Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Cards

When graced with an abundance of rubber stamps and ink, what is one to do? Make your own Christmas cards of course!

Years ago I was a Stampin’ Up! demonstrator. Basically I used my discount to feed my addiction to scrapbooking and card making supplies. I couldn’t tell you exactly how much of my disposable income (back in the day when such a thing existed) to purchase enough stuff to keep my discount and demonstrator status, but I can tell you that the minimum requirements were three-hundred dollars every quarter and I had no problem keeping that up for at least a couple years. I’m sure you can do the math.

Anyway, my husband and I were talking and decided that we needed to send out Christmas cards this year, if for no other reason than to update people on our new address. I suggested making them since I already had the supplies out for a recent church project. Of course, that meant that we’d actually have to, you know, make them. Much easier said than done. And so yesterday we worked on them together and have them mostly put together. Now we just need to decide whether or not to include a Christmas Letter to go inside.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Of Gifts and Plans

Ideas abound when money is at its least. Figures.

It always seems to happen this time of year as Christmas approaches, closing in faster and faster as if the inertia of a bullet train from Thanksgiving to December twenty-fifth pushes forward at near light speed, that the time to work on projects decreases. What with the random parties and get-togethers and baking is one to do? Well, there are two options. The first is to try and squeeze everything in and in turn go ahead and make a reservation at the nearest mental health institution. The second, and obvious choice to me anyway, is to simply relax and make a plan of what you can actually accomplish.

On the docket for this week? Christmas cards. Actually if I can make them all today after work that would be great. That way I can get them out in the mail tomorrow so people will have our new address. However, I’m allowing myself the rest of the week since I have two quilts to finish up. Now I just need to ransack my rubber stamps and figure out a design. Since this will only require postage, because I already have all of the supplies, it is also something I can do.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Beginning to Look Like Christmas

With Thanksgiving over, it is time to drag out the Christmas decorations in our house. Typically we start with the tree.

Our Christmas tree is quite the eclectic mix of commercialism and traditionalism. I mean, we have Star Trek ships, Smurfs, Looney Toons characters, Charlie Brown Characters and more surrounded by hand painted glass ornaments, Victorian inspired ornaments, along with a variety of wood and ceramic ornaments from our childhoods. There is even a Lego Darth Vader gracing our tree this year. However, with that being said, the house is far from looking as Christmassy as I’d like. Perhaps the reason is because we have so much in the way of autumn decorations that I had acquired years ago when putting on a Harvest Festival at church.

And so it appears that I will try to figure out where to hang our stockings, since we have no fireplace at this house, and make the windows not look so, uh, er, ghetto apartment-like. Maybe it is time to think about window treatments. Hmmm… I wonder if any of the upholstery fabric I bought back in 2005-2006 when I was redoing our bedroom and the craft room at the old house will work? Part of me is wishing we would’ve taken at least the end panels down from the old house before the bank took it back, but alas, no use wasting time on the past. I’m also tempted to do something with the wide expanse of emptiness on the wall above the sofa, but can’t decide what I’d like to do with that area. Hopefully once we take out the Department 56 North Pole Village the rest of the room will start to say Christmas. Or perhaps I need to wrap a few empty boxes and put them under the tree.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Saturday's Sewing

Do you ever mull over a project for days and are completely uninspired to work on it until you decide to change everything and magically it gets done in just a few hours? That’s how I felt with this latest quilt.

For a couple weeks now I’ve been racking my brain over what to do for the silent auction we are having at our church during the Advent Festival next Sunday to help raise money for the youth to go to nationals. I had already said I would be making a baby blanket for the event, but hadn’t a clue what I was going to actually make. Then I remembered I had six yards of a Noah’s Ark fabric from Daisy Kingdom laying around that I can’t stand and thought this would be a great way to get rid of it once and for all. I started cutting out a couple panels and chose coordinating fabrics and stared at it all in disgust. Even though this was going to be an unpaid piece that I was donating I just couldn’t do it. There was too much ugliness and pain. Okay, so the pain was simply my disinterest in the project.

And so it was time for a do-over. Time to go back to the drawing board. It was then that I remembered I’d already picked out fabric for a crib-sized quilt a couple months ago on a random trip to the fabric store on my lunch (Shhh! Don’t tell my husband!) because I needed more thread. So I stared at those five fat quarters, decided to use one for That 70s Quilt whenever I start that one, and chose another couple of fabrics from my stash to complete it. With the idea of simply using one of the fat quarters as a center panel, I cut out squares from the remaining fabric and arranged them into a pleasing display. Now I just need to decide whether or not to sandwich it with batting and backing before quilting or use a coordinating piece of fleece for the back. Part of me is leaning towards the easier (and cheaper) of the two.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Accommodating Pet Quirks

Our house has no end to the amount of quirkiness the pets exhibit. Knowing where to draw the line will help you keep what little sanity you may have left.

To clarify, our two cats and dog are pretty much free-roaming-hang-out-where-you-want-to kind of pets. To this end, yes, they are allowed on the sofa and chair-and-a-half, in the kitchen, the office/craft room, even the garage. However, I draw the line at countertops and the kitchen table. Eliminating warm, cozy places for them to curl up where I don’t want them to and making their allowed areas even more so will help curb this… somewhat. A determined cat who simply wants to sleep on the kitchen table is probably going to do so no matter what deterrents you put in place, even the old standby of crumpled up aluminum foil. To keep the sofa and chair-and-a-half as easy as possible to clean, I made seat quilts. Well, I made a pair originally for the sofa and that didn’t work out so well, so I made one to go over both seats and that works a little better, and so the pair went to the chair-and-a-half with one on the seat and one on the backrest where our cat Dexter enjoys lounging.

Another quirk of Dexter’s is that he likes to crawl through the mini blinds to sit on the windowsill. To keep this from being an issue, I’ve just taken to keeping the blinds open to his sitting level at all times. Yes, it looks goofy both inside and out, but at least he can jump up and not get all tangled up in the blinds. Yes, this has happened. No, I didn’t take a picture. He also finds it quite amusing to lay on his back in the very dark hallway and get tripped over. Our cat Tuesday on the other hand, is, well, old and doesn’t really do much of anything. Except get in our way when we are trying to work on projects in the office/craft room. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have either run over her or almost done so while rolling back in the chairs either sewing or using the desktop. She’s also howling for food by four in the morning right outside our bedroom door. Our dog Lucy, well, she pretty much thinks she’s the queen. I have to keep a tray on our chair-and-a-half to prevent her from sleeping on it and also to encourage her to either sleep on her bed or the sofa. She also wants an entourage to help her go potty if it is raining. Getting the cheese out for any reason? She’s waiting for her slice. Actually anything food related she expects to get her cut.

There are a million other things they do that annoy me to no end, but it is also those very traits that make them so fascinating. Even if they rip the ironing board cover as they fall off during a nap. Frakking Dexter.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Day After

I am thankful for good friends. I’m also thankful for a cooked turkey in much less time than anticipated.

We Americans sure like to celebrate being gluttonous. After a day filled with more food than most of us eat in a week, many of us spend a ton of money on worthless crap because it is on sale. I mean, where else do people gather together and give thanks for friends and family and a few hour later push, shove, trample and do everything humanly possible to get that “great deal” advertised in the newspaper the day before? I don’t know about you, but I have only ever ventured out into the abyss known as Black Friday once in my life and that was because I had spent the night making music videos with my cousins (because that’s just what we used to do) and were all planning on leaving to go shopping with most of my aunts and grandma so I tagged along. It was a nightmare.

Then, just for arguments sake, I’ll take the other end of the spectrum and say that the day after Thanksgiving when you work retail, as I did for nine years, was crazy. I’ll have to admit that it was kind of fun watching a stampede in progress filled with some of the most ghetto people who couldn’t be bothered to dress in regular people clothes or do their hair racing towards you in a panicked frenzy to grab the latest Elmo or pick over pajama sets. Sometimes you just gotta know when to step aside and let the craziness happen. After all, most of these people hadn’t been to bed in days so they could save a couple bucks.

I’m not sure if it is because I’m already a bargain hunter to begin with or if the idea of being trapped with a bunch of strangers in a building where there are only one or two exits and the sheer amount of people well exceeds fire code and my claustrophobia might cause be to have a panic attack, but shopping on Black Friday doesn’t appeal to me. Especially since it is simply a day to get most big box retail stores out of the red, as in debt, and back into the black, as in profit. Alas, if I had the money, I’d do my shopping tomorrow instead on Small Business Saturday. I would feel much better spending money at a mom and pop shop then at an evil corporation made with evil parts for the sole purpose of committing evil.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day

With preparation on a majority of today’s meal complete, it’s time to sit back and relax, right? Methinks not.

After taking the turkey out of the freezer two days before the recommend time, I figured I’d have a defrosted bird by last night. However, as luck would have it her breasts were squishy and her thighs were still quite firm, as in hard as a rock. Alas, time to pull out the ultimate tool… the water bath. I prefer to use our cooler, as it is a self-contained unit that I can wheel around. After putting the turkey inside, I used the shower in the bathroom to fill it with cold water until it was submerged, in theory. Again, her breasts were squishy and apparently also able to be used as flotation devices. My husband put an iron skillet over her to keep her under water. It must have worked because this morning she feels quite tender all over. Excellent.

Okay, so with the turkey finally ready for preparation, it’s time to figure out just what to do with her. I left out half a stick of butter from cooking down the veggies for the stuffings and cut some extra herbs from the garden, both sage and rosemary, however I’m wondering if a combination will work best. What I’ve done in the past is rubbed an herbed butter (with sage, thyme, salt and pepper) under the skin and placed fresh sage leaves under it as well and put garlic and fresh rosemary sprigs inside the cavity during roasting. Actually, this year I’m going to do the same. Why mess with perfection. However, I’m going to start cooking her much earlier than I normally do so that she will actually be ready in time for dinner instead of hours after I say dinner will be. For some reason Whole Turkey and I don’t speak the same language, but I’m sure it is simply because we haven’t gotten to know each other very well.

The next thing I have to do is make the mashed potatoes, for which I’m going to be utilizing a fantastic technique I learned last year in which you cook the potatoes in the milk and butter instead of boiling them in water. They come out tasting so much richer and flavorful and are less work. I like less work. Okay, so they’re only less work if you can’t leave well enough alone. Of course, with four cloves of garlic, a stick of butter, a cup of cream and a cup of milk, they’d better be flavorful! Simply melt half the butter in the pan and add the minced garlic, stirring and letting it cook until it starts to turn golden. Add a teaspoon of sugar and stir for thirty seconds to a minute longer. Next, add the milk, cream and about two-and-a-half pounds peeled and quartered Yukon Gold potatoes. Bring to a boil, put a lid on and lower the heat to low for twenty to thirty minutes, depending on size. Test for doneness with a fork, which should pierce through the thickest part easily. Use a potato masher directly in the pan until the consistency you desire. Add more milk if needed a little at a time, just make sure it is hot. Perfect mashed potatoes that have a hint of roasted garlic thanks to the magic of butter and sugar.

The only other thing that will need to be made today on our end is the gravy. However, I like to wait until the turkey is out of the oven so I can use those delicious drippings. My basic gravy starts with butter and flour (you can also use the fats from the drippings) before adding stock, dried sage and black pepper. A little salt goes a long way, so I usually taste it before adding any towards the end of the cooking process. If the gravy doesn’t thicken up properly, it’s time to pull out the big guns: Cornstarch. Mix a tablespoon or two of cornstarch with more stock or cold water, as cornstarch will not dissolve in hot liquids, and slowly add just a little at a time while whisking until it starts to thicken. I think this year I’ll also be adding the giblets to the gravy, in which I will sauté them with some butter and garlic and puree them in the food processor before adding them to the gravy. Perhaps I should check with the guests first, as not everyone is a giblet fan.

Hopefully your Thanksgiving is fantastic and memorable, just not in the ‘Oh-my-gawd-the-turkey-burned-and-the-potato-peels-backed-up-the-sink-and-my-homemade-French-fried-onions-look-more-like-shit-rings-on-top-of-the-green-bean-casserole’ way. Not that this ever happened (all in the same year, anyway), but I pray today goes smoothly for all my fellow bakers and cooks out there. And if it doesn’t, oh well. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving: Minus One Day

Turkey Day is tomorrow which means only one thing… PANIC!!! Unless, of course, you’ve done your homework.

The big day doesn’t have to be stressful if you do as much ahead of time as possible. The day before Thanksgiving is perfect for baking pies, making cranberry sauce, even getting your stuffing ready to be baked if you are so inclined. My husband has decided to make a pumpkin and his famous chocolate pie, so I will make the crusts using the same recipe I’ve used for years but with a little alteration I did recently when I made an apple pie that made that crust amazing. Yes, sometimes I surprise myself with just how good I am.

Now with the cranberry sauce, I typically make this a day ahead to allow it to cool and congeal slightly, but in a pinch can be made the morning of if, say, you decide to whittle away today by being lazy. Or, in my case, cleaning dog pee and poop from the carpets again after weeks of having no accidents. Frakking dog. Grrr. Something tells me she won’t be sleeping in the living room tonight. Also I will probably be making the Bacon Cranberry Cornbread Stuffing and Apple Sausage Stuffing today as well, which will give both of these dishes time to soak in all of the flavors. By prepping these ahead of time, all I will have to do is slip them into the oven after taking out the turkey. Of course, a little foresight is required in that these both will cook best if brought up to room temperature ahead of time, so I need to remember to take them out of the refrigerator at least a half-an-hour before, if not an hour.

With the gravy you’ve got options. Personally, I prefer to make the gravy using some of the drippings and the juices from the turkey. However, if you don’t, make it ahead of time and reheat it before serving. Just remember to use less thickener than you normally would as it will thicken significantly during cooling. And nothing says you can’t have two gravies, especially if you like to make giblet gravy and have guests who are opposed to such culinary delectableness. Mmm… giblets.

Lastly, go ahead and set up the dining room table. It may not seem like an important thing to do ahead, but with all the busyness bound to happen tomorrow, why not do as much ahead of time as possible. If you don’t have any decorations, don’t worry. A small vase with a few branches from a tree and some dry leaves from outside are both simple and free and this time of year quite abundant. Besides, with the table already set and ready, it will surely give your guests a true sense of being welcome for dinner. Okay, so I’m blowing smoke out of my ass right now. I just think a set table looks pretty and allows me more time to mingle and less time worrying about where everyone is going to sit.

By spreading out the load you can make the day as stress-free as possible. That is, assuming, that all hell doesn’t break loose.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving: Minus Two Days

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving is usually the earliest I will start any of the sides. It is also the last day I will step foot into a grocery store until after the holiday madness is over.

Time to go over my checklist and see where I am at on supplies and replenish any stock required for the big day. The last thing anyone wants is to finally be ready for dinner and have the sudden realization you’re out of butter! Okay, so perhaps this is mainly my concern. However, with just a few people and only a few sides, this year should breeze by pretty easily, right? Alas, one can never be too prepared.

I am thoroughly amazed at just how much butter I go through on Thanksgiving. Last year, for example, and albeit that was for thirteen people, I went through two pounds of butter like it was, uh, er… butter. This year I am planning on using about the same, even though it’ll only be four of us. Why so much? Because I’m making the same amount of food. What is the point of making a huge turkey feast if there won’t be leftovers? With that in mind, another couple pounds of butter will be added to my grocery list today, along with bread, milk and onions. This house can never have too many onions because I will find a use for them.

Also on my checklist is to make sure the turkey is thawed or on its way to being so. I really don’t feel like dealing with the frozen inner cavity of a bird again. If it does, however, come to that, I have no idea how I’ll be able to do what I did last year which was continue thawing it with water in the sink since our sinks in this house are much shallower than our previous ones. But I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Weekend Sewing

It isn’t impossible to accomplish great things when there are a million other things to do. Just make sure there is plenty of chocolate at the end of the tunnel.

Even with gift fairs and bazaars and birthday parties and dessert baking for the church auction on the docket for this weekend, I managed to get in some sewing. Another block down for the Fall Quilt, which means only three left, and I finished the top of the commission quilt I’m working on using greens and browns. Trying to figure out a design for this quilt proved to be just as nerve racking as limiting my color choices. I knew that with the small fussy-cut images I created and printed out that I’d have to fit those into a larger block, but was unsure if I wanted to do simple frames or pieced blocks.

I decided on log cabin blocks and started piecing the two smaller images. After those two, and realizing I had goofed on my second one and the only way to fix it was to either rip the whole thing and start over or create the other two blocks in the same fashion which, unfortunately thanks to the Nazi party, would create a swastika. Probably not the best baby blanket design, even if the original symbol was quite benign before the Nazi’s hijacked it. Grrr… So I figured the other two could be simply framed using the two large prints I had picked out and I’d somehow make the whole thing work. Hopefully it did.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fabric Design

Sometimes it takes years for an idea to come to fruition. Other times a mere matter of minutes.

Yesterday after getting back from the Holiday Gift Fair, which was a complete waste of time by the way, I started making my Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes for the dessert auction at church today. Okay, the Gift Fair wasn’t all bad. We did go with a couple friends and found some of the tables to be interesting, but for the most part it was not so much a gift fair like a craft bazaar I had in mind, but a lot like walking through the center of the mall and being bombarded by all those mall kiosk types. Fortunately we were able to redeem the afternoon by going to two actual bazaars on the way home, which made up for the lack of handcrafted goods at our first stop. Alas, ideas abounded but purchases not so much. Probably a good thing. So anyway, once the cupcakes were done baking, I ran to the grocery store… wait, let me reword that… I drove to the grocery store (I can’t even picture myself running) to get a few more things for both Thanksgiving and to make the frosting for the cupcakes, whipped up a batch of delicious Maple Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting, frosted said cupcakes and plated them.

Now, on to the fun part… sketching out designs for the Frog and Fairy Baby Blanket. With pen and paper in hand I quickly draw out a fairy and quickly discard it because, well, it was ugly not the look I was going for. I then drew another and was quite happy with the results and decided that yes, that was exactly what I wanted the fairy to look like. Now on to the frog. After two unsuccessful attempts (please don’t feel pity, I spent a total of about ten seconds drawing the pair combined) I came up with the exact type of frog I wanted. So then I stared at the two of them and waited for inspiration to hit to get a feel for what their relationship would be. Pretty quickly it hit me they were best friends and so I sketched out a total of four scenes that I plan on using as feature panels for the quilt. After choosing the colors, I colored them in using colored pencils before scanning the images onto the computer for some fun with Photoshop. Within a few minutes I had a printable image ready so I grabbed a roll of printable cotton fabric I got a year and a half ago, opened it up and printed my fussy-cut sample. I figured I was going to just use the images themselves with a little of the background fabric so I simply squeezed the four images into an eight-and-a-half inch square space.

Not realizing just how easy the process was going to be, I now have no idea why I didn’t try doing this earlier. However, now that I’ve got a grasp on the design on, thanks to Heather Ross’s seminar I attended last year and reading an interview with Kate Spain on how they approach fabric design, I guess something just connected finally. Call it focus and determination. Either way, I can’t wait to plan out the remainder of the line and play with the color schemes before I put it all up on Spoonflower.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanksgiving Checklist

It’s always a good idea to plan ahead. Especially when food and company are involved.

With Thanksgiving coming up in just a few short days, I’ve decided to make a checklist to make sure everything is in place and ready to go when the big day comes. Last thing anyone wants is the realization that their turkey is still frozen and solid as a rock when it needs to be in the oven baking. It is also wise to know what your guests are planning on bringing as well so duplicates aren’t overbearing. Although admittedly, I don’t mind duplicate dishes in large gatherings of twenty or more people, but with a small group of ten or less a little variety is welcome.

So today, five days before, and a day or two longer than suggested, I’m taking out my turkey from the freezer and putting it into the fridge. The nice thing about having a fridge out in the garage is having the extra space to do this. Last year was a bitch and the bird was still frozen in the center after four days of her taking up a large portion of the only refrigerator we had. Perk one of moving. The downside is not having a dining room, so kitchen Thanksgiving dinner it will have to be.

I also like to make sure that I’ve got all my provisions ready for the sides. Yukon gold potatoes, heavy cream, butter and garlic for the mashed potatoes; stock, cornstarch and sage for the gravy; sausage, apples, onions and stock for the stuffing; cranberries, oranges, cinnamon and cardamom for the cranberry sauce… CRAP! I still need cranberries! Our guests are bringing green bean casserole and dessert, but I’m still tempted to make a pumpkin pie too. Or an apple pie. Maybe I’m just craving pie right now because it is so cold and wet outside. I’m also tempted to get some baby shrimp for my husband’s shrimp salad, another surprisingly festive addition to a holiday meal. Of course, with so much starch in the meal as it is, any green salad would be welcome.

Lastly is drinks. I’ve got three bottles of red wines, a cabernet sauvignon (okay, half a bottle), a merlot and mixed red, both from Rex Goliath or as I like to call it, the Forty-Seven Pound Cock since there is a picture of a forty-seven pound rooster named Rex Goliath on the label. While I’ve always loved Rex Goliath’s Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, their Free Range Red is deliciously smooth and goes well with a variety of foods. I’m not much of a white wine drinker, but we do have an unopened bottle of Riesling in the fridge leftover from something. Coffee, milk and filtered water should also be on hand too.

So, from my checklist, the only thing I have left unchecked is cranberries because when I went grocery shopping Tuesday the store didn’t have any. I think that is a crime. But, alas, another grocery store in the area has them so I suppose I’ll just have to pick them up this Tuesday when I gather final provisions. And decide whether or not to also make cornbread stuffing and rolls too.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Baby Blanket Blues

I’ve got the baby blanket blues. More accurately, the greens and browns.

I seem to be stuck in a rut. Somewhere along the line of trying to come up with some design for inspiration or anything to make the latest baby blanket, I’ve dug myself into a hole that I can’t crawl out of. After purchasing multiple prints of greens and browns, as requested per the mother, it seems that my creative ability to turn that fabric into a quilt has, well, been dissolved into a pile of fat quarters. Something tells me that this has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been focused on my Fall Quilt as of late and not so much on any of the other projects. However, something else tells me that I don’t want to start on the quilt without an idea of where I’m going with it either.

And so tonight after work I’ll probably continue to work on the Fall Quilt. Why? Because I at least have an idea of what I’m doing with it. Hopefully tomorrow after going to the Holiday Gift Fair I will be inspired to start the baby blanket. Figures. Typing the word “fair” just made me think of fairies which also made me think of frogs which makes me think using that as a basis for a baby girl’s quilt would be fabulously fantastic. Funny where inspiration comes from. Especially when you least expect it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More Fall Quilt Blocks

Four more blocks done. That means only four more to go.

After watching more episodes of The Vampire Diaries, my latest Netflix Instant View addiction, I cleaned up the kitchen, did a little laundry, then started working on the next quilt block for the Fall Quilt. I probably could have gotten all of the blocks done if I hadn’t been watching television, but alas, I seem to be a sucker for something part Smallville, part Dawson’s Creek with a touch of Anne Rice thrown in for good measure. I’m not sure if it was all the blood viewing that made me do this, but I decided to use a little solid red for a couple of the blocks to add a pop of color and for use as filler as I will barely have enough of my chosen fabric collection to finish the top.

Once I finished a couple blocks, I decided it would probably be a good idea to plan out the remaining to make sure there would be enough color variation. Sure enough, there was going to be a slight issue… or so I thought at first. Each block consists of five different fabrics, but some of the pieces are small and only use a portion of the Jelly Roll. Alas, after my first cut on the next block I’d already made up for one of the remaining block’s missing pieces. Basically, from what I’ve gathered, I’ll be able to make the quilt top using half as much fabric as it calls for in the book, Material Obsessions. Of course, I’m thrifty and cut with very little waste.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Planning Thanksgiving

At the grocery store yesterday I noticed it was obviously time to start stocking up on canned and nonperishable goods. Must be close to Thanksgiving.

It never fails that this time of year has some of the best prices on those center aisles of the grocery store. It also never fails that our cupboards are filled with chicken and beef stock, soups and green beans. Yes, I know fresh is better, but canned has a nostalgic taste that simply cannot compete. Of course one of the things I missed that I forgot to put on my list was flour. Ah, next week I suppose.

And so while perusing the aisles trying to gather provisions for Thanksgiving, the thought that there is still a week away grabbed my attention and I had to also plan meals leading up to it as well. While I’m not always adept at purchasing foods based off of meals I plan on making, I decided instead to focus on getting whatever we would eat and was cheap. Typically this is how I shop anyway, stocking up on what I consider basics for a multitude of meals such as garlic, onions, red bell peppers and either pork or chicken. Add rice and I’ve got a stir fry. Add corn tortillas and I’ve got fajitas. Add corn and apples and I’ve got pork chops, chunky applesauce and creamed corn. And of course there are standbys with few ingredients as well, like spaghetti, Tuna Gemelli (though I make mine with penne) and Fettuccini Alfredo.

This year we are spending the day with friends who have family back east and have already figured out who’s making what. Of course, my problem is that I can’t not make a lot of food, so we’ll see if I can tone down this year what I failed to do last year. Then again, last year our small family gathering turned into thirteen people so perhaps overdoing the whole food thing isn’t such a bad idea. And if it does turn out to be just the four of us, then there will be plenty of leftovers for turkey sandwiches! Now, if I can only locate fresh cranberries for the cranberry sauce.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Countdown to Christmas

With Christmas only a mere forty days away, it is probably time for us crafters to think about gifts we’d like to make. Or have I procrastinated this yet again?

Actually, a majority of crafters start their Christmas gifts months in advance. I used to start in September back in the day, but lately I haven’t been inspired to bother or have been busy with other projects. I’ll allow myself to be told this is the case. However, I know it’s because I’ve yet again procrastinated. Surprising? Not at all. I’ve been a procrastinator all my life. But realizing just how close Thanksgiving is made me also realize that Christmas is not far behind it.

So, what to make this year? My brain is aflutter with ideas and at the same time empty of ones that have any possibility of coming to fruition. However, another thought occurred to me, which is that it has been a few years since I’ve made Christmas ornaments. That used to be my expected gift to family, but the last few years have been, well, crappy, so my Christmas Spirit had been replaced with Bah Humbug. Perhaps it is time to once again start up this tradition.

Forty days until Christmas. Where did this year go?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Quilt Therapy

Making order from chaos is quite therapeutic. Cutting also helps.

Last night I needed to quilt. With all the needless drama I needed a distraction. As I stared at the Jelly Roll of Sandy Gervais’s Mix & Mingle from Moda that has been begging to be used now for a year and a half, I decided it was time to delve into those strips and start working on the blocks for the Fall Quilt. I couldn’t tell you how long I simply looked at those rows upon rows of colorful fabrics before I finally had the courage to get out the ruler and rotary scissors and start making my cuts for the courthouse steps blocks, but I do know if felt amazing after letting go of my fears and cutting.

To keep the blocks in order, I figured I’d simply sew each one individually rather than chain stitching. While I know this process takes longer, it also meant that I’d have a finished block and feel that sense of accomplishment sooner rather than later. It worked. After the first one I wanted more, and so after making a fantastic pot of chicken and dumplings for dinner, I began work on another and then another after that. I probably could’ve gotten more pumped out, but I was also pressing as I was going to keep everything in line. Pressing also made it so the fabrics were flat as I was sewing and so I didn’t even need to pin. If you know my record for sewing straight lines that is a pretty awesome accomplishment.

I’m not sure what tonight may hold, whether or not I’ll continue my quilt therapy session. But I do know it was helpful.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dealing with Disappointment

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you I’m terrible at dealing with, well, just about anything. Especially when there are emotions involved.

Perhaps there is a little bit of leeway in trying to describe how I deal with life. When I’m sad or grieving I tend to use humor more than usual. Actually I tend to use humor in a lot of circumstances. Making a joke in the middle of a very serious argument, however, is not always recommended, and rarely does it have the intended effect, but I can’t help it sometimes. That would be like telling a dog not to bark or a cat not to meow. I don’t know if it is possible for me not to inject humor into just about any circumstance, and I have the scars on my tongue from literally having to bite it in order to not say it aloud sometimes.

Now anger and frustration have a fairly odd effect on me. I get the urge to clean. I don’t know if it is a psychological therapy, one where taking something not in order or dirty and making it look all shiny and new, is the reason for it. Of course, I could have gotten it from my stepmother who I’m fairly certain went on cleaning sprees after having to deal with her ex-husband, so maybe this was a learned behavior. Actually, curiously, my dad tends to crack jokes at inopportune times as well so maybe it is part nature and part nurture. Either way, the house gets clean as I take out my anger on the toilet bowl before flushing it down.

However, currently I’m having difficulty figuring just where to place my emotions as they all seem to be jumbled together where our kids are involved. It’s been months since we’ve seen them and while I have slowly been taking reminders of them and putting them out of sight I still can’t figure out just how to deal with such a loss. It has especially been difficult since we were supposed to finally see them again last night and in typical fashion it never happened. I don’t know why I even allow myself to get my hopes up any more. I don’t know why I can’t get past the denial stage that we very possibly will never see them again. I don’t know why I can’t let go. Wait. Yes I do. Because I love those boys more than I ever should have allowed myself to.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Steam Cleaner

Sometimes you can only live with nasty carpets for so long. Apparently my husband had had enough.

Yesterday we went to a wedding, but because I was coming from work and my husband was coming from home we took separate cars. And since he left a few minutes before I did after the wedding was over I was expecting him to be back home by the time I got there. Alas, he was not. It was then that I checked my phone and saw a text message from him saying that he was going to check out steam cleaners. So it was twenty minutes later my husband opens the door and drags in this huge box. Yes, he’d gone and bought a steam cleaner.

Normally this would be a freak out moment, as our finances are not the greatest, however, he bought it with a gift card from his mother he got for his birthday. Now typically I would be the one to get myself kitchen gadgets or household chore items so this would be perfectly normal for a purchase I’d make, but he apparently felt the need to have clean carpets and bought a Bissell ProHeat 2X Pet.

So picture if you can, two guys still dressed up for the wedding we had just attended, steam cleaning the carpets and thoroughly disgusted at the horrific color the dirty water reservoir had become. It was quite the sight, I assure. But the true test was going to be when the carpet dried completely. And the verdict (after spending a few hours at a bar with some of my family for the after party for those of us who aren’t against the consumption of alcohol)? They smell so much better and look as good as they did when they were professionally cleaned. I guess the real test will be if I can find a recipe for a solution to use in the machine that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and works just as amazingly.

(Pictures are from the Bissell website

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in nineteen-eighteen that signaled the end of World War I. The beginnings of Veterans Day was born.

I can probably count the number of veterans I know, and sadly have known, on one hand. I don’t come from a military family and very few of my friends did either. But I’m proud to count among my grandparents one who served in World War II and one who served in Korea, and I’m also proud to count among my friends one who served in Iraq. While they all made it back home, my grandfather who served in Korea is the only one still living, and with his current health problems that time might not be for much longer.

Honestly I have no idea if any of my various aunts, uncles or cousins were in the military because nobody ever talked about it. I know my mother’s dad was a farmer and mom was a riveter (as in Rosie the Riveter) during World War II, but couldn’t tell you anything beyond that. So if there is anyone I didn’t mention, I apologize. However, with that being said:

Thank you, Ray.

Thank you, Stan.

Thank you, Nikk.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Christmas Shopping?!

With Halloween done it’s time to move on to the next holiday, Thanksgiving, right? Wrong.

Once the calendar turned to the first day of November it seems we’ve been bombarded with advertisements for Christmas in print, radio and television. For those of us without the funds to actually spend money on presents and frivolous trinkets, Christmas planning should have started back in July. However, I must admit, I rarely think about the holiday as a gift giving gathering. In fact, to us anyway, it is much more about spending time with family and friends.

Honestly I wish we were able to buy gifts for loved ones. It would be nice not to worry about if we will have enough money to pay the bills next month or if our bank account will run out right when we need to put gas in our cars to get to and from work. But alas, such is life. Hills and valleys. Lows and highs. I just hope our low valley slump we’ve been in for the last three years hits an uphill stride soon.

And so with that being said I’m thinking another low-key Christmas will be in order. After all, what good is a recession if people start spending money again?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Resource Room Cleanup

I tried to think of an ‘R’ word for cleaning for the title. But brain before coffee consumption is confounded.

Today a friend and I will be cleaning out our church’s resource room. Ever since we all got back from camp back in August the room has been in severe disarray. I mean everything we took to camp or brought back from it in the form of donations has been sitting on the floor in boxes just waiting to find a home. Alas, it was at the same time a couple Sundays ago that myself and another went up to the Christian Education Coordinator to ask if we could clean out the room. Funnily, neither of us had talked to each other, we had just suddenly felt the need to organize it. And organize it we will.

There is a lot of stuff in the room that we don’t use or is redundant, so with that there will be a lot of stuff to be disposed of or donated. Of course, it won’t be all fun and games. We both decided that since we’ll be going through everything that we would also set aside anything that we could use for the Advent Festival next month. I have a feeling that we won’t be needing to purchase very much in the way of supplies for three of the five projects we have planned.

Our goal is to make the room more functional, and so with that we will be getting rid of stuff that either is garbage, taking up space, or we already have multiples of. I kid you not, we have six projector screens at our church and for some reason five of those are in the resource room. I may be taking one of those home if any are still in good condition. The costumes need gone through and organized as well as decorations, most of which I don’t even think are known to the people who decorate the church. Maybe we can relocate those into their room instead? Alas, I hope with everything that needs to be done we can accomplish a majority of it today.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Projects Versus Chores

When torn between doing what you want and doing what needs to be done, the choice seems obvious. But why does it have to be so?

I know I’ve written on this matter before, but the fact still remains that nothing motivates me to clean the house more than being able to have a little me time to be creative. It actually is the creative process that allows me to legitimize my attempts at balancing housework with craftwork. I say attempts because sometimes I get too involved in one over the other. However, the process still helps.

Carefully writing down all the tasks that need to be done into two columns, one side Wants and one side Needs, will help to organize everything you want to accomplish. Personally I do this in my head… most of the time. When I’m especially unfocused, it does help to have it written down and placed somewhere central, like the refrigerator. And so today I will attempt to balance the Needs of cleaning the carpet, vacuuming, laundry, dishes and bathing the dog with the Wants of starting my commission baby quilt, church youth auction quilt, another Desperate Housewife’s Quilt block and figuring out what design to do for our Christmas cards this year. Does anyone else do this or am I just an oddball?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Busy Busy Busy

Lately my time has been fairly occupied, mostly with school plays, which hasn’t left a whole lot of time for quilting. Hopefully this week I’ll be able to get back into the groove.

I’ve been slacking on quilting, that much is certain. With all the time I’ve spent this weekend away from the house it hasn’t been much of a priority. However, with this week and the plays all over (sadly) I need to get back to working on a couple quilts that have to be finished before the end of the month. Doable? Completely. Will I accomplish such a task? Doubtful… outlook is grim.

What I do know is that the commission baby quilt and my donation for a silent auction to help the youth group from our church go to the big national event this upcoming summer have to be done. So perhaps instead of complaining I need to figure out what the hell I’m going to do for both of these quilts! I’ve already decided that the auction quilt will have to be made with what I already have in my stash whereas the baby quilt will mostly be made with the green and brown fat quarters I picked up last week, along with a few other choices and possibly some original panels if I can’t think of a particular theme.

And so it appears that my Fall Quilt will take the back burner yet again, just in time for Christmas to come and go without my Christmas Quilt even started as well. Alas, my timing is off and I need to keep that in mind when I pick up these projects. Of course, nothing says I have to stop working on it just because it won’t be ready nor start working on the Christmas Quilt because the time is near.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fall Festival of Shakespeare

Shakespeare is something that can be both difficult and fun to perform. Of course, having a great play to do helps.

All day yesterday was spent with what has to be the best group of high school kids. I’m not just saying that because of the group I was with, but it seemed all the kids there from the six high schools were fantastic. It was great to see them all bonding with other kids from the various schools involved while doing something they all enjoyed and is certain to be an experience that will linger a lifetime. That and the Ridgefield kids were the only ones pictured in the local newspaper not only on the front cover of the paper, but also the front cover of the Weekend Edition and a cast photo inside. How awesome is that?

With Ridgefield’s performance of Twelfth Night being first, normally that would have been a tough act to follow with any performance they do since they have undoubtedly one of the strongest drama teams I’ve ever seen. However with a noncompetitive supportive program such as the Fall Festival of Shakespeare, it was more about letting the kids see other kids perform and learn different techniques and acting styles.

And so it is, after watching four plays yesterday, we will be attending the final two performances this afternoon even though the school my husband helped with is not performing. Why? Because this has gotten me excited about Shakespeare in a way I’ve never been before.

(Photos copyright The Columbian, photographed by Steven Lane)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Considering a Steam Cleaner

When life throws obstacles in the way of incontinent or attention grabbing pets, the carpet takes the brunt of their wrath. Maybe it’s time to fight back.

Ever since we’ve moved into this house the question of whether or not to buy a steam cleaner has been brought up. Not by me, but by my husband. You see, I grew up poor white trash where the vacuums were at least second hand (if not third or fourth) and carpets were scrubbed by hand. Mind you, things did improve as I got older, but those days of when you don’t have the money to buy gadgets and gizmos but simply make do with what you can afford still linger. And the fact that we really can’t afford such a unitasking device has hindered any real chance of purchasing one. With all that being said, when is it time to throw your hands in the air and say, “To hell with it!”?

And so it was the other night after getting home from work that my husband had apparently been researching various steam cleaners. I think he must have known that the only way for me to get on board with such a device is to have it be capable of doing more than just cleaning carpet because almost every model he showed me had attachments for upholstery cleaning too, something our sofa and chair-and-a-half are both in desperate need of since my hand scrubbing and Lucy, our Great Dane, have both contributed to some areas where the fabric has ripped. Mostly Lucy’s fault, I’m sure, as her digging probably led to the torn fabric fibers in the first place before my gentle hands ever-so-softly wiped to remove the filth from the surface. Yes, I’ll blame the dog.

Now the difficult decision is do we even bother, since these carpets were nasty to begin with and after having a professional carpet cleaner come out and tell us not to expect any miracles because it should’ve been replaced at least five years prior makes me wonder if our purchase would be in vain. Then again, I’m really getting tired of getting on my hands and knees and using up all of our old towels to soak up urine and trying to clean it all, first with vinegar, then baking soda, then hydrogen peroxide and finally with borax just to have another one show up the next day in the same spot. Of course, the flip side would be clean sofas too!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Quilting Challenges

Does anyone else go through color challenges and comes up with nothing? I’ve got that going on right now.

A friend of mine is having a baby and requested a green and brown baby blanket. Normally I wouldn’t hesitate at such a challenge and simply make a majority of the quilt those colors, but this time I’m wondering if it is indeed possible to only work with those two colors… and some ivory to help balance, so perhaps I’ve already broken the rule. As I was perusing fabric choices, part of me wished that I could simply add a little aqua to the mix, as those three colors seem to be pretty hot right now in the fabric world. Alas, I restrained myself.

So, herein lies the dilemma. I got fabric that reminds me of the mother. If I could find druid fabric, I’d love to throw a little of that in there too, but really, how does one turn that into fabric? I suppose a few Celtic prints could make their way in. Or, perhaps this is my chance to design something new and try out the printable fabric I’ve had laying for years and create a one-of-a-kind feature print to tie everything together. I guess the moral of the story is that when life throws challenges at you, change the rules.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Out of Practice

Do you ever make something you’ve made a hundred times before but it just doesn’t come out right or takes way longer than it used to because you haven’t done it in a while? That’s how I feel with cake.

Don’t get me wrong, I still make delicious cake and cupcakes, but I’m severely out of practice on actually decorating. I’ve still got mad skills when it comes to piping swirls onto cupcakes, but trying to decorate a sheet cake is nothing like riding a bicycle. You don’t do it for a while and it shows. I will say that I’ve never been all that great at decorating sheet cakes as it is, probably because there is just so much open space to be filled and it is an all-at-once assault on the eyes. Perhaps this is why I prefer tiered cakes, even though they take longer to bake and decorate, because at least if you mess up on something it is only visible from a certain angle, and that angle can be the back… against a wall.

And so instead of making a sheet cake I decided to make cupcakes for the kids at Ridgefield High School for their last big rehearsal of Twelfth Night before Saturday’s performance in Portland, Oregon. And then I had a brilliantly awful idea to instead cram forty-eight cupcakes into a half sheet pan and frost and decorate it like a sheet cake instead. Why? For some reason my brain decided it would be easier. However, it took twice as much frosting as I would normally use for that many cupcakes and I ended up simply making random fondant decoration taken from the program to fill the wide open space. Every time I thought I was finished I’d take a look and say, “Hmmm… something’s missing.” and add a little more frosting. Just when I thought I was done I decided to add a border because, well, it didn’t look done. Oy. So much for easy. However, I will say this about the dreaded C.C.C. (that’s insider talk for “cupcake cake”) and that is it’s way easier to serve a bunch of high school kids cupcakes than to try and cut up and plate a sheet cake as I did a couple years ago.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


We’ve all heard the analogy of when life gives you lemon, make lemonade. But what if life throws at you rotten tomatoes?

Now, to clarify, there has been no rotten tomato flinging or anything, I’m just curious where certain analogies come from. I am also curious how those analogies get so engrained in our common lexicon of quotes. Can a commoner as myself come up with such an analogy? For that I have decided to do a little more research.

It turns out the quote is accredited to a lecturer and author named Dale Carnegie. Apparently he changed the spelling of his last name from Carnagey to ride on the coattails of Andrew Carnegie’s popularity. Smart move, Dale. Smart move. Of course, after even more research on the matter, it turns out he may not have necessarily penned the whole lemon thing, but more importantly popularized it. Now this got me thinking. If a poor farm boy from Missouri could become a very successful public speaking lecturer back in 1914 (his courses are still used to this very day) what is stopping me from becoming successful too? And then it hit me; self confidence. Perhaps I should look into a few of his books, or maybe take his best cue for public speaking in the first place, which is to talk about something that makes you angry. It turns out people are slightly more apprehensive about a topic they are passionate about then they are about a topic that pisses them off. Makes perfect sense to me. I know when I’m angry the words just flow out of me like water, but when I’m excited about something, I struggle as if every word is coming out wrong.

So now when I look at this analogy of lemons and lemonade, I think I get it a little more. I think I’m ready to tackle my own analogies. I think it is time to give this a shot.

“Confidence is like a dog who barks at a stranger and at the same time loses all control of her bowels. It comes and goes.”

“The difference between the complicated route and the simplified route is that most of the time nobody is going to notice the difference so why waste your time?”

“When life gives you lard, make a chocolate lard cake because, damn, it is delicious!”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The First

The first of the month is always a busy day, both at work and in terms of bills. Hence, crappy late blog post today.

It always seems like the first of the month both can’t come fast enough and yet when it happens I wish it weren’t the way it is. I mean, everyone likes a paycheck, and for those of us only paid monthly, this means all at once, which is nice, but also means that it almost all goes away faster than it was deposited. Thanks rent. Thanks phone. Thanks water, electric, garbage and gas. Ugh.

But on a happier note I am making cupcakes for the kids at Ridgefield High School for the final rehearsal before the big play Saturday in Downtown Portland. I was originally going to make a cake but decided it would be easier to simply do cupcakes and decorate them with play themes rather than baking a larger cake and trying to find a way to not make it look ghetto with either too much or too little flotsam. Alas, I also like making cupcakes because they are way easier to portion out. And let’s face it, I like things easy.