Make Your Own Adorable Photo Ornaments

I was looking online and spotted these cute square photo ornaments on the Crafting Chicks website.  I set out to duplicate them.

There are a few instructions on the original webpage where I found them, but I am including way more instructions here based on my trial and error to help anyone who tries to make these succeed!

The ingredients:

1.5″ plain wooden square blocks (craft stores), scrapbook paper in Christmas colors/designs, Avery labels size 5164, matte Mod Podge, sponge brush, scissors, small eye hooks with screw ends, ribbon, letter stickers

Assembling all the things that will go on the blocks is the hardest part.  First you have to create square photos- 2 per block (I did this in iPhoto) then drag them into Word and size them at about 1.38″.  I also found a cute square graphic image online and sized it to 1.38″ in Word.  I created a label document specific to the Avery 5164 labels and was able to fit 4 squares on each label then print them in color.  Then I had to cut out all those photos!  Meanwhile, I was tracing a block on scrapbook paper and cutting it slightly smaller than the lines.  I needed 3 of those squares per block!

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Then comes the assembly.  Peel off the photos (printed on labels) and place 2 photos across from each other on the block.  On one side between them place a scrapbook paper using a light layer of mod podge.  Stick the initial sticker of the child’s name on top of that (centered).  On the other empty side between photos place whatever you want (I used a cute Christmas graphic.)  Other ideas are the child’s name and year, or just a plain square of color.  Mine was printed on a label and easy to affix.  On the top and bottom of the square use a layer of mod podge to apply scrapbook squares.  I added a heart-shaped sticker on the bottom on which I wrote the child’s name and year.  So just to clarify, the photos and graphic were printed on labels thus much easier to apply than the scrapbook paper squares which required some mod podge between them and the wooden block.

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After all the sides are covered with something, apply the mod podge all over the entire thing in a even, thin layer.  It will take several different coats allowing for drying in-between in order to get the whole thing covered without it sticking to the table.  I set it on wax paper to help avoid sticking.  It’s scary because the mod podge looks like it will never dry clear but it will!

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When the entire block is covered and dry, find the center of the top of the block and screw an eye hook into it.  I could start it with my hands but had to use pliers at the very end to get it all the way into the block.

Tie ribbon to the hook for hanging and you’re done!

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I probably should have included even more instructions, but really it’s the kind of thing you will figure out as you go along with it.  I made 12 of these ornaments and LOVED how they turned out.  I think they make great gifts!


The Power of Music (and John Denver)

I had an experience today I never want to forget.  I imagine I never will.

I was scheduled to read to my youngest’s class during library time.  I’ve been doing this with all three kids for 7 years now.  Parents get to bring books to read to their child’s class every so often up through grade 2 (this is my last year.)

Because I am so music-oriented I have always chosen at least 1 book that I can sing instead of read to the class.  This goes over really well.  Some favorites are Pajama Time (Boynton), This Land is Your Land (Guthrie), and What a Wonderful World (Armstrong).  These are actual picture books that have wonderful illustrations to these famous song lyrics.  The kids love it.  They always listen so intently to my “sung books” and they even sing along on the ones they have come to know.

Today I decided to hit the library and pick up a new singing book I had never taken to school before: Take Me Home Country Roads by John Denver.



I spent a little time on Youtube, reacquainting myself with the tune and tucked it away in my pile of books to take to school.  When I got to the school library I was rushed up to the front and the kids were called over to sit in front of me.  On a whim, I pulled out the Country Roads book first.  I talked for a minute about how some places are very special to us.  This song is about a place that’s special to the songwriter…the state West Virginia.  He describes that state and tells how wonderful it is and how much he wants to go back there.  I asked them what state (or place) was special to them.  We talked briefly about how John Denver was a famous folk singer whose songs were popular when I was a kid.

Then I broke into the song, holding the beautifully illustrated book for all to see.  They were so quiet and attentive.

And at the end of the book several hands were raised to share comments.  I looked at one girl who had her hand up and saw traces of tears on her cheeks.  She wiped a tear from her eye and said “That book made me cry.”

“That book made me cry.”  This is a second grader.  A 7 year old.  A child moved to tears by a classic John Denver song.  Does this not blow your mind?  It absolutely blew me away.  Not only does it affirm just how timeless Denver’s lyrics and tunes are, but it speaks to the power of music itself that it can cause such strong emotional reactions in us.  Especially in this environment of technology, speed, consumerism…the raw power of a song can prick a heart in way so few things can.

It was a moment that changed me.  It inspired me.  I can’t even explain how deeply touched I was this afternoon by that little girl’s tears.

DIY Beeswax Lotion

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One of things I was super excited about regarding our first honey harvest was that I would be getting some beeswax.  Yes, the honey is amazing, but beeswax ranks right up there with it in my opinion.  I scoured the web for recipes for candles, lip balm, lotions, etc.  I also did lots of research to try to figure out how to turn the wax into a pure substance I could use.  It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world.  I had to rinse all the caps Cody sliced off the frames, trying to get all the honey off them.  Then I melted them in a double boiler.  Then I strained it through cheesecloth into a styrofoam cup.  It hardened and I tore the cup away to reveal a small block of 2 ounces of wax.  It was beautiful!  It wasn’t a large amount, but it was stunning.

There are so many recipes for lotion online and they vary greatly.  I knew I wanted one that used only oils (no water) in order to extend the shelf life and prevent bacteria.  I also wanted one that was creamy instead of firm.  AND, most importantly, it needed to be easy to make and clean up after…which means no blender!  Can you imagine getting hardened beeswax out of a blender?  No thank you.  I finally just picked one and it turned out great.  I guess I picked the right recipe!  It was at asonomagarden.com which looks like a fun natural blog.

A visit to Sprouts yielded the coconut oil, grape seed oil, safflower oil, Vitamin E, and essential oils I needed.  I decided to put tea tree and lavender oils in my lotion.  It’s a great combination.  It smells very clean and pretty.  The consistency is perfect.  It goes on slightly oily (duh- there’s lots of oil in it) but that fades fast to leave a smooth rich moisture.  Yes, considering the materials I had to buy today, each 4 oz. tub of lotion I created cost about 4.2 million dollars (slight exaggeration) BUT now that I invested in the materials I can make dozens of batches.  (I just need more wax…get busy bees!)

I’m so excited about making my own natural lotion.  I can’t wait to try some more homemade recipes when we get more wax in the spring.

Best Homemade Cheddar Broccoli Soup


My kids beg me to make the soup I whipped up tonight.  Sometimes they even ask for it as their birthday dinner…so you know it’s got to be good.  I adapted this recipe from an old cookbook and have made it dozens of times.  It’s easy and tastes like gourmet.  It’s fairly foolproof, and the ingredients don’t have to be exact.  Only once did it mess up in all the years I’ve been making it and I blame the cheese I used that night.  Something had to be wrong with that cheese because instead of melting into the soup it got all gross and clumpy.  That had never happened before and it never happened again.


4 TBS unsalted butter

1 small-medium onion finely chopped

3 TBS flour

1 3/4 cup – 2 cups chicken broth

1 medium head of broccoli chopped into small pieces (I don’t use much stem, just florets)

1 1/2 cup – 2 cups grated cheddar (I use sharp)

1 1/2 cups milk, half and half, or heavy cream  You can use any combination to create the 1 1/2 total liquid.  I like to use about 1 cup of 2% milk and the rest half and half or cream.

salt and pepper

In a saucepan warm butter over medium heat until melted.  Add onion and sauté until soft.  Add flour, stir together, over low heat until no longer visible.  (About 1 minute) Slowly stir in the broth, then broccoli.  Bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 10-15 minutes until broccoli is tender.  Stir in cheddar cheese until melted.  Stir in the milk combination of your choice and warm over low heat.  (Do not let it boil.)  Salt and pepper to taste.


First Honey Harvest!

I’ve been waiting so long for this day.  Cody dreamed and planned for years before actually taking steps to get bees.  Then, when we got the materials it took a while to put everything together.  Then, we got the bees and started raising them in April.  Finally, FINALLY, at the end of October we had our first ever honey harvest.  All the time and energy we (or mostly Cody) have put into beekeeping has finally turned into something sweet and delicious we can actually eat!

Harvesting the honey (and really we didn’t have a huge amount…next year will be when we start getting bumper crops!) took all afternoon.  First, Cody and Nate had to suit up and go get the top portion of the beehive (called the honey super) and bring it inside.  It’s not easy because 1. it’s heavy with honey 2. you have to clear all the bees away from it (they used a leaf blower!) and 3. the bees are angry and attacking because you’re stealing their honey.

Here’s the honey super.  Each frame can be full on both sides with honey which is stored in small holes, each with a beeswax cap covering it.  Ours was about 60% full.

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The next step is to remove a frame and slice off the tops of the beeswax caps to expose the honey.

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Just look at all that rich gooey honey.  The caps are sliced off but the honey pretty much stays put where it is.  That’s why we have to buy an extractor.  For small jobs like ours, a hand crank extractor does the trick nicely.  We slide 2 frames at a time into the extractor then spin it fast with the crank.

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Both sides of the frame have to be spun, so we take it out and flip it over after a couple of minutes.  It doesn’t take long to fling that honey out of the frame onto the stainless steel extractor where it runs down the sides and collects in the bottom of the tank.

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When all the frames have been emptied into the extractor, we place it on a table and open the spigot just a little so the honey starts dripping out into a mesh sieve over a large bucket.  As the honey runs through the sieve, all the impurities, wax, etc is removed allowing only perfect, pure honey to reach the bucket.


We take the bucket of pure honey and fill bottles of all sizes.  We got some tiny 2 oz. bottles because we knew our first harvest wouldn’t be huge and we wanted to give out lots of tastes of our honey to friends.  We also filled a few 6 oz and 12 oz. jars.  Later I can clean off the beeswax caps and use them to make lotion, lip balm, and other fun stuff!  Pure beeswax is a high quality ingredient.

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I asked Lucas to draw a picture of a bee.  I transfered his drawing to the computer so we can have personalized labels on our honey jars.

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If we were going to sell the honey, a few extra things would be required on the labels (like the net weight, our address, etc).  Maybe next year when our harvest is bigger we will sell honey.  By the way, do you notice how dark this honey is?  I did some research to try to figure out why that is.  From what I read it seems to be a result of the types of plants the bees gather from and how dry or humid the weather was.  I had trouble finding the exact reason, but I did find out that darker honey is better for you!  It’s higher in nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants.  It also has an amazing taste.  Some might think it’s too strong, but my kids are fairly picky and they all like it!

Cheap, Easy ($100) Bathroom Makover

I’m surprising my kids with a total bathroom makeover.  Their bathroom has always been a bit dull.  Cream colored shower curtain, pale rugs, brown towels, not much on the walls.  It’s not a bright place, and I’ve always wondered if maybe one of the reasons they don’t take much care in keeping it clean is because it’s not a lovely place to begin with.

Or maybe they are just slobs.  BUT, I am hoping that a lively, inspiring space might motivate a little more cleanliness, and if not then at least it’s a little prettier anyway.  (Really, I think I’m going to have to lay down the law a little more about keeping the space clean and what better reason than to take care of the new items…)

Here’s a pic of the “old” bathroom.  It’s not terrible, I know.  But it is rather blah.

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And here is the “new” bathroom.  It doesn’t scream big change, but I do think it’s more colorful and pretty.

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What you don’t see is that I outfitted the shower/tub with all new things to replace old worn out items.  I got a new shower caddy (the shampoos used to be littered along the edge of the tub) and nonslip tub mat.  I also bought a new shower curtain liner because the old one was torn.

But my favorite thing about the makeover is these towels!  They are perfect because the boys will like the non girly colors and Ava will love the chevron design.  The shower curtain and towels are made by totally different companies but look how perfectly they match!  The gray, green, and aqua colors couldn’t be more in sync.  I’m having trouble finding the words to express the joy I felt when I held the towels up to the shower curtain.  Life never works out that perfectly.  It was a miracle.

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I got a few solid towels too because they were extra big and fluffy and because I didn’t want to go too crazy with the stripes.

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And that cute sign above the toilet?  I got that because it sums up exactly how I want to the kids to take care of the bathroom.  Maybe if they can read it often, I won’t have to say it fifty times a day.  I honestly say every single phrase on that sign all the time, as does every other mother in America.

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I got all these great items at Marshall’s by the way.  It’s the only way I’ll shop to redo a room like this because otherwise it wouldn’t be affordable.  Just look at all I got for $103 (before tax):

4 towels, 2 hand towels, non slip rug, shower curtain, shower curtain liner, non slip tub mat, hanging shower caddy, wall art

It was fun to choose a totally new color palette and fresh items to make the kid’s bathroom (which doubles as our guest bathroom) look extra clean and beautiful.  I’ll let you know if the kids follow the “bathroom rules.”



Independence Day

Most of the country celebrates Independence Day on July 4th, but my kids will forever remember October 16 as the day their mom finally stopped being crazy and let them walk home from school by themselves.

I, like any other great mom, was convinced that the day I let my kids walk home without me they would certainly be flattened by an out of control semi truck.  Because that’s what happens in quiet little neighborhoods, right?  Right?  Ok so maybe not that… but they’d probably be kidnapped.  All three of them, simultaneously, by the world’s evilest kidnappers.  Or they would get lost, hopelessly lost and wander for days without food or drink… or maybe they would trip and crack their heads on the curb.  They should probably wear helmets while walking home…

It’s obvious that my mind can get a little carried away now and then with the “what-if’s.”

I have to accept that there are risks involved with almost everything the kids do, and part of teaching kids involves preparing them, practicing, and providing opportunity.  I prepared them long and hard for walking to and from school.  We practiced it dozens of times together.  I went over tons of scenarios, drilled them, and quizzed them.  And then, unexpectedly, the opportunity came along.

I was so sad to find out on Tuesday that a sweet woman I knew through the elementary school had passed away on Monday.  She and I would stand outside and chat while waiting for the kids to come out at the end of the day.  I was picking up Lucas and she was picking up one of his friends- her grandson that she cared for every afternoon.  It’s amazing how well you get to know a person when you chat for 5-10 minutes a day for a couple of years.  I knew I wanted to attend her celebration of life service on Thursday at 2, but that meant I wouldn’t be able to pick up the kids right at 3.

So I told the kids their chance had come.  I instructed them to walk home, gave them a key and the emergency phone, and I spent time honoring and remembering my friend at her beautiful service.  When I got home, the kids had been home for about 10 minutes and were completely happy and healthy. And I was full of gratitude and conviction after spending time celebrating the life my friend lived.  She really was a lovely, kind person.  I felt a new desire to live a life of love and generosity which was spurred by her legacy.

So the kids and I both had growing experiences this week.  They gained some independence.  I gained some perspective (though tinged with sadness.) And we all came out a little stronger because of it.

We Adopted!

I’ve had 2 cats in my adult life.  Cody and I got Jingle back in the days when I was longing for babies but it wasn’t time to have them yet.  Jingle was a good cat.  She lived with us until about 6 years ago when she became ill and passed away.  We were cat-less for a few years before Puma was given to us.  He was solid black, and the kids got to know him more than Jingle.  We were all pretty attached, so when Puma disappeared one day never to return, it hit us hard.

For the past few months the kids have been begging for a new cat, but it didn’t seem like a good time.  We were busy with summer, and we still missed Puma, and we got new white couches…New. White. Couches.

But after the newness of the couches wore off, and the kids kept begging, Cody and I revisited the cat idea and decided it wouldn’t be so bad to have one.  But I knew I didn’t want another black cat just like Puma.  (white couches.)

So I went to the animal shelter just to look.  Don’t ever go there just “to look” because you’ll be walking out with a new pet.  I was looking for something unusual, unique, and adorable.  I had made up my mind I didn’t want just any old cat.  It had to have very short hair, and absolutely not be a kitten.  I’m not crazy.

When I walked into the cat room there were tons of black, gray, black and white, and gray and white kittens and cats meowing like crazy.  Then I saw a stunning young orange cat sticking its head close to the bars wanting attention.  I was smitten.  It was so different looking, and it had very short hair, but it was a bit on the young side.  I sat and thought for a while.  I took it out and played with it.  I sat some more.  I asked the front desk people about it.  (It was 5 months old, had been adopted as a kitten and then returned because it was too much to handle.  What does that even mean?)  It was spayed, up to date on shots, and microchipped even!

I called Cody.  I sent photos.  I sat around some more wondering if I was about to make a huge mistake.  And then I adopted her.

I thought I would have to write an essay or something about what a great home I planned to give the cat, but apparently all you need to qualify for adopting a cat is $20 and a pulse.  I don’t blame them.  They’ve got to move those animals outta there to make room for the busloads of kittens arriving all the time.  I went home and got the house ready for a cat.  Then I prepared to pick up the kids from school and tell them the good news, before they went with me to bring the cat home.

Telling the kids was fun.  All 3 kids screamed and nearly fainted and Ava shed a few tears of joy.

The cat has been here for about 24 hours and it’s going great.  The kids love playing with it because it has so much energy.  At night (and when we leave the house), I close it up in the laundry room which has a cat door to the garage.  There it has access to food, water, and litter box, but is limited in what it can destroy.

I was a little worried that naming the cat would prove difficult if all the kids had different ideas.  So I was pleased when they all decided an orange cat adopted in the fall must absolutely be named Pumpkin.  Oh, and I did some research and discovered that most orange cats are male because of the way orange color is passed genetically.  Only 20% are female…so she is even more unique than I originally thought.

So here is our new little Pumpkin:

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The Day of Panic and Stress

Well this day will go down in the books.  It was so terrible that I thought maybe writing about it would be cathartic…a way to expel the immense stress my body is carrying around as a result of the brushes with shock and adrenaline I’ve experienced.

It all started this morning when I was dragged from a dead to the world sleep by a pounding knock on the front door.  I didn’t fall asleep until 1:30 AM, so even though it was now 6 AM my body thought it was the middle of the night.  I was scared to death to hear banging on the door, especially since Cody had been out of town for a few days and I was on my own with the kids.  I ran to the front of the house, unsure of what to expect, and saw a policeman on my porch.  Somehow that didn’t make it better.

He was responding to a neighbor’s report of a suspicious person and attempted car burglary when he happened to notice that the sliding door of my van was open there in the driveway.  He asked me to come look through it to see if anything had been stolen.  In a fog, I got my robe and went into the darkness to explore my very open van.  Nothing was missing.  Imagine that- my mom van isn’t a hot target for thieves.  They didn’t want that bag full of burlap, or the empty fast food sacks on the floor.  In fact, I’m pretty certain the kids and I just forgot to close the door the night before.  Even though nothing was wrong, my heart was pounding.  I even called a friend and cried a little bit after it was over.

I got the kids up and 2/3 of them were a bit frightened about pounding they had heard on the door (I thought no one woke up, but I guess I was wrong.)  So we got off to s shaky start but made it to church.  After church, we had the next heart-pounding experience.

We were in the van driving home when the car in front of us lost control and had an extremely violent crash.  I will never forget it- it’s something you just never see and it’s etched vividly in my mind.  (Unfortunately, I’ve been replaying it all afternoon.)  We were headed west on 635 then took the big ramp to exit to 75 North.  You may know there is a rather bug curve at the top of that ramp before it straightens out to the north.  The car in front of us went close to the right wall on that curve.  I even remarked about it to Ava who was in the passenger seat.  But it got back inside the lines.  Then it got kind of close to the left wall.  Again I made a comment.  But it straightened out again.  Then as we got on the straight part of the road after the curve the car just started gliding to the right- farther and farther and farther and I said “It’s going to hit the wall!”  And it did slam into the wall hard.  Then it swerved all the way across a few lanes and hit the left wall so hard it flew up into the air.  Then it swerved hard to the right again, hit the right wall, and stopped.

I was just slowing down, watching it all happen, thinking “how can this be?”  I drove slowly past the stopped car and saw a woman slumped over in the seat.  I pulled over and stopped about 20 yards ahead of the car.  Calling 911 was difficult because my hands were shaking and I kept dialing 911 instead of my passcode to open my iPhone.  I finally got my passcode entered and dialed 911 and explained to the dispatcher our location and what I had seen.  I gave her my name and verified my number in case they needed to call me later.

Meanwhile, a red truck stopped behind the car and a man got out to check on the woman.  And cars were just zipping past us like crazy.  I was too afraid to get out.  I leaned out of the passenger side to yell to the man the news that I had called 911.  Then another car stopped in front of me and a woman got out and ran back to my van.  She was checking on us first- as she had not seen the accident.  I sent her to the other car telling her it was the only one involved.  She was a nurse.  She stayed there until the ambulance and firetruck arrived.  When she came back by my van she told me the woman was awake, but incoherent, and she had a bad cut.

I thought I would stay until police arrived but I had already been there a long time and none had shown up and then I started feeling confused about if they were coming or not.  The firetruck had made the traffic slower, but it started to move a bit and I got worried that it was leaving and the traffic was about to get fast again and I’d never be able to get off the shoulder if it was moving fast.  So I went ahead and drove off.  Maybe they will call me about the accident later.  I don’t know.  I think mostly I was in total shock and not really thinking clearly about it all.

When I got home it took a while for the shock to wear off completely, and then I was overcome with physical symptoms that I have to assume came from the let down after such an adrenaline rush.  I was nauseated and achy.  My back and neck hurt like crazy, and a blanket of exhaustion just wrapped itself around me to the point where I thought I would fall over asleep.  But I could not sleep, because the scene was replaying over and over in my mind.  Some of the kids are also having trouble with anxiety and sadness.  Lucas is especially concerned that whatever happened to the woman driving that car is going to happen to me while I’m driving.

This day was so surreal, so unexpected.  I feel like I’ve been dealing with panic and stress since that moment I woke up to the pounding on my door.  I know many people have worse experiences than these, and in reality nothing bad has actually happened to me or my loved ones, but I’ve had a front row seat to trauma, and it has not been easy to overcome.

*I wrote this post yesterday and am happy to report that Cody is on his way home AND I had a lovely, non-stressful pedicure today.  Two things that have brightened my outlook after the stresses I wrote about above.

Chihuly Gardens and Glass: My Photographs

I love Chihuly’s work.  I had never heard of him before the Dallas Arboretum hosted many beautiful pieces by him a few years ago.  The moment I saw the glass exhibits at the Arboretum, Chihuly gained a sincere follower.  I try to see his work whenever I can.  I was thrilled a couple of years ago when I discovered an exhibit of his in the OKC Museum of Art.  When I decided to travel to Seattle, the one thing I knew I *had* to do was see his Gardens and Glass exhibit.  It was spectacular!  I can’t believe I’m posting 14 photos, but I can’t narrow it down more than that.  There was so much great stuff!

The very first room was my favorite.  I could have spent 2 hours in that small room soaking in all it had to offer.  Not only were his glass pieces placed expertly next to woven Native American baskets, but there was an entire wall of Pendleton and Pendleton-style blankets, AND two entire walls of photos from the early 1900′s focusing on Native people.  Beautiful glass, stunning textiles, and old photographs…or in other words, heaven.




The next room had a sea theme.  The centerpiece was dazzling, but the room was filled with smaller intricate pieces that contained sea animals done in glass.  It was a treat for the eyes.


Here, as in the OKC museum, there was an empty room with a glass ceiling filled with colorful pieces of all shapes and sizes.  My favorite thing is how the glass throws shadows of every color on the walls.


One large room had a center island filled with glass of all colors, shapes, and sizes.  It was like a magical island.


Another room had a display like I had seen before at the Dallas Arboretum…boats full of glass that reflected perfectly in the shiny floor below.


One thing that surprised me was the framed examples of his drawings.  These muted drawings were one of the best things about the exhibit.  Limited edition signed prints of similar work was available in the gift shop…for $2500.00 or more.  I’ll go ahead an throw this out there as a great Christmas gift idea for me if anyone wins the lottery between now and then.


Chihuly’s chandeliers are always amazing.  There were several examples in the exhibit.  Each had its own personality.


More paintings by Chihuly in vibrant colors.  Stunning.  I couldn’t decide which was my favorite.


After perusing the inside rooms, we headed outside for the “garden” portion of the exhibit.  Chihuly is a master at placing glass in nature for maximum effect.


This greenhouse filled with glass “flowers” hung from the ceiling was a highlight.  The space is enormous.  When looking up at the glass one can see the Space Needle as well.  It’s beautifully done.



I loved how this crazy curly glass in bright orange and red was framed by the greenhouse above and the black grass below.  I told you Chihuly is a master.


Halfway through the exhibit, my friend and I paused at the Garden Cafe and enjoyed gourmet food and wine on the patio surrounded by the garden portion on the exhibit.  We talked and rested and soaked up the perfect sunny day.  It was one of the most lovely, joyful, meaningful days I’ve ever experienced, and will be cherished as a special memory.