12.27.2012

A Christmas Present: Two skirts

My local nieces didn't just get hats and scarfs from me. I also made the two older ones also got skirts. (I really don't sound like a fun aunt at all...hmmm).

My sister-in-law gave me measurements for the two older girls as well as a pattern she really liked when she made some. It's a nice simple pattern, so it works great.


I however, went a bit overboard (which if you have been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know is bound to happen). Instead of doing a small ruffled skirt, I made a really intensely ruffled skirt (I think I am hoping the girls will love them more that way (and therefore not hate that they got clothes...OH PLEASE!)). It follows the same directions as the directions above, but instead of doubling the child's waist, I quadrupled it. Then I gathered it and attached it to the double width, then I attached another ruffle to the top of that...and another double width. Then I did a waist band with double the width and elastic...

I also used some fun retro-ish black and white polka dot fabrics for these as I figured they would go with anything, and they are super cute.

See, I can't do anything simply :)

12.26.2012

Another present: A custom Picture Frame

I have a dear friend who has a beautiful house. It's a lovely two story one, but the only thing that seems a bit strange about it is that the electrical panel is on the second floor in the hallway (I don't know if this is totally normal or not, but definitely strange to me). Not only is the electrical panel in the hallway, but it is quite large, (and as Electrical panels often do, the cover is not flush with the wall (but juts out slightly). This is all well and good, but my friend has been meaning to, for quite some time, find a piece of artwork that would cover it so you wouldn't see electrical panel when you enter their second story, but would notice all the gorgeous woodwork/painting they have done.

I decided as a gift to them, that I would go about creating a large piece of artwork to go over the panel, at least as a place holder. First, I measure the panel (using my arm as I wanted it to be a surprise)... Then I made a frame about 4 inches larger in both directions. I wanted to be sure it had plenty of coverage from the panel (as as my arm is not always the most accurate...I figured playing safe would be better).

I used a miter saw to trim pieces of 1.5 inch pine to the correct lengths (I got extra lucky, since I was doing this alone, that my freezer is exactly the same height as my miter saw bed...yay! Help was on hand for holding :)

Then I pre-drilled guide holes and wood glued and screwed the corners. I also added a cross bar in the center to ensure it stayed square on the wall. This cross bracket was put in so it would not be as deep as the rest of the frame, but recessed (to allow that jutted out portion of the electrical panel to be well hidden.

Once it was all dry (I didn't want to get any stray wood glue on anything). I brought it inside to stretch some burlap over it. (Yes, I did say burlap).

I found some wonderful close weave burlap in a nice tone that I felt would look good with the wall color of the hallway (they recently repainted, so I'm not worried that they intend to change it soon or anything). Burlap is pretty popular right now, and I was aiming for a more rustic look than white or cream canvas. I also didn't want to over paint this and have some color rub off on the walls. Stretching burlap works pretty much like stretching canvas. Start at one end, fold over, staple with industrial stapler, then pull, fold, and staple. The goal is to have a nice smooth surface on the other side, with a clean edge and nice corners. I'm sure there are tons of youtube videos out there for how to do a corner (I did a corner similar to what I would do if I was covering a book board corner...so I didn't really consult anything), so if you want to do your own and aren't sure how...go check them out :)

After this was done, I printed out the design I wanted to do. You see, my friend loves initials and loves fun typography, so I decided to do their last name, which happens to be one of the most popular in the US, so I was able to find tons of examples of beautiful typography for it. I also put the year their family came to be on it as I thought it gave it a nice homey touch.

First I took a bunch, drew the typography that I wanted on a piece of paper. Scanned it in to my computer, cleaned up the edges, spacing, and made sure it was centered on the size of the canvas. I then printed it out using the poster feature on my printer (this allows you to tile together images to do large scale items. I then traced the whole thing on contact paper. Once I had done that I trimmed out the letters, placed the outside area on the burlap (as a sort of screen).

The next step was to fill in the letters and lines. I used fabric paint starting on the contact paper and pulling in towards the center to make sure the edges stayed clean and didn't have paint seep under them. This was really important, because contact paper isn't very sticky, and burlap is hard to stick to (as it doesn't have a uniform surface. I used a fairly small brush to make sure the fine edges didn't get mucked up, or that I didn't accidently move one of the cut out portions that wasn't attached to anything else.  Once they were filled in, I carefully peeled off the contact paper and filled in any missing portions to close letters I had stenciled on. As you can see, the edges turned out nice and crisp. You can also see how you pull from the outside in on the contact paper to the right.



Here's the finished item.

I think they'll like it (and will be able to cover the electric panel quite well :) ) and I kinda wish I had a big wall that needed some artwork now for one of my own!

12.25.2012

A Christmas Present: An Ottoman Cover

I was trying to figure out when I had made my in-law's first cover for their ottoman. I think it was probably in December 2002 or January 2003 when I first met them. It was pretty simple and barely fit the ottoman, as they had exactly one yard of fabric. I recall I was able to make the cover with only 2 cuts to the fabric (which was good as it was a close fit). Over the last 10 years it has gotten worn a bit (because I'm pretty sure it's was all of their cat's very favorite place to sit as well as additional seating for the house we lovely referred to as grand central station whenever there was a gathering.

So it was really time for a new cover. 

My in-laws have two matching love seats in their living room. They are very nice pieces of furniture, but have a very busy floral pattern on them. This fabric features fall tones of oranges, greens, and burgundy as well as several other less noticeable colors, so the first order of business was to find a simple fabric that would look good with it. I actually got pretty lucky in this search as I had been given the arm chair covers from the love seats ages ago (to use if I wanted, but I hadn't had a project come up yet) so I was able to take along one to the fabric store with me. I was really nervous after I visited the first store and came up absolutely empty handed - not a single fabric there was plain enough or had the absolute correct color in all of the upholstery areas, so I was a bit terrified when I went to my second stop. Lucky for me they had three I thought might work and bonus, all the upholstery fabric was on sale. Then I spotted the most fabulous of fabrics right there on the sales rack! This fabric has a minimal pattern (mostly texture) in a burnt orange fabric with subtle burgundy stripes. Also, bonus this was on sale as well as the discount for the sales area and I had a 15% off my total purchase coupon so I was able to get 3 yards for under $26. Yay!

I know what you're thinking. Three yards for an ottoman! Yes that would be A LOT of fabric or a huge ottoman, but my sister-in-law wanted to make them matching pillows with the fabric as well so everything would be updated and look great together. I wanted to be absolutely sure I had enough fabric for the ottoman and 4 pillows.

I started by making piping out of the arm rest covers I had. (This is the back of the fabric, but you can see it has quite a few colors going on). This is the same way I made all other piping (using twine for the pipe, and a very tight presser foot). I made the strips 2 inches wide as I didn't want to have any issues with holding onto this stuff because all the fabrics are relatively thick.

After that was all created, I cut the top piece of the cover. and sewed the piping to it. (If I were doing this again, I would have sewed the piping to the sides on the top and bottom as I had two sets of piping and it would have been easier, but this worked fine). Once the top was measured, cut and sewed I had my hubby cut open the ottoman's top and re-stuff a portion which had gotten a bit flat over the course of years. With the old cover this would look lumpy, but with this thick/heavy fabric, it makes for a nice flat top. 

Following that, I measured the remaining distance from the top to the floor and then determined where I wanted the second set of piping to fall (as well as the box pleat to start). I like nice length box pleats on furniture, but didn't want it to be all the way to the floor. I made the box pleat skirt the full length from the second piping edge to the floor though as I needed to do a hem on the bottom (and the extra material would be handy for that). 

Box pleats are fairly easy to make. You start by measuring the fabric and determining how wide the box will be. I did one inch inside the pleat, and 3 inch boxes so I used my 3 inch wide quilter's ruler to fold the fabric under for my pinning. Once pinned I ran the whole thing through the sewing machine to set the pleats, then sewed the finished one to the edge of the ottoman cover (so they will definitely not fall out and are even). This also allowed me to make sure the edges of ottoman fall within the box portion of the pleat).

Then I did a standard hem, but trimming the excess fabric (as it lined up with the floor) and turning up the hem all the way around. As it sits on the ottoman the boxes will start to lay a bit more flat (but I did iron them as well to ensure they stay relatively box-y).

I'm hoping my in-laws will love it as much as I do. I think it turned out great!




12.24.2012

A Christmas Present: a reversible beret

I actually was quite busy throughout November and December making presents, but as always, I didn't want to post about items until I had given them to the recipient. In the event that they read about their gift here first!

This was one of those. I actually made four of these berets (the other two had different fabric in place of the plaid as the plaid had no give, so they would outgrown them very quickly). One for my daughter and three for my nieces in town (an infant, 3, and 5 year old). This was part of their Christmas present (which included matching scarfs for the older girls.

I had a few lovely fabrics that I wanted to use  so here's what happened. I decided to make a practice one for my daughter first...then do others for the nieces so they would look nicer.

First I measured my daughter's head. Figured out the radius of the circle and cut out one circle that size. Then I added a few inches to that circle and cut out two (that's the basic premise of the beret, so it should have been adorable.

It would have looked a little bit better on an adult...on a small kid it was far too big and bulky (see my daughter? That thing was huge! She looks more like a person requiring a hair net than wearing a stylish, cute hat . So, I took it apart and trimmed it down quite a bit for the overall size.



Then I resewed it together and added elastic to ensure it not only fit, but stayed on (as it wouldn't cover as much of her head that way.




Once that was done I tested it and it fit much better. It was a bit more newsie than adorable little girlie hat at that point, so that required some embellishment.

Bring on the fabric flower pin in matching fabrics!

These I made 4 identical versions of so all the girls will match.

I started with a circle and sewed on petals (which I had treated the edges of with no-fray (a glue like substance used on the edge of fabric to prevent fraying and losing all your lovely fabric)). I gathered the petals as I sewed so that they would have some dimension to them as well as lay nicely. I also did a raised center to make it look a bit like a daisy and not be a huge flower. The petals used both colored fabrics from the hat so they look cute on either side. I then sewed these flowers to quilting safety pins so they could be easily transferred to either side or a coat lapel or such.

Once done, I pinned it on and tada! A cute little beret for a cuter little girl!

(Note: The plaid fabric I used here, was adorable and went wonderfully with the pink checked fabric from the other side, but had no give whatsoever. That meant there is very little growth room in this hat. Because of that I went and found a very nice no pile fleece fabric in off white that had plenty of give and used that for the other hats). Once my little girl starts to grow significantly I will remove the plaid fabric from the actual hat and replace it with the fleece I used for the other girls hats...the flower still looks great on all of them though :) )

Also, here's the matching scarf prior to my adding a stripe of the plaid fabric.

My daughter's version is plaid and pink only, whereas the other two older girls got these (with the plaid stripe added in between the two pink).

My daughter wore her's to my brother's wedding on the 14th and she got complimented everywhere we went, so I would assume the other girlies will look adorable in theirs as well :)





12.22.2012

A christmas present: a new cat bed

So, I'm going to tell you about a present I made before I give it away! Gasp!

I don't think my cat reads my blog...and if she does she's pretty quite about it.

A few years ago I got a self warming cat bed for our cats (It's supposed to radiate the cat's body warmth back to the cat and keep them warm) for when they were home alone during the day. For the life of me I have no idea why everything that is for a pet has either a fish, bone, or animal print on it...but this one did.

I am not a fan of animal prints. Never have been, never will be. I don't even like fur lined jackets or other items as I just don't care for it, so I have been putting up with the silly animal print cat bed for three years, because my cat seems to like it, but it doesn't go with anything in my house, but as I was taking my last quilt picture it occurred to me that I should just make my cat a quilt since she loves them so much.

So, I decided to make new cover for the cat bed that would have a quilt top and cover that animal print!

I chose a nice fuzzy cream fabric for the backing, the pet bed of course would be in the middle and I made a mini quilt for the top (yellows, greens, blue, and black/gray) which ironically doesn't go with any of my rooms either...but still works better than animal print :)

I sewed it all together like a pillow and called it good. It also is washable (including the pet bed), so I didn't need to do a zipper or any other closure for removal.

I know she'll love it as she adores all quilts and her warm pet bed :) Merry Christmas Amethyst!

12.21.2012

A Christmas present for a friend: A quilt

I can't remember all the gifts I have made and posted about already or not, but it seems I missed this one!

I have a dear friend who has been there for me since I moved to this city right after I got married. She worked at the same office, and I feel so very fortunate that I met her as she's an amazing individual. I was the matron of honor at her wedding even.

Well I have been meaning to make her a quilt forever! I have made several others for a variety of individuals, and I hadn't done hers yet as I wasn't sure what colors or pattern or such would work best. Well my friend just recently got new living room furniture, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a throw quilt for snuggling. I did tell my friend about the gift so she could pick the colors (she chose green and brown from her living room and a pop of yellow).

Here is the pattern I decided on (this is one row) and I used tons of different fabrics. I think my favorite it the white though. It has green branches and tiny owls on it (which my friend adores)! These picture makes them look fairly small, but those squares are 15 inches each, so the quilt is quite sizable.

I decided to do a wide variety of fabrics because I found so many beautiful ones in the colors she chose, but also several were quite pricey per yard, so I decided to do small portions of them to balance out the cost a bit with less expensive ones in the same color family. I think it really added to the beauty of the quilt as well, so I don't regret that decision at all. It's must more interesting to look at with all the different fabrics too.

On the back, I  created a stencil of a fox (her other favorite animal) to paint add the date and year and from portion. I really like this detail on the quilt, though it faded a bit after I washed it (I wash all the quilts I give before I give them away, partially to ensure there aren't and seams that will pop in the wash (and if there are I can fix them before giving) and also to remove any stray cat hair that may have gotten on it from my final pictures)). It was also necessary to wash this after I painted the fox (to make sure the color is set).

As you can see, I also embroidered the year and a little message on the fox in yellow thread. I had recently tried embroidering for the first time, and I am getting a bit better as I was able to make the letters much smaller than the last one :)

Here is the finished Quilt before it was wrapped up. As you can see, my cat has given her stamp of approval as always. Therefore, it was done and delivered :)

(if you notice, I didn't do an edge or binding on this one. i think it actually looks better on this one due to the many colors and patterns going on, so I omitted it, but it very easily could have been an even larger throw quilt :) )


Countdown Day 20 & 21

Well, day 20 got a bit busy for my friend, so I found out what the day 20 was this morning... it was make a gingerbread house. I haven't done this, and I admit it, I won't. I like to look at them, but just don't want to eat it and would hate to throw away that much candy/cookie. So I made doughnuts this morning instead.

I know it's not the same, and I'm ok with that :) They were delicious.

I use a recipe for baked cake doughnuts I found on line. I really love cake doughnuts, especially when warm, so I highly recommend it.

Day 21 is watch the SNL Christmas shorts. Totally done! I have a DVD of these and never mind watching them. Hillarious :) I think my favorite is the "NPR Splendid Table" one. :)

Have fun watching!

12.19.2012

Countdown deliquencies

Sorry for the lack of upkeep on the countdown for the last few days. I was out of town (and as I am playing along on a friend's countdown, I couldn't pre-know what the items were.

Well let's see what we missed:

Countdown day 13: Mail a christmas card

Totally did this before I left :)

Countdown day 14: Treat Yourself to starbucks

I failed on this one. I don't even think there is a starbucks near where I was - it's not the sort of place I search for - however I did have some hot cocoa from a cafe and wedding cake :)

Countdown day 15: Bake Cookies

Unfortunately I did no baking or cooking at all on the 15th. I was in a hotel, so not the sort of thing you do there...I did however swim...

Countdown Day 16: Watch a Christmas movie in a theater

Totally failed on this one too. I spent the entire day in the car driving home... so even if there is a Christmas movie in the theater, I couldn't have done this one.

Countdown Day 17: Drive Around and look at the lights

I spent this day playing catch up from work...but my daughter and husband went around to look at the lights. and I know I saw some out the window :)

Countdown Day 18: Send a Christmas Card

I put out my card for our trash man and Tammy my mail carrier...we'll count that as sending ones

Countdown Day 19: Take a Treat to a Friend

Well, if my neighbors were around I would have completed this already, so I'm going to count my making an extra special snack for my daughter (who has had a cold for the last few days). She was thrilled. I can't really drive anywhere since I lent my car to a friend whose car unfortunately is a lemon. While she gets it repaired and buys a new one.

So now I'm all caught up.

If you watch the news at all you know this past weekend was an incredibly sad one for so many people. I've been trying hard to take advantage of my daughter's snuggles due to cold as much as possible. It's hard to believe that the children involved were only 4 years older than my baby. So very sad. I can't even begin to imagine the heartbreak and misery those parents must be feeling! (excuse me while I go get another snuggle).

On a happier note, my younger brother got married this past weekend. He had a lovely short ceremony and a great dance with a photo booth (which my nieces and nephews took full advantage of). Also, on the other side of my family I got a new niece who is just a doll! I met her on the 13th (she was born on 12-12-12!), and I am looking forward to snuggling her again soon at the holiday festivities. I am trying my hardest to have my daughter's cold nipped in the bud before then so we are all nice and healthy!

I've been working hard on gifts as well...but we can't discuss them until after they are handed out...so stay tuned :)

12.12.2012

Countdown Day 12: Go Ice Skating

So...hmmm. This may be the first time in my existence I have ever wished for some snow and ice on my property. Not really sure how to fit this into my day (as I have a full day of work and additional stuff today).

I may have to settle for sliding around on the floor later with swiffer sheets on my feet...

Hope you get a chance to ice skate today :)

Good Luck!

12.11.2012

Countdown Day 11: Give someone a poinsettia

This one is a bit tough for me. I love poinsettias. I actually used to draw them in absolutely everything around this time of year. The downside of course is they are poisonous. I really don't want to give them to individuals with pets or little kids...so that pretty much eliminates everyone within driving distance...

So I made one and gave it to a little girl who is having a tough day getting over a cold.

This is made out of some gold beads, red paper, and green fabric with gold wire edges.

Hope you get the chance to brighten someone's day too :)

12.10.2012

Countdown Day 10: Make a list of what you're grateful for

I really love this one. I'm a list maker, but it's rare that I take the time to list what I am grateful for or let the people I am grateful for know it so here you go (I'm going to do 10 to match the day):

1) I am grateful for my hard-working, kind, funny, and thoughtful husband. He definitely takes great care of me and our daughter.
2) I am grateful for my sweet, healthy, happy daughter. (I had several miscarriages before I finally successfully had her, so I am extremely grateful that I got my little girl- I can't imagine life without her amazing little self).
3) I am grateful for my large, close-knit family. I love being with them and spending time together - it's always fun and I wish it could be more often.
4) I am grateful for my in-laws. I definitely won the in-law lottery with that bunch!
5) I am grateful for my group of friends both far and near. There are some really amazing individuals.
6) I am grateful for my nice, safe home. I really love this little warm house. It's the perfect size for a little family and although there are a few things I would change about it if I had the funds to do so, the majority I would try to replicate if I ever move.
7) I am grateful for jobs. Both my husbands (which is our major support) and for the flexibility of mine. I know I got lucky that my employer let me work from home when I had my daughter, and even more lucky that they decided that it was working so well that they would let me continue from home.
8) I am grateful for all the time I have had with my daughter. I know that the time from birth until a child leaves home is gone all too quickly. Even the last two years have flown by in an instant.
9) I am grateful that my daughter has had the opportunity to spend time with all her great grandma and all 4 of her grandparents. These individuals are all a big part of my daughter's life and I kind of love skype for this reason. I am especially thankful she adores my dad (who has been ill and in a wheelchair her whole life) as I was very nervous around my wheelchair bound grandparents and I am hopeful she will have only fond memories when it comes to her relatives.
10) I am thankful for my IMing with my older sister. We both work from home (though several states apart) and I love that I have someone to chat with throughout the day. I also feel like I am closer to her than we ever were when we were sharing a room as kids :) So that has been awesome!

Well that's 10! That took no time and I'm sure I could have gone on and on...What are you grateful for?

12.09.2012

Countdown Day 9: See Zoo Lights

Does the zoo nearest your home do a holiday light display? Ours does, so that was on the evening agenda to cover today's countdown item. If you don't have that or you don't want to pay for something, I'm sure going to see any lights would count.

We had a lovely time strolling around the zoo while sipping some hot cocoa and seeing some animals (mostly just the penguins).


Hope you are enjoying all the holiday lights by you!


12.08.2012

Project for the Day: A little Christmas Craft

I have been working on a lot of different projects around my house these last few weeks...but you see. They are all presents!

I can't post presents until they are delivered to their recipient, so I'm trying to post all the stuff I do that's craft (or inventing additional crafty stuff) so I can tell you about it.

I just finished up a set of vintage Christmas tags for presents. There's something about vintage items at Christmas time that is so perfect. (But I admit, I lean towards vintage often). So I decided we needed some generic gift tags that didn't require a "from portion" but just a tag for our family member. I made 4 for each myself, my hubby and my daughter. And then of course, one for our cat, Amethyst.

I started by finding some free vintage Christmas images online and using photoshop to place them all on a sheet of paper (within the printer lines) at the appropriate tag size. You could probably do this step with word or any other photo layout program. I used that one as I made some changes to the label and removed lines and "to" and "from" if  they had them. I wanted to be able to write as big as possible the individual's name so I didn't need them. I then printed it on self adhesive label paper. I selected one that is pretty opaque as I intended to mount it on bright red paper, which I didn't want showing through.

I then got out my exact-o knife and trimmed each one out carefully. Some of them I left an border, others I trimmed right to the picture. I also wrote names on them as well with both a black pen and then a silvery-sparkly pen as well. On several, I also added some silver highlights to different areas to make it a bit more fancy than just a printed piece.

Next I mounted it to a beautiful bright red card stock (with glitter in it) that has a lovely slick surface. This is ideal, as I intend to reuse the labels every year and I don't want the back to be torn up every time I take it off a package. I would have just made a layer of packaging tape or the transparent scotch tape on the back to prevent that if I hadn't had this laying around the house. Once the label was on there, I trimmed the edges to give it an even border all the way around. I added some more silver detail to some of the labels on the red paper as well to make them a bit more festive.

And, there you have it. A completed label ready to put on a package.
And a whole set for the fun of it.

Happy wrapping!

Countdown Day 8: Drink Hot Cocoa

Ohh. This one is after my heart! I love hot chocolate. I love it even more with whipped cream on top...So I will do that, since it insists I have some :)

Take some time today for yourself and have a little cocoa :)

12.07.2012

Countdown Day 7: Watch a holiday Movie at Home

This one is so very easy for me!

I actually have so many films to choose from that I could probably watch a whole days worth of Christmas themed films. The catch for me of course is that my hubby wants to watch them too, so unless I want to watch them twice within a few weeks (as he sometimes is working while I watch a movie and craft) I have to be careful :)

So I think a safe bet would be "Meet me in St. Louis" with Judy Garland. It has the most beautiful cinematography. I mean, it's a love letter between Vincent Minelli and Judy Garland (who would later marry) where he made sure she looked stunning in every single shot.

You may not think of this as a Christmas film, and that Halloween scene is down right weird (which is why my hubby dislikes it), but Judy singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is definitely worth the wait.

Hope you're able to fit a little Christmas movie viewing in today too!

12.06.2012

Project for the Day: Move the pampas Grass

I had started a garden along the side of our house ages ago. And then, on my wedding anniversary, I finished  a planting bed in front of the compost bin to plant tall perennials to hide the bin. Here it is way back in July with that wall finally finished (minus one block and a lot of dirt). We had a very dry summer, so it didn't really improve over the summer as I would have hoped as we had to stop watering at one point, but this is what it looked like then.

Well, it has been so warm here that I decided it was high time to move that pampas grass. It also doesn't hurt that our neighbor is getting ready to sell their house and I would very much like to ensure our property looks as good as possible for her.

Well, I did this project by myself, so I was pretty proud of me :) (but I have to give a shout out to my hubby as well. He completed the staining of the arbor swing set this past weekend as well as did all the chocolate covered pretzel rod (thanks for coming gifts) for my cookie exchange tomorrow! Thank you!) I decided to tackle it directly after I finished raking up all the leaves in the front yard and cleaning off the path to the backyard, so I must have been motivated.

We had a large area in the back yard that was, well, overgrown, with beautiful pampas grass. I really love the way it looks in the winter as it gives some dimension to an otherwise barren garden, and maintains it's crimson blades through the winter, which really makes the house look nice (while hiding the rather unattractive compost bin from the view of the street). For that reason I moved it without cutting off all the dead feathery portions. This made it incredibly ackward to move, but I'm hoping it will look stunning all winter and throughout the summer.

So there you go. (Who would have thought it would be warm in December!) But, I definitely am happy the grass is moved. Yay! I anticipate I will plant some monkey grass or some other short perennials in front to give the area a bit of depth, but we'll see what the spring brings.

Also, for added fun, I created a small fenced in leaf pile in the far corner of they yard (to make a bunch of extra top soil out of all the leaves I raked)as I would really like to try to do a mini veggie garden out there now that our neighbor's pine tree is gone, we actually have an area that gets a bit of sun. Adventures in gardening to come in the spring as well :)

Countdown Day 6: Donate to a family in Need

Today's countdown is a bit more challenging than yesterdays...but an excellent one.

I don't personally know any families that are in dire need of anything, so I'm going to donate through an organization to generally help families. I was even able to schedule a pick-up of items by a charity. You can search for organizations that do pick-ups by doing a google search for "charities that pick up" in your area pretty easily.

This actually works in pretty well with my sweep of the house while cleaning for the cookie exchange tomorrow, as well as the box of stuff I have collected to donate over the past month or so. This is generally items we either outgrew or just don't use, that I put in the box in the back of the closet until it's full and then donate. So I will collect any items we have laying around (especially the Christmas stuff that I continually store, but never use).

Not only do I get to feel good about donating, I get a cleaner house. Yay!

Happy playing along!


12.05.2012

Project for the day: Items for the Cookie Exchange

I am getting ready to host my 7th annual Cookie exchange at my home. I love this event. Not only is it a ladies only party filled with great friends, food and of course cookies, but it always makes me feel the holidays are here! I think it is my second favorite party I play hostess to, right after my Friend Thanksgiving...only wish they weren't so close together, so I could spread the good times out :)

The premise of this event is that each guest brings 5 - 6 dozen cookies to the event as well as an appetizer. Then we divvy up the cookies so you end up with a variety and then spend the rest of the night enjoying the appetizers, drinking festive beverages and chatting (or watching a holiday movie if people are just too run down from the holiday hustle and bustle to handle keeping up their end of a conversation :) )

This year, I made two delicious treats (which ironically neither of which is a cookie...hmmm). I made dark chocolate truffles (half with milk chocolate coating with a dusting of cinnamon and the other half with white chocolate coating and a dusting of cocoa) and then chocolate covered caramel pretzels.

First the truffles: These are time consuming and messy, but simple.

2/3 cup heavy cream
1 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (I did part dark, part semi-sweet)

First put the chocolate in a heat resistant bowl. Heat the cream on the stove until simmering. Pour it over the chips and wait a minute or so and then stir! Once it's well blended, put in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to let it solidify a little bit. Then scoop/pour it using a melon baller or small scoop onto a wax-paper covered cookie sheet. This is mostly to make sure the quantity is approximately the same. (You should get about 48 truffles from this batch.) Once you've scooped it all, pop it into the freezer for about 20 minutes.

Then comes the extra messy part (take off all rings first), and pick up the cold, yet soft chocolate and quickly roll it in the palms of your hands to form balls. Do this step quickly as the chocolate will get more messy the longer its been out of the freezer.

After you have completed this, pop it back in the freezer for about 2 hours or so. You want something that is nearly frozen through for the next step. (However you could just roll these in cocoa, or nuts, or whatever and call it done if you don't like chocolate coating).

First, get your chocolate coating (I use white and milk chocolate flavored almond bark for mine as they harden up nicely and are easy to use). Heat a few ounces until smooth, then get out the tray of frozen truffle centers. You want them as cold as possible as you go as the coated candies will get less and less impressive as they start to warm.

Quickly dip the chocolate center in the almond bark and then put it back on the tray. I use a spoon to drop in and quickly coat/remove. I also put a glop of almond bark on the tray, put the chocolate center on top and then coated that way. Either works (I'm sure someone out there has a way to make these look fabulous, but here they look good (but not store-bought :) ). While the coating is still wet, dust with cocoa, sprinkles, salt, sugar, or cinnamon. I did milk chocolate with cinnamon and white chocolate with cocoa so I would have a nice contrast on the tray for my items. They taste much better than they look and the centers are gooey and rich. (if you like Lindt's truffles, it's a similar texture to that, though not nearly as perfect looking).

The Second item: Chocolate covered caramel pretzels.

These are my super easy, yet addicting take on turtles.

You need milk chocolate almond bark, small pretzel twists, and homemade caramel (recipe below).

First start by spreading a thin layer of melted almond bark (slightly larger than your pretzel) on a wax-paper covered cookie sheet. While still wet, place a pretzel on top (this will prevent dipping and makes this much cleaner). I did two sheets full of these, which ended up being 80 pretzels. While that chocolate bottom hardens up, make the caramel.

CAUTION: This is really, really hot! (I ended up with a third degree burn on my finger because of this, so you should really be careful that you don't accidently get any on you and also feel truly privileged that I am still sitting here typing this with a quite painful finger).

Ingredients in a microwave safe glass bowl (preferably a batter bowl with a handle):
1/8 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup light corn syrup

Mix all the ingredients and pop in the microwave for 30 seconds, stir. Put in for 30 seconds more. Stir. put in for three additional minutes, stirring each minute. By the end of this time the caramel will be bubbly and smooth (and caramel colored). Do not cook longer (which is how I burnt my first batch, and burned myself while disposing of it). Stir it a bit and then put this in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Don't go much longer or you will end up with a solid block of caramel, and you kind of want to be able to pour this into the pretzels.

This batch will be enough caramel to fill 80 pretzels. So, by the time your caramel is ready, so are the 80 bases you have already made with the chocolate. Carefully, and quickly spoon a little bit of caramel into the holes of the pretzel. Once you have filled all 80, you can let this sit for a few minutes to fully cool, or move right on to the next step.

I demonstrated the next step partway through the caramel step (as I had just a tiny bit of chocolate left after I finished the bottoms.

You melt some more almond bark and spoon it over the whole thing, spreading to the edges so it (mostly) covers the pretzel.

Here they are done and ready to harden. (then you just peel them off the tray, and put in a large bag in the refrigerator for up to a week (for both these and the truffles) or in the freezer for longer (just pull them out a minute or two before serving...that is if you can keep from eating them all :)

There you go. My cookies are ready! Bring on the party!


Countdown Day 5: Listen to your Favorite Christmas Album

This one is a cinch for people to play along with. I mean if you celebrate Christmas chances are you have at least a few songs compiled that are your favorites. So go listen to them stat!

I have quite a few songs that I enjoy, such as White Christmas (sung by Bing of course), Carol of the Bells, and Still, Still, Still, but as far as albums go, my favorite is called Celtic Christmas. It's mostly instrumental and full of bagpipes, whistles and violin. It's quite lovely and super relaxing. I'm listening to it right now, and already, I feel less stressed about everything in the world :)

My daughter's favorite, is without a doubt Chris Botti's December. She loves the trumpets. LOVES THEM. She actually will sit down with a blanket and listen to the entire album - and as a mom of a normally tigger-emulating 2 year old I can appreciate the power this album has over her.

My husband informs me his favorite is Stan Kenton, so we're pretty much an instrumental house here :)

What's your favorite?

12.04.2012

Project for the Day: Fixing old Earrings

Have you ever had a pair of earrings that you have hung onto forever even though they are broken? If not, you may assume that I do :)

One such pair was just plain too pretty to throw. Also, they were a Christmas Gift a few years ago from my mother-in-law and they are the perfect color and amazing earrings. So, I was hoping I could fix them some day. Well that day was yesterday. Here is the broken one next to the good one. The beautiful center fell out (and although it looks good without the center and just the silver...the other one didn't fall out and I can't persuade it to fall out either, so they don't match).

So, here's what I did. First I matched the color of the background (the turquoise) and painted the inside. (the coloring actually has little flecks of color throughout it, but for my purposes, a solid background worked for this layer).

Once it was fully painted in, I got out the Mod Podge
dimensional magic (useful for jewelry making) and filled it in. (this dries clear, so it's great for preserving paper and other objects below it. It does dry lower as well so you will have to do several layers (AND MAKE SURE to pop any air bubbles - they do not go away).

Once it was dry, I painted tiny spots of blue and green on top. This gave it a similar dimensional look to the other (though I wasn't able to exactly match the green color, it still looked close enough to not look like a mismatched set). From close up, you can definitely tell, but I would guess when on opposite sides of my head, it won't stand out like the obviously missing portion would have :)

Yay! Fixed!

Countdown Day 4: Take Holiday Photos

Today, I'm not sure if I have a pass or not...we took pictures of our daughter with Santa on the 30th at a local event. It was a very pleasant experience, because it was the best Santa ever! (No really, it didn't start well). Our daughter was scared of Santa and didn't want to stand next to him, but he got out a book and she proceeded to come closer to see pictures as he continued to read it. When she got close enough I asked if she wanted to sit on the chair next to him to see, she did. He continued to read until she was smiling, then he lay down the book, smiled for the camera, and then proceeded to finish the story! We got a lovely picture of a happy girl and our daughter has been saying every time she sees the picture that "he was a nice man".

But, I don't have pictures of my daughter alone...(but we do have ones scheduled for next week for our family pictures). So perhaps a little later I will take some pictures of our little girl all dressed up...we'll see :)


If not, here's a picture of my dining room all fancied up :)

12.03.2012

Countdown Day 3: Decorate the Tree!

So Day 3: Decorate the Tree is a gimme as we did this the Saturday after Thanksgiving (my hubby and I love the way the house looks with decorations up so it's one of the first things we do).

Here it is in all it's glory :)


I love garland. My hubby says I have a problem, but I think it looks grand :) Do you have thoughts on decorations for your tree? Do you have something you love or hate?

12.02.2012

Countdown Day 2: Do something Nice for Someone

Day two of the Christmas Countdown: Do something nice for someone. (see Day 1 to see what this is all about if you're new to the countdown).

My daughter wanted to make cookies for our neighbors, so we started doing that (cut-out cookies are really fun for her to do, so she's having a blast).


In addition, I also was driving home and saw our neighbor who walks to and from work every day walking home, so I gave him a ride. I think I full-filled the countdown requirements.

See you tomorrow!


12.01.2012

Countdown Calendar: Day 1

It's that time of the year again. Where the countdown calendar is pulled out and I change my header on the site to be more festive. (Go check it out if your on a reader...it's our lovely Christmas tree).

One of my friends had a wonderful idea and created a countdown calendar with tasks she had to complete each day. I don't know what the tasks are, but I had agreed to play along at home... (feel free to join in :) )

DAY 1 was "Create a Christmas Ornament!

Thus far, this is right up my alley.

Before I get into what I created, a overly long back story ...my hubby and I have been together for 10 years. Throughout this entire time we have gotten a Christmas ornament to remember each significant event or thing we feel is a highlight of the year. It makes putting up the tree and covering it with ornaments awesome as we can relive each event and enjoy all the memories associated with each one. A lot have been vacations and big happy events (buying a house, marriage, engagement, baby, baby's first Christmas, etc). This year as we were putting up the tree we discovered to our dismay that 2012 hadn't been commemorated yet! We either had to go somewhere we had never been and hope it was amazingly worthy of an ornament or think back and get an ornament that would highlight something. We decided it was safer to do the later (especially since we are never opposed to having more than one per year).

The most significant memory from the year (or the item that stuck out the most and definitely had the biggest impact on my daughter) was the air show we attended back in September. My daughter has commented several times over the past few months. "Remember the silly airplane, bump on her head? {giggles}" Which is what she said when they drove up to the show and saw the large aircrafts with the radar on the top (which does look like a bump). She thought they were hilarious, and obviously still does.

I kind of love this because of the many memories I have from attending airshows with my dad when I was little. So, the ornament I wanted to get was an airplane to commemorate, my daughter's first air show.

And, we're back to today. Why buy an ornament when you can make one!

Using some old jewelry pieces and a lot of wire, I crafted our own little airplane ornament (and added bonus I now get the memory of having created it myself to boot)!