Moving Books

…And by that, I mean the books I read while we were moving. The books themselves did not, by and largely, particularly move me.  I’m just providing a quick synopsis, and, if I felt strongly about a book, my humble opinion. Take it for what it’s worth…not much, but if you’re looking for a really good book, there are several here!

Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)   The Panther  (John Corey, #6)   The Shoemaker's Wife

Beautiful Ruins   The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)    Comfort Food

Executive Privilege (Dana Cutler, #1)    Molokai'i    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again

1. Inferno by Dan Brown : I loved Brown’s earlier books, but this just seemed formulaic and, frankly, boring. It read more like a travelogue of Italy, with long and wordy descriptions of the architecture that I thought did nothing to enhance the tale.

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno.
Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.

2. The Panther by Nelson DeMille:  The latest by one of my favorite writers, this thriller kept me reading late into the night.  I enjoy the sarcastic hero, John Corey, as well as the plots of the novels (this is one of several recurring characters in Demille’s books).

Anti-Terrorist Task Force agent John Corey and his wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, have been posted overseas to Sana’a, Yemen-one of the most dangerous places in the Middle East. While there, they will be working with a small team to track down one of the masterminds behind the USS Cole bombing: a high-ranking Al Qaeda operative known as The Panther. Ruthless and elusive, he’s wanted for multiple terrorist acts and murders-and the U.S. government is determined to bring him down, no matter the cost. As latecomers to a deadly game, John and Kate don’t know the rules, the players, or the score. What they do know is that there is more to their assignment than meets the eye-and that the hunters are about to become the hunted. Filled with breathtaking plot turns and told in John Corey’s inimitable voice, THE PANTHER is a brilliant depiction of one of the most treacherous countries in the world and raises disturbing questions about whether we can ever know who our enemies – or our allies – really are.

3. The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani:  I didn’t enjoy this as much as Trigiani’s Big Stone Gap series or Valentine series, but it was still quite entertaining, perhaps more so once I read it was based on her grandparents’ story.

The majestic and haunting beauty of the Italian Alps is the setting of the first meeting of Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy, who meet as teenagers, despite growing up in villages just a few miles apart. At the turn of the last century, when Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished from his village and sent to hide in America as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy. Without explanation, he leaves a bereft Enza behind. Soon, Enza’s family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to go to America with her father to secure their future.
Unbeknownst to one another, they both build fledgling lives in America, Ciro masters shoemaking and Enza takes a factory job in Hoboken until fate intervenes and reunites them. But it is too late: Ciro has volunteered to serve in World War I and Enza, determined to forge a life without him, begins her impressive career as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House that will sweep her into the glamorous salons of Manhattan and into the life of the international singing sensation, Enrico Caruso.
From the stately mansions of Carnegie Hill, to the cobblestone streets of Little Italy, over the perilous cliffs of northern Italy, to the white-capped lakes of northern Minnesota, these star-crossed lovers meet and separate, until, finally, the power of their love changes both of their lives forever.

4. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: Loved it. You should read it right now.

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks on over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.
And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot-searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.
What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion-along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.
Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson: After having this on my nightstand for several years, I was determined to read it. It was actually quite good, and I’ll probably read the others…when I get around to them! I enjoyed the setting, as I’ve read almost no books set in Sweden.

Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch—and there’s always a catch—is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson’s novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don’t want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo.

6. Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs: Chick lit, yes, but it kept me thoroughly entertained (I read this while the movers were packing up our house and I could do nothing but sit and watch.).

Shortly before turning 50, TV cooking show personality Augusta “Gus” Simpson discovers that the network wants to boost her ratings by teaming her with a beautiful, young new co-host. But Gus isn’t going without a fight-whether it’s off-set with her two demanding daughters, on-camera with the ambitious new diva herself, or after-hours with Oliver, the new culinary producer who’s raising Gus’s temperature beyond the comfort zone. Now, in pursuit of higher ratings and culinary delights, Gus might be able to rejuvenate more than just her career.

7. Executive Privilege by Phillip Margolin: This edge-of-my-seat murder mystery kept me guessing most of the way through…it was the first I’ve read by Margolin, but won’t be the last.

When private detective Dana Cutler is hired by an attorney with powerful political connections, the assignment seems simple enough: follow a pretty college student named Charlotte Walsh and report on where she goes and whom she sees. But then the unexpected happens. One night, Cutler follows Walsh to a secret meeting with Christopher Farrington, the president of the United States. The following morning, Walsh’s dead body shows up and Cutler has to run for her life.
In Oregon, Brad Miller, a junior associate in a huge law firm is working on the appeal of a convicted serial killer. Clarence Little, now on death row, claims he was framed for the murder of a teenager who, at the time of her death, worked for the then governor, Christopher Farrington. Suddenly, a small-time private eye and a fledgling lawyer find themselves in possession of evidence that suggests that someone in the White House is a murderer. Their only problem? Staying alive long enough to prove it.

8. Molokai by Alan Brennert: Probably my favorite book of the summer journey…a fascinating and lushly written historical novel that I could not put down. I’m reading his Honolulu as soon as I can find a copy.

This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai’i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place—and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka’i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death.

9. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce: We read this aloud while travelling, and it entertained the whole family with its British humor.

When the Tooting family finds an old engine and fits it to their camper van, they have no idea what kind of adventure lies ahead. The engine used to belong to an extraordinary car . . . and it wants its bodywork back! But as the Tootings hurtle across the world rebuilding the original Chitty, a sinister baddie is on their trail — one who will stop at nothing to get the magnificent car for himself.

So there you have it…how I spent my summer vacation (along with moving cross-country, taking a four-week pseudo vacation, and unpacking all of our earthly belongings, of course). And don’t judge me for the lack of substance in these books…winter is the time for heavier literary pursuits, in my eyes!

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Everyday Occasions Card Kit

Heavens to Betsy…have you seen the latest card kit from Stampin’ Up!?  Everyday Occasions contains everything you need to make 20 cards (except scissors and adhesive) for only $29.95…and you’ll still have the stamps and ink to use on other projects, after you’ve sent your cute cards off to some lucky recipients!  Holy Run-On Sentence…can you tell I’m excited about this???

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To find out more about it, or to order your own, visit my Stampin’ Up! website and click on “Shop” then “Kits.”  Or quick order on my site using Item Number 134797. These are available only while supplies last, so don’t dilly-dally if you’d like to try it out…it’s a great way to stockpile cards for every occasion, not to mention create something handmade!

Pumpkin Black Bean Enchiladas {& a Menu}

For comfort food with a little zing, our family loves enchiladas, in pretty much any version.  But you know how I am about pumpkin…incorporating it into just about anything I can!  I combined a favorite chicken enchilada recipe with a pumpkin and black bean one that I made when I was a personal chef, many moons ago.  Everyone liked the results, even my favorite GI Joe who professes to dislike pumpkin (but I’m pretty sure I’m wearing down his resistance).

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Pumpkin, Black Bean, and Mango Enchiladas

(serves 8)

  • 1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained
  • 1 can (15 oz) canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  • 2 cups mango salsa, or your choice of salsa
  • 8 oz reduced fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 12 enchilada-size flour tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded cheese

1. In large bowl, mix together beans, pumpkin, ½ cup salsa, cream cheese, and cumin.

2. Spoon a thin layer of salsa on the bottom of a 9×13 pan.

3. For each tortilla, spoon about 1/3 cup filling down the center, sprinkle with cheese, and roll up. Lay in pan, on top of salsa.

4. When all the enchiladas are in the pan, spread remaining salsa on top and sprinkle remaining cheese on top of the salsa.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until hot throughout.

Click here for the printable recipe

I love this recipe because it works with any salsa, or a combination.  One of our favorites is to use mango salsa in the filling, then tomatillo salsa under and over the enchiladas. I serve it with either a green salad or corn sauteed in a bit of olive oil and barbeque dry rub seasoning (really…it’s yummy!).

And for the week’s menu:

Monday: Turkey, Cranberry, and Provolone Paninis with Sweet Potato Fries

Tuesday: Pumpkin, Black Bean, and Mango Enchiladas with Sauteed BBQ Corn

Wednesday: Greek Burgers with Cucumber Tomato Salad

Thursday: Oven Baked Fish and Chips with Vegetables and Dip

Friday: Grilled Chicken with Corn on the Cob and Green Salad

It’s so nice to be settling into a routine, with everyone at school or work or wherever they’re supposed to be.  The predictable schedule, along with the cool fall days, has me in the mood to actually cook these days…a welcome change from our chaotic summer!

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Halloween Countdown

While this is not a true Throwback Thursday post, it is something we did last year, so I’m counting it.

I’m certain I’ve mentioned before that my kids LOVE countdown calendars. Especially the activity ones.  Last year, I downloaded this fabulous Halloween countdown, and we had such fun following along with all the ideas!

Download from Kiki and Co.

One of our favorites was the day we got to make a garland.  The boys were at school, but Princess Thundercloud was thrilled to help.

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We literally created this from things we already had on hand (because I forgot to sneak a peek at what was coming up on our calendar the day before!).  While I cut triangles from scrapbooking paper, the Princess put 3D Halloween stickers (mummies, vampires, and monsters) and paper strips on clothespins.

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Then we strung them all up on orange and white bakers’ twine. We had another vintage-style garland that we’ve used for several years, and we hung that above our newly created one.

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We strung these over the doors in the kitchen, because my helper said we spend a lot more time in the kitchen than we do in the living room, so why decorate the fireplace mantel. Good point.

By the way, I printed our download at Costco…they have great prices, and it will suck up a lot of ink if you do it at home…plus, it’s quite large (16×20) so you might not even have that capability.  We can use this year after year, too…it was one of the few things not damaged in our move this summer!

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Goat Cheese, Prosciutto, and Fresh Figs

I’m quite certain that few combinations of simple ingredients are as sublime as fresh figs, prosciutto, and goat cheese. I mean, each of those ingredients stands on its own merits, but when you dab a bit of creamy goat cheese on a fig, wrap it in a ribbon of salty prosciutto, and then…then…drizzle it with local honey and a balsamic glaze. Oh, my! Talk about a fabulously decadent appetizer to whip up in mere minutes (or possibly as a solo lunch to celebrate all of your offspring being in school?).  Add a glass of wine and you’ll feel completely and utterly indulgent.

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I think part of the appeal of figs is that the season for them is so very short, at least here in Washington. I’m not sure about other parts of the country.  I don’t like dried figs…I find them cloyingly sweet. But you probably don’t care about that…but you SHOULD care that I was just at Costco and the fresh figs had arrived…hurray!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Fresh figs
  • Goat cheese
  • Prosciutto, each slice cut into four long ribbons
  • Local honey
  • Balsamic glaze (I found this at Walmart in Oklahoma, so it’s pretty easy to find, and adds such a great finishing flavor to so many dishes!)

To assemble, cut the stems off the figs and quarter them, dab a bit (about 1/2 teaspoon) of goat cheese on each, then wrap a ribbon of prosciutto around the fig and cheese. Place on your serving platter and drizzle with the honey and balsamic glaze. Ta-da!  You look like a culinary genius!

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Peach Pumpkin Butter

Last week, finding myself with more peaches than we could possibly eat (because they’re all ripe at once and only stay that way for like five minutes), I decided to make some peach butter. Then I thought, but how could I change it up a bit?  Then, as I contemplated the brisk fall breeze and lowering clouds, I realized the perfect addition was pumpkin! It is fall, after all, and it’s always good to get a little pumpkin in your diet.

This could not be simpler, y’all.  Well, I suppose you could go buy a jar, but you might not find this combination, and even if you did, you wouldn’t have the satisfaction of impressing your offspring with your jelly-making skills. Mine were at school all day, so they have no idea how easy making this butter truly was. Did I mention I used my slow cooker? See…could. not. be. simpler.Peach-Butter

Peach Pumpkin Butter

  • 8 cups peeled and sliced ripe peaches (about 8 medium peaches)
  • 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups sugar, depending on how sweet you want it…I like a little tanginess

1. Puree the peaches in a blender or food processor. I put mine right into the slow cooker and used my immersion blender. When they’re smooth, add the remaining ingredients.

2. Cook on high for about 6 hours, until it’s as thick as you’d like. Remember it will be a bit thicker when it cools.  I put a spoonful in a small bowl and let it cool to test it. If it seems to be too watery while cooking, place a clean dishtowel over the open top of the slow cooker, then replace the lid to hold the towel taut. The steam will condense on the towel and you can remove it, so no more water is added to your butter. I did this for about the last hour of cooking.

3. Spoon into sterilized jars and screw on lids. I turn mine upside down to cool and seal, because that’s how my mama taught me, but I’m not sure that is essential. If they don’t seal, or if you don’t want to bother with the whole canning thing, just store it in the refrigerator and use it up in a couple of weeks.

Yield: 6 half-pint jars (and enough to try it out yourself on some toast!)

This butter is delicious on scones, biscuits, all the usual suspects. BUT it’s also good to spread on pork chops before baking them…there’s a tasty tip you wouldn’t get from a jar of store-bought peach butter, now would you? Also, not to preach to you, but I used organic ingredients, so I don’t even feel guilty feeding this to the hooligans!

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Wahoo…September’s Paper Pumpkin!

I know, I know…I’ve told you before (several times) how much I love Stampin’ Up!’s monthly subscription kits, Paper Pumpkin. But this month is definitely my favorite so far. Probably.

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These kits are so well-designed that I usually just make all the cards as in the sample…I mean, those artists are paid for their ability to design a perfect card, right?  Many people, though, make one card as shown, then design their own variations. Which is totally cool, and I know a lot of stampers at Stamp-a-Stacks that change my designs a bit…again, completely fine…it’s their card, after all. But I’m rambling. The point is, when you subscribe to Paper Pumpkin, you can use your creative brain as much or as little as you please!

This month, I made all the cards as the kit showed, except on two of them, I didn’t stamp “You did it!” While that’s perfect for promotions or other successes, “Wahoo” can apply to other occasions, too…”Wahoo…it’s your birthday!” or “Wahoo…thanks…it’s just what I wanted!” or “Wahoo…all my kids are in school all day!”  You see my point.

When my red box comes in the mail each month, I practically skip home from the mailbox (it’s just down the street), and I count the minutes until I can have a thirty minute creative escape. See…you get stamps, ink, and a kit with everything you need for that month’s project (except adhesive). In pretty Pool Party tissue paper, even!

Sept-Paper-Pumpkin-ChaosSerThis month I didn’t get that time until a full 24 hours after I brought the box home. Mostly because my favorite GI Joe made me watch “World War Z” Friday night and I didn’t want to be happily crafting away when zombies crashed through my window. Probably getting gore on my cards. So I waited until Saturday afternoon, after soccer and birthday parties and reading up for Sunday school tomorrow…and thoroughly enjoyed the half hour!

If you’re interested in subscribing, you can do a trial, or a regular subscription, by visiting Paper Pumpkin on my website anytime. When you’re on my Stampin’ Up website homepage, just click shop to see the Paper Pumpkin info. To receive that month’s kit, you must sign up by the 10th of the month.  Your kit will ship around mid-month and come right to your mailbox. Try it, you’ll like it!

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Better-Than-Takeout Fried Rice {and a Menu}

One recent Saturday, we’d been working in the yard all morning and suddenly found ourselves starving.  I quickly saw the need for me to leave them to the yard cleanup and go forage for lunch (in the kitchen, because I wasn’t fit to be seen in public).  I always have edamame on hand, since the hooligans love it as an after school snack or appetizer before dinner. I also had, happily, some vegetable spring rolls from Costco that had a short, readable ingredient list.

But I knew the troops would want something a little more substantial in there, as well, so when I spied the leftover grilled chicken from the night before, I thought Chicken Fried Rice would complete our lunch nicely. It took a little longer than I thought, since I had to cook some rice, but the meal was on the table in about thirty minutes, so no one fainted from hunger in that time.

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Chicken Fried Rice

  • 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 or 3 chicken breasts, cooked and diced (about 1 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • A handful of sugar snap peas, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 6 cups cooked white rice
  • 2 eggs, scrambled
  • More soy sauce for serving

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft, then add chicken and 2 tablespoons soy sauce and stir-fry for 5 to 6 minutes.

2. Stir in carrots, celery, red bell pepper, and green bell pepper and stir-fry another 5 minutes. Then add rice and stir thoroughly.

3. Add scrambled eggs and serve with additional soy sauce.

If you don’t have all the fresh vegetables on hand, you can substitute frozen mixed vegetables for the carrots, celery, snap peas, and bell peppers.

Click here for the printable recipe

And now for the week’s menu…I’ve so missed posting these as we were travelling this summer, and I’m glad to be back sharing them.  It motivates me to plan our meals!

  • Monday: Pesto Tortellini Soup with Breadsticks and Fresh Pineapple
  • Tuesday: Chicken Fried Rice, Steamed Edamame, and Vegetable Spring Rolls
  • Wednesday:  Sloppy Joe Sliders, Sweet Potato Fries, and Raw Vegetables
  • Thursday: Grilled Marinated Chicken with Corn on the Cob and Poppyseed Strawberry Salad
  • Friday:  Make-Your-Own Pizzas on the Grill (mine was fresh fig, prosciutto, and feta drizzled with balsamic glaze…everyone else made pepperoni)

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Throwback Thursday and a Fabulous Fall Party!

As you may or may not know, I’m a contributor over at the blog Live Creatively Inspired. If you’ve not visited, you should!  I’ve found so many great ideas for decorating, ways to simplify my life, and generally fun things over there. And this month, we’re trying something new…after a week of wonderful posts about fall, it’s all winding up with a WhatchmaFALLit linky party. If you have a blog, be sure to stop by starting Friday (tomorrow) to link up, or, if you don’t blog, come by and get inspired by all the creativity!

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Here’s a little something I just might link up…some fun cat planters I made a couple of years ago for Halloween. I saw these spookily cute cat planters in a Better Homes and Garden Halloween magazine. I am such a sucker for those idea books…not any other holiday, but Halloween ones seem to leap into my shopping basket regularly.

Both-Urns

Our house already had two black urns on the front porch when we moved in back in July. They’re in need of painting, but I thought the distressed look worked well for Halloween. My kids love purple, hence the bright chrysanthemum “hair.” The sticks are daylily stems that dried on the plants in my flowerbeds, Yay me for not trimming those back when summer ended…procrastination rewarded yet again!

Close-urn

For the eyes, I found non-copyrighted clipart online, then resized and changed the color using Photoshop Elements. After I printed them, I laminated them to protect from the snow which the natives tell me to expect any day now. Today it’s in the mid-80s, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt on this.

The decorative elements on the urn looked exactly like a cat’s nose and mouth to me, so it worked out perfectly. The little hooligan was so excited to see her brothers’ reaction when they got home, and they didn’t disappoint her, pretending to be terrified. I’m quite certain they were not, but it was nice of them to play along with her imagination. Sometimes they can be kind…and then it makes it worth having cats on my porch!

Paper and Burlap Fall Welcome Frame

Well, that’s a mouthful! But I do love the way this décor for my front door looks…and it was so much fun to make. Fall-Welcome-ChaosServedDai

Stampin’ Up! has some fabulous new Designer Series Paper packs in the new holiday catalog, and I could hardly wait to get my hands on it.  When I received my annual catalog back in May, I immediately made a note to myself to copy the paper leaf wreath in it. But then the day my fall DSP arrived, I didn’t have a wreath on hand, and I didn’t want to drive to a craft store to buy one. I just wanted to make pretty leaves, man!

A couple of years ago a friend gave me a frame with chicken wire across the back, along with some pretty, pretty clothespins she covered with paper. I’ve been using it as an inspiration board in my craft room, and when I spied it while looking for a wreath, I knew it was just the ticket.

As I said, this was really fun to make.  I simply cut a bunch of leaves from the Sweater Weather DSP, Pool Party and Early Espresso Coredinations cardstock, and plain old burlap for more texture, using my Big Shot and the Autumn Accents die.  WIth the leaves cut from Coredinations, I then ran them through my Big Shot using various embossing folders…Woodgrain was my favorite result. After sanding them a bit, they looked ah-mazing.

I tied twine across the top and bottom and ran glue along it, then arranged larger leaves along it.  I continued to layer leaves until I was happy with the results. For the banner, I cut more Sweater Weather DSP to 2”x3-1/2”, punched a border, and stamped the letters in Early Espresso.  After tying a piece of Pool Party Seam Binding across the center, I simply used some Mini Library Clips hoarded from a few years back.

See, sometimes it pays to be a “collector” of all things crafty! This project took about half an hour, and makes a perfect, cozy fall welcome to our home (and I love the fall leaves reflected in the fan light…what a happy surprise when I downloaded the photos!).

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