lucky us

lucky us

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, friends! I think this is the first time I have ever hung up St. Patrick’s decor in my home. It’s not a holiday I really celebrate, except that I make sure to wear green and maybe buy a shamrock shake. But I recently made this simple “lucky us” banner and hung it on the wall in our stairway… and I love it.

It’s so easy for me to focus my attention on the challenges in my life, the things that are different than I wish they were, and the ways that I don’t measure up to who I want to be. But this “lucky us” banner serves as a little attitude check for me. It reminds me to be grateful for the wonderful things that those challenges represent. It reminds me to thank God for the blessings in my life. And it reminds me to look for the good in others and myself.

In a few days, I’ll probably be ready to tear off those shamrocks, but I think I’ll keep the rest of the banner up for a while. Because I can always use a sparkly little attitude check.

an adorable stuffed penguin

handmade penguin

Isn’t this the cutest penguin you’ve ever seen?! I bought the pattern for this penguin back in November, intending to give it as a Christmas gift. Then life got busyI set aside the half-finished penguin, and I ordered a set of Melissa and Doug blocks* instead. I recently realized that spring was on its way, so I set a new goal of finishing the penguin before all the snow melts!

I finished sewing this penguin last night, and when my two-year-old walked into my crafting area this morning and saw the penguin sitting on a shelf, he laughed the sweetest little giggle as he ran to pick it up. As I write this, that brave little penguin is getting a first-hand look at what exactly Ethan does in his bedroom when he’s supposed to be napping.

This is the second stuffed animal I’ve sewn (the black sheep was my first), so I felt a bit more confident heading into this project. One sewing tip I’ve learned from the pattern designer, Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps, is the value of placing pins really close together when aligning curves. She recommends placing the pins 1/4″ apart, and while it may look a little crazy, it kept everything in place while I sewed.

pinning fleece on a curve

This year I’ve been blogging less than ever and pouring my creative energy into Instagram, but I think I’m ready to get back into the swing of blogging again. So to those of you who still follow my blog — thanks for sticking around! Good things are coming.

* Setting aside the half-finished penguin and buying those Melissa and Doug blocks for Ethan (who had just turned two) was the best decision ever. He plays with them every single day.

Note: links may be affiliate links. This means that if you click on the link and make a purchase, I make a tiny commission at no additional cost to you.

a friendship bracelet with hearts

heart friendship bracelet

Knotting a friendship bracelet is definitely not an efficient way for a busy mom to spend her time… but sometimes inefficient projects are good for the soul, especially on a snowy day! This sweet little friendship bracelet was the perfect project for a school day that started with a two-hour delay and ended with an early dismissal.

friendship bracelet embroidery floss

I originally learned to make knotted friendship bracelets when I was a kid at summer camp, but I relied on this tutorial to learn how to make a friendship bracelet with hearts. The process is more complex than the standard striped bracelet or even a chevron pattern, so if you’re taking care of three kids while you make one, you may need to untie some misplaced knots as you go…

heart friendship bracelet

How old does an object have to be before it’s considered “vintage?” I’m afraid my clipboard from high school might soon qualify!

heart friendship bracelet

This little heart friendship bracelet would be a fun Valentine’s gift to send your best friend since childhood — if you’re lucky enough to have one of those! Or maybe you have a tween daughter who would enjoy making one for her BFF.

If you make a heart friendship bracelet and share it on Instagram, feel free to tag me (@rachelswartley) — I’d love to see it!

an adventure to the Altitude Design Summit

business cards

Tomorrow morning I’m heading out on an adventure. It’s the kind of adventure that requires business cards and gold jewelry — a rare kind of getaway for a full-time mom. I’m heading to the Altitude Design Summit in Salt Lake City, which is a conference for creative bloggers and entrepreneurs.

I’ve been familiar with Alt since 2011, I think, and I’ve listened to keynotes online, followed the #altsummit Twitter feed, and gleaned as much as possible from other bloggers’ written recaps. Up until a few weeks ago, I expected this year to be the same — learning as much as I could from a distance. But on the day after Christmas, I won a ticket through a random giveaway on Instagram, and so this year I’ll be experiencing Alt first-hand.

There will be keynote speakers, breakout sessions, design camps, roundtable discussions, parties, sponsors, and more! And throughout the conference, each of us will be trying to show our best, most authentic self to the other bloggers, entrepreneurs, and brand representatives that we might want to collaborate with. It’s quite an event, and from what I’ve seen in pictures, the Grand America is quite a hotel.

Going to the Altitude Design Summit feels like a pretty big deal, so I’m both excited and nervous. I’m really good at comparing myself to other people and finding all the ways I don’t measure up. I have a blog, but I don’t post frequently. I’m active on Instagram, but I don’t have many followers. I love to make things, but there are lots of people who are far more creative than I am. I’ve sold a few things I’ve made, but it’s far from a full-fledged business. I can think of lots of reasons that I don’t belong at Alt.

So why am I going to Alt?  I’m going because I have a blog and I dream of selling handmade items. I’m going because I want to connect with and be inspired by other creative women. And I’m going because in spite of my self-doubt, I know I belong at Alt. (And, when you win a ticket to Alt, you don’t turn it down.)

business card

So ready or not, here I go! I’m packing up my handmade business cards, crossing my fingers, and heading out on an adventure. I’m sure I’ll be posting on Instagram more than usual, so feel free to connect with me there. I’m Rachel Swartley, and I’m creating a life I love.

DIY draft stopper

draft stopper

In the back of one of our closets, there is a small door that leads to our “attic.” On the other side of that little door you’ll find Christmas decorations, bins full of clothes the kids have outgrown, and a million or so cardboard boxes that I’m hoarding saving. There’s a small gap at the bottom of the door, and during the winter, there’s usually a quilt or blanket shoved up against the door to keep the cold air out.

This winter I’ve been using a mattress cover that was sitting nearby that I’ve been meaning to fold and put away. Classy.

So after four years of blocking the cold air with whatever was handy, I finally dug into my fabric stash and made a proper draft stopper.

draft stopper

The black and white striped fabric is from IKEA. I made the fabric tube 6″ in diameter, and cut it several inches longer than the width of the door. At each end of the tube, I folded the edges of the fabric to the inside of the tube, then folded and pinched it together a lot like a milk carton. After I sewed the first end shut, I used a funnel to fill the tube, and then stitched up the other end.

If you search for “draft stopper” or “draft dodger” to get ideas for making your own, you’ll find that a lot of people fill them with rice, or maybe kitty litter. I didn’t feel good about using anything that might possibly attract rodents, so I filled the draft stopper with poly pellets. Poly pellets are tiny plastic beads that can be used to fill bean bags, make weighted stuffed animals, or… fill draft stoppers.

I bought a 32-oz. bag of poly pellets (I purchased mine at Joann) and still have a quarter to a third of the bag left. But the door to our attic is narrower than a standard door, so if you’re making a full-size draft stopper, a 32-oz. bag would probably be enough. (But no promises! I didn’t actually try it.)

I’m so glad to finally have a proper draft stopper to block the cold air. And it’s so much better than stuffing a blanket into place with my toes…

Note: Links are affiliate links. This means that if you click on the link and make a purchase, I make a tiny commission at no additional cost to you.

oh, hello 2015.

pigeon painting on canvas

Happy 2015, friends! I hope your year is off to a good start.

Like everyone else, I’m determined to make 2015 a great year. When next December rolls around, I want to feel excited about writing my paragraph in our family’s annual Christmas letter. I don’t want my personal summary of 2015 to be essentially the same as 2014… and 2013.

January 2015 is already very different than any other January in my life. Last Friday, I won a ticket to the Altitude Design Summit in Salt Lake City, which is a conference for creative bloggers. It’s less than three weeks away, so I’m scrambling to get ready! I’m looking forward to attending a small dinner sponsored by Joann Fabric and Craft, which is one of my favorite places to shop and dream.

I usually create a list of goals for the year, and sometimes I’ve chosen one little word to focus on. I have LOTS of ideas swirling around in my head of ways I want to improve my life in 2015, but I haven’t developed a specific list of goals yet that I’m ready to share with you. My overarching desire is to continue to pursue my personal goal of “creating a life I love.” And as I do that, I intend to blog much more frequently in 2015 than I did last year, which was an unusually quiet year for my blog.

Now, about that pigeon up there… Many of you will recognize the pigeon as a character from Mo Willems’ books, such as “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.” I snapped a picture of the pigeon from one of the books, photoshopped it to death, and printed it out. Then I transferred the outlines to a 16×20″ canvas with transfer paper and a stylus. I’m not a painter, but I managed to more or less follow the lines, and I’m pleased with how it turned out. I originally created this when Ethan was six months old and hung it in his bedroom. Now he’s two years old, and it hangs over the toilet in the bathroom. It’s fun to think of the pigeon greeting my older kids in the morning before I do.

So hello, 2015. Let’s create a good year.

my first December Daily scrapbook: the title page

December Daily title page

In my head, I’m a scrapbooker. In reality? Not so much.

I’ve taken tons of photos, bought a few Project Life kits, and jotted down some quotes from my kids that I want to remember. But when I try to pull it all together into a scrapbook, I feel totally stuck and can’t seem to create what I’ve imagined. In the past two years, all I’ve made are two decent title pages (2013 and 2014) and half a dozen layouts that are just OK.

So I have decided to jumpstart my scrapbooking aspirations with a smaller, more focused project. December Daily is a memory keeping project developed by Ali Edwards, and this year I’m going to join in the fun.

December Daily title page

Throughout the month of December, I’m going to capture some of the images and stories of the Christmas season and compile it all in a small album. December is such a special time of year with unique decorations, food, celebrations, music, activities, traditions, and togetherness, and I want to record some of those memories.

The album I’m using is the 6×8″ faux leather album by Simple Stories, and I’m using photo pocket pages by Becky Higgins (Project Life) and Simple Stories. I’m not using Ali Edwards’ December Daily kit, but I have gathered some supplies that fit my clean and simple aesthetic, and will design the rest myself. I’ve also gathered lots of inspiration on my December Daily board on Pinterest.

December Daily title page

I cut out the word “december,” the numbers, and the white frame with my Silhouette Cameo. The cursive font is Wendy LP, and the numbers are Open Sans Condensed. The background paper with white snowflakes is actually wrapping paper that I recently found at HomeGoods, and I added a few little white snowflake punches. I love white on kraft, and especially like the hand drawn look of the snowflakes.

December Daily title page

I’ve learned that a lot of people prepare their pages in advance by putting in papers and embellishments ahead of time, and then add the stories and photos throughout the month. As an inexperienced scrapbooker, I find it impossible to anticipate how I will want each page to be laid out, so I’m just going to create the scrapbook as I go.

If creating a scrapbook during the month of December sounds crazy to you, let me assure you — it sounds crazy to me too! If I don’t finish it before January, that won’t bother me at all. (I’ve seen some people online recently talking about needing to finish up last year’s December album before this December begins!) I’m going to try not to feel pressure to change what we do just to make our life look good for a scrapbook. However… if this project helps to make the Christmas season more meaningful, and encourages me to live with more intention, more joy, and more gratitude, that will be a wonderful added bonus.

Note: Links may be affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I will make a tiny commission if you make a purchase.

stuffed patchwork ball made with English paper piecing

stuffed patchwork ball made with English paper piecing

If you’ve ever seen English paper piecing and immediately concluded that it’s a good project for your grandma, perhaps this stuffed patchwork ball will change your mind.

It changed mine.

I had heard of English paper piecing occasionally over the years, but for the longest time I had no idea what it was, and didn’t think it sounded interesting enough to find out. When I finally realized what English paper piecing was, all of the projects I saw looked too old-fashioned for my taste, and I never considered trying it. (Just do a Google image search for “English paper piecing” and you’ll see what I mean.)

For those of you who don’t know, English paper piecing is a method of quilting in which you use a paper template to easily sew a precise geometric shape with fabric, most often a hexagon. The shapes are then stitched together to make a quilt, a table runner, or other decorative item.


English paper piecing pentagons

In August, I saw a tutorial for a patchwork ball on the While She Naps blog. It had never occurred to me that English paper piecing could be used to make a three-dimensional toy for a young child, but I immediately knew that I wanted to make one with modern colors.

Later that same day, I plunked down six bolts of flannel on the cutting counter at JoAnn Fabrics. “That’s a great color combination,” said the younger of the two women behind the counter, her tone of voice indicating that she could hardly believe I found those colors on their shelves. I bought just four inches of each color for a whopping total of $2.52, and could probably make half a dozen balls with that fabric.

stack of brightly-colored flannel

My favorite time to work on a new project is ASAP, so I washed, dried, and pressed my fabric that night. The next day I used my Silhouette Cameo to cut out a dozen little card stock pentagons and started sewing.

I followed this video tutorial for the basting, but instead of lightly gluing the template to the fabric, I first punched two holes in each template and stuck a pin through them to hold the template in place just until the fabric was cut and basted. The basting was quick and easy, and I could have created fabric shapes all day. Seriously, I LOVED basting all those little fabric pentagons.

English paper piecing pentagons

English paper piecing typically uses hexagons, but by using pentagons instead, this project becomes three-dimensional when the sides are joined together. (And if you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh, it’s a stuffed dodecahedron!” you’re in good, nerdy company…)

English paper piecing -- patchwork ball assembly

Stitching the pentagons together is where I got bogged down, since there are 30 seams to sew, and I actually set the project aside for a couple months. Last Friday night I invited some friends over for a bring-your-own-craft night, and this was the perfect project to work on while we sat around chatting and eating pumpkin bars.

However, I want to be clear that flannel is NOT the ideal fabric for this project. I was pretty sure of that before I even bought it, but I went ahead and tried it, and now I know for sure. Flannel is soft and cozy, but it has a looser weave than regular cotton fabric, so the stitches that join the shapes together are more visible. However, my hand-stitching is far from perfect, so someone with more experience would probably have better results.  You can’t really see the stitches in the photo above, but once the ball is stuffed, they’re definitely visible in the finished product.

English paper piecing -- patchwork ball

The paper templates stay in until you have stitched around all five sides of a shape. Then you can just stick the tip of your scissors or a pin in one of the little holes and pop it out, since none of the stitches go through the paper.

The sides of my pentagons are just 1.5″ long, so I probably should have left two sides open prior to stuffing instead of one to make it easier to turn right side out. The basting stitches stay in and are not visible from the right side of the project.

English paper piecing -- patchwork ball inside out

You could definitely just use your fingers to push the stuffing into place, but since my opening was so small, I was glad for the hemostats I bought a few months ago when I made the stuffed sheep.

stuffing a patchwork ball made with English paper piecing

I stuffed the ball until it seemed full and then I stuffed it some more, because I wanted it to bounce and not be too squishy and floppy.

patchwork ball made with English paper piecing

Ta-da! There’s my first English paper piecing project. I wish my imperfect stitches weren’t quite so visible, but overall I love how the ball turned out. I made it with my toddler in mind, but I’ve seen all three of my kids kicking and throwing it inside the house this week…

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 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″.)

new dinner foods in January

I’ve gotten into such a rut with the foods I cook for dinner. I feel like I make the same things over and over — for two good reasons. First, one of my kids is an especially picky eater, so sticking to foods that we all love results in a more pleasant meal time. And second, when one child is practicing her trumpet, one child is reading aloud, and one wobbly child is either hanging onto my legs or climbing the step stool, it’s just easier to cook something that I can make on auto-pilot without having to consult a recipe 13 times.

But as much as we love chili and chicken fajitas and baked macaroni and cheese, I’ve been getting pretty bored with eating — and cooking! — the same things all the time. So one of my goals for January was to make something new for dinner. And I did. Five times!

new foods we ate in January 2014

Here are the links to the recipes and image sources:

The kids have been very good sports about trying all of these new things! I talk about it as an experiment that we’re all doing together, and I always ask for feedback. The crispy southwest chicken wraps were our favorite, but all of them are foods I would make again.

I’m planning to cook more new things in February, but I have no idea what they will be, so I’d love to hear your recommendations for kid-friendly dinner foods.

Ethan discovers playdough

first experience with playdough

Do you remember the first time you played with playdough? I’m sure most people don’t — but it’s such a classic experience of childhood, isn’t it?

Yesterday was Ethan’s very first encounter with playdough. He’s only 13 months old, so he obviously didn’t create anything with it, but it was fun to watch him explore the squishy blue lump. I set up my iPhone on a little tripod in front of him and took a video while he played. There’s nothing dramatic or amazing in the video, but I love that I was able to capture such a simple moment of childhood exploration.

You can watch the video here. My favorite part is when he tears off a little piece of playdough and then looks back and forth between the two pieces. My least favorite part is his high-pitched squeal! Oh man, I hear that way too much these days! But it’s such a real part of life right now that I decided to leave it in the video.

Are you surprised that Ethan didn’t try to eat the playdough? I was too — but after I stopped recording, I sat down next to him and rolled a piece of playdough into a snake. He picked it up and promptly put it in his mouth. And when I rolled a piece into a ball, he considered that an invitation to throw the playdough.

We played with the playdough again this morning, but the magic of the very first time had already worn off, so I’m so glad I took the video yesterday!

my Project Life title page for 2014

Project Life title page by Rachel Swartley

While Ethan took a two-hour nap on Saturday afternoon, I created the title page for my 2014 Project Life album… and I love how it turned out! The color scheme and design is similar to my Project Life title page for 2013, and yet every element of the design is new and different.

For the Hello card, I used a card from the Midnight Core Kit as the background. I covered up the little camera in the middle of the card with a flag I made. The font is Wendy LP, which is the same script font I use on my blog.

Project Life hello card

The blue and white polka dot paper I used for the background on this card is actually tissue paper I picked up at Target last year. It’s from their Spritz brand of party supplies. The font is Open Sans Condensed — the main font you see throughout my blog.

Project Life: this is our story

I bought a Silhouette Cameo with some gift money last year, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t sat down and learned to use it yet. That’s one of my goals for 2014, but meanwhile I just used my hands-on method to trace and then cut these numbers with an X-Acto knife. The textured silver cardstock is by Bazzill Basics — and it’s actually left over from our wedding!

number cutout for Project Life album

I love these little arrows I made with washi tape. It was so simple! Just fold the end of a piece of washi tape in half gently and cut on the diagonal to get a symmetrical point.

washi tape arrows

Project Life is the original pocket-based scrapbooking system, and I started using it a year ago to document some of our memories. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually do much with it last year for a variety of reasons, but I’m still planning to go back and create an album for 2013. One of my goals for 2014 is to create a Project Life album, and I’m happy to say that I’ve already made progress beyond the title page.

If you don’t feel very crafty/creative, or simply don’t have the time, you can definitely do Project Life without making anything yourself! There are kits you can buy with cards that just slip into the pockets. For the rest of my album, I’m planning to use lots of pre-made cards from a couple core kits and mini kits I have, but I wanted the title page to be completely my own design. And for me, the time I spent on it was absolutely worth it.

goals for 2014

goals for 2014

I love setting goals. Choosing a specific goal helps me to stay focused on things that are important to me. Writing them down helps me to clarify and remember what I want to pursue. I set goals for the day, for the weekend, for the month, for Ethan’s naptimes… and of course I set goals for the year.

In 2014, I’d love to:

  • create a Project Life album
  • give the kids’ bathroom a makeover
  • make lots of new foods for dinner
  • take more photos of myself
  • learn to use my Silhouette Cameo
  • read a dozen books
  • finish buying Christmas gifts before the week of Christmas
  • host a craft night
  • develop a more interactive community on my blog/social media
  • shoot in manual on my DSLR

I’ve started on several already, and I’m eager to dive into the rest. And no matter how many of these I achieve by the end of the year, I’ll be thrilled.

Have you set any of the same goals for yourself this year? Which are you most eager to hear more about?

choose: my one little word for 2014

For the third year in a row, I’m focusing on one little word. My word for 2014 is choose.

choose: one little word for 2014

Several other words were serious contenders, but when choose popped into my head one night while we were traveling over the holidays, I immediately knew it was the word I wanted to focus on. I have a number of reasons for selecting choose, and I want to explore them more throughout the year ahead. It’s overwhelming to try to describe them all at once, so for now I’ll just say this. Life is good, but there are so many ways I could be living a better life, and it’s up to me to make the choices that shape my life.

Are you focusing on one little word for 2014? If so, I’d love to hear what it is!

books I want to read in 2014

books I want to read in 2014

For the first time ever, I’m starting the year with a stack of books I want to read. Not a list of books I want to borrow from the library — an actual physical stack of books. Of course, there are other books on my reading wish list, but these are the ones I’m definitely going to read this year.

Blog Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho // This was on my Christmas wish list, and if you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that this is the book I’m reading first this year. My mother-in-law offered to stay with her littlest grandson while I went to have my van serviced, so I got to spend some time by myself reading and eating the only McFlurry McDonalds sold yesterday. Well, I don’t know that for sure, but I’m probably the only person who wanted to roll down her window and order ice cream when the temperature was in the single digits.

reading and eating alone!

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell // Tim and I own and have read all of his other books, so naturally I plan to read this one too.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout // I picked this one up at a used book sale a couple years ago, since my friend Brenda listed this among her favorites. I’ve started it several times, but 2014 is the year I’m going to start AND finish it.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman and Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell // A colleague recommended these to me shortly before I got married and became a step-mother in 2010.

The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser // I read parts of this book for a seminary class I took years ago, and remember liking it.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown // From what I’ve heard and read by Brene Brown, and from what I know about my own perfectionism, I think I will benefit from reading this.

So that’s the stack. I gathered these books from various shelves in our house, and for now I’m keeping them visible (one of the keys to reaching my goals!) by placing them right on my desk shelf.

books I want to read in 2014

The current quote on my chalkboard — may all my work be praise — is from the lovely hymn “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need.” The beautiful calendar is actually a free printable from Shhh My Darling. I wasn’t familiar with the blog before, but based on January’s image, I can’t wait to see what the next 11 months will look like.

What’s on your reading list for 2014? I certainly hope to read more than seven books this year, so I’d be glad to hear what you plan to read — or what you’ve already read and loved.

my monthly menu planning calendar

monthly menu planning calendar - printable

When late afternoon rolls around, do you already know what you’re going to cook for dinner, or do you look at what’s in your fridge and try to figure out what you can make with what you have on hand?

I applaud those of you who can throw things together and come up with a great meal, but not surprisingly, I’m one of those people who likes to have it all planned out. Otherwise, I’m sure I’d be missing some key ingredient I wish I had picked up at the grocery store, or I’d want to use chicken breasts that should have been thawing in the fridge for a day. I’ve been planning my meals in advance ever since I got married, but I didn’t get organized with menu planning until about a year and a half ago.

There are lots of menu planning systems out there, ranging from very basic to wildly complicated. I like to keep things simple, so I just use a blank calendar. You could hang it on your fridge, but I like to keep mine in a notebook. I use a small binder that holds 5-1/2 x 8-1/2″ sheets, because it takes up less room on my desk. I print out the calendar pages, cut them in half (there are two on a sheet), punch holes in them, and stick them in my binder.

monthly menu planning calendar - printable

I added two little Post-it tabs to the edge of my calendars to mark the sections, because I’m using a second set of calendar pages as my editorial calendar for this blog. I’m taking a more organized approach to blogging this year, so I’m hoping to post more often in 2014.

monthly menu planning calendar with post-it tabs

Before I shop for groceries (ideally once a week), I sit down with my menu planning calendar, my binder of favorite recipes, and the sale flyer for our local grocery store. I pencil in what we’re having for dinner for the next 5-7 days, then develop my shopping list based on my menu plan. I’ve gotten into a terrible cooking rut, so the menus aren’t nearly as varied as I would like, but that’s a topic for another day!

The calendar is one I designed myself, and you can download the 2014 calendar as a free PDF. I like to have only five rows of squares on each calendar page, so there are three instances where the first or last day of the month is on the previous or next month’s calendar page. My calendar, my rules.

Of course, the printable calendar can be used for anything, not just planning meals, so hopefully some of you will find it helpful.

my goals for January 2014

goals for January 2014

Do you love January as much as I do? The first few days are always so refreshing and invigorating! As usual, December was filled with all kinds of fun Christmas events, shopping, and projects, but as much as I enjoyed the Christmas season, it feels so good to head into a new year and turn my attention to other things.

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I’m setting some goals for myself this year. Goals and resolutions might seem like the same thing to you, but to me they feel different, and I’m going with the wording that is most inspiring to me.

I’m still finalizing my “official” list of goals for 2014, but I’ve set a few smaller goals for the month of January. You’ve probably heard that goals should be SMART — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based — and I kept those criteria in mind as I set these goals. For some reason, I also wanted my goals for January to be things that my kids could understand and support. Nothing too private or abstract.

One thing that helps me reach my goals is keeping them visible. Obviously, if I forget what my goals are, I’m much less likely to achieve them! So to keep my goals in mind, I borrowed an idea I stumbled across recently — Shannon Brown’s summer fun list. I printed each of my four goals onto a 3×4 card and hung them on the wall near my desk. (Actually, I printed two on a 4×6″ card and cut it in half, since that’s the smallest size I can easily run through my printer.) At the top of each card, I left room for a square photo. When I meet my goal, I’ll print out a 2.5″ photo and attach it to the card. The cards can then be slipped into my Project Life album at the end of the month when I set new goals for February.

goals for January 2014 - closeup

In case you’re reading this on a smartphone and the images are too small to read, these are my goals for January 2014:

  • make something new for dinner
  • finish an unfinished project
  • read a good book
  • move towards my pre-Ethan weight

That’s it. Totally doable, right?

I’d love to hear what your goals are for 2014 — or just for January. Reading about other people’s goals is so inspiring! And who knows? Maybe one of your goals will become one of MY goals for February.

saving and organizing your Christmas card photos

Christmas card photos in Project Life album

What are you planning to do with all of the Christmas card photos you received throughout the month of December? Will you stuff them in a box of photos? Save them in some organized way? Or have you already thrown them away?!

I used to just save them haphazardly in photo boxes, but last year after the holidays were over, I punched two holes in each photo from that year and held them together with book rings. They were pretty easy to flip through, but the dimensions and orientation of the photos weren’t uniform. It worked, but I didn’t love it.

Then in November, I watched a 3-day online workshop by Becky Higgins on Scrapbooking with Project Life. (The class was free to stream live, but it would be expensive to access it now.) Becky suggested trimming your Christmas card photos and slipping them into Project Life photo pocket pages. Of course! So smart!

Christmas card photos in Project Life album

On New Year’s Day, I spent some time gathering and organizing the Christmas card photos we’ve kept since 2009, the year Tim and I met. I don’t know what went wrong in 2011, because I could only find three photo cards from that year, but otherwise, our collection was pretty much intact — in several different boxes of photos.

Christmas card photos in Project Life album

I trimmed most of the photos to either 3×4″ or 4×6″, but a few were smaller, so I just attached them to cardstock with washi tape. Then I slipped them in the pockets. At the beginning of each year’s photos, I added a simple card that I designed and printed with the year on it. I didn’t worry about starting a new year on a new page. That graphic card with high contrast will make it obvious where a new year begins.

Christmas card photos in Project Life album

I’m not ready to tuck the most recent photos into an album yet, but I’m prepped for the day when it’s time to put the 2013 cards away.

Christmas card photos in Project Life album

Becky Higgins wrote a great blog post on New Years Day about saving and organizing your cards in this way, so I’d recommend checking it out if you’re considering doing this.

I’m planning to dedicate one album to Christmas card photos so that we can pull it out each year in December and look at how much our friends — especially the kids! — have changed from year to year.

Also, I’m considering making the year cards available as a printable. If you’re interested, let me know in the comments.

the rest of Zippy’s December adventures

There’s no subtle way to sneak in a blog post about our Elf on the Shelf in January, is there? Now that the new year has arrived, nobody is blogging about Christmas any more, but I still wanted to share these photos of the rest of Zippy’s adventures in December.

Taking his cues from the Chicago Blackhawks, Zippy bottled some snow from the North Pole. The little bottles would be great for stocking stuffers, but the price was pretty steep.

Elf on the Shelf: bottled snow from the North Pole

Such a thoughtful elf! Zippy packaged up some Christmas gifts for his little elf friends — John, Simon, and Lucky. I hope they reached their destinations before Christmas!

Elf on the Shelf: shipping tiny Christmas gifts

Prior to Christmas Eve, we stacked up the gifts on the landing of our stairs so that 1-year-old Ethan wouldn’t be too tempted by them. I guess Zippy’s curiosity got the best of him!

Elf on the Shelf: headfirst into a gift bag

Zippy took advantage of the snowy weather and enjoyed some snow tubing.

Elf on the Shelf: snow tubing

How many hex nuts can you stack with a candy cane? I planned The Nutstacker game for the 5th grade party at school, but none of the teams stacked as many as Zippy did!

Elf on the Shelf: nutstacker game

Zippy must have gotten confused when the weather got warm for a few days. We finally found him in the toy closet, sitting on the Phillie Phanatic’s lap and telling him what he wanted for Christmas.

Elf on the Shelf: telling the Phillie Phanatic what he wants for Christmas

If an elf plays Christmas carols in the forest, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Elf on the Shelf: playing piano

On Christmas Eve morning, Zippy’s last day in Pennsylvania, we found him cramming for the big night by reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Elf on the Shelf: reading Twas the Night Before Christmas

See you next December, Zippy!


what our Elf on the Shelf has been up to

I’d love to have an elf who helps me blog when I’m up to my earlobes in Christmas projects, but Zippy doesn’t seem to be the blogging type. (Maybe it’s the lack of opposable thumbs?)

When Ethan celebrated his first birthday, Zippy spent the whole day in Ethan’s bedroom — wearing a shiny little party hat, of course.

Elf on the Shelf party hat

The flyer for the annual Men’s Breakfast at church didn’t say anything about inviting your elf, so Zippy whipped up his own little feast.

Elf on the Shelf makes pancakes

Even elves need a day of rest.

elf on the shelf resting

Snowballs for sale! Zippy is such an enterprising little elf.

Elf on the Shelf - snowballs for sale

Uh-oh, Zippy!

Elf on the Shelf - rolled down the stairs in a toilet paper roll

It looks like Zippy was hoping one of the kids would choose to take him to school for snack time!

Elf on the Shelf in our snack drawer

Zippy’s friends Simon and Buddy are such a good influence on him! Apparently he decided to follow their example and just sit on the shelf like a well-behaved elf for once.

Elf on the Shelf with the gingerbread house

No fair! Zippy is getting his Christmas cards sent out before ours!

Elf on the Shelf sends Christmas cards

Nice try, Zippy. We all know that huge box isn’t for you!

Elf on the Shelf thinks the large box is for him

Zippy must have thought the baby gate at the top of the stairs was an amusement park ride. He spent the whole day swinging back and forth, and didn’t even throw up.

Elf on the Shelf swinging on the baby gate

Over the weekend Hayden found his missing wallet. I guess Zippy got tired of hearing Hayden announce how much money he still needs to buy an iPod…

Elf on the Shelf wallet thief

For daily updates on Zippy’s antics, you can follow me on Instagram. I’m rachelswartley.

the story of Zippy, our Elf on the Shelf

Elf on the Shelf: paper chain countdown

There’s a story that unfolds at our house each December. It’s the story of Zippy, our Elf on the Shelf. This is Zippy’s third year with us, and he showed up right on time on December 1. The best thing about his arrival this year is that he brought along the tiniest little paper chain to count down the days until Christmas!

The next morning we found him hiding in the silverware drawer. Good thing there were a few serving spoons in the dishwasher! Even though I knew he was in there, he surprised me every time I opened the drawer.

Elf on the Shelf in the silverware drawer

On Tuesday morning,  Hayden found it a bit challenging to get out of his bedroom. Fortunately, Zippy had been kind to me and didn’t put the streamers TOO low…

Elf on the Shelf tapes streamers across the door

Elf on the Shelf hangs streamers

When the kids were getting their breakfast on Wednesday morning, they found Zippy in the pantry, poking his head out of a cereal box. He looks taller than the girl beside him, but it’s probably just the hat.

Elf on the Shelf measures his height on the cereal box

This one is my fault. I’ve been making chocolate covered pretzels, and last night I left the nonpareils on the counter where Zippy could reach them. That’ll teach me!

Elf on the Shelf makes snow angels in nonpareils

The kids have been wondering what kinds of things Zippy will help me with this year. They remember that one year he wrapped a gift, and one time he baked some tiny cookies. So Zippy, if you’re reading this, there’s a huge pile of laundry that needs to be folded…