Monday, October 18, 2010

The Best Nativity Set - Or is it Christmas Yet?

I listed a Painted Wooden Nativity Scene in my Etsy shop.  It's a version of one I've been making for years that is partly my design but mostly designed by Judith Martin.  Sorry for the long post but I wanted readers to know where this design came from.

More than 20 years ago my sister and I were both pregnant. It was fun to share being pregnant with someone.   I'm the oldest and she is only three years younger but our life stages had never been in sync. I married at 20 and started having babies right away, this was number six.  She married at 30 and it took a lot of pregnancy tests before one showed positive.  She was due the end of September.  I was due in March.  This was a surprise pregnancy for me (long story) and because pregnancy #5 had been plagued by hypertension and preeclampsica, and because of my "advanced maternal age" I was considered very high risk and had been referred to one of the nation's best perinatologists.  We also found out that BL Hubby and I had a rare blood incompatibility, similar to RH disease, so even my early pregnancy was full of worry.  Sis tested borderline diabetic when routine testing was done at 28 weeks and she followed her Dr.'s diet and testing advice and decorated a nursery.  She was told it wasn't anything to worry about.

My sister is really my best friend.  She had lived with me for a year and a half when she graduated from college and my kids (and husband) adored her.  Even after she got her own place we loved to get together for a day out.  Usually we liked to shop (we rarely bought anything).  We preferred the antique district, thrift shops and what we referred to as "cute" decor and gift shops.  Most often one of us would fix lunch.  Our tastes were similar and when I moved to the other side of the country what I missed about So. Cal. was a day out with my sister.

We were excited about having babies nearly the same age though everyone worried a lot about me.  As my sister's due date came and went our whole family and everyone who knew them was excited to welcome their new little boy.  We weren't prepared to find out that 2 weeks postdate, her baby died and then he was delivered stillborn.  My sweet sister and brother-in-law were overwhelmed with grief and we were, too.  Our hearts broke and we felt guilty for having a surplus of children while they were denied one.  To make things worse, it became apparent that her doctor had been negligent.  My sister and brother-in-law named their little boy Daniel.

My sister never begrudged me our baby boy.  He was born in February, more than five weeks early and after a lot of  high tech intervention.  She used to say there were times when she just wanted to hold a baby  and she was glad that she could come over and cuddle mine to her hearts content.  As Christmas approached the next year and we would have our days out, she looked for some kind of Christmas ornament that would memorialize her sweet boy.  Hallmark makes an ornament for almost everything, but not this.  We both were also searching for a nativity scene we liked.

Christmas passed with without any success in our search but we kept looking.  Sometime that year we were visiting a decorative painting store near my home owned by a couple that produced wood cutouts for many popular designers.  There in the window was this book and wood set designed by Juliet Martin. 
Christmas Elegance by Judith Martin

We fell in love.  I still love this depiction and symbolism of the baby Christ and the lambs.  Sis bought the book and I was going to paint one for each of us.  By the time I got to the project it had occurred to me that Judith Martin had other designs for Christmas figures that could be combined to make an awesome Nativity display.  I altered the size and when I couldn't find a Judith Martin design of Mary I liked I (after a few bad designs) designed one of my own.  For Joseph I re-purposed a shepherd..  I then had the bright idea that this would be the perfect ongoing Christmas gift for my close family.  People got "starter sets" that consisted of Mary, Joseph and baby and each year I could add a figure.  I could, and did, play this out for years. Young family members know they are really grownups when they get their own set.

Fast forward a few years and I'm living far from my sister.  I was asked to come up with and teach a painting class for a Relief Society "Christmas in July" event and I decided that the group could paint the Baby and a couple of lambs.  It was a pretty successful class, but several people wanted more of the Nativity Scene. Thus was launched the longest ongoing Relief Society class ever.  We had people meet to paint Nativity Scenes for eleven years.  (One of my friends still wants to do a Joseph - I should gift her with one).
My Nativity Scene

I've altered, refined and added to the original idea over the years but I'm still indebted to Juliet Martin for her designs.  Though her books and designs are out of print they are still in demand.  I haven't been able to find any  contact information for her but would love to let her know what her design has meant to me and my   family.  To me this is still Daniel's Nativity Set and it reminds me of the hope I have for resurrection, and joy and healing even after unimaginable loss.  Plus, I learned to paint well using Juliet Martin's designs.  (Every sheep I draw still tends to look like hers.)  Juliet, where ever you are - Thanks.

Note: The Nativity in the Etsy shop is smaller than my original.  One of the problems mine has is that it takes a whole lot of space to display. It's also made using a layered technique so the figures can stand alone.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

We Interupt this Great Life for a Flood

Forget whatever I had planned for this week.  Life had something else in store.  I came home from registering my car Tuesday to see water tracks coming from under the front door sill.  Inside was evidence the powder room toilet had overflowed (water came from the washer).  I started mopping and Jack called our insurance agent - and the septic people.

Gray water was down  the center hall, an inch deep in the under the stairs closet, seeped into the living room and kitchen.  Bad part:  everything but the kitchen and bath is laminate flooring - fairly new laminate.  It all had to go. 

We had a visit from a sweet claims adjuster who declared us covered by our homeowners insurance.

Some nice damage control folks came yesterday morning to tear up the laminate in the wet areas, spray mildewcide and leave three powerful fans, two dehumidifiers and an air cleaner. It sounds like a wind tunnel downstairs

 Septic was located.  I was delighted I could remember where the 2nd (hidden) tank was. This picture is for future reference.

Septic was pumped.  (My driveway looked like a disaster convention with all the trucks.)
BL Hubby and I will get to install a new floor downstairs.  We're still waiting for our favorite septic tank repair guy to consult tomorrow on replacing the pump.  (We really wish we had listened to him when we first moved in and had the drain fields redone so we didn't need to pump.) Until then it's showers at Grandma's!

Some bright spots. Our first floor is quite open and the laminate flows seamlessly from the living room through the hall and into the dining room.  I loved how well the installation went getting the flooring to look good throughout the three rooms and through three big openings.  It was a lot of work and quite a bit of  help from BL BIL, who was making his living at the time laying a lot of laminate, to make it look good without any transition pieces.  Our insurance (and most policies) will not cover replacing the flooring in rooms not damaged in order to match the new laminate to old.  It looked like the dining room might not have got any water under the laminate and if so then the insurance wouldn't replace it and then we would have to pay for the dining room laminate out of pocket or live with a big transition piece and the dining room not really matching the rest of the downstairs.  Fortunately (unfortunately?) the water went a couple of floorboards into the dining room, also, so my downstairs won't look like a patchwork quilt.

  Since laminate products go out of stock almost as soon as you buy them you can't just patch like you could if they were hardwood,  the whole floor has to be replaced but a lot of the flooring is still good.  We've elected to take up the good parts ourselves and I'll be able to install it upstairs in a room or two.

I've  been wanting to do a little update of our space.  Watch what you wish for.  I still think updating by disaster is a bad idea.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Adventures in Painting Signs

Entrance to Farm

I've been painting like mad this last week, but this weekend was another kind of painting.  Wednesday night the biggest BL boy called.  He begged me to come visit and make him some signage - and he was so persuasive we agreed.  We loaded up early Friday and drove 9 hours to Lexington, KY to this destination:

Entrance Sign

 Our BL DIL's family have farmed a beautiful piece of land down the prettiest road in the Lexington bluegrass country for about 50 years.  The farmhouse is about 150 years old and gives me and my sisters serious house envy.  This is no show farm  but a real working family farm.  This is the third year that they invite everyone to come enjoy a giant corn maze, pumpkin patch, hayride and other farm frivolity.  This is no ordinary corn maze but almost 10 acres of paths to get lost in.  It's one of the best in the nation.  Just look:

BL boy cuts  the maze and ramrods the fun.  I love his role as "CORN COP".  Sorry about the bad cell phone picture.  He goes to the maze so attired if someone is misbehaving.  It's amusing and non threatening but gives a friendly reminder that you shouldn't throw corn, etc.

This year you can climb on a giant hay stack and watch goats climb a giant tower and feed them, too.

Climbing Goats

A friend of our sweet DIL had painted their entrance sign a few years ago.  BL boy refreshed it and had big plans to paint some cute directional and informational signs but when he came to the art he got timid.  Our DIL has done some signs for him but she was swamped by work and he decided maybe Mom could do better than he could.  I had never thought about marketing my painting for signage but this was fun, and I learned a lot.  Lettering has never been my thing but practice makes perfect.  Here's what I managed in a day and a half.  This sign is viewed from the street when they are closed.

I did two "museum type" signs designed to be informational when they have kids and school groups:

How Corn Crows

Pumpking Growing

This is at the entrance with prices:

BL boy wanted this one for the entrance to the corn maze:

This one is for the pumpkin patch - fun pumpkin facts.

It was great to see this years maze and visit (briefly) with the BL kids.  I was paid in pumpkins.  Look at this haul.  There's still tons more like this grown on the farm and available to buy but the big orange one in the back with the great stem was the best of the bunch and I claimed it Saturday night before the crowds came.

And I got hugs from this BL Grandson.  Totally worth it:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Look

If you know me you know that I'm a terminal DIY enthusiast.  I have trouble getting outside help.  Maybe I should seek treatment.  I did my own Etsy shop banner, and my own blog banner and set up.  It got me going but I never was completly happy.  Enter one of the Best Loved SIL's.  Yup, Ashley married an artist who suggested I needed a facelift, graphicly speaking.  When he found that I had proudly created my banners, etc. on my favorite graphics program, PowerPoint, he couldn't stop laughing.  I showed him, I got him to redu me.   I love my new look.  He has a graphic design company, 4 Style Graphics, and he did my new look here and check out my Etsy shop.  If you need graphics for wedding invites, blogs, anything, check out his facebook page.  My favorite is  my new business card.  

I love my little animals all lined up.  

Thanks Drew.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Animal Upgrades for Arks

3D Elephants

My typical style of animal is what I call a "flatty".  The animal shape is cut from 1 inch pine and painted with alot of detail to give it the illusion it's three dimensonal. When I started to  build my elephants a 1 inch flat elephant just looked ridiculous.  If I was going to glue two 1" pieces together then I thought I should make the legs in different positions so the finished elephant would look like it had 4 legs.  I further sanded the trunks and tusks with my Dremel so they had more shape.  Thus was born the 3D Animals.  The elephants were so loved that I started to work on the other animals and now have 3D Buffalos, Giraffes, Gorillas, pandas, buffalos, camels and kangaroos.

3D Camel
3D Gorilla
3D Giraffe

3D Panda

The kangaroos have one layer and their arms and legs are glued to each side.  I may rework this one as the way it's designed the arms could break off and be a choking hazard.  I'm still working on animals with big tails.  What do you think?

3D Kangaroo

My favorite right now is the Buffalos.  They have such big, shaggy heads so I added two more layers in the front and sanded them back to meet the body.

3D Buffalo

I also have been using the Dremel to give ears and horns a little more definition.  Paint is still what makes them look real and what I love to do,    I've got the moose almost ready and will be working on tigers next.  I've decided to keep the small animals one piece.  They "fit" in size and proportion.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Where Wood Comes From

Living in central Arkansas means living in trees.  Blessed with plenty of water and mild winters trees are our weeds.  If you don't mow an area at least once a year a forest of oak, gum, pine and a few other hardwood trees springs into being.  None of our area is old growth forest.  People have cleared, farmed, logged and cleared again since the area was settled.  Naturally, beavers clear areas and move on but after their dams rot and break the trees quickly grow back.  We live near many acres of cultivated yellow pine grown mostly for paper pulp and telephone poles.  It takes only 10 - 20 years from planting to harvest.  If a road or building is constructed, trees are cut and sent to local sawmills.  Wood is truly a renewable resource here.  

Logging trucks are a common sight and it's easy to find someone who will harvest trees on your land.  These logs go to local sawmills like the one pictured below.  
I've passed this mill many times over the years.  From the road you see the huge pile of logs with sprinklers on them.  They water the wood to keep it workable.  Oak in particular will become rock hard when too dry.  I got to see this multigeneration family operation up close last week.  At this mill they rough saw timbers. They turn the main part of the logs into railroad ties and smaller slabs are sold to other mills that make stair treads, molding, etc., and they build shipping pallets.  Best Loved Husband has access to their wood and has been buying some for projects at home.  

When he gets the wood it's green - that means its full of moisture. If you don't dry the wood it will warp, shrink and even twist.  A friend of mine grew up close to our house in a cute home that her father built as a young man.  Her Daddy was hardworking but not rich and purchased a wooded piece of land and a portable sawmill.  He cut logs from their land, milled them into 2 x 4's, etc. and built their house.  Her Daddy didn't know he had to dry the wood.  The house finished developed cracks in the walls and around the windows, but my friend pointed out that her Daddy patched and fixed everything (including resetting windows) and eventually the wood dried and the house became stable.  

The mill will air dry their finished pallets or rail ties but BLH would have to stack his wood just so and wait for several weeks before he used it.  He's not that patient.  He searched for DIY wood drying ideas and found some but they wanted you to start with a storage container or a barn.  Undaunted, he put together a perfect wood dryer to do 10 or so boards

You're looking at a old food dehydrator (circa 1980) with some Masonite taped together in a tube to extend it's length.  (The duct tape on the food dehydrator has been there holding the sides together forever.)  
He got extra long boards this last time so he added some cardboard to the end.  Usually he just tapes the front of the dehydrator to the ends.  Wood is stacked carefully with small separator sticks of wood (stickers) and the dehydrator is turned on and you come back in a couple of days to have fine and exceedingly dry wood.   BLH then makes a lot of sawdust and plays in the garage happily for a while.  When he was done we had this beauty:
A king sized oak headboard for the Master Suite.  (Yes, I now need pillow shams).  He's drying wood now for a bench to go at the foot of the bed.  BLH is very tall and tends to kick a foot board.

Not only did he make it but the wood came from within 20 miles of us.  I'm looking at using some for my Ark animals but the mill doesn't do pine very much.  Oak has too large of grain and is too hard to cut and sand easily for the small pieces I do.  It would be great to use locally grown and very renewable wood for everything. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Was Featured at Cutable!

My Basic Noah's Ark was featured in the ever so cute blog, Cutable

I am ridiculously excited when I get positve feedback.  Check out the blog for all kinds of cute stuff.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Returned home from traveling west to be greeted by our warm summer air.  The air in the south feels very different on your skin than it does other places.  Our air is heavy, it embraces you.  Walk outside and it feels like the very air is giving you a big warm hug.  Stay outside a while and it starts to feel like a big, warm, wet, hairy hug!  It's the price we pay for green vegetation and mild winters.

While visiting a couple of the BLGrandchildren we went to one of the best Childrens Musem, ever.  If you're near Ogden, Utah and have a child you must visit the Elizabeth Stewart Treehouse Museum.  (You can't be admitted without a child.) The musem's stated mission is " To be the magical place where children and families "Step into a Story"".  Every exhibit links to developing literacy skills.  That sounds intense but it's the most fun ever. 
 The center of the facility his a multistory tree you climb into and can slide down.  Along the way there are costumes to dress up in (fancy being a bear, anyone?) and lots of imaginative play areas.  BL Grandson loved the place where you can drop parachutes and try to hit a bullseye on the lower floor.  The treehouse is big enough for a grown up to enjoy the fun also. 

BLG (age 3) had been there before and knew exactly what he wanted to do first!  He wanted to dress like a fireman and climb over the play fire truck and pretend to drive it.  He even let baby bub have a turn.
 We pretented to be knights and played with puppets:
My boys even milked and cow!! 

It was a pretty realistic cow - and I have milked one before.  I know that the family has a hard time believing me on that one.  Grandpa Livingston always kept a cow whenever he could because "It's not that we need the milk but the boys need to milk to build their character".  I'm not sure a squirt or two built much character but it sure was fun. 

After lots more exhibits we went to the Castle Theater for an interactive presentation of "Stone Soup" with the actors pulled from the children in the audience including our own kidlet.  He was a woodcutter. 
Sometimes a distracted woodcutter.

Note the woodcutter who wandered off to sit by the tree.  He was thrilled just to be there.  The BL Daddy of our kidlet felt that the narrator and facilitor of the theater area was someone who "was born to do the job he's doing".  He was fabulous with the kids and they all were great and had a good time. 

There were too many areas to tell about.  The decor is enhanced by quotes written on the walls throughout.  Some of my favorites:

 Also: (My photo was blurry)


If I can't say enough - WE WENT ON A FREE ADMISSION DAY!!!  Yes, free!  There is another free day comming  August 7, 2010.  Check out the web site. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Mama Bear, Papa Bear & Little Baby Bear

I've loved the classic story of the bear family that is invaded by a little girl since I was a little golden haired girl.  As an adult, I'm not sure what the moral of the story is.  Bears with a fine home should lock their door when they leave? Watch out for Bears if you're a little girl? 

Goldylocks at the Bears Door

If Goldy was my child I would like Mama Bear to call me to let me know she's safe and ask me to pick her up.  You can bet Goldy would be compeled to deliver a heartfelt apology to the Bears and her pocket money for some time would be used to get Baby Bear a new chair.  I would have to apologize to the Bears for my lack in supervising Goldy.  Hopefully they would be understanding and Mama Bear and I could have lunch.  Once-Upon-A-Time may have been simpler.

Bear House

I think I like best the idea of a pretty cottage in the woods.  In that spirit I designed this set and it's in my Etsy shop now.  This is the 2nd version of this design.  One of the BestLoved Grandbabys got the first.  I am incapable of making the same thing twice so both are completly unique. 
Interior of Bears House

Fully Furnished with chairs and beds fit for each bear family member.  A table (with lacy tablecloth) and a large, medium size and small bowl of porridge. 

Porridge in Mama's Best Bowls

A chair for each family memeber

Decorating in small scale is just as much fun as decorating a people size house.  Only cheaper.

Goldilocks Tries Papa Bears Chair

Pretty Beds Upstairs

I'd move in!  At least I'd explore it if I came on this cottage in the woods.