DIY dishtowel hack

5 things I’m loving right now

Trim Healthy Mama menu planning
Saturday morning menu planning.

The holidays are headed right for us, have you noticed? Before all the holiday preparations, excitement, and let’s face it, dread, fully envelope us, I thought it would be nice to pause and think about what I’m loving–what is working for me right now, in ordinary time.

  1. Going sugar-free. Yup. I did it. It’s been a couple of months now since I started the Trim Healthy Mama (let’s just call it THM, shall we?) eating plan to get my blood sugar issues under control. It has helped me get  out of pre-diabetes territory, which I find a huge relief.  The plan is simultaneously easy and hard to do. But the one thing that is definitely working is getting off of sugar,  with all its ups and downs and cravings. I do use stevia-based sweeteners, which I used to lump in with all other “fake sugars”, but in fact, after lots of research I have found that stevia is a natural sweetener, and thank goodness for that! I made it through my first Halloween ever eating no candy, and feel like I am free!
  2. All things British TV. I just binged-watched Poldark Season 3 and loved every minute of it. One day I am definitely going to need to read the books that started it all.  Other recent favorites include Victoria and To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters. Long hours of sewing are even more enjoyable when streaming some lovely British TV.
  3. FlyLady. Have you done FlyLady? This one deserves its own post. I have started and abandoned FlyLady half a dozen times in my life. But I keep going back to it, not because I need help getting my house clean each week. I have that down. What I need help with is the deep cleaning. Making space in my schedule for all the little (or not so little) things that I don’t clean on a weekly basis. I’m talking about moving the furniture to vacuum, cleaning out the drawers and cupboards, cleaning the ceiling fans–stuff like that. And her Zone system, tackling one area of your home per week and knocking these tasks off 15 minutes at a time makes a lot of sense to me. I’m still struggling to implement it, but I will keep pushing forward.
  4. Morning Pages. I carry a lot in my head. I’m always thinking, thinking, thinking. And taking time every morning (or even just some mornings–no perfectionism here) to get what is in my head out on paper really helps me make sense of it all. Or at least it get it out of my head. I’m hoping to go into the holidays this with some clarity, purpose, and intention.
  5. The Next Right Thing podcast. I am no stranger to Emily P. Freeman’s writing–but her podcast resonates with me on a different level.  From her podcast intro: The Next Right Thing “is for the second-guessers, the chronically hesitant or anyone who suffers from decision fatigue.” Yes, yes, and yes. At less than twenty minutes per episode, it is just the kick-in-the-pants I need some days.

So that’s it for me. What are you loving right now?

DIY dishtowel hack

how about a 30-day challenge?

Using a bullet journal to track habits

I’ve been thinking about goals lately. I know it’s getting to be late March and normal people think about these things in January–but this is about the time that most people have abandoned their goals. And I am not making progress on a few of the things that I mentally made a list of back in the dewy-eyed days of the New Year.

One of those goals is to lose some weight (original, I know). But as I passed a rather significant birthday milestone last year (I won’t say which one, but it rhymes with “nifty”), I have begun to think more about the health aspects of losing weight than the “I want to look good in skinny jeans” reasons. Honestly, my blood sugar has edged a bit into the pre-diabetic range and since my dad had Type 2 diabetes–this is a reality that I can’t ignore any longer. Clothes are tight, and my joints are getting achy and I don’t want to just accept this as inevitable.

I’ve had success losing weight, with Weight Watchers twice in the past. But obviously not keeping it off. I swore both times that I had learned my lesson and this would be the last time that I had lose weight. And both times I was wrong. This time there will be no grand gestures and overly restrictive plans. This time I want to build some solid habits–one by one. And the first one–as much as it pains me to say it–is tracking my food.

I hate to track my food (see Weight Watchers above). However, I do actually know that it works when I do it. It makes me stop and think before I eat something. Sometimes knowing that I have to stop and track it makes me realize that it’s not even worth it. I almost ate a half a piece of pizza at 10:30 am this morning–but because it was going to be hard to track, I just grabbed an apple instead. A much better choice.

So, I am committing to tracking my food for 30 days. I hope to keep it up even longer, but for right now I am only looking at 30 days. I’m using My Fitness Pal–which you can access both on your computer and as an app on your phone. I use it both ways. The app is nice because you can scan the UPC code of an item and it pops right into the food diary. I am on Day 2 and so far so good. I am not going to beat myself up if my calories are high–that is not the point yet. The point is just to track. Even if that means taking some wild guess on restaurant meals. Again–the point is just to record it. Here is what it looks like:

My Fitness Pal to track food

My intent here is to habit stack. Focus on one good habit a month and continue to build on them.  I already have a little checklist in my bullet journal (pictured at the top of this post) to help me remember to do things each day: devotions, exercise, vitamins, water, and now track. This works well for me because I love to check things off of lists and writing them down each day helps to renew my commitment to do them.

I will be sure to give you a progress report and hopefully this accountability will help me to actually do what I say I am going to do.

Anyone care to join me? Is there a 30-day challenge that you would get you on the right track for a goal that you want to achieve? Let me know!

DIY dishtowel hack

how to stay on top of your busy life :: reminders

how to use the reminder app to remember stuff

I was doing something that I do every month (or so) the other day–throwing out my old contact lens and opening a new pair. Believe it or not, this action kicks off a conundrum every time I do it. I am supposed to change out my contacts once a month, but I can never figure out a way to keep track of it. By the time I go downstairs to write it on the calendar–it has long ago flown from my head. I’ve tried to put a post-it note in the medicine cabinet, but if falls off and I can never find a pencil to write with anyway. I try to do it on the first of the month–but then a contact rips and I need to start over in the middle of the month… you get the picture.

So, the other day, when this issue reared its ugly head once a gain (and I’m pretty sure it had been well over a month since I changed my contacts, because they felt like sandpaper). I had a brainwave. I reached for my iPhone, held down the home key and said, “Remind me to change my contacts in one month.” Boom! How Star Trek is that?

using the reminder app for productivity

I have come to love and rely on the Reminders app on my phone to get things out of my head and into a format that helps me accomplish what I want to each day. I set a reminder to:

  • Take my vitamins (daily at 7am)
  • Drink water (a reminder twice a day–morning and afternoon)
  • Meditate (daily at 3:30)
  • Give the pets their flea treatment (once a month)
  • Get dog food when I leave home
  • Pull meat out of the freezer when I get home
  • A million other things

Isn’t that cool? You can set reminders that are location dependent! My kids set them to help them remember to get a signature from a teacher or turn in a form when they get to school. Or a reminder to ask me something when they get home.

I don’t know about you, but there are so many little things to keep track of in a day–and though I am a pen and paper girl (I love my bullet journal)m there are some things that digital calendars and reminder apps just do better–those pesky one-off activities (like thaw the meat for dinner tonight) and those recurring activities that are a pain to write a million times on your calendar (like take vitamins). And ever since I discovered voice-to-text, I barely ever type on my phone anymore (how do the kids do it so fast?!).

So unless your memory is a lot better than mine (which wouldn’t be hard) you might want to give it a try,

If you are on Android, here are a few choices for you.

Also, these Trader Joe’s daffodils are making me so happy right now.

Trader Joes' daffodils make me happy

DIY dishtowel hack

fifteen minutes of creativity a day

What can you accomplish in fifteen minutes a day?

In the spirit of “little things add up to big things”, a piece of wisdom imparted by my best friend in college, I’ve been participating in something called Marchalong this month. All this means is that you to commit to setting aside fifteen minutes a day for creativity. That’s it. Fifteen minutes. But if you do it–how many hours of creativity does that add up to by the end of the month? Actually, I’m terrible at math, but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot.

I’ve tried this “fifteen minutes a day” idea before with cleaning and decluttering–and honestly, it has never stuck for the whole month. But doing something fun and creative? I think I can make that happen for fifteen minutes a day.

So, how have I been spending my few minutes of creativity so far? First, I finished up my February hand sewing project that I am doing along with the Fat Quarter Shop. I am really loving hand piecing these blocks–I’m almost sorry when I’ve finished the six for the month. But the March blocks will be coming out soon, so I don’t have long to wait. I’ve been stitching away on these in the evenings while we watch Grace and Frankie and This is Us. I’m all caught up now with This is Us and it is agony to wait a week between episodes. I clearly need to find a new British drama to become obsessed with–any suggestions?

patchwork quiltalong, fat quarter shop, hand pieced quilt blocks

In the meantime, I cast on some shorty socks. I got a little obsessed with knitting socks over the summer, but have not cast on a pair in months.  It was clearly time to do so. I cast these on while listening to The Off-Kilter Quilt podcast–which is my favorite quilty podcast. Frances is charming and chatty and just plain entertaining. It’s a great way to spend your fifteen minutes.

knitting, knit picks, knitting project bags, podcasts, tea

Don’t you love this knitting project bag? My friend Minki made it for my birthday last year and I smile every time I reach for it.  People went a little nuts over it on Instagram the other day, but I can’t take any credit for it, except for the little pink knitted patch on the front.

I’m also working on a new quilt design–and honestly the jury is still out on how I feel about this one. I am in absolute love with the fabric line, Sundrops by Cory Yoder. That fact is not in doubt. However, I have rearranged the blocks in a million different ways and I hope I landed on the best one. Stay tuned.

sundrops, moda fabrics, quilting, alphabitties

I like having a few different projects at hand–because sometimes I just don’t feel like sitting down in front of the sewing machine. Or the only way that I’m going to get my fifteen minutes in is in the waiting room at the doctor’s office–so I’m glad that I can pack a sock to knit. But one thing is sure, I’m always amazed at how quickly a project progresses when you actually work on it! Even for just fifteen minutes a day.

What’s for dinner?

Because thinking about what’s for dinner is never far from any woman’s mind, I thought I would share that we are having Jonah’s favorite: Chicken Piccata Pasta Toss. You should try it 🙂 What are you having?

cowboy grub

the humblest of meals

 

My dad dropped in unexpectedly this week. And what I mean by that is that he lives in Idaho, and I live in Southern California–and he called me at 1 pm to say that he would be there by dinner. That’s the way my dad rolls. I was so happy he was coming–I don’t see him as much as I’d like. My first thought went to what we were having for dinner. A quick check of my menu plan confirmed one of my deepest fears about hospitality: that what we were having for dinner wasn’t “company worthy”.

I cook nearly every weeknight (I have cleverly worked it out that my husband and kids cook on the weekend). I am not a bad cook–I know what I’m doing in the kitchen, even if I’m not as creative as I wish I was. But I often don’t think that what we eat day in and day out at home is anything special. In fact, I have several friends who basically don’t cook anything more complicated than boiling pasta and heating up a jar of sauce, but they each have these fabulous, signature dishes that they regularly pull out when they need to entertain or bring a dish to a potluck. I have no such dishes. I just cook decent, humble food on a daily basis.

This particular day, when my dad was on his way, revealed my deepest insecurity. This was an especially busy week, with some activity or another–mostly music performances almost every evening. So the meal plan was fleshed out with the quick and easiest of meals. A quick look at the calendar revealed that on tonight’s menu was Cowboy Grub (worst name ever). I never would have even tried this recipe if I hadn’t seen so many rave reviews online about it. In fact, I’m feeling bad because I was going to share the recipe with you, but I just realized that it s from the Trim Healthy Mama cookbook (again, with the terrible names!) and I can’t share it here. But it basically ground beef, brown rice, pinto beans, corn, diced tomatoes with chili powder, and cumin. It’s chili with rice and corn added in. The simplest of ingredients, thrown together and simmered for a few minutes–it is fast, easy, nutritious, and actually quite tasty. I was skeptical the first time I made it, but we all commented during dinner that it didn’t look like much, but it was tasty!

I asked my husband, who was home for lunch, if he thought I should make something else for dinner. He wanted to know why. “It’s just not really company food, is it?” Now this is my dad–I don’t need to impress him or anything, but still. He looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about, so I made Cowboy Grub (cringe–please can someone come up with a better name than that?!) for dinner.

And you know what? It was tasty and my dad was appreciative, especially after several days of eating in restaurants. The dinner was fine, the conversation was good and I need to learn to let my perfectionism go.

In fact, it made me think of visiting my dad years ago. I was there in Idaho with the kids and we were heading home in a couple of days. We decided over morning coffee to invite all the local relatives to come over for a barbecue that night–totally last minute. If it had been my house, I would have been freaking out–madly cleaning and rifling through cookbooks to make something “special”. But not dad. He got up and went to the grocery store and came home with a package of frozen hamburgers, a couple of tubs of pasta salad and potato salad from the deli, and a few bags of chips. He didn’t clean the house. He didn’t make anything from scratch. And you know what? That get together was my best memory of that trip–friends and family and food. There is a lesson that I need to remember.

DIY dishtowel hack

Your precious handmades. Do you use them?

tea, tea pot, handmade coaster

It all started with this coaster. I was having coffee with my friend Minki the other day and as always, we talking about sewing and the things we love to make. Then she said the nicest thing to me.

“I learned from you to actually use the things I make. Not just take a picture of them and then put them on the shelf.” Aww. To think that I have had an influence on a talent like Minki’s was a nice moment for me. But then I had to confess.

“I’m kind of having trouble with that now. You know that hand embroidered coaster you gave me a couple of years ago? I do use it. And it’s a bit of a stained mess now and I feel bad about it.” I didn’t tell her that sometimes I actually tuck it away in a drawer when she is coming over, so that she won’t see what has become of her hard work.

Then she told me, “I actually think that stained linen is beautiful.”

hand made coaster, Minki Kim

And you know what, she’s right. (This coaster actually looks worse in real life, for some reason.)

That got me thinking about all the handmade, everyday use items I have around that house. Knitted dishcloths are my absolute favorite, but I am always a little sad when one starts to come unraveled. I actually usually merely move it to the rag drawer until it is nothing but a pile of string.

grandma's dishcloth

These are the coasters we use every, single day. They are about eight years old and I hope that I have learned to sew a gap together better than I did in those days. But this illustrates my point exactly. When you use things–you use them up. And sometimes that’s fine, but sometimes its hard–like not saving your fancy china for that dinner party you’ll never actually have.

quilted coasters

I’ve spent countless hours embroidering these tea towels, and they are stained and faded and have holes in them. I will never be able to bring myself to throw them away–so I’m already starting to think about what I can do with them when their useful lives as tea towels is over. Any ideas? What I need to do is start planning for that day now and simply make some more. That’s what we makers do, right? It’s just an excuse to make some more.

dish towels, handmade dish towels

My favorite table runner has definitely seen better days

quilting, linen, patchwork

And so has my favorite tea cozy. Okay, maybe a trip through the wash might help this one.

high tea fabrics, lecien

And even my first quilt, only eight years old, is already looking like this. But this is the most loved quilt in the house. It is exactly the right weight for our warm southern California weather and is the first thing that every family member grabs from the quilt basket each morning. It gets washed because I pick it up from the floor a dozen times a day and it comforts the child with the flu. And over Christmas it cradled my dying cat. So, I’m looking at those frayed edges a little differently now.

French General quilt

So, what to do? I think the only thing to do here is to embrace the beauty of the well-loved and worn. There is a story behind every handmade item. A story about the person who made it and what was happening in their life as they sewed each stitch. There are the stories of the everyday life of the people who are blessed to use it daily. To wash the dishes after a regular, weeknight dinner. To wrap the child reading a book. To set the morning coffee cup on, before dawn everyday.

And if they are not as perfect and pristine as they once were–it’s because they bear the marks of an everyday life well-lived. And I can live with that.

DIY dishtowel hack

What’s your color story?

I confessed a little secret of mine over on Instagram the other day. And that is that I am a bit (okay, maybe a lot) insecure when it comes to color. As a quilter, this is an area that I would like to work on and overcome. So when I got the opportunity to get an advance copy of Change Your Home Change Your Life With Color by Moll Anderson–I jumped at it.

Here’s my second confession–I’ve barely started it, but I wanted to share something that came as a bit of an epiphany yesterday when I sat down do dig into it. I sat down with the book, my bullet journal, pencil, and a cup of tea. I had a feeling that I was going to want to jot down some notes as I read.

It turns out that not only does that book have stunning photos and a lot of great information–but it’s a bit of a workbook as well. One of the questions she asks you to examine is what is your favorite color and why. And what is your least favorite color and why. She contends that a lot of our color choices are shaped by our life experiences and it is worth a few minutes to dig a little deeper into those memories.

Picking a favorite color for me is extremely hard. But I just went with my gut on it and wrote down “blue”. Why? I’m not sure–but the word “calm” came to me. I do, in fact, love many, many shades of blue from navy to beachy blues, to the palest of pale blues. The beach house (below) from the show Grace and Frankie is perfectly decorated with many shades of blue (with some pops of orange–blue’s complementary color).

Photo from houzz.com
Photo from houzz.com

In fact, the only think I don’t like about that set is the green dishes–which leads me to my next revelation.

Photo from Hooked on Houses
Photo from Hooked on Houses

For my least favorite color I immediately said “green”. There are many shades of mediumish green that I find repulsive. Then I thought about why and didn’t really know. Then I realized that my house is dripping in green. I have a green sofa, a green chair, I have sage green walls in my bedroom! The bridesmaids dresses at my wedding were forest green! (Very on-trend in 1996, BTW.) Do I really hate green? Obviously not. At least not always. I have come to the realization that I am sick of green.  That’s the real problem here.

The fact that I think I don’t like green and am surrounded by it then lead to the further self-revelation that for all my professed love of blue there is none in my house. Zero. Not a thing. Hmmmm.

Luckily, I have an opportunity to remedy both of these situations very soon. The green sofa I spoke of is leaving soon to be replaced by a new, neutral sofa. I would love to take this opportunity to lighten up what is a quite dark room in my home with not only a lighter sofa, but maybe even a lighter rug and ottoman–what I currently have in that room is very green/burgundy (also very on-trend circa 1996). Here is my opportunity switch things up with some blue throw pillows and… I’m not even sure yet–but my mind has been opened.

I still have quite a bit of the book to explore, but–I can’t wait to find out the next chapter in my color story.

DIY dishtowel hack

My favorite hand piecing tools

patchwork-along-blocks

Six blocks down for the Fat Quarter Shop’s Patchwork Quilt Along. I finished them in about a week and a half and I can only hope that I can maintain that pace for a whole year. I am actually a bit sad that they are done and I don’t get the next pattern until next month. My hands feel so idle in the evenings now, while we have our family TV time. Yes, I have things to knit–but I’m a little obsessed with hand sewing right now.

As I mentioned in my last post–I made just about every mistake you could make with the first few blocks. As I continued with the next three, I’ve been experimenting with a few things (especially needles) and I have arrived at a few of my favorite tools.

hand-piecing-tools

Perhaps most importantly, I have found what I think is the perfect needle: Piecemakers Hand Applique Sharp size 12. It is thin enough to have little to no drag on the fabric, an eye that is not impossible to thread (though I do use a very simple needle threader–the red square in the picture), and is a very nice length. I also like the Betweens from the same maker, but I find them a bit short–they don’t hit my thimble in the right place.

Speaking of thimbles, I’ve had this one for forever. I’ve tried all kinds of thimbles and this simple metal one that you can buy at any craft store (probably Dritz brand) is my favorite. Fun fact: I like this size now, but I have a smaller one that works better when I’m a bit thinner.

After making all the marking mistakes early on, I am now marking with a thin, mechanical pencil using the Jinny Beyer Perfect Piecer. Yes, you can use any old ruler, but this one has all the right markings and one day I hope to graduate to just being able to mark the dots and not the whole line–and this one has perfect little holes for that.

Everything else is pretty self-explanitory: my favorite Aurifil 2311 50 wt. thread, a small pair of sharp scissors, some nice thin pins, and the ever present red Clover clips to keep things together and organized.

patchwork-blocks

I keep all of this in a little zipper pouch that a wonderful friend made me and I am ready to make the most of “found” moments throughout my day. Most recently, I did a bit of hand piecing in a hotel hallway, waiting for my son to perform with his Jazz Honor Band. Small moments, big results.

DIY dishtowel hack

is this crazy? a handpieced quilt project

hand-pieced-quilt-blocks

This may be crazy. And I may totally fail. But I hope not.

Ever since I learned to quilt, about seven years ago, I’ve wanted to make a hand pieced quilt. It seems so portable and charming and fun and a little bit crazy. I’ve hand pieced coasters and mug rugs, but have always been on the lookout for the quilt project that seemed just right. Enter the Fat Quarter Shop Patchwork Quilt Along.

full-quilt

I really had no idea it was going to lead to this, but I love the simple patchwork blocks and clean lines of this quilt and decided, very last minute, to jump on the bandwagon. This pattern has the awesome side benefit of raising money for charity–and I was happy to donate to Make a Wish.

hand-pieced-block

I really didn’t want to buy fabric (but I did), so I started out with some Bonnie and Camille fabric from my stash. I downloaded the pattern, made my donation, and started cutting. These pieces are small! Like 1″ finished squares! I was pondering how careful and accurate I needed to be as I sat down at my sewing machine. Now, my accuracy has been improving steadily these last couple of years, but still. It was then that I realized that this would be a perfect hand piecing project! It ‘s much easier to be accurate when sewing by hand.

hand-pieced-quilt-blocks-2

The blocks are only 5″ and fairly simple. So I stepped away from the machine and got out the needle and thread. I confess, it has been awhile since I did any hand piecing and my skills were quite rusty. Let’s just say I made a few mistakes early on.

The first was that I only marked the seam allowance on the one edge of the fabric that I was going to sew first. Mistake. You are eventually going to sew all four sides of the fabric, so go ahead and mark them all while it is a nice, flat piece of fabric and not all lumpy and bumpy from being sewn to other tiny pieces of fabric.

The second mistake was that I used a Frixion pen to mark the seam allowances. This seemed like a good idea at first, but now that I’ve ironed them, all the marks are gone, and I will want them back when I sew these blocks together. (Forehead smack.)

The third was that I forgot how to get really neat points and corners. The first two blocks are off a bit, but I pulled out my  Quiltmaking by Hand book from hand sewing guru Jinny Beyer, and read up on it. The last block, the red one, came out much better. Progress! I thought about redoing the first two blocks, but they aren’t horrible, and I decided to look at this quilt as my journey in hand piecing. It will be a visible record of my improvement.

I decided that I wanted to use a variety of Bonnie and Camille fabrics for this project, and my stash was not adequate, so I ordered a layer cake of Bonnie and Camille Basics to get a bit more variety. As a matter of fact, I am (im)patiently waiting for the UPS man right now, so that I can get back to it.

To stay up with the Patchwork Quilt Along, you only need to make six blocks a month. It seems pretty do-able–even by hand! I plan to just tackle it one month at a time. It’s amazing how many “found” moments there are in a day to sew a quick seam. It is a goal of mine to use my time more effectively, and using these small moments to stop and hand sew for a bit makes me unreasonably happy.

Anyone else sewing along? I’d love to hear about it!

DIY dishtowel hack

join me for hibernate :: an online retreat

hibernate

I love Christmastime as much as the next girl, but I will admit to indulging in a big sigh of relief when it’s all over. The holidays can be a lot. A lot of a good–even wonderful–things, but still, a lot.

Which is why treating yourself to an online winter retreat in January is just genius. And exactly what we all need. As it so happens, Heather, over at Beauty that Moves is hosting her self-paced winter retreat called Hibernate in January. I have participated in just about every type of online workshop that Heather has put together (I’m admittedly a bit of a fan girl)–and Hibernate is one of my faves. Here is how she describes it:

Hibernate is a self-paced, four week, online retreat – a place to celebrate the pause that wintertime brings. A place to linger through the dark and quiet, to welcome stillness, and allow time to enjoy home and hearth.

{Sigh} Doesn’t that sound lovely? It does to me too. And you know what else? Heather has asked me to contribute a sewing project to Hibernate! So, if your pot of tea is forever going cold on you–pop on over to sign up because I will show you how to make a tea cozy that fits your teapot perfectly.

There is so much going on during Hibernate–be sure click on over to read all about it. And if you are quick about it–you can invite a friend for free and then each enjoy it for half price! But you need to do that by December 19.

I am looking forward to participating in Hibernate as well (I’ve always wanted to learn how to make soap!) and I hope to “see” you there!