Thursday, January 30, 2014

Get Carded: Happy Birthday Tom Izzo!

Hello! As an alumnus of Michigan State University, I am proud of its men's basketball coach, Tom Izzo. Through his determination and hard work, MSU has gained national prominence in college basketball. Yes, I know that the focus should be on academics, but I also know I'm far from alone in supporting my alma mater's sports teams. It's all the sweeter since most of my family are alumni and/or supporters of MSU's in-state rival, U-M. I've endured my share of barbs from them over the years, so it's nice to have MSU in the sports spotlight for a change.

But enough of that! Today is Mr. Izzo's birthday, so I made him a birthday card, in the school colors, of course. Here's how it turned out:

Materials used:

- white card stock
- vintage flashcard piece
- scrapbook paper scrap
- cupcake image stamped on vintage flashcard piece in green ink
- "happy birthday" stamped in black ink

I also wrote a brief note thanking him for being such a positive presence at MSU and wishing him the best throughout the rest of the basketball season. 

Now, I'm not one to send fan letters or birthday cards to people who are in the public eye, but I couldn't resist. You see, at some point last year, our daughter told me about a website called I already knew that I share my birthday, January 30th, with FDR(yay!), Dick Cheney(ugh), and a few others, but wanted to see who else had been born on this date.

And Tom Izzo is on that list! Sounds silly, I know, but I was pleased to learn that we have the same birthday. (he's older though). I did mention in my note to him that it was through the birthday website that I'd learned of his birthday. Wouldn't want him to think I was some creepy stalker. 

I'm sure he gets hundreds of pieces of mail every day, and I'm sure he has staff to open all that mail. I don't know if he'll even see my card, and I don't expect to hear back from his office. He's a busy man right now, with a Big Ten title and a NCAA tournament to take care of. 

It doesn't matter if I hear back or not - it was fun to make his birthday card anyway. Happy Birthday Coach Izzo - here's to many more, and good luck the rest of the season!

If you'd like to see with whom you share a birthday, check HERE. You never know - there could be someone on the list for your birthday that you'd like to send a card to.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Eats: Royal Hot Chocolate

Hello! The weather around here has been a royal pain in the you-know-what: temps way below normal, bitterly cold windchills and plenty of snow to shovel! 

But speaking of royal, Royal Hot Chocolate fits the bill after yet another heavy-duty snow shoveling session. Did you know that chocolate milk is supposed to be a good post-workout beverage? That's what our daughter was told when she ran cross country in high school - and of course, hot chocolate is really just chocolate milk served hot. So what could be better after one's driveway and sidewalks are finally cleared?

Here's the recipe - I'll list the directions first, which call for stovetop cooking, then the microwave directions I added. 

Royal Hot Chocolate (adapted from Marcia Adams' Heirloom Recipes)

2 - 1 ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla
speck of salt

In top of double boiler over hot, not boiling water, melt the chocolate. Whisk in the condensed milk. Gradually add the boiling water, stirring until well blended, then add vanilla and salt. Drink immediately. Makes 4-6 servings.

Microwave directions: melt chocolate (use bowl large enough to blend in condensed milk.) When melted, whisk in condensed milk, then add this mixture to the 4 cups boiling water, stirring well. Add vanilla and salt and stir. 

This recipe makes a rich, chocolate-y drink. Although the recipe says to drink it immediately, I stored the leftover amount in a jar in the refrigerator. I shook the jar well before reheating a serving in the microwave. Still tasted great a day or two later. 


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Get Carded: A Sears Roebuck Birthday Card

Hello! My husband's birthday was yesterday, so earlier in the week I was trying to decide what theme I should use for this year's birthday card. For the past few years I'd used facsimiles of vintage animal images, so that was my starting point. 

I browsed through 1800 Woodcuts By Thomas Bewick And His School, a Dover publication with facsimiles of images that had originally been made in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the "Animals" section I encountered an image entitled "The Roe-Buck" and thus my theme was decided. My husband was from a Sears(once called Sears Roebuck) family - his dad and other relatives worked in various capacities for that company, and one of his dad's employees became a close family friend.

And alas, because of the family connection, my husband had recently  read several online articles that reported on the continuing decline of this once-thriving business. It's not been pretty reading by any means.

Besides making a copy of the "roebuck" image, I had a 1947 Sears catalog that I made a photocopy from as well (don't recall where the catalog had come from). And here's how the birthday card turned out:

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • "Sears" photocopied from 1947 Sears catalog
  • "The Roe-Buck" image photocopied from aforementioned Dover book
  • "and" and "happy" stamped onto vintage flashcard pieces
  • "say" and "day" cut from vintage children's dictionaries 
  • "birth" and exclamation point stamped directly onto card
  • "JAN 25 2014" stamped onto vintage flashcard piece
My husband never knows what sort of birthday card I'm going to make him each year - only that it's going to be goofy. He certainly wasn't expecting a Sears Roebuck card theme, but he liked it.


Friday, January 24, 2014

The Birthday Banner Story

Hello! My husband's birthday is tomorrow, but I kicked off the festivities a few days early by putting out some birthday decorations - the various cards our daughter and I have made him, (plus those given by others) a magazine that came out around the time of his birth, and a few other things. And, as always, I hung  up this:

This thin plastic birthday greeting actually came as a long banner of three "happy birthdays". The total length was nine feet long and although very festive, was a bit unwieldy to hang up. I eventually cut the three sections apart and now display them in different parts of the house. 

The banner is getting a little beat up, which is understandable since I've had it since the mid 1980's. My party-loving older sister bought the banner for one of my birthdays back then; I think it had been sold by the length at a stationery/party supply store. 

I was still living in Michigan at that time, then moved out of state, first to Wisconsin, then to Pennsylvania, then to Indiana before moving back to Michigan in 2002. With each move, the banner came along and was a reminder of home when I was no longer able to be there for my birthday. 

And now, today, this banner is a reminder of the sister who bought it for me almost 30 years ago. She died, too soon, on this date in 1998. I am sure she'd be pleased that I've kept this bit of birthday decor all this time, and I sure am pleased that I've done so.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Made It: DIY Stovetop Potpourri

Hello! It certainly is soup weather, so earlier today I started making one for dinner. Cabbage was one of the soup pot additions, and after awhile the house smelled of it - alas, not exactly a pleasant smell.  
My husband happens to be very sensitive to artificial scents, so air fresheners and scented candles are out. Instead, I turned to a quick DIY stovetop potpourri I'd seen written up a couple weeks ago on the Gardenista website. To make it, I purchased one grapefruit and a package of fresh rosemary from the produce section of our local Meijer. Fresh herbs are a luxury this time of year, but at least the grapefruit was from the reduced-price produce rack. 

Prep couldn't have been simpler: I filled a small saucepan with water (I used 2 1/2 cups, but this doesn't have to be measured), added two sprigs of fresh rosemary and some grapefruit peel. The author of the Gardenista article had also used part of a vanilla pod, but I didn't have any, so I omitted it. 

Here's my stovetop potpourri, as it simmers away:

Doesn't look like much, I know, but it's doing the trick - I now smell rosemary and grapefruit instead of cabbage. And I had the bonus of using the rest of the grapefruit for a smoothie. You can't do that with a scented candle!

If you'd like to read the Gardenista article on this potpourri, go HERE.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Made It: Popcorn Stars

Hello! Last month I picked up Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Ideas 1997 at the thrift store. Since it was on sale for half off, it cost me a whopping 13 cents. 

In spite of being over a decade old, the magazine still had plenty of good ideas in it, including a spread entitled "Enchanted Winter" - many nice projects for outdoor decor. And it was in this section that I spotted what looked like an easy craft: Popcorn Stars. 

Here is the description and directions:

Provide for feathered and furry friends with Popcorn Stars. Using needle-nose pliers, twist two 12-inch strands and one 16-inch strand of aluminum wire together at their centers to form a star shape. Slide popcorn onto each spoke, leaving space on end of long wire. Loop ends of spokes so popcorn doesn't fall off; hang on tree using a looped end of the long wire.

Sounds easy, right? And I had everything on hand, including some popcorn I wanted to get rid of. A neighbor had given me various grocery items before she moved out of the country, including a repurposed jar that held popcorn kernels. Don't know what brand it was, but I didn't care for it after popping it. The texture and taste reminded me of styrofoam. Yes, beggars can't be choosers, but the next time I was at the store, I bought a fresh bag of popcorn kernels. 

But figuring that "feathered and furry friends" wouldn't be as fussy, I popped up some of that mystery-brand popcorn and set out to make a couple of popcorn stars. 

I know, I should have photographed the wire shape on something white, but there is my wire star, ready for stringing. The text didn't say what gauge of wire to use, but I used 18. 

I've never done the popcorn/cranberry Christmas tree garland thing, so I don't know how readily popcorn breaks when working on that project. I found that my popcorn broke more than I liked, so it was not exactly a quick project. But eventually I got the wire spokes threaded with popcorn:

I hung my popcorn star from the burning bush in our back yard. I was hoping that the relatively light weight of the branches would deter the squirrels. After all, I already feed them on the deck with handfuls of Katyee's Squirrel and Critter food, so I wanted this star to be for the birds. But just to be fair, I made another popcorn star and hung it up on the deck railing to give the squirrels a taste of popcorn too. 

I don't know what happened to the birds - they never showed up. (they do come around to eat the Squirrel and Critter food sometimes, so I know they're around) But of course the squirrels did. Within five minutes, both popcorn stars were bare. It was amusing to see the one squirrel dangling upside from a branch of the burning bush to get to his snack. So much for me thinking the branches would be too lightweight for him! 

Oh well, at least I tried. Still, the concept is a good one, and maybe a different variety of popcorn would thread better. Or perhaps other nibblers for "feathered and furry friends" could be used instead. I'll have to investigate this to see what to use.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thrifty Acres: Vintage Tea Loaf Pan

Hello! My curiosity was piqued earlier this year at a thrift store when I spotted an old baking pan. It was clearly a loaf pan, but was longer and narrower than my 9x5 pan. It wasn't in the best of shapes, but was only 50c, so I bought it. 

While looking at the online version of the King Arthur Flour catalog recently, I saw this write-up of their tea loaf pan:

Shave about 25% off the time needed to bake a typical 1-hour quick bread with this longer, slimmer pan.
  • Playing card-sized slices are much more diet-friendly than traditional full-sized, perfect for a teatime snack.
  • 12" x 4" x 2½" tea loaf pan holds the equivalent of a 9" x 5" loaf pan.
Well, there you have it - my pan has identical dimensions, so it's meant for tea breads. Here's what mine looks like:

Notice the vertical "stripes". They are slightly ribbed, so they show up faintly on the baked loaf; built-in slicing lines, I assume. Thus, the lady of the house would be assured of having properly delicate slices of bread for her tea sandwiches. 

And of course, I know about the lines showing up on a baked loaf because I made the following in my pan:

Sour Cream Raisin Bread 

1 1/2 cups sour cream (reduced fat is okay)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups flour (I used 1 cup white wheat and 1/2 cup white)
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

  • Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x5 pan (or tea loaf pan). 
  • In large bowl, stir together sour cream and baking soda. Set aside for five minutes. 
  • To the sour cream mixture, whisk in the melted butter, sugar, eggs and raisins. Set aside. 
  • In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, one teaspoon of the cinnamon and salt. Add to the sour cream mixture and stir just until blended. Spread half of the batter into pan.
  • Stir together the remaining two teaspoons cinnamon, brown sugar, maple syrup and walnuts. Sprinkle this mixture over the batter in the pan. Cover with remaining batter.
  • Bake for 65-75 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. My tea loaf-sized bread needed only 55 minutes.
  • Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
(Recipe adapted from Innkeepers' Best Quick Breads, Laura Zahn, author.)
Ready for tea:
If you're thinking the recipe sounds rather rich, you're right. It's also quite sweet,even though I used a bit less sugar in the batter. Could also reduce sugar by omitting the filling.

The butter and sour cream made it quite moist as well. Consequently, it sunk a little upon cooling, as you can see above. Nevertheless, it's a nice snack to have with tea, which is what I did after taking the photo!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Eats: 4-2-1 Soup

Hello! In the current issue of Oprah magazine, the headline "Eat Two Pounds Of Vegetables A Day" dominates page 119. However, in the accompanying text, Joel Fuhrman, MD - author of several books on healthy eating - says: "...just use this figure as a reminder to eat a hefty amount of veggies every day." (the vegetables should be eaten as half raw, half cooked)

A good reminder indeed, especially after the typical holiday season feasting of fruitcake, Christmas cookies and other goodies! And since cold, snowy weather has returned here, soups seem a good way to up the veggie total. 

Came across the intriguingly-named 4-2-1 Vegetable Soup earlier this morning on the Gardenista website, and decided to whip it up for lunch. The recipe title refers to 4 cups vegetables, 2 cups broth and 1 cup dairy (milk, cream, yogurt, sour cream). Prep/cooking directions are very easy. 

The author stressed root vegetables - but then went on to show soups made with cauliflower or canned tomatoes. Those obviously aren't root vegetables, so I decided it'd be okay to use some already-cooked winter squash I had in the refrigerator. This made the prep time even faster!

Even though my winter squash was already cooked, I decided to simmer it in the broth anyway; this step only took 10 minutes. I used a supermarket product, Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base, to make the two cups of broth. 

After cooking, the squash/broth base was pureed in the blender, then poured back into the saucepan. I added the one cup dairy - in this case, yogurt. Seasonings are left up to the cook; it depends on your tastes, what vegetable was used, and of course what you happen to have on hand. I used some fresh-ground black pepper, a bit of cayenne pepper, and several dashes of cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice. I just kept tasting the soup as it was heating until it tasted right. (didn't need to add salt since there was plenty of it in the broth base)

The finished product:

You can't tell from the photo, but this is a two-cup serving, so it helped with that two-pounds-of-vegetables-a-day advice.

This recipe was quick and easy to prepare and since the author says it freezes well, it would be fun to try out different vegetables and then freeze the resulting soups in individual portions. Broccoli or potato soups come to mind. 

Note: I've seen soup recipes that use soy or nut milks, so if you're avoiding dairy products, I'd assume they'd work in this recipe. As stated above, though, I did use a dairy product. 

If you want to try this recipe, go HERE.

Hmmm...I still have some winter squash left in the refrigerator. Do you think Dr. Fuhrman would count a serving of winter squash pie as a vegetable?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thrifty Acres: Michigan History No Longer A Mystery

Hello! Back when I was in 4th grade, we studied the history of my native state, Michigan. The 1963 edition of Exploring Michigan, authored by Delphine Newcomb, was the textbook we used. About 14 years later I found a copy of it in a secondhand store near Lansing, MI:

Since the price was a measly two bucks, I purchased it for nostalgia's sake. Even back in 4th grade, we kids thought the book's narrative rather contrived, so I bought it in part to see if I still thought so. 

And of course, I did. Who wouldn't, upon reading of the main characters, Billy and Mary Smith, as they, their family and friends talk about all things Michigan. Somehow, Billy and Mary's parents, and their grandfather, knew every facet of Michigan history, commerce and tourism hot spots. And they weren't the only ones - the Smith kids' teacher, Mrs. Wallace, knew plenty about Michigan as well. As we studied from the textbook throughout the year, I wondered why Billy and Mary's parents and grandfather knew so much about Native American legends and my relatives didn't.

I also recall us 4th graders laughing over this illustration in the book:

As the caption below the picture explained: "Nicolet thought he might be in China. So he put on his Chinese robe. When he held up his guns and fired them, the frightened Indians ran away. They thought Nicolet was holding thunder in his hands."

A close-up of the illustrator's depiction of Nicolet's attire:

I think we mostly laughed over Nicolet's mistaken notion that he was in China. But this was back in 1634 and of course there was very little knowledge then about our neck of the woods. In reality, Nicolet had ended up near present day Green Bay, Wisconsin. Though not in Michigan, of course, this event was mentioned in a chapter that discussed French explorers, the first Europeans to come to our state. 

After 4th grade my knowledge of Michigan history stayed pretty stagnant, though I occasionally read a book or magazine that talked about a particular city or region in the state. But then a few years ago I spotted this in a thrift store and bought it:

This is the 1988 edition of Michigan A History Of The Wolverine State, first written by Willis F. Dunbar and revised by George S. May. Yes, 1988 is already a number of years ago, but from what I saw on, the most recent edition came out in 1995. Undoubtedly some of the once-accepted facts of history have changed due to new research done since my edition (or the later one) came out. And of course, history keeps occurring, so this book would hardly have the final word on Michigan. But I figured I'd at least get a good overall sense on what had happened, and why. 

At 729 pages, this book is huge, but thus far I've found it very entertaining. For instance, there's this sentence that talks about an incident during the War of 1812: "When the expedition finally got around to its major objective of taking Fort Mackinac, there seems to have been no thought given as to how to go about it, in spite of the fact that former residents of the island and soldiers who had served at the fort were aboard." 

Upon reading this, I immediately thought of those long-ago military men and how their conversation might have gone: 

"Oh look, there's the island up ahead! Where should we land?" "I dunno... what do you think?" "That bay over there?" "Think they can see us already?" "How much ammo we got?" And so on.

(For those not in the know, the book's sentence refers to the Americans wanting to kick the British out of Fort Mackinac, which is on Mackinac Island. Not surprisingly, this particular effort was a failure. The British eventually tired of war, however, and gave Mackinac Island back to the US in 1815. The fort has been restored and makes for a nice tour). 

I had bought this book thinking it'd make for good wintertime reading, though a few winters went by before I finally picked it up earlier this week. But I was right: it's interesting enough that it doesn't seem like a chore to read it, and I'll learn even more about Michigan history than Billy and Mary Smith did!



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Winters Of My Discontent

Hello! As my region begins to recover from the dreaded polar vortex of the past few days, I reflected back on winters I have known and not always loved. 

Many of us still remember the blizzard of 1978! My hometown in southeastern Michigan got a little over two feet of snow, I think. I can still recall seeing the huge flakes of snow that came down fast and furious! We lived in town, so it wasn't so bad for us. Our street was high priority for snow plowing because of the churches and post office on it. My parents could walk to their jobs. (yes, my hometown was small). I don't recall food being a problem, so either my parents had stocked up before the storm hit(they had an extra freezer in the basement)or else went out and got groceries when things calmed down a bit.

I can still remember the fun of seeing snowmobiles whizzing up and down the main street, and also the snowmobiles parked in front of church where cars would normally be. We lived just a couple of blocks away from church, so we walked to services as usual. 

Schools were closed for close to two weeks, I seem to recall. Living in town, where roads were passable, it seemed strange to us to not go to school; we had a scant 1 1/2 mile bus ride. But the majority of my classmates had a longer trip than that (up to ten miles or so in some cases)and the roads out in the country kept drifting shut. 

The school closure came right around the time when end-of-semester exams were to be taken, but since we'd missed so much school, the administrators decided to cancel these tests. That made us students very happy! 

Yes, it was an epic storm, but it wasn't the biggest snowstorm I'd ever seen. That honor is reserved for the Nor'easter in January 1996 in the Philadelphia area; we got 31" of snow at once. But unlike the Upper Midwest, a warm front that came through shortly thereafter was strong enough to melt all that snow. Less than a week later, it was gone!

The coldest temperatures I've ever experienced was when I was living in Stevens Point, WI. One winter in the late 80's had a cold snap in which it never got warmer than 10 below for a week! Wind chills were down to 40-60 below.

Of course, that was the week our old house group's progressive party was scheduled. All the host houses were within walking distance of each other, but as cold as it was, we went from car to house, car to house, etc. It was still a fun time. 

So how did this week's polar vortex-influenced weather stack up? Well, let's see - according to the local paper, we've gotten 17" snow so far this month, and I'm guessing that the vast majority of it has come within the past few days. 

But living so close to the lake, our wind chills weren't as bad as in other areas; we might have gotten as low as 30 or 35 below at best. Still plenty cold, of course. Due to that windchill, and all the snow, local schools were closed Monday and yesterday. (some schools in the region remain closed today). Even several colleges closed; both my husband (faculty) and our daughter (student) had two snow days. 

The polar vortex is now retreating back to the Arctic, where I hope it stays! Can't help but wonder how much snow and cold we'll get the rest of this winter; seems to be how things are going this year. (thus far we've gotten almost five feet of snow for the season). 

In the meantime, here's a few pictures I took in our backyard earlier today:

Looks pretty, doesn't it? Just the same, I think I'd like all this snow better if I hadn't had to shovel the driveway and sidewalk leading up to our front porch (the city plows the main sidewalk, bless them!).

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Eats: Milwaukee Breakfast Omelet In A Mug

Hello! It's been very cold and very snowy here the past few days, and with a another snow shoveling session ahead of me today, a hot, reasonably hearty breakfast was in order. I had oatmeal yesterday, so I wanted something different this morning.

I decided to combine two egg-based microwave recipes, which is why this blog post has a lengthy title. Made separately, the two recipes are entitled Milwaukee Breakfast (clipped from a community cookbook) and - not surprisingly - Omelet In A Mug (credited to a Susan Adair in a past issue of Taste Of Home magazine). First I'll write up the two recipes, then explain how I combined/adapted them to suit my taste.

Milwaukee Breakfast

1 small potato
2 eggs
1 small tomato, diced
1 small piece green pepper, diced
1 small piece onion, diced
2 mushrooms, diced
1-2 pats butter

Cook potato in microwave on high until tender. Peel and dice potato into 1/4" pieces. Beat eggs until smooth. Combine all remaining ingredients and add to beaten eggs. Cook on high one minute, stir, cook for one minute more, stir. If eggs are a little wet, let sit for about 10 seconds and then stir again. 

Omelet In A Mug

2 eggs, beaten
2-3 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese
2 Tablespoons diced cooked ham
1 Tablespoon diced green pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

In a microwave-safe mug coated with nonstick cooking spray, combine all ingredients. Microwave, uncovered, on high one minute; stir. Cook 1 to 1 1/2 minutes longer, or until eggs are completely set. Yield: one serving.

As you can see, the basic procedure - an egg mixture cooked in the microwave - is similar in both recipes. The main differences are that the Milwaukee Breakfast (have no idea why it's called that) has a potato, mushrooms, onion and butter, while the Omelet In a Mug  uses ham and cheese for its add-ins. And while the first recipe doesn't specifically say what cooking vessel should be used (though obviously one that's microwave-safe), the second recipe, of course, makes this step clear. 

While combining the two recipes, I kept the potato and the tomato from MB and the cheese from OIAM. Although both recipes call for green pepper, I don't like it cooked, so I omitted it. Ditto the mushrooms. The ham would have been a nice touch, but I wanted to see if the dish would be hearty enough without it. 

Even with the potato cooking and vegetable dicing steps, this is a quick recipe. Here's how it turned out:

The mug I used has a two-cup capacity, but as you can see, I could have gotten by with a smaller mug. (the two recipes I combined are next to my mug).

The cooked egg mixture doesn't look like much, but it was pretty tasty and made for a nice change of pace. 

And besides being easy to prepare, it's also easy to customize. Use a different cheese or omit it. Use different vegetables. Toss in some cooked breakfast sausage instead of ham. Or do as I did and leave the meat out. 

So, my wish to have something different for breakfast was accomplished. For tomorrow's "something different" - how about no snow to shovel for a change? Here's hoping!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Thrifty Acres: Better Late Than Never

Hello! A couple of thrift stores in my area sell Christmas items year round, so a few days ago I picked up this:

This Santa is close to 2' tall and appears to be handcrafted. The materials used are of good quality - thick felts, a sturdy striped fabric, dark brown fringed trim and a miniature basket. 

Santa was well made too, as evidenced below:

His eyes were nicely painted and his fake fur beard was perfectly shaped. 

I appreciated the high quality of the crafting, and of course appreciated the low price as well - under $4.00. It never ceases to amaze me that thrift stores will often stick a price of one dollar on a dollar store item, yet charge rather low prices for well-made handcrafted decor such as my Santa. 

My newest St. Nick fit right in with one of his older counterparts (an antique store find):

I could only enjoy this latest addition for a short while, for it was time to pack away the Christmas decorations until December rolls around again. But I'm glad I found him - better late than never!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Christmas Amaryllis

Hello! I have a tradition, going back several years now, of buying an amaryllis bulb for the holiday season. For the second year in a row, I've eschewed the mass market bulbs and instead have gone to Jonker's, a local nursery. 

The difference in size was obvious when I got out the pot that had come with a amaryllis bulb kit(Smith and Hawken brand)purchased at Target a few years back. There was no room for any potting soil once the Jonker's bulb was placed in the pot! I had to use a 10" diameter pot - more than twice the size of the pot that had come with the Target purchase. To be fair, the Smith and Hawken bulb kit was cheaper than the Jonker's bulb, which didn't come with a pot, but sometimes it's fun to get a "luxury" item. 

There were several amaryllis bulb choices at Jonker's, and I selected the 'Amigo' variety. Right on schedule, it began blooming on Christmas Eve night, which made for a nice centerpiece on our dining room table. 

Still going strong today:

It stands an impressive two and one-half feet high. 

A couple of close-ups of the flowers - each is about 6 1/2" in diameter! 

So overall, quite the show and worth the extra money I paid over buying a bulb at a big box store.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Job Jar: Month #12 And A Summary

Hello! Happy New Year! It was out with the old last night, with our usual snack of homemade sushi while we watched the televised ball drop at Times Square. 

And of course, it was the last day of December yesterday, so it's time to give the monthly job jar report. 

I gave something to a friend, made and distributed guerilla art, prayed for someone's health, and researched an interesting new volunteer opportunity. 

I read a shelter book, relaxed by doing some aromatherapy, and read an uplifting book. 

I used a craft book as a starting point for designing a Christmas card, practiced drawing and did some sewing. 

I cleaned and decluttered several sections of basement shelving, did several other household cleaning projects, did some filing, decluttered some art paper and decluttered a closet.

Since 2013 is now over, I can sum up how the project was either a help or hindrance throughout the course of the year. 

The hindrance part: being an avid crafter - and also an avid gatherer of craft supplies - I had included a series of job jar tasks that called for making specific holiday crafts no matter what time of year it was. I'd thought that doing out-of-season craft projects would be a novel way of sparking creativity. 

The reality was that after shoveling a mountain of snow on a February day, the last thing I really felt like doing was a Halloween craft (or another craft indicative of a future holiday). 

The help: although the dirtiest chores, like cleaning basement shelving, weren't ones that I greeted with cheers, it was nice to get such tasks done. And the job jar system was a good way to keep up with repetitive jobs like filing papers and decluttering. 

I enjoyed the tasks that required me to focus on how I could help others, and of course also enjoyed the tasks that helped me a bit, like reading a passage from an uplifting book or doing some aromatherapy. 

I admit, there were days I didn't spend much time on the task I'd drawn for the day. For instance, I had drawn "sew something" on Christmas Eve. After making some last-minute gifts and doing some holiday baking, I wasn't about to sit down at the sewing machine. Instead, I sewed a button back on a shirt. Well, it was a form of sewing! 

However, a 30-second task like that was balanced by much more laborious tasks, like giving the kitchen stove a much-needed cleaning. It looked almost like new by the time I was done, but it took a fair amount of elbow grease and time. 

It was interesting to note that often a synchronicity of sorts occurred - like the two times I pulled a tag that instructed me to make a treat for our daughter. Both times, we were set to visit her at college a day or two after I'd pulled this tag. I would have happily made her some treats no matter what, but I was able to save the shipping costs by being able to deliver the goodies in person. 

And there were often times I'd realize that I needed to tackle a certain chore the next day - and would then randomly pull the tag for that very chore the next morning. Cool!

However, there were times that I'd pull a tag, complete its task, only to pull it again a couple of days later. If that task didn't need to be done again that soon, I'd just pull another tag. 

Upon looking over my master list of all the job jar tags I'd made, it looked like I'd done all but one or two tags at least once throughout the year. One of the unpulled tags was for a charity project that would have used up some surplus fabric(an easy-sew quilt for a particular organization), so I'd been looking forward to that. But it was not to be. 

Will I do the job jar again this year? Since it basically worked well for me last year, the answer is yes, but I won't report on my progress every month.