Sarah Jane Humke

The life of a traveling, reading, writing, spining and knitting shepherdess.

Christmas on the Cheap November 20, 2011

I know that I’m not the only person doing a seriously skimpy Christmas this year with the economy and unemployment being what they are.  But what if you need a present for some sort of gift exchange or for a person who’s given you a pressie that you feel the need to return the deed.  Don’t despair!  With a little forethought you can have a handful of Christmas presents at the ready!

Give the gift of Green

I’m not talking about cash here!  I’m talking about houseplants!  Take a pair of clippers to that overgrown pothos or that spider plant laden with pups and propagate!  Many of the most common houseplants propagate easily and quickly.  There are tons of houseplant web sites that will help you identify which houseplant you have living in your home or office and then tell you the proper way to propagate it.  If the instructions call for something kinda complex like air layering, chose a different houseplant to use.  You want instructions that say something along the lines of, “Cut off piece of plant. Stick in soil. Water. Repeat.”  Overgrown African Violets are really good for this as quite often you just have to chop-up one plant to get many, many fully formed little plants!  And really, who doesn’t like an African Violet (just don’t give folks dozens at a time as this tends to overwhelm them!).

Get Crafty

If you are a crafty person chances are you have a stash of whatever medium it is that you work in.  Quilters have fabric stashes, knitters and crocheters have yarn stashes, jewelery makers have bead stashes and scrapbook makers have paper stashes… it’s just sort of what crafters do.  So try to make a gift using only what you find in your stash.  If you are anything like me, then this should be reasonably easy to do.  And remember, it doesn’t have to be a magnum opus that you are making here, it’s a present for goodness sake!  Keep it simple and sane.  If you know someone is getting a kindle for Christmas, quilt them a cover (just make sure that they open it after the Kindle!)  Someone likes to cook?  Embroider/cross stitch inexpensive kitchen towels with their initials or something otherwise personalizing.  Knitters and crocheters can always make dish clothes and potholders.  Pet lover?  Make toys for their pets!  Kids are easy as they are usually small and fast to craft for.  Mittens are good idea for them if you live in a cold area.  Hand crafted Christmas ornaments are a staple in this area.  Just remember, you aren’t in third grade anymore, gluing cotton balls to a cut-out snowman isn’t going to cut it:-)  Try to make the ornament fit the theme of their tree if they have such a thing or personalize it to them in some way.

Get them Crafting

If you have a rather voluminous stash of whatever media you use, consider making a kit to get someone started on your craft of choice accompanied by the offer of instruction or time on your machine (if a machine is involved).  Everyone that I know has materials that they bought early in their crafting experience that they probably aren’t going to use but that a newbie might love (I’m looking at you all that bulky yarn in the corner!).  To me, this is one of the best gifts that you can give.  It’s especially great if you are going to be stuck in a house with bored, overstimulated kids.  Teaching young ones to knit or crochet (or finger crochet if they are really little!) or cross stitch or whatever it is that you do will help keep both you and their parents less snappy when the appeal of the battery operated toys wears off.  It’s amazing how quiet kids are when they are concentrating on something new!

Give the gift of time

Nearly everyone needs someone to step in and take care of things once in a while.  It doesn’t matter if they have kids, pets, houseplants or a car sooner or later nearly everyone needs a favor.  So offer it in the form of a coupon that you make yourself.  You can be as generous as you would like and it really is saving that person cash too!  Last time I checked, babysitting isn’t cheap anymore!  And I know that dog walking isn’t!  If you’re kinda handy, you can offer to change their car’s oil or whatever special skill that you have that they will need.  Mowing the lawn or shoveling the walk are good ones too!  It may seem really cheap to do this, but think about how much they would have to pay someone to do this for them and you will see that it’s really actually a pretty nice present!  This is an excellent idea for older folks as they may need more help with chores around the house and who can be particularly difficult to buy presents for.

Get cooking!

I’m a big fan of the baked good as gift.  I know that this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone on your list as a lot of folks now have special diets that make it more complicated to cook or bake for them.  However, a plateful of cookies is always a lovely hostess gift in my opinion.  I tend to save any and all Christmas themed tins that food comes in from the year before or buy the themed plates at the super-duper everything has got to go right now clearance sales that happen in Feb.  Stick to what you do well and then make lots of it!  Go ahead and experiment on new recipes but if they blow be willing to crank out with a few batches of a tried and true food that you make really well.  Even if it isn’t particularly “festive” if it’s tasty few will complain!

Help them cook!

There are tons of ideas online for gifts like cookie mix in a jar, or soup mixes in a jar, or even brownie mix in a jar.  The dried soup mixes can be especially great if you tend to dehydrate your garden produce.  You could be giving the person something that you grew yourself! Most of these mixes require a clean jar and the ingredients and maybe some paper to write or print the baking/cooking instructions on as well.  These are nice for folks who are maybe living away from home for the first time or just don’t have a lot of time to cook.

Add to the Collection

A lot of people collect things.  Now if you have someone who collects Ferrari’s on your list this year, you have my sympathy.  However most people collect things that are a little easier to obtain.  For these folks, you just need to keep an eye out.  Garage sales, flea markets and auctions are great places to find collectables that are going for much less than they would at the antique mall or specialty shop.  You only need to keep your eyes open!

Clean your house

One of my favorite presents that I got as a small child was a box full of make-up that my cousins no longer wanted.  Mom confiscated the nail polish and lipstick before much damage had been done but I spent hours playing with my make-up box (more often as war paint than pretty lady type stuff, but that’s ok!).  Your old eye-shadows and blushes that you aren’t using anymore would be coveted by a small child of a certain age.  You would get bonus points if you have an old Caboodles case that you can put it all in!  Obviously, this is one that you want to talk to the mother of the child about before you gift it.  And don’t put nail polish in there, it’s hard to get out of the carpet!  This is only one example of having something that someone else would love to have.  Look around a little and see if there isn’t something that you have in an upstairs closet that the hipster in your life wouldn’t love.  Apparently grandpa’s cardigans are hip again!  Fondue parties are making a comeback too!  And gardeners all over the place are rediscovering canning and jamming, making that shelf-full of canning jars a hot commodity!

Give the gift of Safety

Make a winter car safety kit like I spoke about in my last post.  It’s super easy to do and other than a couple of bottles of water and snacks, you probably won’t need to buy anything too expensive if at all.  The blanket in my case is a lovely wool one that had a few moth holes in it already.  This isn’t a showcase, it’s a survival kit so who cares!  A clean, used blanket will work just as well as a brand new one.  Same goes for the gloves/hat/scarf combo and candles (I’m using half-burned Christmas candles in mine!).  Just make sure that it is all clean and together and maybe labeled so that they don’t accidentally unload it from the car when bringing in groceries:-)


Christmas shouldn’t be all about going into debt and getting stressed-out about it in the New Year.  Before you buy a present, stop and think about what that person really needs.  Often a well-thought less expensive present will trump an expensive present any day of the week!


When in Chicago… February 9, 2010

you get snow.  Lots of it.  This morning I awoke to an odd scraping sound from outside the window of my friend Joel’s flat (God, I sound more English when I write than when I speak [oh and Darren, not one person {and most everybody I’ve been around this trip has known me since I was a teenager} has said that I sound more British when I am speaking than before I moved to the UK.  So there!  Ha!! Told ya so!!]).  Ok, now where was I?  Oh yeah, scraping outside the window.  My first thought was that Joel’s upstairs neighbor must be planing the wood floors (was around a woodworker everyday for ten years, what can I say?).  But then I realized that the noise wasn’t coming from up so much as out so I peeked out the window and saw, much to my surprise (and not delight) about 3 inches of snow on the ground.  The scraping sound?  Why some poor dude who drew that short straw shoveling the sidewalk.  It is still snowing and it is around 3:30 in the afternoon.  There is now at least 4 inches of snow out there now and the sky keeps on looking like a winter freaking wonderland.  I am so glad that I am not flying out today as the airports here have something like 500 flights canceled or something like that.

However, I do need to leave the flat and I am using my very best procrastination skills to avoid it.  I mean, it’s one thing to trug somewhere in a freezing Chicago winter to do some shopping and have your hands freeze off while carrying it all home, but it is completely a different thing when you add snow that is deep enough to go over the top of your all-terrain shoes and get your socks and pants wet and cold.  Had I known that this was expected (and, of course, it is always expected in Chicago in February) I would have packed my welliebobs.  Alas and alack, I didn’t, so now I will have to suffer with wet socks.  Le sigh…

Anyway, enough about the snow.  Yes, I am once again in Chicago.  I think that this may be two of the closest back-to-back trips here that I have ever done.  I spent the first part of the trip at my friend Sarah’s place.  Her little guy has grown quite a lot since I was here last.  Walking was still a novelty this past August and now he’s full-on mobile.

(Ok, I know I said that I was going to stop writing about the snow but I have to break in on this.  It just started actually snowing harder than it was before!!!  Holy crap!)

Anyway, this balls-to-the-wall mobility makes Sarah’s job of making sure that he lives to 18 so that she can take up a new hobby rather more, urm, difficult, to say the least.  He can open doors.  He can climb.  And boy can he break stuff.  The kid could be a savant in the art of breaking stuff if Sarah didn’t keep such a close eye on him.  However, he’s adorable and at 1.5 years he can get away with it ok still:-)

A lot of the first few days here were spent shopping (I had nearly filled-up my extra big duffel bag by day 2!) and eating at Jimmy John’s and Chipotle.  It was fun, but how Sarah manages to take a shower, let alone do something like grocery shopping amazes me.  I mean, I was exhausted and I’m not even the mommy, I’m only the sherpa auntie!!

All of this chasing and sherpa-ing left me little time to photograph the little guy, so forgive me, there aren’t any gratuitous cute kid pictures.

However, I will throw in a cute Meara photo free of charge!

Your bonus Meara photo, taken when I was packing to go to Chicago.

A few days before I left for Chicago, I went on a bit of a shopping spree.  Since I could have it shipped here, it actually made sense for me to buy things via the internet for once.  Here’s a few of the things that I picked-up:

Some "light" ficton for the plane ride and an African Violet book that I've also wanted for a while.

Some "light" fiction for the plane ride back along with an African Violet book that I have been wanting for a while. All from a used bookstore

Some books that I ordered on-line.

A couple of the books that I got on-line.

I found these two books in a used bookstore in Joel's neighborhood. I've been looking for both of them. SCORE!!

Some more on-line purchases.

Like I said, I went on a bit of a shopping spree....

Handy, huh?

The 2 yarns on the left are Zephyr in peacock and vanilla and the cone on the right is 2/14 ALPACA SILK, all from WEBS.

The top yarn is Misty Alpaca sock yarn in Reaggeton and the bottom yarn is Lace Wool in autumn, both from WEBS

The sock yarn on the left is Frog Prince Imagination and the 2 on the right are Lumberjack Stroll Tweed, both from Knit Picks.

Some pretty beads from Caravan Beads. I think that these are destined to be a lot of stitch markers!

Garnet and Freshwater pearls, destined for really nice stitch markers!

Miyuke seed beads destined for the Evenstar shawl

Some more Miyuke beads destined for whatever shawl I make with the autumn yarn above

Fun Czech beads also destined for stitch markers

These are AWESOME for traveling. They have the detergent and fabric softener all in one handy, non-spillable sheet.

Finally found fun scoops that would fit in my flour and sugar canisters at home! Gotta love Homegoods!

A Lands End fleece top that was a birthday gift from Sarah. I love Lands End stuff so it is a PERFECT gift.

Another cool gift from Sarah. They have Angora in them!!!

Monkey slippers bought on clearance from Target. Oh how I miss Target in the UK.....

I got a lot of other stuff too, stuff that isn’t too exciting to photograph.  Like a half a dozen bottles of vanilla as well as 2 vanilla infusion kits (one was a gift from Sarah, the other I bought), about a dozen different Knit Picks needles, a couple packs of underwear, a few Eddie Bauer long-sleeved t-shirts (LOVE THEM!), and Eddie Bauer fleece vest (ditto) and stuff like that.  Oh, and a BUNCH of cotton yarn.  Cannot find cheap cotton yarn over there to save your life!

So, not really been doing a lot to speak of.  Nothing cultural at all.  Thought about going to the Art Institute today but that got put on the back burner thanks to the snow.  Mostly been hanging out with Joel the past few days:

Ladies, he's single.  Crazies need not apply.

Ladies, he's single! (Crazies need not apply)

When he’s not at work of course…

When he is at work, I hang with Yo-Yo, his large and in charge cat.

(In Barry White voice) Yeah ladies, I AM large and in charge...

Ok, one last totally random picture.  This is, I think, probably the coast of Nova Scotia from the airplane.

Doesn't that just LOOK cold?

Oh, sorry, I lied.  Two more, of Joel’s fun neighborhood.

Since these folks couldn't seem to work on the "reduce" part, they definitely took to the "reuse" part!


Going, going……. August 20, 2009

Last day here.  Tomorrow I will be getting up ass-early to haul my sorry carcass out to Heathrow airport (at least it isn’t Gatwick which is even further) to get onto an airplane to go to Dusseldorf.  I’m flying Lufthansa all the way there and United on the way home.  I am so excited that I am practically vibrating!  Which, is not such a good thing when one is trying to KNIT LACE!!!  

Anyway, my bags are packed and triple weighed and waiting in the entryway.


However, I’m a little sad to be going as well.  I’m going to be missing the bulk of my first Autumn here and I have a lot of plants that are looking very nice and are beginning to bloom.

My streptocarpus has one or two blossoms open and smells fantastic.


My dipladenia hasn’t yet stopped blooming.


I moved nearly everything that I don’t want to freeze back into the conservatory so it sort of looks like conservatories in the movies do.


I have finally figured out how to make the passion vine happy.


The best litter box screen EVER!

The best litter box screen EVER!

I have lots of happy flowers on the windowsills.


And I finally got the african violets sorted out!


For the astute IKEA fans out there these are the cheapy shelves connected by grow-bag trays.

For the astute IKEA fans out there these are the cheapy shelves connected by grow-bag trays.

My lemon tree has LEMONS on it!!


Honey, please don’t kill them!!!


13 hours and counting……..


I Wanna PACK!!!!!! August 10, 2009

I keep trying to pack only to find myself stymied by the fact that I am going to need to wear/use some of the items that are still on the list in the remaining 10 days that I am here.  I should be outside enjoying what little I have left of the lovely English summer except that the summer is now being so very English!  Today, much like the past few weeks, has alternated between overcast and drizzly and has been actually kind of windy and cold-ish.  I’m sort of at a loss as to what to do.  The Flower Power afghan has been finished for Cesar and Pam (I wove in the one end this morning), the Feza scarf is done and blocked (there will be a post about that as soon as I can take a picture of the finished scarf [the hubby forgot the data disk for the camera in his computer this morning so no photos today!]) and the other scrapghan is getting to the point where it is unwieldy to work on (also, quite hot).  

So, I have been trying to get my plants ready for my absence.  We did some rearranging in the conservatory to free-up some space.  The violets are now nicely arranged mostly on a couple of shelves which will hopefully make it easier to water them (also, to protect them from kitties who think that they make a nice bed!).  I plan on moving some of the more tender plants that I have outside into the conservatory before I leave and marking those that I want the hubby to move in prior to the first frost.  It’s sort of weird to be thinking about these kind of things in August, but if I don’t, I’ll probably get home to a bunch of plants outside that have been taken by the cold that I wanted to try to keep for next year.  It’s one of my weird superstitions that if I prepare for something to happen, it won’t, but if I don’t prepare, it will.  It is a good chunk of the reason that it is set-up so that if need be, we, the entire family, are able to evacuate at a moments notice.

Me, OCD?  Never….


Just one of those days August 4, 2009

Today I am having one of those days where everything is going great.  You know, one of those days that you think that you really should be working towards world peace as you could probably get it worked out by noon.  One of those days that you think that you really should go shopping as you would find the perfect fitting pair of pants on sale!  

Today, so far, I have figured out a route for my flights within the US that is both convenient and half of the price that they were going to charge me originally.  I guess that “nearby airports” means something different to Midwesterners than it does to normal folk.  I was putting DSM into the search feature and when I exchanged that for MSP…. voila!  Cheaper flights!  This booking had been bothering me for several weeks as it hadn’t yet been booked and not getting any further away.

Another thing that I “mastered” that has been tickling my brain for a bit is combination knitting.  When I was at the UK Ravelry day, I found that I had been twisting my stitches as I was doing a bastardized version of both combination knitting and continental.  I started working on continental but it still didn’t “feel” right.  I mean, it felt more difficult than what I had been doing before.  My lace knitting teacher that day sent me a link to Annie Modesitt’s website where pretty detailed instructions for combination knitting are given.  So, today I went there and voila! I get it today!  I need to refine it a little bit but I think that I just needed to understand a little better what the hell I was doing on the needle to get the differences between the two types of knitting.  

So, now I am off to IKEA to try to work some shelving magic so that I can use the space in the conservatory a little bit better.  I need to do this before I leave otherwise the Hubby will have a serious time trying to keep all the plants straight and watered and, well, alive.



Bloomin’ Bathrooms! July 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sarah Jane Humke @ 5:31 am
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I just thought that I would share with you the windowsills in the bathrooms in the house.  

The first is the upstairs bathroom:



The second is the downstairs:


Who says it can’t “smell like flowers” when you’re done?


Goodies! April 24, 2009

Today I got this package delivered to me.


Milo MUST inspect all packages upon entrance to the chapel

Milo MUST inspect all packages upon entrance to the chapel!


It is from the British Wool Marketing Board.  I placed an order with them for both some posters and some wool for spinning.  Today, I got my posters, as well as a few other goodies.  I ordered the posters to help decorate my attic yarn area.  A chandelier just doesn’t do it all for me you know.  Anyway, I got the British Sheep Breeds poster, a bunch of the posters of individual breeds and a rare breeds poster.


(did you really think that I would unroll them with Milo around?)

(did you really think that I would unroll them with Milo around?)


They sent along a bunch of the fact sheets about processing the wool as well as about some individual breeds of sheep.  They also sent me a cute bookmark and a calendar for this year as well as a booklet on British Wool for Handknitting.



Sorry about the flash splotch.  Trust me, the ram is plenty handsome!

Sorry about the flash splotch. Trust me, the ram is plenty handsome!



The fleece hasn’t come yet and there was a nice note enclosed in the package saying that she wasn’t sure when that part of the order was going to be processed so she sent out this part first.  I love getting things in the mail.  In fact, I know of few people who don’t enjoy that.  Well, the exception may be my dogs, who hate the mailman and any delivery folk with a vengence that is usually reserved for rapists and people who have a full cart in the 10 items or less line at the grocery store.  

Today was market day in Tring and since I missed it last week, I was determined not to miss it today.  I’m glad that I didn’t as the plant and flower sellers had streptocarpus for sale.  I adore these plants as they are related to the African Violets that I enjoy so much.  These plants were quite nice looking and reasonably priced so I got one of each kind that they had.





I somehow mentioned to the seller that I collected African Violets and he said that he would bring a bunch of “unusual” ones for me the next time that I was there (I had mentioned that I was going to be in the US the next week).  When I told the hubby of this on the phone he groaned and said that the whole house was going to be full of plants before he knew it.  Well, what did he expect when he married a horticulturalist?  I mean really, it would be like marrying a photographer and not having any pictures on your wall!  But it did get me to looking around and I realized that we have an awful lot of plants blooming around the house (and that isn’t counting outside!).  


The little lemon tree.  Doesn't look like much but the flowers perfume the entire lower level of the house.

The little lemon tree. Doesn't look like much but the flowers perfume the entire lower level of the house.

A gardenia plant

A gardenia plant


Stephanotis in bloom

Stephanotis in bloom

Bose soundock with blooms

Bose soundock with blooms


The upstairs landing

The upstairs landing




Yesterday I ventured out to Milton Keynes as I knew that a lot of my yarny magazines were on sale by now and I needed more potting compost.  I went to Hobbycraft to get some yarn for a gift and then across the road to Borders for the magazines.  I sort of fell off the wagon and got a couple of books as well.  One is Loop-d-Loop Crochet, which I had wanted for a while and, well, just couldn’t resist anymore.  It isn’t any cheaper in the US so I just got it.  The other book that I picked-up was Knit Knit which had also been on my want list for a while.  Right now with the exchange rate the way it is, books that were priced when the rate was 2 to 1 are actually a bit cheaper here in the UK than in the US.  This is unusual and I am going to take advantage of it:-)

I am getting ready for my trip to Florida.  I have my graduation dress all ready.  It was nice as I had shoes that matched it perfectly already in my closet.  I’m trying to get the house ready for us to be gone a week.  I have been busy potting up plants so that they don’t dry out as often as they would if left in their little pots.  Right before I leave I am going to move all of the houseplants downstairs so that they are centrally located for watering purposes.  

I also made banana bars this week that I am very proud of for how they turned out given the fact that I had no time nor temperature to work with.  Also, going from a standard oven to one that is convection.  I think that they turned out ok:-)