Thursday, December 11, 2008

Holiday treats

I have a habit of making some kind of little gift for every person on the staff at my kids' elementary school. We love their school so much, and after four years there, the girls and I have worked with so many people that it's impossible to be selective in who we give to, so I make a whole bunch of something cool but relatively easy. Here's this year's treat.

These little boxes are a snap to make. Each takes a half sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 cardstock, plus embellishments. While surveying my stash, I found that I had hoarded three full packs of last year's retired Christmas paper, Dashing, from Stampin' Up! So that made my decision of what paper to use very easy. The stamps are from 2008 Holiday Tag Collection.

Here's the whole basket of treats, ready to go. There are eighty of the little boxes. Each box contains ten Hershey Kisses. The best part is going to the school and stuffing everyone's mailboxes!

Details: Stamps - 2008 Holiday Tag Collection; paper - Real Red, Old Olive, Very Vanilla, Dashing (all Stampin' Up!); ink - Real Red, Old Olive, StazOn Black; accessories - 1 3/4" circle punch (SU), 1/4" circle punch (SU), Nestabilities classic circles and scalloped circles, silver elastic cord (SU)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Time to play with my new toys

Boy, have I been in a stamping slump lately! I've been in the craft room playing with my stuff, reorganizing and labeling things, but every time I sit down to make something, my mind wanders. But today I finally stuck with it long enough to make a card. And it only took me an hour and a half! Eek. I'm going to have to improve on that if I want to get my Christmas cards made.

I had to have this stamp when I first saw it over a year ago - how often do you find a Christmas stamp that mentions yoga? I never managed to make anything with it, though. The huge size of it made it difficult. But look what happens when I use it with the new Top Note Sizzix die. Wow! And the new Basic Grey Wassail paper - double wow! I had some difficulty deciding on an embellishment, and I'm still not completely happy with my choice of a Build-a-Brad (with a small piece of a fourth pattern from the Wassail paper pack). Maybe a small piece of ribbon tucked in under the brad would help. Who knows. But I do really like the way this turned out, so maybe it will help get me out of my slump.

Details: stamps - unknown sentiment; paper - Wassail (Basic Grey), Confetti White, Metallic Gold (Stampin' Up!); ink - cranberry crisp (SU!); accessories - Top Note die, Build-a-Brad, 3/4" circle punch, dimensionals (all SU!)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween fun

Each year on Halloween, the girls want to make jack-o-lanterns. Each year, they choose a pattern and help me "gut" the pumpkins. But the sliminess soon gets the better of them, and they leave me to finish. Fortunately, I've come to really enjoy carving them each year. They're really not that hard to do. Just purchase one of the little carving kits that comes with a few simple tools like tiny little saws. They're only a few bucks. Then find some patterns. The carving kit will probably come with some, or you can do what we did this year and look online. I found dozens of web sites that had patterns. These are from Jammin' Pumpkins - a membership giving access to all of their patterns was only a $5 donation.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Swans again

Maybe you're here looking for some stamping pictures. Sorry to disappoint you this time, but I wanted you to see this. Remember the swan family we watched over the summer in England? I wrote about them back in June, again in July, and once more in August. My husband took some more recent photos for us. This one is from late September. Look how big the babies are now! I'm amazed that they're still gray, but I guess they'll be white soon enough. I've learned a lot about swans since watching these guys grow up. I found out that swans are one of the slowest bird species to fledge their offspring, with the young usually staying with the parents for about seven months. Since we first met them in early June, they're at least five months old now.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In memory

Brad Ewy
Love you, little brother.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Can you believe it? I stamped something!

But first, I have to show you our family pets. Here's Juliette with our parakeets. Tom is the blue bird, and Roxie is the white bird. As you can see, they're quite tame. Their cage is in my craft room, so I get bird songs to keep me company while I make things.

I finally got the time to stamp a few cards. These were made for the Verve Stamps challenge. The challenge was to follow four sketches and use one sheet of double-sided 6x6 inch patterned paper to decorate four cards. The stamps I used are from the new Beautiful You set by Verve Stamps. They are such fun sayings that I wanted some fun paper to accent them. Basic Grey's Romani line seems like just the thing. The colors are a little crazy, but I like them! I was too lazy to drag out the right equipment to take a good photo at midnight, so I apologize for the quality of this picture. Maybe I'll take a better one tomorrow. Don't hold your breath, though. I get distracted easily!

Details: stamps - Beautiful You (Verve Stamps); paper - Romani (Basic Grey), Basic Black, Pink Pirouette, Bashful Blue, Ruby Red (Stampin' Up!); accessories - brads, dimensionals, scallop edge punch

Monday, August 25, 2008

First day of school

Happy day! The girls are both very excited about the start of school this year. They're in third and fifth grades. Sorry about the t-shirt - Juliette decided that this was the day to wear her school shirt. The name of the school has been covered for privacy reasons.

I'm always happy when school starts in the fall. The kids and I have fun together, but we definitely need a break by this time of year. They love their school so much, and I do too. I do a lot of volunteer work at the school, so I'm there frequently as well.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Out with the bad air, in with the good

There's always some sort of surprise after a vacation. In our case, it's the air conditioning. We had it repaired the minute we arrived home on Wednesday. But less than 24 hours later, it was out of commission again. We've been nursing the fourteen year old unit along since we bought this house seven years ago, and it was finally time to stop. So today, we're replacing the whole thing. The guys should be here any minute to yank out all of the crippled heating and air conditioning and put in shiny new high-efficiency goodies. While it's not the most fun thing to have to pay for right after a trip, we have known for some time that the day was coming, so it will be good to have it finished.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Nine weeks of junk mail

Guess what happens when you have the post office hold your mail for nine weeks? Yikes!

The sweet lady at the post office took my form and disappeared into the back room. When she returned with one of the post office tubs full clear to the top, I was amazed. But even crazier was the fact that there was another tub full as well. Guess what I did this afternoon?

Ahh. Much better.

The best part? Not a single jury summons in the pile! Going on vacation has always been the way we get summoned. I was a bit afraid that we'd come home to one or even two missed ones and have warrants out for our arrest! Whew!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

We're home!

We made it home! It's been a really long day, with a ten-hour flight plus a broken air conditioner to greet us when we arrived. The house was 96 degrees inside. A quick call to our trusty heating and a/c company got us a $300 repair, and we should be back to normal by morning. Meanwhile, we've decided to have a backyard campout tonight, since it will be in the 70s overnight. I made a quick trip to the grocery store and discovered that I do remember how to drive, despite nine weeks as a pedestrian. So all is well, other than the jet lag, but a good night's sleep should fix most of that.

Edited to add: The air conditioning managed to get the indoor temperature low enough for sleeping before we went to bed, so we did get to sleep in our comfortable beds after all. What a treat after a long day on the plane!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Time is running out

Our summer in London is winding down. The girls and I fly back to the U.S. this Wednesday, August 13. Darrell will be staying here awhile longer for work. We've been making return trips to our very favorite restaurants. Yesterday we went back to the Dove Tail, the Belgian pub that I wrote about here. The beer and the food are both great here, and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. The standout among the things we ordered this time - a starter course of a leek, walnut, and goat cheese tart. It was so good that I'm going to have to try to make something similar once we get home. After lunch, the girls found a shelf of board games and decided to play for a little while. Check out the British Monopoly board!

This afternoon, the girls and I went into London to find the Banqueting House, one of the remaining sites on our Historic Royal Palaces membership. The building is all that's left of the Palace of Whitehall, which burned down. King Charles I was executed on a scaffold outside the building. The ceiling is completely covered in paintings by Peter Paul Rubens that have survived since 1635. I think I'm about "palaced" out, because it didn't really do too much for me.

Better than the Banqueting House is what's found right across the street - the Horse Guards for Buckingham Palace. It's kind of comical. The guard sits on the horse looking straight ahead while one person after another steps up for a photo. That horse was VERY interested in Katrina, don't you think?

Here are some London Underground pictures. Since we spent a large part of our summer on and around these trains, it's only fitting to show them. The two stations we saw the most were Uxbridge, where we live, and Baker Street, which is a good connecting point for several other train lines.

I've mentioned the canals in Uxbridge and how close they are to our apartment. Here's our building. This was taken from a little footbridge that crosses the canal. The entrance to the building is on the side away from the road. The canal runs in between the building and the road (actually the road in front of the building is a bridge over the canal as well).

This photo was taken from the same bridge, looking slightly to the right of the previous one. You can see the bridge on the right that is the road in front of the building.

This photo was taken from the road, looking straight at the building. I've outlined our apartment so that you can see how very close we are to the ducks and swans that live in the canal.

And finally, here is our swan family. We hadn't seen them for a couple of weeks and were hoping they'd make another appearance before we left. The babies are still gray, but they're almost as big as the parents now.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The wheels on the bus go round and round

Today was a high-powered sightseeing day. The girls and I signed up for a bus tour with destinations of Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Oxford, all in a single day. We got up very early and were on a train out of Uxbridge at 7:15 a.m. We had to meet our bus in central London by 8:45. We got there and settled in on the comfy bus with about 50 other folks from all over the world. Our nearest bus neighbors were from Dubai, and we met others from Spain, Australia, Canada, and all over the U.S.

Our first stop was Windsor Castle, which is Queen Elizabeth's favorite home. The castle is about an hour outside of London. Funny thing is, it's only about 15 minutes from Uxbridge. So we got up early, rode the train for an hour and the bus for another hour to get there! It's the journey, I tell you. We toured the State Apartments, which are amazing. The rooms are huge, opulent, and beautiful, which is quite a thing for me to say, as opulent rarely equals beautiful, in my opinion. No photos were allowed indoors, which seems to be the case with all of the castles here. But outside was another matter. This is the approach to the castle. Can you even imagine living someplace like this?

We caught a glimpse of the Moat Garden over a wall. Pretty! What we didn't know was that you can go into the garden. A little while later, we found the entrance, and the price of admission was a very small donation. So in we went.

I'm getting more and more pleased with the things that my camera will do. These roses were in the Moat Garden.

Here's a view of the castle grounds from higher up in the garden. I don't think I'd like having tourists traipsing all over my yard day after day!

We all piled back on the bus for the drive to Stonehenge, about an hour and a half away. The stones are in the middle of a field, in the middle of nowhere. But they're an amazing sight. They're well cordoned off so that you can't get too close, but the walkway is laid out in such a way that you can walk around all sides of it and see it very well. I'm sure that the crowds are much worse on the weekends, but I really didn't have much trouble getting photos without a ton of other people in them. This was one of the major sights that the girls had listed on their "must see" list earlier in the summer, and it was definitely worth a visit. It's way far out in the boondocks, though, so I do recommend taking a tour and letting someone else drive!

Next we were off to Oxford, another hour and a half away. We took a walking tour around the campus. The architecture was fabulous. Some of the buildings were almost 1000 years old. It was very hard to get photos without many other people and their cameras, but I did my best. The atmosphere of the town is very nice.

After leaving Oxford, we rode another hour and a half on the bus to get back to central London. We passed right by Uxbridge, which was unfortunately not a stop for the bus! We could even see our building from the bus. But we had to ride an hour further, then take a train back an hour the other way. By the time we got home, about 14 hours after we left, we were beat. But it was a great day.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fun word pictures!

I ran across something really cool in my blog surfing today. While checking out This D*mn House, which is one of my daily reads, I was introduced to Wordle. Just give it the URL of your blog, or type in a list of words, and it will create a word picture for you. You can change the number of words, the orientation, the font, the colors, and lots of other details. Here's what I got using my blog, with all of the recent posts of our Paris trip. Isn't that fun? Click on the picture if you'd like to see it larger.

Try it out! If you load yours into the gallery, leave me a link in the comments. I'd love to see what you make.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Paris trip - part three

Continuing where we left off, still on Saturday, we left the Pompidou Centre and its generally not-so-interesting (to us) modern art. The next museum on our list was Musée l'Orangerie, which is located along the Seine not too far from the Louvre. This is a small museum which was said to contain a lot of impressionist art. As we approached the museum, Darrell was unable to avoid being eaten by a lion.

The girls were getting along so well that I had to snap their picture. You'll believe me if I say they've been like this all summer, right?

Okay, here's the big deal about Musée l'Orangerie. There is an enormous display of Monet's water lily series of paintings. The entire ground floor of the museum is dedicated to them. There are two very large oval rooms, each containing four huge paintings. This painting is probably six feet tall, and I didn't capture the whole length of it! The lower level of the museum contained lots of other great impressionist paintings as well. I was a happy camper here!

Katrina took this photo of us at the hotel. Does this happen to anyone else? We can't take decent pictures of each other, but both of the girls can get good shots of us just about every time.

On Sunday, we took a trip up Montmartre, the highest hill in Paris, which is home to the Sacre Couer (Sacred Heart) basilica. Our hotel was right at the foot of Montmartre, so it was a quick walk up to the basilica. There is no photography allowed inside, but the ceiling mosaics are amazing. Well worth the trip to see the inside. The outside is gorgeous as well.

Our next stop was a visit to Marché aux Oiseaux. It's a market right near the Notre Dame that is Marché aux Fleurs (flower market) every day except Sunday, when it becomes the bird market instead. Lots of vendors are there selling caged birds. As our family pets are parakeets, we thought it would be fun. The birds were beautiful, and there were many varieties that we had not seen before. I never saw so many different colors of finches!

Here is a picture of an ordinary Paris street. I love all of the balcony railings and the colorful flowers. The apartments seem to be this tightly packed everywhere in town.

This is another view of the Seine from a bridge. It's one of the few peaceful views in the bustling city.

So after four very busy days in Paris, we headed back to the train station to board the Eurostar train back to London. We were so tired, but it was a fun trip. I'm very happy that we had the chance to see Paris while we were here.

Paris trip - part two

Okay, where was I? It was Friday and we were just finishing up our visit to the Louvre. After lunch, we went to Musee d'Orsay. It's not nearly as large as the Louvre, but it has a wonderful collection of impressionist paintings. My wonderful high school French teacher taught us a lot about the impressionists, so I tend to gravitate toward them in museums. The collection here is terrific - Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, Seurat, Van Gogh, and lots more. I loved this museum.

Here's a lovely Monet.

And a Van Gogh - Starry Night Over the Rhone - not the hugely famous starry night painting, but I love this one, too.

Musee d'Orsay was originally a train station, and it shows in the shape and scale of the main part of the building. This enormous clock hangs at one end. I have no idea how big this is, but it's got to be at least ten feet across!

Saturday started with a visit to the Notre Dame Cathdral. It was a drizzly morning, and the crowds were not bad at all. The line looks long, but it moves quickly, since there is no charge to visit the main part of the church.

Here is one of the famous rose windows. I played around with shutter speeds a bit, and found that most of the windows photographed well with a speed of 1/10 to 1/25. This was on a very overcast day - I'm sure it would be different if it were very sunny outside.

We walked around to the back of the cathedral to get a view of the flying buttresses.

I had to snap a closer shot of the spires of the cathedral.

Next was a trip to the nearby Pompidou Centre, home to the modern art museum. I remember hearing all about this place in high school, as it was very new at the time. Its most striking feature is the fact that the mechanicals of the building, such as the elevators, escalators, heating ducts, and so forth, are on the outside. The outside of the building turned out to be more interesting than most of the contents, unfortunately.

I have to admit that a lot of modern art leaves me a little cold. Some of it looks like a pack of school kids were let loose with fingerpaints. And some just seems like a great big scam. There were three huge all-white canvases in the museum. There was a breathless bunch of blather on the accompanying placard, saying that the artist was of the minimalist school, choosing a very limited color palette, sometimes limited to white only, for his work. Excuse me? That's just a bunch of baloney if you ask me.

This piece was just bizarre at first. It's an airplane made of branches, like you'd use to make a basket. And it's completely covered in scissors, knives, corkscrews, and things like that. But reading its placard reveals something interesting - all of the objects - over 10,000 of them - were confiscated by airport security in Sao Paulo. This was one of the most fascinating things we saw in the museum.