Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sneak Peek: Christmas Branch Centerpiece

Good evening, all. Wow, Can you believe only 1 week until CHRISTMAS? The year has flown and I'm just so excited to celebrate Christmas; the day of our Saviour's birth. The city is all a hustle and bustle so I guess Sydneysiders are all just as excited!

So last blog I left you with spray paint in hand to begin my next project: a Christmas tree branch centerpiece for my Christmas table. Well, it is finished! Two cans of white spray paint, a terracotta pot, a branch and some baubles later and we have a pretty centerpiece.

Sorry the photos are a bit dodgy. The lighting isn't great and while experimenting with the it the camera's battery ran out. No worries, you'll see it in its full glory on Christmas Day when I take it with all the decor on the table. I wanted to give you a little sneek peek to inspire you. Perhaps you need a centerpiece yourself or just an alternative to a Christmas tree. This would be perfect!

I will give you SIMPLE instructions to make this tree. It is so easy and it really looks expensive. You'll have to take my word on it. It looks much better in person than in the photos!

1) Go on a lovely nature hike. I took my two kids and dog. It was a hand full as always! We collected branch after branch until I looked into the woods and saw a dead tree. I told my toddler to stay put (there are red bellied snakes (YIKES!) in the woods by our house) and I ventured into the bush to break off a branch. I was so excited with my discovery. It was just what I was looking for. The park goers, however were looking at me like I was crazy. I just shrugged my shoulders and shouted, "I have big plans for this branch!" I think I've probably got coined the name, "weird tree lady" or "girl of the woods" or something now. Oh, well. I'll be the one with a FABULOUS Christmas table I thought! :-)

2) Buy or recycle a plant pot or similar to use as your base. I bought a simple terracotta pot for under $5.00 at K-Mart and spray painted it the colour I wanted which was white.

3) Spray paint the branches (unless you decide to leave them natural). I wanted the pot and branches to match so the ornaments stood out so I choose white. I like to keep it simple for the most part.

4) After your pot and branches are dry and to your liking, it is time to put this beautiful Charlie brown Christmas tree together! I filled my pot up with unused landscaping rock we had lying around and it worked really well weigh down the pot an to anchor the branch into place. Once I pushed the branch down through the rocks it was very stable and I didn't need to to anything else but decorate!

5) Time to decorate! Depending on the size of your branch, you might want large or small bauble ornaments. I used a box of small and a box of miniature baubles. The colour scheme for my Christmas party is silver and gold so those were the baubles that I used. I think they look really great against the white. I actually used all gold of various hues and only 6 silver baubles which were the only minis. I just really liked the gold. I just wanted to a bit of silver to tie it all in with the theme.

6) Lastly, you will want to put something around the base to cover up your filler. I really liked the idea of covering the rocks with moss, but I didn't have any on hand and I had a bunch of leftover baubles around so I decided to fill the remainder of the pot with baubles to hide the rocks. I used medium sized silver baubles and accented it with a few gold minis.

That's it! As simple as that and I guaranteed if you saw something similar at the shop it would cost you a pretty penny. Well, at least here in Oz! I spent under $10.00 on this project! Gotta love that.

Okay, well on to making the Christmas favour/place settings. Until next time, Happy Crafting and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chocolate Covered Pretzels and Reindeer Cookies

Holy, melted chocolate! I have been melting and dipping pretzels today! As soon as my little ones went to bed at naptime, I opened up a Chocolatier in my kitchen and began working like one of Santa's little elves. The objective: to make chocolate covered pretzels for this ultra cute reindeer cookie recipe I found via Baker Girl . Stop in and check out her huge array of recipes and inspirations. Seriously getting a toothache just reading them, but boy, do they all look SCRUMP!

My first batch of reindeer cookies

So it has been a tiny bit of an adventure to get to these chocolate covered pretzels. I had no idea that tracking some down would be such a challenge. I'm from the U.S. and chocolate and pretzel just go together. It is a no brainer--salty and sweet..uuuuh...YES!! When I saw Baker Girl's recipe I figured I'd just swing by my local grocer and pick a bag up...uuuuuh, not that easy. Apparently they don't just grow on trees in Australia. I did find a dinky bag of gluten-free pretzels, which suits my diet but I needed a lot and I wasn't going to pay the outrageous price for a teeny, tiny bag, in which I probably would have needed five bags! I asked the shopkeeper if they had regular chocolate covered pretzels and she gave me a perplexed look....Okay, guess that is a NO...I even went to a chocolate candy shop, to see if they had some. Afterall, they had choc covered raisins. The lady behind the counter asked me several times to repeat my request. I even had to explain to her what they were!?....Okay...They are chocolate covered pretzels. In other words, pretzels covered with chocolate!...Ohhhhhhh, the lady said... I guess THAT explained it better!....No, she said and she had never heard of them. She was quite intrigued though so don't be surprised if Darryl Lea begins stocking them! hehe.

So everywhere I went and asked no one had them. Several people swore they have seen them around SOMEWHERE, but no one could deliver a location. So, out of hope for the easy road, I sent my hubby to the shop one night to pick up some chocolate and pretzels. This is where I should remind you all NOT to make my mistake. Always be specific when asking your husband for something. He returned with everything I needed, but I really needed some mini size pretzels. Instead, he returned with the normal ones, which are giant in terms or reindeer cookie antlers! I couldn't make Baker Girl's cute little reindeers, I had to make the Goliath reindeer! They still came out cute, just in a sort of gigantic way!

So if you want to have a go at making your own pretzels, it is super duper easy. Here is what you need:

Pretzels (the smaller the better for these cookies)
Melting Chocolate, dark or milk
Microwave-safe bowl
Baking paper

Tear off a few sheets of baking paper and lay them on the countertop so they are ready for use.

To get started, put about a cup (depending on how much you need, alter the amount) of
the chocolate into the microwave-safe bowl. Warm in the microwave for 40 seconds or so, depending on the power of your microwave. You want to MELT the chocolate, NOT COOK it! Watch it the whole time to make sure that it doesn't melt too much. I take it out after 40 seconds and give it a stir with the fork. If it is warm, the morsels will begin to melt as you are stirring. If this is happening keep stirring to see if melting still occurs. If you've stirred for 30 seconds and nothing is melting further then heat for a bit longer. Keep a close eye on it. Trust me, if chocolate burns it is a horrible smell. No one likes the taste of burnt chocolate either!

Once the chocolate is melted, you are ready to begin dipping. Do this next to your baking paper as you'll transfer the pretzels straight to them. Place a pretzel in the chocolate and slightly push it down to cover the first side. It should be submerged to cover just halfway. Using a fork, flip it over onto the opposite side. Next carefully pick it up using the fork. I find scooping the pretzel through the very bottom loop is best; so the pretzlel is dangling upside down from the fork. Give it a gentle shake so the excess chocolate will drip off. Carefully lay it on the baking paper to cool and harden. Repeat until finished. It is that easy! Just remember to space them apart on the sheets. You don't want them sticking together. These can be stored in an airtight container when finished.

Here is how our finished product turned out. Not too bad for the first time and it gets easier the more you do. My first one wasn't that great but I got the hang of it quickly. I forgot how much I love to work with melted chocolate, too. I find it so relaxing and meditative. Perhaps I worked at a Chocolatier in a past life because I just love it!

So I stuck these babies on our reindeer cookies. Like I said, mine were a lot larger than the mini cookies. The stil came out cute, but definitely could share this reindeer with a friend. In fact, I shared one with my little boy, who woke up from his nap and helped me with the finishing touches. He in turn shared these with his little friends as well...

sharing with Numbi, the numbat and Polly, the possom

Notice how Numbi gets a BIG piece and Polly a little crumb--you have to squint to see it on the right! Poor possom! ha.

Then my little tot shouted out that he made Australia!..and then added Tasmania as well!
So there ya have it. My little baking adventure for the day. Well, I also made some yummy osso buco as well, but that's for another day. It was delicious, though and my son gobbled it up which is ALWAYS a plus...Happy baking!

How Do You Deck Your Halls?

It's the most WONDERFUL time of the year! Come on, sing along. You KNOW you WANT TO!
Ahhhh, I just love Christmas time. It is a holiday season that suits me just fine. I love that I am still able to feel all the emotions I did as a child during this time. My heart gets all aglow when I see Christmas lights, hear carolers or walk past a nativity scene. My eyes get teary-eyed when I hear O'Holy Night and I can't get through a Christmas service without balling my eyes out. I just love everything about Christmas an what it represents...and yes, the Ol' Saint Nick stuff is kind of fun, too.

So we have spent the last week deckin' the halls in our house. We have recently sold this house, in fact. Decorating is very bittersweet for me as I remember the first Christmas in this home and the first one of my toddler. We will also share a first Christmas with our youngest this year in this house before we move. Our house only sold a little more than a week ago and I had been anxiously waiting to put up our decorations. If your house has ever been on the market, you know how it goes--space is everything so we couldn't clutter the house with unnecessaries like a Christmas tree. However, as soon as that sold sign was put up, I was headed towards our garage to dig out all the festive decor.

I migrated to Australia about five years ago and I am still working on building back up our Christmas decorations. Except for a few childhood ornaments, everything we owned was sold at a garage sale before the big move. Since my toddler was born, I've been greatly inspired by his Steiner playgroup so I've been trying to make a lot of handmade decorations, at that takes time. A LOT of TIME when you are a mommy. It seems like the majority of my craft profects stay in my head or as a pin on Pinterest!
This is not a bad thing at the moment since we are trying to dwindle the amount of things that we move to the new place. As I don't want to accumulate more things, I've been more creative and resourceful about the decorations this year; trying to use things that I have on hand already. My brain has been turning planning my Christmas table decor and centerpiece. I can't wait to share the finished project with you, which I'll be starting on tonight. It involves tree branches and spray paint. Fun, fun!

So here are some of our Christmas favourites around our house. Again, being resourceful with what I already have on hand. You can really get festive for next to nothing if you are creative!

The theme in my lounge room is blue and green; cool colours. I have vintage style bird flower boxes that I decide to use to my advantage. I plopped a gold Christmas tree I had on hand from lat year into the center and filled the other boxes up with gold baubles from K-Mart, which was $3.00 for a pack. I am pretty into making things monochromatic most of the time so I stuck with just gold. I like the simple statement of one them colour and it really makes the blue and little birds pop out more; instead of a bunch of colours and everything seems to get lost.

Another thing that I just LOVE to do is steal some 'subway art' from other fellow bloggers. I am just not nearly as creative on the computer as the many wonderful people out there so I love to find a good, free printable subway sign. I have a frame that I picked up at a dollar shop and I change it out with subway art for each holiday season. You can catch a glimpse of the Halloween one in the last blog entry. This one I grabbed from Smile Like You Mean It . I have it set up in a corner on one of my kitchen counter tops. I spend most of my time in the kitchen, which is truly the heart our our home so I like to have it there so I can always catch a glimpse of it to keep me in a festive mood. IT WORKS! I swear every time I look at it, I can't help but to start breakin' out with Deck the Halls!

One thing that all the children love (and I catch adults playing with them, too) are these little jumping figures. I have a reindeer and a nutcracker. I hanf them on hooks at my toddler's level so he can play with it whenever he wants. They are just so cute when they do the splits in the air and my little baby girl smiles everytime!

How do you count down the days until Christmas? We have this lovely handmade advent calendar that I picked up last year at Oxfam. BTW...I just LOVE, LOVE to shop at the Oxfam Shop and do most all my gift shopping there. It is Fairtrade and it feels so good to know that your purchase is going towards a sustainable furture for another community. The stuff is beautiful and good quaity. Check them out! It is a tradition that for Christmas and my son's birthday that we go there and buy an 'Unwrapped Gift' card that buys something for another person, such as a well for a community or a heifer for a family, etc. It is a beautiful thing and teaches him about giving to others in need.
Anyhoo, I found this advent calendar after Christmas time last year. It was on sale so I picked it up and it went straight into the Christmas storage box. I was excited to pull it out this year and my son has been stalking it to see when I'll put a treat inside (I have to put one in on each day, otherwise he is too tempted it eat them all!) As a healthy alternative, I choose to put in a piece of dried fruit for him.

So there is a little tiny glimpse of some of the things hung up in our house. What about yours? Later I'll post the adventures we had making chocolate covered pretzels today for some reindeer cookies. Yum! But now I have a can of paint waiting for me!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Needle Felted Pumpkins

It is October! I love, love, LOVE October! Why? Well, of course you know the answer already-HALLOWEEN! What is it about Halloween that makes me fell all aglow inside? I'm not sure. I think it has something to do with memories of my childhood- pumpkin patches, corn mazes, crunching leaves on the ground and trick or treating with friends. There are also memories of hot mulled cider, apple picking and jumping in a mountain of leaves my grandfather raked into a pile.

Now I live far away from the American Halloween festivities that I grew up with as a child. In fact, it isn't even autumn here in Sydney. It is spring. The weather is lovely and I can't complain, but it just doesn't seem like Halloween with daffodils in bloom and my knit sweaters in the back of the closet.

This will be my fourth year in Australia. My oldest child is two years old and I decided it was a good year to bring back some of the Halloween festivities into our home. It isn't the easiest task in a country that doesn't really celebrate the holiday. It has started gaining some popularity. Many of the shops have begun to sell a few decorations. Trick or treators are a rarity, however and the two children in the last four years that we did have knock at our door just stared at me like deer in headlights. They didn't even know they were supposed to say, "trick or treat." Before you begin thinking, "those poor darlings!" you need not worry, I gave them a lesson on Halloween door knocking etiquette.

So I only have a couple weeks left now until Halloween. I've been a busy little beaver making decorations and creating games for all the little ones. I've also been having fun experimenting with various pumpkin recipes. Oh! Did I mention that my son's party is going to be a pumpkin party?! Yes, indeedy! Nothing scary. They are toddlers afterall (though I have been longing to do the ol' eyes and brains in the touch and feel bowls trick- have to safe that for another year or two...)

Now that I have revealed to you the theme of the party, it is pretty obvious I need pumpkins and a lot of them. All you fellow Americans are saying, easy peasey! Go to your local pumpkin patch you're thinking and fill a pickup full of pumpkins and gourds, huh? Not so fast. I WISH it was that simple. First off it is spring remember so pumpkins aren't in season so that is a bit tricky. We don't even grow the traditional orange round pumpkins here. If you search you can find them; imported and pricey. The first year I moved here my hubby and I splurged and bought one. It was only a medium sized pumpkin and it cost us 40 bucks. Crazy! I did however see a couple at our local supermarket for $3.99/KG so that is an improvement. However, I'm not going to spend that kind of money to create a pumpkin patch in my back yard for the party. I have to be a bit more frugal and resourceful.

I don't want to give away everything I'm making for the party because I want most of it to be a surprise for those attending. I will share though some little needle felted pumpkins I have been busy making. These can be used as little decorations, of course but I have something a little more fun in mind for these minis. My son has been obsessed lately with loading up his toy trucks with fruit pieces from his Hi-Ho Cherrio board came. Watching him gave me a great idea. Wouldn't it be fun for the kids to have a bunch of little pumpkins to load up in trucks? I think so! They are all toddler to preschool age so they are very much into that sort of play so I hope that they'll find it appealing. If anything they'll like the trucks and if the pumpkins get thrown to the side I'll just save them for deco :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Easy Folded Fabric Flower

An easy fabric flower!
 I've been wanting to make some more flowers for Lachlan's sister. The goal is the to use them to accessorize. Afterall, what girl, no matter how small doesn't need just a little sass to her wardrobe? While Lachlan was busy playing with his trains (as always!) and Noelle was occupying herself by discovering her toes (she's 5 months) I set out on a little sewing adventure.

I've made cloth flowers before but with felt. I wanted to make some with extra fabric I had lying around the house. I'm also a sucker for just picking up fat quarter bundles when I see them at the craft shop. There are always a few prints of fabric included that I don't really like. I thought today I would use those to make some flowers. You have to look at the big picture; some prints might not be your cup of tea in a large amount, say for a shirt, but in a small amount, such as a little flower, it might just be just to your liking; this was the case for some pink fabric I had in my craft box. I'm not a huge pink girl. I do like it but I like it best in limited quanities.

I'm positive there are hundreds of tutorials out in the blogoshere that show one how to make a flower with fabric. This is how I do it, but there certainly might be a better way! I'm a novice sewer but this is pretty easy and a great little beginner project. The flowers are so versatile you can do anything with them: use them for headbands, hairclips, add to shirts, pants, shoes, handbags and on and on the list will go... Visit the ever so poular Pinterest and you'll be inspired I'm sure. How could you not be?

So here it goes...

First step is to find some fabric and make 6 circles the size you want. I just traced one of my glass kitchen tumblers with a disappearing ink fabric pen and then cut. My circles are 2 inches in diameter.

Use disappearing fabric ink so you don't have to worry about any lines showing when finished
2 inch circles X 6

Now we can begin to make a flower. Fold each circle in half and then in half again (so it is folded in 4ths)
Left: Folded in half     Right: Fold in half again

You should now have 6 pieces folded like the one to the right in the above photo. Now it is time to attach these babies. All you do is place each one a little bit inside the other and secure with a pin. I like to do one hald first (so attach three together) and then do the other half, to ensure that it is even. Then join them both together.

Pin each folded side a litte bit into the other
Secure with thread- this is one half or 3 circle sewn

Back side- connecting all the pieces

The above is the back side so it doesn't matter how messy it looks back there! I sew all the corners together and then also so through each of the folds. I put the needle through one crease,  and then through the next. Make sure you only sew inside the fold and not through the entire piece, otherwise you'll have thread showing on the other side and we can't have that, can we?!

See, the other side is fairly neat and tidy. This doesn't matter so much either because we are going to cover it with a button. I just used a spare button from my collection. You might also like to have a go at using a covered button or a felt ball. Be creative!

Right-side up

Now attach your button on one side a small piece of scrap felt on the other. This scrap piece attached will allow you to easily sew the flower on whatever you want. I'm planning on attaching it to a snap which I can either put on a headband of shirt. You might decide to just secure it to a safety pin and wear as a broach. Not recommend for litte children for obvious safety reasons, ouch!

I just love gray and pink together!

Felt attached
There you have it! A folded fabric flower. How easy was that!? Now where to put this little beauty?
Perhaps on one of my little darling's singlets? And it just happened to brillianlty match a little shorted skirt that arrived in the mail this week!

or perhaps on a headband for your little poppet:

Whatever you choose, I'm sure it will look perfect on your little one!


So here you are. Don't you have something better to be doing than surfing the web for crafty inspiration? I'm sure you do, but what could feel better right now that simply relaxing and going comotose in blogosphere. If you are like me, you love to search and search until you find that perfect inspiration; something that will motivate you to head off to your local craft shop in search of supplies or to your neighbourhood garage sale, hoping to find something to transform!

Now if you are like me, you have GREAT intentions. Don't we all? However, my intentions commonly get put on the back burner. Perhaps they are on hold because life as a mommy and wife comes calling and I don't get around to it...OR...Perhaps I loose motivation because I'm just dog tired at the end of the day...OR...the best one yet...while searching blogosphere I was inspired by another craft and JUST HAD TO MAKE IT, so off I went to buy more supplies, only for them to sit on my table for a month and then later get shoved into my linen closet with all the rest of my forgotten fabrics.

Well folks, today I say NO MORE! Today I'm going to dust off that old (okay, BRAND NEW) sewing machine I have never used and get started. I'm going to start cross off those crafts on my 'to do' list and actually make them. Sure, I do an occasional craft from month to month, but not nearly as many as what I have bought supplies for. Times are a changing and I hope they are for you. So dig up those supplies and let's get started!