"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
_ William Morris
, 19th century craftsman, designer, writer

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Monday, October 29, 2012

A Halloween Home: Pumpkin Hollow

Last year, when I was out trick-or-treating with the kids I noticed one neighbor who had carved her pumpkins into little houses. It was love at first sight!


Since I've never been big on celebrating the scary side of this haunted holiday, I couldn't wait to try my hand at Cinderella-inspired architecture. Admittedly, guilty of cute, but predictable pumpkins for years, the pumpkin pied-a-terre was a wonderful way to change up my routine. 

The resulting, countrified condo glows from within with a soft warmth that reminds me of Mousekin's Golden House, a classic children's book I read to my kids when they were little. The story weaves the tale of a small mouse who finds a discarded Halloween pumpkin and makes it his home. When winter comes, the pumpkin protects him from the wind and cold and keeps him safe and warm inside.

Today, as I write this, Hurricane Sandy threatens millions of people and their homes on the East Coast, and my thoughts and prayers are with them all.   

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Eye Spy: Haunted Halloween Decor

 The eyes have it!

I was perusing Pinterest  recently, when I came across an idea originally posted by Humor Train: A tree sporting two large "eyes" created with a pair of white, painted beach balls. Exactly the kind of creativity with real-life application I adore -and just the thing for a haunted Halloween garden!

To create my own version for This American Home, I used white balloons (much easier to find this time of year) inflated to varying sizes, and drew "pupils" with a black Sharpee penOn one set of eyes, I used a red marker to achieve a 'blood shot' look.

I positioned the eyes into bushes and trees by taping them onto branches (over the branch with both ends of the tape stuck onto the balloon).

Yes, there were a few, loud casualties. But I persevered.

The result: a landscape with real personality -and haunting, Halloween decor that keeps an eye on the house for me...spooky surveillance! 


Monday, October 22, 2012

Creepy, Crawlie Cupcakes: Spidey Style!

 A few weeks ago, I stopped in at the Pacific Whey Cafe   and was completely inspired by a couple of spiders I spotted in their bakery case...luckily they were of the frosting and cake variety.

I decided to make a few creepy, crawlie cupcakes of my own. 

My son, Ethan, helped frost the little critters and was also in charge of making the legs.

When I started to stress over how to straighten out the candy we were using for the legs, he respectfully replied with a reality check. This is supposed to be fun. Right.

My kids teach me so much.

 To make silly, scary spiders of your own:

 Frost cupcakes with chocolate frosting; Cover thoroughly with chocolate sprinkles (for that hairy spider look!)

Next, cut off the tips of candy corn to make fangs -add as many as necessary!

For the eyes, use a round candy, or Wilton's decorating "eye candy" -which I found at Target.

The legs were made from Wilton's Black Licorice Strings.

...it's as easy as leaving the cobwebs up year round...      

Happy haunting!

Friday, October 19, 2012

iPiccy & Me & Now You...

I am having a lot of fun with my blog post photo-collages lately, due in large part to the free, online software site, iPiccy

When I raved about it's functionality and easy-peasy navigation to a friend, she encouraged me to share my secret weapon!

I realize this post has very little to do with my usual subject matter, but with the holidays around the corner, iPiccy might be just what you were looking for to create a customized collage card, calendar, personalized gift -or perhaps, a blog of your own.  
So here goes...

I would describe iPiccy as a faster, easier alternative to Photoshop. In no way does the website match the depth and range of professional software, but the "lite" version has its advantages: iPiccy does not require thick manuals and expensive classes to operate, and almost as importantly -it's free!

Here's how it works:
1. Go to the website: ipiccy.com, click on Start Editing.

2. Upload a photo from your computer.

3. Have fun trying out the different treatments, colors, frames, adding overlays of text, etc. to get an idea of how the site works.

4. When you have a photo or collage you want to keep, hit the save icon -which looks like a little computer disc located in the tool bar at the top of the page. Save the file to the destination of your choice on your computer, i.e.: documents, photos, etc.

5. Your images will not be stored on the iPiccy site unless you upgrade to a paid membership. 

That's it! Have fun -and if you do start your own blog, let me know- I will definitely stop by! 

Happy Weekend!


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Neighborhood: Boston's North End

Packed with more flavor than the garlicky sauces that scent the air in Boston's Italian North End, the people who live and work in America's Oldest Neighborhood are the real deal.

If you're Italian, you're home; and if you're not, you are welcomed. Either way, you're expected to eat.

Sounds good to me.

Located on the North End of Boston's waterfront, the community offers hundreds of markets, restaurants, cafes, shops -and some colorful history. 

The one-mile square area was settled in the 1630's and boasts Paul Revere's home, Copp's Hill Burying Ground, The Old North Church, and the city's largest collection of colonial-era buildings.

And did I mention, the food?

Mike's Pastry has long tempted tourists and locals alike with their world famous traditional Italian desserts, cannolis, cookies, cupcakes, whoopie pies, pizzelles -and more. If you're going to wait in line, don't leave without a box (or two)! 

...Although you might want to save room for a visit to rival bake shop, Modern Pastry, as well. Word on the street says locals divide their loyalties between the two. Sweet competition! Perhaps you should conduct a taste test of your own...


One if by land, two if by sea...

The Old North Church was immortalized by the midnight ride of Paul Revere, it is still captivating to see the enclosed pew boxes designed for individual foot warmers, as well as a building that witnessed history in the making.


The only problem: which restaurant to choose! 

On our last visit we faced just such a dilemma. My husband ducked into a local tailor's shop to ask for recommendations. Their advice: "You can't go wrong."

The Freedom Trail, a self-guided walking tour of historic sites throughout the city is designated on sidewalks by a yellow, painted line, or inlaid red bricks. Part of the Trail will take you through the North End.

La vita e' bella : Life is beautiful.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Open Studio Tour: Sneak Peek!

 Last Sunday, I got a sneak peak into a few of the art studios that will be participating in this weekend's annual, Long Beach Open Studio Tour. It's a free self-guided event that is open to the public from noon to 5pm on October 13 & 14. Yours truly will be joining the festivities with some snappy photography - and if you stop by I promise a snack or two! How's that for bribery? But I digress...

On a clear, Fall afternoon, the tour was a great excuse to get outside, wander new neighborhoods, ogle homes and gardens, and enjoy an eclectic array of artwork. My advice: have fun, take it easy and give yourself permission to roam. Channel that inner artist.

 Here is a sampling of what you might discover:

Metal work, pottery and mosaics by Tina Burnight; Drawing and painting by Doug Orr and photography by David Rodriguez; small scale figurative paintings and collage by Cynthia Evans; 3-D media by event organizer (kudos, Lisa!!) Lisa Wibroe, and sculpture by Susan Erikson Hawkins.

 Artist Riley Wilkinson's studio showcases a work-in-progress (below) along with several completed canvases. In his bio, Riley says the underlying motivation for his work and his life is based on the notion: "If we follow that which haunts us, we start to dig away to uncover our purpose...I believe that through our creative efforts, we find ourselves and each other." 

 Another stop on the tour, former college administrator, Annie Stromquist says she left her first career at age 35 to heed the call of a creative muse. Now flourishing as an accomplished artist, teacher and author, Annie focuses on creating mixed media works on paper, as well as intaglio, relief and screenprinting (serigraph) techniques (photos below).

Several points on the tour feature the work of two or more artists. Cat Riley's kaleidoscope drawings and artisan jewelry share space with Mary Grace's pottery and Tina Burnight's mosaics; while Andrea Magolske's jewelry designs (below) can be seen at sculptor, Susan Erikson Hawkins' studio.

At Phillip and Robin Smith's wonderfully creative home, art is a family affair that blends seamlessly into their lifestyle -a spot you won't want to miss!

 I think art speaks to each of us in a different way, and the conversation is always personal. 

Painter, Edgar Degas said, "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." 


(Above) Newly completed pieces by Dorte Christjansen.

(Above) Sculpture by Susan Erikson Hawkins; The garden at Doug Orr and David Rodriguez' studios.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ghostly Glitter Pumpkins!


Several years ago while helping decorate for a friend's party, I discovered a simple trick for transforming a pumpkin into a Cinderella of a centerpiece. Practical magic!

I think I may have originally been inspired by a Martha Stewart tutorial, but it has been so long now, I have  made it my own -I hope you will too.

Like all my favorite projects, this one is quick, easy, economical, and basically goof-proof -even the kids can help. 
Here's what you'll need:
white (ghost) pumpkins or interesting gourds
plain white glue
a spongy-craft brush
crystal clear glitter (this is heavier, more crystal-like glitter so be sure to get the right stuff. I used "Diamond Dust" by FloralCraft.) 
newspaper to lay underneath

1. Wash and dry the pumpkins or gourds.

2. Cover the tabletop with newspaper (this will catch excess glitter which you can re-use. No waste!).

3. Dip the sponge brush into a bowl of glue and paint the top and sides of the pumpkin with a thin coating. (You can cover the entire pumpkin, or just the top and halfway down the sides. Note: although the glue will look white, it dries completely clear and you won't see it at all!).

4. Sprinkle the glitter over the gluey surface to cover.

5. Let it dry completely! 

The ghostly glitter pumpkins look bewitching by candlelight. 

I usually keep my glittered gourds and pumpkins around to help decorate for Thanksgiving as well -and I always hate to see them go.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sail Bags: Again & Again

As far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as owning too many tote bags. Food, water, shelter, tote bags.

So, when I discovered the graphic goodness of Again and Again's upcycled collection of totes cut from used sail cloth -it was love at first sight.

Designed by German ex-pat, Frieda Grotjahn from her small studio in the artsy part of Gloucester, Mass., Again and Again has been stitching up totes, bags, shower curtains, Christmas stockings and custom orders out of sail boat spinnakers and main sheets since 2005.

 Frieda was once asked to create a pageant dress made of sail cloth for Miss Massachussets' to wear in the national competition -which she did! The evening gown featured a bright red lobster on the skirt, Yankee ingenuity and state pride.

Situated on New England's busy coast, Gloucester has no shortage of sea loving sailors -which, thankfully, results in a bounty of boats.

The deal is, donate an old sail to Again and Again, and Frieda will make you a custom bag from the material. 

Although every sail is different, Frieda says one sailor told her he will only use a racing sail made of technical, Kevlar material three to five times. Depending on their size, a racing sail can cost $30,000 or more.

After creating the donor's bag, what remains will be used for the business.

Frieda says her favorite part of the design process is spreading out a newly acquired sail and imagining what it might become, "it's like Christmas."

"Finishing a bag is a joy!"

However, the talented designer wasn't always set on her entrepreneurial path. Frieda once worked in the hotel industry, and only left her first career after the successful launch of Again and Again.

Her advice to those wishing to pursue their own venture: "Don't expect that you can live from it [immediately]," she warns, "I was so lucky."

Three words the designer would use to describe herself:

Live * Create * Enjoy

Each year, Frieda designs a 'signature' limited-edition bag. For 2012, it's the red-lobster on the tote bag below. Last year's design featured the graphic numbers of Gloucester's zip code. 

"...I must down to the seas again, 
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
 and a star to steer her by.” 
 _John Masefield


Again and Again totes, bags and stockings are available online and at select retail locations.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

2012 Open Studio Tour

It's been busy around here at This American Home!

 I am getting ready to participate in the annual, Long Beach Open Studio Tour -a city-wide event that encourages artists of every stripe (myself included!) to open their doors to the public -for free!
This year, art enthusiasts will be invited into 18 homes and studios to view the work of more than 25 diverse artists on a self-guided tour. Sculpture, paintings, drawings, prints, etching, photography, jewelry, pottery and more will be on display and for sale from noon to 5pm October 13 and 14.

I'm looking forward to a sneak peek at some of the studios this weekend -and will hopefully have a teaser to share next week!

In the meantime, I am prepping my own home as well as a few new pieces to show -and trying to remain calm!  

If you live in the area, put it on your calendar! I hope you'll stop by and say hello -there will be snacks!

For a complete list of artists, bios and addresses, check out the LB Open Studio Tour website here!

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