Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rice Bags - A Tutorial

Rice bags have become a must-have for our house. They can be used to soothe sore muscles, warm cold feet, ice bumps and bruises, and even help relieve headaches. The rice holds both heat and cold, so you can warm these bags in the microwave to turn them into heating pads or keep one in the freezer to use in place of an ice pack if somebody gets injured. The best part about these rice bags is that they are cheap and simple to make!

I use a few different methods to create these bags, but I'll share the one I think looks the best when finished. To make a rice bag like the one above, you need to start with a rectangular piece of fabric. My rectangle for this tutorial measured approximately 11 inches x 17 inches, which made a bag that is approx 5.5 x 16, but you can use whatever size you prefer. We have several sizes and shapes of these bags in the house.

You can also use different types of fabric. Here, I'm using duck fabric. Natural fibers are recommended, since these will be going into the microwave and synthetic fibers can sweat. And PLEASE don't use any fabrics made with metallic threads. Metal and microwaves just don't play nicely together.

Fold your fabric lengthwise, right sides facing together, and pin along the long edge.

Sew along that edge, making a tube of fabric. When making these bags, I like to do a double seam. This way, there's a back up in case one seam fails. Let's face it - nobody wants to clean a floor covered with rice that fought its way out of the bag. I made these seams with 1/4" and 3/8" seam allowances. And since I'm using a fabric that unravels pretty badly, I also used a zig zag stitch along the very edge to help combat that. Fray Stop would have worked, but I ran out several projects ago and just can't seem to remember to pick more up when I'm at the store.

Now adjust your seam so that it's in the center of your fabric tube and press it.

Fold just one end over one inch and press it down.

Time to head back over to your sewing machine. Sew the unfolded end closed. I used the same double seam and zig zag stitch I mentioned above.

Now turn your tube right side out. Use something with a dull point (oxymoron?) to get those corners nice and pointy.

Top stitch a double seam along the closed end of your bag, again at 1/4" and 3/8". This is not needed for functionality, but it will make your bag symmetric when you're finished. You'll see what I mean.

Before I proceeded, I used a zig zag stitch along that last unfinished edge that had been folded over, then tucked that little flap back down inside my bag. You can skip this step if you're not using a fabric that frays so badly (I only do with when using duck fabric).

Now it's time to add the rice. Don't use instant rice for this. You can use corn (not popcorn!), beans, or any other grain to fill these bags, too. I've heard that barley works great, but I haven't tried it yet.

You don't want to fill the bag too full. I only fill the bags about halfway. This leaves the rice plenty of room to move around and form to whatever part of your body you are applying it to. For a bag this size, I used about 4 cups of rice.

Now it's time to pin those folded under ends of your tube together.

Sew a double seam here, with the same allowances you've used throughout the project. This end will look just like the other end and you are done!

 As I mentioned before, these can be made in all different sizes and shapes. Below are a few of them that we use here at my house. The long one is almost 2 feet long and is great for applying heat to sore backs or necks. The medium sized ones are my daughter's favorites. She heats them before bed and puts them under the blanket down by her feet. Nice toasty toes! The little denim one are the perfect size to heat up and put in your coat pockets if you need to go out for a while on a cold day. All of them can double as cold compresses, too. Since I run a daycare, I can never have too many of those around! No matter what you use them for most often, I can almost guarantee that once you start using these rice bags you'll never want to be without one again!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Random Rambling: I Took Me on a Date

The other night was a big night for me. I dropped my daughter off at a party and made arrangements for my friend to go pick her up later. I got myself all dressed up. I put on makeup and styled my hair. And then I took myself on a date.

A dear friend of mine was performing in a play at a local theater Saturday night, and I really wanted to attend. I was pretty hesitant to go alone, though, since I was convinced I would feel awkward. I mean...everyone goes out to things like that in couples or groups, right? Okay maybe not everyone, but that's how it seemed inside my head. The only places I go when I'm alone are the store or for a run at a park or bike trail. Going out strictly for entertainment has never been an option when I'm not with someone else.

I decided to face my fear of whatever it was that had kept me from enjoying the town on my own. (To be honest, I almost called myself to cancel because I was so afraid of....of....of I don't know what!) But then I made the conscious decision that I would go out and enjoy myself. Call me vain, but I didn't want to go out looking like the pitiful girl who couldn't get a date, so I made sure I was looking and feeling good before I left the house.

I went to a little sandwich shop to get something to eat and made small talk with the cashier while I was there. I ate my meal and headed to the theater. I got there a little early and the doors hadn't opened yet, so I was standing in the lobby with a few other people. And of course, those people were in groups of 2 or more. I spent the next couple of minutes fighting the urge to pull out my phone and entertain myself with facebook or by texting or calling a friend.

After a few minutes, though, I noticed a woman who looked to be in her 60's and who was standing alone. I assumed her husband must be in the restroom and would join her shortly. I made eye contact and smiled at her. She smiled back. Several minutes passed and she was still standing alone, so I walked over to her and struck up a conversation. Turns out she was solo that night, too.

WHAT?!? You mean I'm not the only one who came to this play alone? Who would've thought? (Yes, I know...many people would have thought. But I wasn't one of them.)

After talking with this sweet woman (whose name was Linda) for about five minutes, the doors to the theater opened. Linda asked if she could sit with me. I smiled and said, "Of course!" We sat ourselves in the front row and continued to chat about our children, our jobs, and a multitude of other topics right up until the performance began. She had shared with me that her husband passed away a few years back and that it had taken her a while to be okay with going out alone. I shared with her that my ex-husband had left over 4 years ago and this was the first time I had treated myself to a night out alone. She encouraged me to continue doing so.

I truly believe that I was supposed to meet Linda that night. Even though she was a complete stranger and I will most likely never see her again, she made my entire evening comfortable and enjoyable.

Oh...I have to add that the play itself made my evening enjoyable, too. I wouldn't want my friend thinking otherwise!  (Hi were great!) Of course, the most entertaining part of the play was when one poor actress had a wardrobe malfunction and her skirt fell to the floor! She was brilliant, though....she laughed and remained completely in character while fixing her clothes and covering herself again. I had been worried that dating myself would be awkward, but she most DEFINITELY had a more awkward night than I did!

Since Saturday night, I've been thinking about what I can take away from my date with myself. At first I was wondering if I had failed at my self-date since it had pretty much turned into a date with Linda. But then I realized that's exactly what should happen when I go out alone. After all, I didn't go out with the purpose of isolating myself. I went out for the sake of having a good time without needing a friend by my side. I chatted with a few different people, and I connected well with one in particular. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Before I had headed to the theater, I had updated my facebook status to say that I was taking myself on a date. I logged in later to find a couple of cute responses about calling myself back in the morning and single female friends offering to go on dates with me. Then one person made the following comment: "Aww, you'll find somebody special one day." That struck a nerve with me, since the point of my post hadn't been to whine that I was single. I may meet someone one day...I truly hope to marry again and have more kids. But I don't want anyone pitying me simply because I went out alone. For now, I am my somebody special.

My experience with dating myself taught me 2 things:

1. I need to do that again....regularly!


2.  I like me enough to want to hang out with me. That realization gives me confidence like never before!

I definitely plan to make dating myself a regular part of my life. I'll be sure to let you know if anything interesting happens the next time I date me!

And now that you made it to the end of this rather long ramble, check out this AMAZING spoken word video interpretation about being alone:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Whole Chicken in the Crock Pot: Part 2

The other day, I posted about cooking a whole chicken in the crock pot. Today I'm going to show you what I do after the chicken is finished.

First things first, we eat whichever pieces of the chicken we like best. I usually go for breast meat, while my 12 year old eats the dark meat. Since there are only 2 of us in the house, we don't even eat half of the chicken. So after we eat I remove the rest of the chicken from the bone (it falls right off) and shred it.

That's a lot of leftover meat!

I put the chicken into freezer bags in 1-2 cup portions, and then freeze it. I use shredded chicken in a lot of different dishes and it's wonderful to just go to the freezer and grab a bag of chicken that has already been cooked...definitely a time saver on busy evenings!

Even after getting all the meat off the bones, I'm not finished. I put all the bones back into the crock pot, along with coarsely chopped onions, carrots, and celery (the juices are still in there from when the chicken was cooking, too). I then fill the crock pot with water, turn it on low, and let it simmer overnight and into the next day. After 12-24 hours, you will have the most flavorful broth ever...and it has far less sodium than canned broth you buy at the grocery store!

Strain out the bones, veggies, etc. and pour the broth into containers to cool. DO NOT put the very hot broth straight into your fridge, as that will throw off the temperature of the rest of the food in there. Let it cool on the counter first, then transfer it to the fridge.

Once the broth has chilled, the fat in the broth will form a thin layer across the top. Just use a spoon to remove that. I then pour the broth into quart-size freezer bags and freeze them. Now instead of buying and using canned broth in recipes, I can just grab a bag of my homemade broth from the freezer whenever I need some. Easy AND fugal!

One more tip - lay the baggies flat as they freeze. Once they're frozen solid, you can stack them up or you can stand them on end like books on a bookshelf. It's just easier to make them fit into a crowded freezer when they're frozen this way.

Stay tuned....I'll be sharing some of my shredded chicken recipes in the near future!