Thursday, August 30, 2007

Two Bags & a Little Monster

Here's what I've been working on this week. The first bag is from the book Hip Handbags. It's a really neat book because it gives you the templates for several different bags & then shows you variations on each one.

It's just big enough for a Bible, small notebook & maybe even a water bottle. I think I'd like it better with a pocket on the outside for your keys & pen or whatnot. I am *in love* with this fabric. It is so me. I actually went back to the fabric store to buy MORE. I have never done that before. I believe it is on clearance too for $4 a yard, plus it is a medium weight instead of a light cotton. Super!!

NEXT!! Here is a little picture story of the next bag:

1) Wal-Mart bag to be used as a template 2) Cutting the fused edges of the bag 3) Grocery bag in its own little storage pouch 4) Opening up the bag 5) The finished product!

Somehow I managed to follow this tutorial to make my own fabric grocery bag. These are becoming increasingly popular as they are a "green" option to using all those slow-to-disinigrate plastic bags. You could keep one in your purse or glove box for those little shopping trips or to use whenever you need a bag: library, thrift store purchase, farmer's market, etc! Maybe I can make a few as Christmas gifts. They aren't exactly high on style, but are high on practicality. This first one will be given to my wonderful sister-in-law who just donate a generous trash bag full of fabric to my stash. Sweet!

And finally....I saw this tutorial & knew I wanted to make one for my brother for Christmas. Even if he is 27 and married. It just cracks me up when I look at it & totally reminds me of him. I am so enjoying working with felt! It is so cheap too! So I made this little guy yesterday. Unfortunately shortly after I was finished, he was adopted by my 2 year old & named "Toonie". Guess I'll have to make another one.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How Far We've Come

I really need a T-shirt that says, "Please stop asking me when I'm due." It's actually not so much the question I mind, it's peoples' reactions when I tell them. Twice within the last week a stranger {one dance class mom & one Wal-Mart cashier} asked me when I'm due and reacted the same way.

Them: So...when are you due?
Me: December 15th
Them: HEH. HEH. WHOA! {As if to say: You've got a long way to go.}
Well, it's only 16 weeks.
Them: I guess when you put it that way.......

This really got me thinking. I think too often we look at our own progress or at the progress of other people & think, "I've/You've got a long way to go." Instead, we should try and appreciate how far we've/they've come. If only those strangers knew how many weeks of sickness I endured or the two ultrasounds I've had with another coming in a few weeks or the concern over my placenta previa, they would instead be saying, "Wow! You're more than half way there!" Don't get me wrong, we should focus on how far we have left to go in whatever journey we're pursuing {our spiritual walk, journey towards healthy living, a more intimate marriage, pregnancy} so that we can guage our progress, but I also think that every so often we should turn around and enjoy the view towards the starting line to see how far we've come. So maybe today, despite whatever it is you're facing, you can take a moment to appreciate all the work that you've done so far. You've come a long way, baby!

Monday, August 27, 2007

What's for lunch??

Happy Monday everyone! Hope you all had a lovely weekend. Are all the children officially back to school now? After watching my sister-in-law pack my niece's lunchbox, I thought I would share some school lunch ideas. I am always looking for new recipes to try, ya know! Here are some that I scrounged up:

Lunchbox Ideas

Ideas from Family Fun

Kraft Foods Lunchbox Builder

Learn about Bento ~ a new trend in lunch cuisine

Knowing my affinity for once-a-month-cooking, I can’t leave out these great lunch ideas that can be made in bulk in advance! Wouldn’t it be great not to have PB & J every day or to have to worry about what preservatives or other unnaturals are lurking in the school cafeteria lunches? It’s also nice to have lunch already made for yourself if you are staying at home {either homeschooling or with other kiddos}!

Recipezaar Cookbook for Lunches

Some of our favorite lunches include:

Leftovers: Because it's easy on mom!
Homemade Lunchables: Basically just crackers, cheese, meat & fruit. Simple!
Grilled Cheese: I like to sprinkle my bread with garlic salt before I cook it ;>)
Cheese-y Noodles: I rarely ever buy blue-box Mac, I just boil my own noodles & add a couple of slices of cheese and a splash of milk and butter.

My favorite......
French Bread Pizzas: Homemade of course! I buy hoagie rolls at Sam's Club, add some homemade pizza sauce and shredded cheese, then freeze them. That way I can have lo-cost pizza anytime ;>)

If you are trying something new and creative this year with your school lunches or have other sites to add, please feel free to share with the rest of us!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sew and Sew

I am still enjoying sewing. Kinda surprising due to my short attention span wink. Here are some of the projects I have been working on this week. This first one is my proudest accomplishment thusfar. I *love* it! I purchased the pattern, Liesl & Co Backpack Tote {her blog is here}, and the necessary hardware from PurlSoho. Hubster wasn't crazy about my eclectic fabric choices {his favorite color is grey and orange, though}, but it is totally me. Without much ado:
It has an outer buttoned pocket, a magnetic closure, and you can see the interior with its patch pocket and lined zippered pocket.

The neatest thing is that you can either use it as a tote bag over your shoulder or the straps pull together through the rings & it can be used as a backpack as well. So versatile. It's big enough to maybe use as a diaper bag, but I don't think hubs would be too thrilled carrying it around.

Next FO {finished object} is a tiered skirt for my niece's birthday at the end of the month.

I made it using the same tutorial as the one I previously posted about. The fabric is by Alexander Henry and is called "Mocca". I am very happy with how it turned out. I want to find a red {maybe sage green to bring out the green?} shirt to go with it to which I can add a few cute embellishments. I also wouldn't mind trying to make some matching felt hair clips to go with it, maybe something based on this.

Here is something else I whipped up, complete with before & after:

You can see a close-up of the fabric. It's a flannel with little fishes and other shapes. The fabric was in my stash & so was the velcro for the closure, so it really didn't cost anything to make. I wanted to try the technique before I plunked down money for some nicer fabric. Maybe once I decide on the theme of the nursery, I will make another one to match.

And my final project is something {after seeing how cute it is} I think every child should have. It's a little tooth pillow for placing the lost tooth in so the Tooth Fairy {or in our case the Mommy Fairy since we don't promote pretend figures} can leave the child a special treat. Six year old lost her first tooth this week {exciting!} so the Mommy Fairy left, in the new tooth pillow of course!, a tootsie roll and a handmade coupon to the donut shop. Don't forget to leave a little Mommy Dust {gold glitter} when you fill the tooth pillow!

P.S. If you are interested in a tooth pillow for your child{ren}, let me know. They are sew easy, I'd be glad to send one along!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tightwad in Training

I heard a fellow mom mention the Tightwad Gazette as a good source for frugal ideas. I had never come across the publication before & filed it away in my memory bank. I finally got around to checking it out from our local library & I. AM. MOTIVATED. I can't believe the plethora of money-saving ideas. It truly is mind boggling. If you have never heard of it before either, the Tightwad Gazette was a newsletter, which was published for several years in the early '90s, promoting frugality as a "viable alternative lifestyle". These newsletters have since been compiled into a humungous book, which is what I checked out. I realize that frugality is a process and requires a balance between time, money, and a willingness of effort. There are ideas that are way beyond me right now, like washing my Ziploc bags in the washing machine for re-use {although I am saving the not-so-dirty ones}, but lots of other ideas that are just challenging enough for me {like weighing several 3# bags of apples to see if any of them were heavier ~ I got one that weighed nearly 3 1/2#s for the 3# price}! After reading {literally} hundreds of pages of ideas, I have come to several conclusions. 1) I am very wasteful! I throw all sorts of things away without a second thought. 2) New is not always better, although our consumer-driven society has conditioned us to believe that it is. 3) I am willing to change to make life simpler & less expensive for my family. Here are the things I am doing to try and not spend as much & be a better steward of what God has given me:

Make a Price Book: I have read before in different places how this will revolutionize my grocery budget. Basically, a price book lists all the things you typically buy along with the prices for each item at the different stores you shop at. That way you can always be sure to pay the lowest price and will know whether or not something is a good deal or sale. I have already started compiling some items and prices in a notebook. Meats are probably my weakest category. I don't really know what a good price for any cuts of beef or pork are. On my last grocery trip, I already began really analyzing cost per ounce and whether bigger bags were a better deal. I paid more attention to what brands I bought & really scoured the shelves to make sure there wasn't anything cheaper. I will feel so relieved when I know where to buy which items to save the most money! {If you are interested in my results when I am done, let me know or if you want to join me in my collaborative effort, we can price search together!}

Make more things from scratch
: I already try and make many things from scratch, but will still be looking for more things to try. So far from the book, I've tried Homemade Wheat Thins & today I made my own spaghetti sauce {I was even able to price it out using my price book}!

Be more conscientious about food waste: We aren't really a "leftovers" family, which I realize is quite wasteful. I am trying to save whatever isn't eaten & use it in a new creative way. I saved some sauce from Chicken Cacciatore that I made earlier in the week & added it to my spaghetti sauce pot {along with some cherry tomatoes that got forgotten for who-knows-how-long in the back of the fridge}. I saved leftover Mac & Cheese from the kids' lunch & reserved it as a side dish the next day.

Keeping my eyes open
: I will be just keeping my eyes open for new ways of using or reusing things. I have two sippy cups that have long since lost the valve that makes them "no-spill". We went to the park last week & lo & behold laying in the grass was the exact valve that fits my sippy cup. All it took was a run through the dishwasher and now one sippy cup is back to "no-spill" status. This may sound gross to some {and I was worried that hubster would think so}, but really that may be just because we've been taught to think so. Hubby thought it was genius by the way! I also stopped into a WonderBread outlet & found that I can get a loaf of good-quality whole wheat bread for 2 for $2.05 instead of 2 for $2.86 that I have been paying at my warehouse club. We go through a lot of bread, so this will be a great savings. {I'm not sure how much 100% whole wheat costs at Aldi, but maybe they are cheaper?}

Where are you in your frugal journey? Do you like to purchase whatever you can brand-new or do you get excited at the valuable yard sale discovery?

Monday, August 20, 2007

School Daze....

...oh, I mean days biggrin are back again! We "officially" started school two weeks ago, but have gotten off to a very slooooooow start. We completed 5 days in the course of two weeks, mostly due to a bunch of end of the summer sleepovers with cousins & grandparents {oh, and the teacher was struck with a terrible case of food poisoning that took several days to recover from}. Anyhow, since I know public school will be starting shortly for many families, I will be featuring some "back-to-school" posts to get us all in the mood for the new school year. My favorite back-to-school memories from my childhood would mostly revolve around shopping. I would get so excited to be able to buy new "school clothes" and supplies. There is a line in the movie "You've Got Mail" where Tom Hanks says,

"Don't you love the fall? It makes me want to go out and buy school supplies. And if I knew your name and address, I would send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils."
How romantic! {I *SO* love fall too!!} Those boxes of Crayolas with all the perfect unused crayons & fresh notebooks with so many pages to be filled......

So have you gotten your back-to-school shopping completed yet? Any good deals to share?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Restaurant Faves

Inspired by this post by Erin, here are some of my restaurant favorites. Being the foodie that I am, I am always willing to try someplace new, especially if it comes with a recommendation from a friend.

Top Italian

Biaggi's ~ When comparing it to Olive Garden, there just is NO contest. I love the more upscale atmosphere, the more flavorful menu, the different daily foccacia varieties, and the prices are comparable. I've enjoyed this place so much that I chose it as the site of my grandmother's 80th birthday party. As always, the food and service was great!

Other Italian places we've enjoyed include:
Nicolino's Italian Restaurant ~ McHenry, IL
Tuscany ~ various Chicagoland locations

Top Quick Service

I really enjoy eating at "quick-service" places as opposed to fast-food. If I'm going to spend $10 at the drive through, I rather spend a couple dollars more & get food quality that is significantly improved over the fast-food joint.

Noodles & Co ~ Obviously I somewhat biased since I used to work here, but I think I would enjoy their food & atmosphere regardless. There is a category of pasta for every palate: American, Asian & Italian. I *always* get the Trio now, which is a small salad, small noodle dish, and your choice of protein {chicken, beef, or shrimp} for $6.95. Great food for value in my opinion!

Panera ~ Again, nice atmosphere. Fresh menu with seasonal changes. Good value.

Top Fast Food

You've read my reasoning on quick-service vs. fast-food above, but when I do go for a drive through burger, it is almost always:

Culver's ~ There burgers are made fresh TO ORDER! {Need I say anything else?} You aren't getting a burger that's been sitting under a warmer for who knows how long. I like to add lots of veggies to mine like lettuce, tomato, and red onion {slices of onion mind you, not those little chopped pieces at the inferior fast-food joints}. I like the thick cut fries too. Their Garden Fresco salad is an amazing value. It is huge, with lots of toppings & only costs $3.99. Oh, and for the kiddies, I much rather have a coupon for a free custard than some rinky-dink happy-meal toy that ends up in the trash. If I'm paying for it, I rather pay for the custard. I save the coupons for later & then the kids can have an ice cream treat even if I'm low on cash.

Top Burger

Red Robin ~ Of course! So many burger options to choose from, not to mention appetizers, chicken sandwiches, wraps and salads. They have a reasonably priced kiddie menu as well. I love their thick cut {bottomless} fries. If you sign up for their e-club, you will get a "free gift" for signing up, plus a free burger on your birthday {frugal-ness here people}! Also worth mentioning is that after one of our first few initial visits I filled out a comment card regarding how I enjoyed the restaurant & our great service, etc. and got a letter in the mail thanking me for my comments along with $2 off my next visit. Nice!

Top Steakhouse

Sadly, I haven't tried enough of them to really have a good opinion. Has anyone been to Morton's? Or the Weber Grill? Or Gibson's? Since I haven't tried a big variety, the place we go to when I crave steak is:

The Outback
~ It's local. Hubs likes the cheese fries. I like the awesome blossom. It fills the need when we want a steak. Honestly though, if I feel like cooking I just go to our local butcher & pick up some ribeyes. I'll saute some mushrooms & onions or make homemade onion rings, combined with a good salad and......oh, yeah. This is supposed to be about restaurants......

I came across this Chicago Steakhouse Ranking that seems pretty informative. I am thinking I will call my dad soon & ask him to take me to one of the top four {maybe to celebrate the big 3-0 next year}. That's what dads are for, right?

In conclusion....
...I don't have any really amazing recommendations for Chinese {wish I did} or seafood or Mexican {um, yeah, we never go OUT for Mexican}. If I am going to recommend something it better be good all around. Some Chinese places have great dishes, but terrible egg rolls or fried rice. We went to Plum Garden a while back & I remember enjoying it, but not enough to rave about it. I can't wait to try Pappadeux's that Erin recommended. Seafood sounds so yummy these days! Here are a few other tidbits of my faves:

For a milkshake, I stop at: Steak 'n Shake ~ They're hand-dipped authentic milkshakes people. With whipped cream. And a cherry.

When I'm in the city, I like to order from:
Leona's ~ I love the menu! Everything is so fresh, lots of great salads, huge grilled veggie skewers as a side dish, uber yummy sandwiches and pastas.

For a neighborhood bar & grill, I go to: Chili's ~ They're local. I know their menu {love the Boneless Shanghai Wings}. I have had lots of service issues though. I would say their consistency is spotty. Maybe I am getting the rookie server everytime, I dunno.

Best "Experience" Restaurant: The Rainforest Cafe ~ We just took the kids there recently & it was so much fun! I remember going there when I was younger & being amazed at all there is to take in. The food is great too {even if a little pricey}, lots of different flavor combos & options to choose from.

I think that covers a lot of it. This post is getting way too long as it is. I would also love to hear everyone's favorites, especially if you are local to me, so I can try some new places.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Urban Summer Skirt

I purchased these fabrics to make a bag for myself {which I created the design for & is in progress right now}, but when darling daughter saw the fabric being cut asked, "SOOOOOO, what is THAT fabric for?" She then informed me that she *loves* polka-dots and really would love a skirt for the next morning {today's} playdate. {Now isn't that a woman thing? NEEDING a new outfit for an upcoming event.} So, I proceeded to whip up this tiered skirt based on the tutorial at Kuky Ideas. It was sew simple, that I want to make a couple more, especially since it uses only fabric strips and a bit of elastic. I plan to make one for my niece for her birthday along with a matching appliqued shirt. I wanted the floral to be in the middle, but since I was using scraps there wasn't quite enough. But if she is happy with it & then so am I!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Super Secret ~ Revealed!

Here are some photos of my Super Secret Birthday project in action. The picture on the left is the "try-on" on the evening she received it. The other two are on party day. She looked....radiant. I mean, it really was amazing to see all my hard work, sweat, and tears finally come to fruition. The fit was nearly perfect. There is some room in the waistline & the dress was a tad long, so she would have to hike it up sometimes when walking around {truly princess-like}! All in all, my secret turned out great. Dear Daughter said it was the "best surprise she's ever had". That's good enough for me!

I *love* putting her hair in curlers! It's the best way to get it to stay curly. I remember MY grandma putting my hair in curlers when I was a kid. Do people even use curlers anymore? I guess in our day and age of needing instantaneous results, probably not. I did this for her dance photos & recital as well, and all the other moms were impressed. They were all planning on taking their girls to the salon. I figured for $10 I could make her hair curly as many times as I want.

So there ya go. I am pretty relieved that this project is over, although I've learned many things along the way. For example, if I ever get the urge to work with netting again, please do the humane thing & STOP ME!!

Now on to making more bags.....

Monday, August 06, 2007

Frugal Summer Purchase

I was so excited when I came across reusable swim diapers. With the kids swimming in our kiddie pool quite a bit, it seemed like I was going through quite a few disposable swimmies. I paid $5 on ebay, but I see that some of the infant/toddler swim accessories are all on clearance at Target now. So if you are in need of a reusable swim diaper {for the rest of this year or next}, they are available there for $4 a piece. No more wasting $$$ on disposables!