Saturday, November 30, 2013

Job Jar - Month #11

Hello! November is fast drawing to a close, so once again it's time to report on how my Job Jar project went this month. Thanksgiving travel wiped out a couple of job jar days, but other than that, I kept on task. 

I drew "declutter a set of holiday decorations" one day this month, so logically decided to go through the Thanksgiving decorations. I guess I no longer need to keep the Pilgrims-and-Native Americans kiddie crafts from back issues of Family Fun magazine, so out those went, along with a few decorations I no longer use. 

I'd deliberately included several decluttering tasks in my job jar, figuring these would force me to pick up around the house. I ended up decluttering several times during the month, so mission accomplished! 

Also cleaned the refrigerator and the open shelving area above the stove. Before I initiated the job jar system, these two chores were often left until they became so gross I couldn't ignore them anymore. But now that they're cleaned more frequently, I have learned that it's easier to complete these tasks each time I do them. Of course, I should have realized this a long time ago, but I tend to be a lazy housekeeper.

I was mindful of giving out compliments and of being a good neighbor - nice to focus on others in these ways. 

I did aromatherapy, used my paraffin wax kit, looked through an old cookbook, studied my camera manual and more. 

I practiced drawing several times, wrote poetry, and completed some craft projects. "Have flowers in the house", drawn on a Saturday, had me going to the Farmer's Market to see if any flowers were still available on November 9th. Lo and behold, one vendor was selling a "flower" of sorts: ornamental kale on its thick stem. Stripped of most of its leaves, it resembled a large, ruffled-petaled flower. Close enough! And a bargain to boot - a dollar per stem, and my "flower" lasted over a week before the leaves started to show their age. I'd never noticed ornamental kale being sold this way before, but thanks to my job jar task that day, I learned something new!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thrifty Acres: Tis The Season

Hello! Christmas just one month away from today, so what better time to show off some vintage goodies I found last week at thrift stores?

Some of the cuter designs from a package of assorted stickers. Love the grinning snowmen! This set probably dates from the late 1950's. 

Elfin Christmas ornament made with felt, pipe cleaners, gold trim and spun cotton head. Cute!

This little guy shares room with a candy cane and some greenery - in what looks to be a glittery golden slipper. Not sure why the slipper, but it's all good anyway. 

More spun cotton heads:

Angels, and

Snowmen. Both sets of figures are only about 2" high, so they were probably used as gift tie-ons, or maybe as ornaments for tabletop trees. 

And from Hallmark, this small (not quite 5x7) volume:

I didn't see a date listed in the publication, but an eBay seller said it's from 1964. 

Close-up of the cover:

I love that red plaid jacket; what I call the vintage LL Bean look. 

Unfortunately, not all the images inside are as charming as the cover, and some of the photos are in boring black and white. But one such photo spread - and its accompanying poem - is worth showing here:

A young child's lament about being too bundled up to do much of anything: Mom bundled me up in a big snowsuit/And I can't bend over to buckle my boot:/I can't pull my scarf down to laugh or talk./Go out to play? I can't even walk! (Jan Miller)

In 1964, I was around the same age as this tyke appears to be in the photos, and I have seen family photos of us kids bundled up in much the same way! So this made me smile. 

Yes, my finds are all small in size - as were their price tags - but I consider them large in vintage cuteness! 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Eats: Mayan Hot Chocolate

Hello! Cold here this weekend, so I treated myself to some homemade hot chocolate:

It may look like an ordinary mugful of hot chocolate, but believe me, this is probably the most unusual recipe for this beverage that I have! And what makes it so unusual? Read the recipe and you'll see:

Mayan Hot Chocolate (recipe source unknown)
1 cup milk
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I used chocolate chips)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch each nutmeg and cayenne pepper
1/2 cup cooked, pureed butternut squash (or other winter squash)

Mix milk, chocolate and spices in a small saucepan. Heat until chocolate is melted and creamy, stirring constantly. Whisk in pureed squash and reheat until hot. Makes one large or two small servings. 

Notes: my recipe originally called for a pinch of cardamon instead of  cayenne pepper, but I made the swap. It also calls only for butternut squash, but I had cooked pie pumpkin in the refrigerator, so that's what I used. I used skim milk. I didn't think of it at the time, but a dash of vanilla would be nice. 

The recipe is written for stovetop cooking, but I'd think it could be adapted for the microwave too; I'll have to try that sometime.

Could I tell that the pumpkin was there? Yes, I could taste it, and it made my hot chocolate thicker too. The thickness was a little off-putting, but overall this was good, and think of winter squash this way: it adds nutrition to the hot chocolate, and that's a good thing! 

So, if you want, pick up an extra can of pumpkin at the grocery store this week, or save a bit of cooked winter squash the next time you're having it for dinner, and try Mayan Hot Chocolate.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Get Carded - Baby Boy

Hello! Yesterday I mentioned that I'd made a dinner to take to a family of a new baby; today I'll show off the card. As the new arrival is a boy, the color blue reigned:

Materials used:

- white card stock
- three layers of art paper scraps, with the bottommost piece having
  a decorative edge
- "Baby Boy" stamped with azure StazOn ink
- "Congrats!" stamped with azure StazOn ink

Always fun to make greeting cards! This is a simple-looking card, but I think it still turned out pretty well.

Mom, Dad, big brother and the new little guy all seemed to be doing well when we dropped off the meal.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Eats: Crazy For Crazy Cake!

Hello! I suppose just about every family has a food tradition that it cherishes but elicits a "huh?" from others. For instance, I know of a family who eats chocolate ice cream with a pineapple topping. Think I'll pass. But in my family, crazy cake with coffee frosting seems to fill the "I never heard of it" role.

This was a very common birthday cake during my childhood, and to this day it often shows up at family birthday parties. It's very easy to make, which is probably one reason why my mother leaned on the recipe - we were a family of 10. And it's inexpensive and convenient as well, since it has no eggs. Not only that, but it tastes delicious - moist and chocolatey. Maybe a little sweet, but not heavy like some cakes made with lots of butter can be. 

I never asked my mom where she got the cake recipe from, but online research seems to indicate it's been around since the 1930's or 1940's. I did ask her once about coffee frosting, since chocolate cakes are more typically topped with chocolate or vanilla frosting. She explained that was to appease my dad - he didn't care much for chocolate, so a coffee frosting made the cake more palatable to him. 

Since it was so popular within my family, I have been surprised as an adult to learn there were people who had never heard of crazy cake. My husband hadn't. When I lived in Indiana and belonged to a women's club, I introduced a couple of friends to this recipe, and both enjoyed it. One of the friends was especially happy, for she'd been in a quandry over what to make for her son's first birthday party. He was allergic to eggs, so her baking choices were limited. At my suggestion, she made crazy cake (though with chocolate frosting) for the party and phoned me afterward to say how well the cake had been received. It was sweet of her to call and I was glad my recipe had saved the day. 

But on to the present. I had volunteered to bring a dinner over yesterday to a family who recently welcomed their second child into the world. Decided to make crazy cake cupcakes - easy to serve and eat. There were some extras for my husband and myself, so here is how one of our cupcakes looked:

In case you haven't heard of Crazy Cake either, here's the recipe my family uses, followed by a few notes:

Crazy Cake

Preheat oven to 350. Grease one 13x9 pan or two layer cake pans. 

Stir together in a large mixing bowl:

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 rounded tablespoons baking cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt

Make three holes in dry ingredients and add 1/4 cup vegetable oil to each hole (ie 3/4 cup vegetable oil total). Add two tablespoons vinegar, two tablespoons vanilla and 2 cups cold water. Mix thoroughly and place in baking pan(s). Bake for about 30 minutes, or until cake tests done. 

Coffee Frosting

Not really much of a recipe here. Start out by blending one stick of softened butter, about 4 cups of powdered sugar and a dash of salt in a large bowl (can use mixer for this recipe, of course). When well blended, add enough very strong coffee to make desired spreading consistency. I use instant coffee for this; easy to get a very strong coffee that way. (How strong you make the coffee depends on how much coffee flavor you want your frosting to have. However, if you make the coffee too strong, your frosting will end up tasting kind of burned. The voice of experience here).  Will likely need no more than 1/2 cup coffee. 

Notes: I used a half recipe to make the cupcakes and got a yield of 14. Cupcakes need less baking time - check at 15 minutes. Mine needed about 17 minutes. 

This cake also goes by the name "Wacky Cake" - like "crazy", this title probably refers to the lack of eggs, with vinegar and baking soda supplying the leavening. More recently, I saw it referred to as "Three Hole Cake" in a Taste Of Home magazine issue - a reference to one of the recipe steps. But you'll never hear me call it that - it makes me think of outhouses, which were sometimes described by how many holes ("seats") they had. Although three-hole outhouses meant less waiting in line outside, I'd just as soon not be reminded of these structures, thank you very much. 

I've seen directions for this recipe that call for mixing it right in the baking pan, but my family doesn't do it that way. It seems easier to mix it in a bowl, I think.

And another important note: while looking up some information on the recipe and its origins, I came across many versions of it on the Internet. Most were basically the same as my family's, except that sometimes the amount of baking cocoa varied. And someone mentioned using cold coffee instead of water in the batter. 

There was one big difference, though, and that has to do with the amount of vanilla. Nowhere did I see as much as two tablespoons of this ingredient called for, as my recipe does. This leads me to wonder if somewhere down the line, a two-teaspoon amount was accidentally changed to two tablespoons. This might have happened when someone wrote out the abbreviation "2 t." as "2 T." - easy mistake. Fortunately, in this case it doesn't affect how the cake turns out, and the extra vanilla probably adds more flavor depth. 

And since it tastes so good, I will leave the larger amount of vanilla in. You may wish to use less if you decide to make it, but do try this recipe if you want an easy, yet delicious chocolate cake! Frosting flavor is up to you, though.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thrifty Acres: A Nice Problem To Have!

Hello! It's happened several times already this fall - on the days when the weather warrants it, I'll pull out some heavier-weight clothes to wear. But after pulling on a top or buttoning up one of my favorite flannel shirts, and zipping up a pair of pants, I'll notice that these garments, which fit fine last winter, now look too loose on me!

At first I thought some of the tops had merely stretched out of shape, but then it hit me - I have lost weight and inches since May, so these clothes are now too big. 

I bring this up not to sound vain, but to refute the ads out there that say women going through menopause (which I am) need to buy special supplements or whatever to lose weight. I have been following the "golden rules" (well, most of the time), as discussed in this post and they've worked well. I rarely feel deprived of anything - I just eat less! 

I exercise on a consistent basis as well. I can keep my weighted hula hoop up for 30 minutes or more at a time, though I usually do it for 10-20 minutes per session. I also lift weights and try to get some stretching in every day. I count things like yardwork, heavy-duty housecleaning, etc. as exercise too. 

So why is this post entitled "Thrifty Acres"? Well, other than the weighted hula hoop (which was reasonably priced, I felt), the book I discussed in the linked post was a thrift store find, as were my weight training books. And of course, there's no gym fees involved in doing yardwork and housecleaning. 

I'll be needing to buy some new clothes in a smaller size, it appears - but the thrift stores will come to the rescue! I hate to part with some beloved garments, but I hated carrying around that extra weight even more. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Grandmother's Button Tin

Hello! I took possession of my late mother's button tins a month ago - she had been an avid sewer, so there were three of these to collect. 

Upon closer inspection, I realized that one of the tins had likely been her mother's button tin. My maternal grandmother died the day before my seventh birthday, and throughout my young life had lived in Florida most of the year. Consequently, I remember very little about her, and thus was pleased to have something that had belonged to her. 

The tin itself: 

Sharp's Assorted Toffee, made in England. Not sure how old the tin is, but it's been around awhile.

Two sides of the tin:

Well, okay, the above mention of "THE LATE KING GEORGE VI" helps date the tin, since I looked up when King George had died - 1952. 

Let's lift up the lid and take a peek inside, shall we?

This looks like a large amount of buttons (along with some belt buckles and a few odds and ends), but it's really not. The dimensions of the tin make it slightly larger than a 5x7 picture frame, with a depth of around 1 1/2 inches. 

Haven't sorted through the tin much yet, but there are some interesting vintage buttons. A few that I liked:

Earlier today I used a mate of that square red button in a craft project. 

Although I love vintage buttons, my favorite find in the tin was actually this:

Dog tags from a family pet. My grandmother was living in Flint, Genesee County, MI at the time. I don't know why these two particular dog tags were kept, but I got a kick out of finding them! Like I'd said, I never really knew this grandmother, so I liked seeing something that had had personal meaning to her. From my mom's recollections, I knew that her mother had been fond of dogs. 

I'm sure that over time, I'll use more of my grandmother's buttons in craft projects - but I'll hang on to the dog tags as a little memento of her. 


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Get Carded - In Sympathy

Hello! Sympathy cards are not fun to make, but nevertheless, I'd rather make one than buy one. Here's the latest one I crafted:

Materials used:
- white card stock
- art paper scrap
- fall scene cropped from a calendar page; seemed fitting for
   the time of year
- rubber-stamped phrase on art paper scrap
- vintage button

It can sometimes be hard to express sentiments in a sympathy card, especially if you didn't know the deceased but are sending a sympathy card to support someone who had been close to that person. The phrase I used helped sum my thoughts, however:

Couldn't have said it better myself! Just the same, I hope I don't have to make a sympathy card again anytime soon. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thrifty Acres: Rummaging Around

Hello! A local church recently held its annual rummage sale, so I headed over there to look for vintage Christmas items. Didn't come back with a ton of stuff, but the prices were good, so I was happy. What follows is a portion of what I purchased.

Above, one of two Doubl Glo Christmas ornaments; a mama bird with her two babies in a nest. Sweet! Made in Hong Kong.

Not sure what type of structure Santa is supposed to be standing in front of, but it's still cute. Made in Hong Kong.

Don't know where this roller skate ornament is from, but I liked the attention to detail on it. 

This perky reindeer, which is about 6 1/2" high, is one of two I found at the rummage sale. Made in Japan.

Handmade wreath, about 11" diameter. Not crazy about the rather large bow it'd been adorned with, nor the yarn tied to the plastic ring hanger on top, but these can easily be removed. I do like the fabrics used:

Close-up of some of the fabrics. The wreath had a simple charm that appealed to me.

And speaking of vintage, I also bought a box of quilt squares and fabric scraps. Not sure what I'll do with them, but I seem to find it hard to pass up vintage fabric. 

In fact, I now wonder if I should have bought the cutter quilt and the feed sack as well. I didn't exactly like the rather muted colors of the quilt, and the feed sack pattern was very faded, so I passed on them. 

Well, too late now, obviously! I'll just have to wait a year for that church's rummage sale to return. Who knows what treasures I'll find there then?



Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Thrifty Acres - A Glorious Fall In Maine

Hello! As fall begins winding down, I'll pay homage to the season as it's celebrated in all its glory in Maine.

My one and only trip to Maine thus far happened one August, and we were  barely in the state, so it hardly even counts as a visit there. So how do I know that the fall season is glorious in Maine? Why, I just looked through a recent thrift store acquisition, a vintage Maine Vacation Guide. I love vintage travel ephemera, so I was a happy camper when I found this (no pun intended).

Couldn't find a publication date, but judging from the family seen below, I'd guess the guide is from the late 1950's, give or take a few years:

My folks had a suitcase much like the one the woman is carrying. 

The Maine Vacation Guide obviously predates hunter's orange.

Looks like a great spot for a picnic!

But so does this lakeside scene. It may not be visible in the photo, but both adults are wearing flannel shirts - wonder if L L Bean supplied the shirts? 

Courteous as the warden may have been, I wonder if he was thinking to himself, "Stupid out-of-staters gotta come here to do their hunting - hope they don't trash our state!"

To the victor belongs the spoils:

Here, not only do we see a buck pole - but "a black bear to boot!" And lots more red plaid flannel as well, including a rather loud pair of pants seen on the gentleman at the right. 

For another kind of hunting, we have this:

According to the above copy, "On highways and byways, antique shops will have marked their wares with attractive end-of-season prices." This sentence made me wish I could go back in time to scoop up some of those wares with their end-of-season prices myself! Whatever the antique shops were selling in Maine back then must surely have skyrocketed in price since. 

And in the above photo, you can see why fall is glorious in Maine - after all, the Maine Department Of Economic Development (they're the ones who put out this booklet) said so, and they should know! Right? 

Who knows, maybe I'll take a real trip to Maine sometime - but until then, I can just enjoy the Maine Vacation Guide!




Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thrifty Acres: Turning Over A New Leaf

Hello! Our narrow lot is home to three large maple trees, one ornamental crab apple tree and several large shrubs. The largest of the maples looks like this:

That peak you see in the right side of the picture is the attic of our house, and the maple towers over it! So needless to say, leaves pile up thickly on our property this time of year and need to be dealt with.

Our city does have a fall leaf pickup, which of course means that the leaves have to be raked out onto the curb. But being an organic garderner, I prefer to turn our leaves into mulch and compost. 

A few years back, I tried a technique I'd read about, in which shredded leaves are layered with soil and fertilizer (organic fertilizer, in my case) in a yard waste-type bag, then left to break down into compost to be used the following spring. This worked okay, but the filled bags were heavy and unwieldy to deal with. 

Most years, I simply mowed the leaves with our lawnmower, with the bag in place to catch the leaves. The bag filled up quickly and so I had to empty it often. And even though the leaves were broken up some, it seemed that they didn't break down as much as I would have liked over the winter. Mulch is good, but I also wanted the leaves to break down enough to enrich the soil underneath.

But then a few weeks ago, on the Gardenista website, I read the following: "To make shredded mulch, rake leaves into a long row about a foot wide. Then run a lawn mower over the leaves, back and forth, a few times. Spread a 1-inch layer of shredded leaves around the roots of plants." 

So that was my problem - I was only mowing the leaves once, duh. Would I have better results if I mowed over the leaves once or twice without the bag, then attach the bag to go over the leaves to collect them? 

I was concerned that this would take more time and use more gasoline, but decided to try it to see how it worked. I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't really take longer; in fact, it might have been a bit quicker. How so? Well, the initial, bag-less mowing broke up the leaves enough that when the bag was attached, it didn't fill up nearly as quickly, so there was no more stopping every couple of minutes to empty the bag. 

Some of the finished mulch is seen below, near a rugosa rose bush:

A few whole leaves had drifted down after my leaf mulch was put in place, but overall, this is a finer mulch than what I had produced other years! Time will tell how much it broken down by next spring, but from now on, this is how I'll take care of the multitude of fallen leaves we get every autumn. 

(If you'd like to read Gardenista yourself, you can find it HERE.
It's actually not a particularly thrift-oriented site, but along with the lush photos of fancy gardens and even fancier flower shops, there's some good gardening info). 


Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Random Act Of Kindness

Hello! While reading a library book yesterday, I came across a small piece of yellow paper stuck between a couple of pages. At first I assumed it had been left in the book to mark a reader's place, but then turned the paper over and saw that this has been written on it:

Now, of course finding this piece of paper doesn't mean a lot in the big scheme of life, but nevertheless it pleased me. It felt good that someone had taken a bit of time to write this message for someone else to discover. I especially liked that the book had been a Mel Cat(Michigan eLibrary Catalog)request; it came from a library some 90 miles away. Thus, a completely random act of kindness! 

I've commented before on doing guerilla art (leaving art for others to randomly find), which I suppose could be considered acts of kindness as well. I can only hope that people who find what I leave behind enjoy my art pieces as much as I enjoyed the note above.