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December 22, 2013


I decided that this year, I was going to try my hand at paper snowflakes.  This turned out to be a dedicated Pinterest Board as I tried to figure everything out.  And I did!  I'm very pleased with the results, which are below.  I used white newsprint from a Dollar Tree scribble pad.  They're not bright white, but it doesn't seem to matter.  Only a few are my own designs, such as the one with the trees, and the last one, which is supposed to be a tangle of Christmas lights, but I didn't get it quite right.  There's also a mini one in the first picture (they're about half the size of the others) that is supposed to be bulb ornaments.  They look a little more like tomatoes.  The rest I figured out from direct instructions or staring at ones that were already done.


Oops, stupid shiny surfaces.












tell me this looks a little like a string of lights?
December 19, 2013


A short story about some pictures.  Well, one picture in particular. 

B.'s office party turned out to have a 1920's theme.  I attempted to find an ultra-authentic drop waist until I encountered an awesome red dress.  It had a drape neckline, a plunging drape in the back, and a fishtail.  It was perfect for any time period from the 20's to the 50's.  I found it at Ross for about $30.  I was very skeptical at first, because I'd never worn a dress with no back, but when I tried it on, I was amazed.  I looked awesome in it and was determined to get a good photo of us.  (B. always looks awesome in his tux.)

Fortunately there was a photographer at the party.  Unfortunately she was following the '20's theme and giving everybody black and white photos.  We BEGGED her to print ours in color, because bam, red dress.  She graciously complied.  

Unfortunately, my old scanner gave me some issues when I scanned the hard copy handed to us the night of the party.  The colors came out weird, and no matter how much I tried, I could NOT get the fuzzies off the screen.

 . . . Am I glowing?

I decided to wait until the digital copies became available.  When they did, well, this is what we got.

You OK?  You're looking a little grey.

Nice, yes, but it just loses a lot without the red.  We tried to get color copies again, but they wanted to charge us more per picture.  What to do?  I'll color it myself!   Naturally I turned to the Internet for help, and eventually got results.

Aren't we awesome?

I admit it's not completely accurate, but I think it looks pretty good.  I may do some more touching up sometime - for instance, B's lips should be a bit pinker, and his watch chain and buttons should be gold.

You want to know how I accomplished this, don't you?  I lost my copy of Photoshop, so I've been struggling with Gimp.  It's a bit of a learning curve, but eventually I just learned to search online for my specific question.  I found two good tutorials.  The first one turned out not to work for me, because whenever I attempted to perform the 'invert the colors' step, Gimp just turned my image blank. Perhaps it might work normally for you.  I couldn't figure out the problem, so I found another tutorial, which basically uses layers and the multiply tool.  I also found the colorize tool to work pretty well, especially for skin.  It seemed to add a kind of subtle glow.  It was certainly very simple to perform, but it took me hours to do due to trying to get in all the cracks and crevices and clean up all the sharp lines.  Fortunately we were wearing red, white, and black!  I only needed three or four layers.  


I did two of the best pictures and called it good.  I still wish I had gotten a photo of the back of the dress.  I think this counts as my Red Dress.  I always envisioned something poofier.  Don't know about the Red Dress project?  Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess, wrote on her site:
"I want, just once, to wear a bright red, strapless ball gown with no apologies.  I want to be shocking, and vivid and wear a dress as intensely amazing as the person I so want to be.  And the more I thought about it the more I realized how often we deny ourselves that red dress and all the other capricious, ridiculous, overindulgent and silly things that we desperately want but never let ourselves have because they are simply “not sensible”.  Things like flying lessons, and ballet shoes, and breaking into spontaneous song, and building a train set, and crawling onto the roof just to see the stars better.  Things like cartwheels and learning how to box and painting encouraging words on your body to remind yourself that you’re worth it."
I'm not sure what made me feel more positive about myself: looking awesome in a dress I wouldn't normally dare wear, or being able to turn a black and white photograph into color.  I hope to wear the dress a lot more, and hopefully others like it.
December 3, 2013


A conversation about the weirdness of some Christmas traditions recently led me to wonder exactly WHY I enjoyed storing a tree in the basement and setting it up in the living room for one month out of the year.

The answer is apparently the ornaments.  The tree and the lights give me something to look at to fight the awfulness of it getting dark before 5 pm every day, and the ornaments, well . . .

The ornaments are partially an extension of my love of miniatures, but mainly they are physical manifestations of my memories.  Each ornament I pull out of the box comes with a positive memory.  Some of them remind me of the fun shopping trips I used to go on with my Mom and sister, some of tree decorating parties while watching movies on TV.  Some are memories of trips, or people.  Some I just love because I think they're beautiful, and some remind me of my favorite things.  Our Christmas Tree is a true representation of us.

I was excited this year because a new house allowed me to access the entire tree and hang EVERY ornament on it.  It's a pretty wild assortment.  I'm going to share!


This first picture shows my first ornament - the little girl on the bike.  My sister and I had several ornaments on our parents' tree that were designated as 'ours.'  This was mine, along with a 'Baby's first Christmas' ornament, and a pewter Santa face.  Mom hung them on the same side of the tree so we would know which side had our presents.  Once or twice she got it reversed and we would demand it be fixed.  It has my name and '1979' written on the bottom, because that's how my mother prevented ownership fights.  

The glass ornament on the far right belonged to my great-grandparents.  I inherited quite a few!  The 'Z' is an ornament I made in honor of my new last name.  I thought it was a good way to personalize the tree.  

The owl?  I have a lot of owl ornaments.  They just keep coming.  I try to explain it off as a representation of the Nutcracker, although I think that's only in the movie.  


Another section of ornaments.  Beside the owl ornaments, I also have a lot of mouse ornaments.  You can see two here.  I can't imagine the fighting that goes on when I'm not around.  You can also see two more of my great-grandparent's ornaments - the glass top and a wooden green top directly below.  My husband had quite a few space themed ornaments, so they're all over the tree as well.  They're supposed to plug into the lights, but unfortunately the plugs don't fit in the LED light strand that I have.  So sad!  The pewter ornament is a souvenir from my first visit to Williamsburg, which was a really fun trip.  The White House ornament is one of several that I have - gifts from my aunt.  They were pretty popular in the Northern Virginia area!  


The hot air balloon is another gift from my aunt, after a memorable hot air balloon ride my husband and I took.  The nativity egg was painted by my grandmother.  The Peanuts ornament I especially like, as it's Christmassy, popular characters, AND educational.  There's a number of Peanuts characters all around the ball, each wishing you a Merry Christmas in a different language.  Usually I don't really like not having something holiday related on the tree, but this counts.  (if you're going to have Superman hanging on your tree, at least put a santa hat on him!)  There's also another mouse, a set of five I dearly love.  I THINK I have them all.


I keep having to reglue the tip of the tail on the caroler, and the ice skater lost one of her skates, so I made a new one, but otherwise their smiles just make me happy.


This one is another favorite.  There was a whole set, but I just wanted him!  He is so heavy that I can only hang him on full size trees, so for a while he sat out all year on a shelf.  I have numerous Nutcracker related ornaments, Nutcrackers, mice, owls, ballerinas, and Drosselmeyers.  


I also inherited a number of wooden ornaments from my grandfather's tree.  This chair, a cradle, and a grandfather clock, which makes me considering doing a miniature tree and just hanging furniture on it.  Could be fun!  I suppose I should make them more Christmassy!  


This is not an ornament, but a tiny mouse figurine, writing a letter to Santa.  I never know where to put her!  Perhaps I should find a way to hang her on the tree.


It took my Mom and sister quite a few trips to be able to collect three sets of these Peanuts carolers.  While trying to get Snoopy, they came back laughing.  Apparently there had been a manufacturing mistake, and Snoopy's head had been put on backwards on many of the figurines.  Fortunately they had checked first!  You can't see in this photo, but Snoopy has a tail sticking straight out behind his scarf . . .

So that's my tree. Mice and space ships, owls and comic book characters.  It makes me happy, so it goes up every year.  









My husband LOVES the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas.  It's an enchanting tale about expanding your horizons and following your dreams, and trying again if you fail.  Plus it's Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, a combination of awesomeness that's hard to beat.  When I discovered on Pinterest that people were doing Nightmare Before Christmas themed trees, I just knew he had to have one of his own.

This is why I haven't been posting much.  This project was just as time consuming as a miniature house, with many of the same problems.  The worst problem was the price of the ornaments.  There's lots of official ornaments and toys for sale, but they're all REALLY expensive.  I couldn't justify the cost.  However, I had a printer and fun foam and a great imagination, so once it dawned on me that I could make my own, I made my own.

A great website I encountered was Spoonful, a craft site with lots of Disney themed projects.  Searching just for "Nightmare" will bring up all kinds of projects!  Two of them were especially perfect for a small tree.  The first was this paper Jack Skellington printable project. I didn't know what to do with him at first, but eventually got the idea to use him as a tree topper.  I printed him out on card stock.  He feels pretty sturdy, but I'm not sure how well he will pack for next year.  I'm considering printing the right arm again and replacing the left with it so that he can hold the snowflake with both hands.  (I was rushing to finish the tree last night, so his bowtie isn't on yet.)

The spider snowflake was a little easier to make than Jack.  I found a pdf pattern to follow on the Instructables web site, and cut it out on regular printer paper, using an Xacto knife.   I may go back and trace the entire thing out onto cardstock so it will last longer.

Going back to the Spoonful site, another great printable was the Nightmare Before Christmas Playset.  All the major characters in one pdf!  You're supposed to use them to put on plays, or possibly substitute game pieces with these (Can you imagine playing the Game of Life with Lock, Shock, and Barrel?)  They are designed to be double sided, but I ended up just cutting that part off.  All of these are also on the tree.  Then I began just doing image searches and printing out pictures on cardstock that I thought would make good ornaments.  Even though they're paper, they make great ornaments!


 Having gotten the major characters covered, I started thinking about accessories.  What would make the tree more Halloweeny?  I started this project thinking I would be buying a white tree, but was fortunate enough to find a 4' black tree at Walmart for $25.  I decided that red, white, orange, and lime green glass balls would be great colors against that dark backdrop.  All but the orange were easy to find.  I even found red icicles, which seemed creepy for a regular tree but perfect for this.  I don't know how to describe that red drop ornament on the left, but it also seemed perfect!  I thought purple would also be a good Halloweeny color, but couldn't find any small balls the right color.  I ended up finding some holiday stems the right color, so I just stuck purple branches into the tree to add color.

I bought some fine point paint pens and drew on the balls to make them NBC themed.  They worked out well.  Lots of Jack faces, some pumpkin and bat faces, an Oogie Boogie man, and that spirally hill.   I have plans to do more, maybe some short phrases ("What's this?") and other faces.

Since it was after Halloween, I found some great deals on colorful spider rings, which clipped perfectly to the branches.  I also found some GREAT Jingle Bell spiders at Big Lots.  I still need to string them so they can hang, but right now they're perfect just sitting on various tree branches. Small white balls for Jack's faces were really hard to find, but I was able to pick up a pack of red, white and green balls at Michaels.  It was a tough choice between those and the ball with the fun swirls on them.  I will draw swirls on the leftovers, too!

In my searches I found an awesome blog: http://diynmbcprops. blogspot.com/.  She's going all out and making detailed props of Nightmare Before Christmas items, and sharing the tutorials with the public.  I got so many ideas from her!  She did a really detailed prop of the chalkboard on which Jack tries to solve Christmas. She had a picture of the board, but it was black on white.  I managed to play with it until I got it to look like a chalkboard.  Mine didn't print out properly (I think the printer got hung up on the edge of the cardstock and it never finished)  so I will be reprinting it soon!  Here's my file if you want to use it.



For a while I kept confusing Nightmare Before Christmas with The Corpse Bride, both of which would still be perfectly acceptable on the tree, come to think of it.  I decided dancing skeletons would be perfect for the tree, and again, did image searches for what I had in mind.  There's an old Disney short featuring dancing skeletons, which proved to be a great reference.  I ended up making 5 of them, cutting them out of white fun foam.  They're a bit fragile, and if you draw on fun foam with a pencil, YOU WILL NOT GET IT OFF.  Oops.  I glued button thread to the back of their heads in order to hang them. 


Another great find was the garland.  That is actually yarn I found in the clearance section at Michaels.  The checkout lady gave it a look and asked what you could make out of it.  "I haven't the slightest idea!" was my reply.  But it seemed perfectly Burtonesque and slithered right around my tree.



So that's my Nightmare Before Christmas tree! So far.  I have lots more ideas, but I was trying to keep it a surprise for my husband, and if I didn't 'give' it to him soon, I wouldn't have gotten anything else done.  I'll put it up at Halloween next year with a few more surprises.  Perhaps I might splurge on some official ornaments, too.  I did buy two using a leftover Disney gift card from several years ago, but they were on sale!







October 31, 2013


I've had an idea for a fully carved spider-web pumpkin lantern in my head for ages, but wasn't confident enough in my abilities to attempt it without someone else's instructions.






I never found those instructions, but when my husband brought home a free little pumpkin from work, it seemed to be just right for a full out lantern, so I attempted it on my own.  It turned out so well I'm going to share my how-to with you!

So, here you go, my process for creating a spider-web jack o'lantern.


What You'll Need:
  • A small pumpkin, not too lumpy or creased - ideally symmetrical all the way around, about 8-15" in diameter
  • pumpkin carving tools like PumpkinMasters, or a serrated knife that can cut small pieces
  • a pen or marker
  • tape, about 1/2" wide, scissors to cut width if necessary
  • a light (I recommend the small cheap LED tea lights - much safer and can last you several years!)
  • Several hours to devote to carving

I can't give a pattern for this, since pumpkins are all kinds of different shapes and sizes. You'll need to figure out the best layout for your pumpkin.  Get a little pumpkin, not a big one.  Your hands will thank you.  (You should be glad you can't see the size of my blister!)  

Firstly, do not draw all over a pumpkin with a pen.  It won't wipe off as easily as you think.  I was trying to get a feel for what I was attempting to do and had all sorts of craziness drawn on there that was still on there when I put it out for display.  

Step 1.  Prep Your Pumpkin

Cut out the BOTTOM of the pumpkin and clean out the guts from there.  (it's just like cutting out the top, except awkward because of the stem.  I worked on mine with it balanced on my lap.)  Then begin thinning out the shell.  You'll want to get it nice and thin, but not TOO thin.  I usually scrape until I can feel the vibrations of the scraper with my other hand directly on the outside of the pumpkin.  You'll understand what I'm talking about once you feel it.  

Step 2.  Vertical Webbing

I took some painter's tape for this step and cut it in half, making it about 1/2" wide.  I used these strips to mark out the vertical webbing.  I wanted the holes between the web to be somewhat square, so I tried not to get the lines more than 2" apart.  This took a surprising amount of time to arrange so all the lines were evenly spaced around the pumpkin, but it was well worth the effort.  
Step 3 - Horizontal Webbing

Once I got those lines worked out, I began drawing out my horizontal lines with, OK, a pen.  I know what I just said, but here it's OK.  I did simple arches, but you can choose to do whatever interests you.  Maybe alternating diagonals per column?  I kept the arches a tiny bit narrower than the vertical webs.  I drew two lines for each arch, then scribbled on the pumpkin underneath that arch, to indicate that this was the piece I was cutting out. 

I started out spacing the arches pretty narrow at the top, and changed my mind and made them farther apart as I went along, but the effect was quite pretty.  My hand with the saw kind of decided just how accurate each arch was, but I figure spiders get tired and achy too.   I realize this is rambly, but just look closely at some of the photos in this post and you can kind of go with a pattern there.  Remember you're cutting out and removing the space between the webs, not the web itself.

The bottom row I did a reverse arch, and ended it about an inch and a half above the bottom of the pumpkin as it sat on a level space.  You could probably still go lower, but I figured no one would be able to see that section anyway.

Step 4:  Cutting Out

IMPORTANT: When you cut out each hole, DO NOT PUNCH OUT THE PIECES YET!  You'll need these pieces still in place to support the rest of the pumpkin while you're sawing.  I worked my way around the pumpkin in horizontal rows, doing all the top ones first, then the row below, etc.  I needed to rest my hand on the pumpkin to saw and didn't want to rest it on a piece already cut out.  

Step 5:  Punching Out

When you've got everything cut out, you'll have the fun of poking all the pieces out.  It's really very satisfying.  Keep the saw handy for those bits that resist. Don't try to force a piece out, or you could break the web. 

Extra Comments

I used PumpkinMasters tools, but I opened a new pack this year thinking 'new blades will be sharper' and they were flimsy and uncomfortable.  Don't know what to tell you to use, but I'll be looking for better tools for next year!

You don't really NEED the bottom piece anymore, but it can help raise the candle up if you want more light.  

The pumpkin should be fairly sturdy still, but treat it gently.  I actually carved it the night before Halloween and stuck it in the fridge to help it last through the day.  I left it out overnight the next night and by morning it was starting to cave in due to spoilage.  There are tricks to keep it from rotting, like spraying with bleach or smearing cut edges with petroleum jelly, but this pumpkin is mostly cut edges so I'm not sure how well it would help.

Add some extra decor - I think spider rings would have been awesome on this lantern, but frankly, they creep me out, so I didn't have any.  

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below, and I will gladly answer them.  This pumpkin looked fantastic in my yard, and I got a lot of compliments.  They'd be really pretty as a set!    

October 25, 2013


Another attempt to get me back into working on this.  My brain is trying to create new projects already and I can't get THIS one finished!

We'll start at the top.  Here's the attic.  Not as tall as I remember, even without the roof..


I have accomplished very little up here.  I've made a floor.  That's pretty much it.   The door you see is actually the bathroom door, I just borrowed it for the photo because the placement of the stairway door is the only other thing I've accomplished.  I haven't even run the wiring!  I have NO idea what I want to do up here, other than 'make it an office.'  It will need lots of bookshelves, which will likely go where Robin is standing.  It needs a roof.  The side dormer windows (not really in the picture) will likely get window seats.  I need wall space to hang the bulletin board and the sword collection, but I'm not too sure I want to sacrifice book space for that.  



The Bedroom.  This is probably the most complete of all the rooms.  The floor had been done previously.  The wallpaper is scrapbooking paper from Hobby Lobby.  I cut out the window trim from illustration board, and there will also be illustration board wainscoting around the room.  I made the doors - again out of illustration board and what is probably half scale siding.  (the closet doors are louvered.)

I have only installed one door of four, and in order to install them all I had to rip out the wall, which was only partially glued in by the molding on the other side.  In the process I managed to hit the ceiling fan that was hanging from the plug in the ceiling, and broke off one of the pins.  I think I fixed it, but I'm still not happy with the ceiling fan in general.  I also made a mistake with the closet door handles - they're way too high!  (yet it LOOKS right?  so confused.)

Ideally I want half height steam radiators under the windows, but I can't find them and don't feel up to making them.  I may build boxes under the windows and claim that the radiators are hidden underneath.





The bathroom has been very time consuming!  I still don't know what I want to do with the floor, and am not happy with the wall color.  I also haven't bought the lights I want to put over the sink, nor found a mirror yet.  Or faucets, for that matter.  Or a washer and dryer.  My brain wants me to install a hamper in the bedroom closet that can then be pulled into the bathroom.  I guess I could at least install a door and claim it's for that?  I'm pleased with the sink and tub, however.  They will work, although I feel like the tub isn't deep enough.  I measured against my full size tub, though!


The kitchen.  Yeah.  I've done nothing.  It'll be mostly cabinetry on the wall.  Hopefully another cabinet on the right hand side.  I've cut out a wall, but no door or other openings yet.  I'm considering transom windows.  I don't know what to do about the floor, so I may just go with wood.  I have the sinking feeling that I'll be making EVERYTHING by hand.  I'm hoping it will be easier than the bathroom.  


The living and dining rooms.  I'm pleased with the flooring results in there, although I had a bear of a time with that octagonal shape.  I even tried to apply math to the problem and could NOT get it to work out!  So I resorted to eyeballing and it's much better now.  Eventually I will fill in the rest of the area around the octagon - I was estimating for a built in cabinet on the left hand side, so that part of the floor will be filled in.  A fireplace (with working flickering LED fire!) will be installed in the center of the wall, and half bookshelves on either side.  I am sincerely hoping I am overestimating the amount of space I need for books, because I am moving everything from the archaeologist's study into this house.  And making more, because Robin needs copies of Harry Potter.  



The paper in the upstairs hallway isn't sticking well at all, so I need to make some repairs.  I also have to redo the floor due to the warping problem which really threw off everything else.  (you can see the problem in the bathroom picture above.)   I still have the old floor for this area - I may go ahead and make it work for this new configuration.

And I haven't worked on the downstairs hallway at all yet.

I've been trying to finish the interior before I start working on accessories so I can at least show off the finished house, but sometimes I feel like I'll never get there.  I don't know if making a checklist will help.  I'm kind of discouraged at this point!  I feel like I've been working so hard on it all and it's still a hot unfinished mess.


October 23, 2013


I recently came across an unlabeled Willowcrest on eBay that claimed it was a replica of a real house in Saratoga, NY.  I scoffed a bit, knowing it was a kit, but then realized that it's quite possible this kit WAS based on a real house.  I haven't seen the box in so long that I don't remember what it said.  Curiosity got the better of me and off I went to Google Image Search and Pinterest.

I found several intriguing houses.  This one was a house a couple toured during a house hunt. It was built in 1869, so you can get an idea of timing.  They didn't specify where they were, only 'upstate New York.'  Very sweet, and I especially loved the interior photos.

However, the upper level didn't have the distinct shape of the Willowcrest.  It would be easier to search for that feature if I knew what it was called!  So I turned to my newest book:  A Field Guide To American Houses by Virginia & Lee McAlester.  If you're interested in historic architecture or need a good resource for building a historically accurate dollhouse, check out this book!  IT's FILLED with tons of drawings and black and white photos of house styles and architectural bits.

This house in Barrington, RI features a center gable
in the Mansard roof very similar to the Willowcrest style.
The Willowcrest is considered a Second Empire style, which ran between 1855 and 1885.  It has a Mansard roof with a center gable.
It features Italianate style (1840-1885) framed doors, framed paired windows, and overhanging eaves with many decorative brackets.  The example to the left is a classic real life house, and very similar to the one featured on eBay!

Why research and write about all this detail?  I love real history, historic architecture, and old buildings, and will take advantage of any opportunity to look at them.  I'm also in a rut and haven't been able to work on my Willowcrest in a month, and this is my way of working up interest again.


My next option took a while longer to track down, and lead me down a false trail full of gorgeous Victorian gems that you absolutely must visit when you're done here, but eventually I found it.  It turned out to be an historic home struggling to find preservation.  The Winans-Crippen House was built in 1871 in Saratoga Springs, NY.  You can read more about its history and preservation efforts at Saratoga's Preservation Foundation site.  I feel so sorry for it! I can't help wondering if this is the house that influenced the kit.  Do you know of any other homes in the Saratoga area that might be a better match?





Update: 6/20/16

Came across this lovely 1870 house in New Haven, CT today.


























Update: 11/9/16
Look at THIS from Woodbury, NJ: