Friday, November 27, 2009

Frugal Friday: Advent My Way

Ahhhh. Thanksgiving is over and the holiday season has officially begun. I'm spending the day not shopping (okay - I did hit a few thrift stores but that doesn't count). Instead today has been set aside for creating.

This year my daughter requested an advent calendar and that's just what we're making. We are converting a thrifted pair of holiday pajamas into little stockings and bags. These will be numbered and hung on our Charlie Brown tree. We'll also be using some holiday boxes saved from years past.

Only here's the thing. My children don't need anything. Seriously. I refuse to bring more junk into this house. In fact I've recently been purging -- eliminating all the items my children won't clean up. There are literally bags and bags full of toys piled in the garage.

My goal for each day of advent is to go through these bags. Each child will receive a daily gift from this stock (probably things they've forgotten they own). The rest of the "junk" will be given to a good cause. If they're very well behaved my children might also receive a tasty treat or something homemade.

In this way we will have a fantastic, frugal and uncluttered holiday.

For another great advent idea check out Maya's toilet paper roll tutorial.


Thursday, November 26, 2009


I am thankful for music. For images, art and laughter. I am thankful for sharing and those who share with me. I am thankful for open hearts. For hope. For love and family. For those who know the real me and accept me as I am. I am thankful for “all creatures great and small”; cats, dogs, chickens and fish. I am thankful for apples and oranges and their respective differences. I am thankful for friendship - both virtual and brick and mortar. I am thankful for all life’s necessities; food, shelter, clothing. I am thankful for daily hugs and that spot of light that streams through the back door in late afternoon. In short - I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 23, 2009

What I'm a making Monday ...

  • Booties for a baby (no not mine!) Find the tutorial here. Thanks to Soulemama for the inspiration.
  • Cubes for my niece. Who knew cubes were so easy? These cubes were born from curtains, an old sweater, a thrifted table cloth and thrifted corduroy. The smallest one has a jingle bell that, well, jingles.
  • A skull cap. This was intended for my son. Only it is fair isle. And me, I should know, what ever I knit in fair isle ends up smaller than planned. And so it seems this one was knit for a for a toddler. Fortunately I know a toddler with a punk rock father. All is well. Tutorial here.
  • Another hat. Again smaller than intended though not knit by me. This one was sewn from a sweater. My niece's head ought to be nice and warm this winter.


And on a completely different note ... every year I put together a holiday DVD. Essentially it is a slide show with accompanying music. This is the time of year I begin to contemplate my musical selection.

On my list of potentials are:

"I don't know" by Lisa Hannigan


"New Soul" by Yael Naim

Any suggestions? I'm always on the lookout for new music and would LOVE to hear your ideas!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Adventures with Mr. Grinling (aka The Pothead)

Photo courtesy of BigJohnUK

As I’ve mentioned before my girls go to a Scottish Storyline School. Last night was Little’s culmination. This year the kindergarten class has been reading a book about Mr. Grinling, a Scottish lighthouse keeper.

Mr. Grinling lives in a cottage high up on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. His lighthouse resides on the rocks below. At lunchtime Mrs. Grinling makes a huge lunch for her husband and sends it down to the lighthouse in a basket on a cable. Only there's a problem. The seagulls have discovered the basket. They steal Mr. Grinling’s lunch before it arrives.

The kindergarteners have been writing letters back and forth to Mr. Grinling in an attempt to help him solve the problem with the seagulls. They came up with all kinds of ideas from covering the basket in wire to sending a cat in the basket with the lunch. None of these attempts deterred the gulls.

As it turns out Mrs. Grinling discovered the seagull solution. For two days straight she packed plain mustard sandwiches. The birds rapidly became bored with this meal and moved on to greener picnic baskets.

Mr. Grinling was soooo grateful for the kindergartner’s help that he flew in all the way from Scotland to thank the kids. The kids got to meet him at last night's culmination.

All day yesterday Little was itching with excitement. She was going to meet a real Scottish lighthouse keeper! She put on her nicest dress. We braided her hair and tied it with bows. She. Was. Ready.

On our drive to the school Little was jabbering away about Mr. Grinling (if I didn’t know better I’d say she had a little crush). I was only half-listening until middle daughter butt in to the conversation:

“I don’t get why you are so anxious to meet that guy. Don’t you know he’s a total pothead?!!”


"He smokes a pipe." she continued, "He has a pipe in all the pictures. He’s a pothead!"

My mind was reeling. My nine-year-old daughter thought her sister was learning about a doobie smoking lunch mongering lighthouse keeper.

Yes, yes. This is what storyline is all about. Potheads. And lunch.

"No sissy!" I exclaimed, "Mr. Grinling is not a pothead! The pipe contains tobacco which is completely legal. Not healthy but legal."

Okay - so you also have to question whether a Scholastic Book should contain a tobacco smoker but, hey, at least it's not pot. At any rate I don't anticipate my girls taking up the pipe anytime soon; pipe smoking lighthouse keeper or not.

"Well then," Sissy asked, "how do people smoke pot?"

"Oh, I don’t know," I replied with a slow drawl while deciding how much information to reveal.

Should I act totally uninformed or should I sound like a marijuana expert? A marijuanaologist.

I settled for something in the middle.

"People typically smoke marijuana out of bongs or hand-rolled cigarettes." I stated informatively.

I managed to leave out that people smoke pot out of just about anything including pop cans and, yes, pipes.

"What?!!" Sissy exclaimed, "People smoke pot out of BOMBS?!!"

Briefly I considered leaving the conversation at that. Clearly smoking out of bombs is a dangerous endeavor. Perhaps the kids would indeed Just Say No if explosive devices were involved. But I simply couldn't leave it be.

"No Sissy, bongs. B-O-N-G-S; a device for smoking pot."

Spectacular - we've moved on to the proper spelling of drug paraphernalia. You are nothing if not a good mother.

At this point my thirteen-year-old son was laughing so hard I thought he might actually pee his pants.

"What is so funny?!!" I demanded.

"Her," he said pointing at Sissy. "Dude, everybody knows people don't smoke pot out of pipes!"

"And what I'd like know Mister," I questioned, "is how you've obtained this information?"

"Well, duh," he said, "they teach you that in health."

Now I'm not sure which disturbs me more - the fact that Sissy thought Little was studying a pot smoking lunch mongering lighthouse keeper or that in middle school the kids, apparently, are being taught the fine art of how to smoke weed.

Clearly life with kids is nothing if not interesting. Alarming and agonizing but interesting. I just hope we survive the next 15 plus years.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Make It Monday: Homemade Memory Game

This weekend I spent a little time working on holiday gifts -- specifically a homemade memory game for Little. I was inspired by this post over at Or So She Says. The basic process involves scanning pages from vintage children's books, shrinking them and Mod Podging them onto wooden blocks. There was only one problem (well actually two problems). First, I do not own a scanner. And second, all I own is an ink jet printer (the concern being smearing of ink).

After mulling it about I had an epiphany. What is a camera if not a scanner of life? First problem solved -- I could simply photograph the illustrations. And what book did I choose? A copy of Hans Christian Anderson tales from my childhood, illustrated by Paul Durand. The stories include: The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep, The Little Match Girl, The Princess and the Pea, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Tin Soldier, Thumbelina and The Emperor's New Clothes.

The photographs were sized in photoshop to fit on 2 inch wood blocks. The blocks were purchased here. I also downloaded a fabric sample photo (as per the tutorial) and used that to create the background textures. Both files were saved and uploaded to Flickr. Click here to access the background textures and here to access the illustrations. You are welcome to download these files and use them for yourself. They print on a single sheet and will need to be cut to size.

To get around the bleeding ink jet the photos were sprayed with a clear top coat paint. Actually I Mod Podged the photos first (gluing only the backs) then sprayed the top. Two coats of spray were necessary as the first coat was somewhat cloudy.

Finally I sewed a quick drawstring bag and added an i-cord cord made from leftover yarn. And there you have it. Another homemade gift complete. I must admit I'm rather smitten with this project. Now I have something besides I Spy bags to make for children's gifts.

Happy Monday (a touch early I know)!


Friday, November 13, 2009

Frugal Friday Tutorial: Quick and Easy Drawstring Bag

My daughter's school has town every two weeks. During town the kids get to spend "town dollars" on homemade wares. These monies are earned throughout the year by participating in various classroom jobs and by running town businesses. I love town because it teaches responsibility, financial management and mathematics. It also encourages creativity and free-thinking.

Last week my daughter and I were trying to figure out what she should make for town. Looking for ideas we began pouring through my fabric stash. Most of my fabrics are thrifted material purchased on a whim; i.e. sheets, curtains, remnants, etc.

We pulled out a canvas shower curtain and inspiration hit -- drawstring bags! Now keep in mind -- this is the outer fancy shower curtain that does not get wet. We are not using the ucky gucky interior curtain (I do prefer my sewing projects to be mold free).

The bags were super easy to make and a huge hit. Now my daughter wants one of her own to carry her knitting in. So I whipped up another quick bag and decided to make a tutorial. This project only takes about 15 minutes and is perfect for beginning sewers. The possibilities are endless -- a knitting bag, a beach bag, a grocery bag, an overnight bag. It could even be the wrapping for a holiday gift (assuming your giftee isn't likely to peek).

In my neck of the woods a thrifted curtain costs around $6.00. A single curtain will make a minimum of two bags using this method with plenty of fabric left over for other projects.

How to make a quick and easy drawstring bag from a shower curtain:

1. Find a shower curtain (or other curtain) with button holes at the top.

The top of the curtain will be the top of your bag.

2. Lay the fabric out flat and cut a rectangle to the dimensions you want. Be sure to have an even number of button holes at the top of the bag.

This particular bag was approximately 20 inches by 35 inches.

3. Carefully cut the side seam off your rectangle. Cut the seam as close to the folded edge as possible without cutting into the folded edge.

4. Cut a small piece of the seam (~ 2 inches) to use as a loop.

5. Fold the fabric in half with right sides together. Place the loop approximately 2 inches from the bottom of the bag. Pin in place.

6. Using a machine sew the side and bottom seams. Don't forget to backstitch at the beginning and end.

7. Trim seams with pinking shears to prevent fraying.

8. Turn inside out.

9. Weave a ribbon in and out of the button holes. Pull one side of the ribbon down and through the bottom loop. Knot the ribbon ends.

10. Enjoy!


Happy Frugal Friday!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Rocket Man

Well yesterday my laptop went kerplunk. It simply wouldn't boot up. And so today it's in the repair shop for diagnostics. I am hoping and praying for a quick and easy fix because, really, there are other things I'd rather spend my money on.

We are not computerless. We have the family unit upstairs. And yet I find myself naked; stripped to the bone. How did I become so dependent upon a piece of technology that didn't even exist twenty-years ago?

Nevertheless I am completely and irrevocably addicted. This machinery is my second brain (or my only brain depending upon who you ask). Oddly enough I was also without my laptop around this time last year. Hmmm - maybe there's a theme here. It's a message from the universe to get back to the basics as it were.

I do have things to keep myself busy ... books from the library, knitting, sewing and chanters to pipe on. Additionally my house always has laundry and dishes to be done. Should you find yourself bored I can most definitely put you to work (by the way my infinitely bored children never accept this offer to I won't take it personally should you do the same).

All of this to say that, until further notice, I will be somewhat scarce in this virtual world. In the meantime I leave you with the above photo of Rocket Man. He is my latest sewing project; a Christmas gift for my nephews (one down one to go). Forgive the juvenile paint job; I could not find a brush and had to make do with a q-tip (oh if only my stuff belonged to me and only me!).

Should you be interested in making a Rocket Man of your very own you can find the pattern here.

Here's hoping I'm back online shortly!


Friday, November 6, 2009

Frugal Friday - Minor musings on money, food and crafts

Well I must say I'm somewhat disappointed in myself. Last week I bought stew meat from Costco. $17.52 worth of stew meat. Typically I'll use a portion of the meat for a meal and then freeze the rest for later. Only I didn't do that. I forgot all about it and the meat went to waste. Not only is this bad financially but also for the environment and the cow. I feel terrible.

This also left me with nothing to make for dinner. So I trudged to the store this morning for ingredients. Now there is a small roast simmering away in the crock pot. The cost wasn't bad - $12.52 cents for the roast, a couple of carrots, a couple sticks of celery and a parsnip. I already had an onion, garlic, potatoes and a bay leaf at home. The roast is stewing in beer that my husband procured from work. I comfort myself with the knowledge that this dinner coupled with the cost of the wasted meat still costs less than dinner out. I'm not sure this information would comfort the cow.

Today, as a means of financial penance, I'm sewing for the holidays. First on the agenda is this adorable rocket ship. I found some great fabric from the thrift store and am anxious to get started. I'd also like to make a couple of these headbands from my fabric scraps.

Just like last year and, it seems all years prior, finances are tight (especially when we throw money out the window!!). And I'm in need of ideas. What budget friendly things do you have planned this holiday season? I'd love to know!


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chocolate Cherry Beer Bread

What a lucky girl am I! This morning I attended a "Hostess with the Mostess" party with a group of extremely talented ladies. The premise of the gathering was to exchange homemade gifts for giving. Honestly I was humbled to be part of this amazing group. And I made out like a bandit! My new stash includes a fused glass plate, a candle, jam, an ornament, a wall sconce, homemade caramels, a bird feeder, cloth gift bags and lavender facial mist. Oh and how can I forget the adorable knit pincushion and burlap for future crafting.

Oh and the food! I definitely need to get the recipe for that quiche dish! What a wonderful way to start the morning. All this for ten aprons. I definitely got the better end of that deal!

Along with the aprons I shared a recipe that I love to make this time of year -- Chocolate Cherry Beer Bread. The recipe is simple but takes some time (as most good bread does). And now I'd like to share the recipe with you.

For sweet breads the best beer to use is a stout or porter (I use Black Butte Porter but must give a disclaimer as this is the beer my brewer husband makes). This recipe is also easily modified to make a savory bread. Use a lighter beer, such as a pale ale, and then substitute something savory for the chocolate, cherries and nuts (think sundried tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese).

And now, without further adieu, here is the recipe:

Chocolate Cherry Beer Bread

4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 pkg active dry yeast
12 oz porter or stout beer
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate chopped
1/4 cup sweetened dried cherries (cranberries also work nicely)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 egg white
1 tsp water
2 tsbp pearl sugar

  1. Add beer, yeast and 2 cups flour to stand mixer bowl. Stir by hand until well mixed. Cover and place in refrigerator overnight.
  2. Remove mixture from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for one hour.
  3. Place bowl in stand mixer and attach dough hook.
  4. Add salt and remaining flour. Mix at low speed until dry ingredients are incorporated. Increase speed to medium and knead dough for approximately two minutes. If dough is sticky add flour 1 tsbp at a time until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl. The dough should be smooth and elastic.
  5. Remove from mixer and place on lightly floured surface. Knead in cherries, chocolate and nuts.
  6. Coat bottom and sides of a large mixing bowl with olive oil. Place dough in bowl turning to coat all surfaces. Cover with a dishcloth* and allow to rise in a warm area one to two hours or until doubled in size.
  7. Punch down dough and let rest five minutes.
  8. Remove from bowl and form a round loaf.
  9. Place a piece of parchment paper or silpat mat on a baking sheet.
  10. Place loaf on baking sheet. Cover and allow to rise for one to two hours or until doubled in size.
  11. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  12. Lightly beat egg white and water. Brush lightly over loaf covering all exposed surfaces.
  13. Sprinkle with sugar. You may also sprinkle with additional nuts if desired.
  14. Bake for 30 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped.
  15. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking rack.
  16. Dig in and enjoy!

* Plastic wrap would probably work as well as a dishcloth. However, in my humble opinion, it's not nearly as pretty. Half the reason I bake breads is to put my dishcloths to use.

Happy Baking!


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Well we made it through with our ball o' yarn costume intact. Were I to make this again I'd use plaster cast material instead of paper mache. I think it would hold it's shape better and also be easier to wind yarn around. Though the casting material might be a touch heavy. The costume was shed relatively early in the evening as the arm holes were somewhat awkward. Live and learn. My husband has suggested I do a cost/benefit analysis on these projects I take on. So here you have it:

Unused exercise ball and newspaper from the neighbors: Free

Yarn from the Goodwill: Twelve dollars

Hot glue and glue gun: Eight dollars with coupon

Giving my daughter the costume she wanted for Halloween: Priceless

And now on to new projects ... after all the holidays are just around the corner!


Here are some other images I'm loving from the season.

I hope you all are having a wonderful Halloween weekend!