Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Getting Ready For A New Year

Now that Christmas is over my mind begins to prepare for the new year ahead.  Normally I'm not a big New Year's resolution type person, but this year I want to make a few changes in my life and what better time to start working on those than the new year.

I'm your typical 'Type A' personality.  The head strong, determined, over the top goal setter type who can accomplish anything I truly set my mind to.  This can be a good trait, but, like most things, also has a down side. One of my down sides is making goals that are almost impossible unless I devote 99% of my time to it in order to complete the goal perfectly.  Most 'Type A's' are perfectionists, and this is often more of a hindrance than a help.  If I set a goal and can't reach it perfectly then I will quit because I tend to feel like a failure.

This year I want to set a few goals that are reasonable and give myself permission to not be perfect in the hopes of making these changes stick.

Here is my New Year's resolution list:
  • Begin to learn and practice yoga on a regular basis.
    • Most of us have weight loss goals at the first of the year, and I should too, but this goal is more about managing stress and anxiety for me.
  • Manage my time more efficiently so I can work on projects that bring me joy and serve my family.
    • If I'm not careful I can over-commit myself and this causes tremendous stress to me and, in return, my family.
  • Improve my diet.
    • This is not about the latest diet fad or even weight loss, it's about health.  We have made tremendous changes in our diet in the last year but we still have a ways to go.  I want to see more whole organic food on our table.  This can be difficult with rising food prices, but, for me, less is more in this case.
  • Get outside in the fresh air and sun and go explore the beautiful world around me.
    • Since we want to be homesteaders our world tends to revolve around this house.  The only problem for us is that, at the moment, we are in an urban homestead and that doesn't leave us many options to explore the world around us.  We run from shopping centers, restaurants, and general city activities so it can be difficult to find a piece of nature that hasn't had concrete poured over it. I want to make an effort to find the natural world and engage in it more this year.
As you can see my list isn't grand and tends to address more stress related issues than anything, but that's where I'm at this year.  I encourage you to think about this coming year and what you would like to see happen.  Maybe it's your finances, maybe it's your health.  Whatever it is, you are worth the effort it takes to make these changes and your life will be the better for it.  I also encourage you to go easy on yourself. Our lives didn't get this way overnight and we can't expect them to change that quickly either.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Life Is Too Short

Yesterday was the two year anniversary that my children's father passed away.  I spent the day trying to keep myself and McClane busy while all along remembering the years and memories the kids shared with their dad.  McClane and I went to the cemetery so he could see and somehow connect with his dad on this day, and let me tell you that is a site that would break any mother!  McClane and I talked for awhile at the grave-site about life, death, and time, and we both left with heavy hearts.  As the day progressed I took him to his Aunts house so he could spend a few days with his dad's family and celebrate Christmas Eve with them before coming back home for Christmas.

Going through this has shown me many things, some of which I will share with you in hopes that you can learn from others life experience. The biggest impression I want to give you here is life is too short! With this in mind I encourage you to start the new year as if it was your last.  I know many of you are thinking I must be crazy, but in all honesty how do you know it's not?!?  The goal here is not to be morbid, but to begin to live your life with meaning and purpose now, not later.  A lot of us are just going through the motions trying to get to the happy place that we see as retirement, a better job, more money, a bigger house, a nicer car, etc.. I encourage you to evaluate your life and see where you are happy, as well as where you are unhappy, and begin to plot your changes for this next year.  Here are a few question to start with:

  • Are you working a job that you dislike just to pay off credit debt over which you can't even remember what is was you bought to begin with?
    • I've been in this situation before and I know how hopeless it can feel.  My suggestion would be to stop buying anything you can't pay cash for.  I know this is easier said than done, but realize that (I'm invoking the spirit of Dave Ramsey here) you are a slave to debt and you hold the keys to your own freedom.  Get strong and learn to tell yourself and family NO if you don't have the cash. 

  • Are you so busy with extracurricular activities that you can't properly cook and care for your family?
    • I know many of you have church, PTA, and volunteer commitments that you feel like you can't drop, but if this was your last year who would you want to spend it with?  Would you spend it with committee members, or with your loved ones?  Would you spend your time cooking nutritious meals your family loved to eat, making memories, and passing on the ways of life that are important to you?  Our service is important, don't get me wrong, but not more important than our families.

  • Is your house and all the stuff in it eating you alive?
    • Simplify, simplify, simplify!  Get rid of things that take up space and bring you no joy.  For example, ask yourself how many frying pans you really need?  What about clothing?  If you can't easily manage your closet or dresser drawers then you have too much and you need to simplify!  If you have stuff stashed in junk drawers (or more than one junk drawer at all) or closets then you don't really appreciate what's in there and it's most likely stuff you could live without, so get rid of it!  If you come across something in there that you have been looking for and do have a need for then give it a proper place to live so you know where it is when needed.

  • Are your relationships stressed?
    • If so, then do what you can to heal them.  Keep in mind, however, that it takes two to tango and you alone can't always make things right.  If this is the case then make peace with yourself and move on.  Don't let past regret keep you in a place of no joy.

  • Is your budget, or lack of one, making financial freedom impossible?
    • In this economy I know many of you are starting over due to loss of jobs, foreclosures, and bankruptcy and are living paycheck to paycheck.  We're doing the same thing here so don't feel bad.  But that reason alone is motivation enough for you to manage your limited resources to the best of your ability, and that can't be done with out a budget that you stick to.  If this is your case don't be discourage!  Work on improving your situation by learning how to spend less, and make part of spending less an effort to start making the products you use and normally spend money on.  Remember, this blog is not about doing without, but about thriving with less expense and burden. 

In general ask yourself, "Am I happy with my life?"  If not, seek out the root of the problem and do whatever it takes to correct it.  Remembering that life is too short to not make the changes needed now.  Let's honor those who have passed away by living our life to it's fullest and enjoying the simplest of pleasures.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thrifty Furnishings

Using thrift store treasures to decorate my house is one of the simple pleasures I indulge myself in.  I love walking into a store and having no clue what I will come out with, if anything at all.  It has kinda become a game where I see how well I can decorate my house with thriftiness in mind.

As I walked through my house looking for items to take a picture of to post on the blog, I started noticing that 95% of the items in our home have been bought second hand.  Big ticket items like our beds, living room furniture, kitchen table and cabinet were purchased new, but they are filled with second hand touches.

When we moved into our house it was being repainted and I was asked to choose the colors I wanted for each room.  In doing that I also saw other things I wanted to replace before we moved in.  Like always our budget was almost non-existent! When I started talking with Racey about replacing ceiling fans, light fixtures and the kitchen sink I'm sure he was convinced that I had lost my mind.  I reassured him that I would only do what our budget allowed and that I would be patient enough to find all my goodies at thrift stores, estate sales, Craigslist, ect..

Here is a sampling of some of my finds!

This was a towel rack I bought at Goodwill still in the box!  I just assumed it would extend to the same length as the one I had hanging in the bathroom already.  When it turned up to be to short I decided to make it into a jewelry holder.

Towel Bar - $3.00
  I know you must be tired of seeing this as the back drop of most of the pictures I post on here.  This little treasure was also purchased at Goodwill.  It still had the price tag on the bottom and looked to have never been used.  I'm not sure what it was made to do but it serves as a caddy for all my frequently used kitchen items.  I use the kitchen table as an island when prepping meals and when it's time to eat I just grab the caddy and move it to another location so it frees up the table. 

Caddy - $5.00
 I found these the same day as the caddy pictured above.  They had price stickers on the bottom from Garden Ridge.  The taller one was $19.99 and the shorter was $12.99

They seem to be of the same style and that makes me wonder if they came from the same home. 

I paid $4.54 for the taller one and $2.52 for the shorter.  They still have the price written on the bottom from Goodwill!

This clock was being thrown in the trash because it didn't match the new decor in the teachers lounge of a school I worked at.

Clock - Free

I bought this chandelier off Craigslist as we were preparing to move in our house.

Chandelier - $35.00 

This is the matching ceiling fan.

Fan - $50.00

This lamp is another item the school was throwing away.  It gives our kitchen the perfect amount of light when we are having a quit candle light dinner or, if the kitchen is shut down for the night, I still like to have a small light on.  It helps the mood of the house!

This little treasure Racey found on the side of the road!  The people were moving and didn't want it.  He stopped and asked if they were throwing it away could he have it.  They said yes and invited him in to look at the other items they didn't want.  He took all of the things and we sold most of them and bought our sink pictured below!  I think it's meant to be a plant stand but I had McClane and his granddad cut wooden shelves for me to use as a solid surface.

Kitchen Shelves - Free

I found this at Goodwill and thought it could hold my necklaces.  Once home I changed my mind!

$ 1.81

This was a garden planter that I found at Goodwill and re-purposed into a kitchen utensil holder.

This is a trivet (I think) I like to use it as a spoon rest.
Here are several things from my bathroom.  The toothbrush holder was a pencil holder, the little pink girl at the well is an antique planter, and the hairbrush holder is another planter, who knows what the other dish was made for but as you can see I use it to hold my favorite soap and jewelry.  All these items were found at thrift stores.

Toothbrush holder - $1.51
Hairbrush holder - $1.21
Soap dish - $1.81
Girl at the well - not sure of price

As you can see many of the items that decorate our home have been discarded by others, and that's fine with me

Friday, December 16, 2011

Giving the Gift of Friendship

Last Thursday I was unloading my car of all the extra fruit and veg I had received from volunteering at the farmer's market when I noticed my neighbor two doors up getting out of her car.  I had previously met her last summer when she had a yard sale, and we briefly spoke but I couldn't remember her name.  I walked across the yard and explained that I volunteer at the co-op and part of my reward was free fruit and veg.  I told her that our family had more than we could possibly eat before it would go bad, and with the holidays I was simply too busy to try and freeze or can the extra.  I asked if she and her mother could use any of it and to my shock she broke down and started to cry!  She began to tell me that she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and was having to go through radiation and surgery to try and save her life.  The doctor had suggested for her to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables while she was in treatment to help her keep her strength up. 

She had bought a basket from the Farmers Market before, but due to her not being able to work she simply didn't have the money to purchase it any longer.  As we stood in the driveway and talked I told her that I would be glad to send all my extras up her way from now on and if she needed anything else to please let me know.  When this Thursday rolled around I again went across the yard, and this time I knocked on her door.  When she opened it she was totally surprised to see me standing there box in hand.  She graciously invited me in and introduced me to her elderly mother.  Her mother and I chatted for a few minutes on canning and freezing food and what a blessing that can be for a family when hard times hit.  As I started to leave her mother reached into her pantry and pulled out a jar of home canned peaches she had put up this summer before her daughter had been diagnosed.  She rinsed the lid off and handed it to me with a smile on her face.  I eagerly accepted the gift with a promise of my weekly visit.

As Christmas day quickly approaches, try to remember there was once a time when simple food, conversation, and friendship was the best gift someone could receive.  Even today there are plenty of people out there who want and need the gift of friendship.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Making Bread Crumbs

As I talked about yesterday, bread crumbs are very easy to make and can contribute to a frugal kitchen.  The only thing you need to make this product is stale bread, and who doesn't occasionally have a few slices that go stale!

I know many of you ladies could make bread crumbs with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back so I apologize in advance for such a basic post, but not to long ago I had no idea were to start! So this post is for my friends out there who like me are starting from scratch.

  • Bread - I bake my own bread so I had three mini or dinner loaves two of which I had tossed in the freezer sometime ago.

Slice bread and place in oven to toast.  Some ladies I know let the bread sit out on the counter or windowsill till crisp.

Once toasted crumble by hand and place in food processor.

Blend till the majority of bread has turned into crumbs.

I like to use my sifter to separate the larger pieces from the crumbs.

Then re-process large crumbs.

This is an in between size of crumb that I sometimes use for homemade casseroles as a bottom layer.

Here is a sample of the finished crumb.

I use a plastic container I found at Goodwill to store the crumbs.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making Thriftiness Work For You

Most people I talk with concerning down sizing and frugality think that in order to live this type of life you must always be doing without.  That assumption couldn't be further from the truth.  Instead, living a frugal, self-sufficient life is simply understanding that it's your job to make most of the things you would normally buy, and source for the most reasonable price possible that which you can't make yourself.  Here are a few examples of things I have made instead of buying when the need arose.

I had three small loaves of homemade bread I knew would not be eaten before they went stale.  Most people would toss the bread into the trash or maybe feed it to the birds, but with a frugal mindset I decided to make bread crumbs.

The two loaves in the back had been tossed into my 'bread crumb bag'  in the freezer that is why they look a little wrinkly!

Take the stale bread, cut it into slices and place directly on the oven rack and toast it.  If you want to really be frugal, toast immediately after cooking something in the oven and you will be able to turn the oven off and toast the bread with the heat from dinner!  After toasted, place in food processor and 'pulse' till crumbs are fine.  Store in an airtight container.  If you want Italian bread crumbs here is the recipe!
Here is the link for step -by-step photo tutorial on making bread crumbs. 

    I have very dry skin and was accustomed to purchasing lotions of every brand in the hopes of finding one that did what the label claimed.  Just the other week I made my first batch of body butter with all-natural ingredients and, to be honest, it's the best stuff I've found!  It moisturizes my skin and leaves it feeling soft even through the next day.  This is one of those times where I did spend money to purchase basic ingredients, but I was able to make a far superior product.

    When Layna moved back home this summer she brought several items into the house, one of which was a Paula Dean jar candle.  The candle had only been burned a few times but she was ready to toss it.  Racey and I both love candle light so we eagerly saved it from the Goodwill bin.  After burning the candle all summer and loving the scent, the candles wick decided to move off center and would only burn for a few minutes before the wax would put it out.  Racey first tried to slowly melt the candle in the oven in the attempt to move the wick back to the center, and this did work for a while but the longer we burned it the more the wick gravitated to the side.  Then I had an idea!  As he tried to fix the candle in the oven it filled the house with the scent from the candle and that gave me the idea to use my tart burner to melt the wax and if we couldn't use the candle for light anymore we could at least use it for the lovely sent!

    Here are the ways in which we used our thriftiness on this item:
    • We didn't buy it, we saved it from the trash or Goodwill (people are always throwing or giving things away.  This is a great way to use your thrifty skills and save the landfills!)
    • We used it for our pleasure and entertainment till it couldn't be used anymore (Don't buy or own items that just take up space and bring you no joy, only clutter)
    • We attempted to repair it instead of throwing it in the trash (We didn't pay money for it after all so why not just be rid of it some might be thinking)
    • Once the repair no longer worked we found another use for it as an air-fresher (most items can be re-purposed if you care to save it from the landfill)
    • Once all the sent is gone we will save the wax for other projects we have planned 
    • We will recycle the jar to hold something such as bath salts, foot scrub, etc
     As you can see thriftiness and frugality are not about doing without, but more about resourcefulness and using the products that are already around your home to meet your needs.  Many of us are fooled into thinking that our way of living and consuming will never end or decrease.  In reality though our planet has finite resources and our modern way of consumption will come to an end at some point if our budget doesn't get us first.  

    In fear of being labeled a tree hugger here, I want to leave you with this thought...

    Save yourself the money, save our natural, limited resources, and learn to live as if Wal-mart never opened their doors and you'll be happier for it!

    Saturday, December 10, 2011

    Real Life = Change of Plans

    There is one thing I've noticed here in blogger world, that is people usually only blog about how amazing and unique their life is.  It can give you an impression that the blogger is somehow different than you.  I think that is great most of the time, because lets be honest here, who wants to waste their time reading about some boring life like their own, but in reality they are more like you than we realize.  In light of this I figure I would tell you how ordinary my life is and how like you I really am.

    I had big plans for this weekend which included cooking dinner in my pressure cooker to post the tutorial pics here, making two Christmas gifts of my homemade body butter, enjoying a kid free house with my husband for the weekend, and pretty much de-stressing after a very difficult week with two pregnant daughters one of which is due any day now and the other is expecting identical twins who is having serious complications!

    Instead, this is what has happened.  Racey came home sick Friday afternoon with a sore throat and was beginning to have a tooth ache.  By 7:00 p.m. we were in the car driving a hour one way to get pain medication from his mom, hoping we could patch things up and scoot by till first of the week.  Saturday was filled with pain meds and lots of moaning.  Sunday, I awoke with Racey's cold, and his tooth pain was now more than the pain medication could take care of.  We both laid on the couch hating our current situation and longing for the grand weekend plans we had anticipated.  Sunday night rolled around and we found a dentist who would do an emergency appointment for and arm, leg, and of course tooth!  We rushed to the office only to experience the "worst dental visit of a lifetime", Racey said.  We left empty handed and still in pain.  As of today, Monday, we are waiting for the oral surgeon appointment and I am just dealing with being a wife and mom who is sick but can't stop taking care of others to be sick myself... Here's hoping this week takes it easy on us.    

    I apologize in advance for all the grammatical error, but my editor is knocked out on pain killers at the moment!

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Rediscovering the Pressure Cooker

    Most ladies I talk with are working mothers and those that don't work outside the home volunteer, home school or take care of grandchildren so their adult children can work.  The one main theme coming from all these ladies is lack of time in the kitchen. Why is this?  We live in the 21st century, we have more modern conveniences than any previous generation.  We have microwave ovens, indoor grills, toaster ovens, blenders, rotisserie ovens,  bread machines, crock-pots, and $400.00 mixers just to name a few!  And somehow we still can't manage to feed our families fresh, non-processed food.

    I've always been mystified by the housewives fifty years ago.  How in the world did they raise children, grow a garden, take care of the house, wash, dry and iron all the laundry and have three hot meals a day on the table.  I'm beginning to discover a few of their secrets, one of which is that they had basic kitchen equipment and knew how to use it.

    One friend in the kitchen was the pressure cooker.  This piece of equipment allowed you to cook fresh, whole foods in a fraction of time.  Some of you are probably saying "so does the microwave", and I agree, except that the end product doesn't compare.  Most of us use our microwaves to reheat, or cook prepackaged, additive filled junk food, not fresh meat and produce.

    This little gem was a staple in the pre and post World War II decades.  It started getting a bad name after the war when the market was flooded with cheap models that were constructed with weak metals.
    Cooks held onto their prewar pressure cookers and often several families shared a single cooker. In a time when fuel and food were rationed and shortages were commonplace, the pressure cooker was fast becoming a necessity rather than a mere convenience. In a bulletin to homemakers, the government promoted the formation of "canning circles" to best utilize scarce resources and urged people who owned pressure canners to share them with other families. Warning that "only a few canners will be available for purchase this year," it was suggested that six or more families share each cooker.

    Hopefully by now, you can tell what my favorite kitchen tool is at the moment! Yes, my pressure cooker!  The little whistle sound it makes as it cooks is a sound that takes me way back in my childhood.  If your mother or grandmother cooked from scratch then you too know the sound I'm referring to.

    I lucked out and found my pressure cooker at Goodwill for $6.86!  It is a Presto 4 quart cooker, and it had all the original parts along with the manual that was dated 1961, which I love!  When I started looking through the manual I was astonished at the cook time it gave me for fresh meat and produce.

    Here are a few examples:
    • Beans (Green or Wax)      3-4 minutes
    • Broccoli                            2-3 minutes
    • Carrots (sliced) 3 minutes (whole) 4-8 minutes
    • Potatoes (Baking w/skin)   15 minutes
    • Potatoes (for mashing)       10 minutes
    • Cauliflower (whole) 5 minutes (flowerettes) 2 minutes 
    • Corn (On-the-Cob)            3-5 minutes
    •  Hamburger Patties            5 minutes
    • Meatloaf                           15 minutes
    • Beef Pot Roast                  8-10 per pound
    • Ham, picnic, plain cut        30 minutes
    • Pork Chops, Breaded       12-15 minutes
    • If your family eats dried beans or lentils no more soaking over night just to cook for several hours the next day!    
      • most items cook in 1/2 to 1 1/2 cups of water
    As you can see the cooking times are very short.  To think I can come home from a busy day and have fresh green beans in three minutes, or prepare a meatloaf in fifteen is almost crazy to me.  Why would we choose a boxed meal that has no real nutritional value or a minced meat product that is formed into a shape to serve our families when we have such awesome tools to help us cook real food?   

    If you don't already own a pressure cooker I would highly recommend putting one on your wish list.  You could try Goodwill, Craigslist, or Freecycle just to name a few.  If your mom or grandmother have one they are not using anymore they would probably love to give it a new home. If all else fails you can buy one new. They now make a model that is totally electric and is so easy to operate a child could do it.  I prefer the older style models that only rely on heat, whether from gas, electric stove, or even a fire pit if it comes to that. If you are purchasing a used one, be sure to check out the rubber seal and safety valve.  There are plenty of websites that sell replacement parts very cheap if any of those items are damaged.  I found several site that actually carry in-stock replacement parts for my 1961 model.

    Here are a few website with recipes for pressure cookers Site 1, Site 2, Site 3 which is my favorite due to it having 101 recipes!

    I will cook dinner tonight in my pressure cooker and hopefully post pictures on the blog tomorrow if I have time!

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    12 Days of Christmas - Teacher Gifts

    December is a frenzied time where students and teachers alike are doing their best to make it to the end of each week and the goal being Christmas Break.  Each teacher usually has a class party where parents bring special foods and gifts, and each grade usually has a special program where the students perform for their parents.  Most parents are scurrying around doing their own Christmas decorating, shopping, and cooking while trying to figure out what type of gift for their child to give to their teacher. All these activities create a very memorable time for the student and parent, but f you have multiple children this can sometimes get expensive and overwhelming.  In my last job, I worked as the head custodian for an elementary school.  This position opened my eyes to the waste and disregard of most of the items that parents bring to their child's school.  Each afternoon I emptied the trash for an entire school with over 1000 students, which makes for a lot of trash!  Every afternoon I would be absolutely amazed and down right irritated to see what some teachers threw in the trash.  Each day my eyes were opened more and my spirit as a gift giving parent was crushed. Some of the gifts would still be in the gift bag, and bag and all would be trashed.  Sometimes others that contained candy or other small stuff would be dumped and they would keep the container.  Most home-baked items were just given to the custodial staff or thrown away. I don't tell you this to burst your bubble, or try to talk you out of buying gifts for your child's teacher. I just want you to be aware of the reality of what I experienced, and if your budget or schedule is tighter than you would like, and these gifts are causing you more stress than joy, then maybe it's time to re-evaluate your gift list.

    A few of my suggestions would be:
    • If you have a strict teacher budget of $10.00 or less then don't buy a gift
    • If you have more than one child and they have multiple teachers (school, sport, piano, dance, church, etc) then don't buy a gift
    • If you or your child feel like there is a bad connection between the teacher and you then don't buy a gift (a gift will not strengthen the relationship)
    • If you are having a hard time buying for your own family, then don't buy a gift
    • If you have to purchase it on a credit card, then don't buy a gift
    Our children's teachers are very important people.  They have a huge impact on what our kids learn, how they react to success, failure, and how they feel about learning in general.  They should be appreciated, respected, and supported, but that doesn't mean you have to buy them a gift.

    Here are a few of my gift replacement suggestions:
    • Donate your time once a month to come in and help the teacher with something in the classroom 
      • Lamaniting special items
      • Cutting items out
      • Grading papers
      • Packing folders
      • Change bulletin boards 
      • Sharpen pencils (kindergarten)
      • Set the room up for the next day
      • Ask her where you can help
    • Support and defend the teacher to your whining child (even if you check matters out later)
    • Write a thank you email and send it to her principal letting them know how much you appreciate the work he/she is doing with your child
    • Save the money you would spend at Christmas, Valentine's and maybe their birthday and give them a nice end of the year gift with a true thank you note ($5-$10 isn't much of a gift at one time but at the end of the year you can purchases a nice $30-$50 gift)
    • Give them a nice fruit & veggie basket.  Even the pickiest of teacher has to eat.
    In my son's 7th grade year his teacher and I didn't see eye to eye at any point in the year.  My son didn't like her because she was a "tough love" teacher, and that just is not his style.  At the end of the year I gave her a thank you note with a gift basket filled with Bath & Body Works items.  My son's relationship was over with this person and I was truly thankful for her assistance dealing with my difficult student.  She sent me an email later that day thanking me for the card and gift and saying how she really appreciated the thank you because it had been a very hard year for her as well, and most parents turn a difficult year into dislike for the teacher.

    If you and your child's teacher are friends, and money is no issue for you then please, gift on!  There is nothing wrong with giving, and obviously not every teacher is as disrespectful as the ones I mentioned above.  It's only when we place ourselves in a stressful situation and put our budget in a hard place to give a token gift that it would be better to not give.  

    This year, take an honest look at where you are financially and what the mood of the holidays at school are and take care of your family first.  Then, if it's appropriate, take care of that special teacher!

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    12 Days of Christmas: Gift #2 - Jewelry

    Today's gift is for the jewelry lover in the family.  This necklace and bracelet combo is for a special night out.  It is made with Swarovski crystals and .925 sterling closures.  It has a simple but classic design.  While it is handmade, it isn't cheap.  The crystals alone were over $100.00, not to mention the sterling silver closures.

    If this is too dressy or out of your price range, here is an example of a necklace, bracelet, and earring set I made for my girls last year.  The total package was under $20.00 and they have had several family members try and buy it off of them!

    If you have someone with long hair that likes to wear it up, this is a great idea!  I call them 'hair sticks' - original I know. ;-)  This item is what got me into jewelry making.  I saw a pair of these in a shop and they wanted $40.00!  I wanted them so bad but I couldn't afford them.  Each time I went back to this store I would look to see if they were still there, and each time the quantity had dwindled.  Racey surprised me one night with a special gift... sure enough my hair sticks!  I was so happy to get them that I started making my own!  Now I have several pair and wear them at some point nearly every day.

    Last, but not least, you can make little trinkets.  I tend to use my leftover jewelry from a project, but you can use anything that suits your fancy.

    I attached a little something to my sewing scissors to help remind people that these are not to be used for anything other than fabric.  Plus, when I hear them jingle and I'm not doing the jingling, I start hollering!  The key chain was a product of me using things up, but each time someone sees it they ask where I bought it.

    So, as you can tell, there are many ideas for homemade gift giving that don't require you to pass on a fruit cake, or have your gift be considered cheap.  It's all about the thought and time you spent in preparing and making the gift that gives it real meaning.

    I hope I have given you a few ideas, and I would love to hear some of the things you are making this season.

    Friday, November 25, 2011

    12 Days of Christmas - Foot Scrub & Body Butter

    In the spirit of Black Friday, I thought I would get a jump on the shopping for this holiday season.  Unlike most Black Friday shoppers I slept in this morning.  Once awake I took my sweet time eating a little leftover Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast.  What?  Everyone doesn't do this?!?  Then I sat at the computer and looked at all the Google news stories about crazy Black Friday shoppers and all their antics.  What some people will do for a discount!  I'm all about saving money but this is just nonsense.  To me this is a prime example of how we have transformed into a consumer society where we are literally possessed with stuff.

    Now don't get me wrong here.  I love things... I love getting gifts... I love giving gifts...I have a wish list as long as my arm as well.  I'm just at a point in my life that each item causes me to think about several things, such as the following:
    • Where was this made?
    • Who made it? (Maybe a child or severely underpaid parent?)    
    • How much fuel did it take to get this item to me here in the States?
    • Could it be made here in the U.S. and, if so, why wasn't it?
    • Is it made of something that could possibly add to my personal toxic load?  If you are unfamiliar with this topic you can read about it here, here, and here
    • Will this item be around and still in good working order in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years?
    • Is this a temporary gadget, and will I be wanting the new and improved one in six months?
    • How long will I or my husband have to work to buy this item?
    As I said I love things, I just hate what it take for me to have them.  So back to my Black Friday plan!  I will still celebrate the holiday as I talked about in a previous post, my main focus will just be on spending time with the people I care about, enjoying a good homemade meal and giving small handmade gift as a token of love.

    Here is my first handmade gift of the season!

     This is for the woman who loves to pamper her feet.  The jar on the left is a powdered foot scrub, and the blue dish is a deep conditioning body butter.  The foot scrub can be made with items in your pantry.  The body butter supplies can be found at any health food store.

    Hear are the steps to make this wonderful, handmade, personalized gift for someone on your gift list!

    Here are the ingredients for the foot scrub:
    • 1/2 cup of  cornmeal
    • 1/2 cup of oatmeal
    • 1/4 cup of seasalt
    • 10 drops of essential oil (I used lemon because that's what I had on hand.  It gave the mixture a clean citrus smell)

    First you will want to put the oats in a food processor or blender and blend into a fine powder.

    Next mix the powdered oats, cornmeal, and salt.  Once all dry ingredients are mixed add essential oil for scent.  This step is optional.

    I used a wide mouth decorative jelly jar that I had left over from the canning season.  If you have a canning funnel it comes in handy for more than canning.

    Here are the ingredients for the body butter:
    • 1 tbsp. of Coconut Oil
    • 2 tbsp. of Shea Butter
    • 2 tsp. of Safflower Oil
    • 2 tsp. of Grapeseed Oil

    Coconut oil is a solid below 76 degrees and becomes a liquid at 77 degrees.  I measured both solids and heated in microwave for 20 seconds till soft but not melted.

    Once softened, place in mixer and SLOWLY add oils.  This step can take a few minutes.  You will want to increase the mixer speed as the oil is incorporated.

    Your final product should look like whipped butter.

    I had a old Avon jar that I found at an estate sale several years ago so I used it to hold the butter.

    Remember that this is a deep conditioning body butter, so a little goes a long way.  Because of the coconut oil it will have an oily feel to it, however, if you use a small amount it will be absorbed into the skin within a few minutes.

    As you can see, this gift is one that is not expensive but is a little more time consuming than just picking up a gift card.  The purpose of this post is to show you that you can give gifts and enjoy the holiday season without becoming a crazy Black Friday causality.  The focus is not money as much as the mentality of the modern gift giver. Tomorrow I will post another homemade gift, so if this one isn't up your alley, check back then and see what you think!

    *Note: The foot scrub is a powder so you will want to put a little in your hand then add a small amount of water to form a paste.

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