Sunday, May 31, 2015

"Simple Times - Crafts For Poor People": A Review

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    If you love making crafts and have a sense of humor, then this book is for you.  In "Simple Times - Crafts For Poor People", actress and author Amy Sedaris combines her knack for comedy and her love of making things, in an entertaining and very funny way.

I have to agree with Ms Sedaris when she states "…there is one urge that should always be encouraged to blossom - the creative urge!"  In our family, each of us has a creative side and we all enjoy sharing humorous insights and observations about life with each other.  My daughter Audrey, a crafter, artist, and avid reader, gifted me this book last Christmas, and as I paged through it that day I immediately got the joke - each themed chapter is a spoof on traditional craft projects that most of us know and have loved at some point in our lives.  

Recently, when Audrey's birthday was getting close, I knew that she would love to receive not just a homemade gift, but something inspired by "Simple Times". How about rock painting?

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What I like about this book is that it is not necessarily a step by step 'how-to' kind of book.  It is more an illustrated collection of ideas: each chapter opens with an introduction to a crafting concept, followed by example photos of items made utilizing each basic idea.  You will no doubt revisit some of your childhood favorites, albeit grown up here and colored with Amy's fresh perspective and irreverent (and hilarious) attitude.

For example, in the chapter 'Nature's Way', Amy outlines her thoughts on making crafts using items found in nature, asking "...what is it about foraging in the wild that is conducive to crafting?"  And during the course of answering that question, describing how nature provides the simple raw materials that 'can be used to create', she suddenly and humorously starts telling jokes about loggers, clear cuts and spotted owls!

I had a lot of fun foraging in my backyard for just the right rocks, coming up with ideas for how to paint them, and then allowing my own creative urge to blossom!  And the best part of all is that when Audrey opened her gift during her birthday celebration, she immediately knew where I'd gotten the idea, and got the joke behind it!  

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I highly recommend "Simple Times - Crafts For Poor People"!  Whether you are just curious about seeing a new twist on timeless crafts, need some ideas for humor writing, or are searching for designs to create party and holiday decorations, there is truly something for everyone here.  

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Monday, May 25, 2015

DIY: Spring Wreath


Creating a custom wreath is an excellent way to brighten up a wall or door on a budget, as well as an opportunity to let your own style shine.  Your personal preferences will give a unique look to this type of flower arranging, whether you'd like a traditional symmetrical wreath, or as in my case, you might prefer a more natural free form look.  Here's what happens when you combine a simple $3.99 grocery store floral bouquet, a grapevine wreath (purchased years ago and used over and over again), some of the ivy that grows wild everywhere in my town, and a bit of ribbon.


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Besides the materials, the basic supplies you will need are a pair of scissors and some wire.  If you don't have florist wire, twisty ties from bread or other baked items work well too.  The bouquet I chose for this project consisted of several varieties of flowers, which allowed for some choice in what to use.

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One thing I noticed about ivy (besides its abundance!) is that almost immediately after cutting it, the newer, recent growth leaves start to wilt, while the leaves on the main part of the vine last a few days.  My solution was to clip away these newer leaf bunches, so that what remains are the older leaves on the main vine.

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Starting with the ivy as the base layer, wrap it around the wreath to your liking.  Then fill in areas with snippets of small flowers, such as the purple ones I used.  The great thing about using a grapevine wreath is that there are plenty of nooks and crannies to slide and poke your cut pieces into.

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wreath, spring, flowers, fresh flower wreath, grapevine wreath, DIY flower wreath, ribbon, ivy wreath, American Crafts ribbon, homemade flower wreath

Notice how I've chosen to leave the upper right quadrant open, without any ivy or flowers in that area.  It's nice to leave some space, as a place for the eye to rest.

Next, dot around the perimeter with yet another variety of flower such as these bright green pom pom flowers:

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Then, add some larger flowers.  The bouquet I used came with three roses.  I opted to use only two, although I did consider using the third in the open space, but decided against it.

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I used a bit of hot glue to attach any pieces that were loose and unable to stay tucked in on their own.  If you don't have hot glue, then of course any household glue will do.  I used four lengths of florist wire, each about 10" long, to secure everything down, twisting the wire together at the back of the wreath at approximately equal distances around it.

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wreath, spring, flowers, fresh flower wreath, grapevine wreath, DIY flower wreath, ribbon, ivy wreath, American Crafts ribbon, homemade flower wreath

And lastly, I added a blue ribbon with white polka dots for an extra punch of spring color.  

Although this fresh flower wreath will only last a few days, you may consider making one for a special party, as it can be a welcoming sight on your front door or porch, making your guests feel welcome while adding some excitement and color to the celebratory atmosphere.

Have fun making your own custom Spring Wreath, and remember to let your own style shine!         
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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Kawaii Corner

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    Last fall I introduced you, in the blog post Made in Japan: Kawaii, to my love of vintage Japanese ceramics, especially those that have the cuteness factor known in Japan as "Kawaii".  And while most of the pieces in my Kawaii collection are indeed ceramic, this little music box is a unique exception.

We've had a bit of fun around here trying to decide exactly what kinds of animals these two are.  The conclusion was that they are a mouse and a cat, which sort of makes sense when you listen to the song this music box plays: You Light Up My Life.

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Ah, yes - cat and mouse games; the cat in constant pursuit of the mouse, and the mouse always lucky to have repeated escapes from the cat.  The phrase itself dates back to 1675 and the concept has been used in storytelling by the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll, and more recently in Tom And Jerry cartoons.  

You Light Up My Life was a hit song in 1977, written by Joseph Brooks, recorded by Kasey Cisyk for the movie of the same name, and a Top 40 radio version was sung by Debbie Boone.  The chorus goes like this:

And you
Light up my life
You give me hope 
To carry on

You light up my days
And fill my nights
With song
You light up my life

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The pins, drum and vibration plate of this music box are still perfectly intact, playing the song in what sounds like its original rich volume.  Even more exciting is the fact that the seat the mouse is sitting upon actually swings as the music plays!  See the little hole in the seat of the swing to the left of the mouse?  A small pin rises up out of the interior of the casing and sits within that hole, and part of the wind-up mechanism moves the swing back and forth.  Which leads us to this question: is the cat pushing the mouse in the swing, or is the mouse happily swinging alone, unaware of the presence of the cat behind it? 

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Even though the song this music box plays is considered by many to be extremely tacky, it could be said that the happy melody and words fit the mood of the two cute creatures, who perhaps have forgotten the roles mother nature has assigned to them, at least for the moment.  I'd like to think that these cuties are actually friends, but... the final outcome of the game they are playing out has me on the edge of my seat!  Does the mouse, with its back turned, know the cat is there, and if so, why does it seem to trust the cat?  Will they both keep happily playing together, as long as the music plays?  Or will the cat finally pounce on the mouse? 

Whatever the case may be, perhaps you'll agree that this is one very "Kawaii" vintage Made In Japan music box!

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Weavings: Then And Now

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    Recently there have been some very nice images online of handmade woven wall hangings, and I thought it would be fun to make one of my own.  Those weavings I'd seen reminded me of an art project I had made in elementary school - you can see it to the left in the above photo.  I've held onto this little weaving, along with some other childhood and early adult treasures, and dug it out one day several months ago to use in some styled photos for my Instagram feed.

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weaving, woven, yarn woven mat, green and white yarn woven mat

My daughter Audrey's birthday was coming up last month, and I decided that this year, I would give her some handmade gifts.  It dawned on me that if there was anyone who would appreciate something made out of yarn, it would be her, since Audrey is a knitter who has made some interesting, stylish, and fashionable items for herself and her friends, such as hats and fingerless gloves.  It seemed like a perfect 'win-win' situation, since not only would she appreciate receiving a handmade gift, but I would also have a lot of fun creating it!

Once I knew that I was going to tackle a weaving project, I knew exactly where to go for some instruction - my favorite blog, A Beautiful Mess.  If you ask me, Rachel Denbow is a weaving goddess, and she has several tutorials on A Beautiful Mess, as well as an impressive selection of small weavings that she's had for sale on her own blog, Smile and Wave.  I took Rachel's suggestion on making a simple weaving frame out of wood, and at the local hardware store I purchased a nice piece of 1" x 12" x 18" pine and some standard nails with heads on them.


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Following Rachel's tutorial was a snap - her instructions are clear, easy to follow, and there are close up photos for each step of the process.  She explains what all of the tools are, gives you a basic rundown of the terminology, and talks about her favorite choices of yarn, as well as giving helpful suggestions on ways to think about color.  I agree with her that weaving is one of those timeless craft traditions that is 'soothing to the soul' and now, I'm thinking that I'm ready for more!  So, if you are considering diving into a weaving project, give her tutorial a try - you'll be glad you did.

Oh, and by the way, Audrey loved her gift!

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Spring Moments Through The Lens


A wildflower faces the sun.



A rainbow emerges amongst storm clouds.


Ornamental blossoms burst with color.

Images taken with my iPhone.
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Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Mother's Day Greeting Card And Name Banner

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Since tomorrow is Mother's Day here in the U.S. I would like to show you a greeting card and name banner that I made for my mom.  Last Saturday was National Scrapbook Day, and I wrote here on the blog about my recent memory keeping projects, and referenced some of the products I've been working with lately.  Today, I'd like to show you how I used more of the Studio Calico Project Life kit 'Lisse Street', along with some of the patterned paper that I ordered as an add on.  I also worked with a few of the items from the Park Ave scrapbook kit, and added a sheet of Bazzill yellow-gold cardstock to the mix. 

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The finished size of the card (below) is 5x5 inches.  After cutting the yellow-gold cardstock to 5 inches wide and 10 inches long, I used a scoring blade in a paper cutter to score it in the middle of the length to create the base of the card.  Then, I cut a piece of white cardstock just a bit smaller for the front, and another for the inside, then embellished the front with transparencies, letter stickers and chipboard.  

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For the banner, I cut one 3"x4" rectangle for each letter from the striped paper, then cut the flower patterned paper just a bit smaller so that it would fit inside the striped paper, notching them at the bottom to give them that 'banner' look. Then I punched holes in the corner of each one and strung them using baker's twine.

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My mother now lives in a nursing home very close to us, and I'll be bringing these gifts to her tomorrow.  I made the banner to hang on the door of her room; several of the other residents have cute things on their doors and I thought it would be nice for my mom to have something that would add to the cheeriness in the hallway, and maybe lift her spirits, as well.

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I've written a little bit about my mom in the past - she not only has Alzheimer's but has also struggled with illness and a serious injury in the past few months.  Things are looking up lately, and she's doing much better, although being 91 (almost 92!) is hard enough as it is.  In the quiet hours of the morning, I'm going to write a sentiment inside the card, before going to visit my mom tomorrow.  Happy Mother's Day!
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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Spring Time Stroll Through The University

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    These past few weeks have seen an explosion of spring color in and around my town.  All throughout the University of Oregon are perfect examples of this seasonal change, with the sudden budding and blooming of flowers on the ornamental trees and bushes spread throughout the campus.  I took a walk through there recently to get a glimpse of some of these beauties and, as usual, take some photographs.  My first stop was one of the libraries, called the University of Oregon Library and Memorial Quadrangle.  Above is its plum tree lined walkway (part of the 'quad') and the library building itself is below.

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The ornamental cherry tree above is located near Gerlinger Hall.  Aren't those 'pom pom'-like blossoms impressive?  I love how they dangle and seem to bounce, as if they are going to dance at any minute.

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The University of Oregon School of Law has a magnificent line of blooming trees and bushes along the entire front of the building.  And below you can see a few details from the entranceway; a pink magnolia tree and some pink and white azalea bushes.

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And here is a beautiful white flowered magnolia tree in the back courtyard of the Teaching and Learning Center, with its gorgeous blossoms wafting in the breeze:

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spring, spring 2015, magnolia, magnolia flowers, magnolia blossoms, spring campus stroll, spring campus walk
With longer days and warmer temperatures, it is a pleasure to get outside and experience the vibrant colors of this wonderful spring season.


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Saturday, May 2, 2015

National Scrapbbook Day

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    National Scrapbook Day is the perfect opportunity for me to show you what I've  been working on lately.  About two years ago, I started Project Life - the system of memory keeping that utilizes pocket-style page protectors that hold photos, memorabilia and a variety of what are called journaling cards.  The stack of albums in the photo above shows the result of the past two years.  This (for me anyway) is a 'can do' method - more than anything, my photos are housed in albums chronologically and are easily accessible.  I've picked only the pictures that best represent what is happening in our family, and used scrapbooking products that are geared for this type of memory keeping.  

If you would like to see a sample of some of the layouts I've created for this type of album, you might like to read my post Pocket Scrapbooking.  So, if you are looking for a way to get photos into albums and make it look good, this is it! Don't get me wrong though - I still love making traditional scrapbook pages!

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I am a member of Studio Calico's Project Life kit club, and each month I receive a set of journaling cards in 4x6 and 3x4 sizes and a variety of embellishments which vary from month to month.  Recently they offered some of their Scrapbook Club kits for $10.00, so I ordered one to try it out.  I made the above layout using some of the products from that kit, and mixed in some of my Project Life kit products.  This layout is a celebration of how James and I, in working side by side on our separate projects, support each other's endeavours.  (You might be wondering why the lower right corner looks as it does - it's a result of the paper curling from having used gesso on the background.)

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I recently challenged myself to make a traditional scrapbook page using only the leftover products in my November Project Life kit.  The photo in the layout is one I took for my Instagram feed, and this page is a way of documenting my love of still life photography.  

Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and if you enjoy scrapbooking, or if you have any questions, please leave me a comment.  And if you would like to know more about Studio Calico, click here.    
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