Thursday, December 31, 2009

Between (and sugar on top)

The week between Christmas and New Years is always a unique one. A week filled with a bit of reflection as we absorb the events of the past year, mixed with a sense of anticipation and renewal, as we await the new year. Kate, of Marmalade Moon recently wrote about these days, the "days in between," or “mellandagarna,” in her native Swedish. I love the idea of giving this week "in between" a name and celebrating it.

When you think about it, most of us do celebrate it, in our own ways. This year, we have been celebrating mostly with food (our very favorite way to commemorate occasion). Cooking and eating some old favorites and trying a few new recipes, too.

Banana bread has always been a favorite, but it was taken to another level after a friend told me what she recently ordered at a diner: banana bread toasted with butter and powdered sugar sprinkled on top (!). So we baked a loaf, using our preferred recipe, thickly sliced it, slathered it with butter and sifted the sugar onto it and, wow. The sugar dissolves into the melted butter, becoming something reminiscent of frosting (which is always good for breakfast. My mother would be proud—and I am being completely serious). This may be a fantastic new tradition for us—ringing in the new year with some good ol' sugar coated bread.

Wishing you a peaceful new year!

A thousand thanks for stopping by this little place and commenting. This blog has been a wonderful avenue of artistic expression and you, the readers, have motivated and inspired me to continue on a creative path. I look forward to sharing so much more in the new year. Best wishes for the new decade!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

From a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Day two of homemade gifts:

Amigurumi Star Wars characters, of course. The perfect combination of the girls' latest obsession and my crafting preferences. My sister in law forwarded a link to these after she came across them and knew I would go crazy for them—she knows me well, and I did.

(From left: Luke, Leia, Han Solo, and Yoda)

These two are our favorite, by far. Leia's hair was a bit of a challenge for me and, as you can see, her buns are two very different sizes, heh. Little Yoda is just too much with that robe.

Han and Luke are ready to take on the dark side. Or snuggle up with a little girl. They're good like that, and will gladly do either.

The patterns are from Geek Central Station. If you stop by, be sure to check out the pirate captain pattern. Cracks. Me. Up.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I think that sentiment pretty much sums it up. After a whirlwind of celebrations with family, countless delicious meals, and hours passed watching the girls enjoy their new toys, we are rested and fulfilled.

The nearly two feet of beautiful snow we got last week was washed away by Christmas rain, leaving the neighborhood looking less than magical. The girls have noticed how ugly everything looks when the last mounds of snow that remain are gray from dirt, sand, and exhaust. But there's snow in the forecast, so we look forward to having our world covered with that glittery powder again.

We burned the midnight oil last week making gifts, fueled by our tight deadline. I'll be showing you those things, along with some items we received, over the next few days.

Today, I'm sharing this bunch of pencil rolls, personalized for each little recipient. The smaller kids got crayon rolls but this time I made the pockets taller, so they can graduate to having pencils when they've grown old enough to wield a sharp stick. (Felt Pencil Roll instructions are from The Creative Family, by Amanda Soule)

I can't say that the days of furious making are done for us yet. We have a 6-year-old's birthday on the heels of Christmas, so we'll continue crafting this week for our special girl. And once those projects are completed and gifted, I don't imagine we'll stop any of our creative endeavors—it's just what we do. It'll be a nice change of pace, though, to not have a time frame attached.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I'm not the only one in our household who has been busy making. The girls have spent the last week making the perfect gifts for each other, and I have just been informed that my stocking is full and ready for Christmas morning. I can't wait to see what they have made for me.

"A" has been keeping busy with his latest woodshop binge—tops. One for each of the kids on our list (and that's alot of tops).

It was quite a scene trying to get all the tops spinning for this photo but, alas, there were always a few that got away—spun right off the table, or fell over soon after launching.

A handful of those homemade beauties at rest. I love the variety of shapes and sizes.

And one atop a gift, on it's way to a special little one.

Progress report: I am happy to say that I made decent headway in my pile of gifts yet-to-be- made. I can't wait to show them all to you, but that's going to have to wait...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Let the Crafting Commence!

...that's right, commence. Four days until Christmas and I am only right now beginning to make many of the gifts I have committed myself to making. I have to be honest and say that the devil on my shoulder is saying, "Forget it. Save yourself the gray hair, go buy whatever you can find, and be done." While it's tempting, I just can't bring myself to do it. After all, I purchased the materials for these projects back in early November (I had grandiose hopes last month, back when I was young. Ho hum).

The reason I have yet to find the time to make these gifts is that there has been an onslaught of last-minute jewelry orders. Mostly from men, frantically requesting expedited shipping. It's funny—that stereotype of men being eleventh-hour shoppers is certainly proving to be true. But as a last-minute crafter, I am not really in a position to judge them, am I? least I got our Christmas cards done.

Merry Making!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What We Got

I showed you what we made for our partner family in the Seasons Round Exchange a few days ago. Now, it's time for the good stuff—what we got! The theme for this exchange was Winter {light}, so they crafted a package featuring items that reflected the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. And so, with no further ado...

A gorgeous paper luminary (look at the details on the moon!). Sunlight shines through it radiantly in front of the window and glowing candlelight flickers through it nicely. Our partner, Lesli, told me this was made from kite paper and I needed to know more, so she kindly directed me here.

A beautiful art card, made by local (to our partner) artist, Shelia DeJohn. This photo does not do the print justice. And look at the tree branch holder they sent to display it in! (in a funny misinterpretation, we originally put the paper luminary in this holder. After Lesli mentioned that the holder was for the card, we realized that made much more sense.)

She also made these adorable stuffed stars, and very generously included one for each of my girls. Made from pure wool felt , Leslie stuffed them with local wool that she cleverly sourced. She started by calling her local yarn shops, and eventually found a farm in the area. She and her son had a nice field trip to the farm, where they met the sheep and llamas, and were invited back in the spring to see the lambs.

The stars have little pockets sewn onto the back of them. A tiny treasure was tucked inside each pocket— an agate and a piece of sea glass from the Oregon coast.

And last but not least, a stash of beeswax votives, complete with a simple glass holder. I have raved about the smell of beeswax before but I just can't get enough of it, and these candles are especially fragrant.

With wonderful timing, the post office delivered both packages on the same day, and we exchanged excited emails letting each other know. Each and every item included in the box we received was a delight. Some made with impressive handwork, some chosen with consideration and care, all reflective of a family so far away that seems to value the same things we do.

A thousand thanks to Lesli and her beautiful family!

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Ignoring the advice of every gardening book ever written, I let the mint in my garden get out of control. And so, even in December—even after frost and snow, we are still enjoying this delicious (and plentiful) leaf straight from the garden.

A bunch of mint hanging to dry in our kitchen is a familiar sight. We have jars and jars of the dried herb stashed for the winter.

It's a good thing that the girls' favorite tea is "minty" tea.

I recalled a simple recipe for mint candy, and figured this was the perfect use for the last leaves left out back. Start with a good bunch of mint leaves, washed and dried.

Next, dip them in egg white then in granulated sugar. Let the leaves dry for about a day on parchment.

Candied mint leaves are thin, sweet, and surprisingly crispy. This delicate treat couldn't be easier to make—the hardest part is waiting for them to dry.

We found this recipe in a kids book of nature crafts but I can't, for the life of me, remember what book. If anybody out there knows, let me know and I'll give credit where it is due!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Bits

Just a few bits on this chilly Friday...

My Millipede Ring made it into this stunning treasury

And click here to see the ornament I made for Kelly's Wellness Tree. (yeah, I forgot to get a picture of it before I sent it off)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Special Package

On Monday we sent off a package to our Seasons Round Exchange partners. Here's a peek at what was in the box that is on it's way to our new friends in Oregon.

A Remembery Token, complete with photos of our partnering family.

Crocheted holiday lights (pattern here)

A few homemade crayons, recycled from our old crayon stubs

We also included a gorgeous walnut sliding dovetail box, made by our resident woodworker, as well as a bunch of those beeswax ornaments we made last week.

...and we topped the box off with a bunch of treasures from our nature corner(s).

I had frequent contact with our partner over the past month and a half, and it has been wonderful getting to know her. She was so open and willing to share herself and her family, and through this we have forged a bit of a friendship (the kind you can somehow have with another person who you share much in common with but have never actually met).

The girls have enjoyed the geography lessons and the crafting sessions. They took special care in choosing items from our stock of natures prizes, including a crab claw and some seashells, for our partner family that doesn't live too close to the coast. By the time the box was all packed and ready to ship, the girls were referring to the other children by name.

It was such a great experience, we will likely continue our participation in the exchange in the future. Until then, we eagerly await the arrival of the incoming package from Oregon. I can't wait to show you what treasures we receive!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Wellness Tree

Nicole, from GardenMama, has made a new blog project in honor of her friend, Kelly, who is battling a rare form of cancer. The Wellness Tree is "a project for making one handmade ornament with a positive wish for Kelly's future attached to it."

It is Nicole's hope (as well as mine and everybody else who chooses to get involved) that these well-wishing ornaments will inspire, uplift, and encourage Kelly as she fights this disease. Each ornament received is posted on the blog, and once all the ornaments have arrived, Nicole will send them off to Kelly, so that she may display them and surround herself with positive and supportive sentiments.

You can learn more about Kelly, see some photos of her, and read the letter she wrote to her young son at The Wellness Tree. You can also find out where to send your ornament if you choose to make one for Kelly (the ornaments don't have to be seasonal, as she may display them in her home year round).

Sending wishes of hope and healing to Kelly.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Thank Trees

I have a couple of exciting things to share with you today:

A gallery that represented my work for a few years had to close it's doors last winter, due to the economy. The Worcester Center for Crafts took a "strategic pause" to devise a plan for funding that would allow it to open again. Being a great local source for crafts education, advocacy and entrepreneurship, it was a shame to see them have to close. Today, I am happy to help them celebrate a second chance to once again offer classes and workshops to the community. The WCC Gallery Store had their grand re-opening a few weeks ago, and I'm honored to have my pieces back in their jewelry cases.

But here's the exciting part: The WCC is also now representing my husband, too! "A" has a small assortment of his wood crafts at the gallery store. An end table, a couple of beautiful boxes, and a set of children's blocks add to the shop's inventory of fine craft pieces.

Cube in a Cube in a Cube Christmas Ornament, by Thank trees

There's more: "A" has also opened an Etsy shop. Thank Trees is currently offering a diverse range of small wood craft and furniture. He will add to the inventory continuously, offering some larger pieces of furniture that will be made to order, and some smaller items that are ready to ship.

I'm proud that "A" has taken this step, putting his heirloom quality woodworking "out there" for all to see. Hopefully, this is only the beginning of his retail experience. A big congrats to him!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Big Rock Candy Mountain

When I was little, I always wanted to have rock candy pops. I was so attracted to those rainbows of brightly colored, translucent crystals. And that wooden handle with the little ball at the end? Had to have it. I loved everything about rock candy—except for the taste, really. Too sweet for me.

The girls have my husband's sweet tooth, so we set out to make our own rock candy this week. Here's how we did it:

Start with 1 part water, 3 parts sugar. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves (there may be some sugar that doesn't dissolve, you want the liquid to be just about saturated). Let the sugar water cool enough to be able to pour into glasses. At this point, you can add food coloring.

Suspend strings (roughly 6 inches long) from pencils and lay them over the tops of the glasses. We also put wooden skewers in the glasses to see which would work better.

Let it stand for a couple of days. This photo was taken after one day and you can see the crystals beginning to form on the string and skewer.

Two days later, the surface of the sugar water had completely hardened.

After three days, we removed the strings and skewers. We picked the crystals off the strings, and let all the candy harden for a day on wax paper. The skewers came out looking like those pops I remember, though they were quite a bit skinnier. They also had more crystals on them when we first took them out, but little mouths made short work of that candy before I could snap a picture.

The homemade rock candy looks as pretty as I had hoped it would, but it didn't make much. We used 1 cup of water and 3 cups of sugar. It you want to make a small bowl of rock candy, I would suggest at least doubling that. You can also experiment with leaving the strings/skewers in the glasses for longer or shorter periods of time.

Enjoy! Then go brush your/your kids' teeth...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lots of Time = Lots of Projects

Whew. The loooong weekend left us with lots of time to occupy. We cooked and ate and created and read and now it's time to jump back into the swing of things. The jewelry biz is picking up for the holiday season and those bookmarks have proven to be quite popular (picture me crawling out of my cave-like basement workshop, protecting my eyes from the brightness of daylight, after making many, many bookmarks).

The last of the autumn-themed projects—delicious and simple sugar cookies.

..And the first of the Christmas crafts, beeswax ornaments (these smell so good!)

A couple of lanterns made from old jam jars. Just water down some glue and paint it over torn pieces of tissue paper to stick it right onto the glass. We tied string around the tops and took a few lantern walks around the neighborhood. Now that it gets dark around 4pm, we can do that before dinner. (We even played night hide-and-seek in the back yard, using the lanterns to light our way. Fun!)

Pomanders, which I forgot all about, but should have been started about a month ago. We figured we'd give it a shot and see what comes of them in a few short weeks.

I rejoice in the fact that Black Friday is done and over with, and we don't have to hear that term—or all the hype for another 11 months. Now, if we could only avoid all the other holiday advertising madness....

Happy Holiday Season!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

We tried to show gratitude for the birds yesterday, by giving them a special treat to peck at. Should have known this little guy was going to sabotage the whole thing. And so, we are thankful for the squirrels, too, and for the amazing show of acrobatics this one performed to get to the pine cone.

A few highlights from the girls' "thankful" list this year:
San Diego

(who isn't thankful for toilets?)
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

...And Even More Treasures

There's something else the girls always come back with from their basement-shopping extravaganzas I mentioned in my previous post. Tucked away in my parents' lower level are boxes of crafts and knick-knacks that my sister and I made over the years. She and I took a few years' worth of ceramics classes, which meant shelves full of statues, piggy banks, and figurines for every holiday and special occasion. My girls go crazy for them all, and one by one these items are making their way home with us—back to me, to occupy shelf space my own home now.(They're heeeeere! Say that like the little girl in Poltergeist, because I feel a little haunted by some of these figurines).
These salt and pepper shakers and pilgrim statues were among the latest treasures taken home with us— just in time to add them to our Thanksgiving table.

(Today, I'm thankful that my parents allowed us to take that ceramics class for so many years and fill their home with pilgrims, Santas, a menagerie of animal statues, and one too many ashtrays. I don't foresee any ceramics classes in the girls' near future.)

(Then again, they really seem to like those statues...)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Art

The girls have a new tradition when we visit my parents. My mom takes them to the basement and they go "shopping". To them, it's like going on a treasure hunt. They come back upstairs with bags full of old Christmas decorations, various plastic serving dishes, and out-dated costume jewelry. I brace myself to see what they found and, ultimately, want to take home (so much for trying to get rid of the clutter).

But the one thing they always come up with are books. Hardcover books that they have been granted permission to do whatever they please with. This is an absolute thrill to them, and I can see why. It's the joy of being given carte blanche to something that is usually to be treated with care and respect (careful, that's a library book!). And what they come up with is great...

Sometimes they write complete stories.

(some of them are suspense thrillers)

Sometimes they use the books like you would use a sketchbook, and doodle on each page.

The girls will sit for long periods of time with these books and write, draw and scribble in them just because they can. I save all of them, and the great thing is that all this work is bound neatly together already—no loose papers to gather up and go through.

Buying hardcover books would be a good purchase for the kids at a yard sale (instead of that skanky Snoopy stuffed animal they inevitably want). Tell them it's theirs to do whatever they please with, take it home, and watch their newly-granted licence inspire them.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Red Cabbage Wonders

Irresistible. Each and every time I cut into a red cabbage, I am amazed at the graphic beauty of it. I cannot get over that bright plum (cabbage?) purple, swirled into mazes that fold over each other in beautiful randomness.

And every time I cut into one I think to myself, "Someday, I'm going to give this cabbage the props it deserves." I dream of painting, drawing, knitting or interpreting in silver this boldly contrasting composition. I'm working up to that, but this weekend we did do a little experimenting with the color.

I boiled the cabbage for about a half hour, allowing all the pigment to leach out and boil down to a slightly thicker liquid. The result was this inky, deep purple dye.

We soaked some cotton string and fabric scraps in the dye and they dried this gorgeous amethyst color. The girls have big plans for me to knit stuffed animal hats with this string, and make clothes for their soft friends with the fabric. We shall see...

Of course, we ate the remainder of that cabbage. There is an excellent recipe for Red Cabbage with Lemon and Black Pepper, in A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg (Of Orangette fame). If you haven't picked this book up yet, I highly recommend it. Our favorites from that book also include Tomato Soup with Two Fennels, and Custard-Filled Corn Bread. yum-y!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Missing Ingredient

Why must molting chickens take an egg-laying vacation? For over a year now, we have thoroughly enjoyed getting our eggs from our own backyard. I can't tell you the pleasure we take in starting a recipe with a walk to the chicken coop to collect a few eggs—the freshness, taste, and color can't be beat. But we have seen a steady decrease in eggs over the past few weeks and between the four hens we are down to one a day, at best. This is not nearly enough for a family that makes their own bread. We have adjusted by skipping the baked treats, the breakfast sandwiches, and the quiches. Just the thought of purchasing eggs pained me. I relish in the running joke the girls and I have at the grocery store, "Oh we forgot the eggs!" (I pretend to turn the shopping cart around to head for the dairy aisle). The girls giggle and shout "No Meems, we don't buy eggs anymore!"

Well as you may have suspected, I finally broke down and bought some. Not happy about this. And happy about this, at the same time.

A half-dozen eggs, paired with the 2 we had in our fridge soon yielded those mouth-watering cookies for an after-school snack, a quiche for dinner, and some Pilgrim Pumpkin Cake for dessert.

A big thank you to all the chickens out there who are not molting!

Our daughter brought this recipe home from school a few years back and it has become one of our favorites.
Pilgrim Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Frosting
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Frosting ingredients:
1/3 cup butter
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 9" square pan. Beat together eggs, sugars, oil, and pumpkin. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Add this to the egg mixture and combine well. Pour batter into pan and bake for 35 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and spread frosting.
Brown Butter Frosting:
Melt butter over low heat until brown. In a large bowl, beat together powdered sugar and vanilla, add the butter and stir well. Gradually add hot water, beating until frosting is smooth enough to spread.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Giveaway and Interview Feature

Exciting news...
AG Ambroult is being featured on GardenMama for the next few days!

For those of you who are not familiar with Nicole, or GardenMama, she's worth getting to know. Her blog is poetic, ethereal, and inspirational. Each post is beautifully written and stunningly photographed.

GardenMama interviewed me last week via email, giving me thought-provoking questions for which I wrote and deleted the answers to several times (being introspective doesn't come easy to me). In addition to the interview, she is also sponsoring a very exciting AG Ambroult giveaway , where I will be making a custom Remembery Capsule for the lucky winner.

This giveaway will run until Saturday at 8pm. To enter, just stop by the GardenMama blog and leave a comment. The winner will be announced That same night at 9pm.

Monday, November 16, 2009

...And Done

Sharing a few pix of the completed toy box with you this morning.

It's even better in person. The color is velvety, the surface absolutely smooth. I wish you could all run your hands over it.

It really puts our own toy box to shame. Luckily, I've got an in with this woodworker I know...
You can read more about the making of this toy box here.