Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pin It/Do It Challenge: Wrap-up

October has come and gone and so has this round of the "Pin It/Do It Challenge" sponsored by Trish at Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity.  I signed up at the Obsessed level - accomplish 8+ pins during the month.  I made it easily and accomplished 12 pins - plus a couple "adaptations".  Here's the final lineup:
  1. Ironing board
  2. Autumn candle
  3. Business card holders
  4. Kleenex holders
  5. Pillowcase
  6. Journal cover
  7. Scavanger Hunt
  8. Pumpkin Pie Dip
  9. Skinny Monkey Cookies
  10. Folded paper Christmas trees
  11. Gratitude journal
  12. 12 Bottle Coozie
The Bottle Coozie is actually a combination of a pin for a coffee cup holder and a bottle-wrap pattern I saw in a quilting magazine.  Regular can coozies aren't tall enough for a water bottle, so I was looking for some way to insulate a plastic water bottle while walking/running.  Here's what I came up with.  This was my first experiment and I need to tweek the measurements and button placement a bit, but I think it will work well.  The coozie is reversible and lined with Insul-Bright insulated quilt batting to keep the water cool without freezing my hand.
     Original pin          My Coozie - side one         side two
I also adapted a couple of pins:

I have since re-adapted my tote bag idea to make it lined (and I got the handles centered this time).  They are so simple and so cute - I'll be giving them to everyone I know.  I plan to do a tutorial soon, and perhaps a giveaway here on the blog nearer Christmas.  

A million thanks to Trish for sponsoring this challenge and kick-starting my crafting.              

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reviews in Brief

Here are some short-and-possibly-sweet reviews of recent reads.  All but the Evanovich have been in audio form.

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly - I'm working my way through the entire Mickey Haller series.  Talented author, suspenseful courtroom drama and a hero you'll love.

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly - Same series - same review

Chasing the Dime by Michael Connelly - Same author - stand-alone novel - same review.  Are you catching on?  Michael Connelly can write!

Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich - I give.  I have enough years invested in the Stephanie Plum series that I'll continue to read them in the hope that she (the author or the protagonist) will eventually move on, but I'm not wasting another minute on this shabby remake of the original.  Actually have about 30 pages left on this one and don't care if I ever read them.

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane - Another reliably awesome author.  This wasn't my favorite of his, but still way above the average.

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth - I'm not a big biography reader, but this was fun.  I fell in love with Kristin on West Wing and now seek out anything she's in.  She narrates the audiobook herself and that made it even more fun - especially the parts she sings.  

If you have any questions or want further info on any of my recent reads, just ask.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mx3 Book Reviews

Hooray for me!  I actually finished two entries for the Murder, Monsters and Mayhem Challenge.  And they couldn't be at more opposite ends of the spectrum.  One five-star read and one that received one star only because I'm not sure you can give a zero rating.

Where are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark

This is old-school thriller writing.  I read this book in the 70's and thought I remembered the story - but I wasn't even close.  (Now I'm wondering what book I AM remembering...)  

To escape the terrible secret in her past and the people who knew about it, Nancy Harmon changed her hair color, moved across the country and married Ray Eldredge, believing that at last she had begun a new life.  Seven years have passed and she is happy with her home, her husband and her two beautiful children.

Then an article appears about a famous California murder trial, along with a picture of a woman who looks suspiciously like Nancy.  That very morning, her two children disappear from the yard - and the past and present become inexorably linked.  The police fear that Nancy may have snapper her tenuous hold on reality.  They know nothing about the existence of the stranger in town who holds the key to the children's lives.

I have been in a reading slump lately -- couldn't get involved in anything, nothing was interesting.  That's what inspired me to return to the tried-and-true.  Mary Higgins Clark set the bar for page-turners.  The story is fast-paced, with enough hints to keep you guessing without revealing too much and ruining the twisting ending, and just creepy enough to qualify it for Mx3.

Ms.Clark's more recent novels have lost something, in my opinion.  They tend to be more benign, less intricate, less....thrilling. If you are only familiar with the Mary Higgins Clark of the last 10-15 years, I encourage you to try some vintage suspense.

In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and Joe Hill

In the Tall Grass begins with a sister and brother who pull off to the side of the road after hearing a young boy crying for help from beyond the tall grass. Within minutes they are disoriented, in deeper than seems possible, and they've lost one another. The boy's cries are more and more desperate. What follows is a terrifying, entertaining, and masterfully told tale, as only Stephen King and Joe Hill can deliver.

This is a short-story (about 40 pages) and that's a good thing!  At least the time I wasted was relatively small.  It started out brilliantly, and classic Stephen King -- a common situation that turns bizarre, but maintains that basis of reality that keeps the reader thinking there is a logical solution.  Dave and I were especially enjoying it because it's set in Kansas, in an area we're familiar with, and involved the Tall Grass Prairie that I love.  We were pumped for an awesome journey with the horror "King" (pun intended.) But with about 15 pages left, it went totally off the rails and veered from brilliant to just plain stupid.  There was no point, no progress, no redeeming value.  It apparently became a contest between two  authors to see how disgusting they could be and how many people could be suckered into paying for it.  Honestly, it made me angry that a writing super-star took the easy way out, opting for the gross-out instead of an actual climax to the story.  This isn't horror, this is horrific.

Update:  Can't believe I forgot to mention that The World's Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, Kansas plays a part in this book. Cawker is only 30 miles from where I grew up and the giant ball of twine is a familiar sight.  When we used to drive through there on our way to see family, Dave would always hit the brakes and yell "Look at that ball of twine!" -- just to annoy the kids.  And it did.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mx3: Week 4

The pastor at a church we attended about 10 years ago had a maxim he used frequently:  "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior."  We have applied this to so many situations.  It was often our reasoning for denying a teenager another shot at an extended curfew, or for not giving repeat business to a company with shoddy customer service.  But today, unfortunately, I have to apply it to myself.  

I love to sign up for reading challenges.  I make a plan, I draw up an outline, I schedule posts - but then I have to follow through.  And I never do.  Then I vow to never sign up for another one - but when the next one comes around, I think THIS TIME, I'll do it.  THIS TIME I'll keep up.  THIS TIME I'll reach the goal.  But I never do.  

And so it goes with Monsters, Murder and Mayhem.  I want to do it. I want to enjoy Stephen King and gothic ghosts and things that go bump in the night - like I used to.  I want to not be a total wimp.  But the cold hard truth is - I don't and I am.  So we wrap up week four of Mx3 with 1 of four books from my grand plan complete - 3 in various stages of half-doneness.  Same goes for the movies except, of the three that didn't get watched, two of them didn't even get recorded.

There is still time to redeem myself.  I have five days of October left in which to complete just ONE of the 3 books I started and watch just ONE of the movies I had selected. "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior."  Oh yeah - probably not.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pin It/Do It: Week 4

It was a busy week at our house, but I still managed to make progress in the Pin It/Do It Challenge.  While the kids were here, we tried Pumpkin Pie Dip with apples and pears, and Banana Oat Breakfast Cookies.      
The dip was good - tastes exactly like pumpkin pie filling, but fluffier - but a little went a long way - very sweet!  The cookies were not as successful.  I made them because we have one family member who doesn't tolerate glutin.  She thought they were pretty good compared to other glutin-free cookies she's tried.  I also thought they were good, but not great, as a low calorie dessert or breakfast alternative.  I may try them again with a few tweaks to the recipe.

Also during our family weekend, we held a scavanger hunt inspired by The Taylor House.  You can read the details of our hunt in this post.

When things settled down, I returned to crafting and made these adorable paper trees. These are all over Pinterest in various versions. I seem to have deleted the pin that originally inspired me, so my apologies to whoever came up with the idea of using book pages. You can also use rubber stamps to create your own design, or two-sided scrapbooking paper for a more colorful option (see pic below).
My version
These take seconds to make.  Trace and cut a half circle from paper, make three folds, trim bottom edge, glue on paper scrap for trunk - done.  I tried embellishing some with stickers to look like ornaments, but liked the simple version the best. They can be used as gift tags, as garland, on cards - endless possibilities.

I hung some from a dowel rod, just to get an idea of how they would look mixed with some rustic ornaments.  I love the combination and will either use them on a small tree or hung from garland around a door frame (since I don't have a mantle).

Next on the list was a Gratitude Journal.  My daughter, son's girlfriend, sister and niece will be joining me in keeping track of the many things we have to be grateful for.  We are each finding our own notebook/journal to use and adorning it as we choose. The only requirement is that the book have 52 pages or more, so that you have at least one page per week. More pages are preferable. I started with a  sketch book from Hobby Lobby with a blank, cardboard cover.  I used scrapbooking paper, stickers, old book pages and good, ole Elmer's glue to decorate my cover.  I still need to subdivide the pages into months and add tabs.  Completing the inside of the journal is also up to personal interpretation.  I hope to create a page or two per week, using journaling, pictures and memorabilia.  Big events/occasions will hopefully take up several pages.  
Original pin               My version
Finally, I made two original creations based on craft ideas I had pinned.  During Week 2 of the challenge, I made a pillowcase using the "hot dog" method. (Excellent video tutorial)  Yesterday, as I was searching patterns for quick tote bags, it struck me that I could use the same "hot dog" method, adjust the measurements and add handles. Voila!

Do not adjust your screen.  Yes, I'm aware the handles are off center.  When figuring the placement, I forgot to figure the seam allowance.  There was math involved and . . . well, I'll get it right next time. Just like a pillowcase, the cuff is double-sided, but the body of the bag is unlined.  Because of that, I used a French seam on the side so that no raw edges were visible at the bag opening.  (If you're not familiar with French seams, you can find dozens of tutorials on Pinterest and Youtube.)  My finished bag is approximately 9x12, but I'm anxious to try them in various sizes to use as a Nook tote, for carrying sewing projects, book bag, etc.  They would also make a great gift bag that the recipient could actually keep and use. 

My second adaptation of a pin involved the journal covers I made last week.  The covers were made to fit a 9 3/4" x 7 1/2" composition book.  I ran across mini-composition books at a dollar store and made a cute purse-size version.   

I didn't bother to piece the cover since it is so small, but you certainly could if you prefer.    This size requires a piece of fabric approximately 5x7".   Finish the short ends, fold flaps and stitch, turn right-side-out, press and you're done.

I have surpassed my goal of doing 8 pins during the month of October, but with Christmas creeping up, I'll be crafting steadily for awhile.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nature Scavanger Hunt

During our family weekend, we had a nature scavanger hunt.  Although the adult "kids" scoffed at first, once we started, they all got into it and it was hilarious. The original idea came from a Pinterest pin by The Taylor House, but we added our own twists.  Here is our list:
  • Something fuzzy
  • A seed
  • Man-made litter
  • Something straight
  • Something round
  • Something smooth
  • Something rough
  • Something purple
  • Something you think is beautiful
  • 2 types of leaves
  • Something that makes noise
  • A pinecone
  • Something you think is a treasure
  • A corn cob
  • A soy bean
  • A flower
  • Watch for bonus items tied with purple ribbon.    
  •  Bonus points for finding any of the balls the dogs have lost.

We divided into three teams of three, each with a designated cell-phone photographer.  Rather than collecting and bringing home the items on the list, they had only to snap a picture.  This allowed for a wider variety of items to fill each category. 

For example, "something round" could be a round hay bale.  (For those of you unfamiliar with big, round bales -- as compared to small, square bales and large, square bales -- they are approximately 6' in diameter and weigh around a thousand pounds - not easy to put in your pocket.)

For "something purple" my team used the K-State shirt on this adorable grandson:

The teams had 30 minutes to complete the hunt and no items could be found within the boundaries of our yard.  Although being first to return to "base" did not count towards winning, it didn't stop overly-competitive siblings from making a dash for it. Little legs had a hard time keeping up.

The winning team was determined by a team of not-so-impartial judges - Dave and I.  We compared the pictures taken by each team.  If two teams found the same object, such as dandelions for flowers, the team with a unique item got one point.  Some points were awarded for the most original  - like the team who took the cover off the well in the pasture to get a shot of the "something round" gauge on the pump.  Some items were judged entirely by personal preference.  For "something beautiful", Amanda snapped a picture of me - knowing that she would get Dave's vote or find him in the dog house. :)

The "bonus items" mentioned were zip-lock bags of candy tied with purple ribbon and hidden earlier in the day.  I encourage you to try your own customized version of this with your own group - friends, family, fantasy-football league.  Great source of giggles!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Family Weekend in Pictures...

Whew!  That was either a tornado or the family was all here for four days. I'm too tired to give you all the details, so here's our family-time in synopsis:

There were airports

and games of pool

and B-B guns

  and bows and arrows.

We had craft time

and bon fires,

 a hayrack ride

and a scavenger hunt (first one home wins).

We roasted hot dogs

and laughed

and did things we won't tell Mom.

There was shoe shopping cause the dog ate his shoes,

and performances of Swan Lake?

No - just duck feet made from tube socks and orange duct tape ("duck" tape?).  The "Hunters and Their Ducks" won "Most Original" at the costume party.

And Rocket Man won first prize!

And, of course, there was cooking and eating and cooking and eating and . . .
 dirty dishes.

Now there's silence, two chairs left by the firepit, and the kitchen table pushed back against the wall to seat two again. There are piles of dirty towels, a fridge full of leftovers, a ton of calories to burn off, and amazing memories!  Whew!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Autumn in Pictures . . .

I've been playing with photography again - trying to capture the changing seasons.  So, here's Autumn in southeast Nebraska after a summer-long drought:

Lying in the leaves
Dry creek bed
Love the contrast of the leaves against that clear sky
Hiding Place
And sunset - playing with various exposures and setting.  Which one do you prefer?
Blue Sunset
Grey Sunset

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mx3 Week 3: Fail

I had a plan.  It was a good plan.  It was well thought-out.  It was balanced - one week, one book, one movie.  It's now a failed plan.  Part of the problem was that I didn't allow for life - preparing for kids coming, concert, work ... Part of it was that I didn't focus - too much time on Twitter, Song Pop, Words With Friends, reading blogs...  And part of it was that I just can't get into a book.  Does anyone else have those slumps?  Nothing is grabbing me, I'm having to work to read, and I hate that.  So... no Mx3 entry for me this week but, in an attempt to pick up a book I can't put down, and to read something within the Mx3 parameters, I'm going back to the familiar.  Stopped at the library over my lunch break and picked up Where Are The Children by Mary Higgins Clark (a re-read) and one of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries. I also have a qualifying audiobook going in the car - but the name escapes me at the moment.  So, I have high hopes for next week.  I also plan to get the movies watched, but with kids arriving tomorrow and staying through Monday, probably not in the next few days.  Perhaps in my post-family stupor next week, I'll just veg-out on the couch and have a movie marathon.

Until then, hope you're all having a scary, spooky Mx3 week.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pin It/Do It: Week 3

I had another successful week of Pinning/Doing.  The final sewing project on my list was journal covers.  My daughter and I are paper/pen freaks.  We get giddy in the back-to-school aisle.  This is a fun way to use up fabric scraps and create a custom journal from an inexpensive notebook.  The tutorial from Rachael at Stitched in Color, uses a 9 3/4" x 7 1/2" composition book, but it could easily be adjusted to fit any size notebook with a hard cover.  

My adjustments: In the tutorial, Rachel uses a structured quilt block pattern to create her cover, but I went more with the "crazy quilt" look.  I just kept grabbing pieces from the scrap box and adding them on until I had a large enough piece of fabric - then trimmed it to the exact dimensions.  All of the seams in the quilted piece made for a kind of bumpy feel against the notebook, so I cut a piece of quilt batting and laid it inside the cover before inserting the notebook.  It's not attached but is held firmly in place by the cover.  I was very happy with the results, so I'm sure I'll be making lots of these.

               Original pin                        My version
The rest of the pins on this week's list are things we're trying while the kids are home over the weekend.  I'll report on the results next week.  

Because we have one family member with gluten issues, we'll be trying Banana Oat Breakfast Cookies from Watching What I Eat and Skinny Monkey Cookies from Once A Month Mom.  Both are flour-free and start with a base of bananas, applesauce and oats.

For lower-calorie snacks, we're trying homemade, low-fat Ranch Dressing from Caffeinated Chronicles of a Supermom and fruit dipped in Pumpkin Pie Dip courtesy of Six Sisters Stuff.

This week's final pin will be a Nature Scavanger Hunt, based on an idea from The Taylor House.  Our version will require the family to divide up into teams - each with a designated cell-phone photographer.  Rather than collecting the items and carrying them back to the house, teams will snap photos of their finds.  This will allow for broader categories such as "Something you think is beautiful", where the answer might be an entire tree in fall color.  Teams will have a set amount of time to collect their photos and the winning team will be determined by a panel of unbiased judges - Grandma and Grandad.

Next week:  Paper Craft Pins

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

T&T Autumn Readathon

POSTONED - Scheduling conflicts have come up so we have had to postpone the readathon.  I'll let you know a new date if/when it's scheduled.

My sister, Teri, was traveling in south Texas last week to visit her son and his family, so she wasn't able to participate in the October Dewey's Readathon.  She was so disappointed to miss out that she suggested we have our own mini-version. 

So. announcing . . .

The T&T Autumn Readathon
Saturday, October 27th
    7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. CT

The readathon is open to anyone who cares to join.  There will be six challenges with prizes and other fun activities.  To sign up, just leave a comment here or on Teri's blog - or just show up on Saturday morning and start reading.  The more the merrier!

Monday, October 15, 2012

They're Baaaack!

The family is coming!  The family is coming! To arms! - or at least to the grocery store.  I'm so excited - but you probably guessed that.  We have a busy week ahead - lots of prep work and then four days with all the kids and grandkids at our house.  You may recall that we tried this a year ago and it wasn't a total success.  If you've forgotten the gory details, read this post.  If you remember that story, you're probably asking yourself, "Why are these idiots doing this again?"  Because, this time we have motel rooms booked!  All the fun of being together without sharing one bathroom and draining the water well.

Tonight is dedicated to a massive grocery-shopping trip.  With all of us together, that's 8 adults and 2 kids to feed for four days.  That requires a bulging refrigerator!  Tomorrow - my day off - will be spent cleaning and baking.  Then Wednesday evening will be the final cleaning chores and laundry catch-up.  Dave has his own list of chores, including chopping plenty of firewood and getting the motorcycle battery charged/replaced so the grandsons can have rides.

And on Thursday they pour in.  Amy and little boys arrive at the Kansas City airport at 2:00. I love meeting them to see those faces light up as they run off the plane.  Mitch and Mackenzie should be at our house by the time we return from the airport.   Amanda and Isaiah will be up after classes are finished, and Tom, Amy's fiance, flies into KC from San Diego at 10:00 p.m.  He'll rent a car and drive up on his own.  Whew!

Friday evening we have reservations for the Haunted Hollow Hay Rack Ride at Indian Cave State Park, Saturday night is the KSU football game on TV (Go Cats!), and Sunday is church followed by lunch at a local restaurant still to be determined, and college kids head home.  Amy, Tom and boys fly out on Monday afternoon.  In between, there will be fishing, food, a scavenger hunt, food, crafts, puzzles, food, and games - and lots of laughs.

Hopefully I'll get a Pin It/Do It post and an Mx3 post scheduled before Thursday - but if not, you'll understand why I'm a little scarce this week.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Readathon Wrap-up

Another readathon has come and gone, and once again I didn't read as much as I hoped, but at least I had better reasons this time.
  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? The hours of helping as an event co-host were definitely my most daunting - but also great fun and rewarding.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?  Unfortunately, no.  I had an awful time focusing on anything I tried.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Not in general - but on a personal note, don't go to karaoke night at the bar the night before.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? -- Everything went smooth as butter, from what I could tell, thanks to the dedication of Andi and Heather.
  5. How many books did you read? - I read FROM 3 different books, but finished none.
  6. What were the names of the books you read?  The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley, The Drop by Michael Connelly, and The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? I most enjoyed The Drop by Michael Connelly just because it was the easiest.  I don't mean that as a put-down, but I was having a rough time focusing on the other two books, so went to this one because I knew it was gripping and fast-paced - it wouldn't take as much effort as the others.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling - because it had so much hype and even though I only read a few chapters, it wasn't what I was expecting.  Not marking it off my list, just didn't grab me immediately.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?  Don't over-schedule yourself.  I had a plan to read 30 minutes and cheer 30 minutes of each hour - except during the hours I was co-hosting and the hours we went to the cabaret where we have season tickets....  That didn't happen.  There was just too much to do.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?  100% - I will participate in every readathon possible, and I will take whatever role is needed - reading, cheering, co-hosting (now that I understand it a little bit and wouldn't be so panicked).
Hope you all had a fan-tabulous time at Dewey's Read-a-thon! If you didn't participate this time, hope to see you in April.