Monday, December 30, 2013

Top 13 Posts from 2013

Here we are at the end of 2013. It seems like just yesterday that I was writing my top 12 posts of 2012 recap,  2013 project list, and 2013 Pinterest challenge post.

I didn't quite get all of the projects I wanted to get done, and while I thought this was going to be the year of the Silhouette, it turned out to be the year of the Singer instead. This year I learned to sew! I started with unpaper towels, then quickly moved to my first quilt. With a little bit of luck, I will finished my 14th quilt before the clock strikes 12 tomorrow night.

Our most popular posts this year were a nice mix of house projects, recipes, family traditions, printables, and even a couple sewing projects. 

By far, the most popular post written this year was my DIY craft table. By coincidence, this is my favorite project of the year. I love how easy and relatively inexpensive it was to put together and I put it to great use nearly every day. 

#2: Uses of Tension Rods

My first round up post was a smashing success! I'm glad to know that others are now sharing my love of tension rods. I may need to finish a few of the other round up posts sitting in my draft box. 

Like many of you, I'm always looking for ways to save money. This is one of my newest posts, but it's already becoming one of our most . These two printables offer two tweaks to the ubiquitous 52 Week Money Challenge. Rather than starting with $1 in week one, our printable starts with $52 and ends (in money-tight December) with $1 in the last week of the year. Because I spent my 2013 savings a little early to take advantage of a Black Friday deal on the Nikon 7100 camera I was saving to buy, I was inspired to make a second spreadsheet, based on the same idea, to reach $1500 by Black Friday. 

Our December list printable resonated with a lot of readers who are looking to simplify their holiday gift-giving. For us, December brings Sinterklaas (Dutch Christmas), our son's birthday, and Christmas within a twenty-day period. When our son was born, we made the decision that he would receive four gifts from us for each occasion: something he wants, something he needs, something to experience, and something to read. The December list is a way for us to teach our son how to prioritize his wants, to note the cost of things, and yes, it makes a good suggestion list for grandparents and others who want to bless our son with gifts. 

I have Amy at New Nostalgia to thank for all the love this post has seen this year. Who doesn't love Nutella? And who doesn't love Nutella made without all the yucky stuff?

My sister is a rock star. If you don't follow her Clean & Lean Facebook page, you are missing out! She came up with this stuffing alternative for Thanksgiving and man, is it yummy! The recipe makes a TON, so if you aren't making it to share, you'll likely want to half the recipe. 

Another family tradition that resonated with readers. It is important to us as parents that we raise our son to be grateful for what he has and generous to those who have not.  Inspired by the book by Jill Hardie, we look for opportunities throughout the year to serve and be generous to others. We then write down what we did on a piece of paper and put it in our sparkle box. On Christmas Eve, we read all the slips of paper as our gifts to Jesus.

My most popular quilting project was my easiest to make, and also my first with super soft minky. 

This is the one post on the list that doesn't actually have a project to share. Well, at least not a project I did. Here's another Cameo confession. My Silhouette is still collecting dust in my craft room. But, I do have a local friend who has offered to tutor me. Will I master my Cameo in 2014? Stay tuned.

#10: Paint Tour

Inspired by Allison at House of Hepworths, I added a paint tour to answer all the "What color is your _____ room?" questions. Plus, it's a handy way for me to remember what color is in each room, too!

My first sewing project made the list! I wanted something easy as a test to see if I even liked sewing (I did!). I figured I couldn't mess up rags too badly (I didn't!). As an added bonus, they helped us reach our goal of a paperless kitchen.

One of my favorite rooms in our new house is the kitchen. And one of my favorite features in the kitchen is my spice drawer. It's conveniently placed under the cooktop and I use it  Me + my spice drawer = true love forever.

Last but not least is another holiday post. I first tasted the deliciousness that is gevulde speculaas a few years ago when we were in the Netherlands for Christmas. When I got back home, I found the recipe in one of our Dutch cookbooks and quickly got to work translating it so I could enjoy it stateside, too.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by our blog in 2013. We hope to stick around in 2014!

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

2014 Word of the Year: Discover

Before my brain injury, in my type-A life, I used to end the year with a retreat of silence. At the end of my day to myself, I would emerge with a list of 25 New Year's resolutions, five in each of five categories: spiritual, physical, professional, financial, and personal. I really enjoyed this exercise of reviewing the previous year and really thinking through the direction I wanted to take in the new year. 

After my brain injury, in my type-Z life, I know that I cannot predict how I will feel from one day to the next, so making measurable goals like I used to do is not a realistic, or particular helpful exercise for me anymore. Instead, a few years ago I started to focus on a single word instead. 

In 2013, my word was savor. Savor, to me, conveys a sense of enjoyment, not only of your food, but also of your conversation and company. I liked the idea of spending a year savoring the good in my life. In fact, I liked this idea so much that I added the word to our dinette decor

In 2012, my word was home, because I was focused on settling in and making our new house a home. 

In 2011, my word was build, as most of our day was filled with designing and building the de Jong Dream House.

This year, my word is discover. Inspired by our son's love for space, this year I hope this discover new ways of quilting, discover new interests with our son, discover new places as a family, discover the reason behind the health issues that have been keeping me from doing the things I want to do this year, and discover new family traditions to enjoy together now that our son is a little older. 

Here's to 2014!

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Quilt #13: Reversible I Spy/Checkers Quilt

We're taking it easy this Christmas here at the de Jong Dream House. School is out for my son and Niels is home from work this week. I'm hoping to spend some time in my craft room, maybe getting caught up with posting a few projects we've done, but mostly, simply enjoying the company of my boys.

At the moment, my boys are reading together, so I have a few moments to post about my latest quilt, which was a gift for our son's preschool teacher to use in the classroom: a reversible I Spy/Checkers quilt.

Our son started a new school in October. It could have been difficult starting a second new school in six weeks, but D was welcomed with open arms. Before his first day, his new teacher made sure his name was included in all the class lists, job jars, birthday calendar, and throughout the room and she asked a few boys to be his welcoming committee. When I dropped him off that first day, I walked in with him, and everyone ran over to greet him. When I picked him up, he cried and didn't want to leave. He said, "Mommy! I have FRIENDS!" 

Now, if you want to score brownie points with this mama, you love on my son. And D's teacher has done that so well. We love her and we love his new school. 

I knew I wanted to sew something for his class but I wasn't sure what. I saw a checkers quilt and thought it would be a nice easy quilt to make. As I started planning it though, I though  checkers might be a little advanced for pre-k, so I decided to make the flip side an I Spy quilt. Now more kids can play with it!

I didn't really have a tutorial I followed, nor did I do a very good job writing down directions, but I did take quite a few pictures of the process. 

My supplies:
* 1 yard blue fabric
* 1 yard red fabric
* 2.5 yards school fabric (this was plenty for the quilt, plus drawstring bags for all the pieces)
* 4" I Spy squares. I bought 100 squares on eBay. The bundle included 2 each of 50 designs. I used about 40 of them, and swapped the others with squares of fabric I had in my scrap bins.
* 24 3" wood circles
* 1 bag of wood letters
* blue and red stickable felt sheets. I only needed two of each. 

Basically, other than the yardage, I way overestimated what I needed, so I could make another quilt easily. 

I started with the checkers side. I looked at a picture of checkerboard, and noted that it was an 8x8 square, so I cut out four 4" strips of blue fabric and four 4" strips of red fabric. My wood circles (future checker pieces) were 3" so I added an inch for seam allowance and a little wiggle room. 

Next I sewed the eight strips together, alternating colors. 

After ironing and squaring up, I cut eight 4" strips. 

Then I sewed the eight strips together, making sure to alternate each side to make the checkerboard.

I wasn't sure yet how I wanted to do the border, so I started on the I Spy side. Originally, I thought I would lay out each square in advance, but I decided it would be easier to just be aware that there was a good contrast between each square as I started chain piecing two squares together.

I only started quilting nine months ago, so I'm still learning a lot with each quilt. Chain piecing has changed my (quilting) world. 

I did the same thing as I pieced the two-squares into four-squares.

 I continued along until all 64 squares were pieced together. 

By this point, I decided to put a border around the checkerboard with the school print. I used 2.5" strips. 

I cut out two 16.5" x 4" of each color and sewed one of each together for the two sides of the outside border. 

I lined up the divide with the middle of the checkerboard so that there would be a blue side and and red side. 

Then I repeated on the other side. 

I finished with 4" strips on the top and bottom. 

I followed the same idea on the I Spy side. My son's favorite color is blue so I opted for a 2.5" blue frame around the I spy quilt. 

I made red 4" squares for the corners and used the school fabric for the rest of the outer borders. 

Two sides done and ready to quilt! (Don't mind the Legos. My little helper was getting pretty excited by this point and wanted to monitor my progress very closely!)

I used washed flannel for the batting. 

My walking foot gave me serious grief on this quilt for some reason. (Note to self: in 2014, you will learn how to free motion). After my sad little diagonals, I switched back to my regular foot and made big squares around the borders.

I would have preferred to use one of the solid colors for the binding but I didn't quite have enough of either. (I had originally bought a yard of each of the three main fabrics, but when I went back for more, I could only find the school fabric). 

Santa came early and brought me these Clover Wonder Clips (<--Amazon affiliate link), which made binding so much easier.

And done!

Once the quilt was done, it didn't take long to finish the accessories. For the checkers, I placed the wood circles on the sticky felt sheets. I used my new Fiskars stick rotary cutter (<--Amazon affiliate link) to cut felt circles. Photo credit for this step goes to my newly-five-year-old photographer. 

D was super excited to learn how to play checkers. He picked it up quickly and beat me in his first game. 

Next we role played playing I Spy with his friends from school. 

Our play time gave me the perfect background for the label. 

Finally, I made little draw string bags for each set of checkers, the letters, and big bag for everything. 

I think I used four different methods for each of the bags, so that tutorial will have to wait for another day. 

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Letter to my Newly-Five-Year-Old

Dear D,

This week you turned five. In just thirteen short years, you will be an adult and my hands-on parenting days will be over. I will step back and see the man you have turned out to be. Hopefully, all the hours we've spent together and all the prayers your daddy and I have prayed over you will have helped you become the man God created you to be.

If the last five years are any indication, I think that day will come much too quickly.

Tonight, we were at Target where you were proudly paying for the big flashlight and two Hot Wheels cars you bought with your very own money made up of money you have been diligently saving over the last few months, and partly from a generous gift of cash from your Uncle Chris and Auntie Kelly for your birthday. As you stood holding your newly prized possessions, we talked about how it is our role as your parents to teach you everything you need to know to take care of yourself, a home, a car, a family. By the time you graduate from high school, we want you to know how to pay your bills, budget, save, and give. We want you to be able to cook more than a few meals from scratch and know how to plan a menu. We want you to know how to show the people you love how much your care for them with both your words and your actions. We also want to do show grace and kindness to those you find harder to love. We want to you to be confident as you step out into the great big world. Seeing you with that look of pride on your face today, I saw a glimpse of that man inside my baby boy.

Today, you are insanely smart, curious, funny, tender-hearted, generous, and loving. I hope you will always be those things. At the same time, I know too well that life can change in an instant. In a few weeks, it will be ten years since the day I slipped on some ice and broke my brain. Even as a toddler, you knew the difference between my good days and my bad days. God gave you an early ability--and willingness--to discern when a tantrum was exactly what Mommy didn't need. So many times, you made my heart feel so much better, even when my headache still raged on. From a bowl full of marshmellows and flax crackers, to a hug, to tucking a quilt around me, to laying your chubby cheek against my aching body, you have a wonderful way of loving me (and Daddy!) and I pray you never lose that gift.

Because I know that what you are today is no promise of who you'll be tomorrow, I must say this. No matter what happens to you, no matter what life brings you, or doesn't bring you, no matter if you really do become a rocket scientist as you are currently obsessed with doing, or circumstances prevent you from fulfilling any of the dreams you have your life, no matter what, all I want for you, all Daddy wants for you, is to know these three truths:

1. You are loved.
2. You are enough.
3. We are proud of you.

I read once that the words we speak to our children become their inner voice. I tell you these things--over and over and over until you roll your eyes at me and say, "I know, Mommy!"--because I want these truths to be your inner voice.

You are loved.

We have talked to you about the two sisters waiting for you in heaven. On that Easter weekend six years ago when Daddy and I found out that your new life was in me, we were so happy and so scared. We didn't want to say goodbye to another baby before we had a chance to say hello. We wanted you so much. I had such hard time keeping you safe in my tummy until it was safe for you to come out. Your months in my womb were bathed in prayer for your safety and for the long, happy, healthy life I wanted you to live. And when you were born, you were perfect. You still are. Simply because you are the boy God created for us.

You are enough. 
Nothing you do or say will make me love you more. Your kind actions might make it easier to feel love towards you, but my love for you is a choice based on the fact that you are you. Nothing you can say or do will ever make me love you less. Your words may pierce my heart, but my love for you is a choice that will never waver, as hard as it may be for me, at times, to express that love. Daddy and I may have our own hopes and dreams for you, but  what is more important is that we help you discover the hopes and dreams God has put in your heart for your own life. What you do, what you wear, what you have, who you know...ultimately, these things can all be lost. If you know that you are enough--that you are valuable--simply because God created you, than all of those things become blessings to be enjoyed, not measures of your worth.

We are proud of you. 
Daddy and I will always be on your side. It may not always feel like it to you, but we hope that you trust us when we say that we want what's best for you. We remember what it's like to be young and living in the moment, and we know what it's like to be older and can see the value of considering how today's choices impact tomorrow's consequences. We don't want an easy life for you. We want you to create a life that is mixed with both the delight of discovering skills that come quickly and the self-satisfaction of working hard to develop abilities that take a lot of effort. Now that you are in school, you are becoming aware of what things are easy for you, and which are more difficult. And you are learning to see that those things are not the same for everyone. Our pride in you does not come in the abilities you have, and our pride is not lost on you for the skills that you don't have, but we celebrate you in the process of developing your abilities, however competent you ultimately will be in them.

It's after 1 am and I couldn't sleep because I am so in love with you and so proud to be your mommy. In those dark days when I lost my job, my savings, my home, quite a few friends, and really, my identity...well, I wondered if my life would ever have anything good in it again. Then I met your daddy. And just when I thought my heart couldn't be any fuller, God gave us you.

***Just now, you wandered into my craft room, Curious George held tightly in your arms. You said, "I need you, Mommy. I'm having a bad dream. Will you take care of me?" To take care of you, to you, means to snuggle and cuddle and talk about happy things. So I am signing off to settle in with you, to talk about the wonders of the universe, and to embrace this gift of you being my baby boy one more night.***

Happy birthday, sweet boy. I love you.


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