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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fiery Fall Colors

Most years I resist fall. I have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, toward a season of shorter days and colder nights. Fall is like the credit card bill you get after the fun of summer. Fall means back to reality: back to school, homework, alarm clocks and colder weather. I dread Labor Day, and I go into denial as long as possible, wearing shorts in November and refusing reality about the diminishing long days of summer.

But this year I find myself enjoying fall more than I expected. This year I noticed the beauty of the trees’ changing. Were the leaves so brightly colored in previous Novembers? I can’t say. This year things really look different to me. The colors of fall are all around and I’ve been collecting leaves and snapping photos for weeks.

It’s Thanksgiving and I feel thankful for the people in my life, for freedom and good health. I want to share some nature photos that capture the brilliance of fall.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Things You Don’t See Everyday

This morning while I was walking I heard a big commotion in a tree and suddenly, to my left, something was falling out of the tree, but WAIT!—it stopped falling and began to fly. A giant bird flapped away from the tree, triggering a memory I have of another rustle in a tree, seven years ago. The startling moment back then also involved a tree and an animal. But the animal, the tree, and the country were all different.

It was 2006. We were visiting family in Canada. It was nearly dark when Val remarked (quite calmly) that there was a bear in the tree next to the house. SAY WHAT? Yes, a bear.

We were visiting a small Canadian town near the woods so maybe a bear sighting should not have shocked me so much. But it did. You see, wild animals and I do not mingle intentionally. I’m scared of my own shadow, after all. But I joined the group for some twilight bear watching. I squinted up into a tall tree as darkness descended, hoping the bear would not do a back flip out of the tree, land at my feet and start nibbling me.

We city folk were in shock. The Canadians were not. Maybe this was a nightly thing for them. For us, not so much. We took photos, but it was nearly dark and we were trying not to scare the bear with a flash so the photo is pretty blurry.

But I swear this really happened. I’m flattered if you think I could imagine such a strange and vivid scene but honestly, I never would have imagined a bear in a pear tree. Maybe a partridge in a pear tree. Sure. I’m much more comfortable with that. A partridge is much smaller than a bear, after all, and therefore much less scary to me. Bears are giant, hungry, sharp-clawed and strong. No thanks. The only bears I’m willing to get near are gummy bears.

Anyway, that’s my story for today. If anyone out there reads this and thinks a bear in a pear tree is ho-hum, clearly you are braver than I am. Maybe that is something you see every day if you live in bear country. But for us city folk, that was newsworthy.

I’ll sign off now. It’s time to head out and see if I can find anything else unexpected: maybe Bigfoot shopping for holiday decorations. Or the Loch Ness Monster doing laps in the bay. I’ll let you know.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Crayon Time!

Cheap Frills Tutorial #4

Are you familiar with crayon rubbing? It’s a craft technique also known as crayon impression or texture rubbing. I’m going to teach you how to make unique greeting cards with textured elements.

You may associate crayons with people under the age of 10. But let’s open up the fun to those of all ages. I find using crayons to be an instant trip to happiness. Crayons are so colorful, easy to use and inexpensive. They also allow you to make something quickly because there is no dry time.  

Many people profess not to be creative, but I think they underestimate themselves. Crayon rubbings are fun and you do not have to be a professional artist to do them. No one is pressuring you to recreate Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel! Get yourself some crayons and paper and don’t be afraid. Just give it a try!

Things you will need:

1.      Blank note cards or card stock (paper that is thicker than regular paper)

2.      Envelopes for your note cards

3.      Scissors

4.      Glue

5.      Crayons

6.      An assortment of household items that have a raised design (simple is fine—see below)

If you are using a sheet of cardstock instead of a pre-folded blank card, cut your cardstock so that when folded, it will fit into your envelope.

Next, walk around your home and look for everyday items that have raised texture that will create impressions. The texture needs to be somewhat rigid. (For example, the bristles on a toothbrush are textured but they are too flexible for this technique, and you won’t get a clear impression when you rub.) I found it fun to walk from room to room and spot things that would make interesting impressions.

Here are some household items I used to make impressions:

·        Buttons

·        Rick rack

·        Tread on the bottom of a shoe

·        A corrugated tin can

·        The fake snakeskin on my wallet

·        Legos

·         The tines of a fork

Once you start looking, you’ll notice that there are many everyday things that have texture. Metal items give particularly good results as the metal is firm and the impression will be quite clear. Here are a tin can and the grate from our coffee maker. Both have raised and lowered parts, which will make clear impressions.

Get some plain paper and place a sheet over the item with the texture. Use your crayon to color the area above your textured item. Hold your item in place with one hand while coloring with your other hand.

TIP: The harder you press while coloring, the darker the texture will be and the more contrast you will see between the high and low parts of the texture.

TIP: If you are rubbing crayon over a pattern with a direction, color in the opposite direction. In other words, if your textured item has lines running up and down, color from left to right. This will make the texture show up much better.

TIP: There is no right or wrong to this technique. Whichever colors you like are fine. Experiment! Some items I used (like buttons) did not pick up the texture as well as I expected. Oh well. Try something else.

TIP: If you like how a rubbing has turned out, consider layering another color on top of it. Turn your paper a bit so that the impression from the first crayon will not match up perfectly with the impression from your second crayon. This will be a more visually interesting effect. Here are the results of my impressions using the corrugated side of tin can. On the left, I pressed down on my crayon with more force. The result is a darker look. On the right, I did not press as hard and I left a little white space, which makes a lighter effect.
The next photo shows how different patterns and colors created a variety of effects.

When you have an assortment of rubbings (at least six, but why stop there?), pick several for your first greeting card. I decided to make a flower so I began cutting petals out of my rubbings. Here is how it looked when I had my pieces cut out: 
I lay my pieces on my cardstock and tried a few arrangements. When I was happy with how things looked, I got a glue stick and glued each piece in place. Try to get a uniform layer of glue so that each piece sticks well to the card. (Of course, let’s avoid having rivers of glue run down the card. Universal rule of using glue: don’t use too little, but don’t use too much, either!) Here’s my finished card:

Here is a card I did using only three pieces of textured coloring. I made hearts in three sizes, and layered them on top of each other. It’s a simple design but cute and will brighten someone’s day.

My last experiment was a thank you card. I used blue cardstock and picked out eight different patterns and colors, but all with a blueish look. I cut out the letters and placed them on my card before gluing them down. Once I was happy with the layout, I glued the letters down. I decided to outline each letter so that the overall message stood out from the background a little bit more.


Creativity does need not be expensive or involve unusual tools. The only ingredient you need is the desire to try.

Total cost: $3.

·        crayons and glue (free, because I already had them)

·        cardstock and blank greetings cards: $3 for 10 cards.

Wouldn’t you like to send people hand-made cards with fun patterns on them? If you start now, you can make them in time to send out in December. It does not take long to make a one-of-a-kind card but the personal touch means a lot to the recipient. Have fun!


Monday, November 4, 2013

Noises in the Night

In the dark I slowly cracked one eyelid open. I’d heard an odd noise. Was I dreaming? No. It was real. It was a loud hum. Our fridge? I peeked out the window to see if our neighbor was using power tools before sunrise. He is doing an overhaul on the house. But in the dark? Nope, nothing outside. Groggily, I zombie-walked out of the room to investigate.

Soon I found my answer. The noise was coming from our son’s room. I picked my way into the room, wary of nighttime perils in the form of Legos on the floor. Several inches from his motionless head, an alarm clock was trying in vain to wake him. It is a clock radio but it was not playing music. It had an odd buzzy racket coming from it, the noise you hear when a radio is not picking up a station clearly. Fumbling in the darkened room, I tried to figure out which switch on the back turned the alarm off.  Eventually I found the correct switch. The motionless lump in the bed remained completely unaffected by the irritating alarm static. I considered the irony of the tired parent two rooms away hearing the alarm while the child lying less than a foot away from the alarm slept dreamily. The point of getting him the alarm clock is so that I don’t have to work so hard to wake him each morning. The point of getting him the alarm clock was not to wake me up—without waking him up—an hour earlier than necessary!

The clock radio had a glowing red 6:30 on it. It was still on Daylight Savings Time. The new time (as of yesterday) was 5:30a.m. For a moment I indulged in righteous indignation: this is the first weekday I can enjoy getting another hour of sleep, a perk of returning to Standard Time. I was not supposed to be woken in the dark by a confused alarm clock. I deserved my extra hour of sleep! Pouting, I grouchily shuffled back to bed and curled up in the warmth. I closed my eyes and waited for sleep to settle my body into a wonderful dream about elves creeping into my house and dividing the laundry pile into five piles, which then would be whisked into the correct rooms. I burrowed under the covers, allowing my body to relax…

I shifted. Then I kicked covers off, too warm already. I rolled over and got into the position which gets me back to sleep 95% of the time. And I waited. A few minutes later I opened my eyes. It was no use. There would be no further sleep for me this morning. No fair! On principle alone I want this hour back! Oh, I’ll survive…There are far worse injustices in the world. I hope all of you out there relished that extra hour of sleep. Now who can I see about a voucher for the extra hour of sleep I was hoping to enjoy?

Alternate titles considered for this post:

1)      Sleep Study

2)      How You Know Your Child is a Deep Sleeper

3)      Why I Found Myself Blogging Before 6 a.m.