Super Easy Super Tasty Christmas Treats

Yesterday was day one of our cookie/candy extravaganza. As we were finishing up the first batch of treats (no names), I decided to go all Martha Stewart and share my very own self invented "good things" (I think that's the phrase...) recipe. However, my ideas of how clever I am were dashed to bits when I saw this blog by Kerry this morning. Exchange the almonds that she uses for peppermint snaps I use, and it's the same darn recipe. LOL!
I came up with the idea last year when I was going to do the melt the Hershey's Kiss on a pretzel, then squish on an M&M like my mom likes to make. But as I'm looking for the Hershey's Kisses, I spied the Rolos. Roundish? Check. Chocolate? Check. Caramel? BONUS! But what to squish it with? I didn't want to use an M&M and I LOVE hints of peppermint in chocolate. I don't like to eat candy canes or actual peppermints...just something with a hint of peppermint. I had a full jar of Williams Sonoma Peppermint Snaps at home, so I broke those in half for squishing into the melted chocolate. There are probably other suitable (less expensive) alternatives however.
Basically all you do is heat the oven to about 175 deg., have the kids wash their hands, unwrap rolos, place the pretzels on the parchment paper lined cookie sheet (I hate cleaning up melted chocolate!), then stick in the oven for about 3 minutes. You want it to be slightly soft, but not oozing all over the place. Immediately start squishing the peppermint/almonds/whatever you want into the chocolate. Let cool until firm. I put them in the fridge if there is space to speed the process.Be prepared to hide the container because these are so delicious and so easy to just pop in the mouth.
We will be donating some of our baked goods to the Mad Anthonys Children's Hope House , and possibly taking some to the nursing home where my mom works in the hopes of brightening the day for a few people.
If you try this, you will have to let me know what you think of my "unique" recipe.

Washington DC at Christmas

One of the cool things about homeschooling is that you can "pull" your kids out of school for an extended field trip without the hassle of make-up work, frowns and sighs from the teachers, official letters sent home stating it is against school policy to provide the make-up work up front because the kids should be in school, etc.However, being that this is our nation's capital, the entire trip was considered school. They spent as much time learning as we could possibly cram into each day and they both loved every second of it. As a bonus, everything was decorated for Christmas, which made it that much more beautiful.Because we left Friday night (the 5th) at about 5 pm, we didn't get there until about 3 am Sat. morning. We took it easy on Saturday and walked to the zoo from where we were staying at the Omni Shoreham. As an aside, I HIGHLY recommend the Omni Shoreham! Beautiful, clean, great service, quick walk to subway, restaurants and zoo. They delivered cookies and milk to the kids every single evening we were there! The lobby and hallways are FILLED with different themed Christmas trees and a sleigh and reindeer vignette in the middle of the lobby.We slept in so late, so we only spent a couple hours at the zoo before it closed. I find it amazing that it is FREE to get the ZOO! We did have to pay for the tickets to go to the special "zoo lights" for the evening.When we were there during the day, we spent all our time in the "Asia" area and saw a total of 3 different types of animals. The red pandas and giant pandas were so cute and so active, that we didn't get very far and spent most of the time observing and photographing them. We got to witness feeding time too. The giant pandas were given their bamboo indoors, which is why the photo you see of him (the baby) eating is weird lighting.The kids can now tell anybody that asks all about how pandas communicate, sounds they make when they are ready to mate, how big baby pandas are when they are first born and so much more. After the daytime zoo trip, we walked back to the hotel, rested an hour, then walked back with DH for the zoo lights. It was snowing and so pretty! We saw more animals during the night time trip than during the day because they we went into the various "houses" of animals. However, it was the lights and the snow that made the evening so magical.The next day was what both kids looked forward to the most; going to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. The most exciting part for DS was riding the subway. He is so funny because he gets an interest, and it becomes all encompassing. Usually his interests seem to point back to maps.For example, in 2004, we visited Captiva Island for vacation and it was hit by Hurricane Charley about 1 or 2 weeks later. This fascinated him and he became obsessed with hurricanes, drawing hurricane maps, tracking hurricanes on maps, etc. He and my husband took up downhill skiing. He started making up ski trail maps. We built a new house in 2006. He started drawing maps of neighborhoods and having everyone select a lot to build a house on. This year he was introduced to the Iditarod and he became obsessed with dogsledding and making up dogsledding maps. The fact that the subway involved reading a map, moves fast, and gets you from point A to point B and is different than riding a car (boring!), He is now obsessed with the subway and trying to convince our city leaders to build a subway system here in Ft. Wayne based on the subway in DC. I just don't see it happening anytime soon...Back to the subject of Washington DC...we spent the entire rest of the day at the Natural History Museum. It was the first time of the 100 or so times we had to go through security while in DC.They have a locker area that costs a quarter (which you get back when you get your stuff), so we deposited our coats and hats. The reason this is important will become evident later. We had such a great time exploring the Sant Ocean Hall, Dinosaurs and Fossils, and the Gem and Geology areas, that we didn't have time to get to the most important to our studies of ancient history, which is the Western Civilzations area before we had to go to the IMAX movie about the ocean. We selected a showing that was close to the clsoing time for the museum. When we got out, the museum was officially closed and we were corraled to the bottom floor to leave via that exit. However, our coats, hats and gloves were on the floor above us in the locker room. We had to get a guard to let us upstairs, unlock the room and turn on the lights. Thank goodness they were willing to do that. I was a tad freaked out. First of all, that place is kind of scary after dark. The entire building gets darker and with all those huge specimens on display...well, let's just say I get a bit jittery-which is totally not like me.

Doesn't this hammerhead in a jar with the eerie blue light look like something out of X-Files?

The next day (Monday the 8th) we took the subway once again to the National Mall to go once again to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum to visit the Western Civilizations area and see cuneiform writing on tablets in person along with all the other cool stuff. They had a recreation of the cave painters of Lascaux, as well as a recreation of what the Otzi the Ice Man looked like when he was alive and his tools, clothing, etc. There was far more than I could ever describe about all kinds of ancient civilizations, how they lived, worked, and what they wore and their artistic sides as well.I tried to take photos of the beads and jewelry they had on display that were thousands of years old, but the dim lighting and everything being behind glass worked against my feeble photography skills. It was really cool though. You will just have to go see it for yourself.The kids knowing what cuneiform writing is and then getting to see it firsthand and recognizing it made a homeschool mom proud! So far we have studied the cave painters and the ice man along with the fertile crescent and Mesopotamia and various cities there. So this trip was very timely for their history and geography studies.

After going through the Western Civilization area, we trekked over to the International Spy Museum. I thought it couldn't possibly take more than a couple hours to get through. However, after 3 hours and it being almost time to close, we had only made it through one floor with another floor to go. Oops! It was a really fun museum. I think the highlight for the kids was going into some ductwork in the ceiling, trying to be as quiet as possible, and then listening to the conversation.

That night we all went for a walk around the White House to see the lights. DH was actually with us for this part of the trip. Poor guy spent most of his time in conferences.

Tuesday (Dec. 9th) was the part I was most excited about. We got to tour the White House while it was all decked out for Christmas. I almost didn't get through security because I didn't see the part where I couldn't bring a purse of any kind. Luckily I had taken everything out except my wallet and cel phone. They lady "prescreening" told me to roll it up and put it in my coat pocket and that maybe security would let me through. I had to take it out of my pocket to go through the X-ray and the head security guy told me I was lucky I could fit it in my pocket. LOL! The tour was really cool and the White House was beautiful. It's just really cool to walk in the same building that amazing people lived and worked in.

An early Christmas gift

I wanted to chat about our awesome trip to Washington DC, but something very special happened tonight. We had the most spectacular sunset out our back window after a blah kind of overcast cold day. We are very lucky that our home has huge southwest facing windows. When we have sunsets like this, we all drop everything to watch. I just wish my photography skills could truly capture the beautiful gift we received tonight. The following photos have not been altered in any way and were taken from the deck.

Gallery Hop Featured Artist: Natasha Wescoat

On the next stop of the gallery walk, I would like to introduce you to Natasha Wescoat. I came across her work on etsy and was immediately struck by the vibrant color and the swirling branched trees that almost seem to be dancing. However, you may have already seen her work on the tv show Extreme Makeover Home Edition and soon to be seen on the new movie based on the book Marley and Me coming out on Christmas day.Grab a cup of coffee (or glass of wine because this is a gallery after all!) and get to know Natasha in her own words and through her work.

What is your "Day Job"?

My day job is an artist. Licensing illustrations and selling original paintings and prints.
What media do you work in?
acrylics, ink, markers, vector (digital)
Where can people find your work?
overstock auctions: just search keyword WESCOAT
Tell us about your history, how you got started, how long ago, what inspires you, or anything else about your work you would like to share:
I come from a family of artists. I've been illustrating since age 3 and started selling my art at age 11, and have been a professional artist since I was 22. I do a variety of other things on the net such as blogging ( , , videoblogging ( ), lifecasting live from my studio ( and as well as designing for . I do a variety of creative work and love it!
Tell us about your studio:
it's in the basement right now. Lots of space and I can be messy. :)
Take a look at Natasha's BEAUTIFUL studio!
Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
best selling licensed illustrations on merchandise, and still selling my art. Doing more shows. Maybe doing something other than my art.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start selling their artwork?
Really work hard. I mean it. Research research research. Get all the education and self training you can get and network with other artists.It's so crucial to be a participant in the art community online or offline.
It will take time to get to a comfortable place in your creative career. But find new ways to explore your interests and allow yourself to evolve and improve. It takes time and you may not be able to share or sell your work the same way as others. Build your collector base. In time it will be very rewarding.
And because I love to read, what are a few of your favorite books?
After Dark by Haruki Murakami, The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice, and I'm just starting on Lolita by Nobokov.

Artist Statement Challenge

Have you ever tried to write a statement that tells others precisely who you are, what you are about, what inspires you, and other pertinent information? Have you ever tried to do it in 25 words or less?I have never written an artist statement because I really didn't have anything to say. I've read others and they just don't fit me or my personality. I practically choke when I or anybody else refers to me as an artist. I don't really feel like one. I guess life is too messy and busy to place a neat label on what it is that I am or what I do. I can barely say I'm an artist, let alone make an artist STATEMENT. HA! It makes me laugh to think about it.Imagine my chagrin when filling out an art show application and they wanted one of these things in 25 words or less. Any more than 25 words and the judges would only see the first 25 words of the statement. YIKES!I googled artist statements. I googled how to write an artist statement. However, every example I found was an entire paragraph (or 2 or 3!). I had to slash it to one or two sentences long! I did learn some important tips in all that googling and the most important thing is to be concise. That sounds obvious, but is more difficult in practice. Don't add a bunch of extra "flowery" stuff that isn't necessary. Another is to leave out the how you became an artist. You can include that information in a longer bio/profile if necessary. The information that should be included are the "what you do" and "what inspires you".It took me about 3 hours to write a 20 word statement. I got accepted into the show, but I don't know what the judges thought of it. It's not like they wrote a note to me saying "we accepted your artwork in spite of your statement". LOL!Here's the statement I finally came up with: "Transforming molten glass into unique wearable art, I use color, chemical reactions, and windows as inspiration for my lampwork beads."I now challenge my fellow artists to write a 25 word artist statement. Please share what you come up with so that maybe we can all learn together.

Exciting (to me) Announcements

I am very excited to announce that my jewelry has juried into the Indiana Artisan program and will carry the Indiana Artisan brand logo. This is an awesome opportunity for Indiana Artisans to attend business development conferences, promote their business and to help educate people about the value of buying handmade and local. If you are an Indiana resident, they have two application dates in 2009. Check out the website for more info.
I am also excited to announce that my beads and jewelry juried into the Indiana State Museum's Indiana Art Fair February 21 & 22, 2009. I am very excited and nervous because this is the biggest show I will have done to date. I have tended to stay in small venues thus far because of my lack of confidence and experience. But after doing a few small shows, I am ready to branch out more. If you are in the area, you MUST come to this show. The art show is very well done and a great diversion in the middle of a long cold winter at the point it starts feeling like it will never end. 

Gallery Hop Featured Artist: Ena Langendijk

Today is the first post for a new series of weekly blogs called Gallery Hop that will feature a different artist each week. This is a series I've been considering for a while, but never got around to. However, once I saw the MonsterOpMaat shop on Etsy, I knew who I wanted as my first featured artist. I immediately fell in love with the personality of each of the monsters on the bowls and cups. Once I read the first line in Ena's bio on etsy, "Monster op Maat = Dutch for Monster on Size, or better said: Custom Made Monster" I was completely hooked and a huge fan. Please get to know the artist of MonsterOpMaat.
Ena Langendijk. I am originally from The Netherlands, but moved to the States over three years ago.Do you have a "day job"?
I have two part-time jobs. I work for a very small software company where I basically do everything except for the actual software development, from business administration to communication to explaining a new product through illustrations. I also work as a waitress in a pretty fancy restaurant. Both jobs combined make for a full-time job. In between jobs I try to get as much pottery in as possible, because that is what keeps me sane.What medium do you work in?Right now I mostly work in clay, I love how easy it is to mold shapes in it and I love the smell of clay. Getting your hands covered in wet clay is the best, it's like playing with mud. I also make a lot of pen drawings and like to combine those with collage.
Where can people find your work?
I have a shop on Etsy: and some of my mugs are sold in a small shop at Hollands Family Cheese farm in Thorp Wisconsin.Tell us about your history, how you got started, how long ago, what inspires you, or anything else about your work you would like to share:I started drawing monsters about ten years ago when I was in college and have not stopped since. They are hardly ever mean or scary, more funny and cute looking. I can relate to the monsters and I think a lot of people can; don't we all have a little bit of monster in us?
Traveling in South America I met my American husband and I moved to the States over three years ago. I got started with pottery, because I did not have a work permit and felt a little lost. I had always wanted to learn. As I got more skilled, I started getting a little bored with plain mugs and bowls and attached my first monster to a mug. Combining the monsters with the pottery proved to be a winning combination: I love making them and others love using them.
I get inspired by real life. I look at people around me and see a monster in them. I see them behave in a certain way, work a certain job, practice a sport, and express that in a monster. I had too many dentist appointments last summer and made a monster with huge teeth. It started snowing last week and I made a monster on skis. The possibilities are endless.
Tell us about your studio:
I work at a studio near my house on campus. I have a permit to work there outside classes in the afternoons and some nights. It's fun to see other people's work evolve and get feedback on my monsters. I dream of having my own studio some day with a lot of windows, a potters wheel, kiln, and drawing table, but right now we live in a small apartment.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?That is hard to tell. My husband and I will either be in the States, back in the Netherlands, or in Latin-America. We have family and possible work opportunities in all those parts of the world. We might have kids, we recently started talking more about that. I will definitely still be making monsters and hope to make them more into a career.Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start selling their artwork?Love what you do. That is the most important thing, it will keep you creative. And be eager to learn more skills and improve your work. You can set up an online shop on a site like Etsy and you can approach shop owners directly and sent them a link to your online shop or bring in some of your work. I sell a lot to friends, and friends of friends. Word of mouth is a very big selling tool.Anything else you would like to share?I am always open for suggestions or ideas. I love it when people ask me to make a custom monster. That means they really get it, see the monster in people. Other than that, I eat a lot of chocolate, drink many pots of tea, love to sleep, and enjoy traveling.And because I love to read, what are a few of your favorite books?I like books that paint pictures with words. And books that tell a story with pictures:- Like water for chocolate - Laura Esquivel- The god of small things - Arundhati Roy- The kite runner - Khaled Hosseini- Persepolis, the story of a childhood - Marhane SatrapiI would like to thank Ena for taking time to answer my questions and see the studio where she works. Make sure you stop by her shop to see more fun pieces.
If you know of an artist that should be featured here, please leave a comment and contact info.

A Sneak Peek

For some strange reason I was on a total chainmaille kick last week. I have 2 bracelets almost complete. I need to make special lampwork beads for the Jen Pind's bracelet (not pictured). But here is the the Half Persian 4 in 1. It's not quite complete because I am not happy with the clasp and have been turning over ideas in my mind to fix it. I need it to look good AND make the last ring of the bracelet stable. This clasp looks GREAT, but I think it's too difficult to clasp onto the correct ring (the last silver one). I am also going to patina and tumble it. I don't like the shiny copper for this one.

The next photo is a very small chunk of a project I am working on. I love these little "flowers" but the last ring is a bugger to close and I keep mangling them. You will just have to wait and see what I've got planned for these, but if it turns out even close to how my mind imagines it, it is going to be a stunning piece!

I hope you all had a great weekend. My 10 year old guy was very sick with the flu all weekend and I spent most of the time nursing him back to health. Hopefully he feels much better tomorrow. The only good thing is he was cuddly and wanted his mom. I don't expect many more of those days in the future.

My New Favorite Tool...And it was only $4!!!

I was perusing the ISLAGA forum the other day and there was a discussion about a bead release tool and how effective it was. The thing with taking beads off the stainless steel mandrels is that you have to use pliers or vice grip in one hand using a death grip on the mandrel right next to the bead. The other hand is trying to pull and twist the bead at the same time. If you do this motion with any regularity, it will cause issues with your hands and wrists. Sometimes those buggers (I mean beads) are impossible to get off the mandrels.Anyway, a couple women have tried a new fancy (and pricey tool) that release the beads off the mandrels for you. A couple have had mixed results with it. Somebody else posted a link to a discussion on Lampwork Etc. about a much cheaper way to do the same thing with a riveting tool. When I saw that post, I just HAD to try it. My DS happened to have band practice down the block from Harbor Freight the same day, so while he was at band, I scurried to Harbor Freight and bought a riveting tool. Now, I've never actually heard of a riveting tool in the hardware store sense of the term. I've only heard of a riveting tool when referring to coring beads with silver tubing. There were a few choices at Harbor Freight, but I bought the cheapest one. The rubber part of the handles is yellow, it has 4 different sizes of those nut thingies and a wrench. It even comes with some kind of hardware stuff that I don't have a clue what it's used for. At $4, it was worth the gamble, you know? I also picked up some nitrile O rings for cushioning between the bead and the riveting tool. I had a bunch of beads on 1/16" mandrels waiting to be released and they were the first trial for this new tool. Let me tell you, those things came off like BUTTER!!!! Now I need to make some beads on 3/32" and 1/8" and try it on those. I will report if there are any problems with it, but I don't anticipate there will be.My only concern after getting all those beads off with very little effort was how to make sure I didn't lose the wrench that came with it for changing the size of the...I don't know what it's called... I'll refer to it as a collet I guess. I referred to it as a nut thingie above, but whatever. It's a fairly simple straightforward tool (even if I never heard of it before) so you'll figure it out if you get one. Anyway, back to the wrench. I was thinking I could tie a string to it, but the shape of it is not conducive to that. So, I got out one of those neodymium magnets and stuck them together. Voila! No lost wrench!In the Lampwork Etc. post, the long part of the mandrel was stuck into the collet portion. However, I had some mandrels that are flattened on that end and stamped with 316L. I tried sticking the shorter end into the collet and even with just a very small length of mandrel, it was able to grab the steel and push the bead enough to release it. VERY COOL!

Happy Halloween!

Even though there are only 38 minutes left of October as I write this, I hope you all had a fun and safe Halloween. Most important is that you got tons of candy-especially chocolate! I am chocolated out after tonight. I never thought that could actually happen...
I wanted to make an announcement about a special fundraiser of sorts sponsored by the Lampwork Etc. stree team called Beads for Food . For the entire month of November, I will donate a can of food to Community Harvest for every single sale (meaning each separate listing) from my etsy shop. If you buy 2 different listings, I will donate 2 cans, etc.
If you read my blog back in August when the LEST team did a fundraiser called Just Give and each member chose the organization, I chose Community Harvest. Their mission is to feed the hungry of Northeast Indiana. And let's face it, the economy sucks right now and more people than ever need this service. However, never has Community Harvest had such empty shelves. So during the month of November not only will you get some really cool beads, but you will be helping out an organization that does so much good for the community.
Here's a couple new ones I put in the shop tonight:
And here are a couple Halloween pictures from tonight for your entertainment. My daughter is obviously dressed as an angel. Any guesses as to who my son is dressed as? First person to comment with the correct answer wins a FREE BEAD!
Here is the reason our marriage is so wonderful. He makes me laugh every single day. He was jealous that DD was an angel and not him. So while she asked him to hold her wings and halo while she "powdered her nose", he thought he'd try them out. LOL! Luckily I had the camera in hand.
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