Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Drink Up, Boys!

It's no secret that I like making stuff. I have, at one point or another, done the following crafts: crochet, knit, sew, bake, make chocolates, quilt, cross stitch. It started with a strong hatred of sitting in front the TV doing nothing, and went from there. This post is about the liqueurs.

A friend of mine got a small group together, at the local kitchen store, to take a class about making liqueurs from another local, A.J. Rathbun, who had a book out, Luscious Liqueurs. It was a lot of fun, to say the least. Liquors are based on a particular alcohol base, and don't need to be brewed, or distilled, just steeped.

The next summer, I made strawberry jam (damn, forgot one for the list!), and had a bunch of left over strawberries. What to do? What to do? My eyes fell upon the book I'd gotten from A.J. Ah-Ha! Off to the liquor store I went for some vodka! It went great! I had so much fun making it, I wanted to keep going.

Well, at the time, my daughter had a penchant for freeze dried fruit. I'd tried the little tubs of Just Fruit. But those didn't last long, and they are expensive! So I'd nosed around on the internet (like you do!), and found these big tins at Emergency Essentials (out of Utah...but that's another story). I'd ordered a can of strawberry slices and a can of raspberries. She loved them! After they ran out, I ordered again. But this time, the can of raspberries turned out to be a can of raspberry PIECES. She hated them and didn't even finish the first bowl.

Which is the back story for what happened next. In questing about to find something else to make liqueurs with, I happened to see the can of raspberry pieces. Why not? The worst that could happen would be I waste a bottle of Everclear vodka. So I threw the prescribed amount of raspberries in a jar, added the Everclear, and THEN realized I had forgotten to hydrate the raspberries first! Too late then, and again, what's the worst that could happen?

So I dutifully steeped, and swirled, and added simple syrup as directed. Time came for bottling. I opened the jar with the raspberries. My FSM! They smelled like straight grain alcohol when I opened them. I was afraid they were ruined. But I'd already spent a month on them. In for a penny; in for a pound I figured.

So you have to strain all the solids out, then strain the liqueur through cheese cloth a couple of times. It was much thicker than the strawberry had been. The first strain was easy. The second and third times took a lot more time. But a funny thing happened. I started getting more on my hands. I started absent mindlessly licking my fingers off. It started tasting good. Then it started tasting better. By the time I was done, I was ready to lick the jar, and clean the sink with my tongue!

So it was time for a test. A friend (who was also my day-care provider) was having a barbecue for the day-care families. I brought a bottle of both strawberry and raspberry. I made Wicked Lemonade for who ever wanted to test one. Boy, the strawberry was good. But the raspberry was AWESOME SAUCE! I'm told that it was the best barbecue they'd ever had. :-)

My friend requested more for her own use. Her neighbors tried some, and requested more. It was great, making stuff for people who kept coming back for more!

Then we moved. All alone here. Have to start making new friends. My husband started going to a gaming night with some guys he works with. I started going once in a while with him. It was really a group of guys who got together and drink...and play some games. The liqueur I had was going to go bad soon, so I offered it up to the group. You'd have thought it was Christmas, and I was Santa!

So I've started it back up. It's just small batches. I made more raspberry, strawberry, and banana.

Prepped and ready to go
 
Ready for the steeping

Final product - raspberry


But I take requests, and now we're trying blueberry, apricot, apple, and coffee. I wish I could sell them; they'd go like gang busters! But CA doesn't allow affordable licenses for this kind of operation. So I'll just have to go on making them for personal use, and as gifts.

Raspberry, coffee, blueberry, and apricot, just a-steeping!

The blueberry and apricot didn't come out so well, but I've now got three favorites: raspberry, banana, and coffee. I think it is time to make more. I've got a hankering for a chocolate martini made with banana liqueur! How 'bout you?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gingerbread House For EVERYONE!

I love my daughter. I love my daughter. I love my daughter.

Really I do. I must, why else would I do this?

It started in 2010 in Seattle. The elementary school had an annual auction. One of the families donated a Gingerbread House party for kids. They obviously been doing it for several years. Throughout the year, they buy lots of various candies. Then at Christmas, they'd pre-make and construct a bunch of gingerbread houses. At the party, each kid got a piece of foam core board, and a gingerbread house. They'd have all the various candies set up in bowls around the room, and each kid got a paper plate, and went around getting what ever they wanted to decorate their house. There were tubes of royal frosting in different colors. If you ran out of anything, you just asked, or went and got it. It was fantastic!

At the party, making the gingerbread house

The finished gingerbread house

So we kept it up, and as always, we invited friends. The next year, 2011, with our friends from down the street.
2011 gingerbread house making

And the next. 2012, with another friend.
2012 gingerbread house making
You'll notice that in each of the previous years, each of the girls had a single gingerbread house. This year, Kaylee changed the game plan. She wanted to make a gingerbread village. And me, well, I'm an idiot, I said Ok.

So Kaylee helped me build the houses (15 in all, they were small).
Building the 15 mini houses
I bought some foam core board for each of the girls to build their villages on. Normally, I would have spent some time rounding up some bags of various candies, but I just didn't have the time or energy for it this year. Fortunately, last year I had managed to buy considerable more than the girls used, and I'd stashed the extra. So I just pulled out what I had stashed away last year, and rummaged through the pantry. They managed to make do.

When Kaylee's friends got here, it took a bit for them to warm up to the task. But within 15 minutes, they were going great guns!
2013 gingerbread house making
It took them about 90 minutes to finish everything. And look at these great results!
2013 proud makers
The elementary school here in California does an auction each year. I'm wondering if I should donate a gingerbread house making party next year. Because I love my daughter. And I'm crazy like that.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Writer's (Sewer's?) Block

Why can't I sew? I am totally blocked. I can't seem to get any sewing done! What do I mean? Well, let me sum up. No, that will take me too long. How 'bout I summarize.

There's the hand quilt. Remember that one? 300+ hands, signed by a bunch of JoCo SeaMonkeys? Arranged in color spokes around a photo of the entertainers? I got about 3 spokes appliqued, in a really striking multi-color thread. But then it sat there...waiting. I figured that I needed to applique 2 hands a day...at first. But it sat.

Part of it is guilt. If I quilt, I feel guilty that I'm not cleaning the house, and FSM knows, nobody else is going to do it. If I clean, I feel guilty that I'm not sewing. Same with cooking, or working. I have 4 tasks, but only enough energy to do 2 of them. And I always feel guilty about the 2 I don't have the energy to get around to.

I picked it up and did a few more hands; I must admit that figuring out which hand to do next, and what line is at the bottom, so that other lines will lock the ends, it takes a lot of my energy. By then I needed to do So it sat some more. By then, I needed to do 3 hands a day. But it kept getting worse.

I have fabric that I promised I'd make nightgowns, and leggings and dresses for my daughter. I also have fabric to make blouses for myself. I got a shrug done. It was simple. But then there's a wrap blouse that I already have cut out. But there are several places where it is shirred with clear elastic...which I've never done before. I've got lots of scraps, and lots of extra clear elastic. And I can't seem to will myself to even test it out. Too guilty about the things I'm NOT doing. If I start doing THOSE things, I get guilty about not sewing. It keeps going around in a vicious circle.

UPDATE

Seems like I've broken through, at least a bit.

Now my list of tasks is down to 3. I've got no hours at work, so that's off my list at the moment. That's a bit of a help...and a mixed blessing.

My anti-depressant dosage got increased. That seems to be helping a bit. I've got a little more energy. But I can still easily overdo it, and be basically worthless the rest of the day.

I'm paying more attention to the Flylady daily tasks. Haven't heard of her? Go check her out. Even if her methods aren't for you, check out the tools in her store. They rock! I gave my sister one of the water bottles for Christmas. She liked it so much that she bought more. High praise indeed!

I kind of gave up on the hand quilt for now. It's not going to be done in time for the cruise in late February, not even just the top, which is of course the most time consuming part. But I've resigned myself to that.

But you know, I have always, ALWAYS, experienced a great deal of what I call "Free Floating Guilt". We used to joke that my Dad was a Worrier. If he didn't have something to worry about, he'd INVENT something to worry about. I'm feel like I'm the same way with the guilt. Combine that with social awkwardness, and I have hell making friends. But that's another post.

So the good news: I actually picked up a scrap of fabric and a piece of clear elastic yesterday, and figured out how to make them play nice together. I've got two more pieces cut, pinned, and ready to go. YEAH ME! Pictures to follow...someday...maybe... :-)



Friday, October 11, 2013

The Gods Must Be Crazy...As Well As Me

I must be crazy. It's really the only reason I can think of. Why else would I decide to have 300 random SeaMonkeys sign handprints, cut from hand-dyed cloth, and decide to fuse them onto a 5' of black cloth, double-wide, in radiating rays of color around a picture of the JCCC3 entertainers, then blanket stitch each hand down, before I even quilt it, when I've never done a whole-cloth quilt, and I own two curious cats, who shed like mad? Doesn't that sound crazy to you? It does to me.

Let me elaborate.

It started around November/December of 2012, ya know, about 5-6 months after that stroke? We had already planned and paid for JCCC3, which sailed in February 2013. Don't know what JCCC3 means? Go ahead, click on the link. I'll wait. In the midst of the stoke-induced fog, I decided that I needed a creative project that would link me to all those wonderfully nerdy folks. I had all this hand-dyed fabric sitting around, begging to be made into a project. I've done memory quilts before, and things with handprints, and things with signatures. So I decided to incorporate all of that.

I knew I wouldn't be able to hand-cut enough handprints, But I have a Cricut machine, which is used to cut scrapbook paper, vinyl, or fabric. And I have an older version of Sure-Cuts-A-Lot, a program that allows you to, among other things, import a line-drawing, and send it to your Cricut. So for the first part of this complicated process, I traced around my hand, scanned it, and pulled it into SCAL. After much cleaning, and research, and recleaning, and more research, and more recleaning, I finally figured out how to send it  my Cricut, and cut my test hand out of plain paper. Yay!

Next, I ironed fusible webbing to the back of some hand-dyed fabric and then cut that out. That worked great, so I cut out a few dozen...and finally realized the handprints were too large. I'd never be able to fit a respectable number of them onto a piece of fabric I could run through my 8' quilting machine. Back to SCAL, where I played some more, and sized the hands down to about 5", and duplicated them to show 6 on a page. That worked much better!

Now came the power runs of cutting out hands. That involved a GIANT roll of fusible webbing, an ironing board, the Cricut, my computer, and a USB cord. I started out with packages of 8.5x11" sheets of webbing, and tried butting the little strips together to make a whole sheet (mistake #1). But that soon proved costly and inefficient. Oh the horror! So my good friend Amazon, and the brown Santa, as my sister calls UPS, soon delivered unto me that GIANT, 25' long roll of fusible webbing. So I'd cut 2' strips of fusible (to fit my Cricut mats), iron them to my hand-dyed fabric, cut out the sheets of fabric, about 10 at a time. Then, convert the ironing board to a Cricut stand, which is the only thing I had that had enough room to allow 2' of clearance on both the front and back of the Cricut, so that the mats had enough room. Next, sqeegee down a sheet of fabric onto a mat, gently because its fabric and you don't want to mess with the weave, yet firmly, because you don't want it coming up at the edges and jamming the Cricut. Hook up the Cricut to the computer, open SCAL, pull up that 6-up handprint page, insert the mat, and "print" that puppy!

Is this sounding crazy yet? Cause I'm not done. The hands wouldn't cut clean, so I had to clip a few threads on each one to release the hands...EACH hand...times 6 hands per page...times how ever many pages I managed to do that day...in that stroke-induced fog. I had to go out and buy more cutter blades a couple of times, because I could EASILY tell when the blades started getting dull.

Remember those couple of dozen hands I cut out of the hand-dyed fabric before I realized they were too big? Yeah, I ran out of hand-dyed after about 150 hands...and JCCC3 management said they'd already registered over 600 people. So I pulled out the tie-dyed looking fabric I'd done at the same time as the hand-dye, and ended up cutting another 150 hands.  At which point I decided that multiple people could just sign the same hand, and be done withe it!

So I took those 300 hands with us on the cruise, and even through the fog, managed to get about 400 of the SeaMonkeys, and most of the entertainers, to sign hands for me.

Yay! Fantastic! Great end to the story! Right?

Not exactly.

What was I going to DO with all those hands? How was I going to make a quilt out of them?

First I had to get a picture of the entertainers together. Thank god for Atom, the unofficial photographer. He had just the right shot. I bought a copy from him, promised him attribution and no commercial use (natch), and printed it out on a sheet of chemically prepared fabric.

I had a vague idea about arranging the hands around the image. After several attempts, and sitting there staring at them on my design wall (which hangs in the living room and my husband wished I'd just get the damn thing DOWN already! Thank you!), I decided on a circular pattern, with rays of color separated by rays of tie-dye.

But how to get them arranged and ironed onto the background? I didn't have enough space anywhere to lay it all out at the same time! More sitting and staring and contemplating. I eventually figured I could draw the rays on the background, and arrange just a ray or two at a time. That way they'd be pretty much even. But I had 18 rays, and no compass to measure out the rays evenly. Finally figured that I could fold the fabric and mark it into thirds, and lay out three rays in each segment!

It moved much more quickly at that point. Sewed the background halves together to make a big square, folded and marked the thirds on each half, layed out and pinned the hands.

That's when I realized that I didn't want to have just the quilting holding down all the hands. The fusible web eventually lets go, and if the quilting didn't catch everything correctly, the finger tips would start flopping. Didn't want that! Soooo...each hand would have to be sewn down. (!!!) I wasn't going to satin stitch, and I didn't want the frayed look that can come from raw edge applique. Which meant blind hem or blanket stitch around every last hand. Gulp. I didn't want to go through that many thread color changes either. So I decided on blanket stitch in a multi-colored thread.

Which leads here. I've got about 2.5 rays of color done. And I fall more in love with it each time I look at the finished section.

So here I am. Still crazy after all these years.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

New lunch bag!

I confess. I haven't made any progress on the quilting front in forever! But I've tried to make up for it. I bought three yards of oilcloth the other day. (What is WRONG with me? What the hell am I going to do with all that? It was on sale! Shut up.) I managed to make another lunch bag!

The last one didn't make it far. It worked great, but the laminate that I ironed on couldn't hold up to the daily folding and crinkling the bag took. Here it is new:
Previous new lunch bag


 After about 4 months of daily use:

After four months of daily use.
As you can see, the laminate is peeling off badly. The bag is still usable, but FSM! it looks bad.

So I figured it was time for a new one. I liked the insulation, but I didn't like that the construction of the bag was exactly the same size for the inside and the outside, so there wasn't any room for the insulation.

So I nosed around on the internet (All hail the great god Google!) and found this on Lemon Squeezy Home.  I really liked the flap, and the handle she added later. So off I went.

And came up with this:



It's not insulated, but it has a flap, so no more curling. It's lined in oilcloth, and I tried sewing the outer bag with slightly smaller seams, and the inner bag with slightly larger seams, so the inner bag fits nicely inside. I had some red marbled fabric to make the binding (STASH! Does that make this project into a stash busting project?).

I'm pretty happy with it. Now I just have two and a half more yards of oilcloth to use up!

Friday, December 7, 2012

I Survived!!

My daughter turned 8 the other day. She knows I've had a stroke, and am not capable of doing as much as I did before. So I asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday. She wanted a sleepover for 10 girls. After I stopped laughing, I told her she would have to choose. She could have that many people, and more, but we would have it at a place like Pump It Up, or she could have a sleepover, but she could only have 3 girls over. She choice the smaller sleepover. Then she decided on the theme: Secret Agent Slumber Party.

Now I went to various party stores, and looked for spy party themed stuff like cheap magnifying glasses, and maybe some hats and trench coats. Nothing. Not even plates and cups and napkins. Finally, it was getting close to time for her party, and it occurred to me to ASK her what she meant by "Secret Agent Slumber Party."

Well, you know, you use the blankets and stuff to cover yourself up. Then you creep out and find someone, and you spy on them!

Later that night, I told my husband. He busted out laughing! When he finally could catch his breathe, he said he could just see the little purple lumps (my daughter has a purple fuzzy blanket we claim is made out of muppet skin!), lumpfing along, trying to be all stealthy and shit! When he told me, I laughed until I had tears running down my face.

So we had three little girls over. We had pizza. We decorated the cupcakes I had made earlier (cakes baked inside ice cream cones. (Bad idea! They worked fine, but the moist cake made the cones stale within as hour! Don't do it! You're welcome.) We watched a movie, with popcorn. We opened presents. It was pretty good, even if it didn't have anything to do with Secret Agents or Spies.

At 10pm, one girl's Dad came to pick her up. The other three climbed (UNBIDDEN!) into their sleeping bags, all arranged on the floor, with pillow pets everywhere! At 11pm, we went to bed ourselves. At 11:30, I saw the bedroom door open, twice. There was a crying little girl in the hall. So we called her mom to come pick her up (she lives only two minutes away). At 1am, the remaining two girls woke up. They talked quietly for a while. At 2:30, they were loud enough to wake me up, even with earplugs! I have no idea how my husband slept though it. I got up and told them to go back to bed. At 3:30, they woke my husband up. He got up, and told them to go back to bed! At 4am, they woke me up again! I got them off the floor and made them sleep head-to-toe in the bed. They finally got back to sleep around 4:30. And slept late. Till 7:30.

Then we all got up. The little girl who'd called mom at 11:30 came back over. We cooked huge stacks of chocolate chip pancakes, and blue berry pancakes, and bacon (BACON!!)! Aaaaand they each ate one pancake. Except my daughter, who'd had cereal already, before we got up, and wasn't hungry.

And then...it was finally over! I had survived! The girls were gone, and the house was back to normal. Everything was quiet again. Peace!

"Mom, next weekend, can I have another sleepover?"

AARRRRRGGGHHH!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Stroke

So I had a stroke. You wouldn't believe how strange it feels to type that. I had a stoke. And nobody knows why. I have none of the classic risk factors. I don't smoke. I don't drink excessively. I'm only 48. There is no personal history of stroke. Hell, the only person I know of in my family to have a stroke is my Granny and she smoked like a chimney and ate fried food every day...and she was in her 80's to boot!

So I had a stroke. It was weird. We'd gone to the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz the day before. I'd driven home because my husband was tired. Put our daughter to bed. Spent some time on the computer. Gone to bed. Normal stuff. I woke up at 5:30am to pee. Everything was normal. Then, I woke up at 8:15am, and couldn't quite wake up, like I was still half asleep. My eyes were burning, like I'd gotten lotion in them. I tried to wipe them, but my right shoulder wouldn't work, like I'd slept on it wrong. In trying to get up, I flipped the pillow onto my husband, and ended up sitting on the steps to the bed, braced against the wall. I thought about a tv show I'd seen, where the actress experienced a stroke, and she asked someone to look at her face when she tried smiling. I smiled. The right side felt funny. She had tried to raise both hands. I raised both hands. The right one didn't make it off my leg. My husband, awake by now, asked me if I was ok. "No," I said. "Call 911. I think I've had a stroke." He tells me that all he could understand was "Call 911." He called immediately. The paramedics were there in minutes.

Two big burly guys hustled in, joining the "I've Seen Crickett Naked" club in the process, and asked me all the pertinent questions. No, I couldn't smile. No, I couldn't raise my right hand. No, I can't squeeze your fingers any better with my right hand. No, I don't smoke. No, I don't drink much. No, I don't have family history of stroke. They couldn't get the gurney in the bedroom, so they put a robe on me, supported me over to the gurney, and started getting me out of the house.

Half way out, things changed. The paramedic didn't believe me. I grabbed his fingers with my right hand and squeezed, hard. His eyes got big, but said since they had come out, they were taking me in. I agreed. Good thing, because the symptom came back before we could even leave. He put an IV in, after several attempts, and we took off. He told me that in all his time as a paramedic, he'd never seen someone "resolve" like I'd done.

I remember seeing trees out the back window as we drove, and not much more. I remember the same questions over and over. And then we arrived at the E.R., which wasn't bustling nearly as much as I thought it would be.

I found out that peeing at 5:30 (remember that bit?) was a good thing. It meant that the stoke had to have occurred after that...which meant I was on the edge of the 3 hour window to receive the clot busting drug TPA, That may have made the weeks to follow easier.

After the TPA, they hustled me into the Cat Scan, to see if I had a brain bleed. They gave me Benadryl (I have an alergic reaction to iodine), and got ready to shoot me full of a dye so they could take pictures of my brain. They warned me that it would feel hot. Especially "in my privates." Boy, they weren't kidding! But it blew out my I.V., and I started cussing them like a sailor because the I.V. was BURNING! I resolved again, because my cursing became highly intelligible in the midst. Oh yeah, they got the pictures anyway. They put me in the MRI machine, twice. They had to elevate my legs or they would spasm and make me move too much.

I resolved 5-6 times that day. I could feel each time that it happened. I could feel my speech start slurring, and my arm control would fade away. I hoped each time the symptoms went away that maybe they wouldn't come back. But they kept coming back. At one point, I could only focus one eye. At another, my hormones went haywire, and I cried deep, racking sobs for no reason.

My husband showed up, but could only sit by my bedside. My sister and her husband drove down, but could only tell me that I was doing better than could be suspected. They picked up my daughter from the neighbor who had volunteered to take her. I can only imagine how it must have felt for the three of them, watching me, seeing the symptoms come and go, and not being able to help. It was bad enough to have no control my own body. To sit and watch it happen to someone you love must have been terrible.

Eventually, the symptoms came, and didn't go away. I had no control over the right side of my body. My right arm wouldn't work, and neither would my right leg. After about 6 hours, they moved me from the E.R. to C.C.U. They wouldn't let me eat anything, because they were afraid I would choke. They had a blood pressure cuff on my right arm for 24 hours straight, taking a reading every 15 minutes. Let me tell you...you haven't LIVED until you try to sleep with that thing attached and going off every 15 minutes. Between blowing out the I.V. and the pressure cuff, I had some monstrous bruising on both arms. I told the nurses that I didn't mind a bit...it meant I was still alive to see them!

At one point, they put me under, and slid a camera down my throat, to give me an echo-cardiogram (I think) from the inside.  They were looking to see if I had a hole in my heart that might have thrown the clot. It was definitely a good news/bad news situation. I didn't have any hole...but that crossed 1 line on the increasingly smaller list of reasons this might have happened.

Twenty-four hours in C.C.U., then 2 days in I.C.U. The indignities I went through! Bed pans, portable commodes, starting my period. But they took good care of me. I only wish I could remember their names! But after 3 days in the hospital, with Phil sleeping in the pull out chair in the room, I was discharged. Phil transported me, oh so carefully, to the acute care rehabilitation center that they highly recommended. But that's a tale for another day.

Know the signs FAST!

Facial distortion - can they smile with both sides of the mouth?
Arms - can they lift both arms and hold them at the same height?
Speech - can they repeat a simple phrase without slurring?
Time - If they have trouble with any of these things..CALL 911 immediately!

These simple test can save a life. They did mine.