Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Eagle

On Saturday night Taylor and I traveled to go meet up with Joe at his Annual Training Conference in Lancaster, PA. It was going to be a special night. Each year they have a boring training conference and a boring awards ceremony. I stopped attending these things because, well, they are boring. There I said it and I don't feel guilty about it. I went for the first few years of our married life, but then we had too many children and then the children started school and it just wasn't as easy to pack up for a three-day weekend as it was with preschoolers. (And, I really don't like to leave my children. I have only left them when I had a baby and I left some of them when Joe took me out for my birthday one year, but we had three kids, one of which was a newborn Sawyer, so that really doensn't count as being away.)

Anyway, my in-laws came and stayed with the younger five while Taylor and I went on a road trip. And, by the way, Taylor is not an enjoyable traveling companion. He wouldn't talk. And then he had the nerve to fall asleep in the car. I had to jam to Christmas music alone in the car.

We arrived before the ceremony and Joe introduced us to the guest of honor, retired MBA player, Darryl Dawkins. He was a very nice man. In fact, right after this picture, he hugged me and then kissed my neck. It was unexpected.

Then we dressed up and headed to the formal. Taylor wore his Boy Scout uniform. Sadly, he left his sash, neckerchief slide and something else at home, but he still looked dashing. And I almost made him smile. Even if I had to tickle him to force it upon his face.

This ceremony was the most special one I've attended because Taylor was awarded the Chief of Staff Youth Appreciation Cerificate for completing the requirements for Eagle Scout. Brigadier General Bryan Roberts presented Taylor with the certificate. I could barely stop smiling I was so proud of Taylor (It just also happens to be Joe's last Annual Training Conference because he will retire next year.)

After the ceremony, we posed in front of the Maryland state flag.

While we were escorting Taylor to the stage, the emcee read the following (editing out details):

Taylor X, 14, of Troop X, in X MD, completed his board of review on 16 Dec 2010* and earned the Eagle Scout Rank. Taylor is the son of the Honorable Lera Fera, of the Town of X Maryland Town Council, and MSG Joseph Fera, Reserve Operations NCOIC of the X Recruiting Battalion.

The process to Eagle started at age 8 when he joined Cub Scouts and at age 10 earned the Arrow of Light, the highest award in Cub Scouts. In the last three years as a Boy Scout, he completed 43 merit badges including all four historical merit badges which were only available in 2010 for the 100th anniversary of scouting. He has personally served over 230 service hours to the community, served as a den chief at three Cub Scout day camps, attended the National Youth Leadership Training, served as a Patrol Leader in his troop and earned his Duty to God award.

His three years of Scouting experience culminated with a Eagle scout project that he had to design and carry out. Taylor and his 46 supporting volunteers completed the project over a six month time period. He planned and built bench seats and cut back vegetation along a quarter mile walking path, near an elderly low-income housing complex, in his home town that had exercise stations but did not have any seating. The lack of seating resulted in few elderly using the walking path and exercise stations. He also coordinated a cleanup and mulching of the playground at the adjacent community center that had become overgrown. Since his project completion date in October, the path and playground are safer and more frequently used because of his efforts.

Taylor is currently an 8th Grade honor student at X Middle School, an avid soccer player, and a blue belt in Tang Soo Do Karate taking 3rd place in fighting at the 2010 US Eastern Regional Karate Championship. He is a candidate for admission to the Johns Hopkins University center for Gifted Youth. He plans to continue in scouting and would like to earn the Varsity Denali award and the Venturing silver award. He also has a goal to play high school soccer and earn his black belt in karate.

See. Now you can see why I couldn't stop smiling! I'm such a proud mama. And last night he actually had his Eagle Board of Review.* And passed. It was scheduled for last week, but we had a scant one inch of snow (1/2 inch in other areas of the county according to the local newspaper) and it was postponed. The award he received Saturday night still went on as planned because he had already completed the requirements to receive it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tagging It

Every year I make new gift tags. Even though I'm sure I have some left over from last year (and the year before, and probably the year before that) I still made more.

While I have a "gift tag" punch, I love the simplicity of a round tag with a hole punched through it and strung on bakers twine. Oh, how I love bakers twine. I bought a spool a few years ago and it's still going strong. (I actually bought mine from them on eBay, but when I checked recently, they are no longer selling on eBay. They also have nice jelly roll pans.)

Spenser has been fully involved in tag-making. I think I left to answer the phone and she took over. Gotta love her.

Last year (?) after Christmas I found these Martha Stewart craft punches on clearance. Spenser and I found the perfect craft: gift tags! We punched into little cards cut from scrap pieces of cardstock. I used poster tape to adhere it to packages, but I could easily punch a hole in the corner and string it on ... bakers twine.

With the "leftover" holly leaves, we glued them onto ready-made tags that I had with my sewing stuff. We added a small punch of red for a berry.

Which perfectly matched Sawyer's gift for his preschool.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Paper Dolls & Puppets

Last Friday the three elementary-school-aged kids in our house had early dismissal from school. (The two older boys were not happy they had a whole day of school.)

Knowing that the minute my children walk in the door, they start arguing and fighting about who is getting on the computer first, I was armed with ideas. I printed some Christmas word searches and mazes for each of them. The website I found had different levels, so each child got the appropriate-aged puzzle. And that kept them quiet. For a bit.

Spenser then worked on addressing her class Christmas cards.

And then we decided to break out the new Cricut cartridge I had bought on clearance the week before: Paper Doll Dress Up. Now, I have to admit that this was as much for myself as it was for Spenser. I'm not going to lie about this. I felt a little giddy when I saw it. And I seriously cannot believe I waited a week to break it out. I should also admit that it was my first cartridge purchase. (Although not the last.)

Anyway, we started to make paper dolls out of scrapbook paper and cardstock and we had a grand time. Then a few boys joined in on the fun.

The next morning (on our way to my nephew's baptism), I stopped at Michaels to pick up craft sticks to turn the dolls into puppets. (How could I have not foreseen that dolls turn into puppets, which turn into family puppet shows?)

I started to think about all the things I we could do with this cartridge and decided that I would make a puppet kit as part of a gift exchange at Sawyer's preschool. The gift is to be in the $5 range. I picked up a clearanced $2 set of Legos at the store yesterday and thought a puppet kit would be a fun addition.

I made an elf, Santa, and Mrs. Claus kit, each in their own labeled zippy bag.

They were placed inside a clear page protector with extra craft sticks, a glue stick and miscellaneous pieces, like a Christmas tree, sleigh, reindeer and gingerbread men, plus two plain people to decorate/color.

I hope it is well received. I mean, I would love it. And so would my children.

[I thought it would be a fun craft for a class (i.e., Spenser's Kindergarten class) holiday party, but sadly, I don't think they are allowed to have parties like that anymore. I think everything they do now is low-key. They exchange cards and maybe have a snack, but with political correctness, food allergies and store-bought food only, it's not as fun as it was in my days.]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Cards - 2010 Edition

It was that time of year again. Remember that? If you don't, go back for a fun read and hurry back.

So, it's a time of year I don't particularly look forward to. I felt like we've exhausted backyard shots. (Although I did come up with a few new ideas. Maybe next year ...) Anyway, I started to think about 2010 and how one of the biggest accomplishments of the year was Taylor completing his Eagle Scout project. It seemed only fitting that we would include one of his benches in our family Christmas card shoot.

After about 200 shots, we picked this one. Sawyer looks goofy, but at the age of four, he is allowed to look goofy. He reminds me of Mason that one year. Oy.

We told the children to put on their sweaters because they were not going to wear their coats. Amazingly only the four younger ones listened. We didn't even realize it until we were getting out of the car and told the kids to leave their coats in the car. Taylor and Carter were cold, but that's a consequence of disobedience.

This year I thought it would be fun to do a different kind of Christmas card. We usually order the photo cards from Walmart or Target and I just wanted something new.

The idea to do silhouettes hit me during a Christmas concert. I thought about making notecards and it grew to be Christmas cards.

We used GIMP and found this tutorial on YouTube . It was perfect. It was clear to understand and easy to do. I let Joe do the actual tracing of the faces because his hand was more steady than mine. It took mere minutes for each one. (I bought some square 8x8" frames to print one of each of the children for our family room.)

Joe said we should write something witty on the inside, so we wrote "Hoping a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year add up to a wonderful holiday season." I usually sign our names or include a note to make it seem more personal, but after spending a few hours making the cards, I think it will be obvious that the card was handmade and "personal." And if we wanted to send them out this year, this is how it would be done. After all, I think I made 75-80 cards.

I printed the white tops on cardstock, four to a page and the actual cards were red cardstock, printed on the printer. I bought a pack of invitation envelopes from Office Depot. I did have to trim the edges of the picture to fit into the envelope.

Silhouette tips:
  • Ponytails work best for those with long hair, otherwise you will look neckless.
  • Enlarge the photo and it will make is much simpler to trace with the mouse. (That may have been my issue.)
  • I used as much of a plain background as I could get: the bathroom door.
  • Take photo at head level and make sure the subject's head is level. (This is especially helpful with adults to prevent the appearance of a double chin.)
  • Try to stand/sit/kneel as naturally and relaxed as possible.
  • You can always edit! My hair was not straightened that day and the ponytail was "full." Joe edited it to look more like the normal me.
  • Try not to hate your profile. I know it's hard. Joe and I almost decided against putting ours on the card.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Yesterday was a busy day. We went to church and then attended a huge family Christmas (reunion) party. Santa was supposed to come through town on the fire engine last night, but rain kept ol' Saint Nick home. (He's rescheduling for next Monday.) I tried to console the children that they had just seen Santa (on a fire engine no less) at our family Christmas party just two hours earlier. I think they're cool with it now.

So we had some "down time" last evening. As always, I turned on my Christmas music and everyone just kind of did their own thing: playing, making, creating, etc. For Advent I had picked out a few crafty things to do throughout the month. Sadly, our busy family life has us going in different directions on most weeknights, so our Advent has mostly been drinking hot chocolate with a candy cane (or cool snowman-shaped marshmallows); drinking eggnog; family movie night (on a school night! with popcorn); and other holiday treats.

Last night was the perfect night to break out an organized craft.

I had picked up some dollar crafts at Michaels several weeks ago and hid them away. Even though I bought six of each, I knew even then that Taylor would not participate.* We still asked him.

The children liked this craft, although it did bring a few tears. Those darn little beads are so darn little and twice the "frame" popped up and all the beads under the frame scattered here and there and had to be redone. And tweezers were involved. And fighting over tweezers was involved.

Despite the tears, I think Joe and I they did a great job. Really, we just fine-tuned the errant beads.
The kids used the leftover beads to create their initials.

Sawyer: gingerbread man
Spenser: snowman
Mason: polar bear
Jackson: penguin
Carter: reindeer

*Today at 12:42 p.m., I will have officially been a mother for 14 years. Taylor's birthday is today. We are so proud of him. He has his Eagle Board of Review on Thursday night and then it should be official. His goal was to have this Board of Review before his 14th birthday, but, ahem, some of the volunteers weren't willing to make it happen.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Vogue 7871 Dress

Last night our town held the MML's Christmas dinner for our county. While our local chapter of MML meets frequently (monthly? quarterly? I'm not even sure), I rarely attend. I went one time last year, which I think was also the Christmas dinner. I don't go often, mostly, because of the cost for the town. It usually costs around $30 per person for food. Our little town of 900 people is struggling just like major cities. But, since we were hosting it, we all agreed to attend.

I had planned to make a dress this past summer and never did. How typical of me. So when I heard about this dinner, I knew it was time. I used the fabric I had originally picked out this summer, which is a thrifted sheet. Or something. I thought it was a sheet, then I realized it was homemade. So maybe it was a shower curtain. I'm not sure. It's hard to tell but it's off-white with a reddish-pink floral design. I thought it could also double as a Christmas outfit with red and white. Or reddish-pink and off-white. Whatev.

It's been freezing here, so I had to wear it with a cardigan. I also wore my black ribbon belt. Oh, and that cool, vintage rhinestone reindeer pin I have. Except the reindeer is now missing his red eye.

Without the cardi, it's kind of plain. But I still like it. The pattern calls for a belt, but I knew I wasn't going to wear it to the dinner, so I didn't bother making one yet.

And I thought, if I never get around to making the matching (bleh!) belt, I could always improvise.

I used Vogue 7871, which sadly is out of print now. I made the length a tad longer than the shorter version. And I had to slightly modify the sleeves because it looked like the sleeves and I were about to take flight. I had thought about making a felt-poinsettia belt to go with the dress, but I ran out of time. After all, I cut out the dress on Monday night; started sewing the dress Tuesday night; and hemmed it and fixed the wings sleeves Thursday afternoon, just hours before the dinner. I also used a 22" invisible zipper instead of the regular one. (Thank goodness I made a mock-up dress 2 weeks ago. The invisible zipper looks much nicer.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Around the House

Last week, before Jackson's birthday party, I started decorating a bit. I put up two of the three Christmas trees and fought with Christmas lights the entire time. Then I hung lighted garland around my front door. And fought with Christmas lights the entire time. I had exhausted myself with Christmas lights. Those darn buggers.*

I always save the "big" children's tree in our family room for last. Mostly because of Jackson's birthday party. I can just imagine the tree falling over with that rambunctious group of boys.

So, like I said, I started decorating last week. The above picture is in our newly-painted kitchen. (We hung up bead board and painted the walls. More on that later. Maybe.) I had some of my vintage aprons hanging on the above shelf. Last week I decided they needed some seasonal sprucing up, so it got a makeover.

The Advent Christmas Stocking Garland has been hanging since Advent-Eve night, after the kids were in bed. The children look forward to its arrival every year. And they look forward to a nightly "treat," too. (The above mantel has been rearranged since this photo was taken last week.) The above print was printed at Office Depot on poster paper for around $10. LOVE it.

A little snowman print in the dining room above my sewing table adds just the right touch. (I found the print online for free and shrunk it to fit a thrifted frame, which I spray painted black two weeks ago.)

And a little forest on a different dining room window. (These are the super-cute trees that were bleached Sarah-style a few years back. I had forgotten about them and now wonder where the rest of them are ...)

*On Monday I decided to put up the third and final Christmas tree. We had bought a pre-lit tree years ago and some of the lights stopped working. When I pulled it out on Monday, I noticed most of the lights were not working. I spent two hours on my knees cutting the lights off (the bottom section only) with wire cutters. My poor delicate knees cannot handle such torture. In fact, I can barely kneel at all since I fell, over a year ago. My poor knees are literally bruised from Monday. I usually kneel on pillows, but forgot on Monday. Anyway, when Joe came home he told me that he thought the lights I had cut off may have been good and only needed a new fuse. The children decorated the tree after school yesterday. We are inching closer to Christmas ...

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Decade Old

Today, Jackson is a decade old. It's hard to believe another ten years have flown by.

On Saturday we celebrated his birthday with some friends from school. I think this is the third year in a row he has invited the same friends. As in years' past, I am always leery of Jackson and his friends coming together. And I have good reason ... Remember the sofa they flipped? I will never forget that party as long as I live.

Anyway, it's been cold and windy, but I figured it would be a perfect day to send the kids outside to do an outdoor activity. And, would you believe it, they actually begged to go outside before the activities started. I sent Joe and another father out to supervise, while I heated up some food. (Which was clearly my excuse to stay inside.)

While they were eating, Carter and I went outside to hide the loot for the scavenger hunt.

The list of items to find included:

a pencil (hidden on the fence),

a Christmas stocking (quickly sewn by me the night before, hanging on a bare tree),

a clementine (hidden on the floor of the play fort),

bubbles (hidden on top of the frozen rain barrel),

eraser (hidden on a rock), candy cane (hanging on the fence around the garden), cup (hidden on the shelf in the back of the candy stand), animal parachute (hidden on the wood pile), activity book (hidden in the foliage of my yucca plants), Reese's peanut butter Christmas tree (in the treehouse "mailbox"), and Christmas ornament [a personalized ornament made by me as shown in top photo (hung from the bare forsythia)]. The boys loved it.

After we came inside to warm up, we ate brownie sundaes, played "freeze dance," guessed how many M&M's and Hershey Kisses were in the jars, and played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Actually, we ran out of time, even though it lasted 2 1/2 hours. The kids were playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey as their parents waited for them.

I think we lucked out by not having snow like we did for Jackson's last two birthday parties.

Happy birthday, Jackson! I hope to spend many more decades with you.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Pointy Elf Hat

About a month ago I sat down to knit the Pointy Elf Hat as seen on the cover of More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. I'm still using leftover orange yarn. I think we're about out of it, so this may be the last of the orange knitted projects. One can only hope.

The hat was a fun, quick knit and the children have been fighting over who gets to wear it. Some day (after our three December birthdays and parties and Christmas) maybe I'll make a few more.

As of right now, Jackson's birthday party is tomorrow and Taylor's is (maybe ?) next Saturday. Taylor will not decide who or when. He's being fickle and won't tell us what he'd like for Christmas. Oh, the joys of teenage boys. I better get the hang of it soon. My life is about to become the life of teenage boys.