Saturday, October 24, 2009

Halloween Treat Bucket

I wanted to share this adorable Halloween treat bucket that I just finished! I just love the way it turned out. I got the inspiration for this project from Tami Sanders, who is a designer for Reminisce. (Ok, so it wasn't just inspiration, it was more like I copied her project wholesale.) Here is a link to Tami's blog where she featured this project last month: I fell in love with the project and rushed down to Hobby Lobby to buy everything I needed for it.

Like so many things in life, this ended up taking much longer than I expected, but it's finally done, and it's not Halloween yet! Anyway, the shot above is the front of the treat bucket; the two opposite sides use different papers and trims. Here is a shot of one of the other sides:

Although Tami didn't post actual instructions for her project, I just kind of figured it out using the picture that she posted. Like Tami, I used a small, unfinished wooden waste paper basket from Hobby Lobby for the base. I adhered a purple dot paper to all sides of the wooden base, then added the shaped paper pieces along the middle of each side. The border trims were precut and self-stick, so all I had to do was measure the length I needed, peel the backing off, and stick. You could use about any border sticker for this, or you could use borders you cut yourself with a Cricut, Quickutz or other die cutting system.

Once the borders were in placed, I inked the edges of everything with a black ink pad, then coated all four sides of the container with glossy Mod Podge, putting on three coats until the whole thing was shiny and beautiful. Can I just say that I LOVE glossy Mod Podge? It is the greatest stuff! For the pleated trim along the top of the bucket, I tore long strips from a sheet of coordinating paper, and placed the strips on a sheet of waxed paper. I then gave them a couple of coats of Mod Podge. Once they were dry, I pleated them in a random fashion and ran a line of stitching down the middle to both hold the pleats down and to keep the pieces together. When I was done with this step, I had one long strip of pleated trim. I attached it to the top of the bucket with a hot glue gun, following the line of the wooden container.

Next step was a few coats of glossy black craft paint for the big wooden letter "T." (The big wooden letter came from Hobby Lobby, too.) Once that was dry, I used a white pigment marker to make stitching lines around the edge, and tied a few pieces of colorful ribbon to the stem of the "T." I made the white base for the rest of the word "Treats," inked the edges, and adhered that to the container. Then I hot glued the "T" into place, and hot glued on the other letters, which are just black chipboard. The little wooden pumpkins came in a package of about 20, already painted and ready to be used. I hot glued those on, along with some Making Memories "Word Fetti" word stickers, to finish the focal point of the container, the word "Treat."

Here is a close-up of the big wooden "T" and the chipboard letters:

Finally, I hot glued two wooden pumpkins on the other three sides of the container, and put a couple of coats of Mod Podge over the sticker words, the white word base, and the chipboard letters. I did that simply because they would have looked sort of weird if I hadn't done it, since everything else on the container had a glossy finish.

I left everything to dry overnight, and that's it! So, I guess I need to go out today and buy some Halloween candy, huh? I'm super glad this project is done, because this afternoon the kids and I are going to carve pumpkins, and I'm going to try a "medium" level design of a grim reaper kind of skull. The last time I tried something more complex than your typical Jack-o-lantern, I got some of my cuts too close together the whole face of my pumpkin collapsed. Which actually didn't look that bad. So, maybe I'll have a cool carved pumpkin picture to post in a day or two. In the meantime, thanks again to Tami Sanders for the inspiration for this fun candy bucket!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Peanut Butter Brownies

This is my favorite non-chocolate brownie recipe. Prior to finding this recipe, I'd never liked "blondie" recipes all that much. Not because they didn't taste good, but because it seemed that a non-chocolate bar cookie could never have the texture of chocolate brownies, and that moist, chewy, fudgy texture is one of the things I love most about "real" brownies. Enter this recipe. These peanut butter laden bars come out flavorful, sweet and delicious, but just as importantly, they've got a dense and almost fudgy texture, very similar to the best chocolate brownies. Throw in some chocolate chips, and you'll have people swooning. Even if you're an inexperienced baker, this easy recipe will be successful.

Before I get to the recipe, though, a quick word to less experienced bakers. Unlike cooking soups and casseroles and meats, baking is much more of an exact science. You can't do the Rachel Ray "just eyeball it" when you're measuring ingredients for baking, and RR herself will tell you that (and it's one of the reasons she doesn't really like to bake). Flour and sugar should be measured with nesting cups meant to measure dry ingredients, and after measuring, you need to level the top off with a knife.

I realize how basic all of that sounds, but years ago, I had a friend who was a pretty good cook, and only a fair baker. Once, when I was at his house, I discovered why. I happened to stop by one afternoon just as he was starting to make cookies for a friend's birthday. As we chatted, he pulled out a bowl, a canister of flour, and a measuring cup. One of those glass measuring cups with a lip on it. I shrieked. Why was he about to use a liquid measuring cup to measure flour? He looked at me like I was crazy. That was the cup he used to measure everything, he told me. Flour, oil, water, sugar -- he measured it all in that same cup. After some poking around in his kitchen, I discovered that he did in fact own a set of dry measuring cups, but he used the glass cup for convenience. He figured a cup was a cup, so if you're making cookies, might as well only dirty one measuring cup. I'm all for efficiency and fewer dishes, but a LIQUID cup (8 fluid ounces) is not the same as a cup measured by volume. (Mixing up measurements is surprisingly prevalent. On QVC, they frequently boast that containers of Philosophy shower gel are "a full pound." But they're not -- they're 16 FLUID ounces, not 16 ounces by weight, which is what a pound is.) Remember what I said about baking being an exact science? To get the right measurements of the ingredients you'll be using, you need a liquid measuring cup for liquids, and dry measuring cups for dry ingredients. It can be the difference between a baking success, and a failure. Oh, and "solids," like the peanut butter in the recipe below, are measured using the dry ingredient cups, as well.

Peanut Butter Brownies

1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup chocolate or peanut butter chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13x9 baking pan. In a medium bowl, cream together peanut butter and margarine. Gradually blend in the brown sugar, white sugar, eggs and vanilla; beat until fluffy. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir into the peanut butter mixture until well blended. Fold in the chocolate chips, if using. Turn into the prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until the top springs back when touched. Do NOT overbake! Cool, then cut into squares. Makes about 2 dozen.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Layouts

Just wanted to share a couple of layouts that I did this weekend. Seems like I have been working on a lot of special projects in the past couple of months, including keeping up my Project 365 album and doing three small baby albums, so I confess that it had been awhile since I'd scrapped any pages for my regular old family albums. Finished both of the above layouts at my scrapbook group's crop this past Friday night, and boy did that feel good! I've always been one of those people that, the more I scrapbook, the more I WANT to scrapbook, so hopefully getting these two layouts done sparked my mojo.

Love the Halloween Parade layout! That's my little guy in the photo on the left, in the green metallic alien costume. I made that costume a number of years ago when my older son was 8 or 9, and what I remember most is that sewing the alien head was quite an ordeal! The head is actually oversized and has stuffing in the top, and I had to buy some special black fabric for the eyes, too. Oh, and the costume has boot spats that fit down over the shoes, as well. The layout uses my all-time favorite paper line, KI Memories. These papers are from their Halloween line from several years ago -- you can't even find them anymore. There are SOOOOOO many KI papers that I would just love to have more of -- these Halloween papers, the Grateful line (autumn colors and Thanksgiving theme) and all of the Colorful line. The glittery 3-D postage-stamp shaped stickers are from the Michael's dollar bins. I've found some of cutest embellishments in those bins! I cut the title using the Quickutz Nutmeg font, one of my newer font purchases. I like it because it's a nice in-between size, not too big and not too small, and it has just enough flourish.

The Scout page was fun because I ended up playing around with a sheet of rub-on stitches made by Die Cuts With a View. I do stitch on my pages for real, using a sewing machine, but rub-on stitches are great for taking to crops, or when I'm just too lazy to sit down at the sewing machine. This particular sheet of rub-on stitches was all primary colors, and the various colors went perfectly with my background paper. I own a whole set of rub-on stitches (like, 12 sheets of them in all colors and patterns), and I hate to say it, but this was the first time I've used them! It won't be the last -- they went on very easily (but not too easily), didn't break or lift off, and they look great. The scalloped border is thin chipboard that I painted with white craft paint.

It's cold here today, so I have split pea soup with ham in the slow cooker for dinner, and I'm planning to make Grandma's Cornbread to go along with it. I'm going to try to post a recipe or two this week, but in the meantime, keep warm, and Happy Fall!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Photo Planning

Do you get Creating Keepsakes magazine? I do, and I still love it as much as I did when I first started subscribing to it. Granted, there are usually a few features each month that I'm not crazy about, and sometimes some of the layouts aren't really my style, but in general, I still gets lots of ideas and inspiration from this magazine. And every now and then, an article or tip or project published in CK makes me take a step back and say "Wow! Fantastic idea! Why didn't I think of that?"

A month or so ago, I had just such an "aha!" moment as I was sitting out on our sunporch, my CK spread open on the table in front of me. The source of my mental commotion was an article from the special 2009 Top 10 issue entitled "10 Can't Miss Photos to Take Each Month," by Joannie McBride. The simple, straightforward article consisted of a list of each month of the year, with 10 ideas for photos bulleted under each month.

Okay, call me crazy, but the proverbial light bulb went on in my head as I read this piece. I've often carried ideas around in my head for a special picture or two that I wanted to take on different occasions, but I have to admit that it had NEVER occurred to me to actually write down all of those photo ideas, much less organize them by month. This simple idea was pure genius. I just love the idea of thinking about each month ahead of time, contemplating the events and photo opportunities it might bring, and listing ideas for photos that I want to make sure I don't miss for that month. I'm a fairly organized person, but I never thought of bringing some kind of organization to the wealth of random photo ideas fluttering around in my head. When I look at scrapbook magazines, I often mark layouts featuring interesting or unusual photographs, noting in the margin "photo idea." But most of the time, those notes never make it out of the margin of the magazine page. (That's why it took me several years to get around to taking the photos for a layout about our family's most cherished Christmas ornaments -- I'd never remember to take the necessary photos while the tree was up!) Now those margin notes would have a home under the appropriate month on my "Photos to Take" list, where they'd be much more useful.

Now, unlike the CK article, I don't plan to map out a year's worth of "can't miss" photos ahead of time, although you could certainly do that if you were so inclined. Instead, what I plan to do is sit down on the first day or so of a new month with a cup of coffee, my calendar and that inspirational "Top 10" article, and really think about the upcoming month. I plan to make a list of photos I'd like to take that month (and I'm not limiting myself to 10 ideas!), taking into consideration seasonal changes, what my family is going to be doing, the kids' school activities, holidays or celebrations that might be included in that month, and other factors. Once completed, I'm going to keep my list for that month right in my monthly planner, so that I can see it and refer to it often throughout the month. Will I end up taking every photo on my "Photos to Take" list for a given month? That's pretty unlikely. But with the list as an easy reference point, I have no doubt that I'll do a better job of remembering to take my camera to more "everyday" kind of events (isn't that half the battle sometimes?), and I'll be more conscious and deliberate about capturing images that are important to me, both for my family's enjoyment and simply to make scrapbooking easier and more fun. Am I ONLY going to take photos from my list? Of course not. The "planned" photos will simply take their place alongside all of the spontaneous, everyday photos that I also take each month.

Seeing as how it's the beginning of October, I thought I'd go ahead and share my list of photos for the coming month with you.

Photos to Take -- October 2009

Jack 'o' lantern before and after (this cool idea is from CK)
Fall baked item on new pumpkin serving tray
My family, all wearing sweaters
Stack of my favorite sweatshirts, folded
Colorful fall foliage -- both landscape shots and detail shots
High school football game
Marching band at "light show" halftime performance
Brian holding a jack 'o' lantern and imitating its expression (from CK)
New fall wreath on the front door
Baskets of apples at a farm market
Kids at the pumpkin patch (need to plan a trip to do this one)
Cases of Boy Scout popcorn stacked up in my garage
Bosses' Day food spread at work
* Kids' costumes
* Groups of ToT'ers going around the neighborhood
* New treat bucket I intend to make
* Halloween decor
* The candy haul
* Brandon with his friends

Well, that's my list. Are you ready to create yours?