Mini Mail Sack

 

Someone is getting this little bag for Christmas this year. It is the mini mail sack, pattern by Pink Chalk Studios.
I love this pattern. The mini really is kid-sized. It doesn’t take a lot of fabric to make it. I had extra of the peace sign fabric (I want to make myself a bag out of it), and the pink lining fabric is extra from a skirt. The green was a half yard I got for free – you can’t beat that! My recipient is a great lover of peace signs and the color green. I almost do wish I’d made the strap a bit longer, but it’s tough to tell. I hope it fits. Recipient lately seems to be taller every time I see her (which is often, sometimes multiple times a week). She is suddenly all arms and legs yet has a grace that never seemed to be there before. And I’m also not sure I would use such thick fusible fleece as interfacing next time. Otherwise, I love the results and I hope the recipient will like her first ever custom bag!

my bag model (he’s a bit bigger than the recipient is!)

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Real Food Pledge: Lessons Learned

 
I can’t believe 7 days have gone by already! Our 7 day real food pledge is over, and it seems like it went by in a flash. I had such high hopes for our pledge, but I think the biggest thing I learned was that 7 days wasn’t really long enough to take in everything I’d hoped. I was so excited to start our pledge and I looked up so many new recipes. It was really fun. But the truth of the matter is that my husband and I are only a family of two. We don’t eat that much. My new recipes could have fed us for about three weeks, I think, but we just couldn’t get to them all in 7 days. So, hopefully over the next few weeks I will have some new recipes for “Try Something New,” that we just never got to while doing this challenge.One habit we were forced into that I think will stick with us is label reading (ingredients, especially). On Saturday morning as we were cooking breakfast, we were reading the labels on some of the things in our spice cabinet. My husband likes to make scrambled eggs with cheese and also some spinach-herb dip mix from Tastefully Simple which he shakes in the eggs. We had decided not to use the mix, just assuming that it either had more than 5 ingredients and/or probably contained something artificial in it, but we were surprised (and delighted) to realize that it had absolutely nothing fake in it at all! The same could surprisingly be said for McCormicks Salad Supreme Seasoning Mix (romano cheese and 3 spices). Our Wyman’s chicken bouillon, however, had an ingredients list which my chemistry-degreed husband stumbled over and was longer than some children’s books. Who knew? Things like that were interesting to learn about and the knowledge we gained can help us make better choices in the future.We had a major stumble on Saturday night. Saturday was a beautiful, perfect, snowy day. We spent the day together, doing chores and hanging out and attempting to make cheese – a lengthy experiment which I will document later. We had planned on Greg making a crock-pot of chili that night, which would cook overnight and be ready to go on Sunday for football. We soaked kidney beans and thawed hamburger (locally raised, yes) all day long in anticipation. Then it was 10:30 at night and he was getting ready to put the chili together when we discovered we had no homemade tomato sauce and that our normal brand of organic tomato sauce contained added sugar. By that time at night, all the Co-op type stores were closed, and we doubted we could find anything to substitute at the regular supermarket. Also, it was SNOWING OUTSIDE. But what else could we do with all that meat and those beans? So we broke the sugar rule and used the tomato sauce we had on hand. Haha, live and learn – now we know what’s in that sauce anyway. Actually, learning what’s in it made me happy we purchase it because it had only 5 ingredients, nothing fake, and we like it a lot.

Major successes:
I made homemade granola with oats, nuts, coconut, honey and spices on Sunday. This was crazy-easy to do. I just dumped all the ingredients together and baked it. It turned out really well, although not super-sweet. I don’t have a real taste for sweets myself, so we really liked it here. However, some people might want to add more honey for a bit more sweetness. Greg has eaten it plain as a snack in his lunches, and I like it as a breakfast cereal. I chopped a whole banana in it and ate it with some 2% milk (from hormone-free, grass-fed local cows). So good! The fats from the nuts and milk make it have sticking power, something that I love since I’m not a between-meals snacker. We will definitely continue to make this cheap and easy granola.

I had bought pumpkin seeds at Mississippi Market to put in my granola, and my husband wanted us to get extra so he could roast them and have them on hand for snacks. Basically he just dumped the seeds in salt water and soaked them for a while, then baked them and lightly salted them. Ohmyhell, these things are like crack – almost TOO good! Anyway, we both LOVE them and love having them on hand for lunch snacks and just a quick snack here or there. The first batch is already gone – we definitely need more.

Eating with kids: We have two nieces who we are close with and spend time with on a regular basis. Often when we eat together, we order a pizza or go to Noodles & Co. or something easy like that. I am happy to report that doing real food with the girls was easy, painless, and actually fun. I don’t think they knew the difference, since they are accustomed to a lot of decent food in the first place. Both eat most vegetables, and neither had a problem with whole-grain bread, so we had an easy meal of grilled cheese and veggies. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough broccoli! It was cute, too, watching my younger niece helping my husband prepare dinner. She thought it was fun and it was nice to spend time together in the kitchen catching up on our day while making some simple food.

It was nice to learn that a lot of our staples were real food-approved, so we could choose from a nice variety of favorites for meal ideas. For instance, Greg’s French Onion soup (minus the French bread; we just used whole grain that we had on hand), grilled cheese, tomato basil soup, Angry Trout wild rice (minus the craisins – we couldn’t find any without added sugar), mushroom-cheese chicken breasts. Easy staples that we rely on a lot, but I think this also prevented us from trying some new things. Oh well, it’s not really a bad problem to have, I guess.

The biggest benefit for me concerned my soda (and fake drink) consumption. After not having these things for seven days, I find that I don’t really want them very much anymore. I drank a lot of tea during the seven days, and I am continuing to do that. So much better for me, our budget, and everything! My husband did think it was difficult at first, just because the 12-pack of soda was still sitting on the counter, and he would reach for one without even thinking. This just goes to show you how we get into mindless habits sometimes. Maybe just keeping the soda in the fridge or in a more out-of-the-way location would be helpful in curbing that for him. This is also why I think it can be helpful to get rid of something entirely if you don’t think you can say no to it. I am not really emotionally equipped for that myself. I have found that I do a lot, A LOT better if I know I am able to have something if I want to. If things are around and I know I can have them if I really want to, I do a great job of regulating myself around them. Other people I know need to have them gone entirely. For me that can make me sad and a bit emotionally unstable. It’s all about finding what works for you.

Flannel Christmas Trees Quilt

 

When Greg and I participated in Quilt Minnesota 2010, we had a blast traveling to various shops all over Minnesota, collecting Quilt Minnesota fabric and block patterns, and just seeing what we could see. We both work full time, and we didn’t complete the whole state, but we completed the entire North East section, North West section, and South East section. Behind the Seams Quilt shop, located right off the shore of Lake Superior near Tettegouche State Park is one of our favorite places to stop by when we are on the north shore. Their block for Quilt MN 2010 was my favorite one we recieved, and it is the one I used to make this flannel Christmas Trees quilt for my mom last Christmas.
The block is pretty easy to piece, and once I got the hang of it I could whip one up pretty quickly. The only problem I had with this quilt is that some of the jewel-colored flannels I chose were difficult to line up perfectly once they were cut (the ones with lines). If I use this pattern again (and I do plan on it!) I will not use lined fabrics for the tree backgrounds. Otherwise, everything turned out well.

The quilt top (please ignore the Still Life of Swine condition of my living room).

I used a cozy, mottled brown for the sashing and bordered the quilt, but then I decided I also wanted the ring of jewel-colored fabrics around the outside to add more color, size, and interest. Then I had to add yet another brown border and by that time the quilt did get rather large. So, someone could stand to do her quilt math a little better, I guess.

The backing fabric is cream flannel, and we quilted in the ditch using red, green, and purple thread, so you can see the trees on the back of the quilt, too. We gave the quilt to my mom for Christmas last year. I kind of miss it!

the quilt back

Real Food Pledge

 
I’m not really sure this is the place to talk about this, but as it might result in some new (and hopefully yummy and interesting) recipes, I think I will mention it here. My husband and I are starting a Real Food Challenge tomorrow. I was inspired by Lisa at the 100 days of real food blog. I highly encourage you to check out this website, which is a great resource for anyone who is trying to cut out processed food and eat more healthfully. You can sign up for a 10-day pledge on her website, but we are just going to try for 7 days. It’s better than nothing, right? My rationale behind the 7 days is that I have a lot of traditional holiday things planned for this month. And while you could definitely argue that this would be the perfect time to undertake a real food pledge and really think about how many of our traditions revolve around junky food, I am going to do the thinking while also participating in them all! I don’t want to have to wait for the new year, because I am excited to make some positive changes now. So, 7 days it is.So, you may be asking, what does this real food pledge entail? Anybody who knows us already probably is aware that we try to make an effort to eat somewhat healthfully by buying fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables and we eat only locally and humanely raised meats and eggs at home (we do eat conventionally-raised animal products at restaurants and at others’ homes occasionally, my husband more so than myself). We are aware of “fake” foods and try not to consume them. However, we could learn much more and do a lot better. One area where I feel rather uneducated is with whole grains and unrefined/refined grains, sugars, and foods. For these 7 days we will be eating only whole grains, no refined sugars (only honey and real maple syrup will be allowed – even my beloved homemade freezer jam which I use to sweeten practically everything will be forbidden due to its tiny amount of added sugar), and no artificial or fake foods. No foods with more than 5 ingredients on the ingredients list (just because most whole foods have few ingredients – there are exceptions to this rule, but for the next 7 days we will be following it.)

I actually don’t think this plan will be terribly difficult to follow, food-wise. Like I said, we are already real-food advocates. We will just have to read a few more labels and ingredients lists, eat less junk food, and make a few minor substitutions in what we already eat (no more freezer jam in my oatmeal, for instance, or no more margarine on grilled cheese sandwiches just because it is easier to spread than butter). The area where it will be more difficult for me to follow will be drink-wise. I drink a lot of fake crap. There is no other way to put it. I love fake sweeteners in drinks. LOVE them. I have very inappropriately strong feelings for Diet Pepsi. This is actually my main reason for wanting to do the challenge: to force myself off of crappy fake drinks for a while. The sad part of all of this is that I actually LIKE real drinks! Coffee, tea, water – I like them all. And I like them unsweetened. Yes, I drink my coffee black, and my tea without honey or sugar. So why do I have such a taste for these horrible fake sweeteners in diet soda and Crystal Light? Yuck! I KNOW it’s gross. I KNOW they’re terrible for me. I hope getting away from them for even 7 short days will help me get away from them for good. During my first semester in college, I brought a 12-pack of Pepsi with me when I moved into my dorm, and by Christmas, I still had a couple cans left. This is who I once was, and who I hope to be again. Wish me luck!


Look at all that wonderful, fresh food! And that Diet Pepsi! Vices!

I feel like I should note that I don’t plan to cut anything out of my diet indefinitely. Everything in moderation, right? However, when decent substitutes for things are available, there may very well be things that I never consume again. Margarine, for instance. I think margarine is disgusting just because it’s a fake food and if I want a butter taste, why not go for the real thing? The absolute only reason we ever purchase this product is for spreading on grilled cheese, because it spreads more easily than butter. It’s a bullcrap reason, when you really think about it. We can just leave some butter out of the fridge, then it won’t be hard when we want to spread it (at least in the summer…living in a cold climate sometimes does mean the house is so cold that room temperature isn’t spreadable, either.) But that’s nothing that a little heat or 5 seconds in the microwave can’t fix. So things like that – things that there is really no reason we would ever want them – we may never consume again. But the rest – flour, sugar, even the occasional Diet Pepsi – we will continue to consume after the 7 days are up. It’s just my hope that we will view them as the treats that they are, and not staples.