Tuesday, December 30, 2014

DIY Gift From a Sweater!

          Today I’m giving you another knock-out idea.  Last time I posted an idea for you, it was my best cookie of the season, and now I’m giving you a wonderful, wintry gift you can make in just minutes.  I didn’t share it sooner because I gave it to my daughter for Christmas, and didn’t want to spoil the surprise.
          It’s a pillow you can make from a sweater!  This is a cashmere herringbone sweater that was given to my daughter, Nicole, by a friend who didn't want it and had never worn it.  But it was way too big for Nicole, so what to do?
          I made it into a pillow and mittens!  It’s super easy—you just cut the front into a square or rectangle to fit the pillow you have in mind, allowing an extra inch for the seams.  Then you sew it to a back side that you create from two pieces you'll cut from the back.
          Since this sweater was so large, I was able to use a standard bed pillow (a super soft one!).  But even a small neck pillow would be darling. 
          I saved the little triangular neck design by placing it near a seam, just to add a bit of detail.
         For the reverse side, I cut two slightly longer pieces from the back, using the stretchy bottom edge for the overlapping edges of the pillow cover.  Slick trick, no? You just slip the pillow inside-- no snaps, no zipper needed.
          I cut mitten shapes from the two sleeves, using the stretchy cuff edges for the wrist bands.  Then I sewed them together, turned them inside out, and they were done—easy peasy! 
          And you can do this with any sweater—a cable knit, an argyle, whatever would make a fun pillow to curl up with on the sofa or on your bed.  If you have a cherished sweater that’s out of style, stained, or fraying, see if you can salvage enough of the good parts to re-purpose it into a cuddly pillow.  Get a clothing shaver to shave off any pills (they are super cheap—here’s one of my youtube mom videos showing you how to use one).  You’ll be so tickled to have given new life to an old friend.
          And now you have a wonderful gift idea that might cost you exactly zippo! 

Only slightly more than zippo is the cost of my novels—check ‘em out here and enjoy cuddling up with a good book AND a comfy pillow!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Resolving Door

          You know I don’t like resolutions.  They’re like diets—you get all excited about them, then two weeks later they become a source of guilt, fear, and hatred, all rolled into one.
Instead, I think we should set small goals throughout the year, tweaking and adjusting our character to improve in small increments. It’s much less intimidating.
So I’ll share my latest little goal, and the fact that this comes just before New Year’s is merely a coincidence.
My goal is to say less.  I shall explain.  I was one of those overachiever little Hermione students, hand thrust into the air in first grade, gasping, “Oh—oh--” to let the teacher know I had the answer and wanted to be called on.  It never occurred to me to ratchet down my enthusiasm: I didn’t even know what obnoxious meant.
In business meetings I still open my mouth several times, catch myself, and close it again.  But I later regret having so many opinions. And in Sunday School class I have limited myself to two comments per class, max.  It’s an ongoing struggle.
So I said to Bob, “I have a new goal.  It’s to say less.  In meetings, in Sunday School--”
“In marriage?” he asked, eyes filled with hope.
Fat chance.  “Are you kidding?” I said. “I have to have an outlet to vent somewhere.
Of course, this conversation preceded my dash to the grocery store where you will never believe what I saw.  This car.  This message.  I’m sure it’s a coincidence:
Have you ordered my books, here, yet?  Don’t make me nag…

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Christmas List

          I’m a list-maker.  I really have no choice, because I have ADD and without a list I’d be stumbling around, forgetting even to put gas in the car (although I would be greatly entertained by local squirrels).
          I started it in high school when I would forget things that actually mattered to me: Dates, homework deadlines, my work schedule—and, um, probably in that order.  I had never heard of Attention Deficit Disorder at that time, and likely would have scoffed that I didn’t have it.  But I do.
          No one has diagnosed me officially, but once, at a party, I said, “I think I have ADD,” to which St. Bob blurted, “Do ya think?” as if this had been obvious for years, except to oblivious me.  So, yeah, I think I have it.
          At age 16 I decided to compensate.  I bought a little pocket daytimer and began jotting down the where and when of my life.  Soon I added a giant bobby pin to hold down a little slip of paper, on which I scribbled each day’s obligations in order.  And I became the picture of dependability.  Crossing off items gave me the thrill of accomplishment and productivity.  I also found I could  get a jump on every assignment that came down the pike, just by jotting it on a day before it was due.  Bingo!  I’d have it ready, turned in, and could mentally discard it, to free up my brain for, once again, squirrels.  Or at least a bunch of creative writing ideas.
          Which brings us to Christmas.  I keep a detailed gift list in my daytimer, starting in—YES I WILL ADMIT IT: JULY.  This is partly because I love checking things off my list and partly because I am cheap, and I can watch for sales and bargains all year, thus avoiding the last-minute (hence expensive) scramble for gifts in December. Hey, Santa keeps a list, too, and you don't see anyone criticizing him for it.
          Every time I find a gift for someone on my list, I write it below their name and place a little check mark beside it.  Or, if they hint that they want something, I write that down and keep an eye out for that item.  This may sound like over-planning until I tell you that I have 32 people on my list.  Now you can see why being organized is essential.
          And, wouldn’t you know, I am married to a man whose memory rivals those of elephants.  He never has to write down a doctor’s appointment, a person he needs to call back, and certainly not a gift he needs to buy.  It’s as if he has a daytimer app in his gray matter, magically doing it all for him.
Or so I thought.  The other day, he asked me to write something down and remind him about it later.  I can’t recall what it was (of course), but I recall being flabbergasted that he needed my help, and I suggested he start keeping a list like I do.
Not surprisingly, he refused.  “Then you’ll just have to suffer the consequences,” I said.  “People who don’t make lists are listless.”  Yep, I’m pretty sure that’s what that means.

And speaking of lists, check out the list of my books here, where you can order to your heart’s content.  There’s something for everyone.  Even non list-makers.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas in Rocklin

          I love living in a small town by a big city.  You get the best of both worlds—you get the Mayberry flavor of bumping into friends wherever you go, yet you have access to Sacramento’s theatres, museums, and downtown events.  And it doesn’t hurt to be an hour and half away from San Francisco.
          Rocklin is jam-packed with great schools, shopping, and restaurants, all just minutes from my front door.  They have tons of local festivals and traditions, but my favorite is this one:
          Yep, Santa Claus takes time out of his busy schedule and rides through our neighborhoods on the top of a decorated fire truck!  Happy kids, squealing and jumping, come pouring out of their homes as elves distribute candy, and the whole thing feels like a sudden “Come as You Are” party where neighbors hug and laugh, every one of us caught up in the magic of Christmas together. It’s as if the Candy Bomber swung over our houses and dumped a barrel of sweets into our arms.
          Rocklin also has several pockets where the neighbors have all agreed to decorate to the hilt, as looky loos creep by in their cars, holiday music blaring.  Here are some I photographed, not far from me:
We once lived in a neighborhood like that (in L.A.) and I blogged about it here.  I loved it.
          I even planted a dwarf Blue Spruce in my Rocklin front yard, just so I could string it with big, old-fashioned lights, and have a living Christmas tree out there every year. 
          When it was smaller I festooned it with giant ornament balls, but I gave that up when it grew too big, sort of the way those pot-bellied pigs get bigger than you think they will.  Every year I have to add another strand.  This year, even with a ladder, we couldn’t reach the top and had to fling the wires like a lasso.  No problem.  If I get stuck in the branches I’ll just call the fire department.  Maybe it’ll be Santa who comes to the rescue.

Don’t miss a single blog—subscribe in the little box on this page.  And be sure to visit jonihilton.com where you’ll see what else I’ve been up to!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Cookie of the Season!

I showed you my decoration of the season, and now I’m going to share with you my Christmas Cookie of the Season, based on the popular Dr. Seuss story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
          You remember ol’ Grinchy, who stole all gifts, decorations, and even the Roast Beast from Whoville, right?  And then (spoiler alert) he learned his lesson:
          I love the message of that story, and the idea that his heart grew three sizes as his Scrooge moment unfolded and he changed his ways.  Redemption is not only a great theme for literature, but for life. 
          So here’s a fantastic green cookie (key lime flavored!) with a red heart in the center, perfect for giving this Christmas.  You could even include the book or a DVD of the movie with a basket of these goodies.  It’s also a hit at potlucks.  AND… this easy recipe is based on one I created myself, and won 1st Place in a Bisquick contest a few years ago:
          Here are the ingredients:
          ½ Cup butter or margarine, softened
          ¾ Cup packed brown sugar
          2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
          1 egg
          1 or 2 teaspoons vanilla
          6 drops green food coloring
          2 & 1/3 Cups Bisquick Original baking mix
          6 oz. white chocolate chips or white chocolate cut into chunks
          1 Tbsp. finely grated lime rind (two limes will do it)
          Red heart-shaped candies or red hots
Here I need to stop and tell you that my winning recipe was called Key Lime-White Chocolate Cookies and had no heart decoration.  If you don’t like lime, leave it out.  And if you want a killer strawberry-flavored cookie, use strawberry extract and red food coloring.  And if you want to leave out the white chocolate chips, these will still work. And if you prefer mint to lime, use mint extract instead.
          Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter, sugars, egg, vanilla, and food coloring in a large bowl.  Beat in Bisquick, white chocolate, and lime rind.
 Drop dough by rounded teaspoon-fuls onto an ungreased baking sheet (you don’t need it, but I always use parchment).  Press them down just a little, and press a heart-shaped candy into each cookie.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until set but not brown. Let cool for 1 minute, then remove to rack to cool completely. Makes 3 dozen cookies.
          And then, package them up and tie on a tag like this one:
          You’ll be the hit of the party.  I promise.

          Watch my Youtube Mom videos for more holiday fun—how to wrap a gift, tie a bow, decorate your home—everything you need to know to make the season easier!

Friday, December 12, 2014

O Christmas Tree

          It’s no secret--  I go a little gaga over Christmas.  I’m not one of those “Wait until December” folks who cannot imagine buying gifts until then; I buy them all year and tuck them away.  I start humming Christmas songs at the first snap of cold weather, and yes, I decorate as soon as the last bit of Thanksgiving gravy is gulped down.  Sometimes sooner.  This is our Christmas tree this year:
          Okay, I do not want to be on Santa’s naughty list, so I will tell the truth: It’s just one of my trees.  Here’s a tabletop one:

          Here’s a kitchen one:

And here’s the dining room one:
          Maybe it’s the glitter and sparkle, maybe it’s the spirit of goodwill that’s in the air, maybe it’s the whole magical Santa bit, or maybe it’s—wait for it—the actual celebration of our Savior’s birth.  But I cannot wait to fill my home with the sounds, smells, and sights of Christmas.
          And, like many a misguided woman, I try to get my husband’s opinion on the little details.  Last week I said to St. Bob, “What do you think about hanging gingerbread men instead of sugar cookies this year, from the chandelier in the kitchen?”
          Immediately I can tell from the look in his eyes that he has no idea there have ever been sweets hanging from the light in the first place.  He thinks for a minute and then says, “So how does the panel work, exactly?”
          “What panel?” I say, rolling out the dough.
          “The panel of judges that comes over to evaluate your decorating.  Is it, like, four people, or five so they can break the tie in a vote?”
          And that is how you get on Santa’s naughty list.  Or at least my naughty list.  It’s a risky business, getting sarcastic with a woman who controls the cookie dough.
Get on Santa’s good list by purchasing one of my novels here.  Wait until you see the selection—there’s something for everyone!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Color of the Year

          You’ve got to be kidding. This is Pantone’s new Color of the Year for 2015:
          Pantone, which started as an ink company in the ‘50s, has morphed into a secret panel of experts who dictate the hottest new shade for everything consumers will buy next year, from fashions to house paint.  

         And the 2015 color is called Marsala.  Pantone says this “tasteful hue embodies the satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal, while its grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness. This hearty, yet stylish tone is universally appealing and translates easily to fashion, beauty, industrial design, home furnishings and interiors.”
          I say baloney.  In fact, it is very much like the color of baloney.

          In 2007 they picked a chili pepper color, and Marsala looks like a washed out version of it.  Seriously?  You people picked something about as inspiring as grayish purple puce?
          But watch the store windows, or Google the fashion runway shots you’ll be seeing soon.  Everything will look drenched in brownish red rusty ruin and dried blood.  Bleah.
          Pantone, a multi-million dollar company, has a color matching system called PMS colors, which helps manufacturers standardize their hues.  For example, PMS 120 would be a set color anyone could duplicate exactly. Adobe Illustrator uses it, even governments use it to set strict colors for their flags (the blue shade in the Scottish flag is “Pantone 300”).  And I can understand wanting to correlate the colors for your company logo, your fabric swatches, or your car paint. 
          But I draw the line at dictating to the world what we all must wear and love in 2015.  It’s enough to give you PMS.

          For some real advice, check out my youtube mom videos here, and find out how to live happily with whatever colors you like.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Not Your Mother's Christmas Doll

        Just when you think you’ve heard everything, now there’s a baby doll that poops magical charms.  In case you’re compiling your Christmas list.
A friend of mine is buying a baby doll for her granddaughter (note: I still have NO grandchildren, so I must live vicariously through my friends.  Just saying.)  And she began to research dolls that can be fed and changed.  Apparently little toddlers everywhere are dying to experience the input/output  part of parenting that we can all agree is its least attractive element.
Nonetheless, the primal instinct to care for a little infant accounts for millions of dollars in retail profits for toymakers, and thus parents and grandparents line up to purchase wetting and pooping dollies.
The “charming” doll is called  La-la-loopsy Diaper Surprise, and all you need do to observe this biological miracle is to feed the doll water, then press its belly “button.” Then a charm pops out.  Button is in quote marks on their web site, so I respect their punctuation choice.  They also claim there are “Sew” many charms to collect!
Now, poop collection is not a hobby I’ve heard of, but it certainly seems feasible, given this new twist. 
Peanut Big Top and Blossom Flower Pot are the two charm-pooping choices, and there are three Diaper Surprise Refill Packs of darling diapers you will absolutely want to buy, as well.  Ka-ching.
The premise behind these dolls is that they were once rag dolls, but sprang to life when their last stitch was sewn.  But check out the stitches.  Tim Burton could not design a creepier doll.
So, or maybe I should say sew, if you still haven’t thought of the perfect gift for that little munchkin on your list, and you’re pretty sure she won’t have nightmares, or choke on small parts, get her a La-la-loopsy.  And if she accidentally swallows the charms, well, then she can be a sort of La-la-loopsy.

And, if you need a clever way to wrap your Christmas presents, check out 10 of my easiest ideas here, on a YouTube Mom video.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

This Year's Best Christmas Decorating Idea

          Tons of ideas pop into my head (we can argue about whether that’s because it’s so roomy in there), and I love to pass them along to you. I share my original recipes, I give away ideas for inventions, stories, jobs, whatever I think could help someone.  When I was in a TV green room and met the mom of a guy playing in the Superbowl, I told her the cameras would zoom in on her at some point, in the stands, and she should be wearing her son’s photo on a button pin.  Her eyes lit up.  “Thank you-- I’ll do that!” 
          Last month I gave you my turkey cornucopia idea, on Father’s Day I gave you a clever “man cake of tools” to make for Dad, and my YouTube Mom videos are loaded with stuff I’ve made up, that can simplify your life.  My original tortilla roll-up won a cooking contest almost 20 years ago, and started the whole “wrap” trend.
          So here’s my latest idea—a clever way to decorate your front door:
          Obviously you need a red door.  But paint is cheap—you could even paint it red just for December.  I used black vinyl for the belt, and painted a picture frame gold for the buckle.  A small dowel is wedged into it for the "leather" to go over.  Then a yard of fake white fur is staple-gunned to the sides of the door, with a few paint-safe picture-hanging stickers helping out.  And, if you can’t do a front door this way, you could do an interior door just as easily.  Total cost: About five dollars.   
          Another idea is to wrap your door like a giant present—but that’s not unique and THIS one is a Joni Hilton original!  Feel free to share it with your friends, and on Pinterest.  Merry Christmas to all!

How about a totally free Christmas gift?  Tell your friends to subscribe to this blog and you will give them a year’s supply of entertainment.  It’s better than Cookie-of-the-Month!