Thursday, November 28, 2013

My Advent Calendar

Last year, I briefly described an advent calendar idea in my blog post here. This year, I've improved upon this idea and should be able to reuse this calendar for many years to come. Here is what I did.

1. I got a large wooden advent calendar with doors at Costco, sort of like this one.

2. I bought this 24 piece wooden puzzle from Amazon. It actually came with 3 puzzles, so I took out one and put the other two away for when Jim is older.

3. I painted the puzzle over with red acrylic paints. I had to do 3 coats, then afterward I sponged on polka dots and glitter. Afterward the edges where I took the puzzle apart were rough and made the puzzle difficult to fit together. I used a nail file on the edges to sand down the paint so that the puzzle would fit together flush again.

4. I used a white acrylic pen to write on each piece. I'll explain what I wrote and why below. Finally, I sealed it all with acrylic sealant. 

5. I wrapped 24 gifts and labeled them with either a number (for the date) or an outline of a puzzle piece.

Here's what I did:

Date:                      Piece Says:                               Package Says:                 Package  Contains:
1                            "Get a Christmas Tree"                "One"                             Candy canes
2                            "Write a letter to Santa"               "Two"                           Letter and Envelope w/candy
3                             "?"                                            Piece outline                   500 piece Christmas puzzle
4                             "Get a new book"                      "Four"                            A new book
5                             "Read Santa Mouse."                 "Five"                             Chocolate treats
6                             "Look at lights"                           "Six"                               Treats for the car ride
7                             "Go to Alpenrose Dairy"             "Seven"                          Treats for the car ride
8                              "?"                                           Piece outline                     Gingerbread house kit
9                              "Donate a toy to needy kids"       "Nine"                            Chocolate treats
10                           "Watch a Christmas Carol"          "Ten"                             Treats for the movie
11                           "Pick a story to read"                "Eleven"                         Chocolate treats
12                           "Make Cookies"                        "Twelve"                        New cookie cutters
13                          "Watch the Grinch"                   "Thirteen"                          Treats for the movie
14                          "Take a family photo"                "Fourteen"                       photo ornament
15                          "Happy Anniversary!"                "Fifteen"                   Gift card for Cheesecake Factory
16                         "Have hot cocoa by the fire"       "Sixteen"                Hot cocoa packets and candy canes
17                          "?"                                           Piece outline               Supplies to make ornaments
18                         "Pick a story to read"                  "Eighteen"                          Chocolate Treats
19                           "?"                                          Piece outline               Supplies to make Christmas cards
20                          "?"                                           Piece outline                Apples to Apples (new game)
21                          "Pick a story to read"               "Twenty-one"               Chocolate Treats
22                           "?"                                           Piece outline                 A new story book
23                    "Read the Night Before Christmas" "Twenty-three"                 Chocolate treats
24                           "?"                                            Piece outline             New pajamas for entire family

I looked at the pieces and realized that there were a total of 7 uniquely shaped pieces. Those were the ones that could be used to match up with a gift, and I matched those with the biggest and best packages. Otherwise, the piece simply had instructions and had a small numbered package to open as well. (I think the outlines rather than numbers add a lot of suspense!)

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Photo a Month for a Year!

I did it! My baby boy is a year old and I did a photo every month on the 4th :)

 And for fun, I did a few newborn photo recreations :)

I can't believe my baby boy isn't really a baby anymore!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Curly Hair Problems in Pictures

I drew this last week, while agonizing over what to do with my hair. There will probably be future installments.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Girly Clothes...

... are fun to make!!! Here are some things I've been working on lately. The dress is a pattern I bought from GingerBabyPatterns, the bonnet is from Cottage Home Blog, and the ruffle bottom bloomers are from this Bella Bama tutorial.

Either I need to have a little girl next, or start finding cute patterns for boy clothes!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Paint Eaters Unite

We've been having so much fun this summer with edible sensory activities. Most of them I found online (and a few on Pinterest) but a few I made up!! Here are some pictures of what we did, along with brief descriptions of how we made them:

Frozen Cool Whip + Jello Balls

Vanilla Yogurt + Duncan Hines Frosting Creations powder mix

Cooked Spaghetti + Gel Food Coloring + Vegetable Oil

Sand: 4 C. Whole Wheat Flour + 1/2 C. Vegetable Oil
(sorry, never got any good pics of the sand)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In Case You Were Wondering...

... I didn't fall off the wagon. We've still been sticking to our budget and doing meal planning to save money. I just got overwhelmed with posting!! :)

So far we've saved around 600 dollars! I'm excited to look at the budget in a few weeks and see how much closer we are to our new home.

How many weeks until something is a habit? We are at 6 weeks so far!!!!!!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Week Three... Hanging in There

Last week's shopping trip was right around the $100 mark. I threw in a bottle of wine, and thank goodness. I needed it! (SOMEBODY learned how to crawl and has given me a run for my money.)
Here's what we ate:

Monday: Turkey and Peppers over Rice
One of my favorite easy meals.

Tuesday: Sloppy Joes from a can
The ground beef was real. I have been too lazy to make my own sauce lately.

Wednesday: Ham and Potato Soup
Left over ham in the freezer with purchased potatoes

Thursday: Left Overs
CJ worked late and had dinner out. I had soup.

Friday: Slow Cooked Chicken in Nachos
Thanks to Briana Mills for this one! Had it again it was so good.

Saturday: Homemade Garlic Chicken Pizza
Haven't gotten around to this one yet. Supposed to have it a few days ago but ran out of time. Now the chicken I'd saved for it has gone bad... so I will pick up more at the store today. And in case you were wondering, the crust is store bought and I'm just going to throw some toppings on it!

Sunday: Picnic Dinner
Haven't decided what this will be yet, as this is technically next week! Picking up groceries today. Ideas? Something good for eating in the wilderness and doesn't make you look gross while eating it?

CJ's Lunches: White Chicken Chili with Chips and Green Salsa

CJ's Breakfasts: Breakfast Burritos (at his request)

Valerie and Jim lunches:
Pita and Hummus
Cottage cheese and Fruit
Left over burritos from Week 1
Chicken Quesadillas
Left over soup 

Nightly Deserts: Three Ingredient Brownies with homemade buttercream frosting
I over cooked them. They were dry and hard. However, we microwaved them with the buttercream on them. The frosting melted and turned to chocolate sauce and made it very yummy.

Next week, I start a new term at work. This weekend is very full and busy and I really don't' feel like making ahead anything. Since Jim has been sleeping through the night this week, I am going to be getting up with CJ in the mornings and making him eggs and sandwiches each day. I will also be planning meals that are quick and easy that do not require make-aheads. I'm sure it will still be cheap since I'm planning ahead, even if I'm not cooking ahead.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

We Survived (Thrived?) in a Second Week

So I was very lazy about taking pictures this week... so instead of food pictures, here is a picture of a baby licking his tray.

Anyway, the second week went well. Here is what we ate this past week:

Monday: Grilled Cheese and Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
Easy food (canned soup) since this day I had doctor appointments
Tuesday: Turkey Chili and Cornbread
Also easy and made in the morning since I worked that night.
Wednesday: Left overs
CJ worked late and ate at work.
Thursday: Chicken Nachos
Put chicken thighs + 1 cup salsa in crock pot on low for 6 hours
Friday: Left overs 
Again... CJ got home around 10:30pm
Saturday: Chicken and Veggies over Wild Rice
All the random left over veggies I could find in the fridge I steamed and heated up old chicken thighs I'd cooked earlier in the week and served them over Wild Rice with butter. YUMMY.

I also planned some lunch ideas for myself and Jim which included:
Cheese & Crackers with steamed Green Beans
Hummus with Pita or Rice Cakes and Steamed Zucchini
Apricots, Cottage Cheese, Peas
Quinoa and Steamed Sweet Potatoes
Peanut Butter on Rice Cakes, Peaches, Peas
Cheese, Chicken, and Bell Pepper Quesadillas

CJ had refried beans, frozen bell pepper&onion medley, cheese, and scrambled egg Breakfast Burritos that I made ahead on Sunday.

I also made Gyros for the weeks lunches for him on Sunday. I used this recipe and prepared them all in little "kits" so nothing would get soggy. The meat, sauce, veggies, and pita were all packed separately, then put in old plastic grocery bags and stored in the fridge door so he could grab one and go.

And I bought a $1.99 brownie mix and divided the cooked brownies into 5 portions for each week night. This really helped our cravings for ice cream after dinner and prevented us eating a whole batch of cookies or brownies on a whim. And it easily saved us 10+ dollars in ice cream alone! 

This entire week cost us 106.52 at Winco (including baby wipes, paper towels, etc.)

I didn't feel quite as much like I lived in the kitchen, mostly because I used almost all old "go-to" recipes instead of being too creative. This current week in progress is even easier -and cheaper- than this one!

So far we've saved $200! (That's approximately 2 full nights of work for me!)

Wish me luck as we continue with Week 3 :)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Eating On a Budget - One Week In

We spend a lot on food. A LOT. I compared what we spend to other families our size, in our area, and although it wasn't more than what others spend, it was more than I want to spend and more than we should really afford if we want a new house someday. So I decided to try to eat (and buy cat food and diapers, etc.) on $100 a week and see what happens. Here is the documentation of what we did, what worked, and what did not.

On Sunday I made a menu for the week and picked out what CJ would eat for his breakfasts and lunches. Then I went shopping. Here is what I bought for $96.52:

We already had a few ingredients (like some canned tomatoes, etc.) but I did mostly buy everything needed for the week plus other essentials not on the food list.

Here is what we had this week:

CJ's lunches were Make Ahead Wraps that froze and microwaved well. This recipe made 10 wraps! So I have some still in the freezer since CJ only ate 5.

On Monday morning I cooked a huge pan of bone in chicken thighs, took the meat off, and divided them among ziplocs for anything that called for chicken that week. I added it to the pasta recipe for protein, saved some for tacos, it went in the wraps, and saved some for the "roast" on Sunday.

CJ's breakfasts were this Breakfast Casserole cut into portions and put into separate containers in the fridge. I modified the recipe quite a bit though. I added mushrooms, olives, frozen pepper and onion medley, only used a small bit of breakfast sausage, and used some turkey ham as well.

Monday: Broccoli with Rigatoni, french garlic bread, salad with ranch

This was delicious, easy, and very cheap. Would have prefered to use gluten free pasta so Jim could eat too but Winco doesn't carry it... so I made an exception this week. Next time I'll plan ahead.

Tuesday: Spanish Rice, Corn and Black Bean Salad, Chicken Thigh Meat Tacos

Monday's chicken tossed with some taco seasoning in a ziploc waiting in the fridge. I also made the rice and bean salad ahead of time so that CJ and Jim could eat while I was at work and I wouldn't have to do anything on my work day.

Wednesday: Burgers, Corn on the cob, Potato Salad

Made the potato salad in the morning but it just didn't have time to sit before we ate it so the flavor was lacking. Will probably make this ahead next time.

Thursday: Leftover Broccoli Rigatoni pasta

I had actually planned a meal for this night (Slow cooker BBQ) but failed to put it in the crockpot at 4am (yeah... 12 hours to cook. oops) Thats ok, that meal easily is a double recipe.

Friday: Ham and Potato Soup

This was amazingly good.

Saturday: Slow Cooker BBQ on rice with Potato Salad and Green Beans

Will never make this again. We haven't eaten it yet... but our entire house smells like a giant poopy diaper.

*UPDATE: This was the BEST pulled pork we've ever had. EVER. After letting it cook in the apple cider vinegar for 7 hours (not 12) I pulled it apart and added Bullseye BBQ sauce (skipped the rest of the recipe), served over rice along side the homemade potato salad. CJ said it was worth making the house smell like a diaper.*

Sunday: (Supposedly) Roast Chicken Thighs with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

Not sure if I'm going to have the time and energy for this. Might roast the chicken and serve it over creamy rice. (Rice with butter, heavy cream, and pepper added.)

So... conclusion. We cut our grocery bill in half so far. I do feel like I've been a slave to the kitchen though, and like my life has revolved around food for the last seven days. While this is not something I want to do for the rest of my life, I will keep it up as long as I can to help reach our goal for the New House fund as soon as possible!

Some tips if you try this:
- Check the expiration on the meats you buy and plan accordingly.
- Plan only 4-5 meals for 7 days. You will get tired and revert to leftovers or a grilled cheese sandwich at least twice a week.
- Try to spend 10-15 dollars LESS than what you have budgeted. Inevitably you will realize you forgot something or you ran out of baby wipes on Thursday and can't wait till Sunday's shopping trip!

Things I'm doing differently next week:
- Planning some lunches and breakfasts for myself and the baby.
- Making some go-to recipes instead of new ones (I'm burned out already.)
- Making ahead LESS than last week for two reasons: I have a very busy weekend full of parties to attend, and my week ahead of me is the start of my two week summer break, which means I won't mind some cooking during the days.

Stay tuned for how this continues to "pan out" over the coming weeks!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tag and Texture Blanket

     Jim loves tags. More than the toys attached to them. So I made him this:

There's scrap ribbon all along the outside, and patches of fur, fleece, velvet, satin, denim, and taffeta to touch and feel.

It's a hit.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Turkey, Potatoes, and Carrots

In about 3 weeks I plan to start giving Jim food along the guidelines for Baby Led Weaning, which in short means no "baby food," and he gets to eat the same things we are.

But, of course, the things we eat need to be healthy and follow some guidelines:

- Gluten free (relatively)
- No added salt
- As "whole" and natural as possible

Thank goodness we already mostly eat this way! But I've been working to build up a stash of easy recipes for when my little man joins us at the dinner table. Tonight, I came up with a new one! No pictures this time since I'm writing from my phone in the tub (gasp) but I wanted to get this down before I forgot.

Turkey, Potatoes, and Carrots

1/2 lb ground turkey
1 onion, chopped
3-4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
5-6 Yukon gold potatoes (about 3 cups chopped)
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
A lot of olive oil
1 T rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste (after the baby has his portion removed)

Sauté the onion and the turkey in oil in a large pan until turkey is browned.
Meanwhile, boil potatoes and carrots until tender but not mushy.
 Add potatoes and carrots to meat mixture and add rosemary. Turn heat to med/high in order to evaporate any liquid and begin browning (as in a stir fry). Add ample oil to prevent sticking. Finally, add peas and parsley.
Let cool a LONG time before trying to eat... The potatoes hold heat well and it would be sad to burn tiny fingers!

I think sweet potatoes, butternut squash, maybe celery, all might be great additions or substitutions! If you try it, let me know.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Done List

You make a list of all the things you would like to do today. You work and work and accomplish a ton, but at the end of the day you've only done three of the nine things on your list. You feel like you've failed, and now tomorrows To-Do list has 15 things on it. 

Sound familiar?

Then you, my friend, need a Done List. In response to my frequent feelings of failure (because I was awesome instead of super-awesome,) I decided I needed to instead focus on what I HAVE done, rather than what I did not do. And so was born the Done List.

I used Avery Printable Magnets and Martha Stewart Chalkboard Paint to create this little morale booster. 
Tip: once you are done with a coat of paint, let the magnet dry on the fridge so that the corners don't curl up.
After it dried, I trimmed the edges, added a little white acrylic paint for the frame, title, and permanent item: I was a good mommy. 

If I accomplish nothing else in a day, I can always say I was a good mommy today!

I have a lot to do today before my friend Nicole gets here, and I look forward to seeing how much I can cram on this board!

Friday, March 1, 2013

My Pinterest Adventures

The last few weeks of my pregnancy I was confined to my rocking chair, due to some pretty severe spreading of my bones in preparation of childbirth. Let's just say, its a good thing because my baby has a huge noggin. In my misery, I entertained myself with my iPhone Pinterest app, pinning hundreds of DIY projects. And what do you know? I actually followed through and made some of them! Some while still pregnant, some while my newborn slept, and some while my big baby jumped in his exersaucer beside me. Here they are:

Candy Corn Baby Sack

I saw something similar in a Pin, but there was no tutorial. So I winged it. Ta-da!

Fall and Christmas Wreaths

Had some left over burlap from making Ashley's wedding place-mats, so I used them to make a few wreaths. I had this insane idea that I'd have enough time and motivation to make them in bulk and sell them online. LOL.

This is my favorite. I sold one to a friend, but I kept this one for myself.

Rice Bag Pocket Warmers

These little goodies I made with scrap fabric, old jeans that were destined for goodwill, and rice that was already in my cupboard. They made nice little Christmas gifts for a new mama with no spare cash.

Jingle Bell Fabric Ball

I made two of these, one for my nephew and one for my baby boy. I got the pattern here from a pin I found. Also from scrap fabric, stuffing, and jingle bells I already had. 

Crib Mobile

I couldn't bring myself to buy a cheap looking plastic mobile to put in the that nursery I had worked so hard to decorate myself. So I raided my craft closet and found ALL these pieces waiting for me (some were waiting just shy of 10 years to be used!) to craft into a unique mobile for my little boy. Photo credit to Charlie Boucher Photography.

Bath Salts in Mason Jars

Epsom Salts + table sugar + baby shampoo + essential oils + food coloring = sweet smelling bath salts!
I took some chunks off an old broken bejeweled hair clip and sewed them onto pieces of scrap satin and sandwiched them between the pieces of the lids on the jars. Another cheap Christmas gift.

Santa Bags

I had a ton of this stretch red knit fabric in my sewing box... been there for 10 years at least! I don't even know where it came from. So I made Santa bags to carry our gifts to our Christmas celebrations. I used this pattern and found it very easy!

Fancy Gift Wrap

I bought a roll of brown paper in the paint department at Ace Hardware. A few rolls of cute ribbon with a 50% off coupon a Micheal's and some blank tags turned these cheap handmade gifts into something fun to look at before they were even opened!

I tied some dollar store ornaments onto some of the packages instead of bows.

Advent Calendar

We got this fun advent calendar a few years ago, but this year I wanted to make it something special. I printed out a puzzle template with 24 pieces where each was unique. 

On each piece I wrote an activity such as "drink hot chocolate by the fire," or "go look at Christmas lights." But a few activities required supplies, such at the gingerbread house, the ornament making project, making Christmas cards, etc. So for those days, I included a puzzle piece with a question mark, and wrapped up the supplies in a package with a tag traced with the outline of the piece. That way, you'd have to match the piece up to the gift. It made it a mystery each day, and you never knew when you'd get to open a certain package!

Photo Coasters

I made three sets of photo coasters using 16 cent tiles from Home Depot, 4x4 prints of favorite photos, felt for the bottoms, and a bottle of liquid resin.

The theme was "Memories of 2012." These ones I put dates and captions on.

Baby Footprint Ornament

One of my lesser successful projects. Baby hands and feet are very squirmy. Glitter is messy. Ended up looking more 2nd grade and less Pinterest-y.

Christmas Card Display

This was great, and I'm definitely doing it next year. So much better than either setting them on the mantle or throwing them out! Wire ribbon + mini clothespins.

Baby Christmas Photos

Of course I HAD to try my hand at a Christmas light baby photo shoot! Turned out pretty well, and I made Christmas Cards out of them.

These are some of the same bears that I posed with on my hearth as a baby.

Chalkboard Mugs

I got involved in a "Creative Pay it Forward" chain on Facebook. So I bought some porcelain chalkboard paint, some mugs, and an oil paint Sharpie and went to town! They are not all on here because one person has not received his yet.
Valentines Gift for CJ
Dalek can say whatever evil thing you choose. 

"Get Fuzzy" characters can converse!

Angry Birds mug for Grandma Kristi

I mustache you a question, but I'm shaving it for later.

And there you have it! I think that's everything for now.