Create / Enjoy

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Homemade apple and pear chips... just because, okay??

I'm excited about this DIY - a simple homemade version of something I remember from the stores - not because it's the absolute greatest thing in the world, but because I love doing things myself and I love using local bounty in new ways.

The other weekend I made these homemade apple and pear chips from fruit from a local orchard. I try not to eat much fruit, but the fresh, organic, local kind is the best there is, and I do love seasonal outdoor outings like u-pick anything. Celebrating the season!

But we ended up with too many apples and pears, so I wanted to come up with something new to do with them. I looked into homemade apple chips--turns out they're incredibly simple and tasty. I followed this recipe, if you can call it that--apples and cinnamon. Slice thin, and bake or dehydrate till they're crispy.

In that recipe she used a 200 degree oven, but I used a 135 degree dehydrator. They might come out a little crisper if you use an oven, but I didn't want to worry about leaving it on too long. The dehydrator is so easy and low-maintenance since you can leave it on overnight. (I have this dehydrator and a mandoline like this to slice the apples so thin.)

They're great! I love the light apple- and pear-ey flavors, and they are delish with some almond butter or even plain grassfed butter, cause I love just about anything with grassfed butter.

Another apple fave of mine is this delicious real food, Paleo-friendly grain-free "apple crumble" recipe I came up with. Now it's the season to make it from local fruit!

Monday, October 27, 2014

On relaxing at home before everything is done

I'm savoring the chill weekends we've had here and there in between summer and the holidays. This past weekend we got to spend some good chunks of time just being in our house. Cleaning, re-arranging, switching my out-of-season clothes, but still felt pretty relaxing to be at home, during the day, doing what we want for several hours at a time.

Also over the weekend, I bought some new fabric and did some planning for the next few weekends - now till Thanksgiving, and even into December. I got excited about the things I want to do and make! But I also got overwhelmed. When am I going to have time to sew those new skirts, or experiment with that recipe idea, or whatever it is? (And when the heck am I going to have time to do the photographs in the daylight!?)

Of course there's always more to do, and usually it's not the fun stuff. There will always be phone calls to make, stuff to put away, something that needs to be cleaned, etc. etc. - and then it's probably time to make dinner again. But I realized two things over this nice, quiet weekend:

  1. I'm grateful to have things I'm excited to do. It makes me happy to have new projects on my mind, and to have fun things on my to-do list as well as the daily boring stuff. If I don't feel grateful, then the fun stuff will start feeling like work, too.
  2. Because there will always be more work to do... I need to give myself permission to do what feels good in the moment sometimes, rather than feel guilty for letting go and like a slave to my to-do list.
That second point was the impetus for this blog post.

Doing nothing when there's still stuff to do


I don't usually feel good when I have lots on my mind, projects to do, emails to send, all that--but because it's impossible to fix the problem by doing ALL the things, I need to learn to feel good even when the laundry is still sitting unfolded on the dresser. 

A couple weeks back I posted about the recent book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. I wrote a long post about it, but for now I'll just point to one part... toward the end of the book, after talking to/about busy working people who shuffle kids and home and work responsibilities and feel overwhelmed by it all, the author talked about how people who make time for play and vacation despite the busyness are happier. Often we feel like we don't deserve time off, or we can't take time for something non-essential when there's more to be done.

So, I could have gotten a lot more done this weekend, I guess. I know I could get more done on the weeknights when I get home from work and most of my evening is spent making dinner, eating dinner, watching a show, petting the cat, trying to get in bed early to read. But without those instances of (relative) downtime, when would I recharge?

So I'm thinking now about seizing the moments of unscheduled time I find here and there and using them for sitting around if I need to. 

Once not long ago when I got home from work, particularly tired out, I lay down on the bed and listened to the rain outside. I pet the cat and picked up a favorite book from my nightstand. It was a strange feeling, but so nice!

So when my photographer friend Aubrie came over to take photos of the house recently, I was happy to try to recreate those moments of peace.

Image Source: Stocksy

Photos by Aubrie LeGault.
Food & Editorial Business: Aubrie LeGault Photography
Twitter: @aubrielegault
Instagram: @aubrielegault

Somewhat ironically, that favorite book I grabbed was The Happiness Project, another important one that's taught me to slow down. I highly recommend it and Overwhelmed if you, too, have a hard time enjoying simple things and slowing down!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Hudson Pant! Perfect Pattern Parcel #6

I made pants!! This may be the first time since... ever? Or about 2008.

But jogger pants are everywhere now, and I love that a blogger/sewist out there came up with a pattern so we can make our own. That means whatever color combinations you want, and you can tailor the fit! Kelli of True Bias came up with the Hudson Pant pattern earlier this year, a very cool DIY jogger pant you can make out of knit, woven, faux stretch leather trim!, whatever. (She's even made them in floral silk - wow!) Kelli invited me to be a pattern tester for this fun pattern but I was deep in book work this spring and didn't have a chance. Happily, I got a chance to try Kelli's pattern because it's part of Perfect Pattern Parcel #6, which I'm blogging about.

It was so fun to do something new, and I don't sew with knits a ton, and almost never with the sweatshirt knit I bought for these.

I chose a warm navy sweatshirt knit and used a contrasting lightweight jersey knit in black for the cuffs, waistband, and pocket trim detail.

Kelli's instructions were very easy to follow and these went together so quickly!

They are so comfy!

I'm trying out the gym-clothes-as-street-clothes thing. I like them with basics like a jean jacket and aviators, but also with this new favorite sweater that I wish I could wear at least twice a week! (Similar/similar.)

If you want to try out the Hudson Pant pattern, check out the Perfect Pattern Parcel that it's a part of, the 6th limited time collection PPP has done (all profits go to a charity). Choose the price you want to pay, and get the rest of these patterns too!
Pattern Parcel #6: Choose your own price and support DonorsChoose. Win/win

Parcel #6 includes:

  • Bronte Top by Jennifer Lauren
  • Hudson Pant by True Bias
  • Julia Cardigan by Mouse House Creations
  • Syrah Skirt by Lauren Dahl (exclusive release!)
  • Zsalya Dress by Kate and Rose
  • BONUS PATTERN: Odette Dress by Bluegingerdoll (Choose a price of $32 or greater for Parcel #6 and you will automatically also be sent the Bonus Pattern! That's only $5 per pattern.)


How Pattern Parcel Works: Here at Perfect Pattern Parcel, we believe in supporting independent pattern designers. It’s our opinion that indie patterns are just, well, better than big box patterns, and we’re pretty sure our customers think so too. So, we allow customers to show their support in naming their own price for each Parcel. We also encourage customers to allocate part of their Parcel price to the charity Donorschoose.org in order to help classrooms in need. Pattern Parcel donates all profits after expenses from Parcel sales to the charity as well. Together we've raised over $12,000 for classrooms in need!

Pattern Parcel #6: Choose your own price and support DonorsChoose. Win/win

Monday, October 20, 2014

The DIY "weekend" sweatshirt makeover, and How to Wear DIY

Last winter I got creative with three plain grey sweatshirts, and did three different embellishments on them. Since then I've found one big problem with the sweatshirts I used. I always knew the fit wasn't great (they were pretty cheap and never super flattering), but the arms were just triangularly shaped and really tight at the wrists, so no room to scrunch them up and do anything interesting with them. And hard to layer.

But, I still liked the color and embellished-ness of them, and I altered this one with a simple fix!

Yep, I cut them off!

Rather than hem them, I cuffed them under 1/2" then 1/2" again and pressed them carefully, then tacked them down with some tiny handsewing stitches at the center outside and under seam of the sleeve.

Now it's more comfortable but also perfect for layering! Like I did over the weekend in this outfit I wore to a friend's 1-year-old's birthday.

Yes, it's after Labor Day, but it's still partly sunny and in the 60's, so I'll wear white jeans if I want to, thankyouverymuch. With flannel.
Jacket: J.Crew (similar). Shirt: Gap (similar/similar). Jeans: Lucky Brand. Flats: Target. (ALL via Goodwill)
Necklace: c/o Lucky Brand. Bag: Old Navy (similar). Sweatshirt: DIY, here! Then modified.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Overwhelmed: Inspired thoughts about work, love, and play in a busy life

I don't remember where I first heard about this book, but I put it on my library holds list as soon as I did. So of course when it was finally my turn to check it out, I wasn't as excited about it as I was originally, but it was an audiobook and I've been tired of the radio a lot lately, so I started listening (ironically, you'll see why) on my drives to work.

I immediately got excited about it again.

The book is Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. If you're anything like me (woman in 2014 with a job, smartphone, family, hobbies, and no support staff!), you may be sympathetic to the title. While I'm much better than I used to be, I often feel like there just isn't enough time to do everything I want to do, and that I have to make "progress" on my to-do list before I can relax, have fun, and enjoy my life in the moment.

Throughout the book, which covers a lot of ground, multiple sections spoke to me, and I felt inspired by the research the author examined and motivated not to fall prey to the common dilemmas she presented. She covers a lot of topics that affect my everyday life - being surrounded by technology, feeling physical impacts of a busy life, feeling internal or external pressure to be the "ideal worker" at work, struggling with the division of labor in modern households, and (while it's not an issue for us yet, it may be in the future) dealing with the pressure and desire to be the "ideal mother" while working outside the home. It came out earlier this year, so it feels very current and relevant.

As I listened, I thought about my mother, who taught me to be productive and create things rather than only passively consume. I thought about my close friend, whose husband is resistant to help at all around the house even though they both work. I thought about another friend, who somehow juggles a full-time job, toddler with behavioral problems, small business on the side, and doing all the food prep and cooking for her family. I thought about my future self, and wondered if my husband and I will be able to create a supportive, low-stress household for ourselves and our family as we grow in number and responsibilities.

And I learned from the families and researchers the author speaks to for the book. I've seriously been thinking about this book a lot since/while reading it (it's come up naturally in conversation several times!), and I'd love to tell you some of the pieces that stuck out for me.

(You can hear the author interviewed on Fresh Air here or read about the book here.)

Suzannah's Cliff's Notes: Highlights

The "Time Confetti" Section



The book starts as as an examination of time. The author visits a time researcher who's found over many years of research that women today have an average of 30 hours of "leisure time" per week. This is apparently more time than they had in the 1960's even though more women work outside the home, but still less than men. The author keeps a time journal to track her time, and the time researcher highlights every task/time he considers "leisure." Unfortunately, he includes all kinds of tasks "leisure" that probably did not feel leisurely at the time - reading the paper to research a story for work; waiting in the car for the tow truck; doing a yoga DVD silently in the bedroom at 6:00 AM before the spouse wakes up. And what about all the times we're doing more than one thing at once? This measurement of "leisure" does not seem very helpful for the everyday woman.

A leisure scholar the author speaks to sees "leisure" more narrowly. He makes time every day for a walk with his wife, enjoying music, or attending an evening singing group. When the author tells him she feels too busy to make time for leisure tasks she enjoys, he says sympathetically, busyness is one of the seven deadly sins.

"In the Middle Ages, the sin of sloth had two forms. One was paralysis, the inability to do anything--what we would see as lazy. But the other was something called acedia--running about frantically. The sense that, 'There's no real place I'm going, but by God, I'm making great time getting there.'"

Isn't that interesting? I do know the feeling of running around frantically, being busy to no huge, definitive end.

The author finds that being in an almost-constant state of busyness is not unique to the upper-middle class, or to full-time workers. And, it's not something many people feel they can put an end to by choice. Some may not even want to. Another researcher she spoke to has saved Christmas letters dating back to the 1960's, examining them for common language. She noticed terms like "time-starved," "strapped for time," "hectic," "whirlwind," "constantly on the go," and of course, "busy" were used commonly and almost as a brag. Cards with "We've had an action-packed year!" or details of a trip where the mother boasted driving a hundred miles a day, or a sarcastic letter that joked about accepting a Nobel Prize, building start-ups into Fortune 500 companies, sailing around the world, etc.

The researcher realized people were actually competing about being busy, as if to show status. Like, if you're busy, you're important, leading a full and worthy life. (Of course, they don't mention the downsides of busyness, like the laundry piling up or the frequent take-out instead of healthier homecooked meals, but they still demonstrate status symbols rather than just yearly updates.) I thought that was a big revelation, too.

Oh, and this constant busyness? It's apparently measurably not good for us. Not only is sleep deprivation and constant movement throughout the day shuffling from one activity to the next unpleasant, it's also moved from a moderate, healthy level of stress to what scientists call "allostatic overload." Behavioral medicine researchers have found that high levels of stress weaken the immune system, of course making us more susceptible to inflammation, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and more. Depression and anxiety, too, which women are twice as prone too as men (men's brains produce 52% more serotonin than women's). A psychiatrist the author spoke with at the Yale Stress Center has research that prolonged stress can actually lead to the shrinking of our grey matter, specifically in four distinct areas of the brain that control decision-making, attention, emotions, moods, appetites, impulsiveness, and sleep. Volunteers with the most stressful experiences had, on average, 20% less gray matter brain volume than did subjects who had less stressful lives. Crazy.

The "Work" and "Love" Sections



The next part of the book is about the pressures we feel to work better and longer, despite responsibilities we have at home. Of course a lot of these pressures and challenges come from having children at home; the author talks about gender discrimination and parent discrimination found in workplaces in many fields. She talks to several complainants of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, some very scary stories about people not being offered promotions or raises, or being fired for unclear reasons after taking parental leave.

She also talks about the challenge of finding quality childcare for an affordable price. Some more scary stories there, of course hopefully the minority, and she does talk about some bright spots of couples that have found a balance or alternating work schedules. Some employers who provide childcare or loose hours, making it easier to have kids at home, etc. She does a good job of sharing both good and bad stories.

This section leads into "The Cult of Intensive Motherhood" a lot has changed since women started working more outside the home, and some things haven't changed as much - i.e. studies show we still spend far more time on household tasks than men, even if both have full-time jobs. She talks about the pressures we now have to throw extravagant birthday parties and get our kids into good schools and colleges, as well as the guilt we may feel for not being the "ideal mother" spending lots of time at home with the kids. She puts in some personal experience in this section, too. I find it all very interesting, but since I don't have kids yet, I'm not sure how I'll feel when I'm faced with some of these choices.

The Play Section



Remember how she found in the first part of the book that many people don't value or spend leisure time? This section of the book, about "play," was a happy opposite of that. She starts the section by visiting Denmark, because a prominent sociologist who does time studies found that Danish mothers have more leisure time than mothers in any other country she studied: 6 hours, 12 minutes per day--as much as an hour more per day than mothers in the US, Australia, and France. Denmark also has one of the highest maternal employment rates in the world (more than 80% of mothers with children under 15 in the workforce).

What the author finds in her visit to Denmark is huge cultural differences and values compared to what we have in the US, reflected in government policies (6 weeks paid vacation per year, plus 12 public holidays, childcare days and sick leave) and in the opinions of families she visits. The first family she stays with has two parents that both work until 4:24 PM every day (a 37 hour work week), and trade off child care so the mom can go to the gym after picking up the kids. They have a simple, small apartment with not too much clutter in it, and they leave all their work tasks at the office. Evidently Danish employers see people who put in long hours and constantly check email at home as inefficient, rather than as ideal worker warriors. One mother she spoke to was surprised that some Americans are afraid to leave their children at daycare during the day--the way she saw it, how will your child be challenged if he's home with you all day instead of in a child-friendly learning environment?

Obviously there are some negative impacts of the Danish cultural viewpoints, too... the author mentions "occupational sex segregation," because originally the generous family leave policies (52 paid weeks at 80-100% of one's usual salary) were for women only; this led to women tending to work the lower-paying, less-pressure government jobs while men climbed the ladders in more prestigious private jobs. There are some other weird social effects, too. But, looking at the Danish norm does present a really interesting and different perspective of goals of everyday life.

Back in the US, the author also speaks to some groups like one in NYC of moms who get together regularly for playtime. Trapeze class, wine tasting, painting their toenails a crazy color - these are things many of us would put off until we've accomplished more of the daily to-dos. But it's inspiring to hear about people leaving the work alone to enjoy time and feel refreshed for the responsibilities.

Highlights Over.


As you can see, I've had a lot of thoughts while reading this book! I can't summarize it all. And the paper copy (I checked it out too and am flipping through it as I write this) is due back at the library. I'm sure I'll think of more, but this post is long enough!

A few complaints


Also, most of the book was about defining the problems for many modern people, and delving into specific cultural and practical problems for women, mothers, wealthy people, working class people, and men. The "how to" part mentioned in the title was actually a small portion of the book, fit into the last section, with ideas for how to make one manageable change to improve the work, love, and play portions of your life.

(Actually, I could tell from the second chapter or so that it might be that kind of book, where you don't actually get to the solution until it's almost an afterthought.) But after I read the author's tips and lifestyle changes, I realized one positive side of the book's main focus on problems rather than solutions is, it allowed me to come up with some ideas of my own possible solutions based on which issues seemed most problematic to me--and which ones applied most to my life.

Also, whoever read the audiobook had such a formal, actress-ey voice, it kind of got to me. Especially whenever she said "neuron" or anything you can say hyper-correctly.

But really, thumbs up


But really, those are minor complaints compared to how much I got from this book. I really can't recommend Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time enough to anyone else like me, aiming to keep low stress and happiness in a busy life.

If you read it, let me know--we can try some of the action steps together!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Funky vintage school chair makeover

It's been a while since I did a simple funky furniture makeover project. I've done a lot with chairs in the past, actually. But it was to the point where I actually needed a chair now, so when I came across this one and turned it into a project, it wasn't just the creative bug making me do it. I now have a new sewing chair!

But it took me a while to get motivated to do this project, cause I thought it would be a lot of work. Which it was. Although, now that I've done the sand/stain/finish thing, I can tell you, I think it's easier than painting!!

You'll see why.

I picked it up (at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, that place is so cool) because it had potential. And all the furniture was half off that day so it was $4. But I wasn't sure at first what to do with it--I needed a vision for it to help it realize its potential. I wasn't sure if I wanted to paint it a fun, bright color, or stick to my usual white or black, and what kind of fabric should I use for the seat??! A bold print? A simple, chic stripe? I couldn't picture any combinations totally meshing for me.

But then I saw this midcentury chair with the dark finish and serape blanket seat--
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And remembered this funky DIY bench project.
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Now, I do have a very cool Guatamalan-style bright blanket, but I didn't want to cut into it to cover a chair seat. But I had another cool wool cloth thing, thrifted, and turns out I had some ancient super dark Minwax stain. The project came together at last.

Vintage School Chair Makeover


So here's the before. Simple little chair, not too interesting wood color (peeling varnish, too, up close), scuffs, and icky green vinyl seat cover.

Part 1: Sand.


First, I removed the seat and sanded the chair down. That took some elbow grease and made a lot of dust.


Part 2: Stain and Finish.


Once it was sanded, I stained it with this little container of this Dark Walnut Minwax finish. I couldn't believe how good the first coat looked!! SO dark, even with only one coat, and actually pretty even. I guess I did an okay job sanding. I let it sit 10 or so minutes, then wiped it off and let it dry for more than 24 hours. It looked great.

Unfortunately it all went downhill from there. When I put the second coat on it sort of stuck to the first coat and took stripes of it off, kind of like when you write on top of dry erase marker letters with another dry erase marker and it just wipes it off like a tiny felt eraser? Then, when it was time to rub off the second coat, it was like it had dried too much or too fast or too thick, so the rag sort of stuck to it rather than gently wipe off the top layer...

So I recommend only one coat of stain if you can get the color you want!

I think a little more of the color came off when I put on the some polyurethane to seal it. I did two coats of polyurethane, and it has a nice smooth secure finish now.

Here it is after two coats of stain and two coats of polyurethane, before I put the seat back on.

Part 3: Seat.


The grossest part of this project was taking apart the seat cover. Here's the bottom, once I removed the staples and rubbery seat cover and washed off the mildew on the wood. Bleh. But cool to know that it was once in a music department!

I thought about quilt batting or other lightweight fluff like the original seat had, but I also had this green foam (1" I think). I pieced it and attached it to the top side of the seat wood with spray adhesive.

I pulled out my cool wool woven thing (strangely shaped piece of fabric (or rug?) I got at Goodwill once but have never done anything with)--and cut a piece about the right size. Then: staple gun!!

And screwed the seat back on.

Finished!



I'm very happy with it!

And because I already had all the materials except the chair... total project cost: $4. Even if you throw in the other stuff, probably still less than $15. And it gives new life to a formerly cast-aside chair.

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