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I LOVE holiday cards.  One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is going to the mailbox every day and seeing how much my friends’ kids have grown, reading the holiday letters from extended family, and seeing how my seventh grade teacher is doing.  (She retired this year and is taking golf lessons in 2010!)

I take great effort to create our own holiday card.  I make it a little different each year, spending hours fiddling in Photoshop Elements, shopping bargains on the photo printing sites, and hand-addressing each card.

However, I have a dirty little secret.

Every January, every card we’ve received goes into the recycling bin.

I tried to save them for a few years.  I really did.  But it got to be a huge space-taker, and one day shortly after realizing we had too much stuff for our space, I threw them all out.  Every January, I feel a twinge, but they still go into the bin, because honestly?  I’m going to get new ones next year (yay!), and we really do have more stuff than space.

This year, however, I’m making a change.  The cards without photos are going here.  For the price of a couple of stamps, I am recycling these gorgeous cards in a very eco-friendly way and at the same time contributing to the care of some very deserving kids.

Will you join me?

Nicky began recorder lessons in music class at school this week.  Remember those days?  Hot Cross Buns, Mary Had a Little Lamb, errr…  Were there any other songs?  I think there must have been, but they’ve escaped me now.

When the purchase sheet came home for recorders & accessories last week, we reminded Nicky that he would be using one of our old recorders.  Mine has disappeared (actually, I think it’s at Mom & Dad’s), so he was thrilled to use Jason’s.  Happily, it’s the exact same model that all his friends are now buying and using.*

Also happily, the carrying case for said recorder has long been missing.  Ooh, goodie!  A chance for Mom to use her stash of stuff to make a case.  I knew I had saved all those cut-off pant legs from the summer for a reason.

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And how could I resist a little embroidery?

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Nicky loves it, as I knew he would.  He is excited about anything I make for him.  It’s great to be appreciated.

*I think a headache is developing just imagining a room full of third graders in their first recorder lesson.  Elementary school music teachers deserve a special place in Heaven.**

**Or whatever you believe the afterlife to be or not be.

The kids are in bed after two days of rambunctious fun, yesterday with my family, today with Jason’s.

I have finished reading the latest installment of Dad’s naval memoirs.  (He writes another hundred or more pages each year and gives them to us for Christmas.  They are very eagerly awaited and quickly and thoroughly devoured.)

Jason is unwinding, finishing up a game on the PS2, and the Mythbusters marathon is on.

I am pondering how I will spend my B&N gift card, and wondering how long I can stretch my Starbucks gift cards.

Yep, it’s a typical Christmas night in our household, everyone stuffed to the gills with food and love, carols fading quickly into memory, gifts waiting patiently to find their permanent places of storage.  (And wrapping paper and accoutrements staring accusingly from the dining room table.  I’ll put you away tomorrow, I promise.)  I hope your evening is as cozy and satisfying.

As promised, photos of the last two presents finished just under the wire Tuesday night:

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For my sister.  This picture is from a desk calendar she had in junior high school.  It was published by the Costume Designers Guild of America and featured several drawings like this.  I found the calendar this summer when I was helping Mom clean out their basement and grabbed it with a vague idea of something like this for Christmas.  The frame has been in my office closet for several years.  I bought it because I loved it, but I never found the “just right” photograph for it.  I’m pretty sure it’s because I would need it for this drawing.  (I also wrapped up the calendar and gave it to her, and she got a kick out of reading about her eighth-grade social life.)

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For Mom.  Another Easy Peasy Crochet Bag, this time with a square base, and sized to be a knitting project bag for her.  It ended up being precisely the size she needed.  (Success!)

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I lined it with one of Mom’s old shirts.  She brought several to me last month when I mentioned my all-handmade holidays, knowing that I could use the fabric.  She was amused to receive it back.  I’m proud of myself for remembering to sew in a pocket to hold needles and such.

And that’s it.  I think I’ve shared all of the gifts, save Jason’s hat and scarf, and it’s really much too warm to force him to model them at the moment.  All in good time.  Not to worry, though.  There will be no dearth of projects to share.  One of the boxes under Mom’s tree with my name on it was filled with the most scrumptious of yarns, and I’ve been frogging sweaters…there’s plenty left to be made in ’09.

Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this before Christmas, stop reading now!  I mean it!  I will take the gifts back if you peek.  You know I’m not bluffing…just ask Kalen!

Last week, Kalen opened a bag he found and saw a gift.  Not just any gift — the gift he asked Santa for.  Now, both boys know the rules – you do NOT look inside containers that don’t belong to you, especially near the holidays.  We told him we were taking that item back to Target, and he’d better make extra sure Santa knew he wanted it!  We all like our gifts to be surprises, and he took it really well.  He’s told a couple of people already, in a very matter-of-fact voice, “I looked inside a bag and saw a present, but Mom and Dad took it back.”

Anyway, back to the main gist of today’s post.  According to Nicky, I am “the best gift-maker ever!” I’m not sure I agree with him (my talents are severely limited, after all), but it’s the best compliment I’ve gotten all month!

I’m about done with the gift-making for Christmas, and not a moment too soon.  I have one step left on one gift, and I’ll do that after dinner.  Then, it’s wrapping all evening.  Yay!  I love wrapping.

Some of the stuff I’ve been finishing up:

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This apron is for my mother-in-law.  The skirt is made from the backs of two button-down shirts, and the other fabric and buttons are from my stash.  The ties ended up too short, but they’re just long enough to tie a little square knot at the back, so I hope it will fit okay.  I think it’s quite pretty.

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Here’s the one that kept me up late last night, happily stitching away.  I made Dad some lounge pants (he likes to wear them in the evenings), and they looked so plain and boring.  Since Daddy is proudly USN, retired, the anchor seemed an obvious choice.

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These eyeglasses cases are the gifts from the boys to their grandparents.  I stole the idea directly from Pout on a Whim.  The boys drew their designs last month, and I’ve been embroidering them on the felt ever since.  These are Nicky’s drawings.  Grandma Julie is cooking, Grandpa Wayne is throwing a Frisbee (the boys love playing outside with him), Grandpa Bill is surrounded by musical notes, and Grandma Wanda is making a heart sculpture.

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The reverse sides of the cases show Kalen’s drawings: a camera for Grandpa Wayne, a dog for Grandma Wanda, Grandma Julie with a book (“The Dog Book”), and Grandpa Bill singing.  The cases are all lined with t-shirts from my fabric stash.  We’re all quite pleased and are looking forward to the grandparents’ reactions.

And on that note, I’m off to brave the holiday rush at the grocery store.  I need apple pie fixings…

Merry Christmas, everyone!

This weekend was busy, but I managed to make my brother-in-law’s and sister-in-law’s gifts.  BIL is getting a Driftwood Hat, like the one I made Jason, but in a solid color.  It’s quite large on me, but I think it should fit him just fine.

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I love this pattern.  It’s from the Fall ’08 issue of Interweave Crochet, and it’s fast, very warm, and simple.  “Simple” is the key when you’re crocheting for men who like little to no embellishment on their wearables.  This is Patton’s Classic Wool in Dark Grey Mix, a pleasure to work with, and (yay!) on sale at Joann’s last week.

For my sister-in-law, I was considering making her a purse, but I couldn’t find a pattern that reminded me of her.  Since they’ve just renovated their kitchen (and by “just,” I mean the floors were finished two days ago!), I decided to make her an apron.  The decision was partially fueled by the fact that she adored the colors of MIL’s birthday bag and mentioned that those are the colors prevalent in her house.  I had some of the pillowcase I lined that bag with left over, but not much.  How to use it?  Trim on an apron seemed like a good idea.

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The body of the apron is the leg of a pair of my jeans that split on the hip.  The ruffle is the wide hem from the pillow case…it was my first time pleating, and I’m thrilled with the results.  I had intended to bind all the edges in the pillowcase fabric, but I completely screwed up my first attempt at making bias tape (um, cut along the bias, Aimee, not the grain!) and didn’t have enough left to make both the ties and the binding.  I had just enough store-bought bias tape in my sewing box to do the sides, and it happened to be exactly the right color ivory to coordinate with the fabric.

The apron ties are made from the pillowcase and are criss-cross, because I HATE apron ties that rub against the back of my neck.  The ties feed through buttonholes on the sides of the apron and are the perfect length to tie a nice bow in back.  All in all, I’m very pleased with the results of my first apron.  I hope SIL likes it.  Cooking is not her favorite activity, so it’s a gamble.  I’m hopeful she sees the connection to the new kitchen.

Since we’ve now given my mother-in-law her birthday gift, I can share the handmade portion:

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The two green yarns were reclaimed from sweaters, and the third is a variegated cotton.

I used the pattern for the Easy Peasy Crochet Bag.  Well, the pattern itself isn’t all that different from tons of other bags I’ve made: crochet a rectangle for the bottom, then crochet in rounds up the sides.  However, she always uses three yarns held together, which makes every bag quite unique, and she includes the picot edging and twisted cord handles, neither of which I’ve ever done on a bag before.

The lining is the piece de resistance, in my opinion, mostly due to its reclaimed nature and the fact that it was fate that kept it hidden in the back of the linen closet and therefore out of the donation bin several years ago when I took its entire sheet set to Goodwill.  It is the exact colors of the yarns.  Pillowcase Kismet.

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To sew the lining in, I followed Future Girl’s tutorial.  I’ve hand-sewn linings into bags before, but this explanation is so clear and simple, and it created a much nicer finish than I’ve had in the past.

(And I must say, while I was upset at first about the need to give up plarn crochet because of my hand/wrist pain, I am enjoying the process of working with actual, fibrous yarn soooooo much more!)

My hand still isn’t at 100%, but I’m working on things a bit here and there.  In an effort to do something crafty this week, I decided to try my hand at these gift bows, made of magazine pages.  Easy peasy!  Not that gift bows are expensive…you can get a bag of dozens for just a couple of dollars, but I love the reused quality of these, and they’re so colorful.  Each one is completely unique.  And they look great with my favorite models.

A close-up of the bows themselves:

This first batch was made from an educational software catalog and one of those coupon magazines that come in the mail.  Apparently, Mom’s been busy over at their place and has knocked out quite a few as well!

I’m easing myself back into crochet, too.  I followed a link from one of my favorite blogs to a newish group on Ravlery, devoted to devotees of Lisa Gentry’s crochet and knit designs.  I wasn’t previously aware of Lisa’s designs, but she has some cute things, as well as the distinction of holding the world record for fastest crochet!  They hold a monthly contest in the group, and October’s contest is for Lisa’s design of a spiderweb and spider.  I adore Halloween.  I love decorating for Halloween.  I decided to use Lisa’s design as inspiration for a set of spiderweb curtains for our sidelight windows.  I’ll need to do about twenty of these small webs, soak them in fabric stiffener, then put them together.  (Still not sure how that’s going to happen.  I want them to be able to fold up, accordian-style, for storage.)  Of course, there will also be spiders.  But here’s what’s done so far.

I’m using Bernat Baby Coordinates.  Because I had it.  😉  And because I like the bit of shimmer the yarn has.  Thread would have been ideal, but I’m trying very hard not to buy anything new unless we need it.  Reminds me of a verse I read a couple of years ago:

Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do, or
Do without.

I’m not going to go too far, but “making do” seems particularly appropriate these days.

Upcycling: the process of using something that would generally be discarded to create a new, useful item.

According to Wikipedia, the term was coined by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things.  I like it.

For months, I’ve been meaning to buy acryclic wall pockets – one to go on either side of my monitor inside my enclosed computer desk.  Thanks to inspiration from the Upcycle group on Ravelry, I’ve been looking at things around my home in a new light.  Last night, a Honey Nut Toasted Oats box and some paper left over from my paper scrapbooking days came together to make this:

Cereal Box Wall Pocket

Cereal Box Wall Pocket

Much prettier than acrylic, don’t you think?  Cheaper, too.  Now I just need to make one for the other side.

My boys

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