Monday, November 27, 2006

Ramblings About Christmas, Simplicity, and Life in General

I've officially had my "it's-now-less-than-a-month-until-Christmas" panic attack. I seem to go through this every year at some point (and I think since many of my gifts are homemade, I go through it earlier than a lot of people who buy all their gifts). It's about now that I realize I can't possibly accomplish everything I had set out in my original "Christmas Plan". I took some time today to reflect on why I always feel the need to get myself all stressed out around Christmas. I am supposed to be living a simpler, calmer, more peaceful life. Really. But some part of me is still addicted to the adrenaline rush of a mile-long to-do list. I need to get over that. Now. I am not Martha Stewart and I do not need to create a "perfect" holiday. I have subsequently downgraded my plans for a couple of people's gifts (don't worry, they'll still be nice!) and I feel calmer already. Now I just have to get the overseas Christmas cards ready to mail, and get things ready for the kid's Advent Calendar (more about that later.)

As a bit of an antidote to the Christmas stressfest I've been giving myself, I have been reading Choosing Simplicity:Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World by Linda Breen Pierce. I'm really enjoying this book - it's interesting to see how varied the choices are that different people have made in their quest for a simpler life. I find myself identifying with bits and pieces of almost every person's story. I would definitely recommend this book to almost anyone who has a simpler, more peaceful existence in mind.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Curbside Find

When I was out walking the dog late last night, I got myself a little treat:

I rescued this chair from the curbside (luckily it was only a couple blocks from home as I had only one hand to carry as the other hand was holding doggy's leash!) At first I thought there was nothing wrong with it except a couple of small stains on the fabric. I wasn't too concerned about that as I was already planning to recover it. Upon further inspection, I discovered the seat is no longer attached, and furthermore, the seat is cracked almost in half (only visible from the bottom, of course!) I consider these all minor problems, as the rest of the chair is still quite sturdy (in like-new condition, really). It will fit in nicely with all the other pine furniture around here. I already have the fabric to recover the seat and back (from a very large set of curtains from our old apartment). I was also toying with the idea of putting some small casters on the legs as I really want a chair with swivel capacity for our office (I have an "H" configured work area, and it really needs a swivel chair - the (very) old one broke!) I'll have to consult my hubby to see if this idea is at all practical or not. I also need to get him to make a new plywood seat for me to cover over!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Yet Another Gift Giving Occasion...

Yes, I actually had to produce *another* gift this week - this time for my dad's birthday. His birthday is on Tuesday, however we had his birthday dinner today so I had to produce the gift by then! Let me admit that I did not give myself quite the amount of advance preparation time that I should have. I was still scrambling around coming up with a "wrapping/gift presentation" plan a few minutes before my dad was due to arrive (thankfully, he was a bit later than expected, so I pulled it off with time to spare).

The gift:

The small, thin package on the bottom is a Vivaldi CD (one of the get-12-for-the-price-of-one deal when I recently rejoined Columbia House). My dad really enjoys classical music but doesn't own much (I think my mom-who passed away last year- overran their music collection with country selections, and I don't think she liked classical much, so it's about time my dad had some of his own stuff!) On top is a package of Candied Peanuts (which my dad LOVES). The peanuts are in a clear milk bag trimmed up nicely and tied off with some ribbon. I then lined a 28 oz tin can with (reused) tissue paper and wrapped the tissue paper over and around the outside to cover the can. I then placed the bag of peanuts inside, and wrapped the whole peanuts-and-CD shebang with clear cellophane and more ribbon. Turned out pretty well, considering as how I spent about 3 1/2 minutes coming up with a wrapping plan!

[Side note re: tissue paper - I've found that you can return really-crumpled looking paper to crisp, virtually-new looking by giving it a quick ironing (careful not to get the heat too high!)]

The Candied Peanuts are one of my tried-and-true, loved-by-everyone (except those with peanut allergies!) gifts. They are also incredibly easy and quick to make, and I always have the ingredients on hand. This one's saved my skin as a last minute gift *many* times!

The recipe I use is from a tiny self-published book called Nifty Nibbles. I don't want to post copyrighted material here, so here's one that's quite similar (from - my recipe calls for some butter and no water:

Candied Peanuts

2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups peanuts

1. Bring 2 tablespoons water and 1/4 cup sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat.2. Add the peanuts and stir often until water evaporates. Continue stirring until the sugar begins to harden on the nuts. When the sugar on the nuts begins to turn light brown, pour them onto a plate to cool. Be careful not to cook the nuts too long or the sugar will burn.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Two More Christmas Gifts Finished!

[WARNING: More Christmas Gift Spoilers! *Please* don't read this post if you're on my gift list!!]

Okay, it's really "beginning to feel a lot like Christmas" around here. I have been busy finishing off a couple more gifts these past few days.

This scarf (a really lovely leaf motif lace pattern) is my first knitted lace. I had a lot of fun knitting it and I can't wait to give it to my friend. Photos never really seem to do a knitted piece justice - it is so much more detailed looking in real life. I love it so much I'm making myself one once my Christmas gifts are all finished!

Below is the first of a pair of socks that are intended for my friend's husband. I finished the first one while the weather was still nice enough to take an outdoor photo. I finished its mate yesterday. The pattern (for all you other knitters out there) is Melanie Falick's "Magic Spiral Tube Sock" from Kids Knitting.

I have also finished the scarf for my long-suffering husband (it was meant to be last year's Christmas gift - he ended up with a box of yarn and a promise under the tree). I also mostly finished a matching hat (just have to sew the seam!) I'm now working on inventing a knitted block toy for the new baby's first Christmas. I would just love to finish all my knitting projects before the last minute. Right now I feel like it's possible - but who knows what craziness will ensue in the next few weeks.

We also had a fun family outing this afternoon - the local Santa Claus Parade. It was a great parade and we came home with a bunch of free goodies - tons of candy canes, about 1/2 a dozen apples, a toothbrush, and a couple pads of sticky notes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Creating Something Fabulous from "Nothing"

One of the most exciting things for me, personally, as a frugal person, is to take on the challenge of creating a really great gift for next to no cash. The baby gift I've been writing about lately is a prime example. I needed something extra special to celebrate the arrival of my dear friend's baby (we have been friends for almost 25 yrs!) Here's a photo of how the whole thing came together:

I've already written about the contents of the gift earlier (the wrapped gift is the hat/mittens/booties). The embroidered linen cloth in front of the basket was draped over the basket when the gift was presented to the proud new parents.

The whole thing was a big hit when I gave it to my friends yesterday (and the baby was adorable, of course!) I love the fact that, even though finances are particularly tight for us right now, I was able to pull together a fantastic gift for very little cost. I spent less than $5.00 cash all told. The time investment was considerable - several hours, including the knitted gifts. I also added a few fancy finishing touches (the handmade tag on the wrapped gift, as well as a handmade card). I keep a box of old greeting cards, scraps of fancy paper, etc around to draw upon when I create these sorts of items. I also have a great pair of craft scissors that produces a fancy, rippled edge effect, which I use a lot when working on these types of projects.

The most satisfying part is knowing that I have really put a piece of myself into the gift, rather than just walking into a store and slapping down my credit card for the first item I see. Frugality at its finest!

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Baby Gift Update

I finished the knitted portion of the gift today!! I am so excited to see how everything looks on the tiny recipient. Making little tiny baby items can be very fiddly - I think in this case, the finishing work might have taken me longer than the actual knitting.

I also picked up some fennel tea to add to the basket while I was out grocery shopping (it is the main ingredient in all the "nursing" teas, and it's a lot cheaper to just buy plain old fennel tea!)

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Putting Together an Inexpensive Baby Gift

Most of my creative energy today was directed towards putting together a "welcome baby" gift basket to celebrate the arrival of my friend's new daughter (and her first child!)

What I'm putting in:

-a couple of good "natural parenting" books (generously received through freecycle!)
-a knitted "outdoor ensemble" - hat, mitts, booties - that matches a baby blanket I gave her at her baby shower (I'm still not quite finished - will post a pic hopefully tomorrow!!)
-a couple of baby bath mitts
-"almost instant" dinner (ingredients for a quick soup & cornbread dinner)
-cranberry orange bread
-a baby book
-a list of suggested books for the new mom to read
-a handmade card

I think that's everything!!

I know I've done a good job on a gift basket when I can't wait to give it, and I'm bursting with excitement about bestowing this one on the new mom and babe.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Cheap Birthday Feast

Today was the extended-family feast to celebrate Noah's ninth birthday. We fed 11 people for dinner (7 adults and 4 kids) for under $15.

The menu:

Spaghetti with meat sauce (made scratch sauce with crushed tomato base, used ground turkey bought for 75% off)

Homemade breadsticks (I used the Refrigerator Dough recipe. I rolled the dough out into a very long rectangle, sliced into thin strips, let them rise, brushed with garlic butter, and baked. These were a HUGE hit!)


Chocolate cupcakes


We still have enough leftovers of everything (except breadsticks!) for our family of four to have again another night, so I guess technically this could have fed 15 people, or $1 a person.

I often find it a challenge to do a kid-birthday menu that pleases the birthday boy *and* all of the adults. This time it was definitely a success!
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