Monday, December 15, 2014

Temporary Ugly Sweaters

A few years ago my sister told me she was going to a Christmas party with an "Ugly Sweater" theme. That's hilarious, I thought! Apparently everyone thought so, because three years later ugly Christmas sweaters are the theme of 5k's, office parties, and high school spirit days. Stores are actually producing uglier sweaters than ever, just for these events. We had one such event to go to last week, and with all the Ugly Sweater hype they are now harder to come by the old fashioned way (Goodwill); and there was no way we were going to shell out $20 each for a sweater that we hated and would only wear a few times at best. I cringe when I think of what people in other parts of the world would think if they knew people spend money--lots of money--on clothes they don't even like or want to wear again. Yikes. One day last week at a store I saw they are actually selling "Ugly Sweater Kits," and it gave me the idea that just like Cinderella could be turned into a belle for one night, so could our regular sweaters turn ugly for the evening, using things we already had. 
**No sweaters were harmed in the making of this post!** : )

Here's a quick easy way to make plain sweaters temporarily ugly. 
1. Choose a basic shape and cut out a pattern, to get a good size. I chose a Christmas tree. I think a wreath or candy cane would also work well. 

2. Trace your pattern onto the back of a sheet of adhesive vinyl, and cut it out. The dollar store sells contact paper or shelf paper, which I think would both work as well if you don't have adhesive vinyl. 

3. If you want to do another layer on top of the vinyl go ahead and hot glue that on next. I'm not even sure what this is called, but it's sparkly, and I got a whole roll of it for $1 after Christmas last year, and I'm using it for all sorts of crafts this year. Hot glue on any other gaudy embellishments. I used sparkly pom-poms. 

4. Once you've hot glued everything on you just peel off the paper backing and stick your giant ugly sticker to the sweater. 

I also used some Christmas packing tape to make presents on this one and suspenders on Thing One's. This worked great, but be warned hot glue doesn't stick to the packing tape. The pom-poms fell off right away from the presents. If you didn't want to glue any pom-poms on you could just use different kinds of packing tape to easily decorate a whole sweater.

For the little snow pom-poms, the deer and the green boa fluff, I used the same method, just cut out a small piece of vinyl, glue on the decoration then peel and stick on the sweater. Just be sure to do all the glueing away from the sweater to keep any hot glue from getting on it--or you really will have an ugly sweater when you're done.

I actually wasn't going to make sweaters for Thing One and Thing Two, but Thing Two begged for a "silly sweater" after I was done with ours so I used what was left to do something quick on theirs. 

I loved this project because it let us be part of the party without spending much money at all. The only thing I bought were the pom-poms and deer stickers (both on sale at Hobby Lobby--plus you know that you always have a 40% off with their app, right?). 

Here's to frugal merry making! Plus with the money you save by not buying an ugly sweater or an "ugly kit," you can buy someone a sweater who doesn't have one at all (go here). Now that's a beautiful sweater!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giving Tuesday -- Give With Your Heart and Your Brain

I love Thanksgiving. I love thanks and I love giving. Skip over four days of crazy consumerism (Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Sunday--no name has been thought up for this yet--, and Cyber Monday), and we are at a day now called "Giving Tuesday."

The idea of Giving Tuesday is that it's a day when you give money to charities near and far. Since Giving Tuesday really kicks off a season of year-end giving, I wanted to make sure you know about Charity Navigator. This time of year you will undoubtedly receive dozens of emails and letters asking for you to consider a generous year-end donation to their cause. So how do you decide which charities will receive your hard-earned money?

Whenever we plan to make a substantial purchase of any kind we like to do our research. I look up reviews, ask if others have experience with the product, etc. I know many of you do too. Charity Navigator is a great tool to help you do the same kind of research when it comes to giving. It tells you how the organization spends the money it receives: how much is spent on overhead, advertising, staffing, etc.; and how much is going to the people or projects that you intended to receive your money. Here's what they do in a nutshell:

We rate charities by evaluating two broad areas of performance; their Financial Health and their Accountability & Transparency. Our ratings show givers how efficiently we believe a charity will use their support today, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time and their level of commitment to being accountable and transparent. In the not-too-distant future, we plan to also rate charities’ reporting of their results. We provide these ratings so that givers can make intelligent giving decisions, and so that the philanthropic community can more effectively monitor itself.

Have a charity that you love to give to? Just go to Charity Navigator and search the name and see how they rate. I love that you can scroll to the bottom and it even compares the charity to others who are doing similar work. You may find a new organization that is doing the kind of work you like, in a more efficient manor. For example: you may find you'd rather support the Cancer Research Institute which uses 83.2% of it's funding on cancer immunology research worldwide, rather than the American Cancer Society who only uses 59.5% of it's funding on actual research. I bet you didn't know that almost half of what you thought you donated to cancer research, actually went to pay for something else, did you? It pays to do your own research before giving your money away, my friends.

 In any case it's great to see how many organizations are striving to meet a specific need.

We continue to support the charities below because of their transparency and the real impact they are having around the world. I hope if you are looking to give this December you will consider these worthy organizations! I'm including a brief description of each and their overall Charity Navigator score (which is given based on their financial and accountability/transparency scores).

 Compassion International

Compassion International exists as an advocate for children, releasing them from spiritual, economic, social and physical poverty and enabling them to become responsible, fulfilled Christian adults. Founded by Rev. Everett Swanson in 1952, Compassion began providing Korean War orphans with food, shelter, education and health care, as well as Christian training. Today, Compassion helps more than 1.4 million babies, children and students in 26 countries through a holistic program of Christ-based child development. Compassion work exclusively through Christian churches to implement its program.

You can sign up to sponsor a child on a monthly basis, or give a one-time gift to meet the needs of unsponsored kids around the globe.

Click here to give!

Charity Navigator Score: 95.30

International Justice Mission (IJM)

IJM exists to protect the poor from violence by rescuing victims, bringing the criminals to justice, restoring survivors to safety and strength, and helping local law enforcement build a safe future that lasts.

Charity Navigator Score: 94.45

Samaritan's Purse 

Samaritan's Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan's Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God's love through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Emergency relief meets desperate needs of victims worldwide. 

Operation Christmas Child delivers more than 8 million shoebox gifts to poor children in more than 100 countries each year. 

World Medical Mission sends doctors, equipment, and supplies to underprivileged countries. 

Community development and vocational programs in impoverished villages and neighborhoods help people break the cycle of poverty and give them hope for a better tomorrow. Vulnerable children are rescued, educated, fed, clothed, and sheltered, letting them know that God loves them, and they are not forgotten.

And Operation Heal Our Patriots brings rest and restoration to injured military members and their loved ones. 

You guys know I have a huge soft spot for Samaritan's Purse. Last year we got to help with their US disaster relief services, and this year year we got to work in the Operation Christmas Child distribution center. The center processed over 64,000 shoeboxes in one day to go to kids living in poverty around the world. The incredible organization and responsible use of funding impresses me every time we have the opportunity to work with this charity. With branches of this organization reaching children, the poor, the sick (read: Ebloa patients), agriculture projects, clean water, International and US disasters, and our military; there is something for everyone. 

Charity Navigator Score: 95.90

The Denver Rescue Mission

Founded in 1892, the Denver Rescue Mission provides food, clothing, shelter, transitional housing, and medical, educational, and rehabilitation programs free of charge. The Lawrence Street Shelter provides meals, food boxes, medical care, and clothing distribution, and shelters up to 300 men nightly. Champa House offers help toward self-sufficiency for single mothers and their dependent children. Harvest Farm in Wellington, Colorado is a long-term rehabilitation program for men. The Crossing offers a long-term rehabilitation program for men and transitional housing for homeless families and individuals. The Ministry Outreach Center distributes clothing, food boxes, household goods, and furniture. Family Services provides transitional housing, assistance for permanent housing, and mentoring for homeless working families, seniors, individuals, and refugees.

Click here to donate to the Denver Rescue Mission

Charity Navigator Score: 84.66

Sozo International

Sozo International formed in 2002, in response to the opportunity presented by the liberation of Afghanistan, shortly after September 11, 2001. Sozo International aims to reach the most impoverished people in identifiable communities where war and natural disaster have wreaked havoc. They provide emergency and ongoing relief for internally displaced people (IDP) and encourages development aimed at changing the day-to-day existence of people in need as well as providing hope for their future.

Click here to give to Sozo

Charity Navigator Score: 80.75*

*in spite of this score, note that 90% of funding goes to programming.

Not all charities are rated on Charity Navigator. Some are too new to have a long enough track record for CN to rate. The bottom line is be sure to ask for transparency from any organization you support.

We also love:

Mercy House Kenya --they opened a 2nd house this year!
Amazima Ministries --they're staring an academy!
Casas Por Cristo --they're expanding to the Dominican Republic!

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
                        -- Matthew 25:40

Thank you for the difference you are making in the world, my generous friends!

Happy Giving!!! 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Brown Bag Scrapbook

Hi friends! We are enjoying a beautiful and warm fall. It's such a stark comparison to everything that was going on last year. We spent a weekend up in the mountains with family and I made a little miniature scrapbook to remember good times there. These paper bag books are my favorite kind of scrap books. They are cute, inexpensive, easy to make and kid-friendly. They would make a great project for a Girl Scout troop, or a soccer team, as a little memento of the year or season. They would also be great as a thankful book--all things you are thankful for, a Christmas scrapbook, or maybe a Grandma and Me book (Christmas present?). There's tons of possibilities so I thought I would share this before the holidays. 

Here's the quick run down of how to make one:

Paper Bag Scrap Book

- 3-4 brown or white paper lunch sacks
- 4  12" lengths of different materials to tie with: twine, raffia, or thin ribbon (1/8"-1/4")
- hole punch
- scissors
- washi tape, stickers, glue, double sticky tape, photos --whatever you want to fill it with : )

Three bags will make a book with 10 pages (sides) inside, four bags will make 14 pages (sides). I would suggest not doing more than four bags, because it will get bulky. Stack the bags starting with a bottom facing the left, and alternating the direction of the bags: bottom, top, bottom, etc. Carefully fold all the bags together in half, crease well. 

Washi tape serves as a great hole punch reinforcement, you can use it on the edge of each page, I just used it on the cover. Take just the outer bag of the book and evenly space four holes with the hole punch (I eyeball-it). 

Then slip in the next page, line up the top and bottom and use a pen to trace markers for the punches on that page. Repeat with each page, until all pages are punched. 

Once all the pages are punched line them up and bind them together. Cut the ribbon or twine into 3" pieces and alternate what you use. Then go back and tie each hole with a second, different tie. The look here is kind of a frayed edge. You can do two or three ties in each hole. I usually only tie one actual knot per hole, then just tie the others on for pretty. You can trim up the length when all the ties are on there.

And that's a book! Ready for memories and some embellishments. The pages are small so keep that in mind when printing pictures. Walmart offers 4x6 collage prints for the same price as regular 4x6 prints so print some collages with 3-4 pictures on each and it will save you both money and space. The miniature photos will be prefect for your mini scrapbook.

Even though they are just made out of brown paper bags, they actually hold up really well. Here's one that I made for a cheerleading team that I coached about eight years ago (even though I was never a cheerleader myself. Don't tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor...). Anyway, the book still looks great and it's fun to look back at those sweet girls who are now in high school! The pages that are the top of the bag open to make a little pocket for extra pictures or mementos (see the bottom left below).

I haven't sent one of these yet, but I think you could make a version of this book to send to your Compassion sponsored child, if you just do 3 bags (to be sure the total thickness in not more than 1/4 inch, tie with raffia instead of ribbon, and place the book in a quart-size ziplock. You could send a book about your family or your town. You could also try sewing it instead of hole punching, like we did with this homemade book (see that post here), which we did send to our sponsored kids.

There's so many options with these materials. They are affordable enough to make for a whole team of people or kiddos and changing up the ribbon/ties can make them perfect for any team colors or holiday theme.

Happy memory making!

You are loved!


Monday, October 20, 2014

An Artist in All of Us

We had the opportunity to go to the Denver Botanic Gardens last week. I was so excited to see the Dale Chihuly art on display, and it did not disappoint. It was all so beautiful and amazing! The combination of exquisite art in the natural beauty of the gardens was just so cool. 

I was marveling at all Chihuly's amazing pieces, but then I started thinking, maybe it's not as hard as it looks. I like to give the kids opportunities to explore and experiment with art and different styles (we gave Eric Carle's style a try here, if you're interested), so we thought maybe this was something we could do at home as well. I think it turned out pretty well. What do you think?

I bet in this last one you can't even tell which one is not Chihuly ; )

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. Thanks for your inspiring works Chihuly!

Have a happy week everyone, and don't forget to have some fun.  : )

Monday, October 13, 2014

Great Big Colorful World

I wrote about this activity a few years ago, but we went on our yearly fall color scavenger hunt and I just wanted to share this year's finds. This was the first year Thing Two could really search on his own for colors and work on finding them all. He was so excited!

Every year I think, we won't find purple or it might be hard to find blue, but every year I'm in awe of the amazing range of colors all around us. God is the ultimate creative and He makes everything beautiful in it's time and season. I hope you are soaking up that beauty today. (click here to see how we make our easy artist's color palette).

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."     
                                       --Ecclesiastes 3:11

Monday, September 29, 2014

Homemade Caramel

Fall is so beautiful! There's just something so wonderful about all the changes that come with it, including the yummy foods. 

Of course we could make carmel apples any time of the year, but we only ever do in fall. Seeing these in a shop window made me want to make up my own batch of caramel. 

A few years ago I found a recipe for caramel that is amazing. Making carmel really isn't difficult, but 
is time consuming. If you have the time, you can't compare the taste to store bought carmel, so it really is a treat. Make a double batch and you will have plenty to give friends and neighbors. 

The recipe and instructions are fairly lengthy, so I'm just going to direct you to Amber Lee's GiversLog blog, for all the details --here. Here's my own pictures, following her instruction. 

It always takes a little longer than I remember to get up to 240º, but 30 minutes, like she says is probably about right. It just feels long when you are standing there waiting for the temp to rise, mouth watering in anticipation of this delicious treat. 

I always double the recipe and do two pans. If you do this, you can do one pan of plain caramel

and one sprinkled with sea salt.

I do always scoop some out for caramel dip. This will still harden some as is cools, but you can just microwave for a few seconds to get it back to liquid stage when you are ready to use it.

One piece of advice: don't wait too long to cut it up. Watch the pan though, the caramel makes those suckers HOT. Let it cool just until it holds it's shape when cut. It should still be a little warm. If you wait until it's totally cool it will be hard and take a lot of pressure to cut through. We always place the parchment on a cutting board and use a pizza cutter.  

Once you have all the caramel pieces cut, grab some wax paper, and turn on a movie.

Cut the wax paper into about 2x3" pieces (or whatever fits the caramels you cut), and get wrapping. Don't stack the caramels because they will stick together, permanently. By the time the movie is over you'll have all your caramels wrapped and ready to go. Give some away (so your neighbors know they are loved) and save some for you.  Once you make them you might feel a tradition coming on. I hope you like them as much as we do. So thankful AmberLee shared her recipe. : ) 

I hope your week gets off to a great start. You are loved!

 - Haley

Monday, September 15, 2014

Five Favorite Pumpkin Recipes

Hello! How are you? Are you ready for Fall? I am. I'm loving the cool mornings, and I've been making lots of fallish foods. There's nothing more fallish than pumpkin, right?

I just made some super easy Pumpkin cookies, so I thought I'd share that recipe (in case you haven't seen it on Pinterest 1,000 times), and a few other of my favorite pumpkin recipes from the last few years.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies

1 can pumpkin (14 oz)
1 box spice (or yellow) cake mix.
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Just mix all ingredients together and bake at 350º for 12-14 minutes or until they feel a little springy when touched. I used a silicone baking mat and bumped up the heat to 375º.  They are very soft and stay that way, yum! Be warned, they don't last at room temperature because the pumpkin holds so much moisture. So keep them in the freezer, if you can keep from eating them all right away. : )

Here are my other favorite Pumpkin recipes. (Click on the name to go to the recipe/post)

Pumpkin Scones

 Pumpkin Pie Dip

Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

And, the ever-popular Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

I hope you are enjoying the tastes and smells of Fall!

You are loved!


Monday, September 8, 2014

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Hi! Today I don't have a recipe, a craft or a garden post. I just have some random thoughts to share.  Can you stick with me 'til the end of it though?

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..."
- A Tale of Two Cities
 Charles Dickens, 1859

In a lot of ways I feel like this opening line from Dickens sums up our world so well. I feel like my generation has had it pretty easy, we've lived in a "season of light." We enjoy more freedoms, and opportunities than perhaps any another generation. We have traveled more and know more about what's going on around the world at any given moment than any other generation--thanks to amazing advances in technology. 
Thanks to that same technology, we also have an increasingly broader spectrum of news at a faster pace than ever. Anyone can report things, and because of that we know more. We can't pretend not to know.  If you happen to be a news junkie, like myself, you know that there are unspeakable things happening in our world. It seems even more so these last couple of months. There are pandemics spreading, terrorists ravaging, and countries threatening to overtake one another. There are 30 million people today living in slavery. So you might also say this is a "season of darkness."  

The other day I was going to bed after reading more news, and talking about some of my recent fears with a friend. I was anxious, and the world felt dark. I stopped in Thing 1's room to kiss him good night and found that he had hung this door hanger he made at Sunday School on his light-up globe, right next to Syria and Iraq. 

I took a deep breath and felt like God had just sent me a lunchbox note on a bad day at school.  I don't know what the next days or months will hold, but I do know that God will be there. He already knows. He won't be surprised, and in the end, He wins. So instead of worrying, I'm going to pray. That may sound cheesy to you, especially if you don't believe that God is in control, that He loves us and that He has a plan, but I believe all those things. A friend recently shared with me some truly amazing stories of very specific answers to prayer; miracles, some would say. And it made me realize that I have sold prayer short for too long. So I'm going forward today, with a new resolve to trust God, to talk to Him, and not to worry. 

"Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us." 
                                                                      Psalm 62:8
I don't know what you're worried about today. Maybe Ebola and the Middle East are the farthest things from your mind. Maybe you are just struggling to get though the day. Sickness, feeling alone, hating your job, losing your way. I don't know. But I do know this: God always keeps His promises. That doesn't always look like I want it to, and it's not always on my timeline, but when I look back at different struggles in my life I always realize that it was true.

God always keeps His Promises.

Maybe you need to hear that today too. There is always hope and YOU are always loved!

Keep Calm and Carry On, dear friends.

- Haley

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Garden Before and After

Hi Guys! How was your long weekend? We didn't do anything big, but we did ride our bikes to the local farmer's market, and picked some apples for free. We're living the green dream, my friends, and I love it! Speaking of green, I thought it would be kind of fun to show you how our garden did. In the spring I often post pics of us planting stuff, but I usually forget to show that they actually grew. I have a policy that I don't pin things that don't show the result, so I thought I better start playing by my own rules. Plus, everyone loves a good before and after, right?

I'm always just amazed at how big tomato plants grow. One day last week I picked 15 full-size tomatoes from five different varieties, and a pint of the Sungold cherry tomatoes. 

One of our exciting successes this year was finally growing good onions. We have picked and are dry-storing our small crop of onions. I can't wait to use them for fall soups. 

This year we got more basil than probably all the years we've grown it combined. I've made a lot of pesto, dried enough to last all winter and tossed it into salads.

This was the first year I planted nasturtium with the veggies. It went crazy! It actually kind of took over the beds. I would probably plant only one per bed if I plant it next year. It did add a lot of nice color to our veggie gardens though!

In the fail column: this combo of green beans and squash didn't really work. The squash took over so much it covered and killed the beans. Then we got squash beetles (again!), and some of the squash died. We didn't get a single zucchini this year, thanks to our beetle enemies. We are going to have to get creative next year to figure out how to defeat those guys. Any ideas?

Because we started it so early though, we did get a few good size squash before the bugs got to the plants. It worked well to support the spaghetti squash on these trellises (I always wondered if large squash could really grow on a trellis--yes!).  I also was diligent about spraying Neem Oil on our plants at the beginning of the season, but not so much the last half. Maybe if I had kept up with this it would have kept the bugs away. Next year...

A couple other success: jalepeños from seeds, 

and determinate tomatoes in pots produced a good amount of fruit. We learned a few seasons ago that a sprinkle of bone meal right when the plant starts to produce is the key to healthy potted tomatoes with no bottom rot. Hooray!

Every year is such a learning process. I'm already planning out what we'll plant where next year, based on how things went this year. For now, we're enjoying bringing in fresh produce every day. Lots of our meals have something we grew in every dish, which makes all the work feel worth it. I hope you can find little successes like these to celebrate this week whether they be in the garden or the workplace. I'm convinced the fruits of our labor are worth celebrating, and gratitude is where true happiness is found.

You are loved!
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