Valentine's Babies

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: Rich In Years

Johann Christoph Arnold wrote a really great book called Rich In Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life
I was really impressed with how Arnold wrote about a variety of subjects affecting older adults. He told stories, showed pictures and included beautiful quotes and scriptures throughout the book that really captured the essence of aging gracefully. 
Why can't the final years be the richest years of your life? The stories in this book help readers to enter into the 'Golden Years' with optimism and confidence. 
In a society that tends to devalue those who are older and/or infirm, Arnold gives hope and highlights the value of those who've lived through decades and seen so much.
If you pick up this book, you won't be quick to put it down. Each chapter is well written and easy to read. I found myself smiling as I read this book. 
We are all getting older. I recommend this book to anyone - especially those planning to live richly to the end. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sneaky Veggies - Awesome Chow Mein Recipe

I'm a mother of two small kids - so of course I'm looking for ways to sneak vegetables into tasty dishes. I came across a recipe for Chow Mein and decided it was a great way to sneak in several cups of vegetables. And my kids gobble it up every time I make it.
This dish literally takes about 20 minutes to make - and it's one of my favorite weeknight dinners.
You can add in just about any shredded fresh vegetable you have on hand also - zucchini, peppers and parsnips are all easy to add in if you like.

Here's what you'll need to make it:

1 lb. cooked whole wheat spaghetti noodles
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded mushrooms (optional)
1/2 bunch green onions sliced in long thin strips
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 Tbsp. ketchup
1 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. oil
toasted nuts for garnish (optional)

First, heat 1 Tbsp. oil (I used grapeseed oil)  in a large pan or wok. Add in cabbage, carrots, mushrooms & green onions.

Cook veggies until they are a bit wilted - maybe 5 minutes. They should look like this. While they are cooking, mix the salt into the water and set aside. In a separate small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, sesame oil, remaining 1 Tbsp. oil, honey and ketchup. Set this aside as well.

Add in the cooked spaghetti noodles and the salted water. Combine and mix it together and cook for one or two minutes. Then add the soy sauce mixture and toss everything together. Continue cooking and tossing for 2-3 minutes until everything is combined and heated through. Top with toasted cashews or peanuts and serve.

You can use regular chow mein noodles in this dish if you like. I just chose the whole wheat spaghetti for nutritional value. It's also easier to find in any supermarket. Instead of salt & water, you could use chicken or vegetable stock in the recipe. And if you like a bit of heat, add some ground chili pepper to your sauce. You'll find there are lots of great things you can add to your sauce if you have them on hand and want to add flavor. Tonight I added chopped fresh ginger & garlic to the vegetables before cooking them down and put a tablespoon of chunky peanut butter in my sauce. SO good.


Trash Blocks

We don't do much television at our house - in fact, we don't have a television. But our kids like to watch little shows from time to time on the computer. Lately they have been enjoying episodes of Mr. Rogers that we watch from Amazon Prime.

Recently, we saw him teach a method for making large building blocks out of two milk cartons. I started saving milk cartons and other sturdy boxes to make my little ones a set of giant blocks as well.


 First, I opened up one of the milk cartons and removed the plastic pour spout. Then I gently squeezed the top of the other one so I could easily stuff it into the first. I pushed it all the way down and used packing tape to secure the edges.


 It made a pretty sturdy little block.
 I did the same sort of thing with a couple of cracker boxes. And lots and lots of other boxes.

 And now we have a nice set of large building blocks.
 I figure the kids can build with them - and also play "grocery store" with them if they want. Sure beats the $40 price tag on those cardboard brick sets that I've seen in stores.

Friday, February 28, 2014

DIY Cat Tree House

Here's a great way to make a cool scratching post/tree house/hangout spot for your cat without making your home look like you've become a cat lady.
Materials I used:

-old side table that was ready to be thrown out
-potted fake tree that had seen better days
-burlap
-sisal rope
-drill and 1" drill bit
-piece of scrap wood
-hot glue gun

Here's how I did it:
I wanted to use only items I already had. So, I found an old side table that was stuck in the corner of an upstairs playroom. It wasn't being used much and was pretty ugly. Perfect.
I drilled two large holes in the top. The largest drill bit I had was 1" - and not big enough, so I ended up drilling several one inch holes right next to eachother to make two large flower shaped holes (see photo).
Then I stapled some burlap over the top of the table and cut slits where the holes were. You could also use a carpet scrap for this - but I only had burlap on hand, so that's what I used.

I poked the tree branches right through the burlap & table holes and straight down through the bottom wicker shelf of the table.
I added a little seat for my cat within the branches. This step isn't necessary - especially if your cat is a natural climber. It could also be done much differently than the way I did it. I used a scrap piece of wood - probably around 18" long and 8" wide. I notched the both sides to match the width of the inside of the two branches and wedged the wood between them. I used hot glue to secure the wood to the branches and it seems nice and sturdy.

I wrapped sisal rope around one of the bottom tree branches for scratching and the project was finished. It seriously took just a little over an hour - start to finish.




My cat absolutely loves it. When I showed it to her, she immediately started scratching on the burlap and then climbed up into the tree and started batting the branches. 
This was so much easier than I thought it would be and turned out so much better looking than I had expected.

As it sits in the corner - you can't really tell that it's a cat tree unless you know what you're looking for. It mostly just looks like part of the house decor. No cat ladies here!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

North of Hope - Book Review

Shannon Polson wrote an amazing account of her parents death, her own grieving and her wild adventure to the remote Alaskan arctic to reenact her parents last trip.
Polson's parents were killed by a grizzly bear as they rafted the Hulahula river and camped in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2005.
Polson, her brother and another traveler take on the journey to find healing and closure. Throughout the trip they encounter all sorts of feelings, adventures and trials. And Polson recounts memories of her father - both good and indifferent. She gives a very honest rendering of her greif and takes the reader on an exciting trip to the arctic.
I recommend this book. It's a very well done memoir of the author's dealing with loss.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

5x7 Folded Card

We Heart Grandma Mother's Day Card
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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Invisible, By Ginny Yttrup - book review



What an amazing book. Honestly - I didn't expect Invisible, by Ginny Yttrup, to have much of an effect on me. I knew the premise of the book and the main characters were three women - one overweight, one depressed, one anorexic. I thought it would be a nice, fiction book and that I would be able to learn about the struggles of other women when I read it. However - I really learned a lot about myself when I read it. I'm not anorexic, overweight or depressed, but I do really struggle with my body image in general. For the longest time, I've brushed it off and tried to focus on what's inside - I've tried to work on being a good person and not superficial - pretty much ignoring my outer self. But while reading this book, I realized that I was avoiding something important - the Image of God in which I was created. God sees me as beautiful - even though US Weekly would never classify my looks as anything but pathetic.

But Yttrup's book really gave me insight as to what God does see in me - and what I need to see in myself. I realized, in reading Invisible, that God truly made me in His image, which means He delights in me and loves and adores me - even the me that I've tried not to look at in the mirror.

I really appreciate the way Ytrupp wrote the book. Though it was fiction, it was also a therapeutic guide to healing and inner peace rather than just an entertaining story.

I look forward to reading more from Ginny Ytrupp. She's obviously a very gifted Christian author and teacher.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fierce Beauty - Book Review


Kim Meeder wrote an amazing book that really touched my heart. She wrote about the struggles we all face as we are bombarded with images of "beauty" all around us. Meeder encourages the reader to stand for what matters - and embrace the beauty within.
She shared vulnerable moments in her life - times of great loss and pain. She shared beautiful stories of young people finding wholeness in their lives. She challenged the reader to look within and make decisions as to who and what to strive for.
It was a great book - full of encouragement and truth.
I recommend it and give it five stars!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Tree - With a Christmas Dove Tutorial

So as a family, we've never had a Christmas tree. Honesty, it always seemed like a hassle and an extra expense. I loved looking at other people's trees and my kids weren't old enough to care - so I didn't either.
But this year, I found myself wanting a tree of our own. However, without a tree budget, I didn't see a way we could afford it. But I reserved $20 and found a used, artificial tree on Craigslist.org. The seller gave me a deal on a 6 foot, fairly low quality, pre-lit tree. I was pleased as punch to get it too.
Anyway, once I got it set up - I realized it would need some ornaments.
I made popcorn garland by sewing hundreds of pieces of plain popped popcorn together - a rather tedious job that I won't soon sign up for again.
Then I found a tutorial online that gave instructions for making little doves out of pages from an old book. That seemed free enough for me.
The tutorial was great - but the birds required a bit more of a time investment than I had and some supplies I didn't want to buy. So I simplified the project and have included my instructions here.

First, I cut a basic bird profile shape out of card stock. I made it about 6 inches long, from beak to tail. I made a separate wing cut out - a teardrop shape. I then traced my bird & wing onto a stack of 3 book pages. (In the photo, there are two birds and two wings traced onto the stack of pages).

Next, I cut out the bird & wing shapes and laid the wing shapes onto the bird. I stapled all the pieces - except one of the wing shapes together. Then, I glued the remaining wing onto the others, to conceal the staple. 





Then I used a pencil and rolled the edges of the wing and tail around it - to make it look like ruffled feathers. I sewed a string into the top of the bird's body so I could hang it and glued a very small twig to the bottom of the bird that resembled bird feet.

Here's my finished tree. I added some construction paper flowers for a little pop of color. Check out this  tutorial from Under the Table and Dreaming. Her bird tutorial is very nice and is what inspired mine. If you decide to make a Christmas dove too, post a link or photos into my comments section. I'd really love to see what you made. :)  Merry Christmas!



Monday, November 12, 2012

The Little Monster Project

So this month, I have a slew of kids' birthdays to celebrate. Also, Christmas is coming up - and I loathe the idea of spending the money my husband works so hard for on worthless, plastic toys that my kids will adore for a day and a half - before they're added to an overflowing bin of forgotten toys.

I decided to try and make some little gifts for the kids having birthdays this month. So I googled some homemade toy ideas online. I found some great ideas - but none that really stood out. Then I came across a site selling little homemade monsters. They looked easy to make - so it inspired me to create a monster of my own to give this year.

This turned out to be one of the cutest and easiest homemade gifts I've ever made. Start to finish - my first one took about an hour. I hand sewed all of it. I used my machine for the bulk of the work on the second one and it took much less time.

Here's a little photo tutorial of how I did it - and instructions for making your own.

First - look around the house for fabric. Of course you can buy new, but that sorta defeats the purpose of frugal, homemade gifts...  I used a T-shirt I had bought for myself from a thrift store. It was a thick, good quality shirt that just never seemed to look right on me. I also found some left over fabric from some pillows I had made a couple years ago. Those, and some other fabric scraps I had were enough for the entire project.

1. Cut out a monster. I made mine slightly smaller than a standard bed pillow. I gave him very easy little arms, legs and ears - keeping in mind I wanted a project I could finish quickly.
Then I made his eyes, mouth and tooth out of one of my kids outgrown shirts and some other scraps. I sewed everything in place by hand.






















2. Next, I traced the monster face onto the other piece of fabric I had and cut it out. The boy I was making the gift for is turning one, so I also cut out a circle and a #1 to sew to the back. For the number, I used another piece of my kids old shirt. Pretty simple.

3. Finally, I hand sewed the pieces together, inside out - and left a few inches open for stuffing. Turned that monster inside out and stuffed him - then stitched the opening together to finish.



They're great little gifts for babies and young children. I'll be making them all month for the rest of the kids' birthdays on my calendar. My own kids have also put in their monster requests for Christmas.

Here's a link to the lady who makes (much nicer) monsters for sale: http://blog.revoluzzza.com/2009/06/05/get-your-revoluzzzionary-creature/ 

Do you have any cool homemade gift ideas this year? Leave a comment and share some inspiration.




Friday, November 2, 2012

Tangled Ashes - Book Review

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED (BY ME) IN THE ANSWER NEWSPAPER

Well Written Historical Fiction
By Amanda Wynant
The Answer Staff Writer

Book: Tangled Ashes
By: Michele Phoenix
Price: $12.99
Available: Amazon.com

Lamorlaye, France - 1940: Meunier Manor, an elegant castle, is taken over by Nazi officials as they occupy the city. The Nazis make the castle their headquarters and the place where they'll institute their Labensborn program - a project Heinrich Himmler set up to promote the growth of the Aryan race by encouraging Nordic women and German Soldiers to conceive a child dedicated to Hitler and the Third Reich.

French teenage girls, Marie and Elise are forced into work for the Nazis at the castle, to help supplement their families' income. The girls have no knowledge of the Labensborn program at first, but soon discover the horrible plans of the Nazis as they turn the winsome castle into a maternity home. The young Frenchwomen must make brave decisions of loyalty and courage as they try to do what's right.

Fast forward 70 years. The Meunier castle is still standing, but in need of drastic renovations to restore it to it's original beauty. The castle is purchased by a wealthy businessman who has hopes of making it a fine hotel. Marshall Becker, an expert in historical renovations, flies from his home in the U.S. to Lamorlaye to begin the intricate and specialized task of rebuilding the castle and transforming it into what his client has requested. 
He opts to stay on the property while he renovates. During his time at the manor, Becker finds that many of the people associated with the grand building are hiding dark secrets of their own. Strange things happen in the midnight hours to lead Becker into further search for the mysteries of Meunier Manor - and attempt to face the demons in his own life.

Michele Phoenix is an amazing writer. She has a fantastic ability to take a story from the 1940's and one from today and seamlessly marry them into a narrative that's both extremely engaging and quite easy to read. Her storytelling is stellar and the reader is captivated by the end of the book's first paragraph.

With 384 pages, Tangled Ashes is a work of historical fiction that weaves the love of Christ into the story, without an overt, preachy tone. Phoenix writes in an educated and easily understood way that's sure to peak the interest of any mystery loving reader. Once the book is opened, it's hard to put down. 

Tangled Ashes is recommended for any adult reader looking for a novel this fall. The characters are lovely - easy to relate with and well created. The story itself is part historical record (Meunier Manor actually exists in Lamorlaye, France), and part fiction. Pick up a copy at your local bookstore or through www.amazon.com.




Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Beginner's Bible App - Review

Love this App.

It's The Beginner's Bible app from Zondervan. My 2 year old and 4 year old have asked for it every night since we got it. They like to take turns "turning" the pages. 
The pictures are fantastic and very clear. The narrator is very easy to listen to - with a calm voice. The stories are well written and suitable for all ages of children. 
The games are fun and interactive. It's a great way to review stories with your little ones after reading them with this app. We enjoyed everything about this app and would love to see more apps like this one.


Monday, August 13, 2012

We Choose Virtues

Have you heard of this program? It's a really cool curriculum designed just to teach virtues to students.

I just heard about it from a friend of mine and thought it was a really neat idea.
Here's their website for more info: http://www.wechoosevirtues.com/shop/home-school-kit-community


Monday, July 2, 2012

Things to Remember

So lately - I've been overcome with the desire to document some things that my kids are doing - or were doing so I never forget them. I'm not very sentimental. I don't do scrapbooks and didn't make baby books. I don't have a wedding album and there is only one framed photograph displayed in my home. I hope to get better at all this - but for now, I'm just going to jot some things down here that I never want to forget.

When Lily Ann was just beginning to talk, she said some of the sweetest things. She called flowers "fallers". When she wanted help with something, she'd say "help you" (with a big question mark at the end). Her pacifier was her "fwop-fwop." She loved drinking smoothies - and she would call them "moonies." When I was pregnant with Miles, Lily loved talking about the baby in my belly. She also claimed to have a baby in her belly - and asked all sorts of women if they had a baby in their belly. When we first brought Miles home from the hospital, she rubbed his little baby head and said, "toft."
More recently, we were driving past a car dealership with a big line of balloons bordering the lot. Lily asked, from the backseat, if those cars were having a birthday party. She also refers to California as Caleeyafornia.

Miles has just turned two - and has been saying some super cute things lately. One of his very first words was "La La" (that's what he called Lily, before he could say her name). When he started learning animal sounds, he couldn't quite say "moo" - instead, he said "mmmmmmm." And when I asked him what a piggy said, he would say, "Onk Onk." One word he learned quickly was please or "fweeze." That seemed to get him whatever he wanted. If he wanted to nurse in the middle of the night, he would say "mo fweeze." that soon progressed to "nursey fweeze." If he kicks his covers off in the night, he says "Cov Me!" When he wants water, he asks for "wawee." He loves "Tommy Twain" (Thomas the Train). When he wants a little time alone, he tells Lily that he needs some "face" or some "frivacy." He loves to pretend to be a monster and chase Lily around the house.

There are so many other sweet things they say - I'll be coming back to this post and adding them when I remember them - so I'll never forget. :)



Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summer Projects You'll Love

I just wrote this article for Blissfully Domestic. It's a bunch of cool summer home project ideas from around the web. Some of these ideas are really amazing. One guy wrote about wallpapering a room with pages from vintage books. Another article outlines the creative things you can do with old wood pallets. Anyway - these little projects might help you stay out of trouble this summer!
Check them out.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Not a Hairstylist . . .

Words to the wise: a Youtube tutorial is NOT a suitable way to learn how to cut your own hair.

Youtube tutorials are awesome. Last year on Youtube, I learned how to quickly peel kiwi fruit. Earlier this month, I watched a Youtube tutorial that taught me how to make Lily Ann a barbie princess cake for her birthday. So naturally, I thought I could save a few bucks and let Youtube teach me how to cut my long, thick, horse-mainy, layered hair.

Let's just say I was wrong - and I'm thankful that I didn't cut it so short that I couldn't still tie it back. Because It's going to be tied back for a while - until I can get the damage undone.  :)


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Miles' First Haircut

Miles has had these lovely white curls on the back of his head for a while now. Recently, they started growing longer - in so much as you might mistake him for a little blonde girl instead of the little boy that he is. I've been putting off the first haircut - because the curls are just so precious to me. But today - I finally snipped them off - and saved them for the keepsake box. 
He looks so much older now. More like a little boy than a baby. . . . 

You can see Miles' long curls in this photo.
Here he is after his first haircut.

Family Photos


A friend of mine took these photos recently and just sent them to us.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Back to Blogging

I think I'd like to get this old blog up and running again. I'll start with a little family update. . . .
So far, this summer, Lily Ann turned four and Miles turned two. Even though it's exhausting to chase them around all day, I enjoy raising them SO MUCH. They love each other and play together pretty well now. Miles has turned a corner and is becoming much less fussy. Lily Ann is a sweetheart - such a little helper.
Adam is enjoying his work and doing a great job. He's always being recognized at work for being awesome. At home, he's also fabulous. He's so sweet to our kids and incredibly helpful around the house. I'm still not sure how to operate the vacuum cleaner - he always beats me to it. Did I mention how very handsome he is?! He just keeps     getting better looking with age.
I'm writing a bit - freelance. I'm taking some online courses to learn how to do a better job writing - and marketing my work. I write for a couple of websites, an online magazine and a local paper right now - but just here and there. I've got a full time job taking care of these kids and my fantastic husband.
Here are some pictures of our life lately.









I hope to update more often. And refine my blogging skills as I go.

Merry Christmas!

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