April 12, 2016

Big Finish: Judy's Baby Quilt



My roster of nieces grew by one last month, so of course I had to make her a baby quilt. My sister was good enough to go along with my suggestion of a Joel Dewberry charm collection (with a few miscellaneous additions), and she chose a diamond design based on color values. I know this isn't her first choice of fabric, so I've promised to make Judy a larger quilt when she gets a little older. For now, this baby size is just right for napping.


The longarm quilting was done by my fellow Knoxville Modern Quilt Guild member Pat Pike, who always does a fantastic job. I really like this squared chevron design.



March 13, 2016

2015 Quilts in Review

It's the middle of March and far too late for a 2015 recap, but this post has been in progress for a while so bear with me. I worked on other projects in 2015, but these quilts feel like my biggest accomplishments given the time involved. Some of these projects slipped under my blogging radar for one reason or another, so this is a great opportunity to fill in those gaps and do one final round-up. So here goes!

1. Cottage Garden Circles (see blog post here)
MQG Challenge with Riley Blake fabrics (rules loosely followed)



2. Chicopee Flowers (started in 2013! see blog post here)
For me!



3. Kite Tails (see blog post and more photos here)
Given to my brother, sister-in-law, and their daughters for Christmas



4. Sunny Check Plus
Commissioned for a family friend's grandson. Pattern from Quilty Magazine, Nov/Dec 2014 issue






5. Woodland HSTs
Made with woodland animals fabric won in an online giveaway - an effort to try to use up this fabric!



 


6. Ole Miss Pinwheels
Commissioned by my former boss for her friend's new baby. The logo was a challenge to figure out. At first I was going to embroider it with a satin stitch, but I got to the M and realized that was a terrible idea. So I printed a logo found online, enlarged it, and turned it into essentially two appliques - red on blue and then blue onto a blank square in the quilt top layout.



After machine quilting around the applique square, I went back and hand quilted around the applique.
Requested label in the shape of Tennessee

7. Halloween Pillows
I'm counting these as quilts because they're paper pieced and pretty intricate as far as pillows go. I made them as gifts for my two friends - sisters - whose birthdays are near Halloween.





8. Penny's Hexies
The perfect doll quilt for my little niece. I made this using a tutorial from a Knoxville Modern Quilt Guild meeting and simply quilted the hexagons onto two fat quarters. I gave this to Penny for Christmas and she loves to put it on her lap (back side up, of course) when she's reading to her babies.


February 19, 2016

Disney Cruise Tips 2016


Disney_Tips

Disney Cruise Tips and Advice

It's Spring Break time!!!!!! Our family is ready to embark (make that pack and dash because we NEED a vacation) on our third Disney Cruise. I. Love. Disney. Cruises. In my opinion, they're THE BEST solution for working parents because you don't have to do anything except show up. No grocery shopping, no cleaning up, no returning a key, no feeding, no laundry -- NOTHING until you get home. Now THAT is a vacation!

Doesn't that just sound heavenly? Wouldn't you love a vacation that doesn't leave you feeling like you need another vacation? What are you waiting for? Time to get planning!

My family has traveled on ships that took us both to the Caribbean and to more far-flung international destinations, so this mama feels pretty qualified to share the tips and tricks I've picked up along the way. Several of my friends who have cruised with their families have also contributed to this list and we'll continue to add to it with each sailing.

Booking Your Cruise
I recommend booking with a travel agency versus just booking on the Disney cruise site blindly for a few reasons....
  1. Knowledge and recommendations: Our agent has said to us, "I don't think you would like that room" and then recommended options that were spot on. That insight is valuable.
  2. Shipboard credits: Walking onto the ship knowing your spa appointment is covered is a good thing.
  3. Confidence that all will go well: If you can use a computer, you can guarantee an excellent cruise experience.
  4. Travel agents know the best rooms on the ship that minimize noise, movement and have great views.
If you're ready to start looking at prices, I highly recommend Dreams Unlimited. Our travel agent, Kristie Bennett, is top-notch. She sends out updates and reviews, checks in, answers questions, and is my go-to for anything Disney. I'm not getting any type of credit or discount for saying this: She's just the best.

***PRE-CRUISE***
Online Planner
Once you're “booked,” you will have access to the Disney online cruise planner that will lead you through the process and help you set everything up before you board.

  • You will do everything on here except book transportation to and from the airport or trip insurance. Talk to your travel agent for those arrangements.Having compared prices, Disney transportation came out less inexpensive than getting a car service.
  • Book your spa appointments and excursions as soon as you possibly can. They fill up quickly -- especially those for days at sea. With excursions, pay attention to the age ranges as they have some designed especially for the littles and kids and some for the tweens/teens. Note: When we book we always end up with a shipboard credit that immediately goes towards a spa appointment or an excursion.
  • I recommend booking a spa day/massage for Day 2. It's the best way to shake off the busy feeling and get into vacation mode. Plus, usually by Day 2 the kiddos are ready to hit Kid’s Club after being on board for a day. 
  • I do not recommend manicures or pedicures on the ship unless you really, really love them. They are expensive and unless you get gel, the polish will wear off in the sea water and pool. Splurge and get one before you go at a local salon for half the price.
  • Make sure you check the kids in for kid care so they get a “band” when you arrive for check-in AT THE PORT. It is pretty busy on the ship and a great thing to do while you wait for your boarding number to be called.
  • About a month before you leave, luggage tags and instructions will come in the mail. You'll also receive a cruise packet containing cards with a phone number family can use to reach you in case of an emergency.
  • Pick an early boarding time. You can board, grab lunch and enjoy the day out at the pool or exploring the ship before the ship leaves port!
  • Take advantage of the "phone call" from a Disney character. I recommend getting the call the day before the trip because they are going to go crazy! Set it up online, put it on speaker and video your kids as they hear it. Precious!

For additional tips and ideas check out our Disney Cruise and Parks Pinterest Board.

Dinner: Early or Late Seating Choice
If you have little kids, request early dinner. Most kids can’t hold out until the later dinner unless they're 7 and older. It's better to let them fall asleep in the show after dinner than at the dinner table in the middle of your meal. For kids 6 and under, I recommend a planned nap each afternoon if you want them to get through the evening show, character meet and greets, and deck parties in the evening. Late seating does allow you more time to spend in the pool and on excursions before getting ready for dinner, but a nap becomes mandatory or you’ll never get through the evening with the littles.

Packing Tips
  1. A flashlight and/or a night light for getting to the bathroom or checking on the kiddos at night. It's really dark in the rooms and you don’t want to wake everyone up with the bedside light.
  2. A room deodorizer for the bathroom. It is not horrible, but it does get a little stale in there after a few days and it makes a difference. 
  3. A motion sickness bracelet. You may not need it, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared. We didn't use ours and I passed it along to a friend for her cruise.
  4. Only take an umbrella stroller if you're doing an excursion that the littles won’t last through (the length is listed on the excursion details page). You won't need the stroller otherwise and it will be just one more thing to haul around and keep track of.
  5. A water bottle. You can refill it on board and avoid overpaying for bottles of water. 
  6. A jacket, sweater, or wrap for chilly dining rooms.
  7. At least two swimsuit cover-ups. You’ll wear them all over the place while on board or at Castaway Cay.
  8. Two swimsuits per person so one is always dry.
  9. A princess or superhero costume if your kiddo needs one for wearing/taking pictures or for formal night. They sell them on ship, but they can cost around $70, so if you have one at home, it is worth it to pack.
  10. If you're traveling overseas, check the weather daily leading up to your travel date so you can pack appropriately. Many of the European cruises (and Alaska) are not warm at all, and you'll need lots of layers.
  11. Something dressy to wear if you have a formal night. You'll want to look nice as there are plenty of opportunities to get family photos and meet the captain as well as your favorite Disney friends. If you don't have a formal night, stick to sun dresses for the ladies, polo shirts and khaki shorts/slacks for the men. You are only wearing these for dinners, so reuse and recycle. There are washers and dryers on board that are very reasonable and you can run a load at night if needed.
  12. Disney is one of the few companies that allows you to bring alcohol on board. Check the policies before you sail if you want to bring your own. 
  13. In the past you could take a souvenir, leave it at the guest services desk and the characters would sign it. Disney has ended this (frown), so now an autograph book is a must! For our next cruise, I'm going to get an autograph/photograph book that holds a picture on each page since you can take your own photos with your phone. This is an easy and inexpensive photo book for your kiddo to look at post cruise.
  14. You will probably over pack. Here's a great list I am referring to in prepping for this next cruise on my Pinterest board:  Disney Cruise PACKING LIST 
  15. The soap, shampoo and conditioner on the cruise are similar quality to what you would get at a Westin or "W" Hotel. Don't waste space packing those items unless you have allergies or are sensitive to scents/products.
  16. If you are a first time cruiser, bring an inexpensive lanyard with a plastic envelope to hold your "Key to the World" card. If you are a return cruiser, Disney provides you a lanyard at check-in. 
  17. Take a picture of your contact information and make it your lock screen wallpaper on your phone. If you lose your phone, you've just made it easier for someone to get it back to you and potentially avoid digging through lost and found.
There is usually a pirate night/deck party and people dress up at all levels. They gave us pirate bandannas at dinner, and we had matching shirts I bought on Etsy that had Mickey (dad) and Minnie (mom and H) pirate shapes on them with some jeans. Some people went all “Pirates of the Caribbean.” It's fun, so don’t worry about over- or under-doing it - you are on VACATION! This is a great opportunity to pull out those Halloween pirate costumes and get another wear out of them.

When it comes to souvenirs, save money and buy a few souvenirs at your local party store or Target to pack away and pull out on the cruise. There are some Disney-exclusive souvenirs on board, so you may also want to buy a Disney gift card at home and let your kids pick out an item there. H purchased an autograph book on ship she carried around when meeting the characters. Glow sticks, necklaces, and bracelets for the Deck Party are a hit. Anything Mickey or Minnie, like sunglasses or ears, is fun to surprise the kids with throughout the week.
Hotel
If your ship leaves out of the U.S. I recommend that you get there the day before so everyone is well rested when you board the ship.

If you leave from Port Canaveral, this is my hotel pick:
Residence Inn Cape Canaveral Cocoa Beach
8959 Astronaut Blvd.,
Cape Canaveral, Florida 32920
USA Phone: 1-321-323-1100 Fax: 1-321-323-1029
They have a heated pool, free breakfast, and shuttle service/parking packages to the ships. Parking at the port is not cheap so compare prices at area hotels.


If your ship leaves out of Miami, opt for the Disney transportation option. At $45/person round trip, it's cheaper than car service and takes you right to the ship. If you are flying in, Disney will distribute onboard check-in materials 3 days before you arrive at port. Basically if you arrange it, you pack your bags and will see them again when you arrive home at baggage claim - EXCELLENT!

International Departure
If your ship leaves from an international port, you must arrive a day early. Trust me, jet-lag is the enemy and you'll need a day to compose yourself and begin to get back on track physically and mentally. Finding a hotel overseas was the most anxiety-inducing piece of my cruise experience, but I found some help. I highly recommend Tablet Hotels. This site specializes in boutique hotels, and we were very happy with our choice. Booking internationally was just like booking on a U.S. site, and many of the hotels have features you normally wouldn't get at your local hotel. For example, our hotel in Copenhagen had different snacks on each stairway landing (I'm guessing to encourage people to take the stairs because the elevator was so small!). Make sure you read the reviews and check the area of the city for safety and convenience concerns.

***CRUISING ***


Packing Carry-Ons
Your carry-on is important! Often the rooms on the ship aren't ready until 3 p.m., so pack your carry-on with the following items and any other essentials that you'll want to access until you can get to your room.
  • Cruise paperwork, including passports if needed
  • Camera/phone. Mickey and his friends usually show up at the terminal and you can get pictures with him before you get on board. There will be Disney photographers there, but they will use your camera if you ask them, which saves big $$ on pics.
  • Autograph book
  • Swimsuit, cover-up, and flip flops
  • Any medicines you might need to take
  • SUNSCREEN- if you are going to over pack on something, make it sunscreen
  • A hat (if you're like me and burn immediately no matter how much sunscreen you're wearing)
  • Book or magazine if you want to relax, or none if you want to explore the ship
  • Lanyard if you are a first time cruiser
  • Your signed cruise paperwork noted during your online registration process.
  • Note: Don’t bring food. Once you're on board, there is a TON of food.
Boarding
  • Boarding is fun, so don’t stress too much about ALL THE PEOPLE. The line moves pretty quickly because Disney staff does this every 5 or 7 days. 
  • Make sure you get a Personal Navigator newsletter which will provide you with the available activities as well as special events like tastings, princess meet and greets and other specialty events you want to get tickets for immediately to guarantee a spot. Each night, stateroom staff will provide you a new Navigator for the next day.
  • You’ll probably be hungry, so head to the cafĂ© for a huge buffet.
  • Relax. Your bags will show up in time for you to clean up for dinner, so do not stress about this AT ALL.
  • Disney offers cellular plans if you need to check email while on board. The prices aren’t cheap, but worth it for piece of mind if you need to check in. Visit the info desk to arrange access when you first get on the ship (they will walk you through turning off automatic updates which will eat up your allotted MBs quickly) --  or don’t sign up and enjoy your unplugged vacation. 
  • If your ship offers Princess meet and greet tickets, you'll want to head straight to Guest Services to pick up tickets first thing. This is new to Disney Cruises (just like Fast Passes at the park) and if your little one loves Anna and Elsa like mine does, you'll need to head right over and get tickets ASAP. 
Breakfast
The buffet breakfast restaurant can be crazy-busy in the morning. If you want a quieter breakfast experience, head to the open dining room on the ship. You can order breakfast off the menu and enjoy a more peaceful start to your day.

Dinner
You dine with the same assigned people and the same wait staff, but each night you change restaurants. This order will be outlined for you at check-in and is abbreviated on your Key to the World card so you know.

On Board Tips
If your kids have an autograph book and want to meet the characters, you’ll need to know who is where. Pay attention to the Personal Navigator you get each day -- it has all the things you can do including character greetings, activities, movies, etc. I even went to an animation session and learned how to draw Mickey and Donald! There's a Personal Navigator app too, but I found the paper version to be just as handy and it didn’t drain my phone battery.

On the first day on board, go to the open house at Kid’s Club. Walk around with the kiddos and check it out. Learn how to use the hand washing stations. Basically make it familiar so they want to go and they know what to do. Kid's Club has planned activities and even serves the kids lunch and dinner if they're in there at the right time. Details on activities are in the Personal Navigator.

Disney pools DO NOT ALLOW SWIM DIAPERS. The only place swim diapers are welcome is at the splash pad which is best for kids 5 and under. If you choose to take off your child's swim diaper and they have an accident are as Disney calls it an "Accidental Release" in the kid's pool, they will close it immediately for cleaning which takes about 4 hours. Please, please, please, please,  if your kiddo isn't confident without the swim diaper, don't ruin it for everyone. Keep them in the splash pad. There are places to sit and relax there too and the kids just love them. 

Go to the shows each night after dinner and sit in the first 5 rows if possible. You’ll see why!
They air first-run movies on board, which is a great activity for a rainy day or just in the evening.

Your cabin door is magnetic, so you can take magnets to stick on it. You can find ideas on Pinterest.

"Free Items"
You can order Mickey bars ice cream from room service for free! Actually, ALL OF ROOM SERVICE IS FREE except for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, so if you need coffee first thing (like me), call the night before and request a delivery at a set time in the morning.
And while I’m on ice cream, there's a serve yourself soft serve station that I guarantee will be the highlight of your kids' day once they know it exists.

Excursion at Castaway Cay
When you get off at Castaway Cay, there's a free BBQ lunch, non-alcoholic drinks and desserts. It is the best. You will love Castaway Cay if the weather cooperates. There are plenty of excursions to chose from on the online planner including fishing trips, parasailing, wave runner rentals, etc. We were happy renting some snorkeling equipment and spending the rest of the day at the waters edge and under the umbrella. (Chairs, umbrellas and life vests are provided).


Tipping 
Don't get too hung up on this, and just plan to go with the ship recommendation and work it into your budget. The staff works very hard to make your Disney experience memorable. You have the opportunity to provide feedback and withhold tipping if your service is lousy ... but this has never happened to me.

Booking Your Next Disney Cruise
Disney will offer 10% off your next cruise if you book on ship or 30 days after. If you have any inkling that you will do it again, BOOK IT. A 10% discount is a lot of money and you can move around your destination/date if you need to. The booking agents on board are very patient and will answer all your questions. I would recommend doing this before the last day as usually there is a line when everyone does this before disembarking.

Now, HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!  



September 1, 2015

New Favorite Reversible Tote


When a project catches my eye, it tends to stay with me. This tote from Very Shannon has been rattling around in my mind since January, I think, when it showed up in my daily tutorial email from Sew Can She (http://www.sewcanshe.com/). I printed off the instructions and the pattern pieces and then forgot about them as I packed up all my sewing supplies and moved to Tennessee. A few months later, I rediscovered the pattern and decided to attempt a tote for myself - the green and white striped one. I was so happy with the results that I made another for my friend Jessica's birthday (the gray floral), and then I bought a bunch of fabric with which to make more. Get ready for a tote-filled Christmas, friends and family!


The only real challenge I had with this pattern is that when you use the same pattern to cut the exterior and interior fabrics, the interior ends up being too large. So when you tuck one into the other and then topstitch around the open edges, you'll likely have to fiddle with the raw edge of the interior piece and tuck it into the seam allowance quite a bit in order to make it fit.


The other change I made was to line both pieces (interior and exterior) with a lightweight fusible interfacing. The pattern calls for a mid-weight interfacing on only the exterior, but I had trouble with interfacing that wouldn't fuse and a lining that was kind of droopy. Fusing lightweight interfacing to both sides makes the final tote look crisper and cleaner, and it also holds its shape better when I set it down. For the totes shown here, the first one in green and white is double interfaced; the floral and green tote has interfacing on only the floral piece.


And here's one last tote I'm making for myself before I buckle down and start sewing them up for Christmas gifts.


July 30, 2015

Big Finish: Kite Tails Quilt



Another finished quilt to share - and even better, it's my first handmade Christmas present for 2015! Considering the fact that I started this quilt in 2014, I'm not as ahead of the game as it may seem. But still, it's done, so I'll set this one aside for gifting in 6 months and keep the recipient(s) a secret in the meantime.


This project started with a free pattern designed by Amy Friend of www.duringquiettime.com and distributed by the Modern Quilt Guild. The guild shares a unique pattern in each issue of its member newsletter, and this one caught my eye with its simple, subtly off-kilter design and rectangular paper-pieced blocks. I pulled blue and green fabrics from my stash, added a pop of yellow, and incorporated a couple of semi-solids to round it out. The addition of the pink fabrics for a little extra punch came when I only had a few more blocks left to make (and needed a break from all the blues and greens).


My favorite part of this quilt may be the backing fabric, which is an oversized text print from the Social Club collection by Eric and Julie Comstock for Moda. The greens and blues coordinate nicely with the front, and the large scale of the text is perfect for the back. I had to piece the back but did my best to match the print in the seam. Hopefully no one can see it aside from me. I'm happy to have a little extra backing left to incorporate into future projects.

For the quilting design, I created wide X's across each block to mimic the kite tail design. Then I went back and stitched on either side of the vertical seam lines in order to create some separation between the quilted tails. I expect the quilt to get a lot of use, and this amount of quilting is enough to hold it together but still keep it soft and snuggly. I bound it in a navy blue version of the aqua and turquoise fabrics and took a stab at machine binding using a zigzag stitch to ensure that it holds up over time. The finished size is approximately 58" x 70".

June 8, 2015

Couscous Salad with Chickpeas


This easy recipe for Couscous Salad with Chickpeas is one of my absolute favorites. I discovered it a few years ago and have made it many times for office pitch-in lunches and parties with friends. It's best made the day ahead so that the flavors can marry, and it gets better and better as a leftover. I recently pulled it out when my mom was looking for something to make for a weekend getaway with her friends, and as I was digging into the leftovers, I thought, "This is so good. I should share it on the blog." So here you go.

Source: Cooking Light, http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/couscous-salad-with-chickpeas

Couscous Salad with Chickpeas

Yield: 4 servings (serving size 1 1/3 cups)
Total time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
1 cup uncooked whole-wheat couscous
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (typically 1 large lemon)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
Dash of sugar
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint (I consider this optional)
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
One 15-ounce can chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 large ripe tomato, chopped (can substitute chopped grape or cherry tomatoes)
2/3 cup (3 ounces) crumbled feta cheese

Instructions
  1. Place couscous, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in boiling water, cover, and let stand 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
  2. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and sugar. Add to couscous and stir to combine.
  3. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, mint, onions, paprika, chickpeas, tomato, and feta.
Tip: Make a day ahead for best flavor.

June 7, 2015

Big Finish: Chicopee Flowers Quilt

DSC_0758

Confession: Some archived photos of my first few blocks for this quilt are dated May 2013, so I'll be honest and say I've been working on it for 2 years. It has always been a quilt I was making for myself, so the timeline was flexible. But now it's finished and I can show it off! I started with a Denyse Schmidt Chicopee jelly roll (2.5-inch strips of DS's Chicopee collection) and a variety of low-volume neutrals for the background, and I began assembling blocks using this flower quilt pattern from the book Jelly Roll Quilts by Pam and Nicky Lintott. It was one of the first quilting books I bought when I got back into this hobby and precuts were at the height of quilty popularity.



I increased the number of blocks to 61 so that it would be a better fit on my full-sized bed -- and then I had to buy a second jelly roll to actually make all those blocks. The blocks are easy to assemble, but with 13 pieces each, they do take a bit of time. Eventually I was chain-piecing 5 or 6 blocks at a time and making good use of my design wall.



For the background fabric, I used low-volume prints purchased from a bunch of different stores, including Indianapolis fave Crimson Tate and NYC's The City Quilter, which I visited on my birthday while on a trip with my mom. I love how this mixed background turned out and how it makes the overall design more interesting.


For the backing, in honor of my dearly departed tiger kitty Jack, I selected a print from Lizzy House's Catnap collection and pieced in another of Lizzy's prints to get the backing to size. The binding is also a Lizzy print. I love how the backing prints coordinate with the colors on the front without being too matchy-matchy.


Because of its size, I sent this quilt to Abby Latimer of Latimer Lane Quilting for longarm quilting using her plumage design. Abby did a wonderful job with the quilting (and also with centering the backing). After being bound, washed, and labeled, this quilt has visited the Knoxville Modern Quilt Guild and has been hanging out on my bed. The finished size is approx. 81 x 81 inches.

Sharing with the Knoxville Modern Quilt Guild

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