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Interesting Sneak Peek

Remember how I mentioned bringing lots of rings with me to get some "work" done while enjoying the gorgeous view? I've been making a bunch of these chainmaille daisies. Each takes me approximately 40 minutes to make and uses 37 rings. Some are all silver, some all copper, and the majority are a mix of silver and copper. 
However, both kids think I am making toys for them. Each of them has taken turns playing with the daisies, stacking them, arranging them to help me figure out designs for me to use, etc. Well, photo you see pictured above is just hilariously creative. I had to get change for doing laundry today. Unfortunately all I had was a $20 dollar bill. Needless to say, we have lots of left over quarters. DD decided to make "crabby patties" with the quarters and copper daisies. "crabby silver patties" with the copper silver mixed and then "silver patties". I think someone has watched too much SpongeBob...
We woke up to an extra foot of snow this morning. WOW! We can see the roof of Starbucks from our room. Here are some guys on the roof shoveling. I can honestly say I've never seen anyone shovel a roof before.
We have continued homeschooling while here. Part of the schoolwork has been journaling about the trip. DS is journaling about which runs they went on today and checking the map while doing it. He was so concentrated he didn't know I took his picture.
On their way out to the slopes. Look at the snow piled on the pillar thing. Notice the lack of snow on the sidewalk. They must be heated somehow. DD and I drove to the pool and the very short distance was quite treacherous.
Tonight's view from our balcony.  
I am HOPING to make the trip "into town" to visit a bead shop I spied that was closed when we first got here. If I have any luck, I will blog about it tomorrow. 

Why I Tolerated the Train AND the Cold

Did I mention I don't actually like cold weather? Winter can be beautiful, but it's...you know...COLD. Today was about 1 degree. You know...COLD. I don't ski, but was convinced (begged and pleaded with) to go to Colorado. I keep asking why we didn't go to the beach. Apparently the boys can't snow ski in Florida. Bummer. 
I didn't leave the room the entire day. The wind chill was something like -175 (ok, actually -10 but might as well be -175 as much I like the cold). I looked at our lovely view from the comfort of the room with the nice warm fireplace and couldn't see the mountains from all the blowing snow. But I got more chainmaille done!
When the boys took a quick walk to get a missing ingredient for our dinner while I did the cooking, they got back and insisted we all go on a walk after dinner because the Christmas lights were still on and gorgeous. Grudgingly I bundled up. I am glad I did because it was so worth it.
Really beautiful caramel apple display outside a chocolate shop:
The same chocolate shop:
Flaming stone pillar, disco balls and Christmas tree decorate the bottom of the ski lift:
Grooming the halfpipe for tomorrow:
The kids in front of a frozen pond that everyone BUT the kids were sliding around on. Their parents are too paranoid of frozen kidsicles to allow them on the pond:
Different view of the same pond:

New Year's Goals and Why I Dislike Traveling by Train

Oh no! I haven't blogged since LAST YEAR!!!! This New Year's humor is brought to you by me, who cracks myself up on a daily basis. 
So, now that it is the 5th day of the new year, have you broken all your resolutions? I mean, there are still too many holiday goodies left over to actually diet anyway, right? So, instead of dieting, how about making goals? Well, goals are great if you actually write them down, figure out how you are going to achieve them and POST them where you have to look at these goals every...single....day. By the way, I just saved you the $20 and several hours of time you would've spent on a 250 page book that says essentially what I just wrote in one sentence. You're welcome ;-)
My only goal for the year is to make a schedule that includes "work" time scheduled for at least 5 days a week. (work is in quotes because I don't consider having this much fun to actually be work. )
To achieve this goal, I skipped town so that I am nowhere close to my torch, kiln or glass. Great way to start the year, and accomplish this one single goal, right? Well, I hated that my goal could be put to the side so early on, so I brought several ounces of sterling silver and copper rings with me for lots of chainmaille fun...hopefully to be listed next week on 1000 Markets after a dip in liver of sulfer, a bath in the tumbler, and a photo shoot. 
And something really cool to start out my new year is having one of my Nightmare Insomnia beads featured on the lovely Rose Works Jewelry's Treasury blog. Please go check it out if you have a spare second.
Here are a few photos from my very first train trip in no particular order because our mac notebook won't let me change the order of the photos. Aack!
We left from Chicago and traveled 18 LOOOOOONG hours to Denver. We had a family sleeper car. It was fine during the day. But at night, trying to sleep while jostled to death, and with a motion sick kid, I began to feel very claustrophobic. I think I'd prefer not being closed up in a room the size of a closet with 3 other people. We actually slept maybe 4 frequently interrupted hours. It was a rough night. At 3:30 am I was disappointed it wasn't 5:30 am and time to get up. (the fact I just uttered the sentence that I wanted to get up at 5:30 am is somthing I never thought I would say-I am NOT a morning person!)  I wanted the misery to end. 
This photo was from the very start of the trip when it was still fun.
Here's the motion sick kid once we got into Denver and waited for DH to pick up the rental car. She hugged this bucket for about 10 hours on the train and then another 24 or more hours as she still felt sick for a long time. It's been nicknamed "Barf Bucket" and is her new best friend. 
Outside Denver's Union Station:View from our room:
View from our room:Still holding her new best friend and briefly smiling:
View from the car as we drove to the ski resort:View from the car as we drove to the ski resort:

Frit Organization Idea

Here's an updated, close-up and much improved photo of my frit storage from today. The sun was streaming into the window and it just lights up the pretty colors of glass. You can see my enamel storage solution around the corner from the frit. See below for another view.
I thought it might be fun to show how I store the majority of my frit after yesterday's review of the Frit Secrets book.I have this tiny little wall thing that sticks out because of the configuration of my studio. I think it has something to do with the stairs that go from my basement studio to the garage. Anyway, this little wall was pretty much worthless and I just hated that. Then I saw these lovely 36"x4" steel magnetic boards on Pottery Barn. I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket and that worthless little wall now stores my frit in a very fashionable and easily accessible manner. Sadly this isn't all of it.
All I did was glue some super strong neodymium magnets to the bottoms of the jars, allow to dry at least 24 hours, stick to the board. Voila! fun and functional frit storage. Perfect project for those that rank "organize my studio" at the top of their New Years Resolutions.
To store my enamels, I bought 3 of these spice racks from Walmart for about $10 each and emptied the spices into baggies, washed the jars, labled each jar and hung them on the wall. In the photo you can see the side view of the frit jars sticking to the steel panel.

Book Review of Frit Secrets: A Flameworker's Guide to Using Reactive Frits

Frit Secrets: A Flameworker's Guide to Using Reactive Frits by Val Cox was a highly anticipated book in the lampworking world. I know I sat on the edge of my seat and read every update about Val's progress. Unfortunately for those of us that are impatient, the process was longer than initially expected. However, as the saying goes, good things come to those that wait.
In spite of my anticipation, when the book was finally listed on her website, I initially balked at the price. $40 for a softcover book about frit seemed rather pricey. So I waited and thought about it. Sometimes I need to put things in perspective. For example, maybe I don't like every issue of a magazine I have a subscription to, but if I get even one or two great inspirations or learn one new technique or whatever the purpose that magazine serves, isn't it worth the $20 or so I spent for the year? That is how I justified spending the $40 for the frit book. After all, I probably have hundreds of dollars in frit (oh wonderful husband, if you are reading this, that hundreds of dollars thing was a total exagerration!) and I am sure I could use more info that what I had at my disposal to get the most for my money.
Over the course of 2 days I read the book cover to cover. It is beautiful. The photographs are vibrant and lush. It really could practically be a coffee table book...for a lampworker. The book covers lots of information that I didn't expect. For example, Val shares not only the frit manufacturers, but also their various "quirks". Val also covers how to make a frit blend, tips for choosing colors to make a custom blend and so much more.
What I was most looking forward to was how to make certain beads. Now, I don't want to make a bunch of copies of "Val beads", but there are times I would like to know how a certain look was achieved so that I can do something and make it my own. There is the section on how to make a faux boro bead, but I believe that is the only bead type described from start to finish. There are tips on using frit to make a ribbon or twisted cane, using it in a "painterly" fashion on clear. Val also describes how she designs with frit and color.
Because of all the other information included, I was not disappointed in the lack of bead "tutorials". I think what I enjoyed most of all was Chapter 21 titled "My Notebook" in which it was a summary of how she approaches bead making. I would definetly recommend this as a gift for your favorite lampworker (perhaps yourself?). I am glad I spend the money on it as I learned many things I did not know and the tips for design alone were worth the $40 spent on the book.

If you would like more information about Val Cox's book about Frit Secrets, click here. Make sure to scroll down and see the pages she has on her website, including the table of contents.

A Photo Essay

I am no photographer, but I have not been in a particularly chatty mood lately-partly I have nothing to say and partly because things have been a bit crazy since the ice storm hit early morning of Dec. 19th. We lost electricity for about 5 hours, but about half the city lost electricity for several days. There were shelters set up at high schools and in the coliseum.
My mom, her husband, my 18 year old sister and their 2 dogs were among those that lost power and came to stay with us Friday evening and then "moved out" Christmas Eve. It was fun to have them and I am glad we were able to provide a place for them to stay warm. The kids didn't want them to ever go home and Oscar (our 1 year old mini labradoodle) loves his grandma (my mom) more than anybody else. I think he'd rather live with her. Anyway, with unexpected house guests and Christmas gifts to shop for, wrap, etc, it was a tad crazy. Then the temps got crazy low (I didn't know the thermometer on my car could go down to -1!) and the wind was blowing so hard and our house was PELTED with ice from the trees in our yard. Nobody could sleep. That was the only time I was really scared. It sounded like our roof was going to cave in or our windows would shatter. But nothing happened. It was just very loud.
Despite being scared and frozen, I still went out several times to get pictures. Here are is a very small sampling. What I kept thinking about is the ice reminded me of encasing in glasswork. It's like nature's encasing in clear to magnify and beautify and add further mystery to our amazing Earth.
If you are wondering why the icicles are hanging sideways in the above photo, see the photo below. Both photos are the same tree. Two of our four Hawthornes are sideways. They are starting to go upright again and I am keeping my fingers crossed they will make it.
The following two photos were taken on the next sunny day after the storm. Look at that intense blue sky. What you can't see is that our entire world looked like it was dripping in diamonds. It was just dazzling. In spite of so many not having power, the roads being treacherous, and the temps bone chilling, I couldn't help but think of it as a gift. In fact, as we were driving around that day, I had a difficult time staying on the road because I couldn't keep my eyes off the stunning beauty surrounding us. I really wanted to share this gift with everyone, but photos do not even begin to show the awe inspiring scenes. It really is amazing that something so beautiful is so destructive.Notice some of the branches missing some ice? That's because that ice was pelted against our house.
The next two shots were taken the same day (22nd) but from our deck as the sun was setting.This one looks like it should be a scene of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
So, here is DD Christmas Eve night, right after opening her present (pj's-it's a tradition!). She looks like she is singing. She has been singing "All I want for Christmas is my FIVE front teeth" all month.I won't bore you with family photos of Christmas, but I had to include DS and the dogs. The dogs each got gigantic rawhide bones for Christmas. Notice how they insist on chewing the same one and the other gets left to the side? They are so weird. Oscar is on the left and Nim (the 9 month Golden Retriever) is on the right.Notice how the bone is as big as Oscar? He weighs a whopping 17 pounds and I think the bone weighs about 16 pounds. LOL!I hope you have enjoyed time and laughter with your family and loved ones this week. Merry (late) Christmas!

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 in...to 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 ( natashasartcandy.com , shimmerblog.com) , videoblogging ( www.vimeo.com/natashawescoat ), lifecasting live from my studio ( justin.tv/postmodernartist and www.mogulus.com/artcandy) as well as designing for twittertreats.com . 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.
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