Strawberry’s first sewing experience


Some of you may be tiring of the project posts, but that’s a large part of our focus right now and I feel I must blog these memories.

Since the older two girls have begun machine sewing, Strawberry has been asking me to teach her to sew. Strawberry is eight, almost nine, and I’ve really never taught her any sewing skills until now. Today she brought me a basket of fabric scraps while the little kids were napping, and we sat down to begin learning some basics. I taught her how to hand stitch, and she caught on quickly. Then she asked if she could make a dress for her doll.

We laid a pre-made dress on top of the fabric as a loose pattern, cut the pieces out, and Strawberry began stitching them together. Not long after, we had a simple, rustic looking, dress. To accessorize – and mask the doll’s messy hair – we made her a scarf, and decided it looked very Fiddler on the Roof-like. After singing a few lines of “Matchmaker,” we decided to continue adding to the peasant style look, and cut a simple apron for the doll.


Being her first project, I didn’t care about having her finish raw edges or anything. My goal was for her to have fun and produce something she liked.

Mission accomplished!


Family Tree Sign: Woodwork/Art Project


Happy thinks he might like to be a carpenter when he grows up, and has been asking if he can start doing some woodworking projects. Not the kits for cars and clocks like we’ve gotten him at the craft store, but true, man’s work, woodworking. Now, this boy is only ten years old and changes his career aspirations often, so I never know which interest is going to stick long-term. Maybe he WILL be a carpenter, or maybe he’ll do something else. Either way, I believe woodworking skills are a valuable thing, and I want to encourage him in his pursuit. So we began to look for some good, real-life, projects.

As I was searching for simpler projects for a beginner, and landed on Ana White’s Starter Projects. I have been an admirer of Ana White’s furniture for some time, but always in a “WOW! She’s amazing/I wish I could do that/maybe some day I’ll try one of these” sort of way.  This time, I went in with the mindset that we might actually do one. The projects looked too awesome to be easy, but as I clicked on the pages of instructions, I saw that they were truly doable… even for us! I found myself believing that these plans could help us give our son a woodshop education, while building things that are useful and valuable.

I selfishly suggested one project in particular… a piece of art work. You see, we have a large staircase with a big, empty wall. It looked so lonely and in need of a very large wall hanging. I had been trying to find the perfect thing to fill it, but had been unsuccessful. When I spotted this beautiful family tree sign on Ana White’s page, I explained to my son how this could be a useful project for us to do together. He liked it, and we enlisted my husband and Handyman to help.

We started with 6 cedar fencing slats and two furring strips, bought and cut in half at a big box store. Total cost was somewhere between $20-30, and would eventually result in a 4′ by 8′ sign. Just before my husband headed out on a business trip, he helped the boys get started. He directed (and assisted where needed) our sons in lining up the boards and attaching the furring strips to the back to hold the boards together. In particular, he had Happy do as much of the work as possible. The guys started to prepare the wood, and my husband had to leave for his trip while they were in this stage of the project. Now, my boys are much more adept than I am in this realm, so I mostly left them alone. I only popped in occasionally to take some pictures throughout the process.

Cedar board before sanding.


They took turns sanding.


After sanding… So smooth!


Before he had left, my husband had instructed us to buy an extra furring strip, and attach it the middle of the sign to help everything lay flatter. We did. The guys used liquid nails, then drilled screws to attach the furring strip to each board.

firring strips

Furring strip clamped, and all wood dust wiped clean.


Nothing like a quick game of driveway hockey while waiting for the wood to dry. :)


Here it is with holes filled in, sanded, clean, and dry. All ready for stain!


Staining. We used Rustoleum Ultimate Stain in American Walnut.


Wiping off stain. It had to be wiped off after only 1-2 minutes, so the boys worked together to keep the momentum going.


The next day, stain was complete and dry. Now the art part came into the project, and I began to intervene. :)

Starting a tree.


Adding some branches.


Happy and I worked together on the leaves.


I printed out some lettering on paper, placed the paper on the wood, and used a ball-point pen to trace the lettering onto the wood. The pen pressed into the wood, leaving a light imprint, which you can just barely see below.


Then I used the imprint as a guide to paint the lettering. Our last name, which I blurred out, is actually in blue.


I read about this method at That’s My Letter, and I think it is genius!

I tried and failed to carve a heart and our initials in the tree trunk with a pocketknife. The knife pulled too much paint up with it, so I had to scrape out the heart and repaint that area. Rather than attempting to carve the heart again, I painted it instead with some leftover brown house paint.


Next I make two bird silhouettes, one slightly larger than the other. I used the larger silhouette to trace two birds that represent my husband and me. I used the smaller one to trace nine more birds… our babies. :)


I outlined them in blue paint, the same blue used for our name lettering.


Then enlisted the girls to help fill in the birds.




The little birdies in front of their sign. :)


And the finished project hanging on the wall.


I love it! The perfect piece for the space, and very special since it represents us. I can’t believe we were able to actually make something so pretty and professional ourselves. We are grateful to Ana White’s step-by-step instructions for showing us how. The only change we made was the overall size (ours being 4′x6′, and hers was 3′x5′). I would absolutely attempt more of her projects, and Happy is already planning which one he wants to do next!

Sewing Project: Ruffle Skirts!



One of the best things about summer is the extra time available to learn new skills and do projects that the school year leaves little time for! Remember last year when our summer homeschool project was an in-depth cooking class? This summer my plan has been to teach my kids to sew. Writer and Cowgirl both desired to become proficient with their skills so that they can sew clothing (they love fashion!) but even the boys needed, and actually WANTED, to learn some basics like sewing a button and mending a tear.

We had a late start this year, considering that last year our cooking class ran from April through August, but we finally got started last week. Better late than never, right? I have done very little with the boys so far, but I promise we’ll get there. The girls have had some exposure to sewing… basic hand stitching, a few small projects that involved straight lines on a machine, and our Christmas stockings last year. However, I am not very good at sewing, and it feels rather like the blind leading the blind. In many ways, we are learning together!

Because my own skills are lacking, I am using a DVD series called Threads: Teach Yourself to Sew to help us along. Several seasons are available, but we have only purchased the first one so far. Before we began any projects, we all watched the entire DVD together, about 2 1/2 hours of video that we watched over the course of two or three days. The DVD was an excellent, thorough introduction. It taught all about:

  • Equipment
  • Notions
  • Patterns
  • Stitches
  • Fabric
  • Seams
  • Darts
  • Edges
  • Hems
  • Bias Binding
  • Zippers
  • Buttons
  • Buttonholes
  • Snaps and Hooks
  • Sleeves
  • Pressing

It was a lot of information (for us, anyways!) and we know we’ll need to watch parts again in the future, but the more we watched, the more familiar we became with terms and methods. It was so helpful to watch the instructor expertly demonstrate the sewing techniques. This, I felt, was the next best thing to actually having an experienced seamstress sitting side by side to show us how.




The day after we finished viewing the DVD, we jumped into sewing with both feet. A few months prior, I had used a Marie Madeline gift card to purchase a pattern for the Gracie Ruffle Skirt. We decided to start there. Looking back, maybe I should have started with something a little smaller and easier. At the same time, making this skirt did give us experience using quite a few sewing techniques, not only seams and hemming, but also gathering methods for ruffles, and making an elastic waist.

Regardless of whether this was a wise choice for a first project, the skirts took us only three days (mostly during naptimes for the little ones) and the results are beautiful. Writer made a two-ruffle skirt for Princess, and Cowgirl made a three-ruffle skirt for Strawberry. Giving the smaller project to my older daughter actually worked out well, because after being given some guidance (and sometimes giving guidance as we scratched our heads trying to figure out exactly what the instructions meant!) she was able to work independently much of the time while I devoted more time to work with Cowgirl.




The Finished Projects


Strawberry loves her skirt! She really, really loves Elsa’s dress in the movie, Frozen, and I think this inspired her choice of blue fabrics!





Her skirt fits a little large right now. We were torn between making a size 7/8 or 10/12, but since she will turn nine in few weeks, we decided to go with the 10/12. I think it will likely fit her better in a few months to a year, but it is definitely wearable now, too!


Pattern size options started at 2/3, so that is what we chose for Princess. We also made hers with only two ruffles. The elastic waist is cut based on her measurements. Her skirt fits perfectly!






Isn’t she cute as a button?

Our next projects will likely be more simple. We want to make cloth bread bags next week, since the girls have developed a love of baking bread, and we don’t want to keep tearing through plastic wrap or foil. We’ve also found a variety of free directions online for simple and adorable dresses that they want to try. After the ruffle skirts, I think they can likely handle those easier projects largely on their own, so I can work with the boys and younger kids on some simple mending skills.

I expect it will be fun!


Homemade Waterproof Sunscreen

2014-07-08_10.21.49 Relocating to a hot climate, in summer, to a house with a swimming pool, almost made me want to give “sunscreen” its very own budget category. I thought that I had stocked up well at Target shortly after our move, but apparently 6 or 8 bottles of sunscreen spray just wasn’t going to cut it. We ran out in less than a month! Thankfully, my two sisters-in-law passed along a recipe for homemade sunscreen that came from Wellness Mama. Not only is this better on the skin with no potentially harmful chemicals, it works great and will likely save us a lot of money. I haven’t done the math, but after making 24 bars of sunscreen, I’ve barely made a dent in my ingredients! Want to give it a try? Here’s how!

Homemade Sunscreen Bars

Makes 12 cupcake sized bars


  • 1c. coconut oil
  • 1c. shea butter
  • 1c. beeswax pellets
  • 2T. zinc oxide powder (Non-nano powder is recommended. Nano sized particles are very fine, and controversial as some people believe they can be absorbed into the bloodstream.)
  • 1t. vitamin E oil
  • Optional: a few drops of lavender or vanilla for scent (We used vanilla. You can use most oils for whatever scent you like, but not citrus oils as they react badly in sunlight.)


  1. Melt oils, butter, and wax together. I did this in an old pan, over low heat on the stove.
  2. Stir in zinc oxide.
  3. Pour mixture into a muffin tin or cups.
  4. Let cool.

A little more about our experience

I’ll warn you that the beeswax will make the pan or bowl very hard to clean. I keep an old pan around, that I use just for making household products. Since I never use this particular pan for cooking, I don’t care much about messy residue.

I used silicone muffin tins to shape my bars. The bars popped out easily with no residue.


We keep two or three bars at a time in a Rubbermaid container.


The extra bars are stored in a ziplock in the refrigerator.


To apply, I glide the sunscreen bar over the skin, then gently rub it in.



For faces, I rub it on my hands first, then gently rub it on the face.


Same with ears.


Side note: Please excuse Princess’ too-small bathing suit. One of the other children dressed our 15 month old girl in a a size 3-6 month suit, and I figured it would do for today! She’s a petite little thing, but the suit is way too teeny for her now! :)

Now back to sunscreen.

This sunscreen is pretty well waterproof, but does need re-applied occasionally. Here is a photo of Princess after an hour in the pool. You can kind of see that the water is still beaded on the oil.



We have gone swimming for two hours between applications with no redness. One day I went for three hours, and started to get a little pink. It wasn’t bad, but I don’t think I’d let the children go that long without reapplying.

We have a small outdoor refrigerator where we keep our container. We accidentally left it out in the sun once and it melted, but was still easy to apply. We scooped a little on our fingertips and rubbed it in just   like a traditional bottle of suntan lotion. Today I did it on purpose just for the picture below, and I actually really like the texture.


I love this stuff and am so thankful to my sisters for sharing the recipe! So easy, non-toxic, smells amazing, and inexpensive by comparison to purchasing bottle after bottle! Better still, this recipe has a long shelf life. My sister-in-law has been using the same batch for three years, and it is still effective!

What kind of sunscreen is your favorite?

Fighting for Freedom, Fighting with Freedom

Felicitations from Writer! I wrote this essay in honor of the upcoming holiday, hoping that it might help us as Christians to have the right perspective while we celebrate our blessing of independence. Hope you like it! May the Fourth be with every Star Wars fan, and may everyone else have a wonderful Fourth of July! :)

Whatever is a Christian to do in the land of the free?

The Fourth of July celebrates one main theme: freedom. Independence, liberty, whatever anyone may call it, has been in the blood of Americans for centuries. They are willing to fight to the death to stay free from “tyranny,” as stated in our very own Declaration of Independence, and to secure “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The First Amendment to the Constitution itself promises freedom of speech, press, religion, and petition, and the other amendments that follow protect many other rights of Americans.

Yet this endowment of freedom begs questions that Christians must answer. Why has God chosen to bless American Christians with such liberty? What should we use our freedom for? The answer is simple. God has blessed Christians in America with freedom so that they in turn can bless others.

To see where this idea first came from, travel back to the first few centuries AD. The apostles explain in their letters to the church that their freedom from the Levitical law is for others’ benefit, not their own. In the Old Testament, specifically in the Pentateuch, God laid out specific laws on numerous subjects, from feasting at festivals to dealing with diseases to sowing seed every spring. The law was strict and rigid, and the Israelites often failed; no one could follow all the rules, all the time, all of his or her life. After Jesus died and resurrected, he annulled the law for Christians, who trust Jesus to save them from eternal punishment. The apostles later explained in their God-breathed letters that Christians should use this liberty to serve others. In Galatians 5:13, Paul says it perfectly: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” In short, that is how God told us to use our freedom.

Traveling forward to the eighteenth century, Christians, or anyone else for that matter, can find an excellent example in the founding fathers of America. These admirable men declared independence from England, and they fought for the good of a new nation, using their new, dearly bought freedom to ensure liberty for following generations. After suffering through a terrible Revolutionary War, the founding fathers went on to complete the formidable task of building an entirely government. They attended wearying meetings to set up their new nation. They wrote and rewrote documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They did not write these powerful pieces simply for their own benefit. They wanted to prevent the new American government from becoming tyrannical and oppressive like the English government had acted toward them. They were using their freedom to protect the American people. The founding fathers have set yet another outstanding example; they show us the powerful impact Christians make when they use their liberty to help others.

Not only can this application of freedom establish a new country, it can also root out evil in a country already established. Look at the next century after Washington and Franklin, when the Civil War broke out, and see another example. The abolitionists used their blessing of freedom to help the slaves escape oppression in the South. Slavery had been in existence since the days of Prince Henry the Navigator in the fifteenth century, when Europeans began exploring down the coast of Africa and kidnapping Africans to be their slaves. No one had yet done anything about the horror of slavery until white abolitionists began using their general freedom that they already had to help runaway slaves find freedom in Canada, their freedom of speech to protest through speeches and books, and eventually their right to bear arms to fight a bloody war. These dedicated abolitionists, whether Christians or not, used their freedom to eradicate the huge sin of slavery in the United States.

Finally, Jesus himself set a powerful example which Christians are to emulate. He had all the freedom in the world and more; he was all-powerful and all-good, with no need to die for sin. Yet he chose to die for human sin, giving up his freedom so that sinners can be free. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Again, in 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” If Jesus used his freedom for Christians, so should they use their freedom for others.

Perhaps it is not the American dream. Perhaps it is not our first thought to “waste” or choose not to exercise our freedom, all for the sake of others. Yet this is what Christians should do. They must use their freedom to bless and serve other people. When Christians use their liberty for the good of others, nations are forged, solidified, sanctified, and united- and it always results in more freedom with which to serve.

“Let north and south- let all Americans- let all lovers of liberty everywhere- join in the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving. We shall have so saved it, that the succeeding millions of free happy people, the world over, shall rise up, and call us blessed, to the latest generations.”

Abraham Lincoln