Care Package Tips

I’m working on my 3rd care package to send to Radar, and wanted to share some of the tips I’ve collected through our two deployments so far.  Some of them are common sense or very popular (especially if you’re on Pinterest), but I like to think that a couple of them are more original.  So read on to get some ideas to treat your loved one who is deployed!

One of the things Radar loves the most is keeping up-to-date with the magazines he subscribes to.  He enjoys reading his AOPA Pilot magazine, and the Family Handyman helps him as a creative outlet when he can’t have his tools – he plans all the things he’s going to build when he comes home!

Now that Monster is in school again, I also include all of his artwork from school in care packages.  Monster gets so excited to put them in Daddy’s box when he gets home from school, and I know Radar likes being connected to what’s happening at home in this way.

I’m going to pause here to say that we don’t have a typical deployment.  Radar is not in the desert, he’s not on a ship, and he’s not in a really awful place to be alone.  He’s on an Air Force base in Japan, with access to a BX and Commissary that are arguably better than what we have at home.  So it’s really a challenge sometimes to spoil him, as he has all the comforts he enjoys at home, and he doesn’t even have to deal with the screaming kids!  But having recently spent some time away from the kids (on my trip to Arizona over Peach’s birthday), I truly don’t know how he does it.  I couldn’t leave the kids for that length of time, even if I were going to a 5-star resort!  So the most important thing I include in every package I send him looks like this:

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An SD card

Radar loves looking at pictures of the kids, and seeing them grow makes the separation just a little bit easier.  But sending pictures, even without frames, clutters his room and makes moves even harder (they have to vacate their rooms if they go on a detachment for more than 72 hours).  So we got a digital picture frame, and I add a new set of pictures on an SD card with every care package I send.  It’s easy to move, and he gets to feel like he’s missing just a little bit less while he’s gone.  The SD cards are cheap, and he usually gets about 100 pictures at a time!  I don’t even need to send a whole package to give him a card; I can just tuck it into a greeting card and mail it with a regular stamp to his FPO address.  It’s an easy, cheap way to keep your loved one feeling at home while they are away.

I’m not a big shopper, but when I go to Walmart or Target, I always find fun little gifts to send to Radar.  He likes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the old goofy ones, not the new mean ones), and I stumbled upon an insulated coffee cup and a plastic tumbler decorated with them, so I included them with my last package.  That package also included the Michaelangelo turtle screen cleaner, so I ended up with a theme for the package.  I’ve seen all these adorable ideas on Pinterest for decorating the inside of the box.  And you know I’m crafty, but I don’t feel like taking the box apart to wrap the whole thing, or pulling out paint to attempt to make something pretty with my lack of art skills.  So I came up with a simpler (lazy-man’s) version of the cute care package.  I find images that I want to include, then print them as 5×7’s on my color printer and glue them to the flaps of the box.  The TMNT box had photos of the turtles, pizza, and the rat (I can never remember his name).  My first care package had funny flight-related memes that I found.  It’s just a little something fun that brings a little sunshine to his day, because let’s be honest – he’s a guy, and it’s what’s inside the box that he cares about!

I try to include things that he may be able to get, but would never buy for himself.  I’ll send Brookside chocolate covered fruit because I know he loves it, and it’s a nice treat.  Or I’ll get him treats at Trader Joe’s, because who doesn’t love their stuff??  I also love to include things I make, such as the fox mug I sent in his first package.  Nothing too expensive (I mean, we have a budget to stick to!) but just some little things I know he’ll enjoy.

And that’s the key to the care package.  It’s not about spending a lot of money on them, or even stuffing the box full.  It’s a reminder of home, a way to let them know that you’re thinking about them all the time, and bring a little light into those hard days away.  I can’t imagine doing what Radar does, and if I can make it a little easier for him, I’m going to!

Those are my tips for ideas to put in a care package, but I have one more secret to share.  Anyone who sends care packages internationally is oh-too-familiar with the customs form.  I don’t know about you, but I hate filling them out.  And I usually have to fill out 2 (and occasionally 3) because of the varied items I put in each box!  It’s a pain in the butt to fill out the same information every time (and often multiple times) for every package.  So now, I print labels!  As long as the information requested is on each carbon copy, the post office doesn’t care how it’s done.  The labels I found work the best are 1-1/3″x4″ (Avery makes some) – but that’s the biggest that will really fit in the little boxes.  I print a bunch at the beginning of deployment and save the Word file, so if I need more it’s super easy (each form requires 5 labels with sender and receiver).  Saves me the time and frustration of writing the same information over and over in those tiny little boxes.  You could probably even make one label with a space in the middle that includes sender and recipient information.

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Obviously I printed all our info, I just didn’t feel like broadcasting our addresses over the internet!

For now, those are all my little secrets and tips for care packages.  If you have anything to share, please comment and let me know!  I’m always looking for more inspiration!

 

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Showing Off

This post doesn’t have a tutorial, but I just wanted to show off a couple of things 🙂

As I mentioned before, Peach just celebrated her first birthday.  Her great-grandma (my paternal grandmother) is an incredible seamstress and has already made some gorgeous clothes for the kids, but I think this gift takes the cake.  My mom and I gave her a smocker for Christmas last year, and she made the most beautiful and perfect outfit for Peach!  She hand-sewed all the detail at the top – isn’t that incredible??  The bottoms are supposed to be capris, but they’re more like pants now, which means Peach will get to wear them for a while before she outgrows them!  Yay!

GGMa Smock

My happy girl loves to show off her teeth! I actually took the bottoms off in the right photo, to show it as a dress.

I also had a project commissioned last week as well.  A friend used to admire the diaper kit I had for Monster when he was a baby, and asked if I’d make her one to give to her sister, who is having a little girl.  I bought some fabric a while back just because it was pretty, and it was perfect for this project!  Funny story, I appliqued “ava” on it at first… should have double checked the name!  Luckily I sent my friend a picture before I put the changing pad together and she corrected me so I didn’t have to undo it.  I changed up my method on the diaper envelope a little, and like the outcome – instead of just stitching up the sides where it’s folded, I started in one corner and stitched around 3 sides (left, top, and right) to give it a more polished look.  I still backstitched at the top of the envelope sides, though, because it’s going to get some tugging.

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I love the pink on pink polka dots and chevrons

More tutorials to come, I just wanted to brag a little in this post!

 

Easier Quiet Book, Part 4

Finally, we have reached the home stretch!  This post will describe how to put your pages from Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 together, and then how to bind them in a nice book.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer – the key to the genius binding is D rings and binder rings.  I got my inspiration from a binder pencil case.  I’ve seen lots of quiet book tutorials that use binder rings, but they all use eyelets or grommets, which I have found to be problematic and unreliable in application.  But D rings are inexpensive, easy to sew with, and don’t require any special equipment or superhuman strength.  So now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag, let’s get to it!

Supplies to Complete the Quiet Book:

  • 9 D rings (3 per page)
  • 1.5 yard ribbon, about the same width as the straight part of the D rings
  • 3 1-1.5″ binder rings
  • 20.5″x9.5″ fabric for outer cover
  • 20.5″x9.5″ fabric for inner cover
  • 3″x9.5″ fabric matching inner cover
  • 2″x8.5″ stiff Pelon for binding

I paired the pages they way I blogged them; each set of two pages has one with batting already attached and one without.  You need to “install” your D rings as you put the pages together.  For each page (which will have 2 of the pages you made, one on front and one in back), cut 3 pieces of ribbon about 3″ long.  Mark the edge of your batting page at 2″, 4.5″, and 7″.  Slide each ribbon through a D ring, and pin to your page about 1/2″ from the edge (the distance isn’t as important as uniformity).  Baste them on a scant 1/4″ from the edge.  Remove the pins.

D Rings

Left: Mark the page to line up the D ring ribbons. Right: Pinned and sewn in place

Place the page you want on the backside on top, right sides together (make sure they’re both facing the same way, that is top matching top and bottom with bottom).  Stitch around the edge with 1/4″ seam allowance, leaving an opening about 3-4″ long on the bottom edge (not at a corner).  Be careful not to hit the D rings with the needle!  Clip the corners (along with anything sticking out, like ribbons) and turn right side out.  Fold the open edges in, and stitch all the way around the outer edge of the page with a scant 1/4″ seam allowance, backstitching at the beginning and end to secure.

Page Assembly

Left: Pin the two pages right sides together. Center: Sewn, and corners clipped. Right: Turned right side out and topstitched around the edges (don’t forget to turn in the edges on the opening)

The process is the same for all 3 pages except the one with the dry erase.  For this page, there are 2 changes:

  1. Before you sew the two pages together, put the eraser between the pages with the loose end of the ribbon sticking out between 2 of the D rings.
  2. When you are doing the final topstitch, put the 9″x9″ vinyl piece on top to act as your dry erase surface.  After you stitch it on, trim off excess vinyl.
Dry Erase

Left: See how the eraser end sticks out? That’s because of step 1 above. Right: Vinyl makes a pretty good dry erase surface!

Once the pages are assembled, you’re ready to make the cover.  Gather all your supplies listed above, plus cut two pieces of the ribbon ***” long.

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Not pictured: Batting for between the layers; cover pieces are shown folded in half

Iron batting onto the cover piece that will be the outside, and place the two cover pieces right sides together.  Sew 1/4″ seam allowance all the way around, leaving an opening about 4″ wide on the bottom.  Clip corners, turn right side out, and topstitch around the outside to close the opening and secure the cover.  Iron the small piece of inside fabric onto the stiff Pellon, centering the Pellon on the backside of the fabric.  Then fold the sides of the fabric over to the back, and stitch in place.  Use one of the completed pages to mark where the D rings will lie.  Attach one end of a piece of ribbon, then fold it over and stitch in place with 2 lines, one on each side of the mark for each D ring.  Fold the end over (trim off excess ribbon) and secure in place.

Binding

Creating the binding

Attach a handle to the outer cover by folding the end of the other ribbon in an S shape (to prevent fraying) on either end and sew in place securely to the outside (think of a kid carrying the book by this handle!).  Then flip the cover over and attach the binding by stitching along the line you stitched before to secure the flaps of fabric to the back.  Be sure not to catch the handle in your stitching!

Attach Binding

Left: The S shape I’m talking about for the ribbon handle ends. Center: The inside of where the handle is sewn on. Right: After the binding is attached (see how I used the same stitch lines on the binding, so it doesn’t show more stitches?)

Slide your binder rings through their spaces, hook all your D rings in, and close them up, and you’re done!  You have a fun, easy way to entertain your kids when they need to be quiet!  Don’t forget to grab a dry erase marker on the way out the door.

Binder Rings

You could make the cover pieces a little longer so the pages are the same length once they’re on the rings if you want

I may even add more tutorials later with additional pages I make… by now you know I can’t leave well enough alone!  I hope you gain some confidence to try out a quiet book from my tutorial.  There’s nothing better than your kids having a blast for hours, playing with something you made yourself!

Easier Quiet Book, Part 3

This is the 3rd installment of my easier quiet book for less advanced sewers.  Click the links to check out Part 1 and Part 2.  The first page I’ll describe here is a lift the lap page, similar to the one I made before, but without the applique – it’s all iron-on!  And the second page in this post is a dry erase page, which was inspired by a chalk page I found on Pinterest.  The 4th and final post in this series will describe how to put your book together and bind it.

Lift the Flap

Supplies:

  • Cute fabric with whatever print you want to hide (I used animals)
  • Various colors of felt
  • Heat N Bond Ultra
  • 9″x9″ background fabric
  • 9″x9″ fusible batting

Cut small rectangles of Heat N Bond Ultra and iron onto the back of each of your desired characters, following the directions on the package.  Then, cut out characters in neat shapes (I did rectangles, but you can get creative!).

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The Heat N Bond rectangles don’t need to be perfect – they’ll be trimmed later. If you look really hard, you can see I have a snail under the paper here.

Iron the fusible batting onto the 9″x9″ fabric to stabilize it.  Arrange the characters on the fabric (remember that you’ll lose about 1/2″ on the edges), peel off the paper, and iron in place.  Cut felt pieces to be a bit larger than the characters, and sew along one edge.  I recommend backstitching along the whole seam, as kids love to pull hard on these!  Also, you can use the method I described in Part 2 to tie the ends of the threads to secure.  And that’s it!  A simple page for a game of peek-a-boo.

Lift Flap

Left: Characters attached to page. Center: Flaps attached. Right: Back side, you can see the knots to secure the thread ends.

Dry Erase

Supplies:

  • 4.25″x9″ blue fabric
  • 5.25″x9″ green fabric
  • 10″ thin ribbon
  • 3″x8″ black felt
  • 9″x9″ vinyl, to be used later

Sew the blue and green fabric together, press the seam to one side and topstitch to secure the seam allowance (if you click the photo, you can see I folded the seam allowance to the green side, then stitched it in place with green thread).  Sew about 1.5″ of the ribbon onto the 3″x8″ piece of felt, sticking out from the short edge (as before, sew along the ribbon, not across it so that it will stand up to tugging).  Fold the felt in half and sew around the edge.  This page will take its final form in the next post, when we assemble the book, so that’s all there is for now!

Parts of Page

Left: Attach the ribbon to the felt. Center: Fold the felt and stitch all the way around to make the eraser. Right: The page (blue for sky and green for grass).

Stay tuned for the final post, which will detail how to put the book together with a new, easy binding method!

Just wanted to make a quick note as I celebrate a milestone – this is my 50th blog post!  Wow!  It’s been about 6 months, and I am just loving documenting and sharing the things I make.  Thanks for reading along with me 🙂

Easier Quiet Book, Part 2

In Part 1, I posted tutorials for a parachute buckle page and a matching page.  This part will detail how to make a soccer maze and an iPhone in a pocket!  In my last quiet book tutorial I included a button maze, but saw this idea on Pinterest and though it was brilliant – so much easier for little fingers to manipulate something they can see!  Plus, the book is for my niece, who is half Albanian, so I knew soccer would be a hit.  For the back side of the page,  I simplified this idea to be just an iPhone in a jeans pocket.  Perfect for a kiddo growing up in today’s world!

Button Soccer Maze

Supplies:

  • Soccer Maze Pattern
  • 9″x9″ green square of fabric
  • White button, 3/4″-1″ diameter
  • White fabric scraps
  • Heat N Bond (any variety)
  • Green thread

Start by cutting out the pattern and tracing it onto the paper side of the Heat N Bond (don’t forget to trace 2 goal posts).  Follow the directions to iron onto your white fabric, and cut them out.  Next, turn your white button into a soccer ball using a fine point Sharpie – I practiced on paper first, and found hexagons were the easiest to draw (for an awesome tutorial, check out this link).  Then, fold your green fabric square in quarters and mark the center (where all the folds meet).  Open it up, place your white pieces in place (don’t forget to remove the paper backing) and iron on.

Soccer Parts

Place the green tulle square on top and sew less than 1/4″ around the whole edge, inserting the soccer ball button before you seal it up.  Sew along the outsides of the goal posts, and tuck the ball into one of the goals.  Line up the maze pattern with the edges and goal posts (green lines on the pattern), pin in place, and sew along the maze lines (marked in black).  Yes, you can sew right on top of the paper!  Then, just tear the paper off – the where the needle pierced the paper acts as perforation and the paper should come off relatively easily, revealing a perfect maze!

Soccer Maze

Left: Soccer field with tulle sewn on and button soccer ball inserted. Center: Pin the pattern on top. You can see I trapped the ball in the bottom goal with an extra pin to keep from hitting it with my machine. Right: Maze is sewn, now you just need to pull off the paper.

At the end of each line in the maze, pull the front thread to the back and tie a knot to secure – you don’t want the maze walls to come apart with play!  On the back side, pull on the loose thread, and you’ll see a little loop appear.  Use a pin to pull on this little loop, and you’ll pull the thread tail from the front.  Then just tie the two in a knot together to secure.  I also showed this method in my original applique post, but the picture below is better, I think.

Knots

Left: That’s the little loop you’re looking for. Right: When you pull the thread tail from the front, you will not lose any stitches, so don’t worry about that!

Jean Pocket with iPhone

Supplies:

  • Jean iPhone Pattern
  • Blue felt
  • Yellow thread, and coordinating thread
  • Felt, color of your choice for back of phone
  • Black cotton, for front of phone and Apple logo
  • Blue cotton, for phone screen
  • Heat N Bond Ultra
  • Thick fusible Pellon (the kind that’s almost like cardboard)
  • 10″ thin white ribbon
  • 9″x9″ blue cotton
  • 9″x9″ fusible batting
  • Puffy paints (optional)

Trace one phone pattern, the Apple logo, and the screen shape onto the paper side of the Heat N Bond Ultra.  Iron the phone pattern and Apple logo onto the black fabric, and the screen pattern onto the blue.  Cut felt and thick Pellon out using the phone pattern.  Line the ribbon up at the center of the bottom of the Pellon piece, with about 1.5″ on top of the phone.  Stitch along the ribbon along that 1.5″ to attach it (go parallel, not perpendicular – this is going to take a lot of stress!).  Iron the felt onto the fusible side of the Pellon, following the directions (be careful not to melt your felt).  Then iron the black fabric onto the other side of the Pellon, and add the details of the screen and Apple logo to complete the phone as pictured below.  Stitch around the outside of the phone to secure all 3 layers.

Phone

Left: All the phone pieces you need to cut (note ribbon attached to Pellon). Center: Screen side of phone completed. Right: Back side of phone completed.

Iron the fusible batting onto the 9″x9″ blue fabric to stabilize it.  Sew the free end of the iPhone “cord” to the blue fabric, about 1/3 of the way from the bottom and centered left to right.  Just like with the phone, attach it by sewing along the ribbon for about 1-1.5″, not perpendicular.  Cut out the jean pocket from felt, and add any embellishments you want.  I went for a simple pattern.  Then attach the pocket to the blue square, covering the end of the ribbon you sewed on.  Be sure to backstitch at the top of the pocket, it’s going to get pulled on!  If you feel like getting fancy, you can use some puffy paints to make the iPhone more realistic.

Assemble Phone

Left: Phone attached to page. Center: Finished phone in pocket. Right: I decided to have a little fun with the paint!

Stay tuned for the 3rd post, which will have tutorials for two more pages!  And finally, the 4th will describe a new, simpler way to put your quiet book together.

Easier Quiet Book, Part 1

On my trip to Arizona with the kids back in July, I was sitting next to 2 other moms with kids around the same age, and they ooh’ed and aah’ed when I pulled out the quiet book I made for Peach and Monster.  But they both said the same thing – they have some sewing skills, but could never make something that intricate.  That’s when the lightbulb went off over my head.  I needed to make a tutorial for someone who isn’t big into applique and doesn’t feel as confident sewing the thick binding the way I suggested before.  So I’ve made yet another quiet book, this one requiring only straight stitching and a much easier binding method.  As a bonus, you can add more pages to this one!  I’ll also be breaking it up into easier-to-chew chunks, with 3 posts showcasing 2 pages each and a 4th to show my new (brilliant) binding method.

To start off, I made a parachute buckle page like I did before.  But this time instead of making my own holders for the buckles, I used some nice ribbon to make it easier!  I also included a matching page again, but made it a little simpler for the less experienced sewer.

Parachute Buckle Page

Supplies:

  • 5 parachute buckles
  • 20 inches each of 5 ribbons, 1 kind for each buckle (consider width and color of buckles)
  • 9″x9″ square of fabric
  • 9″x9″ square of fusible batting
  • Coordinating thread

To start off, prepare your page by ironing the batting onto the wrong side of the fabric (follow the directions that came with the batting).  Then cut your ribbon into 10-inch segments.  Push each piece of ribbon through the desired buckle, and stitch back and forth several times near the buckle to secure in place.  Pin your buckles on your prepared book page in the desired locations and sew in place less than 1/4″ from the edge of the book.

Parachute Clips

Left: Ribbons and buckles assembled. Right: Finished page – don’t you love the multicolored zebra fabric?

Don’t worry about trimming the ribbon tails just yet – you can do that when you assemble the pages together.  That’s it for this page!  About as simple as it can get, no?

Matching Page

Supplies:

  • Cute print to use for matching characters
  • 30″ thin ribbon
  • 2 2″x7″ pieces of fusible interfacing
  • 6 1/2″x1/2″ pieces of felt
  • Heat N Bond Ultra
  • 3 sew-on snaps
  • 9″x9″ square fabric

To start, iron small pieces of Heat N Bond Ultra on the wrong side of 2 of each of the characters (follow the directions on the package).  Then, cut the characters out and iron onto the 9″x9″ fabric in a different order on the left and right.  On the back of the page, iron on the two strips of fusible interfacing; one should be just to the inside of the characters on the left, and the other should be right down the middle of the characters on the right.  The interfacing just serves to strengthen the fabric where it’s likely to get tugged on a lot – where we attach the ribbons and the snaps.

Next, stitch the male snaps onto the characters (I gave my animals belly buttons, but you can place them anywhere that makes sense), and the female snaps each onto a 1/2″x1/2″ felt square.  Then cut the ribbon into 3 10″ segments and stitch a piece of felt to the end of each.  Place a piece of felt with a ribbon and one with a snap together (snap facing out, ribbon facing in) and hand stitch around the outside; repeat for the other 2.

Attach the end of each ribbon right next to a character by sewing about an inch along the ribbon; backstitch several times to secure.  Be sure to go along, not across – the ribbon is so thin, you won’t get a good hold if you stitch perpendicular to it.  And that’s it!  You’ve created a cute and simple matching page.

Matching

Left: Interfacing placement on the back (left is right and vice versa since it’s the back). Center: Finished product with the two pieces it’s made of. Right: Completed matching page.

Stay tuned for the next two pages in a couple of days!  You can find Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 in the links.

Knock Your Socks Off Caesar Dressing

One of my favorite salads is Caesar.  That shouldn’t be a surprise, as I LOVE garlic!  My grandfather invented this recipe for home-made Caesar dressing, and passed it on to my mom and then me.  It’s definitely not for someone who doesn’t like garlic – it really will knock your socks off!  But it’s one of our family favorites, so I knew I had to share it on my blog.  They used to grind the garlic with the salt in the salad bowl using a pestle, but one day my mom decided to use her Magic Bullet and we haven’t looked back since!

Knock Your Socks Off Caesar Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 c olive oil
  • 1/2 c lemon juice
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 tsp mustard powder
  • 4″ (about 1 tsp) anchovy paste (from the tube)
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Add all ingredients to a blender and pulse until a uniform mixture is achieved; be sure all the garlic is chopped small!  Serve over Romaine lettuce with your favorite “stick cheese” (Parmesan, or Parmesan blend) and croutons.  Store in a glass jar (recycled from a store-bought sauce or Mason) to prevent garlic from getting into plastic; keeps for a week in the fridge.

Radar complains that my dressing is too lemon-y, because I also like lemons, so you can cut down on the juice if you prefer (although I already cut it back some for this recipe – I usually do a 1:1 ratio with the oil!).  When I’m by myself, like now with deployment, I tend to skip the cheese because I just don’t eat it fast enough; I’m also not a huge crouton fan, so I pretty much just eat lettuce and dressing – yum!

You’ll definitely want to keep some breath mints handy for after you eat this delicious dressing!

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Caesar salad, “au naturelle”