Friday, November 28, 2014

Snowmen Chandelier

I hope all my American friends had a lovely Thanksgiving. Today seemed like the perfect day to share this adorable Christmas craft idea made by my friend Jill from the art group I belong to. When she sent me a photo of this snowman chandelier she made I asked her if I could share it on my blog because I thought you might find it as inspiring as I did. I asked Jill how she made it and I've included the details.

Here's what you need to make it:
4-inch styrofoam balls
floral wire, cut into 2-inch lengths and bent to form a hook
air-drying clay
black beads for the eyes
orange acrylic paint
black Sharpie pen

Here's how Jill did it:
1. Push the bent wire into a styrofoam ball
2. Carefully cover the entire ball with air-drying clay (be sure to anchor the wire) and form a nose with the clay if you want one.
3. Push two black beads into the clay for eyes.
4. Then allow to dry for 24-36 hours (depending on the thickness of the clay)
5. When they are dry you can paint the nose orange and use the black Sharpie to draw a mouth and enhance the eyes.

Aren't they adorable. I love all the different expressions on their faces. Jill hung them from an ornament-photo chandelier from Crate and Barrel (which you can find here). It is a fun way to hang the ornaments, but wouldn't they also look sweet strung in a garland across the fireplace (or maybe they would melt, Ha!) or hung from your real chandelier or hung on the Christmas tree. 

Thanks Jill for sending allowing me to share your great craft.


I also want to mention that it will be Christmas Cookie week here on the blog starting on Monday - which really is just an excuse for me to get my Christmas baking done on time. I do share my favourite recipes and tips though, so check back every day next week.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Our Christmas Mantel

I've always liked Scandinavian decor and with Kate having just fallen in love with it too, I thought this would be a great year to decorate our mantel for Christmas in that style.

So what key elements of Scandinavian design did I use when decorating the mantel? Well, I used lots of candles and shiny objects,

and white was the main colour,

and plenty of natural elements like pine cones (and fake pine cones) and evergreen boughs (also fake),

There you have it. I really like the soft effect against the light green walls, but when the husband first saw it he asked me why there wasn't any colour on the mantel. Sigh. I think it is growing on him though as we both like the simplicity of the decor.

Have you got your tree up? or your mantel decorated? I'm having our annual Christmas Craft party here next weekend so I wanted to get some of the decorating done to set the mood for the party.  I'm still working on the sideboard and plan on putting the paper snowflakes that we made last year up on the walls. I've got some fun crafts planned for the party. I'm looking forward to it.

When I was finished decorating the mantel I had to look back at how I decorated it in previous years. You can see the past four years in the collage below (clockwise from the top left - 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013).

Monday, November 17, 2014

Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Squash Soup

Does the thought of grilled cheese sandwiches get you salivating? I think they are the best and have been dying to make some fancy versions with up-scale ingredients.

When Malcolm and Christie came over for lunch this past weekend I just knew they would enjoy making gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches as much as I would. And they did.  There were many yummy noises as we tried each of the four grilled cheese sandwiches we made. Everyone voted on which was their favourite and the funny thing was we each selected a different sandwich as the best. So they're all winners!

We used two types of bread - multigrain walnut bread and challa bread.  And four kinds of cheese each paired with some delicious ingredients.

I made the caramelized onions the night before as they take a ridiculously long time to cook. Have you ever made them? They are really simple, but cooking them a long time at a low temp is the key.  I chopped four onions added two tablespoons butter and cooked on low for 50 minutes until they were mouth-wateringly caramelized.

I also roasted some red peppers to use and then we set to work making our gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. We buttered the outside of each slice of bread, added the ingredients, and broiled them in the oven.

We also had squash soup with them because grilled cheese and soup go together like a hug and a squeeze, like salt and pepper, like bread and butter ... well, you get the idea. 

I had some frozen squash on hand so used that to make the soup. I modified a recipe from Skinny Taste which tasted great. Here's my version of it:

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons curry powder
4 cups cooked squash
3 cups chicken bouillon
1 400 ml can light coconut milk
pepper to taste

1. Cook the onion, celery, and garlic in the olive oil until softened (about 10 minutes)
2. Add the spices and cook for a minute longer
3. Then add the bouillon and squash and bring to a boil.
4. Cook for about 15 minutes and then add the coconut milk.
5. Use an immersion blender and blend until smooth. 
6. Bring up to heat and serve.

When I looked at my photos that night after we had eaten our grilled cheese sandwhiches I realized about half way though a greasy finger (mine no doubt) had touched my camera lens and all the photos looked like the one below with the greasy smear on the top half of the photo. Thank heavens for Picmonkey so with careful cropping I was able to get some photos for this post.

Have you ever made gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches?  I thought they were so delicious that I had to have them again the next day for lunch. I would seriously eat them every day if I could.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Swedish Blogs

Oh Scandinavia, what's not to love? The landscape looks like Canada, but with cuter houses. Last spring my daughter Kate visited Scandinavia when she was doing her study abroad term in the UK (that's her photo above of Copenhagen). She fell in love with Scandinavian style. I have always loved Scandinavian interiors and Kate introduced me to their streetstyle. 

Scandinavian design is famous for its simplicity and use of natural elements. Their interiors tend toward light neutrals. In particular, you see lots of white with a subtle use of colour in their homes. The clothing also tends toward neutrals, but usually more the darker colours. They also embrace function both in interior design and fashion - flats and Chelsea boots prevail rather than sky-high heels and minimalist, well-curated, organized collections on open shelves rather than cluttered sideboards. It is a look I love (although not necessarily one I can master - especially the organized, curated, minimalist part).

Kate asked if I knew any good Scandinavian lifestyle and decor blogs so she can continue to be inspired by their style. I have been doing a little digging for her (I mean what's a mother to do) and have come up with some, but I was wondering if anyone else had other Scandi blogs they could recommend.

These are the ones I found that appealed to me - some traditional and some more modern; some home decor and some lifestyle (click on the name of the blog to check out the blogs themselves):

My Scandinavian Home - written by a British woman living and raising a family in Sweden. I love her style and her choices of homes that she features. 

My Scandinavian Home

Live Like You - written by Jill Sorensen, a Swedish decorator who now lives in California, but returns to Sweden every summer and is decorating a home in the country.

Jill Sorensen

Vibeke Design - a Norwegian blog (written in Norwegian) which focuses on more traditional Scandinavian decor including her own home in the country.

Vibeke Design

Flying House - a blog written by an American mom of three living in Denmark (although they are in presently in the US for six months).

Flying House

Design Attractor - written by a graphic designer from the Czech Republic who loves all things modern Scandinavian.  He features home after beautiful minimalist Scandinavian home.

Design Attractor

Love Nordic - written by a British woman who loves all things Nordic (do you see a theme here of some of the best Scandi blogs written by people who don't live in Scandinavia).  This blog leans toward modern interiors and features Scandinavian industrial design.

Love Nordic

Marsipan og Smilefjes - a Norwegian blog, written in Norwegian, which features more simple modern country design with lots of natural elements mixed in.

Marsipan og Smilefjes

Emmas Designblogg - her byline says it is Scandinavia's oldest and most read design blog. So there you have it. She writes in English which is helpful to me as my Swedish is nonexistent and she is the author of the bestselling book Northern Delights about Scandinavian design. She favours minimalist modern designs. 

Elisabeth Heier - a Norwegian blogger, writing in Norwegian, with some English at the end of each post and lots of photos of her beautiful modern white home.

Elisabeth Heier

Decordots - a blog written by a woman from Estonia who loves all things Scandinavian.  She has a good design sense and features beautiful homes.


Nordic Bliss - A Norwegian woman living in the UK (now there's a twist) and writes about Scandinavian design.

via Nordic Bliss

Scandinavian Retreat - a design blog written by a Norwegian blogger who writes about how they transformed their seaside cabin and are now building a home near Oslo.  That's her gorgeous cabin in the photo below. She also features other Scandinavian homes and design.

Scandinavian Retreat

Stylizimo - a blog from Norway (just guessing by the tiny Norwegian flag on the header) with tons of inspiring home design articles.


And finally, I wanted to show you another photo taken by Kate in Copenhagen. While it isn't a Scandinavian interior, it is a good example of their ingenious design sense in an outdoor space. It is a wall with hinged boards that are black on one side and coloured on the other. People can come by and open select boards to create interesting designs on the wall.  So creative and so fun, right?

Please feel free to add any suggestions of great Scandinavian blogs in the comments. There are never enough blogs on my favourite's list.

Personalized Advent Calendars

I like to make advent calendars for my kids ... and by kids I mean young adults who are 20 and 22 years old. Crazy, I know. I can't help myself though. I really love being creative and especially when that creativity means giving little treats to younguns that are off at university and working hard. 

Every year I think of a new advent calendar to send them.  I could make the same one every year, but where would be the fun in that. So I thought long and hard about what to make this year. The few non-negotiables were that the advent calendar must be able to be mailed since both Kate and William are away at university; the treats would be chocolates because in our family treats=chocolates; and it had to be suitable for someone in their 20s.  

After some thought I came up with the idea to make personalized advent calendars so they would suit the individual child. I used toilet paper rolls cut in half for both advent calendars. They were the perfect size to hold the chocolates and were the right price. 

Personalized Advent Calendar #1
Kate was overseas for the first half of this year studying at the University of Bath and doing lots of traveling. I decided to make her advent calendar with little sketches illustrating her year as it unfolded. I started off with our home with the Christmas tree up and then her flight to the UK and then her time in Paris etc. I cut out small rectangles the size of the half toilet paper rolls and sketched and then painted the little scenes to fit.  I either used Kate's photos or searched online for some inspiration as to what to draw because believe me I'm not able to draw without looking at a picture.  I then glued the little scenes on the toilet paper rolls which contained the chocolates. The little chocolate packages were then taped to three rows of ribbons which were attached to a branch.

Personalized Advent Calendar #2
William has been studying hard and learning not one, but two languages - both French and Chinese. I really admire his perseverance. He has taught himself enough that he has read French philosophy and the Tao Te Ching in the original languages. So I thought his advent calendar could help expand his vocabulary to include Christmas-related words, you know words like 'candle', 'joy', 'sheep' - things that might not show up in a philosophy book.

Fortunately I had the help of our eldest son (who is also learning Chinese and French) and our daughter-in-law. It actually took some managing to get the Chinese character drawn with the corresponding French word (done the right way up) on the back. I was the translator and director (and photographer) and Malcolm drew the Chinese characters and Christie wrote the French word in calligraphy. It was definitely a team effort.

I assembled the calendar by putting the chocolate inside the half toilet paper roll, stringing a piece of twine through it, and taping it shut.

And then I packaged them up and sent them off to the hard-working students. The countdown begins!

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