Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Secret Santa

Santa visited my house a couple weeks early when I received a surprise package from my Secret Santa.  Shortly after Thanksgiving, Nicole announced Lillyella’s Secret Santa Gift Exchange.  It was so much fun making a gift for another beadaholic!  I won’t reveal the name of my target – I’ll let her do that when she’s ready.

I was so surprised a couple of weeks ago when I received this adorable package in the mail from Genea Crivello-Knable of Genea Beads:

Doesn’t Genea have cute handwriting?

Genea packaged my gift with a “snowy” theme, since she knew I’d be snow-less celebrating Christmas in Florida.

And what to my wondering eyes did appear?  Why, a strand of Genea’s handmade lampwork beads – how cool is that?!!!

Aren’t they luscious?  Thank you so much, Genea – I love them!!!  And thank you, Nicole, for organizing the swap.  It was tons of fun!

My family celebrated Christmas a couple of times this year.  My sister and her family came over last week for dinner and gifts, and then my parents, son, daughter, and I spent the holiday weekend at my step-sister’s house in northeastern Florida.  What a wonderful week!

One of our family’s traditional holiday desserts is Orange Candy Cake.  The recipe makes a very rich, thick batter.  I fondly remember my mother showing me how to mix the batter with my hands when I was a little girl.  The cake looks similar to a fruit cake, but I promise you that it tastes nothing like one!  It’s got great texture from all the goodies inside, and is very rich and moist.  I just enjoyed the second-to-last-slice of this year’s cake with a cup of decaf chai latte.  Yum!  Thought I'd share the recipe with you in case you're so inclined.

Orange Candy Cake
From the kitchen of Lisa Tracy

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
8 oz. package dates, coarsely chopped
1 lb. package orange slice candy, coarsely chopped
2 cups pecans, chopped
4 oz. flaked coconut
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour, divided
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
¾ cup buttermilk

Orange Syrup:
½ cup orange juice (no pulp)
½ cup sifted confectioner’s sugar

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Add vanilla extract.

Mix dates, orange candy, pecans, and coconut with ¼ cup flour.  Sift remaining dry ingredients and, alternating with small amounts of buttermilk, fold into the creamed butter mixture.  Then fold in the fruit/nut mixture.  This makes a very stiff batter that may be mixed with your hands.

Spoon batter into a well-greased and floured angel food pan.  Bake at 300°F for 2½ hours.  Remove cake from oven.

While cake is still hot, whisk together orange juice and confectioner’s sugar to make a syrup.  Set cake on cooling rack or a dinner plate and pour syrup over top of the cake.  Allow syrup to soak into cake overnight.  When cake is cool, cover with aluminum foil.

To serve, invert cake onto wax paper lined plate, then invert again onto cake plate so that cracked top of cake is facing up.  Slice with narrow blade knife.

Sorry for the crummy photos -- the lighting was awful!

I hope you had as blessed a Christmas as I did!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Sketchy New Year

For the first forty-some-odd years of my life, I considered myself the least creative person on the planet.  Give me a pattern any day and I’d happily follow it.  But ask me to design something unique and I was hopeless.

It turns out that as I gradually became more proficient at a wide variety of beading techniques, a tiny spark of creativity was born in my soul.  Continuing to strengthen my technical skills fanned that spark into a little flame, and eventually I found my muse.  She’s an irreverent witch, and I’m quite sure she finds it hilarious that I no longer have nearly enough hours in the day to implement the designs she suggests.
Can you believe that this sketch is supposed to represent...

Out of sheer desperation, I began “sketching” design ideas.  I even bought myself a sketchbook, a few decent pencils, and a couple of those step-by-step drawing books.  I suppose I hoped that I’d be able to go from sketching a cylinder to drawing a horse in mid-gallop in three easy lessons.  After all, that’s what the books seem to suggest I should be able to do.  Boy, oh boy, were they wrong!
This sketch is meant to represent the wreath earrings below.
Christmas Wreath earrings (Swarovski crystal, Miyuki 11/0 seed beads, sterling silver)
My “sketches” are stick-figure simple with lots of text added to explain details that I’m not skilled enough to illustrate.  It gets the job done.  Sort of.  But it sure is embarrassing when I want to show someone else a design idea.  They’re usually polite enough not to guffaw too loudly, but I know it’s not easy!  And my ultra-simple “sketches” don’t give me any sense at all whether the design is worth implementing.  I don’t even get the most basic feedback, such as whether a piece is well balanced.

A design idea that came to me as I was shopping at today.
Last week, as I was catching up on my blog reading, I found that a very talented jewelry designer, Jeannie Dukic, is generously offering to share her expertise with those of us who are somewhat drawing-challenged.  Jeannie’s Drawing Lab will be 52 weeks of baby steps that “help you to see drawing as a pleasurable activity rather than as an opportunity to beat yourself up.”  Does that sound like me, or what?

Each week, Jeannie will e-mail an assignment to her students, giving us until Sunday to complete it.  We’ll share our scratches, er, sketches on a Flickr group.  It’ll be fun to see the progression of talent as Jeannie works her magic on us.  And even more fun is the group of jewelry artists who’ve already registered for the workshop.

*sigh*  I sure wish I could sketch like Jeannie does!!!
I’m really looking forward to the Drawing Lab, and was amazed that Jeannie’s got it priced at only $30 through December 24, then $35 thereafter.  That’s what, something like 58 cents per lesson?  Call me sold!

If you’re interested in joining the fun, head over to Jeannie’s blog here.  And in the meantime, I hope you have a very happy Christmas and many blessings in the new year to come!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vibrant Color

Photo courtesy of
I use Yahoo e-mail, and when switching between accounts, occasionally glance at the headlines in the TODAY section on the webpage.  Since I love bright colors, their announcement of Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2001 jumped right out at me.  But honeysuckle?  Seriously???

Cable sweater from Old Navy
What color do you think of when you think of “honeysuckle”?  Me?  I think of white and yellow flowers, somewhat like these:

Photo courtesy of
So why on earth would Pantone choose to call a bright lipstick pink, “Honeysuckle?”

Well, I suppose if you do a Google image search, you’ll find these:

Trumpet Honeysuckle from
Golden Flame Honeysuckle from
Now don’t get me wrong, I love bright colors, including bright pink.  Bright colors always make me feel good.  A dynamic reddish pink, Honeysuckle is encouraging and uplifting. It elevates our psyche beyond escape, instilling the confidence, courage and spirit to meet the exhaustive challenges that have become part of everyday life.” [Pantone]

I’m a little apprehensive about working with Pepto -- er Honeysuckle Pink, though, because it’s one of those awkward colors.  Cracked me up when I read that Pantone advises, “It is an appetite and conversation stimulant when used on the dining room walls.”  I tried painting my dining room walls Honeysuckle Pink once.  Growing up, my parents had always advised painting room using a color lighter than you want it to appear when finished.  Thinking I’d end up with a nice, deep red, I chose a lighter version similar to Pantone’s Honeysuckle.  The room made me nauseous!  Didn’t take long to learn that lesson – it’s okay to paint a room deep red!

I headed over to and used their Combo Tester to try out a few palettes.  The palette above is loosely based on another palette I found on their website.  I could work with that, but I think I like this one better:

I really like the way the white and dark chocolate tone down the lipstick pink.  I can see using ivory freshwater pearls and antiqued brass in a design.  But that green just seems a bit too warm, doesn’t it?  Even though the green in the first palette is warmer, the burgundy and silver balance the temperature better.  Just for grins, I switched out the green for my favorite color:

Oooooh!  I love that palette, and I can actually see myself working with it.  Amazing the difference one little color can make!

So what colors do you envision blending with Honeysuckle?  Thank you so much for stopping by today!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Challenge of Color

Have you ever participated in a blog hop?  They’re a lot of fun, and I hope you’ll climb aboard and join us for Erin’s Challenge of Color Blog Hop today.

About a month ago, Erin challenged her readers to design jewelry based on a paint chip palette that she selected for each of us.  No two participants received the same palette.  When I e-mailed Erin to join the challenge, I asked her to select a palette for me that’s outside of my comfort zone.  She responded by mailing an earthy paint chip palette to me:

When I first saw the paint chips, I thought that perhaps I had made a mistake when I encouraged Erin to choose colors outside of my comfort zone – this palette isn’t even on the same planet as my comfort zone!  But as luck would have it, I had recently ordered a few ceramic links by Kylie Parry, including a textured coin that is a perfect match for “Fiery Volcano”.  So perhaps Erin’s choice was more fortuitous than I thought at first.

I left the paint chips and ceramic link on my bead table for a couple of weeks, hoping that my muse would guide me somehow.  She must be on strike, though, because inspiration never struck and I finally forced my migraine-riddled bod to sit at the bead table for a couple hours yesterday.  There’s nothing like a looming deadline to get my creative juices flowing.

When I design to a particular palette, I tend to pull out a wide variety of matching beads from my stash without deciding whether I’ll actually use them or not.  It’s sort of like brainstorming, where you write down anything that comes to mind without censoring.  I approach my stash with the same mindset – if the bead will work within the prescribed palette, it lands on my work surface.  It’s a messy way to design, but it works for me!

Among the beads I pulled out are everlasting curly shells that looked something like this before I unstrung them:

Photo from Fire Mountain Gems
Turns out that over the Thanksgiving holiday, my daughter (Christine), my niece (Sarah), and I visited a wonderful little bead shop in Helena, AL, Bead Biz.  Keeping in mind Erin’s palette selection, I found a strand of everlasting shell pendants that immediately caught my eye.  I added a simple antiqued brass wire-wrapped bail to form a pendant:

Once I connected the pendant to the ceramic link with a bit of copper chain, the rest of the necklace seemed to fall into place with little effort:

In addition to the ceramic link and shell pendant that match the “Fiery Volcano” chip, I added freshwater pearls to match “Tumbleweed Tan,” and a dyed jade nugget to add a dash of “Wild Seaweed.”  Antiqued brass and copper chain and wire add depth to the earthy palette.  As luck would have it, I found a gorgeous length of velvety ribbon from Larkspur Funny Farm and Fiber Art Studio.  The ribbon blends all three shades beautifully and adds versatility to the design. 

Finally, since I can’t seem to craft a necklace or bracelet with also designing matching earrings, I scaled down the components for super-simple danglies:

As Erin requested, I’ve named my design in keeping with the paint chip names:  “Fiery Beach.”

Thanks for stopping by today!  I hope you have as much fun hopping the blogs as I did meeting Erin’s challenge.  Now please scroll down for links to the other Challenge of Color participants' blogs.

The Challenge of Color Blog Hop, 12/3/2010

Lisa Tracy  [You are here]