Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How to Make Christmas Orange Slice Ornaments

When it comes to what I put on my Christmas tree, I love to go with the "simple is best" theme. I am sure that doesn't surprise you given the name of my blog.   Along with simple, I love a primitive, rustic type of look for Christmas.  I like to imagine myself decorating the way Ma Ingalls would decorate her tree.

Orange slices are a way to add beauty at a very small cost to your Christmas tree.  Plus, if you are like me, as much as you adore clementines when they are in season, you may have overestimated how many your family can eat at one time.  I clearly needed to do something with them before they started to go bad.

Here's how to make your own orange slice ornaments:

First slice your oranges about a centimeter thick.  But wait!  Make sure you cut them the right way.  You don't want them to end up like this:

Oops!  This does not give it the nice, orange wheel look.

Much better.  And prettier.

Turn your oven on to a low setting of 150 degrees.

Place them directly on the rack of your oven.  Do NOT put them on a pan or they will stick and burn and be ruined.  And then Christmas will be ruined.  Okay, maybe not Christmas.  But it will be a sad moment.

I let mine "cook" for about 4 hours.  Keep an eye on them because ovens vary and thickness of your oranges will determine how long it will need till it's fully dried out.

Once it's dried out you can stick a string through it to hang on your tree.

So simple and so frugal. This is a great idea especially if you don't have many Christmas ornaments.  We have plenty now that have been given to us over the years, but if you are newly married or just starting out, chances are you may be low in the ornament department.  Pair these oranges with some popcorn and cranberry garland, and you've got yourself a gorgeous tree!

Merry Christmas!  5 more days to go!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Chocolate Candy Cane Dip

I've had this white cream cheese frosting sitting in my fridge for weeks, leftover from cupcakes I made awhile back. I never know what to do with leftover frosting. I usually end up eating spoonfuls of the stuff every time I find myself in the kitchen. Never a good thing. This time, in an effort to avoid eating half  a can of frosting to myself, I decided I would get creative and use it for a dip...and maybe even share it with my kids. :)

Chocolate Candy Cane Dip 

1 cup white cream cheese frosting
1 cup whipped topping 
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
5 small candy canes
sponge cake for dipping


First thing I did was make the whipped topping according to the directions on the package.  You could just use Cool Whip for this as well instead of making it from a mix.

Mix one cup of whipped topping with one cup of cream cheese frosting, and 2 Tbsp of cocoa.  I used my electric beater for this part.

Now stir in the crushed candy canes with a spoon.  I used about 5 of the small sized candy canes.  Leave a little of the crushed candy cane to sprinkle on top.

Transfer the dip to a small bowl and sprinkle with crushed candy cane.  

Add some sponge cake, or graham crackers for dipping!  

My kids barely saved me any.  It's actually quite a miracle I got a picture of this before their little hands got a hold of it.

This would also be a great dish to bring to a holiday potluck party.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How to Make a Beautiful Christmas Centerpiece

My friends would post pictures to Facebook of their beautiful box wood centerpieces.  I started shopping around for one of those wooden boxes and the prices were way out of my budget!  And then I realized I could make one.  Okay, okay....I realized MY HUSBAND could make one for me. He built it for me, and then I stained it. I absolutely love it.  No matter the time of year I can think of something to put in it to match the season or holiday.

Here is how I fill it during the Christmas season.

I use three white candles for it.  I then use some of the leftover pine branches my husband cuts off from our Christmas tree to make it fit in the stand.  Then I take a walk in the woods and pick up some pine cones.  And lastly, clementines make for the perfect finishing touch.

Of course, the clementines get eaten and replenished all throughout the holiday season. :)

You definitely have to be careful with these candles so close to the pine branches.  Never leave it to burn unattended!  For a safer alternative you can always get those flameless battery operated candles.  I wouldn't mind some of those, but have yet to fit them into my budget.

So there you have it.  If you are looking for a perfect centerpiece this Christmas, either build or find hopefully an affordable wooden box and fill it with treasures of the season!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

DIY Christmas Barn Board Sign

I don't know about you, but I often wander through the stores around Christmas time and fall in love with all of the Christmas decor.  Problem is, my budget doesn't leave a lot of room for all the expensive decorations.

I remembered I had a piece of beautiful barn board in my wood stash, and I knew I had the perfect project for it.  Making this JOY sign is pretty simple.

After you find a perfect piece of barnboard, go onto your computer and print out the three big letters: J-O-Y.  I made them fit basically one letter per page, but this really depends on the size of your wood.  Measure your wood and input the measurements into whatever program you are using.  I used the program that came with my Silhouette Cameo.  

Once I printed out the letters, I covered the back of the printouts with chalk.  To transfer the chalk outline of the letters, I place the paper onto the wood chalk-side down, and I trace over the letters with a pen.  When you remove the printout there will be a chalk outline on your wood.  I shared a little more detail of how to do this in this previous post, if you need a better visual.

It's now time to paint your letters!  I used acrylic paint, all from the dollar store. 

After your letters are done, you can decorate the sign with whatever you want! I used some burlap, yarn, a Christmas ball,and a pinecone. I just used what I had lying around, so no extra cost for me!  That's the way this frugal wife likes it. ;)

And there you have it!  A very affordable piece of Christmas decor that all your friends and family will love!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Why I took my son out of School to Homeschool Again (And why I support BOTH homeschooling AND Public School)

Even before my son was born, I knew I was in for an experience.  He would kick all day and night, and while I was pregnant with him I wasn't sure he ever slept.  And sure enough, his birth confirmed our suspicions.  He inhaled some meconium, turned blue twice, and wouldn't cry.  When they finally got him to cry about 6 hours later, he didn't stop for a good six months.

No, seriously.  Anytime he was awake he was crying.

When that ended, he was often upset.  Loud noises upset him.  Strange people upset him. Crowded places upset him.

You know how they tell you to vacuum all the time around the baby so they get used to it?  Not my son.  No joke, I used my noisy blender EVERY DAY with him in my arms, and for two years he cried every time.  

Public washrooms? The noises were terrifying for him.  And when he finally got past the stage where he wouldn't cry anymore, he would cover his ears the minute we walked in one, anticipating the flush of a toilet or the noise from the hand dryers.

Around the age of two was the year we carried him out kicking and screaming EVERY Sunday after church.  I'm not even sure why.  Too many people?  Too close to nap time?  

And over the years we've had people say things.  I was told he had a rebellious spirit at the age of one because he touched everything.  I had people look at his tantrums and point out to me that he cried over everything.  I've had people laugh when he would cry as they talked to him.  I've been told he was "playing me" as a screaming three month old.

I knew he was struggling.  For many years I didn't have a name for it, but I knew it went beyond the typical normal tantrums.  We had taken him to occupational therapy and to a pediatrician for help. They labeled him ADHD.  I didn't feel like that was an accurate diagnosis for him. At his age we all agreed no medication was the right choice.  But I still felt we were missing something.

Because of this, it came naturally that we would homeschool him.  And we did for two years (and his sister for four.) But my health was struggling, so I decided this year I would put him in school.  

But in the end, that just made things worse.  For most of the 6 months he was in school he would cry as I dropped him off.  He had the sweetest teacher, and excelled at work, but his anxiety was at an all time high.

And there it was.  I finally realized exactly what he struggled with.  

Anxiety and hypersensitivity.

And then I realized that I struggled with that too.  And not just as an adult, but my whole life.  I started to look back on my childhood and understand different things that occurred, different things I felt, and why I spent much of my life with stomachaches and headaches.

Even knowing this, I tried to push through with school for my son. I didn't want him to let the anxiety win. But after six months it was apparent that it was getting worse.  As he struggled, I watched my daughter thrive in school.  Their experiences were so different!

The truth about anxiety? It doesn't just "go away".  You can't just do the same thing over and over and expect that one day you won't feel anxious.  Anxiety sufferers need to learn coping mechanisms, and way to manage their anxiety in those situations.  I believe that comes with feeling secure, with age, and with experience.  

I started to pinpoint some of the reasons he was anxious.  I discovered the noise level at school, being surrounded by a LOT of other kids, and being away from family were all factors.  While these situations are not entirely avoidable in life, I felt that my son needed smaller, baby steps into conquering his anxieties and learning to cope.  After all, he was just a six year old little boy. 
Me with the boy.  No anxiety when he is out in nature!

While I know there are many who will disagree with me, I felt that I was trying to "teach him to swim by throwing him into the deep end."  It just wasn't sitting well with me.  After awhile he wasn't the only one with anxiety.  I had anxiety too at how he would react when I dropped him off and walked away from him while he cried.  It never got easier, if anything, it got harder for both of us.

What I discovered is that you can send your child to one of the best schools in the area, he can have what you believe is the best teacher in the school, along with some of the best families you know, but it doesn't mean he will thrive.  I know this because my son had an amazing teacher, a great school, and wonderful classmates.  But he still struggled.  Why?  Because each child is unique and different.  The "one size fits all" education doesn't necessarily work for everyone.  And it doesn't mean that there is something wrong with my child.  Or yours.  It means that a different approach may work better for him.

I am excited to watch my son feel more at ease soon.  And as I teach him at home, my daughter who is thriving at school will continue to go.  My choice is the right choice for my family.  Every family has to decide what is best for them and their children.  I am for homeschooling.  I am for public school. I am for private school and Catholic school and Christian school. I see benefits to all.   But more importantly, what I see in most  cases is parents and teachers who have huge hearts for the children they teach, whether it be at home or school.  We are all aiming for the same thing - to raise well-rounded, happy, and educated children, so instead of declaring one is better than the other, can't we just decide we are all aiming for the same outcome?  It's time to support and encourage one another in our decisions to educate and raise our children, and not try and prove that one way is better for everyone.  It's time to walk alongside our friends and loved ones and raise each other up as we work hard to make the best choices for our little ones.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How to Tie-dye

When I am not changing diapers or handing out snacks, or teaching reading or math to my little ones, I like to tie dye.  And then I take said tie dye garments to craft shows and markets, and sell them. Tie dyeing can be a fun activity for anyone to do...whether you feel like creating a shirt for yourself, or you want to incorporate it into a homeschool or birthday party craft.  Today I am going to tell you how I tie dye.

There are a few techniques that have come out of traditional tie dye.  Two of my favorites are ice tie dyeing and snow tie dyeing.  That is the technique I used for the picture of me in the leggings at the top of this blog.  I will expand on that later.  but first, let's start with traditional tie dye.

The first thing you want to do is find something to tie dye.  Go to the thrift store, or your local clothing store, or check your closet.  You want to make sure it is cotton.  100% cotton is the best, but as long as it is around 90% cotton, you will most likely be happy with your results.  Not all material will take dyes, so this part is really important.

Once you pick out your item, you want to wash and dry it.  This is especially important if it is new, as you want to make sure it won't shrink after you dye it.

Next, you want to soak it in soda ash. Without the soda ash, your dye will not adhere properly to your clothing.  Depending on the dye you use, this step may be included in the actual dyes.  Just follow the instructions on your kit.  I use commercial procion mx dyes that I order from Maiwa. If you are based in the US, the most popular store for commercial type dyes is Dharma Trading. These dyes create brighter and longer lasting tie dyes, and these do not include the soda ash in the dyes, so you need to do that as a separate step.  But the kits you buy in Walmart or Michael's can be a great alternative if you just want to do a few for fun, and many of those kits have the soda ash right in the dye mix.  If it isn't included in the dye kit you purchased, you can purchase this online, or in pool stores.  However, instead of soda ash, you can actually use washing soda, which I am told is basically the same thing.  That's what I use because I can find it in my local Home Hardware, or No Frills.  You will find it in the laundry aisle if the store sells it.  Surprisingly, I could not find it in Walmart.

I use about a cup of washing soda to a litre of warm water.

Also, this is personal preference, but I like to "tie" my clothing before I soak it.  Some people tie it up with elastics before the soak, some after.  The reason I started doing it before it was wet was basically convenience with my kids needing me constantly. :)  I just found it easier to tie it up while it was dry instead of working with a bunch of wet clothing on my floor.  There are so many different techniques out there.  The most common one is the spiral.  Very easy to do.  Just lay your shirt (or whatever you are dyeing) on the floor, grab the middle of the shirt, and twist in a spiral until it looks like a nice, round cake. Then secure it with a few elastics.  Here is a link to a youtube video on the basic spiral.  Because I soak the clothing after I fold it, I don't spray it with water.  In the video they are also doing tub dyeing, which I have no experience with, so I can't help you there! :)  I prefer squirt bottles.  But if you want to see how to have a visual to see how to fold the spiral, click here.

You can literally put the elastics anywhere and do any design though.  That's the beauty of tie dye. ;)

Most kits will tell you to soak the garment in the soda ash for about 20-30 minutes.  I actually soak mine overnight if I have the time.  This helps the dye come out brighter.

Once you are done soaking your clothing, put it in the washing machine on the spin cycle to get the excess water out of it.  DO NOT RINSE IT!!! This is really, really important.  If you rinse out the soda ash, your tie dye will not turn out.  Make sure you only have your washing machine spinning the clothing, not adding water.

You can actually tie dye the clothing wet or dry.  I prefer wet because I feel the dye goes farther.  I've heard that dyeing dry often gives crisper lines and more definition.  Again, personal preference.  I do feel that more people prefer to dye their clothing damp.  You want it to be damp, and not soaked.

Make sure your dye area is set up.  I put a cooling rack over a bin or bucket and dye it on there.  If it is warm enough outside, I do my dyeing outside to minimize spillage. ;)  I've accidentally dyed a lot of things in my house...clothes, the floor, sinks, etc....

Don't forget to put your gloves on!  This is one of those, "do as I say, not as I do" moments.  I have had strange looks so many times while out only to look down at my hands and realize I look like a smurf.  Or a blueberry.  Or like I am seriously suffering from jaundice.  Plus, it just isn't good for you, and people have developed allergies from handling too much dye with their barehands.  So, please, wear the gloves. ;)  Also, if you are mixing powdered dyes it is recommended you wear a mask too.  Once they are mixed they are fine, but the powder is toxic.

Make sure your dye is mixed according to the instructions on the package.  And then, just squeeze the dye onto the clothing any way you want!  There is no wrong way to do this!  However, it is a good idea to keep the colour wheel in mind, because sometimes colours that are placed next to eachother will give a muddy look.  Using the colour wheel helps you figure out what colours interact well with eachother.
This is the classic spiral

Once you feel satisfied with how much dye you have squirted on (and, really pour that dye on there....more is usually better....) let it sit on the rack for about 10 minutes or so to drip a bit.  Then, get a plastic bag, and carefully place the clothing into the bag.  Tie the bag up so it is sealed, and let it sit and "cure" for 24 hours.

Try to think about anything else for those 24 hours.  If you are like me, you will try and decide if you can get away with less than 24 hours.  When you start thinking like that, go clean your bathroom or something. Dye your hair.  Organize your underwear drawer.  Distract yourself.  Trust me, it will be worth the wait.

After 24 hours, the moment you have waited for has come!  Run your clothing under cold water to rinse it out while you take the elastics off.  When I was learning to tie dye, I read countless articles about rinsing it until the water runs clear.  Well, i tried...but then my hands got cold...and I got impatient.  So I basically let it rinse for a bit, then throw it in the washing machine.  I wash my batches of tie dye for 2-3 washes.  1 or 2 cold water cycles, and a hot water cycle.  The darker the colours, the more I wash it.  Also, I use commercial dyes.  If I was using the non-commercial kits, I may not wash it as many times.  But when I started tie dyeing I didn't wash them enough times and I turned a customer's son into the colour mauve.  True story. I figured it probably was not good for business if you start dyeing your customers' skin.  So, wash your tie dye!

After the wash, throw it in the dryer or hang it on the line....however you would normally dry it.

And there you have it!  You have just created your own little piece of art that you can wear anywhere!

Now, I said I would expand on the ice dye and snow dye.  It's basically very similar....the only difference is that instead of dyeing with squeeze bottles, you cover your clothing with ice or snow, and then you put powder directly onto the snow or ice.  I will go into further detail of this process in a future post.

How to curl your hair with rags

I love curls!!!   And I seriously can't get enough of little girls in curls.  The way their hair bobs when they twirl around...so adorable!  Here is how to curl hair with rags.

First, find an old bed sheet.  Cut it up into strips you can tie around the hair.  My strips were probably about 1 1/2 inches wide and 6 inches long.  I cut about 20 strips.

Then, go and find a super cute model.

Yep, she'll do. :)

Make sure the hair is damp.  Then I like to separate the top layer with an elastic.

Next, grab a section of hair. Take the very end of the hair and wrap it around the middle of a rag strip  couple of times.

Now, roll the hair up to the head.

Tie it up.  One knot will do, you don't need to double knot it.  

Now do that to the whole head.  
(there may have been a little brother who really wanted to be in the picture as well. :))

Side note:  How come kids can pull off anything?  I mean, that kid could go outside with rags in her hair and people would still think she was adorable.  If I go out with rags in my hair I would get some strange looks and possibly some people whispering to their kids to "stay away from the crazy lady."

Sleep on the rag curls.  Which are actually pretty comfortable.  Take them out in the morning.  Run your hand through the hair gently.  And there you go!  That is how to curl  hair with rags!  Now go, curl your hair, your child's hair, even your dog's hair! :)

Clearly someone thinks she's a movie star with all the sunglasses she wears....inside the house because one can never be too careful.

Sweet Red Pepper and Caper Quinoa Salad

It took me a really long time to learn how to say "quinoa."  I spent most of the time saying, "you know, that grain that's like rice...."

It's not even a grain.  It's a seed.  So apparently I didn't even have that part right.

For those interested, Quinoa is pronounce "Keen-Wa."  Sounds like something from Star Wars, in my opinion.

But, moving on....

I love quinoa salads.  Cold quinoa...mmmm.....it's so delicious, and you feel good after eating it because it's so healthy.  And there are so many different ways to make it.  Here is the most common way I make quinoa salad.

I make quinoa in the rice cooker. Once a friend of mine wondered why people owned a rice cooker if you could do the same thing on the stove, and rice is relatively easy to make.  I told her it was for people like me who successfully ruin rice on the stove every SINGLE time.

I also lit two kettles on fire on the stove, but that is a story is for another day.  Clearly I have problems working my stove.

Anyways, making quinoa in the rice cooker is so, so easy.  two cups of water, 1 cup of quinoa, push the cook button and BANG! You've got yourself some perfect quinoa.

After that, I throw it in the fridge and let it get nice and cold.

Then, I add some of my favorite ingredients.

Now not only do you have a delicious recipe for quinoa, but you will be able to pronounce it properly! :)

DIY Barnboard Sign

I have been in love with reclaimed barnboard signs ever since they started appearing everywhere.  So I was super excited when my husband brought home some barnboard from work one day.

If bringing me the supplies wasn't enough, he helped me put it together.  We took two of the boards and screwed scrap pieces on the back to hold it together.  We used three pieces because it is a longer sign.  One near the top, one in the middle, and one in the bottom.

Then I started working on my design.  I used graphics from my Silhouette Cameo program.  I was inspired by a t-shirt recently and wanted the same saying on a sign.

After I knew how I wanted it to look, I needed to transfer it.  Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of the transfer process so I am hoping I explain it well enough.  

After you print out your design, take a piece of chalk and cover the back of your design with chalk.  I used white, but had to change halfway through because I couldn't see where I had coloured the chalk on the back.  So I switched to green half way through.

Place the paper on the wood.  Take a pen or pencil and trace your design.  This will transfer the chalk onto the board, but only where you trace.  

Okay, so I accidentally started painting the words before I took a picture, but you can see the rest of the image is outlined by chalk.

Grab your paint brushes and start painting it!  I used a paint marker for the "Did Someone Say" just because the detail was a bit more fine, but I think it would have turned out the same if I just used my fine paint brush.  I used acrylic paints for the rest.

As you can see, there is a spot on my board that has some of the wood scraped off.  The best thing about barnboard is that it is okay if it looks rough! :)

Here is the finished product.  It makes me smile. ;)

7 Reasons Living Below Your Means Makes life Easier (and more Enjoyable)

Living below your means can sound scary and impossible.  But I truly believe in many cases it is possible, and in the end will leave you feeling happier.  We have had times we lived below our means and times we haven't.  We are now, once again living below our means, not by much, mind you due to where we are in our life (a career change, and starting over in some areas of our lives) but even a little bit makes a huge difference.  Here are the reasons I believe you should live below your means.

1.  In case of a crisis.  Life is unpredictable.  We don't know if tomorrow we will have a health crisis, or a house fire, or an accident.  Even though more than likely an event like that will cause strain financially no matter where you are in life, the impact will be less if you are in a better financial position.

2.  In case of emergency.  Your furnace can break or your car can die.  Having no emergency fund or room to budge in your budget can send you into sheer panic during one of these events.  Trust me, I know by experience.

3. To save up for items with no stress of debt payments afterwards.  If you are living below your means, chances are, when you have your eye on something such as a trip or new furniture, you will save first before you buy, rather than vice versa.  This will allow you to actually enjoy the furniture or trip without wondering how you are going to pay for it after it is all said and done.

4. To give to others.  We have been on the receiving end of people giving many, many times.  Recently, friends of ours had a house fire.  We instantly wanted to help, and unlike other times before where we didn't know how we would help because of financial difficulties, because we are in a bit of a better position now we were able to help at least a little bit without hesitation.

5. To pay off debt.  We ALL want to pay off our debt.  We all hate having debt hanging over our heads.  Although we still have a long way to go, I have seen a huge progress in the last year for us as we continue to live below our means.

6.  To get a good night's sleep.  You know how nice it is to go to sleep and not worry on how you are going buy groceries this month?  I've been on both ends, and let me tell you, I love the peace it brings me to be able to know that I don't have to figure out how to feed my family.

7.  So that panic won't set in when the economy struggles.  We have recently planned a camping trip to the US.  The Canadian dollar is not doing well.  Although I wish it was better, we didn't have to stress about our trip because we have financially planned within our means. Gas costs go up and down, food groceries continue to rise, and taxes never seem to drop.  Living below your means makes it easier to handle these financial pressures.

Of course, I must admit, I still panic a bit when hydro goes up, (which in Ontario seems to feel like every ten minutes sometimes)! I'm still a work in progress. :)

Just because you live below your means doesn't mean you won't face financial hardship.  Like I said, a crisis could happen in an instant leaving you in a tough spot.  Things happen in all our lives that are sometimes inside our control and sometimes outside of our control when it comes to our financial situation.  All we can do is try our best to plan and prepare for those moments and work towards being in a better position with our finances. 

And sometimes, there are absolutely no other places in your budget to cut, the only way to improve financially is to make more income.  I get it, we've been there.  Sometimes career changes, or other tough decisions are conversations that need to be had, and changes need to be made.  And it's never easy to make big changes in our lives.  But when it seems to big to handle, just work on taking the NEXT step.

Although we've always had a more frugal lifestyle than others, it doesn't mean we've always made the best choices (we are human, after all!)  And because of some of our choices along as well as other events out of our control we are digging ourselves out of a hole much deeper than we ever wanted to be in.  But for the first time in our life I feel like we finally have some real control over our situation and I hope to keep working towards financial freedom, no matter how long it may take or how slow it may feel sometimes! 

Even slow progress is progress! Remember that.