Saturday, December 29, 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

DIY wrapping paper with bingo stampers

Before I got picked up to go home for the holidays last Saturday (um, like an hour before), I got the sudden urge to be crafty.  I had just returned from a craft store, which may have had something to do with it, so I decided to wrap the presents I'd bought with cute homemade paper.

What did I have lying around the apartment that I could use to decorate?

I'd seen these colorful tubes sitting on a shelf in our apartment all fall, but I'd never really looked at them:

bingo stamps
Bingo stampers

Then two weeks ago, I came home and one of my roommates was using them to stamp a paper bag, which she then used to wrap a gift for a holiday gift exchange.  She told me that she and the other roommates would go play Bingo in the summers, so they'd acquired all of these stampers.  What a great idea!

I began by cutting the bottom of a paper bag, so that I could open it up flat:
Then I started adding some color (okay, well I added some blue, teal, and green):
DIY homemade wrapping paper

On my second bag (I only used two bags total to wrap six gifts!), I left my comfort zone and included some non-blues for contrast.  The yellow and pink were only stamping the outline of the circles, but I thought that gave it a neat look:

DIY homemade wrapping paper

Since I still had extra ribbon from all of those chocolate holiday spoons I made earlier in the month, I was able to give these presents even more decoration.  I was pleased with the results!

DIY homemade wrapping paper
DIY homemade wrapping paper
• • •

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Day after Draco (and the end of the world): December 21, 2012

After spending Thursday at home thanks to Draco, I woke up on Friday morning with another text from brother Teej, telling me that the buses weren't running that day either.  Since Friday would be my last day of work until January 2, I bundled up and walked to the office.

There was an eerie stillness on the way, as I walked down an empty State Street - which is usually filled with pedestrians, buses, and even bikers by this time.

State Street in Madison, WI post-Draco on Friday, December 21, 2012; 8:12am

Only two vehicles and zero humans in sight when I looked back towards the Capitol.  Did zombies take over?

Wisconsin State Capitol post-Draco
Wisconsin State Capitol
December 21, 2012

Wisconsin State Capitol, post-Draco
December 21, 2012

I couldn't feel my legs about halfway to work - it was so cold!  There were few cars on the road, and many cars slid around the poorly-plowed corners while turning.

At work I got a nice surprise from my friend and coworker Izzy.  She and her mom make the cutest sweets all the time!  I keep telling her they need to start a dessert blog to share them all.

Santa cookie
Santa cookie

And yes, it tasted just as good as it looked; I ate it this morning.  It was incredible.  A perfectly soft sugar cookie topped with frosting and three M&Ms.

When we left the office Friday night,  we discovered a huge snow pile outside the back of the building.  I sent Izzy up for a photo:

Happy End of the World Day!
• • •

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How I spent Draco 2012: In bed

I survived our first snowstorm of this winter: Draco.  I actually spent most of the day in bed!

From the back window of the house

Although yesterday I was planning to go to work today, once the university announced that only "essential" employees should report to work, my coworkers smartly decided they would stay home.  The university also cancelled all in-class final exams for the day, which was unheard of during my undergrad days.  Should employees not come to work, however, we would have to use vacation time to cover the hours - which I hadn't planned for since I'm already taking off all of next week.

I woke up this morning with a text from brother Teej, telling me that the buses would not be running today.  I do bus to work every day, but I still could have walked through the blizzard in order to work by myself at the office all day.  I'm sure it would have been productive, but I never mustered up the courage to bundle up and leave the house.  It also didn't seem worth it to walk over a half hour each way through un-shoveled sidewalks with the whipping wind.  So I stayed home!

View of the parking lot from my bedroom window

I cleaned the bathroom and washed both the kitchen and bathroom floors.  I blogged.  I started reading my thirtieth book of the year, which I'll finish by the 31st in order to meet my GoodReads goal.  I read lots of blogs.  I ate.  I watched my neighbors try to get their cars out of the lot so that the plow could clear some snow.  I was seriously watching at the window for over 15 minutes.  While one of the guys was trying to back his car out of the lot onto the street, his car swerved and smacked into a parked car on the street!  I'll have to check that out tomorrow and see if there's any visual damage.

Anyway, I did lots of those things from my bed.  The head of my bed sits right in front of my window.  This is an old house, so I've been used to cold air coming in through the cracks.  I have a long body pillow that I keep across the bottom of the window to block some of the cold air.  Luckily my heater is right beside the window, so the two usually cancel each other out and I'm never cold in bed.

But today the wind was notably stronger (from inside!), so this afternoon I covered it up with a blanket from my bed:

I could only find one rubber band (even though I know I've got more somewhere) , so I used that to hold up the right side of the blanket on a handy hook.

Rubber band holding up the right side of my blanket over the window

Since I still had tons left from my chocolate spoons project, I used ribbon to hold up the other side!

I just realized that in the past two weeks I have used ribbon both as a bandaid and to insulate my window.  I wonder how I'll use it next...

Did anyone else experience Draco today?  Anyone else have a snow day as a result? How did you spend it?
• • •

DIY chocolate holiday spoons

While browsing the web for some DIY projects a month ago, I came across these chocolate party spoons on the blog Delicious Delicious Delicious:

Chocolate Party Spoons

Since the holidays were around the corner, I decided to recreate this chocolate treat with red and green spoons (and later blue, too).  Then I could give out a little homemade treat to friends and coworkers rather than breaking the bank with something bought.

Two weekends ago when I went to my parents'  house to "study for the GRE," I ended up spending my Saturday evening making these spoons.  Here's how mine turned out:

DIY holiday chocolate spoons
DIY holiday chocolate spoons 


  • Bar(s) of chocolate
  • Plastic spoons
  • Sprinkles/decorative candies
  • Plastic wrap
  • Scissors
  • Double boiler or microwave

I bought the chocolate from Woodmans: one bar of white chocolate, and one plain chocolate bar.   I had a few squares left in each package when I was done; so if you're making 60 spoons, two pounds should be more than enough chocolate.
Eileens 1 lb Ivory Bark
1 lb package of Eillien's Ivory Bark (white chocolate)

I also got some various sprinkles and candies from the same grocery store for decoration.

My mom picked up the spoons for me at Party City; I believe there were 24 in each pack.  I got three packs: red, green, and light blue; which totaled over 60 spoons!

When I was at the thrift shop over Thanksgiving weekend I found a roll of about twelve different ribbon patterns for $0.90, so I bought it with this project in mind.

Cheap Christmas ribbon from thrift shop
Very cheap thrift-shop Christmas ribbon

To package them up as I did, you'll also need some plastic wrap and scissors.


1. Melt the chocolate.

Since my older brother is a foodie/cook, I know that you're supposed to use a double boiler to melt chocolate, so as not to burn it.  The pan that fit perfectly on top of the bottom pan had holes in the bottom, presumably for steaming vegetables.  So I used a smaller pot to melt the chocolate, and rested it on top of the pot of boiling water:

Melting white chocolate in double boiler
Wane helps melt the white chocolate in a "double boiler"

Well, the white chocolate wasn't becoming the "melty" consistency that I was expecting:

Melting white chocolate in double boiler
White chocolate

So I called brother Teej and asked him if I could add anything to make it more liquid-y.  He said I might have burned the chocolate if the smaller pan had touched the boiling water below, or the metal sides of the bigger pot.  It had been in contact with both of those things, so perhaps that's what happened.  Unable to reverse what was done, we began scooping up the white chocolate and pressing it into the spoons with a knife, then scraping it flat.

I think you can tell that this wasn't the expected consistency, but it worked:

When it was time to melt the chocolate bar, my friend Wane asked, "Now tell me again, why we aren't just using the microwave?"  Before I could even finish my answer, he had put a bowl of chocolate into the microwave and pressed the start button.  It ended up working, and that's how we melted the rest of the chocolate!  I'm still not sure if my makeshift "double boiler" failed us, or if it was the type of white chocolate that failed to melt as I'd wanted.

2. Spoon the melted chocolate into the plastic spoons.

If you can get your chocolate to melt, spoon it into the plastic spoons.  You don't want to put in too much since it'll run over the edges if the spoon gets tilted as you move it to your decorating station.

3. Prop up the spoon handles on a book/magazine so that the chocolate sets flat.

I used a couple of magazines and books for the newest spoons, then would move them off once the chocolate had hardened again.

4. Wait a few minutes, then add sprinkles/decorations.

When the chocolate's not super hot, yet when it's still malleable, sprinkle on some decorations!

Holiday chocolate spoons
Decorated holiday spoons

5. When the chocolate in all of the spoons has hardened, begin cutting squares of plastic wrap.

I was ripping off pieces of plastic wrap, then cutting them with scissors.  My parents were both watching me package up the spoons when before I knew it, they were helping too!

My dad grabbed a knife and cutting board to cut the plastic wrap into squares, as the scissors were proving difficult.

Papa cutting plastic wrap with knife
Papa cutting plastic wrap with knife

6. Wrap the chocolate part of the spoon in plastic wrap.

I wrapped the spoons going from corner to corner of the plastic wrap diagonally, to have a greater surface area for covering.

7. Tie a ribbon around the plastic wrap at the base of the spoon.

As papa was cutting the plastic wrap, mother began cutting pieces of ribbon for me to use.

Cutting ribbon
Mother helping to cut ribbon

Sometimes I would tie just one color around the spoon, but on others I would use a solid color paired with a pattern.  Yours will depend on how much ribbon you have at your disposal.

8. Use scissors to curl ribbon.

If you've never curled ribbon before, this youtube video will show you how.

If you already know how to curl ribbon, watching Miss Nancy teach people how is still worth a look!  I find the children a bit... distracting, how about you?

9. Give the spoons away, eat them... or just put them on display!

If you do use the ribbon like I did, these spoons make great decorations.  I set some out on our piano at my parents' house, then packed the rest up into a box to take downtown. 

Box of DIY chocolate holiday spoons
My box of chocolate holiday spoons

Afterwards I made a few tags for some, tying two or three spoons together with ribbon and a tag with the recipient's name.  While making the sister's tag, I accidentally cut myself with the scissors.  Using what was at my disposal, I quickly grabbed a napkin from the kitchen table and wrapped it around my bleeding finger, then tied it tight with ribbon!

My ribbon bandaid
My spur-of-the-moment ribbon bandaid

If I didn't see you this past week, or if you live out of the country - my apologies, but the spoons are all gone!  However, just like trivia the other week, this was another sign that I'm making connections again here in Madison.  I did give some people two or three spoons each, but that's still a lot of spoons gifted to friends!

If anyone tries to make these, let me know how you end up melting your chocolate: double boiler, microwave, or is there some other way I should be aware of?  If anyone has made another craft for a holiday gift, I'd love to see!
• • •

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Contest answers: Individual cleanliness

Two weeks ago I posted my second contest about the individual cleanliness poster that's in my apartment's bathroom.  Thanks to all of you who answered!  And thanks to those of you who cheated and answered, but deleted your own comment right away without me having to!

Here are the nine squares of the poster:

Individual Cleanliness poster: visit the latrine
Visit the Latrine

Individual cleanliness keep the hair dressed
Keep the hair dressed

Take a bath daily individual cleanliness
Take a bath daily

Gargle after every meal individual cleanliness
Gargle after every meal

Keep hands and nails clean individual cleanliness
Keep hands & nails clean

Wear neat and clean cloths individual cleanliness
Wear neat and clean clothes

Brush up the teeth individual cleanliness
Brush up the teeth

Take meals in time individual cleanliness
Take meals in time

Be punctual to school individual cleanliness
Be punctual to school

And here's the whole poster:

Individual Cleanliness

Scoring was a bit tricky, since the wording didn't need to be exact.  The top two were Hannah and Herm (with CC in third place), so here's how I scored their answers (feel free to complain and try to persuade me otherwise, Herm):

1. Brush your teeth = Brush up the teeth (1 pt)
2. Take a shower/bath = Take a bath daily (1 pt)
3. Wash your face
4. Brush your hair = Keep the hair dressed (1 pt)
5. Clean your ears
6. Put on deoderant
7. Wash your hands = Keep hands and nails clean (0.5 pt, because it only mentioned the hands)
8. Wash your clothes = Wear neat and clean clothes (0.5 pt because of washing vs. wearing)

1. visit toilet = Visit the latrine, answer provided (0 pts)
2. shower = Take a bath daily (1 pt)
3. teeth brush = Brush up the teeth (1 pt)
4. deodorant
5. floss
6. shave
7. comb hair = Keep the hair dressed (1 pt)
8. perfume
9. trim fingernails = Keep hands and nails clean (0.5 pt, because it only mentioned the nails)

Which makes Herm in second place with 3.5 points, and Hannah wins the contest with 4 points!  Congratulations!
• • •

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday season at the Wisconsin State Capitol

For those of you not from Wisconsin, you've already seen some nice outside shots of the Capitol when I saw Obama speak there the day before the election.  Now you'll get to see some pictures of the building's interior!

The first Sunday of December I took a brief stroll up to the Capitol and ventured inside to check out the holiday displays I had been reading about in the news and on blogs.  I don't think I had been inside the Capitol since an elementary school field trip!

When you first walk in, a holiday tree is the prominent display in the center of the four building wings.

Holiday tree in Madison
Wisconsin State Capitol

Check out some of these ornaments: 

I thought this reindeer was clever, using the milk carton and all
Milk carton reindeer
Wisconsin State Capitol holiday tree

This Tombstone one frightened me; why so many brands and advertisements always??  What does Tombstone pizza have to do with the holidays? (Am I missing something here?)
Tombstone pizza ornament
Wisconsin State Capitol holiday tree

I walked up a level in search of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) displays that they put up every year, since the churches get to put up displays in the state Capitol.  On the way, I passed these neat stairways and took a picture:

And then I finally found the FFRF displays!  They weren't as prominent as the blogs and news had made it sound; just a small display and sign up on the balcony - so not even on the main level where the tree is.  Here's the first one, the "natural nativity," which features many prominent free-thinkers and their quotes in order to celebrate human family, reason, and the solstice. FFRF wanted to educate people and share that Christmas was originally a pagan holiday celebrating the winter solstice.  

FFRF Natural Nativity: Celebrate the solstice, the reason for the season
Madison, WI: Wisconsin State Capitol

If this is the first you're hearing of Christmas's pagan roots, I suggest you take a glance at Christmas's Pagan Origins, a short read about the history of the holiday that I found via a quick google search.

FFRF has made a pdf to explain their natural nativity scene, and the history of the holiday season - before Christians adopted the festival and customs as their own.

Here's their second display, a sign with a poem by Ellen Wheeler Wilcox:

FFRF holiday poem by Ellen Wheeler Wilcox
Wisconsin State Capitol
It reads:
The World's Need 
So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
When just the art of being kind
Is all this sad world needs.

-Ellen Wheeler Wilcox 
I believe in kindness!  Here are some pictures of the views inside the Capitol from that balcony level:
Holiday tree in Wisconsin State Capitol, December 2012
Wisconsin State Capitol
Holiday tree
December, 2012

Wisconsin State Capitol ceiling
December 2012

Wisconsin State Capitol December 2012
Wisconsin State Capitol
December 2012

Wisconsin State Capitol December 2012
Wisconsin State Capitol
December 2012

I had a pang of reverse culture shock and cultural anger when I saw this sign up outside of a door on the second floor:
No firearms or weapons beyond this point

Are you telling me people can walk through the Capitol (and city) with firearms and weapons -- just not past this door??

No firearms or weapons beyond this point

I don't know if you recall, but this was the really nice Sunday at the beginning of the month.  I snapped a few sunny pictures outside after my Capitol visit:

Outside the Wisconsin State Capitol
December 2012

Wisconsin State Capitol December 2012 wreaths
Wisconsin State Capitol, wreaths
December 2012

View of State Street from Wisconsin State Capitol
View of State Street from Wisconsin State Capitol
December 2012

Wisconsin State Capitol
Wisconsin State Capitol
December 2012
If you're from the state, when's the last time you were inside the Wisconsin State Capitol?  What do you think of FFRF's holiday displays?
• • •