Friday, May 25, 2012

Seatbelt Strangulation

December 13th, 2011 - A day I will never forget.

"Mama, help!"

The cry came from the third row of our minivan, so faint that we almost didn't hear it amidst "Pirates of the Caribbean," the movie playing on our van's dvd player.  I had just picked Christina (our 15-year old) up from math tutoring, and she asked if we could please swing by the bank to deposit a check from babysitting.  Christmas was less than two weeks away, and she needed the money for gifts.

"Sure," I said.  It was a quick stop before heading home, no problem.  Just a normal day.

We were on line at the bank drive-thru, when we heard our 4-year old, Stephen, gasp for help.  To my horror, when I looked in the rear-view mirror, I saw that his head was a sickening shade of purple, his eyes were bulging, and that he had - not one - but TWO seat belts wrapped around his neck.  

"Oh my God," I prayed. 

Christina jumped out of her seat into the 2nd row like a flash, and I immediately opened the back hatch and got behind his seat.  Within seconds, both of us were trying to loosen the noose around his neck, but to no avail.  Stephen (in his booster seat), who had lately begun to enjoy wrapping things around his neck (like bathrobe belts, pieces of yarn, the ties to a superhero cape) had systematically wrapped both his own lap belt and the middle belt of the empty seat (which he had buckled on his own, just for fun) around his neck.  He did so alternately...first his own belt, then the middle belt, and so on, until he had each one wrapped in figure-8 style three times.  This was a monster choking him.

The first thing we tried to do was unbuckle the belts, but they wouldn't release.  The next thing we tried to do was shimmy our fingers between the fabric and his neck, hoping to loosen the belts.  No slack whatsoever.  We tried manipulating his head to unwind him from each belt, one at a time, but that made the situation even worse, for as we pulled in one direction, the opposing belt tightened even further.  All this happened in matter of seconds, but it honestly felt like minutes.  He could not breathe.  I knew we were running out of time.

Christina screamed, "Mom!  We need scissors!"  And I knew she was right.  All I had in our car was a tiny pair of cuticle scissors in my make-up bag.  Pathetic.

I ran to the bank teller window and pounded on the glass with my fists, just as loud as my heart was pounding.  I began to scream and make hand-motions that we needed scissors and to call 911, it was an emergency.

This sweet teller, who normally asks me how many lollipops I would like, caught glimpse of Stephen's tangled head, now slumped over in our back seat.  She froze behind the thick glass.  I saw horror in her face.

By this time, other people had taken notice of our dire situation.  A kind man jumped out of his car and offered a pair of box cutters.  I ran towards him, but at that moment, a true miracle happened.

Christina, who had continued to work on the belts, suddenly screamed that Stephen was free.  She pulled his limp body from the back, and folded him into her arms.  In an instant, I was cradling Stephen like an infant, slapping his face and screaming his name, praying to God that he would revive.   And in a matter of seconds, he came back to us.

I don't believe in luck.

To this day, I know in my heart that God sent His angels to loosen those seat belts, for there was no other way they could have ever released.  I believe the Lord's fingers untangled him.

We were all shaking and crying.  Stephen was left with broken blood vessels in his face and some bruising around his neck, but - thanks be to God - he was alright.  

This was experience was terrifying, the closest we had ever come to losing one of our children.  I can honestly say that I had taken for granted that we were all relatively safe, running errands in our car.  The scary thing is that if Stephen had passed out before we realized he was suffocating, we just would have found him dead in the back row.  I still have nightmares about this.

So, what have I learned?  What are we now doing differently?  

Well, for one thing, we enforce the rule that the Littles (Stephen, now 5, and Sophie, 2-1/2) must always have an older sibling next to them in the car.  No exceptions.

And I now keep a seat belt cutter in my glove compartment.  A dear friend actually sent us this one as a gift, and I pray that I will never need to use it, but now...I am prepared.

I also make sure our seat belts are in their locked mode. 

I share this story with you, in hopes that public awareness of this very real danger will increase, and that other children might be saved.

I am posting some helpful information below, for more information about preventing seatbelt strangulation:

Kids will be kids.  Strapped in with nothing to do, kids will find something - anything - to play with.  Unfortunately, several dozen kids have nearly strangled to death after finding an unused shoulder belt, and in the midst of playing with it, wrapped it around their neck. 
Why can't you simply unwrap the belt, you might be thinking?  By pulling the shoulder belt out to the very end, the children have inadvertently switched the shoulder belt into a locking mode - one where the shoulder belt only gets shorter, but can not be lengthened no matter how hard you pull.  With the belt in this locking mode, it is very difficult for the child - and even the parents - to free the belt from the child's neck.
The New York Times Magazine featured an article by Matt Bai, where he writes of his own harrowing experience where his 3-year-old son Ichi nearly strangled to death while playing with the unused shoulder belt in the center seat of their vehicle.  
Make sure any shoulder belts within your child's reach are switched to their locking mode. 
Photo above (copyright Heather Corley 2009) - is from a great article on
A few tips:
  • Teach children that seat belts are not toys. 
  • Be aware that most shoulder belts have a retractor with two locking modes - an emergency locking mode and an automatic locking mode.
    • To lock the retractor (i.e. switch it from the emergency to automatic locking mode): Slowly, without yanking, pull the shoulder belt all the way out.  As the belt goes back into the retractor, a ratcheting (clicking) sound may be heard. The belt cannot be loosened without unbuckling the belt and letting most of it go back into the retractor.
  • For any child: 
    • Make sure that any shoulder belts nearby to the child are switched to their locked mode.
    • Buckle any nearby shoulder-lap belts.  Slowly, without yanking, pull the shoulder belt out to the very end.  As you let the belt go back in you will usually hear a ratcheting (clicking) sound - this is normal.
  • For kids riding in shoulder-lap belts (with or without booster seats)
    • After the child is buckled, slowly pull the shoulder belt out all the way to lock the retractor.  This will prevent the child from being able to wrap the belt around their neck.  Don't forget to snug the belt up after pulling it all the way out. 
  • For kids riding in 5-point harness car seats: 
    • If you have used the vehicle's shoulder-lap belt to secure the child seat to the car:
      • Follow installation instructions in the manuals for the child seat and the vehicle. 
      • After installation, make sure that the shoulder belt is either locked tight without slack or that it moves freely in and out and cannot be locked.
    • If you have used the lower LATCH connectors to secure the child seat to the car:
      • First, buckle the shoulder–lap belt and lock the retractor, and remove the slack in the belt so it lies flat against the vehicle seat. 
      • Install the child seat with the lower LATCH connectors according to instructions. 
      • Note: Some vehicle manufacturers state the unused belt should be released from the buckle after the safety seat is installed.
    • Always check the owner's manual to your vehicle & child car seat as they may have specific instructions.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Game On!!!

I finally opened my Etsy store and wanted to share some of the wonderful felt game boards I have created. As homeschoolers, our family is always looking for a way to make learning fun. Jeopardy is quite popular at our house! My oldest daughter and I have also designed a "Fetch!" game board, based upon the popular PBS series. Studies have shown that children retain a more significant amount of information if it is presented through a game. If you are looking for ideas on how to build games into your curriculum, I highly recommend IEW's "Teaching With Games" by Lori Verstegen. Happy learning!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Child's Reversible Apron

When I needed to make an apron for my 9 year old daughter, a quick search turned up this wonderful FREE pattern by Sew Liberated. I tweaked it a bit, making mine reversible and leaving the long ties on both sides (instead of using velcro, because my daughter LOVES bows ;-), and also enlarging it for a size 8-10. This is a wonderful pattern that you can easily customize. Thank you, Sew Liberated!

Kimono Pajamas

Well, it has been nearly a year since I made these, but I wanted to share how adorable they turned out! I used the "Bedtime Story Pajama" by Oliver + S. Super-cute and fun to sew! The kimono ties were probably the most difficult part of the whole pattern, but I would still rate the difficulty as beginner. I used fabric from the "folksy flannels" collection, and my little daughter loved snuggling in them all winter! She wore them everywhere, and people began to call her "Little Ninja" :). Definitely give these a try!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Stripwork Skirt Tutorial

I have been sewing up so many of these adorable little skirts for my daughters, I thought it would be fun to try to do a tutorial for them. This will be my first tute for anything (besides Italian Rainbow Cookies :-)) so I hope I do it okay! My version of the stripwork skirt is based upon Pink Fig's "The Girly Stripwork Skirt No. 5", only I use half the amount of strips (2 each of 5 different fabrics, instead of the original 4 each). My daughters prefer it less gathered, and it lets you see the individual fabrics better, in my opinion!

Step 1: Have your pattern pieces ready. The stripwork skirt pattern is basically just 3 rectangular pieces: drop waistband; strips for main skirt; and hem band. I have been making these skirts for my daughters, ages 6 & 12.

My pattern pieces for size 7, are:

drop waistband (cut 1 on fold): 6" x 14"

strips for main skirt (cut 2 each of 5 different fabrics): 6" x 11"

hem band: 6" x approximately 60"

My pattern pieces for size 14ish are:

drop waistband (cut 1 on fold): 8" x 16"

strips for main skirt (cut 2 each of 5 different fabrics): 8" x 13"

hem band: 8" x approximately 80"

Step 2: The fun part is deciding upon your fabric. I like to pick various prints that are generally within the same palate, and I also like to have at least one lighter fabric and one darker, but the choice is yours! I also like to sometimes use the same fabric for both the drop waistband and the hem band, but again, feel free to mix it up :). When you have cut out your fabric, it is a good idea to finish all raw edges with a serger or zig zag stitch, to keep them from fraying. I have a serger and skip this step at the beginning, but do it in later steps. I think either way is fine :).

Step 3: Lay out your strips for the main skirt in the order you want them.

With right sides together, sew the strips on the long edges, one to the next, until they are all in one long strip.

Step 4: Finish each raw edge of the sewn strips. On the back of your skirt, use a warm iron to press all seams down, in the same direction. Flip over the skirt and topstitch all the seams.

Step 5: I like to finish the top raw edge of the sewn strips, so it will be nice and even later on, when I attach the hem band.

Step 6: Make the hem band. With right sides together, sew both strips of the hem band together at the edges. Make sure the designs are facing the same way on both strips. Finish the raw edge with a zig zag stitch, if not using a serger. Press the seam to one side:

Step 7: Fold the hem band strip in half down the long edge, wrong sides together. With a warm iron, press it down to make a solid and firm crease.

Step 8: With right sides together, pin the hem band to the bottom edge of your main skirt. You can line up the seams of the hem band any way you like. I usually pick my favorite strip on the main skirt and use it as my center front piece. Then, line up the seam of the hem band with the strip that will be on the side seam. Sew the hem band to the skirt. If not serging, then finish the raw edge.

Step 9: Sew the hem band to the skirt (finish the raw edge, if not serging). Press the hem band seam towards the top of the skirt, and top stitch the seam.

Step 10: Gather the top of the main skirt with a double row (very close together) of basting stitches. You want them close enough together that it makes a nice, tight, even gather. When you start your gathering stitch, be sure to do a couple of back stitches to secure the thread, so that it doesn't pull out when you gather it.

Step 11: I use the drop waist band as a guide, on how much to gather the skirt. I line up the drop waist band seam with the side seam of the stripwork skirt. Adjust your gathers as necessary, so it will fit into the drop waist band. Then, sew up the sides of the stripwork skirt to each other (first strip to the last). You will have a big (hopefully, still gathered :)) circle. With right sides together, pin the gathered part of the main skirt to the drop waistband. Center the seam of the waistband in the back and pin it to the gathered skirt. Sew the pieces together with the gathered side up, so you can make sure you get all the gathers sewn in. If you didn't serge, you need to finish the raw edge (again, with the gathered side facing up, to make sure you get it all in). Gently pull the basting thread out of the skirt, if it is still visible.

The main skirt sewn to the drop waist band should look like this:

Step 12: Fold the drop waist band up and on top of the skirt, press seam down with a warm iron. Fold the drop waist band down about 1 inch, and iron the crease all around:

Step 13: I know that this is the non-conventional way to finish the drop waist band, but it is what I've found works best for me! At this point, I measure the elastic for the drop waist band. My daughters like to wear their skirts more around their lower waist, so I use that measurement. I add an extra inch for a seam allowance, and then I sew up the elastic (I serge it together, and then tack it down with top stitching). I like to use 1" non-roll elastic. :).

You should have a circle of elastic:

Step 14: I then slip the elastic inside of the drop waist band, and fold the waist band over to where it meets the finished seam of the waist band and main skirt (I hope this makes sense....):

Step 15: The pattern says to make a casing for the elastic, but I skip this step on mine. I very carefully sew the top of the drop waist band to the bottom of the drop waist band, making sure I sew right over the waist band seam. This, in effect, top stitches the seam on the other side.

Turn your skirt right-side-out, and, you're done! Put it on a sweet little girl, and, voila! Tres chic :)

Italian Rainbow Cookies Tutorial

Okay, everyone, I'm going to try to post the Italian Rainbow Cookies recipe, I hope the photos don't cause a problem (ie,slow-loading page; if it is a problem, just let me know and I'll delete some). I make about 5-6 batches of these cookies every year, for my cookie exchange and to give as gifts.

Rainbow Cookies

7 or 8 oz. almond paste (NOT marzipan!)

3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

4 eggs - separated

1 cup sugar

2 Tbs. almond extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

10 drops green food coloring

10 drops red food coloring

1-18 oz. jar apricot jam

12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

2 Tbs. shortening

Grease 3 9x13" pans. Line with wax paper up the sides, and grease again:

Prepared 9" x 13" panimg_1847

In a smaller bowl, beat the 4 egg whites until stiff; set aside. In larger bowl, break up almond paste into small pieces. Add the butter, sugar, egg yolks and almond extract. Beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the flour and salt. Fold egg whites into batter, until evenly combined. Remove about 1-1/2 cups of batter and spread evenly into one of the prepared pans. Then, remove another 1-1/2 cups of batter into a separate bowl and add green food coloring (mix well) and spread into second pan. Add red food coloring to the remaining batter (mix well) and spread into the last pan. Here's a picture of my kids helping!


The batter will just cover the bottom of the pan, about 1/4 inch. Here's a pic of all the pans, before the go into the oven:



Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and dough springs back when touched; do not overbake!


Let cool in pans 5-10 minutes and then remove to cool on wire racks (lifting wax paper out carefully). Place green layer on a FLAT cookie sheet or cutting board. Spread 1/2 of preserves over green layer to edges.


Slide yellow layer over and spread with remaining preserves. Slide pink layer onto yellow layer.




Cover with Saran Wrap and weigh down with large cutting board or heavy book. Refrigerate overnight.



Next day, melt chocolate and shortening (I do this in microwave, stirring after every minute). Trim edges of cake:


This is more of a side-note; I cut the trimmings into small pieces for the kids to enjoy. Every year, I start making these cookies during Thanksgiving week, and on Thanksgiving morning, the kids get to eat "rainbow scraps" for breakfast! Here you can see the kids with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on in the backround!


Cut cake into 1-inch long strips. I'm able to get 5 strips out of each batch:


Frost the tops of the cookies first, and then the sides. This is probably the most tricky part of the whole process, because the chocolate slides down the cookies pretty fast (gravity!). Smooth the chocolate evenly, as best as you can:


Put cookies back into the refrigerator, until chocolate is firm. Remove from fridge and trim the edges of each strip. Again, add to the scrap bowl for the kids, LOL!


I also trim the base of each strip, where it meets the cutting board, so the sides of the cookies are nice and even (hope that makes sense). Now, it is time to cut the cookies! My friend cuts hers really big, about an inch wide; but I cut mine smaller, about 1/3" - 1/2". This way, I am able to get more cookies per batch. I use a long knife to cut all the strips at the same time, if you have one:



I usually can get 15-17 cookies per strip; this batch, I got 17 cookies x 5 strips, to yield 85 cookies. That's why I love this recipe so much! Yes, they are a lot of work, but you get a lot of cookies in the end!


I store the cookies between layers of wax paper in Tupperware containers.  They keep very well in the freezer over the Holidays (between Thanksgiving and New Year's.).  Hope everyone can understand my instructions; let me know if you have any questions!