An Active Family’s Guide to Keeping Laundry Fresh

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser.  All opinions are mine alone.  #SparkleWithGain #ILoveGain #CollectiveBias

Laundry.  Piles and piles of laundry.  If your family is as active and busy as ours, you know what I’m talking about.  Between my husband’s gym clothes, my yoga clothes, and my oldest daughter’s sports outfits, we go through a lot of laundry.  Factor in my 5-year-old’s need to change into 12 different outfits a day and my son’s super-human ability to sweat at the first hint of activity, and we keep our laundry room really busy.

I used to hate this particular chore because it just felt so mundane and never-ending.  To make things even worse, sometimes I would pull a load out of the dryer to fold it and notice that it didn’t smell clean.  It seemed like the odors I was trying so hard to get out of our clothes somehow ended up ingrained into the fabric permanently after being washed and dried.  Something had to change.  After a lot of trial and error, I finally figured out some tips for truly getting our laundry clean and fresh every time.

  • Wash wet or smelly items as soon as possible.

    This might seem like a hassle, but it makes a big difference.  The longer unpleasant odors and damp clothes are allowed to sit, the harder it is to get them really clean.  I learned this the hard way.  I remember actually having to throw away someone’s favorite t-shirt after multiple washes because it just never smelled clean.  If you can’t wash something right away, be sure it is in a laundry hamper or bag that is breathable until it can be washed so it has a chance to air out and dry.

  • Use a good detergent.

    This is a big one.  We’ve tried so many different detergents over the years, from incredibly cheap bargain detergents to well-known brands, and there really is a difference.  My absolute favorite liquid laundry detergent is Gain Fresh Water Sparkle™.  It smells heavenly!  One cap of Gain liquid laundry detergent keeps clothes smelling fresh from wash until wear for up to 6 weeks.  It would take a 50 oz. bottle of the leading baking soda detergent to provide that much freshness.  I love that the cap is clear so you can actually see how much detergent you are using and know you are getting the right amount for each load.

    All Gain Fresh Water Sparkle™ products are exclusive to Dollar General, and you’ll want to try all the great laundry products in this scent.  For extra savings, check out these coupons. If you want to make doing laundry even simpler, try the new Gain flings!™ laundry pacs in Fresh Water Sparkle™.

    Gain flings!™ are packed with 50% more scent than Gain liquid laundry detergent.   Just place the pac into the drum of the washer before adding your clothes, using more than one pac for larger loads.  No pouring or measuring required, and the pacs contain everything you need for a load of extra clean, great-smelling clothes.  Doing laundry has never been so easy!

    They dissolve in hot or cold water, so you can use them for any temperature setting.  Even our stinkiest clothes and towels come out smelling amazingly fresh after using Gain flings!™.  Plus, they make doing laundry so easy!  Both Gain liquid laundry detergent and Gain flings!™ are compatible with regular and HE washing machines.  As always, keep laundry products away from children.

  • Don’t overfill the washer.

    It’s so tempting to squeeze in just one more towel, or pair of jeans, or sweatshirt, or whatever.  Don’t do it!  Don’t exceed your washing machine’s maximum capacity for each load size because your clothes won’t come out as clean as they should.  They need plenty of space to move around in lots of water if you want them to get as clean and fresh as possible.  Plus, a huge load of laundry takes much longer to dry, often more than one cycle.  If you’re like me and you often forget to turn it back on right away, your clothes could end up smelling like mildew.  And who wants to start the whole load over again?

  • For ultra-smelly loads, use an extra boost of freshness.

Let’s face it–sometimes you end up with things that are just extra stinky.  Your kid’s gym clothes that were left in a locker all weekend, or wet towels in your trunk from swimming three days ago, or a sweaty shirt shoved under a bed from who knows when.  These situations require a little more odor-fighting power than regular loads.  That’s why I’m so glad I found Gain Fireworks™ In-Wash Scent Booster Beads in Fresh Water Sparkle™ scent.  Gain Fireworks™ are scent beads that give your clothes an extra boost of scent.  Simply sprinkle the beads into the drum of your washer before adding your clothes.  The more you add, the fresher your clothes will smell!  My husband loves it when I use these.  He can’t get enough of the Fresh Water Sparkle™ scent, and when I add Gain Fireworks™ he always comments on how amazing his clothes smell.

  • Always use a dryer sheet.

    This not only makes clothes smell great, it also keeps static at bay, reduces wrinkles, and makes things feel extra soft.  I always toss in a Gain Dryer Sheet in Fresh Water Sparkle™ scent to finish off the laundry routine the right way.  Folding laundry never smelled so good!

Head over and pick up all of these great Gain Fresh Water Sparkle™ products exclusive to Dollar General stores.  For extra savings on Dollar General’s already low prices, click here.  Add the new Gain flings!™ laundry pacs and Gain Fireworks™ In-Wash Scent Booster Beads in Fresh Water Sparkle™ scent to your laundry routine and your clothes will be fresher than ever.

My local Dollar General store had all the Gain products I was looking for in a convenient place so I was able to quickly stock up on all the things I needed in Fresh Water Sparkle™ scent.

Do you have more laundry tips for getting clothes smelling fresh and clean?  Share your ideas with us in the comments!

DIY Cat Supply Cabinet

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CelebratingMorris #CollectiveBias

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know I absolutely adore my two cats, Edmund and Phil.  Of course, that means we have lots of cat-related items in the house.  Until recently, we always just kept cat food near the back door where it was accessible but not very organized, and other things like flea medicines just got stashed randomly on a shelf in the laundry room.  We didn’t really have a great place to keep all of our cat supplies and food in one central location.  As a bit of an organizational enthusiast, this lack of order really started to bother me, but I didn’t have any brilliant ideas about how to get it organized.

Both of our cats love 9Lives® cat food, and we always have a variety of 9Lives wet and dry food in our house.  We’re big fans of anything related to 9Lives because they are dedicated to the health and happiness of cats everywhere.  Why?  Because 9Lives believes your cat deserves to be happy.  Well, this year Morris the 9Lives cat is celebrating his 50th Adopt-i-versary!   So in honor of Morris, I decided to create the perfect organizational solution to our problem out of an old cabinet.  Using just a few inexpensive supplies, I was able to turn this…

into this…

But first, Morris has quite a story.  He was discovered by an animal talent scout at the Humane Society in Hinsdale, Illinois, who immediately noticed his charming personality.  At his audition, Morris was so charming that the art director declared him “the Clark Gable of cats”, and he soon became the spokescat for 9Lives, starring in over 50 commercials and even appearing in a film with Burt Reynolds. Despite his fame, Morris has always had a social conscience.  He has spent much of his time visiting schools to promote kindness to animals, and he also launched Morris’ Million Cat Rescue to help find homes for animals in need.   That’s worth celebrating, right?  To see more about the story of Morris and his 50th Adopt-i-versary, check out this adorable video, or get to know his Cat Pack (yes, he’s that cool) in this article.

Today I’ll show you how to make your very own DIY cat supply cabinet that will give you one place to keep all your cat food, flea medicines, brushes, and everything else feline-related. Plus, it will look nice enough to make Morris proud!

Let’s get started!  You’ll need a few basic supplies:

  • An old cabinet
  • Paint in a color you love
  • Chalkboard paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Painter’s tape
  • Sandpaper (if needed)
  • A container for dry food
  • Small shelves, baskets, or bins to corral small supplies

First, remove any drawer pulls or knobs and put them in a safe place.

Next, you can sand your cabinet (if needed) and wipe clean with a damp cloth to remove dust and grime.  Then it’s time to get painting!  Paint all surfaces that will be your main color, being careful to catch any drips before they dry.

When the first coat is dry, add a second coat if necessary.  When all coats are completely dry and no longer sticky, you can tape around the areas that you want to paint with a chalkboard surface.

Chalkboard paint can be tricky to use, so be sure to read all instructions carefully.  Following the directions, paint your chalkboard surfaces with 2-3 coats, allowing paint to dry between applications.  To create the smoothest writing surface possible, start in the center with a liberal amount of paint and try to overlap all brush marks.  It should now look something like this:

Now the paint needs to cure.  This means you simply leave it alone for three days.  Three WHOLE days.  That may seem like a long time to wait, but if you rush it the surface won’t be as smooth for writing on.  After it has cured, it’s time to prepare the surfaces with chalk.  Lay a piece of white chalk on its side and rub over the entire chalkboard surface.

After a few seconds, erase this layer of chalk and you can start writing on your chalkboard surfaces!

Reinstall any hardware you removed from the cabinet.

Now it’s time to start organizing all your cat food and supplies.  A cereal container makes the perfect place for storing dry food, and it fits just right.  I also picked up a handy 3-tier pantry organizer at Dollar General to keep our wet food organized so that we can easily see all the flavors we have at a glance.

While I was there I also spotted these colorful trays that are perfect for holding flea meds, collars, etc. in the top portion of my cabinet.

After getting everything situated, I’m so happy with the way our new cat supply cabinet turned out.  Now all of our feline-related supplies are organized and in one place, and we won’t forget any important information regarding our cats!

Every time I go to Dollar General for 9Lives cat food, I can stock up on all of Edmund and Phil’s favorite varieties and have an organized place to keep them all.  Right now you can save even more on dry food at Dollar General with this coupon.

And if your cats are like mine and enjoy a variety of flavors, get this one for extra savings on wet food varieties like 9Lives Meaty Pate with Chicken and Tuna, Hearty Cuts Beef and Chicken in Gravy, and Super Supper.

Hopefully you’re feeling inspired to make your own DIY cat supply cabinet.  Leave us a picture in the comments if you do–we love cat-centric projects!  And be sure to visit 9Lives on Facebook to stay up to date on all the latest happenings with Morris.

 

 

 

How to Clean Practically Everything in Your House Using Only Natural Ingredients

Are you looking to reduce your family’s exposure to harmful chemicals but don’t know where or how to start?  Here is an incredibly simple guide to replacing toxic household cleaners with safe, natural alternatives, many of which you probably already have on hand.  You’ll find out how to safely clean practically every surface in your house, from the windows to the toilet and everywhere in between.  These cleaners are safe enough for kids to use, so the whole family can pitch in around the house without any concern about what they’re being exposed to.  You will still want to keep these things away from young children who might accidentally ingest them.  While perfectly safe to use for cleaning, some of these ingredients can be harmful if ingested, so make sure they will only be accessible to people who won’t try to drink them 😉

There are a few basic things you’ll need to make the switch to natural cleaning:

  • Vinegar
  • Baking Soda
  • Lemon Essential Oil
  • Various other essential oils (optional)
  • Dish Soap
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Olive Oil
  • Microfiber Cloth (or any lint-free cloth)
  • Glass Spray Bottles (plastic can break down over time from essential oils)

Using just these supplies, you can clean just about every surface in your house.  Sounds easy, right?  It really is! Here are some specific tips for tackling all of your chores with no harmful fumes or chemicals.

Dusting– This is one of those chores that’s perfect for little hands so I usually let my kids do the dusting, but I don’t want them exposed to commercial dusting sprays.  There are two all-natural dust-busters we use in our house, so I’ll share them both.

  1. The simplest method is to dampen a microfiber cloth, add 2-3 drops of lemon essential oil to the cloth, and simply wipe the surface with it.
  2. If you want extra shine, however, you can make this all-natural dusting spray that’s safe for all finished wood surfaces.  Simply add 1 cup of water, 2 T. white vinegar, 1 T. olive oil, and 15-20 drops of lemon essential oil to a glass spray bottle and shake well.  Lightly spray the surface and wipe clean with a soft cloth.

Tubs,Tile and Grout– A paste made with baking soda and a little water can make scrubbing stains from grout and tile a cinch.  Soap and water will also work on tile for everyday cleaning.

Toilets and Ceramic Sinks–  Sprinkle baking soda in sinks and toilet bowls and let it sit for up to an hour, then pour vinegar over the baking soda and scrub with a toilet brush or cloth.  The baking soda deodorizes while the vinegar sanitizes, leaving your bathroom naturally clean!

Floors (wood, vinyl, linoleum, and laminate)-  A basic solution of 1/4 C. white vinegar and 1 C. water will clean most floors easily.  For extra shine, you can also add 1 T. oil to the mix.  Spray floors with the mixture and wipe with a soft cloth or mop.  Alternatively, you can fill a bucket with 1 gallon of water and 4 cups of vinegar and mop the floor with this solution.

Marble and granite– While vinegar is an amazing natural cleaner, it should never be used on natural stone like marble and granite, which can be etched by acidic ingredients like vinegar or citrus.  Mix 1 C. water, 1/4 C. rubbing alcohol, 3-4 drops of dish soap, and 5-10 drops of any non-citrus essential oil (such as lavender, peppermint, cedarwood, etc.)  Spray on surface and wipe clean.  This solution can also be used for most floors, and it dries quickly without leaving streaks because of the alcohol.

All-purpose cleaner– If you want to keep things really simple and just have one bottle of cleaner for most jobs, this is it.  Mix 3 parts water with 1 part white vinegar in a glass spray bottle, add 15-20 drops of essential oils, and shake well.  You can use this solution to clean countertops, sinks, tubs, showers, windows, floors, and even cutting boards and appliances.  Just be sure to avoid using this one on granite or marble.

If the idea of making your own cleaners is too overwhelming, or you don’t really want your house to smell like vinegar every time you clean something, there are plenty of non-toxic, natural cleaners available to purchase.  I’ve tried several companies over the years, but my absolute favorites are from Red’s Gone Green.

Her products smell so amazing that I genuinely want to clean my house just so I can enjoy the scent of clove-cinnamon-vanilla (which smells just like chai tea) or lavender-vanilla (incredibly calming.)  Check out all of her products here.  The all-purpose cleaners (except the grapefruit-orange-lavender) are even safe on granite and marble, so you can basically reduce your whole cleaning cabinet to just one incredibly fragrant bottle!

Hopefully this is a helpful crash course on how to start swapping some of your commercial cleaners for more natural alternatives.  It really is simple and affordable to enjoy the benefits of non-toxic cleaning supplies.  Have other natural cleaning hacks or tips to share?  Leave us a comment below!

Quiet Book Tutorial-Part 2

Version 2

Hopefully you’ve seen the first part of this tutorial and are already obsessively working on your own quiet book! If not, go check it out here.  There are some tips and suggestions you might want to read before getting started. As promised, here are instructions for the rest of the pages in my book, as well as a cover.  Feel free to get as creative as you want and come up with your own page ideas, too!  I don’t have templates because I free-handed everything, so it’s all far from perfect, but that’s part of the charm 🙂

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For the Happy Spring page, you will need:

  • 2 9×9 pieces of background fabric
  • Felt or fabric for the water, branch, leaf, caterpillar, and cloud (make them whatever colors you prefer)
  • Three pieces of string or ribbon, each approx. 6 inches long
  • Beads to use as raindrops (make sure they will fit on the string or ribbon you are using)
  • 5 Velcro dots (or velcro that can be cut to fit the caterpillar pieces)

Start by cutting the fabric you’re using for the water so that it makes a pond that fits on the bottom section of your background piece.  Zig-zag stitch the top of the pond down (the rest of it will be sewn on when you put all your pages together.)  Lay the three strings onto your page at the angle you want them, making sure the spaces between them are equal.  Sew the top of each string to the background fabric, going over each one several times so the seams are strong enough to withstand a toddler’s mightiest yank.  Thread 3 (or more) beads onto each string and then sew the bottom ends to the pond, keeping the strands parallel to each other.  Cut out a cloud and stitch it directly onto the tops of the strings, leaving the bottom so that it can flap open.

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Now, cut out a branch that will fit on the bottom of the next page.  Sew it on just as you did with the pond piece.  Cut a leaf out of 2 contrasting colors (it should be about 4 inches long) and sew the smaller piece onto the larger one.  Stitch only the bottom section onto the branch so it makes a pocket, which will hold the pieces of the caterpillar.

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Trace something small and circular (such as a magnet, the end of a small flashlight, or even the cap of a hand sanitizer bottle) onto the felt that will be used for the caterpillar 6 times, using as many different colors of felt as you want.  The circles should be about 1″ in diameter.  Make a face (I used marker) on your caterpillar’s head and zig-zag stitch it onto your page about 2 inches from the left edge.  Sew the sticky side of your velcro dots onto the rest of the circles, and the other sides of the dots onto the background page in a staggered row behind the caterpillar’s head. And you’re done! The pieces of the caterpillar can now stick on the velcro dots or be placed in the leaf pocket.

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For the How Does Your Garden Grow? page you will need:

  • 2 9×9 pieces of background fabric or felt
  • Brown felt for soil, tree trunk, and basket
  • Green felt for the leaves
  • Felt for carrots, potatoes, apples, pears, a wheelbarrow, cloud, and gate
  • Velcro for the fruit (if you want it to really stick to the tree) IMG_2655

This is probably my favorite page, and my 8-year-old daughter designed and made the fruit tree side by herself!  Start by cutting a tree trunk about 7 inches tall.  Pin it in the middle of the page with the bottom of the trunk even with the bottom edge of your background, and be sure to leave space for leaves at the end of each branch.  Stitch the trunk on with a few vertical seams so it resembles bark.

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Cut out and sew on leaves, and if you have space add a cloud.  Cut out whatever fruits you want to have (apples, pears, peaches, oranges, lemons, plums, etc.) and sew a small piece of velcro (the sticky side!) onto the back of each fruit.  You won’t need velcro on the tree if it’s made of felt, but if you used another type of fabric be sure to sew some pieces on (non-sticky side) so the fruit will have a place to “hang.”  Cut out a basket big enough to hold your fruit and sew it on to the background, leaving at least 1 inch below and beside it for seam allowances.  Leave the top edge of the basket open for holding fruit.  Cut out a gate about 7 1/2 inches long and sew only the left edge onto the background about 1 inch from the left of the background piece.

Now, cut a piece of brown felt so that it fits over the bottom half of your other background piece, with a slight curve at the top.  Snip two rows of holes in the brown piece (about 1 cm. each) for “planting” the vegetables.  Stitch this piece on by sewing along the top edge and then make separate seams about 1/2 inch below each row of holes.  This is important so that your vegetables don’t slip down into the “dirt” and get stuck.   The other edges will be sewn when putting all the pages together.  Cut out a wheelbarrow and sew on, leaving the top open.  Add handles and a wheel.

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Cut out your carrots and potatoes now.  For the carrots, cut out two layers of orange and place a small stem between the layers.  Sew together with two or three small horizontal seams to make them look more realistic, making sure the stem is secure.

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For the potatoes cut out two layers of light brown felt and stitch together in the same way using darker brown thread.  “Plant” your veggies and let your little one do the harvesting!

For the Starry Campground page you will need:

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  • Two 9×9 background pieces (one felt, the other anything resembling a night sky)
  • Fabric for a tent (approx 8×8)
  • One 6 inch. zipper in a coordinating color
  • Felt for stars, campfire, sticks, marshmallows, bush, snake, moose, and sleeping bag

First, cut your tent fabric into a triangle that is 6 1/2 inches tall and approx. 6 inches wide. Fold the outer edges of the tent under about 1/4 inch and iron the folds flat. Cut this triangle vertically from the center of the bottom edge to almost the top corner, leaving about 1 inch at the top connected.  Fold each side of this opening under about 1/4 inch and iron the folds.  Hem the bottom edges of the tent along the folds.  Pin your zipper just under each of the opening folds and sew, making sure it can open and close from the bottom up.  Now top-stitch the two sides of the tent onto the background, leaving plenty of space on all sides.  If you want it to be a teepee, cut brown felt into sticks and stitch on at the top corner (I did this mainly because the top of my tent didn’t look very good and needed to be hidden a little.)

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Making the moose took a lot of trial and error, but I free-handed it (like everything else) and it turned out okay.  You could make a person or another animal instead and it would still be adorable.  So, cut out whatever critter you want inside the tent, making sure it will fit with space to spare.  Cut out a sleeping bag that just covers it (or him or her.)  Stitch these on and breathe a sigh of relief.  The hardest part of this page is done!

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The next part of this page was done almost exclusively by my daughter, and I’m pretty impressed with how it turned out. Cut out a felt basket about 2-3 inches wide and sew onto the starry background leaving the top open.  Cut some sticks out of felt and make some marshmallows to sew onto the ends. Place these inside the basket.  Cut out logs and contrasting colors of fire and sew these on as well.

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Cut out a bush and sew on only the bottom edge.  Cut out a snake (or bunny or skunk or whatever) and sew it on behind the bush.

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Cut out a few stars and stitch them around the sky.

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Now your toddler can “roast” marshmallows over a campfire and peek in on the creatures hiding at the campground.

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For the Wallet/Button Up page you will need:

  • 2 9×9 background pages (the one you plan to put on the right should be felt or something sturdy)
  • Brown felt for making a wallet (or and old wallet if you happen to have one)
  • Various pieces of felt and fabric for making shapes
  • Buttons in coordinating colors
  • Expired membership cards, empty gift cards, laminated photos, etc. to put into the wallet

This page is the undisputed favorite of my 2-year-old.  While it was still at our house, she took just the wallet part of the book everywhere for weeks.  It was also the least labor-intensive to make, so if you don’t plan to make all of these pages, this is one you will probably want to include for sure.  If you have a wallet, all you have to do is sew the back panel to the middle of your background fabric and it’s ready to go.  Add some old cards and photos, or even a dollar bill or two, and your little one might stay busy long enough for you to make the next half of this page!

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If you’re making a felt wallet, start with a 9×11 sheet of felt (preferably gray, brown, or black so it resembles a real wallet).  Lay the sheet down and fold the bottom edge up about 2 inches and pin right in the middle of this folded section (see photos.)

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Sew up the middle from the bottom edge to the top of the fold.  Now cut across the felt about 1 inch above the pockets you just created.  Lay the stitched piece on top of the other felt piece and cut across the top so you have one flat piece under the piece that was folded.

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Now, pin and sew together along the bottom and both sides, leaving the top open.

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To attach the wallet to the background, pin and sew it on along the right edge, right half of the bottom edge, and only the bottom layer of the middle line of the wallet.  I’ve marked all these places with yellow pins in the photo below.

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And your wallet is finished!

For the other side of this page, cut out three shapes from different fabrics and then cut a piece of felt to go on the back of each.  Pin the two pieces of each with the wrong sides together and sew, leaving a hole big enough to turn it right side out.  Turn each shape right side out and sew the small hole closed.  IMG_2631

Choose the buttons you will use and snip a hole in each shape the right size for your buttons.  Using the buttonhole setting, stitch around each buttonhole.  (Or if you know a better way, please share it with me!  This was my first time making buttonholes so you probably know how to do this much better than I do, and if you look closely you’ll see that my stitches are not very pretty.)  Lay the shapes on your background piece, making sure to leave at least 1 1/2 inches on each side for a seam allowance.  Mark where your buttons will go and then sew them onto the background. Button the shapes into place, and your last page is finished!!!

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For the cover, you will need:

  • 2 matching 9×9 pieces of fabric, plus two 2×5 pieces of the same fabric
  • One snap or button
  • Felt for cutting out a name, pictures, or any other designs you want to add to the cover
  • Large eyelets (enough to put 2 on each completed page)
  • Large eyelet tool and hammer
  • Large rings
  • Single hole puncher (optional)

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Start by choosing a design for the cover and cutting it out.  I wanted to keep it simple so I just put the name on the front, but you can be as detailed and creative as you want.  Just make sure, as always, to leave a seam allowance around all the edges.  Pin and sew your design on the front.

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Now is a good time to look through all your pages and make sure they’re in the right order.  Then pin the front cover to the first activity page (if you’re following this tutorial exactly that will be the one with a boy or girl and his/her bed) right sides together and sew around the edges, leaving about 2-3 inches open on the side that will be on the left when the book is closed.  Flip right side out and stitch closed.   This photo shows the eyelets already in but you will add them later.

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And your front cover is done.

To make the closure, lay your 2 x 5 pieces right sides together and sew around the two long edges and one short edge.  Turn right side out.  It should look something like this.

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Now, lay your back cover page face up, then place the closure you just made on the left edge of the cover piece with the open end sticking out about 1 inch.  Then place the last activity page face down over the cover piece so the right sides are together.  Pin and sew all the way around, leaving about 2-3 inches open on the right (which will be the side with the eyelets later.)

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Turn right side out and stitch closed like you did for the front.  You should have a back cover with a flap sticking out of the right side now.   Being careful to keep all your pages in the right order, pin and sew each page to one that will be on the other side of it in just the same way so that you end up with finished edges on every front/back combination.  For example, the dresser page will be sewn onto the clothesline page, the washing machine will be sewn to the sled page, etc.  The most important things to remember for this part are to keep them in the right order, and to make sure they’re all positioned correctly (you don’t want anything to end up upside down!)

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Once that’s finished, it’s time to add your eyelets so you can hook all the pages together.  Start by measuring two inches up from the bottom of the front cover about 1/2 inch from the left side.  Lay an eyelet directly above the measuring tape and trace inside the eyelet to mark where your hole will go.

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Do the same two inches from the top.

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Now cut out the holes you marked.  I found the easiest way to do this was with a hole puncher, but you can also try scissors or an X-acto knife.

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Follow the package instructions for inserting your eyelets.  Here is the way mine worked.  Insert the bottom part of the eyelet in the hole and place the top part on the other side of the hole.  Place the anchor piece below the top part and place the tall part of the tool on the bottom.  Hammer the tool gently 2 or 3 times until the eyelet is secure.

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To make sure all the holes line up, lay the cover over the next page and trace through the eyelet holes.  Then do the same thing for inserting eyelets in each page.

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When all eyelets are inserted, hook the pages together with the rings.

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The final step is to sew a snap onto the closure so the book will stay closed.  Fold the flap over the front cover and mark where you will place each piece of the snap.  Stitch on with strong thread, and you’re done!!!

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Now share your photos with the rest of us so we can all celebrate your huge accomplishment!

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Quiet Book Tutorial-Part 1

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My cousin ,who is really more like a sister, recently had her first baby and she wanted someone to make a quiet book for him.  So, my 8-year-old daughter and I decided to take on the challenge.  After months of working on it little by little (because, let’s face it, that’s how projects go when you’re a mom), we finally finished it!  I’m so excited to share the tutorial with you and I hope it will inspire you to start your own.  But be forewarned:  it is ADDICTIVE and you won’t want to do anything else once you start.  If you’re like me, you might even lay awake at night planning new pages and losing precious sleep, but it will be worth it. I know some of you will want to make one similar to this, so I’m including instructions for each page I made, but if you have other ideas to try out, go for it!  Half the fun is in designing your own. There are no templates because I freehanded everything, but if I can do it, believe me, you can too.

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Here are some things to consider BEFORE you get started:

  • What age child will be using the book?  This will help you determine what activities (buttoning, lacing, zipping, snapping, moving things back and forth, matching, learning numbers, letters, etc.) will be age-appropriate.  Also, make sure not to include small parts that could pose a choking risk if the child is still very young.  This book will probably be ideal for a toddler who is between 2 and 3 (my almost-3-year-old has tested every page out and can do all the activities without help).
  • What size should the book be?  I cut my fabric pieces 9″x 9″ so the pages are slightly smaller than that once they’re sewn together, but you might want to make it smaller if it will mostly be used on the go or larger if you are planning to fit lots of things on each page (like the entire alphabet or a road for felt cars to drive on, for example).
  • How much time do you want to invest?  A quiet book can literally take months, or it can be a much shorter project if you don’t make it too detailed.  Either way, it can provide hours of fun for a child, so decide how much time you honestly want to spend on it and you’ll be more likely to finish.

Once you’ve thought about these things, it’s time to get started.

Step 1:  Plan your pages.  It’s really helpful to make a list of what pages you want to include and what activities you will put on each page.  I didn’t want to have to use interfacing to make the pages sturdier, so I made sure to end up with one felt background and one regular fabric background sewn together (see photo).

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This makes the pages sturdy enough without having to mess with an extra layer, but you have to plan a little to make it work.  Or you could make all your backgrounds felt to simplify things.

Step 2:  Gather your supplies.  Make a list of what supplies you need for each page.  Don’t forget things like thread, velcro, specific colors of felt, background fabrics, grommets, etc.  There were so many times I had to stop in the middle of something because I hadn’t thought it through enough to get everything I needed.  Don’t do this to yourself! *Felt is much easier to work with than most other fabrics because it doesn’t fray and you won’t have to stitch around the edges like you otherwise would, so plan to use lots of it if you want to save time.

Step 3:  Get to work!  Here are instructions for the first three pages in my book.  (The rest will follow soon!)

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For the Dress Me page you will need:

  • 2 9×9 background pages (felt or other fabric)
  • 4 1/2 x 3 in. piece of pillow fabric
  • 5×6 in. rectangle of blanket fabric
  • Contrasting brown felt for the dresser (2 shades)
  • Various felt colors for clothing
  • Felt for the boy, his hair, and his undies
  • Small amount of fiberfill for the pillow

Start by hemming one 6-inch edge of the blanket fabric.  Pin the other three edges under and onto your felt about one inch from the bottom of the felt and sew (leaving the top edge open for the boy to fit under).  Fold the pillow piece in half right sides together and sew around the edges, leaving a small space open.  Turn right side out, fill with fiberfill, and sew closed.  Sew the two short sides onto the felt background just above the blanket.  Cut out a dresser shape, drawers, and knobs.  Sew the pieces together and then stitch the sides and bottom to your other background page, leaving the top open.

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Cut out the shape of a boy (I only made him one layer but I would strongly recommend cutting two layers and sewing them together before you make the rest of him so he will be sturdier.) Now cut out hair for the back and front of his head.  I did this by laying him over dark brown felt and cutting around his head, just slightly larger, and then cutting a front piece to fit over just his forehead.  Use the same technique for cutting out his underwear.  Now pin the hairpieces and the two underwear pieces on and sew with whatever color thread you want to use.  (I hand-stitched the hair and used my machine for the underwear.)  You can either take the easy route and draw on a face with a permanent marker, or you could stitch on his features.  As you can see, I went for the lazy way.  Finally, you can lay him on different colors of felt and cut out various types of clothing for him: PJs, sports jerseys, jeans and t-shirts, etc.

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Be as creative as you want!  I wanted to add a mirror above the dresser but couldn’t find anything that would work for that.  If you do it, post a picture so we can all admire your handiwork!

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For the Laundry Time page you will need:

  • 2 9×9 in. background pieces
  • Felt for the poles, washing machine, and clothes
  • Fabric (or felt) for the laundry basket
  • String or ribbon (approx 10 in.) and mini clothespins OR a strip of velcro about 8 in. long (go with the velcro option if this will be used by a very small child as the clothespins could pose a choking risk)

 

Cut out laundry poles about 5 1/2 in. tall and snip a tiny hole near the top of each one.  Sew them on at a slight angle, leaving the hole at the top.  Thread your string through each hole and pull until it hangs down slightly, then tie each side really well.  Hook on your clothespins.  (Alternatively, sew a strip of velcro (the sticky side) between the tops of the two poles and the felt clothing will stick without clothespins.)

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The grass on my page was added because I had to fix something on the page behind it after they were sewn together, but if you want to add some, I would suggest placing it closer to the bottom of the page.  Now, cut a 4×4 square of felt for the washer and fold in half to cut out a large circle from the middle.  Cut your vinyl to be a circle slightly larger than the hole in your square and then cut a coordinating color of felt to fit around the edges of your vinyl circle. (Confusing, I know.  See the photo below.)

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Now sew the felt circle onto the vinyl.  Sew the outer edges of the washing machine square onto the background and then sew the left side of the vinyl door onto the washer.  Add velcro to keep it closed.  Now cut out a laundry basket and hem the top edge.  Zig-zag stitch the sides and bottom of the basket so it sits on the washer.  Cut out some fun clothes and you’re done!

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For the Winter Wonderland page you will need:

  • 2 9×9 in. pieces of snowy-looking fabric
  • White felt or fleece for the snow and the snowman
  • Felt for the hat rack, hats, arms, nose, and sled
  • String or ribbon (I would suggest ribbon) approx. 10 inches
  • Snaps for the hats

Start by laying out the white fleece over the snowy background and cutting a blanket of snow for both pages (be sure to make one side slope for the sled to “slide” down).  Zig-zag stitch the top edge of each snowy piece onto the background.  The other sides will be sewn down when you attach all the pages later.  Cut out three circles for the snowman and zig-zag stitch them on one at a time, starting with the biggest and working your way up.  Remember to leave a seam allowance!

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Cut out and sew on arms, a nose, and eyes.  Cut out a felt hat rack about 7-8 inches tall and stitch on.  Sew the back half of a snap on the snowman’s head and also on each end of the hat rack.  Make various hats to fit on the snowman and add the front part of a snap to the back of each, first making sure the placement will work. (You don’t want the snowman’s eyes to be covered when he’s wearing any of his hats!)

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Cut out two identical pieces of red felt in the shape of a sled and stitch them together with two parallel lines down the middle with a small space in between.  Thread your ribbon (or string) into the space so it can move up and down and sew the ends of the ribbon to the edges of the page, going over them a few times to get a strong seam.

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And that’s it!

There are instructions for 4 more pages, plus a cover, coming soon.  I hope you’ll be inspired and get to work on your own quiet book!

 

 

 

 

Why I Decided a Pet Was Worth the Trouble…Again

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MorrisKnowsBest #CollectiveBias

If you ask my son about his siblings, he’ll tell you he has two sisters and two brothers. The sisters are both regular human girls, but the “brothers” he’s referring to are our cats, Edmund and Phil. And the funny thing is he isn’t the only one who thinks of the cats as important members of the family. We all love these little guys more than I ever dreamed possible. I never knew I was a cat person until we rescued Edmund from a shelter two years ago.  He was a sweet, playful little kitten and we all loved him from day one.  He brought so much fun and joy into our household.  It left us wondering why we hadn’t adopted a pet years earlier.   But we were perfectly content with one pet and never even considered adopting another.  We had no idea that it wouldn’t be long before we took the plunge again.

One day, we were outside and a tiny gray tabby cat just wandered over to us looking completely adorable.  He was friendly and affectionate with beautiful green eyes and the softest fur ever.  The kids were all so excited and begged to keep him.  I was certain my husband wouldn’t want to mess with adopting another pet, so I dismissed the idea and started asking around the neighborhood to try to find his owner.  After all, we already had a cat.  What if they didn’t get along?  And adopting another pet means vet visits, added expenses, more responsibility…It just seemed like too much trouble.

No one claimed him, and he took up residence on our back porch and made himself right at home, while we were still trying to find him a home somewhere else.  Thinking he was a girl (we hadn’t bothered to check), my son named him Phyllis.  My kids would call him and he would jump right up on their laps and purr like crazy.  My youngest would pick him up and he would just stay on her lap looking absolutely content.  He never scratched or snapped at anyone.  He would playfully chase strings as long as someone wanted him to, keeping my kids entertained for a long time.  Everything about this cat was wonderful.  After several days of this, my husband and I both agreed that he would be worth whatever it took to make him ours.   And we’re so glad we did!  He loves everyone in the family and appreciates all the affection we can give.  We weren’t sure how Edmund would handle it, but after the first couple weeks, Phil (as he is now more appropriately called) and Ed became best buddies. They play together, eat together, and follow each other around.   Edmund actually seems happier now that he has Phil around.

But aside from the fact that they look very similar, they are as different as can be in every way.  And that’s one of the best things about Phil!  He’s not just another cat like the one we had, he’s a completely different cat with his own personality and habits.  Edmund prefers to relax in quiet places, while Phil loves to play with balls, string, or anything he can chase around.   Ed finds a hiding place when he’s had enough attention, and Phil never seems to get tired of being around people.   Having two cats that are so different is a tremendous blessing.  While one is sleeping next to my daughter as she reads, the other is playing with my super energetic son.  Phil’s playfulness is the perfect complement to Edmund’s seriousness.

Even their taste in food is different. That’s one reason 9Lives® wet and dry cat food varieties are just right for our cats. For wet food, Edmund prefers the Meaty Pate selections, with smooth ground meat, fish or poultry, while Phil devours the Hearty Cuts made of tender, meaty morsels with rich gravy, flakes of fish, and savory shreds.

Check out DollarGeneral.com to find coupons and save on 9Lives® wet and dry cat food for your own feline family members! You’ll find great savings through 5/31/18, and there are so many varieties your cats won’t be able to resist. They also offer specially formulated dry food to meet the nutritional needs of cats in every stage of life. Plus Care helps support digestive health and a strong immune system for older cats like Edmund, while Daily Essentials provides nutrition to support heart health, vision, strong muscles, and healthy skin and coat for cats of all ages.

We love to support companies that give back in some way, and the 9lives spokescat Morris has visited countless schools to promote kindness to animals.  He also launched an initiative to save animals in need of homes.  Check out his Facebook page here.  These are causes our family can feel good about supporting every time we purchase 9lives products.  Our local Dollar General Store carries a great variety of 9Lives cat food, so I can always find all the wet and dry food types that both of our cats love.

We’ve only had Phil for a few months, but it’s hard to imagine life without him.  He’s not just another cat to us, he’s really become a treasured member of the family.  Now the reasons we had for not wanting to take on another pet seem trivial as we watch how much our kids love Phil and how much joy he adds to all our lives.  Just look how adorable he is!

If you’re considering adopting a pet (or like us, another pet) I can tell you it’s worth the trouble.  The little bit of extra work and cost it takes to have him is nothing compared to the joy, excitement, affection, and comfort that this little guy brings to our family.  Plus my son is pretty happy to have as many “brothers” as sisters now 🙂

Have you recently adopted a kitty of your own?  Tell us about it, or share a photo of your sweet new family member.  And don’t forget to go to DollarGeneral.com to find great savings on the 9lives wet and dry food your cat will love.

Easy Crustless Quiche

 

You know that game where people ask questions like, “If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go?”

“What one book would you take with you to a desert island?”

“If you had to live on one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

Well, my answer to the last one is always CHEESE.  I. Love. Cheese.  Cheddar, gruyere, mozzarella, blue, feta, goat…I’ve never come across a cheese I don’t like.  It seems that all of my kids inherited this cheese addiction, so most of the recipes we all like revolve around this delicious dairy goodness.   They’ll even eat vegetables that they normally wouldn’t touch (like spinach) if it’s covered in enough melty cheese.

So, one of our favorites is this amazing crustless quiche that my mom used to make.  It’s super easy to throw together and it can be baked right away or made the day before.  We eat it for breakfast or brunch with fruit, or for lunch or dinner with sweet potato fries or salad and bread.  I’m telling you, it’s delicious anytime and with anything.

And one of the best things about this recipe is that it’s a perfect meal to take to exhausted new moms or friends who just need a night off from cooking.  Our family eats the whole thing now that we have a seven-year-old who eats like a teenager, but I used to always split the recipe into two pans so I could take one to somebody who needed a break.

Enough about why you should make this.  Here’s how:

Gather your ingredients.

  • 10-12 oz. package of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed until dry
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 10 drops Tabasco sauce (optional)
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

First thaw the spinach.

When it’s completely thawed, squeeze out all the water.  You can use a cheesecloth if you have one, or place it in a colander and press all the water out.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Measure cottage cheese and sour cream into a large bowl.

Add eggs.

Mix well.

Add parmesan cheese (or have an adorable helper do it for you.)

Try not to eat any.  Did I mention my kids love cheese as much as I do?  This one proudly calls herself a cheese monster.

Add flour (not pictured) and onion powder.

If you want a little kick and more flavor, add tabasco sauce.  One of my children has a serious aversion to anything even remotely spicy, and he can detect even the tiniest hint of spice, so I left it out of our quiche.

Once all of this is mixed well, add the mozzarella…

And the spinach (which should be really dry.)

Mix everything together and spread mixture in an 8-inch round pan.  I used a springform pan but anything that is deep enough will work. Alternatively, pour into two pie plates and make two quiches.  Just make sure to adjust the baking time.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until golden around the edges and no longer jiggly in the middle.  If you’re making two, bake for 30-40 minutes.  If you’re making this the day before, simply cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake it.

Let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.  And if you’re tempted to feel guilty about all that dairy you’re eating, just remember it’s low-carb and packed with protein and spinach 😉

Easy Crustless Quiche
Recipe Type: Breakfast, Brunch, Make-ahead
Author: Abby
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6 servings
Delicious and easy spinach quiche
Ingredients
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 10 drops of tabasco sauce (optional)
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
  • 10-12 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed until dry.
Instructions
  1. Thaw spinach completely.
  2. Squeeze all the water out of the spinach using a cheescloth, or press in a colander until dry.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Mix cottage cheese, sour cream, and eggs.
  5. Add parmesan, flour, onion powder, and tabasco sauce and mix well.
  6. Stir in mozzarella and thawed spinach.
  7. Spread mixture in an 8-inch round pan and bake for 1 hour, or until edges are golden brown and middle is no longer jiggly.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Homeschooling–Even with a Toddler

 

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In the almost 4 years we’ve been homeschooling, there has always been a baby or a toddler in the house. Without a doubt the biggest challenge for me has been figuring out what to do with the youngest during school time.  I can’t even count the times our school day was cut short because of a younger sibling whining or getting into mischief or having a potty training accident, and after dealing with the situation I was often too frustrated to get things back on track. I realized that most of my frustration was coming from trying to fit our lives into a picture of what I thought homeschooling should look like, and it simply wasn’t working.

Continue reading “Happy Homeschooling–Even with a Toddler”

5 Ways to Make the Most of Fall with Your Family

#advertisement I received compensation from Dr. Scholl’s® to write this post. All opinions are entirely my own. #CustomFitRelief #DrScholls

Is it just me or is fall the BEST season of the year? The air is crisp, the leaves are turning gorgeous colors, and the holidays are just around the corner. Something about this time of year just makes me want to be outside enjoying the beautiful weather all the time. Maybe it’s because we’ve just come out of months of heat here in Texas, but autumn somehow makes me feel energetic and ready for anything. There are so many opportunities to get outside and enjoy the season, but most of them involve being on my feet for long periods of time.  Sadly this can be a real problem for people like me who often suffer from aching feet or pain in the lower back and knees, both of which can originate in the feet.

I have a really hard time finding shoes that offer the right amount of support for my feet so I pretty much gave up on finding shoes that would work for my feet and decided to just live with the pain. But then I found Dr. Scholl’s® Custom Fit® Orthotic Inserts.  Oh my goodness!  Who knew a cushiony little insert could make such a difference?  These things have four different layers, each serving a different purpose in supporting your feet to relieve the stress that can cause foot, knee, and lower back pain.

Dr. Scholl’s® experts in biomechanics have developed an incredible Footmapping®  Technology that evaluates arch type, pressure points, and foot length using over 2,000 pressure sensors, which then recommends the inserts that are right for you.   All I had to do was find the Custom Fit® Kiosk in my local Walmart and follow a few simple instructions to get my personalized recommendation.

Here’s how easy it is.

Step 1: Remove your shoes.

Step 2: Step on the mat.

Step 3: Touch the screen to begin.  Follow the prompts on the screen and in under 2 minutes you’ll know exactly which Dr. Scholl’s® Custom Fit® Orthotic Inserts are right for your feet.  I had no idea I had high arches, and it was great to have a custom recommendation just for my feet!

Thanks to these inserts I can truly enjoy my favorite season!  If you experience pain in your feet, knees, or back from being on your feet for long periods, give Dr. Scholl’s® Custom Fit® Orthotic Inserts a try and start moving around comfortably!  To find a Custom Fit® Kiosk near you click here.  And right now you can even get a $10 rebate at the Custom Fit® Online Rebate Center right here!

The season has so much to offer and I don’t want to miss out on any of it.  Here are some of the beautifully simple ways I like to make the most of fall with my family.

  • Take a nature walk.  This can be as simple as a trip to a local park or even a walk around the block.  No matter where you live, a new season always brings with it changes in nature that your family can enjoy together.   Slow down and really enjoy the beauty of the season.  Stop and look up at the trees and the clouds.  Keep your eyes open for acorns, pine cones, pretty leaves, or any other signs of Fall.  Gather special finds in a basket and make simple crafts out of them, or simply display them at home for a free seasonal decoration.  Need a way to get the kids interested?  Make up an age-appropriate scavenger hunt using local plants and animals and see how many you can spot.  You might even make a habit of taking an evening walk together because it’s such a pleasant way to end the day. Just being outside in the fresh air is a great way to slow down and reconnect with your family!

  • Have a family work day outside.  Outdoor chores have to be done anyway, so why not make it a fun family experience?  Turn on some music and get to work raking, gardening, pulling weeds, organizing the shed…whatever needs to be done to make your outdoor space enjoyable for the season.  Just remember to keep it fun! Let the kids rake up a big pile of leaves and jump in it (and then rake it up again, of course :).)  See who can pull the most weeds.  Make a leaf maze or obstacle course.   Keep some cups and a thermos of apple cider outside for breaks.  Snap some photos of everyone working hard and having fun!

  • Dine al-fresco.  Enjoy the results of all your hard work by eating outside.   Bundle up and enjoy a steaming bowl of soup out on the patio while the sun sets, or take your morning coffee outside and listen to the birds singing.  Here in Texas we can be outside most of the day in the fall, but if you live somewhere that’s much colder make the most of the sunshine in the middle of the day by enjoying a picnic lunch.  Having a meal outside somehow makes it feel special and memorable, so make a habit of dining outside as a family once in awhile during the pleasant autumn months before winter sets in.

  • Take advantage of local seasonal activities.  Most cities have certain activities that are only open for a few weeks every fall.  Pumpkin patches, apple-picking, hayrides, corn-mazes…these won’t be available for very long, but the memories can last a lifetime,  so check to see what’s available near you during this season.   We’ve gone to a local pumpkin patch for the last few years and my kids always look forward to spending the day running around, climbing on hay bales, and having a picnic there. And don’t forget your Dr. Scholl’s® Custom Fit® Orthotic Inserts so foot, knee, or lower back pain won’t cut your experience short.  Get clinically-proven all-day relief so you can keep moving and make the most of the season!

  • Hunt for treasures at flea markets and yard sales.  I love finding unique things that people are getting rid of and giving them a new home.  Autumn is the perfect time to spend a day at the flea market or checking out garage sales.  You might even find some perfect Christmas gifts for people who are difficult to shop for.  I have a friend whose family decided one year that they would only give each other gifts from flea markets or yard sales.  They all had so much fun Christmas shopping, and there were some unforgettable gifts that year!  My kids often want to buy gifts for people at Christmas with their own money, but they don’t usually have much money to spend.  So I love helping them find just the right thing at a garage sale that hardly costs anything.  This way they’re learning smart spending while we shop together!

What are some things you do with your family in the fall?  Share your ideas with us for making the most of the season.  Don’t let foot, knee, or lower back pain keep you from enjoying everything this beautiful time of year has to offer.  Try Custom Fit® Orthotics risk-free, with the Dr. Scholl’s® Money Back Guarantee and experience all the fun of the season pain-free!

How Books Changed Our Lives–One Family’s Literacy Journey

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser.  All opinions are mine alone.  #MyLiteracyStory #DGMyStoryEntry #CollectiveBias

We all know reading is important. If you can read, you can learn about the things that fascinate you and experience far-off places you long to visit and see life through the eyes of someone who is different from you, all within the pages of a book.  As a homeschooling mom, every day of my week centers around reading with my children and encouraging them to appreciate and love reading.  For the last 5 years we’ve been using the Charlotte Mason method for our home school, which focuses mainly on learning through reading great literature.  All those hours we’ve spent immersed in great books have shaped us so much as individuals and as a family.  My kids haven’t just learned history and science and grammar.  They’ve learned empathy and compassion and courage, and that “normal” doesn’t mean “exactly like me.” Reading has a way of changing us for the better, and it’s a joy that everyone should be able to experience.

That’s why I’m so excited to share with you about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and how they’re making the dream of reading a reality for so many people. Since it began, the Foundation has awarded more than $140 million to nonprofit organizations and schools that have helped over 9 million people improve their literacy and education. That’s a lot of good!  You can learn more about this literacy initiative and also enter the #DGMyStory sweepstakes to win a $50 Dollar General gift card (nice!) by clicking here and sharing your own personal literacy story with the hashtag #DGMyStoryEntry.

And now I can support a cause that’s really important to me by buying the cereals my family loves anyway, because Kellogg’s® is a proud sponsor of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation! Head over to your local Dollar General to pick up some Kellogg’s cereals. I found several varieties on an end cap in the food section and grabbed a few because we really like our cereal around here.

This initiative is a great example of the fact that every day, Kellogg employees work together to fulfill their vision of enriching and delighting the world through foods and brands that matter.   Hover over the image below to be a part of this great initiative and start conveniently shopping right now for Kellogg’s timeless cereals, including Rice Krispies®, Froot Loops®, Frosted Flakes®, and my family’s favorite, Frosted Mini-Wheats®!

Check out the literacy stories featured on select Kellogg’s cereal boxes and be inspired by the encouraging stories people have shared.  We’ve all been on some sort of journey that relates to reading, and sharing our stories with each other has a way of connecting us.

Each of my children has unique strengths, interests, struggles, and abilities, so it makes sense that each one would learn to read in a different way and at a different pace.   Today I’m going to share about my experiences in teaching three very different kids to read and how we have all grown as a result of reading.

Let me introduce you to my 10-year-old.  Sweet, helpful, conscientious, thoughtful…a typical firstborn child.  Teaching her to read should have been a joy.  She was eager to please and willing to learn anything I wanted to teach her.  Unfortunately for her, we had friends whose 3-year-old was doing a reading program and already knew more than my almost-kindergartener.  My daughter could recognize letters and knew many of the sounds (which, in hindsight, was absolutely fine), but comparison had me in its clutches and in my mind we were suddenly way behind.  I got the same online program that our friends were using and she started official reading lessons.  While my daughter caught on quickly and was soon able to read short words, it wasn’t a joy for either of us.  She didn’t love reading, and that broke my literature-loving heart.

So I did some serious soul searching and realized I was burdening both of us with an unspoken pressure to measure up to a ridiculous and unnecessary standard.  Did I want her to learn to read early just to keep up with someone?   No! I wanted her to learn to read in a way that made reading enjoyable.  So I took the pressure off and went back to the things that make reading fun–books!  I started simply reading lots of books to her again for the sheer pleasure of it.  Reading became fun again. When she started kindergarten and it was time to pick up reading lessons again, it was a breeze.  This time I had the ultimate goal in sight–cultivating a love of reading.  We tried some traditional methods, like flash cards and early readers, and some hands-on activities using things like Easter eggs and popsicle sticks.  But no matter what approach I used this time, her reading improved rapidly because now there was no pressure and she could learn for the joy of it!

Then came my son.  Energetic, creative, stubborn, wild and wiggly…he didn’t have the time or inclination to sit and learn anything in the “normal” way.  Luckily I had learned my lesson already and was determined not to make learning to read a chore for him.  So I spent hours just reading books to him and my girls.  When I read biographies or mythology or poetry to his older sister for her lessons, he sat at our feet building creations with Legos.  He seemed completely engrossed in what he was doing, but he was quietly listening to every word.  He would exclaim over a surprising turn of events in the story or ask a question about why the characters did a certain thing and I realized he was really interested in hearing these stories.  And as he sat there playing with his favorite toys, he was unwittingly learning.  His vocabulary grew, his grasp of language improved, and his love for literature blossomed.

This composed the entirety of his kindergarten reading “curriculum.”  The next year I wanted him to really start reading so we started working on some phonics and sight words.  He didn’t enjoy this at all, so we took it REALLY slowly and only spent a few minutes a day on it.  He couldn’t handle more than about 5 minutes at a time and would melt down if I tried to go any longer.  (We’ve since discovered that he struggles with anxiety and ADHD, making traditional learning incredibly overwhelming and frustrating for him.)  I got discouraged and started to wonder if he would ever learn to read at all.  But I was determined to let him learn at his own pace and in a way that would foster a love of reading.  So I just kept reading lots of books aloud, and he kept listening.  We also found some audiobooks at the library, which we put on to help him settle down at night and fall asleep.  He loved these so much that he started listening to audiobooks anytime he was in his room building with Legos (yep, it’s still his favorite pasttime.)  He was being exposed to hours of literature every day and couldn’t seem to get enough of it.  I was tempted so many times to push him to catch up to where I thought a typical first-grader should be, but I reminded myself over and over to just let him love literature until he was ready to read it.

Now he is in 2nd grade and he just read his first chapter book, which he finished in two days.  On his own.  With no prompting.  I almost cried.  Only a few months ago, I could hardly get him to read a few sentences without becoming overwhelmed.  Occasionally he gets stuck on a word, but his vocabulary is so extensive from all those books he’s been soaking up for the last few years that he can almost always figure out what something says without help.

After these two polar opposite experiences with teaching my first two kids to read, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my youngest.  Fun-loving, bright, chatty, intelligent, cuddly, compassionate…this little 4-year-old is very much her own person.  I was expecting to start teaching her to read when she starts kindergarten next year.   Boy, was I wrong!  Right around her 4th birthday she started asking me to teach her to read.

We were part of a home school co-op and she was in the kindergarten class for lack of a better option.  We really joined the co-op for the sake of her big sister and brother, and she was pretty much just along for the ride (or so I thought).   I honestly didn’t expect her to learn much academically because she was only 3.  She quietly listened every Friday as her teacher introduced a new letter, and one day it just clicked for her that each letter makes a sound.  After that, she wanted to read her letter cards every day, so we read those five cards over and over, and the next week she got a new one, and then came cards with two or three letters on them…and still she couldn’t get enough.

I created some hands-on activities to help her recognize upper-and lower-case letters and practice letter sounds and even make words from loose letters.  For this one I simply wrote letters on paper, laminated it, and had her fill in each letter with Froot Loops and Frosted Mini Wheats.  Bonus: She got to eat them for her snack when she was done.


For her all of this is fun and exciting, and if she gets discouraged or frustrated at any point we put it away until another time, because I want her to continue to see reading as a joyful experience and not a chore.

I can’t take any credit for this early interest in reading.  Maybe it was her co-op teacher, maybe it was seeing her older siblings reading, maybe it was hearing so many hundreds of books read aloud.  Whatever it was, I’m not complaining!

The one common element in each one of my kids’ reading journeys was hearing lots of great books read aloud.  It’s also the reason they love books!   So I want to share with you a list of read-alouds that I highly recommend for elementary-aged kids.  These are all wonderful to read with the family or listen to together in audiobook form.  Some kids will want to read these themselves and that’s great too!

  1.  The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
    • I know this is actually a series of books but every one of them is absolutely worth reading.  They’re beautifully written and filled with adventure and imagination.  The characters are so easy to relate to, and every character struggles through something at one time or another.  In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund, one of the four siblings, starts off mean-spirited and cynical and ends up betraying his family.  In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, cousin Eustace is petty and cowardly and appears to have no positive qualities at all. But these characters that struggle with selfishness, fear, pride, and other issues that are common to humanity experience undeserved redemption and they’re forever changed.  My son deals with lots of anger and he often lashes out verbally and physically when he’s frustrated.  He knows he shouldn’t and is always repentant afterwards but he can’t seem to stop himself when he’s angry.  For him to see these characters, who don’t seem to have any redeeming qualities whatsoever, completely transformed into people who can put others first and choose what’s right gives him hope for his own life.  These books also have a way of infusing us with a sense of purpose and greatness beyond the smallness of our day to day lives.  There are a thousand reasons to read the Narnia books, but that would probably be an entire post 🙂 These are definitely more suitable for elementary age and up.
  2. Wonder by R. J. Palacio
    • This book is only a few years old but someday it will probably be considered a classic because it’s that good.  It’s about 10-year-old  August Pullman, who had multiple surgeries for a medical defect and is left with a severe facial deformity.  The story follows his journey of entering public school, being rejected and ridiculed by some, and finding acceptance and friendship with others who see past his appearance and appreciate him for who he is.  This one sparked some great conversations with all my kids about giving everyone a chance to be known for who they are and not judging people by their appearances.  Several sections of the book are written from the perspective of different characters, and we even felt bad for Julian (the bully) because we got to see into his life.  All of my kids developed a new level of empathy and compassion for people who are obviously suffering, but they also realized that everyone’s story involves some kind of sadness or diffuculty.  I strongly recommend this book for the whole family.  The audio version is great because the voices are done by different people and it’s even easier to connect with each character.
  3. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
    • This one is definitely a classic.  Set in the Swiss Alps, this book transports you to a place where life is beautifully simple, yet rich.  Kids growing up in today’s world don’t always think about the simple pleasures in life, but Heidi makes all of us, children and adults alike, long to run with goats in a field of wildflowers and watch a glorious mountaintop sunset and have toasted cheese and milk for supper.  This book somehow had a calming effect on my son.  Every time I started reading it he settled down and listened.  We all laughed at Peter the goatherd and his jealous antics.  Heidi’s determination, optimism, and genuine concern for others are an example for us all, particularly kids who struggle in those areas.  The contrasts between her life on the mountain and our modern lives make us want to slow down and enjoy the little things in life rather than always wanting to add more to the busyness.
  4. Ramona the Pest (and all the other Ramona books) by Beverly Cleary
    • There’s a reason most of us read these books as kids.  Beverly Cleary weaves so much humor into these stories about an ordinary girl and her everyday life.   She writes what kids often think, making Ramona such a relatable character that kids can’t help but empathize with her many mishaps and fiascoes.  The way she thinks people see her is exactly the way a lot of kids think of themselves–as bothersome, or not smart enough, or not as pretty as someone else–and realizing they’re not alone in feeling this way can be a huge relief.  My son specifically identifies with Ramona because he’s often the one getting in trouble or causing a problem without intending to.  He sometimes thinks of himself as the “bad” one just like Ramona, but she’s the heroine of the whole collection in spite of (or maybe because of) her tendency to make a mess of things.  Sometimes just knowing there are other people (or characters) out there who share our struggles makes us feel understood, and that’s a tremendous relief for kids who are a little different.  I love Ramona for making so many kids feel this way 🙂
  5. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
    • We just finished this book.  Every time I started to put it down my kids begged me to keep reading just a little longer.  Teenager Sam Gribley runs away from his over-crowded New York City apartment to make a life for himself in the Catskill mountains.  I was a little skeptical of this one because I didn’t want to sensationalize the idea of running away. But Sam isn’t running away to escape his family–he simply believes he can make a great life for himself on his family’s old property in the wilderness. He reads many books and prepares himself extensively before he goes on this mission. His experiences are fascinating and fun for kids and adults alike, and he makes all of us want to get out and enjoy nature.

Because my kids have grown so much through exposure to great characters in well-written books, I’m incredibly passionate about literacy.  The Dollar General Literacy Foundation is celebrating over 20 years of helping individuals learn to read, prepare for their high school equivalency, or learn English.  Just think of all those lives that have been forever changed because they were given an opportunity to better themselves.   Kellogg’s is committed to providing 3 billion Better Days through 2025 through initiatives that feed people and their potential.  So have a bowl of Frosted Flakes or Froot Loops in honor of all the good these two companies are doing!

And don’t forget to go tell your own literacy story here and enter the #DGMyStory Sweepstakes with the hashtag #DGMy StoryEntry for a chance to win a $50 Dollar General gift card!