Monday, September 19, 2011

A Homemade Christmas For Those Who Aren't Martha

Bannon has abandoned us!!  Miss B. is off on a cruise, and is probably tipsy as I type this.  I'll be holding down the fort until she gets back and recuperates from her 10 day hangover.  So, without further ado...part two of Kerry's Christmas Extravaganza!

I was told the other day that there's less than 100 days left until Christmas.  Even though I've been preparing in bits and pieces since August, because I'm slightly insane, I still feel like I have more to do than I have time for.  So I began to comb through all the websites that I've bookmarked that offer homemade gift ideas, and I found a few good ideas for myself.  I also found a lot of good ideas that were too good to not share!  So here is a rundown of some of my favorites.  I hope you enjoy!  And don't worry about a skill level here-my issues with advanced crafts have been well documented.  I wouldn't ask any of you to do something that intimidates the hell out of me!

I have fallen in love with Not Martha.  As one might assume from the name, this refers to the fact that it isn't necessary to be Martha Stewart to pull off one of the crafts on the website.  There are nifty food ideas that make great gifts, such as pies and cobblers in jars.  There's a handy car kit that would be a useful gift for the newest driver in the family, instructions for homemade spa gifts (think bath bombs or lip balm), and my personal favorite, this dahlia brooch.  I think it may find it's way into my mother's stocking!

Tip Junkie has some great suggestions for younger kids.  There are ideas as simple as a homemade coloring book, or as ambitious as a homemade play kitchen that you make out of a bookshelf.  Other ideas include memory games, felt play food, a race car tote, or this adorable superhero cape and mask set that I hope to whip up for the Little Dude to go with his new Batman and Superman jammies.  And, while I don't have specific links, there are plenty of recipes available online for homemade play dough, paint, chalk, crayons, and so many things kids like.  You can never go wrong with a gift that lets a child create something new.

For tweens and teens, you do have to get a little more personal.  Some gifts are pretty gender-neutral.  A homemade fleece scarf in your teen's school/favorite sports team/Hogwart's house colors is an easy, useful gift.  A case for an iPod or iPhone tailored to a teen's tastes would also be a great gift.  But if your teen is picky, fear not!  There are tutorials out there for homemade purses, hair accessories, jewelry, wall art, blankets, journals, tote bags, and so much more.  Make google your friend.  And don't forget that kits you assemble yourself are always a good bet.  Fill a bucket of microwave popcorn with a DVD or two, and some theater candy.  A music lover might like some iTunes cards, a new set of headphone, and a t-shirt from their favorite band.  My niece is getting a cosmetics bag filled with nail polish, files, toe separators, body spray, lotion, lip gloss, and whatever else I think will tickle her fancy.  Best part is, it's inexpensive!

Something the BD and I do every year for our close friends and the adults in our family is to make a cookie and candy tray.  The one thing that we know we can count on from year to year is BD's fudge.  I know bragging on him makes me sound biased, but he makes seriously good fudge.  Perfect consistency, marvelous flavor, and it stores really well.  He found a website a couple of years ago that, while rather wordy, gives instructions on how to not screw up your fudge.  BD swears by it, and after having eaten quite a bit of fudge, I swear by it, too.  Check out Skaarup Fudge, and wow your family and friends!  And when you're ready to make some other candies, or some tasty baked goods, check out Tasty Kitchen.  It was created by my beloved Pioneer Woman, and it has yet to let me down.  And don't forget that homemade cookie or cocoa mix in a jar is always appreciated!

And, last but not least, here's a roundup of websites with lots of ideas that don't fall into one category.  Yes, even Martha made the list-she's taken pity on people like me and has some great craft and decoration ideas!
Better Homes and Gardens-this is a great general list, featuring gifts that would work for grandparents using children's art, soft toys for baby, cool desk supplies for the executive in your life, and even a little something for Fido.
Family Crafts-a lot of these would be ideal for a child who wants to make gifts, but it also has some of the classics, like the fleece blanket.  There's gifts on here for just about anyone, and if your dog wants a snuggie of it's own, you're in luck!
BHG Ornaments-if you need a gift for the office exchange, your neighbors, or for that person who seems to have it all, why not make a homemade ornament?  Easy tutorials and creative designs make for some beautiful ornaments!  We usually do a small exchange with my aunts and uncle, and I plan to make some of these to give.
A Very Martha Christmas-even though I tend to hold Martha Stewart up as some sort of unattainable pinnacle of domestic perfection, her website really does seem to have it all.  Gifts for different levels of crafters, homemade cards, decoration ideas, gift tags, and so much more.  Her site also has non-holiday specific crafts that can please even the pickiest person on your list.

So, now you're armed with ideas galore-get crafting!  I hope to post photos if I actually get to make any of these ideas of mine.  And I want to see what you're making, too!

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Special Guy

Greetings, all!  Kerry here, feeling guilty for not writing all week.  But y'all got lucky-I have a cold, and feel down enough to want to do any of the many things around here that need doing.  So I'm blogging.  Aren't you all just so lucky?

Anyhoo, I had recently posted on my FB page that my Little Dude will be starting speech therapy and early intervention therapy next week.  I got a lot of responses, and most of them were something like, "Say what?  He needs that?"  People seemed kind of surprised that I was excited about it.  After seeing all that, I realized that I had never set down the story of why this is a big step for us.

When the LD was 3 months old, our pediatrician at the time had us take him for an MRI.  His head growth was in the 99th percentile, while the rest of him was squarely at 50%.  The MRI came back showing a significant gap between skull growth and brain growth, and the pediatrician diagnosed the LD with hydrocephaly.  The pediatrician, being an older, kind of crabby gentleman, immediately gave us a worst-case scenario.  Our Little Dude would have significant speech and motor delays, requiring intensive therapy.  It would be something he would struggle with for the rest of his life, which, by the way, would likely be shortened by this.  He told me all this over the phone.  Needless to say, I was slightly hysterical.  I can remember the Big Dude and I sitting on our bed, LD laying on it between us, as we cried and tried to make sense of it.

After the initial shock wore off, we were on the phone with the pediatrician, demanding more information.  He had us come into the office after hours so he could show us the MRI.  He focused on the need for monitoring and therapy in the near future.  We would have MRIs done every 3 months.  We had a list of symptoms to watch for.  We were connected with our local Help Me Grow center, so we wouldn't have to wait for services when the predicted delays began.  He told us he suspected this was caused by a scare we had when I was in my first trimester, where I had begun to bleed and had to go to the ER to make sure everything was okay.  I don't think I've ever felt guiltier for anything in my life!  And while we did feel more positive after that visit (except for all that mommy guilt), all we could do for our son was to watch and wait.

Big head, little body, happy baby.

Our day to day lives went back to usual.  LD grew and thrived, meeting all of his developmental milestones right on time, except for lifting his head and rolling over.  That was dismissed by our neurologist as normal-how could we expect that tiny body to lift that giant noggin?  But LD was happy, and our biggest challenge at that time was finding shirts that would fit over his head.

As time went on, and we had more MRIs under our belts, the unexpected happened.  His brain growth began to catch up to his skull.  The excess fluid that was filling the gap was being harmlessly absorbed.  At first, we were told this meant a shunt to drain off the fluid wouldn't be needed.  Further consultation with the neurologists took place.  We met with a new specialist.  BD and I had our heads measured, our family histories taken, and were quizzed on Jeffrey's development.  All this resulted in a changed diagnosis-benign macrocephaly.  Or, as the specialist put it, "Congratulations!  He just has a big head!"  She then asked to use his case history for a presentation for the state's neurological society, as well as for possible future publication.  We giddily gave permission.  We knew we weren't out of the woods yet, but we were just so relieved.

Life went on, as it does.  We moved.  LD learned to walk, then jump.  We both started new jobs.  Holidays were celebrated, cars broke down.  LD colored on the windows, learned his letters and numbers, and became Murray Wiggle's number one fan.  MRIs happened, the results were always good.  As of today, the only issue he has is difficulty taking all the words he knows and using them to communicate with others.  We had him evaluated for therapy services just a few days ago, and I was almost sick with anticipation.  I was so afraid that there would be more wrong with him than we realized.  Thankfully, all they want to work on is his speech, and then give him a bit of a boost with socialization skills-it's tough to make friends when you can't communicate with them.  They told me the results, and I was just so grateful.  I feel like we've dodged a bullet with him.  And I know this all may sound shallow-compared to some of the things other children have to cope with, I feel like I'm making a fuss over a splinter-but I can't forget the fear and anguish I felt when I was told that initial diagnosis.  He's my only child, he will always be our only child, and hearing that it's just a speech delay is almost like a gift.

Next time on V3, Kerry will refrain from long, serious posts, and will discuss homemade Christmas gift ideas!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Breakfast Egg Muffins

by Bannon

One of my friends posted this recipe on Facebook a few weeks ago and I happened to have a can of crescent rolls in the fridge so that Sunday I surprised the kids with these.  Both the kids and dh raved about how great they were and they were so simple to make.

Breakfast Egg Muffins

  • One can of crescent rolls
  • eight eggs
  • eight slices of precooked bacon (or bacon bits)
  • shredded cheese
 Grease your muffin pan with butter or spray and set the oven for the temperature that is on the crescent roll package.  Separate the crescent triangles, lay one in each of the muffin cups leaving the edges to hang outside for the moment.  Crack an egg into each cup on top of the crescent dough.  Place the bacon on top along with the shredded cheese.  Fold the remainder of the dough on top of the cheese and pop into the oven for 16 minutes.  

 A few tips about these muffins: I gently stretched the triangles to make the dough fit a bit better in the cups.  I also used bacon bits because I had no bacon slices and it worked just fine.  Cooking for 16 minutes didn't completely cook the eggs, the yellow was just a bit soft in the middle.  It was suggested by the family that adding a little salt to each muffin would help with the taste.  They made a great breakfast the next day as well.

This post is linked to Twisted Thursday.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pantry Challenge Update #1

by Bannon

If you recall I'm trying to stick to a strict $50 a week food/household items budget until October 1st, you can read my first post here.  I am now eleven days into this experiment and have done pretty good making do with the food already in the house.

My first week highlights:

  • Spent $5.18 on two gallons of milk.  I'm not surprised that I only spent this because I had done a fairly large shopping trip a few days before I started this so we were already pretty set in terms of food.
  • I stuck to my meal plan every night except for Thursday when I was too tired to defrost some chicken so the kids had pizza.  I do need to be more on the ball when it comes to setting meats out and prepping for dinner in advance.

This week is already half gone and I'm now getting my meal plan up.  I think that with it being Labor Day week it throws everything off.

Meal Plan week of  9/4/11

Sunday - out to dinner (with a Groupon)

Monday - brats and turkey burgers, potatoes and onions on the grill and green beans

Tuesday -  fish stix, green beans and peaches

Wednesday - chicken noodle soup and cornbread

Thursday -  hot dogs, mac and cheese, vegetable

Friday - pizza and salad for the kids, we will have dinner at a friend's house

Saturday - cold sandwiches and chips (won't be eating at home)



Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Weekend in Pictures

 Birthday celebration.

Garden harvest.

 Prepping tomatoes.

 Cooking salsa.

 Salsa done!

Birthday flowers and silly boys.


Blueberry bread for breakfast this week.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cooking and Cleaning

Kerry here!  Today, my Dude has spoiled me by doing all the cooking.  I got to do the clean up, but I personally think I came out ahead of the game.  So, because tomorrow's a holiday, because my Little Dude gave me kisses and said, "I love!" each time, and because it's too good not to share, here's what the Dude cooked, and what I used to clean up with!

For breakfast, we had Berry Berry Pancakes with hash browns!  For the pancakes, you'll need 1 1/2 c. flour, 3 1/2 t. baking powder, 1 t. salt, 1 T. white sugar, 1 1/4 c. milk, 1 egg, 3 T. butter, melted, and 1 c. blueberries.  Take the dry ingredients and sift them together.  Make a well in the center, and pour in the milk, egg, and butter.  Mix it all until smooth.  Heat and grease your griddle or pan.  Right before you're ready to cook them, fold in the blueberries (feel free to adjust the amount of blueberries to your liking).  Pour out batter in 1/4 c. amounts onto the griddle, and cook until golden brown on both sides.  For the topping, slice enough strawberries to fill 1/3 c.  Place in a bowl with 1/4 c. whole raspberries.  Add 2-3 T. of white sugar, and gently mix.  Again, feel free to increase or decrease the amount of berries and/or sugar to meet your needs.  Butter the hot pancakes, and spoon on some of the fruit topping.  Simple, and crazy good!  For the hash browns, all the Dude did was to use the food processor to shred 2 potatoes.  He used paper towels to squeeze out the excess moisture.  Then he added 1/2 of a bell pepper and 2 small tomatoes, diced, mixed it all together, and fried it on the griddle.  For the last minute or two of cooking, he topped the hash browns with cheddar cheese.

This evening, he made homemade oatmeal cream pies, and I almost cried with joy.  He found the recipe on, and while they were damn good, we think we can tweak it a bit.  I linked the recipe for anyone who wants to give it a whirl, but I'll post our version once we play with it.  I think we can make the filling a bit differently, and I want to mess with the baking instructions.  But...mmmm.  Make sure you have some milk on hand!

Now, after all that cooking, I got to clean.  I also tweaked my cleaning supply stash, and came up with what I think are some effective, safe supplies.  For my general surface cleaner, I used a large spray bottle.  I put in 3 T. baking soda, and 1/4 c. white vinegar.  There will be fizzing, so just wait it out.  Once things settle, add 1/2 t. dish liquid, then fill the bottle slowly with hot water.  Leave a little room in the bottle to swirl the contents before use.  It cut grease, cleaned up sticky surfaces, and didn't leave a weird film or odor behind.  If you wanted to, you could add 8-10 drops of your favorite essential oil.  If you do have a spot that needs more scrubbing, make a paste of baking soda and your dish soap, and use it like you would Soft Scrub.

My window cleaner got tweaked, but I think it's a lot more effective now on the LD's sticky little prints and smudges.  Use 1/2 t. dish soap, 3 T. vinegar, and 2 c. water.  Mix it in a spray bottle, shake it up, and clean your glass!  You can use newspaper on your windows  with this spray for a streak-free finish.  And, to freshen up your fabric, here's a fake-it Febreze recipe.  Use 3 T. of your favorite conditioner, and 2 T of baking soda.  Put into a spray bottle (just reuse that Febreze bottle that's laying around with a spoonful of liquid left in it), fill up to the top with hot tap water, and give it a good shake.  I ended up using a yummy ginger-scented trial sized conditioner, and it was awesome!

Happy eating/cleaning!

It's September!

You know what that means, right?

...111 days until Christmas!  Time for Kerry's guide to doing the holidays on the cheap without losing your mind in the process!  It's not particularly complex, and it's really just common sense, but it's amazing how many people leave it until the last minute.  Doing that costs you more, and not just in money.  It costs you time that you could be spending with family, it costs you in stress and anxiety, and it can even ruin your enjoyment of the holidays altogether.  Who wants to do that??  So, over the next few months, I'll be discussing a slower, kinder way of preparing for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve.

First thing on the list is making a list!  I try to have this done by September 1.  This list is the big list, and that's the list of gifts to give.  Write down everyone that you plan to give a gift to.  In my case, it's a pretty big list.  Between the Dude and I, we give gifts to 30 family members and friends, not including gifts we give to the Little Dude, or to each other.  If the dollar signs aren't popping up in front of your eyes by now, they should be.  It can be insanely expensive if I don't plan ahead.

Now that you have your list of people, start budgeting.  You can either take a fixed amount (you want to keep all gift giving below $400, for example) and divide it out among the people on your list, or you can the amount you want to gift first, then see how much you need.  How much do you want to spend on a spouse, your child, that cousin you feel obligated to give to because they send a meat and cheese box every year?  Be honest and realistic with yourself.  If you have no problem with putting it all on a credit card then paying it off with your income tax return, go for it.  But if (like me) you're on a tighter income, or you hate the idea of debt for the holidays, then be true to that.  I'll use my budget for an example again.  For the nieces, nephews, and other kids, I try to set a budget of $10 per child.  After we factor in all of the family and friends, as well as each other, our budget is usually around $400.  We also have 4 birthdays between now and the end of the year to consider, which bumps things up to around $500.

Once you know who you're buying for and how much you want to spend, think about each person.  What do they love, what interests them?  For instance, my nephews love Legos.  My mom adores going to Ohio Village for their Victorian Christmas, so we know that's her birthday gift.  Also, think outside the box.  Can you give a gift of time, or experience?  Can you make something?  Bannon, for example, makes some amazing jam every year, and gives it as gifts.  My Dude likes to make fudge and cookies, so every year he makes some to give to all of the adults on the list.  I plan to put my scrapbooking skills to use and make a framed display of the LD for his grandmas and great-grandma.  If you're tapped out on ideas, hit the internet!  A quick Google search for "homemade Christmas" will give you so many ideas, for all ages and interests.

So, now you've got your list, your budget, and you know what you need to buy.  Start shopping!  Start now, and ideally, you'll have already been doing some shopping.  I already have 2 of the LD's gifts bought, as well as gifts for 6 of the children on our list.  Shop sales and clearance aisles.  Check out Amazon and Target for daily deals and specials.  Speaking of Target, check their online coupons for discounts on clothes, household items, and toys. will sometimes have printable coupons for DVDs. can have deep discounts on handcrafted items that can be wonderful gifts.  And if you have to stuff stockings, don't forget dollar stores, or Target's dollar section.  If you're lucky enough to have a Five Below in your area (Columbus readers, ours is by Easton!), check them out.  I've found Wii games, DVDs, shirts and tote bags from Hot Topic, craft kits...the list can go on, but everything in the store is $5 or less!

And since this weekend is also a holiday, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Labor day.  Enjoy the last long weekend of the summer!  The Little Dude is here to remind you to not drink and drive!