DIY Face Mask

In the time of COVID-19, we are now all being warned to wear face masks. However, if you have tried to buy a face mask recently, you know they are hard to come by. Many people are making their own. As an immunocompromised person, these are very important for me. I have done a ton (like days) of research to figure out the best things to use and the best patterns. This past weekend, my family had a mask-sewing day. So that you do not have to do all the research and trial-and-error yourself, here is what I learned.

MATERIALS

Yes, the material matters. Anything is better than nothing. Wake Forest recently did a study on the best materials (you can find is summarized in this article here). The basics are that you need to use a breathable material (DUH!), tighter weaves are better, and a flannel filter layer is great. But again, something is better than nothing in most cases.

We used 1200 thread count 100% cotton pillow cases, with a layer of flannel blanket in the middle for the “filter”.

We also do not like elastic for the ears. My oldest daughter who works in veterinary medicine said that after a while, those hurt your ears. We made ours tie. We tried one with ribbon to tie, and that was okay, but the best was making ties out of the same cotton material we made the mask from. 

TYPE

There are 2 basic types: the rectangular, pleated variety and the rounded variety that ends up being shaped kind of like a snout (see picture below). If you do not care about a tight fit or you are cranking out a lot, the flat, rectangular pleased variety are the easiest. Having said that, these are also less effective, have larger “openings” that air and IMG_7634particles could get in, and these generally do not protect as well. 

 

The pattern we liked best was the rounded, snout-style. It works for everyone in our house, from age 11 to 46. This is the type I will be referencing in this article. It is much better to use a sewing machine for this project.

 

PROCESS

I got the pattern we used here. I printed the IMG_7630.JPGpattern (as shown to the right) from that site. However, I did not use the pattern exactly as that site explains. Here is what we did:

  1. Cut out the pattern you printed. Use it to size on the largest face you are making the mask to fit. Trim if needed.
  2. Fold it in half.
  3. Trace that onto 4 layers of your cotton fabric. Make sure your fold of the pattern matches the fold in your fabric.
  4. Unfold the fabric you cut. You should have 4 pieces of fabric all shaped like the picture above.
  5. Sew 2 of the pieces together along the arc/curved edge. Follow the curve. I allowed for ¼” seam.
  6. Sew the next 2 together the same way.
  7. Press the seams flat and trim extra fabric if needed.
  8. Cut a piece of flannel or other material to be the filter. It should be the same pattern, but ¼” smaller all around.
  9. Hem ¼” seam all the way around one of the cotton panels.
  10. Using an iron, flatten ¼” seam around the second panel so that the interior matches against the interior of the panel you sewed in 9. Regularly check to make sure your panels match.
  11. Lay the flannel so that the ironed “seam” flap from 10 covers the edge. Double-check that the panel still matches with the one you sewed in 9.
  12. Sew the seam on the second panel, with the flannel attached.
  13. Cut 4 strips of fabric 18″ long and 3″ wide.
  14. Reverse that fabric, sew one end, then sew the sides as close to the edge as you can to make a tube.
  15. Invert the tube (we use a chopstick to help with this).
  16. Top sew the open end. These are your 4 straps.
  17. Lay the 2 mask panels you have with good sides together.
  18. Put the straps so that the traps are inside between the two layers. The end of the strap should be aligned with the end of the panels and the angle of the straps should match the angle of the side of the panels.
  19. Sew across the end of the panels so that the straps and ends are all attached.
  20. Invert the panel so the straps are on the outside and the right side is out for the mask.
  21. Check your alignment again, pinning where needed.
  22. Top-sew the two panels, all the way around.

Your mask is complete!IMG_7633

Slow Cooker Bread

YouDoodle 2With all the runs on stores for things like bread, knowing how to make things yourself is a very beneficial skill. I love bread. In pretty much any form, it is one of my favorites. I do not eat a lot of it because gluten and lupus are not friends, but even the smell of fresh bread makes me happy. But last week it was 80°F here in Coastal North Carolina and I did not want to heat up the house with the oven even to make bread. I started looking around the internet and found a few recipes for bread in the slow cooker. I have baked things like pizza in the slow cooker, so I figured why not give it a try. It was wonderful. The house smelled like fresh bread. The bread tasted great. We didn’t heat the house up.

Here is the recipe I came up with for slow cooker bread. It is based on other baking I’ve done and several recipes I viewed online.

INGREDENTS:

  • 1 TBS dry active yeast
  • 1 Cup warm water 105°F (any hotter will kill the yeast)
  • 1 TBS Honey
  • 2 TBS Sugar, separated
  • 2 ¾ Cups bread flour (can substitute all-purpose flour)
  • 1 TSP Salt
  • 2 TBS Olive Oil

OTHER SUPPLIES:

  • Parchment paper
  • Paper towels

METHOD:

  • Mix 1 TBS sugar and 1 TBS honey in the warm water until dissolved in a glass bowl (I use a large measuring cup). Add 1 TBS yeast and stir with a non-metal spoon. Allow this mixture to sit for 5 minutes (at least) for foam to develop. If foam doesn’t form, the bread won’t rise.
  • In a large mixing bowl combine flour, salt, and the other 1 TBS sugar. Whisk until well mixed. This can be done on your stand mixer
  • Add yeast mixture and olive oil and stir together on the mixer or with a wooden spoon.
  • Knead dough for at least 5 minutes. This can be done with the dough hook on your stand mixer or by hand. You need to get the full 5 minutes in, if not a bit more.
  • Dough should be stretchy, not too sticky, and form a tight ball. If dough is too sticky, knead for an additional 1-2 minutes. You can add more flour, 1 TBS at a time, but that should be a last resort.
  • Line slow cooker with parchment paper. Place dough ball in the center.
  • Place paper towels on top, between the crock and the lid. These will catch the condensation that naturally happens in a slow cooker. That water would ruin the bread, making it mushy and not giving you a good crust.
  • Cook on high for 1 ½ hours, or until the bottom and sides are browned. You can peak under the bread by just lifting it up. You can also temp the bread. It should be around 200°F to be done.
  • If you prefer a darker, crustier bread, you can put it under the broiler for 2-3 minutes. We did not do this. The picture above is straight out of the slow cooker.

PRO TIP: We put the slow cooker on an outlet we can control from our home security and automation app. I was able to turn on the slow cooker to bake our bread while we were social distancing at the beach!social distancing at the beach

 

What I Learned from Kobe’s Death

The tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter GiGi, and 7 others has dominated news the last few days and my kids are all old enough that they know about it. We talked about how it was sad and felt bad for the people left behind and I kids of left it at that. Until dinner tonight.

It was a crazy day. I teach classes at the local college on Mondays, we have 1 kid in college who currently has the flu, 1 kid in a high school/college hybrid program who is just getting over the flu, and 1 kid who is homeschooled. Besides that chaos, it was just a crazy day. My husband had to work at church tonight. Dinner was rushed and no one was eating together. When I finally sat down at the table with my omelette, our two youngest kids were there and the discussion turned toward the helicopter crash, how it was tragic, and I answered some questions. My kids know who Kobe Bryant was but they didn’t have any significant attachment to him. So I was kind of surprised of see these two kind of struggle with the news.

Then things took a turn. The kids talked about the family who had mom, dad, and one kid on the helicopter and they asked about if they had other kids. When I said yes, one child broke down crying. Yes, it’s sad, but this kid is not a crier naturally and almost never about things like this. What was going on?!

Then slowly I began to realize my two kids sitting at our dining room table were thinking about what it would be like to be the one left behind. The ones who didn’t die. The ones who lost so much and have to figure out how to go on.

I hugged my kids. And we talked through the plans of what would happen if either their dad or I, or if we both, were to die. Not in a morbid way, but in an informative way. I realized they didn’t know what would happen to them if something happened to us. And I’ve never been so thankful for the person who when we said we were having our first child insisted that we make a will.

We talked about provisions in our wills for who would take care of them, who would take care of the money, how it will change as they become adults and go off to school and/or jobs. I let them know there was a plan in place to take care of them even if something happened to me, to us.

I totally took for granted that my kids would know they would be taken care of. I never talked to them about the specifics because I didn’t want to make them sad. But today I’m glad we got to have the conversation. As kids get older, relationships change. It wasn’t enough to just say they would be taken care of. They needed more information. They needed to know we had a plan. Much like they know what to do if there is a fire or if there is a storm (we live in a hurricane area), they needed to know what to do in this unlikely event.

As we finished the conversation, the kid who was crying let out a sigh of relief and said, “ I hope we never need this information.”  Oh baby, that’s what we hope too. But we all felt a bit better because everyone knows the plan for that bad situation that we hope never comes.

Do I think you should ask your kids if they want to know the plan for if you die? No. Certainly this is a very difficult thing. But I am saying you need to be sensitive to what your kids need, what they are trying to tell you when they don’t know how to say it. Be sure they, at an age and emotionally appropriate level, that you are taking care of them.

Have the hard conversation.

And hug your kids.

Review: Artful Agenda

I love planners! And pens! And stationery! And pretty much all office supplies! But a combination of my body not cooperating and having 3 teens who all have calendars to manage means I really need a digital planner. So for years I have used the calendar, reminders, and notes app on my iphone to manage everything. (See my post on using color to organize your family to learn more about how I color-code our calendars.)

These all work, but left me missing the old planner that I could personalize. Stickers, a pretty cover, my own handwriting…I miss all these things. Enter Artful Agenda.

After looking and researching for years, I finally found an app that says it combines the benefits of a digital calendar with many of the things I missed in a physical planner. Here are the highlights:

Cost: $35 per year (as of 8/25/19) after a 2-week free trial. The site lists the normal price at $50/year, which is what I would expect once development is complete.

Format: App for your phone/tablet and web-based access. Seems to work best on Chrome.

Pros:

  • Syncs calendar to iCal, Google Calendar, and Outlook
  • A number of covers and handwriting options
  • Digital stickers (not yet available in apps)
  • Month, week, and day views
  • Priority and other tasks in each day
  • Tracking for water and meals in day view
  • Extra customizable list in day view (I call mine “To Buy” because we seem to need to stop at some store almost daily)
  • List tab (not yet available in apps) to help you keep all your lists/notes organized
  • Weekly and monthly goals section
  • Priority tasks and meals show in week view

Cons:

  • Lists and tasks do not sync with Reminders or other to-do apps
  • Lists and stickers not available on the apps yet (the “Coming Soon” section promises this is in the future)
  • Many of the cover choices are floral and all are feminine
  • You cannot set tasks as reoccurring
  • No alerts/alarms
  • No way to increase the font size in the calendar
  • Only Priority tasks show in the week view, other tasks only show in day view
  • Goals cannot have a date assigned other than than month or week where you type it and do not show in daily view

My Thoughts:

This site/app does offer a lot of the same experiences as a traditional paper planner. It gives you the ability to select a cover and handwriting, which I like. It seems to sync seamlessly with my calendar app from Apple, which means I did not have to enter things twice. However, the fact that the lists/notes and reminders/tasks do not sync with my existing Notes and Reminders apps is a major negative. When paired with the lack of notification from Artful Agenda, it means I still have to use my Reminders app in addition to the Artful Agenda. Also, until the lists and stickers sections are fully functional in the app, using the web-based version is really the only solution to get all the features. I do find that I use the task sections regularly for daily things I used to write in a notebook on my desk. This means the tasks are accessible to me even when I am not at my desk. That has helped improve my productivity.

Final Recommendation:

If you miss the feel and function of a paper planner or want to go digital, Artful Agenda is worth considering. Because this is a newer app/program still in development, some things do not yet work the way I would like, but I am hopeful that this will happen as things progress. If you are just looking for a calendar, there is no reason the to buy Artful Agenda. But if you are willing to pay for the paper “feel” in a digital app, I recommend trying Artful Agenda. Go to https://www.artfulagenda.com to start your free trial and reference code RH14913.

 

To My Daughters on International Women’s Day

64BE5A7E-DA0F-4398-A377-9FC9E410D312.jpegIt’s International Women’s Day, a day designed to celebrate women. I’ve seen so many posts telling women how they can do anything, have anything, have it all. And I want to tell my daughters this – it isn’t true.

I don’t mean that they can’t be who they want to be or they are not as capable as men. That isn’t it at all. I have two amazing daughters who have already done things that blow me away. But they can’t have it all. And telling women that we should is a huge part of the problem.

The first problem is that I don’t need anyone – men or women – telling my daughters how they should define all. Does it mean having a thriving career? A healthy family? Both? Does it mean kicking ass at work and still having an immaculate house and well-behaved children who get straight As and do volunteer work? Does it mean spending your free time volunteering in the community and serving those around you? A lot of us, even women, seem to think this is “all” and spend time killing themseves trying to make it happen. But I’ve learned that my “all” is different at different stages in my life. And that unless I define my “all” I can never achieve it. So girls, don’t let the rest of the world define what “all” is for you.

Second, don’t lose yourself trying to have it all. I did that for a while. I forgot who I was while I was trying to balance the “all” everyone else told me I wanted, I should have. I spent time really unhappy as I chased the all. And I became a stranger to myself.  It has taken a long time to find me again. Don’t sacrifice yourself in your quest to have it all.

Finally, and this may be the harshest part, you can’t have it all. But that is okay.  No one can.  If you decide to balance a career and family, something, likely both at times, will get less attention, less of your all, than it deserves. You will feel guilty about work sometimes because you have to stay home with a sick kid. You will feel guilty about family because you had to work and missed a performance. You will feel badly that your family is eating take-out or something from a box. Then you will feel like spending the time to come home and cook meant you left a project at work unfinished. You will feel bad for working late and you will feel bad for leaving work early. Why? Because somewhere along the way we as women bought into the lie that we have to have a successful career that gets our full attention and a family that lives in a immaculate house with gourmet meals and we spend time making sure other women see and know it. Along the way women have become some of the biggest perpetrators of the lie of “all.”

Girls, you can’t have it all. But you can have it amazing and wonderful and flawed and even a bit broken. It’s okay if your family sits down to eat take-out pizza more times than you had hoped. The important thing is that you are together, talking. It’s okay if sometimes you aren’t at every single school event because you are working, helping support your family and hopefully doing something about which you are passionate. It’s okay if you choose to stay home with your kids and not pursue a career. And it’s okay if you choose to passionately pursue your career and not have have children. It’s okay if you do both. But it’s not okay to let other people decide for you, to let other people define your all, and to lose yourself in the process.

Almond Pancakes

It’s National Pancake Day! Because of my allergies and our desire to be healthier, we needed a new pancake recipe. Here is what I came up with (everyone – even the kids – loved it)! TIP: Make a double batch and put the leftovers in the fridge for quick breakfasts!

INGREDIENTS:

2 Cups blanched almond flour

4 Eggs

2 tablespooons zero calorie sweetener (e.g. Truvia) or Brown sugar baking blend

1 teaspoon orange blossom honey (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 tablespoons fat free plain Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Mix together with your electric mixer. Cook in nonstick pan with vegetable oil spray on medicine heat. Use ⅓ cup of batter per pancake. Makes 8-10 pancakes.

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Chocolate Cake Day – a healthier alternative

Because of various health conditions, we have to limit sugar and gluten exposure at our house. But we never want to miss chocolate cake day! Here is a recipe for chocolate cake and chocolate frosting with no extra fat or sugar.

Cake:

  • 2 cups blanched almond flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ to 1 cup zero calorie sweetener (e.g. Truvia or Splenda) or brown sugar blend (e.g. Truvia or Splenda Brown sugar blend)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Mix the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. Then combine in the electric mixer until fully combined. Bake at 350•F for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

 

Frosting:

  • 1- 8oz. package fat free or reduced fat cream cheese, softened
  • ½ -1 cup zero calorie sweetener (start low and add more to your taste
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla exract
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

When cream cheese is soft, beat with electric mixer until it started to get a fluffy texture. Add sugar and vanilla and beat slowly at first, moving to medium-high speed. Add cocoa powder the same way. Refrigerate until cake is cool.

 

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Lean and Green “Pasta” Sauce

2 large cans of no-salt added crushed tomatoes

garlic, onion, basil, oregano seasonings to taste (generally 1-2 tbsp of each)

1/4 cup chicken stock

1 tbsp zero-calorie sweetener

Put it all in the slow cooker for 4 hours on high or up to 8 on low.

TIP: Make extra an freeze it!

Cauliflower Pizza

Our health coach passed this recipe on to us. You can switch the toppings up. Just make sure you are getting the right amounts of lean protein, veggies, and healthy fats.

Crust:
1 cup Grated Raw Cauliflower or 100 g (2 Greens)
1/4 cup Egg Whites from the carton (1/8 Lean)
1/2 cup or 2 oz 2% Reduced Fat Three Cheese Mexican Blend (4/8 Lean)
1/8 tsp garlic powder – optional (1/4 Condiment)
1/8 tsp basil – optional (1/8 Condiment)

Toppings:
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp or 1.5 oz 2% reduced fat Mozzarella cheese (3/8 Lean)
1/2 cup Italian diced tomatoes or Rotel tomatoes, canned – less than 5 g of carbs per serving or an approved pasta sauce such as 1/4 cup Bella Vita Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce (1 green)

Directions:
Measure out 1/2 cup diced tomatoes and puree in blended or chopper. I just pulsed for a few seconds in my little chopper. Set aside. Or you can use an approved pasta sauce such as Bella Vita roasted garlic pasta sauce. It also comes in spicy tomato, tomato basil, and meat flavored.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spray lightly with cooking spray. Combine grated cauliflower, egg beaters, cheese, garlic powder and basil until mixed completely. Spoon mixture on prepared pan. Use the back of a spoon to thin out mixture (or your hands) and form a circle about the size of a dinner plate without the rim. The thinner the crust the less chance of it being soggy. Bake for 25 minutes. Carefully flip the pizza crust over using a spatula to lift all edges of the crust off the parchment first. Bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes until edges are really brown and crisp. Mine are usually burnt around the edges but it won’t taste burnt. Let cool.
Add tomato sauce and cheese on top. Broil until cheese is melted about 5 to 10 minutes. If you are making several cauliflower pizza crusts like I usually do, you can put the cooled crusts in gallon size Ziploc bags. I usually can fit 4 to 5 pizza crusts in a Ziploc bag. No need to wrap each one in foil. They won’t stick to each other. When ready to eat, take it out of the freezer as you would a normal store bought frozen pizza. Top with sauce and toppings. Bake for about 10 minutes at 425 degrees or until cheese has completely melted. I can usually get 4 to 5 pizzas from one head of cauliflower! Enjoy!

 

Enchiladas

Tortillas: (two servings – two large or 4 medium sized tortillas)
1 cup grated cauliflower
1/4 cup egg beaters
½ cup 2% reduced-fat shredded cheese
1/8 tsp Southwest Chipotle Mrs. Dash (optional)
Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes per side, until golden (but still soft and flexible)

Filling:
°Bake or grill your favorite lean protein (chicken, beef, or fish/seafood)

Sauce:
°2 Cans crushed tomatoes
°1-2 bell peppers, chopped roughly (optional)
°1/2 tsp salt
°1 tsp garlic powder or 1 clove of garlic
°1 tsp onion powder or 3 tbsp diced onion
°Blend in the food processor until smooth

Assemble:
°Put 1/2 cup of sauce in the bottom of an oven safe baking dish.
°Fill shell with meat, roll, and place in the pan.
°Cover with 1/2 c. more sauce and sprinkle with low fat or fat-free Mexican or cheddar cheese.
Bake at 400°F for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is starting to brown.