Monday, June 29, 2009

Fireworks Safety Tips

The 4th of July is just around the corner. Celebrate, have fun, but be safe.

People everywhere are fascinated by fireworks -- by the mystery and splendor that light the night sky or turn a backyard into a festival of light and sound. Like nothing else, fireworks can excite, thrill and amaze us. But as dazzling as fireworks can be, they can also be harmful if used improperly.

The National Council on Fireworks Safety (NCFS) urges you to put safety first when celebrating this Fourth of July. Legal fireworks are safer than ever, in part because of stringent federal safety standards enacted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1976. The incidence of fireworks-related injuries has dropped dramatically during the past 10 years, according to Ann Crampton, executive director of the NCFS. But she says it can be cut further by following a few simple guidelines.

"Only use legal fireworks," she says. "The key, of course, is being able to recognize what's legal and what's not. Legal fireworks conform to the standards. Illegal ones often don't."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission requires that legal fireworks show the name of the item, the name of the manufacturer or distributor and easy-to-read cautionary labeling and instructions for proper use. Currently, 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow the use of some or all types of consumer fireworks.

"Commonly used fireworks include cones, fountains, and sparklers," Ms. Crampton says. "Before setting off any fireworks, contact your local police or fire department to make sure fireworks are allowed in your area."

Illegal devices include M80s, M100s and silver salutes. They have been federally banned since 1966 because of the large amounts of illegal explosives they contain. "Don't confuse these items with legal, consumer fireworks. Illegal devices will usually be unlabeled, will not bear a caution statement and will not list the manufacturer's name," cautioned Ms. Crampton. "Illegal explosive devices are extremely dangerous and can cause serious injuries. If you find any illegal items, or know of anyone selling them, contact the police immediately."

If you choose to use consumer fireworks to celebrate this year's Fourth of July festivities, remember the following safety tips from the National Council on Fireworks Safety:

  • A responsible adult should supervise all fireworks activities.
  • Never give fireworks to young children.
  • Always purchase fireworks from reliable sources.
  • Follow label directions carefully.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Use fireworks outdoors in a clear area away from buildings and vehicles.
  • Never carry fireworks in your pocket or shoot them in metal or glass containers.
  • Light them one at a time then move back quickly.
  • Don't experiment with homemade fireworks.
  • Observe local laws and use common sense.
  • Sparklers, fountains and other items that many states allow for use by consumers are not appropriate when a large crowd is present.
  • If attending a community display, leave your own fireworks at home -- there will be plenty of excitement provided by the display.

For more information on Fireworks safety, visit the National Council on Fireworks Safety web site.

More 4th of July Articles

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Essential Information About the American Flag

June 14 is the American flag's official birthday and each year Americans throughout the country celebrate in Flag Day ceremonies on this day. The Stars and Stripes first flew in Flag Day festivities in 1861 in Hartford, Connecticut and the first national observance of Flag Day took place on the one hundred year anniversary of the flag -- June 14, 1877. President Woodrow Wilson first made Flag Day official in 1916, but it took Congress and President Harry Truman until 1949 to make this day a permanent observance. Although not celebrated as a Federal holiday, Americans everywhere continue to honor the flag and the ideals she represents to them on June 14th through school programs and civic observances.

With this being flag day week, and with the 4th of July just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at this important symbol. Most of these articles are reprinted from my books The Great American Handbook and US Citizenship for Dummies. I hope you enjoy and learn some interesting new things about the American flag in the process.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How To Save Money on Fuel Costs - Thrifty Thursdays

The price of gas has risen to phenomenal highs and there's no end in site. This can put a serious crimp in your wallet, whether you're traveling across the country or across town. Now more than ever, it makes sense to get the most miles out of your fuel purchases that you possibly can. Not only will you save money, you'll also help clean the environment. So next time you turn on the ignition, keep these valuable tips in mind:
  • Don't top off your tank. - Gas that drips onto the ground or evaporates into the air as fumes can't help get you down the road. Don't pay for fuel that will only be wasted, stop filling your tank before it overflows.

  • Turn off the air conditioner. - Air conditioners burn through significant amounts of fuel. Open the windows instead and you'll save money.

  • Slow Down. -- The faster you drive, the more fuel you'll use, stick to the speed limit and you'll not only save on fuel, you'll save on tickets too. If you have cruise control, use it!

  • Stay off the breaks. - You'll use more fuel in stop and go traffic. Try to plan trips when you're not likely to hit rush hour traffic and you'll save time as well as money.

  • Lighten your load. - Don't carry unnecessary weight in your vehicle (or in any trailers you may be towing). The heavier the load, the more fuel consumed.

  • Tune it up. - To keep your vehicle running at maximum efficiency, always get regular tune-ups and change dirty filters regularly. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  • Check the tires. - Check that your tires are properly inflated and rotate them on a regular basis, not only to extend the life of your tires, but to help achieve maximum fuel efficiency.

  • Multi-task. - It takes more gas to start up a cold car as opposed to a warm one, plan all your small trips and errands together to get the most out of your gas tank.

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Top 10 Reasons to Entertain with a Picnic - Thrifty Thursday

Hosting a picnic is a wonderful frugal way to entertain that offers many advantages to the savvy host or hostess. With a little creative thinking, almost any meal or celebration can be turned into a picnic. After all, what was the first Thanksgiving?

I've hosted romantic picnics in idyllic settings, marathon-long beach parties, casual lunches and brunches for small groups and huge crowds, raucous tailgate parties, midnight stargazing rendezvous, and casual snacks consumed at highway rest areas during road trips. Regardless of the occasion, a picnic always makes the day a bit more festive and memorable.

So what are the advantages of turning your party, event, or even romantic dinner for two into a picnic? Let's count the ways:

1. You don't have to go crazy cleaning the house because no one will ever see the house.

2. Not only do you not have to clean your house, there will be no "day after" mess when the party is over.

3. Nothing at your home will get broken and the carpet won't get stained.

4. The neighbors can't complain if things get too loud.

picnics, entertaining with picnics5. You don't have to worry about how to get those last straggling guests to finally leave your house and go home.

6. If your space is too small to accommodate a large crowd of say 3 or more, the sky's the limit with a picnic. Just pick a park, beach, or other location that's as large as your guest list and go wild.

7. Picnics are a wonderful way to entertain when your home might be less than ideal , ie: you live with your mother, you live in a dorm, your 8 room mates own 12 Rottweilers, etc., etc.

8. No leftovers! One of the tips for successful picnics is to make enough so that everything gets eaten.

9. Don't forget travel. With picnics you can entertain anytime, anywhere. A picnic is a great way to thank hosts for their hospitality while traveling, or have an intimate romantic meal in an exotic setting. If you want to get romantic, nothing impresses like a picnic.

10. Picnics can save you money! It's generally cheaper to have a picnic than eat out in a restaurant, and a public park is certainly cheaper than a rented hall for a larger gathering. Picnics can also make for a cheap date that comes off as anything but.

Need Picnic Recipes?
Click here for the archives of picnic recipes -- you'll find tons of creative recipes that are all easy to pack and tote along.

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Extraordinary Egg Art at the Dovetail Gallery

EGG HARBOR, WISCONSIN, USA – You’ll never look at eggs the same way again after visiting the Dovetail Gallery, Studio and Museum in (where else?) Egg Harbor, Wisconsin.

The town’s unusual name originally drew artist Kathleen Mand Beck to locate her studio with bucolic view of aforementioned harbor here. For what better locale could there be for an artist whose primary medium is eggs? Kathleen carves the delicate hollowed shells of eggs – all kinds of eggs from tiny quail to huge ostrich and everything into between – into incredible works of art.

A visit to her studio below Dovetail’s main gallery reveals boxes of nearly every conceivable variety of eggs, all perfectly cleaned, sterilized, hollowed and ready for Kathleen’s gentle touch with a dental drill. The tool’s high speed and delicate bits allow her to carve and transform the eggshells into truly wondrous and magical objects.

Giving a decorated egg as a gift is an ancient tradition. The art of decorating eggs is one of the oldest documented art forms. Kathleen makes it easy for modern gift givers to continue the practice by offering custom carved egg art for any occasion. Commissioning a basic carved egg from Kathleen starts at a mere $45.00 (as of this writing in 2009), and you’d be hard pressed to find a more unique gift.

Kathleen’s spectacular carved eggs are plenty interesting on their own to merit a stop at Dovetail, but there’s actually much more to see at this small, packed gallery and egg museum. Highlights include an authentic gold and cloisonnĂ© enameled FabergĂ© egg commissioned by Tsar Alexander III and Nichols II.

Another must see during a stop at the gallery is one of the most extensive collections of wild bird eggs on public display anywhere – over 100 eggs from 25 different species.

And if you’re brave enough to bring your kids into a shop filled with fragile eggs, they will able to wonder at the sight of an actual 70 million year old Hypselosaurus dinosaur egg! Accompanying CAT scans authenticate the egg’s age and displays show how the developing dinosaur grew within his temporary eggshell home.

In addition to egg art, the gallery, housed in an 1873 hand-hewn dovetail log home, also features fine art paintings, clay, tiles, jewelry, garden art, and glass. Kathleen’s husband Tom also designs a wonderful collection of copper garden sprinklers that are practical as well as artistic sculptures in motion.

Click here for more details of fun things to do, see, and eat in Door County, Wisconsin.


The Dovetail Gallery, Studio and Egg Museum is located at 7901 State Highway 42 in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin 54209. Phone 920-868-3987 or visit their website at

For trip planning, contact the Door County Visitor’s Bureau at 1015 Green Bay Rd. Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 call 800-52-RELAX or 920-743-4456 or click to

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to Make a Portable Picnic Pack for Car or Backpack - Thrifty Thursdays

Sometimes the best time for a picnic is right now! If you're not prepared, valuable picnicking opportunities could be passing you by -- even as we speak!

It makes sense to be prepared for picnics while traveling or even in your own home town, as they provide the opportunity to enjoy memorable meals in extraordinary surroundings. Imagine munching on baguettes and brie while gazing at the Eiffel Tower, or chowing down on fried chicken and ribs while gazing at the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon. The travel picnic possibilities are endless. At home, get out of the office at lunchtime and chow down in a pretty park instead.

Picnics are a great way for budget conscious travelers to stretch their vacation budget, as a few picnic ingredients obtained at the local market will almost always be less expensive than lunch or dinner in a restaurant. With most non-US hotels offering rooms with breakfast, you could eat lunch or dinner picnic style, have one meal per day in a restaurant, and use the extra cash for souvenirs.

Make each member of the family a small picnic traveling pack to tuck into their luggage and you'll be ready whenever the mood or opportunity strikes.

The following are instructions for how I made my Suitcase or Backpack Picnic Kit. I tried to give the traveler a lot of tools and accessories in as small a space as possible. Likewise, the kit in the photo has just the bare minimum. If you have extra space, add some of the options to your pack.

These portable picnic packs make wonderful gifts for the travelers in your life, whether they be backpacking students or middle aged business people, or seniors on a holiday.

What You'll Need for Each Kit

2 Cotton Bandanas -- Bandannas are lightweight, don't take up much space and can serve as place mat and napkin, or if the sun's too hot, a hat or neck band. If you don't like bandannas, use a lightweight kitchen towel instead.

Flexible Plastic Cutting Board
These kitchen gadgets are the greatest! You see them advertised on late night TV or you can pick them up in housewares stores (Trader Joe's usually carries them too). Thin as a sheet of heavy stock paper, you can roll these "cutting boards" for easy storage, and in fact, this is what gives our traveler's Picnic Pack its shape. Travelers can use the flexi-board to cut and prepare picnic food or as a plate for serving and eating.

Cutlery and Tools -- To keep things minimal, I've used a Swiss Army Knife, which includes a sharp knife, can opener and a corkscrew, among other features. If you don't want to use a Swiss Army Knife, make sure you include at minimum, these three essential tools. I've also included a real fork, just because I hate eating with plastic. If you have no such qualms, you could substitute plastic cutlery.

Seasonings, Condiments and Clean-Up -- Take small individual packets of salt, pepper, sugar and condiments (ketchup, mustard, relish, soy sauce, taco sauce, whatever suits your fancy) and place them in a small zipper top plastic bag. Add a few moist towelettes and seal the bag, removing excess air.

Options to add if you have Extra Space
If you have the room you might add paper napkins or paper towels, matches and a candle, a deck of cards, non-perishable food items (crackers, beef jerky, candy, etc.), a small bottle of hot sauce, water purifying tablets, a small trash bag and an electric immersion water heater for heating water in hotel rooms.

To Assemble the Kit
Lay the bandanna flat on a table and place the flexible cutting board in the center. Place remaining kit components together near one side. Fold in the long edges of the bandanna. Tightly roll the entire kit as tightly as possible. Take second bandanna and roll into a rope lengthwise; use to tie rolled picnic kit together, as in photo at the top of this post.

More Helpful Picnic Links

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Become an Artist for a Day at Wisconsin's Hands-On Art Studio

FISH CREEK, WISCONSIN, USA – Have you ever dreamed of being an artist? Perhaps welding pieces of metal into a fabulous sculpture, or fusing glass pieces into something amazing, or throwing clay on a pottery wheel and forming it into a ceramic work of art?

But how can an ordinary person, who may have the desire, but not the skills or the necessary (and often expensive) equipment, get the chance to even try these highly specialized artistic endeavors? By visiting the Hands On Art Studio in Door County, Wisconsin.

There are no scheduled classes here. You don’t need a reservation. You can just walk in, pay a low studio fee, find the medium you want to work in and start creating. Don’t have the slightest idea what you’re doing? No problem. Hands On Art studio’s experienced staff are there to guide you.

Guests can choose from a huge variety of art projects including fused glass, metal sculpture, mosaics, and a wide selection of wood, metal and ceramic pieces to paint. All the tools and supplies you’ll need are right there at your fingertips. Should your masterpiece need to be fired in the kiln or grouted, it will be available for pick up the next day.

The brainchild of owner and potter and multimedia artist Cy Turnbladh, the studio is like no place else you’ve ever been. Set on a scenic farm, Hands On encompasses several buildings, including a huge barn turned into art space for making ceramics, painting, mosaics and more, a metal studio, glass studio, and an enormous silo – there’s over 8000 square feet of specialized studio space in all!

The 100 year old silo serves as a canvas for painted elements, metal accents – and the focus – a towering mosaic of the hand painted tiles. Eventually the entire silo will be covered in the colorful hand made tiles - a communal art effort that benefits homeless animals. Guests purchase the tile and use the studio’s supplies to paint and decorate it – the entire $3.00 cost of the purchase price is donated to the Door County Humane Society.

It easy to see that Turnbladh, a regular humane society contributor, is an avid animal lover -- he shares his property with a menagerie of 45 animals that includes cats, dogs, horses, goats, chickens, ducks, alpacas and llamas.

If you visit June through August, the studio runs special art camps for kids, which can give parents time to explore some of Door County’s other attractions (wineries anyone?). Wednesday nights are family nights. Friday nights they’re open for all the studio’s regular attractions, but for grown ups only. You’d be hard pressed to find a more unique date anywhere, and they even offer drinks, snacks and live music June through October and special event evenings in winter.

Otherwise, everyone can visit anytime from 10AM to 6PM, year round, rain or shine. No matter what their ages or interests, everyone in the family can create art, have a great time here, and go home with the ultimate personal vacation souvenirs ever. With so many mediums to choose from – ceramics, wood, glass, metal, and more, you may even become a regular. The studio does receive lots of repeat business, and there’s no greater testimony to the quality of a travel attraction than that.

Click here for our report of more details of fun things to do, see, and eat in Door County, Wisconsin.


The Hands On Art Studio is located 1 3/4 miles from Highway 42 at 3655 Peninsula Players Rd. in Fish Creek, WI 54212. Call 920-868-9311 or click to

For trip planning, contact the Door County Visitor’s Bureau at 1015 Green Bay Rd. Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 call 800-52-RELAX or 920-743-4456 or click to

(Photos by Jon Jarosh.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Make Your Own Barrel Composter - Thrifty Thursdays

As you probably already know, I also publish While creating and testing the wonderful recipes we have on the site, we accumulate lots of food scraps, just like you probably do at home. So instead of throwing them away, we decided to extend their usefulness and compost them for our garden.

With the price of groceries these days, you're going to want to use every last scrap. In addition to kitchen waste, you'll also want to add raked leaves, mowed grass, and other plant matter to give your compost balance.

You can certainly make compost without this composter, but using it will keep the process (and your yard) neat, and in warm weather, it will churn out a new batch of fresh garden-ready compost about every 2 to 3 weeks! If you were to buy a composter like this it would cost you several hundred dollars. For well under a hundred dollars you can make it yourself.

All you need to get started is a food safe plastic barrel -- like those used for shipping cooking oil to restaurants, some PVC pipe, and a few basic tools. Be sure the barrel you use for this project was used to store food -- you don't want chemicals leaching into your soil via your composter. Check with your favorite restaurants to see if they have any old barrels they want to get rid of. You can also purchase food safe barrels inexpensively on, (where else?)

Supplies Needed to Make a Barrel Composter

30 feet of 1 inch PVC pipe
4 feet of 1.25 inch PVC pipe
12 1-inch PVC Tee fittings
4 1-inch PVC 90 degree elbows
8 1-inch PVC 45 degree elbows
4 feet of 3 inch perforated PVC pipe
2 3-inch PVC end caps
6 square feet nylon screen
1 35-gallon food safe barrel with removable lid

hole cutter
PVC cutter or small saw
PVC cement

2 1/2 inch thread bolts
spray paint for plastic (Krylon makes a good one)
masking tape

Now that you have all the supplies and tools necessary to build this composter, let's move on to part 2 where I'll tell you how to put it all together. Our photo tutorial will take you through the construction process step-by-step and when you're finished, you'll have a brand new barrel composter for your garden. Click here for full free instructions on how to build the barrel composter.

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Creative Easter Egg Designs -- Without a Kit - Thrifty Thursdays

Coloring Designer Easter Eggs Without an Egg Dying Kit -- Thrifty Thursdays

We think we came up with some pretty fabulous egg designs. Just about everything we used to make the eggs in the basket above is in the photo below. You'll find detailed directions, as well as a list of supplies for the individual designs by following the links. While we utilized various techniques to achieve the results you see, all of the eggs have one things in common, the basic egg dye recipe.

Egg Dye Recipe
Why buy packaged egg coloring kits when you probably already have everything you need right in your pantry?

To make a rainbow of egg hues, you can use either liquid or paste food coloring, although I find using paste gives extra bright and, depending upon how large a dab of paste I use, more intense color.

You'll need a separate cup for each color, large enough to hold an egg and the liquid. Dissolve a dab of paste food color, or about 6-8 drops of regular liquid food color, in 1 cup of hot water. Stir in 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar and your egg dye is ready to go!

Egg Dying Tips

  • Before you can color Easter eggs, you'll need to boil eggs, click here for how to instructions for making perfect hard boiled eggs.
  • Covering your work area with plenty of newspaper or other paper makes clean up afterward a snap -- just gather up the mess and throw it out in one fell swoop.
  • An empty egg carton makes a good drying rack, but liquid tends to collect at the bottom so use caution when lifting eggs out of the drying rack and blot the bottoms carefully with a dry paper towel so the color doesn't run
  • Making sure eggs are completely dry between color coats is probably the one most important tip for great Easter eggs - absorbent paper towels, used to carefully blot the eggs, can help finish the process
  • Wearing rubber gloves will help your fingers avoid getting stained with food coloring -- and they will regardless of how careful you are.
  • If you don't want to color boiled eggs, you can also use hollow egg shells in which the contents have been "blown" out. Follow this link for directions on how to make blown eggs.
  • After Easter use up all those egg with the recipes at this link: Top 10 Things To Do With Leftover Easter Eggs
Designer Easter Egg Designs (click links or photos for complete how-to instructions)

Abstract Eggs (pictured right) -- Who knew that a jar of rubber cement could help you make such great looking Easter eggs?

All-Natural Onion Skin Dyed Eggs -- No dye necessary here, onion skins do the work for these natural look Easter eggs.

Banded Eggs -- Various sized rubber bands help to make Easter eggs with bands of stripes criss crossing their surface.

Dinosaur Eggs (pictured left) -- The clever use of ordinary cheesecloth gives these eggs a unique dinosaur-like appearance.

Sticker Stencil Eggs -- A few supplies from the stationary store (or your desk drawer) can help make egg dying easy and stylish.

Marbled Eggs (3rd picture down from top of this post)-- This design creates unique marbled colored Easter eggs -- no two are ever exactly alike!

Spatter Dyed Eggs (pictured below) -- The kids love to do this one -- all it takes is some egg dye, an old toothbrush, and a small stock or skewer.

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog (after Thursday) for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere. Visit anytime to learn how to participate too.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rubber Stamping -- Making a Good Impression

While there are an infinite number of rubber stamp designs available, there are just a few simple tips and tricks to keep in mind when making a rubber stamped impression. This article should get you up to speed.
  • It is often easier, especially when working with larger stamps, to pick up the ink pad and apply it to the stamp, rather than pressing the stamp into the pad.
  • Small ink pads, such as the petals in the Color Box inks, can be used to color specific parts of your stamp in order to make a multicolored image (see photo of the chili pepper stamp and Color Box petal pad at right).
  • You can use felt tip brush markers to color directly on the stamp die image in one or more colors.
  • When blending more than one color on a stamp, always start with the lightest color ink first and progress to the darker colors.
  • Always stamp on a flat surface.
  • Always test your stamp on piece of scrap paper before attempting an image on your good paper.
  • Take care not to get ink on the areas of the stamp outside the design. Stamp corners often tend to want to pick up unwanted ink and these can cause unsightly blotches on your finished products.
  • Take care to press down with firm, even pressure when making a print. If your image comes out uneven or too light it probably means you didn't use even pressure, or your stamp wasn't evenly or sufficiently inked.
  • If your finished image is too thick or heavy you probably used too much pressure or too much in, or both.
  • If your stamp has large open areas, avoid getting ink in the large open area by using the edge of your stamp pad to tap ink onto the outside of the stamp outlines, rather than directly over the top.
  • Take care to lift the stamp directly up and off the page after making a print, any side to side movement can create a double or shadow image.
Rubber Stamping Projects
Click here for's rubber stamping projects.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Celebrating Mardi Gras

If you live in the south, you know all about Mardi Gras, but for those in other areas of the country, the distinctly Southern celebration remains a bit of a mystery. This Mardi Gras FAQ will explain it all.

What is Mardi-Gras?
Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday is the celebration leading up to lent. Mardi Gras season officially begins on Twelfth Night, or the Feast of the Epiphany, and concludes on Shrove Tuesday, just before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of lent. Traditionally it is a time of feasting and celebrations before the onset of the upcoming sacrifices. In the old days, and to many Catholics today, this mostly meant the eschewing of meat. Hence Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, which in years past was known as Boeuf Gras.

Boeuf Gras? But doesn't Emeril say Pork Fat Rules?
Superstar chef Emeril Lagasse may think "pork fat rules" but the Creole ancestors who inspired his cuisine evidently thought higher of beef fat. Mardi Gras was originally known as Boeuf Gras, in homage to the last feast of meat before the culinary austerity of the Lenten season. In other areas of the world, the celebration is known as Carnival, from the Latin for "farewell to flesh."

From 1872-1901 a live ox graced New Orleans' Rex Parade. Today, a papier mache symbol of Boeuf Gras takes its place.

Where did Mardi Gras begin in the U.S.?
Most people would answer New Orleans. Is that their final answer? Probably yes? New Orleans, final answer, thanks for playing, sorry no million dollars!

The correct answer is Mobile, Alabama where Mardi Gras is still celebrated in grand style today -- there are thirty-five events listed on Mobile's 2000 parade schedule. Visitors to Mobile can view dazzling Mardi Gras costumes as well as other Fat Tuesday historical memorabilia, year round, at the Museum of Mobile located at 355 Government Street (334-208-7569).

Where else is Mardi Gras celebrated in the U.S.?
New Orleans, of course, but you can also find parades and festivities in most of the towns that dot the gulf coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and even east Texas. Families will especially find some the smaller celebrations more appealing than the wild and crazy debauchery of The Big Easy.

What's so different about a Mardi Gras parade?
They're interactive and you get stuff. Masses of screeching parade enthusiasts, arms outstretched like beggars clamoring for a last meal, beseech Krewe members to throw barrels of trinkets -- colorful plastic beads and imprinted aluminum doubloons. CAUTION: Mardi Gras parades can cause temporary insanity and people will do things for a worthless piece of plastic that defy reason. So, be prepared to be somewhat aggressive if you want loot!

Oh, so you won't look like a tourist, the proper Mardi Gras parade cheer is "Throw me Something Mister!"

What is a King Cake?
A king cake is a traditional Mardi Gras treat, brightly decorated in the colors of Rex: purple, green and gold. The cake, which is similar to a rich sweet bread or coffee cake, contains a special surprise-- a tiny baby doll hidden within one of the slices. Custom dictates that the "lucky" recipient who gets the piece with the baby throws the next Mardi Gras party (or bakes the next King Cake).

King Cakes have become a Friday afternoon tradition for many offices in the south. Click here for my King Cake recipe (you'll find both traditional and bread machines version at this link).

How does Mardi Gras differ for locals as opposed to tourists?
Mardi Gras is actually the height of the Southern Social season. It is accompanied by endless rounds of formal balls, proceeded over by elaborately costumed courts. Each ball is sponsored by a "Krewe" which also foots the bill for a parade or float in a larger parade, depending on the size and budget of the krewe. The word "krewe" was supposedly chosen to give an "Old English" feel the clubs.

Can I go to a ball?
Sorry Cinderella, Mardi Gras balls are private affairs and by invitation only. However, you could get lucky and meet someone in the krewe who might just invite you. Your chances increase significantly depending upon your sex. Many balls follow the 5-1 ratio tradition. In other words, if it's a men's krewe, each male member invites five women to the ball. The reverse is true if it is a women's krewe. Those Southerners know how to party! Also, keep in mind that, just like other Mardi Gras events, there are plenty of balls outside of New Orleans.

Being formal events, each Mardi Gras ball's merriment is presided over by the King, Queen and Court, all attired in elaborate, obscenely expensive costumes. Each court member's gown has enough beads and jewels to outfit an entire cast of Vegas showgirls, and possibly a drag show or two to boot. Mardi Gras, when you play at this level, is a mighty expensive proposition.

So extravagant is the spectacle of a ball, that each member is also allowed to distribute a given number of "viewing passes." The pass doesn't entitle the bearer to actually participate in the party, but they are allowed the privilege watching it from the sidelines. That's right, no cocktails, no dancing and (horror of horrors), none of the incredible banquet that seems to stretch for miles! Nonetheless, if you have the chance to view a ball, grab it. It is an unforgettable experience.

What is Mardi Gras like in New Orleans?
It's a wild party for a month or more leading up to the big day. On the day before Mardi Gras or Lundi Gras, the kings of the Krewes of Rex and Zulu travel down the Mississippi River to New Orleans to prepare for the celebration. For New Orleans society, the day ends just before midnight at the Krewe of Comus ball and the "meeting of the courts." When Rex and his Queen arrive, the orchestra will traditionally play his theme song "If I Ever Cease to Love." Comus and Rex each escort each other's queens around the ballroom floor, before being seated on their thrones. At the stroke of midnight, Rex will wave the royal scepter and Mardi Gras is officially over until next year.

For the common folks wallowing in the midst of the French Quarter, the Witching Hour brings the official clearing of the streets. Entire lines of mounted police slowly march down the center of the narrow, litter strewn, French Quarter thoroughfares and clear the crowd. The spectacle is as impressive as any parade and I highly recommend finding a good sidewalk cafe, or even better, a balcony from which to observe.

More on Mardi Gras

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Language of Flowers -- Let Your Bouquet Express Your Emotions

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, I though it would be a great time to explore the traditional symbolic language of flowers, so you can create a bouquet for your loved ones that truly expresses how you feel. These came from an old magazine, circa early 1900s, found at my grandmothers house when I was a kid. It seems the language of giving flowers was quite complex back then.

Flower and Its Emotion

Abatina -- Fickleness

Acacia -- Friendship

Acacia, Yellow -- Secret Love

Alyssum, Sweet -- Worth Beyond Beauty

Amaranth, Globe -- Unfading Love

Ambrosia --Love Returned

American Linden -- Matromony

Amethys -- Admiration

Azalea -- Temperance

Bachelor's Buttons-- Celibacy

Bluebell -- Constancy

Bridal Rose -- Happy Love

Carnation, Deep Red -- Alas, My Poor Heart

Carnation, Striped -- Refusal

Carnation, Yellow -- Disdain

Chrysanthemum, Red-- I love You

Chrysanthemum, White -- Truth

Chrysanthemum, Yellow -- Slighted Love

Clover, Four-Leaved -- Be Mine

Coreopsis Arkansa -- Love at First Sight

Cranberry -- Cure for Heartache

Daffodil -- Regard

Dahlia -- Instability

Daisy -- Innocence

Daisy, Garden -- I Share Your Sentiments

Daisy, Michaelmas -- Farewell

Dittany Of Crete -- Passion

Fern -- Facination

Fleur-de-Lis -- Flame -- I Burn for You

Forget-Me-Not -- True Love

Honey Flower -- Love, Sweet and Secret

Honeysuckle -- Generous and Devoted Affection

Iris -- Message

Ivy -- Fidelity, Marriage

Jasmine, Spanish -- Sensuality

Jasmine, Yellow -- Grace and Elegance

Jonquil -- Desire and Affection

Laurel -- Glory

Lavender --Distrust

Lemon Blossoms -- Fidelity in Love

Lilac, Field -- Humility

Lilac, Purple -- First Emotions of Love

Lilac, White -- Youthful Innocence

Lily, Day -- Coquetry

Lily, White -- Purity, Sweetness

Lily, Yellow -- Falsehood, Gaeity

Lily Of The Valley -- Return of Happiness

Lotus Flower -- Estranged Love

Magnolia -- Love of Nature

Mallow, Syrian -- Consumed by Love

Marigold -- Grief

Marigold, African -- Vulgar Minds

Marigold, French -- Jealousy

Mint -- Virtue

Morning Glory -- Affectation

Motherwort -- Concealed Love

Mugwort -- Happiness

Myrtle -- Love

Narcissus -- Egotism

Nasturtium -- Patriotism

Orange Blossoms -- Purity and Lovliness

Orange Flowers -- Chastity, Bridal

Orange Tree -- Generosity

Osmunda -- Dreams

Pansy -- Thoughts

Peony -- Shame, Bashfulness

Peppermint -- Warmth

Periwinkle, Blue -- Early Friendship

Periwinkle, White -- Pleasures of Memory

Pheasant's Eye -- Remembrance

Pink, Carnation -- Woman's Love

Pink, Single -- Pure Love

Poppy, Red -- Consolation

Primrose -- Early Youth

Purple Clover -- Provident

Quince -- Temptation

Raspberry -- Remorse

Red Catchfly -- Youthful Love

Rose -- Love

Rose, Bridal -- Happy Love

Rose, China -- Beauty Always New

Rose, Deep Red -- Bashful Shame

Rose, Dog -- Pleasure and Pain

Rose, Single -- Simplicity

Rose, White -- I Am Worthy of You

Rose, Yellow -- Decrease of Love, Jealousy

Rose, White & Red Together -- Unity

Rosebud, Red -- Purity

Rosebud, White -- Girlhood

Rosebud, Moss -- Confession of Love

Rosemary -- Remembrance

Scabious -- Unfortunate Love

Snapdragon -- Presumption

Snowdrop -- Hope

Sorrel -- Affection

Spanish Jasmine -- Sunsuality

Strawberry Tree -- Esteem and Love

Sunflower, Dwarf -- Adoration

Sunflower, Tall -- Haughtiness

Sweet Basil -- Good Wishes

Sweetbrier, Yellow -- Decrease of Love

Tulip -- Fame

Tulip, Red -- Declaration of Love

Tulip, Variegated -- Beautiful Eyes

Tulip, Yellow -- Hopeless Love

Violet, Blue -- Faithfulness

Violet, Sweet -- Modesty

Violet, Yellow -- Rural Happiness

Water Lily -- Purity of Hear

Zinnia -- Thoughts of Absent Friends

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Punch Art Heart Tag

I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday season. I can't believe how quickly it all came and went. now it's time to look forward. Today's project will give you a head start on Valentine's Day.

If you have a shape templates, or a tool like the Fiskars Shape Cutter, it's easy to cut shapes in bright colors and layer them to make interesting gift tags like this one, which would be perfect for Valentine's Day, or any romantic or loving occasion. For added interest we used a corner punch with a removable guard for the lacy punched edge.

You Will Need:
  • paper scraps in 4 colors (we used neon green, dark green, red and pink)
  • shape cutter tool and/or templates (I used Fiskars Shape Cutter with the square and heart templates)
  • adhesives (I used a Xyron adhesive machine, you could also use spray adhesives or glue sticks or adhesive runners)
  • decorative photo corner punch with removable guard (mine is by EK Success)
  • round hole paper punch
  • narrow strip of red paper

Step 1. I used the Fiskars Shape Cutter with the square and heart templates to cut the shape for this tag. You can make your tag any size you like. The tag in the photo measures 3 1/2 inches square. The inner dark green square measures 2 1/2 inches. I then cut two small hearts to layer inside the smaller square.

Step 2. Use the punch to punch the corners of the outer square. Remove the corner guard from the punch and punch once in the center of side of the square.

Step 3. Weave the small dark green square into the punches to old it in place.

Step 4. Spray the back of the hearts with spray adhesive or you can alternatively run the pieces through an adhesive machine like those made by Xyron.

Step 5. Glue the larger heart on the center of the inner square and glue the smaller heart on top of the larger heart.

Step 6. Use a round hole punch to punch a hole in the center top edge of the tag. Thread a narrow red paper strip through the hole in order to attach it to the gift.

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Years Ideas

This will be our last post before new years. I hope everyone had a fabulous Christmas and/or Hanukkah.

If you're still struggling with what to do and.or what to serve on New Years Eve, I have some suggestions.

Lucky Foods to Serve on New Years

All around the world people eat specific foods on New Year's Eve to bring good luck and good fortune in the upcoming year. We've compiled a round-up garnered from our editors' experiences as world travelers, as well as submissions from our readers. For your convenience, we've included recipe links where we have them.

If you know of other New Year's food traditions that we have not covered in these pages, please post them to the comments sections below. So whether or not you're superstitious, what could it hurt? Eat these foods on New Years Eve to insure that you and yours will have the best year ever!

Click here for the International Lucky New Years Eve Foods List.

New Years Eve Effigy Burning Party

Looking for a unique idea for your next New Year's Party? Here's an activity that makes for a memorable and meaningful experience and also gives your guests the chance to let their creativity shine. The effigy party has been an annual tradition at my New Year's celebrations for some time now and never fails to be a big hit, with children as well as adults.

Here's the theme of the party:
Each person invited is instructed to create and bring to the party an effigy to burn. The doll represents the negative energy/traits/emotions etc. that the person wants to be rid of in the coming year. Sort of like a New Year's resolution in reverse. Making the dolls gives the guests something to bring to the party and they make great conversation pieces while on display before the ceremonial burning. If you host this party year after year, you'll find guests really start getting into it and try to outdo each other from year to year.

The dolls (see photos this page and at the link below) can be made from all kinds of materials. For instance my doll from last year was made of bread dough and sugar frosting as I was trying to curb my carbohydrate addiction. My niece Tracy fashioned her doll out of empty Coca-Cola cans as she wanted to break this habit.

The effigy ceremony can be as whimsical or as serious as each guest chooses and sharing the meaning behind the doll is optional. Most do, but some keep it personal.

Once you know where the party will be hosted, and the limitations of your fire pit, you can better instruct or give effigy creating tips to your guests. For instance, if you have a small indoor fireplace, it is important for guests to bring small sized offerings and to limit themselves to natural materials. This is a good idea in general. Nothing can ruin a successful party atmosphere like the stench of burning toxic plastic fumes.

In past years we have also held this party on the beach with a large bonfire, in which case guests were encouraged to bring life-sized effigies (photo at right).

Intrigued? Click this link for more tips, suggestions and precautions for hosting this party, along with photos of past dolls burned by our guests.

Happy New Year and see you all in 2009!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Gift Wrapping Help and Happy Holidays!

I am doing some late night posting, just before leaving to visit family out of town for the holidays. So I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Yule or whatever other holiday you might be celebrating. I'll see you back here before the New Year.

In the meantime, here are some links that will help you gift wrap with style -- without spending much at all.

Gift Wrap Help from
  • How to gift Wrap a Box -- Here's the low down on how to get a perfect neatly gift wrapped box -- the perfect gift wrapper's blank canvas to adorn as you see fit.
  • Rubber Stamping Gift Wrap Paper -- Simple rubber stamps and brown paper (like recycled grocery bags) make terrific wrapping.
  • How to Make a Curling Ribbon Bow (pictured below right) -- Turn ordinary inexpensive curling ribbon into extraordinary bows for all your gift wrapping needs. Photo instructions show how.
  • Elegant Gift Bags -- Hard to wrap gifts are perfect candidates for this simple sewing project.
  • Candy Cane Gift Tags -- This cute gift tag is made from a rubber stamped image layered on top of various sized squares.
  • Personalized Gift Wrap (pictured at top of this post)-- Chip board letters, ribbon and a glue gun are all you need.
  • Elegant 3-D Stars Gift Wrap (pictured at bottom of this post) -- This design looks intricate, but is actually easy to accomplish.
  • Quilling Strips Gift Ornaments -- These paper bows are unique, stylish, and whimsical, depending on the style, papers, and colors you choose.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rubber Stamping -- Hanukkah Greeting Cards

For these cards I challenged myself to come up with various designs using nothing more than a single rubber stamp and some basic paper crafting supplies. The results are five simple yet stunning cards that anyone would love to receive on Hanukkah.

The ornate dreidel stamp I used for these projects is made by Ruth's Jewish Rubber Stamps, but you could use any appropriate central image you like instead. In fact, use different images for different holidays -- most of the designs will still work well.

The links below will take you to detailed directions on how to make the greeting cards in the photo.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Tree Tips, Ideas and Resources

The Christmas tree, often the focal point of holiday decorating, can be the source of many a happy holiday tradition, such as decorating parties or ornament collecting. But every tree trimmer's nightmare is the tree that immediately loses all its needles and becomes drier than the Nevada dessert in a mere matter of days -- or even hours. Don't let this happen to your tree. We've got tips for selecting and maintaining a beautiful tree throughout the holiday season.

Selecting the Perfect Christmas Tree
It's not hard to select a good tree. It's like the "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" - once you adorn them with lights and ornaments, nearly all trees look beautiful. But just in case you want a tree that's more perfect than any of the others, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Before you leave to choose a tree, check the height of the ceiling in the room where it will be displayed. Things have a way of looking smaller outdoors. Select a tree that is at least one foot shorter than your ceiling height.
  • Shake or bounce the tree to check that the needles are firmly attached. Few needles will fall off a fresh tree. The older the tree, the more needle loss you will have. Don't be fanatical about this, there will always be some needles that fall out. Think of it as the difference between normal hair loss versus going bald.
  • If you run your fingers over the branch along the needles, they should adhere to the branch and bend but not break.
  • Check that the bottom of the tree has a trunk at least 6-8 inches long for proper placement in a tree stand.
  • Make sure the trunk is straight so the tree can properly stand.
  • Inspect inside between the branches for insects.

Caring for the Tree at Home

  • If you don't plan on decorating the tree right away, cut about an inch off the base and stand the tree in a bucket of water in a shady outdoor spot.
  • When you bring the tree indoors, cut 1/2 to one inch off of the base of the trunk and place in a tree stand that holds at least one gallon of water.
  • Never place the tree near a fireplace, heater vents or other sources of heat.
  • Always keep the tree supplied with water. Christmas Trees can be thirsty, even going through a quart or more of water a day. Check the water level in the tree stand at least twice a day. Take care to never let the water level fall below the base of the tree as it can seal over and prevent the tree from being able to absorb water later. If this happens, you can take the tree down to cut about an inch off the bottom, which will once again allow for water uptake.
  • A fresh tree supplied with water presents little fire hazard. As long as the tree takes up water, it will be relatively fire resistant.

Fire Safety

  • A fresh tree supplied with water presents little fire hazard. As long as the tree takes up water, it will be relatively fire resistant. Do not allow the water level in the tree stand to fall below the base of the tree (see tips above).
  • Fire Marshall-approved treatments can be sprayed on trees to reduce flammability. These contain borax or other flame-retardants. Check with the salesperson when you purchase your tree, or with the fire department or County Agent for specific fire-retardant treatments.
  • Use only UL-approved lights and nonflammable decorations.
  • Turn off lights when leaving the house or going to bed.

Bugs in the System

  • Be aware of insects that can enter the home on the Christmas tree and emerge in the warm house.
  • Inspect the tree before bringing it inside. Shake and bounce the to dislodge insects that may be hiding. If you find insects, you can spray the tree with an indoor-outdoor aerosol insecticide containing pyrethrins before bringing the tree inside. These are common insecticides available at grocery stores. This same spray can be used if you discover insects after the tree is in the house.

    It is important to observe all directions, restrictions and precautions on pesticide labels and to keep pesticides out of reach of children and animals.
More on Christmas Trees

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Elegant Yet Easy Wallpaper Scrap Bows and Projects

These bows look so elegant and expensive, but they're actually made from paper strips! While you could use any kind of paper you like to cut your strips, we used embossed striped paper from wallpaper samples.

Go to most any paint or home improvement store and you'll find that they're usually thrilled to give away old sample books of wallpaper. That's right, give them away, as in for free, gratis, nada. This represents an incredible find for creative crafters -- free supplies! The sample books provide wonderful papers for all kinds of craft projects, and once you start flipping through the pages, you'll come up with all kinds of uses for the various designs.

For these bows, we went to samples of elegant papers in a striped design. Wallpaper sample books are usually filled with this popular style, and often the striped papers are conveniently in gold, silver, or other metallics, or even in satin finishes that really look like ribbon when cut.

The results are stunning, and once the paper strips are cut, this project is easy enough for kids to do.

Once we made our bows, we used them for elegant fits wraps and greeting cards. The links below will take you to step-by-step photo instructions that show how to make these easy, yet impressive projects.

Monday, December 8, 2008

North Pole Christmas Decoration

If you purchased a North Pole decoration at a Christmas shop it would run you around $30.00. Lisa Dodez's creative version will cost pennies (she even uses items that might otherwise be discarded) and is very easy to make.

You Will Need:
flower pot
cardboard tube from wrapping paper
small scrap piece of candy stripe gift wrap paper
hot glue gun
floral foam (enough to fill flower pot)
red plastic ball shaped ornament for top of pole
Christmas drape (cotton sheets made to resemble snow available wherever gift wraps and decorations are sold)
extras for decorations -- tissue paper, small bits of ribbon, toys, etc.

1. To make the base, hot glue floral foam, pot and cardboard tube together as shown in photo 1.
2. Use tape to wrap the cardboard tube with the wrapping paper scrap. Make sure to fold over the edge of the paper for a crisp, clean line.

3. Wrap flower pot base with Christmas drape to replicate snow and use hot glue to secure. If you don't have Christmas drape you could also use tissue paper, fabric and/or garland.

4. Photo 4 shows a close up of the wrapped pot.

5. Hot glue plastic ornament to top of pole.

6. Gather extra decorations you have hanging around that match the color scheme of your North Pole sign.
7. Attach decorative touches with hot glue.
8. Make the flag. We printed 2 pieces of sign artwork so you could see it from all angles. You can find the links to print out the North Pole sign artwork at the bottom of the page at this link. Print both then cut a flag like the one shown at the top of this page from your paper pieces. Glue the two pieces together, leaving about a 1/2 inch margin on the sides that you will use to attach the flag to the pole. Fold the margin pieces outward, apply hot glue and attach the flag to the pole.

Congratulations, your North Pole Christmas decoration is now complete!