Friday, February 29, 2008 0 comments

Cousin Camp 2007: Food

If you have 8 kids together for a week with lots of activities, you're going to have to feed them - a lot. But as all mothers know, kids don't always want to eat new foods. So we stuck to the basics that we knew everyone would enjoy. Here's our weekly menu:

The kids didn't arrive until well after lunch on Monday.
hamburgers on the grill
French fries
Chex Mix and drinks

pancakes (made ahead of time and frozen)
egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches
taco salad
No-Bake Cookies

cold cereal
macaroni & cheese
hot dogs
peanut butter & jelly sandwiches (for those who didn't like hot dogs)
fruit snacks (This wasn't quite enough for them - we ended up making an entire loaf of sugar and cinnamon toast.)

cold cereal
lunchmeat sandwiches
tuna noodle casserole with peas

waffles (made and frozen ahead of time)
grilled cheese sandwiches
tomato soup
sloppy joes
birthday cake

We decided what groceries we needed and then roughly split them three ways, among the three families. It worked pretty well that way since we were able to be flexible and let each contribute the items they got a good deal on.

For the most part, the food went off without a hitch. Everyone had plenty to eat and we didn't hear any grumbling about being hungry (except for right after fruit snacks, so we made the cinnamon and sugar toast). And perhaps most importantly, we didn't have anyone refusing to eat!


Cousin Camp 2007: Activities

Yesterday I shared with you the crafts we made at Cousin Camp last year. Today let's talk about activities. I might have a few surprising revelations for you ...

Like this one: Ask ahead of time what games they know how to play. I assumed that kickball was an elementary staple, but my 13-year-old nephew was the only one who had ever played it before. So most of our game was spent like you see right here - me directing traffic as they ran the bases. The only problem? I was also the pitcher. Oh well! I think they actually enjoyed it.

And here's another tip: limit the strenuous activities (like kickball) for the cooler times of day. We tried this first thing in the morning, and it was too hot!

This Jeep was a favorite activity. We had to limit them to so many minutes per person, since the battery eventually goes dead and everyone needed a turn. My oldest nephew had a blast teasing the younger ones and trying to get them to push him. (The battery wasn't quite dead yet.)

Yes, work can also qualify as an activity. My sister's kids are the ones that live on this farm, and they accept work as a daily reality. (Good for their parents!) The rest of them aren't used to manual labor like weeding the flower beds, so this was good experience - and still fun for them. Thanks to my brother-in-law for the inspiration to put them to work for a bit! It burned off some of their energy when I needed to put my feet up for a few minutes.

My brother-in-law also came up with the good idea of taking us over to his sister's house and rowing the kids around on the pond. For sake of space, I didn't include pictures of that activity. But let's just say it was a huge hit!

On the last day, I planned a series of skill games that I called Cousin Camp Celebration. The kids played games for prizes. (Everyone won a prize - we just lined them up in order of score and let the highest-scoring individual pick first.) One of those games was bowling - with 2-liters and a large playing ball. As you can see, they really got into this one, too!

This obstacle course was the highlight of the week. I had them each bring their bicycle or tricycle (and helmets, although you can see not everyone chose to wear one) and then my sister and I constructed this obstacle course from old "junk" in one of their barns.

First of all, they rode their bikes through cones ...

... rode through a sprinkler (my oldest nephew who turned the garden hose on at the appropriate time), ditched the bike and crawled through a cardboard box ...

... got as many rings on the ring toss as possible ...

... threw a ball into a suspended bucket (aka basketball) ...

... and then finished by climbing through another "tunnel" and sliding down a kiddie sliding board. We timed them to see who could do it fastest. They loved it!

To finish things off that day, I filled nearly 100 water balloons and let them go to it. They had a blast and all the balloons were gone in no time. It served a dual purpose of cooling them off after the more strenuous activities.

There were a few activities that didn't go over very well:

  • sidewalk chalk drawing (They weren't very interested. I'm thinking about trying a variation on it this year that I think they'll like.)
  • board games (Some of them have a little too much of one of my sibling's blood and are too competitive for their own good. I didn't want to hear any more whining about who was "cheating." But for some strange reason, Bingo went over great!)
Thursday, February 28, 2008 0 comments

Book Spotlight: When the Dolls Woke

I don't usually read much fiction, but I saw When the Dolls Woke (a children's book) on my shelf this afternoon and I decided to read it. I had picked it up secondhand awhile back. (Good thing it only cost me $0.33!) For some crazy reason, I have a soft spot in my heart for any books about dolls coming to life. I think I could read books like this all day.

Unfortunately, while most of the story is cute and I really liked it, I did not like the portrayal of one of the dolls. It doesn't outright say it, but you can easily infer that the ship captain who picked it up for his daughter had no idea the doll was intended for voodoo use. And so the doll's personality is all wrapped up in dark magic and scary stories (which I would never in a million years let my daughter read).

In the end, the doll turns friendly. After, of course, certain events go her way and show her that she is not just an afterthought in the dollhouse.

I decided to get rid of this one because I don't want that kind of influence in my home. I don't want my daughter exposed to:

  • anything at all to do with voodoo
  • thinking that if someone does you wrong, it's an excuse to pout and do bad things
Wednesday, February 27, 2008 0 comments

Cousin Camp 2007: Crafts

Any mom knows that if you're going to gather 8 kids for five days, you'd better have a bunch of activities to keep them busy. Knowing that most of these kids enjoy "crafts," I worked in as many as I could.

Now, I'm not a "busy work" crafts kind of person. If I make a craft - or have kids made a craft - I don't want it to just sit around and collect dust. I want it to be useful. So I chose the following crafts with that in mind.

First of all, I bought foam visors (3-4 to a pack), self-stick foam letter stickers (1 pack did everyone's names) and two packs of self-stick foam stickers (1 boy theme, 1 girl theme) from Dollar Tree. I think I paid around $5 total and we have enough stickers leftover to do them again this year. The visors were essential since we had many outdoor activities planned!

The next project was equally utilitarian - personalized cups for the week (so we didn't have to wash cups every fifteen minutes). I started out with the intention of buying paint pens and letting them write their names (and any other decorations they chose) with those. But I found a great price on Sharpies and thought it would work equally well. It didn't. The names washed off almost entirely after the first washing. They were faint enough that we could go back over them with the Sharpies, but it wasn't what I had in mind. This year, I'm buying the paint pens. (But, as you can tell, they did have fun doing it!)

One of my pet projects last year was the stepping stones. I wanted to make them in the worst kind of way, but I didn't want to have to buy those expensive kits for each child. Even at 40% off, they're pricey for what you're getting.

So I looked it up online and it turns out that I was right - they can be made much cheaper. For the molds, I bought those clear round plastic protectors you put under houseplants. I got the 12" size in a 3-pack at Dollar Tree, and they are reusable.

I bought an 80-lb bag of regular old cement mix at Home Depot for $3. It easily did all eight stepping stones, and we had some left over. One word of caution here: this cement mix is not ground as fine as the kind you get in the kits. If that matters to you, buy the cement mix refills for the kits (with your 40% off coupons at craft stores, of course).

We pressed their hands into the mixture and wrote their initials and the year with a stick. If I had it to do over again, I'd buy the letter press set they make for these stepping stones ($5-6, I think). The end result looks much more professional! But we still got to make the keepsakes for a fraction of what I would have paid otherwise. (It cost about $6 total for everyone's.)

Another quick note about the stepping stones: don't let them "set up" too long before you press their hands into the mixture. By the time we got their hands imprinted in the stones, it was almost too late. The impressions were not as deep as I would have liked, but they're there.

And if you'd like to further accent the handprints, you can paint them with patio paint, a weather-resistant acrylic paint that comes in small bottles just like the other craft paints you've seen in the stores. DecoArt makes a patio paint, but look around because I'm sure there are other brands out there.

I was planning on having the kids do their own mini scrapbooks of the week, but I ended up doing it for them. By the end of the week, we weren't willing to give them glue sticks, scissors and permanent pens. That's okay - they still immensely enjoyed the pictures and were able to share them with their families. I chose about 6 pictures of each of the kids individually participating in the activities, as well as a few group activities. Of course, I had planned this ahead of time, so I made sure I took a bunch of pictures of each of the kids.

I cut costs on this project by making my own scrapbooks with square coasters (made out of chipboard), regular cardstock and my binding machine. I also cut costs by developing the pictures in wallet size, which I was able to do at my sister's CVS store. That way, I was getting two pictures for the price of a 4x6".

By the way, my niece specifically requested more crafts this year, so I've been collecting ideas all year. My goal is to have a craft for each day that we'll be sticking around the house (which might not be much this year, but I'll talk about that later).


Cousin Camp blog series

It's time to start seriously planning for Cousin Camp 2008 around here, so I thought I'd do a blogging series for the next little bit. I'm not sure how long it will take me, but I'm going to share my plans for last year, some pictures from last year, and my plans for this year.

Just in case you've never heard of "cousin camp" before, let me explain. I got the idea from one of last year's Family Fun magazines. The basic idea is that you get all of your kids' cousins (from one side of the family) together for a few days.

Some people have them congregate at the grandparents' house, but my parents both have to work. So it was up to me - and my sister.

Now why on earth would I volunteer to keep 8 kids ranging from 1-1/2 to 13 for an entire week? If you're thinking "temporary insanity," I'll have to admit I might have agreed with you halfway through the week. But really, my kids live a good distance from the rest of my family. If they're going to grow up knowing their cousins, we're going to have to make an effort. So this is my yearly effort to bring my kids closer to their cousins, hence the term "Cousin Camp."

It was a huge hit with the kids, and I had lots of fun planning and preparing for it. We had crafts, lots of games, great food, even official t-shirts! And then we ended with a 13th birthday party for my nephew whose birthday was that weekend.

My son talked about it for months, and he really made friends with his cousins. It was a great success!

Coming up tomorrow: some planning from last year

Card Sets

I like to set something out for overnight guests. One year I stocked up after Christmas and set out a bath product and body pouf. Another year I stocked up on a clearance event and set out a travel tin candle and small box of matches.

As I was cleaning and organizing my craft room lately, I ran across a set of 20 cards and envelopes that I had gotten at a yard sale for $0.50. I decided I'd make some card sets for my next few overnight guests. So I made four sets of 5 cards, and I thought I'd share them with you.

These are the card fronts (sorry they ended up a bit small, but you can get the gist of it):

And the back of each card looks like this:

I've been "collecting" these cute $1 clear acrylic stamp sets as they come out.

So far they've released seven series, and it's a good thing I only bought the ones I liked. I discovered I have 40 sets of them! I decided it was high time to use them. So my goal was to use as wide a variety as possible, aiming to use some that I had never used before.

After organizing them by theme in CD cases, instead of keeping all the sets together and limiting myself, I was able to "think outside the box."

I was pleased with how they turned out and was even a little surprised to find a few new favorite stamps. Sometimes you just can't see the potential until you use something!
Monday, February 25, 2008 0 comments

Photography: Children's Formals

I can't take any credit for her beauty. She's my niece. And you should see this girl's hair! She has the naturally curliest hair I've ever seen, and I've seen plenty curly.

But really, that has almost nothing to do with taking her picture ... Almost. It does have something to do with it because it's hard to take a bad picture of such a photogenic child. But trust me, it's possible. I have several pictures to prove it!

My biggest challenge in photographing her is that she has a camera smile. So how did I get around that? I tried telling her a joke. Unfortunately, she's a true blonde and I had a hard time telling her a joke that would make her laugh a true laugh. (Hey, I can say this because she's my niece and it's true!) But eventually I hit on something and got a natural look out of her.

These are two more of my favorite pictures to date, I think.

And I just took them to the next level with Soft Focus and a touch of Glow from Picasa.

Oh yes, about that background ... I got it in the $1/yard fabric section at my Wal-Mart. It's shiny on one side and matte on the other. I couldn't ask for a more perfect piece of material. I bought 6 yards and sewed it together to give me a 3-yard length that's double-wide. Looking back, I wish I had purchased more length, but I was thinking of child portraits at the time.

Money-Making Monday: Cake Decorating

Crystal challenged us to post about some way that we've made money recently. I thought I'd share my most recent paid cake with you. This cake always gets rave reviews, and it is the easiest cake I've ever decorated! It's not original with me. I discovered the idea here at the Wilton Discussion Forums. I'm sure you're wondering how to make it. I use a 9x13" pan, although you can use a larger pan if you need to feed more people. Bake and cool it as usual. (This needs to be taken out of the pan, so cool it for 15 minutes only before inverting it onto a cooling rack. If you don't do it at the "magical" 15 minutes, it won't come out.) If you're stacking the cake, you'll want to cool both layers completely and stack them before you continue.

The next step is to measure and cut. Experiment with the size that works best for your pan, but I measured up 3" from the bottom of the cake, 3" from the side of the cake (at the bottom), connected the line and cut off the triangle I just created. Do this on both bottom sides of the cake. (This creates the onesie's leg holes.) Take those triangles and move them up to the top of the cake, butting them up against the sides to create the sleeves.

Now all you have to do is ice it smooth and add minimal decorations, such as the name of the baby and a few flowers or polka-dots. I used lids to give me the perfect circles to trace around the armholes and legholes, by the way. Trust me - cake decorating doesn't get much easier than this!

So now on to the money-making part ... I had approximately $5 in this double-layer cake. I bought a box and cake board so it could be carried to the shower and look professional (minimal cost = big effect), 2 cake mixes and ingredients, as well as icing ingredients. She paid me $40!

I don't set fees for my cakes. You might think that's foolish, but I've found people are far more generous than I could hope for, and I'd have lost quite a bit of money by charging a set fee. I actually told her I didn't want that much for it, but she insisted. (And later she told me it was the hit of the baby shower, so that made me feel better.)

If you have a regular cake business, let's get real. You're going to have to set prices. But I don't have a cake business. I just do this for friends - and their friends - who want cute (or classy) cakes that Wal-Mart won't provide. No one has ever taken advantage of me.

I took Wilton cake decorating courses at my local Michael's, never expecting to be able to do anything beyond the star tip decorating for my kids' birthay cakes (which was the motivation to take the course in the first place). But I discovered cake decorating wasn't as hard as I had thought, and there's money in it.

I'll try to post some more of my cakes in the coming weeks.
Saturday, February 23, 2008 1 comments

Scrapbook pages to share

While I was sitting up the past two nights, unable to breathe through my nose, I was able to work on a few scrapbook pages that I had planned to take to Ministerial. So I thought I'd share them with you today.

The first one is based on a Becky Fleck Page Map. Not all of the colors transferred to the computer very well. The paper that looks peach is actually pink.

Supplies: background paper: from a paper slab found at Big Lots; blue and pink cardstock: The Paper Company; white cardstock: Canson; vellum: The Paper Company; sticker letters: Creative Memories (black classic); computer font: CAC Leslie.

The next page is of my 29th birthday. Yes, I'm a bit behind in the family album. (I'm 30 now.) Anyway, I made my own cake and I really liked how it turned out, so I thought I'd showcase it on the page. This also happens to be some of my favorite patterned paper for pages that involve me. I based this on a design from Super-Fast Pages with 4x6 Photos, a publication of Creating Keepsakes. I got mine at Michael's sometime last year with a coupon, and I really like it.

Supplies: cardstock: The Paper Company; patterned paper: Creative Imaginations (I think); corner rounder: Creative Memories; computer font: CAC Champagne.

I'll probably post some older layouts in the next few weeks since Epson is closing its photo center and I have a bunch of my layouts stored over there. I'll decide which ones might be the most helpful for others to reference and then post them in batches.
Friday, February 22, 2008 2 comments

Writing my hand off while I was sick ...

Yes, I wrote and wrote and wrote while I was sick ... at least the times when I didn't feel so awful I couldn't lift my head off the pillow. Uh, I guess that means I did all of this yesterday afternoon.

I was reading The Decoration of Houses by Alexandra Stoddard, another thrift store find. Just a few pages into the book, she asks you to pretend you're her client and answer a whole slew of questions. I thought it sounded interesting. And since I had nothing else to do, I did it!
Eighteen handwritten pages later, I learned more about myself than my decorating style (which I'm pretty familiar with already). Some of my "I never thought of it before" moments included the following realizations:
  • I enjoy rural areas more than big cities, although I like the convenience of having a smaller city closeby.
  • Museums really aren't "my thing." I'm usually surprised to find a few interesting things at each museum, but I still wouldn't pick a museum to visit if it were up to me.
  • I like to stick to food that I'm familiar with. I am not adventurous in this area!
  • I have no idea what my favorite trees are since I never learned to tell them apart.
  • I'm not as aware of my senses as I once thought, although my surroundings affect me greatly, whether I recognize it or not.
  • Weaving has never interested me.
  • I can't stand opera. It gives me a headache. (Seriously!)
  • The fabrics I wear and the ones I decorate with are mainly similar in one aspect: they are florals.
  • I have no budget for indoor flowers since I prefer to use my money in other ways. However, I would like to incorporate some flowers into my garden this year to provide for occasional bouquets inside.

Do you have a copy of this book? Does your library? Check it out and go through the questions. You'll probably be surprised at some of the things you never thought to ask yourself.

A word of caution, though: From what I've read so far, it sounds like she's into the feng shui nonsense and Eastern religious concepts. I certainly don't endorse that. I pass over the nonsense and take the gold.


Book Spotlight: The Complete Guide to Creative Gift-Giving

Okay, here's the gift-giving book I promised to share with you yesterday after the disappointing book I read while I was sick in bed. It's The Complete Guide to Creative Gift-Giving by Cynthia Yates. I got it while I was a member of Crossings Book Club a few years ago. I have since found one at a thrift store for my mom, and I'm keeping my eyes out for more copies. It's that good!

This book is a treasure-trove of gift ideas that are low-cost or no-cost. And here are some ideas your elderly friends and relatives will actually use, too! (Unlike forcing something expensive on them, whether they like it or not, as the other book seems to imply.)

Some of the great ideas that come to mind for elderly people:
  • a "bread of the month" club - You bake a loaf of homemade bread for them once a month over the course of the next year. This will only work if you're good at baking bread, though.
  • a gift of time - Block out time to visit them regularly, just like you would an appointment with the doctor.
  • a box of stationery with postage stamps (My aunt did this for my grandmother one year, and it was a HUGE hit!)

And there are many more ideas!

She also discusses ways to jazz up your packaging, what to get for kids, for religious occasions, for graduations and such, for Christmas, and an alphabetical listing of careers with gift suggestions and a magazine suggestion for each. Oh, and there's even an entire chapter devoted to gifts kids can make for adults. (Yes, they're gifts you'd actually use.)

This is another book that I would give 5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, February 21, 2008 0 comments

Book Spotlight: You Shouldn't Have!: How to Give Gifts They'll Never Forget

I picked up this book secondhand thinking it might give me some good gift ideas, since I'm always looking for more good, yet frugal gifts.

Unfortunately, while some of the ideas are quite fabulous, so are the prices. And a lot of her suggestions have to do with wine. (We don't drink and wouldn't ever give wine as a gift.)

Her standard wedding gift, even to couples that she barely knows, is a crystal ice bucket from Tiffany's. The price? $80, the last time she checked. Um, I didn't spend that much on my brother's or sister's wedding gift. There's no way I'm spending that much on a virtual stranger!

And while it might be "perfect" etiquette to give an expectant couple a gift when they first announce their pregnancy, a gift at each baby shower and a gift when the baby comes home from the hospital, I know of virtually no one who expects that many gifts from one person. Likewise with an engaged couple - a gift at the engagement party, a gift at each bridal shower, and a gift at the wedding.

Yikes! I think etiquette can get out of hand sometimes. Myself, I see it as poor taste to expect that many gifts from people.

Now if you have boatloads of money to throw away and enjoy shopping at Tiffany's or Saks Fifth Avenue, go ahead and get this book. You'll find some useful pointers. Otherwise, save your money. I'll try to remember to write a review for a much more helpful, frugal gift-giving book in the near future.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008 1 comments

Craft Room Wall Art

I've had these wall stickers for awhile now and didn't know where to put them. But once I redid my craft room, I knew I wanted to put them on the walls.

I got them at Dollar Tree ($1 each) and I used two of them in my room.

The first one allowed some room for moving it around, so I carefully cut the pieces apart and arranged them on the countertop first. I highly recommend this since I would have overdone it if I had just gone by the drawing I made first!

Here it is on the wall, just above my fake window frame (an "old" Home Interiors purchase).

And here is the second one that didn't have a lot of rearranging possibilities, so I just did it as it was. I really, really like the arrangement!

I do have a few tips if you plan to use these (or similar) wall stickers.
  • Most of the letters are individually cut, meaning you have to align them carefully. I recommend you measure carefully and draw a light pencil line on the wall to make sure you're getting them on straight.
  • Take the stickers off the backing very carefully since it wouldn't be hard to rip one. (I didn't, but I'm pretty familiar with stickers, thanks to scrapbooking.)
One of the nicest things about these stickers is that they are removable so I don't have to worry about putting them on the walls in our parsonage.

Craft Room Re-Do

I have the flu now, but I'm feeling a little bit better now that the Tylenol has kicked in. I'm getting stir crazy from sitting in bed doing nothing, so I thought I'd come and post this while I feel up to it.

I looked for the "before" pictures, but I can't find them anywhere. I must have deleted them. Sorry! Just believe me when I say it wasn't working and was a total wreck most of the time.

So here's the new re-do as you walk in the door:

And here's the wall of bookcases that I love. They used to be scattered around the room (mostly because I bought them at different times and added them where I could), but it creates a much more pleasing effect now that they're grouped together.

And here is the wire cube grouping to the left as you walk in the door. The arrangement of items in the cubes is up for negotiation if I find another arrangement will work better. Sometimes I just have to use things awhile to figure out what works and what doesn't.

I have so much more space to work with now than I did before. One of the main reasons is that I took out the computer and desk that I haven't used in months.

So here is my frugal take on the the "ultimate" organized scrapbook room. :) The only thing I bought was the z-line cart (which hasn't come just yet) to organize my paper. Everything might not be quite as visually uniform as those scrapbook room re-do's in the magazines, but you can't argue with the price!
Saturday, February 16, 2008 0 comments

How to Decorate with Ten Balloons

As I was grocery shopping today, I was hoping to find something to help me spruce up the house for our February ladies' meeting tonight. Of course, the theme was Valentine's Day and all Valentine's Day merchandise was 50% off today.

I just couldn't bring myself to buy any of the valentine-theme plates or napkins that I found because I thought they were so horribly ugly. I'm definitely not into the child-scribbled-art thing. So I bought some red plates and cups from Dollar Tree to supplement the valentine napkins a friend had purchased last year.

I still needed something to decorate with, so I decided to pick up a package of ten balloons for $0.50. They weren't quite so bad in design since they only had one heart on them instead of the fifteen zillion overlapping hearts on the tableware.

I got them home, blew up all ten balloons by myself and then tried to figure out what in the world I was going to do with them. I knew Meredith would have come up with something fantastic, and I tried to think about what she might do with them. (She's my hero when it comes to table decoration and food presentation.)

Let me tell you, it was hard. I tried taping them to several surfaces, but the tape didn't want to hold. I tried laying them on several surfaces, but you know what happened - they blew off as soon as I walked past them.

Since I didn't have a huge arrangement of flowers to work with, I wanted to make something similar with the balloons. So I had the brainy idea of taping them to straws to keep them upright. That worked pretty well, but I still had to work with them a bit to make them stand upright in this vase.

It took me awhile, but I did like the end result.

I still had seven balloons leftover and plenty of space to decorate yet, so I decided to go for the biggest impact and attach them to my chandelier. After I added some curling ribbon and Kleenex roses, I was pretty pleased with it, too.

It's not Martha Stewart, but it is original with me. And I was pretty pleased with what $0.50 did for my party decorations!

Friday, February 15, 2008 2 comments

12x12" Hanging Storage

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm working on organizing my newly rearranged craft room. I'll post pictures when I'm done, but there's no way I'm posting the mess right now! (Imagine boxes and bags sitting in the hallway waiting for me, and you'll get the idea.)

One of my biggest challenges has been storing my 12x12" scrapbook paper. I have to have vertical storage. Nothing else will work for me. I was working out of a Creative Memories Workshop Organizer from my years as a consultant, but I got tired of not being able to read my labels once I started adding 12x12" paper (as opposed to the 10x12" it was designed for).

I had seen this idea before but didn't like the idea of my paper being stored in folders full of acid and lignin. Then I got to thinking about the packaging scrapbook papers come in - most include a piece of cardboard that's full of acid and lignin. And how long have they been packaged like that? Depending on where you buy them, it could be years.

I compared what little is available devoted exclusively to scrapbooks.

The Crop In Style filer cube averages $60, not including 12x12" hanging files for an average of $1.30 each. Since I figured I'd need about 14 files, that would average $78.20, not including shipping and tax.

So, back to the original idea of making files from regular legal-sized hanging files ... I bought 3 packs of 10 folders at Wal-Mart for $9.00 total. That will make 20 hanging files, averaging $0.45 each.

Then I bought the Z-Line Alero Mobile 2-Tier File Cart from Staples. (This is the cart mentioned at the bottom of the article on making your own file folders.) They didn't have it in stock at the store, so the manager ordered it and had it shipped to my home, next-day delivery. Since I'm a member of Staples Rewards, the shipping was free (regularly $8.00). And since I was able to pay at the store, I was able to use $9 worth of coupons from recycled printer cartridges and ended up paying $22.79 for the cart.

My ending cost: $31.79 for the cart and 20 files.
What I would have paid for the same number of files and cabinet: $86.00
My savings: $54.21

Bonus: I'm selling a bunch of organizers I haven't used since my days as a Creative Memories consultant, and I can use that money to pay for this system (with plenty leftover).

Double Bonus: I bought the hanging file folders with a gift card I had received for Christmas, so they didn't really cost me anything.
Thursday, February 14, 2008 2 comments

Book Spotlight: Organizing for the Creative Person

I haven't read the whole book yet, but I got something interesting from Organizing for the Creative Person today.

I am not a left-hander (as most right-brained people are), but I am a creative person. I have always been a very visual and hands-on person, both in learning and in real life. When I'm crafting, I like to have things where I can see them. According to the book, this is characteristic of a right-brained thinker.

Now here's the part that comes as an "aha" moment: creative types like to stack things into piles rather than putting them away so that they'll remember what needs to be done. I can't tell you how many times I've done that, but I never knew why. I was afraid to put away all those items cluttering the top of my rolltop desk because I was afraid I'd forget - forget to return library books, call the HSA representative, charge the cell phone ...

Now lest you think my house is a disaster all the time, I have to say (in my defense) that these kinds of things are usually stacked in neat piles - but they are still piles. And I have to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with clutter. I'm a clutterbug, according to the book (no surprise here). But I can't stand to see clutter.

So I'm sure you're wondering the solution advocated by the authors. It's easy enough: write down what needs to be done and then put it away. The list (someplace prominent like the refrigerator) helps you remember, and you know right where something is when it's time to take care of it. What a great idea!

Now I'm off to reorganize and purge my newly rearranged craft room ...
Wednesday, February 13, 2008 0 comments

Sugar and Spice Popcorn

I've been working on the larger doilies for my husband today, and I just finished one. I'm going to see what he thinks before I make the other two, but I'm hoping it's big enough. I just invested an entire half day of my life into this doily ...

Anyway, since I didn't have time for a lengthy post (and don't have the doily starched and presentable just yet), I decided to post the recipe for munchies that I made today. It's supposed to be low-fat. I do know it's economical and it came from Light & Tasty magazine a few years ago.

Although the recipe calls for it to be served warm, I like it almost as well cold. That's good, because it makes a lot. We eat what we like while it's warm and then I put it in zippered baggies for a snack for another time.

Sugar and Spice Popcorn

1/2 cup popcorn kernels
3 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Air pop the popcorn and place in a large roasting pan coated with nonstick cooking spray.

In a saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add the sugar, water, cinnamon and salt; cook and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Pour over popcorn; toss to coat.

Bake, uncovered, at 300 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 quarts
Tuesday, February 12, 2008 0 comments

This is my current favorite picture of my daughter.

What makes it so special? Just that it's how she looks every day. Yes, I comb her hair and fix it every morning. But somehow she manages to lose the barrettes and "gumbies" by lunchtime. She's very much of a free spirit, and this picture captures her so well.

I was setting up to take pictures of a 6-month-old when I took this picture. I asked my kids to step in front of the camera so I could check the lighting. She happily obliged, even claiming the teddy bear prop! How could I resist a picture like this?

So my tip for this picture is:
  • be sure to take pictures of what your kids look like every day, not just when they're dressed up for portraits.

Sure, you can take those kind of pictures any time. But notice how the traditional portrait features - uncluttered, solid background and great lighting - highlight her. So if you ever get the chance, by all means photograph your child as you will remember them ten years from now.

Sunday, February 10, 2008 1 comments

Yet another creative project completed this week ...

Am I the only person who gets in a creative mood for several days straight and then can't seem to do anything for another month? I've learned to take advantage of the mood. Otherwise, I end up with a lot of unfinished projects!

I've been working on this card set off and on during the week. It's finally finished, so I thought I'd share it.

I try to make all of our greeting cards. My husband has 10 siblings, I have 2, and that makes for a lot of card-sending occasions (especially when they have big families, too). Since I scrapbook and love all things paper, I have plenty of supplies on hand and it makes this even more economical than buying cards at the dollar store (which I still do in a pinch).

Speaking of the dollar store, the inspiration for this card set were these gorgeous sunflower stickers from Dollar Tree (everything $1). I picked them up once, knowing I could make some beautiful cards with them. There were over 30 stickers on the sheet (it's double-sided), so I knew I was getting a great deal.

... But that was several months ago, and inspiration had not struck since then. Fast forward to February when I'm needing quite a few cards. Suddenly I remembered those sunflower stickers and pulled them out, as well as cardstock and patterned paper that I had on hand and coordinated quite well.

I stared at it for awhile and then had a brilliant idea. Why not pull out those free card sketches from Page Maps? And then I had an even more brilliant idea. Why not number my stickers (see below) so I could plan out all the cards at once and then sit down and make them all, making the best use of the stickers as possible?
So that's what I did! I started with the big stickers and looked for card designs that would highlight them. Then I planned the smaller stickers for the more "design-intensive" cards. I wrote down which sketch I planned to use and which sticker(s) I planned to use with it. (Yes, I'm a planner!!)
When I was done, I had 12 cards and just a few stickers left. Not bad for about $2.00 worth of materials!

I'm thinking about using the leftover stickers on a gift journal.
A note about card sizes:
  • The smaller rectangular cards fit into invitation-sized envelopes.
  • The larger rectangular cards fit into standard business-sized envelopes.
  • The square cards are 6" and are part of a blank set I bought secondhand (with the envelopes) for this purpose. Since they cost extra to mail, I like to use these mainly for hand-delivered cards.
Obviously these are female-oriented birthday cards. I had the most pressing need for them at the moment, but I'm going to be needing some youth- and male-oriented cards soon, too, so I'm hoping to get a minute to stop in at the Dollar Tree again next week to look for some stickers ... And I'm hoping that my creativity holds out for a few more days!
Friday, February 8, 2008 2 comments

Recipe: Peanut Butter Meltaway Cake

I didn't get to share a recipe last week since we were out of town. I figured I'd share my husband's favorite cake this week, in honor of his birthday.

I have a much more complicated recipe for this, but you can get the same results with my simplified recipe below:

Peanut Butter Meltaway Cake

1 box chocolate cake mix
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 tsp oil
1 tub chocolate frosting

1. Bake cake as directed and cool.
2. Mix peanut butter and oil. Spread over cooled cake. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
3. Microwave chocolate frosting for about 30 seconds and pour about 2/3 of it onto the cake. Spread it evenly. Refrigerate for another 20 minutes.

You can serve this at room temperature or cold. My husband prefers it straight from the refrigerator. It reminds him of his favorite candy, Gardner's Candies Peanut Butter Meltaways.

One part of the doily project is completed!

This is the shelf that started this whole "doily project." Unfortunately, it really started something! In addition to the five I've already made, I now have three larger doilies to make, as well as four more of this same size, all for different parts of my husband's study.

The good news? He said it can count as my Valentine's Day gift to him. (I'm beginning to think a storebought gift would have been a lot less "costly" when you count time, but this is a labor of love, after all.)

And here's a closeup of one of the shelves with a decorative plate (from Goodwill, along with two other matching decorative eagle plates at $4 each). The doilies really do add a finished look!

Thursday, February 7, 2008 0 comments

Doily Count: 4 Done!

Yep, you read that right. I managed to finish four doilies over the last two days. I'm pretty pleased, although I'd be the first to admit that being sick has kept me from some of my regular duties the last few days - and thus able to spend more time on this project. I guess I might as well make the best of the situation, right?

Here's a little tidbit for you ... My husband was watching me crochet today and asked where I ever learned to crochet. I mentioned that my mom taught me the chain stitch and I learned the rest from a teacher in sixth grade.

The interesting thing is that my teacher was left-handed, so I crochet just slightly different than most right-handers I know. (She would stand facing me and say, "Do it just like this," so I wrap my thread around the hook the opposite of most right-handers.)

But it doesn't stop there. You see, my little girl is left-handed, and I hope to teach her to crochet someday. Now I'll be able to sit facing her and say, "Do it just like this."

Pretty neat, isn't it? I think it's another one of those ways that God provides for our future before we even know about it.

A Week of Slow Cooked Suppers

I checked out the Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook from the library, and I think I need to invest in one for myself. (Maybe I should hint to my husband for Valentine's Day?)

I love to cook, but my kids seem to be cranky and clingy every single day when it's time to make supper. This doesn't make for a good combination, because inevitably I end up letting them know that if they don't leave me alone for a few minutes, we won't get to eat tonight. :) So I decided to try an entire week of slow cooked suppers and see how it goes. That way, I can get the prep work - and dirty dishes - out of the way in the morning.

After I had my menu made, my husband suggested inviting one of the single men from our congregation over for pizza and games on Friday night. So I revised the menu. I can still make it quickly by prebaking the pizza crusts.

Here's what we're having for the next seven days:

1. PB&J
2. Spaghettios
3. grilled cheese and tomato soup
4. omelettes
5. PB&J
6. Spaghettios
7. bacon, eggs, toast (Sunday noon meal)

Suppers (all recipes are from Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook)
1. Shipwreck (p.113) - I made this tonight and I will only use half the recommended salt next time. Otherwise, we loved it! Bonus: I froze half of it for another meal.
2. Homemade pizza, chips, soda
3. Shell Casserole (p.117)
4. Tangy Pork Chops (p.135), baked potatoes, frozen vegetable
5. Green Beans and Sausage (p.156)
6. Leftovers
7. Nachos (Sunday evening before church - we usually have something light)

And now for the BIG bonus: the only thing I have to buy anything this week for this menu is the potato chips. Everything else is all right here in my pantry, refrigerator and freezer. That's good, too, because I need to replenish a few staples this week ... And I think my favorite store should be having triple coupons soon!

I made my husband's favorite cake for his birthday: Peanut Butter Meltaway Cake. It makes a 9x13" cake, which is quite a lot for a family our size. So we are having cake for dessert all this week!
Tuesday, February 5, 2008 2 comments

Doilies for my husband!

My husband just got a large corner shelf for his study - to display his collection of eagle "memorabilia." He wanted doilies to go on each shelf, under the collections. He didn't like anything from the dollar store, so I was commissioned to make seven (!) of these doilies.

I just finished this one, so now I have only six more to go. I'm not planning to try more than one each day since my hands are curled up like I have rheumatoid arthritis after finishing just one!

The doily is roughly 10" diameter.

My morning routine and design difficulties

Crystal encouraged us to write up a morning routine with five things we want to do in the same order each day. So here is my morning routine, which I've roughly been following for awhile now:
  1. Make breakfast.

  2. Wash breakfast dishes.

  3. Get dressed.

  4. Get kids dressed.

  5. Make beds.
And I'll also share my version of her "newbie project" for the day - to go to your front door and enter, pretending to be a first-time visitor.

That's a problem area in my house. You see, everyone comes to the back door here. Everyone. We live in the parsonage, so I wasn't surprised that the church people come to the back door. But even the UPS guy, the postal carrier, and Jehovah's Witnesses (which we are not, by the way) all come to the back door! Most of the evangelists we entertained so far have come to the front door when they arrived, but we quickly clued them in to our use of the back door.

Not that I'd rather people use the back door. You see, we have a very nice entrance at the front. It's so much easier to keep it clean. Now, if you happen to know me and come to my house on occasion, I'm really not complaining about you coming to the back door. I'm just trying to figure out a reasonable solution for our family, and blogging seems to help me sort things out.

My problem with the back door, in case your family is different than ours, is that the back door is where my freezer, laundry room and garbage can are located. This is where things get piled to be taken to the various places we go - things to be exchanged at the stores, to donate to missions at our church, to donate to the local thrift stores, to go into the larger trash container outside ... You get the idea.

I recently visited my sister-in-law's house for the first time (we've been married 5 years and just got around to visiting at their house!), and I was super-impressed with her front entry. I'd love for mine to look like hers, but I struggle because my entrance way is also the utilitarian part of our house.

I'd love to hear any suggestions you might have for me. If I get brave enough, I just might post a picture ... but don't count on it!

Okay, I got brave! This is what you see when you walk in the back door. The canner and slicer (in the box on top the washing machine) are to be stored ... somewhere. I was hoping the shed, but my husband informed me there's no place for them.

The items on top the dryer (besides the detergent) are to giveaway, mostly to missions.

My son's John Deere tricycle is usually parked right where it's at in the picture, although I would prefer it be somewhere else. The truck on top the freezer is a temporary thing - just until the glue dries on the headlight.

This is the back door, looking in from my kitchen.

And this is what you see to the left when you walk in the door. The tool cases are supposed to be on their way out to the shed.

My other big challenges include:

  • a future addition (hopefully this summer) of a garage entrance to the right as you would walk in the door. This creates a problem because I can't design anything permanent to stay in that spot.
  • the heat run just to the left of the door (when you walk in). This creates a problem since I can't put anything over it.

Those two "problems" limit what I'm able to do with the floor space I have.

However, once the attached garage is built, the chest freezer will go there, and that will free up tons of space in here!

So, now that I have some visuals for you - any more suggestions?


Another photo from Williamsburg, VA

This was also taken at the recreated Governor's Mansion gardens. I like the restfulness of the picture, and I've debated enlarging it for my home.

Notice how the trees form a natural arch? I'm pretty certain they didn't just "do" that - they were most likely trained that way. But it's too good to pass up, so I took the picture. And no, that bench in the picture was not an accident. I thought it created a peaceful, "sit down and enjoy the view" feeling, so I purposely included it.

My tips for this photo:
  • Use natural framing when possible. (The trees form a natural frame for this picture.)
  • Show depth when possible. (The long row of trees allowed me to capture the depth of this walkway.)

Have you used natural framing, consciously or otherwise? I'd love to see your photos!