Saturday, December 31, 2016

Gifts To Enjoy In The New Year-2017

It's New Year's Eve, and the last day of 2016.  As with any year, it has had it's share of ups and downs.  Hopefully the ups will continue into 2017 and the downs will not change life as we know it.  I thought, since I don't go out and party on New Year's Eve, I would write about three of the gifts I received for Christmas.  Baby Jesus isn't alone.  I got three awesome gifts too.

The first gift I got was from my sister and brother-in-law.  It was a pair of knitting needles.  They aren't just any round knitting needles, they are hexagon shape, like a pencil.   Apparently a woman named Pam Hoffman was in a knitting store.  She was going to buy her daughter some knitting supplies for a gift.  The proprietor showed her some square needles.  She explained that the square shape made it easier to knit.  The lady tried them but found them cumbersome and found a square needle didn't easily fit into a round stitch.  It was the square peg into the round hole effect.  Thinking about it, she noticed how easy a pencil is to write with.  She decided to cast some stitches on a pencil and that is how her company got started.  With the help of her husband, they created hexagon shaped needles made out of wood, sanded smooth and finished with beeswax.  The materials to make them are sourced from Michigan locations.  They are awesome.  They knit smoothy without as much hand fatigue.  I think they would be really good for a beginner knitter because they are smooth without being slippery.  My sister inherited my mom's ability to find the perfect gift.  I don't have that ability.  They got CHEESE.  The website is:

The next gift was from one of my daughters and her family.  She knew we were going to Michigan next summer for my niece's wedding.  Since Lake Michigan is in the way, she bought us tickets to take the SS Badger car ferry from Manitowoc, WI to Ludington, MI.  It is a fun trip unless the waves are high. The weather has to cooperate, or I get a little seasick if I have to go inside the boat.  I do best on the outside deck.  Even at that, it's better than traveling through Chicago.  At our age, that makes us a little nervous.  The other option is the northern route over the Mackinac Bridge.  That is a beautiful route, and we will probably go that way on the way home.

Map from their website:

The third gift was from my other daughter and family.   It was a DNA ancestry kit.  It will tell or confirm my heritage.  It comes in a box with instructions and a collection tube.  The hard part was spitting in the tube.  You can't eat or drink anything for at least a half hour so getting enough spit was a challenge.  It took a while.  Then a stabilizer liquid is added and the whole thing is sealed up and mailed in.  I have seen them advertised many times and it always intrigued me.  It will take a few weeks to get the results, but I will report to my relatives if anything wonky shows up.  I doubt if that will happen, but you never know.

So Happy New Year to everyone. 
 I hope 2017 is the best year ever for you and your family.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Our 2016 Christmas Day

Christmas Day 2016 is just a memory.  We host Christmas Day brunch for our daughters, son-in-laws and five grandchildren.  They spend Christmas Eve with our son-in-laws' families, then Santa comes overnight so they have a relaxed Christmas morning at home and then they all come to our house.  Some of the kids wear their pajama's or comfortable clothing.  It was another awesome day.  I need to learn to make less food because everyone is stuffed by the end of the day, but feeling happy and content.

We eat brunch first and then it is present time.  Last year we started a tradition.  Each member of the family buys a gift.  We use the same wrapping paper so all the gifts look similar.  There are eleven of us, so we stack up eleven gifts.

We start with the youngest person which happens to be Ewan.  He chooses a gift and opens it.  Next was Jack.  He chooses a gift and opens it and it continues down the line.  When all the gifts are open, we get a chance to steal.  This round we start with the oldest which is grandpa.  He chose to keep his gift which was wireless earphones, and he hoped no one would steal it.  This was a perfect gift for him because he spends a lot of time listening to books and won't have to plug his ipod into the earphone jack.  Next was myself.  I stole the gift our grandson Sam had opened.  It was a Steamer/Frother pot.  The good part is the two youngest were last, and they were able to steal the gift they wanted most so there were no sad faces.  Also, the secret is to buy a gift for yourself and if you're lucky (which I was) you can end up with it.

Next we got to open the Santa stockings.  Santa got a little mixed up this year with favorite candy and leaving prices on things, but hopefully that went unnoticed.  I got the "look" from my daughters a couple times when I forgot that Christmas stockings didn't need to have disclaimers.  I was reminded that Santa filled the stockings and not me.   I am famous for disclaiming anything I cook or do.  I want everyone to be happy.  Unlike today's generation who get a trophy for just showing up, I was taught to be responsible for my failures.  Although sometimes I should just shut up.

After the stockings, we exchanged the kids and family gifts.  I love it when the gifts are ripped open or in my case they open the drawstring on the fabric bag.

What a mess we make, but that is what our Christmas is about.   I am reminded of a Christmas we spent in Arizona when the girls were small.  My husband's step father was such a control freak, he picked up every piece of wrapping paper immediately after the present was open.  It took all the fun out of it.  Messes can always be cleaned up later.

I like to make things even for everyone even though no one really knows the difference.  I decided Dylan needed one more gift so I picked up a pair of Virtual Reality glasses.  Then knowing Sam would probably like them too, I went and bought two more pair so they would be the same.  I thought I could take back the first pair I bought because they were slightly different.  They were a big hit.

Melissa is 16 years old, and I didn't think she would be interested in them.  The boys were enjoying them so I asked if she would like my spare pair.  Surprisingly she said yes.  I brought them out.  Hopefully she won't read this blog because she did not want her picture taken.  Hopefully in a few years she will appreciate this moment being documented or she will never let me forget it.

Some of the exchange gifts were games.  Sarah, Heather, Dylan, Sam and Jack played a game called Telestrations.  It is based on the telephone game only sketched out.  They laughed so hard.  I love it when there is a lot of laughter in the house.

Then they went outside.  The kids played in the snow and my daughter and her husband went snowshoeing.  The snow was really wet and heavy. 

It is a good thing Christmas was yesterday because today it is sunny and the temperature is well above freezing.  It is in the middle 40's and the snow is melting quickly.  This is the same scene today.  The ice is covered with a layer of water.

It was a great day and a happy Christmas.  I only wish everyone could be so fortunate.  While snowshoeing our daughter saw two eagles flying over the marsh.  We think it was Grandma and Grandpa Dux wishing us a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Wickerwork Hat

I blog for different reasons.  I blog when something eventful happens in our life and I want to remember the date with photos or better yet, I want my grandchildren to remember.  I blog to teach things I have learned throughout my life.  Usually I learn the hard way and writing about what NOT to do is as important as writing about what to do.  I blog about frustrations although I try to keep that to a minimum.  I can't be mad all the time, it isn't healthy.  Mostly my blog is my organizational system.  Recently my sister asked me for a recipe and I just sent her the link to a blog I wrote about it.  It was much easier than digging through a pile of papers although I need to update information when necessary.

Today is no exception.  I am in the lull before Christmas.  The shopping and decorating are done.  I made some cookies but most of the cooking and baking can't be done this early.  The past three evenings I sat and watched Hallmark movies.  You know those movies where boy meets girl under some unpleasant circumstance, girl is engaged or involved with a jerk and then due to a misunderstanding her true love goes away (or she does) and then at the very end they meet up again, kiss and live happily ever after.  My husband doesn't watch TV with me so I am free to watch these happy ending shows.  It's hard for me to just sit and just watch television so I usually have a project going.  I decided to make a hat because it was very cold outside.  I previously wrote about making slippers I don't wear, so why not make a hat I won't wear.  It turned out to be easy and fun.  I finished in five hours or so.  That seems a long time to non-knitters, but is actually a quick project.  The pattern is from a blog I happened upon.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

My Unproductive Snowy Weekend

Yesterday we had our traditional family Christmas cookie making session at our house.  It usually includes both of our daughters and our grandkids.  Yesterday our middle grandchild Sam had a basketball tournament all day so we just had one daughter and four grandchildren.  These kids didn't want to stick to the normal cookies.  Every one of our grandchildren think outside the box.  Previous to grandchildren with opinions, my daughters and I would make all the family favorites.  We had a great system and in no time we had many varieties of cookies.

This year we had varieties but very few that anyone will eat.  I take that back.  We did get a batch of soda cracker toffee and forty eight peanut butter temptations.  I had made cutout cookies the day before so we could frost them, but that didn't happen.  The rest of the cookies were the cast of Hamilton the musical, a gingerbread warrior and a variety of gingerbread men and gingerbread women.  It looks like I will be baking alone next week.  The good thing is that none of us need more sweets and calories so whatever gets done will be fine.

I can't identify but the five sugar cookie characters are the cast of "Hamilton", man bun and all.

A warrior with his spear and shield.

During the day my daughter felt chilly.  I was sweating bullets and was about ready to strip to my bra but that wouldn't have been appropriate.  We had the pellet stove going full blast, and I also gave her the slippers I recently made.  They were cozy, warm and she liked them for a while.

Then she discovered a bump in the heel.  These slippers are made on two knitting needles.  They have to be sewn up with a seam on the bottom.  Apparently the knot I made on the bottom was uncomfortable.  My husband can't stand his socks bunched either.  I call both of them the Princess and the Pea.  I can walk around all day with a stone in my shoe, and it doesn't bother me at all.

As a result of this, I decided I needed to make some insoles to put inside the slippers.  It would serve a couple purposes.  It would cushion the sole so the knot couldn't be felt, and it would add stability.  The bottom wouldn't wear out as easy either.  After a little brain storming, I decided to cut some insoles out of an old wool sweater.  In the past 100% wool sweaters could be purchased at thrift stores for almost nothing.  Not anymore.  With the popularity of woolen mittens and other felted items, it's hard to find them.

Mittens made with a felted gray sweater and fleece lining.

  I happened on one the other day not knowing exactly what I would use it for.  I'm glad I bought it.

I took the sweater apart.  When you find a sweater to take apart just make sure the seams are stitched and not surged together.  If they are surged it means that the seam is stitched and cut like fabric.  When you try to unravel it, all you get is short pieces of yarn because it has been cut.  The sleeves were a solid color so I was able to unravel them easily.  The main part of the sweater had a pattern so that is what I used for the insoles.

The sleeves could be unraveled without a problem.

I traced an insole pattern larger than what I needed.

I used a double layer of sweater fabric and pinned it together with safety pins. The sleeve yarn I wound into balls.  If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember this post.  It was about making your own dryer balls.  

I prepared everything and tossed them into the washer in hot water.  This process shrinks the wool into a matted fabric.  It is called felting.  I misjudged the size of the insole.  Wool yarn shrinks more than I thought.  If or when I try again, I will make it much larger.  The process worked well, but it's a lot of work to go through for a little stinking knot. Another option for the slipper would be to slip a flip flop sole into the slipper or cover the flip flop sole with the felted insole.  I will figure something out.

As far as the dryer balls, they are burgundy.  I don't think the color will bleed onto the clothes but I will not use them on whites for a while just in case.   If I had a cat, they would make a perfect cat toy.

So all and all I was very busy all weekend and didn't really accomplish much.  Everything came up a little short for the effort involved.  Ah well, as my husband often says, sometimes you get the bear and other times the bear gets you.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Struggle with our Pre-lit Christmas Tree

Being a person who is up in years with less years ahead of me than behind me, there are some things I should have learned by now.  My husband and I pride ourselves in having more education than we need at this point and most often we use pretty good sense.  This week I feel we made a giant step backward.  It all started with putting up the dreaded Christmas Tree.  Several years ago we bought an 8 foot pre-lit tree.  It came in three sections, and the lights were already on the tree.  It came in a large box which was a bit of a struggle but we managed.  The first year it was awesome.  We opened the box, put the sections together and plugged it in.  Walla, all it needed was ornaments.  After Christmas the struggle began.  We couldn't for the life of us get all the sections back into the box.  We ended up putting one of the sections in another box.  Next was where to store the darn thing.  We do have a storage area in our lower level so we made room, wrestled it down there and forgot about it until the next year.  Then every Christmas season for a few years we maneuvered it from the storage room, past the junk in the way, past the freezer, through the laundry room, down the hall and up the stairs.  It was worth it because it went together so easy.  Then last year all the lights didn't want to light up.  We bought a tester which didn't work.  We changed out light bulbs and fuses and managed to get them to light.  This year when it was time for the tree again, I was nervous.  I had reason to be nervous.  The tree didn't light in a lot of places.  I did replace a few fuses, but that didn't work.  Next was the decision to throw out the tree and buy another pre-lit tree but smaller, to mess around with the light bulbs and fuses again or cut the lights out and buy strings of LED lights.  Being somewhat cheap and not knowing how to get rid of the old tree, we opted for cutting out the 1000 mini lights.  How hard could that be?  This is where our logic and good sense is questioned.  It was a miserable job which took five or more hours.  I have little scratches all over my hands and a big mess on the floor.

It's hard to believe the old lights all fit in this box.

When all the lights were removed, we put the tree together.  I imagine we are throwing away 999 good light bulbs, but finding the one or two bad ones was more than we could muster.  We were able to find a very good price on LED lights so we bought four strings of 105 lights.  Instead of the mini lights, we bought the C6 size.  Now we know why we bought a pre-lit tree in the first place.  Putting lights on a Christmas Tree is a pain, but when the ornaments are on it doesn't really matter if they are evenly spaced.  After taking a few breaks because my patience was running thin, the job is done.  I am not sure I would make that same decision again but at least part of our tree will not be going into the landfill. 

I kind of like the bigger lights.  All that is left is the star and a few more ornaments.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Now that Thanksgiving 2016 is in the books, it's time to move on to Christmas shopping and decorating.  It is pretty mild here in Wisconsin again this year, and it doesn't really feel like the Christmas season.  For all of us born and bred Wisconsinites, we really need a nice snowfall to get into the spirit.  Until that happens, we are buttoning up the fall season.  The wildlife love squash and pumpkin as much as us humans.  We have been putting out pumpkin snacks for a couple weeks, but yesterday all those used for decoration were dumped in the woods.  In a week or so nothing will be left except a few pumpkin shells.

Speaking of pumpkin, a Thanksgiving meal would not be complete without something made with pumpkin.  It is usually pumpkin pie in our house.  This year I did something different.  My youngest daughter has taken over hosting our Thanksgiving Day meal.  I usually make the pies, but they aren't that easy to transport.  I decided to make my pies in 9 x 13 pans.  Then I could put a cover on them and not worry.  I also made the Cranberry Cake in a 9 x 13 instead of a bundt pan.

Apple pie

Pumpkin pie with pecans on top.

Cranberry cake and dinner rolls

My oldest daughter and her family were traveling this year.  She needs gluten free options but I was able to make a regular crust this year.   I tried a new method.  I have posted different crust recipes on this blog before but this new recipe is great.  It is a recipe I saw Christopher Kimball make on the Rachel Ray show.  It doesn't use ice water.  Instead you cook some water and corn starch in the microwave for 30 seconds.  It makes a gel which is put in the freezer for 10 minutes.  When the butter and flour are blended, just toss in the gel.  A few more pulses in the food processor and like magic a beautiful pie dough forms.  I made two batches which was ample for a 9 x 13 pan. 

I hope everyone took the day to be grateful for all of the blessings we have.  No matter how bad some days seem, there is always someone who has it worse.  My oldest daughter was only three years old, and I was bustling around trying to get things done.  She told me to Stop and Smell the Roses.  I think she heard that from an old Mac Davis song, but I will never forget.  It is something we all should remember to do.  

*I was reminded that I write about feeding the squirrels and deer almost every year.  I guess I do. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Third Graders Learning About City Government

Just when we are convinced the public school system is flawed and kids aren't learning what they should, we get a chance to observe an activity which is very educational.  We got a call from our daughter.  She had to work today and couldn't attend a mock city council meeting being held at City Hall.

Our second youngest grandchild Jack is in third grade.  The class got to take part in a mock city council meeting lead by the Mayor of their town.  We said we could come since Jack had a speaking part, and we don't get to many of Jack's activities.  He was the Street Superintendent.

The council chambers was full of third graders, a few teachers and some parents and grandparents.  The street superintendent, the city attorney, the city clerk/treasurer and six aldermen took their seats.  Then the "real" City Administrator explained what the mayor and city council do.  She explained they use parliamentary procedure and introduced the mayor.

The mayor hit the gavel and called the meeting to order.  They took roll call.  There was only one item on the agenda.  It was to determine if a stop sign should be placed at an intersection near the elementary school.  The meeting began with three petitioners stating why they thought a stop sign was needed.  The council members asked questions of the street superintendent and asked him what the findings of a study were and how much is would cost.  Jack answered the questions and stated that a stop sign would cost $150. 


Then they asked the treasurer if they had budgeted enough.  She stated they could afford this project.  The council voted, and they passed it.

The mayor closed the meeting and then opened the floor up to questions for him.  They asked everything from how old he was to if he ever wanted to be President.  After that, the city's Chief of Police spoke to the kids.  He was great and explained about how the police are always there to help them.  He also addressed bullying.  He also took questions which were what every third grader wanted to know about being a policeman like did he have kids and pets.

When it was over, the kids had to get back to school.  The local newspaper was there for pictures, and we went home.  We were very pleased with this activity.  We learned a few things too.

Bye, bye.  You did a great job.  I'm glad we came.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Make Your Own Butter

Well, I started my Christmas shopping.  I know some people are finished, but I like to start around Thanksgiving Day.  I don't do Black Friday in brick and mortar stores, but I love to shop online.  The deals are much better if you wait it out.  It's like a game with coupon codes and rebates.  So far, I have purchased six gifts, and I am keeping three of them.  I must be buying things we would like.

This is what I bought.  I can't imagine who I would give this to except myself and so I did.  It is a quart sized glass butter churn.  Yes, that's right a butter churn.  Lord knows how difficult it is to buy butter in the grocery store (not).  As soon as it came, I needed to try it but I had to buy some heavy cream.  I went to our local Piggly Wiggly.  I wish I could shop there all the time, but it is very expensive.  Shopping locally helps the local economy, but my grocery bill would be double.  I bought 1/2 pint of heavy cream.  The cost was $1.79 and it only made the equivalent of one stick of butter.  I know I can buy a full pint for $1.69 at Aldi's which still makes one stick of butter little pricey.  The good thing is that I know what is in the butter.  There isn't any wax, coloring or preservatives.  There is just heavy cream.

I poured the cream into the glass jar and started turning the crank.  In no time, the cranking got a little harder.  The cranking becomes easier when the butter forms a ball and the buttermilk separates out.  Just like that you have a glob of butter and buttermilk.  I use buttermilk in other recipes so I can always find a use for it.

This is plain salted butter.

At this point you pour off the buttermilk, and rinse the butter with cool water.  It's as easy as that.  It can be salted or flavored.  I made honey cinnamon butter which is fantastic.  You just mix honey and cinnamon into the fresh soft butter. 

This is the buttermilk and the cinnamon honey butter.

I probably won't be doing this for all my butter needs unless I can find a source for cream that doesn't involve buying a cow.  I certainly will make the flavored butter often.  Recipes come with the churn for parmesan, basil, tomato butter, chili & lime butter and the honey cinnamon.  I think you could flavor it with whatever you like.

I had just made fresh bread and spread on the honey cinnamon butter.  It tasted like a cinnamon roll.  I have a new potato bread recipe that I love.  It uses sour cream and instant potato flakes.  

I started making the bread dough in the bread machine but then shaped the dough into small loaves.  The size is perfect.

From now on I have to focus on gifts others would like.  I have our four grandson's to buy for.  I doubt if I will be tempted to keep anything I buy for them.  Wish me luck with the rest.