The Strategic Homemaker

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


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Date Night Christmas Present!

In lieu of spending much money on gifts for each other this past Christmas, TSH and I signed up to take a knife skills class together at a local kitchen store. We’re good at spending time together talking about administrative things, but wanted to have a date doing something fun and non-administrative together. Thankfully, we have a couple of friends who are willing to babysit in exchange for pizza and cookies. (Yay, Halls!)

The class was last Thursday, and we learned a lot! I had apparently never known how to use a knife correctly (This requires a demonstration.) or peel carrots correctly (Go back and forth, using both directions of the peeler.) I should be much faster in the kitchen now. TSH is even better at it than me. It is tough to best that kid at something. Alas…

Here we are. I had forgotten to put the memory card back in my camera, but thankfully another student took a picture for me. (Thanks, Carolyn!)

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What’s a fun date you’ve been on lately?

P.S. Papa Johns is giving away free pizza coupons if you guess the Superbowl coin toss correctly. So guess opposite from your spouse or a friend, and you’re guaranteed a free pizza! Here’s the link. You have to sign up by Saturday night.


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A Cloth Napkin Project

If you recall, one of my New Years’ goals was to switch from paper napkins and paper towels to cloth. I had several white cloth napkins from earlier, but I wanted some that fit with my international theme. I had more of the Kenyan kikoy fabric I used to make the pillows here, IMG_5868

so I cut it into roughly 16-in squares, IMG_5871

hemmed them up with a mitered corner (The one below isn’t hemmed yet, but it does show the mitered corner),

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and started using them. (Two kinds of napkins shown below–definitely not going to be ironing napkins any time soon.)

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This also satisfied the centerpiece need. Centerpiece= 1 functional basket of cloth napkins.

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Also, I’m curious. Take the survey and let me know if you use cloth or paper for your face wiping needs.


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I’ve got a golden pillow!…

“…I’ve got a golden twinkle in my eye.” Or, how to get a new throw pillow for $3.

I’ve been updating my pillows in the past couple of months, and I think this golden one concluded the throw pillow updates for the foreseeable future. Unless of course, I win one of these coffee bags off my friend’s blog, “Rhymes with Smile.” Then I will make another pillow.

TSH and I have a few goals in decorating our house. First, we want it to be simple–no extra stuff collecting dust. Second, we want it to be comfortable, putting us and others at ease. Third, we want nearly every item to have a story behind it,or at least appear so. and finally, we’d like the decor to transport people to other lands. Not literally, obviously, although that would be cool.

(I figured out this international theme to the decor when I took this quiz from Homegoods last semester. The quiz results were totally off–gave me “Spa Life”, and suggested I have a giant Buddha in my house, or something like that. However, by browsing through the other possibilities, I figured out what I wanted– an international theme. Most of my decor is from other countries anyway.)

Back to the pillows. We started with some solid red and brown pillows I had gotten on clearance at Lowes for $6 apiece. These were functional, but resulted in a complete absence of pattern in the living room. See below.IMG_4317-001

I covered two of them in Kenyan kikoy material I had on hand, but I felt like we needed a splash of yellow, and it needed to be patterned. I was debating making a patchwork cover, although that didn’t seem very international. And then I saw the international fabrics at Jo-Ann Fabrics. Bam. $3 and 1 hour later, we have a golden pillow. I am a fan.

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I admit, it doesn’t transport yet, but I think this is mostly the builders’ beige walls, the too-low valances, and that random pattern of two clocks and some art on the right. Working on figuring something out for the latter. The former two will just have to wait until we move in a couple months. Here are the pillows, up close.

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On to making them. There’s a video tutorial here, but making a pillow slipcover is really easy. You measure the sides of your pillow. Then you cut out pieces of your fabric measuring one inch longer on each side, but for the back panel, you add 4 inches to the length. (E.g. I had an 18″ x 18″ pillow, so I cut pieces 19″ x 19″, and 19″ x 23.”) You then cut the back panel in half. (Mine became two 19″ x 11.5″ panels.)

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You hem one long side of each of those small panels. You pin it together, right sides together, so the hemmed edges overlap in the middle. These will make the opening for you to slide your original pillow or pillow form into.

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Sew along the edge, and voila!  Flip it right side out, and insert your old pillow. Cheap update.

Another example–In my daughter’s room:

Before, boring solid yellow:

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After…cool Kenyan kikoys:

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Your turn! Go update a pillow and send me a picture. Or give me decorating ideas. Seriously.


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Tips on Making a Guest Book Quilt

One of my very best friends got married this summer, and I got to be in her wedding. Hence, I have only this digital picture of the wedding, but you can see a few on the photographer’s blog. Here is a shot of the bridesmaids in the dressing room.

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Anyway, this friend really wanted a guestbook quilt. Lucky for her, one of her bridesmaids was a quilter. Me!

I bought a bunch of fat quarters (a yard of fabric quartered) in her wedding colors, purple, green, and ivory, the lighter and more subtly-patterned ones onto which I ironed freezer paper. (Freezer paper is available at the grocery store, and is a kind of plastic-coated paper that will stick to fabric when ironed on, but then peel off easily. It makes the fabric stiff and easier to write on.) I then cut all the fabric into squares. I started out pinking the edge of some to make them look fancy, but that was taking forever compared to the rotary cutter, so I just intermingled my ~5 pinked squares among the rest. My squares were 5″ x 5.” That means the final size of the square when quilted would be 4.5″ x 4.5″. I took about 120 to the wedding, along with two permanent fabric pens. I think there were something like 180-200 people at the wedding, but many were couples or in families, so I only needed a bit more than half that number of squares.

At the wedding is where I learned of a few more things I should have done:

1. Have an attendant at the guest book quilt table to give instructions. In this cute picture off Pinterest of someone doing a guestbook quilt, they do not appear to have any attendant, just some framed instructions. The basic instruction is not to write within a half inch of the edge, because the quilter needs some material to sew. Some people apparently do not read this instruction, because a few signatures had to be forever bound up in the internal parts of the quilt. Also, one person wrote on the freezer paper side instead of the fabric side. Most people did do fine, but if it is your wedding, you will want to read every signature later.

2. Either have the table where people have to pass it to get to the wedding, or have the DJ announce it several times over the course of cocktail hour/dancing. The DJ at this wedding announced it right before everyone had to head into the reception, so if people hadn’t noticed it before, they didn’t have time to sign it. TSH and I remedied this by walking around with the fabric pens and baskets of squares to everyone during the dancing and asking if they had signed them. We missed a few people, but ended up getting about 50 more squares signed. And we still had time to slow dance together once, which is about all TSH can handle anyway.

3. Have more than 2 fabric pens. One of my pens died partially through the night, and people tend to write a lot more on a quilt square than they would in a guestbook, so there wouldn’t have been as much waiting around with more than 2 pens.

If you don’t sew, you might want to ignore the rest, but I ended up with 16 squares by 12 squares, so 192 squares. (about 75 of these were signed). To at some visual interest, and get the quilt to ~5′ wide, I added some vertical strips that were half the width of the squared when quilted. (2 and 3/4 inches wide before quilted, and 5″, 9.5″, or 14″ long. Every place there will be a seam, you have to add a quarter inch on each piece for seam allowance.) I then arranged it all out on the floor how I wanted and took a picture. The picture is not just for the blog. Rather, I couldn’t leave it on the floor for months, and I wanted to see how I had arranged it.IMG_5170

The vertical strips made piecing the quilt a little bit trickier, so I used a photo manipulation software to draw lines around the sections I could sew together in one chunk before sewing those chunks to other chunks. That looked like this:

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After I pieced it, I made a quilt sandwich with a piece of batting I had on hand, and a purple twin sheet.  I decided to quilt it in straight, horizontal lines. I didn’t want the quilting interfering with the writing on the squares, so the lines were one quarter inch above and below each horizontal seam, and I stopped and skipped over the vertical strips where there wasn’t a seam. You can see the quilting in this photo of a correctly signed square:

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We were able to see the newlyweds a couple weekends ago and give them their quilt. Yay! Congrats again, dear friends!

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Goals/ projects/ resolutions for the New Year

Yes, we are halfway through January, and yes, I am just now coming up with my goals. No matter. I will do in 50 weeks what most people need 52 to do! Just kidding, although I actually got one checked off yesterday. Nothing like a good start to the year.

I can’t figure out a good way to introduce these, so I’m just going to list them.

–Read one chapter in the Bible a day. I want to do this at breakfast, so eventually, when PG can understand more, we’ll be reading together. This book was an inspiration for reading the actual Bible with small children. It’s an easy read and I enjoyed it a lot. I also want to post a disclaimer that I have been reading my Bible, but I like having a plan for method, and the new year is good for getting me back on track with my method.

–Memorize one Bible verse a week. We’ll be using this method. I’ve basically already been doing this, but drifted off at the end of the year, so we’ll be returning to this with renewed vigor.

–Switch from paper napkins and towels to cloth. This is my environmental/frugal goal. I have some plans for cloth napkins I want to make, but I think I mainly need a system that keeps my cloth accessible. I’ll post about it as we make the switch, and how much it saves financially.

–Watch no more than one TV show per week. I think this might be one of my hardest goals to keep, but honestly, with all the other stuff I want to do, there is no room for lots of TV. If I feel wiped at night, I have a stack of books I want to read. Oh, and ball games and movies don’t count, but they are pretty rare anyway.

–Decorate the apartment/house. I do have plans for decorating the house, but I’m not very good at it, and it takes a lot of time to do without spending much money. Several goals in this department include the following: get curtains, make shams for the bed (to match the quilt), hang a “friends and family wall” (If you send us a picture of you, we’ll frame it and put it on the wall.), add some fun throw pillows around the house, get centerpieces for the table and maybe coffee table, and make a giant piece of art with family rules on it. I’ll post about each thing as I do it.

TSH has two goals: read through the Bible and graduate.

and the one I got done yesterday…finish up work for my old boss. I haven’t really gone to work since September, but this one project (not necessary to graduate) has been hanging over my head, as it had no official deadline. It took from 10-4pm yesterday, but I got it done, and turned in my key. to top it off, I got an email Saturday that my diploma is in the mail. Yippee! I am officially free. Now to get to my other projects.

Speaking of projects, come back on Friday, and I’ll have a big project from this fall to reveal! I’ll give you a hint. It rhymes with “kilt.”

And since we need a picture in this post, here’s a family pic we took over break.

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Christmas Superlatives

Whew, we are finally back! We’ve been out of town for 3 weeks, first for Christmas (visited 24 family members), and then for a job interview, with stays at friends’ houses breaking up each long driving stretch. It was pretty fun, but I am glad to be back home, getting in the groove again, and preparing to come up with some New Year’s goals. (I do not consider Jan 1 a deadline for these things, especially, when you won’t be back home for the first 9 days of January.) Anyway, there were some fun times over the Christmas break, and I assigned superlative awards to give you a good idea.

Most miles traveled by a family member one-way to get there: Carrie and Toby won this one, beating our 812 miles out with 1247.  Ang and Dave would have won with 5084 miles, but they opted to Skype in. Couldn’t blame them.

Best hand-made gift: Carrie and Toby won this also, hands down. Carrie had painted a picture for Jan with red and blue birds representing female and male descendants, and Toby made me an advent wreath using logs from their backyard. (We draw names on this side. Each year a different person gets to pick the theme, which this year was “family.”

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Best gift surprise: Bill had drawn his own name in the name-drawing and not told anyone. He got some gourmet pies (peanut butter and key-lime) as his “family-themed” present and shared with all of us.IMG_5637

Most practical gift: (Actually, I got a lot of practical things, but this one had the cutest and most presentable picture with it.) This stool with storage space for PG. PG loves standing on her stool to brush her teeth and wash her hands, although now we have to keep her from inserting the head of the toothbrush into the drain of the sink.IMG_5838

Cuddliest person: This little guy wanted to be held all. the. time. With enough people around to hold him, he hardly cried at all.IMG_5684

Most popular person: This went to Uncle Paul, the children’s storyteller at the Christmas Eve service at my aunt and uncle’s church. 4 of my siblings and my cousin used PG as an excuse to come sit at the front and listen to Uncle Paul.

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Most illnesses recovered from: This little gal had a horrible cough and ear infection, but was not slowed down at all in energy or appetite. We wouldn’t have known about the ear infection if she hadn’t gotten conjunctivitis also, which was pretty itchy for her.IMG_5665

Most listened to CD: the most listened to musical CD was Keith and Kristyn Getty’s “Hymns for the Christian Life” which I got for Christmas, but the main thing we listened to was Agatha  Christie’s novel “Elephant’s Can remember.”

Most stackable: These Melissa and Doug nesting blocks kept PG entertained for miles in the car on the way back from the job interview.

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Best book read over break: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. This book was fascinating. Especially for someone who likes data that reveals interesting things.

What was a superlative of your holiday? Next week I’ll share my goals for the new year, and by next Friday I’ll know where we’re going to live next year. Exciting things ahead!