Google+ The Duda Homestead: 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

GIVEAWAY - Luci Lights - Rock On Solar Power!

This post received no compensation, all opinions are mine and mine alone.
lucigiveawayAD
This giveaway is sponsored by MPowered and Hosted by It's Peachy Keen.

 I don't typically promote other giveaways, but I couldn't pass up helping to get the word out about LUCI Lights once I read about them. I love the cause they support, and I can just imagine how beautiful they would look in our new garden and patio next summer, not to mention our camping trips. I'm a little more relaxed just thinking about it.

Enlightened Functionality
Unlike other solar lamps, Luci offers the benefits of a task light, flashlight and diffused lantern in one attractive design. Never reliant on the power grid, she shines brightest where light is inaccessible or not affordable. To light up life with clean energy, Luci is your girl.

Featherweight & Dependable
Luci weighs only 4 ounces and collapses to one inch thin. Add a solar charged lithium ion battery and an 80 lumen light to the mix and you’ve got one impressive lady. Whether it’s for travel, disaster relief or anything in between, Luci always shines bright.

CLICK HERE To buy one or check them out.
Luci Lights are amazing. You have the option to buy one for yourself or buy one to give to someone in need. Can you imagine going about your normal day after the sun goes down? You would be left in the dark literally. In other countries these little blow up lights are their light switches, their way to creating a better tomorrow for themselves. Help MPowered in lighting the way by buying one for you or to give or even both!

My children and I fell in love with Luci. I love them for the bright light it provides. I can easily turn off my house lights and have a whole entire room lite up with a Luci Light. I have one in my car as well just in case. They do have awesome settings built in on top of it just being solar powered and not needing anything but a little sun. They can be bright, brighter, and then they also blink. So this little light is perfect for disaster relief, survivor kits, camping, and more. You could even be gearing up for a zombie kit. Luci Lights are just great for everyday use or when you really need her to be there. Luci Lights are also water proof!! So cool right!

My daughters keep the lights in their tent and we have been using them to light the way on a night time walk. An awesome light in themselves just because of how simple they are and versatile they can be.

GIVEAWAY TIME
It is open to US only. 18+ and winner will be chosen January 12 at Midnight EST. Winner will have 48 to respond when I send out the email. Winner will be chosen and posted on It's Peachy Keen. So be sure to check back.
This blog is not responsible for prize fulfilment or any shipping charges.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Word Of The Week | Silence

​There's a new site, honelife.com, that challenges users to "hone" in on a particular word each week and express it creatively in one way or another. I enjoy a creative challenge and am hoping to participate each week. They just launched and this week's word is "silence." Now, as a new parent, and someone who runs a small at-home daycare, you're probably expecting me to talk about how silence is hard to come by, and oh life is so busy those moments are so rare. But I'm not. That's crap. Let me explain...


Yes, we do live in a world that is getting busier and busier everyday, in part because of technology.  But stop blaming the machine when you are the one who has a brain and free will and the choice to use said machines or not. Just because you can be connected all of the time, does not mean that you should. That is your choice and you need to take responsibility for it. I've had it up to -here- with the lack of accountability in our society.

Silence doesn't just refer to audible noise. ​ You can sit in complete quiet and be in the zone on your technology of choice with less silence than if your kids were running around screaming while you're trying to bake Christmas cookies. Trust me, I know how easy it is to get caught up on the internet and Lord knows I spend time browsing Pinterest. But I choose to do that, and I make a conscious effort to turn it off. I'm not saying I'm perfect, but I'm aware of the need to turn it off. 

Now and then, I get overwhelmed if I'm trying to watch the Today show or Ellen now and then when the 2 year old I watch is asking me to read a story and my E is needing to nurse or play. Now, I could choose to be a jerk and freak out, or I can choose to turn off the TV to create my own silence and tend to the needs of the kiddos. Of course, I choose turning off the TV. And guess what? The kids get quieter and we can sit and play or read a story. Sure, there are times they play louder than others, but having the background noise of the TV or radio multiplies that in my mind. So it is up to me, the adult, to choose silence and turn those off and let the kids enjoy themselves. They will nap, they will need their quiet play time. So I don't fight it. 

It may not always seem this way, but I have learned that silence is a choice more often than we may realize. How do you create your silence?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thankful Thursdays 4&5

I know, I'm behind. I have a lot of great ideas and stories to tell, but need to get out from under this post-remodel mess. I am hoping to get more of my recipes, art, and DIY projects up for you. I'm also planning to do a photography series. SO what was I thankful for last week? Honestly, it is hard to remember last week. I do know we went out to eat, so let's talk about coupons.

I'm thankful for all of those great coupon websites. You know, like Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local, and our local Plan!t Kane and Fox Valley Deals. We are starting to get on a strict budget, and doing really well (future post). We have student loans that we are determined to pay off as soon as possible, so we are limiting what we spend. A friend (<-amazing Portland photographer!) posted an article from You Need A Budget that said "Until you’re completely debt free, everything you purchase is financed at the rate of your highest-interest debt." And I don't know why nothing else really has, but holy crap did that resonate with me. So with that thought, our credit card bill has already dropped by half. (We charge just about everything to it to earn cash back and pay it off monthly).

One of the ways we accomplished this (other than not needing to buy so much for the house) is by limiting our eating out to once per month. We want to spend as little as possible, but also want to have fun. We've been sticking to a grocery budget fairly well, but looking at our categorized spending on food in general was an eye opener. Eating out once a week adds up fast, and we don't order the prime rib. Although we rarely ever eat out without a coupon, it has turned into a game for me to only go out if we can get half off, or at least one entrée free. We tried an awesome new place in town, O'Sole Mio with a $30 voucher that we purchased from Amazon Local for $15. If you're a local, we highly recommend it!



Now for this week...it's been a little hard with the hubby working late (coaching) a lot of evenings. We miss him and it just isn't the same when he isn't here. I have a love/hate relationship with technology, but this week I am very thankful for it because it allows me to keep in touch with him throughout the day. While of course he is busy teaching and coaching, he has a moment now and then to say hello and chat during his lunch and it makes getting through the long days much more tolerable. Not to mention it allows me to keep in touch with friends and family while I'm cooped up with the little ones all day :) The trick is balance.

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Disclosure: I was not compensated by O'Sole Mio or any of the above companies mentioned and/or linked to. I will, however, receive a bonus if you click through and sign up/purchase with Groupon & Fox Valley Deals. These are all companies I use personally and wouldn't recommend them to you if I didn't have a positive experience with them :)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful Thursdays #3

I know I'm a little late, but I wasn't going to get on the computer on Thanksgiving. I was busy in the kitchen making my contribution to the feast, homemade rolls and cranberry sauce! This week will be a bit easier because my hubby was home with us most of the week :)

  1. Snow. I love it. I think it is beautiful, and I love our yard covered in a fresh coating of snow. I know it can really screw up your commute, which leads me to...
  2. Not having a commute. I have been working since I was 14 years old, with anywhere from a 5 minutes to hour long commute. I do love winter, but starting off the day in a freezing cold car can make you forget that. Staying home in our cozy house with our beautiful view has me very thankful that I get to enjoy winter so much this year.
  3. Baby Carriers. I don't think I've said this one yet, which is hard to believe. Especially since it has gotten cold, wearing little man close to me in a carrier makes it so easy to get out of the house and keep both of us warm. I get to walk around with my own little heater attached to me. I really like the Mei Tai carriers now that he's bigger.
  4. My Kitchen Aid mixer. I'm not sure why, but ever since I was probably 12 years old, I'd wanted a red Kitchen Aid mixer. We received one as a wedding gift from my generous father-in-law & his awesome girlfriend. I used it to make a tripple batch of cupcakes for our wedding and now am using it to make my own bread. While I love to get my hands dirty kneading dough, Little Man doesn't usually want to wait 20 minutes for me, so 2 minutes in the mixer rocks.
  5. Vacuums. Can you imagine cleaning without a vacuum? Especially if you have pets that shed...oh man. 
  6. Fat Quarter Challenge. I have really enjoyed taking part in the contest the past two months (and still can't believe that I won both months!). It has been fun to force myself to create. I need deadlines or I have a hard time getting motivated, and the FQC gives me that. I am passing the baton for Dec, but plan to get back into it in 2014!
  7. Thanksgiving. Day 7 was Thanksgiving, and we are happy to report that we had a very pleasant one. You know everyone getting together can sometimes make for some not-so-pleasant conversation at times, but everyone brought their A game and it was fantastic. I always enjoy attending anything that our FIL's GF (we need a better name for you!) hosts. Great food, drinks, snacks, & company!
I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving and spending time with friends & family. I feel very strongly against shopping on Thanksgiving and did not participate in keeping these employees away from their families. I have been there and it wasn't fun.

Enjoy these short 3 weeks until Christmas!! As always, please feel free to tell me what you are thankful for in the comments!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thankful Thursdays #2

Holy cow does a week fly by quickly! I haven't been getting much sleep with our poor E getting more teeth, but somehow I manage to maintain my energy throughout the day. I have 7 days to list thankful tid bits for, so topping my list:
  1. Whatever hormone or super mommy power it is that gives me energy when I really have no reason to have any. I really don't think my half cup of coffee in the morning is what does it. 
  2. Having an old school mom to teach me how to knit. Some mindless, yet productive, activity is just what I've been needing to wind down at night.
  3. Our income. Like I have mentioned, it isn't much, but I know it's more than others may have and it allows us to have this wonderful home and pay off our god-forsaken student loans (overpriced college debt is not on my thankful list...)
  4. I know I already said our son on my first list, but this is a specific trait of his: He loves my face. He needs my face to fall asleep, and if he stirs and wakes up, holding momma's face puts him right back to sleep. It makes my heart melt every single time. Even when I forget to trim his nails and it hurts like a *&$%#.
  5. Our Jumperoo. I never thought I would put him in there because I love holding him and wearing him and letting him roll around and explore on the floor when I'm not, but my back failed me this week and this thing has been a lifesaver for our creeping-up-on-20lbs-and-always-wants-to-be-held-standing-up almost 6 month old. (I'm also very thankful for my husband's generous co-worker's daughter who gave it to us!)
  6. Freecycle. If you have never heard of Freecycle, you should get on that. It is a network which allows you to post things you'd like to give away, as well as find things others are giving away. It's a great way to get rid of things and know they are going to someone who needs them, as well as score some great things you may need for free. We've gotten extra bricks for the yard, plant hangers, misc decorations for the house, baby stuff, etc. If, however, you get on there to get things for free to sell or take advantage of generous people, may karma get you. Don't ruin it for the rest of us.
  7. Patience. I never had much in my younger years, but I have managed to develop lot of it. When I was in Hobby Lobby yesterday, a small line formed and they paged someone up to open their register. When she didn't come right away, a woman behind me was being incredibly rude saying her name over and over...it was rediculous and I am very thankful I don't stress like that woman. Not to mention I couldn't do my job without a good amount of it.

What are you thankful for this week?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fun & Organizing with Liquid Chalkers!

 I have been working on getting our house organized since the hubz finished remodelling our second floor. No more dressers and desks in our living room and we finally have a place for everything...now we just have to get everything in its place. It's a slow process but it is happening! We have an itty bitty kitchen, which I love, but it means I have to get creative with organizing. One small step I took this month was to create our "hub" in the kitchen. It includes our meal calendar, a to-do list, and a couple of spaces for some fun. Liquid Chalkers helped me out with this. Read on and check out my photos to see how they can help you get organized, and have some creative fun as well. You'll also find a discount code at the bottom of this post :)

So first, we stopped by Goodwill, as we often do, and I picked up some picture frames for $1-2. I realize I could have gone to the dollar store...but those frames are garbage. These are nice, wooden frames of much better quality. So here they are before:


And after! (These will be going in my 50's inspired kitchen once we get around to remodelling it. For now, they will be hanging on some pretty sweet wallpaper...)

The top left is my meal calendar which you can find here. I realize not all Meatless Mondays are meatless, but some Taco Tuesdays are...I was in a hurry when I filled it out this month. I keep it the same for a few months in a row, but updated it with some more hearty meals now that it's getting cold. Links to the recipes, if I use them, are included. Having a print version helps me to see what I need to thaw or soak for upcoming meals! And I can use the Liquid Chalkers to keep track of which day I'm on (you know that gets difficult sometimes) and to make notes or swaps as need be. Not to mention to fill in the calendar as the months change.


 As you can see below, these wipe off very easily on glass. For the "note paper" frame, I drew the lines on the back so they stay put. Now we can write sweet, funny, or important notes to each other and ourselves. Yay! The frame of us was just to add some family & fun to the wall. As you can see, the Liquid Chalkers worked very well and are nice and vibrant!


Now onto some fun with the markers! One of the toddlers I watch has a birthday coming up this week, so I thought I'd try my hand at a birthday sign for him on his big day. I didn't plan on Cookie Monster, but after some sketching and playing around with the markers on our easel, the texture of them had me thinking fur, and a Cookie Monster book happened to be nearby. So this is what I ended up with:


You can easily erase where you  need to to add detials or fix some mistakes (as you can see I need to clean up a bit more by his eye). After I let it sit and dry for a bit, some colors did need some water to help cleaning up, but every surface will be different so make sure you test a spot first! I'd be weary of items painted with chalkboard paint (especially the DIY kind), but you can buy chalkboard contact paper or write on any non-porous surface with Liquid Chalkers!

The two photos below show each color on the chalkboard and then on the whiteboard. They erase much easier than typical dry erase markers and didn't leave a stain on my whiteboard. Bonus! The chisel tips and rich colors can provide a lot of great detail if need be.


A few more ideas:

  • Decorate for the holidays!
  • Leave yourself notes and reminders on your mirror
  • Have a glass coffee table? Go nuts! Draw boxes underneath and get your toddler sorting!
  • Liquid Chalkers would be much better for decorating a car...while they would come off easier...they would come off easier! The typical paint markers for cars took some good scraping after our wedding (a year later)!
  • Decorate windows or mirrors for your family members birthdays while they sleep. What a fun surprise in the morning!
  • TIP: When decorating glass, if you need some help with drawing, print a photo to trace on the other side (this is especially helpful for text...writing backwards isn't easy!)


Go to www.LiquidChalkers.com and use discount code: EXCLUSIVE15 for 15% off your order!

 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thankful Thursdays - #1

I've been seeing some posts on Facebook from folks giving what they are thankful for each day. I think it is a fantastic practice and something that we should do throughout the year. Especially during those weeks you may have where you feel down in the dumps. Remembering what you have to be thankful for can lift your spirits. So today, I begin Thankful Thursdays. Every Thursday I will write a warm & fuzzy post outlining things I am thankful for that week. I feel I am very blessed and want to put that into writing. If nothing else, it will be great to look back on over the years. But I do hope these posts help to inspire you as well. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving and the daily posts, I will give one for each day, 1-14. I'll start with the biggies and work my way on to the little things :)



I am thankful for:
  1. My husband. Let me count the ways:
    1. He loves me. Like a lot. 
    2. He works hard for this family, both in his career and on The Homestead.
    3. He gets sh*t done. Over the past year, he really has made this house a home with those strong, hard-workin' hands of his, and he is still working on it.
    4. He doesn't have a "man complex." He couldn't care less about sports or doing "manly" things for the sake of being manly. He had no issues going out to buy me pads after our son was born (for some reason I bought one pack...what was I thinking?). But no one who knows him will argue his manliness.
    5. He can fix anything he has the tools for.
    6. He shares my belief in gentle parenting.
    7. He has his priorities straight, and our son & I are at the very top of his list. He doesn't have to say it, he shows it. 
    8. He shares my beliefs in eating real, healthy food. 
    9. He lets me take the first sip of his beer (since I don't drink much more than that because I'm breastfeeding).
    10. And just to have an even 10 reasons, he's quite handsome ;)
  2. Our son. Any parent knows that this one is hard to put into words. Being the one thing someone needs and wants in the world is a huge & awesome responsibility that I wouldn't trade for anything. 
  3. My mom, aka Ma. I didn't always have a super warm and fuzzy childhood, but she was the rock for me to lean on and the glue that kept me together, and the one who made sure that I do have a lot of great memories. The best parts of me are there because of her. 
  4. Staying home. My husband is a third-year teacher, so he doesn't make loads but he makes just enough to allow me to stay home and watch a couple of youngsters. We are both grateful that I can stay with our baby man, especially since he is super attached to his momma. Like, I can't leave the house without a crying fit attached (which I am totally fine with btw, he will only be little once, and for a short time!).
  5. Alaska. I plan to write a post on this sharing my photos and experiences, but way back in 2006 I spent a summer working in Skagway, Alaska. I was on the Denver Glacier living with 25 other folks in a camp without running water or electricity (other than the generator to keep up communications and give us a treat of a movie now and then). Other than being surrounded by beauty and sled dogs everyday, I did a lot of growing up there. Amazing what disconnecting from modern technologies can do for a person. It left such an impression on me that I decided to tattoo the stars of their flag on my back two years later, which coincidently symbolize strength and looking to the future, and that's exactly what I needed at that point in my life. 
  6. Coffee. I don't drink much, but I love my morning cup! Especially when I get to share it with my hubby on the weekends :)
  7. My camera. It has brought me a lot of joy, as well as some income, and I use it almost daily to capture the cuteness of E as he grows. Could you imagine life before photos? It's pretty awesome that we get to preserve our memories.
  8. Wisconsin. My mom's side of the family lives there and we try to visit twice a year. I have always loved the relaxed feeling there and I think growing up visiting my family in the middle of nowhere has a lot to do with my priorities and the relaxed life we live now. They work hard, eat, play games, and laugh with a cup of "slush" in their hand. My husband loves it too and fits right in (which was kind of a requirement). Not to mention I'm a big Packers fan. I don't do trash talk btw :)
  9. Generosity. We have many generous people in our lives and I have to give a lot of credit to them for our ability to be where we are in life. After E was born, we received so many clothes, meals, and gifts it was humbling. We had tons of girl clothes at the ready (that's for another post) and since our friends and family knew this, everyone brought at least one outfit with them when they visited. Not to mention the meals brought to us by a moms' group I joined. Those were fantastic and unexpected. 
  10. Ellen. Yes, of the Ellen Show. I don't watch it every day, but she is the type of person we need to see more of on TV. I love her message and how much joy she brings to people. She reminds us of the good in the world.
  11. Chai Tea. Those flavors instantly relax me and brighten any chilly, gloomy day.
  12. Our Veterans. Both of my grandfathers were in the military, and currently my uncle Brandon is in the Army. Other than serving our country, he has been there for me in the past when I needed him, and took me out for my 21st birthday (who better to keep you safe on a night out?). But seriously folks, remember those who fight for our freedoms, and remember what those rights are that they are fighting for. Some are quick to give them up for a false sense of security. Grrr don't do it!
  13. Animals. Specifically our own little Ruger (dog) & Tippy (cat). I have loved animals my entire life and have volunteered and worked with many in the past. They have brought me much joy and peace over the years. We rescued both of our animals, and while Ruger has his quirks, he was our first baby and is wonderful with our son. Tippy has kept the mice at bay and is a very cool, tough cat. He and Ruger wrestle and play on a daily basis. One of those things that warms your heart.
  14. Cloth diapers. This one popped into my head since I just changed one...I'm thankful that I found that they exist at one of my newborn photoshoots years ago. They have saved us so much money, and kept our little man away from the chemicals that are filling most of today's disposables. Not to mention their eco-friendliness. 
Whew! There, I'm all caught up for the month. I'll see you again next Thursday! Until then, what are you most thankful for? I would love to hear it! Sometimes folks bring up some of the little things that I may forget about and it's a great reminder for us all!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Feed Your Crafty & Competative Side With Fat Quarter Challenge-GIVEAWAY!

I think we all have at least a tiny creative bone in our bodies. Personally, I can't go more than a day without doing something creative. And I don't just mean slapping some cool filters on an Instagram photo. I try to sketch, photograph (with my "real" camera), or if I can, paint, sew, bake, or build something each day. It's good for the soul and I highly recommend it. Since having our little guy and watching other little ones at our house during the day, I find myself putting creativity further and further down on my priority list. Have I mentioned I was an Art major in college? I need this stuff! What about you?

I know I'm not the only one who needs their "me" time, momma or not. And these days we all seem to be busier than we used to be. A friend of mine, Jesse, over at Wooden It Be Nice has an adorable little family and was feeling the need for some time to herself to get crafty. So she started what I think is a super fun endeavour, the Fat Quarter Challenge! It is an inexpensive way to force yourself to get creative each month. For $12, you get a "fat quarter" of fabric and three notions (ribbon, buttons, etc). This also includes shipping costs. Everyone participating that month receives the same materials and you can do anything your little heart desires, as long as you use all of the materials in one way or another. So not only does this get you crafting, it gets you in on some friendly competition as well! I'll get into more detail after a word from our sponsors of the Great Gifts Giveaway Hop!:

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What is a Giveaway Hop? It's a chance for you to check out a bunch of fun giveaways going on all at once! Be sure to check out our sponsors, Planet Weidknecht & LeahSay's Views, as well as the linky at the bottom of this post to find them all!


Disclaimer: Bloggers and Hosts are not responsible for sponsors who do not fulfil prizes.

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Click here to see the list of participating bloggers...
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Alright, so back to the Fat Quarter Challenge! Jesse sent me October's challenge materials. I scoured my brain for ideas for the challenge. My first thought was to make something for my baby man of course. But then I received the fabric and it was pink! Now Momma gets to make something for herself!

Image via FatQuarterChallenge.com

I have been saving up sewing ideas since my hubby got me a sewing machine last Christmas (see Jesse's board here). I kept coming back to the quilted wine tote that I found at Needle & Spatula. I hadn't quilted before, or sewn much more than your basic curtains or pillow, but I took it on anyway and added my own twist. I took some coordinating fabric that I'd picked up and fused two layers together (fusing made it thicker and less see-through, and also prevents fraying). I then traced a wine glass silhouette that I drew & cut out and used the sequins from the Challenge as my "wine." I then painted a "D" for Duda for a fun monogram.


Then, I cut out my fabric according to her directions, and quilted and sewed and put it all together! I have to say that I impressed myself and can't wait to show it off to my mom, who is quite the seamstress.


Here it is all put together!

 

I used the pink ribbon in the FQC package as my bias tape to finish of the top, the sequins as "wine," and the blue ribbon as a cute little finishing touch under the glass. And guess what? I WON! Folks voted on all of the submissions (see here) and I won. I was so humbled and excited. Last month's prize was a Diamond Candle and I got to choose the scent, Pumpkin Chai. Yummmy! And it comes with a ring inside that you get after it burns for a few hours (ok several...unless you're like me and dig it out with a spoon after a few...). Love it! And it is soy, which burns much cleaner than your traditional paraffin wax candle.

So do I recommend you participate in the challenge? Yes! I am participating again for November and can't wait to receive my materials and get crafting again (I did receive October's for free in exchange for this review, but I paid for November)! Here are some common excuses that you may be giving right now:
  • I just don't have time for that.
    • Well it's due on the 22nd, so you have 2+ weeks from when you receive your  materials. And how good will you feel after you actually DO it?! You need to get crafty, you know you do.
  • It costs money and I'm on a budget.
    • Be honest with yourself, when was the last time you left the craft store without spending at least $20? $12 is more than fair for fabric and notions, not to mention the fun competition and chance for a prize worth twice that amount!
  • I'm just not very creative.
    • Psh...get on Pinterest, find an idea you love and do it, girl! I believe in you, and it'll be a lot of fun!
  • I can't sew.
    • No sewing required! I chose to do a sewing project because that's how I wanted to challenge myself. You can easily create a winner with some glue or one of the many no-sew projects I see floating around on The Line (sorry, we just watched The Internship).
I'm so glad that I'm doing this for myself, and I think you will be, too. You can go to www.FatQuarterChallenge.com and sign up for just $12. If you have a local group, make it a party and hold your own local contest along with the online challenge! An excuse to craft and get together with the girls! Let me know if you do! I'd love to connect with you!


 So what is this giveaway I metioned? The winner will receive a TWO month subscription to the Fat Quarter Challenge, and I'm throwing in a little sewing kit to help you out ($31 total value)! Good luck! And, don't forget about all of the other great giveaways going on in the hop!

**Note: Please only enter if you can/will participate in the challenge with the materials sent to you. You get to keep your creation, you just submit a photo!**

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, October 31, 2013

DIY Babywearing Halloween Costume

We had a costume party to go to this past weekend so I threw together a costume for our little guy with some materials I had on hand. Granted, this could have been better, but it worked and I didn't have to buy anything. If I did it again, I would have done two layers of the "egg" and stuffed it. And I also would have had a more contrasting outfit for him, but again, last minute and this was still adorable. It was super easy and I've included the pattern for the tail and hat attachment. This could also be used for a baby dinosaur (my original idea but it was more involved and I ran out of time).

For the egg, I used felt because it is more stiff, but I think fleece would work well, especially if you plan on doubling it up and stuffing it (the stretch would make that even easier on you.

I traced the Baby Bjorn onto paper first for some reason. You could definitely just trace it (or whatever carrier you are using) right onto the fabric. (I realize these aren't the best carriers because of hip issues, but he'd push his way right out of the Moby now and I couldn't find our Mei Tai carrier. One day won't hurt and I hold his legs up most of the time anyways). 


So first, trace your carrier (twice if you want to stitch them together and stuff it). Make sure to leave some extra fabric for tabs to help attach it. For example, I left extra at the bottom and cut a slit to put the bottom of the carrier through. I also left two tabs to cut holes in to slip the top straps through. This will depend on your carrier. Obviously, make sure you don't fold or attach fabric anywhere that would compromise the strength/safety of your carrier! Also cut some zig zags at the top and arm/legs to get that newly hatched look.

Next, for the tail, I had yellow felt that I turned into a tail. Use the Tail Pattern to quickly cut out, trace on your fabric, and cut again. Once you have this cut out, fold and stitch where it overlaps. Then, cut at the slits shown. Cut out a 4" circle of the same fabric (or the egg color would work as well). Stitch the cone to the flat circle. Before you get to the very end, stuff it well with batting or cotton balls, or extra fabric, really whatever you have on hand that is fluffy. Then, finish up the stitching.



Once you have your cone, to get the cute little duck tail look, stitch up, over about an inch, and back down. Then tie a knot and pull until it is perked up to your liking, then double the knot (I used coordinating embroidery floss but thread should work just fine). 
 

Now to poke it out of your egg! Find the center of your egg, about where you think a tail would be. Cut a 3" X. Then, cut some zig zags for that broken eggshell look. Poke your tail through the back and stitch it on.


Now for the hat. We had a little duck hat on hand to attach a little "broken eggshell" to. You can use this pattern for any baby hat, though you may want to shrink it a bit for a newborn, I think the oversized shell would be cute. Cut out the pattern, trace, and cut out your fabric. Stitch it at the overlap and cut your zig zag again. I only did about 4 big stitches to stitch it to the hat because I wanted to be able to easily take it off later.



Then it's time to put it all together! Again, it would be better if we had some orange pants and a more yellow shirt, but it worked regardless :)

With some stuffing and a better outfit underneath, it'd be super cute! But this was a good, no-cost & quick alternative :)

Happy Halloween!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Quinoa & Veggie Stuffed Peppers

I've been trying to cook at least 2 meatless dinners each week. It's easier on the budget and our health. Quinoa is packed with protein and iron (ahem...pregnant ladies!) and is super versatile, not to mention much cheaper than any meat worth buying. In one serving, you get 6g of protein, 20% of your DV of Iron, 3g of fiber, and only 2.5g of fat.

I've become a big fan of stuffed peppers, but was not a fan of how long they can take to cook and haven't had much success with crock pot stuffed peppers because I like mine to still have some crunch. I had fresh zucchini from my mom's garden to use up and some organic peppers in the fridge so I threw this together and the hubby and I loved it. Feel free to replace some of the cheese with goat cheese (I would have if I had it!). It is a filling dinner that doesn't leave you bogged down when you're finished.

Begin by cooking your Quinoa. I like to use half vegetable broth and half water for some added flavor. (Chicken broth works well too if you aren't worried about keeping this totally meatless). 


While the Quinoa cooks (about 10 minutes), cut your peppers in half, top to bottom to make little pepper boats. These are easier to eat, in my opinion, than the traditional stuffed peppers. Put them face down on a pan (I know...shame on me for using tin foil...but I need a new pan for the toaster oven). Roast them to your liking. I did about 15 minutes in the toaster oven at 400 to keep them a bit crunchy (keep in mind they will cook a bit longer later on).



While those cook, chop up your zucchini and mix with a can of diced tomato (of course you can do fresh if you have it!), Italian seasoning, celery salt (or garlic), and ground flax. *Note: If you prefer your zucchini fully cooked, I recommend sautéing it here. Feel free to mix in the tomatoes and spices after they cook a bit and let simmer for about 10 minutes. I like crunch so I did not cook them first).


Next, mix in your cheese and cooked quinoa:


Then, turn your peppers over and stuff 'em! Top with a sprinkle of shredded cheese and some parsley. Cook for 15-20 minutes at 375 (this is in a toaster oven. Cook for 20-30 minutes in a regular oven).


Enjoy!


_________________________________
Ingredients (Serves 4)
  • 4 Organic Green Peppers
  • 1/2C Quinoa
  • 1/2C Vegetable Broth
  • 1 large or 2 medium Zucchini
  • 1 Can Organic Tomatoes
  • 1T Italian Seasoning Blend
  • 1/2C Shredded Cheese (I used Monterey Jack)
  • 1t Celery Salt (or garlic)
  • 1T Ground Flax (optional)
  • 1/4-1/2C Shredded Cheese (for topping)
  • Approx 1T Parsley Flakes to make it pretty
Directions:
  1. Cook Quinoa in broth and water
  2. Cut peppers in half, top to bottom, and remove pith and seeds
  3. Roast face down for approximately 15 minutes 
  4. Chop zucchini into thin quarter-round slices
  5. Mix with tomato, Italian Seasoning, Celery Salt, Flax, and Shredded Cheese
  6. Stir in Quinoa
  7. Remove peppers and turn over
  8. Stuff the peppers, top with cheese and parsley
  9. Cook for 15-20 minutes at 375 (toaster oven) or 20-30 minutes in a regular oven. 
________________________________

Notes:
Why celery salt? As I will post soon, my husband and I are both allergic to Allium, which is the entire onion and garlic family. We won't stop breathing, but it gives us a headache (just to be by it), itchy lips and throat, and upset stomach. Celery has made a great replacement!

Why the toaster oven? I wrote this recipe when it was still hot out and we don't have A/C so I use the oven as little as possible in the summer. The toaster oven does a lot more than toast bread and cook pizza! I plan to post an entire series by/during next summer so you can save on your gas and electric bill in the summer.  



Monday, October 21, 2013

Where We Call Home - Chicago & Batavia w/Kendra Thornton


I was contacted by Kendra Thornton, of Thornton Public Relations to collaborate on a Q&A post about why we love our home cities. My husband and I love our home and are so excited to raise our son here. (Ah, "our son," still can't get over saying that!). Kendra was able to travel a great deal during her position as Orbitz Director of Communications, and happily calls Chicago home for herself, husband, and their three children. My husband and I live in Batavia with our little man, about an hour west of Chicago, and love the calm lifestyle we live here on The Homestead. Read our conversation below to find out what Kendra & I love most about our home towns! (Note: A=April, that's me! K=Kendra)
Photo by April Duda - 2011 in Batavia, IL
 Q: How long have you lived in your current city?

K: I have lived in my current city, Chicago, and its greater suburban regions for my entire life. I grew up here, attended college at Northwestern, and never left after college! If the term “lifer” has ever applied, it is with me and my beloved Midwestern city—and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have been to numerous countries throughout the world thanks to my previous job, and while I certainly enjoy it, I always love coming home to Chicago.

A: I feel the same way! We enjoy trips now and then, but are always happy to come home. My husband and I have lived in Batavia for 4 years now. In 2009, we were searching for our own apartment that was cheap, but in a nice area. Luckily, we stumbled across an ad on Craigslist for a small studio apartment in the second floor of a house that had been broken up into 4 units. This house was here in Batavia, right by the river and bike path. Perfect! We lived in that tiny apartment for 2 years and in that time got hitched, obtained our teaching certificates and landed our first teaching jobs. During our job searches, we decided that Batavia was where we wanted to stay and call home, so we narrowed our search. We luckily found positions close to home (I in Batavia, and my husband nearby in West Chicago).  With our new income and saved dough from enduring 220 sq ft for 2 years, we began searching for a home. We looked at one house that went on the market the day we met with our realtor and mortgage broker for pre-approval. We got it, looked at the house that we now lovingly call “The Homestead” and put in an offer that night and haven’t looked back! (Check out photos from our first winter here!)

Q: What are your favorite attractions in your home city?
K: Living in a big city, there is never a dull moment. There really is excitement around every corner, but I will list off a few of my favorite family attractions because I think there is a common misconception that cities are not kid friendly. The Lincoln Park Zoo is an old Chicago treasure that has been around for years. My kids love it here, and it is very well kept making it a delight to attend.

A:  That's great! We enjoy occasional trips into the zoo and agree that Lincoln Park Zoo is a great one! In Batavia, we regularly walk or bike the path along the river in the summers and since having our son, enjoy parking downtown and walking the Riverwalk or attending one of the many festivals hosted there, such as Art in your Eye, BatFest, Green Walk, and our own little “Taste of Batavia” known as our Block Party. (Check out Batavia's beautiful dedication to 9/11 here)We also love our library and all of the kids’ programs they offer. We’re also looking forward to spending time swimming with our little man at the Quarry in summer to come. And last, but not least, as an artist myself I LOVE that we live in such an artful community. The entire tri-city area has embraced the arts and it can be found everywhere! Batavia’s Water Street Studios has offered so much to our community since they set up shop.
Here's us on the Batavia Riverwalk in 2009 after our Engagement!
 Q: What is your favorite thing about your home city?
K: My favorite thing about Chicago is the homely feel this city has. It may seem hard to imagine that a city of millions could feel like this, but our common love of Chicago makes it this way.


A: Sound like we have that in common! We love the ambiance of the town. It has a population nearing 30k but still has that small town feel. I am from a small town (around 3k when I was growing up) and my husband went to college in Idaho and, while he is from the suburbs, knew he wanted to be away from the congestion and traffic. One thing I did not love about my small town is that there wasn’t usually much to do, and shopping wasn’t very convenient. Batavia balances everything we’d hoped we’d find. Randall Rd. offers just about every store you’d ever want to visit and we enjoy our almost weekly trips to our local Goodwill (whether to purge or buy!).
Q: Where is your favorite place to eat?

K: I have tons of different dining options that I love, but one of my recent favorites to bring my kids to is Abigail’s American Bistro. It is affordable, and the menu is absolutely delicious. With something for everyone from kids to adults, this fine dining experience (4.5 star rating) really has it all. I was able to find this restaurant by looking on the site Gogobot, a social site with guides for areas all over Chicago (and every other city in the world) as well as hotels, their primary feature.

A: I'll have to check out that site! We have tried many places in town, and while we are excited to try some of our most recent additions, we absolutely love Pal Joey’s. It is near our lil’ old apartment and we used to go there when it was a different name/owners. We enjoyed it just for the location and their outdoor patio on the river. We go there more often now that Pal Joey’s has moved in. I have yet to taste a better pizza and there is not much more relaxing than sitting on that back patio on a nice day with a slice of pizza and glass of Blue Moon. I also love Limestone Coffee & Tea and was very excited when they reopened!

Q: Would you rather live somewhere else? If yes, why? If no, why not?


K: There is nowhere I would rather be than in Chicago, Illinois. I have called it my home for my entire life, and being anywhere else just wouldn’t feel right at this point! How about you?

A: Before we bought our home, I may have said yes (if I didn’t want to stay close to family). I looove mountains and the northwoods of Wisconsin. I always feel at home there, which makes sense because half of my family lives there. But I never want to leave our home and we are happy that it is here in Batavia where we still get a good dose of nature :)
 What do you love about your home town? I'd love to hear it!
PS - You can follow Kendra on Twitter, here!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

4th Trimester Reflections

Our little man is 10 days away from turning 5 months old. 5 months...that's almost 6...which is half of a year. Holy cow. Time really does fly, and I cherish my memories of his newborn days. I won't say I miss them, because I choose to live in the present. I like it here. I look at photos and videos and get teary and say "awwww" a lot, but I am so proud of the little man he is already becoming. I am extremely grateful that I am able to stay home with my little man and not miss a thing. I have always been the super sappy sentimental type and don't think I would handle being away from him very well (I am not saying anything negative here about moms who go back to work...hell, I wouldn't have a job without you. You are tough and doing what you need to do for your family, go you!). But enough about being sappy, let's move on to some reminiscing...


I'd read a bit about the "4th trimester" and thought it was interesting that it was called that. I had read it was because they do so much growing & developing in those first 3 months after birth. I'd also read the theory that since we evolved and began walking upright, it decreased pelvic/birth canal size so babies had to be born "before they were ready." Now, they are saying metabolism may have something to do with it. But anywho...needless to say babies are helpless little things when they are born. Adorable, sweet, dependent, tiny (usually) little things who peck around like little birds looking for momma's milk. Sigh that was my favorite. I didn't have much experience with newborns before having our little one. In fact, in the hospital when I was working on establishing nursing, I made a nurse help me rotate him to the other side because I thought I was going to break him (and to my credit had zero core strength and was at an awkward angle). My husband was a champ those first couple of days. I'm sure he was nervous but he hid it well, changing his first diaper and getting him in his first onesie. I was impressed because I was feeling about as physically helpless as our newborn (damn Pitocin...I blame you). E looked ridiculously tiny in his car seat and I just couldn't wait to get him safely into our home.

The next day after bringing him home, we had to take him to see his pediatrician (I delivered an hour away so we had the hospital pediatrician check him out, but then needed to see ours). So back into the carseat he went and on to that germ infested doctor's office (eep!). It was in those fluorescent lights in the office that we realized he was quite yellow. Then we discussed his potty patterns and while he did poop (in utero, and shortly after birth), he hadn't pooped in a couple of days nor had he peed much, if at all. So within about a 10 minute window, we were told that he was starving (I'm exaggerating of course) and jaundice and not knowing much about it at the time, I broke down in tears and just wanted our baby to be ok. Our sweet nurse practitioner reassured me that he'd be fine, they just want to see him pooping because that helps get the excess bilirubin out of his system. So then came the formula to supplement until my milk came in. I hate this part. Nothing against moms who choose or have to use formula...it just isn't what I wanted for my baby. I will say, after seeing his sense of satisfaction after that first bottle (which he took like a pro) I felt fine about it. It wasn't until later on that I wish one of us would have slowed down to think rationally and at least choose an organic formula. But what's done is done and he's healthy and nurses very well and hasn't had formula since. So like I said earlier, no living in the past.

After being in our local hospital under the lights for less than 24 hours, frequently nursing, then taking a bottle after, he was given the ok to go home since his levels were back to normal. Finally we could go home and stay home with our little man. My husband teaches and took two weeks off (it's only his second year so he didn't want to take too much time, but we timed it right because he only had to go back for a week after his leave was up and then it was summer!). I loved having him home with us.

So as I mentioned earlier, newborns are helpless little things, and that's no big news. They're kind of known for it. So now it was time to settle into our new lives as parents and work on getting into some kind of routine. He slept a lot, usually on me or his daddy, nursed well, and smiled in his sleep often. So stinkin' cute. He is still an extremely happy and smiley baby. He also went through a lot of diapers...We had some Naty disposable diapers that we were using up and a few days in, when I was more comfortable getting up and walking around, I decided to start using our cloth newborn stash. We had bought a stash of Kissaluvs fitteds and various covers from a friend. And wouldn't you know it, in his first cloth diaper he finally took his first poo since the hospital. Yay!

I swear it was the day he turned 3 months old that I had a rough day accepting that he was no longer a newborn. Suddenly he wanted to stand or sit up all the time and be a big boy. He wasn't content laying down in momma's lap anymore. But then he would get hungry and sleepy and need me to soothe him. Then I remembered, "Oh yeah, he still needs me. And he will for quite awhile." Not that I didn't have a ton of fun with him in those first few months, but the bigger he got, the more smiley, responsive and fun he became. I know my husband had a hard time, as many do. He didn't feel that he could do much to help him, which maybe directly he can't because all baby really wants is mom & milk. But he made sure I had food and water, which I needed more of than I ever thought I would. He was awesome and for any dads feeling the same way, he is having a blast with him these days :)

In those first few months, they can't reach out (at least not in a controlled way) to grab their toys or you (omg...when they reach out and touch your face the first time...oh man. Heart melting). They just kind of hang out. Then all of a sudden I find myself thinking of what I can do to entertain him. He holds himself up playing with his Zany Zoo (with our help of course) and loves books (he started staring at them at just a few days old...especially Look, Look!). And man is he ticklish! He also travels very well and is a breeze to take anywhere, especially if I wear him in my Moby wrap. He just hangs out, looks around, and naps when he gets sleepy.

So if you have a newborn yourself, maybe you are struggling feeling like it will never end. It will, hang in there! And for those of you who enjoyed it as much as I did and are missing it, I hear ya, but aren't they so much fun now? I've said it before, live in the present, take lots of pictures, and cherish these moments and look back with a smile :)


Friday, October 4, 2013

Apple & Pumpkin Spice Chip Cookes

Last fall, I started experimenting with my favorite holiday cookie recipe. By adding extra cinnamon and replacing the cranberries in the original recipe with chopped apple, I gave them more of a fall taste (see them here). This year, I got a little more courageous and switched up the recipe even more to make these delicious cookies that have been described as Autumn exploding in your mouth.


What really makes these cookies are the pumpkin pie spice chips that I discovered over at The Cupcake Project! I did not shape mine into cute chips like she did, but just rolled them flat onto parchment paper and cut them into little squares after they cooled. I also used maple syrup in place of the corn syrup and it worked out great! I made these the night before (you can make them days before, they will keep for quite awhile) For the chips you will need:
  • 2/3 Cup Sugar
  • 3T Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • 2T Butter (at room temp)
  • 2T Light Corn Syrup (I used Maple Syrup)
  • 1/4t Vanilla Extract
Mix all ingredients and press out flat on parchment paper and bake your blob at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Let cool completely and then use a butcher knife or pizza cutter to cut out your squares. Save the little crumbs...they are awesome in coffee or to top these cookies or muffins!
___________________________________________

Now for the cookies! (Ingredients/Instructions at the bottom of this post)
Start by mixing your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon) in a large mixing bowl (I like to throw them all in the sifter (except oats) and then whisk in the oats. In a separate bowl (on your mixer if you have one) beat the butter & sugars until well blended. Then, beat in eggs one at a time and add the syrup and vanilla. Then slowly mix in the dry ingredients as shown below.


I mixed in a 15oz can of pumpkin (although fresh is best!) at this point instead of with the wet ingredients because...well because I forgot I was adding pumpkin until this point. Once the pumpkin is blended well, add a bit more flour a little at a time (up to a 1/2 cup) to thicken the batter. Stir in the white chocolate chips and diced apple (with the mixer is fine). Then carefully stir in the pumpkin pie spice chips by hand.


Now you are ready to drop your batter onto a cookie sheet! You can roll these into balls to get a "neater" looking cookie, but with a baby I found keeping my hands free was much better so I used two spoons to drop them onto the cookie sheet and it worked very well. Keep them spaced about 2" apart to allow for spreading. Top with cinnamon or more pumpkin pie spice!


Bake for 10-13 minutes at 350 degrees (until the edges start looking golden brown. Don't let them get too dark, the batter is already a golden brown because of the pumpkin). Note that the chips will melt onto the pan if they are touching it. They didn't burn and came off easily, but you may want to bake them on parchment paper if you tend to have sticking issues with your cookie sheets.

___________________________________________
Apple & Pumpkin Spice Chip Fall Cookies

Ingredients:
  • 2-2.5C. Flour
  • 1tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2tsp Salt
  • 1C. Brown Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2tsp Vanilla
  • 1C. White Chocolate Chips
  • 1-2 Cups Pumpkin Pie Spice Chips (your preference)
  • 1C. Butter (Softened)
  • 15oz Can of Pumpkin
  • 3C. Oats (I've always used quick oats)
  • 1/2tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2C. Granulated Sugar
  • 1T Pure Maple Syrup (or honey)
  • 1 medium-large apple, peeled and diced. I used a large Honeycrisp, and had extra.
  • Cinnamon or Pumpkin Pie Spice (for topping)
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Sift 2 Cups of flour, baking soda, salt, & cinnamon into a medium bowl
  3. Stir in oats and set aside
  4. Beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy
  5. Beat in eggs one at a time
  6. Add maple syrup (or honey) and vanilla
  7. Add flour mixture until well combined 
  8. Blend in pumpkin 
  9. Mix in up to a half cup of flour a little at a time as needed until batter is thickened
  10. Stir in apple and white chocolate
  11. Carefully stir in pumpkin pie spice chips by hand
  12. Drop onto a cookie sheet about 2" apart
  13. Sprinkle tops with pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
  14. Bake 10-13 minutes
  15. Enjoy!
 
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