Ten Beautiful Pinterest DIY Christmas Decor Crafts For $25--TOTAL  

Posted by Heidi

A few weeks ago I challenged myself to find a handful of Christmas d├ęcor Pinterest projects that I could complete with items that I already had in my craft drawers (and cupboards and cubbies).  I knew it was unrealistic to believe I would have absolutely everything I would need so I allowed myself about $25 for the ten projects that I chose.  Naturally, I chose items that I knew I could do for very little but if I had bought everything needed for these projects, it would have cost at least ten times what I spent. Some of them turned out great and others are, well . . . uuummm . . . interesting.  I have provided the link to the sites where the projects were pinned from so you may see for yourself how I did (or to see how it was meant to be done in the first place!). 

This first one pictured is my GLITTER HOUSES  project (red letters in caps represent the link to the original project).  All I needed to purchase for this item were the dollar store ceramic buildings. I bought five for $1 each.  The instructions I read indicated that the crafter used glue for the glitter.  I just used paint--it stuck fine.  I also added fake snow to the parts of the buildings that had snow on the original piece--it was molded rather than just painted white so it was easy to see where to add the snow even when the whole piece was painted. 

I also added the white lights (on a white cord) under the felt snow which I think adds a very magical touch and helps to make the glitter . . . well, glitter!

Next is my SHABBY CHIC BOTTLE BRUSH TREE (be sure to check out this whole post--many gorgeous pinnable pics!).  This cost me absolutely nothing.  I love miniatures and have been collecting little things for many years.  I was the original Shabby Chic Queen of miniature furniture and sold my painted and distressed doll furniture on eBay for surprising amounts of money.  However, it wasn't long before others came along and started doing the same thing and I went onto other passions (mainly writing Jane Austen-era romances).  I adore how this tree  turned out and especially love the little silver piece just above the gold ball at the bottom.  It looks like a bell--there's another just above the second strand from the bottom of the pearl garland.  These were findings on a pair of earrings.  Once you start looking around, you might be surprised at how much you already have to make one of these sweet little trees (including the tea cup minus the saucer). 

This was the first project I did.  The original post for these LIGHTED SNOWGLOBES pictured the globes from the side and the back was cut off so that the cords were not visible.  However, the instructions do include a strand of lights--which looks tacky.  I have thought about it a lot and have decided there are really only two other practical alternatives:  battery operated votive candles (which must be buried in the snow to give it that magical look) that have a very long life (as in, hundreds of hours) or ones that have timers so that they go on and off without having to take the whole thing apart twice a day.  I have learned not to see the cords, even when the shifting snow ($7 for a bag--the only thing I bought specifically for this project) exposed them days after it was complete.  You might also notice that the lids don't really fit well with the cords going over the rim.  This is one reason that I tied on the mercury glass hearts--to keep the lids down.  Also the apothecary jar on the right has a broken foot--but the challenge was to use what I already had.  In spite of its imperfections, the Santa one is my favorite. 

The Santa is a Jim Shore Christmas tree ornament and is one of my favorites of all time.
The BELIEVE SIGN (scroll down a bit to find the photo that was pinned) is cute but not as cool as its inspiration.  I bought the bird pick at the dollar store and the ribbon was left over from a project from another time.  I found the wood out in the garage and my daughter and I hunted through fonts, typed in the word BELIEVE, and printed it up.  We then cut out each letter (you only have to do one "e" so it's not as time intensive as it might seem) and traced around them in order to fill in with paint.  We edged the letters with a black sharpie.  (I realize that it appears that the letters get smaller as you read down but that is due to the angle at which the photo was taken.)  So, yes, this cost $1--and it rather looks like it, too.

This brings me to the fact that I have been a bit obsessed with red and white the last few Christmases.  I made this candy cane hanging with a frame from the dollar store (which I painted) and last year's wrapping paper and an ornament that was on one of my packages last Christmas.  I think it is quite adorable.  (I can't find the Pinterest photo that inspired this one--oops!)

More red and white:  One can find hundreds of Pinterest photos extolling the versatility of mason jars so I won't bother to link to any.  This was more a matter of expediency:  where to put the votive candles I had bought for the holiday season?  A bit of left over snow from the globe project and ribbon I had in the drawer and this jar became a vision in red, white and silver. 

This RED LANTERN with bottle brush tree project is another example of the less than great.  This lantern, originally black, has been sitting on my porch for years.  I sprayed it red in the few hours before a huge rainstorm headed our way.  A warning to the wise:  one shouldn't spray paint in damp weather.  It dripped a whole lot in some places and got gummy in others.  The bottom of the inside didn't dry for days.  It was also expensive--I did already have the spray paint and the snow but the tree (which is adorable) was a $7 purchase for this specific project.  (I think I am going to regret the loss of my black lantern.)

I do quite love this lace Christmas tree.  (As it turns out, this one was inspired by a photo of an auction on eBay, one that is no longer searchable.) It cost me absolutely nothing and was super easy.  I merely covered the cardboard backing of a frame that already hung on my wall (it held a family photo and will again when Christmas is over) with sweet fabric from my stash, and gathered each piece of lace with a needle and thread.  I then pinned the lace to the fabric.  It really adds a lot to my shabby chic wall above my desk.  Its inspiration was more elaborate and had bits of costume jewelry as stand ins for the star and trunk of the tree. 

 The BASKET OF LOGS (see below) is certainly one of my most questionable projects.  I adored the look of it in the photo I saw and was thrilled when I realized I had almost the exact same basket in the garage.  I painted it to make it darker and happily tossed in the greenery and berries I already had, as well.  I added a string of battery operated flickering lights which is very reminiscent of an actual fireplace (something I don't have) but I was stumped when it came to the logs.  The ones in the photo are from a fir or pine tree and we use an artificial tree.  So I finally rolled up magazines and catalogs (we all have plenty of those this time of year), wrapped them in brown paper (it arrived in a package just in the nick of time), secured each with a rubber band nearer the bottom than the top so they would be hidden by the greenery, and drew bark on them with a sharpie.  When it is darkish and the lights are flickering, it looks pretty authentic.  Honest.

At least it was free!  Last is the darling LIGHTED HOUSE on the silver serving tray.  This one was also absolutely free and came together in a couple of minutes.  I just needed some inspiration to make it shine.  What could you make with what you already have? 
Merry Christmas!

So Grateful For My Writing Journey  

Posted by Heidi

This blog post was written in response to an interview at www.querylettersuccess.com

I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was seven years old.  I had just read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and I fell for it, hard.  The desire to write something that would elicit the same emotions in others that Little Women evoked in me was so intense, it was almost frightening.  
It was shortly thereafter that I wrote my first little story.  I brought it immediately to my terribly busy mother of eight.  She was pulling weeds in the backyard but I will always remember how thrilled I was that she stopped her work to read it.  What's more, it was clear that she wasn't simply going through the motions.  She gave it her full attention and when she was finished, she smiled at me and said, "You should be a writer".  My fate was sealed.
The following year I announced to my class that I was going to be a writer.  My teacher suggested that I was a tad ambitious but her doubt only cemented my determination.  Between Jr. High and High School, I took four years of typing classes.  I read copiously, mostly fantasy, now commonly known as speculative fiction.  I wrote short stories, epic poetry and song lyrics. 
It wasn't until after I had graduated from high school and began working as a receptionist that I attempted my first full length novel.  It was a fantasy (I was a passionate anglophile steeped in the canon of Arthurian legend) written during work hours which is why, I suppose, I was never able to focus on it properly. 
When I was twenty-five, I decided to read what was known as a "regency romance", better described as "Jane Austen era romance for the discerning mind".  Smitten instantly, I knew, a few books in, that this is what I wanted to write.
I penned my first full length book during my oldest child's nap time.  He was a prolific napper which meant he didn't sleep much at night, but no matter;  I had a book.  I never submitted it for publication but I felt great about having written one in its entirety.  
A few years later a friend asked me if I would like to join her in taking an adult education class:  "How to Write a Romance".  I was fairly certain the class would focus on contemporary romance, something in which I had little interest, but I decided to take the course, anyway.  Our initial assignment was to write the first scene of a romance novel, which the students took turns reading aloud in class the following week.
Eventually, it was my turn to read and I could hardly wait to learn my teacher's reaction.  When I arrived at the part where the hero rose his brow haughtily, she interrupted me.  "Why in the world would your hero do such a thing?" she demanded. 
"Um, well, I don't exactly, except that's what the heroes in regency romances do."
"Well, for heaven's sake," she said, throwing her hands into the air (she was deliciously intense and I admired her so much I wrote her into my story the very next week) "write a regency!"
As I had been raised with a profound respect for authority, I viewed her suggestion more as a command.  By the following week, I had written the first chapter of Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind, which I read aloud in class with some trepidation.  I was certain my instructor would interrupt me as she had the other students but I managed to read without a word from her until I was done, at which time she said:  "You are publishable!".
At this point I had been waiting for someone other than my mother to say these very words for nearly twenty years. I was now unstoppable.  At one chapter per week, it took me six months to write Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind, which I hadn't the courage to submit to a publisher until a few years later.
Sadly, the regency romance genre was going away and I waited too long to submit.  By the time I received my first rejection, I knew of no other options.  I put the book in a box (I am clearly aging myself) and wondered whether or not I should write another.  I stayed active, for a while, with my various writing groups but the needs of my growing family soon made it impossible to focus on anything else.
Looking back, I am absolutely certain I made the right decision, but at the time, it was a difficult one to make.  However, I knew that if I did not fully "give up" the idea that I would ever be a professional writer of lovely books, I would feel torn and the pain would be too great.  Such is the lot of the temperamental artist who feels genuine pain when forced to stop writing to attend to a dirty diaper.  It seems I was stoppable, after all.
About ten years later, the friend with whom I took the writing class sold her first manuscript to Avalon Books.  I was so happy for her!  She sold a second and I was so happy for her! Then she sold them a regency romance (I must confess, I am responsible for getting her hooked on those) and I felt the first twinge of envy.  I pushed the feeling aside, however, and turned my attention to whether or not this was one of those times that called for the sending of flowers or balloons.
This friend, however, wanted for me the same blessing she so happily enjoyed.  She emailed me, called me and pressured me until I finally agreed that it would be wonderful to see my Magnum opus between covers. (When I did finally see my words inside of a real book, it was so surreal that I became light-headed and nearly swooned.)  She was so certain that Avalon would publish my book that it came as a bit of a shock when they rejected it only two weeks later.  However, the rejection letter came with a few suggestions for changes that, if made, could lead to a more promising submission.  
I sent my youngest off to school, dragged my determination out of my socks and went to work.  I resubmitted before the month was out and, finally, thirty-six years after my mother decreed my fate, I "got the call" (a grand moment that I blogged about HERE.)
Avalon Books went on to publish the sequel to Miss Delacourt, known as Miss Delacourt Has Her Day, a fact of which I am rather proud as sequels are somewhat unheard of in the traditional regency romance genre.  Shortly thereafter, my publisher and all of its backlist were sold to Amazon.com.  My Miss Delacourt books were republished via Montlake Romance and my journey as a bona fide writer was well  under way.  There are now two additional full length books added to the Miss Delacourt series (all of which can be read with great satisfaction as stand alones) a novella, and three short stories, as well as a spin off series in the works based on a secondary character from Miss Delacourt's world. 
There have been more than the three women I have mentioned who have supported, helped and aided me in my journey and for each and every one of them, I am very grateful. 


I Have Christmas (Decor) on the Noggin  

Posted by Heidi

My Christmas House 2013.  Can't wait to get started on 2014.



Yeats' Grave, the Gorgeous Drumcliff Cemetery, Belleek, Donegal and Killybegs: Ireland Day Nine  

Posted by Heidi

Day Nine:  It seemed like we had barely arrived and we were already on the final days of our time in Ireland.  (If you like lots of photos of flowers and gorgeous buildings and nature at its best, you can see my other Ireland posts:  Day One, and Here, Here, Here, HereHere, Here, Here, Here, Here, HereHere, and Here.)  (If you actually click on all of these, you will see that I skipped day 7--I messed up when I was labeling them.) I had been very much looking forward to this day--the day we visited the Belleek Pottery factory.  I have been a collector of this ethereal, dainty pottery for many years and I had been eschewing the making tempting purchases for over a week in order to buy something special at Belleek.

I had never seen a photo of the building itself and was surprised to learn that it had been a private dwelling at one time.  To read more about the history of the house and the company, go HERE.  (I had to get a photo of our traveling coach and this seemed a good opportunity.)

Like everywhere else in Ireland, there were plenty of bright flowers to greet us.  We enjoyed a brief tour but photographs were not allowed in most of the building.  It was a Saturday so there were not many workers about but it was so interesting to observe those who were there;  the man who was smoothing unfinished pieces with a wheel and the lady who was hand painting flowers on a piece almost completed.  There was a table with pieces that could only be purchased at the factory (or, I surmise, on eBay).

This was also our first foray into Northern Ireland so that was interesting.  (Another one of those pics taken through the window of the moving coach.)

On our way to Donegal town we stopped at Killybegs, the biggest fishing port in Ireland.  Doesn't it almost look like a painting?  So, I gave it the photo-shop treatment.  If I took out that lamp post and a few other modern touches (see below) it could almost be an accurate depiction of how it must have looked long ago.

The photo below illustrates what I saw as the main differences between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland--modern street lights and electrical wire.  The front yards (or gardens) of the houses in N.I. seemed more like ones you would see in England or America and the neighborhoods visible from the highway consisted of more than two or three houses.  I guess the right word for it is "suburban".  There is very little of suburbia in the Republic of Ireland--it's cities and country.

I was happy to have a peat bog identified for me (see below). One of my favorite Irish folk songs is "The Kerry Recruit" wherein the turf of a peat bog is central to the action in the first verse:  About four years ago I was digging the land With me brogues on me feet and me spade in me hand.  Says I to me self, what a pity to see, Such a fine strapping lad footing turf round Tralee."

The mass of white is animal feed done up in plastic.  The smaller, scattered white spots are sheep.  The turf has been dug out here and there--you can see depressions in the ground that look a bit like a stream winding through.  The peat is expertly dug out in rectangular pieces and laid out to dry.  They are then burned in place of wood or coal.  As I mentioned in a previous post, it smells delicious in spite of the fact that it is basically just earth and vegetation (even the dirt is better in Ireland!).  Over time, the peat bogs have been greatly depleted and will one day be gone unless they are somehow protected.  And yet, many bogs are owned by individuals who have been warming their homes with peat for centuries.  Whether or not they should be allowed to continue is a debate that is currently being aired in Ireland.

We arrived in Donegal in time for lunch.  This is one of the few occasions when we actually sat down and ate a meal rather than run around.  We had a little more than an hour and there were so many things to see that we decided to give up.  We spent a good amount of time looking for a place that wasn't too crowded and then we had to run around to find a cash machine since the place we chose didn't take plastic.

The Blueberry was a delightful place that appeared to be brimming with what we decided were locals (always a good sign) and charming decor.  They also had a gluten free sandwich so I was good to go.  I think we ate the rocky road first, though.  I can't remember if I have mentioned the rocky road before.  Every little food shop we went to had their own version.  It is made with melted chocolate and marshmallows (some use white, some large, some small, some colored) and whatever kind of nut the baker chooses.  We saw some with biscuits or digestives (wafer cookies) which I couldn't have.  We ate some that had cut up pieces of Snickers and all sorts of other delights.  We ate a lot of rocky road whilst in Ireland and it was one of the first things I made when we got home.  Sadly, when not walking miles and miles and miles a day, the Rocky Road tends to stick with you in the form of pounds and pounds and pounds.

One of the architecturally delightful buildings we didn't get a chance to explore.

Our last stop of the day was to visit the cemetery where William Butler Yeats is buried.  I suppose I ought to have been thrilled.  Poetry is one of my favorite things and an *Irish* poet is all one could wish for.  Of course, I know (and knew then) who W.B. Yeats is/was but it isn't as if we were to visit the home of Jane Austen (the opportunity for which I would give my eye teeth).  I do love cemeteries and graveyards and so I *did* look forward to it.  However, I had no idea what a truly delightful place a cemetery could be.  Drumcliff Cemetery is near the base of Ben Bulben (which, as far as I could tell means Mt. Bigmount) (see photo above--and whilst you are there, are those some amazing clouds or what?) a mountain so beautiful that people have come from all over the world to paint it.  Yeats wished to be buried in the shadow of the mountain and, after seeing the setting for myself, I can certainly see why.

Drumcliff Cemetery is next to St. Columba's Church (I'm not certain if the cemetery or the church is older but if the burial ground were a part of the church, it would be called a graveyard, not a cemetery, a random  factoid that I clearly find interesting enough to share) and is absolutely chock full of visual delights.  Some of these photos look as if they were painted but they are just as they were straight from my camera.  In the picture above one can spot the slope to Ben Bulben in the upper left corner.

I am so enamored of tombstones.  I think that they are achingly beautiful.

 And I love Irish crosses.  It is difficult to make out, but the one second from the right has the symbol of the Claddagh on it (two hands holding a crowned heart).

The above photo is one of my all time favorites, not just of Ireland, but of any I have ever taken anywhere. It captures almost everything that makes Ireland what it is:  a stone wall, a wrought iron fence, tombstones, ivy, bright flowers, sloping hills, and "forty shades of green" (as written and sung by Johnny Cash though I prefer the Daniel O'Donnell version--and not just because the youtube video of Daniel singing it depicts turf being expertly spaded).  

Another beauty of a photo.  Ben Bulben looks like someone painted it against the sky.  Amazing!

These photos of my daughter drinking it all in is proof that this is a real place and not something I created with the computer.  It's the kind of place that invites you to linger and we were fortunate that we were able to do so. I wasn't in the least sorry to have rushed through Donegal in exchange for time at Drumcliff.  It truly felt like a heaven on earth.

I mean, seriously!  You couldn't come up with anything as picture perfect as the scenes at Drumcliff Cemetery if you were the most gifted of artists.

As I have mentioned before, in Ireland, all tombstones face east.  In order to get a photo of Yeats' grave in the same shot as Ben Bulben, I had to take it from behind.  (It's the plain rectangular one in the foreground.)  Sadly, Ben Bulben doesn't appear in this photo anyway.

Yeats' grave (as lifted from the internet).  It certainly all looks far less romantic from this angle.

The cement placard at the end of the site (filled with rock--most of the more modern grave sites in Ireland are--I suppose it is necessary or one would be required to mow the lawn far too often) marks the burial of Yeats' wife, George, a fascinating woman in her own right.

One of the few round towers we saw in Ireland--most of them are square, like the one pictured below.  The round ones are so beautiful that when I spotted a round tower vase, complete with climbing shamrocks, at the Belleek factory, I bought it on the spot.

St. Columba's Church, a very beautiful one, inside and out.

A baptisimal font?  Not sure, but it so lovely with its carving and Connemara marble.

There has been a church on this site since the 600s A.D. but this building went up in 1809.  This tickles me since my books all take place in the regency era, the early 1800's, otherwise known as the Jane Austen period/Napoleonic War era.

I wasn't able to make out what all of this said but I did spot the date of 1819, just a few years after that which my current work in progress takes place.

Next time:  Carmel by the Sea, California--or, perhaps, another day spent in Ireland.