Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Prep

First off, I learned last night that candles and ceiling fans don't mix. The votive candle was fine, but the red candle burned out, and the white candle leaked wax all over the plate. Looks like the plate will be spending some time in the freezer...but I think I won't worry about it until time to take down the Christmas decorations.

I have a friend spending Christmas with us, so I made her a quick stocking from some scrap fabric I had. I traced around one of the stockings I already had, sewed the black part together, then added the cuff, then topstitched it to secure the inside, and turned the cuff over. Only then did I realize I had no way of hanging the stocking!

No worries, though--I used a bit of ribbon stuck on with a safety pin. Yes, this is probably the most rapidly-put-together stocking in the history of stockings, but it will do the job!

It's finished! I don't love the shape, but it pretty much matches the stockings I already had, so I guess that's okay.

But now that it has a hanging loop, I still have no stocking holder for it. That's why I love Command hooks. I laid one on the shelf and hooked the stocking to it. Nice invisible stocking hanger!

Just so you know, glass ornaments and tile floors don't mix. I was taking the price tags off the pair of pretty little bird ornaments I had gotten for the family ornament exchange when I dropped one. It bounced, then shattered. Sad. I was going to go and get a replacement, but I didn't really want to go shopping two days before Christmas. Then I remembered some partially-made ornaments I'd found in my projects-in-progress when I was organizing my craft room.

You take a styrofoam ball, yo-yos made from gold lame, and some pearl beads. The trusty hot glue gun is, of course, a given.

Stick the yo-yos to the ball, then put a pearl in the center of each one, as well as the intersections where 3 yo-yos come together.

Add a ribbon hanger, and you have a pretty, sparkly ornament!

Here's the Christmas tree corner the way it looks now--three stockings and lots of presents!

I didn't have labels, so I made some out of stamped cardstock.  Some are tag-shaped, and some are diamonds.  I hung some on with ribbon, and just taped others.  I'm really pleased with how they came out!  That said, I'll be sure to get some tags at the after-Christmas sales.  I don't always have time enough to make something creative for every single gift I'm giving!
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Friday, December 23, 2011

Finally Decorating!

Yes, I know I'm really behind on things, but I have just in the last couple days gotten all my Christmas decorating done. The outside stuff was, for once, the first thing that actually happened. I put lights on my roof for the first time ever!


I also hung wreaths in all four front windows (the wreaths now have bows on them, but I forgot to take a picture after adding the bows) and put candles on the windowsills.

I put the manger scene on my console table in the living room. I think I should do something about those lamp cords, but I'm not sure what. Use zip ties to attach them to the table legs?

Here's the coffee table. It has an amaryllis wreath underneath, and on top is a red charger (plate), three candles, some miniature green ball ornaments, and a garland. I did the same thing last year, and learned that the candles should not be touching each other, especially the glass ones. I had gotten some candles misshapen from touching glass votive candles that got hot over the course of a few hours.

It took forever to put the arrangements together for these shelves, and even now I'm not 100% sure I like everything.

Here's the Christmas tree! It stands on top of a tall box behind an armchair, which makes my little 4-foot tree look a bit more substantial.

I used a few extra ornaments on the garland over the doorway. These ornaments are all silver and white, and are angels, stars, snowflakes, and a few balls.

Another brand-new decorating element--I hung plastic (not glass--that's just asking for disaster) ornaments on ribbons, then used thumbtacks to stick the ribbons to the archway leading from the foyer into the living room. I like the way it came out!
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Monday, December 19, 2011


I've been doing a good bit of crafting, but since the people who read this blog are the people who will be receiving the end products of the projects in just a few days, you'll have to wait until after Christmas to see what I've been up to!

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Little Christmas

I've finally done my first bit of Christmas decorating! Well, I'm not sure if you could really call it decorating yet. It's a single candle and wreath in one of the four windows on the front of my house. As you can see, I didn't even get it really centered. That's okay, though, because the wreath is going to have to come inside to get a bow put on it once I borrow the bow maker from my mom this weekend. It's just that I'd gone as far as I could with all my other Christmas crafting, and wanted to see how this would look. I've never hung wreaths out a window before, but it was actually pretty simple.

Step 1: Fluff wreath. These wreaths were squished pretty flat, but it looks pretty good now that it's nice and fluffy.
Step 2: Cut ribbon. You need twice the distance between the top of your window and the inside of the top of your wreath, plus a foot or two for going around the wreath and inside the window.
Step 3: Remove screen from window. Also something I've never done before. When you live in Florida, the only month you can guarantee you won't want to open the windows is probably January, and if the screens aren't in the windows, you'll wind up with a house full of bugs. My screens have tabs at the bottom on the inside, and it came right out when I pulled on the tabs. I'll have to look carefully at the next one so I can figure out how to put them back in when I take the wreaths down!
Step 4: Open the window from the top, loop the ribbon around the wreath, and toss the wreath out the window. Close the window with the ends of the ribbon caught between the window and the window casing. It seems to close tightly enough to hold everything in place!

Looking at the picture, you can see the screen that I haven't yet put away, and you can tell that the wreath isn't centered yet. Both of those will probably happen Monday, since the weekend is pretty busy. That's also when I'll add a bow to the wreath, and hopefully duplicate this in all the other windows. I think the candle could stand to be taller, but I don't have four of anything for them to stand on. Besides which, once the bow is at the top of the wreath (I'm usually a bow-at-the-bottom person, but that would put the visual center way too low on the window), the "flame" of the candle will be just about at the middle of where you can see, which will probably be fine. After I do all that, I'll have another first on Tuesday--putting lights on the eaves of the house! My sister is helping with that, and she's actually done it before. Hopefully it works out!
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Okay, so it was pretty warm the day I finished this hat and scarf for my sis. But there are definitely times you need a bit of extra warmth, which is exactly what hats and scarves do. I found the pattern for the hat here, and the scarf here. Both were free, although the Gleeful Things site also has some really cute patterns for not-too-steep prices, as well. Both patterns were also simple enough that I could converse while crocheting, which is always nice.

My yarn was Sensations Rainbow Classic from Jo-Anns, a fluffy brushed yarn that's a bit heavier than worsted weight. I used a size N hook for everything--hat, scarf, and the wristlets/hand warmers that I posted about earlier.

The hat is a slouchy beanie type. It fit my head, so I was a bit concerned about it being too large for my sister. She can't wear most adult-sized hats and has to get sunglasses from the juniors section. But happily enough, it fit her when I made her close her eyes and try it on! The scarf (the first part of the set I made) is a ripple pattern--like an afghan. I was hoping the variegation in the yarn would be long enough to show up as stripes--I thought that would look really nice in the ripple pattern--but unfortunately, it wasn't. You see spots and splotches, rather than stripes. That's okay, but I think it would be nice to try the pattern again with self-striping yarn, so you could see the zig-zag pattern all over, rather than just at the edges.
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Sunday, December 11, 2011


Wow, it's been over a week since I've blogged anything!  It's not that I don't have anything to blog (I have photos from two projects that I haven't yet put up), it's just that this time of year is absolutely insane.  I haven't done any new projects this week.  Not only is my house not decorated for Christmas, I haven't even put away the Thanksgiving decorations.  Such is the life of a musician this time of year.  Almost every afternoon/evening I've had rehearsals and performances.  Sometimes I've had multiple rehearsals and performances in one day.  Lots of ten- to fourteen-hour workdays.  By the time I get home at night, I eat supper, maybe watch some online TV or straighten up the kitchen, and go to bed.  This next week should be better, so after I get my house back to looking like a hurricane didn't hit it, and do some Christmas decorating, I'll do some blogging.  I'll have a house guest for Christmas this year, so I definitely will be having some domestic adventures in the next couple weeks--cleaning, decorating, cooking, baking...there should be plenty to blog about!  Oh, and present-making.  Sounds like I won't be any less busy even after the rush of concerts and gigs is over!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Warm Hands, Warm Heart

I made a scarf and hat for my sister (her favorite color is green), and had a pretty good amount of yarn left over, so I decided to add some arm warmers to the set.  We each have a set of knitted ones we got for Christmas (I think they were from Target), and we really like wearing them.  They're nice for Florida winter, since they keep your wrists warm, but don't require that you wear long sleeves all day.  They're also just a fun fashion statement!

I found a couple patterns under "Free crochet patterns" on the Lion website, but they were all made from squares of plain single crochet.  I started making one, then abandoned it when I realized that I would have a not-very-stretchy tube that would be either too tight around my hand or too loose around my wrist--not very good if you want it to stay up comfortably. 

Enter crochet "ribbing."  I made a chain 30 stitches long, skipped the first chain, and did single crochet all the way across.  Chain one, turn, and here's where you get the cool stuff.  Single crochet in just the back loops from here on out, and you get a ribbed effect.  I continued until the rectangle was wide enough to fit comfortably around my wrist--not too tight in the hand, not too loose in the wrist--about 15 rows for me. 

At that point, I finished off, leaving a tail about two feet long.  I used that to sew up the two sides of the tube.  I sewed four stitches from each side together (rather firmly), carried the yarn through five stitches (to leave a thumb hole), then sewed the rest of it together.  It works quite nicely! 

If I try making these again in solid-colored yarn, I might add some decorative stitching with contrasting yarn on the back of the hand, just to make them more interesting.  These, however, are perfectly lovely the way they are, I think.  They didn't take much yarn, either--I still have enough yarn to make another pair or two!

I suppose I should talk a bit about the kind of yarn I used, but I think I'll do that later when I write about the hat and scarf. 

(Now I need to find some leftover yarn in another color to make a pair for myself!)

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I, Ironman, take you, Pepper Potts...

This is another portion of the gift that included the embroidered dish towels. The whole gift (towels, an Ironman nightlight, and some gift cards) was "wrapped" in a set of graduated round boxes, painted white, trimmed with ribbon, and stacked on top of each other to look like a cake. The cake topper was this bride and groom set. The groom is slightly obsessed with Ironman (and just happens to look a good bit like Tony Stark in the Ironman movies). Not only that, but the bride also has red hair! So I got these little peg people at the craft store and painted them to look like the bride and groom. The bride's dress looks an awful lot like her actual dress, and the groom's cummerbund and bow tie match the color they will actually be. The last detail--a little glowing blue circle right where Ironman glows! Once I finished all my painting, I sprayed them with clear sealant.

Word to the wise: once you've sprayed them a few times and you're ready to let them dry overnight, put them somewhere that they will be disturbed by neither cats nor wind. My cat was always a little too interested in the little peg people, so I put them outside to dry, where they got blown over by the wind, messing up the finish and forcing me to sand it down, re-paint, and respray! Grr....But I like the way the finished product turned out. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the boxes, either before or after they were finished and assembled into cake-shape. But the bride was pleased, and that's what counts!
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Week

I am blessed to have the whole week of Thanksgiving off from work, and I'll definitely be making use of it.  Today, I hung out with my mom, and we had lunch with my sister.  Tomorrow, I'll be taking care of doctor's appointments and hopefully cleaning my house some in preparation for Christmas decorating.  Wednesday will involve cooking at my grandparents' house to get ready for the big day.  Thursday, of course, is the rest of the cooking, as well as lots of eating and being thankful for all the blessings God has given us this year.  One extra blessing--Small Cousin #2's birthday falls on Thanksgiving this year!

This year we'll be having Thanksgiving dinner at supper time, rather than at lunch.  While we have all the menfolk around, we'll get them to haul all my grandparents' Christmas decorations down from the attic.  We'll get the tree set up and some of the other decorations put around.  It's always nice to have a few second opinions!  My sister doesn't enjoy decorating a whole lot, although she does like to lobby for lots of colorful lights on the tree.  (My preference is usually for something a bit more serene.)  Small Cousin #1 will probably be engrossed in his DS, while Small Cousin #2 will be trying to get everyone to pay attention to the football game on TV.  We'll probably manage to get everyone involved in the tree-decorating once the lights (the hard part) are all finished.  At some point we'll look at the Black Friday ads.  My uncle and grandaddy will be looking for technology, my grandmother, mother, and aunt will be looking for gifts, and my sister and I will be checking to see if anything strikes our fancy enough to get up early to get it. 

One thing I like about Thanksgiving is that it's a rather laid-back holiday.  There aren't lots of day-of parties, like there are for Fourth of July.  There's not a hugely-tight family schedule--we try to schedule dinner so everyone can come, but if someone is with another part of the family, that's okay--we'll hang out with them when they get here.  If you want to lie down for a nap sometime after dinner, you can do that.  I guess the stressful part is the dinner, but I've never been responsible for more than biscuits and "help."  I help crumble the cornbread for dressing, or help toast the almonds for the green beans, or help top the sweet potatoes with mini marshmallows.  Someone else makes sure it all comes out of the oven at roughly the same time!  It's mostly a day when the whole family (or at least the local branches of it)  just hangs out together--no rush, no worries.

So, from me to all my friends and family (and anyone else who may be reading), Happy Thanksgiving!   Don't forget to sit down and spend a few minutes actually thanking God for all He's given you. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Distressing Distress

I've been reading a lot of crafting and decorating blogs lately, and I've been seeing LOTS of heavily distressed finishes.  Now, I love a distressed piece here and there, and I love old things.  My decorating style is informed somewhat by my trip to Italy a few years back (especially Florence).  And many of these items are things I would love to have in my garden, if I didn't live in a climate where they would rot or rust away within a year.  But to me, having a heavily-distressed urn sitting on a heavily-distressed table next to a heavily-distressed chair is a bit much.  Having the exact same thing outside would shout loveliness and sophistication to me.  But having it inside shouts something more along the lines of "dirt."

These are some random photos I found, but picture this lamp on this table in front of this armoire.  All are cool pieces of furniture.  I especially like the lamp.  But, to me, each one would look best with some contrasting furniture and accessories.  For example, put the lamp on a dark-wood table, with a lush velvet reading chair nearby.  Put the armoire in a bedroom with thick comforters and glass or porcelain lamps.  Put the table in an otherwise modern kitchen. 

Perhaps my style is have that much of one finish all together.  But I think, too, that too much distressing gives something of the same feel that too many slick, modern finishes give.  Don't we distress things to give something of an authentic feel, the sense of age, about something?  I like that something slightly distressed already has that "first scratch" in it--I don't have to be worried about messing it up so much.  But really, how much "authenticity" is there to something that was given an appearance of age in two days?  If everything is hugely distressed, in a way that would only happen if you left it out in the weather for half a century, but you know you (or someone else) did all that weathering, to me that feels the same as having a room full of plastic, metal and glass that's all shiny and new-looking. 

Perhaps I'm coming at this from the wrong angle, and perhaps I'll change my mind later on.  But for now, I'll let things age naturally--with perhaps just the tiniest bit of help on occasion. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Things Gotta Get Dried...The Towel Might As Well Be Pretty

You saw the mess in my previous entry. Now that the gift is safely given, I can post the process of turning the mess into something pretty!
Don't make fun of me--some of my favorite things in my kitchen are the flour sack towels that I embroidered a few years back. I got some pretty transfers of fruits and vegetables and used a stem stitch to outline a different fruit or vegetable on each corner of the towels. It took a while, but it was fun. So when it came time to find a small gift to include as part of a bridal shower present, I decided to hie me to Target to get some white flour sack towels. I didn't have a chance to get to a craft shop that sells embroidery transfers, however, so I decided to look online.

I found this website, which has tons of downloadable hand embroidery designs. There were many other sites, as well--just google it.
I printed the pattern twice on the page, a bit smaller than the original size. It looked like the pattern was meant to be done with french knots--the lines were made up of small dots. I had no intention of making that many french knots (besides which, I don't think that texture would be very good for drying dishes), so I went over the pattern on the right with a black pen. I then realized that the designs on the right and left wings are just slightly different, so I color-coded the pattern on the left using red and blue pens. This was a lot of help!

The transfer process: I didn't have a transfer pencil (a pencil you trace onto the paper, then iron onto the fabric), and my fabric-marking pen was fresh out of ink, so I used a pencil and my own version of a light box. After ironing the corner I wanted to embroider onto, I put the fabric into the embroidery hoop upside down (so the tight-stretched fabric was flat against the table. My coffee table is glass, so I put a lamp underneath, laid my pattern down with the towel on top, and traced away! I flipped the light off periodically to be sure I was actually tracing all the lines.
The pattern traced onto the towel. It wasn't nearly as dark as it looks in this photo. Also, stem stitch is pretty wide, and pencil washes out well, so I wasn't concerned about any marks showing.

The right side of the finished towel, right before laundering. See, no visible marks.

The wrong side of the embroidery. With something like a towel, that doesn't necessarily get hung up perfectly after every use, I like to be sure the wrong side is just as neat as the right side. It means you waste a bit more thread, but it looks better, and it keeps fingers and forks from accidentally catching on threads that were carried from one area to another.

I washed them again, ironed them, wrapped them in tissue, and put them into the box they were going to occupy. I'll tell more about the gift (this isn't all of it!) later.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Late-Night Omelet

This late-night cooking adventure involves eggs, salt, Penzey's Bouquet Garni spice mix, vegan cheese, and almond milk. The dairy-free options are simply because that's what I had, not because I have any experience in using them! It also involves salsa, which I didn't think about using when I was taking this photograph.

I whomped up the eggs a little bit in a bowl, seasoned with salt and bouquet garni, and dumped them in a nonstick skillet. I grated in a bit of cheese.  You may recall my one-and-only previous experiment in cooking with vegan cheese, where my Brazilian cheese bread came out more as oil bread.  The vegan cheese works great in omelets, though!

(On the other hand, after I finished making my omelet, I tried using it to make fried cheese.  With normal cheese, you just grate a line of cheese into the pan and let it cook until it browns.  However, vegan cheese doesn't brown--it just turns into oil and some yucky-looking solids.  I don't recommend trying it.)
At this point, I decided I wanted a bit more flavor in my omelet.  So I poured in a bit of salsa--just let it sprinkle in a few spots.

I covered the skillet with a lid for a few minutes to help the top cook. You could also pop it in a hot oven if you want to have it puff up like a fritata.

Tonight, however, I let it cook until it could slip around in the pan (if it doesn't slide after you loosen the edges, it's not yet ready), then folded it in half and enjoyed my French-Mexican omlette.
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Strawberry Topping

One of my favorite late-night snacks to make is strawberry topping. I love to have it on ice cream, but today I had no ice cream, only the last few slices of a store-bought angel food cake. Aren't you sorry for me?

This time I made it with frozen strawberries, but it's great with fresh berries or frozen berries of any sort. Step one is to boil the berries. Well, I should clarify that. Tonight, my first step was to dump a couple handsful of strawberries and some sugar into the pot and set it to boiling. In the past, I have occasionally tried caramelizing the sugar first, but it didn't seem to make much difference in the flavor, so I don't usually do that. You can leave the sugar out, if you like--after all, berries tend to be sweet, and you'll probably be using this sauce to top something else sweet. You can also experiment with white sugar, brown sugar, honey, or whatever other sweeteners you like.

I tend to let it go at a pretty strong boil for a while--you want to break down the cells of the berries so they're easier to smash. You also want to get rid of some of the water, so the sauce thickens up. (Remember, it will also thicken some as it cools.) Once the berries begin to break down, I use a fork or a potato masher to squash the berries. I like my sauce pretty lumpy, with large chunks of strawberry, but you may want it smoother, depending on your purposes. I'm sure an immersion blender, regular blender, or food processor would also work well!

When the sauce is almost at the thickness and smoothness you want, you can toast your angelfood cake, if that's what you're using the topping for. It's absolutely not necessary, but it's a nice touch. I often add a bit of vanilla or almond extract to the sauce at this point, but, again, it's not a necessary step.

Spoon the sauce over your cake, ice cream, or whatever else, and enjoy!  (I apologize for the dark color of the sauce in this photo--it was night time and apparently my lighting wasn't quite up to par.)

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