Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rainbow Birthday Party

We celebrated our daughters' birthdays this past weekend. We decided that a rainbow party was in order and with a limited budget it was time to get creative. With a little extra work leading up to the party we were able to have a fun little party with all the most important things: friends, family, and celebrating our girls. The first thing was to look around our house at what we already had available to use. Sometimes just a little imagination and some time can turn into something beautiful.

Rainbow Party Decorations:

DIY Crochet Garland:

I already had all the colors in yarn so I crocheted two little rainbow flag garlands. The girls will be able to hang them above their beds now that the party is over and it was a quick project I was able to finish in a couple evenings.

DIY Photo Collage:

Shane has a print center at his work and they give him a credit to use each month so we were able to print pictures of the girls to make a fun collage of them. The girls loved looking at all the pictures. As a side note, if you are feeling down I would encourage you to take a few minutes, or an hour if you are like me, and look through the pictures from the past 10 years. It really reminded me how blessed I am and helped me feel more content again.

DIY Rainbow Dots and Stars:

I had a bunch of craft paper so we broke out my circle cutter and cut a bunch of different size circles. The girls had tons of fun hanging them all over the garage. We also used my little star punch and made some little rainbow star confetti to put on the tables.

Rainbow Food:

I purchased some skittles and rainbow twizzlers to add a little bit of rainbow fun. We also did a fruit tray in rainbow colors of course. I used watermelon, cantelope, pineapple, honeydew melon, blueberries, and purple plums. A pasta salad with a rainbow of veggies in it including tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, peppercini peppers, peas, and purple (red) onion. The rest of the food was not rainbow but yummy none the less. For drinks I froze different color Kool Aid as ice cubes. Then we added one of each color ice cube to a clear cup and poured Sprite over the top. I figured that the kids would love it but was surprised that many of the adults enjoyed it too.

Rainbow Cakes:

For the cakes I made one of our favorite cake recipes, snickerdoodle. But I tried out a pinterest idea and made the batter rainbow colors. I thought about doing a six layer cake so each color could be its own layer. However, I needed to make two cakes and was afraid that two six layer cakes would be too much. Further, I was worried about getting the cakes to stay standing and not sliding apart in the heat of summer. I am not a cake professional so I wanted to keep things simple. Instead I made two batches of the cake mix, after mixing up the batter, I split the batter evenly into three portions and colored each portion. The first batch was colored with red, orange, and yellow and the second batch with green, blue, and purple. This allowed me to have a two layer cake in all the rainbow colors for each of the girls. They turned out looking festive and when we cut into them we were all so happy with the results. It was a bright colorful surprise.

What are some of your best or favorite DIY party ideas? Have you made decorations or themed food for a party?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Finish Along Goals

I have a long list of things I'd like to get finished before baby comes. There is a Finish-A-Long going on over at She Can Quilt and I thought it might be just the accountability I need to actually get a few things finished around here. So here's my list of goals for the third quarter.

1. I REALLY need to finish up this swoon quilt. It is for a friend and they have been so patient but it is beyond embarrassing now. It is almost there so if I can just focus and finish up the quilting and bind it I can mail it off to a happy new home.

2. This is a baby size quilt made with flannel from Anna Maria Horner. The colors are a bit off in the picture. It is so soft and yummy. I'd love to finish the blocks and maybe even get the top finished before the end of the quarter.

3. And finally, I'd love to finish up this experiment. Originally, I was playing around with my own quilt designs and this is one idea that emerged. It is a fun project to work on because it is an appliqué quilt instead of a pieced quilt. The appliqué goes quickly so I think this is one I could finish up completely. I need to finish the top, baste, quilt, and bind.

she can quilt

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vacation and Birthdays

Last week we went on a vacation with some of my extended family to San Diego. It was six fun days full of sand, SeaWorld, a children's museum, fireworks, tons of good food, an aircraft carrier, and lots of cousins playing together. I came home feeling like I needed another vacation to rest (do you feel like that sometimes too?) but instead we came home to a freezer that was left slightly open the whole time. Sigh. So after deep cleaning the freezer, the fridge, and under/behind the refrigerator I am now preparing for a birthday party in a couple days to celebrate our girls. Sydney turned 8 this past Monday and Violet turns 4 on the 17th. Maybe there will be more resting next week. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Letterboxing: Introduction

Last fall, some close friends introduced us to letterboxing and it has become our new favorite family activity. Letterboxing is creative, adventurous, and good old-fashioned outdoor fun.

Letterboxing started in Europe back in the 1850's and has grown and evolved over time. Today there are boxes all over the world for you to find. Basically, you have a signature stamp and a personal log book. Then you look up clues to find a letterbox somewhere in the world. You follow the clues and hunt for the box. Inside each letterbox is a stamp and log book. You simple exchange stamps: place your signature/family stamp in the box's log book and place the letterbox's stamp in your personal log book.

It is such a simple idea yet the adventures are incredibly fun. Try thinking of combining walking/hiking with a treasure hunt. Some of the clues are simple directions and others are difficult codes and ciphers waiting to be unlocked. It is such a great way to unplug from our computers, phones, and video games, get outside, and have some family fun. Another great side effect is that we have discovered so many great areas that we never knew about in our city.

If you are interested, I would encourage you to find a letterbox close to you and go check it out. It can be a free activity if you already have a stamp and just use some paper you have on hand. If you enjoy it as much as our family does you will be setting aside whole days for hunting boxes, carving stamps, and planting your own boxes soon.

There are two main websites where clues are posted:
Atlas Quest
Letterboxing North America

Have you heard of letterboxing before or are you a newbie like me? Have you participated in letterboxing before? What experiences have you had out on the hunt?

Linked up at The HomeAcre Hop.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Simple Crochet Washcloths

I recently made a couple of simple crocheted washcloths. I like to use 100% cotton for them because they last a little longer. For some reason, most synthetic yarns seem to unravel and break with the scrubbing and repeated washing that our washcloths go through.

In case you would like to make one for your home or for a gift here is a quick pattern.

Simple Crochet Washcloth Pattern
Hook size G
100% Cotton medium gauge yarn

Row 1: Chain 40.
Row 2-31: Chain 1 (for your first stitch). Half double stitch in each remaining stitch.

*As you approach the last row take a minute to measure and see if your washcloth will be square. You can do one less or one more row if you need to help get a nice square washcloth.

*Try changing colors for some variety. You can do stripes or even an ombre washcloth to match your preference and style.
Linked up at The HomeAcre Hop.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Citrus Marmalade

One of Shane's favorite things is marmalade. When I asked him if he had any requests for canning this year all he asked for was marmalade.

I thought it might be fun to try a couple different variations to see if we can perfect our family favorite. First up is this Three Citrus Marmalade from Marisa at Food In Jars.

This recipe calls for grapefruit, navel oranges, and lemons to create a slightly more bitter marmalade. I used a peeler to get all the zest off the citrus and then minced it into fine little strips. The zest was boiled for a bit while I removed all the rine, seeds, and membranes from the remaining fruit. Then the zest pieces, 4 cups of the zest liquid, 6 cups of sugar, all the fruit pieces, and a packet of pectin were put in a large pot to boil. The original recipe has you keep all the membranes and seeds to extract the pectin. Simply place all the leftover pieces in a cheesecloth and place it in your marmalade as it cooks. Then discard the bundle before you place your jam in jars. However, I did not have any cheesecloth handy so I simply added the pectin instead.

My first try at the recipe did not set up so we ended up with a bunch of marmalade syrup. The following day I opened all the jars back up and cooked the jam up again. This time I made sure to get the marmalade up to 220 degrees and cook it there for 3 minutes before placing it back into clean, sterilized jars. In the future I just need to remember that citrus doesn't have a lot of pectin so I need to take care to make sure it gets all the way up to temperature. Of course, extracting the pectin naturally from the seeds and membranes of the fruit would also helped with this.

We did keep one pint of syrup to use over french toast or for yogurt parfaits. I think we might have to make some homemade ice cream to try with it soon. The jam tastes so perfectly sweet and bitter on toast. I think it would also be amazing on biscuits so I think I'll be making some soon.

Do you have any favorite marmalade recipes we should try?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Patchwork Ball...Again.

We had a friend's 1st birthday party to celebrate a couple weeks ago. As I was thinking through what we should give him I decided to make him a patchwork ball. The one I made Violet a couple years ago still gets used around our house. Luke loves playing with it but the girls still play with it too. What do an almost 4 and almost 8 year old do with a cloth ball? They play catch with Luke, use it as a pillow, and the current discovery is playing indoor dodgeball.

How many plastic toys get used by that age range for this many years? Not many!

I just grabbed some different bright fabric scraps I had and sewed up this playful ball. This is a quick project and one of the benefits of making something for a 1 year old is being able to pick an assortment of colors and patterns. I just love the little lion print with all the geometric patterns. The ball pattern is from Anna Maria Horner's book Seams to Me.

What are some of your favorite gifts for toddlers?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Eating and Preserving Summer Squash

Currently, the garden is producing summer squash in abundance. I am so happy to have something edible coming from the garden. A coworker of Shane's suggested we get a small kitchen scale and start weighing our harvests. It has been so much fun and I would highly recommend it whether your garden is big or small. The kids love to help weigh everything and the whole family is getting excited over the growing totals. We started weighing about half way through May so these totals are for the last couple weeks.

May Garden Totals:
Patty squash - 5.96 lb.
Round Summer Squash - 9.38 lb.
Cucumbers - 2.91 lb.
Basil - 0.18 oz.

May 2013 Total: 18.27 lb.

As you can see we have had lots of squash coming from the garden. We shared some with friends who came for dinner. The rest we have either been eating or preserving. We grilled some with salt and pepper, steamed a bunch for dinner and eating cold for snacks, baked squash blueberry bread, and had a vegetable soup with lots of squash and homemade bread. Basically, we have had squash in some form for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner at many points over the past couple weeks. With still more squash every couple days, I started looking for ways to preserve it for the winter when we will miss these beautiful summer squashes. After looking into different options I decided that for now I'd just freeze the squash.

First I cut the squash into pieces. I choose to do these in batches of 2 to 3 squash at a time. This is about how many my family will eat in one meal so it was the best portions to freeze them in for us. Just think about how much your family would eat in a meal and freeze in batches that will be easy to use.

For example, if you love to have stir fry with lots of veggies then just freeze about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of squash in a smaller bag. This way you can easily grab the bag from the freezer and toss the contents into your stir fry. Or if you have onions, carrots, or other vegetables fresh right now make your own frozen stir fry mix ready to go.

Second, I blanched the squash in boiling water for 3 minutes. Start the timer when you place the squash in the water. The boil may slow down or even stop but start your clock. If you wait for a rolling boil to start again and then cook for 3 minutes your squash will be overdone. You want your squash to be firm still when you remove it. Remove your squash and immediately cool it by placing the squash in ice water to stop the cooking process.

Finally, I laid my blanched squash out on the towel to dry any excess water and then placed it in freezer bags. Please note that the squash is delicious at this point so snacking is encouraged.

We will likely harvest more squash this weekend. I'd like to try another altered recipe for squash bread. I also plan to blanch some more for freezing as well as shredding 2 cup batches for future squash bread and muffins (just like I did with the zucchini). In the future I'd love to try and make some squash chips of some sort. While I do have a dehydrator on my wish list, I will most likely try to make some in the oven for now. In order to do that I'd like the weather to be just a bit cooler so the house doesn't become to hot. What are your weekend plans? Any gardening or cooking happening at your house?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Urban Homesteading: Putting up Produce (Cherries)

As I have mentioned I am enjoying our little community garden. However, in reality most of us city-folk do not have the space to grow enough fruits and vegetables for our family to eat. And we definitely  do not grow enough to can or put food up for the winter. One of the keys to homesteading regardless of your location is the ability to look around you and use what you have available to you. A benefit of living in the city is all the local markets and ethnic groceries. Here in Southern California we have a wide variety of produce available to us and if I keep an eye out I can get amazing deals when markets are trying to quickly sell large amounts of fresh produce.

I posted about our great deal on zucchini last year. This past week a market in town offered fresh locally grown sweet cherries for 99 cents per pound. How could I pass that up? I quickly picked up about 11 pounds and called a friend to borrow a cherry pitter. I was able to process all the cherries over the course of two days. During the cleaning, pitting, and processing I had lots of little helpers appear in the kitchen. Little Luke would hear the sound of the pitter and come running with his mouth wide open for a fresh cherry.

After eating a bunch fresh for every meal including snacks, I was able to freeze a few pounds for summer smoothies. I also made a batch of fresh cherry jam. The jam was delicious over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum!

One evening as I was finishing up the last of the processing I decided that a fresh cherry cobbler was called for. I did not get a picture since Shane and I quickly dug in when it came out of the oven but I assure you it was the perfect evening snack.

If you don't have a big garden to provide food for your family year round start looking for opportunities to preserve fresh produce for the winter. For the next few months, most fruits and vegetables will be fresh, at their peak season, and at their lowest prices. You may have a neighbor with a lemon tree or an abundance of produce from their garden. Or you might be able to find a great deal at the grocery store this week. With a little extra work now you will be able to provide good, healthy food options for your table this coming winter without breaking the food budget.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Spring Garden Update

Our garden has included lots of learning and some trail and error. We have learned so much in the 7 months we have been growing. Last fall we had a few veggies from the garden we were able to eat but also some plants that never produced something edible. I mentioned some of our plans to grow cucumbers, a variety of peppers, a few types of tomatoes, and some summer squash. Well I am happy to report that we are having a little more success so far this spring. I am still learning a lot about how much water the plants need and how to keep the critters and bugs out of our garden.

Luke's favorite is cucumbers. I have to keep a close eye on him when we are out watering because he will sneak over and grab one to eat. He is super stealth! We tried to grow our cucumbers in a little circle to grow up a round cage. It works ok but in the future I think we will try something a little different that will give the plants a little more room. There are 4 plants in there and they seem a little too crowded.

In the picture above you can see our gigantic summer squash. We have two different types growing: one is a variety of patty squash and the other is a small round summer squash. We choose these two because they are best when picked around 3 inches big so it is a quick harvest. This is perfect for the kids who may get a little restless waiting for longer crops. I would definitely recommend them if you have little helpers in the garden. Just remember to give each plant plenty of space to grow.

Here is what we have harvested so far in the last week or so, minus the cucumbers that are devoured before making it to the house.

The kids are so excited. It is amazing how much more adventurous eaters they are when they get to see the veggies grow. And to be completely honest, I'm very excited too. I may be becoming a little bit obsessed with this little garden of ours. Do you have a garden? Some herbs growing in a window? What are you growing this year for your family?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mom's Cranberry Bread Recipe

Growing up my mom would make Cranberry Bread every year. It is delicious and we all looked forward to it every fall and winter. It is traditionally made during the holidays but I like any excuse to make it. A whole bag of cranberries have been sitting in the freezer waiting to be turned into bread and today was the day. I thought I'd share the recipe with you in case any of you would like to make some for your family.


1 1/2 cups orange juice
1 cup real mayonnaise
4 eggs
5 cups flour
2 cup sugar (plus a little for sprinkling)
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
4 tsp orange zest (plus a little for sprinkling)
3 to 4 cups halved cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 loaf pans and sprinkle with sugar.

Mix orange juice, mayo, and eggs. Then add flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and orange zest. Blend just until moist. Over mixing will make your bread a little dense. Fold in the nuts, and cranberries.

Pour into your prepared loaf pans. Sprinkle with sugar and orange zest and gently pat down. Bake for 55-65 minutes or until done. Let the loaves cool for 10 minutes then remove from pans and let finish cooling on wire racks. Store in an airtight container.


- You can make them without the walnuts. It is still yummy. I occasionally make it nut-free so my daughter can take some to school or if I just don't have walnuts handy.

- You can half the recipe and make one large loaf. Just increase the baking time slightly. You may need to cover with foil the last 15 minutes so the top doesn't burn.

- After completely cool wrap 2 of the loaves tightly in a couple layers of plastic wrap and freeze them. Simply set a frozen loaf on the counter before you go to bed and you will have a nice breakfast ready to go in the morning.

- My favorite way to eat cranberry bread is toasted with butter. Serve it with fresh fruit and milk or coffee for breakfast. Or slice off a thick piece for a quick and satisfying afternoon snack.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Garden Planning: Spring 2013

(Sydney's lunch)

We are participating in a community garden. It is such a great way for us to get into the earth and grow some of our own food. It has been a learning experience already for me and it is fun to see the kids learning about where their food comes from. Sydney loves to go out on a weekend and pick stuff for her own lunch. We started some seeds back in September and were able to successfully grow lots of lettuce and carrots. The broccoli was attacked and enjoyed by caterpillars but with a little help and watching them closely every day we were able to save some and now we have some broccoli coming in. The snap peas and shelling peas did not make it.

Now the the new year has begun I have grand plans for this little 4' X 24' garden of ours. I am not sure how much food I can grow from it but I'm determined to use this year to learn a lot and maybe grow a few dinners too. I just recently planted lots more carrots since those are a favorite of the girls to pick and eat. Some kale seeds were also started in an nice spot near the broccoli. Hopefully in a couple weeks we will have lots of new little shots coming in.

This spring I'd also like to grow cucumbers, a variety of peppers, a few different types of tomatoes, and some summer squash. The seeds are ordered and have been received. Now I'm just waiting for the right time to get these started. Do you have or want a garden? What are your best gardening tips? What are you hoping to grow this year?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New Year Inspiration

Life seems to be speeding up the older I get. The evidence? Look how big my kids are getting and how long it has been since I posted here. Does that keep happening with each passing year? Some days I feel like I can barely keep up with everything and other days I remember to slow down and look around. It is hard to be present: to see those sweet little faces looking up at me and asking to play, to listen to their thoughts about life, to feel their warm embraces, to recall the importance of slowing down and taking the time to be purposeful in each day, each activity, each moment I have. Please don't think I have figured this out. Truth be told, most days have moments when I choose to be online again or look at my to do list for the 10th time in an hour as if something will magically be completed instead of actually doing something on the list.

A new year brings so much hope and encouragement. We talk about goals for this year. It is a time to set aside bad habits and begin again. This year has me thinking about what are the most important roles or things in my life right now. I'm learning that sometimes I need to say no to good things in order to focus on the few things I can maybe learn to be great in. Being a mom to three young kids is definitely near the top of that list. Being a godly wife is too.

I have some specific ideas and goals I'd like to work on that relate to the things I share here. I'd love to keep growing our little garden and see how much we can actually grow and harvest from it. Hopefully, more crafting and sewing time will appear in the schedule now that the house is unpacked and mostly organized. I have never really shared this much before but I'd like to work on my writing. The goal is not a book or anything crazy like that but simply to learn how to communicate better through the written word. Naturally, the blog is a good place to practice if I can get in the habit of sharing here more often.

What are your goals for this year? What are you excited about? What are you anticipating for 2013?