A Finished Knit…or Three, New Year’s, and Fun with Kitchen Appliances

We made it through Christmas, and despite the lingering sadness that permeated the season, we ended up with a simple yet wonderful celebration. Good food, good family and friends, and new memories. Even with the pared down festivities, I still ended up running around like a madwoman, and left too many tasks until the last minute. When I wasn’t working, I cranked out a few more knitted gifts:

mittenPattern: Antler Mittens by Tin Can Knits (Available both on their site and through Ravelry). I selected the adult medium size.

Yarn: Berroco Comfort Worsted in Burgundy Red

Needles: US Size 6 and 8 DPN’s

Notes: This was a super easy and fast project, though the decrease sections were a pain in the rear. Otherwise, great project that was a gift for the neighbor.

slippers

Pattern: Non-Felted Slippers (available on Ravelry).

Yarn: Loops & Threads Cozy Wool in Moss and Pewter.

Needle: US Size 9

Notes: The original pattern is about a US women’s size 7. I researched plenty of other Ravelry members’ project notes and upsized them to a men’s size 13 for the husband. Quick knit but it’s a tight gauge, making those decreases a little challenging.

headbandPattern: Blue Leaf Headband (available on Ravelry).

Yarn: Lionbrand Woodspun in purple colorway.

Needles: US 10-1/2

Notes: Well-written, fast pattern. I made it in less than a few hours. I followed the buttonhole option for finishing, rather than adding icord ties.

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As for me, I received the spirializer attachment for my KitchenAid, which came just in time for much-needed New Year’s resolutions. Since Mom passed, my gym time has been sadly lacking and the scale informed me this morning that something’s got to give. The fact that my jeans feel like they are cutting me in half should have clued me in sooner. I played with it last night and made spicy butternut squash fries with maple-yogurt dipping sauce. I passed on the rice and ate that with my chicken instead, then made it to the gym bright and early this morning. Baby steps indeed:

squashI’m jumpstarting this New Year with a good attitude and a list of goals a mile long. After all, as Adam Duritz once wrote: “It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.” I certainly hope so.

Finished Knit–Snappy Hat Version 2.0

Back in the day, I made Bean this hat, which her melon head quickly outgrew:

So, for Christmas, I decided to whip up a larger version, especially since this pattern takes no time at all. Normally, I refuse to use variegated yarns on patterns with cables because they end up looking too busy. But, alas, Bean is often a too-busy hot mess who marches to her own drum anyway:

Pattern: Snappy Hat (available on Ravelry and it’s free). This is the medium size, while the first pic/hat was the child’s size.

Yarn: Premier Yarns Deborah Norville Serenity Chunky Prints in DN 6005-15 colorway.

Needle: Both circular and DPN’s, size 10.5

Notes: After making this again, I think something about the decreases at the crown give this hat a tendency to pull back off the head. That’s not a good trait in a kids’ hat as she keeps having to pull it back down to stay on. However, it is a cute, fast hat, and ensures that all the Heathen’s get something handmade from mom this year. Let’s call that a win, even if it looks like unicorn…never mind.

Advent Traditions–Motivating the Heathens to Be a Little Less Heathen-ish

adventWhen the kids were much younger, I started an Advent tradition for our family that I hoped would bring some sanity to dinnertime. Each night at dinner, as we light the Advent candles, we take turns reading a small reflection and prayer. It helps everyone get a small daily reminder about the meaning of the season, and also helps the kids keep at least some focus away from gift fever. Last year, as I was struggling with my own inner-apathy, I added a new component to this routine.

I place a Mason jar in the center of the wreath, and next to it, I add a small container with blank slips of paper and a pen. Each day, everyone writes either a good deed that they did that day, or something for which they are grateful. They fold up the slips and place them in the jar. On Christmas morning, after the bustle gifts, we sit down to a big breakfast. While we are eating, we pass around the jar and each person takes out and reads a slip. It’s amazing to hear all of the wonderful things the Heathens did or thought, and drives home how blessed we are. The unexpected side effect is that this really motivates the Heathens to do good deeds so that they will have something meaningful to add to the jar.

This year, as we continue to grieve and heal, I hope those good deeds help bring some holiday spirit to others. In the meantime, that whole dinnertime sanity thing is still pretty much a pipe dream…

Post-Thanksgiving Rest

towelWelp, I survived a Thanksgiving marathon like no other. To be honest, we had a great holiday, and despite hosting 20 of our family and friends, things proceeded smoothly and happily. As I was giving my dad the event recap, he asked in exasperation, “Who even has 20 chairs?!?” This girl, Dad…this girl.

During the days of preparation, my neighbor’s daughter stopped by and handed me this kitchen towel as a sweet pre-holiday gift. That 11 year old was on to something. I accepted ahead of time that big holidays can be chaotic, and that if something went wrong, it really would be ok. I’m  so over the pressure for picture-perfect gatherings, and I realized that once you have that mentality, you certainly enjoy them a lot more. I enjoyed the preparations, and approached the whole she-bang with very uncharacteristic calm. We ended up with a wonderful meal, a bucket of leftovers, and happy memories. We even got to spend unexpected extra time with my husband’s great uncle, which resulted in days of happy stories and tree trimming.

As I talked about in this recent post, we made a special effort this year make the most of our leftovers and to stretch them into as many meals as possible. We did the traditional next-day paninis with everything  on them:

 

panini.JPGWe also made and froze several casseroles of turkey tetrazzini, several quarts of turkey soup, and ham pot pies.

Now, it’s time to slow down a bit, catch up on work, and enjoy the first bit of sunshine we’ve seen. Not to mention my pressing need to pick up the pace on those last-minute knitted gifts! We won’t even get into the mess that has overtaken my house. Or the laundry pile…Dear God, the laundry pile…

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving as well! I’ll just be over here, closing the laundry room door.

Finished Knit–“Starshower”

 

cowl finished 2.JPGHalloween was a very busy time for us, but now that the carnival has passed, I’m ready to focus on all the fun of holiday planning. That is, when I’m not working my tail off to earn more dinero for the holiday budget. In the meantime, I finished up my Starshower cowl, which I absolutely love. Now, I’m diving into the Christmas gift knitting…in mid-November. Nothing like procrastination to make it exciting. cowl finished

Pattern: “Starshower” (available for purchase through Ravelry)

Yarn: Madelinetosh Merino Light in El Greco colorway.

Needles: Size 6 circulars with 24-inch cable

Notes: Used Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off method. Blocking per instructions left a crease that required additional wetting and shaping to remove. Overall, great easy pattern and resulted in a very wearable accessory.

Holiday Budget Planning–Commonsense Tips to Keep Your Wallet from Hemorrhaging to Death

IMG_3923

With Halloween over, retail land has official declared it to be the Christmas season. While I hold fast to the “no decorations until after Thanksgiving,” now really is the time to think ahead in order to keep your holiday budget under control. Unless you are sitting on piles of cash, the expenses will start adding up before you know it.

  1. Spread out your decorations expenses starting this week. Inevitability, I will need to replace several strands of outdoor lights, or invest in a new extension cord. So, rather than face $100 or more in extra expenses right after Thanksgiving, I will be buying a string of lights each week. I’ll also watch the sales and gradually pick up any other decorations supplies that I know I will need. This will also save time and frustration during decorating time, as I won’t have to stop and run to the hardware store.
  2. Ditto on the stocking stuffers. The more you spread these expenses out over the next two months, the less impact it will have on your  budget later.
  3. Start guiding your kid’s expectations. If your child is clamoring for something that is either out of your budget or you won’t let into the house, you can slowly and subtly help reframe their expectations. Additionally, start making lists of things you know they want/need so that you are prepared for when a relative asks. I usually suck at this, and am always like, “Ummm…..no clue,” so I am starting this today.
  4. Plan now for all of those expenses we often forget about. Wrapping paper, the Christmas tree, holiday meals, teacher gifts, gas for travel, holiday outfits. These are the things that sneak up on you, and when you are head-scratching about where all your money went, these little extras are usually what nickeled and dimed your budget away.
  5. Stock up on non-perishables and frozen food during November. Most major grocery chains have their best mega sales this month on food and pantry staples, and when you take the time to clip a few coupons, you can take the pressure off of December.
  6. Make a list this week of gift ideas for everyone you plan to buy for, as well as a per-person money limit. When you have specific ideas as well as guideline for spending, you can take advantage of a sudden sale, clearance, or other opportunity.
  7. Understand that Black Friday is not the end-all, be-all. I do not shop on Black Friday at all, because no amount of money is worth watching people battle like gladiators over stupid stuff. Not to mention the hours wasted standing in line or sitting in horrific traffic. I think the smarter strategy is to be vigilant throughout these two months and spread expenses out.
  8. Check for deals or coupons before you walk into a store. I do this everywhere. A quick Google search on my smartphone while I am still in the parking lot takes about 20 seconds, and can save big time. Likewise, download the apps for the stores you shop at the most. Target, for example, will have one toy at 50% off every day between now and Christmas and you can find it in the Cartwheel app. Michaels’ app has great, unadvertised coupons, and Walmart’s savings catcher give you the difference if there is a lower, advertised price.

While I’m no fan of the way retailers starting cramming Christmas at us even before Halloween, I also know that most of us probably don’t like financial stress either. Start now, plan ahead, and use an extended time frame to keep your holiday budget under control.

Tasty Tuesday–Pumpkin Bread

bread 2After three months of no rain, magic water fell from the sky this weekend, finally allowing temperatures to drop below 80 degrees. We procured Halloween costumes for the Heathens, put in more work on planning the school Halloween carnival, and celebrated the return of the braised pork and roasted butternut squash pizza from our favorite restaurant. This week is shaping up to be busy beyond belief with carnival preparations, but I decided to hit the pause button yesterday and whip up that pumpkin bread I’ve been longing for. This recipe is super easy, an since it makes two loaves, you can surprise someone special who also needs a little autumn pick-me-up.

Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two standard size loaf pans.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.
  3. Bake for about 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

This bread tastes better the next day. Serve warm with a little softened butter and bask in the flavors of fall!

 

A Collection of Random Events From an Overheated and Sleep-Deprived Loony Tune

Last week was not a good week around here. My little corner of Louisiana broke the record high temperature for October at 97 degrees. You read that right. Ninety-freaking-seven. Fall is still elusive, and rather than boots and scarves, I’m still rocking the cutoffs, tank tops, and sandals. The heat that never ends has made everyone snarly, and it’s definitely worn our it’s welcome. It’s not helping things that my Fitbit confirmed that my sleep habits lately leave a lot to be desired. I need a nap and a major attitude adjustment.

With the school Halloween carnival just around the corner, I’ve been deep in planning and organization mode, while also trying to balance work and the Heathens. While my sewing machine has taken up residence on my dining room table, it’s been cranking out carnival booth backdrops rather than anything fun. However, the boys brightened up this less-than-fun week with perfect report cards, which earned them dinner at their favorite restaurant and this mom a margarita.

After our week of record heat, my husband was out of town over the weekend, so I hosted my sister, her boyfriend, and his kids for a delicious Sunday lunch and fun. In typical sister fashion, she played on all the scooters, the seesaw, the pink powerwheels, but boyfriend and I drew the line on riding the skateboard. She has a tendency to forget that she is no longer 13, and very accident prone. I’m sure my neighbors wonder if she’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket, but’s it is highly entertaining to watch a nearly 40 year old woman ride a go-cart.

Meanwhile, I cast on for the Starshower cowl, but progress is slow with so much to do.

cowlNow, I’m off to buy pumpkins for next week, as I learned my lesson last year. Come Monday, you will be hard pressed to find them as retailers are clearing the way for Christmas inventory. And maybe I’ll make some pumpkin bread. If it doesn’t feel like fall, at least it can taste like it, right?

Adventures in Rethinking Food Waste and Reimaging Leftovers

chicken salad

So, my husband and I have been talking a lot lately about food waste. I’m embarrassed to admit that we waste way more food in my house than is responsible or ethical, and we are trying to make some changes.

Our grocery budget is soaring and I see way too much going to waste. Part of this waste comes from poor menu planning on my part. I need to be more conscientious in planning meals with intersecting ingredients rather than selecting dinners willy-nilly. This will ensure that items get completely used up, rather than seeing those half-wilted bunches of green onions or a stray, sprouted sweet potato go into the trash (before you say it, we can’t have a compost bin in our neighborhood). I think better planning will alleviate a good bit of the issue.

However the other main culprit in our food waste comes from leftovers. Ohhhh…the fights we have about leftovers. My husband fusses at me that I throw out too many extras, and tells me to save everything. But, do you know what happens? It sits in the fridge for a week, and then I throw it out anyway and have more dishes to wash. He has good intentions but if I pack dinner’s leftovers for his lunch, he forgets to take it with him… without fail. If I have a ton of dinner leftover, it means the family probably wasn’t a fan of the meal and they are unlikely to go back willingly for a second round. If they actually loved the dinner, there’s probably not enough left over for round 2, so I’m stuck with how to get rid of it without fighting.

Honestly, however, my kids just aren’t leftover fans anyway. They have the attention spans of goldfish, and they want to come home to something different each night. I swear my pet peeve is that they ask me what’s for dinner the second they hit the car seat, and it annoys me to no end to see those crestfallen, disappointed faces when I announce leftovers. You’d think I kicked a puppy. Spoiled much, Heathens?

I started thinking about Thanksgiving, and how I have a roster of creative leftover recipes, and am always trying to reimagine cool ways to get the most out of that food. After all, after spending so much time and money on one meal, I better get a return on my investment, right? Well, that philosophy needs to bleed over into everyday meal planning if we really want to cut down the waste.

So, here’s the plan. My goal over the next few weeks is to create a weekly meal plan such that at least one meal is comprised of leftovers reinvented. While I had to wing it this week (since I had already bought groceries), we still stretched that fried chicken meal quite a bit. Our favorite re-do was to transform it into chicken salad by de-boning and chopping the chicken yet keeping that tasty/crispy skin. We then combined it with finely chopped celery and some mayo. It didn’t need any additional salt and pepper since the chicken was so well seasoned. Finally, we halved the leftover biscuits, ran them through the toaster, and built the most delicious chicken salad biscuit sandwiches. Cool, huh?

And then I got on the treadmill…but that’s a story for another day.

Finished Knit–Pumpkin Dishcloth

pumpkin dishclothIt’s October…and it’s 90 degrees outside. Not that I’m bitter or anything. Fall is still a long way off for us it seems, so to inject a little spirit back into my week, I knit up a cute pumpkin dishcloth for fun. I don’t usually waste time on dishcloths since I have a long list of other things I want to knit, but a seasonal, instant gratification knit seemed like a good way to get over my heat-induced grumpiness. Overall, I accomplished my goal of knitting something fast and fun, while holding out hope that cooler weather is just around the corner.

Pattern: Pumpking (available free on Ravelry)

Yarn: I Love This Cotton (which I like much better than Sugar & Cream)

Needles: Size 5

Notes: Requires blocking to lay flat, but that’s fine. I also pinned the vine into a spiral to shape it similar to pattern picture, and that worked great. Only downside I see is that the edges are different on each side, which bugs me a little bit.

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