Friday, November 30, 2007

Apron Tutorial

I thought I'd repost the link to my dishtowel apron tutorial since they could make such good Christmas gifts.
http://www.beppycat.com/Dishtowel%20Apron%20Tutorial.html
These can be finished in an hour or less if you've got any experience sewing.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mitten Action Shot!

But first, here are some other pictures that should be shared.


This bear is in The Museum of Westward Expansion. Isn't it so creepy that the taxidermist gave it a person face?

Here I am with the bear pretending that I'm not terrified to have my back to it. What's even worse than being near these stupid taxidermied things is having to turn my back on these stupid taxidermied things. But I wanted to show how brave I am. See how brave?

Ben took this one of the arch from right next to the leg.

Ali sent me a writing muse! I hung her right up where I can see it. Not that I couldn't see it from just about anywhere, because I live in a hotel.

And finally... the mitten! This is actually the second mitten, but I finished it first. Tomorrow, I'll just have to do the top shaping on the hand and the thumb on the other one, and I'll have pair!

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Frugal Gifts to Make

As the Holidays quickly approach, many people’s thought turn to gift giving. Sometimes choosing holiday gifts for everyone you know can seem so overwhelming, both to the mind and to the budget. But if you are one of the lucky few who enjoy crafting or needlework you are way ahead of the game when it comes to gift giving.

If you’re a paper crafter, you’re probably already making your own Christmas cards. Why not take that one step further and create enough cards to be your Christmas gifts too. You could make an assortment of all purpose cards, six cards with envelopes would be a nice gift, and package those nicely with a pen or some postage stamps. This would be a lovely present for almost anyone, even the guys. If you happen to have crafty friends, it gets even easier. Design a nice card and then put all the parts for making it into a bag. You’ve just made the perfect card making kit to give to your friends. Cards are especially nice projects because their small size makes them just right for using up scraps and leftovers from bigger scrapbook pages or other projects.

Maybe you love to craft bath luxuries, such as bath salts or lip balm. There are lots of recipes on line for great bath items, like coffee bath salts, or sugar body scrub. In the winter months, these things are especially nice to receive and they seem so much more special without the questionable additives included in store bought products. If you knit or crochet as well, you could also include a bath mitt or special face cloth.

Knitters are usually ahead of the game when it comes to gift giving. It seems that everyone loves a hand knit something, and many times you can make everyone on your list the same thing, and just change the yarn or colors, and it’s just right for them. Hats are a great example of this, since you could do cables for you sister who loves the outdoors and hiking, angora for that girly girl friend, stripes for the preppy guy. Really, it goes on and on. You can make a hat match just about every personality. The same goes for mittens, socks, scarves, etc.

Of course, if you’ve waited to long to get started or if inspiration has struck on Dec. 8th, there’s still time to give everyone you know a little hand knit something. You could make ornaments. Using size 1 or 2 needles and leftover sock yarn cast on about fifteen stitches and knit in garter stitch for about an inch or two. Stop in the middle of the row, don’t cast off. Break off the yarn, leaving enough to roll into a small ball of yarn. Take a tooth pick, cut off one pointy end, and glue a bead on the flat end. Repeat with another toothpick. Transfer the stitches onto the toothpick “needles” and stick them through the mini ball of yarn. There you go, a miniature knitting ornament for the tree!

Crocheters, of course, can make all the same items listed above for the knitters. There are also some ideas that apply very well to crochet. In a stitch dictionary, find a few pretty motifs that will shape nicely on a neckline. Sew these to a store bought camisole or ribbed tank top, and you’ll have a very pretty gift. If you’d like to make it particularly special, you could knit or crochet a matching shrug, making a modern version of a twin set.

All of these things can be made quickly and fairly inexpensively, and are particularly nice to receive. Most people enjoy knowing that something was made just for them, and there’s a lot of satisfaction in making something that fit’s a friend’s personality perfectly. So, avoid the crowds at the malls and spend the weeks leading up to Christmas right where you want to be: in your crafting chair.

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Packaging Food Gifts

A great gift during the holidays are sweet treats and special foods, and it’s quite simple to prepare these things ourselves. One problem with making your own food gifts though, may be a lackluster presentation. A bunch of cookies on a paper plate loosely covered in red Saran Wrap may not evoke grateful cries of joy from your friends and family. Especially if the wrap looses it’s cling with repeated use as people help themselves to cookies and the plate is in danger of collapsing and spilling it’s burden of sweets on the ground. Learning how to package your home baked sweets will go a long way in improving the response to your gift. We eat first with our eyes, so it is important to make food gifts appealing and appetizing in appearance.

The correct packaging can keep your homemade treats from looking cheap and will give them the same luxury look as the fancy department store. Take the time to create some custom gift tags listing the ingredients and serving and storing suggestions. You can easily make a professional looking project with the computer using these downloadable labels(http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/CT101043241033.aspx). Or you can use leftover scrap booking supplies to make great labels for your special items.

Beyond the label, you must put thought into the containers that your treats will go into. Jars can be good for smaller pieces of candy, or for layered mixes. You can put things such as spice blends or wrapped candies into Ziploc bags, but go the extra step and really make it look professional by designing a cardstock header that can be stapled sandwich style onto the top of the bag to hide the zip and list the contents. Another good packaging idea that is inexpensive are the plastic trays Chinese takeout comes in. You can save them, or if you don’t eat out very often, you could ask your local restaurant if they would sell some. These are nice because they have lids. The small plastic containers that frozen dinners such as Lean Cuisine come in are also nice. You can pour fudge right into them, and then when it is set, slide them into a nice clear bag and tie closed with ribbons. Then it is portioned and packaged already.

Bear in mind, that since these gifts are meant to be consumed, you should do your best to keep the packaging appealing, appetizing, and sanitary looking. Make sure that you don’t put cookies together while they are warm, or they will stick and become distorted. If you’ve made candies that are in pieces, such as caramel, take the time to wrap each piece individually in it’s own square of waxed paper. Avoid colored food wraps, since they very often make the food look “off”. Bread can be given in decorated paper bags, or perhaps set into a tin or tray, then slipped into a clear plastic bag. Layer stickier candies and treats such as barks and brittles with waxed paper so they do not form one big block of brittle.

Wilton, the cake decorating company, sells many different bags and papers for packaging treats, but you can also look around the kitchen and see what you can do to make the common containers more festive and professional looking. Using paper bands to wrap around loaves of bread that have been securely wrapped in clear Saran Wrap or jars of jam can really add a special touch without a lot of effort. Sewing fabric baskets to hold an assortment of treats will really make a gift special. Look at the packaging used in store bought food gifts and take some tips from those manufacturers. You food surely tastes better than mass produced treats, so it deserves packaging that’s just as good, if not better.

Clear, cute labeling will go a long way in making your homemade food gifts a big success, as will close attention to clean packaging and creating a neat appearance. Many people are hesitant to give homemade food, because they’re afraid it will make them look cheap or childish, but with appropriate presentation your gifts will look chic and luxurious.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dirty Laundry

Bet you thought this would be a juicy post, huh? Not really, I literally am referring to laundry in the title. I was going to post about how annoying it is to have to do laundry while living in a hotel, because that was my big chore yesterday, but then I realized that I'm lucky the hotel has laundry rooms that I can use. Because it would be so much worse if I had to take it out to a laundromat somewhere.

Anyway, I did do all the laundry yesterday, and Ben got home from Virginia last night, so yesterday was a pretty good day.

I started a pair of purple mittens to match my purple hat. I've got one almost finished, it's at the top shaping stage and I started the second one to have some non-instruction looking knitting for while I watched tv. The second one is at the gusset starting stage. I started them on dpn's but I decided that I wanted to try magic loop knitting so I put them on one of my 40 inch knitpicks circulars and switched to that. I'm not sure if I like it better, but I understand the theory behind it now and I can see the appeal. Maybe I should try both mittens on one magic loop next.

I got the email today that the yarn I ordered for Ali's mittens and scarf is on it's way. I think I ordered too much, but I just love buying yarn so. I need to go to yarn buying addicts anonymous.

I've submitted five articles so far this week, so I'm almost at my quota I set for myself. I am pretty sure that one of them they for sure won't pay for because it's pretty much a recipe, but the rest I think were pretty good. They're non exclusive to AC, so I'll probably be posting them here too as time goes by.

I picked up the two disc set of 300 that is regularly $35 for only $3 today. If you sign up to use google shopping cart for the first time, you can get $10 off at this site. Some things come out to be absolutely free if you pick something that has free shipping, like the Barry Manilow CD.
http://www.buy.com/retail/specialty_store_6b.asp?loc=65205

Mitten pictures tomorrow!

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Recipe Tuesday

I'm going to give my method for making chicken fajitas for today's recipe tuesday. This is also how I cook chicken breasts for anything I want chicken for, like fried rice or mexican casserole.

Start with a package of boneless skinless chicken breasts. Depending on whether you're going for leftovers or not, you can do this with lots of pieces or just a couple of pieces. I'd figure one boneless skinless breast for every two people if you don't really want to have leftovers. Lay the chicken in the bottom of a casserole dish or pyrex baking pan after rinsing it under running water. I don't bother to trim it at this point, because I just shred it after it's cooked and clean it then, (not to mention, I hate touching raw meat). Use a dish the size needed to have the chicken pretty much cover the bottom. That is, if you're doing a lot of pieces at once, use a 9X13 dish, but if you're only doing four or so, use a 8X8 dish.

Pour some chicken broth into the dish, enough to go halfway up the chicken pieces. Peel some garlic cloves and put them into the dish as well, scattering them over the chicken and slipping them between the pieces. I usually use about two cloves per breast. Pepper the top and use salt too, if your broth isn't already really salting.

I love using my probe thermometer when I make this dish. Put the probe in the thickest part of one of the middle pieces of chicken. Cover the whole dish tightly with foil, and put the whole dish into the oven at 350 to 400 degrees. Run the cord of the thermometer out to the digital part and set the temperature alarm for 160 degrees. The safe temperature for eating chicken is 165, but there is carryover once it's out of the oven.

When the alarm goes off, take out the dish and allow the chicken to rest still covered in foil. When the digital read is 165 degrees, you can remove the pieces of chicken from the dish and allow them to cool slightly for you to handle. You can then cut the chicken into bite sized chunks or shred it with two forks. Mix the shredded chicken with a little chicken broth, some chili powder and some cumin for your fajitas.

I also serve black beans to have in the fajitas. Drain a can of black beans and in a skillet over medium low heat, put a few of the cloves of garlic that cooked with the chicken. Smash this roasted garlic up and mix it into the beans while they heat through. These beans are so simple, but they're so delicious with the cooked garlic. Don't worry too much about going too heavy with the garlic, after it's cooked, it's quite mild.

I usually serve this meal buffet style, with dishes of the spiced chicken, the beans, cheddar or jack cheese, shredded lettuce, quacamole, hot sauce, salsa, olives, peppers, onion, and flour or corn tortillas.

To keep the leftover chicken, portion it into meal sized amount in regular sandwich zipper bags, then put all the smaller bags into one large freezer zipper bag. This will save you from wasting lots of the more expensive freezer bags but still allow for freezing the chicken in portions. Don't for get to label the big bag with the date and contents.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Attack of the Long Weekend

Wow, I've got long weekend jet lag today. I'm feeling very out of it. We had a really good weekend, so that was nice. Thursday we did the turkey and potatoes and lots of yummy extras. My experiment with the no bake pumpkin pie went fairly well, but I overspiced it a little, so it needs lots of extra cool whip to keep from tingling the tongue.

Friday we went to Forest Park and visited the Missouri History Museum. It was pretty good for a free museum, but the exhibits seemed kinda jumbled and it was difficult to understand what exactly the things on display were. I did learn that Charles Lindbergh was super super popular. People really truly loved him. I knew he was famous, but I didn't know he meant so much to people.

Saturday we went back over to the Arch and went down into the Museum of Westward Expansion. Again, I guess it was okay for a free museum, but it's got to be one of the most confusing ways to organize exhibits I've every seen. It was set up as a bunch of concentric half circles, but there's pillars and things everywhere, and you can't get any idea of the timeline involved. And again, there were lots of things on display with no explanation or title cards. I learned there that I'm less scared of taxidermed animals than I thought, but still very very scared.

After a picnic of leftover turkey at the Arch, we went to Belleville to the CVS to start doing the CVS deals. I don't have my reciept because it's in the car, but my deals were something like $18 worth of things, $11 out of pocket, and $18 dollars worth of CVS bucks for next time. For a detailed explanation of how the CVS and other drugstore deals work, check out Crystal's Blog. There are links on the right side that explaing how to use the rebate programs to get free stuff from the drugstores. She does a really nice job of explaining it and breaks down the deals every week too.

Yesterday, we went to church at the Shrine in Belleville, and went to Walmart to pick up some long sleeve shirts, because it's freezing here. We had lunch at Pizza Hut, which was a very nice treat, and then we came back here. I ended up taking a nap and Ben got insurance quotes to get that all lined up for the new house. We had leftover pizza and turkey soup for dinner and then we watched the special Iron Chef on Food Network. It was really good, but it so made me want to bake! I would love to just bake and bake for an hour straight and see how much I could get done.

So today it's back to work. I've cleaned up the room and put away the souveniers we picked up during our site seeing. I still have to get the kitchen cleaned up and run the dishwasher, make the bed (I haven't done that yet, because I hate to have to make Columbo move when he's all cozy and sleeping in the blankets), and do some laundry. After I finish my housework (hotel room work?), I've got a few ideas of articles that I want to sit down and write so I can submit them to Assciated Content. I haven't submitted anything since Wednesday last week. But I have earned $35 dollars since the fourteenth with my articles. It would be more if I could just stick to writing and submitting two a day. But it's been difficult to come up with ideas that aren't over done. They don't accept things if there's already too much like it. So that's my next challenge, finding things to write about that are different enough to get paid.

As for knitting projects, I did make Ben a hat on Friday night, because it was so cold, he needed one. He wore it on Saturday and likes it a lot. I think I might make some purple mittens to match my hat, because I wore it this weekend, and I like it, but I definately need something on my hands. The green winter set is on hold, just because it won't match my sweater, and that's what I have to wear right now. I haven't gotten yarn yet to make Ali's set, but I did see that there's a pattern for the mittens with a pocket in my latest issue of Interweave Knits. So I'll have that as a guide. I might get out some knitting later after my writing is finished, because I feel like I've been neglecting it lately.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kid and Teen books with quilting stories

In an attempt to make my blog more of a resource and companion to my website, I've been interspersing some informational articles and things with the more personal "what I've been up to" posts. Feel free to ignore either if you prefer one or the other, but I think most of my readers will find both kinds of posts interesting. This bibliography is part of the one that I put together for my thesis project in college, "Quilting as a Means of Control and Transformation in Terris' Nell's Quilt". Maybe someday I'll post the whole paper, just to show how smart I was once. :D

Quilting is a very popular theme in books and short stories. It can very easily become a metaphor for story telling and also for the drawing together of people and groups of women. I’ve compiled a short list of books for children and adolescents that involve quilting and needlework. Some of the books in this bibliography address the use of quilting in books and stories. This list includes books that are appropriate for many grade levels, including older kids and teens. These books are those in which quilting is a central theme, not one in which there is a passing mention of quilting.

Story books with quilts and quilting in them are a great way to connect a child’s imagination to an activity if you’d like to teach him or her to quilt. Children as young as seven can learn to put together a quilt block like a simple four patch block. A four patch block is like a checkerboard of four small squares of fabric making up the larger square. A sewing machine isn’t at all necessary, since it will be easier for little fingers to handle the slower pace of hand sewing. Many of these books would be great for a home school unit that includes learning to quilt.

Benberry, Cuesta. A Patchwork of Pieces: An Anthology of Early Quilt Stories.
Paducah, KY: American Quilter’s Society, 1993.

Cobb, Mary. The Quilt-Block History of Pioneer Days. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook
Press, 1995.

Coerr, Eleanor. The Josefina Story Quilt. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

Dallas, Sandra. The Persian Pickle Club. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

Elsley, Judy. Quilts as Text(iles): The Semiotics of Quilting. New York: P. Lang, 1996.

Flournoy, Valerie. The Patchwork Quilt. New York: Scholastic, 1996.

Geras, Adell. Apricots at Midnight. New York: Atheneum, 1982.

Johnston, Tony. The Quilt Story. New York: Putnam & Grosset, 1996.

Kirby, Susan E. Ellen’s Story. American Quilts Book 1. New York: Aladdin
Paperbacks, 2000.
---. Hattie’s Story. American Quilts Book 2. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 2000.

LoPinto, Celia. Stitch Me a Story: A guide to children’s books with a quilting theme.
San Francisco: C. LoPinto, 1994.

Love, D. Anne. Bess’s Log Cabin Quilt. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1996.

Parker, Sandra. Home Material: Ohio’s Nineteenth-Century Regional Women’s Fiction.
Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1998.

Parrish, Shelley Berlin. Sharing Grandma’s Gift. Milwaukee, WI: Peanut Butter
Publishing, 2000.

Paul, Ann Whitford. The Seasons Sewn: A Year in Patchwork. San Diego: Browndeer
Press, 1996.

Rinaldi, Ann. A Stitch in Time. The Quilt Trilogy. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1994.
---. Broken Days. The Quilt Trilogy. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1995.
---. The Blue Door. The Quilt Trilogy. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1996.

Smucker, Barbara Claasen. Selina and the Bear Claw Quilt. New York: Dragonfly
Books, 1999.

Terris, Susan. Nell’s Quilt. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1987.

Torsney, Cheryl B. Quilt Culture: Tracing the Pattern. Columbia, MO: The University
of Missouri Press, 1994.

Turner, Ann Warren. Sewing Quilts. New York: Macmillan, 1994.

Webb, Aliske. Twelve Golden Threads: Lessons for successful living from Grama’s
quilt. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Making Presents Guys Will Really Like

The guys in your life can be notoriously hard to buy for. A nice American Eagle sweater can only be given so many times before you feel like a sellout. Lists of gifts that men will like seem to only contain high ticket items, like electronics, DVD’s and CD’s. What can you do when you have a low budget and a picky man to buy for?

One of the best things is to make a gift. Now, at first this may seem like a terrible idea. Everyone knows that a man wants an HDTV and not a hand knitted scarf, right? Well, not always. Of course, anyone would love a new flat screen, but your boyfriend or father isn’t completely shallow. He’ll appreciate the thought put into a hand made gift. But to make sure he’ll also appreciate the gift its self, there are some tips to follow.

First make sure that he’s involved in the picking out of the yarn or project. Tell your brother you want him to help you pick out supplies for a friend’s gift because their tastes are so similar. Get him to help you plan the entire project under this guise, and then you can be sure that he’ll approve of the finished item when you present it to him on Christmas day.

Take a look at what he wears and uses already. If your dad never wears long sleeves, he probably won’t really enjoy the wool sweater you’ve made him. If your boyfriend thinks royal blue is a little too wild of a color, it won’t please him to wear the Kelly green vest you’ve knit him. If your brother loves modern sleek d├ęcor he probably won‘t have much appreciation for the needle pointed desk set. Sad, but true. It’s best to try to truly reflect the style and taste of the person you’re making the gift for. And if knitting an entire sweater in plain black sounds like torture to your creative soul, try some of these more untraditional homemade gifts for your men folk.

Small accessories work well with inexpensive gifts, because even if you’re only spending five dollars on a gift card, you can find some scrap yarn and whip up a small gift to go with it, adding a lot of value for little effort. Gifts that go well together in this sense are coffee mug sleeves paired with a Starbucks gift card or an iPod sleeve paired with an iTunes gift card. Hats and scarves can work well because men who don’t care for bright colors or textures in their clothes will usually allow some leeway on the small winter accessories.

Use charts from video games to plan these things. Your boyfriend might give a lukewarm response to cross-stitched coasters with a bargello design, but stitch him up a set of Mario, Luigi and Princess Toadstool and you may find that you’re the best girlfriend ever. These charts can be use in knitting (how about Mario mushrooms around a hat). I’ve even seen some great projects done with these charts using the beads you put on a pegboard and iron together. What guy wouldn’t love a set of old school video game ornaments. Google Mario charts or video game charts or check out craftster.org for some awesome guy friendly projects.

If all else fails, food is definitely the way to go if you want to give an inexpensive, but guy-friendly, gift. Make a “Meal of the Month” club. Offer to cook him dinner once a month, including dessert. Make some special candy, like fudge. It’s fairly simple to do, the ingredients aren’t too much money for the amount of fudge you get, and any guy with a sweet tooth will love you forever for homemade fudge. You could even put together a Football Party in a Box. A large football themed serving dish or bowl filled with chips and dip makings, decorations and fun party ware, including a coupon to play hostess for the night of the big NFL game, complete with cooking, carrying and cleaning would please any guy any time. This of course could be tailored to your particular man’s interests, like NASCAR, MLB or NHL. A party in a box gift won’t cost you much more than your time, ingredients for snacks, and some effort, but it will be much more memorable and special than yet another store bought sweater or CD.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Frugal Gift Baskets

Gift baskets make great gifts for anyone because they can be personalized in so many ways. Everyone loves to get lots of things to look through and discover in a basket, but many people find that ready made gift baskets are much too expensive and impersonal to give to everyone on their list. Even basket ideas of different themes that you can put together yourself can get prohibitively expensive as all the individual items add up. Here are some of the best ways to save money while putting together an excellent basket for every person on your list.

The first way to save money while building a gift basket is to save on the basket its self. First of all, be willing to shop at thrift stores or dollar stores for baskets and containers. They can be cleaned or painted or just tied with a bow to look just as good as new. Also, think beyond the basket when putting together these gifts. At the Goodwill or other thrift stores, it’s fun to look at everything with a gift basket in mind. Lunchboxes, crockery, children’s suitcases, baskets, vases, tins, and purses can all be found and will all make interesting containers to build a gift. I’ve even found FTD or other floral containers at Goodwill, which is great because they’re usually pretty high quality, have nice sentiments for the holidays, and are meant for just such a thing as being filled.

Using one big ticket item as the star of the gift basket will also help you save money. Decide how much you’d like the complete basket to cost and consider spending half of the budget on your star item. This can be easier than you’d think, particularly if you find a good coupon for a specific item. Last year, Bath and Body Works had coupons that entitled you to a free body wash or body splash with any purchase. We used the coupons, and bought a one dollar ornament as the purchase, giving us gifts for our family of a value of twelve dollars for just one dollar. These body washes became the star of the basket. I rounded out the rest of the basket by spending about twelve more dollars and ended up with twenty-five dollar baskets for only thirteen dollars each.

Coupons are a great way to get basket items, as are the specials that drugstores offer. If you sign up for a CVS or Walgreen’s rebate program, many times you can combine coupons with rebates to get items for free or even better than free. The things like scented candles and special candies are all great things for gift baskets, but even the hygiene items, lotions and body washes can be great as fillers in pamper or bath baskets. You can put together entire baby needs baskets this way for practically nothing.

Other ways to get inexpensive fillers for your baskets are to shop at the dollar store. Many dollar stores have nice things, and it’s simple to stick with a theme. Say you wanted to do a cooking/kitchen basket for your favorite chef. You could purchase a nice apron or make one with hand embroidery or something else to make if very special. The you could get, at the dollar store, a colander or bowl to contain the gift, a whisk or mixing spoon, a spoon rest, cookie cutters, pot holders or dish towels, dish soap or scrubbers, and even recipe books! Add to this some special ingredients like organic flour or pecans or dried fruit and you’ve got a great baking/cooking basket to give. Buy the ingredients at your favorite farmers’ market store from the bulk section and package them nicely in a jar or pretty bag with a ribbon for further savings.
If you knit or do crafts, gift baskets are a great way to showcase homemade presents. You could knit bath mitts or face cloths for a bath basket, or dish cloths for a kitchen basket. I’ve done coffee mug sleeves for a special coffee basket, hats and head warmers for winter pleasures baskets. You could make a nice correspondence basket with a pretty box and homemade cards and nice pens. You could even make a crafting basket with supplies, such paper scraps, stickers, blank cards and embellishments.

Used books are another wonderful gift, because most people like books, they’re easy to find in any theme or for any occasion, and they’re particularly frugal for the value they’ll add to a gift basket. I used books especially one year when I was doing a “You’re the sweetest cookie of the batch” theme. Everything in the basket was somehow baking themed, particularly cookie themed. I put it together in a basket that had gingerbread men on it that had been bought at the Goodwill. Into the basket went cookie cutters and holiday cookie recipe books from the dollar store. I made a nice hat out of tweed yarn that was decidedly oatmeal cookie colored. There were sugar cookie body products bought with coupons and a spice cookie scented candle. To really add value to the basket without overspending, I found used mysteries with baking and cooking in their central theme. Mysteries are great books to check out when looking for a theme, because it seems like there’s a sleuth to match every interest out there. Good places to look for books are used book stores, annual library sales, thrift stores and friends of the library book stores in libraries.

It’s simple to put together a basket of second hand or recycled things that won’t cost a fortune, but won’t look cheap or tacky either. If you mix used items with new or luxury items that have been purchased at a discount, you’ll be able to afford to give so much more in a gift basket, and your friends and family will love it.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Holiday Preparations

I'm still feeling a little down today, because the bank is giving us the run around and stalling and wasting time, which is driving Ben crazy. I just worry too much, I suppose. I should learn to trust in God and in Ben's judgement better, but it's difficult for me, because I always feel like I have to be extra competent and make good decisions. I think that it'll be best if I just trust that Ben will make a good decision regarding the mortgage and stop worrying about it myself.

BUT, I have decided for sure that I don't want to be mopey anymore, so I took some pictures of things to cheer me up, and I started on some of the dessert for Thanksgiving. I decided to make a peanut butter pie today. The recipe is here on Lorie's menu plan for last week.

I saw it and decided it would be the perfect recipe to try to adapt to be an oven-less pumpkin pie. I'm surprising Ben with it, because he thinks there's no way I could make pumpkin pie. I'm going to pretty much use the recipe as is, with a little more sugar perhaps, and replace the peanut butter with canned pumpkin and spices.

So I made the regular peanut butter version today to see how beating the cream cheese and sugar together would go by hand. Everything worked out really well, and it looks totally yummy. I have to admit, it probably won't actually last until Thanksgiving before we cut it.


This is what the fridge looks like when I do my grocery shopping downstairs at the complimentary breakfast.

Here are supplies for the weekend. This really makes me think of my mom's house for some reason, all the groceries getting put on the counter because there's no room for the yummy extras in the cabinets.


Here's my new slow cooker. Isn't it so pretty?


Are you drooling over my peanut butter pie?

I just had to go down to the snack shop and get some reese's peanut butter cups to chop up for the top. Poor pie looked really plain without them. I think this will be a nice surprise for Ben when he gets home.
Another nice surprise for him will be how clean it is in here. I've been making the bed and cleaning up myself for the last week, but I don't have a vacuum, and it was really needed with the cats' litter everywhere. So, earlier, I tricked the cats with catnip and locked them in their boxes. Then I let Dorothy, our housekeeping person, come in and clean the room really well and change the sheets and towels and vacuum. It's nice to have it done, but I don't think I'd do it more often than once a week, the cats are stressed out enough as it is. I also did all the laundry and it's all clean and put away now, so today has been a very productive day.
Since I've accomplished so much so far today, including submitting my two articles this morning, I'm planning to just relax and read for a while now. I'm sort of in between projects with my knitting right now. I have some things that I brought with me to work on, but they're all at starting stages. If I get motivated to start something, I might do that, but I might just read for a couple of hours too. Ben will be home in an hour or two, and then we'll probably go over the loan stuff so he can explain to me how it works.

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Recipe Tuesday - Thanksgiving (Leftovers) Edition

I've decided that today's Recipe Tuesday is going to recipes for leftover Turkey and other leftovers, since everyone's going to need the ideas later this week. We always have so many leftovers, even though we only usually cook a six pound turkey breast. We love the leftovers almost as much as we enjoy the Thanksgiving dinner its self. Because we like them so much, we plan ahead to have leftovers, so then we can make some of our favorite meals out of them. When I put together the turkey in the slow cooker, I always make sure that I put in the potatoes and carrots, even though we don't serve those with dinner. The reason that I cook them is to have them leftover to use in recipes on Friday or Saturday.

Our favorite leftover recipe is Turkey Pot Pie. It's very simple to make and can use up all your leftovers at once, if that's what you'd like to do. You start by picking all the meat off the turkey after dinner, shredding it and cleaning out any unsavory bits. Then put the meat and the leftover veggies in the fridge, along with your dinner leftovers.

The next day or that weekend, when it's time to put the pot pies together, put the leftover turkey meat in a large mixing bowl. Then cut up the roasted veggies into small size chunks and add them. If you have leftover green beans, you can add them, but I'll warn you, I don't know if leftover green bean casserole would be good, we only have plain green beans. But if you're feeling adventurous, throw the leftover casserole in. The mushroom soup will add some creaminess. Corn is an absolute must. If you have leftover corn that's good, but plan to have a can of corn to add, just in case. Drain the corn before adding. I've never put in the leftover stuffing, but I'm sure it would be a hit.

Mix all this together, and if you have leftover gravy, throw that in too. If not, add a jar of turkey gravy to the mix. You can add gravy until the filling is the consistency you like in pot pie. All you have to do after it's mixed together is put it all in a pie shell and top it off with the upper crust. Homemade pie crust would be better, of course, but what goes on in your kitchen won't kill me. Bake at 350 degrees until the pie shell is browned and the filling is heated through, 30-40 minutes usually. Let it rest for 10-20 minutes after you take it from the oven before you cut into it. It's great served with the leftover cranberry sauce, too.

This freezes very easily. You can separate the filling into freezer bags and then thaw and put into a fresh crust when you want to bake it. Or you can make the entire pie and freeze it uncooked. Just let it thaw in the fridge and bake as usual. Lots of times, I'll make lots and lots of minature versions of the pot pie in the small pyrex dishes. You just roll out smaller crusts, fill, top, and then wrap the entire thing, dish and all, in a layer of saran wrap and then a layer of tin foil. Don't forget to label the top. Then you'll have individual pot pie servings all ready to go through the next few months. Just thaw as before, though they will take less thawing and less baking time than a full sized one.

This year, since we're living in a hotel, and we don't have an oven, I'm going to turn the pot pie filling into a turkey stew and serve it over biscuits. I'll do that by making the filling as usual, but also adding at least one extra jar of gravy and a can or two of broth. Then I'll simmer it all together for a little bit, twenty minutes or so. I think it'll be pretty good. And if you were a dumpling type of person, you could easily do dumplings in it instead of serving it with the biscuits.

There are lots of ways to use leftovers, these are just our favorites. Turkey sandwiches are classic and we're planning to experiment with turkey and stuffing quesadillas this year as well. Turkey soup served over scoops of leftover stuffing and mashed potato soup with corn and chives are also great ways to use leftovers. How does everyone else use their leftovers from Thanksgiving?

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Monday, November 19, 2007

One of Those Days

I am definately just having one of those days today. I started out motivated and wrote two articles. But then I was feeling very sick. I've been having a lot of stomach issues lately. I think it's all the anxiety of moving making me sick. I'm not particularly upset about it, but my stomach has always been a barometer when it comes to that kind of thing.

Then I got emails rejecting the articles I submitted yesterday. And then I got emails rejecting the two I submitted this morning! Even though I managed to edit them and resubmit them and get three of them accepted today, it was frustrating because they offered less than the first ones and it took editing and such. And there are still about three that I've written that I don't think any amount of editing will get accepted. Which leaves a lot of the ideas I came up with this morning in doubt.

Then we went to the bank to do the loan application, and they offered us a much worse interest rate than the same bank had quoted over the phone. That's still not cleared up, though we pretty much told them to match it or we'd go with their phone people. They'll be calling us tomorrow morning to let us know. But it upset Ben quite a bit to have things go like that. He did hold onto his temper pretty well, though, so I was impressed with that.

After we got home I worked on editing the rejected articles, and then we went down to dinner. It was beef stew over biscuits, which was pretty good. I have to admit, it wasn't the worst day ever, I'm just not feeling too well and feeling kind of down too. It's one of those days where all you want to do is go to bed so then you can start over again in the morning. I'm pretty much planning to do just that.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

An Experiment

So, I've seen lots of blogs on Menu Monday that break down the costs of each meal. I always think that our food costs more than that somehow, so today, I decided to find out. After dinner, I counted the servings of sauce as I scooped them out of the slow cooker and then figured out how much it costs per serving. This is with the expensive hamburger that the hotel people picked up for us. I usually buy it much cheaper when it's on sale and use it out of the freezer. So that would make my usual sauce that much less per serving, since that's where the bulk of the expense was.

Here's what it looked like:


Entire Batch of Sauce (20 Servings)
Hamburger 7.50
Tomato Sauce 3.00
Tomato Paste .50
Garlic Powder .10
_____
11.10 / 20 = .55 per serving

Entire Meal for Two (with lunch leftover)
Sauce 1.65
Noodles .20
Garlic Bread .50
_____
2.35


The top is my figuring for the sauce. I use a lot of garlic powder, I figured about a tenth of the jar, and though I don't know how much this jar cost (more hotel shopping), I pay a dollar for that much. Of course the cost would change a bit if I put in chopped onion, but considering the meat was much more than usual, I don't think it would make a big difference.

Under that is the cost for three servings of noodles, three servings of sauce and two slices of texas toast garlic bread. Only two garlic breads because Ben will only want the noodles and sauce and not a bread for lunch tomorrow. The noodles are a dollar for 32 oz macaroni noodles that we got at Schnuck's. We did top it with parmesean curls, but I can't figure the cost for that out, because we've been using the same piece of cheese for months, and I don't even know how much it cost in the first place.

So in the end, dinner for two and a lunch cost $2.35 all together. I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised to know that my effort can save us that much money. Because say we decided to go out for a similar meal and even picked the cheapest choice, Fazoli's, it would still cost about ten dollars at least, and there wouldn't be lunch left for tomorrow.

This food cost figuring is actually pretty fun!

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A quiet day

This morning Ben and I went to mass at the church at the Our Lady of Snows Shrine. It was so pretty. I like the church a lot. It was like one giant really bright room, so it was a pretty place to be during mass. Then we walked around the grounds a little bit, but we didn't stay long, since we had to get back for Ben to work.
On the way home we stopped at the grocery store to get the turkey and a couple of other things. It was so crowded! We picked up our stuff and since then we've just been hanging around the room.
Ben's been working, and I cleaned up the kitchenette and put together pasta sauce in the slow cooker for dinner tonight. I printed out some Thanksgiving coloring pages down in the business center. I just hated the idea of not decorating at least a little, and that seemed like an inexpensive way to be festive.
So I think I'll color my turkey pictures and hang them up. After that we'll have dinner, and I don't know if Ben's working after dinner or not. But if he's not, maybe we'll watch tv or something. I think it'll be too dark and cold then to go for a walk.
I submitted a couple more articles to Associated Content. Today I submitted a lengthened version of Tater Tot Casserole. I don't know if I'll write anymore today, I can't seem to think of a topic. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day, since we're going to the bank to do our loan application and stuff. I think we'll be done with that in the morning, though, so maybe I'll write something tomorrow afternoon while Ben's working at the tower.
I just noticed that Ben has thrown a day or two's worth of clothes on the floor NEXT to the dirty laundry hamper/basket. Seriously. I was going to say something, but really, he doesn't need my critism and it's not like bending over will kill me. Unless I whack my head against the wall or something, but that could hardly be blamed on him.
The slow cooker we bought yesterday is so pretty, and it'll match the new kitchen so nicely! I've been needing a new bigger sized crock pot, since mine has a plastic cover and so had to be covered with a folded towel and bricks to be cooked in. That's why I didn't bring it with me, because I knew it had to be replaced anyway. I love this new one. It's stainless steel finish, with red ceramic and red trim. And it came with a little red baby one for dip! And so this raises my total slow cooker count to five. And none of them are actually the same size. I probably will just give the old big one away. And I've been thinking of getting rid of the small one (not the new little dipper, the one that used to be smallest) because it's too big for dip and the only really useful thing it does is cook steel cut oats over night. I don't know, we'll see if maybe I use it more at the new house.
So, since I've got the new little dipper, I figured it would be nice to have ritz and a cheese spread or dip and veggies. I'm just looking for a good recipe to make in it. I'm thinking sometime this week I should post my whole Thanksgiving menu with recipes. Mostly because I love it when people do that.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

We got a ton done today

This morning we met with our agent and sent off a contract. I think we have an agreement, but nothing is official yet. After that, we picked up some fried chicken at Walmart and went off to Forest Park to have a picnic. Forest Park is so beautiful, I want to just live there. But I think that'd make me homeless. Then we went to the zoo and had a very nice time there. We came back to the hotel and had dinner and then made our lists for Thanksgiving supplies. We went back to Walmart to get the groceries and my super great new slow cooker. Now we're back home again, and it's just about time for bed.
Tomorrow, we'll go to church and then maybe visit the arch, since I haven't been there yet. We have to go to Schnuck's grocery store and pick up the last of the groceries. Ben will probably spend the afternoon working, and so I might as well work on more articles then too. Or I might do some correspondence. However you all spend the day, I wish you a peaceful Sunday.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

We picked a house!

I feel so relieved and happy that we've found the right place! I don't really have the energy right now to go all into describing it, but I'll post all about it in the future. And, of course, there will be lots of pictures when we get to move in. First of all, we'll have to make at offer, and I hope you'll all be praying for us through the negotiation process. We don't want to strong arm anyone, but we do need to get a fair price, so we'll see what works out.

I had my first article published on Associated Content today. I'm very happy with this site. I know that it's a search term driven type of thing, and they're not looking for the next Hemingway, but it's something I've always had a lot of skill doing. That was pretty much my school career, just producing contect at command.

So, since I'm good at it, it comes easily, I find it entertaining, and it doesn't take much time or effort away from my real job of being a homemaker, I really think writing these articles could replace my Curves income. Here's the link to my first published article: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/449928/get_paid_to_study_the_best_jobs_on.html

I've sold four other articles that I'd already written that I've been paid for but haven't been published yet. The one that's published was an assignment they offered that I picked up. The other four are the articles on beppycat.com about yarn and one is my Recipe Tuesday post about using the slowcooker to make turkey. Pretty good to get money for stuff I've already written and that's been in use for a while.

I like that you can submit things under non-exclusive terms, so then it doesn't matter if I've already put it on my blog or site. And then I get paid per page views too, which was why I wrote the yarn articles in the first place, to have content pages that would work for my google ads.

Anyway, I think it's a pretty interesting thing, and I'm hoping to submit an article every day. I think it's a reasonable goal, especially considering that I'm living in a hotel with nothing else much going on. In fact, I think that for the next few weeks, I might try to hit a goal of two articles a day.

One challenge I can see is finding ideas for articles every day. If anyone has any questions I could answer, or topics they'd like addressed, I love if you let me know. It always seems easier for me to write from an assignment. Even when it's my own idea, I always form it into the form of an essay question or something to get myself started writing. So, leave a comment, ask a question! I'm planning to post any of the articles I write that are not AC calls right here on my blog as well as submit them, so definately let me know if you all have any ideas.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Cheerful Disposition

I know that I'm very blessed to have a naturally cheerful disposition. I'm not bragging, because it's not through any effort of my own, but one of the gifts God has given me. Truthfully, it's one of the aspects of my personality that has served me best throughout my life. I feel that I have a tendency to make the best of my situation, and so I don't feel too overwhelmed very often. This is a good defense against my natural nervousness and anxiety. I believe that one can cultivate a cheerful disposition as well, and that it would be useful for everyone to do so.

I think one of the best ways to make the best of a situation is to look for the solution. Being action oriented is an excellent way to counteract the panic or sadness that can come from an unfortunate event. Of course, I do not mean to say that some sadness isn't natural. The death of a loved one, for example, isn't a solvable problem and grieving should be allowed to happen naturally. I'm referring to small events in life that seem to build up until everything seems bad. Things like flat tires, or getting cut off in traffic, messing up a project you're working on or forgetting to buy a needed ingredient. These are all things in our lives that can be worked out and immediate action can be taken. Action to solve a problem is the best way to counteract the anxiety that comes with these events.

Another good solution is to remove yourself from the situation. If you've made a mistake on something you're making, for example, it may be better to put the project away for a time and take a walk instead. You'll be able to clear your head and avoid making another rash mistake in your frustration. Perhaps forgetting about it for a while will allow you to see the problem from a new angle when you come back to it. It will also help dampen the emotional reaction that can come into play when knitting has to be ripped back, or seams need to be undone.

These are good ways to deal with frustration, but there are also some tactics to help lower your overall levels of frustration. Try to think of positive things. Start making lists of these things so you can literally see your blessings piling up. List a good thing that happened to you everyday. List a good thing you accomplished. List a gift in your life that you'd like to thank God for. And, very importantly for brightening your attitude, list one thing in which you can find a blessing which would seem otherwise like a frustrating thing. This last can be difficult for some people, because it's hard not to see things as all bad or all good. A small example of this technique could be, even though the fire alarm woke me up the other night and scared me badly, I'm grateful that is was a false alarm, and it has given me an interesting story to amuse my family.

This may seem silly, but so many people revert automatically to anger when confronted with a roadblock. It is so much more constructive and healthful to respond with humor. This can be learned, but it must be practiced as much as possible. So, think of the roses when you're sometimes confronted with thorns.

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Hail Holy Queen

I just had to post it again. It makes me feel so good, and I could use that.

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Sometimes I crack me up


But this time, I didn't even mean to.

I wrote this note to put on the door to our room when we're out, but since it wasn't needed out there while I'm home, I just stuck on the fridge for now. Well, when I walked past just now it took on an entirely different meaning. I was reminded of The Office.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Picture Time!

I've actually decided to take a small break from the realtor/house search talk. I do really really like the new realtor, but let's just say I'm having angst about if I really want to live so far away from everything with no car. I may sign up for driving lessons and re-take that part of my life, then I would be able to take Ben to the airport when he has to go on trips and keep the car with me. Learning to drive better would probably simplify my life. Which kinda strikes me as ironic. But if it weren't for my "can I really go back to living in the country, or is that just something I think I want to do" second guessing, I feel like I've pretty much got it narrowed down to two choices. As long as Ben's okay with the commute.

I never did go back to sleep. I just didn't really get tired enough. But I bet I'll drop fast tonight. Which is good, because Ben's still in Newark, and if I'm extra tired, it'll help me sleep better without him. As long as there are no more heart-stoppingly scary things happening tonight.

Even though I didn't sleep, I didn't really do much else today. I took some pictures, and spent most of the day looking at blogs that show ways to make money online. Real ways, not crazy ways. And since I have nothing but time for the next month at least, I figured I'd check them out. I'm thinking article writing for a start. And learning how to increase my blog income too.

Anyway, as promised, here are some interesting things to look at:















The view from our window. Too bad the arch isn't on this side, it would make a much better picture.


















Here's me being inventive with the camera angles to get a good picture of my new hat. I love the hat, because it's so soft, made out of KnitPicks Andean Treasure, but I don't know if I really like the way it looks on me though.













Columbo being much cuter than you'd expect from a cat of his disposition. That's my wedding quilt that my aunt made us.


















The best picture of Smudge I've ever taken. And his monkey harness.













Artsy, emotive picture of our corner sign.
Emily in her scarflette that I made her. It's made of Elegance in Redwood with Oatmeal stripes. And has rose buttons, because she loves roses and her middle name is Rose.

Here's Emily in her first project! It turned out so cute, it made me feel like such a proud knitting teacher!

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First Things First

Well, actually second things first, but I have to explain about all the excitement last night to show why I'm waiting till later to write about the houses that I looked at. Ben flew out to Newark yesterday morning, so he wasn't here last night.

Last night, at about two in the morning, I was ripped awake by a huge loud noise. At first I thought it was some how the alarm clock or my phone being really loud, and I thought, "crap, I'm going to wake up the neighbors!" Then I realized it was the fire alarm, and I panicked. I'm never good at clear thinking right when I wake up, but throw in a ear-numbing loud noise, and I'm a mess. I think I may have actually run in a couple of circles before I got to the door.

I was going out when I realized I should have my key. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure why I thought I needed my key, but I went and found it in my pants pocket. Then I paused, deciding about the cats. Somewhere in my sleepy mind, I thought that if it was just a little fire, I could come back for them. So I went out again.

I was about halfway down the hall when I saw some ladies with their purses. And I thought, I should really have that. So I went back for my purse and since I was going back anyway, I figured I'd shove the cats in their boxes. When I got back to the room, I could only lay my hands on Pickles, and that was only because I knew for sure she'd be under the bed, and I just reached under and made a mad grab for her. I almost got her, but she ran. Luckily, she ran into the bathroom and so she cornered herself. I grabbed her and shoved her in the box, even though she was fighting.

At that point, I figured if it were a big fire, I'd better get going or all four of us would die. But I felt really bad just abandoning Columbo and Smudge. I mean, just cause she's cutest doesn't really give Pickles any more of a right to live than they have. So I went out with my purse and the cat, but no bra and no shoes.

On the way down the stairs, there were people coming back up, so I figured it was a false alarm, but I went all the way down to make sure. It was a false alarm, but the hotel people couldn't turn the alarm off, so they were waiting for the fire department to come. So Pickles and I came back upstairs.

It took about half an hour in total to get the alarm shut off. It was painfully loud. I think the cats are a little deaf now, poor kitty ears.

It was a pretty upsetting experience, so I ended up staying up the rest of the night. I watched Samantha Who and Carpoolers on ABC.com until I knew Ben would be awake and then I called him and talked some. I felt much calmer after all that, but I couldn't help to continue to be upset by my lack of competance in an emergency. I'll blame a lot of that on the fact that I was in a Tylenol PM induced deep sleep in the middle of the morning, but I couldn't help but think I should decide what to do ahead of time so I'll have a plan when something like that happens.

I'd like to say that I'd have everything I'd need right in my purse and that I could get the cats in their boxes and be out the door in a minute or two. But I think it'd take longer. That doesn't stop me from wanting to take the cats with me though.

Oh, and this morning, since I was up I went down to breakfast. And when I took my shirt off to shower and change, I saw that I have scratches all down my chest, and there was a big hole and blood on the shirt on the side. I checked, and I have even bigger scratches all down my side and around my back. Poor ungrateful Pickles was fighting a lot harder than I knew. I didn't even feel it when she did that. But I'll be the other people thought it was pretty funny looking when they saw it.

Anyway, with all the excitement and no sleep, I figured I'd crawl back into bed and go for an early morning cat nap. But I wanted to post about this before I did that, so I'd remember what i wanted to say. Later, I'll post about house hunting. And a picture of my new hat. The rest of the plans for the day (after I wake up, that is) include doing laundry, cleaning up our suite, and knitting. I haven't decided what the project will be yet.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Recipe Tuesday - Thanksgiving Edition

For this weeks Thanksgiving recipes, I'm going to give my side dish recipes. We usually serve cheesy garlic mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, green salad, cranberry sauce, rolls or biscuits, and stuffing. I use the box stuff for the stuffing, and bagged salad for the salad, the rolls would be regular yeast rolls and the biscuits are just the standard bisquick recipe. Ben likes to make the cranberry sauce from scratch with fresh cranberries. Here I'll be sharing the recipe for the garlic mashed potatoes, and the method for the roasted carrots and other root veggies.

Roasted Carrots (and any other root veggie you'd like)

Scrub and peel the carrots, cut into pieces an inch long or so (if you're using baby carrots, you can skip these steps), toss with olive oil and kosher salt, and spread on a pan covered in foil. Roast in a 400 degree oven for half an hour to an hour. A fork should go in with little resistance when they're finished. You can do this with veggies that aren't root vegetables too, like broccoli, and asparagus. They cook a lot faster than carrots do, so don't mix them together on the pan, since the green things need to come out much sooner.

Cheesy Garlic Mashed Potatoes

8 Medium Potatoes (Yukon Gold are great, Russets will work, any potato will do, some just mash better than others)
8 Cloves of Garlic
1 Stick of Butter
Liquid, you can use cream, milk, chicken stock, whatever you have on hand.
A handful of cheese. I use whatever cheese is around. Sharp cheddar is ideal. I'd guess the amount to be a 1-2 cups.
Optional Add-ins: Chopped cooked bacon, chopped green onion or chives, other kinds of cheese

Peel the potatoes and quarter them. Wash them and put them in a large pot of cold water, making sure the water covers them by at least an inch. Peel the garlic and cut off the little hard bit at the bottom of the clove. Throw the garlic into the water with the potatoes. Bring them to a boil, turn the heat down to simmer, and simmer them until they are fork tender. I usually simmer them for twenty minutes.

Drain the whole pot in a colander, so you don't lose the garlic. Put everything back into the pot and set the pot back on the burner that's been turned off. The leftover heat will evaporate some of the moisture. Add the butter, cut into pieces if you like, and mash everything together. Add the liquid as needed while you mash. At Thanksgiving, I usually have lots of stock around, so I use that to help counteract all the fat in the butter and the cheese. If you want to live on the edge, by all means, use the cream.

Add the cheese and any optional add ins and fold it all into the potatoes. Scrape this into a casserole dish. I like to make these the day before, since they're way better after the garlic flavor has really gotten all through the potatoes. I just top with a sprinkling of cheese and then warm them up in the oven.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

St. Louis, MO

We got in around 3 o'clock, and then we got all unpacked and got the cats settled in. I think they like having a little more room than in the Super 8 motels, but I'm sure they'll be relieved when we have a real house for them to live in. After we unpacked everything, Ben worked for a couple of hours, and then we went down to happy hour. They were serving meatball subs. It was pretty good, but I'm a wimp when it comes to "other people's sauce" so I only ate three of the little meatballs. But since living in a hotel is so expensive, I'm trying my best to be satisfied with what I've got and not have to go to restaurants too. We do have two little burners and a fridge and a microwave and freezer, so there's lot of stuff that I can prepare right in the room. What I have to figure out is how to have homemade pizza night with no oven. Suggestions are welcome.

Technically, this was posted on the thirteenth, but it was written on the twelfth (it was delayed by technical hotel difficulties), so I'm counting it for NaBloPoMo anyway.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Joplin, MO

We drove for about 11 hours again today. It was a pretty good day, but I did start to get pretty cranky toward the end. We did get to stop at the world's largest McDonalds. That was kinda neat. I started my hat, I've got about four inches done on it so far. We've stopped for the night now, which I'm glad about, since I can watch Amazing Race. I really want to have something yummy for dinner, but I don't really want to have to get back into the car. Maybe we can find something good that will deliver.

I'm pretty glad we'll be getting to the Residence Inn tomorrow. Even though it's not our final stop, we'll be able to get settled in and not have to move on right away the next morning. I'm a get settled in kind of person. Plus, we'll be able to cook and eat real food, so we won't be wasting so much money on junky fast food anymore.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Santa Rosa, NM

A long day in the car today. We drove for about 11 hours, but we only got about 580 miles. It took a long time to get out of AZ because the poor little Kia just can't climb mountains faster than forty-five miles an hour. But now we're on highway 40, and we figure we can be in Springfield, MO before we stop tomorrow night. That would only leave about three or four hours to do on Monday.

The cats were good today and didn't cry at all. That must be some pretty good stuff the vet gave them. They pretty much just stared at nothing with a glazed look all day. We're in the Super 8 now, so they can run around and eat and use the litter box. And yet they don't seem grateful that we let them out. Just mad that we put them in the boxes to begin with.

I knit in the car a little today. I'm pretty much done with my scarflette thing. I just have to decide how the buttonholes should go, and then I can cast off. I'm going to do that tonight so I can cast on a hat out of the purple colored Andean Treasure I have so I can have that all set to go tomorrow. I probably would have gotten more done today, but I kept falling asleep. It's like I was on what the cats were taking.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Pickles Hates Me

So, we're at the Super 8 that we stayed in for a week or so when we first came to AZ. The movers kinda sucked and broke all my pathway lights in the yard, but they did empty the house, so, in order to have a bed, we're staying at a hotel tonight, and getting on the road very early in the morning tomorrow. The cats pretty much are going to kill us in our sleep tonight as revenge for locking them in the bathroom all day and then stuffing them in their boxes and making them come on a car ride. Pickles refuses to come out from under the bed. I'm hoping that the drugs we got for them from the vet will really help them mellow out for the long ride.

I was really super super sad to leave our house today. So many good and happy things have happened there, it was really hard knowing I won't ever be going back. But that's past now, so it's time to look forward to getting started on a new place. The new realtor has sent us some listings that look kinda promising, but it's so hard to tell on paper what they're really like, so I'm looking forward to getting to see them on Tuesday.

I got up at three this morning because I was so anxious that I just could not sleep. So I got to work getting things ready for the packers and the movers. It's been a pretty long day, so I'll probably end up going to bed soon, even though it's only 7:30. I keep thinking it's much later than it really is.

Bear Gryles would like me to pass along that you should never corner a cobra. He seemed really adamant about it on his show.

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Goodbye house sad face. (don't i look tragic?)

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

last night in the az house

I'm feeling a little down today. I've been sorting and packing all day and it's just feeling very final. Emily came over this morning, and we made a crapload of banana bread to use up the last of some ingredients and a bunch of bananas that had gotten black. It turned out pretty well. I also made her take all our condiments and ramen. I'm like a crazy old grandma that always makes you take some weird thing every time you come see her. Like leftovers and cleaning supplies. Maybe she'll actually be glad to see me go after this.
I sorted through my yarn and books and movies. And I'm an absolute failure at traveling light when it comes to things I might want to work on or do. I suck at narrowing down yarn. Anyway, I ended up with the big suitcase full of stuff, and my little suitcase for my clothes. That seems somehow backward, but it's pretty much a reflection of my priorities.
There's still so much to do, I really hope that it all gets done on time. We've got to pack our clothes and toiletries and load up the car. And the packers and movers have to get a lot packed too before the day is done tomorrow. But it'll be a long day, and we don't have to be out of the house till tomorrow night, so I'm sure we'll get it all done.
I put the harnesses on the cats yesterday, bcause I figured I'd better start making them wear their tags. Just in case they end up getting out at some point. I'd hate to end up losing one. I'd hate to find out, but I suspect that Ben wouldn't stop and try to find them, and he'd make us abandon them. I really wouldn't want to have that fight. But my point is, I think the cats are so cute in the harnesses. For some reason, they remind me of monkeys when they've got those on.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

a day in the life

I'm having a pretty good day today. I went to walmart this morning to get some tissue paper to wrap up the scarflettes for my friends, and a harness for Pickles, since hers was just a kitten sized one and she needs a bigger one now. I came out with the tissue paper, the harness, a pair a decorative scissors, a couple of quote blocks for cardmaking, and some clearanced halloween crafts. I'm a menance when shopping.

After I got back home, I wrapped all the scarflettes. Then I realized I'm a loser, because I didn't take any pictures of them. So, no pictures. But the one I'm making myself is about half done, so I'll take pictures of that one.

At eleven I went out to lunch with my friend Sarah at Applebee's. It was pretty good, we got the soup and salad lunch thing. She wanted to take me out for a goodbye lunch, which was so nice of her.

This morning I made Ben a southwestern steak scramble for breakfast. It had green pepper, and onion, and steak and pepperoni (that was just to use some up), and eggs and jack cheese. I served it with leftover cornbread from last night. Last nights dinner was a pork loin cooked in the crock pot with sauce made from tomato paste, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, chile powder, ginger, paprika, and water, sliced and served over rice. I made corn bread to go with that, but I used masa instead of corn meal and put a can of corn in it too. It turned out really yummy. The leftover pork and rice are going to become pork fried rice for tonight's dinner.

Now that I've finished my goodbye presents, I think it's time to get out the bin of yarn and decide what projects are going with me in the car and what projects I have to say goodbye to until we move into a new house. I think I'm going to pack one whole suitcase of yarn and just keep wearing the same clothes over and over. It's weird to have to pick just one or two projects. I think I'll keep the green yarn I've been using for the hat and mittens and scarflette, so I can keep adding to that set. And if I have room for both, I'll be keeping Ben's black sweater and my pink sweater with me. Also, maybe the brown yarn to finish the pair of Gloss socks. And if I can use up all that yarn, and actually make that black sweater fit Ben, I'm going to crown myself knitting queen.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Recipe Tuesday - Thanksgiving Edition

I decided since it's November now, and one of my favorite holidays is just around the corner, I'd share some Thankgiving Dinner recipes for Recipe Tuesday.

A great place to start is the turkey. I know that lots of people think roasting a turkey means you end up with a golden turkey to carry out on a platter. I think that if you go for looks, though, you may end up sacraficing taste. Turkey made in the slow cooker is some of the best turkey I've ever had, even though it's definately "carve it in the kitchen" in the looks department. And if you're a fan of brining, simply brine the turkey in your crock pot liner in the fridge, then rinse and follow these directions. I love this way of making turkey so much that even if I were serving so many people that a twenty pound turkey would be appropriate, I'd just borrow a couple of crock pots and buy a few smaller birds.

The recipe calls for turkey breast. If you have a large enough slow cooker to fit it, you can do a whole turkey. It also calls for a jar of turkey gravy. If you use gravy, it's important to get a jar, not a can. It just tastes better. I generally use low fat, low sodium chicken broth in place of the gravy and water. Homemade broth would be great too. You really just want a 1-2 cups of liquid that will bring some good flavor. You can use russet potatoes instead of new or red, but you'll want to peel them, and not just scrub them. You can use other veggies too, like onion, or celery, but make sure there's still room for the turkey.

The vegetables that roast with the turkey are generally not our side dish with the turkey, but even though we don't eat them for Thanksgiving Dinner, I always put them in, and save them out when the turkey is finished. They have a higher purpose, which is to be revealed in a couple of weeks.

SlowCooker Roasted Turkey and Veggies

6 lb. frozen turkey breast, thawed
1 jar of turkey gravy
8-10 red potatoes or new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
1 lb. bag of baby carrots

Spread the carrots and prepared potatoes on the bottom of the crock pot. Unwrap the turkey and take out anything that's inside it. If it has a timer thing, just leave it in. Put the turkey in on the veggies, breast side down. Pour the gravy on the turkey all over. Fill jar 1/2 full of water, shake it up and pour into slow cooker. Cook on low for 7-8 hours.

The only time I've ever had this come out wrong is when it ended up cooking 10-11 hours and it was overcooked. Allow it to cook for 7-8 hours, and it will come out so juicy and delicious. If you're concerned about it not being cooked through, you can check it with a meat thermometer. I've never had it come out underdone. It's very simple, and you can barely mess it up.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Every rose has a thorn

So, yesterday was a pretty nice day, but there were some rough patches too. Our buyers had their final walk through, and so after we cleaned up the whole house really well, we went out shopping and such. First we headed up to Scottsdale to Ben's office for him to print stuff and work a little. I knit and listened to All Things Bright and Beautiful. I also got to have fun shredding all the stuff from that other contract we were about to sign for the offer we almost put on the house.

Then we went over to Bookman's where we had credit leftover from The Great Book Clean Out '07. I was supposed to be looking for things to read on the trip out to st. louis, but ended up getting a boxed set of all the Little House on the Prarie books, a fruits and vegetables gardening book, a cookbook about cooking food from the garden, and a book about card making. Ben got a couple of cd's and a stephen king book.

We went to WalMart to pick up our prescriptions, and I looked a little at the clearance Halloween stuff. I couldn't resist a silicon cupcake pan shaped like little pumpkins. I'm seriously thinking pumpkin bread. I wonder if banana bread shaped like pumpkins is too weird. We also got a transmitter and a charger to listen to my mp3 player in the car.

At Joann's I picked up some buttons for the goodbye projects, and at Best Buy, Ben got MST3K set #11. I also found out that Best Buy updated the Insignia brand players and for the exact same price, I could have gotten one twice as good now. Very irritating. Then to Michaels to use my coupon. I got a craft punch shaped like a tag for fifty percent off. And saw a very creepy guy who claimed he was from corporate hitting on an eighteen year old. How did I know she was eighteen? I heard him ask her. Gross.

Then we got dinner at In and Out Burger, and while we were in the drive thru, Ben started worrying about living in a hotel and stuff and talking about how we have to hurry to find a house. I can sympathize, but he doesn't really know how to handle worry very well, and ends up angry. I think he's pretty angry about the down payment on the house not being as big as we'd hoped, now that a lot of it is going to the residence inn. But we talked about it, and I think he sees that the down payment isn't quite as important as finding the right place and working together in harmony. We did decide that probably, no matter what, this year we won't be able to make it home for Christmas. I was a little sad about that at first, but then I figured we can always go in Jan or Feb and it'll most likely make the holidays a lot more relaxing than they usually are.

Anyway, a pretty good day over all. And even the tense discussion about housing didn't bring us down too much, as we both handled it better than we usually do things like that. Ben's getting a lot better about talking things over and not losing his temper. I think the classes we had to take at church for the convalidation really helped us both learn how to have these conversations a little better.

Today, I'm planning to work on finishing up the gifts for some of my friends here. I've got buttons to sew on all of them. And there's one person that I haven't made anything for yet, because I don't think the thing I made for everyone else is quite appropriate for her, and I have no idea what to give to her.

This week is going to be a busy week, saying good bye and packing up the car and sorting through all the food and stuff. I decided just to take it slow today, finish up these gifts and wrap them, and maybe make some banana bread. I might run back over to walmart to pick up some tissue paper, because I don't have any other wrapping stuff or anything. And there's always laundry, but in general, I think it'll be nice to enjoy our very clean house, and just hang out.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Jack Face Part I

Yesterday at about eleven in the morning, when Ben and I still hadn't showered or gotten out of our pajamas, we decided that we would have a massively lazy day. One of those days that you don't do anything but watch tv and movies, not even get dressed. Not long after that, I was talking to Adam and told him our plans for the day. Then we were talking about finishing up things in the pantry, to prepare for the move. I realized that there was about three quarters of a fifth of Jack and a little bit of peach schnapps left that we wouldn't be able to take in the car with us. So, I told Adam that we'd do that yesterday, since we wouldn't get another chance to drink since all this coming week we have to get up. Well, he didn't believe that I could do it and wanted pictures. I told him I'd do three shots in a row. He laughed his butt off and said I couldn't. Here's the proof that this long winded intro is leading up to:




















(Please ignore that I look all gross. Remember? This was a massively lazy pajama day.)

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Jack Face Part II











I will admit that the three weren't exactly in a row. It took me about five minutes to do all three. In the end, I had about four shots of Jack and two of schnapps. The fourth shot and the schnapps were in an AppleJack that I made and drank after the shots in the pictures. I'm such a boring drunk. I never actually did get drunk, just fell completely asleep. I don't usually drink much, hence all the leftover alcohol in the house. I just know that Adam wanted to see all the fun. There's still about four shots of the Jack left in the pantry. I'll probably just give it to Em.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

A change of topic

Okay, not quite yet, because just to keep you all up to date on the realtor/moving situation, we have been assigned a new realty office. So far they are better, as I spoke with the head of the office yesterday and she asked me lots of details about what we're looking for, and said she'd assign an agent who was experienced with the more rural property. I'm glad that she took the trouble to really find out what it is we want, and even asked why it was we were switching agents. I think she wants to make sure we're happy with her person. I did have to tell the other agent that we weren't going to be using her. I chickened out and emailed her instead of calling though. I thought I might say something, um, not quite tactful, in a phone call.

Now I'll change the topic:

I thought I might write a little about why I enjoy knitting so much. When I learned to knit, I didn't care for as much as I do now. I really liked to crochet more because I was way more used to it. So for about five years I only knitted dishcloths and one or two scarves. I did like the way knitting looked better, but I never had the patience to sit down and really get used to knitting.

Then a couple of years ago, for my birthday, Julie sent me a great ball of sock yarn, a set of double pointed needles, and a pattern for socks. I called her to thank her but I told her that she thought I was a way better knitter than I was. The package came at just the right time though, when I was really wanting to try something new. So, I cast on, and started the sock.

And it was like something just clicked. I loved the way the knitting felt, and I understood the pattern with no problems at all. That pair of socks was finished in about a week, and I've had a knitting project going since then. It wasn't too long after that I figured out I could knit without looking at my hands. I started knitting more for that reason, because it made watching tv and movies with Ben a lot easier. He always hated it when I'd ask what happened, because I was looking at my crocheting. I also loved that I could read and knit at the same time.

Pretty much all of the crafts I do, I really enjoy the finished projects. It's amazing to me, how an object that is handmade can carry so much with it. It's like physical love in each stitch, creating warmth or just something pleasing to see. There's quality and dedication in every hat, or scarf, or pair of pajama pants, or embroidered pillowcase. To me, this is a very practical way that I can literally show my love for the special people in my life.

Another reason I like finished objects so much is the chance for customization. I can sew a blouse or skirt for myself that will fit just the way I want. I can make my cousin who can never find a hat he likes that will fit his head one that will fit him just right and will be just the colors he wants. I can make things you'd never find it a store, just exactly the way they should be.

So those are the practical reasons that I like knitting so much. But there are some different, deeper reasons that I like to knit, or do any kind of crafting at all for that matter. I love the fact that my hands can learn the motions for each craft. And it's a good feeling, the way my hands can remember all the specifics needed for each different craft I do. I feel connected to hundreds of thousands of crafters for generations and generations.

There's another feeling that comes from using my hands that is a little harder to describe. The closest I can come, I think, is the feeling I used to get in Biology class in high school. We'd learn about all the bones and mucsles and how the nerves would control movement and feeling. It was amazing to learn about all the parts of our bodies and how they fit and work together. And sometimes, I would think, "what an amazing God we have, to have given us such perfect machines, and such abilities. And to have provided us all with the capability to think and feel such emotions too! Each person the same, but unique and so special and different." That was one of the times in my life when I felt most strongly the presence of God right in my physical existence. The fact that I can praise God through using the skills he's given me is one of the biggest reasons that I love to knit.

So, that's why I love to knit. Lots of practical reasons, and a couple of deep rooted spiritual reasons.

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