Christmas Tradition Ideas From Our Home

Thursday, December 29, 2011

This year, we started what we hope to become some new Christmas traditions with our son. Of course, cutting down a real tree has always been one of them.

But here are a few more that we added to the repertoire this year:

Washing dishes by the light of Christmas lights strung over the window:

Singing Silent Night at the candlelight service is also one of my all-time favorite Christmas traditions. Following church, we thought it would be so much fun to throw mattresses on the floor and have one big family sleepover on Christmas Eve, with an over-the-top pancake breakfast in the morning. (Hint: try egg nog instead of milk in your favorite pancake recipe-yummo!). Aren't we cute?
My all-time best Christmas memories revolve around huge family get-togethers at my grandparent's house with a huge feast and gift-opening frenzy. But the most cherished moments center around an entire extended family listening intently to my grandpa as he spoke about the First Christmas and the real meaning behind the holiday.

What are your favorite traditions and memories?

Eight Ways to Display Artwork on a Budget

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Displaying artwork in your home does not have to be a pocket-burner. In fact, most of the artwork in my home cost less than $25 each. Let's talk about easy ways to add art, culture, themes and color to your home for a lady on a budget:

1. Art Prints: purchasing prints of original paintings happens to be very cost-effective. The images above are prints, even though you can't tell by looking at them. The left image on the top pic came from a bookstore in Northern Wisconsin. The one on the right was from an art auction on our honeymoon cruise. Just for attending the auction, each person received an art print for free. The bottom image shows three framed images we have hanging in our son's room. Each frame contains a print we bought at an art store in Florida, supporting local artists. If you can't tell, the theme in our son's room (and most of the house) is nature-centered, and these prints pull that theme together easily.

2. Make friends with artists: this one just sort of happened by default, but my best friend happens to be an uber-talented watercolorist. She has gifted us several original paintings and prints that we excitedly hang from our walls. Her mother also gifted us an original watercolor that hangs in our bedroom. These beautiful, hand-painted images are some of the most cherished gifts we've ever received.

3. Scour vintage and consignment shops: The painting above was purchased for $4 at a local consignment shop. This picture hangs in our office, which is painted the same blue and yellow in the picture. Score!

4. Frame art greeting cards: This is a close-up of an image from above. Not only is this a print of a watercolor, but it also came in greeting card form. Some spectacular art can be bought in greeting card form for usually around $1 to $5. They often fit perfect inside 4x6 or 5x7 matted frames.

5. Book pages: Sometimes book pages are beautiful enough to frame, especially special vintage finds. Sometimes, even children's book pages are whimsical enough to display. Above is a garland of pages from a $0.10 thrift store book, hanging in our son's playroom. Who could resist that outrageous cow anyhow?

6. Mirrors as art: Mirrors have a magical way of adding dimension and extra perceived space to your home. This mirror anchors our side-by-side dining room windows. The frame also has a beautiful ornate design with an antique-y finish. Etched, vanity, or other artistic mirrors make wonderful substitutes for works of art in your home.

7. Printed book pages on Etsy: I purchased the prints above from a local brick and mortar handmade shop, but the artist also sells on Etsy. I bought three matching 8-1/2" x 11" frames and three coordinating vintage-y scrapbook paper pages to display the prints in. (Sorry I can't remember the artist off-hand). These food-themed beauties hang in my kitchen, of course.

8. Pretty fabric or papers also make lovely frame-worthy art. I've seen a lot of vignette-style arrangements of framed scrapbook paper. In fact, I framed some ornate Oriental fabric for my sister for Christmas as part of an Oriental home decor-themed gift. This can be a great way to anchor the colors you have chosen for any particular room in your house, especially when you can't find any artwork to match.

As a note: most of the actual frames in my home were picked up at Hobby Lobby on their 1/2-off days, which happen just about every other week.

Happy decorating!

Children's Book Inspiration

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Taking a break from all the Christmas hubbub, this is what's inspiring me right now--vintage children's book illustrations:

Love the geometry, colors, and beauty:
children's book page
I might save this one to frame for Easter. It's just right, yes?
Children's book page
Children's book page
children's book page
You can't tell from the picture, but the these ornate illustrations are printed with shiny metallic inks:Children's book page
Who wouldn't want a rickety mansion of a treehouse like this?
children's book page
This page is currently being used as a page divider in my personal journal. In fact, it's the first page I see, because I love looking at it:
Children's book page
A treehouse city? Yes, please.
Children's book page
Each of these books was carefully thrifted for its beautiful use of color, imaginative designs, charm and aptly-drawn childlike quality. Love love love!

Christmas Around Our House Part 2

Monday, December 19, 2011

Just give me one men's plaid XL shirt at the thrift store, and this is what I can do with it:

1. Christmas wreath: starting at the sleeves of the shirt, I cut a bunch of fabric strips. I hot glued each piece down to my thrifted straw wreath (50 cents!!!) as I went, overlapping pieces the whole way. Then, I took three more strips and made three rolled roses. To make the red "foliage," I cut a bunch (maybe a dozen) of squares out of some spare red fabric I had. Fold them in half once, then in half again, and glue them down. You can round the top edges to make it look softer.

Christmas wreath
2. Christmas garland: starting at the hem of the shirt, I cut long strips of fabric about 1-2 inches thick. I tied three pieces together and braided them. I connected two braids in the middle to get enough to go around the doorway. Don't mind the little ornaments. Haha! Though I think it would be neat to hang bulbs from the garland at intervals. Hmmmm. Might try that when I get home.
Christmas garland

3. Christmas Forest: The three tall trees I thrifted a couple of years ago. Recently, I found two foam cones at the thrift store. I wrapped each in extra fabric strips from the shirt. I wound the strips around and used sewing pins to hold them down. I made the star ornaments several years back with felt and embroidery thread. I hung the last two stragglers on my trees with matching gold buttons for an extra touch.

 Christmas Forest
4. Framed Christmas Greetings: I thrifted this frame for a fun DIY photo shoot at my wine and cheese party last year. I strung two fabric strips from the back of the frame and hot glued them down. I cut out 9 total 2x2 inch squares from some green scrapbook paper I already had. Then, I stenciled in the letters. Then, I just stapled the letter squares to the fabric strips. Voila!

Merry Christmas frame

Call me the crafty thrifter, this was so much fun! I loved the project, because it formed a color theme throughout the house. The color-coordination makes all the decorations flow together. I still have a little fabric left, so I might have to drum up another project. We shall see.

Christmas Around Our House Part 1

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Here are a few sneak peeks into merry Christmas-making around our parts:

Our local community park does a huge Christmas light show during the holidays. A big fellow in a red suit hides out in one of the heated shelters.

At Santa's Workshop
Seeing Santa
Peanut wore his hat for the occasion. Do you see how intent he is here? He had some serious business to do with the Big Guy.
One of the Christmas traditions both my husband and I were adamant about bringing into our family was cutting our own tree every year. We even did this before the Peanut was in the mix. It's been unusually warm here in Wisconsin, making it much easier to continue that tradition without complaining. Once home, we had a tiny tree-raising ceremony complete with pink cheeks and hot chocolate.

Christmas Floral
Here is where we remind Peanut about the true meaning of Christmas. And the scene behind our learning the lyrics to Away in a Manger. He likes to point to "the stars in the sky" that look down where he lay.

Putting these meaningful touches all around our house is such a source of joy for me. Seeing my son start to understand all the concepts of Christmas and engaging in all our traditions is just amazing.

More to come!

One Scary Moment Equals More Gratitude

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I normally wouldn't post about personal medical topics, but I experienced the scariest moment of my life yesterday morning. I woke up, coughed, and suddenly couldn't breathe. My throat closed up and I felt like I could've died. It was disappointing and terrifying feeling like my body had failed me. After what felt like hours, but probably was more like one minute, I sat down and finally caught a breath and then another. After an ER trip determined I was fine, I went back to life as usual, taking breathing a little less for granted and coughing a little more hesitantly.

With more breaths afforded to me, I thought it appropriate to express my gratitude for what's been happening lately. I am so thankful for:

1. A healthy family. Everyone in my home is feeling well.
2. An exciting meeting at work this week.
3. Accidentally falling asleep with my son, watching Christmas movies, more than once this week. Daddy came in and carefully transplanted the boy into his own bed and then reclaimed his place next to me.
4. Washing dishes under the light of Christmas lights. This will never get old.
5. Putting the finishing touches of Christmas around the house.
6. Teaching the Peanut Christmas carols. We're working on Away in a Manger, and he loves to sing it over and over and over while looking at the nativity. I am more-than-happy to oblige.
7. Watching my nephew's church Christmas program and enjoying lunch afterward with my all-time favorite, beef tips and gravy.
8. Feeling a little like a pioneer with a freezer fully stocked with venison and frozen shredded zucchini.
9. Feeling very supported by my husband who, uncharacteristically, waxed philosophical and offered his massagin' hands.
10. Seeing my Peanut revel in the simple joy that his own light-up Christmas tree brings him at bedtime. It makes a great night light!

Letter to ExerciseTV

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dear ExerciseTV,

Please don't go!

I went to your site yesterday and saw this:

I am in complete denial that this is true, so please tell me that I am seeing things. Is there a petition I can sign or something? This is the biggest travesty to the fitness community that I could ever imagine. Such a shame.

Yours truly,
Avid ExerciseTV user

P.S. to my readers, you can buy a few of their workouts for download for only $1.00. It's like the Dollar Store of workout videos, only the quality of the product is much more savory. Best buck ever spent. And I'm really excited to do this workout tonight. At least there are still some free workout videos out there. If you know of any others out there, please let me know.

Boun-sing Back!

Monday, November 28, 2011

I had a short little hiatus here from work and blogging, but I'm so glad to be back. Just a few weeks more and I'll be taking another one for Christmas. I have encountered a surge of ideas this Monday morning after my little "refresher," which makes every bit of the break sooooo worth it!

This past week I have enjoyed:

1. Making a new Christmas wreath and matching garland (ideas and images coming soon).
2. Thrift shopping for longer than is considered reasonable.
3. Beginning a new exciting project involving old hard covered books, picked up at said thrift store.
4. Staying at a friend's parent's house while my husband hunted deer. After finding three deer, our chest freezer is now fully stocked.
5. Making new friends, adult and tot-sized.
6. Feeling genuinely thankful for our home and family, Thanksgiving or not.
7. Putting lots of thought into Christmas gifts, and checking a few names off.
8. Planning Christmas decorations and traditions (daily readings with hot cocoa, Christmas movies, cutting a tree, etc).
9. Working out extra hard and coming out on the other side of the holiday 1lb lighter.
10. Going to a neat indie craft fair and soaking up the art inspiration and holiday excitement.

How was your week?

Make the World Lovely

Friday, November 18, 2011

I believe in dining room tablecloths
I believe in hair bows and nice socks
I believe in pretty ribbons wrapped around keys on the pegboard
I believe in a feather tucked behind the ear
I believe in doodled love notes tucked inside pockets
I believe in a sparkly swipe of eyeshadow on date night
I believe in caving to that urge to jump in a puddle
I believe in tucking pretty rocks in with the books on the shelf
I believe in tucking extra treats into gift wrapping
I believe in holding hands while watching TV
I believe in spoiling a tiny boy with “campouts” every weekend because we love it too
I believe in one cupcake at midnight
I believe in dancing while you sweep
I believe in coloring inside the letters in work meetings
I believe in keeping an extra picnic blanket in the car
I believe in anything that can make life just a little prettier.

It’s not about materialism or whittling away time on meaningless things, it’s about finding and adding beauty a little here and a little there.

From A Recovering Couch Potato

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I was just thinking the other day about how being the Valedictorian--or even the Salutatorian--was as close as one gym class away for me. I hated gym class. Like so many others, I have stories about wheezing through the one-mile run, being picked last for every sport despite real skill in some, and dreading the mandatory swimming semester. OMG, I have to wear my swimming suit in front of those mean kids?

But as I thought about it, I realized gym class was the very reason that I didn't quite make it to the head of my class. I did graduate #7 out of a class of 366, but #1-4 were the valedictorians and #5-6 were the salutatorians. Yep, I was that close. And gym class (and one *ahem* B in science) was the reason. To guarantee an A for the semester, we had to swim 10 full laps. It took me almost the entire class period, but you can sure as heck bet I eked out those 10 laps. I was retching and dying, but I did it. And somehow I ended up with a B anyway. It was one of those instances where I kick myself for not confronting the teacher about it. But alas, I took my B with my tail between my legs.

Funny thing is, now you would never guess I was that girl. Gym class can "bite me" now. I run at least three days a week, usually around 3 miles each. That one-miler has nothing on my now! I've completed a handful of 5ks and a Half Marathon. Take that mean gym teachers! I get a huge thrill from exercise, I have a huge crush on workout videos, I have a "gym" membership, I inhale every exercise magazine I can lay my hands on, and I secretly sometimes think about being a gym instructor. Take that, gym class!

It's ironic how your body can turn around and do the complete opposite of what you ever thought it could do and that your reason for non-valedictorian-ism is now coughing up the dust you left in your running path.

A Magical 3-Mile Run

Monday, November 14, 2011

I have been dreaming again about the most amazing run I had over the summer as the weather is getting colder. The in-laws were up from Florida for a visit, and they took our family to the Milwaukee Zoo. We stayed overnight nearby so my MIL could spend some time with her closest friend that lives close by. I, of course, packed my runnin' shoes.

Just across the street from the motel was the mouth of a nature path. Around dusk, I laced up and left my two boys to unwind in the room with strict instructions that if I didn't return in 45 minutes to send a search party. I didn't feel like running. True confession: most of the time I don't feel like running. But I know exactly how I'll feel if I do run, so I always do anyway.

The air was perfect for a run. The visual relief of nature was delightful. The departure from the norm was fantastic. Just running in a new place has a way of reviving the spirit of fitness inside me. But it got soooo much better.

I rounded a bend about halfway through my run when I heard some rustling that made my hair stand up. I saw something moving in the brush. Then, a brown neck popped up and I realized I was within feet of a beautiful doe. Right then, I noticed the second one. Those huge eyes, those beautiful bodies standing dead-still waiting to determine if I was a threat. I just smiled at them knowingly as I padded by, trying to send signals with my eyes that I would never hurt them.

Not too far up the path, I reached my halfway point and turned around. Those pretty girls were still there. Those city gals let me get pretty close, so I could snap a shot with my phone as proof. Then, I left them alone again and carried on. Near the end of the run, I saw another flash in the brush. Thinking I'd spied the eyes of a rodent or other little animal, I ran a little faster. But I noticed another flash and another and another until I realized I was completely surrounded by lightning bugs. It was so magical, almost mystical.

I had not seen lightning bugs since I was a kid on a family camping trip. I rode my bike through a small patch of trees and there was a tiny swarm of them. That was another magical moment from another time. I went a little slower for the rest of the run, taking it all in. In fact, I even ran back through one stretch, just so I could run through it again. It was amazing!

Back at the motel, I insisted that the boys retrieve their shoes and follow me back down the path. I got to experience my son's first encounter with lightning bugs and it was so surreal and beautiful.

Nothing beats a run like that.

Fall Reading List

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Books I'm Reading

This is what's on my book list lately. Yep, I'm reading them all at the same time.
I pick up wherever I left off in the tome that matches my mood that day. It's a terrible habit that I have of starting too many books at one time. I'll put books on hold at the library at the same time that an Amazon order arrives at the doorstep and the Bible study starts a new book. Aye!

Thankfully fall is a great time to refresh the bookcases, because there's plenty of dark time to enjoy a few hours of reading.

1. Handmade Marketplace: I've been toying with the idea for awhile of starting an Etsy store. This book is great for goal-setting and branding a craft store.

2. Cannery Row: A friend lent this Steinbeck classic to me. It's great because the chapters are short and they jump around. So, I can pick up where I left off easily. Steinbeck's descriptions are expert!!!

3. God Girl: This is actually meant for the younger lady, but I love it anyway. It's so soft and sweet and makes God feel like your best friend. It's fresh not to be so serious and in-depth once in awhile.

4. Desiring God: I've mentioned this one before. Apparently, it's a Christian classic that's regaining ground again. I love love love the idea of finding or re-living pure joy in God.

5. Power Thoughts: This is the Christian response to the Law of Attraction movement that's shaking the ground right now. It puts thoughts into a Christian perspective. Yes, you can use your thoughts for great things, but you can't "think into being" your favorite house or a million dollars. So helpful for not getting caught up in all those materialistic concepts.

I almost added more to this stack, but I had to stop somewhere. Inevitably, a few will go half-read once the library demands their books back. A book like Desiring God cannot be inhaled in one night. It's meant to be savored and re-visited for a quite some time. Thankfully, some are short enough to be completely read within a few more days. Happy Reading!

De-cluttering Old Schoolwork

Monday, November 7, 2011

I went in the attic to locate a buried research paper example for my husband. He has to write a 10 to 12-pager by the end of the semester and doesn't even know what one looks like. Well, being an English major, I had 10 to 15-pagers aplenty. So I went on a search to find one that I could easily explain to him. A paper deconstructing literature would've been much too difficult to break down for him.

I found the paper I was looking for quite easily and then I tried to pry something...anything...out of the box and into the garbage. After all, I know I will never return to those notes or those posters or any of it really. I paged through one notebook and thought about it in the garbage and immediately returned it to the box. I just.can' Short of someone coming in with a pry bar, I cannot let these papers go. The time invested. The real raw blood, sweat and tears. Those four whole gruelling years of full-time school and full-time work to put myself through college. It feels like trying to amputate my own limb.

I marveled at the way I could write. I mean, I know I can write, but sometimes I forget exactly how keen my intellect can be amidst piles of research and analysis. I'll admit, looking through the papers calms my inferiority complex a bit. Especially coming across all the letters and stickers I got for being on the Dean's list almost every semester. I don't mean to boast, because most of the time I'm pretty hard on myself, but sometimes those gentle reminders of our talents and abilities really do give us a boost.

Then, I think about my kids coming across my old papers one day. I came across old papers from my mom's elementary school days and I was completely enamored. Seeing her handwriting and her grades and imagining her in cute red polyester jumpsuits sitting at her Catholic school desk was just too sweet to miss. I wondered if somehow I time-traveled and ended up in her same class, if we would instantly be best friends. Wanting to immerse myself in that sentiment, I even swiped one of her rad retro leftover folders.

Being the writer that I am, the back page of every one of my notebook was littered with my word graffiti. Story ideas were born there. Poems originated in the margins. My favorite words were recorded there. The beauty of being a harried student and full-time worker is that the best ideas are born out of the overwhelming chaos. My muse materializes during bouts of over-scheduling and information overload. I built a lot of my best work off of those scribbled-up "back pages."

A friend and I just had a conversation about decluttering old school papers. She just did it with a shrug of the shoulder and her head turned the other way. I told her that I really tried to channel her in my own purge attempt, but it totally failed. I'm convinced that pieces of my identity are tucked inside the folds in there. It's only one box anyway. It's not like Hoarders territory or anything. I'll think I'll keep them just a little longer.

Is there anything that you still cling to? Your favorite dolly from childhood (oops, I'm guilty of this one too), your collection of Tonka trucks or pen pal letters?

Peanut Picnics #6

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Our sixth picnic ended faster than it started. But hey, at least we got to eat before we left.


Those boys no longer cooperate with the camera either. Ha! Nice milk mustache, man.


This was probably one of the most random outings we've had yet. There was a squirrel checking us out.

The boys insisted I take a picture of a floating bottle.

But the water always brings an extra sense of wonder to those playful pups. And the weather was unseasonably warm for an October day in Wisconsin.

See the watch on his arm? I guess this could be considered foreshadowing to what happened, but that is actually a "potty timer." Thanks Pull-Ups!

The boys did get to play for a few minutes though.


We got to play for about 5 minutes. Momma included. They put me on one of those spinny playground chairs. But my feet couldn't even reach the ground. And those things are engineered to keep spinning to infinity. I had to cry out between fits of laughter for them to stop me.

That's when I noticed the wet spot down the legs of the boy who insisted on wearing real underwear to the park. And that was the short end of that. Thank goodness I had an extra Pull-Up in the car.

DIY Baby Milestone Book

Saturday, November 5, 2011



Two of my dearest friends recently brought brand new additions into their homes. For their baby showers, I designed two little books for each of them. One was a baby milestone book and the other was a letter-a-year book. I think it's much too difficult to keep up with baby milestones in a big scrapbook or other complicated way, especially with the culture shock that a new baby adds to daily life. To make it easy for them, I made one page for each month, printed with journal lines for a quick jot. Even the most harried mommies amongst us can handle that, right? That is, if we remember...


The back of the book had a few pages to reminisce about other things, such as "Our Favorite Lullabies" and "Our Family Tree." I also included a little envelope for the first lock of hair.




The second book was designed with one pocket for each of the child's birthdays through age 18. And each pocket was furnished with one sheet of writing paper. The idea is to write a quick note to your child on each birthday about what the past year meant to you and to let your heart out. Then, when they're old enough to appreciate it, you can share the stack of letters with them. I do this every year for my son, and I thought I would share this wonderful tradition with my good friends and blog readers.


For each, I bought a stack of baby-themed cardstock from Hobby Lobby. I punched a hole in the corner of each sheet and strung them through a binder clip. The stamped words throughout were made from a small set of letter stampers. I embellished the pages with a few baby-themed stickers and other ephemera, but I wanted to keep it fairly simple. I just can't wait to see what the ladies do with them!

DIY Envelope System

Friday, November 4, 2011

I needed an envelope system for the cash I regularly carry in my purse that was:
  • Not bulky--a girl's purse is already a shoulder breaker
  • Organized--trying to keep all the money straight isn't easy for a girl on a budget
  • Cute--has to fit the whole aesthetic of the purse, wallet, etc.
  • Easy to grab and go
I was concerned that the prevalent cloth versions on Etsy would get bulky and beat up in a purse. I was thinking, what could I use that has multiple pockets, doesn't bend and is super-slim? Ah-ha, a pocket picture album! Dollar bills fit in 4x6 album pages perfectly. Keeping in line with said budget, the project is also super low-cost. Even a few friends have even adopted this great idea.

Supplies: heavy-duty scissors, contact paper/adhesive drawer liner, a 4x6 picture album, embellishments, 1 standard sheet of 12x12 scrapbook paper cut into six 4x6 sheets.


1. Cut a piece of contact paper slightly smaller than the width/height of the album cover. Fold it in half about three times.

2. Cut the contact paper like those snowflakes you made as a child. You will need the heavy-duty scissors to cut through those thick layers.


3. Apply the resulting paper design to the cover. If you've found a vintage photo album that already has a beautiful cover, feel free to skip these first three steps!


4. Insert the scrapbook paper into six pages of the album. Feel free to use more if you need to.


5. I used some leftover scraps of contact paper and a felt-tip marker to label each envelope: EAT, DUDS, POST, ENTERTAIN, SUNDAY, and SPEND. Be sure to label the outside of the picture sleeve or your greenbacks will cover up the label and you'll waste time trying to figure out which pocket is which.

6. Embellish as desired. I didn't want to add any sort of money symbols to the front cover so I could keep the wallet more "covert." I didn't want to make it very inviting for sticky fingers.

This project is a great way to prepare for all those upcoming New Years' Resolutions or to keep tabs on your Christmas budget. I've heard it said (from financial professionals) that the envelope system is one of the best methods for keeping a budget, so I'm sticking to it. When the "out to eat" money is gone, it's gone. But hey, I feel so excited that we even have an "out to eat" category in our budget now.

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