Thinking outside the box: Homemade gift-wrapping

Since stores have showcased Christmas decorations since the end of their “Back-to-School” promotions (ugh!), I’m giving myself permission to post a blog about Christmas/Hanukkah crafting pre-Halloween.  And this time, I’m asking you to think outside the box.  Literally.

Years ago, I had a friend who gave me the most amazing homemade gifts. What impressed me the most, however — and has stayed with me all this time — is how she packaged everything:  With hand-crafted wrapping paper and embellishments.

She was my Secret Santa at work and, each day, I found a uniquely wrapped box on my desk.  One day, it was a box wrapped in plain brown paper, with white snowflake stenciling and a sprig of evergreen tucked neatly under a ribbon. Another day, it was a package in white, with cut-outs of words and pictures from newspapers and magazines.  My favorite was one in which she took three heart doilies and stacked them, with the largest on the bottom, to resemble a Christmas tree; she used different-colored buttons for the ornaments!

This “special treatment” is an inexpensive and creative way to show your thoughtfulness and stand out during this giving season.  Below are some great ideas to consider.

Snowflake or folded-paper cut-outs and doilies make for easy designs.  Use a piece of twine or string in place of a ribbon for an old-fashioned look.

DIY Paper flowers

How cool would it be for your family members to identify their gifts by the photos you used to tag them?  (And the photos are gifts, too!)

Photocopy photos and use in place of gift tags

What about a collage of color photos?  Take your design to a copy center to print it on larger sheets of paper.

Homeade wrapping paper. Just made this for my boyfriend's birthday!

Why not be silly?  Clip images from magazines or use stamps to make a repeating design.  Perfect for kids and teens.


Give yourself license to do something different this holiday season and wrap your gifts in style.  There’s nothing like a “grand opening.” 🙂


Photo credits:  DIY Pinterest; Daily Suze; Our Suburban Farm; Originals; Top Inspired; Sweet Paul Mag



Old Maid new

OldMaidCardWhen my sister and I were kids, we spent countless hours playing cards with our grandmother, affectionately called “Gaga” (long before the pop-star made the name fashionable!).  Our favorite game, bar none, was “Old Maid,” and oh how we cackled when our worthy opponent drew the unenviable card!

This week, my sis turned 40, and I wanted to give her something special — a nostalgic present that meant something to just the two of us.  What better gift than a set of those vintage 1970s Whitman playing cards from our past, in all their whimsical (albeit, now non-PC!) Old Maid glory.

When I first saw a set for sale on eBay, I was ecstatic.  The colorful playing card “characters,” including Diver Dan, Fifi Fluff, and Postman Pete, jumped right off the screen and instantly summoned all my preschool memories of careless days, passing time on my grandmother’s screened-in porch. What a bargain for only $6.00, plus shipping & handling!

DiverDan   FifiFluff   PostManPete

But rather than simply give my sister the deck in its original plastic case, I wanted to display the individual cards as wall art.  After considering a multi-baseball trading card frame (trading cards are the exact size as playing cards), I chose a collage frame which was originally intended for 3×5 photos.  Naturally, I made the Old Maid card the centerpiece.

ArtWhile good ol’ Gaga passed away many years ago, her memory lives on with us in numerous ways — and now, through this loving keepsake. Maybe this idea has inspired you to take some other retro playing cards and frame them for a child’s room, a family game room, or a gift for a childhood friend.  Regardless, it’s a great way to celebrate a meaningful, perhaps-waning, American pastime in a simple, creative manner.

P.S. Sis — I promise the Old Maid theme was not a jab at your single status on this milestone birthday!  Hope you had a great one! 🙂

Open Sesame! Cabinets exposed

There it was before me — my undeniable mess of “stuff” shoved in my kitchen cabinets, seemingly taunting me for my inadequacies:  Chipped bowls which didn’t match; a few nice glasses amidst cheap, neon plastic ones of the “Big Gulp” variety; and miscellaneous cake mixes and baking ingredients which mysteriously migrated from their proper place in the pantry to go slumming with my disorderly dishes.

Ah, but there was one saving grace:  Cabinet doors, which I could close at any time — lovely Doors of Denial, safeguarding my peace of mind and fooling my house guests into thinking I had it altogether. Bwah ha ha!

Kitchen243But, of course, there was a problem. There’s always a problem.  I have a small kitchen and a very open mind. My cabinet doors began to make me feel more boxed in than my free spirit demanded.  I found myself in my kitchen, late at night, wanting to tear the doors off their hinges and shout, “Be free my dishes!  Be proud of who you are (you Big Hot Mess!) and let the world embrace your uniqueness and diversity!”

Well, maybe that’s a bit too strong, but you get the picture.  I was compelled to find a way to make the Open Cabinet concept work for me, come hell or high water.


Much to my surprise, this was not an unsurpassable challenge. For me, the first realization was that I needed a compromise.  I may still need to keep the cabinet doors on some of my shelving, but I could open up a few — the select, chosen ones. The second realization was that I needed to do a bit of triage:  Get rid of the worst of the worst; keep the workable; and buy some new pieces to pull it altogether.

Additionally, as I surfed the Internet for inspiration and validation, one rule-of-thumb seemed to prevail:  Color coordination.  Whether you opt for a neutral color scheme or one with color, you need some sort of consistency and pattern so that it looks like there’s at least a method to your madness.

imageI opted for a neutral palette of white and clear dishes, intermixed with some browns and stainless steel.  Woven baskets are always a great way to collect a few things that may be too hard to display openly (e.g., I used mine to contain my small baking ingredients, which I can now pull down easily in one fell-swoop).

Most of my new items were purchased very inexpensively at Big Lots and The Dollar Tree. I’m aways amazed at the decent pieces of stoneware and glassware at rock-bottom prices at these discount or closeout stores.


spring 11 029I love the idea of using a contrasting paint color or material on the backside of the cabinets to really make the dishes and other contents pop. Here, chalkboard paint was used, which complements the black granite countertop below.  A few personal items such as plaques and photos add interest.


opencabinets2[6]If you opt for using colorful pieces, you can find plenty of ways to make them look lovely without sacrificing functionality. Glass-front cabinet doors can add a little more formality to the look but still allow your dishes to peer through. Bonus: a bit more protection against dust.

While you don’t have to use all one color, make sure the colors you choose work in harmony, as opposed to a chaotic assortment which will only make your shelves appear… well, disheveled. 🙂

Start with a small section of your kitchen (or bathroom, for that matter).  Clear your cabinets and your mind.  Add items one piece at a time, subtracting away when it begins to look too cluttered. Add a small plant… a clock… or anything else which might add some variety without transgressing to the Land of Knickknacks.  Your kitchen will look brighter, lighter, and more open.  Your cabinets will be functional pieces of art, with little to no maintenance. And you will feel like a Dish Display Diva, ready to grace the pages of Architectural Digest.

C’mon, you can do it!  Take those cabinet doors and let ‘er rip!


Photo credits:  Black cabinets – Inspiration For Decoration. White and clear dishes – Pretty Easy Living.  Chalkboard-backed open cabinets – Creatively Living Blog. Yellow dishes display – Pinterest post.






No downside to easy upside down pineapple mini-cakes

I have always loved pineapple upside-down cakes, ever since I was a little girl and my grandmother made them.  But this recipe below adds a great twist — making individual mini-cakes in a muffin pan!  What a great solution for parties when guests can simply grab a mini-cake and go, without all the cake-slicing and mess that often deters people from even making the effort. This recipe will make a batch of 6 jumbo size or 8 muffin size cakes.

Cake Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 C white sugar
  • 4 Tbsp pineapple juice
  • 2/3 C all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt


  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick or 4 Tbsp)
  • 2/3 C brown sugar
  • 1 can pineapple rings
  • 6 maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray your muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, add eggs, white sugar, and pineapple juice.  Beat for 2 minutes.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add to the wet ingredients and turn mixer back on for 2 minutes.

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter and add the brown sugar.  Stir on low heat for one minute. Spoon a layer of the warm brown sugar mixture into the bottom of each muffin tin. Then place a pineapple ring on top. Add a cherry in the middle of each pineapple.   Pour cake mixture over to fill muffin tin 3/4 of the way full.  If you are using regular muffin tins, you will need to cut down the rings to fit or just use pineapple tidbits.

Bake jumbo cakes for 25 minutes.  Bake regular cakes for 20 minutes.  If you choose to make a large cake, bake for 22-25 minutes in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. The cake is done with a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven.  Let cool in pan for 3 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of each cake to help loosen in case it sticks a little.  Place a wire cooling rack on top, and quickly flip over on top of sheet tray to catch extra drippings. Place wire rack of cakes on sheet tray to cool.



Credits:  This recipe comes from Rhondi at Big Mama’s Home Kitchen.

A doggone good time (a tribute to my grandmother)

When I was a child, I was a notoriously picky eater.  I routinely hid food in Kleenexes under the dinner table, later flushing the little “care packages” down the toilet.

I became a mastermind at distracting my kid sister while simultaneously transporting food from my plate to hers when she wasn’t looking.  And my relatives, to this day, talk about the time when they visited and found sausage links behind our living room couch that I’d apparently ditched from my morning breakfast.  I had no appetite, and I had no shame.

My parents worried about me constantly. What were they going to do with this skinny, little child who didn’t want to eat?  They tried everything — bribes, rewards, pleads… the starving children pitch.  Nothing seemed to work.  Nothing, until my grandmother happened upon a miracle food that you’d never guess if I didn’t tell you:  A&W chili hot dogs.


I know what you’re thinking.  How in the world did anyone convince me to take that first bite?  After all, a chili hot dog is not exactly bland and hardly what you would think a finicky eater would agree to try without serious duress.

To understand this, you have to know something about my grandmother and her special charm with children.  This was the woman who kicked my grandfather out of their king-size bed so I could sleep with her and get special attention when I spent the night.  This was also the woman who taught me how to play poker at the age of 5 and insisted that I was grown-up enough to sit with the adults at family dinners instead of being relegated to the “kiddie table.”  I was the apple of her eye, and I knew it. So when she asked me to accompany her to A&W to try a chili dog and root beer, I felt it was the least I could do.

When she came to pick me up for lunch, I was dressed in a pretty, frilly pink dress, white tights, and patent leather shoes (like most grandmothers of little girls, she also spoiled me with clothes).  When we arrived at the restaurant, I immediately opened the car door and began to hop out.  “Where do you think you’re going, young lady?” she asked me. “Inside the restaurant,” I flippantly responded, thinking she’d lost her mind.

She then proceeded to tell me that, at A&W, you could order from your car, via an intercom, and a bell-hop would bring your order.  This was the coolest thing I’d ever heard — not having to leave your car!  I remember her letting me flip the intercom switch on the speaker box to let them know we were ready.  I couldn’t imagine why other restaurants hadn’t picked up on this ingenious method of food service.

I was feeling pretty good as we awaited the chili hot dog delivery — until my grandmother pulled out the heavy artillery.  You see, another thing you have to know about my grandmother is that she always came prepared.  Knowing a chili hot dog, a 5-year-old, and a pink dress were a hazardous combination, she’d packed a bib, cloth napkin, baby wipes, and a towel for me to sit on.  I began to have serious doubts if I was going to enjoy the experience.

But shortly, the chili hot dogs arrived, and history was about to be made.  For the first time in my life, I took a bite out of something without poking it, prodding it, sniffing it, or picking it to death.  I just picked it up and started eating it!  My grandmother was so shocked and mesmerized at the sight of me eating that she spilled chili sauce down the front of her HER blouse.  She got a kick when I matter-of-factly asked her if she’d like to borrow my bib.

This became the first of many trips to A&W with my grandmother over the years. I eventually graduated from a regular to a foot-long chili dog and from a baby root beer mug to a standard size.  I also began giving hitherto vetoed foods a chance.  My grandmother was happy; my parents were ecstatic; and I had a new appetite and wonderful memories of special days with my grandmother that I will never forget.

A kid, a cap, and a car ride

My son, Jack, is 11.  He is sociable, sweet, and silly.  I enjoy his company every day, and he enjoys mine.  He has not hit puberty.

I know it’s coming.  Soon I fear.  The day when he wants me to disappear into the background… or off the face of the earth.  The day when his bedroom door, and his heart, will be more closed than open.  The day when he prefers his friends to family and, in the famous words of Kurt Cobain, makes my house smell more like “Teen Spirit” than Tutti-Frutti.

But today is not that day.  Not yet.

Not long ago, when visiting a store in the mall which sells baseball caps, I was privvy to witness “Childhood Present,” although “Childhood Past” was lurking right around the corner.  Jack was deliberating — intensely I might add — about a purchase that would deplete his hard-earned allowance in one-fell swoop.  More specifically, he was perplexed about what to have emblazened on his hat.

After a few moments, he confidently walked over to the store manager and placed his order.  “I Love Kitties,” he said.

“What?” asked the manager.

“That’s what I want on my cap — ‘I Love Kitties,'” he repeated.

We looked at each other for a bit, the store manager and I.  It was an unexpected request for monogramming — a genuine reflection of the moment (and Jack’s true love of… well, kitties) — but I had to help him turn the corner.

Knowing the short-lived nature of such a cap, which would surely summon taunts and teasing from his fellow fifth-graders, I smiled and complimented him on his great idea, all the while encouraging him to consider some alternatives.

“Hmm… you’re right, Mom.  That’s probably too many letters.”

“Exactly,” I said.

Next up, his initials — “JC” — he suggested.  Not bad, I thought.  We’re getting there.  But he quickly pointed out that this might be mistaken for “Jesus Christ,” prompting him to add his middle initial (so as not to confuse the masses).  Again, I chuckled, loving his naivete and uncorrupted thinking, and said, “Yes, that will fit better on your cap.”

So we left the store with a red-and-white hat, “JWC” centered, prime and proper.  He wore it proudly to the car, although it was not yet adjusted to fit his head and conjured images more akin to Elmer Fudd than a burgeoning hipster.

baseball capWithout any prodding, he thanked me for taking him to the mall, and we held hands in the car all the way home.  We sang songs on the radio, stopped to get icecream, and talked about the new “world” he was creating on his X-box game, Minecraft.  I listened intently, as he explained all the architectural details of his buildings and towers in his make-believe digital city.

Yes, this was most definitely the kid who came out of the womb a born-engineer — curious, clever, creative.  That had not changed one bit in 11 years. He was still the master of his universe.  But a new world was on the horizon.  And the cap, the first item he’d EVER wanted simply because all his friends had one, was just the beginning.

We pulled into our driveway, him – oblivious to my pondering the day as a milestone moment.  I looked over at my child, anxious to hop out of the car and show off his new purchase to anyone who would bear witness.  His cap was still a little mismatched for his small head, but I knew he’d grow into it.  His monogram fit him better — not overly cutesy but bearing his initials, plain and proud, but leaving something to the imagination.  That would work for now.

I sat in the car for a few minutes after he leapt out, wiping the tears I’d stifled for 20 minutes.  The tears that every mother has when her boy is on the brink of in-betweenness.  Maternal tears that would surely be shed many times, in different ways, over the coming years — to express frustration with a kid whose “smart” mouth says things you never want to hear… and to mark each heartbreak from a failed teenage romance or friendship turned sour.

“Hey, mom!” he shouted from the open window inside the house.  “Can we get a hat for Coco, too?  I think ‘I Love Kitties’ might work better for her, don’t you?”

“Absolutely!” I shouted back from the car.  Was he being thoughtful toward his little sister?  Or, with his newfound insight, anxious for kids to make fun of her instead of him?  Hmm….

Regardless, his comment captured the beauty of in-betweenness and the day I will savor for a long time.  Jack will wear a lot of hats, in time, but today — today, he will wear one that perfectly caps off his childhood and gives him plenty of room to grow.  Time will tell how he fills it out.




Behind the books

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the past several years is that I like a lot of variety. In fact, I’ve been accused of changing the paint colors on my walls more often than I change the oil in my car. 🙂  But one thing I’ve never painted is the interior of bookcases. We’ve all seen the style — particularly white bookcases with a contrasting interior paint color; but all that cutting in and out with a paintbrush, particularly with fixed shelving, wears me out just thinking about it!

There is a solution, however — one that is easy AND will appeal to those of us who like to “change things up” from time to time without having to spend a fortune.  Rather than paint, use wallpaper:

  • Cut cardboard to fit the dimensions of the interior back of your bookcase(s);
  • Paste, mod-podge, or use spray-adhesive to adhere a great solid or designed wallpaper or contact paper to your cardboard;
  • Push the cardboard into place; and
  • Reinsert your shelves (if they are adjustable).

Anytime you want to make a change, just re-paper!  Of course, you can always adhere the paper directly to your bookcase, but that means a little more work to replace it should you ever change your mind.

Case… or should I say “bookcase” in point 🙂 is the example below — white bookcases in my living room, with a tight grey and white patterned wallpaper.


Other examples are below — one with a yellow and white herringbone design and another with a dark polka-dotted paper against a turquoise bookcase.

polka dot wallpaper turquoise bookcase herringbone-bookcase-decorate-with-vintage-goods-as-storage-600x875








multi wallpaper bookcaseOf course, if you want to be more creative and use different types of paper for each shelving “cubby,” your results can look like the bookcase featured to the left.

This project is simple yet brings a lot of life to an interior space with minimal effort.  And when your decor changes, you can easily alter your bookcase to accommodate.

Best of all, papering rather than painting allows you to avoid the cumbersome “taping off” of all the bookcase edges and navigating a paintbrush in tight, awkward spaces.


Photo credits:  White bookcase with yellow and white herringbone paper – The 36th Avenue.  Turquoise bookcase with dark polka-dot paper – Pinterest.  White bookcase with multiple paper designs – Brabourne Farm.






Time to stick your neck out

Ah, the birds are starting to chirp again, signaling Spring will soon be here.  And although many of us are still wearing our warm, wintry scarves amidst cool weather, it’s time to think about a lighter version of neckwear — scarves which are more along the lines of head and neck adornments rather than warm outerwear.

What I love about scarves is the fact that they can be an inexpensive ($10-$15 range) and easy way to change or enhance your entire look.  And your outfit can go from funky to sleek in seconds.  Their versatility in WHERE (neck, waist, hair) and HOW you wear them gives you yet another reason to invest in this wardrobe essential.

Right now, Target has some great lightweight spring/summer scarves on sale.  Here are a few of my faves — the first one a black-and-white geometric design and the second a light blue skull pattern (who says skulls have to be goth?). 🙂

Target Geometric ScarfTarget Blue Skull Scarf







Old Navy also has a slew of scarves which you may want to check out, some of which are gauzy, while others are cotton jersey or linen.  See below.

OldNavy Pink-Orange ScarfOldNavy blue-yellow scarf








World Market never fails to please with a variety of unique scarves — whether you are drawn to a more rich paisley print with fringe or a romantic vintage floral, as shown below.

WorldMarket - rust and turquoise scarfWorldMarket - pink and green floral scarf







For some additional inspiration on the many ways to wear a scarf, visit The Knot Library.  And try wearing them as a headband or belt!


Photo credits:  Target B&W geometric scarfTarget light blue skull scarfOld Navy pink and orange scarfOld Navy blue and yellow infinity scarfWorld Market orange and turquoise paisley scarfWorld Market ivory, pink and green floral scarf.

Accessible accessories

There is something to be said for organizing your “stuff” in hidden-away drawers, cabinets, and bins.  Especially the ugly stuff — and we all have some of that.  But equally so, it is great when you have beautiful things that, while requiring some type of organization, can be displayed openly in a beautiful way.  Enter — jewelry.

I will admit, I have an ugly oak 80s-style jewelry cabinet. I wish I could say it is retro-cool, stylishly primitive, or shabby-chic. But alas, it’s just plain ugly!  Plus, every time I need something out of it, I fight with tangled items in rickety drawers.  Its one saving grace is that it is in my bedroom closet so no one but me need be subjected to its inadequacies. Still, it is getting on my nerves, and I have been inspired by some very practical yet lovely ways to organize jewelry and display it in a highly accessible way.

jewelry screen bestThis framed jewelry screen is the creative product of my friend, Lori, who reports that this was a simple project which cost next to nothing.

She purchased the decorative aluminum sheet at a local craft store for about $6 and used scissors to cut it to size and fit a frame (after she removed the glass). Kudos, Lori!

Even if you decide not to use a sheet such as this, you can use burlap or other material to create a “backing” to complete the look.  Then, hang or post your earrings.

jewelry storage 2To the right is a similar approach, with the addition of a coat rack, using the knobs to hang necklaces and the shelf for bracelets, brooches, or boxes.

The below idea uses a cutlery organizer, with hooks to hang long pieces in vertical fashion and horizontal compartments for bracelets and other items needing to “sit” on a shelf.  Use multiple cutlery dividers to accommodate more pieces and to create a wall-art look.

Jewelry+Storage+1If you still like the idea of putting jewelry in drawers, here are two interesting ways of organizing your pieces in a novel way — using an antique or decorative baking tin or using small teacups.  The latter of which can hold bracelets and necklaces in the cup portion, with hook earrings draped over the edge.










If you have a lot of bracelets, I love the idea of ringing them ’round a paper towel holder, as shown below.  You can’t get much easier than that!

bracelet organizationSo have I shamed you into a jewelry project… or inspired you?  Either way, I hope it worked. 🙂

Any other ideas you’ve come across on Pinterest which spark your interest?

I, too, have plenty to do to transform my bedroom closet and better organize my jewelry.  I see a follow-up article around the corner, as well as an oak cabinet Goodwill drop-off in my near future. 🙂



Photo credits:  Aluminum screen frame for earrings – Lori English.  Earring frame with necklace coat rack and jewelry in cutlery tray – Curbly. Baking tin and teacup jewelry organizers – Paige Smith Designs.  Paper towel/bracelet holder – The Adventures of VAMH.



Victoria’s secret… for a great Mardi Gras party

Victoria & Me

Victoria & Christy (me)

Last weekend, my friend Victoria threw quite a Mardi Gras bash with her then-boyfriend/now-fiance, Steve — “title change” the result of a lovely Valentine’s Day marriage proposal yesterday.  “Party bling followed by an engagement ring” is how this last week will go down in history.  And that’s a tough act to follow, people! :-)Victoria is a woman who has got it all together.  Or if she doesn’t, you’d never know because she sure does seem to pull off parties with ease and finesse.  And I have the pictures to prove it.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I shared the idea of draping plastic tablecloths on your ceiling to add festive color to your room?  Here they are, Mardi Gras style, in green, purple, and gold.  One of the first things you saw as you came through the door, it certainly said, “Let’s get this party started!” Mardi Gras Ceiling Tablecloth Decorations

Victoria also created a fabulous “mask and bead” board to display Mardi Gras accessories for guests to wear upon arrival.  After draping fabric across an inexpensive paneling board bought at Home Depot (you can hot glue-gun or staple the material in the back), she then used double-sided tape and hooks to hold the masks and beads.  Functional (albeit temporary) art — my favorite!Mardi Gras Mask and Bead Display Doors (2)

I can see similar approaches for other celebrations, with different color schemes and party favors (e.g., New Year’s party hats/horns, Santa hats/reindeer antlers, Hawaiian leis, Halloween masks).

I could share many photos to make all of you “wish you were here,” but I will limit it to just a few more so that you can get the flavor of this party and steal some ideas to replicate or alter when left to your own devices.

Dessert AreaDifferent angle of table centerpiece



What did you do for Mardi Gras or Valentine’s Day this year?  Party photos, crafts, or great recipes?  Victoria shared her secret(s).  Now you share yours!