Thursday, November 29, 2012

Answers to Christmas Books Quiz 2012

This year's Christmas Books Quiz is here.

1. Anyway by midwinter Gandalf and Bilbo had come all the way back, along both edges of the Forest, to the doors of Beorn's house; and there for a while they both stayed. Yuletide was warm and merry there; and men came from far and wide to feast at Beorn's bidding.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)

2. She had suggested they open their gifts on Christmas evening in front of the fire, dressed in their favorite robes. Thank heaven her gift had arrived--and already wrapped, into the bargain. He'd had it delivered to Dora Pugh at the hardware, in case he couldn't be found at his office to sign for it. It was all too easy, he thought. Just call toll-free and talk to someone solicitous and give them a credit card number. It seemed a man should suffer a bit over what to give his beloved. Next year, he would do better.

These High, Green Hillsby Jan Karon (1996)

3. There were several parcels wrapped in white tissue paper, and one very large box with the inscription: "For Fräulein Maria for Distribution." Surrounded by the children I unpacked it, and out came eight pairs of woolen mittens, eight beautiful, soft, gray Wetterflecks, and eight pairs of heavy boots. This was a great surprise, and with a guilty heart, I hardly dared look at Baroness Matilda. But tonight was Christmas, and, shaking a finger at me, she only laughed.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria Augusta Trapp (1949)

4. "Just suppose Mrs. Beck had had to bring him up! What would he have been like?" "She wouldn't!" said Rand. "She'd have put him out on the doorstep...We must take great care to bring him up to know the Lord. Dale, I'm going to start in this Christmas Day telling him all about it! I'll tell him the story of the angels and the shepherds and the wise men, and the Christ who came and lived and died for him! I'll begin right away and I'll keep it up day after day. He's not going to able to say he never heard the truth." "George, how perfectly absurd! As if a baby like that could understand words!" said Dale with a tender smile. "Well, he may not be able to understand words," said Rand stubbornly, "but he's learning them all the time, and somehow he finds out what things mean."

Partners, by Grace Livingston Hill  (1940)

5. The window looked into the courtyard and all there was to see was the windows, storey above story, of the rooms opposite. On the gray Christmas morning it looked incredibly cheerless....While the maid was getting the logs he dressed himself, and then, when she got busy setting things to rights, he sat down and looked at the grim courtyard. He thought disconsolately of the jolly party at the Terry-Masons'. They would be having a glass of sherry now before sitting down to their Christmas dinner of turkey and plum pudding, and they would all be very gay, pleased with their Christmas presents, noisy and jolly.

Christmas Holiday, by Somerset Maugham (1939)

6. "A tree should have tinsel," said Mrs. Jones. She bought some tinsel. "And candles," she said. "Candles are prettier than electric light." She bought twelve red candles....And a tree should have some balls, thought Mrs. Jones, glass balls in jewel colors, ruby-red, emerald-green, and gold. She bought some balls and a box of tiny silver crackers and a tinsel star. When she got home she stood the tree in the window and dressed it, putting the star on top. "Who is to look at it?" asked Mr. Jones. Mrs. Jones thought for a moment and said, "Christmas needs children, Albert." Albert was Mr. Jones's name. "I wonder," said Mrs. Jones. "Couldn't we find a little girl?"

The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden (1958)

7. Imogene had the baby doll but she wasn't carrying it the way she was supposed to, cradled in her arms. She had it slung up over her shoulder, and before she put it in the manger she thumped it twice on the back. I heard Alice gasp and she poked me. "I don't think it's very nice to burp the baby Jesus," she whispered, "as if he had colic." Then she poked me again. "Do you suppose he could have had colic?"

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson (1972)

8. "Greetings, greetings, greetings," said the three children. "What's that about?" said Mrs. Rogers. "You said to greet Aunt Myra with Carols," said Amelia Bedelia. "Here's Carol Lee, Carol Green, and Carol Lake." "What lovely Carols," said Aunt Myra. "Thank you."

Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish (1986)

9. Santa Claus appeared to be rather doubtful. But Harold confidently went to work lining up the reindeer. Soon Prancer and Dancer were pawing at the snow, eager to be off around the world. Harold wasn't quite certain of the names of the other reindeer. But he made sure there were eight of them. They were all handsome and spirited animals.

Harold at the North Pole, by Crockett Johnson (1958)

10. It was past Vespers on Christmas Eve before Cadfael had time to make a brief visit to the town, to spend at least an hour with Aline, and take a gift to his two-year-old godson, a little wooden horse that Martin Bellecote the master-carpenter had made for him, with gaily coloured harness and trappings fit for a knight, made out of scraps of felt and cloth and leather by Cadfael himself...."I can stay no more than an hour," said Cadfael, as the boy scrambled down again to play with his new toy. "I must be back for Compline, and very soon after that begins Matins, and we shall be up all the night until Prime and the dawn Mass...." When he noted the sand in the glass and rose to take his leave, he went out from the hall into the bright glitter of frost, and a vault of stars now three times larger than when first they appeared, and crackling with brilliance....This night, the eve of the Nativity, hung about the town utterly still and silent, not a breath to temper the bite of the frost. Even the movements of such men as were abroad seemed hushed and almost stealthy, afraid to shake the wonder.

The Raven in the Foregate (Brother Cadfael Mysteries), by Ellis Peters (1986)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What's up in the Treehouse?

It is a pretty quiet day here.  There is a brushing of snow on the ground.  We've started our Advent devotional book even though it isn't Advent, because Advent this year is only about three weeks long, and the book is written for four.

Dollygirl has been writing first-term exams and working on her term project, which is to design a new historical 18-inch doll for any decade of the 20th century that American Girl skipped.  She chose the 1950's.

Mama Squirrel has been making things, cleaning things, and working on Term Two.  We have a church dinner on Saturday, which I'm helping with, but someone else is doing the planning for that.

The Apprentice has had an insane amount of project work, but the university term is almost over now except for exams.  So she'll be around more next month.

Ponytails is at school, which is going okay this fall.  (Ponytails, you can add to or correct that at your pleasure.)

Mr. Fixit is doing his usual fixiting.  And chauffeuring--today it's dentist appointments for the Squirrelings, after Ponytails gets home from school. Also he's putting the finishing touches on his annual comedy monologue for the church dinner.

There's Reuben Chicken in the slow cooker, and pumpkin bread thawing on the counter.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Christmas Books Quiz, 2012

Here is an early Christmas present for Treehouse readers.  This year's quiz just may be the hardest yet...or it may be the easiest, depending on what books you've read!  Answers are here.

1.  Anyway by midwinter [they] had come all the way back, along both edges of the Forest, to the doors of B----'s house; and there for a while they both stayed.  Yuletide was warm and merry there; and men came from far and wide to feast at B----'s bidding.

2.  She had suggested they open their gifts on Christmas evening in front of the fire, dressed in their favorite robes.  Thank heaven her gift had arrived--and already wrapped, into the bargain.  He'd had it delivered to Dora Pugh at the hardware, in case he couldn't be found at his office to sign for it.  It was all too easy, he thought.  Just call toll-free and talk to someone solicitous and give them a credit card number.  It seemed a man should suffer a bit over what to give his beloved.  Next year, he would do better.

3.  There were several parcels wrapped in white tissue paper, and one very large box with the inscription: "For Fräulein M----- for Distribution."  Surrounded by the children I unpacked it, and out came eight pairs of woolen mittens, eight beautiful, soft, gray Wetterflecks, and eight pairs of heavy boots.  This was a great surprise, and with a guilty heart, I hardly dared look at Baroness Matilda.  But tonight was Christmas, and, shaking a finger at me, she only laughed.

4. "Just suppose Mrs. Beck had had to bring him up!  What would he have been like?"  "She wouldn't!" said Rand.  "She'd have put him out on the doorstep...We must take great care to bring him up to know the Lord.  Dale, I'm going to start in this Christmas Day telling him all about it!  I'll tell him the story of the angels and the shepherds and the wise men, and the Christ who came and lived and died for him!  I'll begin right away and I'll keep it up day after day.  He's not going to able to say he never heard the truth."  "George, how perfectly absurd!  As if a baby like that could understand words!" said Dale with a tender smile.  "Well, he may not be able to understand words," said Rand stubbornly, "but he's learning them all the time, and somehow he finds out what things mean."

5.   The window looked into the courtyard and all there was to see was the windows, storey above story, of the rooms opposite.  On the gray Christmas morning it looked incredibly cheerless....While the maid was getting the logs he dressed himself, and then, when she got busy setting things to rights, he sat down and looked at the grim courtyard.  He thought disconsolately of the jolly party at the Terry-Masons'.  They would be having a glass of sherry now before sitting down to their Christmas dinner of turkey and plum pudding, and they would all be very gay, pleased with their Christmas presents, noisy and jolly.

(Good gracious, we definitely need something more cheerful after that one.)

6.  "A tree should have tinsel," said Mrs. Jones.  She bought some tinsel.  "And candles," she said.  "Candles are prettier than electric light."  She bought twelve red candles....And a tree should have some balls, thought Mrs. Jones, glass balls in jewel colors, ruby-red, emerald-green, and gold.  She bought some balls and a box of tiny silver crackers and a tinsel star.  When she got home she stood the tree in the window and dressed it, putting the star on top.  "Who is to look at it?" asked Mr. Jones.  Mrs. Jones thought for a moment and said, "Christmas needs children, Albert."  Albert was Mr. Jones's name.  "I wonder," said Mrs. Jones.  "Couldn't we find a little girl?"

7.  Imogene had the baby doll but she wasn't carrying it the way she was supposed to, cradled in her arms.  She had it slung up over her shoulder, and before she put it in the manger she thumped it twice on the back.  I heard Alice gasp and she poked me.  "I don't think it's very nice to burp the baby Jesus," she whispered, "as if he had colic."  Then she poked me again.  "Do you suppose he could have had colic?"

8.  "Greetings, greetings, greetings," said the three children.  "What's that about?" said Mrs. Rogers.  "You said to greet Aunt Myra with Carols," said ---.  "Here's Carol Lee, Carol Green, and Carol Lake."  "What lovely Carols," said Aunt Myra.  "Thank you."

9.  Santa Claus appeared to be rather doubtful.  But Harold confidently went to work lining up the reindeer.  Soon Prancer and Dancer were pawing at the snow, eager to be off around the world.  Harold wasn't quite certain of the names of the other reindeer.  But he made sure there were eight of them.  They were all handsome and spirited animals.

10.  It was past Vespers on Christmas Eve before C------ had time to make a brief visit to the town, to spend at least an hour with Aline, and take a gift to his two-year-old godson, a little wooden horse that Martin Bellecote the master-carpenter had made for him, with gaily coloured harness and trappings fit for a knight, made out of scraps of felt and cloth and leather by C------ himself...."I can stay no more than an hour," said C------, as the boy scrambled down again to play with his new toy.  "I must be back for Compline, and very soon after that begins Matins, and we shall be up all the night until Prime and the dawn Mass...."  When he noted the sand in the glass and rose to take his leave, he went out from the hall into the bright glitter of frost, and a vault of stars now three times larger than when first they appeared, and crackling with brilliance....This night, the eve of the Nativity, hung about the town utterly still and silent, not a breath to temper the bite of the frost.  Even the movements of such men as were abroad seemed hushed and almost stealthy, afraid to shake the wonder.

Answers will be posted when we get a good snowfall.  UPDATE:  I didn't mean that quite so literally...it started snowing the evening after I posted this, and we woke up with enough snow to shovel.  But you'll still have to wait for the answers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What's for supper? Sort of Chinese

Tonight's dinner menu:

Honey-garlic chicken
Rice noodles (free from neighbour)
Frozen stir-fry vegetable mix

Lemon poppyseed muffins, made to use up half a cup of lemon sauce in the fridge

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cheap and Classic Cardboard Tutorial: 18-inch Doll Table and Chairs


Dollygirl's dolls have been needing a table, and chairs to go with it. Doll furniture is not something we see a lot of in local stores, and the online options (new and used) are generally expensive; nice, but expensive.  So Mama Squirrel came up with some almost-free alternatives.  We used what we had; you can adapt our plans for whatever dolls (or boxes) you have.

The table
The table base was made from the insert to a two-piece cardboard file box; that is, a corrugated cardboard box 12 inches long by 9 1/2 inches high, and 4 inches deep. 

You'll notice a small cutout on each side, which I used for the legs; that's optional.  I cut the 9 1/2 inches down slightly, to about 8 3/4 inches; otherwise it would have been just a bit too high for the dolls to sit at.  I realize that not everybody is going to have the insert to a file box; but I think you could find a cereal box or other cardboard food box that would be about the right size; go for the sturdiest you can find, and reinforce it with extra cardboard or a second box shoved inside, if you think it needs it (especially if your box is not corrugated cardboard).  Whatever box you use has to be both deep enough to be able to sit firmly on its edge, and strong enough to support the tabletop and whatever you want to put on the table.
I stuffed the box with crumpled newspaper, and glued a piece of scrap cardboard into the open space to hold the newspaper in (not shown in the photos).

I glued some decorative file-folder cardboard (we found several packages of fancy folders at a yard sale) to the top and sides. 

You could use scrapbooking paper, wrapping paper, or whatever else you have, and possibly add a coating of something like decoupage medium if it seems to need extra protection.  For our purposes, the folders were enough.

That's it for the base!

The tabletop is purposely not glued on, both for storage reasons and because I wanted to make it reversible.  I glued two of the decorative file folders (cutting off the tabs) to a piece of cereal-box cardboard, and then added clear sticky plastic on each side for protection (leaving a bit of overhang).  For the size of table base we had, a tabletop the size of a file folder was just right.  If your base is narrower, a smaller tabletop might work better.

Again, you could use any kind of decorative paper or even coloured sticky vinyl; something in woodgrain might be nice.  If I were doing it again, I think I might use stronger cardboard in the middle; because what we ended up with was not much heavier than a laminated placemat.  It does work all right (the dolls have been using it now for a few days), but a more solid core wouldn't hurt.

The chairs

Each chair was made from two pieces of a Dr. Oetker baking-mix carton; we picked up two for free at the supermarket.  They're made like thrones, both for sturdiness and to accommodate the sitting difficulties of dolls who don't have joints in all the normal human places. 

I cut a main piece from each carton, 10 1/2 inches high, 7 1/2 inches wide (although it spreads out to more like 8 inches at the open end), 5 inches deep, in the shape of a flat back with three sides; and a seat piece, same shape, 7 inches high, 7 1/2 inches wide, 5 inches deep. There were some flaps at the top of the carton, which I folded down inside the back and sides.  I slid the two parts together (didn't glue them), with the closed part of the bigger piece at the bottom, and the open part at the top.  The seat piece juts out a bit from the main piece, but I wanted it that way to give the dolls a good deep seat.  It's fine if the two pieces come from different boxes or otherwise don't match; you're going to slipcover them anyway.

I used part of a vintage white cotton bedsheet to make fitted slipcovers.  (Any medium-weight fabric would work fine.) This is MUCH easier than it sounds.  Once you have the cardboard pieces made, you use those to make the patterns, either on a large piece of paper or right on the backside of the fabric.  Trace around the back of the large piece; then flip it up and trace around it again for the matching front piece--leaving just a bit of space between the two to allow for the thickness of the cardboard.  Turn the cardboard on its side and trace each side twice, again allowing a small gap between pieces.  An optional bit I added on:  add a small amount to the very front, to make a flap that will go under the seat piece.  Add a quarter inch to the pattern edges and bottom for seam allowances.  Your pattern piece will look about like this:

The pattern piece I made for the smaller seat section was very similar:  I traced the top, then the front, then the sides.  I really should have traced the back as well, or at least a flap going partway down the back, because if you don't, you will end up with a bit of a loose edge at the back of the seat, when you put it together.  Add seam allowances and hem allowances (unless you're using a finished edge of the sheet, which is what I did here).  The pattern piece for the seat will look like this, without the back:

Here's what the fabric pieces look like, cut out, with the flap added to the large piece and the fourth side added to the seat piece.  You can tell the sheet was a bit wrinkled--I did iron it afterwards.


The sewing is what Adrian Mole would call dead easy.  Don't forget to turn the fabric inside out first.  On the seat piece, just sew up the side seams, then turn up the hem and zigzag that if you need to.  On the main piece, you will have two small seams that will end up on the very front edges of the chair.  If you're not sure where they go, try the slipcover on the chair, inside out, and pin the two seams closed before you sew.  Plus a hem--turn up a quarter inch and zigzag.  Don't hem the extra flap, if you made one; just start hemming at one side of it, work around, and stop when you get to the other side of the flap.

Slip the slipcovers on...

...put the two parts together...

...and that's it.  Oh--you might want to add some padding on the seat, between the slipcover and the cardboard.  You could glue some foam or batting onto the cardboard seat, but I just slipped a folded washcloth between the two.  One note: I did add a bit of tape to the back edges of the seat slipcover to help it stay put.  If you add the fourth side when you cut out the fabric, you won't need to do that.

The dolls are enjoying their new dining room!  (Dollygirl is going to take a photo of the whole thing plus dolls.)

All photos by Mr. Fixit.  Copyright 2012, Dewey's Treehouse.

Linked from Mad in Crafts Link Party #131.  Also linked from Festival of Frugality #366.

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Last week of the term

We are on Week 12 of the 12-week term; next week is exams.  We do have a couple of "grace weeks" after that--the first two weeks of Term 2, before Christmas, can be used to finish off a few things that didn't get quite done.

Basic Bible Studies:  "Christ as Priest" (we will do "Christ as King" before Christmas as well)

God's Smuggler--continue, no hurry on this.  (Will Corrie accept Andrew's marriage proposal?)

Virgil's Aeneid, by N.B. Taylor--continue, no hurry.

The Hobbit:  done.

Robert Frost's poems:  winding this up.

Uncle Eric, chapter 13: "Cognitive Dissonance."

Grammar and Composition;  finish "How to Write Without Flab."

Math:  I think we will use this week to keep working on the distance-speed-time problems that we started last week.  There is a bonus page called "How fast does an astronaut travel?"

French:  we need to get as much done as possible this week.

Einstein biography:  ditto.  Although we're not going to get through it before exams...probably by Christmas, though.

Plutarch's Life of Pericles:  ditto, and ditto.

Shakespeare's Cymbeline:  ditto.

Canadian history:  this week's lesson is an easy one:  the Centennial in 1967.

Work on term project

Crafts, swimming lessons, drama club, and trying to get outside as long as this warmish weather lasts.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Making it Christmas

This post is not about the spiritual side of Christmas, because that part of Christmas...the real, Joy-to-the-World Christmas... is there no matter what.

This is more about the fun stuff:  the gifts, the food, the trimmings.  The things that take time, take money, or just take thought. 
For centuries men have kept an appointment with Christmas. Christmas means fellowship, feasting, giving and receiving, a time of good cheer, home. --W. J. Tucker
These are not necessarily--in fact they're almost never--the same as the things that are advertised.  They're certainly not along the lines of "buy her a diamond for Christmas."

For some people, Christmas trimmings are  new window blinds and ginger beer.
Marjorie Gibson is another Guyanese who believes that Christmas in the USA cannot even come near those she experienced in Guyana.
“In Guyana you would get up in the morning and look over at your neighbour to see what type of blinds (curtains) they put up, if they have new ones. Here the blinds could be up for the whole year and it does not matter,” Gibson stated....“We do have all the traditional Christmas food," [said Marilyn Harper.] "I try to make Christmas the way I remember it in Guyana. I have everything, my ginger beer, sorrel, the black cake as usual and everything.”--"U.S.-based Guyanese Dream of Christmas in the Motherland"
What has inspired your ideas about how to make Christmas?  Or what a really good Christmas would be...realistic or not?

For years, people said "Dickens' Christmas stories."  Plum pudding, holly and all that.  But I think in more recent years a more common answer has been the Little House on the Prairie books, slightly ad nauseum. Tin cups, mittens, and a stick of candy, and they were so happy!  For those who didn't bother to read the books, there was always that oh-so-sweet first-season T.V. episode.  And it is a classic, I admit.
Christmas is for children. But it is for grownups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chill and hide-bound hearts.--Lenora Mattingly Weber
However, much of Mama Squirrel's holiday inspiration has come from a smaller, stranger assortment of books and even magazine articles.  One was a Focus on the Family Magazine article, saved from a time before the Squirrellings were even thought of; it was an adaptation of the Advent and Christmas chapters in Together at Home, by Dean and Grace Merrill.  One was a book about Christmas in a lighthouse.  Another was Carolyn Haywood's Snowbound with Betsy.

Okay, okay, Mama Squirrel has never quite grown up?  But apparently I'm not the only one who fondly recalls the part where Betsy and the other snowbound children rummage through the storeroom for anything that might make good Christmas gifts.  They come up with all kinds of kid-made crafts, and then have a sort of bazaar and do their "shopping."


In The Light at Tern Rock, those who end up using a trunkful of stored-up holiday plunder aren't there by choice, but because of a trick by the man who filled up the trunk in the first place.  But never mind about the deceitful lighthouse keeper for now...it's the trunk that interests me, and it's an image that often comes to mind when I'm storing away things like the cans of cranberry sauce I bought on sale today, or a package of candles, or a crocheted bookmark.  Who's the bookmark for?  Sometimes I don't even know...I just keep filling the pantry shelf, and the box under the bed (or wherever it is), here and there.  Then it's just as much fun pulling everything out again and figuring out:  yes, there's enough chocolate for Quick Fruit and Nut Fudge...I still have lots of that Spa Blue Fleck, enough to make a quick pair of slippers (yes, I do know who those are for)....I saw some cool plaid ornaments in the Chapters Christmas flyer, and I bet I could make something like that with the felt and Wonder-Under in the craft stash...then the slippers and ornaments themselves become part of the box.

Everyone's "box" is different.  For one family, it's filled with MCC and World Vision catalogues, the ones where a donation pays for goats, soccer balls, clean water.  Their children spend days figuring out what they can give this year.  (Definitely beats the big gimme catalogue.)

And if you get to December and the box is still too empty to look like Christmas?

Then you read, or re-read, Little House in Brookfield (not the abridged version, please) and give thanks for Christmas bread.  Sing a few choruses of "Christmas Day is in our grasp, So long as we have hands to clasp." And maybe read this practical post by the Prudent Homemaker: Christmas on a Zero Budget.


As a postscript to this, there's one other magazine article I saved from several years back.  It also appeared in the Chicken Soup books, and I found a version of it online.  It's about a mother and two little girls who were given a Christmas food box during a difficult year--but the girls, not understanding how "poor" they were, decided to give the whole thing away to a neighbor who was even worse off. ("Even her dog was sick.")  The mother's immediate reaction was "Stop! You're giving away our Christmas!"  Then she thought again: no, that is how you make it Christmas.

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas. - Peg Bracken.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Plans for Thursday and Friday

What did we do yesterday?

Math questions about travelling on a high-speed elevator; read  "Uncle Eric" chapter 12, "How to Control People"; finished The Hobbit; read some of the Einstein chapter about relativity.  Went to the craft store and walked home together.



Dollygirl made the connection between God's Smuggler and this quote from Uncle Eric:
"I have noticed a pattern among tyrants.  When they come to power, they first seize people's guns, then news organizations, and then schools.  Schools seem to be the most important prize because once a tyrant controls schools, he does not need to control much because he controls the models."
Never say that homeschoolers don't learn anything.

And what are we doing today?

Opening time:  singing a hymn and "The Maple Leaf Forever" (because it's Friday and we sing patriotic songs on Fridays).


("The Maple Leaf Forever" doesn't start until about 1:15, after "Land of Hope and Glory.")

Plutarch's Life of Pericles, Lesson 6 (yes, we are still behind on this).  "Pericles was also something like the manager of a multi-national corporation, in this case the Athenian empire. His city-state had gained power over more and more of the cities around the Mediterranean; he managed one of the biggest naval powers around; Athens had become kind of a supreme-court center where cases from other parts of the empire were judged; and he was responsible for a great deal of public money. How did he cope with his increasing responsibilities? What were the strategies that created his "winning season?""

Playing the beam-of-light board game one more time (from a kit), because Dollygirl requested it.

A French lesson.

A history lesson: the death of John F. Kennedy.

Continuing to work through "How to Write Without Flab."

A couple more math questions about elevators and other things that go fast.

In the afternoon: Drama Club.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tips to keep your frugal food gifts from bombing

As you can see from one of last year's gift baskets, when we give food, we often give packaged treats rather than homemade: tea, coffee, apple butter, popcorn, chocolate, and things like pickled beets canned at a small vegetable market that only opens from spring through fall--so by Christmas, it's impossible to buy them. We like to be able to give an assortment of things, especially to family members who live alone and wouldn't really appreciate, say, a whole box of fudge.

But we have often given small homemade food gifts to friends, Sunday School teachers, and neighbors.  Some ideas we've tried (besides the obvious plates of cookies) are salad topper mixes (like trail mix except you sprinkle it on salads); Cider Beetles; homemade mixes for coffee and hot chocolate; peeled garlic cloves in a jar of honey; peeled and sliced ginger root in a jar of honey; herb mixes for salad dressing.  One year I made up bags of the dry ingredients for Beer Bread.  (I didn't include the beer.) We've given away jars of things we've canned ourselves: jam, apple butter, and, one year, pumpkin butter.  We have given (and received) special health-food items...those expensive natural sweeteners, organic nut butters, and other healthy-but-gourmet ingredients can make good (and still relatively frugal) gifts.  Ethnic groceries often have interesting possibilities too.

But not every food gift is a felicitous choice.  Here are a few tips, especially for giving homemade mixes, that may save time, embarrassment, and/or food waste.

1.  This should go without saying, but check carefully for allergies or other dietary requirements, especially if the gift is for someone you don't know well.  You don't want to be like Muffy's father, cheerfully bringing a ham to the (Jewish) Frenskys.

Even personal tastes and preferences can change from time to time. Several friends who used to be coffee drinkers now ask for herbal tea (one of those midlife things?), so I'm less likely to be making coffee mixes.

2.  Put best-before dates and storage instructions on mixes and baked goods.  Baking mixes that contain baking powder are said to lose quality after a certain time; brown sugar can also go lumpy and hard after awhile.  Also, please list the ingredients, if it's a mix:  see #1.  Surprises are not always welcome.

3.  Some homemade mixes come with baking or cooking directions that are too difficult for the recipients, require them to buy too many extra ingredients, or just make too much at once, like a salad dressing recipe that makes more than one person could eat in a month.  Look for instructions that give alternate amounts, or that suggest variations.  I have one soup mix recipe that calls for mixing the dry ingredients with sausage, onion, carrots, etc.; but I've made it up just with water or broth, and it's still pretty good.

4.  Some layers-in-a-jar ideas, like soup mixes, call for layering need-to-be-washed ingredients like beans, lentils, or brown rice directly with other ingredients.  If it's something that should be rinsed before cooking, then figure out an alternative, like putting the spices in a sandwich bag.

5.  Try not to give people things they already make themselves.  Somebody who makes a lot of jam may not appreciate a jar of yours--unless she gave all hers away as gifts.  So you never know.

BONUS UPDATE:  It's not Christmas yet, but I can post this here because my oldest won't see it--I'm pretty sure she's too busy studying for exams to be browsing through month-old blog posts.  So anyway...she asked me for a muffin pan to fill out some of her off-campus kitchen gear, and that was easy enough.  But I added some other things to make it a Coffee-and-a-Muffin Kit, and now it takes up the whole lid of a paper carton.  I made up four Ziploc bags full of dry ingredients for family-favourite muffins, plus cards with instructions for what else to add.  I added in a few sandwich-sized bags of chocolate chips, walnuts, cinnamon-plus-brown-sugar, and raisins.  There's also a small coffee can full of the Hillbilly Housewife's Vanilla Coffee Mix (figures, my university student is one of the few people left I can give coffee mix to), and a mug.  I'm not a fancy scrapbooker, but I managed to print out a label for the coffee, tags for the mixes, and a full-size label for the whole thing, using a photo I found online.  I tried to colour-co-ordinate the whole thing--mostly blues, blue for the tags, a blue coffee mug, and so on; and I found a big piece of clear basket wrap in our stash of recycled giftwrap.  In spite of the fact that it's sitting in the lid of a paper carton, I think it all looks pretty good.

P.S.  After I got the whole thing put together and then wrapped in a dollar-store plastic tablecloth (the only thing I could find that was big enough), I realized that I left out the package of walnuts.  So I'm going to wrap that up separately with a tag that says "oh, nuts."

Linked from Four Moms discuss Food for Gift Giving

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What's for supper? Meatballs

Tonight's dinner menu:

Meatballs with cranberry-chili sauce, a classic recipe that I've never actually tried here, but I did have a partly-used jar of chili sauce and a can of cranberry sauce, so why not?

Basmati rice in the slow cooker

Canned green beans

Brownies, because I had to make some for church anyway

Monday, November 12, 2012

What's for supper? Quick and easy

Tonight's dinner menu:

Slow-cooker split pea soup
Pepperoni Pizza Muffins

Bananas, yogurt, or whatever comes to hand for dessert

Doll clothes, sleeping bags, and a neat armoire

Miss Maggie at Springfield Collection Dolls recently did a roundup post of places to find free doll clothes patterns online.  There's also a great list of projects and patterns here.

Yesterday's Handmade Holidays post at SewMamaSew linked to two more patterns:   a ruffled skirt and top, and a doll sleeping bag and pillow tutorial at PolkaDotChairOld Days Old Ways also has a sleeping bag project, inspired by one for littler toys on Obsessively Stitching.

And here's one I bet even Dollygirl hasn't seen:  Gold Shoe Girl shows how she converted a thrifted jewelry box (the kind with doors and drawers) into a funky purple doll armoire for her eight-year-old.  For $11.  Smart and frugal.

Is that enough to keep all the doll people happy?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

What's for supper? Good for what ails you

Or me, as the case may be.

Chicken thighs Adobo, in the slow cooker
Rice
Frozen mixed veg with peppers, asparagus, spinach, and things like that

Fancy-glass desserts made of the last bits of banana bread, a sliced banana, and a little dollop of fudge sauce made of some chocolate chips microwaved with a bit of cream.