Archive | September, 2010

Toddler Costume: Clifford the Big Red Dog

29 Sep

Clifford costume toddler
When our daughter told me she wanted to be a red dog for Halloween, I immediately started searching online for Clifford costumes. Most were in the $25 to $35 price range. I knew I could do better.

First I started looking for basics – perhaps a plain red long-sleeved t-shirt and pants, or even a footed sleeper. Then I remembered the pile of red fleece I had left over from another project. Bingo! I took a sample to Jo-Ann to find the same bolt, and bought another yard for a few dollars. I also picked up this See & Sew pattern for a pajama top and bottoms. I was a little nervous – I’ve never successfully sewn a top before. But fleece is so inexpensive (and so forgiving) that I figured it was as good a time as any.

All together, I spent (approximately):
$4.50 on 1 yard of fleece (with some left over)
$2.99 for the See & Sew pattern
$3 for a four-pack of headbands
$1 for black face paint (for the nose)
Total = $11.49

And from my own supplies, I used:
Around 1/2 yard fleece
Red velcro
Small strip black felt

I made some minor alterations to the pattern, skipping the bias tape around the neck and the trim at the bottom of the pants and shirt. Because fleece doesn’t fray, theoretically I could have left these seams unfinished, but they were driving me crazy so I chose not to. And because it was my first real attempt using a pattern, I tried it on Kaitlyn multiple times during the process to make sure everything was going to fit. (It did, although I ended up adding a few inches of fleece to the bottom of the shirt for my long-waisted girl.)

Clifford costume toddler sew

For the tail, I cut two curved shapes out of fleece, sewed them together and turned them right-side out. I stuffed it with batting and sewed the end shut, adding a strip of velcro. I added another small piece of velcro to the back of the pants to attach the tail, thinking that after Halloween I can rip out the velcro on the pants and she can wear them as snuggly house pants this winter.

Sew a Clifford costume toddler

I covered a headband in a scrap of fleece, hand-sewing around the edges. I cut four pieces of fleece for the ears and sewed them the same way as the tail, but without adding batting. Then I hand-stitched them onto the fleece headband. I added a black felt collar, also fastened with velcro.

On Halloween night, all this little puppy needs is a little black nose and she’s ready to go!

Sew Clifford costume toddler


Felt Birthday Crown

27 Sep

felt crown birthday

Kaitlyn’s birthday isn’t for three months, but as soon as I saw this felt birthday crown tutorial I knew I had to give it a try.

The crown in the tutorial uses 100 percent wool felt, which I’ve never worked with or purchased, so I started researching the difference between wool felt, wool blend, Eco-Fi and acrylic. For a while there I had a week’s worth of grocery money dedicated to some beautiful pure wool felt on Etsy, but then I came to my senses.

felt toddler crown

I ended up buying 1/4 yard each of four colors of Eco-Fi felt from our local Jo-Ann, and because it was on sale, my cost for felt before taxes was only $3! I also bought some fusible interfacing and a spool of metallic thread. I used some buttons I found in my sewing box and scrap fabric for the elastic band that goes around the back.

felt crown princess toddler

While I think the wool felt would have made a beautiful crown, I’m happy enough with the result using the Eco-Fi.

felt crown

(Aside from a very, very crooked hand-stitched “K,” which has nothing to do with the felt and everything to do with me.) I can’t wait to see this pretty pink princess crown on my daughter in a few months. In the meantime, I may start wearing it around the house when she’s at preschool.

More fun with felt:

Build a Stash of Freezer Meals (Easily)

24 Sep

Lately, with this pregnancy and our busier lives in general, I’ve noticed that we are having more and more of those 6 p.m. panics where my husband walks in the door and I have no idea what we’re going to eat. All the ingredients in your cupboards won’t do you any good if you don’t have a plan for them.

I’ve been reminiscing about my self-titled “Freezer Meals Era” – a time when we cut our dining-out expenses in half and in general, ate much more satisfying (and stress-free) dinners. If we got home too late from running errands or playing at the park, there was always something in the freezer that could be heated in time for dinner – and it didn’t come from an overpriced cardboard box.

Benefits of Freezer Meals
Building a stash of ready-to-reheat freezer meals can:
Reduce your “dining out” spending.
Reduce your grocery budget, because you are buying more items in bulk and buying less convenience foods.
Reduce the amount of time you spend in the kitchen, both cooking and cleaning up, which gives you more time with your family.
Reduce the amount of preservatives and unhealthy ingredients your family eats, because you are making things from scratch.
Reduce the amount of packaging and waste that goes into the landfill, again because you are buying less convenience foods and buying in bulk.

How I Freeze
You may have heard about once-a-month cooking, where you prepare, cook and freeze enough meals for an entire month in one day (or weekend). I was never ambitious enough to try this, and I imagine the burnout rate could get pretty high. Instead, I found it easiest to choose one or two recipes from my weekly menu plan and just double or triple the recipe that night, freezing the leftovers. (This also helps with portion control, so my family of three doesn’t polish off a giant pan of lasagna meant for a party of eight.) Within a couple of weeks I had a nice selection of frozen meals to choose from.

What Should You Freeze?
Some of my favorite meals to double (or triple) and freeze include:
Lasagna (or Lasagna Roll-ups)
Cottage Cheese Chicken Enchiladas
Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
Macaroni and Cheese
Whole Wheat Pancakes
Whole Wheat Breakfast Muffins
Spaghetti Sauce
Chicken Pot Pie
Meatballs – cooked or uncooked
Cookies freeze well, too!

How to Store Your Freezer Meals
I generally store things like sauces, soups, chili and breads (like pancakes, muffins or cornbread) in gallon-sized Ziploc freezer bags. Be sure to label the bag with the contents, date and reheating instructions, if any, and make sure the food has cooled off before you put it in the bag. For casseroles, enchiladas, lasagna, etc. any freezer- and oven-safe baking dish will do. If it doesn’t have a lid, use a two-step method of cling wrap plus a layer of tin foil to prevent freezer burn. My personal favorite for freezing is Pyrex, and it’s easy to stack (and see inside).

How to Thaw
It’s helpful to pull out your frozen meal the night before and thaw it in the refrigerator, but most meals can also be cooked from frozen. I’ve been known to “force thaw” a bagged meal like chili or soup in a bowl of cold water in the sink, much like you would with frozen meat.

Helpful Resources
It’s always helpful to look at once-a-month cooking websites or books to get some fresh ideas. But most of our favorite freezer recipes are things we were already eating, that just happen to freeze well. So don’t pressure yourself to prepare a ton of meals in one day just because a book recommends it!
Once a Month Cooking

Sew Your Own Cloth Wipes

22 Sep

Cloth wipes
My sister gave me a huge piece of pale-blue gingham flannel from her fabric stash, and I’ve been trying to find a purpose for it. I finally decided to try my hand at sewing some cloth wipes, since we plan on cloth diapering our son when he is born early next year.

This is such an easy project, but time-consuming only because of the quantity of wipes. Most people recommend having about 24 wipes on-hand if you wash your diapers and wipes every other day. We already have some Kissaluvs terry wipes from when we used cloth on our daughter, but they don’t seem soft enough for delicate newborn skin. Most cloth wipes are around $1 to $1.50 per wipe, so being able to sew them from materials you already have is an economical option. You can sew cloth wipes from flannel, hemp fleece, terry, or velour. You can even use an old cut-up flannel sheet or receiving blankets!

I have been dreaming about buying a serger, but it’s just not in the budget right now. (Although this one from Amazon gets excellent reviews and is an amazing price.) With a serger, this project would go by twice as fast. I would love a serger. Anyone? Anyone?

Anyway, on to the wipes.
I used a carboard template cut to 9″ x 9″ and a rotary cutter to cut my squares. You’ll need two squares for each wipe. This fabric had already been washed; if yours hasn’t, make sure you prewash. (Always.)

cloth wipes

Line up two squares, right sides facing in, and stitch around using a 1/2″ seam allowance. It would probably help to pin – I was feeling a little lazy and chose not to. Leave an opening (larger than mine, preferably – 2 inches would be good) to turn the fabric right-side out, and be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end to lock your stitches.

Cloth wipes

Clip the corners and turn the piece right-side out. Turn the ends of the opening under and pin together. Then, topstitch the entire wipe.

I tried some decorative stitches out and love the way they look, but frankly with 24 of these to do, I wouldn’t bother unless they were a gift.

Cloth wipes

They are ultra-soft and I’m a little jealous of baby #2. After all, I switched the family over to single-ply, recycled toilet paper earlier this year and it’s pretty much the opposite of soft. And I bought it in bulk from Amazon. In a 48-pack. Forty-four of which are unopened. It’s going to be a rough year.

But not for the baby!

Living Green for Less

21 Sep

When my daughter was born almost three years ago, I began researching ways to make our lives more environmentally friendly, to feed her foods that weren’t full of additives and pesticides, to keep our home clean without worrying about her crawling on a floor coated with cancer-causing chemicals. As usual, I went a little overboard – shopping almost exclusively at Whole Foods and squandering a huge portion of our budget on premium natural cleaning products and groceries.

As the months passed and our bank account dwindled, I realized this kind of lifestyle wasn’t compatible with our single-family income, especially not while living in Orange County (and paying Orange County rent). So I started looking for alternatives, and was surprised at what I found: In many ways, greener options can actually cost less, while helping to save the planet. And what budget-conscious parent can pass that up?

Here are just a few easy tips that you can implement today:

Instead of buying disposable items, put your money into things that will last.
Paper towels and napkins can get really expensive. We bought a large pack of white washcloths at Costco and use them as all-purpose kitchen towels and napkins. We end up picking up a roll – one roll – of recycled paper towels every few months for things like bacon grease or pet messes. Bonus – the washcloths wipe down tables and food-covered faces better than any paper product I’ve tried.

These are similar to what we use.

As a prettier alternative to paper napkins, you could also try something like these flour sack towels – just cut them in half and hem. You could even add some embellishments, a strip of coordinating fabric… OK, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

We also regularly use reusable bags when shopping. Many stores offer a per-bag discount on your grocery bill. If you want to use something a little nicer than what the stores sell for $1, try the Cute and Easy Tote Bag Tutorial.

Instead of buying new clothes, toys, gear and household items, buy used (or borrow) whenever possible.
Consignment stores, garage sales, Craigslist, eBay – there are so many options for buying used items and so many people looking to unload their stuff for a little cash! Buying used means less packaging and you’re keeping items from going to the landfill.

We rarely buy new books, instead opting for borrowing from the library, buying them from the library bookstore for $.50 or picking them up at garage sales. (P.S. The library is also a great resource for renting movies and your favorite magazines!)

Most baby gear is used for six or nine months and then stored. Borrow from a friend or buy used.

Find clothing at local consignment shops. Most are picky about selecting items free of stains and in good condition, so you can get excellent brand names for half the price (or less) of new. And with the way kids destroy clothes, this is a great deal.

Look for toys at consignment stores, thrift stores and garage sales. Just be sure to check that it hasn’t been recalled. Some great finds we’ve made are a like-new Memory game for 50 cents and a Push and Ride for $3.

Instead of buying prepared cleaning products, try your hand at some natural solutions.
Although I am a huge fan of certain natural brands, including Biokleen, Dr. Bronner’s and Seventh Generation, I regularly reach for a spray bottle of distilled water and vinegar for cleaning around the house. You can buy a giant jug of vinegar at Costco for just a few dollars. If you’re worried about the smell, it does dissipate after about 10 minutes. Trust me – I even used it when I had morning all-day sickness! You can find some excellent uses for vinegar here. Baking soda is another super inexpensive, natural cleaning product.

Use them in combination with some old washcloths or microfiber towels instead of paper.

Stay tuned for more tips on Living Green for Less!

10 Lessons We Could All Learn from Preschool

18 Sep


1. Read a book, sing a song and do a little bit of silly dancing every day.

2. Sharing makes others happy.

3. Nine out of 10 times, a nutritious snack will cure grumpiness and temper tantrums.

4. Specific praise means more to the receiver than a “good job.”

5. Don’t hesitate to use the sparkle paint generously.

6. Hitting, biting and name-calling are not acceptable behaviors.

7. Clean-up is futile. (But singing a song while doing it anyway makes it seem more fun.)

8. Listen.

9. Always wash your hands after you use the potty.

10. Chances are, the dirtier you got, the more fun you had.

Free Housing

16 Sep

Costco already has its toy section spread out alongside the Christmas decor (right next to the cheese and fish departments – at least around here), and it takes more willpower than I have to avoid walking down the aisles and thinking “my kid needs that.” I’ve been known to take photos of items with my cell phone so I can remember to add them to the list when we begin our holiday shopping in earnest.

I try to remember that young children truly don’t need rooms full of store-bought toys. In fact, as my daughter and husband reminded me last weekend, with children the best playthings in life are free.

My husband needed to assemble several large displays for his work, each of which came in a big box. When the project first began, Kaitlyn was helping my husband with unpacking the displays. A while later, she had a makeshift fort leaning against the couch. By the end of the day, she had a little home with two windows, a door, a roof and all of her latest artwork decorating the inner walls. Inside was a table (another box turned upside down) with all of her play animals on it, a book, her stickers, a few stuffed animals and a flashlight. I tried to squeeze in but the door was made for a 2-year-old to crawl through – not a woman who is five months pregnant. But still, I could tell it had that same magical quality as the play houses my sister and I built as children.

And it was free. Free! It’s such a rare word these days. And not only was it free, but it also provided hours of entertainment for my little girl and my husband (because what man doesn’t like building something with cardboard and duct tape?). That’s my kind of toy.

So next time you are tossing some things in the recycling bin, take a second look and see if they might have some hidden potential. Small cardboard boxes make great doll beds or sand boxes; large ones are perfect for forts. Empty, washed yogurt containers can store toys and art supplies, a drum set, or even a bean counter that uses their fine-motor skills. Kids love containers of all shapes and sizes – use what you have!

And the next time you are browsing the meat department at Costco or picking up a 2-pound block of cheese, do your best to avert your eyes from the toy section. At least for now.