How to Makeover a Room without Spending a Dime

It’s happened three times. We’ve had moved and had a baby at the same time, and a year later I looked around at our house and realize what a mess it was. Every. Single. Room.

I wanted to clear them out, throw away half the stuff in them, and give them a good makeover. The problem was, we didn’t have money in our budget for a makeover. My solution? Do it without spending any. During the past three months, I’ve been slowly working through each room in our house to clear it out and clean it up. This week I finished the whole house, just in time to get outside with the kids and enjoy the beautiful spring weather. Not that I’m an expert on anything, but I thought it would be fun to share what exactly I do to makeover a room. Maybe someone out there has a room that needs some updating. 🙂

1. Survey the damage

I usually walk into a room days before I touch it and just marvel at how messy it’s gotten. Then I think about how nice and clean it’ll be when I’m done. Then I wait for a good day to move forward with my plans. This is the “get fired up” stage which I totally need to tackle any project with three little ones constantly trying to undo all my hard work. Here’s the girls’ room before I started…

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2. Clear it out

The morning I start my room makeover, I first clear everything out of the room. This is usually extremely entertaining to the kids, who then crawl all over the stuff that’s in a new place and is therefore much more fun to play with than it ever was before. They were thrilled when I dumped all the contents of Lydia and Abby’s room into the hallway. (I leave any big or bulky items and pieces of furniture in the room and work around them.)

This is also the time to make a trash pile, a giveaway pile, and a “this doesn’t belong in this room” pile. Items not worth owning (broken toys, ripped up pieces of paper, etc.) get dumped in the trash. Salvageable items I no longer want (books we don’t read, clothing we don’t wear etc.) get put in the giveaway pile, and things that don’t belong (ponytail holders, spare change etc.) get stashed together to be returned to their rightful locations later.

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4. Clean up

Depending on how long everything is taking, this is the prime time to dust, sweep the floor, mop, or wash marks off the walls. Usually I don’t spend a lot of time on this because the kids are already getting restless and Paul is already late for his nap. But it is nice to look around at the big, empty room because at this point it’s cleaner than it’ll ever be again.

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5. Rearrange

Now I move around any beds, tables, desks, chairs, dressers, or bulky toys to their newly selected location. Sometimes I move a lot. Sometimes I don’t move anything. The more I move, the more made-over the room feels.

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6. Put it back together

Next I put all the stuff back in the room. This is the hardest part if you have little Munchkins crawling around because they’ll want to come in the room and play with all the newly-put-away stuff. I happened to have a new toy shelf for the girls when I did their room, so that helped a lot with toy storage. I’m a sorter, so I love sorting through everything and grouping things together in their new storage spots.

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7. Admire your hard work

After you’re done admiring, get the kids outside so the room stays looking new for more than a few minutes! When I did the girls’ room, they were so excited to play with their new toys (which were not new at all, just sorted and put in nice, shiny, new bins) that I just let them play for a while. Don’t forget to take your pile of “things that didn’t belong” on your way out and put those items away too.

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And now you have a fresh, clean, made-over room without having spent a single dime. 🙂

Quilting Away

It’s been well over a year since a vision formed in my mind of a quilt for Abigail. It looks like that vision is ever so slowly becoming a reality, and I thought I would give a little update on how her quilt is coming along. Things go slowly when you’re working around two little ones, but progress is progress.

Here’s the original picture that I sat down and put together on the computer one night shortly before Abby was born. Next to it is the revised color scheme I decided on to make it more girly.

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Literally the weekend before Abby was born we went out and bought the first fabric and I got busy embroidering away…for the next six months!

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When that was finally finished, Dan and I put our mathy degrees to good use. We sat down together one night and tried to calculate the smallest amount of fabric I would need for the inner border and binding if I was to cut the fabric on a diagonal instead of straight across. The good part is, after all that calculating, we ended up just buying the amount I needed to cut it straight across. It just wasn’t worth the risk for the few pennies or dollars that would have been saved. The better part is, we accidentally did all of our calculating based on the shorter end of the quilt (my fault) and I had to cut it all on the diagonal anyway to get it long enough for the longer sides of the quilt. So I guess our mistake saved us a few pennies after all.

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Next it was time for me to tidy up my edges. I was afraid to cut into the fabric from my embroidery work. What if I made a mistake? That was six months of work I was cutting into!

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But I put on my most courageous face and cut away.

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Lydia had fun playing with the scraps.

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Then I laid out my freshly cut fabric to get a glimpse of the quilt-to-be.

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Sewing the inner border on was almost just as scary, but once I finished I breathed a sigh of relief and laid it out again to see what the corners would looks like someday.

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Then, for the hardest part of the quilt so far…I cut out the hills and sky. I laid it all out once more to see how the colors looked and if everything was cut well enough. Looks like it might work!

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But, that’s as far as I got. I still don’t know if those curves are going to work out, because shortly after that last picture was taken we had to pack up and move. Half of the quilting supplies made it to our new place but half got put away in storage.

I’m keeping busy around here, learning piano and cross-stitching a birthday card for Lydia, but as day after day passes I get a little gloomy thinking about this on-hold project. I had hoped to have it done by Abby’s first birthday but now that’s only three months away I’m re-hoping for an eighteen-month gift.

This week we put in an offer on a house. If it’s accepted I may just wait it out to get back to my quilting. If someone else gets this house, I’ll probably ask Dan if we can dig through our storage to get my supplies. For now, I’ll just post this update so I can look back on it and be encouraged that this little vision has come so far. For someone who has never quilted before (except for a rag quilt for my nephew), I think it’s turning out pretty nicely.

Lydia’s Room Redo

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Last month I spent a day organizing and rearranging our master bedroom. It was a lot of work but instantly worth it! Our room remains clean and happy and is my little haven in our home. I had so much fun doing it and have so enjoyed the results, that I decided to set apart every other Friday for big projects like this one. Then, illness, travel, and birthdays messed up my plans and it took much more than two weeks for me to enjoy another “Big Project Friday” (as I’ve started to call them). But, at last, it happened.

And, no, I still haven’t gotten to the laundry room.

The higher priority this time was Lydia’s room. It wasn’t really a disaster. There was just one problem: toys, and lots of them. Too many toys. And stuffed animals. And books. Everywhere.

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I thought I could take care of Lydia’s room and the linen closet and the laundry room, but Lydia’s room alone turned out to be just enough to fill a whole day. I must say, I’m particularly pleased with this redo. I sorted through piles of clothes from newborn to 18 month and ended up with two huge bags of clothing to give away and share with friends. I went through all of Lydia’s book and toys and determined that we really did lose her pink flower sunglasses. I found her missing baby doll bottle. Now I know where all of Lydia’s stuff is and where it belongs. And, like all of my organizing projects, this one got a lot worse before it got better.

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So, without further ado, here are the pictures. (I apologize for the quality of these pictures. Lydia’s room doesn’t have a lot of natural or artificial lighting. It’s fine in real life, but not great for pictures.)

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Lydia loves it. I love it. And, I’m pretty sure Dan loves it too. Lydia spends much more time playing in her room than she used to. The light switch on the wall actually turns on her lamp. And there’s a place for everything sorted and neatly put away into boxes and bins in the closet or under the bed (or in the bag next to the kitchen for easy access to the toy food, pots, pans, and aprons). At first I was afraid Lydia was too young to remember where things went. She was busily cooking some pretend soup and pulling out toys one after another. Later, she came out into the living room and I poked my head in to find that she had put (almost) everything away in its place. This is one happy Mommy with two happy rooms in this house.

Perhaps I shall tackle the laundry room next?

Bedroom Remodel…Almost

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Last Friday I threw my routine out the window and spent the whole day organizing our bedroom. Still a mess from when we moved in, I just haven’t had a good chunk of time to tackle this project, so I’ve left it a mess for far too long. When Dan commented on the mess (for the first time in six months) I decided enough was enough. I’m almost too embarrassed to share the “before” pictures, but this is our real life. And, they make the “after” pictures so much more impressive.

Here’s the view when you walk into our bedroom:
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I managed to rearrange our furniture in a way that made the room feel more cozy. And I successfully hid Lydia’s old crib in the back of our closet. It’s not ideal, but it’s practical for the amount of storage space we have right now.

To the left you can see our closet:
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I promise I only did a tiny little bit of mess-transferring. And the only messes I transferred were transferred to their rightful locations.

When you turn around you can see Abby’s crib and Dan’s desk:
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Now Dan has a relatively spacious place to work away from the rest of the family. And he can actually get to it now that I moved his bike!

So, no, we didn’t actually remodel anything, but the change is just as refreshing. Instead of costing us a small fortune, this project was free. In fact, I found 74 cents in the process! I can’t help but grin when I walk into our room now, and I found myself wandering back there Friday night just to keep looking at it. And our routine-free day was actually not stressful or crazy like I imagined. In fact, I’m thinking of making it a regular practice to occasionally ditch the routine and tackle a project, just to keep things interesting.

Next up: That Elusive Laundry Room!

Snowy Day Projects

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For us, this has been a long, cold, isolated winter.

It started while we were still visiting Abby in the NICU. Over her first weeks home and Christmas break we stayed cooped up in our apartment to avoid germs. In January we all caught and conquered our first colds of the year, consequently cancelling a trip up North to visit our families. In February we remained in our cozy apartment while storms raged, temperatures dropped, and family members fell ill. We planned and cancelled six Carlson Christmas Celebrations and have yet to get together since before Abby came home from the hospital. (And we still haven’t wrapped the Christmas presents!)

So what have we been doing cooped up all winter?

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Well, remember Abby’s quilt? I’ve been steadily working on it since Abby was born. Well, maybe not all that steadily. I decided to start with the most time consuming portion of the quilt: embroidering Psalm 23, in it’s entirety, around the border. While Abby was still in the NICU, I worked on it during all of our drives. (Just a note, as I filed our taxes this year I calculated the miles we traveled back and forth to the hospital to visit Abby: over 4500!) During good weeks I made good progress. When Abby wasn’t doing so well and after she was transferred to Mott’s, I was discouraged and didn’t work on it as much. I took a break when Abby came home, but since I had to hold her upright after night feedings to fight her reflux, I got back to embroidering then.

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Right now I try to embroider four characters a day. At that rate I will finish this portion by March 23. Then I get to move on to step two!

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Meanwhile I’ve been reserving half an hour on Tuesdays to organize from our move six months ago. Why Tuesdays, you ask? Well, that’s just the way it worked out. Why half an hour? Well, that’s about all the time I can spare during the girls naps! However, for the past three or four weeks I’ve been setting aside that time to organize our laundry room. Every single week something happens to throw me off my plan. Abby refuses to nap, Lydia wakes up early and needs some attention, I’m exhausted and can’t get to my own nap any earlier…who knows what will happen next. Someday I WILL get to that laundry room even if it is the week before we move out!

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I’ve also been on a home schooling research kick. I have long wanted to explore home school options and now am taking some time to tackle The Three R’s, and The Well-Trained Mind. I’ve been having fun with Lydia and Abigail going through Slow and Steady Get Me Ready, which is full of fun weekly activities that take you from birth up to age five. This week Abby gets to play peek-a-boo with Mommy and a mirror, and Lydia gets to work on patterns and counting with some homemade whole wheat biscuits. She loved helping me make the biscuits, enjoys playing with them, and really likes when we get to eat them. Lydia also gets a “buncha books” from the library each week. I’ve been working my way through some recommended picture books and frequently when Dan goes to pick up the books I put on hold the Librarians ask if we are elementary school teachers. Teachers or not, Lydia loves the books and will sit on the floor eagerly looking through her new “buncha books” each week.

Meanwhile Dan and I have been prone to making spontaneous decisions lately, our common side-effect to feeling deprived in any way (from getting out, in this case). A couple of nights ago we switched meal plans at 5:30 because Dan was reading Lydia Pancakes, Pancakes and, well, pancakes sounded good. We also spent half an hour singing Abigail ridiculous silly songs from Camp days because it was the easiest way to get her to stop crying. This week we’ve been spending a little time after the girls go to bed watching a debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye on the age of the earth.

We’ve been staying busy and productive, but are, nevertheless, eager for warmer days. Not long, we hope, not long.

DIY: Homemade Herbal Tea Bags

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As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the Taylor family decided to do all homemade gifts this year. For Dan’s Dad, we decided to make homegrown herbal tea. Way back in the spring time we bought a couple of herbs: peppermint and lemon balm. Despite our frequent moves and time in the hospital we managed to grow and harvest enough to make enough tea bags for one Christmas gift. If we’d been more diligent about harvesting our plants, or if we’d had better growing conditions, I’m sure we could have made a lot more.

The first step, once the plants were growing well, was to harvest the leaves periodically. I snipped off shoots and leaves with some kitchen scissors and set them on cookie sheets to air dry. You could also use a dehydrator, the oven, or hang them upside-down in brown paper bags, but I chose the lazy way.

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By December I had a nice collection of dry leaves. It only took me one night to put them all together, although it was a late night. I made ten tea bags and it probably took a couple of hours. To make your own tea bags, you’ll need:

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-herbs of your choice (I used lemon balm and peppermint)
-coffee filters
-scissors
-mortar and pestle (optional, totally unnecessary)
-sewing machine (also optional, but speeds up the process considerably)
-white thread
-card stock
-sewing needle
-scissors

I smashed my leaves up up in a mortar and pestle, but you could also just use your fingers.

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Next I cut out my tea bags from coffee filters. I took apart a store-bought tea bag and cut my own to match, but you could just eyeball it. The exact dimensions aren’t extremely important.

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Now fold your coffee filter in half, hotdog style, and line up your edges. Don’t flatten the fold down, because this is just a temporary fold. Sew with a 1/4 inch seam all the way across. Trim your thread.

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Next you’ll open up the tea bag and fold it with the seam on top.

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Flatten your seam open.

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Was that too confusing? Here’s a picture that shows the process, top to bottom:

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Now for the fun part! Fill your tea bag.

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I found the best way to do this was to pour about half a tea spoon in to the tea bag, shake it down toward to bottom (pinch the end so none falls out), then pour the second half in. This way the tea is distributed throughout the tea bag, which is important because the next step is to fold your tea bag in half, hotdog style this time.

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Looking good, right? Now, you’re going to fold down your corners and the top opening as seen here:

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Back to the sewing machine, if you’re using one, for the tea bag string. Start in the center on top of the tea bag and sew down a few stitches. Don’t forget to backstitch here too. Then pause with your needle all the way down. Rotate the tea bag 180 degrees and sew back up.

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I actually had a friend cut out and make my labels from card stock. These are the little tabs that hang off the end of the tea bags. I copied the store-bought tea bag method of attaching these but it was unnecessary. You can just tie them on, but for completeness I’ll show you what I did:

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Tie a knot where you want the tag to rest. There’s my knot:

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Cut a small notch in your tea bag tag.

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Then thread one strand of the thread you just knotted into your needle. That’s only one strand, not both. Poke your needle carefully through a little bit below the notch you just made.

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Pull all the way through until your knot is resting against the tab. Pull the other thread down through your notch and tie the two strands together. Trim your extra thread.

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I put mine in a couple of little magnetic tins with their labels showing:

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And there you have it. Homegrown, homemade tea bags, start to finish.

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DIY: A Calendar for the New Year

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Last Christmas Dan’s family decided to do all homemade gifts for 2013. For Dan’s Mom, Lydia (with some help from Mommy) made a “handmade” calendar with finger paint. She had a lot of fun doing it, and (although I wouldn’t recommend doing the whole thing in two days like we did) I would highly recommend this as a fun activity/craft/project for other little toddlers.

My original idea was to print off a homemade calendar and then do the painting and get it all bound at Kinkos for about $5. However, I caught a deal online for a $5 photo calendar. So I ordered a photo calendar but left all the photos off so I had a nice template for our painting.

Once our calendar arrived we took the pages apart and made our handprint paintings for each month. I didn’t take pictures of each month at the time, but I still have the links and pictures where we got our ideas.

Side Note: While you can make all these pictures just like the ones shown below, we had only purchased a finger paint set of four colors: red, yellow, green, and blue. With some adaptation to the colors in the pictures below and some half-hazardous mixing, we made it work. We left out any black or brown and we left the white portions unpainted since everything was on a white background.

Here are the pictures we used:

January – footprint penguin

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freekidscrafts.com

For the penguin we just left the belly unpainted. To do so, I cut out a piece of paper in the shape I wanted and taped it to Lydia’s foot. Then, after she had paint on her foot, I removed the paper to leave the belly unpainted. For older kids, it would probably work better to tape the cut out paper to the calendar and remove it after the painting is done. For younger kiddos with less gross motor control, I recommend taping the paper to the foot.

February – handprint hearts

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March – handprint four-leaf clover

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meetthedubiens.com

April – handprint bunny

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We did the bunny on the top left.

May – handprint Very Hungry Caterpillar

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For the eyes we cut out two ovals and taped then on Lydia’s hand. Then we removed them once her hand was painted to leave the eyes unpainted. (similar to the penguin painting technique)

June – handprint goldfish

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July – handprint American flag
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We used a white gel pen to draw the stars. Alternatively you could use white paint or stick on some star stickers. If you want to get real fancy you could use the stickers the same way we used the belly cutout for the penguin, but that could get pretty tricky!

August – hand and footprint lobster

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wifehatmomhat.com

September – handprint apple tree

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lovingmynest.com

October – handprint fall tree

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alittletipsy.com

November – handprint turkey

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allkidsnetwork.com

December – handprint Christmas tree

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piecesbypolly.com

Here’s Grandma’s reaction as she opened her calendar:

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I think she liked it. Happy Painting!

Surely Goodness and Mercy

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In the first few weeks after we found out we are expecting Baby Two, I had to wrestle through the fears of having another preemie. There’s nothing like having a baby born early to make you realize how little control you have over when a baby arrives. The biggest fear, then, is that Baby will come too soon, too soon to survive, that is.

I spent quite a few nights laying awake and praying for Baby, that she would make it to term, and that I would not be anxious all pregnancy long. After a while, Psalm 23 would start to come to mind every time I prayed for Baby, specifically the part in verse six that says “surely goodness and mercy will follow me”. I began to feel like God was confirming that “surely goodness and mercy” were going to follow Baby.

This wasn’t a guarantee. I had no assurance that Baby would even stay put long enough to reach an age when she could survive if I suddenly went into labor. However, I began to trust that she was safe in God’s hands. Maybe she would make it to term. Maybe God would take her home. Either way, God’s goodness and mercy would surely follow her.

Then one night I woke up with some pain. I immediately thought I was having contractions, Baby was coming, and it was too soon. There was nothing I could do but drink water and lie down and pray. As I did that, different verses from the same chapter sprung to mind: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. The valley of the shadow of death: that place where the fear of death lingers uncomfortably and inescapably close. We made it through the valley that night, and I finally fell asleep with some peace; God’s rod and staff were comforting me.

As the pregnancy continued, and I would often pray for Baby, a picture started to fill my mind: a happy scene with rolling green hills, a sunny sky, and a safe and happy little lamb. In my mind, the picture took more and more form until I realized it would be a beautiful quilt, and I began to pray for the chance to make this quilt for Baby.

I’m not a very experienced quilter. I have made one quilt for my nephew, and it was a rag quilt, pretty simple. The only other projects I’ve ever even sewn were an apron for Lydia’s birthday (using an online tutorial), a dress for Lydia that sort of turned out, and a cover for her diaper changing pad (which needs some repairs). But soon I had my sights set on this quilt for Baby, if only God would provide money for the materials.

Well, thanks to some kind gifts from my husband, my Mom, and another family member, along with some of my own savings, I now have enough money to make Baby’s quilt! So here is the grand introduction and also a request for some input from my readers. This picture is the computer generated version of what the quilt will look like:

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I’d like to keep the design unchanged, but I’m having a little trouble working out the colors. We’re having a baby girl (according to our ultrasound), but Dan and I think this quilt looks a little too boy-ish and certainly is dominated by greens. I’ve tried changing the color of the writing around the border and the background, but nothing seems to fit well with the rest of the picture. I’ve also considered using a patterned fabric for the dark green border and binding, but haven’t found a fabric that would match the inside picture and bring in more girly colors. Thoughts? Suggestions? Specific fabric recommendations? I appreciate any comments, and I look forward to keeping you updated on the quilt’s status and the months go on.

The Cherry Picking Project

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When we took our trip up to Traverse City last month, we decided to do a little project. You see, Dan and I had been trying to think of ways to earn some extra money to help pay some of the medical bills for Baby #2. Most of our ideas never came to much of anything, but this idea actually did. It was our cherry picking project.

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While we were up in Traverse City we took a morning to drive out on the peninsula to pick some cherries for $2 a pound. My parents and brother came along to help. We didn’t want to invest too much money in case our plans failed and all the cherries just went bad. So we decided to try to pick about 10 pounds.

It was a hot day, but the picking went fast and soon I realized that Dan didn’t even really need my help. So I picked a few, ate a few, and took some pictures. Lydia, also enjoyed picking cherries, eating cherries, and trying to get cherry juice all over her dress.

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When we were getting close to 10 pounds, Dan found a nice tree with branches that hung down a bit like a willow. He camped out for a while enjoying fresh cherries in the shade, and I joined him.

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When our bucket was full we left the orchard to pay and found that we had picked 12 pounds. Dan was short on cash and my mom ended up pitching in a little rather than wait for him to run all the way to the car and back. That ended the picking portion of our project.

We made a short commute to Dan’s parents’ house, where we washed, and double washed the cherries, and spread them out to dry. Later we learned that it’s best to wash the cherries right before you eat them so they stay fresh longer…oops. We wrapped up our weekend with Dan’s folks, spent the next days with the Dame’s, and arrived back home late Sunday night.

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Our plan had been to sell the cherries in pint-sized cups at the playgrounds and parks near our house. Monday morning, however, was cool and rainy and the weather report called for thunderstorms all night Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday nights we have Bible study, and we always have one of Dan’s relatives over for dinner on Thursday. There was no way the cherries were going to stay fresh until Friday, so in a desperate attempt I threw a message up on my Facebook wall:

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And much to our relief, a couple families from church bought all of our cherries! In the end we came out $20 ahead, despite all of the hiccups in our plan. (As a side note, the day we made the $20, Dan went to a college campus to tutor one of his old classmates. He ran inside to ask if he was allowed to park in a particular parking lot and on the way back found a young man writing him a ticket. He explained that he was just running in to ask if he could park there and the man responded, “Well, you can’t.” and handed him the ticket for $25)

So, was our cherry picking project a success? Yes and no. Now we know a little more about keeping cherries fresh, and we know they’ll sell down here for a profit. Maybe next year we’ll take orders ahead of time.