Friday, November 21, 2014

Nostalgia and yarn.

I've been listening to music from the 90s and the 00s this morning. I spent some of my morning trying to get this fiber I carded to work up well for some yarn. It has lots of halo to it and is proving more difficult to spin then I thought it would. I find myself wondering if I should have gone with a different method, like perhaps borrowed my Mother in Law's viking combs.

When I got frustrated with that, I set it aside and started trying to work on a snood out of this gold colored thread that I have. I kept managing to make a very airy hyperbolic shape rather then the bag shape that a snood needs to be. It got frustrating so I set that aside. Now I am posting here. I'm doing all this stuff because I am kinda mentally stuck on what to do next with Edge of Night (the working title for the manuscript I've been writing this month).

I think when I hit post for this thing, I'm going to give working on it a shot. I'm no longer working towards a specific wordcount goal. I hit that day before yesterday. Now I'm just trying to finish the story. The problem is, I'm getting tired of the way this story is unfolding.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Snowmageddon, bookwork, and life.

If you haven't been under a rock, then you have heard about the major lake effect event that took place in my neck of the woods. Folks with snow literally higher then their heads and such. Well, we are well east of that business. The hills shelter us pretty well from lake effect off of Lake Ontario, which is closer to us. If you go a few miles north of us, you'll be at a spot that gets hit with it but only a couple miles away you have us.

Where south Buffalo and the majority of Erie county got hammered with snow from that event, we got a light dusting. I'm kinda curious how much snow they got up on the Tug Hill plateau off at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. Usually, they're the ones with the huge numbers from snowstorms. I suspect that Erie county has won the snow 'rally' that goes on between different places along the lake before it even got started. I mean, there are people who got in the span of 48 hours the amount of snow they usually get over the course of the whole season.

I was kinda concerned about my sister in law. She lives off in Attica (yes, that Attica). From what she's told me, the snow wasn't over 5 feet, so I guess they didn't get hit too hard. They have all their storm supplies so they're good for waiting until everything is cleared out. There was a bit of a scare when one of her aunts was stuck on the side of the road for most of the first day of the snow event. They got out and made it to the fire department before they were completely buried by the snow. Hopefully when the road gets plowed, their car won't get any taps from the plow. I don't know how the insurance company would handle that.

I've been quiet on here because I have been pouring pretty much all of my creative effort into the book I'm writing. Last night, I finished my word count goal for the month (50 k). I'm not done writing this thing yet, however. I am only a little past half through my plot map for the book. My goal now is to finish it before the end of the month. I surprised myself yesterday by writing almost 10 k. While today is not going to be optimal for such big word counts, I am going to try to do as much as I can with what time I have today.

I have no idea how many pages or what my final word count for this thing will be. I don't think it will be over 100 k but I may be wrong. I'm still kinda amazed that I accomplished that yesterday. Before then, the most I had written in one day was 6 k. It makes me wonder if next year I can bang out a novel in a week. Crazy thought, but I almost think I can do it. That is if my mental health state lets me.

I'm writing this while the kids are eating breakfast and we're waiting for the bus. I'm going to start trying to post in the morning at about this time so that I get back into the habit of posting on here. I want to restart posting to my various blogs. I figure this one is the most mundane of them. Thus, this one will be the easiest to start posting to again. At one point, I had a schedule for when I posted to my blogs over the week and I allowed myself time to work on my manuscripts too. After the end of November, I'm going to start doing that again. Or at least, I'm going to try to.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Homespun Holidays: Valentine's Day

It is Valentine's Day and you forgot to get your sweetheart a gift. Don't buy a box of chocolates and call it a day. Take a few minutes and make this year's celebration something memoriable by adding some personal touches. A few minutes of effort goes a long way.

Write them a Love Letter
Love letters have been around for as long as there has been some form of writing. In today's world of text messages and internet memes, there is something to be said for the romance of an old fashioned pen and paper letter. Sometimes it is difficult to put down on paper what you wish to say. It is very easy to get caught up in the temptation to give up on a letter because you feel like it is poorly written. While there is something to be said for good grammar and proper spelling, the real heart of this exercise is to put down what you feel for the person you're writing.

Allow yourself to be as wordy or as brief as you wish. Sometimes a few short lines will do a better job of expressing what you feel then what a novella could. Three important things to remember about your love letter to be successful are legiblity, honesty, and emotion. When you write your letter, use your best handwriting. If this means you write out a draft and copy it over, do so. You want your beloved to beable to read your words of admiration and esteem. Honesty and emotion go hand in hand.

As awkward as it might feel to be emotionally expressive, let those feelings of love pour out on the page. The fact that you were willing to put down in black and white what you feel will mean the world to the recipient of the letter. It speaks of the high degree of trust to allow yourself to be so vulnerable with them.

Make a Play List
Shakespeare once said "Music be the food of love." Music has a very strong emotional pull for humanity. You have several options for when you produce a play list for your beloved. One is to put one together of music that reminds you of them. Another option is to assemble a play list of music that evokes special times from your relationship. An example of this would be a play list that included the song that was playing when you met, the song that you shared your first dance to, and the music from your children's first birthday parties.

Love Coupons
If you have a stack of blank notecards and a pen, you can make a quick and simple Valentine's Day gift that can add some smolder to your special day. On one side of the card, write down something special that you could do for your sweetheart. Decorate the otherside with hearts and then wait for them to take you up on your offers.

Imagination means that the sky is the limit with these 'coupons'. You can list anything from a nice relaxing foot rub to picking up household chores they hate to do to more intimate things.

Stick Figure Lovestory Comic
Just because you're not an artist doesn't mean that you can't make a creative little comic to celebrate your love. By using the most basic of stick figures, you can tell the story of your relationship by drawing out the major events that lead up to the present day. Speech bubbles that capture memorable statements and thoughts can help make the story more detailed. If your stick figures are colored in with various colored markers, it will add to the naive look of this simple gift. For extra sentimentality, put your comic into an inexpensive frame and give it to your beloved wrapped up in fancy paper.

Read Poetry to them
There is an amazing number of love poems that have been written. Indeed, works from antiquity into the modern day that address virtually all forms of love are available. Pick two or three that you feel best describe the tone and nature of your relationship. It is always a wonderful touch to have the poems printed out for them to read along with you.
Valentine's Day is a wonderful holiday for celebrating love in all of its many forms. A few minutes of time and a little creativity, it is possible to take even the most mundane of potential gifts and elevate it to something truly special.

Snow Queen

The snow fell thickly in the darkening night,
Over head, shone the Moon, cold and bright.
The frosty wind sighs and icles gleam,
Jack Frost strides about, herald of the Snow Queen.
Woman of frozen beauty with rainments white,
She drives her chariot in on that snowy night.
Blizzard's call and her eagles' cry rattle the lock,
Waking a boy-child with the Midnight clock.

Woe, oh, woe to you, little man-kin!
Heed not her siren call, for you shall be taken.
But sorrow heaps upon sorrow,
For the little wee man shall be home no more on the 'morrow.
The Snow Queen holds the boy in her thrall.
Trappe in her glittering, enchanted hall,
Bound by fascination and the pain of heartbreak,
The child Kay resides in a snow castle by an icy lake.

The boy left his mother's loving arms
To follow that cold Queen and her charms.
Forsaking friends and family in ensorcelled bitterness,
Kay wandered the white wilderness,
Hoping for the Snow Queen to wake
And from noisome happiness this child take.

Fair weather friends thought little of his loss,
A lesson to those who think gold in so much dross.
In their minds they cared for him but scarcely a bit
Casually wounding one who loved him to the quick.

In Springtide, little Gret would play
And gather the early blooms with young Kay.
With Summer's call, the children dance and sing
Playing in the blessed faery ring.
The Snow Queen stole away young Kay but last night.

Good Ladies, dear and sweet,
Blessed faery maids sought little Gret where she weeps.
Silvered, starry voices chime and sing
Speaking of Kay and Gret's sorrowing.
Bestowing blessings and thru magic's might
The Faery maids lift Gret alight,
They name the dear girl friend,
and cry for her to wend
Away thru the bitter snow and icy night
To free the boy whom she crowned faery knight,
To pluck from his heart the thorns of cold misery,
For this would melt the Queen's hold surely.


Homespun Holidays: Birthdays

Ah, birthdays! As children, we often anticipate a fantastic party. The part of the birthday that we focused on the most, however, were the presents, right? When we get older, we often feel a desire to revisit the wonderful fun of our childhood birthday parties at the same time we rebel against the idea of getting older. From age 2 to 92, there are a few simple rules to keep in mind with birthday presents:
  • The gift is from you to the recipient. Don't hesitate to put your unique twist on it.
  • The best gifts truly are from the heart.
  • Gifts that are practical as well as fun/beautiful will always be well received.
In the case of a young child, the birthday gift that is heavily focused upon the practical is not going to be enjoyed immediately. It may even provoke some anger. Gifts that are toys or related to the currently popular trend for the age group can draw the ire of parents. Gift giving to children can be a fine line to walk, but success is not entirely impossible!

If the child has a favorite activity, it is possible to incorporate this into the gift. For example, my eldest child loves trucks. He has enough toy trucks in the living room that walking from one side to the other can be potentially lethal in the middle of the night if they're not all put away at the end of the day. His birthday is coming up and there is a very real need to have a better method of putting his toys away.
A little glue, a few magazines, and a range of different sized shoe boxes are all that is needed to make an excellent gift for him in the course of an afternoon. Cut out pictures of cars and trucks, as well as construction related signs, to fix on the boxes and you have a fantastic storage solution. It also makes for a bright and colorful addition to his room. With a few pages of paper, a hole punch, more car pictures, glue, and some string, it's possible to make a flip book of cars to slip into one of the boxes.

Now, this may sound to be a fine gift for a toddler, but older children may be offended by this simplistic gift. The same creativity applied to a slightly more sophisticated version brings the gift into the school age realm. An old tool box that has been cleaned up, primed, and repainted in the child's favorite color can make an excellent place to store school supplies, craft materials, or the odds and ends that are treasured possessions of the child in question. A large piece of plywood can be transformed into a place to hang hats and sweaters, even as it is continuing the theme of the child's favorite interests.

My eldest neice loves the color pink and has started learning to cook. She is one of the infamously fickle 'tweens' who are nearly impossible to shop for. Here, it's good to encourage the learning of a life long skill (cooking) even as we acknowledge her tastes. Cutting out and sewing an apron from an old flat sheet is simply a start. Taking the fabric and tie-dying it adds dimension to it. This can then be further enhanced with iron-on embellishments, fabric paints, or sewing on interesting buttons. The excess fabric from the sheet, dyed to match the apron, can then be used to cover an inexpensive note book which will be a cooking journal.

The concept of a matched set of cooking gear is one that can be applied for teens and adults. The same can be said for gardening or similar activities. In this case, the apron and journal set could possibly be expanded to include matching hot mitts or hot pads by cutting out and sewing the excess fabric around some batting or an old towel cut to size. When the person's interests fall outside of the home or simply can not be accommodated in such a simple fashion, the challenge then turns to finding something that connects you to them.

I believe the best example that I can think of to solving this dilemma can be found in the gift that my husband gave his mother for her birthday this year. It was the gift of his time. My husband volunteered to help her with her gardening this summer. His mother is an avid gardener with arthritic knees. To say the least, she was delighted by the offer and next month will be putting him to work planting a rosebush. This type of gift is perhaps one of the best to give when viewed in the light of the economy.

Giving your time and effort doesn't just have to be in the way of giving your friends and family free labor. It can also reach into frivolous and silly things. I had given one of my nieces the gift of my being her personal storyteller for a month. It taxed my imagination to come up with a month's worth of stories about pigs, but it is something that she deeply appreciated. The trick in giving the gift of your time is to make sure it is done in a way that you can carry out the commitment. Scheduling and knowing your limitations is always important.

Most of all, however, taking the opportunity to tell the birthday person how much you love and celebrate them is vital. While you may feel that taking your 96 year old grandmother out for ice cream on Sunday afternoon is the most foolish gift you could give and that it should have been that fantastic massaging chair that was well outside of your price range, I assure you that your grandmother will be happier with spending time with you. Birthdays are about celebrating the person and expressing your good wishes for the up coming year.

Homespun Holidays: Mother's Day

Ah, we all love Mom! She's done so very much for us that we love to express our appreciation. Sometimes, however, Mom is the hardest person to shop for. If your Mom is anything like my Mother-In-Law, her answer to the question 'What would you like?' is usually 'Oh, nothing. I'm just happy with you doing so well!' Don't let that answer fool you, because Mom loves to get pampered and be surprised with gifts. Mother's Day, her birthday, or Christmas, these ideas can help you put together one of the best surprises for Mom this year with no need to go to the store and buy something.

From the Kids

We may remember giving Mom a fistful of dasies from the front yard or covering the refridgerator with artwork in Mom's honor. These time honored gifts of appreciation from children are going to always have a special place in Mom's heart. Sometimes, we want to get children into the spirit of giving Mom a nice surprise but it's hard to pick what the best thing is because of the age of the child in question. Using that fantastic natural creativity and imagination, kids can do some truly amazing things that will be cherished for years.

Babies, Toddlers, and Pre-schoolers

The youngest member of the family doesn't need to be kept out of the fun of surprising Mom. Very young babies lack the motor control and coordination to do any art work, but with a little help a lovely gift can be put together. A dab of non-toxic water washable paint can be spread across the baby's hand (or foot) before being pressed to a sheet of paper. That hand (or foot) print can be framed when dry with a printed poem devoted to the special bond between Mother and baby.

A little creativity can also turn foot prints into butterflies and hand prints into turkeys with a few strokes of the brush or gluing on a few snips of colored paper. This creates a special work of art that not only honors Mom but is a precious keepsake of a fleeting time of life. Older babies (1 to 2 years old) can take more independent action with art supplies. Large crayons and finger paints, when supervised, can provide a great deal of entertainment. With any art activity at this age, it is most likely going to be messy and you need to make sure that the child doesn't ingest their art supplies.

Toddlers and preschoolers (3 - 4 years old) have enough skill to begin making their own artistic masterpeices. This is where a little bit extra effort can make the special gift drawing stand out from the myriad that have taken over the refridgerator. Purchasing an inexpensive picture frame, decorating it, and placing the drawing into the frame elevates that picture out of the pile and into the something special category. Making a batch of salt-dough and baking it to give the sculpture of your budding Michelangelo permanence. Artistic efforts of the littlest ones need not be the only gift available from them. Having the child pick out their favorite picture of themselves with their mother and a frame is also an excellent option.

School Age Children

School age children are generally more independent and self-reliant than their younger counterparts. The benefits of this fact far out weigh the fustrations that come along with this fact, especially in the gift giving department. Take time to talk to your child about the special occasion for Mom, because their ideas may be far better then any of the suggestions here. If you and your child are at a loss for ideas, consider the following:
  • Mommy Time Coupons - Take a stack of 3x5 cards (or colored paper cut to size), colorful markers, a hole punch, and a length of string. Punch several cards and tie together. On each card, write: This card entitles the bearer to ______ minutes of Mommy Time to be used at any time. Fill in on the blank a length of time that seems reasonable. 15 to 30 minutes seems to be popular with the school age children that I know. Mommy Time is a special block of time that Mom can have un-interrupted.
  • Flower Cookies - Using a basic recipe for sugar cookies and a tulip shaped cookie cutter, make a dozen cookies. Frost with brightly colored frosting and wrap with clear plastic wrap. Secure the plastic wrap on the back/unfrosted side of the cookie with a small peice of freezer tape. Tape a popsicle stick to the back of the cookie. Gather the cookie flowers together and place in Mom's favorite coffee cup for presentation.
  • Dinner Delight # 1 - Have the child help in preparing Mom's favorite meal for dinner and setting the table. When the meal is finished, have the child help with clean up. The more effort the child put into helping cook, the less they should do on clean up this way they don't feel like they're getting all of the burden.
  • Dinner Delight # 2 - Have the child help plan and prepare a special dinner for Mom.
  • Special Helper Coupons - Similar to the Mommy Time coupons, the Special Helper coupons are for the child to give Mom the gift of their time and effort. On the coupons write: This card entitles the bearer to 1 Special Helper to be used at any time. Similar coupons can be made for household chores that the child can complete on their own but are not usually part of their assigned tasks.

Teens and Adult Children

Teenagers want to take on the world like the young adults they are. The gifts they give to show their appreciation of Mom should reflect this. While it may not be possible to go out and buy Mom a stunning diamond tennis bracelet, there are plenty of options available. In giving jewlery or any other very personalized gift, like perfume, it is important to keep the tastes of the person recieving the gift in mind. If Mom hates the color yellow with a passion, getting her something that is yellow may not be the best idea. The same holds true for clothing (setting aside the challenge of making sure it's something that would fit right).

A good option is to choose something that reminds the giver of the person who is recieving the gift in a flattering way. It truly is the thought that counts in gift giving, not the price tag. Homemade gifts are almost always near the top of the list of favorite gifts recieved. Consider the many simple and quickly assembled gift ideas available in your home. A special pillowcase with a unique design drawn on to it with fabric marker is just as lovely as a batch of decadent homemade brownies.

Many times, the biggest and best gift that can be given to Mom is a heartfelt letter telling her how much she is loved and how thankful you are for her. It may not be half as fancy as the two dozen roses in a crystal vase or the luxurious weekend away at a stylish spa, but it will be something that she will treasure. Hand delivered or sent by mail, the letter describing your love for Mom and some of your favorite memories featuring her from your childhood will make you a gift giving hero.

Unexpected Blessings

I should have known, I should have expected it.
Yet, here we are
You're in my life
And the world has turned around
Hand to hold
Will you be shy or bold?
Courage in your blood
Beauty in your bones
And  a head full of wits
How shall you grow?
Time are hard again
Yet you've come
Answered my deepest prayers
Answering fear with fecudancy
Reminding me
I am the strength of the Earth
How shall I come to know you?
Welcome, little one,
The world is hard and cold
But you'll always have my hand to hold.

From 2008, shortly after I learned I was pregnant with Snuggle Bug.

Homespun Holidays: Gifts for the Gourmet

With the holiday season beginning at Thanksgiving, it can be a little hair-raising to see what gifts are touted for the gourmet cooks in our lives. The various gadgets and wondrous cooking devices that strangely resemble Medieval torture devices to the untrained eye are usually priced high enough that they may as well be equipment for making a poor soul suffer unspeakable agony. Fortunately, however, there are a few simple gifts that are always well received by any cook, gourmet or not.

Flavored Vinegars & Oils

For the cost of a few pretty bottles and herbs, it is possible to put together a gift that appears to be far more expensive and is virtually effortless. When making flavored vinegars or oils, it is best to allow them to cure in a separate jar before bottling. This eliminates mess and allows you to strain your liquids before bottling, thus ensuring a clear fluid in the bottle 90% of the time. Prior to making any of the following items, be sure that all of your equipment is scrupulously clean.

Rosemary Vinegar

Rosemary is one of those lovely potted herbs that are available for sale just about everywhere right now because it is popular to use for a live Christmas tree. Make sure that you are getting Rosemary, if you're choosing to use sprigs of fresh Rosemary from the plant itself. (I highly suggest this as the bush is wonderfully fragrant and an excellent investment if you do any herbal gardening!) If you are not purchasing the plant, it is possible to buy sprigs of Rosemary from the grocery store's produce section in most large grocery stores. Failing this, take a small steel tea ball and put one to two pinches of whole dried Rosemary leaves in it.

Fill a 2 quart jar with white vinegar and place two sprigs of Rosemary in (or your tea ball). Cover with the lid and place in a cool dark location until shortly before Christmas eve. (Roughly 1 month.) At this time, retrieve the vinegar and pour it into a bowl. Strain the herbs out of the liquid and discard. Pour your vinegar into your cleaned and sterilized bottles, cap, and seal with a bit of wax dripped on top.

Attach your label with a ribbon and you've finished the gift. Fine bottles to use for giving flavored vinegars are wine bottles. Make sure, however, that you have cleaned and sterilized the bottle, as well as removed the label. A sprig of dried Rosemary can be added to the vinegar at the time of bottling for decorative purposes or tied to the label.

Chili Oil

Chili oil is quite versatile and can be a wonderful accompaniment to many savory winter dishes. Make sure that the dried chilies that you choose are well cleaned and not too hot for the person you're giving this gift to. In a cleaned and sterilized 2 quart jar, place two chilies. If you would like for the chili flavor to be even stronger, add three. Cover tightly and place in a cool, dark place for two weeks at minimum. As with bottling the Rosemary vinegar, strain the chilies out and discard. Keeping the chilies in the oil will add greater amount of the volatile oils within the chilies (the sources of the flavor) to the oil and make the flavor more pronounced.

Bottle, cap, and seal as with the Rosemary vinegar. Thread a chili onto the ribbon affixing the label to your flavored oil.

Chili HoHo

This is a Colonial style vinegar and is quite potent. Completely fill a clean bottle dried pequin chilies. Then pour in enough white vinegar to cover the chilies. Cover and place in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks, shaking occasionally. Once the liquid has taken on a rich red color, you are now ready to seal and label your gift. This can be made using gin, sherry, or vodka in place of vinegar. Be sure to warn the gourmet cook receiving this gift that it should be used sparingly. As the Chili HoHo is used, more vinegar or alcohol can be added.

Spice Sachets

A square of cheesecloth, a length of butcher's twine, and some of the spices in your kitchen leads to a basket full of additions to soups, stews, and roasts that will make your chef smile in appreciation. Using dried whole herbs rather then powdered is best. Given below are some spice mixtures for you to use.

Boquet Garni

  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Bay
  • Tarragon
  • Peppercorn


  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Marjoram
  • Thyme
  • Oregano

Equipment Boquet

Every cook knows the value of a good wooden spoon. We also know that eventually, our favorite wooden spoon is going to break, our rubber tipped spatula will look like it was used by a poodle puppy for teething, and the wire whisk is going to rust. As such, buying the cook in your life a few good quality wooden spoons, a spatula, and one or two other commonly used cooking implements will be appreciated. Tied together with a pretty ribbon and given in an inexpensive vase, large jar, or pretty and inexpensive oversized mug not only gives them replacements for when their cherished tools are used up but a place to keep them.

A Cooking Journal

One of my most treasured possessions is my cooking journal. It's different from a mere cookbook because I not only have recipes in there but also menus, shopping lists, and my notes as to what food allergies my family has. Nothing is more helpful then knowing what your neice will absolutely always refuse or that your sister-in-law is deathly allergic to shellfish when you are planning a dinner.

If you choose, it is possible to make the cooking journal a little more wonderful then a tab-divided notebook. With a little bit of time and creativity, the journal can be made to look more like a scrap book with pictures and pretty details. If you choose to take more of a scrap book approach, I highly advise you go the distance with it. Purchase page protector sleeves and use either an actuall scrap book or a three ring binder to hold it all together.

I, personally, would opt for the binder because it will be less expensive then trying to locate a pretty and yet durable scrap book cover. If you wish to personalize the cover, use a three ring binder with pockets on the covers and bindings which will allow you to add your own artwork to it. The sleeve protectors will make it easy to keep the cooking journal/scrap book in good condition as well as they're incredibly easy to wipe spills off of.

Your Own Cookbook

If you are like me, half of the family clamors for about half of the recipies that you have made. Make a list of those recipies and sit down at the computer, folks! You've got the makings of a quick and easy cookbook. Type up the recipies, throw in a few cute pictures from clip art, and fire up the printer. Binding them with staples is the easiest thing in the world and your gift can be done in an hour. If you have decided to give some one a cooking journal, it is possible to add your cookbook to it by simply punching the pages and slipping them into the binder.

Reject the Holiday Hype

    I suppose I should warn you, I don't like having holiday advertising everywhere. It's not so much that I hate the holidays as it is that I hate the hype. Last I checked, the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving was as much of a myth as the Tooth Fairy. Oh, that post-card perfect Christmas, complete with everyone dressed in red velvet with white trim? That's not real except for as a picture, so don't get sucked into it either.

     I'm not sure why everyone is bombarded with demands from advertising campaigns everywhere that we buy mass produced garbage... erm, truck loads of the latest toys for the children who are even remotely in our lives. I'm not sure why there's something assumed to be wrong in your relationship if your significant other doesn't give you some exotic and incredibly expensive gift. If you're a woman, you're supposed to be draped in diamonds and other precious gemstones, wearing cashmere and generally looking like something out of a high end luxury catalog. If you're a man, you're supposed to have all of the fabulous and fascinating gadgets available this season.

     I don't know about you, but these unwritten rules and the laundry list of others that get thrown at us every year by the advertising campaigns are crazy. Actually, crazy isn't the right term and the one which comes to mind as I sit here writing this is far too vulgar to use, so we'll have to just leave that there. I find it incredibly demeaning to see this high consumerist and spoiled self-entitlement attitude being promoted everywhere you turn.

     This year, we are getting a reprieve, so I can't say it's as bad as it usually is. There is one good thing that has come out of the insanity of the current economic crisis and the political ugliness of the campaigns leading up to the election earlier this month, they didn't start bombarding us immediately after Columbus Day with advertising. With Thanksgiving coming up, however, we're hearing the ads singing the praises of spending like it is going out of style for 'Black Friday' creeping up.

     As we move into the holiday season, folks, let's do our best not to get sucked into the hype. Don't feel guilty if you can't afford that deluxe widget for that overpriced thingamajig that you gave the guy in your life. The same item that has sat on the shelf in it's original packaging ever since it got unwrapped on his birthday. Don't assume that you need to give the kids those outlandishly expensive toys that need forty billion batteries and about eight different sizes.

     The whole hype is a scam. Your holidays are perfect as they are because you put love into them. You may not have the 'perfect' family portrait or a pile of gifts that reaches up to hip height in the middle of the room. That's ok. Your Thanksgiving turkey may be a little bit over cooked and the stuffing on the dry side. This doesn't matter. What matters is you are with the ones you love and that you celebrate the bonds of family and friendship, not the image of the holidays that gets forced down our throats by the advertising campaigns.

(I originally posted this back in 2008. I think it still is relevant.)

Homespun Holidays: Gifts from the Kitchen

    Isn't the kitchen a wonderful place during the holidays? Filled with the wonderful scents of baked goodies, fantastic dinners, and (at least around my place) about half of your guests who want to visit while you're cooking. (If you're evil like I am, you may even put a few of them to work too!) The kitchen need not only be the place where food is prepared, dishes and pots washed, and the staging area for all holiday gatherings in your home. If you simply can not afford to go out and buy all the gifts you wish to give, you can make them in between cooking up a storm in there.
     Some of these projects may require a bit of time, but the results have always proven worth it for me. If you have small children, you will find that some of these projects are ones that you can do with them. Please, please take the time to do so if you can. Among my most cherished memories from my childhood are the memories of making Christmas presents for my extended family. This may also be true for the children in your life.

Salt Clay Ornaments & Baskets

     If you have ever used the play-clay that's out on the market you already know how to use salt clay. There are quite a few variations to this wonderful kitchen creation. The recipe that I am giving you is for baking in your oven however if you add a few tablespoons of cooking oil it can be stored in an air tight container and used for play-clay for several weeks.

     In a large mixing bowl, combine two cups of plain flour, one cup of salt, and two cups of water. Mix this together until a stiff dough is formed. Turn this salt clay out onto a counter top or other flat surface and knead a few times. Once the dough is smooth, you are ready to begin making your ornaments.

     Roll out your salt clay until it is roughly a 1/4 of an inch to a 1/2 inch thick. Thicker then this and your ornaments will crack as they bake in the oven. Using cookie cutters, cut out your desired ornaments. With a pencil, poke a hole where you wish to hang your ornament. Then place the ornaments upon a foil lined cookie tray, making sure they are not touching. If your ornaments are a 1/2 inch thick, you will want to prick them all over with a fork to ensure even drying when they bake.

     Heat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for one hour or until the ornaments are golden colored and hard. Remove the ornaments to a cooling rack to allow them to cool enough that they can be handled comfortably. Then paint, spray with varnish (Hair spray can be used in a pinch!), and, when everything is dry, thread a ribbon or a length of yarn thru the hole you made with your pencil. Your ornament is now ready for hanging up or giving.

      If you wish, spices can be added to the salt clay to scent it or food coloring can be added to give the clay itself color. The use of food coloring to color the salt clay is not very effective if you are making ornaments as it fades significantly upon baking. When using salt clay with children, keep an eye out as to how much they may try to eat. While salt clay is non-toxic, it will still give your child a stomach ache if they eat it. (Though I don't know why they'd eat it because it tastes horrid.)

     If you have bowls that are oven safe, they work quite well for the next project. Take your salt clay and cut it into several narrow strips. Then coat the out side of a bread pan (or a bowl) with non-stick spray. Place strips of salt clay over the pan's widest portion on the bottom. Weave thru them a sufficent number of strips of salt clay to allow space for weaving along the narrower dimension of the pan.

     Taking the remaining strips of salt clay, weave around the bread pan until it is covered. When you require strips of greater length then what you have available, it is possible to join two strips of salt clay with a small amount of water and a little kneading. Once the bread pan is covered with salt clay, bake in the oven for an hour or until golden colored and hard. As with the ornaments, this basket can be painted and covered in varnish.

Cookies in a Jar

     Everyone loves cookies. While it may be wonderful to give a tin full of home made cookies as a gift, not everyone has the time to bake them. Here is where a little bit of recycling and a little bit of cooking collide. Take a two quart glass jar and clean it well. (Depending upon the brand of spaghetti sauce you buy, it is possible that you have canning jars in disguise! If you don't have one, canning jars are incredibly inexpensive and available at most grocery stores.) It is a very good idea to soak the label off of your jar while you are cleaning it.

     Measure out the dry ingredients to make a single batch of your favorite or most popular type of cookie. Layer them in your clean and dry jar. Screw the top onto the jar. Cut out a small piece of scrap fabric (or a piece of wrapping paper, but fabric works better) large enough to cover the top of the jar and part of the sides. On a 3 x 5 index card with a hole punched in the corner, write the complete recipe down. With a length of butcher's twine, tie the fabric to the top of the jar, slip the recipe card onto the twine, and then tie with a pretty bow.

     The same principle for Cookies in a Jar can be used for Soup in a Jar. Instead of the dry components for a batch of cookies, fill the jar with an assortment of dried beans sorted by color and then attach a recipe card with directions for how to make bean soup. It is a good idea to layer the beans by color but if you desire a more mottled appearance, don't sort them but rather fill the jar with the beans at random. Always check your dried beans to make sure that your beans are free of stones.

Kitchen Devil

     One of the little things that has proven amazingly popular in my gift giving experience is a kitchen devil. I know this sounds like a funny name for a bit of string with dried chilies attached, but who am I to argue with tradition. Some people like to use just dried chilies while others also add small bundles of cinnamon sticks to the string as well. If you are giving a kitchen devil as a gift, it can be paired with a jar of kidney beans and a recipe for chilli. When doing anything with chilies, be careful not to touch your face and make sure you wash your hands.
     The active agent in chili peppers is the basis of that pepper spray used to chase away muggers, wild animals, and charging drunks. Even though your peppers are dried, the oils are still present and they should be handled with care. There is a wide range of chili peppers that can be used in making a kitchen devil. The variety that I have found most popular are the jalapeno peppers. They are also more mild then some of the other peppers available and generally less expensive as well. Make sure that the person receiving the kitchen devil is aware that they should hang it away from the stove, the sink, or other places where a great deal of moisture is present. This helps preserve the kitchen devil longer.

Homespun Holidays: Gifts

It is almost time for the holiday madness to begin. Some people will start putting up their decorations as soon as the last of the trick-or-treaters leave and others will wait for the day immediately before their celebrations. With a little bit of planning and a little bit of effort, it is possible to avoid a large amount of the anxiety for which the holiday season has become infamous for. My family are a bit tight on money this year, like many others in the face of the economic 'crisis' that is often talked about in the news today. Between bills, basic needs, and the financial obligations that come with parenthood, there isn't much money left over for holiday spending.

Fortunately, however, it doesn't need to take a lot of money. One of the biggest sources of anxiety is the matter of gifts, especially gifts for children. Using inexpensive materials, it is possible to make gifts for the children in your life with the amount of effort being quite simple. Stopping in any craft store, it is possible to put together a small basket for scrapbooking for under thirty dollars. It is also possible to obtain the materials to make gifts for more people for the same amount of money. The question is how much work you wish to put in to it. Given below are three craft ideas that use common household objects in an innovative fashion to produce a lovely holiday gift.

Personalized Picture Frame

This picture frame is decorated with a process known as decoupage. This process can be used to decorate just about anything that the glue will stick to. If you desire, you can add bits of fabric, rickrack, beads, and other materials. It is best to leave the addition of 3-D objects such as beads until the final layer of images is completed. If you don't wish to use hair spray to seal your frame, there are commercial sealants for use on paintings. This will also work well, though it will cost more then the generic can of hair spray in your bathroom.
Items Needed:
  1. 1 inexpensive medium sized picture frame with a moderately wide, unfinished wooden molding
  2. An array of magazines with photos
  3. Scissors
  4. Liquid white glue (also known as school glue, not to be confused with rubber cement)
  5. Paintbrush
  6. Small container of water
  7. A can of hair spray
The first step in this project is to select pictures from your magazine that remind you of the person whom you are making this frame for. Depending on how you wish to present the frame, it is possible to use small or medium pictures for this project. One can use portions of pictures for this project and no harm will be done. This is a creative work and your artistic discretion is paramount.

In your container of water, mix your glue and water together until it resembles skim milk in appearance. Disassemble your picture frame, placing the backing, glass, and any matting material aside. Using your paint brush, apply a thin layer of the glue mixture to your frame's molding. Assemble the first layer of images on your frame. Allow the glue mixture to dry. Usually, this is for an hour if you used a thin coat. A thicker coating of the glue mixtures requires a longer period of time.

Once the frame is dry, apply another coat of the glue mixture over the paper. This needs to be a thin coat to prevent weakening the paper or otherwise degrading your images selected from something such as having the ink from printing them run. When the frame is dry, apply a third coat of the glue mixture and assemble your next layer of images. Allow this to dry. Continue the layering process until your frame is covered in the selected images. With each layer, add another hour of drying time prior to adding more to it.

When your layering is finished and dry, spray heavily with the hair spray. Set aside and allow to dry. The hair spray works to seal the glued images to the frame and help resist atmospheric moisture, prolonging the life of your gift. Upon completion, re-assemble the frame and insert any picture you wish to give. If no picture is to be given, just the frame, wrap the frame lightly with tissue paper and place into your gift bag.

Yarn Dollies

Nothing says homespun more then classic children's toys. Yarn Dollies are definitely one of the oldest and easiest children's toys to make. There are countless variations appropriate for different ages. Dolls can be used by children of either gender (Because that's what those action figures really are!) and are wonderful tools for development because they encourage imaginary play.
Items Needed:
  1. 1 skein of yarn
  2. Ruler and a pencil
  3. Scissors
  4. Cardboard
Determine how long you desire for the doll your making should be. With your ruler and pencil, mark off this length on your cardboard. Cut your cardboard to this dimension. Take your skein of yarn and wrap it once around the cardboard. Tie a square knot to secure the loose end and then wrap your yarn about the cardboard 100 times. This determines the thickness of your doll. If you desire thicker or thinner, adjust the number of times you wrap your yarn accordingly. Tie a square knot to secure your final wrap of the yarn and cut free from the skein.

Cut a length of yarn from your skein long enough for you to be able to tie around the wrapped yarn. Pick one edge of the cardboard and tie your yarn together into a bundle there. Secure this with a square knot. If you desire to have your yarn remain looped, fold your length of cardboard enough to remove the tension on your loops of yarn. This will allow you to slip your yarn free from the cardboard. With a second length of yarn, tie another knot about the bundle of yarn roughly an inch down from the knot holding your looped yarn in a bundle. This forms the head of your doll.

Divide your yarn bundle into four separate smaller bundles. The two bundles to the outside of the arrangement need to be tied close to the lower knot forming the head with a separate length of yarn for each. A third of the way to the ends of these bundles, the bundle needs secured here as well. This roughly forms the arms. The arms then have the excess yarn cut off after the lower knot. Additional lengths of yarn can be knotted to secure the arms additionally, but this is not required.

At roughly the same distance from the head of your doll as the ends of the doll's arms are, secure the two inner bundles together. This forms the body of the doll. The legs are then formed in the same fashion as the arms. If you desire for the doll to have a 'dress' the legs need not be divided and secured. If you are so inclined the arms, body, and legs can be braided prior to knotting. If you are giving this doll to a young child, the braiding is a good idea as it helps prevent the child from accidentally pulling the doll apart and eating some of the yarn.

Tin Can Tea Light Lantern

This project is slightly more difficult and oriented towards an adult or teenager construction. I've done this project several times in the past and I have had favorable reactions. I strongly advise that when constructing this project, hold the can still with a pair of blocks or something else that is safer then your knees. If a vise is available, use it but be careful not to crush your can. Use caution! The designs best suited for punching are geometric. Think about the star patterns on the old steel and aluminum colanders, they are great sources of ideas!

Items Needed:
  1. 1 empty 10 oz steel can, washed, dried, and label removed
  2. Masking tape
  3. Pattern template
  4. Hammer and 1 ten penny nail
  5. 4 in length of steel wire and pliers
  6. Safety glasses and leather workman's gloves
With your masking tape, secure your pattern template to your can. Using the hammer and nail, carefully punch holes into your can as indicated on the template. Take care to avoid punching the nail completely through the can. As you work, the can will deform slightly. This is to be expected and using your gloves, you can return the can to it's proper shape with some gentle pressure. If the can has sharp edges at the opening, carefully tap the rim until the edges are blunted and turned inwards.

If a hanging hook is desired, a length of wire can be cut to form it. Taking a pair of pliers, bend an end of the wire into a button hook shape and slip through a hole near the top of the can. Secure the end of the wire by twisting it around the length left free. Make sure the sharp end of the wire is pointing down into the can, if possible threaded through the coils created by wrapping the wire. Repeat this at the opposite side of the can in a hole at approximately the same place. This will give your tin can lantern a bucket like appearance.

Use this lantern with care because metal conducts heat. Painting the lantern is not a good idea because the heat from the candle can potentially scorch the paint. It is wise to make sure that the wire used for the hanging hook is of the same material as the lantern itself. If you have an aluminum can, do not use steel wire. Aluminum encourages the corrosion of steel in the presence of moisture and you will eventually develop rust streaks down the aluminum.

Poem: Precipice

Standing on an edge of glass
Wind screaming in my face
Is it tears or blood running down my cheek?
Dizzying space beyond
A butterfly of hope
A mirage of courage
Is it my dreams or my pride I chase?
Empty air above
Devastation below
Or is it freedom before me?

I'm beginning the process of transferring my work from Triond to here. Here's a poem I wrote about risk taking. From 2008.

Monday, November 10, 2014

NaNoWriMo vs NaBloPoMo (round 1! FIGHT!)

Two literary heavy weights are squaring off. On the right, we have National Blog Posting Month. On the left, we have National Novel Writing Month. Originally, I had the wild idea of doing both this year. Then life happened. I now have just over a week worth of blog posts to make if I want to get on target for NaBloPoMo. On the other hand, I'm almost half finished with my manuscript for National Novel Writing Month.

It makes me think that perhaps I'll just finish the manuscript and then blog the remainder of the month. Then do the post every day for the month of December. Because November doesn't have to be the only month of the year for either of those challenges. Oh, and for the curious, I'm working on book five of the fantasy series that I'm writing. I've officially crossed into the territory of writing a series of books now. Once I finish this, I'll have 15 more books to write and the series will be finished.