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DIY Cloth Face Masks Thoughts and Information

DIY Cloth Face Masks

Several weeks ago, I got an email talking about DIY cloth face masks. It provided a link to a free pattern. Honestly, I thought it was kind of silly. From what I’d heard, N95 masks were the only masks able to do anything against COVID-19. 

A few days ago, I saw posts about people making masks and donating them to healthcare providers and nursing homes. Again, I was skeptical. If N95 masks were the only masks able to filter COVID-19, surely making cloth masks was just something that made people feel like they were doing something productive with little actual value. Still, I decided to look into it. As it turns out, cloth masks, while not as good as N95 masks, do offer some protection.

What protection can a DIY cloth face mask offer?

During my research, I frequently saw a Cambridge University study referenced. This page at smartairfilters.com gives a good overview of the study. In a nutshell, various household materials and fabrics offer protection ranging from 49%-86% against particles smaller than the coronavirus. At the top end are vacuum cleaner bags, but they are difficult to breathe through.

The more common types of materials used in DIY masks, such as cotton fabric, t-shirt blends and dish towels offer 57%-73% protection in a single layer. Using two or more layers increases the protection, but the increased protection varies by fabric.

Overall, it’s clearly not as much protection as an N95 mask, but a DIY cloth face mask does offer some protection. Any reduction in exposure will reduce your chances of getting sick, from COVID-19 or any other bugs out there. I’ve also heard that first responders and healthcare providers are using cloth masks over the N95 masks. This allows them to change the cloth mask and reuse the N95 masks longer. Different hospitals and healthcare providers have different needs and preferences, so if you decide to make some to donate, check first.

What I’m doing.

After debating and seeing interest among friends and family, I’ve decided to make a few to start. I’m using the more finished mask design from IThinkSew’s free patterns as my starting point. They also have a simplified pattern designed to be easy enough to sew by hand.

Cutting out fabric for DIY cloth face masks.

I am planning to swap the ear elastics for ties that go behind the head. I’m making that change based on seeing complaints that ear elastics are uncomfortable if used for long periods and can dislodge hearing aids. Cloth is also able to withstand higher heat than elastic, so swapping the elastic for ties allows the masks to be washed at higher temperatures. Elastic can also wear out quickly if it’s being put on, taken off and washed frequently, so cloth ties should prolong the usefulness of the mask.

The pattern I’m using has two layers and a filter pocket, making it three layers in total. Alone, it should offer some protection. For added protection, though, I’ve been looking at different filter materials. The one that seems most readily available to me is embroidery stabilizer. It has similar properties to other filter materials and is washable. There isn’t a ton of information on it as a filter substance, but I am seeing other people using it as well. It’s similar to but lighter than vacuum bags (if using cut away or tear away), and the content is the same or similar to what is used in surgical masks.

I’m not sure how many masks I’ll make. I plan to start with the people I know that have shown interest and go from there.

The IThinkSew mask patterns don’t have written instructions, but they do have fairly detailed videos for both mask designs. If you’re making masks using that pattern and having problems, please comment with your questions and I’ll try to help. I’ll try to help with other patterns, too, but I might be less helpful without my own hands-on experience.

Other sewing projects.

Knowing that so many are stuck at home right now needing distractions, I’ve decided to make all of my machine embroidery design files free until April 7. That’s the day my area’s shelter in place order expires. If it is extended, I’ll extend the embroidery design freebies, too. If you make something with one of my designs, I would love to see it.

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27 Activities for Kids at Home

Sometimes, even a rainy weekend stuck at home is difficult for kids. Now, with schools closing due to COVID-19, children and parents everywhere are off-schedule, stressed and going stir-crazy. To help out, I made a list of activities for kids at home.

Backyard Fun

  • Play Ball- Catch and kicking a ball around are always fun. Try using a laundry basket and see who can toss the ball into the basket from an increasing distance away. Or, use empty soda bottles to make bowling pins and play backyard bowling.
  • Get Dirty- Playing in the mud or digging in the dirt is fun for littles. For something more structured, save seeds from fruits and vegetables to plant and see what sprouts or tend an existing garden.
  • Picnic- On sunny days, take meals outside. If you don’t have an outdoor table, grab a tablecloth or bed sheet to spread on the ground and sit on.
  • Explore Nature- Observe insects, compare plants and leaves. You could also download a plant identification app and use it to learn about plants growing in your yard.
  • Sidewalk chalk- Patios, driveways, and sidewalks become canvases.
Backyard fun activities for kids at home

Indoor Crafts

  • Break Out the Art Supplies- Drawing, painting, cutting and pasting can be fun for all ages. If they need a little motivation, give a general theme and have awards for the most creative, detailed, colorful, etc.
  • Think Outside the Box- Old magazines, newspapers, junk mail, cereal boxes, cardboard tubes, etc. make creative art supplies. Tubes become telescopes or binoculars. Cutout pictures and letters to make collages.
  • Playdough- Use store-bought or make your own. I think it’s easier to clean up than slime, but of course, that’s an option, too.
  • Go Big- If you have any large cardboard boxes, get creative with them. Rolls of butcher paper or the plain side of wrapping paper are great for large murals or full body tracing.
Artwork activities for kids at home

Indoor Games

  • Board games- Break out the ones you have, invest in a couple of classics like Candy Land or Monopoly (Amazon means not having to leave the house), or create your own.
  • Charades– No pieces or props are needed to take turns acting out and guessing your favorite books, shows and movies.
  • Pictionary– Similar to charades, all you need is something to draw on and draw with.

Advanced Crafts

  • Share Your Skills- Do you sew, knit, or crochet? Whatever your craft, think of a beginner lesson and teach it to your children.
  • Learn Together- Do you have supplies for a project that never happened or a skill you never got around to learning? Look up tutorials or YouTube videos and learn it together.

In the Kitchen

  • Make Cookies- Or cake, or brownies. Baking introduces basic cooking skills, reading instructions and fractions. Depending on what you’re making, all of the measuring and mixing can be done without needing the stove or oven until it’s time to bake.
  • Let Them Help- Give them options and let them help with meal planning. Older kids and teens can be more hands on with meal prep. Even little ones can help with washing vegetables, setting the table, mixing and measuring.

Educational Screen Time

  • Stream Documentaries- Netflix and other streaming services have tons of documentaries available. Pick a subject your child is passionate about, or look for something fun and quirky and watch it together.
  • Khan Academy– This website has lessons on just about anything you want to learn for all ages.
  • Preschoolers- PBS Kids has games and videos for all the PBS Kids shows. Starfall.com is a fun way for kids to learn ABC’s and reading basics.
  • Google Sketchup– My kids enjoy playing around with this drafting program (website).

DIY Toys

  • Dress up- Look in the back of your closets for old clothing and accessories, or dig out old Halloween costumes. Or, make a super hero costume from an old t-shirt.
  • Blanket forts- Use blankets, pillows, couch cushions, whatever you can think of to build a hideaway for the kiddos to hang out.
  • Bath time- While not exactly a toy, playing in water is fun and calming for little ones, so if they’re getting a little stir-crazy, let them play in a bath. If older kiddos are feeling antsy or stressed, suggesting a bath or shower might help them, too.

Storytime

  • Break out old favorites- Keep a basket of books in a handy spot, like on a coffee table to make it easy to grab one and read.
  • Read aloud- Adults can read to everyone or have older children read to younger ones. Beckett doesn’t always like listening to me or reading on his own, but he sometimes enjoys reading aloud to Thaddeus.
  • Explore new books- Many public libraries give you the ability to checkout ebooks online. Project Gutenberg has over 60,000 books online for free. Or, try Kindle Unlimited to get unlimited access to tons of ebooks and audio books for a low monthly fee. Use this link to get your first month free.
  • Write your own- Take turns making up stories or turn it into a project by folding paper books and adding illustrations. Pre-k and younger can draw pictures to tell their stories.

What at home activities do you like to do with your kids? Please share your activities for kids at home in the comments.

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Homeschooling amid COVID-19

More science at the library

With schools across the nation closing in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, I’ve seen many parents reaching out to homeschooling parents for advice. I think it’s important to note that even homeschooling right now looks much different than normal. Many homeschooling families take part in weekly co-ops that have stopped due to the virus. We love going to the library, either just to see the cool science displays and get books or to go to story-time and chess club. Now the library is closed other than the drive-up window. Public parks are off limits as well. Even something like grocery shopping, which, if nothing else, gets us out of the house is no longer an option for the whole family. In short, just because we homeschool doesn’t mean we’re used to being home all day, every day either.

Science at the library before COVID-19

Having said that, there are some things that may make the transition easier. Some of it will depend on your school’s plan for the time away. Students with online classes will have less flexibility than students with assignments to do at their own pace.

Breathe

One thing that is always recommended to new homeschoolers leaving public or private schools is to take time to “deschool”. Basically, that means to take a few weeks or months to not do formal schooling. Instead, relax, play, let children do the things they enjoy, visit museums, libraries, bake together, watch favorite movies together. The “deschooling” time is to give children and parents time to connect and adjust to a new normal. This time also helps parents learn what types of curriculum and learning resources are a good fit for their children.

Obviously, under the current circumstances a full “deschooling” period isn’t practical or necessarily needed, but taking a few days to chill is definitely a good idea. Right now, everyone is stressed and cooped up. Trying to achieve something remotely like a normal school routine will be so much easier if everyone has a little time to process the changes.

Formal school time doesn’t have to take 8 hours

In school, there’s 20-30 different students with different needs and different personalities, all assigned to one teacher. Under those circumstances, lessons will take longer. At home, students work at their own pace with a teacher able to give them more one on one time, if needed. Sometimes, if the student finds the subject particularly difficult or very interesting, it takes longer than a single subject would in a classroom. Most often, though, it takes far less time.

I’ve seen the color-coded schedule charts floating around on Facebook that map out a typical eight hour school day. If that works for your family, great! If you’re finding that formal assignments are done by noon, and you have no idea what to do with the other three or four hours of school, don’t panic. Know that is more of the norm for homeschooling.

Learning isn’t always on paper

Children learn through play. Adults learn through play, too, we just usually call it something else. Unstructured playtime lets children use their imagination, problem solve and learn through observation.

Baking teaches reading instructions, measuring, fractions, and vocabulary, as well as the basic life skill of being able to prepare food. Spending time outside allows children to observe nature, as well as the physical benefits of fresh air, exercise and sunshine.

Homeschooling making slime

Even screen time can be educational. Gaming teaches problem-solving. Many shows, even some you wouldn’t expect, incorporate educational elements. If nothing else, kids need time to relax with something they enjoy just like adults. With all the sudden changes and concern over COVID-19, kids are likely to be feeling anxious and stressed, too. A little grace is good for everyone.

Home economics is a class, too.

Obviously I’m not saying turn your children into your own little housekeepers. It’s important, though, for everyone to have basic cooking and cleaning skills. When everyone is home all day, there’s more cooking and cleaning to be done, and more time to do it. Teach little ones to help with age-appropriate chores. Older kids and teens can take on more responsibilities.

Online educational resources

I plan to write a longer resource and activity post next week, but if you need something to get started, here’s my personal favorites:

  • Starfall.com Pre-K-3rd grade. The free site has tons of stuff, and if you decide to upgrade, the full paid site is only $35/year.
  • MobyMax K-8th grade We use it mainly for some of the math and reading, but they cover just about every subject.
  • Khan Academy Everyone. Seriously, it’s K-adult and covers a multitude of subjects.
  • Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool This is a complete, free K-12 homeschool curriculum. You can jump in anywhere and pick and choose, or use it all. Most of it is done off of the computer, so it’s good if you want to limit screen time.
  • Discovery K-12 This is another complete K-12 curriculum. Unlike Easy Peasy, most assignments are completed online. Student accounts are free, but if you want a parent account it’s $99/year.

The last two are more geared to people homeschooling long-term. They might be helpful, though, if you need a little more help in an area or for the elective-type classes.

Shop updates

On a different note, I finally have Lavender Tea Tree Charcoal Soap back in stock. This time, because of using red palm oil instead of refined palm oil, it is a deep olive green instead of charcoal grey. It’s the same soap otherwise, though, and will be ready to ship on Monday.

Currently all of my handmade soaps are 20% off.

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Staying Healthy in Flu Season

No one wants to get sick. Whether it’s the flu going around or something more unknown like the coronavirus, everyone wants to avoid catching it. While nothing is 100%, there are a few things my family does to increase our chances at staying healthy when there’s something going around.

A few notes on supplements and essential oils

I am not a doctor. Everything we do may not work for you and your family. It’s important to consult with your doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you have other health concerns. 

In addition to supplements, I also use essential oils to a degree. While I do think essential oils are beneficial, I don’t believe they are a cure-all or always appropriate. If you choose to use essential oils, I recommend researching contraindications and general usage guidelines for each essential oil before using. Two of my favorite sites for essential oil safety are the Tisserand Institute and AromaWeb, particularly AromaWeb’s essential oil profiles.

There are safety guidelines to using all essential oils, such as proper dilution and not ingesting, that are important to know. There are also safety guidelines to using specific oils, such as knowing that eucalyptus essential oil should not be used on or around young children. These safety guidelines apply to all essential oil brands, regardless of whether they are “therapeutic grade”.

With that out of the way, here are my family’s tips for staying healthy when there’s something going around.

Eat right

Aside from proper hand washing, I think this is probably the most important tip of all. If you want your immune system to be able to do its job, you need to give it the proper fuel to work well. Sugars give you calories and energy but not much else. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and protein while limiting refined sugars gives your body energy and nutrients to keep everything working as it should.

With the coronavirus that’s going around, grocery stores are running out of some pantry staples like rice, beans and canned goods. Fresh produce and meat seem to still be readily available for the most part, though. With a little prep and planning, many fresh fruits and vegetables can be frozen to make them last longer. You can also make soups, stews and casseroles in bulk to freeze if you have the freezer room.

Get outside

Fresh air and sunshine are good for you mentally and physically. Sunshine helps your body produce vitamin D. Vitamin D has many functions in the body. In addition to helping build strong bones, there is some evidence to suggest that vitamin D helps to inhibit viruses, like those that cause the flu. (Sources here and here.)

In normal flu seasons, while everyone is healthy we frequent outdoor playgrounds unless it’s ridiculously cold or rainy. With the current recommendations regarding COVID-19, we will probably stick to hanging out in our own yard or open green spaces.

If you can, though, try to get outside every day. Children especially need an opportunity to run and play outside. Even if it’s raining, as long as it’s not too cold and there’s no lightning, let them play in the rain and get muddy.

Exercise is important, but even just sitting outside reading a book gives you the benefits of fresh air and sunshine. If you can’t get outside, at the very least open the curtains and windows to let a little of the outside inside.

Vitamins and supplements

During cold and flu season, we all usually take extra vitamin C. While taking extra vitamin C may not be a miracle cure for colds, it is important for proper immune function. The best way to get vitamin C is through eating foods, such as citrus fruits, that are naturally high in vitamin C. Since it is important for immune function, I feel like a daily supplement is worthwhile on the off-chance we’re not getting enough from out diet.

Vitamin D is another supplement I take, particularly in winter months. As I cited earlier, there is some evidence that it helps to inhibit certain viruses. We all began taking vitamin D at our doctors’ recommendations. Unlike vitamin C, vitamin D is more dangerous if you take too much. It’s definitely a good idea to consult with your doctor before supplementing with it.

Strategic use of essential oils

While more research is needed, there is some evidence to suggest that certain essential oils have antimicrobial properties. One of the more well-known and one of my favorites is tea tree, or Melaleuca alternifolia oil. I like to add a little bit of tea tree oil to my homemade cleaning products, especially in winter.

Another way I like to use essential oils is to diffuse a few drops in a diffuser. To be fair, I’m not sure how much, if any, antimicrobial benefit they have in that form, partly because of the high dilution and because I haven’t had much luck finding research on that specific method of use. I like the scents better than air fresheners, though. Also, if used properly, it won’t harm even if it does little, if anything to help. Proper usage in this case means keeping it away from pets, especially cats, only diffusing age and condition-appropriate essential oils for the people in the room it’s being used, and not adding more than a drop or two to the diffuser at a time.

I do usually keep a can of Lysol and some bleach around in case something really disgusting hits our household. For the rest of the time, though, I think they are overkill.

Wash your hands to stay healthy

One of the best ways to stay healthy, of course is to wash your hands. One study showed that hand washing-even without soap-was more effective at eliminating influenza A on hands than hand sanitizer. Washing with soap further increased the benefit. According to the CDC, hand sanitizer is not as effective at removing all types of germs, such as  Cryptosporidiumnorovirus, and Clostridium difficile, making handwashing all the more important.

Any type of soap acts as a sort of emulsifier to allow oils on your skin and the germs within the oil to be washed away by water. (This page gives a more detailed explanation on how soap works.) If someone in my family is sick, I like using tea tree soap. While more research is needed, there is evidence to suggest that tea tree essential oil has antimicrobial properties. If that is the case, it may boost the cleaning action of hand washing.

Even if you do everything right, nothing is a 100% guarantee against viruses and other types of infection. Sometimes, despite our efforts a doctor’s visit and medication is required. By taking measures to support our immune system with proper nutrition, fresh air and exercise, and limiting exposure to germs through cleaning and hand washing, though, we can increase our odds at staying healthy.

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Staying healthy