Making a Mother’s Day letter frame

Quite often I have the urge to make handmade gifts. Much of the time, my urge doesn’t actually align with my available time and I default to buying gifts. For Mother’s Day this year (yes, this post is late) I collaborated with my sister to make a photo collage that spells “Mother”. While you can go online and order frames that spell anything you want, I had two problems with this. The first problem is that the frames tend to be quite large and the second is that you can’t upload your own photos to use. The big draw to making this gift was using photos from the cities where my sister and I live.

After we both went out and took a slew of  photos, I processed them to be black and white and cropped them to be 3.5″x5″ so that I could buy a smaller frame that would fit better in our Mom’s house. The photos were printed as 4 x 6 prints that I cut down to size with my swing arm paper cutter. I found a frame at Michaels that would fit the photos and had a piece of mat cut to fit inside the frame. I used photo corners to mount the photos. I had to carefully measure and draw light pencil lines on the mat in order to properly align the photos. After mounting the photo corners, I erased all of my lines.

The finished product, now in Mom’s hands:


Photo key:

  1.  My sister and her fiance making the letter M in Anchorage
  2. A work of art in the sidewalk on 2nd street in Austin
  3. My husband and I forming the letter T in Austin
  4. A sculpture / bench downtown Austin
  5. The letter E from a light up sign in Anchorage
  6. The side of a bench in Austin


Wine bottle lights – a gift for you, a gift for them

Wine bottle lights are a gift that can be given any time of year really. Especially if you want to give yourself the gift of drinking a few bottles of wine so that you have some nice looking bottles to start with.

I saw this idea in a number of places and can’t even really point to a source.


  • Empty wine bottle (colored ones are nicer than clear)
  • Indoor/outdoor christmas lights. I used a clear strand with 20 bulbs and a plug only on one end
  • Corded drill (cordless will run out of batteries)
  • 1/2″ Glass drill bit (like this one at home depot)
  • Wire and beads if you want to make a “necklace” for the bottle


  • Wear safety glasses and gloves while drilling through the bottles. None of mine broke during drilling, but make sure to be safe.
  • I used a piece of styrofoam to cradle the bottle while drilling it
  • Use the label to start the hole. If the bottle doesn’t have a label, put a piece of masking tape on the bottle.
  • Start drilling. The whole process takes 20 – 30 minutes. I would start and stop quite often because my hand got tired.
  • Drill until the drill bit fits through the hole
  • Soak the bottle in hot water with a bit of oxyclean until the label is easy to get off. A razor blade will help. I also used a brillo pad to take off the glue. After that was done, I used a bottle brush to clean out the glass dust left in the bottle.
  • Feed the lights one by one through the hole
  • Using some wire and vintage beads from Etsy I made a necklace for the bottle

I’d like to think I’ll make a whole army of these to decorate my yard, perhaps under the bottle tree but we’ll see how that goes. For now though, the bottles have been a hit with the recipients!

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A homemade gift: Vanilla!

Earlier this year, I wrote about making my own vanilla extract. I know a number of women who like to bake, so I decided to give some of this deliciousness as gifts this year! I bought some small swing top bottles at the container store, made labels with a home made stamp and packaged up the vanilla. I sure hope it’s a hit 🙂

To make my own stamp, I first started by creating gridlines on my sketch paper and then drawing the word in a nice font of my own making.

I then carefully carved my stamp block using a speedball lino cutter handle. After doing some test stamps and cleaning up the carving, I mixed red and brown to make a slightly dark red colored paint and stamped a thick piece of cardstock.

After the paint dried, I cut up the paper into labels, punched a hole in the label and used some rafia to tie it around the neck of the bottle.

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Making a care card

My uncle has been in the hospital for cancer treatment and I’ve sent him a few cards and a knitted hat to let him know that I am thinking of him.

This weekend my Dad was in town and we decided to do something silly for his brother / my uncle. We took paper and markers with us out to “Oasis” Texas, this crazy food complex out on Lake Travis in Austin.  There were plenty of statues and scenery to make silly signs for and then take our pictures with the signs.  They are now printed out and headed in the mail to Pittsburgh to my uncle! I hope he enjoys looking at them as much as we enjoyed taking the photos.

Making my own vanilla extract

I like to bake. I try not to do it to often because I REALLY like to eat what I bake. Luckily, we bring baked goods to work for co-worker’s birthdays so I can bake and share fairly often.

That means that I go through a lot of vanilla extract. Recently, I came across an article in an old print version of Craftzine (this link doesn’t work on mobile devices) that tells you how to make your own vanilla! Of course I had to try it. Supposedly you make so much that you can even give batches away as gifts.

The instructions in the magazine are pretty detailed so I won’t rewrite them all.

To prepare to make my own vanilla, I first purchased 1/2 lb of vanilla beans (planifolia) for super cheap at Vanilla Saffron Imports.

I also picked up a handle of Tito’s Vodka and a 4 oz bottle of Nielson-Massey Vanilla extract.

The ingredients:

The article recommends seeding your vanilla batch with good vanilla extract that you’ve purchased to make the process go faster. I did that, but only used half of my extract bottle and instead doubled the beans that I put in my jar.

My jar filled with 2 oz of vanilla extract, 12 vanilla beans split down the middle and then topped off with Tito’s Vodka:

After 4 – 6 weeks I should be able to pour some vanilla out of this jar for use in my normal baking exploits. Each time you do that, you can top the jar back off with vodka.  For now, I’ve stored the remainder of my vanilla beans with some sugar as the package recommends. Hopefully they’ll still be good when I need them for my next batch. I’ve not worked with vanilla beans before. I’ll let you know how this experiment turns out.