My First Article….Thank You Mary Jane!

There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes.  ~William Makepeace Thackeray

In addition to reading and crafting, I particularly enjoy writing.  In earning my college degrees, I’ve written more research papers than I can even count.  However, lately I’ve had the urge to “flex” my writing skills and try some new genres.  I was thrilled when the editors at Mary Jane’s Farm asked me to write an article for their January/February issue.  I had the opportunity to interview an accomplished quilter, Jennifer Rodriguez, of All Things Belle.  My article tells her story and encourages readers to try their hand at paper-piece quilting.  I hope you will check out her blog as well as her Etsy store and perhaps try one of her quilt cards.  They are a miniature work of art and a little package love that anyone would be honored to receive. The magazine is a lovely mix of organic and green living ideas, crafting, recipes and personal essays.  I didn’t realize that the magazine had hit stores until I saw it on the rack at the grocery store this evening. ( I absolutely adore the cover! Isn’t it gorgeous?)  I can’t describe how thrilling it was to see my article in print, and I hope it is the first of many more writing opportunities to come.

If you’re visiting my blog today as a result of seeing my article in Mary Jane’s Farm, I hope you’ll come back to get a sneak peek of the latest books I’m reading, as well as my latest crafty endeavors.

2012 Resolutions: Keep it Simple!

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.  — Leonardo DaVinci

I’ve thought and thought about what to focus on in 2012, and with much thought and contemplation, I’ve decided to keep it simple.  If you’re reading this, you either love to read, or you’re crafty (probably both), so I wish for you both of these joyous things in 2012.

Christmas: Thrift Store Style

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” — Edith Sitwell

I don’t really have a lot of space in my house for decorations, so I enjoy creating small “vignettes” for each season.  This tends to keep my small decorations clustered, so they have more of an impact.  Yesterday, I made a fruitful stop at my favorite thrift store and hit pay dirt.  First of all, I have a huge addiction to cream pottery from manufacturers such as California, USA, McCoy, and Haeger.  My thrift store has created a new room for antiques and collectibles, and has begun to price these items somewhat higher.  However, they missed this gem…. a Haeger cream planter.  I found it with the other common “junk” for $2.50.  There’s a small crack on one corner, but hey, turn it around, and no one knows!  The next find was the cute little round, green vase/planter.  I’m a sucker for the glassware! The small wooden tray was nothing special alone on the shelf, but it’s the perfect place to cluster my treasures.   Then there was a great box of vintage Christmas tree decorations, so I pulled out this green one for my display.  Oh, the finds continue…. I found a small bag of blocks, and lo-and-behold “NOEL!”   (I also picked-up a great old wooden box of dominoes – which is prime for another project!)  The snowmen were a previous years’ gift to myself, and they make my display come to life.  I love it when I come out of the thrift store with so many wonderful treasures!

A Place to Hang Your Hat….or Coat….or Scarf…..

The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.  ~Thomas Babington Macaulay

Check out my handmade yardstick coat hanger!  I ran across this project idea in the Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and I instantly loved the look of it, so I set out to collect as many vintage yard-sticks as I could find.  Ultimately, I was hoping to find them all from our local hometown businesses, as well as the small towns where my husband and I grew up, as that would be more sentimental.  However, they were hard to find!  I did find several at some consignment shops from far-away places, but they still had some unique and interesting “patina,” so I picked them up from $5.00 – $10.00. With help from my in-laws, I was able to get one from the Coast-to-Coast store in my husband’s small hometown in Eastern Montana, and of course, I found one in Grandma’s Attic!  (I’m always giving thanks to my Grandma for her collecting spirit!)   I found some antique black coat-hooks on E-Bay that came from an old school.  I love the look of these, because you can see flecks of different colors of paint and a few chips here and there.  We took a board and cut it just slightly larger than the layout of the rulers and painted it with several coats of black spray-paint.  This way it peeks out just a little around the perimeter and “frames” it.  The black also highlights the lettering on the yardsticks and the hooks as well. We have enough yardsticks to make another one, and we’re going to hang them side by side on the long wall in the entry-way at Camp More (the cabin). I think it’s going to add a lot of character to the room, not to mention, it will give us a place to hang our coats after we come back from snowshoeing!

True Grit – for the creative book club!

“They tell me you are a man with true grit.”  -Mattie Ross, True Grit

Okay, is your book club like mine, and ready to try something unique, different, and not the typical “chick-lit?”  Look no further than True Grit by Charles Portis. This book has had a surge of popularity since the recent movie was released, but if you didn’t see the movie, and even if you did, this is a book not to be missed.  I can’t stress how thoroughly enjoyable it is!  My initial reaction was that it was easy to read, adventurous, and surprisingly funny.  Mattie Ross has to be one of the spunkiest, well-spoken and utterly fearless heroines in literature.  Another bonus of this book is that it’s relatively “tame” when it comes to content and language, and when you’re done, the feeling is that you’ve read something of a classic filled with good old-fashioned Americana. You would be surprised at how many people read this book when it was published in 1967 and describe it as one of their all-time favorites.  Get your book club to think outside the box and choose this book for its next read.  You will have tons of fun talking about Mattie and her unbelievable sense of justice, as well as Rooster and how completely un-refined, yet compulsively likeable, he is.  If you are a structured book club who follows a more rigid discussion format, there are lots of online discussion lists for this book.  One question to ask each guest:  “When in your life did you have to display, “True Grit?”  If you’re like my book club, you let the talking happen, and enjoy the food!

How do you get creative?

1.  Serve your guests hot coffee and if you can, get some old-fashioned blue enamelware dishes that look like you’re sitting around a campfire.

2.  Recipe ideas:  Grits! Chicken dumplings, cornbread and candied bacon.

3.  Use red bandanas for napkins to further enhance the “western” theme.

4.  The rooster motif can also be used in a creative way, as the main character is named Rooster.  Maybe include a rooster image on an invitation, or on handmade coasters.

5.  Can you find some horse decorations or imagery for decorations?  This would be appropriate, as Mattie and the men ride across the countryside in search of the outlaw Tom Chaney.  I found this one on Etsy (http://www.etsy.com/shop/ManateesToyBox?ref=seller_info)

6.  Spurs and rope figure predominantly in the book.  Use these as charms and/or decorations.

7.  Do you want to send your guests home with a favor?  How about a red bandana tied with rope-like string and filled with individually wrapped taffy, as that is one of the ingredients in Rooster’s pack when they embarked on their mission.  Embellish it with a U.S. Marshall charm. I found this cute little one on amazon.com.

8.  Find some empty whisky bottles and set them on the table filled with wildflowers.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

“I was born with a talent. Not for dance, or comedy, or anything so delightful.  I’ve always had a knack for school.”   — Kim, Girl in Translation

My book club just finished reading Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok.  In a nutshell, it was a hit. Sometimes we read a book, talk about it for five minutes, and then get sidetracked into other conversation.  However, this book had us talking.  This story of a young girl and her mother coming to the United States from China to seek a better life, is thought-provoking in the irony of what they actually encounter.  I don’t come from a part of the country that encounters many immigrants, nor do we see the kind of poverty that large cities do, so the conditions that this young girl faces are shocking.  So, you probably realize that Kim is not coming to the America she and her mother envision.  They endure hardship beyond measure, and one cannot help but be slightly remorseful for the luxuries we take for granted each day.  However, the story runs its course in a way that makes the reader realize that the American dream still exists for Kim, in that she eventually overcomes the oppression of her youth, takes advantage of the kindness of good people, and uses her natural talents to ultimately shine.  This is a quick read, but it will open your eyes and make you wonder why you ever complain about anything in your comfortable little life.  If you are going to choose this book for your reading group here are some ideas for bringing the book to your group:

1.  Serve hot tea and won-ton soup, both are featured in the novel.

2. Decorate the table with Chinese inspired china, tray and/or linens.

3.  As a favor for your guests, give them a Kuan Yin charm which can be purchased inexpensively from online bead stores.  In the novel, Matt wears this necklace every day. In the Chinese culture and the Buddhist culture, The Kuan Yin is known to bring health and good fortune to anyone who carries it. The novel says, “The Kuan Yin was carved with a multitude of arms, each hand holding a different tool.  People call her the goddess with an infinite number of arms to help all those in need.” (174) However in the end, Matt ends up giving his necklace to Kim as a way to pass this protection on to her.  Or you can use images of the Kuan Yin to make small notecards or  bookmarks for your guests.  (The image of this Kuan Yin is from:  http://store03.prostores.com/servlet/themonkeyking/the-1913/JADE-KWAN-YIN-THOUSAND/Detail)

Little Jars of Light

Live in rooms full of light.  ~Cornelius Celsus
I thought I would share with you the creation my husband and I came up with for light fixtures at our cabin (which we refer to as Camp More).  A friend had shown us her Pottery Barn catalog, and we fell in love with their Canning Jar light fixture, but it’s hard to convince DIY’ers to hand over the credit card number when something looks like the perfect project!  We ordered these blue tinted jars from e-bay, and found the new, vintage-inspired electrical cord online. The ceiling canopy came from a porch light that we removed at our house, and we painted it with a hammered metal finish.  We love the way they turned out, and think they add just the right touch to our rustic little get-away.  I’ve seen Etsy shops that sell similar items, and they make such a unique conversation piece.

Perfectly Pumpkin

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”   -Henry David Thoreau 

I’ve had a lot of fun lately, enjoying some fruitful thrifting, some bountiful fall blooms in the garden, and some happy crafting for Halloween.  First of all, let me say that two years ago, when I toted home a small Chinese Lantern plant from my farmer’s market, I had no idea that it would spread so eagerly.  I has literally taken over my front flower garden.  So, what’s a crafty girl to do?  Find a way to use them for fun fall decorating, and to make cute decorations to give away! I found this cute idea in the Martha Stewart magazine for turning Chinese Lantern pods into small pumpkin favors.  I’ve also had some exceptional luck at the thrift store lately.  The orange pot in the background is McCoy (I’m kind of a pottery snob!) and the pumpkin is a vintage Haeger planter.  I found these things just hiding among all of the other Halloween “crappity-crap.” (thanks for the term, Dottie Angel, it’s perfect!)  Fall decorating is my favorite, and I only wish the season wasn’t so short.  Right now I’m pressing some leaves for another crafty idea I saw on Martha’s website… I’ll be sure to share the results.

Crafty Team Spirit…. Princess Lasertron Style!

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”  -Helen Keller

So, I work at a high school, and this week is Homecoming Week.  I don’t care how old you might be, you probably remember the buzz and energy of Homecoming.  The team building, the buzz, the energy, the traditions…..  It’s about theme inspired dress-up days, and class competitions, and parades and of course, the game!  That’s why I’m so excited about the prize ribbon I made at The Creative Connection Event.  I was so fortunate to be able to take a class by Megan from Princess Lasertron.  We all made these enormous, over-the-top, but oh-so-cute, prize ribbons.  In my daily life, I just don’t see myself donning it for groceries or the mall.  However, Homecoming is the perfect occasion to sport some extra big team spirit.  I was so excited to choose my school’s blue and green, as well as embroider a big “G” on the center button.  All of the ladies who attended this class were so much fun, and we truly enjoyed each others’ company.  It reminded me of what old-fashioned sewing circles must have been like.  I’m going to stock up on some more felt and ribbon, some fabric covered button kits, and I’m going to make some more of these beauties to share with my colleagues for next year.  Who says that team spirit can’t be crafty? Go Team!!

Brilliantly Brilliant Dottie Angel!

“Never doubt your instincts in a thrift store.”  -Dottie Angel

Yes, I’m still talking about the Creative Connection Event.  (It may never end, so hopefully you’re okay with it!) While I was there,  I had the amazing opportunity to meet with the publisher of Uppercase Magazine Janine Vangool for my Pitch Slam.  Her company published the book I want to tell you about….. Dottie Angel: the Peachy Crafty World of Tif Fussell.

I absolutely must borrow from Tif’s super-fun vocabulary to tell you that this book is, “peach, fabby, and brilliantly brilliant!”  I had been saving this treasure since I got home from TCC.  It was perched on top of a pile waiting for a really quiet, special moment when I could settle in for an extended amount of uninterrupted time.  When you hold this book in your hands, you will understand that trying to read it while commuting, or perhaps cramming in a few pages at the doctor’s office, just won’t do this sweet little volume justice.  This book has so many special touches, it feels as if it were handmade just for me.  It wasn’t just rolled off the presses and put in a box.  No,  I’m not going to give away the surprises.  You’ll just have to order one for yourself from Uppercase.  I could go on and on about why I love this book, but most of all, I love that when I read it, I feel like I’m sitting in the Airstream with “Dottie” (Tif)  on a lovingly weathered chair, covered with hand crocheted doilies, drinking a cup of tea,  in a beautifully chipped cup from the thrift store, and gazing at some of her handmade treasures.  When I read the description of the book, I must say, she had me at “thrift store.”  I confess — I’m a complete thrift store junkie!  Tif and I have exactly the same passions:  crocheted covered vintage hangers, ceramic animal figurines and granny squares!  We both have “crafting epiphanies” and an appreciation for anything with “granny chic!” She is “utmost kind” in sharing ideas for fun little treasures to make, and she tells you about her special little world where tools have names and bunnies wear capes.  “Thank you kindly,” Tif, for the crafty ideas, the walks down memory lane, and for letting me into the perfectly blissful world of my new best friend, Dottie Angel!