Sunday, June 9, 2013

Two Weeks in a Carryon (Sortof)

In May, I took a two-week trip to Scotland with my Mom. Knowing she would have issues lifting and carrying heavy luggage, I wanted to pack as light as possible so I'd be able to handle her luggage as well as mine. I ended up taking two carryons: a squarish duffel style bag I've had for years and a Vera Bradley Metro bag borrowed from a friend. Both are small enough to fit under the seat or easily stow in an overhead bin. It's the first time I've attempted a trip that long with bags that small, so I thought I'd share what I learned. First, here are the clothes I packed:

  • Two pairs of lightweight dress pants, both black
  • Two cardigan sweaters, one white and one black
  • Two three-quarter sleeve dress shirts
  • Three short-sleeve knit tops
  • 5 pairs of underwear, 5 pairs of socks and an extra bra
  • A lightweight wind- and water-proof jacket
  • Nightshirt
  • Lightweight black Cuddleduds pant liners
I had all the typical toiletry stuff plus two outlet adapters, a flat iron, a washcloth and a microfiber towel. I also took a travel guidebook, a paperback novel, my iPad with a keyboard, notebook, journal, umbrella, crochet supplies (thread, hook and a couple easy doily patterns) and printouts of some family tree info for reference since I knew we'd spend at least one day researching at the national archive. I wore a pair of dark wash jeans, a tunic-style blouse and comfy but dressy shoes on the plane. I didn't bring a purse but had a cross-body wallet bag that was also big enough for sunglasses, lip balm and a small hairbrush, and I only packed clothes that could be worn in lots of combinations. (So all the tops and blouses could be worn with either cardigan, and all those combinations worked with either the dress pants or jeans.).

All in all it went well. We spent one week in Edinburgh and one week on a guided tour of the Highlands. I was a little concerned about only having one pair of shoes since I have seriously screwed-up feet, but these were awesome. We walked a LOT and my feet were tired at the end of some days, but never really hurt. I checked the weather forecasts before we left but temperatures were still colder than we expected - high forties to mid fifties most days, with a lot of wind and rain in the Highlands. I'd planned to dress in layers and that worked perfectly. Even with cold temps, the occasional hail storm and fairly light clothes, I was comfortable. I wore the Cuddleduds once on an especially cold, windy day and they were awesome. It was well worth bringing them even though I only used them once. I bought a pair of cashmere fingerless gloves in Edinburgh that I wore a lot in the Highlands. Not only were they warm, I could use my camera (which was my phone) without taking them off. Having a wind- and water-proof jacket made a huge difference, comfort-wise. Mom's jacket was neither and she had to buy one early in the trip.

There were a few things I didn't use at all: the umbrella, notebook, journal, guidebook. I used the printouts once for reference but could have easily relied on scans saved on the iPad. Leaving out all the above would have really cut down on the weight in the Vera bag.

If I were to make the same trip again, I would pack another pair of dark jeans and ditch the dress pants. I'd read that people in the UK tend to dress up more than Americans, but dark jeans were fine. I'd take fewer socks and underwear and just wash things more often. I'd swap the two dress shirts for knit tops (none of the b&bs had irons), and pick a softer cardigan. I brought a brand new one that's made of a tape-style yarn that turned out to be itchy. I wore it once and never got it out of the suitcase again. I'd also bring one comfy pair of lounge pants for evenings. That was the only thing I ended up wishing I'd packed.

I got a LOT more use out of the microfiber towel and washcloth than I expected. I packed the towel because it's great for my hair but used it daily for wringing out laundry. And none of the B&Bs we stayed in had washcloths. Next time, I'd invest in a microfiber one. I also brought a lightweight nylon tote bag thinking I might use it for souveniers on the flight home. I did, but I also used it every day to carry an extra layer of clothes for Mom. (She's hypoglycemic plus she freezes if it's below 70, so she always wanted snacks, an extra sweater, gloves and hat with her.)

I knew I wouldn't be able to use my cell phone (stupid Verizon), but I brought it anyway and used it just for the camera. I borrowed a bigger battery from a friend who has the same phone and didn't have any problems with battery life, even when I took well over 100 pictures and several short videos in one day. I had a few issues with outdoor photos turning out dark, but overall the phone did just fine and most of the time took better pictures than Mom's little camera. All the bed & breakfasts had wifi so I set up a Dropbox account before I left and synced my phone every night to back up my photos. Instead of calling home I used my iPad and Google Hangouts to talk to the Big Guy and Little Guy every day, which was awesome. I also used the iPad to read ebooks, surf the web or plan our next day's routes & itineraries.

One important note: Mom and I both contacted our credit card companies before the trip to make sure we could use our cards overseas and were assured it would be no problem. I planned to use cash for as many of the day-to-day purchases as possible, so I also brought my debit card. The UK uses a chip-and-pin system for debit and credit cards. If you want to use them for non-signature transactions (like cash advances or ATM withdrawals), MAKE SURE YOUR CARDS HAVE CHIPS. My debit card was the only one of our four cards that did, and that was pure luck. Mom could use her cards for signature transactions but not withdrawals so we relied on hers for big charges like the hotel bills, and I took out cash for everything else. It worked out, but it was a pain.

Oh, and the only time I used my credit card (on the last night of our trip, fortunately), the credit card company blocked it for suspicious activity even though I had called ahead of time to let them know I would be out of the country. To unlock it I had to call customer service, which they advise you to do collect...and then they wouldn't accept an international call. The only other way to contact them was to charge the call to a credit card which, duh, they'd blocked. In the end, having an international customer service number was no help at all. I couldn't get the card unblocked until I was back in the US. At least one other family on the tour with us had the same issues.

So there you have it: lessons learned from two weeks of international travel and my first attempt at packing (somewhat) light. How about you? Any favorite travel tips or tricks?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Weekend Pin-spiration: Doily Edition

My Grammy was an avid crafter and crocheter. She taught me a few basic crochet stitches when I was a little girl but I ony recently picked it up again. I've made some pretty scarves and a few hats that have really improved my pattern-reading skills. With Grammy's hooks in hand, I'm up for a challenge!

1. Spider Web Doily
2. Easy Lacy Crochet Doily
3. Pretty Pineapples Doily
4. Doily #7123 (vintage pattern) - currently in progress

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Weekend Pin-spiration: Travel Edition

In just a few weeks I'll be on my way to Scotland with my Mom. We're making the trip in honor of her 75th birthday and plan to spend one week on family tree research and sightseeing in Edinburgh, and one week on a small-group tour called the "Best of Scotland." I'm looking forward to the trip but I'm just a little nervous at the prospect of two weeks away from my husband and son. And while I travel often for work, I haven't been on a trip with Mom since family vacations when I was in grade school. Two weeks is a long time if we find we're not good travel companions. Any words of wisdom?

To keep my mind on positive thoughts, I'm planning to make a few new travel accessories for both of us. There are so many lovely ideas on Pinterest. Here are just a few tutorials and patterns that caught my eye:

1. Portable First Aid Kit from Positively Splendid
2. Lined Drawstring Bags from In Color Order
3. Jewelry Roll from Fiberosity
4. Earbud Pouch from Erin Erickson
5. Flat Iron Holder from Creative Juices
6. Quilted Journal Cover from Sew Me Something Good
7. Passport Wallet, pattern from Craftsy
8. Fabric Envelope for holding travel documents - In Color Order
9. And, of course, a new tote bag! Pattern from Elizabeth Hatman

If you're looking for ideas of your own, the Travel Handmade board on Pinterest is a great place to start.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

We may be in over our heads...

Mom called late Friday to say a cousin had a bumper crop of apples and offered as many as we wanted if we'd help pick them. So off we went with some buckets and tubs. I figured we'd come home with a bushel or so but we kept picking...and picking...and picking.
We're going to be making applesauce for weeks!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chocolate spa goodies

I made up two of these Chocolate Spa Sets to send to friends for Valentine's Day. They each have a large container of Chocolate Lavender Bath Salts, Chocolate Walnut Body Polish, Chocolate Mocha Facial Mask and Chocolate Peppermint Foot Soak Salts. Yum! I think I got as much benefit from smelling all the goodies while I was making them as my friends will when they use them!

Everything was easy to make, especially the body polish, and I had most of the ingredients right in my kitchen cupboard.

I started with this recipe from Herb Companion magazine and modified it slightly because I didn't have walnut oil. Instead, I used:

• ½ cup sugar
• ¼ cup safflower oil*
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped walnuts
• 1 tablespoon cocoa powder

*I use safflower oil with vitamin E. It has added benefits for your skin and the vitamin E acts as a preservative for the scrub so you can store it longer.

Just mix all the ingredients together and store it in an airtight jar. To use it, hop in the tub or shower, scoop out about a tablespoon or so of the body polish, and massage into your damp skin, avoiding eye area. Rinse well with warm water. If you let your skin air dry instead of towelling off, you'll leave a nice, light layer of moisturizing oil behind. You can also pat dry very lightly to still leave some of the oil.

One word of caution: This mix makes your feet and tub SLIPPERY! Be very careful in the tub and stepping out onto bare floor. I stand on a washcloth in the tub and put an old towel on the floor in front of the tub for when I step out.


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Make it Yours @ My Backyard Eden

Monday, January 31, 2011

Too old for fairy tales

The Little Guy looked around his bedroom recently and informed me, with his hands on his hips and in his most serious voice, "Mom, I am TOO OLD for fairy tales. We need to change this NOW."

This is the wallpaper border in his room, put up just two weeks before he was born. He's 7-3/4 now, so this statement wasn't entirely unexpected. And the rest of his room has been a mishmash for a while, with space posters, a Snoopy nightlight and an odd fleece blanket that he likes because it's soft, but it didn't match anything else in the room. See?

We started browsing catalogs and web sites to come up with a new theme. I had two rules: 1) no licensed characters, and 2) no red walls. He lobbied hard to change my mind on the second rule, but I don't like painting well enough to tackle red!

So, after much debate, he decided on an outer space theme and picked out this border:

Next, we headed to Joann's, 50% off coupons in hand, and he picked out this fleece:

To humor his request for "lots of red" (his favorite color), we picked red binding for the blankets and plain red fabric for window valances.

This week we started stripping off the old border and tested some new paint colors for the walls.

It's going to take at least another week or so to finish, but I'll be back to show off the finished project!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Valentine's Day crafting

The Little Guy saw a Snoopy treat bag kit in a catalog and decided he wanted to make them for his classmates for Valentine's Day. I thought they were cute and they weren't very expensive so we went on the company's web site this weekend to order them...and noticed the shipping time was 10-14 BUSINESS days, unless I wanted to pay another $16.99 for faster service. Um, no.

So, I raided my craft stash and found these little bags:

Then I got on Google and searched for Snoopy images, spent 30 minutes in PhotoShop, and voila! - our own version of Snoopy treat bags. Never underestimate the power of an aggravated, crafty Momma!

I thought I'd share a printable version in case you'd like to make your own. But since Snoopy is copyrighted and I don't want my little blog to go to jail, I made another version with free clip art (found here, in case you want the original artwork).

(Click here to download the PDF from Google Docs.)

These will print out with 4 different tags on a single sheet of 8-1/2 x 11 paper. Just cut them out, fold them in half, write the "to" and "from" names on them, and staple them to the top of your bags. If you use them, please come back and post a comment. I'd love to see them in action!

I'm sharing this on a couple blogs:

Friday, January 21, 2011

I'm so far behind I think I'm first

One corner of my sewing table tends to be a catch-all for things that need to be fixed or completed - hems that need to be raised or lowered, shirts that need buttons replaced, and all manner of unfinished projects. I cleaned it off this afternoon and ran across a placemat I bought at Target before the holidays, intending to make a throw pillow out of it (thanks to the inspiration from Jellybean Junkyard). Rather than leave it in the pile to be forgotten until next January, I took 15 minutes to open up a seam, stuff it with some fluff left over for another project, and finish it off.

And look how nice it looks on the new couch! :o) It's now packed away with the rest of the Christmas decorations, all ready for next year's festivities.

The Prince approves

Sonny seems to like the updated sofa!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In which my sofa gets a makeover

We purchased our living room furniture in 2004 when the Little Guy was not quite a year old. Fast forward through toddlerhood and two dogs, and the sofa is really beginning to show its age. Last fall I started looking longingly at furniture ads but, budget reality being what it is, quickly realized a new sofa was out of the question. I thought slipcovers might be an option but it turns out that we have a somewhat odd sofa and none of the ready-made ones were going to look good. They'd cover the old upholstery, but it wasn't likely the fit would be very neat and I knew that would make me a little nuts.

After estimating yardage to make my own and pricing upholstery fabric (and subsequently picking myself up off the floor when I figured out how much 16 yards of fabric would cost), I found an online coupon for cotton duck at Joann's - it was a great deal IF you bought a full 20 yard bolt. Sign me up!

A few things I failed to take into consideration at the beginning of this project:
  • Cotton duck shrinks. A lot. And since washability was a huge part of the whole slipcover deal, the fabric had to be prewashed. 20 yards of canvas is heavy. 20 yards of WET canvas is really heavy. I spent one full afternoon wrestling it around the local laundromat.
  • There is no flat surface or floor space in my house big enough to roll out more than a few yards of fabric at a time. So cutting out the pieces meant rolling out a small area, ironing it, drawing out the pattern, cutting it out. And then repeating that process about 17 times.
  • Upholstering (which I've done before) is, at least in my book, easier than slipcovering because you don't have to fiddle with the fit as much. Folding and stapling is a lot more forgiving than actually sewing a removable cover.

I started the project the week of Christmas and finally finished today. I LOVE how it turned out, and I'm just proud enough of my work to share the whole ugly process.

1. The before photos. Note the lovely chewed corners on the throw pillows. My dog apparently has a taste for polyester fluff.

2. The first glitch in my plans - there were no inside covers on any of the cushions, so taking the covers off meant completely unstuffing them. I ended up making permanent inside covers for all of them out of assorted fabrics and mismatched sheets. Not pretty, but it worked and it will make it much easier to remove the new covers to wash them.

3. Work in progress. Since making the inside covers had a side benefit of letting me really fine-tune the fit before I tackled the canvas version, I decided to make a test version of the main slipcover the same way. My mom came over for an afternoon and helped with the figuring on this. Thanks, Mom!

4. And finally, after nearly four weeks, a little swearing, two broken needles, multiple spools of thread and three pin-related injuries, it's done!

Still needs throw pillows but I haven't decided whether I'm going to buy them or make them. And now that I see how close the color of the cover is to the color of the walls, I'm thinking of painting the living room...

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