In This Garden

As someone who loves both gardening and mixed-media art, I was thrilled to come across the book In This Garden by Angela Cartwright and Sarah Fishburn. The book is a collaboration by 12 mixed-media artists on the theme of gardens. They were each given 4 panels to form a miniature garden, to decorate in any style they chose. The result was a wide variety of wonderfully imaginative gardens, including a New Orleans Junkyard garden, a community garden, Marie Antoinette’s garden, and The Prairie Rose & Sagebrush Garden. There are notes from each contributor on the techniques they used, and also favourite memories and observations about their own gardens. I love this book. I keep picking it up and seeing different things in it each time I look.

In This Garden

Angela Cartwright is one of my favourite mixed-media artists. When I looked up her website, I was interested to learn that before getting into art and photography, she had an acting career. As a child, she played Brigitta in the movie The Sound of Music.

This book has inspired me to make a mini album of my own dream garden to include pictures of my favourite things – foxgloves, birdbaths, scarecrows, herbs, butterflies, dragonflies, birds, sunflowers…

I’ve made the cover so far.

The secret garden

Favourite Christmas Books

Leading up to the holiday season, I love to read books with a Christmas theme. I adore everything about Christmas—the decorations, the food, the music, and the stories, and a good Christmas book is guaranteed to put me in a festive frame of mind.

There are a multitude of wonderful Christmas books out there, but these are a few of my favourites. They include novels, short stories, a children’s book, and a book on recreating a vintage Christmas.

Paper Angels by Jimmy Wayne

Paper Angels is a story about the true spirit of Christmas. After fifteen-year-old Thomas, his mother, and his younger sister, Sara, escape from Thomas’s abusive father, they struggle to survive with no home and no money. Too proud to ask for help, Thomas’s mother must work all the hours she can just to put food on the table. When Christmas comes and she can’t afford to buy Thomas and Sara any presents, she swallows her pride and signs up for the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program.

When Kevin Morrell, a husband and father with his own problems, comes across a big tree in a shopping mall, covered in paper angels, each bearing the name of a child in need, he has no idea that the name he picks from the tree will have far-reaching effects on his own life and that of a fifteen-year-old boy he has never met.

Written by Jimmy Wayne, an American country music singer and songwriter, Paper Angels is a story that tugs at the heartstrings and encourages you to think of those less fortunate during the holiday season.

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

A Redbird Christmas, like all of Fannie Flagg’s books, contains a colourful cast of characters. When Oswald T. Campbell, aged fifty-two, is given only months to live, he decides to move to a town with a warmer climate; somewhere peaceful to end his days. Ending up in the small Alabama town of Lost River, he doesn’t count on getting caught up in the the lives of the residents, including a young, crippled girl called Patsy, who lives in a trailer in the woods, and a wounded red cardinal called Jack, who lives at the local village store and wins the hearts of everyone he meets. A Redbird Christmas is a sweet story, just the right length for a holiday read, that leaves you believing in the miracle of Christmas.

The Christmas Scrapbook by Philip Gulley

Philip Gulley is a quaker minister, who writes the Harmony series of books about the small quaker community of Harmony, Indiana. Although the books revolve around the lives of a central group of characters, each book can be read as a stand-alone story. In The Christmas Scrapbook, Pastor Sam Gardner secretly attends weekly scrapbook classes to make his wife a scrapbook for Christmas. However, his weekly absences begin to arouse Barbara’s suspicions and rumours soon spread through the community as Sam struggles to complete the scrapbook. This is a charming little book, a quick read, and as an extra bonus, it includes a sheet of Christmas stickers.

This Year it will be Different by Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy has always been a favourite author of mine. With richly woven themes of family, friendship and love, her stories are always heartwarming and leave you feeling satisfied. This Year it will be Different is a collection of fourteen Christmas-themed stories set in Australia, England, and Maeve’s homeland of Ireland. They explore the relationships between family and friends, and the stresses, but also the joys, that the holiday season brings.

Sadly, Maeve passed away earlier this year. Beloved by her millions of fans, she left behind a legacy of 16 novels and several short story collections. This holiday season I will be re-reading this delightful Christmas treasury in honour of Maeve and the wonderful story-teller that she was.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

The Velveteen Rabbit is a classic children’s story by Margery Williams, which was first published in 1922. The edition that I have was republished in 1997, a lovely hard-covered book that tells the story of a stuffed toy rabbit given to a little boy at Christmas, and how love can make a toy become real. The illustrations by Don Daily are as magical as the story.

Have Yourself A Very Vintage Christmas by Susan Waggoner

Have Yourself A Very Vintage Christmas is a lovely book that explores Christmas traditions, decorating and crafts from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. It is full of vintage decorating tips, and step-by-step instructions for craft projects. There is also a section with recipes for homemade candy, and at the back of the book there is an art portfolio that includes pages of vintage images to use on greeting cards or papercraft projects. This is a great book for anyone who loves Christmas, vintage, and crafts.

Gypsy Rose

Although I have been scrapbooking for several years, I have only recently fallen in love with mixed-media art. One of my favourite mixed-media artists is Suzi Blu. Suzi teaches online workshops, has tutorials on You Tube, and recently published her first book, Mixed-Media Girls with Suzi Blu. Before I discovered Suzi, I never believed I could draw and I had no confidence to pick up a paintbrush. She has taught me how to let go, have fun and create, that it doesn’t have to be realistic, it is okay to be flawed, and you will get better the more you practice.

The book takes you through the steps of drawing and shading a face with coloured pencils and paint, then drawing a folk art body and incorporating it into a mixed-media layered and collaged background using paint, papers, stamps, textured paste, fabric, fibres, dimensional embellishments and beeswax. The book is full of Suzi’s whimsical creations, with detailed instructions for each project. At the back is a gallery of her students’ work, and the book is accompanied by a DVD of Suzi demonstrating her techniques in her unique and fun style.

After spending some time practicing drawing faces, I launched into a mixed-media painting, inspired by The Gypsy Girl project in Suzi’s book.

Okay, so my dog looks more like a rat, but that’s okay. Like I said, it’s not supposed to be realistic. He’s part of Gypsy Rose’s world, she loves him, and that’s all that matters.

Coincidentally, the same weekend that I finished my painting, the gypsy fair came to town, so while I was in a gypsy frame of mind, I went along and absorbed the atmosphere. While I wandered around looking at the housetrucks and the wonderful crafts, I got to thinking, maybe I could become Gypsy Rose from my painting. I wonder if I could talk Nick into selling up, buying a housetruck, throwing caution to the wind and seeing where life takes us. Nick can turn his hand to anything. He could make things and fix things. I could write and make crafts. We could go apple picking in the summer. But then I thought, what would we do with all our books? And how would our beloved Cody adapt to life in a housetruck, at 14 years old with her stiff joints and kidney problems? And so I returned home with my colourful wind twisters and lovely handmade soaps and decided that maybe I will just continue dreaming for now, at least until the gypsy fair returns next year and the romantic notion of a gypsy life is rekindled once again.

Between the Lines

As an avid Jodi Picoult fan, I was keen to read Between the Lines, which Jodi co-authored with her daughter, Samantha van Leer. Although it is a departure from Jodi’s usual novels, I was not disappointed. Between the Lines is a classic fairy tale with a modern twist. When Samantha approached Jodi with an idea for a young adult novel, Jodi knew immediately that the idea was a great one. “What if the characters in a book had lives of their own after the cover was closed? And what if one of those characters desperately wanted to get out of his book?”

In the story, Oliver, the handsome prince, lives his life over and over again, each time the fairy tale is read. But once the covers are closed, he secretly yearns to escape the story and live in the real world. When fifteen-year-old Delilah discovers she can communicate with the characters in the book, she plots to help Oliver escape his repetitive life.

Together, Samantha and Jodi have created a delightful imaginary world that co-exists alongside the modern world. With many twists and turns, the story is entertaining, charming, and highly imaginative. The book has beautiful colour illustrations at the beginning of each fairy tale chapter, as well as amazing silhouette drawings scattered throughout the chapters that alternate between Oliver and Delilah.

I hope Samantha continues to write. She has a real talent and I look forward to reading more of her stories.

Vintage Scrapbooks & The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

When I was young, I had a scrapbook, as many of us did, in which I used to paste pictures from magazines and calendars, stickers, birthday and Christmas cards, shiny chocolate wrappers, pieces of ribbon, bubble gum cards, and leaves and flowers from the garden. I once spent months buying bubble gum just to collect the Abba cards inside—even though I didn’t like bubble gum! I’m not sure what happened to that scrapbook. I never used to be sentimental about keeping things from my childhood. Now I wish that I had been. I would love to be able to look back on the things that meant something to me back then, to take a retro trip back to my seventies childhood.

These days, scrapbooking has taken on a whole new life and is vastly different now to what it was back then. Billions are spent worldwide every year on embellishments, beautiful papers, and scrapbooking tools and products. But there was something special about those cheap scrapbooks we had as children, filled with bits and pieces that cost nothing (apart from the bubble gum cards), a time when we were happy with the simple things in life.

I always feel sad when I see a vintage scrapbook for sale on trademe or eBay—sad that someone’s treasured collection of memorabilia has been lost to the family. One day a grandchild or great-grandchild may love to have had a glimpse into their ancestor’s past.

As an avid scrapbooker, I was excited to come across Caroline Preston’s novel, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. It is a novel told through pictures in the form of a vintage scrapbook. It tells the story of Frankie Pratt, from her high school graduation in 1920, through her journey from Greenwich Village to New York and Paris in pursuit of her dream to become a writer.

The author, Caroline Preston, has collected antique scrapbooks since she was in high school. She has drawn from her vast collection of vintage ephemera to describe Frankie’s journey through the Bohemian culture of the 1920’s using vintage postcards, fashion cut-outs, tickets, newspaper cuttings, fabric swatches and much more. The book provides a delightful glimpse into life as it was for a young woman in the 1920’s, and contains so much memorabilia on each page that you just want to keep going back to it time and again.

Handmade Decorative Books

I am constantly adding to my collection of craft books. There are so many great ones out there. Not only are they lovely to look at, but each one provides new inspiration for things to make and create. If only there was more time to try everything! I recently bought Handmade Decorative Books by Sue Roddis. It is a wonderful book with guides and techniques for making your own albums and embellishing them with collage, stamping, and stitching.

I decided to have a go at making the heart album, shown on the cover. Although there is a template at the back of the book, I chose to make my own as I wanted to make the pages larger. I had great fun embellishing the pages with some of my favourite photos, and beautiful papers from my stash. A book of nature and garden quotes from Sarabooks Hot Off The Press Inc. provided some lovely additions to the pages.

This photograph provided me with an opportunity to use one of my favourite quotes. Without change, there would be no butterflies – anon.

Memoirs of an imaginary friend

Budo is Max’s imaginary friend. Max needs Budo because he doesn’t have any other friends. Budo needs Max, because if Max didn’t imagine him, Budo wouldn’t exist. When Max is in danger, Budo must help him, but he is unable to touch the real world and must enlist the help of other imaginary friends.

Although I never had an imaginary friend when I was young, reading about Budo made me wish that I had. It was a compelling read that takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions, and though I didn’t want the story to end, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Budo and the other imaginary friends once they were no longer imagined. I really enjoyed this book. A fantastic read!