Friday, November 13, 2015

Late Fall Garden Update

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The weather is turning nippy and the winds are blowing the remnants of fall's brilliant leaves around into whirlwinds of color. My garden, which has been so productive, is beginning to slow down in preparation for winter. Nevertheless, it still has some bounty to share before the long sleep. Here are the last of the apples in my tree. These beauties are the inaccessible ones at the very top of the tree. Since they can't be reached, we have to wait for them to fall. The squirrels and birds haven't been very cooperative in this regard, helping themselves to more than half the apples on the tree.  Apparently they have had their fill as they have left these few alone. Fortunately these apples did not get mangled, beaten or bruised from the fall and fell onto the soft dirt instead of the hard concrete surrounding the garden. There's good eatin' here.

My monster tomato plant (yes, plant...singular) has all but obliterated the azalea bush that supports it. Only a little bit of the bush is visible on the extreme right side. The rest is all tomato. It is still producing flowers which I am ripping off as fast as they are being produced in the hope of redirecting the growth hormones to the developing fruit. There are still hundreds of little green tomatoes on the vine. Because of the shorter days and cooler weather the ripening process has slowed down drastically but I am still harvesting quite a bit. I was out of town for a week and upon my return the bowl of tomatoes you see here was waiting for me.

Now begins the long process of readying my garden for winter. Spent plants must be uprooted, Pots must be brought in, and plastic must be draped over the hoop house to shield it from the ravages of snow and ice. I'm tired just thinking about it but it inspires me to look forward to next season's garden. Now I have property upstate that I can plant also. More work. More fun. More food. I love my garden .

Always and All Ways,
#Gitana the Creative Diva

Sunday, October 25, 2015

More Halloween Goodies

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I have truly been enjoying myself immensely while creating Halloween decorations for the Dorchester Senior Citizens Center. In my last post I showed photos of the fancy pumpkins, bows and poster that I made. Here I have a Halloween spiderweb wreath complete with resident spiders. A foam wreath foam was wrapped with a fall inspired ribbon as the base. A commercially available spider in a web was added to the center and a second ribbon in orange was wrapped around the wreath and interlaced with the web, holding it firmly in place. A pretty two-toned bow with sheer black tails and a pumpkin jingle bell in the center top it off. I made a bunch of itty bitty spiders to go around the edge of the wreath. Can't you just see the attitude in their eyes? They mean business.

Bows and glittery coils adorn the sparkly witch hats. These hats were already so pretty, they didn't need much more than a pretty coordinating bow to complete the look.

My final project before closing the book on this year's Halloween decorating is a straw fan done very simply with a silhouette of a witch flying on a broom. The witch is backed with vellum which mutes the colors of the red and yellow ribbons radiating behind it. The muting was just the subtle touch needed to keep the scene from looking too busy. The handle of the fan is adorned with curled black and orange ribbons and highlighted with a little white ghost in the middle.

As much as I love Halloween, it is time to let it go for now and revisit it again next October. Now I have to concentrate on the next big holiday -- Christmas! A creative diva's work is never done.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Witching Hour Is Nigh.

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Although I'm no longer acting as Dorchester Senior Citizens Center arts and crafts specialist, I still pop over for a visit from time to time because I really like the people there and I always find an appreciative audience for my crafts. This fall I'm making Halloween decorations for them and these are my latest creations.

The center secured the materials for these decorations from Materials for the Arts, a NYC organization that receives donations of goods from various sources and redistributes them to non-profit organizations. Sometimes the pickings are phenomenal, as with the beautiful ribbons and embellishments I used to create the bows. The bright orange paper was also scored at MFTA on a trip a few years ago.

Halloween...second only to Christmas as my favorite holiday.

Ballo ergo sum,

- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Vine That Ate Troy Avenue

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View from the front of the garden
No, you're not looking at a scene from an agricultural horror flick. What you're seeing is a monster tomato plant that has all but consumed my ancient azalea bush and is using it as its own personal trellis. This vine spontaneously sprang up in the middle of my garden of its own accord. Had I intentionally planted it, I would have placed it in a container. I thought about pulling it up but then I got lazy and decided to leave it and allow it to take its course. OH MY, I got a whole lot  more than I bargained for. Turns out that this tomato was an indeterminate variety. That means that it is a sprawling vine that keeps on growing and growing and growing until weather or other conditions kill it off. Some of those tentacles are over eight feet long!! If I had known that when I saw that cute little plant spring out of the ground, I might have yanked it out without any mercy but I'm actually glad I didn't. Turns out that:

View from the back of the garden

Indeterminate Tomato Varieties Have Better Tomato Flavor*

“Determinate” and “indeterminate” are terms used to describe a tomato variety’s growth habit — but many gardeners don’t realize these categories relate to flavor, too. Most determinate tomato plants have fewer leaves per fruit than their sprawling indeterminate cousins. These compact determinate plants have the advantage of growing better in containers and producing all of their harvest at once, which makes them great for processing. But, don’t expect them to be as flavorful as the vining indeterminate varieties that have more leaves to convert sunlight into sugars and, thus, develop more intense, complex flavors (*Source).
The fruits of my labor

Who knew? Not me, but I can tell you this. Those little tomatoes, pictured here, are delicious. My son pops them in his mouth and eats them like candy. I've used them in salads, in stews, made tomato sauce with them and they are great. Best I've ever grown, really, and I never would have known this had I ripped it out of the ground. And it's still producing in October! I have dozens of green tomatoes on the vine waiting to ripen. 

Basil, Lettuce seeds, and more
These days I've been harvesting as much as I can because the days are shorter and the weather is cooler. Here you'll see a picture of Italian basil, red lettuce seed heads, some tiny potatoes that were hiding from me last time and a green pepper. Those leaves are going to be dehydrated, those seeds will be separated out from the heads for next year, and those potatoes and pepper are destined for my cooking pot. BONUS: the cooler weather benefits cilantro which has begun to grow in my garden now from seeds that dropped from the spring crop. More tasty herbs on the horizon. The cycle begins again.

This year's growing season is winding down but I'm still reaping the benefits and planning next year's garden. I'm smiling just at the thought of it.


Ballo ergo sum - Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, September 28, 2015

Homemade Tomato Sauce

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This year I was blessed with an unexpectedly large crop of cherry tomatoes and a much smaller, yet no less respectable, crop of peppers. My basil exploded and literally took over the garden. With this abundance of produce, I had to do something or lose it to neglect. I decided to try my hand a making my own tomato base for spaghetti sauce.

In order to peel my tomatoes, I cut an "X" on all my tomatoes at one end and plunged them into boiling water for about a minute or less. Then I removed them and plunged them into an ice water bath. This causes the tomato skin lift away from the tomato flesh, making them easy to peel.I transferred them from pot to pot using a spaghetti colander made to fit inside the pot. All I had to do was load the strainer, dip it into the boiling pot, then pick it up and plunge it into ice water to stop them from overcooking.

After peeling all the tomatoes, I placed them all in a food processor and processed them, seeds and all, until they were smooth, after which I placed them in a large pot to simmer. As they simmered, I added homegrown peppers and basil to the sauce, as well as oregano, black pepper, onions, garlic, some fennel, rosemary, marjoram, a little salt, and pork sausage that had been pre-cooked to remove the excess fat.  I let the whole thing simmer for almost two hours until the sausages were cooked through. Processing tomatoes in this way creates a thin, dark pink liquid, quite unlike the thick, dark red sauce found on the grocer's shelf. I used a little corn starch to thicken it up a bit.

I am proud to say that the sauce was great. Even my son and husband, my biggest food critics, commented on how tasty it was.I froze the remainder and reheated it a few days later and it was still great tasting although the sauce thinned out a bit.

Garden fresh ingredients. Seriously, we are all spoiled rotten in this household.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Black oil

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My neighbor upstate gave me an old bird feeder, probably because I enjoy watching the birds at his feeder so much. I was thrilled and cleaned it out in preparation for filling, setting out and watching the local avian population gather to eat. I went out in search of wild bird seed and received a rather unpleasant shock...wild bird seed in expensive! The least expensive bag I found was $10 and that was for a mixed bag of seeds. The premium bag, comprised of all black oil (sunflower) seeds was even more expensive. That's when the light bulb went on. I grow sunflowers, I thought. I'm gonna use those seeds.

Upon my return downstate, I clipped some of the ripe sunflower heads to remove the seeds. One of those heads was nearly as large as the dinner plate I set it on (upper left photo). When I finished seeding that head, the seeds filled that same dinner plate (lower left photo). After seeding all the heads, I had filled a large pasta bowl with premium black oil sunflower seeds (lower right photo) that will fill my bird feeder on my next trip to my mountain home. My garden feeds me and my feathered friends. What a rush!

Can you see me smiling?

Ballo ergo sum

- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Small Bookcase Gets a Makeover

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Bookcase - Before
Bookcase disman
 I get a certain satisfaction out of taking something unwanted and turning into something beautiful. Recently I picked up a small wooden bookcase from a fellow Freecycler for the purpose of refinishing it for my home in upstate New York. It presented with a few challenges, most notably that it had stains from wood knots showing through the painted finish. I took it apart, stripped and sanded everything except the back. Then I gave it several coats of white paint especially made to cover stains and dark colors to obscure the wood knot stains.
One side stripped.
A shelf is sanded

By the time I got to the back of the bookcase, I was anxious to move on to another project so I opted not to paint it. Instead I covered over it with three pieces of white wrapping paper in the spaces corresponding to the shelf openings. Then I used a fun stencil from The Crafter's Workshop,  TWC97 - Swirly vines. I wanted a coordinated look but not cookie cutter sameness so I chose to color the flower elements in each panel in a different color palette. When the back was replaced on the bookcase, I was pleasantly surprised to see it looked even better than I imagined it would. Next up is to make some low trays/containers for each shelf to hold miscellaneous items. I think I'll make each tray in a solid color to echo the background and low enough to allow the design on the back to show through.

 I want my new home filled with small treasures made by my own hand. This bookcase will join the birdhouses that I recently painted in the kitchen/dining area and they will be among the first things I see when I enter my home.

It's little things like this that make me smile.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, July 20, 2015

Right Up My Alley

One of my Facebook friends shared this video which I absolutely love. It combines my current love for flamenco with a modern fusion twist. If I'm a good girl, maybe some day I'll be able to dance like this, too.

If you're a Facebooker, you should be able to see it too. Enjoy.

Iron and Wine / Boy with a coin
Iron and Wine / Boy with a coin
Posted by Flamen'go on Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Garden Update, Take 2

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For the past couple of weeks I have been on a steady diet of weed. Weeding the garden, that is. We've been experiencing quite a bit of rain which has created an explosion of plant and flower growth but, alas, the weeds also benefit from Nature's largesse. Particularly bothersome are the morning glories. Last year's beautiful abundance of blooms resulted in hundreds upon HUNDREDS of seeds, all of which appear to be germinating simultaneously. Without any exaggeration, I can easily say I have pulled out several hundred seedlings in the past few days alone, only to have a new crop appear again in the same place the very next day. This is in addition to purslane, dandelion, bedstraw, chickweed and all the other usual characters found in the weed pantheon. Nevertheless, I press on, determined to pluck every last one lest they compete with my plants for nutrients.

Speaking of my plants, they are doing quite well although some of them are taking a very long time to germinate. I have quite a collection of flowers growing.
Here are some lovely four foot tall orange daylilies. They sit front and center in my front garden, greeting all passersby. They are so prolific that I've given most of them away and spread them through the garden and I still have a lot.  They tower over their pretty yellow cousins, the Stella D'Oro daylilies. They, too, are quite prolific and would easily take over the garden if given the chance.

 Here are a couple of snap dragons that popped up spontaneously without my help. (
There's a lot of that going on the garden this year.) These two are actually growing under the large leaves of two other plants that have mysteriously sprouted in my garden. You can see them below left, flanked by lavender in the raised bed. I have no idea what they are but they appear to be sunflowers on steroids. The leaves and flower buds are similar but there are differences in the growth habit. They are so thick and stocky, I'm almost afraid I'm cultivating another Audrey 2 (from Little Shop of Horrors fame). The raised bed is surrounded by sweet alyssum that self seeded from last year. They are already releasing their beautifully delicate fragrance and sweetening the air.

In the vegetable department, I've got some bush beans growing in plastic pails along the front of the house, They are joined by the yellow flowers of the cucumbers climbing through my old azalea and some bush variety cherry tomatoes blooming profusely in another pail. My onions, not to be outdone, are also in bloom. If  you've never seen an onion blossom, it looks like a fuzzy ping pong ball at the end of a stick. I'll soon  cut off the blooms and use the stems as scallions for cooking.

For a touch of whimsy I set up my tipsy pot of flowers. Every year it is in a different spot and sports different flowers. This year I decided severely limit my garden expenditures and chose to use whatever was already growing in my garden to fill the tipsy pots. This year it is filled with alyssum and creeping Jenny (moneywort) trailing over its side.

There is so much more going on in the garden but too much for now. Fodder for another post. Until then...

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saved by the Bird

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My husband and I had to go to a wedding this week but in the rush-rush of my activities I didn't have a chance to design a card. With only three hours to go before we had to leave, I called my husband at work and asked him to pick up a card on his way home. After I hung up, I decided to see if I could whip up a card really fast. I tend to linger and dawdle over everything I make. Working fast is not my strong suit so I set a deadline. I gave myself one hour to create a card. If I didn't have it finished and in the envelope in an hour or less, I would abandon it and use whatever my husband brought home. That's when inspiration struck.

I love the free cutting files available for download from and recently used two of her files for the birdhouse birthday card I made for my sister-in-law last week.  As soon as I saw this wedding cake card cutting file, I knew it would be a cinch. I had all the papers and embellishments I wanted to use easily available so cutting and putting the card together was a breeze. My KNK Zing Air cut everything flawlessly.

I followed Bird's lead and used a monochromatic color scheme for the cake, using a special pearlized paper that changes color when you turned it to the light. In the top photo you'll notice the garlands on the cake appear pearly white but in the lower photo you can see that they appear to be a pearly mint green. I had a small piece of floral striped paper in a mint color with rose and glitter accents. The garlands and tiny rose pink flowers play up and coordinate with those colors. Tiny pearls in the center of the flowers complete the embellishments. I called my husband back and told him not to worry about buying a card because I had made something better than he would find in any card store.

Thanks, Bird, for your fabulous files. You saved the day for me.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Here's One For The Birds

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I've been on a bit of a birdhouse fad lately. In my last post, I wrote about a birthday card I made with an image of a birdhouse on it. Here I'm featuring some wooden birdhouses that I have painted and embellished to use as home decor in my mountain house.

It seems as if I've been seeing birdhouses all over the place. Well, actually I've always seen them but never paid much attention until recently. The birdhouse motif is a frequent sight on the back roads of upstate New York where they decorate mailboxes, front doors and wreaths. I suppose the allure of country living has given me the birdhouse bug.

Here are photos of the birdhouses I have done to date. The blue and green ones in the center photo were painted last year. (Then they just sat on a shelf in my craft room overlooking my work table, whispering that they wanted some company.) The larger of the two is decorated with paper die cuts that were featured in Part II and Part III of my most popular post, the Cuttlebug Filigree Medallion tutorial, By combining the negative cutout pieces, I created the design on the front and back of this birdhouse. On the sides are the pieces from which the negative spaces were cut. The smaller birdhouse is actually made in 1:1 scale for miniature dollhouses. You can get an idea how small it is by comparing it with the size of the dime in front of it. This house was a little to small to embellish with paint or paper cutouts so I used nail art decals instead. They worked like a charm

The black and red birdhouse at the top also features die cut designs from the very same Cuttlebug die as the blue-mint green house. Here only the tiniest of the cut outs were used to create the black design under the tiny red hearts. The hearts themselves were left over from a project I made for my sister and brother in law's 30th anniversary surprise.

The yellow and green house at bottom is not to be outdone. It also sports decorative die cut flowers with rhinestone centers resting on a delicate vine twining around the outside of the house. The flowers were burnished slightly to cup the petals so they would pop up and have some depth. All of the birdhouses were painted with acrylic paints and sealed with Mod Podge before and after painting.

I still have one more wooden birdhouse on my craft table. I don't know what I'll do with that yet but I'll be sure to show it to you when it's done. Until then, keep crafting!

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, June 8, 2015

Birdhouse Birthday Card

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Birdhouse Birthday card front

The summer is my busiest time of year with birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and the occasional birth. My sister-in -law celebrated her 60th birthday last weekend so I created this card featuring my current fascination with birdhouses and my ever popular butterflies. I created the house file in a drawing progam and cut it with my KNK Zing Air electronic cutter. The grass border was a little piece left over from a previous project. The verse in the center of the birdhouse, a free cutting file I downloaded, appropriately enough, from, as well as the inside verse and image, were drawn with the Zing Air.

Drawn, you say? On a cutting machine? Yes! The Zing Air has an optional pen accessory tool that allows you to insert pens or slim markers in place of the cutting blade. This allows you to draw an image instead of cutting it. (
(I have also used a glue pen in the past and added glitter afterwards...great effect.) Because the Zing Air does not have a fill function, it only draws contours and lines, leaving the centers blank. With the verse on the front of the card, I had to manually fill in the letters with a fine tip marker. The inner verse was done using a hairline font, meaning that the contours of the font are very, very slim so the letters appear to be comprised of simple strokes. After trying out several different hairline fonts that I downloaded free from, I chose the one  you see here. The image is one I composed using graphic files I have had on discs for years. I tweaked the elements a bit until I got something I liked and sent it to cut...err... I mean draw. I used a dark grey gel pen for drawing the poppy and hummingbird and a black one for the verse. I wanted a subtle difference between those two elements so they wouldn't visually compete with one another. My sister-in-law loved her card and showed it off to all her friends at her party.

I definitely see more birdhouses in my future.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva