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!




One angel’s journey from heaven to our house

2014-11-23 12.47.04Angels are spiritual beings, messengers of God, represented in human form with wings and long robes: at the holidays, they grace Christmas cards, nativity scenes, wreaths, and more. Many families top their Christmas trees with stars or angels, and, since we have been married, Roger and I have been searching for just the right one. For a while, we’ve skipped topping the tree with anything.

A second definition of “angel” is an exemplary person, one whose conduct is virtuous.

This is a story of one knitted angel made more beautiful by the many angels who have loved her.

As Jeremy and I were planning our Knit-mas Tree, I recognized that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary was going to be the tree-topper. When my creative and talented–knitting–godmother, Rosalie Hughes, visited Maryland for her high school reunion in October, I seized the opportunity to present her with pictures of all of the knitted ornaments I planned to make and to solicit her advice on our Knit-mas tree.

Buoyed by my enthusiasm about the tree and the Kennedy Krieger event, she impetuously volunteered to knit the angel as a gift for my November birthday. I was thrilled and gave little thought to the commitment she had just made. What’s difficult about knitting an angel—my aunt can knit or crochet anything!

Rosalie returned to Iowa and began to visit every yarn shop in the area (which, if you’ve ever traveled in Iowa, is a considerable distance). She Googled “Tree Toppers” and then settled on ordering a book on Amazon, Angels: A Knitter’s Dozen.

After Rosalie’s commitment to the project, I continued to make items for the tree, confident that the angel was under way, never considering my aunt’s labors. She, meanwhile, had to re-learn how to use double-pointed needles (used to knit round shapes) and to work with Cro-sheen, something she hadn’t done for 50 years. (For us non-knitters, Cro-sheen is the type of yarn/thread used to make tablecloths and doilies. It’s closer to a heavy thread or string.)

At some point, my mother mentioned talking to Rosalie and hearing that the angel was not being “angelic” in the construction phases. Rosalie said to Shirley (who repeated it to me), “If she was not my godchild. . .”

Friends in Rosalie’s prayer shawl knitting group knew about her struggles as she consulted their expertise—they agreed with her that this “labor of love,” this heavenly being, was not all light and air.

Then, one mid-November day, I got an urgent call from Shirley. The angel had arrived—in pieces—with pages of Xeroxed directions for her ultimate assembly. And this would require a brew of cornstarch. Mom said she wasn’t sure she was up for the task.

With the bravado of someone who has no idea what future is in store, I told Mom I’d meet her to exchange the Franken-angel’s body parts. (In the box, Shirley included a token bag of cornstarch for good measure.)

This is where my good friend, Gini (Angel #3, if you are counting) comes into the story. We had invited her for dinner and a movie, but I told her I needed her help with a special holiday project. She agreed, with the same foolish optimism I had exhibited. How hard can this be?  When I unfolded the directions and the delicate white body parts, she reached for her reading glasses and rolled up her proverbial sleeves.

Oh, did I mention, we were just 48 hours from the tree decorating event? We starched our girl and placed her on forms, with Roger (Angel #4) offering vases, pots, bowls and other random shapes on which to let her dry. The dinner and movie were put on hold.

The next day, she was damp and rumpled. I was not hopeful. That’s when I decided she needed a careful blow dry. I put on headphones to listen to a long chapter of a Victorian novel and secluded myself in the bathroom. Hours later, shaping the stiff pieces with needle and thread, she was looking much more heavenly. It wasn’t until I sewed her hands together in prayer holding a pair of knitting needles that she was transformed into the perfect tree topper.

Indeed, everyone who stopped by the tree during the three days it was on display, remarked how the angel was amazing.

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The tree was sold the first day, but the angel story doesn’t end there.

Angels #5, 6, 7, and 8 (my sister Barbara, her husband, and two daughters) decided that the Knit-mas tree could not go home with just anybody. A stranger could not properly appreciate my aunt’s efforts. The angel needed to stay in the family. Secretly, they bought the tree and had it shipped to my mother’s—to surprise me on Christmas Eve.

Nothing is that easy.

My mother’s house is outside of the 40-mile delivery radius. So that required Angel #9 and his family. My Catonsville brother took delivery of the tree and sent it on to Mom’s house, where it spent Christmas with all of us.

The Knit-mas tree has had a second life in Vermont, at my sister’s vacation home. The angel (and tree skirt) came home with me. She perched on our tree (with her head bent a little in prayer because she was mashed against the ceiling) until yesterday, when we filled her nooks and crannies very carefully with tissue paper and packed her away until next year.

My cousin Kathleen asked her mother, Rosalie, if she would be knitting an angel for Kathleen’s tree. Rosalie flexed her fingers (to which feeling is just now returning), and said, “When _____ freezes over.”



DIY Christmas Ball Wreath: Beautiful–and fragile memories

FullSizeRenderHere’s a great January activity if you see an opportunity to purchase some 75% off Christmas balls: make a Christmas ball wreath.

My motivation in December was that I had occasion to go through my grandmother’s Christmas tree decorations, and I discovered some Christmas balls from the 1940’s and 1950’s.  I knew by the box styles and the paint patterns that I was looking at Christmas memories and treasures–probably not worth a lot, but beautiful.  I decided to combine the ones that were not damaged into a Christmas ball wreath to display on a mirror, like the elegant ones I often see in home decorating magazines.

I watched a great tutorial that walked me through the basic steps.  Side note: What I love about this woman’s tutorial is the absolute ordinariness of the toys, couch and general house mess behind her.  The tutorial is easy to follow: materials needed include a styrofoam wreath shape, about 50 balls in assorted sizes (mostly big, some medium and a handful of little ones to fill in the gaps), colors and shapes, and hot glue. You will need between 60 and 90 minutes to do it right–that’s not too much time, but don’t hurry.

One problem with using antiques instead of the recommended dollar store assortment, is that the older ornaments are much more fragile.  I followed the directions and removed the wire tops. Working from the inside circle toward the outside rim, I created a rather large wreath. It became larger and larger as I tackled all of the gaps in between the bigger balls. When I was finished (and my fingers were sufficiently burned from careless application of hot glue), I was delighted with the result.

I held it up to the wall to imagine its lovely future, and when I set it back down, three or four of the old balls spontaneously combusted. What a mess. I like old balls (insert joke here), but the modern ones are just as nice and less problematic.

I modified my plan, and the large wreath is now on my dining room table with a pillar candle in the middle.  It’s really too large for the table, but beautiful just the same.

Total cost to me for the first wreath:  $5 styrofoam wreath and $1 worth of hot glue sticks.

The second wreath was a little less successful.  I found several boxes of assorted balls as I was taking down the tree–stuff that’s been out of use for years.  Inspired, and a little cocky from the first wreath experience, I tackled the second wreath using a wire wreath that I had already.  This was not the perfect plan, and the wreath did not take shape as expected.  I halted about half way through the project, and I’m going to wait until I can get to the craft store for the styrofoam wreath. (What project did I have in mind for the wire wreath?  I cannot remember.)

While I was surfing for a video of a Christmas ball wreath that justified my use of a wire frame (without success),  I came across a video that instructs the crafter how to make a wreath from pages of an old book.  Last year, Jeremy set himself up to make a wreath a month:  The Yule Log 365 Wreath-of-the-Month Club (I made that up just now, but it’s catchy.)  He’s been talking about some very creative ideas for this year, 2015. I accept the challenge, and I’m going to shoot for making one a month–on second thought, maybe we can split the task.  He can do even months, and I’ll do odd.  My focus, though, is going to be on wreaths I can make without going overboard on the expense of the materials.  I’ll be posting my results and the cost of each.

The Yule Log 365 hopes that you are able to save some of your Christmas spirit to carry through the year by launching a similar project or series of projects. Let us know your plans for 2015.



Save the sand dunes by recycling your tree

The most depressing day is just 12 hours away.  Roger and I have agreed that Christmas must be boxed up and put away tomorrow.  (According to some, it’s bad luck that I have waited this long.)


On Wednesday, I clipped the notice in The Frederick News Post about the Frederick tree recycling program.  Residents have until January 26 to give their tree back to Mother Nature.  Locally, trees will most likely be processed into mulch, but then, I learned that trees are used for other environmental benefits.  This infographic tells the story of a tree’s possible afterlife.


One of the four possibilities includes erosion prevention/shoreline stabilization.  Do we do that in Maryland? I couldn’t find a specific program in Maryland, but there was a great article about how New Jersey was using trees for shoreline stabilization after Hurricane Sandy.

This is a good video describing the Canadian National Park program that recycles trees to help stabilize shore areas.

I’m curious about whether our readers, who are also lucky enough to live along the coast, have a Christmas tree shoreline stabilization program in their communities?



“Diving” into Greek Festival of the Epiphany

Fla-town-hosts-hemispheres-largest-epiphany-event-RFPMSUQ-x-largeI’m not going to say that my brother Jim’s Epiphany Jeopardy! game is my sole reason for posting, but events surrounding this holy day have inspired a great deal of thought, curiosity, and research.

Today, Roger pointed to the photo in The Washington Post of a Greek youth in Piraeus (near Athens) holding aloft the cross he had retrieved from the very cold waters.  This is a tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church (Eastern Orthodox) on January 6, or Epiphany Day (also called the Theophany or Fota).  The symbolism relates to the celebration of Jesus’ baptism (one of the three events commemorated on this day).

Young Greek men dive for a cross, and the first to bring it out of the frigid waters is reputed to be blessed with good health or, depending on the tradition, “freed from evil spirits” throughout the year.

Outside of Greece, one of the biggest celebrations of this event is held in Tarpon Springs Florida.  This year, the young man who “won” the cross, 18-year-old Kosta Pseftelis, was diving for his third (and last eligible) time.  The event draws 10,000 spectators.  As the dive has continued to grow in Tarpon Springs, church officials, concerned that  “the dive had become more of a sporting event than an opportunity for the young men to reflect spiritually and biblically on the cross,” began requiring the young men to attend classes focused on the development of their religious lives.

In other parts of the world, similar dives are held .  I read about the annual tradition in Battery Park, NYC on the Hudson.  Of all of the dives, that sounds the coldest!

Blessed be the chalk!

Epiphany ChalkYesterday Natalie wrote a little recalling some Epiphany posts of the past. It sparked me to review some ideas and practices for the liturgical feast.  Today Epiphany is celebrated at the mass on the Sunday between January 2 and 6, but the actual feast day is the 6th (or the 5th if you stick to the strict Julian calendar dates of old- but that’s a whole other post).  The feast combines the major points that showed the new baby Jesus being recognized as man and God’s flesh on earth- the adoration of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, and the 1st miracle of the wedding feast in Cana.  The importance and level of recognition of the feast varies around the world today.  It is relatively unnoticed in the US but continues to be a national holiday in places like Finland, where all but a few essential services are closed.  Traditions of the day include activities like the baking of the king’s cake, community carols, and gifts for the children to represent the gifts of the Magi. Did you remember to replace your shepherds with the wise men in your nativity scene?

The formal mass for the feast includes the blessing of the gifts the Magi brought- the gold, the Frankincense, and the myrrh.  Also blessed is sone epiphany water and some chalk. Chalk? That’s right chalk.  The chalk is blessed with the prayer: “Bless, O Lord God, this creature chalk to render it helpful to men. Grant that they who use it in faith and with it inscribe upon the entrance of their homes the names of thy saints, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, may through their merits and intercession enjoy health of body and protection of soul. Through Christ our Lord.”

Epiphany Chalk 2At the end of mass people take some of the epiphany water and the chalk home.  The water is used to bless the rooms of the house for the new year.  The chalk is used to bless the house.  To do the blessing the chalk is used to write above the door to the house like this 20 C + M + B 15.  The 20 signifies the millennium and century and the 15 the decade and year.  The C, M, and B are the initials of the Magi- Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar but also represent the blessing “Christus mansionem benedicat”- Christ bless this house.  The blessing remains above the entryway until Pentecost (May 24th).  As an added little challenge, tradition holds that the first time any enter through the door they should step first with the right foot- maybe the origin of the phrase “starting out on the right foot”.

Epiphany ChalkI didn’t make it mass to get chalk last Sunday but it’s ok for the “father of the house” to do a blessing as the note is made above the door: “Let us pray. Bless, + O Lord God almighty, this home, that in it there may be health, purity, the strength of victory, humility, goodness and mercy, the fulfillment of Thy law, the thanksgiving to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And may this blessing remain upon this home and upon all who dwell herein. Through Christ our Lord.”  A blessed and happy new year to you all!