A Handmade Christmas

My family is quite crafty, and as it happened my siblings and I who are married happened to marry spouses who are quite crafty in one way or another as well. Last Christmas we were taking stock of all of the skills that we possess as a family: woodworking, welding, sewing, knitting, crocheting, graphic design, writing music, painting, stained glass making and more! So we decided that this year we would put those skills to work to make fun, meaningful handmade gifts for Christmas and boy was it a success!!!! Some of those gifts included a custom made bike rack, a wooden rocking horse, hand painted mugs, a sock monkey and a sock lamb, reusable produce bags, leather moccasins, Koala Pouch hats and balls, a super hero costume, felt food, some vintage purses, a custom designed poster and some beautiful Christmas tree ornaments. Cool right? Here are a some pictures showing just a few of the gifts that were exchanged.

Handmade Christmas balls

Our newest niece Taliah with her toy balls

Handmade Christmas Children's food

Just look at this amazing felt food – my favorite are the eggs in the carton!

Handmade Christmas hat1

Meghan looking lovely in her new hat

Handmade Christmas hat2

Susie looking stylish in her new hat

Handmade Christmas moccasins

The fantastic leather moccasins that I received!

Handmade Christmas ornaments

A small sampling of the super cute ornaments presented

Handmade Christmas purse

Sophia loving her new strawberry purse

Our Christmas was such a success that we are planning on doing it again next year!

If you have done a handmade gift exchange I would love to hear about it – please include descriptions of gifts given and even pictures. Or if you have had a Handmade Christmas let me know how it turned out for you.

Allergies and Apple Cider Vinegar

Almost all of my life I have had REALLY bad seasonal allergies – especially in the fall. I also have never taken an over the counter allergy medicine such as Claritin to treat these allergies, since I was concerned about the possible side effects that these nasty drugs would have on my body (diarrhea, drowsiness, dry mouth, fatigue, headache, heartburn, nausea, nervousness or restlessness (especially in children), vomiting, pounding fast or irregular heartbeat, seizures, stomach discomfort, symptoms of a severe allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing hives or swelling of the face and throat, signs of liver problems (http://chealth.canoe.ca/drug_info_details.asp?channel_id=0&relation_id=0&brand_name_id=1871&page_no=2)). Frankly, after reading this list I don’t want to go near the stuff.

I did try some different homeopathic remedies over the years which helped a little. But the most impactful thing that I did to very significantly decrease my allergy symptoms began about five years ago. After doing a search on the internet for natural remedies for allergies, I noticed that over and over again, apple cider vinegar was mentioned. Not just any kind of apple cider vinegar, but raw, organic apple cider vinegar with the mother (the mother is like the pulp, and has lots of good stuff in it), which is found in the health food section of your store. The consensus seems to be that you should take about 2 tsp in a glass of water, 2 – 3 times a day for best results (always dilute, this is strong stuff!).
So, I found myself a bottle (which was quite inexpensive) and got my first concoction ready. I will never forget taking my first sip and gagging so badly that it almost came back up…. this stuff tasted disgusting! However, my allergies were so bad that I was determined and I continued the regime of taking it twice a day. I don’t think that I can pinpoint when it started helping, but I can say for sure that the following fall my allergies were about 80-90% better than I could ever remember them being, and I credit it all to the apple cider vinegar!

I have learned that apple cider vinegar is considered by many to be one of nature’s most perfect foods. What is in apple cider vinegar?
Potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, chlorine, sodium, sulfur, copper, iron, silicone, fluorine, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, beta carotene, and vitamin P (www.naturaltherapypages.com.au/article/Apple_Cider_Vinegar). Not only is it full of important vitamins and minerals but it has also been shown to have the ability to destroy microorganisms including bacteria, fungi, and viruses from reaching the rest of the systems of the body (It contains natural malic and tartaric acids, which are important in fighting body toxins and inhibiting unfriendly bacteria growth). And, it is thought that apple cider vinegar will lower the bloods natural alkalinity, bringing it closer to a natural healthy acid state. A naturally acidic digestive tract with the correct pH balance will discourage bacteria and is less likely to grow yeast and fungus (www.earthclinic.com/Remedies/acvinegar.html).

Not only is it known as an effective remedy for allergies, it is thought to be helpful in a whole slew of things! Some of which are thought to include:

Arthritis
Asthma
Blood pressure
Cancer
Candida
Cholesterol
Colds
Constipation
Cramps
Diabetes
Diarrhea
Depression
Fatigue
Food poisoning
Gallstones
Headaches
Indigestion
Kidney Stones
Metabolism
Nasal congestion
Sore throat
Stiff joints
Ulcers
Weight loss

Holy Cow!!! Now, I’m not a doctor, and I am not officially recommending that you should take apple cider vinegar or saying that if you do you will feel better….. But what have you got to lose??????? I think it’s awesome. I take it twice daily, and the rest of my family takes it fairly often as a preventative, as well as to combat certain things. When the stomach flu is going around, we all consume apple cider vinegar and very rarely get sick. When someone has an upset stomach, they consume apple cider vinegar and it settles. Runny nose? Apple cider vinegar. You get the point. I did gag the first time I drank it, but I got used to the taste very quickly and quite like it now. When I feed it to my kids I put it in apple juice and it becomes tangy juice – they like it! I think that this is a great addition to a diet full of whole foods. I love how the simple things can often be so effective.

Anyone else out there an avid apple cider vinegar fan? Why do you consume it, and in what way does it make you feel better?

Blueberry Yumminess!

A few weeks ago I went blueberry picking with my mom-in-law and my two older girls at Klassen’s Blueberries in Harrow www.klassenblueberries.com, and we had a good time. We would have had a great time I’m sure if it wasn’t for the three trips each that Zoey and Sophia had to make to the port a john that was a few minutes walk from the designated place of picking… I think that they were getting bored with picking and that’s all they could think of to do! But that annoying fact aside, it was a beautiful day to be out in the sun picking berries and we are once again stocked up for a few months. This year I decided to make some blueberry jam, and I wanted to try some without any sugar added. I found this recipe http://monasrecipes.blogspot.com/2009/07/best-ever-blueberry-honey-jam.html for blueberry honey jam and I tried it! Well, it was a success – it’s delicious and I would definitely recommend that you try making it if you’re into that kind of thing.

Here’s a photo of the yummy freezer stash that we have to eat on cereal, in muffins in pancakes, and in smoothies!

And here’s a picture of Zoey and Sophia enjoying some blueberries for an afternoon snack.

Well, after the successful jam venture I decided to go all out and I canned some fresh local tomatoes, as well as some delicious peaches that we got from our friends’ orchard in Ruthven www.medelorchards.ca. I must say that I am going to take a break from canning for a while, but in the fall I am definitely going to do some applesauce as well.

Please share your favourite jam or canning recipes, I would love to try them!

The choice to stay home

The choice for me to stay home with the kids for us was a no brainer. Being home with our kids is a priority for us – we want to be the primary influence in our kids lives, we want to pour our love into them, and we want to enjoy them. They are growing up SO fast!!! Next month, our two older daughters will both be in school every other day, and I’ll have some special time with our youngest a couple of days a week. I really can’t believe where time has gone….

Right now my business is quite small, and I only work a few hours a week to fill orders and keep my stock up, and I am able to contribute a small amount each month towards our family’s income. I know that once all of the kids are in school that I’ll have more time to expand and increase sales and this is exciting, but I also love this time with the kids while they are small.

This choice isn’t always easy though, and the financial strain is one of the things that can be a challenge. Living primarily on one income means living on a very tight budget. This means telling people that we can’t do certain things like eating out (which is a luxury for us), going on expensive vacations (camping is our style anyway), or other activities that just aren’t in the budget. We very often tell the kids when we’re shopping and they ask for things that “it’s too much money”, or “it’s not on the list”. I have learned to clip coupons, read the flyers and price match, make my own soup broth and do all of my own gluten free baking from scratch. We eat only a small amount of meat, along with a healthy amount of legumes and whole grains, and we eat well.

Living on a budget can be challenging, but we’re used to it. We’re actually thankful for this challenge – it makes us appreciate the small things. When one of the girls needs a new pair of shoes and someone gives us a pair, we are thankful. When all of the clothes (and more) that we need for the kids are given to us by other families with older girls we are thankful. We are able to realize and see the way that God provides for all of our needs time and time again, and for this we are so thankful.

Living on a budget also helps us to figure out all of the fun free things to do in our community. There are lots of things to do with the kids that don’t cost a thing – storytime at the library, playing at the park and the splashpad, going to the early years centre, bikerides and walks. For us bigger people it isn’t quite so easy, but it makes us think outside of the box when we’re thinking up things to do. Ultimate frisbee, biking, running, going for walks – these are free things that we do on a regular basis and enjoy. We definitely enjoy a good board game with friends, and we both love to read and enjoy some tea in the evening.

In the end, it feels good to live simply, to know that we have all that we need and more, and most importantly to be there for our kids.

A little digging in the dirt.

A couple of weekends ago we planted our veggie garden. We had fun as a family going to the garden centre to pick out our vegetable plants and seeds, and then going home to plant them. We went with the intention to start small this year to make sure that we didn’t get in over our heads with more weeding and maintenance than we have time for (this has happened in the past…). Even with the best intentions it was really hard to choose and before we knew it we had loaded up on a whole bunch of different yummy things to try.

When all was said and done we ended up planting corn, carrots, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, peas, cucumbers, green peppers, cherry tomatoes and beefsteak tomatoes. This is in addition to the raspberry plants, strawberry plants and green onions that we already had. We also planted some chives, parsley, oregano, and rosemary in a planter on the deck for easy access for cooking!

Along the side of the garage we planted some more perennial flowers from seed, as well as some sunflowers in the back row. I didn’t even realize that you could plant perennials from seed (of course when I think about it it makes sense, but I have only planted these from a more mature plant before, so I am excited to see the results of this super inexpensive way to add new varieties of flowers to the mix)!

The girls had a great time getting their hands dirty and getting the seeds and plants planted, and we have really been enjoying going out every day and doing a little garden tour to see how the plants are doing. Most of the seeds have sprouted into little seedlings by now, and the plants are getting taller (except for the ones that the kids took out of the containers and ripped most of the roots off of…. they didn’t make it). My highlight of the day was when Zoey was SO excited to find a centipede. I loved to see her pick it up in her dirty hands to take a good look at it, and share her excitement with all of us. It just made my day to see my girls comfortable and happy digging in the dirt with the worms, and gardening alongside me.

Laundry

I think that laundry is my biggest domestic weakness. I love to cook, don’t mind cleaning, love organizing and decorating – but laundry? I don’t like it. Every time I catch up, I feel like I can take a break for a couple of days and all of a sudden there is another mountain. I find myself ranting about the laundry once in a while and my husband will remind me that if I only wash, dry, fold, and put away ONE load of laundry every day, then it will not build up… I always agree that this is a great idea, but somehow I don’t make it happen. One day I might get a handle on this, but for now I will just plug on and try my best!
With that confession out in the open, I must say that the warmer weather is good for me in the area of laundry. I love to line dry our clothes – I love that it saves electricity, which saves money and is one more little thing that we can do to be more environmentally friendly. On days where the weather reports are calling for sun, I will always get a load of laundry on in the morning so that it is hanging in the sunshine by noon or so. That takes care of my one load a day being washed and dried. AND, as I take my wash off the line it only makes sense to fold it as I go, while Karis keeps me company and the older girls play in the yard. All this leaves is putting it away which I can usually take care of while the kids are getting their PJs on in the evening.

When I hang an entire load of cloth diapers on the line, I am visually reminded of how many diapers we go through in just a few days (even with the pottying!), and I’m thankful that we haven’t thrown thousands of diapers away.
There are so many things to love about line drying my clothes. Not to mention the great smell, and the sun bleached cloth diapers that get so nice and white.
So here’s to more warm sunny days that we can enjoy for many reasons – including laundry!

An Eco-Friendly Birthday

This past weekend Zoey turned 5! She had her first “friend” birthday party (as opposed to the family kind), and we had lots of fun. My dilemma was what to do for a lootbag. I didn’t want to fill a bag with cheap plastic toys, and I also didn’t want to load those kids up on candy. (We’ve been trying to minimize the amount of plastic that we use as a family). I searched online for different ideas, and my final picks were:

a) have the kids paint a flower pot that they can take home with a packet of flower seeds
b) paint t-shirts with fabric paint
c) make homemade caramel corn (not much better than candy I know…)

I decided to go with homemade caramel corn. We packaged it in paper bags decorated by the girls, and tied up with a nice ribbon. Although this is not the healthiest option, I liked it because it was homemade, and didn’t produce any waste – we thought that it would most likely be consumed and that even if it didn’t all get eaten that it wouldn’t sit in a landfill site forever. I would definitely like to do the flower pots and the t-shirts when the kids are a bit bigger though – I wasn’t sure if they might be a bit young for these ones this year.

Zoey chose to have frog cupcakes this year and I thought they were very cute so I thought I would share! These are the ones made by me for her party on Saturday:

And even cuter are the cupcakes that the girls decorated for the little family party that we had for her on Sunday:

They decided to do all kinds of faces on those frogs – angry, sad, happy, and there is even one with a very large nose!
I would say that it was a successful birthday party and a fun day overall.
I would love to read about your eco-friendly lootbag ideas – let the ideas come!

Teething and Amber Necklaces

Karis has been wearing her amber teething necklace for a few months now, and it seems to be really helping! (For details about how these necklaces work, see my last blog about it). She did not have a teething necklace when her first two teeth came through on the bottom, and she was in quite a lot of discomfort. She wanted lots of snuggles, and she was clearly not feeling so well. Because of this, we decided to give this inexpensive, natural option a try to help her out and we’re so glad that we did. Since wearing her necklace, she has gotten four more teeth on the top and I think that she may be working on some more. When the last four teeth came through we hardly knew it – she still slept great, and she was almost her regular self. I definitely recommend amber teething necklaces!

Gardening Fun

This beautiful spring weather has inspired me to get out in the garden for the past couple of days. I LOVE to garden. Granted, I am not a very good gardener and I have so much to learn, but I just love digging around in the garden, getting dirty, and working hard outside. So far, we have a large perennial flower garden in the backyard. Last fall we added some smaller beds along the edges of the garage and the deck, and we (me and the girls) are really excited to fill up those spots and plant some veggies this summer!
Both Zoey (almost 5) and Sophia (3 ½) are going to choose two vegetables that they are going to plant and be in charge of this summer. It will be their job to weed them, and to harvest them. I am so looking forward to involving them in this fun and tasty adventure! I am also going to plant two herb container gardens on the deck so that we can cook with fresh herbs all summer, and hopefully make our own dried herbs to last through the winter. Yum, yum, and more yum.
Karis has been enjoying crawling around on the grass. She likes to feel the grass, and to pick up all of the little interesting things that she finds – acorns, woodchips, leaves, sticks….. She is still in the stage where she is putting many things into her mouth, which makes my gardening not very productive, but Karis is discovering so many neat things as she explores and I love to watch her as she does this.

Food Made Simple

Karis has been eating like a champ – both solids and breastmilk. A few months ago I wrote about baby led weaning and how I thought I might try this. Well, Karis is 9 months old now and has been trying new foods since she was 6 ½ months old. Just to recap, the premise of baby led weaning is to completely skip the purees and baby foods, to wait until baby is ready to swallow and manipulate foods, and go straight to feeding baby soft small pieces of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and tender meat.

Some of the first foods that we introduced were steamed sweet potato, avocado, banana, and steamed carrot. We made sure that they were nice and soft, and cut them into small pea-sized bits. After offering her as much breastmilk as she wanted, we offered this food to her on the tray of her high chair, and we were really excited to see her pick up the bits of food and clumsily bring them to her mouth and eat them! She seemed to enjoy this new eating experience from the get go and we loved the simplicity of it. No pureeing and spoon feeding involved, no rice cereal, just straight to real food. We continued to introduce new foods one at a time and quite quickly we were able to begin feeding her the portion of our regular family meal that was appropriate for her. We did realize that some things are better to spoon feed if we don’t want to deal with a very messy baby though!

When I think about this, it really seems to make sense. If we wait until babies are ready to eat solid foods, we can simply feed them these foods without thinning them out.  And, they can feed themselves!!! To me, this is pretty wonderful. I can eat my meal, my family can eat their meals…. We can all eat our meals!

We love the simplicity of this approach, and Karis seems to really enjoy eating meals with us as part of the family.