11–20 of 205 entries from the year: December 2006

Visions of Azucar Plums

December 11th

When working in Nicaragua in May, I had a chance to take a long hike through the rainforest. While knee-deep in jungle, my guide pointed out a vanilla tree dripping in long, bright green pods. I nearly jumped out of my skin I was so happy. Vanilla beans for my taking! I carefully removed six long pods and brought them home, tucked in a sock, thereby breaking several teeny tiny international laws.

vanilla sugar process

I decided I’d use them to make vanilla sugar for holiday gifts. The directions are very simple — place 2 cups of sugar and one vanilla bean in a jar. Seal the jar for 2 weeks. Remove the bean. Viola — vanilla-flavored sugar.

saving jars

I saved every jar I could for several months and then took the opportunity to clean out my fridge to find a few more. With 10 jars, 1 giant bag of sugar and 6 vanilla bean pods I set out to make my project. It was only when I sliced open the first pod did I realize my grave error. The pods were green because they hadn’t matured. Even though they’d turned a beautiful coffee brown when drying in my pantry, they’d never fully germinated. There were no vanilla beans inside.
Considering I had all of the other ingredients, I went to the market to buy the missing piece. For $12, I purchased two tiny vanilla pods and made do.

vanilla sugar tags

On another note entirely, thank you for all of your well wishes with the race. They worked! I set another personal best time and was really happy with my progress. Something about my training is going right!

.5 marathon, tucson


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All Tied Up

December 8th

I am not one to spend lots of money on fancy wrapping paper. Instead, this Christmas, I’m using things I already had around the house and a large dose of creativity. To wrap my advent gifts, all 250 of them, I used my alphabet stamping set, some red ribbon, a bunch of brown paper bags, some silver paper, and one $4 box of ornaments I purchased at Ikea. Viola — a bit of Christmas craftiness.

advent gifts, numbered
advent 1
advent wrapping

Using what you have is satisfying and challenging. The added benefit is getting back a few more shelves in my studio. I spent about 6 hours crafting yesterday, only to put everything away last night and have the closet doors close with ease. Woo hoo!

If I were home this weekend, I’d be bopping around the house in a holiday apron, listening to Frank Sinatra crooning about mistletoe and wrapping myself silly. Instead, I am off to Tucson to run another 1/2 marathon. The Tucson Marathon and I have a love/hate relationship. I love her when she is six months away and hate her the day before. The last time I ran the full marathon, I cried hard for last 13 miles. There is nothing like a long, solitary race through the desert to make me hysterical. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was dehydrated, embarrassed and frustrated. This year, I’ll be prepared with an iPod full of great tunes, warm clothing to ditch on the sidelines as the race progresses and an improved attitude. It’s just a nice stroll through the saguaros, right?

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Christmas Correspondence

December 6th

Dear Santa,
Hi there! How are you? Busy from the craziness of the season? What’s that you say? You’ve been delegating your responsibilities after finding out you have Type 2 Diabetes? I’d been worried about your belly. You know, belly fat is the most dangerous. Don’t worry Santa. I’ll leave you a copy of the Moosewood Cookbook to take back to Mrs. Claus. Studies show a vegetarian diet is a healthier choice — including reducing your chances of getting cancer by double digits. You’ll find the book under some fresh fruit (in lieu of cookies), and a nice glass of soy milk.
Santa dearest, if you could manage to squeeze a few things into your sleigh for moi, here’s what I’m thinking:
1. Skirts. I love skirts. My legs look cute in skirts. Skirts fit my height well. Skirts are good for me. This pretty yellow one is nice. Or how about the blue one?
Better yet, how about you deliver me a simple pattern for a cute skirt and a few hours with my mama to sew my own? Fantastic!

2. Stationery. I never met pretty paper I didn’t love. I could use a new address book for that matter too. How about this paper set from my very favorite paper store in Beverly Hills? While you are there…

3. It seems that underwear are pass√© among LA trollops these days. Santa, could you please do something about this? On your way to Phoenix, please consider delivering a significant number of panties to the Malibu/Hollywood/LA area. Make them lacy. Make them giant. I don’t care. Let’s just stop the commando craziness already. We’ll consider this a gift to all women in America.

4. So many books, so little time. I’m reading about a novel a week these days Santa. But, I promise, if you haul a few of these my way, I’ll pass them along when I am done.

5. A green thumb. Santa, if you could point me in the right direction to how I can grow a tiny vegetable garden and learn how to compost, I’d be so appreciative. I just can’t seem to keep anything alive — including pothos, the seemingly indestructible house plant. The only thing I seem to be great at growing is mold in the cottage cheese container I forgot in the back of the fridge. Pretty sure that doesn’t count. Need some inspiration Santie? (Can I call you Santie? It’s cute.) Lookie here.

6. A flight to Rome. Let’s not beat around the bush. One of my most favorite people lives there and I haven’t gotten my lazy bum over for a visit. I’m thinking May, and two weeks or so. Want to come along?

7. These will make my baking a bit easier. And they won’t take up much room in your sleigh either.

8. Tall. Dark. Handsome. Think Jack. He’d certainly do. Shoot, I’d even move to the island. And if that can’t happen, please feel free to bring the island to me.

Thank you!


{Someone left a comment this week that my advent projects are like a crafty shopping guide. That got me thinking. What do I want for Christmas this year? What do you want? And don’t give me any “world peace” Miss America answers. Prayers for peace are a daily — not holiday specific — theme ’round here. God bless all countries.}

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Can’t Knit? Sew Recycled Mittens

December 6th

That crafty Martha gave me another idea. In one of the recent Living issues, she listed a handful of projects using old, matted wool sweaters. Living in Arizona, I don’t have many (any) of these hanging around, but thankfully I did have one gifted to me by a fellow crafter in a recent swap.
I followed Martie’s instructions on how to transform this lovely gray sweater into a pair of simple and sweet mittens. {What? You don’t call her Martie? Come on. She’s been in prison. I’d guess this is one of her kinder monikers. Then again, looking at her successful return to society, I’d guess there’s nothing like time in the pokey to make you more inventive. Spoon = shovel. Straw = shiv… Well, that’s a whole different magazine.}

Martha's idea
pinned glove pattern
gloves cut from sweater
completed felted gloves

Voila — a unique and warm pair of gloves. After I took this photo, I dolled these gloves up a bit with a few pretty black glass buttons sewn on the cuffs. They are wrapped and under my little tree, ready for a certain family member’s hands.
I’m going to use the remaining part of the sweater to create iPod cozies. That way when you throw your tunes in your purse, the screen doesn’t get scratched by your keys. I’m thinking of embellishing these with embroidered initials, buttons and a piece of pretty ribbon around the edge.

I promise you all of my advent posts won’t be crafty. I’ve got some decorating, wrapping and baking ideas coming down the pike too. It’s just that I’ve been sitting on these photos for a bit and couldn’t wait to share.


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New Duds for the Wee Ones

December 5th

Do you have little ones in your life? Perhaps you are a mama, or an auntie or just a girlfriend with lots of friends who have children. While I don’t have any wee ones of my own, I’m “Auntie Kelli” to a couple of adorable boys and a friend to a gaggle of other little ones.
One gift I’m crafting this holiday season are embroidered T-shirts. I combine plain cotton T-shirts with a bit of underwonder, fabric and embroidery thread. Viola — a unique and sweet garment.

embroidered boy's outfit
embroidered fishy
embroidered girl's outfit
pointsetta close up

This gift is economical, practical and easy — my favorite kind! In fact, I’m hoping to craft up a few of these for a couple of the larger wee ones in my life too. I’d like one with stars dancing across the bottom. Or saguaro cacti waving their prickly arms at me from the pocket…


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Adventathon Anyone?

December 4th

My friends and family will tell you — I love giving gifts. I look forward the holidays each year because of all the gift-giving opportunities. This year, I decided to go a bit crazy and celebrate all 24 days of Advent by sewing calendars and matching each day with a small gift. It’s an adventathon!
Today — the calendars. I sewed these basic 25-pouch wall calendars after asking several blogging crafty types for their advice. Nicole, Alison and Blair were all kind in responding with their ideas — which certainly pointed me in the right direction. Like so many with needle and thread, I love the simplicity of Japanese design. Granted, these fabrics are bit busier than the typical zakka project, but they are more festive too.

advent calendar
Min's advent calendar

They have tiny ribbon loops at the top and were gifted with a dowel. The second calendar is intentionally less-Christmasy. Then again, the pointsetta fabric is some of my favorite this season. You’ll be seeing it here a time or two during this crafty adventure.

Excessively jolly,

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Farmer’s Market Loot

December 4th

public market

The Phoenix Farmer’s market has about two dozen vendors selling a a variety of items — from fresh produce, to duck and chicken eggs, to preserves and fresh baked bread. I enjoyed wandering around the stalls and making my selections. I was frugal and selective. However, as I feared, my $20 did not go very far.

squash in the morning light
beans for $4 a bag

My produce alone cost $17.85. The loaf of bread was $3. The honey was $4. While the produce tastes wonderful — so full of flavor — I wouldn’t be shopping here if I was on food stamps. This sack of groceries cost me $25.

$25 at the farmer's market

I met the woman who organizes the fair and she was so welcoming and kind. I will continue to shop here — the olive bread and tomatoes I bought are out of this world — but I do not think this is a practical answer to those shopping with food stamps in Arizona.

This experiment has reconfirmed my desire to learn how to cook, bake, can and jar, and garden more than ever. It isn’t so much about saving money as being more self-sufficient. How great would it be to give homemade loaves of bread and jars of tomato sauce (from veggies grown in your own garden) for holiday gifts? Next year, absoloodle.


P.S. Check out what Laura (LLA) of Atlanta got for $10 at her grocery by also using coupons and smarts. Awesome!

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Day 5: A Veggie Burger and Beer in Sight

December 1st

Snacking during the food stamp project

I’m not going to miss this snack.

Tonight I’m joining friends for happy hour and will delight in ending this food stamp diet with a veggie burger and Ace Pear. It’s been a great week — one I won’t soon forget. I’ve learned far more from hearing about your stories and experiences with hunger, than managing my diet.

A few updates, in conclusion:

~ According to Ginny Hildenbrand with the Association of Arizona’s Food Banks (great, great organization), you can purchase any food product you want with food stamps. For those who have witnessed people in the grocery line putting back lower-fat dairy products for their higher-fat counterparts, chances are they were using WIC funding (a different program specifically for women and children.) Food stamps can be used to purchase any food or garden seeds in Arizona. Granted, some rules vary by state.

~ According to Sharon Mahan with the Department of Economic Security in Phoenix, in September 2006 there were:
“106,986 Food Stamp Cases in Maricopa County
261,223 Participants
The average allotment of Food Stamps per household: $222.20.
The average allotment per person is: $97.37.
Total Food Stamps provided to individuals and families in Maricopa County: $25,436,023.00.”

And here is the real kicker: she told me if I made $16,000 per year, I’d make too much money to qualify for food stamps. The limit is actually less. Imagine how many working poor families are struggling with this! Even more, imagine what an increase in the minimum wage could do to help with these numbers. Thankfully, Arizona just passed such a law.

~Was this hard? It was challenging and exhausting, but I’d do it again. In fact, I’m going to do it next week too — of sorts. A representative from a local farmer’s market emailed and wants to show me tomorrow what I could get at her weekly market for my $19.88. Fair enough. I’ll post photos of the loot next week.

~ Also, I’m considering making $20 worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to distribute at a day laborer pick-up point I pass each morning on my way to work. I figure everyone can use a snack.

Thanks again for all of your encouragement and conversation this week. If you are interested in preventing hunger in your community, I suggest donating to your local food bank, asking your pastor, priest, rabbi, mullah, what the hunger needs are of your spiritual community, or just stopping in your tracks the next time someone on the street asks you for money for food. Rather than handing them cash, why not figure out a way to actually feed them? You could keep a protein bar in your purse for such occasions, or even McDonald’s gift certificates. Or, you know, you could invite them to a nearby restaurant and sit down. I’d guess they’d be floored by your compassion.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
-Mother Teresa


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Day 4 — only one more batch of lentils to go!

November 30th

Michelle's coupon haul

Michelle, a girlfriend from my knitting guild, emailed me yesterday with this photo. This is what she was able to purchase yesterday for $16.50 by watching the food ads and using coupons.
All that food for $3 less than what I spent for my weekly diet. Can you believe that? I was so impressed. Here is what she had to say when I asked her for the details:
“It took two different stores, but that is all I spent. You definitely have to use coupons to make this worthwhile and watch the ads for specials, but I saved about $40 today and only spent $16.

2 gallons of milk
Raisin Bran
3 Ragu
3 Country Crock
2 Wishbone dressings
2 Best Food mayo
5 green apples
big bunch of bananas
3 Hamburger/Tuna helpers
1 4 pk of Charmin
6 pk of Ramen
I’m donating the Ragu and Wishbone, nobody in my family likes either brand, but they were free so I couldn’t pass up giving to a good cause.”

She uses CouponSense and a few other coupon web sites to make this work. Again, another reminder of how you can save money on food if you want to. And no, I’m not suggesting most people on food stamps have the time for this sort of thing, but I think it is another interesting side to the food/budget topic. Again, it is putting my $4 morning bagel habit into perspective.


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Food Stamp Project: Day 3

November 29th

Spaghetti squash -- it's what's for dinner

Last night’s dinner: spaghetti squash & sauce.

It’s only day 3 and I’ve spent too much money. I’m slightly hungry and slightly light-headed. So, this is going swimmingly. I think the biggest problem with my planning (other than the aforementioned lack of budgeted caffeine) was I didn’t account for the fact I live a very active lifestyle and I’m only eating 1,000 calories a day.
Really. I entered my little menu into Sparkpeople and it came in at a cool 914 calories. Yikes. Considering yesterday I swam 45 minutes before work and then played ultimate frisbee for 2 hours after work, I’m a bit exhausted today. Truly the only reason this week is manageable and I’m not pulling my hair out (and then possibly looking at it as a snack) is that this is only lasting 5 days. I cannot imagine how people do this every single day, with children, riding a bus to work, working for minimum wage, dealing with unsafe housing, etc. Amanda made a good point that it is essentially a luxurious attitude to say I won’t shop at Wal-Mart. In truth, if I was in a bind financially and had kids, I’d shop wherever I could make my buck stretch the most.

pointed out another great aspect of hunger. Imagine the stress this causes in any home. I’ve heard this public health story, which very may be an urban legend, that goes something like this. In Phoenix, there is an elementary school in a particularly bad part of town. Parents must come in the school office to check their kids in and return in the afternoon to sign them out. It was decided by school staff that while students weren’t showing signs of starvation, they obviously weren’t getting enough to eat at home. They would come to school very early on Mondays to eat the school breakfast — in all likelihood because they weren’t getting enough to eat during the weekend. The school nurse began making peanut butter sandwiches and handing one to each parent who came in to the school to check his/her child out for the day. Within a year, the neighborhood had dramatically lower rates of domestic violence. When they later interviewed parents about what had changed in their households, many of the moms said they fed the kids the sandwich, or they ate part of it, or they gave it to their husbands. The husband, who was less cranky after getting something to eat, was less likely to hit his wife. The wife, who was less cranky, was less likely to hit the kid. The kid, who now had a snack, was better behaved.
All from a peanut butter sandwich.


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