Saturday, December 30, 2017

Placemat Pillows

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Do you like to hit the after Christmas clearance sales? I do! I don't mind storing things for a year if it means I got it for 90% off.  I grabbed these place mats at Target last year-and it was no problem that there were only one of a kind since I wasn't thinking of using them for the table.  Instead, I saw that these place mats were made with a front and back fabric-so they were basically pillowcases that had been sewn shut. Also in the Christmas clearance section, I saw lots of bags of "snow batting"--the kind you unroll and put under villages or trees-but it's the same polyfill material used for stuffing pillows. It was super cheap, so I bought a couple packages for each pillow.

1 fabric place mat (make sure that it has a front and back fabric)
Stuffing material
Thread to match

Use a sharp pair of scissors or a seam ripper to open up the seam along the bottom of the place mat. Start and end about 1 inch from the edges.

If using flat snow batting, unroll it and then accordion fold it into a rectangle that will fit inside the pillow.

To make it easier to insert into the pillow, roll up the batting and stick one end into the pillow and then the other. Use your hands to smooth it flat.

Sew up the seam either on your sewing machine or by hand (or for a no-sew version, add stick-on Velcro or fabric glue).

This project took about 5 minutes per pillow. I chose to just make a quick pillow, but you could do pillow covers if you wanted to take the time to add buttons or snaps or sew-in Velcro.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

DIY Family Thanksgiving Fun Run

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If you've been to my blog before, you know I'm a runner.  I enjoy 5Ks the most--they are fast and don't require the weeks of training that 1/2 marathons and marathons do.  I like themed runs the best--and I do like Thanksgiving Fun Runs--helps me justify the 2nd piece of pie.  My extended family is large and has quite a few little kiddos-enough that an organized race is probably more effort than everyone wants  on a holiday (wrangling strollers, babies, toddlers, teenagers)-especially since I know we will try and do a whole family photo this weekend.  Best to save the "be on your best behavior" bribes and threats for that event and not an early morning run.  So I thought it might be fun to have just our family do a run.  It means no traveling to a race early in the morning with little kids, no finding parking or waiting in the cold for the race to start. We'll just start at Grandma's house and run to a nearby park and back.  Cocoa for when we get back. I'm guessing we'll have about 16 people in our group--no bigger than a run club--and we won't be on busy streets, so I'm not worried that we will cause a safety hazard for ourselves or drivers.

The best part about races is usually the t-shirt and the medal--so I made sure to get them for our race too--and they were cheap! For about the cost of 1 registration, I got everything for the entire group (well, I only did t-shirts for kids.  I offered the vinyl decal for any adult who wanted to bring their own shirt).

I ordered some inexpensive finisher's medals from Crown Awards, made a simple design for a t-shirt on my Silhouette SD and designed some race bibs in Word.

Did you know that Dollar Tree has t-shirts?  They are not usually high quality (although I have occasionally found overstocked nice tech shirts).  For a family race, $1 shirts are perfect.

I found a clip art I liked and added some race numbers to the bib, which I printed on cardstock at home.

I'm off to the Dollar Store to find a couple prizes.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna

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Fall.  So beautiful--its been really lovely this fall, with lots of sunshine to go with the brilliant colored leaves. Today I enjoyed a day out at a pumpkin patch and then home for raking leaves.  To top off this day, I decided to make a hearty fall casserole.  This one takes some pre-planning, but the results are really worth it.

Time:  2 hours


1 pound butternut squashed, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup water
2-3 Tbs. olive oil
1 12 oz package frozen spinach
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 C. cottage cheese (full fat)
1 egg
1/2 C. Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 pound mozzerella, grated
1 box quick-cook lasagna noodles

Getting started--there are several components that you have to prep first.  I put the instructions in order so that everything is ready to go.

I soaked the noodles for about 30 minutes--since there isn't a wet tomato sauce in this casserole, I wasn't sure that there would be enough moisture to cook while baking, so I soaked them until tender in a pan. 

Preheat the oven to 350.  Toss the butternut squash and 1/2 of an onion with olive oil and spread into a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet (I wished I had chopped the onions smaller or maybe used my Blendtec instead of the food processor).  Bake for about 40 minutes until squash is tender.  Remove from oven and puree in food processor with about 1/2 cup of water. Add salt and pepper to taste.  (don't turn the oven off since you are going to put the finished casserole back in the oven after you assemble).

Now that the squash is cooking, work on the spinach.  Pre heat a saucepan and add the olive oil, spinach and about 1/4 of the onion.  Cook for about 6-7 minutes until spinach and onions are tender.  Add the chopped garlic and saute for another 30 seconds before removing from the heat. Salt and pepper to taste.

In a bowl,  mix the cottage cheese, egg, basil, parsley and pepper and mix thoroughly.  Do not add salt since the cheese is already salty.

Now you are ready to assemble!  I used a small disposable pan, which wasn't quite big enough--next time I'd use a deep casserole dish (deeper than a standard 9x12 pan).  Spread some squash mix on the bottom of the pan.  Lay down noodles to make a single layer.  I kept my layers of filling fairly thin--because the texture and chewiness of the noodle is a good contrast of the soft fillings-so I have about 2x the amount of noodle than I would in a regular lasagna.  Spread more squash, then cheese mixture, then spinach and then mozzarella.  Then lay down more noodles and repeat until your pan is full.  Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes until all bubbly.

This was really tasty.  I'm pretty excited about leftovers for lunch this week!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Traveling Light--Summer trip to Europe

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I just got back from 8 days in Paris and Prague with my brother.  I'm a fan of packing light, and have done posts on packing light before.  I thought I'd share what I took with me for a July trip. It was hot and we walked everywhere.

While I was only gone for 8 days, the things I had with me I could have done 2-3 weeks if I did laundry more often.  I only washed underwear on this short trip, but I was down to my last clean shirt on the last day. 


Osprey Porter 46
This is a great backpack.  Its slightly larger than my regular backpack, but it isn't in the category of "backpacking through Europe" either.  Its main draw is that it unzips and opens up like a suitcase, so its easy to get in and out of.  Its comfortable enough for wearing from the airport, on the subway etc...but you do get tired of it--it doesn't have hip belts to distribute weight.  But you don't want roller bags in Europe--too many cobble stone sidewalks and stairs.  This bag also has some cinch straps, so if you need to smash it in order to make it fit as a carry on, you can (It easily fit in the overhead on my Delta and Air France flights, but I don't know about the budget European carriers).

Keen travel purse
I love this purse.  It is heavy duty nylon with lots of zippers and pockets. 


Packing cubes

I had 2 long rectangle and 2 small rectangle cubes.  (Try eBags or Amazon Basic for some inexpensive ones).  The long rectangles were great for the backpack.  I used them for my clothes.  The small rectangles I used for socks, underwear and electronics. 

What I took

1 Pair travel pants
1 pair leggings
2 skirts (these were reversible, found them at Costco)
1 knit dress (Banana Republic)
4 black t shirts
1 stripe short sleeve top
1 stripe long sleeve top
1 gray long sleeve thin sweater
1 pink thin cardigan
2 scarves
4 pairs of socks
4 pairs of underwear
1 sun hat
1 rain jacket (that folds into its own pocket)

black sandals
black Sketcher mary janes
running shoes

minimal make up
ear plugs
band aids
laundry soap (Tide liquid travel packs)

small guidebooks
back up battery
mini ipad (I could have left at home...plane had plenty of in seat entertainment)
noise cancelling headphones
power converter/adapter

I could have gotten by with 1 less black shirt and I wore the dress once--but could have worn a skirt another time.  I am so glad I took the running shoes.  Everyone says that Paris needs to be dressier, that you'll stand out as an American if you wear tennis shoes.  Guess what, you'll look like an American no matter what.  Its your trip and your feet--wear the tennis shoes.  I wore my black sandals on the first day (landed at 11:15 am and powered through the day until about 8:00 and with the hot, sweaty weather, I ended up with a large blister on the bottom of my foot.  These sandals have never given me trouble any other time and I've had them for years).  Wear the tennis shoes--don't put fashion over function, not even for Paris.  I do love my Sketcher Mary Janes--and wore them all last year on my Europe trip, but I know I walked WAY more on this trip (at a minimum of 12 miles per day)--and with the blister from day one, I needed to wear socks, so the Mary Janes didn't get the wear that I thought they would.    

Blister help:  I had a big blister on the bottom of my heel by the end of day one.  It had not popped and I had 7 more days of walking to do.  Blisters happen because of friction--so you want to reduce friction and add support.  I didn't take my body glide that I use when I run (should have, for my feet but also other places that got sweaty and chafed with all the walking and sweating)--so I pulled out my stick deodorant and used my fingernail to dig out a dollop and put it on top of the blister, then covered it with a good bandage.  Then I smeared some deodorant on top of the bandage.  I then put on my socks (luckily, I took my double knit running socks, which help reduce friction).  By wearing the bandage with the deodorant, socks and my tennis shoes I was able to walk all day on day 2 without being miserable and by day three the blister had receded on its own.  My brother had a similar problem, so we did the same fix for him. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Travel Pant Refashion-Tapering and Waistband adjustment

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I am traveling to Europe this summer--and even though I was there last summer, I find that once again, I'm shopping for just the right clothes.  This trip is a short time frame and the weather will probably be warm, but I get cold on planes, so pants make sense.   So, I started looking for some great travel pants.  I found great ones from Athleta--they are called the Trekkie Jogger, but they are $89.  I do love Athleta, and have many of their clothes--but $89 just wasn't in the budget (car repairs last week, upcoming dental expenses...not to mention the cost of the upcoming trip).  I tried to love something already in my wardrobe, but couldn't.  I wanted something lightweight, non-wrinkly, easy to dry and ankle length--plus I wanted secure pockets with zippers to hold things.  Tall order--but the Athleta pants did all that, for a price.

So I decided I'd hit my favorite thrift store and cross my fingers that I'd find the perfect pants (I actually have a lot of Athleta from thrift stores).  No luck--no one had purchased the Trekkie Jogger and donated it for me to find.  But I did find a pair of Eddie Bauer hiking pants that had potential.  The fabric was right, the size was close, they had some zippered pockets and they were long--and they were $4.  But they were also really boxy.

I've been using my sewing machine a lot this summer.  Mostly small mending projects--but I've done lots of alterations.  T-shirts that were just a little wide--a quick seam down each side and now its a fitted shirt! A clearance find shirt that the store only had in size 1X (great length for leggings though)--or how about tacking the top of a swimsuit in about an inch (more hips than chest for me).  These are not complicated alterations--but it makes my clothes fit right, which makes me feel more confident in them and more likely to wear them.   I can't tell you how grateful I am that my mom and grandma taught me to sew.  I bet I've fixed/changed about 7 items just this summer.  I usually avoid sewing pants, but tapering the legs seemed do-able; and it was.  It took about 1 hour to complete.

What you'll need:
Pants to taper
sewing machine
straight edge and chalk pencil (or washable marker)

Difficulty:  Beginner (if you can sew a straight line, you can do this)

Put the pants on inside out.  If you have a friend to help with the pinning, it would be easier, but I did it on myself--just be careful!  Figure out how narrow you want the pants to be at the ankle (test pin it and put your foot in and out to make sure it fits).  Then pin from ankle to crotch in a diagonal line that makes your taper evenly go down the pant leg. 

Once I had them pinned, I removed them, laid them flat on the table and fidgeted with the pinning so that the fabric was flat and I could see the general line that I would follow for sewing.  I got out my quilting ruler and used a chalk pencil to draw the line I would sew.  Then I unpinned and repinned the pants so  that everything was flat and smooth.

I used the longest stitch on my machine and did not backstitch and sewed along the chalk line.  I created an angle seam from the crotch all the way to the ankle.  Repeat for the other pant leg.  Take out the pins, turn the pants right side out and try them on.  If they are tapered to your liking, great!  If not, redraw the line to make them wider/narrower and sew again (if you accidentally made them too narrow the first time, you will have to unpick the seam and try again.  If they were too wide the first time, no big deal--just sew another line).  Once you are satisfied with the fit you can go back over the seam, backstitch the beginning and end, or be like me and use a serger to cut off the extra fabric and make the raw edges neat and tidy.  Just don't cut off the extra fabric of the pants until you are SURE that they are just the way you want them. 

Don't they look better?  More feminine?  Yeah, I thought so too.  But I did a bit more tweaking.  The pants were 1 size too big to begin with--so the waistband gapped in the back.  No one wants to see underwear hanging out the back of someone's pants.  Here's an easy trick.  Put in a bit of elastic in the back of the waistband.  Nothing that would scream "senior citizen" pants, but just enough stretch to keep the back of the pants from gapping.  I flipped the pants inside out again, and made two small cuts into the inside of the waist.  I decided I wanted the elastic to go from the outer edge of each pocket, which was about 10 inches total.

Note:  The zig zag line on the waistband was part of the original pants, I didn't do that.

I took a piece of 1/4" elastic that was about 14 inches long and put a safety pin on one end and threaded it through the two holes I'd made. I stretched it about 1 1/2 inches past the hole and pinned it in place--and did the same on the opposite end.  It looked really gathered laying on my sewing table, but when I tried the pants on, the gathers nearly disappeared.  Once I was pleased with the amount of stretch, I sewed over the end of the elastic a few times with the machine and then trimmed off the ends.  I used a tight zig-zag stitch to cover/close up the holes I had cut.  No one will notice as long as you use matching thread.

The Athleta version have elastic around the ankles, but I decided to add a gathered detail along the outside ankle instead.   The hardest part about this was getting the fabric of the ankle out of the way so that you are only sewing through the one side of fabric + the elastic. Measure up 5 inches from the hem on the wrong side of the fabric and pin the elastic on top. Place under the needle with the fabric on the bottom and elastic on the top. Sew a couple stitches to make sure the elastic won't come flying at you, then pull the elastic so its fully stretched and continue sewing along the outside seam until just before the hem.  Backstitch to hold it in place and then trim off the elastic.

Not too bad right? These altered pants now meet my needs.  They have the soft stretchy fabric that wicks moisture and dries quickly.  They have 3 pockets with zippers (and two without), they look a bit more dressy than the boxy hiking pants that they started out as.

As a last alteration, I wanted to add a temporary hidden pocket to hold my passport/money.  I sewed a rectangle pocket with a zipper at the top and then sewed it into the inside front waistband of the pants.  I will un-attach it after the trip, but it will make me feel more secure about traveling on crowded trains/subways.


There you go, my $4 version of expensive travel pants.  I'm pretty excited.  They are fitted without being uncomfortable and the fabric has plenty of stretch to make them perfect for long airplane rides.