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Thursday, December 30, 2010

New year's resolutions - mom style

It's the time for resolutions - of which I've vowed not to make any more! They just never seem to work out and I wind up feeling more like a failure than anything. So instead I try to re-shift my focus during the New Year - this year I am focusing on finding the balance between myself and being a mom. My kids are 6 and 4 now, and I'm still struggling with this!

I thought I would share part of an article I tore from a Parents magazine (January 2005), which has been hanging on my refrigerator ever since (and, boy, is it tattered!). It helps keep me centered and focused in the midst of real life.

8 Resolutions Every Mom Should Make
  1. I will embrace the fact that I'm not perfect
  2. I will get down on the floor and play with my child every day
  3. I will take care of my body
  4. I will learn to love chaos
  5. I will make the family dinner a priority
  6. I will focus a little more on my marriage
  7. I will make time for my friends
  8. I will remind myself daily that time with my children is precious
The article goes into a bit more depth on each of these, but you get the point. Here are a couple of other take-aways from the article:
"Children don't need you to be perfect. What they really need are lots of hugs and kisses, and a happy mommy."
"Remember that the essence of parenting isn't in the milestones, but in the every day moments."

Enjoy the New Year's celebration, and be sure that in 2011 you focus on making YOURSELF happy, so that you can make your FAMILY happy too :)

If you have any great tips or suggestions you'd like to share on how to balance work/life and mom/self please share!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tutorial: Make a reusable gift bag

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Reusable gift bags have become a new tradition in our family. We have some adorable prints and we can re-use them year after year. I was initially worried that the kids would be disappointed opening a bag, rather than ripping off paper, but they don't seem to notice the difference (ages 6 and 3 1/2).  If you can sew a straight line, you can make these! Give it a try!

I don't make them fancy: there are raw edges inside that fray and the hole that the ribbon comes out is not finished. You can make the look more professional by double rolling the hems (turning them under so there is no raw edge) or by using a serger. 

Start by getting some inexpensive holiday fabric (make sure its thick enough you can't see through it easily). 1 yard will yield 2-4 bags, depending on what size you want them to be.

1. Cut the fabric into a rectangle (so that when its folded, it is the end size you would like). Plan to have the fold on one SIDE of the bag.

2. Fold the long edge (what will be the top of the bag) over about 4" towards the wrong side of the fabric. Sew along the inside edge.

3. Sew another seam about 1" away from your initial seam (making a casing for the ribbon)
4. Fold the rectangle (right sides together) to make the bag shape, with the folded 4" hem along the top.
5. Sew around the 2 sides of the bag, making sure to sew up to the ribbon casing, backstitch and cut the thread. Then start again on the the other side of the casing and continuing around the sides. 

6. When you reach the first corner, stop the needle while its IN the fabric, lift the presser foot, and turn the fabric so you make a nice sharp 90 degree turn.
7. (OPTIONAL) When making a larger bag, I like to add bottom gussets. This allows more room for the item to sit in the bag and makes a cleaner presentation. It is completely optional though!
     7a. To make the gusset, pull the bottom corner away from itself by using both hands, and pinch it so it is folded back on itself.
     7b. Press it flat, and then sew a seam perpendicular to the original bottom seam. 

     7c. Trim away the excess

     7d. Repeat on the other bottom corner, trying to match the distance of your seam to your first one.    
     7e. You wind up with the bottom of the bag looking like this when turned right side out:

8. Turn the bag right side out, and hook a saftey pin to the end of your ribbon, and start to feed it through one of the ribbon casing openings. 

9. Push the safety pin along, scrunching up the fabric around it, then pulling it through more as you go. When you get out the other side, remove the safety pin and tie your two ribbon ends together to prevent them from pulling back through at some point. Then, pull the ribbon through the hole so that it is accessible from the outside of the bag.

10. Voila! Hand out your gift in ECO-STYLE and be proud of yourself!

  • You can also just put a straight 1" hem at the top of your bag and feed the ribbon through. I like to add the extra fabric at the top so that when you cinch the bag closed it has a fluffy top, like this: 

  • You can also make a bag so that the ribbon comes out both sides of the bag. To do this, plan to fold your fabric so the fold is at the bottom of the bag instead. Make two 4" hems on the ends of your rectangle, fold in half so they come together and feed the ribbon through each side separately.

  • I like using grosgrain ribbon because you can singe the ends with a lighter (carefully!) and it will melt them so they don't fray. Don't hold the lighter there too long or the ends will turn black. 
  • My next venture is to figure out some sort of semi-permanent tag design so that each year I don't have to make up new hang tags.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Freeze a meal ahead

Not sure what to have for dinner...again? Try this trick: When you ARE cooking, just double everything. Eat one meal that night, and freeze another for a day when you have no energy, are too busy, and just plain done cooking.
You can put certain things in freezer ziploc bags (soup, meat with a marinade, "dump" recipes, etc.). I have purchased aluminum pans with those foil lined cardboard lids and use those (but had to buy quite a few to get a good price). But you can also freeze them in a baking dish, without monopolizing all of your bakeware!

  1. Assemble your meal in the dish you would normally bake in (shown here are lasagna rolls). 
  2. Cover tightly with foil.
  3. Freeze in the coldest part of the freezer 1-2 days (it is best to let the food cool a bit first before freezing if there were things that were cooked before assembling. Do this in the refrigerator for food safety)
  4. Remove from the freezer and let sit on the counter an hour or so. You can also dip the dish in a sink of warm water for 5-10 minutes. This will loosen the edges.
  5. Use a butter knife to slip along one edge to loosen even more. Believe it or not, the whole thing will pop right out! (If you can't get the knife in, even just the tip of the knife will release the food from the pan). You can also turn it upside down and whack it on the counter (CAREFULLY so you don't break your dish!).
  6. Place your frozen block of delicious goodness into a freezer bag. 
  7. When it's time to eat your meal, remove from freezer bag and put BACK into the original dish. Let thaw in refrigerator 1-2 days and bake as normal! 

Some dishes you can bake from frozen and they work very well. Make sure you are using freezer-to-oven save bakeware!! Some you can put frozen into a crock pot and they'll do all the work for you while you're otherwise occupied! Some things don't freeze well, like: sour cream and cream based soups.

I've gotten into this habit of double-cooking, and really reaping the rewards on those super-busy days. Here's a cookbook that has many of our favorite freezer friendly meals. Give them a try and save yourself some time! Or, give one to a friend who needs a little help :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Handmade felt ornaments

This year I ventured out and made some ornaments. My husband's great-grandmother had crocheted ice skates with paper clips for the blade, which we hang on the tree every year. I thought, "there must be some sort of pattern out there for a sewn version of this project", and alas, I found it! (It also has a pattern for darling little mittens.).

They were really quite simple to make. I have a TON of felt scraps from my diaper soakers, and I added jingle bells and a year tag to them. I chose to hand sew them using a blanket stitch on the mittens. I had never done this before, and found a great tutorial. I love learning new things! I used a straight stitch on the skates. Now, if I weren't making THIRTEEN of them, it would have been a much less daunting task. :)

These are going out to family and friends this year, but perhaps...just year I can start this project early enough to make some to stock in the shop. I can't decide which I like better....the pair of skates or the furry mitten. Hmmm... I guess I'll keep one of each for us this year!

You can also make these with eco-felt (made from recycled pop bottles), or any fabric you have around the house (maybe old sweaters, sweatshirts, or even socks?). I'd love to hear if you try it!

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Christmas Card Tradition

It's one of my most favorite things to do for the holidays - create and send out Christmas cards. It's a tradition I just can't seem to stop - even in the name of "green". My husband tells me we should send out an e-card. I have a couple of friends who tease me when they receive theirs, saying "WHAT? These are made of PAPER?".

But let me tell you why I just can't stop. It's one of the "non-green" things I cherish.
  • It's the one time of year I go through my list of friends, family, and acquaintances and as I'm writing their envelope, I spend a dedicated moment thinking of them.
  • It's the one time of year where I look forward to going to the mailbox. Something personal from someone I know and love is exciting...and different in this fast moving, electronic world.
  • It's the one time of year where I send out a family photo. I hope that people keep it on their wall. I know I do! I take all the photos I receive and make a collage that stays on the fridge year-round. Then I put them in a scrapbook when the next year's come around. I have a scrapbook filled with our friends and family's photos and it's fun to see how everyone changes. You can't do that with an email greeting.
  • I love to create the card itself. I used to hand-make them, and now that I have a family, I make them through a photo service like Shutterfly. They are easy, and cute! (I also love picking the perfect picture. Although, my husband would argue this creates a lot of undue stress in my life!) "non-green" are Christmas cards? I considered doing a carbon neutral offset donation to cover my "habit", but I couldn't find any hard numbers to tell me how horribly non-eco friendly I was being. (Here's an interesting article on the subject).
  • There's the paper. Many companies offer recycled paper products now. However, my theory is that I'm sending a glossy photo, and really...a photo is something you could keep a long time.
  • There's the postage. My theory is that the mail truck is already coming to your house, may as well bring my envelope of cheer :)
  • There are arguments that e-mail is not totally carbon neutral either - it takes electricity to run your computer.

    I (at least) am making other efforts to reduce my footprint in other areas. Around the holidays specifically, using reusable cloth bags instead of wrapping paper (like the one on the left).

    There are lots of very cute electronic greetings out there. Maybe they are right for you. But for me, I hold on to a little piece of "old fashioned". What are your thoughts?

    - Happy Holidays!
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