Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Homemade Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone!  I hope you have all had a wonderful holiday with your family and loved ones and are now recovering, like me and Mike.  Turbo (the Cat) is not recovering yet.  He is still cowering under the bed.

I don't know about you, but the last couple of weeks have been a flurry of baking, sewing, feasting, and parties in our world.  I like to make my Christmas presents, and this year I was pretty busy.  I did buy a couple of items (like the model airplane and art supplies for my nephews), but I made them art smocks to protect their clothes while they paint, draw, glue, and cut things.  The art smocks were actually a really fun project I suggest you try sometime!

I found children's plain t-shirts at my local craft store in really bright colors.  I cut those up the middle of the back (remove the tags... makes it a lot easier!) and used iron-on velcro as a fastener.  This way the kids don't have to pull the shirts over their heads when they are messy, they can just stick their arms through the sleeves and go.  Then I used fabric scraps in fun and funky patterns to make pockets on the front so they can store pens, chalk, and any other art supplies, frogs, bugs, etc., that they find.  I also appliqued their first initial on to each shirt... just for fun!
Orson's smock (I think he will grow into it!)

Enzo's Smock

Reney's Smock

I made a sock monkey for my youngest nephew, too, since the older two got sock monkeys last year.  All kids need sock monkeys.  It is just one of those things.

I made a couple sets of dish towels for friends and family... these are another fun and easy project.  I used dish towels from the dollar store, and fabric scraps to add neat details to the towels.  Cat heads and paws for my friends and their furry companions, and a nice Italian feast scene for my Dad and his wife, to match their Italian country kitchen.

I then tackled my smallest and most challenging present: Salat Esse.  This is a special salad dressing that my Mom used to eat when she lived in Switzerland.  The Swiss call it "French Dressing", but it is unlike any French Dressing you find in the US.  This past May, when we visited, I had the opportunity to try the dressing myself.  She is right, it is delicious.  When we got back, I tried to find some online to buy.  No go.  So then I tried to find a recipe for it.  Another epic fail.  I finally found a recipe that looked like it had the right ingredients to produce the flavor I was looking for, so I mixed up a batch.  And then I poured it down the drain.  It wasn't just bad, it was AWFUL.  So I scrapped that and decided to try and make it according to taste.  I think what I have finally managed to make is pretty close.  Close enough that when my Mom opened her gift, which I had put in a Spice Islands jar labeled "Bay Leaves", she instantly knew that it wasn't bay leaves.  Better yet, when she opened it and tasted it, she announced "Salat Esse!  Oh my God!"  So I think it is close enough.  We think I may need to use a little less white wine vinegar next time... or maybe use champagne vinegar instead, but I think we are just about there!

Then I baked.  A lot.  One of the main gifts that I give to everyone is a jar of peaches and a jar of pears that I can each year.  I pair that with a plate of baked goods.

This year the plates featured Buckeyes (chocolate covered peanut butter balls), rum balls, mini hot cocoa cookies, chocolate fudge peanut butter cookie stuffed cookies (I know, that's a mouthful!), and poppyseed bread.  I need to give credit where it is due... the mini hot cocoa cookies came from one of the blogs that I like to follow:  Two Peas and Their Pod.
This is the photo from the Two Peas and Their Pod blog.

The link to the recipe is here, and I strongly suggest you give it a go!

The Chocolate Fudge Peanut Butter Cookie Stuffed Cookies came from another blog I like to follow:  Picky Plate.  This recipe takes a few bowls and a bit of time, but is SO worth it.  Delicious!
This photo is from the Picky Palate blog.
Here is the link to the recipe.

And just for fun... here is some of the mess that I made baking!
Poppyseed Bread


Rum Balls

My Peanut Butter Fudge Cookies

My Mini Hot Cocoa Cookies

Stay tuned for the next episode... I think it might feature some home-brew fun!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas is Coming... and I have a Master Bathroom Again!

Happy December, everyone!  It never ceases to amaze me how time flies when the holidays are coming and I am absolutely nowhere near being ready.  I am pretty sure if I had the patience to read the entire list of Murphy's Laws, that would be on there somewhere. 

I am pleased (oh so very pleased) to publicly thank Mike for the incredible master bathroom that he just finished.  As promised... some photos:
Dreamline Shower Doors, glass shelves and a teak bench to finish it off
Detail of the diamond cut-out
Love the teak bench, love the shower floor!

Here you can see the glass shelves and how the travertine transitions into the tumbled marble.  Pretty!
This shows the porcelain tile floor and the travertine base-boards that Mike installed.  And his flip-flops.  And the mess of tools that still need to be put away!
We still have quite a bit of clean-up to do and tools to put away, but I couldn't have asked for a better present!

I am so excited about the bathroom that it actually motivated me to get some holiday decorating done!  The tree is up, the few presents I have managed to finish so far are wrapped and under the tree, the wreath is on the door, the garland is on the bannister... now I just need to get to the Christmas cards (if you don't have one from me yet, it is because I haven't started them!), the holiday baking, and the eggnog and rum.  Oh yes, the eggnog and rum.

My tree skirt looks lovely under the tree!

Decorated with ribbon this year instead of garland or tinsel.

The whole shebang.  I think I am pleased.
I am also pleased to announce that my birthday present to myself (okay... one of my birthday presents to myself!) has arrived... my new shirt complete with my logo!  Thank you so much to the folks from Down The Line Sports ( for designing something so very me!

My newest tennis shirt.

And all this... just in time for the Holiday Tournament I am playing with my friend Fumi!

I will write more soon - just as soon as I get those Christmas cards done, the presents handled, and the eggnog and rum ingested!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Name is Auntie and I Like to Do Drawrings

Another big gap between posts... I apologize for the absence.  Lots of fun things happening lately, though!  In November I started giving "Art Appreciation" lessons to my sister's oldest son, Reney.  These lessons consist of studying an artist, learning about aspects of art, and then trying to apply what we have learned.  This sounds like an excellent plan, but the major challenge becomes apparent when we mention that Reney is six.  He will be turning seven this year, but he is still six.  He is in that particular phase where he thinks "poop" is hysterical, learning to write correctly is a waste of time, and his Mom and his Auntie don't know anything.  It is my understanding that this phase may last well into adult-hood, but we are doing our best to cope in the meantime.

The first artist we picked to study is Vincent Van Gogh... that master of Post-Impressionism.  Van Gogh has some personal interest for us since we visited some of the places that were important in Van Gogh's life when we were in France.  We have pictures of the cafe he painted, spent a few days in Paris, and we spent some time in Arles, where Van Gogh spent some time trying to start an artist commune.  Reney probably doesn't remember this (he was 20 months at the time!), but we have some pictures of him there, so that made it a little more interesting for him.

Some of the aspects of art that we talked about were contrast, perception, and texture.  We looked at dark vs light, how perception shows distance (near vs far), and how texture can be used to create both contrast and perception. 

Van Gogh did quite a few self-portraits, so that was our first attempt at art.  Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of the self-portraits, but I was pleasantly surprised with Reney's attention to detail and image of himself.  And my sister tells me that his subsequent self-portraits show an evolving image of himself and more seriousness in the artwork.

The next step was to look at some of Van Gogh's art and then create our own interpretations.  One of the pieces that we studied was the famous "Starry Night" painting (shown below).

We created our own individual interpretations of this painting, using the medium of chalk on black construction paper.

Reney's Midnight Christmas Tree

Reney used the side of the blue chalk to create contrast and the appearance of texture in his drawing, in order to emphasize the dark night.  The blue is the sky that is near, and the black behind is the sky that is far away.  The light colors used in the stars and the moon are meant to create the contrast of bright vs dark and make the stars and moon appear to glow.

My Interpretation

 As you can see, my interpretation has quite a bit less imagination than Reney's.  My favorite part is the lit windows in the small town.

The following week, we used Van Gogh's Sunflowers as our inspiration.
The Van Gogh version...
My version

Brigitta's version

Reney's version
I painted this lovely scene on construction paper for Brigitta

Reney created himself as a flower
I think our next artist will continue the Post-Impressionism studies... Paul Cezanne?