30 November 2010

Christmas Your Way

I was reading this post over at SortaCrunchy, and I was saddened. It's about how the holidays can be really stressful for some people (although it seems most of those people are American women). I love the holidays, and aside from times during my school career when I had tough finals to worry about, they've never really stressed me out. The holidays mean so many good things: Christmas music, pumpkin-flavored things, pretty lights, sweaters, even more crafting, good movies, and stories of hope. Some things you can only do this time of year, some things you only want to do this time of year so that they stay special.

Now the following is not to brag and not to judge. I know everyone has different situations, different temperaments, different expectations. But if you're feeling the holiday noose begin to tighten, you might consider the following. I want you to be able to love the holidays.

(Because it's me, this will tend toward the practical and proactive side of things. I seem to be better at giving people assignments than at encouraging them to think deep thoughts or be spiritually uplifted. So we'll go with my natural gifts.)

This post over at Ask Moxie asks the following questions: "What is the most important part of the next five weeks for you? What do you want to teach your children about this time?"

Have you asked yourself these questions? If you don't have children, have you asked what you want to remind or teach yourself or others about this time? I had never thought about the question in those terms before. What do I want Lucy to know about Christmastime? Here is part of what I said in the comments there:

1.) Less is more -- our gift-giving and traditions are simple and fun. That's the way we like it, and we think it's better for everyone involved. That also means there's less stress.

2.) We have more than we need, so we give to others. We buy Angel Tree gifts for less fortunate kids. I hope to do some volunteering when she's older. And gifts come from people who love her, not from Santa.

3.) Jesus came and Jesus is coming again. We want to focus on Jesus' birth and death -- the sacrifice He made for us. But we also focus on the day Jesus is coming back to set everything right, and our part in that work until He does come back. It's a time of hope.

So if you've never thought about it before, you might take a whack at writing a list like this. Then start acting on it. Cut out stuff that doesn't fit with what you want out the holidays. It's up to you. You get to choose.

On that note, the comment I made on the SortaCrunchy post included the single best piece of advice Norman and I got while we were engaged: Make rules for the holidays NOW. For instance, decide that you will always spend Christmas Day at your own house. Tell all the family members and always stick by it. That way, when kids enter the picture, all your family members will be used to it, and they'll make less of a fuss.

Again, it's up to you. You are in charge of yourself and your nuclear family. It's not your job to make other people happy. Be kind and generous, surely. On occasion you're going to have to make sacrifices for your extended family. But you don't always have to. Setting up rules ahead of time will make it easier for you to stand by it. If the thought of traveling around Christmas makes you cringe and start to hyperventilate, don't do it. [See my blog post here for how beautiful a quiet Christmas Day can be.]

Gifts should follow in the same spirit. Perhaps you love to give gifts. Maybe it's your love language. Awesome! Go for! You have the means, you have the energy, you have the scotch tape -- presents for everyone! But if the thought of spending as much on them as they spent on you last year makes your bank account shudder or your brain hurt, don't do it.

You need to do what's best for yourself and your nuclear family. That might mean you don't have the money to go all out. That might mean that you want to spend your time during the season on enjoyable traditions instead of scouring the mall and the internet for gifts. If your recipients are really going to scoff because you didn't spend enough on them... well, I'm not sure why you would care what people like that think of you. (If you're one of those people -- shame on you! Get over yourself!)

But you're going to give them presents. That's what we do, and there's very little getting around that without either a very good excuse or a fat lot of chutzpah. Do your best within your means (financial, temporal, physical, and emotional). Baked goods are great if you have more time than money. Gift cards are great if you have more money than time.

[Obviously if you have convictions about consumption, you'll want to cut back on gifts, whether you have the means to give lavishly or not. But if you have these convictions, then you're already thinking about this, and you probably don't need suggestions from me.]

So what am I really saying here? Sometimes I feel like I'm saying, "Screw them! I've gotta look out for Numero Uno!" But I'm not.

I'm saying there's only so much of you. I'm saying you can love people without doing what they expect of you. The holidays are a beautiful, wonderful time. Think -- really think -- about what is important to you, and act accordingly. My favorite personal finance blogger is fond of saying, "Spend extravagantly on the things you love, but cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t." I believe the same should be true of the holidays. If you don't love it, please don't waste your money, time, energy, and stress on it!

If you're interested in more on how my husband, daughter, and I do Christmas, check out these past posts, and look for more coming this month:
How We Do Christmas meme from last year
Baked goods I made for several people last year
Decorating for Christmas
Decorating our Christmas tree
Last year's Christmas dinner
My thoughts on Buy Nothing Day

26 November 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

This post is going to be super boring because I forgot to take photos -- AGAIN. I just really get in the zone when I'm working on something (like setting up for a home show, or cooking fancy dinner for in-laws), and I completely space on the photos. And of course while I'm busy not taking photos, Husband is busy watching Toddler, so he doesn't remember either.

OK, Thanksgiving. There were seven of us: Me, Husband, Toddler, Husband's Parents, Husband's Brother, and Husband's Sister. Husband's Mother is ill, so I didn't expect them to be able to stay very long, but they stayed for 4 whole hours! Hooray!

Actually this Thanksgiving looked a lot like last Thanksgiving. So go look at these photos, and replace all the college students with in-laws and the 7-month-old with a 19-month-old. Ta da!


  • Turkey (Duh. Nothing fancy -- just salt, pepper, and no overcooking.)
  • Gravy (Turkey Drippings - Fat + Cornstarch)
  • Wild Rice Stuffing (I made this recipe up. I should write it down and/or type it up. It was really tasty.)
  • Green Bean Casserole (in a skillet -- tiny oven)
  • Sweet Potato Casserole (in a crock pot -- tiny oven)
  • Whole Wheat Rolls
  • Cranberry Apple Compote (which is a real word that I did not make up)
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Whipped Cream (cream whipped with beaters on the spot, which seemed to confound my guests)
  • Coffee
  • White Wine
We used the fancy china again, only this time I broke one of my crystal glasses while I was washing the dishes. Sigh. I kind of always expect that I'll break something when I use the fancy dishes. It's the price of beauty.

Besides the broken glass, I was quite satisfied with the meal and the day in general. I don't take very much pleasure in cooking, and I'm not much of a hostess, but ending the day knowing that I had eaten so many good things and nothing I wished I hadn't is worth quite a bit to me. No regrets, only tastiness. A little preview of Heaven. I'm thankful for those.

23 November 2010


[My drawer of packing and tagging supplies]

This is a post on how I do shipping. I will not blame you if, as a person who neither runs an Etsy shop nor ships anything on a regular basis, you just skip this post and come back for the next one.

If, however, you are an Etsy seller, or you do ship things fairly often, you might want to pay attention. I don't want to toot my own horn or anything, but I've pretty much got it all figured out. As the commercials say, shipping is complicated. Then the commercials go on to explain how it's not complicated if you just hand the US Postal Service a bunch of money without researching your options. Don't listen. If you want to save yourself and your customers both money and hassle, you've got to know what you're doing.

First of all, buy a postal scale. If you sell things on Etsy you must have a postal scale. Guessing at how much shipping will cost for your item is not good enough. I did this when I first started. You won't be good at it, and it will cost you money. You don't need anything fancy -- just something to tell you how many ounces something weighs. Digital or analog is fine. I found an analog one at a garage sale for 5 bucks.

[My trusty garage sale postal scale. Hey, that rhymes!]

Then, when you're going to list something for sale, you're going to weigh the thing, with approximately what you're going to ship it in, and any extras you plan to send. Most of my items fit in an envelope. I usually add some bubble wrap or tissue paper, and a business card and a note. Weigh this all together, and make a note of it wherever you prepare your item description. (You do write your item descriptions ahead of time, right?)

Then, if you're selling on Etsy, you're going to create a different shipping profile for each weight. I have one shipping profile for things I can send in a normal envelope with a stamp (which I call "1 oz flat"), and a profile for each ounce weight from 1 to 13 ("1 oz", "2 oz", etc). Most of my items weigh 13 ounces or less, so I stop there. If I ever sell something that weighs more than 13 ounces, I look up the cost on USPS.com when I'm writing the description and make a note.

13 ounces is a very important cut off. Above 13 ounces, you cannot ship a thing by First Class Mail. You must ship it Priority or Parcel Post. Priority costs a lot more than First Class, and Parcel is slow and just generally no good. At and under 13 ounces, Priority is NOT faster than First Class. It's not. Don't waste your money.

[One of my handmade envelopes, and a stack of others waiting to be assembled]
[And a pretty pink hammer and a sewing machine foot]

Back to those Etsy shipping profiles. You're going to have to do some work to get this all set up. First, go to USPS.com and find the price tables. (Oh look, I've done it for you! First Class. Priority. International First Class.) Then you're gonna wanna set up an Excel file or something. I do a sheet for inside the US, a sheet for Canada, and a sheet for all other countries. (The prices to Canada are the same as the prices to some other countries, but not all. I make it easy on myself and break it down that way because most of my international customers are in Canada.) Break it down by ounce if you sell small things, or pounds if you sell big things.

Now, here's the thing. You don't just want to plug the prices from the USPS website into your Excel file. Well, maybe you do, but I don't think you do. You need to figure out how much it actually costs to ship something. You need to factor in extra money for Delivery Confirmation (we'll come back to that), extra PayPal fees incurred from shipping charges, shipping supplies, and your time. If you'd rather not figure these into your shipping charges, you need to remember to factor them into your product prices.

I personally do the following: For items mailed inside the US, I take the price on the website, plus $0.19 (Delivery Confirmation), plus another small amount (for shipping supplies, PayPal fees, etc, and no, I can't remember what number I decided on -- I did this a long time ago and I haven't had to think about it since). For Canada and the rest of the world, I just do the price from the website plus the other small amount, because you can't get Delivery Confirmation on packages going outside the US.

So now you've got these in your Excel file. Then you want to go to Etsy. Click "Your Shop", then "Shipping" (under Items). At the top of the page there's a link that says "Create or edit shipping profiles". Click on that, then on the link that says "Create a new profile". Give it a name (like "3 oz."), then pick a country that you want to ship to. Click "add", then it will let you fill in the price (from your Excel sheet). Do this for however many countries you want to specify. At the bottom of the page there's a place for "Everywhere Else". That's for all the other countries that you don't specify. So, for instance, on my profiles, I have one for the US, one for Canada, and then I fill in the Everywhere Else.

Do this for each weight. Then when you list an item, you only need to know how much the package will weigh, and you can just pick the correct profile while you're listing it! So easy.

[My other shipping supplies in a closet organizer]

Now, back to Delivery Confirmation and all that jazz. The USPS regulations got really weird a few years ago. There are now 3 different classes of First Class package. There's a "Letter", which is what you would normal think of as a letter. These can only weigh up to 3.5 ounces, and they have to be perfectly flat. There's a "Flat". These exceed any one dimension of a "Letter", and can only be up to 3/4 inch thick. And there's a "Parcel". These are boxes, thick envelopes, or tubes that are bigger than a "Flat".

Here's the thing about this that is so messed up: You can only get Delivery Confirmation on "Parcels". The important thing about this for the types of items I sell is that "Parcel" must be more than 3/4 inch thick. If you use PayPal to print shipping for your items, it automatically adds Delivery Confirmation. So, as a result, if you print a PayPal label and put it on something that is less than 3/4 inch thick, and they catch you, whoever receives the package will have to pay the upgrade to Priority. Because you can put Delivery Confirmation on any Priority package. Ah, bureaucracies... (Side note: I just accidentally spelled that word "bureaucrazies". Yep.)

Soooo, when I mail my coffee cup pouches, for instance, I stuff the pouch with wadded up tissue paper before I put it in the envelope to make sure the envelope is more than 3/4 inch thick. I made myself a strip of cardboard with a long 3/4-inch-thick strip cut out of the middle to measure my packages to make sure they're thick enough.

[Like so!]

Why go to all this trouble? Because printing a shipping label with PayPal is totally easy. It's faster and more convenient than waiting in line at the post office, and it takes the money out of your PayPal account, so it makes accounting easier. I send my mail with my husband in the morning and he drops it off in the mail box. I used to just leave it out for my mailman, because the mailman at my old apartment was awesome and the best mailman ever, but the ones at my new house are crap. Really. So, you might be able to get away with leaving them for your mailman. You'll have to work that out for yourself.

However, if your package that you printed postage for weighs more than 13 ounces (again with the 13 ounces!), you have to take it into the post office and give it to a postal worker by hand. I don't know why, but that's the rule. It says so on the outsides of the drop boxes.

Also, you cannot print First Class International postage from PayPal.  [Edit: I believe this has changed recently, thank heaven!]  That is really the only reasonably priced way to ship things out of the country. But international shipping is pretty much a whole other blog post!

OK, now that I've written an epic tome on the subject of postage, I'm going to stop. I know there are things I've forgotten. If you have any questions, e-mail me (phile_1013 [at] hotmail [dot] com) or leave them in the comments.

19 November 2010

Communion Bread, or Possibly Just a Tasty Snack

Several years ago -- and I'm not exactly sure how it happened -- a couple young ladies in our church started making Communion bread for the congregation, so that we didn't all have to endure the saltines and matzoh that, in my experience, most evangelical churches serve during Communion. Blech. This was a great success, but we were only taking Communion once a month. When we switched to taking Communion every week, I decided to start a rotation, so that someone different baked the bread every week. And it's gone off basically without a hitch since then. Hooray.

The following is the recipe for this marvelously tasty bread and exactly how to make it. I would recommend that if you are not a church-goer, or your church already has tasty Communion bread, or if your church doesn't want tasty Communion bread, that you pay attention anyway, because this recipe makes a very tasty, healthy cracker/cookie-type snack, which you will want to keep on hand, especially if you are eschewing store-bought treats.

OK, so here we go. Here is the actual recipe that you copy down or print off or whatever:

Whole Wheat Unleavened Bread

8 c whole wheat flour
2/3 c honey
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c butter
1 1/2 - 2 c rich milk (evaporated milk or half & half)

Mix together flour, honey, and salt. Cut butter in thoroughly. Mix in milk until dough forms; shape dough into ball.

Divide for number of cookie sheets.

Shape and/or roll into flat sheets 1/4-inch thick on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or more, until edges are barely brown. Cut immediately after removing bread from oven. Cool completely before storing in plastic bags. This bread freezes and thaws well.

This recipe makes enough for a congregation of about 200, provided you cut the bread into pieces about 3/4-in square.

Here's the step-by-step, for those who have never done anything like this before:

Gather your ingredients; mix the flour, honey, and salt together; and then start cutting in the butter. This means that your butter is not rock-solid, but not all mushy either. Cut it all up into little pats and throw them in the bowl (which you will notice is quite large).

Continue cutting the butter in with a pastry blender (that thing in the photo). If you don't have one of those, you can use a knife, a whisk (what I used before I bought a pastry cutter), possibly a potato masher, or your fingers (mush the butter pats until they get smaller). You just want the pieces of butter to be smaller -- the largest ones should be the size of a pea.

Take off your rings and prepare to get messy.

Add the half & half (of whatever) and mush, mush, mush until it turns into a ball of dough. (A note on the half & half -- depending on which kind of flour you use, the recipe will use anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 cups of half & half. I have made this recipe with hard red whole wheat graham flour in the past, and it usually took 2 cups. This time I made it with hard white whole wheat flour, and it took barely 1 1/2 cups.) (Hard Red and Hard White are types of wheat berries.)

Divide up the dough for how many pans you have and roll it out. I use a glass because my rolling pin is too big for my pan. I would recommend using cookie sheets, but I use a 16" pizza pan, and I'll tell you why.

My oven is super tiny. It only has one rack, and as you can see, the pizza pan just barely fits. The pizza pan allows me to bake the most bread at once, so I only have to roll out two pizza pans worth of dough to make the whole recipe. If I had an oven that could hold multiple cookie sheets at once, I would use cookie sheets. (The pizza pan has little holes all over the bottom, so my bread pieces come out looking a little funny.)

Bake until the edges start to brown a little. Definitely watch it after the first 12 minutes or so. Baking time varies a lot by oven, pan, and thickness. Cut it up into tiny squares right when it comes out. I find a pizza cutter works very well for this.

I move all the tiny pieces to a plate to cool while I reuse the pan for the second round. If you have enough pans, you could let them cool on the pan.

Make sure they're cooled all the way before putting them in a ziplock. As the recipe says, the tiny pieces freeze and thaw again really well.

And that's it! Enjoy!

16 November 2010

Home Show Recap with *GASP* photos!

This was the fourth year for my annual holiday home show. It was also the FIRST year that I remembered to take photos. (Which I would not even have remembered to do if my sister-in-law hadn't reminded me!)

We had a great time! Hot spiced cider, chocolate cookies, great chats with good friends, and plenty of the selling of the wares. And of course, my favorite part -- when people look at my stuff and say, "Coooool!"

Photographic evidence that this does indeed happen every year, and I haven't just been making it up:

[Jewelry scrolls on parade.]


[Two crafters and our hostess taking a break.]

[Jen's bags]

[Kirsten's potholders and coffee sleeves, and Taryn's fabric flowers]

[Some of Karla's adorable stuff]

[Our trusty doorman next to Karla's aprons]

[The Oklahoma corner]

[The Nerdiness corner]

It was such a great success and so much fun, that it is doubly bittersweet that I will not be here in town to do Number 5 next year. Hopefully I can start a new tradition in our new home, wherever that may be!

(PS - If, upon looking at these photos, you are interested in any of the items you see, please contact me at phile_1013 [at] hotmail [dot] com. I can put you in touch with the lady who crafted the item.)

12 November 2010

What We Eat

A friend recently asked me what kinds of things our family eats for dinner. It was really easy for me to put a list together for her, because I keep a list of dinners to make menu planning easier. [Every Sunday evening I put together a menu and grocery list for the week. We grocery shop on Tuesday mornings.] The friend thanked me for the list and said I should write a blog post about it. So... ta da!

  • chili mac
  • spaghetti (with meat sauce)
  • chili
  • Irish stir fry
  • chicken noodle soup
  • mexican chicken soup (super easy: chicken, beans, corn, rotel, onions, garlic, broth, and cheese and sour cream on top)
  • chicken/broccoli/rice (I make a creamy sauce for this one.)
  • chicken, peppers, and coconut rice
  • "Olive Garden in My House" chicken pasta
  • Moroccan tagine
  • fajitas (chicken or pork)
  • stir fry (chicken, pork, or beef)
  • crockpot stew
  • baked salmon
  • pot roast (beef or pork in the crockpot with carrot, onion, and potato)
  • pancakes/waffles (This recipe takes some prep, but they are tastier, more filling, and better for you than ones you just mix together on a whim.) (Oh, and you'll probably want to put peanut butter on those.)
  • omelets
  • frittata (In our house, that means potato chunks and veggies held together with beaten eggs.)
  • baked potatoes (with the works: cheese, sour cream, cooked broccoli, bacon/ham, green onion/chives, butter)
  • chicken alfredo pizza (Use this sauce and add chicken to the pizza.)
  • Philly cheesesteak casserole (Can also be a skillet. I find most casseroles can be a skillet, because I am lazy. But it really works in the summer when you don't want to turn the oven on.)

For most of these dinners, we usually just have the main dish, because it usually has meat, veggies, and a carb. With salmon or burgers, we have broccoli or green beans or something (sauteed, never steamed), and oven fries (sweet potato fries are awesome!) or cornbread or breadsticks. (Yes, that's a link to a soft pretzel recipe. Trust me.)

The things on that list that don't have recipes.... well, I have the recipe in my head. So if you want to know what some of them are, you should e-mail me. (phile_1013 [at] hotmail [dot] com)

The last thing I'd like to note is that this lady runs my current favorite blog. She has tons of recipes for really tasty things that are easy, healthy, kid-friendly, easily made in big batches, and completely from scratch. (That last part is super-important to me; that's why it's in italics.) She should win an award.

09 November 2010

Open House Time!

It's that time of year again! This will be the 4th year for my Holiday Home Show/Open House/Tiny Craft Fair/I Never Know What to Call It. (See my post here for why I have so much fun doing them.) It's this Thursday evening, and this year, it's shaping up to be a lot more like a Tiny Craft Fair than anything else! We've got the crafty goodness of FIVE different ladies to show off!

Taryn makes fabric flowers for headbands and pins.

Jen makes very classy purses and bags.

Karla will be regaling us with some fun Christmas-y items.

Kirsten will bring the housewares -- throw pillows, pillowcases, pot holders, etc.

And then there's me! You know the kind of stuff I make. But look! Pictures of some of my stuff!

[New Jewelry Scrolls!]

[New journals!]

Of course there will also be spiced cider and tasty snacks. And this is strictly a browsing event. We're not interested in making you sit through a speech or accosting you until you buy something.

If you are in the area and you're free on Thursday night, we'd love for you to stop by! Please e-mail me for directions. phile_1013 [at] hotmail [dot] com

05 November 2010

Halloween 2010 (aka Year of the Internet Meme)

Lucy loves music. Lucy loves music so much. She's always asking to listen to music or watch her Nick Jr. shows that are full of music or watch her playlist of YouTube videos. Or she's playing our full-size guitar and singing.

That's part of why I decided that for her second Halloween on the outside of me, she should be a Double Rainbow. (If you don't know about the Double Rainbow video, you probably spent the summer in a foreign country.) Cheap and easy to make, easy to wear, easy to store. Perfect.

Here's how I did it:

I bought a plain white, long-sleeve shirt in her size at WalMart ($3.50 plus tax).

I took my ridiculous collection of Sharpies (I own about 50 different Sharpies) and picked out 7 rainbow-y colors.

I put cardboard inside the middle of the shirt and the sleeves. Then I drew two rainbows -- one along both sleeves and across the front, one just on the torso. Then, just for good measure, I also wrote "So Intense!" underneath. [I realized later that I'd actually done it wrong -- the top part of a double rainbow is a mirror image of the bottom part. Oops. Science FAIL!]

The idea was for the shirt to look kind of like one of those gosh-awful airbrushed t-shirts that you bought when you were 9 on your family summer vacation to Florida in 1993. In order to achieve that, I took some rubbing alcohol and some cotton balls and dabbed rubbing alcohol all along the rainbows and wording. This made the Sharpie run a little and gave it that airbrushed looked.

I let it dry, then ran it through the dryer. Then I tested it with a little water to see if the colors were going to run. They were, so I ironed the shirt on high heat. Then I threw it in the laundry and hoped for the best. The Sharpie didn't really bleed onto the other laundry, but by the time the shirt came out of the laundry again, it had faded a little.

But then it turned out like this! Pretty much exactly what I was going for.

[Double Rainbow with her aunt.]

After I decided Lucy would be a Double Rainbow, I started wondering if Norman and I could dress up as internet memes as well. A short trip to Hobby Lobby and some duct tape later, and:

We're pretty proud of ourselves.