I must confess... I'm starting Christmas (!)

It's not a secret: I'm not a seasonal decorator. Not in the least.

Last year, our little Christmas tree didn't even make it out of the box. On the years that it does have a reprieve from its cardboard confines, it usually stays up until Easter. I do redecorate it in that time: as an anniversary tree in January, a Valentine's tree in February, a St. Patty's tree in March, and then an Easter tree in April.

BUT this year, my child will actually maybe care about Christmas. At least enough to pull the lights off the tree. So, I am determined to have at least a touch of festive decor around so that you can actually tell in the photos that it's Christmas morning instead of... any other morning.

I know it's not even October yet and I still have Halloween and Thanksgiving before Christmas. But if I start now, there's a chance that the Christmas decor will make it out of the shed this year (Halloween and Thanksgiving don't even stand a chance at this point).

Craftbits is helping in this endeavor. They have a great section of fast and easy (and kid-friendly) Christmas gifts and decorations. This winter clothing garland will be perfect for my stair rail:
Or maybe this bon-bon garland would be better... I just can't decide!
A string of these little Christmas light plushies will be perfect for The Mr's classroom!
 And I'm saving my juice lids to make these snowmen for gift toppers:
In addition to these and other decoration ideas, Christmas Crafts at CraftBits has card ideas, tree ornaments, wreaths, and more. The instructions are easy to follow and the crafts are simple and cute. I think the only thing that could improve the site is more pictures of the finished and in-progress projects -- pictures are always better!

So, there, I've said it... I'm already gearing up for the Christmas holiday season. I may have even beat Walmart to the punch... or maybe not. ;) When do you start thinking about Christmas decorating? playing holiday music? or, if you're like my husband, practicing your Bah Humbug? ;)

Questing at Housewife Eclectic

Just my regular little note to let you know that I'm questing (for a blog button) over at Housewife Eclectic again today, finishing up creating a blog button in Picasa. And, yes, questing is actually a word. I thought I was making it up! Apparently quest is also a verb. I certainly didn't know. My ignorance may be due to the fact that the English language is dead... or  that I was up late making this little ensemble

because, that's right, my baby turns 1 today! Gah, where has the time gone?!? And, simultaneously, has it really only been a year? I'm vascillating between sentimental because "I just can't remember our family without him" and tired: "I could swear he's stressed at least 3 years off my life..."

Just a year ago, he was this little guy in a basket and now he's a not-so-little guy pulling all my fabric stash out of the same basket
and consequently getting stuck half-way tipped over, unable to sit up and unwilling to just lie back. That's my sweet boy :)

A CraftGossip Christmas Wishlist

The good folks over at CraftGossip are hosting yet another fantastic giveaway: win your own Christmas gift. Anything from anywhere, up to $150 purchase and $20 shipping. Woohoo!

So... what to choose? Well, remember how I'm a runner? I'm kind of a slow runner. I'd like to be faster, but that requires some training, running timed intervals to increase my pace and such. And that training would go so much more smoothly if I had one of these:
link to purchase @ Sam's Club
It's a Garmin Forerunner 350. Say what? It's a fancy-schmancy portable GPS watch unit for runners. It will do just about everything a runner needs, except for tie your shoes. (Although that feature may be included in the fancier, schmancier 450 model... for only twice the price.)

Once you've gone through the intense work of tying your shoes, the 350 takes over from there. You can run or bike indoors or outdoors and it will track your pace, compare your pace to your previous excursions on the same route, and even alert you if you drop below or go above your targeted pace. It can also monitor your heart rate and tell you how many calories you've burned. And then it will scrub your kitchen sink.

So... that's what's on my Christmas list. At least the electronics section... ;)

Some Monday blogstuff

Happy Monday! Hope you all had a wonderful weekend. I had three exciting things happen this weekend!

A new addition:

Her name is Thelma. She's a 1TB Iomega external hard drive.

Thanks to Thelma, I no longer wake in fear every morning. Fear that my computer is dead and all my photos gone to their digital grave with it. (This has happened to me before. Sad day.) I have been living with this fear since the spring when we filled up our other external hard drive and had to wait until the fall for a paycheck substantial enough for even a small investment like Thelma. And her 1TB capacity means that she and I will be together a looong time before she's full and I move on to some younger, better looking external hard drive.

A competition honor:

Yes, Elephant and I made the top ten of the Iron Crafter this round! Woohoo! Now the winner is determined by the popular vote, so hop over to Fireflies and Jellybeans to cast your vote for your favorite cardboard craft!

A blog award:

Gwen from Gwenny Penny was so kind as to pass along the One Lovely Blog Award. I'm so flattered that she thought of me!

So now I get to practice bloggy karma and pass the blog award along! Here's how the award works:
  1. Accept the award. Post in on your blog with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.
  2. Pay it forward to 5 other bloggers that you have newly discovered.
  3. Contact those blog owners and let them know they've been chosen.
And here are the lovely blogs that I've chosen to pass the award on to:
I'm glad that I had such a fun weekend because my to-do list this week is topped with mending. The Mr has a couple pairs of pants that need some work, so I'm tackling my whole overflowing mending basket:
 Wish me luck!

An Elephant's Welcome {cardboard sign}

I did it! I actually finished a craft in a set amount of time (plus a tutorial and a printable template!). In case you couldn't tell by the year-long diaper bag, that's not a strength of mine. :) But here he (she?) is: a welcome elephant.

She (he?) is my second entry (see the first here if you missed it) in the cardboard box round of the Iron Crafter over at Fireflies and Jellybeans. I decided to use cardboard along the lines of one of its first uses: as a replacement for wood. (Instead of building wooden crates to ship goods, US merchants started using cardboard boxes way back in 1895.) I love carved wood signs, but I lack the wood cutting tools and prowess. Until Debra and I have the means and geographic proximity to make our dreams of a shared crafting barn -- filled with tools and supplies and probably a limeade bar (my contribution) -- a reality, I will have to content myself with cutting cardboard instead.

My elephant-loving (yet otherwise completely normal) sister in Oregon just moved into a beautiful new (to them) house with plenty of room for her 4 children and 3 dogs, so I wanted to make her a nice housewarming gift. Hope you like it, Greta! If you are an elephant lover yourself or have one (otherwise normal or not) in your family, you can make your own elephant welcome sign.

Time spent:approximately 3 hours, plus paint/glue drying time
Money spent:$0! Everything on hand. Love that. :)

Finished dimensions: approximately 11W (including tail) x 12H (not including hanging ribbon)

What you'll need
  • Elephant and welcome templates (download below or here)
  • Large-ish cardboard box, opened flat (mine was 24Lx9Dx13H, not including the top/bottom flaps)
  • Box cutter
  • X-acto knife
  • Scissors
  • ModPodge or other sturdy glue and glue stick
  • Craft paint: light gray, dark gray, ivory, and the color you want Welcome (I used Apple Barrel's Country Grey, Pewter Grey, Satin Cream, and Sage Green)
  • Paint brush (or two)
  • Ribbon 
  • Several big, heavy books (I used phone books)
  • A small strip (1/2 inch long) of clear plastic, like used in packaging (mine was from my son's first toothbrush! you know your mom is a crafter when...)
What you'll do

First, read these notes:
Tips for cutting cardboard
Don’t think of cutting cardboard as cutting like you’d carve a piece of wood. Cardboard doesn’t cut that smoothly. The technique that works for me is more of a stabbing motion where the small cuts connect to make a (more or less) continuous cut.  Henceforth this shall be called the stab-cut.
  1. Start by stab-cutting a 1-2 inch section following your outline. Make sure that your box cutter blade is locked into position (safety!) and the blade is just longer than your cardboard is wide.
  2. Then move 1-2 inches one side or the other from that and stab-cut toward the section that you just cut.
  3. Rinse and repeat until you've stab-cut your whole outline.
  4. Once you’ve completed the outline of your shape, start gently punching it out. Watch the back and carefully re-cut any of the outer cardboard paper that wasn’t fully severed by your previous stab-cuts.
For small simple shapes like the elephant’s tusks, use a good pair of paper-cutting scissors and cut in sections, removing the excess cardboard as you cut so that you don't bend the delicate little shape.

For finer details like the letters and the elephant’s tail, use a good sharp X-acto knife. Start with the inner parts of the letters (the hole in the O, for example). When you’ve cut the entire shape out, trim and even out the edges carefully with your paper-cutting scissors.

Be sure to have a firm surface underneath the cardboard you are cutting to help make clean, even cuts. This is especially important when cutting finer details.  Another sheet of cardboard makes a firm enough surface to cut on without the worry of cutting into other firm surfaces, like kitchen tabletops. Not that there are any box-cutter scars on my tabletop. At least as far as my husband knows (shh!).

About dry-brushing
Dry-brushing is basically painting with a very dry brush (one with very little paint on it) to give a rough, scratchy look.
  1. Dip your brush (very stiff bristle or foam) in a tiny bit of paint. 
  2. On a scrap piece of cardboard, dab until almost all of the paint is off the brush, so that you can see the texture of the brush when you dab. Too much paint will go on smoothly, and you want a rough texture, so err on the side of less, not more, paint. 
  3. Gently dab and brush with round strokes to spread a very thin layer of the paint to give your elephant (or whatever else you're painting) a mottled, rough look.
Now you can get going...
Preparing the elephant
  1. Print the templates and cut out the elephant's head, body, and tusks.
    • The elephant's body is just barely too large for a single piece of paper, so when you print that page, look for Page Scaling and select Tile large pages. My printer has an extra large bottom margin, so I scaled the image to 95% so that the elephant's body would print on two sheets instead of four.
  2. Trace two heads, two bodies, and one set of tusks on the non-printed side of your cardboard box.
  3. Using your box cutter and/or X-acto knife, start cutting out the traced pieces. If you've never cut cardboard before, you might want to check out my tips above if you didn't already.
  4. Keep cutting until you have two… three… four… five, six pieces: two heads (identical), two bodies (identical) and two tusks (one left and one right). 
  5. Line up your identical head and body pieces and trim any rough or uneven edges so that they match perfectly. Almost perfectly is also acceptable. :)
  6. Spread a generous coat of ModPodge on one of the head pieces.
  7. Lay the other head piece on top of the glue and press them tightly together, making sure they are lined up properly. The cardboard will start to curl and warp with the moisture, so...
  8. Flatten on a hard surface underneath several large, heavy books (like phone books... or family history) until dry.
  9. Repeat the gluing and flattening for the elephant body pieces.
  10. Once the glue is dry, paint the double-thick head and body pieces with two coats of the lighter shade of gray paint and the tusks with two coats of ivory paint, allowing the paint to dry between coats
    • Bonus Iron Crafter points for also using cardboard scrap for your paint palette ;)
    • Also, I paint inside... on carpet... using one of the diaper changing pads that they give with the free diaper bags at my doctor's office. I was using it for a painting mat long before I had a baby! Works like a dream, then fold it up and stow it away. 
  11. Dry-brush the head and body pieces with the darker shade of gray. See my note above about dry-brushing. Just in case you skipped it. ;)

Preparing the Welcome (or other words)
If you'd like to have an elephant with other words, you can download (free) the same font I used. The font is Lauren Script and it's available from DaFont here. If you'd like just the elephant, skip this section.
  1. Cut the printed Welcomes apart, leaving plenty of paper around the edges.
  2. Lightly glue (glue stick) both printed Welcomes to your cardboard
    • In the file I provided, one Welcome is reversed. The letters require more cutting precision, and sometimes that's more achievable cutting from the back of the letters. So I gave you options. :) If you use it, you'll glue the reversed Welcome (the emocleW ;) ) on the printed side of your cardboard instead. Either way, be sure you have two Welcomes.
  3. Using the X-acto knife, cut out both Welcomes.
    Be sure to read my tips above! Cardboard isn't really built for precision cutting, but some practice has helped me learn. :)
  4. Glue the two Welcomes together with a good amount of ModPodge, inserting the small piece of plastic piece in between to two in order to to hold the W to the elcome.
    • I originally included the plastic piece because I was going to hang the Welcome beneath the elephant. If you decide to glue it on top, like I did, the plastic is unnecessary but still nice to hold the word together.
  5. Flatten the double-thick Welcome beneath your thick books until dry.
  6. Paint the Welcome with two coats, allowing the paint to dry between coats.

Assembling the sign
As you assemble the sign, you might want to look back at the original African elephant silhouette on fun-with-pictures.com for help with the positioning of the tusks and the head.
  1. Glue tusks on elephant head, using a small amount of ModPodge, and let dry.
  2. With a more generous helping of ModPodge, glue elephant's head on his (her?) body. I chose to glue only the top portion of the head and let the warped curve of the trunk add some character and depth to the elephant.
  3. Flatten the head-body combo under your heavy books until dry.
  4. Glue the Welcome across the elephant's feet and let dry. (If the cardboard starts to warp again, press with books to flatten like before. Mine didn't on this step, though.)
    OR glue 3-inch lengths of 1/4-inch ribbon to the back of the W, l, and e to hang the Welcome beneath elephant, as was my original vision.
  5. Determine and mark your elephant's center of gravity so that she (he?) will hang straight once you've attached the ribbon. (I held the elephant at different points between two fingers to see where it would hang straight.)
  6. Spread a generous coat of ModPodge all around your center-of-gravity mark.
  7. Lay one end of a 24-ish-inch ribbon piece flat in the ModPodge on one side of the mark and the other end flat on the other side of the mark.
    AND glue your Welcome ribbons to the back of the elephant if you've chosen to have a hanging welcome.
  8. On top of your ribbon ends, spread another generous coat of ModPodge.
  9. Dry the ModPodge well.
  10. Display! Or, in my case, ship.

Also, since I'm sending my elephant off to rainy Oregon, I will be spraying him (her?) with a coat or two of a clear finish to help protect from the extra moisture in the air. We have very little moisture in this desert state of mine. :)

You may have noticed that I'm having trouble determining the gender of this elephant... It is a him? a her? any insight as to the gender of a cardboard creation? I think he or she needs a name, but I guess I'll leave that up to the recipient...

I'm entering Round 5: Cardboard Boxes of the Iron Crafter at Fireflies and Jellybeans with my fantastic elephant friend. There's some pretty stiff competition over there! My favorites so far are the playhouse, stick horse, and treasure chest from a diaper box. I value my diapers above gold but I've never thought "treasure chest" when looking at a diaper box... Genius.

He (She?) is also a proud product of Stashbusting September.

And I'm linking up at these lovely parties:
Join  us Saturdays at tatertotsandjello.com for the weekend wrap up party!

Blog buttons @ Housewife Eclectic

Good morning! It's Wednesday (already?!?), so I'm over at Housewife Eclectic. Today we start a two-part series on creating a blog button for beginners. We'll be using Picasa, a free image program from Google, so everyone can join in! Come on over and join me for part one of The Quest for a Blog Button.

Seasonal blocks... from cardboard

Have you checked out The Iron Crafter competition over at Fireflies and Jellybeans? It's an awesome little competition. Fawnda picks a secret ingredient and then crafters vie to be crowned the Iron Crafter for their use of the secret ingredient (plus originality and appearance), just like on Iron Chef.

The secret ingredient this round is cardboard boxes. I have a submission in the works, but thinking about cardboard made me remember these little lovelies:

I made them last summer (maybe the summer before? I can't remember exactly and the date stamp on our old camera says every picture was taken in 2005) for my MIL.

My neighbor had some scrap wood that she had made this set of blocks from:

I had planned to cut the wood and make blocks like hers, but, my impatience got the better of me and I just started working with what I had: cardboard! I used the wood blocks as the base, but you could apply the same concept to a frame or even another chunk of cardboard if you don't have wood scraps available.

I made these back before I was doing the blog thing, so I didn't take pictures of the process, but I'll intersperse the construction info with pictures of the blocks so your eyes don't glaze over too much with all that text....

What you'll need
  • wood blocks (mine were 4x4s about 8 inches long)
  • a corrugated cardboard box
  • scrapbook paper
  • craft paint
  • staple gun
  • box cutter or scissors
  • glue stick
  • a computer and printer
summer... my favorite block of them all!
What you'll do
  1. Sand each block and then paint them the colors you want. I used 2-3 coats of paint on each. 
  2. On your computer, type the word(s) that you want on your block(s) in the font(s) and size that you want and print them on plain computer paper.
    • You can save some ink by selecting the words and selecting Outline from the Font Effects in the Font pop-up window.
  3. Find clipart (or draw) any shapes that you want, such as the tulip, watermelon, leaf, and snowflake. Print them too. 
  4. Paste your printed/drawn letters and shapes on your cardboard box.
  5. spring... my almost-favorite season
  6. Using a box cutter, cut carefully around each of the letters and shapes to make a cardboard letter or shape.
    • If you have shapes with multiple "pieces" like my watermelon and tulip, just cut out the main shape. You'll differentiate the pieces when you cut the scrapbook paper.
  7. Trace the letters and shapes on to your scrapbook paper and cut them out.
    • Trace the letters/shapes face-down on the back of the paper and cut just outside that tracing line so you have some room for error and so that your paper will completely cover the cardboard.
    • If you have shapes that are multiple colors, like my watermelon and tulip, cut those separate paper colors now. 
  8. Staple the cardboard shapes and letters to the blocks (making sure that the paint has dried fully).
    • If you are putting letters on top of shapes like I did with the watermelon, the leaf, and the snowflake, staple the shapes that will be underneath first and staple the letters after you have covered that shape with the paper (step 8)
    winter... the sparkliest block AND season
  9. Glue the paper shapes and letters securely on top of the cardboard shapes.
Ta-da! Done. If you'll be displaying the blocks outside somewhere, you may want to give them a coat of varnish or some kind of sealant, but I didn't. 
fall... my favorite season, but my least favorite of the blocks
So.... whaddya think? Iron Crafter worthy? I'm planning to enter the project that I have in the works right now, but maybe if I can submit two entries...

Update: I have confirmed that multiple entries are allowed! Woohoo! Iron Crafter here I come...

Taco Soup {it's like magic...}

Today I'll show you a simple housewife magic trick...

how to turn this basket of canned food...
into this easy and hearty anytime meal!

This taco soup is a staple at our house. We use the term soup loosely, however... It's thick enough that it's more of a glorified chip dip that serves as a full meal for us. :)

We eat this meal all year long, but it's especially nice for the fall and winter when the evenings are cooler... and the football games are on TV. ;) I've also given the makings for taco soup (minus the meat) as a wedding or high school graduation gift. Give it with a slow cooker and you've got a great gift!

 The thing I love most about this recipe is that it is completely modular to what you like, what you have on hand. or what is on sale: you can use any kind of beans you like (canned or dried) and any kind of meat you like, from ground beef to chicken chunks. Toss it in your slow cooker and dinner's ready in a few hours!

Taco Soup
makes 4-6 hearty servings (enough to fill my 3-quart slow cooker)

What you'll need

  • 2 cans condensed tomato soup
  • 2 cans (or about 4 cups) kidney beans (or any kind of beans, really)
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 pound ground beef (or turkey, sausage, pork, etc), browned and drained
  • 1-2 Tbsp taco seasoning
  • optional add-ins:

    • 1 can diced tomatoes (with or without green chiles)
    • 1 can diced green chiles
    • half a medium onion, diced and cooked with the hamburger
    • chili powder, to taste
    • 1/2 cup salsa
    • 1 pound cooked chicken chunks (sub for ground meat)

What you'll do
  1. Open all 5 cans. Drain the can of corn (unless you'd like your soup to be a little soupier) and rinse the beans (to reduce the sodium).
  2. In your slow cooker, stir together the tomato soup, corn, and beans. 
  3. Add 1-2 Tbsp of taco seasoning, to taste.
    • If you'd like more of a kick to your soup, reduce the taco seasoning and just add some straight chili powder.
  4. Heat on low for 3-4 hours.
  5. About half an hour before serving, add the browned ground beef.
    • Adding the ground beef just before serving prevents it from going softer and turning a little mushy as it cooks. If you brown and freeze your ground beef like I do, add your frozen ground beef after you add your seasoning so that it has time to thaw and reach proper temperature.
  6. Serve with sour cream, cheese, and tortilla chips.

I must confess... I've run the road to crazy

Today's confession brought to you by
and pain.

Yes, I went running this morning for the first time in ages.

During my slow mile and a half, everything hurt from my ankles to my shoulders. My lungs burned. My side ached with the vengeance of the last 8 sedentary weeks.

But it felt great.

Yup, runners are crazy.

But we've got the toned calves to back it up.


If you'd like to join the ranks of crazy runners with awesome calves, you can start today. Or tomorrow. But don't wait too long -- tomorrow marks 6 weeks until Halloween weekend, and there are 5K (3.1 miles) and 10K (6.2 miles) races all over the country that weekend. I'll be running this one:
Did I mention I'll be running in costume? Yup, that's the benefit (or detriment, depending on your personal feelings) of running a Halloween race. Most encourage costumes.

Highway to Hale is a benefit race for our local semi-pro theater. (Can I apply the term semi-pro to theater? or is it just reserved for football?) Honestly, though, as much as we love Hale Center Theater and are happy to support them... we're running this race for the swag. (Swag is the free stuff they give you for running the race.)

Tickets are normally around $20 each for their shows (and worth it!), but for a $20 5K race registration, you'll receive two tickets to the first show of the 2011 season. 10K participants (like my husband and I) receive an extra two tickets. Plus we get the awesome shirt and whatever other swag they put in the bag.

So, if you're in Utah and around Orem, come run! If you're somewhere else, there's still time to find a race in your area. Six weeks is plenty of time to train for your first 5K. (And if you're not into running for one reason or another, most 5Ks allow participants to walk, too.)

Races aren't always listed online because the online listing has to come from the race director and there are only, oh, a hundred different online sites to think about listing your race with. But, online can be a good place to start. Try one of these national sites or just google "5k race {your area here}" to find more local sites and races.
Worried about getting started? Start by reading this Couch Potato to 5K article. That article gives you the basic idea of what you'll be doing for the next 6 weeks to train. If you're like me and want a schedule, one that looks like a calendar and tells you exactly how far or how long to run that day, try this Beginning Trainer Guide for 6 Weeks to a 5K from Fitness magazine or this Couch to 5K Guide from Runner's Training Guide. If you have an iPod, there are apps to help you train as well, ranging from free to $5.

Running isn't always easy, but, for me, it's always worth it. I feel better when I run (even when feeling better means sore muscles) because I know I'm actively involved in my own health. When I started running, that was my only motivation. But I kept running and about 6 weeks later, I was hooked. Somehow, the crazy runner thing got into my veins. My husband noticed too... he likes my new runner's calves. :)

As you first start training, running is physical. Beginning is about getting your body in shape to do what you want it to do. After a few weeks, running then becomes mental. Continuing is about your brain keeping your body going because I know I can do this or at least I want to do this.

And you can do it.

If you want to. ;)

Happy running!

Remember, you should always check with your health care professional before starting any new physical fitness plan. And, running shouldn't actually hurt. Real pain (not just the aches and burning I mentioned above) is a reason to stop and rest. 

The spoils of positive thinking

 Remember my etsy wishlist for the CraftGossip giveway a bit ago? And remember how I told you that it was MY giveaway to win? And how I was letting the power of positive thinking work for me?

It worked! I won!

Told you so. ;)

I think my mail carrier must think that I have an online shopping addiction (which may or may not be true... when I have the budget for it...) because the packages have been pouring in. One day my little house-side mailbox was stuffed full: one mailing tube, one small package, and three big envelopes. I should have taken a picture but I was far too excited about opening the packages to document the moment. :)

The spoils of my positive thinking:
peekaboo print from Papers Edge
loves language flower print from HoneyTree
set of 5 vintage earth-tones ties from Creative Kismet
1 yd mod apple oilcloth from Oilcloth Addict
Plus these little red beauties that I've been wearing practically since the moment I opened the package:
red coral earrings from Simply EC
And these fantastically wonderful charms that came later (since they shipped from Singapore!):
antique silver charms from Rock Chix Supplies
And, to make good things better, the people at CraftGossip have been awesome work with. There was a problem ordering one of the items on my list, so they let me choose another item, no muss, no fuss. (They have several other giveaways going on now, too, if you want to check them out on their giveaways page.)
This was my replacement item that should be here any day....
one yard of green apple oilcloth from Tadaa Studio.
Reversible apple oilcloth high chair cover... check ;)
I've always loved CraftGossip because they save me the work of following every creative blog in the blogosphere by, essentially, doing it for me. Now I just have more reasons to love them. :)

I'm not greedy, so I'll be sharing some of my spoils to spread the CraftGossip love. Stay tuned for that...

And, it's Wednesday, so I'm over at Housewife Eclectic today too. Come learn some of the background and basics of HTML. Nothing scary, I promise. :)

It is finished! The year-long diaper bag

My baby will turn the big 1 in two weeks. The day before (mere hours before) he was born, I started sewing a diaper bag. What possessed me to start a project like that then? ON my due date? I was using Murphy's Law to my advantage. Hmm... if I start a big project, the baby is sure to come so that I can never finish the project! And, hey, it worked for me -- the little man was born the next morning. :)

So... without further ado, here it is. The year-long diaper bag. If you decide to make one yourself, rest assured that it will NOT take you a year to make... unless you want it to. :)

I followed this Moda Bake Shop tutorial from Melissa Mortensen of The Polkadot Chair. The thing that caught my eye and made me say, "That! I want that!" was all of the pockets inside:
6 big pockets and two divided sections! Wooee! Plus a pocket on either end.
This bag is huge. Enormous, in my book. Finished dimensions (mine): 16" length x 8" width x 11" height. Before I put the divider in, my almost-1 Pudge could fit into the bag quite nicely. And it's larger than our road-trip cooler. And much bigger than my every-day diaper bag. I won't be carrying this every day, but it will be perfect for day trips or even Pudge's over-nighters to grandma's house.

I followed Melissa's instructions quite closely, however, you may see a couple of big differences between Melissa's bag and mine...

I loved the bag design (all those pockets!), but I have a serious thing for messenger bags. So, I improvised and created a flap and a longer handle that can be worn on your shoulder or across your body.  I love it!

Time spent: one year... :) probably actually about 2-3 days of work, from cutting my own fabric (instead of buying the Moda precuts) to sewing the last stitch.
Money spent: hmm... I started this so long ago I don't even remember! Probably around $35 total for all the fabric, plus the three types of interfacing used for the bag.

What I did differently
The messenger bag flap. For the flap/top/lid (whatever you want to call it!), I created a third front/back piece and lining. If I were to do it again, I would make the flap about 6" longer, since it doesn't really hang down in front of the bag as much as I would like.

My three bag front/back/flap pieces, labeled so I could keep them straight :)
As I sewed the bag together, I sewed the flap lining piece to the back lining piece before sewing that back lining to the side linings and the front linings to make the lining section of the bag. I did likewise with the flap piece, sewing it to the back piece before sewing the back piece to the side pieces and the front piece to make the outer section of the bag.

The bag outer section with the top flap sewed on.
Then, once I had both the lining section and the outer section of the bag and was ready to put those two pieces together, I *first* sewed the two flap sections together, right sides together along the three sides (all sides but the side attached to the back of the bag) with a diagonal stitch across the corners. Then I clipped the corners, turned the completed flap right side out, pressed it lightly, and topstitched around the three outer edges of the flap.
Sew two flap pieces *right sides together* with a diagonal across the two corners.
Clip the diagonal corners and turn the flap (just the flap) right side out.
Topstitch around the three edges of the flap that you just sewed.
With the edges of the flap finished, I just followed the rest of Melissa's tutorial to finish the bag, with juse a small variation for creating and attaching my special messenger bag handle.

The messenger bag handle. I made a pattern for my handle out of newspaper. It is just over 45" long (the width of the full newspaper spread) and tapers from 8" at either end to 2.5" at the center.

Using this pattern, I pieced together a pattern and a pattern handle from the scraps of the fabric I used for the bag. I applied heavy-weight interfacing to the handle lining (just like I did for all the other bag lining pieces) and two layers fusible fleece interfacing to just the 6 inches in the center of the handle for padding.
The wrong side of the handle piece, with the 6 inches of fusible fleece (white)

Then, instead of making the handles like Melissa did, I sewed the handle lining and the handle pieces right sides together along the two long sides only, turned the handle right sides out, pressed the handle, and topstitched along the two long sides. I attached the handle at the same point and in the same manner as in Melissa's tutorial, just at a different location on the bag. The 7"(ish) finished width of the handle ends fit perfectly along each side of the bag.

What I learned
Interfacing is your bag-sewing friend... I had made several bags before and been disappointed with their floppiness. The interfacing makes the world of difference for this bag. In particular, fusible fleece and I have become besties. I plan on using as much fusible fleece as possible in future bag-making endeavors.

as long as you are smart enough to apply it properly. It doesn't take a whole lot of smarts (textured or shiny side is the adhesive-when-heated side) but somehow I managed to iron not one but two sections of interfacing incorrectly (with the bonding side up toward the iron instead of down toward the fabric). The only thing that saved me was the fact that I was fortunate enough to

Use a pressing cloth! It's nothing fancy, just a square of natural fabric (like cotton) that you dampen and put over whatever you're ironing. My interfacing instructions suggested it "for a stronger bond" and I will never use interfacing again without a pressing cloth. It not only made it easier, it saved my iron from being caked with interfacing due to my idiocy.

If I were to make the bag again
Hmm... I honestly won't make this bag again. Really, who needs TWO bags like this? This bag will hold all the other bags in my house! If I did decide that I needed another bag this size, I would seriously consider just buying one. Even hitting the sales and using 40% off coupons, it got expensive, at least to my bargain-loving self. The interfacing was probably the biggest expense since you need three different types of interfacing. (And yes, you actually need all three. None are optional, in my opinion. But remember, fusible fleece and I are besties now and I'm not one to leave friends out.)

Since I won't probably be making another, I'll just offer my advice to you who decide to sew the bag:

Before you dive in, I will warn you: this tutorial isn't the best for a brand-new beginning sewist. I'm just barely beyond beginner myself, but I've sewed together enough bags that I could understand the construction a little bit better. Melissa's tutorial includes lots of great pictures, but some of the explanations still confused me a little until after I was done with that step. And my lining section ended up being over an inch taller than the exterior of the bag, so I had to improvise on my finishing, probably due to seam allowances and cutting my own fabric. In short: be prepared to improvise a bit. :)

Make the bag flap a little bit longer (6 inches or so) and attach a buckle closure or ribbon tie. The flap doesn't come quite far enough around the front of the bag for my tastes and I'd love to have a way to secure it closed.

Work quickly (at least more than I) and label your pieces. This bag has a lot of sewing to get to the basic pieces, and once they are sewn, there are a lot of pieces to keep straight. Since I had an extreme amount of time between cutting and sewing and sewing some more, my labels were the only thing that kept all the pieces straight for me. Each time I picked the project up, I had to re-remember how everything was supposed to be going, so it was extra confusing.

Since this project has literally been sitting in my stash for a year, this is one major Stashbusting September victory! Now, onto the fun projects... the ones that haven't been nagging at me for a whole year. :)

Happy Monday!

The Hunger Games trilogy

image source
The Hunger Games trilogy
by Suzanne Collins

I usually avoid reading those books "that everyone is reading." It's just in my nature to be a little bit contrary. If it's ever been featured on Oprah, the odds of me reading it go waaaay down. (Not that I don't love Oprah.) This crazy-but-me sentiment kept me from reading the Twilight series (which I will still probably never read because... vampires, not really my thing. among other reasons) and almost kept me from reading The Hunger Games trilogy.

Luckily, my best friend Debra insisted I read them so that she could have someone to discuss them with. Really, my contrary-to-society reading tendencies were far overshadowed by the fact that just on principle, I should love the books: they're futuristic more-or-less utopian (dystopian, more correctly), a genre that I love.

I started reading on a Friday evening... and kept reading until Saturday morning. I literally could not put these books down (and even though the story was over for me as a reader halfway through the third, I still had. to. finish.) I finished the first, The Hunger Games, at 2 am... and went straight into reading Catching Fire. When I finished at around 6 am, I was really ready to start the finale, Mockingjay, but I realized that I should probably get a bit of sleep so as to be at least moderately functional the next day. Three hours of sleep and five hours of reading later, I was done with the whole trilogy, less than 24 hours after I started.

{if you have never read the series}
You should read it. But be prepared to be a little disappointed when you're finished. The ending isn't uplifting; it's a story of, ultimately, war and war's toll on life, both for the society and for individuals. In the process, it's a tale of love, media, entertainment, and trust.

{if the very idea of children fighting to the death or reading about violent deaths bothers you}
Don't read this book. My mother, an elementary school librarian, hated the book for those reasons, and finished The Hunger Games only "to get those people out of danger." My sister, an elementary school teacher, couldn't palate the concept and has abandoned the book twice in mid-read. It's okay to not want to read this book for those reasons. I, personally, don't create vivid images in my mind reading, so the violent deaths don't bother me like they do those with more vivid imaginations.

{if you have read the books and/or are prepared for the below spoilers}
Keep reading. :)

My one-word review on finishing the series: dissatisfied. I was completely dissatisfied with the ending, as I know many other readers were. I don't feel like Collins copped out or was just looking for a quick ending. I think she did exactly what every good author should do: tell the story she set out to tell, the story she envisioned from the beginning. She herself has even said that the ending of the trilogy never changed even as she was writing the series. She has also said that the novels were inspired by modern media: "On one channel young people were competing for money. On the next channel, young people were fighting for their lives."

And, at its heart, The Hunger Games trilogy is about war. What other phenomenon can take these two people who were so vivid and who lived, breathed, and loved -- and turn them into only shells of their former beings, still alive but empty and hollow and broken beyond repair?

It was at the point that you realize that Peeta, the symbol of everything that is good in the world, of unconditional love, is broken beyond repair that the book was over for me. The moment they rescued him, when he first sees Katniss and tries to kill her -- game over. Peeta was the goodness that kept me reading though this terrible and cruel world. Once his goodness and love were gone, corrupted by the Capitol, I cut myself off from the book. I finished, but just do be done. The frenzied-excited what will happen next feeling was gone because I knew that once broken, he could never be fully restored.

As a the final in a series about war, Mockingjay has an entirely different feeling than The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. In the first two books, Katniss is lucid and motivated by love. Love for Prim and her mother. Love for Gale. Maybe even love for Peeta. She is thinking clearly about surviving, about doing what is best for Prim.

By the time she has survived the events that turn her in to the mockingjay of the rebellion, Katniss is confused and psychotic. She becomes incoherent, drugged for the duration, and all of her actions in Mockingjay seem to motivated by fear and survival, with only the smallest shred of the love that was so motivating throughout The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.

Ultimately, yes, Katniss ends up with Peeta, like we all wanted. (I, for one, cannot blame her for not being able to look Gale in the face after Prim's death.) But even then, she chooses him sheerly out of survival. Convenience, almost. Their children come about because Peeta wants them, not because Katniss has found love enough for children.

I would have been satisfied (not overly happy but satisfied) if the series had ended with even a twinge of hope, of a feeling that everything that Katniss and Peeta and all the people of Panem have been through has been worth it even just a tiny bit. Instead, I still feel despondency in Katniss' musings as she watches her children. Yes, her son and daughter are safe from the Games, but she still wonders how to teach her children about past inhumanities. In her thoughts, I read no hope, no feeling of a better future. So, I finish the series unsatisfied.

Even unsatisfied, any reader who has just finished a good book should be motivated to do something, anything, differently than before. The three books of The Hunger Games trilogy are indeed good (yet unsatisfying) books, so what did I do? I hugged my husband and my son and told them I love them. I hug them a little tighter now, snuggle a little closer, grateful to have them, to have the ability to love, and to live in a world where love is possible. And now, to quench the unsatisfaction that is still gnawing at me, almost a week later, I'm off to watch a more satisfying love story: Anne of Green Gables (only the first two, though... the third one is terribly unsatisfying ;)

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