Monday, December 31, 2012

12 Days of Christmas: Day Six: The Year in Review

Since this is the last day of 2012, I thought I'd take a moment to be a little reflective about the past year. And what better way to reflect on the past year than with a bunch of links to old blog posts? So without further ado, here are the highlights from Kimber's Great Adventure 2012. (Internal linking for the win!)

1. Happy Last Year on Earth
Remember when we all thought the Mayans were going to kill us? Or something. This was my first post from this year, in which I reference that now-debunked prophecy, tell you about a delightful New York New Year's tradition, and plug a DC cupcake shop.

2. Today I learned an expensive lesson
In February I discovered some troubling news about international shipping. Take my experience as a warning, dear readers.

3. The X-Files raises a lot of questions
I wrote this back in March, and I'm still trying to make my way through all of The X-Files, so I thought I'd bring it up again. These issues continue to bother me, well into Season 4, but I can't stop watching. And to be honest, I think this post was really well-written. You may disagree, but you'd better read it again to make sure.

4. A debilitating fear of mine
In April I laid bare my soul and confessed one of my greatest fears, after spontaneous human combustion, of course. There's no defense against that!

5. My 18-Hour Journey from France to Edinburgh
Thanks to a series of wacky mishaps, a simple trip from one part of Europe to another became a noteworthy adventure. As a bonus, this post includes a video of my friend Cailey recounting my reaction to a thing.

6. "Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me tooth"
In this post from July I discuss my fear of cavities. In a cruel twist of fate, I got my first filling in September. Damn you, hubris! I blame Scotland's lack of fluoridated water. I have since bought a powerful electric toothbrush and received a Waterpik for Christmas.

7. No one could say the flight was boring
On the way home from Scotland in September something awful happened to my mother. Awfully funny! I apologize for that joke. WARNING: Do not read if you have a problem reading about vomit.

8. Self-Reflection and Cheese
Because no review of my year would be complete without at least one recipe, take a minute to think back on this tutorial for homemade ricotta. I've made it many times since, and it's always a hit. Bonus Tip: If you don't like lemon-basil ricotta, you can make plain ricotta by substituting distilled white vinegar for the lemon juice. You're welcome.

9. Things "Fall Apart" (But That's a Good Thing)
This year my dear friend Joe created an awesome iPhone game, which deserves another plug. If you have an iPhone and you haven't already bought this for yourself or someone you love, you should really consider it. And then tell everyone you know to do the same.

10. IKEA 2: Return to Sanity
In this sequel to 2011's IKEA, Bringer of Madness, I return to and make peace with the popular Swedish retailer. Read about my experience and also my advice for those new to the IKEA experience.

I hope you enjoyed this retrospective, my friends. Tell me what you thought and what your favorite post of the year was in the comments section! Because you keep a list of your favorites, right?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

12 Days of Christmas: Day Five: Paint Sample Calendars

In addition to my very young nieces and nephews, I have three older nieces, aged 13, 17, and 19. As with the younger kids, I wanted to make something for Christmas that would appeal to all three of them and would be somewhat utilitarian. I found an awesome tutorial for paint sample calendars and decided to try my hand at it. So here goes.

Project #4: Paint Sample Calendar

  • Frame (Following the advice of the tutorial, I got one from IKEA named NYTTJA. They have a picture width of 11.75" by 15.75" and only cost $3.99.)
  • Poster board for mounting
  • Paint swatches
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Straight edge 
  • Wet- or dry-erase marker
  • Velcro
1. First, let's talk about paint swatches. When I started this project, I was under the impression that Lowe's would give me one of those big paint swatch books and I could just rip the strips I wanted out of it. Not so. Nowadays (at Lowe's, anyway), free paint swatches do not come in long convenient strips. They come in very inconvenient squares that you would need to individually cut to size for this project. What I did was sweet-talk the Lowe's guy into letting me borrow the book of paint swatch strips, which I then took home, chose the colors I wanted and scanned them into my computer. My boyfriend later pointed out that I could have just scanned one strip and then changed the colors on the computer. If you are computer savvy, feel free to do that. In the end it was a bit annoyed but worked fine to just scan all the colors I wanted.

2. OPTIONAL STEP: I didn't want the names of the paint colors on my swatches. I thought they would be distracting. So I used the eyedropper tool in Paint to match the paint colors and then color out the words on the swatches.

3. Cut/print swatches to size. If you use the NYTTJA frame, a 2" width for each strip works well. If you're using a different frame, keep in mind that you need seven strips to fit comfortably within your picture area so size accordingly. Since all of my strips were scanned into the computer, I just used the ruler in Word to make sure they were all 2" wide and then the lengths adjusted around that.

4. Secure swatches to poster board. I don't have pictures of this process, but what worked well for me was placing all of the strips down first with a little tape to make sure my spacing was good and then individually gluing them down while leaving the other strips in place for reference.

5. Place completed poster board in frame.

6. Since I gave this as a gift, I wanted to include the writing utensil. You can use a dry-erase marker, but I opted to go with wet-erase, like you would use on overhead projector pages. My rationale was that wet-erase stays on better and would be less likely to fade over the course of a month and the point of the pen is finer for writing on the calendar. Plus, dry-erase can be difficult to remove after a long time, and wet-erase can be cleaned with just a wet paper towel.

And that's it! I did three calendars, each in the favorite color of the niece in question. Then I filled in January to get them started. Needless to say, they loved them. Or at least pretended to.

12 Days of Christmas: Day Four: Brownies in a Jar

I've been wanting to do this for a couple of years, and this crafty Christmas seemed like a good time.

Project #3: Brownies in a Jar

Mixes in a jar really appeal to me for some reason. They combine the craftiness of scratch-made food with the ease of store-bought mixes. The idea, if you've never seen it, is that you put all of the dry ingredients for a given recipe in a jar, measured out and usually layered in a decorative way. Then you give it as a gift, along with instructions for adding wet ingredients and cooking. It's like giving them brownies, except the jars keep longer and the receiver gets to share the glory of making something delicious. 

Ok, so brownies in a jar. 

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup dutched cocoa (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup peanut butter chips
  • 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chips
1. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. 

2. Layer ingredients in a quart-size jar in the following order: sugar, cocoa, flour mixture, peanut butter chips, and semi-sweet chips. Tap the jar a bit after each layer to allow the layer to settle. By the time you get to the chips, you might have to push everything down a bit to make it all fit. 

3. Attach a label with the following instructions and give as a gift. 
  • Heat oven to 350 F.
  • In a large bowl, mix 1/2 cup (1 stick) of melted and cooled butter and 2 eggs, lightly beaten, with the contents of the jar.
  • Pour into greased 8x8 baking pan.
  • Bake for 35 minutes. 
Here are some labels I made if you don't want to write all that out:

Friday, December 28, 2012

12 Days of Christmas: Day Three: Homemade Play-Dough

I spent a lot of time over the past few weeks agonizing over what to get my youngest nieces and nephews for Christmas. There are four of them between the ages of 1 1/2 and 5. I wanted something I could make that would be appropriate for all of them and, let's be honest, wouldn't cost a lot of money. Which led me to...

Project #2: Homemade Play-Dough

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup salt
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • food coloring
1. Mix dry ingredients (flour, salt, cream of tartar) in a 2-quart saucepan.

2. Add water and oil and heat over medium-low, stirring constantly.

3. As you stir, the mixture will start to solidify. When you notice it starting to thicken, add food coloring and mix in. It's much easier to add at that stage than waiting until it's totally cooked.

4. Keep stirring. Your arm may start to tire, but within a few minutes the mixture will thicken and start to pull away from the sides of the saucepan. You'll know it's done when it has become a blob of play-dough! It'll be easy to get out of the pan because the dough will want to stick to itself.

5. Set aside to let it cool and then store in an airtight container or plastic Ziplock bag. 

This recipe yields about 2 cups of play-dough. I made four batches, each in a different color, and then divided each batch into four half-cup servings.

Here are the things that were great about this:
  • It was fast.
  • It was easy.
  • It wasn't expensive.
  • The kids loved it. 
  • The play-dough is non-toxic. 
  • I can now make replacement dough for Cranium. 
  • You get to play with play-dough!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

12 Days of Christmas: Day Two: Photo Tile Coasters

This Christmas I decided to go the frugal route and make most of my presents. So for the next few days, I'm going to post tutorials for my many gift projects. Happy Crafting!

Project #1: Photo Tile Coasters

  • 4" x 4" ceramic tiles
  • Modge Podge
  • Paintbrush
  • Scissors
  • Printed photos
  • Clear acrylic spray paint
  • Cork lining
1. Go to Lowe's, Home Depot, or wherever fine tiles are sold. Okay, not necessarily "fine." I got the cheapest tiles I could get. In retrospect, perhaps I should've paid a little more and gotten smooth ones instead of the textured tiles I ended up with, but I'll address that a little later.

2.Choose which photos you would like to turn into coasters. Re-size them to be the same size and shape as your tiles, in this case 4 in. by 4 in. square.

3. Print. You can use regular computer paper or something fancier if you want. I went with a slightly thicker stock but nothing too special. I also discovered that fading the color of the pictures before printing resulted in less color bleeding in the Modge Podge step. Feel free to play around with it. I did four test coasters before I finally got it right.

4. Cut out your pictures. I cut them slightly smaller than the face of the tiles to avoid having paper stick out over the edges.

5. Modge Podge time! Using a paintbrush, put a thin layer of Modge Podge on the surface of the tile. Before it has time to dry, place your picture atop the Modge Podge and smooth out any air bubbles. This is where the texture of the tiles became a bit of a problem. Working around the grooves in the surface made it difficult to remove the bubbles without messing up the slightly damp paper. However, the resulting texture did look neat, so just follow your heart. But if I were to do this again I would probably choose smooth tiles.

6. Once the picture is placed and the air bubbles are gone, paint a layer of Modge Podge over the entire surface of the picture and around the edges of the tile to ensure it is completely sealed. This is the stage at which I observed bleeding of the colors. Work quickly and don't brush more than you have to to completely cover the picture in Modge Podge. Or maybe you like the bleeding colors effect. In that case, have at it. Again, a test coaster may be in order.

[A word of advice: If you do mess up on your Modge Podging, miss some air bubbles, or you just don't like how the color looks, let the tile dry completely before removing the picture. If you try to rinse off wet Modge Podge it will be sticky and difficult. If you let it dry first, you will be able to peel off the photo fairly easily.]

7. Make sure the Modge Podge has completely covered the picture, sealing it to the tile, and let dry completely. Spray with clear acrylic paint for final sealing and waterproofing and to give the coasters a bit of shine. (You can get matte spray paint if you don't want the shine.) The Modge Podge is itself a sealant, but I do recommend this step as sort of a precautionary measure. You don't want to find later that the Modge Podge is letting in some water.

8. The last step is to affix something to the bottom of your tiles so that they don't mess up your furniture. You can use cork, felt, or even little rubber dots. I went with some cork lining I found at the hobby store because it was thin and already had adhesive attached. All I had to do was cut it to a little smaller than the tiles, peel off the backing, and stick it on.

And that's it! I made sixteen tiles, which ended up being a day-long project, partly because of my trials and errors. But it was worth it for a lovely (and functional!) keepsake that my family members loved.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

12 Days of Christmas: Day One: Some Clarification

Just so we're clear, the Twelve Days of Christmas are NOT the twelve days leading up to Christmas. They are, in fact, the twelve days after Christmas, ending on January 6, which is celebrated on the Christian calendar as Epiphany. Epiphany, for those who don't know, is a Christian feast day commemorating the visitation by the Wise Men of the baby Jesus.

Ok, so now that we're all on the same page, I will begin my "12 Days of Christmas" series of blog posts. It's my gift to you. For the next eleven days I will post something every day, ultimately devolving into meaningless nonsense as I try to consistently produce interesting content. So enjoy that!

For this first day, I'm lobbing myself a softball and just posting this funny recording in honor of that most repetitive of Christmas carols...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Adventures in Housewifery: Getting Wax Out of Clothes

Today I learned an amazing household cleaning trick. So amazing that I want to share it with the World! I had lit a candle for some air-freshening and ambience somehow managed to pour wax all over my pants. Don't ask how; I don't want to talk about it. Anyway, here I am with wax all over my only really good pair of black pants, and I know enough about wax stains to know that throwing it in the laundry would not be a good idea.

So I turn to my trusty Google and ask it how to remove wax from clothing. And voilĂ ! Amazing trick!
  1. Get an iron. 
  2. Get some paper towels. 
  3. Place paper towels over waxy places. 
  4. Iron. 
  5. The wax will re-melt and be absorbed by the paper towels. 
And that's it! Wax removed! So easy someone with a rudimentary understanding of ironing could do it. Just make sure to completely cover the wax with paper towel before you start ironing so as not to melt the wax further into the fabric. I hope you all spill wax everywhere sometime soon so you can try this out. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Recommendation: Truth/Ideals

Perennial favorite of the blog, Julie Slonecki, released a new album last month that is shaping up to be my favorite album of the year. Truth/Ideals marks a new level of excellence in Slonecki's already impressive oeuvre. As usual, she blends really catchy melodies with beautiful harmonies, imaginative guitar riffs, and insightful lyrics, but this third album pushes the limits of genre, blending Slonecki's trademark folk sound with elements of hip hop, electronica, and rock to create something that is surprising in both its cohesion and its production value. The quality of Slonecki's work makes the fact that she produces it herself all the more impressive. 

Slonecki has spent the last couple of years gigging in Charleston, SC, building a following and making a name for herself, as well as collaborating with other musicians who have helped to shape her exciting new direction. There was recently a great article about her the Charleston City Paper. Check out it to read what Slonecki herself has to say about the album.  

It's hard for me to pick a favorite track on this album because they're all so good. I love the bluesy sound of "Lay Me in the River," the upbeat pop vibe of "Garden Gnome," and singing along to "Erase." But you need to listen to it and decide which is your favorite. 

You can find Truth/Ideals on Julie Slonecki's website