30 August 2011

Verbena Work Clutch Tutorial

Last month, the lovely Katy at Sweet Verbena posted a fantastic tutorial on making a laptop case. I made two of them, one for my brother, and one for me. Katy's design is awesome, and her instructions are great. I altered her design a little bit, just by adding a blanket stitch on three sides instead of just the top. It gets a little wonky at the corners where the stitches meets, but I like the look of having it on all sides.

Katy's design got me thinking, though. I had a lot of the vinyl left, and I realized I could adapt her design a little bit to also make a work clutch to carry files. So without further ado, here's my Verbena Work Clutch tutorial!

What you need:
-A piece of leather/vinyl (mine was 15.5" wide by 25 3/4" long, and I'll explain how I got measurement that in a sec).
-A smaller piece of leather/vinyl for a pocket if you want one (mine was 11 1/8" wide by 3 3/4" high, but the size of the pocket is up to you!)
-Embroidery floss
-Embroidery or darning needle (you need a big, thick needle to go through the vinyl)

I knew I wanted my clutch to be able to hold several file folders that were full, plus pens and a usb drive. The first thing I did was to measure a file folder I had (11 5/8" wide x 9 7/16" high). Then, I piled up several full file folders and laid them out on my vinyl. I ended up making my clutch 15.5" wide to accommodate for the depth of lots of full folders.

To determine the length, I played with the length of vinyl until I found a one that accommodated the folder with a flap that came down a little more than half-way over the pocket. The final dimensions of my clutch are 15.5" wide by 25 3/4" long.

Now that your vinyl is cut, feel free to line it. I did not, but you could use the felt method that Katy described in her laptop clutch tutorial, or you could do something else. I did not line it, so I moved right on to blanket stitching the two long edges. (If you don't know about blanket stitching, it's super easy. Katy's tutorial includes a wonderful video, and that's how I learned to do it.)

Once you have blanket stitched both edges, you can add a pocket if you want. Mine is 11 1/8" wide by 3 3/4" high, and I added blanket stitching to the top of this as well. I also divided my pocket into two sides, one being small for a usb drive. I stitched my pocket on with two seams for extra strength. You can make your pocket as large or as small as you want it, or you can just eliminate it.

Once your pocket it on, it is time to make the big pocket for your file folders, which will be 15.5" wide by 9.5" high. Fold the pocket side up 9.5", wrong sides together, and sew with a 1/2" seam allowance on each side. Move your needle over 1/8" to the outside of your first seam, and stitch again to reinforce your sides.

At this point, you are done! You could, of course, go back and add a closure of some kind. I might add a center button and some leather cord to the flap to wrap around the button, but I have been using it this way, and it works great.

Just one little note, mine is extra roomy. If you don't need to carry as much, you probably want to cut down on the width. I just know that once this school year gets up and running, I'll have a lot of grading to take back and forth between home and work!

One other note, my sewing machine had a lot of trouble with the vinyl, and even my mom's had some difficulty with it. We found that the stickier/tackier the vinyl it is, the more trouble the machine had. We ended up altering the pressure on the foot, but sometimes, that made it hard to sew in a straight line (at least, it did for Impatient Jess!)

29 August 2011

Jersey Fresh for Babies

Making your own baby food is not scary - it's super easy and takes only about 15 minutes! 

Katie, my daughter, loves peach baby food.  So, when my grandpop gave me a bag of fresh Jersey Peaches (yes, they ARE almost as good as fresh southern peaches), I knew that I had to take a few of them and make some baby food for her from them.

First, start with a few clean peaches (I just washed the skin of mine with some tepid water).  Then, cut an X in the skin with a sharp knife (sorry, I forgot to take a photo of this).

Then, place the peaches into boiling water for 3-5 minutes, depending on their size.  I left the 2 small in for 3 minutes, the larger for 5.

Then, immediately transfer the peaches to a bowl filled with ice (yes, ice) water (this is called blanching, if you didn't already know).

 The skin of the peaches should peel off easily (you can see the X I made in the skin - that's why you do it, it helps you start the peeling).

You will need to remove the pit.  At this point, the peaches should be so soft, you should be able to pretty much "crack" it open.

I thought that the peaches weren't quite cooked enough (see the light parts in the above picture), so, I put them BACK into the water to sit in the hot water a bit longer.

 Once they were cooked to my liking, I drained them of the water.

And put them into the food processor (I like my mini chopper).

I ran it until my desired consistency.

All ready for eating!

I'd say it was a hit!

No, it's not 4th of July - we just don't put a good bib to rest around here!

Then, once lunch was over, I took the rest of the peach puree and put it into my BPA-free baby food squares to be put into the freezer for later use!

You can use this method to cook/puree anything that your baby likes into your own homemade baby food!  So much cheaper than the stuff you buy in stores.  I am thinking that I might add some of this puree to smashed bananas for a yummy breakfast for Katie.  :)


26 August 2011

DIY Refreshing Facial Spritz

Even though summer is winding down, there are still a lot of hot days ahead. More and more beauty (and drink!) companies are offering facial spritzes as a way to refresh yourself and to freshen up. If you're like me and have allergies (or sensitive skin...or you just don't want to spend a boatload on a product that's mostly water), you can make your own.

What you'll need:

an empty, smallish spray bottle

witch hazel
or bottled/filtered water (more on this in a sec)
an essential oil of your choice
The process is simple enough....pour your witch hazel or water into the spray bottle, filling it near to the top but not all the way. You need to leave room for your oil and to shake the the bottle to mix.
Now, put between 15-30 drops of oil in the bottle, depending on how you want it to smell. My suggestion is to start with 10, shake, and smell. Add more depending on your preference! (note that because oil and water don't mix, you should shake before each use.)

Witch Hazel or Water?

Witch hazel has long been known as a healing plant (see, for example, the September 2011 issue of Whole Living magazine, or talk to my mom!). Because it is good for calming rashes and irritation, it is appropriate for a facial spritz. However, witch hazel does carry it's own scent, and if you don't want that or are unsure about using witch hazel, then using water is just fine, but use bottled or filtered water.

Which Oil Is Right For Me?
That's a completely personal preference depending on what you want to smell like and what you want your oil to do! As you can see from the photo, I chose lemon; I love the bright, energizing smell of citrus. Mints work the same way. Want a calming scent? Try lavender or chamomile. Whichever oil you use, make sure you're not allergic to it first. You should be able to buy oil in a bigger grocery store, but health food stores also have them. You don't need to buy the most expensive brand, either, as your just spritzing yourself with a tiny amount at a time.

Other Uses?
I use these as room sprays (lavender in the bedroom!), and I use spritzes or straight essential oil as perfume (since I'm allergic to most perfumes).
Happy Spritzing!

25 August 2011


"You think you gotta keep me iced
You don't
You think I'm gonna spend your cash
I won't
Even if you were broke
My love don't cost a thing
Think I wanna drive your Benz
I don't
If I wanna floss I got my own
Even if you were broke
My love don't cost a thing."
-Jennifer Lopez

Erin: The age old question – is chivalry dead? – is one that plagues women of all stations in life. Jess and I were talking about equality in a relationship and it turned into a segue into the concept of chivalry and what it really means to modern women.

Jess: We’ve both had experiences in our lives where chivalry was only a ruse for an attempt to be controlled. If they had the money, if they paid, then we gave up our rights to make the decisions. And, then of course – we were inevitably reminded of how we owed them for everything. Not necessarily a tally of the exact monetary figures but just that we were figuratively indebted to the one who paid our way.

Erin: So, what happens when a woman who has been conditioned that she should be 100% equal and self-sufficient finds herself in a relationship where the chivalry is sincere? Where being paid for, having her doors opened for her, having chairs pulled out for her and all of the things that, to her equate to inequality, are actually an innate male desire to show that he cares?

It is my experience that the most uncomfortable of all chivalrous deeds is being paid for. To me, it’s the consummate gesture of independence or lack thereof, being able to pay not only for you but also for others. I was raised by a single mom for a few years and she taught me that you always had to be able to “stand on your own two feet”. Now, being a single mom myself, nothing rings truer to me.

True, it is inevitable that there will be inequalities in a relationship. Someone will probably be taller, someone will be more athletic, someone may be shy while the other is outgoing, and, quite often, someone makes more money. And, usually, in my case, I am not that person. While I never quite feel that I am in competition with someone to produce a bigger paycheck, I do feel like the discrepancy (if there is one) shouldn’t be too vast.

But, sometimes it is. What do you do then? Do you end the relationship or just, well, get over it?

Jess: I've was also raised by a single mom for a while, and I got a similar message (though it was never an intentional one.) I never wanted to rely on anyone else, because what would happen when he was gone?

That said, entering a relationship where the man is rather "old fashioned" (in the sense that I don't open a door or pay for anything) was rather shocking, and I totally resisted it at first. "I can open my door, you know!" "Let me pay for the movie!" Every time, I got the same answer.

"I know you can, but that's not the point. That's not how I was raised, and my great grandmother is watching from above. She'll know if I don't."

I kind of got it, but I didn't really. I understood what he was saying, intellectually, but I didn't get it emotionally. I didn't understand what it meant to him to do those things for me. I still took this....protectiveness, for lack of a better word....as some kind of personal attack on my ability to function as a woman and as an adult.

Not anymore, though. What changed? Well, two things happened at nearly the same time that helped me to get it. One involved a book. (What else would you expect from an English teacher?)

Recently, I read A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, at my father's recommendation. He was right; I love it. The main character, Diana Bishop, has a lot in common with me, including her resistance to the chivalrous actions of the male protagonist, Matthew Clairmont. Early in the story, for example, he opens her car door, and she complains, saying she is capable of doing it. He wonders if all of modern women's insistence on opening their own doors is a way for them to show their "physical power." Diana responds with, "No, but it is a sign of our independence." This is absolutely something that would have come out of my own mouth, and it probably did early in this relationship.

In this novel, Matthew is entirely protective of Diana, and he worries about her being injured, wanting to protect her from any pain or hurt. I have been having a lot of wrist problems, which is probably carpel tunnel, and at the same time I was reading this, I got a text asking how my wrists felt. They hurt, and I said so. The text I received back said, ""I do not like it when you are hurt." There was a clear undercurrent of seething anger that my wrists were hurting, and I could tell he was frustrated that he could not make it go away. I was surprised that he had a lot of similarity to Matthew in the novel, just as I see myself in Diana.

About halfway through the book, the two are going horseback riding, and, with a quick temper, Diana tells Matthew that she can get onto a horse herself, to which Matthew replies, "but you don't need to." It was then that I truly emotionally understood what I had been told this whole time. I can do everything on my own, and he is fully aware that I can. But I don't need to. There is nothing wrong with having someone open your doors, or pay for you, or want to protect you when it is out of sheer concern. It is his way of showing that he loves me; he doesn't want to have power over me, and he certainly sees me as his equal. His chivalry and protectiveness is just his way of saying that he is here to support me, because he loves me, in the same way that I would bake for him or sew him pants to show him that I care.

Now that I get it, I totally love every minute of it :)

24 August 2011

The Reluctant Exerciser

Earlier this summer, I paid a visit to my neurologist for a check-up. Here's roughly how it went:

Dr.: How much are you working out?
Me: Um, never?

What then followed was a 15-minute harangue about how I have to work out, how it's so beneficial for helping my "condition" (which, I must point out, they can't decide if I have or not), and how it could keep me from ever noticing the "condition" (that I just might not have).

So I did what anyone in my situation would do...

Me: Okay, I will definitely decide on which gym to join and join today.

This was, clearly, a boldfaced lie, though I did contemplating joining a gym. The problem? I like working out about as much as I like washing the dishes or ironing, which is to say, not at all. I am not motivated. I love my sofa. And all the grading my job requires takes up a considerable amount of my not-at-work time. This adds up to someone who does.not.work.out. Ever.

I am a fairly athletic person; I was a three-season athelete in high school. But it was easier then; there was a coach to tell you what to do and people to do it with you. Left to my own devices, though, I am not motivated to work out on my own.

However, my doctor, admittedly, is right. I need to work out. I need the benefits of the stress relief and the happy endorphins. Elle Woods knows what I mean. So I have spent this summer exploring workout options.

My Old Standbys:

Walking? Okay, but I won't go by myself
Running? My knees and ankles are too old for it ;)
Yoga? I love it....but it's too much for my carple tunnel-y wrists to take
Mountain Biking? Well, I'm a little clumsy...

In an effort to be a Good Patient, this summer I picked two sports to try: horseback riding and rowing (sculling). The verdict? I love them both, but especially rowing. Why? Well, first, it's outside and on the water, two things I love. Second, it's a repetitive motion, which means that once you get the hang of it, you don't have to think about it too much, and you can enjoy your surroundings. Third, the repetitive motion makes it meditative (just like some runners say running is meditative), and meditation = stress relief = good for Jess.

Horseback riding has a lot of these same qualities, minus the repetitive motion. And there's a lot more to think about when riding, because it's you and a hugely enormous animal with its own will. There's a lot more thought required for me in horseback riding, but at the same time, I really like the connection with the animal.

So, even though I'm a reluctant exerciser, I used my doctor's rant as an excuse to try two things I've always wanted to try, and it turns out that I like them both. It was all about swallowing my perfectionist pride to try something I knew I'd be bad at, but being okay with that because I wanted to try it. It turns out that I could even stick with both of them! The big test will be seeing what happens when school is in full swing...

23 August 2011

Why this blog?

Erin's Version

I met Jess in graduate school. We were both first year students (freshmen?) who happened to be in the same class from hell. It was every Tuesday and Thursday evening with a small, rather intense instructor named Dr. Hsu. The class was something about how to make a test. No, not take a test - MAKE a test. Yes, it was an education class (no, I am NOT a teacher - more about that later).

I was a standoffish Physical Science major who swore that this girl who kept trying to make idle chit chat with me was the current girlfriend of my ex-boyfriend, you know - since she was from the same high school as him and everything. It's not like there weren't 1200 kids in the school or anything...

Anyway, not only did random chit chat girl date my ex (in my convoluted mind) but, on her key chain was a VW key. One of those flip keys. One that came with a Jetta. I wanted a Jetta. Damnit, she had everything.

Somehow or other I finally found out that she did not date my ex, she did drive a snazzy red Jetta and was actually pretty cool. We became fast friends once I got over my whole crazy judgmental thing.

Fast forward, let's see - 7 years (crap, it's been that long?). We've decided that there are some things we want, need, to accomplish in our lives. So, we made this pact. A pact to hold each other accountable through this blog: to craft more, to save more, to budget our money (!), to sew more, to read more, to exercise more (lol!), to get off Facebook more, to love and laugh more and to live simpler.

Jess' Version

Obviously, I don't remember things quite the way Erin does. I just remember that we always sat on the same side of the classroom with Dr. Hsu (who I had to take for a second class...shudder....), and I didn't really know anyone (since, as Erin pointed out, we were both first semester, first year grad students), so I was trying to meet people. Even though I was trying to become an English teacher and Erin was studying to be a science teacher, she seemed a lot like me, like we had a lot in common. We spent time getting to know each other at $2 Hoegarden night, and later, Erin did get a nice Jetta even! (But, no, I never dated her ex, and I hardly knew him in high school...)

Funny, the other class we had together was also hellish - maybe there are odd forces at work when we take classes together. But we got through both of those, and a lot more in these last eight (eight?!) years, both good and bad, and now, here we are trying to Make Things Happen .... and to hold each other accountable so that those Things do get done! It was obviously meant to be; for a few days before Erin asked if I'd want to do this blog, I had been contemplating asking her the same thing. Is it Fate? Is it Destiny? Is it Jess over-analyzing things again?

Probably. But neither of us would have it any other way.

Erin, again...

Actually, we took three classes together (remember Educational Psych?). We also went to Florida and Vermont together. We would go to J. Crew and buy almost matching outfits just to be "those girls". We were also very hot and very sexy. ;) LOL. Inside joke.

19 August 2011

Putting the J in EJ

Hi, I'm Jessica. I'm a J part of EJ.

I'm a daughter and a big sister, a girlfriend, a pet momma, a cousin, a niece, and a friend.

By day, I'm a teacher. At night, I wear my craftypants.

My style has evolved a lot...in high school, I wore a t-shirt or sweatshirt, jeans, and running shoes. Every. Day.

In college, this evolved to a tighter t-shirt. ("evolved" might be pushing it a bit.) After college, I went prep, and today, 30s Jess is a mix of classic, preppy, bohemian, and sporty. I haven't amassed the mommy-chic addition of spit up just yet.

Want to know more about me?
Okay, then...

THINGS I LIKE: knitting, sewing, doing stuff around the house, gardening, sometimes baking, yoga, reading, my kitty, others' dogs, horses, hgtv, food network, sports, pinterest, my sofa, Harry Potter, chocolate and coffee and green tea, good grammar

THINGS I DISLIKE: cooking usually, the end of summer, sometimes the color red, intolerance, black tea, most cheese, carrots, seafood, eggs, allergies, poor grammar, vomit, the dentist (not personally, he's actually very nice, but all the scraping makes me shudder...)

E is for Excellent, um, I mean Erin

Hi!  I'm ErinI'm one of the brains behind this operation.  

I am a mommy, a girlfriend, a friend, a daughter, a crafter, an environmental scientist, a jokester, and a sister, among many other things.

As for my personal style?  Well, I was a "surfer chick" in high school...

and then a "preppy" in my 20s... 

Now, in my 30s, I am Mommy-chic, which is really just a mix of the two with a little bit of spit up on the shoulder...

Loves: my daughter, my family, the Phillies, my dog, the shore, vacations, my friends, music

Likes: being with my daughter, reading, sewing, writing, dogs (labs in particular), the ocean, skiing, Vermont (went to undergrad there), spell check, flip flops, baking, roller coasters, soccer

Dislikes:  people who don't use their blinkers, TOMS, olives, spiders, my ex-husband, jellyfish, pretentiousness, blatant misuse of their/there/they're (feel free to correct me when I accidentally do it), the dentist, wet socks, Yoga (sorry Jess), gangsta rap