Preparing for Advent

Advent Calendar Printable

I often feel anxious. Some days it’s because I feel stressed about work or money. Some days I wonder if I’m doing enough, while other days maybe too much. Some days I’ve just had an extra cup of coffee. Some days I can’t quite put my finger on a reason at all, but I can’t ignore a nagging restlessness that keeps my mind and heart from being still.

Advent is coming. What a wonderful reminder, these weeks leading up to Christmas, that our lives are not about us. We do not hope in ourselves, we hope in a God who makes all things new, a God for whom all things are possible. So we join in the anticipation of the Israelites, of Mary, of Simeon, who knew something incredible was going to happen that would change everything. Advent is more than a countdown to Christmas. It is a time when peace and hope and joy can break through our anxiety. God sent his Son to save his people, and he has promised he will do the same for us.

That anxiety I feel so often, maybe it actually is more than a caffeine overdose. Maybe at its root, it is a physical longing for the peace and deliverance that God promises us through Jesus. A peace that for now feels just out of reach while it is clouded by earthly circumstances and sin in this life.

While we look forward to Jesus’s birth during Advent, we have permission to stop dwelling on ourselves, our stress, our sin and imperfections. Instead we can focus on the Giver of all good things who promises perfect joy and redemption for those who will take it, and with the wonder of a child look forward to His coming.

Advent is a deep breath.

…..

Make Your Own Advent Calendar

Of course no post is complete without a DIY, so I’ve come up with an easy one for you. Print this, cut out the cards, and string/tape them up above the fireplace, on the fridge, down the hallway, wherever you’ll see them. Advent begins on December 1 this year. We’re planning to draw a picture (Alex) or write a phrase (me) from that day’s Scripture reading on the back of each card.

Advent Calendar Printable

I hope this project helps you and your family enjoy a meaningful Advent season.

Advent Calendar Printable

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Sweet Skills

Recently I discovered a great website called Skillshare. As the name suggests, it’s a place where someone with a sweet skill can sign up to share it with other people. And most of the classes only cost around $20, so it’s a steal!

Of course the class that caught my eye was one on modern calligraphy. I’ve ALWAYS loved hand-written letters. I remember asking for a calligraphy set when I was in elementary school, and adding all kinds of cheesey block letters to my middle school scrapbooks. But I’ve never really worked at learning the art for real. So now is the time!

Modern Calligraphy Practice | handmaden.com

The instructor starts by having you fill several pages with the basic shapes that you’ll use in letters. It was so helpful to have someone tell me to start this way because this is what I would skip if I were trying to teach myself. It helped me get a feel for the pen and how the ink flows, and to work at keeping consistency in the line weights and spacing.

Modern calligraphy practice | handmaden.com

But then you get to move on to letters! The instructor gives you a sheet of letters to trace and learn the movements. It’s really helpful to practice the alphabet that way, and it’s quite a confidence boost to pull out the guide and see those beauties on your page.

Modern Calligraphy practice, mistakes and all

I’ve only learned lowercase letters so far but decided to practice by copying Sunday’s reading. Was going pretty well until God started sawing everyone… oops.

I’m having a blast learning! Usually I’m all about starting and finishing a project in a day or two. But it’s really great to have something to pick up and practice here and there throughout the week.

Want to join me? Sign up for Skillshare using this link and get $10 off your first class! http://skl.sh/178Zu3Y

This one is called The Art of Modern Calligraphy, but there are lots of classes that look like fun if lettering isn’t your thing.

We can pickle that!

We can pickle that! (Really.)

Have you ever wanted to live in pioneer times? Oh man, have I. I couldn’t get enough of Laura Ingalls and her little house, quilting bees and barn raisings and berry picking. And you better believe that Kirsten was my BFF of the American Girl variety. Well, turns out I’m not alone. My friend Alli (of livingfullywithout.com fame) came over this weekend to teach me how to make pickles! And even though she was a Felicity girl, we had no trouble imagining ourselves out on the frontier, pickling our summer garden spoils to get us through the harsh winter.

They had mandolin slicers, refrigerators, and blogs on the frontier, right?

Alli was kind enough to buy our pickling cucumbers at the farmer’s market. It’s cucumber season RIGHT NOW, so that means they’re cheap and ready for pickling! But first, give ’em a good wash.

Homemade pickles | handmaden.com

Then slice and dice those cucumbers however suits your fancy.

Homemade pickles

Now separate your cucs into pint size mason jars. Fill them up nice and full. The liquid will fill in around them. Oh, and we sterilized the jars first by boiling them in a large stock pot for a few minutes.

Homemade pickles | handmaden.com

Now it’s time to make the brine, the vinegary liquid that works magic on those unsuspecting cucumbers and turns them into delicious pickles. It just requires boiling water, vinegar, and whatever spices you choose. It was so easy and boring that I didn’t even take a picture. The point is, you should just do it, because if you can boil water and vinegar in a pot, then you can make pickles.

We were a wee bit ambitious and made three different kinds. Here were the recipes we used (generally, but Alli is a pro so she mainly winged it):

Once the jars are filled and the liquid is cooled, put them in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Then they’re ready to eat and can be kept in the fridge for 6-8 weeks.

Homemade pickles

Look at all those pretty pickles! Pickle spears, pickle sandwich slices, pickle rounds! Spicy pickles, dill pickles, garlic pickles! AND don’t forget, bonus pickled red onions!

Pickled red onions and cucumbers

This made for an incredibly satisfying project. Ingredients you mostly have on hand, a couple of hours in the kitchen, really easy clean-up, and a fridge full of pretty mason jars showing off your beautiful homemade pickles.

Thanks for teaching me how to pickle that, Al Pal!

Homemade pickles with Alli

Before and After: Mid-century Dresser

Where I live, everyone wants a mid-century dresser topped with an old-timey typewriter and a pair of mini antlers underneath an antique cloche. (I just learned that word.) So antique stores in the city are keenly aware of what they have and what people will pay for such items — a lot. So I can get a little jealous of other bloggers when I read about the treasures they’ve purchased for pennies from their country junk shop (or more probably, junque shoppe).

But when I start to feel those pangs of envy, I just remember this:

Before

Craigslist. $30. It is possible! Even in the city!

We brought this home last summer and it has been hiding in the guest room, embarrassed by scratches and general dinginess. But now it looks like this:

Dresser Portrait

Standing taller and prouder than ever, and looking worth far more than $30.

Dresser After

There are TONS of resources online about cleaning wood furniture (like here and here) and painting wood furniture and getting rid of dings. (My parents on the other hand had to buy VHS tapes to learn DIY techniques. My sister one time mistook “Paint Your Furniture” for a musical which led to a Schmunk family original song of the same title.)

Anyway, since there are so many great tips and how-to’s already on this subject, I’ll just give you an overview of what I did. The moral of the story is don’t be afraid! I thought this project would be way more time-consuming and daunting, which is why I put it off for an entire year. But it went really smoothly and now I can’t stop staring at this mid-century beauty.

Dresser Before and After

Here were the basic steps I took to clean this baby up:

1. Clean it inside and out with Murphy’s Oil Soap. It was amazing what this step alone did to brighten up the wood, get rid of all of the dust inside the frame, and remove general griminess on the drawer fronts. Here’s the inside of the dresser frame. Left is dusty pre-Murphy, right is clean post-Murphy:

Murphy's Oil Soap

2. Restore with Rejuvenate. In my mind, this step would magically erase all of the dings and scratches. It didn’t. It does however seem to be a good product for overall furniture maintenance, so it made me want to try it on some of our other wood pieces that I’m not so great at taking care of.

3. Sand, prime, and paint the drawer fronts. I learned a few things in my research that I will now summarize for you:

  • Sand first to remove the glossy finish and create a surface that will hold the paint
  • Use oil-based primer because it will cover the wood grain; let dry 4-6 hours (I went with overnight)
  • Use several coats of paint (you can use latex paint over oil-based primer, but not the other way around) and sand in between to remove drips or imperfections

Here’s what it looked like after one coat of primer:

Primer

4. While paint dries, “fix” dings with a marker. This actually did work like magic. I just colored over the scratches with a brown marker (!!!) and rubbed it in with my finger to blend it with the wood. Probably wouldn’t color on an heirloom piece, but worked great for this!

Marker?!

And there you have it. A two-day project that is really more waiting for things to dry than actual work. I love the two-tone look, and it’s WAY easier than trying to completely strip and refinish the entire dresser. Ta-da!

Dresser Close-up

Go ahead, make my day.

A few months ago I promised you a new series: Absolutely no occasion. In a few words, do this and make someone you love/like a lot feel awesome.

6-pack printable | handmaden.com

So today I bring you…the six pack of love.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Your someone’s favorite six pack. (Alex recently discovered a new favorite beer ne’er to be found at the local grocer. So while he worked today and I did not, I took a trip to Binny’s for this most loved Augustiner. But of course, this isn’t really about the beer. So any variety will do the trick.)
  • Six Pack Printable. Six tags that print on a single sheet of paper.
  • Scissors.

Six-pack surprise supplies

Simply cut out the tags, fold on the dotted line, cut slits in the top portion of the tags, and slip onto the bottle necks. When Alex got home from work today and opened the fridge, he gave me the look of giddy delight that I had hoped for. It works!

Now gents, before you give me the ol’, “My lady’s not much of a beer drinker,” let me show you something else:

photo (5)

Yep, these tags are multi-purpose. They fit perfectly on these tiny vases we had. They also worked on candles and wine bottles. (I saved you the trouble and tried it myself.) And let’s not underestimate the power of Scotch tape to attach these tags to any chocolatey treat.

So go ahead, make someone’s day. Heck, make their week! Take something seemingly ordinary and turn it into a reminder of just how cool and appreciated your spouse/BFF/roomie/boo really is.

There will be snacks, there will be snacks.

Andrew Bird knows what’s up: where there are friends, there will be snacks. And the only thing better than snacks are cool little plates to serve them on.

Snacks

When I discovered ceramic paint last year, I bought this great set of appetizer plates on sale at Crate and Barrel intending to spice them up a bit. (That was within the first few months of being married when we were at Crate and Barrel every weekend with gift cards. Not a bad gig.) But they’ve just been sitting in our cabinet since then.

Not anymore! My friend Alli came over for a little girl time and Crafterhours the other night. Let’s paint a few snack plates, shall we?

First, collect your supplies: something ceramic (I bet you could find some plain mismatched thrift store dishes and make them look like a set!), porcelain paint (you can get this at Blick), and white wine (Alli and I agree that it must be white).

Prepping

Doodle a little to get into the swing of things and figure out a design or pattern you like. Alli used the curtains for floral inspiration. I tried a few monograms, but ended up going a bit more basic. Then go for it!

Working

This paint is great because it wipes off easily if you make a mistake or just don’t like something. So don’t be scared. Just have some paper towels ready. When you’re done painting, let your items dry for 24 hours.

Waiting

After you’ve stared at your new snack plates for 24 hours, stick them in a 300 degree oven for 35 minutes. The paint will stay raised, but will harden creating a really cool depth and texture.

Your last step, fill with snacks! And if you’re smart, those snacks will be from Alli’s awesome food blog, Living Fully Without.

Lauren plates

Alli plates

For the record, Alli told me at the start of this project that she couldn’t draw. But look at those flowers! Proof that you too can probably create something more beautiful than you expected. Al, you got it goin’ on!

The Idiot’s Guide to Valentine’s Day

Dear boy readers with sweethearts, if you only ever do one project from this blog, do this one. (Preferably print this on Wednesday at work, because Valentine’s Day is on Thursday.)

Valentine printable 2013

Dear girl readers with sweethearts, you might be surprised by how much your admiration and praise melts even your manliest of men, so you should do this too.

You may have heard of something called the Cost to Income Ratio. Well, this Valentine will net you many many more times what the two sheets of paper will cost.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Print this.
  2. Fold the card in half, and then in half again. Sign it.
  3. Fill in the hearts using the handy little prompts.
  4. Cut the heart paper into six cards.
  5. Tape the cards in places your sweetheart will find them on Valentine’s Day. Like this:

DIY Valentine | handmaden.com

And this:

DIY Valentine | handmaden.com

Or this:

DIY Valentine | handmaden.com

Even if you’re not into Valentine’s Day cheesiness (maybe especially if you’re not into Valentine’s Day cheesiness), you can make someone feel awesome with just a few minutes and some kind words. (Most of the cards could also encourage a coworker or friend.)

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

PS: Here’s last year’s Valentine Printable too…