Monday, December 20, 2010

Crafty Elf

For anyone following me on Twitter or paying attention on Facebook, it was clear I have been busy. I was not clear about what I was doing exactly, because I was busy in Santa's workshop aka my office/sewing room, making holiday gifts.

In total I made 4 no-sew fleece throws. I think these make wonderful gifts and L can help. She cuts the fringe or even ties some knots. The advantage to these, is the sky is the limit. You can make you own, by buying the fleece of your choice and trust me there is a pattern for everyone. JoAnn's even provides a tip sheet.

I have seen kits at all sorts of stores, naturally JoAnn's is my store of choice. Some kits will come prescored, which makes the entire process much easier and some you have to measure and cut, which takes more time, but is not fantastically challenging.

There is a variation on this theme, the patchwork fleece blanket. I made it a few years back for my mother. It was a challenge and I was sort in over my head. I have a kit, stashed away, which I may make this winter, but seriously, if you want to make a gift and you really feel you can't sew, the No Sew Fleece Throw is a great alternative. There is a throw pillow variant which is nice also.

The fleece throws got me warmed up, then I went for a sewing challenge.

In the summer I bought the book, One Yard Wonders after seeing it featured on a blog I used to follow. In truth, I have read it twice and made nothing. My sewing skills are basically decent, but I lacked the confidence to really go for it. The advantage is this book does have detailed directions and the internet has tons and I mean literally tons of tutorial videos. The sewing class this fall also helped to boost my confidence.

I wanted to make all the ladies in my book club something for the holidays, but I wanted to make it, not buy it. I wanted it to be the same, but unique.

I settled on the collapsible shopping bag. Great for shopping, coming to book club, going to library, and so much more. I had a variety of fabric around, some I had bought on whims and some I inherited from my mother-in-law or my mother. I only had to buy matching bias tape. (something I have never used before, but found easy enough to do, once I got the hang of it.)

In true sweatshop fashion, I cut out the five bags first, then I learned how to do a french seam. It is covered in the beginning of the book, but this tutorial helped alot too. (Tip: there are so many great sites out there, showing you how to do so many of these projects. So very helpful for the novice.)

Then I pinned the bags and then I slowly started sewing.

This charming bag I made from two tea towels, I picked up at World Market a few years ago. I love the pattern.

These bags, I had roughly 3.5 yards, so I was able to make three matching bags, are out of  the fabric I picked up at Walmart many years ago. It is whimsical. It was hard to work with though, the patchwork was wonky. I had a hard time creating the french seam.

This bag is out of exactly a yard of fabric. I have no idea where it came from. Ironically it was the easiest fabric to work with. The texture and weight seemed just right.

After I finshed these bags, I was SO excited. I wanted to Tweet pictures and post to facebook but it would ruin the surprise. So I waited and then I decided to make two more. I had the fabric and thought they would make charming presents.

I found this fabric frayed a bit, making the french seam a bit of a challenge, I did finally on these two master my bias tape technique. I finally was comfortable with using it and feeding it and then creating a clean edge.

Sewing really is about practice. You cannot learn to sew by just reading or watching You Tube vids, you have to just go for it. Each of these bags is unique, each had many flaws. They are perfectly imperfect, but they were made with love and there is not a single other bag in the world just like it.

And yes - I have given all of my handmade gifts away. Tonight I started on something for myself. I have truly been inspired and I am planning to tackle more projects after the holidays. I have proven, to myself, that I can in fact sew.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not that I am the most clever girl in the world, but rarely do thrillers or crime novels keep me in suspense until the end of the book.

Stieg Larsson had me guessing, until he was ready to reveal the truth. Brilliantly written/translated (although the bagel bit was troubling - I have never eaten a bagel in Europe. Never. True, I haven't ever been to Sweden, but still.)and with characters who are real, gritty, likable and detestable, with well developed plot lines and many little interesting tangents, which might or might not reconnect, but which never take away from the story. This story is complex and it is actually two, maybe three stories in one and I find I like that, when it is done well. Suffice to say, this one is done exceptionally well.

I think the frank discussion of sexual content is not gratuitous as some reviewers have suggested. This book depicts the lives of real people, in a real way, with the ugly bits included. For me, that is why this works so well.

I started reading this in print and then switched to audio version. The audio version is so well read and engrossing, twice I drove past my destination, so taken with the story.

I finished this last night and immediately downloaded the next in the series. Larsson has hooked me.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pumpkin Waffle

I found these waffles on a The Spiced Life.

I had to make some adaptations to make them egg, dairy and gluten free, but the family enjoyed them. Particularly my mom and H. I have noted my substitutions in blue below.

Pumpkin Waffles
Adapted from Pancakes & Waffles: The Fine Art of Pancake, Waffles, Crêpe and Blintz Cooking

2 cups AP flour (I mixed 1/2 c tapioca flour, 1/2 c sorghum flour and 1 c white rice flour)
4 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 t ground ginger
1/4 t ground cloves
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, separated (I used 1/2 tsp Xanthan Gum and 1/2 c warm water, beat and let stand 5 minutes)
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1% with a dash of cream) I used regular Almond Milk.
1 cup canned pumpkin (or cooked and mashed)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Set aside.

Mix egg yolks, milk, pumpkin, melted butter and brown sugar; beat until smooth. Gently mix in the flour mix.

Preheat the waffle iron.

Whisk or whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Gently fold them into the batter. Make waffles according to your iron's directions. Serve with whipped cream and maple syrup.

The waffles were sweet and pumpkiny, with a nice spice flavor. They were light and crisp on the outside and rich and moist on the inside.

H said he doubted anyone would know they were missing eggs, milk and gluten. I did end up using the butter, but I think canola oil would have worked just fine.

We will be having this again very soon.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Who owns it...

So - recently I espoused that this is not a craft or cooking blog and it isn't. It is being rather political of late and with good reason.

The Constitution of the United States is taking one hell of a beating of late. This is the document, which is the foundation for our political system and our overall culture I would say. It is what defined us as a nation and it was, in its time, a radical document. It was, not to be punny, REVOLUTIONARY.

It is still relevant today. Freedom is freedom. Liberty is liberty. We must as a nation ALWAYS error on the side of preserving freedom and liberty for ALL. I am not saying we should ignore the law, I am saying when there is gray area, the lens we must use, is the lens that allows for the preservation of liberty and the least intrusion of government in the private lives of citizens.

Human rights, civil rights, states rights and then and only then the rights of the Federal Government.

I am tired of beating the TSA horse - whose policies are  a blanant violation of Americans 4th Amendment rights. (Just so we are clear - I am not changing my opinion, just moving onto another topic.)

I am moving onto the 1st Amendment, which aside from the 4th, is my favorite.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


When we as writers write things, which we have factual proof of or are expressing an opinion we hold dear, the government cannot censure it. They don't have to like it, but they cannot censure it. They cannot just come on over and delete my blog. In China, they can. Here in the US, they can't, even though they might want to.

(This includes you Department of Homeland Security, even though you might like to think otherwise, just sayin' Constitutions trumps the Patriot Act and if doesn't - shame on you court system.)

This brings us to WikiLeaks. (who I would link to, but am either being blocked from doing so by Big Brother and Big Business or they truly have not found a new host server.) Here is a reuters news article on the subject.

I am not exactly sure how I feel about the cache of US State Department Cables, which WikiLeaks is slowly feeding out into the Internet. On one hand, as a writer, I want my copyright respected. No one better be publishing my work, without my permission, I own it, unless I have waived my rights. You can quote me, if you link properly. (see what I did with the Amendment 1 quote.)

What WikiLeaks is doing is hardly quoting. It is publishing documents wholesale. Presumably redacted in certain cases.

Also, do the writers of the documents have copyright rights? Is their work product considered the property of their employer, the United States Government and as such, what must the Government do to safe guard that work product.

And let's clear this up, how did WikiLeaks get the information? Was it really that easy for one army private pencil pusher, to download all this stuff and just pass it along. Did he get paid?

If WikiLeaks paid him to "steal" the information, ie it was their idea and they asked him to do, then I am more upset than if they just bought it from him.

What I am ravingly pissed about is that he, this lowly army PFC could get his hands on it at all! Hello - is my government run by a bunch of circus clowns? (emphatic nodding of head YES!)

Furthermore, some of what is said in what little of this I have read is objectionable. It is not professional and it is the kind of thing I would NOT want my employees writing about co-workers, allies, vendors or partners. Everything we write or say in a professional (and frankly personal) context should pass what I call the "would I want to see this printed on the front page of the New York Times." (any doubts - yes this blog post passes this test and frankly if they want to reprint it, it will cost them. I am not waiving my fee.)

Then there is the very real issue of who needs to know. There was a time I would have said that some things need to remain secret. I don't feel that way now. I have about zero confidence in the elected officials in Washington and their appointees. They allowed slanderous material to be stolen and then leaked. What kind of security did they have in place. (Um, poor.)

Freedom is not a game. National Security is not a game. A police state is not what we want. We have to have a balance between Freedom and Liberty and frankly I think it is HIGH time the American public wake up and realize we are not getting what we are paying for in terms of representation and good stewardship of our national ideals.

Members of Congress and the President are public servants. They serve at our pleasure and we pay their salary.

Shifting gears -

There is some speculation that Amazon and other web hosts were pressured to kick WikiLeaks off their servers. I am inclined to believe phone calls were made. I am also inclined to believe that WikiLeaks violated Amazon's terms of service vis a vi the ownership of content posted and hosted via Amazon's web service. (This is what Amazon has said in a press release/comment)

The thing is, in this case, I think it should have gone to court. It would be incumbent on the US and other Nations to prove that WikiLeaks had no legal right to the content. Who owns the documents. Was there a reasonable expectation of privacy?

In my experience, Terms of Service  Agreements are the scapegoat. Is Amazon actively monitoring all of its clients and the material posted to the servers. Not a chance. Did someone with some political clout recommend they take action. You betcha.

I think everyone deserves a slap on wrists here. Amazon for appearing to cave (and as a book seller, that scares me. What if someone with some political power suggests not selling a book about this very case in a year. Will they cave? The press must be allowed to continue.)

The US Government, sloppy with your security of documents and archives much. For shame. For shame that it was that easy to get that amount of information, embarrassing information stolen. You have no one to blame but yourselves and I were the boss - a good number of you would be fired.

WikiLeaks - I am not sure of your motivates. I am not sure you are the good guy. I do think, that you have an agenda that I might not be 100% in favor of, but I do think you are exposing the truth, embarrassing though it might be.

I will leave you dear readers with this. I used to wonder how Hitler did it. How did he get a nation, if not half a continent to follow his insane plans? I could not for the life of me as a young passionate contrary woman get my head around the idea that all those people went along. Hello your neighbors are being marched to a gas chamber. Your co workers are disappearing. Didn't you smell something, anything?

I will tell you how it happens. Erosion of civil rights and then the justified seizure of your basic human rights. It really is that simple. It is systematic and it is brutal and it is happening right now in the US at airports. It happened with your investment accounts right after 9/11 - too bad most Americans didn't notice.

It may start at a train station near you soon.

It may already be happening with our ability to gather information on the world wide web. It may be happening at the largest retailer of books/media, Amazon. (Why can't I get WikiLeaks to come up?)

When the STATE decides what information you have a right to see, that is censorship.
When the STATE decides it is ok to sexually assault you in an airport, that is a police state.
When the STATE decides to exempt themselves from the rules (notice congress members are exempt from sexual assault at airports.) It is the slippery slope to Big Brother running rampant.
When the STATE decides to run it citizens to the ground in a public square with tanks, that was China, it could just as easily be the United States.

When WikiLeaks leaks largely unedited and highly embarrassing documents, which it easily obtained, I think it is unethical on one hand, but way preferable to being felt up in an airport and being told what to read by the State.

It is preferable to being forced to join the Hitler Youth and hiding in my cellar as Nazi soldiers ransack my family home and physically and perhaps sexually intimidate my mother, which is EXACTLY what my mother in law experienced as a girl not much older than my daughter, in Germany during WW II.

Let's be careful what we wish for, as we level judgment on those who publish the truth. WikiLeaks did not write these documents... they are merely exposing those who did.

The real question is - is the tone and tenor of those documents the tone and tenure we want our elected official and government employees to be using? Is this what are tax dollars should be spent on? Should we believe what the President says because he is the President? Or should we be more critically thinking about how we are running this nation. Do we want to follow (goose stepping along like lemmings) the "this is what WE decided is best for you" bandwagon?

Those are the questions, which we must answer.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hey - Michelle, she has a point, what DO YOU Have to say for YOURSELF

Harassing a nursing mother? Mr. President you must be SO proud.

This is not the reason I vote for you, Mr. President. This is disgraceful and abusive to women. I pumped and carried for my daughter all the time. Breast is best and no child should have to be fed X-rayed breast milk - the guidelines allow for it to be alternatively screen. The TSA manager should lose his job.