Monday, November 30, 2009

Hello, again!

Still trying to get caught up but taking a few minutes to post for the night.

I've been really disappointed with my online sales this holiday season so far but my offline sales have been fairly steady. Most are coming from repeat customers which is a good and rewarding feeling. Most have been for customized items requiring a fair amount of designing effort and , in one case, a couple of trial and errors on designing the pattern! This was for a large plush creation. I can usually eyeball the pattern design fairly well and rarely have any totally unusable disasters but I've really had to work on one particular item. It's been a bit of a learning experience. I think I've finally worked it out and should be able to complete that project within the next day or two.

In addition to the sewing projects, I've been painting quite a bit each day. (Yes, I even put in a few hours with the paint brush on Thanksgiving Day!) Most of the past week, I've worked on clothing orders but this week will involve some smaller furniture pieces which means some time spent sanding. I'm hoping to find time tomorrow to list a few new items in the shop and to work on stock for some of my direct sales.

This year, I've tried a sales approach which I'm referring to as "Totebag Sales." Basically, I've provided totebags to a few sales agents (nieces and other family and friends) filled with "little" items which they can simply sell right out of the bag. These have included potholders, ornaments, mini-plaques, hair accessories, some smaller clothing pieces, etc. I've also included some one-of-a-kind items. They collect the money and keep their cut (sales commission) right off the top. They also have some catalogs/fliers featuring a limited selection of my larger items (mostly personalized products) which they can take direct orders on also. I deliver those items to the sales agent and they, in turn, deliver to the customer.

This approach is working fairly well. The smaller items generate quite a bit of cash flow but are not really practical for online sales as shipping costs as much as the item in many cases. I find folks are more likely to buy small items in this manner rather than needing to order them. I have asked the agents to e-mail me the orders each evening instead of holding them until a specific date so I can work on the products as the orders are coming in. I tried this in a very limited way last Christmas and I fine-tuned it a bit this year.

As I mentioned above, my potholders seem to be a popular item this year. I include a cookie recipe with each set and, in my direct sales, also include a cookie cutter. Luckily, I can make these fairly quickly. I hope to get some more sets up in the online shop but they seem to be moving so quickly through direct sales that I haven't had a chance!

Well, I've still got painting to get done before I go to bed, so I've gotta run.

See y'all tomorrow!!

Just saying "Hi!"

Hi, all !

Sorry I've been MIA for a few days. No crises or any other earth shattering events, just holiday activities messing up my routine. What can I say? We had four very busy days, a few "rush" orders came in and needed my full attention and exhaustion kicked in each evening. I normally post in the late evening or wee hours of the morning and by the time those hours rolled around, I've been sound asleep. I'll try to do better from here on in.

I hope everybody had a terrific turkey day and a wonderful weekend with friends and family. We did. For those of you "in the biz," I hope sales took a giant leap and you are busy producing and shipping. (Mine really haven't.)

I'm caught in a time crunch at the moment but plan to get back to do a regular full post in a few hours. Till then, keep on keeping on!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Last minute Thanksgiving advice --

"...No one will remember the perfect Thanksgiving anyway. Five and ten years from now, family and friends will be laughing over the time the turkey burned and you had to order in Chinese food. Or the impossibly hard biscuits Aunt Beth insisted on making every year. All the perfect food will be long forgotten. ...relax and enjoy [yourself]. It's the mishaps and the funny incidents that create the best memories --Sophie"
So says Krista Davis in The Diva Runs Out of Thyme

As you rush about today, doing all those last minute preps for the big meal, keep these words in mind. They are, oh, so true. Go ahead and ask your family about their most memorable Thanksgivings (if you dare). I'm sure the ones that stand out will be the "imperfect" events. A bonus of doing this is the laughs you'll all share as a family reliving those unique memories.
Now, go ahead and get that pie in the oven, today!

Then, sit down and have a glass of wine while you contemplate all the rest of that work.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

30 Days and Counting !!!

Yep, folks, just thirty days till Santa comes! (More importantly, just two days until we all gather for turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, etc. - National Eat Till You Burst Day!)

I'm starting to get that panicky feeling about those folks who are always hard to shop for and that churning tummy feeling about how much this all is gonna' cost! I've been keeping alert and watching carefully for some unique but impressive easy to make gifts.

Do you happen to have any family recipes that are written in your Mom's or Grandmom's handwriting? I recently saw where a friend had used some of these to decorate her kitchen.

She had taken the recipe cards and scanned them onto the computer and then tinged them a bit in sepia tones to make them look even a bit more aged. (An easy trick with any photo system you may be using.) She then found and copied some old photos of each grandmother. She stained two wooden plaques to match her cabinetry and then mounted a recipe and that grandmother's picture on each plaque. She even found a family photo taken one year at the holidays featuring her parents, siblings and both grandmothers. She mounted that in a matching picture frame and hung it between the two recipe plaques. Fantastic grouping and a real conversation starter.

This new attraction made its debut when she served Thanksgiving dinner at her house last year and both of her sisters raved over the idea. A lightbulb went off in her head and she did the same for each of them as their Christmas gifts. Both have hung those family memories with great pride and told her they have been among their most cherished gifts.

Related ideas include a family cookbook which can be as simple or as complicated as you'd like. I did that two years ago but made it very elaborate. Mine included many pictures from "the old days", a few essays about our grandparents and funny family cooking stories as well as treasured recipes. I ended up making 32 copies. It took most of a year to create, print and put together.

My sister-in-law, on the other hand had done one for her children simply by typing in about 25 family recipes, printing them out on her computer and fastening them with basic paper fasteners. She says it was a quick weekend project. She then rounded it out a bit by adding a cute potholder set and cookie cutter to each. I happen to know those cook books are still in use, several years later.

The friend who did the plaques mentioned above has come up with a new gift for her mom this year. She has spent the last month or so gathering statements from all members of the family about "the best thing about Christmas at Grandma's." These range from a little one's quote that "She makes really pretty cookies" to elaborate heartfelt statements by one of her brothers about the significance of gathering the generations together at the original home-base. She has mounted these in a scrapbook entitled "Christmas at Grandma's Through the Ages." She and her siblings have even listed all the traditions they recall from their childhood and have told how they've continued each in their own homes. Again, she's dug out those annual group photos of the family and added them throughout the book. This will be the last year they will "do Christmas" at her mom's home as Mama is moving in with one of the children after the holidays.

The miracle of computers and printers in our homes has really simplified a lot of these ideas. Give it some thought, I'm sure you can come up with some really creative ideas for your gift list, too.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christmas Tree Lots!!!!

I couldn't believe my eyes yesterday. We passed at least 6 Christmas tree lots that were already well-stocked with CUT trees. What's worse? Folks were looking at them!! At least we didn't see any tied to car tops yet. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE real trees and I wouldn't have any other kind in my living room. (One day, I'll tell you the tale of our short-lived artificial tree experiment.) I just feel they're pushing it when they're open for business the week BEFORE Thanksgiving.

I mean, isn't it tradition to see all those lonely empty wooden frames sitting around this week just waiting to be piled with trees on Friday morning? What's happening to TRADITION? I know the trees have actually been cut for quite some time (in most instances) and they really aren't going to be any fresher if they don't put them out until Friday. Yes, I know that tractor trailer sitting on Walmart's lot for the last week has been full of trees just waiting for the Lions or the Kiwanis to get their stands set up. (At least they've had the good manners NOT to do it yet!)

Let's review some REAL Christmas Tree facts:
  • Real Christmas trees are an all-American product, grown in all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Most artificial trees are are manufactured in Korea, Taiwan or Hong Kong.
  • Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource. (For every tree cut on a tree farm, 2-3 trees are planted as replacements.) Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and metals. (Most artificial trees are replaced every 3-5 years.)
  • There are about 15,000 Christmas tree growers in the United States and they employ over 100,000 people, either full or part-time, in the industry.
  • There are approximately 5,000 cut-your-own farms in the United States.
  • The top Christmas tree producing states are Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
  • The air at a Christmas tree farm not only has that great fresh pine scent but also features lots of freshly oxygenated air. The process of photosynthesis removes carbon-dioxide and other harmful gases from the atmosphere and releases oxygen into the air. This helps delay the earth-warming "greenhouse effect."
  • Just one acre of Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people. Young trees in their rapid growth years have a high rate of photosynthesis and produce more oxygen than older trees.
  • After the holidays, you can use the branches as mulch in the garden. (Many urban areas offer a chipping service at certain locations to turn your tree into a bag of mulch.)

So, for these reasons we will once again have a real cut Christmas tree. However, I refuse to go buy it this week!!

(I understand if you insist on going with the balled live trees. You may be younger and more energetic than us or maybe you have softer ground this time of year and can manage to dig a hole large enough to accommodate the new tree after the holidays.) What I can't understand is a silver aluminum tree!!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Has Santa gone South, or what?

First, a turkey tale ...

A wild turkey in New Jersey decided to take his fate into his own hands (er, "wings," as the case may be). Whether it was a case of turkey-cide or simply trying to assume a lower profile identity, he played a game of "chicken" on the New Jersey Turnpike, running in and out of the high speed traffic. Of course, maybe he was just trying to cross the road. (Just in case you are too young to remember WKRP in Cincinnati - turkeys CAN"T fly.) Maybe he was just trying to run away from home over some sort of family squabble (or would that be "gobble"?) In any case, authorities were able to catch him alive and move him to a "more appropriate" location. Let's just hope it wasn't someone's oven. After all that effort on his part, old Tom Turkey deserves a break. (He's already gotten a few "brakes"!)
Now, back to our promised feature ...

Is the Post Office closing down the North Pole?

For years (since 1954), thousands of children's letters addressed to "SANTA CLAUS, NORTH POLE" have found their way to the Alaskan town of North Pole. There, a team of volunteers opened thousands of letters each year. Their replies to the children were hand-signed by "elves" and were postmarked "North Pole." (Perhaps you received one of these as a child.)

Of course, the sheer volume of letters meant only a small percentage (thousands, though) actually made their way to North Pole, Alaska. Others were handled in side branches throughout the large post offices around the country. At those satellite locations, volunteers opened and read letters to determine true need and when such was found, made efforts to deliver packages to those children - packages signed by "Santa" and his "elves."

Unfortunately, the state of the times caused the postal service to begin restricting the policies of the program known as Operation Santa in 2006. At that point, they began requiring volunteers to show identification in order to participate. Then, last year, a volunteer in Maryland was identified as a registered sex offender and activities in a number of the satellite "Operation Santas" were suspended. (This person was identified and eliminated from the program before he had access to any personal information concerning a child.) The Post Office was forced to institute further regulations concerning the implementation of the program.

This year, Post Office branches wishing to participate In Operation Santa must redact all information identifying the child's last name and address from each letter. This must be replaced with a computerized address code, known only by the Post Office. It is a labor intensive and costly effort. Budgets and labor forces have been cut. Many Post Offices can't do this. The Anchorage Post Office (headquarters for the North Pole, Alaska branch) has determined the restrictions are simply not feasible due to cost cutting efforts. The North Pole Post Office will not be doing Operation Santa this year.

Back in North Pole, where light posts resemble candy canes and streets bear names like Kris Kringle Way and Santa Claus Lane, the elves (town folk) are outraged! Their Mayor, likens it to a Dr. Seuss tale, "It's Grinchlike that the Postal Service never informed the little elves before the fact. They've been working on this for how long?"

The 2100 residents of North Pole pride themselves on their Christmas ties and spirit. One of the tourist attractions is Santa Claus House that sells over 100,000 letters from Santa, postmarked "North Pole." They have a store that features everything Christmas, year round. Visitors to the Post Office get a hand-stamped "North Pole" postmark on postcards and packages. All are devastated by the news. Further upsetting the elves is the fact that out-of-state requests for "North Pole" cancellations will now be handled in Anchorage - some 260 miles to the South!

***Many Post Offices around the country are attempting to continue the Operation Santa charitable efforts. It just won't be happening at the North Pole. So don't be surprised if your child's letters arrive with postmarks from such exotic Toy Workshop locations as Boise, Santa Fe, Philadelphia, or even Miami!

The residents of North Pole are appealing to their Congressional representatives in Washington to take action to save the North Pole tradition before Christmas. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Finally - A creatively productive day!!!

I spent the day painting both orders and some new holiday items for the shop. I have a bunch of stuff to photograph and list by next weekend when I believe (or at least fervently hope) folks will hit the computers with their credit cards handy and start buying - a lot!!

I did get some holiday potholders listed yesterday and I've already sold a few of those. I was also able to list a product that I've been selling off line for a while but had trouble working out a practical means of shipping until now. I haven't sold that one yet but it did get quite a few views yesterday when I first added it to the shop.

In between painting, I also did some major cooking and even caught a little interesting news along the way.
Did you know, you could actually be arrested for refusing to tip a waitress?

It happened in Bethlehem, PA recently! A group of eight friends reportedly spent a little time at a pub and racked up a $73.00 bill. Service was awful. It took over an hour to get their order and one of the women needed to get up and get their own napkins and silverware. The place was busy but this was a bit unreasonable. They even had to go up to the bar themselves for a soda refill as the waitress "never came back."

When the bill arrived, there was an 18% ($16.00) gratuity tacked onto the bill since it was a large group (not an unusual practice). This was just too much to bear for one of the couples. They went to the bartender in charge and complained about the gratuity when service was pretty much non-existent. Supposedly, the bartender offered to comp the food but demanded the gratuity be paid. They refused to pay the tip but paid the bill for the food in full. The bartender called the police and the couple was actually arrested and charged with theft since the gratuity was officially a part of the bill.

They have a Court date scheduled for next month!

I know they felt it was a matter of principle, but wouldn't it have made more sense for the establishment to simply forgive the tip in the interest of customer service, OR, in the alternative, wouldn't the customers have made out better to pay the tip under protest but accept the comp on the food? To quote my b-i-l, "Let's pretend one of us wasn't stupid here..."
On a sad note, the U.S.P.O. has discontinued Operation Santa. There's hope it will be resurrected. The Alaskan town that serves as North Pole Central is frantically working to resolve the issue. I'll tell you about this one in tomorrow's post.


Okay, now for something a little lighter...

Let's look at some of my new stuff!!!!

Here's one of my handpainted tables that I've finally been able to list in my online shop.

I love painting these and they sell fairly well offline but I had been unable to find a practical means of shipping them. I could not locate boxes for packing them and could not afford to swallow the costs of having one of those shipping stores box it for me. (Boxing and packing is where those guys make their profits!)

Recently I read a thread in one of the Etsy forum posts about shipping framed artwork and it was suggested they use boxes available from the U-Haul Stores referred to as "mirror boxes." I checked this out and they do have an appropriate box at a reasonable cost. The actual shipping, once it was boxed, was not outrageous. Look for more of these tables in the shop in the future.

I was also able to get some holiday potholders listed yesterday and today.

Want more details, simply click on the pic for a link to the listing at Splashin (my online shop).
Santa and Frosty are all smiles. Wouldn't these be great Secret Santa items?

I'm sure Granny and Great Aunt Mable would love them in their kitchens, too!

Then there is Mr. and Mrs. Ginger, "the cookie couple." I listed these this morning just before lunch, ran out to the grocery store and came home to find they'd already sold! So, I listed a second batch of them.

These have proven to be the most popular in my offline sales, as well.

This is Ray the Reindeer, he's the lesser known cousin of Rudolph. He wasn't blessed with a glowing nose so he's been relegated to helping Mrs. Clause in the kitchen!

****There's a bonus Christmas Cookie recipe included with every potholder purchase.


Oh yeah! I mentioned cooking today, too. Seems we bought some oversized produce this weekend. What can I say, I can't resist a bargain. Among our purchases were a bag load of bell peppers at 4 for $1 ( I cut these up for the freezer. We use an inordinate amount of peppers around here. They're as much a staple in my kitchen as flour and eggs!) and a giant head of broccoli for 75 cents! We do love broccoli, so we just cut that up and have steamed some every night this week. (I believe I will be ready for a different green veggie in the next few days. I like it, but enough is enough!) Then there was the large economy size head of cabbage, weighing in at close to 6 lbs!! This was the deal at only 50 cents!! I couldn't resist taking their picture ( the soda can is for size perspective) and sending it off to my b-i-l the "bargain king". He's so jealous!!
Today I shredded all that cabbage and I'll be cooking it tomorrow. I have a great recipe for a hot spicy slaw that tastes like a richly seasoned sauerkraut but is much more colorful. it really looks "harvesty." (Is that a word?)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Working the Shows Wednesday - Mid-Season Show Assessments

Normally holiday merchandise starts to move in mid-September but this year didn’t seem get rolling then. It looked to be a fairly poor season. Crafters made forecasts based on those sales and the general economy.

Mid-October shows were still rocky. There were a few bright spots among some dismal reports. While most were still doing some outdoor shows, the weather was definitely acting up and affecting some of those events.

November has brought a change in the markets. People have begun to buy and they have REALLY begun to buy. I’m getting a lot of nice reports from established crafters doing a number of established shows.
One friend scrapped several shows due to weather issues. Extreme winds can do a lot of damage to both merchandise and display equipment. One of those she left early on the first day of a 2-day show had seemed to start off well but the winds picked up and ran at a steady 25-30 mph by early afternoon when she pulled the plug. At that point she had covered her expenses but was fighting a losing battle with the weather. Many of the exhibitors had already gone for the day. The weather did not let up and they did not even attempt to set up on the second day. So, basically that one was a wash.

Her product line is mostly fabric and includes both practical household items as well as stuffed toys and animals which are predominantly designed as “collectibles.” She makes a few toy items also. Some products are priced in the $5 range as “bread and butter” type sales but they do average more in the $20-$35 area.

Her next show is a long one, beginning the first of November and running through a 3-week span. (Still going at this posting.) Sales have been steady - not overwhelming but not bad, either. In her part of the country (extreme Southwest) this is still an outdoor event so weather still plays a factor. There will be some “closed” days due to weather so she won’t be able to assess the success of the show until next week. She‘s thinking this is the best she‘s done there in the three years she‘s been doing this show!

She snuck in an extra one day show amidst the long one and says sales were great! At that show, she mainly had a number of her smaller less expensive items and quite a few tree ornaments. Folks were definitely there to shop.

**Latest update from this friend - she is amazed at her sales this year. The best she’s seen in the six years she has been living and selling in that part of the country! She’s starting to run out of stock and is frantically working to stock her shelves! She’s asking, “What recession?”
The same weekend as that first show, another pal in another part of the country (upper Midwest) did a 2--day show that was fantastic! This particular area of the country was one of the hardest hit by the recent economic crisis and recovery there will take years but folks were out and not just attending the show but buying in full force. She’s been doing shows for many years and declared this a very successful and profitable weekend.

This crafter does mostly painted wooden items ranging from tree ornaments, to household d├ęcor items, toys and a lot of seasonal pieces. Her prices range from $5 through about $45 for the most part.

Her next show, a smaller one was also a resounding success. She’s been very pleasantly surprised. Luckily, she and her husband/partner have worked steadily through the last few months and, although the house looks like a warehouse, they have had no trouble keeping stocked for these great sales. They can keep up by working at a reasonable pace between weekend shows.

They are currently gearing up for the “BIG” show they do over the Thanksgiving weekend. Hopefully the big sales will follow them through that event, too!
Yet another acquaintance (this one in the Southeast) began showing at a weekly one-day market November 1st and will continue exhibiting there through the holiday season. The opening weekends for her have been very successful forcing her to frantically work to restock. She amazes me with her production pace! Her products are all fabric creations and range from $5 through $100 (some even higher). She has been more than pleasantly surprised by her success there.

She also has another craft show (not part of the weekly market) scheduled for this week and has been gearing up for what she anticipates to be higher sales. A recent transplant, this is her first selling season in that part of the country so she does not have an established following there.
Rounding out this week’s reports is one from yet another friend in the New York City area. She’s completed several street type festivals and one boutique style show within the last few weeks. Her items are more high-end, ranging from $45-$250 (utilitarian fabric creations) and sales have been “satisfactory” but not overwhelming. She has, however, made many contacts and has received some follow-up orders. A true assessment can’t be made until the holidays are over as folks tend to go home and consider purchases of this size before making the actual transaction.
Last week I told you about the big Autumn Festival in Omaha. I witnessed many sales being made at that event and they seemed evenly distributed among the various crafters. No one type of item gobbling up all the sales.

This is not to say there have not been a number of duds among these gems. I’ve also heard from a number of folks reporting none or very dismal sales at more than one show. Quite a few of the older, established shows were canceled this year for whatever reasons. (I have to assume the economy has made a few blows.) This left many veteran artists and crafters searching for new venues.

Many of us are still waiting for the swarm to hit our online shops. I’m holding out judgment there until after the Thanksgiving weekend. Personally, I am trying to gear up for that anticipated surge. In the meantime, I am working my way through the sales coming from many of my repeat customers who have kindly started their Christmas shopping early.

Here’s wishing y’all a busy sales season starting now!!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

37 Days and Counting - Christmas is rushing this way!

And the count rolls on -- 37 days and counting (fast).

I'm not ready. I keep fighting the urge to hit the "panic button" already. (There'll be plenty of time for that later.) Maybe someone could come up with an "Easy" button like that big office supply box store offers. That way we could avoid the panic and just sit back and enjoy the season.

The week before Thanksgiving is significant because it's my week to prepare for the holiday prep rush. Would that be more accurately referred to as Pre-Preparing?

I give a lot of homemade candy and baked goods as gifts so my kitchen needs to be ready for production line candy making and baking. I need the proper supplies and need to be able to locate all the dishes, pans, utensils, etc. quickly and easily. I spent today organizing my cabinets for smoother operation. A long as I was at it, I changed the shelf paper, too. I began my shopping list for candy supplies. Tomorrow, I need to inventory the baking supplies and review the recipes so I can round out that grocery list. I need to organize the refrigerator so I have at least two open shelves with enough room to cool candy.

Also, in preparation for the holiday rush and confusion, I try to stockpile some quick dinners that can simply be whipped out and thrown in the oven. Normally, I have some containers of jambalaya, gumbo, crab soup, pulled pork and stuffed shells on hand in the freezer. But stock of these is a little low at the moment. This, I need to work on this week. I also need to lay in supplies of the ingredients for some quick dips and other finger foods as we often have small impromptu get-togethers with our friends or get invited out at the last minute. I hate to go to someone's home empty-handed. Looks like I'll be spending some time in the grocery stores in the next few days.

I have some heavy-duty cleaning to do before I start decorating the house. I usually wash all my drapes before hanging my garlands, wreaths and such. I really wanted to whip up some new curtains for my living room but, realistically, it doesn't look like a good move. (This has been on my "To Do" list since this time last year.)

Every year, I swear I'll get those Christmas cards addressed "early" and get them in the mail before the last possible day. (Yes, I HAVE mailed some on Christmas Eve. Heck, I've even thrown some in the box on the 26th! ) Growing up, I wanted to be just like one of my aunts. She always spent the Thanksgiving holiday addressing her cards and mailed them the following Monday. To do that, I need to dig out at least one box of Christmas stuff to determine how many cards I have left from last year and what I need to pick up. (I already have my doubts about accomplishing this before then!)

I did hope to be almost overwhelmed with sales by now. That just isn't happening. I'm getting a nice flow of sales - mostly offline, but nothing overwhelming. I don't know whether to worry that they'll all come at the same time and definitely cause panic or if I should just accept this leisurely pace and just be grateful to have the opportunity to get our personal holiday needs taken care. (I do lean toward wanting the sales, though!)

The biggest problem with pre-Christmas planning is the fact that our lives don't stand still in the meantime to let us do all those things. We still have things like birthdays, appointments, Fall yard work, church and business obligations and other pulls on our daily schedules. Many of us travel or entertain through the Thanksgiving weekend. We simply squeeze Christmas preps in around these.

Like tomorrow, I plan to get outside and rake (again) and, hopefully, clean up the last of the flower beds. Then, I'll come in and throw some fresh paint on my yard reindeer. You know the kind - they're cut from plywood and pack up flat for storage. Mine are simply painted white but their paint has gotten a bit weather worn over the last few seasons. They definitely need some sprucing up. I also need to find them some spiffy new bows. I like the large red plastic ones usually available in the Dollar Store.

Hope your pre-holiday prep plans are going smoothly. (FYI - 37 days = only 5 weekends!)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fun Eats in Ohio

As we are both Certified BBQ Judges with the Kansas City BBQ Society, we hate to miss an opportunity to check out interesting BBQ restaurants. So we were eager to try Jed's BBQ & Brew located directly across the street from our motel in Maumee, Ohio (just outside of Toledo) last week.

The parking lot was practically overflowing so The Big Guy had me jump out to check on how long a wait we'd have. Turns out the joint is much larger inside than it looks so I was seated immediately. While waiting for him to find somewhere to park, I began skimming the menu. Surprisingly, the only "BBQ" on the menu was a pulled pork sandwich hidden among other sandwich selections. (The waitress says they do have ribs on Tuesdays.) Surprised but not disappointed, we were fascinated by some of the interesting offerings. Basically a sports bar, Jed's offers a "pub style" selection but with some quirky twists!

Their signature item is "Fire Balls." The original Fire Ball is a boneless, skinless chicken chunk (larger than a nugget) that's been lightly breaded, flash fried and then dunked in a sauce of your choice. Among the 15 sauces offered are the usual flavors as well as names like "Superfly", "Hot Honey", "Sweet Jalapeno", "Sweet Baby Jane's", "Jed's Secret Sauce" and "Mike's Louisiana Licker". We tried the Mike's. It was sweet with a kick.

The interesting twist to the Balls is the list of "Specialty Balls" with names like "Hangover Balls", "Thunder Balls", "Freak Balls", "Fungus Balls", "Garbage Balls" and "Bette Balls". Basically, these are dishes of Fire Balls with toppings (like a nacho platter). "Hangover Balls" are topped with shredded cheese, tater tots, green pepper, onions, bacon and two fried eggs! "Garbage Balls" offer bacon, sauteed mushrooms, fries, black olives, Bleu cheese crumbles and cheese. So what are "Bette Balls"? A lot of the menu items bear names so I guess this was Bette's personal concoction - chopped hard boiled eggs, bacon and cucumbers, all tossed in Bette dressing and then served on a bed of spinach.

Another specialty is "Spudsters," deep fried mashed potatoes offered with a choice of sauces, sour cream, ranch dressing or butter. These are NOT your Mama's pan-fried potato patties. These are balls of mashed potatoes which have been battered and then deep fat fried. We didn't try these but they did look good as they passed by our table!

They also offered some unique pizza combinations, fries with various toppings, some really creative burgers, salads and fried pickles.

It took us a while just to read the menu and even longer to make up our minds, We only regret we couldn't try more of the unique items. Maybe next trip. (We usually seem to stop at this point, often staying in the same motel.)

Jed's also has locations in Toledo proper, Perryburg, Bowling Green and is soon opening in Sylvania, Ohio, too.

We're actually planning to serve our own version of Fire Balls at a get-together we have coming up. Seems easy enough to execute and is something different from the run-of-the-mill nibbles this time of year.

Why not give it a try yourself? Go ahead, get creative with them.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My husband is a WHAT?!?!?

Do y'all remember those little single frame "Love is ... " cartoons?

They were originally based on little love notes from Kim Grove Casali to her future husband, Roberto Casali. As time went by, they morphed into one of the longest running syndicated comic strips around. Kim passed away in 1997 but her son, Stefano Casali, maintains the comic strip and continues to sign them "Kim."

Over the years, I think Kim must have hit on every possible expression of love but I wasn't able to find one that said what I was thinking today:


Supporting your mate's interests!! (while wearing a smile)


For years, I've silently carried a heavy secret burden. This has gone on for far too many years. I now feel I need to come clean and today's the day. If you think any less of me after hearing the facts, so be it. I'm hoping as friends (and I consider ALL of you my friends), you can simply accept my situation and not hold it against me in the future.

Here goes: I married a numismatist ! What's worse? He's also a philatelist! (Oh, the shame!!)

Neither affliction was obvious when we met. I mean, he didn't have a scarlet "N" or "P" on his forehead. Those facts came out slowly, over time, as our relationship developed. By the time I realized these things, we were madly, hopelessly, in love. Things could be worse. Remember the movies Married to the Mob and I Married an Axe Murderer? (Then again, he started both as a child. Does that mean I married the class "geek" or "nerd"?)

There were little clues along the way. He never dropped a handful of change in his pocket without carefully studying each coin. Before taking out the recycle bin, he always checked the old envelopes for interesting stamps and postmarks. But the most obvious indicator was he knew really obscure answers while watching Jeopardy. Always explaining the knowledge by noting there was a stamp or coin commemorating the event or person!

The stamp collecting seemed to have reached a dead-end before we got together. Three large, scrapbook-like albums, hidden away in a closet, are the only evidence of that part of his past. (We all have secret stashes, don't we?) However, back in the early days, he dragged me to few coin shows where I actually "faked it." (Yep, that happens in a lot of relationships.) I "oohed" and "ahhed" and tried to seem impressed.

The Big Guy seemed to put the coin collecting on the back burner while he pursued other interests. He did keep subscribing to Coin World (a weekly numismatic publication) and kept himself up-to-date on coin news. Occasionally, he'd quietly add something to his collection. He threw me for a loop on Friday though, when he came home and announced he wanted to attend the big coin show in Baltimore this weekend!

What could I say? I tried to seem enthusiastic and supportive. I wore comfortable shoes and tried to psyche myself up about strolling aisle after aisle of glass cases full of coins that, after the second aisle, really do all look alike to the layman (or "woman" as the case may be.) Some are gold, some are silver. Some are large, some are small. Yadda, yadda, yadda...

The Big Guy's eyes glowed as he studied the various displays. He talked animatedly with the vendors. They all spoke in English but using terms I could not follow well. I felt like an alien in their world. I finally excused myself and found a seat and cold drink in the concession area. (Okay, I admit it. I did plan ahead and took a book in my purse.)

A short while later, he emerged from the exhibition hall, smiling and happy. He was in a good mood. That made me feel good for him. We went out for a nice dinner afterward.

All in all, it was a GOOD DAY!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More Memories

Yesterday was my big brother’s birthday. Or, at least it would have been had he still been with us. He passed away, suddenly, on December 13, 2007 at the age of 57. That was a very rough time for us as the family experienced two deaths within 24 hours that week.
I wasn’t going to write about the occasion at all, but I felt like I needed to mention it, if only to soothe my own mind. There are still times when I hear news of an old friend or a family event that I think I’ll have to call and tell him about it - and then, I remember I can‘t do that.

When he came to mind throughout the day yesterday, I tried to think of all the good things he got to experience and how much he managed to enjoy his time here with us. He was married to the love of his life for 35 years and together they had two wonderful children. He was able to be there for both his son’s and daughter’s college graduations and weddings and welcomed his first grandchild in August, 2007.

A Harley man, he loved to mount his bike and head off down the highway with his riding buddies. His wife took a long time to come around to the joys of riding and had only begun riding with him in the last few years and had even (finally) gotten her own motorcycle operator’s license. (She drove along behind him in her car for many of his adventures!) He rarely missed a Bike Week in Daytona and had finally made the long ride from the East Coast to Sturgis in 2006. (My S-I-L flew out there!)
In the last decade or so, they had purchased a condo at the beach and had enjoyed many a weekend walking the boardwalk and stretching out in the sun on the sand. He was a laid back kind of guy, much more comfortable in a pair of bib overalls than in a suit. (I’m not even sure he owned the latter!)

As kids, we were close. He was my protector and my co-conspirator when we ganged up on our older sister. While I was single, he helped keep my vehicles running and provided other “male” support when necessary. Like most of our family, he was a bit of a night owl. The best, most involved phone conversations happened after 10 at night - the later, the longer the call. For the last 12 to 15 years, he’d worked the night shift and enjoyed it!

After my mom had become disabled by several strokes and was unable to live on her own, he and his family completely rearranged their lives and home to accommodate her and he made the best nursemaid and companion for her one can imagine. No amount of money could have bought better care for her in those last few years.

As always, we regret the things we never said. I hope he knew how grateful I was to him for all he’d done for me over the years. I’m sure I didn’t thank him enough. I know we didn’t talk as frequently as we should have in those last few years as we each pursued life with our individual families.

I’m not quite sure how to end this statement, except to say, I miss him. We all do.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Santa's in Court ?!?!?

Santa was in court today! The People’s Court that is. Seems he sent his best red suit out to the cleaner’s and the fur came back pink!!!! It was new for this past holiday season and cost him $800. It was ruined!

That particular cleaner claimed to have experience cleaning Santa suits (They say they do about 10 a year.) and were concerned that his suit did not contain a care label. The receptionist claims to have warned him the color may bleed. When he went back to pick it up, all of the fur was bright pink!! The cleaner said he’d fix it. After a run around of several weeks, Santa returned to get his “fixed” suit and found it in pieces. The red parts in one pile, the fur in another. The cleaner had tried to bleach the fur. That didn’t work.

The cleaner tried to claim this was a manufacturer’s defect. He claimed the back of the receipt denies liability for color loss. BUT, don’t mess with Santa. Santa pointed out the suit didn’t lose color but, instead, gained color!! (He had a point there!) Santa believed the bleached fur had lost its luster and just wouldn’t do. And paid $500 to have all of the fur replaced with new fur.

Judge Milian listened patiently to both parties. She agreed the cleaner had not truly stated they might not be able to satisfactorily do the job in light of the garment not having any specific care instructions and should have had Santa sign some sort of waiver. They didn’t. She felt the cleaner could have done more to make the claim right when the problem occurred.

On the other hand, she also felt Santa went overboard. The bleached fur was bright white but may well have lost some of its glow but she questioned whether that glow would have faded anyway with a cleaning even if it had stayed white. She believed the fur would have been just fine if reattached in its bleached state. In her opinion, Santa should have taken the bleached fur pieces to his seamstress and allowed her to reattach them to the suit to his satisfaction. Such action would have cost considerably less as he would have only paid for the labor not for all new fur.

Santa won his case but only to the tune of $150!!! So, if the pile under the tree is just a little smaller this year, blame the cleaner. If Santa had gotten a larger award maybe he could have spent a little more on you!

As for the cleaner, he shouldn’t expect too much. Santa’s definitely assigned him to the naughty list.

Moral: Don’t mess with Santa!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bits 'n' Pieces

How’s this for a Veterans’ Day story? Heard on our local news last night (didn‘t catch where) - A man was recently mugged on the street. While rummaging through his wallet, the two thieves found his Active Duty U.S. Navy I.D. They not only immediately returned his wallet and watch, but both profusely thanked him for his service to our country! Isn’t it great to know there is still honor among thieves?

I’m working on that challenge I recently issued to all you bloggers. Okay, I was, in actuality, triple-dog dared, first. The challenge is to check in on every one of the followers of my blog. There are quite a few, so it’s taking some time and I couldn’t start till I got home from vacation. I need to leave relative comments for each and let them know I appreciate their following. I made it to ten of you yesterday and the journey continues, so please, leave the light on. I’ll make my way to you soon. By the way, not all the comments I made yesterday were related to that effort, some were just in the course of my regular readings.
Just for the record, I made a fantastic dinner last night. It was the moistest turkey I’ve ever cooked in the oven. We do a lot of turkey but normally smoke them on the grill. Unfortunately, I don’t know what I did to make it turn out so good. In essence, I did nothing. I basically smeared it with some margarine inside and out and sprinkled it with a nice dry rub - again, inside and out. I sat it on a raised rack in the roaster, and stuck in the oven, uncovered, at 325 ° until it reached an internal temp of 186°. (I was aiming at 190 but it decided on it’s own to simply not to go any higher!) Notably, there were almost no pan juices at all. Now, if I could only get it to turn out as well when there are guests!
I’m sad. This is the last weekend of the season at our local crab house so we’ve got big plans for steamed crabs for tomorrow’s dinner. They won’t reopen until April ! We will miss them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Working the Shows Wednesday - Autmn Festival - An Arts & Crafts Affair

We extended our Omaha stay by an extra day so I could attend the 27th Annual Autumn Festival - An Arts & Crafts Affair. I’ve attended this fantastic show in the past but have not been in town for the last three years so I really wanted to get there this visit.

Held at the beautiful and roomy Quest Center in downtown Omaha, this show features 400 artists and craftspeople and runs for four days. This year’s dates were November 5-8. An admission fee of $7 per person is charged but discount coupons abound. It seems two coupons are included in the daily paper for at least two weeks prior to the show and post cards are filled out by each attendee which serve two purposes. First, hourly door prizes are drawn from the post card boxes qualifying winners for $30 gift certificates good at any booth at the show. Then, the post cards are used to notify shoppers prior to the next show and serve as discount admission coupons when presented at the door.
The show is well attended on all four days. We went on Thursday and arrived about a half hour after the doors opened. We had about a ten minute line to get in at that point. It looked like a march for a cause to see the women (yes, it was mostly women) coming across the road from the parking lots. (Quest Center has plenty of parking available for a nominal fee.) Folks came prepared to shop, equipped with those fold-up shopping carts, large tote bags with wheels and some even brought along wheeled luggage to load their merchandise! This show features the best selection of affordable crafts I’ve ever found at a large show. Just about any craft you can think of is represented and none strike you as overpriced for what they are. In fact, I wonder how some can be sold for the prices they are marked. There were quite a few items I felt I had the talent and skills to make if I desired but did not feel I could produce one for the selling price. One can accomplish a lot of Christmas shopping here as well as decorate the home with all sorts of unique holiday themed pieces. The place was mobbed and folks were buying. One often had to wait in line to pay for purchases. It took us well over four and a half hours to walk the show !

A great selection of food is available but does lean to the pricier side. Choices include American BBQ like ribs, chicken and such, Greek specialties, Philly cheese steaks, Indian and Asian foods, and Mexican selections as well as pastries, salads and more. The one strange aspect is that most of the food vendors do not offer beverages. You must get your meal and then find another stand to get a drink. This is complicated when you are also balancing your many purchases while maneuvering through the crowd. Soda pop- is only available from one stand and there is a fresh lemonade stand. One or two of the others offer versions of iced tea at a premium price per cup. There was a specialty coffee vendor with cappuccino available. There is light entertainment throughout the day all four days and there is a sizeable seating area available near the food vendors. We were able to find seats at a table fairly easy this time but in the past have experienced difficulty locating a seat.

Regularly ranked in the Top 100 Shows by Sunshine Artists, the event is produced by Huffman Productions, Inc. out of Boys Town, Nebraska (which is actually a part of Omaha). The Huffmans both come from a craft background and have the advantage of seeing the craftsman’s perspective as well as the promoter’s point of view. Their exhibitors are treated well and return year after year. They are happy to learn you are a returning customer and eager to show you the year’s new merchandise lines. (We have purchased personalized ornaments for the children in the family each year from the same crafter and look forward to the new designs.)

I have considered doing this juried show in the past, if I could get in. However, I have hesitated as it is a long show and sales volume is so great I have doubts as to whether I could produce enough merchandise. I would also need to rent a larger vehicle to transport my merchandise cross country. Many of these sellers travel in a large RV and tow trailers, too.

It is an expensive show to do. As with most premier convention center locales, the space rental is sizeable. If you can’t support minimal expenses of $700 to $1000, don’t even think about it. The average tends to run closer to $1,500. I think the venue is fairly priced for what it is and for what the promoters deliver. (You are paying for a top-notch show.)

While not an issue for us, if you do not have a live aboard vehicle, lodging is a major consideration as the show is held in downtown Omaha and convention type prices prevail. I spoke with one gentleman who claimed the best hotel rates were at the casinos across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa (about a 15 minute drive) but I have to wonder about the practicality of staying in a casino. How much profit might one be tempted to risk?

If you are just looking for a great show to visit and shop, consider one of the Huffman’s shows. They also do a Spring Festival at the Quest Center (April 9,10 and 11, 2010) as well as shows in Minneapolis, the Chicago area, and Sioux Falls, SD. You can check out their website at

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

44 Days and Counting - Santa Clause is coming to town!!

He is. He really is. The jolly old soul will arrive at two of our local malls this Saturday !!

I don't know about you, but I'm not ready!!! I need to get in the groove and get there soon.
The Big Guy and I had a little push in the right direction on our drive home from Nebraska over the weekend. As we drove through Eastern Indiana Friday night, we tuned in a radio station featuring an All-Holiday Music Weekend! We were a bit surprised since it was so early in November but soon got into the spirit singing along with Andy Williams, Burl Ives and Karen Carpenter, among others. It felt good and put us in a happy mood (not easy after 13 hours on the road!)
Want to jump start your holiday spirit ?

Start now to make your home smell Christmasy!

Make some fragrance balls.

Coat styrofoam balls of all sizes with glue (Elmers or any craft glue will work.) and roll in cinnamon powder. (You can buy large inexpensive containers of cinnamon in any of the big box stores, Big Lots, Walmart and even the Dollar Store.) Tie and glue a ribbon around the ball, adding a hanging loop.

You can also add some flowers, shells, tiny pine cones, beads, etc. for trim.

You might also try rolling the glue ball in pine needles and then decorating with fancy bows and such.

(I apologize for the quality of some of these pictures. They are old photos that I have scanned in as opposed to nice crisp digital shots.)

Remember pomander balls?

If you're like me, you made them in Girl Scouts!

They're still a great inexpensive way to make your home smell sweet. They also make a great project for the kids to help you with. Quick and easy, and with minimal mess, you can whip some up in an evening (after homework!)

Choose firm citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and limes. Simply poke whole cloves into the rinds to create various designs and patterns or just let the kids try a random approach. One box of cloves should be plenty for three or four fruits.

Attach a ribbon and hanging loop or just display them in a shallow dish or basket.

They'll retain their scent for weeks!

Cinnamon Wreath
With a little more effort, you can create this interesting, woodsy looking wreath with cinnamon sticks.

Cut a donut-shaped ring from heavy cardboard (I used a dinner plate for a pattern.) Tie a hanging loop around the cardboard frame before beginning to glue cinnamon sticks side by side until you have completely covered the wreath form. (I used a glue gun for this.) Add some dried flowers or dried herbs and a bow.

This also makes an interesting centerpiece when laid flat on the table with a vase of holly or a pot of pointsettias sitting in the middle.

To encourage that holiday spirit, play some Christmas CDs while you're creating!!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Finally Home!!!

Just a quick note, to say "Hi !"----

Two weeks away from home (and without internet access) can seem like a decade. I missed y'all! We finally rolled into the old homestead late Saturday night after two days on the road.

We were tired. (I'm still tired.) It took all day yesterday and most of today to regroup. I didn't make it online until very late last night and then only to check the important e-mails. (I have a ton of emails to work through.) I still have some calls to make, mail to process, grocery shopping to do and orders to get busy on tomorrow. (Orders are good.)

Our trip was full of family time and fairly uneventful. For the first time, we took some time to do some touristy things while enroute to and from Nebraska. We've always been in such a time crunch that we've never taken time to stop along the way. I'll have to tell you about the stops in a later post or two. While there, I attended a great craft show that I'll tell you about on Wednesday.

We were pleasantly surprised to find some of those lingering household maintenance chores had magically been done while we were gone! The good fairies had even done some housework while we were gone. Oh, and there were no new holes in the front yard (like last time)!

On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed when I got home to find no one entered the funny caption contest this time so there will be no prize awarded for this one. Maybe I'll have to think up another contest for this holiday prize I planned.
I guess the good balanced out the bad, though.

To quote one of our family optimists, "It's all good."

Glad to be home and will get back on track with my postings tomorrow.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Still time to enter the Funny Caption Giveaway

Don't forget about this giveaway!!! There's still time to enter - right up to midnight Nov. 8th,

Just think up a funny caption for this picture. (His name is Jesse and he's one of my great-nephews, or at least he thinks he is. We're afraid to tell him any differently!)

Just leave your caption in the form of a comment and be sure I can get in touch with you through your blog or e-mail.

So, what's the prize?

Something holiday oriented and made by me especially for you. It's sort of a mystery prize. The prize for the last caption contest went to Flannyoak and looked like this:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ummm! Ummm! Now, that's a great cake!

Okay, I promised y'all Gran's pound cake recipe.

Got your mace ready?
(That question only makes sense if you read yesterday's post!)

Gran's Pound Cake

1 lb. (2 cups) butter
3 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp. mace
½ tsp. salt
4 tsp. vanilla
10 eggs
4 cups flour

Hey, I NEVER said it was dietetic!!

In mixer bowl, cream butter, add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add mace, salt, vanilla and 8 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in flour, a little at a time; add the remaining eggs. Combine and mix well.

Lightly grease and lightly flour bottom and sides of pans. Pour into 2 4-qt. tube pans or 6 loaf pans. Bake at 300° for 1 ½ hours or until done. Cool in pan for 15 minutes. Turn out onto rack to cool completely.
***This cake tastes best if made 3-4 weeks or more ahead of use. Wrap it in plastic wrap and then in heavy foil. Place it in freezer. Get it out of the freezer and thaw to room temperature for 1 hour before serving. To serve, cut into slices. This is especially good served topped with ice cream or fruit such as strawberries or peaches.

Gran used to always say the freezing intensifies the flavor and slightly changes the consistency and texture of the cake. Just recently, I caught this same tip on a cooking show on t.v. They, of course, explained why that happens using scientific terms. I think my Gran learned it from experience. Either that, or she just never wanted to admit most people didn't eat crispy cake as she often forgot to get it out ahead of time!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Weapon or Spice ?

I straightened my spice shelf the other day. Okay, so they aren't all on one shelf. I'm not that organized, folks.
Mine are stretched out across the kitchen. We use a tremendous amount of some spices, so we buy them in 55 gallon drums. (Okay, maybe not quite that big. But we do buy the large economy size!) Those of course, really never quite fit anywhere specific, so they tend to sit out on the counter most of the time.
Then, there are others that sit across the back of the top of the stove. NOTE: I know that's not how you are supposed to store spices due to the heat but we do it anyway and have for years.
Some actually reside in a legitimate "spice rack" mounted on the side of a cabinet. Unfortunately, it's an old rack and not really built to accommodate more modern containers so many just don't fit there. The remainder are arranged on a Lazy Susan in a cabinet near the sink. (I use the term "arranged" loosely, of course.)
As I moved the can of mace, I remembered a funny conversation with The Big Guy last Fall:
We had been out to dinner and were on our way home when he asked the standard question: "Is there anything we need, want or desire before going home?" In other words, "Do we need to stop at the store?"

I knew I was going to make my grandmother's pound cake the next day for a family event and knew it called for mace. Our ensuing conversation went something like this:

Me: I should probably stop and get a can of mace.
Him: Mace?
Me: I'm not sure I have an open can in the cupboard.
Him: I guess not!
Me: I don't want to have to run out for it first thing in the morning.
Him: Yeah!
Me: I really do need it. I'm just going to go ahead and pick up a can. (With this statement, I pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store.)

Now, since I was driving, I had not seen his facial expressions throughout this talk. Now, he stared at me in disbelief, shaking his head and saying, "You've GOT to be kidding, right?"

It was then, I realized he only knew mace to be a weapon! He had absolutely no idea it was a cooking spice!! (Just what did he think I expected to happen at my family's dinner?)You do know, mace is a spice made from the bright red covering that partly encloses the nutmeg kernel, don't you?

I'll give you a chance to run out and get a can of mace and then I'll share my Gran's pound cake recipe with you tomorrow! It's really, really good!!!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

51 Days & Counting - Keepsake Gingerbread Ornaments

It's easy to make adorable keepsake ornaments from altered gingerbread dough. (Although they do take a little pre-planning as the dough need to sit in the fridge overnight!) They look and smell like real cookies and, I believe, acrylic paint is easier to decorate with than real icing!! You can use them as tree ornaments, gift tags (that can then be hung as tree ornaments), adornment for wreaths, magnets, attached to baskets, garlands, etc.

This particular recipe is made with ingredients most of us already have on hand, rolls and cuts with cookie cutters just like regular gingerbread cookies but bakes up rock hard! They will even smell great for years and years!

I have found the scent comes through when you glaze them with a regular craft shellac but I prefer a polyurethane coating and that often eliminates the scent. It's your choice!

Recipe for Gingerbread Ornament Dough (NOT EDIBLE)

3 Tablespoons shortening
1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup molasses
1 Teaspoon baking soda
3/4 Cup flour
1 Teaspoon each of cloves, ginger and cinnamon

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*Beat shortening & sugar together until light and fluffy. Stir in molasses.
*Sift the dry ingredients together. Stir them into the shortening mixture in 3 parts, alternating with 1/4 cup water each time. Dough will be stiff.

Refrigerate overnight.
*Cut dough into 3 pieces. Knead to warm dough slightly, then roll each piece to about 1/4 " thick.
*Use your favorite cookie cutters to cut out cookie shapes and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. (You can use parchment paper if you'd like.) **If you will be using these as hanging ornaments poke a hole in the top center of the shape using a sharp, pointy object. (I usually use a small Phillips screwdriver for this.)
***The hole will shrink about 50% during baking so be sure it is large enough for whatever type of ribbon or string you plan to use.

*Bake 20 minutes, then turn the oven off and let them cool in the oven.

*Remove from the cookie sheet and place on a rack to dry for approximately 3 days to harden. (I generally cover a clean, cold cookie sheet with wax paper and set my shapes on that. I stash them on top of a high bookshelf in my dining room and mark my calendar to remind me they are there. - Yes, I have forgotten them for days!)
*When set, you can seal the "cookies" with a clear acrylic shellac available in any craft store and use acrylic paints to decorate them.

These are inedible. They are purely for use as decorations.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Memories & Tears

As many of my regular readers know, we lost my nephew in early August. He would have turned 44 today.

Of my various losses within the last few years, this has been one of the hardest for me to accept. We were fairly close in age and my mother practically raised him until his early teens when he went to live with his Dad. We were more like brother and sister than aunt and nephew. My immediate family is small and we've stayed close. We spent all our holidays together, celebrated children's birthdays together and exchanged e-mails several times a week. Each morning when I check my mail, I expect to see some new internet joke or quiz or such, and once again my heart aches.

I am writing this post several days ahead of time, partly because we'll be away and I won't have internet access on the 2nd and partly because I know I won't feel up to doing it then.

He was born about 6 weeks early and was a skinny, scrawny looking baby with long dangly arms and legs. His father was quite upset and claimed he reminded him of a spider. My thoughts ran more to a monkey but then, I was, and still am terrified of spiders, and tried not to think about them when possible. As a little kid of 4 or so he played my hero rescuing me from many a spider.

My vision of him as a "monkey" was quickly supported by his ability to climb. If he could get a toe-hold, he climbed, no matter what it was. If there wasn't enough texture for a toe-hold, he shimmied up whatever it was. By the time he was 3, he could shimmy up just about any door frame and hang from the top by his fingertips. Once, when he was about 5, we caught him shimmying up a flagpole. He was actually high enough to be out of my dad's reach and he was ordered to slide down immediately!

I remember shopping with him and having him pop up out of the top of one of those round clothing racks. He didn't mind shopping as he made a game of it. Back then, even discount stores (predecessors of Walmart, Target, Marshall's, etc.) had mannequins . Tom discovered how to unscrew their hands and feet and would busy himself doing so throughout the clothing department. You could always trace his whereabouts by following the various dismembered mannequins! (He was good. He always left the parts laying next to where he found them.)

Most of the dressing rooms then had chairs near their entrance where people would leave their children or spouses sitting while they tried something on. (You could take your eyes off your kids back then without worrying.) He'd dutifully sit down, promising to wait patiently. About the time we'd get stripped to our undies, we'd realize he was crawling along the dressing rooms, looking under the curtain to locate us by our feet or shoes. How embarrassing!

He played football in high school and started college majoring in computer assisted drafting. Shortly, he joined the Marine Corps, a calling he loved. He served in the South Pacific and then in Desert Storm. He anticipated being a career man with the Corps but ensuing knee problems would have limited his assignments and he wanted to settle down and start a family. (He had married before heading to the desert.) Tom had always loved children and related well with them. In return, most worshipped him. He was a favorite and well-loved uncle. Fertility eluded them and the marriage eventually failed.

He developed new medical problems, suffering a heart attack and undergoing by-pass surgery in his 30s. Additional health problems ended his new career as a commercial truck driver. He took a less demanding job and became close with the members of that family-owned business. He got engaged. His fiancee came complete with grown children and a grandson. He adored that little boy.

He died from a massive coronary sitting in his parked car on a shopping center parking lot. He had stopped for groceries on his way home. Tom believed a military funeral was the highest honor one could show a veteran. He was well honored.

Once a Marine, always a Marine!

I just wanted you all to know what a great guy we've lost. Thank you for indulging me.

I will always miss him.