Monday, December 31, 2012

Chris gets Crafty: Purse with Secret Photo Lining

Last year for Christmas my girlfriends and I decided to exchange homemade gifts.  Since it was a last minute decision we agreed that we could still come with an ornament for each person instead.  Not being a crafty person I brought an ornament.  The other three all made really cool gifts, leaving me feeling like a big oaf.  I vowed that this year I was going to make it up to them! 

In January I purchased this book from the Photojojo store (they have lots of fun photography gift items) because I thought I might find some neat ideas for things to do with all the photographs I take.  It was in September that I decided to use the book as inspiration for the Christmas craft.  There were plenty of things that I could do on my own; some of which were on the cheesy side or things that I just didn’t think my friends would use or appreciate.  I came across the directions for the Purse with Secret Photo Lining and thought that that seemed like something my girlfriends would like and maybe even use.  The only problem?  I don’t know how to sew.  I can fix a hole in a seam and I can sew a button on.  I can even do some simple hand sewing (I used to make pillows and doll cloths as a kid).  But, I’ve never used a sewing machine.  So, I asked my mom if she would be willing to help me out with the project and she agreed.
To start, I shopped for fabric; opting to use remnants (fabric isn’t cheap) and even an old throw pillow and place mat that were in the Goodwill pile.  I then choose just the right photo to go with each piece of fabric and printed them on photo fabric paper (which was a task in and of its self!) and prepped them for use.  My mom and I went to the craft store to buy some items I was unfamiliar with and choose buttons.  We were unable to find colored elastic cording and we improvised by using hair ties.  One afternoon I cut the fabric and pinned as much together as I could before bringing it all over to my mom’s house.
Once at my mom’s she gave me a lesson on how to use the machine and let me practice on some scrap material.  I wasn’t very good and was really paranoid about not sewing a straight line.  My mom kept telling me that my friends were not going to inspect every detail (though, I’m pretty sure that Shelly will).  Still, I went at a snail’s pace in order to sew straight.  The first night we sewed all the linings and completed the first ‘practice’ bag.  Things went smoothly until we discovered an error in the directions.  Luckily we were thinking ahead and didn’t actually sew anything!  On the second night we flew through the bags and completed all three.  I was able to do most of the basic sewing with guidance from my mom at times while she did the more elaborate tasks.
All in all I think they turned out pretty good!  I can’t say that I will be taking up sewing as a new hobby, but I did enjoy it more than I thought I would.  Mostly I just had fun creating something for my best friends and enjoyed spending time and learning something from my mom!  I warned my friends not to expect something so nice next year.
I don't have an easy way to include the instructions here.  You'll just have to buy the book or check it out on Amazon (I think you can actually view the pages that include this project).  But, here are a few pictures to prove that I actually made (a portion) of the bags and also a few of the items my friends created for me! 
Fabric Sheets

Soaking the fabric after printing
Laying fabric sheets out to dry
Photo selections with fabric and accessory choices
Lining pinned and ready to be sewed
I'm sewing! 
This is the same sewing machine my mom learned to sew on. 
She has a new one but prefers this old machine.
First completed purse
Mom threading the needle
I'm sewing again!
Notice my look of concentration.
Sewing the 'hair tie' on
Finished products!
I did it! With the help of my mom, of course!

And now for my friends awesome homemade items!
Almond oil sugar scrub made by Jenny
Yarn wreath made by Becky

Reversible apron made by Shelly

The other side of the apron
I gave Deanna (not part of the main exchange) the 'practice' purse.
She just so happened to give me a homemade gift too; Apple Butter!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Favorite Things: and Amazon Wishlists

It's Christmastime.  Time to buy gifts for loved ones and, if you're lucky, recieve gifts from loved ones.  I can't tell you how easy Amazon had made Christmas for me!  No more asking people what they want.  Or having to write out a list for Santa (yes, Santa even uses Amazon!).  Amazon has everything your heart could possibly desire!  Plus, their prices are competitive, you can often get free shipping, you don't pay taxes, checkout is a breeze, and returns (what few I've made) were a snap.  We've bought many things from Amazon; $2 cell phone accessories, kitchen goods, pet medicine, an SLR camera (and many accessories), and a 60" flat screen TV!

I discovered the beauty of Amazon Wishlists years ago.  I not only use my list as a Christmas gift list, but as a reminder list for myself.  If I think of something that I want/need but am not ready to purchase it right at that moment I will just add it to my Wishlist.  A few years back they even added a Universal Wishlist button that you can install so that you can add items from other websites.  Whoa!  That changed my life!  I also discovered that you can create multiple Wishlists.  I currently have a public list and a private list.  The public list contains anything that I really want and wouldn't mind receiving as gifts.  The private lists contains more expensive items that I know I will never receive as gifts or items I'm still thinking about.  Or just things that I really don't want someone to buy for me; like underwear!  (that's just an example!)  Many people create additional list for their kids or spouses who don't use computers.

I love that virtually all of my family has Wishlists.  I'm a practical gift buyer.  I don't want to waste my money and get you something you may or may not use or don't really want.  I like to think that I know my family well enough to just go to the store and find something for them, but the truth is, I can't read minds.  I'm not at your house often enough to know if you have this or that.  The Wishlists have really helped take the stress out of Christmas (and birthdays).  Some people think this takes the surprise out of gift giving.  However, I don't know what you purchased for me from my Wishlist and am always surprised when I open it!  The other nice thing about Amazon Wishlists is that you don't have to purchase from Amazon to delete it off of someones list.  If you found a better deal somewhere else you can go to the Wishlist and click the 'Bought this somewhere else' button so that the person doesn't end up with duplicate gifts.

On top of Amazon's regular every day awesomeness, they have other programs to make your shopping experience even more outstanding.  Amazon Prime, Subscribe and Save, and Amazon Moms are a few that I know of off hand.  I don't use any of these programs personally, but I've heard good things about Subscribe and Save and have been contemplating it for some time (it would be awesome to get 50lb bags of dog food delivered to my door every month!).

So, if you haven't tried Amazon yet, crawl out from under your rock!  It really is the best.  Along with a few other online shopping sites, I think I can avoid setting foot in a store this year!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Tradition of Saint Nicholas Day

As a child, my family always celebrated the Saint Nicholas ‘holiday’. 

According to Wikipedia, “The tradition of Saint Nicholas Day, usually on 6 December (19 December in most Orthodox countries), is a festival for children in many countries in Europe related to surviving legends of the saint, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts. The American Santa Claus, as well as the British Father Christmas, derived from these legends. "Santa Claus" is itself derived in part from the Dutch Sinterklaas.” In the United States, “While feasts of Saint Nicholas are not observed nationally, cities with strong German influences like Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and St. Louis celebrate St. Nick's Day on a scale similar to the German custom. As in other countries, many people in the United States celebrate a separate St Nicholas Day by putting their shoes outside their bedroom doors or hanging an empty stocking by the fireplace on the evening of 5 December. St Nicholas then comes during the night. On the morning of 6 December, those people will find their shoes/stockings filled with gifts and sugary treats. Widespread adoption of the tradition has spread among the German, Polish, Belgian and Dutch communities throughout the United States. 

On 24 December, Christmas Eve, each child puts one empty stocking/sock on their fireplace. The following morning of 25 December, the children awake to find that St. Nick has filled their stockings with candy and small presents (if the children have been good) or coal (if not). Gifts often include chocolate gold coins to represent the gold St. Nick gave to the poor and small trinkets. They also awake to find presents under the tree, wrapped in Christmas-themed paper. This is a very traditional part of Christmas. 

The religious St. Nicholas

Growing up, I knew nothing about the actual Saint! I went to a Catholic school and all, but my family wasn’t very religious. I just knew that St. Nick stuffed our stockings with candy and other gifts. Having a sister with a December 2 birthday and an unwritten rule that holiday decorations couldn’t come out until December 3 meant that the coming of St. Nick was the first sign of Christmas in our house. We all looked forward to waking up on December 6 to see what sort of goodies St. Nick brought us; always giving the apple and orange to mom to put in the fruit bowl (because, really St. Nick. With all that candy did you think we would want to eat fruit?). My favorite part of the stocking was the little presents: Small toys, Christmas socks, pencils/pens. The Christmas themed stuffed animals were my favorites! 

To this day, my family STILL celebrates St. Nick. Can you believe he still stops by my parent’s house and leaves stockings for us? He even asks my mom to mail my sister’s stocking to her in Jacksonville, FL. I’m not sure if he’s getting old or what, but I don’t think he realizes he leaves a stocking for me (and my husband and dog) at my own home too! Over the years he has left less and less candy and instead he leaves more adult appropriate gifts like movie theater or custard stand gift cards. For the last ten years or so he’s been leaving me the Hallmark singing snowmen at my home! I always look forward to seeing the newest animatronic stuffed animal that Hallmark has created.

Even as a kid I knew that St. Nick did not visit all my friends.  My neighbor friends were often jealous of my candy and I knew not to mention my St. Nick gifts to certain kids at school because I didn’t want them to feel badly.  I often wondered though; were they naughty?  Did they really just get coal and not want to admit it?  I later found out that some kids got their stockings filled by Santa Claus; I did not.  That must have been why St. Nick didn’t visit their house!  The visit from St. Nick will always be a big memory of the Christmas traditions of my childhood and I plan on keeping it alive for a long time.  At least until Hallmark stops making the singing snowmen!

If you're interested, while searching for images of St. Nicholas I found this article about the tradition of St. Nicholas in Milwaukee.

This is the St. Nicholas I knew.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Project MCP - November

I can't believe there is only one month left of this photo challenge.  That's probably a good thing as I totally slacked with it this month.  I skipped two weeks because I wasn't willing to go out of my way to photograph a a favorite child or a veteran.  I'm really not a fan of the themes where I have take pictures of a certain type of person.  I don't live with a child or even see children all that often (and it's probably not ok to take pictures of the kids I see at the grocery store).  I have access to veterans at work, but, asking them if I could photograph them would be....weird.  I could have been a little more creative with those themes, but, I just wasn't feeling it this month.  I'm hoping December will be more enjoyable.  I love photographing Christmas lights and ornaments!

Here were my submissions for the month of November:

Project MCP / November / Low Light

November Week 2 - Low Light
Gilbert trying to nap

Project MCP / November / Thankful for...
November Week 4: I'm thankful for.....
My Christmas cactus finally blooming!

Project MCP / November / First signs of Christmas

November Week 5: First signs of Christmas
Lights on the outside trees - this photo was featured on the MCP blog!