Category Archives: Craftiness


Nashville Panorama-small

I visited Nashville this weekend.

My buddy Alece lives there, with her own grown-up house and everything. And my buddy Ellyn lives a distance away that she deemed worth driving to meet us, despite the hours and the gas and oh yeah the HORRIBLY DANGEROUS ICY ROAD CONDITIONS all the way through the two states before “ours.”


So yeah, two of my favorite people were in the same rooms with me for the last three days, is what I am saying. And then I discovered a whole other person in the room, and she became a favorite too.

It’s magical how that happens, connection. Between the ones you already loved or between the ones you just met and somehow already love too.


It felt filling, being with them. Like a really, really good quality meal. And I would know something about that because Nashville is apparently the food capital of the world, as far as I am concerned right now. Honestly after all the places Alece and Tracee introduced us to this weekend, I am baffled at why the show “Nashville” is an ABC show about music and not a Food Network show about the best chefs in the industry.

Or maybe it should be a show on the… Photography channel? Maybe that’s a thing? Because, wow, the light and the architecture and the character of this place, it was made for photographing.

Case in point:






And now I am writing this on a plane back to my own home, with its comfy couch and happy little dog and the boy who sings loudly and the beautiful wood floors that I still can’t believe are mine, and all the ingredients nearby to try my best to re-create that barbecue sauce I had on a brisket taco that I am sure I will obsess over until I either get it right or get back to Nashville for the next Local Taco hit. Or that pork from Husk, oh man, that pork, with the insane mix that included mustard, lime, and onion, among, it seemed like, a hundred other flavors.

(Did I mention Nashville’s food scene is incredible?)

I am flying home full.

And also kind of hungry after writing about all of that, and I didn’t even get in to the handcrafted cocktails or the short ribs or the croissant French toast and oh my goodness I did not stay long enough, did I?

But home is pretty filling too.

(Especially if I can figure out how to recreate that barbecue sauce.)

Tonight I am thankful for both places.

Love the one you’re with

I’ve been working on a lot of little projects lately. Sewing, sanding, painting, cleaning, restoring… anything to keep my hands and head busy, really. It’s in my nature to be crafty anyway, but add grief to the mix? And yeah, keep me busy, please.

So, here is a really random mostly-cell-phone-pictures post of my befores and my afters. On many of the projects, it’s WAYYYYY overdue.

Plant Stand Makeover - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

This is a little plant stand my friend gave me for free. I took it apart, spray painted it grey, and tiled the top with some cool tiny tile I got from Lowes. I love this little thing. I keep all my garden stuff on it on my back patio.

Front door makeover- Jack and Mandy: The Blog

Jack painted our front door and replaced the hardware on it. It makes all the difference in the world. I can’t even tell you how much prettier it is in real life. It was BAD before.

Landscaping before and after - Jack and Mandy: The Blog
Landscaping - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

This is the landscaping in front of our house – it’s not so much “DIY” as it is “Save for a really really really long time until you can pay somebody else to DI.” We had it done last spring and I am crazy about it.

Backyard before and after - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

The backyard, however, is very much “DIY.” And by “Y” I mean “I DID IT ALL MYSELF.” I am very proud of it actually. Especially this:

Square foot garden - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

I know I’ve written about my little vegetable garden before, but I have really really loved having it in my backyard this year. I think it may have paid for itself in basil alone. If you’re interested in gardening in a limited space, read this book, stat.

New backyard - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

I’m also crazy about my back porch. I spend a lot of time out there now that I have redone a bunch of stuff, including:

Patio table makeover - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

My patio table, which my dad bought me in college, and had gotten a little rusty – this is basically just a coat or two of spray paint. Easy and looks brand new! And these outdoor pillow cases:

Outdoor throw pillows - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

Which I sewed myself and they even have zippers! I fell in love with these outdoor pillows on Overstock but could not justify the $80 for them. So I found the fabric online and bought some cheap pillow forms (actually just white pillows but same thing) at Burlington Coat Factory and went for it! I have always been really intimidated by zippers but honestly they are not bad at all! I followed this tutorial to add the zipper.

Ironing board makeover - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

I used the rest of the fabric to restore a really, really old ironing board that used to be Jack’s when he was growing up. I had been using it a lot for my sewing and it made me sad before. So I sanded, primed, and spray painted the metal, added rubber feets (you can get these at Lowes), and made a new top for it using this tutorial. I am absolutely enamored with it now.

Ellyn's ruffle camera strap cover - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

I used the new ironing board to help me finally finish this camera strap cover for my buddy Ellyn. I had promised her one, oh, about two years ago when I made Sara’s. Oops. Great tutorial for that here.

Built-in cabinets - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

Pretty built-in cabinets - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

I take absolutely zero credit for this, except that I married a man with the most talented father in the whole world. I have always wanted a built-in cabinet desk in a nook in my room, and my father-in-law built this for me from scratch, complete with a pull-out trash can, a cabinet that was made specifically to fit my printer, Sillhouette, and sewing machine, a 12×12 filing drawer (scrapbook paper size!), and all kinds of other goodness. I am CRAZY about this. All it needs now is the countertop, which he will come back and install soon. I love him .

Dresser makeover - Jack and Mandy: The Blog
New old dresser - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

I just finished this new old dresser this weekend, which is what reminded me that I needed to post my before and afters on the blog. My mom got this dresser for free from her friend, whose mom had passed away and it didn’t get sold in the estate sale. I saw it and had to have it, so she let me steal it from her. I have been using plastic drawers in my closet since I moved in and this is SUCH a prettier option. I’m crazy about how it turned out. It was just a sanding, priming, semi-gloss paint, and new hardware. Totally worth it.

Kitchen collage - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

This is a collage that I made for a side-of-a-cabinet in my kitchen. I made all the printables in Photoshop myself and really like how it turned out.

Sports jersey baby blanket - Jack and Mandy: The Blog

I made this one a very long time ago, and though I think it made the recipients (my brother and sister-in-law) kind of sad because I dared cut up a sports jersey, I really liked making it. I bought a cheap Elway jersey on eBay (as big as I could find), cut it into a square, put really soft fleece on the other side, and did a satin blanket bias tape around the edge. It’s pretty small to be an actual blanket, but it would be a good “lovey” for a toddler to cuddle with.

That’s all for now! I’m sure I will have more projects to post soon – I got some great little nightstands on Craigslist that I plan on redoing as well, but they haven’t told me what color they want to be yet.

DIY Monogrammed Tumblers – A crafty (and cheap) gift!

I try to get a little something for the people I work with every year. The problem is, when you have 10 people in your group (or less and less and less than that due to layoffs – thanks, economy!), it can get a little spendy. So, I try to do something crafty (read: cheap!) so I don’t go way over budget. This year, I did this!

Oh yes, it’s a pinnable image. I’m a super-professional now.

I am kind of obsessed with these double-walled (BPA-free!) plastic cups with straws. You can ask Jack – every time I see one in a store I go all “I MUST HAVE IT NOW!” on him. Even though I have a bunch of them at home already. What can I say? I like to stay hydrated I guess.

So this year, I decided that I’d get those for my co-workers, personalize them with a monogram decal, and fill them with goodies. Easy!

What I used:

  • I got this 12-pack of BPA-free, double-walled tumblers from Amazon. (It’s all about double-walled. Friends don’t let friends need coasters.) You can obviously order smaller quantities but you won’t get as good of a price because the shipping cost is stupid expensive on the individual ones. I have a few leftover and that’s fine by me (have I mentioned my tumbler obsession?)
  • The monogram decals on the front of the cups are from here. (I got the 2.25″ cell phone sticker in “etched” color and “vine” font.) They’re super-easy to put on (took me about 5 minutes to do all of them), and they say they’re dishwasher safe. Time will tell on that one, I guess. Technically you’re supposed to hand-wash the tumblers themselves, but I’m not going to lie, that is not going to happen in my house.
  • And the cookies are a modified version of this recipe (I substituted mint chocolate for half of the chocolate chips), but I assure you, mine are not as good as the original. For this purpose, you will have to make them unnaturally small – I put 16 to a sheet. It went against every one of my instincts. My buddy Candy made these for her co-workers too and filled them with homemade spiced pecans. Whatever you want to put inside them works just fine!

And that’s all it took! I ended up spending about $6 each plus whatever the cookies and ribbon and whatnot cost me (I had all of that on hand). I’m a big fan of that price.

Unrelated: I may have gone a little ribbon-crazy and also decorated the dogs.

Tis the season!

A thing I learned today

I have a newborn shoot tomorrow. And every time I have a shoot, I try to figure out how the heck to do it. Especially when it’s something like this (newborns are TERRIFYING, yes?). I research ways other people do it and critique my past work to try to avoid the same mistakes and gather my materials and make sure I have everything. And as I critiqued my past work, I noticed something that really bugged me about a lot of my pictures.

Face shadows. They’re nearly impossible to edit out, especially if most of your photos have them. I have been really trying to perfect focus and light, so this has been bothering me.

I recently watched a Lynda course about food photography because I do a lot of (non-food) product shots for work (for some insane reason they keep calling me the Official Staff Photographer – yikes), and I wanted to learn a little more about setting up these kinds of shots.

What stuck with me most was the very small amount of light he used. I work with full studio set-ups for video shoots and I prefer to be outside for photo shoots, but he took one simple light and, with a few simple pieces of white cardboard, made it look like natural lighting.

I mean, what?

So this time as I was grabbing my gear in preparation for the shoot, I decided to grab the reflector too. Ours is one of those fancy ones that folds up but a piece of white foam board would work just as well.

And then I decided to take a test picture of my friend Brenda. Indoors. With zero windows. And very little light. And not much thought about settings at all. It was basically a point and shoot in a second shot.

I mean, wow. Her skin looks smoother, there are virtually no face shadows, and she even looks slimmer in the reflector shot.

This isn’t news. It isn’t even something I hadn’t heard before, or even something I hadn’t used before. But I was in love with the results to make that side-by-side comparison and so I’m definitely in love with the results to make sure I use the reflector more often if possible.

You can’t Photoshop moments like this

Everyone does it, I think. Especially us women-folk.

The first reaction to a photo that you’re in.

My hair is weird. I look so tired. My butt looks huge. My face is all broken out.

I have been going through Ellyn’s wedding pictures because Amie (who I might link to if she ever bothered blogging) left me copies of them before we parted. (She did a beautiful job, by the way). 

 I asked Amie to send a picture that I knew Ron took of me, CandyEllyn, and Amie (who I might link to if she ever bothered blogging). After Sara died, the four of us and Alece started a GroupMe group so chat so as to stop Twitter-bombing everyone’s feeds. We are basically in constant communication, texting throughout the day and night with probably the most random and ridiculous assortment of conversations you could possibly imagine.

These are some of my very favorite people. And they all live so far away.

So although Alece and Sara couldn’t be there, this is the closest to “the whole group” we had ever had in one place.I don’t remember many other times where I felt as giddy, as happy, as fulfilled, as right, as when all four of us were in the same room together. So when Amie sent the photo this morning, I got all the warm fuzzies I had when it was taken.

Three of my favorite people in the world. And I actually got to be in the same room with them for a little while.

Of course, as soon as Amie posted it, Candy said “Man, I look well traveled.” And then Amie said “I look squished. I should have turned.” I immediately told them to shut up and then posted a passive-aggressive tweet about them, because that’s how I roll.

(Side note: as I was writing this very blog post, Ellyn complained about herself in another photo. I swear, these people.)

But honestly, I get it. The first thing I looked for in the photos of me was the infamous arm/boob fat that comes along with strapless dresses.

I’m not going to lie, I will probably Photoshop my arm a little bit at some point.

(Now that your wedding is over, Ellyn, I can tell you that I hate wearing strapless dresses, which is a testament to how much I love you to have worn that bridesmaid dress.)

I have spent the last 10 months, and will probably spend the rest of my life, kicking myself for not having jumped in the car and driven 12 hours to Iowa, even if I had to do it alone instead of with the two sickies.If I had a picture of myself sitting next to Sara on her bed instead of next to her on a Skype screen? I don’t care how crappy I looked; I would cherish it. 

The fact that I have a photo of three of my favorite people in the same room is important to me. Of COURSE I can find my flaws in every one of these photos, but the moment wins over the flaws.

After all, you can Photoshop your flaws out, but you certainly can’t Photoshop the moments in.

Eric’s Question

“What do you think you’re really, really good at? Like, probably better than anybody you know at?”

My friend Eric asked me this question on Monday.

I didn’t quite know what to say.

I mean, obviously the first word that popped into my head was “RIVER-DANCING!” but after the river-dancing, it was a difficult question to answer.*

Because the thing is, I don’t do most things long enough to become better than anybody else at them. I go in cycles where I need to do something until I burn myself out on it (See also: couponing). I do come back to it eventually, but I haven’t quite perfected any one thing because of this, I think.

I ended up sitting there silently stumped for a few moments, and then (heaven help me) I quoted my dad to him, who always says “life is a collection of experiences.” And I have been collecting.

I’m learning to sew. I have gotten good enough to sew fancy little camera strap covers and make curtains and pillows and alter dresses and hem pants and things. Most people my age can’t do that.

I am loving learning to cook. Thank you, Pioneer Woman. And thank you, pretty kitchen that I want to be in all the time. I’ve made some dishes I can be proud of now, and I’m always getting better.

I’m getting better at photography. Partially because it’s a part of my job, but mostly because I love documenting memories. That’s the point of all of this blogging, tweeting, and scrapbooking, really. I love documenting memories.

I’m a good editor. I make things they put on the radio, so I must be good enough. I know many technical things and can talk super-nerdy about storage solutions and RSS feeds and the proper way to coil an XLR cable and which DSLRs are on the market right now and the ridiculousness of Final Cut Pro X. I’m really good at figuring out how to automate things using technology. I am willing to work hard, and I know my way around a studio just as much as the boys do. I kind of like that about myself.

I know musicals inside and out and so, so appreciate live theater. And even though I can’t sing, I can quote and reference most any Broadway Musical you throw at me. That’s probably not really all that important of a trait in the scheme of things, but it does fall under the “things Mandy is good at” category, so I’m counting it.

I feel like I finally “get” fashion. Not that I can afford the things I want, or that I’m always dressed right, but you know, I’m at the age where I at least understand what looks good and what doesn’t and I just don’t give a crap what people think about me anymore as long as I feel good in what I’m wearing. I like this age.

I’m good at managing money. I’m good at staying within budgets and saving, but I also know how to spend the money I need to to enjoy life. I think that’s important.

I can make pretty things out of not much of anything, really. I’ve always enjoyed scrapbooking, cardmaking… creating anything really. It makes me feel relaxed and loved and centered.

I don’t care what people think most of the time. I have a self-deprecating sense of humor and I think that’s probably healthy. I am a ridiculously bad dancer, but I do it anyway. I am awkward and silly and nerdy and I think that’s just fine.

In some ways, I’m a really good wife. I get excited about making dinner for my husband, and I make sure we have the things we need in the house, like batteries and light bulbs and toothpaste. I think ahead and always remember to bring his phone charger on trips when he forgets it. I make him laugh, and I try to tell him often that I’m proud of him and how much I truly adore him. Our relationship is far from perfect, but I do some things right.

I can communicate clearly through writing, which I think is an incredibly important asset to have, especially for a person of my generation. I love to tell stories in writing, and hopefully, people think I’m as funny as I think I am.

I try to make other people feel good as much as possible. I don’t hold back compliments and I hardly ever forget birthdays of friends or anniversaries of close friends’ loved ones’ deaths. I do my best to let others know they are important.

I’m good at getting things done behind the scenes for our business. I’m efficient and useful at Whatever-My-Title-Is at our karate school, and I like to think I improve it with my web design and bookkeeping and office work and marketing. Or, at least, I improve Jack’s quality of life by relieving some of the pressure for him at work (see point above about sometimes being a good wife).

I am really good at raising money for the MS Society. I lead my BikeMS team as best I can, and I am absolutely shameless when it comes to asking for money to cure my mom’s disease. (You can donate here. See? Shameless!)

I don’t know if I can answer Eric’s question, really. At least, I can’t answer the part about what I’m doing that’s better than anyone else. But I can answer the first part at least. Those are some of the things I’m good at.

And really, it was a nice question for him to ask. Because it’s probably a good exercise for everyone, especially women, to think about sometimes. We spend a lot of time thinking about what is wrong with us, and God made us into pretty fantastic people in so many different ways. It’s nice not to focus on our faults sometimes.

So, now it’s your turn.

What are you really, really good at?

*No, I’ve never river-danced. Let me just remind you what happened the last time I was near a river, okay? There will be no dancing in this place.

June Blog Train – Monkeying Around

Hi blog trainers!

Thanks for stopping by! If on the Blog Train, you just came from Designs by Angel.

This is something I care about that benefits the National MS Society, more specifically, my BikeMS ride. 100% of the profits go to NMSS, so please check it out at!

It really is a great deal. It has SO MANY papers and elements from SO MANY designers.

Alright, I’m done with the self-promotion. On to the freebie!

Direct download link here.

Your next stop on the Blog Train is Jeanine DeOre Design Studio. If you get lost, just head back to the Blog Train Blog.

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for hopefully supporting the MS Society by checking out!

Sewing machine pin cushion (tutorial)

My new love of Pinterest has inspired a LOT of sewing. Which is weird, since I’m not too good at sewing. But thanks to some really detailed blog tutorials with lots of pictures, I have gotten the hang of this “threading the sewing machine” thing and “not cursing at the bobbin” thing. (Okay, I still curse at the bobbin.)

Anyway, I did end up making some fun camera strap covers:

And I plan on making more of these for friends and a few other things for fun. Along the way, I lost my pin cushion. Quite often, actually. So when I was sewing stuff and taking pins out as I went, I found myself wishing that I had a pin cushion actually attached to the machine so I wouldn’t keep losing them.

So I put one on!

All you need for this tutorial is a tiny scrap of cute fabric, a small strip of velcro (if you want the pin cushion to be removable), and one of these cheap little wrist pin cushions:

Take the wrist thing off – mine just slipped right out the little pocket.

Wrap your cheap fabric around the little pin cushion and secure with glue (I used fabric fuse on this step, actually):

Then glue the fuzzy velcro strip to your new cute pin cushion.

Then glue the matching velcro strip to the sewing machine (I wanted mine to be on the side):

Optional step: When hot gluing the velcro on, burn the EVER-LIVING CRAP out of three fingers, leaving one with a giant blister. Scream in pain, causing your husband to jump up out of his chair yelling “WHAT’S WRONG!? WHAT’S WRONG!?” and rush you to the sink, where he will make you stick your hand under the cold water while reassuring the now-nervous always-neurotic dog that you are, in fact, okay.

Crafting is a contact sport.

And after it dries, just stick it on!

Voila! Convenient and cute too!

In which I have an affair with ruffles

Seriously, I’m going to get back to real posts soon. I promise.

But tonight was this. For my friend.

A friend who I love (A LOT).

Enough to add a lens cap pocket with an “S.”

To monogram, simply cut out a shape with your die cutting machine (I used my Silhouette) or use a stencil to pencil the letter in backwards on the back, then hand stitch around the letter. Super easy.

I used my leftover fabric from the curtains I hemmed months ago for my guest room. I’m pretty excited that she’s going to have a piece of my guest room. Because if I choose anybody to get to come here to stay in my guest room? It’d be her.

Inspiration from here. Sending it here.

(I swear. Pinterest is going to flat-out kill me.)

(See also: I AM SO HAPPY.)