Thursday, December 31, 2009

This Christmas - 2009 Cards

It is hard to believe Christmas is over. I am just back from a week up north and a major Kitchen Makeover project I gave my Mom for the holidays (it was a Christmas/Birthday/Mother's Day present - more holidays were added the more my budget ballooned!). I can't wait to share all of the details over the next couple weeks. In the meantime though, while I recover from the manual labor my body just isn't used to, I will do a quick re-cap of the Christmas Cards I sent out to family and friends this year.

As my card list grows, I am starting to realize I may need to begin working on these in June, but all in all I was pretty happy with the results in 2009! The day after Thanksgiving we hit Michael's where I bought 2 containers of 3D foam stickers (glittery trees, crisp white snowflakes, stars, stockings, santa hats and peguins). On sale for $10 was a large pad of paper with black and white designs that I used for the backgrounds. I also picked up a couple new stamps. I have said it before and I'll say it again - I have horrific handwriting so phrase stamps like "Season's Greetings" are a necessity. It took me a little bit to figure out how I might use the big one with all of the winter-themed words. . . 
The 3D sticker set also came with some foam circles that I pressed onto certain areas of the word collage stamp. I also used my new circle cutter compass for the insides, attaching it with thick double sided tape. 

The sticky-backed foam shapes made things pretty easy in the adhesive department, but their thickness left me in a postage quandry. One stamp or two? Sure, I could have gone to the post office to make sure I had the right postage before sending, but who has time to wait in the lines? I decided to just use one stamp and if they got returned I'd learn my lesson. Imagine my surprise when my Mom phoned, thanked me for the card and mentioned that along with it she received a 20 cent bill from the Post Office! I did not know that was a possibility! So far I have not heard of any of the other recipients having this issue, but if they did I want to ensure them that I did not mean to charge for my card (it's not that good!).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gingerbread House Decorating Contest 2009

The time has come for the Gingerbread House Decorating Contest! My family and friends came through for me and I have 3 entries for you to vote on using the poll feature on the right hand bar of your screen. You have until January 8 to vote (a bit extended due to the holidays and how busy everyone is!) and the winner will receive a magazine subscription of their choice!  Extra points if you can guess the number of pounds of sugar it took to make all of these houses. I'm estimating it could fill a couple full-size houses!

1. Little Cabin in the Woods
This entry features impressive sugar cone/pretzel rod trees covered in green-tinted coconut towering over a log cabin made of dark gingerbread, candy canes and a whole lotta royal icing. Gummy and white chocolate trees surround the house and ice skating rink while a pretzel fence leads into the Necco wafer path and a Hershey Bar door. A Necco wafer roof surrounds a chimney formed by dark M&Ms and a wispy cloud of smoke. 

I especially like the "starry sky" element using the long star shaped suckers and the little pretzel/Hershey Bar bench in front of the door.

2. It's a Marshmallow World
Our next entry focuses on a Marshmallow family enjoying their winter retreat. The white, blue and silver theme carried through from the white chocolate chip covered chimney and the frosted mini wheat roof to  the blue jolly rancher mailbox (also used to melt into the windows) and the star shaped fence. 

White chocolate dipped sugar cones create the forest in the back of the house and cotton candy acts as snow on the sides of the roof.

3 of the Marshmallow family members (including baby) ice skate, while a fourth family member relaxes with his feet up in a hot tub filled with Marshmallow Fluff.

3. Carpenter Gothic
This next entry towers over the others in an impressive 15" by 15" spread. That cookie sheet didn't know what it was in for! Architecturally accurate, the house boasts a gum shingled roof (mmm, winterfreshy!) and a facade covered in red fondant with royal icing piped in. Pink bubble gum tape was cut with craft scissors to create the scalloped scrollwork along the roof. 

Blue fondant creates the background for the front door and a handful of green gumdrops line the entryway as bushes. The extra tall lollipop sticks are stuck into marshmallows for support. 

Again, vote for your favorite using the poll feature on the right hand bar of your screen. The winner will be announced in January after voting closes!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Year End Review: The Top Ten

In this season of giving, it got me to thinking about what I've given myself this year. Here it is: the top ten purchases I made in 2009 that made me happier, warmer, craftier and comfortabler. It's just like Oprah's Favorite Things episode, except I am not giving anything away and - let's be honest - a $10 circle cutting compass does not really compare to the LG HDTV Refrigerator she gave away in 2007.

In no particular order. .

Oh Genessa Sofa and Ottoman, how do I love thee? Let me count the number of inches longer you are than my last couch. Our Rubin's Furniture purchase set the tone for our decor scheme in the living room and apartment as a whole. 

Minnetonka Moccasins
My family looks forward to stopping in Seguins Cheese Shop in Marinette, WI when we are home for the holidays. Along with a Wisconsin-worthy selection of cheese, we also find some of the best slippers. Bob and I got on the bandwagon this year and ordered a couple pairs to keep our tootsies warm this winter. 

Plane Tickets!
My international work trips got cut drastically this year so I reasoned with myself that the time off and $$ I would have used to extend a couple of those trips should be used to visit my far-flung friends. Goodbye extra boon to the savings account and hello to San Diego, Houston, New York and a few Amtrak trips to Milwaukee! It was so great to take long weekends here and there to reconnect with my dear and not-so-near friends. Not having to drag my work laptop along was the added bonus! 

Full-Length Mirror
It has been hard not to be vain when I have a beautiful six foot tall Mongstad Mirror leaning against a wall in our bedroom. Although the story of getting it to our house is quite the feat (involves a borrowed Tahoe and a luck and a prayer on its precarious strapping to the roof), this IKEA find for $99 seems like the steal of the year!

Vintage Travel Posters
Adding to the theme in our second bedroom, the throwback ads look great against the bold red walls. Enough to make me want to sleep in our guest room more often!

HD Receiver
Made this list for the sheer drama of it all. Read about it here

Goat Cheese
Retail Price: $5. Result: my new appetizer stand-by. Rolled goat cheese in a pecan and cinnamon mixture with rosemary sprinkled and honey drizzled on top. Why didn't I think of that?

Recently learned there will definitely not be a third season. As Bret and Jemaine would say, "I'm not crying. . .it's just raining on my face."

Craft Supplies
A few new purchases to add to the mess in the extremely organized craft drawers in the closet. My compass circle cutter made my Christmas cards happen, pads of scrapbook paper also created great cards and a recipe book and lots of new paint colors helped me to distress picture frames, paint coffee tables and make new tub decor. Which leads me to. . .

One of my forays into DIY this year, very happy with the result. Scroll down if you don't want to hear me brag, but I was also pretty excited to get featured on IKEA Hacker and One Pretty Thing with this pretty thing.

There are probably a few I am not thinking of and tomorrow I will want to tack on another 10. For now, I look at the list and remember that it was a very good year indeed! Enough about presents to myself though, I am ready to start giving goodies to other people this Friday the 25th!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Last Christmas - Gift Themes

Don’t just settle for themed wrapping paper this holiday season (a few options in this post). The theme can be the thing when it comes to your presents, too! Our cat, Spike, is definitely ready to start opening his gifts in the top picture.

For several years I’ve taken on a theme for the gifts for my family. Again, I’m going to apologize for not having a lot of photos from the actual events, instead recreating them with a lot of right-clicks and copying into paint!

I surveyed everyone to find out their favorite “flavors” from a list of peppermint, cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla, etc. After I had a flavor for each recipient, I got creative with how that could apply to gifts. This was the year I used the “natural” wrapping theme so I filled a paper mache box with a few small items for each person.

The Chocolate lover got a pair of mocha colored mittens, a dessert recipe book and, of course, some Ghirardelli goodness.
Peppermint received striped gloves, candles, some peppermint bark and a candy cane colored ornament.

Go Global
In this case, each family member had a country or city assignment.

The Londoner got a book about the city, a cute toiletries bag that fit with the theme and a Harry Potter toy for fun.
Italy received Under the Tuscan Sun, some gourmet pasta and an Italian cookbook

TV Shows
This one was probably the most work I put into one of the themes. While the other years I just had one of the person’s gifts be theme-related, this year I had all of them connect back to the theme through quote cards included with each of the gifts. I thought about everyone’s favorite TV show and bought the first season (or whatever season they needed) on DVD. Everyone opened that gift at the same time. Then, each additional gift they opened had a quote card from the show. Some of the gifts were pretty straightforward with how they applied, like BBQ supplies for my dad who likes King of the Hill and Hank the Propane Salesman. Others, like anti-aging hand cream for the Six Feet Under fan added a bit of creativity to the mix.

Sex and the City got wine glasses, cocktail recipe book and a New York calendar.
CSI received pretty dish gloves and fun cleaning supplies, a CD of Vegas hits and a magnifying glass for craft/quilting projects.

We are a family of “give me your list so I can buy what you actually want,” so I sometimes try to tweak the theme to make the item on the list fit – for example, my sister collects Spode Christmas dinnerware so I bought the wine glasses and applied a Sex and the City quote about parties.

What is this year’s theme? Find out after the holidays!

Monday, December 14, 2009

This Christmas - The Tree

Well, we got our tree up. All in all we are pretty happy with it - cut it down in the forest Christmas Vacation-style, strapped it to the top of the Civic and set it up outside - and what tree would be complete without lights?

Okay, I'm joking of course. My recent trip to New York and viewing the Rockefeller Center tree put our little 7 footer to shame, but then again I live in a 4 story walk up, not a 50 floor office building, so perhaps I should be paying attention to proportions. The lights display was outside another building and I unfortunately did not snap a pic of a giant ornament sculpture.

Here's the real deal:

We picked this up at the local garden center a couple weeks ago. Upon further research, we could have saved quite a bit of money by purchasing one from Home Depot for about $20, but I'm clinging to the justification that I'm supporting my local community. . .whatever gets me through the night. . . I have never  had a fake tree and do not really intend on ever having one - although I understand the reasoning behind getting them for some folks. (I'm assuming you spray some fake woodsy scent or fill the room with pine tree air fresheners to get the same effect of having a fragrant one in your house during the holidays?)

Although I have to admit a love for the theme trees you may see in department stores or in the pages of Martha, I am going to wait until I have a house big enough for more than one tree to tackle a theme. In the meantime, the childhood ornaments I snagged from my mom and a collection of found treasures over the past 9 years have made up the tree. This year I was able to add some of Bob's childhood ornaments which definitely helped the ratio of ornaments to branches - this tree is double the size of the ones I've had in my studio apartment the past few years! My favorite one is the wooden violin girl I got from my violin teacher when I was six years old.

I realized after year two that I was drawn to star shaped ornaments so if I had to pick a theme that would be it - I have amassed quite a collection of stars from family Christmas gifts and my own purchases. Rather than asking for any old ornament, it is nice to think that my family thinks of me when they see stars.

Okay, who knows the German tradition of the Glass Pickle? We had one growing up and my sister and I would fight each other to find it first, tucked away in the branches. Although the first person to find it gets an extra gift, I seem to recall we both always received the book store gift card, pair of socks or other $5 "pickle gift." I suppose my parents did not want to be in the middle of that throwdown when one of us did not get the present! I bought a small version of the pickle and you can find it in our tree - if you look hard enough!

I am looking forward to filling the bottom of the tree with wrapped gifts, although it will hurt a bit to cover up my lovely blue tree skirt from Target. In the meantime, we just have to remember to water it twice a day (my tree stand is quite small and there isn't a lot of non-trunk space for the water!) and turn on the lights the second we get home from work!

Monday, December 7, 2009

This Christmas - Home Decor

Down went the Halloween decorations and up goes the Holiday D├ęcor! After years of collecting small items based around my limited storage space, I have started to expand the line in this last year as my closet area grows – Exhibit A is the feather tree set bought last season from Target. I stationed them on our media center with a gorgeous reindeer from HomeGoods, a glittery green candle and a few matching ornaments. The base of this display is the IKEA sheepskin rug from the guest bedroom.

Our stocking holder set of 4 was on sale at Target for $20. We could have gotten just two for $10, but we figured we would buy a full set now so we have them when needed in the near future (I’m thinking of our soon-to-be-adopted cats, of course – what were you thinking??). The “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” wall decal was a World Market purchase last year and I love that they are re-usable. They don’t seem to be losing any of their stickiness either. Embarrassing factoid: if you zoom in on this picture you can see I'm listening to Holly on XM and it is playing a Backstreet Boys song.

The candle in this hurricane is actually too short for the holder so I employed a younghouselove trick and first threw in an upside down juice glass. The candle sits on top of the glass and the surrounding garland hides it from view. My Plan B for this candle display was filling the hurricane with mini candy canes around the candle but I was worried about how sticky things could get!

The “vase” I’m using to hold all of the ornaments to the right is not a vase at all. It is actually the plastic case that was around my large green candle. I kept it taped together and filled it up. Just don’t lift it up as the bottom is non-existent! I got a canister of silver snowflakes from Target the other year and hung up a few with the included fishing line. I think whoever decorated these pulled the ole “loosen the lid on the salt shaker” trick with a jar of glitter. It is caked on and likes to rub off on everything! By the way, is this a record for how many times one can use the word Target in a post?

I used more of the silver snowflakes to surround a blue and white candle in this hurricane. Make sure to have your holiday CDs and movies close at hand. How awesome was this find: $15 for a 3-pack of Elf, Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story! I allow myself to buy one Christmas CD each year (this year it is going to be A Charlie Brown Christmas). A few favorites:
- Harry for the Holidays, Harry Connick Jr.
- Christmas Songs, Diana Krall
- One More Drifter in the Snow, Aimee Mann

I could listen to Christmas music all day long (and I do), but for every 10 versions of Silver Bells, there are a few gems they like to sprinkle in that I can’t get enough of. Have you heard of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” or “The Twelve Pains of Christmas”? Love those!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Last Christmas - Making Cards

I don’t think I save any money by making my own Christmas cards due to my affinity for stickers and rubber stamps. Isn't make it more fun to send homemade cards??

In the first photo, you might think I was keeping things simple by buying postcards one year instead of cards that open up. Well, it was actually just another case of me not reading the label, opening the package and realizing I bought one-sided cards. I cut out blue paper to resemble the sky and the background of the card acted as snowbanks. Different sizes of 3D snowflake stickers and a snowflake stamp on white ink took care of the rest.

I have horrible handwriting so I try to buy phrase stamps and stickers when I come across good ones. After trying to figure out what to do with this one-page sheet of holiday words that were a bit too small to use for the main greeting in the cards, I instead drew outlines of a tree, gingerbread man, snowman, santa hat, etc, and filled the inside with the words that matched the object. The outline of a present got phrases like "shop til you drop", "naughty and nice" and "handmade" while the tree in this picture contains, “ornaments", "garland" and "twinkling."

Another year, I tweaked the lyrics to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and set scenes around the fractured poem. This included,  “Not a creature was stirring, not even Modest Mouse", “But I heard him exclaim ‘ere he drove out of sight, Happy Christmas to Lucille Ball and to Lucille Ball a good night!” and “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that Jack Nicholson soon would be there.” It was hard to beat a crazy looking Jack Nicholson peeking into a window.  I also looked at some other famous rhymes and included cards with, “From now on, we won't let Rudolph Giuliani join in any reindeer games” and “’God bless us every one!’ said Tiny Tim Robbins.”

A box of vintage postcards made card-making extremely simple last year. I glued one to the front of a blank card and used 3D stickers to highlight certain parts of the postcard.

Insides of cards are where I use the aforementioned phrase stamps. I like to start with a small stamp in the background and overlap with the greeting in a darker color.

At some point in your life I am sure you folded a piece of paper in half and made a cut out of a Christmas tree. This next card employs the same practice, but uses the outline instead of the tree itself. Place it where you want on the card and sponge green stamp pad ink onto the outline. The red gifts under this tree are just a blocky small red stamp pad pressed onto the card. You can see from this sample card that the ink can get everywhere if you aren't careful!

As much as I would like to share what I am cooking up for this year’s cards, I don’t want to ruin the surprise for those who will be seeing them in their mailboxes shortly. (Did that make it sound like I already had them finished and mailed? Certainly not the case!)