Thursday, December 24, 2015

And they say that it's Christmas...

...but it's in the 60s here in western Pennsylvania! Good morning, my stitching friends! Is it warm where you are, too? In all my 60 years, I never remember a December like this--it is supposed to be in the 60's here (more like May weather for us) throughout the Christmas weekend. I hate to say I miss the snow, but (I miss the snow!). The mild weather has been great in terms of getting around to shop, decorating the outside of houses (in fact, I swear more houses than ever have put up outside decorations this year), and getting back and forth to work easily. But, without the cold, ice, and those pretty white things that fall from the sky, it just doesn't feel Christmasy. As my son said, "This is what Christmas in northern Florida must feel like every year!" 

Anyway, the cards are sent, the groceries are purchased, the few presents we bought (our main gift was the Argentina trip from last month) are wrapped and under the tree, and the tree is up. Yes, the tree--the one I stitch for all year. Would you like to see?

2015 "Stitching Dreams" Christmas Tree

I can't tell you how much I smile when I see each little ornament perched on the tree.

I am truly running out of space! I wonder how many hours of work have gone into creating these little ornaments?

This year, I set aside a special portion for the Prairie Schooler ornaments that I have stitched. Unfortunately, the six PS Santas that I did this year, never got finished so they aren't hanging with their friends.

Can you see the top of my Santa doll that has been in my family since I was a little girl sitting under the tree? My brother and I always argued over whose it was, but I ended up with him somehow.

Ah, here is the jolly fellow himself, just resting up until his big night... Very 1950s, wouldn't you say (and if truth be told, just a bit creepy looking in the face). I'm sure he once had a black belt and other accessories, but this is all that is left of an almost 60 year old, well-loved Christmas tradition.

The tree at night is so pretty, but hard to get good photos of. Here is one with the lights in my sunroom on:

And here is a final shot with the lights off...

2015 Cross-stitch filled Christmas tree

I've loved seeing photos of your trees and your new ornaments this month--thank you all for sharing! Some of you who don't have blogs have even emailed me photos, too, which I always enjoy seeing. Thank you, thank you to each of you for your kind comments on my "Parade of Ornaments" post last week. It was such fun seeing which ornament you liked the most. At this point in the voting, it appears that the July ornament (the Prairie Schooler one with the little boy carrying his Christmas tree home) is favored by most.  Anyway, it was interesting to see how varied the responses were. I think poor Miss May (the LHN angel) was the only one who failed to receive a single vote. Poor thing--I can hear her weeping in the other room as I write this!

Well, this is short and sweet today as I have a ton of things to attend to--mainly in the kitchen. What are you preparing for your holiday dinners? We have manicotti for our Christmas Eve dinner so I want to prepare that ahead of time along with some homemade bread. And we'll be having our traditional Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow with turkey and all the trimmings since we missed out on it when we were traveling in Argentina in November. My youngest son, I'm so happy and relieved to report, flew in late last night from Argentina (after a one day stop to check on his apartment in Washington, DC) and is now tucked into his small childhood bed upstairs. That sounds funny, but it is so nice as a mother to know he is home safely! My other two sons will arrive today and I'll be putting all of them to work in the kitchen--they are becoming quite the chefs!

I'll be back soon to share with you the wonderful Christmas gifts from my stitching friends--I was very spoiled! Bye for now...

Merry Christmas to each of you--
may your day be filled with the love 
and laughter of friends and family! 

Friday, December 18, 2015

2015 Parade of Ornaments!

Are there really only seven days left until Christmas?! As the big day approaches, I'm feeling better about things than I was when I last posted. I've definitely cut back on the decorating this year and, you know what... I'm okay with that. The house still looks festive, just in a more scaled back fashion. I still don't have the tree entirely decorated--my ornaments are sitting in their underbed storage box waiting patiently for their moment to shine. Hopefully, I can get them hung later today as I have to work tomorrow. I also need to sit down and catch up with all of your blogs--have to admit, I've barely had time to glance at them since we returned from Argentina. I will make a special point of visiting as many of you as I can today...

I know many of you are new to my blog, but each year I devote one post to the monthly ornaments I've created over the past twelve months. If you are interested in seeing previous "Parade of Ornament" posts, you can find them by clicking on the highlighted year:  2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Once again, even though this December has been much warmer than normal (with NO SNOW at all!), we have had a serious lack of sunshine, so my photos are not the best. 

2015 Monthly Ornament Finishes

Yikes! That photo is worse than I thought!! How about some close-ups? You can click on them, too, for a better look...

January ~ March 2015 ornament finishes

April ~ June 2015 ornament finishes

July ~ September 2015 ornament finishes

October ~ December 2015 ornament finishes

I always enjoy hearing which is your personal favorite. I'll give you a closer look so you can make your decision...

Prairie Schooler Santa from "Christmas Past"

Prairie Schooler "Winter Wind" motif

Country Cottage Needleworks "Snow Birds"

"Joyeux Noel" French freebie

Little House Needleworks: "Joy To the World"

Little House Needleworks:  "Deer Valley Inn"

Prairie Schooler's "Button Up" finish

Grandma Kringles: "Winter's Night"

All Through the Night: "Merry Christmas" finish

"Let It Snow" snowman finish

Prairie Schooler: "Prairie Birds" finish

Homespun Elegance "Cinnamon Stick Christmas V" finish

Oh, I'm so pleased with this year's ornaments (I know I say that every year, but, I feel so happy when I see them all posted together). I love that they are all very unique and I can't wait to move them from my stair garland to my Christmas tree!  So, which one wins your vote? I hate picking favorites, but, if I have to, I choose February. It just invokes such a feeling of peace in me and, of course, the red cardinals remind me of my dad.  

Here is a final look of my garland at night...

All is calm, all is bright...

Amidst all of the decorating, gift buying, card sending, etc. that December brings, I had to make a treat for work. Our tradition is to bring a treat in during your birthday month. So, why, you ask, am I taking a birthday treat in during December when my birthday isn't until January? Well, we had several people who had birthdays during the same months so there was some shuffling done and I ended up with December. So, for three nights this week, I baked and baked and ended up with this large cookie tray to share with my wonderful co-workers. They were so appreciative and I froze the cookies that I didn't take in to have for Christmas. This year, I made Christmas Butter Cookies, Reese's Cup Cookies, Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies, Raspberry Almond Shortbreads, White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies, Brown Sugar Pecan Cookies, and Bombshell Brownies! Can you smell the butter and sugar? As usual, the Reese's Cup Cookies were gobbled up first. Which would you choose?

How many calories are on this plate? Oh, that's right--
calories don't count at Christmas, do they?!

I have received some lovely Christmas gifts from around the world, but am waiting to open them until I've sent out my own gifts. I am so, so sorry mine will be late this year, but I just couldn't meet the mailing deadlines having been away last month. I hope you'll be patient with me and I promise, I'll try to do better next year...

Well, I'm signing off now so I can go visit your blogs, head to the post office, finish decorating the tree, wrap a few presents, and address the last of the Christmas cards. Sure sounds like a busy day, just like I imagine each of you is having. Thanks so much for dropping in to visit me today--I know it's not easy at this time of year. Try to relax and enjoy this last week before Christmas... I know I'm going to!  Bye for now...

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

To the ends of the earth...

I'm back! Did you miss me? I sure missed all of you, but I tried to peek in at your blogs from time to time while traveling the 13,980 miles to and from the very tip of South America. At times, it hardly seems real that we were actually way, way down there! I've outlined our flight path in blue on the map below so you can see the breakdown of our trip: Pittsburgh to Atlanta (521 miles), Atlanta to Buenos Aires (4,995 miles), Buenos Aires to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego (1,474 miles)... and then back again! 

It was so great to see my youngest son conversing like a native with the cab drivers and waiters in Argentina--that's what immersing yourself in a foreign country can do in just a short time. It honestly would have been hard to navigate the country without him by our sides as very few people spoke English and our knowledge of Spanish is elementary to say the least! We hiked and canoed in that pristine Patagonian wilderness, visited historic sights in Buenos Aires, and smiled at the thousands of penguins on Martillo Island. Many of you have asked for photos and I can't wait to share them with you. That will have to wait a bit, though, until I've had time to organize and edit them and that "free time" won't come until after Christmas.

13,980 miles to Tierra del Fuego--and back again!

So, for now, you'll have to be satisfied with seeing my final two monthly ornament finishes for 2015. I actually finished both of these in November before we headed off to South America as I knew I would have no time when I returned. It was a bit of a culture shock when we stepped off the plane here in Pittsburgh and were greeted by signs of Christmas everywhere. You see, both in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia there were no overt signs of the approaching holiday other than a few small displays in store windows. So very different than here in the U.S. where you are bombarded with it at every turn! I'll have to say, it was much more relaxing down there. As soon as I returned, I felt my stress level quickly creeping up with all the thoughts of things that probably won't get done this Christmas season. Oh well... there is always next year, right?

Anyway, my ornament for November is this cute chickadee couple from the "Prairie Birds" (book no. 24) Prairie School design. I stitched it on 40 ct. gray Newcastle with the suggested DMC threads and finished it as a flat ornament with black gingham fabric and DMC 355 handmade cording. The ornament's hanger is a piece of the same frayed gingham fabric. I simply backed the finish with a piece of coordinating felt--very easy!

"Prairie Birds" (Prairie Schooler Book No. 24) finish

The final ornament of the year comes from Homespun Elegance and was actually stitched at my stitching retreat in October. It can be found in the old "Cinnamon Stick Christmas V" booklet along with many other darling designs. I've always loved the sentiment on this one and think it turned out so cute. I did change a few of the colors and eliminated a larger charted border to shrink it down to "ornament size."  I stitched this piece "over one" on 28 ct. tea-dyed Monaco and dressed it up with some candy cane striped fabric, green cording, and a tiny brass heart to echo the stitched words. What do you think?

Homespun Elegance "Cinnamon Stick Christmas V" finish

Beautiful RAK from Andrea... Many of you are familiar with Andrea's lovely blog, The Craft Room, but just in case you're not--head on over there! You are in for a real treat! Each year Andrea creates and mails out some stunning ornaments as RAKs for her regular readers and commenters and, this year, I was one of the lucky winners. I honestly have never seen such perfect finishing--I fell in love with this sweet Homespun  Elegance ornament that she sent my way as soon as I opened the package. Thank you so very much, Andrea--it will truly be treasured for years to come!

Lovely RAK from Andrea!

In addition to our trip, we have had some other big events in our family. Just this afternoon, my oldest son's girlfriend successfully defended her doctoral thesis in cellular biology--she is now a PhD! I attended her presentation and have to admit, I understood none of it--I felt really uneducated! Science was never my strong suit, though, and as my oldest son told me--"We all have our strengths." I'll bet none of those scientists in that room could stitch and finish an ornament like I can--ha ha!! Anyway, we are very proud of her and wish her every success in her career...

And last week, my middle son celebrated a milestone birthday--he turned 30!! To have two of my three sons in their 30s now is really making me feel old. This giant chocolate eclair dessert has been his annual birthday request since he was a young boy and I'm proud to still be making it for him each year.  It's a combination of a puffy bottom crust, an inner layer of cream cheese, French vanilla pudding, and milk, a top layer of Cool Whip, and some final swirls of chocolate, butter, and powdered sugar. It really does taste just like a chocolate eclair!

Giant Chocolate Eclair Dessert for the birthday "boy"

As I mentioned earlier, I fear that Christmas is getting the best of me this year... To those of  you who I exchange presents with--please forgive me as yours will, most likely, be late this year. Being away for 10 days in late November/early December has just put me so far behind. I'm also working more hours at the library to compensate for being away, too... Sigh...  Oh well, I will leave you with a sneak peak of our great South American adventure photos. This was the view at sunset from our hotel room in Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia. Yes, my stress level was non-existent down there, as you can imagine!! Just gazing out at the tranquil waters surrounded by those snow-covered mountain peaks instantly calmed me down--ahhhh.... I never, ever dreamed that I would some day be at the very tip of South America--and if it weren't for my son studying in Argentina this semester, that would never have happened. Oh, the places your kids can take you!

Sunset Over the Beagle Channel, November 23, 2015           Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
I'm heading up to New York to visit mom tomorrow and can't wait as it's been nearly three months since I've seen her. Hopefully, I can just relax a bit while writing out Christmas cards and trying to finish up a few ornaments for gifts. I am trying my best not to stress out and keep telling myself that it's okay if everything doesn't get done this year... Just breathe, Carol... breathe.

I hope to be back next week with my annual "Parade of Ornaments"--can hardly wait to show you the 12 little ornaments that I've created this year adorning my stairway garland. Until then, thank you all for your wonderful and thoughtful comments--each one is like a little gift and I am so appreciative of the time you take to write them! Bye for now...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Are you shocked? A blog post from me both last week and this week? That may be a new record! I knew I wouldn't have time to post again until after Thanksgiving so I wanted to share my latest finishes with you today. I also want to thank you all for your sweet comments on my last post. I know what a truly busy time of year this is, so it's especially nice to read your kind comments.

I so enjoyed stitching "Be Ye Thankful!" It is an older Cricket Collection chart from 1997, but I think the design has stood the test of time very well.  The autumn colored leaves and tiny motifs scattered across the giant black letters lend a playful look, don't you think? Can you spot the acorn, the eggplant, the basket, the apple, and the ear of corn? The brick house is so pretty, too, with the wee leaves falling softly all around it.

"Be Ye Thankful"

I had to make a few color changes to accommodate my fabric (40 ct. Burch Newcastle), but most of the suggested colors were used--a mix of DMC and overdyeds. I'm picturing this in a black frame; what do you think?

And this next fall finish is on its way to a special friend for her birthday. Yes, you've seen this one before! I stitched it way back in November 2012 (you can see it in this post). This is a freebie from Beth Twist at My Heartstring blog which you can find right here. I loved my first finish of this so much that I ended up using the same thread colors and stitched it "over one" on 28 ct. black Monaco. If you're interested, the colors I used are Sampler Threads: Cidermill Brown, Wheat Fields, Nutmeg; Weeks Dye Works: Cocoa; Needle Necessities: 142; and Classic Colorworks: Used Brick. The leafy print in the background is what I used on the back of the little 2" X 4.75" pillow.  How do you feel about stitching the same design twice? I can only stitch things twice if enough time has passed between stitchings. Anyway, I hope the birthday girl is pleased with her (rather late!) gift!  

Another Prairie Schooler Santa has been added to my collection! This is the 1998 annual Santa featuring the jolly fellow carrying an ark with two pretty white doves nesting in his backpack. If you are familiar with this pattern, you'll notice that I did change one thing: I left out a giraffe that was hanging under the tree. To me--it looked like the poor thing had a broken neck! And since the animals on the ark arrived in pairs, I thought the pair of rabbits was perfect. This one is stitched on 25 ct. mushroom lugana with most of the suggested DMC threads. I did change the ecru to white, the green to DMC 520 and the colors of the ark and reindeer to 612 so they would show up better. I'm so going to miss these annual Santas now that Prairie Schooler is going out of business, but, thankfully, I have many in my stash to keep me happy for quite a while!

Why do you stitch?  As  most of you know, I'm a librarian in a very busy suburban public library. One of my duties as a reference librarian (in addition to finding the answers to all sorts of crazy and interesting questions--and some not so interesting ones such as "What day of the week is it?"), is selecting books to add to the collection. My fellow librarians and I have various subject categories to read reviews on and decide whether or not to purchase the books. I'm lucky enough to choose books in the  Dewey Decimal 740s section which includes the home decorating books, drawing, antiques, crafts, and needlework. Because I get to see each and every book as it is added to the collection, I run across some beautiful and inspiring titles. Even though I don't knit or quilt, I often spend time perusing the newly acquired books and sighing "some day!"

Anyway, last week when I was reading reviews on new needlework books, I came across one titled "Knitting Pearls: Writers Writing about Knitting" by Ann Hood. This book contains two dozen stories from writers about how knitting has changed and added to their lives. Now, I think the same thing can be said for cross stitching, don't you? Many of us stitch because it truly is our "therapy." By its very nature, making all those little x's in our fabrics causes us to simply sit, breath, and relax.

One quote in the knitting book, though, truly touched me because of the horrific events in France last week. And even though it is about knitting, the same can certainly be said for cross stitching: 

“With its calm, methodical progress, 
it’s a promise, 
in the midst of war and chaos and loss, 
that, somewhere, an orderly world still exists."
                                       --Stewart O'Nan

As the world seems to have gone completely mad lately with new reports of terrorism and tragedy on a daily basis, I find my stitching to be a source of refuge more than ever, don't you? 

I'll leave you with the following which I can only think of as a photograph of hope. My youngest son has met so many wonderful young people in his study abroad semester in Argentina this fall; not only from South America, but from all over the world. This was taken when he and five of his classmates traveled to the Mendoza region for a weekend of horse-back riding, wine-tasting, and sledding with the breathtaking Andes Mountains as their backdrop. In the photo you see three nationalities represented: The United States, Germany, and Hungary. Each of these young people is hoping that their studies in International Relations and related fields will, somehow, make a difference in the future of the world. Of all the photos my son (who is in the orange jacket) has sent me, this is the one that I love the most... I wonder what each of them was thinking as they gazed out, arms entwined, at this breathtaking view of the Andes?


I want to wish each of my fellow United States stitchers all the blessings of this season as Thanksgiving approaches. I hope your time spent with family and friends is filled with love and laughter--and lots of good eating. Safe travels and I hope you know how truly thankful I am for my blogging friends--you are the best! Bye for now...

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Stitched, but not finished

How are my blogging friends, today? I hope November is treating you well? We enjoyed a gorgeous, almost summer-like, first week of what is normally a very gray and chilly month--I loved it! It made me realize that living in a part of the country that is always warm and sunny would be so different than living here in the northeast. You would actually be able to get outside to walk and just enjoy the fresh air whenever you wanted. Am I ready to move south? No, I'm sure I would miss the four seasons, but I do admit the idea of warm weather year-round is becoming more and more tempting as I get older!

This week has brought back the normal cool, rainy weather that November is known  for so I've been nesting in my stitching chair and binge-watching a couple of older television series via Netlix (Parenthood and Foyle's War--love them both!). The problem is, when I'm watching television, I can't finish anything so all I have to show you today is stitched, but not finished pieces. I know many of you come here for finishing inspiration because you've told me so, so I hope you're not too disappointed today...

I've finished my very first Plum Street Samplers chart! I just fell in love with the adorable turkey family in this piece and knew I had to stitch it. I had begun this one before I went to my stitching retreat two weeks ago and managed to finish it there. How cute is the littlest turkey riding on the Mama turkey's back? And I love the Pilgrim hat that Papa turkey is sporting. And how about the giant whimsical sunflower? This piece was such fun to stitch!

Plum Street Samplings "Thankful For Thee" finish

I used a new-to-me 40 ct. linen and really liked the color: Burch newcastle. Most of the suggested DMC threads were used, too, but I did make a couple of changes so the golds would show up better on the fabric. Hopefully, I'll be able to finish it before next Thanksgiving because it doesn't look like it's going to get done this year!

My second finish is from the Just Cross Stitch 2015 Halloween issue and is called "Crow On a Pumpkin" by Samplers Not Forgotten. I used 36 ct. summer khaki linen, but had some issues with the thread coverage so this is stitched a bit differently than what I normally do. In some places (the crow, the pumpkin, the tablecloth, the berries, and the flower centers) two threads were used (just chose my own selection of overdyeds) and for the leaves and gold sunflower border, I only used one thread. Did I do this on purpose? No, I first stitched the leaves with one thread and thought they looked fine, but when I began doing the crow with only one thread, he looked a bit sickly and anemic! I just couldn't bear the thought of going back and ripping out all of the leaves to re-stitch with two threads so I left them as I had stitched them. What do you think? I actually think it turned out quite well... the flowers and leaves have a more lacy appearance which, I think, looks pretty.

Crow On a Pumpkin

And I have a new Prairie Schooler Santa to add to my collection. This is one I also stitched last year. But, since that one was sent away to my friend Lois in Northern Ireland (you can see the finished ornament in this post), I decided to stitch one to keep for my own tree. This golden Santa is from Book No. 43, "Father Christmas" and is stitched on 40 ct. raw Newcastle with the suggested DMC threads (although I did change the green of the wreath to DMC 520). This makes the fifth PS Santa that I've stitched this year. My Sunday Santa SAL partners Melissa in Canada, Hilda in Austria, and I were trying to do a Santa a month, but all of us have failed. Oh well, we have all stitched a few and should be proud of that fact, right? Now, to get them finished and ready to hang on the tree--not much time left!!

Prairie Schooler Santa (Book No. 43: "Father Christmas")

I was so touched to receive a wonderful package of goodies from Charlene at Paraclete Designs. She thought I deserved a little something for spreading the word about my friend, Cindy, who lost everything to black mold. (If you haven't read about Cindy's plight, please go to this post). I also mentioned Charlene's Paraclete Designs which collects unwanted stitching stash to pass along to different charities and mission projects and she wanted to thank me for getting the word out. Anyway, just look at what arrived in my mailbox--the entire collection of Heartstrings "The 12 Days of Santa" along with some buttons, perforated paper, and a couple of other cute small kits. Charlene--you are such a generous soul! Thank you so very much--I know I'll enjoy stitching these chubby guys and I wish you much luck in your mission to spread the love of cross stitch...

I've been published! Well, self-published, that is... I had been wanting to get a hardcopy of my blog printed for a few years now and when a 20% discount offer appeared in my email last month, I finally took the plunge. The result is this two year compilation (2013-2014) of Stitching Dreams which weighed in at a solid 314 pages! Every photo, every word, every finish shown on my blog from 2013 and 2014 is here! This was quite a splurge for me--even with the discount, but I am thrilled to be able to sit down and read through two years of memories in book form. Now to save up enough to publish 2009-2010 and 2011-2012. 

My blog--in book form!

The service I used is called Blog2Print and it was so easy. My only complaint is that my photo captions weren't centered under the photo itself, but were off to the side. However, the paper quality, layout, and solid construction of "my book" are just wonderful. Here is a look at two of the interior pages so you can get an idea of what it looks like... I know I'll enjoy sitting down and looking through this when I'm old(er) and gray(er) and want to marvel at how I was able to see well enough to stitch such tiny creations!

When I'm not working, sleeping, stitching, or reading, I seem to be spending time getting ready for our upcoming trip to Argentina. Oh, my, how do I pack for this trip? You see we'll be spending part of our visit in northern Argentina where it will be warm--high 70s / low 80s. And then we'll be flying way, way down--almost 2000 miles--to southern Argentina where it will be cold and very windy. Yes, we're going to Ushuaia in Patagonia, commonly known as the southern-most city in the world. And guess what we're going to see? Those darling little black and white tuxedoed guys known as Magellanic Penguins!! Yes, I'm beyond excited to be able to see them in person. Well, not as excited as I will be to see our youngest son who is studying international relations in Buenos Aires--but close!!

Thankfully, the bone bruise on my left foot is almost totally healed and I am walking normally again. I get a twinge of pain every now and then, but it should be fine for the tours and hikes we will be doing. I bought some great new hiking shoes which will give me even more stability so I should be in good shape. Now, we just have to hope the weather cooperates!

I'll leave you with a couple of photos from my kitchen... I tried this recipe for Dutch Apple Pie on Sunday and it turned out very well. I thought I could have cooked the pie longer as the apples were just a bit on the firm side, but the flavor was wonderful--especially when topped with ice cream!

Apple Pie, anyone?

I snapped this photo of our kitchen eating area to send to my youngest son one sunny morning. Thought he might like a "bit of home." We just heard that he plans on spending about two weeks with us over the Christmas holidays and I'm so excited. I love cooking and baking for that "kid" as he truly loves to eat and really appreciates my meals. Anyway, the kitchen just looked so pretty with the sun streaming in the (dirty!) windows... Thought you might like to see it, too!

I want to welcome all of my new followers--so glad you're here! Please remember that, if you ask me a question and want a reply, you need to leave your email address for me. Otherwise I have no way to respond to some of you who are "no-reply bloggers." I hope you can find some time to sit and stitch in this very busy pre-holiday season--it is so good for the stress-levels that seems to skyrocket at this time of year... Thank you, as always, for each and every comment--I truly appreciate them! Bye for now...