I bet you never knew

that a preschool learning activity is also recycling! Bonus points if you did know.

One of my all time favorite activities from my days as a preschool teacher was taking broken crayons (Leftolas) and melting them into custom crayons. How it works is you get all the broken crayons together - and believe me, with 15 littles aged 2-5, you're GOING to have broken crayons - and then sort them by color family. Take a paper (not plastic!) cup - waxed preferred, put each kid's name on a cup and let them put their favorite colors in the cup. Then, you put the cups on a cookie sheet, toss it in the oven @ 350 for 4 or 5 minutes or so. When they're done, you take the whole affair out, open all the windows and doors to air out the room and then wait for them to cool. Once they've cooled, peel the cups off and there you have it: little crayon disks.

So when Crayola came out with the Crayon Maker toy back in 2002, I wanted one so badly I could taste it. But I wasn't going to part with my hard earned money ($25 or so) for a glorified Easy Bake Oven for crayons. This past Christmas, the local Fabric Mega Store had the "new" version which only made MINI crayons for $30 that I coulda got for 50% off, but who wants MINI crayons???? If  I  my kids wanted mini crayons, they'd color with the broken ones, ya know? So when I hit my local Goodwill this week, what did my wondering eyes spy but the 2002 model for $4.99?! SCORE!!! 60 watt candelabra bulb included!

So this afternoon, the girls and I sat on the dining room floor and peeled all the leftolas and started up the crayon maker. And there were quite a few little leftolas to peel!

After one round of heating, the glitter/metallic Crayolas didn't want to melt, so I cranked it for a second round to get them nice and warm and melty. The standard Crayolas melted just fine, though. The only hitch to this wondrous contraption is that you MUST use Crayola brand crayons. And I'm fine with that. I'm a bit of a crayon snob anyhow. I refuse to use anything BUT Crayola crayons. They've got the smoothest feel and the deepest pigment of any brand. And getting a pack of 8 for 12¢ on clearance just can't be beat.

Observations from the Peanut Gallery:

Oldest Daughter: So changing the ingredients changes the melt time! Even though the are the same brand, the melt times are different because the metallic ones have an added ingredient! COOL!

So I had this scheme all laid out...

And like every other one of my hare-brained schemes, it came to naught.

I'd planned on posting my cleaning bonanza as a pictorial thingumy and well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men, right? So anyhow, I got caught up on the laundry and stuff and all of the sudden, out of the blue, I started ironing. Yeah!

And then I got the sewing area sorted out. And then the dining room. And then the bathroom and the bedroom. I was so industrious that I sorted my drawers and closet and filled up a huge bin with clothes to take to the charity shop. I tidied up the living room, ditched the ruined rug and generally got it all squared away.

As I mentioned on my facebook wall, if I didn't know better, I'd say I was nesting. At any rate, the plan of going area by area to get it all tidied before our trip is nicely out of whack. At first, I was beating myself up because I wasn't doing it in "order". But the reality is that doing it this way is more organic and peaceful for me. Attacking each area as it arises doesn't feel forced or contrived.

And while it's not perfect - and I don't ever expect it to be this side of heaven - I'm happy with it. I'm finding the oddest times to carve out a moment to take care of the "little" jobs: scouring the tub/shower happened last night at 11:30. Laundry got tossed in after that and switched over this morning. Yesterday afternoon between my work and picking up the kids from school, I did a load of sheets and remade the bed. Today I folded laundry while watching a documentary - Wild China - on Netflix. Yesterday while the kids were in the bathtub, I mopped the bathroom floor. While my oldest kid was at CCD, I cleared off my dresser.

Now I'm no expert, and I've been subscribed to FlyLady since 2002, but I'm just not good with a "schedule". I don't know if it's the ADD or what. Having a rigid schedule just kills me. But fitting things into my outside commitments? For some reason, that's easier.

Cross your fingers that the roll I'm on stays rolling. I'm a lot happier when my environment is pleasant and stress-free.

A little departure from the "plan"

I'll readily admit that I'm terribly scatterbrained (my oldest comes by that trait honestly!) and I can get sidetracked super easily. Especially when there's fabric involved. ;-)

So I took a bit of a break from the kids' stuff and the cleaning stuff and cut out a new skirt and top for *me*. I've got this amazing green eyelet and burgundy/brown/green batik fabric that jumped off the shelf and into my cart at the local Fabric Mega Mart.

The green eyelet will become this skirt:

McCall's 5431

I added 2" to the waist at the center tapering to the hips. This pattern calls for a back zipper, but I don't like them, so I omitted the back seam and moved the opening to the side. This skirt is very close in style to my favorite skirt ever (DKNY, purchased in Jakarta 2.5 years ago). The length will be the same as the picture, but it will be solid eyelet without a contrast band. I'd rather have something that I can wear with more than one thing, ya know?

And the batik will become the first top (but with the lower neckline):

I don't plan on putting on a collar because I like a more streamlined look. Besides, the pattern of the fabric doesn't lend itself to any frippery. The only modification to this pattern was adding 1/2" to the waist to have enough ease. Cross your fingers that this works out because the fabric is $13/yard and I don't want to have to buy more.

More pictures will come as I complete more projects.

Beach Party!

The Dress for Thing 2. It all started as Simplicity 2989, a Project Runway pattern. This was one of my 99¢ pattern finds that just SCREAMED "Anabella" to me. Or at least the blue and white one did. One thing I love, love, love about the Project Runway series of patterns is that you've got OPTIONS. Lots of 'em. Mix it, match it, you name it. The only real problem I have with it is that it's a Simplicity pattern. Which everyone knows is an oxymoron. USUALLY, the sewing instructions in a Simplicity pattern just plain suck. I don't know about the ones for this pattern because I didn't even bother with them.

I had some AMAZING fabric in my stash from a couple of years ago - and when I say "some", I really mean close to 5 yards worth - that had been acquired to make all three of my kids matching outfits. The funny thing is, I bought both the girls sandals for the summer this year to match that fabric, so it was imperative that I make it up. See how adorable the sandals are? I mean really. How could I not?

So off I went with my rotary cutter - my new best friend -  and miles of fabric determined to make something awesomely awesome. Until I opened up the pattern. You see that lovely contrast band on the bodice up there? Guess what. It doesn't wrap around the back of the dress. It stops under the armpits. Now SRSLY folks. It's the DETAILS that matter and take an outfit to a "who' nuvah level". So what's a girl to do when faced by such a travesty? You got it. Redraft the pattern piece! Now don't get me wrong, I make no claims at being an "expert".

Now my biggest pet peeve is mismatched patterns. Or off-center motifs that draw the eye away in a weird way. So when I was redrafting the piece, I realized that with the contrast fabric I'd chosen (a wavy stripe), it was going to need to be cut all in one piece, rather than three pieces. I think the result is pretty good, if I do say so. While I was in the modifying mood, I added the piping to the edges of the bodice and straps and waist to really define the pattern and draw attention to the hula dancers. This also acts as a distraction. If the bodice and skirt patterns aren't perfectly matched, you can't tell because the pink line bisects it and makes it look like a distinctly different section. Check out the pattern envelope up top and just look at the right side of the bodice/waist junction. Think about it for a second. THAT was what I was trying to avoid. In the words of the judges of Project Runway, "I can't believe you'd send that down the runway".

While I was at it, I really wanted to give the new Bernina's zipper foot a run for it's money, so I opted for an "invisible" zipper. Now I've had mixed success with them in the past, largely owing to the fact that I didn't have a zipper foot. But hey, this machine came with one! So I had to try it out. And boy howdy does that thing work GREAT. See what I mean? A truly invisible zipper! And check out the matchy-matchy of the piping! SUCCESS!!!
Check out my happy girl during the first fitting. She's so happy with it and it wasn't even halfway done when she tried it on. I added some piping to the bottom contrast piece as well. And for the lining, I added two rows of rick rack trim and let Briar Rose (the Bernina) kick out an awesome decorative stitch of bows. The slip part will probably never show, but I just had to embellish it. See? Anyhow, the dress is finished except for finalizing the straps in the back. That will happen tomorrow. Then on to the outfits for Thing 1 and Thing 3. I'm using my "go to" pattern for Lorenzo's shorts/shirt. It's Simplicity 5982. I could make that one in my sleep, I've done so many of it. For Gabriella, I'm making McCall's M5798. It's a replica of a dress that I bought for her at Justice (if I remember right). It's one of her favorite styles.

A RANT: Separating the "men" from the "boys"

You've been warned. I just have to get this off my chest. You know how people who are well-versed in [a field] can't help but notice flaws in examples of [their field]?

Like the grammarian who can't help but notice the abuse of apostrophes, commas and so on...

Or the video/movie afficionado who screams "continuity!" or "focus!" at the screen...

Well, it also afflicts the seasoned sew-er. I can't bring myself to use the term "sewist" because it makes it sound like a religion. Anyhow, I suffer from this condition. I can't go out in public without scrutinizing hems for "blind" hem visibility or side seams for pattern mis-matching. How I wish that these things didn't pop out at me, but they do. It's almost a curse, really. I don't MEAN to judge your clothes. Honest. But it makes me want to poke my eyes out and run screaming away "ALLOW EXTRA FABRIC FOR PATTERN MATCHING!!!!!!!"

It has been pointed out to me on several occasions that this is what separates the couture (the men) from ready-to-wear (the boys). However, I don't believe that there is where the line is drawn. Because any given episode of Project Runway will show you that "designer" well-constructed or thought out. No matter how many times Tim Gunn says "make it work", you just KNOW that some seam somewhere is going to be awry or a pattern mismatched or SOMETHING. It's just the way the Universe works.

I know I shouldn't let this affect me this way, but it does. So much so, that I A) overbuy fabric "just to be sure" I have enough to match pattern repeats and B) spend HOURS making sure patterns are "just so" before constructing the garment(s) in question. And really, it's not something I'm proud of. Just like I'm not proud of wanting to scream at apostrophe abusers or whoever was in charge of continuity in whatever film it was I last saw that drove me nuts. Lord knows that my children don't appreciate my obsession over those details. At least I use my "powers" for good and not for evil. Besides, "they" took away my red marking pen. So abused apostrophes and misplaced commas are safe. For now.

The Countdown Cleaning Master!

As promised, here's the grand "plan" to get "perfectly" cleaned and organized in anticipation of our "Summer of Travel". Before I abuse any more apostrophes, on to the posting!

We have a small house by American standards. Weighing in at about 1425 square feet under heat/air, we're smaller than the average American home. In fact, we're smaller than the average home 40 years ago! That's what we get for being built in the 20s. Apparently, we're 1.5x the size of the average American home in the 1950s, too... However, for our neighborhood (platted out in the early 1900s and former orange grove), we're smack in the middle size.

Our office/front hall were originally the front porch, to that expanded the house somewhat. Moving on from there, we've got a spacious living room that gives onto the dining room. The dining room's main feature is the window seat that really sold us on the house.
Beyond the dining room is the kitchen and back porch (laundry "room"). That is fully half the house. The dining room and living room both have doors that connect to the hallway.

From the front of the house there's our bedroom, the kids' rooms (ensuite) and at the end of the hall, the bathroom. In the 20s, this would've been considered a 3-bedroom home, but now it's considered 2 plus a "bonus" room.

I can't believe that with all the repainting and stuff that I've done in the last few months that I don't have any current pics of the living and dining rooms. How bizarre! Anyhow, here's the plan. Working forward from the front hall to the laundry area and then back up the hallway by way of the bathroom and kids' rooms, I'm going to tackle everything. You might say "How on earth do you plan to do that?" and I'd reply "The same way you eat an elephant or repaint a house! One bite/room at a time."

Look for posts on:
  • The Front Hall
  • The Office
  • The Living Room
  • The Dining Room
  • The Kitchen
  • The Laundry Room
  • The Bathroom
  • The Girls' Room
  • The Boy's Room
  • The Hallway
  • Our Room
I've got just over ten weeks to do it all, and more than ten areas to accomplish, so I have to bust this out faster than one room/week. Since this week is Spring Break, there's NO WAY I'm going to touch the kids' rooms. Not with an eleventy-million foot pole. That would just be an exercise in frustration and I'd be popping Zoloft like they were M&Ms.

What I will be doing is swallowing my pride and photo-journalling my progress. I really don't feel all that bad about it because, hey, even on my worst day EVER my house was never as bad as the "Messiest House In America". Not even close, no matter what my mom says. I've NEVER had an infestation of rodents and a flooded anything with 6' piles of crap. Because I'd have burnt it to the ground and started over. So before I lift a finger to clean, I'm going to haul out the Nikon D70 and document, document, document. And then, room by room, area by area, you'll see the transformation. I'll even throw in the "why" behind certain areas becoming "hot spots" for clutter. Heh. Never thought you'd see so much brutal honesty on a blog, didja?

I Love, I Love My Calendar...

With apologies to Neil Sedaka (I think) for co-opting the song title, I have a daily and weekly schedule in addition to a Google Calendar *and* a written monthly calendar that help keep me on the straight and narrow. Without them, I'd be sunk.

Some people can make do with just one calendar, but I'm so scatterbrained, I need at least four if not more.

My weekly schedule is broken down in one hour blocks:

This is my main schedule that I can edit as necessary based on activities and so on. I like to color code things so my eyes can pick out a particular activity rather quickly. You'll notice that the weekly calendar has quite a bit of "white space". That is filled up in the daily calendar for the most part.

My daily schedule is broken down in 15 minute increments:

I'm taking a page from Sophie Kinsella's novel (no pun intended) about the lawyer-turned-housecleaner. The main character's day was scheduled into 6 minute blocks for billing purposes. Back in the day, when I taught ballroom dancing, our days were scheduled in 45 minute blocks, so I figured I'd take the happy medium somewhere in between 6 and 45 minutes. 15 seemed to be the best for us. What you don't see on the daily calendar is my morning and evening Yoga/stretching. Whoops! I need to update the files. Speaking of which, I'd be very happy to share the excel files with anyone who wants them. Just leave a comment in the box. :-D

Here's a screenshot of my Google Calendar:

I like it enough, the only problem with the Google Calendar is that when I add my husband to an event on the calendar, it synchs with his Outlook at work and it screws up their internal time scheduling for his group. Weird. But as far as sharing appointments and stuff? It's pretty efficient. I keep my Flylady tasks/zones in the sidebar on the right, but I still haven't figured out how to get it perfectly customized.

My fourth calendar is the el-cheapola dollar version from Target's "Dollar Spot". It looks something like this, but mine has lined blocks and a pretty robin's egg blue cover.

I carry it with me everywhere so that I can jot down my appointments and whatnot. Back in the day when I had a working smartphone, I didn't need FOUR calendars. I had my smartphone. And it would synch with Outlook and I could synch my Excel calendars. But alas, it has died and gone to the great Cellphone Charger In The Sky.

So this is how I GET organized and (hopefullly) stay that way. Next post: "The Countdown Dance Cleaning Master's Spring Cleaning Challenge".

Sprung Has Spring

House must clean;
Kick up dust,
House clean must!

My apologies to Master Yoda.

It's officially the first day of spring in our household: Easter Sunday *and* the week of Spring Break. So in honor of rising to new life, the house must shed the detritus of the previous year and shine forth like a beacon of cleanliness. Or at least that's the plan.

I would say that I'm motivated simply because its spring. But that would be disingenuous. Reality is that I've got a mere ten weeks (!!!) until the house must be pristine and showroom ready. Anyone with small kids knows just what a daunting task that is!
  • I've yet to put Christmas completely away
  • The leftovers of Easter baskets are flung far and wide
  • The living room is swathed in clean laundry
  • Fabric scraps and cuttings abound in some of the WEIRDEST places
Additionally, because we're jetsetting it for the summer (the real reason for the cleaning spree), I've got a lot on my plate:
  • Passport application expedited for middle child (I will not procrastinate on this again!)
  • Once the passport arrives, overnight it to Indonesian embassy with Visa application
  • Cook down the freezer
And there's the minutiae of daily life:
  • Physical and Occupational Therapy for me
  • Doctor appt for The Boy
  • Doctor appts for me
  • Sewing recital costumes
  • Ordering picutres for school
  • Finishing up the FHC dress and getting through the Sacramental prep program
  • Two more Bernina mastery classes
  • Home dec sewing classes at Joann's
  • Middle Child's sewing classes as well
When I look at it all in list format like this it's almost mindblowing. But I think I have this thing licked. Flylady, bless her heart, has a great program for getting started with baby steps. However, I've got my own plan. I'll update my plan and progress in the next post or three. I've got an awesome weekly planner and daily planner that I'll be sharing. :-)

First Holy Communion Dress

So this is the year when my oldest daughter will make her First Holy Communion. [sigh] She's growing so fast. I can remember when... I'll stop before I turn into a maudlin mess.

I do believe that this dress and veil are most likely the most difficult project ever attemtpted. I'm terrified of expensive fabric. Purely terrified, I tell you. Before I cut into the dupioni silk and embroidered chiffon, I had to make a muslin. The story is over at Sew Retro. The finished muslin:

Here's a preview of the fabric for the actual dress:

I've pretty much finished the bodice and I'm about to get to work on the skirt. The dress is a Regency inspired item, although I've made a couple of modifications.
  • The sleeves are sheer
  • Added a silk waistband with fancy braid trim
  • Skirt is double layered with and embroidered chiffon overskirt
I'll edit this with the finished product later on today (most likely).