Thursday, December 18, 2014

#DIY Upcycling: Sweaters

Continuing on in my decluttering and reducing efforts, I'm moving on to sweaters.  Kid sweaters, my sweaters (I don't really mess with hubby's clothes, but there's probably a few that I could get rid of on his side of the closet, too.)

You know when sweaters are done. They get all pill-y; and sure, you could shave and pick off all those little bits of worn yarn, but at some point, it's just too much.  They get too small, either lengthwise, widthwise, or you washed or dried it in too hot a temperature.  You get tired of that same old sweater that you've had for 5 years.  Your kid never really liked it anyway, but you did and its still a really good sweater.  All sweaters come to an end. Or at least their end as that original sweater.

Now with my pile of sweaters, I came up with a few ideas to re-use, up-cycle, and of course, donate.  These are simple, not a lot of sewing, no pattern necessary type stuff, because really who has time for all of that?  You can get really fancy, but if you're like me, anything too intensive will end up in the "to do one day" pile, further adding to your clutter.  These can all probably be done in less than a half hour while you're watching TV, then you'll happily say "ta-da!" and can go enjoy your new thing.

Make a cool new cowl.  For that sweater that you love the color or the stitch design, but just have fallen out of love with it as a sweater.  My such sweater was a cozy fuchsia, which I've had a couple winters.  It was getting pill-y, and I was in denial, only to be reminded every time I put it on.  Before reconsidering again, I cut off the bottom, ran a quick hem around the cut edge so it wouldn't unravel, and ta-da - a cozy new cowl in a great color.
Very little sewing - cut off the bottom of a sweater for a new cowl.

Make cozies for your coffee cup.  Save the environment, have a cool little coffee cup, save yourself the $5 these things cost in the trendy boutiques.  Cut off a sweater sleeve, about 3-5" in length.  Hem it so it doesn't unravel, embellish if you wish.  Ta-da. The envy of all your coffee-drinking friends.
Cut the sleeve off an old sweater for a cute coffee cup cozy.

Embellish and make it new again.  Being the practical mom, I bought my daughters basic, good quality cardigans from Lands End. Being the stylish, cool girls, they thought the sweaters looked like school uniforms and shoved them in the back of the closet, but then complained that they didn't have any sweaters.

I found a dress in their closet that one had outgrown and the other would by the time it came in season again with pretty little ruffles on it.  So I carefully cut off the ruffles, then sewed them onto the hem and sleeves of the sweater.  Ta-da! Cute new, ruffly sweater!
Find embellishments from other too-small clothes to dress up a plain sweater.
This requires the most sewing of all these projects.  I did it on a machine, but you could easily do it by hand while sitting at [whatever] practice waiting on the kids.  You could also add flowers or bows or other pretty things, also from other worn out or too-small clothes.  There's a belt on the dress that I think would be cute worn with the sweater, too in that Michelle Obama belt & sweater look that I can't quite pull off, but my daughter probably could.

Of course, there are many other ideas out there on Pinterest. Check out my favorites on my Reuse * Recycle *Upcycle *DIY board.

What are some of your best ideas for re-using a sweater?

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

#DIY Cookbooks: Recipe Binders for Favorite Recipes

Pasta, dessert, soups, seafood. Did I say dessert? I really enjoy cooking – the more ingredients and chopping and mixing the better.  And what goes along with this love of cooking? Cookbooks, magazines, and torn out from anywhere recipes. Over the years of collecting such things, I looked up one day to realize that recipes have taken over a kitchen cabinet, the counter, the desk.

The situation: I have years (okay, over a decade; I’m sharing, don’t judge) of Cooking Light magazines, travel souvenir cookbooks, specific food cookbooks, organizational fundraising cookbooks, those promotional pamphlet-ish cookbooks.

The problem: With too many recipes, I never get around to all of them, or even a majority of them, because there’s no easy way to catalog them.

  • I’ve tossed the promotional pamphlet-ish cookbooks from food brands and specialty kitchen stores.  Just because.
  • I’ve tossed or put in the donation pile the fundraising cookbooks.  I guess there was a fad at some point in which organizations had all of their members and supporters write their favorite recipe and compiled them all into a book to raise money for their programs.  Nice idea, nice fundraising option, but I really don’t need more recipes for tuna casseroles and doctored up box cake recipes.
  • I’ve kept the cookbooks that I’ve purchase when traveling because, in addition to yarn, those are my kind of travel souvenirs.  Commander's Kitchen and Emeril's from New Orleans, a waffle cookbook in Dutch from Belgium, Korean cookbooks from a bookstore and coffee shop in Seoul.
  • I’ve also kept my other “real” cookbooks, i.e. published and bound cookbooks.  This includes Maya Angelou's cookbook, one all about shrimp & grits, and few from various Junior League chapters (a southern one has the best Kahlua recipe in it.)  The ones I just didn’t like anymore for whatever reason I put in the donation pile.

What about that decade’s worth of Cooking Light? Its online, they have a website, I can search for any recipe I want. I probably threw out the whole lot, right? Nope.  I went through the magazines and pulled out the recipes I’ve either tried at some point or really anticipate making in the near future.  And I realized something while going through about 100 magazines: there are a lot of repeats and variations of the repeats. I guess that’s not too surprising – how many ways can you really make baked chicken, baked tilapia, or pasta, shrimp, and lemon?  So I didn’t keep every version of chicken alfredo or baked broccoli casserole.  Or the annual update on making the perfect tomato sauce (hint, starting with canned tomatoes are acceptable.)

I slipped all those torn out recipes into plastic sleeves and ordered them in a couple 3-ring binders.  The plastic sleeves are important so that the pages don’t get torn as I flip through or messed up when I cook.  The cover is simple - printout of a fun food reminder and scrapbook paper.
Use plastic sheet protectors and a 3-ring binder to collect favorite recipes.
One binder is divided like a regular cookbook – meats, side dishes, breads, breakfast, etc.  One binder is all desserts which I'll divide into cookies, cakes, pies, frozen sweets, and other stuff.

Collect reminders, lists, and recipes in one binder for the holidays.
I also have a holiday book which includes recipes that I only make during the holidays (cranberry sauce, sweet potato pies, etc.), as well as other holiday to-do reminders, and Christmas card lists.  The cover art? A pre-school art project made by one of my kids (another great way to preserve and use those art projects.) 

How’s it working? I’ve already used a newly re-discovered recipe to make biscotti for my recent cookie exchange.

Now, if I could only find a simpler way to wash and put away all those dishes.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Currently... Decluttering Everything. Clothes. Books. Stuff

By now, you've probably seen, Material World, a photography collection of people around the world with their earthly possessions, published years ago by Peter Menzel.  To see some of the photos from countries other than the U.S., we realize the embarrassment of riches that we have.

I've been thinking about those photos lately, as I've been feeling quite crowded and cluttered in my own house.  I don't even feel justified in buying one other thing because - where would I put it?  I'm not saying that I'm going to get rid of everything, dwindling our belongings down to a blanket and a water bucket, but I could get rid of a lot and still have plenty.  So I'm trying to slim down a significant bit before the end of the year. Yes, this is my December, end of the year, push.

Some of the stuff is actually useful, if I could just remember I had it or had an efficient way to get to it. Some stuff is useless, to anybody.  Some can be repurposed and reused, in ways I mentioned in a previous post about reusing old clothes, or donated for various purposes.  I'm sorting through it all, one thing at a time, to figure that out.

So what have I got? On the top of the list:
  • Toys. I'm always sure that we are going to find that 1 missing puzzle piece and the rest of the games cards. And I keep picking up those little battleship pegs.  It's a process, but I'm admitting that none of that is going to happen, so it's time to let it go.  (Are you going to be singing Frozen all day now?)
  • Socks. All those 1-socks, particularly the ones that don't even fit anybody anymore.  I'm losing hope that the matches will ever resurface. But I do let my kids, the youngest especially, wear mis-matching socks of the same style.  Do you know that you an actually buy mis-matched packs of socks? What brilliant mom (I'm sure it was a mom tired of matching socks) came up with this marketing genius? I wish it was me. Then I'd be writing this post from a sunny beach somewhere.
  • Magazines.  I don't really read digital magazines, so that's not my replacement. I just need to admit that I'm actually not going back to that Real Simple article from June of 2010.  It was enjoyable then, it kept me occupied at the pool, now it's time to fill the recycling bin to make some new paper bags or newspapers or something.
Also - cookbooks, kids' clothes, books to start.  I'll get into more details as I work through the piles, so come on back for all that.

What have you got that's piling up in your house that you need to get rid of?

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Monday, December 8, 2014

No Place I'd Rather Be

With my morning coffee at hand, I yelled "hurry up, come eat! We need to get ready to go!" to my son yesterday morning. Another swim meet.  The day before, we had been at the pool about 7 or 8 hours.  We were heading back for a weary day two.

While waiting I turned on Facebook, that thing we all do with a few unfilled moments. We have to check in and see what our friends had for dinner, what exciting thing they did the night before, what they've done with their hair today as shown in their latest selfie. There was a post from a high school friend. The day before, his 5 year old son had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. Stopped breathing.  I looked for signs of a terrible hacking scheme. I told my husband, also his friend, hoping he would say, "no, it's not true - there was a virus that plays cruel jokes on Facebook pages." But instead he looked at me as if I was the one making a cruel joke.  He has helped my daughter with school projects, and I told her, too, and she looked at me in confusion because his son was a little kid and how does a little kid die?  I checked his page and it was filling with condolences and, then, a memorial fund announcement, because who sets aside money to bury their child?  This was not a joke. It was a terrible, painful true thing.

How do these things happen? Why do these things happen to the littlest souls?

I packed my sons swim bag, grabbed his snacks and a cup of coffee. I sat at the pool on a hard metal bench for almost ten hours and watched him swim for a total of a little less than 6 minutes.  I didn't complain. I was patient. I smiled to see him moving through the water. There was no place I'd rather have been.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Things to See & Do in Boston

Now that it’s getting cold, I’m thinking about an icy drink in a frozen glass.  At least, that’s what we had when we bundled up in the cold at the Frost Ice Bar in Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace.  Kept at a cozy 32 degrees, guests are given heavy parkas and gloves to enjoy their time in the frozen hangout (boots can also be rented for an extra fee.)  Everything inside is made of ice, or really really cold plexiglass, and even the drinks, served in molded-ice “glasses,” are even a little frozen.  It was fun, in a why are we paying to be frozen but we’re on vacation why not kind of way.

Frost Ice Bar, Boston
If you’re going to Boston, here’s a few other stops to make in the city.

Eat, shop, and people watch at Faneuil Hall Marketplace.  I guess every city has it’s little tourist-y square and this is the one for Boston, complete with street performers who cajole you to give them a couple dollars to do magic tricks or dance.  But, as the tourist, you got to stop by.  Visit the market, especially if you love options for foodstands.  Down both sides of the market they’ve got everything from seafood, pizzas, pastas, to endless options for clam chowder.  (I've even worked on a recipe inspired by the made-for-you macaroni and cheese stand - Everybody's Favorite Mac & Cheese.)
Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Do the college tour.
Harvard Gates
Stop by Harvard for lunch.  Lunch trucks and a mini-farmers market line up on one of the squares at lunch time.  We enjoyed wraps, noodle dishes, hydrogen blasted ice cream, and cheesecake pops.

Go to MIT Science Museum.  This is a very cool science space. It’s MIT – what would you expect?  When we were there, an exhibit about gaming was on the entry level with various stations depicting how a video game is developed.  Two of my kids are in a magnet program at school and one of the courses is on programming and gaming.  Careful stepping here, this vacation trip could get really close to being school-related.  There were also exhibits on the evolution of robots, holograms, and kinetic machines.  I know – doesn’t sound like “vacation,” but really – it was fun.  And for $10/adult and $5 for kids, it's pretty reasonable as far as family-friendly stops go.

The college campuses =also turned out to be the city with three ice cream stops - Lizzy's, Churn, and Christina's (you can read more in this post on our ice cream tour.) 

Take a historic walking tour.  We all know Boston from American history class – Tea Party, the midnight ride of Paul Revere, abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, Underground Railroad.  There’s a multitude of options focused on various stories of history and interests. We took the Black Heritage walking tour, which started at the monument to the 54th Regiment, the Black regiment depicted in the movie, Glory.  The tour went past various houses which once were old churches, segregated and integrated schools, Underground Railroad stops, and meeting places during the abolition movement.
54th Regiment Memorial and recruiting sign

Visit the Old North Church.  You really cannot go to Boston and say “one if by land and two if by sea” if you passed American history class, so go to the church where the lanterns (there were two) were hung to signal that the British were coming.  Inside, the pews are still divided in boxes.  According to the tour guide, parishioners back in the day had to pay for a box so that they would have a pew in church, then they would decorate their box in whatever manner they would like – cushions, wallpaper and such reasonable decorations for a church.  In the balcony were the cheap seats, often paid for by the box owners so that their house staff could also attend church and have a seat. The tour guide said that is no longer the practice, although the boxes remain.

Old North Church - steeple and box pews
And of course, take time to walk around the city. Enjoy the the city hills and the beautiful parks, the old and new.  Let us know your favorite sites in the city.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Currently... Happy about December

December - it's my favorite month of the year (though summer is my favorite season.)  It's the annual deadline for all projects.  Time to start thinking of new goals.  Time to take an honest look at yourself.  Time for reflection of who you are and who you want to be as you improve.  And it's time for cookies and hot chocolate and celebration and festivities.  And it's Christmas! What else can you want in a month?

So I'm currently...

Setting up my new calendar date book.  It's my annual search, but I think I'm going with the same that I had last year, a customizable, add your own cover and pages option, M by Staples.  It worked for me. There was enough space in each date box for my variable schedule (I don't like the ones with the time printed already) and to scribble notes. There are blank pages (removable) for notes and lists.  I think I'm going to stick a clear pocket (from my scrapbook supply stash) on the inside cover for the cards, stamps, and receipts I collect between the pages.  This may be a record for having a datebook before Dec. 31.

Thinking about Christmas cards. Not that I've bought any, made any, or selected the requisite family photo.  Just thinking it would've been nice to have put them in the mail today.

Flipping through cookie cookbooks.  We have an annual cookie exchange and, although we host, I still get anxious about what we're going to share as our contribution.  Chocolate chip is off limits because another family always brings those (yummy!)  And we have to make enough for everyone to take some home so they can't be too complicated.  It's a lot of thought, so I need to start thinking, baking, and having the family vote on our favorite.

Thinking about decorations. I love Christmas decorations. The lights, the sparkles, the rich reds and earthy greens and royal purples, shimmery silver and gold.  Fluttery angels, shiny gift wrap. Snow covered everything.  The tall, pine-y smelling, decorated trees.  And if I had the budget, I would hire someone to come and beautifully decorate my house for the holidays, or at least, come and take it all down (I am the slackermomof4, after all.)  I will get my decorations up (hint: cookie exchange party is always a good motivator), but it may be Valentine's Day by the time they're all packed away.

Shopping for new poinsettias. I have a friend who has kept poinsettias year round. Inspired, I intended to do the same (despite my notorious black thumb.) I researched poinsettia care, moved them to a more temperate part of my house, rotated them through the house depending on the sunlight, watered them, pruned falling leaves.  And though a bit scraggly, my poinsettia lasted until... October. Then it died! What? What plant lasts 10 months and then just dries up and dies two months before it's grand showing? Ugh.  So, now, I need a new poinsettia. And might as well get a new Christmas cactus while I'm at it.

What are your December preparations?

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

And I'm Bringing My Yarn With Me

My husband calls it an addiction. I call it my hands get bored and my mind wanders.  Folks have seen me at sorority conferences, PTA meetings, family gatherings, swim meets, basketball games, school plays, on an airplane and train, waiting for a kid somewhere.  I bring my yarn and will crochet or knit during those hours of sitting still.

Have yarn, will travel. What shall I make next?
I take small on-the-go projects, a pair of gloves, a hat, a scarf, that have a simple pattern so I don't have to keep referring to patterns for meetings or an activity where I need to be paying attention and possibly taking notes.  I save my bigger or more complicated projects, a blanket or a sweater, for sporting events and hanging out with the family, activities that do not require my undivided, undistracted attention.

And I know I'm not the only one.  I've watched one woman work on a beautiful afghan at our PTA meetings.  There's scarves being made in sorority meetings.  At the swim meets, the moms are working on blankets while the kids are in the pool.  And surely, any yarn-y worth their skeins packs up their hooks and needles for an evening or weekend hanging out with the family for the holidays.

On Ravelry (if you crochet or knit, you are on Ravelry, right? Find me as "love2crochet"), there are discussions where folks have noted that their family members actually get upset when they stitch "in public." Really? They say it's distracting and/or rude.

But what about the guy playing Angry Birds or whatever's the newest phone game app or her over there clicking through Facebook?  Or the kids lined up in a row with the headphones on and texting other kids, presumably with headphones on also not talking to the people in their room?  Nobody's bothered by that, but my yarn bothers you? I can still carry on a conversation and make eye contact with you while I'm stitching.  The guys are transfixed watching the game and I'm supposed to what, sit and watch them?

I've got a stash of yarn, a list of projects to do, and my to-go kit for my hooks and needles.  I'm always ready for sitting around somewhere for hours. AND I will have a new pair of gloves by the time the evening's over.

Do you stitch while at family gatherings? Or some other crafty activity?

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