Archive | December 2015

This Year’s Homemade Presents

We had a lovely little at-home Christmas here at FP central, and I hope you did, too. Having already made three trips East in a year and a half, we thought we’d stay in Colorado (although one Eastern friend came to spend the holiday week with us). I would like you to know that I produced an entirely credible roasted turkey AND homemade gravy from the pan drippings.

We do a simple Christmas, but only a few of our presents were homemade. I usually only make things that I cannot, for whatever reason, purchase. This year, that means that I helped the boys make two kids of Christmas tree ornaments, and I made them some kid-friendly aprons.

I think it’s important to get kids understanding early that Christmas is for giving, not just receiving, so I helped them make presents for friends and relatives. We did these adorable reindeer photo ornaments first:


I made them from a picture I found online and it took a little trial and error to figure out the best procedure. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Cut craft sticks down if necessary and paint them brown. (I used scissors to cut, but if you do, watch for flying wood pieces!) Let dry.
  2. Glue sticks together to make frame; let dry.
  3. Meanwhile, cut out heads, ears, and tails from brown felt or maybe cardboard. (The felt heads were a little floppy.) Glue ears, eyes, and noses to the heads and let dry.
  4. When everything is dry, glue heads and tails to the frames. Let dry.
  5. Meanwhile, glue the photos to cardboard (I used corrugated, but cereal boxes would probably have been easier and quite adequate) for better support. Let dry, then cut out. I used a craft cutting wheel for this step.
  6. While everything is drying, make antlers out of cut and twisted fuzzy craft sticks. Glue them to the frame behind the head. I used hot glue for this step because I didn’t have any craft glue and Elmer’s School Glue (which we used for everything else) didn’t work. Glue a loop of ribbon to the back as a holder.

The boys did the painting and the gluing of the eyes, ears, and noses; I did much of the assembly and all the cutting.

Then we also made cinnamon-scented ornaments (at Big Brother’s insistence). This was a GREAT one to do with preschoolers because they could really participate in all the steps. I used this recipe (I halved it, and we preferred the natural look rather than decorating) and we kept a couple for ourselves. Including this broken Santa–as Big Brother pointed out, it still smells good.



I already owned a giant container of cinnamon, googly eyes, felt, paint, glue, and craft sticks. My cost for the craft sticks, cookie cutters, ribbon, and the photos was about $7.50.

Lastly, I made the boys Montessori-style aprons from this great pattern. I really wanted them to have aprons and just wasn’t happy with what I was seeing to buy; everything was either too boring, too expensive, or both. Plus, they all have ties, requiring an adult to help put on and take off. These Montessori ones have kid-operated hook and eye fastener and elastic necks. So I took them to Walmart and let them pick out some fabric, not telling them what it was for. Big Brother picked Ninja Turtles. Little Brother wanted Minnie Mouse. Now, I don’t object to him wanting a girl mouse, but… he’s fickle, and his attention span is short. So I made the lining in plain mouse ears in case he changes his mind. I’m not a fast sewer, so the two aprons took me most of three evenings, while people who are fast can make two in one night. (There’s a whole lotta topstitching. At least I got to use the fancy topstitching foot I bought for my skirt project.) At any rate, the aprons were a big hit. Big Brother, in particular, declared himself a “waiter” and wore his apron around for hours, assisting with breakfast preparation and serving. The pattern said it was for ages 3-6 but as you can tell, it’s a better fit for Little Brother. Big Brother’s seems a little short and the waist seems a little high. He is not yet 5 and actually on the short side for his age, so I would recommend making the pattern larger for older preschoolers. It works for now, though! I spent about $14 on the fabric and elastic; I already owned the hook and eye fastener. I saw very plain aprons for sale as low as $7 each, but they were definitely not as nice as these!

It definitely worked to get him enthused about cooking. (Don't worry! I was RIGHT THERE!)

It definitely worked to get him enthused about cooking. (Don’t worry! I was RIGHT THERE!)

Little Brother modelling Minnie Mouse.

Little Brother modelling Minnie Mouse. I admit, I talked him out of the pink and purple Minnie Mouse into the simpler black and red fabric.

What did you make this Christmas? How did it turn out?



I Got Fired Again. Phew!

For years, since way back when I was a full-time middle school teacher, I’ve worked writing and fact-checking trivia questions for a company that runs “pub quizzes.” For most of that time, I was the editor; I worked directly with writers on the question mix and structure and was a liaison between them and the main office. I was proud of my ability to maintain friendly relationships conducted exclusively over email.

Nearly every question went across my desk, from my years as a full-time teacher to my first years of motherhood. I took off a couple of weeks when Big Brother was born and a whopping six days for Little Brother. (He slept a lot and I couldn’t get off the couch. I got bored.)

When I got a job, I started getting behind. My favorite writer filled in as the backup editor. Well, now he’s the editor and I’m the favorite writer and the backup editor.

It stung. Of course it did. No one likes to be taken down a notch. (I was given the news nicely enough, with respect for my years of service, and asked kindly to stay on as a writer.) If I had been able to put more effort into the editing, especially over the summer, maybe things would have been different. And it’s worth noting that the writing doesn’t pay as well as editing on an hourly basis. But within perhaps a few days, I felt immense relief.

For one thing, I like writing. It’s more creative than editing. And for another thing, as much as I enjoyed the work, I am so happy not to have the responsibility any more.

Now, if I’m tied up with other things, I just don’t work. Unless I accept a special assignment (like a Christmas set), there’s no looming deadline. I don’t feel like I have to stuff my mornings (when the kids are at school) with as much editing as possible; the house is a little cleaner and we eat a little better.

And I’m free from the constant sense of failure I felt from my inability to keep up, every time a week ended (and it was most weeks) and I had finished only three shows when I knew we needed four.

I loved that job. I miss it. But no one has time to do everything that they might love. Trying to squeeze in that one thing too many was taking away from my enjoyment of other things.

How have you pared down your responsibilities?


I KonMaried My Wardrobe (FP Style)

This post contains affiliate links. Also, it contains terrible photography, for which I apologize. My bedroom is in the basement and it’s kind of a dark hole.

Well, everyone else was reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpI am by no means a committed minimalist, but I do like to keep my possessions trimmed down and tidy, so I got on the hold list for the book to see if I could get any fresh ideas.

First, let’s acknowledge that it’s kind of a weird book. The author, Marie Kondo, advises thanking your possessions for their service to you, especially when you are discarding something. I don’t find it necessary to consult the feelings of inanimate objects. And while nicely stored clothes make me happy, I do not believe that the clothes have an opinion one way or another. Still, I’m getting some use from the book.

Marie Kondo’s sole criterion for deciding whether to keep or discard an item is, “Does it spark joy?” and she advises that you begin paring down by starting with your clothes in a specific order: first tops, then bottoms, and so on.

I thought I had a pretty small wardrobe and I’ve gone through it regularly, but I was surprised when I started counting to find that I owned 62 tops, from camisoles to cardigans. (According to Kondo, the average person she works with has 160, so I guess I do have a small wardrobe.)

Frankly, I think it’s unreasonable to expect all your clothes to “spark joy.” I often wear to work a pink and white striped button-down that I bought when I was breastfeeding Big Brother. It does not now and never has sparked actual joy, but it is comfortable, reasonably professional, and performs all the important functions of clothing, so I kept it. I can’t alternate between pajamas and the red dress Mr. FP bought me in Italy, the only two items of clothing that I find particularly joy-inducing.


Sweat pants, circa 1997. They still cover my legs, so I choose to keep them rather than buy something new.

I also dislike discarding clothing because Americans waste massive quantities of clothing. A lot of our discarded clothing winds up getting shipped overseas. If I don’t wear it, it’s possible no one else will, either, so to keep things out of the landfill, I like to err on the side of using them up.

So I set a lower bar: I would keep any clothes that did not cause me actual emotional or physical discomfort and that serve a purpose. Turns out, I owned nineteen shirts that I actively disliked or had no conceivable use for. 19! And that’s just shirts.

I love the color, but it's time to admit that I bought this shirt too small and it hurts my elbows.

I love the color, but it’s time to admit that I bought this shirt too small. Even if I lost weight, it would still pinch my elbows.

The fanciest, newest clothes I got rid of. The dry-clean-only shirt was a gift and I bought the makes-me-look-pregnant skirt to go with it.

The fanciest, newest clothes I got rid of. The dry-clean-only shirt was a gift and I bought the makes-me-look-pregnant skirt to go with it.

I filled up one garbage bag and about half of a Trader Joe’s bag with discarded clothes, but for me, the bigger impact was the vertical folding. Essentially, you fold your clothes up so tightly that they stand up on their own (no really–this actually happens!), then you place them in the drawer on their edge. While the folding takes longer, it lets you fit a lot more things into the drawer AND at the same time actually see it all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been looking for something and not been able to find it when it was in a pile the whole time.

Before. Never knew what shirts were in which pile and my underpants and sports bras were shoved awkwardly in the back.

Before. Never knew what shirts were in which pile and my underpants and sports bras were shoved awkwardly in the back.

And after. Removed undies and added several large sweaters plus some camis from the closet.

And after. Removed undies and added several large sweaters plus some camis from the closet.

I made the change several days ago and love it so far. I do spend more time folding, but it’s kind of satisfying, and anyway I find I get that time back not having to hunt for things in piles. Plus I like how nice it looks. She advises using shoeboxes as drawer dividers, but so far I’ve been making do without. My underwear drawer is too shallow for a shoebox, but I do use a commemorative paperweight to keep my sports bras from falling over.

Vertical sock folding made room for my sports bras and underpants in--of all places--my underwear drawer.

Vertical sock folding made room for my sports bras and underpants in–of all places–my underwear drawer. Paperweight keeps pile from falling over. I’ve also heard of people using bookends.

Now that I’ve I tossed out everything in the closet I hated and then folded much of what remained (now that I had all that dresser space–yes, you can fold skirts), I will be able to fix my awful closet space. See, I have these two awkwardly placed bars:

Before pic of overcrowded closet with draggy clothes.

Before pic of overcrowded closet.

There was not enough space either on the bottom or the top to hang dresses or long shirts and everything just kind of dragged. Now, I can hang everything on one bar, lower the other one to make a convenient shelf for things like my sewing basket, and still not have dragging clothes. Just as soon as I get around to it…

Have you read The Life-Changing Magic? How do you store your clothes? Do you thank your possessions for their service to you?