Sunday, January 23, 2011

Closed for Restoration

I am taking a 6-week online course called Soul Restoration offered by Melody Ross of the Brave Girls Club.  We are quickly heading toward week 3 and of course I am behind, a little bit….
My love of glitter shows up again.
They keep tell us not to feel guilty about being behind but as the class Valedictorian- I get a little stressed when I am behind in my school work.  I'm trying to stay on task and not get too hung up on the actual art, but sometimes I get a little lost in the process.  I don't know when to stop and if truth be told this is the same problem I had in (nursing) school.  Nurses have to write "care plans" especially in school.   For school care plans we had to find the intervention and the research citation to back it .  I could go on for PAGES and PAGES and PAAAAAGGGGGGEEEES.  I never knew when to stop.   My Profs loved it but in hindsight- it was a little ridiculous.  Care plans…art projects….. Why can't I be so neurotic with housework. ..or laundry?  

Here are some photos of my work for Soul Restoration...

Isn't this cool- its a page that is a mirror?
Stay warm…

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Pretty Little Sussy for Me

Cute little clear crystal earnings by Ally
My late father always called any little surprise gift, a sussy.  I loved getting a sussy from him.  As I assume it is in most homes, my mother was the Chief Gift Giver so when dad went to the trouble to pick something out… well, it meant the world to this sentimental girl. To me, a sussy is something very unexpected and cherished and I love to give a sussy to someone who means a lot to me.  Oh, and I still love to get a sussy.

I got a sussy this week.  My sister's daughter- my niece- Ally, is a crafty little thing.  Where in the world she got that gene I will never know.  I have often joked that my sister and I got the wrong kids because my sister Michelle likes to craft about as much as I like to watch baseball- not so much.  Poor little Ally has to tread through the ever expanding world of craft supplies without so much as a tip from her parental unit.
Beautiful stretch bracelet by Ally
I'm here to tell you that in spite of this, she does pretty well.  She made Christmas gifts for the ladies of our family but they were inadvertently left at home so I had no idea what to expect.  I was
surprised to receive a package this week in which I found the beautiful pieces of jewelry pictured here.

 Because the jewelry was made by someone special to me, it means that much more.  It's a terrific bonus that she did a great job making them.  I get two beautiful pieces of jewelry to wear and enjoy AND I  add to my collection of handmade gifts.

Nothing is as special as giving and receiving handmade gifts.  I don't know if it is because I am getting older and sentimental or if it is simply because it is easier than ever to find handmade items, both locally and online.  Maybe it is nothing more than an organic response to the crappy, mass-market products that are everywhere these days.  Whatever the reason, it is just so important to me.

Let's face it, never before has it been so cheap to buy so much crap in this country.  Unfortunately, in 2011, very few mass-produced goods are "Made in America".  Most of the products we see on store shelves are manufactured overseas, many in China.  For the past 10 years or so, Chinese products have been sold super cheap in the US.  Why this happens is a complicated tangle of environmental, political and social reasons but the dumb-downed version is simple: Chinese workers were eager to leave lower-wage farm jobs for higher paying factory jobs.  These wages were far below US wages.  Chinese factories had extra capacity and were eager to attract foreign investments.  The Chinese government, also eager for foreign investment, ignored violations to the environment and labor.  American companies seized the moment and quickly moved manufacturing facilities to China, where they have been able to save tremendous amounts of money on wages, facilities, and raw materials while avoiding environmental and safety regulations they would find in America.  Like all good things, this too will most likely come to an end.  As China's economy expands, the advantages that kept prices low will diminish leading to an inevitable increase in prices but for now America is covered with tons and tons of cheap Chinese plastic crap.

A river in China from
As long as we continue to have a voracious appetite for cheap products most items will come from overseas and the old line "you get what you pay for" has never been more true.  Cheap products are made using cheap materials and cheap techniques so it is no wonder that it isn't long before these products find their way into the big heap o'trash in the sky.  Obviously inexpensive merchandise is not made to last and it should come as no surprise when it doesn't.  As ridiculous as it sounds, it is often cheaper to replace the product with a brand new one than it is to repair it or even to change the batteries.  That is just stupid and an environmental disaster.  Remember when we used to carefully wrap our Christmas light strings up and pack them away until next year because they were expensive.  We actually bought replacement bulbs when one burned out.  Seems charming doesn't it?  Now a string of lights rarely last more than a season or two before it has to be replaced because, though they claim to "stay lit" when one bulb burns out, the truth is- they don't.  I remember when icicle lights first hit the market they were $100 or more a string.  Now we all have them and they cost less than $10 a string.  In the blink of an eye prices fell and products became essentially disposal.

Factory in China
The amount of holiday or themed items available at national-chain stores is really astounding when you think about it.  I know it seems there has always been a Target, Kmart, and Walmart in every town but  in reality they only began breeding and multiplying in the last 10-20 years.  The mom-and-pop stores of yesteryear couldn't offer anywhere near the number of items that these big stores offer.  There was no way they could turn over merchandise every 1-2 months like Target, Walmart, and similar national stores.  This merchandise overload inevitably leads to big sales.  No mom-and-pop store could stay in business while offering 50%, 75%, 90% off sales after every holiday.  Target is my chain-of-choice and I admit, I absolutely love Target, so I am very aware that every summer they put out a tremendous amount of seasonal red, green, blue, and yellow merchandise.  Every year they offer buckets, coolers, table cloths, picnic baskets, lawn chairs, pitchers, towels, games, …… all coordinating and offered in 4 or 5 colors.  This is EVERY.SINGLE.SUMMER.  How many blue galvanized huge buckets with matching plastic plates and lawn darts does one family need?  I am expecting the 2011 galvanized buckets to hit the shelves at Target after the last straggling Valentine and Easter items are sold at 90% off.  

Handmade items come from the hands and the heart of the person who made them, whether that person is somebody who means the world to the recipient or it was made by the loving hands of a complete stranger.  I am lucky that I get terrific  handmade gifts from my niece; I hope somebody in your life gives you a handmade gift this year. 


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Love For Etsy

The website Etsy has made finding beautiful handmade items so much easier.  It's the eBay of handmade offering handmade items, supplies, and vintage wares.  Unlike eBay, which has essentially morphed into Amazon, by allowing stores to create eBay sites that offer "New in Box" items at full prices, Etsy is still mostly stay-at-home moms and artists offering their handmade and vintage items for sale.  It is easy to find a wide-variety of craft supplies, tutorials on a wide array of crafts, patterns, and digital files for scrapbooking and crafting, on Etsy.  Special orders are simple and conversations between buyer and seller are common occurrences.  While eBay has become "Buyer Beware" with starting-bid prices often set above full-prices offered in local or large on-line stores, Etsy offers a large variety of price points.  I've purchased a few things from eBay but I always feel like I am getting screwed.  I hate that you have ot make a bid and wait and wait and await.  We all know the real action occurs right at the tned so why sellers offer items for sale 5,6,7 days I don't understand.  Things are really slow until the last hour when it gets nutty and prices go over the top selling price offered other places.  I did get a glue bottle with a skinny metal tip for like a $1 with free shipping/handling which was obviously abargain but it took almost a month to arrive from Korea.   On the other hand I have made many purchases off of Etsy and only had 2 purchases that were less than perfect.  The first was for a set of beauatul vintage pins made into hair pins I wanted to give to my sister-in-law.  They arrived with one missing a crystal.  I notified the seller immediately and she refuned the purchase price and told me she had put htme directly into the muslin bag they arrived in immediately after she took the photo used on Etsy.  I went and searched the bag a little harder adf ofund the crystal. When she refunded the money she told me to use that money to have it fixed. I was vary stisfied with the way she ammended the problem and have purchased from her again.  The other item I wasn't happy with was for an unfinshed wood item that I would use as a base for mixed media art. The little anilmal that arrived was tiny, much smaller tahn I thought, but when I looked back at the post I found the masuremens right there and I have to admit the price was appropriate so I chaulked that up t my fault. 
Etsy still deals in handmade itemsIn the past, you had to either make the item yourself, find (and drive to) a craft show or, if you were really wiling to work hard to find the good stuff, a church bazaar might a source of a cherished handmade gift.  

Target Gift Card
When I started this post, I intended to write about the pretty jewelry that my niece gave me and nothing more.  I didn't intend to speak about the larger subject of handmade, but as someone who takes gift giving very seriously, handmade gifts have always been a big part of my gifting.  I try very hard to find the best gift for the recipient; not the perfect gift because that just sets up too much pressure, but I do try very hard to find something meaningful to give to my friends and loved ones.  Perfect is difficult to define and certainly would be different for each recipient, but to me a perfect gift is one that is deeply desired, will forever be cherished, and is something that the giveee can't just run to Target and pick up for herself.  While I may never strive to find one perfect gift… when I am lucky enough to find a one it is like the heavens open and the angels sing "AHHHHHHHHHHHH" from up high.  I get a little self-satisfied feeling and I carry it around, tucked away, until the day when I can pass that gift to the intended recipient.

I get nauseated even thinking about giving someody a gift card-- not because a gift card isn't almost always a welcome gift, but because it just seems like the easy way out.  Children don't get the opportunity to make their own purchases very often so I don't mind making a special allowance in my philosophy for the kiddos in my life.  Retailers have been making gift cards that are super cute in and of themselves -though I couldn't find an image of one- making the gift that much more special for a child.

a page from the OOAK birthday book I gave to my sister
So do I make or purchase handmade gifts?   I wish I was one of the women that spend all day crafting like crazy and always give handmade items to all their family and friends.  So Martha Stewartesque!  I suffer from "craft-envy" while reading all of the  blog postings from my favorite crafters in which they post about the awesome gifts they throw together.  Not only do they get the projects completed but they find time to take gorgeous pictures of the craft and then blog about it.  Some even manage step-by-step photos accompanied by instructions!   Good grief!
DebiCreations' little socks
While I wish I could get more done, I think that being honest I must admit it will only be a wish...I just don't get that much done, handcrafted or not.  In the end, I have to face the fact that I will never be rick from selling items on Etsy.  The reasons for this are complicated but essentially my home life isn't like theirs (yes, it's  true that half of my favorite bloggers are mothers to at least 4 kids and travel frequently to teach classes or attend craft shows…but please don't rub that in as well).  My life involves determents that eat away at my  time as well as my energy.  My husband works all over the world so he is gone 1/2 the month, my Ehlers-Danlos issues, are never far from the forefront whether it is pain that distracts me or overwhelming fatigue that keeps me on the couch all day.  I would be totally honest if I didn't mention my messy work habits that wreck havoc with my time management.

wedding boxes by Altar Designs
While all of these are issues... the real issue, the issue that will keep me from ever join the ranks of mass production- for either gifts or for my Etsy store- is simple…. I cannot stand to make exact -copy multiples... of anything.  There, I said it.  I can barely stand to make two copies of an item let alone hundreds.  I love cruising Etsy looking for interesting items.  There is something for everyone, truly there is.  While I am drooling over some amazing one-of-a-kind (OOAK in Etsy-speak) items, I always find stores where OOAK is a concept they do not understand and instead there are multiples of multiples of multiples of their items.   I found a crafter at DebiCreactions who has over 500 little socks, each with bead adornments on the cuff.  That is a whole mess of beads that had to be crocheted on to a whole lot of cuffs.  I found a shop called Altar Designs which specializes in decorative boxes made to hold special little notes written by wedding guests.  There are 104 boxes for sale and while there are dozens of different designs what I see is a woman who spends a large amount of her day making wedding boxes.  
Fork Whisperer
Another high output seller is Fork Whisperer.  This artist makes amazing and very affordable jewelry in a style all her own. She lists almost 200 different pieces on Etsy alone.  I'm absolutely smitten with her beautiful yet simplistic work.

A scrunchie rears it's ugly self
Obviously I could go on forever listing Etsy sellers who are offering ridiculously large numbers of duplicates but that would get boring really fast.  I would like to showcase some of my favorite sellers in future posts because there is some really cool stuff out there.  I also plan to show some of the items I have purchased off of Etsy as well as more of my work.  And for kicks I will post some of the less than stellar items I find like the shop Handmade Crafter (isn't that name redundant?)selling hundreds of scrunchies; 312 to be exact.  Yes, you heard me correctly…. scrunchies.  Those horrendous loops of elasticized fabric are being unleashed upon unsuspecting women and girls all across America.  Lest you think anybody can offer a product but selling it is hard- she has sold over 2000 items and a quick look shows many of those to be scrunchies.  Frankly, I think scrunchies and neon are two trends that should NEVER resurface…EVER…NEVER….EVER but who asked me?

ixty years ago, a company was local, the boss knew all his employees, took care of those employees, and it was honorable to make a well-made, sturdy, and long-lasting product.  An honest days work for an honest day's pay.  Today, a company's workers are likely to be far removed from management who has no interest in taking care of the employees.  The company rarely cares to make a solid product and many employ teams to find ways to get us to buy more of their crappy products.  They don't aspire to have an appliance that lasts 50 years- they want you to buy another one in a 5 years.  

The cheap, the plastic, the throw-away junk we are inandated with day-in-and-day-out comes with a price.  Our landfills are overfilled, our oceans are full of garbage, and we are nowhere near a solution.  Our love of cheap, often, but not always, Made-in-China, products which are filled with toxic chemicals, seems to be an addiction with no cure.  He who dies with the most crap wins!  Right?  Isn't that the game we are playing?  Today, the products that fill our favorite store's shelves are overwhelmingly bright plastic, cardboard, and thin paper.  In other words… cheap.  Few toys last through even one child because one broken piece renders the toy worthless.  Unfortunately, generation this makes the concept of the hand-me-down as a quant little outdated idea from generations past.  

I bought Ryann the game Mouse Trap in which you run around the board collecting pieces to build a complex mouse trap.  Upon opening the box, I was instantly struck   aware that the 2006 version of this was not your daddy's mousetrap.  Oh, no… the game originally produced in 1963 had been updated with the latest in cheap plastic crappy construction (hmmm, sort of like my house!).  Rude Goldberg like-trap that you build throughout the game was made of very thin plastic and a piece broke after 2 or 3 times.  Unfortunatley, it was too thin to tape or glue and because alll the pieces together are needed to make the mousetrap work, the game was worthless.   speicifially Mousetrap, that I played as a child, he McDonalds toys, Dollar Store purchases,

Most of us are over run with inexpensive stuff and frankly, while it was fun when it first started, the novelty is wearing off.  I am beginning to look for items that are more meaningful.  I find myself preferring handmade items.  It would be great if more people shopped for handmade products or even better, started making gifts and home decor items themselves.  It is easier and easier to find handmade items. I've noticed that local stores often highlight their local products and more gift shops are selling items made by local artists.  Where I live the Kalamazoo Institute of Art (KIA) offers an annual holiday sale of items made by their instructors.  Craft fairs are a great source of handmade items as well and there are art fairs all over all the time.  Ann Arbor has the most famous art fair in MIchigan and is always an amazing place to get ideas, speak to artists, and buy great pieces for gifts or yourself.  Although it isn't as common as the craft fair, smaller craft "malls" can be found all over the country.  One opened right down the street from my house recently.  Within a large, single room, store are little booths build, stocked and maintained by the individual artists and crafters.  For a rental fee the store is staffed by one central which keeps the crafters from having to staff te store.    I spend hours going through Etsy looking for new cool stuff.  

I've noticed that local stores often highlight their local products and more gift shops are selling items made by local artists.  Where I live the Kalamazoo Institute of Art (KIA) offers an annual holiday sale of items made by their instructors.  Craft fairs are a great source of handmade items as well and there are art fairs all over all the time.  Ann Arbor has the most famous art fair in MIchigan and is always an amazing place to get ideas, speak to artists, and buy great pieces for gifts or yourself.  Although it isn't as common as the craft fair, smaller craft "malls" can be found all over the country.  One opened right down the street from my house recently.  Within a large, single room, store are little booths build, stocked and maintained by the individual artists and crafters.  For a rental fee the store is staffed by one central which keeps the crafters from having to staff te store.    I spend hours going through Etsy looking for new cool stuff.  


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Call off the Lawyers

If you are beginning to see a theme emerging on my blog you are either paying attention or you have been to my house recently.  Unfortunately, this theme isn't one I am proud of.  In fact, I want you to see this dirty-little-secret about as much as I want you to see my asymmetrical haircut from 1988.  Realistically though, I don't think I can keep it a secret much longer if I want to continue blogging. So here goes… (standing up) "My name is Danee Lynn Paullin-Kaplan, and I'm a very messy, messy, Messsssssyyyyy crafter." (sitting down). Whew... (wiping brow with my left hand).. though it is very unexpected... I feel so much better; like a weight has lifted off my hypermobile, about-to-blow-out shoulder.  My dirty little secret is out and I'm thrilled to report there are no pigs flying outside my window and HELL has not froze over.  Ok, so I must be honest here and confess that I don't really have any good information as to whether or not HELL is currently ice or fire.  I can only surmise it is still burning away under the watchful eye of Hades, because the world appears unchanged.  As I bask in the freedom I found by letting go of my dirty, dirty little secret, it dawns on me that maybe it wasn't such a SECRET to those who have visited my house in the last year and if you tried to eat dinner at the dinner table, well this is very old news because you would have had to eat dinner on the coffee table.  

Wow, so that went so well I think I will do that again!  So here is another dirty little secret (#2 for this posting but who is counting?).  (cue trumpets)... I am happy to announce that my husband of 16 years  has withdrawn the divorce petition he filed over the holidays.  Why would he file for the dissolution of our marriage you ask?  You think I'm going to say "Irreconcilable Differences" right?  Does anybody get divorced for any other reason?  What the hell are irreconcilable differences anyway?  Don't we all have irreconcilable differences all the time in our marriages.  Right now we are irreconcilable about keeping cute little candy jars on the counter filled with my favorite candies.  He hates it.  I love the way they look all filled with candies that reflect the current holiday.  Irreconcilable.  He HATES when I leave the front door open in the winter.  It does allow quite a bit of cold air into the house but it is the only source of sunlight into the front room.  We solve this by disrespecting each other; when he is here, he shuts it and when he is away, I leave it open.  Irreconcilable.  

Back to my original story:  So we were not getting divorced because of irreconcilable differences but rather on the grounds of a new and very special category that is to be used only in a very specific set of circumstances and only by one whose spouse is- in legalese- "BeyondAllReasonAVeryVERYSupercalifragilisticexpialidociouslyMessy Crafter."  Only a spouse living against his/her will knee deep in glitter is allowed to file a petition using this special circumstances as grounds for dissolving a marriage because after all, we crafters are messy right? Crafting is just inherently messy right?  I mean, it has been scientifically proven… Oh, I'm sure it has been proven by somebody  that it is absolutely impossible to keep things neat and tidy when one is working with paper (tiny scraps), glue (wet and sticky), glitter (static cling), thread (odds & ends), and paint (wet color).  I mean, SERIOUSLY, who keeps their workspace tidy?  Tidy is a four letter word!  How can one actually CREATE and still be Nancy Neat?  If you aren't making a huge mess you aren't CREATING right?  Who puts away their toys when they are done with them?  I mean you might need it again right so why bother?  Right...?  Right….?  Right….?   WHY AREN'T YOU AGREEING WITH ME?  Isn't anybody listening to me?  I mean come on, don't pretend that you are neat and tidy… Who are you kidding?  Nobody keeps their art spaces clean.  You do?  Really?  Hmm….really?  You keep it neat?  All the time?  Well, I sure as hell can't!

My studio is where I create.  I call it a studio because, well, I makes me feel like I'm truly an artist #@a%^** it (I'd like to use my dad's favorite swear word right here but it offends people so insert the foul work you like to use for emphasis).  Maybe because I am one of those completely self-taught artist, I don't really feel like a TRUE artisteeeeest but I like the sound of it so we're going to go with it.  

Now, what exactly is in my studio?  A whole lot of craft stuff….  I have a love affair with all things paper and have for several decades now.  I can't get enough and now that America has embraced scrapbooking there is a pletherora of paper available.  I think I need every design I like.  A few years ago this wasn't a big deal since most companies made cutsey-themed papers I didn't even need to look at--yuck.  Then a little company called Basic Grey put out a line of paper called Motifica and I swooned.  I still have the entire pack of paper because I loved it.  Motifica was so different from anything else  I had ever seen, certainly different than anything on the market.   I was too afraid to use it up fearing I would never see it again.  It took a few years but suddenly everybody is producing papers in the style of Basic Grey and Basic Grey went from one new line every year to 100 every 6 months.  Ok, so maybe not that many, but it is impossible to keep up so I gave up.  

Now that you know where my mess started, let's I discuss my studio space.  You see, I had a great idea when Chase was smaller….if I put an extra table up in the dining room, I would have space to craft and the family table would be clear for dinning.  Yeah, well it was great on paper.  The problem is I have too much stuff.  Oh,  and my space was too small so eventually there was no place to put things and stuff got stuck behind the table and the junk.  I am going to post a picture but keep in mind this is after I knew I was moving it all and it was Christmas time, so it really was beyond ridiculous how messy it got.  It was way past being able to actually work at the table and was crawling slowly toward the living room.  

Yes that is a kitchen table and chair

This the table that was supposed to keep me neat and off the dining room table

you see the fingers creeping and reaching toward the kitchen
God that is embarrassing!  I moved all that stuff to the basement and cleaned out the big closet I have down there.  I recycled several decades of Martha Stewart Living magazines that I had been saving. Yes, I meant literally decades!  Now in all fairness I do go back and read them but only the Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and Valentine issues.  Everything else I do online at Martha's website.  I collected a huge box of stuff for my niece, 2 bags for the neighbor girls, and 4 bags for Goodwill.  After all that work this is what we have….

I'll show you the basement when it is cleaned and open for business.  


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What a Fabulous Holiday...More or Less

Ok, so December just flew by in the blink and 1/1/11 blew in and out without much more than a "Happy New Year" and a nod.  Did you think the "holidays" went particularly fast?  I used to love December.  My birthday is in December (8th) and if you knew me then, you know I tended to mention my upcoming birthday thousands of times in the days and weeks leading up the big day.  Honestly I didn't do it to get attention or special gift…. No, I just LOVED the idea of my birthday as a special day.  I loved the excitement of thinking of an extra special way to treat myself my birthday.  How great is it that my birthday falls between the beloved holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas?\

December holds so many wonderful memories of family, cozy fires after soft snow falls, skiing, warm soup, paper snowflakes, 
hot coffee or chocolate, picking out the perfect present for my family and friends, Christmas cards with news from the year, Christmas pictures of friends long since moved away, Christmas Trees hung with my cherished ornaments,  red green, gold, and silver everywhere look, and beautiful store windows.
My first Menorah was similar to this one
 Then I married a Jewish boy and we decided we should celebrate BOTH Christmas and Hanukkah.  At this point we had my birthday, my dad's birthday and two major holidays happening in December, and while it was a little crazy it was  manageable.  I collected gorgeous Menorah candles and Rick tried to teach me how to say the Hebrew prayers each of the 8 nights of Hanukkah.
Unlike Christmas that comes faithfully every year on December 25th, Hanukkah fluctuates based on the Jewish calendar.  To further confuse this Christian-raised woman, Hanukkah starts at sundown the night BEFORE so the calendar is a day off… I think.   In the mid '90's I was still doing great, got the Hanukkah gifts off on time, purchased and addressed the Christmas cards, decorated a beautiful tree… it was always such a magical time for me.  Then we decided to start a family and I swore to myself that there was NO WAY I would have a December baby.  After all, I had too many years of the “combined gift” and watching my sister throw pool parties to celebrate  her August birthday.  Of course, as you work at a pregnancy time passes and suddenly you joyously realize your going to be a mom….. in December.  What? Huh?  How did that happen?  On No!  It make it even worse, my December 13th baby became a December 20th baby and the holiday season has been but a blur every since.  In an effort to illustrate this point I will divulge one dirty little secret (I have picture proof of another later on).   I purchased a Martha Stewart Gingerbread House kit, 3 years ago thinking Ryann, my niece Ally, and I would enjoy building and decorating this simple kit.  You know where this is going right?  I packed it up again this year and it's still as a kit… here's hoping for next year!

So as Y2k was approaching and the December page of my datebook (remember when we had paper datebooks?) was getting really messy but I was confident I was still in control, right?  Then, when baby was 9-months-old, I rediscovered rubber-stamping and I was hooked, lined, and sinkered.   I was invited to a Stampin' Up party, hosted by somebody I liked a lot and just wanted to support.  You know those women whose energy and life spirit draws you in?  I had wanted to make a velvet embossed scarf for sometime and Stampin' Up had a rose stamp that I knew would be perfect. Unfortunately, the rose was a hostess set- meaning there was no way I could buy it without hosting a party.  I begged, pleaded, and whined, but in the end I signed up to host a party, got the stamp, and made a beautiful black-velvet scarf.  

Ryann's 1st birthday approached and I think it goes without saying that I added the Big Birthday Party to my December routine.  Maybe I started this because I found the perfect "1st birthday" theme in a rubber-stamp….Raggedy Ann.  For those of you who weren’t friends of mine in 1972, I was deeply love with a raggedy Raggedy Ann and my bully of a sister decided to decapitate her in a moment of rage.  
There was no replacing my Annie, though my mom tried.  I remember to this day, exactly how the new doll felt and smelled.  She was all stiff and chemically smelling; not at all good for snuggling while I sucked my thumb, at night, or during a particularly scary moment on Captain Kangaroo.  The bully did make amends a few years ago by shopping on E-bay (back when you could still find a treasure now and then) and surprised me at Christmas with a vintage Ann that isn’t stiff or chemical smelling.  
What is this crumbly thing?

I eat this?
 But I digress (again)… we were talking about Ryann’s 1st Birthday Party…. In December 1999, the kids b-day party scene was just beginning to overboard in America.  I'm pretty sure that Oriental Trading was still somewhat unknown and Birthday Party Express had yet to take-over the world.  Most kids who had big parties, did so at a venue like Chuckie Cheese or a scary jungley-gym place with a big bin full of dirty-plastic balls and a rope net.  Nobody wanted the hassle of entertaining a gang of toddlers, but I loved having her party at home because I enjoy all the planning, decorating, crafting and baking.  It was even more fun because while we lived in North Carolina, we had a solid group of friends with kids all around the same age.  
I broke out the new stamps and made probably 10 invitations, a cool cake, some treat bags, and a few others foods that fit the theme and we had a fun party.  While the 1st Birthday party wasn't a tremendous amount of work it did set the standard and each year they got more and more elaborate. One day I may blog about some of those parties.  

Sadly, I didn't keep an invitation from that party.  It was a shaker card with Raggedy Ann holding a book and hearts floating in the shaker portion.  It was pretty simple but hey, she was only 1! 

I think it was the next year that I decided I should MAKE my Christmas cards.  I mean, I really enjoyed making those 10 birthday invitations and a few birthday cards over the previous 12 months, so why not make holiday cards?  All 70 of them.   I admit that over the years, the cards a year were a huge source of stress as well as pride.  I love sending something beautiful to my friends.  Sending something pretty and that I designed and handmade, feels to me like sending a little part of my spirit to my dear friends.  Being former Air Force family, we have been privileged to know many amazing families and keeping in touch means a lot to us.  Before Facebook, it was much harder to keep in touch, but sending a Christmas card was always one simple way to remind those families that we miss them, think about them often,  and am honored to be their friends.  For me, sending a preprinted card just wasn't enough but every year Rick, gets annoyed and (repeatedly) tells me "they just throw them out".  EVERY YEAR...Ah… yeah, I get that, but it isn't about what THEY do with the card; it's about what sending the card means to me.  

I tried to do it all for years but, slowly it dawned on me that the month of December which had always meant so much to me, had became so over-booked and over-stressed, it wasn't any fun anymore.  I had forgotten how to enjoy it.  I have yet to discuss it in this blog but my health is ever an issue and I never know if I am going to have a good day or a bad day.  Though I probably will talk about this more as time passes I will say that I, and both my children, have Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (HEDS) which is a genetic collagen deficiency that ultimately causes pain and fatigue.  You can get more information here.  HEDS obviously adds to the stress and makes all the obligations, expectation, and deadlines so much more difficult to meet.  Throw in anything extra like planning of the huge Squadron Kids Christmas Party (while in NC) or Hosting Bunco (here in Michigan)... December was on chronic and perpetual OVERLOAD and I was more often than not running on empty, stressed at myself for not getting everything done, and certainly not enjoying the moments of family and friends that I've always treasured around the holidays.  

As much as I adore Martha Stewart, there is now way to get as much done as she pretends to on her ubiquitous calendar.  Obviously, needed to do something(s).  I stopped making Christmas cards a few years ago and instead will stick with New Year or Valentine cards- take that one off the list.  I try NOT to host Bunco in December because it always falls within a day or two of Ryann’s birthday- take that off the list. 
 Last year I decided no more big birthday parties for Miss Ryann after the Twilight-Tween Extravaganza.  She doesn’t want a big, activity-filled, pinata-bashing party anyway at this age.  She'd rather "hang out", maybe go skating, and have a sleep over-take that one off as well.  

Hey, I did makes some changes but did my changes help?  I can’t say that this year was perfect, and I didn’t get to relax as much as I would have liked to, but at least I wasn’t a complete basket case so I guess I would say… YES….


Better Late than Never or Inspiration for Next Year

Better late than never I am posting a few pictures of my Christmas decorations. 
I stuck with the same color scheme I’ve used for a few years because I love it and you just can't go wrong with red and white at Christmas.  I always, always throw in a little metallic for sparkle and shine.  So, while I love this look  something was just off this year. 
I love these two Snowmen

It just didn't look as beautiful and luscious as in years past.  Why?  I'm not really sure, but a few things were off.  First, I use Angle Hair to cover the mini-lights  on the bookcase and mantle and this year it was a disaster.  I've used it for probably 10 years or more in a variety of Christmas themes.
The Mantel
Although it isn't necessary to throw it away after one use, over time it does get mangy.  I bought a new bag for this year and I think this was the reason for the mess.  It turned out that this new bag was full of short pieces; something I had never seen before.  I was impossible to work with because I couldn't pull it out and stretch it to create the airy, ethereal look I was going for.  Instead the short pieces pulled apart and some actually fell onto the floor (not good to have spun glass fibers on the floor).  The short fibers stuck straight up and didn't do much to cover the mini-lights and strings. 
close up of tree
Every year my Christmas tree is my pride and joy.  I have collected ornaments since I was literally 3-weeks-old from a variety of people and places.  I have carried on that tradition by giving my kids special ornaments each year.  This year the tinsel was a nightmare with so much static electricity it stuck to everything but the tree. 

 It caught on pants as we walked by and boots and shoes as we walked on it.  I found it stuck to my furniture and on the carpet upstairs, and even in the sink!
Over the years I have cared for and saved the ornaments by returning them to their original box if possible.  If there isn't an appropriately safe box then I protect them by wrapping them in tissue or bubble wrap and carefully packing them in hard cardboard or plastic boxes.  I put the ball ornaments in special boxes made to hold them.  I’ve never broken an ornament until this year and I more than made up for it.  Several broke sometime over the year of storage and I have no idea how since those boxes are really never bothered.   I broke two “Normal Rockwell” ornaments I’ve had since high school.  I probably broke 10 basic ball ornaments, which itself was  sad but what a nightmare worrying about getting every single shard up off the horizontal surfaces involved.  I even broke a ball at my mom’s house.  I topped this streak off on Sunday by breaking the glass from a huge picture frame on my HEAD as I carried a box to the basement.  It hurt like hell and glass went EVERYWHERE.  There is nothing worse than worrying about that moment when your child comes to you screaming with a piece of glass sticking out if his/her foot so cleaning just never seems to be enough. 
The Mantle:
I love making these from kits but adding lots of extra sequins
Close up of Stockings I made the Kids
My stocking made by my grandmother
Mirror in bathroom