Podcast #67- 316 Days to Go!

candy cane hearts

Podcast #67- 316 Days to Go!

Click here to listen to our latest podcast- Catching up for 2015!

We try to get back on track this week and collect our thoughts for 2015 podcasting.  Natalie and Jeremy discuss thoughts about holiday bargains, the 2014 Christmas wrap up, and lots and lots of craft ideas!
Snowmen, winter and snow days off from school also feature prominently in our chat leading up to Valentine’s Day 2015.  Listen in for all the details.

Christmas trees and fire safety

mc-btbonfire-1-013114-nn-tifA North Jersey site published a story today about an annual Boonton Township celebration involving a bonfire of burning Christmas trees, complete with a chili cook-off.  That’s a great way to safely enjoy a tree on fire, under the supervision of the local fire department.  Unfortunately, Christmas trees can be the fuel of much greater disaster.

Closer to home, we read about the recent devastating fire that destroyed a beautiful Annapolis mansion, and, more important, the lives of a loving family, was made more sad when fire investigators determined that the catastrophic blaze was caused by an electrical problem that ignited the 15-ft. Christmas tree skirt and tree.

The key is hydration.  A dry Christmas tree can ignite and burn much more quickly than a well-watered tree.  When a tree begins to lose its needles, that’s when it’s time to take it down.  The National Fire Protection Association demonstrated the very real danger with a video contrasting a fire started with a dry tree vs. one that is hydrated.

PBS News Hour produced a segment about Christmas tree fires that explores a much more scientific explanation about why a tree fire can happen so quickly and be so dangerous.  The video illustrates that tree can ignite and spread in 18 seconds.  Although only a tiny percentage of trees (about 250 of the 30 million sold anually) are involved in fires each year, the cost of the property damage is in the millions of dollars.

All of the safety tips emphasize that trees do not spontaneously combust.  There must be a heat source.  In addition to keeping the tree watered, it should not be set up near a heat source–like a fireplace or heating vent.

When Roger and I light our Christmas tree on fire in the fire pit sometime this summer, the same enthusiasm that I have for the 20-foot blaze will be tempered with my memory of how this same uncontrolled fire can wreck lives.

No snow? Make your own!

2014-12-10 16.59.31This story begins nearly a year ago when Roger proposed to paint our living room a deep red–the kind that some might associate with brothels or blood.  At first, I was firmly against it, but then, I began to think that a red and white theme could be a tremendous advantage in my Christmasy world.  I agreed, maybe a little too enthusiastically, because he tried to change the plan.

The painter didn’t help because he shook his head when he saw the color.  “I don’t like to paint with red,” he said.  “It’s very difficult.”

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The four-sided snowflake to the far right was contributed by my son, C.J. True to his nature, he said snowflakes did NOT have to conform to the hexagonal shape.

Now, with a long stretch of red wall above a white wainscot, I have a perfect empty palette.  Too empty.  Roger doesn’t want to mess the wall up with pictures.  I had to wait until he went on his annual hunting trip to put my secret plan into effect.  I had seen some popsicle stick snowflakes on Pinterest and envisioned a wall of giant falling snow for the entire winter season.  With red and white tree and house decorations, I would have “House Beautiful.”  Photographers line up at the door.

Popsicle stick snowflakes, purportedly easy enough for a child to make, are little devils.  They are a little more delicate than I expected, and I found myself making some routine repairs throughout. The symmetry was difficult, too.  Cutting and matching them was just a little more exactness than I usually have.  (I could have benefitted from a pencil and a sharp knife to measure and cut more carefully–I am sloppy in that area.)   I spray painted the first two but that was messy.  The last five or six were painted with craft paint and a brush.  Much better. My friend Lauren suggested that I add whimsical large and medium white buttons as the center and linking joints of some.

I wish I had read Amy Bellgardt’s blog before I started.  Her tutorial is excellent, and she had some of the same experiences with cutting the little buggers that I did.  I love that she wrote, “And the whole angle thing was irritating me and turning a project with elementary school level crafting materials into a college level course in bad attitude.” Her step by step directions would have saved me a lot of cussing and experimenting.

If you are thinking about trying these, hanging red, blue or green snowflakes against a white wall would work just as well.  Choose the color to match your house decorations.  Even when Christmas is over, the snowflakes can “hang around” through January and February.

Snowflake Bentley would have loved January 21, 2015

1999_Snowflake_BentleyAlthough he isn’t strictly Christmas, I bet Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931), the first man to ever photograph a snowflake, would have loved the wet snowfall yesterday. The snowflakes were huge, ideal conditions for studying the hexagonal ice crystals.

I stumbled across a short documentary about him when I was looking for more paper snowflake crafts.  His obsession with capturing the snowflakes on his Vermont farm required a unique rig of a microscope attached to one of the first cameras.  This type of photography is called “photomicrography.” In his lifetime, he took photos of over 5,000 snowflakes, one at a time–in a place where there snowfall averages 120 inches a year, I guess he really loved snow.  As the flakes fell from the sky, he caught them on a black velvet-covered tray.  Then, he pushed them into position with a chicken feather so he could photograph each one.

(I’ve got plenty of chicken feathers but none of the obsessive patience it must have taken to do this!)

The Jericho Historical Society was established in 1972 to preserve Bentley’s life and legacy, and this year they celebrated the 150th anniversary of Wilson Bentley’s birthday.  In conjunction with the historical society, there are authorized snowflake gifts for purchase.

One way to learn more about this remarkable man is to read about him.In 1998, Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrator Mary Azarian published Snowflake Bentley, based on the true story of his life.  Azarian won the 1999 Caldecott Medal for her illustrations.

I would like to buy a copy of this book for my grandson.  We love “spiriments,” and I can imagine he and I would be out in the cold trying to gather snowflakes to photograph. The photos would make beautiful Christmas cards or winter thank you notes.  Watch out. . .I’m cooking up a great idea. . . and from the weather report, it looks like we might have our photo opportunity this weekend.  Fingers crossed!




January Crafting: Curly paper snowflakes

January is a big let-down for Christmas addicts, like me. In an early 2012 podcast,  Jeremy advocated that we ease out of Christmas with a month of snowmen and snowflakes, still appropriate for winter, but neutral on the Christmas scale.  In this spirit, I decided to explore some snowflake crafts.

Curly SnowflakeLast winter, my mother-in-law gave me a beautiful white curly paper snowflake.  I studied it and couldn’t imagine how it was made.  She said, “Oh, they’re easy, I’ll show you sometime.”  When the holiday season ended, I put it in the attic and forgot about it.

“Sometimes” don’t always happen, and a year later, when I arrived for a visit with paper, scissors, and tape and entreated her to demonstrate, she shook her head, “I don’t know how to make those!”  She smiled the knowing smile of someone who is sure I’m a little crazy.

I resorted to YouTube and found plenty of tutorials for the twisted paper snowflake.  They are so much easier than I imagined!  This tutorial is my favorite because the finished product isn’t the typical giant, 16-inch white snowflake.  I found that they can be made just as easily with 2- and 3-inch squares.

Today, I met with my friend, Donna, for coffee and crafting, and we set to work on 6-inch snowflakes made from craft paper.  We were delighted with our nearly instant results.  She said she would try to make them in bright spring colors and create a paper bouquet for a friend.

At my doctor’s office they decorated the entire ceiling in red curly snowflakes, hanging evenly spaced every ceiling tile–beautiful.

I’m going to try a few more made out of recycled Christmas cards (my favorite crafting material.)

Children could easily handle the larger snowflake.  The smaller version takes more small motor skills.  Have fun making a blizzard of these!


Holiday group project/contest: Make sock snowmen

Snowmen 1-17-2015Two friends sent me this two-minute video by Handimania demonstrating how to make a sock snowman. Although there are plenty of websites detailing similar instructions, I was amazed by the ease with which my kindergarten grandson was able to follow her video.  We loved making these little guys.

The socks I had weren’t snowman-worthy, so I had to make a trip to the dollar store. Still, my total cost of one snowman was less than $1.00. The only tip I can add to the video demonstration is that you will need twice as much rice as you think you need.  We kept adding and adding.  I wish I had purchased better-quality socks because thicker cotton would have had a nicer finish; however, if this is a large-group craft, you can’t beat two snowmen for $1.00.  Costco had great socks, 8 pr. for $10.00.  If I were throwing a party, I’d choose them.

Every year, during the holiday season I struggle to think of a success-guaranteed project that could also create laughter and competition.  At a party for children, teens or adults,  each member could make and personalize a snowman to build a village of friends.  Watch the video to the end, and you will see a parade of snowmen that will give you ideas.

Begin making your 2015 gifts by arm knitting scarves

Grandma and aunts wear arm-knit scarves on Christmas Eve 2014.

Grandma and aunts wear arm-knit scarves knitted by Nicole (left) and Katie (right) on Christmas Eve 2014.

Arm knitting was a craze that swept the Pinterest crowd last winter. If you check out the examples, you will want to give it a try. The scarves are perfect to give as gifts next year—use these winter months to stock up for Christmas 2015.

In November 2014, I was trying to come up with a craft that would suit the discriminating teenage taste of my two nieces. Our tradition, ever since they were 5 and 7, has been to make a craft together that they can give to their aunts, teachers, and adult friends. I forget what most of these items are, but I went to my sister’s house after Christmas, and I saw evidence everywhere of the years of crafting—the holiday table runner, the dessert dish candle ornament, the teacup pin cushion, the hot chocolate Christmas ornament. It was deeply satisfying to see the fruits of our joint labors over the years, but as they are now much older and independent, I can’t dictate the craft like I used to.

Enter arm knitting. I saw a Michael’s video of arm knitting and casually suggested it to the girls. The YouTube video sparked their interest, and they agreed to try. Purchasing the yarn without them was a little more difficult. I went for oatmeal, gray, black, brown, and a blend of purple/black and gray/black—boring colors, for sure. Would they like these? I should have taken them on a shopping spree to choose for themselves, but I was swept up in the a Michael’s Black Friday 25% off sale, and couldn’t keep my wits about me. Ultimately, I did the math, and I paid about $7.00 per scarf. It’s our tradition to make 12 gifts (this covers all of the aunts and grandmothers on both sides and a few adult friends/teachers). That’s under $100.00, which is very reasonable.

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Shirley, looking calm, after we master the arm-knitting tutorial.

To make sure I didn’t look really foolish in front of the girls, I demanded that Mom (Shirley) and I try it first. This afternoon of studying the YouTube video on the iPad and starting (and re-starting) our respective scarves resulted in two precious hours of giggling mother/daughter time. Each of us produced a scarf of ridiculous bulk and length. We decided to send one to Aunt Rosalie and one to a mutual teacher friend. I admit to chickening-out on the second gift because the scarf was so marginal in quality, I couldn’t even donate it.

If you have trouble with the speed of the Michael’s video, there are a wealth of step-by-step tutorials online.  Flax and Twine offers a nice photo tutorial. The hardest part is casting on (much easier with practice).  Don’t give up.

I cornered my nieces at a family gathering the first week of December. It wasn’t ideal timing—we holed up in a spare bedroom when we should have been politely socializing—but I was worried about their candid response. What if I just bought a suitcase full of yarn, and they didn’t like making the scarves?

Instead, they took to it much more quickly than my bumbling first attempts. In a matter of 30 minutes, Katie had created a beautiful scarf (the appropriate length), and Nicole was right behind her.

Instead of working side by side, I released my arm knitters to their own devices.   This is the perfect example of the proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Our girls said, “Thanks for the yarn,” and I didn’t hear from them again.

Christmas Eve, they presented their aunts with the scarves, and we were thrilled.

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Katie, whipping up her first arm-knit scarf.

I made some scarvesfor friends, too. I decided that I would re-invent the arm scarf into the “Friendship Scarf.” I gave a knitted scarf and put it in a gift bag with two skeins of yarn with the promise that I would teach the recipient to arm knit. She can “pass it on” to her friends!