Thursday, February 28, 2013

{friendship} The Penpal Project


My favorite part of the day is going out to the mailbox.  More often than not, I usually find bills and junk mail...but every once in a while, I'll find a letter or a package addressed to me.  I try to play it cool while I casually walk back to the house, but once I've closed the door, I'm opening up that baby like it's Christmas morning.

It seems a little silly, but the idea that someone would take the time to send ME a little something...well, it's powerful.  When you're a Mamma in the trenches of motherhood, the days are long.  You are constantly giving of yourself: changing diapers, making meals, cleaning up, playing games, etc etc etc.  So that surprise in the mailbox, with words written just for me, encourages me in ways I really cannot express.  

I want others to feel that encouragement too.  

I've been brainstorming ways to use this little blog of mine in powerful ways for months now.  A lot of praying for inspiration has occurred.  And then I read Anna's post: Encourage Beauty and the pieces began to fall into place.  

I want to encourage you, Mammas.  I want you to know that your vocation is important, that you are beautiful, and that you are a valuable part of this community of mothers.  So in my small way, inspired by Encourage Beauty, I introduce a new project here at the Big White Farmhouse: The Penpal Project!

Here's the idea: You sign up with the form below.  I will go down the list, one at a time, and send each Mamma a little something to find in your mailbox.  Maybe it's your favorite candy, a pack of sticky notes, or a pair of cute earrings.  Depending on the response, this could take me days or it could take me months!  I'm adding a "Penpal Project" category to our monthly budget, so I'll send as many as the money allows.  This is a no strings attached hope is that you come away knowing you are valued and you are encouraged in your role as a Mamma.  If you'd like to send a letter back my way, even better!  You know I love mail :)

We are in this together, Mammas!

And just for clarification, please know that your information is safe with me and won't be shared with anyone else!  Hope to hear from you soon.

{12 Months of Kindness} February: Food Bank Donations

For February's Kindness, we purchased food for the local food pantry.  (More info about the 12 Months of Kindness can be found in this post.)  Our church has a big collection bin, so we'll be dropping our donation off on Sunday.  

Going into this, I was very conflicted.  My little family has been making drastic changes in the way we eat.  Very little processed food, lots of fruits and veggies, etc etc.  So when I thought about our possible donations, I didn't want to buy...well, crap. I feel like everyone should eat the most nutritious food available, even in financial difficulty.  So that was my thought process when we went to the grocery store. 

The pictures above show what we accumulated to donate throughout the entire month.  Each week, we allocated a certain amount for donations, sometimes just $5.  I tried to find things that had nutritional value and would be filling.  Sometimes we found a sale, which was awesome!  

Last weekend, we let the boys pick out a few items to donate.  We've talked to them about how fortunate we are that our daddy has a great job, but some families are going through a rough time and they need help with their groceries.  They totally get it.  They also know that we are going to drop them off at the church and then Father (not sure if that's true, but we'll just let them think that!) will bring it to the food pantry to give to the families.    

For memory keeping's sake, I want to add that the boys specifically picked out the mac and cheese and the pasta, two items they love.   

One last note: the most expensive item we purchased was the Sunbutter.  However, after reading this post, I knew it was something we needed to do.  

I guess the point of this post is to show that everybody can give back!  Buy a can of beans for you and a can to donate.  Buy three, get one free?  Put the free one in the donation pile.  Little actions really add up.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

{chit chat} Stitch Fix #1

Today's post is something totally different for me.  I'm talking about clothes today, friends!  First, a little disclaimer: I am no where near as cool or fashionable as say, Anna or Grace.  But I want to try.  I'm a simple girl who has quickly gone from her high school/college fashion (to which I never want to return again!) to the stay-at-home mom uniform of t-shirts and yoga pants (and not a whole lot of yoga).  I hate to say I "lost myself" along the way, because the line is so cliche, but I definitely put myself on the back burner.  

I made a secret promise to myself, which I guess I am now sharing with you, that 2013 is the year I spend a little time on me.  Not in a greedy or selfish way, but in ways that would make me a better wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend.  And stop number one on the "me" train is my wardrobe.  Dressing like a frump, with a body that I'm not happy with, has been rough on my self esteem, which then in turn affected my entire family.  But no excuses, right?  If I'm not happy with the situation, I need to take the steps to change it.

Enter the wonder of the world wide web!  I first heard of Stitch Fix randomly from...Instagram maybe?  I looked it up and thought it was the perfect idea for moms like me.  Basically, you sign up and take a survey called your Style Profile.  It goes through a bunch of questions ranging from your body type to what style clothing you like.  Then you can schedule your "Fix" and a stylist will pick clothing for you based on your answers!  There's a spot at the end to add comments to your stylist, which I found very helpful.  I made sure to note that I had recently had a baby and therefore preferred tops that didn't hug my midsection and were easy to nurse.  And they really delivered!

The process is so cool.  They send you a box of items, you try them all on, keep what you like, and send the rest back.  Here's a peek at my first fix:

I apologize for being behind the camera instead of modeling these clothes for you, but a fussy little girl nixed that idea!  

I LOVED shirt #1.  It was a teal/turquoise color, sleeveless and just a bit flowy.  It even looked great on.  My only problem was that it was 100% silk and with my attached-at-the-hip, spit-up laden baby...probably not a good option for this stage in my life.  Sadly, I didn't keep this one.

Shirt #2 was another awesome one.  It was an oatmeal color with navy stripes and so comfy.  Casual without looking frumpy.  Sadly, it was just a bit too tight in the chest area.    Bummer.

Shirt #3 was just okay.  I liked the color (it was actually a much deeper blue than shown in this picture) but the cut was just okay and I didn't like the price tag for a shirt that was 100% polyester.  The item in the bag was a scarf.  It was cute, but I didn't think it was worth spending the money.  I'd rather invest in new jewelry.

This is the one piece I decided to keep.  White and simple, but something I actually needed in my closet.  I know it will get a ton of use this spring.  Oh!  So this is the best part of the whole Stitch Fix box, in my opinion:

Every piece has a tag that gives you ideas for how to wear it.  So for example, one idea for this sweater is paired with a casual tunic and skinny jeans.  But you could also belt it with a dress for a totally different look.  I feel a little clueless in the outfit department, so I found that card extremely helpful!

So yeah, Stitch Fix is something I will definitely try again.  I'm thinking next time I'll request some cute spring and summer dresses!  Have you tried Stitch Fix?  I'd love to hear about your experience!  

**contains referral link**

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

{intention 2013} February's Goals

February was about...
  • GIVING.  Making a commitment to be generous with our money and time.  Finding ways to support the people and causes we are most passionate about.  
  • LEARNING.  Trying new things, gaining new skills.  Lots and lots of reading.  
  • TAKING CHANCES.  Making great strides in the development of our boutique.  Products are beginning to be purchased and photo shoots have been scheduled.  Scary and exciting all at the same time.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} A Recap and Reflection

Whew!  I made it. In six weeks, I accomplished thirty items on my Pinterest boards!  It was quite the experience and I learned a lot.  Here are a few notes I've taken along the way:
  • I have so much respect for the big-time bloggers.  I greatly underestimated the time it takes to not only complete a project on a timeline, but photograph and blog about it!  So much of the blogging business is behind the scenes.      
  • Blogging about projects takes money.  I know...I guess that's a no brainer.  But for a Mamma on a budget, I definitely did not plan correctly.  A lot of using what I had and letting go of my desire to buy lots of new and pretty things occurred.  A good lesson in itself, I guess.    
  • I had more than one Pinterest fail.  I debated blogging about it, but felt bad talking negatively about another blogger.  Unfortunately, that plan often left me scrambling for another project!    
  • Towards the end, I started having major comparison issues.  My photographs weren't good enough, my posts weren't interesting enough, etc etc.  I hate that way of thinking, so I quickly pulled myself out of the slump.  
  • Now for the positives!  In six weeks, I got a LOT done.  My word for 2013 is intention and while exhausting, this challenge was a great way to start the year.  I hope I can keep it up, just at a slower pace :) 
In case you missed a post or two, here is the list of all I accomplished, categorized by theme:

Baby Clothes Organization
The Beginning of my Home Office
Laundry Room Inspiration Board
Laundry Room Roman Shades
A Chalkboard Wall
Tissue Paper Pom Poms for the Nursery
40 Bags in 40 Days: A Lenten Decluttering Challenge
Linen Closet Updates

Home Cold Remedies
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Menu Monday: A Week of Pinterest Recipes
Heart Rice Krispie Treats
Flourless Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Green Smoothies

Additions to my Project Life album
Lego Quest
Scripture Handprints
Snowman Craft on a Snowy Day
Superhero Cross-Stitch
Contact Paper Hearts

12 Months of Kindness and a Care Package for the Troops
Birthday Balloon Box
Foodie Penpals
A Gift to a Special Cousin

Embracing an Active Lifestyle: Exercise in 2013
A Book Review: Quiet Strength
A Book Review: Young House Love
Lenten Reading: Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa
Kindergarten Measurement Activity
Food for Thought with Mother Teresa

Can't wait to see what March has in store!

Friday, February 22, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} Day 30: Weekend Food for Thought

I thought I would round out my 30 Days of Pinspiration Challenge with something a little different.  Jules from Pancakes and French Fries recently pinned this image:

Isn't it beautiful?  I love her smile.  I love her joy.  Attached to the picture were these words: 
  “Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. … You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.” - Blessed Mother Teresa †
I have kept these words with me all week.  Have you ever read something and felt like it was written especially for you?  This simple little quote has spoken volumes to some stirrings in my heart.  I am inspired and ready for action.  Your prayers would be greatly appreciated.  I'll be sharing more in the coming weeks!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} Day 29: Gettin' Healthy with Green Smoothies

My sweet husband got me a Nutri Bullet Hi-Speed Blender for Valentine's Day.  Maybe it's just me, but I think it's so much better than chocolates or roses.  I couldn't get it out of the box fast enough.  

I've been intrigued by the whole juicing phenomenon, and after watching a few interesting documentaries, I knew it was something I needed to try.  This little appliance is awesome so far.  (I sound like an infomercial, but I promise they have no idea who I am!)  We started out with pure fruit smoothies and everyday I have increased the amount of greens.  I think I'm probably up to 1/2 cup of spinach now?  The boys gobble it up.  

So far, we've been spontaneous in our fruit/veggie selections, but I'm also curious to see what combinations other people find delicious.  This list of recipes all come from my Pinterest boards:
What's your favorite smoothie?  What's your favorite veggie to juice?  I'm all ears!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} Day 28: Linen Closet Update

As part of the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge, I decided today was the day I would tackle the linen closet.  We've never had one before this house and do I dare admit that it was a selling point for me?  I was just a little excited about it!  But in that whirlwind last September known as the two weeks between move-in day and our Little Miss's birth, I unpacked boxes, shoved linens wherever they fit, and called it a day.  

Five months later (FIVE!!), I'm finally putting some order into the chaos.  I was a horrible blogger and forgot to take before pictures, but I'm sure you can make a mental picture.  It was bad.     

Inspired by this pin:
Upstairs Linen Closet Makeover by Shari at Turnstyle Vogue

I purged, decluttered and organized, and ended up with this:

It's not finished, but it's a big improvement.  I still need a couple of baskets to hold the sheets and something on the floor to corral extra toilet paper.  I want to make an upstairs cleaning kit too.  Looking at these pictures, the OCD part of me wishes the baskets were all the same color.  I may change them down the road, but for now, a free upgrade sounds good enough for me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} Day 27: Kindergarten Measurement

Let's put this activity in the "I hope it will happen today" category.  My boys are oh so very crabby today and I'm close to pulling my hair out.  So maybe this will be a welcome distraction?  We'll see.

Anyway, part of our kindergarten curriculum focuses on measurement.  I found the free "Measure the House" Printables over at Let's Explore.  They are obsessed with tape measures, so I think this should be a hit!    

For more learning activities for kids, check out my Pinterest boards: Learning and Math.

Monday, February 18, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} Day 26: 40 Bags in 40 Days Declutter Challenge

Truth time: we have way too much stuff.  I'm tired of the clutter and the piles and the basement of who-the-heck-knows.  Four kids have made me crave simplicity.  But they've also made me, well, tired.  I know the purging process takes work and as much as I've desired it, I've been too lazy to start.

I've heard about bloggers who work on a 40 bags in 40 days Lenten Challenge before, but have never participated.  Until now!  

For whatever reason, her post was just the motivation I needed.  Don't you love how someone's words can light a fire in you?  The past five days have been extremely successful.  I've worked on our couch tables, the living room toys, a part of my office, and started in on the basement.  Lots and lots of things are headed to Goodwill, I have a pile to sell on eBay, and a couple of items to try on Craigslist.  Simplicity feels so good.  

I'll be sharing more pictures on Instagram as I go (using Ann Marie's #40days40bags hashtag). Let me know if you are too, so I can follow!  Simplifying is more fun with support :)

Friday, February 15, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} Day 25: Tissue Paper Pom-Poms

Today's craft was a spontaneous one.  After perusing my Pinterest boards for ideas to finish out the challenge (1 week to go!), I came across the tissue paper pom-pom.  I'm sure I originally pinned them for a party idea, but what the heck!  I made one just because.

Since it was my first time, and I only had one pack of tissue paper on hand, I looked at a few different sources.  This tutorial from Martha and this Youtube video were particularly helpful.  I didn't have pipe cleaners or floral wire on hand, so I stole the twisty tie off of the bread and it worked just fine.  

The finished product is so cute!  I hung it up in Baby Girl's nursery, but I think it would definitely look better in a cluster.  A trip to Target for more tissue paper is in order this weekend!  :)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} Day 24: Our Chalkboard Wall

We made a chalkboard wall.  I know, I know...this project is so 2012.  I'm always late to the party.  But they're fun for kids and adults alike and we had the perfect spot, so we painted one anyway.  

The inspiration pictures from my Pinterest boards:  

And here is our version, tucked away in a narrow hallway (hence the weird angle of the photographs):

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} Day 23: Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa

Can you believe it's Ash Wednesday already?  Lent definitely snuck up on me this year.  So let's compare notes. Growing up, this was always an interesting topic of conversation with friends and classmates: "What are you giving up this year?"  

This year, my husband and I have decided to give up watching television.  It's become a mind-numbing routine and we hope to change that.  Instead, we're going to exercise, play old fashioned board games, and read.  Sounds like we're 80 years old, but I think it will be a much needed change from the constant technology we surround ourselves with everyday.

As a family, we're going to read Bringing Lent Home with Mother Teresa: Prayers, Reflections, and Activities for Families.  I've had this book on my Pinterest board for months now and my mom found it in her library for me to borrow.  I've only flipped through it, but it seems great.  I'm sure I'll be back with a full review soon.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} Day 22: Flourless Chocolate Brownie Cookies

We're jumping on the gluten-free train today.  My husband has almost entirely cut out grains from his diet, which has done wonders for his overall health.  His influence is causing me to try to reduce my intake as well, but I'm not nearly as disciplined as he is!  

Today's recipe was my attempt at meeting him halfway.  I wanted to bake him something sweet, but with ingredients I knew he'd eat.  So while these are no where near "healthy" (I mean, 3 cups of confectioner's sugar?  Come on!), they are delicious.  I find them on the rich side, so you may only need a piece to satisfy your sweet tooth!

Flourless Chocolate Brownie Cookies
recipe pinned from Mother Thyme

3 cups confectioners sugar
2/3 cups unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix together confectioners sugar, cocoa powder and salt.  Add in vanilla extract and egg whites just until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.
3. Spoon small dollops of batter on baking sheet.  Set in refrigerator for about 5 minutes for batter to set.  
4. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes until tops are lightly cracked.  Cool on wire rack. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} Day 21: Contact Paper Hearts

Did you hear about Ana's Valentine's Day Cabin Fever Creativity Link-up?  Such a great idea.  I have zero talent in the clothes alterations department like she does, but her link-up instructions were just vague enough that I'm going to consider a kids craft "creative".  

So with Valentine's Day approaching, I thought I'd try a quick craft with the boys.  They were really excited because unfortunately, craft time has become scarce around here.  I just can't seem to keep it together with a fussy baby and three boys going to town with paint and markers...and mess.  I think I'm a little more Type-A than I'd like to admit!

This craft was a good way to ease back into the groove.  No paint or markers (hurray!) and I did all the prepwork for minimal sibling bickering.  Here is the inspiration photo I had pinned: 

And here is our finished project!  The other hearts are love notes from the kids for their Daddy's birthday.  I think this is just enough decorating for me.  

Be sure to link up with Ana, so we can see what crafty things you're up to!  
P.S. There's a giveaway involved too!

Friday, February 8, 2013

{30 days of pinspiration} Day 20: Super Hero Cross-Stitch

When we moved into this house in September, we were surprised to see that every single  room was painted a different color...except for the two boys' rooms.  These rooms were white - total blank slates.  I had a chat with the boys about what "theme" they would like and they answered with the obvious: Super Heroes!  

Now I know in the design world, a themed room is like the tackiest thing you can do.  And to some degree, I think they are right.  However, I feel like this is one area I have to let go.  When I was growing up, I had so much pride in how I decorated my room.  I picked out the comforter, hung up my bulletin board, and styled my bookshelf just to my liking.  I want that for my boys too.  

But enough of my tangent!  My vision for the room is to be quite classic (so it grows with them), while still embracing the super hero theme.  I also wanted to include something "Mamma-made" for each of them.  Hence these pins:

My plan is to pick a pattern for each of the boys, cross-stitch them on linen and then make throw pillows for their beds.  I'll be sure to share when I'm finished!

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