Friday, December 28, 2012


I have been looking forward to this day for a bit, but then the holidays came and preparations for holiday parties and I nearly forgot! Today is my first blogiversary!

I’m pretty excited because I have definitely attempted blogging before, several times, but it’s never lasted very long. I know I’m not the world’s best blogger by any means, but I’m happy to have made it through a full year of blogging!

So to celebrate, here are some pictures of my party-decorated house. It’s twinkle lights galore in here. I put them up yesterday for my work’s holiday party and I’m leaving them up for/until our New Year’s party.

It’s like living in Pinterest and I love it!

twinkle lights

twinkle lights

twinkle lights in the kitchen


ornaments and lights

ornaments and lights

Happy Blogiversary and Happy (ongoing) Holidays!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

Merry Christmas!

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

I love Christmas and I’m enjoying every minute of it! I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday season as well.

Our Christmas morning tradition is opening presents at Brian’s parents’ house with all of his sisters.  Our twist this year is that everyone will have to answer a trivia question from the movies Elf  and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original cartoon version) in order to open a present. I’m pretty excited! All the cheesy stuff in Elf always tears me up. “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” I’m sure I’ll be doing plenty of that! :)

What are your Christmas traditions and have you put a new spin on them?

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas Eve!

I decorated my little Charlie Brown Christmas tree!

Charlie Brown Christmas tree

I love what some battery operated LED lights and little plastic ornaments can do! Charlie Brown and Linus always remind me of the true meaning of Christmas.

Spending time with family and friends over the past few days and days to come will be happy and wonderful.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

“Lincoln” Name Art

Thank you, Cricut, for helping me out with this project! It’s theoretically a simple one if you need a quick gift. (I say “theoretically” because you know these things never go as planned! But this one actually went pretty smoothly because I’ve been trying to learn my lesson and plan ahead.) :)

I used my Cricut to cut Lincoln’s name, placed it on some primary-colored background paper, and framed the whole thing! Cute name art for Lincoln’s nursery.


When I make name art like this, the frame is almost always bigger than the paper I have to use as a background. In this case, the frame was roughly 11”x16” (or whatever size Ikea makes their frames) and the biggest paper I had was 12”x12”.  To make the background look purposeful and designed, I sort of cut up and pieced the paper back together in a new pattern (like quilting!).

piecing together background paper

I cut the letters out with my Gypsy and Cricut.

gypsy and cricut

I used the font on A Child’s Year. I love that it’s got an old school-book feel to it.  I also added a kitten from ZooBalloo. :)

a child's year font

One of the things I struggle with most when doing fun projects like this is making sure there’s enough contrast between the background and foreground, so I definitely try to test as much as I can (with dry-runs) before I start gluing things down!

I ended up using a white paint marker to draw on some “stitching” lines on the letters, just for fun.

white "stitching" lines

Speaking of glue, these are the two I use the most, and I’m pretty happy with them. Scotch Quick Dry Adhesive and Zig 2-Way Glue.

scotch quick dry adhesive and zig 2 way glue

Then I just added the kitten, popped the artwork in an Ikea Ribba frame, and voila!


A couple of tips when using your Cricut(…that I did not follow when I made Lincoln’s alphabet bunting, leading to a less than stellar crafting experience.)

1.) Use a new mat and a new blade.  I know you don’t want to change these things out, and that they cost money, but trust me, it’s so worth doing. Cuts come out so much cleaner when the mat is nice and sticky and the blade is nice and sharp. (This is especially true for fabric, thick paper, and delicate paper.)

2.) Make notes as you use different materials.  There are a several different “cheat sheets” out there for cutting settings on your Cricut (I like this one and this one), but everyone is different, so it’s so helpful to make notes for yourself. I have a sticky note/label on my Cricut with settings for cardstock, fabric, regular paper, etc. (This is especially helpful when cutting different kinds of fabric! And something I didn’t do/wasn’t doing when I was making the bunting!)

3.) Size matters! The Cricut can cut just about anything, but shapes with more intricate details definitely cut out better at larger sizes. When I was doing the bunting, part of my problem was that I was trying to cut out some relatively complicated shapes in a small size and in fabric and without a new blade/mat combo. Just disaster! :) With this project, I knew I wanted to keep everything simple and large and it went very smoothly. :)

If you decide to try a cute gift-project like this, have fun! Share the details with me!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gifts for Lincoln

I realize it’s the home stretch here now for Christmas, and maybe it’s too late to order these things online, but I’m still posting some awesome books I found for my friend Janis’ little son, Lincoln. You might need some awesome kids books any time of year!

The Velveteen Rabbit

I found this set at Kohl’s, in their Kohl’s Cares for Kids section, where the proceeds to go charity. So it’s cute and you’re benefiting others when you buy! Win win.  Anyway, how cute, right? The Velveteen Rabbit and a velveteen rabbit. I couldn’t pass it up.

the velveteen rabbit

I think and hope that they’re still in the store, because I’d like to pick up another set or two before Christmas!

Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet

This was a Pinterest find! As soon as I saw some of the illustrations posted, I tracked down the book and couldn’t be happier!

paul thurlby's alphabet

Who wouldn’t get excited about their letters when they’re illustrated like this?

paul thurlby's alphabet

I found the book at where the dust jacket folds out into a poster with all the letters/pictures on it, that you could totally use to decorate your kid’s room! And it’s also on Amazon (but no poster).

ABCs from the Met

I found two different book of ABCs with pictures from the Metropolitan Museum of Art! How cool, right? Learning ABCs and getting some fine art exposure at the same time seems pretty awesome.  One’s a board book and one’s a hardcover.

museum ABCs

You’re never too young to start appreciating fine art, right?

I also got him a copy of Of Thee I Sing, which I’ve gushed over before, and made him some name art that I will post about tomorrow! 

In shopping for these books, I’ve also found quite a few more good ones that I’ve started collecting for his birthday, so I’ll post about those for you too! (Also, Janis, so you don’t buy them!) ;)

What good kids books have you found lately?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Finishing Touches on the Mantel

I’ve actually been finishing some projects. What is going on here?  (I guess the holidays and upcoming New Year’s celebration are helping kick my butt into gear!)  First the Maligayang Pakso sign got done in one day, then this mantel stuff.  I’ve also been doing other little things finally, that maybe I’ll group into one post.

So last time I left you with the mantel, it was looking pretty spiffy, but I just wanted a few last additions to really make it look well-planned and neatly finished (neither of which it was! ha!).

Here’s what I came up with!

finished mantel

See my cool corbels under the shelf and tiny detail trim on the tile?

Little things, I know, but just finishing touches.

Here’s where it was last time I posted about this project:

mantel in progress

I love the look of the corbels and the detail trim just meant I didn’t have to try to do a crazy caulk job in between the tile and the fluted trim.

I actually began these finishing touches right after I finished the mantel, but some snafus (as always) came up and set me back a bit.  I started by going to Lowes and finding the trim and corbels.

corbels and trim from Lowes

I gave them all a coat of Zinsser Smart Prime and then a couple of coats of Benjamin Moore Advance in Simply White, the same paint I used on the pantry and rest of the mantel.

But then, the grain had raised and was showing really badly on the corbels. The difference was so great, that when I sanded them down a bit, they looked like this:

wood grain in the corbels

It’s not that I don’t like the look of wood grain under paint, but nothing else on the mantel is showing grain, so I just wanted the overall look to be consistent. So I primed, sanded (with 220 grit), and primed again, and sanded again a few times until I thought it all sort of smoothed itself out. I gave the corbels another coat of paint, (sanded a bit more), and painted on a second coat before they were ready to hang.

In the meantime, I hung the small detail trim, but my attempts to keep the nails from hitting the tile (or something hard under there!) didn’t quite work out, because I had 4-5 nails that looked like this:


Yeah, that nail totally curved as it went in and came back out.  Because they’re just 18ga, I was able to cut them off with a pair of lineman pliers as close to the wood as possible, then used a nail punch set to sink them into the wood. I used wood filler to fill all the holes.

To attach the corbels, I first nailed little 1x2 scraps of wood to the top plate of the frame, then attached the corbels to the wood.


I didn’t get pictures of the process because of course the 2 corbels had different measurements on the inside (the support braces inside were in different places) and I only measured 1 corbel when I cut my little blocks of wood. So I had to say some bad words as I was putting them up instead of taking photos.

But once all the nail holes were filled, and all the seams were caulked, and a little bit of touch up paint was applied, I had a totally finished mantel that I am so happy with!  We’ll just look at it again. :)

finished mantel

It’s so clean and neat.  I’m excited to see and post about the mantel post-Christmas with some other kinds of art, etc. up there!

Do the finishing touches on your projects take as long and go as wrong as they do on mine? ;)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gifts for Jessica

Yesterday was my dear friend Jessica’s birthday!

gifts for jessica

I thought I’d share what I got her, because I loved it all (and so did she!) and in case you need ideas for last-minute Christmas gifts or any kind of gift, birthday or other, all year long!

I’ve already posted about these Peace on Earth prints by Katie Daisy.  While on Etsy, I also found her this awesome Kenya print from an Indiana artist on Etsy :) since she’s been on several medical mission trips there.

artwork from sweetteashoppe and thewheatfield on etsy

(I actually framed 2 and gave her her choice of framing style.) :)

(Side note: I definitely bought this many frames at Ikea for my various Christmas gifts!)

lots of frames from ikea

(It’s a lot of frames, right?)

Because Jessica’s my craftiest friend, I also got her this awesome Pantone craft paint set from the Home Depot’s Black Friday sale. It’s so beautiful in its packaging! I wouldn’t even want to take the bottles out to use them! (But you have to, of course!)

pantone paint set

Isn’t it such a good gift set for a crafter? Gorgeous.

And in the top picture, you can see the little “Gift for You” card that Amazon lets you print out when you buy a magazine gift subscription. I told her she’s getting a few more years of House Beautiful whether she likes it or not.

But she said she likes it.

Got any other good gift ideas to share?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Happy Hanukkah!

When Lowes sent me this email yesterday (a little late, by the way, Lowes…since I decorated my mantel already) :), I realized that all week I’ve been meaning to post a big Happy Hanukkah!! to all my Jewish friends. Better late than never, right? Good thing Hanukkah lasts eight days. ;)

Lowes Festival of Lights Mantel

Happy Hanukkah!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Things I Love Thursday: Tamron 18-200mm Lens

Here’s a little review of the Tamron 18-200mm lens that I got for my birthday in August.  I’ve had it for a while, and  in case you need a holiday gift idea or a good all-around lens for traveling this holiday season, this might be your answer!

I’ve already told you how much I love my boyfriend of a camera, as well as my 35mm lens, and SB400 flash!

Let me remind you that I  am no pro photographer. I’m just a picture-happy gal who wants to capture everything I see and keep the pictures as memories. That said, I definitely want to tell you how I use and like my gear because I know that a lot of you are in my boat, and when I'm shopping, I want this kind of review.  It's not techy or geeky or heavy on specs, just how I use it.

So, the Tamron 18-200.  I am so happy I got this lens as an all purpose/travel lens.  I really do have it on my camera 80% of the time now. (I put the 18-55mm Nikon lens that came with my camera into my camera basket on the living room bookshelves.) The Tamron 18-200mm zooms out to the 18mm wide angle so I can take pictures of rooms and large groups of people and it also has the ability to zoom in and frame shots or take nice close up shots of things across the street.  Traveling in Boston with it was amazing. I felt like I never missed a good shot (and was able to put together an awesome photobook of memories with it!)

Green Dragon Tavern

I chose the Tamron version of this lens over the Nikon version based on weight but mostly price. (Really, mostly price!)  As far as techy/geeky things go, I was a little worried about the lack of VR (vibration-reduction, for when you’re zoomed out all the way to 200mm, a feature that’s on the Nikon but not the Tamron), but so far that hasn't been a huge issue for me.  It's definitely heavier (just read the specs) than my kit 18-55 or my trusty fact, when my mom is using my camera with this lens attached and the SB-400, she gets tired of holding it.  (Remember, I don't, that's just my mom who's used to a point and shoot, but still good for you to know!)  To me, though, the extra weight is worth the amazing versatility. (And when traveling, I don’t normally have my external flash attached.)  Another techy/geeky note, in some reviews comparing the Tamron version to the Nikon version, people talked about sharpness, distortion, etc, of the lens (I say “etc” because my eyes began to glaze over), but I haven’t noticed. Maybe pro or art photographers would, but for my snapshots, I couldn’t be happier with the Tamron!

my Nikon D5100 with Tamron 18-200mm lens, 77mm step up ring, and SB400 flash
My Nikon D5100 with Tamron 18-200mm lens, 77mm step up ring, and SB400 flash

This Tamron lens uses 62mm filters, so I did get a nice clear filter to leave attached all the time to protect the lens.  For other filters, though, I did get a 77mm step up ring that I am leaving attached all the time.  I don't always use a lot of filters, but I like to be prepared when I do.  I’ll sometimes use a star filter, warming filter, or polarizing filter, and since my other lenses are 52mm, I was going to have to buy a new set anyway. Well, I would hate to buy a set of 62mm, then need another size in case I do get other lenses later. 77mm seems to be the biggest, non-commercial lens size you can buy, so I’ll be getting step up rings for any future lenses to accommodate 77mm filters.

The lens does creep (zoom out as you’re walking) :) so I use the lock – which is why they put it on there!  The Nikon version may be a "better" lens, but for my picture taking, I couldn't be happier with this lens, especially for the price.  After getting this lens, (along with the things already in my camera bag), I haven't been craving a lot of gear like I was before.  (Though, there are a few things on my Christmas list, like colored gels for my flash and a wired remote, hint hint.) :)

What about you? Do you have a lens like this and like it? Did this rambling review help you choose a lens? Is there another lens that you have and love that I need? :)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Mozzarella and Basil Stuffed Chicken

Thanks to my amazing Aerogarden, I’m always looking for delicious things to cook with all my basil. Well, this dish was very delicious! Chicken tenderloins stuffed with garlic, mozzarella, and basil in a creamy mushroom sauce or garlicky red sauce. Yum.

mozzarella and basil stuffed chicken with mushroom sauce

mozzarella and basil stuffed chicken with red sauce

Oh my gosh, my mouth is watering writing this post.  This was the kind of dish where the chicken was good on its own and the sauce was good on its own, but together, oh man. Oh man.  Together, it was just so good.

I basically followed this recipe from but I changed it up a tiny bit, using chicken tenderloins for little roll-ups instead of full chicken breasts, just because that’s what I had on hand, because I like cooking with chicken tenderloins for some reason.

So here’s what I did.  (I’m not going to re-write the recipe for you, but I’ll show you what I did and what I changed!)

I set the oven to preheat at 375 degrees, and I got to work pounding the chicken. A meat mallet would have worked better than my rolling pin, but either I don’t have one or I don’t know where mine is.

pound (roll) out the chicken

Chop up some basil and sauté some minced garlic in butter, then put that deliciousness together.

basil and garlic

Then I got my little stuffing station together: the basil/garlic mix, some shredded mozzarella, and some bread crumbs. (I skipped the egg wash part. Eh, it just seemed like an extra step that I didn’t need to take.)

breadcrumbs, mozzarella, basil/garlic, and chicken ready to go

I spread on some of the basil/garlic, sprinkled the mozz on, added some salt and pepper, then rolled/folded the chicken tenderloin into thirds. Then I dipped the little roll into the bread crumbs (and made sure to coat it all over!) and…

spread the basil/garlic then sprinkle with mozzarella

…placed them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

roll them up and dip the chicken in bread crumbs

I sprinkled some extra mozz and breadcrumbs on top. :)  Then they went in the oven to bake for about 30 minutes (but definitely check your time. I was not scientific about it, so I can’t remember how long they really were in there.)

While they were baking, I worked on making two different sauces! A creamy mushroom sauce for me (from the recipe) and a red sauce for Brandon.

two sauces at once

I followed the mushroom sauce recipe pretty closely, but I left out the green onions (just because I didn’t have any), I used half and half instead of cream (again, just what’s in the house), and a bullion cube to make my own “broth.” Let me tell you, that mushroom sauce was ah.may.zing.  Seriously so good. I could just eat it on its own. Really, what’s the difference between creamy mushroom sauce and creamy mushroom soup? Not much, I think.

The red sauce I make is pretty easy and delicious. I put about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and let it warm up, then I add a teaspoon or so of minced garlic.  I let that warm up a bit, then add a can of tomatoes, diced or crushed, or sauce or whatever you’ve got. And I let it cook/simmer for a while to take out the acidic tomato taste and let it taste like garlic. While it’s cooking (probably about halfway through), I add the chopped fresh basil. Along the way, I’ll add salt, pepper, and a little sugar to taste.  Oh. My. Yum.  I’ll try to take some better measurements as I’m cooking it next time, but it’s one of those things I eyeball as I go. But it is so simple and delicious!  And since Brandon prefers red sauce to cream sauce, I’m glad to have an easy, go-to recipe for it.

Let’s just look at the mushroom-sauce picture one more time to make us hungry.

mozzarella and basil stuffed chicken with mushroom sauce

Yum!!!  Again, here’s the recipe I followed.

Are you cooking tonight? :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Maligayang Pasko

I am so proud of myself for actually seeing a project through, start to finish, in a day. :)

Maligayang Pasko

“Maligayang Pasko” is how you say “Merry Christmas” in the Philippines!

When I saw these posts on House of Hepworths, I was totally inspired. I knew I could do something similar for Christmas.


First, I went to my Gypsy (for Cricut) and designed a “Maligayang Pasko” using mostly the Calligraphy Collection font but a little of Gypsy Font. (The “li” were in the Gypsy font, just so I could get the cursive layout how I wanted it.)

Maligayang Pasko on the Gypsy for Cricut

Since we’ve taken our fence down, we’ve got this pile of fence panels in the back yard. So I figured they would be perfect for this project.

taking boards off a fence panel

I set my Gypsy/Cricut design for the largest cutting mat, 12”x24”, so I knew I wanted my sign to be bigger than that. I measured the boards of the fence panel and decided I needed about 9 (which was about 32”), so I took about 11 off the panel (just to be safe since some were cracking).  (I decided to make two signs, one for myself and one for someone special who has to wait till Christmas to get it!)

cutting the boards, attaching them back together

I decided to use the greenish, weathered sign, since it looked like it could be festive. :)

I cut each one of my boards to about 19.5” (a random measurement that looked good to me!).  I cheated by just cutting the boards around the sections with the nails in them (that were previously holding the fence together). (The nail-y scrap pieces went straight into the garbage/burn pile.) 

I found another scrap board in the back yard that I to cut to the width of my sign as a backer for all the fence pieces. I used 5/8” 18ga nails in the nail gun to attach the planks to the back boards. (I should have also used some glue. Oh well.) I put those little nails in the front and back of the wooden sign.  Once it was all together, I gave everything a quick sanding with some old 100 grit paper.

Then I collected some paint and stuff.

paint and spray glue

I cut the first “Maligayang Pasko” (on the Cricut) out of freezer paper (shiny side down). (I think posterboard or something would have been ideal, but I didn’t have a piece around that was big enough or a new cutting mat that was sticky enough.)  I sprayed some adhesive on the back of the cutout, then placed it onto my first set of boards. It was really sticky, which was good for my rough boards.  Then I sprayed the whole thing with several light coats of red spray paint.

Maligayang Pasko reverse stencil

When I peeled off the stencil, I was so happy with the results!

Maligayang Pasko sign in progress

But, as cool as this green looks in the picture, in real life, it wasn’t quite what I wanted yet, so I decided to brighten up the lettering with some white paint. I took a small artists brush and some oil-based white paint diluted with mineral spirits (so it would be a little thinner and slightly runny) to keep everything looking weathered and rustic. (Latex paint probably wouldn’t have stuck to the spray paint/rough boards as well.)

painting in the letters of the sign

For fun and added interest, I splattered a bit of white paint around, and spread some white paint on the edges with a  bunched up paper towel.

Maligayang Pasko

I was finally in love with the sign. I added to the weathered old look by running the sander with some old 100 grit paper lightly over the whole thing. Then I sprayed it all with some clear coat to seal everything in.  Doesn’t it look great?

Here it is again on the mantel!


I made two signs, start to finish, in a day, and both were done completely with stuff I already had around the house. Woohoo for a completed and free project!

What do you think? Will you be trying a decorative sign made of old boards? :)

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