String Art Advent Calendar

String Art Advent CalendarCan you believe it's already time to make an advent calendar? The holiday season is upon us! 

If you've never made an advent calendar, try it this year! Advents are a fun tradition because they give your family something to look forward to each day. My friends with small children tend toward candies and small toys on their advent. This year for Jeremy and me, we decided to fill each day with a fun activity. Each envelope holds something like a new recipe to try together, a cheerful spot to visit, or a special album from our childhoods to listen to while we eat dinner. There are endless ways to fill your advent calendar, so choose what best fits your family and routines. The purpose of an advent is to pause each day and appreciate this season that flies by way too fast. We are working again with our longtime supporters at Canon USA to bring this project to life.  

Here's a video of how I put together our advent tree! (It's super easy!)

The video shows the basics of how to make everything. This isn't a super technical project and most of you could probably figure out how to make it just by looking at it. I did, however, want to back up and explain a few extra tips... especially printing on envelopes!

How to print on envelopesI use this technique to print on any small paper, tags, envelopes, or special paper for my scrapbooks. This is one of those techniques that you'll use all the time after you try it the first time! We're using my go-to printer in the office, the PIXMA iP8720 printer, because (1) I LOVE the color accuracy, and (2) the wide format makes it possible to get more numbers on one page. 

1. Print whatever you'll eventually print on your envelopes to just a regular piece of photo paper. These will become your markers for where to tape your envelopes! At this stage you can make sure your spacing works and there is no overlapping. Mark the top of your paper, and note whether you need to send the top through first like I did (so your numbers don't print backwards). 2-3. Tape envelopes over every number. Be sure the number is completely covered because your new numbers will print in the exact same spots. 4. Send the envelope-covered sheet back through your printer and you'll have beautiful printed envelopes! 

Printed numbersPrinted numbersDownload the printable here: 8.5" x 11" or 9" x 13"  

How it looks from behindHere's what the back of the wood looks like. It's about 2' x 3'. If you are comfortable with hammer and nails, you could make one out of 3-foot planks from any hardware store. Or you could just buy a larger piece of plywood that's already the size you need.

Nail art placementOne last thing! This sketch shows how I did the nails for the string art. I nailed the pink nails first and then just filled in straight(ish) lines of nails between each point. I added three extra nails into the middle just to give more places to wrap the string for a fuller look. 

And here are some photos of the finished project! 

String Art Advent Calendar String Art Advent Calendar  String Art Advent Calendar  Cheers to the holidays and to taking time to enjoy each day. xo! Elsie 

Credits: Author: Elsie Larson, Project Assistant: Laura Gummerman, Photography: Sarah Rhodes and Elsie Larson. Photos edited with Suzette from The Lightroom Collection. Video and Music: Jeremy Larson. 

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Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes

Slow cooker mashed potatoes     Mashed potatoes have got to be one of the ultimate comfort food side dishes. So, so good. Creamy carbs? Now it's a holiday!

This is about the easiest EVER way to make mashed potatoes. The only way it could get easier is if farmers/food scientists could create some kind of self-peeling potato. I don't know if I would ever eat that as it sounds INSANE. But I would sure be tempted.

Maybe for Halloween next year I should be a mad food scientist. Which would pretty much be a mad scientist who is holding a bag of potatoes all night. 

Or maybe that was the worst idea I've had this week. I'll never tell. 

Slow cooker mashed potatoes Oh, this totally feeds a crowd. Look at the giant pie pan of mashed potatoes! Don't make this amount for just you and your significant other, or you'll be eating mashed potatoes for a week.

Slow cooker mashed potatoesSlow Cooker Mashed Potatoes, serves 6-8+ as a side dish.

5 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup milk (go ahead and use whole milk if it's a holiday)
salt + pepper
chives or cheddar cheese to garnish

First peel and cube the potatoes. Throw them in the slow cooker with the vegetable stock (or water) and butter. Cut the butter into small cubes before adding. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours and 30 minutes. 

Crock pot mashed potatoesOnce the cook time is up, mash the potatoes. I used a potato masher. You could also use an immersion blender, potato ricer, etc. But I think the masher is the easiest option. 

Add the sour cream and milk and stir to combine. If it still seems too thick to you, add more milk until you get the consistency you prefer. Taste and add as much salt and pepper as you think it needs. 

Slow cooker mashed potatoes  Just before serving, top with chopped chives or some shredded cheddar cheese (or maybe some french fried onions—go nuts!). If I'm serving gravy, then I usually omit any cheese to my mashed potatoes, otherwise I add plenty of cheese. But that's just a preference thing, so change it up based on what you and your guests like best. Enjoy! xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman, Photography: Sarah Rhodes and Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

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December Book Club Selection!

December book clubI'm a little bit late announcing the December book club selection this month, guys. Sorry I made a few of you wait (and thanks for reminding me!). Truth is I really, really want to read Amy Poehler's new book, Yes Please. But then that kind of makes two comedian books in a row, and does that mean I'm not bringing enough variety to the book club? Will everyone be like, "Hey, I'm sick of laughing. Pick a different book, lady. This is a blog riot!" Or something like that.

But then, I kept hearing good things about this book. One person described it as "affirming." And if there is one adjective that you can use to get me interested in something, it's probably affirming. Or positive. Or if you mention Amy Poehler is involved, then I'm probably already in anyway. 

So, we're doing it! We're reading Yes Please. You should go get your copy. Buy it. Borrow it. Steal it from your roommate. Whatever. Let's do this. I'm ready to laugh and be affirmed by Amy Poehler. Yes, please! (See what I did there!!!!)

Don't forget we'll be discussing Not That Kind of Girl on November 30th. This book has turned out to have quite a bit of controversy around it this month. So, there's that. Anyway, I'm excited to connect with you, my fellow book-lovers. xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

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New Courses: DSLR Basics and Photoshop for Bloggers

 Two new A Beautiful Mess e-courses available at shop.abeautifulmess.com!DSLR Basics E-Course! Sign up at shop.abeautifulmess.com Today we are SO excited to announce two new e-courses we have been working on for months for you guys! We are pleased to launch DSLR Basics and Photoshop for Bloggers. First let's talk about DSLR Basics. Watch our trailer—

In DSLR Basics you will learn the ins and outs of setting your camera like a pro as well as how to document your life creatively and beautifully! This course is taught by Elsie Larson, Emma Chapman, and Janae Hardy. You will learn all about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, metering, and so much more! The course also contains sessions to push you creatively, to find your own photography style, and to capture life all around you. This course is meant to take away any fear you may have about how to set a DSLR camera so you can focus on taking beautiful photos.

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It is recommended that students have a DSLR camera or that they are planning to purchase a camera soon. One of the first sessions will walk students through some basic gear and lenses so they can understand what to buy if they don't already own everything they want or need. This course is not meant for point and shoot, smart phones, or toy cameras, although many things you learn will apply to those cameras also. We believe great photos can be taken with all sorts of devices, but this course focuses on DSLR photography.
 
6What Will I Learn?
 
-Common photography terms with explanations
-Basic gear and explanations of common lenses
-When to use auto mode
-Achieving great focus
-Rules of composition (and when to break them!)
-Understanding shutter speed
-Understanding aperture and F-stops
-Understanding ISO
-Metering light and using histograms
-How to use white balance
-How to use reflectors like a pro
-Five techniques to add mystery and drama to your photos
-How to photograph with backlighting and lens flare
-How to develop your personal photography style
-How to photograph interiors & room tours
-How to photograph newborns and babies
-The basics of portrait photography
-Tips for great food photography & styling
-Five ways to get creative with self portraits
-How to photograph landscapes and nature
-How to take great photos while you travel
-How to photograph children
-How to photograph still life or product photography
 BONUS: How to set your camera cheat sheets (you can print these out or save them to your phone for easy reference!) 
 
What do I get with my purchase?
-immediate access through your account
-24 lessons and a bonus session
-5 videos to supplement the course materials
-3 camera setting cheat sheets that you can take anywhere!
 
44-PDF of the entire course
 
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-Access to a private Q&A board to ask the instructors questions and read the archives of other students’ questions
-a printable notebook to use during the course
 
Cost: $75. Click here to purchase!
 
Photoshop for Bloggers!Already feel completely comfortable with your camera but you're ready to take your photography to the next level with editing? Good. We've got you covered. In Photoshop for Bloggers, photographer Sarah Rhodes will cover just about everything you need to pump up your Photoshop game. You might be brand new, having never opened Photoshop before, or you've played around with it some and are ready to dig deeper. You'll learn all about each of your palettes and windows, adjustment layers, how to edit people, how to create your own actions, how to make dynamic collages easily, how to switch heads and change background colors, how to make animated GIF files, and much more. This course will focus on being technical, efficient, and creative! And most importantly, you will learn that Photoshop isn't as scary or overwhelming as you might think it is! 
 
Photoshop before and after Photoshop for Bloggers! It is recommended that students have Adobe Photoshop before starting the class (even if you've never opened it!). We recommend the monthly subscription of Photoshop and Bridge from Adobe's Creative Cloud, which is what the course will be taught from. The course lessons are applicable to Photoshop versions CS3 and newer. Users of Adobe Photoshop Elements might find some lessons within this course useful, but overall, we do not recommend this course for students with Elements as many lessons will not be applicable. If you don't have a copy of Photoshop, Adobe's Creative Cloud has a Photoshop + Lightroom package for $9.99 a month - it's an incredible deal! We really recommend the Creative Cloud package (we use it ourselves!). You can find more info or sign up for it here: https://creative.adobe.com/plans/photography.
 
Photoshop for bloggers!   Photoshop for bloggers!  Photoshop for BloggersWhat Will I Learn?
 
How to:
-Set up Photoshop, Bridge, and your Photoshop workspace
-Use the Camera Raw window
-Use adjustment layers for editing
-Use the history palette
-Use each selection tool
-Use each editing tool
-Edit people (my favorite methods)
-Use adjustment layers for faces and skin
-Edit photos without using actions
-Rotate and straighten your images
-Create a double exposure look
-Install and use fonts, brushes, and actions
-Add shapes and text to photos
-Insert images into text
-Use shortcuts and create your own for your fastest workflow
-Sharpen images two ways
-Use layer masks to change hair color and background colors
-Make your own actions
-Swap heads
-Create a holga-blurred photo
-Use liquify the right way
-Use grids for design and composition
-Create collages 3 ways
-Add handwriting to photos
-Make an animated GIF file 
-Troubleshoot in Photoshop
BONUS: How to batch edit your photos
 
Photoshop for Bloggers - e-course from shop.abeautifulmess.com!What do I get with my purchase?
 
-Immediate access through your account
-25 lessons and one bonus lesson
-An exclusive mini-pack of Photoshop actions
-20+ videos to walk you through various lessons
-An entire downloadable folder of images to follow along with each lesson
-PDF of the entire course
-Access to a private Q&A board to ask Sarah your Photoshop questions and read the archives of other students’ questions
-A printable notebook to use during the course
 
Cost: $75. Click here to purchase!
 
DSLR Basics and Photoshop E-Courses at shop.abeautifulmess.com Interested in both courses? You can buy both and receive a special rate (just $125 for everything!)
 
If you love the photography you see here on A Beautiful Mess, then you're going to love our new photography based e-courses. We can't wait to share all our secrets with you! Let us know if you have any questions about these courses in the comments. We're so excited to see all the amazing photos you all are going to take!!!! xo. Emma, Elsie, and the A Beautiful Mess Team.
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Sweet Potato Crème Brûlée

Sweet potato brulee Guys, I'm thinking about starting a crème brûlée blog. All crème brûlée, all the time. Would you read that?

Oh, you would but only for a week before you got too bored?

DREAM KILLERS!

Plus I already bought the domain. BruleeMe.com

JK. I don't own that. If only.

Sweet potato bruleeSweet potato brulee   In all seriousness, I do often fantasize about making a batch of crème brûlée, storing them all in my refrigerator, and pulling one out each night to brûlée just for me. I also have a dream to stay healthy. And these dreams conflict, so it's hard to say which will win.

Which brings me to my next project, a self-help book titled, "What to do When Your Dreams Conflict."

Spoiler: you choose the delicious dream. Duh.

Actually, no, I take it back. Stay healthy, guys. I want to blog for you until I'm a grandma and my crafting habits finally make sense.

Egg yolksSweet Potato Crème Brûlée, makes five large ramekins or 6-7 smaller ramekins*

6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
8 oz. cooked sweet potato (I used canned, drained from the can juices)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup fine (baker's) sugar
15 mini marshmallows for garnish

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until well combined. Add in the sweet potato and blend well. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Then stir in the vanilla extract, cinnamon, and heavy cream. Pour into your ramekins, place in a baking dish with a lip, fill the dish with water (this is baking in a water bath), and bake at 325°F for 50-55 minutes. The centers should look set but with a slight jiggle. They should not appear to be entirely liquid.

*I have a number of different sized ramekins (or oven-safe bowls) I've collected over the years. The ones I used here are larger... what I would consider "sharing size," so they are deceptive in how many crème brûlées they will make. This recipe could easily produce 6-7 smaller, more standard size crème brûlées had I used a different sized ramekin. Also, if you do use a smaller ramekin here, keep in mind you may need to adjust your bake time. It may take 10-15 minutes LESS to bake if you use smaller vessels. If you feel unsure, just keep an eye on them during the last few minutes of baking to ensure you don't overcook them.

Sweet potato creme bruleeOnce your custards are baked, allow to cool before covering and refrigerating. You will want to refrigerate these at least a couple hours before serving. But you can easily make these a few days ahead of any event. I made mine two days before our Friendsgiving, and they were delicious the day we ate them, with hardly any work on my part that day to prepare them. I LOVE make ahead desserts. :)

How to bruleeJust before serving, top each custard with a thin layer of fine sugar (regular granulated sugar will work as well), and brûlée with a kitchen torch. Or you can do this under your oven's broiler, just keep a close eye on them so they don't burn.

Since these are sweet potato crème brûlées, I thought it would be fitting to top each with three mini marshmallows and toast those as well. This is completely optional as it's really more for the look of the dish than the taste.

Sweet potato brulee  Yay for unexpected, make-ahead desserts that still feel impressive. Plus this was SO delicious. I wish I hadn't been so full from the meal so I could have eaten the whole thing by myself. :) Enjoy! xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman, Photography: Sarah Rhodes and Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

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