Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year In Review

To quickly recap my blog in 2011...

On the practical side of things, I shared why I regularly purge, declutter and get rid of things, some easy meals, painting our dining room, and about using recycled gift wrap.

We continued to enjoy living frugally learning how to make homemade laundry soap and how to cut my own boneless, skinless chicken breasts, saving money on groceries in spite of rising prices, using coupons, shared about eating frugally while on vacation and of course scouring yard sales and thrift stores for hidden treasures. I even picked up a thing or two off the curb on trash day!

We love living a simple life and this year enjoyed seasonal homemade meals, shopping at the local Farmer's Market, and thoroughly embracing each season--winter, spring, summer and fall.

Creativity was a big part of our year as well...We made our own fun by dressing up a squash, grew grass for decoration, entertained the kidlets on the cheap and found an extra closet! I enjoyed making crafty things for gifts and our home!

Life was full once again with a trip to Oregon to visit my parents, changing our eating habits, and celebrating 7 years of marriage with a trip to the mountains. Taking care of several little ones during the week leaves me very little time for naps! We experienced God's kindness and provision and grew in His Word.

We thank God for His goodness and look forward to more of the same in 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

This Year's Handmade Christmas Gifts

Now that family members have all opened their Christmas gifts from us, I can share some of the gifts here! I didn't make as many of my gifts this year but still did manage to come up with a few.

I really like making gifts. It's part of who I am. And if I don't make gifts, I still enjoy picking out and creatively putting things together to create a fun gift! I think it's safe to say that gift giving (and receiving) is probably my main love language.

A few of the gift mixes.

For the ladies-moms and sisters:
For my sister:
  • 2 bags freshly ground whole wheat flour-- Using my grain mill and wheat I have on hand. She bakes a lot for her family and doesn't have a grain mill so a practical and appreciated gift!

For grandparents and great-aunt: 

For my youngest niece: 
  • Felt food-- a doughnut, cupcake, cinnamon roll and a chocolate chip cookie. Making small objects out of felt is very addicting. It's unbelievable how much fun I had with this! These fit perfectly stacked in a small oatmeal container covered with scrapbook paper. My niece (2 1/2 years) loved the food and these fit perfectly on the plates of her new tin tea set which was a gift from her grandparents!
Wrapping ideas: 
Did you give or receive any handmade gifts this year?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Gingham Cottage News--FREE Shipping Code

Happy Boxing Day!

Get FREE shipping in my Etsy Shop today and tomorrow, December 26 and 27 when you use the code FREESHIP1211 at checkout.

Valid for U.S. customers only. Only one coupon code per transaction.

Thanks for looking and shopping handmade!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

More Christmas Stuff With The Kids

 Painting with Christmas Bows--Always a hit with the toddler crowd!
 Christmas Tree Brownies-- This was fun to do with Toddler Girl (20 months) and Big Brother (6 years).  We baked them together in the morning, I cut them into triangle shapes and inserted the candy cane "trunks" during nap time and Big Brother decorated them while my hands were full of babies. We all sampled our treats and then divided them up to share with each family. For ease and to maintain a comfortable level of personal sanity, a brownie mix, tube of green frosting and whatever sprinkles I had on hand were used. A big hit!
These snowman handprint ornaments were gifts to the parents this year. These are not my original idea but I always think they are super cute every time I see them! 

All you need are plain ornaments, white acrylic paint and black and orange fine tip Sharpie markers. Oh, and little hands to print!

Paint hand with white paint. Place ball ornament in hand so that bottom of ornament is in the palm. Press painted hand up against the ornament and remove quickly before fingers wiggle. :-)

Let dry. I found placing them upside down on baby food jars worked great! Draw details on fingers with markers. 

When done, the hand print will look like a snowman family of five standing in the snow. 

FYI-- This is a whole lot easier to do with older kids who can keep their fingers still than babies! Just saying... As you can see from the picture some of the snowmen were rather crowded together which I didn't mind since it shows their personalities and ages! This reindeer ornament would be easier to do with little ones! 

I hope you all are having a fun Christmas week!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Recycled Gift Wrap

 One of the 'batches' of gifts we wrapped this year.

One of my goals for gift wrapping this year was to use recycled items instead of purchasing new wrapping paper as I wrote about here.

We saved paper bags all year-both white and brown- and also reused some colorful tissue paper I'd received in a gift.

Gift tags so far have been old Christmas cards, either used whole or cut up to make smaller tags. I've used bits and pieces of ribbon as well as some yarn and string for tying.

I usually wrap our gifts in 'batches' by families, events or which package I'm mailing. Keeps things organized and helps me to not forget someone! Some batches have turned out prettier than others, based mainly on the time I've had to invest in each one and also the shapes of gifts I'm wrapping! The batch pictured above was my favorite so far, especially the fruit printed bag I kept from a boutique purchase earlier in the year--so cute!

Using recycled gift wrappings is not only a frugal choice but a practical one as well.

And wrapping gifts this way provides a creative outlet that I enjoy!

**Bits of wrapping paper, bows, cards and tissue paper make great collage supplies for the little ones so be sure and save a few things from the trash can during this season of gift-giving! And those picture frame cards can be used for  projects such as this one. **

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Activities for Kids: Nativity Printable

 I was excited to find this printable nativity a few weeks ago and pinned it to do with Big Brother (age 6). This reminded me of  a paper nativity we had when I was little where the figures were punched out  like paper dolls and then folded and attached with little tabs in the backs so they stood up.

I knew Big Brother would like to make this as he enjoys coloring. I enjoyed  being able to use a bunch of toilet paper tubes I'd saved for such an occasion! We worked on this together with Big Brother doing most of the coloring over the course of a few afternoons when he came over after school.

It turned out so very cute and he was so proud to take his nativity home with him today!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sugar High

Andy and I spent last Saturday making some yummy Christmas goodies to enjoy and share. Making Christmas cookies together is a tradition that we enjoy each year. We had thought that perhaps we just wouldn't do any this year or try some "healthier" varieties but in the end we decided to just go ahead and make a few of our favorites as we did want to share some with friends. And eat a few too!

This year we made 4 varieties:
My mom sent us an assortment of her homemade candies plus Baby Boy's grandmother sent over a container of fudge and buckeyes they had made, so we have a lovely variety of cookies and candies for a nice cookie plate!

 My friend Katie sent me a candy cane cookie cutter last year along with some peppermint sprinkles! My husband had the great idea of using leftover white chocolate to frost the candy canes and then sprinkle with the peppermint sprinkles. So yummy!
 My husband makes the pretzels every year. Don't they look wonderful?

 Tip: Bake bars in pans lined with foil. When cool lift out of pan for easier cutting and nicer looking squares!

 What goodies have you made this year? 

**This post is linked up to The Modest Mom's Christmas baking post! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Merry Swap

It's been fun to once again join in with the Sisters Shoebox Swaps hosted by Monica and Carrie! The theme for this swap was Merry and my swap partner was Kim.

Kim doesn't have a blog but we emailed a bit back and forth in order to get to know each other better! She is a super sweet lady and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her a little and creating a box for her.

I was blown away by all that Kim packed into my box and the thought and care that went into it!So much fun! She included lots of red which I love!

Packed into a beautiful Christmas box(which you see at the back of this picture) was:

  • Set of 3 red and white kitchen towels.
  • Peppermint tea light candles.
  • Metal Merry Christmas sign.
  • An adorable nativity--love nativities and apparently am starting a small collection!
  • Ghiradelli chocolate bars.
  • Coffee.
  • Candy Cane Lane tea.
  • Mug that says -"This Home Believes" and has a nativity picture.
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer lip balm. How fun is that!?!
  • "Silver Spruce" potpourri sachet.
  • Chris Tomlin CD--Glory In the Highest.
  • Candy cane ornament.
  • Nativity ornaments made of olive wood from the Holy Lands.
 Isn't this a sweet nativity--look at those cute faces!

The Merry Christmas sign.

What I sent to Kim:
  • Christmas garland--printed from here.
  • A compilation of some of our favorite Christmas tunes.
  • Cozy Christmas socks.
  • Bag of treats for her dogs Chip and Mattie from our dog Rock.
  • Handmade little stocking filled with candy. I looked at these directions for basic how-to's but drew my own pattern and made it quite small.
  • Hot cocoa mix.--Just combined the dry ingredients and included instructions.
  • Handmade felt ornaments like these
  • Apple cinnamon candle. 
  • Merry Christmas tin(which I packed the cocoa mix in). 
**Go to Carrie's blog for more Merry swap show and tell!

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Menu Plan Monday--The "I Really Need To Get Groceries" Edition

    I made Pumpkin Curry Soup last week for the first time! Wasn't sure what to expect but it seemed interesting! And since we don't eat many baked goods anymore, I've been wanting some other ways to eat pumpkin. This recipe was very very good. Quite mild tasting actually. I cooked up a pumpkin we had used for decoration throughout the fall and used some of the homemade pumpkin puree for this soup. I didn't add carrots but made the recipe as stated otherwise. Because of no carrots and not-so-orange pumpkin puree, this soup wasn't as vibrant as I expected. Instead, it was kind of a yellow color. But it was yummy and comforting, none the less. A plus--I really liked the smooth texture after running it through the food processor.

    **For weight loss and general health, we eat a diet low in grains but higher in protein, healthy fats, vegetables and fruit.  For the most part, we avoid wheat, corn, refined sugar, starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes and most processed foods. It is a work in progress--our diet isn't always perfect and we are far from eating all organic but we have both lost a good bit of weight since changing to eating this way and we feel great! And for the record, we do eat a lot of brown rice and eggs!**

    I didn't get to the grocery store this past weekend and it looks like it will be later this week before we get there this week. So I'm doing as much as I can with what we have in the pantry, fridge and freezer. We have enough food, just not as much variety as usual and running low on a few staple items. I think we'll live!

    We would like to make some Christmas goodies this weekend using some of our favorite recipes. They won't be completely healthy but it is the holiday season and we'll just make probably 3 different things!

    **hard-boiled eggs, chicken
    **scrambled eggs, chicken
    **scrambled eggs (3x)
    **scrambled eggs, bacon (2x)

    **Regular potluck lunch with church fellowship-- applesauce and broccoli/cauliflower blend
    **Rice noodles with tuna
    **Leftovers (4x)
    **Whatever's left!

    **yogurt with apple butter
    **yogurt and kiwi
    **orange, kiwi, almonds
    **hard-boiled eggs
    **applesauce (2x)

    **Snacks for church meeting--took some mixed nuts.
    **Chicken gravy on rice, variety of bits of leftover veggies--green beans, limas and turnip greens.
    **Roast chicken, roasted butternut squash, mashed cauliflower
    **Chicken Rice Soup(new recipe)
    **Stir fry(bag of stir fry veggies!),with a chopped chicken breast and rice. 
    **Crustless Quiche, tomato soup from a can--Didn't use this meal from last week's plan.
    **Meeting: TBD

    **This post is part of Menu Plan Monday!

    Friday, December 09, 2011

    Christmas Gift Idea for Military Members and Veterans

    As my husband mentioned in this post a few years ago, he works with a great company called Products For Good. They offer a unique line of military themed products featuring decommissioned Iraqi coins, like the one pictured above. If you visit the website, please take the time to read the amazing story behind the company. Having been with them over three years now, his business has begun to expand. This expansion is both personally gratifying and seeks to provide greater financial capabilities for our family.
    A large part of that expansion is a Facebook Page dedicated to his business. What you'll mainly find there are stories of military interest and ways to support our troops. But, one very special aspect of the Facebook Page is the ability to shop online. The items available there would make GREAT gifts for the military member or veteran in your life. So if you have a family member like my Father-In-Law, who is a Vietnam Veteran and is rather difficult to shop for, take a moment to like the page. Then outsmart the crowds and shop from the comfort of your couch, or at least your CEO style office chair. And let him know that you came because of his wonderful, beautiful, selfless wife, who graciously donated her blog space for the sake of this post.

    Toddler Activity: Christmas Tree Magnets

    I saw this activity in the toddler activity Bible The Toddler's Busy Book and thought it would be great thing to make since baby food jars and lids are one thing I have in abundance!

    • Lids from baby food jars--at least 10. 
    • Felt--green, brown (for trunk), yellow (for star at top), other colors can be used too if you'd like to make 'balls' for the tree.
    • Tacky glue or hot glue gun.
    • Magnet strips. 
    • Scissors.
    To make: 
    • Make circles by tracing the lid onto felt. Cut out.
    • Glue felt circles into lids.
    • Let dry.
    • Attach magnet strips to backs with glue.
    • Let dry.
    • Give to eager toddler and watch her have a great time with the magnets!
    This obviously is great for the front of the refrigerator but would also make a good table activity when used with a cookie sheet. 

    Due to sickness, Toddler Girl has not yet tried out this activity but I'm pretty sure she will like it very much! I think Big Brother (age 6) will like it too. Because an older child will enjoy making different patterns and shapes, I plan to make more of these in green and other colors for more possibilities for him.

    A simple, fun and cheap activity for that busy little toddler!

    Would You Like To Win One Of My Aprons?

    My sweet blog friend Katie is hosting an apron giveaway! Visit her blog to get the details on how to enter and also get a coupon code for my Etsy shop!

    Wednesday, December 07, 2011

    Indoor Clothes Drying

    Our clothes dryer has been on the fritz for most of a month now. Got the first issue fixed, dried about 5 loads of laundry and then the next time I went to use the dryer, something else wasn't working.

    Well. Our dryer isn't new; probably more like 20 years old. It was a hand-me-down from Andy's parents when he was still a bachelor and has been a faithful servant! But we would like to get a few more years use out of it if possible!

    So for the time being we are line drying all of our laundry.  Our outdoor clothesline broke when moving last year so we are needing to dry everything inside. Perhaps we will rig up some outdoor lines if this continues. Thankfully, we own three folding drying racks since I was already line drying some of our laundry.

    I've learned a few tips about drying clothes indoors during the winter. Some of these things I've done for a while anyways and others are new.
    • Hanging clothes can be hung on the shower rod. Pajamas, shirts and pants can be dried this way. Hanging larger items here frees up more space on the drying racks for the smaller stuff and towels. If items are hung early enough in the day, most things will be dry by morning shower time. Smaller things such as socks and underwear can be hung on skirt/pants hangers if needed. I like this because the clothes are out of the way.
    • Curtain rods can also be used for hanging clothes.
    • Use fans in front of racks. Especially for towels and heavier items. My biggest concern is that the towels will not dry fast enough and get smelly. The racks also take up a bit of space and I'm in a hurry to fold them back up out of the way!
    • Position racks over vents. Warm or cool air will help speed up the drying process. 
    • Rotate items on racks for even drying.  Sometimes the front items or one side of the jeans are dry but the rest still wet! Turn things around if needed.
    • Adding white vinegar to the towels helps to soften them a bit. Not a lot but a bit.:-) Also shaking them out before hanging seems to help.
    • Wear clothing several times before washing if possible. This helps cut down on the laundry to hang. We shower every day and use deodorant so if not stained, most outfits can be worn 2 times.
    • Stagger loads of laundry. Don't do everything in one day. I will do sheets on a day by themselves and drape them over the racks. Towels always take up 2 racks so I wash them by themselves or when I don't have as many clothes.
    • Wash only what needs to be washed. I'm not washing heavy pieces of bedding right now unless it really needs it! And in the case of blankets and such, I'd probably break down and go to the laundromat.
    • Swallow pride. I really dislike visitors seeing our laundry drying in the house. But I have people in and out of my house almost every day. So I put it out of the way if possible (for space  reasons more than pride) and if not or if they use the bathroom during their visit, well, I just try to keep the unmentionables behind the bigger garments!
    • Smile knowing you're doing something good for the environment!
    What line drying tips do you have to share? 

      Tuesday, December 06, 2011

      Menu Plan Monday and Little Smokies Recipe

      Yes, I know it isn't Monday anymore!:-)

      The Cheesy Chicken and Rice recipe we tried last week turned out really good. I did change it some to utilize what I had on hand-- shocker, I know! For starters, I had 1 cup of chicken instead of 2 and 2-3 cups of cooked brown rice instead of 1. So I threw all that in a bowl. Only had about a tablespoon of salsa left in the jar so poured that in and added about a cup or two of leftover canned tomatoes I had in the fridge plus some homemade taco/fajita seasoning I use. I didn't have any canned beans in the house  and besides we eat mostly lentils and not many other beans on this diet--and I really wasn't into adding lentils so just skipped beans altogether. It was delicious. I highly recommend this recipe--obviously it's hard to mess up! And no cream soups which I have tried hard to avoid for a number of years now.

      **For weight loss and general health, we eat a diet low in grains but higher in protein, healthy fats, vegetables and fruit.  For the most part, we avoid wheat, corn, refined sugar and most processed foods. It is a work in progress--our diet isn't always perfect and we are far from eating all organic but we have both lost a good bit of weight since changing to eating this way and we feel great! And for the record, we do eat a lot of brown rice and eggs!**

      **Egg and cheese muffins--will share the recipe soon!
      **Scrambled eggs (2x)
      **Scrambled eggs, turkey sausage (2x)
      **Scrambled eggs with cheese
      **Eggs in bacon rings--will share this recipe soon too!

      **Weekly fellowship potluck-- we took green beans and bacon in the little crockpot and some deviled eggs. While grocery shopping on Saturday morning, I came across some organic eggs marked down to 69 cents a dozen!!!
      **Leftover Little Smokies, celery sticks stuffed with some leftover deviled egg filling.
      **Leftover pumpkin soup, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, some bits of leftover meat.
      **Tuna salad, celery sticks, hard-boiled eggs.
      **Leftover beef vegetable soup.
      **Leftover chicken and rice casserole.
      **Leftovers --whatever's left.

      **Bananas, peanut butter
      **Yogurt (2x)
      **Whatever's left!

      **Snacks for meeting-- Apple-Barbecue Little Smokies--recipe below!
      **Pumpkin Curry Soup(new recipe), turkey
      **Israeli spice chicken, sweet potatoes, green beans
      **Beef vegetable soup
      **Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole--using sour cream instead of cream since that's what I have!
      **Monterrey lentils, rice
      **Crustless quiche (probably spinach), tomato soup(from a can)

      Apple Barbecue Little Smokies

      Ok, so Little Smokies , cocktail weiners, baby sausages or whatever you call them are probably not in the healthy eating category! But we do enjoy them on occasion and they are fun to make and take this time of year. And super easy! All things in moderation.:-)

      1 pound package Little Smokies
      1 cup applesauce or apple butter-- I use homemade so very low sugar or no sugar at all if using applesauce.
      1 cup BBQ sauce--BBQ sauce is a high sugar item. I don't stress about eating or serving it on occasion. We only buy sauce with no high fructose corn syrup if I don't make my own. We like Bulls Eye by Kraft Foods(often on sale which is a plus!) or a store brand from our local heath food store.

      Mix applesauce and BBQ sauce in bottom of greased 1-2 quart crockpot. Add sausages and stir together. Cook on low for about 3 hours or on high for 1 hour. Turn to warm to serve.

      What's cooking at your house this week?

      **This post is part of Menu Plan Monday!