Saturday, October 31, 2009

Brewing Balm

Straining the calendula-infused olive oil through cheesecloth
(a few of the dry calendula flowers landed on top)

I made another batch of balm, and this time, I took a few photos along the way. Jackie continues to benefit from it-- it keeps his skin smooth and reduces the itch when his eczema flares a bit. (That continues to improve-- he's better all the time...). I was happy that I was able to brew up some extra stock to share with friends and family this go around, too. I'm sure Jack's not the only one who gets dry itchiness!

Just poured the balm into the jars-- still liquid.

Balm begins to solidify as it cools.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Curing Jack's Eczema Naturally

In the last month or so, our family has made some adjustments in our thinking and eating to help our son Jack with his eczema. I am learning so much right now and I'm getting so excited about how Jack is improving. I wanted to write this post to catch up our family and friends, but also to get some of these things written down so that others who struggle similarly may benefit.

The Backstory

Jack's eczema started when he was around 3 months old, shortly after his first round of antibiotics, which he'd taken for a double ear infection. I felt horrible about having to give him antibiotics at such a young age, but his screams in pain conjured a particularly painful Christmas Eve from my childhood, and I couldn't stand it. Also remembering that his Daddy has ruptured ear drums twice in his life, I acted in what I thought was his best interest, and he got the antibiotic. Although I don't regret that choice (especially given his family history), I do wish that that episode had never happened. It was the beginning of multiple illnesses (pneumonia, more ear infections)and more antibiotics. I actually lost count, but I think it's somewhere between 4-6 rounds, during which time we discovered he is allergic to amoxicillin (hives were no fun). In the same time line, Jack's eczema went from an annoyance to a real concern. He went from a couple spots on his wrists to behind and on top of the knees, inside and around the elbows, all around his ankles, and spreading across his knuckles as well. It varied in intensity on a day-to-day level, but over weeks and months, he was definitely getting worse. Some days I couldn't keep him from scratching and other days, he seemed unbothered by the red, irritated patches.

Until a month ago, we'd only really tried traditional treatments. When he was a little baby, he'd rub his wrists (the first place it showed up) over and over on my chest as he slept next to me through the night. I mentioned it to our pediatrician, and he diagnosed eczema and prescribed a mild steroid cream. I applied it thinly only when Jack was uncomfortable because I felt uncomfortable using it intuitively, but when desperate it provided some relief. As his eczema worsened, I began applying more often (up to twice daily), but this only provided momentary relief and never long-term progress. In fact, looking back now, I believe I may have exacerbated the problem by using these Rx's. Jack's skin would briefly improve (but never heal, it always felt, at best, leathery in these spots) and it would also lighten the color (hypopigmentation is listed as a possible side effect of the corticosteroid creams). I have also been worried about Jack's being at the 5 percentile for weight since he was about a year old. I am thin, and was as a baby/child, so this could account for all of that, but when I read this information about the cream I was using for Jack, it struck a chord with me as well.

Pediatric Use
Pediatric patients may demonstrate greater susceptibility to topical corticosteroid-induced HPA axis suppression and Cushing's syndrome
[non cancerous tumor on the pituitary gland] than mature patients because of a larger skin surface area to body weight ratio.
[The HPA axis is involved in the neurobiology of mood disorders and functional illnesses, including anxiey disorder, biopolar disorder, insomnia, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, ADHD, major depressive disorder, burnout, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrone, and alcoholism. Antidepressants, which are routinely prescribed for many of these illnesses, serve to regulate HPA axis function. (Source here.)]
Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis suppression... (has) been reported in pediatric patients receiving topical corticosteroids. Manifestations of adrenal suppression in pediatric patients include linear growth retardation, delayed weight gain... Administration of topical corticosteroids to pediatric patients should be limited to the least amount compatible with an effective therapeutic regimen. Chronic corticosteroid therapy may interfere with the growth and development of pediatric patients. (Source here.)

Though we were using a mild corticosteroid, and certainly not "chronically", these side effects troubled me. But more troubling was the simple fact that Jack was not improving. We talked with his pediatrician who was very nonchalant about it all, suggesting he'll just outgrow this and that it tends to run in families. He also prescribed a stronger steroid cream for Jack. Still, the waxing and waning suggested something more than just a proclivity for dryness. I felt his body was responding to something, I just couldn't narrow down the trigger any more than soy products (due to his itchy after eating edamame and ranch dressing) and I knew that couldn't account for all of it.

So, a couple months ago, I became determined to try something new and focus my efforts to find a fix. Jack was only getting worse, my heart was aching for him to find relief, and the medicines I was getting from his pediatrician didn't seem right, both intuitively and empirically. Some trite quote says that "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result". Though simplistic in its parameters of insanity, a point I'll let rest for the purposes of this post, the concept applied here-- we couldn't expect Jack to improve with this course of treatment. Traditional medicine was not bringing Jack wellness.

So I sought out my acupuncturist's help. Prior to this turning point, I had had a mental block about enlisting her treatment because Jack is too young for needles (actual acupuncture treatment). But all of a sudden it occurred to me that she can do much more than just needles (herbs, acupressure, etc.). I googled "eczema acupuncture" and read this good article, which really helped me understand the nature of eczema from the Chinese medicine standpoint. I called Paula, and that simple move prompted a shift toward wellness. Here's what we are now doing for little Jack.

Our New Treatment Plan

It began with NAET treatment. This treatment is not available everywhere, and is relatively new on the allergy/ alternative medicine scene. It's an interesting "voodoo", that involves muscle testing in the presence of an allergen to check for sensitivities to the allergen, then acupressure in presence of allergen to teach your body how to redirect the energetic flow and function correctly when it is near. You can learn a lot more about NAET here to better understand the thinking behind this technique. When I first came into her office to work on Jack's health, Paula suggested this course, and I thought this would be the best approach since I felt he had lots of food sensitivities (soy, maybe dairy, maybe eggs, maybe tomatoes...). I was becoming a bit of a paranoid person over it-- feeding him, watching for itchiness, not really sure if it was related, trying again, avoiding, hypothesizing... My husband and I ultimately decided to go ahead with NAET for the simple reason that it had no downside, no side effects, no "cons" to weigh other than the price of the treatment (but even that, my insurance will cover), and if it worked-- the treatment intends to rid a person of their food sensitivities and allergies-- it would have a pretty nice upside.

During the first couple of NAET treatments for Jack, Paula advised me about the importance of the gut/intestines/digestion to your overall health. She explained to me that because of Jack's multiple rounds of antibiotics, his digestive tract was likely out of balance. When the good flora is killed along with the infecting bacteria, this leaves lots of space and no competition with the natural yeast that lives there as well. Without the inhibiting bacteria that is present in a healthy person, the yeast can overgrow and dominate the gut and this has many unpleasant consequences.

First among them is that the person is not able to break his/her food down into the smaller enzymes necessary to make energy or nourish the body (since the healthy flora is part of that break down process). The body can show a host of negative symptoms as a result of the lack of proper digestion and nutrition (even from a well-balanced, otherwise healthy diet). Eczema is one of them. Paula diagnosed Jack to have this over-growth of yeast (candida) in his system, which was likely caused by the antibiotics he has taken. Operating on that supposition, she suggested we adjust his diet to exclude sugar (since sugar feeds yeast), yeasted products like bread (no need to put more yeast in there), and also diary products (often high in sugar and the protein is inaccessible to a compromised system because it is particularly large and can't be broken down without enough good bacteria to do the job). If we followed this diet, the yeast would have less food and begin to die off/not multiply as quickly. She also suggested that we add probiotics to encourage bacteria growth and provide some competition for the yeast. Here's more about diagnosing and treating candida/yeast overgrowth. And here's a good, short article from a holistic medicine magazine about the connection between eczema and candida, as well as many ideas for easy, holistic treatment.

This sounded simple enough, but when we decided to take on this dietary change, our family went through a week of grief. Actually, it was my husband and I who grieved. Being self-proclaimed "foodies", especially being a big baking household, the thought of no milk/cheese and no more home-baked bread was super sad. After a day or so of this teary processing, we realized that we'd just have to focus our foodie creativity in a different direction for a while-- that this new diet wasn't a life sentence for Jack; it was a trial and error thing that, at most, might last a few months to a year if it proved helpful. And if it proved helpful-- we'd have a happier, healthier boy-- totally worth it.

We cleaned out our pantry and made a few trips to our local health food store, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. I became a big time label reader and learned a lot this way-- amazing how many things have sugar in them-- beans? c'mon, why?! We made conscious decisions about what to prepare ahead for snacks, because I knew in a time crunch when kids are hungry-cranky, that'd be the time I'd be most tempted to give them something off-diet. We decided to keep fruits and vegetables totally on the table (we have a good organic CSA membership and we know it is all "clean"), but we try whenever possible to choose the lower glycemic fruits (like apples, pears, berries) rather than the higher glycemic fruits (like stone fruit). We switched the morning organic whole milk to rice milk, also organic and enriched to provide almost the same amount of nutrition. We eat lots more rice, as the preferred carbohydrate without bread around (mostly organic, brown rice). We've learned to use Agave nectar in place of maple syrup so we still get to have pancakes, a family favorite. We sweeten Jack's oatmeal with agave as well, and grind in some flax seeds for the omegas, which help his elimination (good-- get the dead yeasties out of there) as well as his skin.

Adding the probiotic was easy peasy too. Here's the one Paula ordered for Jackie. We mix a quarter teaspoon into about 8 bites of applesauce for him, and its is a yummy treat. We also purchased some chewable probiotics which are less potent, but you can't really overload on them and since we don't really pass out jelly bellies anymore, the chewable vitamins have become a kind of treat in the kids' minds. Speaking of vitamins, they are taking Vit. C a couple times during the day (I learned that Vit. C is a natural histamine blocker, helps with itch, as well as immune supporter in general), a mutiple vitamin, calcium, and omegas.

The Initial Results

We are about a month and a half into it, and here's what we're noticing.

On day 6, Jack's eczema flared up to twice its regular size and was, needless to say, itchy. We were feeling discouraged about it, but decided we'd stick with the diet and probiotics until our appointment two days later with Paula. By our appointment, the eczema was looking much better. Paula explained that the flare up was to be expected. Apparently, when yeast dies off, symptoms can flare up.

The first, most noticeable improvement was Jack's appetite. It was always tough to get him to eat before this dietary shift. Jack used to ask for sweet treats all the time. But once our minds were commited to this, saying "No" became easy and he could tell we meant it, so he stopped asking. He learned to ask for what we say yes to, and he seems to be developing a taste for healthier foods. His appetite is much greater now, too. He eats probably double the volume he used to. This is a really pleasing change for me as his mom. Having everyone tell you your son is "tiny" gets old pretty quickly. Each time I heard that, I felt a pang of worry about whether something might be wrong with him. Now that he is a good eater, if Jack stays relatively small, I have the ease of knowing that it is just his body type, not some side effect or deficiency.

The other really quick change was his overall attitude and behavior. Jack's always been a good boy, but he just seems a bit brighter and happier since his body is feeling better. This is also especially pleasing for a mom.

Since that initial flare up, Jack's eczema has been lots better, too. The usual spots are not as red, and some spots have completely disappeared. I'd estimate that the surface area of affected skin is less than a quarter what it used to be. The texture of his skin is also much smoother, there is no leathery skin now, even when a spot "flares" redder than we'd like it to be. (He's had another semi-flare up, after eating a bit too much fruit in a 24 hour period, and then the last day or so since I upped his probiotic a bit and got strict again after letting him have a piece of sister's birthday cake.) The difference between a yeast die-off flare up and regular old eczema is that once the flare up passes, the skin is continuing to heal and overall health is improving. I feel like we're now on the opposite path as before: day to day he might look better or worse, but comparing now to 4-5 weeks ago, there's no question that he is MUCH improved. (I wish I'd taken more "before" pictures now, but at the time, when my kid was uncomfortable, I'd actually try to avoid photographing the red spots.)

And last, but not least, I am learning to trust my intuition more.

Topical Approach

Aside from the internal "work" we are doing with the diet adjustments, we've also altered our topical treatment of his eczema. Our pediatrician had suggested we use Eucerin after baths, but when I tried that with Jack, it burned his irritated spots. He seriously acted like he was on fire. I supposed that the alcohol in it must've caused the open spots to burn, so I was desperately searching for something super moisturizing that wouldn't burn when he had scratched himself.

I, of course, preferred soaps and lotions for him that were all natural, but many of the products marketed this way were disappointing. They contained soy, which we've suspected as a trigger for him, and they also contained many other preservatives or extras that we just didn't need. I read this article from Acupuncture Today when I began thinking about changing the products we use. It explained why you want to keep moisture in but also allow skin to breathe (in other words, why petroleum products are no good), and also suggested certain herbs and oils as beneficial. Upon further research, I found these same herbs and oils repeated over and over again all over the Internet (calendula, lavender essential, jojoba oil, coconut oil, almond oil...). I began collecting necessary ingredients and I made a couple different oil mixtures and a palm oil based cream, but we've seen the best results with the following recipe (amounts are approximated).


Ratio of 1 to 2-- beeswax to oils (1 part beeswax, 2 parts oil = 1/3 wax, 2/3 oil)
I began by infusing dry calendula flowers (purchased from my acupuncturist, Paula, but also available online at the link above, which also explains their beneficial properties) in extra virgin olive oil. To do this, I grabbed a hand full, placed them in a jar, saturated with olive oil (about 2/3 full of flowers) and left in a dark cabinet for 3 weeks. Every time I opened that door in the pantry, I shook up the jar a bit to keep things moving. On mixing day, I poured the entire contents into a pot and heated very low for a few minutes, then strained through cheesecloth, squeezing the flowers and then wringing the cheesecloth to get all of the good drops of calendula-infused olive oil I could possibly get.

Next, I melted some beeswax in the calendula-infused olive oil, again on low heat, and poured in about three tablespoons of coconut oil, a couple drops of tea tree oil (anti-fungal, anti-septic), a splash or two of some sweet almond oil, a splash of Vitamin E oil, a splash or two of jojoba oil, and a bit of evening primrose oil. Once melted together, I poured it into my empty vessels and allowed to cool. It solidifies when cool because of the beeswax.

Though this recipe is approximate, the ratio is really all you need to make your own salve. If your stuff is too dry/thick when you're done, just scrape out of your vessels, and warm over a low flame until liquid and add more oil this time. You want your salve to end up solid so you can scrape some out with a finger nail when you're using it, but you want it to melt into your skin when rubbed a bit. It feels great!!! Jack loves it and I've noticed that if I rub an irritated spot with a baby wipe and he complains of it hurting, the salve takes the pain/burn away, so it is very mild and soothing. Even in a flare up, this stuff feels good.

We've also been doing ground oatmeal baths (just food process bulk oats to a fine powder, and use about a cup per luke warm bath) for quite a while now. I brewed some licorice root tea for his bath, but abandoned it because I didn't think it was effective for relieving itch.

I'm continuing to research and learn more. I found this neat forum of moms who have a similar story, and it is good to read what others think and do for their kids. We have an appointment Friday morning to talk to a local homeopathic doctor and I am excited to hear his thoughts and suggestions. I also purchased some zinc in liquid form from my health food store today, since that is also recommended for eczema sufferers. I'm planning to look into digestive enzymes... there's a lot of information out there and we're checking into it. The natural route might not be the quick fix of the corticosteriod cream, but it is definitely turning out to be worth it in the long term. I am so grateful to have the resources around me to find a way to help my little Jackie boy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shouting Row

We had another argument. I have an extraordinary daughter in many ways, but she is also a "3 3/4 year old" who is quite capable of being impatient, demanding, rude, defiant, and all of those other nasty traits we hope, as parents, to tame. The problem is that when she gets rude and defiant, I get incensed and angry! After Harper hoisted some ugly shouts my way this morning, I shouted back at her with equal ire. I feel so tight in my chest and headachey ever since because I feel guilty about it, worried about it, sad about it, and disappointed in my lack of self-control about it.

After a few minutes of cooling down, we talked it over and I tried to explain that shouting, turns out, was something she and I both needed to work on. Neither one of us enjoys it, both of us feel totally horrible when shouted at. The hard part is that I never feel like I really have her full attention when I'm trying to explain something complicated like the dynamic of her impatience, which caused her anger, which caused her shouting, which caused my anger, which caused my fear/concern that my kid was going to be "this way"/rotten, which caused me to feel angry and out of control in general, which caused my shouting back at her, which caused her fear/concern that Mama had lost it, which caused her anger to escalate, which caused the subsequent horrible feeling of sadness for both of us.

It's a bit much for her to follow, especially as Jack is moving in for a hug and kiss and asking her to focus on a serious talk that long seems more like a punishment to her than a reconciliation, and she really is only 3 3/4 years old. So I boiled the explanation down to just this-- that we both need to not-shout, and instead voice our feelings of frustration and anger along with why we are feeling that way. Prevention.

Still, the remaining day is not good. I find myself surfing the internet looking for a scolding, an article telling me how bad a parent I am for succumbing to my anger. I typed in "shouting kids" in the search bar and found this article instead. I thought it was pretty honest, and it ended up making me feel a teensy tidbit better about today's bad few minutes. You know what? I'm an imperfect parent with an imperfect kid, but we are both committed to improvement.

Here's the excellent article. I highly recommend it for all the mothers out there who might feel as guilt-ridden as I am today:

* Written by Anne Karpf
* The Guardian (UK), Wednesday 21 March 2001

I thought I was impervious to those "research shows . . ." scare stories, but this one got to me. Shouting at children, according to a recent study by psychiatrists at a hospital affiliated to Harvard Medical School, can significantly and permanently alter the structure of their brains. It was only inordinate self-restraint - of the kind I never display towards my kids - that stopped me marching them straight off for a brain scan.

Ours is a Sturm und Drang household, with shouting matches, screaming fits, and temper tantrums - and that's just the parents. The neighbours have been warned, even the kids have been warned. At two, my first-born could do a passable imitation of me yelling (and she did, to all-comers). And one of her sibling's early sentences was: "You're a lovely Mummy, but a shouty one."

The Harvard study comes in the wake of the revelation that Jennifer Aniston, the Friends star, is not on speaking terms with her mother, partly because she shouted at the actor when she was a child. "Yes, I shouted," admitted Mom, "but a lot of my friends yell at their kids." Please God my girls never make it to Hollywood.

Is shouting at one's children the ultimate parental taboo? Certainly, it contravenes all the good parenting slogans. Shouting at children shows them that you're out of control - and I am. The reassuring thing is that almost everyone seems to do it: rarely before in my writing life have I found such an eager queue of volunteer interviewees. And almost everyone admits that it doesn't work.

There's an American saying that shouting at your children to obey is like using the horn to steer your car - and it produces the same results. But this misses the point: you don't yell at your kids because, after careful consideration, you deem it the most effective strategy; you yell at them because you've lost your rag.

The triggers are many and various, but maternal isolation and exhaustion come high on the list. Cathy Brewer, mother of two-and-a-half-year-old Gemma and five-year-old Jack, confesses: "When Jack was little, I was on my own with him a lot and shouted at him a lot. With Gemma, I've had more help and so I shout less."

Pippa Fox shouts when her children want her attention and she's trying to make their tea. Alice Goldman finds she shouts most "at the end of a day you feel should have ended but hasn't".

"I shout when I'm tired," she explains, "but also when my expectations are highest - on holiday or the weekend. And I often shout at my daughter when I'm angry with myself."

As for me, like most mothers, I rant when I've an unconscionable number of things to squeeze into an unfeasibly small amount of time (which happens most days). I also thunder when my kids encroach on the last vestiges of my personal time and space: I have this peculiar belief that, after more than 11 years of parenting, I should be allowed to pee in peace.

Almost all shouters feel guilty. Pippa Fox says she's so ashamed she shouts at her sons, aged five and nearly two, every day that "I'm trying to cut down" - as if it were like smoking. When Alice Goldman first shouted at her two-year-old, she was so horrified that she went straight round to the health visitor to confess. "The health visitor just laughed and said: 'You'd better get used to it.'"

Is it so inevitable? I've concluded that there are shouty families, and non-shouty ones. DW Winnicott, the psychoanalyst, argued that all mothers feel dominated, exploited, humiliated, drained and criticised by their babies, and that "the mother hates her infant from the word go." Fay Weldon once said: "The greatest advantage of not having children must be that you can go on believing that you are a nice person: once you have children, you realise how wars start."

Sebastian Kraemer, consultant child and adult psychiatrist at the Tavistock Clinic, London, takes a robust view: "I can't imagine how parents can't shout at their children. Family life is such a cauldron of emotions. A happy family has to have some conflict in it: in intimate relationships people have to row and make up. A 15-year-old makes you shout at him sooner or later."

Shouting at kids is often bracketed with smacking them, but for many of us it's an alternative. But when does shouting turn into bullying or verbal abuse? It's partly a matter of degree and ratio. According to Kraemer, "If there's no remission in shouting and there's no loving as well, it's destructive." The age of the child and what you actually say is also important.

"A toddler doesn't understand the difference between you shouting at them and hating them," he elaborates. "With a teenager, that's not the case. There is also a difference between honest self-disclosure ('You've made me very angry') and abuse ('You're a horrible little brat')."

Though many of us worry that shouting at our children will damage not just their brains but their wellbeing, most children quickly become desensitised to loud parents and tune out. "I think I suffer more from my shouting than they do," Pippa Fox says. "I feel absolutely awful afterwards, whereas they're fine five minutes later."

According to Jenny Riley, whose sons are 12 and 14, "The more you shout, the less they listen, and so the louder you have to shout as the years go by - depressing, isn't it ?" Another result of shouting at children is that they become pretty adept shouters themselves.

On the other hand, children who've never been yelled at can be quite fragile flowers (or so I like to think). And almost all shouters agree that a good yell can clear the air and be liberating. Jenny Riley is that rare thing, an unrepentant shouter - not only that, but a qualified counsellor.

"I grew up in a don't-express-yourself household," she says, "but I'm a volatile person, and I've got volatile children, and on balance I don't think that our shouting hurts any of us. If I overdo it I say sorry.

"I've studied all the skills. I'm just not good at practising them in the four walls of my own home."

One way of shouting less, according to Doro Marden of Parentline Plus, the parenting support organisation, is to record your evening meal on cassette and hear it back afterwards: "It can be quite instructive." Marden also suggests that thinking about the trigger situations can help. "Is it when your blood sugar level is low, or theirs is? Is it always when you pick them up from school? You can also try not to get caught up in their anger."

Most crucially, as psychotherapist Roziska Parker puts it in her book Torn in Two: The Experience of Maternal Ambivalence (Virago), mothers vary in the extent to which they can tolerate and manage the conflict provoked by loving and hating the same child.

So the guilt and anxiety we feel about shouting at our kids comes partly from our discomfort with the realities of parenting, and disappointment at failing to become the idealised parents we hoped we'd be.

No one would advocate shouting as desirable parental behaviour, but perhaps a more realistic aim is not so much to try to staunch it as to acknowledge it. No easy feat: every parent I interviewed for this article asked for their name to be changed. (I obliged.) Shouters, it seems, still put themselves on a par with convicted criminals.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Independence Day

Independence Day reminds me how fortunate we are to live in a country that eschews violent street protests in favor of snarky blog commentary
Let's proudly wave our American flags made in China

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June is a Wild One

This is just a quick update, and explanation of why I'm a neglectful blogger and friend right now. I am (still) in the throws of an uber-busy June. May I throw out a blanket, but sincere, apology for being less aware of what's going on around me, less sensitive to what's happening outside my own little family, and less thoughtful in general? Besides the regular old diapering, bathing, parenting, part-time teaching stuff, we've had a few extra events this month, all happy (thankfully), but all time-consuming nonetheless.

It actually began the last weekend of May, with the travels north for Anya and Joe's wedding. Gorgeous and sweet, it was a fun long weekend. It was also extra nice to have a good visit with Aunt D, Uncle Marty, and cousin/nephew Elijah that week. Next came my summer school schedule and creating a Poetry curriculum from scratch for our school during naptimes. We also attended graduation ceremonies for my school and for my nephew's 8th grade commencement. Then we had E's birthday, followed by his next-day departure to VA for Kyle's wedding. The same weekend E was gone, H had her ballet recital and extra practices leading up to that. That weekend we also celebrated my brother's and mom's birthdays. Last weekend, we hosted a baby shower at our house for Aunt Erica, and, of course, Father's Day (a brunch with E's Dad, a dinner with my family). This weekend, our whole family takes part in Amy and Jason's wedding (I sing, H is a flower girl, J is the ring bearer, E does a reading and bakes decorative loaves of bread for tables). Since I'm singing, the past month has been peppered with a few practices with the piano man to help us gel before the big day. The other task at hand has been trying to find natural alternatives for Jack's eczema, as it seems to get only worse and more bothersome, and traditional treatment (topical steroid creams) don't sit well with my intuition, and haven't helped our boy.

We haven't used any steriod creams for about two weeks now, and his skin is definitely less itchy, but still gets red and irritated. We're continuing to do some trial and error to find something that will relieve the boy. I'm feeling positive and determined about it.

More updates to come. I keep saying I'll get back to "normal" in July. We'll see.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Some Recent Gifties and Elijah's Visit

I made a couple of these outfits for Harper's buddies' birthdays the last couple of weeks. Since Harper's has no specific deadline, she's still waiting for hers. It was a fun, easy project and I think the girls all liked them.

We've been very glad to get the chance to see and hold and kiss baby Elijah this week. In celebration of his arrival in CA (from IL), I made him this little cloth book, with different shapes and different textures to explore.

Isn't he the cutest thing?
talking with Mama
chillin' with the cousins
dreamy snooze

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sewing Ups and Downs

I have been pretty lucky with this sewing thing. I've only ripped out a handful of seams in my short but busy tenure with my sewing hobby. I've lost count with my projects and until a week ago, I'd never ruined a one. But I had to completely scrap some beautiful pink knit fabric after my first attempt at smocking. I blame my eagerness to make progress (Cat was already done with her project!), my distraction-- talking with a great friend while trying a new technique, and my negligence in reading the instructions. I went by Cat's directions, but I would have understood it better (probably?) if I'd cared to read the section instead of just hear the summary. So much of sewing is prepping/planning/thinking it through beforehand, and I didn't prep well this time. Luckily, there was enough pretty pink knit fabric left to try again, this time much smaller for my Harper girl.

My favorite thing about this project was the think-I-can stick-to-it-iveness (that's a lot of hyphen!) and my husband's reaction. E usually smiles and thinks I've made something cute, but he's never surprised. That's his way of complimenting me (of course you're that capable!). But this time, he oooed and aaahed and says it's his favorite item of clothing Harper's ever owned. I feel victorious.

Here's another "up". I made this dress for our neighbor's, Rylee's, fourth birthday. I did it in a bit of a rush at the end of last week because I mistakenly thought her party was last Saturday. When I arrived and didn't recognize the other guests, I realized I'd mixed up the dates. Classic case of Mom-brain. So it's currently wrapped up, ready to give at her party this Saturday. But before it leaves our house, I remembered to photograph it with Harper modeling. She served as my dress form in the process as well, so hopefully it will fit Rylee well.

My new serger (thanks, Mom!) really helped me make this dress much quicker than it would have taken me with just my regular sewing machine. It was fun to do the felt applique on the side as well. I busted out my acrylic paint to do the seeds. I also made a little bow clip to match-- can you see it? Super matchy. Four year old girls like that.

And then, the other day during my sewing hours (nap time), I decided: work before play. I needed to sew the seams on my mom's curtains. They were promised as part of her Christmas present when I drew her name last year. Since they are for her second home in UT, there was no rush to get them done. But her next trip there is coming up in May, I think, so I wanted to get on it so she could enjoy them. The simple task of sewing the straight seams turned nightmarish. The tension is all wrong. Too tight, too loose... I've changed needles, I've tried everything. I've been seam-ripping like there's no tomorrow. The weirdest part is that the first panel (there are 6 of these suckers) went relatively well, and it wasn't until the second panel that I had a lot of trouble. I'm hoping that I'll figure out the problem soon and that the machine isn't the problem. I ended up just "pressing pause" on that one. I'll probably look at it again during nap time today. Any crafty friends have an idea? It's canvas fabric, sewing through three layers. Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Silhouette Reading Pillows

In an attempt to make my sewing prudent and useful, here's the latest creation. We were given these pillows at our wedding years ago, covered in a merrimeko print that no longer matches our bedroom. We hadn't used them in years, so I thought we could repurpose them and pass them over to the kids as "reading pillows". They now sit at the end of their beds, marking a special place for each of them to enjoy a book.

The design was inspired by "diffractionfiber" on etsy. Harper was quick to tell me that Jack's is just a "picture book pillow" since he can't read like she can. They both immediately recognized themselves, and immediately showed possessive love for their own pillows.

I couldn't have done this project without Ethan's help in Photoshop! I tried to do it old school with a spotlight and shadows, but what toddler can sit still that long and not want to see what Mama's doing on the wall next to them? The computer was the way to go-- thanks, love!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Toffee, Butterscotch, and Mango

I've been too timid to try it for about 5 years now... but I finally got up the nerve and dyed my hair today. Lisa at CA Looks said she mixed "toffee, butterscotch, and mango" to give me the shade I wanted. She also left some of my natural highlights around my face, which helps it look pretty natural. I am happy with the result; I feel much more appropriate. Unlike most blondes, my hair wasn't darkening with age, it was becoming ashy and dull. At the same time, I felt like my skin was becoming pinker and the combination of those two things left me feeling washed out. This color feels so much richer and I feel like I look healthier. I also love the light and breezy cut. What a needed change!

Thanks to Grammer Lynda for watching the kiddos and for being my photographer so I could post this. I appreciated that break, the "me time" out at the salon. So fun!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Big Sister Bag Tutorial

Start to finish, this purse took me a total of three naptimes (approx. 6 hours) to complete. Made for my big sister's birthday and named in her honor, this bag was entirely self-designed, planned, photographed, and created.

And here's how to make your own. (I sorta feel like a magician who's revealing his slight of hand...)

What You Need
1/2 yd. fabric (60 in. bolt) of outer fabric
1/2 yd. complimentary lining fabric
matching thread
medium weight interfacing
magnetic closure

Step 1
Beginning with your outer fabric, measure and cut the trapezoid (top length 10 1/4 ", sides 4", bottom 14 in.). In the above photo, you can see that the top corner is only 1.5" in from the bottom.
For the taper inward to the narrower side, I cut 60 degree angle (the clear ruler was key with that).
Also, the hand-drawn plan photo (at Step 3 below) might be helpful if you're still having trouble visualizing this.

Step 2
Fold, pin, and cut two at the same time.
Cutting the two pieces apart at the fold:

Outer fabric now looks like this:

Step 3
Turn your fabric sideways to draw the body of the purse. See photo for dimensions of the footed bowl shape.

(21.5 " across the top-- plenty of room for those fab. pleats!, 12" from top to bottom, the last 2" of which is the "foot" which later becomes the flat bottom and gives the bag a great shape, 18" across the bottom. Photo also shows where I began my curve-- about an inch and a half up from the foot section, the picture says 45 degrees, but obviously it's not a straight angle-- I freehand curved it there)By the way, that white square is tailor's chalk... super handy stuff (also comes in blue for light fabrics).

Step 4
Fold fabric, pin, and cut two at the same time.

Cut apart the two halves at the fold (again).

Step 5 (optional)
Depending on your fabric choice, you may want to add a medium weight fusible interfacing to your outer fabric at this stage. My tweedy stuff was a little too slouchy, so I added some to give it more heft.
Just trim off the excess to fit your pieces.

Step 6
Pin pleats so that the top of your body piece (21" wide) is now only 14 " wide (the length of the bottom of the trapezoid).

Step 7
Sew and attach the trapezoid piece to the body piece, right sides together. Pull pins out as you go.
You now have what looks sorta like half the bag... exciting, huh?

Step 8
Lay out your lining fabric (folded in half) and set your outer fabric on top to use as a guide. Pin outer fabric (the"bag half") down, and cut around it-- again, two pieces cut at the same time.

Step 9
Grab the remainder of your outer fabric to make a pocket for the bag. This will end up in the interior, and make a nice spot for a cell phone and car keys. The remaining piece of the 1/2 yd. was the perfect size.
a) First, I just trimmed off the odd shape to make an even rectangle.b) Fold in half, so it looks more square. (Right sides together again. In the picture below, you can see the dull/wrong side up, the nicer side in.)

c) Pin in place with right sides together, and sew around three sides(up, over, down), leaving the bottom end open (selvedge in this case). d) Turn right side out and iron the seams so they'll lie more flat.
e) Decide on placement. Lay it on the lining fabric, and mark where you'd like the bottom of the pocket to end up. (Look closely to see my little white line floating in the brown, to the bottom right of the square.)
f) Turn pocket upside down, and line up where you'll sew your seam with the mark you made for where you want the pocket to end. Pin down and sew across.

g)Fold up and pin down again. Decide where (if) you want your pocket divided. I sewed a seam about 1/3 of the way over on the right for a cell phone, leaving a larger pocket for keys, lip balm, etc.

Step 10
Add the magnetic closure. Here's what they look like. I ordered mine online, but I know places like Jo-Ann carries them. Everything you need:

a) First, fuse some interfacing to the wrong side of the lining fabric where you expect the closure to go (remember to allow a little seam allowance at the top of the trapezoidal part, so down just a bit).
b)Mark the two pieces so that the two halves of the closure will line up and close nicely later. I did it by sticking a pin through them.

See, if they end up here, they'll meet perfectly.

c) Set the circular backing piece so the center hole lines up with your pinhole. With an ink pen, trace the two lines on either side.

d) Fold those little lines in half and clip them delicately with scissors.
e) Push female or male through the holes and through the circular backing piece, then press sides over to complete assembly.

Watch them kiss!

Step 11
To begin attaching the outer and lining fabrics, lie a lining piece up with an outer piece, being careful to put right sides together. Pin in place, and plan a turning gap so that when you've sewn this, you can turn it right side out and your seam will be hidden.

Here's mine sewn together, the pen is there to point out where I left my turning gap.
Step 12
Turn right side out and iron seams so they'll lie nicely.

Repeat Steps 11 and 12 for the other half of the bag.

Step 13
Next, line up the two halves with outer fabric together, lining fabric out. Pin in place, then sew them together.
Be careful NOT to sew the top together (this should remain open), and also be careful to tuck in and sew over the previously open turning gaps so that they'll now be finished.
Step 14
Before you turn it right side out, make the great corners that give this bag the great shape.

Okay, the pin is pointing out the foot.

Now fold up the foot so that it touches the curve and makes a point.

Pin in place. Use a measuring tape to be sure your seams are even-- don't want this to look lopsided. (I made each fold 3" long.)

Sew up the angled sides. When you turn it right side up, admire your work.... how nice, eh?

See how that bag has shape now, and wants to sit there looking cute?

Step 15
Add your handles. You can make your own out of the leftover fabric, but I chose to get these wooden ones at the store. I lucked out and the rose tone of the wood echoed the coral fabric.
I simply used some of the lining fabric to fold rectangles (4.5" by 3") to add the handles to the purse. Fold in all raw edges, iron, and sew them together (decorative stitch, since it shows), then feed them through the handles. To attach them to the bag, the lining fabric rectangles must be handsewn in. The only note of caution is you've gotta be careful to only attach it to the lining fabric ONLY so that your stitches can't be seen from the outside. Also, be careful when you attach that you do each at the same length (decide how much fabric you want showing above the top of the purse, keep it the same for each one) so that the handles are even when held together.

Et voila! It's done!
Whew! Making a tutorial is almost as laborious as the bag itself!