Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Mom's Mushrooms

Truth be told, this past October was not the first time our ornaments fell victim to a flood. Many years ago, there was a plumbing problem at the restaurant that flooded the basement and wiped out about half of the ornaments we had collected to that point. In a panic, we rushed out on Thanksgiving weekend and bought more ornaments that would eventually become some of our favorites. But we were buying "in season" which meant they were much more expensive than we would have liked.

After that Christmas, I decided to make it my mission to collect ornaments throughout the year at the lowest price possible... at yard sales. My mom and I loved to go tag-saling, and we both loved Christmas so it became a summer-long treasure hunt each year to find "new" ornaments for Dino's tree. And I'm so happy to tell you that one of Mom's picks for Dino's tree survived the flood. Way to go, Mom!

My mom passed away a few years ago, but I've kept up our tradition, now with my friend Michele. And just like Mom, Michele is well trained in what to look for, and has gotten really good at picking out just the right ones! I just counted the ornaments we bought this past summer and put them away for next year. We collected 36 ornaments this summer, which means our new grand total is now 111!

In my organizing frenzy between the holidays, I found a few other things Mom and I bought along the way but I never got around to fixing up before they'd be worthy of Dino's tree. Among them, some wooden mushrooms. Now, I'll admit, mushrooms aren't an obvious choice for Christmas, but my Mom LOVED mushrooms, so I thought she'd loved this project.

The simple, iconic shape of mushrooms makes them ideal for a treatment I call "Quilt Painting." Quilt painting started when I discovered Susan loves quilts. Trouble is, I can barely stitch a straight line, so I quilt with paint.

The process is really simple and incredibly relaxing, but it is a bit time consuming so I recommend if you're going to try this, have several small projects going at once so that as one thing is drying you can be adding more patterns to the next.  I normally use this technique on small, three-dimensional objects, but of course, it should work equally well in 2D.

And of course, what you're seeing here is all Christmas-themed, but you can choose any pattern you like. Calicos, ginghams, plaids, checks, polka dots, stripes, etc., all work well so long as you keep the design simple enough to control in a repeat pattern.

There's not much by way of instructions for this. I think the visuals are self-explanatory, but here's what I do if you want to give it a try...

Elf in Charge of Making Ornaments

Medium: Acrylic Paint

Acrylic Craft Paints in the colors of your choice
Objects to paint

Paint Brush
Trims and Ribbons as you see fit

1. CREATE THE PATCHES. Start by lightly sketching in where you want the patches to go.

2. COLOR BLOCK. Paint the patches' background colors mixing and matching as you go to create a quilted effect. I keep it simple for Christmas - light red, dark red, light green, dark green, and white.

3. ADD PATTERNING. This is where the Christmas theme gives you an advantage because there are so many, well-recognized icons to choose from. I keep it simple - trees, wreaths, stockings, candy canes, snowmen, etc. And I try to keep the color choices simple for each pattern -- two or three colors per pattern at the most. Otherwise, you'll constantly be cleaning your brushes! And if all of this seems too detailed for you, you can achieve the effect equally well by alternating between patterns and polka dots or stripes.

And yes, this technique requires a steady hand, but here's the good news. With so much going on visually, no one will notice if you missed a spot or two... or ten... like I do! It's the overall effect of traditional quilting you're after here.

That said, if you're anything like me, when you're quilt painting you might find yourself obsessing over getting every dab of paint in the right spot. Funny enough, I think that's what makes this so relaxing!

As I said, quilt painting is best done in batches, so while I was tending to Mom's Mushrooms, I dug out some old Easter trinkets (another tag sale find for 25 cents!).

Oh, and let me clue you in about something peculiar to our tradition. Like mushrooms, I realize bunnies aren't normally a Christmas icon either... except in Hoboken. In fact, you might say we're a bit bunny-obsessed in Hoboken. So get used to it. This will NOT be the last time you see bunnies in this blog.

Ho Ho Hoboken, everyone!

Add seven more to our tally, and we're at 118 ornaments with more on the way! Ho Ho Hoboken!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Chain

I loved making paper chains when I was a kid. I think all kids do. 

First, it's easy to do. There's no real skill involved (though you do learn an essential life lesson in glue control). 

Second, there's something magical about transforming flat, static strips of paper into a dimensional, dynamic chain that curves and drapes with ease and grace. (And when you think about it, that's really important. For little kids, paper chains are proof positive they have power to make a bit of magic!) 

And then, of course, there's the pay off. Paper chains are festive and bright, and you can't help but smile when you see one.

In my mind, the innocent weave of a paper chain is an essential symbol of the holiday season so I wanted to create an homage to this treasured kindergarten craft. But the problem with paper chains is the paper. It's simply too fragile for a 16 foot Christmas tree in one of the busiest restaurants in all of Hoboken. 

I started thinking about what else I could use to make the links for our Christmas Chain and it didn't take long before I found my inspiration -- right in the trash! Empty wrapping paper rolls sliced into links would make a great base for the chain. I'd paint the links and string them together. Maybe even add a bit of glitter. Done!

But as I started fiddling with this idea, I realized the cardboard didn't feel finished enough for this project. It's really hard (at least for me) to get a super-smooth edge, and the more I hacked away at it with scissors, the more crinkled the cardboard became and the whole thing started to look ratty. 

Undeterred, I decided the next thing to do would be to wrap the links in something. Wrapping paper was the logical choice, but that led me right back the durability issue. So I fished out some old remnants of Christmas fabric and tried that. And sure enough, after a couple of attempts and one or two ouchies from the hot glue gun, I had a satisfactory solution (at least to my satisfaction).

So in case you love paper chains as much as I do, here's what I did.

Ho Ho Hoboken, everyone!

Elf in Charge of Making Ornaments

Christmas Chain
Medium: Cardboard & No-Sew Fabric

o   Cardboard Tube (wrapping paper roll, paper towel roll, or whatever is handy)
o   Fabric Scraps (again, whatever's handy in as many or few styles as you like)
o   Ribbons & Trims (optional)

o  Scissors
o  Hot Glue & Glue Gun


1. PREPARE THE LINKS. Cut the tube lengthwise down the center of the tube to open it up. Then cut 3/4" strips to create the base for the links. They'll be a little curved which is great because they'll bend easily back into a tube shape when you need them to.

2. PREPARE THE FABRIC. Measure the cardboard strips you've cut, then add an inch on all four sides to determine the size of the fabric rectangle you'll need. For example, I used a 1 1/2" tube which created a cardboard strip 5" long x 3/4" wide. I then cut my fabric to 7" x 2 3/4".

3. CALCULATING HOW MANY LINKS YOU'LL NEED. For my project, I made up a few links and put them together then measured it. It turns out, nine links = about 1 foot of chain. I want my chain to be about 5 feet long, so I calculated 9 x 5 = 45 links.

4. WRAP THE BASE. Just like a Christmas present, wrap the cardboard links with your fabric, securing it in place with hot glue. Now, here's where I need to say do as I say, not as I did. BE SURE TO PUT YOUR HOT GLUE GUN ON LOW. The glue seeps through the fabric and let me tell you, OUCH! (Note: hot glue guns are NOT for kids -- at least, not on this project.)

5. LINK THE LINKS. Now, just in case you don't remember the process, start by creating one link, gluing the two ends together. At this point, if you'd like, add some ribbon or trim. 

Then, thread the next strip through the link and glue it together. Note: I used a clip to hold the two ends together for a few minutes just to be sure the glue was set.

6. ADD RIBBONS & TRIMS. This might sound a bit funny, but if you want to add ribbons or trims to each link, you have to do it AFTER you've linked it to the chain so that you aren't dealing with mis-matched edges. I added bits of ribbon to each link, again using hot glue, attaching it a bit at a time.

This one takes a bit of time to get going, but once you've got your system down, the links come together quickly, just like when you were in kindergarten!

If you want to try this and have questions, please leave a comment here. And again, if you find an easier/better way, please do let me know!

Ho Ho Hoboken, everyone!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Clothespin Santa

We had a welcomed surprise this week when Dino found a boxful of ornaments that weren't ruined by Hurricane Sandy -- 67 ornaments to be exact. It was good to see our old friends and we'll be sure they stay safe and dry until next year.

So with 67 original ornaments and one new one so far, that means all we need is 932 more. (Bring on those after-Christmas sales!)

This past summer, I bought a bag of old clothespins at a yard sale for 25 cents with the thought of making some ornaments to dress up my Christmas packages. I've always wanted to try making something with clothespins but never have. (Crafters will understand this impulse. Everyone else, don't ask.)

So this week, I decided it was finally time to have a go at being crafty with clothespins. (But don't expect one on your Christmas present. After all, we have an ornament emergency in Hoboken!)

Ho Ho Hoboken, everyone!

Elf in Charge of Making Ornaments

Clothespin Santa
o   Traditional Clothespin (the kind without the spring)
o   1/2" Screw Eye (used in picture framing, and available at Lowe's hardware)
o   Acrylic Paints (Red, Flesh, and Black)
o   DecoArt's SNOW-TEX (available at craft stores such as JoAnn's or Michaels)
o   Glitter (I used Martha Stewart's Crystal Fine Glitter in iridescent white)

o  Paint Brush 


1. SECURE THE HOOK. I've learned from experience that the art of ornament making always begins with figuring out how you're going to attach the ornament to the tree. So for these, I found one of those little hooks used at the back of frames to string the wire in one of my countless junk drawers. It was about an inch long and it turns out was too big because it split the wood. Undeterred, I went to Lowe's and bothered one of the sales guys to help me find the smallest version of this thing which I soon learned was called a "screw eye." He took me over to the screw aisle. (Yes, there's an entire aisle devoted to screws as it turns out.) It a took a while but we finally found the smallest "screw eye" in the store -- the 1/2" size. (OK, those of you with dirty minds can laugh now, but there's simply no way to discuss screws without using the word screw.) 

And let me just say this, Jason must have spent 10 minutes with me helping me to find my $1.29 purchase. I find it amazing in this day and age to find any store with that kind of service. Thank you, Lowes!

2. PAINTING TIME. My clothespins were really old and weathered so I primed them to begin with. You can skip this step if you'd like and go straight to painting the body of the clothespin red. Be sure to paint everything but the pom-pom cap, including the inside of the "legs' of the clothespin.

I love that it already looks festive and we're not nearly done yet!

3. FACE TIME. Pencil in the top of the brim of the cap at the top of the legs. Draw an inverted triangle about half an inch below that and paint it in with flesh tone. (I actually painted the entire face at this step, but found I needed to go over it all again after applying the SnowTex.)

4. SNOW TIME. Now for the fun part! I love SnowTex. It makes everything look good -- especially when you're a hacker crafter like me! Apply the SnowTex with your paint brush covering the entire pom pom, leaving enough of the hook at the top to hang the ornament later.

Then paint the brim of Santa's hat, the sideburns on either side of his face, and his beard all the way down to the bottom of the clothespin, and don't forget Santa's mustache.

5. MORE FACE TIME. When it's dry, go in and add the detail to the face. And if you've got the room, add some SnowTex eyebrows -- they're super cute!

6. WHAT'S ON THE BACK? Another trick to making ornaments is to remember that there's a 50/50 chance the "back" of the ornament will wind up being the front of the ornament when you hang it on the tree. Ornaments tend to have a mind of their own that way.

I experimented first with making the same design on both sides. It came out really cute, but the idea of a two-faced Santa bothers me, so I chose a simpler solution -- candy cane stripes made with SnowTex on the back. That way, if the ornament decides it wants to face into the tree, it will still have strong, graphic appeal.

For this, I drew 1/2" lines up the back of the clothespin and simply painted a SnowTex candy cane strip. Note that when you get to the top, you'll have to stop the strip half-way around so that it doesn't appear on the front. I visually followed the split of the leg all the way up to mark the half-way line.

7. SHELLAC TIME. Once it's fully dry, seal the entire ornament with the shellac of your choice.

8. GLITTER TIME. Once that's fully dry, go back over the SnowTek on the front and back of the ornament with a little more shellac and sprinkle it with glitter for a super-snowy effect!

So that's it. If you decide to make these please let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment here and be sure to let me know how you made out.

Ho Ho Hoboken, everyone!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Batter Up!

Let's start our journey to restore the Dino & Harry's Christmas tree where all this began many years ago... the Ho Ho Hoboken baseball ornament. Not only was it the first ornament I ever made for Dino's tree, it turned out to be everyone's favorite. (I know this because I've made multiple replacements over the years because somehow it used to mysteriously disappear off the tree before New Years!)

Now, the original inspiration came about when I was preparing for the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival. Susan and I were at Dino's talking about what might be popular at the show and landed on the idea of a Hoboken baseball ornament. A few glasses of wine later and we had added Ho and Ho to Hoboken and thought ourselves very clever indeed.

Now you may or may not know this about Hoboken, but it is known for being the "home of baseball." Personally, I don't know much about baseball, but for the sake of bloggeristic integrity, I did look it up on Wikipedia, and it turns out there may well be several legitimate "homes" for baseball depending on how you look at it. According to the official wiki-story, Hoboken was the sight of the first game to be played "under modern rules" also known as the Knickerbocker rules. (What is a knickerbocker, by the way?) The game was played between the New York Knickerbockers and the "New York Nine" at Elysian Fields in Hoboken on June 19, 1846, and though they played by the Knickerbockers' rules, the "New York Nine" clobbered them 23-1. 

So with a little Hoboken history under our belts, roll forward 100+ years and that's how the Ho Ho Hoboken baseball ornament came to be.

If you follow along this year, you'll see that my posts are going to be about amateur crafting (and let me underscore amateur). I dabble in lots of different media, specializing in none (except maybe crochet). That said, I thought it would be fun to show you how I go about making the ornaments. Please forgive my sometimes-rudimentary techniques. And if you know a better or easier way, please, please, please let me know!

So here's our first new ornament for Dino's Tree 2.0.

Ho Ho Hoboken, everyone!

Elf in Charge of Making Ornaments

Ho Ho Hoboken Baseball Ornament
Medium: Paper Mache

o   Styrofoam Ball (3" diameter or any size you like)
o   Strip of Cardboard (approximately 4" x 1" strip of medium-weight such as from a cardboard tube)
o   Scotch Tape
o   Wire (3"-4" piece of wire (shiny wire if you've got it))
o   Tissue Paper or Newspaper (1-2 sheets is probably all you need)
o   Flour & Water Paste (approximately 1/8 cup or less)
o   White Acrylic Paint
o   Gold Acrylic Paint
o   Red Acrylic Paint (an indelible red marker would work too)
o   Green Acrylic Paint (an indelible red marker would work too)
o   Shellac (e.g. Mod Podge or Delta Ceramcoat Varnish)
o   Ribbon     

o   Small Bowl
o   Paint Brushes
o   Hot Glue Gun
o   Pencil


      Cut a strip of medium weight cardboard (like a cardboard tube). You'll need it to be about 4" long and 1" wide.  

      Curl it into a little tube and tape it together to form the sides of the ornament cap.

      Press it into the Styrofoam ball, leaving most of it sticking up. Try to do this on the first try so it's a firm fit, but don't worry if it doesn't feel perfectly secure. The paper mache will make it solid later.

      Bend the wire to fit inside the cap, leaving a nice arc sticking up out of it like a traditional ornament. Try not to dent it. It's really hard to get it smooth again. If that happens, I just cut another piece of wire and try again.

      Hot glue the heck of the wire INSIDE the cap. Let it cool for a few minutes and give it a gentle tug to be sure it's in place.

      Mix up about 1/8 of a cup of flour with a little water to create a paste about the consistency of mustard.

      Tear up the tissue or newspaper into small (approximately 1") bits. And, tear up about 20 long-skinny strips (about 5" long) to fit through the wire arc you just created on the cap.

      Using a paint brush, slather on some paste and apply the paper bits one at a time, painting all over the paper so that it's wet and starts to get smushy. Add one paper bit at a time so that each piece gets soaked through. Try to make even layers all over the ornament.

      For the cap, layer the long, skinny strips over the top (but under the wire) one at a time at slightly different angles so that you cover the whole cap, leaving only the wires peeking up through when you're done. Fold the long strips down over the sides of the cap and onto the ball. There will probably be a little wrinkling, but don't worry too much. I think that gives it a more home-made look.

      And be sure to overlap a lot of the paper bits over the seam between the cap and the ball so that you have a very firm piece when it dries. And note: once it dries, the cap should feel rock-solid so you won't have to worry if the cap will ever fall off.  If it doesn't feel solid enough, add some more paper bits over the seams.

      Oh, and don't worry if you get some paste on the wire. It flakes right when it's dry.

      Once it's fully dry (and yes, you can use a hairdryer if you're in that much of a hurry), if you've got a lot of wrinkles you don't like, you can sand it down a bit (but not all the way back to the Styrofoam or you'll have to add more paper bits). 

      Paint the whole piece white. (I actually prime it then paint it. If you want to take that extra step feel free, but it's really not critical.)

      Paint the cap gold.

      Download and print out this pattern to size. 

      Hold it over the ball and trace the pattern lightly to mimic the seams on the baseball.

      Paint the Herringbone-style laces along the seam line with red paint or an indelible red marker. (And be sure it's indelible because we're going to shellac this later.)

      I usually wind up going back over the pencil line with more white paint, but that's up to you. If you like the look of the seams, keep them.

      Now, if you're ready for a seven-inning stretch, you can stop right there and shellac your finished ornament. Or if you want to personalize it, use green paint or an indelible marker to add your name. I used a font called "Brannboll" which is free for personal use from

      Coat the entire ornament with shellac to add an overall finished gloss. 

      I use a few dots of hot glue around the cap seam to secure the ribbon in place. 

      So that's it. If you have any questions, let me know by leaving a comment here. And be sure to let me know how you make out with your project. 


Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Sunday After Thanksgiving

Dino & Harry' Christmas Tree, November 27, 2011

By tradition, we'd be in Hoboken today putting up Dino's Christmas tree at the restaurant.

Frank Sinatra singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas would be playing in the background.

Dino would be fussing with the branches and the ladders and the lights and the toy train.

Susan in high heels, would be at the top of the ladder, 16 feet up getting the star straightened and hanging the special ornaments that always go at the top.

Safely at ground level, I'd be cautioning Susan to be careful while handing up Max's baseball, the Dino/Bruno ornament, Susan's quilted bunny, the Ho Ho Hoboken ornament, and all the other ornaments that over the years had become the stories we told that never got old.

When Max was younger (he's in college now), he'd be our best helper hanging all the Jets and Yankees ornaments, and was especially useful in sneaking around the back of the tree to be sure we had all the right ornaments in place to shine through the windows to the street.

Each year I'd find the pig ornament (the only pig on the tree because Susan doesn't like pigs) and put it right in front at eye level only to find it later tucked in the back and out of sight. By far, the pig was the most transient of all of our ornaments, but each year, if only for a few minutes, he got his time to shine.

As afternoon yielded to evening, friend by friend the restaurant filled and the tree grew brighter with each new arrival.

Liza always brought a special new ornament for the tree so we had to be sure to find a perfect spot for it.

Al always stopped by for a beer and helped out when we needed some height after the ladders had been put away.

Ellen always brought her elegant smile. Peter and Jill all the way from Brooklyn brought laughter and love. Tamara and Ollie never failed to show up with the silliest ornament of the season. 

Bobby and Elysa and Sammy and Jason always came for dinner. When they were little Bobby would lift the kids up to see where their special ornaments were this year. (They're tall enough to see for themselves now.)

As the evening wore on, we'd sit and sip wine and agree it was the best tree yet.

And so it would go each Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Photograph courtesy of

On Monday, October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the New Jersey/New York coastal region. Lives were lost. Homes destroyed. Businesses left in ruins. For so many, life will never be the same.

Against such tragedy, we are so very lucky. Amongst our group of friends and family, no one was hurt and everyone's home stayed dry. We are safe. We are still together. And we are thankful.

And the restaurant, Dino & Harry's on 14th and Garden, which was closest to the flood zone survived as well, but didn't get away completely unscathed. Flooded with four feet of water in the basement, Dino lost his stock room, his office and computer systems, and more than 1,000 Christmas ornaments.

Dino & Harry's has reopened now, and everything is back to normal. But this will be the year without a Christmas tree. And while we're all missing our Hoboken holiday tradition this year, now more than ever we are mindful of those who have lost so much and those who never had much to begin with.

We have 371 days until the next Sunday after Thanksgiving, so tonight we launch Ho Ho Hoboken, our journey to restore Dino's Christmas tree and along the way, bring a little joy to those who need Christmas more than we do.

Please join us.

Ho Ho Hoboken, everyone!