Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Plan B Christmas Dinner

Hello! And I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! Ours ended up differently than what we had planned, but it was still okay. 

It began as usual: rustling my husband and daughter out of bed and getting them downstairs for the opening of stockings - always a fun time! Then after breakfast there was the opening of gifts, followed by gathering up the Christmas presents, cookies and food to take to the family gathering at my sister's house on the other side of the state. 

There was just one problem: it was snowing when we got up and it continued to snow the whole time we were having our morning festivities. But we dutifully set out, hoping for better roads once we hit the interstate. That didn't happen, though - instead, we followed the line of cars ahead of us, no one going faster than 55 (in a stretch where people typically zoom right past those who are only going a bit faster than the posted speed limit of 70 mph). 

At the rate we were going, it would take much longer than usual to get to my sister's, and with no overnight stayover planned, we'd  have to turn around and go back home the same day. And there was no guarantee that the roads would be much better for our return trip. So instead, we turned around at the next exit and came back home. It was disappointing, but my sister understood when we called her to say we weren't coming. She said she'd heard of our snow and had wondered if we'd try to make the trip over there. 

This change of plans meant that we'd have to have our Christmas dinner at home. If it'd just been my husband and myself, I would have made a fancy pasta dish, but our daughter doesn't like that sort of thing, so I came up with an entree we could all agree on: homemade pizza. I made sure to include red and green toppings - roasted red bell peppers (I make these and freeze them in packages when red bell peppers are in season at our Farmer's Market) and fresh spinach; mushrooms, black olives and onions were added too. (The dough was easily mixed up in my bread machine).

If I had wanted to, I could have formed the pizza dough in a holiday design, like a Christmas tree or an ornament. Would have been fun to "decorate" a pizza in this manner, I suppose, but I opted for the usual shape.

I regretted missing the homemade cannolis one sister was bringing to the family gathering (a nod to our Sicilian father), and briefly pondered making some sort of dessert for us. But since we had all had gotten candies in our stockings - and I had made four kinds of Christmas cookies to take to my sister's - another dessert wasn't really needed. 

The rest of the evening passed by quietly. My husband read the hobby magazines I'd placed in his stocking, while I pulled out The Christmases We Used To Know, a compilation of first-person stories from Reminisce magazine. Although the recollections of family gatherings tugged at my heart a bit, I still enjoyed the book very much. And I was pleased to get a phone call from one of my sisters, saying they had all missed us.

The weather is supposed to be much better this weekend, so we will do some visiting with family then. Due to events like holiday get-togethers with in-laws and a birthday celebration on some siblings' calendars, we won't get to see everyone, but we'll at least touch base with some, including my 91-year-old dad. 

That is life sometimes! I hope that everyone who got together with families yesterday had a wonderful time. 


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"Gift Exchange" With The Garbage Men

Hello! This time of year, it's common to be reminded about giving gifts to those whose services have been helpful all year - the hair sytlists, letter carriers, teachers, etc. To be honest, I don't recall my parents doing this; money was tight enough as it was and they had their hands full raising a big family. 

But later on, when I was a new homeowner in Stevens Point, WI, I happened to pay my next-door neighbor a visit while she was filling a gift bag full of treats to the letter carrier. She was my inspiration for doing the same for the helpful people in my life. 

I don't think I always left out treats to the garbage men, though I always felt a little sorry for them doing a rather smelly, thankless job. But then there was the December I was a homeowner in a new town again - this time, Terre Haute, IN. Between Christmas cookie baking and having attended a cookie exchange hosted by a woman's club, we were awash in sweets! So some of the extras went in a gift bag to the garbage men. 

This gesture had an unexpected benefit! Our garbage cans were housed in a cinder block enclosure. The enclosure was roomy enough for the previous owners to have left some junk of theirs next to the cans when they moved out. We never got around to having the junk disposed of, so there it sat all fall. 

Well, that gift bag must have inspired the garbage men, for not only did they take the goodies - but they also removed that extra junk! This surprised me, but not my husband. Back in his hometown of Chicago, when his mother had something extra that she wanted the garbage men to haul away, she'd leave a treat for them too - only it was usually a six-pack of beer. Worked every time!

So ever since then, I've made sure to leave a treat for the garbage men. It's trickier here, since their trucks come with an automated "arm" of sorts that lifts the garbage cans up and down for them. Thus, most of the time the garbage men don't have to get out of their trucks, except for when recyclables or other refuse have been left outside of the garbage cans.

Because of this automated feature, I worry that if I leave a gift bag on top of the garbage can, it'd just get dumped into the truck along with our garbage! But if I happen to be home at the time the garbage truck arrives, I make sure to have a gift bag ready to take out to them. 

I was home yesterday when the garbage truck came lumbering down our block, so I headed out to it with some goodies. You should have seen the driver's face light up when he saw me approach - that made me feel good! 

And spontaneously, he gave me his own gift: he handed over a package of the bags we use for recyclables. I got a kick out of that!

Goodies went out to the letter carrier as well, and we still need to give a tip to our newspaper delivery people. However, there's another group of people I've been meaning to thank, and that's our hard-working snow removal folks. Heck, in my town they even clear the main sidewalks off! For them, I'd have to drop off something to their headquarters, once I find out where it is.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Thrifty Acres: Winter Wonderland

Hello! Although we've been having winter weather already for weeks now, today is the official first day of the season. So what better time to show off this:

Vintage sheet music, a quarter thrift store purchase. Not sure how old this is but probably no newer than the early 1940's. I say this because there's no postal number of any sort in the city address (NYC) of the company that published this. From what I've read, the USPS began using postal zones in 1943, assigning one- or two-digit numbers to the larger cities. 

Close up of our winter sports enthusiasts:

Love the graphics of the ice skating couple and the downhill skier!

The first day of winter also means the making of a new weathergram to hang outside:

Simply made from an old manila folder, twine, rubber-stamped words, silver glitter and small circles punched from two kinds of art paper. I added a short poem about winter underneath the flap.

We've had plenty of "snow" and "cold" thus far this month, but I added "ice" because we had enough freezing rain yesterday to give most kids in the region an early start to their Christmas breaks. (I saw one TV news scene of kids playing hockey on their ice-coated street!). And guess what? More freezing rain is a possibility for later on today - maybe a bit of snow too. 

Winter wonderland, eh? Oh well, have to take the weather as it comes - no matter what the season!

If you'd like to make your own weathergram, read this post.

Friday, December 20, 2013

O Mitten Tree, O Mitten Tree

Hello! Here is an example of what a combined effort of compassion and knitting/crocheting skill can create:

The Mitten Tree of First Reformed Church in Holland, MI. A metal frame was assembled, chicken wire was stretched over it, and then the mittens were attached for display.

Near the tree is a sign that explains more about the project:

I think it's awesome that a relatively small number of knitters and crocheters produced that many pairs of mittens - almost 400! What a wonderful thing to do for needy families, and from viewing the mitten collection in person, I can vouch for how well-crafted they are! They will undoubtedly be the nicest mittens a person of any income level could own. 

Although crafters could use their own yarn, First Reformed did supply yarn for people to use as well, as seen in the above sign's photos. And I'm told that the church already has a fresh supply of yarn - so that a new project can begin in 2014. What a nice thing to do, and I felt this church's efforts deserved a post. 

Full disclosure: I am not a member of this church, nor did I craft any of the mittens - I don't know how to knit, and I can barely crochet. But I am friends with an extremely talented knitter who's on staff at First Reformed; she was one of the people who got the (yarn) ball rolling on the Mitten Tree. She had kept me informed of this project throughout the year, so of course I had to see the tree in person.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thrifty Acres: Vintage Christmas Lights Boxes

Hello! During garage sale season, I visited a neighbor's sale. I expressed interest in the two vintage Christmas lights boxes among her things, and she gave them to me free along with my purchase. The Christmas lights were missing, and the boxes themselves were a little beat up, but their graphics made up for these deficiencies.

The first box doesn't really have a lot of graphics on it, but I couldn't resist the Santa on the front:

Close-up of our Santa:

He looks so very delighted with his Amico brand Christmas tree lights! I couldn't find a date for this product, so I don't know how old the box is. 

The second of my two boxes is chock-full of charming graphics! 

Here, the box lid is opened to show what it looked like inside. 

A closer look of the Santa seen on the right hand corner of the box  in the previous photo. He looks quite somber, doesn't he? 

When the box lid is closed, this is what you see. Notice the price of $2.39 written on the box. I don't know if that's the original price; if so, according to the US Inflation Calculator, that sum would equal about $40.00 in today's money. 

Love this scene of Santa and his reindeer flying over some houses. I know you can't tell from this photo, but the Santa looks just as somber here as he did two photos ago. This same scene is repeated on the two end flaps.

To the left of the previous photo is this scene; the village that Santa had presumably just visited. 

These graphics have a horizontal orientation, but interestingly, the graphics on the opposite side of the box were arranged vertically, like this one:

Santa looks a bit happier here! He also looks skinnier than present-day Santas do. 

Below Santa is this scene:

Below the cozy fireside scene is the date of 1939. Well, maybe that explains the rather serious-looking Santa! The US had been struggling through the Depression for several years and Hitler had been gaining power. In September of that year, Britain and France declared war on Germany, thus beginning WWII. No wonder Santa looked none too jolly!

Nevertheless, the graphics on this box made me jolly! My neighbor's generousity was nice too.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Eats: Grandmother's Ice Box Cookie Recipe

Hello! Last month I blogged about my maternal grandmother's button tin. The same grandmother had also left behind a recipe card entitled "Ice Box Cookies". The recipe card had yellowed over time and the writing had faded. However, the card had many splatters on it, which proved that the cookies had been made at least a few times. Alas, I don't know where the recipe came from, or if it had been written in my grandmother's hand.

I had volunteered to make four dozen cookies for an upcoming function, so I decided it'd be fun to try this recipe. There was one big problem, though: the recipe card only listed the ingredients - no mention on how to mix the dough, prepare it for chilling, what oven temperature to use, how long to bake it - you know, useful information like that! Perhaps these instructions were on another recipe card that had gotten lost. No matter, I just consulted a few other refrigerator cookie recipes to get the missing steps. 

Here's the recipe, along with some notes. Mixing/shaping/baking steps were added by me.

Ice Box Cookies

2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup lard
3/4 cup butter
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup nutmeats
1 cup raisins

Cream together brown sugar, lard and butter until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and blend well. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt, and add to sugar/butter/egg mixture. Blend well. Grind nuts and raisins until fine in food processor; stir into dough. 

Shape dough into 3 - 9" logs and wrap each log in parchment paper, plastic wrap or foil. Refrigerate until firm, several hours or overnight. 

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350. Grease cookie sheet. Unwrap dough, one log at the time, and slice about 1/4" thick. Place on cookie sheet, about 2" apart and bake 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Let cool a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to cool further. Makes about 5 dozen cookies. 

Notes: I used all butter instead of half lard/half butter - thus, a total of 1 1/2 cups (three sticks) butter. Since it's the holiday season, I used the same amount of dried cranberries instead of the raisins, and I used toasted pecans for the nuts. I really wasn't sure how many logs I should shape the dough into, but the 3 - 9" logs seemed like they would yield nice-sized cookies. 

And now for a few pictures:

One of the cookie logs, ready to slice and bake. You can see the ground dried cranberries in the dough. 

Portion of the cookie sheet, ready to pop into the oven. 

A couple of baked cookies ready to be sampled. These ended up a bit on the large side, around 3 1/2"x 2 1/2". The size of this type of cookie can easily be adjusted by shaping the dough into smaller-diameter logs. (This would increase the yield too, of course). But remember, I was working with an incomplete set of directions, so overall I think they turned out pretty well!

And as for the taste? Well, with all that brown sugar and butter, the cookies have a butterscotch-y flavor. The raisins originally called for - or some mini chocolate chips - might have worked better with that flavor than the dried cranberries do. Or I could have added some orange peel to accentuate the cranberries.

Still, it was a fun cookie to make, and I liked using a recipe that had once belonged to my grandmother.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Get Carded: Ho Ho Ho And A Happy Birthday

Hello! Two different occasions, two different cards made, but both were fun to create.

The first card was for a nephew beginning his hospitality business career; he's working at a luxury hotel in Las Vegas. Sounds cool, but it means he can't come back to Michigan for Christmas. We miss him, so I sent a package of homemade cookies out to him yesterday, along with this card:

Materials used:

- white card stock
- green art paper scrap
- holiday design card stock scrap
- altered page from vintage gardening book (altered by me)
- tree shape cut from paint chip
- "Ho Ho Ho" stamped in green ink

Celebrated a friend's birthday late, but she seemed to like her card:

Materials used:

- white card stock
- green art paper scrap
- scrapbook paper piece
- piece cut from cover of vintage sheet music
- piece cut from vintage music flash card
- vintage fabric yo yo
- vintage button
- birthday greeting stamped in black ink

You may have noticed that both cards were crafted in a similar way, with layers of coordinating rectangles used for the bulk of the design. This may seem like a lazy way to create a card, but it can take a bit of time to find the right materials to build the layers up. It's a fun process, though, and also a good way to use up some smaller pieces of art paper and vintage odds and ends. 

And, as this time of year means my mind is awhirl with creative endeavors, it's good to have some simple card crafting techniques up my sleeve!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Eats: Cinnamon-Apple Baked Oatmeal

Hello! I usually have a smoothie for breakfast, but when it's cold and snowy out, somehow that doesn't do much for me. So I turn to oatmeal instead. 

But as nice as a steaming-hot bowl of oatmeal can be, sometimes I like to make baked oatmeal for a change of pace. I've tried a few recipes, and here's the one I made recently:

Cinnamon-Apple Baked Oatmeal(adapted from Gooseberry Patch Christmas Pantry)

1/2 cup applesauce
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup milk
1 cup apple, peeled, cored and chopped
A few drops maple extract(optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8x8 pan. 

Combine applesauce, sugar and eggs in large bowl until well blended. Add next five ingredients (and optional maple extract if desired)and beat well. Fold in apples  and pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes. 

Notes: I used a bit less than the specified 3/4 cup sugar and still found it too sweet. I'll used less sugar next time, probably 1/2 cup. Maple extract wasn't mentioned in the recipe at all, but I added a bit and it turned out to be a nice addition.

So that I could sleep in a bit longer in the morning, I cooked the baked oatmeal the night before, then refrigerated it overnight. Then all I had to do in the morning was reheat my serving. To that end, I baked it for only 25 minutes, figuring that reheating it in the microwave would cook it further. The baking/reheating worked fine.

And speaking of servings, the recipe made no mention of the yield, but I cut the finished baked oatmeal into six pieces. Yes, I said "cut" - it baked up firm enough to slice. 

Here's one serving:

The recipe suggests serving this with brown sugar and milk, but as I'd said, I found it plenty sweet on its own, so I just used milk. 

I still like traditional oatmeal better, but this is a nice option. Give it a try if you'd like a change of pace from your usual oatmeal too!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thrifty Acres: A Blast From The Past!

Hello! A blast of cold air has settled into our region, but I have my own blast, as in from the past - the September 1975 issue of Woman's Day, that is! 

Although there's a number of interesting articles, like the one that addresses how to best educate children (an enduring topic to this day), it's more fun to focus on the ads and the shorter features. And with bitter cold, slippery roads and loads of holiday chores that still loom for probably most of us, fun is what's needed! So let's get started:

One of the more distinctive-looking cars of that time, the AMC Pacer. One of my high school friends drove one and loved it. 

Remember when anti-perspirants came in aerosol form? The solid stick form seemed odd when it first came out, but is so much easier to apply. 

A veritable sea of dark brown, courtesy of the Sears Colormates collection of towels, bath carpets, shower draperies and accessories. If you didn't care for dark brown, you could choose from 14 other colors. Imagine this look in purple, bubblegum pink or red, for instance - if you dare! 

Moving on:

Ah, yes, the good old days of phone service, with the timing of calls for when the rates were cheapest. I imagine this concept must seem pretty quaint to younger people today. 

Dark-hued solids must have been "in" that year, as these two colors were also among those featured in the Colormates line! Check out those wide-legged pants too - I remember the term "elephant bells" being used around this time. 

Loud plaid jackets were popular then, though upon looking at them now, it's hard to understand why. The man modeling the jacket was a school principal, but he looks more like a used car salesperson to me - as does his wife, who cut down the jacket to make it her own (she was actually a sewing expert and lecturer).

Bless her heart, the featured woman, Jo Ann York, fed her family on $16.00/week. (According to the US Inflation Calculator, that sum would be equivalent to around $69.50 in today's money). I recall inflation running rampant back then, so keeping the food budget so low must have taken some effort! She kept food costs down much the same way my folks did that year - simple meals and very little in the way of convenience foods. 

Since my folks avoided convenience foods, we didn't have these Hormel individual serving-size canned entrees. Judging from the selections, I figure it was just as well:

Sure, some of these may sound good, but I wondered how they tasted - Beef Goulash in a can? Shudder.

But here's a lunch item I recall:

Lunchboxes with matching thermoses! These are considered collectibles now. 

Cigarette ad. I was a high school freshman in 1975, and I remember that it was considered "cool" to smoke, even though the health hazards were well-known even then. I am glad I never even considered taking up this habit. 

I don't recall this pet food brand - it French's, a name I associate with mustard.  But I thought this was a cute concept - People-shaped crackers! I noted the occupations: mailmen, milkmen, policemen - and they probably figured dogcatchers were all men too. 

(Which reminds me of an older gent I used to know - when women began joining police and fire departments, he referred to them as "lady policemen" and "lady firemen". I don't recall if he ever switched to gender-neutral terms like "police officer" and "firefighter". No matter - he was a dear man anyway!)

I don't have a fireplace, so I can't try this out. I've not seen this project anywhere else, so thought it was interesting. 

These handcrafted desk accessories would still be useful to have on hand today, and the directions look fairly easy. But what interested me the most was that the projects were credited to one Annette Hollander. There's a paper arts store, Hollander's, in Ann Arbor, MI, run by Annette's son and daughter-in-law. I remember seeing items similar to these being sold at Hollander's back in the 1990's - in fact, I bought a couple of small desk accessories there. If I'd only had this issue of Woman's Day back then! I could have made my own. 

That's it for my blast from the past. I enjoyed this look back and I hope you did too!


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Things You Can Always Find At A Thrift Store #6: Many Magazines

Hello! It's no secret that a print media purchase isn't what it used to be. In the case of magazines, prices have gone up, yet content has gone down. But if you're like me and grew up on magazines, the allure of printed paper is still there. Luckily, thrift stores come to the rescue. 

I'll admit, there are a couple of caveats. I've mentioned previously that sometimes I'll buy a thrift store magazine, only to discover that the very article I'd wanted to read had been torn out before the issue had been donated. So I've learned to flip through the magazine before I buy it to make sure the recipe, craft project or whatever it was that I particularly wanted to read is still intact. 

Then, too, you may not find the most current issue at the thrift store - instead, you may find summer issues of, say, Martha Stewart Living in the dead of winter. 

But you never know, you may get lucky and find a current issue or two:

The Reminisce issue has the news stand price of $4.99 on its cover. The Midwest Living magazine does not, but I'd guess it sells for at least $3.00 at the store, where I'd been tempted to buy it since it's a holiday issue. So, by paying 25c per magazine, I saved a nice bit of money! 

If you've read this blog for awhile, you know I like to buy older magazines for nostalgia's sake. That's why I'll sometimes buy 1980's-era Country Living magazines. My late mother subscribed to that publication then, and I would read it while visiting her. Coming across these old magazines now (her copies had been discarded well before she died) brings a part of her back to me. 

Then there's the fun of buying a magazine that reminds me of when I was in grade school or high school:

This dates from September 1975. With cover headlines such as "Is Your Child Getting a Really GOOD EDUCATION?" and "Hilarious! The Diary of a MALE HOUSEWIFE", my curiousity was piqued. But inevitably, the ads therein were what really grabbed my attention, so I'll do another blog post about this issue. 

I've noticed that several magazine publications tend to show up over and over at thrift stores, like Taste Of Home, Woman's Day and Better Homes and Gardens. But occasionally there's the pleasant novelty of encountering a magazine unfamiliar to me. For instance, a few months ago I found a couple of recent issues of Experience Life magazine; its focus is healthy lifestyles.

And last week I bought this:

Had never heard of Folk magazine, but it has beautiful photography and the tagline "Real American Living" on its cover. And since the front cover also trumpets that it's "THE VINTAGE ISSUE", of course I had to buy it.

The front cover also shows the news stand price of $6.95, whereas I paid 25c for it. True, the issue dates from late summer 2012, but judging from the photos and articles I noticed when I looked through the magazine to see if I wanted to buy it, I'd say this is a very nice magazine.

All this goes to show that you never know what you'll come across when you go to a thrift store! Old, new, off-beat or commonplace, it's there for the finding - and the saving. 


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thrifty Acres: Christmas Books

Hello! When I'm at the thrift stores, looking for vintage Christmas decorations, I also check out the Christmas-themed books. Have picked up three recently - at 50c or less, they were hard to resist. 

All Through The House, 1993, published by Heritage House. This book is loaded with holiday recipes and crafts. Now, I need another book of this sort like I need another hole in my head, but see the paper sticking out at the top? That's a list I made of recipes and crafts that looked worth trying, so this was a good purchase. 

Better Homes and Gardens Christmas From The Heart, Volume 9, 2000. I think this series is typically sold through mail order. I know this because I've gotten offers from BH & G in the past, always promising that the latest volume in the series will make it My Best Christmas Ever. But I know that these books always seem to show up at garage sales and thrift stores, so I wait until then to pick them up.

Judging from the yellow sticker on the cover, someone named Deb tried to sell this book for 75c at a garage sale, but no one nibbled. Instead, I paid less than half that price yesterday, and now more recipes, crafts and decorating ideas await. 

The Guideposts Christmas Treasury, 1972. Yes, the book is older, and what's more, some of the articles date back to the 1940's. Yet other than what now seem like ridiculously low prices mentioned for gifts, most of the works have a timelessness about them that transcends the years.

I admit, I'm a sucker for the feel-good stories of selflessness, faith, and love, although one entire section (the treasury is divided by themed sections) deals with people suffering through losses like a devastating tornado and the death of a preemie. Christmas can be especially hard to manage while facing such challenges, but in this book, at least, the Christmas spirit prevails. 

I was fascinated by the story entitled "The Runaway Boy" by Chase Walker. It's a variation on the "tie a yellow ribbon 'round the ole oak tree", only in this story, it's a teen who'd run away from home and now hoping he'd be welcomed home by his father. If the father wanted his son back, he was to tie a red cloth to the elm tree on their property. The boy would see the tree as the train went past their house, and would get his answer on whether he was welcomed back or not. 

Well, you guessed it - when the boy saw the tree, it was covered with dozens of red cloths tied to its branches. 

From doing some Internet research, I learned that there's conflicting information on the "tie a yellow ribbon" story, with some suggesting that the practice of welcoming back a prisoner or other long-absent person in this way dates back to the Civil War. Others date the practice to a 1971 story that became widely circulated (I recall reading it in an old Reader's Digest). And of course, there's that Tony Orlando and Dawn hit (1973) which likely cemented this welcome-home custom forevermore. 

But nowhere did I see red cloths being used as the welcome-home symbol - except for in my Guideposts book.