Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye 2007!

Photo by Heather Bauers Photography. Used with permission.

Here's a snapshot of our life in 2007. (Edited text from our Christmas card)

Enjoying our children – Sportster(5), Sister (3) and Smiley (18months). What they come up with never ceases to amaze us!
Playing Sportster & Sister enjoyed swimming lessons, and as a family we went tent-camping trip with our Sunday school community. Daddy & Sportster had fun taking in a Colorado Rockies game, too.
Visiting We enjoyed having many guests in our home throughout the year and have great memories of those times with family and friends. Consider yourself invited if you ever make it out our way.
Working Dear husband as employee, excellent father, chief bedtime-story-reader and avid hockey follower. Rachel as stay-at-home mom, cook, laundress, blogger and coupon clipper. Kiddos find their main work in the business of play and learning to obey and respect their parents.
Improving We finally joined the 21st century and embraced this great invention called a “cell phone.” We also went to work on xeriscaping our front yard and installing a patio in our backyard.
Praying for God's wisdom and direction in parenting, for purpose in living life in this season of rearing young children, for contentment in our circumstances, for healing for loved ones suffering great physical pain and burdened hearts, for growth in our understanding of His Word and reliance on Him.
Thanking God for His provisions great and small. For salvation through His Son. For His mercies which are new every morning. For the Word. For our church home. For a new senior pastor at our church. For loving families. For relationships which challenge and encourage. For shelter and food and clothing. For good health. We serve a faithful Father!

Happy 2008!

Christmas Highlights

We had a great Christmas season. We enjoyed celebrating with our children at home before travelling to see loved ones for the weekend leading up to Christmas. It was a simple celebration with only one token photo taken. Putting the camera away while we opened gifts actually made the experience much more relaxing for all of us. We opened gifts early in the day so the kids would have time to enjoy them before going to bed and so they could show Grandma and Grandpa their new things via webcam that night.

Decorating at our house was light this year. We mostly just put up the tree and a few other things. We have two bins of Christmas decorations which is enough for us, but only one bin full of stuff was put out this year and our house still felt festive. To solve storage and gift security concerns, we decorated with wrapped gifts on our stairway plant shelves and on top of our kitchen cabinets. Just last year in late October our older two children found all the wrapped gifts inside a bag, inside a large box in our basement and opened them all right then and there. Let me just say the joy of wrapping the same gift a second time is just not quite as rich. I also purchased a live clearance rosemary "tree" for $2.50 which was all we spent on decorations this year. Another decoration was a 5 minute project of printing the word "joy" in red ink on scrapbooking paper and putting in a spare matted frame [photo at top of post].

We enjoyed our time spent with family, too, though we ended up "sharing the love" and the flu bug with each family there. Four of the five of us suffered its effects as well. I was able to attend a Julotta service at my parents' church on Christmas morning which was good since our church attendance has been sparse this month due to sick children, which is just par for the course in this stage of life. Our baby is growing up and enjoyed the gifts this year, especially the wrapped packages of others that he tried to run off with again and again.

We are now home and ready to un-decorate and work on getting things put away into their new homes. Happy New Year!

Photo Board

We are delighted each Christmas to receive cards and photos from friends and family and like to display those photos throughout the year on a place other than our fridge. We have had a fancy memo board hanging in our kitchen to hold these photos. It was a MOPS craft a few years ago where we used a picture frame and then inserted a piece of corkboard which I painted and backed it with cardboard. That board was getting too small for all the photos we receive so this year I came up with this. It is simply a painted memo boad (the same one as the advent calendar) hung by a pretty ribbon that was on a package I received this Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Popcorn Treats

Tis the season to thank those who help you all the year through! I really appreciate the care my children receive while I work out at the Y, so I wanted to do something to express our thanks to each staff member. Since we are using what we have this Christmas I had to get creative. I had to think backward and first consider what kinds of packaging I had available and it was pretty slim paper plates in the house, no treat bags and also no disposable food storage containers or platters. What I did have were baggies, the good old-fashioned kind that you tie shut. Now, on to the ingredients. Marshmallows that had seen fresher days (i.e. too smashed together to use for hot chocolate), a few kinds of sweet add-ins and popcorn. I've got it...popcorn balls. I mixed a few recipes I found online and came up with these.
Popcorn Balls
1 lb. marshmallows
1 C. butter
20-22 C. popped popcorn (for me this was 2/3 C. of unpopped kernels)
1/2 of 6 oz. bag of craisins
6 oz. raisins
1 C. peanuts
1/2 of 11 oz. bag of M&Ms
cooking spray, butter or a bit of oil - for your hands
1. Before you turn on your stove:
- run a sinkful of hot soapy water
- line two baking sheets or your countertop with wax paper.
2. Make popcorn and remove any unpopped kernels. Then place in very large bowl. 32 cup capacity should do it.
3. In medium bowl, mix together craisins, raisins, peanuts and M&Ms.
4. Melt butter, then add in marshmallows over low heat, stirring frequently until melted.
5. Pour melted marshmallows over popcorn. Quickly dump pot into soapy water.
6. Stir like crazy! A heat resistant spatula is best. Wooden spoon, not so much.
7. Add the mix-ins and stir quickly.
8. Spray hands with cooking spray.
9. Quickly form into balls and place on wax paper.
10. Wash up your dirty dishes and your popcorn balls should be ready to package.
This made 33 popcorn balls, each being about the size of a small apple.
Once these were made it was on to the packaging. I wrapped each one in a baggie and tied with ribbon. Without any other containers on hand, I put these in a plastic tub, the kind spinach comes in when you buy it at a wholesale club. I put a piece of green tissue paper at the bottom for color, filled it up with the individually wrapped popcorn balls, and placed a thank you card loosely on the edge. At the bottom of the notecard I provided the ingredient list, just to be on the safe side with allergies and such. We'll bring these into those fine folks tomorrow.
Here's a rough cost breakdown.
popcorn - gift from extended family
marshmallows - $1.00
butter - 1.00
craisins - .75
raisins - .75
peanuts - .25
M&Ms - .50 (sale & coupon)
baggies - .50
ribbon, card & tissue - .25
Total Cost = $5, or about 15 cents each
This took under one hour of my time and I hope it will bless them this season.
Below is a bonus for the grandparents of some other sweet things in our house tonight! Smiley was already in bed. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Advent Calendar Board

Last year I saw so many cool Advent calendars that I thought we should really try to have one this year. Being inspired by this catalog and its display of ornaments, I set to work to create a loose impression of this while adding special activites behind each number for our family to enjoy during this season as we celebrate the Savior's birth.

I took a corkboard we had and gave it a coat of deep red paint. It was already red, just not quite the right shade. I then punched out little tags of printed scrapbook paper, stamped numbers for each day and used a hole punch at the top end of each tag. I typed a list of simple, fun and educational ideas and formatted the ideas so two would fit on a 3 1/2 by 5" card when printed. I then printed the cards, cut them in half, punched a hole in the top of each half and mounted a date tag with a gold tack onto the board. The things we have done or will be doing this month include:

Put up the tree
Enjoy hot cocoa with Christmas music
Take a drive to see the lights
Read the Christmas story
Make gingerbread loaves
Deliver gifts to friends & neighbors
Read Christmas cards from friends & family
Go for a moonlight walk to see lights around us
Watch a Christmas movie
Go to the zoo
Eat a candy cane
Put up outside lights
Sing Christmas carols
Discuss Advent in general
First Candle: Good Shepherd / Hope / Prophecy
Second Candle: Forgiveness / Peace
Third Candle: Joy
Fourth Candle: the Son
Christ Candle: Our King has come!
Cut paper snowflakes and hang
Go get Daddy at work & get a holiday coffee
Bring a food donation to Care & Share
Attend a concert
Go see a live nativity
Decorate sugar cookies
Make cookies

So far the kids have enjoyed getting a card down to read and do each night and look forward to that time. This was a super simple project and was designed not to add more items to do this season, but rather help us be more purposeful with our celebration and family time. This was also a frugal project.
Corkboard - on hand
Paint - $.70
2 pieces of scrapbook paper - $.50
13 note cards - $.02 (clearance)
rubber stamps and ink - on hand
tacks - on hand
Total cost = $1.22

After Christmas is over we will store the cards and date tags for another year in an envelope and put the corkboard to other uses. Even though this is not elaborate, I hope we will be able to get a tradition going that will be enjoyed each Christmas in our home. As our children grow and it becomes easier to do some things outside the home we'll easily be able to change out the cards to suit our family's schedule, attention spans and resources.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'm Dreaming of a Light Christmas

With the Christmas season gearing up, I'm taking a good hard look at our our schedule, budget and intentions. With those things in mind I'm hoping to enjoy a Christmas with our family that is rich in tradition and memories and lighter on our pocketbook and storage space. I've come up with a few tactics for making this possible.

1. We'll use what we have.
We won't be buying wrapping paper, cardstock or envelopes this year. We seem to have enough of these supplies and it would be nice to lighten the load on our storage areas instead of having each area/container/etc. packed to the brim. I did need to buy some tissue paper, but I think that'll be all. This has gone even deeper...into my fabric stash even! After all, what am I saving all those scraps for? I've made some simple bags from those scraps and used my pinking shears around the edges and cinched them up with pretty ribbons. This is a good option for our family as we need to ship gifts across the border. These gifts are completely accessible for examination by customs officials while still not being completely obvious to the recipient until the desired time for gift openings.

In the kitchen, we'll make homemade gifts from ingredients we mostly already have and using containers we have on hand.

For our children's homemade gifts this year (I try to make something homemade for each of them each Christmas), I'll be using fabric and supplies I have squirreled away in months and yes, years, past. No, the fabric may not be the perfect color or print, but who wants to go to the craft superstore in late November and December? Not me!

We won't be purchasing new decorations this year, though I'm still contemplating an ornament for each child. We'll need to repurpose some items that are not traditionally reserved for Christmas. I've got some ideas up my sleeve in this area so I'm hoping for the best.

2. We'll do our best to operate with the one item in, one item out principle. This is certainly a challenging area for us, especially when it comes to toys. But, without some kind of limits, our house which is extremely low on designated storage space becomes overrun with toys and the kids get overwhelmed and don't really play, but go from toy to toy to toy, not really enjoying any of them. I admit that this is one of those areas where I like to talk a good game, but seem to find it hard to part with things. I'll try to stay strong this year, though!

3. We'll slow down to enjoy the season. At least this is my hope. We're only planning on attending a couple of parties so this should not be too difficult. Somehow I have visions of sitting around in the evening sipping hot chocolate with the children, listening to Christmas music and just enjoying time together. To make this a reality I'll need to stay on top of my routines and be disciplined throughout the day to complete necessary tasks so that there is time to just enjoy being together as a family and to enjoy a few low-preparation activities. With the kids being 5, 3 and 1, I'm letting go of ideas of a perfectly decorated home or tree, perfectly decorated sugar cookies or even a wonderfully presented meal. I'll do my best and allow my children to do the same so we can relax and make happy memories together.

4. We'll give gifts to bless, not impress. Our aim will be to give gifts that will be sure to be enjoyed and used, not to "wow" anyone. We just as well adopt this approach since it is no surprise that it is beyond our means to be passing out cashmere sweaters and iPods. Hopefully the lovingly wrapped humble gifts we are able to give will communicate our love and care more than the use of our Visa card ever could.

4. We'll spend time teaching our children the real meaning of Christmas so that, hopefully, the above four items can all be kept in proper perspective.

Merry Christmas! What ideas do you have for joyfully managing the holidays?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Daily Bread

Last weekend I happened to look on our Craig's List and found an amazing deal on something we had seriously been contemplating purchasing. I know it is just "stuff", but I'm still thanking God for these items....and imagine I will for years to come. So, what ARE these items? A Bosch mixer and a Nutrimill grain mill, used for less than 6 months by the original owner and sold to me for $100, a $500-600 savings!!!! I've been watching auctions for these items and even if they are well-used, the prices just don't go down that much. Can you tell I'm excited?!

I made my first batch of bread yesterday and it was so easy and tastes so good. And to know that it is so healthy is wonderful, too. And can I just say how good it feels to serve this to my kids and have them say, "Mom, this is the best bread ever"?
The Lord has provided our daily bread and we are thankful!

Around the Kitchen

Lately I've been more excited to try some new things in the kitchen. I don't know if it is because it's finally feeling like fall or because we've been needing to stretch our grocery budget farther. Whatever the reason, I'm pleased with the results.

Last week I found a sale on soon-expiring organic milk. Our kids go through A LOT of yogurt every week and that has not been helping the budget so much. I know we could reduce their yogurt consumption, but it is one of those foods they enjoy that is good for them and we don't have a battle about them eating. So when I saw half-gallons of this organic milk marked down to $1.34 I just had to bring it home and try my hand at making yogurt. I've read of a few different methods, but the method I tried was to heat the milk to nearly boiling on the stove, cool to a temperature of 110 degrees (I used a candy thermometer), then pour into containers, add a few tablespoons of plain yogurt to each container and place in the oven overnight with the oven light on for warmth. From a half-gallon of milk I filled 2-28oz. mason jars and one 4 1/2 cup pyrex dish. In the morning I put a lid on each container and refrigerated until use. One jar turned out great and the other two were a bit too runny, though they tasted great. Next time I will have the oven on warm before placing the containers inside and then shut the oven off. For the time it took and how quickly we consume yogurt, I think I will start with one gallon of milk next time. I may also experiment with a warm water bath process which you can do with a good cooler. Rest assured, none went to waste. I was able to mix the runny yogurt with baby cereal for Smiley and for smoothies for the older kids.

Last week I also tried making pumpkin puree. It worked great. I had a pie pumpkin I had purchased as a fall decoration. Unfortunately, we never got around to carving it with the kids so it was still sitting on the counter and I figured I should use it up before it went bad. I cut it in half, removed the seeds and fibers, placed it in a baking dish with a bit of water, covered and baked at 325 degrees for about 1 hour. When it was cool enough to handle I scooped the pumpkin away from the skin and put that in a blender. I now have about 5 cups of puree in the freezer for later use. The kids also enjoyed some smoothies that included the remnants left in the blender jar. This week I saw an episode of Martha Stewart and she recommended letting the puree sit over cheesecloth for an hour to remove excess moisture, but I think I'll just compensate with an extra quantity of dry ingredients when I use this for baking.

I know these are not revolutionary ideas, but I'm celebrating the small victory that comes in using what you have.

A Box for This, A Box for That

Over the last couple of weeks I've been getting the inspiration to get a bit more organized around here, especially in the little areas. You know, the areas that tend to annoy you because they are always a bit out of order or where you can't quickly find what you are looking for when you need it.

My accordion check file coupon organizer just wasn't working for me anymore. I needed more categories and more space to store the coupons, but didn't want to spend money on something that was supposed to be saving me money. We had a few spare baby wipes containers around the house so I gave it a shot. I took an empty clean container, drilled a hole on each end, strung a ribbon through the holes and knotted them on the inside of the box. For the dividers I typed up all the categories on the computer and spaced them according to how tall I wanted the dividers to stand in the box, printed them off on colored cardstock, cut them up and folded clear packing tape over the top edge to reinforce the card. So far it has been very handy and I've been able to locate coupons so much more quickly this way. Here is what it looks like.

Another area that needed to work better for me was my ribbon box. This is obvious from the "before" shot, ribbons thrown in there in a jumbled mess.

With the idea from this free magazine I put together a much more orderly box using a 6-quart plastic bin and a 3/8" dowel, cut to the appropriate length. I did not have the bin or dowel on hand, but in total this project was still under $2.50. And that's a small price to pay for so much order.
A business professor from my university days once made the statement, "Order creates energy." This idea has really stuck with me and I do believe it holds true, especially in regard to our home. When everything has a place and is in its place I do have more energy and am more enthusiastic about starting and completing whatever task is at hand.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Closet Redo

I've been getting a bit restless with our home lately. I guess I'm just ready for some changes so today on a whim I organized and revamped the boys' closet. I used what I had on hand and it worked out pretty well.

Here is how it started out. The double sliding doors have not been handy at all since we've had the both of the boys' clothes in the closet together.

After I removed the doors. It's not terribly messy, but I also don't want to see it this way all the time. And the "after" shot, with red gingham curtains hung from a spare shower curtain rod. Thanks for the fabric, Mom! I only spent about an hour sewing the curtains so that was a pretty quick fix. I also moved the changing table into the closet from another room. This arrangement will work better with clothes right by the changing station. Now I'm on the lookout for some stylish and/or functional tie-backs for when the curtains are open. The space for clothing has been reduced, but this will force us to keep their wardrobes a bit simpler and rotate clothes in and out for the seasons.

Retreat and Renewal

The weekend before last I had the opportunity to join women from our church on a women's retreat. I haven't really been involved in the women's ministry at our church, but my dear husband saw fit to sign me up. He thought I needed a break. And what a good break it was! It was the first time since 2003 that I've spent a night away from my children (except for being in the hospital to have another baby) so it was time. This is also the first time since about that time that I haven't been pregnant or had a baby so this was my chance to finally go. I had been telling my husband for months now that I have needed a break but when the time came to leave my kiddos I was the one crying like a baby. After I got over the trauma of leaving them, I really enjoyed the weekend of solid teaching, sweet fellowship, delicious meals served to me that I did not prepare or clean up after and a little downtime to rest, too. I came away really refreshed from the break from normal responsibilities and renewed in my passion for the Word of God.

Here are some photos from a hike I took with a friend on Saturday. When was the last time I've had a chance for a hike without pushing a jogger stroller or wearing a front carrier?! We thought this was a cool rock and reminded us of Jonah and the whale.

All in all, a great weekend! And a million thanks to my wonderful husband for caring for our children so I could go!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Can We Build It? Yes, We Can!

Sportster would know this is what Bob the Builder would say. He really enjoyed helping Grandpa and Daddy work on building the patio in our backyard. We are so thankful to my father-in-law for his know-how and hard work. We can't wait to get out there and use this new space as the weather permits.

Hooray, no more big yard projects!

Special Visitors

September and October have been busy months with visitors coming out to spend time with us. We are so thankful since time with our families is the best gift we all can receive from them. It is just wonderful for the kiddos to have time to be with their grandparents and enjoy the story times, the jokes and the fun outings we take together, to experience little bits of life together. Here are a few photo highlights of those visits.

A shot with Grandpa and Grandma.

Bundled up after swimming lessons, which Grandma and Grandpa and Great Grandma were able to watch.

Enjoying Smiley on the move.

Playing at Flying W Ranch.

Grandma found some friendly budgies at the zoo.

Grandpa making popcorn for the kiddos, complete with the Popcorn Song.

Storytime with Grandpa.

The kiddos with Great Grandma.

A piano lesson with Nana.

More fun with Nana.

If you are reading this and know us in real life, consider yourself invited! We'd love to have you here with us to share some days with you!

Time Flies!

We celebrated the birthday of our firstborn in September. Sportster turned 5. I think back to a little over 5 years ago when the thought and act of parenting was still so foreign and filled with so many questions. We are still filled with questions and seeking God for His wisdom, but the questions have changed. Nothing can really completely prepare you for the joy, the responsibility, the emotional challenge and the work of parenting. In the early days it is all you can do to just keep up with diaper changes and feedings and trying to fit in sleep whenever possible. Time has flown by since that time in our lives when Sportster was a newborn. Now he is on to writing his letters, learning to read, riding his bike, talking on the phone to his grandparents, and learning about the Lord. We are so blessed to have him in our lives! He brings our home so much laughter.

Here are few shots from his birthday. Grandma, Grandpa and Great Grandma were able to visit during that time, which made it extra special. On his birthday we went to the zoo and to his favorite restaurant and a few days later he had a special outing on the Royal Gorge Train with Grandma and Grandpa.

Blowing out the candles on the special cake made and decorated by Grandma.

Climbing the spider web at the zoo.

A fun meal out to celebrate.

Talking to Nana and Papa , with the assistance of Smiley.

Enjoying the train ride with Grandma and Grandpa.

Our little boy is indeed growing up!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Middle-O-Nowhere Adventures

Or, Reason #162 Why We Need A Cell Phone, or It Could Have Been Worse, or Sure Glad We Have AAA!

Our trip back home from FarmMed proved to be far longer and more interesting than the usual 6 hour drive back to the Springs. More than two hours into the journey we heard an awful banging noise coming from the front of our van. Within a mile or two we were on the side of the road where we spent about the next three hours on a 90 degree day with three young children. Actually, this really could have been worse as the place we pulled off had huge shade trees and one functioning swing for the kids. It was one of those small-town pull-offs that are intended for tourists that have a few picnic tables but still no bathrooms. This is when our cell phone, which we got just two weeks earlier, came in very handy. We've been holding out on getting one for years, but this van with over 190,000 miles is one of the biggest reasons we finally caved. The AAA membership that offers 100 miles of towing was also a big plus in this somewhat remote location. We ended up calling my mom to come and get us (somehow tow trucks can't accommodate 5 people, 3 of whom have car seats), towing the van back to the town nearest FarmMed (using 94 of our towing miles) and spending another night there before having the car fixed by a trusted shop the next day. Thankfully we were able to get home the next day without event, but somehow it seems this type of adventure may become more frequent until that fine day when we have saved enough for a van without so many miles on the odometer. Ah, the memories!

Still smiling!

Thanks Mom and Dad for another night of lodging and for coming to help us. We really hope we won't need you to do this again.