That's a Wrap

I had to wrap up a little present along with the keepsake birth certificate I posted about earlier this week.  I was running low on some gift wrapping supplies.  So, I had to improvise a little.  Here are a couple suggestions if you're in the same predicament.

Instead of using tissue paper to wrap up the contents of a box, shred some cardstock, magazine pages, or other paper.  Add the shreds to the bottom of the box and let it stick out a little over the contents on top.  It'll make the gift feel like it's popping out at the recipient.

Missing a bow or ribbon?  No problem!  Just grab a magazine and make your own.  You just find a page with the colors you'd like.  (I used one with a fairly monochromatic layout.)

*Cut out nine strips each roughly 3/4" wide.  Cut an inch off two of the strips and two inches off two of the other strips.  The last strip should be cut down to about 4" or so.  

*Lay the side of the strips that you want upside down.  Loop the ends of each strip (except the smallest) by just pulling the end into the middle of the strip and twist it upside down.  Secure it with a staple.  

*After you loop each strip, you can start layering the strips in a star pattern starting with the longest ones on the bottom.  Glue or tape each layer on top of the other.  

*Finish your blow by looping the tiniest strip in the middle and securing with glue.  You could also add a button or an embellishment to make it more interesting.  

Happy gift-giving!


Chocolate Fix

One of the best weekend outings here in the UK includes heading out to one of the local farm shops for a little lunch and food shopping.  There are so many places to choose from, and they always have the comforting staples: tea and pastries.  Usually, my husband and I decide to bring a few of their pastries home with us to enjoy later.  On this trip to La Hogue Farm Shop and Cafe, we decided to take home a whole dozen chocolate croissants.   They're perfect for the occasional chocolate fix, especially on Sunday mornings.  If you want to make a dessert of it, you can pair them with a little chocolate fondue and fruit.

For the pre-made frozen croissants, just leave them out overnight, brush some egg wash on in the morning, and bake for 20 minutes.  If you don't live near a farm shop, try William Sonoma's frozen chocolate croissants.  They're amazing as well.  I'm telling you, these pastries are such great comfort food.  They'll make your home and your belly feel cozy and happy!


Keepsake Birth Certificate

Lately, I've been invited to so many baby showers.  I guess, it's the season for babies!  So, one of my friends was looking for a keepsake birth certificate.  Apparently, some hospitals don't give these to new parents anymore and will just accommodate a request for a signature if you bring your own.  I decided to help her out with this and create one as a gift to the new parents.  You can do this easily with any layout software and nice paper.

I used Illustrator CS5 and a new digital scrapbook kit that I bought especially for this.  I got the kit, Mod Bebe Girl, off of Design Digitals.  I still have to find a nice little frame to complete the gift, but here's the end result of the certificate:


Home Library

We've been getting our office and home studio organized lately and finally got some much needed bookshelves from Ikea.  My husband and I are both minimalists and really like basic cube shelves.  So, we opted to get a couple from Ikea since most other places here are pretty expensive.  Of course, the intention is to eventually put casters on them when we get back to the states, and give them a little more flair.

We've accumulated so many books, though, that now they are really overwhelming these shelves.  It's always nice to leave some space on the shelves and mix it up with housewares, pictures, and other interesting items.  Having an overcrowded bookshelf can be way too intense for the eye.  So, we might just have to buy another bookshelf!

Another thing I was thinking about when putting these together was the idea of grouping the books.  Some people like to categorize their books, group them by binding color, or just alphabetize them.  I subscribe to the categorization method myself.  I think it's so much easier to find the type of book you want, and then just let the books flow naturally with that section.  There's really no need to go any further with the organization, in my opinion.  You've got to leave a little bit of creativity and haphazardness in the mix to maintain that "lived in" feeling around your home.


Friday Favorites: Handwritten Fonts

Handwritten fonts are great because they're very personal.  They can make your projects feel warmer and comforting, as they're not as stark as the usual standbys. You can create your own online at several websites that you can search for in Google.  Otherwise, there is software that will let you scan in your handwriting and turn it into your own font.

If you'd rather just use some ready-made handwriting fonts, you're in luck!  Those are online, too.  You can get a variety of fonts with personal and commercial licenses for free at sites like Font Space or Da Font.  Here are a few of my favorites by Angie Durbin, Andrew Harrison, Jenna Sue Design Co, and Philippe Blondel.


Handmade Papers

I'm in love with handmade papers!  I've had a few of these Lokta papers from Nepal just sitting in my studio for several months, and I have yet to bring myself to use them.  I feel as though they're just too wonderful by themselves to be used for anything.  Originally, I bought them to use for wedding invitations, but now I realize that they're too special for a one time use.  They need a project that will highlight the paper as the primary element of the piece and provide a meaningful work to be treasured for much longer than an invitation might.

So, I'm thinking about using them for bookbinding.  I've been meaning to try this out and make some handmade journals and recipe books, and this would be the perfect way to use them.  Of course, you could just put them directly in a frame to add some color to a room.  I think I'll try out the bookbinding, though, because they have great textures that really need to be experienced instead of put behind glass.

The Lokta papers that I bought were from Paper Mojo, but I've noticed them also being sold at Paper Source and through other vendors.  The great thing about them is that they're made from renewable materials in villages of Nepal.  Yes, I know that's a long way to travel to be sustainable, but the purchase is benefiting community development in the region along with the materials being more eco-friendly.  There are also plenty more papers online that have been handmade in support of sustainable development.  So, definitely check out these beauties for all kinds of environmentally friendly projects.  Meanwhile, I'll be testing them out for you and will report back with how my project turns out.


Spices & Herbs

A great way to jazz up your cooking is with spices and herbs.  I've got a few growing in my garden now that I can use to sprinkle in casseroles, on top of pizzas, or mix into my baking.  Trying new mixtures is always fun too.  My husband got me addicted to cinnamon sugar which we blend ourselves at home by mixing the two in even parts.  Recently, I found it on the shelves of one of my favorite food stores as well.  There were all kinds of great condiment jars with spices mixed into sugar.  The package design was so simple and yet so well done, just like the mixes themselves.  Plus, they were fair trade!  I'm loving it.


Birds on a Wire

I've been working a lot on my silhouette designs to use in my wall art and photo cards.  I plan on doing a playful series that can be used in kids' rooms, nurseries, and for gifts.  Here's a sneak peak of my "birds on a wire" silhouette that will be available in my Etsy shop soon. (The watermark won't be on the actual designs.)

Photo card with photography by Loren Kerns

My new silhouette

Copyright © 2011 Short Stack Studio.  All Rights Reserved.


Mixed Use Housing

I have to say that I'm a huge fan of mixed use housing.  I was thinking about it this weekend while walking through the British town in which I live.  All of the little shops and restaurants have a few windows above them with flowers overflowing in window boxes, cats peering down, and a few rooftop garden diners.

Living above a pizzeria doesn't have to make you cringe with the thought of loud nights and the constant smell of grease.  This way of living can be very healthy, connective, and even inspiring.  It's not just for college students either.  Think more along the lines of bringing all of the amenities to your family's doorstep.

As a long time admirer of the New Urbanism movement, where neighborhoods are very walkable, I am very drawn to this sustainable lifestyle.  It's very European and very urban as well.  Yet, it can be done nicely in small amounts to add character to smaller neighborhoods and towns.  It blends the many aspects that encompass a well-rounded community commercially and residentially.  The architecture can create a nice character and warmth around the usually more harsh commercial areas.  Plus, people are much more inclined to use the community as an extension of their households.

Just think how nice it would be if: you could walk to work, you could walk downstairs to buy milk if you ran out, your house looked different from everyone else's house, you could be part of restoring your communities charm and vibrance, or a stroll at night would be more interesting than a walk in a cul-de-sac.  Of course, this way of living isn't for everyone, but it's food for thought.


Friday Favorites: Earthy Housewares

Every home needs to bring a little bit of the natural environment inside.  I love earthy pieces that can make my home more warm and inviting.  Fake flowers are not the way to do it unless they are very well made, dusted frequently, and done in very simple arrangements.  That can be very hard to get right.  So, my suggestion is to use either real plants and herbs to bring life into the space or natural elements and textures.  These pieces can be blended into your space in combination with other favorite items.  Here are some suggestions that you can get at any craft or home store:

Put a few stones in the bottom of a candleholder or a nice bowl and top it with a neutral colored candle.

Use large, textural sticks in vases to add height and interest to your spaces.  

Find a few naturally colored wicker, bamboo, or wood baskets and boxes to organize your things.


Fruit & Veg Box

One of the best parts of living in the UK is the abundance of farmer's markets and organic vegetable delivery boxes.  We've recently started getting a fruit and veg (it's not "veggie" here, but "veg" instead) box every fortnight, and it's one of the best things that's happened to our diets.  Plus, buying the produce from this company is extremely sustainable as it supports local farms.

Sustainable food allows families to improve their health while also keeping money in the local area, reducing their carbon footprints, feeling a greater connectivity to their local community, and maintaining resources for the future.  What could be better than that?


Digital Scrapbooking

There's a whole new world of crafting out there, and it's digital!  Of course, I can see how many people couldn't really get into this new style of projects.  It's not quite the same hands-on feeling that you get when you hold something that you've created with your hands.  However, digital scrapbooking and cardmaking can be great ways to hone your graphic design skills.  Layout design, color compositions, and typography are all key components of this digital scrapbooking world and can definitely improve your eye as a designer if you care to learn about each.

Start with a great design software program.  I use Adobe Illustrator, but there are plenty of other options.  Then, scour the internet for free and cheap digital elements that you can use for your projects.  Here are a few sites I like:

Some of the papers I use in my projects include:

I'm so used to designing everything from scratch in my software.  So as I get more into using these digital elements, I'll let you know how it goes.  Plus, there will be more on layouts, color, and fonts in my future posts.  For now, have fun searching for some interesting patterns!


Paper Rosettes

I've been needing to make a card for my grandmother, and I thought what better than some traditional paper rosettes.  I grabbed some scrap strips that I had in various shades of peach and folded away.  Even though I do actually prefer to use my handy x-acto knife (my fond friend from architecture days), I did actually prefer using the bone folder for these.  I found that when I scored the paper with the x-acto and tried to fold it into the circle form it would just rip on the crease.  So, definitely go with the bone folder on this one.

Once you have your folded strips and glue the edges together, just add a circle round to the back for stability and a nice embellishment to the front to jazz it up.  There you have it--a nice traditional flower card for your older loved ones to cherish.


Coffee Table Books

We've been sorting through our books recently as we just bought a couple large bookshelves that have yet to arrive from Ikea.  Many of our books have been collected over the years from architecture school and different hobbies.  For some reason, I've always been drawn to coffee table books.  I think I'm just such a visual person that the large scale photos entice me.  I usually have at least one coffee table book on my wish list.

My current coffee table (West Elm circa 2005) has the perfect nook to set books.  So, I always leave a few hanging out of the cantilevered edge for guests to peruse or for when I need a little inspiration.  Every now and then, I'll look through my books and change out the ones I have on the table.  It keeps things fresh, and I never forget the amazing works in my collection.


Friday Favorites: Pastries!

Somehow over the years I've really grown to love baking.  However, in the things that I make, I much prefer creation on a whim instead of exactness and measurements, which is something that baking usually requires.  Yet, it usually seems to work out just fine for me if I just "measure loosely."  I also like things to be easy.  So, I have yet to make my own pastry dough.  (It's on the bucket list!)  I have no problem with the frozen pastry dough, and it saves me tons of time.  Just put a little egg wash on the top, and voila!  You have some amazing, comfort food in half an hour.

Start with fresh ingredients for your filling

Add some spice for flavor and that homey feeling

Everything's better in pastry dough

Hot out of the oven and oozing with goodness

Leftovers make everyone happy

You know you had fun in the process when you made a big mess


  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 1/4 pounds tart apples, such as Empire or Granny Smith (3 apples)
  • 3 tablespoons dried cherries
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra to sprinkle on top
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 package (17.3 ounces, 2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

* Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

* Combine the orange zest and orange juice in a bowl. Peel, quarter, and core the apples and then cut dice them. Immediately toss the apples with the zest and juice to prevent them from turning brown. Add the cherries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
* Flour a board and lightly roll each sheet of puff pastry to a 12 by 12-inch square. Cut each sheet into 4 smaller squares and keep chilled until ready to use.
* Brush the edges of each square with the egg wash and neatly place about 1/3 cup of the apple mixture on half of the square. Fold the pastry diagonally over the apple mixture and seal by pressing the edges with a fork. Transfer to a greased sheet pan. 
* Brush the top with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, make 2 small slits, and bake for 20 minutes, until browned and puffed. 
*Serve warm or at room temperature.

(Recipe from Barefoot Contessa)


New Techniques

Trying new things is definitely a huge part of my creative process.  I like to change things up and keep my projects fresh.  You never know what materials, equipment, or techniques will enliven your creativity and feed your soul in a new way.

The local library is one of my favorite places to find inspiration.  I went recently and picked up a couple paper-crafting books to flip through and learn some new tricks.  Iris folding was something that peaked my interest immediately, as I love the refined detail that comes from these simple folds.  The papers are folded in such a way as to create a small lens in the center.  You can make all kinds of shapes and designs with this technique, and you may even decide to embellish the center instead of leaving it open.

So, here's a little card I made using the iris folding technique.  If you're interested in learning more about it, there are tons of free patterns online and lots of great videos on You Tube.


Vision Boarding

Goal setting is something I've done all my life, and it's kept me focused on where I'm headed.  For some reason planning and organizing my life just makes sense to me.  I can't help but need some kind of direction.  So, I started using vision boards a few years ago, after the standard youth milestones of graduations and first jobs had past.  I knew I didn't want to fall into a rut with the same routine day in and day out.  I wanted to take opportunities that came to keep growing and learning.  To do that, I first needed to know what opportunities I was interested in pursuing.

I had already been collecting inspiring design images when I was in architecture school.  These helped me to find my own design style and expand my own ideas into meaningful designs.  Then, I moved into collecting magazine clippings of all the things I wanted in my life.  Every time I sat down with a magazine, I would (and still do) look for anything that speaks to me.  If I see something that I've been wanting or needing in my life, I cut it out and save it.  I used to have a large poster board that I mounted my clippings to, but I found that to be too bulky with all the moving I was doing.  So, I ended up making a little folder with pages that I keep adding.  This has been a much better solution for me and allows me to just pull it out whenever I need to regain focus.  I have to say this has helped me tremendously in meeting my goals and living a more balanced life.  I would recommend it for everyone.


Multi-Use Calendars from Paper Source

I love multi-purpose things that can make my life easier, especially if they're handmade, recycled, or upcycled.  My sister-in-law introduced me to these amazing calendars from Paper Source.  They are large 12x19 calendars that have a different design for each month.  When your done with that month, you can use the included templates and reuse the paper to make file folders, gift boxes, cards, or anything you want.  It's a paper crafter's dream!  She used them to make a cute birthday card by mixing the calendar month she wanted with the different papers.  I've used these to make last minute gift-wrapping very easy.  Now, I'm using the papers to make a graduation scrapbook gift.  The papers are great for anyone and any occasion.

Last year's calendar

A page from this year's calendar

The great card my sister-in-law made from the calendar papers

Scrapbook pages I'm working on for the graduation journal gift


Mexican: The American Comfort Food

Yes, we have our burgers and hot dogs that rule the grills of every American household.  Those are, of course, the foods of choice for a classic American holiday like the 4th of July.  Well, what about Mexican food?  I've realized that Indian cuisine to the Brits is like Mexican to Americans.  There is such a strong Mexican influence on our culture, just as the Indian culture has combined with the British in many ways.  

It got me thinking about how Mexican food really has developed into comfort food for many Americans.  We've even put our own spin on it with Tex Mex.  Now, having lived on the Texas-Mexican border for several years, I did come to love many classic Mexican dishes.  However, I am still very fond of dairy products, which is something that Tex Mex has over the traditional Mexican foods, for me anyway.  So, this is one staple Tex Mex dinner in my house: the quesadilla.  It comes with three cheeses, veggies, chicken, no chicken, salsa on the side, sour cream, or a combination of those.  We love it and can't get enough of it!  So, here's to the Tex Mex classic that will always be welcome at my dinner table because I'm an American and I love Mexican food, any way I can get it!



Garden Living

What better time to get outside than on 4th of July weekend!  The outside of your home can be a wonderful extension to your living space, and many people don't take advantage of that great real estate.  It can really be another room of your house if you design it wisely and consider your lifestyle and environment carefully.  The uses are endless: dining room, lounge, activity center, studio space, or second kitchen.

For my current home, we're in the process of having our small back patio, or garden as the Brits call it, landscaped.  Since this is only a temporary home for us, we decided that potted plants were the best way to go.  That way we could give the plants to neighbors and friends when we move and take the pots themselves with us for the next home.  It'll still feel homey to us but will be easily transported and rearranged.

Our gardner recently potted a few flowering plants, vegetables, and herbs for us to start.  We're still waiting on a bit of color from an umbrella on order and some hanging flower baskets.  The plan is to use this as an extension of our house for dining and entertaining.  It's definitely still a work in progress, but we'll enjoy it all the same.  


Handmade Weddings

Weddings are the perfect time to be creative and do some handmade projects.  Since each couple has their own unique style and wedding theme, there are so many opportunities to take that feeling and run with it.  Whether you're doing the table-scapes, the flower arrangements, or just making a handmade card for the bride and groom, handmade projects can add a personal touch and make the couple feel that much more special.

For an upcoming wedding where the bride and groom only asked for monetary gifts, I decided to make a nice handmade card in which to enclose our gift.  I thought it would help set our gift apart from the rest and could also be a keepsake with the couple's wedding items.  I used some "Best Occasions" scrapbook paper and tags, blue cardstock, a Martha Stewart scalloped hole punch, ribbon, a denim colored stamp pad from Close to My Heart, and some gem embellishments.  Within a half hour's time I had a lovely card made especially for the new couple.  What a great way to make someone feel like it is their special day!