Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

Who’s this?

Someone poised for a long postal journey to California . . .

Bearing a little heart and a message.  He even has a matching card!

(He’s an owl, by the way; even though I know he looks kind of like a penguin with ears.  I misjudged the shape of the face this time heh).  I was originally going to send my new little friend off with a packet of cookies, but snow prevented me from getting to the grocery store on time that week, so my messenger went solo (well, except for his card).  He’s made from a singleton, felted wool sock, acrylic craft felt, and stuffed with fabric scraps (including much of the rest of the sock) and rice in the butt to keep him sitting upright.  I say “him” but I guess it could really be a “her,” too.  I left the gender up to D to decide upon receipt.  I’m pleased with my handiwork, though I could definitely have done a better job with making him look more like an owl. Thankfully the card looked a little more recognizably like an owl than the original; D did say he was a bit confused at first, but the reference drawing and verbal hints inside helped! [Update: D has informed me that the owl is a boy, and that his name is “Glimfeather,” after the owl who helped Eustace and Jill in The Silver Chair].

And look what I received in return! (Well, actually, his gift arrived first)

Orchids, D told me, not just for Valentine’s Day, but also for Chinese New Year’s day, which coincided with Valentine’s this year.  I loved that he thought to send me something a little different than the standard roses.  The orchids were beautiful and delicate and are only just now (a week later) beginning to droop.  Speaking of Chinese New Year, since I always like to do a little something for my girl friends on Valentine’s Day, this year I made my roommates hybrid valentine-hong bao cards that consisted of little yellow cards with tigers on them inside little handmade red paper envelopes, and served them up with a big New Year’s dinner of dumplings and fried noodles.  I eventually wrote their names on the origami hearts, but that wasn’t until after I’d already taken the picture:

Last but not least, a little Wonderland whimsy; one of my classmates’ birthdays is on the 14th of February, so someone hosted a Wonderland-themed tea party for her.  I went dressed as the white rabbit (unfortunately I haven’t got a picture of my costume but I was pretty proud of it, since — with the exception of paper ears, white gloves, and a felt heart pin — I put it together almost entirely from things that were already in my closet), and brought the birthday girl (whom they dressed up as Alice) a little corsage of white paper roses painted red:

Unfortunately, the stem portion proved to be a little too scratchy and the curling ribbon would not hold the heavy corsage fast to her wrist.  If I were to attempt this craft again, I think I’d use fabric (jersey from old t-shirts for the roses, perhaps, felt for the leaves, and satin ribbon for the tie) instead of stiff paper and tape!


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It’s been forever since I last posted, and the New Year has long since swooshed past. (I can’t believe it’s already the middle of January!) Nevertheless, I promised photos of the things I made at home this past Christmas, so photos it is. I didn’t have the time to do a lot of handmade gifts this year, but I made an effort to use upcycled gift wrappings or wrappings with reusable elements whenever possible. I ended up taking a lot of photos, so I’ve combined them into little mini-montages here to save space.

Wristlets / hand warmers for my roommate M. Knit with some worsted wool yarn left over from one of my grandmother’s previous projects. I modified a basic pattern (for some reason I can’t remember which site I found it on anymore, but I think it might have been this pattern, or something like it) by using a mock cable for the hand sections of the warmers, and asymmetrical stripes in the wrist sections. I cast on fewer stitches than the pattern calls for, but even so, the wristlets were a little big on me (which is why I added the bows – to make the wrist sections adjustable). Fortunately, M has larger wrists than me, and they actually fit her quite well even without the ribbons pulled taut. I guess she may have to go without bows, but at least now I know that my gauge was not way off! (I just have abnormally small wrists). *Unrelated Note* The hat that partially appears in the top left of the largest image is a cute new cloche that my mother bought for me from Target.  I added a vintage clip/brooch that my grandmother gave to me when I was little, and was very pleased with the result!

Gift for my friend L, and wrapping. I found this awesome vintage brooch in the Salvation Army at the end of last semester, buffed it up, and pinned it to a fat ponytail holder, making sure not to stab the elastic (just the fabric covering) so that L can choose either to wear it in her hair, or to remove it and use it as a pin. I was quite proud of what I did with the box, which is a triangular cardboard box that once held a couple of Ghirardelli chocolate squares that were sent to my parents in a gift basket. I undid all the glued seams of the box, flattened it, and traced it out on a page of an old Ikea catalog. Then I cut out the traced shape, glued it over the original outside of the box, and glued the seams back together in a slightly different formation so that you could open the box and see the pin/hairthing lying flat on its little bed of polyfil. I then tucked the flaps in, tied the box up with a thin ribbon (which I’d retrieved from another gift that I’d wrapped and given on Christmas Day!), and I was ready to go.

A roundup of some other gifts I wrapped at home this Christmas. Starting at the top LH corner and going clockwise:

  • [for my bf’s brother and sister-in-law] Gold paper, wired ribbon, with a personalized ornament for a nametag (One year my mom had her small group make ornaments on New Year’s Eve with things they were thankful for and wanted to remember about the previous year; this is one of the leftover blanks that I still had floating around in my bedroom.  All I did was decorate it with a gold paint pen and thread a ribbon through as a hanger.  P & C just got married in 2009, so I thought it would be an appropriate add-on to their gift, should they choose to keep the tag and use it on their tree).
  • [for my parents] Envelopes (which I purposely did not write on or seal, so that they could be reused!), ribbons, and gift tags made of construction paper, computer paper, and bits of images from a Costco catalog (the red dots – which were from a cranberry juice ad) and the same Ikea catalog I used for L’s gift (the green knit pattern – from an image of a throw or rug or something like that).  In retrospect, I wish I had used a slightly fatter ribbon for my mom’s gift because I liked the bold effect of the polkadot ribbon on the one I used for my dad, but we did not have any other sizes of olive green ribbon in the bins in the basement.
  • [for my bf D, who visited us for Christmas this year!] Each layer is wrapped in a different couple of pages from a Costco catalog.  He likes computers so I drew a computer on the tag and used computer themed pages (the bottom one is actually a Mac ad).  I had to do some clever taping and seaming together of pages (I used a double spread for the top box, which kept the pattern consistent, and for the DVD on the bottom, whose Mac ad was about half an inch shy of being able to fully cover the box, I cut a slip of another page with a fun contrasting image to fit in the gap, and kept it on the bottom of the gift.  Tied up with two kinds of gathered red ribbon (wide grosgrain in the middle, and thin satin on the outside).
  • [for A, a friend of D’s and mine] This one I was kind of proud of.  Ikea’s catalogs are very prettily designed, and so they often have several pages at a time whose color schemes are vaguely similar. I chose two that coordinated, and taped them together, then arranged the gift so that the image of the vase and flowers would be on top.  I then strategically tied on a green grosgrain ribbon to hide the prices on the page, and made up a matching gift tag with construction paper and marker / pen on computer paper.
  • [for my grandparents] No recycling and not much homemade here, but my grandma really likes sophisticated-looking, new things (she doesn’t go in for the upcycled look; I guess it’s a generational thing), so I used gold paper, full, classic bows (made with the same two-color wired satin ribbon, which I simply flipped to the other side for the second gift I wrapped), and simple tags that kept with the same white-on-black circle design of the other gifts, but included only a name and a short handwritten message.
  • [for my brother] also a mash-up of two Ikea pages.  One of them had a quote relating to something about having a lot of things not meaning as much as making the most of life, which I thought was appropriate for him since he has a big heart for social justice and is serving at an urban missions organization this year.  The other was just a random page in monochrome colors, which I arranged so that you could see a little of it on top, as a sort of “pop” of interest.  Tied up on the diagonal with a red grosgrain ribbon, and with a color-coordinating tag. (That’s supposed to be a Christmas star on the gift tag, but it ended up looking more like a compass, or even a strange sort of cross-with-draped-vestments from far away . . . )

Finally, I did bake over the break, too.  Lime meltaways (which I royally screwed up somehow and turned into flat, little pancakes of cookies instead of tender, melting rounds with a bit of body to them . . .  fortunately they ended up tasting good and I was at a loss when my grandmother asked for the recipe because I didn’t know what I’d done “wrong” to make them turn out that way; I eventually gave her the original recipe), and a gingerbread bundt cake (gingerbread baked in my mother’s bundt pan), which D and I made together one afternoon.  I didn’t take pictures of the weird lime-meltaways-turned-soft-crackers, but I do have a photo of the cake, which I’ll leave you with:

Still trying to figure out how to make it more moist, but this version was pretty good! I like this recipe because it uses fresh ginger, which you can really taste in the finished product. I think it baked up more dry this time because of the added surface area of the pan and the change of oven. I may also have added extra molasses last time, but I can’t really remember. I’ll have to fiddle around with it next time (this time we made it true to proportions).

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How much more uncreative can I get with a title?  Oh well; I couldn’t figure out a more stylish way to describe the contents of this post.

I usually like to give small packages of baked goods and other edibles to people in my life that I want to thank during the holiday season.  Thankfully, my finals week was not particularly horrific this year, and so I had time and space to bake before leaving school for the break.  Taking inspiration from The Gifted Blog, I decided to try and make my wrappings a little classier (and more economical) than they were last year.  I used only things I had in the house already, with the exception of a secondhand cookie tin that I bought at the Salvation Army for about $0.75, scrubbed out thoroughly, and then used to package sweets.  Here they are

Gift #1 is actually neither edible, nor a thank-you gift.  It is an Angel Tree gift:

My friend R and I picked a tag off the tree at church and bought our present together.  Since she drove us to the store, I volunteered to wrap it.  Since the tag (which had a purple satin ribbon and is not in the picture for reasons of privacy) needed to be attached to the top of the gift, I made a paper purple paper rose to match, and went with an overall silver-gold-ivory theme for the ribbon and paper.  I gave the rose a touch of sparkle at the edges of its petals using metallic prismacolor pencils, then sealed it with Mod Podge, and wired it onto the ribbon.  The tag was slipped in under the ribbon just before I brought it back to the church.  The ribbon is actually salvaged from a birthday gift that someone gave me in September, and the paper is from a roll that I originally bought to wrap wedding presents (I make a point of never buying paper that is appropriate to only one type of occasion).  I was pleased with myself for having the idea to criscross the stripes on the top package with the ones on the bottom.  I think it adds a little visual interest.

Gift #2 is a gift for R, who gives me a ride to church every week:

I made her Nigella’s pistachio fudge (which actually ended up becoming almond-pistachio fudge because I did not have enough pistachios).  The box is actually a recycled ham container (I began saving the boxes our lunchmeat is sold in back in November, and used another one of them to package some cookies I made for the friend who drives me to bible study — unfortunately, I didn’t have time to take a picture of that gift before giving it). You might also recognize the twine from last year’s Valentine’s day gifts; I have actually quite loved the rustic touch that it adds, and have used it on a lot of baked-good-gifts since.  I’m almost at the end of the roll.  The tag was made with a flocked tree that I cut out of a piece of scrapbook paper, mounted on kraft paper (which was itself salvaged from inside a roll of wrapping paper) and glued onto a rectangle cut from the back of one of last year’s Christmas cards (they came in a pack; it was one of the cheesy ones I didn’t end up using).

Gift #3 was for my advisor and his family:

Not particularly pretty, but I wanted to show off the tags, which were cut from circles of ivory cardstock and the cut-off bits of trees at the edge of the same paper I used to make R’s tag (one above).  Starting at the RH most side of the picture and going around clockwise, there are: linzer cookies filled with raspberry jam (I forgot to take a picture, but I made some of them into fun Christmas shapes to amuse his kids), fudge, and a small loaf of pumpkin-cranberry gingerbread.  The linzers are packed into an old, washed-out mushroom carton. I tried to use a gathered-curling-ribbon technique I’d seen in Real Simple, but I think my ribbon was a bit too broad, and it didn’t come out quite as I’d envisioned it. Nevertheless, I stacked everything into a gift bag with a snowman in it and slipped in a card, and it ended up looking tidy enough to be presentable.

Gift #4 was for our department’s administrative assistant. First, an interior view:

Fudge, Linzer Cookies, and Simply Recipes’ orange poppyseed cookies. Wrapped up in tissue paper with parchment circle linings to prevent oils from soaking through the tissue.


Closeup of the Bow:

Packaged in a secondhand cookie tin that I scrubbed out and gave new life to, with two kinds of satin ribbon, and a matching tag made with remnants of the same card I used for the backing of R’s gift tag, silver origami paper, and light blue cardstock.

Finally, Gift #5, which is a redo of something I did last year:

I made little paper sleeves with holiday greetings for individual Ghirardelli chocolate squares, and left them in my classmates’ mailboxes. This year, though, I expedited the process by drawing and layout out everything on my computer first. I then just printed the sleeves on the color printer at the library, sliced them up using a paper cutter, filled in the “to” and “from” on each tag, and taped it around a square of candy.

And here is my gift to you – a printable .pdf document with the same sleeves that I used. Feel free to print, cut out, and use them for your own personal projects (they are made to fit around a Ghirardelli chocolate square, but could probably also be wrapped around other candies):

Winter Penguin Candy Sleeves (Adobe .PDF)

I’ll be back later with a room decor update, and hopefully some photos of the Christmas gifts I plan to make while at home. For now, though, it’s off to do some more work on my thesis. (It really never ends, does it?)

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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I have an alarmingly long to-do list for the next two weeks, but I haven’t been able to get very much work done since the weekend.  (Hence my being up at 2:00 AM listening to Pandora and blogging).  Thought I might as well post some photos of my Easter table, since I wrote about all that food in my last post.

Centerpiece / Flower arrangement #1
(daffodils I bought from the Farmer’s Market):

Flower arrangement #2
(on the side table; daffodils that someone gave my roommate on the same day that I bought mine- likely also from the Farmer’s Market):

Friends opening a bottle of wine in front of the full spread
(Yes, ED and MM, you’ve appeared on my blog, just as you predicted . . .):

Closeup of the spread
(S’s pretzel rods and veggies w/ guacamole are hidden behind the flowers, but can you guess what everything else is?):

I discovered during the course of the party that the spiced nuts I made (using Nigella Lawson’s recipe) taste REALLY GOOD when mixed with jellybeans. S is still quite skeptical, but I maintain she doesn’t know what she’s missing.

While shooting these images, I had some trouble focusing properly (the light in my apartment is quite uneven, so I was spending most of my energy thinking about metering and exposure, and shot the latter two photos, in particular, very quickly so as not to be rude by taking lots of fangirl photos of my own food instead of being hospitable to my guests…), but I was rather pleased by the soft warm cast my images acquired as a result of the fact that the sun was setting and I had the front door and the drapes on our front windows wide open (the front of our house faces pretty much due West, so we are privvy to absolutely spectacular sunsets with breathtaking afterglow, and really interesting effects when the sun rises on clear days – as we live directly across from several large buildings whose bricks turn orangey-gold as the sun comes up, and then reflect the red sky in their windows, so that they look like they are on fire).

I’ve really been enjoying the Spring weather this month. It’s rained miserably for the last two days, but the weekend was glorious, and I keep reminding myself that when it’s raining, at least it’s not snowing, and when it’s sunny, it really is sunny and golden. 🙂

All right, bedtime now. (My Pandora list has also reached a Regina Spektor song I dislike – so I want to finish this post and stop typing so I can go turn it off . . .)

[By the way, in case you were wondering, the visible foods in the last image are, starting at the top right: egg and cress on mini baguette slices, Nigella Lawson’s Union Square Cafe Nuts, roasted vegetable skewers, mini apple strudels from Meijer, roasted lamb and eggplant skewers, ED’s homemade hummus and pita chips, cracked pepper water crackers with herbed goat cheese and peppered smoked salmon, more egg and cress slices, dark chocolate eggs, Starburst jelly beans; beverages half-visible in the distance are “French berry” (strawberry) sparkling lemonade, fresh mint iced tea, and a bottle of red wine].

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He is Risen!

I bought those daffodils at the farmer’s market yesterday and was lucky to find an empty jam jar that fit them perfectly and some blue ribbon that complimented their color well.  I normally wouldn’t buy flowers just for myself, but it’s Easter, and I thought the occasion merited something special – after all, what’s Easter without spring flowers?

I’m being kept busy today by food prep. One of my roommates and I have invited a few friends over for a finger-food style dinner, and I still have several dishes left to prepare before they arrive.  I have about half an hour to kill before I need to turn on the oven, so I thought I’d take a break to have a light bite to eat and blog a little. The ladies at my church put out a big brunch spread after the morning service (which kept me full until about half an hour ago), and I have guests coming for more nibbles in a few hours, so I just needed a quick bite to keep me going. 🙂

(my quick mid-afternoon snack: soupy noodles with cilantro and egg – cooking makes you hungry; it’s hard work!)

I’m quite excited about this dinner, though at the moment I’m not 100% sure how many guests I’m expecting (somewhere between 4 and 6).  The others will all have eaten a big meal at the grad student Easter brunch (I skipped out to prepare food for tonight, and anyway, I had lunch at church), so I’ve tried to kept the offerings small, light, and bite-sized.  It’s Easter, so even though we have vegetarians, I’m making baked lamb skewers (as well as eggplant ones for the non-carnivorous ones among us), egg salad and cress on mini toasts, fresh mint iced tea, and Nigella Lawson’s Union Square Cafe nuts.  My roommate is going to cut up some fresh veggies to have with dip, a friend is bringing pita and hummus, and I’m also serving Easter candy (jellybeans and dark chocolate eggs), some goat’s cheese and smoked salmon on crackers and storebought mini apple strudels.  I was originally worried that we might not have enough food, but now I’m starting to wonder if we’ll have too much.  Oh, well.  Better to have excessive amounts  than not enough (that’s how my mother always rationalizes her own entertaining style…how very Chinese of me, for once in my life…)

It’s been a really good Lenten season and Holy Week, and after my partial fast from blogging, I’m feeling relatively weaned from the “need” to compulsively check my stats every few minutes.  It was nice not feeling the pressure to update or lose hits.  When you think about it, counting hits is sort of silly anyway, since I really only blog for myself.  I’ll be trying to get back on a semi-regular schedule of posting now, maybe once a week – twice if something special comes up.  It’ll be nice to take things slowly, and gradually ease back in.

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. . . is really quite difficult.  I posted this package to my boyfriend on Monday, and thought I was exceedingly clever because the UPS lady said it would arrive on Friday, the day before Valentine’s Day, and I thought he’d have a nice surprise in time for the 14th.  Except I didn’t count on the fact that he was going to be out of town on Friday.  (Insert head-desk moment here).  I ended up not only having to reveal that I was sending him a Valentine’s package, but telling him what was in it, as well, so that his roommates could retrieve and open it and start helping him out with eating the baked goods it contained before they all went bad on the doorstep or got waterlogged (it’s rainy season in CA right now).   Sigh.

Sweet boy that he is, he apologized like mad (though it wasn’t his fault; it was just a misfortune of planning on my part).  Which unfortunately only made me feel minimally less stupid for not checking to see if he’d be able to pick up the package in the first place.

Oh, well.  I may be a complete romantic failure, but at least I took some nice pictures of the contents beforehand.

Cocoa-Dusted Lime “Melting Hearts” (a variation on Martha Stewart’s lime meltaways recipe. The rest of the package included normal lime meltaways – also heart shaped, but sans cocoa – and a tried-and-true chocolate yogurt loaf cake that I made using a recipe from Baking Bites).

All the components of the package, together.

The awesome Oxfam card that inspired the maps theme I used with the rest of the packaging. I actually bought it when I was studying abroad in England, but never got the chance to send it to D then, so I thought that now (when I’m far away again) would be an apt occasion.

Closeup of the wrapping on the chocolate loaf cake.   You can’t see the cake because I stuffed the space between the top of the cake and the inside of the lid with waxed paper to protect it from getting jostled.  The gift tags were all done with prismacolor pencil on cream cardstock. Each one has a snippet of a map that includes a location I’ve called “home.” This one has a map of the Delaware estuary.

The top tag corresponds to the cocoa-dusted cookies in the top layer, and features the California coast. The bottom tag corresponds to the regular lime cookies in the bottom layer, and features the Indiana lakeshore.

I don’t have pictures of the loaf cake and the non-cocoa lime cookies.  I was in a hurry that weekend and didn’t have the time.  (Besides, they weren’t very photogenic on their own).  I was a little disappointed with the lime meltaways recipe.  I thought the cookies ended up tasting a bit off – there was a lot of sourness and bitterness from the lime, and those flavors did not meld very well with the buttery sweetness of the cookie.  I think perhaps I didn’t roll them in enough sugar.  Or, there was something wrong with my limes.  Or maybe it was the fact that I didn’t have unsalted butter and had to use salted – maybe the salt threw off the balance of flavors.  Of course, it’s also entirely possible that I’m simply too wimpy for the intensity of a very lime-y cookie.  Whatever the case, D loves lime – the less sugar the better – so I’m sure he’ll enjoy the cookies better than I did.

Over and out for now.

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If you remember, I posted last year about how I like to reserve most of my Valentine’s Day energies for celebrating my friendships rather than buying into all of the sugar-crazed, hyper-commercialized craziness.  This year, since I’m long distance with D, I sent him a little package of homemade goodies just to mark the day (I’ll post pictures of it later in the week), but really, we’ve already done our celebrating (he surprised me with a nice lunch at a Thai place while I in CA for a conference last month).  So instead I spent a week or so cooking up stuff for my roommates.  This year, I decided to try and teach myself to use Illustrator, since D gave me a copy of Creative Suite for Christmas.  So I designed a little image of a girl flying a kite and turned into cards and matching sets of matchbook notebooks:

The notebooks. (One set of three per roommate – I threw the monogrammed ones in there on a last minute whim just to give them a touch of something special). The pages are cut from the leftover sheets in a class notebook that I wasn’t able to fill during the course of a quarter.

The cards. I don’t have a color printer so I had my pdf templates printed on ivory cardstock at FedEx/Kinko’s. The front image printed a little smaller than I’d imagined it would be, but I still think it works.

Since I didn’t have any thin red satin ribbon, I bought some kitchen twine to wrap up each little set. I love the homey touch the raveling ends add (and my bank account liked the price of twine vs. ribbon, too!)

The envelopes came in a pack of 10 from Meijer, on sale. I drew the little kite motif onto the corner of each just to tie everything together nicely. (I didn’t smudge the ink on my roommates’ names, by the way; I purposely blurred them out of the photo for privacy reasons).

My roommates will receive their gifts a few days early, as I’ll be in Chicago for the 2009 AWP Conference on the 14th proper. Hopefully they won’t mind. 🙂

And, because I feel a little silly having spent so much time on a design that will only be used for three gifts (I like to do something new each year) – I figure that the random people who read this might as well get some use out of it, too. So here’s a .pdf file with templates and instructions to make some matchbook notebooks of your own (using the Kite Girl image). Print them out on cardstock, cut, fold, and staple. A few tips: 1) score the folds before you make them. the fold lines will print on the side opposite the one you need to score, so what I did was hold each notebook against a lit lampshade, printed side to lamp, and trace little guide notches on the blank side where I needed to score. 2) be careful to cut inside the black lines. i cut outside at first, and had to trim every edge down; it ended up being kind of a pain. 3) staple as close to the base of the notebook as possible (you want the top flap to have a substantial lip to slip into), but not so close to the base that you staple the cover to itself and miss the pages.

Kite Girl Notebook Template (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).

Each template makes six notebooks. Enjoy!

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