Friday, December 30, 2011

Good Gourd

I was going to title this "Just Gourdgeous" because of Emily's comment on this post, but I held myself back. Speaking of that post, you remember those long-lasting gourds? Well, I'm stretching them through the holidays with a makeover.

Here's some Halloween action:

Here they are around Thanksgiving:

Here they are now:

I taped off the little stems and gave them a coat of white spraypaint (remind me not to by the $1 spraypaint anymore, it's terrible and futile and I resorted to touching them up with white paint) and then accented some with stripes and smears of metallic acrylic paint. Ahh, it's like a magical snowfall transformed my fall decor into a winter wonderland centerpiece. Pretend you never read that. I used another scrap of discounted fabric (blue-ish gray linen and added two rows of ribbon for some pale gold stripes. I topped it with a placemat gifted by this lovely blogger and reused the greenery from the Thanksgiving centerpiece.

So, here they are hanging out on the table. I think they fit right in with the tree.

I promise not to reuse these again for Valentine's Day....but I could get more....

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ornamenting the Tree

Christmas decor has been completed in phases this year. I got the tree up (it's a fakey and my lovely Dad actually vacuumed it off for me before it went from the garage into the house). Then bought some lights (the sparse light strings from last year crapped out and probably weren't safe anyway) and some ribbon (at a bulk fabric store, so the price was right) and now I'm on to ornaments!

I wanted something subtly metallic to go with the ribbon and found some string ornament (and pendant and egg) tutorials online. I looked at this one, this one, and this one and then used some advice from each.

Here's the process:

Supplies are gathered, balloons are inflated and glue is mixed. I used watered-down modge podge and mixed it in a plastic bag in a bowl. The plastic bag situation was really handy because I just knotted the bag and put the bowl in the fridge (don't know if the fridge part was necessary, but why not?) when I was at a stopping point and then was able to use the leftovers later. And I didn't have to wash glue residue out of a bowl.

Then I got to wrapping. You'll notice that the entire ball of string is in the glue. That was accidental, but it worked out well, so I'm not complaining.

The balloons were shaped like this when I inflated them to the ornament size I wanted, but I didn't want all the ornaments to be that shape... I taped down the conical portion so I could have some variety.

I dried them overnight and flipped them a couple times (the glue would pool at the bottom, so rotating them may have let them dry more evenly).

Extracted the deflated balloons. 

Tied ribbon or string through spaces at the top of the ornament and voila!

Here's the tree in action:

Now I have 3 ornaments on the tree. No worries, there are more in the works--but I'm feeling pretty accomplished right now (and frugal, since I had the modge podge on hand and balloons and string purchases don't really break the bank). Maybe I'll have the tree fully decorated by Christmas!

How's your holiday decor coming along? Completely done? Or are you still finding fun items to add to your home?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holidays Aren't that Hard

Soy milk, cocoa mix, 1 peppermint candy--it's that easy!

Crush up your mint and top your cocoa!
And it's so calming that I'm not even annoyed when my attempt to photograph it results in a camera cord in my drink. 

Ah, delicious.

Tag, You're It

Do you ever use the pattern of wrapping paper to make a tag for a gift?

My Mom always does, it uses those wrapping paper scraps that always appear after wrapping gifts and it's easy and quick. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stained Glass Cookies

When I was in Spain, finding the baking supplies I was used to in the US wasn't the easiest, but it was fun to try substitutes (powdered vanilla extract, anyone?) and think of different ways to do things (oh, sweet metric system). Sugar cookies were a standby, but I wasn't ambitious enough to make my own icing, so I tried using preserves that were on-hand. I liked the cookies even better with some raspberry or apricot preserves or some orange marmalade. I didn't have any "official" cookie cutters, so glassware worked just fine and I added a cutout with a shot glass so the preserves could shine through. I like the taste and the look of the cookies enough that even now that I'm back in the US and have access to icing and cookie cutters, I still use the same "improvised" methods!

Have you ever had to change something up because of a "limitation" that turned out to be an improvement?

PS, an added bonus is that the cookies stack nicely (without smearing the filling) if you need to transport them.

PPS, here's the recipe I use (thanks, Rango!):

6 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder 
2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract 
1 tsp salt
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy
Add eggs and vanilla, mix well
Mix dry ingredients and add gradually
Chill for 1 to 2 hours (or longer)
Roll to desired thickness & cut into shapes
Bake on wax paper at 350F for 8-10 min

PPPS, You can bake the cut outs and make cute little cookie sandwiches (as a reward for all that baking).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Great Room Art

Hmmm, does "great" describe the type of room or the quality of the art? Hopefully both, but you can decide. I've wrapped up the paintings for the great room (progress was glimpsed or reported in posts here, here, here, and here). They were all set and on the wall, but I thought they could really be improved with some frames. Not that I wanted to shell out much for frames--especially at that size!--but I felt like they really needed something to make them look more finished. So, I thought back to the materials for my headboard project (yes, I know, I haven't posted that, yet) and figured I could do something along the same lines for the paintings. So, I purchased some bull-nosed molding and had it cut into 12 manageable lengths and got psyched up and started sawing each corner to a 45-degree angle.

I spent awhile sawing each end of the molding pieces (this would be WAAAAY easier with a table saw, but a borrowed miter box cost me all of $0, so it's hard to argue with that)

After this, my Dad and I nailed all the corners of the frames together, using the canvasses as guides so we were sure that they'd fit even if the canvasses weren't exactly the same. Here's the process:

Lining up the sawed corners around the canvas to make sure the spacing was right

Drilling guide holes for the nails (thanks for the hand-modeling, Dad)

Adding some carpenter's wood glue

Nailing the corner together using the guide holes

In spite of our best efforts, sometimes this happened. Not to fear...

Putty smoothed out the cracks and we used it to fill in any gaps in the corners

We painted them black, let dry, and then nailed them to the canvasses. I wanted the canvas to be flush with the frames, but you could use this same process and place the canvas deeper in the frame to leave a lip on the frame, too.  Here's some of that photo-documentation:

Looking good...

Drilling guide holes (My Dad is now a hand and leg model) :)

After hammering the nails in, you can counter sink them to get them flush. If you (like me) don't have a tool specifically for that, you can improvise with a large nail, as shown in the action shot above.

And then we (ok, this part was pretty much all my Dad) hung them on the wall. So, what do you think?

I think it's much more polished. And the whole process took less than 2 years! (Ok, the majority of that was my slowing painting process, the framing only took one day (minus the sawing that I did during the week leading up to "frame day").

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bird's Eye Re-View

I haven't posted a bird's eye view of the great room since this post, so it seems likes it's about time for an update:

Just as a refresher, this is the photo from last year:

I've relocated the bench in the alcove next to the fireplace and replaced it with the desk, moved one of the mini-sofas and replaced it with a craigslist-scored tobacco chair, added some side tables and switched up pillows, redid the fireplace surround (more on that later), added a large gold-ish mirror above the fireplace, hung and framed the 3 canvasses (more on that later, too), photographed the room with better lighting (ha)...I didn't realize I had changed so much until I started listing these out! 

Do you think I should stay vigilant for a larger rug for the space (I think it might look great if it went under the mini-sofa and the tobacco chair, too)?

Does anyone prefer the "before"?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thanksgiving Centerpiece

It really should be post-Thanksgiving and post-Halloween centerpiece because I used a discounted grocery store bouquet that I picked up the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the gourds/mini pumpkins that I had out for my pre-Halloween pumpkin carving party. Yep, the gourds are still looking pretty good for being over a month old!

I was looking for something to go with the oranges and yellows of the mini pumpkins and gourds and this bouquet had some cool spiky foliage to boot. I think this one tops the arrangements done here, maybe because the variation in the flowers and filler was a little more forgiving of my lack of arranging practice.  I hope the flowers hang in there for awhile, because I like seeing the dining room table decked out when I come in the house.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Presentation is Key

I had brunch with some lovely ladies at a friend's house recently and said I'd bring a fruit salad. Which is great, except that I don't love fruit when it's drenched with yogurt/cool whip/honey/mayonnaise/whatever else goes into the dressing-y stuff on a fruit salad. So, I needed a way to prettify (real word) the fruit that I had and came up with this:

I thought the color gradation was cute and everyone was either too polite or didn't mind the lack of a "dressed" fruit salad.

Hopefully you don't recognize the rectangular plate from here. But I just told you, so I guess the jig is up. No worries, it was thoroughly washed.