Thursday, October 31, 2013

Job Jar - Month #10

Hello! I hope everyone had a Happy Halloween! I'd been concerned that the steady rain would keep trick-or-treaters away, but we ended up with nearly 160 kids, which is close to normal for us. Fun to see so many kids and so many costumes! 

And since Halloween is, of course, on the last day of the month, it's time to file my October Job Jar report. Two out-of-town trips cut down on the number of tasks completed, but I still got a lot done this month. 

For one thing, in the "Household Helps" category, I drew "clean kitchen cabinets inside and out" and "clean and declutter basement shelves". 

Now, I wipe down the exteriors of my kitchen cabinets as needed, but the shelves inside the cabinets? Well, let's just say it was a case of out of sight, out of mind! But those shelves needed a wipe-down. It was also a good opportunity to declutter things I didn't use or need anymore. And I made some shelf paper out of some vintage wallpaper and clear contact paper (had gotten the wallpaper for next to nothing at a garage sale several years ago). 

The basement shelving cleaning was a dirtier, messier job. Our house's basement came with six metal storage racks plus another room of built-in wooden shelving. Over time these shelves have become home to excess pantry items, extra tools, gardening supplies, kitchen equipment I don't use often, and craft supplies. And over time these shelves had become  disorganized and rather dusty. But as of this writing, all the metal storage racks have been cleaned and decluttered, with only the wooden shelving left to tackle. 

Did some fun tasks for others:  left guerilla art for someone to find and made some candy to give to our daughter. 

And I did a few fun things for myself, like doing yoga, visiting the library, listening to a relaxation CD and viewing the "eye candy" of a beautifully-photographed shelter book. 

But as strange as it might seem, I got just as much pleasure from viewing a tidier portion of the basement!


Monday, October 28, 2013

Thrifty Acres: Don't Be A Knit-Wit!

Hello! Knitting currently seems to be a very popular hobby, but from looking through the pages of the Fall-Winter 1971-72 issue of McCall's Needlework & Crafts, it was obviously very popular then too. Maybe too popular! 

Now, don't put your yarn down and throw your needles at me - you'll see why I say this when I show off some of the knitted garments (actually, a few are crocheted instead) - and let's just see if you would make them yourself today!

Would you knit yourself a Hot Pants Play Suit?

Paired with bright red tights, no less! And for the man in your life, how about the Western Vest? Check out the fringe on that!

And starring a Gwyneth Paltrow look-a-like, a knitted ensemble: "A beautiful top inspires a fantastic skirt and knicker set and slacks outfit. And on and on and on." The garments could be knitted or crocheted, according to Unger Yarns. 

Which outfit did you like best? Did you like any of them? The knickers set looks cute on the model, but it'd look hideous on me. Not sure about those knit pants - what was worn underneath to prevent underwear from showing?

Clearly, the above was not your grandmother's needlework, nor was this:

Unless Grandma got her kicks from crocheting bikinis! 

I confess, I usually think of afghans first when I think of crocheting, but besides the above garment, it was used for this dress as well:

Call me a fuddy-duddy, but this still looks more like an afghan than a dress to me! 

And how about these two dresses:

The one on the left was knitted, but has a crocheted fringe on the bottom. The other dress was crocheted, and it looks as if our model has a white slip on underneath. The dress is actually a pretty style - I like the brightly-colored yarn accents - but I don't think I'd like to wear a dress that shows my slip underneath! 

Okay, enough of the see-through outfits - how about pantsuits so sturdy-looking a tank couldn't crush them?

Man, that's some tough knits there!

Back to the knickers look:

I would have been almost 12 when this magazine hit the newsstands, but I'm straining my brain to recall how prevalent knickers were back then. If the look didn't last too long, I can't say I'm sorry about that! But I suppose the style was beneficial to the busy knitter or crocheter - less pants length to work up. Think that'd be the only benefit though.

And if you noticed the dangling things on the bottoms of the pink knickers - those are tassled ties. When I see something like that, I imagine that the wearer would be fair game for any dog or cat around! 

I actually like the color of the next piece of knitted clothing:

The dusty violet-colored yarn goes perfectly with the model's fair skin and strawberry blonde hair. And I'll give her credit for posing in a "spiffy Spinnerin hot pants jump-in". (is a jump-in a short version of a jumpsuit?)

But from soft colors, here comes loud!

Since this is an ad for the Boye Needle Company, I presume that the beret and the belt are supposed to be the stars of the show, so to speak - but my attention is riveted to the psychedelic-print pants and white boots. Far out! 

Far out, indeed - I'd say these garments are quite far removed from today's knitted and crocheted fashions. It was fun to see the clothing in this magazine - but I hope that's where such clothing stayed!


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Eats: Flavorings For Tea And Coffee

Hello! Brr - it'd gotten cold around here this past week, with the first snowfall of the season occurring, plus some blustery days as well. I was reaching for the tea kettle to fix myself a hot cup of tea after dinner. 

Tea can get a little boring for me sometimes, though, so I made the following recipe to spice things up a little:

Chai Spice Concentrate(source unknown)

1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 - 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Put all the above ingredients into a blender and blend until spice specks appear throughout the condensed milk. Put mixture into a jar and store in the refrigerator. It's best to let it sit a day before using to let flavors blend, but you can use it right away if desired. The chai spice concentrate should keep up to three weeks in the refrigerator.

To use, brew a cup of tea and add chai spice concentrate (recipe writer suggested using 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons per cup of tea)while the tea is steeping. 

Notes: I don't bother to measure the concentrate; I just spoon some out. The mixture is quite thick, so I recommend storing it in a wide-mouthed jar (ie one you can easily stick a spoon into!)

Although I enjoy drinking tea on occasion, my husband and I are coffee drinkers as well. He's developed a fondness for flavored syrups to add to coffee, so I have a couple of recipes that I use throughout the year. I'd already posted about the candy cane syrup I make in the winter (as seen HERE), but at other times of the year I make Simple Vanilla Syrup. Its recipe can be found HERE. 

Note: if you look at the Simple Vanilla Syrup recipe, you'll see that it calls for 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. I felt this amount made for a rather mild vanilla flavor, so I usually double the amount of vanilla. You may wish to try the recipe as written to see how it tastes to you. 

So now you have a couple of recipes to add flavor to hot beverages. Now, if we could only get fall temperatures to come back! I like these recipes - but I'd rather it still felt like fall around here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Eats: Fruit and Nut Oatmeal Cookies

Hello! Although I rarely order from it, I receive the Penzeys Spices catalog on a regular basis.(when I buy from Penzey's, it's usually at one of their stores.) 

Penzeys Spices is more than just a catalog, though - it's a cross between a catalog and a food magazine. There are recipes from Penzeys customers, along with short essays about the people behind these recipes. There is a theme each month that creates a commonality between the featured customers, such as being teachers, volunteers, and so on. (this month's catalog has an Abraham Lincoln theme, in honor of it being the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln declaring Thanksgiving to be a national holiday). 

I've tried a number of recipes from the Penzeys catalogs over the years, and they have generally been very good. A couple of months or so ago, a recipe for a oatmeal cookie loaded with fruits and nuts appeared, and I knew I had to try it. They're actually called Raisin and Fruit Oatmeal Cookies, but I changed the title - after all, raisins are fruit too, so the original title seemed redundant to me.

Fruit And Nut Oatmeal Cookies

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal (not instant or quick cook)
1 1/4 cups mixed dried fruits - raisins, apricots, cherries, dates, cranberries, etc - any combination you like)
1 cup nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds or a combination)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
3/4 cup shortening or butter
1 egg
1/4 cup water (or apple cider, apple juice, or apricot nectar), plus 1-2 tablespoons more if needed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour

Place the oatmeal in a food processor or blender and pulse into fine crumbs. Leave in the processor and add the dried fruits (if using dried apricots, chop them before adding them to the food processor) and nuts and pulse to break up. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream together the sugars and shortening or butter until fluffy. Add the egg, water or juice, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda and flour and mix well. Fold in oatmeal mixture. Let sit for 15 minutes for the oatmeal to absorb the liquid. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350. If the dough becomes very stiff, add 1-2 tablespoon more water or juice. Drop the dough by the tablespoon onto greased cookie sheets, flatten slightly and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for a minute to firm them up and then transfer to racks to cool completely. Yield: about three dozen cookies. 

My notes: I used raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries and walnuts in this recipe. I had homemade apple butter on hand, so I thinned a little of it with water to equal the 1/4 cup liquid called for in the recipe. Figured this would add a nice flavor boost. I used butter, and subbed white wheat flour for white flour.

Here's how one of these cookies turned out:

If you like oatmeal/raisin cookies, you'll probably enjoy these. I liked that the oatmeal, dried fruits and nuts are chopped up first; that step gives these cookies a more even, less chewy texture. But you can still tell that there's different kinds of dried fruit in them. 

And with those fruits, the nuts, and the oatmeal, you could almost say that these cookies are a nutritious snack or maybe even a meal-on-the-run option. I did find them rather sweet and a little too rich in fat, though. Next time I'll cut back on the sugar and butter. 

After having a couple of freshly-baked cookies, I stuck the rest of the batch in the freezer, ready to nibble on as desired. They seem to be holding up just fine that way. 




Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Made It - Sew Simple Potholder

Hello! At one point last year, I noticed that my potholders were getting pretty ratty, so it was time to get some new ones. Unfortunately the ones I see at thrift stores are often on the ratty side too. I have plenty of fabric on hand, though, so I figured I could make my own. 

I studied various directions, from various sources - blogs, thrift store sewing patterns, craft books - there seemed to be no shortage of homemade versions of this basic kitchen necessity. I wanted something simple, so rejected quilted designs, as well as those calling for bias tape to bind the edges. I don't always have good luck with bias tape. 

I eventually settled on a potholder design based on a pair I'd seen highlighted in a magazine. They were made of vintage fabric and at $24.00/pair, quite pricy! But I liked the simple stitching and decided to try it myself. The three pairs I made have held up quite well. 

As none of the potholders I made then have a fall motif, I decided to make another pair of potholders today to match this season. I began by cutting four 8" squares of fabric (this was made easy by folding my fabric into fourths first, then cutting through all the layers at once). 

Now for the stuffing. I used a heat-resistant batting last year (bought locally at Field Fabrics) for some of the potholders. Also had experimented with using using fabrics and batting I already had on hand. I eventually decided that a "sandwich" of flannel and regular batting worked well too - one batting piece between two flannel pieces. (I have plenty of flannel from my late mother's fabric stash, so I wanted to find a way to use it.)

I had no heat-resistant batting on hand today, so used the flannel/batting "sandwich".

After sewing all the layers together (batting "sandwich" and the fabric
pieces) and leaving an opening for turning,  I turned everything right-side out. I top-stitched around the edge of the potholder, catching the seams from the open area as I did so. Further topstitching was done at the corners. I didn't add a loop, since I don't usually hang up my potholders. 

Here's how the first one turned out:

Yes, it looks a bit lumpy, I admit. I'd grabbed the first piece of batting I'd come across, and that batting, plus the flannel, made for a rather thick potholder. But it'll be fine. 

Besides, if I don't like it, I can always make another one! These take very little time to sew, and if thrifted supplies are used (fabric, batting), then these take very little money as well! 


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Eats - A Prizewinning Brownie Recipe

Hello! My husband requested a batch of brownies to take to a presentation tomorrow evening, and out of my many recipes for that baked good, I knew which recipe I would bake: Beverly Hills Brownies, for which I won first prize in a brownie recipe contest several years ago - 2008, to be exact. 

At that time, AAA Living Magazine (a publication of the AAA Motor Club), Michigan Sugar (a manufacturer of sugar made from sugar beets) and Zehnder's (a well-known restaurant in Frankenmuth, MI) sponsored a yearly baking contest, with a different baked good as the theme each year. (I believe that was the last time this contest was held). That year it was brownies, so I sent in a recipe I'd seen in a back issue of Gourmet magazine and had tweaked just a bit.

I eventually received word that my recipe was selected for competition. My recipe was in the "Old-Fashioned Brownie" category, one of four categories set up for the contest. I was to bake my brownies at home, then bring them in to Zehnder's on the day of the contest. Some of the brownies would go to the judges, while the rest would be sampled after the contest by the public.

I had never participated in a baking contest before, so had no idea what to expect. It didn't help that it was hot and very humid the day before (bad weather for baking), nor did it help that I'd injured my back early in the day I was to bake the brownies. By the time I left home to make the over two-hour drive to Frankenmuth, I could barely move! But I got there in time, joined by my parents and my oldest sister.  They'd come to cheer me on in the contest, and I really appreciated that! 

There were a few planned activities while we waited for the judges' decisions, one of which was a behind-the scenes tour of Zehnders' kitchen - very interesting! I've eaten at Zehnder's several times since I was a kid; in my family, it was a special-occasion place. It's known for its family-style chicken dinners and German foods, along with a shop filled with mouth-watering baked goods (made on the premises) and gourmet foods. Needless to say, it was a thrill to tour this illustrious kitchen. 

There was also a spin-the-wheel for door prizes. I won a cookie cutter which was supposed to be a sugar beet shape, but looked like a misshapen carrot to me. I traded that with my sister for the sugar cookie she'd won.

I had no particular expectation of winning my category, but much to my surprise, I won first place! Got a couple of nice prizes - one of which was dinner for two at Zehnders! 

The grand prize winner was chosen from the four first place winners (one from each of the four brownie categories). It wasn't me, but truly, I was thrilled to have won first place - not bad for my first-ever baking contest! 

And such were the pleasant memories as I dug out the recipe for Beverly Hills Brownies. Here it is, followed by a few photos and comments:


3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
12 ounces fine quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
3 cups Pioneer sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 13-by-9-by-2-inch metal baking pan, knocking out excess flour. Melt butter with chocolate in large metal bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from pan and whisk in eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla. Stir together flour and cocoa in a separate bowl and stir into butter mixture with sugar and salt. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven until top is firm and tester inserted into center comes out with crumbs adhering, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours, before cutting into squares.

As you can see above, the first step involving ingredients calls for melting the chocolate and butter together in a large metal bowl over a saucepan, like so:

Could this step be done in a microwave? (you'd use a glass bowl, of course). I suppose so, but I've always done it as written in the recipe. It may sound like it'd be a pain to do it this way, but I've found that it goes pretty quickly - especially if you leave the butter out at room temperature in advance to soften a bit. 

I should also add that although I usually use Ghirardelli brand chocolate chips in this recipe, I didn't have any on hand today, so used a bag of Hershey's Special Dark chocolate chips instead. Used Hershey's baking cocoa, which is the brand I've always used for this recipe. The recipe above states "Pioneer sugar" because we had to use a brand produced by Michigan Sugar. You can use any brand of white sugar you want!

Above, the batter has been placed in the baking pan and is ready to go into the oven. The sheen you see is due to all the butter in the recipe!

After cooling for a few hours, the brownies were cut and placed in a tin, ready to be enjoyed by 30+ college students tomorrow night. The brownies are even better if made a day ahead of being served, which is why I made them today. (note: the white you see below that layer of brownies is a coffee filter, which separates those brownies from another layer beneath them. I'd read a suggestion somewhere about using coffee filters to separate layers of baked goods, and I can report that it works well - and is much easier than cutting waxed paper to fit a cookie tin, which is what I'd always done before).

And how do they taste? Very rich and fudgy! I can still recall one of the judges at the contest, who pulled me aside after I'd won my prize - she wanted to let me know they were the best brownies she'd ever tasted. 

There's a lot of good brownie recipes out there, but if you give mine a try, hopefully you'll agree with the judge who gave them such high praise. 

I recall, however, that another judge did not - he was a columnist for the Flint Journal newspaper, and wrote a column about the contest shortly thereafter. He was full of accolades for the grand prize winning recipe, but dissed mine as being too rich. He didn't mention Beverly Hills Brownies by name, but it was obvious that's what he was referring to.  My mom sent me a clipping of the column, apparently not noticing the disdain he had had toward my brownies. Oh well, can't please them all!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Estate Sales Blues Once More

Hello! Back in August, I had blogged about having mixed emotions when attending estate sales. On the one hand, I can purchase affordable vintage items, but on the other hand, it can be sad when it's relatives running such sales. I tried to comfort one woman who looked sad as she presided over a sale of her mother's estate. 

Now it's my family's turn to be sad as an estate sale firm is in the process of cleaning up my parents' house to make it more marketable - it's sat on the market for two years now. And for various reasons, an estate sale of my parents' household will be happening in a few weeks. It's not what anybody in the family really wants, but I'll leave it at that. 

Anyway, I went to the house yesterday to retrieve a few items I had made and given to my mom as gifts in years past. I also wanted to walk around the house and take a few pictures before the estate sale crew changed the house around too much. As it was, I walked into a house with piles of stuff all over the place and a work crew cleaning woodwork, patching walls and throwing out stuff into a dumpster parked behind the house. 

Nevertheless, I took a few interior photos, which I'll show off:

A built-in, floor-to-ceiling cabinet in the dining room. It was a royal pain to dust (which my mom insisted on having done every Saturday), especially because of all the knick-knacks my mom displayed in the nooks and crannies. But it's a lovely piece of woodworking. 

Close-up of one of the two glass-doored shelves at the top of the unit.

These drawers are at the bottom of the cabinet and are quite deep. 

This window, which is also in the dining room, is an example of the downstairs windows. Nice wood, just like the cabinet - and also a pain to dust!

Beveled glass window in the living room. (the stained glass-style angel is newer; it had been a gift to my mom). The bevels act like prisms when it's sunny outside and cast rainbow patterns on the opposite wall. When I was a kid I used to love that!

Staircase leading up to the second floor - more nice wood. 

This rectangular recessed area is next to the fireplace. My mom told me it was for a telephone - the old kind that was mounted onto a wall. 

Chandelier in the den (some people might have called it a TV room). 

Instead of flipping a switch, these knobs are turned to make lights come on. One of these knobs turns on the chandelier seen above. 

One exterior shot: 

Henry C. Kudner had the house built, sometime around the turn of the 20th C, my mom had said. She said Kudner had been a newspaper publisher, and from doing a bit of Internet research, I learned he also was into lumbering. Perhaps that's how the house ended up with such nice woodwork? I always liked having a name over the front door, even if it wasn't our own last name.

It's sad to see the home going through so many changes (it's been in my family since the mid 1960's), but with my mom dead nearly three years now, and my dad in assisted living for nearly a year, it's not the same now anyway. 

Of course, I visited my dad at the nearby assisted living facility:

Here's looking at you, Dad! He looks pretty good for 91, doesn't he? 

Hope you enjoyed the mini tour of the house - would have taken even more pictures, but the rest of the house was being worked on. I'll have to be satisfied with pictures in my mind, I suppose!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Vacation With Frank, Maud and Claes

Hello! A four-day weekend was spent traveling through parts of the Midwest, with Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin being the main places of interest. Visited towns both small (Oxford, IA, Stillwater, MN, Mankato, MN and Stevens Point, WI) and large (Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and the Chicago area), saw a sculpture garden and historic towns, and ate a wide variety of foods. 

And we visited sites connected to Frank Lloyd Wright, Maud Hart Lovelace and Claes Oldenburg. At my request, we had set out to see Lovelace's childhood home, but coming across works by Wright and Oldenburg was a surprise to us. 

Driving through northern Iowa, my husband suggested stopping in Mason City for lunch. While in the downtown area, looking for a particular sandwich shop, we saw a sign for a nearby Frank Lloyd Wright house. After lunch we walked a few blocks to view the house:

We didn't have time to tour it, so settled for taking photos from across the street. And from our side of the street, it was plain to see that several Prairie School houses (a style of architecture popularized by Wright)were very nice as well - in fact, we liked them better than the FLW house. The two photos below are of the house I liked the best, with the second photo showing a closeup of some windows set in a corner of the dwelling.

We didn't realize it at the time, but we had come across the Rock Glen and Rock Crest National Historic district, which is home to many fine examples of Prairie School architecture. There were plaques imbedded in the sidewalks in front of the houses we walked by, stating when these residences had been built and which architects had designed them. 

Not bad - a little architectural history because of a lunch stop! But we had more houses connected to Americana ahead of us, when we arrived in Mankato, MN. 

The Betsy-Tacy book series was beloved by some of my sisters and me
in our childhoods - beloved enough, in fact, that both one older sister and I now own copies of most of the books in the series. (Hers came from a library used book sale, whereas mine are paperback re-issues.) Naturally I introduced my daughter to the series and she enjoyed them as well.

The books, which take place from around the turn of the 20th C to WWI, follow the adventures of main character Betsy, her family and friends. Author Maud Hart Lovelace based the books on her childhood in Mankato, MN. She's Betsy in the books and her real-life best friend Bick is Tacy. 

Especially in the later books, in which Betsy is first in high school and then a young married woman, there is a wealth of detail about life 100 years ago. Fashions, party entertainment, the first car in town, holidays - all are described in a lively, informative way. Maud did occasionally diverge from her actual life story (for example, she didn't meet her future husband until she was in her 20s, but he's an important figure in the books set in Betsy's high school years) - but the books ring true nonetheless.

They are so beloved to this day that there's a Betsy-Tacy Society, which bought and restored the childhood homes of Maud and Bick. The organization runs both houses as museums; Bick's is a free interpretive center with gift shop, while Maud's is a paid tour. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived in Mankato, the houses had already closed for the day (our lateness was due in part to faulty directions on the Betsy-Tacy Society website). But I still enjoyed seeing the houses, which are across the street from each other:

Bick's house (of course, the sign in front says "Tacy's House), and  Maud's:

A little boy on a bike saw me taking pictures of "Betsy's House" and I could tell he was puzzled by my interest in it. But it was a thrill for me to walk up the steps to the porch, peer in the windows, and know that Maud Hart Lovelace had been on that same porch and had once lived in that house. 

If you've read the books, you may be asking "But what about Tib?" Midge (Tib) was a close friend of Maud and Bick, but she lived a couple of blocks away (when her family wasn't living in Milwaukee). Her house is currently a private residence, but has a plaque on the front door identifying it as "Tib's House":

Besides this house, there were many lovely older homes on the same street and on some of the nearby blocks (alas, the block with the Betsy-Tacy houses looked a bit more rundown). As I'd said, it was a thrill to walk up and down these blocks and know that one of my favorite childhood authors had walked past these same houses!

Our last brush with fame came the next day, when we toured the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. For a very reasonable $3.50 parking fee, which covered the entire time we were there, we saw many intriguing outdoor sculptures, the most famous of which is:

This is Claes Oldenburg's Spoonbridge and Cherry. To give you an idea of its size, the combined weight of the two shapes is 7,000 pounds! According to the sculpture garden's website, Spoonbridge and Cherry "...has become a beloved icon in the Garden". I could see why this is so - it's pretty cool!

I'm not really that knowledgeable about sculptors, but both my husband and myself have heard of Claes Oldenburg. He's done many large outdoor sculptures, found in cities all over the world. 

We liked many of the other outdoor sculptures as well:

A conservatory and a beautifully-designed floral border are located in the Sculpture Garden as well, giving visitors even more of a visual experience. I would recommend a trip if you're ever in the Twin Cities area. 

But then again, I'd recommend visits to Mankato and Mason City as well - especially if you're a fan of Prairie School architecture and the Betsy-Tacy books!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Hello! First, a pop quiz: what popular American crooner had a hit song with the same title as this post? Give yourself a few bonus points if you know what year this song charted.

Now on to my post! A few years back, I became aware of the adult hula hoop exercise craze when our local paper carried a story about it and included some simple instructions for making a hula hoop. I cut out the instructions and later on, tore out a couple of articles about hooping for fitness in magazines. Set them aside as well. 

Early last month, I decided to use those DIY instructions to make my own hoop. I learned that the type of irrigation tubing specified in the shopping list isn't sold by the foot but in big rolls. The guy at Lowe's suggested going to one of the small hardware stores in the area to see if they'd sell it to me by the foot there. 

I did as suggested, and the guy at a small hardware store sold me a length of tubing that he said was the same as used by a local woman who ran hula hooping classes. It was a lighter tubing that what was specified in the article, but I took his word on faith. 

Well, to make a long story short, I couldn't get my hoop to stay up for very long, even after a few weeks of practice. I tried weighing it with sand, as people had suggested in online postings about DIY hoops, but that just seemed to make my hoop wobbly.

I had never used a hula hoop as a kid, and the one time I took a belly-dancing class, it was a miserable experience for me. Maybe there was something wrong with my coordination. But I was determined to make hooping work for me. After losing weight recently, I had loose skin hanging around my belly area - ugh. I also wanted to cinch my waistline some more. I'm short-waisted, so if I don't have a defined waistline, I run the risk of looking like a bowling ball!

I went to to see what hoops were for sale and what reviews had been posted. After reading about various companies, I settled on Canyon Hoops, based in Portland, OR. Their website seemed pretty straightforward and even with shipping, they were a good value compared to the pricing of some of the other hoops I reviewed. And the many reviews on and on the company website were largely very favorable. I was reassured as well when people mentioned that their Canyon Hoops hoop was easy to use from the get-go. Hmm...maybe there was hope for me after all; maybe even I could get one to stay up!

My hula hoop arrived last Friday; here's what I got:

This is my 38" weighted exercise hoop. It weighs 1.5 lbs and has a vinyl tape, dark blue/sky blue swirl pattern. (Customers can pick from several color combinations of tape and also pick the tape pattern.) 40" and 42" diameter hoops are also available. Being only 5'3", I got the smallest hoop. It's also supposed to give the best aerobic workout - since it's the lightest of the three models, it spins the fastest and so it's more work to keep it spinning.

It arrived in two halves that need to be joined with the included connector. Some online reviewers said they had trouble assembling their hoops, but I did not. 

Now for the moment of truth - would the darn thing stay up? Anxiously began spinning it - and could tell right away that this hoop was, indeed, a vast improvement over my DIY hoop. The added weight makes the difference, I'm sure.

Could practice only sporadically over the weekend because our daughter was home from college, but when I picked it up first thing in the morning yesterday to practice, I kept it up for 10 minutes straight! Hooray!

It may seem like it's a frivolous way to exercise, but I came across a research article that touted hooping's fitness benefits; you can read it HERE.

If you'd like to learn more about Canyon Hoops, their website is HERE.
But if you'd really like to make your own hoop, there are plenty of DIY instructions on the web as well. 

Either way, if you decide to go for this particular exercise, happy hooping! I'm proof that it can be done, as long as the hoop is heavy enough.

Oh, and the answer to the pop quiz: Perry Como had a hit with "Hoop-Dee-Doo" in 1950. The song is actually about polka dancing.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Eats - Butterscotch Cereal Toss

Hello! Perhaps your son tells you - after dinner - that he's supposed to bring a treat in to share at the class party tomorrow. Or maybe you forgot that you'd promised to make something for the youth group bake sale on Saturday morning - and it's Friday night. 

Or maybe you just want to make a goodie to welcome your daughter on her first weekend home since leaving for college.

Well, if you have a few basic ingredients already at hand, you can make Butterscotch Cereal Toss in just a few minutes. The recipe comes from Choice Candy From Your Own Kitchen, which was compiled by the food editors of Farm Journal. (My volume, which came out in 1971, was purchased at the recent AAUW bag sale of used books). And here's the recipe:

Butterscotch Cereal Toss

2 quarts (8 cups) assorted bite-size cold cereal
1 cup salted peanuts
2 cups pretzel sticks
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine cereals, peanuts and pretzel sticks in large pan or bowl.

Combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, salt and nutmeg in saucepan. Bring to a boil; boil two minutes. Remove from heat; add vanilla. Pour over cereal mixture; stir to coat well.

Spread on two buttered baking sheets. Let cool until firm. When set, break into pieces. Makes about three quarts. 

And now for my notes: I greased the bowl before I put the first three ingredients in it, and I also greased the saucepan before putting the butterscotch ingredients in it. These two steps made for easier clean-up. And I used parchment paper to line the baking sheets instead of greasing them - then I didn't have to wash them!

I used Honey-Nut Cheerios and Golden Grahams for the cereals, because that's what I had on hand (remnants of other cereal-into-candy recipes; I store these cereals in the freezer until needed). I didn't have peanuts on hand, so I just added another cup of pretzels. 

Wasn't sure how the nutmeg would taste, so I left it out. I'd be more inclined to use cinnamon though. 

Farm Journal's food editors described this recipe as: "Snack is crunchy - butterscotch coating provides rich flavor". After tasting the result, I would agree on both counts! It does have some crunch, but it quite sweet as well - I think this could be made with a bit more dry ingredients added, maybe a cup extra of cereal. That way, the sweet coating would be spread out a bit thinner. I thought it tasted really good, though - similar to the richer caramel corn recipes (there are some that use a similar brown sugar/butter/corn syrup base). 

But unlike caramel corn, there's no corn to pop in this recipe - just pour that cereal out, add some pretzels and nuts (I would think that other nuts could be subbed for the peanuts), cook the butterscotch mixture for a few minutes, and voila - three quarts of a tasty treat with very little effort. The bake sale kids will be pleased!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thrifty Acres: From Frumpy To Funky

Hello! The local thrift stores have their Halloween wares out and I checked out one such table at a thrift store last week. I purchased a handmade small, stuffed black cat. Its construction has been well done, but the face was something else! Let's just say it bordered on ugly. However, since the cat was a mere 50c, I bought it with plans to do a makeover. 

In my haste to rid the cat of its unfortunate countenance, I didn't take a "before" photo of what I removed. But below I have a reconstructed "before" look with the embellishments that had made up the face:

On a piece of black fabric the same size as the stuffed cat's head, there are two blah button eyes, red button nose, wire whiskers and gold and fake pearl bowtie. The bowtie was the only embellishment that I liked, but it really didn't do much for the cat. 

And the button nose is an approximation of the nose I ripped off. I couldn't find the actual nose, but it was hideous: a dark red plastic piece shaped to look like a jewel. The vintage button I show is about the same color and size as that fake jewel had been - but IMO, looks  better! Nevertheless, since I wanted to make the cat look more like a Halloween decoration, the red button had to go. 

After digging through some vintage crafting supplies and my container of ribbon scraps, here is my "after":

Close up of the head:

Mismatched vintage buttons are sewn on with orange embroidery floss. (Can't go wrong with vintage buttons, I always say.) Orange embroidery floss was also used to stitch the whiskers and to sew on an orange felt nose. 

I was going to make a scarf from fabric scrap, but then decided to look through my container of ribbon scraps first. Glad I did so, as I found a piece of orange twill ribbon, just the right size and length to tie around the neck of this critter. 

But the cat still seemed to need something more. I pondered finding something small to put between its front paws, but passed on that idea for now. Instead, I stamped "boo" on some vintage bingo markers and glued them to the scarf. 

And that's how this cat went from frumpy to funky. It's be great if fashion makeovers went this well - or were so inexpensive to achieve! But since thrift store items like this are inexpensive, don't hesitate to pick something ugly up if you think you can redo it to suit your own tastes. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

In Praise Of The Coleus

Hello! I'd be the first to admit I'm a rather lazy flower gardener, as more of my outdoor efforts go toward my vegetable garden. However, I do like to have a few nice planters to dress up the front and side entrances of our house.

Since both entrances are in part shade, I am limited to plants that do well under that condition. Enter the humble coleus. I used to think it was a somewhat boring plant, but new varieties have meant more colorful coleus. And so year after year, I have used this plant to brighten up these  parts of our house. 

This year my coleus seem to be even better than ever, so I thought them worthy of a post. Let's begin with the side entrance:

Three coleus plants in a vintage pail (a one dollar garage sale purchase). 

Here, two planters line the front porch steps; these planters have three coleus plants apiece in them. The top planter, on the porch itself, is potted with four plants. In previous years, I have mixed-and-matched different colors of coleus in each planter, but this year I stuck to one color per planter. Maybe that's why I think they look better than ever this year? 

The pot on the left was a two dollar Goodwill find, while the pot on the right was a gift from my husband from a fair trade store in downtown Holland, The Bridge. 

These coleus have been potted in an ordinary plastic pot, but the pot itself sits in a vintage wicker piece that had originally belonged to my grandmother. It arrived to me painted red, but I sprayed painted it white. 

I might have fed my coleus once or twice all season, but basically all I do is water them as needed and pick off an occasional frayed leaf. That brings up another point: we are bothered by Asiatic brown beetles, which seem to strip plants of leaves overnight (literally!). My coleus seem to escape the worst of their appetites though. 

The growing season is winding down, of course, but come next spring, I'll be buying coleus once again. They are easily found at garden centers, including the ones that pop up seasonally at the big box stores, but I get mine from the local nursery, Jonkers.