Friday, December 30, 2011

A Pleasant Surprise!

When I checked my e-mail last night before bed, I saw one from a member of the Yahoo Art Charms group that I joined last month. I had sent in photos of the snowflake charms I had finished and was planning on mailing out soon. It turns out they chose one of the photos to be their header photo on the site for the week! You can visit the site (and join if you wish) by clicking here. As part of the swap, each charm is supposed to have a tag with the maker's name and e-mail address, so I tied mine onto tags as shown above. Now I'm finishing up the "All Hearts" charms I'm making so I can mail them out in time for the January 15th deadline. For once, I'm done early!

This is my 100th post for 2011! I think I'll end the year on this positive note and wish everyone a very Happy New Year 2012! See you next year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Light Holiday Reading

Earlier this month, I came across this title at the library and had to pick it up. I've recommended it to several dog-lover friends, including my neighbor Gail, and they've all enjoyed it. I even gave it to my sister, the dog groomer, for Christmas. If you love dogs and find yourself wondering what they're thinking, you'd probably enjoy this book (although sometimes I think we personify dogs and exaggerate their ability to actually "think."). It is a touching, memorable story and one worth reading.

After I finished reading that, I kept finding other books I wanted to read, so I borrowed them all! First was Brian Selznick's latest Juvenile fiction novel titled "Wonder Struck." Brian Selznick is the Caldecott-award winning author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret which was recently released as the film Hugo. It's told through both intricate pencil drawings and text, as is this book. Both are full of layers of meaning, as well as being interesting and captivating to read.I also started Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book which won the Newbery last year, but I wasn't able to get through it. It's about a boy raised in a graveyard by ghosts and other spooks and although it was well written, it just didn't hold my interest. Neil Gaiman also wrote Coraline, which I found a little spooky as well. Hopefully I'll get onto Wicked, Beauty Queens, and these others sometime this week or in January.
Finally, I couldn't resist checking out these two books by Ruth Rae, one about fabric collage and one about charms. I've looked through them quickly, but I'd like to spend some more time going over them more slowly to see what new and different ideas she has that I might be able to apply to my collages and charm. Once all the holiday happenings slow down, I'll be able to get back into the creative swing of things. Meanwhile, it's 5:40 and I'd better get dinner started!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Oh, Holy Night

Tonight we went to the early vigil mass and sang all the beautiful, traditional Christmas Carols with a harp accompanist. It was lovely. We came home and had a seafood feast, with a crisp salad course and a pasta course of fresh Arthur Avenue cheese ravioli. Yum!
I'm even too full for cookies!
The girls are loving their new footie Christmas pajamas. I think they're ready for a long winter's nap! I know I am... but first I have to stop in next door to visit with Gail and her dogs. Her husband Al makes a knockout chocolate martini for the neighbors every Christmas Eve.
Have a Blessed Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Edible Gifts

This year I wasn't sure if I'd get to any of the baking I traditionally do at Christmas time. A great time to get started on baking is when we have a snow day and are stuck at home, but that didn't happen this year (except in October, and then we didn't have power for baking!). I did finally get out the pans and ingredients last weekend and got started. I made some of our old favorites like the Jewel Brooch cookies (see the recipe here) which call for only egg yolks, and Coconut Macaroons which call for only egg whites. In addition, I baked a batch of Chewy Chocolate Cookies which are exactly what they sound like, with chocolate chips in them. I needed something quick and easy to add a little variety to the mix, so I dipped some pretzels in melted white chocolate and sprinkled them as you see above. And last, but not least, I made up a batch of these homemade Peppermint Patties, which I got from the Family Fun website (find it by clicking here).
The batter is really more like a paste of confectioners sugar, corn syrup, water, lemon juice, and peppermint extract. It is very stiff and you basically flatten it out, refrigerate it, and cut shapes with a cutter. Then you dip each one in melted chocolate. Last year I melted semi-sweet chocolate chips, but they were so thick that the coating didn't really drip off much. It used a lot of chips and was kind of slow going. This year, I tried using the candy melts from the baking section of the craft store. They melted easily and went on much quicker, but the taste isn't quite as delectable. I think next time I'll try a mix of the two for a compromise.
Yumm! I sure do love that peppermint-dark chocolate combo!
I've been packing up assortments of all these homebaked goodies and giving them to friends and co-workers as little gifts. I hope I have enough left for us! If not, I'll have to get busy again...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Finishing up some Gifts

Look what I made! It's a Christmas gift for my good friend, co-worker, and next door neighbor, Gail, the one whose dog had puppies in September. I sort of borrowed this photo of two of the puppies off her Facebook page (I didn't ask her because I want it to be a surprise - I don't think she'll mind...). I printed the photo onto a purchased printer-ready fabric sheet and cut it into a heart shape, then stitched it onto a felt backing, which was also stitched onto the checked background. The base of it is that heavy fusible interfacing (Peltex) and the heart is a gold scrapbooking-type brad. I put a pin back on it because we wear lanyards at work and often decorate them with fun pins. It's about 2 inches square, so it could also be a refrigerator magnet, but I think it will be nice for her to have a reminder of all the puppy love she got this fall while she's going about her day. I'll give it to her on Wednesday with a bunch of cookies (I'll post about those tomorrow!). Keepin' busy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I did something crazy, considering Christmas is just around the corner - I joined not one, but two (count 'em - 2!) charm swaps!! I just couldn't resist. After I joined the artcharms yahoo group, I saw a list of all the fun swaps they did this past year and couldn't wait to join one, even though this is such a busy time of year and the last thing I need is another item on my to-do list! The first swap I joined is an "anything goes" swap, meaning you're not limited by color, metal or material. I chose to do these sparkly snowflake charms, similar to ones that I put on my wintery bracelet and cluster necklace. I've made 6 so far, and I think I only need to complete 6 more and they'll be ready to send out. They're not due until January 15th, so I have some time. They are pretty quick and easy, considering I punched out the snowflake shapes using the Accucut machine at the library.

The second swap theme is "hearts." The deadline is also the 15th, but it was too tempting to think of all the creative possibilities for charms with hearts! I decided to do more art paper charms like the leaf ones I did in the fall (see it here). I started by marbling some watercolor paper with shaving creme and acrylic paint. Below is that mixture spread on a piece of plexiglass...
... and here is the paper which I layed on top of the shaving creme and then pulled off.
I left it to dry for a little while, and then rinsed off some of the shaving creme and let the paper hang to dry. Then I collaged some squares of pale pink tissue paper on top of it and added some little hearts punched from a gardening magazine and other assorted papers. After that was dry, I stamped it all over with white acrylic paint and stamps with a leaf print and a paisley shape.
I punched out some hearts from the final collaged paper. I really like them!
I wanted my charms to be interesting on the back as well as the front, so I glued two hearts together and flattened them between two pieces of wax paper in a heavy book. Then I added a few more embellishments with little crystals, sequins, and words like "love" and "joy." I added eyelets, and now I just need to coat them with that Dimensional Magic to protect them.
I really like the way they look and the fact that they are totally unique and not created from store-bought beads and components. I guess I have about two dozen in various stages of completion. There is a "red-pink-white" themed swap coming up next month... maybe I'll join that one as well and use the extras I have from this bunch. Something to look forward to in the New Year... I could make a nice Valentine's Day charm bracelet!

Now I'd better stop with all these charming distractions and get back to focusing on the rest of my Christmas to-do list!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Candy Houses

Last Wednesday, the library held its annual Gingerbread House decorating program. We provide a plate with 6 graham crackers and an empty ice cream cone and patrons bring their own frosting and candy. Most also bring an empty food carton of some sort to use as a building form. On the afternoon leading up to the event, my colleagues and I each decorate our own little candy houses. Above is my good friend and neighbor, Gail's house. Gail is a powerhouse of positive energy, fun, and laughs, but she claims she is not really artistically inclined. She tends to make many things into a contest and last year was bribing innocent patrons to tell their friends that her candy house was their favorite. This year, we weren't as competitive, but cheered each other on instead. My other co-worker, Joan, and I both agreed that Gail's was our favorite of the three. It reminded us both of the town of Whoville in Dr. Seuss' classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas,especially with that leaning chimney! Don't you agree?

Below is Joan's creation. She really thought outside the box for this one and gave it a hexagonal base. A jewelry lover, she really went overboard on the candy embellishments. Pretty fancy for a bunch of graham crackers, huh? Wow!
And below is my creation. Before Gail and Joan had finished theirs, I was pretty pleased with the peaked roof and the chimney with Santa stuck in there, but now in comparison, I think it looks a little plain. I guess my style is pretty much classic but not ostentatious, do you agree?
If you've never decorated a gingerbread house, get some colorful candy and whip up a batch of royal icing and give it a try!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Third Tree

When I photographed and posted the Christmas trees in our house, I forgot to include this one! Every year, I hang it in the foyer so all our visitors can see it when they walk through the door. We made it in 2002 by painting our hands green and printing them in size order onto this piece of muslin to form a tree. Then we dipped our finger tips in red paint to make little red ornaments. We added gold circles and put our names inside, and a gold star on top. Voila` - our own family Christmas tree!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Two Christmas Trees

This is the advent pocket quilt my mother made for the girls when they were small. Isn't it beautiful? I don't put it away with the rest of the Christmas things in the attic, so we can get to it as soon as advent begins. My 3 girls used to squabble a bit over whose turn it was to take an ornament out of its pocket each day, but this year my youngest does it herself before breakfast (I guess the older two are not as possessive of it as they used to be...). Below is a close up of the tree and some of the cute buttons and little toys she stitched on. It's one of those favorite family traditions.
And here is the big tree! We finally had time to clear a spot in the living room and make the trip into the attic to get down all the boxes. As you may have guessed, it's artificial, and it's pre-lit, so we don't have to go to the store or to a farm to get one and then spend an hour or more carefully stringing the lights. It makes for a much quicker, less stressful (and less grumpy) family activity. The tree pretty much looks the same from year to year - I don't buy whole new sets of ornaments in bizarre color schemes like some of the magazines suggest. We stared off with a core set of ornaments, some of which were wedding favors at our own wedding 19 years ago. We started the tradition of buying an ornament wherever we went on vacation, so we have quite a number of those on there, and for years we would take a trip to a local shop with particularly nice ormanents and let the girls each choose one for the tree. By now, we've got quite a collection!
Here is the ornament from our vacation this year to Herkimer Diamond Mines and that area of upstate NY. I wrapped the largest crystal in brass wire and put all the little ones into that tiny bottle, then tied them together with a nice red ribbon. What Christmas traditions does your family have?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Preparations

In addition to the typical shopping and wrapping that goes on this time of year, here are some other things I've been doing to prepare for Christmas. First: CLEANING! Last weekend I did a very thorough cleaning in my own bedroom. I tend to hoard books and magazines to read before I go to sleep and I usually have quite a collection piled on the nighttable and on the floor next to (and sometimes under) the bed. I cleaned it all up and vacuumed up all the dust in the area. I even reorganized my jewelry box, which was sort of overflowing with my latest creations and things I've been wearing more often.

With that job done, I tackled this window in the kitchen. Can you see all the cobwebs and dead bug debris up in the corners? No?
How's this close-up? Can you see it now? Ick!
Well, with only about a dozen paper towels, some good old fashioned glass cleaner, a lot of elbow grease and about a half hour of my time, I transformed it into this:
Much better! Now I can look out the window as I'm cooking or doing dishes and enjoy the view of the lake and morning sunlight pouring in. (There's nothing like a visit from my in-laws to get me to do some really deep cleaning! They'll be here just after Christmas). Just one more window to tackle - the big one in the living room. Then put up the tree and bake a few cookies...

This evening we're going to a friend's for their traditional "Grinch" party. They've been doing it since college; we've probably gone to the last 15 or so. I get to catch up with lots of old teacher friends and we usually have lots of laughs and lots of food. Guests usually bring a dessert so this year I opted for a new family favorite, mini cupcakes. My oldest daughter loves them; she says it's just the right balance of cake and frosting in one little bite! They take kind of a long time for me to bake because I only have one mini cupcake pan, which needs to be reused 3 times to finish up the batter. But they make a cute presentation when they're frosted and decorated.
This time I made some of them in my favorite flavor combination: mint and chocolate! Yum!
Lastly, I started rereading a favorite holiday book of mine that I tend to borrow from the library almost every year in December. It's copyright date is 1964, and I'm lucky our library still has this copy. It is a fictional account of all the characters in the Christmas story as the birth of Jesus approaches, with one chapter devoted to each of them beginning with Mary and Joseph and continuing with the three Magi, Mary's cousin Elizabeth, the innkeeper and his wife, Herod the king, and a shepherd. Norah Lofts makes these characters so human and realistic, not like the fairy-tale saints we sometimes think they are. In particular, the character of Balthazar (one of the magi who is typically portrayed as being black) is cast as a slave. He has given up on gods and religion, but has a vision of a star bursting over the horizon and knows it means a new dawning for mankind. He runs away from his owner to pursue the star and the dream of freedom and justice and receives both as he kneels before the babe in the manger. There are many parts of this book that can move me to tears (but in a good way!). How are you preparing for Christmas?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Latest Addition

Here is my latest charm cluster necklace. I stuck with the same pale blue, crystal, and white color scheme to suggest snow, but didn't put any actual snowflakes on this one. I picked up some metal clasps for use with ribbons on one of my latest shopping sprees, so this necklace hooks in a more professional way (I'm not averse to knots, but I figure if you're paying good money for something, you want a little better caliber than that!). Anyway, check out my Etsy shop as well as the Etsy site in general for really cool and unique handmade and vintage gifts this year!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Here are some of the outdoor decorations we managed to get up this weekend. First, the wreath on the door and the little evergreen trees in the window boxes.
I bought some fancy new lights this year. These come in strings of 10 snowflakes, so I got 2 strings. They add just the right sparkle to Alana's little apple tree (notice it's been propped up since that Halloween snowstorm pushed it over).
I also got the pine roping and ran it around the front door and down the railing. I just love how welcoming it looks.
But I think my favorite part is this Colorado blue spruce which we planted when my oldest was born (she's a Christmas baby!). It gets taller every year and I considered leaving it undecorated this year but my dear husband tackled the job and I must say, he got a touchdown on this one. It looks better than ever!
I'm glad we got our outdoor lights up so we get to enjoy them for the next several weeks. Soon we'll get moving on the indoor stuff...