Alina Sewing and Design

Merry Christmas from us to you!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours! We’ve had two family Christmases, one at home with just the two of us, and one more family Christmas this coming weekend! We’ve been so blessed, both in remembering the reason for the season and in spending time with family. Hope you are enjoying your holidays as well!

Christmas Collage

Cowboy’s Backyard Movie Birthday

Back in May, I saw an article full of fun ideas for summer. One idea was renting a projector for the weekend and watching a movie in your backyard. Knowing Cowboy’s love of the outdoors, of John Wayne and of going to the drive-in, I thought, “Perfect! That’s what I’ll do for his birthday party.”

I kept it a secret until a few weeks before his birthday, whereas I had long before realized how expensive it is to rent a projector and screen for the weekend. (Like several hundred dollars, which was definitely not in my price range. And further, why wouldn’t you just invest your money and buy one? It would pay for itself in just a few uses…) After doing some research, I realized that I could buy a fairly inexpensive projector (and I knew I could find a way to rig up a white sheet for a screen), but I couldn’t spend $100 (or more) without first bringing my husband into the decision. After thinking on this, I realized that my dad probably owned one for the seminars he gives every few months for his business. Bingo! Dad had one (top of the line…and a screen, too!) and he agreed to let us borrow it for the night!

So, since that part was figured out, I stocked up on bags of popcorn, boxes of candy, drinks, and moved the microwave to a table in the back yard.

On another table, I had stacked blankets for people to sit on in case they hadn’t brought a chair (which had been suggested as we only have six outdoor chairs). Over that area, which people first met as they entered the back yard, we hung outdoor lights so that people could retrieve snacks and get around once it was dark. (Sidenote: am I the only person who goes completely ga-ga over outdoor night lighting? Those strings of bulbs make me practically giddy.)

And it all turned out exactly like I had envisioned (except that the Olympic opening ceremony happened to be on the same night, meaning we missed the last half and that a few people felt torn between the two events and ended up staying inside of our house for the first half of the movie. Oops!)

Happy birthday to the love of my life, my best friend, the excitement in my mundane, the other half I never knew I was missing. Life and our few months of marriage together has been 10 times more incredible and 100 times different than I ever expected it to be! Thank you for putting up with my craziness, my determination and my need to “know” things in advance. You love me fiercely and exactly how I need to be loved and I can never thank you enough for that!


Lately, that’s what has stayed front of mind as I think about the upcoming year. Simplicity. Spurred on by some time unplugged (I’ll get to that in the second part of this novel) and a domino effect of sorts started by making my own…everything.

First, it started with going “no-poo” (mentioned here) back in November of 2011. Then, I proceeded to watch every documentary available on Netflix that was related to or was about organic farming vs. conventional farming, the effect of chemicals in the home (household cleaners and beauty products alike) and/or the how the ecosystem works. Then, we started an organic garden a couple of months ago. 
Then, I read Homegrown and Handmade: a Practical Guide to Self-Reliant Living, by Deborah Niemann. I checked it out from the library, but it’s helpful enough that I would consider it well worth purchasing. Right now, I’m in the middle of Skinny Bitch: Home, Beauty & Style: A No-Nonsense Guide to Cutting the Crap Out of Your Life for a Better Body and a Kinder World, by Kim Barnouin (disclaimer: this book is EXTREMELY informative, but this author is well-known for her colorful language! Consider yourself warned.). In my books-to-read pile is: The Gorgeously Green Diet: How to Live Lean and Green, by Sophie Uliano; The Green Beauty Guide: Your Essential Resource to Organic and Natural Skin Care, Hair Care, Makeup, and Fragrances, and Green Beauty Recipes: Easy Homemade Recipes to Make Your Own Organic and Natural Skincare, Hair Care and Body Care Products, both by Julie Gabriel.
A few days ago, I bought a water bath canner (I’d been waiting for it to go on sale, which it finally did) and, after a trip to the farmer’s market, spent part of my weekend making and canning pasta/pizza sauce from scratch with farmer’s market (mostly organic) freshly-picked whole tomatoes. Next up is jams. I’m coming close to perfecting my bread recipe (low in sugar and oil, 100% whole wheat + ground flax seed and still beautifully hearty and light at the same time). Last week, I learned how to make my own fresh almond butter and granola (which goes beautifully with the batch of greek yogurt I make every week).
You get the picture.
I’ve been learning how to rid our home of chemicals and processed foods. I’ve thrown away countless bottles of half-used lotions, creams, cleaners, etc. My rule of thumb is that if I can’t safely consume it, I’ll think long and hard before I use it to clean our house, clothes (the occasional bleach cycle is the exception) or our bodies. My cabinets are becoming clutter-free, my recipes are becoming something I’m proud to serve to people and my beauty “routine” has become so, so simple.
No, I haven’t made my life easier; it would be [a whole lot] easier (and cheaper on the food side sometimes–not all of the time) to buy processed foods, pre-made cleaners and beauty products. But my life is simpler for the mere fact that I know what I am consuming and/or lathering all over my skin and hair. And I’m healthier for it.
So why is this important to me? 
  1. Because, first of all, you can’t take in this much information about these topics without feeling a sense of need to change how you’re living and treating your body. 
  2. Second, it’s important to me to keep both myself and my husband healthy (as much of it is in my control, anyway…which you know isn’t any at all, if you believe in the same God I do)…and because someday, babies will be welcomed into the home we’re working to build. And so it’s important to me to begin making small changes every week to clean up our habits so that by the time that season of life rolls around, I’ll feel a little more, in theory, “ready.” I want to have these recipes (for home cleaners and the like) down and the habits made so that it will be easy to see through in the long run.
  3. I AM actually saving money by making bread, granola, greek yogurt, household cleaners, “shampoo” and “conditioner,” lotion bars, deodorant, pasta sauce, pizza dough, etc. from scratch. I’m investing my time, but I’m saving A LOT of money. Because of that, I feel much more at ease about buying the organic versions of the “dirty dozen” fruits/vegetables.
  4. Finally, because there’s a great sense of pride that goes along with “making your own.”
So here’s the thing: I realize that the Lord has recently placed me within a season of life that allows me more free time…or at least an extremely flexible schedule, and we don’t have littles yet, which makes these changes and ventures 100% easier. 
My heart’s desire is to be responsible and to be a good steward with the flexibility he’s given me. I want to build a clean and safe home, but I also want to pour into the lives of the people around us. You may or may not know this, but Cowboy and I will be leaving Wichita to move across the country next May-June to begin residency at a naval hospital. Away from our church, our families and our [in some cases, lifelong] friends. So, as a result, I’ve been focusing on unplugging as much as possible. My phone is no longer with me at all times and my blog posts have become few and far between. I don’t dislike my phone (OK, really, I’m talking about every stinking facebook notification that would make my phone buzz…I put a stop to that) or my blog (I love you guys), but I simply needed to re-focus the time I was investing in those things. I’m focusing on being available for people (not something that comes naturally to me as I like to stay busy with my own to-do lists and projects) and having the attitude of willingness to drop whatever I’m doing or whatever I had planned for day to be able to spend some time with people. The Lord is growing me and preparing me (though I’m not entirely sure what all for) and I feel so incredibly grateful for this current season of flexibility as the clock ticks on our time left in Wichita.
So, while My Yellow Umbrella isn’t going anywhere, understand that the posts probably won’t be as often as they once were. Just know I’m redirecting that time into relationships. I will however, give you a round-up, Instagram-style of what’s been going on in our house lately. 🙂

From top to bottom, left to right:
1. 25 lbs. of organic farmer’s market tomatoes became 3.5 quarts of canned pizza/pasta sauce for the winter!
2. Yikes, a tiny little mouse popped out of the box of mason jars I was digging through in the garage. He was set free in the back yard shortly after the photo was taken. 🙂
3. Cowboy took me on a mystery date…to the rodeo!!
4. New canning set!
5. Cooper is sleeping well these days.
6. Homemade citronella candles (all soy wax!)
7. Finally finished hand-painting the sign for the living room. It reads, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. – Abraham Lincoln”
8. Full set of 8 metal bowls/plates/cups for camping…for $5 at a warehouse sale!
9. Homemade bread and fresh basil. Yummmmm.

2012 Goals and a Free Printable

Good morning, loves!

I have great news…are you ready? It’s Saturday!!! One of my favorite times of the week is waking up on Saturday morning with plenty of time to spare (you know…around 9:00 or so…we’re not talking early here, people). There’s something about having an entire day open and free to accomplish and tackle projects, take day trips, go to the gym…whatever your heart desires and the day can handle! The day is simply full of optimism and promise at that point.

So, on this optimistic Saturday morning, I thought I would share some of my goals for 2012. I’m not a big fan of setting resolutions because I think you should make necessary changes asap…not wait for the beginning of the year. However, I am a very goal-oriented person. There are things (for myself) that I’ve pushed off until “after the wedding” (do you know how many times I’ve said those words in the last six months?). So, here we are…”after the wedding”…and I thought it would be a perfect time to start myself with some fun goals.

So here we go:

  • Make a quilt: two of my great-grandmas were quilters. One on my mom’s side and one on my dad’s side. I, very luckily, ended up with a quilt that great grandma “Y” made and it covers the bed in our guest bedroom. She has since passed (when I was little), but my great grandma Ruth (mom’s side) is still here. Mostly, I remember being at her little apartment when we would make trips back home to Texas to see family. I remember her making bean soup (and letting me put as much salt as I wanted in them…isn’t that a weird memory? I have no idea why this was a big deal to me…although I’m sure I was just flexing my independence from mom’s watchful eye, haha! I ate some verrryyy salty beans at her house). I also remember her quilting. I remember the frame in the back bedroom that could pretty much stretch across the whole room as she would be in the middle of hand-stitching one of her quilts. She doesn’t quilt anymore…but that’s because she’s 94! She was extremely talented and her work was exquisite. So, in memory and ode to my great-grandmas, I want to make a quilt. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is the one.
  • Make my own cleaning projects: This is one of those things I’ve simply been keeping front-of-mind to accomplish for quite some time. So, now that I’ve written it down (I’m an OCD list-maker), it will happen! Not only will this save money, but it will also rid our home of some harsh chemicals.
  • Take a yoga class: again, this is one of those things that I’ve been wanting to do, but just keeps getting pushed aside. This is the year of yoga! As a previous marathon runner, I’m looking forward to working up a sweat and getting a good workout without beating my body up.
  • Learn my camera: (more on this below)
  • Make a piece of clothing (for myself): I specified because I’ve made clothing before. In fact, I made our flower girl dresses. But I’ve never made a piece of clothing for myself. I haven’t been specifically inspired by anything as of yet, but it’s only January 7. And accessories (like scarves, bags, etc.) don’t count because I’ve made those too.
Now, for the camera. After returning duplicate wedding gifts, adding up all of our Target gift cards and redeeming a 10% off coupon Target sent us for remaining registry items, the Mr. and I came home with this:

 Yep…a Canon EOS Rebel T2i. It’s like a dream come true. Seriously…I’ve been eyeing this camera for a very long time. I did in fact put it on our registry, if you caught that a minute ago, in hopes that someone would decide to be super duper uber generous to us (well, people WERE generous…but an $800 camera would have taken the cake on generous, if you know what I mean). BUT it ended up working out perfectly; in classic Alina fashion, we ended up getting it for $625 with an in-store sale + 10% off coupon. That also just happened to be almost exactly what we had in gift cards, so we walked out with this baby for freeeeee!!! A BIG thank you to everyone who gave us Target gift cards!

So, I want to get to know my camera. I spent an evening watching YouTube videos on ISO, aperture and shutter speed, so I’m happy to say I now know how to work my camera in manual mode…but that doesn’t mean I quite have a feel for which settings are best in which situation. For now, I can use Canon’s pre-set modes while I dabble in manual, but I’d like to have a MUCH better understanding by the end of the year. Like, as in I could explain it to someone else with confidence.

Finally, I do have one more goal. It’s always been my goal to see all 50 states before I turn 25, which seemed really easy and reasonable at the age of 18, when I set the goal. Now, I only have a little over a year and a half left! Ack! I only have 20 states left, but that includes Hawaii and Alaska…so, wish me luck.

I mentioned above that I’m an OCD list-maker. Seriously…I would live and die by my lists. There’s something about finishing an item and being able to cross it off. I’m just like my step-mom in that if I accomplish something that wasn’t on “the list,” I will actually physically add it to the bottom of the list, just so I can cross it off! Crazy, I know.

I like to do the same thing with states. I’ve had various maps printed out since I set this goal so that I could cross off states as I accomplished them, but I decided to make one I could hang on the wall to display. I found a printable map here and tweaked it a bit to make it my own. I put it in an 8×10 frame (so it should print nearly perfect for an 8×10 frame…let me know if it doesn’t) and colored in the states I’ve been to with a dry erase marker. You could color in the states on the paper itself, but let’s face it…dry erase markers are way more fun.

So, for the first ever MYU free printable, I thought I would share it, both as a thank you and as an encouragement to travel and try something new this year.  Click HERE or the picture below to download!

Please only download/print these for personal use–please and thank you!

Enjoy your Saturday, friends!

Smoky Mountain Honeymoon

This was the view from the bed. Um, awesome to wake up to!

Outside of our cabin in Sevierville, TN…and my smokin’ hot husband (sorry)

This picture was actually meant to show how steep the drop-off was behind our driveway. It did not succeed, but you can see a bit of how high we were and our view!

Christmas “village”

We antiqued.

We went sight-seeing.

One morning, we woke up to this…I took this from inside of the cabin’s loft. Seriously amazing!
We went horseback riding. (See?? He IS a cowboy…)
We went ziplining.

We went hiking.

We did some more sightseeing.

We did some (a lot of) eating. (And we got a free dessert for being newlyweds.) 🙂

We went zorbing. (See below video if you don’t know what that is!)

Zorbing in the Smoky Mountains from Alina Strain on Vimeo.

We did some more eating.

Some more antiquing.

Some shopping (@ Mast General Store in Knoxville).

And some flying.

Basically, we came, we saw, we did and we loved it all. Easily the best week of my life; not because of anything we did necessarily, but because I had an entire week of the Mr. all to myself with zero distractions, zero stresses, zero work/school, zero to-do lists…just one solid (almost) week of pure, simple quality time. This week, “real” life started again. It’s certainly an adjustment as I start working again (which means I’m at home alone) and he’s started his neurology rotation (…which means I’m at home alone for 10-12+ hours a day…), but we’ll get into a routine, I’ll make new friends and rekindle old friendships in this new-old city, and we’ll figure out the ebb and flow of life and marriage. Today, I chose to have an attitude of gratefulness (yesterday was a rough one) and expectancy. My love, in his honest love for me, reminded me that God has a plan in all of the struggles and that I needed to suck it up. He is right. My attitude is purely what it is by my own control, so this morning, I hit a “reset” button and determined to refocus, choose a better attitude and go to God first for strength (that’s not my husband’s job either).

Whew. Didn’t see all that coming…so to end on a happy note, we got some teaser pics from our photographer! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Visit her at Jackie Cooper Photo.

One Year

One year ago today, I woke up with a sense of excitement and anticipation. I went to work that Thursday morning like I would any other workday. I completed my to-do list, anticipation growing and a slight smile on my face. Even my least favorite tasks didn’t phase me. You see, I was a girl who had some plans that night. I didn’t know if they would someday be considered big plans or if they’d have no real effect on the grand scheme of my life. It was a freeing feeling…I knew I was stepping out of my comfort zone, but felt completely right in doing so. Something about that day and the circumstances that had led up to it, my heart and soul felt like it should embrace the opportunity and brace myself…something felt different, in the good sort of way.

One year ago today, I left work in the dark, ran home to let the puppy out and smothered him with hugs and kisses as I apologized for making him kennel up again so soon. I knew I was being a giddy girl–something I try not to be too much of–but I couldn’t help myself. It was getting closer. I did my best to clean up after working that day. Life had been so topsy-turvy lately that I hadn’t had much of an appetite and had unnecessarily dropped weight. I did my best to find a pair of jeans that fit, picked out a long-sleeve black V-neck and tied a yellow scarf around my neck. I tried to put some life back into my flat hair and touched up my make-up. I sighed when I realized it wasn’t going to really help all that much–I still looked frazzled. It would have to do, I told myself. I sat down on my couch to wait out the 15 minutes until I needed to leave. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt that nervous, so I stopped twiddling my thumbs and started praying. I prayed that he would lead me in the right direction, I prayed that I would have good and objective judgment, I prayed for him to take the pit out of my stomach.

One year ago today, I made that drive to the coffee shop. It was cold and rainy. I remember seeing the 87th street bridge and feeling that nervousness creep back into the pit of my stomach. I started taking deep breaths…none of it really helping. I pulled up and parked in front. Before turning my car lights off, I scanned the coffee shop. I didn’t see you. After pondering which scenario would be less awkward, I decided I would go inside and wait. I stood there alone in front of the counter for a minute or two before I heard my phone buzz. My friend Emily was texting me to wish me luck that night. While I was responding, you walked in and approached me in your yellow sweater. I don’t think I ever finished that text message. 🙂

I remember thinking you had funny mannerisms and you were chewing gum. We both wanted coffee, but I hung back a bit, unsure if you intended on or wanted to buy or not. You quickly answered that hesitation by telling me I could order whatever I wanted, it was on you, as you ushered me to the counter with your hand on my back.

We sat down in the two leather chairs. There were two college girls studying on the couch across from us…and they kept stealing glances at us and whispering back and forth with smiles. I think they saw it too. Over the next two hours, we shared the basics about ourselves, but we also wasted no time in delving into the “real” us. You told me about the accident that claimed your mom and little brother…and   how your response was not of anger, but of gratefulness for the providence God had shown to you and your family. I told you about the anger and rebellion I wrestled with for most of my teenage years…and how God had delivered me from those attitudes. We talked about Lord Blaze, our great and crazy mutual friend that set the whole thing up. We talked about how we played for the same sports teams, had the same friends, graduated from the same college the year before…and somehow had never crossed paths. Maybe we would have met at our graduation ceremony…had you attended. 😉

We closed the shop down. They locked the door behind us and we stood on the sidewalk talking for a couple more minutes. I remember asking you why you didn’t bring a coat and you told me it was because you were tough! As you walked away, a scary and foreign thought ran through my mind…I knew I was going to marry you. It’s crazy for me to have thought anything like that. Me. Independent, not-looking-for-a-relationship, I-don’t-date-strangers, cautious little ‘ol me. But I knew. I don’t know how, but you were different and it showed.

One year ago today, you walked into that coffee shop and changed my world forever. In fifteen days, I’ll be your wife–the greatest honor ever to have been bestowed upon me. Thank you for a great year and for the many years ahead of us.

I love you and I dig you.


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