Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wedding Gift Woes

My cousin is getting married this month, but with finances and setting up the new homestead and all, we won't be able to attend. But I'm very glad for him, and I wish him all the best, so I wanted to send a really nice present for him and his new wife to show that. I've got a really soft spot in my heart for young newlyweds.

So here's the problem. I went to their Bed, Bath, and Beyond registry and started checking things out. Everything is so expensive! At first I was ashamed of this reaction, but then I realized that it's not that I begrudge spending the money on my cousin. I'm very glad to spend money on my loved ones! But I do begrudge the fact that I can get them so little for the money. I really think that store is so overpriced, if I spend within our budget, I won't be able to get them anything much, but if I go over budget, it won't be that much nicer a present, and I'll be overspending!

I suppose that shopping second-hand and at discount stores has taught me that even though Bed, Bath, and Beyond seems to be the most popular place for wedding registries, it's ridiculously over priced. Ladles do not cost ten dollars in the real world. Neither do plastic salad tongs.

I would just go out and find them the most perfect lovely crystal vase (I never registered for one, but one of my cousins bought one for me, and it's just a wonderful thing to have) at a good price, but since we don't live in town and aren't attending, shipping is going to add just as much of a cost to it. To avoid the shipping charges, I could send it home with my parents when they visit, but then it would arrive after the wedding. I know that's okay according to ettiquette, but wouldn't it just make me look cheap and disorganized?

Of course, my first instinct is to make something, like a set of embroidered tea towels, but after looking at their registry, I'd say that she (and he, I suppose) has some pretty austre taste, so I'm not sure what would be appropriate.

So, do I just bite the bullet, and buy from the registry, even though I'm uncomfortable with the commercialism and the quality and the generic-ness of that? Do I bite the bullet and pay super shipping charges and loose any of the good deal I could get on a nice piece of crystal or silver? Or do I make a nice set of tea towels, and send them along with some kitchen gadgets, even though that might make me look cheap, and I could miss the mark completely with the design and colors?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated, since I'm sure to be repeating this situation over and over again, what with living away from all our family and such.

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Cousins


Greg and Adam before they left to drive back home to MI. I couldn't get Greg to lift his hat up any higher to see his face. I tried. He pulled it back down.
Alicat's right. They're looking more and more like each other.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My First Time

Mowing the lawn, that is.

Our lawn was getting very long, but it seemed like every time it would get close to dry enough to mow, it would downpour again. This weekend we finally had bought a lawn mower AND it was dry enough to mow. We have two acres to mow, but we figure that we can't afford a rider to next summer or the one after, since we bought a rototiller this spring. So, Ben picked up a nice little push mower.

I've never mowed the lawn with a push mower before. It's sad to admit that, but I've never owned a house with a lawn before, and my dad wouldn't teach me how when I lived at home. I think that's because he thought I'd do something ditzy like mow over a bush, or my foot. I can't promise I wouldn't have either. I can be pretty ditzy sometimes.

Ben put the mower together and did the larger side of the lawn and then set me to work in the front on what was remaining. I had fun! I know I won't be having fun with it all summer, but I actually enjoyed it this time. It's sort of like cleaning up something really dirty or vacuuming something really dusty. You can really see your progress. And the before/after result is so pronounced, you really feel like you've accomplished something.

I guess it's a good thing I enjoyed it, because there's still a big chunk in the back to finish, because it was too wet to do with the rest. I do have to say that I'm glad the way back of our property isn't properly seeded. It makes that much less to mow for now.

So the verdict on lawn mowing is a positive one for now, but I'm pretty sure it's much too inconsistent to count as exercise, even though it's really hard work. Maybe I can just have the most uneven lawn ever, and do a little bit every day.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Menu for 4-27 to 5-3

This week I'm trying something a little new with my menu plan. I've added afternoon snacks for the weekdays and put in some notes and more detail. The noted info is partly for me, to remind myself to do things (like brown some hamburger meat separately on Thurs) and partly for you all, in order to explain better how my menu plan works, and why I choose meals in the order and with the sides that I do.

We have two chickens in the fridge this week, but I'm planning to only cook one and freeze the other till next week or the week after. Even so, the menu is chicken heavy this week to use up all of one chicken. We got a great deal on ground beef two weeks ago ($1.69 lb.) so I've got plenty of that for the non-chicken nights.

My fruit and veggies trays went so well with our company, that I'm planning to do that for us this week as well. I chunked up a pineapple, a watermelon, some grapes, and some strawberries and just piled them into a tray. I'm not sure if I'll use the same fruits this week, I'll have to check sales and see what looks good, but it should be similar. This is perfect for breakfast, so that's what's being served with pancakes everyday. Ben will just put together a serving size container before bed to take with him.

For the veggie tray, I just keep a constant supply of carrot and celery sticks, green pepper rings, cucumber slices and brocolli florets. It sure has been helping me to actually remember to eat the fruits and veggies we buy.

I might make some desserts this week too. Since I'm making crust for the pot pie anyway, I might as well see if there's any good apples for a pie, or maybe do a berry pie, depending what's on sale. I've also been itching to make a cake, because I picked up new square layer cake pans at the dollar store, and my sister delivered a square cake plate from my mom last week too. The call of a square cake may prove too strong for me to resist.

Sunday
B: Cereal
L: Turkey Sandwiches with veggies and cheese
D: Pasta with spinach salad and garlic bread

Monday
B: Muffins (last of them from the freezer)
L: Pasta (leftovers from last night with garlic bread and salad)
Snack: Yogurt and Carrot Sticks
D: French Toast (using up last week's getting stale bread) with sausage and OJ

Tuesday
B: Pancakes (from the freezer) with PB and fruit (from fruit tray assortment)
L: Hot Dogs with veggie sticks
Snack: Crackers with Peanut Butter
D: Roasted Chicken with Rice and Asparagus

Wednesday
B: Pancakes
L: Chili (from freezer) and Baked Potato
Snack: Apple and String Cheese
D: Chicken Pot Pie (using most of the roasted chicken and leftover veggies with some canned veggies in a homemade crust)

Thursday
B: Pancakes
L: Chicken Fried Rice (using leftover rice from Tuesday night and last of the roasted chicken)
Snack: Yogurt and Veggie Sticks
D: Meatloaf with Salad and Twice Baked Potatoes (making enough potatoes for Wed. lunch to turn into twice baked for this dinner)

Friday
B: Apple Muffins (Baked Thursday to replenish freezer stock)
L: Meatloaf Sandwiches
Snack: Cut Fruit and String Cheese
D: Pizza Night! (save out hamburger from meatloaf to brown for topping)

Saturday
B: Leftover Pizza
L: Mac&Cheese
D: Hot Dogs and Veggie Sticks

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Back to Business

Well, my brother and sister and cousin headed out last night. It was a very good time visiting with them. I hope they had a nice time as well. We took them to Forest Park and to the zoo. I'm not sure if we did all of what they wanted to do during their vacations, but we did get the gigantic pizza at Pointers, and that in its self was worth the price of admission, I'd say.

It was really fun having guests and doing a little extra special baking and cooking for them. The fruit and veggie trays were a big success. I made a batch of whole wheat Oatmeal Blueberry Muffins on Tuesday and served those with a loaf a banana bread I had in the freezer with the fruit and veggie trays every morning for breakfast. I think everyone enjoyed that, and it made breakfast prep very easy on me.

I'm afraid that I'm SO out of step with my peers, I even don't fit in very well with my own family sometimes. That was a difficult part of the week for me, but usually they accept our differences with good grace, as I try to do. I actually really enjoy looking at my family sometimes and thinking about how my parents raised such very different children all with such different priorities and interests. And yet, we can all relate to each other on at least one or two things.

I did show my sister how the CVS deals work, but unfortunately they don't have one, so she can't do the CVS thing on a regular basis. And we went to Sonic every day that they were here. Adam may love Sonic too much.

Today I'm planning to wash sheets and towels. There's lots of them to get taken care of with five people instead of only two. But there's not a ton of housework to do, actually. Eating at Sonic sure keeps the kitchen clean, I'll say that. Even though I'm sure it's not doing much for keeping my arteries clean.

Ben's going to bring home a lawn mower tonight, and hopefully it won't rain today or tomorrow and we'll be able to chop down the jungle we've got developing in the yard. We're getting a push mower for at least this summer, and we're actually both looking at that as enforced exercise. I'm afraid that the winter was hard on our weight since we were much more used to the physical activity that living in Phoenix automatically provided, and we're both looking for something to get us motivated to move more. I've definately got to get my bike fixed up this weekend too. The movers really did a number on it, so I want to take it in for a tune up. I really miss my bike! I used to ride almost everyday in AZ. So, I'm gearing up for summer today and looking forward to some warmer weather activities!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Update

Yesterday there was an annual county meeting of the homemaker's club along with a luncheon. It was a very nice time, and there was a very interesting presentation about different First Ladies all through American history. There was an arts and crafts show too, and my doily got one vote. I purposely didn't vote for myself so I wouldn't have to say, "I got two votes, but one was me."

Adam and Donna and Greg are getting here early this morning. They left Midland at about ten last night and drove through the night. I'm sure they'll be really tired when they get here. I'm pretty much company ready except I want to vacuum the couch before they get here, and I'm still planning to bake those muffins this morning, and there's lots of fruit and veggies to prepare for trays. But except for the couch, that's all stuff that I can take care of through the day while they rest.

I might take a rest myself this afternoon. I haven't slept too well the last couple of nights, so I'm feeling pretty tired. I'm up really early this morning, but I just get very frustrated laying in bed while I can't sleep, so I got up to read blogs and distract myself till Ben's awake and I can use the vacuum.

Adam requested a Rachael Ray meal he saw a week or two ago, so dinner tonight is Mac and Cheese Florantine with Chicken Sausage Meatballs. Except I couldn't find ground chicken, so it's Turkey Sausage Meatballs. Greg requested lots of bread, so I set up two loaves of the no knead bread last night, and what's left Ben's taking into his morning meeting tomorrow since some of the guys at work want to try it. I'll also set up a regular loaf in the bread maker this morning.

My friend Dorothy from the homemaker's club brought me four baby forsythia yesterday, so I've got to get those planted at some point today too. I think I'll put them in a semicircle in the side yard and then I can put a bird feeder or bird bath in the middle. Then I'll have to add a bench not far from there for bird watching!

We also have some blueberry bushes to plant that we bought with a gift certificate from Ben's brother on Saturday. Ben's going to stop and buy some garden sulpher on the way home from work today so we can get the soil ph right for the blueberries.

I hear Ben getting into the shower, so I'll get my vacuuming done now. I'll try to update, but I might be scarce around here until the end of the week when my company leaves. I hope everyone has a joyful week!

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Rainy Day Fun

Today when Ben finished work, we went into town (Some people say "go to town" and mean Hamel. but seriously, Hamel like this big. I mean Edwardsville.) and went to CVS and to the library. I'd put lots of books on hold with my new library card and they all came in at once. I can't wait to read them. I'm especially looking forward to The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobson. It looks seriously hilarious.

Then we headed north to Litchfield to use our Tractor Supply gift card that Ben's parents got him for Christmas. We got seeds and a seed starter kit and work gloves and strawberry plants.

We browsed through a Salvation Army store and the Dollar Tree. I picked up some magazine files for $.70 each and some t-shirts and tape for a kids camp charity that the homemaker's club is having a collection for on Monday.

We had dinner at Wendy's and split a frosty. And now we're watching a documentary about whiskey. We're dorks.

I was just reading about the movie they're making from the Stephanie Meyers book Twilight. I'm not sure how I feel about the movie. The actors don't seem super likable, but I'll have to wait till it comes out to decide. I'm sure these books wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but I loved them! They really speak to the part of me that's still fourteen and pretty sure I'm going to end up having some wildly romantic irresistable lure to a special vampire boy. Yes, I've actually got that part of me still. No, I'm not ashamed to admit it. Well, not entirely ashamed. If you like paranormal romance or teen stories at all, I really recommend them.

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Vintage Appliances

Last time I was home visiting my family in MI, I asked my parents' advice about how to save energy and cut back on propane use. I'd told them that Ben and I had decided that we wouldn't turn the oven on more than one time a day, and that I would try to have at least some days in the week when I wouldn't turn the oven on at all.

They suggested that we get a toaster oven for preparing small things or reheating leftovers. I thought that was a good idea, but since the point was to save money, I didn't want to just go out and buy a new one. I mentioned it to Ben as something we might look for at thrift stores, and then promptly forgot it.

Then God provided a toaster oven. We found this at a yard sale down the street for five dollars. It even still has the original book with it. On the warranty page, it's handwritten, "12-24-74". Someone either really loved their Christmas present or never touched it, because it's in perfect clean condition. I really like the look of it to tell the truth, even though it buzzes when it's heating, and I'm afraid it might burn the house down. It's got a definate flair to it.


We've been wanting to buy a pressure canner for years, ever since Ben decided his favorite hobby (after video games) is canning. But the ones in stores all are so small (a five quart pressure canner? that doesn't seem adequate at all) and so expensive! We'd just about decided that this is the year we have to have one, since we'll have the big garden this year, and we were going to get one this summer.

Well, through the very appreciated generosity of nice women, God's provided us with a pressure canner too. One of the women in the homemaker's club is also in a gardening club, and one of those members had decided not to can anymore, and gave all her canning things away. Not only did my friend check with her about whether they were still available, she even picked them up and delivered them to me!

It is slightly chipped on the enamel, but it's in good shape otherwise, and we'll just have to get it a new rubber seal thinger. It also has the instruction book with it! The copyright in the book is 1974.

Along with the pretty sunny yellow Presto pressure canner, she gave me four dozen quart canning jars! I surprised Ben, just telling him that one of the ladies was coming over last night to drop something off. He was really excited when he saw what that something was!

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Earthquake

Ben and I were woken up this morning at about 4:30 by the house rattling and the bed shaking.

There was a 5.3 scale earthquake east of here and they say people as far away as Cincinnatti felt it. It was about ten seconds long, and at first I thought there was a storm picking up and the wind was making the wall rattle, but then I realized the bed was shaking too. It was super weird.

We're perfectly fine, the house doesn't have any damage. I don't think the neighbors have any damage either, except for the back neighbor's old falling down barn fell in. But, you know, it was old and falling down anyway.

I've got to say, it was pretty sureal, and I didn't get much more sleep, so I'm pretty tired this morning, but I'm very thankful that there wasn't any damage here. And from what I've read so far, no one was hurt anywhere else either. So I suppose it was just a pretty interesting thing. And now I can tell my grandkids some day about the Great Illinois Earthquake of '08.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Making Do

I didn't post yesterday because, to be honest, I didn't really do anything much yesterday because I was feeling very sick. I don't know if it was something I ate, or if I had some sort of twenty-four hour bug, but I spent a lot of the day over the toilet. One good thing about that is that the toilets are very clean, because I have a tendency to clean them while I'm, let's say, hanging out by them.

I'm feeling better today. A little slow moving and weak maybe, but not so dizzy and I've gotten some things done already, so I'm feeling accomplished. My abs are killing me though. I feel like I spent the night doing sit ups and crunches.

Since I don't have any progress or interesting news from yesterday (Other than the fact that I asked Ben to please make me some mashed potatoes for dinner last night, and he boiled 13(!) potatoes. We'll be eating potatoes for a week and a half.) I decided that I'd offer some pictures of what I did on Monday.
I've been wishing I could find one of those awesome vintage Tupperware veggie trays at Goodwill or a rummage sale, because I want to have a crudite/fruit tray ready at all times to make healthy eating a little easier. I don't want to use a tray with no cover because the cut veggies will dry out much too quickly, and all the separate containers aren't quite as convenient.

This is what I came up with for now. I decided it's silly to wait around when I could just figure something out for the mean time. The container was actually left here by the previous owners of the house, I found it in the top of the pantry cupboard. I've used some small low square containers to section it off, and filled each section with a different veggie or fruit.

Ben's very glad with the result, and it's proven very useful when packing lunches and for on the dinner table as well. I think it'll be great for when compnay comes too, so there will always be healthy snacks available, and they won't have to find a peeler or cutting board just to have some carrot sticks. Here is another picture from Monday. You may remember I had some milk that was sour that had to get used up, so I made a double batch of pancakes. I cooked them all on the griddle (8 at a time makes it so much easier!), and then I layed them on a cookie sheet with waxed paper between the layers. I put this in the freezer, and when they've frozen hard, I put them all into freezer-style ziploc bags. This way, we just pull a couple out and toast them and they're all set to eat for breakfast.

The sink is full of water because I bleached and scrubbed it and wiped down all the counters after I'd finished the pancakes. You can see, I also cleaned the drip tray and dish drainer. I've been working on doing some extra deep cleaning this week, since I'll be having company next week. My little brother Adam, my sister Donna, and my cousin Greg are coming down to visit us! I'm very excited about it, and I want to make their visit really nice.

Today or tomorrow, I'm planning to bake a bunch of different kinds of muffins to freeze, so then I can have them to offer an assortment to my guests. We're having lots of company in the coming months, actually. My parents and my other sister are coming at the end of May and then directly after them, my in-laws and Ben's brother, Joe are coming to visit. So I'm going to let myself go crazy muffin baking and try some new recipes I've been wanting to experiement with, since they'll keep so well in the freezer and I'll have lots of people to feed soon.

I'm also hoping to work on the embroidered Spring banner some more. I also want to plan a new project. My nephew is having his first communion in a couple of weeks, and I want to make him a special rosary pouch with embroidery on it. I haven't decided what motifs I'll embroider, so I think I'll browse around online and see if anything catches my eye.

There's also lots of cleaning to do, like scrubbing the guest bathrooms and mopping all the floors, but I may leave that till tomorrow, since I'm still feeling recuperative (is that even a word?). Today I'm setting myself the sure goal of two loads of laundry and getting all my baskets that have been in a pile in the living room since we moved in put away and arranged nicely.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Menu Explanation

I started to answer this question in the comments, but then thought it was quite long and would make more sense as a post. Here is the question, from Castocreations


So I have a question. Is what you have listed here ALL you eat? Because
honestly it doesn't seem like enough food. I am eating six "meals" a day. They
aren't huge but three meals a day isn't good for your metabolism. So do you
snack in between? I can't imagine having only fruit for breakfast. Or just
cereal. It's important to have a fruit/veggie, protein, and complex carbohydrate
with each meal and snack. I just don't see that with all the meals you list so I
wondered if there were other 'sides' that you don't list.

You're right, this is more like a short hand that I use for reminders. While I'm planning the meals, I write down the main dish to make sure I have the ingredients on hand for that and to remind myself what I should be eating.

The main reason for that is that when I get hungry and my blood sugar drops, I get very irritable and I get upset really easily. If I have a menu plan with preparations made ahead of time, I won't end up at Burger King or eating cookie dough out of the freezer. Believe me, it's happened more times than I can count when hunger has stolen my emotional control!

I do try not to let myself get too hungry, and so I keep snacks on hand, like crudite and fruit and string cheese and granola bars, but I'm afraid that I haven't worked my way up to making eating six times a day a habit. It's usually more like four or five. But that's a lot better than the one or two times a day that I would do naturally.

I'm the first one to admit that I've got terrible nutritional habits, but I've been working on fixing that. Planning out breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day has really really helped me gain back control over the cravings for chips and sweets that I get. That's one of the things that I do that I'd recommend to people, it's very helpful for me, and I know that experts say it's an important part of learning to make good choices. I'd also say that one of the other things I do that's truly healthy is making everything from scratch. To me, that's a sure way to make sure you're not having too much sodium, or sugar, on a daily basis, since those are things that are automatically in prepackaged foods in huge amounts.

Our meals do include veggie/fruit, carb and protein. For example, we usually eat the pancakes spread with natural peanut butter for the protein, and the wraps have shredded cheese in them, and sometimes sliced roasted turkey or tuna salad along with all the veggies. I'll serve a salad with the pasta dishes, and the stir fry, of course, had tons of veggies along with rice and chicken. Cereal might mean Fiber One with a banana, the grilled cheese has crudite on the side, the chili is mostly kidney and black beans, etc.

On Sunday mornings, breakfast is very light, if we eat at all, because we're not supposed to recieve Communion at Mass if we've eaten up to an hour beforehand, so I'll take an apple or something in the car with me and eat it after Mass on the way home or if we run errands. And lunch on a Sunday is usually much earlier, like brunch, since we're usually pretty hungry by the time we get home.

You're definately right in pointing out that my meal plans are not something that should be followed if you're trying to lose weight, or even for general health, but they are a big improvement over how I ate even a year ago. I use them as a reference for myself, and as a tool to help me improve. I'm very glad you've offered feedback, since this helps me realize I've had a blind spot. Maybe next week I will try to plan in at least two healthy snacks to each day as well, since things have gone so well with adding breakfasts and lunches. (We used to plan only dinner, but then I wouldn't eat during the day, and we'd have leftovers spoil. We started planning all three meals about five months ago.)

Does anyone have any simple tips for remembering to eat enough to keep up our metabolism or for planning healthy meals?

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Problems with EntreCard

I've really been enjoying Entrcard for all the cool blogs I've found while dropping cards, and I know I've been getting lots of traffic from other droppers, but I've been having some big problems with it.

Every time I go dropping, things will be fine for a little while, but then my computer will start acting funny. Like explorer won't open links, even when I right click and open link in new tab or window. Or Explorer will shut it's self down. I'm afraid that somehow the blogs I'm visiting are putting harmful cookies or code on my computer? The only way to get IE to work normally again is a restart.

This has really put a damper on my card dropping, since I rarely want to do it, one, because I'm worried about what might be getting on my computer, (even though Norton says there's nothing but cookies), and two, because it takes so much time, especially with a few restarts, to drop even 100 cards.

Any other Entrecarders have problems like this? Any suggestions?

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Menu for 4-13 to 4-19

We're still eating from the freezer and the pantry right now, so the grocery list this week was pretty much just fresh fruit and veggies and some juice. I've got milk in the freezer to use, so I'm planning to have a marathon pancake making today or tomorrow and get some pancakes in the freezer.

I've also been wanting one of those cool Tupperware party trays so I can always just have a fruit/veggie tray in the fridge to make it more convienent to eat those things for snacks. But I decided this morning that instead of telling myself I'd do healthy things if I just had that gadget (a pet peeve of mine that I fall into all too often), I'm going to see if I can't just arrange things in a bigger tray like container for now. I think having all the healthy snacks (carrot and celery stick, brocolli florets, cucumber slices, grapes, strawberries, etc.) in one, easy to get out place will really make it easier to remember to eat them. It'll be much simpler to bring out crudite tray for meals and evening snacks than it will be to have to cut new crudite every time. Or even than it is to pull out five or six different containers with all those things separate.

Anyway, on to the menu:

Sunday
B: Fruit
L: French Toast
D: Leftover Pizza

Monday
B: Leftover French Toast
L: Tuna Wrap
D: Chicken Stir Fry

Tuesday
B: Banana Muffins
L: Tuna Wrap
D: Porcupine Balls

Wednesday
B: Pancakes
L: Leftovers
D: Chili & Baked Potatoes

Thursday
B: Pancakes
L: Veggie Wraps
D: Noodles & Sauce

Friday
B: Pancakes
L: Grilled Cheese
D: Homemade Pizza

Saturday
B: Cereal
L: Leftover Pizza
D: Bacon & Eggs

For more meal ideas look to Menu Monday!

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Friday, April 11, 2008

More Past Projects

Here are a few more projects that pre-date this blog.

This dress was for my niece, Julia. I always called it her picnic dress. Sometimes I'm surprised when I'm able to come up with something that I'd see in a magazine and show to who ever I'm with and say, isn't that clever. This project is like that for me. I always want to give past me a pat on the back for the original idea. I was inspired by the ants, I think, and then Adam wanted gingham curtains, so I bought extra for this project. Once I saw the gingham, the whole thing just came together in my mind.


Adam wanted a vest to wear to a formal with his then-girlfriend. She had a pink dress with black, and he wanted to match her. We looked and looked for pink and black plaid or pink and black anything, for that matter, but could not find any. I ended up layering black netting on pink broadcloth to make a pink and black design fabric. The accents are black satin. I made the "tuxedo stripes" by laying the black netting on the pink broadcloth and serging the together with a rolled hem to finish the edges. Then I slipstitched them by hand to the outer seam of the pants from a thrift store suit.

Believe it or not, this was a compromise from his original request that I make him an entire three piece suit from pink and black plaid fabric. Adam is always very ambitious for me.

Here is an afghan I made for my parents for Christmas one year. I'm posting this one mainly for Julie's benefit. See the Union? Each star with the blue around it is a separate piece. I sewed them all together. The stripes are all one piece, and then the Union was sewn into the space left for it in the stripes. Hope that helps you understand what I was talking about, about sewing blocks together.

Also, though it's completely random, I really want to link to this article. It says a lot of things that I think, but haven't really articulated. I'm glad she's done the articulating so well for me.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Past Projects

A greatest hits type of post, if you will. I've decided to post some pre-blog projects, so as to document them.

This an outfit from Sew Beautiful Magazine that I made a number of years ago for my cousin's son. The front panel/bib is interchangable and I made another with a sailboat on it as well. The little shirt buttons through the bib and to the pants. It buttoned in the back as well, and there's snap tape on the crotch for diaper changes. The back snaps closed with little blue enamel snaps. I'm a huge fan of snaps. I just like the look, I guess.


Here is a doily I crocheted from a vintage pattern. It's made with size 20 Cebelia.

The tray is one that Ben and I figured for displaying things. It's a regular tray from Michael's, finished with stain and poly spray. Then we cut plexiglass to fit and edged it with quarter round moulding. I glued the molding to the plexi with contact cement. I added the ribbon loop at one end between the molding and plexi to easily lift it in order to change out what's in it.

This would be a great way to do seasonal displays, using greeting cards or vintage linens. Mine pretty much always holds the blue doily, but now that I've seen this picture, I remember that I had every intention of changing it often. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Whole Wheat Tortilla Endeavor

On a whole, I'd say the tortillas were a pretty good succes. Laura's recipe from Totally Tortillas certainly makes a dough that's super easy to work with. The flavor was very good and I did feel like they tasted better than store bought tortillas. Probably a ton better than store bought whole wheat tortillas, I've never even bothered with those.



Here is the dough right after I've mixed it up and shaped it on the counter.

You then separate it into 12 equal portions. (Any excuse to use my dough scrape, and I'm there!)
Here are all the tortillas after I've rolled them out and before cooking them.


Here is one of the tortillas cooking in the cast iron skillet. No one ever accused me of rolling out perfect circles, that's for sure.

This picture shows the totillas laid out with all the other fillings for yesterday's lunch. Ben was here until about noon, so I did lunch buffet style with the fresh tortillas.

Now for the price break down:

There are about twenty cups of flour in a five pound bag, and I paid $5.65 for this whole wheat flour. (That was before the prices went up, so I'm sure that there are different prices in the stores now.)

$5.65 / 20 = $.28 per cup

$.28 X 3 cups = $.85 for the flour in this recipe

There are 32 tablespoons in a pound of butter, and though I won't always get it at so low a price I stocked up a few weeks ago at Sam's Club, where a pound costs $1.80. (I'm always on the look out to get it cheaper on sale, because it can sometimes be found for less.)

$1.80 / 32 = $.06 per tablespoon

$.06 X 5 = $.30 for the butter in this recipe

The salt and the tap water are a negligible amount because the salt is far less than a penny ($.003) and I'm sure a cup of tap water is too.

So twelve tortillas made with this recipe with my costs comes out to $1.15.

$1.15 / 12 = ~$.10 per tortilla

Of course, at the moment this doesn't really tell me much, because I don't remember what we paid for the last pack of tortillas that we bought, but I'm sure $1.15 per dozen must be a savings on store bought whole wheat tortillas.

Ben was very pleased with this lunch. It was tasty and healthy, and the tortilla really added some "filling power" to all those veggies. I haven't figured out the cost of the servings of veggies and turkey and cheese sprinkling, but I'm sure that they entire lunch was under a dollar each with two wraps apiece. If I were the gambling sort, I'd bet it was less than a $1.50 all together. But that math will have to be for a different day when I have the reciepts for the veggies in front of me.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Cake Toppers

Whether you make your wedding cake yourself or buy it from a bakery, a very memorable and personal touch will be a one of a kind, personalized cake topper. Cake toppers can range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars in price, but unfortunately, the less expensive ones can be mass produced and tacky looking, and the more expensive ones, while arguably more elegant, are fairly generic and impersonal. Here are some tips to make a cake topper that your guests will be remembering and talking about for years to come.

A Treasure Box
Find a very small wooden box at a craft store, sand it well and paint it to match your wedding. Basic white or ivory is a good choice with small accents of color or silver or gold. Sew a tiny velvet or satin pillow to fit inside as a base (or fold a scrap of fabric well so no raw edges show and it looks pillow-like). Now the really creative part begins. Add dried petals from bouquets with special meaning, jewelry that was given as gifts through the years, tiny photos, or ticket stubs. Any small personal items that will fit and remind the happy couple of the great times they’ve spent together.

Fresh Flowers
A tiny vase or silver basket filled with fresh flowers is an inexpensive alternative to a traditional cake topper. Making the effort to match the bridal bouquet with these flowers will really cause the guests to oh and ah.

Vintage or Alternative Figurines
Keep an eye open at thrift stores and garage sales for figures to become your cake topper. These can be traditional bride and groom figurines, but there’s no need to limit the search just to wedding themed figures. Perhaps kissing china frogs or Lego figures in a home scene will best reflect the taste of the couple.

Beaded Garland
Garland and beaded toppers are fast becoming very popular decorations for wedding cakes. These are easily personalized if you plan to string them your self. Use beads and colored wire that match your wedding colors and add it beads shaped according to personal interests. You can even add charms here and there among the garland that represent the bride and groom, their growing up years, and their dating time. The guests will love to try to find the charms and guess the stories behind them.

A Small Picture Frame
A wedding cake can easily be topped by something as simple as a small silver or golden picture frame with a classy picture of the wedding couple. If perhaps a picture of the couple seems too traditional, the picture could be of anything that is important to them, perhaps where he proposed or of the new house they’ll be sharing soon.

The best way to decide what kind of a cake topper to use is to really reflect on the interests of the wedding couple. Decide whether they are classic or quirky and try to match the mood and theme of the wedding. Making an alternative wedding cake topper can save a couple lots of money in the wedding budget, and add tons of value when it comes to personalizing the wedding cake table.

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Catching Up

Well, we had a beautiful weekend. On Saturday we sold the big weight machine that didn't fit in this house, so that much more of the garage is clear, and we're $100 richer toward our lawn mower fund. I also did a little shopping with my Associated Content earnings and picked up some homesteading magazines and some knitting magazines and the most recent Monica Ferris mystery novel.

On Sunday, the sun was shining so warm and bright! I couldn't resist sitting outside and reading my new book for a few hours while Ben was finishing some work he had to catch up on. We planted a Forsythia in the front corner of the yard as well. The very first thing we've planted here at our new house! We went to mass in the evening and then tried out the very popular custard place. It was pretty good, but there's always way more ice cream in a cone than I actually want to eat. We also went to the Shop N Save to pick up an empty frosting bucket they were saving for me, so now I can get the 25 lb bag of bread flour off the counter and put away.

I got really sunburned on Sunday though! So yesterday was a bit of a slower day, since I was recovering. I sent out the prizes for my contest and swept the floors. I hemmed some pants of Ben's, and they came out well, so I'm planning to do the other two pair that need hemming today. We had baked potatoes and chili for dinner last night, and while we were eating, Ben looked out the window and saw a huge RV in our driveway!

There was an older couple and their granddaughter and they were try their best to turn their giant RV and big truck around without going onto our grass. They'd taken a wrong turn and ended up on our little dead end road. It took quite a while, since they were being very careful not to drive into our yard, and they had to avoid the fences at the end of our driveway, and our road is only about a lane or so wide. In the end, he managed it, so I was pretty impressed. They only went on the grass a little bit at the very end of the driveway, but they felt bad about that. I told them, if I'd been driving, the truck would probably be upside down and the fences and mailbox would be demolished. Anyway, when they got onto the road again, we went out to say hello, and I took them out some banana muffins so they'd know there were no hard feelings. Turns out, they were headed to Grand Rapids, from AZ!

Today I'm planning to make some whole wheat tortillas. The recipe is from Laura's Totally Tortillas eBook. I'll post pictures and a price breakdown later today.

Also for today, I have some knitting and embroidery plans. I've knit my way through enough balls of cotton in the recent weeks that I'm completely dishclothed out, but I did break my yarn diet a tad while we were in KY, and I'm planning to start my souvenier shawl made from the alpaca yarn I got at Shakertown. As for embroidery, I still have my Easter banner hanging on the wall, because I haven't finished (or even started) the Spring one yet, so I want to get working on that. It'd be nice if I could at least change it by Pentecost, when Easter season officially ends. I guess the Catholic calendar is a great thing for procrastinators?

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Menu for 4-6 to 4-12

Sunday
B: Toast
L: Homemade Pizza
D: Leftover Pizza

Monday
B: Baked Oatmeal
L: Tuna Sandwich
D: Chili

Tuesday
B: Baked Oatmeal
L: Tuna Wrap
D: Frozen Pizza

Wednesday
B: Baked Oatmeal
L: Leftover Frozen Pizza
D: Noodles and Sauce

Thursday
B: Baked Oatmeal
L: Veggie Wrap
D: Chicken Nuggets and Green Beans

Friday
B: Pancakes
L: Grilled Cheese
D: Homemade Pizza

Saturday
B: Pancakes
L: Leftover Pizza
D: Pasta Bake

We're still trying to eat mainly from the pantry and freezer this week, so all we picked up at the store were fresh veggies and fruit. I'm going to try making some homemade whole wheat tortillas this week for the wraps. I've never tried making them before, but I've got an interesting recipe I want to try. We have done corn tortillas with masa before, so it won't be completely new.

Looking for other menu ideas? Check out Orgjunkie.com

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Contest Winner!

To choose the winner of the Knitted Dishcloth Giveaway, I used Random.Org to pick a number.
The Lucky Number is 4
The fourth comment was left by
Molly
who said,
"What a fun and nice thing to do! My dishwashing tip is really for the laundry: I
use Dawn dish detergent to get those pesky grease spots out of our clothes. As
for the dishwashing, I like to keep a sink full of sudsy hot water to put
dirties in as I cook.

Thanks, Bethany!"
Now for the surprise,
A second winner!
The second lucky number is 16!
The sixteenth comment was left by
Melonie
who said
"Please enter me!
I was taught to do the glasses first and the heavy duty greasy stuff last - that way you start with the cleanest, most delicate items and work your way to the nasty grungy stuff so your good things aren't sitting in greasy water with clumpy stuff landing on them. (Although you'd think it'd all get clean ultimately anyway, but I think it's just the "ewww" factor.)
I think my most OCD thing is washing bottles. I have a little system for them where I get everything soaking in the water and then I wash each type of piece all in one cycle - like rings, caps, etc, one "type" of piece in a row, then the next type. I do the nipples last because they require both the large bottle brush and then the smaller brush, so I do them all with the large part and I set each one on the sink divider so I know what I've washed; then I knock them back into the water and do each one with the nipple brush. As they are done I set them in the right side so I know *those* are complete and ready to rinse. Then I rinse everything and line them up on the towel or bottle rack to dry.
I know...weird. lol"

Our second winner will recieve the same thing, a set of knitted dishcloths and two scrubbies, but hers will be pink and white.

Molly and Melonie please email me at beppers777 AT yahoo DOT com so I can get your prizes out to you in the mail.

Congratulations to the Winners!

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Make Your Own Wedding Cake

I've had cakes on my mind lately, so I thought I'd share the best cake I ever made, my wedding cake. I made this cake almost six years ago now. The entire reason I learned anything about cake decorating or invested in any decorating supplies was so that I could make our cake for the wedding when Ben and I got married. We got married two weeks after we graduated from college, so we had no money for a big wedding. Everything was done on a budget, and if we couldn't afford to buy it, we didn't have it or I made it.

Truthfully, I'm not even sure how much a cake like this would cost from a bakery, because we didn't even check before deciding I'd make it. Even $100 dollars would have been too much for our budget, and I'm pretty sure they cost much more than that. But even though it was an economical consideration for me to be responsible for the cake, it became much more than that. My husband really appreciates that the cake was so personal, and my in laws still tell me how good it tasted. Maybe a bakery cake would have tasted as good, but it wouldn't be as memorable and definately wouldn't still be gathering compliments.

And it was not as difficult as it looks or seems! Following are some tips about making your own wedding cake (or making other people's wedding cakes, I guess, though I've never done it for pay). I never took any classes, and I just read the Wilton books a lot to learn how to do this. And to tell you the truth, I'm terrible at piping, those star covered cakes are beyond me, but you can still make a nice cake with a little practice and lots of planning.
Specifics for this cake: three full cake mixes on the bottom (12 inch round), one cake mix for top (6 inch round), royal icing drop flowers, bead trim piped with round tip, frosted in buttercream, and a homemade cake topper.
The first thing to remember about making your own wedding cake, or learning to decorate cakes, is to give yourself plenty of time. You'll want to practice for at least a couple of weeks, and if at all possible, do a trial run of the entire cake. In addition to practice time, bear in mind that a cake like this one will take at least two days to complete and that you definately don't want to be finishing it on your wedding day. So plan to bake the cakes, let them cool and frost them two days before your wedding, and then do the decoration and constuction the day before. Once a cake is covered in buttercream and before it's cut it will stay delicious at least a couple of days, so you could even do this three or four days before the wedding.
Use cake mixes! This is perfectly acceptable, they taste great and they stay moist for a good long while. They also make a cake that's easier to handle and move around. It's also crucial to level the cake layers. A cake leveler is a great investment when making pillared or tiered cakes.

A pillared tiered cake is very impressive looking, but it's not as difficult as everyone will think it is. The Wilton decorating company is a great company and has tons of resources for home cake decorators. Their cake dividers and pillars make it very easy to make a tiered cake. They even come with supports, so you don't have to cut dowels to put in the bottom cake. One thing to remember when using pillars is to make sure they're all facing straight when you put them on, because they're nervewracking to adjust once you get the top cake on.

You will need to buy the correct supplies to get great looking results. The cardboard cake circles really are worth the investment, since they make it so much easier to move the frosted cakes. You'll want a turn table to use while icing and decorating. Of course, for a tiered cake, the separator plates and pillars are a must. Disposable bags are convienent but aren't an absolute need. You'll want tips appropriate to your decorating plan. On my cake, I use four different sizes of writing or piping tips (round openings to make the bead-like borders and flower centers), two different sizes of drop flower tip (the little purple flowers), and two different sizes of leaf tip (pretty self explanatory, two sizes to correspond with the scale of each tier). You might want to invest in a whole set of tips so you can practice and experiment.

How can you buy all these things, plus the specially sized pans without spending just as much as you would buying a cake? Well, considering how much a bakery cake costs, you have a long way to go, but the best plan is to pick them up one at a time over a course of a few months with the 40% and 50% off coupons that craft stores issue. Michael's usually puts a 50% off coupon in the paper every week, and this can save you a ton of money if you're willing to buy your supplies a week at a time.

After you've got your supplies, you'll want to hone a few techniques to be sure that your cake looks professional. Learning to frost your cake so it's very smooth is the most important part of turning out an elegant and professional looking cake. Of course, you could use fondant, but I think it's kind of hard to work with, but more importantly, buttercream tastes better!

So how can you get a beautiful smooth finish with butter cream icing? There are a few tips I can give you. Use a nice long icing spatula to spread the frosting. Pile a bunch on top and work it around and over the sides and down. Wipe your spatula clean very often. This may seem wasteful, but it crucial to a smooth finish. Use a very fine mist of water on the surface as you are doing the final smoothing. This will help the spatula glide and keep it from sticking and pulling up peaks. After the frosting has dried overnight and has a crust on it, put a piece of plain paper against it and rub it gently to smooth out any small imperfections.

Royal icing is a kind of icing that dries hard, like candies. This is a great property to take advantage of when planning your cake. You can make lots of decorations, like flowers or bows, weeks ahead of time, store them in air tight containers and just add them to the cake when it's time to decorate. This takes a lot of the pressure off of you, since you can always make lots of royal icing decorations and then just pick the best ones for the cake. Also, since you're not piping them directly on the cake, you don't have to worry about big mess ups.

If you do make a mistake while piping on the cake, don't panic. As long as you've let the frosting sit out and dry over night before the decorating was started, you're in good shape. You'll find that most times, fresh buttercream icing can be gently wiped and scraped off of dried buttercream with hardly a trace left behind.
One tip about the bead border on my wedding cake. If you, like me, have a hard time piping nice smooth beads with no peak on them, just pipe a row, and then with a finger dipped into powdered sugar, and a light touch, go back and smooth down all the peaks, making nice round beads.

We put the topper together ourselves, because anything we could afford was sort of tacky looking plastic, and the more elegant ones, though pretty, were impersonal and very expensive! Our topper is just a keepsake box that's been painted and filled with personal momentos of when we met and our dating days. There are pictures, a figurine he bought me, rings I made us in a jewelry making class I took, ticket stubs from some of our first dates, and a necklace he bought me soon after our engagement.
For our Convalidation ceremony last spring, I went in a different direction with the cake toppers. I made wire and bead wreaths to decorate the tops of those cakes and to be the borders. This was a great solution, since it really simplified the decorating. Here is a picture of that cake.

You can see that by using a fancy cake stand (50% off at Michael's!) and fresh flowers along with beads and wire, I managed an elegant cake with minimal decorating hassle.

So with this post I've either finally gotten cakes out of my system, or I've talked myself into doing a step by step eBook of simple wedding cake making! It is so much fun, sometime I wish I had more occasions that require these pretty fancy cakes.

Has anyone else made their own wedding cake? Or have cake pictures to share?

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Who wants to come over to my house?

And help me take all the stuffing out of the couch cushions and then re-stuff them? Wouldn't that be exciting? No takers? Okay, I'll just keep fluffing and fluffing. Well, I say fluffing, but it's more like a frantic whipping to get the stuffing to stop clumping.

Anyway, I noticed the very sorry state of my cushions yesterday because I vacuumed the couch. It takes me so long to do that job, I always put it off. But with the three cats, the couch gets furry, so it had to be done. Now, there's got to be something wrong when it takes almost an hour to vacuum the couch. I know that our couch is huge and being a sectional, it comprises a room's worth of furniture, but still, am I the world's slowest vacuumer? Maybe if I actually did it once a week, like I always promise myself I will, it wouldn't take so long to get it clean as it does with my regular bimonthly schedule. Maybe 2 months X 3 cats + 1 monstrous sectional = ~1 hour of vacuuming.

I hope everyone who wants to enter the contest has gotten their comments in! The drawing will be this evening, so there's merely hours left. I'm planning a surprise that goes along with that that will be announced later, as well.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Making Root Beer

Yesterday's root beer making was quite a lot of fun. Of course, we don't know how it turned out yet, you have to wait 3-14 days for the carbonation to form before it's ready.

Here is our kit with everything that came in it. I appreciate having it all put together in one place for me and those are some nifty bottles, but you could try this less expensively by following the instructions here and not bothering with the $25 dollar kit.

Though the kit did include these neato rubber gasketed lids that allow pressure to escape, there-by eliminating explosions.

After sanitizing everything with the included sanitizer solution, you bloom some yeast and then in a separate bowl stir together the root beer flavoring, two cups of white sugar and a cup of brown sugar, maltodextrin crystals, then add the yeast water. This is shaken up with enough water to make a gallon in a gallon jug.

Then you fill the bottles! That was fun. Ben took lots and lots of action shots of this step, but I won't pretend they're fascinating.

Here is the filled and covered bottle, as I'm finding a "dark, room temperature place" for it. I don't know if anywhere in our house actually counts as room temperature considering that the thermostat is set at 65, but I just put them in one of the cupboards and we'll see how long it takes for the carbonation to grow.
All in all, I do think this is a really good kit. It included absolutely everything you need, except for the gallon jug, water, sugar, and measuring spoons. I think the bottles are really cool looking, and the pressure release valve does provide a little piece of mind when you imagine what cleaning up an area in which root beer exploded might be like. The instructions were clear and fairly well written, and provided information about the science involved in making root beer. There are also a couple of other experiments outlined, like filling up a balloon by mixing vinegar and baking soda, that kids would really find fun.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Home Sweet Home!

It's very good to be home again. I love to travel, and I particularly like Kentucky, but there's just something about the comfort of home that makes me feel so safe and secure.

We did have a great time though, so don't think I didn't enjoy my vacation! We went to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace memorial site (where the rangers are super nice, but they don't seem to want to come out and admit that Lincoln wasn't actually born in the cabin in the memorial building), the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home site (where there are no rangers, and the cabin has fallen into such disrepair that it's held up with two by fours bolted to the logs around the outside) and to Shakertown of Pleasant Hill (where there aren't any Shakers anymore, but plenty home decorating inspiration... if your tastes run to the austre like mine do).

This morning we returned the car to the Avis in Collinsville. I drove our car there, because I'm nice like that and wouldn't expect my husband to walk home fifteen miles in the freezing damp even though I'm scared to drive. I actually did okay, and need to learn to not be scared of driving. I was annoyed with having to try to keep up with Speedy McLeadfoot, but that's partly because I'm a Slow-y McMolasses.

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon getting the house, mainly the kitchen, put back in order. I gave the counters and cupboards a much needed thorough cleaning. Meaning, I took everything off them, then sanitized all over, not just the parts that usually show. I also caught up on the laundry and cleaned out the pantry. I did all the bookkeeping and paid all the bills, and now I'm planning to relax with a book for an hour or so until Ben finishes work.

I have a very fun project planned for this evening. We bought a kit at a brewing store in Corydon, IN and tonight we're going to use it and make Root Beer! I'm very excited about this and promise some pictures of the process.

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