Friday, December 19, 2014

California There We Went - Part One

Hello! There's an old song titled "California Here I Come" - well, that's where we went for a short family vacation recently. We were in the San Fransisco area from last Saturday night through the middle of this Wednesday. That's not really a lot of time in an area with so much to see and do, and we were hampered by rain part of Monday and Tuesday. But we still had a good time! 

I'd last been to the San Fransisco area in 1997 (had also visited in 1989), so I looked forward to seeing what I'd remembered from that trip. Our daughter was just two then, so she had no memories of that time. We were hoping she would enjoy the area as much as we had during those prior trips. In a way the trip was for her, since she's been working very hard ever since she began her college career. My husband thought she needed a break from her studies and research job.

I didn't have time to take a lot of photos, but I'll have enough commentary to go along with them, so I'll do at least two posts. I'll start with our trip to San Francisco last Sunday. 

Traffic was pretty thick as we drove into the city. Our daughter and I looked longingly at the designer boutiques as my husband inched the car forward, block by block. I sadly viewed the closed doors of Britex, a fabric store with a huge selection of buttons and trims.  I had gone there during my two previous visits, mainly for the eye candy offered by all those notions, but it was not to be this time. They're not open on Sundays. 

The dim sum menu from our lunch stop in Chinatown. We hadn't scouted out online reviews in advance, so picked the Grant Place Restaurant at random. It was fine. Dim sum is a lot of fun to order; if you've never had it, you're in for a treat. Larger dim sum restaurants have rolling carts that are continuously wheeled around for the customers to select from, but we were in a smaller eatery, so just pointed to the above menu. 

Chinatown is densely populated with shops as well as people. The climate is mild enough that most of the shops have an open-air feel to them - no doors or windows to block one's view. I suppose that a lot of the wares being peddled are cheaply made (hence the low prices we saw), but it's still fun to look. 

We continued on our way to the waterfront, walking through the Italian-style North Beach area. There looked to be many nice restaurants there too. We ate at one back in 1989, but didn't see it this time. 

Our first stop at the waterfront was Ghirardelli Square - once the home of the chocolate company of the same name, it's now a mini-mall of shops and restaurants. Ghirardelli, who still manufactures its products in the area, has a factory store and ice cream parlor at Ghirardelli Square. The ice cream parlor has rather eye-popping prices, but that didn't stop us from ordering some sundaes anyway. They were good!

Normally I wouldn't even want to eat an ice cream sundae in December, but the climate in the San Francisco is much different than it is back home, of course. Michigan's weather was milder than normal when we left, but there were no sailboats out on the water, no green grass, no leaves left on trees - and no palm trees either. All these were evident during our trip, and the temperatures were in the 50's and low 60's.

From Ghirardelli Square it was a short walk to the waterfront and the Pier 39/Fisherman's Wharf area. This is a very touristy spot, but it was fun to see the different shops, restaurants and street performers. 

Our daughter and I visited a bath-and-body shop. We'd never heard of the chain but learned it was based in Israel and its three US shops are all in the San Fransisco area. We saw two of those three, since they're only about two blocks from each other! 

Since I'm now in possession of a sourdough starter, I popped into Boudin Bakery, whose starter dates from the Gold Rush days. I wanted to check out how their breads were shaped, plus was hoping to see some samples out for tasting. But the place was so crowded I could barely see anything! Well, after all San Fransisco sourdough is supposed to be world-famous. Guess I'll have to settle for mine being famous within my own home!

In the distance, a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I'm partial to the longer suspension bridge in my home state, the Mackinac Bridge, but of course the Golden Gate Bridge is better known. 

In the holiday spirit: this inflatable Santa is trying to lure waterfront visitors to a boat tour. One such business was advertising "holiday lights" tours on Saturday evenings in December. That sounded quite delightful, I thought. 

Alcatraz Island, home of the notorious former prison. It's open for tours now. 

Another now-famous sight along Pier 39, the sea lions. According to information located on the pier, the sea lions began hanging out at Pier 39 after the 1989 earthquake (the informative sign didn't say why). This is just one small group; there were dozens more napping and/or vocalizing on nearby docks. They're fun to watch, especially since back home we can only see their ilk in zoos!

Ah yes, another famous sight around the city, the iconic cable cars. This is the car we took back to the Chinatown area (we'd left our rental car in a parking garage near there). As it was already painted red and green, it had been decked out for the season with tinsel garlands, bows and a big wreath in front (not shown). There were also cable cars painted brown and tan; they hadn't gotten the holiday treatment. That didn't seem fair to me. 

Cable car rides may seem the ultimate in touristy behavior, but they really are a can't-miss in San Fransisco. They are a lot of fun! Just think of a cable car as a rather slow roller coaster. Yet it's not just for tourists - I saw riders pull out their commuter passes to show the conductor. 

It had been a fun day, even if we'd only been to a small corner of the city. My next post will cover some of the surrounding area.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Thrifty Acres: Pajama Rama

Hello! Our daughter, who's away at college, informed me last weekend that she needed new sleep pants. No problem, I told her, I'll make or buy some for you.

Decided to go the easiest, cheapest route first - the thrift store, of course. It just so happened that I had to run an errand on Monday that was across the street from a local Goodwill. And it also just so happened to be a color tag sale day - all the blue tags were 50% off. I hadn't even remembered that that Goodwill had tag sale days (that's a more recent thing at that location), but of course I wasn't going to pass up the special.

With such savings, I spent only $7.00 on two sets of sleepwear:

Our daughter had only asked for sleep pants, but I got her a couple of matching tops as well. Neither top was specifically meant for sleepwear (ie they don't look like pajamas), so I figured she could wear them as daytime tops instead if she felt she didn't need any more sleep tops. 

Picked her up at the end of her fall semester today and brought her home for Christmas break. I showed her the two sleepwear sets and she was happy! 

If I hadn't found sleepwear for her that I deemed worth buying (good condition, colors/patterns she'd like), I certainly would have bought her brand new sleep pants or sewn her some. But with December being a rather spendy month, and with other sewing/craft projects ongoing, I was glad that once again a thrift store came through! 



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Eats: Chai Coffee Creamer

Hello! Well, it's another day, another coffee creamer recipe. This time it's Chai Coffee Creamer. The recipe source is the same magazine clipping from where the previous post's recipe (Malted Coffee Creamer)had come. 

Chai Coffee Creamer

1 1/2 cups nondairy powdered creamer (see my notes below)
1 cup powdered sugar (see my notes below)
1/2 cup powdered milk
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger 
1/2 teaspoon cardamon
1/2 teaspoon white pepper (see my notes below)
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. To serve, stir 1 tablespoon creamer into 1 cup hot coffee. 

Notes: as I'd done with the previous recipe, I swapped the nondairy creamer for the same amount of powdered milk, and used white sugar in place of the powdered variety. 

I didn't have white pepper on hand, so I just left it out. However, I did add a couple dashes of ground red pepper. That addition is totally up to you!

Here's how this creamer looks:

The faint brownish color you see is from the spices, of course. Next to the creamer is another of my Scandinavian holiday figures. This little guy is labeled on the bottom as being from Sweden, and the date "1971" is written there as well. He's is great shape considering he's 43 years old this year! 

I liked this creamer a lot! It gave my coffee a nice "warm" taste due to all those spices, and no, the bit of red pepper I'd added to the mix didn't make it spicy. I think it just enhanced the flavor of the other spices. 

While it adds more flavor to coffee than the Malted Coffee Creamer does, it didn't "lighten" the coffee as much as that recipe does. Thus, I had to add a bit more of the Chai Creamer to my mug. I think I'll try adding more powdered milk to the recipe next time.

As with the Malted Coffee Creamer, it was also suggested by whomever supplied this recipe that this could be placed into "gift jars of choice". 

So there you have it - another day, another easy gift idea for the coffee lover in your life. (even if that means you!)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Eats: Malted Coffee Creamer

Hello! I had a gift card to a coffee chain, so decided to use it the other day. Got sticker shock when I saw the prices of the specialty coffee drinks, so I selected some coffee beans instead. Figured I'd get better use of the gift card that way. 

And really, I didn't need a flavored coffee anyway since I already have a couple of syrup recipes that I use, as seen HERE.

However, I'm always on the lookout for more coffee flavorings, so awhile back I clipped a recipe for Malted Milk Creamer out of a magazine (not sure which one, but I think it was a specialty publication devoted to the South). Here's the recipe:

1 cup nondairy powdered creamer (see my notes following the recipe)
1 cup malted milk powder
1 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar (see my notes following the recipe)

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Store in lidded container. To serve, stir one tablespoon creamer into 1 cup hot coffee. 

Notes: I don't use nondairy powdered creamer, so I just substitute powdered milk, using the same amount. And I use regular white sugar instead of powdered sugar. Why? Well, I normally use white sugar in my coffee, so I stick with that. But of course you can make the recipe as written. 

The creamer just looks like a white powder, but I took a picture of it anyway:

I don't have much left, so I put in a juice glass to show it off better. Next to it is a figure from my Scandinavian holiday collection; country unknown but the date 1968 is written on the bottom (thrift store purchase).

I really like this creamer; the malted milk powder seems to mellow the coffee nicely. It doesn't really change the taste of coffee, though, so if you wish to add some flavor, you could try adding cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Or why not use chocolate-flavored malted milk powder? I haven't done so but might for my next batch. 

The magazine suggested dividing the creamer into "gift jars of choice", and indeed, this would be a nice little present for a coffee lover.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Thrifty Acres: Vintage Christmas

Hello! 'Tis the season for holiday decor, and if you're like me you  hunt for vintage decor at the thrift stores. Here are a few recent finds:

Whitman's "Christmas Frame Tray Puzzle", with the date 1961 on it. (I have a brother born that year, so I guess he's vintage too, ha).

It's in pretty good shape given its age and the fact that it's all cardboard. Something like this would have been wrecked in no time when I was growing up. Heck, I can still recall the time one of my siblings got a Battleship game for Christmas. The game was promptly opened up and played over the course of the day. But in the general melee of the day (a family of ten plus a visit from a drama-filled grandmother), one of the battleships was lost, never to be found. 

The name "Vern" is written on the top border of the puzzle in a childish script. (When's the last time you met a kid named Vern?) On the bottom left corner of the puzzle is a statement attesting to its usefulness: "For Developing Coordination and Motor Control". Who knows, if Vern put the puzzle together often enough,  his handwriting might have improved over time. 

Actually, my handwriting isn't the best either, but I bought the puzzle for its graphics:

Cute angel and ornaments on that tree!

The next item may seem mundane, but it's in a category that seems to have some collectible value:

A roll of vintage ribbon that appears to have never been used. I bought it for the Santa graphic. Thanks to thrift store pricing, I paid only a penny more than that original price, but try finding something like this that cheaply on eBay or Etsy - not going to happen! Oh, and the ribbon - it's  dark green, about 3" wide. One Etsy seller estimated that this item is from the 1950's.

The other side of the ribbon roll has the same label, along with the original price tag from a place called Neisner's. Had never heard of that store so I googled the name out of curiousity. Wasn't really expecting to find anything, so to my surprise I learned that Neisner's was a dime store chain based in Rochester, NY. At one time it did have stores in Michigan, but I don't recall seeing any (an Internet search showed they were located in the Detroit area). The chain was bought out in the late 70's, so it exists no more. 

The last find is my favorite, so I have several photos to show off, starting with:

Make your own World of Christmas, a 1972 publication by Rosemary Lowndes and Claude Kailer. Again, purchased for the graphics, though this book is meant to be cut up. My copy is intact - perhaps, like me, a previous owner felt it was too pretty to take apart.

But the book is more than pretty artwork - it also has brief histories of holiday customs the world over. Since there's a 12 Days of Christmas theme, there are 12 sections for these customs, whether by countries (separate nations such as Italy, Denmark, etc.) or by groupings (Scandinavia, Spanish-speaking areas, etc.). 

An important holiday figure associated with each country or region is printed in several pieces to be cut out, folded and glued together. There are kindly saints, an angel, the Three Kings, and more.

Each chapter is preceded by artwork representing one of the 12 Days of Christmas; these are meant to be cut out and assembled as a calendar.

Today is Sinterklaas Eve, a Dutch holiday that anticipates St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6th). As I live in a town that was settled by Dutch immigrants, the occasion will be celebrated locally tonight with a procession led by Sinterklaas, games, stories and refreshments. 

So of course I'll show the book's rendition of Sinterklaas:

This is a photo of the Sinterklaas figure after the various pieces have been cut out, folded and glued together.

And above is a portion of what the Sinterklaas figure looks like in its pre-construction state.

As a bonus, each chapter has an accompanying scene with cut-out figures. Let's go Dutch again:

Above, the scenic backdrop for the Dutch figures. The authentic windmill (ie, it actually comes from the Netherlands) here in town looks just like the one in the scene.

These are the figures to cut out and pose in front of the scene. I think these are meant to show examples of traditional folk costumes from the respective countries or regions. I recognize several of these Dutch outfits from the Dutch dancing performed during my town's annual Tulip Festival. 

Of course, a similar format is followed for the other countries or regions: a brief write-up of holiday customs, the meaning behind the figure to be assembled, and costumed figures to be placed in front of a scene.

The illustrations for a couple of the 12 Days of Christmas calendar pages:

A partridge in a pear tree and three French hens. Gorgeous artwork!

I would have loved this book had it been given to me as a kid! I wouldn't have thought twice about cutting out those figures and playing with them in front of the corresponding scenes. And before I did my snipping, I would have enjoyed learning about all those holiday traditions.

As an adult, however, it seems a little silly to cut up such a pretty book (though several appealing display options are shown, such as shadow boxes, ornaments, mobiles, and so on). I was half-tempted to cut out and display the Sinterklaas figure in honor of the local Dutch heritage. 

But I think I'll hold off on the scissors, at least for this year. If the book has lasted 42 years thus far without being cut up, I guess that can wait at least one more Christmas! (Guess I could make photocopies if I want.)


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Made It: A Crazy Cat

Hello! I'm probably like many crafters out there when something around the house gets worn out and is beyond repair. This may mean the item gets tossed, but on the other hand it may mean I'll hold onto it with the intent to use it in a craft project sometime. 

Such was the case with a pair of knee socks our daughter wore out a few years back - they had a cute striped pattern and a few crocheted flowers attached to each sock. Definite crafting potential! 

Never got around to making anything with the socks, though, until I purchased Stray Sock Sewing: Making One of a Kind Creatures from Socks (authored by Daniel) at a local Goodwill recently. I'd seen this at a bookstore and had liked it, so of course I was happy to find it at a thrift store! (I didn't forget Daniel's last name; he doesn't give one).

The book is really pretty basic. About half of the volume is pics of various sock creatures, posed very appealingly. The photos may be filler, but they do make you want to craft some sock creatures of your own. 

Next Daniel gives several lessons on supplies, sewing tips, embroidery and so on. Lastly, there are directions for eight projects. I wanted to make a cat, but not the one shown in the project instructions, so I just read up on the tips and went from there. I should add that Daniel apparently sews his sock creatures by hand, but I used a sewing machine to create my cat's ears. 

Here's how my Crazy Cat turned out:

Even though I'd cut the sock down a bit (this eliminated the worn-out toe area), my cat still is nine inches tall and needed a fair amount of stuffing. That's what happens when you use a stretchy material like socks!

As I'd said, I formed ears by sewing their shapes with my sewing machine. The bottom was sewn together by hand once I'd stuffed the sock. 

Then came the fun part, the embellishing. You can see two crocheted flowers on the bottom part of the figure; they were already there. I cut another crocheted flower from the other sock in the pair, along with a bit of that sock itself. I sewed this embellishment onto the doll with a vintage button. 

I embroidered the nose, mouth, whiskers and wavy line with black pearl cotton. It was a bit tricky stitching on such stretchy material but I made it work. 

I experimented a bit with how to add character with the eyes. Finally cut two fabric circles out of a funky old vest (bought at a garage sale from a woman who liked to use funky old clothes in arts and crafts projects - you see, I'm not the only one who saves stuff like that). These circles were attached to the face with more vintage buttons.

For a final embellishment, I cut a heart from the same funky vest and glued it to one ear. 

This is a simply-shaped sock creature, I'll admit that. The book shows more complicate creatures, such as those with attached heads and limbs, or those with hand-sewing done to create the suggestion of arms. Mine is basically a tube with sewn-in ears. I still like how it turned out, though - not bad for a first effort! 

If you'd like to learn more about the book I referenced, look HERE.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello! Happy Thanksgiving to all those celebrating the holiday tomorrow! May you and yours have safe travels, wonderful food and much to be thankful for. 

I don't have a lot of Thanksgiving decorations, but above you see a vintage postcard I own, postmarked November 24th, 1908. The postmark reads "Sykesville", but I couldn't make out where that is. 

And due to the illegible nature of the sender's handwriting, I couldn't read where the postmark's destination was, nor could I decipher most of the greeting being sent. I did make out "...killed 10 big hogs" but that was about it. Sounds like a lot of ham though!

I love the close-up on one side of the postcard:

"Dec 22 1620 LANDING OF THE PURITANS" is written underneath the drawing of the Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock, with their stalwart ship The Mayflower in the background. It's really very nice artistry, but is rather eclipsed by the turkey strutting its stuff! 

Oh well, it's still a nice postcard and has held up well for over 100 years.