Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ah, Spring!

(Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

Unidentified flower in my garden.
I don't know what it is but I like it.
King Alfred Daffodils. These bulbs have been
blooming and propagating for over 20 years.
After a long and very cruel winter, spring has finally arrived with all its glory. The mulch has been pulled back from the gardens revealing all the new green growth that was stirring underneath. In my garden the crocuses and daffodils have been having a party. Daylilies, hostas, black-eyed Susans, sedum and more are beginning to poke through the ground. There is a very healthy crop of cilantro and even some lettuce that survived the winter under my hoop house. Along with the beauties come the beasts and I've been ripping up weeds all over the place but that is to be expected. But some of my plants, like my 15 year old strawberries, did not survive. It is yet to be determined what else may have fallen victim to winter's icy blast.

Orange Daylilies preparing for
their turn on the garden stage.
Still have lots more work to do. These pots
await their turn for spring prep.
I tend to want to grow everything I see and invariably will end up with so many plants that I don't know what to do with them all at the end of the season. This year I think I'll be taking a more measured approach. I'm going to concentrate on those plants and seeds that I already have on hand and limit getting new ones. I am also going to limit what edibles I grow to those that I can easily preserve and consume during the off-season.  I have been blessed with a dehydrator and a stand-alone freezer which allow me to preserve my own food for future use. One of my greatest joys is cooking with the herbs and vegetables that I grew and dehydrated during the summer and fall. There's nothing like crumbling fragrant cilantro or basil into the food as it's cooking or making an omelet with my own veggies.

The growing season is here and I'm ready. Bring it on!!

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Time Marches On

(Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

Alyssa with her brother and cousin.
Nothing reminds you of the relentless march of time like watching children grow up. You remember the tiny baby, the boisterous toddler, the grade schooler. But somewhere along the way something mysterious happens to these little people, something that we adults apparently miss or overlook until it suddenly hits us square in the face...they grow up. I don't just mean they become taller or more filled out. I mean they aren't children anymore, they are young adults. There is something about the celebrations that mark these milestone moments in a young person's life that makes the rest of us wonder where the time went as we gaze upon this freshly minted young adult in wonder and awe.

This past weekend I attended the Sweet 16 birthday celebration of my husband's beautiful great niece, Alyssa. I am amazed to think of her as a great niece. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that her father is in his 30's now. I met him when he was in grade school and his younger brother had just been born. In my mind's eye I still see them romping around, playing with my own children yet they are both grown men with families of their own. Cliche as it may be, time truly does fly.

Back of purse card
Front of purse card.
I could not let this auspicious occasion pass without creating a special card for this special young lady. The theme of her party was loosely based on Alice in Wonderland. The invited guests wore black and white and the Guest of Honor wore red since for this evening she was the Queen of Hearts. Using a template created by Penny Wessenauer, I made a purse card in Alyssa's favorite color, red, and also incorporated the black, white and hearts motif that marked her celebration. Using my KNK Zing Air cutter, I created the greeting on the flap of the purse by placing a glue pen in my pen tool holder. I wrote out the greeting in glue, cut around greeting with the standard blade tool, then dipped it in fine black glitter to reveal the text. The incredible precision of this machine made doing this a breeze. All the other elements of the card were already on hand in my RTU (Ready To Use) stash. I didn't think to take a photo of the card from an angle so you could see how it stands up like a purse. Inside the card were greetings and good wishes written by my family and me for Alyssa and, of course, a purse isn't really a purse unless there's some money in it . I used two small magnets for the closure and a narrow black satin ribbon as the purse strap.

No doubt there will be more family events in the not too distant future. More celebrations, more milestones, more cards. I'll be there, taking pictures and sharing my creations with you. I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Surprise and The Reveal.

(Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

Commemorative banner
My sister and brother-in-law celebrated their 30th anniversary on April 4th and we weren't going to let this benchmark occasion go by without all due recognition and celebration. When my nephew approached saying that he wanted to do something for his folks but had no idea where to start, my mother and I jumped on it. Surprise and subterfuge are my calling cards.

Keeping a surprise from my sister is no easy task and it required constant monitoring of my nephews actions to make sure neither of them did or said anything to give it away. This covert operation was stewing for over two weeks and I'm happy to say it was a complete success. Neither my sister nor her husband was the wiser and we caught them totally off guard in their own home!

Supersized envelope front
Photo star decorations
Needless to say I was busy creating gifts and decorations for the event that kept me up until the wee hours for more nights than I care to admit but it was all worth it.
Here you see some of the goodies I conjured out of paper for my favorite couple. A three foot banner featuring a photo of the couple on their wedding day spanned the doorway between the living and dining rooms. A cascade of gold and silver stars frames the banner on either side.

The "award" poster measures about 12" x 17".  It was the first piece I made and established the decorative theme of the party in precious metal tones of silver and gold, a golden yellow color and a star motif. It wasn't until I had completed the poster that I realized I had nothing suitable in which to present it so I had to create an envelope to fit. Fortunately I had sufficient quantities of this beautiful, large format silver paper to create a custom envelope complete with faux postage and a faux cancellation stamp. The back of the envelope sports three heart cut outs and two elastic closures. I also made star decorations featuring photos of the couple over the past 30 years on one side and the details of the celebration on the other. These photo decorations were casually placed all around the room and were given as favors for the guest to take home. There was also a heart shaped favor basket with a heart studded gold and silver bow filled with little pillow boxes containing chocolate truffles. The pillow boxes had custom belly bands that touted the couple and the occasion that was being celebrated.

Pillow box favors
Heart shaped favor basket & bow
For their greeting card I made one that emulated an arched window with a trellis and a window box filled with greenery and a climbing flowering vine. A close look at the window reveals tiered molding set against a brown background embossed to look like brick work. The leaves hanging over the edge of the window box reveals the tiniest of leaf vein details. Paper spike plants, one of my sister's favorites, line the inside of the window box while the tiniest of yellow blossoms with orange pearl centers dot the climbing vine. A few rhinestone flowers and a glittery butterfly (my trademark symbol) complete the vignette.

Window box greeting card
The event was a big success. My sister and her husband were completely surprised, their sons were pleased as punch to have been able to pull it off without anyone suspecting and the rest of us were just happy to be there in each other's company celebrating our family.

In addition, I learned a great deal about the capabilities of my new cutting machine and was able to come up with designs that I had never attempted before. Every project brings me a step closer to my ultimate goal of architectural paper sculpture. If I've learned nothing else, I have learned that if I can dream it, I can do it.

Onward and upward.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Persistence of Nature

(Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

I don't have to tell you about the seriously ravaging weather we experienced this winter. It was brutal. Fortunately in the fall I had prepared some of my plants to survive the onslaught of the frigid temps and today I got a peek at some of the fruits of my labor. When the weather gets a little nippy, I place the plants I want to protect in my backyard shed which acts like a makeshift greenhouse. In addition, I place several plants on a rolling chrome cart that I cover over with bubble wrap to create an insulating cocoon. This way they are not only protected from the wind, they are just a little warmer than the air outside their "tent". Today I removed the plastic wrap to find...GREEN. My tiny tea roses are green and showing many new leaf buds. The garlic bulbs that had begun to sprout in October are still green and growing and my old vinca (really, it's gotta be at least five years old) is going like a champ. Some of the other plants in the "greenhouse" that did not benefit from the plastic cocoon are also showing signs life like the planter below right that contains a spike plant and some trailing ivy.

My backyard garden is not to be left behind. My faithful daffodils (which were planted over 20 years ago) are pushing up through what was permafrost just two weeks ago and some of my ferns never lost their green color in spite of the sub-arctic temperatures this winter brought.

Last fall I also took the precaution of adding a ridge pole to the hoop house in the front garden that I had erected over the raised bed I built two years ago. It had been blown over that first year by a nor'easter and was in serious need of stabilizing to prevent knock down. It was also draped in heavy plastic to insulate the plants inside. Frankly I didn't think it would hold up especially given the amount of snow we got this year but believe it or not it did. I can't wait to take a look underneath the plastic to see how my cilantro and garlic are doing.

Looks like spring is going all gang busters this year. Bring it on!

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, March 16, 2015

At Long Last, Success!

(Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

Some detail cuts made with
the KNK Zing Air. The spiky plant in
the corner is my attempt at creating
a spider plant.
Way back in January I wrote about the arrival of my new KNK Zing Air electronic cutter. I was excited with the new options this machine would make available to me especially since my first few cuts were nothing short of awesome. Unfortunately my joy was short lived. It was weeks before I was able to get a decent cut from the machine no matter how hard I tried, cried, ranted or raved. Untold reams of card stock and paper were shredded in the process. Finally I threw my hands and wanted to return it but the time period for returns had expired so I was stuck and unhappy with the machine. Resigned to living with an expensive paper weight, I organized my thoughts and set about deliberately and carefully working through the settings in an attempt to figure out the beast. I can now happily say that I have made my peace with the machine and have been able to get some pretty amazing detailed cuts out of it in the process. At top left you'll see some of the leaf cutting files I have created (with the exception of the pink vines at bottom. Below that are a couple of more detailed free cutting files you can find at The detail on that Valentine's heart is amazing and it cut out like butter.

Special Thank You Card
Having a precision cutter at my beck and call opens up a whole world of possibilities and I couldn't wait to try my hand at something with a little more meat than some of my past projects. I needed a special Thank You card for someone so this was a great opportunity to dabble in 3-D paper crafting. At right you see the result. It is a composite of commercial cutting files, files created by me and die cuts. The close up shots show the details that I was able to achieve. The finished card dimensions are 4.25" x 5.50 inches so you get an idea of how small those little leaves and tiny flowers are. Click on the photos to view a larger image.

Look at the precision cuts on
those little leaves.
I must say I am very happy with the result considering it was a first try and, bolstered by the success I have had, I'm going to explore more 3-D crafting possibilities. It is something I have wanted to do for some time but really did not want to spend my time meticulously cutting out every little piece by hand. My new Zing will take the drudgery out of it and allow me more artistic freedom. I can't wait to put it through some more paces. I'll keep you informed of my progress.
This angle shows the depth of
 the 3-D elements of the card.
Those leaves and flowers
are popped out.
Check out the double lattice: pink
on top, gold beneath peeking out
around the edges.

NOTA BENE: For any of you who may be contemplating purchasing a KNK Zing Air, I highly recommend you purchase directly from the manufacturer, I purchased mine through Amazon and went through a litany of customer service issues that added to my initial displeasure with the machine. If I had to do it all over again, I would purchase from the source, not from a vendor.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fresh Eats

This is a picture of the salad I had with dinner tonight. I never would have believed this myself but now, in the frigid depths of February, I'm still eating fresh tomatoes grown in my own garden. They were very green when I picked them in late November when temperatures were beginning to dip and I never expected them to ripen but they did, very slowly. I've been eating my home grown tomatoes continuously since last summer and I still have cilantro growing under my hoop house but I can't get to it because it's underneath a pile of snow. Mother Nature never ceases to amaze me.

The days are getting longer and my garden is beginning to whisper to me. The growing season is coming. Good thing too. I'm running out of tomatoes.


Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, January 19, 2015

The New Kid in Town

(Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

The Zing Air arrives.
In my last post I mentioned that after four years of using the CraftWell eCraft I was upgrading to a new electronic cutting machine. My KNK Zing Air arrived sooner than anticipated and I didn't get around to opening it for a couple of days. It appeared unassuming enough and I didn't expect that I would have a difficult time learning the nuances of this new system. Well, this only turned out to be partially true. It was easy enough to hook up but I had a devil of a time getting my computer to recognize and connect to it. After turning everything off and restarting, propitiating gods and sacrificing chickens it connected and I was able to run the machine.

I am happy to report that the Zing Air is far superior to my old eCraft cutter in many ways and offers creative options I could only wish for. I won't go into all of the bells and whistles.  There are many YouTube videos that can walk you through those details. I will say that my favorite tool is the pen holder that allows me to draw images from my computer with almost any pen or marker at my disposal. I even used a glue pen to draw a delicate flourish image which I then covered in glitter. Oh, I'm going to have fun exploring the possibilities.

My one disappointment is that the machine was advertised as including a special blade for cutting fabric but it did not arrive in the box. I purchased the machine from Amazon but was unable to find a Contact Us link with a telephone number or an email address. I tried contacting the Amazon vendor who responded that I had to handle the issue through Amazon. The only option I found to deal with missing parts was to get a full refund. Thankfully I can get a fabric blade from the manufacturer for less than $10 so I'm not going to waste further time and energy over this but I can tell you I will definitely think twice or more before buying anything else from Amazon that has more moving parts than a book.

Okay, rant over. I'm off to my new machine to see what goodies I can conjure up. I'll be sure to post them here.  Stay tuned.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Fond Farewell To An Old Friend

(Click on photo to view a larger image.)

The eCraft  -  November 2010
I've just taken a leap and invested in a new electronic cutting machine as a combination Christmas/birthday gift to myself. My trusty eCraft cutter, which I won in a contest over four years ago, has served me well but its limitations are many. The machine is just not as good as some others in creating cleanly cut detailed designs. Craftwell, the eCraft's manufacturer, is no longer making the machine although I was told by a representative that they will continue to support it and carry the accessories. Nevertheless, I can see the writing on the wall. The eCraft is not long for this world.

I'm ready to move on to a more reliable machine that will make the intricate and detailed cuts that I long for. My new KNK Zing Air will arrive sometime next week and I'm greatly looking forward to it but I will always fondly remember my first machine. Once I have mastered the learning curve of the Zing Air, I have no doubt I will be whipping up some amazing projects which I will post here and link to my Facebook page. Here's to a new year, a new machine and some new creative adventures.

Ballo ergo sum,
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Friday, January 2, 2015

Bringing in 2015

(Click on any photo to view a larger image.).

My New Year's eve celebration was intimate and special. My husband, son and I picked up my two nephews and traveled to my parent's house to feast on a simple meal of rice, beans and fried chicken topped with a healthy serving of my mom's special gelatin mousse delight. Nothing out of the ordinary, really, yet it was special precisely because it was so ordinary and comfortable, like a well worn pair of slippers.

During dinner, my father made a comment about my mother's delicious stewed white beans which we were wolfing down like ravenous buzzards. He said something to the effect of the beans were delicious going down and deadly coming out. This reminded me of the famous campfire scene in "Blazing Saddles" and in the ensuing discussion we discovered that neither of my nephews had ever seen that particular movie. As it turned out, my father had an old VHS copy of it handy so during dessert, my nephews were treated to their first viewing of Mel Brooks' famous comedy western. Needless to say, they loved it as did we all.

Afterwards the menfolk gathered around a small table to play a few hands of dominoes while my mother chatted on the telephone to relatives who called to wish us well in the new year. Dick Clark's Rocking Eve played in the background until it was time for the famous ball drop.

No matter how many times I experience that ten second countdown it never gets tired. I am instantly transported back in time to when I was a little girl at my grandmother's house, surrounded by family, hugging and kissing everyone in sight yelling, "Happy New Year!" It is the annual replay of a family tradition that has been handed down for generations and lives on for generations to come. In the faces of my children and nephews I see the continuum and look forward to the day that they carry on the tradition and make it their own.

Shortly after the midnight mayhem, we watched a few minutes of Sir Elton John's show being broadcast from Barclay's Center in downtown Brooklyn, then we packed up the domino table and returned all the furniture to its place. Coats on, doggie bags packed and back home we all went but not before another round of hugs and kisses, thank yous and goodbyes. The tradition never changes and yet it always manages to stay fresh.

There's a word for that. It's called family.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Weekend in the Mountains

The wintry weather that had plagued the northeast early in December had warmed up enough for my husband and I to spend a couple of days in our mountain retreat. It turned out to be a lot more work than either of us had bargained for when we discovered water all over the floor in the master bath. Apparently the shower faucet had not been completely in the off position. We didn't know this because the last time we were in the house there was no heat, no electric and no running water. In our absence, all those utilities were made functional. Although all the sink faucets had been checked, the shower faucet had not and the little drip-drip-drip accumulated in the base of the shower. There would have been no problem had it not been for the rubber mat that was blocking the drain. It was a mess but not nearly as big a mess as in the basement below which caught all the water that seeped through the floor. This will haunt us for some time to come in the form of mold, mildew and warped floor boards. SIGH. Lesson learned.

Still, the weekend was not a total wash out (pardon the pun). We did, after all, have working utilities which made all the work a lot easier to deal with. For the first time I was able to really wash and sanitize the bathroom so we could wash, bathe and use toilet facilities. The heat was working and greatly appreciated. We have three heating systems in the house: a gas fireplace, electric baseboard heating and a wood burning stove. The gas and electric are currently operational. The wood burning stove will be cleaned and serviced during the warm weather in preparation for the winter, The house is surrounded by acres of trees so we'll have no lack of firewood. Here's the gas fireplace in the corner of our living room. The logs are ceramic and only for show but, boy, do they put on a show. It truly emulates a wood burning fireplace.

In order to fit some of the things we took up to the mountain house, we had to remove one of the car seats and leave it in our home on the living room floor. My husband, who parked himself in front of the television after our return, found himself looking at the folded seat, particularly at the two holes at the top of the backrest that hold the removable headrest. Perhaps all the mountain air spurred his creativity because the more he looked at them, the more they reminded him of eyes and he decided to "dress" the seat using Christmas stockings and a Santa hat. After I stopped laughing, he asked me to rig up some "teeth" which I accomplish with some bathroom cups and double stick tape. Our beagle, Marla, appeared to be jealous of all the attention we were lavishing on the "Chair Monster" so she pulled out its tongue but seemed appeased enough afterwards to pose in front of it. My son quickly proclaimed that his father possessed a very strange and deep seated sense of humor, something he doesn't often demonstrate to this degree. 

2014 is drawing to a close and I have to say that, in spite of many stresses and uncertainties along the way, the year-end activities have been very enjoyable. 2015 promises to be interesting to say the least. I'm looking forward to it.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva