The Strategic Homemaker

learning to follow the Father, care for the clan, and redeem the resources


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Gifts on a budget: Baby mobile

I recently finished the sailboat baby mobile I was working on for my nephew due in a couple weeks. It turned out so cute! And although similar ones retail for $60-$120 here, I was able to make it for around $7. (Note: Babies MS and DK, I love you too, but I am behind on my projects. Christmas is coming!)

The hanging baskets are available at BigLots for $3-4 at the beginning of the summer, or you could use an embroidery hoop or something similar. The basket started out black, and I spray painted them white, but I was a little lazy and didn’t prime first, which I definitely recommend, because on some of them the paint started to chip off, and I had to touch up with acrylic paint, which didn’t have the shiny finish. Anyway, don’t be like me, and rough them up first with sand paper. Then use spray primer, and then spray paint. More work, but the finish will thank you.

I had made a bird mobile for my daughter and another friend’s baby  (You can see a picture of my daughter’s in this post), but for that, I just used the pattern from Spool Sewing.

I designed my own pattern for the boats, starting with this lady’s paper mache boat pattern. She makes some sweet paper mache stuff. This pattern ended up making too long of a boat, so I shortened it, and estimated a pattern for the deck of the boat. Cut one piece for each boat. Here’s where I spent another dollar for fabric I didn’t already have. Make sure your fabric is inside out. Sew the seams on the bottom of the boat first, and then add the deck, starting at the pointy part (bow?) leave the stern open for you to flip inside out and stuff with scraps of batting. (I’m still working on a bag of polyfill I got at a garage sale 3 years ago.) Then sew the stern up by hand.

pattern part 1

pattern part 2

Cut 2 of each of the sail pieces, and if your fabric is patterned, make sure the two you cut are facing opposite directions of the pattern. You sew it inside out, one quarter inch in, but leave at least an inch for flipping it right side out, and then sew that up by hand.

Do the same thing for the flag as you did for the sails, but if you leave the side open that goes along the mast, you don’t need to sew it up by hand. it will get stitched closed when you sew it to the mast. (Note: if you want pointy corners on sails, flags, etc, you need to trim the excess material off the wrong side [the side that won’t show in the end] of the corner before you flip it right side out.)

Cut a piece of ribbon about a yard long for each boat.  (10 yards of the thin satin ribbon costs $1.)  You can always shorten later. Tie a knot in one end, and sew the ribbon to the middle of the boat, testing to see if the boat hangs level from the point the knot is sewn.

Sew each sail top and bottom to the ribbon, and then sew the flag to the ribbon above that. The ribbon becomes the mast. For the flags, TSH reminded me that I could use a different color thread in the bobbin to match the flag fabric, compared to the top thread which matched the ribbon. Genius! I had forgotten I could do this. Clearly I don’t branch out much. Tie the ribbons to your hanging basket or hoop at whatever length you like, and you are done! (I hung this in my daughter’s room for the picture, but the baby it is going to has a nautical theme.) Let me know if you make one!

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Recipes Worth Repeating: Homemade Pizza

One thing we eat about once per week is pizza. And for about the last six months, we have not eaten any frozen pizza. We decided we like the homemade kind much better, and we can make two medium-large-ish pizzas for a total of about $5!

I have a bread machine thanks to my great aunt Clara, and I use this recipe: Easy Peezy Pizza Dough. You only need to plan ahead about 2 hours before you want your pizza, throw everything into the machine and hit start. Not to worry if you don’t have a machine though. There are recipes for pizza dough that you freeze ahead, don’t knead, etc. Just go hunt on the internet.

Divide the finished dough into two equal parts and either use your hands or a greased rolling pin to stretch it into a large, thin circle. Lately I’ve been into the rolling pin.

Then we top it with a bit of olive oil and salt (pizza sauce if I feel like splurging), whatever toppings we have on hand (tomatoes are always good if you don’t use sauce), and plenty of cheese. One favorite uses raspberry pepper jelly for the sauce, cut-up cooked chicken, onions, and mozzarella, but we also make veggie pizzas a lot, as we tend to have a lot of vegetables on hand.

The key to getting a crisp crust with perfectly done toppings is to use either a pizza stone or a metal pizza pan with holes in the bottom, turn up the heat to about 450 F (pizza stone) or 400 F (metal pan) and blast it for about 9-13 minutes.

Here’s another pic. We usually get a dinner and a lunch out of the two pizzas. (We had it with yellow beans on the side.)

P.S. Did you know Bing.com is giving away rewards if you use them to search? In three days, I’m already more than 20% of the way to a Starbucks $5 giftcard! You can sign up at this link.


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Movie Review: October Baby

The TSH and I actually stayed up late Friday night to watch a movie. October Baby had arrived to Redbox, and we had been wanting to watch it. Thankfully, we were not disappointed.

Image

The story deals with a college student, Hannah, who finds out she was born at 24 weeks gestation due to a botched abortion attempt and adopted. She goes on a road trip with a friend to search for her birth mother in the hopes of understanding herself better.

The film was marketed somewhat as a pro-life film, and it has one scene in which Hannah hears her birth story from a former abortion clinic nurse who quit after Hannah’s birth, but the main theme is actually forgiveness, along with trusting God with your children. Additionally, the lady who plays Hannah’s birth mom, gives her testimony during the credits of God’s forgiveness (She had gotten an abortion when she was younger, that no one knew about until this movie.)

We felt like this movie was done really well. Not going to win any Academy Awards, probably, but definitely not bad. (And I have seen some really poorly done Christian movies). The main thing I look for in movies, especially Christian movies, is that the characters are believable–able to identify with, and I found these to be so. There weren’t any artificial-sounding sermons from characters. Rather a few well-placed lines, mostly from a priest pointing out the need to forgive as Christ has forgiven us and the liberation that forgiveness brings.

I wouldn’t recommend letting children watch this movie. It’s completely clean, but they might be disturbed at the description of the botched abortion. Other than that, I’d recommend it to about everyone: parents, teenagers, those who had an abortion in the past. I will issue the warning to have a box of Kleenex close, as you will probably need it, especially if you have ever lost a baby.

With that said, I hope several of you can spare a dollar and enjoy watching it. Let me know what you think!


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Fabric Frugality

What do you do when your mom gives you a worn, stained, flannel sheet set?

Make it into cloth wipes, of course!  With cloth wipes retailing for more than 2 dollars a piece here, and a person needing about 36 or so, these can make a nice and free-to-you gift for someone planning to cloth diaper. Also, using cloth wipes  saves you about $100 a year according to them, so, I estimate if you make them for free, you save about $170/ year. Besides, if you’re cloth diapering anyway, cloth wipes are more convenient, as you can just throw them into the same pail as the cloth diapers.

You cut the sheet into 6″ x 8″ rectangles. This size is not only good for wiping, but it fits into a commercial plastic wipes container when folded in half, and then you can fold them so the next one pulls out the top each time, like with a box of kleenex. Someone already made a video on how to do this: here.

A rotary cutter and cutting mat make this really easy, but if you have to use the scissors, it is okay. These are just cloth wipes. No need to be precise. Here’s my giant stack of rectangles:

Then you just zigzag stitch around the edge with whatever color thread you want. This keeps the wipe from fraying since it will get washed ~100 times/ year.

Now, typically I like my wipes one-ply, because you can conform them to the shape of your hand or a baby’s bottom better, but this sheet was extremely threadbare, and so it worked much better doubled up. In this case, if your wipes aren’t precisely the same size, you just stitch around the inner edge, and cut the excess off later. Here they are finished:

To use, you fill a spray bottle with ~3 cups water, 1-2 pumps baby wash, and a squirt of baby oil. Then before you use a wipe, shake the bottle and spray the wipe. Since they don’t have alcohol in them, they aren’t too cold, and oh so soft. They are like wipes for the wealthy, man!

Anyway, don’t throw away your flannel sheets! make someone some wipes!

I personally don’t need any more, as mine are still going strong (which I made my this same method more than a year ago), but I was able to give a set of twelve to a pregnant new neighbor planning to cloth diaper, who was really excited and is having us over for dinner tomorrow. (See what cloth wipes can get you? Just kidding :)) Even if someone doesn’t use cloth diapers, I have found it handy to have some cloths at meal times for wiping faces and hands. Let me know if you have any questions, and I hope you find this useful!


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Money Saver: Zapping the Electric Bill

I am excited to have my husband guest posting today on electricity use, as he is the physics expert around here.

TSW and I were sparked into a conversation this past weekend about our electricity usage.  We were notified that, because Sears underestimated the power rating of the chest freezer we bought last summer, we get $11.52 per year in return for the extra power it consumes.  On 13 June 2026, we will have officially received a free freezer from Sears.  It’s like winning the lottery.

Considering the extra 96 cents per month we were spending keeping our food cold, we were curious where the 356 kWh we bought last month went.  While a quick search on our favorite engine revealed a few websites that tell you what your stuff typically uses, it seemed like a good opportunity to use our high school physics.  (College physics should give the same results.)  Besides, the black box of a website from the ’90s was too much for me, when our favorite vacuum cleaner clearly states “12 amps” in one inch numerals on the front.  It was asking for a calculation, and TSW was curious if she should cut down on her vacuuming.

So that physics I was talking about.  (The lesson ends after a paragraph.)  In electronics, the power delivered to a component is equal to the products of the electrical current flowing through and the voltage across that component.  That is,

P=I \cdot V.

We knew the current going through our vacuum cleaner was 12 amps.  The voltage at a standard household wall socket is regulated to be 120 volts (give or take 6 volts) RMS in the U.S.  (For those of you in the E.U., that’ll be 230 volts RMS.  Not surprisingly, Wiki has an excellent map of standard electric mains voltages for every country, if you’re curious.)  The product of amps and volts is watts, which is a measure of energy usage per unit time: joules per second.  In the case of our vacuum, this means that it is running at

P = 12 \textrm{A} \cdot 120 \textrm{V} = 2520 \textrm{W}.

If you aren’t into physics, you’ll at least notice that watts makes up a third of kilowatt-hours, which is what you see as your electricity usage from the power company.  To get to kilowatts, we divide by 1000, so we’re vacuuming at 2.52 kW.  To get the hour part, we simply multiply by however many hours the vacuum is being used.  Thus, if TSW vacuums for one hour, she will have used up 2.52 kWh of electricity.  (Note that the units of watts are energy per time and we multiply by a time, so the unit kilowatt-hour is simply energy.  Also note that the unit kilowatt-hour is abbreviated kWh.  Not kwh.  Apparently kW h or kW-h are appropriate.)  We supposed, in a conservative estimate, that TSW and I might vacuum a combined total of two hours per month, which puts us at 5.04 kWh used per month.  Given the going rate from our provider of $0.116 per kWh, we use a quarter’s worth of electricity per month vacuuming.  That is,

\text{Cost per month} = \frac{\text{amperage} \cdot 120}{1000} \cdot \left( \text{hours used per month} \right) \cdot \left(\text{cost of energy per kWh} \right).

For our vacuum, that becomes

\text{Cost to vacuum, per month} = \frac{\text{12} \cdot 120}{1000} \cdot \left( \text{2} \right) \cdot \left(\text{0.116} \right) = \$0.26.

I convinced TSW that cutting down in this area was likely not necessary.  (Physics lesson ends here.)

The conversation quickly turned to curiosity about where else our energy costs goes.  The 356 kWh from our last month cost us $41.34.  A good chuck of this is likely from our refrigerator, although we’re not sure how much it uses.  Likewise, the chest freezer is perhaps several dollars ($5.01 if it runs half the day).  Given that the freezer started all this, and that Saturday happened to be the first day of this billing cycle, and that Saturday happened to be the day our freezer decided to stop freezing things, we decided to move all the food to the freezer above the fridge, turn off the chest freezer, and see how much we’d save in our electric bill. [Andrea would like to mention that we just recently got room in the upright freezer, since it is no longer full of baby food and milk.] Then we wondered what other things cost:

Thing Hours per Day Cost per Month
3 x 60 W light bulbs (our dining room light) 6 $3.76
75 W light bulb (our kitchen main light) 4 $1.04
20 W light bulb (if we used a flourescent bulb in the kitchen) 4 $0.28
Our laptops (95 W at max power each, 45 W average) 5 $1.57

We decided to keep using our computers, but the kicker was the savings for the flourescent bulbs.  For a light that we use often, we save about $0.75 per month by switching to CFL bulbs.  On electricity alone, that saves us $8.00 over the year.  Not to mention that the CFLs I stuck in our side table lamps on 29 September 2009 are still burning strong, while I’ve replaced most of the incandescents in our apartment.  This year.  Twice.  With that, we traded as many incandescents for CFLs that we had bought but never installed.  (Note: CFLs are not compatable with dimmer switches, as is in our dining room.)

So with turning off our chest freezer and trading out several lightbulbs for CFLs, we’re anxious to see what sort of energy savings we’ll see in next months bill.  Being two scientists, we recognize the experiment is not terribly controlled.  But we’re hoping for a drop anyway.  Our predictions:

TSH -$6.13
TSW -$8.00

We’ll report back in a month with the results.

What is the biggest electricity consumer in your home?  In what ways have you tried to cut costs or simply save energy?  Do you know how to center tables in WP?


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Recipes Worth Repeating: Penne Pasta with Vegetables

**The winner of the new Keith and Kristyn Getty CD was #4, Becca Ramsey. Congratulations, Becca!**

I’m trying a new thing with our food budget this semester, and that is: actually sticking to a budget. I am trying to following some of the ideas from here. But more on that later, once I know if we are successful or not. The main point is that I try to find recipes that are easy/fast to prepare, cheap, healthy, and taste good. The following recipe meets all these criteria. Originally, I got it from How to Cook without a Book by Pam Anderson, and then I saw it on the back of a pasta box, and now I’m just telling you from my head.

Pasta with Vegetables

1 box penne, or other pasta

1-2 lbs vegetables, cut into small pieces (I used zucchini and tomatoes in the summer, butternut squash and turnip greens last week–this recipe definitely conforms to the seasons)

herbs (I used fresh basil in the summer, dried sage last week–use whatever you have, man)

olive oil

parmesan cheese

salt

black pepper

Boil your pasta. if the vegetable you are using is something like broccoli, you can just throw it in with the boiling pasta and be really efficient. If it is something like the above mentioned vegetables, saute them with some garlic and herbs in a little butter or olive oil while the pasta is cooking. Drain the pasta. Mix with your sauteed vegetables. Depending how dry these were, you may need to add a drizzle of olive oil. Add about 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with extra parmesan cheese. This recipe serves 3-4 adults.

If you are one of those people who likes every meal to have some meat, this would be really good with Italian sausage mixed in. I personally just make a side of steamed green beans and call it a day.

P.S. My grandparents came to visit this week, and we had a lot of fun giving them the tour of the town and eating from-scratch pumpkin pie. Here we are!


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Giveaway: Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs

I am excited to be hosting my first blog giveaway! Keith and Kristyn Getty release a new CD tomorrow, “Hymns for the Christian Life,” and they are generously sending me a copy to give away to one of you readers!

If you don’t know Keith and Kristyn Getty, they are modern day hymnwriters. They are originally from Ireland, which means two things: first, their accents are beautiful, and second, their band knows how to play some pretty good Irish reels. I’m planning to bust out their Irish Christmas music as soon as the first frost hits, and I am definitely putting this new CD on my birthday wishlist. Some songs you may know of which Keith Getty co-wrote include, “In Christ Alone,” “There is a Higher Throne,” and “Speak, O Lord.”

Anyway, this new CD has songs “about how our faith interacts with everyday life.”  It includes songs about daily things including work, money, children etc.,  which fit perfectly with the theme of The Strategic Homemaker! You can hear samples or purchase CDs on their website.

If you want to enter the giveaway, please let me know who the musician is that you most commonly listen to? (can be Christian or secular). I’ll pick a winner with random.org on Friday at 8am.