Hey Look a Craft

Aka my job has been taking over my life! I have spent so much time working lately due to various problems and issues at work that I haven't had much of any time for crafting in the last three months. My life has revolved around working, sleeping and maybe just maybe grabbing some food in between. It's coming to an end however and I can finally work on having a real work/life balance for awhile. Or at least until the next problem rolls around, as it undoubtedly will. But all the work has definitely been worth it, both in overtime pay which has helped us save for a house faster and in experience at my job. I've now worked through some of the most challenging situations we're likely to see, and now I will be much better prepared if heaven help us they happen again in the future. I've also gotten a chance to do some networking with managers from other mills as they have come in to help us from time to time.

Now that I've gotten off track talking about work, it's time to focus on the fun weekend activities instead! Ages ago I saw a cute door decoration on pinterest courtesy of Marsh madness and I knew that it would eventually make a great front door decoration. Our last front door decoration which we put up just before Christmas only lasted until about February until Steve declared that it was clearly a winter wreath and couldn't stay up any longer. We ended up going nearly five months without anything pretty on the front door because I just didn't have time to devote to crafting or even buying anything.

With work settling down, I took a trip last weekend to Joann's to see what kind of fun goodies I could find. I ended up with several cute storage boxes to use in our linen closet, tissue paper for another craft (coming soon!), a cute wooden letter and a roll of decorative packing tape just because I thought it looked pretty. I also found a cheap certificate frame at Home Goods that was just what I wanted for this project. Originally I thought I was going to paint the wooden letter, but then I realized how fun it would look with the packing tape wrapped around it!

The frame and partially taped letter. See how well they go together! I never would have guessed that this combination would be exactly what I wanted. I used a razor blade to cut lines in the packing tape so that it would go around the curves smoothly. There were a few places where i should have cut smaller pieces for a better fit around the curves, but it still looks so pretty. I didn't cover the entire back of the letter because it won't really be seen and the packing tape was $7 a roll!

I used some of my free ribbon from Steve's grandmother from my awesome ribbon rack to wrap around the letter and the frame so that I could hang it. It does clatter a bit when we open and close the door, so I might have to find a better way to secure it if the noise ends up bothering me, but if it doesn't then all the better!

A Weekend of First Robotics

Whew it seems like I've been away for far too long. I we'll say that I gave up blogging and snark for lent.  One of those worked much better than the other.  I was ready to come back last week, but then life exploded in a really terrible way.  Now life has settled a bit and that Easter is almost here it's time to get back on the blog train.  And now that work has seemed to settle down over the last few weeks and I'm sleeping better there is finally time for us to catch up on life.

There's so much to share too, but I won't overwhelm you too much today. Over the last several months Steve has been working with a local high school as a mentor for their FIRST robotics team and two weekends ago we got to go to one of their competitions. It was especially exciting because it was hosted by the team Steve's been working with and it was at his old high school. Steve's dad was also the head referee at the competition so we got some high level insight into some interesting fouls and replay situations.

The gym was packed.  It only got more and more challenging to find good seats as the day went on.

Steve's team in the stands watching and supporting their robot.


What is a high school event without awkward group dance moves?

Many of the teams had team number signs as another sign of support and recognition.

I was skeptical at first but after watching a few of the matches I became a huge fan. The game this year is called rebound rumble and focuses on shooting baskets and balancing the robots on teeter-totter type boards. It was really cool to see all the different designs and shooting mechanisms.

The teams had 4 baskets they could use to score.  The white border is a special reflective coating that most teams used to help line up the robots for shooting.

Steve's team had an extendable arm that allowed them to get much closer to the top basket, which was worth more points than the lower baskets. 

Another shot of team 548 in the process of shooting.


Team 703 did a great job playing defense in the final matches, although I'm not sure this was a totally legal move.

Every so often, 548 would struggle to make it over the center line, which had a bit of bump to get over.  In this case, getting stuck was not a concern.

 The qualification matches actually started on Friday but we only went to the Saturday matches. We got to watch Steve's team play 2 of their qualification matches. The team ended up in third place after qualification and they got picked by the first rated team to form an alliance for the elimination matches. During the lunch break we had to rush home so I could change into my glasses because I'd managed to rip a contact and didn't have any spares since I've been wearing my glasses so much lately. We ended up missing the first elimination match because we got back late but all of the other ones were really great. The third team on the alliance was from Dexter where they had tornadoes come through recently. Their group became known for spinning like tornadoes when introduced.

The teams have student drivers that use gaming joysticks or controllers to move the robots.  They also have cute, little netbooks to run some of the software like the camera on the robot.

In the elimination round, balancing three robots on a single board was worth 40 points and in the finals our alliance managed to pull it off several times including both final matches.

Steve's team balancing with two other teams in one of the final matches.  The coveted triple balance isn't always possible because of the varying sizes of the robots.

Balancing on the middle board was only important during the qualification rounds and you had to balance with the opposing team.  Team 67 had a good mechanism to help stay on the board.

Balancing on the boards is tricky and sometimes robots ended up toppling over.  Most robots are stuck then and out for the rest of the match.

I managed to find my way to the top of the bleachers a few times to try and get some photos without blocking other people. Overall I was impressed by the lighting in the gym. Even though I had my ISO up pretty high to compensate it was definitely one of the better lit gyms I've been in.

After the matches were over, and Steve's team came in first I got to take a closer look at their robot.

Most teams used a long board to mount their netbook and controllers; 548 used a briefcase instead.   It was one of my favorite details of the day.

They even made an ethernet connection through the wall so they could hardwire the computer to the robot.




Jersey Knit Headband

To go along with the jersey bracelets I made ages ago, I made a cute 5 strand braided jersey headband to go along with them!

I used the tutorial from make it and love it.  I had to go through the steps to do the 5 strand braiding several times before I got the hang of it, but the pictures in the tutorial make it pretty easy to figure out if, like me, you haven't done it before.

Another tip for anyone who might want to try this out: I found the tucking the top of the braid under my sewing machine helpful because that held it very firmly in place.  I had to tug and poke a bit to get the braid to be even throughout the length, but using my sewing machine as a paper weight meant it didn't pull out at all.


This headband is especially useful now that my hair is so short!

DIY Valentine's Day Felt Garland

You didn't think I'd go past a holiday without doing a little bit of decorating for it did you?  Of course not. Since I didn't have any good ideas in my database, I started by browsing pinterest for some ideas, and found a couple of cute ones!

I wish I knew exactly where these directions came from, but once I hit this chinese website, that was as far as I could trace the source.


Since the picture above was the extent of the directions I had to do some guessing as far as the size of my felt.  I ended up using 4" tall felt and that made really nice shaped hearts, but you could go taller or shorter depending on your heart shape preferences.

This is how I threaded 3-4 on string at a time.  Doing this made the garland assembly move much quicker.

Spread out garland.


I used red, pink, and white felt here, but it's hard to see the difference between the pink and red.

To take the place of my twisted felt garland from christmas, I strung some of the hearts vertically instead of horizontally as above.

And finally hung one last strand over the living room entry way.

I've still got one or two more Valentine's day crafts to show, so stop back soon!

Happy Birthday and my New Job!

Yesterday was a great day.

I was supposed to start my new job last week, but it got pushed back until yesterday.  I wasn't sure how it would go, and of course I had some nerves about it.

I spent the whole day in safety training, and I'll be spending the next five days plus another two after that doing more training and orientation.

Everyone was so genuinely nice.

In my last job, safety training was important but really dull.  Really dull.

It was decidedly awesome and fun.

The safety guy was entertaining and full of crazy random stories.

He reminded me a lot of Ron Stoppable.

I got to use my new frog bento lunchbox.  (my lunch was a bit lame, but I was unprepared)


My birthday cake was argyle and was delicious.

All around a fantastic day.  Probably the best birthday yet.

First Finished Quilt

After I finished my quilt top, I needed to get a walking foot before I could do the quilting step.

That ended up taking about a week, so my quilt spent a lot of time sitting like this in the living room:

After I got a walking foot from Joann's, I had some trouble getting started with quilting.  After a few false starts, I ended up having Steve do a bit of maintenance on my machine.  He took it apart, oiled the spots recommended in the manual and replaced the bobbin winder.  This helped immensely and made quilting much easier.

I drew lines on the quilt top to use as guides.

The back of the quilt.

After quilting came the last step, binding.  I pinned and sewed the binding to the back of the quilt.  The corners are a bit funny looking at this step, but that's so they look nice on the front.

Then the binding gets folded over to the front and pinned before sewing it in place.

The front corners ended up looking pretty good, but in the future I think I'll sew the binding on by hand instead of using the sewing machine.  Having the stitches hidden on the binding would have looked a lot better I think, even though it probably would have taken more time.  I spent more than my fair share of time with the seam ripper while I was working on the binding because the first time I sewed it on the bobbin tension was way too low and it was all scraggly on the back.  I contemplated leaving it a bit scraggly, but I decided that after all the time and effort I had put into it already it was worth the extra time to do the binding right.

The last step is to send it through the washer and dryer.  It helped soften the quilt up as it was quite stiff before washing.  I had to get Shout Color Catchers to go in the wash with it, and I'm really glad that I did because the color catcher cloth came out of the washer a dingy gray, and I did not want that extra dye absorbing into my quilt.
My finished quilt.  It's a bit smaller than our queen size bed and great as a lap blanket!

All of my quilting advice came from the excellent quilting series on Diary of a Quilter.

Thanksgiving

We had a lovely Thanksgiving this year!  Much different than our celebration last year, we spent this year with our family.

I got to make a few appetizers to bring to the party so I chose potato skins, spinach artichoke dip and bruschetta.
The potato skins are another Simply Recipes favorite of mine.

Spinach Artichoke dip made in the crockpot is super simple.  Tip: buy bulk spinach instead of boxed spinach, it's about half the price! 

A nice simple bruschetta via Tasty Kitchen!

The appetizer table.


One carved turkey

Lots of bread and delicious homemade strawberry jelly!

Side dishes galore made by my mom and grandmother

Stuffing straight from the bird!

Brussels sprouts for dinner too, these are fantastic!

Poking around having some fun.


Sitting around watching football and chatting!


There were also lots of pretty decorations up. 

Beautiful chandelier.

Tasty tasty fruit (not really, it's fake)

There were lots of great desserts, but somehow I forgot to take pictures of the desserts; we were probably too busy eating them up!

Jersey Bracelets

Reusing my old knit shirts from Saudi to make jersey bracelets was on my inspiration board of projects for post-Saudi life.  These were fun to make and a cute, casual way to spruce up outfits.

I followed the tutorial from V and Co, but I highly recommend checking out the video she made to go along with it because the written directions were a smidge confusing.

I wasn't super happy with my first attempt to tie them closed but I redid it to pull the ends together better and I think they look much better.

First attempt

Second attempt tying them, much better.

If you don't already have knit shirts to cut up, I would recommend buying jersey knit fabric and as a benefit you won't have the seam showing from the shirt strips.

My First Quilt

I have a habit of starting new big crafts during unreasonable times, like when I decided to learn to knit during finals freshman year.  Or when I decided to loom knit a blanket (still sadly unfinished).  After admiring several quilts online and having no sewing access in Saudi, I wanted to make my own.  I don't have a lot of sewing experience with most of it revolving around pillow making and hemming pants.

Since I had very little idea what to do, I found this great quilting series by Diary of a Quilter and diligently read each step.  Quilting seems like it requires more accuracy and patience than I normally have in my sewing projects, but I didn't think it was going to be that big of a deal.

I wish step one was a trip to the fabric store, but planning the quilt was definitely the hardest step.  I already had batting rescued from mom's house during a goodwill frenzy so I based the quilt front on the batting size.

I decided to use a 3" boarder and 4" blocks, which worked out beautifully to be 16 x 11 blocks.  Originally, I thought the fabric I had to choose from would be 54" wide but it turns out the fabric I wanted were only 43" wide so I had to do some frantic recalculations at Joann’s.  The planning and my visual spatial skills were getting overwhelmed so I simplified it with an Excel spreadsheet!

Next up was a trip to Joann’s for fabric and gleefully, they were having a huge sale.  I ended up buying eight fabrics at 1/4 yard each, 2 fat quarters, and 3 3/4 yards for the back and boarder fabric.  All the fabric I got was 30% off so I ended up spending less than $30 total.


Fabrics for the quilt

Not having a set schedule always quickly degrades my sleeping and I end up with a nasty 3 am to noon sleep schedule so I have a lot of quiet time for working while Steve sleeps.  Ironing all of my new fabric was a cathartic way to fill that time; there's something very soothing about the sharp, crispiness of ironed fabric.

With all the fabric ironed and ready to cut, I promptly put everything aside and did nothing for a week.  After planning everything and getting all the pretty fabric ready, cutting into it seemed daunting and intimidating.

I managed to only mess up one block too badly although the first fabric I cut wasn't as good as the later ones.  I need a better ruler if I'm going to keep doing this because the one I have wasn't the best option possible.
176 blocks cut and ready to lay out for the quilt top.

Laying out the blocks and rearranging them was also pretty easy though I did have to monopolize most of the living room to do it.
Each row of blocks stacked up ready to sew.  I numbered each row to keep them in the right order.


This is my sewing machine; it's a 1975 Singer 360 Fashionmate and it's awesome, although I think the bobbin winder is going to need replaced soon.


Algebra likes to "help" aka sit on everything and bat at the thread.

Sewing each row together


All the rows sewed and waiting to become a quilt top.

I originally planned on a 2" boarder but tried to switch to a 4" boarder because I had enough extra fabric and it seemed a bit too narrow, but it made the quilt too wide.  I narrowed it down to 3", which looked great.

Finished quilt top

My quilt pieces ready to baste and quilt!

I thought it would take a lot more time and effort to do all of this, but in the end it only took about 4 seasons of Psych and a few Stuff You Missed In History Class podcasts to get me through the whole thing, which now that I look at it is about 50 hours of work.  I guess this week my full time job was quilt maker!

My next steps are basting and quilting, but I'm a bit stuck.  Either I need to commit to hand quilting it or get a walking foot for my sewing machine so I can machine quilt it.  Hand quilting, while impressive just seems like more work than I'm willing to devote and waiting to get a walking foot sort of stinks.  I'm pretty sure my grandmother has a walking foot I can use so until I get it I'll have to wait and work on other projects.

DIY Jewelry Display

During one of my first introductions to TJ Maxx on our Illinois trip, I picked up a bunch of stuff for the apartment since we had a bunch of basic things we needed.  Among my finds was the softest bath mat I've ever met.  I seriously could have rubbed my face on this forever, but that's beside the point.  I also picked up a cheap slack rack for all my work pants, which are doing nothing but occupying closet space at this point.  After a fun filled trip, we came home from Illinois and promptly forgot all of our TJ Maxx goodies and my shoes.

Thankfully, we got it all back in the mail a few days later, but the slack rack was a bit worse for the wear.  The hanger part of the rack was missing and thus wasn't going to do well holding slacks so I put it off to the side (okay really it sat in the middle of the living room) while I debated what to do with it.

I've seen a bunch of jewelry holders using chicken wire stretched across a picture frame and had been considering making something like that for a while, so I decided to turn the broken rack into a jewelry display.  The best part is that it works well for rings, earrings, and necklaces, which the others I've seen didn't.

I'm thinking about cutting off the purple foam and maybe spray painting it, but for now, it works great!


Homemade Apple Butter

It's been years since I've had homemade apple butter.  I remember my mom making it when I was younger, but not recently.  When we were visiting the orchard during our trip to Illinois over Labor Day, one of the treats we bought was a jar of apple butter.  We have thoroughly enjoyed it, especially as a topping for homemade oatmeal.

One of the downsides of buying apple butter was the cost.  The 19 oz jar we got from the orchard was 8 or 9 dollars, which is a bit steep if we want it more often than one jar a season. Turns out apple butter is just as easy as applesauce to make, although it does take longer to cook.

The recipe I used was from Dream Home DIY and it uses a crockpot, so most of the time was just idle cooking time.

My first batch was only 1/4 of the original recipe because I only have a small 2.5 quart crockpot.  This batch went really well, but I did not want to do another 4 or 5 tiny batches like this.


Thankfully, Steve's mom let me borrow her 6.5 quart crockpot, which easily handled the whole recipe.

After 11 hours of cooking it had reduced by about half.  Since I didn't peel the apples I used the cone colander to strain it because I wanted a smoother texture.  If you don't mind the pieces of apple peel mixed in, skipping the straining would be an option.


I didn't properly can the apple butter; instead I plan to freeze it.  From 1 1/4 batches I used about 7 pounds of apples and got 13 cups of apple butter.  Orchard bought apple butter was about $3.80 per cup so we saved about $49 making it ourselves!  Realistically this is a bit high because I did have to add a few other ingredients and use electricity for the crockpot, but these were pretty negligible expenses.

I've still got about 6 or 7 pounds of apples left so I'm trying to decide what other goodies to make.

Any suggestions?

Party Desserts

I love making food for pot lucks because it's a great chance to make new desserts without having to feel the need to eat all of them.  For our recent family gathering I went all out and made five desserts, four of which were new.

I made:

While I mostly did a good job making everything, I did a mediocre job taking pictures of it all.  I didn't get a picture of the truffles or any of the brownie roll out cookies either.

The brigadeiros are a Brazilian sweet that I had at a party in Saudi and fell in love with.  They are pretty easy to make; the hardest part was getting the right consistency when cooking it on the stove.  Turns out that chocolate pudding consistency was the way to go.


Traditionally, they're served in tiny paper cups, but I had none and no desire to hunt down such an obscure baking accessory, so I used a Jello jelly bean mould tray instead.  Yay improvising!

I've made the malted milk cookies several times in Saudi and they quickly became one of my favorites.  Making them here was trying at best.  In Saudi we didn't have regular malted milk, just chocolate malt milk powder, so I added a tablespoon of cocoa to the regular malted milk to emulate what we had in Saudi.

Baking them turned into a disaster of a learning experience.  Do not start baking on a new stove with different ingredients and use a full try of cookies because when they go terribly wrong you end up with a whole plate of pathetic ruined cookies.  I ended up ruining four more batches of single cookies before I got everything mostly worked out.  More flour, cooler temperature and less time in the oven than when we were in Saudi.  And always write notes for next time; way fewer future screw-ups that way.


The toffee bars were really easy to make, but I forgot to take a finished picture.  The only thing missing from this picture was the chocolate layer on top.  I had high hopes for these, but they ended up being somewhat of a disappointment.

The white chocolate lemon truffles were pretty easy to make and a big hit for everyone except the little kids. Only advise for this one is to make a double batch and microwave cautiously.  I accidently had a butter explosion because I was doing too many things at once.  Sadly, no final picture here either.


The brownie roll out cookies were fun to make and easy, but weren't good enough to make again.  They weren't bad by any means, just not my style.

Overall, the party desserts turned out really well and I thoroughly enjoyed trying some new recipes.  I definitely have more dessert recipes to try than any other kind!

Another Weekend, Another Trip

I love that we've gotten to travel to so many foreign destinations, but sometimes the best trips have nothing to do with foreign countries and everything to do with being around family.

One of the many blessings in my life is an amazing extended family who works so hard to stay connected and involved as we get older.  In yesteryear, we always had certain holidays to look forward to, knowing we would all be together.  These days we have to try a lot harder to get it to work with everyone's complicated schedules, but two weeks ago we finally got together for the first time since Steve and I got home.

Words don't really adequately describe how lovely it was to spend time with everyone and it was so sad to have to leave to drive back to Michigan.


Poor Allie spent a serious portion of the day immersed in homework even though she was on fall break.  The constant busyness is something I often miss and simultaneously do not regret leaving behind from my college days.  (Sidenote: what do you think of the size of the portraits vs landscapes? I can't decide if I like the portraits or if they're just too big for most normal screens)


Part of Allie's homework was taking photos for one of her film class projects, but unfortunately the film in her camera wasn't advancing so she ended up with a lot of nothing.


A new forming tradition at our get togethers is a few rousing games of catchphrase, which always results in much hilarity watching everyone describe and guess clues.


Everybody brought a little of something to the party and we had more than enough to eat.  I brought desserts (more deets tomorrow!) as there is no better way to make five desserts without worrying about promptly eating them all.

To top it off, we all got to drink out of awesome skull cups in celebration of the upcoming holiday.

More Cabin Time

We've made several trips down to the cabin lately and each one results in so much progress.  Last time we were down there the goal was to get the extension under roof, which promptly became impossible when the generator started leaking gas.  With a fixed generator and a few extra pairs of hands, we set off a couple weekends ago to give the roof another go.

Mom looking anxiously towards the open roof.

First roof joist is up (but not attached)

Steve working hard.

It was flipping cold that weekend and with no electricity, Allie and I spent a good deal of the day huddling around the kerosene heater trying to stay warm.

Allie spent a lot of time playing this iPod game, so much so that it killed the battery.

Thankfully, I brought my awesome hat, which proceeded to keep me much warmer than I thought possible. A small tree was leaning into the roof space so the sawzall and I became good friends hacking it down.



There's even a tiny pile of wood for a future bonfire!

When they put up the barn siding last time, they covered the windows and door, so Steve had to cut openings for all of them.

Yay for extra help!


Another roof joist waiting to go up.





After a lot of work, we (the guys) were making great progress on the roof.  We only had to go to the hardware store once for more plywood.  I was all over that trip because it involved a heated car and it was awesome.  I almost didn't get out of the car after that.


Cookie break!

OH NO looks like someone lost a head.

They even got the tar paper stuff down on the roof before it was time to go.

If everything had gone as planned, we would have gotten the door and the windows in too before leaving for the weekend, but as we're all learning, nothing goes as planned when it comes to this little project.  It turns out that none of the windows actually fit in the window holes, which is a wee bit embarrassing, but not unfixable.  All of the windows are going to have to be a smidge taller by redoing the supports under the windows.  However, that is a project for another day, and we ended by covering all of the window and door holes with plastic sheeting to keep out the elements.

I wish that was the end of the adventure, but alas it wasn't.  We had an outrageously long trip back because we had to stop numerous times for Allie to get sick.  Turns out she had some kind of 24 stomach bug that decided to hit as soon as we got in the car.

Homemade Applesauce

Making grape juice a couple weeks ago was so much fun that I really wanted to try making something else, and being fall, apples are in abundance so I thought applesauce or apple butter would be good options.  Both store well frozen, so I don't need to worry about diving into the world of canning; we'll leave that for next year perhaps.

As with grape juice, I got my applesauce recipe from Simply Recipes and again it worked great.  I started with 24 pounds of Jonagold apples so I could have made about 2 1/4 gallons of applesauce.  To start I only made one batch using 4 pounds of apples and that made about six cups of applesauce.



Again, as with the grape juice the whole process was made considerably easier with the core colander I've not so temporarily borrowed from my mom.  Because I had this, there was no need to peel the apples, saving considerable amounts of time.


I only used about half the sugar called for in the recipe and probably would reduce the lemon juice in any future batches.  The best part about this was how quick it was to make; it cooked for about 25 minutes and coring the apples didn't take long either.


This probably isn't the most cost effective use of time or apples considering store-bought applesauce is so cheap, but I think the overall quality was much higher and it ends up exactly as sweet as I like.

Easy Ikea Upgrade

Sprucing up an Ikea clock that probably cost less than $10 to begin with doesn't seem like the most effective use of time.  In this case though, I needed a clock and already had one even though it wasn't quite what I wanted.  So I decided a few coats of spray paint was all that would be necessary to improve it.  I used Rustoleum's flat black paint and hopefully can use the rest of the can on a future project.  This ended up being a really quick, simple project too, which is always nice when trying something new.

I started by taking apart the clock and cleaning the plastic frame.  After a few thin coats of paint on the front, I decided to do a few on the back as well because it was just a touch too transparent.

The original blue peaking out against the new black spray paint.


I let it dry overnight before putting it back together just to make sure everything was hardened and ready for reassembly.


Putting the clock back together was almost the hardest part of the project.  It took a couple of tries to fit it all together and to get it to start again.

I decided to leave off the plastic cover because it was pretty scratched and I liked the nice crisp look of no plastic.

I'd really like to be able to do some more spray painting in the near future, but I've got two main problems to work out.  The weather is quickly becoming regularly crappy, and I can't paint if it's going to rain for days on end.  And a bigger problem is I need to figure out how to better cover the sidewalk when I do spray painting because I've left more than a little paint on the sidewalks, and I cannot imagine that makes management happy.

Making Grape Juice

One of the most interesting pieces of advice I've gleaned from the internet is to never turn down something free.  If you want to be on the receiving end of free stuff you need to accept it when it comes along.  Apparently that makes you more likely to be offered goodies in the future since the giver already knows you're interested.

While I do a lot of giving away for free, I haven't had much opportunity to be on the say yes end until recently.  When we were in Ohio a couple weeks ago, we volunteered to pick grapes from my grandmother's bountiful supply of concord grapes so that she could make jam.  Since we were already out there she let us pick a box for us and my mom too.  My first thought was what are we going to do with all of these grapes.  I knew eating them as is was out of the question because after a year of eating seeded grapes in Saudi it is just a pain.  I didn't think jam or jelly was really a feasibly option because we don't have any of the basic start up gear.  Then my mom suggested just making grape juice and that seemed totally doable.

I spent time taking off all the stems and picking out all of the bad grapes and then we were ready to go.  I didn't weigh the grapes before cooking them, but based on the amount of juice we got we probably had about 4 1/2 pounds of grapes.


I followed the recipe for grape juice from Simply Recipes which was quick, easy, and spot on.  The only thing I didn't have was a colander so I borrowed my mom's old cone colander.  Using this worked really well because the wooden pestle was great for squeezing out the juice and it was much quicker than if we had let it sit and drip via gravity.

In the end we had about 3 1/2 of these jars of undiluted juice.

This doesn't seem like much juice for the effort, but it was really potent and we ended up diluting it with water by about half giving us about 72 ounces of fresh grape juice.

It only took us a couple of days to drink it all but it starts to ferment if it's sealed air tight for several days anyway, so using it quickly is recommended.

Out of the whole process, the only thing I would have done differently is to use old towels to protect the counters.  Grape stains almost everything metal and glass excluded and I ended up having to use baking soda and vinegar per advice found on Associated Content to get out the stains on the counter tops.  Grape season is almost over, but if we get more grapes in the next week or so we might get one more batch of juice this year.

Having grown up with this small grape arbor it astounds me that it has taken this long to pick grapes and you can bet we'll be back next year for more.

Labor Day Travels Part Deux

The inside spaces at the House on the Rock were filled with room after room of awesome, and the outside was no exception.  This huge cannon and chain was on display and it really looked like it could have been used at one point, although I don't know if it was.

There was a lot of wood supports and framing outside and it made the whole place feel warm and charming.

An overhead shot of the outside garden paths and ponds.  Everything was lush and green; even though it was a dreary rainy day, it was still delightful.

There were bridges across the pond connecting the paths, and some kind of koi/huge goldfish in the pond.

More bridges.  I feel like this would be a great place for family pictures; a great outdoorsy feeling without getting too far into nature.

There were also a couple of pretty little waterfalls.

Another little waterfall.

We had a couple other adventures in Illinois including a trip to UIUC to visit the infamous underground library and the cornfield that caused it.

Performing Arts theater building on campus

We also spent an afternoon at a nearby orchard enjoying the best hot apple cider and apple cider doughnuts. They really were the best doughnuts I've ever had.  They also had a little farm museum with all sorts of old farm equipment and memorabilia from life in the early 1900s.

They even had a 48 star flag on display.

I really loved the look of this old fashioned stove/oven.

They had a few animals too including this baby cow, some goats, and chickens.  It stank to high heaven inside the barn, but the animals were pretty cute.

Cool old truck sitting outside the orchard.

The worst part about our trip was that it couldn't last longer! We had a great time visiting and really recommend going to the House on the Rock!

House on the Rock Rocks!

Over labor day we drove to Illinois to visit my best friend and her family for a few days, and while we were there we drove up to Wisconsin to visit the House on the Rock.  If you've never been, it's what is sounds like, but the house and surrounding buildings have turned into museums full of a bit of everything from anywhere.

Outside there was an ornamental garden with some pretty adorable plants.  These are a type of ornamental pepper that are so small they can grow up instead of down.

These pumpkin on a stick were probably my favorite because they are just too cute.  In reality, they aren't pumpkins at all but actually eggplants.

More eggplants, this time white eggplant which look like little eggs growing on a plant until they turn yellow.

Stained glass inside the house.

Asian themed statues.

This was the ceiling in one section of the house and I really liked the way it looked.

Since the house stands on the edge of a rock, this infinity room lends a great view to the surrounding area, if you can stand the bounciness of the walkway.  The whole structure was cantilevered and so it would sway up and down as people walked the length of the room.

This was my favorite gun from the very large collection.  I can't imagine it would have worked well or been very accurate, but it was probably comical if it was ever used.

One of the best parts was all of the player instrument exhibits.  Each one played a different song, and this one played Octopus's Garden.  It played near continuously while we walked around the giant whale and looked at the model ships.

Teeth from the giant whale.

Giant indeed.  This took up the entire middle section of what was a very large warehouse type building.  The whale is in battle with the giant kraken.

Tons of model ships lined the walls on several levels around the whale.  There were a lot of recognizable boats too like the Titanic, Mayflower, and Columbus's three boats.  

Planes, boats, and even cars were in the museum.  This car had been entirely covered in a tile mosaic, which was pretty cool looking but I would imagine made the car incredibly heavy.

Another schmancy car unfortunately type unknown.

Even the bathrooms were decorated with all sorts of stuff.  This bathroom had an entire winter scene populated by penguins while some of the other bathrooms had planes suspended from the ceiling and glassware in display cases.

Back outside they had wagons, carriages, and this funeral carriage as well.

House on the Rock is filled with lots of crazy weird stuff, but as far as museums go, it was probably one of my favorites and well worth the drive!