Monday, March 30, 2009

More Fun & Games: Instant Random Band

Found this on the Make-zine blog recently: instructions for creating an instant, random band, complete with cover art, band name & album title!

1. Go to Wikipedia and hit “random article” and the first article you get is the name of your band.

2. Go to “Random Quotations”. The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page will be the title of your album.

3. Go to Flickr and click on “Explore the Last Seven Days”. The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

Here’s what I got:

1. Band name from Wikipedia random article …

Okay, first try: That 1 Guy.

Hey! That’s already a band name!

“Mike Silverman, better known as That 1 Guy, is an American musician based out of Berkeley, California. He frequently performs and records as a one-man band, using a slew of homemade instruments and singing, often with rhyming, nonsensical lyrics.”

Should I go back and try again?

Oh wow, I got another musician! This time, it’s Amity Dry.

Amity Renae Dry is an Australian singer/songwriter, and a former reality show contestant.”

I guess either name would for my mythical band, but for today I’m going with Amity Dry. (Neither’s as good as one my Galveston friend Jim Kelly suggested, “Baitcamp Splinterboard”!)

2. Album title from Random Quotation

On my first draw, I got this bit from Carl Sagan:

“I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.”

Hmmm, by the rules that would make my album title “Inconsiderable One Of Being True”, rawther dry. If I weren’t playing by the rules, “Wonder in Science” would be good, or closer to the rules, “The Additional Virtue of Being True”.

Let’s try again.

Oh, much better! This time I got this:

“When the water reaches the upper level, follow the rats.” Claude Swanson (1862 - 1939)

That means my album title can be “Follow The Rats”! I love it!

3. Random album art from Flickr

Oh, I am a lucky girl! Look at the picture I got, from Flickr’s last 7 days, third picture displayed:

ShadowDogShadow Dog
From Raymond Larose

Isn’t it great?

Now it’s off to PhotoPaint to work out my new random band album.

 

 

 

And here it is:

ShadowDog2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What fun!

--MaggieBelize
Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Sandia Park, NM

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ode to the Perfect Snowstorm

I suspect that yesterday’s snowstorm may have been the last one of our winter up here in the Sandias, which makes me just a little sad.

I know grown-ups aren’t supposed to like snow. And sure, it can be a hassle when it goes on for days, or when you have to shovel it.

But this was my idea of the “perfect storm”.

(1.) It started stealthily, late in the night.

night

(2.) We awoke to find 6 inches on the ground, and more coming down.

That’s enough for us to cancel our appointments. The local schools and libraries closed.

upstairs

(3.) It snowed steadily through lunchtime, long enough to remove any lingering doubts about calling it a “snow day”.

I’d made a pot of tortilla soup the night before, so we were well supplied.

Then we went out to play! The dogs’ favorite game is Snowball Catch.

leapin

(4.) The snow was thick, heavy, and wet: just right for snowballs and other constructions.

makinammo

(5.) Then the skies cleared, and the sun came out.

snowlady

(Knitters are SO cool.)

knitter2 

(6.) By dinnertime, it was almost all gone.

I’m glad I took the pictures, and the day off.

--MaggieBelize
Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Sandia Park, NM

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fabulous Fiber Friday: Freebies, Contests & Sales

Welcome to my second “Fabulous Fiber Friday”, a weekly round-up of the best of the fiber-oriented freebies, contests and sales that’ve turned up through the week.

If you’ve got a fabulous fiber deal of your own, feel free to post it as a comment here (find how-to instructions at the end of this post). The more, the merrier!

March is “Dummies Month” – The Books, That Is

Amazon has just posted a sale on the popular “…for Dummies” series, which includes knitting and crochet books! Through the end of this month (March 2009), you can get 38% off any of the Dummies titles, plus a $5 mail-in rebate.

KnittingforDummies Knitting for Dummies, written by well-known knitsters Pam Allen, Tracy Barr and Shannon Okey, is one of the best-selling Dummies titles ever!

The new second edition covers online knitting resources, has a new section on felting, and new projects, in addition to the invaluable “how-to” knitting fundamentals.

And I like Kristi Porter’s Knitting Patterns for Dummies edition, too. It’s project-oriented, great for beginners who are gaining confidence, with some good patterns to take you beyond the basic scarf.

You’ll also find Crocheting for Dummies and Crochet Patterns for Dummies, or, if you wanna be “bi-crafty”, you might prefer all your instructions in one volume, Knitting AND Crocheting for Dummies!

This promotion ends March 31, so hurry!

Sock Book Sale

Sock+InnovationContinuing the bookish theme this week, I discovered that all sock knitting books are currently 40% off at KnitPicks, including Cookie A’s popular new Sock Innovation title (shown right).

This special sale includes all the sock books they have in stock, but is limited to only those in stock … and the sale lasts one week only, ending Thursday morning, April 2nd.

~*~

Are You Having a Fabulous Fiber Sale?

If you’re offering a special fiber arts or yarn sale, contest, promotion or giveaway, and would like to share it here on Fabulous Fiber Friday, feel free to post your promotion details as a comment to this or any subsequent Fabulous Fiber Friday post.

Be sure to include your URL link, plus the beginning and ending dates of your special offer!

--MaggieBelize
Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Sandia Park, NM

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What Your Blog Reveals About You

I’ve just discovered a fun little tool called Typealyzer: it reads your blog entries, then reveals which personality type you are … or which persona you write as, which may or may not be the same thing, of course.

I stumbled onto this in Rachel King’s BusinessWeek article, What Your Blog Says About You.

Just for grins, I tried it both ways: letting Typealyzer read my blog, then taking a version of the Myers-Briggs personality test on which it is based.

Typealyzer’s Interpretation

According to Typealyzer, the persona reflected by what I’ve written here in this blog is the Myers-Briggs “ESTP”, meaning Extraverted Sensing Thinking Perceiving, characterized as Do-ers,” or “Artisan Promoters”.

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. [Yep.]

They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time. [Nope, not if I’m knitting. And listening to an audiobook. And the TV’s on … ]

An alternate interpretation from Keirsey.com:

Artisans are most at home in the real world of solid objects that can be made and manipulated, and of real-life events that can be experienced in the here and now. [Absolutely.]

Artisans have exceptionally keen senses, and love working with their hands. They seem right at home with tools, instruments, and vehicles of all kinds, and their actions are usually aimed at getting them where they want to go, and as quickly as possible. [I have to make things, I can’t help it. I love gadgets. And tools? Home Depot is my favorite store.]

Thus Artisans will strike off boldly down roads that others might consider risky or impossible, doing whatever it takes, rules or no rules, to accomplish their goals. [On occasion I have done, yes.]

Direct Personality Test

Then I took the personality test here, by answering a series of questions. This result was “ENTJ”, meaning Extraverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging, characterized as the “Fieldmarshal”.

  • "I don't care to sit by the window on an airplane. If I can't control it, why look?" [Exactly.]

The ENTJ requires little encouragement to make a plan: "I make these little plans that really don't have any importance to anyone else, and then feel compelled to carry them out." [I make “little plans” constantly. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly; even 5-year and 10-year-plans.]

And then there’s this version of who the ENTJ persona is, from Keirsey.com:

Hardly more than two percent of the total population, Fieldmarshals are bound to lead others. In some cases, they simply find themselves in charge of groups, and are mystified as to how this happened. [That would be me.]

But the reason is that they have a strong natural urge to give structure and direction wherever they are - to harness people in the field and to direct them to achieve distant goals. They cannot not build organizations, and cannot not push to implement their goals.

Although Fieldmarshals are tolerant of established procedures, they can and will abandon any procedure when it can be shown to be ineffective in accomplishing its goal.

They are ever intent on reducing bureaucratic red tape, task redundancy, and aimless confusion in the workplace. Fieldmarshals root out and reject ineffectiveness and inefficiency, and are impatient with repetition of error. [Absolutely true, it drives me mad.]

Unappealingly Napoleonic as this second description may sound, I have to admit it is shockingly spot-on, insofar as dealing with groups of people is concerned.

I wonder if the difference between the two test sets is that my writing is public, and my test answers are ostensibly private? Or that the so-called “extravert” and “thinking” traits that turned up in both tests are the two I can’t hide no matter what? Hmmm.

Anyway, if you’ve got a blog, go try these yourself. I’m sure reading your own results will be infinitely more interesting than reading mine!

Have fun,

--MaggieBelize
Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Sandia Park, NM

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Were They Kidding? CBS Colonoscopy Contest

cbscares

Late Friday night my mom called to ask if I’d seen the CBS-TV advertisement for a “colonoscopy contest”.

She’d been watching the NCAA basketball finals, and swore that just afterwards this “incredibly hokey” commercial had come on, offering the chance to win a vacation trip to NYC for a free colonoscopy test.

I assumed she’d fallen asleep on the couch and dreamed the whole thing. Or, perhaps she was so distraught over the Texas loss that she was delusional. She admitted that if it’d been Saturday, she’d have assumed it was Saturday Night Live. But it wasn’t.

Imagine my surprise to discover that the “CBS Cares Colonoscopy Sweepstakes,” a PSA promotion created by the madmen of Marden Kane, is real. Watch it for yourself at CBS Cares video.

I found the contest entry page verbiage downright bizarre. Here’s a sample:

“When the colonoscopy is about to begin, you'll be given drugs which will make you feel like you're at Woodstock... only without the music. If you start to believe that you actually are at Woodstock (for example, Dr. Miskovitz starts to look like Jimi Hendrix or you feel inclined to say "far out!" in response to questions), please report the side effect to Dr. Miskovitz or Jimi Hendrix (whomever you see first) immediately.”

Um, I assume this supposed to appeal to us aging boomers? You have to be between 40 and 79 years old to enter the contest, I noticed. Do they think we still want to drop acid? Before a colonoscopy? O, the horror.

I have seriously mixed feelings about this. As a member of the presumed target demographic, I’m personally offended more than entertained, in the same way I was offended by the film Forrest Gump.

(I know, right? How could anyone be offended by a box of chocolates? But I felt as if my own personal memories were being pillaged and plagiarized in a cheesy attempt at emotional blackmail. But, never mind, I’m sure that’s just me.)

But a quick Google this morning reveals I’m not the only one taken aback by this PSA campaign.

“I was gobsmacked. I thought it must be a joke,” writes Jeanne Sather in her Assertive Cancer Patient blog. “What were those folks at CBS thinking? … Maybe if the winner is diagnosed with colon cancer, CBS will offer them their own reality show?”

Dr. Wes, a cardiologist writing for the Trusted MD Network, raises some serious questions about this contest:

  1. People under 50 shouldn’t be screened for colon cancer, so why are 40-49 year-olds encouraged to enter the contest?
  2. What in the world are they promoting, a free ‘high’ or colon cancer screening?
  3. Is this how we discuss screening tests now?
  4. Where are the risks of colonoscopy and sedation discussed?
  5. How will the list of people who register for the ‘free’ colonoscopy that don't win be used?
  6. Finally, if cancer is found on the screening and the patient is uninsured, who will assume responsibility for ongoing treatment of the patient?

But the colonoscopy contest also has its supporters, among them Susan Dowd Stone writing for EmpowHer Women’s Health Online.

Stone admires the “combination of humor, information and encouragement which characterizes this engaging and life-saving campaign.”

“From the intro that will leave you smiling, to the great interview with expert Dr. Paul Miskovitz, to the actual contest you can enter for a totally free colonoscopy – CBS Cares has presented a compelling case for attention and action to this crucial health issue,” she says.

… Plus a “Bottom Line” Poetry Contest

If you do happen to like mixing humor with medical procedures, you’ll probably want to enter the Colonoscopy Poetry Contest, too!

A group of South Florida physicians known as the Digestive CARE(TM) Gastroenterologists is sponsoring the 'Bottom Line Poetry Contest' for National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month (which is March 2009, if you didn’t know).

"By launching this Bottom Line Poetry Contest, we hope to bring more attention to the life-saving value of regular colonoscopies as part of a person's ongoing professional medical care," says Kenneth Rosenthal, M.D., the Boca Raton-based gastroenterologist who chairs Digestive Care's PR Committee.

"The original new poems can be heartfelt or humorous," adds Dr. Rosenthal. "We hope Digestive CARE's Bottom Line Poetry Contest will help publicize the deadly serious message of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month - and that's the real bottom line."

Palm Beach Post staff writer Frank Cerabino has rounded up some “Stinkers from the colonoscopy poetry contest.” And, he challenges, “Got the guts to try poetry on colon care?”

You can win a $500 prize for writing the best new original poem about colonoscopies; deadline for submission is April 30, 2009, the last day of National Poetry Month.

colonoscopymovie … And a Colonoscopy Movie Poster!

Last but not least, my Google-based wanderings turned up this Photoshop artist’s creation: a poster for a mythical movie dubbed The Never-Ending Colonoscopy.

“This time they’ve gone too far.”

“Quite possibly the crappiest movie ever made.”

~*~

TTYL,

--MaggieBelize
Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Sandia Park, NM

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Blue Plate Special: 10% off all Fiber Arts!

 

bonanzle

This week’s Blue Plate Special is 10% off all of the “Fiber Arts” items in my Bonanzle store!

This special discount includes all my patterns and project books for knitting, crochet, cross-stitch and quilting. HandsKnit_AssortmentAnd it includes my original “kNotes for kNitters” designs!

Even better, if you purchase $10 or more, you can take an additional 10% off your total.IowaCrossStitch Is that crazy, or what?

These great bargains are for a limited time only.

Your shopping window is a 3-hour period beginning tonight, Sunday March 22, at 7 p.m. Mountain time, and ending at 10 p.m. Mountain time.

You can visit my Bonanzle store any time today to preview the sale items, and I’ll be adding new items during the day, so be sure to check back during the sale tonight.

What is the Sunday Blue Plate Special?

Pattern_BabySuit My Sunday Blue Plate Special is a weekly bargain offer in one of my online stores, posted on Sundays here on my blog, and no place else!

You never know: the special might be a BOGO (“Buy One Get One free”) offer, or it might be a percentage discount like today’s Blue Plate, or free shipping, or a complete giveaway freebie!

Enjoy this week’s bargains, and stay tuned to this blogspot for next week’s special, too!

--MaggieBelize
Bonanzle Booth:
LocalGringos Paper & Thread

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What’s For Dinner? Local Gringos’ Green Chile Stew

Iclip_image002 can’t believe how many people offered to come over for dinner last night, after I tweeted that I was fixing Green Chile Stew! And it was gooood, too, heh-heh.

Since I didn’t invite any of you over to share the stew, today I realized I could at least share my recipe.

Mind you, my version isn’t completely traditional, but I think an improved variant … try it, see what you think, and post yer comments below!

Local Gringos’ Green Chile Stew

Green chile stew is an ancient dish, first attributed to the Native American people known as the Navajo, or Di’neh. Simple, hearty and filling, today this stew is a staple throughout New Mexico and Arizona, and there are dozens of different ways to prepare it.

This is my own “local gringos” version of green chile stew, diverging from traditional recipes in two respects: I add potatoes, and I don’t use tomatoes. (Why would a green chile stew be red?) But don’t be afraid to exercise your own creativity with this flexible and forgiving recipe … for more ideas, see my notes & suggested variations at the end of this post.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon
  • 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 6 red-skinned or gold potatoes, or enough to make approx. 3 cups peeled & diced
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves
  • 1-1/2 lbs pork shoulder
  • ½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • ½ to 1 cup diced roasted green chiles (to taste)
  • Salt & cracked black pepper

Directions

Pour chicken stock into large Dutch oven or stock pot. Peel and dice potatoes into ½-inch cubes and promptly add to stock. Place pot over medium high heat, covered, and bring to a rolling boil.

Next, brown bacon slices in a large skillet. Remove bacon to paper toweling to drain; reserve. Tip skillet to estimate amount of bacon fat remaining: you should have about 2 tablespoons. Dip out any extra, or make up any difference with olive oil.

While bacon is cooking, dice onion into medium bowl. Peel and mince garlic; add to bowl. Trim fat from pork and cut into ½ inch cubes; add to onions & garlic. Toss to mix thoroughly.

Add pork mixture to the hot bacon fat in skillet. Season with oregano, salt and cracked black pepper to taste.

Stir to lightly brown pork cubes on all sides, and cook just until onion is softened and translucent. (Don’t overcook, it will toughen the pork.) Add the seasoned pork mixture to the pot of boiling potatoes. Stir in the green chiles, and crumble in (whatever you didn’t eat of) the reserved cooked bacon.

Return pot to boiling. Adjust heat and maintain slow boil, uncovered, for 45 minutes to one hour, or until liquid is reduced by approximately half and stew is thickened to your preference. (Test the potato cubes: they should be done, but not falling-apart mushy.) Taste for salt and adjust seasoning as needed.

Serve hot with fresh cornbread and a green salad.

Notes:

The starch from the potatoes I use thickens the stew, and adds a slightly earthy flavor that I like. Red-skinned “new” potatoes, or Yukon golds, work best at holding their shape in soups and stews, I’ve found.

If you want a more traditional version – or you don’t happen to have potatoes on hand – you can use flour as a thickening agent instead. After dicing the pork, shake the cubes in a bag with flour to coat, then brown them in the skillet.

In this recipe, there’s really no substitute for roasted Sandia or Anaheim green chiles. Here in New Mexico, of course, it’s easy to get locally-grown and freshly-roasted green chile peppers, especially the hallowed Hatch green chiles. Outside the Land of Enchantment, look for canned or frozen in grocery aisles; or, you can order them fresh, canned or frozen online.

Many, many people make this stew starting with water instead of stock. But I’m a firm believer in the magic of homemade stock: it adds depth and dimension to the finished soup or stew, transforming “good” to “great”. I make stock all the time and keep a supply in the freezer for just such an occasion.

And personally, I never add any vegetable or meat to any soup or stew without browning or sautéing it first; my grandpa taught me so and I’ve stuck to it. I also believe that my method of seasoning the meat and vegetables during the browning step, before adding them to the liquid, yields richer flavor.

Variations:

While I prefer to make green chile stew with inexpensive cuts of pork like shoulder or Boston butt, this stew is often prepared locally with beef or lamb instead. If I were to substitute either red meat for the “white meat” pork, I probably would add tomatoes. Say, a 16-oz can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes? I wouldn’t use tomato paste because I don’t like its overly sweet taste.

Once your sautéed meat & veggies are combined into the boiling stew pot, you could also throw in a cup or so of cooked or canned garbanzo beans (chickpeas). Posole (cooked hominy) is also a tasty addition, but takes the stew in a different direction – posole is a whole ‘nother conversation!

I love using bacon and its rendered fat in this stew. But if you’re more virtuous than I, skip the bacon, substituting 2 tablespoons olive oil.

This recipe also works well as a slow cooker dish. Start with only 6 cups of chicken stock; combine stock, potatoes and browned pork mixture in a large slow cooker. Cook 7 to 8 hours on low, or 3 to 4 hours on high. If too much liquid remains in the pot at the end of the cooking time, remove cooker lid and cook on high until liquid is reduced.

~ * ~

Local Gringos Green Chile Stew recipe © 2009 by Margaret Briggs. This recipe is my original creation, which I’m sharing here for you to use for your own personal enjoyment. Just don’t re-publish it in any form without my permission, okay? Contact me directly via email.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fabulous Fiber Friday: Freebies, Contests & Sales

Welcome to my first “Fabulous Fiber Friday”, a weekly round-up of the best of the fiber freebies, contests and sales that’ve turned up through the week.

If you’ve got a fabulous fiber deal of your own, feel free to post it as a comment here (find how-to instructions at the end of this post). The more, the merrier!

Free Knitting Pattern + Yarn Contest at Knitting Daily

Blooming_MangoInterweave’s Knitting Daily website is offering a free knitting pattern for the Blooming Cotton Scarf designed by Eunny Jang. It’s worked in a brightly colorful slip-stitch.

You have to be a registered member of Knitting Daily to download the pattern, but membership is free, and sign-up is quick.

Even better, if you’re willing to answer a one-question survey – it doesn’t get much easier than that – you’ll be entered in their contest to win enough Tahki Cotton Classic yarn to make your own scarf, plus a free copy of the 3rd edition of Cotton Classic Book from Tahki!

(Pick your favorite colorway in the survey carefully, because that’s the one you’ll get if you win.)

The contest ends March 27, 2009, at midnight MST.

 

Finding Great Yarn Sales on Etsy: Forum Search

Sales of hand-dyed and/or hand-spun yarns are ongoing at Etsy.com. But how can you find them all?

I’ve discovered that the fastest way to turn up the largest number of yarn discounts is to search for “yarn sale” in the Promotions Forum!

Like so:

http://www.etsy.com/forums_search.php?search_type=forum_title&search_query=sale+yarn

Other Spring Specials on Fiber-y Good Stuff

As the new spring yarns and patterns first roll out, it’s tough to find those special deals. Here’s a round-up to get you started:

  • NobleKnits offers $1.99 “spring fever” shipping through Sunday, March 22nd.
  • The kit-of-the-month over at Jimmy Beans Wool is the super soft & luxurious Esprit Chemo Cap Kit, marked down to only $2 (that’s yarn AND pattern). Great opportunity for charity knitting projects!
  • Two great contests for members of Planet Purl: Knitters’ Guide to the Galaxy (membership is free, of course):
    • Post a knit-along in the Planet Purl community by April 14th and be entered in a drawing to win a gift pack of knitters’ tools from KnitPicks, including ball winder, yarn cutter, stitch markers, row counter, blocking mat, blocking pins, sock blockers, lace blocking wires, and a pill remover.
    • Choose your favorite IK Spring pattern to be entered in the drawing for a Namaste Cali Clutch. (Results in the April newsletter.)

Are You Having a Yarn Sale?

If you’re offering a special yarn sale, contest, promotion or giveaway, and would like to share it here on Fabulous Fiber Friday, feel free to post your promotion details as a comment to this or any subsequent Fabulous Fiber Friday post.

Be sure to include your URL link, plus the beginning and ending dates of your special offer!

--MaggieBelize
Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Sandia Park, NM

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Folk Art Flea Market: Frugal Art Finds in Santa Fe

folkartfleamarket The Folk Art Flea Market: “Global Treasures, Bargain Prices”

Not to be confused with Santa Fe’s prestigious International Folk Art Market, the upcoming Folk Art Flea Market is also sponsored by the Museum of International Folk Art, but the operant word for this festival is “flea”.

The Folk Art Flea Market offers donated folk toys, dolls, apparel, jewelry, ceramics and masks at comparatively bargain prices. Sales support the Museum’s ongoing exhibitions and educational programs. 

We love the International Folk Art Festival, and attend every July. We love that the money directly benefits the artisans who participate. But we couldn’t help but notice that prices have climbed higher every year.

Not to say the art isn’t worth it. It is. There’s a crucial difference between expensive and over-priced. But for those of us on an art budget, it’s nice to know that even folk art can be recycled.

The second annual Folk Art Flea Market will be held Saturday, April 4, starting at 10 am at the Museum of International Folk Art.

And hey, if you’re tired of your carved & painted Oaxacan animals, for example, the Museum can help you find a good new home for them. The Friends of Folk Art are seeking donations of gently used or like-new folk art.  Donations will be accepted Sunday, March 29 to Thursday, April 2, from 10 am to 4 pm in the Museum Auditorium. 

Free Museum Admission for Rail Runner Riders

And here’s another frugal tip: Through the end of March 2009, Rail Runner riders can get free admission to select museums.

When you ride the Rail Runner up to Santa Fe, hold onto your ticket. With it, you can get same-day free admission to The Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Palace of the Governors Museum in Santa Fe.

Riding the other way? In Albuquerque, your Rail Runner ticket is good at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science and the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

Even better, you can purchase discounted tickets to ride from the New Mexico Rail Runner website.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Super-Simple, Liquid Soap Making … No Lye!

I’ve spent the last few weeks investigating techniques for making my own soap at home. I had a simple project in mind: I just wanted to make a lightly fragranced, gentle liquid hand soap.

In our household, we garden, we cook and we have 4 cats and 4 dogs; in other words, we go through gallons of liquid hand soap weekly!

But cheap commercial hand soaps are harsh, laden with antibacterial ingredients that we don’t need to use on a daily basis, and most are too perfume-y for my liking.

caldreasoap The higher-priced liquid soaps (I love Caldrea hand soaps, for example) smell better and feel nicer on the skin, but oh boy, are they expensive!

 

 

 

Initially, I was discouraged to find that almost all soap recipes start from scratch, using raw lye. Yikes!

I didn’t want to make the sort of equipment investment that working with lye requires – like goggles! Dedicated pots, pans & measuring cups! Long sleeves! Stand-by vinegar bottle for first aid!

Nope, not for me. 

So I veered off into less-respectable, less-documented soap making methods. If you don’t want to handle lye, that means either rebatching or melt-and-pour.

Using either of these methods, you start with pre-made soap. It still has lye (all soap is made with lye), but the lye in this case is “saponified”: that is, chemically changed into a non-caustic substance.

Authentic soap makers will certainly scoff at this approach, but these methods let you make soap in your kitchen without needing a biohazard suit. Or while working with pets and/or children underfoot!

Even though I started with the supposedly foolproof “melt & pour” technique, my, um, creative modifications to the process made that first project almost a complete disaster. I even hatched a Krakatoa-level eruption in the microwave!

But my second attempt yielded exactly what I wanted: a small batch of gentle, good-smelling, liquid hand soap.

I’ll document this more successful version, and share what I learned from the first failure.

How to Make Simple, Small Batch Liquid Soap

Ingredients:

  • ¼ pound "Melt & Pour" Soap Base
  • 2 cups Distilled Water
  • Soap Coloring (if desired)
  • Soap Fragrance or Essential Oil (if desired)

Tools:

  • 4-cup Microwave-able Measuring Cup
  • Stick Blender (or whisk)
  • Recycled pump-style soap dispenser, or other container for your finished product

1. Purchase “melt and pour” soap base.

For your first attempt, you might as well buy a small quantity at your local hobby store. Later, if you find you like making your own soap, you can scout for higher quality formulations, better prices & larger quantities on the Internet.

For my first experiment, I used a translucent glycerine soap base, which I found too drying even though it's labeled "moisturizing,” and it had a slimy feel I didn’t like at all.

52001 Glycerin Soap BlockOn my second attempt, I used an opaque white shea butter soap base that I liked much better.

Both came from Hobby Lobby, in 2-pound blocks like the one shown here.

2. Next, cut up the soap base.

Because I wanted to make a very small batch, I used only one-fourth of a pound of the soap base.

I cut away the quarter pound from the 2-lb block I’d bought, following the convenient cut lines, and sliced it thinly into a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup (microwave safe).

  • TIP: In my previous experiment, I actually grated the soap, which was messy and time-consuming. I found that melt & pour soap base melts so easily that grating is not necessary, slicing works just fine.

3. Now melt the soap base.

The soap package instructions suggested heating it in the microwave for 40 seconds on High, which worked for me.

Then I stirred the melted soap to make sure all the slices were completely melted down … you don’t want any un-melted chunks in there.

4. Next, add water to thin the soap so that it will dispense through a pump.

You’re supposed to use distilled water for soap making, but I confess I used bottled water because that’s what I had on hand. After experimenting, I found that 2 cups of water was just right for my blend.

  • TIP: Bear in mind, I’m working at 7,000 feet elevation in a very dry climate; at sea level in high humidity, for example, you might need less water. Start with less, say 1-1/2 cups. Mix it in, let it sit, see if you like the consistency, then add more water if needed. (You’re working right in the measuring cup, so you can always stick it back into the microwave to re-melt if it sets up on you.)

5. StickBlender To thoroughly mix the soap and water, I used a stick blender.

You could probably use a wire whisk, vigorously, but the stick blender is really fast and effective ... and besides I love kitchen gadgets. 

I got my stick blender at a yard sale for $1.00, but you can also get one on Amazon.com (Rival makes a good inexpensive one).

  • TIP: I used a spoon to mix my first batch, and had problems with the soap and water separating later. But the soap base I used for the second batch is supposed to hold “inclusions” in suspension better, so I don’t know for sure if the better blending in Batch #2 was due to the stick blender or the different soap base.

6. Optionally, mix in color and/or fragrance.

Allow the soap and water mixture to cool a bit in the measuring cup. There are two reasons for this: one, you want to be sure you’ve added enough water so that the soap doesn’t “set up” too thick to dispense, and two, your fragrance oils are heat-sensitive, and will stay more fragrant when added to a lukewarm, rather than hot, mix.

When the soap mixture has cooled a little, you’re ready to add color and fragrance, if you like. These are completely optional, of course.

While most soap makers measure by weight, in a small batch like this one you’ll measure by volume.

I added 6 drops of green soap colorant (also called soap dye, but not food coloring!) to my white base and got a very pale green tint that I liked.

You can get soap dye in single bottles, or mixable sets, like this one. /assets/item/thumbnail/375659.jpgDon’t be tempted to try food coloring, because the resulting soap mix will stain your hands. (Ask me how I know.)

For fragrance, I concocted a mix I christened “Cedar Berry”, measuring the essential oils by droplet directly into the soap mix:

  • 12 drops Bergamot essential oil (a “top note”)
  • 8 drops Bayberry essential oil (a “middle note”)
  • 4 drops Atlas Cedar essential oil (a “base note”)

Notice that this formulation is three parts top note, two parts middle note, and one part base note. I got this approach to fragrance-mixing from one of the dozens of traditional soap-making books I read, but I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember which one.

  • And here’s another tip: you can economize on a lot of things, but not your essential oils. I used a really cheap “lime” essential oil for the first batch, and it smelled like a blend of lime Koolaid and industrial cleaner. Yuck.

7. After adding color and/or fragrance, blend again, thoroughly!

I used the stick blender again to completely mix the color and fragrance into the soap base. One bonus to adding color is that you can easily see when your soap mixture is thoroughly blended.

8. Pour liquid soap into new, or recycled, dispensers.

Using a funnel, I then poured my product into two pump-dispenser soap bottles that I’d rinsed out and saved for this purpose … and ta-daa! Custom liquid hand soap.

Notes for Next Time:

As I empty more commercial soap bottles, I’ll try different fragrances and formulations. That’s the beauty of working in such small batches: experimentation is cheap!

I’d like to try adding emollient oils to enrich this basic mix – like olive oil, since I already have it in the pantry – and maybe Vitamin E or coconut oil, too. I may need to add an emulsifier as well to make the oils mix properly. Or, instead, I might try the other melt & pour soap bases available with the emollients included.

I’ll try different fragrance oils, maybe even purchase a pre-mixed scent instead of combining my own. Turns out, I’m not very good at perfume making, and if each scent I mix requires 3 different essential oils, then it's not economical, either.

And some day, when I run out of melt and pour soap base, I’ll try purchasing cold-process soap base to work with, using the rebatch method.

So stay tuned!

--MaggieBelize
Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Website, www.LocalGringos.com
Sandia Park, NM

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Blog Harvesting

As I’m getting ready to shut down my old blog permanently, I thought I’d “harvest” the most popular entries from it and re-post them here.

So far I’ve chosen 3 entries from 2007: the New Mexico Fiber Trails Guidebook, the Knitting a Nano Sock project (the first knitting project I ever designed myself, and so of course very easy), and the New Music & Words to Knit By (documenting my discovery of knitting podcasts – don’t laugh, that was in 2007, remember?).

I left these back-dated and pretty much as I originally wrote them two years ago. It’s kinda cute to see what a rank knitting newbie I was then.

You can use the direct links above, or look in the 2007 Blog Archive Folder.

Tomorrow, I’m going to post the most popular blog entry I ever wrote, the Super-Simple, Liquid Soap Making … No Lye! entry. This one I will edit, present-date, and try to incorporate some of the dozens of reader-posted comments.

So stay tuned!

--MaggieBelize
Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Website, www.LocalGringos.com
Sandia Park, NM

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Introducing … the Sunday Blue Plate Special

This week I’m introducing a new feature on my blog: the Sunday Blue Plate Special.

The Blue Plate Special will be a weekly special offer in one of my online stores, posted on Sundays here on my blog, and no place else!

The special might be a BOGO (“Buy One Get One free”) offer, or a percentage discount, or free shipping, or a complete giveaway freebie!

Today’s Blue Plate Special:

Bonanzle BOGO on Belize Beer Coasters!

I was thinking that a beer-themed special would be appropriate, what with St. Patrick’s day coming up, doncha know.

bonanzleSo, to kick off my new Bonanzle store, I’m offering to send you one FREE set of my highly collectible Belize Beer Coasters with EVERY set you purchase from me on Bonanzle!

About These Belize Beer Coasters

These are the official Belikin Beer coasters (or beer “mats”, if you prefer), from the limited editions printed by the Belize Brewing Company, headquartered in Ladyville, Belize, Central America.

Belikin2006Since 2006, all the beer coasters printed by Belikin display the main structure at the Maya ruin site of Altun Ha.

The Altun Ha pyramid is the official symbol of Belikin Beer, and is printed on each bottle's label.

 

Assortment4Girls_New But prior to 2006, the Belikin beer coasters displayed the “Belikin Calendar Girls”.

Each year, Belize Brewing selects 12 of the prettiest girls in Belize to feature on its calendar. The photos are shot in the most beautiful locations the country has to offer.

The calendar girls' pictures are used for promotional posters and billboards for one year only; then a new group is selected. And, before 2006, they were also featured on the coasters … but no longer.

So these Belikin Calendar Girl sets I’ve got, dating back to 2003, are really, really collectible. As far as I know, I’ve got the biggest – and the last – collection of these discontinued designs in the world!

How this Blue Plate Special Works

  1. This Sunday Blue Plate Special begins at noon MST, Sunday March 15, and ends at midnight, Tuesday March 17, 2009.
  2. Between now and Tuesday, purchase one or more – as many as you like, no limit! – sets of the Belize beer coasters in my Bonanzle Store.
  3. Enter the magic wordBelizeBOGO” in your note to seller (me).
  4. I will ship your order with one FREE set for every set you purchase.

Cool, eh?

Enjoy the special, and have a Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

--MaggieBelize
Bonanzle Booth: “LocalGringos Paper & Thread

Friday, March 13, 2009

Margarita: A Salt-ry Tart

I was just playing with Plinky, a peculiar little website that offers itself as a cure for blogger's block. "Inspiration, delivered daily," it claims. "Because sometimes you need a little push."

Plinky asks you random questions meant to be thought-provoking, writer's-block-breaking, or at least mildly entertaining.

Your answers can be hot-wired into your social networks like Blogger (which explains this post, you see), Twitter, and Facebook, then compared to answers given by your compadres.

So, my Plinky question o' the day was:

"If you were named based on your traits, habits, or likes, what would your name be?"

My answer was Margarita, a salt-ry tart ...

Not entirely sure I get it, but there you have it, a tidbit not too taxing for a Friday afternoon.

--MaggieBelize
Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Website, www.LocalGringos.com
Sandia Park, NM

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not: Fruit Breads from Juicer Pulp!

67800H Juicer

My dad loves gadgets as much as I do, but he tires of his toys faster. That’s how I wound up with his barely-used  Hamilton Beach juice extractor.

He’d chosen the 67800H model, shown here. Had it been me, I’d have gone for the more expensive 67650H that’s gotten better Amazon reviews … but for free, what the heck?

My biggest complaint about the (cheaper) 67800H model is the infinitesimal amount of juice the machine extracts from a whopping amount of (expensive) fresh produce.

I was dismayed to see whole apples disappear into its maw, producing maybe a tablespoon of juice? While at least a quarter cup of fruit pulp went into the “trap”?!

I like the fresh juice, and I like that you can use fruits & veggies complete with nutritious skins and seeds … but I couldn’t bear that kind of waste.

When Life Hands You Fruit Pulp …

After some culinary experiments with the pulp that were, ahem, less than successful, I hit on the idea of making “quick” fruit breads with it.

Quick breads are the un-yeasted sort, made from a batter instead of a risen dough. Banana bread, zucchini bread, and carrot bread are all quick breads, and are all based on fruit pulp, right?

My breakthrough discovery, not so startling really, is that you can substitute juice extractor fruit pulp, cup for cup, for the grated or mashed produce normally used in any of these quick breads.

QuickBreads My favorite recipe for fruit pulp reclamation is Beth Hensperger’s Glazed Zucchini Bread recipe, from her cookbook The Best Quick Breads: 150 Recipes for Muffins, Scones, Shortcakes, Gingerbreads, Cornbreads, Coffeecakes, and More.

(Like all Hensperger’s cookbooks, this one is chock full of great recipes that really work.)

I like her Glazed Zucchini Bread recipe because it makes 3 loaves at once that keep well and freeze well. But of course you could use any of your own favorite recipes for similar breads.

So now our standard operating procedure after juicing is to recover the pulp from the trap, and measure it in 2-cup increments (the amount needed to make a batch of Hensperger’s bread) into separate zip-lock plastic bags.

I store the bags in the fridge if I’ll be baking within a day or two; if not, I pop them into the freezer for later use.

And so far, every fruit & veggie combo we’ve tried has worked beautifully in the breads: apples, carrots, pears, celery, kiwis, strawberries, bananas, and, yes, zucchini too.

Produce I probably wouldn’t use? Um, probably not anything strongly savory (onions, garlic) or colorful (beets). But these pulps might make a nice dinner bread, who knows?

If you do some juicer pulp experiments of your own, I’d love to hear about it!

--MaggieBelize
Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Website,www.LocalGringos.com
Sandia Park, NM

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Yellow Pages Project – Crafty Tips from Etsy Artists

I began my “Yellow Pages Project” last week after seeing a depressingly large bin of new phone books at our local post office.

As we live in a community with few or no recycling resources, I wanted to come up with creative ways to re-use last year’s phone books, to keep them out of the landfill and to tap into a massive source of free paper!

My first stop for inspirational input was the Etsy Community Forums. It’s a fabulous brain-trust of creative artists! I posted my quest in the Techniques & Materials forum, which Etsy members can follow here.

(If you’re not already an Etsy member, go join right now.
It’s free, of course.)

Here are some of the ideas submitted by Etsy artists, linked to their Etsy profiles by way of a “thank you”! (I’ve lightly edited some of the comments for clarity & brevity.)

Art Materials

  • thecyclingartist: make envelopes with the pages
  • urbanwoodswalker : Yellow pages are cool. But the color will fade; the inks and the paper itself are very poor quality. I have made sculptural baskets ... but I use adhesives and UV spray varnish coatings to make them permanent. Still, never leave any item made with this kind of paper out in strong prolonged light.
  • Skinonskinbeautiful : I make paper out of the yellow pages, color bleeds into what mix you have and makes pretty pale yellow, looks ancient.
  • dmriceart : papier mache is easy to make & use; paper pages are great for collage backgrounds, painted with an opaque paint so some of the lettering shows, but not all! If you glue pages together, you can actually make paper thick enough to form small boxes (see Internet Resources, below). Scrunch and use for 3-D artsy flowers, with a bit of bright paint, and a button middle. Roll, and flatten, then make cool little woven baskets. Sit on them, and feel tall? (That is what we used them for, growing up!)
  • TheTinyFig : origami?
  • crochetgal : I've been rolling yarn from paper lately … it’s a fun but messy process!

Cleaning Supplies & Studio Props

  • Use as 'rags' for paint cleanup (thecyclingartist)
  • Use them to clean mirrors or windows, with vinegar (dwhitecreations, crochetgal, laksaware)
  • MadisonHouseDesigns : I was just reading in Best Friends magazine (from a large animal sanctuary in Utah, bestfriends.org) that they use old phone books for their rescued birds, who like to dig their beaks into them. There may be an animal shelter in your area that could put them to good use. :)
  • akuadesigns : I use them to press leaves and flowers. It's so wonderful in the winter to find all these great dried flowers from the summer.
  • WhiteDragonPaper : I use mine to drill into with my Dremel. It's good soft protection so I don't drill through my book covers and into my floor or the ground or anything. (I also use them for papier mache projects and recycled paper bowls.)

Internet Resources

Most of these resources on the net use newspapers, but yellow pages paper will work, too!

 yellowpages_cardholders Project & photo from GreenUpgrader

YellowPages_couch

Thanks to every Etsy-an who contributed to the Yellow Pages Project. Keep those bright ideas flowing! You can post your comments & links here, or share them on the Etsy Forum thread.

--MaggieBelize
Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Website,www.LocalGringos.com
Sandia Park, NM

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Vintage Inspiration: Button-Embellished Cardi



I was thrilled to find this button-embellished cardigan at an Albuquerque estate sale!

Sad to say, I don't know who the original maker was, or when it was made.

It’s a commercially-knit cotton cardigan in luscious grape purple, with dozens and dozens and dozens of purple, black and deep blue buttons hand-sewn up and down both button bands, and all around the collar and cuffs.

In the close-up photo, you can see that the seamstress simply attached each button through the fabric of the sweater with a long running stitch.

Then she used heavy-duty snaps for the actual closure of the cardi.

(Had it been me, I might have used a heavier thread, and tried to bury the long floats inside the button band.)

As it is, a little minor repair work is in order. A few buttons are missing, but easily replaced from my own vintage button collection.









This would be a great project
for vintage button-collectors to re-create!







Buttons, Buttons ...
Have You Got Some Buttons?

Do you have a wondrous box of vintage buttons stashed away in your sewing room or studio? Then you'll want a copy of Susan Beal's inspiring new project book, Button It Up: 80 Amazing Vintage Button Projects for Necklaces, Bracelets, Embellishments, Housewares & More. 

Dive into your treasured button collection and come up with one of her 80 crafty projects for vintage-button-embellished clothing, handbags, hairclips, jewelry or home decor!

or thriftier still, enter the contest to win a FREE copy from the Dollar Store Crafts website. 

Hurry, the Dollar Store Crafts contest ends Sunday, March 15th, 2009, at 5pm Pacific time!

Good luck,

--MaggieBelize
Sandia Park, NM

Monday, March 9, 2009

Follow-worthy: Indie Art Blog from Down Under

Woke up this morning to two great surprises: (1) it's snowing, and (2) I've been featured in an Aussie art blog! Woohoo!

Chrisy from Brisbane writes the Sophism Press blog, featuring independent artists & writers. She picks gorgeous stuff to showcase - and no, I'm not just saying that because she picked my stuff. Go take a look, you'll see what I mean.

For her art postcard post, she chose my Hands Knit #1 postcard design, along with an intimidatingly beautiful selection of other Etsy artists' cards ... a quilted one ... a wooden one ... 

Here I was worried no one liked postcards anymore! 

And she's woven a clever "Postcard from Dulcie" text throughout her mini-gallery.

Thanks, Chrisy! Nice little art break on a snowy morning.


--MaggieBelize
Sandia Park, NM


Sunday, March 8, 2009

What's for Dinner? Lemon-Garlic Roast Salmon

We don't eat out often. Partly out of frugality, partly from lack of choices in our rural area. So I cook dinner just about every night ... which means every afternoon about 3:30 I start wondering what the heck I'm gonna fix!

Part of my goal in writing this blog is to create my own cooking journal, documenting recipes I liked (or didn't like), strategies and sources. 
And, I'd like to share them with those of you who might also be wondering what the heck you're gonna fix tonight?

Last night's solution: Lemon-Garlic Roast Salmon

Salmon is one of the few reliable seafoods we can get up here in the high-mountain desert (I have no idea why), so I'm always on the lookout for new ways to cook it. 

I found this recipe in Lynne Rossetto Kasper's emailed newsletter, "Weeknight Kitchen". I subscribe to her newsletter, and also recommend her radio show and/or podcast, The Splendid Table.

This is a loosely-Greek-inspired marinade of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, garlic, comino and chile powder (or paprika) that I used for salmon, but Lynne says works well with other fresh fish. 

I liked the chile powder with the salmon, but if you've substituted a more delicately flavored fish, paprika might be a better choice. Especially Spanish smoked paprika, mmm ...

Anyway, it's a short (20 to 30 minute) marinade, then quickly oven-roast the fish with its marinade, less than 15 minutes.

I skipped the potatoes from her recipe -- didn't have time, and I wanted something lighter. Instead I made buttered orzo with freshly grated Parmesan, and steamed broccoli.

Quick, tasty, and a keeper for our dinner rotation!

--MaggieBelize
Sandia Park, NM