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“The Best of Martha Stewart Living: Handmade Christmas”

Say what you will about her, I like Martha Stewart.  I have respect for anyone who builds themselves an empire as serious as hers, and hey — she (and, let’s not lie, her crack team of contributors) make some cool things.  Have you seen her Halloween magazine? You really should. It’s a trip.

Recently, I checked out “The Best of Martha Stewart Living: Handmade Christmas” from the library to help with my plan to decorate my apartment with crafty Christmas things.

The book is lovely, and would make a great gift for the industrious Martha-fan in your life.  Compiled as a sort of best-of-the-best of Martha Stewart Living magazine’s holiday editions, there are ways to make stockings, style up cookie boxes, spruce up your outdoor decorating, and even whip up a batch of your own candles.  And, of course, the photography is delicious.

In truth, I probably won’t make a great deal of these projects.  Some of them are quite labor-intensive, and I only have an apartment to decorate, not a house on Martha’s Vineyard — But I will absolutely be making the pickled fennel and pistachio biscotti recipes at some point this winter.

Martha is an institution, and this book is a good example of why.

Happy Holidays, readers!

Crafting, Sedaris Style! – “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People” by Amy Sedaris

Amy Sedaris is infamous for her irreverence, which is exactly the thing that makes her so delightful.  She’s as likely to appear on Martha Stewart showing the world her famous recipe for cheeseballs as she is to walk onstage at David Letterman in a ball gown.  She’s messy and not always politically correct, and does it all with such irony and smartness that she’ll make your head spin even while she’s cracking you up.

I have a girl-crush on her, if you can’t tell.

My dear friend Bob’s birthday was in mid-November, and knowing how much he’d enjoyed her previous book, “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence,” I decided the best possible present for him was Sedaris’ latest book, “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People.”  He loved it, and we immediately started making plans for a “Simple Times” craft night to test the book out.

After all, you know my philosophy – Craft books need to be tested.

It all began with the best of intentions, truly.  We made a master plan to pick a few of the projects in the book and test them out.  After a stressful Friday at work, Bob arrived at our apartment armed with popsicle sticks, pipecleaners, Elmer’s Glue, glitter, and a bag of M&Ms. (“I went to two Walgreens – Nobody had googly eyes. So we’re using M&Ms.”) My husband and I had gathered toothpicks, tin foil, and a few other supplies.  Dinner was prepared, and there was pie and wine.

Once foodstuffs had been consumed, we eagerly dove into the book.

Project #1 – Marshmallow Stars

Essentially Marshmallows on strings with toothpicks covered in glitter stuck into them, these seemed easy enough.

However, if you’ve ever actually tried to get a needle and thread through a marshmallow, it’s a sticky mess. Add into that glue-soaked toothpicks which need to somehow get coated in glitter, and you’ve got a bit of a train wreck.

All that said, the end results were actually kind of adorable and are actually hanging on our tree right now.

Project #2: Penny Bookmark.

Easy breezy and quite adorable – You take a footlong piece of packing tape, and 26 pennies (unless you’re us and somehow wind up with 22, and then you deal with it and only use 22) and you lay them out then fold the tape over the pennies, making a durable and totally practical bookmark.  I needed a new bookmark anyway, so I was ecstatic.

(You can’t tell, but the book I’m holding is “Prairie Tale” by Melissa Gilbert, a gift from Bob that I can’t wait to read.)

It was around this time that we started to go a little nuts, and started making things that were more inspired by the book than actually found in the book.  I blame it all on the lack of googly eyes.  Clearly, it had nothing to do with the wine and/or martinis.

The dudes below were created – and I think they’re rather brilliant.

However, we tried to build the orange-armed man a car and, as you can see, he started to fall apart.  Though the M&M in the below picture looks like it’s falling off, in reality it held on by a single strand of glue for quite a long time before the whole thing eventually just gave in.  Impressive.

One of the projects in the book is called the “Diabolical Tin Foil Bracelet.”  Bob decided to try it, but added some marshmallow adornments of his own.  He’s a fashion icon, I tell you.

If you know Amy Sedaris’ work, you know that on more than one occasion, taping one’s nose has become a thing.  Here, we pay tribute to La Sedaris, while simultaneously learning that a) packing tape smells bad, and b) packing tape works like a pore strip. (“Pore Strips for Poor People!”)

Inspired by an image of Sedaris and book co-author Paul Dinello with tin foil alien hats on, we made our own.  Mine turned out more Norma Desmond than alien, but hey.

Bob’s glasses, if you’re wondering, are made out of pipecleaners.

And  yes, those are marshmallow eyes.

The book is a complete blast, filled to the brim with ideas for random crafts.  Some of them (like the Donut Squirrel Feeder) are ridiculous in their trashiness, but some (like the Tin-Can Stilts) are actually really clever.  Several recipes from her previous book are worked in as well – namely chocolatey baked good type recipes, which are always good.  There are sections on crafts for Jesus, crafts for the disabled, How to avoid crafting accidents, and even a helpful sex guide squeezed in.  It’s pure, chaotic, silliness.

By the end of the evening, I was wearing a tin foil turban on my head and a bracelet made of pipecleaners and marshmallows.  My sides hurt from laughing so hard, and my cats were terrified of the crazy people screaming with laughter in the dining room.

Hands down, this book gets my ringing endorsement for most fun you can have with a book this year.

Done and Done.

In conclusion, I can only quote my dear Bob, who described Amy Sedaris as a “wacked wackadee-doodle.”

That is absolutely a compliment. One hundred percent.

For more fun, check out this hilarious Letterman appearance!

Bob’s Birthday Book!

My dear, darling, beloved, and wonderful Bob had a birthday last week, and I couldn’t decide what to get him.

Then, during a jaunt into Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago, my eye caught a new release I knew was just the ticket.

Bob hearts Amy Sedaris, and a book of her unique and twisted look at the craft craze could only be fun, right?

Yeah – He loved it.

We are absolutely going to be having a “Simple Times” craft party in the near future – and I promise to take pictures of all our.. creations.

Book win.

Get your Craft on – “Witch Craft” compiled by Alicha Kachmar and Margaret McGuire

When the folks at Quirk Books offered me the chance to review “Witch Craft: Creepy Accessories, Creepy-Cute Toys, Magical Treats, and More!,” I immediately knew I needed to round up some friends and have some crafty fun.  After all, craft books aren’t like novels.  There’s no underlying meaning to be debated within their pages.  They’re instruction books, and to see if they’re any good, they need to be tested.

As a total crafting novice, I knew that the book would be a success if I could follow the instructions and come out with something that even vaguely resembled the photos.

“Witch Craft” is a clever and colorful collection of 25 “witchy” crafts compiled from a wide variety of craft bloggers and other clever crafters from all over the place.  Kachmar and McGuire widely kept the skill level of all the different projects varied; There are a few crafts that even small children could probably accomplish, but yet there are a few you need to know a thing or two about crocheting/knitting in order to do.  From how to make Ruby slippers and Blood Orange punch to how to knit a spider hat or make a vampire bite necklace, if you’re looking for a delightful craft book around Halloween time, this one’s for you.

With the assistance of my adorable husband (and photographer) Eric, and our friends Morgan and Aaron, we picked a few of the projects from the book and all got together for an evening of crafting. And tacos and board games, too, but that’s not important.

(The assembled team, manning their stations, and ready to craft!)

We picked three of the projects from the book – “Crystal Balls, Spell Jars, & Snow Globes,” “Creepy Crocheted Bones,” and “Poison Ivy Lip Embellishment.”  These three projects seemed to represent a fairly wide range of skill/ability of the crafts within the book. Not to mention, they all looked really fun in the photos.

(Supplies were gathered in advance.  Fortunately, Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood was recently blessed with a Michael’s store, which I can’t rave enough about.)

Project #1: “Crystal Balls, Spell Jars, & Snow Globes”

(This first craft comes from Shalet Abraham at  Peculiar Momma.)

Making these was a blast – and I think they turned out really neat.

Basically, you take glass jars or bottles and fill them with water and put glitter and other items inside them, then hot glue the bottles shut and adorn them with whatever you like.  We had a lot of fun filling the bottles with items – I’d bought small stones and weird bone-like beads, in addition to some crazy multi-colored glitter.  The secret is to apparently to add a few drops of glycerin.   (Glycerin, if you’re looking, can be found in the baking isle of your local craft store. It has something to do with the color of icing.)  Once they’re filled and hot glued together, you can decorate them any way you want.

(Aaron had a lot of fun playing with wire to make his bottle.)

I bought a variety of bottles for this project – and we soon learned a valuable lesson: though any glass bottle will work, really, the easiest ones to glue shut were the two bottles with corks.  The bottle I used had a glass lid, and required mad amounts of hot glue to keep closed and not leaking. If I made another one, I’d absolutely get a corked bottle. (Just a tip.)

Project #2:  “Creepy Crocheted Bones”

(This project was contributed by Alicia Kachmar, one of the compilers of the book as well as the operator of an Etsy store called Eternal Sunshine.)

Not knowing anything about crocheting, I left this project in Ms. Morgan’s incredibly capable hands.

Morgan is one of the most talented crafters I know.  In addition, to whipping up adorable objects for everyone around her, she also runs a super-cute Etsy store.  Crocheting bones gave her no trouble at all as she breezed through the project – the whole time assuring us that the whole thing was easy. The results are certainly adorable – it has an evil smile, per my husband’s request.

Project #3: “Poison Ivy Lip Embellishment”

(This project was contributed by Jill McKeeves of ForStrangeWomen.com)

Of all the projects, this one excited me the most. I’m not sure why. Maybe it spoke to the part of 6th grade me that wanted to be a nature girl and make my own cosmetics out of household items and berries from the woods. Or maybe it’s because I might not be able to use knitting needles, but I can certainly follow a recipe.

Who knows?And who cares?

I was excited to make some lip balm – and in truth, it wasn’t that hard to do.  The hardest part was gathering some of the ingredients – namely, beeswax and vitamin E oil. (The recipe calls for the oil from two vitamin E capsules, but when I got to CVS on a hunt for said capsules, I realized that pure Vitamin E oil was actually cheaper, so I went with that.)

This project involves cooking, and as such isn’t really one I’d let the little folks tackle.  It involves setting a glass measuring cup inside a saucepan of boiling water and melting ingredients together.  Since you use things like olive oil, essential oils, beeswax, vitamin E extract, and honey, it’s safe to actually put on your face.

My essential oils selection was limited, so I went with a vanilla and pomegranate oil.  Mixed with the honey and the olive oil, it smells remarkably like tea. Bigelow’s Raspberry Royale Tea, to be precise, which was my favorite tea when I was growing up, so of course I’m crazy about the finished product. (But everyone else liked it too, so it’s not just me.)

We used small candle tins for our containers, and adorned them using a hot glue gun and some leftover colored rocks from project #1.  I think they turned out wonderfully, and as I write this my lips are moistened by this pleasant little concoction.  The recipe doesn’t make much, though.  The containers actually came in a set of four, but we only filled three of these containers. (And honestly, the contents could have fit into two – but we had a third friend who wanted to try the finished results.)

Crafting may not be my full-time hobby, but it’s a lot of fun.  If you’re looking for a fun project to spend an hour or so on, “Witch Craft” has several.  The book is a charming little treasure, and something I think a lot of people would find some joy in.  Design-wise, it’s laid out with a great sense of color and fun, and it’s a blast just to look through.

Kudos to McGuire and Kachmar for putting together a seriously fun collection – and kudos to all the clever folks who created the projects that fill it’s pages.

“Witch Craft” is in stores now, and you can learn more by going to the Quirk site for the book.

Bonus: There’s a recipe for “finger cookies” from “Witch Craft” contributor Grace Hiura up on the Quirk Books site right now.