Thursday, December 19, 2013

Handmade Gifts: Lotion Bars & Lip Balm

Hi! Today I thought I'd share a great homemade stocking stuffer in case there's still anyone on your list.  I found this lotion bar recipe from Being Frugal by Choice. You can visit her blog for more pictures and info, but basically lotion bars can be made with just three ingredients: almond oil, coconut oil, and beeswax. If you want to add a fragrance, just use several drops of your favorite essential oil.  I love these lotion bars, because I know what's in them and because they are all natural they work great on cracked skin or eczema, which my boys struggle with. 

I bought the beeswax at Hobby Lobby, using a 40% off coupon, and waited to buy the oils until they were on sale. To make the bars you melt equal parts of each of the three ingredients in a double boiler, starting with the beeswax. Once it's totally melted you add the almond oil, then the coconut. Measuring is a little tricky since each ingredient is all different consistency. I cut off a chunk of wax that looked like (if chopped) it would be a half cup, and used a half cup of the other two. Once it's melted and combined you just pour the liquid into silicone molds and let harden overnight. I used some silicone muffin liners (which I filled about 1/3 of the way) and a star-shaped ice cube tray. 

Now, I am a firm believer that the key to good homemade gifts is in the packaging. I like my gifts to look handmade, but like something you might buy at a craft fair or on Etsy, know what I mean? So here's how I packaged them up. 

You can buy mini clear plastic bags in different sizes and with or without zip-tops at craft stores. I printed on some scrapbook paper and cut them into bag toppers. You want your printing to be on the bottom half, so you fold the plain part (the top half) behind. Slip the bag inside of your bag topper then staple.

Then they should look like this. You could also buy little tins for them or recycle some altoid containers into cute lotion bar holders. 

One batch will give you lots of little bars, or double the recipe to a cup of each if you want a lot of the muffin size.

I gave some to my grandma last year and she said she loved these as lip balm, so this year I also bought some chap-stick tubes and poured some into those. Homemade, natural lip balm. Happy last-minute gift making!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Goats: Loose Change to Life Change

Have you ever given or received gifts at Christmas time that you (or the recipient) forgot about, or broke, or used up by January? What if we could give a gift this year that outlasted the thank-you note? A gift that would never be forgotten? A gift that marked a changing point in someone's life--an entire family's lives. Guess what...we can!

My husband and I have been unrealistically toying with the idea of raising goats. We love goat cheese. We love self-sustainability. We also live in the city...a mind-bender, I know. The point is though that we appreciate what having a goat or two could mean; milk, cheese, baby goats...micro business. To us this would be an interesting side job/hobby, but to a family in a poverty-stricken country or region, a family struggling to put food on the table, or send a child to school (or having to choose which child they can afford to send to school); a goat is a game changer.

Check out this story of how goats are changing lives in Uganda, and this one about a family in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pretty amazing stuff.

Maybe you aren't in love with [the idea of] goats like we are. How about a donkey, a sheep, a fish pond or some chickens? Samaritan's Purse has info on all these life-changing animals, here. For a one-time gift as little as $14 (for a brood of chicks) a family can provide nutritious food for their children and themselves--indefinitely--and for many that's just the beginning.

After reading the book Unpoverty earlier this year, I'm convinced that the biggest thing we can do to combat poverty is provide the desperately needed tools for families to sustain themselves and build their micro businesses. It's not just loose change, it's real life change. What a privilege to give this gift. I can't think of anything I'd rather give someone than hope and dignity. Can you?

Thank you for reading, and for making a difference!
- Haley

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Burlap Evergreen Trees

Last year I saw these cute burlap trees from Six Sisters Stuff. These are not too complicated to make, but they are a little time consuming and messy. See all the how-to details at the SSS link above. In the end they look just like something you would buy from a cute little mountain cottage store though, except a LOT cheaper to make yourself. My Dad helped me cut the trunk pieces out of some branches we already had, and then drilled the holes for the dowels. If you don't have a miter saw, you could try using a different base. An upside-down small terracotta pot would also work.

This was a great project to do as a big batch. If you're making 1 or 2 why not make 20, right? I gave some away as gifts, and also brought this as my craft for a winter Pinterest party. For the party I prepped the bases and cut 1/4" dowels into  12" or 9" lengths for everyone to choose from. I also cut all the burlap into 1" strips. The crafters then glued the dowel into the base,  cut the strips into the 6"to 8" pieces, and tied them on. Beware: the burlap will make a mess! It frays easily as you tie them on the dowel.

I also experimented with the ones I made, adding tiny pinecones,

and even trying one with red burlap and raffia as decoration. Not sure how I feel about the red one, but I did find a place for it.

This was a great party craft, and would be fun for a girl scout troop or a Mom's group. Hope you are having a good week! Happy crafting!

- Haley

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas Owl Wreath

Hi! It's freezing here. Colder, actually. We've been inside A LOT, so I'm trying to get all my Christmas projects and gifts done early, and be able to relax and enjoy all the festivities after next week. I just read this post, and I'm all about Christmas being stable (and about one), and not frantic. That said, we are still doing some decorating, some baking and some gift making, just not overdoing them. : ) We are looking forward to lots of fun memories this year. So far I'm not feeling stressed, or too busy, and I'm planning/hoping to keep it that way.

I really don't like to buy Christmas decorations or any kind of decoration, mostly because I don't like to spend money and I'm practical to a fault (what, buy that so I can store it in a box for 11 months a year?). Once in a while if I see something I like, I will try to make it out of stuff we already have. This week I thought I'd share a few decorations that I've made that are easy, inexpensive or both.

Last year I shared this canvas I made. Still my favorite Christmas phrase.

Also last year, Target had a super cute owl ornament. I liked it so much I wanted to use it as more than just an ornament. I decided to make it the centerpiece of a clean and simple winter wreath. I started with a foam pool noodle and duct taped the ends together. Then I cut some red burlap into 2" strips and wrapped the noodle, securing with hot glue.

Then I had my wreath base.

I hot glued the owl ornament to the bottom inside of the wreath and tried to make it look like he was sitting on a branch, using some sticks from the backyard. I just glued them on one at a time. Then I covered my glue spots with reindeer moss and mini pinecones, and added a few regular size pinecones as well.

I added a ribbon to hang it, and that's it!

Super simple, but still feels cheery and clean to me. I hope you are staying warm and enjoying all the good parts of this time of year. 

 Thanks for reading. See you soon for a few more easy decoration DIYs.

- Haley

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fleece Hat for Kids

So it was a balmy -10 here this morning, and we are pulling out all our hats, scarves, and gloves just in case (for some reason) we have to go outside in the next week. It might warm up to freezing on Tuesday (yay!). When it comes to cozy hats, fleece is the best! You don't have to hem, it's stretchy and forgiving, and warm and cozy. I've made a lot of fleece kids hats, but this by far is the fastest and easiest method. You can sew up a bunch of fleece hats in almost no time, and have a great handmade gift. I used a sewing machine for parts of this, but you could easily make these without one. Here's the quick run down:

For this mistletoe hat I used mostly grey fleece, with a little bit of army green for the brim and accents. You should be able to make 3 hats out of a yard of fleece. If you want to use an accent color, like I did, also get a quarter yard of a complementing color.  
You can measure your kiddo's head for a perfect fit (just add 1 inch to the circumference for seam allowance), or use these measurements as a guideline:

For kids 4/5: cut a rectangle 22.5" long and 12" tall, + a strip (other color) 22.5" long and 1.5" tall. 

For size 18mo.- 3T:   21.5" x 11"+ strip: 21.5" x 1.5"

For size 12 mo: 19.5" x 9.5"+ strip: 19.5" x 1"

* make sure to cut your fleece so that it stretches side to side, not up and down. Stretch to check, then cut. : )

- If you want to sew on mistletoe or another design, do that first. I just hand-stiched on the leaves. 
- Flip it over and sew the colored strip to the bottom inside. 
- Flip the strip down, fold right side (mistletoe) in, then sew the two grey sides together. (This might feel wrong because your brim seam will be on the "right side" of the hat, but it works out once you roll up the brim at the end.)

- Flip the hat right side out.
- Fold the bottom over to form the brim. Now your seam is back on the inside, see I told you it'd work out. : ) 
- Starting at the back seam, hand stitch, two inches from the top with a large running stitch. 

- When you get back to the seam, pull to gather the top. 
- Then sew around again going though two folds at a time, pulling tightly, then back and forth through the middle, to really secure it. 
- Knot and trim thread when finished. 

Almost done...Now just clip the top into 1/2 inch strips all the way around. Make sure you don't cut too far and snip your gathering stitches. 

And you are done! I added some buttons for berries and a little bit of bakers twine to tie the mistletoe branch. Add an easy (and reversible!) kid scarf (find the tutorial here), and you are ready for caroling and Christmas parades!

 Thanks for reading!
- Haley

Sharing this post over at All For The Boys

Monday, December 2, 2013

Book Review: Parenting by The Book

Being a parent is a lot harder than I thought it would be. Really, I just never thought about it before I was a parent, except when some kid was melting down in the grocery store and I would think to myself, that will never be my kid. Ha! So when Howard Books asked if I'd like to read a new parenting book that came out this fall, I was eager to see what John Rosemond had to say in Parenting by The Book.

Rosemond was a psychologist long before he became a Christian, so it was really interesting reading his critique of American postmodern parenting psychology. I have yet to read a parenting book that I 100% agree with, and this was no exception. There were portions of the book that rubbed me the wrong way, or could have been worded differently, but in-spite of that, I have already recommended this book to some of my close friends. There were some major ideas in the book that I loved and will hold on to, primarily: the difference between self-esteem and self-respect.

Rosemond talks at length about how Americans' goal for every child to have high self-esteem is one of the biggest parenting mis-steps. We are raising a generation of selfish, self-centered, and overly confident children. He talks about how the opposite of self-esteem is not depression, but humility. I liked this quote: 
"A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves." 
- Henry Ward Beecher
 He contrasts self-esteem and self-respect this way:
"...the fundamental difference between  self-respect and self-esteem is the difference between wanting to do for others (looking for opportunities to be of service), and wanting/expecting others to do for you (wanting to be served)."
This has long been a goal of ours in parenting; to teach our kids to respect others, and not to be selfish. By esteeming others above yourself, you can't help but feel self-respect.  

I was also struck by Rosemond's thoughts on raising a good follower, rather than a good leader. Parents talk about teaching their kids not to bow to negative peer pressure, but I think we could do so much better than just telling them who not to follow. The reality is that there has to be way more followers than leaders, and the likelyhood that your child will be the one leader, may be pretty slim. But every person, child or adult, will have to chose who to follow, who to align themselves with, and who to vote for over and over again in life, and we can prepare our children by teaching them how to recognize good character in others. 

There was definitely a lot of good food for thought in this book, and I love that there are discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Parenting by The Book would be a great book club or small group book to discuss. 

Thanks for reading!
- Haley 

*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Howard Books for my honest review, and the opinions expressed here are my own. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Veggie Tray turned Mirepoix Mix

I think I may have mentioned that I like to make soup. A few years ago I discovered Mirepoix Mix in the frozen foods section. Mirepoix is just a mixture of chopped carrots, celery and onions; ingredients you can use in a lot of different soups, pot pies, or stews. I love keeping a a bag or two in the freezer 1.) because it saves a lot of time not having to chop everything and 2.) because I often don't have celery unless I am planning to make soup. However, around the holidays it seems like there's always a party or dinner to go to and I'm bound to make a veggie tray or two. Last time I made a veggie tray, I had a lot of carrot and celery sticks left over. I could have just put them back in the fridge, where inevitably they would get dry and rubbery (or worse slimy) before we remembered to eat them...OR, since most of the chopping was already done, I could just chop up the sticks, add some onions and stock the freezer with my own mirepoix for soup season. 

I looked up mirepoix (pronounced meer-pwah, in case you didn't take two years of French) : ), and it traditionally consists of one part carrots, one part celery and two parts onions. 

For 1qt. bags I used about 1/2 cup chopped carrots, 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1 cup chopped onions per bag. Press out all the air and freeze, raw. 

I will say these did make my freezer smell like onions for a week. But, they worked great, and tasted great. I used all the bags I made within about a month, but I'm sure they would last a couple months. A few minutes of prep makes it so easy to make homemade soup on a busy night. Here's my recipe for homemade turkey or chicken noodle soup, in case you happen to have some leftover turkey this week.

Weeknight Homemade Turkey Soup

- Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a soup pot and sauté 1qt bag of mirepoix
- Add a tsp each of salt, pepper, and ground sage or thyme (or both). I find that adding the seasoning before the liquid gives the soup a better flavor throughout. I also always use dried herbs from our garden and just crush them between my hands, right into the soup. (So I'm approximating 1 tsp)
- After a few minutes of cooking add equal parts chicken stock and water (I usually use a carton of each). Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer.
- Add turkey and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
- Add egg noodles 30 minutes before serving. So if you're in a hurry add the turkey and the noodles at the same time. The nice thing about the chopped veggies in the mirepoix is that they cook quickly, which makes any soup doable even in a hurry.

I hope you have a wonderful week of giving thanks, surrounded by people you are thankful for. If you are reading this you, like me, are beyond blessed indeed. We have so much to be thankful for!

"Give thanks to God--He is good and His love never quits!"
I Chronicles 16:34  (The Message)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

With Thanksgiving coming up we've been making pumpkin everything around here. Pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin butter...and here's the recipe I promised for pumpkin pasta sauce.

Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

1/2 can pumpkin (about 1 cup)
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Whisk pumpkin, milk, water and spices in a medium sauce pan. simmer until heated through. Add heavy cream and mix well. Simmer for a few more minutes. Serve over spaghetti and top with salted pepitas, or toss with penne (or favorite shape of pasta) and top with fresh parmesan. 

Bon appétit! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Strega Nona Day

We had another themed play day the other day, and the kiddos loved it, so I thought I'd share our fun with you. This time we planned our day around the story of Strega Nona, a Caldecott winner by Tomie dePaola. You can search out this book at your local library or watch and listen to the story here. If you don't know the story of Strega Nona, I encourage you to watch this so you can appreciate the magic pasta pot theme below. : )
I didn't even know there was another story that told how Strega Nona grew up and became the greatest Strega ever! Our friends brought this over, and filled us in. We are going to have to check this one out. 

Since I wasn't sure that all the kids had read the story, we started our get together by watching the book on DVD. I bought a set of Scholastic books on DVD at a kids consignment sale, and my boys are loving them. I love how they bring these stories to life. You can buy Scholastic DVDs here. Also, Netflix has started carrying some of these story DVDs. We just watched The Snowy Day, which would also be a great play day theme. Tip: search Scholastic, not the book title. 

After watching the story the kids did a few activities. I just googled to find a coloring sheet. 

I cut out some pasta pots, and pale yellow yarn, and the kids glued them to a paper plate, and added three heart stickers as her three kisses

like so. 

We also got out all our play pots and I cut more yarn for play pasta.

Then we had some lunch. Of course we had pasta! I set up a little pasta bar where the kids could choose red sauce, olive oil and parmesan, or pumpkin cream sauce with pepitas (my own recipe, which is so yummy if I do say so myself. I will share later this week).

Finally, for dessert I made brownie cupcakes to be the magic pots (not to be confused with magic pot brownies!) and let the kids squeeze on their own pasta frosting.

And that was our Strega Nona day.

I hope you have a great week! Thanks for reading!


Sharing the fun @ All For the Boys

Monday, November 11, 2013

Honoring Our Troops

We attended our town's local Veteran's Day parade today. I always get kind of emotional thinking about the immense sacrifice so many have made for my freedom. It's hard to know how to express a gratitude as deep as this. Honestly, I don't know how. But I do know that actions speak louder than words, and so I will try with my actions to show the gratefulness I can not utter. There's quite a few military charities doing good things for our veterans. We can all choose to be part of these demonstrations of gratitude. Here are two organizations, dear to my heart, that serve our injured military members.

The first is Sew Much Comfort. Sew Much Comfort has been adapting clothing for injured military members since 2004. You can read the story of how this great project started, here. These qualified seamstresses (who are all volunteers) are so good at what they do. I've seen lots of articles of their adapted clothing at their distribution center. When you hold up a shirt, you would never know that one whole side (or every side sometimes) can Velcro apart and shut for ease of dressing after an injury. It's hard to imagine going to war, and coming back with a life-changing injury, but the Department of Defense estimates that over 48,000 American troops are facing this reality after serving abroad since 9/11/2011. It's not just the lives of those 48,000 that are forever altered, it's whole families. I feel that we as Americans owe it to our brave military members to give them as much honor and respect upon their homecoming as possible. I believe that starts with the dignity of being able to feel normal in their clothes. Sew Much Comfort adapts regular clothing to fit the new needs and challenges those injured heros now face. You can donate to providing these clothes for free to injured military members at Sew Much Comfort's website, here

The second organization I mentioned earlier this fall, it's a ministry of Samaritan's Purse, called Operation Heal Our Patriots. This is a beautiful retreat center on the banks of Lake Clark in Alaska. Injured military members and their spouses are invited to come and enjoy a time of rest and rejuvenation.

photo from
Samaritan's Purse provides the airfare, private cabin, meals, outdoor activities, and workshops for these couples to reconnect after some of the most stressful and difficult weeks/months/years of their lives. As I said before, I can't imagine the challenges of dealing with a serious injury or loss of limb. Although our heros are resilient, and many will work hard in rehab to recapture the ability to walk or use prosthetics, I love that the focus of Operation Heal Our Patriots is spiritual, emotional, and relational healing. These are the things I feel get so easily overlooked when a family goes through the crisis of a serious injury.
I love the pic below, and I think it just shows how hard Samaritan's Purse works to make this an incredible experience for these deserving couples, from start to finish.

As couples arrive in Port Alsworth, Alaska, our staff, volunteers, and local residents gather at the gravel airstrip to give guests a hardy patriot’s welcome. For many injured troops, this is the first time they have received such a public show of support and thanks.
photo from
"As couples arrive in Port Alsworth, Alaska, Samaritan's Purse staff, volunteers, and local residents gather at the gravel airstrip to give guests a hardy patriot’s welcome. For many injured troops, this is the first time they have received such a public show of support and thanks."
You can donate to providing this amazing experience to military couples at Samaritan's Purse, here.

I don't know how you spent your day, but I hope somewhere, somehow you were able to express gratitude to a veteran, or current military member. We owe them so much, and the opportunities to show our gratitude are everywhere. Donating to one of these deserving charities would be awesome, but if you can't maybe you can help the mom next door, when she's single parenting over a long deployment, or send a Christmas package to a deployed service member. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and wouldn't it be great to kick off the season of Thanksgiving by demonstrating our gratitude for those who have given so much to our country?

Thank you to all who have served with honor.
Happy Veteran's Day!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tortellini Soup

I really like soup. Once the weather gets cold, there's nothing I'd rather have then a big pot of soup steaming on the stove. I love letting it cook all afternoon and fill up my house with good smells. We have a soup party almost every fall. I've made corn chowder, tomato bisque, and chili in the past, but this year I made tortellini soup and a leek and potato. I think the tortellini is my new favorite. 

This soup's not hard to make. In fact, if you really want it to come together quickly you can use almost all canned ingredients, but what I love about this soup is that it's all stuff we grow in the backyard! (Except for the tortellini.)  Here's my recipe:

Tortellini Soup

1 Tbsp olive oil or butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped zucchini
1 cup fresh or frozen green beans
4 cups chicken or veggie broth
2 cans diced tomatoes (or 3 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes from the garden)
1 Tbsp dried oregano, crushed
1 Tbsp dried basil, crushed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
24 oz frozen tortellini

In a large pot add oil, onions, and garlic. Sauté for a couple of minutes, then add zucchini and cook until onions are soft. Add crushed oregano and basil and stir well. Add remaining vegetables, canned tomatoes, and broth. Use the tomato cans to add four cans of water. Bring pot to a boil, then turn heat down to simmer. Add salt and pepper. Simmer for at least an hour or turn to low and cook for longer. Soup is ready when carrots are soft. Add tortellini 20-30 minutes before you are ready to eat the soup. If you'd like, top with a little fresh parmesan and pair with garlic bread. Serves 6-8.

* The tortellini will get mushy so leftovers are best eaten by the next day, or frozen for another day.
* This soup can be made in the crockpot. Just sauté the garlic and onion in the olive oil then transfer them to the crockpot and add everything else (except the tortellini). Cook on low all day, turn to high and add tortellini 30 minutes before you are ready to eat.
* As I mentioned before if you don't want to--or don't have time to-- chop veggies, you can use canned or frozen everything (except zucchini--you can substitute 1/2 bag of frozen spinach for the zucchini). Since canned vegetables are already soft, simmer for just 30 minutes then add the tortellini and cook 30 minutes more. For frozen: simmer everything 1 hour, add tortellini 30 min before serving.

I hope you enjoy this delicious soup! Thanks for reading!

- Haley

Monday, October 28, 2013

Operation Christmas Child - Pack a Shoebox

It's that time of year again, time to pack up a shoebox full of toys, combs, candy, art supplies, toothbrushes, socks, and all kinds of goodies; and send it to a child who's likely never received a gift.

If you've never heard of Operation Christmas Child, I encourage you to read here about these little shoeboxes filled with love. Last year Samaritan's Purse delivered the 100,000,000th box! Collection week is usually the third week in November, and you can find your closest collection location here.

Today I thought I'd share a few tips and tricks we use to put together our shoe boxes for OCC. Since we know we will be putting these together in late October/early November every year, we purchase and collect things all year long rather than waiting until the week they are due. Everything goes on sale sometime, and if you plan ahead you can pay half the price or less for the same stuff, which means you could fill twice as many boxes! : ) Here's how we gather things all year long in preparation.

Right after Christmas, stores are filled with all kind of plastic storage solutions, including shoebox size boxes with lids. We pick these up for $0.99 and save them for the next year's boxes.

Going on a vacation in the Summer? If you stay in a hotel save the little individually packaged soaps, they are perfect for shoeboxes.

When back-to-school rolls around school supplies and art supplies are super cheap. Crayons don't expire and I'd so much rather pay 25-50 cents a box than 1-2 dollars a box. We stock up on crayons, watercolor paints, markers, colored pencils and pencil sharpeners.

November 1
The day after Halloween is the perfect time to pick up some half price (or less) candy. Remember to only pack hard candies, nothing that will melt (no chocolate) or go stale. Suckers and Smarties are our fav to send, and we stuff all remaining cracks in the box with candy.

Since we plan everything above, it only leaves a few things to buy right before we pack up the boxes. We stop by the dollar store and pick up some small toys and toiletries.

We found these little dolls at the dollar store, which were the perfect size. I thought a couple of outfits and a blanket would be a fun addition, since half the fun of having a doll is changing her and putting her to bed. : ) I just traced her body onto some scrap paper to make a quick pattern for a dress and skirt.

This one ended up getting two elastic waist skirts and a shawl.

Our last stop was a trip to Walmart for socks and hats. This year I also included some bags from the Target dollar spot, since they always have some kind of kid bag in there and I thought that would be a great place to keep all their new treasures. 

Our boxes are done and ready to drop off. Hope some of these ideas are helpful. Happy shoebox packing! 
- Haley

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