Merry Christmas!

Are you all ready for Christmas?!  It seems like no matter how early I start preparing for Christmas (and believe, me, I’ve been at it for months now) I just keep adding more to my list of things to make/ do.  Oh how I love Christmas time!  I’ve tried to not completely over-schedule myself, wanting to keep in mind the reason behind the Christmas celebration- which for me is about remembering Christ and also filling my heart with compassion and love and then acting on it.  I am touched by all the kindness I have witnessed or heard about this season.  That warm fuzzy feeling is the reason I decided to try an experiment over this past year: a series called Making the World Sweeter.  My hope was that (as Ebenezer Scrooge said in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol), “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”  My original goal was to incorporate into my giving a monthly crafty project for charity other worthy project- and invite all of my readers to participate.  I did participate in some sort of giving each month and I was able to join and blog about eight projects- many of you also participated, which was awesome!  I have to say, I have felt good this year!  Although I wasn’t able to do a project every month, I feel like I stayed with my goal of being mindful of others and mindful of my giving.  I think an added bonus that I wasn’t expecting was an increased feeling of contentedness and gratitude for what I have.

Many of the projects in this “series” (which you can see if you click on the “Making the World Sweeter” link above) cost very little if anything, but had the ability to affect someone’s life profoundly.  Quite a few of the projects are ongoing, so if you are interested, take a look at some of the projects and you can still participate!  (Some of the projects include knitting or crocheting hats for newborn babies, making sanitary pads to help girls stay in school, sock monkeys for kids displaced by fires, and ideas for “drive-by” giving (for the homeless) to name a few.)

Anyway, I hope it has been a good year for all of you, and that you are enjoying this wonderful Christmas season!  I wish I could wish each of you a Merry Christmas and hand you a plate of cookies, but just know that I am sending goodwill and happy thoughts your way- yes you!

P.S: Because I like to be helpful, and I know that some of you might still need to come up with a few gifts for various people in your lives, here are a couple of ideas that might be of use:  😀

I made these crocheted stars found at Jellywares and I think they make sweet ornaments (thin yarn and small hook) or drink coasters (thicker yarn and medium hook).

Cinnamon ornaments/ gift tags are a lovely gift or package topper.

These pop top cans could be filled with Christmas goodies for a fun neighbor gift.

You might find some inspiration in our “Tutorials” section, fun things like:

Infant Scratch Mitts for the wee ones…

Easy Shower Caps (a colorful and unique addition to a spa- themed gift pack)…

DSC_8066

…Or these Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles– trust me, they are divine!

Wishing all of you the Merriest of Christmases!  See you next year!

Sock Monkeys for Texas

For Making the World a Little Sweeter this month, we are going to do a Craft Hope project.  If you haven’t seen the Craft Hope website, check it out.  It is a site that encourages readers to do a craft project about once a month that will benefit folks with a need somewhere in the world.

Image from http://www.crafthope.com/2011/10/stitching-sock-monkeys/

The current project at Craft Hope is sweet sock monkeys.  The recipients?  Kids in Texas who have lost their homes this past summer in fires.  Read this post to learn more, but basically 1,600 homes burned down during the record- breaking summer heat Texas experienced this year.  Many of those were likely homes for young families, and that means that there are a lot of children who have lost the homes that were familiar to them.  That’s where Project 15, Sock Monkeys for Texas comes in.  All of the sock monkeys that are collected will be given to children who have lost their homes during these fires.  I made my first-ever sock monkey this week in an afternoon’s time.  Would you care to join me in participating in this project? Here’s how:

1. You need a pair of socks, stuffing, and a few sewing notions.  I found these brand- new socks for a dollar at D.I., and I had planned another project for them, but after I read about Project 15, I knew what their ultimate destiny would be.  (Ooh-ooh-ooh-ahh-ahh!)

2.  If you’ve never made a sock monkey before, check out these super- useful tutorials:

  • Craft Stylish (Download the pdf file. This tutorial has a nice diagram that helps when you are cutting.)
  • Craftbits (This tutorial gives great step-by-step instructions with pictures and I found it really helpful for explaining how to put the parts together.)

3. Sew up your monkey. 😀  You can make it as simple or as fancy as you like.  Some cute kid is going to love it either way.

My skewompus but lovable sock monkey friend.

4. Mail your monkey and feel warm fuzzies. Here’s the link again for the original post which if you scroll to the bottom contains the address to send it to.

Did I mention there is a deadline?  No, I guess I didn’t… but Jade Sims (Craft Hope founder) needs the monkeys by November 24th– that’s Thanksgiving. 

I’m mailing my monkey tomorrow.  Will you join me in this monkey business?!

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Source: http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/

Breast cancer awareness… a matter close to my heart.  Besides having more than one family member who has battled breast cancer, I am a public health nurse at the local health department, and one of my main functions is to screen for and educate about breast cancer.

These are the lovely ladies I work with.  I truly couldn’t have better coworkers.  I am on the bottom right in this picture.

We just had a health fair honoring breast cancer survivors and we put on a luncheon for a few women who have come through our clinic and who are being treated for cancer.

My boss put together a beautiful lunch for these women.  Yours truly was assigned to make the centerpiece.  I used my anthropologie-inspired cake platter/ cupcake tower, some beautiful rose cupcakes (that Marissa mostly frosted), fresh fruit, and rainbow tissue flowers as accents.  I think it turned out pretty good!

Important breast cancer information:
If you are at least 20 years old, you should be doing self breast exams.  I know
you may feel uncomfortable, or it may be difficult to remember, but do
whatever you have to do to remind yourself! Put a note or sticker
somewhere you will see it, or choose to do it on your birthday- date
each month. If you are at least 40 years old, you need a mammogram every
1-2 years (every year after age 50). Men, please encourage the women in
your lives to do this- it may save their life. When breast cancers are
detected early, women have an excellent chance of survival.  If you need
a reminder on how to do a self- exam, check out this link that has step- by- step instructions.

I like to tell the women I screen that doing a breast self exam isn’t
really about following a rigid set of instructions or searching for
cancer.  Thinking of it that way can cause anxiety that may cause you to
avoid even thinking about it.  I recommend being aware of your body-
becoming familiar with what is normal for you.  Think of it as a way to
have peace of mind.  If you do notice a change, whether it be a lump, a
change in color or texture of the skin on your breast, a change in shape
or appearance of any part of the breast, or anything out of the
ordinary that persists and doesn’t resolve, you should have it checked
immediately by a health care professional.

As women, we put so much of our energy into taking care of other
people that we sometimes neglect to take care of ourselves.  Please consider that you can best care for
those you love by keeping yourself healthy!  What I’m
saying is that there really isn’t any good excuse for not giving your
health the attention it deserves.

If money or lack of insurance/ underinsurance is an issue, there are
programs that offer free or low cost mammograms to women over 40 each
year if you meet certain income requirements. The clinic I work at is
one of these programs, and there are programs like this all over the
U.S. You can check out the CDC’s website to find out if you qualify.

What can you do to help?
1. Get yourself screened.
2. Spread the word and encourage someone you love to get screened.
3. Show support this month for breast cancer awareness and those who have battled breast cancer by wearing pink or the BCA ribbon.
4. Raise money for breast cancer awareness by participating in or supporting fundraisers.

Make the world sweeter this month by doing as many things in the above list as you feel you can!

Gratitude, and a free printable

Making the World a Little Sweeter this month is all about gratitude.

Ah, Gratitude: a virtue too often overlooked, when it should be a fundamental part of our way of thinking, no?

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” – Cicero

You may already know that when you have an attitude of gratitude, you tend to be happier and more content with life, but did you know that making gratitude a habit actually improves your physical health and brain function? (according to research done by Daniel G. Amen, MD)   Of course, expressing that gratitude has the potential to lift and inspire others.  Think of a time when someone thanked you for something you did- even if you were not expecting anything in return.  You were probably surprised and touched, right?  So by focusing on gratitude- and expressing it- we are going to feel great and help others feel great too.

First- on cultivating an attitude of gratitude, I suggest starting a gratitude journal.  This is something I have done in the past, and it really made me think every day about the good things that happened.  I have enjoyed going back and reading things that I wrote way back in the day.  If you want to start a gratitude journal, all you need is a notebook or a scrap of paper, but if you want to motivate yourself with something cute, why don’t you check out this tutorial with free printable pages from Small + Friendly.

Second- We have so many opportunities to uplift others by simply saying thank you.  Most of us are probably on our best behavior much of the time, and we say our pleases and thank-yous when we should- mostly.  But I would bet that if you think about it, you will be able to come up with someone who you’d still like to thank- or at least thank better.  At first, when I started thinking of people who deserve my thanks, I realized there wasn’t really any dramatic instance where someone saved my life, or did something that changed my whole life, but there were so many people who performed small acts that really did change my life in small ways…  The woman whose friendship meant the world to me at a time when I was a newcomer with no friends and few acquaintances.  The youth leader who listened to and encouraged me during my painfully shy and awkward adolescence.  The first friend I made as a student in a foreign country, who opened her heart to me, and who is still in my heart these years later.  The boss who wouldn’t let administration cut my part time job, and who supported me in wanting to be a mother first and foremost.  The casual friend I didn’t know too well, but who let me cry on her shoulder during a tough time, and then called me up later to find out how I was doing.  All the people who have genuinely cared about me when they didn’t have to.  Whether they knew it or not, they all left positive impressions on my life.  Some of these wonderful people I have thanked recently, and some I still need to seek out.

My challenge to you this month is to thank someone in your life- either someone from your past, or someone who is making a difference to you right now.  Could be a friend, family member, or acquaintance… anybody who has done something positive for you, or for your family.  You could surely send a thank you card, write a letter or quick email, make a phone call, or drop off a plate of cookies to that person who has made your life a little sweeter.

And, dear readers, I must thank you.  I appreciate your sticking with us, reading, and commenting.  So, just for you, here is a free printable- a thank-you checklist style card- just click the picture below, and it will open a google doc that you can then print from or download the card.  I hope you enjoy it (and use it)!

PS: You can make an envelope by trimming and folding a 12×12 piece of scrapbook paper to fit around it.  As long as the finished dimensions of any envelope are less than 6 1/8″ x 11 1/2″ and it weighs less than 3.5 oz, you should be able to mail it with one stamp- currently $0.44- in the U.S.  You don’t necessarily have to put it in an envelope though; you could punch a hole and thread some ribbon through it and attach it to a door, or a treat to give away.  Any other ideas out there about presentation?

Reusable sanitary pads= education opportunities

For the month of May, we are inviting you to make the world sweeter with us, once again!

We thought that this month we would focus on making the world a little sweeter by doing something about the needs of the developing world.

In about 2 weeks, I (Marissa) will be going to Uganda to do some humanitarian work with an organization called HELP International. While there, I am planning on teaching people about health, and specifically, teaching women about menstruation and how to make their own reusable sanitary pads.

Living in a developed country, I don’t think that we typically think about the idea of not having feminine hygiene supplies at our disposal. It is something that I know I have always taken for granted in the U.S. It wasn’t until I learned about an organization called Grow. Learn. Give., that it struck me that not all women in the world have access to feminine hygiene supplies. Whether there are no nearby stores that would have the supplies, or because there just isn’t the money to buy them, many women and girls in under-developed countries never have the opportunity to use proper feminine hygiene supplies. Sadly, what is used instead is things like old rags, and in some cases, even bark or mud.

Now, this may seem like a trivial issue. What’s the big deal? Well, it is a much bigger deal than simply being clean. Often times, girls will stay home from school each month during their period, to avoid the embarrassment and discomfort associated with having a period without the proper supplies to care for it. The result can be very heart-breaking – dropping out of school, losing a job, etc.

The following is a video that talks about this problem. (We are not affiliated with this group in any way, but the first part of the video explains the problem very well.)

Ok, Rochelle speaking here: Every child- girls included- should have the opportunity to get an education. Society in general should have a deep interest in seeing girls obtain an education, because when girls and women are left ignorant, we see families as a whole that have poorer health and education. So, how can we address this problem?

One thing you can do to help is sew reusable cloth pads and donate them. There are non-profit organizations that provide education and sanitary supplies to girls so they can attend school and work.

There are so many free patterns for pads available on the internet, with different designs and pros/cons (Check out Jan Andrea’s pattern, and Make Your Own Pads). Our favorite is the type with the base pad with removable top liner. There are many reasons for this. First, when laundering the pads, this type is less bulky so it washes and dries quickly. This is especially important when handwashing and hanging to dry. The second reason is that having a removable liner means that you don’t have to deal with changing bulky pads every time- just the top piece. So, for most women, just one pad and three liners (or less) are necessary each day of their period. Third, unlike envelope-design pads with removable liners that go underneath the top layer, you can change the liner and be totally dry- no soiled layer still on top after changing the liner. Fourth- versatility! This design means you can mix and match based on you needs for the day- heavy or light protection.

So where can you find this type of pattern? You may want to start with this very simple pattern on the Grow. Learn.Give. website, or this one from Empower Women in Africa (scroll down).

Marissa and I sat down a couple days ago and made several pads from fabric we already had- old towels, scrap batting, a couple of t-shirts, and an old diaper changing pad for the waterproof layer. Marissa even sewed one by hand just to make sure it could be done, since she is not sure what kinds of resources will be available to the women she’ll be teaching in Uganda.

Now, I admit that I heard about reusable pads a couple years ago and I couldn’t get past the first “Ewwww”, but after taking the time to learn about all the benefits and possibilities of cloth pads, I have to say that I am definitely going to give them a try. Here is a good article to read about how to actually go about making the switch, if you are interested. I am not going to focus this post on converting anyone to cloth pads, but I find it worth mentioning that reusable cloth pads save a lot of money compared to disposable products that you have to continually purchase. Also, reusable pads don’t contribute to waste in landfills, and are a nice alternative when dealing with allergies, sensitivities, and yeast infections. Even if you love using disposables, these would be a great addition to your 72 hour kit (eek- ever thought what would happen if you ran out of pads during an emergency and there were none available anywhere?)

Ok- back to business. Would you like to get involved?! Make reusable cloth pads and send them to the Days for Girls International Feminine Hygiene Program (there are actually many programs like this, like Empower Women in Africa, but we really like this particular program as a whole, so for the sake of simplicity we are providing contact info for only one program. Feel free to research other programs if you wish.):

Days for Girls HQ
810 H Street Road
Lynden, WA 98264

Days for Girls will distribute the pad kits in Cambodia, India, Haiti, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. They have a goal to meet over 1000 requests for these reusable pads by the end of June. If you can take an hour or two and sew up a few pads (patterns are also provided on their site), you will be directly affecting the life of at least one girl- and the influence of one girl can be far reaching. Ahhh! Let’s make the world sweeter by helping young girls stay in school!

Earth Day is… every day!

I am sorry for my long absence!  All I can say is that life has been crazy, and it will probably stay crazy for a while.  I feel bad that I didn’t get a “Making the World a Little Sweeter” post done in honor of Earth Day last week.  Oh well- better late than never.

One way to make the world sweeter is to watch how we treat it.  Yes, I’m talking reducing your carbon footprint and all that.  I think we all have a responsibility to take care of our beautiful earth.  I would say you don’t have to do anything drastic, but start with the little things.  Pay attention to how much water you use, and try to turn off lights when you leave the room, or better yet, open the curtains and don’t use electric lights during the day if you can help it.  Turn your heat down a notch and put on a sweater during the winter, or turn the a/c down a bit in the summer if you can.

Obviously, you can help make the world a more beautiful place by minimizing the waste deposited on it.  That is the challenge this month.  Either minimize the garbage you generate by recycling, or grab a bag and go pick up trash for a few minutes. 

Despite my shock and disappointment that there is no curbside recycling program where I currently live (I am, after all, an Oregonian at heart), I do try to recycle.  I know of places locally that will accept paper and other items for recycling if you drive it over to them.  But what do I do with all the glass and plastic containers?  I have a hard time throwing those away.  Unfortunately for my husband, this often means that we have bags of little glass and plastic jars and other types of containers building up in corners until I can find uses for them.  (I guess my hording problem is actually the city’s fault. Right?)  This has, however, proven very useful to me so many times.  Remember the time I needed a gazillion TP tubes to make decor for a Scout dinner?  I had most of what I needed on hand already.  And the time I decided to make a bunch of homemade instruments for my toddler to play with?  We pulled out some of those glass bottles and filled them with water to make “flutes”.  My magazines and shoe boxes turned into wall art.  Cheese boxes became a decorative stacking organizer box, a plastic bag became a shower caddy, a ring box a photo frame, and so on.  Most recently, I needed a last minute gift for a neighbor friend, so I whipped up a batch of cookies, pulled out an empty hot cocoa canister, covered it with scrapbook paper and embellished it, put the cookies in the canister, and delivered it as is.

I was really pleased with it, and I have plans to do more!  You could use formula canisters or chow mein noodle canisters and fill them with candy, cookies, treats, nice notes- lots of gift possibilities there.  Use it as your gift wrap.  My point is that even if you don’t have a recycling program in your area, you can save lots of things from the landfill by cleaning, beautifying, and using them for whatever purpose you can come up with!

If you have time and want to go above and beyond, grab your friend/ husband/ kids/ room mates and go pick up trash you see on the side of the road, in a neighborhood park, walking trail, your own yard or wherever you see the need.  I am going to put some plastic bags in our stroller so I can pick up litter I see when we walk to the park.  If you don’t have time to go looking for litter, make a conscious effort to not leave any litter behind and educate those you are with if they are prone to leave their mark on nature.

We can make the world sweeter by giving it a little TLC!

Japan Disaster Relief

Click on the above button to go to Tea Rose Home, where sweet blogger Sachiko will be writing about relief efforts and updates of her family living in Miyagi.

I already posted this month about Making the World a Little Sweeter, but I can’t not say something about this too. My heart goes out to all those in Japan who are suffering right now due to the earthquake and tsunami.  I have been following it in the news with a pit in my stomach seeing all the destruction.  It really makes you want to reach out and help, doesn’t it?  If helping the humanitarian efforts in Japan doesn’t help make the world sweeter, I don’t know what will.

You can donate to the American Red Cross and specify that you want your money to go to “Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami“.

My personal choice of where to donate is on LDS Humanitarian Services. Yes, it is through a religious organization, but the donations they receive will be used to benefit everyone, not just church members.  I really like it because unlike other charities, the church absorbs ALL overhead costs, so 100% of the donations they receive will go to help people.  You cannot specify that you want your money to go to relief efforts in Japan, but they say that the money will go to wherever it is needed most (which is probably Japan right now).  Also, the Church released a statement this week saying “that the Church has committed substantial financial aid to Japan. Emergency supplies are being purchased in Japan or nearby countries as necessary to reduce response time and help local economies that have suffered during the crisis.” Source: http://www.ldsphilanthropies.org/humanitarian-services/

I know there are also a number of other organizations accepting donations to aid relief efforts in Japan, but I don’t know much about them or how legitimate they are right now.  Feel free to leave a comment if you know of a good source to donate through. 

There are, of course, other ways to help besides donating money.  For example, you can donate clothing and other items to Deseret Industries (DI) and surplus items are shipped out for disaster relief.  In addition, right now there is a request for twin and double sized quilts to be sent so you could make a quilt and send it, again, through LDS humanitarian services.  If you click this link you can find out more about about the requirements, and where to send it.  If you don’t know quite where to start to make a quilt, there may be opportunities to show up at a local quilting guild and help tie quilts.  If you happen to be in Utah County, there is one such opportunity which will be on Saturday March 19th in Orem.  Check out the 21st Century Charm School blog for details.  Maybe I’ll see you there!

“Drive-by” giving

For our third month of Making the World a Little Sweeter, we will be helping the homeless and/or stranded. You know the ones- they sit on the side of the road with their cardboard sign that says “Trying to get home. Anything helps” (or something equally as heart-rending) and you rummage in your purse but then the light turns green and you haven’t found anything, and you have little pangs of guilt as you drive away. Sometimes you turn around and go back just so you can give them something, but other times you have nothing available, so you tell yourself for the hundredth time that you are going to put some things in the car that will be ready to grab and pass out the window.

Image from http://www.images-graphics-pics.com/signs/

I know there are lots of different feelings out there about helping beggars/ panhandlers, but my own personal feeling is that I don’t know why they are in the situation they are in, and I don’t know what they are going to do with the handouts I give them, but I will help anyone who asks in whatever way I can so that my conscience will be clear. I believe I will one day be responsible for my actions, just as they will be responsible for theirs. So I don’t worry about whether or not they are going to use money I give them for purposes I may consider less- than- worthy. (That said, a guy approached me a few weeks ago straight out asking for $2 to buy some vodka…. I gave him a granola bar instead…) I’m not saying this approach is right for everyone and every circumstance, but think about it and decide what you are comfortable with, and feel good about doing.

So, as you may have guessed, this month we are going to put together some little packages that can be stored in your car or bag and can be quickly pulled out to give away to people in need. The beauty of this project is that there are so many different ways you can do this, taking into account your own personal circumstances and beliefs.

Here are some ideas:

  • A granola bar or other food item rubber-banded with a small amount of cash (whatever you feel is realistic and affordable for you), or perhaps a fast food gift certificate and an inspirational quote.

    • Raid your sock drawer and pull out all those long-mismatched socks. Tube socks would work great. Fill the sock with things like small cash bills, compact food items, sample soaps or toothpaste etc.

    • Personal care bag: people away from home or displaced are likely to be lacking some of the basic hygiene stuff we take for granted. You could pick up packs of these items at the dollar store and make several little bags to give. I made some drawstring bags using leftover fabric and grosgrain ribbon. I got an assortment of tissue packs, toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash (hey, I’m big on dental hygiene), deodorant, soaps, hand sanitizer, etc. I also have a good sized bag of hotel soaps and shampoos I have collected over time that are mostly unopened- and I bet you do too. Those would make a great addition, and you get to purge some of your bathroom clutter- win/win!

      Most of you probably already know how to make a simple drawstring bag, but in case there are any new seamstresses out there, here is a quick rundown:

      1. Find a rectangular scrap of fabric large enough to be a bag when it is folded in half.
      2. Fold the fabric in half, right sides together, and stitch the sides closed.
      3. Make a casing at the top for a drawstring by folding down the edge 1/2″, and then another 1″ and pressing. Unfold the top and add grommets or buttonholes through only one layer- these are the openings for the drawstring to come out.
      4. Fold top back down and sew all the way around for casing.
      5. Thread ribbon, shoelace, or other drawstring through holes. Ta-da!
      6. Start to finish = less than 10 minutes.

      It might be a good idea to compile a few local resources (i.e. for health care, food, shelter, mental health, job resources, etc) on a little card and add that to the package. Now, if you don’t sew, or want to take a simpler approach (because realistically, if this is something you continue, it may not be practical to sew another bag every time), why not just put the goodies in a ziplock bag and call it good?

      The last but very important step is this: when you are finished making your packages- whatever form they may take- remember to put them in your car/ purse/ bag/ whatever so you can easily and quickly pull one out next time you need it! I promise if you do this, you will bless someone’s life, and you will feel so good! 😀

      P.S. Be sure to enter our giveaway for a free crochet pattern!