Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Yesterday, John suggested checking out a nearby Salvation Army thrift store that I'd found online (I'm on vacation all week). Sadly, the listing was very, very out of date, but we continued on to find a couple other stores. A partial listing of my finds follow:

Store #1

  • Women's orange cashmere turtleneck sweater, with price tag still on. Original price: $165. My price: $4.29. The fiber is too thin to unravel and use as yarn, so I'll be felting it and using to to make something (armwarmers, toy elephant, something fun).
  • cotton cashmere shrugSuper soft gray shrug of indeterminate fiber content. Not a lot of yarn, but really nice. The care tag says "dry clean only" which means it's not acrylic, so I snatched it up for $1.50 or so (half off blue tags). Upon further examination, the fiber content is present and it's 60/40 cotton/cashmere, worsted weight. The seams are not serged, so it can be carefully taken apart and used for something yummy.

    Normally, people might scoff at such a small sweater, but I like small projects. There is at least enough for a hat and pair of mittens. I'm most excited about this find, now that I know the fiber content.

  • Electric tea kettle, which looks to be new (my pretty blue kettle didn't make the move for some reason. I'll recover it, but for now, I have something to use); pair of trays with folding legs (breakfast-in-bed trays).
Store #2
  • 30dec08 cashmere sweater findsMen's gray cashmere cardigan. Same fate as the orange.
  • Books: one for me (Frankenstein, which I've been meaning to pick up for months) and one for Jdub that John spotted (he knew she wanted a copy: Give Me a Break, by John Stossel).
Store #3
Totally an accident. I spotted it as we drove past and made John turn around and go back. Unlike the other two, which were Salvation Army, this is an independent, local shop (I think we were in Wayne; and I think it's called Tried & True).

We found a chair frame for a project that John is working on, and I found a glass that goes with a couple others I have. Well, that's what we bought. What we found is a small shop with very reasonable prices that we'll be going back to!

I also almost brought home a concussion, but it was my own fault. They had an old waiting room chair for $2 and I went to sit in it to test it. It was under a shelf, so I moved it out from the wall a bit... but not enough. Bam! Ouch! Totally forgot to buy the chair.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Follow the Sun

First, Sheldon picked out a choice spot in the sun. Then, Charlie sprawled out right next to him, and Sheldon took offense.

sheldon christmasday08Sheldon picked out a new spot...

sheldon blocking light christmasday08...which just so happened to block Charlie's sunlight.

sheldon on couch xmasday08Sheldon was quite amused.*

charlie cold shoulder xmasday08Charlie was not.

3cats in sun xmasday08Then they realized that there was plenty of sunlight to go around.

The end.

*Violently clashing afghan was crocheted by my great-grandmother circa 1980 or so (for my brother; I had to beg for one, then it was damaged). I offered it to him on Christmas Eve, but he said I could keep it.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gift Parcels in Action

pile of parcels
Some friends are on their way here to celebrate Christmas with us. I spent a good portion of yesterday finishing up a couple of gifts and wrapping everything. We went from an estimated twelve people total (including us) to four, so it will be a quieter and calmer afternoon than anticipated. Some of the items are crafty, and many are wrapped in my new gift parcel method, which, apparently, requires a blog post.

  • Jdub is getting Firefly on DVD, plus an IOU for a Jayne hat -- if she wants one (I try not to knit surprises anymore).
  • Her husband, M, is getting the surgical scrub caps mentioned previously.
  • The kids are getting knitted hats (some pictured in the parcel how-to post), although they won't be here to open them.
  • They'll be taking back gifts for another family, who couldn't make it, including a tote bag and an IOU for a finished pair of socks:

    C Tote1
    beck's socks in progress

Gift Parcel for MClose-up of a parcel (I sewed them all closed -- really like the look!)

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Making Seek & Find Bottles

Sort of a tutorial. There are others out there -- I linked to at least one when I did Crafty Fun Fridays (old blog) -- but I've been in a picture-taking mood, so you get my version as well. I've been meaning to make some ever since I first posted, and have been stashing small items with the project in mind, but never got around to it. A few weeks ago, I went to a baby shower where one of the games was a bottle like these (except it was a giant baby bottle and filled with baby-themed items). Long after the time was up, the guests were turning the bottles back & forth, trying to check everything off the list.

For Christmas, I wanted to give these to my niece and nephew, hoping that I hadn't waited too long and that K, my 10-year-old niece, wouldn't think them too childish. They actually enjoyed them, and I have a few lessons learned to share along with the photos I took during the making.

seeknfind1_materials1Gather Materials
Clear plastic bottle with wide mouth. (I used a large Aquafina bottle.) Drink the water, remove the label, rinse and make sure it's dry as a bone -- bottle and lid.

Cheap/stale rice. No sense using the good stuff; it's not going to be eaten later! (I got 3-lb. bags for $2 ea. at Big Lots.) This size bottle took about 2 lbs. each.

Small toys (more on that later).

Glue (I used Gorilla Glue, because it's what we had.) You don't want the kids opening the bottles and spilling rice everywhere! (Plus, many of the toys are choking hazards.)

Tools: scissors & funnel

Optional: Permanent markers to color-code bottles, if desired; cards to list items; rubber bands; hole punch (for cards)

seeknfind3_toys1About the toys
Gather a bunch of smallish non-perishable items (Close-up). Some regular household items will also work.

Lessons learned: the tiny diary-size key was too small and couldn't be found in either bottle, by children or adults. The bee bead turned out to be the exact color of the rice and was also not found by children or adults. Truly white items (like the dice) worked out okay. Too long items (like the huge paper umbrella) aren't a great idea (but the flamingo was fine). I don't recommend foam items (like the leaf).

If you're going to make a list, make sure all the items fit through the bottle opening first. The monkeys had to be forced in (because I'd already made the lists and laminated them!). Keep toys away from tiny tots until they're safely sealed inside the bottles!

seeknfind5_funnelSnip a corner off the rice bag, and using a funnel (plastic or an improvised paper one), pour a few inches of rice into the bottle.

seeknfind6_addtoysThis picture shows another lesson learned: rather than stopping at one point and shoving all of the toys into the bottle like I did, add one or two every inch or so. You'll have less work trying to get things redistributed.

seeknfind7_fillThe amount of rice in the bottle dictates the difficulty level. I wouldn't go higher than this point, but if you wanted to make it easier, you could stop about an inch earlier.

seeknfind8_glueGlue the cap onto the bottle. As mentioned previously, I used Gorilla Glue. To do so, I moistened the outside of the bottle, where the lid would screw on, with just a bit of water on my fingertip, and applied 3 tiny drops of glue on the inside of the lid. When the lid was screwed on, it distributed the glue enough so the bottles couldn't be opened. (The kids were trying to do so within minutes!)

seeknfind9_finishedYou could simply say "there are twelve (or ten, or fifteen) items in this bottle; find them." I went a step further and made up little color-coded cards and laminated them (using some old ID tag sheets), attaching them to the bottles with rubber bands.

seeknfind2_materials2_capFinally, I used permanent markers to make dots that matched the stripes on the cards so the kids could match up the bottles to the cards if they became separated. I didn't designate a bottle per child; I figured they could just swap them back and forth until they were tired of them. As it was, my niece grabbed the red one, and nephew J. grabbed the blue one, and they were perfectly content to each "own" one, and share later.

Seek n Find - PrizeWant to try? I'll send this bag of ten assorted items to a commenter. I usually only get one response, if any, but just in case there are more, I'll draw a name from the comments on Wednesday afternoon. You'll just need to find a bottle, rice, glue, and any additional items you want to add.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Oh, Yum.

acorn brownies
Putting a pair of Christmas gifts to work.

Directions for the acorn pan:
3-egg, "cakey" version of Duncan Hines Family-style Brownies (chewy fudge).

Spray cups with no-stick spray. Add roughly 1 T. batter to each indentation.
Bake for 15-17 minutes at 325º.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Gifts by Request

Occasionally, I receive thinly veiled hints or direct requests for Christmas gifts. I like this very much... as long as what's being requested is something within my scope of experience (and the person is someone I would be giving a gift to). I would much rather give someone a gift I know they want! A couple of years ago, Jdub asked for bouffant-style scrub caps, and I delivered. A few months ago, she told me that her husband needed some too, but a different style. She said this would be an ideal gift for him, because he was sick of using the paper ones, so I asked her to get me a sample to work with.

She delivered a single paper cap, similar to the one pictured here (pulled from online; I have no idea who this model is).

scrub hat prototypeI very carefully took apart that paper hat and traced the pieces onto the backside of some sturdy gift wrap, then made a prototype.

scrub caps doneAfter a lot of trial and error, I finished two scrub caps last night. It was close -- after the prototype, I was sure I had it down, so I cut out pieces for two hats, only to find that the resulting hats were too small. Back to the drawing board! Luckily, the third hat worked out okay, so I cut the final one and it was perfect. I don't think there is enough of this fabric left for one hat. Whew! (So, I made four hats, not counting the prototype, but only two will work for this gift.) On the off chance that someone who knows Jdub's hub sees this, please don't say anything to him. He won't see the hats until Sunday afternoon!

I sent a quick camera-phone pic to Jdub last night and she is sure he'll love them. Double whew! Christmas with that group is this coming Sunday. I have most of the gifts done, but only one is wrapped. Two more gifts to make. I'd better get to work! (One person is getting a picture (she can't make it to see it in person) of a single sock (socks by request) and an IOU.)

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O Christmas Tree

I posted the picture John took of Neo at the tree, but I still felt the need to formally announce that we put up a tree this year. I think John put up one our first Christmas together, and I believe I had one up when my goddaughter lived here, but otherwise, there has been little in the way of Christmas decoration around since my mom died eleven years ago. New house = new attitude (I hope). I still miss my parents, obviously, and mourn them, but am going to try to find some joy too.

A few days ago, I joked about being done with decorating, but last week, I decided that I definitely needed a tree. My old tree was damaged and discarded awhile back, so I had to go out and buy a new one. I don't remember them being this expensive - even on sale the big ones were out of my price range. As it turned out, I had just enough ornaments for this 4-footer, so it's all good. Since it's been something like ten years since any of these ornaments were out of their packaging, it was a nice trip down memory lane.

Tree Collage 1
Big pic: Maggie under the tree. I am so very proud of all of our kitties. I don't even know if Cass and Charlie have even seen a tree before, but several days after it was put up, it's still standing. As far as I can tell, only one ornament was dislodged, and it wasn't put up all that well to begin with. Mostly, they're content with sitting under it or next to it, and loving on it a little. (Neo has been caught chewing the (fake) branches.)
Right top: One of 3 glass balls that survived from my childhood.
Right middle: There used to be a pair of angels - this pink one (for me) and a blue one (for my brother), but his didn't make it. As it is, I had to glue a ring on this one's wing so there was something to hang her by.
Right bottom: Christmas 1973, I was eight. (So glad my mom added initials and dates!) I have a feeling I just didn't want to do this project, because this is terrible! There are a bunch more that my mom painted; a few years ago I gave my brother the one he painted.

Tree Collage 2
A few more pics, from left to right:

  1. A fake bird, sitting atop a tiny nest. Must have been my homage to Mary Ellen's nest in The Homecoming.
  2. Acorn light cover. I would like a bunch more of these... and a string of lights that they'll fit over. (Next year, I promise.)
  3. One of my Emergency Yarn Ornaments.
  4. I have a few of these snowflakes, crocheted by my great-grandmother.
  5. Another one of the glass balls from my childhood.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Strata: a Photo Essay

We have this every Christmas morning, occasionally for Easter brunch or house party breakfast, but typically it's a Christmas thing. (Download with only 1 image at Google Docs.)

• 12 slices bread (I use multi-grain)
• 6 eggs
• 1 lb. bulk sausage (not shown)
• ½ stick unsalted butter (don't melt it yet)
• 2 c. shredded cheese (lowfat okay; don't use fat-free)
• 1 can evaporated skim milk
• ¼ t. dry/ground mustard
• ½ t. salt

Also: 9"x13" glass baking dish, large mixing bowl

strata2_sausageBrown the sausage and break it up well. While it's cooking, follow the next few steps.

Note: you can use other meats, or go meat-free, but may need to adjust the amount of butter used. The original recipe called for ¾-1 stick of butter, plus the amount used to butter the dish, but we've found that it's far too much when using sausage.

strata1_panButter the dish using the amount set aside for the casserole, then melt the remainder.

(I've used this same casserole pan for at least ten Christmases.)

strata4_breadCube the bread & toss it into the large mixing bowl.

(I just got this bowl, and love it!)

strata5_bread&cheeseDrain the sausage and add it and the cheese to the bread.

strata6_toss1Toss the bread, cheese and sausage.

I use my hands because it's not nearly as messy as an upcoming step.

strata7_liquidIn a separate bowl, beat the eggs until foamy. Add evaporated milk, salt and mustard; mix well.

strata8_addliquidPour the egg mixture over the bread mixture.

strata9_mixThoroughly mix.

Wow, that is a very unflattering angle for my hand (which is fat, but not really shaped like that).

strata10_in panDump mixture into buttered pan and pat mixture into corners.

Then, wash your hands.

strata11_butterPour butter over assembled strata, then cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

strata13_finishedIn the morning, or at least several hours later, preheat oven to 325º and bake for one hour.

strata14_serveWe usually serve it with canned peaches. Not sure why... we just always have.

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Christmas Morning

me & bro Christmas 1969I'm probably lucky that my brother doesn't read my blog...

So, Christmas is here. At this second, I'm not in the mood, but that's because I took something to help me sleep and now feel that sluggish/hungover thing that OTC sleep aids leave behind. But in a few minutes, the smell of the traditional Christmas strata should begin to fill the air, and in 45 minutes, it will come out of the oven; around which time we will need to decide if we'll be able to make it down the driveway toward my brother's house. (Rained all day yesterday, now it's below freezing and snowing.)

I did a kind of photo essay for the making of the strata, which I'll post in the next day or two, mostly to show off my new bowl. It's missing a shot of the finished product, but I left my camera on the kitchen counter so I wouldn't forget. I only make this once a year, for going on about twenty years now, so if I don't get the picture, there won't be another opportunity (until next Christmas).

My brother's family came here yesterday afternoon for an early Christmas Eve celebration (we usually do it in the evening, but distance and weather are bigger factors now). They brought take-out chicken, so I only had to worry about beverages and desserts. (We had s'mores, cookies and a chocolate-peppermint (store bought) cake that was rather yummy.) I think everyone had fun. We played a few rounds of Dutch Blitz before they left; that was a blast from the past! (Back when I was at a certain college, playing cards were not allowed; only games like Uno and Dutch Blitz were. SIL's (stricter) school had similar rules.)

Ooh. Off to open stockings! (Only gifts we're exchanging this year.)

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas 2008 Playlist

I stayed up way too late putting this together!

  1. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Andy Williams
  2. Happy Holidays - Andy Williams
  3. Christmastime (Oh Yeah) - BNL
  4. In the Bleak Midwinter - Bert Jansch
  5. It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas - Bing Crosby
  6. Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
  7. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
  8. Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
  9. Merry Christmas Darling - The Carpenters
  10. Driving Home for Christmas - Chris Rea
  11. Saviours Day - Cliff Richard
  12. Let it Snow! - Dean Martin
  13. Baby it's Cold Outside - Dean Martin
  14. The Christmas Song - Diana Krall
  15. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Diana Krall
  16. Count Your Blessings Instead of Sleep - Diana Krall
  17. White Christmas - The Drifters
  18. Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
  19. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Ella Fitzgerald
  20. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas - Gayla Peevey
  21. Ring Out Solstice Bells - Jethro Tull
  22. Sleigh Ride - Johnny Mathis
  23. Feliz Navidad - Jose Feliciano
  24. Christmas Vacation - Mavis Staples
  25. Don't Need a Reindeer - The Moody Blues
  26. Scrooge - Muppet Christmas Carol
  27. Good King Wenceslas - Muppet Christmas Carol
  28. One More Sleep 'til Christmas - Muppet Christmas Carol
  29. It Feels Like Christmas - Muppet Christmas Carol
  30. Bless Us All - Muppet Christmas Carol
  31. Thankful Heart - Muppet Christmas Carol
  32. All I Want for Christmas is You - Olivia Olson
  33. What Are You Doing For New Year's Eve? - The Orioles
  34. We Need a Little Christmas - Percy Faith
  35. Thank Got it's Christmas - Queen
  36. Santa Claus is Watching You - Ray Stevens
  37. Snoopy and the Red Baron Christmas - Royal Guardsmen
  38. Silent Night Holy Night - Sinead O'Connor
  39. Christmas Time is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio
  40. All I Want for Christmas is You - Vince Vance & the Valiants
  41. Christmas at Ground Zero - "Weird Al" Yankovic

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Happy Christmas!

Neo Christmas 08
Photo by John Shaw.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008


First fireOn Thursday night, we broke in our fire place. I don't know about John, but this is my first home with a fire place. We had a wood-burning stove, but I've never been a fan*. It was just lovely.

smoresJohn picked up some kiln-dried oak, which burned great and smelled so good. I picked up marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers, and we enjoyed s'mores, sitting in our desk chairs in front of the fire. (We don't have all the furniture we need -- it will be a slow process.)

*When I was around 8 or 9, while chasing my little brother, I fell onto my grandparent's wood-burning stove, burning the left side of my face, my left arm and left hand. My dad packed me in snow and drove the hour or so to the hospital.After weeks in bandages, I emerged with no scars. The only scar I have on my face is a shallow one - what the plastic surgeon couldn't fix after I tried to shave when I was 3.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow Day

Neo & the Snow DayWe kind of had a lot of snow dumped on us (along with a good portion of the country) today. Luckily, we were somewhat prepared. We ran out late last night to get a few emergency items (I keep thinking of the ice storm in the late 70s that had us all trapped in our homes for a week. I was a kid, so it was great, iceskating on the road, but it was still frustrating), and planned to just hang out all day (it's my work-at-home day).

The worst thing that happened was our internet went out for a few hours (cable too, but it's limited basic, so we didn't miss much). Turns out the snow is really heavy and too deep for our snowblower, so I joked that maybe someone would come by with a plow and offer to dig us out for a reasonable price. Doncha know, round about 7 PM, there's a knock on the door: it's a young boy who wants to know if his stepdad can plow our driveway for $20-or-so. I said, "$20? Do it." It would have taken us hours, and we would have been in a lot of pain. The guy did a great job too. Good thing, because the plow that went by earlier had piled a 4' drift across our entire driveway.

cardinals outside the front window We had fun watching some cardinals go after the red berries on this bush. I don't know what it is, but they like it, so we'll keep it. I was hoping for some close-ups, but a certain monkey/cat leaped onto the divider and knocked a bunch of stuff over. They heard enogh and took off. John spotted blue jays in the back yard earlier in the week.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

New Tutorial: Gift Pouches

thorpe hats finishedI finally finished the Thorpe hats. I think the original knitting pre-dates this blog; this picture was just taken in September, but I actually knit the hats back in the early summer. I have so many kids on my Christmas list that if a hand-made gift is an option, I need to start early. (Plus, I was actually in the mood.) I confirmed that the boys would like hats, and kind of goofy would be good. I got a list of their favorite colors and was warned not to spend too much on the yarn because, well, they're kids. Thorpe is decidedly not goofy, but earflaps are fun and certainly not your standard watch cap, so I settled on that pattern using Jiffy Thick & Quick since it happened to come in all 3 of the suggested colors. This week, I finally got the contrasting edging done -- it called for crochet, but I finally decided to pick up & knit stitches all the way around, then bind off. It's pretty close -- and braids (easily cut off if they don't like them).

On my mind for several weeks was how I was going to wrap all these hats (there are 3 more). I figured out a plan, but wanted to wait until I could photograph all the steps (in case it worked). I wanted to use materials I already owned, and the stack of Christmas-themed scrap-booking paper (that I bought to make these garlands) was perfect. Without further ado, may I present

Gift Pouches Tutorial
(Click any image to embiggen)
• Scrap-booking paper in preferred size (12"x12" shown) - 2 sheets per gift
• String or twine
• Scissors
• Tape
• Not shown: materials for closing. You can sew the edges, use 2-sided tape, use packing tape, etc.

gift_pouch2_gift _wmOh, and a present to wrap. This method of wrapping is great for odd-shaped objects like this dog toy, or a knitted/crocheted hat.

gift_pouch3_taping_wmSelect a sheet for the front of the package and turn over. On one edge, cut a short slit about 1" long.

Cut a length of string or twine a few inches longer than the width of the paper.

About 1/4-1/3 from the top of the page, tape the twine to the back of the paper, using regular desk tape. Only tape an inch or two on each side. If you tape all the way across, the recipient will have to deal with tape either still holding the package shut or just getting in the way.

gift_pouch4_slit_wmTurn the sheet over and pull the string from that edge over into the slit.

gift_pouch5_finished_wmAlign the top sheet (with the string) back to back with another sheet of paper (right sides facing out). Using preferred method, close 3 sides of the package, making sure that the twine in the slit is free, and the twine on the opposite edge is secure. (Note: if you sew the sheets together, make sure you use a needle that's reserved for this purpose.)

Place gift in package, then close up fourth side.

gift_pouch6_pull_wmIf you like, make a little tab on the end of the string, along with ribbons, bows and gift tags.

Give gift.

gift_pouch7_pullharder_wmRecipient should grasp an edge, grab the string and pull across the paper. (You can see here that I attempted to sew the sheets together, but my machine refused to cooperate (unrelated to the project*), so I switched to tape, at least for the purposes of this tute.)

gift_pouch9_inside_wmOh, what's that?


*The machine was damaged, ever so slightly, during the move. We learned that the piece that holds on the foot is called the ankle, and that was the piece that was damaged -- just bent enough to prevent the spring from doing its job.

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