13 Tips for Creating Your Own Website with Blog

13 Steps for Creating Your Own Website

While there are a lot of companies out there that can create a website for you (like my sister Andrea at Curly Host), there are many benefits of creating your website yourself…especially if you don’t have much of a budget. Yes, it is quite a bit of work at first, but by creating your own website, you’ll be able to test out a variety of ideas, customize everything to your specific needs, and manage updates according to your schedule.

I’m not claiming to be the guru of all areas of web development here, but I have learned A LOT about what to do (and what not to do) when it comes to creating my own website. I started out just wanting a platform to blog about motherhood with a specific vision for my organization, and now I’m actually making some money with Amazon Associates and with my Embracing Motherhood Shop.

So without further adieu, here are my 13 steps for starting your own website.

1. Brainstorm Ideas

Grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and just start creating a mind map of all words that you would use to describe your website. (You could also use a mind mapping application like this.) Don’t worry about organizing your ideas at this point, just free associate the first words that pop into your brain when you think of your website.

For me, my initial brainstorming web included words like: pregnancy, birth, natural birth, healthy food, nutrition, recipes, food science, fitness, teaching, parenting, lesson ideas, homeschool, young children, stay at home mom, and so on.

2. Find Your Niche

Once you have a broad idea of where you’d like to go, find some other websites or blogs out there that are covering the topics that you are hoping to explore. I enjoyed finding several mothering, nutrition, and education websites and following them on social media to get their latest content. I would read their latest blogs, peruse their sites, notice things that I liked and didn’t, and thought about how I would try to define myself in my own way.

You will be constantly honing your writing style and finding your voice as you write. It is not something that will happen overnight. If you look at some of the earlier blogs I’ve written (mainly about health and nutrition), you’ll notice that my voice and style are different than they are now. Once I started getting an audience, getting feedback from others, and seeing my content live, I was able to see what things were working better than others. I learned how to create a certain flow that people could skim and scan through by adding quotes, headlines, lists, numbers, bolded and italicized text, and images so that a reader could get the general idea without reading every word.

3. Come Up With a Name

Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas and done your research, it’s time to start thinking about a name. Same as the original brainstorming session, get a piece of paper and a pencil and just start writing down every possible name you can think of, no matter how crazy or silly, just get it out there. I think it’s a good idea for your name to be a pretty obvious representation of what you want to write about, but you can just go ahead and make up a new word too. Basically, you’re looking for something short, simple, easy to share with someone verbally, and something that has a nice ring to it.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few favorite names, start doing a Google search to see what comes up. After I had my heart set on Embracing Motherhood, I discovered that the domain name embracingmotherhood.com was only available if I wanted to spend $4,888 so I did what you really shouldn’t do, I used a hyphen…embracing-motherhood.com.

LeanDomainSearch is a great way to brainstorm ideas with available domain names. Once you have a name you think you’d like, run it through Domainr to see if it’s available. Also check out social media platforms like FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter to see if your name is already being used. *Check out some more great tips for coming up with a name here and here.

4. Purchase Your Domain and Hosting

Now, because my sister is helping me out, she helped me buy my domain name and does my hosting for me. She uses a company called BlueHost. This company is great, and I would recommend going with the plus package that gives you unlimited storage and will run you $5.95/mo. When you sign up for hosting, it will walk you through registering your domain name as well (for free). For an extra $2.99/mo. you can get Site Backup Pro that automatically creates a daily backup copy of your entire site. If you’re creating a lot of content, this is a good idea.

5. Design a Logo

This might be something that you want to save for later, but I enjoyed getting mine done early on. My sister Andrea knows a freelance artist who helped me design my logo, but there are many different logo makers online. This one is pretty good and will cost you from $20-$100 and this one is pretty great too and will only cost you $39. (Beware, many sites that claim “free logo design” will actually make you pay for the high-res image.)

As you pick a logo, keep your color scheme in mind. Because I was wearing a purple shirt in the profile picture I chose, I ended up using purple for my main color. Then I used green as my accent and went with a rainbow pattern of colors because I like rainbows! I hope to keep working on my design in the future, but right now I’m more focused on content. 🙂

6. WordPress

I recommend going with WordPress.org over WordPress.com. Once you secure your domain and hosting, you can download WordPress and get started. They have some free themes ready to go, but after checking out many many different themes, my sister highly recommended going with Enfold for $59. This is what I use, and I love it! Everything is drag and drop and there is a great online support forum. (Just log in with your WordPress info and search for your question or write a new one. I have used this many times, and always gotten excellent support.)

If you go with WordPress.com, it is free and a one stop shop for your basic blog, but only if you plan on hosting less than 3 GB of data ($99/year for unlimited data) and you’re not allowed to connect to affiliate’s programs like Amazon Associates and have very little options in terms of design.

There are two ways you can get familiar with WordPress. You can just dive in (like I did), and look online when you have questions (just do a very specific Google search). Or, you can check out this WordPress for Beginners Blog or watch this great tutorial series to learn everything you’ll need to know before or while you’re playing around with your own site.

*You can also check out Squarespace (7 pages for $12/month), Webflow (20 pages for $20/month), Weebly ($8/mo. for unlimited pages or free with limited services), or a free blogging platform like Tumblr or Blogger.

7. Customizing

Once you get your theme, you’ll want to customize it to work for you. This part can seem really overwhelming and is probably where you’ll need to do the most amount of learning/research, so you might want to skip this step and come back to this later.

  1. Hide Your Site: As you’re building your site, you might want to hide it from search engines. To do this, go to the “Settings” option on the left toolbar, select “Reading”, and the click on the box that says, “Discourage search engines from indexing this site”. You might also want to install a plug-in like this that will give a “Coming Soon” message.
  2. Theme Options: On the left toolbar, you’ll see a gear shaped icon with the name of your site. You will want to go here first and click on every option to set things up and get familiar with what you can do. When I was learning about WordPress, I spent a lot of time here changing one thing at a time, looking at things live (on the top toolbar, click on your site name with the home icon, and click “Visit Site”), and tweaking it until I liked what I had. This is where you’ll add your logo, set up your social media icons.
  3. Widgets: On the left toolbar, under “Appearance”, you’ll find “Widgets” (along with themes, menu, etc.). Widgets are a great way to customize the look of your blog. For my sidebar widget, I have a search tool, my picture, my affiliate’s disclosure, a subscribe widget, popular posts, and recent posts. In my footer widgets, I have four columns for my social media profiles.
  4. Plug-ins: Whenever you want to add something specific to your site, there’s a plug-in for that. Just like with everything else, you’ll want to play around with different plug-ins to see what you like/don’t like. *Now, don’t get crazy with the plug-ins, sometimes they can be the reason your site starts acting crazy, and you’ll have to deactivate them one at a time to figure out the problem. Here are the plug-ins I love:
    1. Askimet: Stops spam
    2. Broken Link Checker: Tells you on your dashboard page where all of your broken links are
    3. Pinterest Pin It Button: I always pin my own articles and have gotten a lot of hits this way.
    4. Print Friendly and PDF: Provides a button that allows users to easily print your blogs.
    5. Stop Spammers Spam Control: Prevents spammers from leaving comments
    6. Woocommerce: What I used to build my Embracing Motherhood Shop

7. Organizing

If you’re like me, you’ll want to have a framework of organization for your content before getting started. It’s a bit time consuming to do this on the front end, and so you may just want to write 20-30 blogs or build your content before you worry about organization, but then you’ll have to go back to each blog to add categories, etc. So, here’s what I recommend, but as with everything, you have to do what works for you.

  1. Create Pages: You’ll first of all want a home page (some people like their blog to be their home page, but not me, it feels too random). Then create pages for all of your main ideas and link them to your home page. (Mine are: Home, All Blogs, Parenting, Teaching, Mom Talk, Health, How To, Guest Bloggers, Etsy, and Shop) Start by using the “Advanced Layout Editor” to create a “Page Template”. Basically, everything needs to be in a layout box, then you can put a “Text Box” (under “Content Elements”) inside of a layout box to create a header. Then, you can add a “Magazine” or “Blog Post” layout to put under that and it will automatically put all blogs with a matching category there. Watch this tutorial to learn more about creating pages.
  2. Create Categories: These are how you’ll organize your blogs. Under “Posts” on the left toolbar, select “Categories” and just create categories for all of your main ideas. You can also create subcategories by selecting a “Parent”, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this at first. Now, when you write your blogs, just select which category they belong in and you can sort them to the appropriate pages.
  3. Create a Menu: Now that you have your main pages, you can organize them into a menu. Under “Appearance”on the left toolbar, choose “Menu”. There, you can add what pages will be on your main menu.
  4. Write Some Content: Once you have a general layout, you can start writing some posts! It may take awhile to find your voice and your writing style, but don’t worry about that at first, just start getting some content out there so you can see how everything works together.

8. Adding Images

When I first started writing a blog, I was so sad that I couldn’t just do a Google image search and use whatever photos I wanted. 🙁 How easy would that be??? But thanks to Creative Commons, there are lots of free works available to use.

  1. Use Your Own Pictures: It can be so tempting to buy stock photos, but using pictures that you have taken gives your blog a much more personal touch, and it won’t cost you any money!
  2. Attribution: When you use someone else’s photo, even if it’s “Creative Commons”, you should give attribution according to the specifications of the image. If I use an image within my blog, I’ll put the attribution right under the photo saying something like: Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Pearson Scott Foresman, 2008. I’ll also link my photo to the original source. You can also credit the image source at the end of your blog. Here’s a good article with more information about giving image credits.
  3. Canva: Canva is a very simple photo editing program that allows you to custom design images with text. This is what I use to create my featured images for my blogs (845 x 321 pixels are the dimensions you want for a featured blog image with sidebar). I like it because there are suggested dimensions for a variety of social media and other outlets many basic templates available, simple tools for adding text, and basic tools for modifying your image. You can even search for a particular image and purchase it for $1.
  4. Photo Pin: Here, you can search millions of Creative Commons photos and easily add them to your blog posts. A photo attribution link is provided for each image.
  5. Flickr: Start by clicking on “Explore” and then search for the type of image you’re looking for. Look at the image description to see if it is “Creative Commons” or free to use, if so, attribute the image according to the author’s request.
  6. Wikimedia Commons: This is my favorite place to go for free photos when I need them…usually to place within my blog. Just search for what you’re looking for and make sure to attribute according to each photo’s request.
  7. Pixabay: This is a great place to search for free photos, and they don’t require any attribution!
  8. Shutterstock: If you are willing to pay for some really high quality images (usually $1-2), this is a HUGE resource.
  9. Pexels: Great stock photos and videos for free use.
  10. Vimeo: You can find free stock videos here.

9. Search Engine Optimization

You probably won’t be concerned with this at first, but if you can keep these tips in mind as you create content, then you won’t have to go back and rewrite everything. :).

  1. Write Good Content: This is kind of a no brainer, but if your writing is good, easy to follow, and useful, you’ll have a higher chance of people reading it, sharing it, and linking to it. The more popular a blog post is, the more likely it is to show up on a search engine.
  2. Make Your Topic Clear: Clever titles (and click bait titles) aren’t as useful as clear titles that emphasize the main idea of your blog post. Then, make sure to state the main idea of your post in the first sentence and repeat key words throughout.
  3. Alt-Text: When you upload photos, make sure they have an accurate name that describes the image (this can’t be added later), then set the alt text so that it spells out any text used in the picture as well as gives an accurate description of what the photo is. This helps webcrawlers to find your content in search engines more easily.
  4. Categories: If you group similar content based on content, category names are a great organization tool that recommends similar articles in your website.
  5. Tags: As you create tags for your posts, think of what people will type into their search engines. Also, include your categories.
  6. Link Building: The more people who link to your site, the higher search engine ranking you’ll get.
  7. Networking: By having guest bloggers, doing guest posts for other websites, and teaming up with others selling similar or complementary products/services you can increase your traffic as well.

*Read more about search engine optimization here.

10. Social Media

Social media is a great way to get your content out there and advertise your website.

  1. FaceBook: This is a great place to network and share your content.
  2. Twitter: Another great platform to share your content.
  3. Instagram: A visual platform to share your pictures associated with your website.
  4. Google Plus: Helps your content to show up in Google searches more often.
  5. Pinterest: A great way to get your content shared in a visual format.
  6. YouTube: Think about starting a YouTube channel to share your content.

11. Amazon Associates

If you are going to be linking to products that people can buy on Amazon, you’ll want to start an Amazon Associate’s account. Watch the tutorial here to learn about the program in more detail, but basically, you can earn a percentage (which starts out low, but gets higher when more items are purchased) when people click on your links and buy your recommended items. The really cool thing about this program is that if people search for and buy other items once they’ve entered Amazon via your site (even items you haven’t recommended), you’ll still earn a percentage. This is called a “third party sale”. *On a side note: the cost of the product remains the same as if the customer would just do a regular Amazon search.

Amazon approves accounts on a case by case basis, and you’ll need to get a certain amount of clicks on your links in order to remain in the program. You also have to make sure you clearly disclose your affiliation or they could terminate your account. (Check out my disclaimer here. I also have a disclaimer link on every blog.)

12. WooCommerce

Woocommerce is the best way to set up a shopping platform. It’s free, easy to set up, and easy to use. Once you install the plugin, it will walk you through the install. I recommend creating your own shop page so you can customize it, but if you don’t, it will automatically create one for you. Once everything is installed, all you have to do is set up your products. If you have any questions along the way, check out Woocommerce Docs.

Setting up shipping was the hardest thing for me. I tried setting up a variety of shipping options, and in the end just decided to include the cost of shipping in my product and offer free shipping on everything.

Another option if you’re looking to have all of the work done for you (calculating shipping, printing shipping labels, sending customers tracking information, etc.), you might want to consider opening an Etsy shop and linking to it on your website. The benefit of using Etsy is that it can provide a platform for you to share your product, but the downside is that it doesn’t offer as many options if you plan on growing. Check out my Etsy shop here, and feel free to copy my shipping policies, etc.

13. Nitty Gritty Stuff

  1. Cite Your Sources: This isn’t English 101 requiring MLA format, but be courteous and find a way to link to the sources that you can use. You can link to the name of the author and/or title of their work, link to some key words in your text, or have a link called “source” in parentheses at the end of the information you’re paraphrasing. If you’re citing something word for word, make sure you put it in quotes and thoroughly cite the source.
  2. Grammar Police: Think about what tense you want to write in (past, present, or future) and stick with it. Find a pattern for personal pronouns (“you” is informal, “one” is really formal, or you can stick with your experiences and just say “I” or “we”). When referring to gender pronouns, you can try to make the plural form work, alternate between he/she, or take turns with each gender.
  3. Policies and Disclaimers: You might not want to worry about this until later, but it’s good to cover your butt and have these thing covered. Check out my terms of use, disclaimer, privacy policy, comment policy, and more in my About Me section.
  4. Make Yourself Present: Find a good picture of yourself to post and have a place for a personal bio. People like to know who is creating the content.

In Conclusion

I’m not going to lie, having my sister as a web developer has definitely given me an edge as I’ve created my own website, but I hope that by offering these tips, I can help to give you that edge too. I certainly don’t know everything and have a long ways to go before I reach my final goals, but I hope that by sharing my experiences with creating a website, I can help others out there who were once starting out just like me. If you’ve got a budget, I highly recommend getting ahold of my sister Andrea at Curly Host, and she will not only set you up, but teach you how to manage your own cite along the way.

Embracing Motherhood How to Make a Mudpit for Summer Fun

How to Make a Mud Pit for Summer Fun

“You want to make a mud pit…on purpose…in our yard?!?” I can imagine your spouse yelling as you try to present the idea of creating a mud pit in your backyard, but hear me out…

Having Fun in Our Mudpit

Having Fun in Our Mudpit

We kind of made our mud pit on accident when we were trying to cover a dirt hill with sod (which is a story for another blog post), and in the process, I noticed how much the kids absolutely loved playing on a hill of pure dirt. They would climb up it, roll down it, dig tunnels through it and holes in it, and basically get really, really muddy. We would have to strip them down before they entered the house, and it created a lot of messy laundry.

Well, the hill was eventually covered with sod, and the parts that weren’t covered sprung up with grass and other foliage, but the hole that we dug the sod out of still remained, ready to be used. We originally were going to make another sandbox on top to mimic the one we liked at Blandford Nature Center, but well, we kind of ran out of money and were looking for a cheaper alternative.

I had a bunch of leftover seeds and plants from planting our summer garden and the kids were still begging for another dirt hill, so I went to work digging and made a dirt hill surrounded by a moat, surrounded by a path, surrounded by some plants. We stretched three hoses connected together to allow water to flow to the furthest regions of our yard, and walla! Mud pit!

Materials

Directions

  1. Plan It. Find a space in your yard that will be just perfect for a mud pit…preferably away from any pools you have, not right near the front door, but close enough to a water source.
  2. Dig It. Using a pointy shovel, dig out small squares of sod. You can use them to build a small grassy hill if you’d like. Just place the sod pieces on top of each other. Eventually they will settle in and make a nice little hill. Our kids love playing on ours!
  3. Shape It. Try to give it your mud pit some character. Build it up high in some spaces, level it out in others, use your imagination, and try to visualize how your kids will use it. I really think having a moat type structure is a good idea because it traps the water in and makes it more usable.
  4. Use It. I highly encourage all play in the mud pit to be conducted with bathing suits on! This way, kids can be sprayed off with a hose, jump through a sprinkler, or jump into a kiddie pool to get clean afterwards! With a few shovels, buckets, and watering cans, this mud pit has entertained our kids and their friends for hours.
Playing in the Mud Pit

Playing in the Mud Pit

Conclusion

Yes, making a sandbox is probably an overall cleaner project, and one that our kids have enjoyed just as much, but there is just something so primal about a mud pit that I think all kids should have a chance to experience. Being able to interact with nature, feeling the cool mud with its abundance of free electrons boosting your immune system, getting completely filthy, and creating, digging, and exploring the properties of mud are all hallmarks of any good childhood.

Embracing Motherhood How to Make Stepping Stumps

How to Make Stepping Stumps

Making stepping stumps is a fun and easy project that will provide a fun and natural play area for your children (and a fun little place to sit and rest as well).

Children love things that are just challenging enough with an appropriate amount of risk and danger. They also need to be able to play unsupervised and interact with nature. These stepping stumps may become an ongoing yard project that you continuously add to (like it has for us). We are always on the lookout for more stumps. It makes for a fun scavenger hunt while we’re driving! 🙂

Materials

  • Stumps: When I was driving my husband’s pick up truck out on some country roads, I found several stumps of varying height that had been nicely cut from a fallen tree. Then, when we were coming home from Ruby’s spring concert, we spotted a few more, loaded them in the back of our van, and brought them home!
  • Shovel: You want one with a point that you can really step on.
  • Gardening Gloves: These are optional, but be warned, you will end up with dirt under your fingernails!

Directions

  1. Make a Plan: Try to envision the full potential of your stump arrangement. If you’re like me, you’ll want to leave room to keep adding on as you find more. I am hoping to copy Blandford’s meandering circular pattern that starts with shorter stumps and works up to taller stumps, but there are many other things you could do like placing the stumps haphazardly in one big configuration or making a straight path that’s very symmetrical. You might even make them almost flush with the ground and use them as a pathway from one place to the next. I encourage you to type “stepping stumps” or even “stepping stones” into Pinterest for some more ideas.

    Blandford Nature Center's Stepping Stumps

    Blandford Nature Center’s Stepping Stumps

  2. Dig a Circle: You’ll want to dig a circle larger than each stump. If you leave the sod intact, you can use it for another project like making a hill or making little grass stepping circles. After taking out the sod, dig down enough to bury about one-fifth of the stump. Make sure the dirt underneath is nice and soft to level out the stump.
  3. Level the Stump: After placing the stump onto the loose dirt in the hole, wiggle it around until the top is level. Then sit or step on it to help it settle in.
  4. Fill in the Dirt: Pack the extra dirt around the sides of the stump and step on it to really pack it in.

In Conclusion

Having stepping stumps is just one part of creating a backyard full of natural and fun ways to play. Once you see how your kids interact with the stumps, it might give you more ideas for extensions in the future. I hope to gather some shorter stumps so that it extends much further and begins and ends with descending stumps like a staircase.

Ruby and Elliot Playing on Our Stepping Stumps

Ruby and Elliot Playing on Our Stepping Stumps

Check out some of our other backyard projects:

Embracing Motherhood How to Make a Backyard Obstacle Course

How to Make a Backyard Obstacle Course

This backyard obstacle course is the simplest thing I have ever put together, but the kids LOVE it and play on it constantly. I’m always rearranging it, changing it, moving it, and adding new components to keep it fun and interesting…all using things that we have lying around or that I can find on trash day. 🙂

Children love things that are just challenging enough, and they need opportunities to play unsupervised with just the right amount of risk and danger. That is why I like setting up my obstacle course in an arrangement that isn’t too easy or too challenging. While I do enjoy cheering them on from time to time, I am happiest to see them play with the obstacle course independently. If I notice that it isn’t getting played with, I know it’s time to move it around.

How to Make a Backyard Obstacle Course Embracing Motherhood

How to Make a Backyard Obstacle Course

Materials

  • Tires: When we get new tires, I save the old ones. I also keep my eyes open on trash day to pick up any old tires that might be thrown away. *We cut holes in the sides of the tires so that they won’t hold water (which can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes).
  • Long Skinny Pieces of Wood: These are for the balance beams. It’s nice to have them varying lengths and thicknesses. 2’x4’s work great, but you can make anything work.
  • Blocks of Wood: These are for the base of the balance beams. You’ll need 2-3 that are the same height for each balance beam.
  • Wide Boards: These are for placing on top of the tires. You can make any size work. I like using long and narrow pieces. We had particle board laying around, so that is what we used, but you can use any type of wood. You can treat the pieces of wood if you’d like them to last longer.
  • Drill: This is for drilling holes in the tires. We added a circular attachment to our drill to make a bigger hole.
  • Screws: You’ll use these for the balance beams.

Directions

  1. Balance Beams: Attach blocks of wood to the ends (and middle if the board is long or weak) of your long skinny pieces of wood with long screws.
  2. Preparing the Tires: If you leave tires out without drilling holes, they will collect water and it will become the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. By drilling 3 large holes on the side, it will prevent water from collecting. We drilled holes on both sides so we wouldn’t have to worry about which side was facing up.
  3. Set Up: There is really no right or wrong way to set this up. You might want to have everything in a straight line, arrange it in a circle, or place individual pieces scattered throughout the yard. I like arranging the pieces in a circle because it encourages children to complete the course repeatedly. By putting tires underneath the edges of the long boards, it becomes a fun platform for kids to stand on and it also doubles as a bench for sitting and can even be used as a makeshift table during an outdoor picnic. I’ve also had fun putting a tire in the middle of a board to create a sort of teeter totter and on one end of a board to create a ramp.
  4. Rearrange: Whenever the kids stop using the obstacle course (or every 2-3 weeks, whichever comes first) I like to rearrange everything. This helps to prevent the grass that is underneath from dying and keeps it fun and interesting for the kids.
Rearranging the Obstacle Course

Rearranging the Obstacle Course

In Conclusion

The sky is the limit with this style of backyard obstacle course! I hope to keep collecting more tires to make some stepping tires and add some teeter totters (by placing one tire or two stacked up) in the middle of a long board. You will want to tailor your obstacle course to meet the specific dimensions of your yard and abilities of your kids, but the important thing is to make it just slightly challenging and have fun!

Check out how we’re getting our backyard ready for summer with our sandbox, stock tank pool, garden, teepee, stepping stumps, and more!

The Importance of Growing Up with a Garden

The Importance of Growing Up with a Garden

Gardening is a fun way for the whole family to eat nutrient dense food and enjoy the outdoors at the same time. Neither my husband or I are professional gardeners by any means, but by growing our own garden for the past few years, our entire family has learned a lot, enjoyed some good food, and had a lot of fun in the process!

Last Year's Garden Embracing Motherhood

Last Year’s Garden

I am excited to write this article as I reflect on our past gardens and start planning our garden(s) for this year! (We’re thinking about having three gardens this year: The area above for tomatoes and peppers, an area next to the house for herbs and lettuce, and an area by our teepee for corn and beans.)

My Brother Jarrod and I Enjoying a Garden as Kids

My Brother Jarrod and I Enjoying a Garden as Kids

Benefits of Gardening for Kids

There are many different benefits of gardening with kids. These are some of the benefits that we have noticed.

  • Learn About Life Cycles: Why read about the life cycle of a plant when you can grow one? By planting seeds, watching them grow, and caring for the plants, children become heavily invested in the life cycles of their plants.

    Elliot Planting Seeds Embracing Motherhood

    Elliot Planting Seeds

  • Learn About Photosynthesis: Photosynthesis (how plants get energy and grow) and cellular respiration (how humans get energy and grow) are two of the most basic and primary functions of life, yet we gloss over them very simply or hardly even mention them at all. If children can learn about such concepts in depth at a young age, they will build a lifelong understanding that will prepare them for even greater scientific understandings in the future.
  • See Where Food Comes From: No, food does not come from the grocery store! By seeing the time it takes for the plants to grow and finally harvesting the fruits of their labors, children will have a deeper appreciation for where their food comes from.

    Ruby and Elliot Picking Beans Embracing Motherhood

    Ruby and Elliot Picking Beans

  • Helps a Picky Eater: Even the pickiest eater can’t resist a tomato warmed from the sun or a freshly picked bean. I love watching my kids devour the fruits and vegetables they pick from the garden.

    Elliot Loves Eating What He Picks from the Garden

    Elliot Loves Eating What He Picks from the Garden

  • Connect with the Earth: If simply going barefoot on the earth’s surface (earthing or grounding) can boost the immune system by providing the body with an abundance of antioxidants (free electrons), imagine what actually digging in the dirt can do?

    Ruby Barefoot Picking Beans Embracing Motherhood

    Ruby Barefoot Picking Beans

  • Get Some Sun: Sunshine provides the body with much needed vitamin D, boosts the immune system, helps skin conditions, gives you more energy, and boosts serotonin levels, just to name a few of the benefits. So get out there in the sun! If I’m not worried about sunburn, I don’t worry about sunscreen, but if we’re going to be out for a long time and I think that by kids might get a burn, I like to use this sunscreen.

    Ruby Getting Some Sun in the Garden Embracing Motherhood

    Ruby Getting Some Sun in the Garden

  • Help with Chores: Kids really do love to help with chores, and this is pretty much one of the funnest chores to do! By working in the garden, they will learn the joy of helping out around the home in a very fun and hands on way!

    Elliot Putting Scraps in Our Compost Bin

    Elliot Putting Scraps in Our Compost Bin

  • Get a Green Thumb: In my experience, gardening is a skill best learned about by doing. By jumping into gardening without much knowledge, we have learned about the best planting times, different varieties of plants, what plants grow best together, how to prepare the soil, and so much more. By gardening with our children from a young age, they will enter their adult years with this knowledge tucked securely under their belts and a joy to accompany it.

    Ruby Planting Seeds Embracing Motherhood

    Ruby Planting Seeds

How to Grow a Garden

Now, I’m sure you can find a better expert than me to learn about all of the intricacies of gardening, but for what it’s worth, here’s how we garden. 🙂

  1. What to Plant? I like planting things that are easy to grow and that the children will have fun picking and eating. I like planting lots of tomatoes to make my tomato purée that I will freeze and use year round, many different kinds of beans that the children love picking, lettuce and herbs (cilantro, parsley, oregano, basil, and dill), peppers, cucumbers, carrots, sunflowers, corn (new this year), and maybe a few carrots and green onions.
  2. Start with Seeds: Starting in April or May, we like to start growing some seeds indoors in pots. Seed packets are fairly cheap (I picked up some organic seed packets at Walmart for 97 cents a piece.) and are way more cost effective than spending a few dollars per established plant. Once it’s above freezing at night, they can stay outside. I hear beans like to be planted when it’s still a bit frosty out.

    Sunflower Seeds Embracing Motherhood

    Sunflower Seeds

  3. Choose a Location and Prepare the Soil: Our original garden location (as seen below) is nice because it’s close to the house, but it is very damp which caused many of the plants to get a fungus last year. It also doesn’t get the best sunshine. This year, we are going to get a long hose, bury it, and set up a garden in the far corner of our yard near our teepee. For our original location, we used a rototiller, but in our new location, we’re digging up all of the sod by hand, so we’ll see how we manage without a tiller over there! I’m sure there’s lots you can do with fertilizing the soil, but we don’t do more than dumping the contents of our compost bin into the mix.

    Preparing the Soil for the Garden

    Preparing the Soil for the Garden

  4. Planting: I have made the mistake of planting things too close together (they’re so little at first), but then they grow too close together and compete for nutrients, so this year I will spread them out a bit more.
    Planting the Garden

    Planting the Garden

    Tomatoes from Last Year

    Tomatoes from Last Year

  5. Watering: In the past, we have used an arc shaped sprinkler, but I’ve since learned that it’s not good for the plants to get so much water on their leaves (because of the fungus) so this year, we will be putting in a soaker hose system (hopefully).

    Watering the Garden

    Watering the Garden

  6. Weeds: Weeding is really my favorite part of gardening. It’s very therapeutic and calming. I usually just pull out the weeds by hand, but every time my husband mows with the bagger, I collect the grass clippings and spread them out over the garden floor. This really helps to prevent weeds from growing.

    Using Grass Clippings to Prevent Weeds

    Using Grass Clippings to Prevent Weeds

  7. Composting: This is an excellent way for children to learn about recycling and to really see first hand what decomposition looks like. We dug out a square in our yard, added beams and boards around the sides (just like making a mini sandbox), and covered it with hinged doors with handles.

Getting Kids Involved

We don’t ever force our children to work in the garden. Whenever we’re going out there to work, we always invite them along, and if they refuse, that is perfectly fine. In the past, our kids have mainly enjoyed the planting and the harvesting process, but now, our oldest daughter Ruby (6) has been VERY helpful preparing the soil and getting things ready. She really enjoys talking about the planning of the garden now that she has seen it through to completion a couple of times. 🙂

In Conclusion

Growing a garden is truly a family event that is bonding in so many ways. I love working in the garden with our kids during every single stage. And when it’s harvesting time, the children see first hand the benefits of all of their hard work.

Happy gardening!

Check out some of our other backyard projects:

Embracing Motherhood How to Make an Outdoor Teepee

How to Make an Outdoor Teepee

Making an outdoor teepee is a fun and easy project that will provide a natural play area for your children. Who needs expensive plastic playground equipment when there’s old free tree branches lying around anyways?

There are lots of different variations and ways to embellish your teepee once you get the frame up…anything from being completely covered with bark to having living walls with something like beans or flowering vines!

Materials

  • Long Sticks: I drove around in my husband’s pick up truck and stopped along the side of the road whenever I found some really good long branches. Look for a few that have like a “v” at the top so that they can interlock and form the base when you get started.
  • Shovel: You want one with a point that you can really step on.
  • Gardening Gloves: These are optional, but be warned, you will end up with dirt under your fingernails!

Directions

  1. Make a Circle: Stand in the center of where you want your teepee and using a small to medium stick, draw a circle around yourself. Mark the edges of the circle by scoring it with your shovel.
  2. Plan Your Opening: Consider the position of the sun (if you want to have shade or not) and the location in relation to the rest of your yard. I wanted my opening to face the center of the yard so that I could always see who was inside, even though this meant that it would be really sunny inside all the time.
  3. Dig Holes: You’ll want to start with three holes for the anchor sticks. Dig a circle (much bigger than your stick…about 8-10 inches in diameter) and take out the piece of sod intact. Continue to dig down about another shovel’s depth. Make sure you leave a lot of loose soil at the bottom.
  4. Anchor Sticks: You might need some help to steady the three anchor sticks as you place them in at the same time. If you can find at least one stick that has a “v” at the top, it will really help to lock the sticks together at the top. Position the sticks in the ground, and lean them into each other until they are steady.
  5. Bury the Sticks: Fill in around the stick with all of the loose dirt that was taken out, and then place the piece of sod back on top. Stamp it down with your feet.
  6. Fill in with Sticks: I buried about eight more sticks, and then I just started leaning the rest of the sticks against other sticks. My little ones liked weaving in and out of the stick openings, so I left some spots more open than others.
  7. Cover: You can choose to leave the sides somewhat open, continue layering with sticks until it is filled in more, or find some other material such as pine needle branches or bark to fill it in completely. You might even want to grow something like beans or morning glories along the sticks to create some living walls.

In Conclusion

I probably had as much fun building this teepee as the kids have had playing in it. Once the weather starts to get nice, my husband and I like having outdoor projects to work on. It’s a fun way to be outside, get a bit of physical activity, and accomplish something! We are currently working on making some big dirt hills covered with sod, stepping stumps, obstacle course, and preparing our garden as we try our best to transform our 1 acre of regulated city land into as natural and fun of an environment as we can. (Here’s a little video of our backyard projects.) It’s going to be a fun summer!

Ruby and Elliot Playing in the Teepee

Ruby and Elliot Playing in the Teepee

Embracing Motherhood How to Make a Stock Tank Pool

How to Make a Stock Tank Pool

What’s the one thing that always feels good on a hot summer’s day? Water. Running through a sprinkler, splashing in a kiddie pool, going down a slip and slide, and floating in a pool are all ways to make the summer heat mesh nicely with your body.

ruby mini pool

We love water!

With four young kids five and under, we don’t really like to go anywhere, and this stock tank pool has been an amazing cost effective addition to our yard for both us and our kids. When the temperature is above 70º F (we’ll even settle for 60º F on an early spring thaw), our kids will play in it for hours every single day.

Another early spring swim on a 60 degree day!

Swimming in our stock tank pool in mid April! Brrrr…

They love sitting in their round doughnuts bouncing up and down, riding around on pool noodles, jumping off from the ladder, and just splashing around. My husband and I like to find a way to float and relax. When we close our eyes and feel our bodies bob around in the water, we can almost envision that we’re floating on the shores of some tropical island…until Elliot does a cannonball that is!

With our stock tank pool, homemade sandbox, garden, backyard teepee, stepping stumps, and homemade obstacle course, we are content to just stay home all summer long! *Video note: We don’t typically run the filter while kids are swimming in it. The suction is incredibly strong and can be quite shocking if you accidentally press your butt against it! 🙂

When we started researching pools last summer, I was almost tempted to buy a 12 foot Intex pool, but after reading reviews about patching pinholes and knowing that my kids like to play rough (which it couldn’t sustain), I didn’t think it sounded like a good idea.

Growing up, my Aunt Sue always had a round stock tank pool that she placed on a deck in her backyard. She always kept the water crystal clear with a filter and had it set up on a little deck. It was beautiful! We had an oval shaped horse trough pool growing up, but we never really kept it clean, and it turned into a holding tank for the tadpoles and turtles that we would catch in our nearby lake. It was still really fun though!

I scoured the Internet for some good directions for making a stock tank pool and could only find really cute pictures (that often showed crystal clear water with no filter…not possible!) without many good directions, so I hope that in this post, I can be a little more specific. Needless to say, we learned how to do everything wrong before we learned how to do everything right, so hopefully, if you’re looking to make your own stock tank pool, you can avoid some of the pitfalls we had.

Summer fun in our stock tank pool

Summer fun in our stock tank pool

Materials

  • 10 Foot (diameter) Stock Tank Pool: We picked up ours from a local Tractor Supply Co., sorry, it seems that they only seem to sell 8 foots now. Basically, you want a round, galvanized steel pool with a diameter of 10 feet, but 8 feet should do too, and 2 feet high – which is pretty much shorter than anyone who is really good at walking. You might be able to find something on the internet like this for $545, but I think your best bet is calling around to local farm stores. We paid $350 for ours.
  • Sand Filter Pump: You don’t have to have a pump if you’re okay with just emptying the pool when it gets dirty or using some chlorine or bromine tablets, but I highly recommend buying one for the long haul. People reviewing this particular filter used it for much much larger pools than what we have, and they said it works great. We have loved it for our little pool. We paid $157 for ours.
  • Pool Filter SandWe just used some sand from our sandbox, but this type of sand that I linked to was recommended by our pool filter system manual.
  • *Additional Filter Systems:
    • Saltwater System: It pretty much makes its own “natural” chlorine. You could use this in addition to the sand filter for optimum performance.
    • Floating Dispenser and Bromine Tablets or Chlorine Tablets (bromine is safer than chlorine…slightly).
    • Pool Water Shock: Kills bacteria and algae in one big “shock” of chlorine.
    • Because of the dangers of chlorine, we try our best to avoid it. We’d prefer not to use any of these methods, but we have used the pool shock a time or two when things got bad (mainly because we didn’t use our pool filter properly). It did a fine job of killing the algae, and we just avoided the pool until it all evaporated, 24-48 hours. 
  • Drill: You’ll need to drill two holes into the pool if you’re going to attach a filter. As convenient as a cordless drill can be, we have had much more success with drilling projects that need a lot of power to use a corded drill. You’ll also need a hole saw kit to attach to your drill.
  • Hose Conversion Adapter KitWe got some metal hardware from the store, but the plastic ones I linked to here should work fine as well. Basically, you just need something to attach the pool filter to the hole you’ll make in the pool.
    For attaching the pool filter tubes to the hole in the pool.

    For attaching the pool filter tubes to the hole in the pool.

    We cut our hole too small, so we needed some extra pieces!

    We initially cut our hole too small, so we needed some extra pieces!

  • Plumber’s PuttyThis stuff is waterproof and great for plugging up all leaks! If I could do it again though, I think this epoxy would’ve worked better.

Directions

  1. Get the pool to your house! You can order a stock tank pool online and they will deliver it, or you can purchase it from a store and for a fee they can probably deliver it too. My husband knew someone who had an open trailer. They went to the store, picked it up, strapped it down, and drove it to our house.
  2. Prepare the pool location. You want a place that is flat and level that isn’t close to too many trees that will annoy you with their random leaves cluttering your pool. When we made our sandbox, we put an extra load where we wanted our pool, and it made an excellent base. (You don’t have to do this, it’s just a nice touch.)

    laying down the stock tank pool

    Getting the pool settled

  3. Set up the pool filter. This seems a lot more complicated than it really is, especially after you watch the instruction video, but bear with it, it’s not that bad. Basically, you’ll need to put it together and fill it with sand. You can put it on a base, but we never did and it worked just fine.

    Pool Filter

    Pool Filter

  4. Measure the pool filter tubes. We made the mistake of measuring the interior diameter rather than the exterior diameter of our tubes and since the drill bit needs to connect with the center, once you make a hole too small, you can’t make it bigger. This made the entire process of connecting the tubes turn into a HUGE ordeal for us (and is why you’ll notice lots of adhesive covered with cloths over our tubes). We had to get extender pieces and everything leaked in every possible place, but we eventually got it all sealed up and running great. So basically, measure twice and cut once!
  5. Cut two holes in the stock tank pool for the filter tubes. You’ll want to position the holes about 2-3 feet apart from each other in about the middle of the top half of the pool walls. Use a drill and a metal drill bit to cut the holes. Some protective eyewear is probably a good idea. 🙂
  6. Attach the hardware into the holes made in the stock tank pool. Get as snug as a fit as you can, and then seal everything up with epoxy or plumber’s putty. You might even want to put some plumber’s tape around the threads.
  7. Attach the pool filter tubes. Once again, get everything to fit as tight as you can then seal everything with plumber’s putty or epoxy. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to detach the tubes at the filter to drain the pool. (Plus there’s a little screw thing near the bottom of the pool that you can take out to drain the pool too.)

    Stock Tank Pool

    Stock Tank Pool

  8. Fill with water. Fill the water just above the holes to make sure they are not leaking. If they are, drain the water a bit and seal any holes. When we did this, we just used whatever sealers we could find in our house. It made a big mess, but it did the job!

Additional Pool Items

  • Pool LadderThis is the one we got, and it’s quite a bit taller than our pool, but our kids love it!
  • Solar CoverThis works great to keep debris out of the pool and to warm the water. If you get this, I don’t think you need a pool cover.
  • Pool SkimmerThis is great for getting out grass clippings, small leaves, and any other little floaters.
  • Life Jackets: These life jackets are our favorites for the little ones (30-50 lbs) and are great for teaching kids the mechanics of swimming.
  • Swimming Diapers: As much as I love to have my kids run around naked in the summer, I don’t like them peeing and pooping in our pool!
  • Flotation Devices: This pool isn’t that big enough hold anything too big, but our kids have enjoyed some basic round tubes. We have also enjoyed getting some fancy full body floating devices for a really tropical experience!
  • Pool NoodlesThe kids have enjoyed playing with these in the pool more than anything! Scott and I like tucking one under our neck and one under our ankles and floating like we’re in the middle of the crystal clear waters of some tropical resort!
  • Diving Rings and Sticks: Once kids can hold their breath underwater, these diving rings and sticks (with goggles) make for a lot of fun!
  • Foot Rinsing BucketWe like putting a large rectangular bucket in front of the ladder so that the kids will rinse their feet before going in.

Maintenance Tips

  • Running the Filter: Pay close attention to the owner’s manual for your filter and run all scheduled maintenance. We did a poor job of this the first year we had our pool, and as a result, the tubes filled up with green algae as did the filter, and it became very hard to keep clean. I highly recommend watching the instruction DVD that comes with your filter (if you choose to use one…you really don’t have to). It has a 24 hour timer attached, so it’s easy enough to schedule about an hour every day for the filter and rinse. Just don’t forget the backwash and rinse…very important!
  • Cleaning it Out: After the first fill up during the first year of having our pool, it stayed pretty clean and clear for about 6-8 weeks. Then, it started to get a little green looking, and then like the next day we couldn’t see the bottom of the pool! When this happens, FIRST clean out the filter chamber from any debris and completely drain the pool (by detaching the tubes at the filter and then removing the screw at the bottom of the pool with a pair of pliers). Then scrub it out until all of the green gunk is gone. I like using a bit of bleach for this part.
  • Keeping Junk Out: We made sure to establish some rules with the kids about not putting sand or other debris into the pool and put a little foot rinsing bucket in front of the ladder. I also like using a pool skimmer about once a week or so to fish out any stray floaties. But seriously, we don’t get too strict here because it’s no fun if you start getting paranoid about every speck of dirt that might get in.

In Conclusion

If you want something sturdy and fun that will allow you to enjoy hours and hours of backyard fun in the summer sun, I highly recommend getting a stock tank pool set up. If we had gone with one of the cheap Intex pools of a similar size, we would constantly have to nag the kids to be gentle and then it would probably still pop a hole at some point anyways. This has stood up VERY well to lots of roughhousing, and I’m hoping that it will last for years to come!

Enjoying the Stock Tank Pool

Enjoying the Stock Tank Pool

Happy swimming!

Embracing Motherhood How to Connect Your TV to a Computer

How to Connect a TV to a Computer

Connecting our TV to our computer is something that we have been doing for so long that sometimes I just assume that everyone else does it too! Yes, my husband is a techy computer guy, but this is so easy anyone can do it! Not only that, but most people have 99% of what they need to make this work in their house right now.

But why would anyone want to connect their TV to their computer anyways?

Here are the benefits we have enjoyed:

  • Not paying for a cable subscription
  • Not wasting time with channel flipping
  • No exposure to commercials
  • Ability to watch all of our home movies on our TV
  • Ability to access all of our downloaded files
  • Ability to be purposeful about what we watch with Netflix, YouTube, PBS, and more (Check out what we watch instead of TV in my blog here.)

How to Connect Your TV to Your Computer

If you have a newer laptop or desktop computer (post 2007) and an HD TV (post 2005), this will be a very easy set up. I am going to explain the two basic set ups which are:

  1. Connecting your TV to a laptop
  2. Connecting your TV to desktop computer

If you have an older TV or computer/laptop, I will cover some of your options in the FAQs and/or you can check out this very handy tutorial that will walk you through exactly what you need to do, and this article can help to fill in the gaps.

Option 1: Laptop to TV

If you have a newer laptop and a newer HD TV, all you need is one cable and you’ll be set to go!

 

Laptop to TV Connection

Laptop to TV Connection

Pros: Very easy set up with just one cable, easy to disconnect and use as just a laptop again meaning that you only need one computer, doesn’t take up much room, won’t turn off if the power gets turned off

Cons: Can be more expensive, ties a laptop down instead of letting it roam free (albeit temporarily), not the best permanent option, this is not the option we use…see the next section

Materials Needed

  • Suggested TV:  This is just a sample of what you might want to get. You can really get any HD TV and it will work perfectly fine. Just make sure it has an HDMI port, which just about any newer TV will have, and stay away from LG Electronics, they display computer graphics terribly. Also, don’t waste your money buying a computer monitor for this purpose. It’s not worth it.
  • Recommended Laptop: At $167, this Lenovo 100s will do everything you need and more. While this is the best and cheapest option currently available, you can make just about anything work. Just make sure any laptop you get has an HDMI port.
  • HDMI to HDMI Cable: You can get a shorter or a longer cable depending on your needs.
  • *For Mac Users: If you have a Mac with a mini display port/thunderbolt, you’ll want this cable.
  • Keyboard and Mouse: Or get a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse if you want to get really fancy.

Directions

  1. Laptop HDMI: Connect the HDMI cable to your laptop.

    hdmi port on a laptop

    HDMI Port on a Laptop

  2. TV HDMI: Connect the other end of the HDMI cable to your TV.

    HDMI Port on TV

    HDMI Port on TV

  3. Using Just the Laptop: The easiest thing would be to use the keyboard and mousepad on your laptop to navigate, unplug it when you’re done, and there you go!
  4. Adding a Keyboard and Mouse: Plug in a keyboard and mouse or get a wireless keyboard and mouse. (The wireless option is MUCH more convenient, but you WILL lose them from time to time!)
  5. Permanent Set Up: For a more permanent set up, adjust the power settings on your laptop to allow it to stay on while it’s closed. (Learn how to do that here.) Close it, and put it somewhere out of the way. (*Note: We have used laptops with broken screens for this, and it totally works.)

Option 2: Desktop Computer to TV

If you have a newer desktop computer and a newer HD TV, all you need is one cable and you’ll be set to go.

This is the set up we have in our living room. We put the TV on a table (so the kids can’t touch it) and cover it with a big piece of fabric so that everything is concealed. We built a little table to make storage more organized and keep all of our gaming stuff under here too.

Our TV Connected to a Computer

Our TV Connected to a Computer

Pros: Very easy set up with just one cable, perfect for a permanent set up, easy to keep external hard drives connected for more storage, cheapest option

Cons: Turns off if the power goes out, not ideal if this is your only computer…unless you go with a much smaller TV, and/or set up a dual monitor system

Materials Needed

  • Suggested TV: This is just a sample of what you might want to get, and it’s the same recommendation for a laptop set up. You can really get any HD TV and it will work perfectly fine. Just make sure it has an HDMI port (any newer TV will have this) and stay away from LG Electronics, they display computer graphics terribly. Also, don’t waste your money buying a computer monitor for this purpose. It’s not worth it.
  • Recommended ComputerThis mini desktop computer has everything you need and more for just $145! It’s small, has 32 GB of storage, has bluetooth, and plenty of USB ports for connecting to an external hard drive if you need more than 32 GB of storage.
  • HDMI to HDMI Cable: You can get a shorter or a longer cable depending on your needs.
  • *For Mac Users: If you have a Mac with a mini display port/thunderbolt, you’ll want this cable.
  • Keyboard and Mouse: Or you can get a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse if you want to get really fancy.

Directions

  1. Computer HDMI: Connect the HDMI cable to your computer tower.

    hdmi port desktop computer

    HDMI Port on a Desktop Computer

  2. TV HDMI: Connect the other end of the HDMI cable to your TV.

    HDMI Port on TV

    HDMI Port on TV

  3. Keyboard and Mouse: Plug in a keyboard and mouse or get a wireless keyboard and mouse. (The wireless option is MUCH more convenient, but you WILL lose them from time to time!)
  4. Speakers: The TV speakers should work just fine in this set up, but you could always get some even better like these speakers…your choice!

FAQs

  1. What if my laptop or desktop computer doesn’t have an HDMI port? Look to see if it has a DVI port, and if so, get a cable like this. The DVI (Digital Video Interface) cable does not carry sound, so you’ll also need an audio cable to connect to your TV speakers.

    dvi and vga ports on computer

    DVI and VGA Ports on a Computer

  2. What if my laptop or desktop computer doesn’t have an HDMI or DVI port? All laptops and computers will at least have a VGA (Video Graphics Adapter) port. Unfortunately, there is no VGA to HDMI cable, and even if you find one, it won’t work. Basically, the VGA port is outdated and won’t work in this situation. What you’ll need to do instead is either just buy a new laptop or desktop computer or buy something like this that you can plug into your USB drive and create an HDMI port, but it’s $60, and for $150 you could actually buy a basic computer that has everything you need.
  3. What about those TVs for sale that have computer options built in? You can get a “Smart TV” like this, and if all you want to do is watch Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube, then it’s a pretty good option. But if you want to watch any of your own files, you’re better off just wiring a regular old TV to your computer.
  4. Are there any wireless options?  Just like with the “Smart TV” options, if all you want to do is watch online TV and none of your own files, this is a pretty good option. You can get the Amazon Fire TV Stick for $40, a Roku Streaming Stick for $40, Google Chromecast for $35, and Apple TV for $150 if you have a Mac just to name a few.
  5. Is there any way to keep my cable AND connect my TV to a computer? Yes. All you have to do is hit the input button on your remote to select the correct input and you can have both! Your cable should come in as “TV” and your computer will come in as “HDMI 1” (or something like that). This is also how you would select your gaming system.

In Conclusion

I highly recommend connecting your TV to your computer. It’s not as hard as you think it would be, and once you get through the set up and adjustment period, you will love it! There are TONS of resources online and once you start doing this, you will find that you become more purposeful and more selective about what you and your family watches. In an era where technology threatens to take over all of our free time and interactions, this is definitely a good thing.

*Check out my blog: What We Watch Instead of TV to see how we stay entertained without a cable subscription.

Embracing Motherhood How to Make Flower Hair Clips

How to Make Flower Hair Clips

My six year old daughter Ruby and I have learned how to make these fabulous flower clips together. We really love doing crafty projects together and these have been really fun and fairly easy to make.

I have to give a big shout out to my brother David’s fiance, Mae Belle, for making them for us for my brother Jarrod (check out his handmade one of a kind wooden earrings and such at BramblesWoodwork) and his new wife Francesca’s wedding recently and then for teaching me step by step how to make them myself. Isn’t she fabulous?

Mae Belle Wearing her Fabulous Flower Clips

Mae Belle Wearing her Fabulous Flower Clips

I felt like Mae Belle’s hair clip took my basic black dress ensemble to the next level. I felt super beautiful and fancy and got lots of compliments on this lovely accessory.

Wearing Mae Belle's Flower Clip at Jarrod and Francesca's Wedding

Wearing Mae Belle’s Flower Clip at Jarrod and Francesca’s Wedding

I’m always looking for fun and creative things to do as a stay at home mom with four young children, and when Mae Belle showed me how she made her wonderful hair clips, I thought, I can do this! Once I got all of the materials, it was easy to just start cranking them out. You can check out my Etsy shop if you’d like to purchase some that Ruby and I made, or you can follow the directions below to make your own!

Materials

  • Fake Flowers: I found mine by clearing out my local thrift stores. Look for the colors that you’d like to play around with and go for a variety of sizes and shapes. I tried not to spend more than a few dollars for each bundle. I have also found some great fake flowers at dollar stores like the Dollar Tree.

    Fake Flower Bundles

    Fake Flowers from the Thrift Store

  • Hot Glue Gun: You can pick one up at your local dollar store, or get one here.
  • Hot Glue Sticks: I ordered a big bag of 100 of them here. You’ll go through them surprisingly quickly! It probably takes about one glue stick to do two flowers. I’ve also found some even cheaper ($6) at Walmart in the craft section.
  • Clips: I like using these metal clips, but you could also get some that are shorter or some that have teeth.
  • Leather or Jean Fabric: I got some jean fabric for the backing because it was what I found at the thrift store. Mae Belle used soft leather. For my next batch, I’m using some cream colored canvas.
  • Melted Marbles, Beads, Buttons, or Jewels: These are for the center. You can go for more of a festive look with the jewels, an eccentric look with the buttons, or a subtle look with the clear melted marbles. You could even use the centers from the fake flowers. There’s a lot of room for creativity here!
  • Extras: Mae Belle likes using feathers as accents, and I think this looks really great! I’ve also saved some of the green petals from my fake flower bundles that might look nice. If I get really adventurous, I might use some of the little accent flowers that I’ve found in my flower bundles.
  • Paper Cutter: This is much easier than cutting all of the fabric rectangles by hand, but a pair of scissors will work just as well.
  • Small Toy: You just need something to use to push down the petals after you put on the hot glue so that you don’t burn your fingers. Whatever you use will get ruined! I used a unifix cube and it worked really well.
  • Large Book: You’ll need this to press down the petals after you glue them together. You might want to make a paper bag cover for the book because it may get ruined depending on how sloppy you get.

Directions

  1. Take Apart the Fake Flowers: This is the least fun and the hardest part of the whole process. First, pull off the heads of the flowers. They should pop right off. (Save the petals for accents if you’d like.) Then, take out the center of the flower. This might take a little wiggling. (Set these aside too.) You can choose to gently peel off any remaining plastic on each layer, or leave it on to make the petals a little stiffer. I personally like to peel off all of the plastic so that the petals will lie flat. *Some fake flowers had fake water droplets. Some of them peeled off easily, but with others it started to rip the fabric, so I left them on.

    Taking Apart the Artificial Flowers Embracing Motherhood

    Taking Apart the Artificial Flowers

  2. Sort and Arrange the Flowers: I like keeping all of the original flowers stacked together and then put all of the same colored flowers into large ziploc bags. When I’m ready to get to work, I like to spread all of my flower options out on the table, and then when I’m done, everything goes back into the plastic bags.
  3. Pre-Cut Fabric: Using your jean, soft leather, or canvas, cut 2½” x 2″ rectangles (2 per flower clip). I like using my paper cutter for this, but you could just use scissors too.
  4. Create a Design: There are lots of different ways to go about this. I like using about 3-5 flower petals, and I like to create a color theme with similarly based or complementary colors. But you could use only one color and stack lots of flower petals for a ruffled and elegant look as well. This is the part that is really fun! Get creative! I like to lay out my entire design before I start gluing.

    Flower Design Embracing Motherhood

    Flower Design

  5. Bottoms Up: Start with the bottom flower and hot glue the back of it to the piece of fabric. Always start with as little hot glue as you can. It dries quickly and too much will ruin the look of the flower.

    Gluing the Bottom Layer Embracing Motherhood

    Gluing the Bottom Layer

  6. Press It Down: After you attach the petal to the fabric, you’ll want to press it down with something. This is why I suggested gathering a small toy. I used a unifix cube because it’s what was close by, and it worked great.

    Pressing Down the Glue with a Unifix Cube Embracing Motherhood

    Pressing Down the Glue with a Unifix Cube

  7. Layer all Petals: Next, you’ll center your next petal on top of the first. Each petal has a circle in the middle that you can line up. Mae Belle told me that she likes to run a piece of wire inbetween all of the holes to keep all of the petals centered and together. I tried this method and it just didn’t work for me, but it might be something that you want to try.

    Layering the Petals Embracing Motherhood

    Layering the Petals

  8. Press Under a Book: I sometimes do this after every new petal that I put on depending on how much it’s sticking up, but you’ll at least need to do this once at the end. Whatever book you use, the cover will probably get covered with hot glue. So either make sure it’s a junky book or cover it with an old paper bag or something.
  9. Attach the Clip: This part is a little tricky. You want to position the clip so that the handle part is facing up. (When you position the clip this way, it will easily go in and out of your hair. If you put it the other way, it will get stuck and rip out a bunch of hair when you try to take it out, and that’s no fun.) Open the clip and set it against the piece of fabric, outline the fabric on the edges and underneath where the clip will go in the center with hot glue, set the clip on the hot glue (Keep it open!), and then quickly put another piece of fabric on top. Press down firmly until it dries.
    Keep the Clip Open as You Put on the Hot Glue Embracing Motherhood

    Keep the Clip Open as You Put on the Hot Glue

    Place the Second Piece of Fabric on Top Embracing Motherhood

    Place the Second Piece of Fabric on Top

  10. Center Piece: Try playing around with some jewels, beads, or melted marbles until you get the look you are going for. It just takes a dot of glue to hold it down. You could do this part before putting the clip on, but it’s hard to press it down flat once the jewel is on.
  11. Finishing Touches: Looking from the top down, make sure all parts of the petals are securely attached. Add any more dots of hot glue as needed. Add any feathers or other special accents that you’d like.

    Finished Product Embracing Motherhood

    Finished Product

In Conclusion

When you first start wearing these clips, you may feel eccentric and pretty darn fashionable. But after awhile, you will get used to people complimenting you constantly. As you do, make sure to refer them to this blog if they’d like to make their own, or to my Etsy page if they’d like to bypass all the fuss and just buy one that Ruby and I have created!

Embracing Motherhood How to Build a Sandbox

How to Build a Sandbox

It’s that time of year when the kids are out of school and all of the possibilities that they ever dreamed of are at their fingertips, and yet what do you hear when you unleash them into the wilderness of your yard, “I’M BORED!” Well, thankfully, we haven’t really ever heard our kids say that over the summer, and having this sandbox is part of the reason why. Between this and our stock tank pool, we are all set.

Neither my husband or I are really very “handy” people and this was really one of the first building projects we ever took on together. But overall, it was a fairly simple and straightforward process that has yielded a tremendous amount of fun for the children. If you have even a bit of land, I would highly recommend building a sandbox for your little ones. Not only will it provide endless hours of fun, but it will also provide them an opportunity to play barefoot in the earth which is an excellent source of antioxidants.

Materials

  • Four 4″ x 4″ posts for the corners (Posts should be 12 inches long because you want them to overhang the boards a bit.)
  • Four 2″ x 8″ boards for the edges (We used 10 foot boards.)
  • Wood Screws
  • Power Drill
  • Weed Blocker
  • River Sand (100 cubic feet for a 10′ x 10′ sandbox)

Material Notes

  • Pressure Treated Wood: By 2013 all CCA (chromated copper arsenate) was phased out of use in pressure treated wood and replaced with AC (alkaline copper) and ACQ (quaternary ammonium compounds). These pesticides (which are meant to prevent rotting from insects and fungus) still pose some health risks, but are not the cancer causing hazard of CCA. The 4′ x 4’s we purchased were pressure treated, but the rest of the wood we got was not. If you purchased some wood and you’re concerned about the risks, you can always just paint over it with a sealer, which I recommend doing anyways.
  • Safe Sand: Look out for sand made with crystalline silica because it is a carcinogen that can cause damage to the lungs when breathed in (something your little ones will be doing a lot of in the sandbox). Much of the playsand found in stores today is not natural sand, but derived from quarried quartz rocks. The state of CA actually requires a warning label to be put on this sand to warn of the dangers. Some people have opted for using pea gravel or other substances instead of sand, but we just contacted a local gravel company and purchased some river bed sand. It cost $100 for (a very generous) 100 cubic feet.

Directions

  1. Location: Find a place that has shade (something we didn’t do that I wish we had), good drainage (not at the bottom of a hill), and is in a good location for you to see while you putz around.
  2. Measure and Mark: Measure out how big you want your sandbox and mark your corners. We made ours 10′ x 10′, and I feel like it is the perfect size. You’ll want to dig a few inches outside of where you want the sandbox. Better to dig too much than not enough!
  3. Dig the Corners: Take your time to make sure the corners line up and everything makes a nice looking square. You’ll want your  corners to be a few inches deeper than the rest of the sandbox for your posts to go in.

    Digging the Corners for Our Sandbox

    Digging the Corners

  4. Dig the Sod: The toughest part of all of this was digging up the sod. We have a lot of rocks in our yard, and that made it extra tough. Plus, it was barely spring and the ground was still frozen when we started. (Yes, we were itchin’ for warmer weather!)

    digging sod for sandbox

    Digging Out the Sod

  5. Use That Sod: We actually used all of the sod and dirt we dug up to make a little hill in our yard. Over time, the sod pieces all came together, and now we have a nice little grassy hill that our kids (our toddler especially) love climbing on.
  6. Dig Down (if you want): Our ground was too rocky and still slightly frozen, so we did not. But if you could, I think it would be good to dig down another 6 to 12 inches to allow more room for the sand.
  7. Level the Ground: Try to get the ground as level as you can. You can just eyeball it or use a rake to really even it out.
  8. Weed Blocker: We went to our local lumber store and got something like this. I like it because it prevents the weeds from growing through the sand, but it also allows for drainage (which you will need if your kids want to make castles with moats and flood the sandbox as ours frequently do). I know that some people lay down plastic and poke holes in it, but I’m not sure that would provide enough drainage.

    laying the weed blocker for the sandbox

    Laying Out the Weed Blocker

  9. Stain the Wood: We stained our wood with an exterior stain like this. These saw horses came in really handy for laying out the wood. We were worried about the rain, so we wanted to keep the wood under our overhang, but to this day (one year later) we still have drips of stain on our concrete. For this reason, I wish we would have done it in the grass.

    staining wood for sandbox

    Scott Staining the Wood

  10. Make the Sandbox Frame: We are not really handy people and this was the first thing we ever really built together. We made a few mistakes, but overall, it was still a pretty simple procedure that turned out rather well. First, we cut the four posts to be 12′ long using a circular saw. Next, we used our power drill and some wood screws to attach the 10″ planks to the posts. We made the mistake of not attaching the planks to the posts in an even pattern all the way around. Scott drew a quick little sketch to show the wrong way and the right way. 🙂
    Wrong Way

    Wrong Way

    Right Way

    Right Way

    sandbox frame

    Sandbox Frame

  11. Put the Frame in Place: When you lay the frame down, you want it to lay over the weed blocker. There should be a small gap inbetween the frame and the dirt that you will fill in later with loose dirt. Step on all of the posts to push them into the ground as much as you can. Then, fill in all around the frame with dirt until it is secure.

    Laying Down the Sandbox Frame

    Laying Down the Sandbox Frame

  12. Fill with Sand: When we moved into this house, we knew that we wanted a sandbox and a fence to be put in. We were smart to put the sandbox in before the fence because I’m not sure that this truck would have fit through our gate! Anyways, we just contacted a local gravel company and had our sandbox filled for $100. He said he was fine giving us as much as we wanted for that $100, so I told him “when” when I thought we had quite enough sand!
    truck with sand for sandbox

    Getting Ready to Dump the Sand

    sand delivery

    Sand Delivery

  13. Extra Sand: We loaded up the wheelbarrow and put one load of extra sand where we wanted to put our stock tank pool and another extra load where we wanted to create a mini sandbox.
    extra sand for stock tank pool

    Extra Sand for Our Stock Tank Pool

    extra sand by tree for small sandbox

    Extra Sand for a Mini Sandbox Under the Tree

    grandpa helps with the sandbox chairs

    Grandpa Helped Us Build Some Sandbox Chairs

  14. Make a Cover (Optional): Every blog that I read about building a sandbox included directions for making a cover. We researched many different options and decided to attach a cover that folded out. We had every intention of actually attaching our cover in order to keep out our cats and any other critters, but it just never worked out and we never did attach the darn thing. I just didn’t like how we would have had to take out all of our sandbox toys in order to close the cover. Plus, I didn’t want to kill the grass on either side if the cover were to be left open. We just kept an eye on our cats to keep them from using it as a litter box, and even though, yes, we find a turd in there from time to time, I’m glad we didn’t go with the cover.

    playing in the sandbox with a cover

    Optional Cover

Time to Play: We have had our sandbox for over a year now, and our kids have played in it every single time we have gone outside. It provides endless hours of imaginative play, and the kids absolutely love it!

playing in the sandbox

Our First Week Playing in Our New Sandbox

Playing in our Sandbox One Year Later

Playing in our Sandbox One Year Later

Building a Volcano with a Moat in a sandbox

Building a Volcano with a Moat

Tips and Tricks: Here are a few things that have helped us to enjoy our sandbox even more.

  • No Throwing Sand: Right away, we made a rule about not throwing the sand out of the sandbox, and that is why one year later we still have plenty of sand. We have never been super strict about this rule and encourage the children to dump globs of sand into our little pools if they so desire, but we also encourage them to not go overboard with it.
  • Play with Them: At first, we played with them in the sandbox a lot to help give them ideas for how to use it. We showed them how to make sandcastles, how to bury treasures and find them, how to play imagination games, how to dig moats and make rivers, and how to play with the sandbox toys. We still get in there and play with them from time to time because, hey, it’s fun!
  • Sand and Water: If you want to take your sandbox fun to the next level, just introduce a hose into the mix. You can show kids how to carve out moats and rivers or just let them bury the nozzle of the hose and watch the water bubble out. We also like putting our mini pools near the sandbox so the kids always have access to some sort of water.