Dec 23, 2013

Free Template: Family Birthday and Anniversary Sign

I love this project. It mixes some of my favorite things...spending time with my husband, family birthdays and anniversaries, DIY, and gift giving. If it weren't for the rush to finish before Christmas, it really would have put me in my happy place. The shorter time between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year really threw me. Or maybe it was having a toddler...hmmm.

My husband is not what you would call gifted in the crafting arena. He once tried to help me string together a garland for a baby shower and it was a near disaster. However, put a power tool or an engineering project in his hands and he is a genius. His contribution here was invaluable. I like doing projects with him because it reminds me of when we first met. Yes, we worked together as engineering interns. Scandal! Well, actually not because we didn't start dating until much later, but that is a different story.

We made this gift for my husband's family last Christmas. We liked it so much I made three more as gifts for my family this year. The idea is not mine - I saw it on Pinterest with the rest of the world.  There are some crazy creative people out there. This post was the one that caught my eye. However, I wanted to hand paint the letters instead of using scrapbook paper/modge podge. After hours of adjusting sizes and fonts, I came up with this template. I'm sharing it here to save you the time and the hassle. I also adjusted the design to adhere the circles to a piece of ribbon instead of having to drill holes in each one for the hardware. This allows future movement of the circles if necessary as you can peel the circles off the ribbon if you are very careful.

I love these for Christmas, but they actually would make great wedding, bridal shower, or even baby shower gifts. Or perhaps a gift for a new grandparent.

What you need:

Wood (ideally a nice piece of hardwood)
Stain and staining pad
Drill or drill press
Router (roman ogee bit used here)
Sand paper (superfine 220 or 350 grit)
Random orbital sander
Glue gun
Craft paint
1" diameter unfinished wood circles
Ballpoint pen
Printer and paper
Paint brush (get one with a very small stiff tip)
Ribbon approximately 1/4" wide
Paint pen

1. Cut a nice piece of wood (we used Peruvian walnut) to 18" x 6". Route the edges, if desired, but leave enough area available for painting. Also leave enough surface on the bottom of the wood to screw in the eyelets for hanging the circles.
2.  Pilot drill and screw in 12 eyelets at even intervals into the bottom of the wood.
3. Lightly sand with the random orbital sander to remove any burrs left from routing. Stain the wood. We used Varethane natural color stain to highlight the wood grain while keeping the natural color of the wood. Allow to dry for a week.

4. Print the free template (above) and cut along the line. Align the two pieces together, matching up the overlapping of the letters, and tape together with clear tape.
5. Place the template on the wood. Measure from the top of the F to the top of the wood. Measure from the top of the Y to the top of the wood. Make sure both measurements are the same and tape the paper to the wood.
6. With a ballpoint pen trace along the outside of the letters with enough pressure to slightly indent the outline into the wood. This will serve as your guide for painting. Pay particular attention to where the words overlap. Decide which letter you want to be in the forefront and trace the outlines accordingly. If you look closely you can see the indentations in the wood in the above pictures.
7. Once all letters have been traced, pick your paint colors and get to work.
8. After painting the letters, you will also need to paint the 1" diameter wood circles in coordinating colors. Allow to dry.
9. Take 12 of the dry painted circles and write in paint pen the first letter of each month. 'J', 'F', 'M' etc.

10. Loop a 1/4" width ribbon through the eye and back onto itself and adhere with hot glue. I would suggest adhering the ribbon at the location of where you want the 'month' circle so it will be hidden.
11. Adhere the month letters in order to the ribbon with hot glue.
12. Write day numbers and names on more dry painted circles and adhere under each month.

When I give this as a gift I often include extra circles, a paint pen, paints, paint brush, and extra ribbon - anything they might need to keep it up to date as the family grows! It makes for a nice little package all wrapped up together.

Dec 20, 2013

My favorite DIY Christmas decorations

I'm always looking for a way to bring a little quick and inexpensive festivity to my home for Christmas. I like adding new projects each year, making our decorations something personal. So in that spirit, here is a short roundup of my favorite handmade Christmas decorations. And why not wrap one of these little guys up and use it as a stocking stuffer or a party favor? Someone on my list is getting the mini wreath this year and we'll have to see if I can part with the felt ball garland. I might have grown just a bit too attached.

Felt Ball Garland - Felt balls, baker's twine, needle. One of my favorite stores, The Makery in Los Altos, has a felt bar. This is the same idea as my cake topper from my husband's 30th birthday. Stringing a few of these felt balls onto some green and white baker's twine and you have an adorably simple Christmas garland. String it along a door frame, over a mantel, on the tree, above a mirror...I think I need to make more.

Rustic Chalkboard - Round wood slice, chalkboard paint, paint brush, and chalk. This one isn't even Christmas specific - I think I'm going to keep this one up year round and change out the message:).

Jingle Bell Garland - Jingle Bells, twine. About as simple as it gets and yet I have seen similar items for sale in the Pottery Barn magazine - crazy. Mine was a bit rustic, but if you go with a shiny jingle bell, I would suggest stringing it on a ribbon instead of the twine.

Simple Wreath - Grapevine wreaths, ribbon. These wreaths come in all sizes. I like to keep them simple instead of overwhelming them with decorations. Just ribbons here.

Feather Ornament - Glass ball ornament with removable top, decorative feathers. It feels ridiculous even to give instructions here. Open ornament. Insert feather. Close ornament.

Mason Jar Waterless Snow Globes - Empty jars, fake snow, bottle brush trees and a glue gun. These were all over pinterest last Christmas (I think Anthropologie sold them). There are lots of tutorials out there, but all you have to do is hot glue a bottle brush tree to the lid and add fake snow to the jar.

Painted Letters - Wooden letters, craft paint, paint pen. These probably took the longest of all the decorations, but I love them. I'm thinking about making more words in the future. You have to have a JOY, right? I found white wood letters, painted them with red craft paint, and then added polka dots with a white paint pen.

Fabric Trees - Christmas fabric, thread, poly-fill, hand-sewing needle, sewing machine. These would be perfect for a kid's room. I think kids deserve a little Christmas in their room, too.

I had a bunch more projects planned out, but life took over and they didn't get done. Oh well. Maybe next year!

Merry Christmas.

Sources for materials:
The Makery Los Altos - Felt balls and baker's twine
Michaels - Jingle bells, wreaths, wood slice, chalkboard paint, glass ornament, feathers, wooden letters, paints
Hobby Lobby and Joanne's - Bottle brush trees, fabric, poly-fill
Mason jars - I had them around the house

Dec 19, 2013

A Non-Cookie Alternative to Christmas Party Gifts.

Just a quick post today. I'd thought I'd throw a non-cookie idea out there for neighbor/friend/hostess Christmas gifts. Don't get me wrong - I love a good cookie. In fact, I dedicated this recent post to some of my latest cookie baking discoveries. However, Christmas is often overrun with cookies. And too many cookies, no matter how yummy, can make you feel 'bleh'. How about a little breakfast treat instead?

I tried these Cranberry Lemon Biscuits from Joy the Baker and they were perfect. Not too sweet. More like a British scone. I wrapped them up (after slipping one onto a plate for taste testing) and will pass them out tonight at our Bible study Christmas party. Another good option are these Blueberry Scones from La Petite Brioche. I gifted these to my mom's group. I'm a blueberry scone snob, but these were legit.

Pair a great scone recipe with a tangy lemon curd and you've got a perfect hostess gift. And a cheat for people out of time or less than gifted in the kitchen - Sticky Fingers Blueberry Scone Mix. I RARELY use mixes. This is one that I will pull out on occasion. It is surprisingly delicious and you only have to add water. Genius.

Merry Christmas. 

Dec 13, 2013

Baby It's Cold Outside: A Winter Baby Shower

Last weekend I had the privilege of co-hostessing a baby shower for a friend. I got excited because I had never intentionally thrown a winter shower before (one had to be delayed to winter because the mom had the baby on the original date). Not to mention, the ladies invited were super awesome and it was pretty much guaranteed to be a good time.

I started brainstorming a few months ago. After some deliberation, I settled on a "Baby, It's Cold Outside" winter theme in icy colors like pearly white, teal, and light blue.  It was gender neutral and there were so many possibilities for adorable decorations.

I couldn't break the bank with the shower costs (especially with all the Christmas gift buying this season holds) so I decided to see what I could put together myself. I started by making the invitations. I think they turned out pretty adorable. The design uses two free fonts: pea ellie bellie and DH snowflake. I printed them at home on card stock. Then I placed each one in a kraft paper envelope, sealed it with teal and silver washi tape, and tied it up with teal baker's twine...which turned out to be a hint at the main activity for the shower.

I love baby showers, but so often the progression of the shower is awkward or the games a little less than fun. We decided to throw the normal games out the window and make this an activity only shower. By which I mean all the guests participate in an activity or craft together. For example, the mom-to-be for this shower enjoys baking so we set up sugar cookie decorating for all the guests. It turned out to be a lot of fun and allowed the conversations to continue while decorating. The other benefit here is that the guests took their cookies home as the party favor. Two birds with one stone. We decorated little bakery boxes with washi tape, thank you tags, and tied them up with the baker's twine. A sweet little package to take home and enjoy later (and perhaps reward the babysitting husband).

And now to my favorite part...the decorations. I really put my Silhouette Cameo to work! I started with shimmery card stock paper in white, teal, and blue and ended up with snowflakes, snowmen, mittens, snowflake prams, snowy 3D trees, and a couple snowball garlands. The garlands read "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and "Bundle Up Baby". Snowflakes were taped to windows, snowmen strung on a garland, the snowy 3D trees were scattered around the tables and the food.

For the cookie decorating tables, I used a roll of brown kraft paper (the kind intended to wrap packages in for mailing) to create table runners. Using white shimmer craft paint, I hand painted snowflakes along the length of it. Then at each person's seat there was a wax paper placemat held down with washi tape. After the decorating you literally just roll the whole thing up and toss it.

The desserts were also designed to match the theme (like I said, I really got into it). I decorated a Mexican chocolate cake with teal fondant and a huge white fondant snowflake on the top. I used the giant snowflake cookie cutters from Williams Sonoma. Then I dusted the whole cake with Wilton Pearl Dust in White to make it sparkle. Then I made tiny glazed vanilla tea cakes and decorated a few of the sugar cookies, of course. To round it out we had some amazing cheese/carmelized onion tarts, rosemary raisin crisps, and spiced cider all from Trader Joe's (and mulled wine for the non pregos). We wrapped up the shower with cake and gift opening and called it a day. 

And, yes. I did give her a bunny ear teether :).

A time saving tip for the mom-to-be: have each guest write their name and address on a welcome sheet. Then use that sheet to document the gifts given. That way the mom-to-be has all the information for the thank you notes in one place. If you design the invitations, you can just use the same fonts to make a matching welcome sheet.

Dec 12, 2013

Three ingredients that changed my (baking) life.

I bake. I bake a lot. So it isn't often that something comes along and rocks my little baking world.

I'd become a bit bored in the cookie realm until I came across three killer recipes. Two from Pinterest (surprise, surprise) and one from a sweet lady in TX. Maybe these ingredients are old news to you, but just in case I had to share. And bonus - I'm listing two of the recipes where I first experienced their awesome-ness (is that an actual word or just one my husband made up?).

Browned Butter and Dark Brown Sugar - I'm sure they are great individually, but these are particularly awesome when they come together. mouth is watering thinking about all the nutty, caramely wonderfulness. My first introduction was via Nutella-Stuffed Brown Butter and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies by Ambitious Kitchen. Just the ridiculous title of these cookies convinced me to try this. Chocolate chip cookies are a classic favorite of mine and the thought of taking them to the next level had me giddy. Talk about an amazing cookie (and they are still great even when you leave out the nutella). Then I separately tried this recipe for Brown Butter Snickerdoodle Cookies which turns out is also by Ambitious Kitchen. Man that lady can bake! These were so good I just ate four of them, gave myself a stomach ache, and I still want more. And guess what - both of these recipes use brown butter and dark brown sugar. I'm a believer.

Mexican Vanilla - This is where that sweet TX lady comes in. I was home visiting and my mom surprised us with these beautifully decorated sugar cookies made by her friend. I had instant baker's envy. I'd never had such an amazing sugar cookie. They were usually just vehicles for icing. I thought that this woman would probably guard her recipe secrets to her grave, but I was wrong. She agreed to teach me, my mom, and sister in law everything - for FREE. Have I mentioned that I miss how nice people are back home? Anyway, one of her tricks is that she always uses Mexican vanilla. And wow - I've switched over completely. I don't even buy the plain kind anymore. We did a control batch and a Mexican vanilla batch with the same recipe (yes, I'm still an engineer) and there was no contest. The regular vanilla cookies were fine. The Mexican Vanilla cookies were freaking fantastic. Try it. And do a sniff test while you are at it. The aroma of the Mexican vanilla will surprise you. As will the lack of aroma of the regular. (I don't feel right about sharing her recipes here on my blog, so y'all will just have to be satisfied with the two above.)

And there you have it. A little nugget of baking happiness just in time for the holiday baking season. Try them - you won't be disappointed.