Thursday, December 31, 2009

Snow when I'm free to enjoy it!




Since I have today off, I thought I would get some nice pictures of the falling snow.  I don't normally get many opportunities to do this because the snow fall at night or while I'm at work, so I was fortunate today.



I didn't exactly select the correct footwear for this cold and wet expedition, did I?



I didn't really go far though.  Just down the sidewalk to the playground and back, but I was able to do some neat things using a fast shutter speed like stopping snowflakes in midair in the picture below.

Then I true Jo form, I took a snowy self-portrait.  At least you can see my face in this years, last year was just a picture of my ponytail with snowflakes on it.  Consider this one an upgrade!


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen... I am READY for Christmas!

All cookies have been baked, all knitting projects finished, all presents wrapped, now time to relax and enjoy Christmas.  Here are some pictures to help put you in the Christmas spirit.




Our tree, finally with some presents under it.



Pretty pretty bows and paper.



A fine example of the cat humoring me.  I'm amazed I made it out of that one with my skin intact.
I am Meowcutus of Borg.  You will be assimilated.  Resistance is futile. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ten on Tuesday: 10 New Year’s Resolutions

1) Learn to Crochet - My ban on crochet is over!  So, the goal this year is to learn the basics.

2) Be Less Cluttered - My husband is a packrat and I'm a craft-aholic with a penchant for purchasing supplies on a whim.  This should be interesting.

3) Eat Healthier - Must eat more vegetables and less yummy fried things.  Oh, and do all eating in some form of moderation. 

4) See More Live Performances - I love live shows (music, theater, etc.) and there are a ton of them out there that are inexpensive or just outright free.  This past year, I really only went to two and I feel like I missed out on some great opportunities. 


5) Get More Involved with Charities - Right now I work for a non-profit and I knit chemo caps for another.  The caps are for the Teal Wings of Hope Foundation which is based out of New Jersey and is involved in providing awareness and education about ovarian cancer.  I'm hoping to be able to commit more time to making knitted items for them this year and hopefully I will be able to attend their Karaoke for the Cause Fundraiser in February.

6) Get up to Maine more - Over the past few years we really haven't been getting up to Maine more than once a year.  The 3.5 hour drive has been just enough to keep us away, so we have tended to go to the Cape more.   This year I want to get up there in the spring and summer as well as our normal mid-October trip for Dad's birthday and our anniversary.

7) Get back into Photography - This year I focused a lot on my knitting and all the skills I needed to learn to do that, so other than taking pictures of my finished projects, my camera didn't as much love as it should.  I'm thinking about doing a separate 365 blog with a picture every day starting in January.  That would be a good way for me to get back my rusty camera skills.

8) Try not to get so busy - I have a bad habit of getting so busy with all my hobbies and interests that sometimes I get overtired from all the parties, classes and projects I take on in addition to my job.  Last year around now, I had so much going on that I had no real time to enjoy the season and think about the real reason for Christmas.  I ended up getting really sick for the three days before Christmas and it was just aweful.  So, I'm planning on doing things with a bit more moderation this year.

9) Exercise more - We have a membership to the local pool and while Brian and I both love swimming, we just haven't gotten there since the end of the summer.  It might be the low teens temperature lately that keeps us away, but we had no such excuse a couple of weeks ago and before.

10) Sail More - We are fortunate enough to have a sailboat at our disposal when we are down the Cape and both Brian and I adore sailing.  We also hope to take a 3 or more day windjammer cruise sometime, but I think that won't be this year.

On the 85th day of cookies...

Ok, so I've given up on the whole day or Christmas day of cookies thing.  Too much work!  So, since my last cookie post, Brian, Mom and I have made the following:


Lemon-Honey Drop Cookies: These are one of my staples every year.  They are so versatile.  I have made them orange flavored and lemon-lime flavored as well and they turn out great!


Spritz Cookies: Mom dragged over her cookie press and made dozens of these small butter cookies that we decorated with colored sugar and other fun things.


Peppermint Swirls: I found this recipe in a Betty Crocker magazine you can get at the checkout at the grocery store.  It's a pretty easy recipe that is a basic shortbread dough which is divided in half and then one half is flavored with peppermint and colored red and then rolled with the plain dough to make the swirls. As you can see, the swirls take some practice.


Oatmeal Cranberry Sour Cream Bars:  I found this in in the same book as the Peppermint Swirls.  I wanted to make a bar and this was a nice simple recipe, plus is called for craisins and I LOVE those!


Chai Tea Shortbread: I found the next two recipes on the Food Network website from the show 5 Ingredient Fix.  A pretty good little recipe over all and the writer offers some good options to changing the recipe slightly such as adding nuts.


Almond Shortbread: This cookie uses the same recipe as the one above, but instead of using pecans as she suggested, I went for almonds and replaced the vanilla with almond extract.

I have at least one more recipe to go, so I'll post that another day, but whew!  Do you think we've made enough cookies?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Some of what January has in store for me: SelfKniMo!

So, I haven't been posting many of my projects lately.  Gee, could it be that Christmas is encroaching and I have made more than a few gifts this year?  Perhaps.  Since I can't yet share the glory of my finished projects, I will instead share with you some of my plans for January. 

I am very happy wall the knitted items I have created over the past year.  Today I actually counted how many things I have made to date in 2009 and got a total of 50 separate items.  Bwah?!?!?  I know, it's crazy!  So, after working so hard over the past year, I decided I was up for some kind of self-reward.  Thus, I have declared this January to be selfish knitting month (SelfKniMo 2009).  SelfKniMo will let me get to play with all those projects I have mulling around in my brain that I have wanted to make for myself.

One of those projects I've just been dying to get on the needles is Never Not Knitting's Cedar Leaf Shawlette (click here for pictures).  A week and a half ago I finally broke down and ordered the kit for myself.  I had lusted after that pattern and yarn (pictured in front of our Christmas tree) for long enough to make me feel that I could justify the purchase.  The yarn is an amazing blend of half wool and half silk and is called Lady Godiva by Handmaiden of Canada (you can see their colors here).  When Brian saw the mixture of fibers he was convinced that the yarn was made by a sheep/caterpillar hybrid called a caterpeep.  Lol!  Did I mention how awesome my husband is lately?  He's so good and puts up with all the yarn and pointy sticks quite nicely.

The Cedar Leaf Shawlette is just one of the projects I have in store for January.  Oh yeah, if you think I'm slowing down on the knitting you're crazy.  The only thing that might take up some of my time is that my self-imposed learning-to-crochet ban will be over as of January 1, so I might sneak some easy crochet projects into the mix.  Then again, I have 5 knitting projects lined up for myself already, including a matching scarf, hat and glove set.  So.... crocheting might have to take a back seat until February.

What's this white stuff?


I happened to snap this really neat picture of Molly checking out the newly fallen snow this morning.  She really likes our new bed and spends much more time in it then she did in the old one.  Due to its height it offers a perfect vantage point to checking out the goings on in the playground.  So, I can't say as I blame her.  From what I'm hearing we probably got the least amount of snow in the area at about 4-5 inches.   Surprise, our parking lot still isn't cleared over 12 hours after the storm stopped. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

10 on Tuesday: 10 Great Christmas Songs



There wasn't a theme for today, so I made up my own and decided to focus on music.  So here are 10 great Christmas songs for you to listen to to keep you merry:

1) Sugafunscary by Aliqua on their album All I Want - I found this album tonight when I was downloading today's free mp3 from Amazon's 25 Days of Free. It's a nice album overall if you enjoy a capella women's.  This song in particular is kinda funky and features the women in the group doing a lot of vocal percussion.  You can listen to the album samples and buy the album by clicking here.

2) Christmas Tree a single by Lady Gaga featuring Space Cowboy - Lady Gaga always makes things interesting and this single does not disappoint :P  You can preview and download the single for free by clicking here until Dec. 25th.

3) Last Christmas a single by The Glee Cast - I just adore the show Glee and basically everything they sing on it, so I had to include the single they released.  You can preview and download it through iTunes by clicking here.

4) Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses - Both Darth Coco and I love this song, so I had to share it seeing as she has already commented about it in the blog this year.  You can preview and purchase it through Amazon by clicking here

5) Sleigh Ride by Los Straitjackets on their album 'Tis the Season - what do you get when you combine traditional holiday songs and surfer rock?  Check this song out to find out!  You can preview the album and download it by clicking here.  They also have a new album out this year called Yuletide Beat.

6) Winter Song by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson on the album Winter Songs - This is a neat album I found last year that is pretty mellow and has songs from a number of different artists.  It's really nice background music and the lyrics are beautiful.  You can listen to the album and download it by clicking here.

7) Personent Hodie on the album Christmas with the Cambridge Singers - My love of this song stems from my extreme music-geekness.  I was a music major in college and let's just say that my taste in music tends towards the eclectic.  I blame my musical oddities on all the genres I have been exposed to by school, my parents, and iTunes over the years.  Although, I really have to thank Jen T. for letting me know about this version in particular.  For some reason, I adore this melody.  I have 3 or four different versions of the song and enjoy them all, but I think this is my favorite one.  Unfortunately you can't download this album anywhere, but you can preview it and purchase a cd by clicking here.

8) Christmas Canon Rock by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on their album The Lost Christmas Eve - I swear that there is absolutely nothing that beats a rock version of a classic song.... I have quite a few favorites that were done by the orchestra including Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24).  You can preview and download the song by clicking here.

9) All On a Christmas Morning by Robbie O'Connell - Mom and I went to an excellent folk Christmas concert last year and we heard Robbie sing many great holiday songs.  This one was one of my favorites along with Mrs. Fogarty's Christmas Cake which I have already posted about.  You can listen and download this song for free by clicking here.  You can get a couple more of his songs for free by visiting his website.

10)  Ok, I've saved the three most eclectic songs for last in case you want to jump ship.  These songs are ones that I have performed in chorale when I was in college.  They are songs that were meant to challenge us vocally so they might not appeal to all.  But I want to share them because to me they bring out all the feelings I associate with Christmas.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do despite the fact that you didn't sing them at a Christmas concert!
  • The Los Pastores movement from Navidad Nuestra, a mass by Ariel Ramirez - Everything from this mass is in spanish, which made it very difficult for my little college student mind to memorize.  But, memorize it we did and to this day I can sing along, which is kind of freaky since I sang this almost 10 years ago (shudder).  You can listen and download it by clicking here.
  •  O Magnum Mysterium, a motet based on a mass by Tomas Luis de Victoria - This motet is in latin and traditionally sung by an all male choir.  I think it sounds best that way myself.  If memory serves me correctly the Chorale sang this at my first Vespers concert freshman year.  Instead of being in front of the audience, we had climbed into the two staircases leading up to the chapel and let our voices waft up the stairs and into the chapel.  I wish I could have heard how it sounded... another neat memory of this song was when the Chorale went to Italy to perform several concerts.  We were in Assisi sight seeing and were able to sing it in one of the huge cathedrals.  It was absolutely amazing.  I will never for get that experience!  Anyway, you can listen to this motet and purchase it by clicking here
  • On This Day Earth Shall Ring by The Rooke Chapel Choir - This song is a staple of Vespers at Wheaton.  It would always be the last thing played before the concert was over and my Music advisor, Rev. Carlton Russell was the person responsible for playing the huge pipe organ.  For some reason this song has basically become the epitome of Christmas for me.  Maybe it's the grandeur or the familiarity of singing with the comforting sound of a pipe organ.  Whatever it was, the whole audience would sing the piece with us and we would recess to the back of the chapel for the last verse, which is always the piece de resistance.  I hope you enjoy it, for it is church music at it's finest.  You can listen and purchase by clicking here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On the second day of cookies...



So Saturday was our annual Cookie Day at Lars and Tara's.  Each year we get together and the girls make cookies together while the boys play on the Wii. There are certain staples that we pretty much make every year, but then we change up a few recipes every year to try out news things and try to perfect our output.  This year we made: Maple Date Bars, Sugar Cut Out Cookies, Buckeyes, Oatmeal Cookies and Ginger Cookies.



Below are Heather's Buckeyes.  They are made of graham crackers, peanut butter and butter, rolled into balls and then dipped in chocolate.  They are an every year undertaking.  Yeah, these don't leave our house...

We also make chocolate crinkles almost every year.  They are one of my absolute favorites going back to when I was a kid and mom and I made them with varying success in her very old olive green stove.

 

Isn't Lucy so cute?   She did a very good job cleaning up all the dough from the buckeyes that fell on the floor.  She's a helper! 



And Erin is looking very domestic... not to mention angelic.  Something is out of place here...



Luke slowly putting a buckeye out of it's misery.  He's so fast, all I got was a blur of him and a nice picture if Kristin.



Around 5, I headed out to my friend Jared's annual Christmas party.  No matter how hard we try, these two annual traditions seem to end up being on the same day.  But, Jared's party is for another blog post and another day.

On the first day of cookies, my oven gave to me...

I went to mom and dad's after work to start Cookie Extravaganza 2009.   We weren't particularly productive as it was a work night for me, but we got a few dozen of my assigned cookies done and one batch of a set from mom.



My cookies: Molasses Cookies

Mom's cookies: Double Chocolate Chews

Brian joined us for dinner and even helped out with dough for the first batch. 



Mr. Accuracy hard at work!



The cookie scoop or disher is God's gift to drop cookies.  It saves soooo much time and effort.  Especially when you are tripling batches.



I think Brian was getting sick of our shenanigans by this point.  Especially since I kept commenting that he was rolling too slowly and if he didn't hurry up he wouldn't earn his $.10 an hour pay.



Cute little balls of molasses cookie dough, just waiting to meet their oven-y doom!

 

As you can see, things got a little silly (as they normally do).  Mom trying to figure out her new cookies press which looks like it can shoot lazerbeams **pew pew**




Then Brian decided to go home... **pout**




After Brian left mom and I yacked away for a few more hours and managed to get some more work done before I meandered home at around 11pm.  Here's an example of the finish product for the Molasses cookies:


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

10 on Tuesday: 10 Great Things About the Holidays

Ok, this is going to be a short one...  partly because I'm in a self-imposed knitting sweat shop at the moment and also because my blog post deleted itself again (Grrr).  But anyway, here is my list of 10 great things about the holidays:

1) All the yummy smells - scented candles, cinnamon, pine, roaring fires.
2) Baked goods
3) Christmas carols
4) Snow falling at night
5) Rosy noses and cheeks
6) Getting together with family and friends
7) Traditions
8) Relaxing by tree-light
9) Time off
10) Snowball fights

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Creative Things To Do This December

Ok, so this post is officially on restriction...  I was very close to being done with it, having looked up all but two of the links I needed and written out all my lovely commentary.  However, that post was not meant to be.  Somehow it managed delete itself and then auto save before I could hit undo.... so, the original is lost somewhere in the sea of ones and zeros that is the internet.  Hopefully I can remember all the neat things I was going to share now that my temper tantrum is over, lol.  Well, here goes...

The actual Ten on Tuesday topic for today is 10 Things I want, but wouldn't buy for myself, but I decided that it wasn't particularly my style.  I always end up feeling a little bit like a greedy monkey at this time of year, with everyone asking what I want for Christmas, so instead of focusing on what I want, I decided to focus on ways I can be creative in December.  Fortunately for me, there are lots of great ideas out there.  Here are ten that I thought would be worth sharing.  I do want to put in a disclaimer here... while I have tried out some of these crafty projects and I do plan to try out others, I have not tried them all, so.... I refuse to be held responsible if you project is CraftFail worthy : P  Believe me, I've had plenty of those moments myself.

1) Knit a Christmas stocking - As part of my knitting insanity this year I want to make Christmas stockings for my little family.  I just love the idea of those really cool multi-colored faire-isle ones that have your name knitted into them and look like they took hours to make.  So, I hopped on Ravelry and found the pattern for Cascade Christmas Stockings.  This pattern is great because it allows you to customize your stocking by section and color.  For each section, the pattern offers a few options so that way you can mix and match your favorite designs.  Now, if you don't want to dive into a project like that, but you like the idea of a stocking, you can try out this pattern for Mini Knitted Christmas Stockings.

2) Make ornaments for your tree
- I love getting new ornaments for our tree and making them can be  a lot of fun too.  Other than the mini stocking listed above, you can try making this Button Wreath Ornament or these cute Button People and Animal Ornaments.  Another one you can try are these Snowy Ballon Ornaments.

3) Make an eco-friendly garland - You can make a cool eco-friendly garland out of all sorts of things you can get at the grocery store, or even in your backyard.  Some good ideas are cranberries, popcorn, dried fruit, cinnamon sticks, pine cones, and acorns.  Instructables has directions on how to make a Delightfully Dehydrated Garland of dried fruit slices and Ocean Spray gives some good tips on how to string up cranberries and popcorn.  What's great about these garlands is that when the holidays are over you can put them out on your bushes in the back yard and they will mysteriously disappear!

4) Bake cookies for your friends and family - This is something I do every year with both my mom and friends because baking for people is a great way to give them something special  when your budget might be a little tight.  In early December the girls get together for cookie day and we each make enough cookies from recipes we each pick so that everyone to bring a dozen home.  It really makes getting all that baking done fast and fun!  My current favorite recipes are the  Lemon-Honey Drop Cookies and Molasses Cookies from Cooking Light magazine, but I have also made a family favorite, Chocolate Crinkles.  A really great resource for recipes in general, but in this case cookies is MyRecipes.com

5) Make your own holiday cards - Now, I have tried to do this for several year, each year with different levels of success (or failure).  I love card making, but I am not the best designer so I tend to do most of my paper crafting and stamping in the classroom with Jenn our instructor (who is awesome).  But, when I do endeavor create on my own I stick with stamps from one company and that is A Muse. They offer the cutest stamps ever and their slogan is perfect... think simple. think a muse.  I can't speak highly enough of their quality stamps, papers and other accessories.  So, go to their site and check them out.  They have excellent examples of holiday card ideas you can check out at their design studio.

6) Show off your holiday cards - By making a pinup card wreath or by hanging your cards down lengths of wide ribbons.

7) Cut out paper snowflakes - Now, I know this sounds just silly, but they are a lot of fun!  You can either find a pattern and follow it to get a snowflake to look exactly how you like or you can be a rebel (like I normally do) and fold your paper and attack with the scissors.  I honestly haven't come out with a bad one yet doing it this way.  You can also try your hand at making a 3-D Paper Snowflake.

8) Make soap that reminds you of the season - I have never gotten the chance to make soap and there are many ways to do it.  You actually have a few options if you are interested in soap making, first you can just melt down pre-purchased soap and add other ingredients such as dyes, exfoliants or the scent of your choice.  You can also purchase the ingredients to make glycerin soaps (this is the one I really want to try).  Lastly you could make lye soap (which I really wouldn't recommend).  Idea Queen has some recipes up on her blog for you to try out.  You should be able to get most of the ingredients at Michael's or AC Moore.  The only thing I would stress is that anything you use for these recipes should NEVER touch food again!  So, once you have used a pot or a wooden spoon in soapmaking, it is married to that function or the trash for life.

9) Make a wreath for your door - Either go the traditional route with tree branches or use something you already have, extra scarves.  You can see some great ideas here at Country Living or at Martha Stewart's website.

10) Make a fruitcake - Nah!  Just kidding :-)  I'm scared of those, but here is a neat article on the Great Fruitcake Toss held every year in Manitou Springs, Co.  Also you can listen to Robbie O'Connell sing about Mrs. Fogarty's Christmas Cake (one of my favorite Christmas folk songs):