Impressions Ornaments

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I saw this leaf imprint necklace at Happy Hour Projects and I thought it was neat. While I wasn’t that interested in the jewelry aspect of it, I thought that the technique would make for some great Christmas ornaments. What you need to do this is simply some oven-bake polymer clay (like Sculpey) and some leaves or other items to make impressions in the clay. Everything else, the silicone work surface, the craft paint, the bits and bobs, those are all up to you. A note on polymer clay – it is not food-safe. Whatever you use to cut or otherwise work the clay should not be used for food items.

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So. Grab your clay. I used a plain white. Work some of it between your hands to soften it and then flatten it onto your work surface. I’d aim for a thickness between 1/8″ and 1/4″.

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Then take a leaf or whatever else you’d like to impress, and place it on the clay. This leaf is about 2″ wide, to give you an idea of scale.

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Press the leaf into the surface of the clay so that it leaves a full and detailed impression. You won’t get as much detail with the small leaves on polymer clay as you would on natural clay (like with the clay leaf bowls) simply because the substance is more resilient.

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Carefully remove the leaf and then cut it out with a cookie cutter or knife. You can cut it off-centre or however you would like. I’m not grading you on these.

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Use a skewer or some other pokey object to put a hole through for stringing.

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We even got Grenadier in on the action, though he wasn’t happy about it. If you want him to step on something, suddenly his paw is a delicate flower and he can do no harm. If you don’t want him to step on something, he will immediately put his full 40lbs of weight behind it.

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So these impressions were not as deep as I would like.

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But they worked out well enough that I figured they’d do.

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Place your finished items on a sheet of parchment and bake at 275°F for 15 minutes per 1/4″ of thickness of your clay. Let them cool completely before handling.

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Done.

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Now we paint. If you want. I used some craft paint  and a small paintbrush to swipe colour over the impression.

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This one I used a dry paper towel to wipe it off, which left the colour on the majority of the ornament.

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This one I just filled in the leaf part as close as I could.

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Then I used a wet flannel cloth to wipe it gently off.

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The Gren ones took a few applications of paint.

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Then I strung them with some hemp line and some wee bells.

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These would make a great addition to your gift wrap arsenal, a cute personalized stocking stuffer, or you could give a few to a person just starting to collect their own Christmas ornaments.

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Art with Glue and Shoe Polish

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I have been wanting to try this for YEARS, ever since I saw it on Make It … a Wonderful Life.  I don’t exactly know why it is that I haven’t made any yet — but now is my chance.  With the new place we have an excess of blank wall space and the Pie and I were both raised to believe that a) if you can see the colour of your walls you don’t have enough art on them; and b) there is no such thing as “enough” art.

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In our lower bathroom we have kind of an avian theme going on, so I thought I’d continue it while trying out this nifty craft.  Make It … designed it to be a craft for school kids to learn different techniques, but I’ve taken out a few steps for us silly adults who have trouble following instructions.

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Start with a piece of cardboard the size and shape you want your finished piece to be.  Draw a simple design onto the cardboard with a pencil or marker, and by simple I mean really simple.  Big lines and grand shapes only.  You can get fancy and detailed later.  Now trace those lines with Tacky Glue.

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I actually prefer the brand name glue for this, as it’s the only white glue I can find that dries in the same thick lines in which  you lay it down.

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Anyway, once you’ve got all the lines traced, and filled in everything you want to, set that somewhere to dry completely, probably overnight.

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When it’s all ready to go, grab a piece of aluminum foil just slightly larger than the piece of cardboard and cover one side (shiny or dull, it’s your choice) with a glue stick (you have to use a glue stick or it will show through the foil).

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Be generous with the glue stick, and go over the foil a couple times with it.  On my first one I didn’t use enough and had trouble sticking it down.

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Press the foil, glue side down, over your design.  It’s best to start from the centre and work your way out.  Press the foil against the glue lines.  You can rub them in gently with a paper towel wrapped over your finger and use a cotton swab to gently press the foil close against the glue lines so everything is tight.

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You may get rips, just because the foil is too tight.  But don’t fret — they’ll be camouflaged later.

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Now, if you like, you can take a dull pencil and start drawing in patterns in the blank spaces between the glue lines.

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When you’ve decorated to your liking, take some black shoe polish and give the whole thing a once-over, getting the polish into all those little lines you made.

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Make It … recommends the sponge-applicator shoe polish for ease of use, so that’s what I did.

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Leave it for a moment and then gently buff it off with paper towel.

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It leaves a lovely silvery patina and makes the whole thing look really cool.

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I stuck these to the boring bathroom cabinet to jazz things up a bit.

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Grape Crate Pet Beds

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We currently live in an Italian neighbourhood and in the fall a good many of our neighbours squished their own grapes to make wine.  The result was that there were plenty of these nice wooden crates at the curb when they were done.  I knew I HAD to have them, to make SOMETHING, but I didn’t know what, exactly, I was going to do with them.  Then my brother-in-law got a cat.  Then my brother got a cat.  Then my sister-in-law mentioned that she was going to get a cat.  And cats like boxes.  And these boxes are cat-sized.  So there you go.

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First I had to clean them off and scrape off the labels and sand them a bit.

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The sides of the crates were made from particle board, so I didn’t sand too much, naturally.

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I did wonder how the porosity of the particle board would affect my ability to stain it.  I guess the only way to find out is to do it!

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I used a variety of stains for this, the dregs that were in the bottoms of cans from previous projects.  One was a gel stain, which I had never used before.

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You can see how dark it goes on.

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It almost covered up the ink on the sides of the crate, but came back through once I wiped off the excess.

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Here you can see the other two stains, which were more translucent.

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Wiping off the excess with a rag after painting it on.

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It came out darker depending on the roughness of the wood.

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And I forgot about the whole STAINING part of stain, and forgot to wear gloves.  Oops.

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Once they’d dried, I painted on a quick layer of varathane.

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Again, because I didn’t sand them too much, we weren’t looking at baby’s bottom smoothness here.

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The completed boxes.

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I bought three pillows, each 13″ x 20″, which nearly fit the inside of the boxes.

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Fortunately my mother has what amounts to a fabric store in her basement, so I had plenty of patterns to choose from for cushion covers.

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I made the cushion covers in the same fashion as I make all my other cushion covers: with the simple overlap in the back that eliminates the need for buttons or zippers, which are beyond my skill level.  I double-sewed all the seams because I wanted them to last through being removed for washing.  I got the whole thing done super quickly, too, because I was using my grandmother’s sewing machine, which has two settings: terrifyingly fast, and supersonic.  And I didn’t sew my thumb to anything, either, so I count that as a win.

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The cushions, stuffed inside the covers.

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And inside the box.  There’s a little gap on the sides, but once the pillows get squished down by the cats they’ll fill the whole space.

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I decided they were too tricky to wrap (and a waste of paper), so it’s more of a token wrapping job.

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(Paperless) Towels

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I don’t have a super long post for you today, because Krystopf and Atlas finally (after being fogged out and stuck in Halifax for a day) made it to Newfoundland this weekend and we only just got rid of them — I mean, bid them a fond farewell.

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But I would like to know how you folks feel about paper towels.  Have you managed to eradicate them completely from your lives?  Do you know the trick to drying your hands in public using only one piece of paper towel?

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We haven’t yet successfully eliminated paper towels from our household, but we’re working on it.  I bought a pack of 8 rolls of these recycled unbleached eco-friendly suckers  from Costco about four years ago, though, and we still have three rolls left.  So that’s something.  Currently we save our paper towel usage for draining bacon (though we could do that on a rack) and cleaning up dog vomit at 4:00 AM (though we could use cloths for that).

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If you do a bit of poking around on the internet you’ll see a lot of people who come up with nifty solutions to the paper towel problem.  Most of them involve using nice absorbent flannel sheets.  In some cases, they’ve cut and hemmed the sheets to be the same size as a standard sheet of paper towel.  And if you want to get really fancy, you can attach snaps or velcro to the corners and have them all attach to each other so it fits on the paper towel roll.

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But that seems complicated. What I have are just plain flannel sheets, which my mother lovingly serged for me and gave to me when the Pie and I moved in together.  That’s all you need.  Makes a great housewarming gift, and you can use them for anything, including a makeshift receiving blanket for babies (depending on the size, of course).

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I’m not really sure who came up with this particular pattern, but it doesn’t really matter when  you’re wiping up spills.  You can even pick up old flannel sheets at thrift stores and cut them up for this purpose.  The best part of that is they’ve been washed so many times they’re already super-absorbent. The older it is the better!

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Guinness Lamb Stew with Wild Rice

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I know you all think I’m weird because I don’t like soup.  But spooning hot liquid into my mouth (and spilling it down my face, because that’s how I roll) is not my idea of a good time.  I do, however, have a fondness for stew.  Especially stew with beer in it, because beer is a great tenderizer of things.  And because I like beer.

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I’ve had this stewing lamb in my freezer for a while and I decided it was probably time I do something about it.

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So I took it out, put it on a plate, and patted it dry with a paper towel.

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Then, in a bowl, I took a small scoop of flour, added salt and pepper, and gave it a stir.

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Into that I hucked the lamb cubes, and gave them a stir as well.

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I heated up my trusty cast iron skillet with a few tablespoons olive oil inside.  Then, shaking the excess flour off the lamb, I plopped it in the skillet to brown.

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While that was going on I cut up some vegetables: carrots, an onion, and a package of mushrooms.

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I didn’t have any potatoes, that classic stew thickener, so I decided to use rice.  This wild rice blend from Trader Joe’s is excellent.

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I took the browned lamb cubes out and put them on a plate to rest a few minutes.

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Then I added a bit more oil to the pan and chucked in the vegetables, giving the onions a wee bit of a head start in the cooking.

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Once they’ve softened you can add the rest.

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Now you can chuck the meat back in.  Then I plopped in some parsley, Newfoundland savoury, rosemary, and thyme.  If I’d had sage I would have used that, just to make up the lyrics to that “Scarborough Fair” song.

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I also added a few more tablespoons flour.

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At this point I ran out of space in my pan so I transferred the contents of the skillet to a larger saucepan.  I used a bit of beef broth to deglaze the pan a bit and poured that into the pot, along with the rest of the beef broth (about 3 cups).

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Then came two cans of Guinness stout (minus a sip or two, for quality control of course).

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Then the rice.

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Then I brought it to a simmer, lowered the heat, and let that gently bubble away, stirring every so often, for about an hour.

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Excellent. Even more so the next day.

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“Cactus-Cut” Potatoes

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I had some leftover potatoes that I’d cut for the gratin I showed you on Monday.  The Pie suggested that we attempt to fry them up as thick potato chips, not unlike those of a popular restaurant chain.

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So we did.  This is a few inches of vegetable oil in a large saucepan. You heat it on medium-high (like at 7 or 8) until a pinch of flour dropped in goes all fizzy.

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Then I fried the potatoes in batches until they were slightly crispy, but not too dark.

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Stirring often with my big mesh spoon.

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Plop them on a paper towel to drain and immediately salt them.

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We had them with a chicken sandwich and some salad.  It makes up a bit for the grease.

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Teacup Candles

This is a cute waste-not idea from Martha Stewart, but it’s been done by many others as well.  Teacups are ideal for this particular trick as they are already designed to withstand high temperatures, but you can use canning jars and other heat-safe containers as well.For my DIY Christmas I spent a lot of time scrounging second-hand stores for things I could use, and one day my mother happened upon a large quantity of beeswax sheets just there for the picking.

And yes, I picked.  I also picked up some old teacups and had some that were missing their saucers donated by my parents.

I had to buy some wicking from Michaels, and I found these handy wicks that were pre-waxed and already had the sustainer attached to the bottom.All I had to do was stand them upright in the cup and I was set.  Easy-peasy.

So you take your old candles, or your beeswax, or whatever, and you chuck it in a double boiler.  I used the equivalent of two sheets of beeswax for each cup.  Just tear ’em up and let them melt!Be patient.  It takes a little while.Make sure it’s completely melted before removing from heat.Now, very carefully, pour the hot wax into the cup. Leave that to sit a while. See that little blip of wax on the side of the cup?  Fuhgeddabowdit.  You can just chip it off once it’s set.If you return your waxy bowl to the still-hot pot you can wipe out the excess wax with a paper towel.This will mean you can experiment with other colours of wax as well.Once your candles are set and cooled you can trim the wicks to an appropriate length and give ’em all away!