Sunday, July 6, 2014

Nook HD Cover Tutorial

Searching for a cute cover for my Nook HD (8G) was no easy task--so much so that I decided to make my own. I didn't even want to spend the measly $7 on a generic looking cover on Amazon when I could make one similar to those I found on Etsy absolutely free since I already had all of the materials I would need. I couldn't find any Nook HD-specific cover tutorials online, so it took a few days to work out all of the details in my mind of how I wanted to put it together--and even then I had to consult this older iPad tutorial for some help. And even THEN I ended up making it just small enough that the Nook wouldn't actually fit in the cover. Oops! On my second try (thank goodness for a large material supply...) I decided to go more slowly, measure more precisely, and to take pictures along the way so someone else could learn from my time wasting mistakes!

Nook HD Cover Tutorial



Supplies

Nook HD
Measuring Tape
Writing Utensils
Scrap Paper
Pattern paper/Cardstock
Scissors 
Rotary Cutter/Cutting Mat (optional)
Straight Pins
Coordinating Thread
Sewing Machine
Iron/Ironing Board
Coordinating Elastic/Hair-tie
Coordinating Button
Hand Needle

Fabric

Cut from the pattern/template (see below in step 3)

Outer Sleeve:
2x Outer Fabric (home decorator weight is the best. I got mine at Jo-Ann's)
2x Interfacing/Padding material (flannel/felt or interfacing will work)

Inner Sleeve
2x Inner Fabric/Lining (the part that touches the Nook--mine is basic brown broadcloth)
2x Interfacing/Padding Material


1. Measure the Nook HD from the back of the device with measuring tape...not a ruler. I made the mistake of measuring the front (screen side) with a ruler the first time, so my calculations were all wrong. The measuring tape accounts for the extra length/width added by the curvature of the device. Tricky!


2. Draw out a small diagram to help you remember the dimensions and aid in calculating your cutting measurements. For my cover, I added 1/2" each to the length and width to provide 1/4" seam allowance along each edge of the cover. See calculations below


3. Using the final measurements, cut a template from pattern paper, parchment paper, or whatever you have lying around. I used bright blue cardstock. 


4. Iron material and cut!


From top to bottom: Outer Fabric, Lining Fabric, Interfacing for Lining, Interfacing for Outer Fabric
I really wish I could figure out how to rotate these pictures!

After cutting 2 of each fabric, you should have a total of 8 pieces
 5. Sandwich the outer fabric with the outer interfacing. I will use the patterned fabric and the dark blue heavy duty felt. Starting at the bottom of the four layered sandwich, the layers should be interfacing, outer fabric right side up, outer fabric right side down, interfacing.


6. Put an arrow pointing to the top of the cover where the opening will be for the Nook, pin the layers together, and sew along the sides and bottom using a 1/4" seam allowance. I think I actually used 3/8". After sewing, run the iron over the stitching to set, and trim the outer edges. 


The finished edge of the outer sleeve
7. Using the same technique from the outer sleeve, assemble the inner sleeve, and pin. But don't sew yet, you will make one modification! 



8. As you can see in the picture above, I've marked an area at the bottom of the inner sleeve that says "No Sew"--leave this part open as you sew around the sides and bottom so you will be able to turn it later. If it seems weird, it's ok. It will make sense later. When you are finished sewing the edges (and ironing and trimming), cut a small rectangle the interfacing fabric on both sides where you left the opening for turning. This will reduce bulk after you turn the final product and sew up the opening. 

9. Time to grab the iron again! Turn the outer sleeve right side out and use your fingers to push out the corners and seams. Iron it flat. 


10. Prep your hand needle and thread to sew on the button. Using your best judgement (it really was a crap shoot for me), place the button on the front of the cover near the top. Reference the picture below for a general idea of where it should go. 

The end is in sight! If you're like me, all patience you had at the beginning is long gone by the time you begin sewing on the button...

11. Next, fit the outer sleeve (right side out) into the inner sleeve (wrong side out) so that the outer fabric and the inner lining fabric are touching. Scootch, pinch, and pull until it's a nice fit---the side seams should be lined up as well as the upper edge. Pin around the upper edge. 


A view to show how the fabric is layered




12. It is now time to affix the elastic/hair-tie. In my first failed attempt, I used a hair-tie. Had the cover been large enough to actually use, the hair-tie method would've worked perfectly. This time, however, I opted for just plain skinny elastic. I don't think this was the best idea because it was difficult to get the loop just right. 

Anyway, using whichever you decide, attach the elastic--loop side down--on the back of the cover between the outer fabric and the inner lining fabric--aka between the second and third layers. 


13. Sew around the top edge using a 1/4' or 3/8" seam allowance. Go really slow and make sure your pins don't get caught in the machine or the thread! 

What it looks like sewn


14. Remember that little hole you left when sewing the inner sleeve? Now it's time to work the magic! GENTLY pull the outer sleeve through the hole in the inner sleeve. GO SLOW. 


This is what it looks like  when the inner sleeve is pulled completely out. 

15. Fold the opening in on itself to close the hole in the inner sleeve and sew it shut. 

Folded

Sewn


16. Tuck the inner sleeve down in the outer sleeve, press with the iron, and voila! You could choose to top-stitch around the edges like I did, but in hindsight, I probably wouldn't. I think it'd look better without it--or at least with lighter thread. So...you make the call! 

And there it is, folks...a cute little cover for your Nook HD! When it was all said and done, it only took me an hour to complete--and I made it for FREE using materials I had on hand. If you don't have random fabric strewn about your house (why wouldn't you, though?) I can't imagine you'd spend more than $10 or so buying everything--as long as you had the essentials like a sewing machine and scissors, of course.

It fits this time!


My Nook is safe and sound and ready for hours of in-flight reading when I travel to France in two weeks!



And now to clean up the mess that has been happening about my feet...






































Saturday, April 19, 2014

Grocery Tips and Tricks

In every attempt to trim our budget, it seems that food is typically the most difficult area to control.

You’ve been there—aimlessly roaming around the grocery store trying to figure out what to fix for dinner, with a grumbling tummy to boot. This usually leads to buying expensive “heat-n-eat” foods and ultimately lands you in the very same position the next evening—because you still don’t have a plan!

You whine and exclaim, “I’m too busy to plan!”

Very busy you may be, however with just a teensy bit of creativity and organization, I’m confident you will be able to simplify your grocery shopping and save money as well!

In attempts to conquer the illusive grocery beast, I’ve tried couponing, monthly meal planning, freezer cooking, driving all over town to hit every sale I possibly can, and spreadsheets. Oh the spreadsheets!!

 At the end of each one of these techniques, I found myself increasingly frustrated and less motivated to stay on top of my intricately designed system. So, without the time or energy to maintain these time consuming methodology, I’ve learned to consolidate my efforts into six manageable steps that can be easily completed during baby’s naptime!

As with anything, it’s important to try new approaches with an open mind. If it doesn’t work for you, modify it! And it is equally (if not more) imperative to extend yourself plenty of grace in any organizational process. There will be blunders and roadblocks--expect them and roll with the punches!

The Plan
I try to coordinate my meal planning time with the store sale rollover day. Around here, that’s Wednesday for Hy-vee and Aldi. In a good week, I will plan the meals and make my grocery list on Wednesday morning and complete the shopping either Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning. This way the sales are fresh and I probably won’t need to re-arrange my meal plan mid-shopping trip due to an out of stock item. Very annoying!

Take Inventory: Briefly glance through your cabinets and fridge/freezer to make a mental note of what you have on hand, and maybe some items that need to be consumed before spoilage occurs. I used to write everything down on a spreadsheet, but that process became very tedious and overwhelming for me so I had to simplify!

Browse Sales: Check the ads of a couple grocery/big box stores that are most convenient for you geographically. For me, this is Walmart, Hy-vee, and Aldi, and they always post the weekly sale ad on their websites. Write down sale items that you actually use in your every day diet along with what the sale is ($2/lb, $.99/ea or whatever), items you frequently use in favorite recipes, and items in new recipes you would like to try. When you are finished, scratch out the more expensive duplicate items. I use a basic Steno-pad and put my list of sale items (by store) on the left side of the sheet.

Plan Meals: On the right side of the sheet, list the days of the week you will need to make a meal. Then, plan meals from your recipes (I keep a stack of tasty sounding recipes nearby when I’m planning) using as many of your on-hand items and sale items in the store as possible. It’s helpful to also think about what kind of activities are going on each day/evening so you can plan a meal that suits the schedule for that day—otherwise your precious savings efforts could go to waste along with the food that was never prepared! After the meals are decided, I write them down on a calendar that is located near my food prep area so I always know what to prepare each evening. I’ve tried relying on my memory—but my mind is so cluttered these days that I just can’t depend on it anymore!

Make Grocery List: This part is usually the trickiest for me because I frequently leave items off the list only to realize it when I’m halfway through a meal preparation with no way to get to the store to pick up the missing ingredient! Don’t be like me! Double check your list! Anyway—I usually start by writing down regular weekly grocery items that don’t involve dinner recipes. Next, go through each recipe you plan to make during the week and write down the ingredients you will need to buy.  Additionally, write down any sale items that you will stock up on. Since you will be saving money by planning meals around the sales, there should be extra cash to stock up on items that you know you will use in the future. In our house, we are always on the lookout for a good deal on Pepsi. When it goes on sale for $3/12-pack or less (regularly $4.50 or more depending on the store), I buy at least three and then we are set for a month!

Organize by Store: Next to each item on the list, write down the first letter of the store where you plan to purchase the item and circle it (the letter, not the item). If this is visually overwhelming for you (it is for my husband), make a short list for each store. I don’t do this simply because I hate re-writing my list—but this might be something that doesn’t bother you! Sometimes I’ll even write down what the actual sale is next to the item in case there are signage issues at the store. You could also just print out the ad and take it with you. Or, you could be like my awesome friend and take advantage of price matching programs so you won’t need to travel to more than one store! One day I may attempt this—I’ll let you know how it goes!

Unload the Loot: Think your job is done as soon as the overflowing grocery bags land on the kitchen floor? Wrong! This is an awesome time to quickly clear out stale (ahem..moldy) leftovers and spoiled (chunky) milk before filling your fridge with new grocery items. Trust me, you will feel much more content looking into your refrigerator without the unappetizing clutter messing things up. AND—you’ll be able to find things MUCH easier. This is also a great opportunity to check the dates on any meat you purchased during the shopping trip. If it will go bad before the day you plan to prepare it, be sure to stick it in the freezer and then make a note on your handy meal calendar to thaw it in time to cook it.

And, that’s it! I hope you have found a few things that will ease your food prep woes—and if you have a different way to save money and time whilst grocery shopping, please share in the comments!  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Project Allergic: Apple Spice Muffins (Gluten, Dairy and Egg Free)


Last week I found a tasty version of gluten-free apple muffins to add to my weekly breakfast line-up, but after scouring every possible place I could have saved it on my computer favorites and iPhone bookmarks, it was nowhere to be found.

Not what I wanted to deal with in my hungry pre-coffee bed-headed state. This was a good reminder that I need to streamline my recipe organization soon...

Standing at my kitchen counter, I frantically searched the web for a similar recipe and managed to uncover this.

I already had most of the ingredients, so modifying it to fit my allergenic needs was a snap. I was impressed with the fluffy yet substantial texture of these muffins, and they really hit the spot paired with a bowl of fresh blueberries and a piping hot cup-o-Joe. :)

Modified Apple Spice Muffins

Wet Ingredients:
3 Flax Eggs*
3/4 c. Applesauce (I used my granddad's home-canned version)
1 c. Brown Sugar (I'd love to experiment with reducing/replacing the sugar. My only complaint)
1/2 c. Canola Oil (Next time I'll try using melted Coconut Oil)
2 tsp. Vanilla
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. All-Spice
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. Brown Rice Flour
1/2 c. Oat Flour (Bob's Red Mill=Gluten Free)
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt

Topping:
1/2 c. Peeled/Cored/Diced Apples (plus extra if you have a hungry toddler like I do!)

Pre-heat oven to 350°

1. Mix all of the wet ingredients in a larger mixing bowl.

2. Sift all of the dry ingredients into a smaller mixing bowl

3. Slowly fold the dry ingredients into the wet, being careful to not over-mix.

4. Place liners into a muffin tin and fill cups about 3/4 of the way full.

5. Gently press a few apple pieces into the top of the muffin. They come out nice and soft, so you could probably put on as many as you want. Or, as the original recipe shows, you could also put the apples in the middle of the muffin.

6. Bake the muffins for around 20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. I had to bake mine for 24 minutes.
 
*Flax eggs are soooo easy and a wonderful alternative for those of us who can't eat chicken eggs:

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 Tbsp. Ground Flax Seed Meal with 3 Tbsp. Water. If the recipe calls for more than one egg, just double the recipe accordingly. So for this recipe, I used 3 Tbsp. Flax Seed Meal and 9 Tbsp. Water. After everything is mixed together, put the bowl in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes, or until the consistency is thick and gel-like. When you add it to the mixture, it should easily slide out of the bowl, leaving little residue behind.





 

 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

MoneyMoneyMoneyMo-ney...MO-NEY!


In light of some recent conversations I've had regarding money, I thought I would write about our current financial strategy. I wouldn't go as far to say that we are budgeting "gurus" or anything, but we have come a long way since we've been married. I hope the following is encouraging to at least one person out there who would like to try something different with their spending.

The first year we were married, my husband and I operated on what I like to call a "retroactive" budgeting system. I don't think this is unlike what many other people do--simply tracking the money you spend after it's already spent. This resulted in guilt-inducing money conversations every time we balanced our checkbook.

That was back when I actually balanced a checkbook. Just like Daddy taught me--down to the last freaking penny.

And sometimes we would sit there for hours and hours trying to find that last 19 cents...and looking back now, I just laugh at how much persistence I had...and how accommodating my husband was...

And then it dawned on me.

Why in heaven's name are we trying to control our spending after the money is already gone? Does that even make any sense?

Duh, Katie!

And this is when we finally sat down and came up with a PRO-active strategy. It's genius, I tell you...and I can't believe it took me so long to discover what the rest of the civilized world probably already knew.

Hey...I never said I wasn't stubborn.

There have been many versions over the past six years---budget notebooks and crazy complicated spreadsheets---but I think we have finally landed on a system that works best for us...at least for right now.

Here is our method:

My husband and I sit down (usually after a salary change or another significant life change---like having a baby, for instance) and figure out exactly how much money we make every month. Using www.mint.com (a wonderful budgeting tool that links to your bank account) we enter that number in as our income. Then we make a list of all the different categories of spending we have on a regular basis.

--It's very important to understand that this looks different for everyone. It was such a relief to realize we could make our own categories based on our own unique lifestyle, and not a cookie-cutter version I found in some random money book.--

After the list is complete, we begin dividing up our monthly income into these categories--starting with the bills that are a fixed amount and working our way down to the areas that are more flexible.

When that feels pretty comfortable, we enter in our budgets on Mint. As the month goes on and money is spent out of our account, we tell Mint which category each transaction belongs to. Once it links the transaction to the budget category, the remaining money in that area is shown on a graph.  It's basically an online "envelope" system.

Here are our categories:

Tithe
Rent
Utilities
Renter's Insurance
Car Maintenance
Auto Insurance
Health Insurance
Pharmacy/Doctor's Visits
Weekly Cash Allowance
Predetermined Online Shopping Items
Gas
Cell Phone
Haircuts
Student Loans
Savings Goals (we currently have a long-term, mid-term, and a short-term goal)

While Mint was wonderful for our regular bills, we often forgot to check the categories in other areas before swiping our card at the store.  Even though we had the Mint app on our phones for when we did remember to look, sometimes checks or credit card purchases wouldn't clear the account fast enough to update the budgets. After a few months of trying this and failing miserably, we decided that using cash for things we shopped for frequently might be a better option. Having to physically depart with cash each time we spend and then also seeing the stack of bills get smaller and smaller is finally enough for us to keep a closer eye on our spending. Because when it's gone, it's gone!

And so I give you...The Cash File!




It's not very pretty inside, but it does get the job done!

Our file is divided into seven categories:

Groceries
Household
Toiletries
Baby
Slush
Date Night
Clothing

For about two solid years, we operated on a monthly cash system where we had enough in each category to last us the entire month. We found this to be incredibly frustrating, because a month is a really long time! We frequently ended up with no money left in our grocery section about a week before the next month began. No good! It took a lot of humbling to realize that I am more like a child than I'd like to admit, and that operating on a weekly system would be much more feasible.

Now, we budget the same monthly amount, but instead of carrying it all around at once, we make weekly withdrawals from our checking for a week's worth of cash. It may seem juvenile, but it works for us! It's great to not have to try to remember how much money is left in the grocery budget, because I just look in the cash file and instantly I'm aware of the situation.

Though I do feel like we are in a pretty good place financially, we are most certainly a work in progress. Things do get awkward around Christmas or when other big expenses come up unexpectedly. Thankfully we have a decent sized emergency fund! Eventually, however, I know I'd like to figure out a plan to save for these things in advance. Again--a work in progress!

I know money is a difficult subject for many of us, but the most important thing we have learned is that it's not about how much money you have, but rather it's about how well you manage what money you do have--even if it's not very much. Even though we've had pretty meager salaries thus far, we have been able to pay off a boat-load of debt. Now, other than our student loans, we are completely debt free! And, let me tell you...I can't wait until the day when those blasted loans are paid off!

For those of you who made it all the way to the end of this post, I hope you found our story encouraging and maybe even a little helpful! :) Happy Tuesday!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Project Allergic: It's a Bird! It's a Plane! No, It's Scrambled Tofu!!

After an epic crafting fail tonight, I decided that my cut-and-paste misfortune was in actuality the universe nudging me to do something a little more productive with myself.

But then all I wanted to do was watch shallow teenage TV dramas on the internet and eat chocolate and barbeque chips. What IS it about The Carrie Diaries? Oh geez.

So....after jolting myself back to reality, writing was really the only other option. And since I have an apparent infatuation with food this evening, I thought a post on one of my newest concoctions was definitely appropriate.

I bring you.....Scrambled Tofu!

Ok, ok, before you heave on your lap, just wait for the explanation.

Many of you who are reading know for the past several years, for whatever reason, I haven't been able to eat gluten. Two years ago, when pursuing the issue further with an allergist, I discovered through some testing that I'm actually not allergic to wheat/gluten, but I AM allergic to dairy and eggs. Wonderful! So, in addition to my gluten intolerance (which I'm now assuming is merely a digestive issue), I was also faced with the challenge of avoiding three main staples of my regular diet--cheese, mayo, and butter. Super frown-y face.

After mourning the sharp downturn in my culinary life, I slowly began the process of figuring out what I could eat, and how to make it palatable at the very least. It has been a treacherous journey for my taste buds, but I'm finally finding some tasty alternatives to some old beloved favorites--like scrambled eggs, for instance.

I will caution you, however, that typing "scrambled tofu" into a Google search engine will bring up several recipes incorporating onions, vegetables, and various oils that I either can't afford or don't have room for in my tiny kitchen. For some of you, this may be the preferable option, but all I wanted to do was replicate the texture and taste of scrambled eggs as closely as possible. And so began the process of figuring it out for myself. Fun!

I am happy to say that several failed attempts and a willingness to choke down less-than-ideal results have finally paid off. The following is a method I personally enjoy---and I hope if you are allergic like me, or just plain adventurous, you will enjoy it as well. :)

Katie's Plain-Jane Scrambled Tofu

Ingredients:

*these measurements are very precise. Be sure to measure carefully...

One package of extra firm organic tofu (I find mine at Wal-Mart fairly cheap)
2-3 Tbsp. Olive Oil or preferred cooking oil
2 splashes GF Soy Sauce
A healthy pinch Nutritional Yeast (I found this in the bulk section at Hy-Vee)
a few shakes Dry Mustard
a dash Onion Powder
a dash Garlic Powder
Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Open tofu package and divide it into fourths with a kitchen knife.


2. Place one square of tofu on a clean kitchen towel, using it to wring out the extra water over the sink or a bowl. Leave it smooshed in the towel while you complete the next step.

 

3. In a small mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.



4. Carefully crumble the squeezed-out tofu into the wet mixture--combine thoroughly and allow to soak for a few minutes.




5. In the meantime, pour a little of your preferred cooking oil/dairy free butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Let it warm until just before sizzles--any hotter and the tofu will stick to a stainless-steel pan, if you are using one.


6. Dump the entire mixture into the pan and stir constantly for about 3-4 min.

 
 
And here you have it--light and fluffy scrambled tofu that mostly satiates my need for the real deal. I like to pile mine on top of a toasted gluten-free waffle each morning before plopping myself in front of a Gilmore Girls re-run. It's my daily treat!
 
 


Monday, December 2, 2013

And now for the recap.

When one enters a grueling masters of music program in addition taking on a teaching assistantship that includes running at break-neck speeds on behalf of the university athletic bands and simultaneously attempting to hold a marriage together in the midst of it all, it's a little disorienting to sit down when it's all finished and finally take a deep breath.

I was almost scared to.

I knew that in the middle of all the crazy weeks of unwashed laundry, late night writing sessions, cramming for tests and projects as Marching Mizzou revved up for rehearsal because it was the only time I available, I had completely lost myself. It sounds terrible, and I tried so hard to not let it happen. I balanced things so well in the beginning and then all of a sudden it transformed into a brutal game of survival.  There were unexpected blows at every turn with hardly a moment to catch a gasping breath.

Picture a less deadly version of The Hunger Games.

Only the protagonist has a baby at the end.

Well...I haven't read the second two books, so maybe she does have a baby in the end. If she does, I'd be super impressed. Especially if she did it without meds in the wilderness. Which is pretty much the way I did.

Don't worry...I'll save that story for a different blog post. :)

In all seriousness though, when the room stopped spinning and I did finally let myself reflect on the past two years, I was excited to figure out what this new life would look like. The puzzle pieces are all scattered about, and I am (im)patiently waiting to see how they will fit together. I know there's a plan for it all, and instead of anxiously fretting about what the next step is--I'm just going to try to enjoy the ride.

Today I am thankful for where I am. I have students to teach, places to play, words to write, and a home to keep. I have a beautiful daughter and a hard-working husband, and a gracious God who loves me more than I could ever imagine. What else is there, really?


 

 




Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's never too early to discipline...

Myself, that is.

I need a time out.

I think it hit me about the time I dropped a Tupperware filled with sliced red peppers and then preceded to repeatedly slam the vessel to the floor that once held them.

Oh...and I was yelling.

I yelled as I picked the pathetic little things up off of our dirty linoleum, yelled as I stomped my way over to the trashcan, and then gave an encore worthy UGH!! as I shoved them into the layers of smelly garbage.

Really?

YES!

Wanna know why?

I spent the previous forty-five minutes convincing myself to get off the couch with the promise I could scavenge tasty tolerable sustenance to feed my growling tummy, and those red peppers were part of the plan. Peppers, avocados, and toasted gluten-free bread. I even had an overwhelming urge to pee, but even that wasn't enough to rouse me from my resting place. The fear of becoming fat and lazy? Nope..not enough. The only reason I was able to drag myself out of my comatose state was for some friggin red peppers!

I just love being pregnant.

No, no. Let me rephrase.

I just LOVE being pregnant with food allergies. Only a pregnant lady who can't eat eggs, wheat, or dairy would let the loss of a container of plain-jane red peppers send her into this much of a tizzy-fit.

I'm sure the "Armageddon" episodes on the History Channel and "Death of a Cheerleader" on ABC Family combined with Bravo's "Pregnant in Heels" had absolutely nothing to do with it.

My poor husband...