Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas (#1) in Aurora

"Mary was the first one to carry the gospel, when the angel brought the news of that precious little boy. Mary was the first one to carry the gospel, and that news brought joy, sweet joy." (New second-favorite Christmas carol, sheet music here, video here)

Found the camera. Here are some shots from our first family Christmas, Dec. 24-26, with my family at my sister's house out in the Chicago suburbs. Don't my nephews and niece (ages 10, 12, and 15) look nice posing with their grandparents in front of the tree?

Here is that "mystery gift" I was so busy making the week before Christmas. It's the Jesse Tree that my sister and her husband designed and made for me several years ago. When she gave it to me, she remarked that she regretted that she hadn't made one for herself (there should be a term for that feeling--"craft envy"?). So I copied her pattern and made one for her family and one for my parents.

It's all out of felt (acrylic) but I got so frustrated with the gluing on the main part of the thing that I decided to handsew the ornaments instead of glue them. Great idea, but that's what slowed me down so much. For those not familiar with a Jesse Tree, it's an Advent calendar that traces the family tree of Jesus with stories from the Old Testament each day. (Each pocket has a laminated card with the Bible story.) You can see ornaments for Moses (Ten Commandments), Daniel (lion), Noah (ark) and Adam and Eve (Serpent with apple) at left. My sister designed this because there was no pattern out there, so I may put this together and offer it for sale.

Another last-minute crafted gift was this yarn wreath for my Mom. Isn't it adorable? And a great way to use up those leftover balls in your stash. I got the idea from Dottie Angel, and added the bow and a ribbon loop rather than the wire loop (after tucking the wire ends into the yarn balls). I plan to make one for myself but haven't decided the color scheme yet. The blues should match my mom's sewing room. Sorry for the bad photo; there's a better one, plus a how-to tutorial at the link above. My only additional advice is to make sure the yarn ends are good and tucked in.

Since I'm still in Philly I can't post photos of my wonderful gifts yet, but one was a ski trip with my family to Granite Peak in Wisconsin when we get back. Non-stop fun.

(Note to self: Laminating was $52 from Kinkos: 8 Cutting per cut: 11.92; 5 lam Pouch 8.5x11: $12.45; and 50 LF Lam Roll Trim: $25)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas (#2) in Philadelphia

"City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. In the air there's a feeling of Christmas." (Silver Bells)

We made it safely and healthily to Philadelphia on the 27th to celebrate our second Christmas with Ed's family. We flew out between the two bad weather delays and had a very smooth trip. That's us in downtown Philly having just visited the Mutter Museum, a medical oddities collection that includes a lot of skulls, skeletons and a constipated colon that contained 40 pounds of feces. Nothing says Christmas like organs in formaldehyde.

I will share some of the awesome gifts I've received later (we seem to have either left our camera at home or lost it) but I can report on my Christmas crafting, which is still in progress as New Year's approaches. If you remember list, I was planning to make almost all my gifts this year. Here's how it turned out:
  1. 2 pairs of socks (with worsted weight yarn) - One done and sent off with Ed's brother Tom. One left to go for Ed's dad. (Modeled above by Tom with "Big Ed" and my Ed watching the Flyers in the background.
  2. 2 pairs of mittens - One done and felted for Ed's mother; one half done for Ed's sister.
  3. 1 hat - Finished on the plane and given to my sister-in-law.
  4. 1 pair baby socks - Didn't happen. Gave her a book instead.
  5. 2 mystery non-knit gifts - The reason I was behind on everything else. Finished the day before Christmas Eve and given to my sister's family and my Mom and Dad. See my mom's photo here.
It's been fun here because the first and only Butler grandchild so far, Elena (pictured above with her mother wearing the aforementioned hat) has been keeping us all busy and entertained. She just turned one in early December and is almost walking and has this lovely high-pitched screech. She's a real cutie!
We will be attending a wedding of one of Ed's friends tonight, then a low-key New Year's. I took an extra day off so we don't have to fly home till the 2nd. I know some people are already taking down their Christmas stuff, getting organized for the new year, and planning Valentine's Day crafts, but I like my Christmas to last to Epiphany, so I've got at least another week to go!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'll have a flu Christmas

Sorry I haven't been around to say Merry Christmas to you all. Hope you had a wonderful holiday with your families. We postponed our plans to go to my sister's by one day, as my husband was still recovering from a three-day bout with the flu. It gave me one extra day to finish some of my Christmas crafting, which I definitely needed.

We had a really nice Christmas Eve with Mass, tree decorating, some present opening, then a nice Christmas day with more present opening and a visit to the Uzbeckistani refugee family we know, but just before my sister's fancy steak and lobster dinner, I started feeling sick. I don't think I had what Ed had, because I felt better the next day, though I'm still a little cautious with my stomach.

We're hoping for good health from here on in, since we're flying to Philadelphia tomorrow to be with Ed's family and attend a friend's wedding on the 30th. I'm still knitting some gifts for them, and will post more from there. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Time to make the toffee

"I will not leave you comfortless/I will not leave you alone. I am the air you breathe in/I'm the light in every star/and every dawn." ("I Will Not Leave You Comfortless, Jan Phillips)

Today was my last day at work before the Christmas break, so that means I was up making toffee last night. It's become a tradition for me to give some of my homemade toffee to all my co-workers, and some people (Fran!) started asking about it weeks ago. The only good thing about all the downsizing in our department (at a meeting yesterday it was starkly shown that we went from 20 employees to 13 in just four years--yet we produce even more products) is that I didn't have to make as many batches!

I also regularly give toffee to some others on my list, and this year I duplicated this cute container, which I had made last year for my women's group friends. I started with a paper star box, spray painted it silver, stamped stars, swirls, and the word "Believe" on it, trimmed it with blue ribbon, filled it with toffee, wrapped the whole thing in tulle, and attached a star ornament out of blue felt and hand-beaded. Aren't they pretty?

I delivered these today to the family they're going to, and distributed all my little bags of toffee to co-workers. I'll probably make a few more batches to take to my sister's and to Philadelphia, but the two-batches-a-night candy factory is closed! People think it's so hard, but really if you have a candy thermometer, it's really quite simple. Check out the recipe here. (I used Hershey's dark for the chocolate.)

So I'm off work until January 3--almost two weeks. I've got two days to finish my Midwest Christmas gifts, and then until the 27th to finish my Philadelphia ones. It's do-able, but I'm going to have to be really productive these next two days. Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Have a very knitty Christmas

"Knitting is a distinct virtue. It's reflective and repetitive. Whenever you are engaged in doing a purely repetitive thing, your mind can reflect upon life." (Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, 1945-61, quoted in Knitting: History, Fashion, and Great Knitting Yarns)

Has everyone seen the adorable knitted Christmas stamps the Post Office came out with? Too bad we're not sending Christmas cards this year. Ed and I decided we just couldn't do the "no kids yet" message for the third year in a row. I guess NPR had something on Christmas letters on this morning. Our family does Christmas letters, and most people enjoy them. It's true that many are poorly written (and long!), and don't even get me started about writing in all caps on dark red paper! I've tried to make mine more of a reflection/essay in past years, and have included a prayer or quote, too. But this whole adoption mess has taught me that we have to take care of our own hurt hearts when necessary. Even when it means bailing on a tradition for one year. We hope to have some better news later in the year.

Anyway, back to knitting: This year we're trying to be frugal with our Christmas gifts, and to include some type of giving of ourselves in them, too. So there will be lots of handmade this year (and some gift certificates of our time). I can't give away the details since many gift recipients read this blog, but here's some generalities for my to-do list.
  1. 2 pairs of socks (with worsted weight yarn)
  2. 2 pairs of mittens
  3. 1 hat
  4. 1 pair baby socks
  5. 2 mystery non-knit gifts

So far I have one sock and one pair of mittens done, and the mystery gifts begun. So I have my work cut out for me. But I have the craft fair and the mailed gifts all done, and I have a husband who is helping out with everything else this year (meals, shopping, laundry, cleaning). So I'm not feeling too stressed. Plus, we don't go to Philadelphia until the 27th, so I have a few extra days for gifts for Ed's family.

Other December knitting: a super soft scarf in Moda Dea Eden (in a color called Apple, but that is really more like burgandy) for my friend Kristin, who just turned the big 4-0! I knit it during the slow times at the craft fair. I'm babysitting Kristin's baby, Lincoln, today, and also will get to spend some quality time with him and her when I accompany them on a trip to Florida to visit her parents over Martin Luther King weeknd. Now that's something to look forward to: leaving Chicago in January for the Florida beach!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sister Swap - Part II

"2007 is almost over. Why wait until next year?" (Erik, my yoga teacher)

This has been a busy week: work, a freelance editing project, some entertaining--oh, and Christmas preparations. We got our tree up and other decorations out, made the first batch of Tom and Jerrys, and got all the out-of-town presents mailed.

On the Christmas theme, here are the holiday-themed goodies from the second package in the Sweet Goodness Sister Swap. My swap partner, Christy, has been busy with some writing projects, too, so it's amazing that she made me all this cute stuff (and she says she's not good at tags. Aren't those cute?)

This wreath is wrapped in pretty silver ribbon and decorated with silver star mini picture frames. Christy thoughtfully put four frames for our future family with Sam and Sophie. It's on our front door.

Christy is spoiling me with all this gorgeous sock yarn, this a German blue/brown stripe. The brand is Regia. She also included this darling handmade Christmas pincushion and some new pins, which is desperately needed, and two fat quarters of Christmas fabric. Thank you, Christy, for your generosity.
Since the theme was swags, I sent Christy one of my felt leaf garlands. My package was more in the Thanksgiving theme, and according to Christy, the best-loved item was the Wicked wristband for her daughter.
I also want to thank all the new people who have visited my blog lately. I think some of you came over from Jill's "Celebation of Traditions." (It's always fun to watch the Google Analytics spike after someone metions me on their blog!) Thanks for all your sweet comments about our cooking baking, and everyone's continuing sensitivity and prayers about our adoptions. I know it's considered good blog etiquette to respond to comment, but unfortunately Blogger doesn't allow me to email you back unless you set it up that way. But know that I apppreciate every single comment--and I understand when people don't have time to comment either. Just thanks for reading!

Monday, December 10, 2007


"A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than one that is cast down." (St. Philip Neri)

I have exciting news to report: My first craft fair was extremely successful. In fact, I pretty much sold out of most of my merchandise and grossed more than three times my goal! My purses were a hit. On the first day, I sold about a third of my inventory (I had brought 30) in the first two hours. Several people, including volunteers and other crafters, bought two or three. It was so exciting!

In addition to revenue, it was so great to get the positive feedback on them. So many people commented they were cute and that the idea was clever. In fact, the most common question was "How did you think of that?" I credited the Internet with the idea for purses out of recycled sweaters, but admitted that the idea of using ties for handles was mine and born out of necessity for a strong but inexpensive material for handles. By the end of the second day, I had only 2 regular purses left, and a few "team" ones (Packers didn't sell; neither did Badgers.) I got special orders for three more team purses: U of I, Purdue, and another White Sox one. (See Bears and Notre Dame ones hanging below, at left.)

I know some of you are hoping for tips on how to be successful in selling at fairs, but with only one under my belt, I'm hardly an expert. I think I learned a lot, though, both from my experience and from the super-friendly other crafters I met. I'll try to sum it up:
  1. Know your venue. This was a parish fair whose most popular booth was the White Elephant table with stuff selling for a quarter. So super high-end stuff isn't the best here. My purses were popular with women and some men shopping for women; teens bought my flower pins; and one woman cleaned me out of my ornaments. But I noticed that the average shopper was a teen from the parish or a kid with $20 from Dad to buy a gift for Mom. I'll have more kid-friendly items next year.
  2. Have a unique product. I think my purses sold because they were something people had never seen before. People seem impressed by the creativity of the idea.
  3. The price must be right. I sold my purses for $30, which is a little low, but I did that knowing that the fair wasn't super high-end. I think the price was right for the shoppers who needed a gift for a sister or grab bag.
  4. Have things at different price points. I had pins for $3 (2 for $5) and ornaments for $8. I sold out of the pins the first day and had to make some more that night! I didn't sell one ornament the first day, so I assumed the price was too high. But I had put all this time into hand sewing them and knew I could give them as gifts, so I wasn't willing to go bargain basement on them. I marked them down to $6 and sold them all the second day.
  5. It's all in the display. Just laying your stuff on a table won't highlight it well. I wanted to do a good display without investing too much. I brought a coat rack from home and hung purses on that so some would be at eye level. I put a cork board on an easel and pinned my pins to it. And of course I bought the feather tree to spotlight my ornaments. I printed out my logo for a sign on foam core board, made business cards with my logo, and stickers that I put on little white shopping bags (bought with 40 percent off coupon at Michaels.) It all added to the professional look.
  6. Be friendly and flexible--but smart. I loved chatting with people and explaining how I made my stuff, and happily described how they could do it themselves, knowing full well that most won't. I also shared some knitting pointers with some people. I took checks, though not credit cards (I was asked twice if I did), but then most of the shoppers were parishioners so I felt pretty safe doing that. (I also highlighted on my sign that I was a parishioner!) I also took an IOU from a woman with whom I had served on a parish committee. And I took a few special orders, and set things aside for people who asked. I didn't get burned once, although I know other people have and therefore have stricter rules about that kind of stuff.
  7. Bring snacks, something to do, and have fun! I ate from the concession stand to support the parish fundraiser, but after two days of donuts, sloppy joes and nachoes, I was craving something healthier! I also had some time to knit during slow periods on Saturday. One last tip: Try to restrain yourself from buying too much from other booths and eating away at your profits. I got some nice scented lotion, two pair of earrings, some stuff from the White Elephant table (will take pictures and share later this week) and a hand-carved pair of knitting needles. I only spent about $40, which is pretty good.
Sorry for the bad lighting; I was shooting into the window. But you get the gist of my booth, signage, etc. Although I did really well, I'm not planning on doing a bunch of shows next year. I want to still keep this a hobby that I enjoy, not a business. And given the amount of time I put in on each purse, I'd make more money on freelance writing and editing jobs. But it was fun to make a little spare money to support my own crafting habit and, like I said, to get the positive feedback on my work. I think I'll try to do this show again next year and plan some different items to go with my purses. That will keep it interesting for me and my customers!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

St. Nick's Craft Fair

"The supreme happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved." (Victor Hugo)

Today I'll be selling my work at my first real craft fair. If you're in the Chicago area, it's at St. Gertrude Parish, 1401 W. Granville (between Broadway and Clark). It's today, Dec. 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and tomorrow, Dec. 9, from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. In addition to crafts, there is a book sale, baked goods, concessions, raffles, white elephant sale and kids' Christmas crafts. Santa comes from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday and there's a pancake breakfast from 8:30-1:30 on Sunday.

I've been busy building my inventory (lots of purses, including some team ones: Chicago Bears and Packers!) plus some Christmas tree ornaments (out of felt) to have something at a lower price point. That's how I justified getting that white feather tree--to display the ornaments! (That, and a 40 percent coupon at Michaels.)

I've also done a lot for the display and "branding" with my Spiritual Knitter logo: signs, business cards, stickers for bags. I'll be sure to take a picture of my booth. I'm nervous that I won't sell anything and have set the goal of making $300. (The booth cost $50). But this is a fundraiser for my church so it's worth it no matter what. And it will be a learning experience. And, as I've read from many of you, whatever's left makes great Christmas gifts (and goes in the online shop!)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cookie monsters

"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart." (Helen Keller)

2,290--that's how many cookies the Schlumpf women baked over Cookie Baking Weekend, held last weekend at my mom's in Wisconsin. I blogged about this last year and included our yummy Sugar Cookie Recipe. We made all the favorites, as pictured above on the first cookie plate of the season. As usual, Ed went for the pecan bars first, and I ate all the sugar cookies.

We Schlumpf women take traditions seriously! This started as a way for us to get all our holiday baking done while enjoying each other's company. Now it's a full-fledged tradition complete with its own T-shirts! Our old ones were getting a little tattered so my sister Amy made these cute ones this year, highlighting the six traditional cookies that my Mom has been making since we were kids: Creme de Menthe Balls, Thumbprints, Wreathes (Spritz), Gingerbread Boys and Girls, Christmas Trees (also Spritz), and Sugar Cookie Cutouts. In addition, we each brought a kind already made.

Attending this year were (from left) my Aunt Pat, Mom, Heidi, Amy and niece Clare. Notice we're all still in our PJs! We made the non-bake Creme de Menthe Balls on Friday night and stirred up the dough that needed to be refrigerated. Then we started the hard work on Saturday around 9:30 a.m. (late start). Guess what time we frosted our last cookie? 1 a.m.! Then we stayed up and had a Tom & Jerry, which put us right to sleep!

My Aunt Pat brought gifts: these cute handmade gingerbread potholders, and baskets made of fabric-wrapped clothesline, and filled with nuts. My mom gave us a big Sugar Cookie scented candle, and Amy brought the T-shirts. A great time was had by all and we all went home with our share of the 2,290 cookies!