home spaces

Creative Scarfing for Your Home!


Thank you, Modify viewing audience, who read the last blog post, “Who Knew? You Decide!” After all the work and research that went into that article, I was more than ready for some fun this week. We are about to take a detour from serious writing to creative sharing…and the topic is pillows!!

Pillows and lots of pillows have been the trend for a number of years! There are sophisticated home décor pillows as well as seasonal pillows that celebrate fall, winter, spring, summer and all the holidays throughout the year. Theme pillows in children’s rooms reflect what they love and what is popular and trending in their age group, too. There comes a point when the pillows that are no longer favored begin to take up storage only to buy new pillows to meet changing trends and décor taste. Problem! Solution??

Introducing pillow scarfing, a no-sew option

While at the mall the other day I went into Crate and Barrel. Browsing through the store fullsizeoutput_4858I came across beautiful cloth napkins. The fabric is sturdy and the designs are awesome! The size is perfect at 19” x 19”. Always thinking about repurposing, I thought these napkins would make great pillow covers!! I bought two and the photo shows the result after using my existing pillows (16” x 16”), which needed refreshing. As the photo shows, a print cloth fabric is used for the front and a solid gray cloth napkin for the back, making this a reversible pillow. Below is an illustration of the steps to create this look.

A seam ripper was used to put holes below the seam line in the fabric along the top, sides, and bottom. You can also use pointy sharp scissors. A wire ribbon was then threaded through. If the pillow is going to be in reach of youngsters and pets, suggest a non-wire ribbon, although you might need larger holes in the fabric to thread the ribbon through. You can add more holes along the top and side eN4AoWJQSXmoOVY9LyT+1gborders for ribbon but I tend to prefer a shabby chic look so having slight openings on the sides of the pillow works. Another great look is putting holes above the seam line and using twine. A longer strand of twine can be twisted in the center to hang a decorative button as an embellishment. When you want to change out the fabric pattern, perhaps during the holidays, untie, fold and put the existing covers away and replace with holiday theme cloth napkins, either reusing the ribbon or twine or adding new ribbon. The pillow forms remain! NOTE: I found it easiest to pin the cloth napkins to the pillow and then mark and make hole openings.

How do you use this concept for children theme pillows? There are a few ways to go about this.

  • Iron theme appliqués to solid colored cloth napkins.
  • Use theme fleece fabric as the printed side with solid colored fabric (or cloth napkins) on the backside, either ironing a ¼ inch seam to the unfinished edge or leaving the edge unfinished, as fleece won’t unravel.
  • Use cotton theme fabric purchased at the yardage store. Click Here for an example at Joann Fabrics. Steam iron a ¼ seam. You can use no-sew seam tape or fabric glue to keep the seam in place, if you prefer. I found both no-sew adhesive products at Walmart. See links to Resources below.

Other Options

  • Use décor printed pillowcase. Place the pillow on the case, and pin mark for a 1-inch allowance. Cut down the center of the pillow case starting from the finished cuffed edge. Place the pillow in the case to the pin. Place pillow in the case and tie at the top. You can also place the pillow in the center to pin mark one-inch allowance on either side to tie at both ends. The photo shows an example of tied at one end.
  • Sew a button to hang embellishments. Shown in the center photo above is a Christmas ornament hanging from the button.
  • Take a favorite fabric and fold, iron, and tie as shown below using plaid fabric. The result in the pillow as shown above, on the bed.

These pillow scarf projects are perfect for kids to get creative and make their own, although if cutting holes is needed in the fabric to thread ribbon or twine, reserve this task for ADULTS only. Seam rippers and sharp scissors can be dangerous for a child’s hands.

If you enjoy décor pillows as much as I do, and you are looking to save on storage and $$, creative pillow scarfing can be a unique way to have some fun and create your own theme and seasonal pillows!


Life Lesson

Who Knew? You Decide!


A few years ago I discovered wax melts and the amazing aroma from these “fire safe” and beautiful warmers. After purchasing three wax melt units, I placed them strategically throughout my home to optimize seasonal fragrances. Many scents have been enjoyed from spring fresh, summer floral, fall cozy spice to winter pines!!! Although the home always had an incredible seasonal scent, fast forward 2 1/2 years and I’m beginning to have concerns. Is there a possible connection to health issues tracing back to the time we began using, almost daily, scented wax melts and candles? My husband and I, both, have had occasional coughing, sore dry throats, headaches, fatigue, followed by daily morning congestion and most concerning, my husband’s heartbeat irregularity, which eventually led to an **Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) diagnosis. During the past 3 weeks I began searching scientific studies about the safety of home air fresheners, specifically scented wax melts and candles. At that time we also stopped using these air fresheners in our home and soon began to notice a remarkable difference in our overall wellbeing. Coughing and clearing throats slowly ceased. Congestion has cleared. My husband hasn’t had a headache. And most amazing, he hasn’t had ANY AFib occurrences. Coincidence? Did the accumulation of daily use contribute to our symptoms? The following shares some interesting findings to equip you with information about synthetic fragrance and wax products, paraffin and soy. If you are currently using these products, you can then decide whether or not to continue. Home air fresheners, wax melts, scented candles, and/or plug-ins, daily use, could especially effect elderly, small children and infants.

Key Definitions

Click this HYPERLINKED PDF before you continue… Key Definitions – Who Knew_ You Decide! – 


#1 Concern –Ingredients are not listed on wax melt and candle labels. Reviewing all products I have on hand, only one company provided an ingredient list, which was vague at best…Wax, Fragrance, UV Stabilizer and Dye. Air Fresheners, candles and wax melts are regulated by The Consumer Product Safety Commission (not the FDA) and ingredients on labels are not required. FDA Regulations states “Other products using essential oils, candles and air fresheners aren’t regulated by the FDA. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is responsible for keeping the industry safe and honest.”

#2 ConcernSynthetic Fragrance is used in many home products such as spray air fresheners, plug-ins, candle wax melts, scented candles, car fresheners, to personal care products, household cleaning products and laundry detergents. Such fragrances are made of synthetic oils in order to offer a wide variety of scents at a much cheaper price point. Synthetic fragrance can be toxic. In a study conducted by Atm.Environ.552012257 (conclusion page 7), scented candles surpassed the toxicity rate of the unscented paraffin based products. “The study of emissions among scented candles concluded the fragrance had more to contribute to toxic emissions than the paraffin wax.” If given a choice, lighting an unscented paraffin candle might be the better option! Synthetic fragrance oils use styrene and Phthalates. Dr. Axe, Dangers of Synthetic Scents …notes the following. This article also includes a comprehensive listing of products that include synthetic fragrance oils, toxic chemicals used, and its potential health impact.

“Sadly, styrene is just one of many ingredients linked to cancer being used to create artificial fragrance. Phthalates are another group of chemicals often disguised as “fragrance.” They are connected to cancer, endocrine disruption as well as developmental and reproductive toxicity. These dangerous synthetics are already banned from cosmetics in the European Union, but are still quite common in products produced and sold in the United States. Phthalates often hide under the “fragrance” ingredient, but they can also appear on ingredient lists as phthalate, DEP, DBP, and DEHP. Be sure to avoid all of those. Dangers of synthetic scents include cancer, asthma, kidney Damage and more.”

#3 Concern – Essential oils, although recommended over synthetic fragrances, can also trigger reactions. Surprisingly…”Oxidized lavender oil showed among the highest frequencies of contact allergy to studied essential oils.”Medical Journal  Essential oils come with warnings about recommended use and storage. And, not all essential oils are created equal, having different purity levels. Before using these oils in your home, whether in candles or by popular diffusers, do your research and perhaps consult with your physician. Some scents are particularly harmful to pets, as noted in Are Essential Oils Harmful to Cats and Dogs? by Amanda Carrozza. This article provides a helpful toxicity list along with a warning about using diffusers, which could be overwhelming to pets having a higher sensitivity to smell. Essential Oil Safety (and Are Essential Oil Diffusers Safe?)  is another good resource reviewing essential oils and their safe use.

#4 Concern – Heat changes the chemical composition of oils, synthetic fragrance and essential oils, and it is not advisable because of potentially toxic particle matter that can be emitted in the air and inhaled. Particulate Matter (PM) (pollution) is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets that get into the air. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects.

#5 Concern – Paraffin wax is predominately used in candles and wax melts, especially those that are bargain priced! Paraffin is a by-product of petroleum and found that paraffin-based candles — the most popular kind — emitted toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene. The sources below provide; a history of paraffin wax, its raw material make-up, and the chemicals used in wax products such as candles and wax melts.

#6 Concern – Study Conclusions

Product Material Quality

Emissions Of Air Pollutants From Scented Candles Burning In A Test Chamber Atmospheric Environment, Volume 55, August 2012, Pages 257-262 “It has been found that BTEX and PAHs emission factors show large differences among different candles, possibly due to the raw paraffinic material used, while aldehydes emission factors seem more related to the presence of additives.”

Emission Of Air Pollutants From Burning Candles with Different Composition in Indoor Environments, March 2014, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 4320–4330 “In this regard, the purity of the raw materials and additives used can play a key role. Consequently, in this work emission factors for some polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, aromatic species, short-chain aldehydes and particulate matter have been determined for container candles constituted by different paraffin waxes burning in a test chamber. It has been found that wax quality strongly influences the air pollutant emissions.”

Heat and Smoldering – National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP), Fine Particle Matter Emissions From Candles “Most tests revealed low PM emission rate except two, in which excessive sooting occurred and the PM concentration approached 1000 J.Lg/m3 with six and nine burning wicks, respectively. Wax breakthrough significantly increased the PM emission rate. Smoldering generated more fine PM than several hours of normal burning, causing very high concentrations in a short period of time, which raises concern over potentially acute health effects, especially for children and the elderly.”

Frequency of Use – Emission of Air Pollutants from Burning Candles with Different Composition in Indoor Environments, Atm.Environ.552012257… “Burning of candles in indoor environments can release a large number of toxic chemicals, including acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (Lau et al., 1997; USEPA, 2001; Lee and Wang, 2006; Orecchio, 2011). It is believed that regular burning of several candles in indoor environments can expose people to harmful amounts of organic chemicals (USEPA, 2001).”

Synthetic Fragrances Emission of Air Pollutants from Burning Candles with Different Composition in Indoor Environments, Atm.Environ.552012257 “It has been found that the BTEX and PAHs emission factors show large differences in similar candles without any clear correlations. On the other hand, aldehydes emission factors are quite similar for all the candles, leading to the conclusion that such emissions are mainly related to the presence of a fragrance rather than to the other candle parameters. This has been confirmed by the experiments carried out using candles made by pure paraffin, where almost no emissions of aldehydes have been found. Moreover, a data scattering among the three paraffins investigated even larger than that found for the scented candles is evident for BTEX and PAHs emission factors. This seems to indicate that the kind of raw material rather than the additives determines BTEX and PAH emissions.”

Studies That Refute Health Concerns

In a study titled, Human health risk evaluation of selected VOC, SVOC and particulate emissions from scented candlesevaluated consumer health risks with candle emissions measuring particle matter and their thresholds of toxicity. The conclusion was that under normal conditions the use of scented candles do not pose known health risks to the consumer. I have found that studies which support the use of scented candles also indicate use in well ventilated areas, assume candles are not used by consumers on a daily basis, and consumers are not exposed to candle emissions 24 hours each day.

Consumer Frequency and Exposure Human health risk evaluation of selected VOC, SVOC and particulate emissions from scented candles,“Despite this overall favorable first tier assessment, it remains important to provide a more realistic understanding of potential consumer exposures. Typically, candles are not used by consumers on a daily basis. Neither are consumers exposed to candle emissions for 24 h each day. Modeling of potential consumer exposures to a group of surrogate compounds including formaldehyde, benzene, limonene and particulate matter using consumer research based habits and practice information revealed consumer exposures that were approximately 10 times below those values derived under the overly conservative standard assumptions which were used in the first Tier. Accordingly, all measured compound emissions including indoor or ambient air quality guideline values or established toxicity thresholds (see Table 10). On the basis of this investigation, it was concluded that under normal and foreseeable use conditions, the use of scented candles does not pose a safety concern to the consumer.”

Negating Health Risks Report on the Ökometric Wax and Emissions Study  “A new, internationally funded study on candle emissions has confirmed that well-made candles of all major wax types exhibit the same clean burning behavior, and pose no discernible risks to human health or indoor air quality.”

Allergic Reactions and Sensitivity National Candle Association FAQ – “Although millions of Americans regularly use scented candles without any negative effects, it is always possible that a particular fragrance might trigger a negative reaction in sensitive individuals. Individuals with known sensitivities to specific fragrances may want to avoid candles of those scents. In addition, consumers should remember to burn all candles, whether scented or unscented, in a well-ventilated area.”   

This post simply scratches the surface of all the sources available that shed light on this debated topic about the possible health implications with air fresheners using synthetic fragrances along with a variety of wax types and quality. After much work on this post I’m left with some remaining questions…

  • Chemicals heated by warmers or flame (candle)…is there an increased toxicity level and health risk from the change in oil composition, which we could be inhaling as Particulate Matter (PM)?
  • Is it possible PM toxin levels increase when wax color dyes are combined and burned with synthetic fragrances (candle and wax melts)?
  • Has a study been conducted on the accumulation effect, using these products frequently over a period of time and its health impact? (See blog article Medical Mayhem, 6.20.17…my reaction to fish oil supplement. Even though the manufacturer eventually assured me that the wheat ingredient was within FDA requirements, I still became very ill after 30 days, from the accumulation effect of daily intake.)
  • National Candle Association recommendation is for use in well ventilated areas, but there is no indication why ventilation is required if the product has been tested safe? (The labels on a few of my candles indicate…”avoid drafty areas.”
  • Normal use is often recommended in studies that refute health risk claims. What is normal use and if the product has been tested safe then why is there a “use” restriction?
  • Labeling on the products I own do not include frequency use recommendations or instruction for use in well ventilated areas. If these recommendations are so important for health safety, shouldn’t they be printed on product labels?

Who knew the amount of studies conducted and articles published (internet accessible), discussing and debating home air fresheners and potential health risks! Always, I am a firm believer, if something doesn’t make you feel well…then stop. My husband and I now feel great being an air freshener free home. The faux candles we have will suffice for ambiance. This past weekend (outdoor temperatures being a balmy 55-60 degrees) we opened windows to fragrance our home…with fresh air! When you can experience a remarkable difference in how you physically feel by staying clear of chemical based products, this becomes a debate you clearly WIN! If an ingredient list is not included on your air freshener product, you may want to pass on the purchase, not knowing what chemicals might be lurking in the product itself. Many studies conducted to-date arrive at different conclusions about the toxicity of synthetic fragrances and waxes. Take control, be informed, and make your own decisions on what is best for you and your family. You decide!

**I do not claim nor is there any scientific proof that specifically links air fresheners/scented wax melts and candles to being the root cause of AFib. What we do know is that once these products were no longer used in our home, there has not been an incident of AFib. The question is, can daily exposure to toxic substances identified in the studies of synthetic fragrances and waxes, referenced in this post, be contributing factors that trigger AFib events; BTEX (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, Xylene), PAHS (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons), Aldehydes (Formaldehyde and Acrolein) and VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds)? A study posted by the American Journal of Cardiologists concludes that acute exposure to air pollution, can acutely trigger AFib.  Acute exposure to air pollution triggers AFib.


Life Lesson

When To Call It?…making decisions during a health crisis


The New Year began with an adrenaline rush and not the preferred kind! Monday, January 5th, waking up to the start of the official New Year workweek, Marsha and her husband, Jack, enjoyed their morning routine of freshly brewed coffee while discussing current news and work related business. All seemed to be typical and uneventful. An hour later the ambiance in their home became tense. Jack confesses he has been having chest pains since 5 AM and the discomfort is getting worse. Breathing has become more difficult accompanied by a feeling of nausea and dizziness. He recently had a full physical and heart check and everything was great. What to do?? Planning for an emergency is not on most people’s radar. We all like to believe the sudden onset of concerning symptoms shouldn’t happen to those who are health proactive, have routine medical checks and are not at the age to be affected by such emergencies. This couple admits to being awestruck…do we push the emergency button (911), drive to the ER, or call our family practice doctor?? Let’s look at what the experts advise when a health emergency is in progress.

Emergency 101, When to call 911, offers an excellent guide. This is a great resource to print out and keep someplace handy for all those living in the home (children included) to know and understand. HR departments within companies should have something similar available to employees, visible and easily accessible throughout the office. This article defines a medical emergency as follows:

“A medical emergency is an event that you reasonably believe threatens your or someone else’s life or limb in such a manner that immediate medical care is needed to prevent death or serious impairment of health. A medical emergency includes severe pain, bad injury, a serious illness, or a medical condition that is quickly getting much worse.”

So often, to avoid embarrassment if the concern is ultimately nothing serious, people justify symptoms and avoid calling 911. Well, I would much rather deal with embarrassment than death or physical implications or a lengthy recovery time by waiting too long! It is important to know that when the 911 call is made, dispatch will ask questions to assess the medical emergency, taking the pressure off you, offering wise advice with next steps if paramedics are necessary. The arriving paramedics will also assess the emergency. Non-responsive, chest pains, difficulty breathing, profuse bleeding or severe allergic reactions are reasons to call 911, which often leads to paramedics bringing the patient to the ER.

Before paramedics arrive if the emergency is at a residence location, unlock your front door and place all pets in a safe place (another room with the door closed or the backyard) to avoid interferences. Either have a list handy of all current medications including vitamins and herbal treatments the patient is taking or place all bottles on the counter. Immediately notify EMTs of any allergies. They will need to know this information. Medical Emergency? Help the EMTs Help You as well as Insider’s Guide to the Emergency Room offer great advice. And, stay calm. If you are calm, the patient being attended to will also be calm (if conscious) and therefore share with greater accuracy symptoms and timing of what transpired. The paramedic team will then be able to better assess what is going on with the patient for proper treatment, quickly and thoroughly. If you struggle with calm in such a situation, let the patient and paramedics know you are leaving the room so the team can do their job and where you will be for questions and update status. Marsha took this approach and a paramedic knocked on her bedroom door to ask further questions, share the initial assessment and to let her know which ER Jack was being taken. The main highway was closed that morning and therefore side roads had to be taken. Knowing this greatly troubled Marsha. One of the paramedics gave needed assurance…”once in the ambulance he will get all the emergency care he needs while en-route.” The message here is to know the paramedics will provide necessary medical care in the ambulance, like a mobile mini ER, and also prepare the hospital medical staff for the patient’s arrival.

Before heading to the ER, be sure you have a copy of the HIPAA Release and Authorization Form. If you don’t currently have this document, you can print out this page by clicking, HIPAA Release and Authorization Form. If you also don’t have an Advance Healthcare Directive, contact your estate planning attorney or visit the Everplans website, which offers a wealth of information. The American Bar Association provides an informative overview, Myths and Facts About Health Care Advance Directives.  Additional resources can be found on my blog post Must Have “Unexpected” Plan, May 30, 2017. To have quick access to your HIPAA form and health directives, you might consider the following.

  • Best case is to bring copies of these signed forms to your local hospital to scan into their database in advance, where it needs to be.
  • Your physicians should also have a copy on file.
  • Another idea is to scan the Heath Directive and HIPAA signed form and email it to yourself. Save in a “Medical Emergency” email folder. When needed, wherever you might be, you can retrieve the document easily at any medical facility.

As you get ready to go to the ER, be sure to have the patient’s medical insurance card and drivers license (state ID card), if the patient left without this information. Suggest you also pack your (and the patient’s) cell phone and charger as well as a few power bars or fruit and bottled water, as you could be facing a very long day or night. If possible, consider having a friend drive. Even if you feel fine to drive on your own, the focus might be on the patient and not the road, overcome with all the “what ifs”. Marsha was fortunate a friend was already waiting for her when paramedics left and another friend, in the medical profession, was at the hospital when she arrived.

Patience is a virtue and you will need lots of patience. ER visits are usually long, whether the patient arrives by vehicle or ambulance. Consider waiting time to be seen, patient prep, evaluation, tests scheduled and results reviewed for a diagnosis. HIPAA doesn’t allow walking around the ER where patients are located, for privacy reasons, so you can’t pace the halls. ER room etiquette is required. 50 Secrets the Emergency Room Staff Won’t Tell You by Readers Digest will fill you in on the dos and don’ts of being at the Emergency.  It’s important to communicate accurately and with clarity, either on behalf of the patient or by the patient directly, to the attending ER physician and nurses. They cannot, otherwise, guess your symptoms or discern treatment and next steps when facts are left out or perhaps, embellished facts added in. Before you are discharged, if you are not admitted, the following is a summary of questions from the article, An Insider’s Guide to the Emergency Room, that is helpful.

  • Ask for contact numbers in case you feel worse later.
  • Review symptoms that would require heading back to the ER that you should know in advance.
  • Review the discharge paperwork and at-home care instructions and do ask questions, if you have any.
  • Ask about the medication you might be prescribed. How long to be on the medicine? What are the possible side effects? Will it interfere with other drugs, herbal treatments, and/or vitamins?
  • Ask about activities that you might need to avoid?
  • Follow up? When and with whom? Do you make the appointment or did the ER physician already contact the follow-up physician, and the name and contact information of this physician.

Emergency services are in place for true emergencies. The following from Do You Practice Proper Emergency Room Etiquette outlines considerations when a health issue arises that does not involve heart/chest pains, difficulty breathing, unstoppable bleeding, severe allergic reactions, or a severed or severely fractured limb.

  • Contact your primary care office, physician or local hospital advice line and discuss the situation if possible.
  • Utilize urgent care facilities or walk-in clinics for non-emergent situations.
  • Keep up with preventative care (such as physicals, shots and vaccinations, and annual screenings) to prevent necessity of emergent care.
  • Discuss care plans with your doctor and be well educated about any and all of your chronic conditions to reduce chances of requiring emergency care.

In the case of this couple, the emergency room visit ended well. It was not a heart attack, although symptoms led first responders to feel that it could be. The source of the problem remains unknown awaiting results from further follow up tests. It appears, however, symptoms may have been triggered by a severe reaction to a recently prescribed medication. This whole incident also could have been a heart issue, regardless of age or physical fitness. When symptoms match professional advice to call 911, this is when to call it! Many of us are guilty of being our own specialist when it comes to making decisions about our body. Don’t be this person. Be informed and prepared to make the best emergency decisions for you, and also for your family, friends or work colleagues. You never know when you’ll be in the position to take such a lead that could save someone’s life, including your own.

Note: This is a true story that happened January 5, 2018 and shared with permission. Names have been changed to follow HIPAAprivacy requirements.


Food & Drink

In An Instant…even grandma would approve👍

The New Year is a great time for fresh starts with high hopes and enthusiasm for wise meal planning and grocery shopping. Often times, however, when we exit the month of January our excitement for nutritious meals is also left behind. Although we have the desire to prepare quick and healthy entrees, soon we may find ourselves slipping back to poor choices and comfortable habits. Why? Too much work. Too much planning. Too tired by dinner time. Too busy. Too hungry and can’t pull it all together when I’m am/family are hungry.

As technology becomes ever so savvy, tech solutions are heading to the kitchen that make it easier to eat healthy. This past month I was able to enjoy getting acquainted with a Christmas present I received…The Instant Pot. And, it appears as if I am not the only one experimenting with this popular appliance although I (and awesome results shared by a friend of mine!) seem to be having better results than some. While working on this post, an article appeared in the WSJ, February 1, 2018, “Why Is American’s Anxiety Rising? The Instant Pot”, noting that Amazon delivered 27,000 Instant Pots in 2017. The article also reveals fear and frustration that many new users are experiencing with the pot. The numbers, though, definitely support what I heard last fall… this appliance is “all the rage” for fast cooking. It is…quite amazing!! Instant Pot website, notes…

If you live a fast-paced, healthy, and eco-friendly lifestyle Instant Pot® is designed for you!

Does some or all of this statement apply to you?

The following shares what I discovered about this appliance and why I love it, how to overcome common reported frustrations, and, inspiring resources to keep your focus on healthy menu choices.

What I love about Instant Pot

  • I can make most healthy hot meals in 12 – 20 minutes. Their claim that cooking is 70% faster, is true!!
  • No chemical coating on the cooking appliance. YES!!
  • This one appliance serves many functions, saving on kitchen cabinet storage.Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Sauté, Steamer and Warmer
  • Numerous available built-in programs (depending on size 3,5,6, or 8 quart) make preparing meals easy.
  • Can make anything from soup/broth, meat/stew, eggs, sauté, rice, porridge, steam pressure cook, keep warm and slow cook your favorite chili, meat dishes and stews to baking breads and cakes.
  • It makes PERFECT risotto in 12 minutes using ½ the broth typically needed and I don’t have to stand over a pot stirring for 25 minutes!! We love risotto in my household so this is a big win!!

Meal planning and grocery shopping for the week can be done on the weekends, for the most part. Mincing and dicing along with purchasing prepackaged sliced vegetables or washing and bagging ahead of time for the following day’s dinner makes it easy to pull a meal together. When dinnertime approaches, I feel as if we can now have our dinner in an instant and it feels good to know we are eating healthy and timely prepared meals.

Common Instant Pot Reported Frustrations

After reading the WSJ article and doing an internet search found these common reported frustrations: burnt food, splattering liquid when using the quick pressure release, curd like results from recipes using dairy as an ingredient, liquid overflow, steam release intimidating spewing out HOT.

Suggestions to avoid frustrations

  • Purchase the right size pot for your cooking needs. Read the capabilities of each Instant Pot available and invest in the size best suited for you – Instant Pot Products. If you are cooking for a family, invest in the 8 qt size.
  • Read the provided manual.
  • Follow the guide in the Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Recipe book that accompanies your appliance.  I found pages 31-37 to be helpful.
  • Watch professional and helpful instruction videos. Visuals are often easier than reading manual instructions. Click here for the menu of free available videos.  This is one of my favorite videos, How To Use An Instant Pot.
  • Only use recipes created for the Instant Pot. This video link offers an impressive menu of video taped recipes . Amazon offers a wide selection of Instant Pot cookbooks.
  • Always, slowly release the steam handle, even though it is called “quick release”. Quick release means it is faster than letting the pot sit for 30 minutes to depressurize on its own.
  • NEVER have children operate this or any appliance and whenever releasing the steam be sure children and pets are not near the pot. Never place your face down looking at the pot when releasing steam. This instruction video, How To Use An Instant Pot offers a good demonstration on steam pressure release.
  • Join the Facebook Instant Pot Community to see how others are successfully using their pot and to share some of your successes, too. This group has 1,230,798 members and 10,000+ new members just in the past 30 days!!

Inspiration for a Healthy Focus 

Years ago I read in a health magazine (wish I could remember the source!) that what we eat and do (or not do) for our bodies today will reflect the condition of our health 10 years from now… good or not so good. Where is your current lifestyle leading you?

If you need to be inspired to get back on a healthier track, visit Wellness Changer 12 Days of Christmas Video Series by Jeanne Wisniewski, BS, NTP, CFT. Jeanne does an outstanding job in these brief yet powerful video segments, sharing information we all need to know about how food and exercise directly affect our health and overall wellbeing. The Wellness Changer website explains the RESTART program and how nutrition, fitness and lifestyle choices can proactively reduce the risk of disease, even those known to be linked to family history. Jeanne is passionate about combining her love for science and clinical research to educate others for life transforming results. If you need inspiration, visit her website and watch the video series! And, whether you live in the Austin Texas area or out of state, call Jeanne for a consultation.

Healthy meals can easily be achieved! Invest in today’s savvy appliances to make meal planning, prep and cooking easier on you. The Instant Pot is one of these kitchen conveniences and it doesn’t need to be intimidating. In fact, pressure-cooking has been around for generations and often a common means of preparing family meals. This cooking option is now coming back in vogue through multi-function appliances, which requires a slight learning curve. The result is fresh, balanced and healthier meals in a fraction of the time that even grandma would approve to accommodate our busy lives! If you need inspiration to maintain enthusiasm for healthy living, surround yourself with educational resources, such as Wellness Changer. Stay focused on the truth that the benefits of your choices today will shape your overall wellness tomorrow.

Resources – Hyperlinked

home spaces

This or that?!?! How to choose between shades of gray.


It seems like yesterday my husband and I were combining apartments to move into our first home as a married couple. Furniture had been accumulated and distinct styles well established having met when I was in my late 20’s and he was in the latter years of 30. It was at this point we experienced our first serious relationship challenge in the midst of falling in love. What furniture remains and which to be given away? New furniture to buy? Traditional or contemporary? Color scheme? Layout? It didn’t take long to realize we are not on the same page. In fact, we are reading different books, so to speak, and each felt better qualified to author on our own!! We couldn’t have been more opposite in our style and preferences, to the point we took our first step back and wondered, “Who are you??” We are now witnessing couples starting their lives together, combining homes and facing a similar dilemma like we encountered 28 years ago. If you fall into this category or know others who do, listed below are some suggestions on how to successfully combine households and still love each other through the process. The information and tips apply even if you choose to use an interior designer.

The Foundation – what you can agree on

Color and Style – Identify 3 preferences most important to each of you. Although you may feel there are more than 3 critical needs for your happiness, you only get 3.

  • Colors and tones you love and hate? Share this information openly and honestly because once you fall in love with something, if it’s on your loved one’s hate list your enthusiasm will be quickly dashed leaving you horribly disappointed!
  • Bold and bright or gentle and serene environment?
  • Traditional and rustic or contemporary with clean lines?
  • Collectors look or minimalist?

There are many design styles today as shown in Design Styles Defined, HGTV. 

Furniture – which stays and which goes?

  • Once all of (1) identified above, select which existing furniture pieces best match look, feel and style?
  • Which pieces of furniture are in the best shape to keep? Often our emotional attachments make items look far better than they truly do!
  • If there is tension around a piece furniture, like a sofa or bedroom set, can you agree to sell it and purchase one that works best for both?

Local Facebook swap social media sites and Next Door are great ways to sell furniture and if on a budget, to find gently used furniture pieces.

Accessories and Artwork

  • Based on agreed to style and choices of (1) and (2) above, which accessories and artwork to keep?
  • If there is a collection of pieces not preferred by the other, can one or two pieces be selected among the grouping and placed in a mutually agreed to area OR be designated to another room, den or office?
  • Which accessories and wall hangings to replace with new finds?

Donate duplicate appliances and other no longer needed items to local charities; an awesome way to serve community. See links under RESOURCES for tips on how to scale back before moving.

The Lead – options to consider

After building your foundation of likes, styles, keeps and donate or sale items and new purchase ideas, it’s best one person take the lead to pull together several plan options for review and selection. Avoid competing efforts.

  • Present 3 options for discussion, after considering and combining each of your preferences that covers color scheme, furniture selection and layout per room, as well as artwork and accessories. This may also include using item(s) temporarily until a new piece(s) can be purchased that meet both your needs and budget.
  • Discuss space function such as…

How many TVs and location. TV in bedrooms or not?

My space, your space. This could be a room or a corner. We all need our space!

Plan ahead of clutter and identify that “drop and go” area. Life often turns into a “drop and go” until items can return to their proper place. Where is your mutually agreed to “drop and go” space?

Contention? Provide an explanation of why one layout might be better over another… open concept preferred or ideal setting for hosting company for an inclusive conversation area, etc. Often rationalization is needed to make sense of a suggestion instead of simply…”because I want it this way.”

  • Arrive at your mutually agreed to selection! Know that modifications can always be made later to make the space work best for both.

The Compromise – choosing between shades of gray

Often times both your ideas will work and it’s best to come to terms when you are simply struggling to choose among slight differences like selecting from a “shades of gray” palette. When space reflects each of you throughout the home, you both can feel at home. Be flexible and willing to compromise. Below are a few examples illustrating a win/win accomplishment after moving into our first townhome.

  • My bedroom set was ultimately chosen for our master bedroom, but, with my husband’s waterbed mattress. (This was a tough compromise for me but I survived!) His bedroom set was placed in the guest room.
  • Our king comforter was in my color scheme and instead of floral we went with his preference of a paisley design.
  • His GINORMOUS stereo speakers (popular at that time) we kept tucked in the fullsizeoutput_470fcorners of the living room, not to be the first glaring items seen as visitors walked through the door.
  • Chose his living room sofa and love seat, basic plain cream color and style, and purchased floral accent pillows to meet my print preference.
  • My living room furniture was placed in a small area off our kitchen instead of dinette table and chairs. Purchased bar stools for the counter, which is all we needed for daily dining at that time.
  • Kept my husband’s dining room set for the designated dining room area and sold my dinette set.

Blending styles can be stressful. And, preferences may not always be about what is right or wrong in a space and might be more about the pull towards preserving individuality. Be aware when choices come down to slight differences and disputing between shades of gray is where you are headed. Understand when it is hard for the other to let go of personal items, especially furnishings that provide a feeling of comfort and security or collections that trigger fond memories. Instead of being divided by the struggle of “this or that”, embrace the adventure to combine style and preferences to create a warm and welcoming home representing who you are, together. Combining homes can be an exciting time when the focus becomes you, the couple, and no longer on you, the individual. Even if you have been a couple for many years, this process can apply when considering an extensive remodel or updating furniture and style. We have found this method to work in many other areas of our marriage as well, when facing decisions that impact our family and relationship. Clearly communicating what is important to meet each of our needs has lead to decisions that benefit us mutually, thriving in our life, together.


Life Lesson

Chasing Lost Mail…what you can do!

Chasing lost mail _edited-1

Mailing carefully selected gifts or greeting cards with personal notes for delivery to those we care about is something most all of us do at some point during the year, especially during the holidays. Companies depend on mail services to conduct business from sending corporate documents to fulfilling customer online and phone ordering. Even though we may consider ourselves to be a “paperless” generation, USPS alone reports 2015 revenue of 68.8 billion with 154.2 billion of processed mail, which proves our dependence on a trustworthy mail service. Not all mail, however, reach intended destinations. This past December I personally heard about a number of mailed packages missing, even with tracking numbers. These lost parcels represent service through USPS, UPS and FedX. It didn’t matter which service carrier was used. Packages went missing. After doing an internet search, missing and lost mail appears to be more common than I thought.

In fiscal year (FY) 2014, the MRC received 88 million items and processed 12 million of those valued at $25 or more. It returned 2.5 million items to customers — a resolution rate of 21 percent of researched items, or 3 percent of total incoming items. Office of Inspector General 

Reading this post you might also be nodding your head “yes”, having experienced lost mail this past year, especially over the holidays. One of my packages mailed on December 8th become MIA when tracking stopped a few days later. The package was finally located January 5th and redirected to the Mail Recovery Center (MRC) in Atlanta, Georgia. MRC is the USPS lost and found center hoping to reunite package with intended recipient.  Tracking a lost package is frustrating especially when having to endure excruciating on holdfrustration-clipart-frustration-clipart-287x187 waiting time to speak with a customer service representative and the end result…hearing what you already know! This post explores how a package can get lost and what we can all do to minimize the risk of lost letters and packages through the mail system.

How did the letter/package get lost?

damaged-box shipping
After speaking with USPS 3 times (average hold time being 1 hour!) listed below are some common reasons parcels can get lost.

  • Damaged package by USPS machines or personnel and the label becomes illegible or separated from the package.
  • The parcel box wasn’t sturdy to handle travel.
  • Letter or parcel slipped behind USPS machinery.
  • Address error made it undeliverable.
  • Intended recipient moved without leaving a forwarding address.

Ideas to reduce the risk of lost mail? 

  • Double check recipient current address. Nine digit zip code search, Click Here.
  • Place a clearly instructed note in the package indicating sender and recipient name, address, and contact information. Placing the note inside a zip lock bag for extra protection would be ideal. If the package label is damaged, the information needed to redirect the package is provided should the box be unintentionally ripped open or opened by mail carrier personnel/inspectors.
  • Invest in a new box instead of reusing a box to be sure it is sturdy. Use packaging well boxed shipping box brown-027_2048x2048tape to be SURE the box (bottom and top) is well taped and secure, including all the corners. The tape should be flat and not protruding beyond any corners that might easily get caught in machinery.
  • If reusing a box, remove all previous labels and black out with a permanent marker any pre-existing bar codes that often are on the sides and bottom of a box.
  • BOLD PRINT in clear visible font the addresses (return and send to) and fully clear tape the labels on the parcel or use a bold marker and write addresses on the box itself, clearly. Place clear package tape over the handwritten SEND TO address and RETURN address. This water proofs the ink and may prevent the risk of paper tear, damaging the entire label.
  • If the value of the parcel is over $25, avoid ground shipment and consider sending priority mail, signature required or registered and insure the contents. The more paper tracking on your package the easier it will be to locate if lost.
  • All sensitive documents, monetary contents or special non – replaceable items, send overnight or two day, fully insured, signature required or registered mail. Avoid mailing cash.
  • Follow the tracking of your parcel and if, after a few days, you don’t receive a tracking status update, contact your local carrier immediately.

What to do if your parcel is indeed lost?

  • Create an online account through the carrier of your lost parcel be it USPS, FEDX or UPS, or other carrier, if you haven’t already done so.
  • File an online missing mail claim through “search request” then contact your local mail carrier service by phone or in person for next steps they would recommend. Below are hyperlinked carrier online resources. When a search request claim is made and also when you connect with your local post office, ask for update notifications through text and email.


  • If the package has been routed to USPS Mail Recovery Center, it will join many other parcels deemed “dead mail” because the sender and recipient address information has been destroyed. How could the tracking number be in tact and yet the address label missing? Good question and no one I spoke with could give me an answer. It has been over 10 days since my package was routed to MRC and although I check tracking status daily, receipt at MRC has yet to be confirmed. Once checked in at MRC, it is my understanding it will be inspected by a qualified USPS inspector who will login the tracking number and at that time my missing package claim will meet with my lost package. The inspector will then match content description to what is in the box. If the descriptions match, they will follow the mailing instruction on the missing package claim and forward the box. This process could take anywhere from 4-6 weeks, or longer.

Can parcels be a victim of carrier theft?

Yes, although not a significant factor in lost parcels at USPS. When there is suspicion of theft by USPS personnel they are, apparently, quickly discovered and criminal charges are filed. According to the USPS Office of Inspector Attorney General

It is the job of OIG special agents to identify dishonest employees and take proper investigative steps to have them prosecuted and removed from the Postal Service. During the reporting period from October 2014 through September 2015, OIG special agents conducted 1,607 internal mail theft investigations, resulting in 493 arrests, 1,220 administrative actions, and approximately $478,000 in monetary benefit for the Postal Service.

The risk of mail delivery mishaps still exists even with modern technology increasing the efficiency of postal operations. Moving forward the question I ask myself as I get ready to ship another package…”What can I do differently to reduce the risk of a lost package?” Following suggested ideas noted above is on my TO DO LIST before I head to the post office. My hope is that the US Postal Service and all mail carrier services will also strive to continuously improve internal operations. Regardless of how paperless we become, we will always need to depend on mail delivery services.