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Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Deck the halls with boughs of holly!  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I love to decorate. And Christmas is one of my favorite holidays,  but I also can pinch a penny until it squeals,  so I thought I'd show you a few ways that I deck our halls for pennies.

Simple greens cut from trees and bushes in the yard, placed in plain white ironstone cups, mugs and pitchers are placed throughout our home.

I wanted something celebratory   for our guest's room so I found a twig in the yard, placed it in a crock and hung cheap snowflake ornaments  from the dollar store on it. It has an almost Shaker simplicity that matches the decor of the room.

Rose hips and other berries are hung from knobs.  Caution: some berries are poisonous so keep out of the reach of babies and naughty  inquisitive pets.
If you can avail yourself to a lot of them, they make a pretty, albeit  prickly natural wreath.

 Tie birch bark around clear glass jars with jute or raffia for a simple wintry votive. 
And old family ornaments that are too delicate to hang on the tree spend their retirement in old crock bowls. Here's a blog that I find inspiring.  Such beautiful vignettes. 

Lois Lenski wrote this about observing the customs and traditions of Christmas,  "One of the best ways to fight evil is to spread beauty.".

  Happy first day of December!  Hope to see you tomorrow!

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Hello dear friends!  Blessed first day of Advent!  I hope that you are finding this day a peaceful one.  I love, love, love this time of year.  Don't you?  There really is a feeling of goodwill.  On the way home from our Thanksgiving feast, we spotted quite a few homes already decorated with lights for Christmas.  It gives a body such a warm cozy feeling to be all snuggled up in the car, driving along the country byways and spying those merry spots of celebration. Bless those that bear the cold and wind to hang lights! 
I always hang a bell according to the legend from It's a Wonderful Life ~ "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings."   And I set out my Nativity set on the first day of advent. 
My grandfather built the stable in the 1920s.  And I display these ornaments that were my Grandmother Wright's.

They are rather worst for wear, but I love them for they are the only tangible things I own of hers. I never knew her, as she died in childbirth long before I was born.  Some  people may say it is too soon to start decorating for Christmas, but all my guests come at the beginning of December, so I like to have things ready for them to enjoy.  So this week I'm baking and making and wrapping and cleaning, as I have guest expected next weekend.   I love all the busyness of the holidays.  I know some don't, but for me I'm happy to have too much to do, rather than be sitting  home all alone.  And I've been there so I know what I speak of.  There were a few years that due to work and weather I had no one to share Christmas with, and it was the worst sort of loneliness.  So if you find yourself in this situation this year, please know I'm here for you.  Just  drop a note in the comment and I'll respond ASAP. Scout's honor!


I collect children's Christmas books and one of my favorites is Mother Makes Christmas by Cornelia  Meigs.   It's a sweet little story set in Vermont during the turn of the last century about a mother  "making" Christmas for her family when was short on funds.  Now that is a plot that I can relate to! Ha!   I wrote about one such Christmas here if you are interested.

There's so much that can be done on a shoestring to make things joyful.  Even if all you have to eat is soup or franks and beans you can still make them festive by bringing in some greens cut from the yard and serving the soup by candlelight.  Candles can be purchased so cheaply from dollar and thrift stores. Play some Christmas music softly in the background either from YouTube or the radio, both are free.  Gather around and read the Gospel of St. Luke each evening of Advent, there's nothing like it to draw a family together.  Attend church services and go to their caroling events. Do some window shopping. The stores are decorated so prettily this time of year.

Invite the neighbors over for potluck. Volunteer. Instead of expensive gifts, give a tin of cookies or fudge, or a loaf of homemade bread.  Or some homemade jam.  Or just a promise to do something nice for someone without grumbling. :)

There's plenty of inexpensive toys and gifts for children.  Children don't know the value of things!
Here's a list of things that children enjoy that don't cost an arm and a leg:

Art supplies, such as watercolors, crayons,  clay, construction paper, glue sticks, etc.
Craft kits.  I still remember the little knitting bobbin I received when I was 5.  It instilled in me a life-long love of knitting.
A plain old ball.  Or a yo-yo, hacky sack, hula hoop,  etc.
As a little girl, I loved barrettes and ribbons and headbands.  All which can be purchased at dollar stores.
Homemade doll clothes.
Board games.
My sons all loved inexpensive compasses and cheap little pocket knives when they were around ten.
 Remember those bags of plastic army men?  Well know they have farm animals and  dinosaurs.
Plain old-fashioned blocks. (Not the expensive Legos)
I know little boys love the Matchbox type cars.  Anything that fits in their pockets.
Those little packages of card games like Old Maid and Go Fish and the time to play them.

You get the idea.  Older children are more difficult.  Hopefully, you've raised them properly and they aren't spoiled. Ha!  My parents always gave me a dollar amount I could spend for Christmas.  Back in the late 60s it was $30.  Which was pretty generous back then.  I remember one year I got a pair of skates, one of those cheap camera sets, and a transistor radio.  I was over-the-moon happy.  Unfortunately the skates were the most uncomfortable ones I ever owned and I went back to wearing my sister's old hand-me-downs.  But they were so pretty I held onto them for many years.


I am sure that many of you who love Tasha Tudor are familiar with this quote by Fra Giovanni:

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instance. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy! 


I always say that if you take joy in the little things in life, you will always be at peace.  In light of the most joyous of seasons, I  made a list of some of my  joyful things for this week:

1. I can renew my driver's license by mail!
2. My husband just came into the house gave me a kiss and said "I love our life"
3. Polka dancing with my grandchildren.
4. Baking Christmas cookies with my sandbakkel tins.  They are so stinkin' cute!
5. Talking on the phone for two hours with my kindred spirit.

Can you name five joyful things for the week?


Another joyful thing for this week, was a baking experiment that turned out.  My son, Scott, loves gingerbread Twix bars, but I don't think they make them anymore, at least I haven't had any luck in finding them.  So I decided to make my own, combining a couple different recipes.  They turned out great!
Gingerbread Twix Bars

Gingerbread base:

1 pkg. gingerbread cookie mix (I used Betty Crocker's)
1/2 C. butter
1 tbsp. water
1 egg

Combine and spread in a greased 13 X 9 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool.

Toffee topping:

3/4 C. butter
6 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. corn or cane syrup
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine butter, sugar, syrup and  sweetened condensed milk in a heavy saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Boil for 5 minutes or until mixture starts to turn a golden brown color.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Quickly pour over the gingerbread, spreading evenly.  Cool for 1 hour or until toffee begins to harden.

Chocolate glaze:

Melt 1 package of milk chocolate chips in a double boiler and spread over the toffee.  Allow chocolate to harden and cut into rectangular "twixes".


I wanted some wreaths for my doors, but I don't like the looks of evergreen ones (the remind me of cemeteries) and the ones offered in stores are too overdone for my taste and too expensive to boot, so these are my solutions:

A simple garland that I wrapped loosely into a circle and tied with ribbon from the dollar store and hung a Christmas ornament from.  And:

An old pair of mittens with some greenery tucked into them.  You could use fresh if you have it, I just used a floral pick that I bought at the thrift store for 59 cents.  It lasts the entire season that way.


By the way, Binks and Hissy were quite "put out" that I didn't write about them last week, so here's a picture of
Binks the instigator, and
lady-like little Hissy. Wasn't I fortunate to befriend three of the cutest little cats ever?


My daughter-in-law, Erin, sent us home with enough turkey, stuffing and potatoes to last several days.

She also gave us 2 dozen eggs. They raise chickens.

On the way home we stopped and stretched our legs  at Shopko which was having their early Black Friday sale.  I picked up a video game that Jamie wanted for Christmas on sale, plus some other deals.

I took advantage of  Pinetree Garden Seeds Black Friday sale to purchase this coming years garden seeds.  The sale is still going on until Midnight of the 27th if you'd like to buy some seeds.  You get 15% off your order and the sale code is BLACK16.

I also used the code SNOW to get free shipping with no minimum order at Victorian Trading Co.
Which was good as the item I wanted was only a few dollars and cost as much to ship.

I framed a Christmas sampler with a thrifted frame.

Knitted yet another pair of socks.  I discovered that Panton's Classic Wool in Natural Marl makes the nicest ragg wool socks, when combined with a  tweed green stripe, they look exactly like those expensive wool socks in the Woolrich catalog.

I needed to be in Pigeon for a medical procedure, so while there I stopped in at Ben Franklins which was having a sale and got 20% off a Christmas gift for the grands.

I've been baking a lot this week, so when I finish I always leave the oven door ajar to help heat the house.  This combined with our wood heat has really helped to keep us cozy.  I don't think the furnace has kicked too often  this week.

Reused some tissue paper that came in a gift bag to wrap some Christmas presents.

Decorated the house for Christmas with things I already owned and pinecones, twigs, evergreen cuttings and pieces of birchbark that blew off the neighbor's tree.

Our phone was acting up, so Magic Jack did some diagnostics over the computer and solved the problem ( for free).  All it needed was a new USB plug which cost less than $2.  I'm very happy with Magic Jack's service.

Well, that's about it for this week at the old Zempel boarding house.  I'm not going to be gone for long though!  I decided it would be fun to have a Christmas countdown starting December 1st.  A post a day until Christmas.  Don't worry!  They won't be as long-winded as my usual posts. Ha!  Just short little posts to share a thought, idea, recipe, quote or link. Maybe a few glimpses of the old home place decorated for the season.  Let me know what you think about the idea.  Happy trails until we meet again!



Sunday, November 20, 2016


Hello dear friends!  Did you get any snow?  We saw a few flakes but mostly it was icy sleet.  Nothing is as disappointing as expecting snow and getting rain.  And windy!  Oh my!  The wind blew those big cement urns right off our front porch.  Here's a picture we took of our local lighthouse:
That's the waves crashing over the breakwall, not a dam.  Seconds later the waves completely obliterated the view, they were higher than the lighthouse!
I always imagined it would be fun to be a lighthouse keeper, but I can't imagine how scary it would be to be living in one on a stormy day like yesterday.  Yikes!  The wind caused our electricity to flicker on and off, but we were fortunate the lines stayed up for a change.

But any snow, even a few flakes is cause for celebration in our house.  I brought out the Grandma Moses mugs and had a cup of cocoa to celebrate.  And yes, I listened to Doris sing  Snowfall.  Snow means winter to me, so I brought my reindeer herd down from the attic.
Those old flocked reindeer and the true vintage bottle brush trees are becoming scarcer and scarcer.  I did add two  that I bought at Target this year, but they just don't have the feel the old ones have, so I'll just hold out until I find some original  vintage ones at an estate sale.  BTW, do you like my birch bark star in the background?  I found an ugly painted one at an estate sale and Mod Podged  some birch bark wrapping paper onto it. I like a more naturalistic look to my holiday decorating.  Oh!  speaking of birch bark, this week I finally finished my birch bark mittens that I began way back here. Only took me five and one-half years to finish them! How's that for procrastinating ? Maybe there's hope for some of my other works-in-progress.

While we are still somewhat on the subject of snowflakes, Shirley requested I post a picture of my little family of stray cats.  This is Jolly, our special little snowflake.
One day she just showed up on our doorstep with a big gaping wound on her face.  I'll spare you all the details, but it was nasty.  We doctored her with silver solution, peroxide, and Neosporin and cut away minute pieces of gangrened tissue.  We weren't sure she'd survive, but we tried to give her as much love as we could if her time was to be short.  Well, she thrived!  Only problem is she is a little bit crazy.  When we put out the cats' food she dives and covers the bowl, like a soldier heroically smoldering a bomb.  She's downright rotund, and shaped somewhat like a snowman so her name does indeed fit. And she gets confused easily and starts running around in circles. But she is the most loving animal I have ever seen.  When we hold and talk to her, she gazes into our eyes like a smitten schoolboy and touches our faces with her little paws. And she loves to licks our faces like a puppy.  She's our special little snowflake and we'll keep her.  BTW, all three of them have wheedled their way into staying on our enclosed porch now, much to Georgie's chagrin.


I love anything made of zinc or tin and I was especially taken with those little tin Advent houses that you often see in Nordic decorating.  I searched for some but the few I could find were too exorbitant a price tag and had to be imported.  Then I found some similar looking ones on the Halloween discount rack at Pier 1, only problem being they were black.  So I put on my thinking cap and came up with a solution to make a zinc-like finish.

Step 1:  Paint the item a dark gray color using craft paint.
Step 2:  Using a flat light gray (preferably with a teal-ish tint) craft paint (did you know that they now have chalk paint in craft-sized bottles at the craft stores?) and a fan brush, apply the paint , leaving streaks and in a rather sloppy manner.
Step 3:  Brush on some shiny silver paint here and there.  Do not cover all areas.
Step 4:  With a piece of scrunched up Saran Wrap, dab the surface picking up some of the paint.

That's it!  Easy peasy!
I think they look pretty convincing. The bigger one in back more so than the one in front.

On other craft notes, I sewed this very large pillow from a tea towel.  I think it will look cute on the guest bed.
The   verse reads:
Come at evening or at morning.
Come when expected or without warning.
A thousand welcomes you'll find here before you.
And the oftener you come, the more we'll adore you.
~Thomas Osborne~

Pretty sweet sentiment, huh?

And we finished reupholstering that settee, or I should say Ran did, I only helped with one corner.
The little knit  pillow on it is another work-in-progress that I finished this week.  Still have to finish putting the fringe on that knitted afghan, for now I just strategically fold it so the fringe doesn't show.
And Ran wants you to know that he made another pipe.
He shamelessly loves to read all the compliments you all heap on him.  What he's going to do with all these pipes is anyone's guess.  Once he gets on a jag, he makes a lot.  That's what I get for telling him we  had enough wooden spoons!


 A lot of people complain about getting so many catalogs this time of year, but I love them.  I get oodles of ideas on knitting projects from them and I love to see what the fashions are and try to replicate them with thrift store finds.  This week I saw a tea kettle that I purchased at  a garage sale for $1 in one of the "tonier" ones (Stonewall Kitchens) for just shy of $300!  That makes a person feel good.  Every time I think of ordering from one I ask myself is this worth it?  Is it worth the asking price? I  saw a beautiful  pair of earrings in the Sundance catalog for $70.  Had to ask myself if it was $69 more beautiful than my thrifted $1 ones.  The answer was obviously "no".  Is that $200 sweater going to keep me any warmer than the one I bought this past Summer at a garage sale? No. When you start to think like this a lot of "wants" become "don't wants".


We are going to my son's house for Thanksgiving, so thankfully I won't need to cook!  I'm bringing my "famous" Frankenmuth stuffing.  Do you know that is one of my most popular posts?  Every day of the year there's a least one person viewing it and come November it's really starts racking  up the views. I'm glad so many people like it! I'm always worried when I post a recipe if others will like it;  as I've said many times, I hate to cook,  so my recipes are always rather simplistic and use as few ingredients as I can get by with.  Which is why I love this recipe:

Oven-fried Chicken

To every 2 pounds of chicken, combine  2 tablespoons of baking powder and 1/2 tsp of seasoned salt and toss together.  Coat the chicken and bake in 425 degree oven for 45 minutes , turning midway through to evenly brown the chicken.

It really does taste like nice crispy fried chicken. And you can use any chicken parts that you want.  I like to use those 29 cents a pound chicken legs.  Once I'm through baking, I like to melt a couple tablespoons of butter in a skillet and toss in some of my favorite chicken seasoning herbs; parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, and coat the chicken with that for herb-flavored chicken, but that's not necessary, it's good on its own.


This week, here in the States, we celebrate Thanksgiving.  I have so much to be thankful for; a loving husband, wonderful children and adorable grandchildren,  dear friends that are kindred spirits, a snug little home.  And when I count my blessings, I count you dear readers among them.  Mere words cannot express how touched I am that you all take the time out of your busy schedules to read this little blog and even more so to those of you that leave a comment.  I am thoroughly  astounded that those of you in foreign lands read my blog, I know that translating my  long-winded posts must be rather time-consuming and a challenge.  So I want to say thank you all so very very much.  My cup runneth over!


Ran bought a window from Habitat for Humanity's Re-Use-It center  for $5 and built a cold frame.At the same place they were having a sale on all of their china for five cents!  I couldn't believe it but I found two teacups in an ironstone pattern that I'm sort of/kind of  collecting (Adam's  Empress)

Attended a "free" goodwill offering concert of William Henry Russell at Port Hope's Lutheran Church.
He was amazing and very generous with his time, answering all the other guitarists in the audience's questions.

Knitted a pair of socks for a Christmas present.

Sewed a pillow from a cotton Nordic style sweater that I bought at the thrift store.

Used a combination of a sale, free shipping offer and Ebates to purchase a pair of insulated curtains from Plow and Hearth.They ended up costing almost the same as they would if I had sewn them myself.

I can't believe it! (the second time this week, Ha!) I had  wanted a woolen Nordic style ski sweater for a long time.  You know the ones?  The  hand knitted ones with the snowflakes and silver clasps?  Well, yesterday we decided to treat ourselves and eat out at Taco Bell and next door is a thrift store that was having a half-off sale and I found one there for $1.68!  It's from Cambridge Drygoods, which I remember from the 80s as being a higher ended better quality merchant. It's absolutely beautiful.

Hung the laundry outside to dry.  Probably the last time this year.

Gathered more pinecones that I decorated with glitter to use on our Christmas tree.

Used our wood stove to heat the house.

Received a refund from Mennards.

Baked a pumpkin pie from our own pumpkins.

Neighbor, Connie, gave us a half gallon of soon-to-expire milk for the strays.  I tell you the entire neighborhood is smitten with those kittens.  They all have contributed food to keep them fed.  Such dear people.

 I trimmed my own hair.  Six inches, which is a drop in the bucket.  I also cut some bangs.  Big mistake!  I thought forehead wrinkles were bad. Bangs are worse!

We holidayed at home this week.  Just puttered about and  forgot about doing the chores and obligations.  Sometimes, when you are retired, you forget that you still need time to get away from it all.

Well, that's about it for this week at the old Zempel boarding house.  I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with good memories!


Saturday, November 12, 2016


Hello dear friends!  Just popping in to let you know that I will not be posting this week.  I wouldn't be able to post without addressing the big elephant in the room- the presidential election, and I do not care to do that.  I try not to write about my political views on this blog, which must be working because I have received e-mails both congratulatory and commiserating this week; so I guess  few people know my true political leanings.  And that is the way I like it, because I have learned arguing politics is an exercise in futility, as is religion.  As they say, discretion is the better part of valor.  To those that voted for Hilary, here is my response to Kathy that I wrote in the comments:

As to all the nastiness (you'd think this was a military coupe rather than a presidential election) of the week, I would say just give the president-elect a chance. Rarely have I ever voted for the winning team (and I've been voting since the mid-70s) so I understand disappointment when your candidate is not elected. However; that is the beauty of our system, there is a checks and balance system, so no one person is given too much power. What I do is write to my representatives, sign petitions and when I'm disappointed in how they vote on key issues, I vote and campaign against them the next election. Rarely does an incumbent get my vote! Ha! And I pray! I pray that God's will is done. We see through the glass darkly, so sometimes it is difficult to fathom what is God's will, so acceptance is also part of my walk in faith.

Hope that gives some of you peace! I'll be back next week with something fun.  Until then .....



Sunday, November 6, 2016


Hello dear friends!  The autumn leaves pass by my window.  Have you ever heard Nat King Cole sing this in French?  Lovely! 
I'm not going to write about how unusual this Autumn has been, let's just say this has been the first year when we hung laundry  outside in November.   In spite of the warm weather the leaves are falling so Ran and Jamie raked and mulched them and put them on the garden beds.  That's an easy way to add compost to your garden.  By Springtime they are all decomposed and ready to be tilled under. 

I'm sorry but this post is going to be a rather hodgepodge of thoughts.  We are busy here preparing for the holidays, as most of our guest visit at the end of November and the beginning of December, so we have to prepare now.  By mid-December our guest have come and gone and we are ready to settle down for our "long winter's nap". 

One thing I did this week is make a batch of Lebkuchen, a German Christmas cookie that is a tradition in our home. They must be made now to be enjoyed in December because in order to develop their flavor they are placed in a tin with apple slices for at least four weeks.  I won't include the recipe unless someone writes and tells me they want it.  It is not a thrifty undertaking, with expensive and unusual ingredients, such as citron, almonds, white pepper and cardamon. But they are part of our heritage, as Ran's grandparent's immigrated from Berlin and my family came somewhat earlier to America, but still maintained a lot of the German customs.  My mother was the first generation to speak English as her first language.


This week we foraged for pinecones.  We use them for crafts and for fire starters. And I just like to place them around the house for holiday decorating.  Did you ever see the bags of them for sale in craft and gift shops?  Who  buys them when pinecones are everywhere free for the picking?  We made some little pinecone gnomes from a few to put on Christmas packages. 
Just glue a wooden bead to the top of one and make some hats and scarves from felt.  Glue a piece of brown felt to a piece of cardboard and cut out some skis for the base.  Glue the cone onto the skis and draw eyes on with a marker.


Another easy-peasy craft for gifting is these little coffee cake soaps we made:
You simply grate one pound of soap (we used our own homemade but you can use a good quality unscented store bought soap)  with twelve ounces of coffee, grinds and all, over a very low heat until the soap is completely melted.  Pour into  mini bundt pans (the flexible ones) and allow to harden.  Remove from the molds and let them  cure for at least one week before gifting.  Wrap them in  little treat bags as you would for baked goods and make sure to label them as "soap" so no one will take a bite of them!  We added some cinnamon and oil of cloves to ours for extra scent. I think these along with some handknit washcloths makes a cute hostess or teacher's gift.

To go along with the other kitchenalia we have been making, Ran made these pig cutting boards using a vintage one I bought at a garage sale for a pattern.  He used tiger maple.
 And here's a picture of the pipe he carved last week, Toni!

I'm still knitting!  Somedays I feel like Madam Defarge, knitting, knitting, knitting.  This week I knitted this super-easy toddler's jester hat, which is a free pattern,  The mittens pattern is located here
and is free on this blog.
Did you know cookie jars make good models for children's hats?  The yarn I used is FairIsle by Yarn Bee, a yarn that can be found at Hobby Lobby.  As you can see, it's a self-patterning yarn, which takes some of the boredom out of straight stockinette stitch.


Isn't it funny?  I just used up the last of our canned ham and said to Ran we needed to be on the lookout for a sale on it, when our bulk food advertised ham for ninety-nine cents a pound.  At that price we canned up eight jars plus had enough for a nice meal (made a great glaze from ginger ale, peach preserves, mustard and a pinch of cloves) .  I also canned up our sauerkraut.

Started upholstering this Eastlake settee that we bought for $45 at a garage sale this summer:

A nearby village was having their holiday open house this weekend and one of the stores participating was the Ben Franklin.  They were 20% off on any purchase, so we bought things needed to upholster this settee and  craft items for other projects. 

I took advantage of another store's sale to buy a few decorative items for the holidays at 25% off.

I used a coupon of $5 off and various other coupons at the Family Dollar to buy a lot of household items that were on sale  like toilet paper, dish soap, laundry detergent, etc.

While we were out, we stopped at a thrift store and Ran found a beautiful Pendelton wool shirt for $3 and I found an antique ironstone cup for 35 cents.  At another thrift store I found a pewter platter for $1.99.

We replaced our dead mums in our urns with branches from our corkscrew willow.
I think they'll look pretty in the winter with snow and ice on them.

I harvest some green onions that had self-sowed themselves in the garden.  Tomorrow I'll make some potato soup and use them for a topping.  Yum!

I started knitting a pair of ragg wool socks for a present.  One down another to go!  Knitting plain stockings is a bore!

Ran found some beautiful tigered maple when splitting the firewood, which he set aside for woodworking.

Well, that's it for another week at the old Zempel boarding house!  This week we Americans go to the polls to elect a new leader.  Please pray that God's will shall be done.  I hope that you all have the loveliest week!