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I love summer, but who doesn’t? It’s the long days of sunshine and the unhurried pace of things. These days I enjoy my summer days by biking country roads through cornfields and having a beer with friends, but when I was young, my summer days looked much different. First of all, we didn’t have cornfields where I came from. Trees and grass, yes, but no corn.

No, in junior high I enjoyed a wonderful schedule of laziness that filled my summer days absolutely full of absolutely nothing. And it was fabulous.

1. Biking to Rachel’s house. From there Rachel and I would take the bus to the mall, walk to parks, complain about how boring life was, and talk about absolutely everything.

2. Walking to 7-11 for Slurpies. On the hottest days, I could always rely on 7-11 to be over-air-conditioned. The lady behind the counter could also be counted on for telling us, “this isn’t a library” as we loitered at the magazine rack.

3. Walking to Thompson’s Grocery Store to spend my allowance on the newest issue of Vogue. I knew it was too-grown up for me, really. So of course I loved it.

4. Biking to Van’s Variety on Northwest Highway. This throw-back five-and-dime with creaking wood floors had everything, I’m pretty sure. Sink stoppers, kiddie slingshots, seam rippers, ice cube trays, shoe laces, Paydays, and Bull’s Eyes. And literally everything else you could ever need.

Van’s also had a small section of sewing sundries. It offered a humble selection of the barest sewing basics, but it was enough to tide me over in between trips to the fabric store. A small caddy of button cards, a sweet little rainbow of thread, rickrack, and bias tape. And a four skinny bolts of polyester pom pom fringe.

I loved those four skinny bolts of pom pom fringe and one summer they inspired one of my must-make projects. After stalking that pom pom fringe for the better part of two months, and dreaming on ways I could justify buying a yard, I had it! I knew what I would make! I would make a pair of short white shorts, trimmed in fire engine red pom pom fringe. So I asked the nice lady to please cut me one yard of red pompom fringe and I bought myself some happiness that day. The shorts pattern that I had at home was more like a culottes than shorts (It was 1990, people. There was bad stuff goin on then) so I decided that my too-short jeans from last school year were going to become white jean shorts that day. I threw them in the washing machine, DOUSED them with bleach and let ‘er go. They didn’t get as white as I wanted (more of a cloudy sky blue?) but that would have to suffice. Then I laid them out on my bedroom floor and carefully scissored them into shorts. Hand sewed the hem, hand sewed the red pom pom fringe to the underside, and they were done. I added a souvenir Yosemite patch to one of the back pockets (‘cuz “More is More”) and then they were really done. And they were wonderful. Never mind that they were a little too short, and that pom pom fringe on the hem of your shorts is not that comfortable to walk in. They were wonderful.

When some fashion maverick decided that pom pom fringe was in a few seasons ago, I was so happy! I wanted to write a thank you card that said, “On behalf of the thirteen year old fashion designer in me, Thank You!” I’m seeing pom poms and pom pom fringe in lots of fun places these days: caftans, jewelry, gladiator sandals, short shorts (trendsetter me!) and shawls. It never looks fully elegant to me, but always fun and fabulous.

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I’ve been away.
I’ve been away and I’ve missed you!

Several years ago I wrote a post about laying out a path that leads to to Dreams Achieved. The idea was that if you can envision where you want to be in five years, then you can lay out and enact a plan that actualizes your dream. Maybe it’s being a Certified Teacher, or a Boutique Owner, or a Freelance Writer. Whatever your dream, put it in your sights, and take the steps that will lead you there – that’s the idea. (You can read the original post here, and it comes with a great daiquiri recipe that pairs nicely with dreaming big.)

In that same post, I said that I wanted to publish a book in the next five years though it seemed far-reaching at the tim...

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I have coined a new term. “Elfwork.”

elf·wərk/ n. preparations for Christmas, usually performed in a hurried or hyper manner.

Now dear reader, I do no mean to confuse you. This new term “elfwork” is very different from another term I’ve coined: “elf workout.”

elf·wərk·out/ n. An exercise regimen consisting of throwing snowballs and jumping over gumdrops, usually performed in a hurried or hyper manner.

So you see the difference.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of elfwork around my house. My beloved Annual Christmas Open House is next Saturday and I’ve been working.

And I think I’m up to it. I think.

I want my friends and customers to find a beautiful candlelit home, elegantly decorated with pine boughs and vintage glass ornaments. A good merlot and a bright sauvignon blanc accompanying delightful hors d’oeuvres, to a background of angelic choir-sung carols. Luminarias lining the walk, and festive merry-making by a crackling fire.

And gobs and gobs of Christmas merchandise to browse and buy.

Any sane person would have approached this event with a rational plan-of-attack: a long to-do list decided in June, and steady steps that lead toward Christmas Open House success. Not me. Nooooo. I prefer the approach of ten months of think-and-plan, followed by six weeks of scatter-brained chaos and glitter. But as stressful as my mode may be (and I know that it is!) I somehow get things done.

Yesterday (Christmas Open House countdown: 13 days) I should have had an Anne Tracker following my silly progress though the day. I accomplished a lot, and finished many projects, but so inefficiently! Instead of _plan project, gather supplies, and complete project_ I start one project, get a new idea, gather supplies for new idea, get side-tracked, and complete a step on an entirely different project. Retracing my own steps hundreds of times, I dabbled on many projects, completed a few, and started some that may never actually come to fruition. Why, why, why can’t I be a linear thinker?!

Today (Christmas Open House countdown: 12 days) I have an insane list of tedious half-chores that should get done. And some of them will, I hope. I have to make labels for the homemade vanilla and Reindeer Tracks mix, and cinnamon vodka. Rubber cement the rest of the paper garlands together (“Feliz Navidad,” “Happy New Year”!). Stage the last of the mason jar winter dioramas. Bedazzle edelweiss hairpins. Package the glittered reindeer (I don’t know how though). And price. Everything.

And I can’t forget to decorate. How could I forget?! The Rubbermaid totes packed with ornaments and garlands are all over my house. I can hardly step, let alone forget about the decorating! But it must be done, because I’m certain that all the Christmas touches – the wreaths on the doorknobs and the trays of pillar candles and the mercury glass ornaments hung from the deer antlers on the wall – are a necessary backdrop from making merry. I’ve got a vision for a perfectly magical night, and I just might gitRdone.

But for all these big plans, I’ve also got a secret weapon: my elves. Friends and family that go out of their way to help me put on my Open House. I have one friend who actually cleans my house a day before the Open House every year. And for the last few weeks my mom has baked and frozen hundreds of cookies for me to serve to guests. Hundreds! And last year, Crabby Cathy served wine all night with a smile on her face! My girls Liz and Sus are my Girls Friday, doing whatever I need, and Leah’s making and serving Caprese kabobs so I don’t have to even think about them. I love my elves!

And the funny thing is, when the first guest walks though the door next Saturday, everything will be just fine. What’s done will be done, and no one will know what projects never DID get finished, or how much anxiety I’ve choked down. It will be just fine.

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While I love to travel to see new people and new places, I think I really love to see new beads and new yarn. How many times have I dragged my whole family off the beaten path and down some rabbit hole in search of a shell shack that (I heard, or at least I read online) sells hand carved shell beads? Just to find that the townspeople have never heard of such a shell shack?! More than I care to admit.

But usually finding some new art supplies is much easier than that. Thanks to Google and Yelp I can find a yarn shop anywhere. When visiting the fam in central Wisconsin, I always drag my mom to the yarn shop in Verona: The Sow’s Ear. This shop is a delightful little place with a well-curated collection of main line lux yarns as well ...

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It’s no secret that I love curbside treasures. I have very little shame when it comes to slamming on the brakes, backing up, and loading up some great find from someone’s garbage pile. Even with people watching me from inside the house.

And after 20-some years of garbage picking I’ve found some wonderful pieces.

• Market umbrella. Makes my patio table look seriously Pottery Barn.

• Small cabinet. The doors had fallen off making this piece more of a bookcase. I painted it glossy white and it holds my family’s shoes by the back door.

• Paneled wood door. I painted it a warm, glossy black and hung it above my bed for a headboard.

• 4 matchstick blinds from Levelor. I picked these up before we eve...

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So, as I was saying . . .

With a summer full of stress, both good and bad, I felt a funny emptiness inside. Simultaneously revved up and tired, and really “blah.” I was frustrated that all this worry and praying were tiring, but I had nothing to show for my days. As much as I was thinking about my brother, I couldn’t do a darn thing to make him better.

So I threw myself into a project. A big ol’ project to occupy my mind and busy my hands. Something engaging and challenging and rewarding and tangible.

While wandering the internet a little while back, I had stumbled on a blog called The Painted Hive. It’s one of those gorgeous DIY blogs by a woman who must live a gorgeous a life (I mean, look at the pictures!). Inspiration and good taste. Great blog. Anyway, this blog featured a redone chest of drawers project that I just loved: it had a modern chalkboard black painted finish, industrial castors for feet, and (most importantly) a trompe l’oeil facade that made regular sized drawers look like skinny printers’ cabinet drawers. (Find it here.) So genius!

Totally filed the idea away in my brain. Then while garage saling this summer, I found the perfect dresser for this project. It was an ugly (but solid!) mid-century maple dresser with ugly mod feet. But it was just $5 and already had the paneling that would rock the faux skinny drawer look. I told my daughter to flip down the back seats in my minivan and I bought_that_dresser.

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I didn’t take any time to plan the project because my long-suffering husband does NOT like when my big ideas junk up his immaculate garage. So I got out the power tools and “who cares about perfection” – I was doing this!

The first thing I did was remove those fugly feet and drawer pulls. I felt a little guilty about this because I knew furniture purists would appreciate the mid-century stylings of the piece as a whole, but I got over it. Then I sanded the piece and wood-filled the holes left from the drawer pulls. Boring steps, must be done.

For her chest of drawers project The Painted Hive used industrial castors from a hardware store. I sure considered doing it that way because her finished piece looked so great, but I decided to go in a different direction. In our town we have a building salvage warehouse called PACA that sells everything from tin ceiling tiles to oak mantel surrounds to limestone pillars, all preserved from old buildings. They also have castors and hardware from old furniture, so I decided to buy some seriously old castors from PACA. (When I showed my friend Leah the “before” dresser and told her about my PACA castor idea, she said, “Why don’t you just buy new ones online?! It’s worth it and you’d be done!” And I said, “Do you even know me at all?”) PACA castors price: $2 for four.

After much swearing and pouting, the castors were installed and they look great. Moving on.

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Next step: painting. To really exploit the paneled front and give the look of the skinny printers’ drawers, I rubbed an old candle on every edge and groove on the whole piece before painting. I did this so that after the piece was painted, I could easily sand the grooves and edges to reveal the pretty maple wood underneath and give a subtly distressed look. I decided not to go with the chalkboard look of The Painted Hive’s project, but instead went with a warm black finish. (As hot as chalkboard finish is these days, I think it will look outdated in about two years and I wanted my piece to have a longer-lasting look.) I used some paint that I’ve used for lots of other projects: a semi-gloss black latex called “Coalmine.” Then, for warmth, I rubbed on a mahogany wood stain that I had on hand. Lastly, I sanded all the edges and grooves to full faux effect. Price for leftover paint: $0.

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The last step was the most important: adding the little label drawer pulls. These babies knock the project out of the park, so I hunted down the perfect ones (for me). I really loved some authentic vintage drawer pulls that I saw, but with 18 faux drawers, I didn’t want to drop $6. So I got some reproduction pulls for the right price. (I liked them so much I carry them in my supply shop even. Find ’em here.)

The finished piece is just perfect, just what I wanted. It’s funny, but all my failed projects make the successful projects that much more rewarding. And it was the therapy I needed, too.

As I look at the Before and After pictures, I need to point out one other fixer-upper: that lamp.

Reading West Elm and Crate & Barrel catalogs is seriously dangerous, so don’t even start if you’re not into it already. It’s like meth and I think it forges new neural pathways in your brain. Each page showcasing pristine and hip showrooms so beautiful that find yourself disgusted by your own digs. But anyway, thanks to those terrible catalogs I decided I NEEDED a large metal lamp and that I couldn’t be truly happy until I had one. So, I bought I tacky lamp at a garage sale for $1 so I could make my own.

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The original lamp was brass and outdated, but the shape had the squat form I was looking for. (And dear reader, please note the stained shade in the Before picture. “Eww” and “gross.”) I kept the shade just long enough to measure the dimensions for my NEW lamp shade search, and threw that bad boy away. Then with a can of Krylon Looking Glass Spray Paint, I spray painted the base. (This very small can of spray paint is not cheap – about $13 – but with a Michael’s coupon, the price is better. And the paint color is pretty wonderful and worth it, I think.) Finally I hunted down a lamp shade on Craigslist for $5 and voila.

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Now I’ll never want for anything again. (Snort. Yeah, right.)

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Summer got surreal when my daughter gave me the phone message. “Uncle Josh is in surgery,” she said. And no one knew what that meant. What surgery? Why? Where? What for?

Details filled in like they usually do in Crisis Mode. Misinformation mingles with fact, then retreats and regroups and a forms a new working reality. Lay people like my mom and my brothers and me repeat medical terminology given to us by doctors and specialists and surgeons. Though we don’t comprehend fully, it’s all we have to work with. And it feels like the more we feel like we know, the more secure we feel amidst all that’s spinning around us.

As we gathered in the ICU waiting room one night, we piece together what had happened. Cancer...

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Yesterday I had one of those moments that brings you down low.

I’d been having a good day, actually. I’d been spring cleaning in the morning, purging and purging useless half-projects from my studio space. I was replacing the space and materials dedicated to old pastimes with cleared space for the “new.” I hauled along for the better part of three hours, just cleaning house, renewed by a clean slate.

Over the noon hour, I ran an important errand that I’d been putting off. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but making and keeping an appointment is pretty “grown up” for me.

Then in the afternoon I had a good run. It was windy yesterday, and cold. Whenever I run in crappy weather, I always fee...

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You’d think with a nine-month warning that I really shouldn’t be stressing about a gift for baby on the baby’s due date. But I’ve lamented over this before. I don’t blame the baby for not giving me enough time. Really! I blame myself and my time management skills (which are always overdue).

So what’s a procrastinator to do? Knit a seriously simple blanket that can be made the weekend before that baby makes its way out, that’s what.

I designed this blanket to be the perfect baby gift and it meets all my criteria for Awesome Baby Blanket:

1. super soft and snuggly
2. machine washable (Mom-Friendly)
3. simple, mindless knitting (I can finish these blankets in just a few days of intense knitting, but it’s going to be worked on everywhere: couch, car, standing in line at the post office.)
4. babies love it (Baby-Friendly)
5. wins “baby shower” every time.

The pattern is a simple stockinette square, trimmed with a nice garter-stitch border. It’s a classic that really will become a child’s favorite “blankie.” (This is why we knit.) The pattern is a mere 100 rows, so it’s easy to break up the knitting and conquer (10 rows a night, or 25 rows a night, you get the idea). I chose a chunky, super-soft acrylic yarn that knits up quickly and has a nice hand. Thanks to the the silky texture of the yarn, and the garter stitch border, this blanket has a really beautiful drape.

A last-minute project that makes procrastinators look good.

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Simple Square Baby Blanket

Yarn: Lion Brand Hometown USA: (100% acrylic; 81 yds [74m]/142 g.): Monterey Lime, 4 skeins

Needles: size 13 circular needle

Gauge: 8 sts/4” in ss

Dimensions: 30″ square

Directions:

CO 64

Knit 7 rows in garter stitch.

Row 8: k 4, k 56, k4

Row 9: k4, p 56, k4

Rep. last two rows 42 more times (93 rows worked)

Knit 7 rows in garter stitch.

BO.

Finishing:

Weave in ends.

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temp-post-imageHandpainted Christmas Donkey

I used to get annoyed by premature Christmas displays in stores. You know what I’m talking about: the lighted trees and robotic Santas that appear in July, before I’ve even thought about school supply shopping. Such an annoying trend!

But now I say, “Oh, glad you could make it – I’ve been doing Christmas since LAST Christmas.” Snort.

For me, I think about Christmas all year long. All _ year_ long. Christmas is becoming the won’t-go-home guest that has way overstayed its welcome. But this is just how it has to be.

The whole sales calendar is slid to November and December for Christmas shopping, so I slide right along with it. Shoppers start serious Christmas shopping in October, and that’s great for them, but I’m the girl who has to have cool things for them to buy. So if I’m on my game, I’ve got my etsy shop Christmas-ready by September. I want it tidy and well-stocked with lots of earrings and necklaces and scarves that’ll grab handmade buyers.

So I prepare. And work like an elf.

I start knitting scarves in January, because it’s easier to work on a cozy-heavy scarf when the weather’s cold (not stifling and sticky outside – blech). Then I move into pieces that take some design enthusiasm. New bracelets and earrings that involve a new technique or some new element. My batting average on these pieces is lower than on my tried-and-true designs, so it’s nice to fail and try again when there’s no Holiday Rush pressure heating up. And while I really enjoy working on new lines, I find that I tire of them, too, so it’s a good idea for me to get a head start – I can always come back to them later.

Come summer, I shift into Mass-Produce Mode and slowly start to beef up stock with my classic designs. This year I sold my 100th Vaticano Necklace, so it makes sense to make-ahead when possible. And it’s a huge time-saver, too. Before making each piece of jewelry, I go through a small preparation process: I inventory supplies, get all necessary supplies and tools, and reference any design notes that I’ve made in the past. It’s not a lot of work, but it’s tedious, and I’ve found it’s much more time-efficient to make 10 of a bracelet, and do all those prep steps just once.

In theory, my shop is ready to go by early fall. And then the rush: this is the time of year when everyone starts calling. Holiday Bazaars, and Holiday Shops, and Consignment Shops and Galleries are all looking for artists and merchandise in preparation for their Christmas Rush. Working for these venues are real bright spots in my business calendar: new customers, fun design challenges (this gallery wants high-end and simple, while this urban shop wants my grungier and one-of-a kind pieces) and a different mode completely. But it takes a lot of time and paperwork and postage. And elfwork.

So when Christmas finally rears its head, I’m quite tired of it. Old before it even got here. Ho ho hum.

But there is a very nice side to this Christmas Rush calendar: I get to chill and enjoy Christmas proper. My etsy sales drop off a bit when shipping times run too late for Christmas delivery, so come mid-to-late December, I’m back to normal speed. So when the kids want to bake cookies, I actually bake cookies with them. We make our list and check it twice. We watch It’s a Wonderful Life. (I cry more at that movie every year. I think I’m getting old.) We cook all that rich holiday food that you only make once a year. Merry Christmas to all!

And I can participate in real Christmas, the one that really happens. I can paint donkeys and starry skies for the school Christmas program (see above, see below). This is such a magical time of year, and for a few weeks I can really enjoy it.

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