Michelle Smiles

Teaching my children to question authority, except mine.

Glaze covers many sins


I got my pieces back from my first pottery class last night. I’m taking beginner pottery again (along with 3 other women from my last class). My pots are a little misshapen and wonky but I have to say the glaze makes them look much cuter than when they were just bisque fired. My main problem is that I haven’t got the whole pulling up the walls action. If you look, all of my pots/mugs/things are about the same height no matter how much clay I started with. My goal for remedial beginner pottery is to figure that piece out. But I have to say I like most of my little pieces. These are all of them but 1 raspberry colored bowl my mother in law chose as her favorite.






Steve made fun of the mug. It is pretty shallow and weighs a ton because of all of the clay in the bottom that didn’t get pulled up. I’m determined to figure this out and hope to have a little more variety of shape and size to show off after this round of classes.


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Reinventing the wheel – or how to give up your control issues for 3 hours a week




Steve and I celebrated our 9th anniversary in October. Ninth anniversary is pottery. I might kind of have a thing for pottery. Steve, being the amazing husband that he is, signed me up for a pottery class as my gift. I was so excited – I’ve always wanted to try throwing pottery. I couldn’t take the class the started right after our anniversary because the first class conflicted with Sabrina cheering at a football game (the things we do for our kiddos) so I started the session that began in January. It is 8 weeks for 3 hours each session.

It is so much fun. And so freaking hard. This sounds conceited but I am usually good at things when I put my mind to it. But so far? I suck at pottery. Yet I still love it. Did I mention it is hard? I’ve got the centering down which is what I had always heard was so difficult so I thought I was golden. Nope. For me the difficult part is pulling the walls up. I just can’t quite get the motion and the pressure right. I either put my finger through the wall or I get timid and don’t pull enough clay up from the bottom. And just when I think I’ve discovered all the ways I can destroy my creations, we learn trimming. That went horribly wrong as well. I just finished my 4th class. I have to say last night went way better than the first 3 weeks. We throw 4 pieces each class and I left the class with 4 intact pieces. Previously, I only had 3 pieces total that survived to their first firing.

The process is fun. It is kind of cool to get that dirty as a grown up – I haven’t been that muddy in *mumble mumble* years. I think it is good for me to do something that I suck at but enjoy. It is humbling. And it also makes me loosen up a bit with my control issues. I might seem laid back but only when I am in control *insert evil laugh*. Once I have some complete pieces (still need to glaze and fire again), I’ll share them here. Keep your expectations low. They are ugly. Not rustic. Ugly. But they are mine and I’ll be proud of them.

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What I’ve been up to…


We’ve got all sorts of projects going on at Chez Smiles. First, I have been searching for chairs to go in our eat in area for 2 years. I finally found 6 at a reasonable price. Now to paint them. I’ve been wanting to play with chalk paint so I bought a super ugly, super cheap end table (soon to be bedside table) to practice with it on. I love the way it turned out but I will admit it was way more work than I was anticipating. First comes paint, then sanding to distress it a bit, then clear wax, then some steel wool, then some more clear wax, then some dark wax to age it some more, then some more clear wax. The 6 chairs will likely take me six months. Here is the before and after of my $8 side table. For my first attempt, I am pretty pleased. Let’s hope the chairs turn out well.



Last year, I blogged a bit about our CSA experience. We loved it. It changed the way we eat and the way I cook. I found ways to incorporate vegetables that I never dreamed of – and I learned that a lot of things I thought I didn’t like just hadn’t been cooked well when I tried it. We were going to do it again because it was such a fun experience. But after some discussion, we decided to try something different this year. There was some waste with the CSA either because it was something we never learned to like (beets for me…some greens for all of us) or because of an over abundance of 1 item (can only eat so many kohlrabi  or because of just an overabundance (another box before we were done with the previous week’s box). This year we decided to set aside the same amount we spent on the CSA each week and spend it on local foods at local farmers markets. That way we can tailor it to what we want and need. We also decided to plant a garden. That means as the summer goes on, we can spend less on veggies and more on dairy and meat. We are doing square foot gardening and have planted two 4′ x 4′ raised beds. I am skeptical about growing so many things in such a small space but am excited to see how it turns out. We’ve planted tomatoes, peppers, onions, herbs, pumpkins (the small pie variety), baby watermelon, cantaloupe, green beans, carrots, and lettuce. The gardening has made me think so much of my dad. First because he would be shocked to see me planning to eat so many veggies. Second because he gardened (which I hated as a kid – forced to weed in the heat and bugs but didn’t like anything that came out of it) and took pride in trying to have the first red tomatoes in the county every year.


The past month has been filled with birthday parties. Sabrina got to go to another horse riding party. Lucky kids! I never got to do cool stuff that like as a kid.



I’ve also been agonizing over some art pieces I was working on. A friend asked me to do 3 canvases her daughter’s nursery. She showed me her nursery and just said have at it. For whatever reason, this completely made my brain freeze. The canvases were bigger than I have done in the past. I had no idea what would make her happy. I wanted them to look nice together but not to be 1 connected scene. It took me months of starting and stopping to get these done. I learned that I either need to just do canvases and THEN let people buy them so that I know they like them or I need to just get out of my head and just do it. Because there was no reason for that to take so long and to paralyze me that way. Rather ridiculous. But, in the end, I was happy with what I did. And so was my friend.



Long time, no see, yada yada yada


October is strangely one of the busiest months of the year around here. I think it is because it is the first month that we are guaranteed that it won’t be like living on the surface of the sun so everyone plans events. This year, we’ve had the most pleasant late summer and autumn. It almost felt like being back north. So fabulous. Now it is cold, as it should be in November. I’m loving it less but it is nice to have what feels like normal seasons to this Yankee.

October was filled with homework (first grade is hard y’all), crafty fun, fall parties, lots of soup, and I can’t even tell you what else. Steve and I celebrated our 8th anniversary of wedded bliss. Sabrina was Cinderella for Halloween and Tessa was a butterfly for the second year in a row. Also, I just want to announce that as of October 29th, I finished our Christmas cards AND ordered them. How about I just share a few photos?


I think I’m going to work on canvases this winter and then do a craft show in the spring and see if anyone likes them enough to buy them. I thought about one this fall but it was coming up really fast and I would have had to work furiously to have enough. Part of the allure of this is that it is fun. I don’t want it to not be fun so spring seemed like a more reasonable time frame.

I made a wedding gift for one of Steve’s co-workers. I hope they liked it.

A gift for a sweet friend:

And for my kitchen. My own Beyonce. Knock Knock. I kind of love her. I smile every time I see her.


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Proof that a craft invention is needed


I made my girlfriends thank you cards after my birthday. I might have a problem. I can’t stop doing crafty things. They are so cute, I can’t stop.

For a friend with 2 adorable little girls:

For a friend who just bought a new house:

A friend who is a photog (and hasn’t received this yet since she didn’t come to Bunco…ahem)

And another friend who just bought a new house:

Steve said I should sell them on Etsy. That would be fun but with the amount of time required to do them, I would have to charge more than anyone would want to pay for a greeting card to make it worth my while. But having fun being crafty.


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Confessions of a Hobby Lobby Junkie


I’m spending way too much of my time lately with a paint brush (or marker or scissors or paper) in my hands. I’m not quite sure what I am going to do with all of the canvases I am producing.

I can’t seem to stay out of Hobby Lobby. Good thing my girl friends got me gift cards for my birthday.

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Crafty Bitch


I’ve been quite the little Martha Stewart wanna be this holiday. I cut out one of my intended homemade crafts (luxury body lotion bars) because the ingredients were a little pricy and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.

First, the advent tree made its annual appearance. Nothing new to say but this photo was taken 10 days in so it is look a little sparse and uneven now. The girls think it is a lot of fun. But I have to say between this and the new addition of that damned elf everyone has, it is feeling like a lot of work for a little magic around here.

Next up, teacher gifts. We all seem to stress about these. It is just as easy (and appreciated I am sure) to throw your hands up and get a Starbuck’s card. But I decided to be crafty instead.

I made vanilla extract and snowman ornaments with names and year on the back.  Two completely unrelated, random gifts. The vanilla I had been wanting to try – I started it back in October.  I saw something similar to the snowman ornaments in a shop 2 years ago and have been meaning to make them.  I also saw them floating around Pinterest yesterday.  They are easy to make – getting the stupid fake snow inside the ornament is a pain in the ass but otherwise it then just requires a little paint and ribbon.  After many rounds of trial and error when I was painting ornaments a couple years ago, I will advise you to find oil based paint pens/markers.  Sharpie makes the best but I can’t find them individually anymore (except an art supply store online that wants $7.99 for shipping) and they want $20 for a package of 5 at Hobby Lobby (didn’t have time to wait for them to go on sale). I own a bunch but can’t find them – they are likely in the boxes in the garage that I will be unpacking after the holidays so I didn’t want to drop big bucks on them. Hobby Lobby sells this brand individually – the work fine for small projects like this. They just streak more than the Sharpie if you are coloring larger areas. I can’t speak for other craft stores – I only have eyes for Hobby Lobby.

The vanilla is vodka (or rum or bourbon – your choice) and vanilla beans. Then you let it sit in a dark, cool place for 6-8 weeks. After googling, it seemed 3 beans per cup of booze seemed the “right” formula. After the extract is 1/2 gone, you can refill it with more vodka and let it rest for a month and you’ll have a refill. I’m not clear on how many times you can top it off.

Then I saw some adorable gift tag ornaments floating around Pinterest a few weeks ago. The caption claimed they were salt dough. After some digging, the person whose photo was used blogged that it wasn’t salt dough, it was porcelain or clay (I can’t recall). But I was intrigued so I started googling and came across this post about salt dough ornaments/tags. (And WOW hers are amazing. You should totally check them out.) So off I went. The recipe is 1/2 cup salt, 1/2 cup water, 1 cup flour. Mix it. Then knead it for 7ish minutes – it starts to feel more like bread dough when you are done. Roll it out. Use cookie cutters.  I stamped them with rubber stamps and regular ink then baked them for 5 hours at 200*.  I used paint pens to write the person’s name on the back and will use them on packages for Christmas this year. I still need to clean up the edges. I will either use a cheap nail file to smooth them or some steel wool – I have to experiment to see what works best. For the bowl shown in the collage above, I did 2 batches and ended up with 24.

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Advent Tree


Remember last year’s advent tree project?  I put it up again this year with different branches (the ones I stole from fallen trees grew too brittle to use again).  Still love this project – so cute and the girls were so excited waiting to get their first little treat after dinner.

Tonight’s treat were little $.50 stuffed toys I picked up at Ikea this summer.  The rest of the boxes, bags, and stockings are filled with leftover Halloween candy, trinkets from the dollar section at Target, and a few coupons to stay up “late” and watch Holiday specials.  The girls get so excited.  Sabrina asks a dozen times a day when she can open her surprise.

The original project that I based this on used manzanita branches.  I haven’t found any in local shops and most that I have found online are pretty pricey and/or the shipping makes me gasp.  At Old Time Pottery (which strangely has little in the way of pottery – just big pots to plant things in), I found these bleached willow branches which gave the same effect for $1.99 per 3 branches.  Score.  The original used foam to stabilize the branches.  I used an unopened bottle of salad dressing to keep it from being top heavy.  Some of my gift boxes from last year aren’t holding up well so I will have to replace a few next year.  But this fun tradition is here to stay.

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Frugal Tip of the Day


I’ve been covering my walls with pretty things since the days of Teen Beat tear out posters of Scott Baio and Ricky Schroder.  I later graduated to Bon Jovi and Motley Crue.  By college, I had moved on to Monet and travel posters.  Now my taste in wall art, like most things, is eclectic but I still love to hang things I love to look at on my walls.  I have many prints collected over the years rolled up in tubes waiting for me to hit the lottery because it is expensive to have things professionally framed.  As I’ve mentioned, I will soon have some new walls to decorate (assuming all continues to go well) but we didn’t win the lottery so I’m not suddenly able to frame them all.

I’ve bought very little fun house stuff in the past 4 years because we have felt very transient here in Nashville up until now.  But fter the flooding this spring, there were many different efforts to raise money to aid flood victims.  One was a cute poster that depicted some of the downtown Nashville skyline.  I liked it and it on the small side so I bought it.  When it arrived, it was an odd size (10″ x 17″ I believe).

If the print/poster you want to frame is 24″x36″ or smaller, you can frame it pretty inexpensively.  Hobby Lobby has its poster frames on sale 50% off this week (if you like anything at Hobby Lobby and wait 3-6 weeks, it will be 40% or 50% off at some point).  I took my print to Hobby Lobby.  I found a 16″x20″ frame that I thought suited it.  At the framing counter, I asked for a custom cut mat.  The clerk helped me pick a color and decide how to cut the mat to best suit the print.  Ten minutes later, he had not only cut the mat, he put the print in and papered the back and put hanging hardware and the little feet so it doesn’t scratch my wall – all at no additional charge.  (I didn’t even ask – he just did it.)

Frame originally $40 on sale for $20 and the mat was $9.99 = $30 for a framed piece to hang on my wall.  Not bad.

I’ve had custom mats cut before to frame odd shaped items in ready made frames but I’ve never done it at Hobby Lobby so I had no idea that they would actually do the framing and put on hanging hardware for me for free.  The clerk also said that if I bring in a painted canvas and purchase an open backed frame, they will clip the canvas into the frame, paper the back, and put hanging hardware on free of charge.  Good to know considering I’ve had a little bit of a painting fetish lately.

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Feeling crafty


p1020680I lost my crafty mojo after all of the Christmas ornaments I painted.  It started creeping back a few weeks ago.  I attended a Premier Jewelry party.  There were all sorts of pretty bracelets and necklaces and rings and earrings – many that I would have happily bought if funds were unlimited.  As I was browsing, I realized that many of the items would be relatively simple to make.  I could find some neat beads and capture the spirit of the pieces rather than replicate them exactly.  I did look at several items that I wouldn’t be able to make myself and settled on a lovely necklace to call my own.  But a couple of days later, I found myself at Micheal’s to use up a gift card and then Hobby Lobby for bigger crimping beads.  The bracelet pictured is one I made after the Premier party.

p1020719While at Hobby Lobby, I saw these letters on sale (either for $.99 or $1.50 – I don’t recall).  I thought I would pick them up for the girls and see what I could do with all of the paint I have in my craft drawer that I bought thinking I could use it on the ornaments.  I also knew I had some glossy top coat spray I could finish them with so I was in business.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with them and they turned out completely different.  Sabrina’s is rather simple and whimsical and Tessa’s is a less so.  I hung them on their doors with some extra double sided 3M sticky stuff that you use for the removable hooks (we rent and I didn’t want to put holes in the doors).  I had trouble getting a good photo of them but here are the finished products.



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