Sunday, September 19, 2010

Aprons, Aprons, Aprons

About a year ago, I picked up a publication called "apronology" by Stampington & Company. I have been a fan of Stampington publications, and this one seemed so interesting. The magazine features dozens of aprons that were painted, elaborately embellished, and made from upcycled materials. I thought maybe I would make an apron.

Then last spring, while driving from upstate New York to Texas (I was driving back with my son from college), we stopped in Bardstown, Kentucky, which is in the middle of bourbon country. We discovered a modest antique store. It was there I bought my first piece of feedsack fabric. What a great start for an apron, I thought.

Back in San Antonio, I took that piece of feedsack, shopped for fabric that would match, and dug through my box of buttons and laces to find the perfect embellishments. I was getting hooked on the process of creating aprons. I sewed the apron (I hadn't sewed anything for years), and it turned out perfect! I was really hooked then, because the apron turned out just the way I had pictured in my mind (my crafts don't always turn out that way!).

Shown below is my first apron.

I made another one, and then another one, and then another one! The most fun I have making these aprons is the thrill of the hunt for materials. I am finding wonderful fellow Etsians who have beautiful feedsack and vintage fabrics. Today I went to one of favorite San Antonio antique stores, Back Alley Antiques at Artisan's Alley, and sorted through a box of old doilies and laces searching for apron embellishments.

Pictured below are some of my other creations:

The reverse side of the apron shown above:

I love the cheery colors of this apron. They remind me of cherries and blueberries!

This Thanksgiving apron lovers everywhere will make or purchase breads, wrap the bakery goods in an apron, and give them to someone who needs a lift up during the holiday season. I have included a link to "National Tie One On Day" to the right. Please visit the sites to find out more about how you can "Tie One On" this holiday season!

More aprons!

I had been considering opening another Etsy shop. I knew I wanted to have items that were tied to the past in some way. Well, here I was with these aprons, and I decided that they were perfect for the first items in my shop. Please visit my new new shop, Summer's Place (named for my youngest granddaughter, Summer). Come back often to find more treasures!

It is funny how many of my posts somehow lead back to my mom. She has been gone for many years now, but I still think of her often. She always wore aprons, and would make little aprons for me, too. I think that my new love of aprons connects me to her somehow.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How to Make Halloween Cascarones

When I read that the great people at Parenting and Family Channel were seeking blog posts about Halloween for their October Halloween-Themed Blog Carnival, I had to blog! I love Halloween. I remember as a kid going out on the big night and returning with a huge bag of candy, and boy, was I in kid heaven. As an adult, I have always lived in neighborhoods where Halloween is celebrated in a big way. Houses are decorated and lit up. Parents organize trick-or-treating groups so kids can be safe while they have a great time. There is even a huge fireworks display just blocks from my house that is enjoyed by the neighborhood revelers. Last year, I had over 300 trick-or-treaters, so I have been getting ready since the first of September.

I am on a mission. A mission to spread the word about the fun of cascarones--painted eggshells filled with confetti. Cracked over the heads of unsuspecting friends, the result is giggles, laughter, chuckles, and tee-hees--a guaranteed smile.

Cascarones are catching on as favors for the little ghosts and goblins that come a-knockin’ on Halloween. Moms and dads love them because they are sugar-free. Kids love them because they are so much fun. Using your imagination, the humble egg can be a great Halloween treat!

Although I want everyone to visit my Etsy shop, Gracie's Eggies, and buy dozens of my handmade cascarones, I wouldn't be a very good missionary of confetti fun if I didn't share the cascraones secret with the masses. So, here is your complete guide to making cascarones so you can be the "Rey or Reina" (King or Queen) of Confetti Levity on Halloween.

Before I launch into the tutorial, I must ask that readers heed this warning: no matter how many cascarones you buy or make, you will wish you had more! They are infectious. So make plenty.

Materials needed:
food coloring, paint, Easter egg dying kit
tissue used for gift bags

Make sure and read the "TIPS" following these step-by step instructions.
Wash hands after working with the raw egg product.

1. Prepare the eggs by creating a hole at the fat end of the egg. To do this, hold the egg, fat end up, firmly in the palm of one hand. Tap the egg with the blade of a knife, making a break in the egg about one inch long. Tap the egg again, perpendicular to the first crack. This will make an "X" in the top of the egg.

2. "Pick" a hole with your fingers where you have made the starter cracks. The hole should be about one inch in diameter. The holes don't have to be perfect--they will later be covered with a round piece of tissue. Empty the eggs into a bowl for future use (see TIPS for ways to use your eggs). Wash the shells in water with a little bit of bleach added and place them hole side down on a dishtowel to drain until dry.

3. Color the shells with paint or by dyeing as you would Easter eggs (see TIPS for drying your painted eggs). Be creative! Decorate your shells with stickers, paint, markers, and other embellishments (see TIPS for making perfect polka dots on your cascarones).

4. After the shells are dry, fill them with confetti (see TIPS for hints to buying and making confetti). Kids love this part.

5. Cover the hole with tissue paper (see TIPS for tissue paper). Squeeze a small amount of crafter's glue on the rim of the hole you made in the shell (see TIPS for glue suggestions). Place a round of tissue paper over the hole and gently smooth the tissue until the hole is completely covered.

Making cascarones is only half the fun. Now go out and shower your world with confetti (see TIPS for instructions for cracking eggs over heads)!


TIP: Eggshells will probably get into the eggs you have emptied into the bowl. The shells settle to the bottom. If you are going to use the eggs right away, pour the eggs into another bowl, and the shells will remain at the bottom of the original bowl. I learned this tip from Ace of Cakes!

TIP: What are you going to do with all of those eggs? I recommend for recipes. You can also freeze eggs to use in cake and cookie recipes.

TIP: I paint my eggs and place them on bamboo skewers, then poke the skewers into the ground until the eggs are dry.

TIP: Do you like my polka dot style of cascarones? Here is my secret for the perfect dot: Dip the eraser-end of a pencil into craft paint and kiss the shell with the eraser. Perfectly round polka dots!

TIP: Where do get confetti? In Texas, you can buy bags of confetti in the party goods aisle at the grocery store for $1 per bag. A bag will fill 7-10 dozen eggs. You can also go to your local printer and ask them to save the circles produced when they drill holes in projects. Another idea is to shred colored paper in a home paper shredder and cut the strips into little squares. You can also buy small bags of specialty confetti (how about spiders?) and add to the paper confetti for a special touch.

TIP: Don't obsess over clean up. The confetti vacuums up easily. If outdoors, the confetti will soon be absorbed into the landscape and causes no harm to the environment.

TIP: I use the most inexpensive crafter's or school glue to adhere the tissue paper to the egg.

TIP: Everyone is using gift bags these days, Save the tissue in the bags to make the tissue circles for cascarones. Smooth the tissue, then accordian fold the tissue. Each pleat should be about three inches wide. Cut circles large enough to cover the holes from the pleated tissue. This method means you can cut about 5-10 circles at a time. Your tissue doesn't have to match the color of your egg. Anything that looks pretty will be fine.

TIP: This is the most important tip. In Texas, kids love to "smash" the eggs directly on the heads. No tears are shed and there are no hard feelings, because everyone knows what they are. Kids who are unfamiliar with the tradition might be shocked and dismayed by being hit on the head. This is how to create a no-tears confetti shower: Hold the egg in one hand about 6 inches over the head of recipient. Crush the egg in the palm of your hand and sprinkle the contents over the head. An alternative to this is to "clap" the cascaron between your hands over the head and then let the confetti rain down.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Welcome to the Family, Mindy!

I knew when Mindy joined the Amon family for 2009 Thanksgiving dinner that my nephew James was serious about her.

And I knew she had to be serious about James when, at the gathering, she followed my instructions to the letter on how to serve oneself from the buffet. She didn't roll her eyes, she didn't laugh, she just went with the flow (although I do remember a comment regarding missing directional tape lines on the floor-was that Mindy or James who said that?).

You see, I am a little bit obsessive about Thanksgiving dinner. No one is allowed in the kitchen but me. I am like Martha Stewart if she was a drill sergeant with no social skills. The only part of Thanksgiving I will delegate is the pies. I "allow" my sister to make the pies because she (even I have to admit) is an extraordinary pie-maker.

Thanksgiving with the Amons is a true test of love. We must have received a passing score, because Mindy is still here!

This weekend, my sister-in-law (James' mom) is hosting a luncheon for Mindy. She asked me if I could "help." That was all the invitation I needed to take over the event. The theme for the luncheon is vintage roses. I have had so much fun assembling various vintage pieces for the place settings and decorations.

The first order of business was creating a "place card" that could also serve as a takeaway for guests, and I had a brilliant idea.

My daughter went to undergraduate school in New York City. When I would visit her, we always would stop into this great shop called Fishes Eddys. They sold old and discontinued serving pieces from cafes and diners. On one visit, I spied a barrel full of coffee cups from diners with a sign that said "fifty cents". I couldn't pass them up at that price! I lugged a dozen of them home where they stayed in a drawer for seven years waiting to be repurposed.

And now the time is right for them to find new life. I have made them into pincushions. Tied to each handle is a tag lettered with each guest's name-perfect as a place card and takeaway for luncheon guests.

I found several silver-plated pieces that will be used for the table centerpiece and as serving ware. I discovered the salad tongs and water pitcher at the Austin Citywide Garage Sale. The tongs were just $3 and the pitcher only $5! A little bit of baking soda brought these tarnished flea market finds back to life.

At a recent trip to the Goodwill store, I uncovered several silver-plated bowls and goblets scattered around the store. Each piece was engraved with a year and "1st Place," "2nd Place,' etc. It took me a while, but I realized that these were trophies for sailing events. The earliest one was dated 1963. How cool! These, too, were tarnished (which I found appealing), but I went ahead and polished them to a bright lustre.

I will place these on top of a vintage mirror and fill them with flowers. In these photos, I used crepe myrtle blooms. I think I will use them at the luncheon--what could be better than free for flowers?

Welcome, Mindy, to the Amon family. Just follow the taped path, and you will be fine!

Please take a moment to visit the Etsy shops featured in the sidebar. Since the luncheon is all about pink and roses and love, I chose shops where you can find things that are pink..

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Viva Fiesta!

I love San Antonio. It's quiet demeanor gives the impression that San Antonio is a small town, so most people are surprised to learn that the Alamo City is the seventh largest city in the nation (and is bigger than Dallas, which ranks ninth). It is this small-town ambience that holds my heart and brings me home every weekend after working in Austin during the week.

Every spring in April, the city throws its sombrero in the air and invites the world to Fiesta, a ten-day party that celebrates its multi-ethnic heritage with four major parades (drawing up to 500.000 parade-goers to each parade), a carnival, oyster bake, concerts, art shows, royalty to name just a few events.

Not every event is huge, and today my daughter, granddaughters and I enjoyed one of the smaller neighborhood events--the King William Fair. King William is a neighborhood just south of downtown. The neighborhood was first settled in the 1840s by German immigrants (at that time, one-third of the San Antonio population spoke German). The area is on the National Register of Historic Places. Cross St. Mary's Street, and you arrive in the area known as Southtown where the homes are not as opulent, but I think equally as beautiful.

The house above belongs to author Sandra Cisneros. She caused quite a stink in the neighborhood when she painted her house such bright colors. She finally won the argument and the neighborhood, I believe, is better for it.

The three homes shown above are examples of the Victorian-inspired architecture in the neighborhood.

The fair kicked off with a parade. Now, this is not one of the "big" parades, like the Battle of Flowers or Fiesta Flambeau, but it is big in spirit. Dance school tots, community non-profits, and pooches in Fiesta finery wowed the crowd. The parade queens took the opportunity to poke fun at the "real" Fiesta royalty.

We trekked to the fair proper at the conclusion of the parade. Homes along the route were dressed in Fiesta finery--papel picado (cut paper banners) and huge wreaths adorned with traditional Mexican crepe-paper flowers with flowing ribbons that fluttered in the wind. Families gathered in their front yards welcoming Fiesta visitors to their neighborhood, all the while celebrating Fiesta with barbeque, cascarones (confetti-filled eggshells that are cracked over heads), aquas frescas (fruit drinks, such as lemonade, strawberry, or watermelon), and music.

Mini-papel picado on sticks!

Traditonal papel picado--notice "Fiesta" cutwork on each banner.

We made our way to the children's area, where the girls had their faces painted and made pleated-paper butterflies (a free event thanks to the area Rotary club). The day was beautiful and we had a lot of fun. Viva Fiesta and we will see you next year!

My daughter Kim and granddaughter Gracie (my Etsy store namesake).

My little sweetie, Summer with cascarones confetti in her hair.

Gracie and Summer admire shiny papel picado decorating a fence along the parade route.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Texas Wildflowers

My mom embarrassed me. Whoa.....don't hate me...let me explain!

She embarrassed me when I was a kid and she would stop the car (with me in it) and hop out to look at wildflowers along the road.

First, I could just feel the dirty looks the people in passing cars were giving us for causing a distraction.

Second, and this is what the distraction was, she would bend over to examine the "posies," as she called them, exposing her rear to every passing car. It was the 60s, and she favored a culotte jumper in an animal print, so she really didn't expose her rear, but it was out there for the world to see!

Third, I just knew there must be some kind of law against that sort of thing--you know--looking at posies while exposing your rear to passing motorists.

I just didn't get it.

Until I was in my 40s, and I went back to college to earn a degree. One of the first classes I took was a botany class, and we were assigned a project of collecting and drying wildflower specimens. I loved working on this project, and my project was outstanding (if I may say so myself). I didn't just collect and dry specimens, tape them in some dime-store notebook, and write their scientific names on each page with a fine-tip Sharpie. Oh, no, I made mine into a wonderful scrapbook. I collected specimens from the Panhandle to San Antonio to the Mexican border, and all the way to the coast. I wrote little stories about the flowers, included recipes, and herbal medicinal uses for the flowers.

That project turned out to be a project that renewed me. My husband had died only about two years before, and I was in a funk and trying to find my way. The project made me stop and see the beauty that was all around me. It gave me a reason to get outdoors (I spent a lot of time on the sofa watching TV and eating ice cream after my husband died). The project made me excited to be in school and gave me something to look forward to--a degree. And, the beauty of the flowers gave me peace.

I finally "got" why my mother loved wildflowers so.

You know the old adage, "what goes around, comes around?" Well, I embarrassed my kids, too!

This year, Texas is having a spectacular wildflower season, thanks to perfect winter conditions (abundant rainfall). This past weekend, I enjoyed a day of spotting and photographing the wonderful flowers a bit south of San Antonio in Atascosa and Devine. I hope you enjoy my pictures.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Round Top Antiques Fair

I am bad. My family is big on holidays. Mostly, we get together and eat. Thanksgiving-turkey. Christmas-soup (I will blog about Stone Soup Christmas at a later date). New Year's-sauerkraut and pork AND black eyed peas. Easter-ham. You have to have a pretty good excuse not to show up.

This Easter, I decided to forgo the Easter get-together. I think this surprised most of the family because I believe they thought I would be doing the cooking! I took the coward's way out--I had my daughter tell everyone I wouldn't be there! Instead, I took some time for myself and went to Round Top, Texas, to their spring antiques fair. I had read about the fair in several magazines, and just decided it was time to go to find out what all of the hub-bub was about.

Conditions were perfect to go. I had some extra cash, thanks to the outstanding cascarones sales I had during the month of March (I sold more cascarones during March than I had all of last year!). The weather was great--not too hot, not too cool, no rain. The landscape was painted with the colors of the most incredible wildflowers I have ever seen. I had never been in that part of Texas before and it was very pretty country.

I left Austin for the 70-mile road trip at about 6:30 in the morning, thinking I needed to be in Round Top early to get a jump on the crowds. I also wanted to have time to scout a location to take photos of my Texas wildflower quilt (see my last post for that story). When I cruised on into the Round Top area at about 9 am, I was surprised that many of the vendors were not open for business yet. I commented on that to the first vendor that was open, where I made my first purchase of the day--a vintage mirror. He said that most of the vendors had been there all week, and this being the last day of the show, were pooped and a little slow-going. I could relate to that!

The fair is not confined to just Round Top (population 70 during non-fair weeks). There are vendors set up for miles leading into the town and past the town. A person could spend days at the fair and not see everything there was to offer. Since I was only there for the day, and I had no plan of attack, I pulled into the first free parking lot and figured I would just make my way through the maze. I was a bit disappointed at first because most of the vendors in this first tent were not selling anything vintage, antique, or even handmade. It was all mass-produced products. I didn't spend much time there.

I took advantage of the free parking and headed across the street where I spied things that were old. (Note about parking: most parking is not free, but it wasn't expensive when you did have to pay. The parking fees benefit community organizations.)

Now, this is where I wanted to be. Junk galore. I had been concerned that the "antiques" at the fair would be expensive and out of my range (especially since martha Stewart recommended this fair--I just can't imagine her loving the junk). There was plenty of antiques that could gracefully (and expensively) adorn any room at Martha's , but there also was a lot of merchandise that I would label as flea market finds.

After a while, some tents started to look like the tent you just left. So, I started to focus on finding vintage textiles. I will be soon opening another Etsy store to sell aprons made from vintage and new fabrics and embellishments (tentative shop name is Summer's Heartstrings), and I wanted to find textiles to construct my aprons. In one store, I sat on the floor with a basket of vintage fabrics and had a treasure hunt. Then the vendor brought over another box of goodies she hadn't even put out for sale. I hit the mother lode there. In another store, the seller had beautiful embroidered pillowcases, perfect to repurpose as an apron, and very reasonably price. Bought those, too. Found another seller with a table where everything was $1, and walked out with some pretty teatowels.

After about seven hours, I was pooped and only had $23 left. I had almost escaped to the parking lot when I spied a one-hole chicken roost. Hmmmm...I always wanted a I bought it. I don't think a chicken will every roost in it, but I thought it could be used as a cool prop for my cascarones.

I left tired, penniless, and happy.

The next fair is in June. See you there!