Sunday, March 30, 2008 0 comments

Gardening: Day Five

I finally got to plant my onion sets today. The kids had a blast helping me poke them into the ground. I'll have to admit it was a little crazy trying to watch both of them to make sure they were putting the right end down - and only one per hole!

My little girl liked it so well she wanted to poke the remaining five or so into my path!

Meanwhile, my son had a blast watering the garden. I finally had to make him stop so the seeds wouldn't come swimming to the top.

In case you're wondering, I do have a garden sprinkler. However, our hose system needs to be fixed at the turn-on point because there's no way to turn it off. That's fine when you're using it as a hose with the trigger. But if I hooked it up to my garden sprinkler right now, it would be watering my garden 24/7. We're on well water here, but I still don't think that would be a good idea ... :)
Friday, March 28, 2008 1 comments

Gardening: Day Four

I didn't do anything in the garden today since it was my errand day and I worked in my kitchen, too. However, I did manage to buy the onion sets, which I'm hoping to get into the ground tomorrow.

I thought I'd share a picture of my garden right now. Sorry it's a little fuzzy-looking. I took this picture out my daughter's bedroom window, and there are screens on the windows. It is really the best place to get an overall view of the garden, but that screen distorted things a bit.

I started planting from the rows closest to you and will gradually be working my way toward that little shed. I've been smoothing it out as I go, and I only marked off the rows that I've planted so far. To give you some perspective, it's roughly 15' wide by 30' long. My rows run widthwise.

Here's a closeup to show you what I mean by "marking off" my rows. I used garden staples and cotton crochet thread (which I have in abundance) to rope off the rows. This made it easier to get straight rows!

And here is a picture of my handwritten garden plan, for Sharon who asked if I could post a drawing. Does this help at all? If not, feel free to say so. I'll see if I can think of another way to illustrate it, if need be.

I just created a table in Microsoft Word with the correct number of columns and rows, sized them to roughly squares, and then printed it out. The rest I did by hand. The circled parts are where I noted which dates I would be planting each item.


Spring Cleaning: The Kitchen and Utility Room

I worked more on my kitchen cupboards today. I was mostly inspired by the book Confessions of an Organized Homemaker.

I had read about creating "centers" in your kitchen before, mostly from Emilie Barnes. I had previously organized my parents' kitchen into centers, and it worked beautifully.

Unconsciously, I had already somewhat organized my own kitchen into logical centers. So today I was just fine-tuning "centers" and locating them where they would be more convenient. Oh, and did I mention tossing some things?

I love my drawer organizers. They were made for people like me!! Check out what a little organization did to the inconvenient cupboard above my stove:

And here's a closeup of the left side to show how I stacked two of the organizers. Normally I wouldn't stack them, but the bottom one is level enough that it won't tip over, and I don't use the items on the bottom often enough to worry about the inconvenience.

I used old plastic Gerber baby food containers to store the last little bits of spices that were in huge containers taking up tons of my space. I labeled them with masking tape so I could tell what was in each. They stacked very nicely at the back of the righthand side. My main spice area is on my countertop in an alphabetized spice rack, so this is just backup and isn't used on a regular basis (so it's okay to be hard to get to).

You'll probably notice I stacked two organizers on the righthand side, too. I was able to get away with that because all the spice bottles on the bottom were the same height. I use the items on the top more often, so this seemed the logical way to store them.

Now onto my proudest achievement of the week: the utility room (aka the main entrance). For before pictures, see this post. Here is the finished product:

Notice the absence of everything (except for the oversized laundry detergent which is hidden behind the door) on the surfaces. There is an added bonus to this: I did laundry today and was able to fold and sort it all on top the chest freezer. Talk about convenient!

I'm feeling so much better now that I'm getting control over clutter!


Spring Cleaning!!

Even while I've been doing gardening tasks this week, I've been decluttering and spring cleaning in the house. I'll post pictures of my bathroom closet once I'm able to lay my hands on enough of the properly-sized drawer organizers. (Dollar Tree is currently out of the size I need.)

Am I the only one who gets a rush just looking at everything sorted neatly in closets? Seriously! My husband laughed at me because I opened the kids' closet doors several times this week just to look at them and enjoy the fruits of my labors. They are organized again!

Tonight I had our church's ladies' meeting here at the house. I spent the morning in the garden and the afternoon cleaning like a madwoman. I didn't want to just spot-clean for company. I was in the mood to spring clean! Since supper was in the Crockpot, I didn't have to worry about stopping to make it; I was able to get a lot done.

One of my greatest achievements of the day was cleaning - and finally decluttering - my utility room (aka the back entrance that everyone uses).

All items to donate to thrift stores went to the van for my husband's morning run. All items to donate to our church's missions department went directly over to the church. All big garbage went directly to the larger garbage tote outside the door.

I cleaned out my potato bin and put sweet potatoes in the bottom, since I don't use it for onions anymore (I chop and freeze them so they don't go bad). I had them in this totally ugly basket that was falling apart. It went to the trash.

I rolled up the ratty-looking runners that have been here since the day we moved in (they belong with the parsonage, but have seen better days). Why have a nice laminate floor and then cover it with ratty carpets? High on my priority list are two new welcome mats (one for outside the door, one for inside) and a decorative semi-circle rug to in front of my kitchen sink. I'm tired of these carpet-remnant uglies that put more dirt on my floor than they collect.

I used a dollar-store version of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to clean the deep freeze, washer, dryer, the doors and the walls. The appliances still have scratch marks on them here and there, but they look worlds better now that they're really clean.

Tonight one of the ladies complimented me on how nice my utility room looks. Doesn't it feel great when someone notices your hard work?

Gardening: Day Three

My husband had some visiting to do this morning, but he was gracious enough to till the garden for me a second time before he left. (The first time didn't go deep enough.)

I can't tell you the thrill I felt to look outside and see my garden all ready for planting!

I really need to get a picture of this because some of you would probably laugh at how I plan and plant. You see, I'm a perfectionist. I stake off perfectly-spaced 1-foot rows with perfectly-spaced 2-foot walkways between. That way, I'm certain that my rows are straight. I don't know anyone else who does this, but it would drive me crazy to have crooked rows. :)

Of course, my kids had a great time walking through my rows, tripping over the strings that marked off the planting areas, and making a general wreck of my efforts. Finally, though, I was able to convince them to occupy themselves digging (and pretending to garden) in the other end of the garden long enough to get everything staked off. Then I was able to explain that we could walk anywhere but inside the rectangles the strings made.

Since the seeds I had to plant today were so tiny, I didn't ask for any help from little fingers. I had a hard enough time not clumping them all together into one group. But the onion sets are a different story. The kids will love helping with those!

I did get the kids' little watering cans out and let them help me put some water over the newly-planted rows, though. They had so much fun with that!

I goofed and accidentally planted an entire row of radishes and an entire row of carrots, instead of the half row of each that I was going to plant. I guess that's okay, though, because I ended up with only a half row each of beets and lettuce ... and my kids can't get enough carrots. The radishes come up fast and will give me the space back quickly enough.

I need to buy my onion sets while I'm out tomorrow so I can get them in the ground, too. So far, I have three full rows planted in my garden. The onions will make the fourth row. I'm really hoping they come up well! This is my first time to try growing seeds directly in the soil.

I'm of the same opinion as my dad, though. The first time I gardened (and was obsessing over whether I did everything right), he said something like, "Let's be real. Some things will grow regardless of how bad you mess up."

I'll do my very best to get some pictures tomorrow, providing the weather cooperates. It's supposed to rain (great for my garden, but not for pictures).
Thursday, March 27, 2008 3 comments

Gardening: Day Two

We finished raking the garden today! While it was back-breaking work (I ended up sitting in the dirt sifting through piles of it just to relieve my back), it was refreshing, too. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed doing this as a family. We were so much more relaxed, even as we worked so hard, and were able to talk and share from the heart. I couldn't have asked for more! Even my kids got in on the action again today.

Today I also picked up most of the seeds I need for this growing season. I'm going to do a little experiment.

Have you ever wondered how those 10/$1 seed packets at the dollar store stack up to the $1.07 Burpee seeds at Wal-Mart (or wherever you buy your seeds)? I certainly have! So when I saw them today, I figured for $0.10 I could afford to make a mistake or two. So I got a packet of beet seeds from both Burpee and the cheap-o seeds. I'll keep you posted on how they turn out!

They seem to be the same exact type of seed - down to the exact name. The main difference I see right now is that the $0.10 packet doesn't seem to have as many seeds in it. Again, I'll let you know how it goes.

On a lighter note ... I was reminded again today of my shock the first year we were here and I had a garden. After a friend tilled the ground for me, and I raked all the weeds out, I couldn't believe what the soil looked like. I called my dad and told him it looked like a beach - which it did! I've been used to the dark, rich PA soil. This Eastern shore soil shocked me a bit, but it really does grow things! (Surprise, surprise.)
Tuesday, March 25, 2008 0 comments

Gardening: Day One

Today we worked in the garden as a family. That was actually fun!

My husband tilled up the ground and then we set to work with rakes to get the weeds and clumps out.

This is my husband's first year to help much with the garden, but he commented, "This is a lot of work, isn't it?"

Yes, it is a lot of work. But it felt great to get outside with something meaningful to do. It felt great to work the ground. And it felt great to have my children volunteering to help with real work.

My children are one of the reasons I decided to garden again this year. I want them to know how to garden when they leave home. It's a useful skill to know. It's healthy. And it's hard work.

I want them to know that food doesn't originally come in the pretty packaging from the store. Someone has to work - and usually work hard - to get that food to our table. It makes me appreciate my food a lot more!

We had an interesting conversation while we were getting all those weed roots out of the garden plot today. When my husband commented that this was hard work, we were reminded that God told Adam he would get his food by the "sweat of his brow." I'm sure there were no weeds in the Garden of Eden - before Adam and Eve sinned. Wouldn't that be nice gardening?

Well, we have half the garden raked. Tomorrow is another day!
Monday, March 24, 2008 0 comments

Hot Cross Buns

Have you ever eaten Hot Cross Buns? Did you know that "cross" is in the name because there are crosses cut in the top of each bun?

I was always intrigued by the seemingly English tradition of Hot Cross Buns at Easter. And once I discovered I could bake, I decided to tackle them.

This is my third year of making Hot Cross Buns for Easter, and I don't expect the tradition to die any time soon. These are delicious! I liken them to cinnamon raisin bread with a glaze, but my husband wasn't so sure he'd describe them that way (although he couldn't figure out how he would describe them, except "delicious").

So here's the recipe I use (from Light & Tasty magazine), adapted to a bread machine:

4-5 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 pkg active dry yeast (2-1/4 tsp)
1-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup margarine, melted
2 eggs
3/4 cup raisins
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp cold water
1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
4 tsp cold water

In a bread machine pan, add the first nine ingredients in the order recommended by the manufacturer. (I used 4-1/2 cups of flour to start.) Select the Dough cycle and switch on. Check after 5 minutes. If necessary, add more flour.

When Dough cycle is complete, punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 16 pieces. Shape each into a ball. Place in two 9" round baking pans coated with nonstick cooking spray. Using a sharp knife (or kitchen scissors), cut a cross on top of each roll. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Beat egg yolk and water; brush over buns. Bake at 375 degrees for 18-22 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool. Combine icing ingredients; drizzle over top of rolls.

Yield: 16 rolls
Saturday, March 22, 2008 2 comments

Egg Hunt and Coloring Eggs 2008

Even though it was freezing cold and windy today, we had our egg hunt since tomorrow is busy with a baby shower in the afternoon. The kids had a blast. My daughter was right with me when I hid the eggs, but you never would have guessed it when it came time to find them! My son managed to quickly get his half of the eggs and then helped my daughter find the rest of hers. (Any that they found after that were hers and went into her basket.)

Kids' perspectives on things are sometimes amusing. I put a dollar bill in two of the smallest eggs, hoping they would each find one. However, my daughter managed to find both of those. So when they were opening the eggs, I suggested that my son swap a piece of candy for the second dollar bill. My daughter was fine with that. But my son would have none of it. To him, that fun-sized candy bar was worth more than the dollar bill.

Then this evening we colored eggs from a kit I got on clearance last year for $0.10. I'm either brave or stupid trying to color eggs with a 2- and 4-year-old, but everything went well and no eggs got broken. My 2-year-old spilled the dye all over the table and herself a few times, but it all washed up easily. They were so proud of these eggs! Next year I'll show them the magic of a crayon. I wasn't ready for that yet. I kept envisioning a dozen cracked eggs and my kids' demands to boil more.

Frugal Easter Outfits

You already knew that I rarely buy any clothing or shoes new, right? I'm not knocking anyone who does. I'm just at a stage in life that it's relatively easy to find clothes that look almost new for next-to-nothing. Take these Easter outfits for example ...

My daughter will be wearing this Bonnie Jean jumper ($2.00 at a yard sale last year) with this purple jacket that I found just in time ($1.25) and these "new" Mootsie's Tootsie's white shoes that look as though they were never worn ($3.00). God provided the jacket and shoes just in the knick of time!

And here's my Easter outfit to match: a jumper I already had but have rarely worn and a "new" white jacket ($1.25) that makes it look totally different than before. This jacket, too, was one of those "knick of time" purchases. I've been looking for it for weeks now, and I got it just this Thursday.

My son has several suits, and I'm selecting the one that best matches our outfits. After all, who really notices the minute differences in suits? I doubt anyone will realize that it's not a new one. Everyone is usually busy admiring girls' Easter outfits to notice if the boys are wearing something new or not (so long as they look spiffy).

Not bad for $7.50!

Frugal Fridays: Frugal Easter baskets

This is my first time to participate in Frugal Fridays, although I have often read everyone's ideas. I haven't yet read through all of the links, so I apologize if this is a little bit of a repeat, but here's my great frugal idea for this week: frugal Easter baskets.

I never realized until recently that some people don't save their Easter baskets from year to year. As a child, we always had the same Easter basket. In the same tradition, we have reused the same Easter baskets each year so far. And of course you know that I bought my daughter's on clearance the year before she needed it and my son's at a thrift store ($0.50).

First of all, here is my son's:

It's one of those soft ones that's shaped like a vehicle. I forget which year these were so wildly popular ($8 each), but I found two of them later that same year at a thrift store. My son prefers this format for the moment, so I don't argue.

Notice the lack of loads of candy? I hope the kids won't notice. Or, if they do, I hope they won't mind. (I doubt they will. I have great kids.) His basket has a few candy items: a 2-oz chocolate cross (Dollar Tree had the cheapest), a small bag of Kissables someone donated to the cause, a lollipop, a pack of sugar-free gum (wildly popular in our house) and a plastic shaped egg filled with a few Hershey's Kisses. The non-candy items that I know he's going to flip over include: a John Deere tractor clock ($4 at Goodwill), washable markers ($0.50 back-to-school sale), and a notebook I decorated especially for him. For instructions on the notebook, see this post.

My daughter's is filled similarly. The candy items: a 2-oz chocolate cross , a small bag of Kissables, a lollipop, a pack of sugar-free gum and a plastic egg filled with a few Hershey's Kisses. Her non-candy items include: a "Leap Pad" toy ($0.25 at a local thrift store), washable markers (she's been wanting my son's regular markers for a month), and a notebook I decorated especially for her.

The candy is courtesy of post-holiday sales where I managed to get huge bags of candy for $1 each.

Of course, this wouldn't be a frugal post without a cost analysis. For both baskets together (not including baskets), I paid $9.51. That averages out to roughly $4.75 per basket. Not too bad, compared to those baskets filled with junk at Wal-Mart that go for a minimum of $10.

For more Frugal Friday posts, visit Biblical Womanhood Online.
Friday, March 21, 2008 1 comments

Photography: Pets

A friend asked if I'd be willing to photograph her poodle, so I got the chance to do that tonight. This was my first pet photography session ... And I thought it was hard to get kids to stand still! Oh well. These pictures were cute and worth the hassle.

The lighting conditions were less than ideal. The first photo was taken under flourescent lighting and the other two were taken in a room lit with one small lamp. I had to take what I could get because it was too late at night to be going outside (or to get wonderful natural lighting from the window) and the dog was obviously more comfortable in the lamp-lit room.

I got a picture of my friend with her dog, but I'm not posting it for privacy reasons. (Some people prefer not to have their picture online.) I wish I could, though, because it was on par with any of the "you with your pet" portraits I've seen offered at retail establishments.

So what do you think? If this were your dog, which photo would you pick as a favorite, if you absolutely had to pick just one? I'd appreciate any thoughts!
Thursday, March 20, 2008 1 comments

2008 Garden Plan

My working garden plan is complete! I wasn't able to till the ground today (the tiller needs a new condenser), but I staked off the boundaries so I know right where to direct my husband to till.

My husband requested room to mow around the garden this year, since I had almost butted it up against the fence my first year. So I measured the width of the mower and gave him that and an extra two feet for clearance all around. That shrunk my garden just a bit, but it's still plenty big for just a second-year gardener. It's 15x30'.

I'm running my rows shortways and putting 2' footpaths between each row (wider by the melons). Here's what the rows look like:

  • 3 rows corn
  • 1 row watermelons and cantaloupes (they're space hogs, but I love them) - 1/2 row each
  • 1 row mild banana peppers and green peppers - 1/2 row each
  • 1 row cucumbers
  • 1 row lettuce and tomatoes - 1/2 row each
  • 1 row beets
  • 1 row onions
  • 1 row radishes and carrots - 1/2 row each

I arranged them that way so that I can start planting at one end of the garden and finish at the other end. It seemed easier to my way of thinking, since I know nothing about companion planting.

Once I harvest the radishes, I'm going to plant broccoli in their place. Once I harvest the beets, I'm going to plant more radishes and some marigolds (for cut flowers) in their place.

Okay, are you ready for a listmaker's over-organized garden plans? I know it's not all going to work out this neatly, but I did the following charts to help guide me (so my broccoli doesn't all flower before I realize it's ready to be picked, as happened my first year) ...

Planting Schedule
Week of 3/24 - radishes, carrots, onion sets, beets, lettuce
Week of 4/21 - tomatoes, cucumbers, banana peppers, green peppers, corn, broccoli
Week of 4/28 - watermelons, cantaloupes
Week of 5/12 - radishes, marigolds
Week of 7/14 - corn (second crop) ???

Harvesting Schedule
Week of 4/14 - radishes (On 4/21, plant broccoli in their place.)
Week of 5/12 - beets (Plant radishes and marigolds in their place.)
Week of 6/2 - carrots
Week of 6/9 - lettuce
Week of 6/30 - banana peppers, green peppers
Week of 7/14 - cucumbers, corn (I might replant the corn.)
Week of 7/28 - watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, onions

And of course I have a specific plan for everything in this garden:

  • Corn - I'll freeze some on the cob and take the rest off before freezing.
  • Watermelons and cantaloupes - to enjoy fresh to our heart's content!
  • Banana peppers - I'll can and pickle these since my husband dearly loves them.
  • Green peppers - I'll chop and freeze these (1/baggie) to use throughout the next year.
  • Cucumbers - I'll can and pickle these, doing half dill (for my husband and kids) and half bread and butter (for me and kids).
  • Lettuce - to enjoy fresh to our heart's content, and probably share with others!
  • Tomatoes - We'll enjoy some of these in fresh tomato sandwiches (yum!), but I'll also be canning spaghetti sauce.
  • Beets - I'll can and pickle these so I can get my "pickled eggs" fix whenever I want (my husband eats the beets, so we're a great pair).
  • Onions - We'll enjoy some of these fresh, but I'll dry (or chop and freeze) whatever we don't use right away.
  • Radishes - My kids and I love these fresh, and they'll make a great accompaniment to the lettuce for salads.
  • Carrots - I'll probably can these. My kids go crazy for carrots.
  • Broccoli - I'll freeze these.

So there you have it - my entire garden plan for this year. I'd love to include more cut flowers, but there isn't any more room for them in my main garden. I'm racking my brain trying to think of where else a flower garden would look good on our property. I'll let you know if I come up with anything.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 0 comments

Year Two of Gardening

Until I was nine years old, we lived on the outskirts of a small town (technically a village - it's right on the sign) and had a huge backyard. My dad gardened ever since I could remember, until we moved to the city. I remember helping him plant onion sets and running in fear of the garden spiders I'd encounter walking through the rows.

My grandfather was an excellent gardener who could grow nearly anything that could be grown. His specialty was garlic, but he also built and operated a flower greenhouse for several years.

My dad followed in his footsteps. We ate well, thanks to his garden. There were many years that he was laid off from work, but we still had plenty of fresh vegetables because he had this humongous garden out back. He didn't have a lot of money to put into it, so he often became creative. Instead of Miracle Gro (which he couldn't afford), he made "manure tea." (I'll let you imagine what that involves.) It seemed as though there wasn't anything my dad couldn't grow.

So when we moved to our current house and someone offered me the use of their tiller to start a garden, I was ecstatic. I've always enjoyed watching things grow, even if it does make me nervous wondering if I'm doing everything right.

I didn't get to plant a garden last year because the kids were at difficult ages. This year, my son can't wait to help me and I think my daughter ought to be okay, too. (I distinctly remember planting onion sets as a child; maybe that's what I'll give them to do.)

So right now I'm in the process of planning my garden. I'm deciding what I want to plant and how to arrange everything so that I'm not wasting space.

It's supposed to be near 70 degrees here tomorrow, so I'm thinking about tilling up the plot tomorrow. An avid gardener from church tells me that I could already have in carrots, onions and beets. Within two weeks I can start planting lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli. So I need to get a move on!

So I'll probably be blogging about gardening for the next few days ...

Cousin Camp 2008: Food

Here it is: the last post of the planning stages of Cousin Camp. I might add other ideas later, as I find them, but this is the end of my "blog series" on Cousin Camp. I hope it's helped you some. Remember, you can always use the ideas for something else - like summer activities for your own kids.

So what are we going to feed this small army for a week (8 kids and up to 4 adults)? I took the successes from last year, added a few more ideas in place of the "failures," and here's what I came up with:

Tuesday - cold cereal
Wednesday - waffles (made ahead and frozen)
Thursday - cold cereal
Friday - pancakes (made ahead and frozen)
Saturday - cold cereal (I'm including Saturday just in case everyone wants to wait to make the trip back home.)

Tuesday - lunchmeat sandwiches, chips, fruit (for a picnic)
Wednesday - macaroni and cheese, hot dogs
Thursday - lunchmeat sandwiches, chips, fruit (for a picnic - this is subject to change)
Friday - grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup

Monday - hamburgers, French fries, soda
Tuesday - Tuna Noodle Casserole (with peas - they requested this last year!)
Wednesday - sloppy joes, chips, soda
Thursday - taco salad
Friday - pizza, chips, soda

Monday - Chex Mix
Tuesday - homemade soft pretzels (made ahead and frozen)
Wednesday - Watermelon Sorbet
Thursday - Chocolate Yummies (I found this recipe in a Rice Krispies advertisement, and it looks fabulous!)
Friday - funnel cakes (homemade)

No, this wouldn't qualify for the most nutritious menu for a week, but I really doubt a week of eating like this is going to kill them ... Or at least it shouldn't harm them as much as starving, which they most certainly would do if I introduced a bunch of foreign-to-them foods which they would refuse to eat.

As a side note, my garden should be producing something at this point (not sure exactly since I don't have the dates nailed down yet), so I aim to offer whatever I might have fresh from the garden in addition to what's on the menu.
Saturday, March 15, 2008 3 comments

Frugal Easter Baskets: Personalized Notebooks

Last year I did the usual Easter basket routine and my kids were flying higher than kites for three weeks, thanks to all the sugar from the candy. So this year I decided to modify the contents of the Easter basket, and save myself a ton of money in the process.

I'll post again next week with a picture of the finished baskets and the rest of the contents, but I wanted to throw out this idea for anyone who might be needing another little (inexpensive) something for the baskets.

I got a bunch of spiral-bound notebooks during the after-school clearance at Target. I got them in packs of 10 for $0.25, if I remember correctly. Since I'm including a set of washable markers ($0.50 each during back-t0-school sales) in each basket, I decided to make notebooks for them to write in.

I got the illustrations off a junk mail brochure that arrived last week with a bunch of animal wildlife information cards. They enjoyed the free wildlife cards, and I squirreled away the extra insert with these pictures on them. (I just cut them out with a pair of scissors.) My son is currently interested in eagles since his daddy is. My little girl loves anything with anything baby in it - including baby animals.

After mounting the illustrations to a piece of cardstock cut to size (8x10.5"), I took the coil out of the notebook. It's really quite easy. Just open up the top and bottom of the coil and turn it around and around until the coil is completely free.

Then I mounted the cardstock on top of the old notebook cover with some scrapbook adhesive I had on hand. I then used clear ConTact paper to laminate the front of the cover and keep the animal cutouts in place. [A tip for laminating like this: Cut the laminating film 1" larger lengthwise and widthwise than the item you're laminating.]

If you price the ConTact paper ($5.75 for the roll at my Wal-Mart), you might not consider this too frugal, but I have lots of uses for clear ConTact paper, not the least of which is to protect the covers of softcover books that I use a lot. And it comes with lots of laminating film for your money! I considered it an investment in all the other notebooks I'm going to end up making, now that they know I can.

I used my Crop-A-Dile on the 1/8" hole punch setting to punch the holes in the new cover, using the old cover (which it is mounted to) as a guide for placement. There were 41 holes in my notebooks, so expect your hand to get a little tired!

Then I stacked the new cover on top of the notebook and re-threaded the notebook coil pretty much the same way I un-threaded it ... And they were done!
The cost per notebook was $0.22 (which includes the laminating film, cardstock and notebook).
These are super-easy, and you can use the same concept for almost anything: a recipe book for a bridal shower, a make-your-own address book (using a smaller notebook), etc.

Let me know if you try it!
Friday, March 14, 2008 1 comments

Simple things that make me happy

I'm up later than I had planned, so I need to make it short tonight. (Cousin Camp posting will hopefully continue in the next day or so.) Here's one of the simple things of life that makes me happy:

I had a favorite glass pitcher that we received from a dear friend for our wedding. I used it nearly every day for the last five years to serve my iced tea. I could have cried when it broke a few weeks ago! It was a unique design, so I knew I wouldn't be able to find a duplicate. I went to Wal-Mart and found the pitcher you see here.

There's something about it that makes me happy. It's simple. It's rounded. It's a necessary item that is also a "thing of beauty" for me.

Sometimes it helps to step back and appreciate the little things in life.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008 0 comments

Cousin Camp 2008: Activities

Some of these activities are dependent on the location of Cousin Camp. I'm hoping to have it at my house this year, but there might be a problem getting everyone here. I'm brainstorming ideas at this point.

We live near Assateague and Chincoteague Islands, so they're on for an entire day's activities. We can picnic, walk trails, look for wild ponies and try to find a secluded section of the beach to build sand castles (we're not sunbathers). This will be prime photography time for me! I just have to figure out the best way to protect my camera from the sand ...

We also live just a few miles from a fabulous free city zoo and play park. You wouldn't believe what's there for free! So that's also on for an entire day's activities. We can picnic, go through the zoo and play in the play park (which is one of the best I've ever been to). This will also be a great time for photography!

I plan to do another obstacle course, which was so popular last year. We have a great backyard for this!

Another repeat from last year will be Cousin Camp Celebration, where we play games and win prizes. (Everyone gets a prize for every activity - they just get to pick prizes in ranking order.)

An activity I mentioned earlier that also coincides with a craft is the Soap Box Derby using the Soap Box Dragsters the boys will be making. I'm not too concerned about the girls being bored with this activity because if you can get the boys interested, the girls usually come along, too.

I found a Jump-O-Lene at a local thrift store last fall (very similar to the one in the link - for $2!), and I'm planning to keep that inflated to keep the youngest three busy in case they get bored with the more detailed crafts the older kids are making. I've already had it up, and my kids are enthralled with it.

And then there are other miscellaneous activities to fit into little niches in the schedule where we have some time, but not an entire day (or even afternoon):

  • Magic Sandbox (from Family Fun, July/August 2007) - Hide coins and other small prizes in a sandbox and let them dig them up. I plan to combine that with the Treasure Stones idea and keep track of how many stones I've hidden.

  • Along the same lines, there is the Backyard Treasure Hunt (from Family Fun, July/August 2007) where they learn to use a compass and work together as a team to find the treasure you've hidden. They start out with one clue and directions to the next clue, using the compass. After finding several clues this way, they are directed to the treasure, which will include a little something for everybody.

  • Magic Lollipop Hunt (from Family Fun, September 2007) - Poke a bunch of lollipops into the yard and let the kids try to find them. This works best in grass that hasn't just been cut, since a little length will help to hide them. Of course, everyone will end up with at least one.

  • Super Sidewalk Paint (from Family Fun, February 2008) - This is a "recipe" for a cheap homemade version, using items I have on hand. We have a large parking lot next door at the church, and I'm fairly certain sidewalk paint will be more popular than the chalk. There's just something about paint and kids!

And here are some great indoor activities, in case of inclement weather:

So what exactly do I have for prizes? I'm glad you asked!

In case you're wondering, I got these treasure chests at Dollar Tree. They're hugely popular and sell out within two days around here, so I was pretty happy to be in when they got a fresh shipment in the middle of winter! Just what will be in the treasure chests? Well, take a look at what I already have. This is the boys' treasure chest.

I got the plastic canteens at Wal-Mart when they were clearancing them last year for $0.10 each. The grow frogs (and lizards) were from Target's Dollar Spot, but they donate them to Goodwill and I picked them up for $0.25 each. My little guy loves these things so much, I just had to get some. There are also some sports-type watches that I picked up for $0.25 each when Dollar Tree was moving to a larger store and didn't want to have to move them. There's more in there - those are just the highlights.

Here's the girls' treasure chest:

The Ty Beanie Babies were given to me, and I know my nieces will love them. They like anything stuffed! There are quite a few craft-type kits behind them that I picked up at Dollar Tree for $0.25 each when they were moving the store, as well as girls' watches ($0.25 each) I got at the same time. That's where the journal came from, too ($0.25).

Lest you think I spend a small fortune on Cousin Camp, I really don't. I keep my eyes out for inexpensive prizes and such everywhere I go. It's amazing what you can find for $0.10-0.25 when you're looking hard enough and long enough!
Tuesday, March 11, 2008 1 comments

Cousin Camp 2008: Crafts

This is just in the planning stages right now, but I've been thinking about this and gathering ideas since Cousin Camp ended last year. This year we will have eight participants - 4 girls and 4 boys. (Last year, my youngest was there but didn't participate since she was too young.) These are the crafts I'd like to include in Cousin Camp this year:

Personality boxes - I learned to make these in 4th or 5th grade. We cut out phrases and pictures from old magazines that said something about us. Then we glued them collage-style to shoeboxes. The end result was a place to put our miscellaneous treasures. Since I rarely buy new shoes, I have no shoeboxes. I'm planning to purchase photo storage boxes when they go on sale for $1.99 each. This is our big (i.e. most expensive) craft for this year (like the stepping stones were last year).

Mini photo album of the week - I got a bunch for $0.10 each when my Dollar Tree was moving its store and almost giving away the stuff they didn't want to move. This way, they can arrange their own pictures. (And it's more durable than last year's since the plastic sleeves protect the pictures.)

Decorated cups - Like last year, I'm going to have them decorate their own cups (to include their name) for the week. But this year I'm buying a couple paint pens instead of Sharpies so I don't have to keep going over the writing and drawing!

Foam visors - This is another repeat from last year, but very practical since we'll be outside a lot.

Soap Box Dragsters - This one is for the boys. It looked like something that would interest them and it's a great way to use up things that would otherwise be thrown in the garbage.

Pretty Plastic Pocketbooks - This one is for the girls. I figured they could be making these while the boys work on their dragsters. I have two sturdier organizers that would work beautifully. I'll be keeping my eye out for more of them at spring yard sales. In a pinch, I can always buy a pack of the flimsier ones to make up the difference.

Banks - I got the idea from Family Fun, but I can't find it on their website. The idea is an oldie but goodie - take lidded cans and make savings banks out of them, decorating the outside to suit each child's fancy. I'll be collecting the cans from now until Cousin Camp, I'm sure!

These sound like fun to me. I hope they enjoy them as much as I think they will!