Friday, December 28, 2012

Reprise of a Winning Post

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Once again I find myself so firmly caught in day-to-day affairs that I haven't had the time to post to my blog and with the current spate of holiday activities in full swing it may be a little while before I'm able to post again. To help fill some of the void I have decided to re-run a three part Cuttlebug tutorial series I posted in early 2009 that enjoyed quite a bit of attention from many crafters. Here is the link to the first of these posts. Links to the second and third part of the tutorial are included in the post.

I hope you enjoy discovering the many possibilities in using the Cuttlebug Vintage die set as much as I enjoyed creating this tutorial. It was a lot of fun. And please leave a comment or two. I'd love to hear from you.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Friday, November 2, 2012

It's A Jungle Out There

Here in New York City the devastating after effects of Hurricane Sandy are being felt in many ways, big and small. There is no one who has not been affected in some way. One of the most inconvenient consequences of the storm is the total upheaval of the transit system. Lower Manhattan subway stations are underwater, and buses are operating on an limited basis. Motorists without fuel are faced with either gas stations that have no gas, those that have gas but not the power with which to pump it, or the likelihood of waiting on an impossibly long line at one of the few stations that have gas available for sale. My husband had the foresight to fill our car with gas before the storm hit so we have thankfully been able to avoid this enormous headache for the present time.

Because train and auto travel is severely limited or totally unavailable, the number of passengers taking the bus has doubled. Because the bus fleet is not at full capacity, buses are fewer and farther between. More passengers and fewer buses is a potentially volatile recipe.  I had to take the bus to go to work this afternoon so I got to see firsthand the sort of chaos that is occurring on them. At each stop the number of waiting passengers increased so the bus filled up very quickly and became increasingly crowded. People afraid of not being able to board a bus after waiting nearly an hour stormed the back exit door, pushing their way in and preventing others from getting off. Tempers flared, voices were raised, insults were exchanged and the air was charged for violence.Fortunately, and much to my surprise, no violence occurred but there was a definite "powder keg" tension in the air.

I was lucky. I got on the bus near the beginning of its run while it was still relatively empty so when the crush of people occurred, I was in my seat, somewhat insulated from it all. The same thing occurred on my return trip...crush of people, tempers flaring, yada yada yada, but I had had the foresight to take a seat even further removed from the middle of the mob that boarded further down the line so I was nowhere near the action. I was more of a spectator, watching and listening to the human drama and shaking my head at the unnecessary lack of consideration as I buried my head in a book of sudoku puzzles.

There was one bright spot in all of this. When I got off the bus near my job, I found I had actually gotten off one stop earlier. There was a small neighborhood deli on my way so I stopped in to drown myself in some sugary confection. There were some young Muslim women behind the counter and a haunting a capella song being sung in Arabic filled the air. The lyrical tune mesmerized me and filled me with a sense of calm joy. When I asked for the name of the artist and the song, I was told it was not a song, rather it was a prayer being recited from the Qu'ran. At my insistence, one of the women wrote down the information for me and told me I could find it on YouTube. After my less than relaxing bus ride home, I scarfed down some pizza, headed to my computer room, looked it up and, sure enough I found it, just as promised. I listened to the hypnotic voice of Saad al Ghamdi reciting the Qu'ran and melted into the lyrical drone of his voice.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Pitiful Pooch

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Note the bandage on her right leg.
The only thing more pitiful and miserable than an injured or sick child is an injured or sick pet and today our dog, Marla, was injured while running through some grass. Somehow she cut herself on her right rear leg near the joint and although the wound was small and didn't bleed much, it appeared to be somewhat deep. My son and I cleaned the wound, applied antibiotic ointment and wrapped it with gauze and tape to prevent infection. That was the easy part. The more difficult part was keeping her from chewing off the bandages. At first she was muzzled which promptly turns her into a floor mat as she throws herself flat on the floor in a gesture of total defeat. It is truly a pitiful sight. Then we borrowed a plastic dog cone from my sister who had used it on her own dog. Problem was that my dog is medium sized and my sister's dog is BIG. Needless to say we had to do a little gerry-rigging to get it to stay on her (gotta love those binder clips). She was no less pitiful but at least she wasn't muzzled. She should be fine in a day or two. We've just got to get her through the night without chewing off her bandages.

Poor baby.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sometimes It's The Little Things...

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Have you ever had one of those "DUH" moments when you slap yourself on the side of the head? You know, one of those "Shoulda had a V-8" moments when something so simple and obvious has eluded you and you've just noticed it? Yeah, we all have. Well, I just had one of those moments and I wanted to share it with you.

My computer has a bunch of different external drives: two CD/DVD drives, a personal backup drive, several memory card drives, not to mention a couple of internal drives. Each drive has a different name -- C drive, D drive, L drive, etc.. This makes for a versatile computer. It also makes for one that can make you a little nuts when you're trying to figure out which drive is which on your directory tree.

For years I've been using trial-and-error to find the right drive for one purpose or another but I've just found a super simple way to avoid all that angst. All it took was sticking some self-adhesive letters on the front of each external drive. Now each drive is identified with its own name and I won't have to play "eenie-meenie-miney-moe" anymore when trying to distinguish them. Now why didn't I think of that sooner.


Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Done and Done - Finally!

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So, remember that small chest of drawers I started stripping over a month ago? (Click here to read that post.) Well, after numerous interruptions I finally finished it and I'm rather pleased with the way it came out. Full disclosure here -- I am NOT a furniture refinisher so my experience and skills in this particular area are lacking. Nevertheless, I have never let not knowing how to do something stop me from doing it if it was something I really wanted to do. In this way I have learned that I can do anything I set my mind to. Just understand that I may not do it very well.

Back to the chest of drawers. It's old, with chipped corners and questionable construction but I really like its clean, simple lines and it's a perfect piece upon which to practice my burgeoning refinishing skills. Above left you can see a before photo taken when I began to strip off the varnish. Below left you see what the chest looks like today, stained, stenciled and ready for a new life housing cardstock in my crafts workshop. The colors are a departure for me inasmuch as I prefer natural wood tones for furniture but I figured as long as this was going to be a creative learning experience I was going for broke.

Among the lessons I learned during this exercise was that paint and stain do not behave in the same way when applied to a surface. Paint would have been easier to work with but I wanted the wood grain to show through the color, something I would  not have been able to accomplish with paint. The edges of the motifs are a bit darker than the center. This was accomplished by going over the motif edges with a second coat of stain but the first layer must be allowed to dry first or the second layer will lift it off and cause unevenness in the color. I used two sizes of plastic scrapbooking stencils by The Crafter's Workshop (TCW192 - Ginkgo Leaves), 12" x 12" for the sides of the chest and 6" x 6" for the drawer fronts. This was  the most difficult and labor intensive part of the refinishing project. I had to clean the stencil after each use before laying it down again to prevent blemishing the surface with wet stain. Because the stain dried quickly and formed a sticky bond to the plastic, this was much easier said than done. It took nothing less than Magic Eraser and a lot of elbow grease and patience to clean those things. Next time I'll paint.

So my paint stripping score so far is one bedroom door, one radiator cover and one small chest of drawers stripped, sanded and refinished with one more bedroom door in the works. After this I think I'll take a break from painting. I've got some apple and pumpkin pies waiting to be baked.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Friday, October 19, 2012

From Bucket to Banquet

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The bucket
The banquet
A few days ago I posted how my husband and I picked a small quantity of apples from my backyard tree. Well, those apples turned out to be tangy sweet and delicious with firm white flesh, perfect for eating out of hand. Unfortunately many of those apples had been badly bruised or cracked when they fell off the tree or through my hands in a lame attempt at catching them when my husband tugged them off the tree. That meant that they wouldn't keep very long before they began to spoil and I had to do something with them quickly. I hereby present to you the first apple pie of the season.

I'd better go now before my family devours the pie and leaves me with the crumbs.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Beauty Surrounds Me

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Sedum in bloom

Marigolds in beautiful fall colors.
Rainbow coleus
Fresh basil for my meals. Mnmm.
Delicious apples in my tree.
Festive fall basket and purple
and yellow pansies
Although I enjoy my garden immensely, many are the days that in my rush-rush to and fro I view it with little more than a sidelong glance and assess how much more work it will demand of me. But then there are those days, like today, when I look at my somewhat disheveled garden and marvel at it. Even now, as the days grow shorter and colder and summer's glory is fast fading, I am surrounded by the beauty and wonder of nature. Such beauty gladdens me, humbles me and makes me smile. Behold my many blessings.

I rescued this 'weed' from
my father's backyard.


Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, October 15, 2012

...And Miles To Go Before I Sleep.**

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My schedule has been filling up at any alarming rate and I'm finding it more difficult to carve out the time needed to complete the projects I have begun and move on to other projects waiting in the wings. This weekend I decided to make some definite headway on some things that have been lingering around in various stages of completion (or should I say incompletion).

Last month I posted about painting my daughter's room and stripping a chest of drawers. Here's an update. Although the painting of the room was completed some time ago, the bedroom door, which had been taken off the frame for stripping and priming, has yet to be done. My daughter has been using a curtain on a tension rod in place of a door for over a month and while she has been a very good sport about it, I know she wants her door back. Making headway on stripping this door was my number one priority this weekend. Given the experience I had with stripping my son's door in August when he painted his room, I was not really looking forward to it but I was determined. Here you can see what the door looks like with much of the paint in the center panel scraped off. The dark brown color is the original stained and varnished finish of the door before all the layers of paint were troweled on over the years. It took me an hour or so to get most of the paint off the center panel and then I started on the other side and did the same. The doorknob and hinges were taken off, cleaned and stripped as well. I didn't get too much further than this before the sun went down.

I probably would have gotten further along with the door had I not taken some time out to help my husband harvest some apples from my tree. He was up on a ladder placing winter covers on all the air conditioners and was in the vicinity of the tree. He just couldn't resist those red beauties so he reached over and started plucking those he could easily reach. I caught most of them but some hit the ground and got banged up.  We ate a couple of those and they were really delicious. Maybe the garden lime I added around the base of the tree at the beginning of the season was the reason for that. In any event, I guess I have some apple pies and fresh apple sauce in my near future. On a somewhat related note, I made a batch of fresh seasoned tomato sauce for the first time last night using tomatoes and some  fresh basil, oregano and scallions from my garden. My intention is to use it as a base for a lasagna I'm planning to make in the near future. Can't wait.

My son came home from a shopping trip with his girlfriend. (Can you imagine? A guy who actually goes shopping with his girlfriend?) They had gone shopping for Hallowe'en costumes and modeled what they had purchased when they got home. My son chose a Scotsman's outfit complete with kilt and cap and his beautiful girlfriend, Carla, chose the Mad Hatter.

 So, getting back to that chest of drawers I was stripping last month, I completed staining it in a pale green color which is totally unlike me. I tend to be a lot more conservative colorwise when it comes to furnishings but I felt adventurous and decided to break with convention. To punch up the green, I stenciled a design on the chest and drawers in a deep turquoise color. In the photos at left you can see the completed drawers and the chest in progress. It will soon be finished. Now all I have to do is find a spot for it in my already crowded crafts workshop where it will be used to house some of the TONS of craft papers I have.

The rest of this month is coming up hard and fast and I still have loads to do. I need to finish stripping and priming the bedroom door, complete the stenciling of the chest of drawers, attend one board meeting, one community association meeting, create a database, design and manufacture an invitation for a client, celebrate my son's 23rd birthday, my husband's and my 26th anniversary and get flu shots. And then it's November.

Whew! I think I need to lie down and take a nap.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

** Title of this post is a line from the poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fall Garden Images

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Tomatoes waiting to ripen
Cucumber is still producing.
September draws to a close and there is a noticeable -- and welcome -- coolness in the air. Although my daily garden routine has relaxed quite a bit from the manic days of summer's full heat, my garden is still in putting on quite a show, much to my surprise. There are over a dozen large tomatoes waiting to ripen on the vine. My cucumber plant, which I had written off as exhausted a couple of weeks ago, still
This is what broccoli flowers look like.
surprises me with more delicious fruit. And in a fit of self-education, I have allowed some of my vegetables to bloom rather than pick
them at their edible peak, just so I can see what the flowers look like. Have you ever seen a carrot blossom? They are beautiful lacy heads that look very similar to Queen's Anne's Lace. And broccoli flowers look like little buttercups.

Bee on a brilliantly colored marigold.
In a few short weeks my shipment of garlic will arrive for fall planting. Fall is
Carrot Blossom
the best time to plant garlic for a great summer harvest and this year I decided to give it a try. I love garlic in my food and I'm anxious to try cooking and eating my own garlic, as much for the taste as for the satisfaction of having grown my own food. One planting season is not quite done and I'm already getting started on the next. So I'm being proactive. Or else I'm being compulsive. Or perhaps I'm being compulsively proactive. Unless I'm just plain nuts. There is more than a good chance that's the case.
Carrot blossom viewed from back.

I was pleased to see lots of bees still hard at work harvesting nectar for their winter honey but dismayed that there were more whiteflies and mosquitoes in my garden than I have ever seen before. Thankfully the season is drawing to a close in another month or so and I won't have to deal with those little peskies until next year. Which, now that I think about it, is only three months away. That means the holidays are almost upon us. I'm tired already just thinking about it.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Everything Old Is New Again

Halfway through stripping
Exposed bare wood under old paint
In my last post I mentioned the radiator enclosure that my husband asked me to strip and paint, conveniently ignoring the fact that I was already in the middle of stripping another piece of furniture and had a bedroom door waiting in line to be stripped also. Anyway, this enclosure had been sitting in my bathroom since before we purchased our home nearly 22 years ago and it had never been painted or retouched in all that time. You can only imagine the sorry state of that thing and in retrospect I'm sorry I didn't photograph it before I started working on it. It was a mess. The paint was peeling and chipping, bare wood was exposed in some places and the definition in the moldings was lost under multiple layers of paint. It was a an ugly mess and the job necessary to rid it of all that paint was another ugly mess. Fortunately I specialize in ugly messes.
Layers and layers of paint

After preliminary paint removal
Here you can see what the frame and it's perforated metal screen looked like after I had spent a day or so removing some of the paint. That's right, I said AFTER. The metal grate had been so painted over that some of the openings were clogged. Stripping it was harder than I thought because as I scraped the stripper off with a spatula, it would ooze through the openings to the other side. Scrape that side, it would ooze back. Not fun. The swan cutout was another challenge. It was backed by two small pieces of perfed metal butted together and boasted so much paint in its recesses that the beak was truncated. I won't even mention the frame corners. These pictures should tell you the whole story.

Almost done stripping
After painting
After stripping and scraping off several layers of old paint and cleaning with steel wool, I gave the frame a quick sanding with a palm sander. I used my Dremel rotary tool with a drum sander head to sand some details back into the swan. I removed the sawdust with a tack cloth and gave it three coats of mildew resistant paint with a built in primer made for high humidity environments. I also used the palm sander on the metal grate with excellent results. It cleaned down to the bare metal. A few quick sprays with Rustoleum Bright Coat silver finish and the grate looked better than new.
Back in the bathroom

One week, a half gallon of paint stripper, untold amounts of steel wool, a bunch of wooden shish kebob skewers (for digging out paint from the crevices) and several sanding pads later, I am proud to say that I reduced that ugly mess of a radiator cover into something that I actually like looking at. In total it took four days to completely strip the frame and grate down to the point where I could even think about refinishing it plus another three days to paint it, allow it to dry very well, then replace the grate and return to the bathroom. It's far from perfect but it sure is a darn sight easier on the eyes than in its former state and it makes my time on the porcelain throne just a little bit more pleasant. I've still go to get back to that small chest of drawers I was working on when my husband tossed this project at me as well as the door to my daughter's room that also needs to be stripped down and repainted.

Never thought I'd be stripping at my age.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I've been busy...

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It seems as though I was looking forward to summer barbecues just weeks ago and now it's the middle of September. Where has the time gone? I've been so busy this summer that time has flown by and I've barely posted anything on this blog. Where to begin?

My son and daughter each graduated from their respective community colleges this year and are deep in the throes of job hunting. They have a couple of prospects lined up so fingers and toes are crossed. My daughter came back home after graduation so we're all getting adjusted to having a full house again. My husband and I enjoyed a great second honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in August and I was thrilled to return home to find that my children had not let my garden die of thirst in my absence nor had they trashed the house. Obviously they have either been well trained or feared for their lives upon my return. Either way, I liked the results.

As in every summer, I spent a lot of time in my garden but this year it was a mixed bag of results. Some things did very well, others did poorly. I tried my hand at growing some new things this year and was rewarded with some potatoes, one huge zucchini, broccoli, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes that are still coming in, carrots and peppers. I'm torn about planting next year. I'm thinking perhaps I should amend the garden and allow it to rest at least one year. At least it sounds good but I know I will miss the thrill of eating my own vegetables. Maybe I'll limit myself to containers next year so the garden can rest and rejuvenate. Perhaps.

I've also been doing some small home improvements and am still in the midst of them. During my week in Mexico my son painted his bedroom and did a pretty fair job considering he really didn't much experience at it. My daughter has also finally finished painting her room.  I foolishly suggested we try a gradient technique I saw on Pinterest. Silly me. Needless to say it was a lot more difficult than in appeared in the online tutorials. It took two weeks and enough paint to cover the Brooklyn Bridge to paint this tiny little room but I suppose that was due more in part to the fact that neither she nor her boyfriend really know what they were doing and because they spent as much time goofing around with each other as they did slapping paint on the walls.

I started stripping a small chest of drawers that a friend of mine gave me when she bought herself some new furniture. I got as far as taking off the old finish when my husband suggested that as long as I was stripping one thing, I might as well strip something else as well, whereupon he promptly brought me the bathroom radiator enclosure. Oh no! I'll leave the details of this project for another post. Still more stripping, painting and fixing up to be done around here. I haven't had much time to be creative but I'm hoping to take care of that very soon when I get around to refinishing the chest of drawers. I'm looking forward to it.

Oh, I almost forgot. My daughter decided to paint over her radiator to match the gradient wall. It's one of the prettiest parts of the room.
<----Looks pretty good, don'tcha think?

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bella Luna

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The moon has been a recurring theme for me this summer and  I wanted to share two beautiful moon images I shot in my own backyard...literally. The first is that of the beautiful blue moon that appeared in the sky on August 31 this year. This photograph was shot with my old Canon PowerShot and its awesome zoom lens. As far as I'm concerned it may as well be an official NASA image. I LOVE the details in this picture.

My second "moon" image is one that I had been waiting for all summer. I came across a set of seedlings at my local nursery called Moon Flower Vine during a shopping trip for garden supplies so I picked it up because the picture on the tag looked like a petunia and I love petunias. I planted it around an old tree stump in the garden and trained the vines to wrap around the tree. After months of patiently waiting it finally bloomed...just in time for the blue moon at the end of August. As you can see by the size of my daughter's hand in proportion to the flower, this is no petunia-sized blossom. The creamy white flowers were as large as saucers. They open only at night and last only for one night, closing forever before dawn. The size and color of the blooms gives them the appearance of little moons floating above their leaves. I have been treated to an endless show of pearly white moon blossoms every night since the end of August and I hope it continues for a few weeks more. I'm in no hurry for summer to say farewell.

ADDENDUM 09-16-12:
Last night the new moon occurred. Tonight my moon flowers were in a blooming riot. Take a look at the photo to the right. The vines are wound around the trunk of a dead tree that is about five to five and a half feet tall. That should give you an idea of the scale. These flowers are big.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Great Clothespin Makeover and The Potted Plant

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In my last post I mentioned how I squeezed in a teensy bit of time for crafting by decorating some wooden clothespins I'd bought. I like the way they turned out so much I've decided to continue decorating them as well as take them up a little notch. This time I painted them and added some patterned ribbons. Can't wait to see them on my line.

Some time ago I had picked up a load of nail art decals from a fellow Freecycler who needed to get rid of them. I had used them in a crafts project with the senior members of the Dorchester Senior Citizen's Center last year to create tiny refrigerator magnets. They all came out great but I was still left with a big load of nail decals. In a desperate attempt to help use up some of these things, I painted an old, chipped planter pot white and decorated it all around with nail art decals. It didn't come out half bad. Now all I've got to do is stick a plant in it.

My husband has a habit of asking me to give him a young plant for his office whenever he gets a new job. He's been at his current job for a few months but has only now decided to ask for a plant. I decided that I would place a young snake plant in the pot I decorated with paint and decals. I always give him a snake plant because they are so hardy, slow growing and tolerant of many adverse conditions that would kill other plants, particularly that of infrequent watering. He likes the no-fuss nature of the plant. It's a perfect fit for his personality. He also asked for a little sign to keep the sticky fingers in his office at bay so I reached into my RTU (Ready-To-Use) stash and found the blue oval with the white scalloped trim, a leftover from another project. I added text with some press-on letters I had from waaaay back in the day, glued it on to a couple of coffee stirrer sticks and VOILA! -- a cute little sign to keep people at arm's length in a cute and funny wayAfter all, we don't want to upset the ladies in the office (especially the ones with the sticky fingers).

Ooops, did I just say that out loud?

Ballo ergo sum 
- Gitana, the Creative Diva