31 December 2008

Get Control!

What is it about the new year that makes a person want to organize? For me, it's all about a fresh start. These days, it's also about simplifying and getting a little bit of control over the "stuff" in my life.

So I've been spending some time on cupboards and closets in the laundry room. This is NOT a glamorous place to start, but it is sorely needed. This is the stuff that drives me crazy...

First of all, how many extension cords does one house really need? Why the heck do we have all of these cords? (This isn't even all of them...several are in use right now on the Christmas trees.) I'll tell you why. We used to live in a 1923 home (and if I could move back there, I'd do it in an instant) that had very few outlets. We had to use extension cords all over the house. The cords are a carryover from those days.

The cords used to be shoved on a shelf in the laundry room. Today, they got a new home in a basket which fits on that shelf. Oh, happy day! You cannot know how excited I am about this. The basket cost all of $1 at Big Lots. What took me so long???

I read recently that clutter develops when items do not have a specific "home" or spot to be stored. That is definitely the case at our house. But this is going to end! One of the main problems is that we do not have a desk area in the kitchen to handle normal household business -- bills, school papers, documents to be filed, etc. Sure, we have an upstairs office area, but we would never drag all of that stuff upstairs to deal with it. For years I have struggled to find a place in our kitchen for a small desk area. At one point, I even took over a shelf in our pantry cupboard to use as a desk, but we quickly discovered that we didn't have room for food -- oops!

Out of desperation, today I cleared out a cupboard in our laundry room and converted it to a "desk" area. While not ideal, at least it gives us a spot for all the tools/supplies needed to handle household business. Hopefully we can all find a pen and a notepad when we need one -- which (believe me) is a HUGE issue around here. (Yes, I'll eventually cover those frosting containers with scrapbook paper, and I'll switch out that blue basket to one that is color coordinated.) I also made a spot for a small hanging file box in another laundry room cupboard, so hopefully papers will no longer accumulate on the kitchen counter. We'll see how this works!

Another area that drives me crazy is the laundry room closet, which houses some shoes, coats, and gloves. What a disaster! You open the closet and are likely to get hit in the head with something.

And the flip flops! Do not even get me started! (If you have a teenage daughter, you know what I mean!) I've tried all sorts of ways to contain them. Today I gained control! For $6 at Big Lots, I found this deluxe container...

Now the flip flops are under control! And so is my anger! See, I'm smiling! :-)

I also corralled the gloves in a basket, and I replaced the mismatched wire hangers with white plastic ones. Now the closet looks and functions much better.

Next task: The Dreaded Junk Drawer. Wish me luck.

29 December 2008

Pasta and a Top Ten List

My sister-in-law always gives the most creative gifts, usually edible! This is pasta for cat lovers. The noodles are shaped like cat heads and paws. Too cute. I'll have to work hard not to hoard this pasta.

I've been out of the blogging mode due to the holidays and what-not, so I thought I'd jump-start myself a bit today with a list of my top ten favorite scrapbooking tools and products for 2008. Here we go, in no particular order:

My Top Ten Scrapbooking Tools and Products for 2008

1. Kokuyo Dot n Roller: This is my current favorite adhesive for ease of use and stick-ability (just made up that word).

2. Big Shot: Okay, maybe I'm "old school" because I don't have a Cricut, Expression, or a Silhouette right now, but the Big Shot really meets my needs for being easy to use and versatile. I love being able to use dies from any manufacturer.

3. Bazzill cardstock: Again, not very glamorous, but I could not scrapbook without this. Right now, I'm enjoying the smooth-textured Bazzill. Never thought I'd say that.

4. Wide-format printer: I love my Canon i9900 for printing directly on my background and printing photos.

5. MS Word: While this is not specifically a scrapbooking tool, I could not work without it. I use it all the time for formatting journaling and titles.

6. Journaling stamps and pads: I love all the journaling options available these days. Stamps and journaling pads make it easy to incorporate your own handwriting on your pages.

7. Picasa: Again, I may be old school since I don't own Photoshop, but I've found that Picasa allows me to do all the photo editing I need to do right now. I also love the features which make it easy to organize, share, and upload photos.

8. Colorbox Fluid Chalk: The little "cats' eye" chalks cannot be beat for ease of use and affordability.

9. Xyron 150 "X": Not a glamorous tool, but one I use all the time for adhering small elements.

10. Crop-a-Dile: I know it's been around awhile, but I still love my Crop-a-Dile. I use it primarily to make holes in mini-books or other small projects.

So there you go! I'm such a simple scrapbooker that I don't think my favorites would change much from year to year. What would your Top 10 list include?

27 December 2008

Meet Sam

Sam is my aunt's Very Big Kitty. He weighs in at around 19 pounds (I think he might even weigh a tiny bit more than that)! He's a beautiful orange tabby with a very sweet disposition. His frame is absolutely huge...when you pick him up, he feels more like a bear than a cat (not that I've ever held a bear...). He's quite a load to carry!

Sam is not used to having much company but he cooperated nicely on Christmas. He even let Daughter put stuffed animals on his back. (Now he can be featured on Stuff on My Cat!)

We love you, Sam!

26 December 2008

Feline Friday: Lily's Holiday Dance Break

Eat too many gingerbread cookies? Too much candy? Too many cat treats?

Rid yourself of those excessive holiday pounds with a little help from Lily (be sure to have your sound -- and your disco pants -- on):

24 December 2008

Best Gingerbread Cookie Recipe. Ever.

If I could choose only one kind of cookie to bake at Christmas, I think it would be gingerbread. You really can't beat the smell of gingerbread baking in the oven, and a gingerbread cookie is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of something warm.

I've been baking gingerbread cookies this evening (can you smell them?) and thought I'd share the recipe I have used for several years. It is absolutely foolproof (has to be, if I'm doing the baking!). It comes from Martha Stewart's Holidays book, published in 1993. If you're looking for a new cookie to try this holiday season, I'd suggest this recipe. I've made it for years...the cookies are perfect every time.

Patti Paige's Gingerbread (makes 25 gingerbread men or women)
New York baker Patti Page has developed a sturdy gingerbread dough that can be rolled and cut by small children, and still produces a delicious cookie.

10.5 tablespoon unsalted butter (1 stick plus 2.5 tablespoons)
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup dark molasses
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1. Cream together butter and sugar. Add spices, salt, egg, and molasses and beat well. Sift together flour, soda, and baking powder; add to butter mixture and beat again. (I use a stand mixer for this step...it's a very stiff dough.)
2. Chill dough for several hours. (This is important...it rolls best if it is well chilled. I bake a few cookies at a time and re-chill the dough before rolling out each batch.)
3. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
4. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut into shapes.
5. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

22 December 2008

Tractor album

I've been busy putting together an album of my dad's restored antique tractors. This is something we've had planned for awhile so it's not a Christmas gift, but I would like him to have it before he heads south for the winter.

Last year, my mom gave me all of Dad's antique tractor pictures. I quickly figured out that I could not tell one tractor from another, so I gave them all back to my parents, along with a form to fill out about each tractor. Dad diligently provided all the information I requested and made notes about all the photos.

At the time Mom passed away unexpectedly in May, this album had been high on my to-do list. I planned to start it over the summer, but I just could not face such a daunting project. Recently I decided that it would be a nice project for Dad and me to work on together. Although I haven't let him see the album, I've had lots of questions for him and it's been fun seeing how excited he is about having his collection documented. I'm looking forward to giving it to him this week.

I used a Making Memories 3-ring binder for the project (it still has the protective covering on in this photo). I used mostly 12x12 pages with a few 8.5x11 mixed in for interest and practicality. The album is completely full!

The biggest challenge I faced in working on this project was figuring out a repeating format to use for documenting all eight tractors and a host of related photos. I did not intend for this to be an "artsy" kind of album...the purpose is to document everything about each tractor, from where he purchased it to the type of restoration he has done. Once I determined a very simple workable format, I picked out papers and cardstock to repeat throughout the album.
I've been taking Cathy Zielske's online class over at Big Picture Scrapbooking, and I used a sketch from that class for the cover page.

Each tractor has its own section which begins with an enlargement of the tractor. Thank goodness for scanners and Picasa! I had to work with very old photos, many of which had funky colors. It was nice to be able to do some color correction as I went along. (Thanks to my friend Cheri who Photoshopped a damaged photo for me!)

For each tractor, I followed a similar format. Since I had had my dad fill out a form about each tractor, I used his own words as much as possible in the album. I pulled information about each model from the Internet, so that a person who knows nothing about farming (that would be me!) could understand a little bit more about each tractor's design and features. (Please ignore the typo on the above page -- it has been fixed!)

I'm very excited to have this big project done, and I feel great about having helped my dad document a very important part of his life. Can't wait to give it to him.

Oh, the scent of fresh pine!

I'd love to have a real Christmas tree, especially a live one that could be planted. But Spouse disagrees with me on this issue, so we use artificial trees instead.

I was talking with Daughter and her boyfriend about how I'd really like to have a real tree sometime because I love their scent, and the next thing I knew, he brought me one of the small Jesse trees they were giving away to children at their church. Awww....

Because it is winter (-28 degree wind chill here, just to put a point on that statement), the tree had to be planted indoors. Even though it is small, it still has that beautiful evergreen scent that I love. Apparently Lily likes it, too!

20 December 2008

Cards from scraps

This year, I again made Christmas cards from leftover products already in my stash. The only thing I purchased was cardstock to create some of the card bases. The pictures below show a few of the cards I made this year. As you can see, I sometimes repeated a design if I had the supplies to make that work. For the insides, I printed the greetings on plain white cardstock or used rub-ons.

For a variety of reasons, I have accumulated quite a stash of Christmas products, yet I haven't scrapbooked many Christmas photos. I thought that making 35+ cards from this stash would make a dent in it but alas...NO! I STILL have tons of Christmas product.

While I'm still on a roll, maybe I should start on next year's cards!

19 December 2008

Feline Friday: Warm & Dry

One day this week while I was unloading clothes from the dryer, Lily jumped into the still quite warm dryer and made herself comfortable.

It's been very cold here lately, so I'm sure the warmth felt good! But I explained to Lily that the dryer is not usually a safe place to nap. We would not want her to take a tumble!

18 December 2008

Never a good sign...

Daughter left this note for me when she left early for school today. No wonder Tinsel didn't want breakfast. :-)

17 December 2008

Recipe: Red Lantern Soup

I've been a bad blogger lately...behind in my blog posting, behind in my blog reading! I've fallen behind in these things due to a few projects I'm trying to wrap up. At this point, I'm wondering if I'll even be able to finish making our Christmas cards!

So I thought today I'd post a great time-saving soup recipe which I've made for many years now, and even a couple of times in the last month. I throw all the ingredients in the crock pot and let it simmer all day. This is the kind of soup that gets even better after a few hour in the crock pot. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of it! The recipe was given to me by a family member who said that it came from a bed and breakfast.

Red Lantern Soup

* 1 pound ground beef
* 1 regular sized can of whole tomatoes (I used the diced tomatoes with spices)
* 1 can tomato soup (I can't stand tomato soup, but you don't even know it's in there!)
* 1 regular sized can Veg-All veggies (undrained)
* 2 cups water
* 1 dry packet Lipton Onion Soup
* dash of sugar

Brown the ground beef. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer. Freezes well.

(I just brown the ground beef then put everything in the crock pot, turn it on low, and forget about it until dinner. Add a loaf of bread and a salad, and you have a great meal for a cold evening.)

15 December 2008

Untrimming the tree

Lily spent the weekend removing tree skirts and pulling down beaded garland from the trees. I guess she has her own opinions on how to trim a tree!

For anyone who loves pictures of kitties in Christmas trees, here's a link you'll enjoy: Fluffytails

11 December 2008

The Making of a Village -- Part II

Well, the entire village is finally up! As promised, I'm posting a few additional pics today.

This year, I put the houses with movable inside pieces on top of the china cabinet in the dining room. I've put houses there in the past, but the height makes them difficult to see, so I'm not sure I'll do this again next year. With a little better planning, I can fit all of the buildings onto the fireplace shelves.
This is a close-up of some of the Christmas Carol houses within my set. (I apologize for the blurry photos...I don't have a fancy camera, so this is as good as it gets in low light!)

Back in the family room, I placed a few pieces on the mantel. I have three coaches and this is a good spot for them. This year, I placed a house on either end of the mantel but didn't light them (the cords are problematic).

Yesterday I posted the "other side of the tracks". Today, I'm posting pics of the "business district". On this side of town, you'll find the bank, several shoppes, and a couple of inns.

In this photo, you can see the puppet theatre at the far left side. Like most of the buildings, it was a gift from my parents. It is particularly special because they gave it to me the same Christmas that they constructed a real puppet theatre for Daughter. :-)

Just outside the bank, there is a small band playing -- Christmas carols, no doubt.

The East Indies Trading Company is my very favorite building. It's a bit larger and heavier than most, and it has a totally different, somewhat exotic, look about it.

With the exception of the houses I set up in the dining room, this is how the entire village looks. I'm very lucky to have a good place like this to display it. And as hard as it was setting it up this year, as my good friend Sharon commented, my village really does bring warm memories of my mom.

10 December 2008

The Making of a Village

Over 20 years ago, my mom and dad bought me a few pieces of the Department 56 Dickens Village. I set them up in our first home. Today, I have more than 30 buildings, a forest of trees, and lots of people. I set up my village every year around Thanksgiving time and leave it up until March.

This year, I haven't felt like facing the task, since my mom selected most of the pieces for me over the years and this is our first holiday season without her. I thought maybe I'd put out a few houses at most, but when I asked Daughter about it, she told me she'd miss it if we didn't have it all set up. And the truth is, I'd miss it, too, so I mustered up some courage and started in on the task.

For a change, I thought I'd take pictures to document the process of setting it all up. It takes several hours, as you can probably tell!

The first step is to carry all the boxes upstairs from the basement. This is no small task! It took seven trips to the basement, with Lily following along behind. :-)

I'm lucky to have the perfect spot for my village in this house. On either side of our fireplace, we have cabinets with a large surface area. A few years ago, we drilled a small hole in the back for electrical cords.

As an alternative to using the fireplace cabinets, one year I put the village on the dining room table. I loved the way it looked, because I had room for the entire collection together. I built the village in a tiered fashion with the high point in the center. There was even room for a small pond made from a mirror. Unfortunately, there was no good way to handle the cords, and I had to remove Tinsel several times from the downtown area. :-)

Because I have so many houses, I have to make a two- (or three-) tiered village. I use some empty boxes to set up the top tier.

My village includes several pieces mentioned in A Christmas Carol, so I like to put those buildings together. Since I have two areas for my village, I typically set up a "business district" on one side of the fireplace and "the other side of the tracks" on the other side (pictured here).

Once I have selected the buildings, I set them in place. The worst part of the whole process is attaching the cords to the backs of each building. I use a power strip hidden behind the boxes. All the cords land there but will eventually be covered by snow!

At this point, the City Inspector stopped in to make sure everything was in order. Let's hope that was her last visit! YIKES!

Shortly after that, someone else from the City Inspector's office stopped by for a visit! Holy cow...I've never been subject to such close scrutiny in years past!

(I have found that once the snow is in place, the inspectors do not return to the village. They're only interested in the set-up process!)

Once the lights are installed, it's time to add snow. I use a thin quilt batting which drapes easily over the boxes and covers all the cords. I turn on the lights and replace any bulbs.

Finally, I add trees and people. I have quite a forest of trees because (Daughter reminded me that I tell this story every year) one year I forgot about my second tub of trees and bought a LOT more. After I had everything set up, I found the missing trees. But it's okay...one can never have too many pine trees.

I love to create little scenes within the village. This man is selling nutcrackers. He was given to me during the the years Daughter was dancing in the Nutcracker Ballet.

And here is the completed village (well, half of it -- I'm still working on the other half). This year, I'm adding a third area in the dining room for the buildings that have moving parts on the inside. They require a different type of cord arrangement so I'm setting them up separately for a change.

Although it was very hard to bring myself to set up my village this year, I'm glad I'm working on it. My mom always loved seeing it, and I know she'd be happy that we're enjoying it again this holiday season.

09 December 2008

Shiny Bright Tree

I love Shiny Bright ornaments from the 1930's and 1940's. When my grandma passed away a few years ago, I was given all of her old silvered ornaments. They're a real treasure to me because I remember seeing them on her tree when I was a child. There is nothing like silvered ornaments to create a warm, nostalgic feeling.

Click on the collage to bigify!

Over the past couple of years, I've received some additional Shiny Bright ornaments in their original boxes! I've added them to my collection of family ornaments, but I'm always careful to return them to their boxes when the holiday season is over. (I keep a photo of the ornaments with the boxes so I can return them to their original positions.)

I have the Shiny Bright ornaments displayed on the tree in our dining room. I know that sounds risky with Lily's antics, but Lily doesn't bother them -- she's only interested in the branches. If they were to fall, they would fall on carpet. This is the safest tree on which to display them, and I love them so much that I'm willing to take a bit of a risk to enjoy them during the Christmas season!

08 December 2008

Hidden in the picture

Yesterday, Daughter heard a strange noise coming from the corner of the kitchen counter. She turned around and found Lily squeezed behind the Longaberger shelf, as if no one would see her there!

Being Daughter of a Scrapbooker, she grabbed her phone and caught a couple of pics of Lily hiding and...

making a speedy exit!

07 December 2008

Bliss is back!

Cranberry Bliss Bars at Starbucks

They're back! (Well, they've been back for awhile now...I've just been keeping them all to myself!) If you don't know about these bars, I wrote about them last year here.

So run out and get one today. That's an order! You'll love it! :-)

06 December 2008

A Madrigal Tradition

Our high school just held its annual Madrigal Dinner this week. As these pictures show, it was quite an elaborate production with wonderful singing, dancing, beautiful decorations, and dinner. I'm very thankful that our school offers so many great opportunities for kids to participate in activities like this.

Click on the collage to enlarge these photos!

This is the first year our daughter has had a significant role in the madrigal production, and we enjoyed every minute of it!
It was a great way to welcome the Christmas season.

05 December 2008

Feline Friday

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

Norman Vincent Peale