reuse!: The only time that I buy ziploc bags is in the summer when I go berry picking. I buy one box of bags to freeze the fresh fruit that I’ve picked, and these bags last at least the entire year, if not more. I use them and wash them each time and dry them on a utensil in the drying rack. We also don’t use any paper towels or paper napkins. We use old sweatshirts and socks for rags, and cloth napkins. We’ve even started to use soft flannel hankies for the kids when they have runny noses – this cuts down on our tissue consumption a lot.

Frugal Living Tip 7.

We rarely buy new clothes: We are very thankful that we receive clothes from a couple of families in our community that have girls a couple of years older than ours. What we aren’t given, we can usually find second hand at a thrift store, or a Mom2Mom sale. For the past year some of my girlfriends and I have been having seasonal “clotheswap” parties, where we all bring clothes that we no longer wear, or that don’t fit quite right any more. This is a great way to update my wardrobe at no cost, and it even lets me try a style that is a bit different than my normal look.

Frugal Living Tip 8.

We rarely eat out: This one speaks for itself. The cost of eating one meal out is equal to many healthy meals at home, so this is a rare luxury that I am happy to do without.

Frugal Living Tip 9.

We do most of our house renos ourselves: We bought a fixer upper that was within our budget, and we have been fixing it up ourselves. We have waterproofed the basement, rewired the entire house (under the supervision of an electrician), and taken down the chimney that was no longer needed (a pro took it down from the roof to the attic, we took it down in the house). And of course lots of painting, light fixtures, a built in bookcase, wainscoting and other details.

Frugal Living Tip 10.

Canning: I have begun canning – this not only saves money, but it is not very time consuming and yields a delicious end result that is quite satisfying. To date I have done peaches, pears, tomatoes and blueberry jam, and am hoping to expand this quite a lot this summer.

Frugal Living Tip 11.

Grow a vegetable garden: This past summer we began growing our own vegetables. It costs very little to buy seeds, and takes only a bit of work each day when we’re out in the yard to weed and maintain the garden. This saves a lot of money and means that we can enjoy fresh, pesticide free produce!

Frugal Living Tip 12.

Buy (or find) second hand furniture: When we need a new piece of furniture like a dresser for one of the kids, we either find one at a thrift store or better yet, on the side of the road (gasp!). Very often, it just needs a little TLC to spiff it up. A couple coats of paint and some new knobs and it looks beautiful.

Frugal Living Tip 13.

Mend: I use my well used sewing machine to mend clothes, as well as to use clothes that won’t mend well for other purposes such as doll clothes, a small bag, patches for other clothes or a quilt. Get creative!

Frugal Living Tip 14.

Make gifts: Although this can be time consuming, making a gift can save a lot of money and is very special for those on the receiving end. If you think you can’t do this, I don’t believe you. Many types of crafts are very simple, and can be learned by almost anyone (I do know that some of you are craft-challenged, but you are very few and far between).

Well, there you have it! Now you know a few of our secrets for being a happy, frugal family.
I would love to hear some of your money saving strategies or your frugal living tips!