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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Apple Pie Moonshine

If, for some reason, you've found yourself the proud owner of a quart of moonshine and think to yourself, 'Gee, I wonder if my lawn mower will run on this stuff?' do your tongue a favor and make it into Apple Pie.

I found a basic recipe on the internet, from and updated it a little.

What you'll need:
1 quart or 1 liter - moonshine or grain alcohol.  You can use Everclear, but if it's not at least 190 proof it's not going to be as strong.  Yes, a quart is less than a liter - a liter is 1.056 U.S. quarts.  If this difference bothers you, take a swig - there, now it's even.  A quart jar is probably what you have if you personally know the maker of the moonshine, a liter may be your option if you're buying it commercially, if that's even legal in your state.  It probably isn't, but I'm not going to judge how and where you obtain your moonshine.
1 gallon - apple juice - yes, I said GALLON
1 gallon - apple cider - yes, there's a difference.  If you don't see something labeled as cider in the grocery store (it's usually kept refrigerated) look for Simply Apple over in the orange juice section, if it's cloudy, it's cider.
2 1/2 cups - white sugar (you may want to substitute that last half a cup with brown sugar, I haven't tried it yet, but I plan on it)
24 - cinnamon Jolly Ranchers - umm, unwrapped, of course.
1/4 tsp. - allspice (if you have Apple Pie Spice, that'll work too)
1 tsp - vanilla  (if you want more than that after you taste it, feel free to add more)
at least an 8 qt stock pot, preferably a 10 qt.
9 - 1 quart mason jars

Keep in mind, that you're combining two gallons of stuff together, so you're going to need a minimum of an 8 qt. stock pot.  That 5 qt. crockpot isn't going to work unless you're halving the recipe.  Combine the apple juice, apple cider, sugar, and jolly ranchers together in the pan. Sprinkle your allspice on top, stir, and bring to a boil.  The Jolly Ranchers are going to stick to the bottom, you'll have to do a fancy little stir/scrape maneuver to keep popping them off the bottom until they melt.  Once it boils and you're certain all of the sugar and candy have melted, turn off the stove.  Add your vanilla flavoring, stir it in, and then let the mixture sit for a while to cool off.  This takes a few hours.  Once it's cool, you can add the alcohol.  This can be tricky if you only have an 8 qt pot, because it's already full.  Basically I poured the alcohol into the jars, making it as even as I could, then filled them all the rest of the way with the juice mixture.  You can enjoy it immediately, but some of the harshness of the moonshine is smoothed out if you let it sit in the fridge for a few weeks.  Remember, keep it refrigerated - just because it's in a Mason jar doesn't mean you really 'canned' it, with the amount of sugar in it bacteria will still grow if you leave it out at room temperature.

So go forth my lovelies, and make some apple pie your friends will kill for, just don't let it knock you on your butt - it's sneaky like that.  Tie a ribbon around a jar and give it away for Christmas, your friends will actually want this gift.  Whatever you do, DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE! Drink and nap, like normal people.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I wrote a book...

If you'll recall, my last post was about Nanowrimo and that I'd finally broken 50,000 words.  Well, in the last two weeks I've taken that bundle of words and disjointed dialogue, shaped it, molded it, and turned it into a book.  Playing Dirt, which can now be purchased as an Ebook on

How did that happen?  Well, mostly with Pinterest.   If you're as old as I am (35) then you may recall The Little, Brown Handbook where you had to search out all of your questions for punctuation and grammar when writing a story or research paper.  This is what we had, there was no Google, and generally my teachers would never answer a question unless you could not find the answer in the Handbook.  It was frustrating.  Now though, there are some fabulous blogs and online articles about proper editing, and I'd like to take a moment and post some links for some of the best ones I found in my search.  No, I can't say that I hit the pinnacle of grammatical perfection, I'm sure there are still many errors, but it is definitely better than it was when I stopped at the end of November. 

First, The Editor's Blog.  As I was doing what I thought was my final edit, I had a vague niggling at the back of my mind about lower case letters starting after dialogue, but I couldn't remember why, or when I would use it.  This saved me, well, it caused me another run through of editing because I was doing it all wrong, but it was very clear and easy to understand.

Second, Writer's Digest: What To Look For When Editing Your Manuscript.  I loved this article, and it really helped me focus on the things I needed to look for.  Especially rule# 5 - The Audible Read.  If it doesn't flow well when you're reading it aloud, then you've screwed something up.  Go fix it.

This, from The Write Life.  Actually, everything from The Write Life, it's an excellent blog and I really suggest reading a few articles before you get started.


And finally, if you're going to publish to Amazon Kindle, you really need to download the free book from Amazon about how to format your work so that it will work on the Kindle platform, Building Your Book For Kindle. 

If you're really bored, or just want to waste more time while you're supposed to be writing something, I've got a whole bunch of tips, funny writing ecards, and other blog links on my 'Writing' Pinterest board.

Go forth, and create!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

NANOWRIMO - National Novel Writing Month

Okay, so how's this for I Can Totally Do That?  Write a novel in a month?  Sure, why not? Challenge accepted.

So a friend sends me a message in October saying, hey, do you want to try nanowrimo with me?  I, of course respond, "What the heck is that? Some sort of pokemon crap?"

Well, the short answer - no.

It is now November 28th, so I'm not going to make it, but thought I'd let you all know of the effort I gave it. First, let me explain the challenge.  The month of November is THE month in question, you, the writer are challenged to write 50,000 words during this 30 day period.  You update your word count yourself, occasionally pasting the entirety of your writing into a little box; it doesn't save you novel, just verifies the word count, and then shows you your stats - how many words a day you're averaging, how many you need to average to get done, when you are really going to get done if you keep writing as slow as you are now...stuff like that.

You get weekly updates from published writers with hints and tips, which is really nice when you're in week 2 thinking, WHHHHYYYYY am I subjecting myself to this, I'm never going to write anything that anyone will ever want to read.   Waaahhhhhh....  They encourage to go get more coffee and keep plugging away.  You also get to see a breakdown of your region, and they post on their own forums.  The Huntington, WV group has it's own fabulous Facebook page to encourage one another and meet for 'write-ins' which I've never done because bringing children along would defeat the purpose.  All in all, I really recommend it.  It has been fun.  I'm only at 36k words and a little over halfway done with my archaeologist/cop romance novel, but by golly I AM going to finish it.  (nanowrimo thinks by Dec. 11th at the rate I'm going)

Now, by finish, I don't mean ready to upload to Amazon Self Publishing, I mean, the first draft will be written.  I have whole chunks of this that are just dialogue, run on sentences, duplicated phrasing (my biggest pet peeve of 50 Shades is the repetitiveness, okay, he has LONG fingers, we get it already), but the story will be written, the rest is just editing....and re-editing...and then having someone who actually knows how to edit, edit it.  THEN it will be ready.

If you're interested in my effort, check out Chapter 1:
Playing Dirty

And if you're interested in being challenged to write a novel in a month (next November), here's the link.

I hope you enjoy, and I'll let y'all know if I ever finish editing it! ;)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Quick and Easy Costume 'Skin'

 So you want to be a zombie for Halloween, and you've watched every episode of FaceOff but still have no idea how to pull it off.  Let me show you how I faked it.

You will need:
Rubber Cement
Acrylic Craft Paint - red, black, white, green, and the closest color you can find to your own skin tone.
A paintbrush is helpful, but you can use the corner of a paper towel or even your finger.
Baby oil (to remove the rubber cement)
Dish washing liquid (to remove the baby oil)
Corn starch, flour, or talc

First and foremost, if you have sensitive skin, I don't advise trying this.  It takes a lot of effort and scrubbing to get the rubber cement back off your skin, so if you think any of the above ingredients may break you out in hives, don't risk it.  (Unless it adds to your costume, ya know, your choice)  Also, if you have a lot of hair where you plan on applying this, shave it off now.  Trust me, you'll thank me later.

Yes, it looks like snot covered tissues.  Yum.
Decide where you want your 'wound' to be placed, then slap some rubber cement on it. As you smear it on, keep in mind that a thin coat is best because even thick globs will flatten out as it dries, so you won't get more texture just a longer drying time.  Let the first layer dry, this takes about 3 or 4 minutes.  Then rip your tissue into strips and lay them down to create the 'edges' of the wound.  Brush over the tissue strips with rubber cement, making sure you get the outside edges laid down flat, you want the inner edges to stick up a little.  If it's not perfect, don't worry, you're going to paint over it anyway, and well, chances are, wherever you're going will be dark so no one will notice.

Then paint.  I painted the tissue the color I found closest to my skin color, then using the same brush (no need to clean it) mixed some red and black together and laid that down the middle as 'gore'.   When I was satisfied with that, I mixed some more of the flesh tone with the red and dabbed it on with my fingers to make a 'bruised' area around the wound, like it's been festering; some black vein marks would be very acceptable.  Since I was going as a zombie, I mixed some green and white with my fingers and kind of smeared it around on the other areas of my arms, to give my skin a greenish tint.  This whole process took about 15 minutes from start to finish.  You could get much more involved with it, but if you're looking for something quick, this works really well.

The hardest part of this whole process - getting it back off.  The paint is acrylic, it will wash right off with water (not rain proof, I'll warn you now!) but the rubber cement, not so much.  Baby oil will dissolve the cement and it makes a lovely rubbery/oily goo.  I recommend using some dish soap to remove most of the oil, then throw a handful of corn starch on it.  Flour or talcum powder would work too, you just need something that will soak up the rest of the oil.  Then, rub thoroughly.  It should peel off pretty easily after that. 
Almost as good as waxing, you didn't need all those useless hairs anyway.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Zebra-fied Corkboard

Yes, even a plain, boring $10 Walmart cork board can be zebra-fied.  I think it's necessary for a 10 year old girl to be able to pin stuff up on something other than the drywall, and let's face it, a big brown rectangle isn't going to fit into the 'decor'.  And so began my shopping trip.

You will need:
*A corkboard, whatever size you want, I used a 2'x3' that I found for $9.97 at Wal-Mart.  I considered just buying cork tiles and making one myself, but honestly it was cheaper to just buy the board already in a frame.  
*A can of white or pink spray paint.  I used white, but you could do pink with zebra stripes if that's your thing.
*Black acrylic paint.
*Trim - something fuzzy, sparkly, shiny....your options are endless.
*A hot glue gun, and ya know, the glue sticks for it.
*A spoon. 

Step 1.)  Brush any loose dust and debris from the corkboard and go spray paint it.  I used an entire can of paint on this board, so if you go bigger you may want to buy two cans.  Even so, you can see that there are areas that could have been covered better, but honestly she's going to have it covered in artwork and magazine clippings within 10 minutes of me hanging it up, so I wasn't concerned about splotches.  Again, my standard warning when using spray paint, protect your area from overspray, and make sure you're in a well ventilated area.  If you start singing show-tunes five minutes in, you may need some fresh air.  Could you use white acrylic paint and a brush? Probably, but you'd want to prime it first, and ain't nobody got time for that.

See how uneven it is? The cork sucks the paint up immediately.  Luckily it doesn't need to be perfect,
you won't notice once you paint the zebra stripes on.

Step 2.)  Find a reference for your zebra stripes.  Google is wonderful thing and every time I use it I wonder how I made it through high school without it.  Find something you like and try to copy it; it's very hard to screw up zebra stripes.  Just try to keep your lines smooth and not straight, if that makes any sense.  You can create tiny little stripes or big bold stripes, it's a very personal thing.  Alternately, you can let your child draw/paint their own stripes, and if it looks weird you can blame it on them. :)  I went with a 'zebra skin' effect, and it took about 2 hours to paint it on.  I was using a good quality acrylic paint from a tube, but I honestly think a cheap craft paint would have been easier, just make sure it's gloss; a flat paint may flake off later.  My paint was too thick and had to be thinned with water, but if I added too much water it would start to run down the board.  I was completely over the whole thing by the time I was halfway done.   

Aaaaannnnd glue and twist and push,
aaaannnnd glue and twist and push...
Step 3.)  Trim it.  Seriously I stood in Wal-Mart for ten minutes with three different yarns and two spools of ribbon in the 'seat' of my cart trying to decide what I wanted to do.  There were fluffy yarns with crystals woven into them, fluffy and glittery, just fluffy, ribbon that was solid hot pink glitter, ribbon that was just pink and shiny...I had a really hard time deciding. I went with fluffy- there was 129 yards of it, so I knew I could use several strands along each side and make it nice and fuzzy.  If I had it to do over again, I would have went with the glittery ribbon, it would have been a lot easier to glue onto the edges.
I spent about 15 minutes cutting lengths of my fuzzy yarn, about 8 per edge, and then started in one corner hot gluing them on.  I didn't make one long length of glue, I did three spots on the short ends and 5 on the long ends (not counting the giant globs in the corners) and twisting the pieces of yarn so that even if one of the lengths didn't get stuck in one glue glob, it would get stuck in the next glob. (Don't you love these technical terms?)
This could be your fingers.  Don't
let this be your fingers.
Now, you're probably wondering where the spoon comes into play.  Hot glue is, well, hot.  Low-temp glue is hot, but it sets up almost immediately and you won't die if you get it on your fingers.  Not so for high-temp glue guns.   High-temp glue is like lava and stays hot for three or four minutes.  For this project a low-temp is fine, we're dropping glue then pressing in the yarn one spot at a time.  I used the back of a spoon to push the yarn pieces into the glue without burning my fingers....again.  Seriously, it hurts.  When you're done, trim your corners, and hang!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Basil Pepperoni Cheese Sticks

One of the joys of having children is trying to find new snacks for your child's school lunch.  This is a story about how a snack gone wrong was corrected.  
My darling son insisted that he was the only child in the whole wide world that didn't get string cheese in his lunch, so I bought some.  Upon tasting it he refused to actually eat it, and my daughter insisted that it was gross to look at and she didn't even want to touch it.  Now I of course hadn't just bought 'some',  I had bought this huge bag of mozzarella that no one wanted to eat.  Great.
Then I found a picture on Pinterest of mozzarella cheese sticks wrapped in a wonton wrapper with some pepperoni, and thought, 'Aha!'.  Unfortunately it was just the picture, there was no link to the directions or to the original blogger, so I don't even know who to credit for this fabulous idea.  I did take it a step further though, and added some fresh basil, because I was just lamenting earlier today that I have this big healthy basil plant in my flowerbed and no idea what to do with it (be prepared to see new basil recipes as I figure it out.)

What you'll need it:
Egg Roll Wrappers
Mozzarella Cheese Sticks
Fresh basil leaves.
A cup with water in it (just a little)
A pan of oil 325 -350 degrees.    

Fresh basil has a really strong flavor, so if you 'like' the taste, but don't 'love' the taste, you may want to halve even those little strips.  A little goes a long way.

Slap two more pieces of pepperoni on this side, and fold the ends in first.  You can just do three pieces if you want to pretend you're making healthier, but really....

 Flip one end over, so that it looks like an envelope and then dip your finger into your cup of water and run it along the edges of the bigger flap, so the wrapper will seal tight.

When you first start to roll it it's going to be loose and weird because you've got a lot stuffed in there, but it will tighten up as you roll.  Get a couple of them rolled up before you start dropping them into the oil so you don't get distracted and burn them.  If the oil is between 325 and 350 degrees it should be hot enough to cook but not so hot that the outside crisps up before your cheese gets gooey.  They really need to cook for about a minute and a half to get the cheese warm (cold cheese inside is...not good).  Two sticks are plenty to fill you up, and if you have some leftover marinara, by all means, dip away!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Tooth and Nail

So I've mentioned that my dad has a sawmill, and I thought I'd give him some space here.  He owns a mobile sawmill and woodcraft shop in Milton, WV, making furniture, crafts, and wooden dulcimers and psalteries. So, what is a mobile sawmill?

The log is strapped to the black metal base and the saw (seen at the other end) runs horizontally on rails down it's length, creating board lumber. 
I thought I'd post some pics of all the things he creates from that lumber.

He made this dining room table and side bench.
Dulcimers and Psalteries, he even made the bows!

Rocking chairs.

Cutting boards.

Quilt racks.
A fishing rod holder.

Bark silhouettes created from the slab of bark cut from a log while it's being squared off.

Blanket chests.

Since he has retired, he spends most of his time out in the woodshop, making all of these fabulous works of art.  He's been known to make a gun stalk or two, even caskets!  Basically, if you can dream it up, dad will find a way to build it.  If you want to see more, check out his Facebook page at Tooth  and Nail!

Dad out in the shop.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Zebra Striped Ceiling Fan

The Zebra-fied Ceiling Fan

My daughter is 10, which, in decorating terms, translates to all things hot pink and zebra striped.  Judging from the craft stores, this is a known affliction for the preteen crowd.  While I draw the line at painting black zebra stripes on the wall (I have no interest in applying three coats of primer two years from now when this fad is over), but I'm fine with some zebra-ish touches.  Bedding and curtains are easy, but what about the ceiling fan?  The one in her room is probably 10 years older than she is, and definitely looks it's age; what better candidate for some pizzazz?

I've found multiple examples of decorating ceiling fans on the internet (when I say 'the internet' read 'Pinterest'), where the blades have been covered in fabric or paper.  I considered going that route, but I'm imagining little folds and creases on the top of the blade, which is only going to make it harder for me to dust without ripping the fabric/paper down.  I could probably cut it to the exact size of the blade and trim any edges without folding them over the top, but let's face it, I'm too lazy for that.  Lucky for me the blades are already white, and I already have black paint, so I think you can see where I'm going with this.

First and foremost, it had to come down.  Be warned, I dropped every single screw that held the fan blades on.  Every last one, sooooo... before we could get started we had an impromptu screw hunt.  Then it needed cleaned.  Ummm....yeah.  The fan housing probably hasn't been disassembled since it was first put up, and a family of dust bunnies had moved in... and then multiplied.  I used plain white vinegar, but rubbing alcohol or some type of degreasing cleaner could also have been used.  Don't use a dusting spray, it has wax in it and the paint won't stick later.  Remove the brackets from the fan blades, the screw heads are on the back, or what is normally the top of the blade.  There should be a screw or two holding the cover to the fan motor, and once you have the blades off this is really easy to take off.

Yes, I had dandelion fuzz, it happens.
I did have to make a trip to the store to get some hot pink spray paint, because that isn't something I normally keep lying around the house. I didn't scuff it or sand it, I just cleaned it up and sprayed it with a can of 'Watermelon' Indoor/Outdoor Gloss Krylon.  Pay attention to the can, I prefer a gloss because I like the shine, and it will make cleaning it easier.  Satins or mattes are great as long as you never touch them, the smallest fingerprint will show up in glaring relief.  If you're going to spray paint, make sure you use newspaper or a drop cloth, that the temperature outside is within range of the recommendation on the side of the can (not too hot, not too cold), and that it's not particularly windy.  You don't want your neighbor's brand new car to have a lovely hot pink overspray (they won't like that a bit).  Also, if it's windy, you have a really good chance of getting dandelion fuzz, gnats, or other unwanted outside elements stuck in your paint, this will probably still happen to some degree if you're outside, but you can pick it out and spray over it, the paint will level back out.  If you've never spray painted anything before, don't be intimidated.  Just remember the rule, 'don't stop'.  Don't let go of the trigger while you're still spraying at your target, sweep past it before let off.  If you spray too much in one spot the paint will run, so keep the can moving.  Krylon dries pretty fast, so within 10 minutes you can flip everything over and go at it from another side.  And if you have to respray it, say, if you happen to drop the cover on your head while you're trying to put it up, and it falls to the floor and rolls around a little bit, you're only going to be a few minutes behind schedule.

I painted the blades while the cover and brackets were drying.
The blades were easy.  Zebra stripes aren't rocket science; if you drip some paint - oh look, that stripe goes over here now to cover that up.  I painted the stripes pretty large because I wanted it to be bold, and a smaller pattern would have been too busy.  I recommend laying the blades side by side while you're painting, to make sure your stripes are all the same size.  I did have to do a second coat of the black paint, because the white on the blades was a gloss, and the brush strokes were pretty evident.

Once your paint is dry, and hopefully you haven't lost all your screws, you get to put it all back together again.  Put the brackets back on the blades, and remember to put the cover back on first. (You don't want to spend 5 minutes putting the blades back on to have to take them back off to get the cover on.)  Truthfully, this was the hardest part. If my daughter didn't have a bunk bed so she was able to hold the blades while I screwed them back in, I would have required my husband to assist on another ladder.  As it was, I had her hold the blade I was attaching, and my son gathering the screws I kept dropping.  It was an act worthy of a three ring circus, but all told, this entire project only took about an hour.

Shotgun Shell Wreath

The Shotgun Shell Wreath

Wreath #1

What you will need:

* 12” straw wreath form                                 
* Approximately 200 used shotgun shells
* Floral wire – 24-28 gauge (I used 24)         
* Wire cutters
* Hot Glue Gun                                             
* Ribbon, raffia and fall garland or picks for filler
* Stencil burner, or wood burning tool with pointy tip, or dremel

I found a shotgun shell wreath on Pinterest, and showed it to my dad, a hunter of many years, who agreed that it was a cute idea.  He then surprised me by saying, “I have four boxes of used shotgun shells that I was getting ready to throw out, you want them?”  To which I replied, “Sure, what the heck.”

I took home two boxes of shells, stopping at A.C. Moore along the way to pick up some straw wreaths, some fall garland, burlap ribbon, ya know, the things I figured I might possibly need.  When I got home with my new acquisitions, I settled down on the couch with a dog or two and my laptop, thinking that I would click on the picture I had pinned to look up the directions on how to make this wreath, as per usual. 

File not found.

A Google search showed me other style options, but no directions.  Some looked like the one I had pinned, some were just hot glued straight to the wreath, and others had white Christmas lights shoved down into the shells to make a lighted wreath, which was cute, but more complicated than what I had in mind.  I saw that people were selling them on Etsy, but I figured they would be unwilling to spill all of their secrets so that I could make it myself.  So, I’m creative, I can figure this out…surely.
I knew I wanted the shells to hang, which would require making holes in the end, but how?  I spent a week with this problem simmering in the back of my mind, pulling it out occasionally to stir.  I considered using a drill, but figured that in order to prevent drilling through any body parts I would have to put each shell in the vice, which we have in the garage, but I didn’t want to stand out there for hours putting shells in one by one and drilling through them.  This is absolutely an option, albeit a slow one.
  Then I remembered that I had bought a stencil burner years ago when I was convinced that I should start airbrushing motorcycle helmets (don't ask).  It had never been used, but luckily, I remembered where I had stashed it.  Did it work? Like butter.
An hour later, I had a box of shells with a hole in either side.  I used the crimped line to make sure I was making all the holes the same distance from the top of the shell.  If you don't have a stencil burner you could surely use a wood burning tool, as long as you don't mind if it gets melted plastic on it.  A dremel or drill would work too, but may be more labor intensive.

The Devil's Shrink Wrap.
If you've never worked with a straw wreath, let me give you some advice - you're going to make a mess.  Like, a huge mess.  Little pieces of hay are going to fall all over the place, and I don't know if this is true for all brands of straw wreath, but for the two I purchased, the very act of getting them unwrapped was a 2-3 minute process.  The straw is wrapped in fishing line, so don't think you're going to take a knife to the plastic wrap and just pull out a wreath.  The plastic wrap was wrapped, and wrapped, and wrapped again, so I was frustrated before I even began to build the wreath.  To add insult to injury, the ends of the fishing line weren't actually tied together, so I had to do that myself and dab a little hot glue on them to make sure it held.

It's this easy.
For this, my first wreath, I cut a length of wire long enough to go around the outside edge of the wreath, plus a few inches for slack and to be able to twist it together, and started stringing up shells.  If you have children that you trust not to poke their eye out with floral wire, I suggest delegating this task.  It took about 50 shells for the outside edge, and I left a gap at the top because I knew I was going to tie a big burlap ribbon around the top and didn’t want shells in the way.

I took a piece of raffia and tied the wire down in about 5 places around the wreath, in an effort to keep it in place.  It didn’t work, but that was the thought process.  I did a total of 4 loops of shells, tying them on with raffia and pushing the wire into the top of the wreath after I twisted the ends together.  Then I picked it up and everything went berserk.  It looked fabulous lying on the table, but gravity wasn’t as kind when I hung it up.  After a few moments of rearranging the shells that were sticking out in all directions, it looked better, but there were several empty spots.  I filled those in with some fall garland and a glue gun, tied my ribbon to the top, and stuck a bow on it.
The problem with this wreath, is that it weighs about 3 pounds., and all that weight on the wires made them pull forward, so all of my fancy tying with raffia did virtually nothing.  I went back with an 8 inch length of floral wire, and wrapped it around each of the four wires holding the shells in six different places around the wreath.  This tightened up the wires and helped to keep them evenly spaced, and seems to have fixed the issue.

Wreath #2

What you will need:

* 12” straw wreath form                                         
* Approximately 126 used shotgun shells
* Floral wire – 24-28 gauge (I used 24)                
* Wire cutters
* Hot Glue Gun                                                       
* Ribbon, raffia and fall garland or picks for filler
* A clay pigeon
* Stencil burner, or wood burning tool with pointy tip, or dremel

So you’ll notice that the…ummm…ingredients…are almost the same, this version just requires less shells.

Instead of making long loops, this time I opted to wrap them around the short way.  For the size wreath I used, it took 9 shells to go from the inside to the outside and still be flat on the back, so your results may vary.  I used about 10-12" of wire for each string, because I like to have a little extra instead of it being too short to twist.  I started at the bottom, well, I picked a spot to start and that became the bottom, and made 7 rows of shells, making sure the bottom of the shells overlapped the top of the row beneath it.  I found it easier to lay the wreath 'face-down' and push the string of shells under it, then tie from the back, making sure the first and last shell matched up with the ones below it. Once the wreath was completed, I pushed the extra wire back into the wreath to keep it from shifting.

I considered doing this overlapping pattern all the way around in just one direction, but figured I should play nice with gravity and let them all hang down.  So I started on the other side and made more rows up the other side.  When I got to the top, I realized I had room for another row both directions, so I added more shells.  This still left a gap at both the top and the bottom, but it also left room for the ribbon needed to hang it up, and the clay pigeon at the bottom, so it all worked out in the end.

See! Hay everywhere.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Joys of Trifle

If you've baked more than three cakes in your life, the odds are good that you've completely screwed up at least one of them.  You have experienced that brief, fleeting moment of delight when you are convinced it's going to release perfectly from the bottom of the pan, but when you pull the pan away, a huge chunk is missing - clinging to the bottom of the pan for all it's worth.  Now you can scrape it off, slap it back into the hole, and hope no one notices...not that I speak from personal experience or anything, but another option, and my favorite, is to turn it into a trifle.

What is trifle?  Traditionally a trifle is a sponge cake, soaked in port, sherry, or wine, a layer of custard, a layer of fruit, and a layer of whipped cream.  But, I'm not very traditional. 

A trifle bowl isn't necessary as you could use any large glass bowl, preferably clear so you can see the layers.  I bought mine at Wal-Mart for about $10, which I thought was totally worth it.  I happened to have the crumbled pieces of a Duncan Hines Pineapple Supreme cake in the freezer.  (It was originally baked as a castle cake for my daughter's birthday, but refused to come out of the pan.  I literally had to dig it out of the cake pan with a I saved it for trifle.)  I let the cake thaw, and then put some bite-size cake chunks on the bottom of the trifle bowl.  Next, I layered a cup and a half of Jell-O Instant Banana pudding (the big box, the one that takes 3 cups of milk) over the cake.  The next layer was pineapple (I used fresh, but canned would be fine), followed by half of an 8oz. container of whipped cream.  Then I repeated the layers of cake, pudding, fruit, and whipped cream, and topped it with flaked coconut and garnished with cherries.
And it was fabulous.

If I'd had some bananas, I would have chopped them up and added them to the fruit layer, and if you aren't a  coconut person, it could easily be left out.  The wonderful thing about trifle is that you can mix-and-match your flavors.  Cake, fruit, pudding and whipped cream...any combination.  You can even leave out either the fruit or the pudding layer.  Chocolate cake and cherry pie filling? Yum.  Chocolate cake, chocolate pudding, and bits of peppermint candy? Awesome for Christmas.  Angel Foodcake, chocolate pudding and strawberries, or Yellow Cake and peaches, Devils Food and Pistachio Pudding... whatever you like.  Top it with chopped nuts, chocolate chips, cherries, or pieces of fruit, or heck, all off the above.

Because it's so pretty, all those nice colorful layers, it's a great dessert to take to a pot-luck.  It looks like you worked really hard on a beautiful dessert, when all you really did was dump a lot of stuff in a bowl.  Easy is awesome...and pretty!  So the next time you ruin a cake, throw it in a freezer bag and save it for a trifle, just don't eat the whole thing yourself.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Operation - Build a Table

Earlier this week my new furniture was delivered!  A giant, black leather, sectional and new tables, also black.  (Ignore the white couch, it's finding a new home later this week.)  So... now my brown curtains and pillows need to go, we need some color in here, and the big gaping space behind the corner of the sectional needs.... something.  I considered a ficus, the go-to fake plant for decorating blank spots, but I really wanted a table where I could put a big vase and change out flower arrangements seasonally.  I also wanted a place to hide all of the various charging cables that seem to multiply every other month.  So, where to find a triangular table with the exact dimensions I need?  Heck if I know, I'll just do it myself.

 I believe I mentioned that my dad has a sawmill and does a lot of woodworking, so I figured a quick trip to Ma and Pa's would supply me with everything I needed...and it did.  The table was going to be behind the couch and under a tablecloth so I wasn't concerned about it being beautiful; it just needed to be sturdy enough to hold a vase and maybe a lamp.  I should probably also mention that I come from a long line of pack-rats; my dad saves everything and is always dragging stuff home, his dad used to have a wrecker service and a junkyard... 'nuff said.  While I wouldn't call us hoarders, we are creative people that can find uses for things that others would throw away.  In fact, the legs for my table are actually the posts of an old crib that my great-uncle Luke found in a dumpster and dragged to the workshop.  

We removed the hardware and cut the legs down to size.  My plan was to build a frame for the top, and attach the legs to the inside.  I found some scrap 1"x1" lumber to make the frame, and made it the 2' by 2' by whatever the long section ended up being. Actually, because we didn't miter the ends and just stacked one end against the other, it was 24" for one piece and 23" for the other, with one of our square legs nailed to the inside.  Then we cut the front supports, which had to be angled.  The great thing about square legs and a 90 degree triangle is that the two corners are 45 degrees, which means we chopped the top of the legs from corner to corner, and didn't have to really do any math or get out a protractor.  We didn't even measure the depth, just laid the frame against it, drew a line, and cut there.  Once we had the front supports, we lined up the front part of the frame, drew a line where we wanted it, and cut off the rest.  No math is good.  Table saws are good too.  I mean, I could have done this with a hand held miter saw, but I have access to big tools and like to use them.
We brad nailed the frame to the legs, which now fit nicely into the corners.  Of course, it was after we had this part together that I decided to turn the back support around, on the off chance that it would ever be used somewhere else in the house and would need to look half decent.  So we pulled it off and turned it around so that the cut ran down the back.

At this stage, it was a little wobbly.  While adding the top would have strengthened it, I didn't want the dogs to decide to jump off the back of the couch onto the table, knocking the whole thing down.  So we needed some extra support - back to the crib!  We knocked out a few of the decorative dowels that made up the side of the crib, and cut them down to size.  (This part did require measuring to make sure the holes would be level)  It was a little awkward, but we managed to drill holes into the legs and insert the dowels.  A few brad nails later, and presto! we had braces.

I picked a piece of scrap board, positioned it to give it the overhang I wanted and then drew along the bottom, against the frame, to outline where we should cut it.  Again, no math, no measuring, because we're lazy. The board I picked for the top wasn't quite big enough, so we had to cut a little extra triangle for the back.  No biggy.  Then we brad nailed the whole top down, and went over it really well with an orbital sander to round off the edges and make it nice and smooth.

I plan on putting something with some extra color over it, but I'll wait until I've picked out new curtains.  For right now, this old curtain panel works just fine as a tablecloth, and the old photo box, with an x cut in the back, makes a great place to hide all the cell chargers and the power cord for the laptop.
Project cost? Free.  Time? About 40 minutes.  Now I just need to find the perfect vase!