Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Glitter and Glue Time!

I know. For some people glitter is their worst enemy. It's messy, and sharp, and it sticks to everything. I get it.

But when it comes to festive season crafts, glitter adds sparkle. The light from the tree bulbs bounces right off those little shards of plastic. So bust out the old or new ornaments and some glue because here are some easy peasy glitter ornament tutorials!

Valley & Co.: Silver Glitter Ornament
Take plain glass ornament balls. Dip them in glue. Sprinkle some glitter. And voila! Instant shiny thing!

Valley & Co. and Elle G. Photography

Craftzine Blog: Glitter Vintage Bulb Ornaments
Spruce up some old, giant holiday light bulbs with a sparkly coat of glitter. Take an extra step and turn them into ornaments using twine and hooks.


Cook~Love~Craft: DIY Glitter Ornaments
Keep the glitter inside the ornament if you're finicky about it getting all over the place. Use floor finish inside glass ornament balls, rather than glue on the outside, to get a clean and glitzy finished ornament.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Muppet Holiday Movies

Did you know there are 8 Muppet holiday movies/specials? And that doesn't even include the Seasame Street ones. I decided to do a little research and found that I've only seen about half of these specials. Things get a little hopeless near the end, BUT despite the decline in Muppet greatness in the past decade, The Muppets movie makes amends for it all. The new movie brings back all of the sentimental Henson humor and rainbows.

The Great Santa Claus Switch (1970)
This is the first Muppet holiday special made and not many folks seem to know about it. Even I haven't seen this special. The Great Santa Claus Switch was created by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl as a TV special. Ed Sullivan produced and narrated it.  According to MuppetWiki, a villain named Cosmo Scam plots to kidnap Santa and take his place. Cosmo also plans to abduct the elves and replace them with his own workers (which includes some nifty looking Frackles).
* Psssssst! The Great Santa Claus Switch can be found on Just type in the title and it pops up as a 6 part video series.

Some of Jim Henson's Frackle doodles.

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977)
Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is about Emmet Otter and his mother Alice. Each tries to find a way to buy a Christmas gift for the other. In the end, they both enter the local talent contest which has a winning prize of $50. Emmet performs with his buddies in the Frogtown Jubilee Jug Band, and Alice sings solo.
* Jim Henson always wanted to be in a rock band and therefore lived vicariously through the villains, Riverbottom Nightmare Band. (I can't recall where I learned this, but perhaps it was from the extra features on the DVD.)

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979)
Admittedly, I don't recall seeing all of this, even though it is one of the more popular Muppet specials. Perhaps I never gave it much thought in the past because John Denver never really appealed to me. This special was based off of the Christmas album of the same name. The Muppets and Denver combined to perform multiple holiday songs and sketches. From this mix, we get the original Muppet cover of the "12 Days of Christmas."

A Christmas Toy (1986)
The Jones' toys come to life when no one is around, and every year on Christmas Eve, the toys prepare to welcome new toys into the playroom. One toy in particular, Rugby Tiger, attempts to get under the Christmas tree as a gift once again.
* Netflix currently has A Christmas Toy streaming for free right now, so I plan on checking it out before Christmas.

 A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
Perhaps one of the biggest Muppet specials ever, A Muppet Family Christmas combines the casts of the Muppets, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock. It is also the last Christmas special Jim Henson ever worked on. In a nod to all of his creations, Henson even makes a guest appearance at the end, noting to the dog Sprocket how nice it is to see them all together.
* This special was released on DVD in 2001. Unfortunately, A Muppet Family Christmas is difficult to find and it is obviously highly desired due to its extreme prices (up to $79.99!) on e-Bay.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Jim Henson died in 1990. Despite this, I believe Brian Henson and the other fine folks who worked on The Muppet Christmas Carol did a beautiful job maintaining Jim's style. This was the fourth full-length feature film starring the Muppets. Much like the other full-length Muppet movies, the cast was a combination of Muppets and humans. The main role of Ebenezer Scrooge was played by actor Michael Caine rather than one of the Muppets.

It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002) 
I don't recall seeing this one at all. According to various summaries, the movie is a Muppet-like take on It's a Wonderful Life. The Muppet Theater is going to be lost to a greedy banker who intends on turning it into a nightclub. Fozzie loses the loan money and Kermit loses hope, thus taking on a the role similar to the character of George Bailey.

A Muppets Christmas: Letter to Santa (2008)
In this television special, the Muppets find a few children's letters that need to get to Santa Claus, thus they take a journey to the North Pole. I did not watch this all the way through when it aired because it was so disappointing. It felt cheap and skeevy. There were too many celebrities and the humor was horrible. I remember thinking that kids would not get it and adults would not watch it. The Muppets were struggling, and the Walt Disney Company (who had taken them over in 2004) were doing a horrible job. Mind you, I was in my "Disney has become a money-grubbing company and just ruins everything wonderful" phase.  So that could have something to do with my take on it.

Research Sources:
Muppet Wiki

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turkey Day Baking!

(Ahem) one week later.

Thanksgiving was last Thursday. It's now Wednesday night, the following week. That turkey came and just ran away with time. But in it's stead I have some mighty fine baking results. 

I had to make an early-morning run to the store for some last minute ingredients. Lucky me I stumbled upon this nifty dish from Duncan Hines. 

Check out those red handles! Rubber, removable, and oh-so convenient.

I stumbled upon Cooking Light magazine's Salted Caramel Brownies and I made that for Turkey Day dessert. The recipe is broken into three different parts--the brownie batter, the caramel topping, and the chocolate syrup. Everything was simple to make, but cooling time was necessary in between each section. 

Brownies before the frosting. You should've seen them before the baking

Caramel frosting, bad chocolate detailing, and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Decorating baked goods is not one of my strong points. Part of me would love to take some lessons. Another part of me looks at it and realize its the taste that really counts, so why bother with the fine details.

Soon after this, I was reminded of another one of my not-so-strong points--making pie crust. I should know better by now than to try and make it from scratch. This time I bought a boxed mix and added water. It still rolled out horribly and broke apart. I ended up patting the dough into place and then poured the pumpkin pie filling into it. (Thank you Libby's for a simple recipe!)  But out of the depths of my oven came this heavenly scented pie. 

Just add some Cool Whip and consider it done.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Untitled" Mac 'n Cheese

This mac and cheese remains untitled at the moment. It can't simply be "mac and cheese"--too much love and cheese went into it. Believe me, this mac deserves its own name.

I came up with this concoction on my own after longing for an easy-but-delicious adult mac 'n cheese. There are so many fancy-pants recipes out there, but many of them require more ingredients and time than I am willing to put into a simple dish. Thus, I improvised using recipes I've read and some hints from my mom's Mac and Cheese recipe.

The combination of Sharp Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss, and Mozzarella cheese made this a stick-to-your-ribs dinner. I made it just for my husband and I, but there is at least enough left over for one or two bowlfuls (depending if someone wants a heaping serving). To make it a little more heartier, I added some diced chicken. And I made myself some broccoli to toss into my own bowl since I have a picky eater on my hands.

Since I was making it from scratch, I eyed the measurements for the ingredients. I ended up with some extra sauce that was not included in the baked dish. You can always save the extra and add it to the leftovers, or just adjust the amount of cheese to milk ratio. 

"Untitled" Mac 'n Cheese

12 oz sharp cheddar cheese
  8 oz monterey jack cheese
  4 oz mozzarella cheese
  2 oz swiss cheese
  2 cups whole milk 
  2 tbsp butter
  2 tbsp flour 

Additional ingredients:
1 to 11/2 cups broccoli florets, boiled or steamed
1 to 2 cups pan-cooked chicken tenders
1 box noodles, boiled

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Shred all of the cheese. If you think you want more, go for it! Adding either the swiss or mozzarella gave the sauce some extra gooeyness. (Just think of the possibilities had I added more!) 
  3. Pour 1 cup of milk into saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and allow to melt. Add 2 tablespoons of flour* and whisk together. *I'm not sure the flour really did anything. This was something I took from my mom's recipe. Flour is supposed to help create a creamy base I think, but with so much cheese and milk, it didn't seem to matter.
  4. Stir cheese into the milk/butter mix. Do this in handfuls. Let the cheese melt a bit in between handfuls. If need be, use the remaining milk to even out the mixture. You don't want the sauce to be too runny, but you don't want it to be a solid blob of melty cheese either.
  5. Pour your noodles and chicken into a baking dish. My dish was and 8X8 Pyrex. 
  6. Once cheese sauce is at the right consistency to pour, evenly pour it over the noodles and chicken. Stir things up a bit to make sure the sauce oozes in and between the noodles. (At this point, if I were making this just for me, I'd stir in the broccoli too. Instead, I just stirred it into my own bowl.)
  7. Place dish in oven for 20 minutes. 
  8. Remove from oven and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Turkey Day Weekend

Hey... HEY! What's Swedish Chef planning on doing with that 'torkey'?!?

This is rather fitting considering "The Muppets" is just being released to theaters. Now there's something to be thankful for!

Things to love about this video:
  • 'Bork! Bork! Bork!'
  • Only the Swedish Chef can make 'torkey' sound cool.
  • Notice the love Swedish Chef gives to the turkey, even though he's about to skew it. See that chin scratchy, kissy thing? That's the kind of affection I bestow upon Gerber. 
  • Slapping a turkey isn't the nicest, but Swedish Chef adds such humor to it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tutti Flutti

There are days where something musical hits me and I remember that I was going to be a professional floutist.

Yep. In high school I had my mind set that I was going to study music in college. I had been tooting my flute since 4th grade and wanted to do little else for a profession except possibly teach. Eventually my dad told me he didn't think I'd make it in the music world. Later, when I was actually in college (studying English, but playing in the extracurricular band) I reminded him of this and informed him that it was the reason I didn't continue with my musical education. (He felt real bad afterwards.)

Who knows if it could've really worked out for me. But when I was senior in high school, I thought perhaps I'd teach music instead. Not too sure what happened to that idea. It was a toss up between music and English. The grammar won.

I still love my music though. Every now and then I pull out my flute and practice. And in the warm, cozy times of winter (or late fall, like today) I get the urge to listen to classical music and show tunes. Then I think, "If I only kept working at it..."

Bonus of fact of the day:
I used to play this song like it was the last thing I'd ever, EVER do in this world. I'd still love to find an orchestral version for flute, rather than the easy songbook.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"If I Knew You Were Coming Id've Baked a Cake"

And I did!

Right before Halloween, my brother and his girlfriend came home to visit for a few days. Since the family was getting together for dinner, I figured I'd exercise my baking skills by making a double-layer cake. Now mind you I had never attempted to do this before, but I had been looking for a good excuse for a while.

I cheated a bit by using a boxed double chocolate cake mix, but the way I see it there is no shame in using the box. Two tubs of store bought vanilla frosting were used to cover the sides, top, and the center layer. And Halloween sprinkles and a ghost face were added to celebrate the upcoming holiday.

A few notes:
  • There is no need to fill two 10-inch cake pans to the brim for a double-layer cake! (Not unless you are feeding an army or a mob of sugar stoked kids/adults.) The cake was practically 9 inches tall when assembled. Next time, I'll be filling the pans half way. Sure there will be left over batter, but that just means there will be cupcakes to give away!
  • I definitely need to work on my frosting skills and buy some tools. I've gone years without a proper frosting spatula. All this time I've been using either a butter knife or spatula, and either way I end up pulling bits of cake into the frosting.
  • Sprinkles! My gosh the sprinkles! First of all, how do bakeries entirely coat the sides of cakes with sprinkles? I resorted to throwing and gently pushing them around the side of the cake. There were lots of renegade sprinkles that made ended up being collected from the counted.
  • If you use store-bought buttercream frosting and attempt to put sprinkles on it, they will melt and you will have a discolored mess. There has to be some way around this.
  • Using cocoa powder to dust pans for chocolate does indeed work. This will allow the cake to pop out of the pan with ease when it's cooled, and you won't have the obvious white flour left on the bottom.

And in case you were wondering, the title for this post is actually a song title. "If I Knew You were Coming Id've Baked a Cake" was published in 1950. My grandma used to sing it when I was a kid. The Sesame Street version is too good not to share!

Monday, November 7, 2011

We're Entering the Heart of Darkness

Yep. It's that time of year again. We're entering the heart of darkness, or the dreaded-long-depressingly-gray-cold times in the Midwest. Daylight savings time went into effect yesterday. I didn't notice it that much.

Then today came. Monday. The start of the work week.

The sky was gray and dim the moment I woke up. You could tell by the color and the bare branches outside that it is the tail-end of fall. But alas! Due to the dreary skies, there is no distinguishing light for the morning through the afternoon. But I'll be darned if the drive home from work didn't show the seasons true colors--BLACK.

It was a black world I descended into with my little car. The expressway was full of lights, and my depth perception was already lost to the night. When I walked in the door, it felt like 8 pm. The clock read 5:15. And then I was officially baffled. It is a rare occasion that I get home that early, but unconceivable that it would be dark out already.

The time change brought the night and took away the potential for daylight after work. As I said, we have entered the heart of darkness my friends. And in no way is this an approving nod to the Joseph Conrad novel The Heart of Darkness. That story is possibly be even more depressing than the impending Chicago winter. But it has a helluva title.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Need for Students to Write

A recent article in the Tribune-Star announced Indiana's decision to no longer have mandatory education of cursive writing in schools. This decision was made by the Department of Education and announced to school officials in April. It is believed that more emphasis should be placed on keyboarding skills instead due to the increasing use of computers.

Although I can see the point the Department of Education is trying to make, I thoroughly disagree with it. Many people use cursive to write because it was instilled in adults when they were children. I still write in cursive when taking notes, making journal entries, even proofreading notes at work (though I do admit my writing is a combination between print and cursive). I think it's necessary for students to learn cursive in order to properly communicate. Due to computers and texting, people have developed a lack of proper grammar and punctuation. Handwriting creates awareness in these areas and develops patience in self-expression.

In not requiring students to learn handwriting skills, we are creating further dependence on computers and other electronic communication devices. Although the technological development of such items has allowed major advances to occur in our world, they are also limiting our capabilities as self-expressive human beings.

Letter writing is a dying art, yet there are still some who choose to communicate through letters and cards. It is a more personal form of communication that heralds back to the past. A person's own handwriting will always be more expressive than any text or email. The curves, swirls, and angles of each letter; the delicate writing of woman versus the bold, quick written strokes of a man; the hurried scrawls of a person compared to the thought out and loving pen strokes of a friend or lover. These are the things which will be missed when handwriting, whether print or cursive, is lost to the ages.

Perhaps one of the most important examples of letter writing comes in the form of the letters that passed between John and Abigail Adams. They kept constant communication through their letters, documenting not only their lives and love but also creating an amazing documentation of history. Through their letters, future generations can see into the past. The Massachusetts Historical Society allows access to some of the correspondence. Many books have been written regarding the two and their letters including most recently My Dearest Friend: the Letters of Abigail and John Adams (Hogan and Taylor) and First Family: Abigail and John Adams (Ellis)

Vassar College Libraries/ Collection of Massachusetts Historical Society
Students, and later on adults, will no longer be able to connect with the past. They will not be able to write in cursive and therefore will not be able to read it. Historical documents from previous centuries will become illegible to them. Letters and notes of ancestors will become pieces of paper with scratches of ink on them in the eyes of future people.

To read more about Indiana's decision on cursive writing in schools, see the following article:
Archaic Method? Cursive Writing No Longer Has to be Taught, Sue Loughlin

Links for letter writing supporters:
Letter Writers Alliance
Letter Writers Alliance
Post Crossing
Write a
National Postal Museum

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Canada Day!

Today marks the 144th birthday of Canada--hence July 1st is Canada Day! It's the equivalent of the United States' Fourth of July. The Constitution Act of 1867 (aka British North America Act) combined the British colonies into one country known as Canada. The colonies are now provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada (Quebec and Ontario).

And so, in lieu of mounties and maple leaves, I give you a friendly beaver.
Happy Canada Day!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Shades of Rust

I've sorta developed an obsession with foxes--red ones to be specific. They're solo, woodland dwellers. Though, I have heard of them walking around my old neighborhood, I have yet to see one wandering around.

My Favorites section on Etsy is filled to the brim with foxy goods, so I took some time to create a treasury just of foxes: Shades of Rust. With such a unique outfit--red coat, black socks, and a white tipped tail--what's not to love?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blooming Summer Inspiration

Though we've had a handful of sweltering days, the majority of June has consisted of days with temperatures in the 70s and evenings in the 50s. Call me crazy, but that's just lovely! If it could be 50 to 70 degrees all the time, you know, like Fall, I'd be oh-so-content. There's also been quite a bit of rain with a few nasty storms. Normally, alot of rain and gloom would put me in a glum mood, but the aftermath of so much rain is making me smile: EVERYTHING is green!
Plants are flourishing. Small prairie areas are full. With so much green, and additional color from flowers, it's hard not to feel a refreshing wave of happiness in the air. And so, I give you a few tidbits of blooming summer inspiration.

1. "Sculpting the City's Flora" over on ETSY's blog, the Storque is lovely, short article about the International Garden, an old-fashioned flower shop in Manhattan. Writer Michelle Traub interviews Ania Czyzewska, the daughter of the shop's owner, Maria. There's a sense of romantic nostalgia that comes through shop description and interview. Ania mentions, "Flowers are a lost a letter. They're full of significance and meaning."

2. Bloom (Disney Remix) by Pogo
I found out about this video and Pogo from The Hairpin.

Frolic through some flowers. Or dance around your apartment. Either way, you might want to make sure no one is watching. Unexpectedly getting caught doing either can lead to some sheepish grinning.

3. Kermit the Frog
As if I could ever mention "everything is green" without noting Kermit the Frog.
It's not that easy being green.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Artsy Thursday-Christiane Engel

'Roadside Friends', June 2011 desktop calendar. Christiane Engel.
Nature prints and illustrations really appeal to me, so naturally I'm drawn to the work of Christiane Engel. I learned about her work through Poppytalk in a post mentioning monthly desktop calendars. Christiane is a children's illustrator and author with a knack for capturing snapshots of wilderness, especially the western US. Coyotes, deer, pine trees... it makes me long for an escape to the woods. Ironically, Engel grew up in Germany and now resides in London, yet her patterns and prints capture America's great outdoors so well that I imagined that she lived in a cabin somewhere Southwest or along the California coast.

Christiane's work is available in several forms (prints, stretched canvases, even iPhone covers and pillow cases). Her art has appeared in parenting and children's magazines and advertising, as well as several books she has written or created covers for.

For more on Christiane Engel and her art, visit her main site at You'll find her portfolio and storefront (which links to the wonderful ETSY and Society6 sites, among others). And check out her blog at for sketches and updates.