Fun is Where You Find It (Part 8)

One of  the series of posts that I’ve produced that have received the most comment and views is the Fun is Where You Find It series. This series of posts is designed to help you do something fun for next to nothing. The fun today was started when someone gave me a basket filled with goodies for a special event. The basket is really interesting because it looks like a little house. Rather than put the basket aside as a means for packaging someone else’s gift, I decided to make something interesting for me in the form of a basket with silk flowers to decorate the house. Silk flowers are especially nice during the winter months because they perk the house up when there aren’t any real flowers available (except at a premium rate from the florist).

The basket was free, of course, and I did find a few flowers in the craft closet, but this turned into one of my more expensive projects. I spent about $20.00 in total for the supplies that I used for the basket. The first need is floral foam to use to hold the flowers in place. Floral foam comes as dry and wet blocks. For a project of this type, you need dry blocks. The blocks will require shaping. All you really need is a good utility length knife. Carefully cut the foam to fit the inside of your basket.

Of course, you also need some silk flowers and greenery. A friend and I went to a craft store and had a wonderful time perusing the assortment. I tried to shop carefully. It almost looked like I had too many flowers at first, but I amazingly didn’t end up with much left over. The flowers are always provided long, so you need a diagonal cutter to safely clip the stems to length. The diagonal cutter was the only tool I needed to get the job done besides a good, sharp, knife. Here’s the results of my efforts.

A flower basket in the shape of a house with a springtime arrangement.
Re-purposed Flower Basket

Even though this isn’t one of my less expensive projects, it should provide a nice decorative element for my home at a price far below what I would have paid for a finished item at the store. Let me know about your latest crafting project at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Happy New Year!

Welcome to the New Year! It’s going to be an interesting year from a number of perspectives. I’m really looking forward to seeing the changes and I hope that you are too! Make sure you subscribe to my blog to keep up with all of the new material I provide with greater ease. A subscription will automatically send a synopsis of new content directly to your e-mail, which will make it a lot easier to determine whether you want to follow a certain post (and it’s associated comments).

The computer market will continue to move away from the desktop toward all sorts of mobile devices. Of course, this will make browser-based applications become even more popular because you can achieve the same look and feel no matter which platform you use to interact with the application. I’m not saying the desktop is dead, but look for browser-based applications to take on added importance. In some respects, browser-based applications can still be limited, so you’ll continue to see the desktop used in situations where a user must interact with complex data from multiple sources.

Self-sufficiency is going to take on added importance as well. There are a number of reasons for the increased participation by people. Of course, the economy continues to provide ample reason for many people who are looking to ways to make their money go further. A lot of people are starting to realize that self-sufficiency also comes with substantial health benefits and is also good for the environment. In fact, except for the time commitment and the requirement to learn new skills, self-sufficiency has a lot to recommend it. I’m planning to provide more emphasis on self-sufficiency in the coming months.

My blog will also feature some of the additional kinds of content that you’ve come to know and love. I’ll be posting a number of reviews and a bit more of my poetry as time permits. A few posts on writing technique are almost a requirement. A number of you have sent e-mail asking about my crafting. A few personal issues have kept me from posting on the crafts that I enjoy, but I plan to address that particular need soon. I hope that you continue to enjoy my blog and will let me know the sorts of content you’d like to see at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. In the meantime, Happy New Year!

 

What Am I Reading?

Readers often write to ask me what I’m reading. It’s a hard question to answer in some respects because I have a broad range of interests and I often find myself reading more than just one text. However, it’s a valid question and concern because what I read eventually affects the content of the books that I write and that you read. I strongly believe that the most successful people in life are voracious readers as well. Of course, there are likely exceptions (and please don’t fill my e-mail with listings of them). Reading opens doorways to all sorts of new worlds and different ways of seeing things.

It won’t surprise you to discover that I do quite a bit of technical reading. Every day sees me scanning articles from eWeek, ComputerWorld, and InfoWorld (amongst others). I also regularly read a variety of magazines—some quite serious like MSDN and Dr. Dobbs Journal, others a little less serious like PC Gamer. I also technically edit some books every year and read them end-to-end. Sometimes I read a book simply because I want to learn something new. Currently I’m exploring Rod Stephens’ Essential Algorithms (an outstanding book that I’ll review at some point).

Given the content of this blog, it shouldn’t surprise you to discover that I also read a number of gardening magazines such as Mother Earth News and Horticulture (again, there are others). I usually read books from publishers such as Storey. It wasn’t long ago that I completed reading Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. Of course, I look for articles online as well.

What you may not know is that I also enjoy reading other sorts of books and magazines. For example, I’m currently engaged reading the Patrick O’Brian novels for the sheer pleasure they bring. Captain Aubrey is turning into a favorite character of mine. National Geographic and Smithsonian are both monthly magazines that I read. I keep up with what is happening in the Navy by reading Seapower. Rebecca and I also enjoy a number of crafts and we read some of the same crafting magazines.

As you can see, it’s quite an odd assortment of materials and I love it all. The vistas opened by the materials I read help me provide you with better material that is both more creative and easier to understand. You don’t have to have the best education in the world to succeed. All you really need is a strong desire to find the information you need when you need it. The more you read, the better you understand the world around you and the better prepared you are to take advantage of the vast array of reading resources at your disposal when you need them.

It’s important to know that the authors you read are also well read—that they make use of all of the available materials to write better books. Experiencing the world through the written word is an essential part of the learning process. Today we have all sorts of multimedia presentations vying for attention with the written word, but in many respects writing isn’t easily replaced because it brings the world to you in ways that other forms of media can’t. Of course, that’s a topic for another post. Let me know your thoughts on the importance of reading at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Getting Ready for the Crafting Months

I’m not quite ready to kick back and enjoy the wood stove yet, but I may be getting there. The wood pile is starting to look mighty nice and the cool evenings are definitely inviting. In a week or two, I imagine that we’ll need to start having evening fires and that’s when the crafting will begin. Of course, I participate in a number of crafts, but this winter I plan to focus on making some socks. Warm socks are a must have item during the cold winter months.

In Knitting for the Gentleman Farmer you see a pair of socks I made using my Knifty Knitter, but I’d like to do more. The socks I’ve made so far are more akin to slippers, than something you’d put on your feet before your shoes. So, I recently purchased Loom Knitting Socks: A Beginner’s Guide to Knitting Socks on a Loom with Over 50 Fun Projects (No-Needle Knits), which is a book designed for us who like to avoid needles because they’re a tad hard to handle. This book tells you quite a lot about making socks in just a few pages. For example, you discover how to size your socks properly so they don’t slide around on the wearer’s feet (as mine are prone to do).

The book uses looms of various sorts, one of which is the Knifty Knitter. I may end up getting a few other loom types, which wouldn’t bother me at all. It would be nice to create socks that I could wear anywhere with shoes and that simply isn’t possible using the Knifty Knitter. I’ll also have to get used to working with thinner yarn and possibly add a bit more light so I can actually see what I’m doing.

What I like best about this book is that the author takes time to demonstrate how you can create an amazing array of patterns using a loom. The Knifty Knitter instructions only show how to create a straight knit—nothing very fancy at all. I’ll be able to use the techniques I learn in this book to create nicer looking hats, blankets, and scarves as well (generally, I don’t make other items, even though I certainly could).

Unlike a lot of books on the market, this one provides realistic levels for each of the patterns. In addition, there is a nice mix of models (young, old, male, and female). It gets tiring to see books that feature all of the patterns being worn by a young woman. Seeing a guy wear some of the items is a nice change for me and will make me feel more comfortable giving those particular sock patterns to my male friends.

Now all I need is a full tea kettle and some of Rebecca’s amazing herbal teas. With the fire started, tea in hand, and some music playing, my Knifty Knitter (and other looms yet to be purchased) will see a lot of use this winter. I’ll provide updates on some of the other looms I try later in the winter.

 

Fun is Where You Find It (Part 5)

Last year about this time, I posted the original Fun is Where You Find It! where I discussed the egg decorating kit we purchased for Easter. Of course, it’s a fun activity, so we did it again this year with Paas Basket Buddies egg decorating kit. Imagine seeing the cutest kittens and puppies on your Easter eggs and you’ll have an inkling of the results of using this kit. The online price of $4.99 is a little more than the $3.99 price we paid at our local store. The kit is on par with last year’s price. Eggs are a lot more expensive though at $1.59 for large eggs.

FunisWhereYouFindIt0505

The dyes used in this kit are a bit better than last year’s kit—I’m not sure why. It could be that the tie dye kit instructions were designed to produce better mixed results. We did use the vinegar method described on the box and soaked the eggs for around thee minutes each to obtain the results shown here.

FunisWhereYouFindIt0501

For once, our results actually matched those on the package for the most part. The six colors are: red, blue, green, yellow, orange, and pink. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get the pink to turn out right. You can see the single pink egg in this dozen is speckled. It’s a pretty egg, but not the results we anticipated.

This is the kit to use if you have young children and don’t want any kind of a mess. Except for dipping the eggs, there really isn’t much risk of creating any sort of damage to clothing or furniture and an adult could perform the dipping part. The kit does come with 9 Eggarounds, which are wraps you put around your eggs, and then shrink into place. The Eggarounds look like this initially.

FunisWhereYouFindIt0502

Notice the somewhat tight fit. You have to use large eggs with the Eggarounds because they won’t shrink enough for medium eggs. On the other hand, some large eggs proved a little too large. Still, in the two dozen eggs we made up, there were plenty of eggs the right size. The box talks about two methods of working with the Eggarounds—the water shrinking method is messy and proved unsatisfactory. Using a blow dryer works as advertised. Here are the results we obtained from our eggs:

FunisWhereYouFindIt0503

You can see that our first egg has a few ripples in the surface. Playing some with the technique produced smoother results as we went along. I don’t think it’s possible to get a completely smooth surface without a lot of practice. However, the results are eye pleasing and fun to work with.

The kit also comes with 90 stickers. The Eggarounds took care of the decorating needs for 9 of the 24 eggs we cooked up. That left 15 eggs or six stickers per egg, which really isn’t enough to do the job. We decided to leave the pink eggs as they were, speckled, because they really are eye pleasing that way. Using eight to ten stickers per egg produces a nice result. Here is a typical result using eight stickers:

FunisWhereYouFindIt0504

Overall, we found this kit extremely easy to use. It required about 2 hours worth of effort for us to complete the 24 hard boiled eggs—making for some extremely cheap fun that we can benefit from later. The kit won’t support more than 24 eggs unless you don’t mind having some undecorated eggs at the end (colored, but without stickers). What sort of results do you get out of the egg decorating kits that you’ve tried? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Fun is Where You Find It! (Part 4)

For many people, this time of the year is extremely depressing. There are all sorts of acronyms associated with this time of the year, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I have no doubt that these disorders, diseases, and disabilities all exist and are quantifiable in some way. In fact, I imagine that there are tests to determine precisely which of them you have and to what extent you suffer from them. The bottom line is that the holidays are over, the weather is stormy, and the budget tight. Excitement is nowhere to be found—at least, not the sort of excitement that many people consider fun today.

It’s this time of year when Rebecca and I engage most strongly in crafting. Making things tends to take your mind off of all of the things that would make you SAD. For example, this is the time of year that I make knitted items most. A craft need not be expensive or require skills that most people lack. I’ve known more than a few families who have gathered pine cones in the fall, drizzled a bit of glue on them, dipped them in glitter, and added a bit of yarn to string the pine cones up. Not only do them make attractive Christmas ornaments, you can hang them up in a room as decoration. The cheerful colors and the occasional glint of the sun dancing off the glitter can dispel the gloom in any room. Stenciling and other forms of decorative art are helpful this time of the year as well. I got the idea for bright colors in a room from some of the displays in European Village at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Old world houses weren’t drabthey were colorful to keep things cheery during the winter months. This form of decoration improves your ability to withstand the drab winter months and could very well help keep SAD at bay.  The best part of all is that you can get the supplies for any of the crafts I’ve mentioned for less than $20.00 and some, like stenciling, can consume an inordinate amount of time that you’d otherwise spend feeling bad.

Of course, not everyone likes crafts and I wouldn’t want you to saddle yourself with something that you won’t ever enjoy (no matter how hard you try). This is also a good time of the year to take a winter walk. Wait for a nice day and go into the woods. The woods are amazing this time of the year and if you’re careful, you’ll see some interesting animals, such as a fox or weasel. You have to look extra hard in some cases. Some animals change color in the winter to better blend in with their environment. A white rabbit on white snow is incredibly hard to see.

So, you’re not into the outdoors and crafts have no interest. There are still things you can do to make this time of the year better. Some people live for sports. The Superbowl takes place in two weeks. Personally, I’m not much of a sports fan. In fact, I just barely know the names of our teams here in Wisconsin (much less the rest of the country). However, I do like action movies, so we have a Super Action Hero Bowl on Superbowl Sunday. Here are the steps for creating your own Super Action Hero Bowl:

 

  1. Create a list of the action heroes that appear in your movie collection (or that you know you can borrow free from somewhere like the library).
  2. Place the names in a hat and have someone draw four or five names.
  3. Create lists of the movies that you own for each action hero.
  4. Place the movies for a specific hero in the hat and draw out the name of a movie for that hero.
  5. Create movie lists and draw a movie name for each of the remaining heroes.
  6. Now that you have a list of names and movies, create a scorecard. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but each member of the family who participates in Super Action Hero Bowl should have a separate scorecard.
  7. Watch the first movie on the scorecard and mark that movie’s rank. Each movie should be ranked from 1 to 4 (or 5, depending on how many movies you choose). No two movies should receive the same score. (No peaking at your neighbor’s scorecard please!)
  8. Continue watching movies until you have completed them all.
  9. Tally the scores from each of the scorecards for each movie. The movie with the lowest score (the highest rank) wins.


It’s a good way to spend a day in family fun. It’s inexpensive and the competition adds a certain appeal to the event. Of course, just like the Superbowl, you can grab some special foods from your larder and serve them during the course of the day.

Just because the holidays are over, doesn’t mean you have to make things drab. Rebecca and i usually store some special goodies in the larder for this time of the year. When there is something to celebrate, we make an impromptu personal party using these items. We’ll play games, listen to special music, put puzzles together, or do other things to make the event special. Get a good report from the doctor? Why not have a party to celebrate it? It takes a little effort to avert the drudgery of this time of the year, but you can do it and it doesn’t have to cost a lot (or anything at all).

How do you avoid the January blues? Do you like crafts, a bit of nature, some mild competitive fun, or a bit of a party? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. Make sure you also view the other Fun is Where You Find It posts for other ideas.

 

Decorating with Doilies

Many people view “old world” housing in museums and wonder why people took so much time to colorfully decorate their houses. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because they had time to kill and needed something to do with their hands. The answer is simplepeople spent a considerable amount of time at their home. Trips into town were rare and there were no vacations in some other city. A home with aesthetic appeal is a necessity in such a situation. It’s important to have some color present and more than a little comfort. Otherwise, you’ll quickly find yourself getting depressed and not very happy about your self-sufficient lifestyle.

We haven’t taken to stenciling our ceilings or using exotic colors in our home. However, there is a certain amount of decorative clutter that exists to provide comfort and color. You’ve seen some of my offerings in previous posts such as Knitting for the Gentleman Farmer. Colorful hats and blankets are nice, but I lack the dexterity required to do much more. That’s where Rebecca comes into play. She creates items of significant artistic appeal such as the doily shown here:

Doily

Rebecca actually made this particular doily for a dear friend of ours, but we have others that she’s made throughout the house. It amazes me that she’s able to work on such fine crochet and that it comes out so nice. The important thing to consider is that we’re both working to make our home livable and enjoyable. When you’re self-sufficient, you need to consider the amount of time you’ll be spending at your home and make it as comfortable as possible. What sorts of decorations do you find inviting. Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Fun is Where You Find It!

There are many aspects to the self-sufficient lifestyle. One aspect is that you don’t have a lot of money for entertainment. However, if you’re self-sufficient, you quickly find that the fun aspect of entertainment has nothing to do with cost. Rebecca and I often entertain ourselves for free (or at least, next to free). So it was this past Saturday as we prepared for Easter. Every year we decorate some eggs for ourselves. Last year we used bought a glitter kit from the store, which didn’t work out as well as we would have liked (the glitter ended up on everything), but did produce a nice result. (I definitely wouldn’t mind trying it again, but would probably do things a bit differently this time.)

This year we used a Paas tie-dye kit to create some colorful eggs that are far less messy and store well too. Our total cost was about $4.00, including the eggs and we ended up with a second set of dye pellets leftover. Perhaps we’ll dye some eggs using the extra pellets during vacation this summer. The tie-dye kit was a tiny bit messy, so I wouldn’t recommend it for younger kidsat least not if you don’t want everything, including the kids, dyed spectacular colors. Here are the results we achieved:

EasterEggs

As you can see, they’re quite fancy and looked nice displayed in egg cups on the table (the holder shown in the picture was used only for drying). To get this effect, you wrap a piece of material around the egg, place the egg in a special holder, and inject colors using a syringe type device into holes in the holder. It took between 2 and 3 hours for us to complete the task. During that time we had a lot of fun and laughs, especially when a set of colors would produce unexpected results. We found that you need to leave the egg in the holder for a few minutes after injecting the colors to obtain optimal results. The bottom line is that you can have a ton of fun for nearly nothing if you try. So, how do you have fun on a budget? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Making Soap for Easter

Most of my crafting has a practical aspect to it. Such is the case with soap making. I make the soap because I use it. However, the soap I make has a certain artistic aspect to it and I also give it as gifts to friends and family I know will appreciate it. So there is more to soap making for me than simply an exercise in creating something to wash with.

I make glycerin soap and get many of my supplies from SoapCrafters. Rebecca grows all of the herbs I use in my soap, including the German chamomile, which can be quite expensive when purchased in the store. Given the season of the year, my soap making efforts this past weekend focused on spring and Easter. Here are some lovely springtime soaps with a lilac (top) and baby powder (bottom) scent:

Soap01

Both soaps use the same mold, an assortment of daffodils. I’ve used a special soap glitter to give them a bit of glitz. I found that this particular mold produces easily held soap, but children sometimes find it a bit large. Making the soap easy to use has been a quest of time (along with all of the other accessibility topics I tend to work through). Because of this, I also make egg-shaped and completely spherical soaps like these that are easier for smaller hands to use:

Soap02

The soap on the left is a lovely coconut smell, while the one on the right is another baby power scent. Of course, kids love shapes too, so I was extremely pleased when my wife found a jello mold that had pleasing kid-friendly shapes. These soaps are in a wonderful Creamsicle scent that kids really love (think orange/vanilla).

Soap03

A few of our friends raise sheep. What would be better than a sheep shaped soap (try saying that three times fast)? SoapCrafters had this wonderful sheep and I couldn’t resist buying it:

Soap04

This one also uses the coconut scent that seems to be a favorite with guys and gals alike. It smells quite clean and it’s refreshingnot heavy at all. A few people will receive a three soap medley of lemon, orange, and coconut soaps as shown here:

Soap05

So, what are your favorite shapes and scents? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. In the meantime, I’ll continue crafting and letting you see the results !

 

Knitting for the Gentleman Farmer

The winters can get long here in the country; encouraging even the most determined person to eat to excess. From previous posts, you know that one of the things that I’ve accomplished is to lose a considerable amount of weight without dieting even one day. Part of my weight loss strategy is to find something to do that doesn’t involve excessive eating.

One of the crafts I’ve tried is knitting.  Unfortunately, I’ve found that knitting needles don’t work very well with larger hands (nor do crochet hooks it seems).  Fortunately, I’ve found a good substitute, the Knifty Knitter.  It’s a hoop or elongated loop with pegs sticking out of it.  I’ve found it very fast and easy to use.  There is an interesting history behind this device, but I’ll leave that for some other time.  I originally objected a four hoop set that can be used for a number of purposes such as hats.  However, with a little ingenuity, I’ve also been able to make slipper socks with it like these:

Socks

After a while, I also purchased several elongated looms.  I purchased the set, which works fine for garments such as scarves and blankets. In fact, just this weekend I finished this blanket for my wife:

Blanket

The blanket is made from four panels that I created with the longest (22″) loom.  It uses the double knit pattern, so it looks like it was knit on both sides and is quite thick.  My wife says it’s quite warm.  Because the blanket uses a double thread throughout, it’ll also wear quite well.

I’ve also made a number of sets for people. The biggest set I’ve made so far is a hat, scarf, and blanket set for my niece and her baby.  The set turned out quite nice and I was pleased that she seems to like it so much.  Here’s the set:

KnittedSet

Of course, this isn’t the only craft I’m involved with, but it’s the one that I can perform when I have just little bits of time here and there. Future posts will tell you about other sorts of crafts that I enjoy in an effort to keep the hands productively busy and the mouth free of food. Let me know about your crafts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.