Friday, December 30, 2011

Her Very Own Book

With Christmas over, this means one thing: I can finally post about some of the presents I made my family without them getting the surprise ruined!

I had a goal to include at least one homemade gift per person this year, I didn't quite get to everybody, but still had plenty of Pinterest inspiration to go round! First up, a few months ago I had written about Baby Shower gift ideas and really enjoyed this one in which you make a personalized book for baby. Here is the original post.
My niece, Ella, is well beyond recognizing her mom and dad at age 2 1/2, but she does love reading books, so I tweaked the idea a bit and took advantage of all of the sites that offer reasonably priced photo books.

I stumbled onto mixbook.com and loved having the option of making a hardcover book. Christmas pricing specials didn't hurt either! I decided to write a story about all of the exciting things Ella did or learned this year including helping in the kitchen, riding a tricycle and becoming a big sister. I didn't think to take any photos of the actual book so these images are of the interactive preview mode on mixbook.com. Hence the page turned down on this cover image!
The templates were so easy to use, drag and drop all the way! They are also very flexible to allow you to create your own layout or change the amount of text vs. pictures. After scouring my own and my sister's hard drive and saving umpteen photos to a flash drive (avoiding telling her exactly what I needed them for to allow them to be just as surprised), I had enough to create quite a story. Ella received a play kitchen from Santa this year (and everyone loaded her up on toy food and kitchen accessories! I found this adorable felt and wood pita pocket set on Amazon), so I found the page below to be fitting.
It ended up being about 20 pages long, and we could also personalize the back with a message. I tried to include a photo of most everyone in Ella's life - parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents to keep her family close! Shipping was quick, I was a bit nervous considering I did not finish this project until a couple weeks before Christmas. It arrived several days before it said it would which eased my stress levels for sure! Nothing like waiting til the last minute.
When Ella opened the gift I think there might have been some confusion at first when she saw her own face staring back at her, but she quickly sat on her daddy's lap and it was read aloud. I hope this is a gift she enjoys pulling out and re-reading all year!
 Ella is also sporting the Bucky Badger hat we bought her when we went up to Madison for a football game the other month - Rose Bowl baby!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Get Carded

As briefly mentioned in the gift wrapping post, the theme for this year's cards was snowflakes.

My original idea was to cut out half a snowflake on the front of a card and have the words or images seen through the holes. After trying one or two out, I decided to forgo this method and try something a little different. It didn't help that I had traced the template in pen so the other side of the card had pen marks all over it. Smart, Lydia.
Taking two snowflake templates found through google search, I traced on holiday scrapbook papers and used an exacto knife to cut out the middle. I quickly realized that perfection was not needed and the process actually went pretty fast! It wouldn't be a post without a reality shot of the mess I make when crafting. The joys of a second bedroom mean you can leave the mess until the next day when you feel like cleaning up :-) The cutting mat we found 50% off at Blick this summer came in handy when it came to slicing and dicing out the snowflake middles. Excited to put this on a project table instead of crouching down on the floor!
Once I had a good number of snowflakes, I started arranging and seeing how they would work on the cards. For a select few the template itself became a reverse stencil and using a blue ink pad I made an icy front cover. The key is to leave the card alone as long as possible to avoid smudging - something I have yet to master when it comes to stampin' it up.
After some more google searching, I came upon a few "snowflake" or "winter" related quotes to throw on the front of the cards. The blue cards featured the phrase, "Silver dreams under a blue winter sky." Here are a couple more:

December come to me
I hope I can see
You not just in dreams
- Norah Jones

Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity;
so that not a snowflake escapes
its fashioning hand.
- Henry David Thoreau

Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories
gather and dance - each beautiful, unique and too soon gone.
- Deborah Whipp
I used glue dots (one of my favorite tools in the arsenal) for the snowflakes, but 3D foam stickers for the phrases. After seeing how a few of them looked after going through the mail system, I think I would have been better off using glue dots all around as they get a little bent and squished. Instead of printing the quotes on regular printer paper, I used some old resume paper I still have kicking around. Happily, when I used my paper cutter to trim the text, the unclean cut left some texture on the sides (see above) which I thought added to the card.

The insides of the cards received my Season's Greetings stamp before Bob and I wished everyone a happy holiday.
And, sticking with last year's tradition, I used a "with love" stamp to put my calling card on the back.
As previously mentioned, a few extra snowflakes were used in the gift wrapping stage. I was planning on sending more cards with them but all of a sudden it was December 23 which meant the cards would arrive post holiday for sure! Next year I definitely need to start working on cards earlier!
I realized this year the number of photo cards I received greatly outweighed the number of traditional cards. While I am not complaining as I love seeing the creative things folks do to put together their card and the poses their children are instructed to make, I will admit to missing out on the gorgeous cards that are out there - especially as I save them to use for decoration or other projects in future years!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

That's a Wrap

As this Christmas Day comes to a close, I hope you had a lovely time with friends and family - and if you are like me the family time doesn't end today. We spent the weekend with Bob's family and will head out to my sister's house tomorrow for some quality Goessel time.

I had much of last week off of work, though relaxing might not be the word - it was a present wrapping extravaganza - well, lets be honest, it was also a last minute present buying extravaganza. Most was done, but there was always room for a little more.

I decided to forgo the brightly colored holiday papers and pick up a big roll of brown kraft paper from Staples. The good news is that I still have plenty left and with the right amount of decoration this paper can be used for just about any occasion! I think I found my new stand by.
If you are wondering why I am eager to turn the second bedroom into a project room, just check out this mess. How does my craft stuff explode all over the entire living room? Its amazing.
Using some tags from a scrapbook paper pack and random ribbon left around the house, I got to work. After running out of ideas to attach the tags to the gifts so you could still read the back (to see who the gift is for and from), I broke out the stamp pad ink and alphabet stamps. I only ended up messing up once in a major way - and we are none the wiser once I taped a tag over the mistake. . . .
I jazzed them up with some leftover snowflakes from my Christmas Cards. And I am now realizing I have written these posts out of order. Consider this a sneak peek into what I did for Christmas cards this year and check back the next couple days to hear about them (and if you were a recipient of one I hope they were enjoyed!) 

When I said I used ribbon from around the house I wasn't kidding. I ended up using garden twine and kitchen string for the most part. Equal parts resourceful and cheap - or maybe more cheap than resourceful? You be the judge.
Mr. Sonny likes to think he's a gift. Per usual he and his brother spent the gift wrapping hours attacking the paper and stealing my alphabet stamps. I fear the day I am unable to find the letter "l" or "f" and need to think carefully about the words I use in my next card to avoid the missing ones!
Excited to give and get tomorrow with the fam. We had a nice holiday with Bob's family already. Bob framed three photos he took on our Egypt/Italy trip last spring for his mom, aunt and grandmother. Using the same kraft paper and gold and burgandy ribbons they were all ready to be unwrapped and enjoyed!
Here's the shot Bob captured of the Muhammad Ali Mosque in Cairo. The frame and matting was bought at Michaels. What an eye this guy has for framing.
I hope you have tomorrow off of work to continue your holiday!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Crock Pot Cookin' - Sweet Bean Chili

Part of my goals is to use the crock pot to its fullest extent this year. Getting to know new recipes and such. Awhile back we made this Sweet Chili and I figured it was due time I shared the recipe!
I was looking up slow cooker recipes on - where else? - allrecipes.com and hit on this highly rated goodie.

Slow Cooker Bean Casserole (aka Sweet Chili)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup molasses

1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 (16 ounce) can baked beans with pork
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 slices bacon
1 large green bell pepper, chopped (the pepper hater in me left this one out)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef

Cook bacon and diced pepper in skillet. Crumble the bacon and put both in the crockpot with first 6 ingredients. Brown the beef and stir into the crockpot. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour.

What I liked about this one was that it wasn't as time intensive as other slow cooker recipes - from start to finish I could complete it when I got home from work as opposed to getting everything ready the night before or early morning.

The molasses and BBQ flavor of the dish was a nice change from the usual spiciness that you get with chili and that my weak palette can't handle.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Demand to Be Housewarmed!

** the post title comes from Troy on Community. Don't get me started on the show not coming back mid-season.

Bob and I recently hosted our Housewarming Holiday Party and I would call it a success! If it wasn't for my intended tradition of always having a Harvest Party in October/November timeframe, I would definitely add a holiday party to the annual mix - it was so festive with the tree lights bright and the wine flowing!

As part of allrecipes.com "Cookies Across America" campaign, I asked guests to bring baking items to donate to the local pantry. In the end we have 25+ items (and many many pounds) to donate including flour, sugar, baking soda, peanut butter and more. Thanks generous friends! 
Appetizer wise I used a mostly Pinterest inspired menu! First up, these anti-pasto skewers were so easy to make once all the ingredients were purchased. Black olives, green olives, grape tomatoes, mozzerella balls, cheese tortellini marinated in balsamic vinagrette, salami and proscuitto. Don't mind if I do. Original idea featured in this blog.
I re-used the Pear and Blue Cheese Tartlets that went over well at Thanksgiving, but also added in some Brie and Walnut Tarlets to the mix as well. But how to tell the similar looking shells apart? I put them on different platters and was planning on making little tent cards to go along with them. However, once I got started, here's what I ended up with. I had a couple left over tags so I decorated the top with a vintage Christmas sticker and attached a jingle bell through the top. Sorry no photo of the actual food - the one I took is actually a bit blurry now that I look at it on the computer!
Next up, another Pinspired foodie item! After making this spinach dip recipe from allrecipes.com (minus the water chestnuts), we hollowed out some 2 inch baguette pieces (making sure not to rip through the bottom) and filled with the dip. A few veggies on the side creates a mini-bread bowl you can eat after you are done! I don't have the actual link to the source, but here's the Pinterest photo.
Finally, for dessert I made my Pumpkin Whoopie Pies at the behest of one of our guests who had them last year and made the request. So easy and so good - unfortunately I didn't eat one myself! (okay, I just re-read my first line here and saw that it contains many rhyming words, not the intention :-)
Bob and I decided to make a signature cocktail for the party and he stumbled onto Vanilla-Rum Colas on Martha Stewart's site. Dark rum, coke and a splash of vanilla was all it took. The garnish according to the recipe was oranges or kumquats. No kumquats in the three stores we went to, so we settled for something called a "satsuma" from Whole Foods. I even splurged and bought a fancy jar of vanilla for the display. I did run out of vanilla so needed it for baking anways. . .The glass coke bottle was just there for display - although I did buy a six pack of the glass coke bottles for myself. I don't drink a ton when we entertain but I wanted something fun to drink out of and am a sucker for the glass holiday bottles!
Soon enough, the new house filled with friends and we showed off the new space in between all of the eating and drinking. We had a great time and, as mentioned above, it was fun to not only show off our newly painted entryway and hung art, but also the tree and holiday decor!

Now that's a holiday card. . .
Another weekend is almost upon us - are you getting some last minute shopping done? Maybe not so last minute considering I am likely going to still be in purchase mode this time next week!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hangin' Around

Nothing like an impending housewarming party to get our butts in gear to finish up some home decor! In between a cleaning marathon before our guests arrived last Saturday night (more on the food, fun and frivolity in an upcoming post) we took some time out to hang a few items on the walls.

For a few months now, most of our framed pieces have been leaning against the walls of the second bedroom. Time to start emptying out that corner! We started by taking advantage of our newly painted green entryway and hung our Chicago signs. We don't have a hallway table just yet, but it will be placed just to the other side of the signs.
You might remember these signs and the story behind them from our "Chicago Wall" from our previous place. That was one of the first areas of our old home to come together so the Chicago Wall holds a special place in my heart.
And if you are curious, the Chicago neighborhoods piece now hangs in our second bathroom - it complements our shower curtain: a replica of the CTA map! Bought at Bed Bath and Beyond half ironically, we are starting to like the feel it gives the room!
Next up, Bob found a place for his black and white photography he made back in college. These are in simple black IKEA frames. For reference, they hung on the kitchen wall in our old apartment.
Our initial idea was to hang them as a similar foursome above the desk in the second bedroom. The black and white really pops against the blue wall. However, Bob had a brilliant idea of hanging them in a row with the fourth (or first, depending on your perception) on the kitty corner wall. Ta Da! I love how these turned out. It reminds me of a filmstrip. That lamp is in its temporary home, it is a bit too tall for the desk, we admit. However, we didn't want the frames too low as we'll likely be getting a monitor for the desk to go along with our impending Mac mini purchase. And by impending, I mean eventual.
Makes for a nice little work corner in the room! Of course, we can't actually use the desk because the twin beds currently take up every bit of space in the room, but more on that to come! We're thinking Murphy Bed or Sofa Bed or. . . who knows!

Also still to come - where we're putting all those darn travel posters we stocked up on when our guest bedroom had a Vintage Travel theme. We are thinking the opposite wall in the second bedroom, but will need to wait until we see how the layout of that room is going to end up to make a final call.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Importance of the Vignette

My friend Kara taught me the importance of the vignette. Creating small tableaus with accessories or furniture throughout the house as opposed to trying to focus on decorating a huge room. I have been pleased to complete two in my house so far, and with an empty hallway area begging for an entryway table I can definitely see where we might fit another.

First up, against the brick wall in the library area, we have a $20 IKEA Stefan Chair I snagged about 7 years ago alongside a tall vase with some fake foliage from Michael's. Currently we have some holiday themed gold and red berry branches to give it a little spirit. Above the chair we hung Bob's original art piece, first written about here. Now hanging from brick has been an interesting endeavor. I'll detail the how-to in an upcoming post!
Next up is the vignette in our bedroom. Now I'm not saying a chair is a requirement in every vignette, but they can help, can't they? We have our $99 IKEA Mongstad Mirror leaning against the Poppy Glow closet wall. One of the chairs we found at an estate sale awhile back (the other is used as a desk chair) sits next to my newest purchase: a Sunset Orange Garden Stool.
What do you think about a stack of coffee table books on the chair? It seems like this vignette is missing a little something. . . I will take any and all suggestions! We have been thinking a out spray painting the chair a deep purple to play with our warm Moroccan feel to the bedroom. Not to mention it would be nice to hide some of the scratches our little chair has endured in the past two moves.

I have been seeing these Porcelain Garden Stools for about a year or more in almost every home store and design mag. Before I knew what they were called, my google searches consisted of "oval stool" or "ceramic end table" which didn't always get me very far. Finally I stumbled onto some images of a Porcelain Garden Stool and had my answer! Now, I have seen these run much more expensive, so color me surprised when I snagged one for $110 (and free shipping) from Amazon.com.
For further inspiration, I look to Pinterest (where else?)
Hello entryways. Nice to meet you. (from this blog)
And this fireplace sitting area option with chaise, suitcases, lamp and flowers could definitely be at home in my home.
What vignettes can you find in your house? Maybe a holiday display vignette or a rarely used spot in the hallway you've jazzed up - bringing a little more to your decor?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bake A Difference Day!

I received a notice this week from allrecipes.com regarding a holiday program and just had to share! Along with Taste of Home Magazine and Nestle, allrecipes is serving up "Cookies Across America" on December 10 (and throughout December). Host a bake-off amongst friends, make a few dozen yourself to wrap up or just collect baking ingredients to share with your local food pantry, nursing home, shelter or community agency.

They also have information on the "Drop In & Decorate" give back program to bake, decorate and donate to those who need a little extra help this holiday season and throughout the year.

Fittingly, we are hosting our housewarming party on December 10! I have updated our evite to ask guests to bring baking items to help us make a donation to the local food pantry. Here's a short list that might get you thinking of pulling something together on your side:

- Flour
- Peanut Butter
- Shortening
- White Sugar
- Brown Sugar
- Powdered Sugar
- Vanilla
- Baking Soda
- Baking Powder

And in the spirit of "Cookies Across America," be sure to check out these links from past posts showcasing some of my favorite cookie recipes! (see if you can find the theme in the types of cookies I like. . .)
Chocolate Crinkles
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

So get yourself in the giving mood, but do feel free to eat a few treats yourself this season!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tree Time

When you have 17-foot ceilings, the size of your Christmas Tree is not a huge concern. However, when you are buying said tree in downtown Chicago as opposed to northwoods Wisconsin where they are a dime a dozen, suddenly size matters!

We headed out on a rainy post-Thanksgiving weekend to Gethsemane in Andersonville, the same place we found a tree two holidays ago. The one nice thing about looking for trees in this environment is that they are all pretty well groomed already. Trudging through the tree farms of the "cut your own" variety, every misshapen, non-perfect tree is looked at before you find those perfect specimens. We set our sights on this 9 foot beauty and they trimmed the bottom and trunk for us before twining it to the roof of our car.

Bob and I came up with a business idea on the car ride home. We buy our own twining machine and stand outside tree lots. A cute child repeats our tagline, "We'll twine your twee for a twenty!" Who would pay $20 just to get it twined up? I would hope no one, but it works with the other words so there you go. . .

The tree stand was dug out of the storage area and set up against our brick wall. Originally, we were going to put the tree against the window in the library area, but this way we can always see it while sitting on the couch!
The twine was snipped and we let the branches settle a bit before tackling it with lights. As mentioned in a previous post, we still need to buy another set of lights. I realized the other day that our middle set is out! D'oh!

Bob uses a step stool to snip off the top in order to fit our tree topper. This is the first year in a long time the topper is not angled awkwardly and actually looks right!
I keep seeing "how to take perfect tree photos" links on Pinterest and will need to check them out. For now, a couple shots of some up close ornaments. Many of these are from Bob and my individual childhoods, but I have been amassing quite the collection over the last five or six years between book club ornament exchange, gifts and my own shopping excursions! Freshman year of college I decided I liked star ornaments and now have at least 30 covering the tree - maybe when we are a two-tree household we'll have one dedicated to all of the stars!
Although it seems you should only be able to decorate a tree with Christmas music in the background, I think I decorated to the sounds of NFL Sunday. . .ahh well, Bob did let me hijack the system for a couple hours to listen to the new Michael Buble CD and my Diana Krall Christmas CD. Jazzy, indeed.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Setting the Scene

The Thanksgiving leftovers are barely cold and we're already dismantling the fall decor to make room for Christmas! Our extra desk was moved to make room for the Christmas Tree, so we created some extra space in the library for the time being to set up a display for the holidays. I'm also looking ahead at this table being utilized for our upcoming housewarming party!
Bob and I have been playing around with a plain white frame up on the wall. Against the brick, the picture-less frame looks pretty modern and fun. I turned it sideways and hung glittery snowflakes at different lengths to set a background. My three-years-running imagery of sheepskin rug, silver deer and two feather trees makes an appearance along with several vases and a hurricane holding blue and silver hued balls. 
A silver snowman and snowflake candle fill up one side. The candle is actually on a silver candy plate I filled with small decorative ornaments. And the story behind the snowman? Each year our book club does an ornament exchange. Last year, I was not the recipient of the adorable Pottery Barn snowman ornament and planned a quick shopping trip in my jealousy. By the end of the week I had my own little man. This year's ornament exchange is happening tomorrow night - what else will my eyes be tempted by??
I picked up the "Seasons Greetings" decoration during a random thrift store stop for $2.50. I normally wouldn't buy something just because it was on sale, but I am lacking in "phrase" decor" for the holiday and thought it finished off the display.
On one hand, I want to create a new scene each year, but on the other I don't want that to mean I buy all new things with each year! One or two new decor items a year - that's what I get. Although. . .if one of those things only cost $2.50, maybe that means I have a little more leeway? 
Okay, now I hit my quota - I'm a little bit in love with this bird I picked up at Gethsemane Garden Center and Gift Shop when we were tree shopping this weekend!
Here's a reminder of the slight differences featured on my display table from the past couple years. 
2009:
2010. PS. those cheap-o mirrors from TJ Maxx ripped paint off of our walls. Yikes. We hid the mess by putting up a painting and then touching up the paint before moving out!
A bit above the table you'll see three ornaments hanging by decorative ribbon. I took the ornament cluster idea from a few Pinterest shots.
Alongside the table, you'll see our card holder stuffed to the gills with Christmas Cards. No, I haven't already received my share of greetings, I am just one of those people who saves the best looking cards and my friends and family do not disappoint with some gorgeous ones year after year! As we do get new ones in this season I'll just plan on switching out some of the old ones to freshen it up. That reminds me that I need to get a move on my cards for the year. . .
Stay tuned this week for more photos of how our fireplace mantle turned out and a few shots of our lovely, albeit pricey, tree! Here's a sneak peek - we're in the process of procuring a few more lights - I swear I had another strand of 100 but seemed to come up short this year. We followed last year's tradition and hung the lights vertically. Let's just say I had to re-do it at least three times because I kept starting with the wrong end. . .
What about you? Is the tree up? Did you take advantage of Cyber Monday? I abstained from any shopping today, but am quickly realizing how little time there actually is to cross all those presents off the list!