a birthday candy gram

candy gram

I envy those of you who always come up with the perfect gift for every occasion. If that’s something that comes naturally to you, be thankful! If gift-giving is something you struggle with, you can tuck this idea away for the next time you’re trying to figure out what to get for someone who has everything they need.

For my husband’s birthday, I helped my kids put together a candy gram. After looking up some ideas online, I bought a bunch of candy bars that I thought we could incorporate into the birthday message on the poster. Then after the kids got home from school, we typed up the message, printed it out, and glued the words and the candy to the poster. It was quick, easy, and fun! And best of all, it’s more personal than giving Daddy a gift card or another striped tie.

candy gram

If you’re considering making a candy gram, here are a few tips:

1. PRINT THE WORDS ON PAPER, then glue them onto the poster. Hand-written posters look charming and more personal, but I just didn’t trust that we’d be able to fit our whole message on the poster if we hand-wrote it. Printing it first allowed us to arrange it all on the poster before we glued everything down. The font I used is Bubblegum Sans.

2. MOUNT YOUR CANDY GRAM ON FOAM CORE. Standard poster board seemed like it would be too flimsy to accommodate the weight of all the candy, so I used a 20×30 sheet of foam core. It costs more than poster board, but it’s sturdy and easy to transport. Plus, you can prop it up against the wall instead of laying it flat.

3. ATTACH THE CANDY WITH HOT GLUE. Strong tape would probably work too, but hot glue was quick and easy. Several candy bars did jump off the board a few days later, but I figure they were just begging to be eaten…

candy gram

Every time my toddler sees his daddy’s candy gram, he puts his arms in the air and says, “Birthday!” This candy gram was obviously created for a birthday, but it could be adapted for almost any occasion. If you search for “candy gram” on Google or Pinterest, you’ll find tons of great ideas out there, and you’ll quickly see that I borrowed parts of our text from other candy grams.

If you create a candy gram, feel free to share a link to it in the comments. I’d love to see what you make!

a knock-knock joke birthday card

knock-knock joke card

I’d love to be the kind of aunt who sends cool cards and awesome little gifts to my nieces and nephews on their birthdays, but unfortunately, I’m the kind of aunt who rarely sends anything, and when I do, it’s usually late. In typical fashion, I created this card on the day after Simon’s 7th birthday. But instead of scrawling “Sorry this is late!”, I embraced the lateness and made it into a joke.

knock-knock joke card - inside

The classic knock-knock joke with the “orange you glad” punchline can easily be adapted to fit a variety of situations. In this card, we said, “Orange you glad we didn’t forget your birthday?!” Orange is Simon’s favorite color, so of course he got a kick out of it.

knock-knock joke card

I was aiming for a bit of a comic strip vibe, so I used the font SF Cartoonist Hand. The door knob is a brass fastener, although I suppose it would be more accurate to call it a brad, since it’s actually silver in color. You can find those at a craft store like Michaels.

Do you send birthday cards or gifts to your nieces and nephews who live at a distance? I have all of their birthdays on my calendar, but somehow they always seem to sneak up on me and I don’t get things mailed in time. If you send fun little treats (other than money), I’d love to hear your ideas!

100 miles in September

Alex's Million Mile 2014

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and in honor of my little friend Luke, I’m participating in Alex’s Million Mile — Run. Walk. Ride. It’s a month-long global event to increase awareness of childhood cancer and raise money for pediatric cancer research through Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

But the main reason I’ve joined Team Luke isn’t actually to raise money or increase awareness — it’s to support my friends whose lives were forever changed last year when their adorable little boy was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Fortunately, Luke is currently doing really well. I dropped off dinner at their house last week, and if it weren’t for the fresh row of stitches, you’d never know that he had just gotten home from having brain surgery. But even though Luke’s tumor is stable, his condition is chronic, and so I’m participating in Alex’s Million Mile to remind his family that they’re not alone on this challenging journey.

My personal goal for the month is to log 100 miles through a combination of walking and biking. I’m so glad biking has been added as an option this year, because last September I walked 100 miles… and pushed a jogging stroller for almost all of those!

Walking 100 miles won’t cure cancer, of course, but I’m happy to go the distance to support my friends on their journey.

back to school, back to blogging


The calendar tells me that there are still a few more weeks of summer, but when two big yellow buses pulled up to the driveway this week and whisked our two oldest children off to school, it felt like summer came to a halt and fall took over.

I thought I would blog a lot during the summer, but good ideas and good intentions don’t guarantee good blogging, do they? The past few months were full of projects, adventures, and activities to keep our family occupied and happy, and there were so many things I wanted to share on the blog, but I didn’t carve out any time to sit down and write. I didn’t even post all that much on Instagram, even though I took about a million pictures with my iPhone.

But last night I sat down and freshened up a few things here in my corner of the internet, and now I’m feeling ready to add new content to this space. I’m also working on creating project galleries to make it MUCH easier for visitors to discover older posts that are still just as good as the newer ones. I’ll be sure to let you know when they’re up and running.

During the summer, I unsubscribed from a bunch of blogs that no longer inspire me, and I’m looking for a few new ones to fill the gaps. Do you have any favorites you would recommend? (Maybe it’s yours — don’t be shy!)

P.S. to moms!  You still have a few days to log any books you’ve read for the Beyond Board Books summer reading program. We have two remaining prizes in the prize box, and one more weekly winner to be chosen. Maybe it will be you!

why I said yes to making a custom order

wedding card box bunting

How do you decide which projects and ideas to say “yes” to? I have a hard time turning down a project that interests me, even when I don’t really have time to take on one more thing. So when a friend from high school reached out on Facebook and asked whether I would create a few decorations for her upcoming wedding, of course I said yes!

But as I sat hunched over my sewing machine, cranking out a 50-foot bunting, I wondered why I had agreed to do this! I could have been spending that time making something for myself or my family… or for our upcoming Summer Bible School at church.

So why DID I say yes?

1. It gave me an excuse to create. I love creating things, but I often find it hard to make it a priority when so many other things (and people!) are clamoring for my attention. In the daily routine, creative pursuits are a luxury, not a necessity. Dishes have to be washed, and diapers need to be changed, but I do not have to sew felt magnets for our play kitchen or design paper invitations for our annual summer ice cream party… although I feel happier when I do.

2. This was a paying project. As a full-time mom, I rarely get paid for anything I do, so the opportunity to work on a money-making project appealed to me. It’s been years since I’ve sold anything I made, but recently I’ve been dreaming about some new possibilities for selling handmade items, so it felt good to take on a paying project again.

3. It aligned with one of my goals for 2014. Six months ago, I was the happy owner of a Silhouette Cameo that intimidated me just a little, so when I developed my goals for the year, “learn to use my Silhouette Cameo” was on the list. I’ve used it quite a bit since then, but I knew this project would give me an opportunity to do some things with the machine that I hadn’t tried before.

wedding card box bunting

4. This was an unusual request. Her wedding decor is rustic and simple, but not the vintage, cottage-chic aesthetic that is all over Pinterest — they’re decorating mostly with orange, green, burlap and Realtree camouflage! The bride wanted me to create a few items to add some color in keeping with their theme, and I couldn’t resist the challenge of creating a little bunting to cover up part of the National Wild Turkey Federation logo on their wooden box for cards.

5. I was flattered to be asked. Obviously, this is NOT a good reason to say yes to something, but it does help tip the scale if I’m on the fence! When someone reaches out to me for creative assistance, it feels good to be able to help, especially when they are products that I’m very comfortable making.


As it turned out, the item the bride originally requested was not one of the three items she ended up needing. I made the little bunting for the card box, a 50-foot bunting for the reception in a barn, and 850 pieces of 1-inch confetti shapes for the tables. And I’m glad I said yes.

P.S. TO MOMS! I’m so glad some of you have been participating in my Beyond Board Books summer reading program. I love hearing about all the books that you’ve been reading, and have added a couple of them to my list to check out next time I visit the library. We have a wonderful group of creative moms who are sponsoring the weekly prizes, and have announced two winners already! If you’re trying to decide what to read next, come see what other moms are reading.

Beyond Board Books: a fun summer reading program just for moms!

Beyond Board Books: a fun summer reading program just for moms!

Hey moms! If you’ve ever secretly wished you could sign up for your kids’ summer reading program — and win cooler prizes! — I’ve created a summer reading program just for you. Beyond Board Books is a fun way to encourage moms to take time to read this summer, and I hope you’ll participate!

There’s no assigned reading list, no deadlines, no pressure. Just read any book you want and leave a comment on the reading log page telling me what you read and something about the book. Every book you read between June 15 – August 31 will give you a chance to win a great prize from one of our sponsors in the weekly prize drawing! All of the sponsors are moms who run an online shop or blog, and I’m continuing to line up more.

Beyond Board Books kicks off this Sunday, and if you help spread the word on social media, you can enter to win a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble (sponsored by me). If you’re a mom, go check it out! I’d love to have you join in the fun this summer!

wise words by Maya Angelou

success is... - by Maya Angelou

I learned of Maya Angelou’s passing on Facebook yesterday morning when my friends began posting some of her wise, memorable words. One of my favorite quotes of hers is one I just discovered during the past year, and I’ve been wanting to frame these words to hang in our home.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This morning I scrolled through my quotes board on Pinterest and found some more of Maya Angelou’s wise words that I’ve collected over time.

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

printable quote cards: wise words by Maya Angelou

I’ve made these three quotes by Maya Angelou available as printable 3×4″ cards that you can add to a Project Life album or hang on your refrigerator. The PDF with all three cards can be downloaded here.

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

stuffed sheep

I feel so lucky that we live just a mile or so down the road from a farm with sheep. And my 17-month-old little boy is pretty lucky that his mama takes the time to stop the van and visit the sheep with him several times a week. Ethan hangs on the fence and says “baa!” over and over, and if the sheep come close enough, we feed them dandelions.

visiting the sheep

When I stumbled across a free pattern for an adorable stuffed sheep, I knew immediately that I wanted to sew one for Ethan. The pattern is by Abby Glassenberg, who designs and sells patterns for stuffed animals and writes a blog called While She Naps. I binge-read her blog when I discovered it a few weeks ago, and I was so inspired by her transparency and authenticity in her posts about blogging and running a creative business. Abby’s cute Baa, Baa, Black Sheep pattern is available for free at Sew Mama Sew.

stuffed sheep

Abby made her sheep with faux fur, which looked a bit more wooly, but I just used regular fleece to make my soft and snuggly sheep. The sheep came together pretty quickly and easily, but the trickiest part of the process was embroidering the features on the sheep’s face, mostly because I didn’t know how to successfully trace the stitching lines onto the fleece, but also because I simply found it hard to embroider on fleece.

stuffed sheep

I bought a couple hemostats on Amazon for just $3.59 with free shipping, and they were an extremely helpful tool for turning the legs and tail right side out and later stuffing the finished sheep. Honestly, I’m not sure how I would have gotten those little legs turned without them. Ethan picked up the legs when they were still inside out, and thought they were socks. (dock! dock!) I’m sure I’ll use the hemostats for other future projects, so I’m very glad I bought them.

stuffed sheep

Several friends of mine are expecting babies this year and I’m thinking about sewing up a few more of these sheep as gifts for the new little ones. I rarely make more than one of anything I sew, but I might have to make an exception for this adorable little sheep.

Disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored post. However, links to products on Amazon are affiliate links, which means if you order them, I make a teeny tiny commission.

my goals for May 2014


Whoever said that “April showers bring May flowers” wasn’t kidding about the first part! Yesterday we got 5-7 inches of rain that I (and later, we) worked very hard to keep out of our basement. I lost two pounds (what?!) and our basement stayed dry. We’ve gotten a couple quotes for fixing our water drainage issues, but the work won’t be done for another month or so.

Today, the first of May, is a beautiful day! The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the doors are wide open.

And it’s time to set some new monthly goals. These are my goals for the month of May:

  • spring clean the house. As you can see from the picture above, I’m starting with the chest freezer.
  • finish the kids’ bathroom makeover. This is one of my goals for the year, and my progress has stalled. I still want to paint, make new curtains, and hang some art on the walls.
  • add a project gallery to the blog. I want to make it easier for you and others who stop by to find older projects that are still worth checking out.
  • sew something. It’s been far too long since I sewed anything, but last night I reorganized some of my sewing supplies, and I’m eager to work on a new sewing project.

choosing a fresh start

Comparison is the thief of joy.

I never intended to take a three-month break from blogging, but somehow that’s what happened. There’s no particular reason that I haven’t been posting. Life has been full and rich and wonderful, just as it was before the blog silence, and I’m doing fine. There’s also no special reason that I’m starting to blog again today, except that I finally really want to.

I have a Pinterest board where I collect quotes that inspire me, and several of them have been on my mind a lot as I considered my return to blogging and what I want this online space to become. I’m so quick to doubt my skills and value as a creative blogger. It’s easy for me to compare myself to other bloggers and develop a lengthy list of ways my blog and I don’t measure up. I can think of lots of reasons you should read other blogs instead of mine.

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.

But none of that really matters, does it? Because I enjoy blogging! This is one of my hobbies, and rachelswartley.com is something I enjoy creating. I love spending time on a hobby that challenges me and gives me opportunities to stretch myself, develop new skills, and interact with others who share some of the same interests. In addition to all of the projects and activities I share on my blog, the act of blogging itself — the writing, photography, design, promotion — is one of my hobbies, and I’ve missed it.

quote card: you may have a fresh start

So today I’m choosing a fresh start. On the screen, it may look like a mere continuation of more than 7 years of blog posts, but for me, it’s a turning point. I’m intrigued by this quote from Mary Pickford, an actress who wrote these words in 1936. “You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

If you need a visual reminder to stop doubting, stop comparing, get back up, and choose a fresh start, I’ve made these little quote cards available as a free printable. The cards are 3×4 inches, so they will fit nicely into a Project Life pocket page, but you could also hang them on your fridge or bulletin board.

free printable Project Life quote cards

Download the printable PDF with all three quote cards.

(NOTE: The crop marks at the corners indicate the cutting lines. The rectangular outlines are part of the design. Cutting along the solid lines will result in cards that are smaller than 3×4″.)

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