Friday, November 2, 2012

Southern Style Hurricane Preparation

We were thankfully spared Hurricane Sandy’s wrath – just a few downed branches and a lot of debris tossed about the yard. Our SC house (the usual target of hurricanes and tropical storms) came through just fine (thankfully, as my parents are staying there!). SC was spared this particular hurricane.
One thing that stands out to me after the storm though is the preparation process. When Sandy was pretty firmly predicted to hit NJ, I did what I assumed everyone did – filled the gas tank, bought supplies and started baking.

I posted this on several networks, including Facebook, and the responses were surprising. Every Southerner asked what I was cooking, if the propane tank was full on the grill and if I had filled up the gas tanks in the cars. Northerners thought cooking up a storm before the storm was weird or surprising, and were mostly fighting over the last loaf of bread at Target. I had just assumed that “everyone” knew what to do when an unprecedented storm came, since they come so often.

But they don’t. Not here, anyway.

Floyd, Bertha, Bonnie, Fran, Ivan…these are just a few of the big storms I remember, prepared for and lived through on the SC coast. But just like our little Southern beach towns were totally unprepared for the very few snowfalls we’ve seen in the last decade , the folks here in NJ had no idea how to prepare for a real tropical storm. For my Southern neighbors, though, that inch of snow meant every adult on our block was out playing in the street and marveling at the snow at 6am – and school was cancelled for 2-3 days.  A hurricane strike here in NJ  has had much more serious consequences.

Obviously you should stock up on the basics like bottled water -- but what else should you do?
I thought everyone did the same thing to prepare for a hurricane – but just in case you’ve never been in one, I hope some of this info helps! 

For our Northern friends and neighbors, here are a few things to remember and do before the next Sandy comes along:
1.       Watch the tropics, but don’t obsess: New reports usually come from NOAA at 8, 11, 2 and 5, around the clock. That frantic report at 10am, a full week before a storm is close? That’s based on the 8am advisory. Get your news direct from NOAA – read the actual advisory and look at the models. Look for more frequent updates the day the storm makes impact, but until then, true “breaking” news related to the actual weather is only available at these advisory times. I like – they seem to be the most factual and least likely to twist reports for maximum news impact. 

2.       Fill up…everything: Head to the gas station and fill up every car you have and a gas can too. You’ll need that extra gas if stations are closed (lack of electricity or unsafe conditions can close gas stations, and keep them closed long after a storm has passed). Fill up the propane tank for your grill – and have an extra handy. You can not only cook burgers on your grill, you can boil water for safe consumption – and coffee! 

3.       Get cash: Don’t wait until the last minute – hit the ATM and get actual cash. If the power goes out, ATMS won’t work – or they can and do run out of cash after a storm. 

4.       Eat the perishables, and don’t buy more: In the days before the storm, eat the perishables in the freezer – steak, burgers, whatever won’t last if the power goes out. I never stock our freezer well in the summer for this very reason. Cook them up and make dinner and you won’t have to worry about losing that pricey tenderloin you’ve got stashed away.

5.       Bake: Why baking? That question is what started this lengthy post! Baking converts perishable items like butter and eggs into nonperishable items like cookies, granola, muffins and more. You’ll end up with more good food on hand, and less to worry about in the fridge.

6.       Distribute supplies: I have 4 kids and several cats (each of whom took one look outside the day Sandy struck and hid under the bed in the in-law suite for the next 24 hours). Due to our large kitty/kid population, I don’t use real candles, so I distributed the lanterns and flashlights at strategic places upstairs and downstairs. I also put a flameless candle in each bedroom, just in case. Even if a storm hits during the day, it gets dark inside! I also pulled together a few books and other items for each of the kids, to be used only when the storm hit.

7.       Babies and Pets: Animals act weird before a storm, not sure why. We rounded up our chickens a full day early and secured everyone in the barn, with two days’ worth of food. I did check on them in the early hours of the storm, before it got too bad, but wanted to make sure they were ok, just in case.  Grab some extra pet food – and if you have a baby, some baby supplies as well. 

8.       Charge everything: Laptops, cell phones, even the kids sadly neglected DS’s -- we charged them all. If it casts light or can be used for entertainment when the power is out, get it charged and keep it charged, you’ll be glad you did. 

9.       Freeze water: Toss a few bottles of water into the freezer – just shove one into any exposed space. They’ll freeze and keep everything in there cold for a while if you lose power.

Hope these ideas help someone (though I certainly hope they aren’t needed anytime soon!)
Stay safe!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mechanical chicken!

Here's some more shots of the Trex/Chicken transformation -- and our finished chickie in her costume!
At the school Halloween Parade

Of course he needs a close up!

All chicken/rexes love Vera Bradley!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Costume Update

Busy Day!
Rapunzel's hair is done (and trimmed, at the length we started with it was a hazard to both the princess and the people around her!
2 chicken costumes are complete -- one was super easy, a premade cutie from Old Navy!
Ariel's dress is complete
And our last project, the candy grabbing chicken puppet is done too -- here he is:

He started life as a TRex grabber thingie:
Some airdry clay, paint, fabric and feathers, and he has a whole new look :)

Happy Halloween everyone!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Works in Progress

Lots going on right now -- this is a busy time of year here!
 I am working on some new book things and will share when I can -- in the meantime, here are a few works in progress:

Halloween paintings:
We do homemade Halloween costumes, so I started with a sketch for each...the sketches turned out cute, so I decided to paint them out -- here they are in progress (on cardboard, I just used some from the recycling bin, so we'll call this a green project, too!)

Various stages of completion -- I'll share the finished ones (with the real camera, not the iphone!) when they are done!
all together:

Plus, this guy is about to get a makeover to be included with one of the costumes -- This chomping TRex toy will soon be a chicken (hopefully) that can grab candy. Here he is in action -- he likes mandarin oranges apparently...
They say dinosaurs are related to birds...we'll see how he looks when his new paper mache beak is dry!

What's in progress at your house this fall?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chicken Coop Update

So, the chicken coop was just plain wood -- and needed an update! We were going to move it (well, I was going to point and Jeff was going to move it) to a new location, so it was a good time to give it a seasonal cleaning and update. I chose a nice, orangey red (tuscan red) and a butter yellow> I actually started to paint this myself, but it wasn't long before I had lots of help...
At least they're not parked in front of the TV!

Once dry, we moved it to a new spot (we have several with buried wire to deter predators, so simply move it about. Chickens are very sweet -- but very dumb creatures. The coop moved about 6 feet, and they were totally confused!

The final, redone coop (complete with painted children -- did you know you can get dried red paint out of hair with mayonnaise? Ask me how I know).Also, did you know that white silkies are paint magnets? Our white rooster now looks like roadkill -- or a chicken zombie...

The roof is getting an update too -- Jeff is planning a green, planted roof, and in true engineering style, there is a lot of design work going into it right now. I'll post more when it is in progress.

Have a great week, everyone, thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

5 Signs You've Hired a Bad Freelancer!

Has this ever happened to you? You wait all week for the content you ordered from a freelance writer, watching your Inbox and ready to post the fresh content to your site or blog. Finally, the content arrives. You open it and…
  • “What is this – it has nothing to do with what I asked for!”
  • “This is awful , incomprehensible writing, my third grader could do better”
  • “OMG, this totally failed Copyscape, it’s a direct copy from Wikipedia!”
I get asked all the time -- how do you hire a great freelance writer? A bad freelancer can cost you big in terms of both cash and wasted time, so choosing right at the start is essential. Here's some signs of a poor freelance writer -- spot these red flags and you'll avoid wasting time and money on your next project!

 You can see the full piece over on the WriterAccess blog today!
Stop by and say hi!

Other freelance writing tips -- Red Flags for Freelance Writers

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Day of School!

Can you believe it? Summer just flew by!
With pencils, notebooks, index cards, highlighters, erasers, red pens, black pens, gluesticks, post-its, markers, crayons and more school supplies at the ready, the big girls just loaded up onto the school bus! One was fully dressed and ready at 6am...for the 8am bus!

Hope you have a great first day of school at your house, too!
Next up, new shoes and the first day of Preschool for #3!
 (looking for little sized Converse to match mine!)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Warning Signs for Freelance Writers

I'm guest posting on the WriterAccess Blog today--stop in and say hi!

Here's the details: 

5 Red Flags in Freelance Writing Ads

"This is an easy job for someone who knows what they are doing"
"This job should take you X number of minutes/hours/days to complete"

If those statements don't make you cringe, then you haven't been writing long!
Check out these -- and other --red flags for writers here:

 Off to the local farm fair today! Hope everyone has a great day, thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Back to School....Already?

It's only July, but I'm already thinking back to school! Uniform fittings are coming up soon, and while we have most of what we need for next year, pants are always a problem - one of the girls needs super tall, super skinny pants, so they generally end up taking a bigger size for length and then hacking it to death to fit. I realize I sew all the time -- and could do this on my own, it is just a lot of not fun work, and they charge barely anything, so I go for convenience on this instead of the DIY route. The nice thing about uniforms is that all the back to school clothing can get done at once, and it's not exactly rocket science!

Yep, I'm school supply addicted and shop early! Photo copyright Stephen DePolo 2010

I've found that school supplies go quickly here -- so we've started stocking up on the markers, crayons, pencils, etc that each child needs. Best prices in NJ seem to be at Target -- though I did spot some 10 cent glue sticks at Walmart (I won;t tell you how many I bought, cause I sound like a glue hoarding nut, but there were some left!)

I'm not buying backpacks yet, but have been working on restocking our bento and lunchbox supplies--with one vegetarian and one super picky eater, the big girls don't buy school lunch often. I use quite a few bento supplies and techniques, so they get a healthy lunch that is kinda fun, too. I recently did some guest blogging for  the Best Bento Supplies blog -- I reviewed a few boxes we own (including the adorable Hello Kitty one pictured below) and some tips for quickly creating cute bento box lunches for kids -- check it out if you like cute food stuff!

Farmy stuff: On the farm, our battles with the groundhog continue-- he (and his family) have consumed all of the zucchini plants, but are shunning the potatoes so far. I've started dropping odd items into the groundhog holes, just to annoy them -- I figure turnabout is fair play in this case. So far the rotten little critter has rolled out a croquet ball, several golfballs and some rocks. He is apparently quite the housekeeper!

The newest chicks are really not chicks any more -- they have gotten very big very quickly! We're already bringing eggs to friend's houses when we visit, I'm not sure what we'll do when these start laying too (great planning, right?)

Crafts! Yay for hand crafting! I have some cute things to share soon, just have to get around to taking the photographs :) Thanks for your notes, and I promise pix soon!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Raising Chickens ... Beyond the First Year

We had decent luck with our first batch of chicks -- all survived to adulthood, but we lost two to a dog -- the pretty Gold Laced Wyandotte and one of the Cinnamon Queens. Aside from that unpleasantness, the big girls are doing well -- we ended up with four hens (we bought them from, and they were correctly gender-identified), and two silkie roosters.

We knew we were taking a risk getting silkie chicks, because there is no way to tell if they are roosters or hens until they begin cock-a-doodle-doing, or lay an egg. We must have poor chicken luck, because both turned out to be boys!

Teddy bear for size comparison!

Fluffy, the silkie rooster shown here, is perfectly tame,  and enjoys being carried around (preferably in a basket). I was even able to take him to show and tell at my daughter's school, and he didn't crow once. Believe it or not, this wasnt the first time a chicken graced the halls of the girl's otherwise fowl-free Catholic school--one of the Kindergarten classes is raising chicks this year from eggs.

Our other silkie, James, on the other hand, has become a bit of a problem. Thankfully he is very small, about 3 pounds. His favorite move is to plant himself directly in your path and try to intimidate you into running away. Ever seen Lord of the Rings? He basically does his best Gandalf and squawks the rooster version of "You Shall Not Pass". You have to shoo him out of the way with a broom to get by, and he does his best to pounce on you as you pass. This does not hurt, but is terribly annoying. I can see why so many full sized roosters end up in soup pots -- we don't eat our chickens, but a 10 lb rooster with these antics could hurt someone! (James is safe and he knows it -- he is Sarah's special pet).

We have a ton of fun with the chickens so far-- so we picked up a few more! I owe some crafting posts soon, but will posts some pictures of our fluffy new arrivals soon..on the plus side, I was able to reuse the light, feeders and homemade chick brooder from the last batch, so my investment this time was under $20!

 Ready to make your own chicken coop or hen house? Click here!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Giant Granny Square Afghan

Sharing a photo of the world's largest granny square -- I have a ton of cute, scrappy granny patterns saved in my ravelry queue, but I am lazy and made a single great big square instead.
If you can double crochet, you can make a huge granny, too!

I used a lovely yarn from Noro, Iro; this is one of those cool kettle dyed yarns that gradually shifts from one color to another--so I got a great striped effect without having to change colors (or weave in all those nasty little thread ends. It's also made from wool (75%) and silk (25%) so it should be nice and warm. You can see a pretty pic of the yarn I used on the Waldorf mama blog--she's used the same color for a pretty little dress.

I was totally optimistic when I started this (and obviously have no ability to estimate yardage at all), so I bought three skeins and got to work. The first lasted a good long time (this project starts in the middle and grows, so each round eats up a little more yarn). #2 lasted a good long time too, so I was feeling very proud of my awesome estimation skills...until I attached skein #3. Which got eaten in just 8 rounds of the blanket (which was then about 24 inches across, not really a blanket at all).

Back to the yarn store. Do I need to add that these are $15 per the "cute, quick little blanket" is rapidly becoming the "kind of costly blanket"...

Just to be safe, I picked up skein #4 and #5 (my LYS officially loves me and my poor math skills). I am sure you are much more clever than I am at this point, because I really thought this would be enough--not only enough, but that there would be copious amounts left over for the chunky tassels I was planning for each corner....

Not exactly. Skeins #6 and 7 (yep, back to the store, who had thankfully put aside the remaining skeins in my dyelot, "just in case"). They ran out, so I bought 4 more skeins from Webs (at just $10 a skein, yay!).

Behold, the finished yarn eating granny in all of her glory:

This project has been dubbed the "rainbow blankie" and has been stolen by my 4yo for her bed...

If you want more colorful crochet, check out Lucy's work at Attic 24; you'll find pretty ripples, grannies and more.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review of Heartsy -- for Buyers

Heartsy - Exclusive deals on fabulous handmade designer items at members-only prices.Have you been to Heartsy yet? If you are a fan of handmade, and want to save a few bucks, head on over to Heartsy and check out the deal of the day. I shop on Etsy just about every day, (usually when I am supposed to be working) so when I heard about Heartsy, I had to check it out.

Heartsy works like the popular coupon site, but the deals are all with shops offering handmade goods, mostly from etsy or artfire artisans. Customers purchase a heartsy coupon code, that can then be used with an online seller. The deals change each day, with plenty of jewelry, art, photography and accessory shops to choose from.

Like Groupon, Heartsy offers coupons for a set price; the coupons can be redeemed in the store immediately or within the next 30 days. Regular Heartsy deals offer about 50% off a particular store or item. VIP deals increase the savings, and are worth the cost of a VIP membership ($10 per month, optional) if you buy a lot of handmade items.
Recent offerings include:
$10 for a $21 coupon for handmade jewelry
$10 for a $31 VIP coupon for handmade, organic kids items (yep, I grabbed one of these)
$10 for a $31 VIP coupon to a hand-dyed yarn and roving shop (got one of these too...)
Save on handmade, like this luscious soap from the Soap Seduction

Since the deals change each day, you'll need to visit and keep an eye on current offerings; Heartsy does send an email each day letting you know what's up next.

The Good Stuff about Buying on Heartsy:
You'll save money: Obviously, the savings is the big draw here. If you are like me and spend a decent amount on handmade soaps, kids toys and other gear each month, then you can save a considerable amount of money by using Heartsy.
Creative and fun jewelry from XOXii shop, featured on Heartsy this week.
Fewer flakes: If you buy a lot of handmade, then you already know some shops can have great items--but less than stellar follow through. Shops that are using Heartsy are actively marketing their businesses, so you can be sure that the products you get will be great quality. The main draw to sellers is the exposure and potential good publicity; all of my purchases so far have been great, and I am planning on buying again from at least one seller (full price, but worth it). 

Support handmade: When you buy handmade items, you put money directly into the hands of the artisan. If you haven't taken the handmade plunge yet, using a Heartsy voucher is a good way to get started without much risk. Click here for a great post on why handmade is "expensive" by Lex, the creative genius behind SmarmyClothes and WhattheCraft. I read this awhile ago and bookmarked it to share, it is a must read.

Heartsy is juried: Part of the Heartsy application process involves jurying; users can vote on the stores that they would buy from if a code was offered. What does this mean to you? Just like real life art fairs, jurying means that the shops that make it through likely offer appealing items that you'll want to check out.

Shipping is included: You can use your Heartsy coupon for shipping, so if you plan your purchase right, you won't have to pay out of pocket for shipping. 
Upcycled comic books meet pencils, notebooks and more at Colleen and Cohort, a featured Heartsy shop.

The Not so Good Stuff about Buying on Heartsy:

You'll get hooked on handmade:This isn't really a bad thing, but once you try real, handmade soap or custom made clothing that fits your style and figure perfectly, you won't want to go back to the retail, mass produced stuff. Consider Heartsy a gateway drug...once you're hooked, you won't look at jewelry, clothing or accessories the same way again.

Timing: You'll need to snap a deal up when you see it, so if you are looking for favors for a birthday party or a gift, buy early. You may not see a deal you like if you try to shop at the last minute. The site has also run out of coupons for popular stores in the past, so if you see something you like, grab it before it's gone.

Expiration dates: Heartsy coupons are only good for a month, so you'll need to use yours before it expires! If you buy a code, don't forget about it (though Heartsy will remind you that your code is languishing, via email).

Lower stock levels: While most shops stock up prior to offering a Heartsy deal, they can get overwhelmed. Most shops are run by a sole proprietor, so  expect your items to ship out a little later than usual if you buy during a big Heartsy rush. (A little later means 3-5 days, not 3-5 weeks in most cases.) Shops can get pretty depleted when a Heartsy deal is offered, so either pounce and order immediately, or buy your code and wait a week or two until the shop restocks.

Flakes: It happens when you buy handmade...just like it happens when you buy commercial. The last order I placed and didn't' receive was from Burpee, the seed giant, so it can happen with any vendor (I am still waiting for my garlic and potato seeds, Burpee!!!). The flake rate seems to be a little higher with Artfire shops than Etsy ones, but be aware that it can happen. If you don't get your item, you can get a credit (not a refund) from Heartsy, so you will be covered.

So there's the deal for buyers--Heartsy is pretty much a win for those of us who love handmade. My husband is a fan, even though he has never visited the site; thanks to the reduction in my etsy/artfire spending.

But what about the sellers? 

Does offering such a substantial discount really pay off for sellers? Check back soon for the scoop, I am working on a review of Heartsy for sellers this week.

Boring small print disclaimer: 
 I don't work for Heartsy, and purchased the codes I used to evaluate and learn about the site on my own; no freebies, nothing to see here, move along... 

This post is part of the TA DA Tuesday Link Party on  Mommy by Day, Crafter by Night
Click the link to drop in and visit!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

FO: Thrummed Mittens

I spotted a pair of thrummed mittens somewhere recently, and loved the idea...of course, when I gathered some supplies and sat down to knit a pair up, I had no idea where I had seen the original pair. I suspect it was in a recent issue of a knitting magazine, I was browsing them in the bookstore before Christmas. Anyway, the idea is that the "thrums"--the little white fluffy bits of wool--conform to the shape of the hand as the mittens are worn. They are supposed to be super warm and I just finished these in time, it is supposed to be very cold here this week!:
Finished mittens, the fluffy one is inside out so you can see the stuffing!

Since I didn't have a pattern to go on, I just made these up as I went along. I chose a little girl friendly color combo (Plymouth Galway in a rainbow variegated) and figured they would fit someone in both size and style. It turns out they are a perfect match for our 7 year old, so it worked out well...I will just adjust the size up a bit for the 9yo and down a bit for the preschooler, and everyone will have warm hands! One skein was plenty (see the leftovers in the pic?), and I think I used about 2 ounces of roving.

Project notes (aka boring technical deets):
Yarn: Plymouth Galway and white roving (from the awesome Sheep Shed Studio)
Needles: Size 6, knit on 2 circs
CO 36 stitches, 2 1/2" of 2x2 rib, switched to stockinette and added a thrum pattern every 4th row. Reserved space for the thumb with waste yarn (7 stitches), no gusset.

My big girl is shopping the yarn closet now for "her" mittens, I will cast on for the next pair as soon as she chooses.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Goodbye, Jaws, Hello Harry?

Say goodbye to Jaws...and hello to Harry Potter? Rumor has it that the Jaws attraction at Universal Orlando will be replaced by an expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, complete with a Gringott's themed ride. While this info is still in rumor form (Universal has not confirmed or denied), the park has announced the permanent closure of Jaws, starting today. The Theme Park Insider has full details on the proposed attraction, including a ride map and a look at the ride vehicle. Pretty detailed info for a rumor! Check it out on the Theme Park Insider site.

I am a little bummed about the closing of Jaws, though. It is one of the first rides I tried at Universal, and one of my favorites...I jump every time that rotten shark jumps out of the water towards the boat! Sorry to see this one go, it joins the ranks of other rides/attractions I miss--Mr. Toad, Millionaire and 20,000 Leagues....

Get plenty of extra time on your favorite rides on 2/29/2012!

This has been a busy week for Disney travel news! First up, the Disney Company revealed its newest promotion, "One More Disney Day", on New Year's Eve. You can get all the details on my Examiner post here; the short version is that the Magic Kingdom will be open for 24 hours on February 29, 2012 (leap day), and there are a few ways to save on your vacation if you travel during this time period.

I have seen plenty of Disney sunsets, it would be fun to see the sun rise from inside the Magic Kingdom!