Jen Spilly Designs
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Handmade for Woman and Home
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Instagram Best Nine 2016

Instagram Best Nine 2016

It's been a while. Checking in to share my Instagram Best Nine of 2016, the posts that received the most likes over the past year. It turns out that these images are some of my favorites too. It seems the moments and achievements that touch us most deeply are the things that speak to others about ourselves the most deeply too. Over the past year I started doing some block printing and hand dying, I had a couple of awesome vacations with beautiful vistas and tasty cocktails, I took a stab or two at building daily creative habits, my kids grew (and I have the pics to prove it!). And two things will forever be so: 1) I am a sucker for pics of my kids from our annual Christmas Tree Trek (especially with silly faces and Santa hats) and 2) my husband sure knows how to light a tree... he's always the most popular guy on the block this time of year.

For anyone reading, I wish you a Happy New Year and leave you with a list of thoughts on where I am in my life right now, Taking Stock inspired by Pip of Meet Me At Mike's. Make your own list, it's fun and harder than you'd think...

Making : lists
Cooking : Enchiladas
Drinking : coffee and wine, what else is there?
Reading: In The Company of Women by Grace Bonney
Trawling: Hot for Food Blog and Lauren Toyota... I'm not vegan, but she's inspirational.
Wanting: a new couch
Looking: forward
Deciding: on my "one little word" 
Wishing: people find peace
Enjoying: twinkly lights
Waiting: to speak
Liking: fresh flowers
Wondering: how to get it all done
Loving: my old dog
Pondering: a cleanse and a better fitness plan
Listening: to old vinyl with N
Considering: classes and workshops... for me!
Buying: groceries... really, it never seems to end
Watching: family movies with the kids
Hoping: it all works out
Marvelling: at the freedom of birds
Cringing: when I think ahead to January 20
Needing: nothing
Questioning: my direction
Smelling: geranium
Wearing: my Blundstones almost every day!
Noticing: friends who seem to have it together
Knowing: that they probably really don't
Thinking: about classes and workshops
Admiring: creative people
Getting: rid of extra stuff, making room for the Holiday haul
Bookmarking: One Little Word
Disliking: the tween years
Opening: Holiday cards
Closing: the year
Feeling: a little stuck
Hearing: my own voice
Celebrating: new beginnings
Pretending: that I am not a procrastinator
Embracing: my babies who aren't babies anymore

Natural Beauty & Announcements
Shadows & Bike Tracks
Shadows & Bike Tracks

We are currently on our annual vacation to Crested Butte, Colorado and I must say that due to some massive rainfall (sorry fellow Californians!), Mother Nature is in rare form. Yes, it is ALWAYS beautiful here! This is our twelfth year in Crested Butte and we have yet to be dissappointed, but this year is by far the most spectacular when it comes to just all out beauty. Our schedule usually gets us here just as the wildflowers are wilting. This time, however, I am constantly finding myself in awe of the variety of flowers and colors I find at every turn. Each day I hike with the dog along the same trail, and each day a new  scene draws my eye - new varieties of wildflowers waving in the wind, clouds of every shape and color imaginable, critters peeking out of bushes and scuttling along the trails, mountain reflections like paintings on the lake. I could go on and on... it really is amazing. Here are just a few highlights...

Sunny Flowers
Sunny Flowers
Courageous Caterpillar
Courageous Caterpillar
Mount Crested Butte Reflection
Mount Crested Butte Reflection
CB at Sundown
CB at Sundown
Real Mountains (looking like a painting)
Real Mountains (looking like a painting)
Morning Hike at Peanut Lake
Morning Hike at Peanut Lake

In light of all the beauty and relaxation, however, there is still work to be done. So... keep your eyes peeled here or on the Sewing Classes page of my website. The Fall sewing schedule should be up in the next day or so. I am revamping the format a bit with Monday and Tuesday classes running longer sessions focused primarily on the beginning sewist. Wednesday classes will be completely new and improved featuring Wednesday Workshops, one-time three hour classes focusing on one project each time for the experienced sewist. These will be one-off classes where students will complete a specific, pre-planned project in one three-hour class. Stay tuned for more information!

Pillows, Pouches & A Little Happy New Year

Currently on my work table are a few new pillow covers for our living room. I must say I have searched high and low for pillow inspiration, but nothing is really grabbing me. Since we lack a decent fabric store here in Marin, there is really nowhere I can go to lay out bolts of options and hope for one of those great Aha! moments. After many days procrastinating a drive to Berkeley, I gave up and decided to go local to a little shop in Mill Valley that has a decent but small selection of quality cottons. There I found this lovely plum floral print from Art Gallery Fabrics' Paradise Collection. pillows in progress 2

It really is pretty, especially paired with the solid linen/rayon blend I picked up from Joann's that is a miraculously perfect match. However, I have to say I am still not satisfied and I already know I will continue to be on the lookout for the perfect fabric and inspiration for the next batch of pillows. I really just couldn't live with the previous pillows for a minute longer. I had hoped to finish these before our little New Year's Eve party and when I didn't get it done, I seriously considered hiding the old ones in the closet. Far too dingy to bother showing a picture of here, they have truly worn out their welcome in the Spilly household. As I continue my search for the perfect pillow, these will have to do. Photos of the completed pillows will follow...

pillows in progress

In other news, I whipped up some cute little zipper pouches for the special ladies in my life for our family Christmas Eve gift exchange.

Christmas zip pouches

They came out really nicely. I made them slightly bigger than the ones currently in my shop. I realized a while back that the ones I have had for sale up until now weren't quite the perfect size for carrying makeup which usually is the purpose of this sort of bag. They are just a bit longer taking into account the length of the average makeup brush, mascara, or lip & eye liner pencil. That said, "the ladies" loved them and future pieces for the shop will be updated accordingly to maximize their functionality.

Christmas zip pouches 3

Finally, for whoever might be reading this, I want to wish you a Happy New Year! The Holidays whirled through my life this year like a tornado taking with them my ability to think straight and, most certainly, my ability to write down or take note of a single thing. I am not one to make long lists of resolutions, but if you check back here you might just find a list of things I hope to accomplish over time and a list of things I am proud to have accomplished in 2011. For now, however, I wish everyone a year of peace, health and comfort  in 2012.

Tis' the Season ...

Hello folks! Well, December is upon us. I must say I am ill prepared for this Holiday Season. Many plans are made and moving forward, but no matter what I do to stay ahead, it seems I cannot get to that point where I can sit back and take a full breath of air. I have simply resigned myself to the idea that I will not be able to relax until January 4 when the kids return to school after the break. Until then it’s all making, selling, cleaning, decorating, feeding, eating and shopping. The purpose of this post then is to make my list and check it twice (lucky you, you get to help!). The list of what’s happened, what’s happening and a few items that are likely to not happen at all (but it’s nice to dream).

What Has Happened?

  • Marin Handmade had its inaugural event way back in October. What a fun event that was! Heather and I are so proud of how it turned out and we are already talking about what and when the next event might be along with our co-organizers Robin Stelling and Creek Van Houten.
  • Halloween went off without a hitch. One Kitty Cat and one Werewolf semi-homemade as requested.

Halloween 2011

  • New items are posted in my shop for the first time in a long time. Seriously, I hit a wall sometime back and have had the hardest time getting to the other side, but I am finally making some progress in sewing, photographing and posting. Whew!
  • Gianna turned 5!!
  • Thanksgiving was lovely if a bit less festive as we were missing part of our usual family party. The food all turned out perfect and we spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with Grandma, Grandpa and Aunt Stacey.

with Grandpa & Aunt Stacey

  •  For quite some time now I have been hiking with Bear 3 or 4 mornings a week. I am loving it!
  • Gerald, our elf, has returned for the season. He is carefully watching over the kids and is already being used as a threat (lovely!)… “You should stop fighting. Gerald is watching.” Such great parenting skills we have.
  • The Advent Calendar is up and ready for action.
  • The boxes of decorations are down from the attic and awaiting the arrival of the tree this Sunday. Always a fun time meeting our friends in Freestone, picking a fresh tree at Santa’s Christmas Tree Farm and refueling with lunch at the Union Hotel. The rest of the day is spent untangling lights, rearranging the mantle and making sure the kids put the ornaments where I want them.
  • The Mr., usually wonderful man that he is, has adorned our massive maple tree on the front lawn with lights, lots of lights. Funny, he was a total scrooge before we had kids and now I have to beg him to stop decorating. It looks beautiful though - in a haphazard, Dr. Seuss-y sort of way. Gotta love a guy who can make you and the kids smile from time to time!

What is Going to Happen (or should have happened already...)?

  • This Saturday I will be at the Petaluma Craft Mafia’s Holiday Ho Ho Ho Down selling my bags. I’ve never done this show before, but I am imagining the crowd will be pretty fun.
  • Next Saturday I will be at the Fairfax Holiday Craft Fair. I did this fair last year and had a great time. So happy to be asked back again!
  • I’ve decided to make some quilted camera straps. I know there are lots of people on Etsy and other places doing this, but I love them and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while so I decided to just go for it.
  • I am adding a few other bits and bobs to my line up as well. Stay tuned…
  • Still thinking about starting up a program to teach sewing to kids and adults. I think there is a lot of interest in my area. It’s just a matter of me getting off my butt and doing it.
  • I still owe my mother a Christmas list for my kids. Sorry Ma!
  • I still don’t have a real Christmas list for myself of what to give the kids or anyone else.
  • I would love to get my house really, really clean AND get a new living room rug ASAP…

And the online housekeeping… It seems that I spoke too soon in my last post. I was so excited that I got my banners to work and all, that I just went ahead and deleted my old blog. Well, in my excitement I forgot I had one more step to take. The second I hit “delete” all the links to my old photos were gone because apparently they were still living in my old blog. So, if you go back into an old post here you might find there is no picture where there once was one. I am working on that, but I have to manually go back and find each photo in my files and upload it new into each post. Fun! Anyway, bear with me please. I am clearly not technologically inclined but I am doing my best. Happy Holidays! More to come...

First Day of School 2011

Well, I know this has been true for a few years now, but my babies really aren’t babies anymore. Today was the first day of school and I am officially the mom of two elementary school kids now. Yikes!

In 2nd Grade now, N. has moved over to the big kids building across the schoolyard and G.  is venturing into new territory for all of us with a different Kindergarten teacher than N. had. It’s all so exciting and nerve wracking too. I expected to get a little choked up this morning leaving G. behind, but N. left me little time for that. As we stood outside of G.’s class N. asked what his room number was. Before I could say “13”, he was running across the schoolyard, no kiss, not even a good-bye. It so distracted me from G.’s situation that I quickly handed her over to her teacher and made sure she was taken care of then ran off to say good-bye to N. and get a picture of him at his new desk.

That was it – done. Two kids in school, no more driving north four days a week to the pricey preschool, everyone safe in one spot just a few blocks from home. Happy!

As I fulfilled part of my volunteer duties stuffing envelopes this morning, I spied G.’s class taking a little tour of the school. They looked so small yet grown up all at the same time, walking in a perfect line, hanging on their teacher’s every word. Half of them walked with fingers in their mouths and eyes popping open – it’s all so big!

I know they are both happy to be back with their friends. The summer was great and relaxing for us all, but I know they reached their limit on how long they could stand playing mostly just with each other.  We’re all glad to get back to some sort of routine, a rhythm.

As relieved as I am to have some of my own time back, on this first day I can’t help but spend my time off anticipating the stories I will hear in just a few short hours. Old friends, new friends and a sweet mix of fear and excitement over what they’ve been told to expect from the school year. It reminds me how many memories of my own I have from similar days as a child, all of the many new beginnings, and I can only hope they look back on these days with the same fondness because they are truly special.

familyJenniferfamily, kids, school
Boulder, Utah 2011

So the second and final part of our trip was three nights in Boulder, Utah. Our adventures there were beautiful and peaceful and, of course, filled with nature and ridiculously amazing food. Our need for a bit of wondrous site-seeing was fulfilled with several drives through the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. This is miles of roads weaving through red rocks and deep canyons, many of which lead you down into the north side of Lake Powell. When it got a little too hot in the car, we would park and walk down to the river running alongside the road, cooling ourselves in the pools and sunning like lizards on the rocks.

We stayed at Boulder Mountain Lodge, which in and of itself is really worth the trip alone. The lodge is family and pet friendly, has a hot tub, comfortable rooms and beautiful grounds. The kid’s favorite part of the day was getting badminton rackets and a birdie from the front office and attempting to hit over the too-high net in the middle of the field. They also managed to talk The Mr. into croquet one evening as well.

But the true highlight of Utah was… well, the food of course. Boulder Mountain Lodge is home to Hell’s Backbone Grill, a restaurant started in 2000 by Blake Spalding and Jennifer Castle. I won’t go into too much detail except to say that if you have a chance, go! And if you don’t, at the very least, check out their cookbook, With a Measure of Grace.  And, if you plan to go and stay at the Lodge, do your self a favor and book two nights (or more) right up front because one just isn’t enough. You need at least two dinners and two breakfasts at Hell’s Backbone to really experience the restaurant. The menu is heavily inspired by the flavors and dishes of the Southwest and the ingredients are all local and organic, many of which are grown personally by the owners.

Needless to say, my food (creamy enchiladas, cornmeal encrusted trout, a vibrant red beet salad, a plate of radishes and rosemary infused local cheddar, pueblo rice, steaming hot posole, butterscotch pudding with homemade pine nut brittle…) all disappeared so quickly that I didn’t even think to take pictures. I suppose I should plan that for next time… there will most definitely be a next time.

In the meantime, I’ll just whip up some new concoction from the cookbook and daydream about next year’s trip!

Crested Butte 2011

We’ve just returned home from our annual trip to Crested Butte, Colorado. Every year we find our way there – we used to go in the Fall as the leaves changed – now we go in the summer as the last of the wild flowers fade. We are able to head out for a nice long stretch and get back just in time for school to begin.

Crested Butte has come to mean so much to us, and that goes far beyond the beauty of the town and the surrounding terrain. We have come to love quite a few people there just like they are part of our group of friends here at home. It’s amazing how you can meet someone and see them only a few times over the span of two weeks a year and somehow still feel so deeply connected.

The Mr. and I find ourselves looking forward to this trip months in advance with a bit of giddy excitement similar to the kids’ before our other annual trip to visit the cousins and go to Disneyland! While The Mr. spends the weeks before reminding himself of all the trails and planning the routes he wants to cover on his bike, I spend time (honestly!) thinking about wild flowers, coffee and food.

Seriously, the coffee and food in this town are worth the trip alone – people in CB are serious about both, but mostly the coffee. While the main street is lined with some pretty wonderful restaurants and really any kind of food you could possibly want, it’s the two coffee spots in town that truly draw you in. Coffee is a ritual here - I love that! It reminds me of growing up in the City, being in high school and college, getting a latte and sitting down for a real conversation and losing track of time. Something I rarely do these days!

When we are in CB, we find ourselves walking over to the main street in the morning and getting coffee and actually lingering over it, enjoying a little people watching. We get the kids donuts, find them a dog to pet or some raspberries to pick and then we have more than a few precious moments to savor nearly every sip of the brew. The Mr. gets his usual strong latte (extra shots involved!) and I enjoy an Americano with lots of cream (there doesn’t seem to be any drip in this town and that’s OK!). This year I even found myself adding a little raw sugar, making the whole cup pleasantly tangy and the last few sips truly sweet.

And the wild flowers? Well, they are off the hook in CB. Really! It’s the wild flower capital of Colorado, in fact, with a wild flower festival in July. This year in particular I knew we would be in for a treat because of the late winter. It seems no matter where we were – rivers, lakes, trails, dry land, wet land – there were flowers. And not just flowers, but crazy beautiful flowers. Flowers in colors that can only be found in nature. Fields of delicate Sunflowers standing at attention facing the Sun as he moves across the afternoon sky. Sprays of Columbine and Larkspur jutting out between the rocks. Blue Flax and white Flox sprinkled along the edges of a trail. Wispy stalks of Penstemon waving in the mountain breeze and Yarrow growing higher than it will ever get in my own backyard. All of this and more still thriving amongst slightly melancholy bunches of already spent, but still sadly beautiful Black-Eyed Susans. All so truly breathtaking!

Leaving CB is always bittersweet. Losing all of that unscheduled time, time to roam and be both active and a bit lazy. Knowing that we will soon be back in the land of work and school and driving everywhere. And most of all, saying goodbye to friends we won’t see for another year. However, we always leave refreshed by more time in nature, adding to that we get at home. We reach our limit on restaurant dinners and trips to the adventure park on the mountain. The kids want to get back to their toys and friends their own age. I find myself newly inspired to get back to my sewing machine and my own kitchen. The Mr. starts getting nervous about time away from work and antsy being away from his man-cave (a.k.a. our garage). And the dog I’m sure yearns to follow the sun beams around his own familiar backyard.

So much can be said for having a different adventure in a new place every time you leave home. But the same is true of having a place you can go again and again to get a refill on all those things that make life new and fresh once more.

family, travelsJennifer
How's this for an overdue post? (Advent Calendar)

I had great hopes way back in November to write a post about our Advent Calendar (and actually post it sometime around December 1st).  My original inspiration was this one from Kathy Mack at Pink Chalk Studio which she completed back in January of 2007 - right about when I started my own.  I remember pouring over her photos and having one of those "I should do that" moments.  So, I cut the tree shape and assembled the quilt top that same January (on the heals of putting away my decorations from the Christmas before, but planning ahead).

That was a big holiday season for me.  That fall I discovered the world of craft blogs and was finding inspiration left and right.  Little G. was born in November and she was such a good baby, I was left with lots of time for quiet activities like poking around on the internet and fumbling around with my sewing machine.  Pink Chalk Studio quickly became one of my favorite places to visit everyday and it is still so obvious why - tons of wonderful sewing tips and inspiration coupled with great writing.  What more could a wanna be crafty girl who loved reading ask for?

That was the same year I made my first tote to give as a gift.  I made what I now refer to as "The Simple Tote" for my mom, along with a matching crochet hook roll. I am pretty sure she is still using both regularly for her crochet projects.  I remember discovering Rainbow Fabrics in Fairfax - a funny little fabric store - and buying the fabric for my mom's tote and then going back the next day for more to make the Advent calendar.  I remember having G. in the Bjorn when I bought the fat quarter of green fabric I used to make that perfect tree shape and digging around for scraps in the bin of leftovers for the pockets.  Looking back, I remember that many little sewing projects were started that year, and so many little windows into the crafty life were discovered online - it really was the beginning of so much for me.

So back to this Advent calendar ... The buttons are all vintage and random finds from a box of thousands at Rainbow.  So much fun to sift through!  Of course I had never quilted anything in my life so I totally winged it.  I pulled out the walking foot and went to town!  I knew nothing at the time about making my own seam binding, so I just bought a package of red at JoAnn's, wrapped it around the edge and zigzagged.  I imagine this is a total amateur move, but it worked at the time and I display it proudly.  Sadly, all these steps, the quilting, the buttons, the zigzagging, the binding, took me something like two years and the thing is (in my mind) still a work in progress.  Someday (maybe next year) I plan to make some handmade ornaments to adorn this quilted tree.  Until then, my little store bought Santa's and candy canes will have to do.

How do we use it?  Well, in each of the 25 pockets there is a little strip of paper and an ornament. The strips of paper have events, treats and special gifts printed on them.  Some days the kids get stickers or other small gifts or a special dessert, other days they are treated to a special event like going to The Nutcracker or watching a Holiday movie.  Each day, from December 1st through Christmas we pull an ornament and hang it from a button on the tree and enjoy that day's treat or gift. By Christmas we have a fully decorated "tree" and twenty-five days of fun to remember.

a birthday girl

Happy Girl

Four years ago yesterday, a sweet bundle of love came into the world and completely changed my life.  Weighing in at a whopping 8 lbs. 7 oz., she immediately stole the hearts of Mr. Spilly and I with her hypnotic eyes and glowing smile.  That hasn't changed a bit since day one.  G. is a passionate little thing who will squeeze my arm with all of her strength and say with pursed lips, "I love my Mama!  Mama you're my best fwend!"  Ten seconds later she is letting out a blood curdling scream because she wants crackers and she wants them NOW!  Another minute later, she is back to normal, gazing at me an inch away and saying, "I wanna snuggle!"

Yes, she can drive me completely bananas, but I love it.  She's funny, smart and she knows what she wants and how to get it - all good qualities for a girl in this world.  So, Happy Birthday to my youngest baby!  May you have many happy years ahead of you - years of adventure and love and knowledge - and may you make the very most of each and every one.

Right now my girl is often...

  • playing "family" (dressing her babies and pretending to be a mommy)
  • playing store
  • trying to write and recognize her letters
  • counting
  • talking about her freinds
  • asking for ponytails
  • asking for nail polish
  • playing Barbie (much to my dismay)
  • setting up a fort in the corner of the living room
  • pretending to read books to a class full of kids just like her teachers
  • loving school, chicken nuggets and anything chocolate!