Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice

I just finished this cozy read by Rosamunde Pilcher - Winter Solstice.  If you're looking for something to warm your heart this time of year, I highly recommend it.  It begins in London but the characters all end up on the grounds of an Estate-turned-hotel on the Scottish coast (a bit of a plus if you've been reading the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon and are now interested in Scotland).  It's a bit predictable, but sweet and relaxing and heartwarming as well.  Enjoy!

Besides reading, I've been keeping busy with a bit of this and that to get ready for Christmas.  Yesterday I finished up some more felt birds from the patterns I printed at the Down East Thunder Farms website.  It's nice to simply print a pattern, cut and stitch it without having to invent something or figure it out.  Plus it's relaxing to do a little hand stitching, and the results are pretty cute!  Here are are some of the ornament gifts I made:

The eastern bluebird,

the snowy owl,

the ruby-throated hummingbied (with a toothpick beak)

the common crow,

and the chickadee!
 The chickadee is now adorning the rustic card holder I wrote about in the previous post, but most of the others have already gone to their new owners.

I've done a little baking as well.  One thing I decided to try is this recipe for homemade dog treats, one of the first things I ever pinned on Pinterest.  There are only 4 ingredients and the dough mixes up and rolls out very easily.  The neighbors on both sides of us are multiple-dog households, so I thought I'd share them.  I can't testify to how they taste, but they've got a nice cup of peanut butter in them and Cassie just loves them!

I also made a pan of this 5-ingredient Graham cracker toffee:
I topped it with chopped almonds and coconut and they are rich and scrumptious!  If you like toffee and need an easy-to-make party contribution or gift, they are perfect.  Try not to eat them all yourself!

 I only did a little real baking this year because I've finally gotten out of the mindless eating habit and I don't want to get back into it over the next two weeks.  But I had to bake at least a few cookies and I chose these:

They are the classic Jewel brooch cookies, gingerbread (from a box mix), white chocolate-dipped pretzels, and coconut macaroons.  We have enough to pick on ourselves and some to give away, so I think that'll be it for me as far as holiday baking goes (except for maybe a cheesecake for dessert Christmas day). 

Most of the shopping and even wrapping are done, so now all I have to do is the Christmas cards.  They're going out a little late this year, but better late than never!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Quick Holiday Project

I love projects that are quick, cheap, and useful, don't you?   The last few years, I've kept all the Christmas cards we received in basket on top of the piano - they're contained, but not really easy to see or read.  I've been wanting one of those wire card holders you hang on a wall, but didn't want to spring for the $25 or more (plus shipping).  I recently saw something in a catalog to display cards or photos made from old barn wood criss-crossed with twine.  I came across some birch branches in the backyard and decided to modify the idea.  This is what I came up with:
 After cutting the branches to size, I tied them together at the corners with florist's wire.  Then I strung some ribbon back and forth between the side branches and added some bows and clips.  Couldn't be easier!  It makes a nice display on the back of the front door and all the cards and photos are easy to see and read.   I can take it apart for easy storage to reuse next year... And it cost nothing!  I love it!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

"Here to stay is a New Bird..."

Don't you just love seeing the cardinals in winter?  That bright spot of red among the winter grays, whites and dark greens is so cheery, I just love it.  And they are so perfect for a Christmas tree!  A whole tree decorated just with a vast variety of cardinals would be really stunning, wouldn't it?

In my bird-stitching experiments this fall, I didn't attempt to make a cardinal because I couldn't figure out how to get the crest into the folded circle pattern.  But I recently came across this website, with lots of free downloadable patterns for bird ornaments stitched out of felt, which I love. I'll probably make a bunch of these for Christmas.  However, most of her patterns are kind of flat, with just wings added and a little bit of stuffing.  I wanted the cardinal to have a bit more dimension so I found another one here.  No free pattern, but I went to the drawing board and came up with a prototype.  I decided to make his wings out of plaid flannel, and also added a stripe of it to his tail.  Isn't he cute?  I was going to give him away, but I like him so much and I have the perfect spot for him:  Here, in the middle of my ivy topiary near the kitchen window!  I have two of these wreath topiaries, so I'll have to make another one for myself.  I love these quick, satisfying projects!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

I wanted to mail out Thanksgiving cards this year, with the above artwork, but I only just finished the final stitches a few minutes ago so I'll send it out electronically.  I hope this Thanksgiving finds you healthy and safe, together with friends and family, counting your blessings!

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Artistic Process

Sometimes I look at a piece of art on a greeting card or in an artsy souvenir boutique and notice the simplicity of the piece.  I often think I could make something like that so easily, but my recent experiences have made me realize that it's not as easy as it looks!  I was surprised at all the decision making that went into it, and all the many choices I had to make.  

Here are some of the tumbled rocks, shells, glass, and wood I had to choose from.  I also pulled out some fabrics that reminded me of the beach in some way and started playing around. 

I originally came up with this arrangement of rocks, driftwood and fabric.  The center arrangement reminded me of the lotus meditation pose in yoga and the calm pale blue background was reminiscent of the sky and and the central shiny fabric more like water.  The texture of the burlap brought to mind the sand.

While playing with the arrangement, I decided I wanted something lighter and airier - a vision of blue sky with clouds popped into my head, so I switched out the background fabric.  But everything seemed to be floating, so I looked for a way to ground it.

I decided to turn the piece into a landscape orientation and added a narrower strip of burlap along the bottom.  I debated about adding the word "serenity" somewhere on the piece.  I wanted it to convey serenity, but did it need to be labeled?  I played around with a few options and then decided to bend the word serenity out of brass wire and attach it to a piece of driftwood, as shown at the bottom here, where it's pretty subtle.  I also added a small piece of ribbon at the top, which had gold metallic strips woven into it, to add some light and sparkle.

I played around with what should go next to the central square in those spaces on the side.  I auditioned some rectangles of burlap and some pieces of twig.

I finally decided to just add some simple cross stitches out of a variegated metallic thread.  I also put some cross stitches into the burlap at the bottom to be even more reminiscent of sand.  I added large stitches around the beige rectangle in gold metallic thread and a small piece of sheer gold fabric at the very top.  The natural objects are held on with gel medium as well as stitching.  Here is the final piece:

I have plenty of other tumbled rocks, shells, and driftwood, so I'm thinking I can make more of these and have a series.  Now that I've made these basic decisions, maybe the next few will be easier!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Are You Ready?

Spider webs and eerie lights on the railing...


 Cute little ghost hanging near the front door...

Bags of candy in a bowl near the door for easy access...


Whimsical Halloween banner hanging in the entryway...

 Fake jack-o-lantern glowing in the front window...


Miscellaneous horns, ears, tails, wigs and hats just in case...

Some orange and black cupcakes, just because...

Halloween, bring it on!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Here & There, This & That

The last couple of weeks I've managed to squeeze in some creative time here and there, making this and that.  I recently discovered this recipe for Pumpkin Bran Muffins on the Women's Day website.  I altered the recipe slightly by adding a half-teaspoon each of ground ginger and ground cloves as well as about 1/3 cup each of raisins and chopped walnuts.  They are delish!  They taste more like cupcakes, but between the pumpkin and wheat bran, are pretty healthy treats (you don't even know the bran is in there!).  They are perfect in the morning with a smear of cream cheese!

I've also been adding to my little flock of fabric birds.  Below is another Christmas-y bird made of that cheerful flannel print, with a plaid beak:

And here are two more - a sort-of blue jay (without the crest), and my favorite so far: this autumn print bird.  I continue to tweak the pattern with each one and they are getting better and better.  These two are a bit smaller than the first few I made because I think they'll look daintier on a Christmas tree.  I've also found a smaller beak works better than a larger one.  I'm having fun playing with different fabric combinations.

 Finally, here are the last two swap squares I received at the last FANE meeting. 

The one on the left was made with the materials I put in the bag (here's a shot of the fabric and miscellaneous embellishments I threw together):

 I think she must've supplemented them with a lot of her own stuff because I'm not sure any of the stuff I put in the bag is actually on this piece (oh well).   My friend Vivien's piece is on the right.   She also found it very challenging to work with the materials she received.  One of the supplies in her bag were little cupcake liners in a variety of colors and you can see a portion of one that she flattened and stitched on with various threads.

The overriding sentiment of the group was that it was very challenging to work with another person's materials!  I think I was one of the few that didn't have a lot of trouble with that (I got my supplies from Vivien!)

I finally started (and almost finished) a new piece inspired by our beach vacation on Cape Cod this year, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Autumn Garden Update

I haven't blogged about my garden much this summer, so I thought it might be time to post an update.  Of course, it's autumn now and the leaves are beginning to cover everthing, including the pond pictured above (can you see Cassie's face reflected in the water?  She's looking for frogs to harass. It's her favorite pastime).  The water lily survived a solid freeze last winter and produced many leaves this summer, but no blossoms (heavy sigh - I do love a waterlily flower, but this plant just doesn't get enough direct sunlight).  I already scooped out my one surviving fish and brought him indoors for the winter, and many of the plants have already died back, but the garden is still a peaceful place to be.

When I was cleaning out my creative space the other day, I came across (unearthed, really) these unpainted ceramic mushrooms I bought at Michael's last spring.  I finally took the time to paint them and here's the results:

Ya gotta love a mushroom with a red cap and polka dots, right?  I added little doors and windows to them to make them look like little fairy houses.  On the back of the shorter one, I added a large window and stamped on some little vines.  They still need a coat of some kind of surface protectant, but then they can find a home under the big twin tulip trees.

 I just had to take them down there to see how they look.  They fit right in!

Here's the view of the fairy garden from the stone bench; all the mushrooms look colorful and happy living under there, don't you agree?

I've had plenty of ups and downs in the garden this summer.  I transplanted many things from other parts of the yard, including these hostas, which are doing well.

Unfortunately, many of my other hostas were not so lucky - most of them were given a severe trimming by the many deer that wander through in the mornings.  Hopefully they'll all come back next spring.

The deer only ate the flowers on this Lilyturf I got at a local nursery last year.  It stayed green most of the winter and got large enough for me to divide this fall.  I planted two more near the pond, so I can look forward to them filling in next summer.

The trumpet vines climbed almost all the way over the garden arch, but they are still a little skimpy and I didn't get any flowers.  I think the area just doesn't get enough direct sunlight to support flowers, but I'll keep trying.  I was a little neglectful of the watering and fertilizing this summer.  I hope to be more regular next year, and maybe get bushier growth and possibly some blooms too!

I bought some bareroot plants from a catalog early in the spring, but the results were mixed.  This hardy cyclamen had one flower, which was promptly eaten one night, but the leaves are just coming in now and are lovely.  I bought three of these, but this is the only one that's come up.

I also got three foxgloves, the largest of which you see here in the lower left.  I hope to see flowers on that next summer too.  I also tranplanted two clematis to climb on this iron pyramid.  I'm looking foward to some nice growth (and maybe a flower or two!) there next spring.

 I managed to fix up some structural issues as well.  As you can see, Cassie just loves standing in the curve of the pond, looking for frogs.  She trampled a little painted fern last summer, so this year I left the spot bare, but it got very muddy and ugly looking.  I covered the spot with some of the extra pebbles we used on the pathway.  I decided this might be a good place to keep the smooth beach stones I brought home from Cape Cod.

 Finally, I added some larger rocks to the edging around some of the pathways, so they are more like small retaining walls.  Being the garden is on a hill, all the mulch was continually washing down onto the paths every time it rained.  I'll keep adding rocks as I dig them up here and there around the yard, so eventually, the garden might almost look terraced.
My neighbor told me that gardens take at least five years before they start to really look nice.  There were times this summer that the ratio of green plants to brown mulch was much too low for me and kind of discouraging, but all it takes really is time, and patience, and hope.  So here's to next year's garden!  Something to look forward to!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Three Little Birds

One of the blogs I've been reading pretty regularly for several years now is "Attic 24," written by a lovely British mom.  She used to create fabric pictures,which is why I started following her, but now she's heavily into crochet (something that's never really clicked with me).  She has a way of choosing and combining colors that is very inspiring, as well as a funny, witty way of writing (you can just hear her accent coming through), so I always enjoy stopping by to see what's new with her.  A while back, she posted some birds she had made using a round crochet pattern that was simply folded in half and stuffed, with a beak and wings added later.  Then she altered the pattern to include a tail.  She has many samples of these on her blog (see them here and here).

In the spring I thought I might try to make a similar bird out of fabric and finally got around to playing around with a few designs last month.  The first is shown at the top, made out of a lovely scrap of quilted brocade I had in my stash (above).  As Bugs Bunny would say, "he's a little inny-skay in the elly-bay" so I tried again, going for a halloween crow this time.

 Better, but still too skinny.   I did enjoy spending a little extra time doing some hand embroidery on the wings, though.  

At this point, I altered the pattern to make the body really round and full.  Here it is below.

For this one, I used some happy Christmas flannel and red burlap.  He's looking much plumper, now and will make a cute tree decoration.

I decided to make one more, this time piecing a third fabric for the breast and making the tail match the wings.  I added some lavender with the polyfil stuffing, so he even smells nice.  Maybe I'll put hanging strings on them, like Lucy did, so I can hang them here and there around the house.  The girls are already claiming them for their bedrooms.

I was having so much fun pulling out a oodles of fabrics and ribbons (on top of a table that was already messy) so until today, my creative space looked like this!:
 There were still summer remnants here, including beach-tumbled rocks and sweet 16 party leftovers!  I spent the morning in here tidying up, and now there are only a few remaining piles left to deal with.

Now maybe I'll be more motivated to work on something inspired by our vacation on Cape Cod Bay.  I like the fabrics I selected for the water here, and have a seashell fragment and piece of driftwood that will stand in as a sailboat, but I'm not thrilled with the way the sand looks.  I'm not happy with my fabric choices but don't really want to buy any more fabric!  I'll have to see what I can come up with...