Organizing 2014: A Thoughtful Kit

About 4 years before I had my first kiddo, a co-worker told me that I was going to be a great mom. She had three little boys, and judged my mom-ness on my ability to focus on the details – baking Halloween cookies from scratch (and frosting them with scratch-made frosting), sending out cards and notes for special occasions big and small, and always wearing a clean shirt. As she said it I remember thinking that I had time for all of these things because I wasn’t a mom. And I was right. Although I get the clean-shirt thing down most days, I don’t have the time to do all the little things I used to. And I want to fix that. This Thoughtful Kit is one step towards a more organized 2014. And since I’m getting together with Angie from The Country Chic Cottage and Gina from The Shabby Creek Cottage this week to share cleaning and organizing tips, I thought I’d share this with you today.

Make a Thoughtful Kit

Before Facebook and Twitter, I actually sent out notes to people. Fun cards with a little note inside – nothing fancy, but always appreciated. Just because we have the electronic means to greet our friends doesn’t mean we have to forget the personal touches, right? This little bag has everything in it to whip out a quick note to a friend, celebrating a success, sharing a fun thought, or just because.

Here’s what goes into a Thoughtful Kit:

1. Some kind of folder or pouch to hold everything. Once filled, this will get tucked in the car so I can easily write a note while waiting at school to pick up the kiddo, or if the baby has fallen asleep on the way to the grocery store. Being organized will help me take advantage of these formerly lost moments.
2. Cards. I have a wide variety here, but the basics are Thank You notes, Birthday Cards, and cards that are blank inside.
3. Pens. Because you never have one handy when you need one.
4. Extra envelopes. Each of my cards has a corresponding envelope, but sometimes you find a magazine article that you want to tear out and mail, or find something at the store you want to send, or you want to mail off some photos (there is something awesome about printing off and mailing a photo versus texting it, don’t you think?).
5. Stamps. Because you can’t mail without them, and having them handy is key.
6. Address Book. If you have all your addresses saved in your phone, you can skip this part. I’m not that fancy. I keep an old-school address book. Actually, I have more than one. This mini one fits perfectly in my Thoughtful Kit.

TIP: Grab all the envelopes from the Christmas Cards you were sent, and double-check the return addresses for any updates so you can have an updated Address Book. If any of the cards you sent out come back returned, update the address in your address book right away so you never have to second-guess yourself when sending out a card!

7. Optional Stuff. I like to have fancy seals or stickers for sealing envelopes. If you use return address labels, tuck those in. Maybe you like sparkly pens or tucking a little confetti inside your cards… tuck that stuff all inside your Thoughtful Kit so you’ll have it ready to go!

What to put in a thoughtfulness kit

Now I’m organized and ready for a super-thoughtful 2014!

Oh, and in case you’re stuck for how to write a thank you note, I wrote a little post on how to write a thank you note that should help you out!

Halloween Wrap-Up

I thought I’d give y’all a little Halloween wrap-up. Especially since I didn’t give away anything about the kiddos’ Halloween costumes ahead of time…

Little Moore wanted to be Lego Batman. Mostly because when we were at my Aunt’s house, he tried on one of the cousin’s old costumes, and his little Lego-loving heart went pit-a-pat.

lego batman costume

I asked my aunt if she could ship me the costume, or at least the head and the hands, to ave me some of the work. She did… but the head got a little crushed in shipping.

crushed Lego head

So, I took off the posterboard that held the styrofoam top and bottom of the head together, attached a new piece, and re-spray painted the head. I created the body and then made a catastrophic error.

I asked my son if he was sure he wanted to be Lego Batman. Since I had to re-do the face and body anyway… he could be any Lego guy he wanted.

lego guy

Oops. But there was no going back.

It took me over 4 hours to paint the body. Mostly because I needed nearly 4 coats of paint to get the paint to look smooth and even. But… I finished. And it looks pretty darn close to the original.

lego guy costume

The baby, now 18 months, didn’t really have a preference. I took down the hem of his big brother’s 1-year Halloween costume, and he was a dinosaur for Halloween. I snapped a pic of him enjoying a chat with one of our neighbor’s doggies.

hello halloween doggie

We had a fun time trick-or-treating in our neighborhood.

trick or treat

Then L’s feet got tired, so we went home and passed out candy until the trick-or-treaters thinned out… and then it was time for bed.

lego guy trick or treat

Now we just have to find a place to store the costume…

Cool 2 Cast Eyeball Jar

Eyeball Tin

This bloody eyeball jar is super simple to put together with the right supplies. I painted it up nice and bloody, and my kids think it is just the right mixture of bloody and creepy. But, they are boys, so their perspective might be a little… well… male! I think it is lots of fun, though, and a great little bit of gore to add to your Halloween mantle or Halloween display.

paint the tinTo make your Eyeball Jar you need:
Cool 2 Cast (similar to plaster, but faster drying)
Eyeball mold (this is actually a mold for candy-covered Oreos!)
Small tin
Paint
Paintbrushes
Glue

 

Start by mixing up your Cool 2 Cast. The directions are right there on the package – just water and the powder mixed well in a zip-sealed bag. Mix well.

Pour the mixture into the molds. Let dry for an hour or so.

pour in Cool 2 Cast

Pop the molds out. You can let them dry fully overnight, or start painting.

Paint the side of the tin to look like blood dripping down the sides. Start with the outlines.

paint drip outlines

Then fill in the paint. So gross! But in a totally good way.

paint in drips

Just let the paint dry, and you’re all set.

finished eyeball jar

Give the little eyeball tin as a gift, with something sweet inside. You can add a note “I’ve got my eye on you!”

Smooth Finish Styrofoam Eye Box

eyeball box

I got to play with Styrofoam’s Smooth Finish, and decided that with Halloween coming, it was the perfect chance to make an eyeball box. It took less than 30 minutes of hands-on time to put it together, and I’m loving the way it turned out! My kiddos think it is pretty awesome, too.

To make your own eyeball box you need:
Small tin (got mine in the discount section at Michael’s)
Styrofoam Ball
Smooth Finish
Sponge or paper towel
Water
Fine grit sandpaper
Paint & Paintbrushes
Glue

Start by cutting your foam ball in half, and putting on the Smooth Finish. Once you have it in all the nooks and crannies, wipe it down with a wet sponge or damp paper towel to smooth it.

wipe down the smooth finish

Let dry fully. Overnight. Or a couple days… whichever. Then use fine grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough spots.

sand smooth

Pick your paint colors. I chose 2 tones of green for the eye, in addition to red and black (not shown).

select paints

Start by painting the iris.

paint on iris

Use both colors to get a more realistic look. Then paint on red blood vessels with a fine-tipped paintbrush.

paint on veins

Add the black pupil in the middle.

glue on to tin

Lastly, glue the eyeball to the top of your tin, and you’re all done!

eyball box with smooth finish

Should I Press My Quilt Seams Open or to One Side?

Should I press my seams open or to one side

 

The quilting question “Should I press my quilt seams open or to one side?” comes up very often in my quilting classes. When my students ask me, I think they’re looking for a single, definitive answer. A quilting rule that they can follow or flaunt. The problem is that I believe in very few quilting rules.

I believe that when quilting, you should press your seams. But how you press your quilt seams depends on a variety of factors. You should take these factors into account when you decide if you’re going to press your seams open, or to one side.

press seam open

How are you going to quilt your finished quilt?
If you plan on doing a “stitch in the ditch” on your quilt blocks, your decision has been made – you must press your seams to the side. The quilting technique “stitch in the ditch” is so named because of where the stitching falls. Pressing the quilt seams to the side created a slight raise on one side of the seam – which results in a slight ditch on the other. This is easy enough for a newbie quilter to find and aim at when quilting.
If you try to “Stitch in the Ditch” on a quilt where the quilt seams have been pressed open, you will be quilting along the seam line right between the pieces of the quilt top, and instead of securing the backing, batting, and top, you’ll be securing the backing and batting while tacking the top in place.
If you plan to do an all-over or a stitching pattern that does not closely follow the piecing of the blocks, you can press your seams however you like.

 

How flat do you want your finished quilt top to be?
Pressing quilt seams open results in flatter piecing. This is because instead of pressing all the bulk of the seam to one side, the bulk is divided in half and spread equally over two sides. Your finished quilt blocks are much flatter than a block with the seams pressed to the side. Once your quilt top is quilted together with the batting and backing, much of the flatness created by pressing seams open is lost into the batting, and a quilt with the seams pressed to the side is no more lumpy than one with the seams pressed open.

press seam to the side

What piecing techniques are you using?
Depending on the techniques you are using when piecing your top, you may prefer one pressing method over another. If you are piecing many small pieces together, you may want to press the quilt seams open to reduce the bulk at the individual seams. However, if you are doing intricate piecing where you want to match your seams, pressing the quilt seams to the side may actually help you. If you press one seam up and one seam down before laying two pieces with their right sides together, the ditches of the two seams will “lock” together, helping line up the piecing, and resulting in more crisp lines and points.

 

How do you press best?
What is most important in pressing is that you do it, and do it as well as possible. I have seen new quilters who did not press properly, and lost as much as 1/2″ of fabric in each seam because of poor pressing. So, if there is one way that you prefer pressing because it makes you happier, go ahead and use that method. Because staying happy while you quilt is what it is all about anyway, right?

How to Make a Wizard Costume

Wizard Costume

Ever have those days where you find out that you need to send your child to school in a Wizard Costume on Friday… and it is already Wednesday evening? I had one of those days last week. Being a mom who knows her way around a sewing machine, I decided we would make a Wizard Costume. Not just any wizard costume… we would make the most awesome Wizard Costume ever. According to my son, we achieved this goal. Make sure you check out how to make a Wizard Wand and how to make a Wizard Hat as well.

supplies for wizard costumeThursday, after a morning play date at the pool, we headed off to JoAnns to get our supplies. We got everything we needed to make a Wizard Robe (supplies listed are for a 4-year-old child), as well as the Wizard Wand and Wizard Hat.
For the Wizard Robe we used:
4 yards blue satin (some used on the hat, too)
1 yard green satin (some used on the hat, too)
2 spools copper ribbon (also used on the wand and hat – I would get 3 if I were to make this again)
Coordinating thread

You’ll also want a sewing machine, Iron, and pins.

I started by laying out the blue satin, along with a long-sleeved shirt that is a little big for my son.You can’t tell here, but the left side of the fabric is the fold, and there is a double layer of the fabric, so there are actually 4 layers of fabric right there, and I’m going to cut through all of them on the fold.

I was lucky that the width of fabric was enough for the top and sleeves. Otherwise, I’d have to cut different pieces for the sleeves and set them into the arm holes. Which would be a lot more work.

measure for costume size

I had my son lay next to the fabric so that I could determine the height.Yes, his pants are on backwards… that happens sometimes when he dresses himself…

You can see I marked it with a fabric pencil here. Then I cut.
I added a little bit of flare from the waist down to the bottom to try to give the robe a little extra fullness.

cut satin for wizard costume

I also added some extra fabric at the bottom of the sleeves. Having the bottom end in a point like this makes the sleeves have a nice big point at the bottom, which is one of the things I love about this costume. I also cut a little ways away from the shirt because I needed extra seam allowance for the french seams. More on that in a little bit.

The rest of these instructions are going to be picture-less, because it is pretty basic sewing. It takes a while, but it is pretty basic. I’ll warn you, the neckline bit is a little complicated… there might be a better way to do that part.

I separated the two layers, and then cut a V shape into the fold of the piece that was going to be the front, to give a more open neckline. Then I cut all the way up the fold on this piece, because the robe was going to be open.

I pinned the pieces wrong-sides together (WRONG sides, not right sides, because I’m doing french seams here). I stitched the shoulder/sleeve tops, and the sleeve bottom/armpit/side seams all with a scant 1/4″ seam. I then flipped it wrong-side-out, clipped the seams at the armpit, and repeated all those seams with a generous 1/4″ seam. This keeps all the raw edges tucked inside so there is no fraying while the costume is worn. In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to do the shoulder/sleeve top seams, add the green to the end of the sleeves, and then do the sleeve bottom/armpit/side seams.

Next was adding the green satin to the collar. I put a piece of paper under the neckline and traced the curve from the back center of the neck, all the way down the V neckline in the front. I added a 2.5″ border to the outside, and a .25″ border on the inside and cut it out. This was my template for creating the green satin for the neckline.

I folded the green satin in half, and pinned on my template, with the bottom of the V touching the fold. I cut out the template, but at the bottom of the V cut all the way down the fold the height of the straight slit in the front of the robe.

Putting this neckline piece right-sides-together, I stitched that inner 1/4″ seam, and then turned right side out. I created a second neckline piece for the other side, and pinned them both to the robe, then pressed the raw edges under, folded it over the raw edge of the blue satin so that the blue satin raw edge sat right inside the green, touching the fold. I stitched it all down, then pinned the copper ribbon on top, and stitched that down as well. There might be an easier way to do this part, but I wanted a smooth neckline and it was already 11pm the night before he was supposed to wear the costume!

I cut 5″ strips out of the green satin, folded them in half, and pressed. I then opened up those seams, folded in the sides, so the raw edges touched that middle fold line, and pressed. Then folded it back in half and pressed yet again. This made all the trim for the bottom and the sleeves. I folded this over the sleeve and bottom edges just like before, with the raw edge of the blue inside the fold of the green. This time, when I got to an end, I trimmed off the green with about 1/2″ extra, then folded the extra under and stitched in place.

After sewing on the trim, I pinned the copper ribbon in place and stitched it down. You’ll notice that there is no copper ribbon along the bottom of the Wizard Robe. I ran out and had to choose between having it on the sleeves or on the bottom edge. The sleeves won.

That was it! It took several hours to stitch it all together, but my son was THRILLED when he woke up the next morning and saw his costume!

If you want to make a wizard costume, make sure you check out how to make a Wizard Wand and how to make a Wizard Hat as well!

wizard hat and wand

Sugar Cookie House Decorating Party

When I was a child, we got cookie cutters for making gingerbread houses. And every year, I’d bake gingerbread, cut out the pieces, and we’d make entire villages of cookie houses. It was one of my favorite Christmas memories.

After I moved out on my own, I found my own set of gingerbread house cookie cutters, but I started substituting a firm sugar cookie dough for the gingerbread. Because although I love the smell of gingerbread, I find that most people prefer the taste of sugar cookie. Myself included.

I want my sons to grow up with the tradition of making cookie houses. Last year we built them with cousins. This year, we invited friends over to come build with us.

I sent out e-vites to the parents, inviting them to come over. They were asked to each bring a bag of candy, and I’d provide the houses.

I headed out to Smart & Final to pick up what I would need: plates to use as the house bases, ingredients for the sugar cookies, ingredients for the icing, and some candies to get the party started (and add variety). You’ll find each recipe I used for the party at the end of the post. I also used plastic tablecloth on the roll from Smart & Final on the table – makes clean up so much easier! Smart & Final is a great place to shop when hosting a party – they have everything from plates to chafing dishes to to-go boxes so that your guests can take home their leftovers!

The day before, I made the cookie parts, let them set, and that night I used Royal Icing to put them together, and secure them to the plate.

The next morning I made Buttercream frosting for the kids to use. I find that Royal Icing is too tough for most kids to squeeze out, so I used Buttercream for the kids instead. Royal Icing is great to keep candy on securely, since it dries candy-hard, but the sugar cookie houses for the kids didn’t need to get that hard, so Buttercream frosting worked just fine. I put a couple tablespoons into each zip-top bag, and snipped off a corner of the bag to make multiple icing bags without multiple couplers and fancy cake tips… and also with less mess! The sipper side of the bag prevents the frosting from accidentally coming out the back.

All the candy was put in bowls in the middle of the table. This way kids could easily get what they needed.

The kids had a blast creating their houses!

Firm Sugar Cookie Dough
2 1/3 c flour
1/2tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt
1/2c butter
1c granulated sugar
1 egg
Mix egg butter, and sugar. Beat until well mixed. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Put in fridge for at least 20 minutes. Roll out onto a floured work surface with a floured rolling pin, and cut to size. Bake for 7-10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Royal Icing
3tbsp Meringue Powder (find in the baking section of your craft store)
4c sifted powdered sugar
6 tablespoons water (a little more or less as needed)
Put all ingredients in bowl and mix well. BE CAREFUL, if the icing gets too thick, it can and will break your mixer… it is like food cement. If the mix is still to heavy, SLOWLY add water 1tsp at a time and keep mixing until done.

Buttercream Frosting
1/2c shortening
1/2c softened butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
4c powdered sugar
2 tbs milk

Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix with a mixer until fully incorporated and creamy.

Get more great holiday ideas below or at the Smart and Final Social Circular. You can also check out Smart & Final on Twitter and on Facebook.


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