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No pun in today’s title.  A double meaning, maybe.  But no pun.

Remember, back in February, when I showed you how we convert the kids’ play room to a guest room?  That’s not quite all of it.

There’s something we’ve started hanging up in there to make our guests feel a little more special.

1 ~ Use an old manila folder to create a diamond-shaped template.  Diamonds folded in half, of course, make triangles.  Trace the diamonds onto newspaper.  Make sure you’ve already read the newspaper, if you want to, because it’s going to get ruined.

2 ~ Water down acrylic paints just a bit, so the newsprint will show through.  Be sure to keep warm colors separated from cool to prevent muddiness.  Notice that I gave Nicolas all the reds, oranges, and yellows, and Kalen had the greens, blues, and purples.

3 ~ Paint!  Go hog wild.  Go outside the lines!  It’s abstract!  It’s fun!

4 ~ While the paint is drying, cut out letters that will fit on the folded triangles.  I wanted to print perfect letters in a pretty font from my computer but decided to embrace the child-like, handmade look of it all.  I hand-drew the letters on construction paper with Sharpie and cut them out.  W’s and M’s are particularly difficult; just thought you deserved fair warning.

5 ~ Choose a string/ribbon/something-like-that to hold all your triangles.  I found some red paper twine in my stash and braided it with raffia.  Cut the [dry] diamonds out, fold them over and glue them around the s/r/s-l-t.  Reinforce the top with a staple, if you’re concerned they might slide around a bit.

6 ~ Attach the letters.

7 ~ Hang.  You know all those looooong plastic twist ties that hold toys in their packaging and generally make birthdays and Christmas morning so frustrating?  Jason’s always insisted on keeping them and storing them out with the hardware in the garage.  I cannot tell you how often they’ve come in handy.  I use two to attach the bunting the curtain rod.  The hardware’s a little much for a paper banner, but I might get curtains in there someday, too.  Maybe.

It was a fun, free project that took us only an hour or so one afternoon.  Folded up, it fits nicely in the drawer with the guest room alarm clock.  Unfolded and hung, it shows our guests how happy we are to have them.

1. Determine a need.  Or want.  Doesn’t really matter.  Ahem.  So, you’ve decided to make an afghan!

2. This is tricky, either (a) choose your yarn, or (b) choose your pattern.  In this instance, I went with pattern choice first.  I’ve had this book

for nearly ten years.  And I hadn’t made a single afghan out of it.  There are some pretty cool ones in there.

3. If you chose your pattern first, now find yarn.  Or vice versa.  I went with an acrylic yarn.  This is a comfort gift for a family in very sad circumstances, and I would hate to send an afghan along with care instruction in this situation.  (Can you imagine?  “I’ve been thinking of you in your time of need, so I made this for you.  Make sure you hand wash it and lay it flat to dry, okay?”  Yikes.)  Someday, enough superwash wool for a single afghan will be in my budget, but for now, it’s not.  This afghan is warm and cozy, AND it can be put in the washer and dryer.

So there.

4. Crochet.  Crochet.  When you run out of one color, drive like a bat out of hell to the craft store or yarn shop and pray they have more yarn of the same dye lot.  And crochet some more.  (Or, if you prefer, knit.  Knit.  Aaaaand…you get the picture.)

5. Wash.  Block.  Okay, okay, I know most of you fiber folks are saying, “You don’t block acrylic, Aimee,” and rolling your eyes.

But here’s the thing: I do.  For two reasons.  One, it helps make the finished item straight and square, which is always nice when you’re giving a gift.  Two, I always find after washing acrylic items that I end up with a bunch of these,

because acrylic doesn’t splice.  Yep, little ends that had been woven in sometimes pop out the first time it’s washed.  I’d hate for the gift recipient to find these after throwing it in the washing machine for the first time.  I had over twenty of these to snip on this afghan.  Tacky.

6. Take photos!  Document your work!  You’ll enjoy looking back on it.  Trust me.

That’s it!  Congrats!  If you’ve made the afghan for yourself, snuggle up.  If not, wrap it up and gift it or ship it.  This guy’s in the mail right now.

So, Lindsay has thrown down the gauntlet and wants to know what attractive home decor items we can make with $5 of materials from the dollar store.  My trip to Dollar Tree after she posted last week netted me materials for two different projects.  (Here’s the second one!)

I was inspired to make vases the instant I saw these  colorful bamboo place mats.  I spent about ten minutes playing with the glassware at the store to make sure I could make the number of vases I wanted with only $5 worth of stuff.

I came home with this:

-Three large sugar shakers (at least that’s what they’re labeled – I think they look more like Parmesan cheese shakers)
-Two bamboo placemats

Yesterday, I gathered my tools:

-Hot glue gun (with extra glue) – plug it in before you start cutting
-Scissors
-Craft knife
-Self-healing mat (um, you might want to have yours right-side up)
-Ruler
-Rubber bands (not shown)
-Silver Sharpie (not shown – I chose silver rather than black, so any marks left on the bamboo wouldn’t be too obvious)

I began by setting the shakers’ tops aside (they might come in handy for another project someday, right?) and wrapping a mat around one of the shakers.  I then cut the mat to just fit around the shaker.

I figured out pretty quickly that you’ll want to secure the end pieces of the mat immediately with some hot glue in a couple of places, to keep it from falling apart.  Once the strings are cut, the bamboo sticks will pop off and scatter like mad.

I then applied hot glue to the mat and carefully wrapped it around the shaker, being sure to line the bottom edge of the shaker up with the bottom edge of the mat, and secured it with rubber bands.

My plan was to come up with three vases of different heights.  Here’s where I spent my time in the dollar store: making sure that I could get two shorter vases out of one place mat.

The manufacturers of the “sugar” shakers were quite helpful and made them exactly 5 inches high.  So, I measured and drew a line 5″ from the edge of the mat with my silver Sharpie.  I scored it a couple of times with the craft knife (I put a fresh blade in first!) before cutting it with my scissors.  The scoring helped keep my scissors on track, and I ended up with a pretty straight cut.  I cut and applied the two pieces of mat to their shakers and set them to dry/cool while I hit the yard for some appropriately springlike blooms.

Doesn’t forsythia scream “Spring is coming!!”?  It reminds me of my parents’ yard in Georgia.  By the time I had the stems de-budded, the vases were all ready for some water, flowers, and a photo shoot.

I have got to learn to use the manual settings on my camera…

Don’t they frame the boys nicely?  I’m thrilled with my new $5 set of vases.  It occurs to me that they might make nice tea light holders, too.  I’ll give that a try with the forsythia dies and let you all know how it works out.

So how about you?  Are you up for Lindsay’s challenge?

When Kalen realized that his birthday dinner party was approaching quickly, he began making plans.  “We have to make decorations!  Can I have a banner, Mom?”

A banner?  Sure.  I’ve been wanting to make a pennant banner for a while anyway…and wouldn’t it be neat if it were a permanent one that we could hang up every time one of us had a birthday?

Of course, it had to be made out of materials on hand, but hello, we’re living with my mother!  Being a lifelong artist and craftsperson, she’s always a good great phenomenal resource for this kind of project.

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She and I are also a great brainstorming team, and she manages to turn my ideas into great end products.  Some felt, paint, and ribbon (plus a few days of work) later, and voila!

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Behold our two-sided Family Birthday Banner, courtesy of Grandma Wanda!

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The letters are done in Aunt Bertha, which I think is such a fun font for a celebratory banner.  Thank you, Mommy.

The boys and I are home after our lovely staycation at our best friends’ house.  They hit the beach, and we spent the week puppy-sitting and making use of their extended satellite TV, cozy reading chairs, and neighborhood pool.  It was a good deal all-around.

Of course, Monday meant that I could take advantage of a new-to-me bench…

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Tuesday, the boys each had a swimming lesson with the neighborhood’s swim team coach.  This young woman has such a way with kids!  I hadn’t been able to get Kalen to do anything resembling a stroke before this day, and look at him swimming right to her!

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Nicky also made great progress in the pool, and he got the hang of side breathing.  He can now make it all the way across the short width of the pool without putting his feet down.  This kid has come a long, long way in just over a year.  I’m in such awe of him.

I also spent an awful lot of time reading (Lynn Kurland – one of my favorites!), and I got a start on that baby gift I mentioned before.  No details until after the shower, but a little sneak peek can’t hurt, can it?

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We really enjoyed our little faux vacay, and it was made even better by the knowledge that Jason will be coming to see us next week.  He flies in Tuesday night to spend a week and celebrate Kalen’s birthday.  We’re all so excited.

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I set to work on the latest Digi Dare yesterday afternoon (main components of the challenge – one word title and one photo containing only one subject).  Looking through my 2005 photos, I found this one of Nicky with his listening equipment.  His occupational therapist at the time, Ms. Yolanda, had determined that he was a prime candidate for a program called Therapeutic Listening to help with his Sensory Processing Disorder.  Nicky continued with TL for many months.  I don’t know how much it helped, and how much was the other forms of therapy or simple maturity, but he did show improvement over that year.
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(Credits behind the cut)

Today I finished up another baby blanket.  This one’s bound for the NICU, to warm some little baby while he or she is having feedings.  I needed something mindless to work on while the boys and I watched the original Star Wars trilogy last week, and j. had sent me a great skein of bright orange yarn, so this was born.  I’m halfway in love with it, just for the colors.  I’m so tired of pastel baby clothes and blankets, I swear I’ll never make anything pastel for a baby again!

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Happy Blogiversary – to me!

One year ago today, I began blogging our family’s letterboxing adventures over on Blogger.  The place quickly morphed into a more life-encompasing adventure, with a heavy emphasis on crafts, and for reasons I have long since forgotten, I moved over here to WordPress last summer.  I suppose a blog, like any journal, will take on a life of its own.

I don’t have a huge following; my stats show my busiest days as those surrounding the 12th of the month for some strange reason, and they also have a nice little blip when I participate in Pip’s challenges.  However, I appreciate each and every one of you who visits, whether it’s on a daily basis, or once a month…or less!

So, as a thank-you for commenting enough to keep me blogging for a full year, I decided to offer a gift.  But what??  Realizing my blogiversary was approaching, I began to fret and wonder what on earth I could share with people that they might find worthwhile.

The answer came when I began tweeting about and then posted pictures of the Washi eggs Mom and I made on Saturday.  I’m sure there are plenty of tutorials out there on how to make these, but why not make it easy on my readers and put the tut right here, where there’s no laborious Googling involved?  (To honor the occasion, I even created a new “tutorials” category over there in my category cloud.  Maybe this will be the incentive to start adding to it!)

So, without further ado, Happy Blogiversary to Me, and Thank You to You!!

Washi Eggs

Supplies

~Eggs (blown out, rinsed, and allowed to dry thoroughly)
~Decorative paper (traditionally, Japanese Washi paper is used, but we use leftover scraps of wrapping paper and decorative cocktail napkins)
~Scissors
~Ruler and Small Tape Measure
~White Glue, Water, and Paint Brush for applying it
~Spoon
~Matte Varnish

How-To

1. Measure the egg and cut out the paper

Use the tape measure to measure the circumference of your egg around its middle.  Add 1/8 – 1/4 inch (5 mm) to this measurement.  This is Measurement #1.

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Now measure around the egg the long way.  Divide this number in half and add 1/8 inch (3 mm) for Measurement #2.

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Cut your paper to size:

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2. Cut paper to shape.

Fold the paper in half lengthwise, as shown in the above drawing.  Cut slits in the paper about 3/8 inch (1 cm) apart, from the cut edges towards the fold, leaving about 1/4 inch.

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Now, cut halfway up each flap to make “picket fence” points.

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(Much like my drawing, these cuts do not need to be precise.  I encourage you to embrace the okayness of eyeballing it!  If, however, that freaks you out, go ahead and measure.  I won’t tell anyone.)

3.  Apply paper to egg.

Unfold the paper, and lay it down with the wrong side up.  Mix a little bit of water with the glue and brush it onto the paper carefully.

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(This picture is too much fun not to include.)

Center the egg carefully on the paper.  The ends of the egg should “point” in the same direction as the pickets.  Gently wrap one side of the paper around the egg, and begin smoothing the pickets (one at a time!) into place on one end of the egg.  Use your fingers to smooth out air bubles and wrinkles as you go.  Take your time, and reapply glue if it starts to dry out.  Don’t rush on this part!  After one end of the egg is covered, turn it over and do the other end.

4.  Spoon the egg!

Use the back of the spoon to gently rub wrinkles out of the paper and smooth the seams.

5.  Let the egg dry.

6.  Spoon the egg!

7.  Varnish the egg.

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Dip one end of the egg in varnish, and roll the egg in your hands to apply it evenly.  The number of coats of varnish is up to you…I do at least three, although some instructions I’ve seen say to do up to ten! Just make sure you let it dry in between coats.

8.  Spoon the egg! one last time when the last coat of varnish is not quite completely dry.

9.  If you make eggs using this tutorial, please leave me a link!  I would love to see them.

10.  Repeat, repeat, repeat, until you have a basket (or a tiered plate) full!  These last for years.  (My mother, sister & I made the eggs in this photograph in the early ’90’s.)

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In considering the softie-making trend in the craft community, I sometimes find myself thinking wistfully about the cute little end products.  Then, I give myself a mental shake and remind the wistful little part of my brain that my goal is to declutter and make things with useful purpose.

Still, they’re so cute.

I thought I would share the first softie ever made for me.  When I was born, my mother’s brother made Sugar Bear for me.  I think (given the butterfly “tattoo” patch on the buttock that has not been photographed in order to maintain ursine dignity) that Sugar Bear was meant to be a girl, but he was always a “he” to me.

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Uncle Lyle doesn’t, at first glance, seem to be the softie-making type.  He’s an athlete and a coach by trade, a father of sons, and now a grandfather of grandsons.  But he made me Sugar Bear.  A softie.

Compared to the incredibly-designed and perfectly-assembled softies I see floating around craft blogs these days, I suppose Sugar Bear’s dual-toned felt and two-dimensional structure don’t rate as a grand achievement.  However, as a gift made by a man in his twenties for his first niece, I think it’s pretty darn great.

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Look at that shy smile.  I can’t look at it and not smile, myself.

(And, as an aside, take a look at how the color in that brown DMC floss has held up.  33 years, countless moves, many runs through the dryer for dust removal, and thousands of hours of sunlight streaming onto my bed (and now my younger son’s bed), and it’s still a dark, rich brown.)

Yesterday, Jason asked me when I was going to install my software and start digiscrapping again.  He really doesn’t read this blog.  Spooky how we’ve been reading each others’ minds lately!

Over the weekend, I began a poncho and a sweater for the Mattaponi project.  They’re bright and cheerful – just what I need.

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Both are being done in Caron Simply Soft, because it’s durable and washable while still being soft to the touch.  If you’re on Ravelry, you can check out the details on my projects page.  If not, I’ll post them when the items are finished!

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On the personal front, I did apply/register with the only temporary staffing agency near here.  It’s interesting how many of those companies are gone now.  I suppose it’s a sign of the market.  The woman at the agency said there really aren’t that many temping jobs around any more.  It used to be that you could basically stay employed full-time just working one- and two-week contracts as a receptionist and/or administrative assistant.  Ah well, it will be what it will be.  Time to start brainstorming and dive headlong into my budgets!  That, however, is a project for a day when I do not have a sick child home from school and do have more than five minutes of quiet.

In restrospect, I realize I ended yesterday’s post with one of my least favorite words in the English language:

Try.

Thinking about that final sentence now, I’m cringing.  I am consistent in jumping upon this word when other people use it.  When you “try” something, you leave yourself a big excuse for failure.  As the wise little muppet said, “Do!  Or do not!  There is no try.”*  So, I am not going to try to balance crochet and digiscrapping.  I am going to find a way to incorporate both into my life in a way that makes me happy.  So there!

Now, let’s leave the serious stuff behind and get back to some craftiness.  I was looking through my projects folder the other day and realized that I never shared one of my Christmas gifts.  It’s not a big deal, but it’s a neat little bag:

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Pattern: Go Green Market Bag by Suzetta Williams
Yarn: Something cheap & scratchy from a garage sale
Hooks: H & J
Pattern Modifications: For Rounds 7-15, I changed the V stitches to each have 2 ch’s rather than 1. Then, I added two more rows of V stitches, each with 1 ch in the V’s, before changing back to the H hook and finishing.

This was a little gift for my mother-in-law.  She didn’t have any reuseable market bags, so I thought this would work nicely for her.  I was really surprised at how much I was able to fit in the bag for the photo.

My current WIP is a poncho for a little girl.  The Knitters for Obama group has chosen their next service project and are knitting and crocheting items for the Mattaponi Indian Tribe of eastern Virginia.  This is a tribe unrecognized by the federal government and in need of supplies.  As one of the ladies said, the things we make them won’t solve their problems, but they will show them that someone cares and will keep them warm in the cold weather.  If you’re interested in helping, either by making items or donating yarn, send me a message for the guidelines, or check out the “New Service Project” thread in the Knitters for Obama forum on Ravelry.  This is open to all.  It is our goal to make our service projects multipartisan efforts, and everyone who wishes to participate is welcome.

*This is an expression that garners mixed reaction in my husband.  On one hand, he loves that I’m a Star Wars gal.  On the other, he’s pretty darn sick of my reminding him of this line.

My boys

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