Tuesday, January 31, 2012

EEBA-Easy Envelope Budget Aid

     Do you use the envelope system for your monthly cash expenses? I do, and I've found a great website and app to help me keep track. I originally found EEBA, or the Easy Envelope Budget Aid, through the Android market for my phone. There is an accompanying website that touts EEBA as a personal and family budget planner, perfect for proactive expense tracking and money management.
    

      In the past, I've tried to put cash in actual envelopes. I never was successful keeping it all straight. Plus, I'd have to physically go in the bank and ask for x number of $5 bills, x number of $1 bills, etc. (Ok, I'm lazy...I prefer to use the drive thru.) Even figuring out how many denominations I needed got confusing. In my book, if it's not easy to use, it fails. I'm all about easy.

     The EEBA system uses virtual envelopes. You determine what "envelopes" you need (groceries, gas, eating out, etc.), then assign a monthly budget amount to each of those categories. I prefer to use the Android app to keep track of mine, so I will show some screenshots (taken from the Android market).


This shows the virtual envelopes this person has set up. On the far right, it shows what the budgeted amount is for that category (the bottom number), and the remaining balance in that category (the top number). Hmm, looks like they've spent too much on the kids...red is never a good color! Anyway, whenever you make a transaction, you record it. You are prompted to assign an amount to the transaction, then select which "envelope" your expense came from. The program allows you to split your transaction into multiple categories, as shown in this image:


It's that easy! Now there is a record of all your cash expenses right at your fingertips.



Now there's no need for figuring out what dollar bills go in which envelope. Keep all your cash together (in one envelope, if you like). And when you need to know how much you have left to spend on gas for the rest of the month, EEBA will tell you.
You may prefer using the website. If you use both, there is a sync button to keep all your information up-to-date on both devices. But which ever one you use...use it! It's a big help in keeping your spending in check.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Sun's Up?

     I woke up Sunday morning to something unusual. Well, it's unusual for me anyway. The sun was up! I had to do the "what day is it" and "where am I" thing, and then looked at the clock to find it was 7:05am. Then I proclaimed out loud "The sun is up", as if it was a strange phenomenon. I did vaguely remember by alarm blaring out at 4:00am, my normal waking time. However, this day it must have been more of an annoyance than a call to rise, as I also vaguely remember turning it off.
     I have not always been an early riser. Oh, the SBK days (single-before kids)... I would sleep until noon, then lounge around with nothing to do in particular. I mean it didn't take long to clean up back then. And I didn't have to make sure anyone was fed. And I didn't have a huge pile of laundry staring me in the face. (Wow, what did I do with all that time?) For that matter, I didn't have that many interests to spur me to action. No, just some TV time and visits with my bestie. I actually couldn't imagine why anyone would want to get up early.
     I opened my Etsy shop in October 2010, right before the Christmas. Let me just say...if you are planning to start a retail business of any kind, right before the holidays is not the ideal time. And I make doll clothes (you know, that falls under the toys category). So needless to say, I was in over my head from the start. I was sewing every waking minute, and that wasn't enough. I needed more "waking minutes", and began waking up super early...4am.
     Well, I kind of liked it! It was quiet, and I didn't have anyone calling out "Mom" every two minutes. I had time to focus on my work, which I quite enjoy. And once the shopping season was over, I continued to get up early. I suppose it had become a habit by then. But I so loved my time alone that I didn't want to waste it. And I still do it today (well, with the exception of yesterday.)
     I love to open the blinds in my workroom (which faces the east) and experience the beautiful sunrises. Nothing makes me stop and take notice more than the dark tree branches against a brilliant orange sky. It is always a spiritual moment for me, one where I get to thank God for another day on this earth. The early mornings also give me quiet time to reflect on things. While I sew, I think about all kinds of things-my husband and kids, family and friends, my home and my work. I pray, and I plan. I imagine and dream. This is my favorite part of the day, "me" time!

     Now, I actually can't imagine why anyone would not want to get up early.

    
    
    

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Multiple Sclerosis: Kim's Caregiver Story

I had already had the idea to do this interview series when I came upon Kim on the Createability chat threads. Kim is 21 years old from Bristol, England, where she operates her two Etsy shops; she sells her handmade items at Peaches and Pebbles, and Dandelion Grenade is her stationary shop.  She was looking for people to interview about their disabilities for her blog. I guess great minds think alike! After talking with Kim some, I learned that she is a caregiver to her mother who has Multiple Sclerosis. Right away, I was anxious to hear her story, as I have an aunt who suffers from the very same disease. Here is Kim's story:

Tell me who you care for, and briefly describe their disability.
I care for my mother. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1989, 2 years before I was born. She was still able-bodied back then, and did her best for me while she could, but she would have relapses where she would be depressed and have trouble doing what a healthy person would consider to be basic things (using a computer, reading a book, doing cross stitch etc). About four years ago she had a relapse and just never recovered, and now she struggles to do the truly basic things, and has become a completely different person. Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is a neurological disorder and has affected her ability to think properly, walk, or do much for herself.

Kim's Mom

What are her limitations?
She is unable to do much for herself. Myself, my boyfriend, and my father all do our bit. We have to feed her, wheel her around since she can't walk any more, and forgets things that we told her only a moment before. She also thinks when she hears a noise that it's someone coming into the house to see her, a friend. But when we tell her there was no noise, she's always convinced we're lying - though I think that's to do with her own stubbornness! She can't hold things properly, she shakes and wobbles even while sat in her chair, which she cannot get out of on her own. Needless to say, its difficult.

On a daily basis, what is the most challenging part of caring for her?
The most challenging part of looking after her is actually quite simple. As I mentioned before, she forgets a lot of the things we tell her, so the hardest part is trying not to get frustrated when she asks the same questions over and over if she hears a noise. The worst it's been is when our dogs passed away. She would always ask where they were - I think the last one passed in the summer just gone, and even now, more than 6 months on, she asks where they are, and still thinks we're lying.

What is the most difficult thing you've ever dealt with in regards to her disability?
The most difficult thing I've ever had to deal with was trying to understand what was wrong. Even now, I can't eloquently put it together. I know that something is wrong with her brain, and that she always says her thoughts, no matter how wrong or offensive they can be from time to time, and that she can't do anything for herself, but I can't say I've ever known why. And it's also been the classic case of "you don't look sick". My teachers would get mad at me when she felt too tired to come to parent-teacher meetings, and I always tried to explain why, but I couldn't do it. And even now, she doesn't look sick, the only hint at it really is that she's sat in a wheelchair. She still sings along to music (out of time, and key, bless her) and laughs a lot, but she is sick on the inside.

Do you have your situation under control, or are you struggling with it?
I think we do have it under control, more or less. She won't ever get better, and it's likely that she'll get worse, but it's a slow process, which gives us all a chance to adjust and buy the equipment we need, like stair lifts, different wheelchairs, bath hoists and the like.

Kim's Mom & Dad
Do you have a good support system?
I think we do. My dad is a team leader at an air craft production place, and he knows some people who have disabled wives and children, so he talks to them from time to time. I have my boyfriend, and two friends who are absolutely amazing. So we all get through it as well as we can. We have good days and bad days.

Has your situation affected other relationships in your life?
My relationships haven't really been affected, but hers have. She used to be close with her aunt, who was near her age, and she had three friends she'd known for years. When she suffered that relapse, I think it was one of her friends from Sainsbury's where she used to work who was the first to go. She lived nearby, and still does, but she doesn't come round anymore. Then her aunt stopped visiting, then a while after her other friend left, leaving just one woman - the one who everyone here preferred and thought highly of - who she met when I was born. She used to visit every other Thursday for a chat and a coffee, but we haven't seen her since Christmas 2010. We were very surprised, because she seemed to be doing fine with mum's condition, but we've not seen or heard from her since. We all assume she moved to France. I hope that that is the case, but now all my mother has is us.

What do you do for enjoyment?
For enjoyment, I make things, and I write. I want to write more than anything else in the world, so I'm working hard on it. But otherwise, I make and sell my jewellery and hand-stamped stationery in my two Etsy stores, since it's the only way I can get a bit of money, and I watch movies and play games frequently with my boyfriend. We're obsessed with How I Met Your Mother at the moment, we just keep buying the DVDs!

What is your favorite attribute about your mother?
My favourite thing about my mum is her laugh, without a shadow of a doubt. She goes "Oooh hoooh hoooh!" When she laughs, and it's so funny. As bad as Multiple Sclerosis is, it's changed her into such a happier person. I think it's because it's taken away her ability to worry or fret over things, and as a result, she doesn't go a day without laughing at least ten times. And, the best part is, it's so easy to make her laugh. She never used to laugh much before, but I think that that was also partly because she knew what was going to happen to her eventually. I don't know how I could live with that thought, myself.

Kim, her sister & nephew, and Mom

What is it about your life as a caregiver that you want others to know?
I want people to know that it isn't just the disabled person who suffers. To be a carer, you have to sit by and watch someone you love go through something you can never properly understand without going through it yourself. It's difficult, especially when it changes the individual so drastically, and said individual is a figure of such importance to you, as your mother or father. And I also want people to know that the carer needs just as much support from their friends, and for everyone around them to understand that caring comes before going out and having fun. If you know someone who's a carer, buy them a pot of instant hot chocolate, a bag of marshmallows, and give them a hug.

How has being a caregiver changed you?
I can't really say if it's changed me or not. My mother has slowly gotten worse all my life to a point that I don't really notice it. I never really realised how bad she was until she was sat in a wheelchair. I like to think that it's made me patient, but I have a worrying feeling it's made me less so, but it has taught me the value of doing things while you can, and making the most of being able-bodied and -minded.

Have you learned anything about yourself?
I've learned that the simple things are important. Laughing, reading, drawing, being able to make rational decisions when I need to. Other than that, I don't think there's much else...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Slow Cooker Saturday: Pizza Bake

After my last near-miss with the Apricot Chicken, I had to come up with something I was sure everyone would love. So, once again, I went back to Six Sisters Stuff looking for a sure thing. I think I may have found it.


Slow Cooker Pizza Bake

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 medium onion (optional), diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
8 oz sliced pepperoni
4 oz (1 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz (2 cups) shredded cheddar cheese
12 oz Rigatoni noodles, cooked
15 oz pizza sauce
26 oz Spaghetti sauce

Directions:
1. Brown meat, onion and pepper in frying pan.
2. Drain grease and add pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce
3. Combine all ingredients in a large crock pot (spray with non-stick spray first).
4. Cook on HIGH for 30 minutes and then LOW for 2 or 3 hours until the cheese melts.

How was it?
It was great! The original instructions said that the recipe made a lot of food. When I was gathering all the ingredients, I found that the whole recipe would fit in my crock pot. But I don't suggest doing that unless you are feeding more than 4 people; it really does make a lot, and it's very filling! It would be best to freeze half of it and cook the rest.

Etsy Shop New Listing

Hoodie in Starry Sky

I just listed this cute little hoodie this morning in my Etsy Shop. I love this glittery fabric! And the best part about it was how I acquired it. Twice a year, our city hosts a community-wide yard sale (or garage sale, or whatever you want to call it!). It's held indoors, and people just bring all their stuff and set up their own booths. Well, as I was browsing around, I found a lady's booth that had a lot of fabric--in boxes, in bags--lots of it! She was obviously destashing, and told me she would make me a good deal on a box-full of it. You see, fabric shopping to me is like going to a candy store! So I went through it all. I went nuts when I found this sparkly knit fabric; there was probably about 2 yards of it. So I filled up a box full of some really cute stuff, and she charged me $2--for the whole box! I felt like I had hit the jackpot. It's so thrilling to get a great deal, isn't it? Especially when you're not expecting it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

I Was Featured!

Black Cat Flannel Pajama Set
How exciting! My new Black Cat Pajama Set was featured in an Etsy Treasury. A treasury is an ever-changing, member-curated shopping gallery comprised of lists of items. There are millions of items on Etsy, and it's rare to see a treasury made of doll clothes. So I was honored that Nancy from Doll Patchworks added my item to her "Snug as a Bug in a Rug" .

Thursday, January 26, 2012

30 Minutes to Tidiness

Notice: This post is for busy moms (and dads) only!
If you are childless, or have an obsessive/compulsively clean house, you will not want to be bored by this . But if you work, have kids that leave dirty clothes everywhere, have toys scattered thoughout the house, have to clean the kitchen just so you can make another mess...(you know who you are)...this will be of interest to you.

I recently did a post on time management, and vowed to make my days more productive. I can proudly report that I have made a few changes that have made life a little easier. The inspiration came from this "Chores" list I found on Pinterest.  I was intrigued by the thought of doing these tasks in 30 minutes. That's not long, right? I thought surely I could squeeze that into my day.


I should pause here and let you know that I love it when my house is clean, but I hate taking the time to do it. I've got other things I'd rather be doing. And it doesn't take long for the stuff to start piling up everywhere. Now, you wouldn't find my house on an episode of "Hoarders" (it's not that bad!). But I enjoy having everything in its place and looking picked up. So I decided to devote 30 short minutes every day to make it happen. This is my new routine every morning:
  • Set the timer on my stove for 30 minutes. Hey, I have to make it interesting. If I feel like I'm racing against the clock, I work a little faster.
  • In each bedroom, I make the bed and pick up anything that is laying around. I take a basket from room to room, putting in it anything that is out of place (toys, books, etc). Then I can take it back where it belongs.
  • I do the same in the living room.
  • I have also started cleaning up in the kitchen after supper every night (with the help of my oldest son), so it starts the day clean. Now each morning, I only have to put away anything that we got out at breakfast.
  • Next, I gather all the dirty clothes, take them to the laundry room, and sort them. If there's enough for a load of anything, I wash, dry, and fold them. I put away any clean and folded clothes from the previous day. I have always saved my laundry for the weekend, making it a monstrous task. Working on it on a daily basis has made a huge difference.
  • In the bathrooms, I just wipe down the surfaces with a Clorox wipe.
And that's it.  If I have time left, I will vacuum or sweep wherever it is needed, or finish folding a load of clothes. But when my 30 minute timer goes off, I stop. And, believe it or not, that is just enough time to make everything look cleaned up. Of course it's not cleaned, it's only picked up. I save the deeper cleaning for a Saturday morning. But just setting aside this short time every day keeps everything from getting out of hand.




Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Etsy Shop New Listings

I finished a couple of Valentine's Day-inspired listings this week for my Etsy shop. I've never much gotten into this holiday. But my new interest in blogs and Pinterest have given me several great ideas that have me thinking hearts. I might just have to share some Valentines spirit this year. But for now, I'll just share my new items...

Be Mine Dress

Pink & White Beaded Necklace with Heart Pendant

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Milestones: Corey's Final Jr. High Basketball Game

Louisville Jr. High Wildcats 2011-2012, Corey #22
    We recently gathered up the whole family and went to Corey's final junior high basketball game. It was an exciting game. We were ahead most of the game, but the visiting team made it very close in the end. We were able to hold on for the win, their second win of the season.
     Win or lose, we love watching Corey play basketball. We love watching him play every sport he participates in--basketball, soccer, football, and baseball. He's very much the athletic type, and does fairly well at them all. His years in junior high are quickly coming to an end. And being the nostalgic mom that I am, my mind drifts back to all the years he's been playing basketball. He began as a 7-year-old in the Upward program through our church. He played every year until he was too old. Then he moved up to junior high, where he's been for the past 3 years. I asked him if he planned to play next year when he gets to high school, and he said he was.
     So here's to the end of junior high! I couldn't help but look back...

Corey age 7

Corey age 9

Corey age 10



    
                                           

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Slow Cooker Saturday: Company Pot Roast

Pot roast is probably the most common thing to fix in the crock pot. And I've tried it a few different ways. But once I found this recipe for Company Pot Roast, I'll never make it any other way. It's is awesome!

Company Pot Roast
Ingredients:
1 (2-pound) boneless chuck roast, trimmed
1 1/2 Tbsp ground pepper
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
14 small red potatoes, quartered (about 2 pounds)
3 small onions, quartered
1 (16-ounce) package baby carrots
2 (10 1/2-ounce) cans French onion soup
1 (2.8-ounce) tube dried tomato paste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water

Directions:
1. Rub both sides of roast with pepper. Brown roast on all sides in hot oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place roast in a 6-quart electric slow cooker.
2.  Arrange vegetables around roast. Combine soup and tomato paste in a small bowl, stirring with a wire whisk; pour evenly over roast and vegetables.
3. Cover and cook on HIGH 1 hour. Reduce to LOW, and cook 9 more hours or until roast and vegetables are tender. Remove roast and vegetables to a platter; cover and keep warm.
4.  Pour drippings into a large skillet. Combine flour and water in a small bowl, whisking until smooth; gradually add to drippings in skillet. Bring to a boil; cook, stirring constantly, 10 minutes or until gravy is slightly thickened and bubbly. Serve gravy with roast and vegetables.

Yields:
8 servings

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cerebral Palsy: My Caregiver Story

I introduced you to my new friends on Etsy's Createability Team several posts ago. They are either disabled themselves or caregivers to a disabled family member.  Our lives are not your everyday, run-of-the-mill experience. We share this common bond called disability, and they are all so inspiring to me.
I have asked some of them to share their stories here on my blog. Being the mom of a disabled child, I will be focusing on the stories of the caregivers. And it's only fair that I start with my own experience. This is written in the form of an interview.


Erin at age 2
Tell me who you care for, and briefly describe their disability.
My daughter, Erin, was diagnosed with encephalitis at 2 weeks old. It caused extensive brain damage, which lead to her diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.

What are her limitations?
Erin is profoundly disabled. She's completely reliant on us for everything. She also deals with seizures, but they are pretty much controlled by medication. She does go to school, which she loves. And we take her out for different things, like the grocery store and occasionally to one of her brother's ball games. She doesn't like a lot of noise though.

On a daily basis, what is the most challenging part of caring for her?
Physically, it is lifting her. She's over 70 pounds. We will soon need to have some lifting mechanisms installed so we won't hurt ourselves. Mentally, I would say worrying about her when she gets any kind of respiratory infection. Pneumonia is something I'm always looking out for.
Erin at age 5
What is the most difficult thing you've ever dealt with in regards to her disability?
We found out about a year and a half ago that Erin had a detatched retina. She had just had surgery to insert rods in her spine for scoliosis. One of the risk factors was blindness, from having to lay on her stomach for so many hours. Sure enough, she began experiencing problems with her left eye afterwards. We were first told glaucoma, then cataracts. It turns out the retina was causing the other problems. She's had several surgeries to fix various things. The eye is not something that can be fixed. I think that's the reason it was so devastating to me that she was blind in that eye.

Do you have your situation under control, or are you struggling with it?
Erin at age 9
Erin is 11 years old now, so caring for her is just a part of my life by now. She has a respite care worker that comes every afternoon, which gives me a bit of a break. There's always something new to deal with, but it's not a struggle for me now as it was when she was younger.
Do you have a good support system?
I do. Besides my family, friends, and church, I have met some wonderful people on Etsy who deal with the same issues I do. We belong to the Createability Team. It's composed of members who are either disabled themselves, or caretakers for disabled family members. They are wonderfully talented and inspiring, and supportive of me. And I enjoy being there for them as well.

Has your situation affected other relationships in your life?
Actually, my closest relationships are probably stronger now. I've heard that marriages fall apart when there is a disabled child. I'm so thankful to say that my husband and I became closer. We really are a team, and those close to me are very supportive too. I think others just don't know what to say, or how to relate to me. So making new friends is very difficult.

Erin age 11
What do you do for enjoyment?
I love to sew. Being creative is so soothing to me. Plus, I get to use my creative outlet as a way to earn a little extra money. As a couple, our entertainment consists of watching our oldest son play sports, which we love to do. We rarely go out, and never take vacations.

What is your favorite attribute about Erin?
Erin has the most beautiful smile. My favorite part of the day is going into her bedroom first thing in the morning. She always wakes up happy, and gives me the purest, most genuine smiles. It absolutely warms my heart.

What is it about your life as a caregiver that you want others to know?
Being a caregiver makes you feel like you lead an isolated existence. If you know someone who is a caregiver, understand that they need support. They appreciate communication from "the outside world".

Erin and Mommy
How has being a caregiver changed you?
I am much more patient than I was before. You have to be.

Have you learned anything about yourself?
I hear all the time "I don't know how you do it." Well, you just do it. I've learned that I can handle whatever God gives me. I've learned that there is a plan and a purpose for everything. I was chosen to be Erin's mom. And God has prepared me my entire life to do this.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Etsy Shop New Listings

     It's been October since I listed any new items in my Etsy shop. It's not for the lack of sewing, I assure you. The Christmas season was very busy for Erin's Little Secrets. The beginning of October marked the end of my first year on Etsy, and I had just reached my 200th sale. I finished 2011 with 322 sales. It was amazing--lots of hard work, but still amazing!
     Now, after a brief break to take a breath, I'm finally back in the swing of things. I've just added 5 new pajama sets, a pillow & blanket set, and a luxurious zebra fur cape. Some of these pajama sets have heart-shaped pillows, and the fabric even has hearts in it. I did not plan it this way, but they would make great Valentine's Day gifts:

Black Cat Flannel Pajama Set

Sweet Hearts Flannel Nightgown Set

Dreamtime Flannel Pajama Set

Fruitsy Flannel Pajama Set

OOAK Black Cat Flannel Pajama Set

Crazylove Blanket & Pillow Set

Hooded Cape in Zebra Fur

     It is true-the possibilities are only limited to my imagination. That's what I love about what I do. I can't wait to start on the next listing--a beautiful new dress for Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Silliness

Just want to share a bit of silliness with you today. Scenes like this are the normal in our house:


Corey is an awesome big brother, and Kirby adores him. Kirby demands attention (as you can probably tell). Sometimes, I have to remind Corey that he always wanted a little brother. We just waited a little late to give him one! The age difference between them is 11 years. But, seeing Corey on this tricycle, with this silly face, makes me think the mental age difference may be much less! Love my boys!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Createability Team

     I've been a seller on Etsy for more than a year now. I've found that is a wonderful place to do business. The interface is so easy to use, and the staff is fantastic at sharing information to help make a shop successful. It is a community, where you can be just as involved as you want to be. 
     After having my shop set up for several months, I ventured into the "Teams" section on Etsy. Teams are groups of people with similar interests who gather together and collaborate. Currently, there are over 4,000 teams within the Etsy community. There are teams of all kinds; if you have a specific interest, or live in a particular region, chances are you can find a team for it. I found a few teams where I thought I would fit in, asked to join, and was accepted. Not having much experience with online chatting, I found it hard to join in and feel comfortable on some teams. That is, until I jumped into the chat threads of the Createability Team.

     The Createability Team is a group of artists and sellers either with disabilities themselves, or caregivers of disabled people in their private lives, who use art and Etsy as "therapy" and as a link to network with others. It didn't take long for me to get to know these ladies (I can't think of any active men members). They deal with a wide variety of illnesses, including Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Mitochondrial disease, migraines, depression, Bipolar disorder, blindness, paralysis, and Multiple Sclerosis, among others. There are parents and grandparents taking care of their children with Cerebral Palsy and Autism. And there are adults taking care of their parents who are disabled. Our commom bonds help us understand the physical, mental, and social issues each faces, and equips us with empathy for each situation.
     We gather together in the many chat threads we have to discuss everything! We share our experiences with Etsy, sharing things we've learned for the benefit of all. We discuss social networking, create and share Etsy treasury collections, and show off our newest listings. But the most special part of being on this team is the support we get from, and give to, each other. If anyone's got a problem, or something on their mind, it is quite openly and easily shared with the team. There is no judging, just sweet, genuine support from people who understand.  We also share a lot of laughs, jokes, and funny stories too. You have to laugh, right?
     Anyway, I have come to know these ladies fairly well, and consider them as my friends. It's funny to me that you can be friends with people you've never even seen face-to-face. But you can- I have. Oh, did I mention? In spite of their difficulties, these ladies are fantastically talented! Take a look at the team's Promotions thread to see some of their latest listings. It always inspires me that such beauty and skill can be created under their difficult circumstances. I think we all concur that our art is a way to refresh our minds and souls. Perhaps these artists wouldn't mind me featuring their shops in future blog posts. It's well worth sharing.
     Are you disabled yourself, or a caretaker? Whether you're an artist/crafter or not, you might like to be inspired by the possibilities. You can follow the Createability Team on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Pinterest. The team also has a blog with updated links to individual team members. And when you find something you can't live without in one of their shops, tell them I sent you!


Monday, January 16, 2012

Sewing Tips: Working with Terry Cloth

     As a seamstress, I'm never afraid to try different types of fabric in my projects. It's always exciting to work with new materials, and it expands the range of options I can offer to my customers.  I've just completed a doll-sized robe made out of terry cloth. Other great project ideas are wash cloths, towels, burp cloths, or bibs. It was my first encounter with this "warm and fuzzy" fabric, and I thought I'd share my experience with it.

My first impression: it is messy!

     You will constantly encounter scenes like this one while you work on your project-at your work table, the ironing board, around the machines, on the floor, etc. I would definitely recommend wearing an apron while working with terry cloth, or else you'll have it all over your clothes. Be sure to remove the apron when you leave your workspace so you won't spread the sheddings throughout your house!  It is a good idea to keep your area clean as you work. Take the time to wipe off your surfaces when you see a lot of accumulation. It will surely keep the mess from getting out of control.


Next: it is thick and bulky.

     I used longer stitch lengths while sewing with the terry cloth, both on the machine and the serger. Occasionally, the needle would "catch" on the loops of terry and pull on it. But that didn't happen often. I really didn't encounter any difficulties sewing with it on the sewing machine. Using the serger was a different story.
      The terry cloth made it through the serger in a single layer just fine. But sewing the double layers of a seam was difficult for the serger's cutting blade to handle, especially on longer seams. Instead of piling up in the tray, the cuttings would continue through past the cutter and become entwined in the serged seam. I tried pulling slightly on the cuttings as they emerged, but only with limited success. The picture on the left shows two different serged seams. The seam on the left worked perfectly; the one on the right shows the bulkiness of the seam where the cuttings were entangled.

A good tip: Use a different colored thread where possible.
     Should you need to undo a seam, the loopiness of the terry cloth makes it nearly impossible to find your stitches. I was using white thread on white fabric, and wasn't able to make a correction that I needed. If you are a beginner (or a perfectionist like me), it's a good idea to use a different color of thread on areas that will not be seen. Choose a light, but different color. I could have used a light pink on the hidden areas to distinguish my stitches from the pile of the fabric.

Finally: Encasing and/or serging cut seams is a must.

    
     The shedding of this fabric comes from its cut edges, not the fabric surface itself. Serging these cut edges will keep it from shedding as a finished product. Make sure that all raw edges are either serged or closed off (encased) from any exposure. I used a fusible tape to bind the front facings to the robe, so that the seam on the inside wouldn't shed from underneath. When my robe was complete, I took it outside and gave it a real good shake to get rid of any remaining shedding. Taking the time to perform these steps will ensure you or your customers will be happy with the finished product. Here is my finished product:

     I will definitely use terry cloth in future projects! Although it was slightly challenging, the final results were worth it.



Sunday, January 15, 2012

Slow Cooker Saturday: Apricot Chicken

Slow cookers are my friend! I love the ease of throwing some ingredients together in the crock pot, forgetting about it until supper time, then serving a meal that seems like it took hours to fix. I found this recipe on one of my new favorite blogs, Six Sisters Stuff.  They have collected so many slow cooker recipes, and I intend to try a new as often as possible.


Slow Cooker Apricot Chicken Recipe:
(Recipe from Crockpot.com)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups apricot preserves
1 cup Russian dressing 
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
6 chicken breasts

Directions:
Mix together the preserves, dressing and soup mix.
Place chicken in bottom of slow cooker; pour mixture over chicken.
Cover; cook on High for 1 hour.
Reduce heat to Low and continue cooking for 3-4 hours.

Before serving, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. I served the chicken and the sauce over rice, and added a salad for a complete meal.

How was it?
I must disclose up front that I feed some picky eaters! Getting them to try something new is like pulling teeth. Everyone did at least give it a try. It was good, but a little on the sweet side for our taste. There were enough leftovers for my lunch the next day. So I added some red pepper flakes to it (just a few shakes) as it reheated. That seemed to temper down the sweetness a bit.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Facetime!



I posted the other day about a DVD my Dad sent me. It was made from old reel film from their childhood.  The images contained on it depicted family life back in the early 1960's. My Aunt Deloris commented on the post, saying she wished our generation of cousins had spent as much time together as they did. It is unfortunate that we didn't, but we've found each other on Facebook and are at least able to keep up with each other.

Corey and Tyler on Facetime
So now comes our children's generation. Technology is so awesome! Corey and Tyler (my brother's son) are using Facetime on their iPods to communicate. Each boy got one for Christmas, and today is the first time they've visited. Tyler lives in Meridian, only an hour or so away. But they don't get to see each other very much. These days, most teenagers "talk" more by text messages than face-to-face. So I see this as a way to improve their communication skills.

The fun part is that their Grandpa Gerald also got an iPod for Christmas. He and Grandma Linda are 600 miles away, in Kansas City, MO. We have had the opportunity to Facetime with them several times so far, and it's wonderful! It's so important that, despite the distance, they get to have a relationship with their grandparents. Although life isn't as simple as it once was, technology has its benefits.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More Shoes?

My son is an addict.
Thankfully, it's not drugs or alcohol. It's shoes!


     Corey is 13 years old. His love of shoes dates back at least 3 years. I find that a little crazy, but maybe it's just a boy thing. His feet have grown by leaps and bounds over this time period, and it's been a constant battle just to keep him in shoes that fit. But it goes beyond that. His shoe-of-choice is, of course, the athletic kind.
     Having just received some Christmas money, the hunt for a new pair of shoes is on. When he decides he wants a new pair, he shops and studies until he finds what he wants. He persistantly asks to go shopping, which involves a trip out of town. Usually, he's not able to find what he wants in the store, so the online search is on. He spends hours looking, choosing, comparing prices. A couple of evenings ago, he had narrowed it down to two pairs that he liked, but couldn't decide. He was actually stressing over which shoes to get. After sleeping on it, and obsessing over it for one more day, he made his decision. Again, he peristantly asks me to make the online purchase for him. So now, he has a new pair of shoes on the way. The final step in the process will be him asking every day when they will arrive. I would expect this from a daughter, but my son? Not so much. It could be worse, and thankfully it's not.
     Here's my final thought on the subject. Have you ever used these?


They are called Sneaker Balls. Just place them in your shoes after you take them off. They have deodorizers in them, and smell wonderfully clean. Corey got several set of these for Christmas. And after setting up the picture of him and all his shoes, I can tell you they are very necessary for teenage boys!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Time Management

     Do you feel pulled in hundreds of different directions like I do? I am a wife, and a mother of a teenager, a toddler, and a special needs child. This means lots of sporting activities and practices, school activities, band concerts, church activities, doctors appointments, and playtime. I maintain a home, which means I pick up, clean, vacuum, sweep, mop, wash clothes, grocery shop, cook, and pay bills. I also pay the bills for the business my husband keeps on the side. I have an Etsy shop/website where I make and sell doll clothes and accessories for American Girl dolls. This involves designing, fabric shopping, sewing, and shipping my items, not to mention the bookkeeping that goes along with it. I do some serious social networking for my business, including my Etsy shop and website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, and this blog. Whew, let me stop to catch my breath...

     How on earth can I do all this? 
 
     At first glance, it seems I could give up the doll clothes and life would be easier. But I adore my shop; I find peace, pride, and yes, success as a seamstress.  Plus, I'm the kind of person who likes to do it all, and I am convinced there is a way to accomplish this.


     When I see these daily type of calendars, I think of people who have appointments to keep. Images of business people sitting at a desk with meetings going on thoughout the day come to mind. I don't think of a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom. Is it even possible to structure one's day so precisely?Well, why not? It does seem a bit rigid for home life. But when there are so many things I want to get done in a day, the only logical thing is to designate a time for it all.
     Are you like me? Do you get super motivated to be super organized at the beginning of each new year? It usually lasts a couple of weeks, then old habits take over. Plus, I tend to be a little on the undisciplined side when it comes to starting something new. But the motivation to cram as much into my day is as strong as ever. I want every day to be productive and successful. It's good for me and my family. So...here I go again. Maybe if I vow to update you on my progress, it will make me more accountable.
     I would love to hear from you! How to you manage your time, and does it work for you?
   

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Simpler Time

      I got a wonderful thing in the mail yesterday from my Dad. We had already discussed it, so I knew what it was and had been anticipating its arrival.
      My Aunt has been in possession of several reels of old films made during their childhood in the early 1960's. She found someone to put them on a disc, and many copies were made to share with the entire family. My disc came yesterday! I opened it immediately and ran for the nearest DVD player, with my teenage son Corey right behind me. We sat there glued to the TV as if it were a ballgame. But it was more like watching an Andy Griffith rerun. The video had the classic grainy appearance, with continuous flashes of lights and no sound. But I could clearly pick out my family-my Dad, his brother and sisters, my grandparents (Nanny & Papa) and great-grandparents, and some great-aunts and uncles. My grandparents were the age I am now (early 40's), and my dad and his siblings were the age of my children.
     I haven't watched the entire 3 hours of video yet. But what I've seen so far depicts many activities-family road trips, parades, boating, fishing, and horse riding. But my favorite parts, by far, are the times when the entire family was together inside making music. Apparently, my Papa came from a very musical family. He was, and still is, a wonderful guitar player. The video shows him playing and singing, while his family played piano, banjo, and fiddle. The younger kids were all present, enjoying the sounds and the toddlers' dancing. Corey and I were longing to be able to listen to their music! The video cuts to another room, where some adult women are sitting around a table. Cut again to the outdoors, where children were playing with cats and puppies, and riding horses. There were scenes of public spaces, where all of the new cars are what we call antiques today.
      It is so very interesting, even refreshing, to see what my family did in those days. It is so pure to see families just spending time together, engaging in activities together, making music together. It is such a sharp contrast to the lives we live today-play dates, dance lessons and recitals, gymnastics, sporting activities of all kinds and at all ages, school activities. Just listing these makes my head spin. Long before computers, video games, and smartphones, life was so much more simple, slower, calmer.
      Thank you, Daddy, for this glimpse of your childhood. I'm so thankful to have it, to watch it, and
to share it with my children. It is something I will cherish forever.

My Daddy as a young boy.
My Grandmother (Nanny), front center, as a teenager.