Monday, December 31, 2012

The Best of 2012

I'm sitting here on New Year's Eve about to begin the festivities with close friends.  2013 is coming very fast, so I have barely enough time to think back on 2012.  Here's the quick and dirty "best of"

My Craft Room!  In 2012, I went from Dreaming of a Craft Room to Craft Room MusingsDIY Fabric Storage, and ultimately, the Craft Room Reveal.  I love my craft room, even if it is a mess right now.  2013 will bring more sewing and crafting, God and time willing.

Etsy and the creations in it!  Pretty Pretty Cindy opened in 2012, with all of my various creative projects.  I love having a place to share my projects/creations without needing to find a family member or friend to give it to.  One of my favorite items was this Catherine Wheel Afghan.  It will always remind me of Kawaii where it was made.  I made a few rag quilts (I really need to get back to that):  Raggedy Rag Baby Boy Quilt, Chocolate Pistachio Quilt and Pinkie Rag Quilt.  Then there was the dress making frenzy:  the Watermelon Dress, Upcycled Gauze Dress, Upcycled Denim Skirt and Black Slip Dress.

I also started to share my Arizona with you:  javelinas, other Arizona critters, the Arizona Biltmore, Arizona's Centennial, Sedona and roses, clouds, the State Fair and Verde Canyon Railroad.

See you in 2013.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Let the Christmas Festivities Begin!

While many people have already kicked their Christmas tree to the curb and darkened their doorsteps by removing the Christmas lights, Christmastide is just getting started.  Traditionally, Christmas celebrations began on Christmas Day, December 25 and did not end until Candlemas, February 2.  Can you imagine how crazy retailers would be if they had to clear out Christmas after February 2 and get Valentine's Day up immediately??

Personally, we don't take down our Christmas decorations until after Epiphany, January 6.  You might recall that Epiphany celebrates the day when the three wise men (aka kings) brought gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh to the infant Jesus.  I really enjoy Christmastide because I just don't want Christmas to end at midnight on December 25.  I'm so relieved that Christian tradition supports me on this.  Want more interesting Christmas fun facts that will keep you celebrating beyond December 25?

  • The Twelve Days of Christmas was written for the time between Christmas and Epiphany.  The first day of Christmas is Christmas Day and you get the 12 drummers drumming on January 5, the eve of Epiphany.
  • After the Reformation, some Protestant groups disavowed the celebration of Christmas.  During a Calvinist reign in England, Parliament forbade the celebration of Christmas
  • In Massachusetts, with its Puritan roots, up until the 1830's anyone who missed school or work on December 25 was subjected to a fine.
  • Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, but it's the same day as Christmas in the Western church - December 25.  How?  The Orthodox churches follow the Julian calendar and Western churches follow the Gregorian calendar.  By calculating the difference (about 13 days), January 7 is December 25.
  • December 26 is Boxer Day in Canada and England.  The feast celebrates the day the priest emptied the "poor box" which was full after Christmas.  Boxer Day is the day when many people give gifts to people who serve them during the year - mailmen, barbers or stylists, etc.
  • In many parts of the world, some or all of the gifts are not opened until Epiphany because that was the day the Magi brought gifts to the Christ Child.

Still ready to take down that tree now?  Leave it up - celebrate a bit more!  Think about moving your "tree calendar" next year.  Don't put up your tree the day after Thanksgiving.  Wait a little longer and then you won't rush to get it down on December 26.

Merry Christmas and a Blessed Christmastide.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Meaning of It All

December 21, 2012 is gone and, despite the fears of many, the world did not end.  Unfortunately, for the parents and families of the Sandy Hook victims, a big part of their world ended a week ago.  Here in our hometown, a sixteen year old girl died and her friend was injured when a sixteen year old boy hit them in a tragic accident.  These senseless deaths are magnified by the fact we are so close to Christmas.  For many people, Christmas seems meaningless this year.

Christmas is a cheerful, frivolous giddy time, but the real Christmas has more meaning than the shiny secular version.  Christmas is about a baby in swaddling clothes and the silent night filled with angels singing.  It's also about a power that is bigger than violence and stronger than depression.  We frequently hear that Christ is the reason for the season.  I don't think that's quite correct.  He is the reason. Period. End.  In all times, in all seasons, this year, next year and next Tuesday, Christ is the reason.

The most beautiful paradox is that while Christ is the power bigger than evil, He didn't come to earth that way.  Jesus became human in the form of a helpless baby in a violent world.  He was born into an occupied country.  He was homeless and poor.  Shortly after He was born, in an act of domestic terrorism (or genocide), the leader of His nation (not the occupying government) ordered the slaughter of all male children under the age of 3.  His parents fled to a foreign country in an effort to escape the violence of their own.  Eventually, he died a violent death.  He was not immune to senseless violence.  But in the end, Christ conquered death to show us that ultimately, God brings good from even the most horrific events.  We wait in joyful hope for that good.  Hold on to the simplicity of faith in a baby who brings healing to a broken world.

Merry Christmas


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Recipe - Cranberry-Orange Snack Mix

This is a repeat from last year - not only in posting this recipe, but also because it might be last minute gifts again this year.

It's getting down to the wire when I've got to think about all the "little" gifts I need - for teachers, babysitters, mailmen, other last minute recipients.  These are my favorite gifts because although I like to make them interesting, I don't necessarily have to give a lot of personal thought to them.  I also like to combine my love for the deal.  Specifically, I like to buy Christmas things right after Christmas for a song and wait and use them the following year.  When I unwrap my Christmas decorations, I enjoy finding something new - like Christmas comes early.  Last year I found these glass Santa containers on sale for $1.00 each (originally $4.99) at Target.  I thought I would make cookie mix, but because of the small size, I needed to think of something else.

 Cranberry/Orange Snack Mix

The ingredients are pretty simple:

2 c. Corn Chex
2 c. Oat squares
2 c. Mini Pretzels
1 c. whole almonds
1/4 c. butter
1/3 c. frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
3 Tbl packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
2/3 c. dried cranberries (Craisins)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees and coat a 13X9 inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Mix the first four ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.  In a smaller bowl melt butter and add orange juice concentrate, brown sugar and spices.  Mix well and pour over the dry ingredients, stirring them to coat. 

 Spread the resulting mix on the baking pan and bake for 50 minutes.  You will need to stir the mix every 10 minutes.  

Once it's done, you add the Craisins and lay the mix out on a flat surface until it's dry.  You can store it in any airtight container.  As an extra bonus, your kitchen will have a wonderful smell of spiced orange and cranberry.  

This is better than any old cookie mix :)


Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Way It Ought to Be

My son participates in a an extracurricular school for the arts and every year about this time they do a revue with the various age groups.  The theme this year was America, and this little group did some great little numbers

They were so sweet.  Each came forward and sang little solos, including "God Bless America."

I loved it, but it also made me cry.

These are kindergarteners.

This is the way kindergarteners should be spending a Saturday before Christmas.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Comfort

We're finally putting up our Christmas decorations, and once again I feel a sense of comfort and familiarity.  I don't know about anyone else, but I put my decorations in the same place every year.  I tend to group similar items together.  Snowmen go in the kitchen, nativity scenes on the piano, and angels on the bar.

Some of my favorite decorations are in the main bathroom where the Santas live.  I can look at every decoration and remember where I bought or received it.  Here's my favorite:

I still have a hard time looking at these guys without laughing.  Their looks seem to question why they are there.  I also have this cute Santa and Mrs. Claus.

I bought these about 12 years ago at a craft fair at my church.  The woman who made them subsequently died from cancer and her husband loved hearing that I still had her creations and displayed them every year.  Santa has to lean on the Santa candle because he can't stand on his own, but I can't imagine decorating this room without him.

One of my newer areas is my bar adored with angels.

This is one of my favorite angels that I bought about 5 years ago at of all places, a copper mine.

It makes me feel good putting all of these pieces in the same places every year.  I guess it reminds me of Christmases past (or I'm just too lazy to think of a different way to decorate).  Either way, it's part of the comfort of Christmas.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Is Approaching

Like you don't know?  I'm trying to stay stress free, but it's not so easy. I'm using this time to teach my children about the preparation for Christ's second coming by helping our neighbors who are in need. There have been so many opportunities through angel trees, Toys for Tots, etc, but it can be exhausting. I've given up some of my time, especially with my blog. I can say, though, that it's been rewarding.

Now comes the hard part-convincing the kids that they can do with a little less this year. I've told them that with so much charitable giving, there is less available for them. No problem, Mom, Santa Claus will still come through with the big stuff. (sigh) It's not so easy, but I have a little time to figure it out.

So, for those of you who continue to read my blog, please bear with me. I promise to have some new projects and other interesting things to say soon. In the meantime, enjoy your Christmas preparations even more by buying or making a few extra things for those who might not feel the love through a gift or kindness just for them. Isn't that what Christmas is about anyway?


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wreath Recycling in Phoenix

Recently seen in Phoenix City Hall - lots of junk:

The Public Works Department put together a great display of wreaths made from recycled materials.  The wreath above is made from magazine or book pages cut in the shape of leaves and glued to a cardboard round form.  This one is the most interesting:

It's a wire wreath form that goes through each of these plastic water bottles.  The bottles are filled with little bits of colored paper or items and then the caps are corked with recycled corks.  Isn't that clever?

When I first saw this one, I thought it was recycled bows and ribbons.  I still think that would be a great way to recycle, especially after Christmas.  But it's not ribbons and bows.

These are aluminum cans cut into strips and curled.  See the Diet Coke, Coke and Seven Up cans?  I was so impressed with the creativity expressed in these displays, but what was more important was that it opened up lots of ideas about reusing items we normally think of as trash.

Full Disclosure Here - I am watching "Hoarders Buried Alive" while I'm writing this, so I don't want to suggest that anyone collect trash in an effort to find some use for it in the future.

This was the prettiest wreath I saw and is a great way to recycle after Christmas.  They used white tissue paper dipped in a little blue paint, blue cardstock cut into stars and balled up aluminum foil for the star centers.  Around the edges are cut up plastic water bottles.

Again, I wouldn't suggest that anyone pile up stuff just to find a way to reuse it (I'm still watching "Hoarders"), but we could keep so much out of a landfill with just a little effort and creativity.  Isn't this what bloggers are good at anyway?


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Once in a Lifetime

Last Saturday my husband surprised me with a once in a lifetime opportunity.  He is a church music director and we both have been musicians for many years (that's how we met).  He arranged for us to meet this guy:

For those of you who don't follow Christian contemporary music, this is Michael W. Smith, who is probably one of the best known and prolific songwriters in this genre.  This alone would have been very cool, but we had a very unique way of "meeting" him:

That's us in the back - we're in the backup choir!!  There were 40 voices in the choir and we rehearsed all day with Michael's fabulous music director, David Hamilton

It was so exciting - and challenging!  Because my dear husband wanted it to be a surprise, I didn't get to see the music until that morning (on the way to the theater).  Still, the opportunity to sing in a concert with Michael W. Smith and a full orchestra was amazing:

What a great time!  Thanks Kent!  Thank you David Hamilton!  Thank you Michael!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cyber Monday - How To

Tomorrow is the big day - Cyber Monday.  Some retailers are calling it Cyber Week.  (Those are probably the ones that were open on Thanksgiving.)  While it's awesome to shop in your pajamas (or at your desk at work), there are a few things you should know.  Here are the tips, and at the bottom of this post I have the best prices for a few popular items.

1.  Make sure your computer has security software that is up to date.  Also, if you use Microsoft, check to make sure it is up to date.  Don't assume - go into the program on settings and look for "updates" and run it to be sure.

2.  Don't be surprised if websites load slowly.  Don't even bother to try dial-up.  Don't assume that it's OK to use your work computer to shop.  Remember, it's not your computer.  It is your employer's computer and your employer has the right to retrieve any information you look at or search for (something to keep in mind every day of the year.)

3.  DO NOT USE PUBLIC INTERNET OR UNSECURED WI-FI.  This includes the library, the free wi-fi at restaurants, libraries, hotels or anywhere else.  This also applies to your cell phone.  Use the phone line, not the wi-fi.  If you use wi-fi, you might as well write your credit card information on your forehead.

4.  Don't use a debit card or account routing number for your transactions.  Stick with a credit card or Paypal.  They provide protection for bad transactions.

5.  Make sure you only enter financial information into encrypted sites.  Look for "https" at the beginning of the URL and a closed padlock on the lower right corner.  It should be on every page that asks for personal information.

6.  If the site is loading slowly, don't resend information on the order (financial information etc) by pressing "send" again because you may end up buying more than one of the product.  Be sure to check your receipt and print it.  Check that receipt against the one in the shipping box when you receive the item.  If there is a discrepancy, call the vendor immediately.

7.  If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.  If you aren't familiar with the vendor, check for reviews.  This is especially true if you came to the website by clicking on a link.  Use Google to look up the business.  Also, be careful what you are clicking.  Watch out for peripheral ads or links through emails.  Be very wary if you see you are being redirected as the website is loading.  You may just be bait for phishers or inviting key stroke loggers over for dinner.

8.  Don't buy things online this week unless you are getting FREE SHIPPING.  Everyone is offering free shipping and the difference of paying for shipping can quickly turn that great price into a bad deal. Also, make sure the item is in stock and an estimated delivery date.  If the item is out of stock, find out the estimated availability date and try to reserve it without paying now.

9.  Think about setting up a new email before you start shopping.  The email addresses you enter at those websites will be flooded with advertisements.  Most are probably legitimate, but if you use the same email for important communications, you won't want to wade through hundred of emails a week to find the important communications.

10.  Don't feel pressured to buy NOW because the price seems really good.  You may miss the best deal, but if you aren't sure you want or need the item, it's not a good idea to buy it.  Everything will be on sale (and should ship for free) until December 15.

Shopping for the "best" deal can be tedious and you may waste a lot of time to save pennies.  Here are a few "deals" I found tonight, but it literally took me a couple of hours.  Stick to the main retailers (Amazon, Walmart, Target) for most items, and a few other specialty retailers.

X-Box 360 console - $189 at Walmart

UGG Boots - Chestnut short Women $131.71 and Kids $101.00 at

Master Moves Mickey $48.85 (Amazon & Walmart)

Fisher Price Jake and the Neverland Pirates $39 (Target, Walmart, ToysRUs & Amazon)

(Don't wait too long for the toys because they do sell out)

Good luck and happy hunting for the great deals!


Friday, November 23, 2012

Gift Ideas - Little Princesses

Have I said how much I love shopping Etsy?  It's officially Black Friday, so it's time to shop for Christmas.  Previously, I provided suggestions for men and women.  Today let's work on the little girl in your life.  These items are for girls under 5, but also include some baby items that may be suitable for baby showers.  Click the picture to my Pinterest "Etsy Finds" board and then click through directly to the item on Etsy.  Without further ado:

Vintage Rag Doll 

Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

5 Piece Bedding Set
Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

Mini Corker Hair Bows
Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

Pink & Grey Chevron Wood Blocks
Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

Lady Bug Tutu
Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

Felt Play Wands
Source: via Cindy on Pinterest

These are just a few of the adorable items you can find on Etsy.  (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT) Don't forget to check out my store Pretty Pretty Cindy for some other inexpensive gift ideas.  I will keep posting in the upcoming days for baby/toddler boys, bigger little girls (6-11), little boys and teens.

Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving - on with the Christmas shopping.  Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, so patronize the fine businesses on Etsy.  Also, don't forget this Monday is Cyber Monday!  Visit your favorite on-line retailers for some great deals without leaving the comfort of your home (or desk).


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Today is the one day each year when we make a conscious effort to say thank you to our God. We should say thanks every day, every hour, but while I'm thinking about it, here goes:

I thank God for each person who reads my ramblings.

I'm thankful for my wonderful family, especially my husband and children.

I am thankful I'm not cooking today thanks to my mother-in, law.

I'm thankful to spend time with my brother and his family and many friends.

I'm thankful for the men and women who won't be with their families because they are serving our country in a far away land.

There is always a reason to give thanks.

Even if you don't feel thankful today because your life may be difficult, be thankful because your difficulty will lead to something even better.

Best of all, thank God because He loves you just the way you are.


Monday, November 19, 2012

A Chain of Thanks

This was a project we first did last year on Thanksgiving and we're going to repeat it this year.  It was very popular and so easy to do!  Here's my directions from last year:

Start with some autumn color construction paper cut into 1 1/2" wide strips:

Provide a strip to everyone gathered at your Thanksgiving table and write why you are thankful:

Collect the strips and create a chain of thanks:

My kids had a great time doing this with grandma and grandpa.  Later we went to my brother and sister-in-law's house for dessert.  They usually have a lot of people over for Thanksgiving, including many friends.  Even though we didn't know many of them, people were happy to share their thoughts of thanks with us.  It brought a great meaning to Thanksgiving.

After making our chain of thanks, we hung it on our Christmas tree to remember to be thankful during the holidays.  It added a sense of continuity to the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Have a thankful Thanksgiving!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lincoln - A Review

We saw the new movie "Lincoln" today.  SPOILER ALERT - The South loses the war.  (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)  Seriously, this was an excellent movie.  We were in a large theater and it was nearly full.  Interestingly, the median age of the patrons was probably about 45.  I think there was a senior center that brought a bus load of senior citizens, but there were plenty of other people there too.

The movie is long - about 2 1/2 hours, but it was worth every minute.  I can't imagine what could have been cut.  It's a highly intelligent movie showing Abraham Lincoln's tremendous struggles in leading the United States through a time of social upheaval in the midst of the most devastating war in American history.  It isn't the story of his life, but a short snapshot, probably the last 6 months of his life (which ended five days after the Civil War ended).  Even though the war was the most significant backdrop in this film, it is definitely not a war movie (although there are a few gruesome shots of dead soldiers).  Instead, the film is about the difficulties Lincoln had in bringing the war to an end.  The goal of every character in the movie was to end the war, without giving up too much of life as they knew it.  The movie is very political - not in making a political statement, but in revealing the politics of the day.

Daniel Day Lewis is sure to be nominated for an Oscar for his performance of Abraham Lincoln.  He showed Lincoln's practically insurmountable barriers he faced to achieve his dual goals: ending the war while ending the issue at the heart of the conflict - slavery.  He was a political genius.  He knew how to work people and manipulate the events in order to advance his position.

Sally Field does an amazing job as Mary Todd Lincoln, who history has depicted as a fragile crazy woman.  Field's Mary Todd Lincoln is much more involved in supporting Lincoln in his political decisions, even attending the debates in the House of Representatives.  Her weakness is her children, especially the Lincoln's middle child, Willie, who died several years before the movie takes place.  If balancing a war, dealing with an enormous social evil and working the political process wasn't enough for Abraham Lincoln, he still had to protect his sensitive wife.

This Steven Spielberg film features many talented actors.  First and foremost is Tommy Lee Jones who plays Representative Thaddeus Stevens.  There are so many others - James Spader as W.N. Bilbo, a slick lobbyist; David Strathaim as Secretary of State Seward; Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair, a wealthy political influencer; and Joseph Gordon-Levit as Lincoln's oldest son, Robert.  There are great performances from each of them.  Somebody's sure to win something for this movie.

A couple of things to know before going to this movie.  First, it's not a movie for kids and probably most teenagers.  It's not that gory, but the dialogue is typical for the period, which means it can be difficult to understand.  There is also more dialogue than action.  Second, it can be confusing, but the Lincoln's Republican Party is the Democrat Party of today, and the Democrat Party of Lincoln's day is the Republican Party today.  If you understand that going into the movie, it can be helpful in seeing how the political philosophies haven't changed much.

Four stars for me!


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Who Stole My Twinkie?

By now you have heard the news - the Twinkie, Ding Dong, HoHo, Suzy Q, Chocolate Cupcake - GONE!  Yeah, we've been hearing rumors for a while now that Hostess was closing forever and taking the Twinkies with it.  But I never thought I'd see the day when these important parts of my childhood weren't there for my children. {sigh}

Tonight, I went on a noble quest to find the last Twinkie.  It was an odyssey that took me through six grocery stores, a big box store, a drug store and a convenience store.  Epic.

First stop - Target.  They're big, gotta have it, right?  Nope.

That's it.  Strawberry Cupcakes?  Chocolate Cream Twinkies?  WTH?  Little did I know I was looking at the best selection I would see tonight.  I scooped up the box of Suzy Qs and moved on.

Next stop - Frys (Kroger for those of you in different parts of the U.S.).  Gotta be more, right?

More chocolate cream Twinkies!?!  They don't even look good on the box!  These were the last Twinkies I would see.  Meanwhile, Little Debbie was right there to mock me.  Check out these Cupcake, HoHo and Ding Dong wannabes:

Fresh & Easy - ummm, no.  I don't think Twinkies ever showed up there.

Safeway (Vons for the California crowd).  I had high expectations.  Too bad for me - crickets.

AND more mocking:

At this point I was running out of big supermarkets.  I gave Albertson's a chance.

I knew it was over.  No Twinkie stockpile.  No Ding Dong stash.  Only fake Cupcakes and HoHos in the future.  There had to be a place where there would be something!  Time to go to the K

I picked up a cherry pie and trudged to the door.  At least I got to taste that salty cherry filling in the sugar glazed crust.

I heard that Hostess is going to sell the Twinkie name and recipe, so I'm sure we will see our old friends again.  Let's just hope they don't look like bad cosmetic surgery.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chance Encounter (By the Hair of My Chinny Chin Chin)

I haven't written about a Chance Encounter in a while, probably because I haven't encountered anyone too interesting.  The other night we looked out our front door and found a whole herd of interesting (sorry for the bad pictures - they were taken through a window).

Just in case you can't figure out what you're looking at, here's a better stock picture:

These are javalina (have-a-leen-a).  There were eight of them on our porch, including at least two little ones.  They were having a great feast on our leftover pumpkins.  At one point a car made a loud noise about a block away and they scattered in a flash of little hooves clattering on the brick walk.

This one came back and he was very sassy.  Right here he's standing less than three feet from me with only a window between us.  He was chomping away at that pumpkin.  At one point he raised his head and looked right at me wiggling his snoot.  We were really connecting.

So now that you've seen these guys, guess what kind of animal they are.  Razorbacks?  Boars?  Pigs?  Well, not exactly.  A javelina is a Collared Peccary which migrated over time from South America as far north as Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  They weigh about 35-50 pounds and travel in herds (like the herd on our porch).  They have very poor eyesight, but a great sense of smell and pretty good hearing.  If you startle them, they will run off but leave a musk smell like a skunk.  That's why they're also called Skunk Pigs.  However, "pigs" as known in the U.S. are derived from European pigs, while javalina are native to the Americas, so they are not related to domesticated pigs or feral pigs (razorbacks).

Their natural food is cactus, but hey, this guy lives in Scottsdale.  He loves ornamental flowers.  He has an accurate calendar and knows trash day.  If you put out your trash can the night before pickup, you will find the street littered with trash from all the trash cans down the street.  That's good eatin'.  These guys even tried eating the votive candles and metal pumpkin pails in front of my house.  This guy spared my pumpkins before Halloween, so I could hardly begrudge him a little snack and chat with me.

I guess we had a chance encounter over a good meal.