Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My New Love--Digital Scrapbooking

On my last post, I shared with you about my love of fiber crafts--particularly knitting and crocheting. Both crocheting and knitting are great ways to use your spare time to make beautiful things for your family at a fraction of the cost of buying it at the store. Today I wanted to share another great craft that I enjoy in my free time that has brought beauty to my home, and has also been quite cost effective. DIGITAL SCRAPBOOKING!

I've been scrapbooking the traditional way for quite some time, and I love the looks you can create with beautiful stickers and pictures and paper. But have you ever looked at the prices of those embellishments?!

Last Christmas, my husband Curtis bought me a digital scrapbooking program called My Memories Suite. It's made by Polaroid. I started using it on Christmas Day, and I've been totally hooked ever since. Digital scrapbooking is so much easier (as long as you have basic computer knowledge. And since you're reading a blog, I'd assume you do!) Everything is in one place--on your computer--and you don't have to worry about cleaning up the massive messes after a scrapbooking session. My husband loves it because our kitchen table is no longer covered with stickers and papers. The main reason I grown to prefer digital scrapbooking is because it is so much cheaper! After the initial purchase of the program, you can buy all kinds of digital versions of papers and stickers and embellishments at the fraction of what you would pay at Hobby Lobby for the real kind. And with the digi version, you can reuse the items over and over again--very cost effective. Not to mention, the end result is just as beautiful as with traditional scrapbooking.

As you can tell, this is something I've grown to be quite passionate about. That's because I have been able to do far more than just digital scrapbooking with the program I've made wall decorations, gifts, and cards with it as well. For example, when we adopted our children in May, I made invitation post cards with the program and had them printed off quite cheaply. They turned out great! And I've made framed wall decor for Mother's day. The Father's Day photo blocks I talked about a few posts ago were also made with the My Memories Suite program. Even the header on this blog was made with the program. So it's very versatile.

So, if you're into scrapbooking, or you have wanted to scrapbook, but the cost has just been to much to bear, you might look into the My Memories Suite program to save you some time and money. I'm really excited to be joining the creative team for My Memories Suite, so I'll be posting scrapbook pages I've made and craft ideas on a regular basis on this blog. I'd love to hear from you...have you done any digital scrapbooking, and if so, have you found any other creative crafts to do with your software?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Creative Knitting

Those who know me well know that I LOVE arts and crafts--particularly fiber crafts like crocheting and knitting. I am far better at crocheting since I've done it much longer, but knitting has recently captivated my interest again. I've particularly been wanting to work on some cute bathmats for our guest bathroom. In my search for a good pattern, I came across a very fascinating site that I wanted to share.

The article I found lists several different ways to use things around you probably have around your home and turn them into yarn for your knitting or crochet work. I have to admit, there are a few ideas on there (using dog hair and human hair) that seem too, well...exotic for my taste. But there are also some great ideas as well. I've decided to try my hand at making the cable knit bathmat that's highlighted on the page. Now, the focus on the page is "upcycling" which just means recycling things to give them a new, more stylish life. What a great way to keep trash from piling up at the landfill. But it's also great if you have little projects or gifts you want to make but you don't have the extra in your budget to spring for the fancy yarn. (How about some coasters for the coffee table made out of WalMart sacks?!) When I was in college, I had friends who would go to garage sales and thrift stores and buy sweaters to unravel for yarn. So, for the price of one ball of yarn, they got all the yarn they needed for a project. Sure, it takes a little extra work to make your own yarn or recycle yarn, but you'll definitely save money! And you'll have a really neat story to tell everyone when they admire your work. :)

As soon as I get the bathmats finished, I'll post a picture. Have you ever used alternative fibers for your knitting or crocheting projects? Do share!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What is Stewardship, Anyway?

Stewardship….Not Convenience. That’s my philosophy in a nutshell. Perhaps you want me to expound a little.

But, realistically, I found that it is very difficult for me to be a good steward of the resources–my health, body, home, money, environment, etc.–that God has given me in our society. That’s because our society has one focus–convenience. Convenience comes in many forms–disposable items, microwavable food, harsh chemicals, empty nutrition, extra expenses. So, I personally have set out on a mission. My mission is to shun convenience just for convenience sake. I am not entitled to convenience. Where do we get the idea that we have the right for everything to be easy and fast?! But I do have the responsibility to take good care of what I have been given.

I have been called a “hippie” because of some of the choices I have made regarding my life. However, I am not a hippie. Rather, I am a Christian who is convicted about how convenience and entitlement to ease has crept in to our worldview. We cram our mouths full of junk because it is quick to eat, and we justify with the belief that God has already ordained our days on earth, and our diet cannot change that. Or we pollute the earth and fill up the landfills with garbage that will never break down because, as Christians, we believe that God is the one in charge of the earth, and humans cannot destroy it. While these beliefs are true, we have forgotten that God has called us to stewardship. We should take care of what God created for us, so God can use us fully in the plans he has for us.

That said, I have set out to figure out practical ways that I can best use the resources I’ve been given. And that’s what this blog is all about. I have not “arrived” yet, and I’m still definitely a work in progress. But, I do want to share what I have discovered. Perhaps you have a worldview that centers around convenience and entitlement and you want to learn to be a better steward of your resources. I welcome your comments. Perhaps you are a few steps ahead of me in this department, and you have some wisdom to share. If so, I’d be happy to post your comments! Either way, ultimately, the purpose of this blog is to glorify God in all of our actions, and to not let the world creep into our belief system–to carefully examine the reasons behind everything we do.

It’s time to be a happy steward!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Homeschooling In the Summer

This has been my first year to homeschool my kids. Late last fall, we adopted three children--one of whom is "officially" school aged, and the other two are old enough to want to join in on the schooling fun. It's been a rough road, and I feel like I'm starting to make a little headway with them, and they are finally enjoying doing school activities.

Because we are finally "on a roll" around here, I've chosen to keep doing lessons in some form or another this summer. I want them to keep on developing a love for learning.

Since we've been moving this past month, we have taken off from any formal lessons since May. But starting in July, we are going to have a fun month of learning and exploring! I was planning on just doing Bible lessons and activities and catechism, as well as working through appropriate social skills with the kids. I thought that would be perfect for those long afternoons when the kids are bouncing off the walls because it's too hot to play outside and little sister has to take a nap.

I also discovered a great (FREE!) music and art appreciation lesson plan that focuses on the music of Mendelssohn and the art of Monet. It involves hands on art activities, listening to music, and doing things out in nature (perfect for those beautiful mornings before it gets too hot!) So we will start that next month, too.

Since I'm a newbie on the homeschool scene, I'd love to know what other homeschooling moms do with their kids during the summer. Do you do school year round, do you take off for the summer, or do you pick some special subjects, etc? What works for you? I'd love to get some advice and ideas!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Picture Perfect

If you are anything like me, you want lots of pictures of your family (especially children) around your home. But maybe you don't have a lot of space for frames or you don't want your refrigerator plastered with photos. Or maybe you just want a little more variety than just a million frames all over your walls and shelves.

I have a big problem with photos. I take so many of them, and I have so many favorites that I want to display. So, I've been looking for creative ways to display my kids' photos. Here are two ways I have "spiced" things up around here:

This is a French bulletin board I made. Please ignore the uneven spacing of the ribbon--I BARELY had enough ribbon, so I had to arrange things in a way that made my ribbon work. I'm sure you've seen these bulletin boards all over the place, but they're really pretty simple to make.

To make mine, I just used a staple gun to tack down some leftover quilt batting and fabric that I had in stock at home. And then I tacked down some ribbon with little silver tacks that I found in my husbands' photo hanging kit. Really very easy...took me less than an hour. And now I have a great place in my kitchen to see all the cute photos of my kids.

This next craft is what I made for my husband for Father's Day this year. Curtis, if you're reading this, please don't read any further. (Or at least act surprised when the kids give you the gifts, since you did cut the wood for me, afterall....) Using a leftover 2 x 4, I cut the wood into small pieces. I have 4 kids, ranging from age 2 to age 7, so I made each of them different heights based on their corresponding age. I then used my digital scrapbooking software to print off pictures and designs that I the decoupaged to the sanded wood. To give it an aged feel, I inked the edged with brown stamping ink before coating the paper with mod podge.

(Tip: if you have an ink jet printer like me, and you don't want the ink to run when you put mod podge on it, just give it a good spray with clear acrylic spray paint before you decoupage. It seals the inks in.)

(a good look at the edges)

(the back of the blocks. You gotta love the notes that my kids wrote to their daddy!)

The finished product turned out great, and I'm thinking I'll make more of these for my home--with different photos and maybe some cute words. This makes a great gift, too!

Please share links to any fun, handmade items you have made in order to display your cherished photos!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

WFMW--Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar (or ACV) has quickly become my best friend in the kitchen. I want to share some of the ways ACV works for me!

Disclaimer: I have to start by saying that the ACV I refer to in this post is not the highly processed ACV you buy at WalMart. I am referring to the raw, unfiltered ACV that preferably still has the mother in it. Bragg's is a good brand, but I know there are other brands, too.
  • Lately I've used it for making pickles, instead of the regular distilled vinegar. I have never really been a pickle fan at all, but the pickles made with ACV have a much richer flavor. Yes, they still taste like vinegar, but their flavor is deeper. Also, with all the health benefits of ACV, the pickles are much healthier, too!
  • Also, while your making your pickles, why not pour some ACV into a spray bottle along with some water, lemon juice, castille soap and tea tree oil? It makes a great, frugal surface cleaner!
  • I've also been taking ACV to help with my allergies. I simply put a couple of teaspoons in a glass with about 8 oz. of water. While some people have no problems with this concoction, I find it a bit too sour to drink. But I've found that by adding a teaspoon or two of raw honey (good for allergies too!) to the solution, then it is quite palatable. I've been suffering from terrible outdoor allergies this season. We recently moved, and our new backyard is full of trees and plants, which has just made the allergies worse. I've discovered that when I drink the ACV, within just a few minutes, my nose is decongested. (I wonder if the acidity breaks down mucous...) And I seem to generally feel better after drinking the ACV mixture--without all the jittery side effects I get from over the counter/prescription allergy meds. To read more about the use of ACV as an allergy tonic, click here.
In doing my research, it seems that there are a multitude of uses for apple cider vinegar. I have provided a few uses that work for me, but I would love to hear how you use ACV in your home!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Going Nuts for Soap Nuts

I recently read this post on one of the blogs I frequent, and I was intrigued. It's about something called Soap Nuts. Actually they are a dried fruit from the Soapberry tree that grows in the Himalayan mountains. I found the concept interesting, but was a little hesitant that a bag of dried fruits could actually clean my family's laundry. I mean...I've got two boys, afterall!

Well, this weekend I ran out of our regular detergent. I use natural cleaners for everything in my house, and natural body products, too. I'm really passionate about trying to get those chemicals out of my house! But the one thing I have never found works well for the level of grime on my kids' clothes is natural detergent. I've tried all different brands, and I have been less than satisfied with everything. Today, though, when I was perusing the aisles at my local health food store, lo, and behold, I found soap nuts there! So, needing something to clean the growing piles of laundry at my house, I decided to buy some.

The first load I tried them on was my daughter's clothes. They came out of the washer all clean and with a very fresh smell (not an actual scent...just very fresh.) And I was pleasantly surprised to see that they, indeed, fulfill their promise of providing very soft laundry. When I pulled them out of the dryer, they were very soft--not at all starchy feeling like with regular detergent without fabric softener.

But the true test was on my boys clothes. It's something I don't really advertise, but both of my little boys are bedwetters. Every morning, I have pajamas and bedding to wash. And one of my sons wets his pants during the day, too. So, I have wet, urine soaked clothes to wash, too. And no matter how much I wash those clothes, and no matter what combination of detergent, odor eliminator, etc. I use, I have never been able to get the urine smell completely out of their clothes!! But I am so thrilled to announce that their laundry came out completely fresh without a hint of stink to them!! So, now I am sold on these strange, but lovely little dried fruits that somehow wash my laundry.

I also wanted to share an added benefit of using soap nuts over regular detergent. Obviously they are a better choice than chemicals for your family, but I have found they have a nice little perk. We have a front loading washer and dryer, and I have been trying to teach my young children to do their own laundry. My kids are all under the age of 7, and although they can push the buttons on the machines, they have never been tall enough (or coordinated enough) to add the soap or softener to the dispenser. Nor have I wanted them to touch what my son refers to as "the laundry chemicals." :) So, eventhough they can put their own laundry in the machine and start it, they still need me to stop what I am doing to add the detergent. With the soap nuts, my home is going to be a little more efficient because the kids can throw the little bag of soap nuts into the washer with the clothes, and I don't have to help them. That's a real help for me, and for all of you out there who are training your little ones to help around the house.

What do you think? Have you tried soap nuts before? Does anyone have recommendations for good places and brands to buy in bulk?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sensational Saturday

Every Saturday I am going to post about something that has really stimulated my senses this week. It could be something I found visually beautiful, something I heard that intrigued me, something I smelled....well, you get the picture.

A week ago, my family moved into a new home. We needed a bigger home for our family, and our new home has wonderful established trees in the front and back yards. They provide shade and beauty. But I'm not the only one that likes the trees. The birds love them, too! We have a multitude of song birds and other birds that have inhabited the trees in our yards. Our previous home didn't have any established trees in the neighborhood (it was a new neighborhood), and I completely missed out on having birds around.

Aside from the birds that live in the trees around our home, we have two families of barn swallows that have chosen to build their nests on the brick on our front and back porches. They now have nests full of little chirping hatchlings. My husband finds them to be a nuisance--afterall, they do poop all over everything. But their chirping just brings joy to my heart. I have actually found myself sitting down in the middle of the day just to hear all the birds singing at each other. There is such a beauty and serenity found in listening to God's little creatures merrily going about their business. They sing as they tend to their young ones. They sing and chirp as they gather food and do work. What a reminder to me it has been that I should do all things (even the mundane or down right gross) with a cheerful heart.

As soon as we get all the boxes unpacked, I will start setting up bird feeders in the trees. I'm so excited about my new little "neighbors," and that their songs remind me to be cheerful as well!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Real Milk?

For the past year or so, I have been driving about 30 minutes each week out to a farm to get fresh milk. Our family loves the fresh milk and drinks it by the gallons. But I have many a friend that is perhaps like you--a little skeptical or even grossed out by the idea of drinking milk straight from a cow. I'd like to share with you my journey to drinking unpasteurized, or "raw" milk, and then share some information that you might find useful as you weigh the benefits of "real" milk.

I'll have to admit...when I first heard that some of my friends drank milk that came from the farm, I was a bit hesitant. The idea of drinking farm fresh milk evoked feelings of down home goodness, but it also reminded me of all the stories my grandmother told about having to drink warm, thick milk. But after my friends talked to me more about the merits of raw milk over store-bought ultra pasteurized milk, I decided to give it a try. When I got home with that first gallon of raw milk, I sat there and stared at it. It was thick and creamy when I poured it out--not at all like the kind from WalMart. And it was kind of yellow--not the grayish white from the store, either. It took me some time to muster the guts to take that first sip. I was expecting something gross, I guess. But to my delight, the milk was creamy and sweet and very fresh. What had I been missing out on this whole time?! When my husband got home from work that night, I served him up a big glass of the fresh milk. He stared at it just as I had that morning. He, too, had to be brave to take that first swallow. But the taste and texture was surprisingly delightful to him as well, and we haven't gone back to the ultra pasteurized milk (except for a couple of times I couldn't make it out to the farm) since then.

As you read this, you might be thinking, "So what...it tastes good, but isn't raw milk dangerous?" I grew up thinking it was dangerous, and honestly, that's the first question I get asked by a lot of my friends when they hear we drink raw milk. I get looks of horror as if I am abusing my children by allowing them to drink something that is not FDA approved. I was there once myself. And it didn't take friends to help me get over my fear of raw milk. Educating myself helped me get over that fear. Inquiring minds want to know, and I wanted to know what the fuss was about.

If you are a skeptic, I encourage you to go these resources listed below. There is a lot of good information--more than I can possibly post in one article. But there are a few things I'd like to highlight.

There are many sites and books out there. But these two sites were particularly helpful for me in my journey:

The safety of drinking raw milk lies solely on the farmer. It depends on his farming practices--how and what he feeds the cows, where the cows are kept, how much medical care the cows receive, and how clean the milking equipment is kept. If you want to start drinking raw milk, don't just go any old farm down the street. Check them out. Take a look around, and if possible talk to the farmer. You'll be able to tell a lot by looking at the cows and the land. The farm we use has huge green pastures and wooded land for the cows to roam. Aside from the calves, I never see the cows in the pen. They're always out in the woods. That's so healthy for them to get to eat bugs and grass instead of soy feed like commercial cows. And it results in a very high quality, high vitamin milk. Also, the cows are beautiful. They look healthy and clean. Their eyes are bright and they are gentle. They are not sick looking or mangy.

Also, drinking raw milk or not drinking raw milk is a personal choice. You can't let someone pressure you either way. You might be saying, "Beth, I don't have anyone pressuring me to drink raw milk." My point is exactly that. You do have the government and doctors and other "experts" pressuring you to drink only ultra-pasteurized skim milk. I hear it all the time. I just heard it last month when I took my 2 year old to the pediatrician. The doctor told me that it was time to get my daughter on skim milk. Of course, I didn't feel like a lecture, so I didn't mention that the cows on the farm don't produce skim milk. So, my point is to examine the facts of both sides, and to remember that the "health officials" are often getting their information from the very people who make money off of pasteurizing milk. Do a lot of research and come to your own conclusions.

Do you drink raw milk? If so, why did you make the choice to "defy" the experts and switch? If you don't drink raw milk currently, what have you heard about it? I'd love to hear!!

New Blog

For those of you who have been keeping up with my blog in the past, I made the switch to blogspot. I just thought it had more options for me than wordpress, so I hope you enjoy. My other blog is still up and running, so feel free to peruse any past topics on the other blog. I will be posting some of my more popular articles on this blog in the coming days. Enjoy!

To get to my old blog, just click here.