How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

This is the ultimate One Size Fits Most gift. It’s appropriate for anyone from 10 to 100, male or female, as long as they
a) love baking
b) love baked goods.
It’s readily available, and can be found in almost everyone’s cupboards already. BUT you can make a superior product for less money in your own kitchen that will wow and bless all your friends.

What am I talking about? What is this amazing gift item?

Vanilla Extract
And now, at the risk of being tacky, I’m gonna answer all your questions about Making Your Own Vanilla Extract (those of you who will receive a bottle from me please dis-remember this post, ok? Cause my mom taught me it was tacky to tell how much you spent on a gift!)

Can you really make your own vanilla extract? Yes! And it’s crazy simple. I think the only reason more people don’t do it is ’cause it can be a little tricky sourcing the ingredients. That’s why I’m gonna tell you exactly where I got everything. :)

What do I need to make my own Vanilla Extract? Three things:
1. Vanilla Beans
2. Vodka
3. A Bottle to put it in.

What kind of Vanilla Beans should I buy?

To my understanding, there are three main types of vanilla beans. I use the Madagascar or Bourbon bean as it creates the same flavor as you would normally get in the grocery store, and is in the middle price range. I purchase my beans in bulk from Amazon this year – 1 Lb (90-100 beans) for $31.95, plus I got a bonus pack of beans ’cause my order was over $30. The beans were extremely fragrant and moist, and came out to $0.32 each.

What kind of Vodka do I use to make Vanilla Extract? The key word here is “cheap”. Any brand will do. I buy it in the largest bottle my liquor store carries, when it’s on sale (I watch our local Pennysaver ads). I got a 60 oz bottle for $17.82.  For those who’ve never been in a liquor store or bought hooch before (like me) it’s clear, like water, and my bottle looks like this…Feel free to inform the cashier what you’re really going to do with 3 gallons of Vodka while you check out if it makes you feel less guilty. ;)

What do I put my Vanilla Extract in? I like to buy little 4 oz. bottles for gifting, but if your making it for yourself you can use any old jar. I bought beautiful, blue, recycled glass jars with corks last year, but this year I got amber jars with a nice little screw cap from Frontier for $0.80 each, half the cost of last year’s jars. If you don’t have acccess to Frontier through your local co-op, these bottles on Amazon were similar in style and price.

How do I make my Vanilla Extract? Pay close attention ’cause this is really simple. 

  1. Cut one vanilla bean in half, then in half again lengthwise. (scissors work great)
  2. Put all four pieces into your 4 oz bottle. 
  3. Fill bottle with Vodka
  4. Cap bottle, label, and wrap ribbon or raffia around for gifting. 

Is that it? Well, the vanilla needs to steep for 4-6 weeks, with an occasional shake. Last year I made my extract in October so it was all ready for my recipients to use in their holiday baking. Didn’t get to it that soon this year, so I’m just telling people to save it till January. They don’t seem to mind and like feeling involved in the process (shake it once in a while! I tell them). I also tell my friends that when the bottle gets half empty, they can add more vodka to get the most out of the beans.

How much does it cost to make my own Vanilla Extract? Well, if you buy your beans in bulk, vodka on sale, and jars by the case, this is the breakdown of what you may end up spending per bottle…
Jars -       $0.80
Beans –    $0.32
Hooch -   $1.15
Total -     $2.27

I know — it’s almost laughable. A comparable product (pure, without any additives) on Amazon goes for $13.

The best part about making and gifting your own Vanilla Extract is the thanks you’ll receive for the rest of the year, ’cause this stuff really is superior to your run-of-the-mill extract. Your friends will adore it, savor it, save it for their favorite recipes, and thank you every time they see you for this little bottle of elixir. (If the raving seems to be over the top, it may be because they drank the whole thing right before they called you, but I have yet to have that happen)

If you want to make a large batch of Vanilla Extract for your own use, you can just put 12-15 beans, snipped lengthwise, straight into a 60 oz bottle of Vodka, or pour it into a quart jar or two like Sarah of Real Food Outlaws did. She has a very informative post about Vanilla Extract over at her blog, which you can check out if I haven’t answered all your questions. 

I’ve made the making and gifting of Vanilla Extract a yearly tradition at our house for many reasons, but my favorite thing about it is that it’s something my kids can do with me. Jesse snipped the beans all by himself this year while I poured the Vodka in the bottles. We did this together with a friends last week and between 3 kids (ages 5-7) with scissors and two mommies we made 30 jars of vanilla in 20 min. And boy, did we all smell good when we were done!

This is just one of the many ways I simplify Christmas so that I don’t get totally stressed out during the holidays. I’m sharing all my secrets with you this week ’cause I want you to have a peaceful Christmas, too!

What’s your best strategy for simplifying Christmas? Ya’ll have been sharing some great ideas in the comments – I appreciate all the feedback and am takin’ notes! 

This post included affiliate links. Using a blogger’s affiliate links to amazon or elsewhere for your shopping is a great way to bless your blogging friends at Christmas time!

My Bestest Tip for Simplyfying Christmas {for real this time}

You knew I was kidding yesterday, right? It is truly my aim each year to simplify our Christmas as much as possible, otherwise I wouldn’t have time for the tradtions that are most meaningful to us.

I mean, if I’m wrapping presents till 2 am on Christmas, then I wouldn’t be able to join in on the big, family, sleep-over under the Christmas tree, now would I?

And if I’m spending too much time on everyone else on my list, I won’t have creative juices left for my husband’s all time favorite tradition (which you can read more about over in my post at Passionate Homemaking this week). That would be a crying shame. 

But I DO love gift giving, and my list is as long as yours of people I love whom I want to bless in this season. So what do I do?

Well, at the risk of revealing all my secrets for friends and family this year, I’m gonna share my #1 tip for simplifying Christmas.

Are you ready?

I call it “One Size Fits Most” gifting.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Find a great little something that fits multiple people on my list.
  2. Then I just buy or make in Bulk. 

Amazingly simple, and stunningly efficient.

Here’s some of my favorite One Size Fits Most gifts for each person on your list…

For Kids: Homemade Playdough. Packaged in Jam jars with a shiny new cookie cutter tied around it. So fun and yet simple – you could make a dozen jars in less than an hour, and have gifts for every child under 10 on your list. Check out this cute idea for Candy Cane Playdough from The Artful Parent!

For Guys: There is nothing wrong with gift cards, people. (I have to keep reminding myself) Especially for guys. Especially if it involves food. How about a “Five Guys Burgers” card? Mmmmm. I’d like one of those myself. Another great idea? Gloves. This is not corny. I don’t know a single guy who wouldn’t appreciate a nice pair of work or winter gloves. Find them at Lowes or Home Depot in packs and individually wrap a pair for each of your brothers or uncles.

For the Whole Family: OK, this one isn’t cheap, but it really does cover everyone in one fell swoop! I’m talking about a World Magazine Subscription. Both of our extended families love getting news from a Christian world news for an entire year. And, as the giftee, I got access to World Magazine Online for the entire duration of the gift subscription. (Although I much prefered reading the hard copy at my MIL’s after Sunday dinner!)

For Girls: Have you seen these yet? Oh. My. Word. I received one of The June Bride’s handcrafted felt flowers from the Tiny Twig at Relevant last month, and I’ve been wearing it ever since. I even want to sleep with it. (I know that may be taking things too far, but it’s Cashmere, people – purple cashmere!) Her flowers are exquisite, reasonably priced ($12-$15 each, compared to some I saw in a boutique last month for $22!) and would work for young women and mature ladies both! Oh, and free shipping. Yes. Perfect. Pin to your winter coat, snag it on a scarf, or accessorize your favorite purse! OK, I’ll stop raving now.

Are we done yet? Have you got something for everyone now? Still a few gaps? I know just what to fill it with. I’ve got one more “One Size Fits Most” gift to share with you, but I’m gonna hold off till tomorrow. Can you stand it? It’s gonna be worth it, ’cause I’m gonna share my biggest secret yet. ‘Cause I love you. And I want you to enjoy Christmas, ya know?

Merry Christmas!!!

Do you do any ‘one size fits most’ gifting? What are some of your favorite gifts to give? Do you ever give the same gift year after year?

Top Ten Tips For A Stressful Christmas Season

I hope you can read this ok, ’cause I had my tongue in my cheek the whole time I was typing…

The key to a truly stress-filled Holiday Season is always keeping in mind these two goals:

  • To impress. Everyone. But especially those you don’t know.
  • To Meet All Expectations. Especially of those closest to you — the Higher the Better.

At no point should you shift your vision to how you can worship God more fully in this season. Definitely worship People and Things

Here’s a helpful list of the Top Ten Ways to Build and Maintain Stress during the next month.  Print and tape to your fridge (you also may find it helpful to keep a copy in the car to review at red lights.)

1. Out-do Yourself Whenever possible, choose gifts that require heavy investment in both Time and Money.(ie. create handmade gifts that use expensive materials you can only pick up across town) The key to achieving a high stress level with good staying power is to maintain the idea that the best gifts come wrapped in packages, and take more out of you and your bank account that you can realistically afford.

2. Increase Media Be sure to spend extra time in front of all kinds of media to keep you pumped up about the latest and greatest gifts for everyone on your list. Beware of spending too much quality time with the ones you love, getting to know them and their heart needs and how you can uniquely bless them this month. This can eat into your Media Time and Shopping Time! (see above).

3. Bake It All! Try to spend at least 4 days a week slaving in the kitchen till 11pm to make all the great holiday recipes you’ve come across in your Media Time, as well as all the family favorites. The lack of moderation and added sugar of these holiday treats will be sure to add as significant stress to your body as the preparation of them does to your schedule.

4. No Permission! – Avoid the word “permission” as in, permission to scale back, shorten lists, cross things off the list before you’ve done them, to say ‘no’, or to un-obligate yourself gracefully from anything that adds stress. Permission destroys stress.

5. Forethought is Bad – Do not get at least a general idea of the gift you’d like for an individual or the amount you can afford to spend before you go shopping. Planning ahead destroys stress.

6. No Records! – be sure to rotated your purchases on at least 3 different credit cards so you’re never quite sure how close you are to your credit limit, nor how much you’ve actually spent total. Cash should only be used when purchasing a little something for yourself in each store you go into, and that latte needed for extra energy.

7. Planning – Poor Idea! At no time should you sit down to collect your goals, ideas, and lists all in one place, like a binder or tablet. This is over-thinking things! Be spontaneous in your effort the pack as many activities and tradition into the holidays as possible. The only time I advocate taking a moment to ponder is about 3 days before Christmas when you should ask yourself if there’s anything you’ve forgotten that you really should pack into the next 72 hours. If you’re not frantically wrapping gifts late into the night on Christmas Eve, you know you’re over-organized.

8. Decorate – Everything. Follow the urge to decorate every room in the house. If last year’s decorations aren’t enough, or seem out-of-style, head out for more! Remember, it’s not about creating familiar family traditions and an atmosphere that welcomes – it’s more like a competition to make it on the cover of Martha Stewart. Don’t forget plenty of outside lights and decorations, too! The neighbors and strangers who drive by will appreciate that you’re not the only one in the neighborhood without lights.

9. Continue the Tradition! Don’t forget the importance of making stress a continuing tradition in the years to come. The ticket is to cultivate materialism and expectations to your children. If done well, by the time they’re in their teens they’ll have learned well how to celebrate the season and you’ll never see them ’cause they’ll be out shopping for all the people on their list, and working extra hours so they can make the minimum payment on their credit cards.

10. Just Say It. And finally, the simplest way to add stress to the season – just go with the flow and say “Happy Holidays” like everyone else. The word ‘Christmas’ can be an nagging reminder of the real reason we celebrate.

I hope this has been helpful…have you got any more tips for adding stress to the season? *wink*

Come back tomorrow for my all-time worst (best!) tip for simplifying Christmas! :)

Photo Credit

Coming Back to Reality From Relevant

I rose at 5:30 after nursing my alarm clock. (I have found an alarm clock that you can’t hate no matter what time it goes off – a warm, cuddly, rolly-polly, snuggly little boy child who has learned to call ‘mamma!’ in the morning).

No, I don’t get up this early every morning – only on the mornings I’ve actually slept through the night (second time this month, peoples – look out world, here comes Trina-minus-sleep deprivation!)

I slipped downstairs with my journal and Bible (ESV lately – loving it) turned on the crockpot for my first attempt at crockpot oatmeal (oatmeal recipe in my book, crockpot method in the testing phase) Then I curled up on the couch, delighting in the two hours of uninterrupted me-time ahead.

I have come to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the only way to make it through one of my crazy days is to start with God.
Uninterpreted time with my Lord, including prayer, reading, and listening, actually happens only about once a week in this season, but I’ve come to accept that reality without guilt, and put it on the ‘try-to-do’ list every day anyway. He has rewarded my feeble attempts with His faithfulness over and over. I’ve experienced such love and understanding as I seek His face, that I’m finding grace and wisdom for carving out even more moments with Him because it really does help me through my day.

This morning it was no exception. I got His perspective, and unloaded all my burdens onto His willing shoulders. Then I spelled out the word I got with my new letter blocks Dayspring gave me at Relevant.
The word was - 

“This charming, nine wooden block set, provided with letters, symbols, and Scripture, can be used in creating words for daily reminders of God’s amazing goodness in your life.” I’m not selling them, just telling you about them ’cause they’re really fun and beautiful!

For the rest of the morning, as I fed children, tried to make a dent in cleaning, laundry, and organization, and then sat down at the laptop to check on my online responsibilities, I kept seeing the blocks and stopping to take a deep breath and remember to trust.

And as I worked my way through my inbox and RSS feed, checking off things on my online-to-do list, I kept coming across links that encouraged me to do just that. Then there was the announcement from Sally Clarkson and Sarah Mae about their new book “Desperate – Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breath” – timely, no? I was being gently reminded to trust.  To trust that

IF God made me this way – this passionate, this driven, this purposeful and with so many ideas and goals and plans to help and encourage and inspire those around me – (and if Relevant did nothing else, it confirmed that in my heart like never before – He made me this way and I’m not abnormal – there are a lot of other women just like me – how cool is that?!)

IF SO – THEN He’s going to make a way for me to live with myself. To reconcile, balance, prioritize, and find space to breath and take joy in the midst of it all.

Thank you for your patience, support, and encouragement as I work to sort out who He created me to be, and how to balance it all. I may be posting more or less, deeper or more practical, pictures or lots of words – I still don’t know all the ways that Relevant impacted my bloggy vision. But I do know God has a plan for this place, for what I put here, and for the people who read it. Thanks for joining me on the journey. 

Oh, and if you’re in the middle of finding the balance as a mommy blogger – or any season of life with a blog in the picture, you’re gonna want to check out the new book, Blogger Behave, by Laura Booz. Sarah Mae is giving away her book (31 Days to Clean) when you buy Laura’s today!
I’m off to go delve into it myself…

How to Buy and Sell an E-book

When I bought my first ebook last fall, it was a huge step for me. I’d never bought a digital download before.  I’m afraid of the unfamiliar. It wasn’t hard – I did it all by myself. But then I had to have my husband show me how to find and view the file when he got home from work. (Yes, I am that computer illiterate – it’s my husband and good friend, Christine, who make me look like what I know what I’m doing on this blog!)

I almost chickened out on buying the book.
It came highly recommended from a blogger I trust. The sales page and reviews I read were all very positive. I just didn’t like not being able to flip through the book to see if it was something I’d actually use and enjoy. The thing that finally convinced me to take the chance was the opportunity to get it for free. The author had a 50/50 affiliate program – meaning if I liked it, recommended it to my readers, and sold just 2 copies, I’d make my money back.

So, I took my personal plunge into the digital consumerism, and bought my first ebook, Tell Your Time.

Boy, was I surprised. Not only was the content high quality and life-changingly beneficial, I found I loved ebooks! I liked…

  • low cost compared to printed books.
  • freedom to  print only the sections I especially liked
  • relevance of the information – digital self-publishing allows the author to put forth up-to-the minute content, research and resources without the months-long delay between writing and publishing in the traditional way.
  • accessibility of the author

When I enjoy a book, I often wish I could thank the author personally. After I read Tell Your Time, I really wanted to tell Amy how much I loved it – so I just sent her off an email (which she quoted on her sales page!) It was so much fun to be able to actually interact with the author. And as I went through the steps to become an affiliate, she was right there, with prompt, helpful emails.

The $9 I spent was well worth it for the simplicity her book brought to my holiday schedule and for the principles I’ve been using every day since. And did I mention, I got my copy for free? Oh, yes – I’ve sold well over 2 copies of the book through my affiliate links, actually allowing me to make some money on my blog just by sharing “all that is good” in my life with you.

You see, we make recommendations every day (movies, restaurants, recipes). An affiliate program enables you to get paid when you spread the word about something you love. 

That’s why I’m excited to announce the affiliate program for my book, Real{Fast}Food! Starting today, you can sign up to become an affiliate, meaning, if someone buys the book on your recommendation, you get a percentage of the sales! I took Amy’s example of a 50% payout because I wanted to thank you and make it worth your time to help promote my book. You don’t even have to have a blog – you can use the link on Facebook or Twitter, or even in an email.

All you have to do is:

  1. Buy a copy of Real{Fast}Food for just $6.
  2. Read the book for yourself and make note of what you especially like.
  3. Sign up for the affiliate program (step-by-step instructions here).
  4. Tell your friends and readers about the book, using the link Ejunkie provides for you.
  5. Check out the cool banners and graphics my husband made to help you advertise!

It’s that simple.  Thanks for helping me spread the word!

Real{Fast}Food – the Affiliate Program

Facebook: Keeping the Tool in the Tool Box

After confessing to my affair with facebook , sharing what I learned from a month-long facebook fast, and telling you all the other places I’d rather spend time online, many of you have asked,

Did I delete my facebook page?

No. All that time away from facebook helped me see that facebook was a time waster for me. But all the time spent learning to develop my blog made it clear what a great tool facebook is. I did not feel I could afford give up facebook. I realized it was a tool I should learn to use properly, rather than something that controls me.

So, how did I find balance in my facebook usage?

Here’s my secret to keeping facebook in its place.
Are you ready?
It’s really, really simple, but it works:
I only go on facebook ever other day. And no weekends. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
That’s it.

Setting these simple boundaries of ‘facebook days’ and ‘non-facebook’ days is the easiest way I have found from getting sucked into hours wasted online. I don’t have to set a timer, have an accountability partner, or even deal with withdrawal symptoms. Limiting my usage of the site automatically helped me keep the perspective of ‘it’s a tool’ – when do get on, it’s with a purpose. I check my profile, respond to friends and notifications, and then scroll through the homepage IF I have time.

Do I miss stuff?


Has it killed me?


As entertaining and fun and cool as facebook is, I’ve never read anything on facebook that I couldn’t have lived without or found somewhere else. 

 The difficulty is that so many people use facebook as their primary communication and relationship tool, and if you don’t keep up with them on facebook, you can’t keep up at all. I’ve decided that’s a price I’m willing to pay. I don’t want to get sucked into the majority of my relationships only existing in the electronic realm. I don’t want hours on facebook stealing precious moments talking and praying with a friend on the phone, or busily tidying my house so I can host a friend for dinner. I never want electronic relationships to steal time from face-to-face fellowship with my husband, my children, or the wonderful friends God has given me.

What DO I use facebook for?

It’s helpful for me to have a goal in mind whenever I sit down at the computer, especially when I sign in to facebook. My goal on facebook – the primary reason I’m there – is to deepen relationships. Here’s how I do that:

  • I’m on facebook to guide people to my blog, where I invest more of me and the communication and sharing is deeper and fuller.
  • I use facebook  to connect with old and new friends. Once we find each other, I get their blog, email, or phone number so we can connect on a deeper level, eventually getting to the point of meeting face-to-face. (This is really fun!)
  • I only follow a few close friends – ones for whom facebook is their primary online presence. I will visit their page to check out photos and links they have posted so that I can stay current with what’s important to them.   
  • I only post a personal status when I feel I have something worthy to say (with the occasional exception because I love randomness!) 

Have I ever broken my own rules?

Yes. But not often, ’cause I really like it when facebook stays where it belongs in my life (pretty far down on the list, let me tell you). I have made some exceptions:

  1. When I read something cool online and want to share it, I’ll click the ‘share on facebook’ link, but once I’ve posted it to my page, I x out of the window and move on. It’s how I keep the tool in the tool box unless I’m using it. 
  2. My All That Is Good facebook page – I try to keep that current as it is an extension of my blog and part of my system for growing my blog. But if I’m on ATIG’s page, I try to resist the temptation to switch over to my personal profile.

I love facebook. But I’m no longer addicted. And if feels great.

How about you? Do you struggle with facebook stealing time, or is it something else online? How do you keep your computer time in balance? 

Did you like this post? Then share it on facebook! Just click on the cute little button my web designer installed for me at the bottom of this post. I appreciate every time someone links to me and shares my blog! 

Against the Grain!

It’s here! The new cook book from Kate over at Modern Alternative Mamma!

I told you a while back that I’d had a chance to test several of the recipes for Against the Grain and was really impressed with what they offered. The food was good, simple, used ingredients that I already had on hand, yet provided new flavor combinations and variety to our menu. Each of the recipes were ones that I will make again and plan into my monthly menu plan. My husband and kids enjoyed them too, which – in our house and probably in yours, too – is the highest praise for any recipe!

I tested the Tomato Cream Sauce Chicken, the Fresh Herb Burgers, and the Salisbury Steaks (a lovely, dairy-free version that was perfect for me when I was staying off dairy for Seth’s sake).Whether you are grain free, trying to reduce grains in your diet, or just focusing on more whole food recipes, you will enjoy the recipes in this book. Check out all the details, including the complete list of contents, and read my reviews of several of the recipes (it’s waaay down at the bottom – “Tester Trina says…”)

From the Product Detail Page:

…grain-free doesn’t have to be boring.  In fact, grain-free can include all kinds of interesting flavors, spices, and even sauces. Grain-free can be delicious and exciting.  It can even include breads and desserts!  That’s how Against the Grain came to be: a cookbook full of grain-free (mostly dairy-free and GAPS-friendly) recipes that aren’t boring, but are delicious and fun to eat. 
Against the Grain is a 55-page guide to delicious grain-free eating.  It contains 30 amazing recipes, including 6 “breads and desserts!”  Yes, you can have dessert, even grain-free!  It sells for just $7.95.
Against the Grain doesn’t use any weird or unusual ingredients: instead, it focuses on fresh, delicious flavors that are easily found at any regular grocery store. It also focuses entirely on whole foods — no weird, science-experiment-type ingredients!

Kate’s Cookbooks are the perfect primer if you’re just starting out in the real food journey, or if you’re in a season where you just want the ease a collection of recipes you trust to be healthy, without having to substitute ingredients and pick apart the whole recipe to make it fit your family’s needs. I’m excited to print out my copy of Against The Grain and have some new, easy recipes to add to my monthly menu plan in a season where I want to spend as little time thinking about and cooking food as possible – I want to be outside in my garden!!! :)

Check out all of Kate’s books!

I have signed up for Kate’s affiliate program, which means I will receive a small commission on any sales of the book that result from people who visit her site through the links I provide. The same is true for Amy Andrew’s book, Tell Your Time, my add for Mountain Rose Herbs in the sidebar, and any links to Amazon that I post. I choose my affiliates very carefully because I don’t want to clutter up my blog with advertisements. I only promote resources I regularly use and love! I appreciate each of you who have used my links in the past few months to help support this blog! Thank you!!!

Tell Your Time and Chamomile Tea

The weather was beautiful at 7:30 this morning, especially considering it is November. How do I know? ‘Cause I was out of the house by that time this morning, fetching our week’s worth of raw milk from the local dairy farm. I always feel like the little pig who beat the wolf to the market when I get out this early in the day.

How did I do it with three little kids? Why, they were still sleeping, of course! (And that’s where the analogy stops, because my children are not little wolves!)

I decided to make the time change work for me, and when Seth woke me at 5:30, I told my body it was really almost 7 and I should just get up. I’m determined to start getting up regularly at 6:00am. No matter how late I went to bed, or how many times my children wake me, it is worth it for the ‘high’ I get from having the house entirely to myself for an hour. It’s amazing what I can get done, and the silence is delicious. This morning when I got up I decided to run and fetch the milk before Jeremy left for work, so I wouldn’t have to rush the children through breakfast to get to the farm before the milk truck did.

It was a great idea. The sun was just lighting up the hills and streaming through the clouds over the lake. It was breathtaking and I was determined to start the day like this more often.

Otherwise there is NO WAY I will be ready for Christmas.
Yeah – that thing that’s less than 7 weeks away.
Deep breaths, everyone!

I know – you hate me now. Who wants a reminder of how little time there is left to prepare for the holidays? I know I don’t. But I’ve decided to buckle down and make a plan. (you know me – I gotta have a plan!)First thing on the list? Reading this…

I just purchased “Tell Your Time” from Amy this week, after browsing her blog and liking what I saw. I am so excited to glean tips for how to manage my time better! I am always making lists and scheduling and racing the clock – but I know that there are ways I could manage my time better. I’m super excited to get this book in my hands right before the holiday season. And I love that Amy says,

“I’ve always thought it a little funny that many time management books are so…well, time consuming! For that reason, I’ve put great effort into making this a quick read that packs a huge, practical punch.

Instead of wading through pages of theoretical commentary on time management, I think your time is better spent implementing tools which will help you see real change.”

As a busy mom of 3 children, that was just what I needed to hear to know that this was the tool for me to get me through the next two months. I’m off to start reading it right now, with a hot cup of chamomile tea (which is supposed to have a calming effect! ☺)

Affiliate Disclaimer: This is just to let you know that the links to purchase Amy’s e-book are affiliate links, meaning if you buy her book, I will get a percentage of the sale (at no extra cost to you!) This is part of how I am trying to make my blog time profitable. I hope that if you decide to buy the book, you will do so through my links. Thanks so much!

Baby Wipes Revisited

I posted about my homemade baby wipes over a year ago now. The response has been amazing – I still get comments on that post! I just wanted to give an update on how my system has evolved in the last year, making it even easier and time efficient. To get see my recipe and original tutorial, click here.

I used to tear and fold the wipers to fill my travel container once a week. With two in diapers, this was getting to be a hassle. Several people suggested I try converting a round plastic container into a wiper dispenser. I had tried this before but hadn’t had much successs (maybe the towels were too cheap). I’m so glad your tips inspired me to try again. Now I cut a roll of paper towels in half about once a month, and every two weeks I place a half a roll into an old pretzel container (Coffee cans or old tupperware tubs work, too), and pour my soapy water over top. I’ve cut a hole in the lid about the size of a dime so I can pull the wipers out as I need them. This is what we use when we’re at home – I fill my travel container by accordion-folding a pile from the half roll. Again, I can just pull them out as I need them, ripping them at the preforation. I still like using the paper towels that are perforated in thirds.

I love that I only have to make wipers every two weeks now. They are sturdy and just the right size.

There have been a lot of questions posted in the comments of my last post. I have answered  them as they come in the comments, but thought I’d address them all here in a post…

Brand…I use Bounty Select-a-Size paper towels. Viva is another good brand.

Usage…A large BJ’s-sized package lasts me about a year with one in diapers and one who is potty trained (we use them for ‘business’).

Flushable? We do flush these wipers – they are sturdy, yet not even as thick as the toddler wipes that are advertised as ‘flush-able’, so I figure we’re safe.

Sour Wipers? I have never had the wipers go bad or smell musty, but for the first time this month, after a stretch of very hot weather, I noticed a little spot of pretty, purpley mold growing on the last of this month’s wipers. The way to keep your wipers fresh would be to make a smaller batch more frequently, or refrigerate the large container and refill a smaller tub as you need it.

Sensitive Skin…If your baby has sensitive skin, these wipers may be the answer! I’ve had several people thank me for providing the first wiper solution that doesn’t aggravate their baby’s skin. 

Cost Effective! If you haven’t tried this yet, I hope you are inspired to give homemade wipers a chance. You could save $50-$100 a year by making your own!

A Stretching Journey

If you have followed my blog for a while, you know I am an addicted seamstress, always trying something new, and driven by an almost insane desire to ‘make it myself‘! (Similar to a three-year-old’s demand to ‘do it myself!’) I have tried couch covers, baby clothes, authentic historic costume, cloth shopping bags, maternity clothes, curtains, curtains, curtains, and more curtainsbedding, and even kilts. I am always looking for techniques and tricks that allow me to recreate a favorite garment or article in my own studio.

One of my main passions in the sewing room in the last few years has been the journey of discovering the secret to sewing with knits. Even to an experienced seamstress (who made her own bathing suit in sewing class at the age of 12), the world of stretch sewing has seemed foggy and mysterious at times. Gradually over the past two years the mist has cleared – I’ve made a little breakthrough here, dug up a great hint over here, and actually had a few successes. I have discovered that sewing with knits (or, ‘stretchy fabric’ like the t-shirt you’re wearing right now) is actually waaaaay easier than creating a fitted garment from woven fabric – once you know the ropes! It’s my desire to share with you the best books and tips and blogs I have found so far, if you, too, want to stretch your skills!


Sew U Home Stretch, Wendy Mullin
This book is a great primer – good for someone who already has some sewing skills, but wants to move further into designing garments themselves, specifically out of knit fabric. It’s an enjoyable read, too, with it’s easy-going conversational tone and friendly tips. Wendy does not assume you already know the basics – she starts from the bottom and works her way up, describing cloth choices, and basic machine use (of sergers and sewing machines) to different edge finishes, and some great tips for re-making thrift store finds. The back of the book contains a folder with multi-sized patterns for two types of t-shirts and a simple dress.She gives you everything you need to know to make a t-shirt from scratch – plus lots of variations.

The first day I had the book and some spare time, I sewed a shirt for Jesse in under 30 min. That’s what I love about sewing with knits – it’s so FAST! And Wendy’s book will give you the tools to start out right. Anything I didn’t like about the book? A lot of the styles – especially the dresses she shows you how to create scream 1980′s, odd, with the book being new in 2008. But anyone with a little creativity can use the instructions and techniques to create whatever style they want.

Design-It-Yourself Clothes, Cal Patch

I loved this book the moment I got my hands on it! First of all for it’s modern, classy styles, captured in clear, inspiring photographs on real models. Secondly (and more importantly) because it succeeded in filling the remaining gaps in my understanding of clothing design, and working with all different types of fabrics (it’s not specific to knits – includes wovens as well). Cal’s book is definitely more comprehensive and involved than Sew U Home Stretch – she doesn’t include patterns – you learn to draft your own from your personal body measurements – talk about a custom fit! This is THE book to get if you are serious about sewing well-made, custom fit clothes for yourself – finished garments that don’t scream “I made this myself”, but rather, “I shop at this awesome boutique!”. I really look forward to returning to my post-baby figure so I can try out a pair of custom made capris, or a bit more of a tailored top or dress. Be aware that this book involves a time commitment – there are no shortcuts to her patterns – you should factor in a whole day of creating the pattern before you are ready to sew your first rough draft. If you are already an experienced seamstress, this book contains enough of the basic techniques for sewing with knits that I would not think another book (such as the above) would be necessary. I’m glad I have both because Wendy’s book spells it out so simply for a beginner – I plan to use it as a text book when I teach sewing lessons.

Blogs and Links
I have a feeling that if I had found this blog a year ago, I would have made a lot more progress in sewing with knits – there is so much information, inspiration and free patterns here (yeah!!), it’s like a book – except it’s free! I really do feel like the content here is so quality that I should be paying something – but, did I mention? It’s FREE! The enthusiasm this gal and her blogger buddies have is truly contagious – hang out here long and you will not be able to help yourself – you’ll be turning every old piece of clothing you have into something cute for you or your kids. That’s the coolest thing – most of ideas are based on re-purposing thrift store finds, so you don’t even have to spend much money! And, she has just as many great boy ideas as girly girl patterns.  Dana states one of her goals at her site is to…

“… Help the Sewer of any skill-level realize that they can sew without a store-bought pattern. It’s not difficult to recreate something that’s already been done or to figure out how to manufacture an idea in your head. You just need to understand some basics of how clothes are put together. And I hope my tutorials help with that process!”

See what I mean? Super contagious. This is the home of the 90 min. shirt pattern and lots of other fun kids clothing tutorials. I could spend hours in the archives – but then I wouldn’t have any time to sew!

Sweet Pea Pilot Hat
I know I’ve already mentioned this great tutorial a few times, but it’s worth repeating. This is such a fun little hat, and would make a great starter project if you’re just getting into knits. If you mess up, you’ve only wasted scraps and maybe an hour. If all goes well, you can make an adorable accesesorie or baby gift in mere minutes with just pennies invested.

Cover-Me-Pretty Cami
Pardon a little self promotion here, but I’ve gotta share the link to my own tutorial here, ’cause honestly, some of the tips I share cannot be found anywhere else on the internet! For instance, this commenter said,

“This is so awesome!! Thank you for the info on binding off the edges on knit fabric. For some reason there’s very little information out there on how to handle the edges.

The basic construction techniques I demonstrate in this tutorial can be used to recreate any of your favorite knit styles, with just a bit of trial and error.

Also, revisit this post on how I converted a favorite t-shirt into a dress for Claire – a more detailed tutorial for this is in the works!

My interests and experience in sewing with knits continue to grow, and I promise more posts sharing my discoveries and tips with you. Meanwhile, check out these resources, and start collecting plus sized shirts at the thrift store so that you’ve got the material you need when you’re ready to sew! :)