The Strategic Homemaker

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


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Five Free Toddler/Preschooler Toys

I am always wanting to buy my kids new toys and fun things. Usually I get it under control and refrain. and sometimes, if I think about the toy long enough, I decide to make a version of it myself.  So here are five toys we made in the last couple of months totally free–and easy enough to do as a craft with your kid:

Sock puppets. These socks had been missing their mates when I cleaned out my drawer a couple months ago, and we got it into our heads to make puppets after reading If you Give a Moose a Muffin. Of course, as soon as I made them, I found the mate to the green sock under the washing machine. We may have to make another frog puppet soon.

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New puzzles. My mom used Mod Podge (paint both sides of the picture with it to avoid wrinkling) to glue magazine pictures to cardboard, and then she cut them with a razor blade after they dried.

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Rings to practice stringing or…

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a snake! A papertowel tube or two was sacrificed for this one. (old spools [above] are a bead to string for the more advanced.)6-IMG_7902

A Personalized Memory game. I used blank index cards–just make sure it’s something you can’t see through. This has been played with more so far than several toys we own .

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A playhouse–personally decorated.

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No, these do not look professional, but the kid won’t care, and then you don’t feel bad about throwing them away when you’re done with them.

Let me know if you have any other ideas for quick, free toys!


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A Big Girl Room

I know everyone has been on the edge of their seats wondering what has progressed in our house during my blogging hiatus. Okay, maybe not, but regardless, even with a newborn, progress has been made!

Not by me, exactly, but the TSH has been hard at work!

Remember this room?

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Well, now it looks like this:

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I think we only spent about $250. $50ish on paint (Platinum in Clark and Kensington and ceiling white ultra flat paint), less than $50 on joint compound, etc, $40 on rug and mat, $20 on white bedspread, $30 on plywood sheet to use in place of box spring, $25ish on waterproof covers for mattress and pillow. The other stuff came from either her previous room (curtains, pillows, quilt, etc.), our previous room (the dresser), or the previous owners (twin bed and mattress).

It still needs some decor on the walls and furniture such as a bookshelf and chair, but since we mostly live out of the living room all day, I’m not in a rush to get those things. The costume box and stuffed animals up there keep PG quite content. I’m just happy to have nice clean gray walls. And insulation. The insulation we had added to the attic and kneewalls successfully brought her room’s temperature up to that of ours, rather than a consistent 5 degrees below as it had been previously this winter.

Anyone else been doing a bedroom remodel on a budget? Do share.


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Six Strategic Gift Ideas

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We spent the day with some good friends, and enjoyed celebrating and thanking God for our many, many undeserved blessings over the past year.

And now it is almost December! I mentioned last year, when talking about PG’s Christmas presents, that I don’t want our Christmases to be all about stuff. However, I do appreciate meaningful gifts, and I have 6 strategic gift ideas for you. I love all these things, and have been blessed by being gifted with two of them in the last 2 months.

  1. SEEDS CDs. I mentioned these before, but I really do love them, and my sister-in-law randomly sent us a first of October gift with all the ones we didn’t have. They’re in the car, so whenever PG and I go anywhere we listen to them, and I’ve basically had verses stuck in my head the past couple of months. Each is a pack of two, so you can give one away or split with someone, and if you buy the seven pack, the CDs are only $5 each.                                                                                                                                              
  2. Verse Wall art. I was wanting to make one of these signs like on the Between You and Me Etsy Shop for the last year, and a differently sister-in-law randomly decided it would be a good graduation/housewarming/birthday gift for us, which was awesome, especially because I had no idea when I would get around to it. ( I think she may have looked on my Pinterest Boards, because seriously this and the above were the perfect gifts for me, and I didn’t even request them!) We had to do some serious warp control after it arrived, because going from Georgia to Rhode Island was a crazy weather difference, but after some steaming and re-drying it is looking good. Plus the Etsy owner was willing to re-make it if we couldn’t fix the warp. Talk about great customer service!1-IMG_7608
  3. Gourmet foods. If you’re giving a gift to someone who avoids splurging on their groceries, this is a great gift. Summer sausages, fancy cheeses and crackers, chocolate, gourmet teas or coffees, nuts, etc. will really be considered a treat.
  4. Photo gifts. For the past few years, I’ve gotten us a package of family photos and a package of PG photos at Target, Sears, Olan Mills, etc. and distributed them to family members.  All the grandparents are happy, and it is really cheap. This year, my package of PG’s photos was $7.99 at Target. (Go online for coupons.) It had enough pictures for us, two sets of grandparents, two sets of great-grandparents, two great-great grandparents, and wallets for all the aunts and uncles. I am waiting until the new baby comes to get family pictures. TSH’s parents request a photo calendar every year with pictures of all their children and grandchildren, so those duties get rotated around. I do not recommend the blanket photo gifts however, as one year, TSH’s parents were given a giant blanket with a huge picture of them on it. It was kind of hilarious, especially because they were wearing the same clothes as in the picture, but I don’t think they figured out where to use it. TSH’s Dad, who has recently gotten into the Ebay business, says he will sell it to the highest bidder…
  5. The Light Has Come advent book. For something novel and fun for kids, this book is super cool. The author, who happens to be one of my friends, cut out elaborate paper snowflakes with symbols that tell the story of the gospel. Each page has a list of symbols to find, as well as corresponding Bible passages to read during the advent season. You can check it all out on his website.

6. A homemade quilt or other homemade blanket. I did actually make something by hand for one of my sis-in-laws this year, but I am getting to the point where I am ready to pay someone else to make stuff for me to give, and the winter is a great time to give a quilt as a gift! Katherine at the Rhymes with Smile etsy shop is the girl who taught me to quilt, I have seen and used her quilts in her house, and my daughter has a quilt made by her, so I can attest that her quilts are beautiful. And her prices cannot be beat. Honestly, it can be hard to make your own quilt for these prices, and the blogger Crazy Mom quilts recently listed some of hers for sale at 10 times the price. Crazy! Although, I admit, they are pretty fun.

Let me know if you have any other great gift ideas. I am almost done shopping this year—my nesting instinct was apparently to get everyone’s Christmas presents bought and wrapped before December—so I just need to pick up some stocking stuffers at the last minute.


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Home Improvement Purchases and Hold-offs

We have been steadily plugging away at the home improvement and furnishing around here, and I have been trying to balance the issues of improving the home’s value, preparing for a winter with a newborn and toddler, getting furnishings that we will want to keep long-term, and not storing up treasures on earth. It is not something with obvious conclusions, and I have been praying for God to give me wisdom in making these decisions. Anyway, here’s where we decided to spend:

–Organization for the books and puzzles. So far, this has worked great! I got two bins on clearance at Target ($7 each), and bought some jumbo-sized Hefty bags for puzzles. (My daughter loves puzzles, and I think we have around 20.) It was getting annoying to hunt through pieces for 20 puzzles to try to do one, or feeling the need to put them all together at the end of the day. Now, there are usually fewer than 3 out at once, and it is easy for PG to put them away in the correct place.

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–Curtains and thermal liners for the front rooms (office, dining room, master bedroom). Curtains cost more than it seems that they should. And since we had the previous owners remove the old curtain rods due to our perceived ugliness of them, we also had to spring for rods (4 at about $25 each). I finally decided that the potential heat loss prevented would be worth it to have thermal liners (3 pairs at around $28/pair), and since I saw the same curtains I had been imagining at Bed, Bath, and Beyond on clearance (still averaging about $16 a panel for six panels), we got them. I’m still working on sewing a second ruffle curtain for our bedroom, so not showing that right now.

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–A new light fixture (see above). Several of our lights burned out, and with it getting dark early here, we had noticed that the original lights were especially dim anyway. TSH didn’t feel like replacing the tiny bulbs the fixture called for. We got a new chandelier for around $50, and have been enjoying that. I never thought I was a chandelier type of person, but I am really liking the way the dining room is coming together. Here are a before and in-progress pic to remind you what it looked like earlier:

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Oh, and we also got a new solid wood table for free from some of our neighbors, but it needs a new coat of finish on it, so it’s in the basement right now.

–Insulation for the attic. We discovered this summer that our house was really poorly insulated, and thanks to a government energy grant, we are able to get about $3000 worth of insulation and air sealing done for around $500. All the workers are backed up right now, but we are in the line-up to get that work done in the next couple of months.

Now, the following are where we decided to hold off:

–Replacing the carpet in the living room. We had originally been planning to replace this carpet before winter (it’s wrinkled and a bit dingy at the doorway), but as it’s been rug doctored a couple times (once when we moved in, and once after the mudding adventure), and we have a lot on our plate right now, we decided to hold off on that $700 expense until another time.

–New curtains for the living room. I’ve figured out what I want–something patterned navy and white, but since this was one of the few places the previous owners left up the curtains and rods, we decided to just use what we have for now and save ourselves an additional expense.

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–Buying a changing table to set up a baby station downstairs. After shopping around Craigslist and furniture stores for a dresser or changing table we’d want to keep longterm, we decided to just move the one we had downstairs. Also, the baby room upstairs won’t be ready for a couple more months anyway due to the wall issues.

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–Rugs. I really am looking forward to having rugs in several rooms, but at roughly $300 a piece for large soft patterned ones, I have decided to put that off. In all honesty, I had decided to go back to Homegoods and get this one rug which was exactly what I wanted for the office, but after sitting on the decision for a month, it had already sold. God’s way of telling me I didn’t need it right now.

–All the furniture for the office. I’m starting to figure out want I want in here, but right now we are content using the living room for everything, and are going to wait before we furnish another room. Plus, I want TSH to make a couple of the furniture pieces.

So those are the home improvement updates. You also might have noticed that we got some of our art up on the walls, although no new purchases there. That went a long way toward making the house feel like ours.

And finally, here’s a sneak peek at the wall progress in the bedroom. TSH has been hard at work!

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Fridge Finds: What’s (Really) Cooking, Part 6

It’s my week to share  my meal plan (I think I’m the last to post in this blog party, btw), and in keeping with my post on grocery splurges, only one of the planned meals contains meat (Zuppa Tuscana), although we’ll probably get 6-8 servings out of that–so 2.5 meals. This photo and plan were actually from a couple weeks ago–but this is pretty typical. It was right when the cold weather started me on a soup kick. Thank goodness I started this post back then, because the third trimester has me requiring a nap every day, which has seriously cut down on productivity.

Anyway, here’s the fridge:

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–Top shelf: leftover coleslaw, ricotta cheese, bowl of pomegranate seeds (in the back–you can’t see it), leftover spaghetti sauce, carton of cream, leftover toddler milk

–Second shelf: Milk, juice, eggs, tiny amount of leftover chicken noodle soup

–Third shelf: leftover spaghetti bake, Italian sausage, plain yogurt

–little drawer: cheddar cheese, mozzarella, cream cheese

–top drawer: kale, delicata squash, apples

–bottom drawer: apples and carrots (I made an apple cake and a lot of applesauce)

–door: butter, parmesan cheese, garlic, ginger, leftover chicken broth, condiments

and here’s the meal plan–

Spaghetti Bake with Coleslaw. I don’t have a recipe for this, but basically I mixed cooked spaghetti with ricotta  and parmesan cheese, eggs, oregano, basil, salt and pepper, and topped with spaghetti sauce and mozzarella, then baked. I was planning to have salad with it, but then realized the green ball I thought was lettuce was cabbage, hence the coleslaw. Coleslaw recipe below.

Zuppa Toscana: except I’m going to be adding more potatoes and kale and a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and leaving out the bacon bits.

Refried Bean tacos (Cheddar cheese and plain yogurt are the only thing in the fridge to contribute to these–TSH is picking up some lettuce and tomatoes from our farm share on Thursday, and the pintos, stuff for tortillas, olives and onions are in the pantry.)

Dal Nirvana and rice. This is our favorite lentil dish. I asked TSH how lentils can be a comfort food, and he said he thinks it’s the cream, not the lentils, but whatever. It’s good. If you can’t eat dairy, you could probably substitute the cream with coconut milk or cream.

Carrot Soup and bread. The first time I made this, TSH was impressed that he liked it, because he “did not have high expectations.” Anyway, I make it when I have an excess of carrots.

The additional recipes

Tangy Cole Slaw Dressing (originally from the Taste of Home Cookbook. Use half a cabbage, plus whatever vegetables you want, all shredded or finely cut, and mix dressing ingredients together before pouring over vegetables. This gets better if it has a little time in the fridge to soak up the dressing.)

½ cup cider vinegar

¼ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

¼ teaspoon paprika

Tortilla Recipe (if you have a little extra time, these are really good. I substitute 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon coconut oil for the half cup plus shortening in her recipe.)

Let me know if you make any of these!


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Fridge Finds: What’s (Really) Cooking #5

My friend Meredith has her blog post up at The White Pages, and she forgot about it until this morning, so there is no hypocrisy there. We are talking real food from real housewives with part-time jobs, folks.

She may be having a rough week, but this girl has whipped me up some ziti and veggies, turkey tetrazzini, and creamy Italian chicken when I was having a rough week or had just had a kid, so I know she’s good at coming through when it counts and keeping people fed. Totally unrelated, but she also runs marathons. Crazy.

Anyway, check out her post here.


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Fridge Finds: What’s (Really) Cooking #4

This week’s installment of fridge finds is from Elissa at Winding Down with the Whiteds. Elissa’s husband was in grad school the same time as us, but finished a couple months before TSH, and they moved across the country. Then a few months later, we moved to a completely different part of the country. We are now nearly as far from them as we can be in America. Our best hope for meeting again is back in Blacksburg. Alas. 😦

They have a toddler as well–apparently this is a trend among my friends–so are all about quick prep meals, which I definitely appreciate. Check out her meal plan!