Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Operation Christmas Child: Creating Shoeboxes for Samaritan's Purse

Every year my daughter and I look forward to filling shoeboxes for the Operation Christmas Child project for Samaritan's Purse.  The project is simple, you grab a shoebox and fill it with all kinds of little gifts and it is mailed to a child in need who may not have a gift to open this Christmas.  Millions of boxes have been sent to more than 130 countries and when you hear the stories of children saving their little shoeboxes because even the box is special you understand the impact of the smallest gestures.   

We started making shoeboxes when my daughter was a baby.  We'll do a boy and a girl one that corresponds with whatever age my daughter is at the time.  It's fun to shop with her and let her pick out all the items that will go in the boxes. 

It doesn't have to be expensive!  There are lots of great things to be found at the dollar store.  I also love to shop the school supplies after school has started and everything is deeply discounted.  I found pencil sharpeners for a quarter this year.  It's usually a good way to buy markers, colored pencils and other art supplies cheaply.  Anytime I'm at the drugstore or craft store I keep an eye out for those random clearance items so I can stock up and save them for our shoeboxes.  The boxes are small and we like to cram them as full as we can with many different things!

This year we added toothbrushes & toothpaste, soap, magic washcloths, small stuffed animals, card games, Marvel figures, a bead craft, coloring books, colored pencils, pencil sharpeners, toy erases, stickers, silly bands, peanut butter crackers and ring pops.  My daughter packed the boxes herself and included a handwritten note, a picture of herself and a drawing she made.   

I love this hands on way my daughter gets to participate and the opportunity to tangibly show and talk about how children live in other countries.  We are thankful for Samaritan's Purse for making such a simple way for us to help bless children in need!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

DIY Truffula Trees a.k.a. Tissue Paper Pom Poms

In our Dr. Seuss theme playroom I wanted to add a bit of dimension to a flat painted wall.  Dr. Seuss is all about whimsy and what better way to add that than with some real truffula trees?  I found ideas for this on Pinterest for Seuss themed parties and thought it would make a great addition to our playroom. 

This was one of the simplest and cheapest accessories I created for the space.  For the trunks I used a couple of dollar store pool noodles.  Then wrapped the trunks with a fun pattern duct tape.  There's so much crazy tape now in craft stores and hardware stores, it added a little extra whimsy than plain solid tape would have. 

Once my trunks were taped, I made the tissue paper tree tops using this Martha Stewart tutorial.  I'm going to level with you, I hate making those tissue paper pom poms!  It's simple, but frustrates me.  I know some craftier people crank them out like it's nothing, that's never been the case for me.  There's just something about peeling apart the tissue to fluff it up that I can't handle!  I'll rip it every time.  Luckily, you can't really tell once it's fluffed, so just have it.  It was worth it in the end.  Another thing you could try is to buy the pom pom kit at a craft store or party supply store.  They're not that expensive and may save some hassle.  

Whew, okay, now that the tree tops are finished I used some floral wire to wrap them to the top of the pool noodles.  The wire easily poked through the noodles and I just wrapped it around enough to feel secure. 

To secure them to the wall I just bought a package of Velcro strips, placed a couple on the noodle and the wall and just slapped it up.  Velcro tape is definitely under utilized in design.  Every once in a while one will fall off, but I stick it back and it's fine.


The thing to remember is it's not art.  It's $2 of pool noodles, $4 of tape, tissue paper I had on hand and probably $5 of Velcro tape.  If they get torn up because kids are playing like kids, we can rebuild. 


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Making a Meaningful Statement in Your Entryway

The very first project we did in our new home was create a "God Wall."  I'm not sure where this idea originated.  A friend of mine told me about it and I loved the concept!  In fact, all my girlfriends loved it and the four of us have a variation of this idea in each of our homes!

What makes this particular photo collage special for our home is that it's a timeline from when we got married to today.  It tells the story of what God has done in our lives and marriage.  Hence the name "God wall."

Piecing this wall together took some time.  In fact, it took about a month.  I purchased a variety of frames, shadow boxes, signs, shelves and accessories to try out what would work.  Lots of buying and returning!  I measured the space I had on the wall onto my dining room floor (you could use painter's tape or masking tape to actually create the space on your floor).  This helped me lay everything out and move things around.  Seeing it laid out helped me visualize what worked and see what might be missing. 

I kept my frames to one color, a dark brown stain.  This helps your space look uniform even if all the frames are different.  Different color frames would make the space look cluttered.  

On the left side of the wall, I have an oval frame that has the pressed flowers from my wedding bouquet and a wedding portrait.  I also included a small "faith" sign which I found at Hobby Lobby very inexpensively.  Hobby Lobby was actually a great resource because they have all kinds of frames, tons of signs and vinyl wall words. Next is a shadow box found at Home Goods.  I included a wedding invitation, a card my husband wrote me when he proposed and a birth announcement of our daughter. 


Towards the middle is a memo board.  I really liked the idea of a memo board because I wanted to be able to change photos easily to keep things current.  I liked the style of this memo board, however, there is a pithy quote in the middle of the board that I don't care for.  So, I just cover it up with photos! 

I love the finished product.  It's one of my favorite parts of our house and I love when visitors come over and look at it and that we can share what God has done in our lives.


Friday, November 15, 2013

DIY Felt Flower Wreath

Christmas is coming fast!  When I realized how late Thanksgiving is this year, I also realized how little time I have to get ready for Christmas. 

Last year I made these great homemade wreaths for Christmas.  I just love homemade gifts.  I realize that sounds cheesy, but it was really nice to think about the people I was making the wreaths for as I was working on them.  This year I decided to make one or two more.  Fortunately they're pretty simple. Since I don't sew, and I'm only a little bit of a crafter, these wreaths are perfect for me.

To get started you'll need felt, scissors, a glue gun, wreath and any embellishments you're interested in (floral stems, ornaments, wooden letters, etc.).

Making the flowers:

Trace a circle onto your felt sheet. Honestly, I just freehand a circle.  It doesn't have to be perfect to still look good. It can be any size, bigger circle makes a bigger flower. Then cut the circle into a spiral.  Start at the end and roll it up. Leave a piece at the end to add a dab of glue and place it on the bottom to hold it together.   


For this type of flower, cut a strip of felt (whatever size you like), place a thin line of glue across the top and fold it in half.  Make small cuts along the fold and roll it up.  Add a dab of glue to the end so it sticks together.

To create a similar flower, but with strips instead of loops, simply place your glue more toward the middle of your felt strip, fold and cut along the straight edge instead of the fold. 

As you create flowers, arrange them around the wreath with your other embellishments in a way that looks pleasing to you.  I used a snowman ornament and placed it on the wreath first, then arranged flowers around it.  

Here are a few examples of wreaths I made last year.  Another wreath idea is to take a straw wreath form and cover it in yarn, then add felt flowers on top.  Both options look beautiful!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Quick and Easy Chicken Noddle Casserole

This recipe is one of my go-to recipes when I need to make dinner in a hurry or I haven't gone to the grocery.  I almost always have these ingredients on hand and it goes together very quickly.  It also freezes beautifully, so double it and freeze half if you like.  Nothing hits the spot more when you're not feeling your best, than pulling out a chicken noodle casserole from your freezer and tossing it in the oven.   


Chicken Noodle Casserole

1 cup medium egg noodles, cooked
2 cups boiled chicken, diced
1 can cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup with milk
1 can French Fried onions, divided

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat soup with milk (as directed on can), add diced chicken, noodles and half of the onion rings.

Pour into a 2 Qt. casserole dish, bake for 15 minutes. Top with rest of the onions and bake 5 minutes longer.  Serves 4

Here's a quick tip: I always have shredded chicken in the freezer.  So while it doesn't take much effort to boil a couple of chicken breasts, if you have shredded chicken in the freezer it'll go even faster.  Just pop it in the microwave for a couple of minutes to thaw and toss it in the casserole.  I like to buy a couple of rotisserie chickens from Costco, shred them and freeze it in gallon size freezer bags.  Then it's always ready for soups, enchiladas and casseroles.   


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Accessorizing Living Room Bookcases

I'm still in the process of completing my living room makeover.  We've added some bookcases which I've been accessorizing.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, we have tons of books!  So instead of filling it up with books from top to bottom, which would have been easy, I've been adding accessories to mix it up.  It's trickier than I thought!  I've looked at lots of pictures and inspiration, moved lots of things in and out, up and down.  All so that it looks it came together simply!  Trust me, nothing in my house works out effortlessly. I'm constantly tweaking.   

I found some bookcases at Ikea, from the Besta line.  We have a small nook in our living room and these bookcases fit perfectly, just like built-ins would have without any hassle.  These are great, sturdy bookcases, they were inexpensive, plus we had them assembled in a couple of hours!  The entire set cost about $260. 

Play around with your accessories and try different arrangements.  There's no right or wrong.  If you're like me, however, you need some guidelines as a jumping off point.
  1. Group like books together, you still want to easily find the book you're looking for.  
  2. Arrange books both vertically and horizontally for visual appeal.  Stack books horizontally and place an accessory on top. 
  3. Carry your color scheme onto your bookshelf to give the room a sense of unity (remember to best utilize an accent color it needs to be used at least three times in a room).
  4. Use photo frames as bookends, this is a great way to add color.
  5. Candles don't make sense on a bookshelf, paper and fire are not a good combo.  Even if you don't intend to light it, it still might not look right.
  6. Add a small plant.  I love adding live plants to spaces, it makes a room feel warm and lived in. 
To accessorize my bookcase, I started by going through what I had around the house.  My basement is always the first place I shop.  I had a couple of wicker baskets I added to the top of the shelves, plus, I had lots of art books that I inherited from my grandmother.  They've been in boxes for years and I was so pleased to bring those out and add that little piece of her into my home.    

My next stop is always the Goodwill.  I find great treasures at the Goodwill and local thrift store.  I purchased a metal tin that I repainted to fit my color scheme, tossed a silk fern in and placed it on the top shelf too.  Other odds and ends I found were a wooden clock, some frames and a brass jar with a lid.  These things I interspersed on the shelves and in total cost less than $10.

I started leaving the brass jar as is on the shelf, but it just didn't look right.  So I decided I spray paint it quickly in my basement with some silver paint I had on hand.  


That actually didn't work for me either, so I ended up spray painting it a high gloss white.  I only paid $1 at the GW so I figure it doesn't really matter if I mess it up!  White worked great and made it look more sophisticated.  


I purchased a couple of items at Home Goods, a blue picture frame and glass bowl with a rope handle.  They were only about $15 total and matched perfectly.  I love the brass nail head look on the frame, plus the blue color of the bowl.  I want to have just a hint of a beach feel and those pieces really help me get that, along with bringing the blue accent color through my room.  My absolute favorite piece is the large piece of driftwood.  I found it on the beach this summer, soaked it in a little bleach and let it dry in the sun.  It was free and this natural accessory looks great!

One last accessory I added was a glass jar I filled with some shells from our vacation.  I already had the jar and a few of the shells I just sprayed with a little gold paint to make them stand out.  The shells look even more beautiful gilded.  In case your wondering, Hobby Lobby sells small cans of spray paint for about $2 or $3, it's a great place to buy accent colors that you may not need a lot of.  But lets face it, once you spray paint something gold, you're going to see what else you can spray paint gold!

Finished product...for today at least.   


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Simple Kids Bathroom Makeover

My daughter's bathroom was a blank slate, everything white.  When she was big enough to take showers I added a floral shower curtain just to add a hint of color.  I wanted to create for her a girly bath since we moved in.  Since we're adopting, however, we don't know yet whether she'll be sharing with a brother or a sister.  I couldn't make it too pink (plus her bedroom is already really pink) so we decided together on an ocean theme since it works for boys and girls.  I didn't want fish on the wall or little mermaid decals, just enough "sea" to make it fun for her, but not overly themed.   

I picked a couple of paint colors that complemented each other.  I find it really hard to pick paint.  You should see the quantity of paint samples I have.  Thank goodness hardware stores started making paint samples!  If I see colors I like, I'll buy a sample, usually another sample a shade lighter or darker, and samples of complimentary colors too.  You can see the test strips in my bathroom here in the before picture.  I nearly forgot to take before pictures, I just wanted to dive in!   


I selected the bottom three colors to use in the bathroom.  I started by drawing a wave on the wall, I just freehanded it with a piece of chalk.  I painted the bottom part of the wall with the dark color and the top with the lighter. 

The wave continues around the entire bathroom. 

After painting, just needed the accessories.  I found this really cute mermaid print on Etsy and the inexpensive yellow frame at Home Goods.  Then I asked my sister to make some mermaid signs.  It pays to know someone with graphic design capabilities!  The white frames came from Target, they were very inexpensive and nicer than the ones I had found at Ikea!  

Most of the accessories came from Home Goods, the white shelf, sign, wicker fish and wire bin.  The metal vase came from Ikea and in it is just a silk floral stem from a craft store. 

Add in one white shower curtain, a couple of "sand" colored bath rugs and some new towels.  Notice the yellow-green painted step stool.  That was a white stool from Target that I painted with the green accent color from one of my paint samples. 

I still plan on adding some knobs to the cabinet drawers and doors, but you know how it goes, I jumped the gun and moved on to another project before I could do that!  This bath works because the colors are pleasant, not overly juvenile, and the accessories can be easily changed if down the road we need to make it more "boyish."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Easy, No Sew DIY Cornice Box

I'm all about being thrifty when it comes to decorating my house.  That's why I love Pinterest so much!  So many cheap and clever ideas for filling up your home.  One of the most expensive ways to decorate your home is with curtains & blinds.  I wish I could sew and whip out lovely curtains and pillows, but alas I can't, so I love a shortcut. 

I started by making a cornice box for my morning room.  I love this easy tutorial from My Old Country House on how to make an "easy as pie" cornice.  In the tutorial, foam core board is used to build the box.  I used an old sign from my husband's job that was made of gator board (which is kind of like a plastic foam board).  Keep an eye out, you never know what could work for making a cornice. 

Gator board can still be cut with a utility knife, so I followed the rest of the directions just the same.  I laid it all out on my morning room floor and went to work.

My little dog Daisy likes to help too.  Here I'm covering the board with batting. 
The wonderful thing about making your own cornice or curtains is that you can pick your own fabric.  I loved this plaid fabric and the colors went great with my rug. 


Keep in mind when you pick your fabric that you'll have to keep horizontal lines straight or if there's more pattern that you'll want to center it on your fabric to make the entire image fit.  Do a dry run before stapling/taping.
Since I didn't put curtains with my cornice, I didn't need to use a curtain rod.  I bought a pack of "L" brackets at the hardware store to hold up the cornice.  I used three because of the length (one on each end and one in the middle), the cornice box just sits on top, there was no need to screw the cornice into the L bracket. 
And there we have it.  A rather large cornice box for about $30 and most of that was the cost of the fabric!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Painting Interior Doors Black

I love the look on Pinterest of interior doors painted black.  I put that in the, "why didn't I think of that?" category.  The look is so polished and elegant, it really does just make sense. 

My entryway needed something.  Something to make it feel warm and welcoming.  I decided then to paint the back of my front door.  I also liked the fact that if I wasn't crazy about the black door, at least it wasn't smack dab in the middle of the house.   

I always have a quart of black semi gloss paint around.  Just buy some and keep it handy.  That enables me to do projects on a whim, like paint a door black.  It was very simple to do.  I didn't really follow any particular lesson or example on how to paint the door, I just went after it.  It did take about four coats though.  So don't be afraid as you're in between coats, it doesn't look good until that last one.   

Here are some basic guidelines for painting any door:

  • Doors take a lot of abuse, so choose a durable finish that has a semi gloss or gloss sheen for easy cleaning.  You will need multiple coats to get a uniform appearance.
  • Tape off your lock, door handle, windows, etc.  Painters tape is your best friend!  You don't, however, need to take your door off the hinges or remove hardware. 
  • There are two schools of thought for order.  One, start with the panels, then the horizontal sections and vertical sections.  Or two, paint the top panels, horizontal section and vertical section before working your way down the door and repeating the process on the bottom (I painted all panels first).  I also stuck with a brush and didn't use a roller. 

I've only done the one door, but it looks great in my entry way.  I'm conflicted, though, because part of me really wants to do my garage door and my pantry too but I'm concerned about making those areas too dark.  I have my can of paint ready, we'll see if I feel like painting on a whim again!  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Decor Do Over

One of the things I love to do is find items at thrift stores and touch them up a little to make great, cheap home accessories.  Recently I did this when finding accessories for some new bookcases in our living room.  These items I found at the Goodwill.   

First, I found this great flower tin for $1.50.  It was an ornate red pattern and pretty as is, but I needed something blue to match my living room.  I liked the shape of it and thought it would be great on the top of my cabinet. 

To revamp it, I painted the whole tin blue (the same blue I used on my table project Crackle Paint Technique).  Then I brushed over it with wood glue, hoping that it would crackle the same way my table did.  That didn't work at all! 


Fortunately I had only painted the front and I could tell pretty quickly it wasn't going to work.  I gave it a once over with some more blue paint.  Then I dabbed a little bit of ivory paint over it, just using a paper towel to give it an aged and worn look.  I was winging it, since I had almost nothing invested I could play around with it.  This is what it looked like when the paint was finished.
For the end result I added a little gold paint.  I lightly brushed it on all edges to help it look aged, but to add a little depth as well.  To finish it, I purchased a small stencil and added it to the front using the gold paint.  I also used a small amount of gold paint on a dry brush to cover the whole tin, so it didn't look quite so freshly painted. 

I was not too concerned about perfection.  The plan was to put it on the top of my bookcase, no one would be looking at it too closely.  I didn't even add any stencil detail to the back.  Toss a cheap fern in from the craft store and done!
Another find was this ivory picture frame for $1.  It wasn't in bad condition, just a little nicked up.  I decided to paint it brown, then hit the edges with some sand paper to let the original ivory paint show through.  Easy peasy.  Just need some pictures to fill my frames!



Saturday, November 2, 2013

Add a Successful Lemondade Stand to Your Yard Sale

What is it about lemonade stands that makes me groan?  I'm kind of germ-a-phob so I guess that's why it never appeals to me.  But we needed a way to include our daughter in our adoption yard sale (she's so excited about being a big sister) and a lemonade stand seemed like the way to go.

The tough decision was what to sell.  I really wanted to stick to prepackaged items for allergies, convenience and to save time.  The cost of store bought items, however, didn't leave any room for profit. 

We ultimately decided on coffee and donuts.  We used our own coffee, napkins, sweetener and creamer, and we borrowed a 30 cup coffee maker.  I found Styrofoam cups and lids at GFS for less than $3.  We sold it for 50 cents a cup.  It was by far the cheapest item to sell at our stand. 

Fortunately, a bakery donated three dozen donuts to us, which we sold for $1 each, that was all profit.  The only thing that worked against us was it was unseasonably warm that weekend, so the desire for coffee was less appealing.  Also, we only sold snacks on Saturday of our sale since our daughter would be off school and could manage the stand.  I wish we had done Friday as well, because we had such a huge turnout.  We would have made money even if we had just sold water.  A couple of cases of water at 75 cents each adds up fast!       

We only sold the coffee and donuts for a couple of hours in the morning, then we switched to other snacks.  We filled a cooler with ice and sold bottled water.  We also sold lemonade.  I used Crystal Light lemonade because we could make several large pitchers very inexpensively.  It was the cheapest lemonade solution, costing less than using frozen concentrate or purchasing a few gallons of premade lemonade.  We used the same Styrofoam cups and had another cooler with fresh ice so it would be cold. 

For the snacks we did individual bags of chips and Airheads Extreme candy (which my sister donated!).  Everyone wanted bottled water (again, unseasonably warm) and the kids all wanted Airheads.  When all was said and done we made nearly $120 off our lemonade stand!  My daughter was very proud of herself and felt like she made a great contribution to the sale. For really pretty little fuss, we were able to add a lot to our bottom line!

On another note:  Some friends of ours dropped by our sale with chocolate chip cookie bars, already individually packed in baggies, ready to sell.  We marked them all 50 cents and they sold immediately.  If you have the time to make homemade baked goods, go for it.  Otherwise the cookie fairy is the way to go!  If you have some friends looking to help, maybe batch of cookies would do the trick!  


Friday, November 1, 2013

Tips for a Successful Yard Sale Fundraiser

Adoptions can be expensive, in order to help with some of the costs we hosted a yard sale. We didn't have a lot of time because we wanted to have our sale before it got too cold, so we learned quickly what we needed to do to hold a successful sale.  Here are some of the key lessons we learned along the way.

1.  Don't be afraid to ask for help!  After cleaning out our own house, we asked for donations to our sale from friends and family.  It's amazing how quickly and willing everyone was to unload clutter from their homes and donate it to our sale!

2.  Be willing to pick-up the donations yourself, clean and sort them.  Nearly everyone who donated said to me, "do you really want this?" or "I don't know if that's worth anything." We didn't care. We took everything in, gave it a dusting if it needed it and sorted it with like items.  To stay on top of it, do this as items come in!

3.  Price everything!!  It made it easy on our volunteers and the shoppers to have everything priced and ready to go.  To keep it simple, we priced items with one price and made large sale signs.  For example, all kids clothes $1, all adult clothes $2.  Plus, we priced to sell!  It's still a yard sale even if you're fundraising.

4.  Get organized.  You'll sell more, faster if you have an organized sale.  The goal is to raise money first, but also to unload everything out of your house!  We matched 4 or 5 similar children's books in a gallon sized baggie and marked it a dollar.  That was better than selling kids books for a quarter each.  Every baggie sold and we didn't have random books left over!  Put craft items, movies and puzzles together and sell in lots.

Organize all clothing by size.  We had so much kids clothes that we taped signs with sizes to the front of tables (Boys 6-9 Months) and piled clothes on top.  We also used plastic bins to organize everything by size.  Same with adult clothing.  At the end of the last day, we started selling all clothes for $0.50 each.  You can sort of see in this photo how clothing was organized.  We placed everything on tables prior to the sale so we could just move the entire table to the driveway when the sale started.

Have markers, labels and price tags handy during your sale.  You'll want to mark things down as your sale goes along and make deals with shoppers.   

Have lots of bags (grocery size, etc.) for people to put clothes and items in.  We were filling bags left and right, plus boxes and trash bags! 

5.  Promote, promote, promote!  We promoted our sale every way we could think of.  I placed several ads on Craigslist in different categories.  One promoting kids clothing and toys, another promoting sporting goods and another promoting home décor items.  We also put ads on Web sites like www.garagesalecow.com.

We purchased print and online ads for our local and city papers.  This cost about $25, but most people learned about the sale from the community paper.  If you only do one, chose your community press. 

Strategically place clear, easy to read signs around.  My husband works in marketing and so he knew a couple of graphic designers who were willing to create a sign for our sale.  It was hard to miss!

I realize not everyone may be able to find those kinds of free services, but ask around.  You may have a friend who freelances and is happy to design a sign for you.  There may be a printer who will give you a 20% discount because he likes your cause.  It never hurts to ask. 

My husband and I both have a background in public relations, so a lot of this came easily for us.  One of the best things we did, however, was find a reporter with our local paper and tell her about our story.  She loved the angle of a local couple having a yard sale to raise money for adoption.  It was during the town wide yard sale weekend too, so that made it timely and relevant.  The article in the paper really inspired a lot of people to come to our sale.  Find ways to get your story out there, whether it's through church or community.  Friends, family and strangers will want to support you.