DIY Halloween Round Up

Since we are knee-deep in repair negotiations to buy the house, packing up all of our worldly possessions (I am going to be highly annoyed if the contract falls through…) and keeping up with daily life here, I haven’t had much time to do anything interesting enough to write about. So I thought I would take a moment to share some of my favorite DIY Halloween crafts from around the web. I’m a big believer that a great looking home, well decked out for a holiday, shouldn’t cost a fortune. With a little creativity and time, great results can be achieved. Some of my favorites for Halloween this year -

Coffin Craft

This coffin diorama from The Glamorous Housewife is great. She uses a wood coffin (you can find it at craft stores or online for about $3 each). Bethany uses a sticker pack for the items inside, but I’ve got my eye on the haunted village accessories at Dollar Tree for this one – a wire tree, and some tombstones would be perfect -

tombstones

Dollar Tree also sells Spanish moss in the floral section. If you don’t already have black and orange paint on hand, you can usually pick up small bottles 2 for $1 at places like Michaels when they have their paint sales. So if you go the Dollar Tree route, you can have a pretty neat three dimensional graveyard diorama for just about $7! Not to bad!

Another easy on the budget Halloween craft that caught my eye is embroidery hoop spider webs. This is super easy to do is you happen to have the stuff on hand, but if you don’t, a wooden embroidery hoop will cost about $4, a package of spider web rings will be $1 at Dollar Tree and I could swear I’ve seen crocheted doilies at places like Dollar Tree or Family Dollar, but you can also order a dozen on them online for about $15 – making each one just $1.33 each. Hey, could you put them all over the house or split the order with friend or two. At about $6 a pop, that’s pretty affordable!

lace spider

Crystal ball candlesticks by Flamingo Toes is another easy DIY that really pops. This one is just so cool – I’ve already got all of the supplies I need to make mine, now I just need to take the time to do it! Candlesticks are easy – you can buy cheap ones from Dollar Tree, or pick up some truly unique numbers at the thrift shop. I found an awesome wooden one at Goodwill awhile back for just $1. The acrylic ornament globes can be picked up at Michaels for a few bucks a piece, but it looks like Dollar Tree will have some out this year for Christmas crafting! And since we majorly holiday jump in this country and I’ve already seen the Christmas gear popping up at stores, check your local Dollar Tree! You may be able to find some to use in your holiday crafting.

Crystal Ball

The most expensive part of the craft are the printable inkjet transparency sheets. They are crazy expensive. Avery seems to have the best price, and they’re a brand I really rely on for printables. They’re selling a box of 20 sheets for about $20. Shopping around on Amazon, I found a shop selling a box of 20 for just $10. And you can always look for coupons or sales, and definitely remember that once you buy a box you have it in your crafting arsenal for future projects, and you can always split it with a friend. Once you break down the per-piece price, it’s only $0.50 – $1 each, which isn’t bad. So if you get lucky on your other materials, you can make a grouping of crystal balls for a pretty good price – if you do 5, if you shop around and get some good deals on your materials, it’ll only cost you $11 ($5 for 5 ornaments at Dollar Tree, $5 for 5 candlesticks second hand and $1 for a transparency sheet, since you can print all 5 images on one piece). I suppose you’ll have to spend another dollar on spray paint if you don’t have some on hand, but $12 for 5 pieces? A place like Anthropologie would charge at least $12 each!

Oh, and one other thing about the transparency film – keep your eyes peeled when you’re out thrifting. I’ve picked up printable magnet sheets, iron-on transfers and specialty card stocks for pennies on the dollar. People buy a big pack and have extras they don’t plan to use, or they get rid of them when they cull through their craft supplies. So you can score that way too! I always grab them when I see them even if I don’t have a specific project in mind, because it’s just such a huge savings.

And last but not least, what about a super easy Halloween costume, especially if you want something understated by still spooky?

Tats

This is one is “good thing” from none other than Martha Stewart. I’m pretty partial to the spiders, and I’m going to do some to punch up my otherwise ordinary witch costume for this year. Printable tattoo paper isn’t cheap either – it’s going to be about $20 for 5 sheets, so about $4 per sheet. But where else can you get a $4 Halloween costume? So in the end, it’s all relative, and remember – you’ve got more sheets for more projects. I just happen to have a few sheets on hand in my crafting stash, so this year it’s “free” for me!

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of my favorite spooky projects for this year. I’ve pinned a ton more, so please feel free to browse my Halloween Pinterest board if you’d like some more ideas. Happy Haunting!

So, About That House…

I bet you were pretty convinced I was just going to leave you hanging. Or maybe you just imagined it – I’ve actually had moments like that in the last month or so. But no – it’s really true – we’re really buying a house. I say buying and not bought, because even though we have been approved for a mortgage, the seller has accepted our offer, big repairs have been made, and our closing date is scheduled – I am repeatedly assured by fear-mongering home purchase veterans that until I actually have the keys in my hand, the whole affair can go sideways with lightning speed.

So I’m trying not to jinx the thing.

Provided the universe is a good wingman to me on this one, exactly one month from now we’ll be home owners. Let me paint the picture of the place for you with words (because the irrational part of me says posting photos really would jinx it) –

It’s a two bedroom cottage – just over 1000 square feet. Tiny, right!? We like to think of it as human-scaled. Hate the McMansions; never wanted to buy one. It’s technically a ranch style, but it really has the feel of a Southern “shotgun” style house – long, straight shot for the main living space, with a little “L” for the bedrooms. So perhaps, a “shotgun” in spirit, if not literally. It’s a single story, with a partial unfinished basement, and unfinished attic crawlspace. It sits on a corner lot nicely landscaped with perennials and other decorative plants, with a one and half car detached garage. Nice little deck right off the master bedroom – score!

It’s move-in ready with wonderful updates and comes with all of its top of the line appliances. We’ll update the wall colors before we move in (or at least, unpack all of the boxes). I’m sure we’ll change things to suit our tastes over time (not a huge fan of the light fixture in the dining room, for example) but really the house is ready to move into. Completely turn-key.

The living room is a large space with a great layout and a huge picture window. There’s a separate dining room. The bathroom is great, the kitchen has a breakfast bar peninsula, and the bedrooms are both respectably sized. Walk in closet in the master.

Now, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about being a young family and getting only a two bedroom home. Will we be able to grow into the space? What if we have more children? Well, if we do and feel the need to do something extravagant, there is space on our lot and in the configuration of the home to add a third bedroom if we need and want one down the road. But really – I think we could get along just fine even without it. Lots of children share bedrooms, and grow up to be totally functioning adults. As a matter of a fact, my sister and I did it. So I know it’s possible.

We’re also going to gain a lot of actual living space, even though the square footage of our new house isn’t widely larger than our current apartment. Currently, we have to store everything we own in our apartment’s closets – holiday decorations, camping gear, gardening supplies – now those same things will move into the basement, garage and attic – freeing up the usable space in our living areas considerably. Being able to be well organized and utilize all our spaces appropriately will go a long way to making sure we do have room to have our house grow as we do.

Of course I have lots of plans for the yard. We will need to fence it – that’s the one thing it lacks currently. But it gets good light, is relatively level and has plenty of room for both gardens and play area. All of the landscaping currently is decorative, so I plans to swap things around and add in edibles – an area for the vegetables, and a plot for herbs. And of course – I’ve got a few dwarf apple trees, mini blueberries, raspberry canes, a bush cherry and a hazelnut bush on the wish list. It’ll be a veritable homestead by the time I’m done with it.

One of the best parts of this house is the location, location, location though. It’s further from downtown Chicago, which makes commuting to work quite a bit of a PITA, but the overall improvements in quality of life will make up for it. But it’s still on the train line, so no driving. I can actually walk to the train now. Actually, we can walk just about everywhere – to the farmer’s market (twice a week!), library, several parks, and the historic square with coffee shops, thrift stores, a bookstore, a bowling alley, a movie theater and all kinds of basic services. It’s the small town I’ve always wanted to spend my life in, so we’re really lucking out. I feel like we’re going to get our lives back when we move – I haven’t posted much about it, but we spend a lot of time in the car where we live currently. Exactly nothing is within walking distance – its old school stereotypical suburbia, and I’ve found it suffocating. Yes, it’s been leaps and bounds better than an unsafe urban neighborhood on the downturn – but it’s not been my cup of tea. So even though my commute is doubling for now, we’re still getting our lives back. And for that I am happy. Isn’t it funny how a house is so much more than just a house?

Now, if you’ll excuse me – I’ve got to go pack some boxes. :-)

The Haunted Village – Year Two Upgrades

You may recall that last year I made my own version of haunted village that I first came across on The 36th Avenue. It was great fun and I’m really looking forward to displaying it again this year. But of course I can hardly be convinced to leave well enough alone, and so have been on the quest to accessorize my village on the cheap.

This is what it looked like last year -

dscn00601

I was really excited to discover that Dollar Tree has added their own haunted village to the lineup this year -

dt village

But since I already have houses that I like from last year, I just picked up a few accessories to round out the scene -

trees

Just $3.00 total for two trees and a trio of gargoyles! Not too shabby. And since I can’t help myself, I decided to check out what Michaels had on offer, since I had a 40% off coupon to use. So I picked up a set of coffins for just $3.00. Not sure if I’ll put them in the village or not – I may do some creepy faux terrariums with some of the stuff as well -

coffins

I love DIY and Halloween is one of the best times of the year for decorating the house! I’ll be sure to post some updated pictures as soon as I have everything arranged – I think it’ll really turn out great!

The Mason Jar Cookbook Craze

Somewhere along the line, mason jars hit the mainstream. They are all over Pinterest, in major store chains as bona fide home décor pieces, and on hipster dinner tables everywhere subbing for stemware. Mason jars are trendy. They are also in lunchboxes, from kid-friendly “bento” boxes to working mom meals. And that’s where the cookbooks come in.

How does one assemble a lunch entirely in a glass jar? Gone are the days of Tupperware and plastic baggies – there is actually a bit of an art to how to layer your lunch in that jar, friends. We don’t want soggy salads, now do we?

I recently received two very different, but equally interesting, mason jar cookbooks to review from their respective publishers, and while I thought at first that they might be hokey (can one really publish an entire book of just salads?) they’re both actually quite good. And they’re a lot more than salads.

The first, Mason Jar Salads & More by Julia Mirabella is bylined as “50 Layered Lunches to Grab & Go”. Grab and go pretty accurately describes mornings at my house, so that certainly got my attention. The book gets off on the right foot in the Introduction but giving pictorial instructions for how to layer your salad, which I thought was neat. You wouldn’t think it would make a big deal how you cram stuff in a jar, but reading the instructions, it actually makes a lot of sense. Dressing first, the solid ingredients that won’t soak up all the dressing, greens on top, and cheese/nuts on top of that. When you take it out of the jar your plate it’s “right side up” and ready to eat, and it’s still fresh and not soggy. Smart way to do things!

The rest of the book is divided into chapters for different types of meals – breakfasts, salads, snacks, etc. The Mixed Greens with White Bean Salad and Orzo Pasta Salad are both quite good and do stand up to being in the jar quite well. Bruchetta and Spicy Hummus with Vegetables are also great snack ideas for taking to work. Another thing I really like about the book is that you don’t have to rely on bottled salad dressings – there’s even a chapter on making homemade ones, which is great. It’s a simple book, but hits the nail on the head perfectly and has really given me some great ideas for how to easily make over my lunch routine for work.

The other jar book on my shelf is Meals in a Jar: Quick & Easy, Just-Add-Water, Homemade Recipes by Julie Languille. This book is quite a bit more expansive and focuses more on the preservation side of meals in jars, with dry mixes and home processed canned meals. The canning methods in the book are basically sound and follow the USDA endorsed canning guidelines – though I do disagree with one of them. This book advocates canning cheese, which I do not agree with. There’s a lot of debate in the canning community about this. Some says cheese is acidic enough to water bath can, some don’t. Some say it’s too dense to water bath can, some don’t. What tips the balance in favor of not canning cheese for me is the fact that the USDA, National Center for Food Preservation, and Ball Canning all advise against it. Botulism is no joke, so I just don’t want to risk it. Two out of three people in my household are lactose intolerant anyway, so it’s not something that’s near and dear to my heart. But you should decide what’s safe for you and your family, so if you’re comfortable canning cheese, have at it. If you’re not, be like me and skip over those recipes. There are lots more to choose from.

Another feature of this book that I do like is the bulk prep. If you’re preserving something, you generally want to do it in quantity, and this book scales the recipes appropriately. This is especially handy for the dry mixes. The format of structuring all of the components for a meal (when there are multiples) into a “meal kit” was something that was really appealing to me as well. By organizing each meal in this way, you ensure you’ve got everything you need to hand, and you can easily see at a glance what you’ve got in the pantry. A little organization goes a long way to making mealtimes easy, especially on weeknights.

I must admit I was a little confused about the recommendation to use Mylar bags for some of the components of each meal kit. I have no experience in using Mylar bags for any kind of food preservation, and frankly – I can’t really find any information about it online. It seems like an easy way to store some of the smaller components of each meal kit, but until I can do my own independent research on this method, I won’t validate it here. I’ll likely use half pint canning jars in place of the Mylar bags, or vacuum-sealed food-grade plastic (like the Tilia Foodsaver).

Caveats aside, I think Meals in a Jar is a useful book, and I look forward to researching some of the methods it espouses further. Between that and Mason Jar Salads I shouldn’t have any trouble keeping my canning jars filled to the brim, even when canning season comes to a close each year.

So…

We bought a house! Stay tuned.

Doctored Pasta

Who was it that said there is nothing new under the sun? Leonardo Da Vinci? Well, whomever it was, he was right. There really isn’t. But I’ll still share anyway, because this version of pasta sauce has become my fourteen-hour-workday-from-hell-exhausted-mom save-the-day secret. And we’re all doing it, us working moms. We’re opening up a jar of bottled pasta sauce and adding stuff to it and plunking it on the table for dinner. We could spend time chatting about how we feel guilty that’s it’s not our awesome homemade Bolognese, or we can take the win.

Let’s the take the win today, ladies. Because it’s Monday and sometimes being a working mom sucks and half homemade is still a thousand times better than straight out of a box, or restaurant take out. Therefore, I give you Doctored Pasta!

  • 1 jar of bottled marinara sauce
  • 1 cup of dry white wine, or water
  • 1 package of loose, uncased Italian sausage

Cook the Italian sausage in a pan until it’s nicely browned. Dump the jar of pasta sauce in with the sausage. Pour the white wine or water into the marinara jar and put the lid back on. Shake it for a minute to get all the sauce bits incorporated – waste not, want not friends. Dump the liquid into the pan, and heat the whole thing through.

Done. For bonus points, you can dice up some onion, celery and/or carrot and sauté it with the sausage. Or you can sneak in some spinach, chard or kale at the very end. But it’s shockingly good with just the three things above. I often find that jarred pasta sauce is a little glumpy (brand new word – word of the week!), and the extra little bit of liquid smooths it out just the right amount. And if you choose to use wine you get a little extra flavor boost from that too.

If you’re looking for bonus points and extra credit, serve bread and salad on the side. And you know what? I’m not going to judge you if your bread comes out of a tube and your salad comes out of bag. Of course homemade is best. But sometimes, half homemade will do. Happy Monday, friends.

Holiday Decorating with Quilt Panels

Until recently, I didn’t even know what quilt panels were. But now that I know, it seems far too good a secret to keep to myself. I was browsing the interwebs the other day for Halloween-themed fabric (yes, I spend time looking up fabric online – Pinterest is way cheaper than therapy) and stumbled across a skeleton quilt panel –

Skeleton

I always thought that when one wanted to make a quilt, hours cutting shapes out of fabric were required. It then had to be pieced, sewn together, sewn to a backing, quilted… quite the process. But apparently there is this cheater method out there where you buy a panel with a cool design on it, sew that to a backing and then quilt it. In my mind, that’s just a regular old blanket, but I digress. Probably if they were called blanket panels that would confuse everyone.

At any rate, I have no desire to make a skeleton quilt, at least at the current time. But I did think to myself – how cool would it be to make a wall hanging of that? All I would need to do would be to hem the edges to finish them nicely, and then maybe mount it in on a dowel, or maybe even just stretch it over a frame or canvas. And voila, interesting fabric wall art for a reasonable price!

So of course then I ended up down the rabbit hole of searching for interesting quilt panels, and came across quite a few holiday ones. The smaller ones would look really neat framed up individually and hung as a gallery wall, I think. Here are my personal favorites for Halloween and Christmas -

Black Cat

Green Grinch

Grinch

As the photos show, all of the panels are available at Fat Quarter Shop, which is my new favorite place for fabric on the web. The selection is amazing, and the prices are reasonable. And despite the name, they sell much more than fat quarters – panels, fabric by yard and all kinds of accessories and notions. The panels above are currently priced at $7.75 each – which is not a bad price at all for a unique piece of fun wall art.

So, what do you think? Would you make some DIY wall art with quilt panels? There are all kinds to be found – it would be really cute to do for a nursery or kid’s bedroom as well.