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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.  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!