Composers, Creative People, Money Wise (aka Budgeting), Music, Songwriters, Video/Film

Creative People: The Ostlers – a family creating together

One of the things that I admire most about my sister (and there are a lot of things) is that she has a TOTAL mother-heart. She and her hubby LOVE their family and they love to be together, which is wonderful, but can be problematic when you are trying to make your artistic dreams come true! Both she and her husband are incredibly creative people. Fiona writes novels and has a theater background (including acting, writing and directing) and is amazingly musical (songs just pop into her mind – wow!) Bret is an artist, I mean everything that the man touches turns into art! He does photography, draws, writes poetry, and is very musical. As a married couple, each has supported the other in their aspirations – he has a band, she a writing career.

But recently, they came up with a BRILLIANT idea. What would happen if they created together? What if they involved the whole family in creating together? That way they could work on their dreams, talents, and passions, but have family fun as well (and teach the kids valuable lessons about creativity). The solution? The Bret and Fiona Show. It’s a YouTube family comedy sketch show. They involve everyone, create original songs, write and produce, film and edit.  It’s truly amazing to think about how much those kids are going to learn about the creative process!!!

Here’s their first season –

1. Family Band: in which Bret quits his job in order to start a family band.

2. We Have Cookies: in which Bret is unable to get his job back, but finds a silver lining in a bad situation.

3. Fiona Strikes Back: in which Fiona uses her musical ability to slap some sense into Bret.

4. The Mommy List: in which Fiona goes back to work and leaves Bret in charge of the home.

5. Staycation: in which Bret can’t stand being a stay-at-home dad and moves the family into a hotel.

6. Travel Agent: in which Fiona loses her job and only writing a song can bring her out of her sadness.

I put in my favorite videos, although they’re all fun and there are some holiday special songs as well. Check out all of their shows through the links above.

It led me to think for a long time about what I could do with my girls. What would be a creative activity that we could all do together? One that will be fun, teach them some skills, help us to learn to work together, and fit into our time and money budgets – but most importantly be something that I am passionate about creating. I think I’ve come up with the right fit, which I will write about soon.

What about you? What can you and your family to create together?  With summer coming up, this is the perfect time to do something wonderful together!

Home Decor, Money Wise (aka Budgeting)

13 Ways to Decorate and Update on a Budget

I just went to a wonderful (and very helpful) meeting in which Jordan Peine gave us tips and ideas about –

Decorating and Updating on a budget

These ideas will help give your home a warm feeling and spruce up the whole area, thus defeating winter blues (we hope). 🙂 Here they are:

 1. Lamps –

As opposed to overhead lighting which makes things harsh and flat.

  • Pick the base first and then the shade
  • Use the golden ratio to pick out the lamp 1/3 shade, 2/3 base.
  • Look for shades with gold foil on the inside and it will warm up the room
  • Pick warm spectrum light bulbs – not cool ones
2. Pillows and Blankets –

This is an inexpensive way to add color, texture, and style to a sofa or bed.  Add a throw blanket to the back of a sofa.

Great places to go for them – Homegoods, Marshalls, Ross, TJ Max, Target, Wal-mart, Ikea, etc.

3. Candles –

Candles add ambiance and a nice glow to a room.  They are beautiful points of light and energy.

  • Vintage candlesticks look great
  • Add candles in the fireplace
  • Use the battery powered candles (they’re made out of wax and flicker like a  real candle – just no danger of real fire around the little ‘uns).  These can be found at places like Costco and Hobby Lobby.
4. Mirrors –

Mirrors multiply the points of light in a room.

  • Big mirrors are like adding a big window to the space.
  • Got a mirror that you hate?  Try painting it.
5. Rugs –

Rugs make a room softer and adds both physical and implied texture.

  • Small oriental rugs are also good for bathmats, inside door mats, or in front of the kitchen sink
  • Rugs on carpet is okay (depending on styles)
  • Rugs deaden sound on hardwood floors
  • Use heavy duty tape to lock down in place if you are worried about someone tripping over the rug
  • Find these at  – Downeast home, Westfall, Z Gallerie, etc.
6. Knobs and Pulls –

This can be a total update for kitchens and cabinets.

  • Spray paint or paint an old dresser and put new knobs on it
  • Look for a vendor that specializes in old knobs and drawer pulls
  • Also – Home Depot, Lowes, etc.
7. Old Picture Frames –
  • Find these at thrift stores and garage sales
  • Spray paint and age them (Repair and repaint)
  • You can make a family wall or an ancestor wall
  • Do a family tree (large pictures of immediate family in the center and smaller as you go out to further generations)
  • Alternative to nails?  Double velcro – one piece on the item, one stuck to the wall
8. Interesting Accessories –
  • Find these while traveling, yard sale, clean out grandma’s attic, etc.
  • Toys, clocks, etc. (My cousin has old suitcases – they look awesome!)
  • Find items with a story or meaning – this will make the home feel authentic
  • Make sure to know when to say when though! Don’t overdo it!!
9. Old Books –

These can make a home feel lived in and warm

  • Find these at a thrift shop, garage sale, or old book store
  • Look for colors
10. Paint –

Paint is the most inexpensive way to change a look of a room or home.

  • Remember – paint looks different through the day in different light (paint swatches on a wall and check out how it looks in the light of the morning, afternoon, and evening)
  • Paint inexpensive furniture that needs a change
11. Wainscoting –

Adding wainscot, chair-rail, or bead board is an excellent DIY project.  It can quickly change the entire look of your home.

  • Glue and a few nails
  • Protects walls from kids
  • Do it throughout the whole room (not just one wall)  otherwise, it will weight the room in one spot
  • Get familiar with MDF
12. Rearrange –

Move things around! When you get tired of furniture, pictures, or artwork – swap it up, keep it fresh!

  • Do this seasonally or annually
  • Think of how refreshing Christmas is when you change things up a bit
13. Curtains –

This is economical, too! Curtains help hold heat in, heating bills will go down and it adds a measure of privacy.

  • Find a great fabric and make them
  • Rule of thumb for curtains – make them 3x the width of the the window so that you have nice, luxurious, billowy ripples 🙂 (so, 6ft window would need 18 ft of curtain)
  • (2x the width would be the minimum)
  • Run the rod above the window (not strait on top) to open up the window
  • Don’ be afraid to take the curtains all the way to the floor (unless it looks weird – like a dinky basement window)

The main key is to find good, quality items and then rotate through them.  Check sales and clearance items to find special deals. Rotate and switch.  Now, I’m sure to many of you brilliant people out there, this is just something you do naturally, but for those of us who have always been behind the curve when it comes to home decor, these ideas are WONDERFUL, because it helps me get a little vision and something to look forward to, a pillow at a time. 🙂

Thanks, Jordan for all of the awesome tips!

You can check out some of his work and ideas on pinterest here.

Creativity, Holidays, Money Wise (aka Budgeting)

Non-Pumpkin Halloween Fun


I wanted to do a fun Halloween family activity, and so I decided to be creative with what we had at home. My husband is out of work, and we literally have no extra money. I wish that were a joke. I know how cheap pumpkins are, but I don’t get paid for another week. Since one of the main points of this blog is to celebrate good old-fashioned creativity, I thought I’d share. You’ll probably laugh at me, but here’s what we did.

We had a box full of apples that we’ve been eating for a while. We still have a bunch left, so instead of decorating pumpkins, we decorated apples. Paint, glitter, paper = an evening of family fun. Even my sweet husband had a good time painting apples to celebrate sports teams.

Here are the results:

The front of my husband’s apples –


And the back –


My four-year-old’s –


My seven-year-old’s (she did a squash, because, to be honest, we weren’t going to eat it 😉 –


All together now –


So silly, I know, but I think that the girls will have a fun memory. Also, it took the sting out of the job search to spend time together rather than self-medicating our sadness by watching television or moping.

Art, Creative Play, Money Wise (aka Budgeting)

Motivating Kids to be Creative with Chalk Drawings

This weekend, we had my cousin’s daughter, M, staying with us. I wanted to motivate the children to play outside while the weather was good, and I had some cleaning to do and didn’t want to be constantly interrupted. So, I sent them out to the driveway with sidewalk chalk.

Less than five minutes later, she came inside and informed me that she was bored and didn’t like to draw with chalk.

Arrgh! How could I keep her in the sunshine and not in front of the TV? We’d be watching a movie that night, so I wanted to keep it special, and if she were to come in then, and I were to put her onto the tube so I could clean, the evening movie would be lame. Not to mention the fact that if our guest was allowed inside, the other kids would want to be inside as well.

And so, the quick thinking began…

A contest.

Winner gets a piece of candy – ooooooh!

You may think it’s silly, but I mentioned my contest and she ran out the door and grabbed up the chalk.

Then I added something to sweeten the deal – I would take pictures and put it on my blog!

“I’m going to be famous!” She yelled, and the wheels began to turn in her brain. I got a good hour of creative, hard work out of the kids.

The younger ones drew on the driveway simply because when you’re little, permission to draw on the ground – ROCKS! The older kids did sidewalk art because competition and reward motivates kids.

So, here are the art pieces and as I promised, I am blogging about them.

For most fun drawing – M’s Beautiful Sunset.


For most original piece – J’s Easter egg in a rainbow.


Honorable mentions go to the younger kids that just had a good time (we drew their outlines and they scribbled all over.)


And finally, just because I just think it’s cool – a blob of chalk. But why is it cool? Because they used water and chalk together and came up with some amazing textures!


Most of us need some form of motivation to do something (money, prizes, rewards, etc.) Kids are no different. I got my nephew to do some cleaning the other day, by saying in a really cheerful and excited voice that he could have a banana if he did the work. He did it, though I’m sure he wondered what was so great about a banana.

The wonderful thing about kids is that they are moldable and impressionable. If you can channel those qualities, they will do a lot of work for a very little bit of motivation. It’s all in how you present it.

Holidays, Money Wise (aka Budgeting)

Homemade Gifts, Treats, and Other Delights


Yesterday I went to a store (not naming any names) and was wholly drawn in by their sale on Christmas items.

I began to muse about  friends and what they’ve done for gifts, etc.  For example, my sister Fiona (yes, just like the Princess on Shrek) gives away homemade jewelry.

Really beautiful bracelets, earrings, etc.  So whenever she has a little extra money, she goes into a craft store and buys some of the materials.   Then, when she needs a gift, feels like someone needs a little “pick-me-up”, or wants to brighten a day, she has a truly lovely present.  She’s taught herself to do it, and I’m amazed at the creativity that goes into her gifts.  Sometimes, I’ll walk up to a friend who is wearing her jewelry and say, “Are you wearing a Fiona original?”

Some people do this with blankets – crocheting, knitting, tying a fleece blanket (here’s a great site that gives instructions for fleece blankets – babies LOVE to play with the tassels).

My cousin Jana made me a hat and scarf one year that I still wear to this day because I LOVE it sooo much!

My sisters-in-law are fabulous at giving homemade, heartfelt gifts.  Here are a couple of them –

The girls each got a piggy-bank from Aunt Heather when they were born. 🙂

Aunt Heidi made a nativity that the girls, and especially younger children love to play with.  My two year old organized them this way and was really upset that one of the sheep is missing  (I think it’s under the tree in our mess of presents and Christmas books :)).

Another gift that I really treasure is a hand painted Christmas card that I got from a friend in Bulgaria that has since passed away.  We bonded because he was from Germany and I lived there when I was little.

It means so much that he put the time and effort into it, for me.

Alas, my homemade contributions seem to be at a minimal these days, due to a crazy schedule.  But, whenever I need to bring anything to a get-together, my pantry is always stocked with the ingredients for Snickerdoodles and Lemon Squares.  Somehow, “from scratch” always tastes better.

Here’s one of them (I wrote about it in an earlier post) –


(From The Better Homes and Garden’s Cookbook, aka “The Plaid Bible” :))

1/2 cup butter, softened

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (or ¾ tsp lemon juice)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1.  Preheat oven to 375 ° F.

2.  In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium for 30 seconds.  Add the 1 c sugar, baking soda, and cream of tartar.  Beat until combined scraping sides of bowl occasionally.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer.  Stir in any remaining flour.  Cover and chill dough until easy to handle if too soft.

3.  Mix the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll them in the cinnamon –sugar mixture to coat.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.  Bake 10 to 11 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

I usually double this recipe when I need to take it to a party.  Cream of tartar works best (found in the spices of most grocery stores) but you can use lemon juice in a pinch.  Very kid friendly – they love to help put ingredients in the bowl, roll the dough, and then coat the dough balls in cinnamon and sugar.



Do you have a talent/skill for homemade gifts?  If so, what do you do?

What can you teach your children about giving, and how?

What are some gifts that they can do/have on hand that will help them feel good about developing talents and giving?

What have you received that has been meaningful?

What are some other ideas that you have?

Holidays, Money Wise (aka Budgeting), Parties

No Budget Birthday Bash

My daughter’s 5th birthday loomed, and try as I might, I had absolutely no money.  Please don’t think that I’m being modest, I literally had nothing after our check went to bills and necessities.

I thought to myself – “Ok, I’m a creative woman, I can do this!”  So I went around the night before and put together a party.  I needed decorations, cake, party food, activities for the kids, and some sort of gift bag for the guests.  (I figured that was bare minimum for a party.)

I figured out what resources I had.  Do you remember the movie “Princess Bride”  when they are getting ready to storm the castle and Westly says, “why didn’t you list that among our assets?”

First, think about what you have.  Old Christmas wrapping/ribbon?  Kid’s art supplies? Paper and pencils? Use what you have, the stuff you were saving for a special project.  It’s special project day!


I told you in an earlier post that I have LOTS of beautiful scrap booking paper on the shelf, that I am no longer using.  So I cut out the words -HAPPY BIRTHDAY and my daughter’s name.  I liked some of the patterns on the papers and so I cut them into squares and other shapes and hung them with tape on the walls (just random patterns and orders).

Birthday decorations

My daughter was at a sleep over at her cousin’s house, and so I worked on the party that night when everyone was asleep.  When she came in for her party – she was amazed!!!  So much so that after the party, she hung the decorations up in her room.

Other ideas for decorations –

  • Have your guests make artwork when they come and hang it up, say you’re having an “art show.”  Then they could take their masterpieces home, or you could “auction” their pieces.
  • Have the guests make the decorations from construction paper (or any other paper you may have.)
  • Go outside – what do you have?  Flowers? Pretty leaves? Rocks? (your guests could paint rocks – they’d love it!)  Dandelions?  Even those dandelions would look nice, tied up in some ribbon or in some small vases.
  • Toys – they can be great decorations.  You could have a “toy store” and have the guests take turns buying and selling the toys.


My mom always made the most amazing cakes for our birthdays.  One year she made a cake based on Eugene Field’s poem The Sugar Plum Tree, there was a giant tree branch on the cake and candies were tied to it everywhere.

But I didn’t have that.  I had a cake mix and some candy.  I decided to make a castle cake, and again didn’t have all of the ingredients for a typical cake (you know, ice cream cones for the towers, etc.)  So again, scrap book paper to the rescue!

My attempt at a Castle Cake

I just split a regular (9″x13″) chocolate cake in half.  Then I slathered (don’t you love that word)  basic butter cream frosting Frosting Recipes in-between the layers and frosted the outside.

For the turrets, I rolled up the card stock and glued it together.  Then cut up circles out of paper.

My niece loved it so much, she made paper princesses for the cake.

A few weeks later my two year old had her birthday.  I RUINED the train cake that I was making for her and so I made a regular (9″x13″) cake and we decorated it with polly pockets, different frosting colors and (wouldn’t you know it) leftover easter candy.  She loved it.  Mostly because I let the girls help me decorate.

An easy, inexpensive, tasty, and much-beloved cake.

You could do it with action figures or toy cars as well.  Homemade cakes and frosting almost always taste better anyway.

Party Food

What do you have?  Remember Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special?  Peppermint Patty wanted a thanksgiving dinner and Charlie and Snoopy came up with – buttered toast, pretzels, ice cream sundaes, popcorn and jelly beans.

In my case,  I did a veggie tray and some fruit (to counteract the sweets).  Kids don’t typically care.  We did cheese sandwiches and apple juice one year at a “tea party.”  Any fruit and veggies look beautiful when freshly cut and arranged on a plate.  My favorite dip is Ranch dressing.

recipe image


I made a list of things that we could do.

Butcher paper on the tables and brown paper bags were set up for art fun when they arrived.  I had them decorate the table and the brown sack became their goody bag.

Art time!

It was Easter time and so we had left over candy and eggs – yay!  Easter egg hunt!

I had several other games –

  • Duck, duck goose
  • Hide and seek
  • Pass the present (wrap a present in lots of layers.  Each time the music stops, the child holding it will open a layer.  the winner is the one who opens the final layer).
  • Dance and freeze game (dance until the music stops, if you don’t freeze, you’re out).
  • Question game (I put the kids on teams and they answered questions for points.  I had differing ages so I had easy –what color is a firetruck?, and hard  – Who is the president of the US? questions.)

Use library books to find games that will fit your ages, needs and budget. With a little planning you can find a lot of entertaining games that will keep everyone laughing.

Gift Bag

I’m no “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences” able to give away swag bags.  Did I mention that I had NO budget ;)?  I looked through my closets and cupboards and decided that as well as the candy easter eggs, I could make chocolate chip cookies for their take home bags.

I made little packages by wrapping  three cookies in saran wrap and tying it with ribbon. Then I took my handy scrap booking paper and made home made “thank you” cards.

Again, look round.  What do you have?  Can the kids make a take home item?  Maybe they could make cookies.  We love to make snickerdoodles because I usually have all of the ingredients on hand and the kids can help me roll the dough in sugar.

Speaking of having things on hand, I have two “standby” Emergency Party Recipes that I make whenever we have a function to go to and I need to bring something but have no money to get anything special.  (Are you sensing that this is a theme with me?)

Now, it’s not going to win a Martha Stewart award or anything, but my daughter was SO happy because I had taken time and put effort into her day.  I also made a silly crown and my sister had curled her hair and pampered her at the sleep over.

Another thing that I did was made a card and wrote about all the special things that I loved about her.  She had me read it to her 10 times that day.

If I didn’t have a modest present, I would have made a coupon book for her.  You know, good for:

  • In home movie night
  • Home mannys and peddys (or mani/pedi)
  • Trip to the Library
  • 1/2 hour -your choice – fun time

It just needs to be full of activities that are HEAVY on your time.

It’s not a theme or expensive birthday, but it’s what we had.

So, please share some ideas of yours.  What party time ideas have you done “in a pinch” and “on the dime”?