Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Handmade Christmas

Someone please remind me next year to start thinking about my Christmas gifts EARLY!
Waiting until the last minute to do your shopping is one thing, waiting until the last minute to decide you are going to make something for someone is a totally different kind of procrastinating. I often make many of my own gifts. Don't get the wrong idea...I am not crocheting oven mitts for everyone, but I do make several gifts each year. Occasionally one big project will take over my holiday season. The past 3 years have all been gifts for my Sister and her Husband.

Christmas 2008 - The wedding album.
In this album, I chronicled the year my Sister was married. I had pictures from the time they became engaged all the way up to the wedding reception and every dress fitting in between. Needless to say I love taking pictures. The album ended up being somewhere near 500 pictures. Ridiculous. I know. I am a shutterbug.

This is not however, a scrapbook. I have never been much of a "scrapbooker", but I don't mind making a few pages here and there. Mostly, I prefer to let the pictures speak for themselves. I make title pages and then insert plastic photo sleeves behind each occasion.

Christmas 2009 - The calendar. 
On October 10th, 2009 my beautiful niece was born. To help my sister document her daughter's first year, I made a calendar for her to write things down on easily throughout the days. Yes, you can always buy a baby book and my sister kept one, but homemade gifts are always a welcomed treasure.
I look forward to projects like this. It is always better to be creative when your whole heart is into it. So if someone wants to do the work for you...let them.

Christmas 2010 - Album for Elizabeth.
As I am sure you suspected, I took many, many pictures throughout Elizabeth's first year. So for Christmas I took the Calendar back that I made in 2009 and placed the pages in an album along with all of the pictures. Each calendar page became the heading for that months pictures. Luckily my sister did a great job of filling in the days. Made it very easy for me to match up the pictures with the correct month.

The wedding album was more of an undertaking because I sat down and made all of these cover pages in only a few days at the end of the year. For Elizabeth's book, all I had to do was match up the month with the calendar page and organize the album. This is why I made the calendar on 12x12 scrapbook paper so I could insert them easily into the album a year later.

If you ever feel inspired/crazy enough to take this project on for yourself or someone you love, here are a few things I will remember to do the next time...
  • Plan ahead! I was snapping pictures all year long, however, I should have been printing and organizing the pictures all along instead of a few days before Christmas. Not to mention the cost could have been spread out throughout the year. 
  • If you plan to do this for several important years like I did, buy more than one album when you purchase the first one. You want a book like this to be set out and enjoyed. It should work with the decor of the home, so I like the idea of matching or complimentary albums. A baby book doesn't have to be pink bunnies and bows. Choose a cover that works with the decor of the home or neutral enough to blend.
  • During a year of firsts, take your camera wherever you go! The greatest thing about digital cameras is that you can capture and delete later. I didn't miss anything with Elizabeth. My sister wrote on the calendar the day she had her first bottle in a restaurant...guess who took a picture of it! OK so that may sound a little overbearing, but I always have my camera with me, so if I see a moment worth capturing I will take one quick picture. 
  • Include everyone. My brother-in-law's family lives far away, so I was sure to take pictures whenever they came to visit.
  • Collect pictures from everyone. Especially if the album is not for you. I wasn't able to be there for all of Elizabeth's milestones, but my Sister and Brother-in-law certainly were. Her first Christmas, the first time a tooth popped out, the first time she went to the pumpkin patch...we captured everything!
  • Make sure you do the same for the siblings. We've all heard that the first baby has the filled and documented baby album. By the time the 3rd comes along...you're lucky to even have pictures. I know what all mother's will say...once you have more than one, you just don't have the time. I get it. Just pace yourself. Print pictures once a month and take a nap time or an early morning alone to throw them into an album. Or just hope that you have an awesome Aunt Ryann to do the work for you.
What a great thing for Elizabeth to look through when she is older. Wouldn't you want to know the first time you ate string beans?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays because it isn't about what you are going to buy and how many gifts you are going to get. It is simply about spending time with your family while eating a good meal.

I have mentioned before how large my family is, so to host the entire clan is quite an undertaking. Sometimes the count may even reach around 30, but on average about 20-25. This year was a little different because my Aunt Maureen, Uncle Alan and their 3 boys moved to Utah this summer. For the past several years Maureen has always hosted Thanksgiving dinner. Every year I went to Maureen's the day before to help her set the table. You wouldn't typically think that setting a table would take all afternoon, but when you are trying to fit 20 some people all around one table, it takes some time. Thanksgiving Eve was always a special time for me because it allowed me an opportunity to spend the afternoon with my Aunt Maureen who is also very much my friend. Maureen would be working in the kitchen putting together what she could a day ahead and I would be clipping flowers assembling the centerpiece while catching her up on whatever drama was currently going on in my life. An afternoon I will be missing terribly this year.

Thanksgiving was special at Maureen's for several reasons. She always made sure that we were able to fit everyone around the table. This usually meant putting together many different sized tables stretching out into the hallway, BUT we all sat together.

One of the many tips I have picked up from Maureen- Keep notes from year to year. Maureen had notes  scribbled next to her recipes about what worked and what didn't. She also drew little diagrams of the table configurations we came up with so that we could refer back to them in the years to come depending on the amount of people. Trust me, we came up with some creative table shapes.

Maureen's hosting skills have always impressed me. She never went too fancy or crazy with the food. For Thanksgiving I believe you should stick with the basics, but do them well. There is no need for fancy stuffing with crazy ingredients. Save that for a regular night when you are just having pork chops for dinner, Thanksgiving already has so much going on. Maureen also kept up with many small and perhaps unnoticed touches every year, like the pickle plate. We always had a pickle plate on the table. Things you may not notice year after year, but definitely do miss when they are gone.She always went above and beyond but somehow made it seem effortless. The reason is because she really does enjoy putting everything together, and you can tell by the way her food tastes and the atmosphere of the evening. The worst is when you go into someone's home and they are freaking out, running around, and look as if they might stab anyone who dares enter the kitchen. Don't offer to host if you are going to act like it is the biggest inconvenience, it makes everyone uncomfortable. If you do not have a choice...plan better, ask for help and keep reminding yourself that it DOES NOT have to be perfect. When all else fails grab yourself a glass of wine.

In Maureen's absence my Aunt Diane and Uncle Michael hosted this year. The dinner was delicous and the company was lovely, but it just wasn't the same and probably won't be for some time now. I might just have to go to Utah next year for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Experiment in Personalizing

Recently I began experimenting with personalized pendants using resin. I have played with resin before, but I was frustrated with the limited products available to me, and how long the process took. I am not very patient when I have an idea. If I envision a necklace I need to make it right then and there while the picture is still fresh in my head. By the time the resin was dry (a good 12 hours) I had already moved on to something else.

What's different this time? I found these brass bezel charms from Vintaj Natural Brass Co., they are right up my alley. I love them so much that I am confident the inspiration they stirred up will be around for a long time. They automatically triggered so many ideas in my head. I love the vintage look of anything brass. I don't want to just make a charm with a picture in it. I want to match the look of the jewelry I typically make and that is a semi vintage/rustic style. I also have plans to incorporate polymer clay, whether it be an initial, hand-sculpted flower or just accent beads. So I can work on the polymer clay accents while I am waiting for the resin to cure.

I experimented with 2 photographs. One of my very dear friend Lauren on her wedding day, and my beautiful and adorable baby niece. I figured if I was going to experiment with a new technique I should be able to share them as potential gifts...if they turned out. So far so good. 12 hours later the resin has cured, and is thankfully bubble free!

What's the plan?
Personalized jewelry incorporating pictures, names, charms, dates...
  • Wedding photographs accented with polymer clay flowers sculpted to match those you carried on  your wedding day.
  • Photographs of your children, adding more as your family grows. 
  • Treasured family photographs from many years...perfect with the vintage style.  
When you're creating something personal the possibilities are endless because every picture, theme, and story will be different. I am very excited to see what else I can make.
Stay tuned...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fall Weddings

Now that the month of October is officially over, I can finally share with you the jewelry I made for two fall brides. I wanted to wait until after the weddings so I didn't spoil any of the surprise. Designing wedding jewelry has quickly become one of my favorite requests to work on. It is such an honor to be asked to create something for such a special day. Not to mention a little nerve-racking because it is such an important day. Both brides are dear friends of mine and working with them was an absolute pleasure. We spoke a little about what they wanted and the colors, but for the most part they left it all up to me. It felt great that they both trusted me so much.

October Bride #1 - Andrea
Andrea's wedding was a self-described earthy/natural wedding in a beautiful, historic farmhouse in Lancaster County. Her colors were simple black and white. Because her wedding was on the "rustic" side I was able to incorporate one of my favorite materials - polymer clay. We also discussed varying the styles so each girl would have a look that suited them best. I made 7 necklaces; one for the Mother of the bride and six for the bridal party. I decided to go with 3 different styles for the girls (2 necklaces of each ), Mom got her own altogether. When I delivered the necklaces to the bride she was visibly excited and pleased with what I came up with. She actually clapped and hopped a little - I have never seen her do this before so I was definitely ecstatic to see her genuine reaction. She even took time out of her actual wedding day to send a text letting me know how great the necklaces looked on each of the girls. I was so touched that she took the time to do this on such an overwhelming and busy day.

Congratulations, Andrea and Jesus! I know you will have a wonderful life together!

Happy Couple!
October Bride #2 - Danielle
I had the privilege of attending Danielle's wedding this past Saturday. The whole day was so beautiful. Weddings are always so much fun, but especially when you are celebrating a couple who are so obviously meant for each other like Danielle and Brian.  The spirit of the wedding and the mood of everyone attending, clearly solidified that we were all there to support and celebrate 2 people coming together for the right reasons. It was a perfect wedding, and I am still very sore from dancing all night.

Danielle was happy to hand over the reigns in deciding what the girls should wear. We decided to go with an earring and bracelet combo. All of the girls are in their early twenties so it was important to keep things classy, yet youthful and hopefully make them something they would want to wear again. This time the color was a bit trickier because it was a brownish/purple. At one point I called it smokey brown, but we settled on Mulberry. So the girls wore beautiful mulberry dresses and I was lucky enough to actually find beads that matched perfectly. I made 2 strand bracelets with just a bit of sparkle. I must say that I was very pleased with the final outcome. It was a style I have not done before, but one I will certainly be working with again.  It was especially gratifying to be able to attend this wedding and see the jewelry as it was intended.

Congratulations, Danielle and Brian! I am so happy for you both and love you very much!

I would like to again, thank both Andrea and Danielle for allowing me to design the jewelry for their weddings. You are both wonderful women and I was so honored that you asked me to contribute to your special day. Thank you.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pumpkin Trifle Recipe

A few weeks ago I asked my facebook friends which autumn trifle they wanted to try more...pumpkin or apple. The votes were basically split down the middle, although the pumpkin fans were much more enthusiastic about their love of ANYTHING pumpkin. I knew I definitely had to figure this one out. Personally, I have never met a dessert I didn't like, but pumpkin pie is not on the top of my list. I do, however, love everything else pumpkin. So the trouble with coming up with this trifle was trying to steer clear of the all pumpkin puree layered trifles I was seeing in the recipes online. They seemed to be trying to duplicate a pumpkin pie in a trifle dish. Just eat a pumpkin pie then!

I finally figured it out, and it was very tasty! Just the right amount of pumpkin.

  • Pumpkin bread- From scratch or a box. Either way will be fine. Make or buy 2 just to be safe. So what if  you have extra. Toasted pumpkin bread for breakfast...yes please! 
  • 1 box of white chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 can of pumpkin 
  • 1 box of spiced wafers
  • Whipped cream- Homemade or cool whip (I am sticking with homemade from now on).
That's it! Now see how easy it is to make...

Base layer:
Bake your pumpkin bread according to the directions. You could also just pick up a loaf at your local orchard or market. Homemade doesn't have to mean made in your home right?
Cube the bread.
Layer the base of your trifle dish with half of the loaf. Set the rest aside for now.

Mortar Layer:
Make the white chocolate pudding (vanilla will work too if you cannot find white chocolate). Allow the pudding to set for a few minutes in the refrigerator.
Once the pudding has set beat in 1 can of pumpkin. Mix well with a hand mixer for at least 5 minutes.
Spread half of the pumpkin mixture over the pumpkin bread in the trifle dish. 

Focal/decorative layer:
Put a little less than 2 sleeves of wafers in a large ziploc bag. Seal tightly. Using the back of a wooden spoon, mash up the wafers. I broke them up into dime sized pieces. Spread half of the bag over the pumpkin mixture for your 3rd layer.
Then top with whipped cream and repeat all 4 layers finishing with the rest of the whipped cream.

Top the trifle with a sprinkling of wafer crumbs!

If your family is like mine, you always have pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, but a lot of people don't actually eat the pie. Try this recipe out as an alternative and watch how fast it goes.

Monday, October 18, 2010


This Saturday my Stepmom and I made a trip out to Adamstown, Pennsylvania. Known as the "antique capital of the U.S.A." Adamstown is located near Reading right off of exit 286 from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you like perusing old stuff, I would definitely make the trip. There are tons of antique shops and outdoor markets. I would suggest going on a Sunday if you can because some of the places are only open on Sundays.

I myself am not really into the fancy old expensive antiques. I hate saying that I am going "antiquing" because people seem to associate the term with stuffy old trinkets that smell of mothballs. I like old crap, but I can't really say I am going to spend my Saturday routing and rummaging through old junk without also raising some eyebrows. I bet some of you would be surprised to find how much fun you would have doing this. I have a few friends that I know would really enjoy spending the day at one of these markets, but because of the stigma associated with it they moan and groan whenever I suggest the idea - Losers...it's cool...go green! Reuse!

I usually head to the junk in the corners or the stuff set outside. On this visit we headed straight to Shupps Grove. It is a huge outdoor market and my favorite place for digging and dealing. I like old vintage slightly beat up items that I can either refinish or love as is for all of their flaws and history.

When you are visiting the antique markets, it is OK to have an agenda and specific item in mind, but do not be afraid to veer off and discover items you never thought you would love. If you find the piece you were looking for...fantastic and congratulations! But be patient and don't allow yourself to be disappointed if you don't. I have done this. Focusing on finding one type of item closes off my creativity and prevents me from discovering the possibilities in something else. It took my Stepmom 10 years to find a washing stand for her antique pitcher and bowl set - she finally found it this weekend and it was worth waiting for. Mainly, I love looking for old jewelry that I can work into a new piece. 

A few items that are always on my list:
  • Jewelry
  • Props for my jewelry displays
  • Old glass bottles
  • Beer cans- recently added to my list after this weekend. I began collecting beer cans and I have a feeling it is going to become a new obsession. Not something I am entering into for monetary purposes. I just love them. The marketing ploys companies used back in the day are hilarious.

Meet Miss Olde Frothingslosh- Apparently she is a trapeze artist who loves arm wrestling, soap carving and of course the 1969 "pale ale with the foam at the bottom" Olde Frothingslosh from Pittsburgh, Pa.
Ain't she a gem!
She is the one who started it all for me.

What is Olde Frothingslosh? 

I can't wait until I find an old rusty pbr can! Classy huh?I have since been reading a lot of good information about collecting beer cans. I am excited to see what I can find now that I will be looking.

More importantly I did find some really good jewelry pieces. Some are old and some just struck and inspired me. You may look at them now and wonder what the heck I liked about them and what on earth I plan to do with them (after I clean them up of course) well you will see...

I try to ask the vendors if they have any broken stuff hidden away. Since I am going to break everything apart anyway, I can get some really good deals asking to see what they didn't expect to sell in the first place. 

My favorite find from Saturday is these 2 little buddies. The charm was actually hanging on and old bottle no where near any other jewelry and just by chance I found it. I am not sure why I love it so much, I just think they are adorable. Stay tuned to see what I make with it...

Another good one is this silver leaf my Stepmom spotted. Leaves are big this year in jewelry and will make for a perfect fall accessory to any wardrobe. The detail is beautiful. Looks just like a real leaf!

Friday, October 15, 2010

My secrets to a good cupcake.

Following my post a few weeks ago on Phillies themed cupcakes, I received a few inquiries about how I make my cupcakes. So I decided to share my secrets...

There is no secret. Cupcakes and trifles have kind of become my thing. People seem to get excited whenever I make either one. When really, they are both so easy. Especially the cupcakes.

I use the cake mix in a box and the icing out of a tub. That's it. It's not really a secret, I will tell anyone who asks. People still seem to tell me my cupcakes are really tasty and moist compared to when they make them. Why? I have no idea. I think it is because I take the time to make them pretty. We do partially eat with our eyes right? It is all in the presentation.

So here it goes...my "secrets" to a good cupcake.
    1. Whenever I make cupcakes I make a batch of yellow and a batch of chocolate. I haven't settled on a brand I prefer, whichever is labeled "moist".
    2. I rotate the icing combination between chocolate and vanilla (I do prefer french vanilla whenever I can find it). Vanilla on vanilla cake, chocolate on vanilla, vanilla on chocolate and of course chocolate on chocolate.
    3. Scrape all of the icing out of the tub into a bowl and stir until it is really creamy. I never apply the icing with a knife. Instead, I always put it into a pastry bag and squeeze it out onto the cupcake in a circular motions just like an ice cream cone. Always purchase at least 2 containers of icing for each box of mix you use. Running out of icing is the WORST!
    Decorate your cupcakes!
    1. Sometimes I add dye to the vanilla icing depending on the occasion to add color. 
    2. You could add sprinkles or jimmies (yes, they are called jimmies and there is a difference between jimmies and sprinkles). 
    3. Make a visit to your local party store or craft store to check out their selection of cupcake cups. They really have a fun selection out there. Much better than the pale yellow, pink and blue pack you get at the grocery store. May seem like a pointless detail, but I think they add to the presentation.
    4. While you are at the party store look at their selection of decorative toothpicks, drink stirrers and anything else you could put on the top of your cupcakes. Be creative!
    5. You could get really crazy and add my new favorite accent...piped chocolate melts in various shapes, colors or letters that match the theme or occasion you are making the cupcakes for. This is really simple and people LOVE it. Such a cute little touch. Check out my post on the Phillies themed cupcakes to see how I did this.

    Whenever I am planning a party, whether it is a birthday party, baby shower, bridal shower...I incorporate the cupcakes into the decor. Find some way to display them and set them out at the start of the party. People will drooling over them until it is time for dessert, and sometimes sneaking one long before.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Phillies Cupcakes

    It will indeed be another Red October!!

    You may recall from an earlier post that I am a huge Philadelphia Phillies fan, and I am proud to say that my team has yet again secured themselves a spot in the post season. To commemorate this achievement and also celebrate my roommate's 30th birthday (she is a huge fan as well), I made Phillies themed cupcakes.

    I made 30 cupcakes -15 chocolate and 15 french vanilla, rotating between chocolate and vanilla icing.
    • On top of each cupcake I sprinkled either blue or red sprinkles on the icing that I piped out of a pastry bag using a large round tip. 
    • I found red and blue cupcake cups at the party store to keep with the theme.
    • For an extra added touch I tried out something new this time. I piped out the trademark "P" using red candy melts. This was surprisingly easy and added so much to the team spirited little cakes.
    Decorating with chocolate melts. 
    • Candy melts (I prefer Wilton's) -You can purchase these at any grocery store, although you will find a broader selection of colors at a craft store or even some party stores. They are about $2.99 but I almost always find them on sale at Micheal's Craft store. They do store well so you can hold onto the leftovers until Christmas.
    • Wax paper
    • Decorating squeeze bottles -You can also pick these up at your local craft store. When you are finished with your project try to dump out as much of the melted candy as you can and then stick the bottle in the freezer. After a few hours crunch and shake the frozen candy out of the bottle. 
    Melting the candy:
    Fill the squeeze bottle with the candy melts and secure the lid and little orange cap. Place into a small sauce pan filled about halfway with warm water. Keep the burner set on LOW mixing and shaking the bottle often until the candy is melted. Add more candy melts as they turn to liquid and fill the bottle. Make sure the tip of the bottle remains out of the water and dry at all times. You do not want to get water into the bottle. When you are ready to squeeze out the melted candy shake it all the way to the tip with the cap on. You want to remove as many air bubbles as you can.
    Lay out some wax paper and patiently squeeze out whatever shape or letter you want. Practice and allow yourself enough so that you can choose the nicest looking shapes to use. Allow them to harden (about 30 mins) and gently pop it off of the wax paper and place on your cupcake. That's it!

    This new little trick has opened up so many possibilities for future cupcake toppers. If you decide to try this yourself, please post a comment below and let me know what you made and how it worked out for you. I am always open to new tips, tricks and ideas!

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Candy Apple Trifle

    Although we haven't been experiencing "fall-like" temperatures (90 degrees when I made this), I still found myself in the mood for some sort of apple dessert last Saturday. I was looking for an alternative to apple pie. I decided on a trifle although I have never made an apple trifle.

    I will try to give you the recipe as accurately as I can, but if you have been following any of my recipes you will know that I make them up as I go along. I also want to encourage you to trust your instincts and have fun experimenting with these recipes.

    • 6 Green Apples
    • Brown sugar
    • Bourbon (optional)
    • 2 Tablespoons of butter
    • Apple cake or Apple cider doughnuts
    • 2 pints of heavy whipping cream
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 Candy Apple
    Base layer:
    I really wanted to use fresh apple cider doughnuts, but due to time constraints, I was unable to go to the nearest orchard. Instead, I used an apple cake which turned out to be a delicious substitution. You can either make this from scratch, box or pick one up at the market.
    Cut up whatever you decided on for the layer and divide in half. Layer the bottom of the trifle dish with one half of the cake.

    Focal Layer:
    This is where the apples come in. I really didn't know what I wanted to do to the apples. I just kept thinking about what goes into an apple pie. Do whatever you want. Just keep in mind the moisture from the apples when cooking. Do not add too much additional moisture.
    How I cooked the apples...
    In a large skillet I sauteed about 6 green apples, sliced and peeled. I chose green because of their tartness. The cake and whipped cream layer were going to be sweet enough.

    First add about 2 tablespoons  of butter to a large skillet and about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar (I really just added whatever amount I felt like. Remember...I wing it). I also added bourbon because I already had the bottle out :-), but you don't have to. Cook down and add the apples stirring frequently until they look like they would if they were inside of an apple pie.
    Cool slightly before you add to the trifle.

    Mortar Layer:
    I went with homemade whipped cream this time. Usually I cheat and use cool whip. I honestly do not think I will ever go back to store bought. The consistency and flavor is so much better when you whip it yourself and it is so simple to do.

    Easy Homemade Whipped Cream:

    • 2 pints of heavy whipping cream
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (vary depending on how sweet you want it to be)
    Whip the mixture with an electric hand mixer until raised peaks form in it and hold their shape. It should take about four minutes (or much longer if using a manual hand mixer or whisk).Add the whipped cream layer and then repeat all 3 layers finishing with a top layer of whipped cream.

    As a garnish I sliced a caramel candy apple and placed it around the top. You could make them yourself, but if your sole purpose is for this trifle then just pick one up at the orchard when you get your apples. 

    I am really looking forward to making this trifle again on a crisp fall day after a trip to the local orchard where I can pick the apples, grab some freshly dipped caramel apples and try out the fresh apple cider doughnuts as the base layer. If you make it there before I do, leave a comment below and let me know how it tasted! 

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    The Chester County Restaurant Festival

    This past Sunday marked the end of my very first festival season. I finished with the biggest one of them all -The 31st Annual Chester County Restaurant Festival. For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I have been looking forward to and kind of dreading this one all summer. I knew this was going to be huge. Around 20,000 people are estimated to attend every year. In the years past I have walked the few blocks from my apartment to check out the scene and every year I become agitated and uncomfortable submerging myself into the crowd. I usually don't make it there too long, and I never walk away with more than a sugary lemonade before the crowd makes me want to start throwing elbows.

    The idea of having my very own stand was exciting because I knew of the exposure it was going to offer me as well as terrifying because I knew how exposed I was going to feel. Some may think it is just about the money and that I should be ecstatic thinking about the cabbage I was going to bring home. Of course that is a perk and I am very appreciative for every dollar spent under my tent but for me, that's not all it is about. For a generally private person that somewhat hides behind her craft, I was putting it all out there. If I didn't care about each piece I made, it would be easier. If I didn't think about what brought that piece out of me while you were looking at it and trying it on, it would be easier for me. I openly tell people which pieces are the hardest for me to sell while they are purchasing them. I think it is important for people to see that I am not just pumping out necklaces and earrings here. I do it because I love it. Everyone has a stress reliever. I am just lucky enough to be able to profit from one of mine.

    All in all the day was just what I needed it to be.

    An unbelievable crowd of people stopped by my booth throughout the day, and were very receptive to my designs. I recieved a lot of postitive feedback and was asked many questions about my technique and how I learned to work with polymer clay. I loved being able to talk about the craft. I have such a deep relationship with it now and I felt at home when I was able to speak about it.  At one point a customer found a piece he liked, but wondered if I might be able to put it on a chain instead of a leather necklace. Of course I was happy to oblige. I pulled out my supplies and went to work on it for a few minutes. I was surprised to find that a few minutes focusing on just that necklace provided me with some time to pull myself back in and center a little. This was a welcomed distraction as it was around the midday mark and I was beginning to feel the weight of the crowd. This confirmed to me at that point that this was truly something I loved to do - I am putting my time and energy into the right thing.

    Although I was drained both mentally and physically by the end of the day, it was still a fantastic afternoon. When I came home and told my best friend about the day, she commented that this was my super bowl and I had won. I of course became emotional when she said this to me. 1- Because she was completely right and I felt very proud and satisfied with what I had accomplished; and 2- I was very touched that she understood what this day meant to me enough to put it in this perspective for me.  Other people don't seem to understand what the big deal is. If you haven't picked up on this by now...I am pretty certain I have a touch of social anxiety and although I do not allow it to stifle or cage me in, it is still something I find difficult to deal with. Sometimes you can't avoid uncomfortable and overwhelming situations. But this time I was thrusting myself right into the middle of 20,000 people, in my home town of new and old/familiar faces, offering something I put my heart into for everyone to judge and critique. Yeah, not a normal day for me.

    I am aware that challenging myself like this is always a good thing. But in the midst of it, it is very difficult to take the initial leap. In the end, however, the rush from my reluctance turning into something that makes you feel amazing is an irreplaceable feeling. Still, not something I will do everyday.

    With all of that being said, I can't wait until next year. No really, I can't wait. I can definitely feel the momentum building right now and I am very excited about what is yet to come.

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    Friday, September 17, 2010

    The ad I created for the booklet.
    Last week I was asked to create and donate a piece of jewelry to be used as a door prize in the Pheasant Valley Farm's Annual Women's Pheasant Hunt. I was also asked to make an ad for a booklet that will be handed out to the ladies on the day of the hunt. My business cards will also be placed in grab bags that will be handed out to all 20 women involved in the hunt.
    Initially I was creating the ad generally in the same layout as my business card. Only with a bit more information and a picture. When I went to drop in the photo, I forgot to downsize it and this is pretty much where it landed. I liked it immediately and decided that it went well with the outdoor themed event. So I made a few adjustments to the text and layout and there you have it. I was pleasantly surprised with this happy little accident.
    • Pheasant Valley Farm is committed to maintaining Pennsylvania’s outdoor heritage, wildlife conservation, and hunting traditions. They believe in order to maintain this valued way of life, today’s women must be allowed the opportunity to gain hunting experience and learn about Pennsylvania’s rich hunting heritage. In conjunction with the PA Game Commission and other conservation oriented groups Pheasant Valley Farm is to offering twenty women the opportunity to participate in a non-profit women’s hunt on Friday, September 24, 2010 at their preserve in Robesonia, PA
      For more information visit: http://pheasantvalleyfarm.com/

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    I love when a solo Saturday unexpectedly turns out to be fantastic.

    The summer months tend to get away from you easily. There are always more occasions to celebrate, people to see and things to do. Last night was initially going to go the same way. I was debating whether or not I wanted to go out when I saw these 3 chunks of clay scraps sitting on my table. I wondered what color they would produce if I mixed them together. Next thing I knew I was in my comfy clothes with my ipod in, and I was creating. The more I made, the more energized I became. Last night turned out to be an inspired, motivating and satisfying night. I was singing off the top of my lungs and dancing while clay was baking. I guess my secret single behavior is no longer a secret...I ROCK OUT when I am alone. The ipod helps to drown out the world...and my own terrible singing.

    I forget how much I love and NEED nights like this. I know this sounds cheesy...they feed my soul. I put everyone and everything out of my head and focus on the task at hand. For me, it is a cleansing experience. Sometimes I get so bogged down with orders and requests that I forget just how much I really love designing and making jewelry as it comes to me in the moment. Working without a plan, vision or task already planted in my head is when my favorite pieces are made.

    Note to self...
    At first the idea of spending a Saturday night at home was something I was trying to avoid. Why? Why do people become uncomfortable with the idea of spending time alone? If you do not enjoy spending time with yourself how can you expect anyone else to? Usually I look forward to the opportunity to do whatever I want without the input of others, but being so busy all summer caused me to forget how much I love these nights. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely people I would've wanted to spend my time with, but last night I was reminded that I am a girl who also enjoys spending the night solo from time to time, locking myself into the zone and being creative.

    Unfortunately nights like this cannot happen all the time, and frankly they shouldn't for a number of reasons. But I do need to make time and appreciate these nights whenever the opportunity arises.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    It all comes down to this...

    A little about my small town...
    Although I have lived the majority of my life in Chester County Pennsylvania, I didn't move into downtown West Chester until I was in my early 20's. I love my hometown. West Chester is a cute little town that is has been fueled by the ambition and imagination of it's younger residents. Some grew up here, some left and came back, and many WCU students decided to call West Chester home after they graduated. People like to shame you for not straying too far from home, but I really do love living here. I know that I will not always want live within the borough, but for now being able to walk a few blocks for a cup of coffee, perusing the new consignment shop and making a visit to the bead shop on Gay St. makes for a perfect afternoon in my book.

    The Restaurant Festival
    Poster designed by Brian Barto
    I have been posting all summer about my booths at the Swinging Summer Thursday festivals in Downtown West Chester and how this was all going to prepare me for the biggest event of them all...The Restaurant Festival. This is by far the biggest event Downtown West Chester will see all year. Held on a Sunday every September from 12-5pm featuring more than 50 local restaurants and  nearly 110 arts and crafts vendors. There are also 3 stage areas for live music and a beer garden where everyone can sit and relax with a refreshing brew. I have loved attending this event for years especially because it is only a few blocks from my home. 

    Initially the idea of setting up a stand at the Restaurant festival seemed like a million years away. I didn't know if I would actually have enough nerve to really go for it, or was this something I just talked about doing. Well...there is no going back now. I am in. I called this morning because I am too impatient to wait until they mailed me my acceptance letter (it came in the mail a few hours later). I don't even know how many people attend this event, but it will be far more than I have faced at any other festival. Not to mention that I will know many of them. This is intimidating and exciting at the same time. All I can do is keep making my jewelry and stand proudly by everything that I display. There is no point in focusing on the nerves because either way, I am doing this and people are coming. As much as the potential crowd overwhelms me, I am really proud of myself for going through with this. This may not seem like a huge step, but for me it is. For me this is the ultimate in exposure and vulnerability. Here goes nothing....

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Boxes and boxes of beads!

    I did the unthinkable this weekend. The unimaginable, the unspeakable, the unbearable!! I organized my dreaded and ever accumulating pile of rejected jewelry projects. Bracelets I made years ago before I had any idea what I was doing. Necklaces that were never finished. Earrings that never became a pair. Strands of beads that I forgot I had purchased. 6 years of misfit beads!

    I have wanted to do this for so long, but dreaded the idea of sitting down and committing to what I knew was going to be such a mindless and tedious task. I don't even know how it started last night. I just started. It was a Saturday night without plans and I was too exhausted from a fun filled day of learning how to ride a motorcycle to make any. Instead I watched old, cheesy horror flicks and tackled the pile. I cannot tell you how satisfied I was to accomplish this task. I had tried once before but I kept thinking I wanted to keep everything as it was and repair or finish each of the projects. I didn't want to throw away the time I had already spent on making them. Or admit to myself that some were just not appealing enough to complete. Last night I was in the right mindset. I know that my style and technique have taken a vast detour from my earlier projects so it was time to put them all to rest. It was time to take the beads and put them back into the box so that they could become part of another, better piece that will actually be worn and appreciated. My whole work space feels better to me without this box of rejects hanging around taunting me. Ahhhhhh!!!! It's done!

    Someday I would like to reorganize my actual bead storage boxes. I buy containers as my collection grows so it has become somewhat of a mix-matched method. I started boxing by color scheme but at the time I didn't have a lot of beads. I admittedly was not thinking ahead and I certainly wasn't dreaming my inventory would grow to the size it has. In the beginning I organized rows by color not boxes by color. So I ended up with boxes containing pinks, purples and reds. Now I could devote an entire box to just shades of pink. So what has happened as my collection has grown is that I end up with several boxes containing several different colors. The box that started out greens, blues and teals has grown into 3 boxes filled with each color because I have had to add spillover boxes over the years. I'd like to just dig in and separate those 3 into the designated color.

    Do I really want to sit down and do this?? Do I really want to add that many more boxes? If I keep going at this rate the box count will inevitably grow anyway so I might as well start organizing them now while it is still somewhat of a manageable task. I know I will be grateful down the road. Do I even want to organize by color or do I want to group them by style and texture? Is the idea way too obsessive compulsive to be considered anything other than just anal retentive? Why can't I just be satisfied that I conquered the reject pile for now?! It's a domino effect as always...

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    Vacations always come and go way too fast.

    Catching up on the latest issue of Belle Armoire Jewelry.
    This past week I went on my annual trip to the beach with my sister. We have been coming to this beach with the family for as long as I can remember, but as I became older the trips became fewer and further between. A few years ago my sister and I decided to start going down to the family condo again. It began as a sisters weekend while we were both single, and as our lives have changed over the years, so has the vacation. Last year she was pregnant during our vacation and we sat on the beach talking about how different and wonderful things were going to be next year with a little one. I could not wait to bring my baby niece with us. So finally this year came. Waking up to her sweet, smiling face every morning was exactly what I needed right now. I was so excited  to watch her experience the sand and the water, to see it all for the first time through her little eyes. It reminded me of all of the trips we have taken there through the years with the family. I have always looked forward to this trip, but now I know every year will be even better. I felt like I have been waiting my whole life for this little girl to join us. As you get older you forget about some of the fun things you did at the beach as a child. Now I have an excuse to play in the sand, feed the seagulls and run around the boardwalk from ride to ride.

    Beading on the beach...?

    While I was packing I really considered bringing some of my beads with me. I love the beach and I always feel very calm and relaxed which is the perfect mode for being creative. It would be a shame not to be able to tap into this source while the creativity was flowing. My sister also likes rummaging through my beads and creating a "wish list". But I decided that would be ridiculous since I have way too many boxes of beads to make them mobile, and I didn’t want to burn myself out. I deserved a break even if it was from something I love to do. Instead I packed up all of the jewelry magazines I have been meaning to sit down and read along with a notebook so I could sketch out any design ideas as they hit me. It was perfect, sitting by the ocean catching up on some of my favorite jewelry magazines. I felt refreshed and motivated to return home and begin working on some new projects. Even though sometimes you may be reluctant, you always need to take a break. I love making jewelry so the idea of bringing some beads with me didn’t feel like something I had to do because I was behind on projects, I wanted to bring them because I am admittedly obsessed. I was going to one of my favorite places with some of my favorite people and I wanted to bring some of my favorite things. I am glad that I allowed myself to take a breather. Everyone needs to recharge from time to time.

    Sunday, July 25, 2010

    I should be embarrassed by this.

    I posted about how terrible my work station had also become...Well it has become even worse. This past weekend I had a bunch of work to do and I was having trouble getting started. I needed a change in scenery to allow the creativity open up. It really didn't have to do with the mess of my current station, it was more about the room I was in...I need to shake things up once in awhile. Sometimes I work in the kitchen, living room or my bedroom. Just moving from the table to the couch or even the floor actually helps sometimes. So I opened up one of the tables I use for my festival setup and took over the living room. Thankfully my roommate was away this weekend, otherwise I do not think this would've gone over so well. I made sure to have it all back to normal by the time she returned. Why subject her to this madness.

    It worked out really well and some really great pieces came out of my temporary setup this weekend.

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Uh...this is my work space?!

    Typically I wouldn’t expose this madness but I am starting to find it rather comical, and my friend over there at Helen Ethel Studio blogged recently about how overwhelming her space had become. I figured I would let her, and all of you know that you are definitely not alone.
    This is my beading station. It is a complete mess. I keep finding random projects I started and put down only to be lost in the rubble because I was either stumped or more excited about the project that just popped into my head and had to move on.

    I keep telling myself I should clean it. It would probably help me think clearer and work faster. But every time I start I become distracted and end up making something. Which is definitely not a bad thing. I guess I am afraid to mess with the area. I am on a roll right now and I feel very inspired. I sit at this table everyday and I am making some of my favorite pieces to date. If I start with a clean slate I am worried it will mess with my flow.

    The beads and clay that are covering the table are the beads that are making sense to me right now. So for now, I return to the tiny workspace I cleared for myself amongst the wreck that is my beading table.

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    S’mores Trifle

    This one is great for the kids!

    For my Grandpop’s 80th Birthday party this weekend I volunteered to bring a dessert with me. I knew there would be a cake so I didn’t want to make anything “cake-like”. I also wanted to make something light  because of the heat. I went with the perfect summer themed dessert…S’mores!

    1 container of marshmallow fluff
    1 boxes of chocolate fudge pudding
    1 box of graham crackers
    1 bag of mini marshmallows
    1 bag of chocolate chips
    1 (8 ounce) container of cool whip

    Base layer
    Graham crackers-I used one sleeve of crackers per cracker layer. You can just quarter them or crumble a little bit (not too much so they don’t get mushy and your layers seep together) and scatter them on the bottom.

    Mortar layers
    Originally I was just going to do a layer of the marshmallow fluff but I thought that would be too thick and gooey so I blended it with the container of cool whip. This turned out to be a nice creamy texture. I may tinker with this layer a bit more the next time I make it.
    -You can do whatever you want here. Just fluff would’ve been OK once I tasted the trifle.

    Of course you need some chocolate so I chose to use chocolate fudge pudding.
    2 layers of pudding= 2 boxes. One box per layer.


    Focal Layer
    I sprinkled the mini marshmallows and chocolate chips around for this layer to add some substance since the trifle didn’t consist of any cake or brownies.

    Top (my favorite part of this trifle)
    Sprinkle some of the chocolate chips all around the top and crumbled graham crackers. In the center I placed some toasted marshmallows. I didn’t have a campfire handy yesterday morning so I layered a cookie sheet with foil, sprayed it with nonstick cooking spray and piled on some marshmallows. Then I stuck it in the broiler. *Keep an eye on it because you just want to toast the marshmallows a little bit and they will catch on fire.*
    To remove them I waited for the foil to cool a little and then turned it upside down so the toasted layer plopped in my hand. Then I gently flipped it on top of the trifle.

    Everyone was really impressed with the appearance of this one. And it was so easy!!