Saturday, December 31, 2011

29 gifts: day three

Today's gift was $20 to a homeless couple.   It's hard to believe that we have individuals without a home in our area.  We often see the man we gifted walking with his dog on the east side of town.  I have always though, "I should do something to help."  I even went through a drive thru one night to get him (and his dog) a hamburger, but when I returned to where he was standing with his sign, he was gone.  Today was the day.

I know there is a lot of controversy about giving money directly to the homeless.  I get it.  Today,  it felt like the right thing to do.

(We also delivered the bread we baked to say hello to our favorite neighbors and catch up on his recovery...our second neighbor wasn't home, so we left his bread with a Happy New Year note.)

Tempe visit

We took a couple of days off work for a short vacation to Tempe, Arizona earlier in December.  We had won a trip at a charity auction last spring and had carefully worked out schedules and decided that December would be a great time to go to a warmer climate.  The joke was on was unseasonably warm in Kansas that weekend.  We were still happy to get away and see this part of the country together.

We stayed at the Fiesta Resort Conference Center.  The hotel was nice, but the people who worked there were even nicer.  The shuttle was available for pick up and drop up within a few mile radius of the property.  We were able to get rides to Arizona State University, local shopping, the light rail and to the Botanical Gardens.

The people in Tempe and Phoenix were so friendly.  There was not a single time that we entered the hotel lobby that we were not greeted.  The staff in the shops were friendly and kind.  Even the convenience store clerk where we picked up a Sunday paper was friendly and generous.  It was awesome!

We didn't have a lot on our agenda, but we did find the Las Noches de las Luminarias at the Botanical Gardens.  Several evenings in December were designated for this ticketed event and we were visiting during a time when the event was scheduled.  We were advised to get tickets in advance because they often sell out.  We secured our tickets and opted for the dinner they host on site for that night.

The Garden paths were lined with luminaries and the paths wind around to different "rooms" where entertainment was hosted.

We enjoyed blues, classic violin, old-fashioned carolers, Native American storytelling, and more.  Our favorite was our first stop of the night - The Sugar Thieves.

We had an awesome time walking around the gardens and would highly recommend this activity for anyone in the Tempe area in December - a casual and romantic way to spend the evening.

We took the light rail from Tempe to downtown Phoenix to check out the Public Market.  We learned that the Public Market is an urban grocery and wine bar that hosts an open air market in the parking lot on specific days.  We were lucky to be able to take in the open air market while we were visiting.  Vendors told us that there were more booths than usual because of the holiday shopping season.  Think about all the stuff you love about open air markets - farmers and artists displaying their products, food trucks, live music, and more!  We had this really, really good coconut iced tea and found some cool small pieces of art.

The burlap shopping bags with the Public Market logo were only $2!  I loved these.

  (The terra cotta plate we purchased busted on the way home.  Bummer.)

We found this historic church downtown on the way to lunch.

After our return to the Tempe light rail station, we hiked to the Hole in the Rock for some great views of the area.  It was a fairly easy hike and we loved being able to do something outside.

Things we didn't get to do:  drive to the Grand Canyon and shop in Scottsdale and other towns nearby.  The Grand Canyon was around three hours away and they had received a fair amount of snow.  Everyone was saying that travel would be difficult and things might be closed.  We didn't have a rental car, so Scottsdale was out.  Next time! 

Friday, December 30, 2011

29 gifts: day two

Today marks my second day of the 29 day giving challenge. We have had two neighbors on our minds lately.

One neighbor just had unexpected and very serious surgery.  The other neighbor lives a little ways away from us, but my husband met him by chance when his old pick up died near our house.  He lives on his own and we keep talking about dropping by to say hello.

The gift for today is homemade honey wheat bread.  I started baking it this afternoon and it just now left the oven - a bit too late for visiting.  We will deliver the bread tomorrow.

Simple Honey Wheat Bread

3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45
degrees C)
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
1/3 cup honey
5 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. In a large bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups white bread flour, and stir to combine. Let set for 30 minutes, or until big and bubbly.
2. Mix in 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey, and salt. Stir in 2 cups whole wheat flour. Flour a flat surface and knead with whole wheat flour until not real sticky - just pulling away from the counter, but still sticky to touch. This may take an additional 2 to 4 cups of whole wheat flour. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled.
3. Punch down, and divide into 3 loaves. Place in greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans, and allow to rise until dough has topped the pans by one inch.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes; do not overbake. Lightly brush the tops of loaves with 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine when done to prevent crust from getting hard. Cool completely.

Cool find: MandiMoo Designs iPad cover

Love, love, love this beautiful iPad cover.  It was a gift from some friends at work and I feel really honored that they thought of me.    The gorgeous bag is just the right size and the fabric and cute accent flower are just perfect!

Additional reasons I love this gift:

1.  It's practical.  I am reading a lot about gift giving and practical things or things that can be used up are getting some high marks in gifts that bring out good feelings in the recipient.  This concept seems to address the "no more stuff" movement.
2.  This iPad cover is designed and made by MandiMoo Designs and the talented woman behind MandiMoo is someone I know and admire.  She makes all sorts of great things.  Please check out her blog.
3.  The people who gave me this gift purchased from a local artist in a local venue.  I love to support creative people and local businesses.
4.  The liner for the bag is a recycled Target bag.  I love recycling!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

29 gifts: day one

This holiday season started with a very uncharacteristic lack of Christmas spirit.  We usually love the decorating, gift buying, wrapping and gift giving. We thought that if we just tried the usual Christmas spirit things we would come around.  So, I listened intently to Christmas music, began shopping, and even have a few early gifts.  It just didn't click.

 It took some time to pinpoint some of our disenchantment.  I am still not entirely sure that we have it figured out, but we have some ideas.  We have just had a lot of changes in our gift giving traditions and a few of our usual joyful giving relationships have become more about the stuff and reciprocity than about the celebrating.  We are also aware of all of the stuff that we have in our house and our friends and family seems to be working hard to manage the stuff in their own houses.  Is it right to add to the accumulation of stuff?  Is it good for our friends and family?  Is it good for the environment?

Our idea was that we would give donations to two of our favorite causes and for those that were not already in progress for gift purchases, they would get a card and note telling them we had made a donation to honor our friends and family.  We thought about this be a good way to celebrate the people we care about and to help others at the same time.

Our causes this year were Heifer International and K-State's Proud to be a Wildcat scholarship.

We have still had this feeling that it's not quite what we want from the Christmas season.  The giving seems off...The donations were great and for exceptional causes, but the impact is very distant.  And, selfishly, I think my usual giving traditions have given me back something that gift cards and donations aren't really matching.

Then, today, I read this great article in Ode magazine.  Actually, the whole issue is devoted to the subject of giving and what it means for us as individuals and for the larger community.  I am only about a third of the way through the magazine, but am really feeling challenged and intrigued by the information and perspectives.  One element in particular has moved me to action and has created some feelings of hope in this season typically associated with enthusiastic giving.

I have adopted the 29-day giving challenge. The premise is simple - give something for 29 days.  What you give can be anything - a smile, kind words, a small gift, an action, etc.  You can read all about it and watch a short video from founder Cami Walker at the 29 Gifts Movement site.

Today's gift was two small acts of kindness.  At a department store in Topeka, I watched an older couple pay for a crock pot and discuss how they were going to get it from the store to their car.  They had a cart and could get the item to their car, but there wasn't a cart return close to their car.  We were parked in the same row and we offered to return the cart to the store.  Simple.  They seemed really relieved and my husband ran the cart back to the store in two minutes.

Our next gift was paying for the coffee for the person behind us in the Starbuck's drive thru.  We didn't know her and it was a little things that hopefully made her day!

Day one down and now 28 more opportunities to give.  I can't wait to get creative and share the results.

An accidental collector finishes a project

It seems headline worthy - an accidental collector finishes a project!  You might know this about me - I accidentally collect things.  I didn't know this was a defining characteristic until my mother-in-law was visiting and she admired some mixing bowls I had displayed in my kitchen.  She asked if I was collecting them and after I said that I wasn't collecting them, I looked about my display again.  It sure looked like I was collecting them!  Three sets of mixing bowls on the chrome shelf and two sets in the built in cabinets made a collection, even if the collector was aware.

I have this repeated over and over around my house.  I find something I like - usually at a garage sale or auction - and mysteriously I am drawn to more of the same.  Multiples make me happy.  My grandparents had the same affection for multiples and antiques and junk.  This may be the reason their estate auction was a three weekend affair.  

My grandpa's farm related collections included rusty nuts and bolts.

Hub caps for all kinds of cars and trucks.

Drills.  Lots of hand-held drills.  I mean can you ever have enough hand-held drills?

Oil cans of all shapes and sizes.  I love these and I love that I have one of the tiny oil cans from his collection that my dad bought for me at the auction.  There was more - a lot more!

So, you can see that it is in my DNA.  I collect.  I also live in a small house and have to ruthlessly edit - constantly.  If not, we seriously could have a feature on Hoarders.

One of my overall goals for self-improvement is to finish projects.  I am really, really good at getting inspired, even buying the supplies for a project and then carefully storing it away.  No more!

Several years ago, my dad brought me these awesome sacks - some were used for seed or feed, some were used by banks to transport money and one was even used for ballots.  I loved them right away! I promptly washed them and stored them in a decorative tin in a guest room.  Then, I found some modern cloth sacks that were used to contain rice and bread mixes.  These were added to the tin, and a collection was born!

I decided that my mom might help me with two problems.  The first was that we have two new, beautiful chairs for the living room.  We needed pillows for them and they needed to look more rustic/old-fashioned to help marry the more modern style of the chairs with our other rather vintage-inspired pieces.  I shopped for pillows online and at a few favorite boutiques and the things I found were the wrong size or the wrong shape or the wrong fabric.  Ugghhh!

The second problem I have is that I have a lot of unfinished projects/collections/crap in my house that either needs to be finished/used/displayed/donated/figured out in the coming year.

My mom is an excellent sewer and really patient when I have an idea and we have to figure it out as we go. We set up our sewing station in the living room and annoyed my husband with sewing machine noise and talking out our patterns and plans as we went.

Here is the result of our vintage cloth sacks turned pillows.
We first made pillows out of muslin left from a quilting project and fiber fill left from who-knows-what project.  We carefully measured and cut the cloth sacks, keeping as many seams and details as we could.  It took some basic math and a lot of guts to make the first cut on the vintage material.  We all survived and only broke mom's sewing machine on the last stitch on the last pillow.  Overall, a success.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kamoi paper tape

Fellow gift wrapping and crafting enthusiasts, you are going to love Kamoi paper adhesive tape.  I might be late to the game on this product, but I just discovered this in a catalog and thought it would be fun to have another option for holiday wrapping.

When it arrived, it was just as promised on the package.  "Washi" peels off easily, can be written on, cuts easily, is transparent, and has infinite applications.  This masking tape makes really cool accents on gifts and has been fun to experiment with during my wrapping this year.

The company began in Japan in the early 1920's manufacturing flypaper. Check out this page for a factory tour and to learn more about the mt series.

The colors in this package were pretty basic.  When I searched online, I found a ton of other patterns and colors available.

I think some purple might be in my future!