Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The April magazine issues are starting to fill up my mailbox and with them beautiful pictures of blown and dyed eggs.  There seem to be endless ways to decorate the simple egg. Martha Stewart alone has a slideshow of 62 different ideas. Here are some of my favorite...

How cute are these ideas to make with kids!

While I don't enjoy blowing eggs, I do love that they last for years.  Every year I blow and decorate a few more so my stash continues to grow and grow.

This year I'm planning on making a garland out of brown and white eggs.  I'm going for a more monochromatic mantel with pops of green and I think the natural eggs will look perfect.  In the past I've had a "Happy Easter" garland made out of eggs that I dyed and sketched letters on hanging on the mantel.  Over the years the eggs have gotten a little chipped and cracked so I decided that it was time to retire the garland.

Of course, when you blow all those eggs you end up with a lot of, well, egg left over.  My favorite thing to make with the eggs is frittata.  Frittata is probably one of my favorite meals, though I don't make it as often as I should.  Frittata is as good as quiche but so much easier and quicker to make because you don't have to deal with the crust (which you don't even miss).

Search the internet and you'll come up with thousands of frittata recipes, but the great thing about frittata is that you can throw in whatever you have in your fridge.  Tonight we made a frittata with sausage, red pepper, zucchini, leek, red onion, ricotta and mozzarella cheese.  It was delicious.

Once summer comes I'll post my all time favorite frittata recipe.  I'd share now but none of the veggies are in season so it wouldn't taste nearly as good as it will come summer time.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Less is More March- Week 1

So this month we're focusing on our budget and trying to eliminate extemporaneous spending (see more here). The first week was a little bit harder than we thought it would be.

Money spent
Here's the breakdown of what we spent this week:
52.38- Groceries/coffee
41.31- Gas
14.75- Personal items
8.50- Dry cleaning (seriously Jeff, you had to wait until this week?)
3.19- Redbox rental (had we returned this on time it would have only been $1 and not this month)
31.35- Books for bible study
50.00- Money owed to Jeff's brother (he's killing me here)
198.29 total spent- $48.29 over budget

Money saved
During this month we're taking the opportunity to look at our monthly bills and see if there are ways to cut or eliminate them
Comcast bill: Savings of $50 a month
We were paying $155 for cable and Internet.  With all the commercials touting $99 a month for Internet, cable and phone we were a little perplexed as to why we were paying so much.  So Jeff called Comcast and was able to negotiate our bill down to $105 with a new home phone thrown in too.
Life Insurance: Savings of $39.01 a month
A few years ago we took out some life insurance policies.  Last year we opened a few new policies with another company but never closed the old ones.  We were way over-insured but I just never got around to canceling. I thought the company would make it really difficult to cancel the policies (since I use to work for one and know all about retention policies).  Well, a five minute phone call later and that was that.

Thoughts on this week:
- Jeff and I need to communicate more on what our upcoming plans and money needs are going to be.  We do talk about it but I think we mention things randomly and aren't actually paying attention to each other.
- I'm really happy with how little we spent on groceries this week.  $50 is not too bad!  We had mostly meatless meals this week (barely and roasted root vegetable salad, homemade pizza, lazy man's lasagna... the rest is escaping me)
- I do like the challenge of not spending money.  It was nice not really having to go anywhere.  We did take a few trips to the library but hung out at home the rest of the time.
- Hanging out at home has its advantages. I repainted the dining room and kitchen using paint we had in the basement.  I love how the rooms came out.  The colors work perfectly in those rooms (though I have no idea what rooms these colors were in before).  Next up is painting and framing in a chalkboard on the kitchen wall (using supplies we already have).

Next week:
This week's budget is $180.  I have to buy diapers and groceries tomorrow.  My birthday is on Wednesday and we're hoping to go out to dinner one night to celebrate.  We'll be using gift certificates so that shouldn't cut into our budget too much.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

ribbon board

Sometime you have to wonder how buying clothes pins...
Shabby Chic clothes pins from Michaels

...can result in a ribbon board.

I bought the clothespins on a recent trip to Michaels.  $2 for 4 clothespins is really not a bargain but I thought they were the cutest thing and just had to have them.  Of course, once I got them home I realized I really didn't have a place to put them.  I eventually decided to glue magnets on the back and use them on the fridge to hold papers (still have to get around to doing that).

But the clothes pins reminded me of a shabby chic curtain panel I had bought at Target years ago, which made me think that it was high time I made a ribbon pin board (I have no idea why my mind works the way it does).

As with all spur of the moment projects I didn't have all the supplies I needed.  I really wanted to use some cork board backing but I didn't have any.  What I did have was a frame, spray paint, ribbon, the fabric, and lots of glue and tape.

I pulled a wood frame out of the basement that had definitely seen better days.  Before I painted it I used the staple gun to reinforce the frames edges that were beginning to pull apart.  Gotta love a staple gun.  Then I braved the winter weather (and less than ideal painting conditions) and gave the frame two coats of white paint.  I let the frame dry overnight in the garage and then brought it inside and used some sandpaper to roughen up the finish.
love the distressing  

**I should preface this next section by saying- Don't do what I did.  I knew that this was only a temporary thing until I could get some cork board and do it right, so my taping method is not to be copied (since it's not very secure).**

Meanwhile, I wrapped the fabric around the plexiglas and taped it in place with masking tape.  Then I strung three different types of ribbon in a random pattern across the fabric and also secured it with tape.  It looked really cool but wasn't that functional at actually holding anything.
the first design

As fate would have it the command hook I used to hang the ribbon board couldn't hold it's weight and the board fell off the wall after a few days.  In the fall the frame got jostled and so did some of the ribbon (hence the reason not to use tape).  Luckily, my mom was in town and wanted to use her JoAnne fabric coupon to buy me an early birthday present.  I went straight for the cork board (sometimes it's the little things).

So with my cork board in hand I stripped the fabric, ribbons and lots of tape off the Plexiglas and started over.
cutting the cork board to size

I cut the cork board to the same size as the Plexiglas and then glued the two together (using a glue gun).  The glue dried really fast on the Plexiglas so I'd recommend gluing down one section at a time.
my gluey cork board

Then I glued the fabric to the plexiglass, folding down the corners so everything was neat and tidy.  I'd recommend gluing down one side and then the opposite side so that you can pull the fabric nice and taut.
all glued down

I decided to go with the typical ribbon pattern (since it does work well).  I figured out how many ribbons I wanted, spaced them out using a ruler (about 4 inches between each ribbon) and then glued the ribbons to the fabric.
half the board in blue

Remember to weave your second side of ribbons through the first side so that your papers will have a place to "sit."
weaving the green ribbon through

Once all the ribbons were attached I popped the board back into the frame and presto- a new ribbon board.  The colors go perfectly in our family room which is where I keep all my craft supplies. I hung the board on the wall by my desk (using a nail this time) so that I can put all my little inspirational clippings up there.

So this particular project was free (I always love that).  I'm sure there are a million different ways you could make these ribbon boards but this one worked well for me.

What have you made lately?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

shelves for Elliot

Do you remember when I posted about my wish list for the kids room? These shelves weren't on that list but I love them just as much as the Madison book rack. The shelves start at $39 which seems like a lot for a few pieces of wood stapled together.

Collector's Shelves

I really, really love the shelves and I just couldn't get them out of my head. I thought they would be perfect in Elliot's room so we decided to make a pair ourselves.  
Here's our version.

I'm so happy with the way they turned out, but I think Elliot likes them even more than I do.  As Jeff was hanging them last night he kept saying "Thank you dadda!" 
I wasn't planning on putting anything on them last night (so that the paint would have time to cure), but  Elliot was SO excited to put books up that he wouldn't go to sleep.  Around ten we finally let him put a few books on the shelves so that he would go to sleep.  I'm glad he likes them so much.

The best part is that these shelves only cost $24 to make!  We made them out of red oak boards from Home Depot.  Jeff did the assembling and I did the painting.  The shelves are each two feet long.  The paint color is Calypso from Ralph Lauren.  I had some left over from another project which was great (and free!).

Some of our favorite books

The back of the bottom shelf extends a few inches below the shelf (unlike the PotteryBarn version). I'm planning on putting some hooks there so that Elliot will have a place to hang up some hats and coats.

I've linked up to Funky Junk's Saturday Nite Special.
 Funky Junk's Sat Nite Special

Monday, February 28, 2011


Elliot thinks the ducks would rather be looking outside than lined up neatly in a row.
Isn't it funny how sometimes when we just change our viewpoint things can look so much different.

Yesterday I started putting away the Valentine's Day decorations and pulling out the Spring and Easter ones in the hope to brighten these winter days.  The last few days we've gotten more snow, rain, and ice which has been somewhat depressing.   With all our house troubles (now the basement is leaking too), Jeff and I both being sick this weekend, and the dismal weather I've sort of been in the dumps.

Today we woke up to the world covered in ice with didn't make for a great start.  My short temper and sour attitude was even annoying me.  When Emme went down for her nap I put on a movie for Elliot (How to Train Your Dragon) and plopped myself down with my laptop and started catching up on the blogs I follow.  Of course, I was thinking to myself "Finally a minute to myself.  I totally deserve this."  You know, all that selfish self-justification that we do.

But then I went over to Under the Sycamore where one of her posts today was about cancer.   In it she talks about two women.  The first is Valerie Koop who lost her husband to cancer early this month.  Valerie writes candidly about it on her blog.  I found myself weeping at her account of her loss, of her two young children, of her family, and the love of her friends.  It instantly changed my mood from self-absorbed depression to one of wordless gratitude that God has granted me the life I have.

The second woman is Libby Ryder who just this past week became cancer free!  She also chronicles her fight with cancer (and now it's defeat) on her blog.  I love her motto "don't waste your cancer or your life."

Both these women have very different experiences with cancer and I'd never even knew they existed until today.  But isn't it weird/ awesome/ amazing that God used both of them to encourage me and get me back on track.

So now it doesn't bother me that Elliot wants to play dragons (again) or that the world outside is covered in ice (it's actually very beautiful and shimmery).  Will this feeling last forever? Probably not, but I hope that the next time I fall into a funk it won't take me so long to get out of it.  Because really what's the point?  Life is SO short so why waste it being cranky?  (This is not what I was planning on writing today but I felt compelled to share it.)

In other news- I'm currently painting two shelves we made for Elliot's room that I can't wait to share later this week.  Less is More March starts tomorrow which I'll also be writing more about (we've already cut one bill by $50 a month).  And I have lots of projects in my head that I can hopefully start working on soon.

Hope you have a happy Monday!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

March Madness?

Less is More for March.  What does that mean?  Well for the Ryan family that means we are cutting back- way, way back.

In January I read an article over at Chiot's Run entitled "No Buy February" and it really resonated with me.  The basic premise is that you only buy what you absolutely need.  You pay your bills but after that it's only what you need to survive. I kept mulling it over and over.  While our family is frugal in some things, we definitely spend almost all the money that Jeff makes, and I know that we don't need most of the things that we're buying. I think that having to buy a new furnace this week was what made me decide that we're definitely going to give this thing a shot (Jeff's fully on board too in case you were wondering).

Less is More
Why are we doing this?
Well, first of all to stop buying things we don't need (but that's the American way right?)  Is buying things wrong? No, but sometimes I feel like my stuff controls me and that's not a fun way to live.  Secondly, to pay down/off debt and eventually to put more money into savings.  This whole furnace purchase really threw a wrench into our plans.  We have a busy summer ahead of us and we'd like to start the summer out in a good place financially.

- This is whatever you want it to be.  For us it means that we are going to try to not spend any of Jeff's income from his job at a local Insurance company.  When I became a stay at home mom last June, Jeff started working part time for our church to help make up some of our lost income.  While working two jobs is never fun, it was a perfect fit for Jeff since he does so much at the church anyway.  This part time job brings in about $150 a week so that means we'll be surviving on $600 for the month.  Now, for some people that may be a lot and for others that may be unthinkable, but for us I know it will be a challenge.
- No stocking up on goods before or after March.  This would skew the actual money spending in March.

What's Not Included
- Bills: those will still be paid out of Jeff's normal income.  However, we will be looking at all our bills to see if we can cut or eliminate them
- Medical: this is paid for out of our HSA but even if it wasn't, health is necessary for survival

What's Included
- All Food (this includes coffee and alcohol)  I'm guessing we spend at least $600 a month on groceries.  We buy organic eggs, raw milk, and mostly organic meat and dairy products whenever possible.  It all adds up- fast (though I'm sure you all know that)
- Diapers: I currently buy Pampers which sets me back about $30 a box.  With two kids in diapers that's $60 each diaper run.  I know we'll have to buy diapers at least once next month, if not twice. So that's $120 out of our $600 (ouch)
- Gas: Jeff drives a Golf and I drive a Jeep.  Depending on how much we drive it'll be $100-$150 on gas for the month
- Anything else: any toiletries, household products, stamps, clothes, books, craft supplies, basically anything you can buy at Target (I think you get the picture)

What our month looks like
So are we going to hunker down and not do anything or go anywhere this month?  Well, that would make this a lot easier, but March seems to be shaping up to be a busy month. Some of the things we're up to include:
- My birthday
- Hosting two small group meetings
- Host a fantasy baseball draft
- Attending a friends baby shower
- Attending a girls day out
- Traveling to Boston for a medical appointment (this is the one that's gonna make it tough)

Plan of attack
- Food: Since food makes up the majority of our spending this will be my main focus.  Will be we eating pasta and pbj for every meal?  Hopefully not.  I have a pretty diverse menu planned for the month but I'll have to reevaluate it week by week.  This will be a good chance to clean out the freezer and the pantry.
- Entertainment: library, free play groups, get together with friends, I really don't foresee us lacking in things to do.
- Gas: think twice before just driving around (which we generally don't do anyway).  I'm hoping that since we won't be shopping as much that will help cut down on our usage.
- Misc: avoid the mall, Target, and Costco.  Those are my favorite places to shop and probably where I spend the majority of our extra money.
- Put the debit and credit cards away- far, far away.

Final thoughts
I'm really excited about this; I'm also really nervous.  I think the first two weeks will be manageable and then next two, well not so much.  If we can do this (I think we can, I think we can) than we will be able to pay down some of our debt.  If it goes well than I'd like to do this again in October, but let's not get ahead of ourselves...

I'm going to try and write weekly updates on our progress.

Here's another great website about a "No Spend Month."  Rachel and her family only had a budget of $200!!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

counting blessings

Bear with me as I share a little glimpse into our weekend.  This post isn't filled with photos (the ones above are from my brother in law) or how-to's, but it is filled with the unpredictability of life and how it can be great even in less than ideal circumstances.

Sunday morning we had Emme dedicated at our church.  It was a wonderful service: a visiting group put on a fantastic puppet show and there was a slide show of the children being dedicated (our Emme is at the end).  Then all the families with children to be dedicated were prayed over. After the dedication my husband preached a wonderful message entitled "using your talents." It was a great morning, so uplifting and encouraging.

Unfortunately we arrived home to find the carbon monoxide alarm going off.  What do you even do in a situation like that? Guests were already arriving for a little party for Emme. The next 30 minutes were a blur. I had no idea what to do (neither did anyone else) so I quickly jumped on the Internet and searched “what to do when the carbon monoxide alarm goes off.”  The site I ended up looking at started off by talking about number of deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning (just what I wanted to read about).  The “what to do” section was way down on the page and said “call the fire department.” 
So I called the fire department and they told me they’d be right here.  In the meantime I had to try and figure out what I was going to do with the party and all our guests.  Jeff and I quickly went over our options (quickly because there weren’t many).  I ended up calling my neighbor asking if I could bring all my party guests over to her house while we figured out what was going on at mine.  She most graciously opened her home to people she’d never met or barely knew.  
It was a chaotic hour of dealing with the fire department, making sure our guests knew where to go, trying to prepare the food and move a party across the street.  Everyone was more than flexible and there were many helping hands.  The firemen pinpointed the furnace as the cause of the leak and promptly shut it off.  They said that we could return to the house but we weren’t allowed to use the furnace until it was repaired or replaced.  We decided it would be best if no one stayed in the house and we ended up holding the party at my neighbors.
It was a very crazy day.  It’s odd entertaining in someone else’s home, especially while you’re running across the street to deal with your own home issues.  Unfortunately, Jeff missed most of the party since he was dealing with the HVAC specialist and fire department.  I didn’t end up getting any pictures of Emme in her cute little outfit or of the cupcakes I made for her.  The day didn’t end up anything like I had planned or envisioned, and left us with a heatless house and the realization that we’d be paying a lot of money for a new furnace.
But when I look back on all the things that happened on Sunday all the bad stuff sort of disappears and a few main things stand out....  
First, we dedicated our sweet baby girl to Christ.  I can only do so much for Emme as her mom, but God can do so much more.  Ultimately, He holds her life in His hands, I’m just a steward of it.  God brought her here for a specific purpose and it's our job to raise her to fulfill that purpose.  Daunting, yes, but that's why we trust God to help us.
God knew that Emme is exactly who our family needed.  She is feisty, smart, and willful.  Her smile lights up our hearts and her laugh can make you cry with happiness.  She adores us.  She loves to cuddle, wave and give you kisses.  She thinks the world revolves around her older brother, and their love for each other melts my heart.  Her little personality is starting to develop and it's fun to watch her cough for attention or laugh at things she finds funny.  She may have temper tantrums and crying jags, but that doesn't diminish who she is- Emme is PERFECT because that's exactly the way God made her. 
Secondly, I can never repay Ellie for opening her home (with only a few minutes notice to tidy up) and welcoming our family and friends in as if they were her own.  I know how crazy it is planning a party, and to have one thrust upon you without warning (and adapting so well) is something I hope I can one day repay to someone else.  I start to cry when I think about it. It's truly one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.
Lastly, all our guests were so accommodating.  They helped move everything across the street, helped prepare all the food, and were so sweet towards Ellie and her family.  While I am partial to our guests, it was our family and closest friends after all, it's a treat when your friends can bless other friends and new relationships can form.  I'm glad each and every one got to spend Emme's special day with us, even if it was a little crazier than normal.

On Monday Ashley, from Under the Sycamore, wrote a post that relates similar thoughts far more eloquently and beautifully than I can.  I encourage you to read it.  It helps put life in perspective.