Jan 252015
 
It's been a month since Christmas.  Reflecting on our holiday memories.

It’s been a month since Christmas. Reflecting on our holiday memories.

Long time no post! Lots has been going on this month and we are nearly at the end of January! On this one month past Christmas, I wanted to take a moment to wrap up the holiday season.

Our holiday season was enormously busy as well. We had a wonderful time celebrating throughout the month but it was nice to be done with all of it. When I look at the big picture of holiday chores, it came down to eight major categories of tasks.

1. Putting Up Decorations

We put up more decorations this year than probably ever in years past. I shared with you my new front door decorations which I love. The other treat I did not share was the adorable mantel design my daughters created all on their own. I awoke from a pregnancy-induced nap to find my daughters had hung up all the stockings and created a fun toyscape. They even put up a tiny stocking for their sibling to be, which was incredibly sweet.

My daughters' impressive mantel design.

My daughters’ impressive mantel design.

We had a lot of fun with lights this year. During the dark days of December, having a variety of lights on throughout the house really cheered things up. Next to the mantel, we tried a DIY idea I had seen last year to wrap lights on upturned tomato cages to make modern “trees.” It took a little bit of work to wrap all the lights but they added a bright, modern touch to our mantel. My children came up with the idea to color some foam blocks we had with permanent markers to make “presents” for the trees.

Our tomato cage "trees" with foam block "presents."

Our tomato cage “trees” with foam block “presents.”

We added a few new handmade decorations to our tree as well.

The knitted "elf clothesline garland" by Rhonda Brewer that has been on my "to knit" list forever.

The knitted “elf clothesline garland” by Rhonda Brewer that has been on my “to knit” list forever.

Painted horse ornaments my girls made with their cousin at a Christmas-themed horse-riding event.

Painted horse ornaments my girls made with their cousin at a Christmas-themed horse-riding event.

2. Shopping/Making Gifts

This year, in addition to purchasing gifts for our children, we exchanged homemade gifts with family members. I was excited to try this for the first time but didn’t quite appreciate how much work it would end up being! My gifts included some homemade treats, knitted sheep and some portrait ornaments from my children.

A baking extravaganza!  Homemade macaroons, challah bread, cranberry orange and lemon blueberry bread.

A baking extravaganza! Homemade macaroons, challah bread, cranberry orange and lemon blueberry bread.

A flock of knitted sheep ornaments.

A flock of knitted sheep ornaments.

Portraits of family members done by my children.  They dressed up nicely in inexpensive $1 ornament frames.  I loved these!

Portraits of family members done by my children. They dressed up nicely in inexpensive $1 ornament frames. I loved these!

I had a lot to learn about sending baked goods through the mail. The first lesson was that you need to mail quickly after baking to prevent your hard work from becoming stale. We rushed to mail them one day after finishing the baking. We were in a huge rush to pack and label everything and it came out a bit rough. We tossed goodies quickly into sandwich bags and packed with shredded newspaper. If we ever did this again, I would have on hand one of each size of the U.S. postal service standard mailing boxes to estimate postage and packing requirements. (These can be picked up free at the post office.) Also, picking up a supply of colored tissue paper for nicer packing material and/or tins that exactly fit in the boxes would have been a nicer touch.

My daughter was so inspired by my knitting that she asked me to get her started on her own project. She picked it up immediately and began taking her knitting with her in the car when we had errands to run.

A new knitter!

A new knitter!

In other handmade activities, we signed my daughter up for sewing lessons at the incomparable G Street Fabrics during December. She ended up being the only child in the class and received private lessons, making an adorable drawstring bag and an assortment of pillows.

Sewing class

Sewing class

3. Family Photo Session

Since we have very young children who seem to grow by the day, we always end up delaying taking our holiday card photo until right near the holidays. It is always a full day, exhausting production getting everyone’s hair and clothes ready and taking enough pictures to capture one worthy of using for the card and individual portraits of the children. This year, I had an extra challenge trying to look attractive in my advancing pregnant state. Fortunately, I found some great YouTube videos about using contour makeup that seemed to help. I also learned the hard way that our waving iron was malfunctioning as it got too hot and burned off a lock of my hair right near the front! I tossed it out and added “new waving iron” to my Christmas list.

My pregnant holiday card look.

My pregnant holiday card look.

We learned a few years ago that you can make your family portraits look 1000 times better just by taking them outside when the light is optimal. For us, this is always just after the sun sets but it is still light out. I learned this year that this is called the “golden hour” of photography and that professionals use this trick as well. There is even a calculator that will tell you approximately when the golden hour starts based on your geographic location.

4. Organizing Used Toy Giveaway

I posted about this in detail before so I won’t repeat it here. We learned that we can lessen the stress of this activity by working on it a little throughout the year. When purging toys, we can clean them up, wrap them up and group by age and gender.

2014-12-28-firstdelivery

5. Sending out Holiday Cards

I learned a great tip this year about designing our holiday photo card. Every year, we have the same problem where my tall husband throws off the aspect ratio of our photos. He is always the tallest person in the photo whether he is standing or sitting down. For some reason, when I try to scale the photos down to fit on the photo card, I have to choose between cutting off his head or cropping all of us at the knees. This year, I tried numerous card formats from different stores and just kept running into the same problem. There was no way to fit in our full photo.

I was about to give up when I learned that Wal-Mart offers the option to print a completely blank photo card. I was able to design and crop my own photos using photo editing software and upload them to be printed on a blank photo card. I could also add in my own text boxes after the upload so the text was crisp and clear. Another bonus, I didn’t have to remember what holiday card formats we had used in years past and worry that we were repeating one.

6. Celebrating Christmas

On Christmas Eve, my children were very enthusiastic about making cookies for Santa. We made chocolate chip molasses cookies, which were awesome. They put out cookies and a large handful of carrots “for the reindeer.”

Treats for Santa.

Treats for Santa.

Santa was very tired and not feeling quite up to par due to a recent cold virus. Santa fell asleep and woke up just in the nick of time the next morning! Santa had just barely finished putting out the presents and filling the stockings when a small voice appeared over my shoulder.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Oh, just playing with these presents that Santa brought!”

We had been so tired from activities 1-5 that we hadn’t had time to clean up the family room, which was quite a disaster. Realizing the immense leverage I had in this situation with eager children ready to open the stockings and presents, I insisted that everyone help clean up the house before we could open the presents. It really was quite a mess and it took a couple of hours to finish.

"Mean Mommy" made everyone clean before we could open presents.

“Mean Mommy” made everyone clean before we could open presents.

I was the least popular person in the house having everyone clean on Christmas morning but I couldn’t bear the thought of adding a ton of new toys to the existing mess. When it was finally time to open presents, the children were thrilled and had plenty of clean space to play with and enjoy them.

7. Planning/Cleaning up for New Year’s Party

This year we hosted a small New Year’s party for family and a few friends. It was a great incentive to get the house cleaned up from Christmas. Yes, even though we had just done a big cleaning effort on Christmas Day our house gets trashed extremely easily with all the activity going on. So, we cleaned up again and had a wonderful evening, even making it all the way to a midnight celebration!

My daughter stopping to hug my belly as I prep for our party buffet.

My daughter stopping to hug my belly as I prep for our party buffet.

Popping bubble wrap and spraying silly string at midnight.  A little girls' delight!

Popping bubble wrap and spraying silly string at midnight. A little girls’ delight!

8. Taking Down Decorations

After all the celebrations of the past few months, it was bittersweet taking down all the decorations. On the one hand, it was sad to say goodbye to the holiday season, but on the other hand, it was nice to be able to focus again on everyday life.

I told my children I would need their help to take down the tree.

“That’s too much work!” my 6 year old informed me.

She was such a brilliant helper putting up the decorations but the thought of trying to figure out how to pack them all back into where they came from was completely overwhelming to her. Quite honestly, it seemed overwhelming to me too! I found that taking it one step at a time helped and using the basic organizing technique of trying to focus on picking out categories of things. I labeled zippered storage bags which I packed with ornaments of the same type. I also separated my ornaments into two main bins. One bin held kid-friendly ornaments that could not be easily broken and the other the fragile ornaments.

It took nearly a full two days to pack up all the mantel and Christmas tree decorations. When we were done, this is what we were left with.

The Christmas tree ornaments and mantel decorations packed nicely into 3 bins.

The Christmas tree ornaments and mantel decorations packed nicely into 3 bins.

Then it was on to the front door. We purchased a new 3-foot storage box to hold everything. (Plastic boxes are a must for basement storage.)

Down came the front door decorations into this storage box.

Down came the front door decorations into this storage box.

It is a little strange to see all the amazement of Christmas packed up so small and compact. My children are already looking forward to the time 11 short months from now when we take it all out again. As for me, I hope to work up the energy by then.

Have any organizing lessons learned from this holiday season? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on January 25, 2015 General Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Dec 282014
 
Not quite what you might picture when you think of Santa's workshop!

Not quite what you might picture when you think of Santa’s workshop!

My husband has been bugging me to clean out our basement for some time now. There are a lot of things to go through but a large pile of toys was one of the problem areas. These were hard to get rid of for me for a couple of reasons. They were extremely sentimental to me and were given to us by sweet people we love. My children still liked a lot of them and they were all quite nice toys that seemed to me should be worth something to someone. I told my husband that I planned to give them away to needy families for Christmas.

A week before Christmas I had made exactly zero progress on this project (as there were a million other things to get done). I didn’t really have time to do this project but something inside me was bugging me to get on this.

My husband doubted that anyone would even want these old, used toys. If you donate to groups like Toys 4 Tots, you will note that they only want “new” items. Nobody wants used.

I told my husband that I would try a test. I would post a quick list of the toys to CraigsList in the “free” section. If there was no interest, I would round up a donation for Goodwill. So, I went down to the basement and began pulling out a small selection of our old toys. I took a photo, wrote a description and posted to CraigsList. I showed the list to my husband.

"We have new-in-box toys stored in the basement?"

Yes, we did! Mixed in with the old stuff were new, completely unwrapped toys. These were duplicates we had received for holiday or birthday gifts that I had never quite gotten around to returning or the kind of toys that my children just don’t appreciate and never play with.

An example of the used toys posted to CraigsList.

An example of the used toys posted to CraigsList.

At first, there was no response. A few hours went by, however, and I had 5 or 6 responses. We didn’t ask anyone for details about why they needed the toys but some volunteered.

Thank you so much,
Living with family.
Husband working three jobs to make ends meet.
Thank you for blessing my daughter

I have a 2yr old little girl and would like to get whatever you are willing to give.

My grandson will be very happy. I’m taking my hubby to get surgery tomorrow. He has stage 4 throat cancer.

It seemed like most of our recipients were hardworking, resourceful people. They were the sort of people you are happy to help out!

The new toys were of course the most popular. I was gradually whittling my list down. I took items off the posting list as they were spoken for. There were a few used baby toys left and I went to bed with the listing up.

I awoke to 6 or 7 responses wanting the baby toys! I took the posting down and wrote everyone who had responded by then telling them I had more toys to go through and would probably be able to come up with something for everyone.

I spent the day washing and tidying up the used toys. I sprayed them down with my favorite orange-scented Lysol to remove any dirt or germs. I rounded up all the tiny pieces for each set that my children often strew throughout the house. I packed them up into boxes or bags, wrapped them and bagged them for delivery, writing each person’s name and address on the bag.

"You want me to drive where?"

I needed my husband’s assistance on the last leg of this project. Even though every person I interacted with seemed like a kind, decent person, I realized that I still needed to exercise caution when interacting with random strangers on the Internet. These nice people had all trusted me with their addresses and the fact that there could be children at each address.

The first group of deliveries.

The first group of deliveries.

Just to be extra safe, I sent my “muscle” (a.k.a. husband) to do the delivery work. I let everyone know that my husband would be dropping off on their porch and gave them a rough time window. My husband ended up in some interesting places, including unpaved county roads.

This experience made me wonder if Mrs. Claus isn’t getting short shrift to Santa. Would it surprise anyone to know that Mrs. Claus might be the driving force behind the legend? Sure, Santa gets all the photo ops driving around in the sleigh and filling the stockings but is it really Mrs. Claus’ kindness toward children and her goading of Santa that makes Christmas happen at all?

My husband was so thrilled to be finally getting rid of stuff out of the basement, that he gladly drove our used stuff all over town. When I had the first shipment ready, I told him we might want to wait until the next shipment was ready to do the delivery.

"No, let's do a first round and I'll go again if necessary."

Since this was our first “Santa” experience, this ended up being an excellent idea. For the first test run, we were delivering to 4 houses. That evening I heard from two of our recipients who indicated they did not get their shipments.

At first, we feared that someone might have taken the presents but some investigation showed that Santa had a few delivery errors—in one case delivering to the house across the street and in other to the house next door. My husband was disappointed and personally fixed one of the deliveries. The other, seemed to have been fixed by a neighbor who saw the address on my delivery bag and realized there had been a mistake.

It was interesting to learn interacting with some of these families that disappointment is an intense emotion for them. When the deliveries were temporarily missing, one family adopted a mindset of “I’m going to do whatever I can to find this package.” But it was more common to have families adopt a defeatist attitude of “Oh well, things like this always happen to me. I guess we tried.” I can’t imagine how much life must have to kick you in the teeth to want to give up so easily. Fortunately, we were able to find the shipments and not disappoint any of our families.

I went back into the basement the next day looking to find deliveries for the remaining 6 families. Somehow, yet again, we came up with something for everyone. We washed up toys, put in fresh batteries, tested everything to make sure it worked, wrapped and packaged. Out went Santa again—two days before Christmas — this time with a 100% success rate.

Round two of our Santa deliveries!

Round two of our Santa deliveries!

In the end, we gave away about 39 packages of toys, helped out 10 families and roughly 17 children. It cost us nothing other than our time.

Our recipients were so grateful:

We received your gift wrapped toys! Thank you so much! Happy holidays once again.

Thank you so much again for the gifts. My kids are gonna love them.

Just want to say thank you again. He really enjoyed everything.

But these families gave us a lot in return. They gave us a more peaceful and serene home with less clutter. They gave me the motivation to start cleaning out the basement! They also helped us to remember our blessings and to think more kindly of those in need. Many times in the news, the needy are portrayed as a kind of drain on society. This project helped us to remember their humanity and see how wonderful these people can be as well.

This project made a huge impact on my children. When we were deciding which toys to give away, our kids had a much easier time letting something go when they realized that it might be someone’s entire Christmas present. They also stopped whining about their own first world Christmas problems immediately when I reminded them of the children we were helping who would be glad to have as much as they did. I even think my husband had at least a little fun dropping off the deliveries.

"We should do this every year!"

I was surprised to hear my husband say. For him, it honestly has nothing to do with the charitable aspect of this project. He just likes to see the stuff go out of our house and me cleaning out the basement!

I now have a better appreciation of how wasteful it is for me to have extra, unneeded toys in my house when there are many people who would gladly give them a good home. As we go through the year, I will have a better eye for what might be better off blessing someone else. It will really help me in my decluttering efforts in 2015!

 Posted by on December 28, 2014 General Tagged with: , , , ,
Dec 122014
 
Our festive front door.

Our festive front door.

One of my best Black Friday finds was completely unintended. I was sent a notice about a flash sale on a front door decoration set for half price with free shipping. Total cost: $51.60. It was perfect for our home. It was a traditional, Colonial style with symmetrical matching trees in small pots, natural Williamsburg-style decorations of pinecones and berries, a door garland and even a battery operated LED wreath.

The set arrived quickly and I set to work putting it up. We generally don’t do a lot of outdoor Christmas decorations so I wasn’t exactly familiar with how this would work. I think we have all seen pictures in magazines of these beautiful garlands draped over doorways but once it arrived and I stood outside holding it in my hands, I realized that I had no idea how to do this.

Hmmm....how is this going to work exactly?

Hmmm….how is this going to work exactly?

The first thing I discovered is that the kit I ordered came with only one garland and it wasn’t going to be long enough to surround the door like advertised. Fortunately, I had one extra garland from a set I already owned that I had never quite known what to do with. All the rest in that set I use to wrap around our stair bannister but there was one left over that usually ended up unused or in random places. I lucked out and the two garlands coordinated nicely even though they are made of slightly different materials. The length was just right.

The garland is quite heavy to handle so you can’t just drape it over the door frame and expect it to stay. I knew this was going to require some hardware so I went in the basement to poke around in our tools.

First, I studded the door frame with nails about every 18 inches or so to give the garland something to prevent it from slipping off.

Studding the door frame with nails.

Studding the door frame with nails.

I laid the garland behind the nails and it sort of worked but there were parts of the garland that slipped out from behind the nails, especially along the sides of the door making the garland look loose and unkempt. My first thought was to tie the garland to the nails with some green sewing thread. This did not work at all. The thread was not nearly strong enough to handle the weight. I needed wire.

It came to me that some of the extra garbage bag twist ties we had in the kitchen might suit. So, I tied some of those around the nails.

Twist ties to secure the garland were tied around each nail.

Twist ties to secure the garland were tied around each nail.

I wish my twist ties were green and a bit longer but in general this worked great! The garland was nicely secured. I put the trees in place and started connecting all the wires together. When I got to the last tree, I had a small problem. I had a female (plug) end on my garland and only one male (prong) end coming from the remaining tree. I could either connect the tree to the outlet or the garland but not both!

Oops!  A loose end that could not be connected to anything!

Oops! A loose end that could not be connected to anything!

I went to the basement and looked at our collection of extra Christmas lights. All of them had one female end and one male end. There was no combination of lights that was going to work to get the garland and the tree connected to each other and the electrical outlet.

After all my efforts, I had managed to connect exactly one Christmas tree.

After all my efforts, I had managed to connect exactly one Christmas tree.

I texted my husband who was on his way to a company Christmas party to stop by the hardware store and bring me home a male/male extension cord that was very short.

He called me right back:

“I’m not sure male/male extension cords exist and even if they do, that would be extremely dangerous to have lying around. What if you made a mistake and plugged both ends into the same outlet!”

Electrical wiring is clearly not my strong suit.

“Are you sure you wired up the garland correctly?”

This was not the question I wanted to hear. That garland took forever to put up and I was not going to take it down. I insisted that my wiring must be right but that I would go outside to check for him. I started with the tree furthest from the outlet.

“OK, this tree has a male plug and it is connected to the garland via . . . . . another male plug,” I said with great disappointment.

“Yeah, you just need to reverse the garland and everything should connect just fine.”

So, back outside I went and took it all down and put it all back up again the other direction. And, of course, it connected perfectly.

A 5-minute call with my husband (who had no even seen what I was wiring but has a natural symbiosis with electricity) resulted in all the wiring connecting perfectly!

A 5-minute call with my husband (who had no even seen what I was wiring but has a natural symbiosis with electricity) resulted in all the wiring connecting perfectly!

Satisfied with my progress, I went inside to put up the garland on our stair railing that we also use to display the holiday cards we receive.

Staircase garland up!

Staircase garland up!

It is a great clutter prevention strategy to have a spot to put all those holiday cards that arrive.  We clothespin them to our staircase garland and they look amazing.  We admire them as we go up and down the stairs each day.

It is a great clutter prevention strategy to have a spot to put all those holiday cards that arrive. We clothespin them to our staircase garland and they look amazing. We admire them as we go up and down the stairs each day.

Lights make such a difference in lifting our spirits during the holidays. The only problem is that you have to remember to plug and unplug them every day. Fortunately, I put a technology solution to work for my staircase garland, an indoor light timer. These are a hot item at the hardware stores lately so if you see one and you want one, make sure to grab it. They are inexpensive. A pack of 2 with an indoor and outdoor light timer was about $12.

The indoor light timer, a wonderful, time-saving way to enjoy your holiday lights.

The indoor light timer, a wonderful, time-saving way to enjoy your holiday lights.

These timers come with few instructions. I’m sure most people figure them out right away but my lights were on 24-7 for two days while I sorted it out. To spare you the same problem, here are my indoor light timer instructions:

1. Plug the light timer into your outlet (or extension cord).
2. Plug the male end of your lights into the side of the timer.
3. Make sure the switch on the side of the timer is set to “timer on.”
4. There are little gray plastic pins all around the dial on the top of the timer. Pull up all the gray plastic pins during the hours when you DON’T want the lights on. I made a mistake when I first started and pulled up just the pins for the start and stop times. You have to pull up all the pins between those two hours.
5. Rotate the dial to set the timer to the current time. If your lights have not come on even though they are supposed to, you might need to rotated the dial a full turn around first until the lights come on and then set the time.

I have a new appreciation for how much work and frustration must go into every single holiday light display. As I am driving by enjoying someone else’s lights, I will wish them a silent congratulations on a job well done!

Do you have any lighting misadventures to share?

 Posted by on December 12, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Dec 092014
 
It's Nutcracker time!

It’s Nutcracker time!

The Christmas season is not complete for us without seeing a performance of the Nutcracker! We looked forward to our season ticket performance of The Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker. This is their 10th anniversary celebration.

A few days before the performance, I just happened to notice on Twitter that The Washington Ballet was hosting a “Family Day” with special activities in the morning on the same day as our performance. I wasn’t sure what to expect but we weren’t going to miss it. We woke up early and drove into the city. Because we were so early, we even snagged prime parking in the garage right across the street from the theater.

As we walked into the Warner Theater, we found it alive with dance. There were dancers posing all over the hallways and balconies. The pairing of the gorgeous theater with its gold and chandeliers and the elegant ballet dancers was stunning.

The children were given an activity booklet with assignments to have their pictures taken with the performers. They received a stamp for each activity completed. If they completed all the activities, they would get a special prize during intermission.

My girls weren’t in the best of photo taking moods that day but grudgingly complied with my request for pictures with all the dancers. The dancers were all very gracious and welcoming.

A gorgeous ballerina.

A gorgeous ballerina.

The delightful jack-in-the box.

The delightful jack-in-the box.

Posing with the Chinese dancers.

Posing with the Chinese dancers.

Clara and Fritz.  Clara was portrayed by Katharine M. Lee and was one of the best Clara's I have ever seen!

Clara and Fritz. Clara was portrayed by Katharine M. Lee and was one of the best Clara’s I have ever seen!

My girls loved the craft table where they cut out and assembled paper Nutcracker ornaments for our tree.

My girls loved the craft table where they cut out and assembled paper Nutcracker ornaments for our tree.

The most genuine smile from this child all morning!  Enjoying her Nutcracker creation.

The most genuine smile from this child all morning! Enjoying her Nutcracker creation.

The company dancers were warming up along the railing as a demonstration for the crowd.

The company dancers were warming up along the railing as a demonstration for the crowd.

Their stretches put my yoga to shame!

Their stretches put my yoga to shame!

An impressive split!

An impressive split!

One dancer said she stretched about an hour and a half each day.  This type of flexibility takes dedication.

One dancer said she stretched about an hour and a half each day. This type of flexibility takes dedication.

My girls attempting some ballet moves with a "cardinal" dancer from the cat and the cardinal birds solo.

My girls attempting some ballet moves with a “cardinal” dancer from the cat and the cardinal birds solo.

Saluting with the soldiers (English style).  These soldiers had the cutest personalities.  One girl was giving out high fives and another fist bumps to all passers by.

Saluting with the soldiers (English style). These soldiers had the cutest personalities. One girl was giving out high fives and another fist bumps to all passers by.

Septime Weber rehearsing a group of child dancers on stage.

Septime Weber rehearsing a group of child dancers on stage.

Luis R. Torres was Drosselmeyer.  In addition to being an amazing dancer, he could not have been more charming chatting with the children and posing for photos.

Luis R. Torres was Drosselmeyer. In addition to being an amazing dancer, he could not have been more charming chatting with the children and posing for photos.

After the activities, we had a few snacks from the theater and headed to our seats for the show.

Santa gave me my wish .  . . Maki Onuki as the Sugar Plum Fairy!

Santa gave me my wish . . . Maki Onuki as the Sugar Plum Fairy!

The show was wonderful! Every time we attend the ballet, I find something new to appreciate. This time, it was appreciating the fact that while on stage, your face and facial expressions are the most important aspects of your performance. A beautiful face with a pleasant expression, no matter how difficult the choreography, is the mark of a truly great performer.

Another wonderful thing to appreciate about The Washington Ballet’s performance was that they freely mixed races in their casting. During the party scene, for example, an African American mom was paired with a white daughter with blonde curls. Initially, there was a bit of shock, but that quickly faded into an appreciation for how beautiful this kind of casting is. When there is great contrast between the performers, you end up appreciating more the differences and beauty of each performer. It magnifies each one. A great performance also transports us into a fantasy world and the blind casting helped to heighten the fantasy element as well.

One of the best pairings of the entire afternoon was the Anacostian pas de deux between Esmiana Jani and Brooklyn Mack. You need to be in excellent physical condition to wear the costumes for this dance as they show plenty of skin. Esmiana Jani’s translucent white skin paired with Brooklyn Mack’s chocolate brown was so gorgeous. The contrast again allowed the audience to more clearly focus on each dancer. Sometimes in a pas de deux you tend to think of the two dancers as one unit and some details of their performance get lost. In this performance, you saw each detail and it was just breathtaking.

Maki Onuki, of course, never disappoints. She was perfection as the Sugar Plum Fairy! It is hard to describe what makes her so compelling to watch. There is something in the way she effortlessly lifts her legs into high arabesque, her beautifully poised fingers and hands, and the precision of her footwork and turns. She makes it look so easy. When she is on stage, it is really hard to focus on anything else.

Her partner, Miguel Anaya, however, managed to distinguish himself as well. In addition to amazing jumps and turns, he was the best partner to her in the pas de deux. In most pas de deux, there is a part where the woman does a series of pirouettes and the man helps her to turn by spinning her at the waist. Maki Onuki and Miguel Anaya did this move the best I have ever seen! He spun her so quickly and she remained perfectly straight like a spinning top. There was no wobbling side to side during the turns and they stopped the turn precisely with no jarring movements. Incredible! At the end of their performance, as they were taking their bows, he paused to kiss her hand, a touching gesture that seemed to say, “You are a prima ballerina. Thank you for dancing with me.”

As I mentioned before, Clara, portrayed by Katharine M. Lee, was amazing. Her arabesque is so high, especially for a child dancer. She had great poise and maturity for someone so young as well. There was a scene in the beginning where she looks into a sort of “mirror” and sees herself as the Sugar Plum Fairy with the real life Maki Onuki staring back at her. Perhaps some day this vision will be realized!

I completely loved the entire show and the Family Day experience. It was a bonus to see our good friends from Fredericksburg coincidentally at intermission. We gave them the free Nutcracker tickets we got with our season subscription last year and they went and were hooked! They now make The Nutcracker part of their family holiday traditions as well.

As for my girls, they enjoyed it but found all the activities on one day a bit tiring. One daughter took a nap during the first act and the other during the second. Between the two of them, they saw the whole performance! They did love to point out all the dancers they had met in person and it made the performance even more special for them. They also enjoyed getting their prize, a small Nutcracker ornament, for their efforts. They came home and displayed them proudly on our mantel.

The treasured Nutcracker prizes.

The treasured Nutcracker prizes.

 Posted by on December 9, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Dec 022014
 
Inspired by a designer wreath, my Thanksgiving wreath design.

Inspired by a designer wreath, my Thanksgiving wreath design.

I have needed a wreath for my front door to fill the holiday gap between Halloween and Christmas. I have my black tulle wreath for Halloween and usually try to find a fresh pine wreath for Christmas but November has a gap.

Early this fall, while flipping quickly through a design catalog, I came across an unusual wreath of ruffled burlap with orange flowers. I thought the materials and colors perfectly reflected November. It was quite expensive but I tore out the page for inspiration, wondering if I could make my own version.

I began by making a base for the wreath from two wire coat hangers, leaving one end open.

Two wire coat hangers became the base for my wreath.

Two wire coat hangers became the base for my wreath.

I then cut simple long rectangles of burlap about 13″ wide and a yard or two long, folded them in half and sewed tubes.

Stitching the burlap tubes.

Stitching the burlap tubes.

I used two tubes and slid them onto the open hanger, stitching the tubes together by hand.

Adding the burlap tubes to the wreath form.

Adding the burlap tubes to the wreath form.

At this point, there was some creative hand sewing to get the ruffles just right. I don’t really have instructions for this. I just made stitches where necessary to keep the ruffles bunching correctly. (I also realized that in most craft projects there probably is a lot of this “fussy” behind the scenes detail work, which is why most of us never end up with a result that looks exactly like the instructions we are following.)

Then, it was time to make the flowers. I was inspired by some handmade flowers my artistic aunt recently created. I googled how to make them and came up with this video.

I used leftover polyester fabric from our Halloween costumes. The first step was to cut out circles from the fabric, which I did much of while waiting for my children’s soccer lessons.

Cutting lots of circles of various sizes from orange and yellow polyester fabric.

Cutting lots of circles of various sizes from orange and yellow polyester fabric.

The next step was FIRE! You hold the edge of the fabric near a candle flame, just long enough to melt the edge and curl it but without singeing it or burning it. It took some practice before I stopped burning the fabric.

Burning the edges of the circles with a candle to make them curl and seal the ends.

Burning the edges of the circles with a candle to make them curl and seal the ends.

The YouTube tutorial suggested cutting small slits in each circle to create petal shapes. These were rather difficult to burn and I singed the ends of most of my first few flowers. When I looked at my aunt’s example, it seemed that she did not cut the slits and just used the circles whole. I tried this technique and it was far easier and just as beautiful.

Two options for burning patterns: on the left, the result of burning the circle uncut.  On the right, cutting small slits in the circle before burning to create more of a petal shape.

Two options for burning patterns: on the left, the result of burning the circle uncut. On the right, cutting small slits in the circle before burning to create more of a petal shape.

I then had a whole stack of petals on the table. I started showing my daughter how to stack all the orange together and all the yellow together to make the flowers I had in mind based on the tutorial.

A large collection of burnt  petals.

A large collection of burnt petals.

My daughter took one look at my examples and the huge collection of petals and informed me that I was being far too restrictive in my combinations. She quickly pulled together the most beautiful combinations of yellow and orange and also told me to make some with just the small petals so I had flowers of different sizes. Her artistic talents amaze me sometimes.

My daughter inspired me to combine the the petals in various combinations to create more interest.

My daughter inspired me to combine the the petals in various combinations to create more interest.

The next step was to hand sew a few stitches to keep the petals together in the finished flowers. My youngest daughter informed me that she wanted to learn how to do this. We sewed the first few together, with me pushing in the needle and her pulling it through. Then I gave her a threaded needle and told her to try it herself. She did a beautiful job!

Sewing flowers with the help of my daughter.

Sewing flowers with the help of my daughter.

The pile of finished flowers.

The pile of finished flowers.

My daughters had big plans for these flowers. They wanted to sprinkle them all over our Thanksgiving table as decorations. Fortunately, we had some left over and their plans were realized. They looked amazing!

A simple but elegant touch sprinkling the flowers all over the Thanksgiving table!

A simple but elegant touch sprinkling the flowers all over the Thanksgiving table!

It was then time to attach the flowers to the burlap base. While you could glue them, I like to be able to wash my wreaths before I put them into storage so I sewed the flowers on by hand. This was another part of the process where there aren’t specific instructions but a loose method of figuring out how many to use and where to put them. In the designer example I was following they bunched them all on one side.

To finish it off, I added a tulle hanger loop and a tulle bow. I also used more hidden tulle as ties to help with bunching the burlap together attractively.

In the end, I had something similar to my designer example but a bit more simplified. I love how it came out and it means even more to me seeing the work of my daughters reflected in it too.

Our Thanksgiving friendly front door.

Our Thanksgiving friendly front door.

 Posted by on December 2, 2014 General Tagged with: , ,