October 27, 2015

Still here!

I had surgery a couple weeks ago and anticipate more medical treatment. However, I'm doing well and getting my energy back. It's almost Halloween, and then there's Penny's birthday and Thanksgiving soon after. Much to do!

Penny asked for a royal themed party fit for a princess. While there won't be a real castle, live horses pulling a gilded carriage, or red velvet carpet, I've arranged for two Disney princesses to visit and entertain a small group, who will be dressed up for "tea" and crafts. We're keeping it simple this year with a home party. Penny even requested we skip the cake and just offer ice cream. For the sake of other cake-loving kids, we'll have cupcakes for anyone who'd like one and so Penny can blow out a candle.

Now the question is, what shall I get her for her birthday?

September 30, 2015

Personal: A Tale of Surgical Repetition

I don't like getting personal online. It feels weird sharing stories with strangers I may never meet. But sometimes, when I encounter others with similar issues, or wonder myself if there are people out there who go through what I do, I just want to share.

Without getting too deep in details, I went through cancer treatment soon after Penny was born. The cancer itself was treatable, though advanced, and at the time, the solution seemed straightforward. Surgery and chemo, then I'm good. In that time, it's actually been dozens of surgeries, rather than one or two, and the complications are never-ending.

I went for nearly a year without any complications and thought I was all good. Unfortunately, for who knows how long, I'd had fluid building up inside my abdomen and it wasn't happy to be there and caused complications. The fix for this was to be a simple surgery, but that really didn't fix the problem. My faith in getting a final resolution so I can live my life without thinking of how I got to that situation was waning.

After a second opinion and a lot of frustration and tests, it was decided that I could postpone future surgeries as long as I could live with what I was living with, which is uncomfortable and annoying, requires some self-care, but isn't painful. 18 months later, I can't ignore it anymore and need to take next steps.

I'm waiting to know what my options are. Without any clue of why I continue to have fluid that won't drain away, I'm fearful of any potential fixes as they're not likely to be permanent. Next step is probably more surgery, followed by more surgery, and then more surgery. It's cyclical.

Some days I feel like the point of surgery is to need more surgery. I know that's not really true, but as someone going through it, it's just how I personally feel at the moment. If future surgery solves everything, I promise I'll take it back.

September 28, 2015

Pattern Review: Jane's Little Boxy Bag

I make time for sewing more than any other hobby. If I could spend a week off from work sewing all day, I would. There's nothing like the feeling of making something useful from fabric! Sometimes, I create my own design, sometimes I adapt a pattern, and sometimes I work from a purchased pattern. With bags, I prefer to buy a pattern. I feel more confident that the results will hold up if I work from someone's tested idea.

When Penny signed up to take dance classes with a friend, I decided to make each girl a little bag to hold their shoes. I wanted a bag that could stand on its own, would be small enough for the kids to carry, and could fit in a larger bag on occasion.

Jane's Little Boxy Bag Pattern from Projects by Jane was just what I was looking for. I made the two bags at once, one exactly as instructed, and the second bag using thin fusible fleece to underline the exterior.

Both bags came out cute. The shape is the same and the style is the same. The main difference is that the padding makes the bag more sturdy. It's a bit more effort to sew this way, but the result was a more professional feeling bag. Both look great.

I was glad I bought the pattern because it was accurate with clear instructions, doesn't waste fabric, and is a cinch to construct. I made both bags in an evening.

Some ideas to make it special:

  • add rhinestones or jewels
  • when using a fleece batting, quilt the outer shell with contrasting thread
  • use bold, repurposed or store-bought handles
  • use dupioni silk for the outside, lined with china silk or cotton batiste

When you're ready to make this bag for your little girl (or perhaps you want it for yourself), check out Jane's Etsy shop to purchase the pattern.

When I get caught up on all my sewing projects, I have a feeling I'll be making a few more of these bags as gifts for family and friends. They are super cute and so easy to make!

September 23, 2015

Review: Yumbox Leakproof Bento Lunch Box

I obsess over Penny's lunch. While I am not a mom who worries about a beautiful, fancy experience of gourmet school lunch delights, I do care about using a box that is easy for her to open and close, keeps food where it needs to be, and holds the right portion sizes for a young kid.

We've tried individual boxes that fit together, sandwich bags, wraps, and other random equipment, but it all has annoying drawbacks. Just picture a little girl pulling out 6 individual boxes with removable lids. Guess what happens after lunch? It's all piled back in the lunch box with sticky leftovers flying around on the ride home. It's gross.

Bags, plastic wrap, and foil are all well and good, but our school is very green and doesn't want unnecessary lunch trash. As a recycle first family, I do my best to avoid those options.

There are adorable bento kits on Amazon, but the best ones seem to cost more than $35 and I wondered if there was something out there under $30 that was kid-friendly, slightly better for the Earth, and easy to clean.

I came across the Yumbox container and was a bit skeptical. I remember checking it out several times before I ordered the purple one. Honestly, I wasn't really confident that the yogurt, applesauce, and ketchup I pack would stay put.

Here's what I found after actually using the Yumbox for three weeks:

1. It fits in our usual lunch totes. It's not square, but it's in there and it doesn't shift around.

2. Filling up each section provides just the right amount of food for my daughter. We're not getting food back at the end of the day! I'm also more aware of how much meat, grains, and veggie to send. She's not a cheese eater, so the dairy section usually has yogurt.

Below, she's having grapes, yogurt, carrots, mushrooms, and heart-shaped sandwiches with ketchup for dipping.

3. The box doesn't leak! One day, my daughter forgot to close the latch and a bit of yogurt remnants made its way outside the box. But, when closed, the food stays put, not only inside the box, but within the sections. The Spaghettios you see below didn't end up in the pineapple.

4. My daughter isn't a big protein eater. This isn't the fault of the box, but sometimes I feel bad sending her with less protein than fits in the protein section. She won't eat much meat, so I look for other ways to get protein in her diet. Those don't usually end up in the protein section.

I'm so happy with this lunch box, I pop the insert in the dishwasher each night to make sure it's the only one we use. Next on my list is to get another one so we have a backup.

Want one for yourself? Here's the Amazon link (it's an affiliate link):
Yumbox Panino (Lavande Purple) Leakproof Bento Lunch Box Container for Kids and Adults

The Yumbox comes in different colors. Pick one that makes your kid happy and enjoy making school lunch again.

September 15, 2015

All-Time Favorite Sewing Patterns

Embroidered dupioni silk underlined with organza
Sewing is how I relax after a difficult day, what I enjoy during a quiet afternoon, and is definitely my favorite hobby. As a kid and in my 20s, I sewed a little, but starting around 2006, I got into it more seriously and now, I'm confident that I can make a dress, create doll clothes from scratch, and come up with cool pattern modifications for my daughter's outfits.

Here are a few of my all-time favorite patterns. Be sure to check them out if you're looking for new ideas!

Crepe by Colette Patterns
I've made the Crepe dress twice, once for my mom and once for myself. I loved the detailed instructions and a pattern that is quick to sew.

With both dresses, I underlined, which isn't part of the instructions. The dress for my mom is a cotton vintage Betsey Johnson print. I wanted a more stiff shape, so the underlining helped the skirt look more full. For mine, the fabric is a lightweight cotton batiste that was fairly see-through. I underlined and then lined the bodice to ensure modesty at work.

Vogue Patterns V8648
At first glance, this pattern looks a bit dull, but it's versatile and by selecting unique fabrics and making a few minor adjustments to the bodice and waistband, you can make it however you like. There are a lot of pieces to cut, but the shape is flattering. I found there was more ease than I like for the bodice, but that's an easy fix if you make a muslin first.

Simplicity Project Runway Collection 1814
This adorable pattern for girls offers flexibility to add or change details like the waistband and skirt. My version is a cotton print with a tulle overskirt and a satin bow at the waist. Gold rosettes add a little sparkle along the neckline. I'll post a pic soon!

September 4, 2015

eSalon Review Update: Still Awesome 9 Orders Later!

It's been nearly 18 months since I visited eSalon headquarters for a behind the scenes tour and in-house color. In that time, it's been the only brand I use for hair color. I just visited my eSalon account and found I've colored my hair 9 times since my trip!

Touching up roots is easy with a brush and bowl
If you've read my blog, you know I used to try all the store brands to test them out and post reviews, but eSalon has been so good for my hair, I don't want to use anything else.

My eSalon color
My family has signed up and tried eSalon. My sister-in-law's hair looks awesome every time we visit! Now, my coworker who has been longing to do her outgrown roots for months, is ready to try. As soon as she tries it, I'll post before and after pics.

I got her some products to try on her light blonde hair in the meantime:

Since I'm a huge fan of eSalon, I wanted to point out a few products I enjoy, remind you that you can get $10 off your first order, and share some past hair color links, just to reminisce some of my good and bad hair color moments over the past few years.

If you're not familiar with my eSalon story:
eSalon.com Hair Color Review

My sister's experience with eSalon:
Coloring Long, Thick Hair: My Sister's Experience with eSalon

Flat hue and stinky hair with Clairol:
Clairol Nice n' Easy Hair Color Review

I was trying to be nice about my experience with Olia, but those hot roots are crazy:
Garnier Olia Hair Color Review

Want to try eSalon?
Let me refer you and get $10 off your first order! Subscribe to their service and your first order is just $9.95 plus shipping.

September 2, 2015

Penny Makes Yogurt Butter Cups

Penny loves Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. It's genetic. I'm addicted. My mom's addicted. And I bet, grandma was too.

I've made homemade peanut butter cups but they aren't the same as the yumminess of Reece's. It's all about the peanut butter. Since Penny also loves yogurt, she asked if we could make yogurt butter cups.

At first, I kind of giggled because it seemed kind of unusual, but then I thought we ought to experiment and see if chocolate stuffed with yogurt actually works. Penny provided all the direction for this experiment. I just did what I was told.

First, I made the chocolate "wet," meaning I microwaved some chocolate chips she pulled out of our baking cabinet.

Next I put some melted chocolate in a mini silicone mold, topped it with a little Activia, and poured more chocolate on top. Penny didn't want to add sugar, butter, or other ingredients. Keeping it simple!

To speed up the setting process, I popped it in the freezer for 15 minutes. Then, we each took a bite.

It's not the most pleasant candy I've tasted, but it did work. We had chocolate stuffed with yogurt. The yogurt is a little watery, so the texture is like having one of those cordial-filled chocolates. Penny did not like the result.

We may stick with peanut butter cups, but it was fun to try something new in the kitchen!

August 27, 2015

7 Awesome Back-to-School Must Haves

Did you wait until the last minute to buy school supplies? Me too. Here's a list of handy things to grab for your little ones as they get ready for the first day of school.

1. Animal Pals Pencil Case
My daughter has dozens of pencils, markers, and crayons and loves to bring a few along in the car. Whether your children need one for school, or if they're on the go and want to color in the car or plane, have them bring their drawing and coloring tools along in one of these super cute pencil cases. I love the yellow zebra one, available on Amazon at Cool Pencil Case - Animal Pals Pencil Case- Zebra. It's currently only $4.49 with free shipping.

2. Elmer's Washable No-Run School Glue
Chances are gel glue is on the school supply list. Our school requested gel glue, but it's actually hard to find in my town. So, I order Elmer's Washable No-Run School Glue, 5 oz Bottle, Clear (E305) from Amazon.

The clear glue doesn't leave those white globs when dry and can be used for some interesting art projects. With my kindergarten class, I had the kids use the glue to draw the outline of a picture on dark paper and then they colored inside with oil pastels and cut out their pictures around the glue line. Get a few extra for home!

3. Crayola Ultra-Clean Washable Markers
When it's time to order back-to-school supplies, I always look for Crayola brand markers because in my experience as an art student, part-time teacher, and mom, the color is brighter, Crayola markers handle abuse better, and they last longer than other brands. Make your child's teacher happy with a pack of Crayola Ultraclean Broadline Classic Washable Markers (10 Count) from Amazon.

4. Yumbox Bento Lunch Box
You can't go wrong with the Yumbox Panino (Lavande Purple) Leakproof Bento Lunch Box Container for Kids and Adults. The dividers indicate which type of food can go in each section, which takes the guesswork out of portion size. I always struggle to know how much protein or grains to include with Penny's lunch, so this will keep me informed so she can enjoy a healthy lunch all year. It's also BPA-free and dishwasher safe.

Penny's excited for the little condiment section in the middle. I usually include a little sauce box but it's a pain to clean and sometimes doesn't come home in her lunch box. Now I can have one box for her entire lunch.

Modern Labels for the sophisticated kid

5. Mabel's Labels Ultimate Back-to-School Combo
You've bought new clothes, stocked up on supplies, and ordered a super cool lunch box. Your kids are sure to lose a few things this year. Label everything so you have a good chance of getting those lost items back. With the Mabel's Labels Ultimate Back-To-School Combo, you get 108 customized, waterproof labels and tags, perfect for coats, shoes, gloves, lunch boxes, backpacks, and school supplies, for just $42! And the best part, you get free shipping at Mabel's Labels.

I've used other labels for Penny's school gear, but what I love about Mabel's Labels is all the customization options. Penny picks the theme and font. I pick the label package based on how much we need.

6. Fiskars Blunt Tip Scissors
Kids learn to be more independent with scissors in kindergarten. Start your younger ones off right with blunt tip scissors until they are ready for longer, pointed ones. Though they are offered in several colors, I love the bright, cheerful pink ones: Fiskars Blunt Tip Kids Scissors, 5-Inch, Pink.

7. Kids Konserve Waste-Free Lunch Kit
We're asked to be as conservative with waste as possible when packing school lunch. Avoiding plastic and paper bags is easy with the  Kids Konserve Caterpillar Go Wild Waste-Free Lunch Kit. It comes with the cotton bag and cloth napkin, plus a drink bottle, and stainless steel food containers. There's even a sandwich wrap.

Some Amazon reviews commented that the sandwich wrap isn't sealed, so if you are concerned about the bag getting jostled around before lunch, it would be super easy to add a velcro strip to keep the end closed.

August 24, 2015

Road Trip 2015: Days 7 & 8

Days 7 & 8: Des Moines, IA to Minnesota

After a long week, Des Moines was low key. On a very hot day, we spent the afternoon at a municipal pool and visited the Saylorville Dam.

Saylorville Dam
Penny helped set the picnic table for dinner
Our second night camping at Saylorville was considerably louder. A neighboring family was quite apologetic about their baby's first time camping, though I never heard her cry. Others were much louder, including a party somewhere else in the campground that was loud enough to hear late in the evening. My husband was strongly considering packing up and driving home at 10pm, but P wanted to stay the night and so we did.

I'm so glad we stayed because not long after leaving on Saturday morning, we realized we were super close to Reiman Gardens at Iowa State in Ames. We'd been last summer when visiting SCAD friends in town from Savannah and decided it was worth another visit. But, first we munched on a delicious buffet breakfast at the IowaStater restaurant.

During our visit, we explored several student-led installation exhibits. P loved a giant beehive she could climb inside.

We saw beautiful flying insects in the impressive butterfly space, learned more about pollinator gardens and registering our Monarch waystation. Overall, a wonderful way to spend a few hours at the end of a long trip.

Although I was ready to go home, I also wanted to see more. I'm already thinking about the next road trip. Where will our Suburu take us next?

August 9, 2015

Road Trip 2015: Days 5 & 6

Great Platte River Road Archway

Day 5: Cheyenne, WY to Kearney, NE

The trip to Fort Kearney was uneventful. It's a long drive and scenery changes little. There are more trees and the Platte River runs along I-80 for more than half the distance between these cities. As it was early summer and quite stormy lately, the river was already above flood level and a flood warning loomed over our heads.

We arrived at Fort Kearny State Historical Park (no "e" for the fort) close to dinnertime, found our site surrounded by trees among a large acreage of camping spots. Few people were camping, mostly in RVs.

There's not much to say about Day 5. We explored downtown Kearney and found little to do. Shops were long out-of-business and we couldn't find a place to eat. There wasn't a soul in sight at dinnertime midweek, so we drove away from downtown and found an Old Chicago.

Exploring Kearney, NE
Fort Kearny was ridiculously overrun with mosquitos. It was so bad, I had no intention of spending any time outside the tent. Miss P and I sprayed ourselves with Deep Woods Off and had bug candles and sprayed around the tent, but even just a moment outside ensured several new bites. I trekked to the bathroom for evening washing up bundled up with only my eyes showing. It was that bad.

Though buggy and uncomfortable outside, we slept well until just before the sun came up.

Day 6: Kearney, NE, Omaha, NE, & Des Moines, IA

Just before the sun rose, my husband woke me, urgently guiding me to pack the heck up and move out. A major storm was approaching with the potential to hit at any moment. We silently, yet swiftly, loaded the car without disturbing P until the last moment. She snuggled up in the car and dozed off. Not a minute after we left park grounds, the storm slammed Fort Kearney. We'd have been in bad shape trying to stick through it in a tent that close to the river, so I'm grateful to have made it out in time.

The sun had long since risen, you just can't see it.
The storm was rough for driving. It was huge, but also fast moving, following us along the highway. It was like we were bringing the rain, wind, and hail along for the ride. I tried to keep it to myself, but I was pretty nervous until we finally broke free just before Omaha.

Since we left so early, there was time for an extended stop in Omaha. I messaged a friend who grew up in Nebraska and asked where we should go if we could only be there for a couple hours. He suggested the Joslyn Art Museum, which we loved.

First though, was breakfast. Lisa's Radial Cafe is in this Pittsburgh-like neighborhood, kind of trendy and collegey. The place was packed, but worth a wait. We stuffed ourselves with delicious food and caffeine (for the grownups).

Next, art museum time. I'd intended to stay an hour, but we spent much longer enjoying the Joslyn. It was rather impressive, with famous works of art from around the world, a wonderful section featuring Native American art, beautiful gift shop items including works by Omaha-based artists, and an inspiring gigantic window piece by Dale Chihuly. Mayo Clinic has a Chihuly in the Gonda building, so when I saw all the colorful blown glass, I knew it had to be the same artist.

Miss P is a huge fan of umbrellas printed with famous paintings. Her favorite is Starry Night.

The children's area of the Joslyn is one of the more impressive play-learn spaces I've encountered. Tasteful and modern, the museum combined physical doing with virtual doing, so children can bounce between technology and tech-free experiences. P enjoyed the virtual canvas.

It was hard to leave Omaha after only a few hours, but we needed to get moving to Des Moines in time to set up camp and have dinner. The drive to Des Moines is short and pleasant. It's a pretty part of Iowa (Omaha is next to Council Bluffs, IA) that had me thinking a lot about moving.

Pretty tree at Saylorville
While very modern and not remotely secluded, Saylorville was a good spot to camp our first night in Des Moines. Loaded with pretty trees and not far from a man-made lake, we pitched our tent, explored the Saylorville area, went for gourmet pizza, and relaxed by the fire until late.

Falling asleep after washing up for bed

July 2, 2015

Road Trip 2015: Days 3 & 4

Windy, cloudy, cool Cheyenne

Day 3: Custer, SD to Cheyenne, WY

After an hour-long drive around the animal observation path at Custer State Park, a filling breakfast, some tourist shopping at the lodge gift shop, and packing up camp, we departed Custer for a two-night stay in Cheyenne.

South Dakota
Honestly, I didn't know what to expect driving through Wyoming. I pictured it as a flat landscape dotted with ranches and sprinkled with cattle. During our drive, we saw little evidence of people. Aside from an occasional windbreak or abandoned farmhouse, the landscape was mostly flat, with few trees - but not much in the way of ranches or animals for many miles in the distance. We learned at a museum in Cheyenne that just because we can't see anything obvious doesn't mean there's nothing there and in fact, there are many lively species making their home in the vast plains. Pretty cool.

I was grateful we filled up the gas tank before leaving Custer because we didn't come across so much as a tiny town with a gas pump for quite a long way. When we did, we were sure to fill back up and stop for food because I wasn't sure when the next opportunity might be. Looking on the map, it's like there are towns with food nearby, but from the distant view along the highway, I found few places to stop. The view on the drive is somewhat repetitive, but at the same time, it's really unique in the way that it's so untouched and non-commercialized. I like that.

Arriving in Cheyenne, we stopped at the Bread Basket Bakery for delicious, freshly made take-out sandwiches and checked in at the roadside KOA just outside town. This stop was our break from sleeping on the ground, so we enjoyed real beds in a tiny cabin with a cute front porch.

Not long after checking in, our friends from Colorado arrived to spend a couple nights with us in Cheyenne. The kids had a blast playing at the KOA playground and reading stories to each other in the cabin.

The Cheyenne KOA is very much a stopover for truck drivers and ranchers, generally one-night stays. It's not really a good spot for tent camping, with just a few tent sites on gravel with a small fenced wind break and no privacy. The cabins are your best bet unless you're traveling with an RV. The bathrooms and showers were very clean. The pool area was well managed and the staff and owners were incredibly welcoming. Even though it wasn't the feel of real camping, it was a nice stay and I could see why that location has a high occupancy rate with an excellent location for people passing through.

Day 4: Cheyenne, WY

The weather warmed up and the sky filled with sun on Day 4, so we planned a day exploring downtown Cheyenne. Our morning began at the Cheyenne Depot Museum, which is filled with train and railroad exhibits, including an unreal second floor model train display larger than I've ever seen. I can't imagine the hours and dedication it took to recreate historic railways with such accuracy. Now I lament that I didn't take pictures of the second floor.

I did get a shot (sorry for the glare) of a handmade, wooden train. It's beautiful craftsmanship.

Outside the museum, we found The Iron Horse by Lyle Nichols:

And, back inside, there was this funky thing and the only reason I took a picture is because I lived next door to Swissvale, in Regent Square (Pittsburgh) for a couple years. It brings back great memories!

In the evening, we'd hoped to have a campfire and make s'mores but the weather didn't cooperate. It didn't rain until late in the evening, but it was cold, dark, and ominous. Nearby were a handful of strong storms. We just got rain that night, but it was too windy to even try to light a fire.

We had a blast visiting with our friends and exploring the city. There are several museums, including the Wyoming State Museum, with interesting exhibits, shops, and restaurants. Lunch was at a pizza/burger place called 2 Doors Down, also called Pizzeria Venti, depending on what you're ordering. Also weird is their Facebook page calls it Piccolo Venti, which makes it kind of difficult to figure out what it's really called. The overly friendly (overbearing) hostess urged us in from the street, before we decided what and where we wanted to go. She ushered us to a table to think about what we wanted to order even when we were ready to go up and pay and kept coming over and trying to hug a few of us. It was creepy. Food not so good either. I suspect there are a lot of gems in Cheyenne, but that lunch wasn't one of them. Our friend had a long hair in her food, which looked stale and microwaved.

2 Doors Down/Pizzeria Venti
For a small community, it's thriving and growing thanks to local military, airport, ranching, and technology companies.

I'll leave you with a bunny photo. Our campsite was home to dozens of adorable bunnies who live under each cabin. Here's just one of our tiny, furry friends: