Wednesday 1 January 2014

Happy New Year!

I'm not sure where 2013 went, but I am glad to see it put to rest.  Bring on 2014 with plenty of changes, growth, and happiness.  I thought a bit of Spock would be a nice :)  LOL  I have been a Trekkie for as long as I can remember.

Since my last post I have been working three jobs, and this month I am hoping that will cut back to mostly one.  Maybe my spare minutes will begin to multiply :)  After work tomorrow I hope to put together my first counterfeit kit of the year and get back into the swing of things.  As I am months behind on my blog reading, I have decided the best way to cope with that is to mark all of them as read, and start the new year off fresh.

May 2014 be a blessed year for you all!

Happy New Year,

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Blog Therapy

I find writing blog posts wonderful therapy. "What posts?" I hear you saying.  Well ... I just haven't published them, but I have written many in the past few months.  All straight from my heart, drafted and re-drafted in my head late at night, and then released ... it is often like a weight lifted off one's shoulders.

Have you ever heard of the Stress Test?  It is a list of questions that you answer yes/no to about life events in the previous 12 months.  I have seen them around in the past and was recently exposed to them once again.  There is an online version of one HERE.

For this version of the test less than 150 is minor stress, 150-199 is mild stress, 200-299 is moderate stress, and over 300 is major stress.  In today's fast paced life I would say that many of us live with moderate stress on a daily basis.  We learn to cope and adapt until it feels 'normal'.  I took this particular test today and scored 859.

Most of us write blog posts about the happy stuff in our lives, we don't feel comfortable sharing the bad.  But what do you do when all you see is everyone's happiness and you can find so little of it yourself?  I write and create.  I haven't done much paper crafting recently, but I have written reams!  And pushed on by a friend I took up a new hobby, one without memories attached.  I am learning to crochet!

Here is my very first attempt at a granny square ...

It is a bit wonky and imperfect but I was very proud that I had finally managed to grasp the concept after some personalised tutoring!

My second attempt is a little better, but I am soooooooo slow!

I have even managed to change colour ...

And now I am working on a blanket made with these colours.  The center two colours will reverse in different blocks ...

The Princess and I went on an 'Op Shop Hop' (charity shop shopping!) looking for cheap yarn.  We found a nice collection including pure wool, along with this book (a bargain at only 50c).

The best way to consolidate your new knowledge is to teach and I have been passing on my new skill to The Princess.  She is faster than me, but not as determined to master it.  There are thousands of free on-line patterns and I am afraid that I have started to be a collector and not a do-er (much like paper crafts can be!) but I am determined to NOT let that happen.  I have some ideas for Christmas presents that I could crochet and I am going to give some a try.  Even if I only manage to finish one, I will call it successful!

Best wishes to all and I think that I am ready to re-enter the blog community.  I love the two way connection and have missed it recently.  You may just see me around more often :)


Thursday 29 August 2013

Way Out West Murder Mystery Pt 2

It is the spring of 1884.  America's west coast is slowly being populated with small towns full of settlers, come to prospect for precious metals, set up ranches and run dubious saloons - and now the railroad is coming!

Cactus Gulch is one such small town, founded 20 years ago and tonight is has a festive air as the townsfolk get set to start their 20th anniversary celebrations.  However, all is not running smoothly.  Land disputes, disreputable card games, strange folk from out of town and hostile Indians all add to the tense atmosphere.  Join us in the Silver Dollar saloon as celebrations begin and find out how the evening unfolds ...
Once the invitations were sent out and my costume was sorted the next two steps were the food and decorations.  I had so many ideas but had to rein them in to affordable options! LOL  I saw an e-card the other day which said "An evil witch cursed me at birth with expensive taste and no money!".  While I don't go to quite that extreme, my mind does kinda go wild ... as in beyond my abilities and budget :)

I mentioned yesterday that I found some great on-line image resources.  My favourite was the digital collections at Duke University.  They have collections of sheet music, women's lib stuff, and many more.  Their online advertising collection is wonderful!  This one was particularly funny ...

HAHAHAHA!  It continues on a second page but I think you get the idea.
We are sure that the fact that it was "illustrated by models, especially of the feminine structure" would have reeled them in!  We all had a giggle at this one.

I printed off lots of vintage adds and used them in my decorating.  Free Form Games recommend that you have a large room for the guests to mingle in with another area/room for more private conversations.  We used our games room as the Saloon and then we turned our living room into a General Store/Mercantile.

We had a huge piece of calico that we used to cover our store at shows/fairs and we used this to hide the TV and create a backdrop.  I then created a buffet area using some plastic gingham table clothes that were on sale for a couple bucks.  Everything else came out of my stash or off the printer.

The buffet table
Here is the Mercantile we created.  Lots of food and medicine related advertisements here.

There is fruit and veg in the basket and the wood bin says potatoes
I printed off old medicine labels and stuck them to jars and pots.  Then I filled them with flour and coloured water.

I wonder if any of these will be used on the night!
Yes, the next add does mention cocaine.  I wonder what the babies thought????  I bet it made the toothache go away!

The Princess made these cupcakes.  They were her contribution to the night.  As we were making the cakes our power went out!  We have a gas oven so we could still cook but it took The Princess an hour to hand mix these ... you could say they were authentic!

mmmmm ... cupcakes!
And a few more adds in the Mercantile ...

I love the picture for Hunt's Remedy
Next up was the Saloon.  With the power out I couldn't cut out the lettering!  Thankfully it came back on and I quickly cut everything as it had been forecast to still be out at 7:30pm.  We almost had a REALLY authentic wild west night!

Welcome to the Silver Dollar Saloon
We printed off old reward posters to decorate the Saloon, along with more 'manly' adverts.

Is that you on the poster????
I couldn't get enough of these!
We decorated the bar with peanuts and chips/crisps.  Everyone brought their own drinks and we put them all in the bar.  Our junior bartenders helped to serve them (just don't tell anyone!)

Creative use of a vase :)
Silver Dollar Bar
Now that everything is ready we are good to go ... Lets the party begin!

Can't wait!
I tried to put a rinse in my hair to make it black but even after two bottles it was only a dark brown.  The next morning however it was almost black ... note to self - dye hair the day before! (and it is still washing out LOL)

Stocking up on supplies ... am I the murderer????
Here are our three 'Assistant Bartenders'.  The boys were supposed to be on camp but it was cancelled and as they were all home they were roped in to help.  The host for this game was the Bartender (The LOML) and he was responsible for the running of the game.  As he also had to see to serving the food and pouring drinks he needed some assistants.  The kids were only too happy to join in as they knew the food would be worth it :)  They helped reheat the food, pour drinks, and clean up.  They were terrific helpers.

The Thinker, The Extrovert, The Princess
We're ready.  Where are all the guests???

Ready for fun?
Everyone soon arrived and the fun began.  I can't really show you all the individual photos without everyone's permission, but everyone got into the spirit of it and dressed up.  We had more male than female roles but had more females than males ... did you follow that?  So we had some cross dressers, complete with beards and/or mustaches.  The host really does have lots to organise so if you are going to have a murder mystery night with friends I suggest you either have someone cater, have two hosts, or have some helpers like we did.

We forgot to take photos of the food but here we all are lining up to eat!  We didn't have anything traditionally 'wild west' as we cooked the main with meat from the freezer.  We had choice of slow cooked beef vindaloo and/or chicken tarragon, served with green beans & bacon, and our yummy sweet potato crunch.  I did once promise you the recipe when I got a photo, but as we forgot the photo again, I wont torture you any longer.  It really is yummy!

Way Out West!

Sweet Potato Crunch

2 eggs
1/3 cup evaporated milk (NOT condensed milk)
1/2 cup margarine or butter
3/4 cup sugar (Original recipe was 1 cup! ... feel free to lower this - I usually make it 1/4 cup for special occasions and nothing for everyday)
1t vanilla
3 med sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked and drained

Mix above ingredients until creamy, put in heatproof dish.

1 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans

Mix together until crumbly and sprinkle over potatoes. Bake at 375°F/190°C until top is crispy (1/2 to 3/4 hour approx)

The first time I tasted this I was only little.  My Grandma always rounded up stray American's for Thanksgiving and they usually brought something.  This was made by two spinster sisters (The Boots) and it became a firm family favourite.  Like most American recipes from that era it was very sweet.  When it became my responsibility to make this I lowered the sugar to 3/4 cup and then kept lowering it until it became only 1/4 cup.  That small amount of sugar really does make it seem like a treat (especially if you don't have access to local sweet potatoes), and as we don't have it too often I tend to put it in.  But as there is also sugar in the topping it really doesn't need it if you are going to eat it more often.  We very rarely ever have leftovers when we serve this unless I make extra.

For dessert I really couldn't decide.  I wanted all my favourites but had to narrow it down to only three, while keeping everyone happy.  I would have added a German Chocolate cake and pumpkin pie (I considered pumpkin and pecan pie too).  But in the end I went with my absolute all time favourite ... banana cream pie (NO meringue).  And added in angel food cake with cream and strawberries, and key lime pie with meringue.

I was waiting to make the angel food cake when the power went off.  Let's just say that The Thinker was happy to have the power come back :)  He was whisking egg whites like his life depended on it!  Thankfully I made the pies the day before.

It was a fabulous night and I won't spoil the story for you in case you decide to give the game a try.  We laughed so hard my cheeks hurt the next day.  The game is very flexible and it involved double dealing, blackmail, more murders, and in the end we were all so caught up in our own deals that only the murderer knew 'who done it'.  It was like an episode of Taggart, Midsummer Murders, Inspector Morse, and Lewis all rolled into one!

It was a fabulous way to spend a birthday with a group of wonderful friends.

See you on Sunday for Storytelling Sunday.  I also hope to catch up on my blog reading this weekend and should be dropping by.


Wednesday 28 August 2013

Way Out West Murder Mystery

August has been a quiet month on my blog.  I have been spending most of my time applying for jobs, writing selection criteria for the government applications (some of these can take almost an entire day to draft!), and using my spare time to catch up on all of the health checks that we haven't had time for (thank God for health insurance as they have been free!).  Being unemployed has been a mental and emotional challenge so The LOML suggested that we have a little bit of birthday fun to cheer me up.

Many years ago we had a couple murder mystery nights using the games "How To Host A Murder".  We hired them from the costume store and had a fabulous night of food and fun.  The LOML thought that it would be a fun way to spend the evening and after discussing it with me we decided to give it a try.  This time we searched the internet looking for a free game as the whole night had to be cheap.  He found Free Form Games, who make murder mystery games that you can download.  They have a free mini game for up to 10 people (perfect for us) as a sample game.  Having now already had the evening, I would enthusiastically recommend their games and we will by buying our next one from them. They are nice and relaxed as you don't have to sit around a dinner table like the ones we used previously, but they do require a host.

I LOVE to plan fun for people.  It gives me great joy, even more than the actual event.  So I set about planning, using ONLY the stuff I already owned (I bought only a few bits other than food!).  It has been a great way to use up old shop stock. Each couple needed an invitation along with their character book that tells them who they are, what they know, who they should talk too, and other important facts.  We thought it best that they have that info from the beginning to make the night less stressful.  However each character book could only be read by that person and no one else.

The free game was a wild west theme and I searched the internet for inspiration and pinned it all to a secret pin board, which I have now made public. Check it out if you like to print off your own ephemera as I found some great sites.  One of the best was the Duke University digital collections of old advertising!  But more on that in my next post :)

Here is my invitation ...
Way Out West invitation
It is a tri-fold design
Come to the Silver Dollar Saloon!
The part on the left introduces the scene and the characters are all listed on the right. It turned out exactly as I had pictured.  The red bandanna print was an image I printed and stuck to the front.

Next up I had to make the character books.  The LOML was the host (bartender) for the night and he didn't play the game but organised everything, including all of the printing.  He printed the character books and I then inserted them into the covers I had made, all without reading them!  But then came the hard part ... I couldn't put them into an envelope or the whole lot wouldn't fit into an envelope for posting without it looking terrible.  So I sealed each booklet with a piece of hessian/burlap and a seal made from glittery hot glue and a star stamp.

Finally!  The books are finished.
Each booklet had their character name on it along with costume ideas and their own name (I almost forgot that part, wouldn't that have been funny!).  I then tied it all together and this is how they looked before being slid into an envelope.
I LOVED the way they turned out.
 I wanted to choose my character first and I was stuck between Blaise Sadler, the local madame, or Runs Like A Deer.  In the end the Native American costume won out as I knew that I had a friend who could pull off the other costume far better than me!  Here is my character book as I couldn't photograph any of the others open and not read them!

That's me!
I used the inserts exactly as they came printed in booklet form.
Once the invites went out I had to start on my costume.  I decided not to go the authentic route as I wanted to be able to use the costume for other events.  I used calico as it is cheap (one of the few things I had to buy!) along with ribbons that I have been hoarding.  I bought the paisley ribbon at an open air market in Amsterdam years ago and haven't found anything to use it on.  I had fun sewing it on!!!!! (But I only tacked it on just in case I want it for something else)

My costume in the making!
Pop back on Thursday for the next post as I think I have shared enough for now.  I'm impressed if you read this far!

See you Thursday!

Saturday 10 August 2013

Storytelling Sunday August 2013

This year Storytelling Sunday asks you to "pick your precious". This is how Sian described it ...
Start looking around, see what you love. Pick Your Precious is for short story tellers and for long. You can take the idea of simply a photo with a few words; or, if you are a can't-stop-yourself storyteller, you can expand as much as you like. The thing to keep in mind is that at the end of the year you'll have a permanent record of the little things you hold dear - and your family will know why you are holding onto them! Doesn't that sound like it might be worth it? No more "Do you really need that?"
Please join us this year. It only takes a minute and even if you only write a story or two, that will be a few more of your stories written down.  (and better late than never I always say!)

This month is a special month as it is my birthday.  I love to celebrate birthdays and not just for presents!  Everyone deserves one day each year where they know without a doubt that they are special :-)  I have put in my dinner request and organised some fun with friends.  I have been a little down the past few weeks and organising fun has been a great cure.  I will share all about that in another post as it is now time for my story.  A birthday present ...

You may recall a birthday story last August for Storytelling Sunday.  The beginning of that story recalled the fateful year of 'no birthday celebrations' and today I wish to finish that story.  We were camping in France over my birthday and while the family didn't forget it, they also didn't make ANY plans.  Feel free to click on the link if you wish to read it and also how they made up for it two years later :-)

Once The LOML realised his mistake he suggested that we find a special birthday present during the final week of our vacation.  I think he was a little desperate as he started suggesting a few extravagant things, but I did eventually find something.  Something small that I love very much.  Every time I look at it I notice something else.  It reminds me of fabulous family times and a wonderful camping trip to France.  It is too hard to describe so I will just show you what I found, not far from Sleeping Beauty's Chateau, to bring home as my birthday present ...

Old French Village
It is quite dimensional
There is so much detail
It is a 21cm x 14cm piece of limestone and is a bas-relief.  We stopped at a beautiful little place with caves where they made wine and all sorts of limestone items.  No one spoke English and our French is limited to a few words and two phrases ... "Do you speak English?" and "Where is the toilet?".  Neither are really helpful when you rock up to a tourist spot, unless you are dancing in desperation :D  The owners of the place had printed tour sheets in English so we followed along behind the group and I read out each section to the family quietly at the back.  The caves are full of water which is limestone heavy.  Items put into the water have layers of limestone deposited on them and these pictures are created by molds of carvings that are placed into the water.  No two are exactly the same as the mineral deposits add colour and patterns.

We weren't allowed to take photos (and it was too dark anyway) during the tour and at the end everyone is served a drink in their underground bar.  Photos were allowed in there and you could also taste more of the wines that they had for sale.  Here we are in the underground cave bar ...

It was very cool and refreshing down in the caves.
The Thinker & The Extrovert
I fell in love with the limestone pictures as soon as I saw them and knew that I would be choosing my birthday present in their gift shop.  I looked and looked and looked until I found the perfect one.  It was a beautiful gift and The LOML stopped feeling so terrible after I finally had a present!

I knew I had kept the brochure somewhere safe and I hunted high and low for it so that I could remember the name of the place.  Moving so many times since then hadn't helped but in the LAST box I looked in I found them ... our tickets, the brochure, and some postcards as the low light photos didn't do the place justice.

Yes, I am a hoarder storykeeper
If you are interested in ever visiting you can find their website HERE.

And that is my story this month.  If you like a story or two head on over to Sian's and read a few more.  I usually grab a cuppa and sit and read them as they are all wonderfully told.  They will make you giggle and some have even made me cry.  Happy August everyone!