Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Club Favorites: 12 Good Reads of 2012

I was always one of those nerdy kids who loved to read and who asked for books for Christmas and birthdays. And yet, I hadn't read a lot in the last few years.  New babies have a way of short-circuiting nighttime reading.

But 2012 was the year of the book for me and I was delighted to return to my first love. In the spring, I began to write down the titles of books I read. I am not sure what I read earlier this year, but this is what occupied many late nights in 2012.

In a wonderful turn of events, I formed a book club this year with a dear friend. We tend to like the same genres and both read rather quickly. We alternate choosing books but both must agree on the final choices.  These were our three favorites of 2012, all earning 5 stars (out of 5).

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – biography. An amazing story about the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner turned WWII airman who’s shot down over enemy territory. Compelling story and well-written. I loved Hillenbrand’s Seasbiscuit too. 5 stars (and would have given this 10 stars if I could.)

The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  We read these two “Downton Abbey” style novels back-to-back and enjoyed them immensely. 5 stars.

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese – a sweeping family saga, beautiful and tragic (and overly long). The focus is on twin brothers who are raised in an Ethiopian mission hospital by two skilled doctors.  The book's beginning is particularly strong. 4 stars. 

Room by Emma Donoghue - novel told from the perspective of 5-year-old Jack who has been imprisoned since he was born in a room with his mother. Original and absorbing. 4 stars.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Books – novel about the plague and how it impacted an English village in 1666. Beautifully imagined and it is much more interesting and compelling than a book about the plague should be. Plus, it had a protagonist I loved. I would have given the book 5 stars if I hadn’t disliked the ending so much. 4 stars.

Little Bee by Chris Cleeve – Story of two women, a young Nigerian refugee and a married British magazine editor, and how their lives converge under extraordinary circumstances, This novel started out strong but left me cold. There is a horrific graphic scene in one section.  3.5 stars.

My Korean Deli: Risking It All For a Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe – funny memoir of a struggling young couple who try to please the wife’s Korean immigrant parents by buying a Brooklyn deli. 3.5 stars.

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley - mystery narrated by precocious 11-year-old chemistry prodigy who has an affinity for poisons.  A sweet, simple, often funny, story set in a sleepy English village in 1950.  Suitable for young readers. 3.5 stars


Of the 12 books we read in 2012, our least favorites were Garden Spells and The Weird Sisters. Both were novels about adult sisters who return to the family home. Of the two, we preferred Garden Spells.  

I also read several books outside of the bookclub.  They included: Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford; Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson; Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson; The Call by Yannick Murphy; Wesley The Owl by Stacey O'brien; Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel In Letters by Mark Dunn; and Private Patient by PD James.

Of those, my two favorites were: Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (5 stars) and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (4.5 stars). 

Do you have a book to recommend?  As we bid adieu to 2012, we're looking for titles for our 2013 reading list and would love to have your suggestions. 

Wishing you a wonderful new year!  Happy reading.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

You're At The Top Of My List

Merry Christmas, everyone.  You, my friends and blog readers, are definitely at the top of my list.  My best wishes to you and yours this holiday season.

Stickers/Chipboard: Echo Park
Wood veneer: Studio Calico
Brad: Echo Park
Ribbon: May Arts
Twine: Trendy Twine
Burlap: Canvas Corp
Sewing Machine: Bernina

Friday, December 21, 2012

Teacher Gifts: Owl Treat Bags

These little owl treat bags are one of my favorite things to make. They're easy, don’t require fancy tools and are always a hit with recipients.  The sentiment can be changed to fit the occasion. I used these as holiday gifts for teachers and staff.

To make each owl, I cut a 3 inch by 12 inch strip of patterned paper. I used the Once Upon A Christmas collection from Little Yellow Bicycle and scored the paper strips at 4.5 inches from either end. The score marks gave the owls a 3-inch base, perfect for flat-bottomed treat sacks from Martha Stewart. After scoring, I folded the paper into a tent shape.

To make the owl's eyes, I punched two large circles from cardstock, covered them with adhesive, then added twine and googly eyes.  I used Trendy Twine in Holly (green) and Holly Berry (green/red mix). I have a tutorial for making twine circles on this post.

This is a side view of the treat bags. To make the sentiments, I ran bits of scrap patterned paper through my printer. One owl says:  Whooooo's a great teacher?  You are!  The other owl says: Merry Christmas, Y'owl.

We'd love to have you play along in the Trendy Twine monthly challenge. You have until December 31 to enter. There's a great prize up for grabs. You can find out all the details here on the Trendy Twine blog.

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Festive Holiday Cookies: Candy Cane Blossoms

I love these pretty holiday cookies. They are so festive and easy to make. They follow the same idea as Peanut Butter Blossoms (peanut butter cookies with Hershey's kisses) but are made with a sugar cookie base instead. The Candy Cane Blossoms are perfect for families with peanut allergies or any family! 

Really, I will take any excuse to eat the Candy Cane Kisses.  They are sooooo good. Here's the cookies we made:

The recipe for the Candy Cane Blossoms is from Hershey's.  It makes 3 dozen.  


1 bag Hersheys Candy Cane Kisses
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons milk
Colored sugar

Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove wrappers from kisses. 

Beat butter, sugar, vanilla and egg in large bowl until well blended. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; add alternatively with milk to butter mixture, beating until well blended.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in colored sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 8 - 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool 2 to 3 minutes. Press candy into center of each cookie. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

We made three trays of cookies, one dozen each, and I learned a few tricks with each tray. White chocolate Kisses (Hugs, Candy Cane Kisses) melt faster than classic Hershey's Kisses. 

If you aren't careful, the Candy Cane Kisses will melt in the cookies as shown above. While they still taste great, the cookies don't look as pretty.  We got the best results by putting the Kisses in the freezer as the cookies cooked. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Carriage Ride: My Creative Sketches

During the holidays last year, we visited to the Billy Graham Library one evening and it was beautiful in every way: a pastoral hideaway in the busy city. We took a horse-drawn carriage ride through the hills and valleys, alive with lights and music from carolers.  It was a night to remember and I captured a nice photo of my folks with my son.

I used the photo on this layout, following the new December sketch by My Creative Sketches. My paper and embellishments are from the Once Upon A Christmas line by Little Yellow Bicycle and this project is featured today on the Little Yellow Bicycle blog. I love the elegance and traditional holiday colors of the collection and thought they worked perfectly.

To make the cluster in the upper-right hand corner, I used a mix of chipboard and stickers and stitched a red "hanger" for the ornaments. 

This is the sketch I used:  

We'd love to have you play along.  You can find all the details on the My Creative Sketches blog.  The challenge runs through January 14 and there's a great prize up for grabs.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cookie Cutter Ornaments: My Creative Scrapbook

I love homemade ornmaments on a tree.  Today, I have some easy ones to make using cookie cutters. 

I used metal painted cookie cutters from Wilton as my base but any type will work.

Start by tracing the cookie cutter on patterned paper. I used Bo Bunny's Mistletoe collection, which was included in the December kit at My Creative Scrapbook.

I dut out the shape then used a glue medium to attach it to the back of the ornament.  I'm partial to Claudine Hellmuth's multi-medium matte.

Decorate as desired. This cookie cutter was meant to be a candy cane, but I liked it better as a stocking.  Artistic license and all that!

Before you start decorating the cookie cutter, think about how you want to attach a hanger.  If you have a strong hole puncher like a Cropadile, you can punch a hole in the top, then thread in twine for a hanger.  Otherwise, you can just tie twine around the top of the ornament. Either way works well.

On this ornament, I punched a hole at both the top and bottom of the ornament and ran twine through both holes with a jingle bell anchoring the bottom. I used baker's twine from Trendy Twine.

On this ornament, I traced the house shape, then pop-dotted the windows and doors. It's important to add dimensional elements prior to putting the paper on the back of the cookie cutter. Once the paper is glued on, it is really tight to work inside the ornament.  

To finish this ornament, I added a roof line, chimney, scallop trim and a tree. Decorating both inside and outside the cookie cutter gives a nice dimension.

I hung these outside to show them in natural light.

And they look so pretty on the tree.

The design team at My Creative Scrapbook has tips and tutorials for the holidays every day this month on the MCS blog. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Handmade Holiday Packaging: Wine Bags & Tubes

I love all gifts (well, most gifts!) but I especially love a nice presentation.  A pretty package makes me smile before I even open the gift.  I confess that I don't always spend the time or the effort to doll up the packaging, but I always feel better about the gift-giving when I do. 

A gift of wine or a favorite spirit is always a popular gift. Personally, I like to give Amarula, a cream liqueur from South Africa. I discovered it while a Peace Corps volunteer and it is all kinds of yummy.

Today, I have two ways to package wine or spirits using bags or tubes.

To make the wine bag, I started with a pre-made burlap bag that I got on clearance at Michael's Craft Store and took out the side seams.  I used a small square punch to make 12 squares from patterned paper. I used Bo Bunny's Mistletoe collection, which was included in the December kit at My Creative Scrapbook.  Once I had my squares, I laid them in a pattern on the table to decide how I liked them. Then I stitched the squares onto the burlap bag and re-stitched the side seams.

To give the bag a little extra flair, I added some chipboard to the squares.

Then made a hanging tag and tied the bag with ribbon. 

To make the wine tube, I started with an Autumn cardboard tube from a craft store.  I knew it would be easy to recover with scrapbook paper as the decorative part (without the lid) measured exactly 12 inches tall and was 12 inches around.

To use the wine tube for the holidays, I wrapped a piece of Bo Bunny's Mistletoe paper around the tube using modge podge. I wrapped the lid with a coordinating paper.

Like the burlap bag, I added chipboard and ribbon to the tube to decorate it.

There you have it. Wine, only better!

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Altered Frame: My Creative Scrapbook

One of my favorite projects to make are altered photo frames. They are fun and easy to do.  I keep my eyes out for unusual shaped frames when I am out and about and pick them up on clearance or at thrift shops.  A little tip: the best frames have a thick photo mat. Just remove the photo mat and you have working room under the glass to use chipboard or pop dots.

This frame originally had a bamboo mat with openings for two square photos. It was on my bookshelf, actually, sporting two small black and white photos.  Perfect for repurposing!

To start, I traced the back of the picture frame on patterned paper.  I used Bo Bunny's Mistletoe line, which was part of the December kit at My Creative Scrapbook. Then I trimmed the paper and inserted it into the frame, gluing it down.

I put my photo on the right side of the frame, leaving the left side open for decoration. I tucked a journaling card under the photo. Then I added a couple of chipboard gifts on the left. They will fit here under the glass because they were the same thickness as the photo mat I discarded.

I put the Santa scene under the glass then started decorating the black frame. On the right, I added a reindeer. I used a glitter brad for a hanging tag and wrapped a bit of wired tinsel around his neck as a winter scarf.

On the left, I added a big Christmas tree, the word "believe" and some gifts. Under the tree, you can see the other gifts that are beneath the glass. Decorating both under and above the glass gives a nice dimension to the frame.

That's it. A quick project and a happy addition to my bookshelf.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Reveal Day: December Kits at My Creative Scrapbook

Yay!  It's the 5th of the month and reveal day for My Creative Scrapbook.  This month, I worked with the Creative Kit, which featured Bo Bunny's Mistletoe.  It's a bright and cheery line in classic Christmas colors. I loved this fun and happy collection. 

I made a mix of layouts and altered projects with this kit. Today, I am going to post the layouts and I'll post the altered projects with tutorials next week.  

First up is a visit to Santa. Or rather, waiting in line to see Santa.

On this layout, I made a big photo mat from the red dot paper to ground my page. I put a photo in the center and a large piece of chipboard on the left. On the right, I wanted to add my journaling, but the journaling card was too small in scale and made the layout unbalanced. 

To give the right side more visual weight, I made a pocket for the journaling card. Easy peasy. I cut a piece of patterned paper a bit bigger than the journaling card, backed the pocket with cardstock and stitched it together on three sides with red thread. 

My second layout documents our Christmas cookie tradition. Mom has been using this same recipe for Christmas cookies since the 1960s and it just doesn't feel like the holidays without these. They are a hands down favorite for the whole family.

Here's a closeup of the cute gingerbread people:

Here's is a photo of the MCS December Creative Kit.

The design team has done amazing work with the December kits, especially altered projects.  You can see all the projects in the design team gallery.  Some of the other kits this month featured Authentique, Teresa Collins, Kaisercraft and Fancy Pants Designs.  The team will have tutorials posted every day this month on the My Creative Scrapbook blog. Come have a peek!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Bookmarks: Twine Tassels

Note: My December Daily is at the bottom of this post.

We're big book lovers in my family and it's always handy to have a cute bookmark. No dog-eared pages, please! For Christmas this year, we are doing a holiday countdown with children's books.  We have 24 wrapped books under the tree and each night in December my little one picks a package, opens it, and we read the book inside. 

I thought it would be fun to add a cute holiday bookmark to one of the packages. This is what I made:

Bookmarks are quick and easy to make and are a great use for scrap paper.  The base of my bookmark is about 1.5 inches wide by 6 inches tall and is made from two coordinating papers from Echo Park collections. The diagonal stripe is from EP's So Happy Together and the polka dot is from Hello Summer. Though neither is a Christmas line, they work well here with the colorful snowman sticker from the Holly Jolly collection.

The twine is Trendy Twine and I made the tassel using Holly Berry, a fun mix of red and green.

Trendy Twine is sponsoring a snowman-theme challenge this month. Come play along! There's a great prize up for grabs. Just link your twine project by Dec. 31. You'll find all the details to the challenge here.  You can find other projects from the design team on the Trendy Twine blog.

And continuing with my December Daily. This is Day 2:

For this day, I documented our Lego City Advent Calendar.  This sounded like a great idea, but it was a bust for us because our son was too young. We will pack this away to use when he is a little older. 

Day 3:

For Day 3, I had a church program from a Christmas luncheon I attended that was just about the same size as my foundation pages, 6x8.  I added a small strip of green patterned paper to the right side of the program and it fit perfectly in my album. Yay!  No need to make a foundation page for this day. On the right is a photo from the luncheon and one of Cory on a swing outside the church.