Friday, December 10, 2010

Denim Circle Quilt

The quilt pictured above is a Christmas gift for my 10-year-old son, Brian.  He loves blankets and always cuddles up with one when he watches TV or reads.  So, earlier this fall, I got the idea into my head to make him a quilt.  I started it in early September and I finished it (finally!) over Thanksgiving weekend.  It's pretty big -- about twin bed size, so Brian could use it on his bed if he wants to do that.

What I made is called a denim circle quilt.  I got the idea from a thread on a scrapbooking message board.  It's one of those quilts that is put together differently than you'd think, and isn't nearly as difficult as it looks.  It's actually made with circles of denim (LOTS of them!) which are sewn together side to side.  You then add print blocks in the center of each circle, pin the edges of the circle over the blocks and use a close zig zag stitch to encase the edges.  There is no batting at all, so in that sense it isn't a "traditional" quilt.  Also, you can make this in pieces, which made the project much more doable for me. 

The website that I got the instructions from is here:  I did things a little bit differently, in that I used somewhat bigger circles and squares than suggested in the instructions.  Also, I bought a plastic quilting square which I used to mark the middles of the circles, and I bought a gizmo to help me mark and cut perfect circles.

Here is a picture of the pattern that the stitching creates on the back of the quilt.

I just love the flower/circle pattern of the stitching!  Anyway, if you decide to tackle this project, you'll find that people online always describe this as a project for someone with no sewing experience.  If you've really never sewn before, I wouldn't recommend this as a first project.  While it's not difficult, it is very time consuming, and you really have to be careful about matching the circles correctly or the rows don't fall into place as they should.  Also, I made this quilt in six sections (which the website suggests), but putting those six sections together into the finished quilt was quite an endeavor.  I've NEVER made a quilt, and I was somewhat unprepared for how bulky the whole quilt was, and how difficult it was to feed it smoothly into the sewing machine.  If you're like me and have never tackled a quilt, I suggest reading some general quilting tips because it really helps to find out how other (experienced!) quilters deal with some of the difficulties.

Geez, I'm probably making this sound harder than it was!  It was actually a really fun project, and though it was a little more difficult than I'd thought it would be, I learned a lot while doing it and the finished project looks great (if I do say so myself).  Certainly, this is easier than a traditional quilt, so don't hesitate to give it a try!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Paradise Pumpkin Pie

Since it's almost Thanksgiving, I thought I'd share a favorite holiday recipe of mine.  You know, pumpkin pie is one of those things that isn't easy to improve on.  I mean, for years I (like millions of other people) used the recipe on the back of the Libby's label, and my pies always turned out great.  But then, a few years ago, I noticed this recipe for Paradise Pumpkin Pie on and decided to try it.  Let me put it this way.  Oh.My.Gosh.  This pie truly is "paradise."  My family likes it so much that it's now my staple pumpkin pie recipe for Thanksgiving.

First I'll share the recipe, and then I'll give you a second idea for serving it.

Paradise Pumpkin Pie

1 refrigerated pie crust

Cheesecake layer:
8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg, beaten
Pumpkin layer:
1-1/4 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
 1/4 tsp. salt
Pecan Streusel Topping:
2 T. flour
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Fit pie crust into pie plate, then refrigerate.  To make cheesecake layer:  In a medium mixing bowl, beat cream cheese til smooth.  Beat in sugar, then add vanilla and egg.  Beat mixture until light and smooth.  Spread into pastry shell and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  To make pumpkin layer:  In a large bowl, combine pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, eggs, both sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.  Pour pumpkin mixture over chilled cream cheese layer.  Cover edges of crust with aluminum foil.  Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes.  Remove foil from edges and bake an additional 30 minutes.  While pie is in the oven, mix up the pecan streusel.  Combine flour and sugar in a small bowl.  Mix well, then add softened butter and stir til combined.  Mix in pecans.  After pie has been in oven for 55 minutes, remove and sprinkle topping evenly on top.  Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Here is what the pie looks like just out of the oven.  The picture at the beginning of the post is a cut slice, showing off the pie's two beautiful layers.

The one thing that is somewhat tricky about this pie is the topping.  Because you don't put it on until the pie has been baking for almost an hour, it can be very difficult to get it to "stick."  The reason is that, like any custard pie, pumpkin pies "puff" somewhat once they've been in the over for awhile, then they settle after they're taken from the oven.  Because the pie will be rather puffy after 55 minutes in the oven, the topping has a tendency to roll off the sides.  One thing that helps is making sure the pecan pieces are chopped very small, and that all of the topping ingredients are well mixed.  You can also try adding the topping a little bit earlier in the baking process, but it may brown too much if you do it this way.  I just kind of deal with the topping, trying to keep as much of it on the top of the pie as possible.  The topping is super yummy and frankly, it's worth fussing with it a bit.

Here's another option, though.  If you want, you can skip the topping altogether and serve the pie with a delicious Maple Praline Sauce (recipe below).  It adds a similar kind of flavor to the finished pie.  Or, if you're really feeling indulgent, you can add the topping to the pie as called for, AND serve it with the sauce!

Maple Praline Sauce
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. maple flavoring
1/4 cup sour cream

In skillet, melt butter.  Add pecans and toast over medium heat about 5 minutes.  Add sugar, syrup and flavoring; cook and stir another 2-4 minutes until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat; stir in sour cream.  Serve warm with Paradise Pumpkin Pie.

The great thing about this pie is that it is close enough to a traditional pumpkin pie to not ruffle the purists who might be at your dining table, but it will still satisfy those who like to try something just a little bit different.  In any case, I HIGHLY recommend this pie.  In fact, writing this post, I'm wondering if maybe I need to make a "test" pie before Thanksgiving . . .  You know, just to make sure it's as delicious as I remember!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fall-Themed Cards

You know, I always try to tell myself that I don't really like fall, because it means that winter isn't very far away.  But, in truth, I really DO like fall.  The gorgeous colors of the leaves, the start of a new school year, the crisp air, that special smell in the air -- I love them all.  I also love fall activities, like college football, pumpkin carving and apple picking.  And, I have to say, fall definitely motivates me in a creative sense.  I'm not really one to make a ton of spring-themed cards or craft projects, but fall always seems to get me going.  In the stores, I find myself reaching for adorable pumpkin- and leaf-themed embellishments, whether I need them or not!  So, when I was home with my sick little guy the other day, I decided to whip up a few notecards featuring some of those new embellishments, and using warm fall colors like gold, brown, green, and pumpkin orange. 

For the sunflowers on the two cards above, I stamped images on mixed media paper and colored them in with Copic markers.  I then cut the images out and simply glued them to the card fronts.  I love to just play around and experiment with my Copic markers, so I'll often stamp a whole series of images on a sheet of mixed media paper and just try out different color combinations and ideas for shading.  Failures get tossed, and images that I like usually end up being cut out and put into a basket near my scrapping area, where I'll see them the next time I decide to make cards.

I've been LOVING embellishments from K&Co. lately, including their package of fall borders, like the pumpkin border on the card above.  All of the borders are self-stick, and feature just a little glitter for a bit of added panache.  The leaf border on the "Capture the Joy" card below is from the same package.  The vellum titles are all from a package that was in the dollar section at Jo-Ann's.  The leaves on the cards below, and the pumpkin and leave on the "Friend" card above, are all from a package of K&Co. layered, 3-D embellishments.  I always look for these kinds of embellishments because they make fantastic, quick cards.

Notice that for the "Together" card above, I cut some of the pumpkins from that same border but just adhered them individually onto the card.  I like that I was able to use the very same supply but give the card a whole different look.  For the two cards immediately above, I used up a few really old items, including some scraps of one of my favorite KI Memories paper from years ago.  Nothing like combining old and new items and making things work together.

Fall inspires me in the kitchen, too.  Once the weather gets colder, I find myself searching for new recipes to try for soups, stews and breads.  I'm sure I'll have some new ones to share with you soon! 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Book Journal

Well, unfortunately, it's been awhile since I've posted.  I was sick with a lingering virus most of September and just couldn't keep up with daily responsibilities, much less anything extra.  But I've been wanting to share this project that I recently got started on.  It's a book journal, and it's something I've been thinking of making for a long time.

I'm kind of strange about reading -- I pretty much only read "classic" literature.  My reasoning here is pretty simple.  The "classics" are supposed to be books that, for one reason or another, have stood the test of time and continue to have something important to offer readers, right?  Since I am a slow reader and don't get many books finished in a year, I figured I might as well devote my time to tackling some of the great books that (as an English Literature major in college) I was probably supposed to read, but never did.  I had the idea of starting a book journal quite awhile ago, but never got around to actually making one.  I thought it would be kind of neat to have a place to record my own personal thoughts about the books that I've been reading.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I dove in and got started on the journal.  Mine is housed in a 6x6 album, just one I had left over from the days when I used to make lots of little albums in this size for baby gifts.  I had a simple K&Co. one with a "map" cover sitting in the drawer that I decided to use for my book journal.  At some point, I might embellish or change the cover, but for now, it's fine.  I thought the map could signify my reading journey, or maybe that's a little too corny.  A major selling point for me is that the album has 20 interior page protectors, twice as many as some others, plus it has a post binding so I can add additional page protectors in the future if I want to.

Anyway, the photo above is the inside cover page of the album.  I decided to keep it very simple and just call the album "Books I've Read."  The week before, I had been playing with my new set of Copic markers, coloring stamped images, so I had the blue and purple butterfly image sitting on my craft table and decided to use that for the cover page.  I chose the Quickutz font "Blossom" for the title because it's a font I happen to own in three sizes.  Ok, I don't just "happen to" own it in three sizes.  It is my all-time, hands-down favorite font so I own it in about every format that exists.  I used the "grand" size font for the title page.  

For the inside layouts, I decided ahead of time to do a two-page layout for each book.  I created a template for my comments in Word Perfect (yes, I know, I'm the only person that still uses this software but I prefer it over Word, which I am required to use at work).  My template has spots for the name and author of the book, the date that I finished reading it, my reasons for picking up the book in the first place, and then of course a large area for my thoughts about the book.  I decided that for the left-hand side of each layout, I would simply take a photo of the book and mount it on cardstock along with a die-cut title and a flower or two.  Again, super simple, but I think it looks nice.  I used my smallest size Blossom font for the book title, to ensure that it would fit in the space.

The photo above is the layout that I made for Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," which I read this summer.  My 16 year old son read it in his English class last year and was very moved and affected by the book.  So much so that he kept insisting I had to read it, which I finally did.  My second layout is below, featuring "Anna Karenina."  By the way, if you've read this book, I'd love to hear your comments on it!  I decided to read it because many people say it's the best book ever written.  I kept thinking, how can I go through life when I haven't read arguably the greatest book ever written?  So if I had a bucket list (which I don't, because I abhor that term), I guess I would be crossing "read Anna Karenina" off of it.

Another thing that motivated me to finally get the book journal started was that a friend at work and I are planning to read Tolstoy's "War and Peace" together over the winter.  She'll be reading it on her cute little Kindle, while I haul the 1,200 page volume around.  In any case, we plan to meet each week to talk about what we've read, and I found some discussion questions online that we'll use as starting points.  Before we start "War and Peace," though, I have to finish D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love."  Let me just say that it's a strange book, and it's hard to read, so it's taking me even longer than normal to finish it.  In any case, I really did want to keep the layouts in my book journal simple so that when I finish a book, I can just pull up a template, write down my thoughts, take a photo of the book cover, and have a finished layout to add to the album in no time.

Have you made a book journal or a similar kind of project?  Many years ago, when one of my primary hobbies was counted cross-stitch, I kept an album of photos of projects that I'd finished and given away as gifts.  Even now, I love occasionally looking through that album and remembering those special pieces.  If you've done an ongoing journal like my book journal or cross-stitch journal, I'd love to hear about it!  For now, though, wish me luck in getting "Women in Love" finished and into the book journal!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Easy Dinner: Asian Beef with Snow Peas

With the kids about to go back to school, I to back to many of my tried and true weekday recipes.  We always seem to have a lot going on on weekday evenings, so I like to have a stash of quick and easy recipes that I can turn to on those nights.  Asian Beef with Snow Peas is one of those recipes -- in fact, the thing that takes the longest about this recipe is making the rice!  (More about that later.)

First things first.  You've probably noticed that even though today's recipe is titled Asian Beef with Snow Peas, those are NOT snow peas in the picture above.  It's broccoli.  Which brings me to another thing I LOVE about this recipe -- it's pretty easy to substitute something else for the snow peas if you don't happen to have any of those on hand.  Okay, first I'll give you the recipe, and then I'll give a few helpful tips.

Asian Beef with Snow Peas (adapted from a recipe on

3 T. soy sauce
2 T. rice wine
1 T. brown sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 T. vegetable oil
1 T. minced fresh gingeroot
1 T. minced garlic
1 pound beef round steak, cut into thin strips
8 oz. snow peas
Hot cooked rice

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, brown sugar and cornstarch.  Set aside.  Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over medium high heat.  Stir-fry ginger and garlic for 30 seconds.  Add the steak and stir-fry for 2 minutes, or until evenly browned.  Add the snow peas and stir-fry for an additional 3 minutes.  Add the soy sauce mixture and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Lower heat and simmer until the sauce is thick and smooth.  Serve immediately over hot cooked rice.

Now for a few tips.  When I make this dish, the first thing I do is start the rice.  I use a small electric rice cooker, which I just love.  The rice always comes out perfect, and I love that you just load the rice and water in there, turn it on, and let it do its thing!  I've found that rice takes about 35 minutes in the rice cooker if I'm starting with cold water, so that's why I start the rice first.  Once the rice is going, I cut the meat, mince the garlic and ginger, and cut the cleaned snow peas in half.  Of course, you could do these tasks ahead of time, too, and just keep the chopped ingredients cold in the fridge.

Although the recipe itself calls for round steak, I personally recommend using a better, more tender cut of meat.  The meat only cooks for a few minutes, so unless it's a tender cut to start with, it won't be deliciously tender when the dish is done.  I like to use a sirloin cut for this recipe, and of course you want to find a piece of meat with as little fat as possible.  Cut all of the visible fat off the meat before cutting it into thin strips.

There is a lot of temptation to "fool around" with this recipe, because it's so darned simple.  Every time I make it, it surprises me that it doesn't call for onions.  I, personally, try to resist the temptation to mess around with this recipe too much, because its simplicity is really what makes it so great, and so perfect for a school night dinner.  Adding more ingredients or more vegetables translates into more prep time, and more cooking time.  And, the thing is, this recipe is REALLY good just as its written.  Once those few ingredients are combined, they produce an amazingly tasty dish.

Oh, one more word of caution.  I wrote down 1 tsp. for the amount of cornstarch, but you may want to experiment and see if you prefer to use a little more.  Frankly, the sauce will not really get "thick and smooth" using only 1 tsp. of cornstarch.  So I'll sometimes us a little more than this.  And, make sure you lower the heat after you add the sauce mixture, because cornstarch does its magic at lower temperatures.

Finally, in case you were wondering, yes, this is a pretty healthy recipe.  If you use a good cut of beef and trim away the fat, and are careful to stick to using 1 T. of oil for the stir-frying, a serving of this dish (minus the rice) has only 218 calories and 7.5 grams of fat.  Now that's a weeknight dinner that any mom could love! 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ribbon Storage Solution

Most paper crafters that I know have lots of ribbon, and I'm certainly no exception.  I've accumulated tons of different colors and styles over the past few years.  I love to use ribbon on scrapbook pages and cards, tie lengths of it to the binder rings of mini albums, and use it to make Christmas ornaments.  But, as you know, anytime you get a lot of something, storage becomes an issue.

I struggled with how to store my ribbon for a long time.  I generally buy rolls of ribbon rather than short pieces, so initially, I kept all of my ribbon on the rolls and just lined them up in a shoebox.  That worked okay until one shoebox became two, then three, and then . . . well, you get the idea.  Then I saw online where someone had wound all of their ribbon onto wooden clothespins and put all of the clothespins into a big glass jar.  The colorful jar full of ribbon was very eye-catching and actually looked pretty out on the person's work area.  I had access to some huge glass jars, so I decided to go this route.  It took a really, really long time, but I wound all of my ribbons onto wooden clothespins and secured the ends with straight pins.  I loaded them into a couple of big glass jars and they were not only accessible, but they added a nice decorative element to my scrap space.

After awhile, though, I started to dislike the jars.  They took up a LOT of space, and to really look through my ribbon, I pretty much had to to dump all of the filled clothespins out on the table.  I just wasn't loving this storage method any longer, and started to look for something new.  I bought one of those soft, clear plastic ribbon "purses" that has holes all over the sides, because I thought that method would be portable.  You thread one length of ribbon through each of the many, many holes in the container, and basically you can take your whole ribbon collection with you.  While the container really does hold much more than you'd ever suspect, it really isn't made for a ribbon collection like mine.  What I mean is that the "ribbon purse" method works best if what you have are a bunch of individual lengths of ribbon, say a yard or so each.  It doesn't work so well if you have really, really LONG lengths of ribbon, like a whole spool's worth (i.e., anywhere from 3 to 8 yards).  So, I abandoned that method, as well.

Finally, I stumbled upon a thread on my favorite message board about storing ribbon, and someone mentioned ribbon cards, the method that I am currently using.  While I suppose you could be green and frugal and cut your own cards from leftover cardboard, I highly recommend these little beauties:

They are sturdy cards specifically made for wrapping ribbon, and while the picture shows the cards meant for 1/2" ribbon, the company, Magistical Memories, makes various sized ribbon wrapping cards.  And I'm going to be honest here, it's those notches on the cards that make ALL the difference.  After surveying my ribbon stash, I bought a package of each size of cards from the company's website, and an extra package of the 1/2" cards, because I have more ribbon that width than any other size.  I then organized all of my ribbon by size and by color, and started wrapping the ribbon onto the cards.  The notches on the cards make this truly easy, although it takes awhile if you have a ton of ribbon like I do.  Ok, now, here is the BEST PART of this ribbon storage method -- the Magistical Memories cards fit PERFECTLY into plastic shoeboxes on their sides.  So I just "filed" each ribbon card away and I managed to get my entire (huge!) ribbon collection into two plastic shoeboxes.  With additional empty cards on hand, my collection can still grow and not become too unwieldy.  When I'm working at home in my craft room, I can just pull out my shoeboxes and find the ribbon that I need.  But when I'm going to crop, I can just pull a couple of cards of ribbon in the colors that I'm working with and throw them into my bag.  I can take a whole selection of ribbons with me, without taking up much room in my bag.  Love that!

I have my shoeboxes of ribbon stashed neatly under a storage drawer system in my craft room, and it's a great, out of the way place for them.  Did I use my ribbon stash more when I had the bright clothespins staring me right in the face?  Maybe, but for my craft room and the way I work, the ribbon cards are much better.  I couldn't be happier with this solution, and I encourage you to give it a try if your ribbon stash needs some taming!    

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Chocolate Caramel Chex Mix

I'm something of a Chex Mix fanatic.  Only, not the kind you buy in bags at the grocery store.  The best Chex Mix is the kind you make yourself at home; the bagged stuff just isn't the same.  And, while I love good old original Chex Mix, I discovered last year that General Mills has a Chex Mix contest every year, and they publish the three recipes that are determined to be the best.  All of the recipes from past years are available on the Chex website.  Which is exactly where I got the yummy recipe for the concoction pictured above called Chocolate Caramel Crunch Chex Mix.  (I'll admit that I modified the "official" recipe a little bit.)

I'm going to confess here that I'm not a fan of Muddy Buddies/Puppy Chow, the typical sweet/chocolatey Chex-based treat.  That stuff always tastes too sweet and seems to have sort of a "gloppy" consistency.  So, when I wanted to make Chex Mix last week to take into work for a chocolate-loved friend's birthday, I decided to try the chocolate-caramel recipe.  Now, forgive me, but until I saw this recipe, I had no idea that there was even such a thing as Chocolate Chex.  But, now that I've been enlightened, I can see making this snack mix on a regular basis.  It helps that it's super easy to make, too.

Chocolate Caramel Crunch Chex Mix

9 cups Chocolate Chex cereal (the whole box)
6 T. butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 T. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 cups honey-roasted peanuts
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Place cereal and peanuts in a microwave safe bowl.  In another bowl, combine butter, brown sugar and corn syrup.  Microwave on high for about a minute and a half, until the butter and sugar are melted and everything can be stirred together.  Stir in the baking soda, then pour mixture over the cereal and peanuts and mix well, until evenly coated.  Microwave on high for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring well after each minute.  Spread mixture out onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper to cool.  Allow to cool for about 10 or 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, microwave white chocolate chips for about 90 seconds, stirring at each 30 second interval, until chips are melted and smooth.  Do not over-microwave!  Drizzle the white chocolate over the snack mix on the cookie sheet.  After all of the white chocolate has been drizzled on, using a spatula, turn and stir the mix to break up any clumps of white chocolate, and to ensure that all of the mixture gets some of the white chocolate topping.  Allow to cool completely, until the white chocolate has firmly set up.  (You can place in the fridge for half an hour or so if you want to.)  Before serving, break mixture up with your hands, as necessary, into small bites.

Let me conclude by saying that this was a BIG hit with my co-workers.  Several people commented that it was yummy without being too sweet, an assessment that I'd have to agree with.  So, next time you're craving a chocolate treat, give this snack mix a try!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

One Sketch, Three (or more!!) Cards

What do the three cards above have in common?  I know, easy-peasy, right?  They were all made from a single card sketch.  The sketch itself came from one of my favorite cardmaking idea books, which is featured to the left.  It's called Joy of Cardmaking, and I have the "collector's" edition, which is both volumes of this great resource in one hardbound edition.  If you don't yet have this great book, I highly encourage you to get it.  That is, if you never want to run out of great ideas for every kind of card you can possibly think of!  The book features a large number of card sketches (called "recipes" in the book), and then shows a bunch of lovely, beautifully photographed samples, all made from that same sketch.  What gets me about nearly every "recipe" in the book, as well as my own examples in the pictures above, is how different three or four or five cards, all made from the same sketch, can look.  My three cards, put next to each other, are actually pretty similar, in that I didn't alter the placement of the sewn-on patch or the sentiment.  Yet each card has its own distinct feel, and they definitely don't feel like ho-hum, mass produced cards.

For whatever reason, I've really been into cardmaking lately.  Maybe it's because I've been working on cleaning up my scrap room, and in the process, I came to realize just HOW MANY scraps of patterned paper I've managed to accumulate.  While I do try to use my scraps when I'm scrapbooking, I find that I often forget about them, or decide it's too much trouble to haul them out.  But I make cards pretty much exclusively from scraps, so when I'm in the mood to make some cards, I grab my scraps and one of my idea books and go to town.

I'll admit it -- while I admire complex, time-consuming cards, the ones I produce myself are usually fairly simple.  I like to get a nice quantity of cards done in one session, and to accomplish that, I need to keep them somewhat uncomplicated.  And that's what's truly so great about card sketches like the ones featured in Joy of Cardmaking.  If you want to keep things simple, the sketch gives you sort of a bare-bones place to start from.  But if you do want to make a special, more complex card for a special person or a special occasion, you're bound to get some great ideas by looking at the sample cards that accompany each sketch.

Oh, and while we're on the topic of cards, I'll share a tip with you that is featured in the book, but that is actually something I learned from a wonderful friend of mine named Sandy.  Sandy makes the most gorgeous cards, and whenever she'd send me one of her handmade creations, I always noticed that even though she might have stitched on the front, or added eyelets or brads or ribbon or staples, the inside of the card was always pristine.  What Sandy does to achieve that is basically "build" her card front on a separate piece of cardstock.  She does all of her stitching and hole punching and whatever else on that card front.  When the whole piece is finished, she adheres that to the card "base" to make the finished card.  The result is a card with all of the beautiful handmade touches on the outside, but with a perfect, unspoiled inside, that can be written on from top to bottom, should the sender so desire.

Now, seeing as how I am much lazier than Sandy is, even though I admired her cards and her cool trick to ensure perfect card insides, I didn't usually do it myself.  Yep, my cards might be nice to look at on the outside, but they were generally a disaster on the inside.  Well, after leafing through Joy of Cardmaking a few times and realizing the authors also use and recommend this technique (it appears several times in the book), I decided to get off my lazy butt and give it a try on the pink and green card featured above.  Wow.  It's pretty special to open up a card that looks nice on the outside and have it look nice on the inside, too.  So, that's my new goal.  I'm going to try not to slip back into my former laziness, and "build" my card fronts separately so that they can be adhered onto the cards at the end, ensuring those perfect card insides.  Oh, and in case you're wondering, that's just one of, oh I don't know, HUNDREDS of great cardmaking tips that appear in the Joy of Cardmaking book.  Even crafters like me and you, that have been scrapbooking and cardmaking forever, are bound to find some useful tips in there!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

New Layouts

Wow, I am really embarrassed!  I can't believe that it's been so long since I posted last.  We went on vacation the first week in July, then lots of time was taken up with getting my older son ready for his two-week trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Scouting Jamboree, and then....  Well, you know the rest, right?  Life gets in the way sometimes.  But hey, I'm back, and the good news is that I've actually been doing some scrapbooking this summer.  In fact, I went to an all-day crop a couple of weeks ago with a friend, and we both got a ton of pages done and it felt sooooo good to have all of that dedicated time to work on my pages.  Since that crop, I've been trying to keep my mojo going, and I have to say, I've been fairly successful.  So, in the spirit of helping spread the creativity, I thought I'd share a couple of recent pages.

I mentioned that my older son is currently away on a Scouting trip.  He's been gone just over a week and it's amazing how quiet the house is without him around!  Anyway, I created the above layout earlier today, and yeah, I got a little misty-eyed seeing the photo of him in his Scout uniform.  Sometimes it's hard knowing your kids are far away, even when you also know they're having a great time.  Anyway, my motivation for scrapping this particular photo of my son Brandon was the fact that I recently found some awesome Scout-related stickers from K&Co.  I thought I'd seen all of K&Co.'s Scouting goodies, but apparently they have new stuff coming out.  It's hard to tell from the photo, but the stickers are embossed and also feature foil accents.  They are really beautiful and I love that they aren't childish or cutesy, but rather reflect my son's age and the types of activities he participates in with respect to Scouting.

I'm not sure exactly why, but I really like the way this page came out.  Without really meaning to, I used one of Cathy Zielske's design techniques, in that I divided the page in thirds.  My photo and journaling take up the left 2/3 of the page, while the fun stickers are lined up in the final 1/3 of the page.  Notice how I used a strip of cardstock and some rub-on stitches to create a visual dividing line between the areas of the page.  Another thing I like about this page is that I used some really old papers to make it -- and I mean REALLY old.  I'm always surprised what I find when I search through my stash.  More often than not, I find papers that will work great for what I'm doing.

This second layout is one I finished during that all-day crop that I mentioned.  I'm including this layout not just because I like it, but because it's an example of a case where I NEVER EVER pictured in my head the layout coming out the way that it did.  I had this great photo of a bird's nest in a tree in early spring, before the tree had even leafed out.  I wasn't sure what I was going to do with the photo, but I suppose I was thinking along the lines of using blues, greens and tans -- you know, earth tones.  Well, at the crop, I pulled out an envelope of goodies that I'd recently won at a crop, and started looking through what I had.  It was a bunch of the newest papers and embellishments from Carolee's Creations.  Very, very cute stuff, but the kind of papers that (for me, anyway) can be kind of hard to use.  But, the robins-egg blue background of the very first paper caught my eye and I decided to use it for my nest photo.  My cache of goodies included some self-adhesive cardstock journaling spots, so I decided to use one of those as well.  Now, I almost NEVER handwrite on my pages, so this was really a step out of the proverbial box for me.  But I liked the idea that the journaling spot picked up the cute flower image, so I used it.  The page felt a little unfinished until I added a few additional coordinating embellishments, but in the end, I was happy with the way the page came together.

What's the moral of the story?  Well, I usually have an image in my head of what a finished layout is going to look like.  It might not be completely focused, but there's almost always an image there.  The layout above taught me that I don't always have to blindly follow that mental image, but instead, if the occasion presents itself, I should be open to trying something new.  After all, you never know exactly how things are going to turn out, and that's part of the fun of scrapbooking, isn't it? 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Embellished Picture Frames

Do you have a "go to" gift that is a great choice for almost any occasion?  I do:  the humble picture frame.  I've found over the years that it you're stuck about what to get for a gift, whether it's because the gift is for a guy (I think in general that women are easier to buy for), for someone you don't know very well, for a person at work (such as a gift for Secretary's Day) or for an occasion where you just aren't sure what to get (such as a baptism or First Communion), a picture frame almost always makes a wonderful gift.  While some frames can be incredibly expensive and easily suitable for things like wedding gifts, one of the great things about picture frames is that they generally won't break your budget.  A nice frame is great on its own, of course, but one of my favorite things to do is buy a frame that comes with a wide mat, and personalize the frame by embellishing the picture mat.

I made the frame in the photo above for my husband for Father's Day.  I found the cool weathered wood frame at Michael's and once I combined a couple of coupons, it was 60% off!  I loved the sage green color of the frame and the mat, so when I took the kids outside to shoot a photo to go into the frame, I told each of them to wear a tee shirt in a muted green color.  I really love the final results.

For the Father's Day frame, I used bold black rub-on letters from Making Memories.  I chose a font that had a somewhat distressed look, because I thought it would go well with the finish on the frame itself.  I was going to put the kids' names along the left side, but eventually decided to just go with "Father's Day" because it was simple and everyone looking at the frame would know immediately what occasion it was meant to commemorate.  I added the date along the right hand side.  For embellishments, I chose a 3-D butterfly embellishment and some grey self-adhesive pearls, as well as a small square acrylic embellishment that I positioned following the date.  I liked the butterfly because it added a note of whimsy and specialness without being too feminine.  All of the things I used to embellish this frame were things I already had in my scrapbooking stash.  I'm sure you have tons of suitable things, as well.

Although we haven't decided yet where to hang the Father's Day photo frame, my husband just loved it.  He's getting to that age where it can be hard to buy him gifts because it seems like he has everything that he wants or needs.  But he always cherishes a nice new photo of the kids.

As I mentioned, an embellished frame makes a great gift to commemorate almost any occasion.  I made a really pretty frame for my son's girlfriend as part of her graduation gift, but naturally, I forgot to take a picture of it before we gave it to her!  What I liked about the graduation frame was that I found embellishments in her school colors, brown and gold, and I used those to decorate the frame.  Below is a frame I finished just yesterday, to present to a woman that I work with on her retirement.

Although she is not technically in my department, we had a little retirement brunch for her in our offices last week, and that's when I snapped these photos.  In case you're wondering about the feather boa, sunglasses and red carpet, the honoree works with people in the movie industry, so we chose a "Hollywood" theme for the brunch that we had for her.  In keeping with the glitz and glamour of our theme, I chose self-adhesive gemstones and glittery flowers to embellish the photo mat.  Here's a close-up of some of the flowers.

The rub-ons I used are from American Crafts, and I chose a font that was bold but also had an element of whimsy to it.  I think it goes great with bling of the rest of the embellishments.  Oh, and another little thing I love to do, if there is an "i" in any of the words I'm putting on the mat, I dot the "i" with a gemstone.

Although you could certainly use stickers or chipboard letters for these kinds of frames, I really like rub ons because of their seamless look.  They end up looking like they were actually printed onto the mat, rather than added later.  Most photo mats are made of smooth, heavy mat board, and rub ons generally go onto these mats with ease.  No fighting like you sometimes have to do with a textured surface.

If you want to make an embellished photo frame, your best bet is to select a frame with a nice, wide mat.  You can usually spot mats that are constructed of actual mat board, because they will "rise up" above the surface of the picture (you can see this in the close-up shot, above).  Really cheap frames will sometimes have mats that are just made of heavy paper, and I would avoid these because they don't look as nice and the surface isn't as perfect for using rub ons.  If you don't want to spend a fortune on your frame, both Michael's and Jo-Ann's carry tons of frames that are reasonably priced, and often on sale.  You're sure to find a frame that will fit the occasion, and of course, you can find tons of suitable embellishments there, as well.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Music Themed Mini Chipboard Book

My older son has been taking private oboe lessons for about four years, the last three of those years with a wonderful young woman, Rachel, who is now a Ph.D. candidate at the university near us.  Rachel has taught Brandon soooo much in the time that she's been teaching him, including music theory.  Because of her influence, he started not merely playing music, but composing it as well.  At the end of this month, Brandon will have his very last lesson with Rachel, as she will be getting her Ph.D. and moving out of state.  Sad for us, but life marches on, doesn't it?

I've been thinking for awhile about a gift for her.  I really wanted it to be something special, to show our appreciation for all that she's done for Brandon and all that she's taught him.  After a lot of searching, I finally found a wonderful print of a snippet of a Mozart musical score, very minimialist but very cool-looking.  Very Rachel.  So I had it framed, and right now, we're waiting for that to be finished.  Along with the print, which is of course the primary "thank you and congratulations" gift, I decided to make Rachel a little chipboard album to sort of remember Brandon by.  Last year, I had taken a bunch of photos at one of Brandon's lessons, so I thought I'd use a few of those to make the album.  Since Rachel has devoted her life to music, I wanted to combine the photos with a few meaningful quotes about music.  I easily located dozens of suitable quotes with a quick online search.

I used an inexpensive chipboard tag book I found at Michael's, and covered the pages with some Autumn Leaves papers from my stash. The soft blues, greens and tans in the papers somehow reminded me of Rachel's gentle yet forceful personality.  I kept the page layouts very simple, with one quote and a couple of photographs on each page spread.  I managed to find a couple of great quotes from actual famous composers, and one of those is featured on the page shown above.

For embellishments, I used a package of glitzy, glittery 3-D flowers from K & Company.  They added just the right note to the quotes and photos.  I searched through my stash and found some word stickers in shades of blue and green (also, coincidentally, from K & Company) and I added a few appropriate words to each page, as well.  Here's another page layout:

Because I kept the pages and embellishments so simple, this little book didn't really take much time to make at all.  Tracing the tag shapes onto the back of the patterned paper and cutting the shapes out probably took more time than any other step!  In any case, you can make a book like this as simple or as elaborate as you'd like.  I've done a few small books for gifts where I really went all out on embellishments and used lots of fun techniques.  But this was just supposed to be a little "extra," a kind of "side dish" to the main gift, so I didn't want to make it into to a super complex project.  Also, because this little chipboard book is the kind of thing that Rachel might keep on her desk in a basket, it could potentially be handled a lot, so I wanted to make sure there weren't too many things that could fall off or wouldn't withstand repeated handling.

The photo above shows the very back page of the book, which includes a sweet photo of Brandon and Rachel posing together.  (Yep, at 16, he's a good foot or so taller than she is!)  I finished off the book by tying a few ribbons from my scrap basket onto the binding ring.

I try not to become obsessed with things like finding the "perfect" ribbons or embellishments -- for small projects like this, I like to "shop my stash," as they say.  I like to make use of odds and ends of things that otherwise might never get used up.  I think the project came out very nicely, and I'm really looking forward to giving Rachel both the framed print and the book next week.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Prettiest Deviled Eggs

I'll bet you are wondering why the title of this post is the "prettiest" deviled eggs.  Seems like it should be the "yummiest" deviled eggs, or the "tastiest," right?  Well, the thing is that pretty much everyone has their own special way of making deviled eggs that their family raves over.  Just like potato salad.  You can share your recipe for potato salad, but when someone else makes it, they are apt to say "Well, this isn't right!  There is no sweet pickle in this recipe!"  Or whatever.  Because every family gets used to their own way of making certain dishes such as potato salad and deviled eggs.  So, if I titled this post "The Yummiest Deviled Eggs," you'd probably harumph (and rightly so) and think, who is she to tell me that her deviled eggs are yummier than mine?  I would never praise the virtues of my deviled eggs over someone else's family recipe.  Deviled eggs are just too personal.  Thus, this post really isn't about a recipe for deviled eggs, as much as it about presenting them.

I love bringing deviled eggs to parties and get togethers in the spring and summer.  Everyone loves deviled eggs, but for some reason, no one else usually brings them.  At a big get together, there might be four different pasta salads and three cheesy potato casseroles and several plates of brownies, but there probably won't be another platter of deviled eggs.  So they make a great party food to bring along.  Also, I have a weird thing about collecting deviled egg platters.  I simply can't pass up a cute deviled egg platter, so I have quite a few of them.  How many?  Well, let's just say that my older son ribs me about how many I have, remarking that no one makes deviled eggs enough to use so many plates.  But, no matter.  The platter in the photo above is one of my absolute favorites.  It's white and a simple rectangular shape, but it's big.  It holds 24 deviled egg halves, which is a great number to bring to a picnic or gathering.

But, of course, there is no law that says that you have to use an actual deviled egg platter to serve deviled eggs.  That's just my preferred way of serving them.  This post is really about the presentation of the eggs themselves, and how to make them look pretty and also appetizing.

Ok, here is my first secret.  Bacon.  You know how bacon seems to be in everything these days, including desserts at upscale restaurants?  Well, turns out that bacon tastes really great in deviled eggs, too!  To the yolks of a dozen hardboiled eggs, I added about six slices of bacon, cooked and then crumbled up.  I did save a few spoonfuls of the bacon crumbles for garnish.  As far as the other ingredients, I mash up the egg yolks with Miracle Whip and yellow mustard to taste, and I like to add a little finely minced onion and celery, as well as a dash of pepper and a dash of celery seed.  I don't ever use salt in my deviled egg mixture, because if you are using any vegetables at all (I'm using the onion and celery), the salt will just bring out the water in the vegetables and the whole mixture will become watery after awhile.  So, no salt.  If you're using the bacon, that will add plenty of saltiness to the mixture, anyway.  Fold the bacon in after you've mixed all of the other ingredients together.

The second secret to pretty deviled eggs is to turn the mixture into a big Ziploc baggie.  I use one big enough to hold the entire batch, but you could also fill and refill if you only have smaller baggies.  Seal the bag at the top, and then cut a SMALL hole in one bottom corner of the baggie.  Not tiny, but not huge.  I'm going to be honest with you here.  In the picture below, the hole in my bag is TOO BIG.  I messed up but had my son take the pictures anyway.  Once he took a few pictures, I actually cut the OTHER corner of the bag using a smaller hole, and finished the eggs that way.  Start small, and if the hole is too small, increase it just a bit.

All you do is squeeze the filling into the eggs from the bag through that hole, just like you might have done with cupcake frosting.  Using the bag is amazingly quick and easy, and best of all, you get eggs that look like they came out of a professional deli or something.  It's easy to get the perfect amount of filling in each egg, and if you kind of pipe the filling in circles, the filling will look pretty and poufy.  Yes, that's a professional cooking term.  The bag also makes it easy to go back and add a tiny bit more to various eggs to even them all up and make sure that you use all the filling.  And, of course, the other great thing is that bag is then tossed in the wastebasket!  Love that!

Once all of the eggs have been filled, I take a small spoon and just smooth the top of each egg just a little bit.  Then I sprinkle a tiny bit of paprika on each egg for color, and top with a few crumbles of the bacon.  The result is deviled eggs that both look and taste great!

Oh, a final tip.  Only try the bacon idea if you are sure that all of the eggs are going to be eaten that day.  While the bacon tastes fantastic in the deviled egg mixture, the crunchy texture doesn't hold up longer than a day.  By the next day, the bacon (even the bacon on top of the eggs) will get kind of soggy and it won't be crisp and delicious.  So these are definitely one-time-only eggs.  But they are soooo worth it.  You know, I wasn't actually planning on doing deviled eggs for Memorial Day this year, but looking at these pictures is making me consider making a batch!  Why don't you make a batch, too?  Come on, you know you want to!  Happy deviling!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Polka Dot Flower Pots

Aren't these polka dots pots the cutest?  My original thought in making these was that I'd use them as a gift for a neighbor of ours who was moving away.  She is a lover of all things gardening, so a set of pots plus some packets of herb seeds seemed like a nice, useful gift for her new home.  But once I got started and bought all the supplies, I decided I might as well make a whole BUNCH of these adorable pots!  In addition to the set I made for my neighbor, I ended up keeping a few for myself and giving the others away as little Mother's Day gifts for some of my co-workers.  Mother's Day is over for this year, but a set of these pots in pretty colors would also make a lovely bridal shower gift (I'm thinking the pots would make a nice presentation nestled in a window box), end-of-year teacher gift (perhaps with a gift card to a local gardening center tucked inside), birthday gift, or a cheery "just because" gift for a gardening friend.

So here are a few instructions and a few photos on the process I used for making my pots.  Let me start by saying that I got the idea for the pots from Crafts 'n' Things magazine.  I had never seen this magazine before grabbing it off the shelf at the library a few weeks ago.  Once I started going through it -- wow!  I was amazed at all of the cute, easy to make projects inside, including these polka dot beauties.

First, I gathered the supplies I'd need to paint the pots.  I used plain old 6" clay pots with a rim, but you could use any size and shape that you'd like.  I chose these, frankly, because they were cheap!  They were $1.49 each at my local super store.  I also bought a few bottles of regular old craft paint in bright pastel colors, plus a bottle of white.  I used inexpensive foam brushes to apply the paint, because I wanted something that would be easy to clean.  I made sure I had one brush for each color, though, just so I could keep things moving along.

I painted my pots in two "sections," the bottom first, and then the rim and top.  I found that by doing it this way, there was always a dry part of the pot that I could handle and I was able to manipulate the pot easily.  For most of the colors, it took several thin coats (let dry in between each coat) for the pot to really look good.  For the yellow and light green, it took a couple of additional coats.  So just be aware that some colors may need more coats for really good coverage.

Here is what my pots looked like while drying, with just the bottoms painted.  Acrylic craft paint doesn't take long to dry between coats, but I allowed an hour or so (in a bright, sunny area) to be sure the paint was completely dry before adding another coat.

Once all of the pots had their base coats of color, I added the polka dots.  I'm going to admit here that it took a bit of trial and error to find a "tool" that would work really well to make perfect polka dots.  You may have to look around your house for something that will work.  I ended up using the item shown in the photo below, a round sponge dauber that is mounted on a wooden handle.  I think I bought a bunch of these daubers at a stamping or craft show years ago, and I've only used them once or twice.  Turns out they worked perfectly for this project!

While painting the body of the pots, I poured the paint into little cups, but for the polka dots, a paper plate worked much better.  For each pot, I squirted just a bit of the base color onto the plate and then added enough white paint to turn it a few shades lighter than the "base" color.  So, the polka dots on the pink pot are really pale pink (pink mixed with white), on the blue, they are light blue (blue with a few squeezes of white), etc.  This gives a nice contrast against the base color of the pot, but the dots "blend in" better than stark white dots would.  As far as technique, it was trial and error there, too.  I found that what worked best was to get quite a bit of paint on the flat "tip" of the dauber, then apply it to the pot and twist a little bit to get a perfect (well, almost perfect) circle.  You can just stamp random dots all over the pots or, you can do what I did and stamp them on in spaced rows.  I just started out by painting a dot along the bottom, then a dot on the exact opposite side, then I added dots along the opposing sides (so I had four, evenly spaced dots along the bottom edge).  I then filled in the row with a dot between each of the other dots.  I did the same thing for the top row (right under the rim), and then the middle row.  Then I went back and added a vertical row of two dots between each vertical row of three dots.  Finally, I painted dots around the rim (using the same "divide the pot in quarters" technique).  I let the now-dotted pots dry thoroughly.

I wanted my gift recipients to be able to use their pots outdoors if they wanted to, so that necessitated finishing the pots with varnish.  The stuff in the photo above is what I used, but any varnish made for outdoor use will work.  Just read the labels.  There are a lot of products made ONLY for indoor use, and those won't stand up to weather.  I also bought a fancy-schmancy fat foam brush with a plastic handle to apply the varnish.  (You'll also need something to clean your varnish brush with if you don't have paint thinner or another cleaner at home.)  WARNING:  You definitely have to varnish in a well ventilated area.  The fumes from this kind of heavy-duty varnish can be dangerous, so do it outside on a nice day, if possible.  I varnished my pots in my sunporch, with all of the windows open so I had a good cross breeze blowing.

I'm going to be honest here -- the varnishing was the most tedious part of this project.  It has to be applied very thinly so it doesn't run or drip, and of course, it has to dry between each coat.  It takes longer for a coat of varnish to dry than for a coat of craft paint, but still, drying didn't take that long since the coats were so thin and I did the varnishing on a warm, dry, breezy day.  I used three coats of varnish on my pots, and they ended up with a rich, glossy finish.  Actually, I used a semi-gloss varnish, but there are matte and glossy varieties if you prefer those finishes.

The wet varnish, of course, is sticky, and you really have to do the whole pot at once rather than in two parts like I did for the base paint coats.  This required me to come up with a clever way for the pots to dry in between coats of varnish.  The photo above shows what I came up with.  I simply inverted the wet, varnished pots on tall, sturdy acrylic tumblers.  The tumblers were sturdy enough to hold the pot securely, but easy to move around if I needed to.  Following that third coat of varnish, I let the pots dry overnight.  The next day, after turning the pots over, I swiped a little bit of varnish along the top edge of each pot, to seal that little rim of color.  After letting that final bit of vanish dry, the pots were complete.  I decided to include with each pot that I was gifting a packet of herb seeds, but even the pot alone makes a sweet gift.

Here's another look at the finished pots.  As you can see, the varnish really makes the difference in terms of eye-appeal.  It also makes the pots super-useful, since they can be placed indoors or out.  And, as I think I mentioned, these pots were easy on the budget.  I made a dozen or so pots for around $35 total, and that includes the quart of varnish which was about $10.  If your hubby has some suitable varnish in the garage, you won't even have to spend as much as I did.  So, the next time you find yourself wanting to give a crafty little gift to someone special, remember these darling polka dot pots.  Allow yourself a weekend to do all of the painting and varnishing so you don't have to rush.  You'll end up with a usable gift that most anyone with even a slightly green thumb will truly enjoy.