Sewing Frenzy

There was a time when I told myself I’d never be able to knit.  I picked up the needles, tried to follow the directions, and threw them down in disgust when I just couldn’t get it.  And now look at me

But the sewing machine eluded me.  There were times when I sat down to use it, threaded the damn thing, only to have the thread bunch up under the fabric.  Despite keeping a positive outlook and telling myself that I’d learn how to sew One Day, I just knew it would never come to fruition.

Until recently.

I finally sat down with the manual for my mom’s old Singer Touch-Tronic 2000.  Doesn’t that sound so high-tech?  In fact, listen to the first line in the manual:

“Congratulations… You are about to sew on the most advanced sewing machine in the world… the model 2000 machine.  It makes sewing so simple, so foolproof – and so much fun! – you will be astounded.”

I can just picture a 1950′s housewife all dressed up, presenting a perfectly baked dinner to her family, saccharin smile beaming from ear to ear, showing them the entire wardrobe she managed to whip up in one day. 

So, while my sewing may not be “foolproof” – and I’m not necessarily “astounded” – I am thrilled to be using the sewing machine.  Just thought I would share some of the projects I’ve been working on.

When we did our P is for Pirate week of preschool, I had hoped to make Gwen a bandana pirate skirt but just didn’t get around to it.  That was one of my first undertakings, and while the waistband was a pain in the butt because of the fabric I used, it was otherwise super-easy and adorable.  I used a scrap piece of the bandana and appliqued it into one of her plain shirts to make a matching set.  She loves her twirly skirt.

 

Then I thought, what else can I make for her?  I’ve had this peasant-style tank top for a couple years, the straps on which broke the first time I put it on.  I could have just fixed the straps and used it as-is but decided instead to turn it into a dress for Gwen.  I just cut out the basic shape using one of the dresses already in her closet and went from there.  Note to self: Do not attempt pockets until you’re ready.

Unless they’re worn and threadbare, I can’t stand throwing clothes out when they get a tear somewhere.  It seems all my jeans have started getting worn through the knees or near the pockets, but I just couldn’t bear to throw them away.  With the sewing machine, mending them was a cinch! 

I also have this stack of flannel baby wipes that I’ve used in rotation every day since Gwen was born, so you can imagine how worn out they are.  I cut off the frayed edges and re-seamed them.  They may be faded, but they look a lot better and are no longer falling apart!  Similarly, I took some thin baby washcloths and sewed two together, making a more substantial washcloth.  I am never buying cloth wipes again!

 

The thing that had me determined to figure out my machine once and for all was a desire to use more eco-friendly feminine products.  I have some Lunapads that I use in conjunction with my Lunette cup, but I don’t have a very good stash and I’m sick of buying disposable pads all the time.  Buying them can get pretty expensive, even for the simplest of pads.  So I got myself some fabric (a couple pretty flannels for softness and absorbency and jersey since it’s thin), stocked up on some free patterns and got to work.

 

I’m very pleased with how they turned out.  I like the basic two-layered flannel pads for pantyliners and made the circle pad with snaps as a holder.  Check out my Eco-Friendly Pinterest board for more resources.

On a roll, I found the cutest tutorial for a Bapron – a cross between a bib and an apron.  I whipped up three of them and I love how they turned out.  I had trouble the first time catching the seam binding underneath, so I opted for a zigzag stitch instead of a straight seam and I love the character it adds.  They fit Josiah, and he wore his for the entire day!  I got a soft brown velvet for the backing, and when he saw it he excitedly said “blankie!” 

 

 

 

Gwen really wants me to make one for her so I’m trying to figure out how to best enlarge the pattern; figured the kiddos could use them as art smocks.  I have a whole bunch of hospital receiving blankets that I currently use as drop cloth bibs for Josiah so I may just repurpose those into an actual bib. 

A while back I bookmarked a super-cute produce bag tutorial and was pleasantly surprised how cheap and easy the project was.  I even made some nifty stamped tags using twill tape – such a simple idea but it really adds character and an element of fun!  The mesh was a pain to handle, but I paid under $2 for the whole thing.  From one yard of mesh I got four big produce bags and made three smaller ones from the leftover scraps; sometimes I get only a few jalapeno peppers or garlic bulbs and don’t need the big bags.  I’m curious to see how these hold up to regular handling and may make a few more.  Hello Mother’s Day gift! 

 

Along the same lines I decided to try my hand at some snack bags.  I didn’t want to deal with lining, so I went alone with this unlined, reusable snack bag with French seams tutorial.  I love how she used linen and found the instructions very clear, but I had problems going over the edges with my machine.  I don’t know if it’s the needle, the pressure or tension, or of it’s just my machine, but I couldn’t sew around the edges and couldn’t get the velcro all the way to the ends.  I still love how the bags came out but want to try another snack bag tutorial. 

I told Phil – Just think, if I can learn to sew… who knows… maybe I can conquer a stick shift!  He just gave me a look.  Up next on my sewing list are a pair of pants for Josiah, a skirt for Gwen and… wait for it… wait for it…. underwear for me!  I am simply dying to see how easy it can be to make my own undies because I hate buying them.  I’ve already raided my closet for some things I can repurpose.

Do  you sew?  Please share some easy, rewarding beginner projects for me!  And take a gander at my Sewing & Needlework Pinterest board for more inspiration.

The Garden Experiment

In the past Phil and I have done a tiny garden, tomatoes in a pot, container herbs… but this year is the Garden Experiment.  We decided to build three raised beds with a variety of vegetables (mostly from seed) and see how they fare. 

 
 

The kids quickly decided this was their new playground/sandbox.  What fun it was trying to keep ‘em out once we actually planted seeds.  Especially Josiah, whose main goal in life is to get as dirty as possible. 

 

Phil rigged some metal fencing as climbing posts for the eventual squash plants – but the kiddos saw its true potential.  They love tunnels.  A good ol’ cushion and blanket tunnel will keep them happily occupied while I do the laundry.  Or the dishes. 

Now I don’t have much of a green thumb, so just getting green shoots to come out of the ground is sweet victory to me. 

Sweet Victory…

 

Early on we enjoyed spinach and lettuce greens, and a couple weeks ago I was thrilled to notice some peas ready for the pickin’.  I hadn’t noticed them because they blend right into the greenery or hide behind the leaves.   

 
 

We enjoyed them straight from the vine, and I’m afraid the plant has since been picked clean. We love fresh peas!  I excitedly started checking the other plants, and found a whole slew of baby veggies which are getting bigger and bigger each day.  Just like the kiddos! *sniff sniff*  Many of the veggies have beautiful flowers that bloom before the veggies grow, and I love the little curly vines that – which just a little coaxing – hang onto the trellis for support. 

 
 
 

I’ve been very anxious at the state of my rainbow carrots, but every time I take a peek underneath the soil they’re still so tiny, despite a plethora of carrot greens growing above-ground.  We finally decided to thin them out yesterday so they would have more room to grow.  Some of them are so small, they can’t even be considered baby carrots.  I call them fetal carrots.  So sad, I hope they survive.  We did find one good-sized, beautiful red carrot.  It was delicious, but I was disappointed that the inside is orange like a traditional carrot.

 

In addition to the greens and peas, we’ve also picked some beans, potatoes, and onions.  It feels so good to be grow food from seed, take care of it, and enjoy its bounty.  Talk about health food!  I try to imagine what it was like when living off the land was the norm for people. 

So far, the verdict is that we need more garden space, so we’ll probably add three to four more raised beds next year.  This is a learning process for me, from deciding what, when, and how to plant, to taking care of the plants and deciding how to harvest them (pick from the bottom, top, pinch off the top before it flowers?).  In the beginning I was picking the spinach and lettuce while still small, but decided to leave them alone for a while and see if they thrived.  Now, the spinach is tall but I’m not sure how much more I’ll get from it and the lettuce is in abundance, but the bigger it gets the more bitter it tastes.  I need to find a happy medium!

I’m excited see what ripens next.  Besides adding fresh produce to our meals, I hope to try some new recipes for canning and freezing.  Put ‘em Up!, a canning and preserving book I got from the library, has some excellent ideas that I hope to try - including rhubarb pickles, of all things.  I’ll probably end up making salsa, ketchup, and sauce with the tomatoes, and pickles from the cukes.  And I’m dying to try zucchini relish, but need to get the recipe from a friend.  Do you have any favorite canning/preserving recipes?  Do share.  

While I was in the yard yesterday, I happened upon this butterfly enjoying the flower gardens.

Sidewalk Chalk Paint

Gwendolyn loves to paint. I rarely get out the paints for her, though, because: a) it’s messy, b) she quickly loses interest and it isn’t always worth the effort, and c) Josiah gets upset when I won’t let him make a mess paint.  I do, however, have sidewalk chalk that they will often use outside and it got me thinking of other outdoor crafts.  I love when the weather is nice and playtime and meals can be taken outside, thereby eliminating much of the clean-up (unless, of course, your precious littles find a mud puddle and decide to sit in it… *sigh*).

I forget where I initially got the idea for sidewalk paint, and I can’t give credit to any one person because I looked at a number of different sites trying to find an easy recipe, and bookmarked a couple faves.

Basically, you mix cornstarch and water in a ratio of 1:1 (although I suppose you could play around with it; mine wasn’t an exact science) and add food coloring.  I used a muffin tin to hold the different colors, but you could probably use cups – although they may tip over easily. 

The kiddos had a blast painting the walkway, chalkboard, themselves - and the colors became more brilliant as it dried. 


At one point Josiah grabbed my pant leg with his messy hand, much to my chagrin, but I was pleasantly surprised when the color just flaked off. 

I did end up giving them a short bath before lunch since they insisted on coloring their hands and faces. 

Note: I used Wilton food coloring that I already had on hand for coloring frosting, and it seemed to stain their skin somewhat.  I didn’t bother with their hands, but on Gwen’s face I rubbed at it with some witch hazel, which did the trick of removing it.  She commented that it didn’t smell good, however. :P

If you’ve already got some random pieces of sidewalk chalk lying around, try this neat idea for recycling the pieces into sidewalk chalk paint.  At another mama’s suggestion, I’m also going to try my hand at homemade play dough, another medium which is best taken outside.

Early Potty Training

Infant potty training, potty whispering, elimination communication – call it what you will.  There are many names for this practice which seems to be a growing trend… and yet… this is the way things were done before the convenience of disposable diapers. 

I cloth diapered my first baby on and off, and have done so exclusively with my second since he was a few months old, so I’m familiar with many of the more natural methods surrounding all things potty-related.  I became especially interested in elimination communication (EC) when I discovered that one of my cousins was practicing this with her baby.  When they came to visit, her baby was maybe six or seven months old, and her diaper was already staying dry for a large portion of the day.  Of course, this sounded wonderful to me!  Using cloth diapers provides an extra parental incentive for wanting to catch those nasty diapers before they occur.  But wait till you read about the many other benefits of EC.

I decided to start Josiah on the potty around the same time I started him on cloth diapers, and it just so happened to be when it started getting warmer so I was able to keep him diaper-free at times.  I didn’t stress myself out with rigid schedules, just put him on the potty at specific times - before and after nursing or meals, before and after nap- and bedtimes, before going out and upon returning home.  He never really gave me any specific signals that he was going potty or about to go potty in his diaper, so that provided an extra challenge.  If Gwen or I used the potty, I would put him on as well.  In fact, it was the start of Josiah’s potty-training that motivated Gwendolyn to get out of her diapers once and for all.  If Josiah could use the potty, so could she!  A definite win-win in my book.

In the beginning, I employed a cueing sound when putting Josiah on the potty, which not only provides a verbal correlation to what he was doing or was supposed to be doing on the potty, but also makes it more fun when they get older.  Potty songs are da bomb for an older baby as well.  High praise was given when successful – much clapping and rejoicing (and perhaps some dancing) ensued.  These all help to affirm the correct responses.  I practice simple baby signing with both kiddos, and now that Josiah’s spoken vocabulary is expanding, we now communicate in this way rather than cueing (although we often revert to it for the sole purpose of silliness – c’mon, just try not to smile when making pooping noises).

I wish I had started earlier with EC, and if we have another I will attempt to start from birth.  The idea of going diaper-free is exciting – imagine not having to buy all those diapering supplies and do all that laundry??  Recently Josiah got a yeast infection, and one of the ways of treating it was just letting him air out, go without a diaper for as much as possible.  It got me thinking – why not let him stay that way all the time, at least while we’re at home?  Once again, this has been more easily accomplished since the weather has gotten nicer, especially when the kiddos are outside a lot. 

I was putting pants on him without a diaper, and was thrilled to realize all of his poops were going into the potty!  I decided to look for some baby undies online, since it’s hard to find small sizes in stores, and found a comprehensive listing of websites that offer undies and training pants specifically for EC- families - but man, are they expensive!  I finally went to Diaper Swappers, one of my old standbys, and found a listing for a whole bunch of 18-month undies.  I got so excited over tiny toddler undies!  Now, during the day I keep Josiah in his big-boy undies, and use his cloth diapers for going out and bedtime.  The next step will be trying to forego diapers at naptime – wish me luck! 

Just like walking, talking, and other things your baby learns over time, it takes patience, guidance, and consistency.  And don’t get discouraged when you’re not “successful” overnight!  This is one of the biggest things I see when people attempt sign language with their babies – they may keep at it for a couple weeks, but then they give up because they’re not getting a response.  Even if you don’t get an immediate reaction, it doesn’t mean you’re not making progress!  Those little brains are making connections.  Do you stop speaking to your baby because he or she can’t speak by 3 months?  Of course not – you realize that some things take time to develop, and your baby often understands a lot more before he or she can effectively communicate.   

There isn’t any one way to practice EC and you see variety all across the board - from those whose babies are completely diaper-free to those part-timers who perhaps utilize disposables but put their babies on the potty.  Though it may be best to start from birth and employ specific methods, it’s never too late to start!  Here are some excellent tips for those starting with an older baby.

EDIT: I found a copy of Diaper Free Baby at a consignment shop and snatched it up.  It makes for an excellent, informative read.  It also lists some great resources for finding cloth diapers, small trainers, potties, and other EC gear.  Many cloth diapering and online retailers of baby items have jumped on the CD and EC bandwagon, so some of these items aren’t hard to come by if you go looking around.  Here are some they cite, in addition to others that I’ve come across and those listed in my cloth diapering post:
DiaperWare
The EC Store
Gap – small undies
Hanes - toddler undies

The Face of Food

I used to think that people who bought organic foods were Food Snobs.   What, the regular stuff isn’t good enough for you?  Sure, maybe there are those who buy it as more of a status symbol, because they can, like buying brand name clothes just so you can have the label.  But you know what?  We can’t afford not to eat organic. 

Rarely do I “get involved” in politics, but there have been a couple issues that have called for action in my estimation, one of them being the face of food in our nation. 

I’ve been learning more and more about all the health benefits of truly natural foods – not only produce and whole grains being grown without toxic chemicals and pesticides, but also for the animal products we eat being raised in natural conditions.  Nourishing Traditions, the cookbook I’ve been reading and whose recipes I’ve been trying out, is a wellspring of information which speaks at length to the nutritional deficiency of your garden-variety commercial products.  According to author Sally Fallon, “the meat, milk and eggs in our supermarkets are highly contaminated and vastly inferior in nutritional quality to those available to our ancestors just a few decades ago…  According to the renowned cancer specialist Virginia Livington-Wheeler, most chicken and nearly half the beef consumed in America today is cancerous and pathogenic.”  Yikes.  And this only scratches the surface of the detrimental effects of processed foods.

Why is milk so prevalent in our society, especially for our children?  Pediatricians tell you to start supplementing with whole milk around a year (if not earlier), and milk seems to be the drink of choice for kids - it seem to be the acceptable progression.  When I read that humans are the only mammals to continue drinking milk after they’re weaned, it got me thinking.  I stopped giving my kids milk, using it sparingly in baking, substituting almond and coconut milks instead.  I wanted to try and give up all milk products, but we love cheese!   

Apparently, the milk controversy has been raging for quite some time.  And perhaps it started around the time we began drugging cows to over-produce, feeding them processed grains, pasteurizing and messing with the raw milk - just like we’ve done with every other natural product. It would seem the arguments on No Milk really should be directed towards commercial milk.

Raw milk has been called “white blood” for its nutritional properties, and cultured products made from raw milk (from grass-fed cows) are just as healthy – butter, cheese, kefir, yogurt, and buttermilk.  You can read all about the benefits on Real Milk, a site devoted to educating and informing people. 

Reading about all the health benefits of cultured and fermented foods, I’ve started making yogurt again, straining it to make thick yogurt or cream cheese.  The whey that separates can be used for soaking beans and grains (making them more nutritious and easier to digest) and other fermented foods.  My sourdough starter continues to thrive, and I make all sorts of baked goods from pancakes and muffins to bread and pizza dough.  It’s amazing that eating this way could reverse or eliminate allergies and food sensitivities.   

I got excited at the idea that I could make all these healthy, yummy things from raw milk, and got online to find a source.  I was chagrined to learn that buying or selling raw milk in the state of RI is illegal, and have been contacting a number of different resources to find out more about this legislation.

Recently I stumbled upon a  news article stating that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shut down an Amish farmer’s raw milk facility.  This article portrays the FDA’s destructive actions and overall attitude towards people who simply want access to natural foods and alternatives to processed foods.  In researching the FDA, I was sickened when I read this articulation of their beliefs:

a. There is No Right to Consume or Feed Children Any Particular Food 
b. There is No Generalized Right to Bodily and Physical Health
c. There is No Fundamental Right to Freedom of Contract

Does that shock you?  We are only allowed to eat what the FDA gives us permission to eat.  This makes me so mad.  I told Phil there are things I’m passionate enough about that I’m willing to learn – we’re growing gardens this year, next year we hope to raise chickens for eggs and meat, and I would like to get a goat so we can have our own fresh milk products.  We might as well take advantage of these rights while we still can; who knows when it will be illegal to grow and raise our own food.  There has already been concern in the USDA about the “safety of organic food.”  *shakes head*

In the political realm, I’ve always felt that my vote doesn’t really matter - I’m just one person, anyway.  How can I make a difference?  Shopping at the farmer’s market on weekends, trying to buy locally (being aware that natural food stores such as Whole Foods no longer means organic), reading labels, sticking with organic foods and avoiding possible-GM-foods – putting my money where my mouth is, as it were – I think this sends a powerful message.  Every time you shop at the store, you vote on the products you buy with the dollars you spend.  Money is a powerful language. 

Aside from those things, there are a number of petitions you can sign and messages you can e-mail to political officials, if you’re so inclined.  After writing a letter to the FDA, one of the first steps I took was to sign the Truth in Labeling Petition.  Please educate yourself about the food you’re eating, and don’t let the government decide what’s best for you!

EDIT: The safety of GMO and GM foods is another huge controversy, but my feeling is that when messing around with the molecular makeup of things – things we put into our bodies and depend on for growth and nutrition - you’re bound to create problems.  It isn’t natural.  Who knows the long-term effects of these mutations?  Unless you buy 100% organic, it can be difficult to assess whether or not a food is GM, since our laws don’t require labeling (which many people are trying to change – see above). 

There are lots of resources out there, and The True Food Network has a handy dandy True Food Shopper’s Guide which you can download (including an app for iPhone, if you’re into that).  There’s an extensive listing of all types of food, which ones are commonly GM, which specific brands are non-GMO, and which may contain GMO ingredients.  Here are the most common at-risk ingredients:

corn, soy, canola, cotton, and their many derivatives – corn flour, cornmeal, corn oil, cornstarch, corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, glucose, soy flour, soy lecithin, soy protein, vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, beet sugar

Accoring to lovetoknow, because of the prevalence of these ingredients in common foods, it is estimated that 70% or more of the convenience foods contain GMOs.