Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's Discuss: Gift Giving

With the Christmas season upon us, I've been thinking about gift-giving.  I loooooove giving gifts.  More than that, I love giving handmade gifts.  I just love the feeling of thinking about someone as I create something that I think they'll like or use.  I love watching someone's face as they open the gift.  Such fun.  Certainly not an event reserved just for this season, but there is such an abundance of it now.  Love it.

One thing I do not love is the game that is gift-giving.  I seriously hate receiving a gift and not having one to give in return.  I don't mind it the other way around, but receiving without giving is the worst.  If all goes according to plan, this will be our last Christmas as poor college students.  That being said, this is our 'poorest' year as college students.  Our gift-giving this year is strictly limited, but let me tell you.....I'll be making up for it next year.

But what I really want to discuss is how you do Christmas gifts for your kids.  Are you buying one big gift, with smaller gifts?  A bunch of little stuff?  A few things?  Do you have a strict budget, or do you just buy until you think it is done?  Do you spend the same on all of your kids, or do some gifts just cost more?

Last year, I knew the Sunbean would love her Bitty Baby.  And I was so right.  But this year, I can't think of a 'main' gift for her, so we're just getting a bunch of random stuff.

What do you do about Santa?  At our house, Santa brings things like socks and toothbrushes, maybe some candy.  He's a practical man.  He'll bring maybe one or two fun toys, but nothing huge.  As a parent, I want the credit for the cool stuff, dang it.  Some families have Santa as the main gift-giver.  What's your plan?

Do tell.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quick Thanksgiving Clothes

For me, one of the best parts about having a little girl is sewing clothing for her.  I'm ridiculously particular about what the Sunbean wears, so most of the time it's just easier (read:  cheaper) for me to do it myself.

Right now, the Sunbean has little-to-no opinion about her clothes, and can be talked into wearing anything.  These days are slipping by fast, so the other day I dashed into Joann's to grab some holiday fabric.  Behold, our Thanksgiving 2010 outfit:

It was so super simple.  I'd say you could make this if you are an average sewer.  Of course, my job is always made easier by my ruffler and serger.  Even without those tools, though, you could do it.  I'm not cool enough to actually make a tutorial, but here's the gist:

The pants are a simple pajama pant pattern, with no side seam.  Don't make kids' pants with side seams.  It's a waste of time.  I threw a ruffle on the bottom for good measure.  If you don't have a ruffler, hand-gathering isn't hard and it's pretty fast.  For the waistband, I always serge the elastic in.  I think I'll put together a tutorial for this, though.  I'm always shocked at how many sewers don't serge in the waistband.

The shirt is really easy.  Get a shirt (I like Target and H&M), and then cut it off about an inch under the sleeves.  Ruffle or hand-gather some fabric (I never measure...just do what looks good), and then pin and sew.  Sooooo easy.  It looks good if you top-stitch the skirt to the top.  Hem that baby up and you're done!  I added a fabric rosette because, well, I had time, but you wouldn't have to.

So there you go.  I had it all done in less than an hour.

What are your turkeys wearing for Thanksgiving this year?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Our Free Ikea Couches

Our house is going through a major reno, and the family room/living room/only large space in our house was one of the first places we started.

See, we have a three-bedroom home.  We have 1 (and a half) kids, and a home-based business.  So, we've got a kids' room, an office, and our bedroom.  Translation:  no place for guests.  We actually have guests come pretty often.  My mom watches the Sunbean for me on Wednesday mornings, and so she spends the night on Tuesday nights.  We used to have a twin bed in our office, but I booted it out in favor of more space.

I was making my poor mom sleep on the sofa every time she stayed, and MacGyver and I ended up sleeping on the sofa or floor if we had other guests.  Really not ideal.  We bought a basic sofa bed at Ikea a few months back, and it took us exactly 10 seconds to realize it is N.O.T comfortable.  It looks great in the office, which is a plus, but you couldn't pay me to sleep on it.  Back to square one.

We really needed a decent sofa bed.  By this time, MacGyver was so sick of me lamenting about our need to have space for guests, that he told me I could do anything as long as it didn't cost money.  In the words of Barney Stinson, Challenge Accepted!

Four years ago, we bought some decent microfiber sofas in a neutral color.  They were ultra comfortable, and never stained.  I really loved them, but lately I'd really been wanting white furniture.  With children.  Call me crazy.

I got the crazy idea to list our perfectly-good sofas on Craigslist, just to see what they would go for.  I listed them at $100 less than what we paid 4 years ago.  My jaw dropped to the floor when they were gone 48 hours later.  Seriously?  I'd just sold 4-year-old furniture for just $100 less than what we'd paid.  Hollar.

That left us with one giant room and nowhere to sit.  The Sunbean was seriously excited.

That very afternoon, we loaded up MacGyver's mom's minivan and made a pilgrimage to Ikea.  Our sofa money netted us lunch, dinner, 2 Starbucks trips, gas there and back, new dishes, AND new family room furniture.

We got this fabulous fold-out sofa and a simple parson's chair.  Both have slipcovers that can be removed and washed, so I'm not totally stressed about staining them.  The bed is ultra-cozy (we both like it better than our own mattress) and the sofa is great, too.

We do have limited seating, and we plan to get a few more chairs when we have more money.  You know, when we win the lottery.  Or some unknown rich uncle dies.

I'm LOVING the new look.  The best part?  Totally free.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fun Little Meme

I had the best of intentions to include a pic of my new hair, but it looks dumb today.  Maybe another day.

Saw this on Em's blog.  I love a good meme.  Enjoy!

1. High heels or boots? Love, love, love them both.
2. What time did you get up this morning? 7:00.  I took 2 Tylenol PM last night, so it's a miracle I'm not still passed out in bed.
3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? Don't remember....we go to a movie about once a year.  But we're going on Friday to see Harry Potter!
4. What is your maiden Name?  I'm not telling the internets.
5. What is your favorite TV show?  Hmmm.  I love me some TV.  Probably Cougar Town and Modern Family.  And Desperate Housewives.  And Brothers and Sisters.  And Grey's.  And the Today Show.
6. What do you usually have for breakfast?  Cereal or oatmeal.  Lately, saltines.
7. What is your middle name?  Marie.  After my great-grandma.
8. What food do you dislike?  Meat and cherries.
9. What is your favorite CD at the moment?  Tough one.  I don't really listen to an entire CD.  Mostly we listen to Primary songs in the car.  I can't wait to bust out the Christmas tunes.
10. What characteristic do you despise?  The desire to gossip.  And I do it more than I'd like.  I'm working on it...
11. Favorite clothing?  Leggings!  So cozy.

12. Anywhere in the world on vacation?  I have no idea.  I think I'd probably like to explore the old U.S. of A before I traveled internationally.  I did go to Japan for a month in 97, so I'd happily go back.
13. Are you an organized person? Insanely so.
14. Where would you retire to?  Somewhere with all four seasons.  And a Starbucks nearby.
15. What was your most recent meaningful birthday?  I love 'em all.  MacGyver is a rockstar when it comes to birthdays.
16. What are you going to do when you finish this?  Go to the Y.  I will not gain 70 pounds with this baby.
18. Person you expect to send it back first?  Copy and paste, people!
19. When is your birthday?  November 20th...Saturday!
20. Are you a morning person or a night person?  I'd like to think I'm a night owl, but in my heart of hearts, I'm a morning person.  And so is the Sunbean.
21. What is your shoe size?  6 or 7.
22. Do you own any animals?  The Sunbean has a fish.
23. Any news you'd like to share?  Hmmm...I'm hungry.  And I need to put gas in my car.
24. When you were little, what did you want to be?  A teacher, a doctor, a momma.  I did everything but the doctor.
25. What is your favorite flower?  I'm a sucker for gerbera daisies, but I really like any flower.  Except marigolds.  I think those are dumb.
26. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to?  Saturday!  My birthday!
27. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?  Bright pink or sunny yellow.
28. How is the weather right now?  Cold.  Love it!
29. Last person you spoke to on the phone?  Someone from craigslist.
30. Favorite drink?  Duh.  Nonfat hot cocoa from Starbucks.  With the whipped cream.  I'm getting wild, I know.
31. Favorite restaurant?  I love Chipotle and Casa.  I also love TCBY.  And Thai food.
32. Hair color?  A little brown and a little red.
33. What was your favorite toy as a child?  Dolls.  And more dolls.
34. Spring Summer, Fall or Winter? I like the change of seasons.  But if I had to chose, I'd go with fall.  Love it!
35. Chocolate or vanilla?  Chocolate.  Chocolate everything.
36. Coffee or tea? Neither for me.
37. Wish you were still young?  Oh no.  I'm a much better person today than I was in high school.  I love my life the way it is now.
38. Do you want your friends to email you back? or copy this?  Mmmhmm.  I love to creepily learn more about my friends with these things.
39. When was the last time you cried?  Oh, probably yesterday or something.  I'm always crying.
41. What did you do last night?  Cleaned the house, worked on projects, watched TV while MacGyver was at school.
42. What are you afraid of?  Pretty much everything after dark.
43. Salty or sweet?  I really love the mixture of the two.  Like that yummy popcorn in Chicago.  What's that place, Ab?
44. Car or Truck?  Both are useful.
45. Best quality you have?  Ha!  I have no idea.  I'm really organized?
46. How many years at your current job?  Teaching?  4.  Being a mom?  2.5.
47. Favorite day of the week?  Don't really have one.
48. How many people will you send this to? Not sending, just blogging.
49. How many will respond?  Maybe the better question is, "How many will actually read this thing through?"
50. Do you like finding out all this stuff about your friends?  Yep, love memes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shameless Plug

In case you were interested....Musings of a Marfan Mom is featuring my biz and offering a giveaway.  Check out the post here and enter to win yourself some goodies.  I'm not gonna lie, my model is cute.  And, hey, if you don't win, there's a coupon code available.  See, everybody's a winner.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Make These Tonight

We loved these twice-baked potatoes, modified from good ol' Betty.

These were the main course, though that might not fly at your house.  I seriously hit the jackpot with MacGyver...he doesn't really care what we eat.  I'm spoiled.

Anyway, they're simple:
1. Wash and bake potatoes.  I'm of the opinion that it is totally necessary to always buy organic taters.  They aren't a ton more expensive, and potatoes have more pesticide retention than most other veggies.  FYI.
2. Cut baked potatoes in half and scoop out the insides, leaving a tiny layer inside.
3. Mix potatoes and some plain yogurt (I used my KitchenAid).  I used just over a cup of yogurt for 5 large potatoes.  Again, I think full-fat, organic yogurt is best.  The fat in yogurt is the good kind, so eat up!
4. Stir in steamed broccoli.
5. 'Stuff' the potato skins, top with cheese, and bake for another 10-15 minutes.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Calling All Photogs

I need your help.
See, when the Sunbean starting crawling (at 10 months....please oh please let this baby be as easy as her), we invested in a Cannon Rebel so we could get better pics.  We had a decent digital camera before, but it wasn't cutting it.

We seriously love this camera.  However, I've been shooting in the preset modes pretty much since we got it.  They're good, but they're also like training wheels.

I really want to stop taking the Sunbean to get her pics taken, and so I ghetto-fied this white background.  I'll post about how I did it, since it works and it was $6.

Anyway, I've been practicing with some of my camera's features and the manual modes, and the above shot is from a practice shoot on Sunday.  That explains the not-matching flower and the chocolate milk mustache.  It came straight from the camera, so I was pretty happy about that.

So I'm wondering if you guys have any fantastic camera books or photography blogs for me.  I've read the owner's manual a few times, but it's not written in my language.  I know I have some readers who are photography buffs, so hit me up with some tips.

If you don't, we might have picture-less Christmas cards this year.  That would be a tragedy. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Project Smile

I really love reading this on others' blogs, so I'm participating this month.  Go me.

Here's what makes me smile:
  • The holiday drinks at Starbucks.  Yes, you can get a peppermint hot cocoa any time of the year.  However, it tastes better when in a red cup in November and December.  True story.
  • Happy helpers at the Primary activity day.  It's over, kids were happy, church is clean.  I heart my Primary leaders.
  • It snowed yesterday.  Seriously, seriously made me smile.  November and December are my favorite months out of the year.  I love an early snowfall.
  • Girls' Night Out last night with my gals.  I had a great time watching others make fools of themselves with the wii dance games.
  • My new hair.  It is easy and I get lots of compliments.  Gotta love that.
  • My ever-expanding uterus.  Even though I'm still spending some time bending over the toilet, I love this.  I spent my entire pregnancy with the Sunbean wishing time away, just hoping I'd end up with a healthy baby.  I'm feeling so laid-back this time, and I'm loving being pregnant.  It's a good feeling.
  • The leftover cupcakes from this morning's activity.  Heck yes.
  • Cozy socks.
  • We realized yesterday that MacGyver will be done with school in just one year.  Oh, happy day.  We can see a light at the end of the ridiculously long tunnel.
  • Leftovers for lunch.
Your turn...link up and share some smiles!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thoughts for Thursday

  • My hair is curly now.  Pregnant hair = frizzy hair, so I took a trip to the salon.  I love it.
  • We decided on a paint color for the new kids' room.  Boy or girl, this baby will be sharing a room with the Sunbean, so we picked a paint color that will work for both.  Depending on the gender, we'll accessorize accordingly.  I painted a tiny bit this morning to see how it looks and it is fantastic.  I'm so excited to get started on this big project.
  • Did you know the Dollar Store has paint brushes?  I seriously love that place more and more every time I go.
  • We lost power for a few hours this morning and it was kinda fun to find things to do that didn't require electricity.  At least it gave me an excuse to avoid the ridiculously large pile of laundry.
  • Speaking of, I was thankful we have gas logs to keep us warm without our electric heat!
  • Has anyone else starting listening to Christmas music yet?  MacGyver refused to let me decorate for Christmas last night.
  • It's my birthday month.  Birthdays are pretty much national holidays in our house.
  • Speaking of birthdays, we're taking a road trip on my birthday weekend to see our friends.  I'm so excited!
  • I broke my mom's new sewing machine on Monday night.  Oops.  Luckily, she gets free service for the first year.
  • The Sunbean somehow picked up the lyrics to "Jingle Bells".  Seriously adorable.
  • Now I'm off to tackle the laundry and catch up on TV shows for the rest of Sunbean's nap...Happy Thursday to you!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Grass is Good

Let's consider this post 'part two' in my food series.  The reason I'm going to talk about meat now is because that is where my own personal food revolution began.

About a year ago, PBS had a free screening of Food, Inc.  I love all things free, so MacGyver and I tuned in.  I'm pretty sure it is in the very definition of a documentary to be one-sided and political, and this one definitely followed suit.  Still, I was shocked by the facts the documentary claimed, and spent the next few weeks doing research.  I did a lot of Google-ing, but also visited the library, spoke to my granola friends, my farmer friends, and my doctor.

I could reach only one logical conclusion:  my family would only be eating local and appropriately-fed and well-cared-for meats.  The reasons are many and varied, but I'll do my best to explain them as best I can.

Local.  This is perhaps the most important aspect of meat for me.  Not just locally-grown, but locally processed, as well.  Many people don't realize (especially people that live in the farmland of America like I do) that locally-grown animals are usually sent to one of 13 major packinghouses.  A packinghouse is a facility where animals enter alive, and their products leave in boxes, ready to be shipped around the world.

These packinghouses are in business to make money, and have done anything and everything they can to cut costs.  We live in a nation with free enterprise (thank goodness!), which means that businesses operate under the system of supply-and-demand.  In case you slept through Econ 101, that means that businesses supply what customers buy.  Unfortunately, Americans are buying (and thus demanding ) a bunch of unhealthy stuff.

The biggest consumer of the packinghouses are fast-food restaurants.  These restaurants want their food to taste the same in California and Maine and Japan and Florida, so they pressure the packinghouses to supply meat that tastes consistent.  The result?  One hamburger that contains meat from dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of different cows.

The packinghouses employ practices that shocked me.  Studies have shown (source list at the bottom) that as much as 50% of the meat leaving these facilities is infected with a life-threatening food-borne illness.  The meat that leaves is often contaminated with feces, bone marrow, rodents, and human waste.  Seriously disgusting.

Another product of packinghouses is mechanically reclaimed meat.  This is what chicken nuggets are made from.  After they remove the breast and thigh from the chicken, they grind down the carcass.  This contains plenty of bacteria, so it is flooded with chemicals.  It no longer looks, smells, or tastes like meat, so it is injected with flavoring.  This mixture is then molded into familiar-looking shapes:  chicken nuggets.  Please stop feeding these to your children.

Buying local changes all of this.  Local butcher shops aren't perfect, but they are family-owned mom-and-pop shops that care about the community.  They don't produce at the rate that packinghouses do (some at 400,000 pounds of meat per hour), but the meat is healthy.

Appropriately-Fed.  I feel very passionately that in order to be healthy, we must eat healthy foods.  Food that is well cared for from the start, especially meat.  Cows, for example, are designed to eat grass.  If they had a choice, they would graze all day in a pasture.  Unfortunately, most cattle bred for consumption these days is fed a corn-based diet, which is heavily supplemented with growth hormones.

On the surface, this doesn't seem all that bad.  The problem is, a cow's digestive system just isn't equipped to handle corn in such large quantities.  The cow develops an infection, such as E. coli, and then that bacteria is present in the cow's manure.  Since the packinghouses don't properly protect us from these bacteria, it is easily passed on to the consumer.

Each animal has its own diet of preference; a diet that nature will allow the animal to easily digest.  I don't know what each diet consists of, but I've found that when meat is purchased from a local farmer (organic is best), your odds are pretty good.  Buzzwords to look for are 'grass-fed', 'free-range', and 'organic'.  Well-fed animals produce healthy meat.  Healthy meat makes for healthy humans.

Another item to note is that the USDA does not currently have the power to recall tainted meat.  They can recommend  that a company recall unsafe meat, but it can't enforce.  Many are quick to blame republican lawmakers, though I don't think the blame can be passed so easily.  We are operating with a broken system that is in desperate need of fixing.  Until then, I've made the choice to protect my family.

Making the switch to local and well-fed meat is not without its challenges.  One of the top questions I get is "How can you afford this?".  That's kind of a trick question for me, because I've since become vegetarian, but I can give you some insights.

For starters, it isn't as expensive as you'd think.  Check out your local resources.  Most farmers offer a deep discount if you buy a whole cow or a half a cow at a time.  Invest in a deep-freeze and store the meat, or split it with some friends and family.  My family has actually been doing this for years.  Chicken can be more expensive, but every community has a local co-op that will deliver fresh farm products weekly or bi-weekly, and those are more affordable than meats in a health-food shop.

Another solution is to introduce a few 'meatless' days to help with the cost.  Spaghetti with meatless sauce, rice and bean tacos, meatless lasagna, and lentil dishes are crowd-pleasers around here.  Your body does not need meat for every meal, every day.

I'll go into more detail about healthy eating on a budget in another food post, but those are some ideas to get you started.

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert, but this is what I've learned over the past year.  I'd be happy to (try to) answer any questions you have!

Food, Inc.
Fast Food Nation (this book includes a fantastic source list, with studies that support the findings)