Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The First Spring Decorations

This is how I've had my corner shelf decorated for winter. Not great, but not horrible. My grandparents gave me the shelf when I bought my house--it was made by my great-grandfather! These photos don't actually show what a pretty color it is, but I'm not really home enough in daylight hours to take good natural-light photos. At any rate, I love the shelf, but I've never really had good luck with finding things to go on it. I like the little angel candleholder, but she's very wintery. The little lantern on the top shelf was a Target Dollar Spot find I bought just to have something to fill the spot, and have never found anything better. At one point I had my Old Country Roses cream pitcher on the next-to-top shelf, but it's now in a safer home in the china cabinet (when it's not out holding flowers). I keep looking at things that might be interesting additions to the shelf, then deciding that they're too dark to really show up in a dark wood shelf in a somewhat shadowy corner!

Here is the start of a spring makeover for the corner shelf. I've resigned myself to not really being able to decorate for spring--my basic house colors of red and black don't really lend themselves to bits of pink, green, and lavender being thrown in! But I figure I can lighten things up a bit, and get rid of the blatantly winter bits.

I've replaced the wintery angel with some porcelain birds I got at Michael's. I really like them, but they're a bit short for the shelf. I'm thinking they either need to go on the top shelf, or I need to "floof-ify" them with some lace, flowers, grass, or something to give them some height.

The lantern has been replaced with a sheet music covered treble clef, also a Michael's find. I think it's really cool, but could also use a bit of something more. I'm thinking a base (something to give it some height, not a bass clef, haha), or maybe some flowers. Red roses would be a bit cliche, but red is my favorite color. Black would certainly match, but wouldn't exactly help with the whole "decorating for spring" idea. Hmm...ideas, anyone?

I still plan on switching out the candle holder--it seems a bit silly to have a candle holder in a place where I would absolutely not light a candle. I still like the rose bouquet at the bottom, although perhaps I should pull it forward. And the amaryllis pot is perfect spring decor, since those are spring bulbs. Ooh, perhaps I could find some silk red-and-white amaryllis flowers! That would be springlike while perfectly matching my decor!
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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Quick Gift

I was invited to a surprise birthday party this week! One sure way to be sure no one ruins the surprise is to wait until Wednesday to plan the surprise for Friday. I wanted to give an actual gift to this friend, not just a card, but I didn't have much time. Quick and fun solution: a Long-Day-At-Work Survival Kit made with some supplies I got while running my Friday afternoon errands!

At Michael's (craft store), I got a blue (the b-day girl's favorite color) bandanna and some blue duct tape. At Target, I got a sewing kit (in case buttons and hems don't stay where they should), safety pins (in case blouses gape or anything else doesn't stay where it should) a Tide pen (in case lunch winds up where it shouldn't), and a bag of Dove Promises chocolate (for chocolate and encouragement, which make any situation better).

I folded the bandanna into an envelope shape with the pretty side on the inside, then coated it with duct tape on the wrong side. I made sure to run a fold of duct tape along the bottom of the envelope so nothing would fall out.


I used some scraps of blue ribbon yarn added to the topmost corner of the envelope as ties. Then I turned the whole thing inside out, which put the pretty side of the bandanna on the outside and the duct tape on the inside.

I added all the treats (putting the food in a separate pocket from the Tide pen and other items).

 I folded the whole thing over twice, basically rolling it up on itself, then tied it with the ribbon yarn. Finally, I wrote the birthday girl a quick note wishing her a happy birthday and explaining each item. If I'd had more time, it would have been nice to have designed a printable with a pretty picture and the explanations, but I didn't! (As it was, I was a bit late, but the hostess, knowing the lack of timeliness common among our group, invited the birthday girl a to arrive an hour later than the rest of us.

From start to finish (not including the shopping, which was mixed in with my own errands), this whole project probably took me fifteen minutes--a very doable quick gift! I'm already thinking about doing similar gifts for other people with their favorite color bandannas and duct tape, and a theme that fits the person. Maybe a new mom relaxation kit with some lotion, an electric candle (so they don't have to worry about leaving the fire unattended when they fall asleep or go to check on the baby), an easy-to-read paperback, and some tea; a movie night kit with a DVD, candy, and popcorn; a travel kit with a travel toothbrush, small toiletries or toiletry bottles, earplugs, socks, and sleep mask...or just about anything! I think interesting presentation can help even a simple gift communicate loving thoughtfulness.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Under Construction

I'm crocheting a vintage afghan. Yes, I do believe that, even though I'm making it right now, in 2012, it counts as vintage, not retro. Why? Because these seven balls of yarn and the accompanying instruction sheet have spent the past forty years or so up in the top of a closet in my Grandmother's house. My aunt, who taught me to crochet, was the original purchaser of this kit, and she apparently got as far as winding the skeins into balls. (Why people used to do that, I'm not entirely certain. Skeins are certainly easier to keep in one place when you're working with them.) Grandmother was recently going through her closets, getting rid of stuff, and asked if either of us wanted this. My aunt doesn't crochet much any more, but I'm never one to turn down free yarn, even if it's in such terrible mid-1970s colors!

I've made some modifications to the pattern. First, it calls for a "size 5" hook. It obviously doesn't mean a 5mm hook--that worked up way too small in the gauge sample. I tried a size N hook (9mm). That was a bit too big, but I couldn't find an in-between hook when I was starting the project, so size N it is. I made up for the slightly larger gauge by eliminating one "ripple" worth of stitches from the foundation chain. I also discovered that I'm missing one ball of green yarn. I should have eight colors, but I only have seven. Hopefully the missing ball of yarn won't be enough to make the resulting afghan incredibly short--we'll see. As for colorway instructions, apparently I should start with the "dark avocado," proceed through "med. dk." and "medium avocado" to just plain avocado, then repeat with "dark gold" through to gold. No telling if I'm missing "med. dk. avocado" or "medium avocado." But I thought the stripey look of green-gold-green-gold would look nice, with the whole thing going from light to dark. Granted, that does mean I have two different golds next to each other, but I think the light and dark gold colors are different enough that the stripe effect will still work.

The yarn is rather different from anything I've ever used before. It's even thinner than the sport-weight yarn I was using a few weeks ago. It's definitely all synthetic, but it almost seems like the yarn used for needlepoint work--thin, and not very highly twisted. But it does seem stronger than needlepoint yarn, which is definitely a good thing!

I've been working on this thing for the better part of a week and have not quite finished working through all seven colors. (I have about 3/4 of the second row of my seventh color left.) I've only once tried to make a whole afghan, and I did finish that one, but it took me fifteen years! Hopefully this one will not take nearly that long. I'd really like to get it done within this year.

What do I plan to do with it once I'm finished with it? Certainly not lay it over my sofa! I suppose I might put it into my linen closet as a "blanket of last resort" for when the weather is really cold, or I might see if by some chance any of my friends actually like this color combination. (Anyone?) But I'm thinking I may just donate it. I've seen groups that collect handmade blankets, or old blankets, or any blankets at all, and give them to homeless people. While this may not be the warmest blanket ever, it will be pretty lightweight, so perhaps a homeless person might like it...maybe. We'll see. I guess the first step is to finish it!
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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Clothing Swap Party

I recently had my Second Annual Clothing Swap. Food was made and eaten, closets were cleaned, clothing was swapped, and a good time was had by all! I guess I should start by explaining the concept behind the party. It started last spring when I was needing to get rid of a lot of clothes. Some was simply not quite the style anymore, and I had no qualms about sending that stuff to Goodwill, I just had to get around to it. (And you know, those round tuits are often very hard to come by.) I also had a lot of clothes that had gotten too big, but that I still really liked. Those would be harder to get rid of. I had some friends I thought might enjoy some of those items, and I felt it would be easier to let go of them if I knew they were going to a good home.

Then, while surfing the web, I found the idea of a clothing swap. Some people get really crazy about it, assigning point values to items based on how desirable they are, or declaring that you will leave the party with the same number of items as you brought, like it or not. I'm way simpler than that. I invited a bunch of girls (wide range of sizes, wide range of styles, but all within ten years of my age) to come and bring whatever clothes and accessories they didn't want taking up space in their closets any more. We'd all go through all the stuff, and whatever didn't get taken was getting loaded up in a car and going straight to Goodwill. If there were things that multiple people wanted, we'd have a little fashion show and see who it looked best on!

As I said, this was the second year of doing it, and almost all of last year's attendees came, along with some new ones. (One girl even brought her mom!) I put a few boxes on the coffee table to contain some of the smaller items, such as purses, scarfs, belts, and jewelry. Shoes went underneath the table. (We had a separate area in the foyer for people to leave their own purses and shoes!) Two different girls had hanging racks, which they brought, which made a good place for dresses and skirts. The skirts that didn't fit on the racks were just draped over a chair, and we sorted through everything, making stacks of shirts, tank tops, pants, and shorts. After we all sorted our stuff out (and got a preliminary glance at everyone else's goodies), we moved on to the food!

The night before, I had set up the table, so it took less than a half hour of prep that morning to get everything on the table. I put all the serving dishes where they would wind up. (Extra points to anyone who recognizes my candle vignette that was on the coffee table last month. I just moved it to the dining room table so we'd have space on the coffee table, but I wouldn't have to take the time to put all those candles away.) The cracker boxes are sitting next to the plate that will hold the crackers, and the hummus bowl that will fill that empty space is filled and waiting in the fridge. All my refrigerated items are gathered together on the same shelf, my nonrefrigerated items and the tools I'll need to prep the food are together on the counter, and the glasses are all set up on a large tray. (I have discovered that if my glasses and drink pitchers are on a tray, I wind up with a lot fewer damp spots and tea stains on the tablecloth.)

The morning of the swap, I pulled the hummus out of the fridge, put my sliced pita and ciabatta on the tiered server, poured dipping oil in the individual bowls, slathered some jalapeno jelly on some brie cheese, wrapped it in phyllo, and popped it in the oven to warm, and made some little caprese bites I found on the ever-useful Pinterest. My sis-roomie helped with pouring the dipping oil and piling the breads on the serving dish, but even had I been working alone, the prep would have taken under an hour, and everyone loved the food. (At the far end of the table are some drinks, crackers, and dip that some of the attendees brought.)

By the way, the pictures of caprese bites I found on Pinterest were really fancy looking, but I just used chunks of Roma tomatoes, torn sections of basil leaves, and fresh mozzerella "pearls" (fancy way of saying pre-made chunks), and mine were just as pretty in the serving dish as those fancy ones!

After we had some food, we moved on to trying on all sorts of different items of clothing. The great thing about a party like this is that you can try out something that may be a step outside of your usual style without worrying about wasting money! I saw a couple items from last year's swap reappear this year, and no one got any hurt feelings. We all just were thrilled about our newly cleaned closets and our fun few finds!
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Improvised Bedside Table: A Before-And-After

I've had fabric-covered boxes as my bedside table for over three years now. It started off as a short-term solution until I found a bedside table I liked better than my boxes. Three years in, however, I still haven't managed to buy a table for beside my bed. I often forget to look for something I could repaint or repurpose, and after all, my boxes are doing just fine--if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

Old fabrics, new fabrics, and bedspread
The boxes had gotten to where they could use a bit of fixing, however. Three years of having damp glasses of water sitting on them, my cat jumping on them, and my vacuum cleaner running into them had made the boxes a bit softer, and the fabric a bit dirtier, than they first were. I laundered and ironed my fabrics, then stopped. My original plan for my bedroom color scheme was pastel pink and blue. As I decorated, however, I found very little pink-and-blue, and lots of pink-and-green. My original table fabrics didn't really match the bedroom, or my bedspread, as well as they could have. I decided to try some other fabrics. I love the pink-with-blue-roses vintage print, but the newer pink and green roses really do look better with my bedspread.

I had a few boxes I had saved from some shipments I received at work, so I tried stacking them in different ways. This is the arrangement I went with. If I'd had larger pieces of fabric to work with, I could have covered two same-size boxes with a single fabric, but most of my fabric is scraps from dressmaking, so I don't have pieces that large! The shape of this "table" reminds me of some 1950s vintage wooden end tables my parents have in their living room. I've always liked those tables.

Here are the fabric-covered boxes. I covered the top one tightly with the printed fabric, then decided to drape the fabric over the lower one a bit more loosely, sort of like a tablecloth, only tucked underneath at the edges. I used plain straight pins to secure the printed fabric to the smaller box. They stay pretty well in the thick corrugated cardboard of the box.

Here's the final product! I added a small metal tray to the top to help support the weight of my lamp and such, and to help protect the cardboard from future damp water glasses!
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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Crab Rangoon...Sort Of

So, I was minding my own business, messing around on Pinterest, when I saw a recipe for baked crab rangoon. As it was about supper time, I immediately got hungry for some. The only problem was that I didn't have most of the ingredients! No problem, though! I come from a long and proud tradition of ingredient-substituting in recipes. No crab? Well, imitation "krab" is actually made from fish, and I just happen to have some frozen fish fillets. No cream cheese or ricotta, either. But cottage cheese is sort of like ricotta, right? I added some garlic and onion, and some "Signature Blend" from a recent trip to the Spice and Tea Exchange in Saint Augustine. I threw in an egg, just for good measure, but that made the mixture a bit too sloppy. I think I should have drained the cottage cheese a bit, first.

I mixed everything together in what looked and smelled like reasonable proportions, then spooned small amounts onto my wonton wrappers, then brushed the wrappers with egg, which is supposed to help them brown. I should have sprayed my cookie sheet with oil before starting--some of the wonton wrappers that I initially filled too full (resulting in filling overflow) sort of got glued to the pan. When you're filling the wrappers, if you think you've got about the right amount in your spoon, use a bit less than that, and you'll probably be okay.

While the wontons, or rangoons, or whatever you want to call them, were baking (350 degrees Farenheit, because that's the magical temperature at which everything bakes), I whipped up a little sauce with soy sauce, wasabi, and lemongrass. (My local grocery store stocks lemongrass, ginger, and a few other herbs in squeeze tubes--very handy!)

 Unfortunately, this sauce was a bit too strongly flavored for my wontons, so I had to figure out a way to tone it down. Turns out the magical ingredient was mayonaise, of all things--mixed a bit of my too-strong sauce in with some mayo, and it was all good! This photo is with the first sauce, though--by the time I finished the second version, I just wanted to eat them, not photograph them!
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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Few Notes About Candles

Before starting, let me say that my family has a long and glorious tradition of decorating with, but never burning, candles.  My grandmother has Christmas candles (the actual wax parts, not just candleholders) that are a good bit older than me.  My mother has been known to burn pillar candles, but usually only once they're old enough to have gotten a bit faded or chipped.  She would also buy tapers specifically for burning for nice suppers--different ones from the fancier ones she decorated with.

In my own history, I have enjoyed burning candles, but was forced to learn caution when doing so, and not for the reason you're thinking.  My parents' living room has light blue walls, and we were, for once, burning a pair of dark burgundy taper candles on top of the stereo speakers.  I think it was a Christmas party or some such gathering.  Well, after quite a few hours, all the guests departed, and I was given the coveted privilege of blowing out the candles.  That was when disaster struck.  Instead of cupping my hand around the candle and gently blowing across the top of it, I blew hard, almost straight down.  I instantly decorated the light-blue wall, as well as various other objects, with dark burgundy wax.  It took years for that wax to get completely cleaned off the wall!

For some reason, I was given a silver candle snuffer for Christmas that year.  (This isn't it, but rather one whose picture I borrowed from Amazon--mine seems to have temporarily disappeared.)  Suffice to say that I was discouraged from experimenting much with burning candles for a few years.  In college, however, I had several friends who burned candles of all sorts on a regular basis.  After I moved out on my own, I began burning candles more regularly, and this year, my winter coffee table vignette is my Floridian version of a fireplace, minus the ash and the popping noise (and I'd like to try out one of those wood-wick candles that's supposed to supply the sound). 

Back to the snuffer!  (I like that word.)  For anyone who has never used a candle snuffer, the idea may seem silly.  However, there are several reasons to use one (besides not decorating walls with wax).  They have become even more apparent to me with my current coffee table vignette of candles and "snow."  One important reason is to avoid the dizziness that comes with blowing out a dozen candles separately!  Another is that, somehow, the snuffer contains and eliminates most of the smoke we get when we blow the candles out.  Again, not much of a problem with a candle or two, but blowing out a bunch of candles results in the smoky smell lingering for quite some time.  Just hold the snuffer over the candle wick a moment while the flame uses up all its available oxygen, and move on to the next one.  No huffing and puffing, no smoke, and no wax splatters.

Something else about candles I have just recently learned--tea lights are very convenient because they are self-contained, so you don't have to worry about oiling the holder to allow you to dump a used-up votive candle out.  However, if you're only burning them for an hour at a time, you'll get a lot fewer hours of use out of them than they say.  Apparently they first melt the wax all around them, and if that wax isn't deep enough, they simply burn up the wick.  Votives do the same, but their wax starts off a lot deeper, so it takes more hours of burning for them to do the same thing.  All that to say that it pays to think how you're using a candle before just popping a tealight into it.  Some holders specifically work best with a votive or a tealight, but many will work with both.  Just something to think about!