Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Hello, darling readers!
One of the most common projects for crocheters to take on is a washcloth. They're useful, easy to make, and fairly inexpensive. I've tried to make them before, from 100% cotton yarn, and hated the product- they ended up being waterlogged and didn't wash off my face as well as I like. So, I avoided washcloths for a while.
I saw Lily's Sugar'n Cream Scrubbie yarn at Michaels and had to try it, because it was designed for washcloth-like items and so it gave me some hope. I took it on my trip to Savannah because it could easily fit in my carry-on and I could use the finished product right away. I used the Lion Brand Pattern Sandy Shore Washcloth set, specifically the Grit Stitch pattern (http://www.lionbrand.com/patterns/90442AD.html?noImages=). I did made a small adjustment- the pattern calls for 17 rows, which with this yarn makes too small of a washcloth for my liking, so I used the whole skein and got a medium-sized washcloth out of it.

Overall, I’m pleased with the yarn and the product. The yarn worked up fairly easily, although it did tend to get caught on itself or the needle. Also, if I worked on the project for more than 25-30 minutes, my fingers did get a little raw from the yarn. However, the washcloth works wonderfully- doesn’t hold too much water, washes and dries well, and had a nice exfoliating aspect to it. I will probably make more washcloths from this yarn. I also like the variety of colors available, so I don't have to stick with plain white.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Review- The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

Hello, darling readers!
Back in the fall, I did a review of Melanie Benjamin's Alice, I Have Been, and I wasn't too thrilled with it. For some reason, I don't seem to learn my literary lessons and I keep reading books by authors whose writing style I'm just not too fond of. Maybe it's because I keep holding out hope that I'll find one I like, or maybe it's because I've already decided I'm going to read it, so I make myself do it. Either way, it happens, and I end up not being so fond of the book (surprise, surprise). Such was the case with Ms. Benjamin's second book, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.
Ms. Benjamin certainly picked an interesting character to write about and she did a very good job of fully developing Lavinia "Vinnie" Bump. I had no idea that Tom Thumb and his wife actually existed, so the book (and subsequent Wikipedia searches) introduced me to something with which I was unfamiliar. Not only that, I was completely unfamiliar with mid-19th century life, let alone "freak show" (I hate that phrase) workings. So, to state the obvious, the book was an eye-opener.
Let me start with the positives. Melanie Benjamin does a very good job of developing her characters, even her peripheries; she does so in such a way that you get interested in them and have emotions towards them (I'l get to that one later...). She also does a very good job of sticking to historical facts and her research clearly shows in the her writing. I appreciated that Ms. Benjamin decided to make PT Barnum a likeable character, which not many would. He was genuinely caring and respectful, and I was impressed with how he was written.
I would also say that her books are easy to read and can be finished in a weekend; I do feel, however, that this one you do need to read through, rather than skip a few chapters like I did with the prior novel.
Now, the negatives. I'm not so sure it's possible for Ms. Benjamin to write a character that I like and sympathize with. At first, I genuinely liked Vinnie; I understood her feelings of being out-of-place and wanting to experience the bigger world. However, she quickly turned into a self-righteous, selfish woman who blamed others (particularly PT Barnum and Tom Thumb) for her troubles. Not only that, Vinnie did a complete reversal towards the end of the book and decided to become a master of self-pity and self-hatred, which was just as annoying. I would rather have seen her accept any unfortunate events are others' choices, rather than events that revolved around her.
Also, while I don't find Benjamin's writing to be terribly difficult to follow or her work too long to get through, I just don't like how she writes. I can't put a finger on it, but I always seem to get irritated with her novels and her characters. She does a lot of research and really thinks out what she does, but for some reason, I just can't enjoy it. So maybe I'll learn my lesson this time. We'll see.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Austentatious Crochet

Hello, darling readers!
As any crocheter knows, it is VERY difficult to find a nice crochet pattern book that doesn't involve outdated/lumpy clothes, baby blankets, or just pictures of stitches. Seriously, it sucks. The knitters out there get tons of pattern books for anything from toys to bags to clothing to you name it. Don't believe me? Go to your local book store, find the craft section, and compare the knitting shelves to the crochet shelf. Just because I'm not coordinated enough to handle two needles doesn't mean I don't deserve pretty patterns too! So, this past November/December, I learned to thank the heavens for Melissa Horozewski.
I doubt her name is familiar to you, although if you're a dedicated crocheter, you've probably seen her patterns appear in many magazines. However, you should learn to love this woman and thank her for one of the best crochet books ever created: Austentatious Crochet (http://www.amazon.com/Austentatious-Crochet-Contemporary-Designs-Austen/dp/0762441461/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1332188469&sr=8-1). Do you love Jane Austen? Do you want to make items that are useful, pretty, and don't make you envious of knitters? BUY THIS BOOK (or do what I did and tell Santa Hubby that I needed it).
This wonderful creation has at least two dozen Jane Austen-inspired patterns for women's wear, men's gifts, baby/child items, and items for the home. Not only that, they're beautiful and don't look lumpy! I've had the book since Christmas and have made two lovely projects from it, with many more planned on the way (especially the beautiful pajamas!). The patterns have large photos throughout, showing the item from various angles, and sometimes they zoom in enough that you can really see stitch detail. The directions are typically very easy to follow, but if you have any issue, you can contact Melissa directly on her facebook page and she will be kind enough (and very prompt) to answer you- yes, you read that right, the author will personally respond to you! Also, she has all sorts of tutorials and videos on her website (stitchscene.com) to help you along the way.
I honestly cannot praise this book and this author enough- do yourself a favor and try something from it! And, for you jealous knitters, nana nana boo boo!

Here are the two projects completed:
The Barton Cottage Rug
used: 4 skeins of Lion Brand Wood-Ease super bulky (two skeins of two colors)
This took me about a week to do.

The Regency Hat
used: 2 skeins of Loops and Threads Charisma
*please note- the pattern calls for a flower pin to be made and attached- I didn't do it- if you choose to, it will be two skeins of a worsted weight yarn (one in green, the other in a color of your choice)
This took me about a day to do.

Grocery Budget Part Two

Hello, darling readers!
Here is the second installment of how we eat well on less than $60 a week. I truly hope these tips are helpful for you!
7- Don't be afraid to make things from scratch. It might not turn out well, or it could rock. We've found so many delicious, affordable recipes online that would never have entered our recipe box had we been afraid to try and cook. If we were nervous about baking, there would hardly ever be cookies in our house (which would be wrong).

8- We use a giftcard to the grocery store we visit and put $240 on it each month. Our policy is that once it runs out, it runs out. It has never run out.

9- A grocery budget of $60 a week does limit what we can buy. That means alcohol is a rare treat. It also means no soda or premade drinks (we make tea, lemonade, and such here- OJ is the exception). Frozen desserts, cookies, and name brand cereals are also very rare treats. Avoid impulse buys- they really do kill your budget.

10- You don't have to shop at just one store. Hubby and I realize that one store sells certain items at a lower prices than our favorite store, so we go there too. Sometimes Target has items at a better price than the grocery stores, so we'll shop there.

11- Sometimes coupons really don't save you much money (shocking, I know). Really look at what you're thinking about buying, how much it is regularly, how much you need to buy for the discount, and then how much you'd save. Sometimes, it's just not worth it.

12- I would say that one of the best things we have done is seriously limit how often we go out to eat. Yes, some nights it is much easier to go out and have someone else cook for you- that's when we use our one-night-out a week. That also means we brown bag lunches and try very hard to only go out for lunch once a week as well. Sometimes, it's rough, but the more we eat at home, the more we save long term by not overpaying for meals and by eating what we purchase.

Again, I really hope these tips help and I would LOVE to hear some of your suggestions!

Book Review- Tales of the Jazz Age

Hello, darling readers!
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I got a Nook Simple Touch for my birthday and have been reading on it constantly. However, even at a discount, Nook books add up a little too fast for my student budget. So, I have found a plethora of wonderful classics at Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org), a site that collects book editions whose copyrights have expired and puts them out for people to download and read. It's pretty awesome and I'd like to share a review of my first download from the site.
I love F.Scott Fitzgerald- I've read all of his major novels, so when I found Tales of the Jazz Age on Project Gutenberg, I knew I had to read it. While I'm glad I did, it is certainly very different from his full novels. Tales of the Jazz Age involves about a dozen short stories (10-20 pages in length), varying from social commentary, to humor, to drama. The collection is great if you want to read on communutes or for short periods of time because the stories do not take long and are not interconnected. However, when you are used to Fitzgerald's character and plot development in his larger novels, it is a bit of a shift.
Also, I quickly realized why the stories are not recommended reading for high school- they are racist and crude. In context of the 1920s-1930s, the stories do a great job of capturing period life, slang, and opinions. However, when you read them with a modern mind, the language and attitudes are shocking. As I've said prior, I've read Fitzgerald's works; while I am by no means an expert, I can assure you that this collection is the only time I've seen such language and attitudes (the racist part, not the crude part).
Overall, I recommend them to fans of Fitzgerald- if you don't already love his work, I doubt you'll enjoy the complete selection of stories. However, no matter your fondness of the author, do yourself a favor and read "The Camel's Back"- it is hilarious!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Grocery Budget Part One

Hello, darling readers!
I know that I've mentioned it in a prior blog (Skillet Beef and Asparagus- read it, cook it!) that my husband and I live on a tight self-imposed grocery budget. We're students, so we have a fixed income that we want to make stretch as far as possible. We like to travel, we like to go see shows and movies, we like to do weekend projects, and we like to go eat out. With so many likes coupled with necessities, we have to budget everything. While certain expenses we can't exactly plan for (like the cost of gas each week or emergency vet visits because our dog ate a rock), we can plan for groceries very well and have successfully eaten very well on $60 max a week for the past year and a half. Here's how:
1- We have a KrogerPlus card. Not only does it give us some discounts each time we shop, we get points to take some cost off of our gas bill. Giant Eagle has a similar program, as I'm sure other stores do as well. Kroger also frequently sends us coupons for the items we frequently buy, so we've gotten free grape tomatoes, free ice cream, free cereal, discounts on our pet food, etc. Example of our Kroger card being awesome: last year, we saved almost $500 off of our grocery bill.

2- We make a menu and actually use it. The day we go to the grocery store, hubby and I sit down and pick out 6 meals, leaving one day open for either eating out or using up leftovers. We try to have meals that use the same ingredients each week to prevent buying tons of extra ingredients (ie- chicken nuggets one night, chicken and sausage gumbo the other). Having a menu planned helps prevent impulse buys (such as frozen meals). We also try to use the spices, oils, and vinegars we already have; while over the long run the price per use goes down, if we buy a ton at once, it gets really expensive. Our goal is to have our total meal for the night come to less than $5.

3- On the topic of frozen meals, we really try to avoid them unless they are on special or we have a good coupon for them. Aldi does have a very good garlic chicken and veggie frozen skillet dinner for less than $3 (feeds two very easily) that we like having in the freezer, but there are no frozen pizzas or frozen PF Changs unless we can get it at less than $5. We've found that frozen meals tend to be more expensive than what we cook, as well as taking just as much time to make. That also means we tend to not get "dinner in a box" items (The exception being gumbo or jambalaya- I can't do those from scratch). They're expensive and they really aren't all that healthy. Plus, they take just as much time to cook.

4- When we menu plan, we leave wiggle room on the veggies portion (I'm big on veggies with every meal). Unless the recipe requires a specific veggie, we leave the veggie item blank to account for some being on special. There have been times that broccoli has been twice the price of asparagus, or we've found green beans for 29 cents a pound. Hubby and I like a variety of veggies, so it's not a big deal to us to swap out one for the other. If we really need to purchase the more expensive veggie, we make sure to use it again that week (as in, this week we had a recipe call for asparagus, so we used it for that and as our side veggie for another meal).

5- We buy meat when it's on special (BOGO kosher hot dogs are an awesome deal), stock up, and freeze it for later. Back in January, my parents were kind enough to purchase us 2 lbs ground beef and three packages of chicken breast; I preportioned it, froze it, and that stuff lasted us for almost a month and a half. On that note, BUY HAM! If it's presliced, you can preportion it out (we tend to do about 4 slices) and freeze it, and it lasts forever.
** This also applies to other items. We really like Annie's organic mac n cheese, which is regularly $2 a box (ouch). We buy it when it's on 10 for $10 special, and it lasts us for months (by which time it's on sale again).

6- It kind of goes with the preportioning meat, so I'll say it here: PORTION CONTROL. Hubby and I have found what portions of meat let us feel pleasantly full (not stuffed, which is unhealthy)- that tends to be a 1/2 lb of ground beef (tacos, etc), 4 slices of ham (2 each), and one large chicken breast (nuggets, gumbo, etc). Because we tend to have a side dish with our meals, the smaller portion of meat works very well.

Now, this has gotten rather long, so please look for the other things we do in part 2 of my grocery budget post!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Card Album

Hello, darling readers!
So how many of us like to keep the cards sent to us for special occasions, such as birthdays, weddings, holidays, etc? I imagine I'm not the only one with a giant box filled to the brim with the cards I've received over the years- they are too special to just throw away! I wanted to figure out a way to show off my lovely wedding and engagement cards, but they didn't fit well in my albums, so they've been sitting in my card box, unlooked at and unappreciated. Until today, that it!
I'm just going to say it now: Pintrest is the devil. I've spent so much time browsing the cute things my friends post and my poor husband has become a guinea pig for all the recipes I've found. There are so many cute craft ideas floating around and I'm so glad I found this one to show off my wedding and engagement cards.
Here's where I got my inspiration: http://somethingturquoise.com/2011/11/11/diy-card-mini-album/

Items needed:
1 sheet of scrapbook paper sized cardboard (12"x12")- 59 cents each
2 sheets of scrapbook paper, color of your choice (12"x12")- 69 cents each
Brads (two)- $1.79/ box
Metal craft rings- $1.99 for two (found in the cross-stitch section)
Spool of wide ribbon, color of your choice- $3.99
Single hole punch- $5.99 each
Elmer's glue (I had on hand, but I think it's about $1). glue dots, or craft glue
Total time: about two hours

Here are some of my items. I've already cut the scrapbook paper to size.

1- Outline on the cardboard your largest (tallest and widest)- you'll need two pieces. Cut them out.

Here's how the cards and the cardboard will fit together.

2- There are a couple ways you can handle using the colored paper. My inspiration used two halves of the colors; I used a whole piece of each color, with one on the outside and one on the inside. Either way, you'll need to trace out two pieces of the colored paper to match the cardboard shape. Glue these pieces onto the cardboard (this is where I used the Elmer's- my inspiration used glue dots). If you use Elmer's or craft glue, set aside for a few hours to allow to dry.

2.5- Once everything is dry, trim off any excess you have.

3- Punch holes in the upper-left corners of the cardboard pieces and your cards, large enough that the metal ring through. Don't put on the ring yet!

4- Cut a length of ribbon long enough to wrap around the two cardboard pieces, all of the cards, and to tie a bow in the front.

5- Place two holes in the middle of the back piece of cardboard (I used my craft scissors to do so). Put two holes in the middle of the ribbon length that you cut (I used my hole punch) so that they match up to the holes on the back piece of cardboard. Attach with the brads.

Here's how it will look on the outside (the back of the album)

Here's how it will look on the inside of the album.

6- Place everything on the ring- back piece, cards, front piece. Tie ribbon and voila! A pretty, accessible card album!

*My inspiration made letter to attach to the front using more scrapbook paper. I was given a stamper as a present, so I used my stamper to place a letter on the front. You can leave yours blank, or attach whatever you would like to the front.

I love how my project turned out and I found it to be rather easy and inexpensive. Here are some front and back pictures of the final product.