Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Round-Up

Jason and I had an awesome Christmas. We got to spend time with my family and his on Christmas day and came home with all of this:

And also all of this:

Jason got me the 50th anniversary Blu-Ray, which came wit a neat little set of trading cards, one for each of the twelve Doctors (including John Hurt, but not Peter Capaldi). My brother got us Dalek and Cyberman coffee mugs. Mom got us a TARDIS cookie jar and a set of TARDIS/Dalek salt-and-pepper shakers.

I put our new pepper pot to use right away...and by "use," I mean "attacking the graham cracker TARDIS."

And finally, our friend Pat got me this Doctor Who/MST3K mash-up tee:

War Doctor: "Timey-what? Timey-wimey?" Ten: "I've no idea where he picks that stuff up."
Which reminds me, Jason also got me the 25th Anniversary set for Mystery Science Theater. Four new-to-DVD episodes, plus the episodes that transition from Joel to Mike.

It was great seeing everyone, although our day was so busy we had no chance to watch The Time of the Doctor. We watched it last night, thanks to Amazon. It made me happy. I will say no more, except that I am looking forward to Peter Capaldi's run.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 23

Today's activity: Make hot chocolate.

It was a good day for hot cocoa--temperatures were right around zero! There are lots of different ways to make it. I prefer something made with milk (even though we used skim milk) and I love putting things on top. Yesterday we used whipped cream, but I also like topping it with marshmallows or stirring it with a candy cane. cocoa.

I used a mix, but it looks pretty easy to do it from scratch, too. I love the little cookies she makes! Instead of frosting them, you could also add food coloring to the dough so they come out red.

Christmas is almost here!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 22

Today's activity: Listen to Christmas music and wrap gifts.

We had quite a few things to wrap, because we're visiting my family on Christmas morning and Jason's family in the afternoon on Christmas day. 

There are a few tricks to wrapping gifts so they look neat. The first step is to measure how much paper you will need to fit around the box. Start by wrapping the whole roll over your gift, and cut it so it overlaps by an inch or two.

If you want to make sure you're cutting straight, it helps to have a wrapping paper with a checkerboard pattern, or one that has a grid on the underside. 

Measure the paper needed to fold down over the bottom. It should be about 2/3 of the height of the box, so the two ends overlap without causing too much bulk.

Once the gift is positioned, you can tape it along the long sides to form a tube. Next, fold in the corners along the bottom. Fold the top one down and the bottom one up. Tape them in place.

It is very hard to eyeball how much paper is needed to create the fold on top. If the ends are too short, there will be a gap in the package. If they are too long, the paper will get crumpled when you try to tape it. Here's how to get the perfect size every time. Stand the box up on its end. The extra paper will form a cone up into the air.

Now hold the paper right above the box and fold the cone outward. The edges of the paper will flatten outward:

Now cut straight across the top of the paper right after it flattens out.

Then fold in the ends on the top the same way as the bottom. Voila!

Of course, this only works if the package in question is a box. There is a secret to wrapping oddly-shaped packages, too:

Stick it in a gift bag. Done! Add some tissue paper to be fancy.

Jason and I wrapped our stocking stuffers for each other, most of which we bought at Dollar Tree. It turns out that strange minds think alike...

Yeah, we both picked out a set of cheapo plastic ninjas. Why did we get each other dollar-store Ninja Action Figures? Mostly because of this.

Ninja: The Mission Force was inspired by Godfrey Ho. His ninja movies seem to be written by a bunch of seven-year-olds who care more about making things look cool (without any budget) than little things like plot or continuity or sense. The "action" scenes are spliced together with footage from completely unrelated movies, to form one incoherent storyline. They are a wonder to behold.

Godfrey Ho Ho Ho says, "Merry Ninjamas!"

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 21

Today's activity: Decorate a gingerbread house.

I've been seeing gingerbread house kits all over, but of course when we went looking for one today, they were out. Time for Plan B: Graham crackers!

If you want it to look like a house, you'll need a milk carton as a base. We went with a...different idea.

Can you guess what it's going to be yet?

The windows are filled with star-shaped sprinkles. The light on top is a Dots candy, and the wreath is another one that was smushed and had a hole poked in the middle. For the finishing touch, we dusted it with powdered sugar "snow."

Matt Smith's final episode is the Christmas special! Only three more days until it's goodbye Matt and hello Peter Capaldi...somehow. Apparently the Doctor has used up all of his regenerations (eleven Doctors that we knew about, plus David Tennant's metacrisis Doctor from "The Stolen Earth/Journey's End," plus John Hurt's "War Doctor"). Theories abound as to how he can still regenerate, but I'm going with the simple explanation that the High Council of Time Lords is no longer around to regulate him. I guess. It's probably going to be something more convoluted but interesting.

The idea for our graham cracker house was inspired by this gingerbread house tutorial, which I still think looks awesome.

"Nerdy Nummies" is one of my new favorite channels on YouTube. Her ideas are so fun and they look pretty easy, too!

Advent Calendar, Day 20

Today's activity: Walk around the neighborhood to look at decorations.

I was worried that we wouldn't be able to do this, because it was raining yesterday. It melted a good deal of the snow, which disappointed me, but we are supposed to get more on Monday and Tuesday. Just in time for Christmas!

I took my actual camera on our walk (as opposed to my phone or iPod camera). It's just a point-and-shoot digital camera, but it takes some pretty good pictures.

I like the icicle lights here. Jason liked the starburst in the window, which flashed in different colors.

I'm not sure if those dots on the picture are water droplets or lens flare or something else entirely, but it looks like it's snowing. I like it, even though the effect was entirely accidental. Here's a photo that shows it off pretty well.

Here is a Plastic Nativity Scene being invaded by Plastic Tin Soldiers.

I have never understood the desire to combine Santa or other secular elements with a nativity scene. It's fine to have a religious display, it's fine to have a non-religious display. I just think it's kinda weird to put both of them together. We all know that Santa Claus wasn't one of the Wise Men, right?

Anyway, here is a family of inflatable singing snowmen.

We also saw a couple inflatable snowmen who shook like they were shivering. It must be controlled by the air fan somehow. There was also this guy...

Run! He's almost at your front door!


Friday, December 20, 2013

Advent Calendar, Days 18 and 19

Seasons' Greetings from our snowman!

December 18: Have peppermint ice cream for dessert.

It was originally supposed to be peppermint milkshakes, but we decided on regular ice cream because we were both pretty full after dinner. We plan on making them this weekend instead. The ice cream is delicious all by itself.

We got Edy's Peppermint, but you can make your own peppermint ice cream by softening a container of vanilla (or, chocolate and peppermint) and stirring in crushed-up candy canes. My grandma always used to buy the boxes of broken candy canes because she got a discount, and they were going in the ice cream anyway.

To make the milkshakes, blend together 2 cups of ice cream with 1 cup of milk, and top it with whipped cream, sprinkles, or crushed-up candies.

December 19: Movie night.

I went with a new twist on an old "favorite." Cinematic Titanic is the spiritual successor to Mystery Science Theater 3000, with...basically all of the former cast members who aren't doing RiffTrax. This includes Joel, Frank Conniff (TV's Frank), Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl), and the original voices of Tom and Crow. They riffed on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians a couple years ago, and right now it's streaming on Amazon (free for Amazon Prime members).

Good stuff. Man, every time I watch this movie, I find something else about it that makes no sense whatsoever.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

DIY Ugly Christmas Sweater

We're having an Ugly Sweater Party at work on Friday. I've never been given an "ugly sweater." If anyone in our family is knitting sweaters, it's me, and I try to choose designs the receiver will like. My aunt suggested shopping the secondhand stores for one, but it appears that people are buying them and then re-selling them for upwards of $30. I am completely baffled by this. I blame the hipsters and their "ironic" wearing of everything.

I did find a plain green sweater for $4 at Salvation Army, which I used as the backdrop for my own nerdy/ugly sweater. Behold!

Everything except the lights around the neck and Darth Vader's face was made from felt. It's a great material because there is no fraying, so it can be attached with hot glue or sewn on without having to hem it.

I cut the stars, snowmen, and gingerbread men by tracing around cookie cutters. 

The Santa hat was cut freehand, and Darth Vader's face was cut from an old T-shirt I bought to turn into a pillowcase. I left about an inch around the face to prevent fraying. 

I added a few more nerdy touches: the gingerbread men are wearing Starfleet shirts (in red, of course). I got the idea from a Foxtrot strip. The snowmen are dressed as the 4th and 11th Doctors. Here's an in-progress shot from before I attached all of the pieces.

I embroidered the snowman faces, but all of the other details are done with Sharpie markers. Both look great on the felt. All of the pieces are glued on except for Darth Vader's face, which I sewed on using blanket stitch. 

The finishing touch was my only purchase besides the sweater: a set of Christmas light beads that I found from Oriental Trading Company. They cost $15 including shipping, which is pretty steep, but I think it's worth it.

And one final shot of me in my sweater. The neck is a lot wider than I usually wear, which adds to the "ugly" effect and also shows off the Christmas lights rather nicely.

Happy Christmas, live long and prosper, and may the force be with you.

Advent Calendar, Day 17

Today's activity: Make paper snowflakes.

I loved making paper snowflakes when I was a kid, but was always disappointed because no matter how hard I tried, my snowflakes only had four points. It was only last year I discovered this tutorial on making six-pointed paper snowflakes. Yesterday I went looking for some nerdy designs, and found a set of (free!) Star Wars templates here from Anthony Herrera. I got the Vader you see above as well as Emperor Palpatine.

We also did some freehand designs. Jason made this one:

And here is one of mine:

Now we just need to find a place to hang them up. I think they should go in the window we can see them from the outside.

Jason works late on Tuesdays, so we like to do breakfast for dinner when he gets home. I was feeling festive last night, so I added some red and green sprinkles to the waffle batter.

Funfetti waffles! They added some nice color, plus a bit of extra sweetness.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 16

Today's activity: Play "Holiday Word" Scrabble.

Jason and I play Scrabble pretty often. It's one of our favorite games. Jason came up with the idea of only making holiday-related words (SNOW, GIFT, PARTY, etc). To give ourselves a better chance of coming up with holiday words, we started out with 10 tiles each, as opposed to the normal 7. It seemed that 10 tiles still wasn't enough, so we came up with an alternate rule: seven tiles, but any holiday word we could make was automatically double points.

I took this picture to put on a T-shirt when I met John Green a few years back.
Our first round still didn't go very well; we only got one or two holiday words each. Jason wants a rematch, partly to try again and partly because I got "QUID" on a triple-word score. 42 points! 

We came up wit a few more rule changes. Here are the new modified rules:
-We each have two tile racks, for a total of twelve tiles.
-Holiday words on "normal" squares get Double Word points.
-Holiday words on Double Letter get Triple Letter points instead, and Triple Word instead of Double Word.
-Holiday words on Triple Letter or Triple Word get 4 times the normal points for the letter or word.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 15

Today's activity: Movie night.

It was Jason's turn to pick. He chose the Doctor Who Christmas special from 2011: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.

We also did our usual pizza-and-Who on Friday after our shopping. We watched The Runaway Bride, with David Tennant as the Doctor. It's one of my favorites because it's Donna's first appearance. She and Tennant are just marvelous together.

Yesterday I went to a Christmas party at church. We do a grab bag every year, so I brought a snowman plate with two dozen of the cookies I made last week. My mom ended up with the cookie plate, and I got a gift bag with some hand towels and a box of peanut brittle.

Only ten days until Christmas! I'm quite excited.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 14

Today's activity: Go see "A Klingon Christmas Carol." Qapla'!

Jason and I had such a fun time! This has been going on in Chicago for four years now, but neither of us knew about it until last year. We were unable to go last year, so I was very excited to be able to go this year. We got our tickets through the Chicago Nerd Social Club, who had a meet-up last night with discounted tickets. We met some great people. The people running the show were very nice--they let us take a group picture on the set after the show. Unfortunately it's not up online yet.

The show itself was very well done. The stage was tiny, so they only had a few basic set pieces that were moved around between scenes. The play itself was performed entirely in Klingon, with the English translation projected on the wall behind the stage. There was also a Vulcan narrator; her lines were in English. The basics of the story were the same, but some details were changed to fit the Klingon "culture": in addition to being a money lender and a man without honor, Scrooge (or SQuja') is a coward. He must learn that a Klingon never backs down from a fight.

There were also tons of Trek references thrown in: SQuja' and the Ghost of Kahless Past travel from place to place by "transporter" (shining a spotlight on them with the transporter sound). He is also dressed like the original Klingons, before their makeup included forehead ridges. The Ghost of Kahless Future had the Klingon helmet from Star Trek: Into Darkness. And the opening narration informed us that "Marley was dead. As dead as a redshirt."

If you like Star Trek and you find yourself in Chicago, this is a definite must-see!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 13

Today's activity: Shop for stocking stuffers!

I love to buy things for stockings. There's a real balancing act to it. If your things are too big (or there are just too many of them), they won't fit in the stocking. Too small or not enough items, and the stocking looks empty. To top it all off, everything needs to be relatively inexpensive. 

When I was in high school, my mom suggested that she and my dad would purchase and stuff the stockings for me and my brother, and we would do the same for them. With those years of experience, I have perfected the art of stuffing stockings.

Step 1: Know where to shop.

Pharmacies like Walgreens or CVS have a good selection of inexpensive stuff, but dollar stores are even better. We like to do a mix of things that are useful (toothbrush, batteries, small tool kit), things that are fun (candy, toys, nail polish), and things that are good for a laugh. The dollar store is excellent for finding stupid/funny stuff. One of my favorite people on YouTube is Ashens, who often reviews "tat" from the British equivalent of dollar stores: Poundland.

Secondhand stores are also a good place for inexpensive stuff. In the past we've all bought movies for each other from a place in my parents' neighborhood that sells VHS tapes for 50 cents.

Step 2: Know what to buy.

In addition to the different kinds of gifts, you'll need to buy things that are the right size. You'll need a few small things for the toe (or one medium size thing), one large or two medium things for the body, a few other small things to round it out, and a topper. The topper should be something visually appealing to leave unwrapped, sticking out of the top. Stuffed animals are an obvious choice, but you could also do a book, movie, or box of candy. 

Also, try to visualize the size of the stocking. Make sure your "large" gift is still small enough to fit inside. A rolled-up T-shirt makes a good gift to take up the body.

Step 3: Do a "test stuff."

Before you wrap the stocking stuffers, figure out how you're going to fit them all inside. Start with the toe and work your way up. If you find yourself with too many things left over, take everything out and try stuffing it a different way. This is why you stuff it while everything is unwrapped--if you put everything in and out three or four times, the paper on at least one item is sure to get ripped. Especially if your wrapping paper is also from the dollar store.

Speaking of wrapping paper, one year my family had a roll of stuff that was guaranteed not to rip. This is great for large and irregular shaped items, but DO NOT use it for stocking stuffers. My dad can speak from experience on that one. Mom had to spend about half an hour getting everything open.

Step 4: Wrap the items.

Make sure you remember how everything fit in during the test stuffing. If you're worried you'll forget, write a small "1" on the items that go in the toe and a "2" on the item/items that go in the body. The small things can fit in wherever there is room. To save time, some of the small things can go unwrapped.

Step 5: Stuff your stocking!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 12

Today's activity: Movie night

It was my turn to pick. I decided to choose something I had never seen before, an infamous little variety show called "The Star Wars Holiday Special." Happy Life Day, everyone! Jason and I wisely decided to watch the RiffTrax version with commentary from the Mystery Science Theater guys.

The file was a video download, complete with "commentary" on both the special and the commercials included in the breaks. 

It's bad. It's really, really bad. We couldn't even make it all the way through. Still, the commentary made it at least somewhat watchable. And now I can say that I've seen it and I'll never have to watch it again.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 11

Today's activity: Write a Christmas crack-fic.

"Crack-fic," for those of you not up on fan fiction lingo, is a story set in an existing fictional universe where all of the characters behave in an abnormal way. It's not supposed to be dramatic, or sexy, or philosophical. It's funny and kind of stupid (or really stupid). Jason and I have several that we have written together, and today we started one for Christmas.

It's called "An Enterprise Christmas Carol," and it's set on the Enterprise-D from Star Trek TNG. Picard is Scrooge, Q is Jacob Marley, and Wesley is Bob Cratchit. We didn't write the whole thing tonight; right now Picard is in the middle of his encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Past...Nick Knight from Forever Knight. The show was on TV in the early '90s, and was the first to do the "vampire detective" schtick. Nick is over 800 years old and every episode intertwines his current life with flashbacks from his past. Hence, Nick is given the role of Ghost of Christmas Past.

Oh, and our version of Picard is from Bizarro-land. Where the Picard from the show is full of wisdom and compassion, our Picard is an omnicidal megalomaniac. He is also proving to be quite resistant to mending his ways.

Here are some choice quotes so far.

Riker: Christmas a humbug?...What is a "humbug," anyway?
Data: It is a species of dung beetle found on the planet Betamax-4, so named because of the high-pitched humming sound it uses as a mating call.

Picard: Mr. Worf! Make sure you set up slave camps AND prisons!
Worf: Thy will be done.
Picard: Excellent. That takes care of the surplus population.

Q: You're going to be haunted, Picard. Three ghosts. Past, know the drill. I came here to rub it in your face.
Picard: Don't you mean, "to warn me"?
Q: Oh, that's why they sent me, but that's not why I came.

Nick: I am the ghost. The Ghost of...erm...Vampire of Christmas Past. I will flashback to things of yesteryear. Oh, we may end up in Toronto in the late '80s. Or...anywhere, really. I've had a productive life.

I gotta say, one of the things I love about my husband is that we have the same twisted sense of humor. More lulz are sure to come.

I used the stick arms for the snowman to make reindeer antlers. Behold, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Snowman!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 10

Today's activity: Discussing favorite Christmas memories.

This was a fun one, because even though it feels as though I've known Jason my whole life, we met only three and a half years ago. We talked about our favorite memories and traditions from childhood. We each had our own "Red Rider BB Gun" experience, although mine was with a Playskool Dollhouse (I was seven), and Jason's was with a Force FX Light Saber. It was a nice end to an otherwise stressful day.

In other news, our snowman wants you to guess the secret word.

What happens if you do? Wakko will hit you on the head with a mallet.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 9

Today's activity: Movie night!

We popped up a big bowl of popcorn with our air popper to eat while we watched the movie. I like air-popped popcorn because it is cheaper than the microwave popcorn. It's also healthier...potentially. We topped it with seasoned salt and a couple tablespoons of butter. I'm not sure how it compares to microwave popcorn calorie-wise, but there were no artificial flavors or preservatives.

It was Jason's turn to pick the movie this time around, and he chose the TNT version of A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart.

I think A Christmas Carol is a story that works on many levels. I grew up watching the Disney version (with Mickey and the gang, not the CGI one from a few years back) and my favorite part was watching his transformation. Now I'm drawn to the idea that people who are unkind in life must make amends after they die. It's one of those things that makes sense from a moral standpoint, aside from fitting the narrative so well. And of course, I still love watching Scrooge find his redemption. 

And God bless us, every one.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 8

Today's activity: Set up Christmas decorations at church.

We had a Christmas decorating party scheduled after the service today. Our congregation is small, but we had over a dozen people stay to set up decorations and then have lunch. My brother runs our organ via computer, so he set up a playlist of Christmas hymns to play in the background while we worked. Between that and the falling snow, I was feeling pretty festive.

We have a pre-lit tree set up on the altar.

The tree skirt was made by my mom, out of some leftover Christmas prints we bought to use as tablecloths. I worked with the kids in our Sunday school class to put up the ornaments. We had no broken ornaments this year! Always a plus. While I was doing that, Jason helped to put up garlands.

Our nativity is set up in the area outside the chapel.

I think it's lost a few pieces over the years..I know we had a donkey, and I'm pretty sure there was an angel at some point too. 

I brought a casserole for the potluck, along with about half of the peanut blossoms we made yesterday. They all got eaten up, so I already decided to make a new batch next weekend. My secret is to top them with dark chocolate kisses, which taste great on their own and even better when paired with the peanut butter cookie.

And finally, our snowman is ready for bed.

This has been a busy--but fun--weekend. I have to say it will be easier to go back to work tomorrow knowing we have another activity planned for the evening! Even though I decided on the schedule for our advent calendar, I don't remember what activities are planned for every day. Tomorrow will be a surprise!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent Calendar, Day 7

Today's activity: Bake Christmas cookies!

I have been baking since I was pretty young. My mom is an excellent baker (and cook), and I started out licking the spoon when she was done and progressed to helping her mix things together. I still love licking the batter off of the mixing spoon, though. Mom and I spent many happy hours mixing, scooping, and baking cookies every year. She always used to wear the same apron, which she passed on to me as part of an ongoing cleaning project. I wore it today, paired with an appropriately-themed shirt.

I still love to bake, though these days I don't have much time. So I set aside a whole day for cookie baking! I made four different kinds of cookies...probably twelve dozen in all. Some is for a grab bag gift, some is for a package I'm mailing to my aunt and uncle in Arizona, and the rest will get eaten up by us!

I started with sugar cookies. I decided to use pre-made dough, since I wanted to focus on the decorating. I baked them first so they would be completely cooled by the time I was ready to decorate.

One pan, fifteen minutes, done. My next recipe was Peanut Blossoms, which have been my favorite for a long time. They can be made from a mix or even the pre-made peanut butter cookie dough, but I had to make these from scratch. It's the original Pillsbury recipe, winner of the Bake-Off contest more than 50 years ago, and you can find it here.

My next recipe was a variation on another old favorite. We have a recipe for chocolate-chocolate chip cookies, which Mom found many years ago on the back of some package. I replaced the chocolate chips with peppermint chips for a minty twist.

The final cookie variety was Jason's request: spritz cookies. The dough needs to be worked through a cookie press and it comes out in different shapes, depending on the disc you use.

 I saved the recipe for last in order to give the butter and cream cheese time to soften. Mom likes to forward me recipes, and she sent me a new one that looked promising. The dough was very easy to put together, just six ingredients. You can find the recipe here. I dyed half of the dough green to make Christmas trees and left the other half uncolored to make snowflakes.

Once everything was baked, the last project was to decorate the sugar cookies. I looked up some techniques, and while they came out all right, I think I need more practice.

I cut bell-shaped jelly candies in half with kitchen shears to make the ornament toppers.

Jason did the snowman design today, a dapper little fella.

He's ready to have a jolly good time. Perhaps even a holly, jolly Christmas.