2020’s 20 Holiday Crafts: Sucker for Stars (2/20)

I’m not sure how many of my 2020’s 20 Holiday Crafts will involve stars, but I’m willing to bet there will be more than a couple. I am a sucker for stars at Christmastime.

I made these few projects with a fabulously -scented salt dough. Let me give you the recipe first:

SCENTED SALT DOUGH

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground clove
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 10 drops orange essential oil (this is optional but it smells HEAVENLY!)

Directions:

  1. Mix the dry ingredients and the essential oil
  2. Slowly add the water until you have a workable piece of dough. Not too wet and sticky. It should be about the consistency of Play-Dough.
  3. Roll out the dough and cut out the desired shape that you want for your ornaments: snowflake, tree, star, etc.
  4. Using a straw (I used one of our stainless steel straws), make a hole in the middle or at the top of the dough shape. Hint: It sounds like a small detail but after making a hole in an ornament, I then blew at the top of the straw to remove the dough from my straw. If you let them build up, they’re difficult to get out. A build-up inside the straw can make the hole punch less exact.
  5. Place the dough shapes on a baking sheet. Essential oils can be difficult to digest sometimes. So if you’d like to keep your oils from getting onto your baking sheet, line with parchment paper so you can discard it later. I used some oooooold baking sheets that we no longer use for cooking.
  6. Bake the shapes at 170 degrees for one hour then flip them over and bake another hour. Depending on the thickness of your shapes, you might want to go another half hour (I did for mine but they are pretty thick.)
  7. Remove them from the oven and let them cool on cooling racks.

I used my shapes for a star wall hanging, using a piece of driftwood I’ve had stashed away…

a dual string star garland…

and some tree ornaments.

Other options: You can stamp a word on the shape before baking it or using a live pine section, impress it into the tree shape. One of my bigger stars could easily be a candle holder which would require making a larger hole in the center before baking. There are many different ways you can use these salt dough shapes.

The ongoing scent of this salt dough is amazing. It fills your house while they’re baking and they hold the scent really well. I can smell them when I walk into a room where they are. The salt is what dries them so you can use them year after year if carefully wrapped and stored.

I used some baker’s twine, jewelry cording and macrame string. You could use ribbon or thread – it’s whatever matches your aesthetic. Another hint: I bought a handful of this black and white baker’s twine at Target last year in their Christmas clearance at 80% off. Look for items that a store has earmarked for ‘Christmas’ but you could use all year long – like I do this twine.

As always, if you try this project please send me a picture. I love seeing your creativity in the process! ENJOY!!

2020’s 20 Holiday Crafts: Modern Wintery Alps (1/20)

In an attempt to entertain myself during the much-slower-than-normal 2020 holidays, I decided to clear out my burgeoning Pinterest boards. Many of the craft ideas have been hanging around for a number of years so why not choose 2020 for some anti-COVID creating.

I’m starting with this set of Swiss Alp mountains. They would be cute on a bookshelf or as a table winterscape. I’m not sure where these will land, but I had fun turning one 4 ft piece of 1×10 pine wood into something modern and wintery. It’s nice when ‘Christmas decorations’ can be spread out to include all of winter. And these Swedish babes fit that bill.

Here’s how we did it…

Scott bought one piece of pine wood and cut out the mountains to 4 different heights: 10.5″, 8.5″, 6.5″ and 4.5″ tall. He set his miter saw at 24 degrees and after cutting both sides of the mountain, the peak ends up at a 48 degree angle. Yeah, yeah…that’s a lot of math. The exact angle isn’t as important as the consistency for each mountain so that they each end up with the same angle but with different heights. All those mountains out of one board!

I then used some Provincial wood stain (that we had on hand) to stain a few of the mountains. You could use any stain color you desire. As I was painting the others I was imagining doing another set of mountains that were all stained with just painted tops. That would look great too.

All you need are those cheap little bottles of paint from your craft store. Again…trying to use a lot of what I already had on hand…I used some black and white wall paint. It was definitely overkill to use gallons of paint – but it’s what I had!

When I have a project that requires multiple layers of paint with drying in between, I cut off a bit of Saran Wrap, fold it in half and just tuck my wet brushes inside. It’s a temporary hold so they don’t dry out.

This is an optional step and, honestly, one I skipped after the first mountain. Drawing out the snowcap seemed like a good idea, but you don’t really stick to the lines anyway so I skipped this step for the rest.

For the dotted mountain I used an old pencil I keep around for this reason. It has a few coats of paint on it already so the tip is even rounder.

I took a quick video showing the differently sized dots. The more paint on your pencil, obviously, the bigger the dot. The longer you hold the pencil down, the bigger the dot…

This was a pretty simple project at a low cost. Always a good thing! The colors and size are completely up to you. I realize it might be a little frustrating for some of you reading this if you don’t have access to a miter saw. If you’re really interested in completing this project, let’s talk. We can cut some wood for you and ship it at a fairly low price, I’m sure. Let’s talk.

I added some faux snow (that’s just a really enjoyable phrase to say!). The faux snow will make an appearance in a different project that’s coming up soon.

So what do you think??? Project 1 of 20 complete. Not sure I’ll get through them all between Thanksgiving week and Christmas week but I plan on having fun while trying!

Thanks for reading this far! If you decide to complete this project, please please please tag me on social media or send me a picture. I want to enjoy it with you!

Now… I need a cup of Swiss hot chocolate. How about you?

These Are Puzzling Times…

I am not a jigsaw puzzle doer. Oh sure – I’ve paused at the table a few moments to work out a piece or two when someone else was doing one nearby, but I know my patience level and I know it doesn’t have the endurance for a tedious project like puzzle hobbying.

But quarantine takes us to a whole new level, no?

I’ve had this puzzle in our game closet for over a year and thought it was time to take a crack at it.

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After only 8,273 hours, I had the edge pieces in place. (Was I insane for doing this??) Turns out the answer was yes. It wasn’t until much later that I noticed the ‘Challenge Series’ notation on the front of the box. CHALLENGE?? I haven’t done a jigsaw puzzle in years. Was this really where I should start?

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I ordered a different puzzle and was much more pleased with the design. Before I started, I looked up some puzzle tips to see if I could work a little smarter.

Here are some things I’ve learned as a novice puzzle gamer

You need a colander, ziploc bags and foam board.

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Before dumping all the pieces out onto the table, first pour them into a colander over the sink. This will get rid of all the puzzle dust and it won’t get all over your workspace.

Speaking of workspace – if you don’t have a dedicated table for the puzzle, work it on a large piece of foam board. The foam board is very lightweight and easy to move out of the way when you’re not working on the puzzle.

We all pull out the edge pieces first, right? And that’s cool cause they’re the easiest to work. But then try to group all of the same colors together. Even if the reds don’t all go in the same place, you’ll have a stockpile of them when you need them. For the puzzle I was working on, the colors were very segregated so I put the individual color piles into separate ziploc bags.

After I’ve worked on a section for a while and started to feel ‘stuck’, I then grouped my puzzle pieces into ‘like sizes’. I put all the horizontal pieces together and all the wide pieces together. It’s not always easy to tell which is which but a lot of the time it is. Again, it just gives you a stockpile of similar sizes when it’s obvious the next piece HAS to be an up and down piece.

Many people suggested turning your puzzle occasionally to give you a different perspective, but that seemed to work against me so I didn’t use this tip very much.

It still took me quite a few days to complete since I was working on it in between other projects. Poor Scott asked me if he could help when I was nearing the end. I said “Sure!”, and handed him the ziploc of black pieces – the hardest section!

As with most things in life, the color is relatively easy. It’s the shadows that take the most time and care…

Once we finished we were faced with the universal puzzle-making decision: Do I break it all up and put it back in the box to do again at another time? (which we probably never would) or do I try to preserve it?

I liked the colors and the topic of books so I decided to hang it in my home library/office.

If you decide to break up your puzzle and save it for another time, I read a couple of tips I thought were helpful.

  • Break off all the edging pieces first and put them in a separate bag. It will save you time the next time you do the puzzle. If you want to separate and bag all the separate color pieces you can also do that – but don’t make your puzzle-making toooooo easy for the next time! Where’s the fun in that?!
  • If you own a number of puzzles, make sure you bag all the puzzle pieces in each of their boxes to avoid a catastrophe of toppling them all over and pieces getting mixed up together.

But I had decided to preserve our finished puzzle.

There are many puzzle products that can help you save your puzzle, but since we are in Quarantime, I wanted to use things I already had at home.

I placed a large piece of wood over the puzzle so I could flip it over to the backside. I then Mod Podged the back of the puzzle. Many people suggested Mod Podging both the front and the back to make it sturdier, but I wanted to try to maintain that authentic puzzle look on front so I just did the back and then laid newspaper over the glue as a ‘webbing’ of sorts to hold it all together. (Extra bonus points if you can glue Tom Brady’s head to the back of a puzzle!)

I let that all dry overnight. If there was any newspaper showing, I trimmed the edges.

So far so good! I was liking the way it was all turning out. I then asked Scott if he could make a frame for me. I just wanted a simple black frame.

He backed the whole puzzle with a piece of thin plywood. He made the frame and put a groove in the wood so the puzzle would slide right in. I wanted it to be in the front of the frame and not against the wall.

I’m not sure this is the final spot for it, but I like the way it works with my books and bookshelf!

This puzzle will forever and always remind me of the sequestered days of Corona 2020. In the midst of the scary and unknowable, it was nice to work on something kinetic together to occupy our minds for a few hours.

While he was making me a frame, Scott also made a book rest for me. No bookmarks or dog-ears needed – simply lay down your book where you left off and pick it up when you’re ready for it again. Cute, huh??

I’m not chopping at the bit to start a new jigsaw soon, but I’m glad I learned a few ‘pro tips’ for the next time I tackle one.

The Colors of Quarantine

One of the smaller home projects I’ve been meaning to get to (thank you, COVID-19 for forcing my hand) is to refresh my home office/library/blog-writing room.

I am firmly in the neutral camp when it comes to the rest of my home but I wanted to add in some color to a room filled with books.

This homemade table is what I use as a desk. I don’t think you could offer me a free $6,000 desk to replace it – it’s the perfect size for me and I love its sturdiness and size. However, I wanted to amp it up a bit.

These Mildliner markers are a daily supply for me. I love them! I use them on various lists, etc. They aren’t an intense marker that will soak through your page and I absolutely love their color sequence. So honestly…I think I based a lot of the room on their presence.

sidenote: I just checked on Amazon and they are about $40. There’s no way I paid $40 for them so maybe it’s just the crazy times we’re in at the moment. I’m sure they sell for less at other times and also at craft stores – so I’m not linking anything here. Just Google them for a better price.

Before I started painting, Scott offered to ‘shore up’ the warped edges, etc. “Nah…I think that’s what I like about it. It’s wonky and imperfect.

Earbuds in. Audiobook on. Paintbrush in hand. By the way…when you’re working on a project while listening to an audiobook, do you ever get back into the aura of the storyline when you see the finished project even months later? Or like…craft projects I’ve worked on while watching the World Series will always remind me of the World Series when I see it.

No? Just me? (Surely not.)

I wanted to paint the desk a combination of blues and greens to go with the plants I have in this space. In the back of our house we have some fantastic windows that get a strong, bright light. Then in this room we have this big window that gets fantastic filtered light. It’s bright – but not quite so harsh as the southern exposure of the backyard. Therefore, my plants are pretty much divided into two sections: those that like it hot and those (…like me…) that like it bright but let’s not go overboard on the sunbeams.

I really like the way it turned out…

The top row of my bookshelves are my fiction books. Those books and only those books are in rainbow order. (The rest are all in genre order…nothing cutesy.) Eventually I think I’d like that back wall to be a bright fuchsia or something. We’ll see…

Can’t stop won’t stop with the rainbows 🌈

Scott built this ‘plant altar’ (I jokingly call it) last year to hold a bunch of my plants. It’s been moved around the house numerous times – but I mostly like it right here under the window, soaking up the sun.

This airplane plant is a lot of fun – it has SOOOO many pups!

This room is impossible to take a picture of and get all its sides, but I think you get the idea. I like the burst of color the desk brings without it being TOO colorful or childlike. It’s calming and cool and it’s forever linked to Corona Quarantine Survival time.

And in the evening when the twinkle lights turn on… it’s a perfectly cozy spot.

What projects are you working on while you’re hunkered down??

Build Me a Valentine (or three!)

Last year, Scott made us a trashcan box since our kitchen trash has to sit out in the open. We have put it through the workouts since then and it’s held up fabulously. Sooooo (…of course…) I wanted more!

I wanted something similar to the trashcan for our laundry hamper. (By the way, I don’t know why I hate the word ‘hamper’ so much, but I really really do. -ha! No getting around it, though, it’s the best way to describe it for this post. Just know I would never use it in real life.)

We recently rearranged a big closet in our spare bedroom so I wanted to locate the hamper somewhere else. We have a hall area in between our bedrooms but I didn’t want an open hamper out there. Oh what to do, what to do?! (#firstworldproblems) So a trashcan revision was made into a hamper box. (For the record – both the trashcan and the hamper have open backs for plenty of ventilation.)

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You know how you get something in your head and it quickly becomes a random obsession? (Oh come on – that can’t just be me…) I now want to fill this glass canister jar with beautifully wrapped soaps. (World Market – I’m looking at you! They have the BEST soaps that are gorgeously wrapped.)

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Okay…back to the hamper sitch.

The trashcan box opens at an angle. The actual trashcan inside the box sits on a hinged platform that opens outward. It’s easier to dump trash and makes for an easy emptying of the trashcan too.

But the hamper has a simple door that opens with plenty of headroom for tossing clothes inside. It closes with a magnetic attachment at the door and inside face of the hamper.

I am so happy with it! As with most households, it’s also a nice landing spot for the things that need to be taken to other parts of the house. (Temporary landing spot. – wink, wink)

Hamper box: SUCCESS!

During Scott’s week off last week he finished up the hamper project than started working on a raised garden for my cut flowers.

Last spring he made some raised garden boxes that I used for a pretty display of flowers – similar to a window box. We eventually moved it to the side of the house and this past fall grew vegetables in it. This year, however, I wanted to grow cut flowers as if growing vegetables. In rows – nothing fancy – only used for cutting and bringing inside (or gifting to neighbors!) So I wanted it pretty simple, rustic even. The main thing is that it’s at my height which makes pruning and cutting so much easier. (I’m game for that!)

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Using cedar fencing posts he constructed a box, lined it with weed barrier liner, then ran a sprinkler system to it.

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This particular spot at the back of the house is BRUTAL in the summertime. It gets some pretty harsh southern exposure. But if last year is any guide, the flowers did well in it until the end of May. (We started in February last year too.) My plan is to make this a year-round raised garden, replacing the spring flowers with summertime plants and eventually a fall harvest.

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Time for one more project: a potting bench!

We mulled this one over numerous times. It took on various different forms until we finally combined two plans into one.

For the past 3 years we have slowly added to our outdoor furniture from IKEA. It’s all from the same line: APPLARO. (IKEA and their Swedish-named products -ha!)

The below picture shows two ‘wall units’ that you can add shelves to or a fold-out table, etc. It’s a very useful, modular patio system.

We decided to use two of the panels as a backdrop to a potting bench. I use whatever surface I can get to when I repot plants, propagate plants for sale, and general yard gardening. So I was VERY excited about this project! (Not that I wasn’t excited about the others too!)

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Scott found some workbench plans online that he liked as a guide but then he tweaked them to fit our specific wants.

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(Don’t judge the messy garage. Or please…DO shame us into getting this ‘secret’ part of our house FINALLY organized and cleared out!! A definite spring project!) Meanwhile, the potting bench project was coming along nicely.

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The next decision was staining. (WHYYYYYYY do I make things SO complicated by over-thinking such small decisions.) Basically, I want it to look like I found an old, abandoned warehouse where this decades old potting bench was covered with a huge dust cloth and VOILA’!, I find a perfectly useable, vintage potting bench.

But alas…… instead, I have to let nature do its dirty work on freshly made furniture. (Impatience is a noose around my neck! -ha!)

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After a few trial spots with different stains: gray, light brown, should-I-just-paint-it-white, etc., we decided to go with a dark stain to seal in the wood from the elements but that would (hopefully) get a little beat up over time until it’s the perfect “old” looking potting bench I envision.

Meanwhile – look how fantastically it turned out! I’m so happy with it!! Scott did an excellent job.

Let me assure you, however…

…even though I zhuzhed it up…

…that’s only for the picture. I plan on using this thing AS a potting bench – not a photoshoot opportunity!

But for now…I mean…I had to do a little bit of prop useage.

WHAT A WEEK!! Lots of projects envisioned, executed and finished! Scott has a lot of fun with the building part of the creative process (and he gets VERY creative with it. He usually takes plans several steps further to make sure things are SUPER safe and will withstand heavy usage. And many times he makes up the plans himself.) And I certainly love the dreaming up part of the process. But I think the BEST fun of all is sitting down together beforehand and hashing out all the details. There is a lot of “…like this?” and “no…that won’t work” and the occasional “just MAKE it work!“comments. Of course all of these items can be purchased somewhere. But making it fit exactly what we want is so much more fun for us at this point in our lives. There is plenty of frustration to be sure, but the fun of it is beyond measure. Each project is a true joint effort. And that, I believe, is what Scott and I do best.

Can I tell you about something kind of cool that happened to me?…

Let me first say that I’m not posting any of this for sympathy or trumped-up praise. Please know that from my heart.

There are areas in all of our lives where we feel confident and strong – and other areas in which we lack inner strength.

I’m not sure if it’s my personality or the fact that I am a person with a bent toward creativity. Whatever the case, my confidence in my ability to write is always low. I enjoy it. I get the buzz, not unlike the endorphin rush of a runner (I’m told.) People have periodically encouraged me to write. But there are soooo many really great writers in the world. And I don’t just mean famous ones. I am lucky enough to know some extremely talented wordsmiths that work other jobs and fit it in when they can. I truly respect and admire their talent.

So every time I sit down to write, I face two paths:

  1. Be overwhelmed with all the immense talent already out in the world – and sit back and hide, or
  2. Try to be brave, sit down, and write anyway. Just for the discipline of writing.

Again, I don’t mean to sound pathetic. But it is a real and immense struggle for anyone faced with creating something from nothing. And especially when it involves personal reflection.

Yesterday I wrote a book review post on this blog. I posted a condensed version of it on my Instagram. I wrote it the day before, posted it early in the morning, and then went on with my day.

A few hours later I popped back on Instagram while waiting on a load of laundry to finish drying and found a message from Jon Cohen, one of the authors I mentioned in my blog post regarding his endearing book, Harry’s Trees. In his message he pointed out a section of text I wrote:

This book celebrated the freedom of forgiveness. The adventure of reading. The beauty of nature. The cost of holding on to self-perpetuated ‘truths’. The ripples of redemption. And as with every good story, it contained an enchanting touch of magic.

He commented:

I like the cogency and rhythm of your words, particularly, in the paragraph that starts, “This book celebrated . . .”

It’s just a little line. A line that instantly brought fat tears to my eyes. (Not a usual reaction for me.) My throat clenched shut and I sunk back into myself.

I reread the line. (And in 2019 style, I did a quick screenshot of it on my phone as if it could disappear into the ethers at any given moment. Like perhaps I was imagining it.)

It wasn’t a spouse or a parent or a friend online saying it. It was a published author I respect, commenting positively on my writing. I cannot find the words at the moment to convey the significant importance I felt while reading it. I had a small, but brief, moment of feeling like Sally Fields at the Oscar’s. Or more recently, Kalen Allen’s reaction when Oprah commented on his Instagram post.

He could have said, ‘Thanks for the great review’ and I would have been impressed he even found my post and glad he commented on it. But after thanking me for the review, he took it a step further and returned a small amount of praise to me as well. It was a quick comment that left a big footprint on my squishy, self-effacing heart.

I have so much to learn about writing as well as finding the confidence enough to push ‘publish’. We are so accustomed to seeing articles and reading online posts nowadays that it is easy to dismiss the immense amount of bravery it takes for the writer to go public with their words. It can be a suffocating and stifling fear.

—–

What an amazing moment of pure, unadulterated joy. Especially because when writing, I particularly like the flow of words. I edit when a sentence seems to lack a particular rhythm and musical cadence. That’s something that’s very important to me.

And yesterday, a published writer commented specifically on that trait. 

I must tell you. It felt really, really good…

If you get the chance today – encourage the Creatives in your life. They need it more than you’ll ever know. It’s not easy being them. Their mind is always at battle with their ability. They need your affirming words.

♥️