Friday, December 31, 2010

So Many Possibilities!

I'm very excited.

VERY.  VERY.  VERY.  Excited.

After half a year of "unschooling" Chaos, the Type A Mama in me couldn't resist fretting about his evaluation in April.  Doing the odd workbook isn't real school work.  Playing outside all day isn't school work.  Watching Phineas and Ferb reruns is DEFINITELY NOT school work.  So, I pulled up a list of "first grade skills" and began reading over it.  Whoa- what an eye opening experience!  Chaos has completed 2/3 of the list of skills.  (I honestly was worried that he'd even pass Kindergarten- he's so stubborn about doing anything schooling related.)  He's right on track, exactly where he needs to be.  The best part of this is that HE'S TEACHING HIMSELF.  Sure, I step in and offer a bit of guidance, but for the most part, my little mad scientist is learning what he wants to learn at his own pace. 

The Husbeastie and I talked it over, and Chaos will be starting some additional activities.  At the moment, he's involved with the local home school co-op (they have monthly events like PE, science, art, and volunteering and social opportunities) and Boy Scouts.  He's been asking to join 4H ever since we went to the County Fair last fall.  We're also starting him with jogging- that boy can run ALL DAY LONG.  I have a suspicion that he's a natural free-runner, but I'm not encouraging him to leap fences and cars.  (I already hear complaints about him and flower beds when he's tracking animal scat trails- EW!)  We're talking about swim classes but we're holding off on that until pneumonia season is over.

I love watching my bigger wee man play.  He's so creative (but don't let him know I said that!) even if he's horridly loud.  The kidlet has never heard of quiet play time.

I'm looking forward to the year ahead!

12 for 12- It's Not about Resolutions, it's about Results

Earlier this week I mentioned that I'd be changing twelve things each month.  Some of these things directly improve my or my family's life.  Some of these things indirectly change our lives.

January's Changes
   
  • Swap to reusable grocery bags- I have a ton of these bags.  Sadly, I'm guilty of never having them at the moment I'm at the grocery store.  So, my goal is to get these in the van and start using them.
  • Begin drinking diet sodas- Note the word "begin".  The plan this month is to swap some of the full sugar soda that I drink for sugar-free versions.  I'm thinking this will happen something along the lines of 1 sugar free soda for every 2 full-sugar sodas I drink.  I hope in later months to introduce more change.
  • Write a bi-weekly menu- I do this often, but with fibromyalgia, I'm rarely certain which days I'll be able to stand long enough to cook a full meal.  So, I'm going to start writing a fibromyalgia based menu of meals that require minimal prep or prep than can be done sitting or broken into smaller sessions.
  • Use lotion- I have the world's driest skin.  It breaks out in weird rashes and spots from being so dry.  I buy expensive lotion... and never use it.  That's a real waste of money and skin cells. 
  • Zone Cleaning- I've tried FlyLady and I've got to say... it doesn't work for us.  (It assumes that the other members of the household CARE that the house is clean or dirty.)  However, zone cleaning has always worked well- I just stopped doing it when we moved because I took forever to unpack.  Now that I'm unpacked, Zone Cleaning will be restarted again.
  • Establish a writing schedule- I've pared back from 60 hours of writing per week (mostly for others) to a manageable 2 hours per day.  I'm going to develop a better writing schedule and begin planning ahead.
  • Eat Lunch-  I rarely eat anything I cook.  Even worse, I end up grabbing a soda for lunch and forgetting to eat until dinner.  So, in January, I will eat lunch.  Plain and simple.
  • Brush my hair- I confess, I'm a clean person.  I shower daily (sometimes several times a day).  I always wear clean clothes.  But, yeah... most the time I don't have time to brush my hair.  It's longer than ever now and is such a pain to brush with all the curls and thickness.  Most days I can get away with it.  But, once in a while, I get a knot and then don't have the time to take care of it.  I wear a lot of buns and ponytails.  So, brushing my hair WILL happen.
  • Use an alarm clock-  I wake up currently when the kids wake up.  I want to get back on a sleep schedule, though.  So, the alarm clock (which is unpacked) will be plugged in.
  • Clear off the counter tops- I'm guilty of letting dishes dry on the rack overnight.  No more.  I will have clean counter tops every night.
  • Label everything- This is huge for me.  I'm one of those weirdos that LOVE to label things.  I'm going to label as much as I can get away with before my Husband stops me.

More changes to come in February.

So, what changes are you  looking forward to in the New Year?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Twist on A Figgy Pudding

     Thanks to Disney Channel's Phineas and Ferb, children all over the US are becoming familiar with a most unusual holiday tradition: the Figgy Pudding.  Chaos must have asked me at least 5 times to make him a figgy pudding before I finally relented.

     When I saw Kitchen-Play's menu for the month, I knew exactly how I wanted my Figgy Pudding to taste- spicy, sweet, fruity, rich with a savory and salty bite.  Kitchen-Play is a site where each month a sponsor offers bloggers the opportunity to create a themed menu based off their products.  Then, the challenge goes out to food bloggers around the world to create your own version of their menu items for a change to win some fabulous prizes.  I'm such a food-geek anyway, this was right up my alley.  This month's sponsor of Kitchen Play is MySpiceSage.com- a spice emporium of the sort that makes my jaw drop and my taste buds drool.  Seriously, I've spent HOURS browsing their online shop and I'm trying to figure out where I'd put all the spices; after all, I can't live without most of them now that I know where to locate them!

     Inspired by the amuse bouche course of Spiced Cake Bites Topped with Cardamom Goat Cheese and Maple Bacon that was created by blogger Wasabi Prime, I give you Figgy Pudding Cake Balls.
Kind of looks like a little bird hunkering down.  Even on desserts I go kawaii!

Figgy Pudding Cake Balls with Cardamom Cream Cheese Glaze

Ingredients for the Pudding:
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup dried figs
peel from an orange
1/2 inch knob of peeled ginger1/2 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup dried currants
3 crispy strips of bacon, drained well 1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1 cup of pumpkin puree
3 eggs
3 1/2 cups of AP flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
pinch of salt
2 batches of Cream Cheese Glaze

Ingredients for Glaze:
4 oz of cream cheese
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 cups of icing sugar
1 egg white
1/4 tsp ground cardamom

 In a small sauce pan, combine the dried figs, orange peel, and ginger with the milk.  Place over low heat and bring to a simmer.  Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.  Strain, reserving milk for later.  Place ginger knob and orange peel into food processor and pulse until finely minced.  Add in figs, apricots, currants, and bacon and pulse in five second increments until diced.  (You do not want this to be mush!)  In a mixing bowl, combine sugars, molasses, syrup, vegetable oil, milk, eggs, and pumpkin.  Combine until smooth.  Add in flour, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and pepper and combine until smooth.  Stir in diced fruit and bacon.  Pour into a greased spring form pan.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for one hour (or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.) Cool for thirty minutes before crumbling into small pieces.  Mix in glaze 2 tablespoons at a time and combine until the texture is like lumpy modeling clay.  Using a small scoop, portion out the Figgy Pudding into small "balls".  Chill or freeze balls for at least two hours before glazing.

To make the glaze, cream together the cream cheese and butter. Add in the egg white.  Slowly mix in the powdered sugar and cardamom and mix until smooth.

Household Hint Wednesday: Portioning Soap

Every Wednesday, I'll bring you a simple tip to make your life a little easier.  Some of them are downright ingenious and others so basic you'll be slapping your forehead wondering why you haven't thought of it already.  (Or, maybe you have!)

My son HATES showers.  Being 6, I fully expect this phase to pass when he discovers dating, but until then, I tolerate all manner of excuses on why he "can't" take a shower.

His biggest excuse lately: I'm out of soap! 

My son, while detesting showers, loves BUBBLES.  He uses as much soap as possible to get as many bubbles as his brief stint in the shower allows.  I've watched as he's gone through an entire bottle of body wash in one bathing.  He just doesn't understand how much soap he's allowed to use.

The solution: A discarded medicine cup.  This holds about a tablespoon of soap.  He fills the lid with soap, then pours that onto his wash cloth for bathing.  Any soap left in the cup is his to play with AFTER he's clean.

Chaos is pleased with being able to bathe without maternal interference and I'm pleased that I don't have to turn into the Soap-Nazi.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Who Says Dinner Needs to be Complicated?

I love that I can toss together dinner in mere minutes.
Teriyaki Glazed Pork Chops, Broccoli tossed with Garlic-Ginger Oil and Furikake, Jasmine Rice with Quick Carrot Pickles





Total time to cook dinner: 35 Minutes.  (To be honest, it would have been less, but I was side-
tracked by kids.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

The New Year is Bringing Changes

There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction.
-Winston Churchill

So, the first thing you'll notice is that my site has changed.

This has inspired me to try some other changes.  So, for the next year, I'll be making 12 changes per month for 12 months!

These changes are things that impact myself, my family, my environment, and my relationships with others.  I'm hoping that by accepting change I can make some moves in the right direction.

These are NOT resolutions.  I've found in the past that resolutions fail.  My life is simply too flexible due to the mass amounts of chaotic activity for resolutions to have time to work.  These are changes that I'm going to just do.

Reminds me a bit of Yoda- "There is no try.  Do.  Or do not."  (I'm certain I horribly mangled that quote, but the gist is still there.)

See the Changes- They are Happenin'...

The changes are happening as we speak.

I'm aiming for New Year's Day to be finished with a great number of the new design.

Seriously, after 8 years of writing for other people, this will be MY blog.



I also have to squee a bit- my baby boy got me a 14mp camera for Christmas.  (And Santa got me a tripod!)  Hubby's agreed to grab some work lights with "true sunlight" bulbs and some muslin and set me up a portable photo studio of sorts.  I'm excited to see the quality of my photos improve.

OMG and ORLY?

I've been coding and programming almost as long as I've had a computer.

And, you know what?!?  I JUST- as in JUST NOW- thought to google the phrase "How to ...." when it comes to blogging.

Le Sigh...

So many tips, tricks, and shortcuts.  Things that have been taking me weeks to do, reduced into short tutorials.

So, beginning January 1st, expect new things as the changes continue.

This old dawg is learning some new tricks.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I'm working on a new blog template. 

Sorry for the utter madness and chaos, but things will be getting better as I go.

I estimate a week before all the bugs are worked out- give or take a few days for the holidays.

Thanks for your patience,
The Management

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This cute little fellow was created by Chaos a few years back.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

I love putting little birds in unexpected spots on the tree.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Quick Joke

My Mother-In-Law started it.
I tell one little joke and she laughed so hard she peed her pants... literally.  (I ended up mopping the floor since I was the indirect cause.)  She did a few other things too, but I'll be nice and not mention them.

Ever since, I tend to face a lot of situations with humor.
So tonight, while in a battle of wits with my husband (the poor unarmed bastard!), I came up with this little gem:

Cthulu and Schr√∂dinger's cat both managed to get into the same taxi in New York.  It being late at night, the cabbie asked if they minded sharing.
In reply, he hears a loud slurp from the back seat.  The tip of a tail is poking out of Cthulu's mouth.
"Why'd you do that?!?!" shrieked the cabbie.
"It's ok," Cthulu shrugged.  "Schr√∂dinger's cat is dead."

----------------------------
Yeah, it's a bit geeky... but I think it did the trick.  Hubby hasn't found a comeback quip yet.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I Fought the Flu and I Won

On Wednesday night, Chaos woke me up with the phrase every parent hates: Mommy, I throwed up.

Sigh.
Then he used the only phrase I hate more: Mommy- I didn't make it to the bathroom...
*face palm*

So, after tossing a sick six-year old in the tub (at THREE IN THE MORNING) I cleaned his room and an hour later got back in bed.

At five, my husband yells upstairs: Morgana- you've got to get up!  He's throwing up!

*double face palm*  Yeah.  Hubby doesn't deal with "teh sick" very well- no matter who it is, he panics.  The only good news with it being Chaos sick was that it wasn't the Hubby being sick.  THAT is a Jabberwocky I hate facing down.

I clean again...head back to bed.  And you've guessed it... repeat performances every hour or so until I get up for the day.
-------------------
Hubby was nice enough about it once kidlet's stomach settled.  Kiddo slept.  I was sent back to bed.  Hubby and Doc watched Price is Right re-runs that we taped.

I woke up a couple of hours later feeling better.  Since Chaos was feeling ok, I ran out to the store to pick up some soup and stuff.  It was cold.

The rest of the day was pretty boring; TV watching, cleaning, kids in bed...  Hubby and I stayed up to watch a movie.

I went to bed and felt my ribs ache.  I'm no stranger to bronchial infections so I found my inhaler *just in case*. 
I couldn't sleep.  I tossed.  I turned.  It was too hot.  It was too cold.  My bed was uncomfortable. 
I finally get up to stretch--- and then it hits.

Yeah.  I had "teh sick".

-------------------------------------------
Hours later I had an enforced day off.  I was weak.  I was sweaty.  I could barely lift my glass to take sips of water.  Hubby was truly panicked.  Then he accused me of whining.  ME?  WHINE?  Holy crud- PukeMan... I NEVER whine.

-------------------------------------------
Next day I woke up feeling, not better... but better.  I could move again.  I wasn't nauseated non-stop.  I was still tired, still sore, still weak.  But, it was an obvious improvement.

Then I chanced a look outside.  Hubby was home from work awfully early.  (He's on nights this week.)  My Mommy-senses went all tingly.

Sure enough... Hubby's got "teh sick".
He called me whiny.  Let me tell you about Hubby's brand of "neediness":
-"Can you rub my back?"
-"I'm thirsty..."
-"Can I get some more medicine?"  (And no- he can't.  He's on medication that means NO cold meds)
-"I'm gonna be sick..."
-"I'm thirsty..."
-"Can you make me some soup..."
-"Are there any popsicles..."
-"I didn't make it to the bathroom..."
-"Don't eat near me."  (Umm... the dining room is all of TWO FEET from the living room.)
-"Can you keep the kids quiet?"

My response to him: "Can't you just go to bed and stop leaving your whiny ass prints on the couch?"

Sigh.  There's a special place in hell (somewhere near Rachel Ray, I'm certain) for people who beat their sick husbands silly with cast iron skillets.  And since I have no desire to end up anywhere near there (or near Rachel Ray for eternity), I'll put the frying pan away and just smile and nod.  And go get him another popsicle.  And fluff his pillows.  And adjust the volume on the television...AGAIN.

And count down the minutes until he's well.

(And, for what it's worth, he's feeling a little better now.  So I suppose I should stop picking on him in my prose.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The "S" Word and Other Traditions

My Husbeastie is the love of my life.

I can say that right now, at this moment (and well, every moment for the past 8 years that I've known him) without any hesitation whatsoever.
My scruffy Nerf-herder-  Isn't he just adorable and cuddly looking?

My first husband... heck, even my first boyfriend- I was crazy about.  But, all those relationships are totally boring and pale next to how goofy I feel when I catch my Hubby looking at me.

Tonight, we got to discussing the upcoming holidays- which is like a two week long series of mini-festivals at our house- and I finally just had to ask, "Sweetie, why do you hate Christmas shows so much?"

He pointed out that a good chunk of the Christmas movies are about spoiled people who decide they're dissatisfied with their perfect life, try to do something stupid or selfish, then learn a "life lesson" and get exactly what they want in the end.  I thought about it... yeah.  He's right.

Turns out, my Hubby isn't too big on the holiday season in general.  I mean, we've made Thanksgiving our tradition, but the holidays after that are kind of dumb in his mind.  Now, by no stretch is my husband a Grinch.  He loves that the kids are so excited and filled with wonder during this time of year.  No, it's worse- my husband has no family traditions to bring to the table.  He feels very overwhelmed by the whole idea of the holidays.

My childhood, while incredibly poor and miserable for me, seem incredibly rich in comparison to my Husband's.  He's an only child.  I, on the other hand, am the baby of the family- a family I might add that my Mother was one of seven children- who all went on to have many many kids. So, while I might not have gotten a ton of toys or went out to fancy restaurants ever, I had the tradition of family and friends to spend the holidays with.

Then there's the "S" word.  Yes, folks, I'm talking about Santa.  I was allowed to believe in Santa as long as I wanted to.  (And I've never really stopped believing.)  Hubby was barely five when he became disillusioned.
He assures me that he's happy to have the kids believe as long as possible.

This takes me back, though, to our first Christmas together.  I remember how incredibly overwhelmed he was by my super-pregger nesting instinct taking over.  We didn't have a ton of money, but I decorated my little heart out.  I made him sit and watch White Christmas with me over and over again.  I sang at the top of my lungs.
Then Christmas morning came and he had no clue why there was a stocking filled for him. 

"Santa came and left it for you!"
He sat there kind of puzzled before looking through the loot.
------------------------------------
Poor Husbeastie- I know traditions are not something he's used to.
But, he's a good sport about the traditions we've forged for our family: wearing PJs and watching Polar Express, eating Jambalaya on Christmas Eve, leaving an empty chair at the dining room table to welcome any unexpected visitors... the apple and orange that are always in the toe of the stocking.
He even helps me put up the tree.  Sometimes.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Things I Love: Food Network Store and My Half-Sheet Pans

     Confession time:  I drool over kitchen gear the way a child drools over the holiday window displays at a toy store.  More than once I've been asked to stop loitering when passing the local restaurant supply.  So, to say that I spend a lot of time surfing cooking gadgetry online is a bit of an understatement.  (In fact, after Ravenwood Fair on Facebook, it's probably my second biggest obsession.)

     I remember when the Food Network store went online.  I'd spent weeks before that scouring the internet for certain dishes and utensils I'd seen used in various shows.  (I particularly loved Alton Brown's salt cellar and Nigella's measuring cups.)  The Food Network store, which is obviously based as a companion to Food Network's website gave me a place where most of these items could be found- in one place! 

     While glancing through it today- in a blatant attempt to find holiday swag to suggest to the Husbeastie- I came across a familiar item.  In fact, with the Cookie Caper only two days behind me, I have to admit it's VERY familiar since I pulled it out of the oven no less than 80 times.
Baker\'s Half Sheet Pan with Storage Lid
This, for the record, is NOT a cookie sheet.  It's a half-sheet pan.  This one happens to come with a lid, an idea I find highly appealing.
 

      It seems as if I've been asked a lot of questions recently about baking and making cookies.  A LOT.  I never thought it was that difficult (if you were a mad chemist like myself) to come up with cookie recipes that really worked.
     However, it became quickly apparent that the most common question on everyone's mind is: Do you use some high tech cookie sheet?  

Well, that is certainly a fair question. 

The truth is, I've tested almost every cookie sheet on the market at some point or another.  Things promising non-stick, air-filled layers, even heating, and NASA-space-technology have all been tried and tossed on the wayside.

I use half-sheet pans.  In fact, I use the half-sheet pans shown above (long ago purchased from the then-new Food Network store with a great discount code).  I don't just use them for cookies, though.  I use them for EVERYTHING: drip pans for pies, individually quick freezing items, baking brownies and layers for cakes, to line fridge shelves on meat market days, a tray to catch glitter when I craft... so many uses.

Pros:
-multi-taskers: These pans are amazing for just about every use I've ever put them through.
-even cooking:  The shallow 1-inch rim helps stabilize the pan and reduce warping.  Warping is the bane of bakers because it causes uneven cooking patterns.
-Easy to clean: hand wash them or toss them in the dishwasher... they'll take a beating. (And hand-washing is the preferred cleaning method.)
-Durable:  My oldest sheet pan I bought over 8 years ago.  It performs just as well as the newer ones from only a few years back.

Cons:
-Get Ugly Fast:  I hate to say it, but gunk gets baked on easily- especially in the corners and the backside.  However, from my years in a professional bakery, I know that the baked on ugliness in NO WAY affect performance of the pans.
-Size:  Typically, I'd put this under pros, however, if you live in a place with a tiny oven, these may be a bit too large for you.  However, you can also purchase these as Quarter Sheet Pans which fit in even the smaller ovens.

So, if you're like me or plan to become the family's Cookie-ista, a serious investment in half-sheet pans will go far.



    

Chaos and the Homemade Cards

Chaos LOVES getting mail. 
He's obsessed with the mail man's arrival every day.  And he's crushed when there is nothing for him. 

Every year, I sign him up for Kids Crafts Weekly's International card exchange.  In it, you are assigned 10 other families to send cards to.  The trick is that the cards MUST be handmade BY THE CHILDREN SENDING THEM.

So, normally I buy blank cards and let him decorate them. 
This year, we decided to see what we had around the house.

We started with a standard size filing folder.  (I have a huge amount of these because I'm addicted to procrastinating about filing things away.  No, seriously?  Ok, I use them for home schooling to make lap books.)

Step 1) Since a folder is already folded, he cut the excess side off.


Step 2) He cut the "card" side of the folder in half.  This gave him two square shaped cards.


Step 3) Decorate the cards.  He chose to just use a rubber stamp, but I offered him a chance to use glitter, glue, draw his own pictures, etc...

Step 4) The finished project.  He stamped in two contrasting colors.  Some cards got more stamping, some cards less.  But, since this was a made-by-kids-only project, I'm not complaining at how odd some of the cards looked.
Once that was done, I made some simple envelopes from paper from my office supply stash and we mailed them out. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Operation Cookie Caper: COMPLETE!

This is what 40 dozen cookies look like.  (Ok, this is only 37 dozen because the last 3 dozen were in the oven still.)  For size reference, this is my largest laundry basket.

And just for fun- this was the kidlets' lunch today: Ginger and Peanut Butter Shimmers with Veggie Crisps and Mandarin Oranges.

Mandarin Ginger Tea Cakes

I wish I had a witty story for this recipe.  Really, I do. 

However, the truth is that I was running out of supplies for the Cookie Caper baking.  So, I improvised with what I had on hand: cream cheese and tiny little clementine mandarins.  Even worse, when writing the recipe, I had a total mental moment and wrote down the wrong leavening ingredient... then I followed my own recipe.  So, instead of the crunchy and thin orange-flavored gingersnap I was hoping for, I ended up with these lovely, delicious cakey bites of clementine goodness.



Mandarin Ginger Tea Cakes

8 oz cream cheese
8 oz butter-flavored shortening
2 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 seedless mandarin oranges
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
5 cups flour

1.  Preheat oven to 325F.  In a food processor, pulse oranges until very finely processed.  You will need 3-4 tablespoons of pulp and liquid.  

2. Cream together cream cheese, shortening, sugars, eggs, and spices.  Add orange pulp and juice and continue to cream until the mixture is light and fluffy.

3.  Mix in flour and baking soda.  Mix well to combine.

4.  Scoop onto parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Bake 16 minutes or until bottoms are golden.


Note: This is a double recipe!  If you use a tablespoon sized cookie scoop, this should make approximately 8 dozen cookies.

Filling that Annoying Negative Space and Upcycling an Old Calendar

I'm not the best at the whole "Decking the Halls" concept- I admit it.  I haven't spent the holidays in the same place in 17 years!  In all honesty, I doubt we'll be in this house for the next Yule either.  We have the problem of most couples- we're perpetual renters.

We've lived in hotels, motels, relatives' homes, and small rental places ever since we've been married.  Before that, I was also a bit of a gypsy.  I've even spent a holiday season at Boot Camp!

So, now that we're in a cozy little cottage (even if it's not permanent) I'm trying to make it cozy for the kids.  I've got a bunch of projects that I'll be showing throughout the month.
The Cottage the day before we moved in.  Look how peaceful, how unsuspecting... ahhh- the poor neighborhood!

I have this giant fireplace mantel that was driving me nuts.  It wasn't a small or cozy sized mantel like the one in the dining room:
See- the dining room mantel is such a much more manageable size.  It's perfect for a charcoal sketch of Sango-kitty's fat bottom!  (And it looks fabulous with the lights on!)

It was huge!  So, I hung some wreaths.  But, those were pretty boring all alone.  Plus, it left this huge gap between the wreaths.  I left it alone.  I just wasn't ready to think about it, I suppose.
Such is the poor photography of using a cell phone camera.  Can you guess what was on my wish list for the holidays?  By the way, mind the gap! (The VERY BIG OBVIOUSLY UGLY GAP IN BETWEEN THE BORING WREATHS!)

I moved on to other projects around the house.  I set up the classroom (another post for another time) and I came across an old calendar from the local Chinese restaurant.  I nearly tossed it out before I caught sight of the blank backside of it.  "Hmmm," I thought to myself, "the size is right... the scale is ok... and I suppose storage wouldn't be a problem..."

I decided to turn my trash into a banner to fill that gap on the wall above the fireplace.
Step 1: Gather Supplies- old scroll style calendar, newspaper, pencil, paints, brushes

Step 2: IN PENCIL, sketch out your phrase.  I chose the word JOY simply because I'm too lazy to spend all night sketching in other letters.  If you have stencils, this is your time to shine.  I didn't have stencils so I did some complicated math in my head that involved counting the number of stitches in the scroll and dividing to find the height of each letter.  My letters ended up 40 "stitches" high with ten "stitches" between.

Step 3: Fill in your letters.  BE CERTAIN TO PUT NEWSPAPER UNDER THE CALENDAR!  Don't worry about getting smudges outside the lines.  We'll take care of that.

Step 4: Remember those smudges?  Use a contrasting color to outline the letters.  Instant smudge-away.

Step 5: If you have any empty space at the top or bottom (I had 22 "stitches" on both ends) you can fill it with another doodle.  I didn't feel like taking a long time sketching out the original partridge motif I was imagining, so I stuck with some simple geometric designs that worked well with the scrolls stitching.

Step 6: Hang it up and enjoy it.  I'm rather pleased with how well it worked out.  I'm planning on putting a smaller pine swag on the top to hide the nail, but I've got to admit- it fills the ugly negative space and makes the wreaths look a bit more interesting.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cookie Capers- Oh My!

Every year in Wheeling the local Easter Seals has what they call the Cookie Caper.  Basically, this is a giant bake sale where people pre-order a dozen cookies.  The cookies are supplied by home bakers, like myself.

Easter Seals is a program that offers rehabilitative and assistance programs to children with disabilities.  All three of Doc's therapists (physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy) are associated with Easter Seals.  He works with them at NO COST to me through various grants, funds, and other assistance programs.

Since they do so much for us- and don't ask for a penny from me- I like to help them out with their bake sale.  If there's one thing I can do well, it's bake!

I've spent the morning making triple batches of The Big Tex.  I used a smaller cookie scoop (I normally use a full sized ice cream scoop) so that I could make more cookies per batch of dough.  Don't worry though- these cookies are still pretty large.  Instead of the usual five inches across, these cookies are about 2.5 inches.

And, since Doc- my biggest cookie critic- hasn't complained, I'll assume I made another perfect batch.

24 dozen down... 16 dozen to go!

The Little Tex

The 23rd dozen out of the 40 dozen cookies promised to the Easter Seals Bake Sale.
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Cold Hands, Warm Heart Swap

About a month ago, I signed up for The Cold Hands, Warm Heart Swap that is being hosted by Sandy a la Mode and Much Love, Illy.


The Cold Hands, Warm Hearts Swap is a swap created to keep your hands warm as Winter approaches and the weather gets colder.  It’s also a way for bloggers to make new friends across the blog-world.  Doesn’t your heart get warm when you make new friends?  Your package should include a pair of gloves AND any other items you think your partner would like!  You can never have too many pairs of cute gloves and who doesn’t love getting some extra unexpected goodies in their packages too?  Please make sure your package is made from the heart!

Who wouldn't want to participate in something that fun?!?

I was partnered with Aime, a truly talented jewelry designer from Sense and Sensibility.
I was so excited to see her package on my doorstep!  (After all, I'm always excited to see anything that isn't a bill or a note with the words "your son" and "flower bed" in it!)
The Box!  Part of me wondered if she had ever met my Mom, but no... my Mom uses FAAAAAAAR more tape.

Is that Reese's?

The Loot: A Lovely Nubby Scarf, Scented Candles, and Reese's

Look at the lovely Nubby Scarf!  It's so WARM!

I've had the joy of wearing the scarf out and about several times now- it's been snowing here since last Thursday.  I received several compliments on it last night during Chaos's Cub Scout meeting.  It looks amazing on me and makes my skin look all dewy and young.  (And this Mama of four will take a youngish-looking face any day!)

Thanks Aime!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Today Has Been Happening:

Happening #1: My youngest didn't take his diaper off before I woke up this morning.  Diaper ON= no puddle.  Of course, it helps that after discovering that he'd stripped naked last night that I put his diaper on backwards.  He's very frustrated with that because he can't find the tabs to pull them off.  I then, of course, had to teach Dad how to diaper a child backwards.  Number of diapers the Husbeastie has changed since the new rule went into effect: Zero.  Such is life.

Happening #2: Geekachicas.com is in the midst of their 12 Days of Geekmas.  I've got several more articles to write in that series, but as filler (and to kill time), I've been posting the geeky equivalent to the 12 Days of Christmas song.  I need to post Day 6 today- and I should just go ahead and write and auto-schedule the rest of the days for publishing.  A few Dear Cthulu-Claws posts to write as well, then I should be done with most of GC writing for a week or two.

Happening #3: I have been involved in the Cold Hands, Warm Heart Swap this year.  I'll have a post on it later, but I received my package from my swap partner- Aime over at Sense and Sensibility- today.

Happening #4: A month or so back, I entered into a Cookie and a Story contest over at MyFirstKitchen.Net.  To enter, we needed to send her a memory of when we baked cookies.  My entry was accepted as a finalist.  Each day this month, the site will be featuring one of the finalist's stories.  Today, they are featuring my cookie baking memory!  Later this month, the polls will open for voting.  The person that the fans vote as the winner will get a lovely kitchen prize pack.  I'm really honored to be chosen as a finalist.

Happening #5: I saved over 80 percent on my grocery bill with coupons today.  I didn't need much from the store- I ended up spending less than $10 total for a full cart of items that included soda, ice, ice cream, snacks, and toddler items that I would normally have never bought.  Most of the coupons were for free plus overage items and most of them stacked with store coupons so I ended up getting a lot of merchandise for free.  Add in several catalinas that took $2 each off my grocery bill, and it added up some nice savings.

Happening #6: I broke out my new-in-box Foodsaver vacuum sealer that I bought on clearance for $19.  I was so excited to be putting it to good use finally.  Now that I know how easy it is to use, I can easily see myself hitting up the green grocer holiday sales for fresh green beans and broccoli to blanch and freeze.  Fresh is so much cheaper than frozen, but sadly, won't get used in a timely manner unless I manage to only buy what I'm going to use that day.  So, with the vacuum sealer in use now, I can take advantage of a lot more sales.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010