Friday, December 31, 2010

Year End Post

I thought I'd do one final post for the year, and highlight a few of my favorite Christmas things. Below is a photo of our house all lit up for Christmas. The lighting is very simple and kind of old fashioned, with the pine roping, mostly white lights, and large bulbs on the spruce tree. The tree was planted in my oldest daughter's honor, as she was born on Christmas day.

And right next door there's a real spectacular light show! Our neighbors like to do Christmas in a big way and their house is one of the brightest and most colorful on the block!

Another gift from my neighbor next door: every year they put lights on an evergreen tree down by the lake. I love looking at it from the kitchen window, shining down there in the dark woods. It looks so cheerful and humble.

Another one of my favorite Christmas things: my Santa Claus collection. This started soon after we got married, when I bought one small, skinny hand-carved Santa. Then I mentioned the idea of starting a collection to my father, who got out his carving tools and made one per year for us for several years to come. One Santa holds two black cats, old pets of ours, the central Santa is very tall and thin, and a more traditional Santa carries a fabric sack filled with miniature toys. Those pictured were not all carved by Dad, but my favorite ones were!

This old-world Santa is my most favorite. He has an air of mystery about him, don't you think? I love all the details.

Here is another Santa Claus carved by Dad, this one an ornament for the tree.

We have made it a family tradition to buy a Christmas ornament wherever we go on vacation. Below is the beautiful beaded seahorse we picked up on St. John this year.

This is the hand-stitched likeness of Jo-Jo the dolphin that we picked up in the Turks and Caicos Islands where Mark and I went for our 10th anniversary trip 8 years ago.

And here is a likeness I stitched in remembrance of a special cat, Squiggy, who died in 2003. We have several pet memorials on the tree. Looking at all the ornaments on the tree is like reliving our years as a family, remembering vacations, pets, events, people, and other happy things!

Speaking of happy things, here is another thing I love about Christmas: peppermint ice cream!
Happy New Year everyone, and many wishes and blessings to you in 2011! (I'll think about laying off the ice cream and cookies next year...)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas at home

There's a bit of a lull here this afternoon, now that the presents are opened and the bulk of the work is done, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to tell you about our family Christmas this year. For once, we are not going anywhere, nor having guests over, so it's quiet and peaceful and a chance to catch our breath after the busy month.
Here are a few of my favorite Christmas things: my basket of greetings received from friends and relatives far and near, my little homemade (not by me - a gift from a former student years ago) santa - he holds holiday chocolates, and the book I got for myself a few years ago: "A Bit of Applause for Mrs. Claus," after I realized how much work it is to plan and organize and pull off a family holiday like Christmas (and then Santa gets all the credit!).

Yesterday, after some last minute shopping, baking and wrapping, we're finally ready to eat!

The table is set and the fresh ravioli are waiting! I picked them up at a local deli, which carries produce from the famous Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. I was contemplating making homemade, but didn't feel up to taking on a project like that without some practice first. The ravioli were perfect - flavorful, tender and delicious!

After the pasta course, a seafood feast! Fried shrimp, King crab legs, and lobster tails (still in the oven when this shot was taken). Mmm, everything was delicious! After a quick clean up, off to mass with lots of carol singing to really put you in the Christmas spirit.

After mass, Sarah's birthday cake, carrot cake this year, with cream cheese frosting!

Here is our tree in the living room with all the gifts crowded beneath. Christmas Eve is the best - the hushed anticipation, the holy and peaceful silence as the world settles down to wait.

Just past 7 this morning, the girls came in and woke us up, excited to get to the unwrapping! What seemed to take weeks to shop for and hours to wrap was all unwrapped in about an hour! Everyone was happy with what they found under the tree. I got some new snappy waterproof boots and a sweatshirt, just right for dog-walking in sloppy weather.

Then, for breakfast, all my favorites: crisp bacon, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, and cinnamon buns, with grapefruit juice on the side! A great way to start the day and celebrate with my family. Merry Christmas to everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

They're done!

(finally!). Cross it off the list!

Monday, December 20, 2010

One more down... more to go! Here is another sketch; this one will be last in the sketchbook, for the month of December ( I still have to do February and a cover...). For this one, I started with a piece of white canvas and put glue gel snowflakes and dots, which dried overnight. Then I used ink washes to paint in the blue skies, which came out kind of blotchy which was pretty much the effect I was going for. I washed out the glue and printed the words on Extravorganza, then cut them into hexagonal shapes and fused them in place. I decorated them with hand stitching to look like snowflakes. I also added a bunch of french knots all over, a few houses and evergreen trees, and there it is, my December sketchbook page!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Look what was living in our attic!

We've been hearing scurrying sounds coming from the attic for about a month now. My husband has finally been home long enough to go up there with a have-a-heart trap, and look what he brought down this morning! (BTW, this is not my photo; it came from here). He seems to be a southern flying squirrel and was as cute and sweet as can be. Apparently people keep these as pets - which is why we didn't show it to the girls! Mark took him over to a nearby park and let him go. He also reset the trap - there's probably more than one. Maybe I'll get the camera out in time for the next one. Who knew?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Moving Along

Here are some of the things I crossed off my list this week! First, a sketchbook page for September. It's a photo transfer of a picture I took at Stonecrop Gardens in August (see the original photo by clicking here). I only transferred the flowers, not the background, and I put it on the reverse side of a golden cotton fabric, so it looked faded. I thread painted in only the central flower using rayon thread, and just did outlining on the other flowers and added leaves. I also wrote another quick haiku (I never really got why people like to write haiku until now - it's fun fitting a little vignette into those 14 syllables!) which I stamped on. I wasn't thrilled with it when I was working on it (I find thread painting kind of tedious) but now that it's done, I'm pleased with it.
I also finally got to some baking. I decided some of the gifts I'll be giving this year are home baked cookies, along with either a handmade bookmark or pear ornament. I started with our favorites, these "jewel brooch" cookies (I posted the recipe in 2008 - find it here). They are also a little tedious and time-consuming (I tripled the recipe) but delicious and worth it!

Below is a new recipe I found in the November/December issue of Family Fun magazine. I am one of those people who is just crazy about the flavor of chocolate and mint together, so I had to try these homemade peppermint patties. They aren't baked - you just mix up a stiff dough or paste made mainly of confectioner's sugar, chill it, roll it, cut out shapes (we couldn't find a nice circle so we made these little trees), dip them in melted chocolate, and sprinkle them with crushed candy canes. Kind of a lot of steps, a little messy, but also worth it - they're scrumptious!
Tomorrow we'll get the bulk of the Christmas decorations out of the attic and get the house looking festive. Hopefully we'll have time to bake a few more batches of cookies and watch a few holiday movies too (the girls have never seen "It's a Wonderful Life" in its entirety yet!). How are your holiday plans progressing?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Christmas Rose

Look what I found out in the backyard this afternoon - roses in bloom! The bushes grow on a hillside behind our house, so maybe they're protected from the worst of the frost. Otherwise, I can't imagine by what miracle they're still here. I couldn't resist bringing them inside to enjoy their beautiful Christmas colors. Do you know the old German Christmas Carol "Es ist ein rose entsprungen" by Praetorius? (If you've never heard it, click here for a Youtube video). I think the song and the flowers are a perfect match - equally beautiful.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Trying to remain calm...

A week into December and this is my first post of the month! As you may have guessed, the holiday rush is on. Today I left work at noon, munched on a nut bar in the car, and spent about three hours shopping. I got a lot done, and I've also done a lot online, but I got this crazy idea to invite my sisters-in-law and their families for a Christmas get-together on the 19th, so now I have another deadline. This evening I made a list of all the baking, cleaning up, and decorating that still needs to be done in the next two to three weeks, which is why I'm trying to remain calm. What's almost got me panicked is the sketchbook project, which needs to be finished and in the mail on January 15th. I've been working on a "sketch" that's turned into more of a thread painting, so of course it's taking longer than I'd like. And when the nephews come on the 19th, they'll want to play downstairs which is where my work area is, so that needs to be cleaned up - and good! I'd love to have the sketchbook finished and put away by then, but I may have to push it until after Christmas. I hate to leave things for the last minute.
Meanwhile, here are some new ornaments I've been playing with. I used some of the green paper-cloth to create these pears. They might make a nice embellishment on a wrapped gift, so I'll have to make more of them... or some more bookmarks. If only I didn't need to sleep until January...!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Out with the old...

Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving Day weekend! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, mainly because we make lists of what we're thankful for instead of what we wish for, but also because of all the delicious food! I was able to spend the weekend with my parents, my sisters and their families, and my own family. Altogether there were 8 adults, 5 children and 3 dogs! Cassie took her first long car trip and did great! Everyone was very impressed with how mellow she was while my 2-year-old nephew tugged at her ears and tail. She really is very good natured.

So now that my favorite holiday is over, it's time to start making the lists and checking them twice (or 3 or 4 times!). Always on my list for the first week of advent is putting some lights and decorations on the outside of the house. So here is our new wreath! It was nearly torn apart by my very good natured dog who jumped into the back of the car and came out with it in her mouth! But I was able to get it away from her without any damage and get it safely on the door out of her reach.

Here is the door with the pine roping and lights around the frame and down the railing of our front walkway. Now all we need is a little snow!

Speaking of snow, here is a shot from Thanksgiving Day! We were in eastern Pennsylvania. It was cold and wet falling, and we weren't really dressed for it, but it sure looked pretty! It was all gone by that evening. There's something magical about a little dusting of snow - it just transforms an ordinary scene into a fairyland.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Snowy bookmarks

Even though I already dropped off my bookmarks at the arts council, I keep making more! Maybe these can be given to friends and family for Christmas. I decided to take a step back to working with only fabric for these - no paper or glueing involved. I didn't even use fusible webbing - just layered wavy strips of various white and sheer fabrics in horizontal lines and stitched them all down. The one on the left shows the resulting plain strip. On the next one, I added a stitched tree and a cardinal and hearts from the red paper-cloth. On the third, the tree was made of three pieces of 4-ply yarn held down with free-motion stitching. I also added a red paper-cloth bird. With this technique, there is not as much opportunity to add stamping or writing, since most of it is not natural fibers and won't take the inks well. But maybe they don't need anything more. They do take longer to make than the ones I made last week; they're really individualized and made one at a time.

After I cut those three strips, I realized I had a piece that was just the right size for a sketchbook page. I stitched on another yarn tree and added the cardinal. While I was at it, I trimmed down all the other sketchbook pages to the exact size and restitched the cut edges. In looking through them all, I realized they might correspond to the months of the year. I would have to make another winter page for February, as well as pages for December and September (this one would be the first page in the book - January). I still have almost two months before this needs to be in the mail, so it's quite possible I could complete those. I also realized I really like the few that have words on them. I'm considering writing short poems to go with more of them and adding them onto the page somehow. I also need to decorate the cover and write an artist statement to be included in the book. I think I'm going to attach them to the cover by adding two grommets at the top of each page and putting two rings through them all. The book could still be folded shut and is the same size as the original journal, only thicker. You would open it and then turn the pages up, rather than right to left. I hope that works!

Monday, November 15, 2010

I'm in!

It's hard to believe it's the middle of the month already and it's been a week since my last post. Time is just speeding by, as I attempt to make the most of every hour of every day getting ready for the upcoming holidays, especially since now the Putnam Arts Council will be selling some of my creations at their annual holiday sale! I spent a lot of time putting together more bookmarks and lavender sachets, which need to be dropped off this week. I wanted everything to look professional, so I made up a sign to go with the bookmarks, and I tagged each sachet with my name and contact information (hey, you never know!). So I'm dropping off 15 sachets and 18 bookmarks. I can always make more bookmarks if all of these sell, but I've used up this season's supply of lavender, so that's it for the sachets. If they don't all sell, I'll give some away as gifts. The smell is just divine.

My work area was looking a little chaotic there for a while, with all the many steps to the many projects strewn all over my work table, but since I cleaned up all the lavender fabric, it's been looking a little better, so today I decided to take a break from bookmarks and do another sketchbook page. I got the idea for this way back in July, when I would pass this lovely mimosa tree on my evening walks with Cassie and could smell the scent of the blossoms as I walked by. I wrote the little haiku and took a few photos, which I printed on a laser printer at work and transferred to fabric using the CitraSolv. I like the way they transferred - well enough to tell what they are, but slightly imperfect looking. These were three separate photos that I printed, cut out, and transferred. Then I colored in the background with Inktense pencils, stitched on the mimosa flowers, and stamped on the words. I like it! Now I have 7 or 8 pages for the sketchbook. I wanted to have at least 10, so I hope to make 2 or 3 more, plus a cover, by early January. With the holidays coming up, I hope I can keep my momentum going!

Monday, November 8, 2010


This morning we were surprised by a little unexpected winter weather! The forecast did call for chance of snow showers, but I wasn't expecting it to actually collect on some of the colder surfaces. Our mums look like they wish they had flown south with the robins! We do occasionally get snow before Thanksgiving, sometimes even before Halloween, so it's not completely unheard of.
Guess I'd better get these leaves raked up soon! Maybe it'll warm up a little next weekend...

Since it was such lousy weather, Cassie spent the day indoors. Rough life!

This weekend I didn't get to the raking because I spent both days chauffeuring my oldest daughter to two cheerleading competitions. She joined cheerleading only last year, but her team has never even placed in any of the competitions they've taken part in. Here is a shot of her team yesterday. Right before this, her "flyer," the girl they are holding up, fell and bumped Sarah's nose on the way down. Her nose started bleeding, but she didn't realize it and just continued until the routine was finished. She cleaned herself up afterwards (it really wasn't that bad) and was rewarded for her perseverance.
Their team finally placed! Here they are celebrating with their third place trophy. Sarah was chosen by the coach to go up and accept it, being she was such a trooper during the routine. She was thrilled, as was the whole team for finally getting some recognition for all their hard work since August. Did you know cheerleading has one of the highest injury rates among high school sports?

Since I only worked a half day today, I was able to spend the cold afternoon hours doing some creative work. Here are six more bookmarks I've finished, so now I have more than a dozen. I decided to make some of them in holiday colors, and some in more everyday colors, so potential customers will have a variety to choose from. I also opted to simply print my contact information like a return address label, cut them up, and glue them to the back. I think it's sufficient. I haven't heard from the Art Council yet, but I still have a few cards I haven't played... I'd really like to give these a chance!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Holiday Bookmarks

This cold weather has got me thinking about the upcoming holidays, so I've been playing around and making bookmarks in holiday colors. As you can see, the paper-cloth was in shades of red this time, stamped with copperish gold and dark green. I cut it into strips and added a little more stamping, then placed it on a stiff glittery felt and free-motion stitched some designs and around the edges. The town arts council (of which I'm a member - not very active, but still a member) has a holiday sale every year. You have to be invited to contribute artsy things to sell, but I'm thinking maybe I'll contact someone and see if these could be included. Of course, the arts center takes a cut, so I'll have to price them accordingly, but maybe I should make a dozen or so and take them over there... I also need to find a professional looking and efficient way of labeling the back with my contact information. I'm investigating options now - anyone got any ideas?

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Over But the Shouting...

Another Halloween has come and gone. Here are the pumpkins the girls carved this weekend. They looked quite cheerfully spooky on our doorstep last night.

Along with the celebrations and candy eating, we were busy painting... that's right, the bathroom is finally finished! Ta-dah!

Here is the(almost) completed look, with new towel hooks and lighting installed. The mirror really makes the room look brighter and larger, and has lots of storage space for all the girls' bathroom necessities. They each have one mirror panel and a drawer, with one extra drawer for assorted things. Let's hope we are able to keep it clean and organized (that seems to be my mission in life - getting it all clean and organized! I'm fighting entropy and sometimes I wonder why I even bother!)

But we're very happy with the results, and after we put on the drawer hardware and hang some art, it will be absolutely and completely done! For comparison, check out the before picture by clicking here. As you can see, we left the border of printed leaves I did when we first moved in, but the floor, mirror, toilet, area rugs, countertop with double sink, and vanity are all new. Yay!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

An Historic Discovery (?)

Do these puppets look familiar to you? They've been hanging around the library's puppet corner for a while now, as you can probably tell from their well-loved appearance. But do you recognize their likenesses from TV? I'll give you a hint: "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood..." YES! That's right! These are two of the puppet characters from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, more precisely, from the neighborhood of Make Believe! They are X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat! My co-worker Gail commandeered the cat years ago, renamed her Miss Kitty, and made her her permanent sidekick. She assists her with all her "Stories and More" and "Terrific Twos and Threes" programs and is often seen wearing fun and funky outfits (Gail is always finding cool new sweaters, skirts, and accessories for her; she's kind of like the library's version of Miss Piggy, now that I think about it!). Gail recently noticed the prominent wristwatch on her paw and discovered that she was one of the main puppet characters on Mr. Rogers, and then we found the owl among the other puppets. Here is a photo from the original show:
Who knew we had such celebrities in our midst?!?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Autumn Sketchbook Page and an experiment

Here is the next page in my sketchbook. I thought about making a smaller version of the conceptual art piece I did for the FANE challenge, but I'd already put away all those scraps and didn't feel like messing up my workspace all over again! Instead, I started going through my stash of fabrics with fusible webbing already adhered to the back, to make a quick fabric collage, and this is what I came up with! I like it much better than the experiments in monoprinting I did yesterday. I always hear about how much fun and what great results other artists get from painting or dyeing their own fabrics, so I've wanted to try this easy technique. I started out by smearing several shades of acrylic paint on a piece of plexiglass and leaving some swirls in the paint with my fingers. I pressed a piece of the sketchbook fabric onto the smeared paint to get the following print.
I felt that one was a little muddy, so I tried again with only 2 shades of blue. Here is that one.
One final attempt with a darker blue. This one was still disappointing to me so I hand painted some purple swirls after I made the print. Still not very inspirational.
So then I tried to "fix" them by doing another monoprint on top of the first one using a different color of paint and a fork to make the texture, rather than my fingers. Here's what they look like now:
Still disappointing, don't you agree? It was fun to try something new and get messy with paint, but I find that the fabrics themselves are what often inspire my work, and these were decidedly NOT inspiring! I may try this technique again, now that I have a little experience with it, but for the most part I think I'll stick to my regular fabric collage!