Homemade Vanilla Extract

I made homemade vanilla extract for my mom, mother-in-law, and myself for Christmas this year. I started it in October since it needs at least two months to age. It takes:

Cheap vodka

Vanilla beans (I used Madagascar vanilla beans) – 3 bean pods per 8 oz of vodka

Clean, sterile bottle(s)

VanillaExtract_1_creativelyus VanillaExtract_2_creativelyus I sliced the vanilla bean pods in half lengthwise then dropped them into the clean bottle.

VanillaExtract_3_creativelyus Next, I poured the vodka in over the vanilla beans. Once that was done I sealed the bottles and let them sit on a shelf in a cool, dark area. About once a week I’d shake the bottles so the vanilla and vodka would mix. Two months later…VanillaExtract_4_creativelyusgorgeous vanilla extract ready for gifting! Simple, inexpensive, and a fun gift!

Christmas Tree Topper

The first Christmas after we were married we got all done decorating the tree and discovered we didn’t have a topper. A quick run to the corner drug store fixed that with a $1 gold glitter snowflake/star/thing. It wasn’t amazing, but it worked.
This year I decided we needed to actually have a respectable tree topper, so I sewed an angel tree topper. My mom gave me the pattern for the angel they have on top of their tree. It took a lot longer and was a lot harder to make than I was anticipating! Part of that was the fact that I tried to cut a few corners to “speed things up” and, ya know, the way the pattern said to do it might have been right…
So many ruffles! So much gathering! All this took forever!
Princess Leia hair!
I’m probably most proud of the wings. I didn’t like the quilting design on the original pattern so I created a design of my own. For inspiration I looked at quilting patterns online, Maori designs, and butterfly wings. From those, I drew a pattern (freehand!) for one wing and then just mirror imaged it for the other wing.
I decided not to sew a face on the angel because if faces go wrong, they look horrible, and at best they’re staring down at you from atop the tree, which is kinda creepy in my opinion.
I think it looks pretty awesome on top of our Christmas tree! It’s definitely a huge improvement over our $1 tree topper.

Time Lapse Christmas Tree Decorating

Today we picked and cut down our Christmas tree for the year. We were a little more conservative than in previous years and got a 9ft tree. (We have gone up to 14ft in the past.) We thought a fun creative project would be to shoot a time-lapse video of our time decorating the tree. You get to enjoy four hours worth of work in less than a minute – lucky you.

(You may have noticed that our tree does not have a topper yet… we’re looking forward to showing you the one Kristine is making in our next post!)

York Peppermint Vase

Kristine and I celebrated our 3rd Anniversary this week! (In case the great recipes and amazing creations from her previous posts didn’t clue you in, you should know I have the best wife ever.) Anyway, getting sentimental and thinking back to when we first started dating reminded me of one my creative projects of which I’m most proud. Kristine and I had been dating for 2 months when we graduated from college together. I wanted to get her flowers, but I wanted it to show more thought and personalization than just basic flowers would. So, that’s how I came up with the idea to incorporate her favorite candy into the vase. You can see below that she was surprised and thrilled!

You could do this with just about any small object (candy or otherwise). Simply buy two vases, one large vase and another small enough to fit inside it. Make sure the vases have the right amount of space between them to fit whatever you want to use. Then, line the bottom of the vase with your object (if you’re really obsessive about detail like I am), set your smaller vase on top of that layer and start sliding the rest of your items in between. Below is a close-up with one of the top York Peppermints removed so you can see the smaller vase inside. (This was back when York mints came in cool foil wrappers instead of the plain ones they come in now.)

Are there any other candies or objects that you think would work well for this? Give it a try and let us know what you create!

Oreo Turkey Truffles

One of Sean’s friends gave him a recipe for these really simple Oreo Truffles years ago and now everyone asks for them whenever we go to pitch-ins or parties. For one of our Thanksgiving get-togethers this year, we decided to make the truffles look a little more festive. If you need a last-minute recipe for a Thanksgiving-themed desert, we’ve got the perfect one for you right after the photos!

This makes about 30 truffles, which will serve at least 15 people. (They are so rich, very few people will eat more than one or two.)

1 Package of Oreos
1 8oz Package of Cream Cheese
1 12oz Bag of Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
Yellow and Red Icing

  • Crush the Oreos in a large bowl and knead the cream cheese into the Oreos until it is all a consistent mixture.
  • Roll the mixture into 1″ balls and place on a cookie sheet. Chill these in fridge for 1hr.
  • Melt semi-sweet chocolate chips and dip Oreo balls into melted chocolate to coat them.
  • Pour some of the melted chocolate into an icing bag and pipe the tail feather design onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. (Another option, which we thought of later, would be to use chocolate covered pretzels instead. – If you try this, let us know how it turns out.)
  • Place the chocolate-covered Oreo truffles onto the base of the tail feather designs.
  • Use the yellow and red icing to make a beak and wattle on the top of the truffle.
  • Place back in the fridge to chill.
  • To serve, set the turkeys upright on a tray. (Some may need the bases shaved down a bit to stand upright.)

Also, if you’d like a great recipe for cranberry sauce, check out our friends’ post at www.thestricklins.com.

Wallpaper Illusion

I’ve had this idea for a while, but wasn’t sure how best to implement it. I wanted to create a desktop background that matched up with a design on the wall so it gave somewhat of a “window” effect, but I definitely didn’t want to paint the wall or do anything else permanent. My solution was static-cling material used for temporary wall decals. The on-screen part was created in Adobe Illustrator. (Sorry for the poor photo quality – the lighting in our office is kind of low.)

The graphic is designed to match the wall at our eye level when seated at the desk. While it doesn’t show this in the photos, the color of the background and lines match the wall and decals almost perfectly. It actually takes a lot of tweaking to get on-screen white to match the color that “white” really is when it’s lit by a few incandescent bulbs in a green room. Yay for tons of courses in color management and theory – they finally made themselves useful.

Obviously the graphic won’t line up at every angle, but the effect works surprisingly well even when you first walk into the room. (Hey, it got Kristine to say, “Whoa, that’s cool!” when she first saw it. And that, right there, made this project a success.)

Cranberry Salsa

Tonight I made cranberry salsa. We’d purchased it before (and loved it!) when visiting some friends of ours and hadn’t found any since. It’s definitely a sweet salsa, but it has a bit of a kick! It’s a fun variation on salsa and more traditional cranberry sides served this time of year. I compared a few recipes that I found online and decided to just wing it (and leave out the suggested cilantro since I really, really can’t stand the taste of cilantro).

Cranberry Salsa:

One bag of fresh cranberries

Juice from one lime

Orange rind, about a teaspoon plus a bit

Jalapeños, about two Tablespoons

Three green onions, finely chopped

1/3 cup sugar

Dash of salt

Add all ingredients to mixer. Pulse until salsa reaches desired texture. Refrigerate salsa if not eating immediately (some recipes suggest refrigerating overnight before serving). Enjoy!

Ari the Lion

This year, when Sean and I put together shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, I decided to sew a stuffed animal to include in one of the shoeboxes. It needed to be small, simple, durable, and cute. After sketching out some concepts, I came up with the idea for a cubist lion – and Ari the Lion was created.

Ari is a very friendly little guy.

He loves cuddling up on the bed.

He loves being held.

Ari prowling in his “natural habitat.” He looks fierce, but…

he sometimes gets stuck when he’s exploring and needs rescued.

Ari loves playing with his tennis ball! He can’t wait to meet his kid through Operation Christmas Child.

Ice Cubicle

The amount of room you have, the way you’re all divided out, the uniformity of each space, and the fact that they keep the temperature so cold… I find the similarities to be uncanny!

Literary Pumpkin

I carved my pumpkin this week! I don’t really get into the whole Halloween thing, but I do love carving pumpkins. I also love children’s books (especially artistic ones) so I decided to combine the two. Suzy Lee is my favorite wordless book author/illustrator and so I decided to use the cover for Shadow on my pumpkin. My grandpa gave me a woodcarving set way back when and the tools work great for carving pumpkins!