Thursday, February 28, 2013

Magnetic Window Coverings

When we built the house we put in a lot of windows, partly because that is the way the house was designed and partly because I love light, lots and lots of light, especially in the drab months of winter when there is such a scarcity and the hours are short.

Window coverings were easy; blinds. Done. The issue then, has been with the doors. All of our doors allow some light to enter into the house during the day, and the double French doors, as they are so large, have been especially nice in that regard, but sometimes one wants privacy and an extra layer to blanket in the house from the chill outdoors.

I've had the solution in my head for quite some time, but never followed through with it, partly because I have a lot of solutions in my head among the other thoughts and what if's and memories; yet like most, I only have 24 hours in my day.

 They may not look like much from the picture, or maybe the look like the set of drapes just cleaned out of that fix-er-up-er you just bought that hasn't had anything done to it since 1963, but for the room for which they were created, they work.

One of the distinct advantages is that the coverings are fully reversible. On movie nights or when we want something a bit classier; a bit upscale, we go with the solid black side.

On other days, when we want some life in the room, we go with the floral side. The browns and greens compliment the wall coloring while the blue contrasts well with the blue top of the bench seat.

 An additional winning feature is that the doors are metal and therefore the coverings are magnetic. This makes them easy to change from black to floral. It also makes them simple to take down when I want the extra light or perhaps to be able to see the children out to pasture in the back yard. The down side to the magnets is, of course, children love magnets. When they find out the curtains can be taken down with just one forceful tug. . . there's some teaching that has to take place.

If you find that you too would benefit from the installation of such coverings in your home, you should know they are fairly simple to make.
1. measure the window to be covered and add at least four inches extra (two per side) on each edge.
2. With the right sides of the fabric together, sew around all four sides leaving an opening wide enough to turn the fabric right side out. Turn the fabric right side out and press all seams open.
3. Stitch vertical lines of equal measurements (I used an inch and a half) from the top toward the bottom. You will have to experiment some because if you have a larger area to cover, you will require more magnets. For mine, I used 10 across the top, so the top has nine vertical dividers stitched ever 2.5 inches across the top.
4. Drop the magnets in through the opening left open to turn the curtain right-side-out. Distribute them into the pockets created by the dividing stitches at the top and top stitch a horizontal line from the left edge to the right to enclose the magnets in their respective sections.
5. I repeated this process to secure magnets on either side and the bottom. The extra weight holds down the curtains and the extra magnets help to secure the covering to the door to allow better insulation, less light penetration, and less possibility of being observed by investigative neighbors. Also, it makes them less likely to be accidentally pulled down as one passes by them or to be blown away from the door in the back draft created by small parties that may be running through the house at breakneck speed even though they have been cautioned against such behavior. Once you have the magnets where you want them and secured inside, finish off the open edge using a closure of your choice.
Despite the fact that I see myself in a mu-mu of a similar print in not too many years hence, I love the way the design picks up the other colors and gives a little bit of energy to a very subdued room.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mini Two-layer Cake

Okay, as promised, something useful (maybe). You know when you want to give someone a cake, but a two-layer cake seems daunting and a cupcake seems trendy and like the other 11 parts are missing? This is the solution, mini two-layer cakes.

I arrived at this brilliance through a long drawn out process and without taking you through the intricacies of my though process, the problem was what I mentioned in the previous paragraph and the solution came as this.

A can of chicken is metal, so it will survive the temperatures of the oven. Also, unlike cupcake tins, even over-sized tins, the sides are straight, not slanted, so one can achieve the look of a mini cake rather than just a large cupcake.

The beautiful part is this non-stick pan comes free with the purchase of canned chicken. Just make sure you remove the lid fully and run the can opener around the rim several times to flatten down any sharp edges.

One cake mix will make 4 mini cakes with a nice rounded muffin top. Grease and flour the pan just as you would for any cake you want to serve outside the pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

Allow to cool and sit out so that when you cut into it it doesn't fall apart. Cake mixes are crumbly, so a cake from scratch would probably be better, but this is what I did today. When it has cooled, slice it into two parts. If you want it nice and flat, cut off the muffin top. If you like mounded cakes, leave it.

Put a layer of frosting on top of the bottom half of the cake and position the top half over it to create your two layers. If you don't like the ridges showing, put them on the bottom or frost it. They won't show through the frosting.

Or, if you don't want to do it today, it is the perfect size to fit inside an inverted 16 oz. cottage cheese carton for airtight storage (if you're into that reduce, reuse, recycle thing).

Then dip it in candy melts or frost it just as you would any other cake. Now you have the perfect mini two-layer cake for giving someone you love, or depending on your baking skills, someone you are not so fond of. (Okay, so I will probably never be a renowned cake artist and the flower looks somewhat venemous).

However, imagine if you were to host a birthday party and each guest were able to decorate his or her own individual birthday cake. If you can handle the chaos and mess, it would be one less activity for you to think of and one less cake you would have to buy or decorate yourself.

Or, the seem the perfect size and shape to replace the huge muffins one can purchase in bulk, you know the ones where there are chocolate, poppy seed, and blueberry and the chocolate always goes first, then the poppy seed and you're left to force down the blueberry because you didn't want to have wasted your money. This way you can make the number you want and the flavor you want. I imagine you could also purchase big muffin papers or use parchment paper to line the containers for easy removal and clean up.

It also is a great way to use up excess frosting. If you are one of those people who can precisely determine the exact amount of frosting necessary to cover a cake, you don't have excess. I don't have that gift, so I can put together different colors on separate cakes. The similar colors unite the cakes even though there wouldn't really be enough of one color for a full cake. Sometimes when you make cub scout cakes, you end up with random colors left over.

Here are a couple other examples. I'll admit the cake itself isn't anything amazing and the flying pig looks as though it may have perched on one to many power lines. Even so, I think you'll have to agree the sugar-cookie pigeon is pretty life-like. It took quite a bit of mixing to get the perfect cookie crumb/frosting combination to make authentic looking pigeon excrement and those red-orange candy melt eyes are pretty realistic.
I also have a fondness for the Texas sheep-cake. (Side note: if you use chocolate frosting and then tint it with black food coloring, it goes black with less coloring than white frosting because it's already dark. Probably someone else realized that, but if not, there's the pointer).

The original version of this cake was not my idea obviously, but as far as I know, the mini-version was. The hamburger bun is a white cake mix baked in the can pan and the burger is a baked brownie cut out using the can as a cookie cutter. I used frosting rather than fondant for the fixings and the fries ended up being more steak fries than shoestring. Even so, I went to a fast food place to pick up the fry baskets (probably paid more than I should have) and the sauce cups. In this region of the world many fry consumers care for a concoction called fry sauce. the real fry sauce is ketchup (or BBQ sauce) mixed with mayonnaise. For the sugar cookie fries featured here, the fry sauce is pureed strawberries mixed with Greek yogurt.

Dear Deer

I should preface this post by saying I am not an animal hater. Nor do I contribute to PETA and we don't own any pets, mostly because we have in the past and it is devastating when you or your children get so attached to a beloved pet and then it just disappears. You can say all you want about relationships making the ride worthwhile and all that, and it's not that I don't believe that, it is just that I prefer to form those bonds with people, who usually last quite a lot longer.

I know that after such a long absence I should post something noteworthy, but March madness has come early in my world. It might be that I've been getting up before the kids do to exercise and my sleep schedule has been disturbed. It might be that my new medication is derived from pigs (is there a mad pig's disease?) Maybe I'm stressed.

Whatever it is, my rate of productivity has diminished somewhat. Okay, that's not the case either. The honest truth is that I go to bed shortly after my children do so I can get an adequate amount of sleep before getting up to work out. That means the hour and a half to two hours I used to spend in the evening writing my thoughts and what I had been doing has been cut to between 1/2 hour to an hour, which sounds like ample time, but I'm wordy and when I think about it I get tired, so I go to bed.

Soon I will talk about important things and projects once again, but in the meantime there are a couple of things that have been on my mind and stand in the way of me writing yet another fascinating tutorial.

1. I think God knew what he was doing when he gave us eyebrows. There is this great cavity in one's skull that houses the eye and while the hole allows for an eyeball and free movement of said eyeball, the sudden stop in the bone of the skull creates a sharp edge that always seems to be getting smacked by something, splitting, and then leaving a scar. Fortunately there are nice hairy eyebrows in place to conceal such injuries. I'm not speaking from recent experience or anything, but eyebrows in general are a good idea.

2. If you know me, you had to know this was coming. To my knowledge I have never tasted venison; yet, even so, I know I hate deer. There was a newspaper article in a recent edition of the newspaper talking about how this year the number of deer killed in traffic incidents has doubled. And my response is how can there still be so many then? I'm not an animal hater, but there are a few things most educated individuals don't know about deer.

The first is that they are found hallowed in some of the pages of the nations finest literature. In The Princess Bride by William Goldman, he refers to the fire swamp and the ROUS's or Rodents Of Unusual Size. I cannot believe he means anything other than that the swamps were full of deer.

Let us examine the similarities. On the left we see the common mouse with its brood of young. On the right we see the mule deer, with either another deer or perhaps her young. Note the similarities in the coloring of the fur of both creatures. Though the mule deer has a much shorter tail, I think we can agree that the grayish-brown tinting allows both creatures to blend in to their environments.

Additionally, both the mouse and the "deer" have deep black eyes. Black, the color of evil. Black, the absence of color. Black, the color of the raven made famous by Edgar Allen Poe. Black like the heart of boy I once dated. (Not really; I hold no long term anmimosity toward anyone in my past, including that girl I so disliked because of the way she treated me in junior high)

Behaviorally, there are also similarities. When cornered or spotted, a mouse will dart about with no apparent sense of direction, only distance, and sometimes not that either. When one approaches a deer, either while walking through the hillsides or in a vehicle, the deer also seems to be lacking in any sense of safety or direction.

Mice have several toes on their paws. Deer have cloven hooves (bone enhanced paws), which means the hooves are in two parts. Cloven, like the tongue of Satan.

While I could go on for pages and pages about these similarities and continue to make very reasonable and valid comparisons, I'll jump to the next aspect.

Perhaps at one point in history, deer were majestic, right up their with lions and elk, but I think that as humans have moved into the ranges once roamed by the deer, the deer have been cut off from other deer, which leads to a great deal of inbreeding. Deer will be deer and a deer has to do what a deer has to do; the gene pool has ceased to have a lifeguard and therefore inbreeding has led to what we now find on the roadsides. I am convinced that not only do these family ties contribute to their inherent stupidity, but the link also creates a bond that allows the formation of  a "Deer Mafia" for lack of a better term.

Several years ago, as many as seven, I was driving down main street in my hometown. The speed limit was 35 mph, so I was traveling 35 mph. Suddenly a deer darted out into traffic. It surprised me, possibly even fascinated me to see the creature so close, and I watched it, hoping it wouldn't be hit in the other lane of oncoming traffic.  In watching the deer, my eyes strayed from the road long enough that his girlfriend, who might also have been his mother, sister, aunt or any combination of the three was following closely behind. As she was struck, she flipped across the hood of the car, breaking a headlight on her way, landed in the road, stood, shook her head a bit, and wandered off into the night where she and her lover could be concealed beneath the cloak of darkness, undiscovered by watchful parents. Though I never saw her again, she remembered. My scent was marked and the deer pack (who can really call them something as docile as a herd) has continued to follow me.

Months later, as I arrived home late at night, there were two or three of them, waiting, lurking in the darkness for me to get home. Somehow they knew I would be alone and so, biding their time, they stood beneath the apple tree, staring me down. The car cooled and became uncomfortably chill, but my husband wouldn't be home for another hour and no one was living in the upstairs apartment. As often happens with fear, I had to go to the bathroom and my anxiety made it worse. The front door was a mere five feet away, but might as well have been miles. Finally, a full bladder won out, so I climbed over the console, grabbed my belongings and darted from the passenger door to the front entry of the house, slamming the door behind me. The night went by without incident, but they knew for certain where I lived and I knew that I had been marked.

Since that time we have gotten rid of the car that struck one of their own and moved four times, yet every winter I see them. I can't help but count them. I don't know yet what the numbers mean, but I can't seem to stop myself from numbering them much like one might count sheep as they doze off. Maybe it is my way of subconsciously determining how great our forces need to be when the grand war finally rages. With all the recent violence in the world, ammunition is in short supply. They probably knew that would happen and have been preparing, increasing their numbers while appearing calm, relaxed, and unobtrusive.

And yet, they continue with their reindeer games, just like in the Rudolph song. One of their favorite games is dodge car, a lot like dodge ball, but with higher stakes. This year 40 have been thinned from their number because 40 lost the game. Yet I count them, dotting the hillside and there are still many, as many as 70 visible with more, I'm sure, crouching in the underbrush.

In the game, deer wait on the roadsides for a car to approach. The points earned depend on several factors; the speed of the vehicle, how close it is to the player before the player darts out, and the size of the vehicle being among those variables. The most points one can accumulate is the near-death experience. In this performance, the deer is struck by an oncoming vehicle, yet much like the deer hit multiple years ago, is not killed. There is no greater feat, though bonus points can be thrown in for damage to the vehicle.

We saw this very example a week or two ago. The night was foggy, the hour was late. My spouse and I had been to dinner with friends, commemorative of our anniversary. From seemingly out of nowhere (and we both had our eyes directed forward) there were four legs and an underbelly flying toward our windshield. You know on suspenseful movies where there are people driving along, unsuspecting of the vampires in the woods, or the zombies waiting to ambush them, and then suddenly the camera pans to the interior of the vehicle and a great something is plastered to the windshield, then there is another shot that shows the people in the vehicle screaming uncontrollably?  There is no other way to describe what it was like except to say that, much like the previous deer, this one, in her flailing condition, managed to embed clusters of her fur in the grill and dent the fender with her head and arching back before landing on the road, righting herself, shaking her brains around a bit, and darting off to her original destination. Full points.

So while I do not endorse cruelty to animals and am not really out to rid the world of deer, I cannot join those who shudder with excitement and joy at the very sight of them and feel like somehow the beauty of nature is right in midst. Mark my words, through the process of evolution we will begin to see deer with naturally pin-stripped fur who like to "case up the joint" and refer to leaders as "Don" or "Mustache Pete."

Friday, February 1, 2013

Outerware confession

Sometimes when I have to go somewhere and I've been working on projects and I don't really want to get all dolled up, I put my coat on over my stained shirt and go out anyhow. Once, in high school, I couldn't decide what to wear to school, so I wore a coat, and nothing else. It got a bit hot, but I couldn't do anything about it.

Today, my son had a booger in his nose. Like a good mother, I picked it out for him. He got mad and immediately took it back and shoved it back up his nose.