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Monday, November 23, 2015

30 DIY Gifts for Kids

Homemade gifts can be cool and fun.  And many are more special to the recipient than a store-bought gift.  I've scoured the internet for my 30 favorite DIY gifts for kids.  Check them out, I think you'll find something for every kid on your list!

1. This latches board is beautiful and would stand the test of time.
Via Domesticesq

2. Doesn't every baby need a taggies pillow?
Via Chez Beeper Bebe

3. And these sock sheep are so sweet.
Via Craft Passion

4. But this octopus (via Red Ted Art) made from kids tights is even sweeter.

5. This dress-up doll looks like a great car toy.
Via Cut, Craft, Create

6. This is a tutorial for a beautiful cloth doll.
Via Wagner

7. My kids adore their play food, it's so much fun.  Here's a whole garden full!
Via A Beautiful Mess

8. These dino tails look like so much fun.
Via Running with Scissors

9. I absolutely adore this DIY fishing game.
Via Make It-Love It

10. I always wonder what to do with all those mismatched sheets...forts!

11. There's no need to spend $150 on that particleboard dollhouse when you have an old dresser.  And if you're using it for Barbies just take out a shelf or two.

12. Lip balm is so easy with this DIY kit.  Flavor or color it with your recipient's favorites.
Via Rogue Naturals

13. Gotta love old dressers, here's a super easy sweet little dress up closet.
Via A Turtle's Life for Me

14. I was shocked when I saw how long stick horses kept my kids entertained at Grandma's house!
Via A Beautiful Mess

15. This gorgeous puppet theater is great for a bit more advanced project...
Via Adventure In A Box

16. I love these DIY superhero dress-up outfits.
Via Chiot's Run

17. And more cute felt dress-up items...

18. I might just learn to crochet so I can make this ADORABLE hooded cowl.
Via The Velvet Acorn

19. What kid doesn't love a bean bag?
Via 2 Little Superheroes

20. This mom made a Lego table out of an Ikea Trofast.  I think I'm going to flip over the top piece of my kids' train table and glue Lego baseplates to it.  *Smh how have I not already thought of this?!*
Via Dude Mom
21. These paper alphabet blocks are darling, or you could paint your own with some plain wood letters.
Via Digitprop

22. Do you have a skateboarder, surfer, or snowboarder in the family?  Here's a board cool sling.
Via Kojo Designs

23. And the always useful pillow-fight sheild.
Via Busily Spinning Momma

24. Put together this easy doctor playset with a few things you have around the house and a real stethoscope.
Via My Poppet

25. They will think you're the coolest person ever if you make these fun monster mittens, no knitting required.
Via Martha Stewart

26. Those 18" doll accessories can be pricey.  Build this gorgeous doll bunk bed with this really simple tutorial.
Via Ana White

27. I don't know a tween who wouldn't love this awesome hammock chair.
A Beautiful Mess

28. Here are 10 fun DIY gifts for young girls...

29. This Lego belt is very cool.
Via Delia Creates

30. Teenage boys would love these DIY paracord bracelets, you could even hide "survival" items in them like this one.
Via A Girl and a Gluegun

Like this list?  Check out my 10 easy tips for having a simpler, less expensive, less commercialized, but just as fun Christmas!

Friday, November 20, 2015

10 Easy Tips for Having a Simpler (but just as fun!) Christmas

10 Easy Tips for having a Simpler (but just as fun!) Christmas

10 Easy Tips for Having a Simpler (but just as fun!) Christmas

Christmas has become more and more commercialized over the years.  From controversy over a red cup to a day solely devoted to the mass purchasing of gifts while keeping retail workers away from their families on Thanksgiving, we are more and more missing the reason for the season.  It really hit home for me when I noticed on Facebook that my atheist friends were celebrating the “day of gifting” right along side of the Christians.  Why?  “Because it’s not about Christ anymore,” they would reply.


My kids are very young, so I am trying to really instill on them the virtue of the simpler life.  But Christmas is hard for me, because I want to give them EVERY cool thing they want.  I love to shop for them, and giving them every little thing their hearts desire can have so much appeal.  On the other hand, I already know that they have plenty.  Whenever the urge to buy them yet another toy strikes me, I try to remember back to great memories I have of my childhood, and you know what?  Very few of them involved toys.  In fact, almost none.  Almost every wonderful lasting memory I had of my childhood involved people, not things.  And the toys I do remember?  The fort my dad made us with some plywood and an old camper shell for a roof.  The Narnia movies that I had to leave at Grandma's house because I could only watch them when we were together.  The old box of costume jewelry I received from my Grandpa the year my Grandma went to be with the Lord.

So how do we go about creating those lasting memories for our children, without the material things?  Well, it's not as hard as you think.  Most of the existing traditions have roots in something more meaningful, and it's our job as parents to teach our kids the meaning behind things.  These lessons can be so much fun and make the holiday season really special for your kids.

You could start with the commercialized character of Santa Claus, which has true origins in faith and generosity, not a man with a huge sack of toys for good little children.  As your children become older and begin to lose that magical belief in Santa, tell them the true story of the real Patron Saint.  While they are still little, maybe you could tell them that story of how he got his saint hood and play it as, "how he got the job as Santa."

And I think a nativity scene is an important fixture in every Christian home.  We have this one, so the kids can play with it while they learn the story of how Christ was born.  “I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:10&11

That’s the true meaning of Christmas.  In light of that, I’d like to share a few tips I’ve collected from articles, the internet, and my own family to help you have an un-commercialized celebration of our Lord and Savior’s birth.

  1. Create a tradition.  Go to (or watch at home) a Christmas movie, play a board game, make a special batch of cookies for Santa, or sing karaoke to some Christmas carols.  “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is one of our favorites, and we always make these cookies for Santa.  My single-parent family was not well-off growing up, but we never really knew it because Dad always made things special, including personalized pancakes on Christmas morning.  He was not going to be a short-order cook, there was no being picky in my family.  We all ate exactly what we were given!  But every Christmas, I got blueberry pancakes, and my brothers got chocolate chip or M&M or whatever other kind of pancake they desired.  It’s a tradition close to my heart that I’ve continued for my own kids.
  2. Have some electronic-free time.  I know it’s a terrible day to turn off your phone, because many friends and family will want to talk to you on the most wonderful day of the year.  But leave the TV off, put the iPads away, and only use the phone to make or receive phone calls.  Spend quality time with your family, not your gadgets.
  3. Make gifts instead of buying them.  My little boy asked Santa for the Disney Captain Jake and the Never Land Pirates Mighty Colossus from Santa for Christmas, but his favorite character, “Sinker”, the villain’s sidekick, does not come with it.  I’m not particularly crafty, but I pulled out some felt and thread and printed out, traced, cut, sewed, and stuffed a tiny felt squid for him.  He did find it in my purse early, but he calls it his “best friend” and sleeps with it, and it cost me nothing but a couple days of sewing on my lunch break.
  4. Have coffee with a friend you haven’t seen in a while.  Christmas is a time for family and friends, so Facebook that friend that you haven’t seen in a year but lives in the same city as you and take them to Starbucks for BOGO latte’s.  Or you could invite a friend over and make your own!
  5. Regift!  That’s right, I said it.  Some of my favorite things are special hand-me-downs from family members.  My grandma’s costume jewelry, my Grandpa’s old Winchester, a pillow that my aunt embroidered.  Gifts do not have to be new, they just have to be heartfelt to be special to the receiver.
  6. Give and ask for non-toy gifts.  My kids were the first grandchildren on both sides, and are blessed to have a very generous family.  But birthdays and Christmas have become a little crazy for us, because we already have more things than they can ever play with.  I was regularly returning items they already have and donating/selling things we had that they hadn’t played with in a while.  Now, I politely hand out Christmas lists to family members who usually ask for them anyway, and include non-toy items like a new bed set, tickets to the zoo or the McWane Center, and craft supplies.
  7. Break out the fine china.  Ours is just an "everyday" set we received as a wedding present, but since we eat off of paper plates most of the time, the kids know it’s pretty special when Mom pulls out real plates for Christmas morning pancakes.  You can dress up your everyday set with some red cloth napkins or a fun DIY centerpiece.
  8. Simplify your decorations.  We live in the woods so we don’t put lights outside, but inside I do love to put up a big tree.  We don’t put a tree in every room, we don’t cover the house in tinsel.  We pull out the homemade ornaments the kids have made over the years and the ones we’ve received as gifts, and fill the rest of the tree with painted pinecones we found in the woods.  We put up a nativity set on the mantel to remind us of the reason for the season, and a wreath my mother-in-law made me, and that's about it!
  9. Donate your time.  Work at a local food bank or soup kitchen, help arrange a group donation at work for Toys for Tots, and include your kids.  They learn generosity from seeing you be generous, not by you telling them to be!
  10. Keep your own consumerism at bay.  I know, I know, it feels great to give your children all those things they’ve asked for.  But after about 10 gifts, most of the time they are eyeing a particular toy they want to play with anyway, and their attention and gratefulness wanes. Here are 2 options I’ve seen to keep gift-giving really special.   
    • “Something they want, something they need, something they wear, something they read.”  4 useful gifts.  If this works for you, do it!  I have trouble with this because my children are young, and if it’s something they truly “need,” it usually cannot wait a couple months.  Those little toes just won’t squeeze into too-small shoes for another month while the new ones sit under the tree.  The same applies to “something they wear,” because cold weather clothes come out much earlier than December, even here in the Deep South.  And of course, we’ve done a couple birthdays where we asked for books instead of cards, so now we have plenty of books.  
    • “3 gifts because Baby Jesus got 3 gifts.”  I like this because it helps them remember the true meaning of Christmas, and because the 3 things can be anything that works for your family.  They also get a 4th gift from Santa.  We try to keep this gift $20-$40, after we saw this very insightful Facebook post about less fortunate children.   We shop local or handmade when we can, because supporting small business helps everyone.  I try to make at least one of their gifts because I know that once they get older, they will value those more.  I will post again soon with a list of great DIY gifts.
Those are just a few ways to make your Christmas more simple, but more special too!  I'd love to hear your ideas to keep Christmas less commercial and more meaningful.  Please post them in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How Etsy Sellers can use Evernote to be more Productive

As an Etsy seller, whether you have found great success and are operating full-time, or if you are like me and do it on the side (but still with your whole heart!), you probably have a lot to do.  Between listing items, filling orders, social media, research and development, and of course the fun part, creating, there is a lot to keep up with when running your own business!

I bet you've tried a day planner of some kind.  I've never been a fan of a paper day planner.  It's just something else that I have to keep track of and carry around.  And nowadays, there's an app for just about everything, so why not a day planner?

Or so you'd think.  I tried oodles of apps, both paid and free, but nothing stuck.  I was organizing with daily to-do sticky notes.  Pretty inefficient, and heaven help me if I lost a sticky!

So when a friend referred me to Evernote, I figured I'd give it a try.

Now, I'll be honest.  I didn't really commit at first.  I'd had so much failure with other apps that I just didn't have the patience to give it the chance it deserved.  When I casually mentioned that to the friend who referred me, he said, "well, you will get out of it what you put into it."

Now isn't that the motto of every successful Etsy seller?

So I jumped in and decided to give it the real college try.  And I was richly rewarded.  This app has tons of applications for an organized entrepreneur, or even just a busy mom (aren't most of us both?) With solutions to separate home and office organization, set reminders, share notes, and even clip articles to read later, you really will get out of it what you put in.  The uses are endless, but here are just a few functions the multi-platform app has to offer an Etsy seller.

1. Multiple Platforms

You can open and sync Evernote from your computer, phone, and tablet.  This is great when you're on the run, and need to check your to-do list.  But since  you can access and edit notes from your computer, it also has the flexibility of entering large amounts of information quickly.

2. Separate by Notebook

Just as you would with a pen and paper, you can separate notes by "notebook."  For example, I have a "Home" notebook where I keep things like grocery lists and personal to-do lists.  I have a notebook for Research and Design where I can jot down ideas for my latest product, and clip articles on the research I've done on an ingredient (more on that later.)  I have multiple project notebooks for my day job in which I create meeting minutes and task lists, and share those notes with co-workers.  I plan to add a notebook in the near future for Social Media so that I can organize when and where to share posts.  You can format a note with bullets, numbers, or even check boxes to check of your to-do items as they get done.

3. Search

Ever lose a list?  You feel like you'll never be able to recreate it and capture everything you've lost.  Not with Evernote.  You can run a keyword search to find old lists and notes, so you never lose anything again!

4. Reminders

I haven't fully utilized this feature yet, but I need to!  Relying on my phone alarm clock and those Outlook calendar reminders that never seem to sync is not working for me.  Evernote has the capability of quickly setting reminders to keep you on track throughout the day, so you don't get easily sidetracked and spend 4 hours researching the latest trends on Pinterest...or maybe a recipe for dinner next week...or that pretty DIY side table...

5. Go Paperless

Want to add a picture to a note?  Maybe someone handed you a receipt or a business card you know you will lose.  Just take a quick picture of it without ever having to leave the app!  You can also drag and drop files right into the app on your computer.  Read the how-to on Evernote's blog.

6. Share Notes

Need to send the hubs the grocery list?  Who am I kidding, I don't know a married man who grocery shops.  But maybe you have business partners that you would like to share things from, from an idea you had on a product, to a to-do list, to an article you want them to read.  Just hit the share button, easy as pie!

7. Clip Articles

For all of you Pinterest addicts, this might free up your time!  I don't know about you, but when I get on Pinterest to look at something I've pinned, I always get sidetracked.  Streamline your productivity by clipping it instead of pinning it.  Just hit the share button on your phone when you find an article or blog you want to save for later, and clip it to Evernote.  Now, when you go to read it later, you won't get distracted!

8. Link Notes to other Notes

I use this capability for my task lists.  After I've done the research for a new product, maybe I have an item on my to do list to make a test batch.  I wouldn't want to cut and paste an entire recipe into my to-do list, but I can create a note link to go from my to-do list right to the recipe!  Talk about efficient.

9. Evernote Email

Evernote assigns you a unique email address when you sign up.  Now you can email an invoice, a wholesale order, or a receipt right to Evernote!  Having everything in one place has so many benefits for staying productive throughout your creative day.

10. 60MB of Storage

I have not even come close to exceeding my 60 MB of storage space yet, but if and when I do, I can upgrade to the paid Premium version of Evernote for only $4.99/month or $44.99/year.  So this app has the capability of growing with your creative business.  

There are so many things a creative business owner has to do that don't involve creating.  It's daunting and sometimes demoralizing, so anything that I can do to minimize the time I spend on non-creative operations for my business is worth doing to me.  I hope that you get as much out of this app for your creative business as I do.

What tools do you use to organize your day?

***This is not a sponsored post!  I honestly love Evernote and just wanted to share it with you.  You will get a free month of Evernote Premium if you use the links in this post, which gives me some sort of points that I have no use for since I use the free version.  But I wanted you to have the benefit of the free month of Premium if you have the need for it!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

10 Steps to Grow Hair Longer Faster

I love long hair.  Love, love, love.  But it's always been a struggle for me to grow it out.  I cut it and donate it when it gets long again, but it seems like it takes sooo long.  I was averaging 3 years between donations...yikes!

Well a while back I came across something on Pinterest, like we all do, with a link to the Almost Exactly blog, by Alex Raye.  Here's the post.

After I started reading, I couldn't stop.  I followed her whole journey through no-poo to ROM (the!)  Her hair is long and beautiful and I wanted to jump right in and do everything she did.

But...I'm a working mom.  I know, I know, it's not an excuse.  But it's really hard to commit to going around grungy for an unknown amount of time in the professional world.  It's not fun for your self confidence either, to feel icky all the time.  On top of that, I have toddlers smearing gross things on me regularly, and don't want to carry all that crud around for a couple weeks.

But I tried anyway.  I was to the point where I was washing my hair every single day, and when I woke up the next morning it was greasy again.  Now, I won't take you through my entire journey, maybe another day.  What I do want to share with you is where I am at now, and some simple steps you can take to grow your hair longer much faster without a ton of effort.  I'm talking 8"+ per year.  After all, we're busy gals!

So without further ado...  steps to grow your hair longer faster.

1. STOP dying that hair!  Embrace your natural color girls!  Now, if you are 30 and gray, I'm not going to tell you not to cover your grays.  But hair dye is so not good for your hair or your body, so try to figure out ways to do it less.  Maybe use root touch-up instead of doing your whole head every time.  If you're completely gray you could try blonde instead of brown, because it doesn't have to be done so often, your roots won't show as much.  My mom does this, and it looks much better.  You could also look into more natural hair dyes.

2.  Use a Sulfate Free shampoo and conditioner.  Make sure you clarify before you start using it, so you don't end up with a funky texture.  Sulfates coat your hair to make it look shiny and healthy, but what they are really doing is covering up the damage you are doing washing your hair every day.  And so my next tip is...

3.  DON'T wash your hair every day!  Before you say, "but I thought you were going to tell me how not to be grungy every day!" I will tell you that once you clarify and stop using the sulfate shampoos, your hair will not be as oily as before.  It's all about training your hair not to produce as much oil.  Start small.  Wash it every 2 days.  Try to make it a bit longer every month.  I've been at it a year and I wash my hair every 4 days.

4.  Read your labels!  There are lots of hair products out there, and even some of the organic brands have some yucky stuff on their labels.  Stay away from things that have sulfate, methyl, or EDTA in the names, and try to stay away from artificial colors and fragrances.  The Environmental Working Group has a great website called Skin Deep, with a free mobile app that you can search for most products, including personal care, cosmetics, and more, and check out all of the ingredients and their associated risks.  I highly recommend it!

5.  Only wash your scalp!  I hope you are already doing this, but to those that aren't, you don't need to wash the whole length of your hair unless you get something in it or are clarifying it.  Shampoo only your roots.

6.  Water down your shampoo.  You don't need nearly as much as you think you do.  Leave a cheap squeeze bottle like this one in the shower and add a squirt of shampoo to it, then fill it with water.  This will help you disperse it more evenly through your hair.  You only need enough that you barely feel suds to clean your hair.  This will not only keep you from drying out your hair and scalp, but it will save you a ton of money!

7.  Deep condition your hair.  Every once in a while, you need a deep conditioning.  It's so easy, so cheap, and makes your hair feel so good!  It's ridiculously easy.  Got some organic coconut oil in your kitchen?  Smear it through your dry hair and let it sit for a while before you hop in the shower.  A couple hours is great, but 20 minutes does just fine!  (And if you don't, try some!  It has a hundred uses!)

8.  Easy on that ponytail.  Wearing your hair up every day can cause a lot of breakage.  If you just have to, make sure you use fabric covered elastics or even cloth headbands.  Or try a braid instead!

9.  DO NOT brush your wet hair!  It is weakest when wet, so just don't do it.  Brush your hair before you shower, not after.  Try a boar bristle brush and a wooden comb.

10.  Last but not least...stimulate your scalp!  When you wash your hair, scrub that scalp with your fingers.  I like to really get in there with the boar bristle brush before my shower and distribute my scalp oils down the shaft of my hair.  And I love a vinegar rinse.  3 parts water, 1 part organic raw Apple Cider Vinegar, and a couple of drops each of organic peppermint oil and tea tree oil.  Just mix in another squeeze bottle and use after you shampoo.  Once you rinse it out, you won't smell like vinegar, but your scalp will be tingly and flake-free too!

Well, there you have it.  Grow your hair longer and stronger, quicker!  I hope you try at least some of these tips to grow your hair.  And I hope you consider donating your hair to Locks of Love, Wigs for Kids, or Pantene Beautiful Lengths.

What tips do you have to grow your hair long and healthy?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ridiculously Easy Faux-Beignets

Make a fun breakfast with just 3 ingredients!

This morning, like almost every morning, Little Man asked for donuts for breakfast.  And while usually I suggest a banana instead, today I decided to say yes.  The local mom-and-pop donut shop went out of business this week, and I was so sad they didn't make it.  They had the best beignets and kolaches, and the people who ran it were wonderful.

So as tribute to them, it was a special breakfast kind of day.  

You need only 3 ingredients: fry oil, Pillsbury Grands Flaky Layers Original biscuits, and powdered sugar.

We started by heating some flavorless oil to 350 degrees.  We used grape seed oil and a a candy thermometer.

Then we cut the biscuits in fours.

Fry them for a couple minutes on the first side, flip them, and just about a minute more on the other, till they are nice and golden.  Dry them a bit on a paper towel.

Wait a couple minutes for them to cool, then shake them around in some powdered sugar.

The sugar will stick to the oil and turn them into yummy beignet-like donuts!

There were enough for 2 families of four, so you may want to use the half-can.  But YUM!  And so easy.

Hope you enjoy!