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Help Animals in Need by Donating Your Old Linens

Posted on Jul 25, 2014 by No Comments

I’m a big fan of fluffy towels and soft blankets, but I hate to throw anything away. So, when I’m replacing my household linens, figuring out what to do with the old stuff is always a challenge.

I used to pass along old linens to friends who were moving and needed help furnishing their new places, since I was the first one in my social circle to get married and move into my own home. However, I’ve finally run out of people eager for my castoffs.

Since I love Pinterest, I’ve seen all sorts of cool sewing projects made with recycled fabric. But, I’ve finally had to admit that I lack the skill to actually accomplish any of these nifty ideas.

If you’re in the same boat, I think the best option is to take these items to a nearby animal shelter. Animal shelters can use donations of towels, blanks, and other linens to help pad cages and make them more comfortable for animals.

If you don’t know where the animal shelters in your area are located, visit PetFinder.com to search for contact info.

If you’re trying to teach your children about the importance of giving back to the community, consider buying a few bags of pet food to take with you when you drop off the blankets. Even if your kids don’t have pets of their own, most children are sympathetic to the plight of animals in need. You can look for coupons and sales to cut costs, if you’re having your kids pay for the food with their allowance money.

Photo credit: PetFinder.com

Donate Books to Soldiers and Their Families

Posted on Jul 23, 2014 by No Comments

I have a serious book addiction. Even though I’ve been trying to stick to ebooks to cut down on the amount of clutter in my home, I tend to go a little crazy every time I get near a Barnes & Noble. Plus, I’m a sucker for ordering children’s books through the Scholastic Book Club fliers my son keeps bringing home.

When I was weeding through my book collection to try to make space for all the titles new titles we purchased, I came across the Operation Paperback website. This great charity sends books to soldiers stationed overseas, those who are in military hospitals, and military families with a deployed loved one.

They will accept both adult books and children’s books, as long as your books are in good condition. They won’t take books with missing covers; loose, brittle, or missing pages; stains; or water damage. Books that are considered pornographic or racist are not allowed and religious materials are only acceptable if the solider has specifically requested them.

The website mentions mysteries and westerns as being in high demand. The children’s books go directly to the families of the soldiers or are sent to the soldiers so they can read to their kid via webcam or DVD.

To donate books, you log onto the Operation Paperback website and list the titles you have. The books are then matched with addresses of soldiers who have requested either the specific book or something from that genre. Choose someone to mail your books to, then package them up and drop them off at the post office.

If you don’t have any books to mail out, but still want to help support the cause, Operation Paperback accepts cash donations. A $5 donation will ship one medium-sized box of books to any overseas military location. A $20 donation will help pay for the purchase and shipment of one box of high-demand special request books.

Photo credit: Operation Paperback

Easy Homemade Lotion Bars

Posted on Jul 14, 2014 by No Comments

Lotion bars look like decorative soaps at first glance, but they’re actually a unique solution for dry skin. When you rub them on your skin, your body heat melts the bar into a soothing lotion.

You can use the lotion bars all over your body, but they’re especially useful for dry hands and feet. I like to rub a little on my feet each night before putting on thick socks.

You can either store your lotion bar in decorative tin or keep it in a soap dish on your bathroom counter. If you keep it in a soap dish, make sure guests don’t mistake it for hand soap.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup beeswax
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vitamin E oil
  • Essential oils or fragrance oils, if desired

Instructions

  1. Melt the beeswax and coconut oil in your microwave or on a double boiler. I melt mine in a large glass bowl in my microwave. Microwave times vary, but I end up microwaving it for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring well, and then microwaving for about 30 seconds more.
  2. Add the olive oil and vitamin E oil.
  3. Add any desired fragrance. Experimenting with different fragrances is part of the fun of this project. I used about 10 drops of peppermint essential oil for the first batch of lotion bars I made. For the second batch, I added cucumber melon fragrance oil from Hobby Lobby. For the third batch, I tried a 1/2 tablespoon of cocoa powder.
  4. Pour into silicone baking molds. The number of lotion bars you’ll get depends on what type of mold you’re using, but this recipe usually gives me four to six bars.
  5. Let the mixture cool completely, then pop the bars out of the molds. If you accidentally break one of the bars when you pop it out, just melt the mixture and try pouring it again.
  6. Let them sit out overnight to dry, then wrap in clear plastic wrap for easy storage.

Photo credit: Dana Hinders

Lazy Mom’s Pinata Cake

Posted on Jul 11, 2014 by No Comments

I consider my self to be a crafty gal when it comes to projects involving paper, stickers, glue, beads, or glitter, but my patience for elaborate baking projects is pretty limited. So, when it came time to make my son a birthday cake, I waited until the last possible minute to decide what to make.

I really wanted to do a pinata cake like the one on Claire K. Creations. My son has been a huge fan of pinatas since Grandma brought one to his third birthday party. But, the actual assembly of the traditional pinata cake looked beyond my limited patience.

In a stroke of brilliance/utter laziness, I realized that I could get a really similar look with an angel food cake pan. I used a box white cake mix, baked the cake, then tossed several colorful Chewy Lemonhead candies in the center. Once I frosted it and added sprinkles, it looked no different from a regular cake.

The look on my son’s face when we cut the cake was priceless. Even though it wasn’t picture perfect like the Claire K. Creations cake, it was close enough to make his day.

cake
As far as the taste goes, my pinata cake was really sugary due to all the candy inside. I’d suggest cutting the cake into very tiny slices so you don’t end up with a room full of hyper party guests.

This idea could be adapted in any number of ways. You can use any kind of cake mix in an angel food pan, but a regular cake mix won’t rise as high as angel food cake.

Next time I try this, I think I’ll make yellow cake with M&M’s in the middle and chocolate frosting or do an angel food cake with a fresh strawberries in the center and strawberry frosting.

Photo credit: Dana Hinders

Cooking with Your Kids

Posted on Jul 7, 2014 by No Comments

Cooking is an important life skill that your children will need to be independent adults, since eating nothing but fast food for three meals a day is not good for their wallets or waistlines. Cooking also teaches children to be more adventurous eaters, since they are more likely to try unfamiliar foods if they’ve helped assist in the meal preparation process.

Most experts don’t recommend letting a child use the stove until age 11 or 12, but younger children can assist you in the kitchen by washing fruits and vegetables or measuring the ingredients for a recipe. With some guidance, they can also be taught to make simple salads or cold sandwiches independently.

When teaching your children how to cook, remember that mistakes are part of the learning process. My own mother loves to tease me about the time I confused sugar and flour and made the world’s worst tasting cookies. My nine-year-old can can sometimes be a real help in the kitchen, but he’s dropped more eggs on the floor than I can count.

Recipes from cookbooks designed for kids can be a fun way to make cooking more enjoyable for your child. Cooking classes are another way to help kids build confidence in the kitchen.

If you’re lucky enough to live in the San Francisco Bay area, your children can take part in the COOK! Classes for Kids from Paulding & Co. These culinary courses are for kids ages 9 – 18 who want to learn basic skills, as well as how to prepare specialized types of cuisine.

When your children complete a Paulding & Co. course, they’ll gain the confidence they need to cook for themselves, friends, or family.

Photo credit: Paulding & Co

Easy Homemade Lip Balm

Posted on Jun 30, 2014 by No Comments

I love lip balm, but I’m terrible about keeping track of the lip balms I’ve purchased. Since I lose them so often, I decided to see if I could make a cheap homemade lip balm so I’d always have plenty of extras on hand.

This lip balm seems comparable in quality to most purchased lip balms that I’ve tried and I like that it is made from all natural ingredients.

However, I should caution you that it’s not a good idea to carry it around in your pocket. I normally carry a tube of lip balm in the front pocket of my pants. When I tried carrying a small tin of this lip balm in the same way, my body heat turned the mixture into a liquid.

If desired, you can leave out the cocoa powder and peppermint essential oil to make an unflavored lip balm or use different essential oils and flavorings. The peppermint chocolate is my favorite combo, but I also like this recipe with a pinch of cinnamon.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon beeswax
  • 2 drops vitamin E oil
  • Pinch of cocoa powder
  • 3 or 4 drop peppermint essential oil

Instructions

  1. Melt the beeswax and coconut oil in the microwave or on a double boiler. I melted mine in a large glass bowl in my microwave. Microwave times vary, but I ended up microwaving it for one minute, stirring well, and then microwaving for about 30 seconds more.
  2. Add the cocoa powder and essential oil. Mix well.
  3. Carefully pour your lip balm into the desired containers. I’ve used recycled candy tins, small Valentine’s Day treat containers, and plastic Easter eggs. Anything with a lid that closes well should work, although my son thinks the Easter eggs are especially fun because they wobble back and forth from the weight of the lip balm in the bottom. This recipe will make enough for about three or four small containers of lip balm.
  4. Wait until your lip balm cools completely before using.

Photo credit: Dana Hinders

How to Have a Garage Sale without Stressing Yourself Out

Posted on Jun 27, 2014 by 1 Comment

A garage sale can be a great way to declutter your home and earn a little extra cash in the process, but planning a successful garage sale can be tricky.

Timing is everything when it comes to garage sales. I highly recommend trying to have your sale when several other people will also be hosting their own garage sale.

In my town, there is a community wide garage sale event twice per year. People come from a three or four county radius to attend the sales, so we’re guaranteed a huge traffic boost if we plan our sale for that day. There is a neighboring community that does a large indoor group sale at the fairgrounds a couple of times per year, which seems like a good plan if you have a way to easily transport your stuff to the needed location.

Attractive looking signs are a huge plus when it comes to getting people to stop at your garage sale. Don’t just scrawl a few words on a scrap of cardboard! Make signs with bold, colorful, and easy to read letters. Consider adding a few balloons to the signs in your driveway to draw even more attention to them.

Instead of marking all my items individually, I usually save time by creating a few different price categories. For example, I’ll sell all my books for $1 each or all the DVDs for $2 each. I might make more if I took the time to mark them individually, but not having to haul away stuff that didn’t sell is worth the sacrifice for me.

For clothing, we’ve had great success with the bag approach. I sort out clothes from my husband, myself, and my son, then stick a box with plastic grocery bags at the end of the table and make a huge sign saying the clothes are $5 per bag. The last time I did this, we sold out of clothes in about an hour.

For me, a garage sale is more about decluttering and less about getting rich. If we have high value items, I normally try to sell them through other means first.

When it comes to setting up, I think it pays to make your garage sale items as neat and organized as possible. Group like items together so they are easy to find. Place big items like furniture or oversized toys near the road so people can see them as they pass by. Remember to allow plenty of room for people to walk between your tables, since nobody likes to feel crowded when they are shopping.

Photo credit: Eastlake Times

5 Battery-Free Ways to Keep Kids Entertained During Your Next Family Road Trip

Posted on Jun 25, 2014 by No Comments

Are we there yet? There’s no doubt that road trips with children can be a challenge, but you don’t need to resort to using iPads or handheld video game systems to save your sanity this summer.

Here are five easy ways to plan a stress-free, old-fashioned family road trip that your kids will love:

  1. A family road trip is an excellent time to encourage kids to expand their knowledge of geography. Have them search for state license plates or trace your route on a map as they keep track of which towns you have passed.
  2. Pack an activity bag filled with crafty goodies such as colored pencils, mini coloring books, a sketch pad, and an assortment of stickers. If your children are old enough to work on more complex projects without close adult supervision, try supplies for finger crocheting or weaving rubber band loom bracelets.
  3. If you have several children to entertain, pick a card game that they can play with each other. Road trip bingo, in which kids compete to fill up a bingo card that is marked with different items they might see on the trip, is another good choice for entertaining multiple children. You can print free road trip bingo cards at Mom’s Mini Van.
  4. For very small children, consider filling a sack with different treats that can be given out at specific checkpoints within your trip. Treats can be snacks, small toys, or board books. This works best if the items are ones that your child has not seen before, so consider making a trip to your local dollar store shortly before your trip to buy items for your treat bag.
  5. Audio books can provide a fun alternative to listening to music on the radio and are perfect for those who can’t do visual activities due to problems with motion sickness. Choose a book that the whole family will enjoy, such as one of the Harry Potter books.

What are your favorite ways to keep your children entertained during a family road trip?

Photo credit: Ben Francis

Crafting with Your Kids: Thrifty Scrapbooking

Posted on Jun 13, 2014 by No Comments

I’ve been an avid scrapbooker since my wedding in 2002, so my son is used to Mom whipping out the camera to take pictures at any family event.

Over the years, he’s helped me with several different scrapbooking projects. He’s provided handwritten journaling for pages, drawn pictures to be used as decorations for a layout, and even made a few decorated mini-books that I’ve tucked into the pages of our family album.

These little keepsakes are more precious to me every time I flip through my collection of scrapbook albums.

I have a ridiculously large collection of scrapbook supplies since I’ve been doing this for such a long time. But, when I was just starting out, I was always looking for ways to save money. Here are my favorite thrifty scrapbook tips:

  • Consider creating your own embellishments by letting your child make a mini collage with paint chips; old greeting cards; buttons from stained or outgrown clothes; ribbon from gift baskets or packages you’ve received; or memorabilia relating to the theme of your page, such as postcards, brochures, or graphics from magazine advertisements.
  • Instead of purchasing patterned paper, use watercolor paint to make an abstract design on plain cardstock. You’d be surprised by the pretty backgrounds a toddler will make if you tell them which colors to use.
  • You can also try piecing together several scraps of different patterned papers in coordinating colors to make a completely new background for your scrapbook layout. Kindergartners or first graders will enjoy this project as a way to build fine motor skills.
  • Have your older child hand write a favorite quote several times across the bottom of the page for an interesting border. You might not like your own handwriting, but a sample of your child’s penmanship will bring back fond memories in the years to come.

Photo credit: MorgueFile

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