Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas countdown.

I was a busy little 70-year-old cross-stitcher (that's dangerously close to cross-dresser) for the past few months. Per usual, I decided on a project and gave myself far too little time to complete. So I spent some Friday night home and cross-stitching. And though this excuse makes me sound feeble, it was for a better cause than my I-can't- come-out-because-I-have-to-eat-this-ice-cream-because-it-was-a-buy-one-get-one-sale-and-the-get-one-won't-fit-in-the-freezer. That's happened.

Now we've lost the point of the story: I cross-stitched this family tree and would have lost social points with or without its presence. As I'm especially sensitive, I blurred out all the last names. It doesn't look that bad in real life.

As I was in the throws of my audit busy season during completion, and therefore working all normal business hours, and most normal sleeping hours, I shipped it off to Mum for completion. She stopped in at JoAnn's and was able to snap a hunter green mat for around $15. Her tip is to ask if they have any leftover mats from other projects. This way, they don't have to cut an entirely new piece, and you'll get it for cheaper. We opted to frame it ourselves, for the price factor, and because Mum is a mini-frame warehouse. Luckily, she had one available with no plans, and I was able to snag it for free. I then stopped at Lowe's to get a piece of glass cut for the frame, at a cost of $6, and I was set. 

I would always recommend framing something piecemeal in this fashion. The $20 I spent to frame this surely beats the $65 start price at most places. That, and it's really not difficult to put some DIY into it.

I really thought I had a picture of the finished project, but alas, the picture eludes me and in my sister's wrapping frenzy, the completed masterpiece is already dressed for Christmas. I'll leave you with a strange picture of my sister's strange cat (that sister being Veronica) instead and hope that distracts you from my poor blogging skills. I'll punish myself with a week without ice cream. It's going to be hard.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Clothespin cans.

I was so proud when my youngest sister (i.e. Stephanie) texted me a couple weeks ago with her first Pinterest project.

After a few weeks of coaxing her boyfriend to eat tuna, swiping two tuna cans and one chicken can, getting over the smell of the cans to wash them out, finding clothespins and snapping them around the outside, she crafted these sweet containers. She then kept reminding me for baby spider plants, as I have a monster plant that will. not. stop. growing. It's somehow learned to survive without water. Seriously. It's been weeks and it's still shooting out babies. Machine.

Back to the clothespin votives - it's as simple as that. Well, and she punched some holes in the bottom of the cans with a nail for water drainage.

I love their natural look (much like the dead, natural grass in the background - this picture was in haste before she packed these babies in the car and headed back to college). It's simple, natural texture that can help to break up any space but that also compliments any space.

I can show you what they look like in her room, but I've yet to see that. This is your hint, Steph. Send a picture and I'll update. 

It was really as easy as that. We also thought about dropping in a votive candle, but I was more in the market of selling baby spider plants. For free.

Update: true to form, Steph was creeping on reading my blog and texted me this picture. She chose not to caption it or otherwise write anything in the text, so I'll take that liberty.

She picked up the shelves at Target for about $12 (and you can only see one shelf here, this is not a trick) and used two of the baby spider plants to flank a picture of her cat, Copper. Copper's a Maine Coon, and therefore quite possibly the largest cat/dog/human I've even seen, and thus we affectionately call him Monster. Mum picked up the "My Little Monster" frame for Steph a while back, assumedly at the Dollar Tree or something like that. She gets the most random things there. Veronica sent those sheep to Steph as part of her birthday present in November. It's funny to see the cute little sheep under the picture of Copper in a monster frame, complete with jagged teeth on the top and bottom.

But this addition was about the clothespin votive/planters, so look at how natural they look and how they easily look much more expensive than the price of tuna and a few clothespins. It'd be interesting to see a tall vase of these, or something like that.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving! I wish you a day of thankfulness, family, friends, and food.

My favorite: apple pie.

Apple filling
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash salt
6 cups thinly sliced pared tart apples (about 5 medium)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Pastry for 9-inch two-crust pie
2 2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white Crisco
7 to 8 tablespoons cold water

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Prepare pastry. Measure flour and salt into mixing bowl.  With pastry blender, using an up-and-down chopping motion, thoroughly cut in Crisco until particles are size of tiny peas.  Sprinkle in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork after each addition.  Mix lightly until all flour is moistened and dough almost cleans side of bowl.  One or two teaspoons extra water can be added if needed.  Gather dough together with your hands.  Press firmly into a ball.  Divide dough in half. Place each half cut side down and flatten into a round.

Roll out the one of the balls of dough for the bottom of the pie. Line pan with dough.

Stir together sugar, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt.  Mix lightly with apples.  Turn into pastry-lined pie pan. 

Roll out the second ball of dough. The top crust can vary depending on who you're trying to impress. I tried for a leaf motif. I stamped leaf into the dough, then removed the stamps to create the negative space.

Dot the apples with butter before covering with top crust. 

I planned to use the leafs to surround the outer crust, but they were too big. I smashed them back together, rolled it back out, and freehanded some pear leaves. I wet the back of them with a bit of water, and laid them around the outer edge of the crust.

I used the same little knife to emphasize that the little appliques were leafs and not just blobs.

Before popping in the oven, cover edge with 2-3 inch strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning. Remove foil the last 5 minutes or so of baking.  Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is nicely browned and juice begins to bubble through slits in crust.

Here's my more traditional take with a criss-cross crust and maple leaves.

Yum yum yum. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Alright, meow.

My family narrates for our animals. Full conversations. I've talked with my sister's cats about the weather. All three of them, because Veronica has two that are currently living with my mum while she's living in England (and their name are Dinah and Henry, though they are both girls. We've never quite gotten a handle on the gender-guessing). Steph has one cat that lives at home while she's at school, and that's Copper. He's the only boy. I would be remiss if I didn't name Fluffy, who has been our family cat for 17-years now I think, and she hates me. I'm not sure why, but it's a very real hate and my ankles get bitten a lot.

Still, it's only fitting that they are fully involved in the Christmas present exchange.

Luckily, shopping for them is considerably easier than any human that's ever been on my list. I've usually bought them some toy that my sisters have claimed is on their list. This year, I thought I'd attempt to make them something that wasn't out of t-shirt blanket scraps. They love laying on t-shirt blankets. We haven't figured out why totally, but think it must be something with the smell. 

I ordered a box of catnip tea bags on Amazon and a quarter yard of the densest wool/felt blend that I could find at JoAnn's and set off to make some catnip pouches. I wasn't feeling adventurous enough to try and create an animal shape, though I'm thinking a mouse wouldn't be too hard. It's be three pieces of felt in an oblong shape, stitched together. I'll try that next.

This is the easy part.

I started by cutting a length of fabric from my former curtains, folding it in on itself,  and sewing it down the middle to make a durable string.

Then I cut two pieces of felt slightly larger than the tea bags.

At first, I thought I'd stitch around the outside, leave a hole, flip the felt inside out before stuffing it with the catnip tea bags, attaching the string, and sewing it shut, but the felt proved to be too difficult for that.

So the cat get to enjoy some exposed stitching.

I was on a roll until my sewing machine started revolting and throwing spaghetti back at me. 

So it wasn't actually spaghetti. It was yellow thread. I was baffled at how my machine decided that the tension wasn't right after completing four other catnip pouches, and it was late, and I wasn't fixing it quickly enough, so I gave it.

So as of now, I have four and three-quarters catnip pouches for four cats. I'll continue and try that mouse though, mainly because I have about 10 more catnip tea bags and I don't know what else I would do with those.

Until then, I'll have to try to communicate the situation to my furry nieces and nephews.

Update: they love them. Now Mum has a house full of cats on drugs. They're happier that way.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Catching up, ketchup.

I missed my biweekly blog post on Tuesday. I was really bummed out about it. However, as my job has been busy enough to keep me working until 2 am for the past week (busy season's almost over), I forgot about it. It was still lurking in the back of my mind and would hit me in the quiet moments. I didn't prepare. The days crept up on me. I should have drafted more posts in October.

Then it happened - the call out -

I didn't think anyone would notice. Yes, it's my sister, but she doesn't have any sort of obligation to stalk my blog. If this was what I did for a living, yes. I would make her read it. I would make her read it and force her to make her friends read it and be so nervous about the number of hits that I would be frantic.

But this blog never was like that. Some posts get more readers for reasons of which I cannot break the code. Some don't get a single hit. I do this because I like to do it. I like to write, I like to craft, I like to force myself to make time for activities I enjoy. For the first time though, someone, no matter how blood related (and we're a pretty strong blood tie considering she's my sister and we had the same rib cage), was acknowledging that they liked to read my blog solely because they liked it. 

Maybe I'm reading too far into this, but now this post is about ketchup. Being that I'm from Pittsburgh, there's really only one kind of ketchup:

The Heinz 57. I grew up smothering my fries in this (until I found I preferred for my fries to be dipped in a frosty), ate it straight out of the bottle, and now will consider it to be my first validation.

I have a fun anecdote, too, before this goes overboard on the metaphors and is just weird. I'm running on three hours of sleep.

When I went to London back in April, we ducked into a pub to grab a bit after walking all day. It was a very strange pub and we were eating in what appeared to have possibly been a normal living room during the day, but as often happens, we planned activities for the entire day and didn't think of the food until we were about to pass out. So we collapsed our tired feet into the strange setting and ate.

And lo and behold, who else loves Heinz ketchup?

Her Majesty. Did you get that? The Queen. She loves it so much she stamped it with her seal of approval. Granted, I would have expected a wax seal to make it a proper approval, but I suppose the following message also suffices: 
By Appointment to 
Her Majesty The Queen 
Purveyors of Heinz Products

I had to zoom up real close and squint for that. Just in case you still don't believe me, here's the zoomed out shot. Also know that I have no photoshop skills and am actively looking for someone to teach me or a way to get it cheaper.

This is a promise that I'll catch up. I'll plan and blog and continue my biweekly posts not only because I love to do it, but because it matters to at least one person. I would be remiss to note that Veronica also emailed me to tell me that she didn't see my Pinterest pin on my blog and noticed that I didn't post during her daily stalking. I just don't know how to cut and put an email in here nicely. Two people. So I'll catch up :)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Birthday balloons.

It was our boss's birthday a few weeks ago. I don't know what exactly got into me, but I was convinced and obsessed with filling his office with balloons.

So this is what roughly 144 black balloons looks like in a roughly 9-foot by 8-foot office. Does that number sound specific? It's what Amazon offers with prime shipping, and I'm nothing if not loyal to the prime shipping.

We finished off the surprise with a crepe paper door pseudo-marathon-race-finish-line style. I would probably run many more races if the finish lines were me busting out, actually.


He barely had room to walk. Mission accomplished.


His guests (meeting people? clients? what's the word for people that you don't directly work with but that affect your job? colleagues?)- moving on. Everyone really enjoyed it, and enjoyed holding balloons during a usually very serious meeting. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Stress baking.

Increasing hours at work and an impending hurricane called for some necessary stress release in the form of cookie dough eating baking last week.

I've made these cookies before (like here), but opted for a more manual process this time. I followed my standard and memorized chocolate-chip cookie recipe and added in peanut butter chips and pretzels at the end.

The motions of following a recipe by heart without even knowing is incredibly therapeutic for me. Luckily, I also had volunteers for the consumption so I didn't have to eat my feelings as well. Not that that didn't happen through the dough making.

I love symmetry. I love cookie dough symmetry even more.


The smells of baking cookies certainly doesn't hurt in the stress-reducing efforts, either. Mmm, happy place, if only for a minute.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Safe, not sorry.

I mentioned in my last post that my coworker recently told me about a fire that burnt down her apartment building her senior year of college. I'll be nice and not tell you how many years ago that was for her, but I was devastated. She was nonchalant.

In fact, I think the conversation when something like this:

Me - "I've had my iPod since I was 18. He's durable."
Meg - "I had that one, but it got lost in the fire."
Me - "The what?"
Meg - "The fire."
Me - "What fire?"
Meg - "Everyone knows about the fire. In college."

I was even more confused. She was talking about it like it was a well-known fact. Everyone knows that milk goes in the fridge, and everyone knows about the fire.

I didn't know about the fire. I've never known anyone that actually had a house fire. A kitchen fire, yes. An electric spark, yes. A fire that destroyed everything they knew in minutes? No. That was just something you prepared for and hoped never happened to you.

But here it was - plain as day. It had happened to Meg. She lost everything right before finals. Everything changed.

I was on an immediate mission for a fireproof box. I'd been meaning for six years to get one. SIX. That's when I first went to college.

I immediately picked Meg's brain on what to add to the box. Here's our list:
  1.  External hard drive for computer
  2. $20 cash
  3. Spare car key
  4. Passport
  5. Social Security Card / Birth Certificate
and then things that just needed to go in there:

     6. CPA license (it took too long)
     7. Ohio State diploma (because I haven't gotten around to doing anything with it)
     8. Blank checks (because those shouldn't have been hanging around anyway)

Now for the safe. Finding a fireproof safe proved to be more difficult than expected. I started at Target, assuming I'd hop in and hop out. No dice.

Thanks to my iPhone addiction and apps addiction though, I popped over to my Amazon app and ordered a fireproof safe with a combination and a key entry.

To be quite specific, it's the First Alert 3035DF Digital Security Box.

So far, so good. I feel much safer, I know some essentials will be available, and I've become the biggest unpaid fireproof safe advocate. Knowing that this guy is stowed away (because I've since hidden him) makes me sleep safer. For $35 on Amazon, it's well worth it. What's your plan?

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