Tag Archives: DIY

All Cakes Considered

Eat Cake for Breakfast

Good Advice.

Without the structure of an Official Project™, I’m liable to spend every evening sitting on the couch with my dogs reading comic books and feminist essays. So, I recently decided to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to my enjoyment of cooking and baking and commit to getting really good at it by making lots and lots of cake.

The inspiration? All Cakes Considered, a book by NPR staffer Melissa Gray about how she made a cake each week and brought it in for her co-workers to taste-test and enjoy. The book includes a year’s worth of weekly cake recipes, and all of the baking lessons Gray learned along the way.

I’m not as hardcore as Gray — I’m not going to make arrangements for my co-workers to have a substitute cake brought in when I don’t bake (sorry, guys) — but I have decided to make fifty cakes in one year, and, five cakes in, I’m already learning a lot. For example: bundt cakes can actually be ridiculously delicious, and it is truly worth it to spend the full minute beating the batter between adding each egg.

I love how this book is structured; rather than assuming you know it all already, Gray explains everything in detail, teaching you new skills and techniques as the book goes along.  It starts with simple, easy-to-master recipes like sour cream pound cake and cinnamon-almond coffee cake, and works up to more complicated fare. The book concludes with something equal parts astonishing and formidable, Stephen Pyle’s Heaven and Hell Cake, which Gray deems “The Liberace of Layer Cakes.”

I do really like All Cakes Considered, but I’m not planning on following along with it exactly. Here are a few of other books I plan to consult during the course of my 50 Cakes experiment:

-Ginny

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Yes We Can

One cooking project I’ve been scared to tackle is canning and preserving. A  year or two ago, I asked for a set of canning supplies for Christmas, received them, and promptly relegated them into the closet in my house where things go to be ignored, nestled cozily alongside an accordion binder of old tax returns and paperwork from the vet.

I did it!

I decided to get over my fear of messing up and give it a shot, and guess what? It’s not so difficult, after all.  I made some quick garlic pickles and a batch of strawberry jalapeno jam, and now I’m ready for more. Of course, I turned to some trusty library resources to show me the way:

Dare to Cook – Canning Basics (DVD) – Chef Tom doesn’t have the on-screen charisma of your favorite Food Network star, but what he lacks in panache he makes up for in know-how.  Watching this DVD is what finally convinced me that I could do this, and that my fear of giving all my loved ones botulism was unfounded, as long as I followed the clear and simple instructions.

Canning for a New Generation: Bold Fresh Flavors for a Modern Pantry – Almost every review you read of this book says something along the lines of: “If you think caning is just for oldsters, think again!”  It’s true that this book includes lots of contemporary twists on classic recipes and quite a few things you won’t find in other canning books, but it also has good practical advice and recipes for ideas on how to use the jams, sauces, relishes, and condiments you’ll be preserving.

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving – I loved that this had a large number and variety of recipes, and small batch is just right for a beginner like me. It helped me feel like even if I messed something up, I wasn’t wasting a ton of ingredients.  There are lots of recipes in this book for sauces and jams that you don’t have to process and can, so if you are scared of pectin and want to get those skills down pat first, try this one out.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist's portfolio.

Strawberry Jam Print. Click through for the artist’s portfolio.

More Canning & Preserving Resources:

-Ginny

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Cross Your Heart, Cross Your Fingers

Knitting and crochet get the bulk of crafters’ love, but I’ve never been able to get the hang of either one. Believe me, I’ve tried; my hands just won’t do what they’re supposed to! Don’t kick me out of the needlework club just yet, though — I express my creative side with counted cross-stitch, an old-school pursuit that has evolved over time, from decorative borders and samplers to snarky slogans and pop culture patterns for every fandom imaginable.

Avengers design by Ivan Petroff of Amazing Cross Stitch - click through for his Etsy site.

Avengers design by Ivan Petroff of Amazing Cross Stitch – click through for his Etsy site.

It’s fairly easy to pick up: if you can count, you can do cross-stitch. And teaching yourself the ropes is easy with help from the Library’s collection of instructional manuals and patterns. Here are a few suggested texts for DIY Xstitch 101:

Cross-Stitch: A Beginner’s Step-by-Step Guide to Techniques and Motifs, Charlotte Gerlings. Just in case the word “beginner’s” didn’t give it away, this stitch1is a great place to start if you’ve never picked up a needle. Covers the supplies you’ll need, different types of stitch and stitching techniques, and reading charts. When you’re feeling confident in the basics, Gerlings throws a few advanced techniques at you, but nothing overwhelming. Includes 30 charts.

The Two-Hour Cross-Stitch series, Trice Boerens. Once you feel comfy with the basics, you’ll want to move on to small, easily-finished projects. Boerens’ series contains a variety of small patterns for animals, flowers, and decorative motifs that you can knock out in a few hours and feel good about. The overall aesthetic is vintage/retro, and each volume contains refreshers on the basics, in case you need them. Want something a little more modern and/or easier on the eyes? Swap in Jacqui Pearce’s Big Stitch Cross Stitch instead.

Next you’ll want to grab Julie S. Hasler’s 500 Alphabets in Cross-Stitch, partially to get the hang of stitching letters (still quick and easy!), but also to stitch3spark inspiration for your own designs. If you have a favorite quotation, song lyric, or even personal catch-phrase, you can  easily turn it into a clever design piece. Your only real problem will be choosing a font, as Hasler’s not kidding about showing you 500 of them. Overhwelming, but in a fun way.

stitch2When you’re ready for slightly more intricate projects, but still feel you need a little guidance, try Dorothy Wood’s Cross Stitch: Skills, Techniques, 150 ProjectsClocking in at 250+ pages, it’s a bit hefty; however, the 600+ instructional illustrations more than make up for it.  These projects will take a little longer to finish, but by the time you’re done, you should feel confident enough to try more complicated projects.

Now you’re ready for the tricky stuff! Where to go next depends entirely on your personal taste; your choices range from the traditional to the fanciful, and if you enjoy making homemade gifts/crafts for Christmas or babies, you are definitely in luck. With over 300 options to choose from — including digital patterns — you’ll have plenty of ideas to keep your hands occupied during the long, cold winter, and beyond.

Not seeing your fandom/interest in the Library catalog? A well-constructed internet search will usually do the trick. Try:

” X” cross-stitch

where X = the patterns you’re hoping to find. For example:

“Legend of Korra” cross-stitch

“Welcome to Night Vale” cross-stitch

Steelers cross-stitch

“heavy metal” cross-stitch

Try it for your special interests! Then run the same search in Google Images to make sure you don’t miss anything good (often a web search will offer a link to the image search as the first option).

Keep in mind that not all patterns will be free (artists need to eat!), and that anything you make from a copyrighted/trademarked design should be kept for personal use or gifted, not sold, unless the designer explicitly gives you permission (it’s complicated, but this blog post does a great job of explaining the essentials).

Think you’ll give it a shot? Already an avid-stitcher? Tell me about it in the comments. And if this adventure isn’t quite your thing, no worries — when it comes to hands-on learning and new DIY projects, Library staff are more than happy to point you in whatever direction strikes your fancy.

–Leigh Anne

whose own stitcher grail is Teresa Wentzler’s  The Lady of Shalott

 

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eCLP Saves the Day!

Start 'em young!

Start ’em young!

So we have been talking a lot about our e-resources available here at the library and a lot of people are interested in the e-books and music available to them through CLP while others love the downloads and videos. When I first started working here I had a general knowledge of what the library had to offer but one day last year the incomparable, genius Jess from Woods Run showed me the DIY Auto Repair database available on our website. I swooned! You see my husband is an auto mechanic of the highest order. In his spare time he works on vintage cars, normal cars, off road vehicles…anything with wheels really. When not doing that his actual paying job is working on vintage World War II vehicles. This is a man who, without a tire changing machine on the side of the highway, took a tire for a 66 VW bug off the rim using the guardrail, a screw driver and just pure brute strength and replaced it with a new tire on the same rim. Okay so if you don’t know anything about cars this doesn’t sound that impressive…but it is, really, ask your mechanic.

stig

The Stig ..aka my husband

Since Jess showed me the database I have helped out countless patrons who came in with questions or requests for auto manuals by showing them this resource. But I never thought it would help me out since my husband is part human part car (yes, technically this makes him a Transformer). Earlier this summer we were making our monthly trip to visit my in-laws in Southern West Virginia. We make this trip so often that I know the terrain by the mile markers and can tell you exactly how many minutes it will take from where we are to exit 9, our destination right outside Charleston. This particular trip was cut short when our car, an Acura, suddenly lost power. Several times my husband had to gently guide us off I-79 on to the shoulder. He had a general idea of what might be happening (fuel pump failure) but the truth is that our make of car, and its sister Honda, rarely has this issue. While he knew the pump was in a completely inconvenient place (the middle of the car, under the middle seat) he wasn’t sure where the fuel pump lines were and needed a schematic of both the lines and the fuses (or something like that, listen I honestly had stopped paying attention somewhere around the 10 minute mark in to his explanation; long-winded is a trait we share).

So while we were stranded my husband began searching on-line forums for a schematic to point him to the right lines. At this point I was a little nervous about offering up my beloved database. What if it didn’t help? What if it didn’t show him what he needed? Would he mock its very existence? I hesitated but due to the fact that I was really hungry, needed to use the bathroom and wanted to get the trip over with, I brought up it up on my phone using my library card and showed it to my husband. He was doubtful at first (what could the library offer him that 20 years of real world experience couldn’t?) but within 5 minutes he had the needed schematic in hand  AND it eventually helped him when we got in to Charleston and had to find parts for the car. It totally saved us from being stuck in the dark on the road in WV (there was no banjo music playing…yet) or from having to get a tow truck!

So as far as e-resources go feel free to fight over your e-books and music downloads; I will happily stick to the DIY databases, history databases and genealogy websites!

-Natalie

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You Can do That

With the arrival of the Vortex I decided to check on an attic window I replaced last year.  All things considered it seems to be doing what it was designed to do: keep out the elements.  I know it opens easily because I had it open all summer, keeping some air circulating upstairs, and allowing me to reach out . . . to snag leaves and debris in the nearby gutter. The house suffers from a solid case of settling foundation, so almost none of the windows and frames are square anymore.  Time will tell whether or not I was truly successful.

I’d asked several friends, neighbors and Lowe’s/Home Depot guys what their experiences and recommendations were for doing this.  Their answers comprised many similar observations about measuring, cutting, safety, etc.  The single most common theme that colored their comments was that I was going to come away from the effort with one of two outlooks –

1. that replacing a window is difficult but doable, and there’s no reason I can’t do it when I need to.

2. that replacing a window is difficult, and as G-d is my witness, there’s no way on earth I’ll ever do it again.

I’m leaning to number 2, but not with the verve of a true believer.  My problem is – to paraphrase Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof ) “I’ve got 10 windows” (to replace). I’d like to keep the original casement windows everywhere else in the house, so I will have all winter to think about how to do that, while wishing them to ultimately close together.

It doesn’t have to be windows. Once we’re past the winter (pitchers and catchers report in 34 days) there are any number of tasks, chores, repairs, and preparations your house or apartment probably needs. Many of them you may be able to do yourself. If you need help, plans, ideas and suggestions, come talk to us. We can’t do it for you, but we’ll know where to direct you.

When duct tape just isn’t enough : quick fixes for everyday disasters

This easy-to-follow guide will give anyone the basics to tackle those frustrating (and sometimes nerve-wracking) quandaries that crop up around the house. So, whether the issue is a fast repair for a running toilet or a leaking pipe, or a simple way to keep deer, rabbits or moles from destroying  the garden, it’s in here.

Spend-a-little save-a-lot home improvements : money-saving projects anyone can do

Spend-A-Little Save-A-Lot Home Improvements is a book of money-saving projects that anyone can do. Most of us avoid projects like these because we think they are too hard or will cost too much. A range of home improvement projects are broken down into easy steps that will help home owners keep their homes in shape, making them more livable, and sellable.


DIY projects for the self-sufficient homeowner : 25 ways to build a self-reliant lifestyle

Many of these projects require basic materials available at your everyday home center, this book also provides valuable DIY resources for solar, hydro, greenhouse, and gardening needs. Whether you have a city plot or simply pots, this book includes all of the information needed to plan, build, and succeed with greater self-sufficiency.

Black & Decker The Complete Guide to Patios & Walkways: Money-Saving Do-It-Yourself Projects for Improving Outdoor Living Space

The complete guide to patios & walkways : money-saving do-it-yourself projects for improving outdoor living space.

With hundreds of styles of brick and stone easily available, it’s never been easier to build a dream patio—saving thousands of dollars in the process. Complete with detailed photos and step-by-step arranged instructions, Black & Decker Patios & Walkways is recommended as the best choice for its excellent instruction and drainage coverage.

Workinwindows : a guide to the repair and restoration of woowindows 

Working Windows is the only fully illustrated guide to repairing and refinishing every part of an old window, from weather stripping, pulleys, sashes, hopper vents, and casings to old hinges, paint, and glass.  Whether you are a craftsman or a do-it-yourself  homeowner, Working Windows has essential advice and instruction to get your windows looking great and operating smoothly.

Tile style : creating beautiful kitchens,baths, & interiors with tile

This comprehensive guide shows how tile can be used from floors to ceilings, bathrooms to kitchens, as well as in other designs and mosaics. Tile Style is also filled with practical information on choosing, purchasing, installing, and caring for tile.  An extensive appendix section provides home decorators with all they need to know about budgeting a job, hiring an installer or doing it themselves, and maintaining surface tiles.

And my absolute favorite:

How to restore your collector car

How to Restore Your Collector Car has been the ultimate how-to guide for anyone looking to turn a neglected relic into a traffic-stopping collector car. From choosing the right vehicle, purchasing (or renting) the right tools, to entering the finished product in a show, this is the restoration book for the enthusiast who takes pride in not just getting his hands dirty, but in knowing why every bolt was chosen (not to mention how tightly it’s torqued).

– Richard

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Get Hands-On in 2014!

During the dark days of winter, I’m tempted to hibernate as soon as I return home from work. Resisting that incredibly powerful urge and heading out to zumba class or a literary lecture or an evening with friends can be so therapeutic.

Doing something creative on those cold, snowy evenings is even more therapeutic. That’s why I can’t wait for the next Hands-On Workshop series to start in 2014. Held the first Tuesday of every month at the Main Library, these free workshops are a chance to learn something new, use your hands and perhaps go home with a unique gift to give to friends and family.

In January, our very own Lisa from the Job & Career Education Center will teach us the wonders of glass etching. The results are so classy, but the steps are truly a cinch. Using contact paper and etching cream, plus some of your creativity, we’ll transform everyday glass containers into custom pieces.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user JamieMarie C via their Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user JamieMarie C via Creative Commons license.

We’ll provide number, symbol and alphabet stickers for etching names or numbers, as seen here:

Photo courtesy of Flickr user JamieMarie C via their Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user JamieMarie C via Creative Commons license.

These make great gifts, and can be given as personalized favors at weddings or showers. You’re welcome to bring your own glass items as long as the surface is flat – no quilted crystal jelly jars, for instance – or you can use some of the jars and containers I’ve collected, including this lovely pair:

Photo taken by Rita.

Photo taken by Rita.

The fun doesn’t end there. What a great series of workshops we have in store for 2014!

Is threading a needle impossible for you? Do you want to keep your pants from dragging on the floor? When a button pops off your coat, do you throw up your hands and donate it to charity? If yes, then the February program, Mending 101, is for you. Taught by Jenn Gooch, owner of WERK studio in Lawrenceville, this workshop will show you the basics of sewing repair – no machine required.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Markus via their Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Markus via Creative Commons license.

In March, when winter still has its icy fingers wrapped around us, we can warm up with a tea tasting from Margaret Harris, owner of Margaret’s Fine Imports in Squirrel Hill. She’ll share the history and health benefits of tea, as well as how to prepare it. As with all of our Hands-On Workshops, you can register online for this event.

Photo courtesy of user Takkk on Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of user Takkk on Wikimedia Commons.

Bring in your own lidded glass container or use one provided to build a terrarium with Master Gardener Susan Marquesen in April.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user fsamuels via Creative Commons license.

For a dollar or two, you can pick up some nice covered containers at thrift stores, or shell out a little more at stores like Marshall’s. I snagged this for a buck at Goodwill:

Photo taken by Rita.

Photo taken by Rita.

As you can see from this picture, just about anything glass with a lid can be used to make a terrarium…

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Joelk75 via Creative Commons license.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Joelk75 via Creative Commons license.

Any good DIY aficionado in our fair city knows about the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. They prevent lots of items from going to the landfill, and promote reuse of these materials through crafting and other creative projects. Thanks to PCCR, we have hundreds of paint swatches that will make colorful wall art, banners, gift tags – you name it. You could even make a Mother’s Day card at our Hands-On Workshop in May using our paint chip trove.

Photo courtesy of user Iroc8210 on Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of user Iroc8210 on Wikimedia Commons.

And last but not least, in June we’ll learn about Japanese techniques of cloth wrapping such as furoshiki. Katsuko, who has volunteered with some of our Japanese programming, will share her expertise in this workshop.

Photo courtesy of Friedensreich Hundertwasser via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo courtesy of Friedensreich Hundertwasser via Wikimedia Commons.

We’ll see all you makers and crafters in Classroom A at the Main Library in 2014!

-Rita

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Home Sweet Home

I recently embarked on the great adventure towards home ownership, with a little help from the library. The first book I checked out was Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home. This book was fantastic, and covered all the basic steps from applying for a mortgage to making an offer on a house.

CLP offers quite a few resources for those interested in buying their first house:

As well as resources on what to do with your home once you get it:

And how to fix things when they fall apart:

Of course, if this isn’t inspiration enough, then you may need to take a listen and absorb the wise musings of those 1980s hair-metal philosophers, Mötley Crüe.

Happy house hunting,

Tara

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Make it yourself.

Since some of my beliefs have, shall we say, diverged somewhat from those of my upbringing, holidays with the family can be a little tense sometimes. My approach as a teenager was to try my hardest to undermine the tyranny of oppressive and irritating traditions like carols and December cable TV staples. As it turned out, though, mocking the capitalist subtext of Miracle on 34th Street didn’t actually make it any more fun for me to watch.

Dolce the cat sitting on Santa's lap

No kids for your greeting cards? No problem!

Since my charming adolescence, I’ve developed a more productive approach to thriving during the holidays. Instead of sabotaging everyone’s sacred rituals with sarcasm, I find inclusive ways to honor parts of the season I find meaningful. Lecture on the evils of slaughterhouses at the table? No. Bring a vegetarian dish everyone can enjoy? Much better. Bombard Grandma with child-free politics when she asks about great-grandchildren? Bad idea. Send greeting cards with my cat sitting on Santa’s lap instead? Perfect! (Okay, that was actually my sister, and its wisdom is debatable, but it’s still the better option.)

One of the most difficult cultural demands to resist this time of year is gift-giving. I appreciate the symbolism of showing my affection in the form of presents, but I don’t want to buy into the Black Friday frenzy of diamonds, electronics, toys and tools. Instead, I’ve come up with gifts I can make for people that they’ll enjoy. I get to be creative, and they get a gift they’ll use. Making gifts takes a little more planning than a mad dash to the mall, but the result is often more meaningful, because I spent time thinking about the recipient and crafting them something special. Here are some of the gifts I’ve made or plan to make, with some handy books and guides.

  • Mp3 Player/Cell Phone/eReader SnuggieThe big-ass book of crafts / by Mark Montano ; photographs by Auxy Espinoza.

Almost everyone carries some kind of electronic device. Make someone a little winter coat protector for theirs! These can be knitted, sewn or crocheted in any size. For examples, see The Big-Ass Book of Crafts.

  • T-shirt Quilt Generation T : beyond fashion : 120 new ways to transform a T-shirt / Megan Nicolay.

What’s cozier than a t-shirt? A whole blanket made of cozy t-shirts heartwarmingly stitched by someone who loves you! The Generation T series includes crafts for those handy with a sewing machine and those who can’t thread a needle.  The t-shirt quilt project is in Generation T: Beyond Fashion: 120 New Ways to Transform a T-shirt.

  • Personalized Recipe Book

Take advantage of the library’s enormous cookbook collection by selecting recipes for a personalized recipe box. Just pick out a handful of appetizing recipes, copy them onto notecards and put them in a decorated box.

  • Calendar

A calendar is a gift that’s useful all year, and it’s easy to customize the artwork. You can make a collage for every month, or choose photos from all of the Kodak moments on your friends’ Facebook pages. Lots of websites and copy shops also offer inexpensive packages to turn photos into calendars.

  • JewelryMaking mixed media art charms & jewelry : keepsakes, swappables, trinkets / Peggy Krzyzewski & Christine Hansen.

Pasta necklaces probably won’t fly unless you’re under the age of 10, but there are lots of lovely jewelry-making techniques accessible to a range of skill levels. You can also craft a handmade jewelry holder out of some screen and a picture frame.

  • Survival Kit 101 things you should know about 2012 : Countdown to Armageddon...or a better world? / 2011.

Does your cousin think 2012 is the year the world ends? Put her at ease with the gift of a cute little survival kit made from an Altoids tin. Who knows? It might even come in handy for holiday survival.

Not to cue an orchestral rendition of “Silver Bells” or anything, but taking time to honor the people we love is meaningful and powerful no matter what our spirituality or politics are. I hope you find ways to enjoy this hectic month with the people you care about in rewarding, fulfilling and fun ways!

-Renée

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Easy DIY Iced Coffee

If you’re like me, you like your coffee-making to be inefficient and time-consuming with not a single of thought of convenience. For almost all of my coffee addictions, I swear by the french press. I grind my beans for the morning pot, boil my water, stir the grounds in and wait the allotted time until it’s done steeping. Start to finish usually runs around 20 minutes. But, as the mornings gradually slip out of their grey winter gear and change into the greens and blues of spring and summer, I find myself wanting to drink hot coffee less and less. I want it iced. I want it cool. I want it refreshing. Most importantly, I don’t want to spend two dollars and fifty cents at the corner coffee shop every time I want one. But, how to make my morning coffee cold? How about Cold Press coffee?

Cold press coffee is the method of making coffee that is basically no method. Zen coffee. Cold press was out there practicing flawless No Mind while you were still taking Freshman Intro to Eastern Philosophy and having your mind blown by Fellini films. Simply put, you take the grinds and you put them in the water. Wait twelve hours. The coffee is done. Barring the use of the refrigerator and the grinder, you can actually make this coffee with zero electricity. (TOTALLY OFF THE GRID) While I do find that interesting, it’s not really the reason why I’ve been making it this way. The real reason is the lower acidity that cold brewing achieves. It’s the simplest, smoothest cup of iced coffee that you’ll ever drink. Add the concentrate to hot water and you’ll find you have a smooth cup of hot coffee and you don’t have to be a snob to make it.

The first time I tried this method, it didn’t work out too well for me. It wasn’t nearly as concentrated as I thought it would be and my coffee ended up watery. It wasn’t until my fourth try that I really got it right. So, be patient and don’t be intimidated.

THE STEPS

1. Grind your coffee for a medium coarseness. Somewhere between drip and french press. I usually grind a bit finer as I like the stronger flavor it produces.

2. Get yourself a jar. I’ve been re-using a 28 ounce spaghetti sauce jar. Any jar will do, but try to find a slightly larger one.

3. Put your grinds into the empty jar. As I’ve been using a jar that holds three cups of water, I mix in around ⅔ of a cup of coffee grinds. Again, this will be something you’ll have to test out.

4. Add the cold water. Now, I’ve read that you aren’t supposed to stir it at all. You add some water. Wait five minutes. Add more water and so on. I think that’s dumb. Fill up your jar with water half way, close the lid and shake it. That way, you’re getting the water in contact with all of the grinds. Open it back up and finsh filling it. At this point, you’ll notice that all of the grinds will be floating at the surface. Over the course of the next twelve hours, they will settle to the bottom.

5. Either on the counter top or in your refrigerator, let your coffee steep for twelve hours. I use the refrigerator as it leaves you with a cold end product.

6. Wait. Wait. Wait for twelve hours.

7. Depending on what you have around your house, figure out the best way to strain your grinds. I was pouring it over a paper towel stretched over a pitcher, which worked, albeit slowly. But, in a strike of pure genius, I realized how dumb I was and just poured it into my french press, plunged the screen down, poured out the coffee and was done. And now that I think about it, I can use the french press for the entire process.

8. If you brewed in the refrigerator, then you don’t have to wait for your coffee to get cold. Since you’re dealing with a coffee concentrate, you need to dilute it a little to get the flavor correct. Try using ⅓ coffee to ⅓ ice to ⅓ water. If you need it to be stronger, just add a little more coffee. I also add a little creamer (soy milk, actual creamer, almond milk and sometimes skim if I’m desperate enough) and a pinch of sugar. Stir vigorously and serve.

– Chris

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Dummies, Idiots, and Absolute Beginners

True confessions time:  I hate not being good at things. 

I blush to admit it, but it’s true. Even though I know, logically, that I can’t be a superstar at everything, it still kind of bugs me when I’m less than stellar at something. Knitting is currently driving me crazy – no matter how hard I try, I simply can’t cast on properly; I’m also pretty lousy at jewelry-making and (much to my parents’ chagrin) housecleaning.  So, unless you’re really desperate, please don’t ask me for a homemade sweater, DIY earrings, or the opportunity to eat dinner off my kitchen floor.

Despite my distaste for personal ineptitude, I keep stumbling across interesting hobbies and skills that I simply have to try; it still bugs me if I don’t master a thing right away, or ever, but I’m starting to come around to the notion that maybe the reward in trying a new thing is not in getting good at that thing.  Maybe the reward is in the trying.

In that spirit, here’s a short list of materials that aim to teach new skills. 

Quilting Through Life, Julia Teters-Zeigler. A collection of crafts meant to feed your soul as well as beautify your house. The content is meant to uplift and inspire, and give you some notions to dream on.

National Poetry Recitation Contest: Performing Poetry, An Audio Guide. Get pointers on how to read a poem out loud, and enjoy sample recitations from an all-star cast. To learn more about the actual competition, click here.

Divine Canine, the Monks of New Skete. Why not learn with a four-footed friend?  Bond with your dogs while teaching them obedience skills in a positive, productive way.

Learn to Play Cajun Accordion, Dirk Powell. If you’re going to learn something new, why not think outside the box? I had no idea this DVD existed until Tuesday, but you’d better believe I plan on mastering the Cajun accordion by 2012 (in case my presidential bid doesn’t work out).

The Chicks With Sticks Guide to Crochet, Nancy Queen. If you haven’t yet found a crochet club, this book is a great tide-me-over. It’s warm, it’s fun, and it’s easy to understand.

There are pros and cons to trying new things by yourself, of course.  If learning in a group is more your style, take a peek at the library’s events calendar. If you narrow your search with the “Classes and Presentations” option in the left-hand sidebar, you’ll find a list of interesting things you can try in a group setting.

This includes, of course, our knitting club, upon whose mercy I will have to throw myself if I ever want to make my own Gryffindor scarf. I suspect, however, that when it comes to the Cajun accordion, I’m on my own…

–Leigh Anne

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