Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Counting the Days: A Fun, Easy, and Thrifty Advent Calendar

The anticipation of Christmas Day is part of what makes the season so magical, I think. That's why I love advent calendars. When I was a kid, I loved those European-looking advent calendars with the perforated windows that held a chocolate behind each one. My mom has a wooden advent calendar with 25 little doors and she puts treats in each for the grandkids to enjoy (my son and his cousin started asking about it a month ago). My sister-in-law makes long chains of candy, sectioned off 25 times. And, of course, there are the classic paper chains we all made in school. I remember how fun it was to tear off a paper ring each day as Christmas got a little closer. Ah, the simple joys of childhood.

There are a TON of ideas and tutorials for making advent calendars. I've seen so many advent ideas on Pinterest (You're on Pinterest, right? Love it.) and I've been planning on making one. There are a lot cute fabric ones I want to make (like this one), but sewing has been kind of difficult for me ever since I had my baby, especially since he's crawling and getting into everything now (He's eight months old today! Time goes by way too fast). So, this year, I decided to opt for a variation on the classic paper chain. In addition, I added some extra features to each link on the chain to help my family fully enjoy all the holiday festivities.

I got the idea for the tree-shaped paper chain on Pinterest, pinned from the blog, Make and Takes. Not only was it cute, but it also looked easy to make (hooray!). The supplies to make it are minimal (read: super cheap) and it doesn't take long at all. Today would be a perfect day to get yours made in time for December.

Materials Needed:
  • Construction paper -- a few sheets of green (I used four), one sheet of red, and one sheet of yellow
  • A ruler
  • Pen/pencil
  • Scissors
  • Tape
I'd also suggest printing off the page from the Make and Takes post for reference when you assemble the chain.

Once I had all my supplies, I started measuring and drawing lines on the construction paper so I would cut strips that were the same size. I started with 2-inch wide strips, but scaled down to 1 1/2-inch wide strips. As for length, I did the entire length the paper. If you want to follow the tree chain on the Make and Takes blog, you'll need 19 green strips, 5 red strips, and 1 yellow strip.

Here's where I added my own features to the paper-chain tree.

The other day, I saw a post on Simple Mom about doing a simple advent countdown with Christmas activities attached to each day. I thought that was a great idea and I wanted to incorporate it with my paper-chain advent. Then, I saw a list on Pinterest, pinned from Tip Junkie, of scriptures to read each day of December. I thought that was a great way to keep the true meaning of Christmas in our thoughts, so I incorporated that into the paper chain, too. I wrote both the scripture of the day and the activity of the day (the scripture and the activity have nothing to do with each other) on each strip of paper before assembling the chain, as you can see below.

The activities are nothing grandiose, by any  means. Just the fun, simple things that go along with the holiday: classic movies (A Christmas Story, anyone?), making cookies (Try my gingerbread recipe. It is THE best.), making popcorn chains, building a snowman, driving around and looking at lights on houses, reading Christmas books, making ornaments, visiting Santa, and more. I kept mine really simple and realistic -- before I wrote any activity down, I made sure it was something I could do, even when the days are busy (as they inevitably are during this time of year).

I also took the activity aspect a little further and kept our calendar in mind. Early in the month, for example, one of our activities is to make ornaments. It wouldn't make much sense to make them a few days before the tree comes down. Closer to Christmas, I want to take the kids to see Santa one night and watch A Nativity Story just a couple nights before Christmas. Also, my husband's birthday is in December, so I wanted one of the links on the chain to be centered around celebrating his birthday.

Anyway, to help me not get all mixed up since the links aren't in a straight line, I kept them as in order as possible (the month starts at the bottom, of course) and wrote the date on the outside of each link so I'd know when to tear off each link. Plus, it helps with the scripture list since that follows a specific order, too.

Once all the scriptures and activities were written on each strip, my son and I taped them into loops and assembled the link as shown in the Make and Takes post. I was glad that I didn't have to figure out that part -- I just checked and double-checked the picture I was following. I tied a little ribbon on the yellow loop on top and hung it from a hook that was already in the door.  Really easy. Each day, we'll tear off a link and hang it on the fridge to remind us of the activity and scripture of the day. I can't wait for December to start!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

'Frugalizing' the Swiffer, Part 2: How to Make a Cloth Wet Jet Pad

Yeah, I'm back. I took break for a while there. I could chalk it up to October being a busy month for us (my firstborn's fifth birthday, hosting the annual Halloween party, making costumes at all hours of the night, etc.), but, really, I just needed to take a break. When life gets crazy and overwhelming, it's best to just cut back, I think.

I apologize if you've been waiting on the edge of your seats (ha ha) for Part 2 of my attempts to 'frugalize' the Swiffer Wet Jet.  The wait is over!

When we purchased the Wet Jet, a few of the disposable cloths were included. They work really well. I understand the appeal of the Swiffer. I'll be completely honest, my homemade cloth ones aren't quite as nice as the Swiffer cloths, but they do the job. And really, the Swiffer cloths, as handy as they may be, aren't good enough to make me want to spend over $10 for a package of them -- especially since they end up in the trash. This homemade alternative (inspired by a post I found on Pinterest) helps me keep my floor clean and saves money. Plus, they're really easy to make.

What You'll Need
  • 1 package of cloth diapers -- You can get the Gerber padded prefolds at just about any store. The ones I used were flat cloth diapers that were on sale (understandably so -- as I was using them, I couldn't help but think over and over how terrible these particular diapers would be for actually diapering a baby!). The prefolds are easier for this project because you don't have to fold them as much, but if you find some cheap flat diapers, go with those --  I'll show you how I folded them later.
  • Sew-on velcro -- two 10-inch strips (fuzzy side only) for each pad.
  • Thread, pins, scissors, a ruler, and a sewing machine.

The How-To

1. Fold and Pin
If you're using prefolded diapers, lay the diaper out flat. Fold the top 1/3 down to the middle (if you're not familiar with prefolds, the diapers are divided by seams into thirds). Do the same with the bottom third.  If you're using a flat diaper, I've outlined the steps to folding it into thirds in the photos below. 

It's a little hard to explain (I hope the pictures help) -- you basically just fold the edges to the middle so they meet (step 2) and then repeat it again (step 3). You don't have to do it this way exactly, but it worked for me.

Your goal is to have a rectangle that is around 5 inches wide. Pin in place, if desired.

2. Measure and Cut

Once the diaper is folded, you'll have a long strip. Fold it in half and cut on the fold.

Each diaper makes two cloth pads.

3. Pin the Velcro

Cut two 10-inch strips of Velcro. You'll only be using the soft, fuzzy side. With the help of a ruler or measuring tape, pin the Velcro on the diaper about an inch from each edge. It's a good idea to place one of the Velcro strips on top of the folded-over edge of the diaper so you don't have a flap that catches as you mop.

4. Sew the Velcro and Edges

Using a zig-zag stitch, sew down each side of the strips of Velcro. Use the same stitch along each short end of the pad. 

5. Mop Away!
Stick the pad onto the Wet Jet and mop. When finished, peel it off and throw it in the wash. Enjoy your clean floors and revel in the self-satisfaction of your 'frugalizing' efforts.

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.
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