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Driving from NY / NJ to NOLA for Mardi Gras!

Got an invite to Mardi Gras? Check!

Got a place to stay? Check!

Got transportation to NOLA? Ch…well, wait a second? Flights were $800 from NY to NOLA so we had to pass on that, which lead to a ROAD TRIP!!!!!!!!

I absolutely love road trips. There are so many things to see and do in the US that we miss out on because we are so intent on where we need to be instead of thinking about the journey of how to get there. New Orleans is approximately 20 hours from New York City so we had a lot of hours to fill.

I created a long list of things that I thought we may want to see along the way but because of timing, this is what we ended up with:

Our first stop was a guitar shaped building in Bristol, TN. You can easily see the guitar from the visitor’s center parking lot which is immediately after the first exit in Tennessee. We did a quick stop to take a couple of pictures and continued on our way.

Our next intended stop was Pigeon Forge, TN, but somehow we missed the entire town. We saw signs for a scenic natural park which I can only assume was Great Smoky Mountains National Park but wanted to know if there was a particular route we should try to venture on that would not take us too far out of the way. We ended up stopping in a town (which I have sadly forgotten the name of) and stopped in the visitor’s center to ask driving advice. There we met a lovely lady named Catherine who had stories galore and even remembered to show us a route that would bring us into an area of the park that was preserved from the olden days. Unfortunately, because we were driving south, it was out of the way for us but we hoped to see it on the way back.

Our next stop was the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama. It is basically like a giant Goodwill so it’s hit or miss on whether or not you will find treasures for yourself. For us, we didn’t try very hard to find bargains, but we still were able to purchase cute cowboy boots for $30, sneakers for $13, new ink for my printer, new socks, a hat, a purse, and we could have bought a lot more. Everything we found was in great condition. There were things like camping gear that I debated on purchasing but decided against it because I didn’t want to risk not having all the pieces, or damaged pieces. Overall, it was just a fun shopping experience.

Our last stop on the trek down to NOLA was Natural Bridge Park in Alabama. After dealing with wrong directions from Google Maps and driving all over timbuktu trying to find this place, we finally decided to call them and ask directions. Once you know where it is, it is really easy to find. Just continue west on 278-W past Route 5, go down the hill and you will see a sign for the park on the right side. Turn on County Road 3500 and BAM! the park is right down the road.

We were welcomed to the park by a little dog running up to our car. I opened up the door and said to come in. He hopped in the car and promptly gave us kisses and cuddles while we parked the car. As we exited the car, two little brown puppies came over to welcome us as well! We were in heaven!. We were also fortunate enough to arrive at the park when Barbara and her husband were were working. They were such lovely people. Barbara looked at my friend and told him that he has native blood in him. We stayed and talked with them for a bit, then continued on to see the bridge. The puppies joined us for the trek.

If you have time, definitely stop in at this park. It is a beautiful space that doesn’t take long to enjoy. Continue on the path past the bridge to enjoy a wishing well and additional bridges/ledges. We arrived late in the day so we had the trail to ourselves (and the puppies!). If you bring lunch, you can even stop and eat on a bench at the wishing well or near one of the many little waterfalls along the paths.

We ended up arriving in NOLA at a pretty bad time – 11:45pm. We were staying at the Marriott on Canal Street and didn’t realize that parades go right along Canal. We drove around for almost 2 hours trying to find a decent parking lot to put the car in. We couldn’t even get close to the hotel to unload our bags. Had we arrived just a couple of hours later, we could have easily parked the car and been on our way.

Ultimately, we threw the car into a lot about 6 blocks away that cost $40 a night (which was the same price as hotel parking and $10 cheaper than a slightly closer lot). We dragged our bags through the Mardi Gras revelers and checked into the hotel…………then promptly fell asleep!

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Making a baby sleep sack

Ever since I found Pinterest  I have been saving a ton of baby items….especially since Christmas was coming. I wanted to make the sleep sack I found on this site a few weeks ago, but it seemed kind of complicated. Also I first had to buy zippers (found a great set on Amazon, then print the pattern and then actually make the sack!

2014-11-14 16.05.10While I was debating on making the sleep sack, my grandmother showed me how to sew a zipper (fold a small hem against the zipper teeth, pin and then use your zipper foot to sew a straight line) and thankfully it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.

 

 

I wasn’t going to use cuddle fabric (I wanted to use some lightweight cottony flannel material already on hand), so I wanted to check out a few more tutorials to see what other options were out there. I found this page had a great idea – attach an extra piece of fabric to the back of the zipper so that the teeth never touch the baby. It also has clear pictures that I found made it easier to confirm I was doing the right thing along the way.

I had to make a small hem on the extra zipper piece. I faced the hem outward towards the zipper so that the flat part will touch the baby

I had to make a small hem on the extra zipper piece. I faced the hem outward towards the zipper so that the flat part will touch the baby

I finally decided to go ahead and try to make one and it was so easy. I think the one change that I would make to the instructions in the tutorials is to pin the behind the zipper piece to one side of the zipper at the same time you sew that side of the zipper to the main fabric. This way you save a step and you end up with only one stitch line down the front. I don’t like the way the two stitch lines look running down the front of the side of the zipper.

Other than that, I think it came out pretty nice, if I do say so myself!

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How to make personalized Hershey Miniatures and Nuggets wrappers – with templates

During the planning of a recent baby shower, the idea of favors came up. My mom came up with the idea of specialized candy like personalized M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. Lo and behold they already have Hershey Kisses wrapped in blue foil with an “It’s a boy!” tag.

I went ahead and purchased the Kisses and some blue bags, but I felt like the favor was lacking originality and personalization. I decided to add another chocolate to the mix – Hershey Miniatures. I went ahead and found some templates for a personalized Miniature wrapper but none of them allowed me to easily change the writing, colors and design of the template, so I created a new one from scratch. You can download it here. However, when I went to purchase the Miniatures, I discovered that they only come in the variety bag. Being that I only wanted the milk chocolate, I decided to buy Hershey Nuggets instead.

Fritz candyI found many templates for the Nuggets but again, I couldn’t find one that allowed me to make the changes that I wanted. So once again, I had to create my own. Many people suggest using labels for these wrappers, but they won’t actually cover the entire candy, and you may find that when you print, you waste a lot of labels as templates don’t always line up properly when used in different printers.

To attach the wrapper, I found it easiest to put a dab of glue on both the outside and inside of the edge of the printed wrapper to ensure it will stay in place. The edges slightly overlap so it will look neat and fully closed.

Here are my templates, free for your use. They are completely editable once you download them.

Hershey Miniatures Template: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-PL1K6T1jiONzVSajE0eE5iNWc/view?usp=sharing

Hershey Nuggets Boy Template: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-PL1K6T1jiOdTNaYkdZWVpsSjA/view?usp=sharing

Hershey Nuggets Girl Template: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-PL1K6T1jiOcUhOZEJQcDhyaWM/view?usp=sharing

Diaper babies – super easy and adorable

I felt I needed more useful decorations for my sister’s baby shower, so when I came across this blog  I thought these little diaper babies would be great. I used size 1 diapers and size 0 – 3 months socks. I felt the socks were a bit big but they did the job (I doubt there are much smaller socks out there anyway.) I used a rubber band to keep the diapers closed and a fine-tipped Sharpie marker to make the tiny eyes. I also turned the diapers inside out so that the faces would be white and not cartoon charactered.

To display them, my mom crocheted little blankets and we placed them inside small baskets.

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Adventures in Hiking – Bear Mountain Green Pond/Boston Mine – shorter loop from Route 106

On a warmish day in November, I decided to take advantage of the weather and go hiking.  I wanted an easy and short hike without a blue trail since I always seem to get lost on blue trails (only semi-joking!). On this website I found that I can easily search for hikes not listed in any of the books I have. I found a few options that sounded good but were longer than I wanted to do that day. This particular hike was under 3 miles and rated easy. SOLD!

The directions by Daniel Chazin are great. I put the GPS coordinates in my phone’s mapping program, and it led me right to the parking lot. Finding the trailhead was also easy.

In November this trail was not very interesting, but I am guessing that it looks beautiful in the Spring, Summer and Autumn.

Walking through the thickets was one of the more interesting parts of this hike

Walking through the thickets was one of the more interesting parts of this hike

Entrance to the mine.

Entrance to the mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2014-11-11 11.03.33Trail markers are often and obvious. I only got lost once and it was my own fault.  After the lake on the yellow trail, I insisted on going left onto the white Nurian trail even though the directions clearly state to go right.

 

By going left I ended up going downhill over many rocks and even had to do a semi-scramble down some of them. I said to myself “this cannot be an ‘easy’ trail” but instead of turning back I kept going to see if it would intersect with another trail. Finally when the trail kept being too difficult for my little girl Chihuahua who I was carrying at that point, I turned around. I had to put her in her pouch in order to be able to climb up the rocks. Going uphill was quite difficult.

In the Valley of Boulders. I didn't take pictures of the rock scrambles or steer ascents/descents because I was stressed :(

In the Valley of Boulders. I didn’t take pictures of the rock scrambles or steer ascents/descents because I was stressed 😦

 

It seems I had entered the Valley of Boulders. From the description, it’s really good that I turned around as there was a more difficult rock scramble ahead.

 

Once I reached the yellow trail again, I easily found my mistake and was able to take the correct route back to the car.

Green Pond. I should have gotten closer to take a better look, but this is where I ran into the most people as several trails intersect here.

Green Pond. I should have gotten closer to take a better look, but this is where I ran into the most people as several trails intersect here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This hike contained the most hikers I have ever encountered on any trail. It probably didn’t help that it was Veterans’ Day. The hikers were very diverse – rock climbers, single male hiker, older group hikers, Asian tour bus hikers, and two guys just wandering the trails to eventually settle in and sleep for the night. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of people, but I’m used to complete solitude when I’m hiking since I go mid-week.

Anyway, I thought the trail was worth the time but would probably not do that particular loop again.

I did feel accomplished though, because I did learn that the marks on the trees can be distinguished from one another not only by color but by direction and shape (horizontal vs vertical / bar vs blaze vs diamond etc.). So overall, great day…….minus all the ticks I had to take off my dogs.

Adventures in Sewing – Personalized baby blocks with ribbon

Getting a sewing machine at the same time my sister was pregnant was great timing. I immediately set out on a quest to find projects to do. One of the projects I found on Pinterest was this set of cute blocks for babies.

I followed the directions and found the project fairly easy except for the one time I sewed two of the wrong sides together and the time I forgot to put the sides pretty side to pretty side and one ended up upside down.

The other issue I had was that the blocks didn’t actually come out to be perfect squares. This could be because I have issues cutting straight and also because I probably sewed in a crooked line. I also had to manually close a few corners, because I wasn’t sure where to stop sewing with the machine.

I used old t-shirt scraps for the letters which I sized and printed a template for using Microsoft Word. I tried to freehand it first and it was a disaster! I also realized that I should sew the letters onto the fabric BEFORE I sewed the block together. Unfortunately, I only realized this after I put the first block together. DOH!

Luckily I  remembered that I had extra stuffing from the pillow I dismantled for the cat bed suitcase, so I was able to use that instead of expensive fill.

Overall, I think the blocks came out okay and will serve their purpose considering they are just going to be chewed on by an infant. They are cuter when they are imperfect, right? RIGHT????

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Adventures in Sewing – Make your own playmat

Recently, I have taken up sewing. I bought myself a snazzy new Brother XL2600i sewing machine for a whopping $80 (okay, I talked my sister into buying it for me as an early Christmas present, but I digress). I bought a ton of fabric remnants from Joann’s (mega sale AND 50% off!) and I found some old spools of thread I had laying around from God knows where.

Terrible shot since Mimi never stays still, but you get the gist

Terrible shot since Mimi never stays still, but you get the gist

The next project was deciding on what to make. I tried to make a dog outfit – it came out okay but it definitely needed work. I also started making little items that I hope to give away as Christmas gifts. I did these things to practice my foot pedal control, keeping a stitch straight, not having the bobbin thread bunch up, etc.  For a while I was a complete failure. So what did I decide to do? Do a big project! Yes, yes, I don’t make sense sometimes, but alas, that is me!

I Googled ideas for easy baby items as my sister is about to give birth any day now and came across this tutorial on how to make a playmat.

I thought how hard could it be? Thankfully it was not difficult at all.  Of course, I didn’t follow the directions as well as I should have and I kind of ghetto rigged it which means it is not perfect at all, but it’s cute and decent and I won’t be embarrassed when people see it and know I made it.

Had I measured better and actually cut the fabric and batting correctly on the first try (or second try), everything would have been much easier. Instead, some of the batting doesn’t actually go all the way to the edges of the blanket and one corner is kind of wonky. But hey! it’s for a kid to lay on, and puke on, and poop on…………I think it’s good enough! And good enough is always good enough 🙂

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It will be washed and ironed or at least steamed before being presented as a gift. 🙂